Sam struggled to keep her voice even as she delivered her ultimatum. The world was starting to gray again at the edges, but she was damned if she would pass out now. She just needed to hold on a little longer, just a bit, just until the other ship gave back the Prometheus's crew, and they all got out of this death cloud. Then, once they were all safe, only then could she give in and let herself slip into blessed unconsciousness.
When the other ship detonated in a brilliant flash of light, she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her again. Another hallucination. But the dead silence on the comm system told her otherwise. The gases in the cloud igniting slightly the heat produced by the explosion causing incandescent flares of multicolored light as they burned were too fantastic, too brilliant, too damning to be anything but the truth. Survival instinct took over, and the Prometheus shot out of the nebula, away from the cloud, and back into normal space.
Sam watched the death cloud burn like a thousand auroras, until the gray overtook the edges of her vision and the world went black.
"Sam. Sam, wake up. You have to wake up."
The first thing she was aware of was Daniel's voice cutting through the haze in her head. The second thing was the ice cold metal pressing against her cheek. Sam struggled to open her eyes, gummed up as they were. She groaned as she rolled over on the floor, then threw her arm over her eyes as the ship's lighting tried to sear her eyeballs from her head.
She didn't remember falling to the floor. In fact, she was certain she had been sitting in the command chair when she passed out. Her head was too damn foggy. The cloud, the acid eating the hull, the hyperspace bubble. The explosion. Images all flashed in her mind, and she painstakingly parsed them together.
Sam lowered her arm and stared at the ceiling. The other ship had exploded. She was the only one on the Prometheus. She turned her head and stared into Daniel's worried, impatient face.
"You're still not real."
Daniel ignored her. "Sam, you have to get up."
She was obviously missing something. "What? Why should I? What do I possibly need to do?"
Daniel licked his lips. "There's something wrong with the hyperdrive. The bubble...I think it's overloading something."
Sam squinted at him. Damn her fuzzy head. This wasn't making sense. "What...?"
He made an impatient noise. "The ship is going to explode, Sam!"
"Daniel, everyone's DEAD. I couldn't save them. I can't...It's just me here! I can't even think straight!"
For being a hallucination, his shout still made her head ring. All she wanted to do was sleep. But he wasn't about to let her do that. With a groan, she sat up, trying to ignore the white spots in her vision and the stabbing in her head. She needed to use the command chair as support to stumble to her feet. Her vision grayed dangerously as she swayed, but Daniel's incessant urging got her over to the computer.
The screen was flashing red, helpfully warning her that the hyperdrive was, in fact, about to go critical. It was also emitting a loud, wailing noise actually in sync with the throbbing in her skull. She'd passed out before she could disable the override she'd had to make to make the hyperspace bubble in the first place, and she'd made it a manual shutoff because she didn't know how long to make it last. Unfortunately, if it didn't get shut off right now, the ship was very likely to explode.
Turning it off was simple, and once she was done, she leaned back heavily in the seat. At the moment, the seat felt like the most comfortable thing in the world. She rolled her head to once side to look at Daniel the Hallucination, who was still looking at her worriedly.
"I...ah, I don't think sleeping there is the best idea."
Sam closed her eyes again. She was utterly exhausted. Daniel made a worried noise in his throat, and she struggled to open her eyes again to see his face right in front of hers.
"Sam...you need sleep. Real sleep."
Why was it Daniel of all people her subconscious was using to do this? Janet would make more sense...
Sam blinked again at Daniel waving his hand frantically in front of her face.
"Sam. Bed. Really. You need to sleep, and you're going to hate yourself for trying to in that chair."
He did have a point. Reluctantly, she pooled whatever strength she had left and staggered to her feet once more. Allowing him to shepherd her through the ship to the nearest bed was really easy, because it was all she could do to put one foot in front of the other. Eventually, she got to her quarters and crawled into the bed.
"Dan'l?" she mumbled.
"Sleep, Sam. Sleep now."
Complying with that was almost too easy.
Waking up this time was not quite as unpleasant. Her mouth felt like a desert, but the jackhammer in her skull had stopped. Blearily, she turned her head, half-expecting to see one of her team sitting by the bed, even if they were just hallucinations.
The chair was empty.
She sat straight up, then winced as the movement jolted her head too much. Not all gone just yet, but she was feeling a hell of a lot better. Deciding to risk it, Sam swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. When a wave of dizziness didn't send her flat back to bed, she decided she could make it to the command chair without falling face first onto the floor.
The metal hallways echoed with the sound of her steps as she walked them. That and the familiar hiss whirr of the ship itself were the only sounds. Irrationally, she was glad the engineers had never been able to completely muffle the operational sounds of the Prometheus. Otherwise, the only sounds she'd be hearing would be her own steps and breath.
Silent as a grave, she thought morbidly, then immediately shoved that train of thought away before it drifted too far into the mass grave that drifted less than an astronomical unit away.
Once she made it to the bridge, she made her way over to the computer displaying the current operational status of the ship. The GUI stated that the hyperdrive was now within acceptable levels, the sub-light engines still worked, and the shields had recharged as well. Sam did a double-take, however, when she looked at the time stamp the last command entered had. Comparing it to her watch, she had apparently slept for a solid twenty-five hours.
With a jolt, she realized that the SGC must be going nuts, because the Prometheus had missed their scheduled check-in times several times over. She swallowed thickly when she also realized that she'd have to report the entire rest of the crew lost and that the ship was in need of repair. The acid from the cloud had done a number on the hull, but it wasn't in imminent danger of catastrophic failure, although it needed to be fixed very soon. It might be able to handle reentry into atmo a few times, but she didn't want to push it.
She needed to contact the SGC right away. However, when she tried, the subspace transmitter wouldn't make a connection. Frowning, she looked a the diagnostic screen again. It claimed that communications were working normally, but that cloud had also screwed up the systems. It could be that whatever the field the cloud made to block communications earlier was still influencing the electronics. It wouldn't be the first time.
So, barring the easy solution of just sending out a subspace message to the SGC, the next option was find a planet with a Stargate and do it the old-fashioned way.
Only at the SGC could communication via artificially-created stable wormhole be considered "old-fashioned".
Sam fell back into the chair with a sigh. She rubbed her forehead with the base of her palm. The headache was starting to throb again, and despite the amount she'd apparently slept, she was still exhausted. She knew the nearest Stargate was at least ten hours away. Biting her bottom lip, Sam considered her options. She could set the course and trust that the hyperdrive would hold up for ten hours and sleep some more, or she could try to stay awake the entire time.
If something went wrong, and she wasn't awake to deal with it, things could end very, very badly. But staying awake with this headache was unlikely to be anywhere near productive.
"Well, I know I'm going to hate myself for this, but I don't think there's a better option," she told herself as she pulled herself out of the chair and down to the supply room. Grabbing an emergency blanket, she made her way back to the bridge and set a course. The Prometheus's hyperdrive happily whirred to life and made the jump to hyperspace. Sam watched the blue ripples flow over the windows as she curled up and attempted to make herself comfortable in the chair. The command chair might be more comfortable, but there was no way she was sitting in that thing right now.
She watched the light ripple and move over the hull until they lulled her into sleep.
"Daniel was right. Ow." Sam rubbed the back of her neck. The transition from hyperspace to real space had jolted her awake. Since there had been no actual problems, Sam had managed to sleep the entire ten hours. It was just unfortunate that it had been in a chair instead of a bed.
She eyed the console in front of her. The engines needed to cool down before she could make the next jump. Before she could do anything, though, her stomach protested against its recent neglect.
Sam groaned as she stood up, and had to catch herself before she met the metal floor face-first. The dizziness had returned, although the headache had not. She realized with a start that she couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten.
Well, that explained that.
Deciding that a blood-sugar crash was the last thing she needed, Sam took one last look at the console to reassure herself that it wouldn't spontaneously combust, and unsteadily made her way to the galley.
After eating, she stuffed some Powerbars into her pockets and went back to the bridge. The engines had cooled enough to make the next, short jump possible, so the Prometheus once again leaped into hyperspace.
Sam chewed her bottom lip as she looked out the window, trying to figure out how to explain to General Hammond how the shake-down mission had gone so horribly wrong. The recordings she had made of her time in the cloud were likely going to be the only source of information they'd have for piecing it together. And there were some things on those files that she'd really rather not become part of official record.
"At least I have the excuse of being concussed," she muttered. Hopefully, that would mitigate any suspicion of mental instability, considering the recordings were full of Major Sam Carter carrying on conversations with thin air. After so long of arguing and talking with the hallucinations, it seemed strange that she actually missed them now. Damning evidence or not, the side effect of getting rid of the concussion had left her without any sort of conversation. The ship was so quiet that their absence was almost as keenly felt as their presence had been.
In any case, this was not a debriefing she was looking forward to. On the other hand, it almost pained her to admit that she was almost looking forward to some uninterrupted time in the infirmary. Janet was likely going to be ready to chain her to the bed, once she found out the details of the last few days. Hell, the rest of SG-1 was probably going to back the doctor up. The guys probably had to be going nuts at this point. The Colonel could be such a mother hen, and neither Daniel nor Teal'c were likely to let her out of their sight as soon as she stepped through that 'gate. Not that Sam was planning on doing anything else other than sleeping.
When the Prometheus lurched out of hyperspace around the planet, the only thing she could think about was how much closer it was to an actual bed, and that this could finally be somebody else's problem for a while. A quick scan revealed that the planet was unpopulated, and it was pure dumb luck that Stargate was in the middle of a large, flat field. It was about damn time something went her way.
If she kept the shields up, the hull should be able to hold up during reentry. So she brought the battered ship down to rest in the middle of a field and took her first breath of unrecycled air in what felt like months. The flowers in the field where almost blinding in their color, the bright blues and purples and greens such a stark difference from the gray metal of the Prometheus. In the distance, she heard a bird trilling, and the scent of jasmine whispered on the breeze.
Sam sucked in deep breaths of the air, revealing in the fresh air. For the first time since she'd been knocked unconscious, she felt the muscles in her shoulders relax. Soon. This would all be over soon.
She made her way over to the DHD and pressed the address for Earth, pulling the GDO out of her pocket and preparing her radio just in case.
The seventh chevron failed to lock.
Sam frowned at the DHD. She was sure she pressed the correct symbols. She tried again.
The wormhole didn't engage.
She stared at the DHD. She knew the address for Earth better than her own damn phone number. She could do this in her sleep; she knew, she'd woken up once to find her hand had made indents on the pillow in the correct places. Panicking now, she punched in the symbols, making sure each was pressed right, before pressing the center crystal.
The Stargate stood empty, mocking her.
Something had happened. To the SGC. To Earth. She swallowed. It might be nothing. It could be everything. If something had happened, she should be there, should have been there. But she'd been caught in that godforsaken cloud. Her throat tightened. Her team...
Shaking it off, she ruthlessly got a grip on herself. Protocol. There was a protocol for this. Alpha Site. Get a grip on yourself, and dial the goddamned Alpha Site.
It failed to lock.
Sam Carter stood in the middle of a flower-filled field on an alien planet, with the most advanced craft Earth had ever created serving as a backdrop behind her and started shaking. Something was very wrong.
She turned on her heel and bolted back into the Prometheus. The ship left the field behind and screamed through the atmosphere. Sam stared at the starfield in front of her, unseeing. Earth. She had to get to Earth.
All Sam Carter wanted at this point was to go home.
Sam once again found herself sitting on the bridge, staring at the blue of hyperspace outside the window. The trip back to Earth should have taken three days; instead, it had taken her over a week. The hull was still in bad shape, and she'd been compensating for that by running the shields. But shields couldn't be run in hyperspace, so she couldn't push the ship too much. Not unless she wanted the jump to rip the ship apart. There really hadn't been much of a choice, but it still grated on her. Every second she spent away from Earth now gnawed on her, ate at her mind. All she knew was that she'd been out of contact and now she couldn't contact Earth. Or the Alpha Site. Every piece of evidence screamed that something was wrong.
The ship was big, but it was empty. The only company she had were her own thoughts, and they couldn't stop running in circles. If only, if only, if only...
The ship lurched underneath her, jerking so hard that she was thrown from the chair. As she picked herself off from the ground, she looked up and saw Mars. Why had the ship suddenly pulled out of hyperspace? She'd specifically told it to come out just outside Earth's orbit. Why in the world did it stop here?
As she stared at the red planet below her, something caught her eye. Something wrong. She turned her head.
And just stared.
In between her and the sun was...nothing. A black expanse, slowly spinning, and dragging in the very light from the sun into it, causing the light to streak across her vision. She felt her legs go to jelly underneath her, and she fell to her knees as she stared in disbelief.
That was a black hole.
That was a black hole in the solar system where Earth was supposed to be.
Sam crawled off to the side and emptied the contents of her stomach. She'd clean it up later. She realized her arms were shaking as she held herself up off the floor. Then she realized that it wasn't just her arms, but her entire body that was trembling.
Earth was gone. Just gone. Eaten up by a black hole. It didn't seem real. Everything she knew, everything she'd bled and sweated and died to protect was gone.
"'If, in some cataclysm, all scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?'" she whispered through dry lips. In speaking it aloud, she realized how very wrong the question was. "Never expected..."
There was no response. There never would be.
With shaking hands, Sam turned the Prometheus around, the limping, battered remnant of a vanished civilization, and jumped back to hyperspace. There was still the Alpha Site. She wasn't the only Tau'ri left in existence.
Maybe if she kept repeating it enough, it would be true.
The journey to the Alpha Site took even longer than the one that got her to Earth. Two and a half weeks alone on a spaceship is a very long time. Sam had gotten used to the silence now. No one's around to listen now, audio files aren't all that useful if no one's ever going to hear them, and the sound of her own voice echoing through the metal hallways is just too painful. She tried to make as little noise as possible, nothing more than the whirr and hum the ship itself made could hide.
She knew it wasn't healthy, to be alone like this, alone with her thoughts. She hadn't been sleeping much, not unless she's exhausted, but at least the headache was gone. The concussion fixed itself, thankfully. Sam stayed awake until she couldn't anymore, because utter exhaustion meant she couldn't dream, couldn't see the hole in the universe where the Earth was. Couldn't think about Cassie or Mark or her niece and nephew who never had a chance to escape. Who realized they were dead before it happened, who were still dying right now, pulled to shreds in the gravity field of a black hole, still screaming for years because time just wouldn't let them die.
Sam wondered if she was just a little crazy now. She'd gone around the Prometheus, using the pieces in storage to fix the broken systems on the inside of the ship. The hull was still a mess, so she couldn't fix that, although someone was clever enough to put emergency extra hull plating in storage. Just in case. But she couldn't do a thing while she's flying through hyperspace, so it was just sitting there. In the mean time, she used spare parts to finally finish the remote for the ring platform in the bay of the ship. It'd been half-done for months, all the rest of the systems being more critical to finish, because there was supposed to always be someone on the ship to work the rings. The remote was redundant. Still, it kept her hands busy. She needed that. Thinking about this problem meant she didn't have to think about anything else. She used to talk to herself while she worked. Now she's used to the silence.
The exit out of hyperspace around the planet was gentler this time. No sudden jerk, no open maw of a gravity well ready to eat her and the ship, finish the job. No, instead, the green globe of the Alpha Site planet hovered below her in space. It looked pristine, untouched. Sam couldn't help but feel the hope rise in her chest.
It was short-lived. The distress frequency the Prometheus comm sent out received no response. In fact, there were no transmissions of any kind coming from the planet. Which was not surprising, but for no readings of any kind to show up...
Fear gathered in her gut and stayed there, a twisting, clenching weight. Sam ran to the rings, grabbing the remote and a P90 from the rack en route.
The smell hit her first. The acrid smell of smoke and char permeated the air. The entire area was devastated. Trees still smoldering, and the burned out husks of the corrugated metal, those that weren't just melted scrap, gaped mockingly at her.
The second smell was that of the dead. Bodies beginning to rot in the heat of the jungle. It nearly made her gag. Slowly, she wandered around the site, trying to avoid stepping on the bodies strewn everywhere. Jaffa, human, Tok'ra. All dead. From the scorch marks, she'd bet one of Anubis's super soldiers came. The fatal wounds were too accurate for staff weapons.
She couldn't help herself, but her eyes locked onto every BDU-clad body, searching for a tell-tale patch on the ones with ruined faces, a shock of familiar gray or brown hair or none on the others. She saw none. She was just allowing herself to start hoping when something caught the sunlight out of the corner of her eye. Sam knelt down in the dirt to pick it up, and her heart nearly stopped in her chest.
It was a pair of dirty, shattered glasses.
She knew these glasses. How many times had she handed this particular pair to him, teased him that they were always going to get broken? And now, now they're all that was left.
She didn't see the clouds rolling in. She was kneeling in the dirt when she finally allowed herself to let go and deep sobs wrenched themselves from her. Gone. Everything she'd ever known, everything was gone. The smoke from the still-smoldering ruins of the Tau'ri was cloying, choking, burning her throat, but it was hard to tell that feeling apart from the burning and clenching the knowledge that she was all alone now brought.
As the skies opened up and rain started to pour, finally killing the fires, Sam Carter threw her head back and allowed a low keen to escape her throat. It was the only funeral dirge the Tau'ri will ever receive.
She ran through the halls of the SGC. The smell of smoke chased her down the concrete tunnels, screams of they dying echoing in her ears. Bloody hands gripped at her clothes, grasping, begging. She shook them off, and kept running. Had to run, had to make it in time. Had to get there.
Sam burst into the 'gateroom, and saw Daniel standing there, his back to her. The 'gate was active, blue light playing on the concrete walls and off his wet hair. "Sam." The voice was thick, raspy. He turned around. "Why couldn't you save us?"
Daniel's face was missing.
Sam scrambled backwards, away from the man standing there, looking out of sightless eye sockets, charred and shredded lips whispering damning words through the film of blood. "We needed you. Where were you when we needed you?"
She backed away from him, backed away until she hit something solid and wet. A pair of bloody hands gripped her shoulders, spun her around. The Colonel's sightless eyes stared into hers, gaping wound in the center of his chest. "Where were you, Major? You were supposed to be here, watching our six. Where were you?"
She choked, but before any sound could come out, he pushed her away from him, into another's waiting grasp. Teal'c's bloody face stared at her this time, a charred hole where the mark of Apophis should have been. Sam struggled in his grasp, but he held her firm. "Major Carter, where were you when we required your assistance?"
Sam could only gape in horror as the three corpses of her teammates closed in on her, gripping at her clothes, staring at her with dead, damning eyes. "Where were you?"
Sam bolted upright in bed, a strangled scream tearing at her throat. She stumbled out from under the blanket to the nearest toilet and retched.
Once she'd emptied her stomach, she flopped over and pressed her forehead into the cool metal of the floor. Her throat burned. After stumbling out of the rain at the Alpha Site back to the rings for the Prometheus, she'd found that the ash and smoke, coupled with disuse, had damaged her vocal cords. Waking up screaming from the nightmares that came every time she tried to sleep for the last week had made them worse. At this point, she couldn't speak louder than a whisper, and it didn't take very long before even that was painful. She figured there was probably permanent damage this point, not that she really had anyone to talk to in order to make it relevant.
If she was lucky, that would be changing soon. Six weeks alone on the Prometheus had made her nearly forget what another human voice sounded like, when it wasn't screaming in her dreams. She would be approaching Chulak soon, having decided to go to the one person she thought she could possibly find who would be willing to help her. The trick was going to be not getting shot down as soon as she exited hyperspace.
With a hiss, Sam pushed herself off the floor and made her way to the bridge. There, she waited until the ship dropped out of hyperspace. True to her expectations, there were a few tel'taks and al'keshes in orbit around the planet, three of which immediately started moving towards the Prometheus. Making sure the shields were operating properly, Sam put out a hailing frequency.
It would have probably been a better idea to leave the Prometheus on some other planet and travel to Chulak via Stargate. But leaving the Prometheus, the last piece of Earth she had, unguarded just seemed wrong. Call her paranoid, or sentimental, but leaving it alone unsettled her. Hence, this mad plan. She had tried to ignore the fact that she didn't even know if Chulak was safe, if Anubis had come there too and turned it into a smoldering wreck. Didn't know if Bra'tac was even alive, if he'd been away from the Alpha Site when it was attacked. With the former looking slightly less likely, she allowed herself to hope that the latter was also possible. Sam just hoped she hadn't just signed her own death warrant.
The comm screen blinked to life, and Sam nearly collapsed in relief.
"Unidentified vessel, you are within the territory of the...Major Carter?!" The scarred face of Rak'nor stared back at her, looking like he'd seen the dead.
"Rak'nor," she rasped out. "It's...good...to see you."
"Major Carter," he seemed to be getting over his shock. "We had heard you were dead." Sam smiled wanly. "What brings you here?"
"I...need...Bra'tac." Sam couldn't manage any more, her throat protesting. She looked pleadingly at Rak'nor, willing him to understand what she couldn't say.
Thankfully, he did. "I will take you to him. Are there rings present in your vessel?" She nodded. "Then ring to my ship, and I shall escort you." He must have seen the look of hesitation on her face and amazingly put together the reason for it. "Are you the only one present on your ship?"
Another nod. Rak'nor pursed his lips, in thought. "I will not ask you to abandon it. Would it be acceptable to you to ring down to the planet directly, and leave the ship in orbit? I give my word that our ships will ensure nothing happens to it."
Sam nodded gratefully. This was the part she was most worried about. But Rak'nor had come up with the solution she had been hoping for on his own. He graced her with a small smile through the comm screen. "Very well. I shall see you on the surface. And Major Carter? It is exceedingly pleasing to see you alive."
With that, the screen blinked off. The three ships outside took up an escort position around the Prometheus. Sam guessed the lead ship was Rak'nor's. She followed him, maneuvering the Prometheus into geosynchronous orbit around Chulak.
The air hit her with almost staggering force when she ringed down to the planet. After weeks of recycled air on the Prometheus, and memory of ash and smoke from the ruins of the Alpha Site, the scent of fresh air and trees nearly brought Sam to her knees. It was only Rak'nor's steadying hand on her elbow that prevented it. He stood there silently, simply watching her as she sucked down great gulps of air and let the sun warm her face. It took her a few moments to realize that only Rak'nor stood there with her. He had brought no one else along with him.
When she turned to him, there was no irritation in his face at being made to wait. If anything, she caught only the barest traces of sympathy in his patient gaze. He allowed the corner of his mouth to tick upwards. "Come."
The sounds of people, the shrieking laughter of children, the song of birds, the rustling of the trees and grass were so alien and loud after weeks of silence. Sam found herself becoming nervous as they approached the village. The loose BDU pants, jacket, and black t-shirt that hung off her frame stood out starkly from the garb of the Jaffa. After so much time alone, she didn't want to be stared at, didn't want to feel the weight of eyes on her. Unconsciously, she started slowing down as they drew near.
Rak'nor turned to her, questioning. Sam didn't know how to explain it. She opened her mouth, but couldn't make a sound. Frustrated, she shook her head and sighed, then gestured to the village. He thankfully didn't demand any explanation, simply nodded at her and then walked by her side into the village.
As she expected, they drew stares as they walked through the center pathway. She tried to ignore them, keeping her face forward, and trying not to let every single sound send her sprinting. The denizens of the village kept their distance. Sam found herself grateful for Rak'nor's solid, commanding presence, because she was certain that was what kept the villagers at bay.
Rak'nor was pushing aside a tent flap and motioned her inside. "Master Bra'tac, I have someone here who wishes to speak with you."
The older Jaffa had his back turned to them, but turned at Rak'nor's words. Sam was blinking in the doorway, trying to get her eyes to adjust to the dimmer light after the bright sunlight outside, so it seemed as if Bra'tac had teleported from his position on the other side of the tent to right in front of her. His face was crinkled in gratitude, a wide smile across his face. "Major Carter," he said, gripping her forearm firmly, "we were grieved to hear of your passing. I am glad to see that it is false."
Sam smiled tightly. "Master Bra'tac," she rasped. "what...happened? Earth...is gone. And the...Alpha Site..." She broke down into a coughing fit, her throat tightening and refusing to work. Each cough ripped through her throat, painfully enough that she was soon bent over double. She felt Rak'nor grip her shoulder to steady her, then let him lead her to a chair by the table. She was taking hissing breaths through her teeth as she sat down, and the coppery tang of blood was on her tongue. A cup of water appeared in front of her, and she wiped the blood from her mouth before drinking it gratefully.
When she looked up, both Bra'tac and Rak'nor were looking at her with concern written plain as day on their faces. She opened her mouth, but Bra'tac held up a hand before she could say a word. "Do not try to speak, Major Carter. Where ever it was you have been, you have not escaped unscathed." He looked at her sadly. "As for the Tau'ri, a great calamity has befallen them. Earth, as you said, is gone. I do not know how, but there was no warning. They evacuated to the Alpha Site.
"One week ago, Anubis's soldiers attacked. A great many Jaffa, Tau'ri, and Tok'ra lost their lives before they were able to escape into the forest." Bra'tac looked off at some point beyond Sam's head, into the distance. "The losses were almost too much for both the Tau'ri and the Tok'ra. The alliance was not working. We abandoned the planet, each going our separate ways."
Sam sat there stunned. "One...week?"
Bra'tac looked at her sharply, then nodded. She started shaking. One week. She had missed them by hours. The fires had still been burning at the Alpha Site. If only she'd been a little faster, gotten there a little sooner, had been willing to push the Prometheus, she could have made it. Hell, she had the only spacecraft Earth created. It could have made all the difference...
Bra'tac's hands on her face brought her back to reality. He stared into her eyes, searching. Sam just let him. "You were there. You saw the devastation. How soon?" Before she could answer him, his gaze shifted to her throat, then back to her eyes. "The ash destroyed your voice."
At this point, she didn't care about that. There were survivors. She wasn't the only one left. And Daniel had lost his glasses before. They could all still be alive. Or...they really could be dead. She couldn't bring herself to voice that question, to live with that certainty. Not now. So she asked the other question she had to. "Where?"
Bra'tac shook his head. "That, I do not know. The Tau'ri decided that they could not afford such heavy losses. They went into hiding, telling neither us nor the Tok'ra where they were. I am sorry."
And she knew he was. Sam could see it in his face and hear it in his voice. She felt her shoulders slump and hung her head. She'd been left behind.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Rak'nor's hand on her shoulder, still standing beside her chair. She looked up to see the two of them looking at her with indescribable expressions. "Major Carter, you came here in a ship?" Bra'tac asked.
She nodded. She opened her mouth, but Rak'nor beat her to it. "The ship looked to have suffered some damage."
"Hull." Rak'nor looked at her, and nodded.
"Please understand that I do not ask this lightly, but our fleet is small. I have heard of this vessel, and it is superior to most of our ships. We can make repairs to it, to your specifications if you wish, if you will allow us to make use of it."
Rak'nor correctly interpreted her stare. "You will still command it, but you need more hands. We are unlikely to use it on the front lines, but it would be of great help to us. And we would simply be borrowing it until we find the Tau'ri."
Bra'tac nodded, and continued, "Even if you do not agree to this, know that you will always have a home among the Free Jaffa, Major Carter. The ship does not matter. You earned your place here long ago."
Sam bit her lip. They were asking a lot. The Prometheus was the last bit of Earth she had. But it was useless unless it was fixed. And she couldn't live on alone on a ship, searching the galaxy. Because they had said when they found the Tau'ri. They would keep searching, keep waiting. And damn her if she didn't feel the first spark of hope since the ashes of the Alpha Site.
The sun burned the back of her neck, but she still went through the exercises Bra'tac had showed her for the staff weapon. The damn thing was just as heavy as she remembered, and every day her arms burned from the workout. It was also incredibly awkward, given how she was shorter than the average Jaffa.
She dug her bare toes into the sand as her cheeks burned a little at the memory of her first time actually trying to use the weapon. Bra'tac had been very patient and his glare at other, watching Jaffa had kept them from laughing at her. Which was incredible, because she spent more time tripping over the stupid thing than actually managing to do the exercises.
After a month, though, she could do them at a reasonable pace without messing up. Or tripping. She wasn't as blindingly fast as Bra'tac or even Rak'nor.
She paused, and wiped her face on the rough linen shirt she was wearing. The BDUs had stood out too much, and a few of the Jaffa women had taken pity on the lone Tau'ri and one day had dropped off a bundle of clothing at the entrance to the small tent she lived in. The very next day, she had been unceremoniously dragged out of her tent and a bowl shoved into her hands while a very intimidating-looking woman stood over her and made sure she had eaten every last bit in the bowl.
She had tried to protest to Bra'tac, but he just chuckled. "I do believe they have decided that you are their charge." At Sam's open-mouthed look of disbelief, he actually grinned. "Or that you spend enough time with men like me that you are also incapable of caring for yourself, just like the rest of us." He clapped her on her shoulder, and then proceeded to tell her that her footing was all wrong.
When she looked up, she saw Bra'tac walking down the path towards her. She didn't bother trying to call out a greeting. After a month with the Jaffa, her vocal cords still had not recovered. She suspected they never would. She was limited to a whisper, and even that was only for short periods of time. Obviously, this made communication difficult. Only Bra'tac knew written English, and even then, not a lot, and pictures in the dirt to the other Jaffa and hand gestures only got her so far. So he had decided that she needed to learn how to read and write Goa'uld.
As he had patiently walked her through phonemes and letters, the memories of Jolinar had come roaring back. All this knowledge was buried in her mind somewhere, and now it was coming back to the forefront of her brain. Her dreams were now a surreal mix of memories of the Tok'ra, of Earth's final hours, of the burning Alpha Site.
It was hardly surprising she woke up in a cold sweat most nights.
But Sam couldn't deny that Jolinar's knowledge was helping her become fluent in written Goa'uld remarkably quickly. She was now able to communicate with any literate Jaffa, and had picked up the habit of carrying a wax tablet and stylus with her at all times. And when that failed, well, some gestures were universal.
Sam knew that Bra'tac had been with a contingent of Jaffa as they went to liberate their people from a minor Goa'uld. He hadn't thought it would take very long, as the Jaffa they were freeing had laid a lot of the groundwork already, and he was right. As he drew closer, however, she saw the pensive look on his face. A nondescript bag was clenched in one hand.
He smiled briefly at her as he drew closer. "Ah, I see you have been practicing." Quick nod. He looked her up and down quickly, then sighed. "You have been making very good progress. Not many humans could wield a staff weapon as well as you. However, the weapon, it is all wrong for you." He shook his head. "It is built for Jaffa. Not a human. It is too large, too unwieldy to suit you."
Sam cocked her head, quizzically. Why had she been doing this, then? Bra'tac had first had her learn the staff weapon because although there were weapons and ammo in the Prometheus' armory, even that supply was too limited to let it be her only means of defense. It was fine in a pinch, but eventually, she'd run out. Neither she nor Bra'tac wanted her to be completely unprepared for that eventuality. Which was why she was attempting to learn the staff weapon.
Bra'tac sighed again. "I had you learn because we lacked anything better to give you. Without bullets, the weapons of the Tau'ri are useless, correct? And I would not expect you to go unarmed.
"However, I was able to find something that suits you better." He opened the bag and withdrew a hand device.
Sam gaped at him.
"I know you do not like it. O'Neill mentioned it before. But I would be failing as a teacher to make you continue learning a weapon that does not suit you." He looked at her. "And I would be failing you to not allow you a way to protect yourself. However, this is a tool of the false gods. It may bring memories you do not wish to relive, have meanings whose distastefulness outweighs the benefits. If you do not wish it, I will not force you to use it. I will continue to teach you to use the staff weapon. You may one day become passable with it, but you will never truly excel with it." He held the weapon out to her.
Sam couldn't take her eyes off it as he spoke. The last time she used it, she broke a System Lord in half. She still remembered how it felt, fire coursing underneath her skin, tingling, making the naquadah and blood sing in her ears. She could still taste the bitter hatred and anger, fuel for the weapon, on her tongue. She swallowed reflexively.
But Bra'tac was right. The staff weapon was awkward for her, and his assessment of her future abilities was probably also accurate. And she only had so many bullets for her P90 and sidearm until they were gone for good. She could use this. She was the only one who could.
Using the hand device always reminded her of Jolinar. Of being captive, of being powerless, of being lost. Of screaming and no one could hear, being voiceless. In fact, she thought bitterly, it was very close to what the reality of her life was right now. Previously, she had tried to ignore the ghost of the symbiote, but the ghost of Earth was too big. It pushed everything else out of the way, and Jolinar had come to the forefront of Sam's mind anyway. Even now, looking at it, she could feel the whispers of firing synapses in her brain, memories of how to use it, how to use it like a scalpel or as a club.
Jolinar was in Sam's thoughts recently, but by mining the memories for knowledge, how much was bleeding through, finally blending after all these years? After losing Earth, losing her voice, losing her home, losing her team, her people, how close was she to losing herself? But at least one of these could be regained. If she were to go out and search for them, she couldn't go unarmed. But in doing so, how far was she willing to go? How much was she willing to sacrifice?
The sunlight glinted off the gold metal.
Sam made a decision.
The Prometheus hummed happily as she slid the last crystal into place. The array lit up, ensuring each component was powered, and Sam slid it back into place. She tapped her radio twice, telling the young Jaffa outside that she was going to test it. Sliding over to the computer terminal, she completed the simulation to make sure it was still operating within acceptable levels, and then activated the device.
Her radio burst to life. "It works! Major Carter, the cloak works!" The young man's voice crowed over the radio.
She turned off the cloak and smiled. That had taken her the better part of a month to jury-rig together from scrapped al'keshes. But with it working, the repairs and upgrades to the Prometheus were complete. All it needed now was a crew.
She wove her way through the ship and blinked rapidly as she stepped out into the sun. The Jaffa who had been helping her was practically bouncing on his heels, waiting for her. "I still can't believe you did it! Everyone thought those al'keshes were so much scrap."
"Indeed. Teal'c spoke highly of you, Major Carter." Sam turned to see Rak'nor walking up to them. Sam noticed the younger Jaffa slink off, probably trying to hide his embarrassment at one of the Jaffa Masters probably seeing him bouncing like a child. "But even Teal'c of Chulak's praises fall short of this." He looked at the gleaming hull of the Prometheus.
Sam felt her cheeks redden. "He is right, you know." She turned to see Bra'tac come around the corner of the ship. "I would not have believed that the hull was near destroyed when it landed, nor would I have believed it capable of cloaking." He smiled at her. "All it needs now is a crew."
She nodded. She looked at Rak'nor, still staring at the ship, and considered. She tapped him on the shoulder.
When he looked down, she gestured behind her at the Prometheus, then walked a bit towards it. She turned, and gestured again for them to follow her. Bra'tac got it immediately, she could tell, but they both followed her into the ship and to the bridge.
The captain's chair was still there. Sam grabbed Rak'nor's hand and placed it on one of the arm rests, while she grabbed the other. Then looked at him.
Rak'nor looked utterly confused.
Sam let out an exasperated breath, and swept her free hand around to encompass the whole bridge, then pointed at him.
Bra'tac chuckled. "I do believe Major Carter is asking if you want the ship as well." Sam nodded.
Rak'nor's jaw dropped. "I told you that we would not take this ship from you! I will not go back on my word!"
Sam shook her head. She cursed herself for leaving the wax tablet on the floor in the room she'd been working in. This was so much harder when she was limited to gestures.
Thankfully, Bra'tac seemed to understand. "Rak'nor, she knows that. She would never expect a man like you to go back on his word. But she also knows she cannot command a ship like this on her own. In battle, orders must be given and obeyed instantly."
She was focused on Rak'nor, so she could see the dawning comprehension in his eyes. Without a voice, Sam couldn't issue the orders fast enough. And as this had just proven, gestures only went so far.
Bra'tac continued. "She is repaying you with even deeper trust. She trusts that you will take care of this ship, that you will help her find her people as she helps you free ours."
Rak'nor locked gazes with her, seemingly searching her for something. She nodded.
He straightened. "You honor me, Major Carter. Very well, I accept." Then he smiled at her, and she caught a flash of giddy excitement over the ship that she couldn't help smiling back at.
Sam dived behind a nearby rock to avoid the staff blast fire. To her left, Rak'nor was peeking up from his cover to get off a few shots from his own staff weapon. She glared at him before glancing out to see if she could get a decent shot.
They were on this god-forsaken rock because they had gotten word that there were a significant portion of the Jaffa population who were interested in rebelling. Bra'tac had asked that the Prometheus go, as the Stargate was actually in hostile territory. The logic was that the Prometheus was a much larger ship than an al'kesh and more maneuverable than a ha'tak. It's presence would serve to impress the rebels, but also be able to hold its own in any kind of fighting that was sure to occur above the planet. However, Sam hadn't managed to make the hyperdrive go any faster or further, so by the time they reached the planet, the fighting was over. They had left the ship cloaked in orbit as Sam, Rak'nor, and a contingent of Jaffa had ringed down to the surface and met with the rebels. The meeting had gone very well, at least until Anubis's Jaffa had showed up through the 'gate.
Hence the firefight.
Sam growled her frustration. She couldn't get a clear shot, but...
She wheeled around and took out the base of a thick tree off to the left. Just like the physics told her, the wood cracked and splintered, falling right into the cluster of enemy Jaffa. There were shouts, and she saw Rak'nor and her other allies leap out from behind their various cover and surround them.
By the time Sam walked up to the clustered Jaffa, Rak'nor had the leader of the enemy on his knees, staff weapon pointed at his head. Rak'nor saw her approach and moved to the side a little to give her room. The man on his knees looked up at her, and then spat at her feet.
"You fight with a human woman? Pathetic."
Rak'nor growled and dug the tip of the staff weapon a little harder into the man's throat. "The Tau'ri have destroyed many of the false gods."
The man looked at her again, disgust clearly written on his face. "Tau'ri? Hah! My Lord Anubis crushed the Tau'ri like the insects they were! I saw the remains of their world, the empty blackness of space! They were nothing!"
Sam felt the rage rising inside her, blood singing in her ears. It burned, hot and quick, and as the Jaffa before her kept talking, every word stoked the fire, adding more fuel until she felt the flames licking inside her. The metal of the fingercaps of the hand device dug into her palm as she clenched her fist. She stalked up to him, gripped his chin in her hand, and stared into his eyes. "What did you say?" It came out as a hoarse, rasping whisper, soft as a sword unsheathing.
He glanced away from her face, caught sight of the hand device on her left hand, and sneered at her. "You wear the weapons of the gods? A Tau'ri woman? You dare think you can equal the gods?"
Sam leaned down, and whispered over the roaring in her ears. "No. I'm worse."
The fire in her veins screamed down, coalesced in her palm, and she let it go. Anubis's Jaffa launched across the clearing, and through the trunk of the fallen tree, leaving bloody splinters in his wake.
Sam lowered her hand, aware of the stares of the enemy Jaffa and the conscious ignoring what she just did by the rebel Jaffa. Only Rak'nor met her eyes, and he nodded. "No one speaks ill of the dead."
The rest of Anubis's Jaffa capitulated quickly after that. They eyed her with no small amount of fear. Sam wondered what they saw. If Anubis was their god, did that make her a demon, something so antithetical to what they served? As her rage cooled, she figured she could, in fact, live with that.
The metal of the hand device was warm in her palm. She closed her fist and looked down at it. It was becoming easier to use. The image of the agent of Earth's destruction, the ruins of the Alpha Site, her despair and grief, all these fueled the anger and hatred she needed to make the device answer her call. Every time she used it, Sam wondered how much of her soul it cost.
But she needed to survive to find the rest of her people. And she knew she needed to use every tool at her disposal to do it, and to bring the Goa'uld to their knees. If the price was her soul, well, the Tau'ri were worth it.
The Prometheus dropped out of hyperspace and immediately cloaked. They were just here to scout before the rest of the fleet arrived. Anubis's ships hovered in loose orbit around the planet, a few al'keshes and a ha'tak. They were isolated from the rest of their fleet, and the rebel Jaffa were going to take advantage of that. The Prometheus was sent ahead to scout, and if it looked like a trap, they would send word back to the waiting rebels via subspace communicator before escaping.
From the looks of it, though, the intel wasn't wrong. Sam nodded to Tu'rok, the young Jaffa who had helped her with the cloak a year ago, who was manning the communication systems. He immediately sent out the subspace message that the attack was a go.
Within minutes, two ha'taks and several al'keshes burst out of their hyperspace windows, catching the enemy ships completely off guard. Sam kept the Prometheus cloaked. She and Rak'nor had agreed that it would stay at the edges of these battles, monitoring communications of the enemy vessels and always ready to pursue any ships that tried to escape. The Prometheus's value as a scout ship that could hold its own in a battle was too great to risk it unnecessarily.
Rak'nor joined her at the bridge window, and together they watched the battle in progress in front of them. Their plan was working; soon it would just be a matter of mopping up. She knew that every hit like this against Anubis meant much to the rebel Jaffa, further weakening the Goa'uld's stranglehold on the galaxy. Their victories were her victories, now more than ever. And every time they failed to find or hear word of the Tau'ri, they felt the failure with her.
They were good people. She'd always thought that, but living among them for over a year had given her new appreciation for them. But there was a deep ache inside her, a place where the piece that fit had been taken away. And they understood that too. All of them were fighting for something, for their peoples in a galaxy that had been far too cruel to them all.
The enemy ha'tak exploded in front of her, breaking her from her thoughts. She caught sight of Rak'nor smiling grimly beside her. He noticed her gaze, turned and smiled at her.
Today was a good day.
"Bring us closer to the planet, but stay out of the way," Rak'nor ordered. The Jaffa on the bridge scrambled to comply, and the Prometheus edged around the battle until it was hovering over the planet. Sam looked at Rak'nor.
"With the ha'tak gone, the battle will move away from the planet, and this is a much better vantage point." She nodded, accepting his reasoning, and then continued watching the battle unfold.
"Major Carter, I think you need to see this." Sam turned around and saw Tu'rok motioning to the communications terminal. She frowned and walked over, Rak'nor trailing behind her. Tu'rok moved aside, explaining, "We picked up a transmission from the planet. It wasn't any of our common frequencies, but I managed to decrypt it."
"...Ramirez!...Get...ass back...the tunnel...collapse!" The sounds of staff weapon fire were clear over the static, as was the dull roar of rocks falling.
Sam froze the second she heard the first word. By the end, she was shaking. She knew that voice. Colonel Reynolds had watched SG-1's six many times. Oh god, if that was Reynolds, alive, then that meant...
Rak'nor's hand on her shoulder steadied her. She turned her head to look at him, and saw realization in his eyes as well. He looked up at Tu'rok. "Open a channel."
Tu'rok leaped to comply and handed a radio over to Rak'nor. Still looking at Sam, he activated the radio. "This is Rak'nor, of the Free Jaffa. Are you of the Tau'ri?"
There was silence, and then "Rak'nor? Teal'c's friend? This is Colonel Reynolds and SG-3." At those words, it was all Sam could do to keep from falling to her knees. Reynolds continued, "Where are you guys? How did you find us?"
"A part of Anubis's fleet was in orbit around the planet. We intercepted them and are currently engaging in battle. Why are you here?"
"So that's why the Jaffa showed up. Not you, I mean Anubis's. But yeah, we're exploring other areas to find things that'll help us get back on our feet." He chuckled ruefully. "Damn, but we must have the luck of SG-1, because we got caught in a tunnel collapse."
"Are there any injuries?"
"No, no. We're fine. Just stuck. I don't suppose you could help us out? There's a ring platform here."
Sam was already moving, fingers flying over the keyboard to pinpoint the origin of the radio signal. The terminal beeped, and she pointed out the location to the navigation officer who was leaning over her shoulder, anticipating the order. He nodded once then took the Prometheus around to the coordinates. Sam looked up at Rak'nor, who nodded.
"We will be ringing you aboard shortly," he said as he left the bridge to the ring room.
Sam walked to the wall and brought up the security camera feeds on the screen. She watched from the bridge as Rak'nor reached the rings and they activated. In a flash, four dusty figures appeared. Their green and black BDUs, worn as they were, looked so foreign after a year among the Jaffa. She was so used to the linen and leather that she'd forgotten how her own set felt, since she hadn't touched them in a year. And with that realization came the one that told her just how separate from them she was now. In living among the Jaffa, of allowing Jolinar to finally speak in her memories, she wondered if she were the alien now. Would they recognize her as human now? Some days, she couldn't tell herself where the alien influence ended and the part that was still Tau'ri began.
She saw them looking around in confusion at the surroundings, so painfully obvious that they were expecting the gaudy gold of a Goa'uld-designed ship, and not the cold gray metal of Earth.
Before they could really say anything, Rak'nor was herding them to the bridge, damn him, and Sam had no idea what to do other than watch on the screens. She'd been waiting for this moment for over a year, hoping for it, despite all odds, and now that it was here, she was at a complete loss. So she concentrated on her breathing and tried not to tremble as she stood stock-still and waited.
Soon, she heard the clomping echo of boots on the metal floor. And then she heard Reynold's voice, without the distortion of the radio, finally asking "Rak'nor, what's going on? This isn't a Goa'uld ship. Hell, if I didn't know any better, I'd say this was the Prometheus, but that got blown to hell a year ago."
"You are indeed correct, Colonel Reynolds. This is the Prometheus." And Rak'nor stood in the doorway, looking straight at her. Reynolds was still talking as he walked around the Jaffa.
"But how is that poss..." Reynolds caught sight of her, and his jaw dropped. "Oh holy fucking hell. Major Carter?!"
And the rest of his team filtered out around Rak'nor, and gaped at her, looked like they'd seen a ghost. And when she nodded, the biggest grin ever split Reynolds face. "Damn if I shouldn't be surprised. I know of a few people who would be ecstatic to see you."
And the hope rose so quickly in her it, it would have choked her, held her tongue from speaking if she could speak. With trembling fingers, she pulled out the tablet and stylus and wrote one single phrase.
He looked at her and nodded. "Yeah. They're all still kicking."
Sam swallowed thickly, and wrote more. 'Take us?'
And she could see he was confused why she was writing instead of talking, but wasn't going to say anything, not just yet. Instead, he nodded again. "Yeah, but it'd have to be via 'gate," he said, looking warily at Rak'nor and the others in the room. "I mean, no offence. It's just..." he shrugged. And thankfully, Rak'nor nodded in understanding. Reynolds breathed a sigh of relief. "As soon as the Jaffa are gone, if we could ring down to the 'gate? Don't really want to take unnecessary risks."
Rak'nor broke in at this point, and she had never been more thankful for the man before now. "This is not a problem. Major Carter and I shall accompany you to the surface as soon as the battle is done."
Ships were still firing and exploding in space behind her, but everyone on the bridge was focused on the five Tau'ri in the room. Sam was scribbling on the wax tablet again. 'What happened to Earth?' The question had been eating at her for over a year, ever since she stared at that black expanse of nothing and wondered if it was all her fault because she hadn't been there to stop it.
One of the men behind Reynolds, Hu, cleared his throat. "Um, CERN."
He nodded. "Yeah. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Um...there was an error in their calculations. Probably would have caught it if they hadn't rushed it. But when they turned it on, the damn thing actually did cause a stable black hole. Started out small enough that we were able to evac the entire SGC, NORAD, and part of Colorado Springs to the Alpha Site before we lost the connection."
Sam just stared at him. 'That's not possible.'
Hu shrugged. "Hey, I know what the physics say. But it happened. I swear on my mother's grave I'm not lying, but that's what happened."
'Anubis said he did it.'
Reynolds shook his head. "Nope. Our own damn fault. Not surprising the damn snake took credit, though." He looked at her quizzically, and she knew the question that was coming. "Carter, what's with the writing?"
"Major Carter lost her ability to speak over a year ago," Rak'nor explained. She nodded.
"How the hell did that happen?"
Sam shrugged. 'Alpha Site, probably.'
Reynolds looked up sharply. "You were at the Alpha Site?" She nodded. "When? How did that have anything to do with you losing your voice?"
'Fires still burning.'
His jaw dropped at that. He removed his cap and ran his fingers through his cap. "Oh hell. You just missed us," he whispered, horrified. She nodded.
'Tried. Aliens attacked. Crew died.'
He swallowed. "Oh god, I'm sorry Carter. We didn't know. We thought you were dead. The Prometheus...you never checked in. We honestly thought we'd lost you. If we'd known..." He straightened his spine. "Dammit, we're going to bring you home."
She smiled at him, because that's all she could do at that point. Rak'nor clasped her shoulder, and he was smiling as well. In fact, all the Jaffa on the bridge were. She looked to Tu'rok, who grinned and nodded. He'd send a subspace message to one of the other ships to take back to Bra'tac, telling him the news. Sam just hoped the old Jaffa master would forgive her for not waiting for him. She figured he'd understand.
Thankfully, the battle against Anubis's Jaffa was over quickly, and before she knew it, Sam found herself standing next to Rak'nor once again, this time on the planet's surface as she watched SG-3 dial the 'gate.
Reynolds turned to them with a big grin when the 'gate activated, and he held up a radio. "General Hammond? This is SG-3."
The radio crackled to life. "Colonel Reynolds? You're overdue."
"Yes sir, we had a bit of excitement. Anubis's Jaffa decided to crash the party, and we were involved in a tunnel collapse. Fun times all around."
"A tunnel collapse? Are any of your team injured?"
"No sir. We lucked out. Seems our old friends the rebel Jaffa were up above the planet kicking Anubis's ass. They picked up our radio signal and got us out of the rock." Reynolds winked at them. "Teal'c's friend Rak'nor is here. Wants to know if they can come say hi."
There was a long pause on the other end. "I suppose he's already seen you dial, hasn't he?"
"Yes sir. Sorry sir." Reynolds was not very sorry at all. The rest of SG-3 was trying very hard not to snicker.
"Very well. Come on through."
"Yes sir. Oh, by the way, sir," and Sam would have eaten her shirt if Reynolds didn't have the king of all shit-eating grins on his face right now, "could you get Colonel O'Neill, Doctor Jackson, and Teal'c there? We've got some info they probably want to hear."
Another pause. "Very well. They're on their way."
"Excellent sir." Reynolds clicked off the radio. He grinned at them. The other three members of SG-3 took up position at the 'gate, and when Sam fell into step with them, Rak'nor directly in front of her, she took a deep breath and walked through the event horizon after them.
On the other side, the sun was blocked by Rak'nor's bulk. She smelled trees, and the freshness as if it had just rained. Looking off to the side, she saw puddles glinting in the sunlight, around wooden structures. The scent of cooking food wafted over, and the dull white noise of people working. It reminded her so much of a typical US base camp it hurt. She heard Colonel Reynolds walk down the steps and stop, and heard the General's voice.
"Rak'nor. It is a pleasure to see you again. I take it the rebel Jaffa have been doing very well?"
"We have. We've had some assistance."
Sam couldn't take it anymore. She had to see for herself, needed to make sure that this wasn't a dream, wasn't another nightmare, wasn't a hallucination. That this was real, and this was happening, and that she'd finally made it home.
She stepped out from behind Rak'nor.
General Hammond looked like he'd seen a ghost. His mouth worked a bit, before he managed a choked "Major Carter?"
There was a shout off to the side, and when she turned, her heart nearly stopped in her chest. They were sprinting for her. Healthy and whole, looks of disbelief melting into sheer joy at the sight of her. Sam couldn't move. If this was a dream...
Colonel O'Neill reached her first and nearly tackled her in a hug. "Jesus Christ, Carter! It's Daniel who's supposed to do the coming back from the dead thing!"
A laugh sounded nearby. And suddenly, it was Daniel who was hugging her. He was missing his glasses. "God Sam. Don't ever, ever do that again." She felt his tears on her shoulder, and it was the best feeling in the world. He let her go, held her at arm's length and gave her a watery smile before turning her to Teal'c.
"Major Carter," was all he said before engulfing her in the biggest bear hug Sam ever had. He held her fast to him, surrounding her completely, and she felt the beating of his heart. "Major Carter, do not ever leave us like that again."
She felt him loosen his grip on her, but on her other two sides were the Colonel and Daniel, still encircling her in their embrace.
Sam breathed in and relaxed into the hug.
Sam Carter had finally come home.