Part 1: Shards of Ice
For a second there was nothing but pleading blue eyes begging Jack O'Neill to live.
He might have let go, given into the darkness pulling at him, except for that: his name on her lips.
Such a simple thing.
Such a telling thing.
Samantha Carter loved him.
He knew it even if he'd denied her the opportunity to say it in the days since he'd stuck his head into an Ancient repository again. She loved him and she didn't want him to die. He was supposed to be letting her go but in the end, he couldn't. The word slipped from his lips; the way to save him…
He clung to the memories of the people he loved as his brain drowned in Ancient minutiae: his son bright and cheerful playing catch in the backyard: his ex-wife Sara on their wedding day; his Mom and Dad, his Grandpa and Grandma; his brother, Jimmy when he'd shipped out; Cassie and the dear departed Doc; General Hammond with his paternal care and kind eyes; his team-mates – so much more to Jack than merely friends and family.
Teal'c carried him into the chamber to sleep; Daniel Jackson translated his goodbye. His heart ached for them both; his brothers. Carter, his Carter, stood in front of him bravely. He wished he'd told her he loved her; that he'd let her say the words, regretted that he'd stopped her because of some vague notion that when he died she would move on quicker and easier with her life, with the cop she was dating, if she didn't know how he felt about her.
It was too late.
He held her eyes with his as the cold stole over him and froze his breath.
Klaxons sounded through McMurdo drowning out everything else. Adrenaline surged through John Sheppard as he took the flight of steps at a run, leaping the final steps, and headed for the door that led to the helipads.
The briefing for the search and rescue had been succinct. A classified situation; classified technology deployed to fight a classified enemy who had death gliders (and seriously John had never thought he would ever hear that in a briefing), tattoos on their foreheads and were to be killed on sight. Their own guys were in advanced planes of a similar design to the enemy; those that were flight capable were being diverted to McMurdo for emergency landing but more had apparently been downed on the ice in a massive dogfight with the enemy. The McMurdo helicopter squad was being scrambled to find and retrieve the survivors.
That's all they needed to know; all John needed to know.
Cold air swamped him immediately as soon as he opened the door, biting through the layers of weather gear, flight suit and thermals. He didn't stop running; boots pounding on the ground, careful of the ice. He spared a glance to the sky…something was incoming. The first advanced plane shrieked overhead and headed for the far end of the runway. His mouth went dry at the sight of its sleek, powerful lines but he continued running, reaching his helicopter first ahead of the rest of the squad.
Another plane went over his head. God, John wanted to fly one so badly he could taste it, but it was unlikely that he ever would, not with the black mark and his record of ignoring orders. So what if he wasn't flying the latest tech; he was flying, that was the main thing, John reminded himself. He shook off his thoughts as he got inside the serviceable helicopter and focused on his pre-flight, automatically running through it.
A doctor ran up and clambered in with a medic bag. John gave a nod of acknowledgement as he turned on the rotors and was pleased to see the forty-something African-American already stowing his bag and reaching for his headgear. 'This is some kind of crazy. Did you see that light show before?'
'Yeah, I caught it.' John replied absently, finishing his checks. It had been spectacular at a distance; he could only imagine how it had been in the heat of it. He radioed the control tower. 'This is Penguin Five, we are good to go. Request permission to take-off.'
'Permission granted, Major. You have Search Grid Alpha. Leopard One is in the air and will give you cover fire. Good hunting.'
'Search Grid Alpha. Roger that, and out.' John took a breath and lifted her upwards. There was a mission; people to rescue. The buzz of action felt good after the months of feeling like he was in the deep freeze; it was like he could breathe again.
Cameron Mitchell jolted back into consciousness with a sharp intake of breath. It was so goddamn cold and he had to stay awake.
The battle was over.
He couldn't see any fighters in the darkening sky anymore; no sign of brilliant yellow lights painting the blue with flashes of colour and taking out the enemy. He blinked hard. SG1 had done it. They'd found the weapon and destroyed Anubis. Earth was safe.
They'd had a hand in that; him and Banks. The Lieutenant was unconscious or dead since he hadn't responded to calls since they'd crashed. Cam hoped it was the latter. It had been a rough landing – definitely not his best. He laughed weakly and ended up in a coughing fit that hurt his chest.
Sitrep, Cam instructed himself weakly. Radio was receiving but not transmitting. His 302 was a wreck. It had taken a bad hit, the eject hadn't worked and he hadn't been able to control the descent properly; the controls not responding. He was responsible for Banks being…whatever. He was fairly certain that the kid had lost consciousness with the last hit.
But before then…they'd protected SG1, taken out a ship converging on their position. They'd helped keep Earth safe from Anubis.
Sitrep, Cam thought again stubbornly. He was on the verge of hypothermia. The landing had knocked out the very expensive not-glass that surrounded the cockpit. His legs were in agony; shattered and pinned under the console. He could feel wetness when he touched his knee and he figured he was bleeding. He'd also pissed his pants at some point and the sharp scent of urine assailed him. He was finding it difficult to care. His breathing was erratic; a familiar sharp pain told him he'd cracked his ribs. His face burned with pain and cold; he had a vague memory of debris crashing through the cockpit, smacking him in the face.
So, Cam considered sluggishly; on paper he was screwed. He had no way of getting help to himself and to Banks if the kid was still alive. It was getting dark. It was freezing. But Earth was safe. It wasn't a bad trade.
No. He wasn't giving up; he would NOT give up. He could make it. He could…turn his lights on. He reached forward and gritted his teeth against the rush of pain. He hit the switch. A faint beam shot out across the snow and ice in front of him. Lights on. It was something. A chance for someone to save him. Cam felt himself sliding into darkness. Please, he thought desperately as he fought the cold stealing over him. Please.
Sam's fingers stroked over the surface of the stasis pod; it felt like crystal. It was smooth and cold to the touch. She shivered despite the warmth of the air around them. The power module that Jack had collected from the other outpost was evidently keeping the temperature at a reasonable level along with the lighting. Part of her mind was already whirling with the "how" and the "what" but she pushed it away, focusing on the man suspended in the clear substance in front of her, his eyes still open and looking at her.
Had the stasis chamber frozen him or was it some kind of suspended animation? Could he see? Could he hear? Could he feel?
God, she'd just been so grateful to have a way to save him. She hadn't thought about whether the chamber was safe; whether they would be able to reverse the process. She hadn't thought about anything beyond wanting to save him.
She loved him so much.
He hadn't let her say the words. He'd said he knew. Had he refused to hear her say she loved him because he didn't feel the same way? Because he couldn't say it back to her? Or maybe he did love her because for a moment standing in front of him in the engine room, she could have sworn that he did. But even if she'd said and he'd said it, she was ostensibly dating someone else regardless that it wasn't all that serious in Sam's mind and hadn't been since Pete had confessed to stalking her. But what would her confessions change in the end if Jack didn't feel the same way? Maybe that was why he hadn't allowed her to say anything; hadn't said anything to her.
Maybe her need to tell him had been selfish. Maybe her need to save him had been selfish.
She remembered their conversation in his house; so awkward and stilted because of everything she wanted to say and everything she couldn't. He'd told her his sacrifice would be worth it if they found the lost city; if they found what they needed to save Earth.
She'd felt then what she'd felt when she had been trapped by a force shield and about to be captured, watching him stay with her rather than leave; utter despair at the thought of losing him. She'd lost so many people.
But she wasn't losing him.
Sam drew in a deep breath and placed her hand flat over his heart. 'I don't know if you can hear me, but I promise you: we're going to save you.' She let her eyes take in his features one more time.
She dropped her hand, readied her orders and turned to her waiting team-mates beside her. Jack had given them a chance to save him; all they needed to do was take it.
'The President is on the phone for you, Doctor Weir.' The technician said crisply. They were all crowded into the control room having just listened to the communication from Antarctica. It seemed like SG1 had saved the world. Again.
How the hell did they cope with this type of thing all the time, Elizabeth wondered, looking round at the happy and relieved faces of the SGC personnel. Her body was faintly trembling; the adrenaline draining out of her in the wake of the battle.
Elizabeth forced herself to nod calmly though and pretended her legs weren't shaking as she walked back up the stairs to the small office off the main briefing room. Her office supposedly but it didn't feel like it; she wondered whether it ever would.
'Mr President.' Elizabeth picked up the phone and tried to smooth the nerves out of her voice. She reminded herself again that she'd dealt with ten other Presidents of various nations without getting flustered.
'Elizabeth.' Hayes greeted her warmly. 'General Hammond has confirmed Anubis has been eliminated. The Prometheus is remaining in Antarctica to deal with the clean-up there.' He paused. 'It was a good suggestion sending her to cover SG1.'
'Thank you, sir. Have we any news on SG1?' Elizabeth asked tentatively, sliding into the leather chair behind the desk.
'We're hopeful they survived but it's not confirmed.' Hayes sighed. 'We're trying to get a full report on the Nimitz carrier group that Anubis hit and most of the two F302 squadrons deployed are believed downed or destroyed. Hammond's reported a small number of additional casualties aboard the Prometheus but no fatalities.'
Elizabeth's eyes closed as she calculated the potential numbers of injured, of dead. 'I assume there'll be a cover story?'
'Meteor shower.' Hayes answered back promptly. 'Apparently it's a classic.' There was a sarcastic edge that Elizabeth appreciated because how many times had they read the same thing in the press themselves without knowing the truth. She wished for a moment that she had the option of not knowing again. 'Unfortunately, we also have a lot of angry governments involved with Antarctica who aren't falling for it as they have eye-witnesses on site, and who are asking us what the hell is going on.'
Finally, something she knew how to handle. Elizabeth leaned forward eagerly. 'I could help…'
'No, I need you right where you are, Elizabeth. You look after that 'gate.' Hayes said briskly. He signed off with a promise of a status briefing in another hour.
Elizabeth looked around the office and sighed heavily. She felt impotent; stuck. She wished again that she was somewhere, anywhere else where she would be needed and useful.
'General Hammond, we're receiving a transmission from Master Bra'tac.'
'Put him through.' Hammond ordered, swivelling in his chair to look forward. The Prometheus was approaching Earth again; limping with multiple injuries back toward Antarctica to render assistance to SG1 and do sweeps of the ice to find the downed missing F302 pilots. The causality and fatality lists were beginning to come back and they were sobering. They'd saved the Earth and given SG1 the time they'd needed to deploy the Ancient weapon but they had taken heavy losses. Hammond still didn't know the status of SG1. He hoped the lack of communication from the team was simply because they were out of range given the distance they had travelled below the ice.
'Hammond of Texas.' Bra'tac greeted him warmly over the radio.
'Master Bra'tac.' Hammond smiled despite his worry and concern. 'It is good to hear your voice.'
'It is good to be heard.' Bra'tac said dryly. 'I wished to inform you that I am returning to my previous coordinates. I am hopeful Teal'c and the others will use the rings to return.'
'Understood.' Hammond said. He refused to consider that SG1 hadn't survived. They had survived before when he had least expected them to do so; they would survive again. He held onto that thought like a talisman.
'We have fought a great battle here today.'
'We couldn't have done it without you.' Hammond replied honestly.
'We will meet later and toast our victory over Anubis.' Bra'tac said cheerfully.
Hammond smiled again. 'I look forward to it.' He signalled to the Major to end the transmission and turned the chair back to the forward view. The ice stretched out gleaming silver in front of them in the creeping darkness.
'Alright, people.' Hammond ordered briskly. 'Let's get the scans working and relay the coordinates of any life-signs to McMurdo.'
'Yes, sir.' Colonel Kirkland shook his head. 'We're not going to be able to save them all, General.'
'We'll save as many as we can.' Hammond shot back. 'We're not in the business of leaving our people behind, Colonel.'
He'd bring them all home; the survivors, the missing, the dead…SG1. He firmed his lips, grateful beyond measure to be where he was; to be where he was most needed.
Jonas paced back and forth in his lab. Dog watched him warily from the large cushion Jonas had placed on the floor beside the main desk. He'd known the communications blackout from Earth was coming. The team had sent him emails every time the Stargate had been open between their two worlds. Jonas was fully informed – probably even better than Dreylock and the official Ambassador – of the situation: Anubis was on his way to Earth, a new President had placed the SGC under review, Hammond was replaced by someone called Weir, and the team was trying to find the Lost City to save their world. It hadn't been a surprise when they'd gotten the formal notification that Earth was suspending the treaty negotiations.
He finally staggered to a halt and slumped onto a stool. He lowered his head into his hands. He felt helpless. He should be there with them. Teal'c's last email had said the Colonel had downloaded the Ancient knowledge into his head again. He should be there to help Daniel with the translations; to give Sam someone else to hand off the technical stuff to; to be there for Teal'c because the Jaffa needed someone despite his strength; to help the Colonel…
But Jonas wasn't there. Instead, he was stuck on Langara, working for the Joint Council and the government of Kelowna as they tried to rebuild their world after Anubis had attacked it. And he was responsible for that. It had been because he had been captured that Anubis had learned of Langara and the naquadria that was their main asset. Anubis would never have looked at Langara if not for Jonas.
It was the way he'd been feeling ever since he'd returned from his home planet to help rebuild. It had worsened in the previous couple of months after the Langaran government had restricted his travel to and from Earth. The team had tried to compensate; Cassie Fraiser had gone so far as to have given him her dog to keep him company, the rest of SG1 sent him constant emails even the Colonel who usually sent him jokes and cartoon strips.
He wouldn't even have that while Earth was incommunicado. He wouldn't know if they'd survived or were safe. He could only trust that if they were they'd be in touch eventually. The urge to leave, to gather supplies and take off through the Stargate nagged at him. Maybe he could go to the Tok'ra; he had memorised a few addresses of safe planets where they kept contacts. Maybe he could find out what had happened…
And then what? And what about his responsibilities on Langara? No matter the times he questioned it, he knew the Council needed the buffer he provided; the knowledge of the galaxy he had acquired. He owed his home planet a debt he needed to repay. But still...
Dog gave an unhappy whine and stood up, waddling over to nudge his leg. Jonas stooped to pet Dog's red fur. 'I know, boy.' He sighed. 'I wish I was there too.'
Teal'c let the light from the rings fade from his vision before he stepped out of the circle and greeted a beaming Bra'tac with a firm handclasp to his forearm.
'Teal'c!' Bra'tac said with delight. 'It is good to see you.'
'It is good to see you too, old friend.' Teal'c allowed himself the moment of comfort, of companionship with the Jaffa who was his father in many ways. But the urge to move filled him and he dropped his hand, stepping away to gather the supplies Major Carter wanted.
'You found what you needed below the ice.' Bra'tac said, placidly.
'Indeed.' Teal'c gathered up a naquadah generator and placed it on the rings along with a crate of food rations, a duffle that contained warm outerwear, another bag that contained the Major's second laptop and other technical equipment.
'You are returning?' Bra'tac inquired.
Teal'c paused and inclined his head. 'O'Neill has been placed in a stasis device to prevent his death. Daniel Jackson believes the chamber in which we found ourselves is part of an Ancient outpost. Major Carter has ordered us to begin exploring so we may discover a way of saving O'Neill.'
'I believe the Tau'ri will expect an update.' Bra'tac commented mildly.
Teal'c opened his mouth to protest; he needed to return to his team-mates.
'I will inform Hammond of Texas of your survival and plans.' Bra'tac's eyes twinkled at him. 'Is there anything else you wish for me to report?'
Teal'c bowed his head. 'Thank you, old friend.'
Bra'tac tugged his cloak tighter around his body. 'Be safe, Teal'c.'
He nodded and gave the signal for Bra'tac to engage the rings. The transport took him again and he found himself back in the dimly lit ice chamber. Major Carter lowered her gun. She and Daniel Jackson immediately began to unload the rings of the equipment.
'This is great, Teal'c.' Sam shot him a grateful smile. She rubbed her nose. 'OK, so I'll get the generator connected up to the Colonel's stasis pod. Daniel, I'm going to need you to help translate the symbols. I'll feel better knowing there's a back-up for the power module. We really don't know how much power is left and I…'
Teal'c let her words wash over him as he helped her set up the lights. He was just pleased to be there to ensure his team-mates' safety.
Jacob started hard at the crystalline structure of the ceiling above him and tried hard to calm his breathing. Selmak was fragile enough without having to deal with the mix of anger and worry coursing through him.
It is OK, Jacob, Selmak said soothingly. It is understandable for you to be worried. Anubis is attacking Earth. I am worried.
He let out a long sigh and brushed a hand over his face. I'm mostly worried about Sam, he admitted. As a member of SG1 she would be right on the frontline of defending Earth.
I know, Selmak said quietly. But she has her team and if anyone can stop Anubis, it is SG1.
Jacob sank into her comfort. I think it's the wait for news that's the worst thing, he said. Not knowing what's happening.
We'll hear the intelligence as soon as our operative reports back, Selmak assured him. She hesitated. We could return…
No, Jacob retorted before she could finish the thought. You know half of the Council is just waiting for us to do that so they can say we're not committed to the Tok'ra cause because I am your host.
Honestly, I think they don't deserve to have us here, Selmak retorted. I would rather be on Earth.
Jacob hushed her mentally. It hadn't been easier for them since deciding to mend fences with their Tok'ra colleagues in the wake of the alliance with Earth falling apart. Selmak didn't deserve to be treated with the disdain some of the Council had taken to using.
We're making inroads, Jacob pointed out. Elmal even spoke to us voluntarily yesterday.
Selmak snorted. Elmal is a bigoted old fool.
But our charm offensive is working, Jacob insisted.
He'd always been good at the politics on Earth. His smile faded as his mind drifted back to the original subject: Earth and Anubis's attack. He just had to believe that Earth would make it through; that SG1 would save the planet again; that his daughter would survive.
Rest, Jacob, Selmak urged.
Jacob closed his eyes and let Selmak tug him into sleep. He trusted her to wake him when there was news and there was nothing more he could do but wait.
Cassie looked at her watch. She glanced at the clock and looked again at her watch.
'You know time is relative.' Jennifer Hailey remarked from her place on Sam's sofa. She rested a hand over the swell of her belly.
'Funny,' Cassie said tersely, 'and Colonel Dixon said he'd call with an update at four o'clock. It's already five minutes past.'
Jennifer rolled her eyes. 'He'll call, Cassie. If he's running late it's because he's getting the latest information, that's all.'
Cassie sighed heavily and sank back into the oversize armchair. Her eyes strayed to the photographs on the mantelpiece. Sam had insisted they add the Fraiser's photos to her own so the entire mantel was weighed down with a multitude of pictures. Among them was one of Cassie with her Mom. She wished her Mom was still alive; that Janet Fraiser would walk through the front door to hold her again, to reassure her that SG1 would be OK; that they would be home soon. Her gaze moved on to the team photo that was proudly displayed. She hoped they were OK.
She'd said goodbye to Jack before they'd left; she knew there was a chance she wouldn't see him again as his brain was being destroyed by the Ancient knowledge he'd downloaded. She hoped they found some way to reverse the process so that he would live. Sam would do everything she could to save him; Daniel and Teal'c would do everything they could, Cassie knew that.
The phone rang and Cassie jumped to answer it.
'They're fine.' Dixon said by way of greeting. 'Well, fine as in Jack's been put in some kind of medical stasis but they're all OK.'
Cassie breathed a sigh of relief. 'Thank you.'
'You did not hear this from me you understand, kiddo?' Dixon replied. 'And you owe me like four nights of babysitting.'
'We said two.' Cassie shot back. 'Are they on their way home?'
'Weir's in a status meeting with the big shots now deciding what happens next.' Dixon said.
'OK.' Cassie said. 'OK. Thanks, Dave.'
'Pleasure, kid.' Dave signed off.
Jennifer pushed off the sofa and wrapped an arm around her. 'They're OK?'
'They're OK.' Cassie said and turned to hug Jennifer. She wouldn't be happy until they were back home and safe, but at least the wait for news was over. 'They're OK.'
Daniel glanced back toward the stasis chamber. Jack looked sightlessly back out at him. Daniel tried hard not to feel creeped out. Jack was safe; he was alive, and they would find some way of reversing Jack's decline. They may have found an outpost and not the Lost City but Sam was right; the chair was a valuable source of information and who knew what else they would find when they excavated the site fully. He threw another glance over his shoulder.
Sam was crouched just beside the chamber, checking and double-checking that the naquadah generator was hooked up properly to the stasis pod so that it would kick in if the power source Jack had found failed. It would keep Jack safe until they could reach the Asgard or come up with their own solution for helping him.
Daniel didn't want to consider the alternative; not having Jack alive and well. It felt like they'd just lost Janet and the loss had hit them all hard. When Jack had said he was going to need the weekend to get his affairs in order…Daniel's heart had all about stopped. His gaze drifted back to Sam. He wondered if she and Jack had actually talked about their feelings for each other in the past week. Probably not, Daniel mused; he'd found it hard enough trying to find the right words himself.
The rings activated suddenly. They all took up defensive positions automatically only to drop their weapons at the sight of General Hammond, wrapped up in a huge coat.
'Major,' Hammond began immediately, 'we've been ordered to leave the ice. I'm here to bring you topside.'
'We can't leave the Colonel, sir,' Sam said stubbornly, 'and it will take a few days to establish whether we can remove the pod safely.'
'Sam's right.' Daniel immediately jumped in to support her.
'I'm sorry, Major, Doctor.' Hammond's kind blue eyes shone sincerely in the dim lighting. 'But we have a major diplomatic incident on our hands. We'll get it sorted out and return but until then, you all need to come with me.'
Daniel could see the temptation to defy orders on Sam's face. If she did, he didn't have to look at Teal'c to know that they would both back her up.
'You have my word we won't forget the Colonel's situation.' Hammond said. 'We might physically have to leave him here but we're not leaving him behind, I promise, Major.'
It was the only thing that could have swayed her and Daniel figured Hammond was the only one who could have convinced her. Sam deflated and nodded.
They began to pack up; Hammond waiting silently. Teal'c bowed his head in front of Jack. Sam stopped, touching the surface again briefly. Daniel paused to make his own goodbye. Not goodbye, Daniel thought determinedly; but a 'see you again.' They would be back.
Rodney McKay almost barrelled into Simon Coombs as he hurried into the room. Rodney shot him a 'get out of my way' look and made his way into the circle of the rings. Lindsay Novak stepped up beside him and hiccupped loudly. He glared at her.
She smiled nervously back at him. 'Sorry,' hiccup, 'I know it's annoying,' hiccup, 'but it only happens,' hiccup, 'when I'm nervous.' Hiccup.
Rodney decided not to reply to her. The Prometheus was doing a quick fly-by of Nevada to pick up the repair team and supplies before returning to the Antarctic ice. The ship had sustained heavy damage in the attack by Anubis.
He didn't know what was worse; that there had been an attack that had left him pacing the command centre, listening to the military feed of the battle with practically everyone else at Area 51 who had high enough clearance to know what was going on, and worrying that life on Earth was about to end, or the stupid want that had coursed through him to actually be on the Prometheus helping the engineering team figure out how to stretch another minute out of their shields so Sam – and the rest of SG1 – had another minute to save the world. He had obviously gone insane working on the Stargate programme.
The world had almost ended. Rodney didn't fool himself on that. They had heard about the attack on the Nimitz battle-group. If SG1 hadn't done their thing and pulled off another impossible miracle…
He thought again about calling his sister. Jeannie had to have had the baby by now. It had been more than a year since she had called him and told him she was pregnant and marrying some English major. She had to have actually given birth to the kid at some point. OK, so maybe she had made the wrong (so, so wrong) choice in giving up her academic career to play at having a family but he should call her. He should have called her months ago but he'd been off-world a lot repairing the Prometheus on Tagrea, and the longer he left it the more difficult it seemed to pick up the phone.
Simon entered the rings with a frown, adjusting his glasses. 'They say eighty per cent of the 302s went down.'
'I heard,' hiccup, 'that both the squadron leaders were killed.' Hiccup.
Rodney rolled his eyes. 'Midget's not dead. They pulled him off the ice like an hour ago.'
'He's in critical condition. They don't think he's going to make it.' Simon said. 'And his name is Mitchell.'
'Whoever.' Rodney said dismissively. OK, he was so over this conversation. He'd just step out and call Jeannie, say hello…
'Heads up for transport, people!' The Colonel in charge yelled.
They were on their way. The rings descended and the last thing Rodney heard before the light took him was another hiccup.
Part 2: Black Ice
'Excellent, you're here.'
Sam immediately rose to her feet as the President entered the Oval office. She noticed Daniel shot Teal'c a tiredly amused look as they followed her example but she was focused on her Commander in Chief. Hammond and General Maynard got to their feet in a way that looked deferential but without the speed Sam had employed; maybe it was a General thing.
'I wanted to thank you in person for all your efforts in, well, saving the world.' Hayes beamed at them, waving away her attempt to salute and crossing to his desk to pick up a folder he'd left there. 'I can't believe I just said that.'
'Thank you, Mister President,' Sam began, 'but really the credit should go to Colonel O'Neill. He risked his life to gain the knowledge that saved us.'
'And I'm sure if the Colonel were here, he'd say it was a team effort.' Hayes countered with another knowing smile.
Sam smiled tightly. 'Sir, we're eager to return to Antarctica and continue excavating the site there to find a solution to Colonel O'Neill's situation.'
'As you know,' Daniel jumped in, 'Jack's mind was being overwritten with the Ancient knowledge but given the wealth of information that the control chair must be able to access we're certain that the solution to reversing the process is there.'
'O'Neill should not be left alone and unguarded.' Teal'c added.
'We should also consider…' Sam began.
'Major.' Hayes held up the folder with a knowing look.
Sam closed her mouth, swallowing down the prepared argument she had been about to detail. She knew she, Daniel and Teal'c had automatically lined up in mission mode; she stood slightly ahead with Teal'c at her left shoulder and Daniel at her right. They made an impressive sight. She was in her service blues, Daniel and Teal'c both in suits. She had no idea how Hammond had managed to arrange the clothing – she suspected Walter Harriman had been involved or Paul Davis – but they looked good.
Hayes looked towards Hammond with sympathy. 'I think I'm beginning to understand what you've had to deal with for the last seven years, George.'
'With respect, Mister President, I firmly believe that their loyalty to each other is one of SG1's best traits,' Hammond said supportively, 'and I agree with their intent and argument if not their timing in presenting it.'
Hayes nodded briskly. He checked his watch and waved at them all to sit down with the folder he held. He perched on an antique chair and sat forward, intent. 'Believe me when I say that I appreciate the sacrifice Colonel O'Neill has made…'
'But that's just it; it doesn't have to be a sacrifice.' Daniel didn't wait for the President to finish. 'We can save Jack we just need to get back there.'
'And I'm afraid that's not going to happen.' Hayes replied firmly. 'Not any time soon.'
Sam's heart sank but she firmed her lips. 'With all due respect, Mister President, the Colonel saved the world and he placed his own life on the line to do so. We owe it to him to return and find a way to save him.'
'And we will,' Hayes promised, 'as soon as we've worked out the details with the other countries involved in the Antarctica treaty but until then stationing our personnel at the site will be seen as provocative.'
'I'm not military,' Daniel argued, leaning forward, 'I could return as part of a civilian expedition.'
'I am not from Earth.' Teal'c pointed out. 'I will accompany Doctor Jackson.'
'I'll resign…' began Sam, because the thought had run through her mind to do that when they'd been ordered off the ice to begin with.
'When I say our personnel, I don't mean military.' Hayes shot back. 'I mean all SGC personnel including yourselves.'
'Major, did George tell you I served with your father?'
As a way of derailing her, it was a pretty effective one. Sam blinked at Hayes, faintly startled by the revelation. She glanced at Hammond.
'No, sir. He didn't mention it.'
'Back in 'Nam.' Hayes expanded. 'I see you have the Carter stubborn streak.'
She blushed and tried hard not to twist her hands together in her lap. 'I come by it honestly, sir.'
'That you do.' Hayes said. He checked his watch again and stood up.
Sam immediately shot up from her seat.
Hayes stuck his hands in his hands in his pockets. 'I promise you, as soon as I can arrange it, you'll all be back in Antarctica.' He paused. 'In the meantime, I have panicking Presidents and Prime Ministers ringing me up in the middle of the night because they think they're about to be abducted by aliens, and frankly, where we need you right now is back at the SGC reassuring everyone that our best team is on the front line guarding the Stargate.'
Sam knew she'd lost the argument. It stung and it made her frustrated on a level that she hadn't encountered before. It was just wrong that they'd had to leave Antarctica; wrong that they'd had to leave Jack behind frozen in stasis in the Ancient chamber; wrong that they were being pushed back to Colorado as some political sop to the world's political leaders.
Daniel shot her a knowing look and Teal'c's eyes met hers; both informing her without words that if she decided to stage a hostile takeover of the government they would have her back.
But she smiled tightly and drew on her sense of duty like it was armour. 'Yes, sir.'
'Great!' Hayes smiled broadly at them but he was already walking towards the door. 'Now, I have to get to my next meeting which, unfortunately, involves meeting a bunch of politicians rather than heroes, and you have a plane to catch at Andrews.'
The door closed behind him.
Sam released a frustrated breath and only just managed to remember that Maynard was still in the room before she said something career-ending. 'Andrews, sir?' She asked Hammond instead.
'We have a car waiting outside. You'll be returning to Petersen tonight.' Hammond confirmed. 'I'll ride with you.'
Maynard cleared his throat. He smiled. 'Despite the circumstances, I've enjoyed meeting the three of you.' He held Sam's gaze. 'I hope the next time I see you, Colonel O'Neill will be standing alongside you.'
Sam appreciated the note of support. 'Thank you, sir.' She let Hammond lead the way out of the White House and into the limousine.
The car barely started to move when she turned to Hammond with renewed focus. 'Sir…'
'Major.' Hammond cut her off as firmly as the President had. His gaze took in Daniel and Teal'c sat across from them before returning to Sam. 'The President is right. We need to smooth things over diplomatically. You need to give us time to do this right.'
'How much time?' Daniel asked pointedly.
Hammond's face twitched into a brief wince. 'As much time as it takes.'
Teal'c raised an expressive eyebrow.
'We can't leave the Colonel there indefinitely, sir.' Sam argued passionately. 'We have no idea how long the stasis cycle will last and if…'
'Major.' Hammond interrupted her briskly. 'I understand your concerns and I share them but we have a lot of scared people who need time to adjust to the truth that aliens exist, that we have been involved in a war with them for a long time, and that we almost lost the battle that revealed this state of affairs to them.' He paused. 'You need to give us time to fix this.'
Sam's lips tightened with hurt and she turned away to hide her expression. 'Yes, sir.'
Hammond sighed. 'I promise we'll be back in Antarctica before you know it, Sam.'
She looked over at him when he used her name. He rarely allowed any sign of his personal relationship with the Carter family to be expressed. She noticed he looked tired. The battle had taken its toll on him. They'd lost a lot of men and women both in the programme and out of it. She knew he took each loss personally and he would fight to make sure they didn't lose the Colonel too; she knew that.
'Yes, sir.' Her tone was gentle, compliant and understanding rather than the verbal middle finger she'd used before.
'Thank you.' Hammond said quietly.
Sam glanced over at Daniel and Teal'c. They would do as Hammond and the President wanted for the time being, and allow them space to fix the political mess that prevented SG1 from being with their missing team leader. A month, Sam determined grimly. Four weeks. That was all she was giving them. If there was no progress by then, they would have a plan to save Jack regardless of their orders. She glanced over at her team-mates.
Across the car, Daniel's lips twitched and he turned his head to hide his smile as Teal'c inclined his head in acknowledgement.
'Welcome back, SG1'
Teal'c frowned at Doctor Weir, running over her features and comparing her to the image in his head. 'You are different.' He looked at her suspiciously. Was this the same woman he had met before he had left in search of help for the Tau'ri?
Weir lifted a self-conscious hand to touch her short dark locks. 'The blonde wasn't really me.' She smiled self-deprecatingly.
'The new colour suits you, ma'am.' Sam said, taking her seat at the conference table.
'Um, yes,' Daniel smiled tentatively as he pushed his glasses up his nose, 'it's very you.'
Teal'c agreed; the chestnut colour suited Weir's pale, freckled skin tone much better. The new SGC leader also seemed settled in her own skin in a way she hadn't before; calmer, more commanding and assured. Perhaps losing the ex-Vice President Kinsey at her elbow had helped with that. Teal'c approved.
Weir's smile widened even as she blushed. 'Thank you.' Her hand wave encompassed them. 'It's good to have you back.'
'We're very keen to return to Antarctica, ma'am.' Sam said. 'We believe a solution to Colonel O'Neill's predicament can be found in the Ancient database that is accessed by the chair.'
'Yes, so I understand.' Weir sat forward, clasping her hands on the polished surface of the table. 'How do you propose to access the information without the Colonel?'
Teal'c sat back, content to let his team-mates explain.
'The information must be stored within the chair's design.' Sam said confidently. 'I theorise if I could have some time to study the chair I could determine a technological way to access the information without needing the chair to be activated by a controller.'
'I can read Ancient fluently.' Daniel motioned at Weir. 'So we don't need Jack to translate; I can do that myself.'
'It's just a question of accessing the information.' Sam said.
'And obviously, implementing whatever reversal process might be in the database.' Daniel added.
'What if we don't have the necessary equipment or tools to do so?' Weir asked bluntly. 'My understanding is that the Ancients were years ahead of us in terms of technological know-how. Isn't it likely that any solution might require medical technology that we don't have?'
'If it's a question of building the right tool,' Sam said, 'I can do that so long as I have specifications. It's possible the database the chair accesses will have this information.'
'And we really have no idea what's buried under the ice.' Daniel pointed out. 'It's possible that the structure of the outpost is a lot bigger than the two chambers that we occupied. There may be a medical facility there.'
'Exactly,' Sam nodded, 'the drone weapons the Colonel used originated from a different level. That in itself indicates there must be other chambers that we could discover if we excavated the site.'
Teal'c shifted to capture Weir's attention. 'There may also be other weapons that O'Neill chose not to use.'
'Yes!' Daniel nodded enthusiastically. 'And we should really look into that since it's likely that the System Lords may show up to test our defences.'
'I would have thought our beating Anubis would keep them at bay for a while.' Weir frowned at the archaeologist.
'Perhaps for a short time,' Teal'c conceded inclining his head thoughtfully, 'but they will be curious regarding the Ancient weapon and will be eager to secure it for themselves.'
'How will they find out?' Weir asked. 'We destroyed the fleet in orbit and Master Bra'tac assured me personally of his discretion when he returned through the Stargate yesterday.'
'It is highly likely that the System Lords had a scout ship in the area.' Teal'c replied. He suspected that there had been more than one. He knew Bra'tac would downplay what had happened but it was more than probable that the story of Anubis's demise by a powerful Ancient weapon at the hands of the Tau'ri was already spreading through the galaxy.
'Great.' Weir sighed. 'OK, well we'll deal with the Goa'uld if they show up but I suggest we don't say this to the rest of the world leaders.'
Teal'c exchanged a look with his team-mates.
'I wasn't aware that SG1 were expected to be part of the negotiations, ma'am.' Sam said, taking the lead.
'As the President himself said, who better to brief everyone on the Stargate programme than the people who've lived it?' Weir said crisply. 'There'll be a schedule of video conferences over the next week to bring everyone up to speed. We're hopeful once everybody has been assured, we can move on to agreeing a revised Antarctica treaty.'
It sounded to Teal'c that there was no plan for them to return to Antarctica within the month. He frowned heavily.
Sam stiffened. 'Ma'am, we need to return to Antarctica ASAP to help Colonel O'Neill.'
'Agreeing a timetable for returning to Antarctica will be one of the first items on the agenda once we get past the briefings.' Weir said soothingly. 'The Prometheus is being repaired in orbit and will keep a sensor check on the Colonel in the meantime.'
Daniel gestured at her. 'We could return to McMurdo and do the briefings there; that way we're on site as soon as we get the go ahead.'
'I'm afraid we need you here.' Weir said firmly. 'Russia, China and Great Britain all requested SG1's return to ensure that our best team is on point in case of an emergency.'
'With all due respect, Doctor Weir,' Sam said, 'SG1 is down one member and until Colonel O'Neill is back at the SGC, SG1 is still in Antarctica.'
Teal'c bowed his head in agreement.
Weir shifted forward again; her eyes intent on Sam's. 'I appreciate your position, Major, I really do. But right now, we've all been given a job to do here and we need to do it.' She looked at them each individually to press the point home. She placed her hands flat on the table. 'Major Davis will liaise with you on the briefings. That'll be all.'
As a dismissal it was a good one, Teal'c considered.
Sam hovered by the table as she got to her feet. 'Permission to send a message to the Asgard, ma'am. If we can't help the Colonel, they may be able to and…'
'Permission granted.' Weir said as she pushed back from the table and headed to the office.
Sam glanced at Teal'c and Daniel once the door was closed. 'Why don't you head to the mess, guys? I'll meet you there once I've sent this message to Thor.'
Daniel nodded. 'OK. You want us to grab you something?'
Sam shrugged. 'Just some jello.'
Teal'c frowned. She had hardly eaten since their return from Antarctica. Perhaps the chef could be persuaded to make her favourite. He followed Daniel out to the elevator.
Daniel pressed the button for the floor and sighed, pushing his hands into his pockets. 'I can't believe we left Jack.'
'I too miss his presence.' Teal'c agreed.
'We left him.' Daniel muttered again.
'We have not.' Teal'c disagreed mildly. 'Major Carter is correct. Until O'Neill is once again with us, SG1 remains in Antarctica.'
'You mean spiritually?' Daniel asked, rocking back with a tiny frown line creasing his brow.
'I do.' Teal'c concurred.
Daniel smiled suddenly. 'That's so deep.'
'I believe it is Major Carter who is deep.' Teal'c pointed out.
Daniel rubbed a hand over his head. 'Hopefully, Sam'll get hold of Thor.' He sighed and wrapped his arms around his torso. 'I can't believe we have to do these briefings.'
'Will we not be able to use the briefings to expedite our return to Antarctica?' Teal'c suggested.
'Maybe.' Daniel winced. 'I can't see the President or Weir allowing us much wriggle room to argue our case though.' His lips twisted. 'I think I preferred her when she was blonde and slightly unsure of herself.'
'I believe she is still unsure. She is merely hiding it better.' Teal'c countered.
It was strange the change in her appearance. He had not changed his own for many years since the fight he had lost with Bra'tac and the facial hair he had acquired as a result. He pressed his lips together. Perhaps he should begin to grow his head hair again. He no longer needed to wear a skull cap and if he were to receive permission to live off-base, hair would allow him to blend with the Tau'ri more easily.
He followed Daniel out into the corridor. It was certainly something to think about.
Daniel felt like he could sleep for a week – maybe a month. Maybe a year. He stifled his yawn and tried to focus on the world leader in front of him. Canadian or French, maybe? They were definitely speaking French. Maybe Belgian? He was ashamed to admit that he had kind of lost track.
'Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Galieo. Au revoir.' Weir signed off politely and nodded at Walter. The monitor went dark. Walter replaced the speakerphone handset and left the room.
Weir let out a long breath and sank back in her chair. She'd gone with a dark grey pant suit teamed with a red blouse which suited her new brunette style. She threw down her pen. 'Well, I think Monsieur Galieo is sympathetic.'
'Really?' Daniel removed his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. 'I got the impression that he thought the whole thing was an elaborate joke and he was humouring the crazy people.'
'I thought the whole thing was an elaborate joke at first.' Weir retorted with a smile.
'Great,' Daniel commented, 'so everyone thinks this is a joke and I get to spend my time doing this rather than spending time doing something important, like I don't know; saving my friend!' He stopped realising that he was yelling and that his fingers were clutching his pen so tightly he was in danger of breaking it in two.
Weir looked at him with an arched eyebrow.
Daniel took a deep breath and sighed. 'Sorry. Just…it's been over a week since we started these briefings, and over two weeks since we left Jack behind in Antarctica and…'
'I know it's hard,' Weir said comfortingly, 'but we are making progress.' She considered him carefully and Daniel could guess at what she was seeing; the bags under his eyes, the pallor that lurked under his fading tan. 'Why don't you take the rest of the day and get some rest? I can get Doctor Kelly to stand in.'
Daniel nodded carefully, gathered his things together and left. He could use the time to continue his search into a solution for Jack's condition. There had to be something…maybe if he tried looking into Celtic mythology…
He almost walked into somebody by the elevator and glanced up to mutter an apology only to pause in recognition.
'Major Lorne.' Daniel frowned. The last time he'd seen Lorne had been months before on P3X403 where Lorne had been stationed with SG11 overseeing the naquadah mining with the Unas. Of course, Daniel considered idly, SG11 would have been recalled with everyone else following the President's appointment of Weir and request of a three month review of their operations.
'Doctor Jackson.' Lorne smiled at him briefly. He gestured at the open elevator as though to say 'after you.'
Daniel entered the compartment, pressed the button to take him to the floor for Sam's lab, and shuffled to the side to let Lorne get to the floor buttons. 'How are you?'
'Good.' Lorne shrugged. 'Well, bored, you know? We're all on stand down but I've just met with Colonel Dixon and General Kerrigan about a TDA to the 302 programme.' His expression sobered. 'They've recovered enough planes to make up a squadron but they're short of qualified pilots after what happened in Antarctica.'
Daniel grimaced. He knew most of the pilots had been killed or wounded providing air support to SG1. 'You'd be deployed with the Prometheus?'
'Stationed at Petersen. They want to split up our defences.' Lorne said easily. 'How about you?'
'Oh, tied up in briefings trying to convince the world's political leaders that this isn't an elaborate joke.' Daniel smiled to soften the bitter words but Lorne looked at him too sympathetically anyway.
Lorne motioned at him. 'No news on when you can head back?'
'Not yet.' Daniel sighed heavily.
'You'll get there.' Lorne assured him.
His absolute confidence almost had Daniel teetering on tears. God, he was tired. He shook the feeling away and changed the subject. 'You heading home now?'
'Actually, to the hospital.' If Lorne was fazed by the change in topic he didn't show it. 'All of the injured have been transferred there from McMurdo now. A bunch of us thought we'd head over and visit with them; cheer them up with pizza and beer.' He looked suddenly nervous. 'Uh, that last part is kind of on the quiet?'
That sounded good, Daniel thought abruptly. It sounded constructive and useful. He could go and thank the guys that had helped save their lives. 'You want another volunteer?'
The elevator slid to a halt and the doors opened. Daniel caught the door and stood in the opening, preventing the elevator from leaving.
'Sure.' Lorne said. 'Do you want a ride?'
'Yeah,' Daniel smiled, 'I'm tired enough to fall asleep driving.' He gestured over his shoulder with his free hand. 'Let me just ask Teal'c and Sam. I'm pretty sure they'll want to come along too.'
Lorne nodded. 'I'll meet you up top.'
'Great.' Daniel stepped out and let go of the door. He waved at Lorne as the doors slid shut again. He hurried on to Sam's lab. The door was wide open. Teal'c sat at the central bench carefully taking readings from a device Sam had set-up. Daniel tried hard not to smirk at the soft black fuzz that covered Teal'c's scalp. For some reason, Teal'c had decided to grow his hair out. Sam sat at her computer monitor talking with McKay.
'…and you know it doesn't work like that, Blondie.' McKay said wagging a finger at her. 'It's not designed to…'
'I know what it's designed to do, McKay!' Sam retorted. 'I designed it!'
'You designed it! You!' McKay protested. 'OK, so you may have come up with the original idea but I…'
Daniel cleared his throat and Sam cast a look over her shoulder. 'Having fun?'
Sam's lips twitched and she turned back to the monitor. 'McKay, I have to put you on mute for a moment.'
'Mute?' McKay spluttered, gesticulating widely into the camera. 'No, no, no! No putting me on mute! That's just…'
Sam muted the sound and clicked something else to turn off the microphone. She turned back to Daniel. 'How did it go with the Belgian Prime Minister?'
Belgian. Daniel sighed. 'A gigantic waste of time.' He motioned toward the monitor. 'What are you doing?'
'Helping McKay with the repairs.' Sam grimaced and stretched. 'Honestly, I don't know why I can't go up to the Prometheus and work there. The repairs would go faster and it's not like I'm doing anything here.' All military personnel except for Hammond had been kept out of the briefings after the initial round.
'I ran into Lorne in the elevator.' Daniel said. 'He's going over to the hospital to say hi to the 302 pilots there. I thought I'd go along and say thank you. You two want to come?'
'Indeed.' Teal'c replied, still diligently noting the readings.
'Yeah,' Sam nodded, 'that'd be good.' She bit her lip. 'I was intending to visit with Cam anyway. You know it was him and Banks who took out that alkesh that almost got us just before we ringed down?'
Daniel knew she and the leader of the 302 squadron had been good friends at the Academy. 'How's he doing?'
'They've stabilised him.' Sam said. 'But beyond that?' She shook her head. 'He's in a medically induced coma because of the severity of his injuries. His legs are a mess from where they got pinned; they may still have to amputate. Doctor Brightman's asked me if I'd use the healing device now that he's here so…' she motioned. 'I should get that out of storage and take it with me.'
'Do you not have plans with Detective Shanahan this evening, Major Carter?' Teal'c commented, his face as impassive as ever.
Sam chewed on her lip. 'I'll cancel. Pete will understand.'
Daniel frowned. By his reckoning, Sam had blown off every date she'd set up with the detective she was supposedly seeing since they'd returned from Antarctica. He knew some of it had to do with the emotional maelstrom of dealing with Jack's absence and her unresolved feelings for him, but he wondered how long Pete would continue to wait for Sam. Probably a long time, Daniel mused; the cop showed no signs that Sam's reticence would stop his pursuit of her. Daniel shook himself slightly, and pulled his thoughts back to the present.
'Lorne's waiting up top to give us a ride.' Daniel motioned upward with one hand.
Sam thrust a hand at the monitor. 'I have to finish with McKay…'
'And I must continue taking these readings.' Teal'c's dark eyes met Daniel's.
Daniel nodded in understanding. Teal'c had taken on the role of making sure Sam looked after herself while they worked out a way to save Jack. 'I'll go ahead with Lorne.'
'You sure?' Sam asked.
'Yeah, I need to get out of here. Get some air.' Daniel admitted. He needed a bed and twelve hours of sleep without nightmares of being unable to save Jack…being unable to save Janet.
Sam slipped off her stool and hugged him. 'It's going to be OK, Daniel.'
Daniel hugged her back, caught something on the monitor that made him huff with a burst of laughter and nudged her to look.
McKay had written a sign and had it up to the camera. 'Hello!' it read, 'Important work here!'
Sam rolled her eyes. 'Do you think anyone will mind if I shoot him?'
Daniel smiled. 'I'll see you at the hospital.' He left them to it, hearing Sam greet McKay's annoyed 'finally!' with exaggerated sweetness as he exited. He changed quickly in the locker room choosing faded old jeans and a comfortable flannel shirt. He pulled on a leather jacket to keep the February chill away. He took the elevator to the surface and signed out.
Lorne waited for him by the exit for the car park. He'd opted for a similar outfit to Daniel's – the leather jacket an old fashioned bomber style affair that looked well worn. He pushed off the wall and darted a look back towards the base. 'Major Carter and Teal'c not coming with us?'
'They're coming later. Sam's busy talking McKay through some repairs and Teal'c's helping her with some other experiment.'
'Car's this way.'
Daniel followed Lorne and gratefully got in the passenger seat. Somewhere between leaving the base and the hospital, he dozed. He came to with a start as Lorne switched the engine off, the hospital looming large in front of them. Daniel blinked.
'You awake?' Lorne asked. His eyes were warm with concern.
'Yeah,' Daniel lifted his glasses and brushed the sleep out of his eyes, 'sorry. Just…haven't been sleeping much.' He wasn't sure why he'd confessed. Maybe because Lorne was so solid and normal; something that was anchoring.
Lorne nodded. 'It's got to be tough on you guys.'
Daniel wasn't stupid. He knew Lorne was giving him an opening to talk about it if he wanted to talk about it or brush it off and move on if he didn't. He was about to do the latter and stopped to really consider it. Lorne was a good guy and while he could talk to Sam and Teal'c, they were dealing with their own issues.
He cleared his throat. 'We left him behind.' The guilt of that filled every word.
'From what I understand, it wasn't your choice, Doc.' Lorne said quietly. 'And he's good, isn't he? I mean, the stasis thing is keeping him alive.'
'But that's just it,' Daniel said tiredly, 'he shouldn't have needed the stasis thing. He shouldn't have needed to have stuck his head into the repository again! I should have remembered all of it.'
'And you think you should remember how to get all that stuff out of the Colonel's head.' Lorne guessed, shifting his hands from the steering wheel as he turned more fully towards Daniel.
Daniel leaned his head back and closed his eyes. 'When we were there…it was like a half-remembered dream or déjà vu, you know? As though I'd known about the outpost and known about the power module and the stasis chamber and…' he opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. 'I should know this too.'
'The Colonel's not going to blame you for not remembering.' Lorne murmured.
He was right. Jack was very practical about Daniel's loss of Ascended memory; he'd allowed that it would have been useful if Daniel remembered but he didn't so Jack didn't see the point of dwelling on it. It was a very healthy approach; Daniel wished he could embrace it.
'I just want to be doing something to help him.' Daniel admitted. 'Something other than sitting at the SGC and talking to politicians who wouldn't even be around if it wasn't for Jack.'
'You know we all believe if anyone's going to convince them to get us back up and running, it's you, Doc.' Lorne said.
Daniel felt the comfort of his words – that Daniel was doing something – even as he felt the weight of them. 'So no pressure then?'
Lorne smiled at him kindly.
'Thanks,' Daniel breathed out, 'I kind of needed to hear that.'
'Come on, Doc.' Lorne gestured with his head to the back seat and the stack of pizzas there – and Daniel blinked because how out of it had he been to have missed Lorne stopping to pick up the take-out? 'Let's go be delivery boys.'
Daniel followed Lorne into the hospital. He let Lorne take the lead in sweet-talking the nurses into ignoring the large boxes with their wafting scent of tomato and cheese. Daniel dutifully helped distribute the contraband before he left Lorne with someone the Major clearly knew from a previous posting. Daniel drifted down a corridor and stopped in front of a private room. He peeked through the internal window and took in the crumpled form of Cameron Mitchell.
The pilot looked small and fragile in the hospital bed, a brace covering his upper body before disappearing under blankets – the lower half of which lifted through some contraption to hang over some kind of metal protective structure around Mitchell's legs. He was hooked up to so many machines that Daniel had to count them twice to get a solid number.
'I see you found Mitchell.'
Daniel glanced over his shoulder at Lorne. 'He looks battered. I can't believe he's alive.'
'Alive and holding his own, by all accounts.' Lorne commented. 'He always did have a reputation as a stubborn son of a gun.'
'You know him?' Daniel asked, wondering why he was surprised. Lorne was a pilot, Mitchell was a pilot.
'Not really.' Lorne said with another easy smile. 'We were both posted to Iraq at the same time for a few months but different aircraft so we didn't interact much.' He gestured at Mitchell. 'But the best pilots always get something of a reputation and Mitchell is the one of the best.' He paused. 'Was one of the best, I guess with his injuries, it's likely he won't be flying anymore.'
Daniel winced. 'Sam's going to bring in the healing device. Maybe that'll help.'
Lorne's face brightened. 'I hope so.' He looked back at Mitchell. 'He was on the ice for a long time but he'd switched his lights on; that's the only reason they found him.' He shook his head thoughtfully. 'Not many people would have the wherewithal to think about doing that after a serious crash or survived the injuries he sustained. He's like you, Doc,' he said, 'not the type to give up.'
Not the type to give up, Daniel considered silently; was that really how people thought of him? Was it something he believed about himself? 'I think I'm going to sit with Mitchell until Sam gets here.'
'You want me to stay?' Lorne asked.
Daniel shook his head. 'Thanks, Major.'
'It's Evan, Doc.' Lorne corrected with a smile.
'Daniel.' Daniel rejoined.
Lorne gave him a partial salute and headed back down the corridor. Daniel watched him disappear before he entered Mitchell's room. He pulled up a high-backed mock-leather chair to the side of the bed. The ventilator provided a soft whooshing sound and the steady beep of the monitor, a strange counterpoint.
He'd rest his eyes for a moment, Daniel thought wearily; just a moment before he had to be as strong as the pilot in the bed; just as moment more before he had to be someone who didn't give up again.
Part 3: Cracks In the Ice
Of course, Selmak loved the seedy bar. Jacob rolled his eyes at her delighted mental glee and fought the urge to back out and head straight back to the Stargate.
Relax, Jacob, Selmak remonstrated, this is a trading planet. They expect all kinds of people and nobody is interested in us.
That wasn't true; there was a very attractive brunette eyeing them warily across the room. She was a stunner; decked out in skin-tight leather and a sassy attitude that Jacob recognised as trouble. She threw Jacob another suspicious look, grabbed a jacket from the back of her chair and left through the back door.
She's an ex-host, Selmak noted inwardly putting into words the tingling sensation they'd felt. I think Qetesh's from what I remember of Carvin's description.
Jacob sighed. She wasn't keen on us.
I can't blame her if she recognised us as Tok'ra, Selmak admitted. Carvin should have made sure the host was taken care of but he admitted that he left her to the mercy of the people on the planet because he got another lead.
Jacob hushed her softly as Selmak's keen disappointment in how her fellow Tok'ra often underestimated their hosts and the hosts taken by the Goa'uld spiked through him. He looked around the bar again and made his way over to a free spot. He ordered a drink and waited.
I can't believe Bra'tac chose this place, Jacob commented dryly.
It is certainly engaging, Selmak replied, brightening as they took in the different aliens huddled around the various tables. Here he is.
Bra'tac was not wearing his usual Jaffa armour but rather a dull beige hooded cloak with a simple tunic and leggings underneath. He made his way to Jacob's side and Jacob grasped the offered forearm warmly.
'My friends.' Bra'tac said, grinning. 'It is good to see you.'
'We got your message.' Jacob said, smiling widely back at him. 'Thank you.' The communication requesting they meet had also said 'everyone safe.' It was much needed reassurance; the Tok'ra scout had only reported that Earth had defeated Anubis with an Ancient weapon.
Bra'tac harrumphed, waving away Jacob's gratitude.
Jacob motioned for the bartender to provide another drink for Bra'tac and handed over the required credits in return. 'Let's find a table.'
'Indeed,' murmured Bra'tac, 'I have much to tell you.'
They settled at a back table and Bra'tac quietly relayed what had happened.
'I do not need to tell you that the System Lords will want this weapon.' Bra'tac finished. He took a long swallow of his drink.
'And everyone else in the galaxy.' Jacob leaned back in the rickety chair. Anubis might be dead but the danger to Earth hadn't gone away.
'Ba'al is moving into Anubis's territory.' Bra'tac informed him briskly. 'He will also be a threat.' He set his cup down and clapped Jacob's shoulder. 'SG1will prevail, no?'
'O'Neill's in stasis.' Jacob retorted.
Bra'tac's dark eyes shone with pride. 'Ah, but do you truly believe your daughter or Daniel Jackson or my Teal'c will allow him to remain that way?'
Jacob opened his mouth and closed it again. 'You have a point.'
'All will be well, my friend.' Bra'tac said confidently. 'I will get us another drink.' He got up before Jacob could protest.
So, Earth is safe but only for the time being, Jacob complained to Selmak.
And this is different from the status quo, how, Jacob? Selmak commented wryly.
Henry sat back in his very comfortable chair and regarded the faces of the other world leaders on the various monitors in the situation room.
'I'm looking forward to meeting your representatives to begin discussing our revised Antarctica treaty.' Henry said with a charming smile. 'Thank you all for your understanding and cooperation. Ladies, Gentlemen.'
The aide in the corner ended the feed and the monitors went dark apart from the one with the SGC showing Elizabeth Weir.
'We'll reconvene in one hour and discuss strategy.' Henry said firmly, standing. He needed to take a break. He didn't wait for his order to be acknowledged. He got to his feet, fastened his suit jacket and walked out. His Secret Service agents trailed behind him, the muted chatter of the lead agent already relaying that the Eagle was on the move.
Henry made for the terrace outside of his office. It was raining; the light incessant drizzle that seemed to be so common in Washington; neither a downpour nor a fog but something in between. Maybe the weather was as determined to be as grey and uninteresting as the politicians running the country, Henry considered grimly, pushing his hands into his pants' pockets and staring up at the sky.
'Mister President.' Hammond's calm drawl behind him almost made him start.
'George, what have I told you? It's Henry.'
'Yes, Mister President.' Hammond replied on cue.
They both smiled ruefully.
'I don't know how you do it, George.' Henry admitted. 'I told those people in there that the Earth was safe and that we could protect them.' He rocked back on his heels. 'And you know the worst thing? They bought it because they want to believe that we're safe and protected.' He laughed shortly. 'Hell, I want to believe we're safe and protected.' He paused. 'Isn't this where you jump in and tell me we're safe and protected?'
Hammond closed the distance between them. 'We're safe. We have our best people manning the frontline and they're good, experienced people who will give their lives to make sure we're protected.'
Henry felt reassured despite himself; despite the briefing Hammond had given that morning detailing how Earth was at risk despite their win over Anubis.
'You know what really gets my goat about this Antarctica crap? We lost over two thousand servicemen and women in the battle with Anubis.' Henry said quietly. 'We did, not them. So you know what I really want to say to all the other leaders? Of course, our world isn't fucking safe! We're in terrible danger and you should all get your heads out of your asses and let the one team that saved us all, and not for the first time, go back and do whatever they need to do, and fuck the treaty and boundaries and who gets what.'
'I'm sure SG1 would appreciate your faith in them, sir.' Hammond said mildly.
'How long before they get sick of waiting for a political solution, and use the power they're pretending they don't have to get what they want and probably save all of us again as a result?' Henry asked bluntly, glancing over his shoulder.
Hammond smiled. 'I'd say another week, no more than that.'
Henry sighed and took a deep breath. He had to admire that kind of loyalty and determination. He shook his head. 'You think this International Oversight Committee is a good thing?'
'I think it's inevitable, Mister President.' Hammond said dryly.
'Like death and taxes?' And as unwanted as both those things. Henry nodded his agreement. 'I'm just going to stay out here a while, George.'
Henry was going to stay out, stare at the grey sky and pretend that he was safe; just for a moment.
'An international oversight committee.' Daniel complained, weaving his hands through the air sharply. 'How is that a good idea?'
'You got me.' Sam muttered, picking up a slice of pizza from the box on the bench between them. 'But if it gets us back to Antarctica, I'm all for it.'
'Oh, me too.' Daniel agreed, snagging his own slice of pizza. He nudged his glasses up his nose with his free hand and bit into the make-shift dinner. 'Where's Teal'c?'
'Sparring.' Sam said succinctly.
Daniel waggled his eyebrows. 'He actually got volunteers?'
'Marines.' Sam waved her pizza precariously in the direction of a valuable reference book.
Daniel snagged it and placed it to the side with the hand not covered in tomato sauce. 'He's going to break them.'
Sam shrugged as though the fates of Teal'c's sparring partners were of no consequence. 'So, they've transferred the cargo ship from Petersen where Bra'tac left it, back to Area 51.'
'I don't suppose Weir will allow you to go there and look at it.' Daniel thought out loud. 'I mean, if we can get onto the ship then we can…'
'Take it and go look for Thor.' Sam completed.
'I was going to say get back to Antarctica but your plan sounds good too.' Daniel lowered his half-eaten pizza. 'You do have a plan, right?'
Sam wiped her fingers on a napkin. 'Well, I have 'take the cargo ship and go look for Thor' so far.'
'OK,' Daniel murmured, 'so maybe we need to work on the details.' But a plan was a plan. It beat sitting around and waiting for the international community to allow them to get back to Jack.
'Not least of which is actually getting Doctor Weir to agree to send us over to Area 51 when everyone wants us to stay here.' Sam pointed out.
'Yeah, I'm thinking she's not just going to say yes.' Daniel sighed but he caught a dangerous glint. 'Ooh, you have that look.'
'What look?' Sam straightened with a glare.
'The 'I'm about to blow something up or take part in a really unnecessary space race' look.' Daniel shot back.
Sam arched an elegant eyebrow. 'You say that like it's a bad thing.' She teased.
Daniel grinned back at her because it was such a good thing. He truly believed that Sam could take over the universe if she put her mind to it and he had a feeling the new international committee was about to find out just how dangerous Samantha Carter could be when she decided to fight.
'…and I don't see why we need to continue to work as a single body if Anubis is dead.' The Tiranian representative on the Langaran Council.
'Maybe because he isn't the only Goa'uld out there who has targeted us?' Jonas countered, trying and failing to keep the exasperation out of his voice. 'The Goa'uld we found spying on us last year was working for Ba'al.'
'So you're saying Langara isn't safe although Earth has defeated Anubis?' Dreylock was a picture of calm serenity at the head of the table.
'That's exactly what I'm saying.' Jonas said.
'Well, of course, you would say that.' The Andari representative said with a huff.
Jonas drew in a deep breath and tried to wrestle his anger back. 'I was requested to be on this Council because of my experiences with SG1 and the Goa'uld. It is my expert opinion that we are not safe. Earth has defeated many Goa'uld including Apophis, Hathor and Nirrti to name but a few. They have continued to face threats despite their success.'
'Thank you, Jonas.' Dreylock broke in before the Andari could reply. 'Perhaps you could leave us to deliberate.'
It was a well-executed dismissal. Jonas got to his feet and left without saying another word. He stormed down to his lab and locked the door. Dog greeted him cheerfully, his tail wagging madly. He took a moment to pet him before he tugged the Earth laptop closer to the edge of the bench and brought up the email that Daniel had sent him when Earth had dialled Langara to confirm that they had survived Anubis's attack. He'd already reread it several times.
'There's going to be a new international committee…' Jonas grimaced. He hoped Earth's international body didn't prove as frustrating as the Langaran Council. '…we think we might be able to use the cargo ship Jack modified to travel to the Asgard galaxy so we have a plan B…'
The cargo ship. Jonas frowned as his mind snagged onto the words. OK, so why…Anat. Jonas winced automatically at the thought of the Goa'uld who he had unknowingly had a relationship with. He sat up though as he made the connection. Anat had to have travelled in a ship of some description and that ship had to be somewhere on Langara. If he found it…Jonas smiled.
He stopped petting Dog and tugged the laptop closer. He would write his reply to Daniel and start planning how to find a cloaked cargo ship from the ground. The Langaran government might have prevented him from travelling through the Stargate but they underestimated him if they thought that was the end of it. If he found Anat's cargo ship, he would have a plan B of his own.
Anna Brightman gave a nod to the worried parents sat either side of Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell's bed and picked up his chart. She pursed her lips and read through the latest obs.
He was improving, slowly but surely. He'd started breathing on his own; his heart rate had settled into a good rhythm; his latest blood work had shown no sign of infection. The primary damage to his legs – the shattered bones and patella; horrific gouges through muscle and flesh – had been mostly healed by Major Carter's efforts with the healing device but there was spinal inflammation and they wouldn't know the extent of that damage until the young Colonel woke up and they could assess him.
Anna replaced the chart and went to take her own readings from the various devices. They confirmed everything that Anna had read in the chart; steady improvement. She picked up the chart again and wrote down everything neatly.
'Doctor?' Mitchell's mother – Wendy, Anna reminded herself – cleared her throat. 'How's he doing?'
For a brief moment, Anna wished again that Janet Fraiser was alive. Her late boss had been so much better at doing the hard part – talking to relatives, soothing their concerns with brisk but compassionate empathy. Anna put the chart down and rested her hands lightly on the end bed rail. 'He's improving.'
The good news impacted Mitchell's parents like a tidal wave. His father's shoulders slumped in relief and his hand tightened around Mitchell's limp fingers. His mother blinked back grateful tears.
Anna steeled herself to move onto the bad news. 'He has inflammation around his spinal column from the crash. We'll know more when he wakes up.'
'Will he…is he going to be…' Mitchell's father darted a look at his own crutches lined up against the wall of the room and then to Anna.
'We've ruled out a spinal break,' Anna said firmly, 'but there may be nerve damage. We'll have to wait and see.'
'This is my fault.' His Dad lowered his eyes back to his son. 'He joined up because of me and…'
'Frank.' Wendy shook her head. 'This isn't your fault.'
Anna felt awkward and uncertain. She had no idea what to say; what would Janet have said, she wondered. 'I know we can't tell you much about what happened, but there are a lot of people who wouldn't be alive if your son hadn't been there.' Her hands tightened on the rail. 'He's made it this far and he's got a long road ahead but we're going to do all we can to get him back on his feet. You have my word.'
They both smiled at her; Frank gave her a tentative nod and Wendy mouthed a thank you. Anna smiled back and walked out swiftly. She paused in the corridor, pleased. She rather thought Janet would have been proud of her.
Cassie tasted the sauce and pulled a face. OK, so it needed something – salt, maybe – no, pepper. She didn't really know. What she did know was that it didn't taste the same as the way her Mom had made it. She sighed and added a twist of both. The phone rang and she grumbled to herself as she turned down the heat. If it was Sam cancelling again she would pack everything up and take it to the SGC.
She snagged the receiver. 'Hello.'
'Oh hey, Cassie.' Pete Shanahan greeted her cheerfully. 'I was hoping to speak to Sam?'
'She's not here right now.' Cassie replied, feeling sorry for Sam's kind-of-boyfriend. She fully believed she spoke to Pete more than Sam did. 'She'll be back…'
The sound of keys in the front door stopped her.
'Actually, hold on; I think she's just got home.' She put the receiver down on the counter next to the phone and hurried into the hallway.
Sam closed the door and began divesting herself of her leather jacket and scarf. She tossed a small smile over her shoulder as she caught sight of Cassie. 'Hey.'
'Hey.' Cassie pointed back towards the phone. 'Pete.'
'Oh.' Sam brushed a hand down her blue sweater and jeans as though Pete could see her and hurried through to pick up the receiver. 'Pete, hi.'
Cassie retreated back to the sauce and tried to pretend she wasn't eavesdropping.
'Tomorrow? I…no, no. Tomorrow's fine.' Sam murmured, her fingers twisting the cord tightly. 'Pete, that's…' she lowered her head, 'no, it's…dinner and dancing would be great but I'm not really…how about a quiet night in?'
There was a note of desperation that had Cassie frowning as she added dried pasta to boiling water.
'Yeah, that sounds great. OK.' Sam murmured. 'See you tomorrow…um, me too.'
The soft click of the phone being replaced told Cassie the call was over. She looked over at Sam, unsurprised to find her still by the phone a contemplative expression screwing up her delicate features into tense lines.
'Everything OK?' Cassie asked tentatively.
Sam immediately straightened, waving away Cassie's concern. 'Just tired.'
'I meant with Pete.' Cassie clarified, stirring the sauce.
'It's fine.' Sam tried a smile. 'I've cancelled on him a lot recently with…everything going on at the base and, you know, with the Colonel.'
Cassie frowned. 'Is he giving you a hard time?'
Sam shook her head and wandered over to stand beside her. 'He's been very understanding.' She sounded as though she couldn't understand why.
Cassie floundered. She and Sam were close but Sam had never confided to Cassie in her love life and Cassie didn't think she was going to start. She wondered what her Mom would have said to ease Sam's mind and couldn't think of anything. She sighed. 'Hey, do you want to taste this? I think it's missing something but I don't know what.'
As Sam obediently went to get a spoon, Cassie wished her Mom was there. Maybe she would have been found the right words.
Pete was under illusions; Sam Carter was definitely way out of his league. He'd suspected when they'd first dated before he'd discovered that she was a galactic superhero. But since then…he glanced over at her; she'd put more distance between them. She was curled up on the other side of the sofa watching the movie, away from where he sat at the other end.
It was his own fault, Pete thought tiredly. He had invaded her privacy and lied to her. He had lost a lot of ground with the background check and the…events that had led to the revelation that his girlfriend battled aliens on a daily basis. In many ways he had been surprised when Sam had called him and agreed to start over but he was grateful for the opportunity and he was determined not to blow it.
He cleared his throat. 'You enjoying the movie?' It was an old black and white classic – Gene Kelly. It wasn't his choice of movie but he knew Sam loved them.
'Yeah,' Sam shot him a smile, 'it's great.'
But she wasn't watching it. He was a cop. He was good at observation and he could tell her mind was somewhere else. He picked up his wine and wished it was beer. He took a sip and put it back down.
'You want to talk about it?'
Sam immediately looked guarded. 'Pete…'
'Look I'm not asking for details but you took off just before a meteor shower,' he mimed quotation marks, 'came back just after, and you've been distracted and busy since with the news that you'd had to leave Colonel O'Neill somewhere so…I know something big's going on and I can see that you're upset and…you can talk to me.'
'I can't talk to you, Pete.' Sam swung her legs off the sofa.
'Maybe not about aliens invading or exactly what's happened to O'Neill, no,' Pete acknowledged, 'but about how you feel about whatever's going on? You must be able to tell me about that.'
Sam stared at him as though he'd suggested something outlandish.
'If this is going to work,' Pete forced himself to say it, 'I can't deal with you pretending everything's fine if it's not. It feels like you're lying to me.'
For a long moment, Pete thought she would bolt.
'It's not…I'm not pretending. I'm just…' she sighed and ran a hand through her hair, messing the blonde strands into disarray, 'compartmentalizing?'
'I get that.' Pete did. There was stuff he saw as a cop that he didn't want to bring home either. He reached out a hand and tangled their fingers together.
Sam bit her lip. 'Don't you want to forget about it sometimes?'
'Sure.' Pete said. 'But, you're clearly not able to forget about it.' He tilted his head and regarded her closed expression. 'It's bad, huh?'
'Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't just give it all up, find some farm in the middle of nowhere and raise chickens so I wouldn't have to deal with the politics of it all.' Sam sighed.
Pete smiled a little. He wanted to say that he'd go with her in a heartbeat but the fear that he wasn't part of her fantasy stopped him from saying anything. 'I don't think you'd enjoy it very much in the middle of nowhere.' He said instead. 'Or, you know, the chickens would turn out to be aliens.'
She smiled at the joke and his heart lifted.
He squeezed her fingers. 'Why don't we have an early night? Not to you know,' he said quickly seeing her expression; they hadn't slept together since he'd messed up and he didn't want to rush her, 'but just to sleep.'
Sam hesitated long enough for him to know he'd pushed too much.
'Or I could leave you to get some sleep and call you tomorrow?' Pete said smoothly.
'I'm sorry,' Sam began.
'You don't need to apologise.' Pete replied. He smiled at her as he got to his feet. 'It's probably a good thing; I'm supposed to meet with the D.A. for a breakfast meeting.'
Sam walked him to the front door and they kissed.
Pete dropped another light kiss on her lips when she pulled away, said goodbye and shrugged on his jacket as she closed the door behind him. He looked back at Sam's house pensively. He didn't know what she needed but evidently it wasn't him.
'Seriously, Bill Lee?' Rodney didn't have to fake the incredulity as he glared at General Vidrine down the web cam. 'You think Bill Lee can decipher what O'Neill did to that cargo ship?'
'Doctor Lee is an expert on Goa'uld technology.' Vidrine replied tightly. His blue shirt with its line of four stars looked as impressively starched as his expression.
'Yes, yes, an expert who almost blew up us all up with a Goa'uld bomb not so long ago.' Rodney said snidely. 'But you go ahead and get him to look at it.'
Vidrine's lips thinned so much they disappeared. 'Very well. I'll make arrangements for you to…'
'No, no, no! Not me!' Rodney said hurriedly, gesticulating at the camera and out towards the engine room of the Prometheus behind him. 'Or have you forgotten that I'm in the middle of fixing our only hope of survival if another Goa'uld shows up?'
Vidrine finally blew out an exasperated breath. 'McKay…'
'Besides,' Rodney pressed on swiftly, 'from what Sam wrote in her report, O'Neill used Ancient knowledge to modify Goa'uld technology and the last time he did that, and when was that again? Oh, right the last time he downloaded the Ancient database into his head. And oh, let's think who was the only person who managed to backward engineer what he did then? I seem to remember it was Major Carter. Well, Doctor Carter and Major Carter working together but, hello: it took two Carters!'
He felt a surge of triumph when Vidrine lifted a hand and pinched the bridge of his nose. 'Are you telling me that Major Carter is the only person who can determine what O'Neill did to the cargo ship?'
'She was right there with him, wasn't she?' Rodney pointed out with blunt logic. 'I mean, the two of us together would probably be able to figure it out quicker but, in this particular instance, and really I mean only this instant, she's maybe, possibly, the best, um, person for you know.' His left hand wafted around inelegantly in the air for a long moment before dropping.
Vidrine stared at him for a full minute. 'Very well.' He said dryly. 'Thank you for your honesty.'
The screen went blank. Rodney made sure the connection was terminated.
'I thought I'd never see the day that the great Rodney McKay said he wasn't the best person for the job.' A nearby technician muttered, reaching into the tray of crystals and changing the position of one.
Rodney shot him a look that told him to shut up and mind his own business. He brought up the internal email.
'You so owe me.' Rodney sent off the email to Sam without any other comment.
A reply from came back almost immediately. 'Thanks.'
Rodney huffed with pleasure at the single word. He immediately deleted all trace of the messages anywhere. He doubted Vidrine had someone watching their email but he wasn't taking the chance.
He turned back to his simulations and refused to consider why Sam needed to be the only one thought capable of studying the cargo ship. He'd learned on his first meeting with her that getting in the way of her rescuing a team-mate only ended up with Rodney being sent to Siberia.
Teal'c refrained from the urge to smooth a hand over his head and the neat wiry layer of hair that adorned it. He liked his new look and he was more than a little amused that it was garnering so much attention from others at the SGC – at least those that remained.
The base was quiet. Most of the military assets were on stand down although a number had transferred to Petersen to temporarily replace the 302 pilots that had been lost in the battle with Anubis. Travel through the Stargate was not prohibited but it was rare. If he had not believed fervently that he was needed to support his team-mates, Teal'c would have been tempted to have travelled to Hak'tyl or to have spent time with his son.
'…and then we commandeer the Prometheus and I take over the world.'
Teal'c raised an eyebrow.
Sam smirked back at him and it was good to see humour lighting up her blue eyes and softening her expression. 'You back with me, Teal'c?'
'I was not aware that I had left.' Teal'c commented dryly.
It was her turn to raise an eyebrow and Teal'c was grateful that he did not blush under her scrutiny.
'So what were you thinking so seriously about?' Sam asked, leaning over the central bench in her lab.
'I was contemplating the quiet.'
'Yeah.' Sam winced and straightened. 'It's too quiet around here.' She looked wistfully towards the door as though expecting someone else to enter and bring chaos with them.
'You were informing me of your plan to save O'Neill.' Teal'c gently said.
Sam blew out a breath and nodded. 'McKay came through; he's told Vidrine that I'm the only person who has a shot at understanding what the Colonel did to the cargo ship.'
Teal'c allowed himself a moment to contemplate Rodney McKay's surprising show of solidarity or perhaps self-preservation. Teal'c knew better than to stand between Samantha Carter and a mission to save O'Neill. Instead, he was determined to provide her with protection and support as O'Neill would have wished.
'I think the best bet is to head to the time bubble. I know Thor intended to keep an eye on it so it's possible he'll pick up the beacon that we'll initiate when we get there.'
'I am not worried, Major Carter.'
Sam looked at him fondly. 'You should be, Teal'c. This could all go horribly wrong.'
Teal'c had confidence in her; in her plan. 'Should Daniel Jackson not be present?'
'Daniel isn't coming with us.' Sam bit her lip. 'It's really dangerous, Teal'c, and if we don't make it…someone has to be here for the Colonel.'
Teal'c inclined his head. 'I take it he does not know.'
'No, I haven't told him yet.' Sam's face contorted with guilt. 'It's just…I think maybe leaving it to the last minute to say anything to him is probably the way to go. I mean, I still have to convince Doctor Weir and get permission to take the ship and…'
'I understand, Major Carter.'
They smiled at each other. Running footsteps drew their attention and a moment later their team-mate appeared in the door.
'Good,' Daniel gestured at them, 'you're here.' He left again before reappearing. 'You should come with me. Weir has news.' He beamed at them. 'We're going back to Antarctica.'
Sam shot Teal'c a delighted look and hurried after Daniel. Teal'c followed at a more sedate pace. It was excellent news and he could not deny that he was relieved that their back-up plan would not be required.
The ice was beautiful in the sunrise. John nudged the helicopter slightly off-course to get a better view.
The endless white expanse was all rolling hills and dunes of snow overlaid with gold and pink streaks. It was so pristine and perfect. Timeless. Nobody would guess that three and half weeks before the ground had been littered with planes and bodies; debris of a battle fought hard and won.
John still didn't know what had happened really. He'd spent forty-eight exhausting hours pulling injured and dead off the ice before he and the rest of the McMurdo squad had been stood down. As soon as they'd gotten back to the base they'd been told to sign a very thick non-disclosure agreement and to forget everything that had happened.
It wasn't John's first classified operation; he'd signed the document, eschewed the invite to drink and bitch about it all with his fellow pilots, and headed for his bed where he'd enjoyed twelve hours of undisturbed sleep. They'd been running endless patrols since but John embraced the additional flight time where it was simply him and the endless expanse of the Antarctica landscape.
Maybe in the cold of the snow he'd healed some of the wounds he'd acquired in the heat of the desert, the loss of friends and comrades, the schism of his last conversations with his father and brother; the hurt of not being good enough, fast enough, clever enough.
The solitude suited him but he couldn't deny he was suddenly restless. John realised why easily enough; the forty-eight hours he wasn't supposed to be thinking about. Maybe it was time to think what came after the Air Force. He thought again of the maths proofs littering the desk in his room and wondered if he could back to school. Hell, it was some kind of back-up plan.
The sun was up.
He sighed and turned the helicopter back to base, radioing his approach with the control tower. He'd barely got out into the building when the Sergeant collared him.
'Colonel wants to see you.' He threw his thumb over his shoulder.
John kept the smile on his face and nodded. He'd only met Colonel DiAllo once formally as John's direct CO was Major Fillion, the squadron leader. He rapped on the Colonel's office door and opened it at the command to enter. He flowed into parade 'attention' and waited for the Colonel to acknowledge him.
DiAllo was a stocky man with dark hair, dark eyes and a face like granite. 'At ease, Sheppard.'
John relaxed a little, altering his stance automatically.
DiAllo sat back and stared at him. 'I wanted to give you a heads up on a possible new assignment ferrying stuff out to a new research station that is being proposed. The brass is waiting on the official paperwork but it should begin shortly. You'll be subject to the non-disclosure agreement you signed and you'll forget every day everything you see and hear. Any questions?'
John shook his head. 'No, sir.'
DiAllo grunted. 'Dismissed.'
John snapped back to attention briefly, turned sharply and left. He didn't stop until he stood under the shower in the thankfully empty locker room. He let the water pound his tired muscles.
A new assignment, John mused. It almost felt like the beginning of something. The sudden thought that maybe he hadn't completely screwed his career made him swallow hard against the hope that surged up alongside it. Maybe he wouldn't need to consider a back-up plan after all. He shook off the notion. It was more time in the air; that was what he should focus on; it was more time to fly.
The meeting wasn't going well.
Elizabeth could already see the signs of dissension and disagreement bubbling up in the tense comments and the grim body language. She tried hard to project patience but inwardly she wanted very much to bang her head against her desk – or rather to bang some heads together. Maybe it was just as well she wasn't in Washington and only attending the meetings via video feed, she mused wryly.
'…and I do not see the need to rush setting up this research station that you speak of until the treaty is fully signed and ratified, and the International Oversight Committee is in place.' The Chinese representative sat back smugly.
'I appreciate your perspective, Xaing, I do.' Richard Woolsey replied easily, betraying nothing impatient or insincere, 'but while we're safe today, we don't know how long we have until the Goa'uld arrive to test our defences. We need to understand how the Ancient weapon works and how to activate it without someone sitting in the chair. We need to explore and see if there are other weapons there that we can use.'
Elizabeth was trying hard not to feel jealous that Woolsey had gotten the job she wanted rather than the one she was doing. She should have been chairing the talks; it was her area of expertise after all.
'I find I must agree with Xaing,' Guy, the French representative gave a very Gallic shrug, 'we have Prometheus and the 302 squadrons to protect us; the Goa'uld do not know we cannot fire the weapon. I believe we have more time to agree these details than you would have us believe.'
Colonel Chekov harrumphed. 'I personally do not have an issue.'
'That's because you already have people lined up to join the Americans on site.' Guy retorted.
Chekov merely raised an eyebrow. 'Perhaps if you had volunteered personnel to work with the Americans since your country was made aware of the existence of the programme, you would also have scientists lined up as you put it.'
'Some of us haven't had the benefit of prior knowledge to get people lined up.' The Australian representative pointed out cheerfully.
'I think we're moving away from the essential point,' Woolsey broke in, tapping his pen against his folder, 'perhaps we should take a straw poll: who is in favour of moving ahead immediately and who would prefer to delay?'
Elizabeth counted the hands and stifled her groan.
Woolsey hummed and leaned forward. 'This appears to be a convenient place for a break if everyone is agreed?'
The representatives nodded. Elizabeth watched the monitor as they filed out. Woolsey lingered behind and she wasn't surprised when he shifted to catch her attention.
'They're going to press for the delay.' Woolsey stated. 'Any suggestions?'
'Apart from calling General Hammond to see if we have any further arguments to present against…' Elizabeth sighed. 'From their perspective, it's the American military who are pushing for immediate action, and truthfully, if I hadn't been part of what happened a month ago, I would be suspicious of the motives here.'
Woolsey nodded, light bouncing off his balding head and down the camera lens. 'I'll call the General. Thank you, Doctor Weir.'
'I need a break myself. I'll return in fifteen minutes.' Elizabeth said politely. She stood and left her office, walking briskly to the private bathroom set aside for the commander of the SGC. She used the facilities, washed her hands and stood in front of the mirror.
She was going to have to stand down SG1 from the preparations they were making to leave. She thought again of their pleased faces when she had announced the provisional agreement. They were going to be disappointed. Again. She knew their desire to return was personal, wrapped up in their loyalty to the man who had risked his life to save them all. She could only imagine how she would feel if it was someone she cared about stuck in stasis and abandoned on the ice of Antarctica.
Elizabeth sighed and rubbed at the ache at her temples. Maybe her instincts were wrong; maybe the committee would go ahead and allow a team to start the excavation. Maybe she would be able to give SG1 good news. She straightened her shoulders and went to return to the meeting, trying hard to push away the feeling of failure.
Sam stared at Weir as though she hadn't understood the words the other woman had uttered so apologetically but very firmly. 'I don't understand.'
'The talks have stalled.' Weir repeated. She looked completely cool and unflappable in her smart suit. 'You and your team won't be able to leave tomorrow as scheduled.'
'When will we be able to leave?' Sam asked dryly.
'I can't give you a timescale.' Weir admitted. 'These type of negotiations can take weeks even months to work out the finer details.'
Sam tried hard not to look mutinous but a glance at Weir showed she had been unsuccessful.
'I'm afraid this is one of those 'hurry up and wait' situations that I've been told the military excel at, Major.' Weir said with a small smile.
It wasn't that Sam didn't appreciate Weir's attempt to lighten the tension but she couldn't have raised the required smile if someone had pointed a gun to her head. She settled on focusing on what she needed to do.
'I'll inform the rest of the team.'
'Actually,' Weir cleared her throat, 'I'd like to speak with Teal'c and Doctor Jackson myself, if you don't mind.'
Sam frowned. She'd never had a civilian boss and she wasn't sure if she should take the words as an order or as something she could challenge.
'I feel like it's my responsibility to break bad news.' Weir continued.
Sam nodded slowly. She could use the time to review her back-up plan. 'Is there a chance of getting a more detailed debriefing, Doctor Weir? I'd like to know more about the direction of the talks.'
Weir looked relieved. 'Of course, two o'clock?'
Fourteen hundred; Sam did the translation in her head. 'Thank you.' She watched Weir walk confidently out of the lab before she turned back to her computer and began to pull up a file with her calculations for navigating to the Asgard. They had to be accurate or she and Teal'c would end up thousands of light-years away from where they needed to be and she was certain the hyperdrive engines would be burned out when they got there.
She paused and spared a glance at the picture of SG1 she had propped up against a stack of folders. It was one of the four of them, laughing and joking around somewhere off-world. Sam couldn't remember who had taken it or when it had been taken but she'd found it in her desk drawer the day before and was comforted by the reminder of it.
She stroked a finger over Jack's features, her mind filling with the memory of the last time she had seen him. He'd been so weary after the battle; so drained. If she closed her eyes, she would remember the feel of his jaw in her hand, the graze of stubble across her fingertips; the dark chocolate of his eyes as they looked back at her.
She had begged him to live for them – for her – and she wasn't sorry about that; couldn't be. He was alive, and maybe he hadn't told them about the stasis chamber to save himself for her despite Sam's want to believe that he had – like she had believed he had in the heat of the moment, but he'd done it and it was up to her and the guys to get him the rest of the way.
Sam firmed her lips and set the photo down, focusing on her calculations with renewed intent. They were going to save him, and God help anyone who got in their way.fin.