Wed May 13, 2009
Samantha Carter stood at the foot of the ramp leading to the Stargate, gazing at the machine as it slowly dialed up. She watched the chevrons engage, one by one, until finally the ring roared to wondrous blue life. Sam couldn't help but take a deep breath as she watched the rippling blue horizon. That sight never got old.
"Receiving SG1's IDC." Walter Harriman's nasally voice filtered through the intercom system.
The iris opened, and Sam smiled broadly as she saw the familiar faces of her old team.
"Welcome back, guys."
She still found it strange that she was the offering them a return greeting, rather than returning with them. Since coming back to earth after she was recalled from Atlantis, Sam had gone off-world with her old team only a handful of times, and things hadn't ever felt quite the same as the good old days, before her stint in Pegasus. In the months she'd been back, Sam had been doing a lot of Earth based research, mostly on the database they'd received from the Asgard, while the construction and preparation of her next command, an X-304 called the Hammond, progressed.
For the past week, Sam had been acting as head of the SGC, while General Landry was away in Washington. She smiled ruefully. Of course the moment she'd been put in charge all hell started to break loose.
Vala reached bottom of the ramp first, skipping up to Sam and softly bumping her in the shoulder.
"Samantha! How's life in the big chair? Did we miss anything interesting?"
As Cam, Daniel, and Teal'c followed Vala down the ramp, Sam slowly shook her head.
You have no idea.
The past week Earth had narrowly escaped destruction from a Wraith Superhive. Atlantis had used its Zpms to come to the Milky Way, and that team was instrumental in ensuring the downfall of the enemy vessel. Even so, several earth ships had been severely damaged, Atlantis had been damaged and the ancient weapons platform at Area 51 had been completely destroyed. It was not exactly the most succinct victory, but Earth survived.
Still, we didn't quite kick anyone's asses.
"Actually, you did. The Wraith paid us a visit," Sam responded, eying Daniel, knowing her next tidbit of information would surprise him, "And Atlantis is currently sitting in the San Francisco Bay."
Daniel reacted much like she'd expected him too. He had been fidgeting with his digital video camera as he walked down the ramp, engrossed with it, as though it were as valuable and important as some ancient artifact. When he heard Sam's words however, he stopped short, and his head snapped up, eyes wide behind the metal rims of his glasses.
"I-," he blinked, "Really?" His mouth hung slightly open. Sam nodded and he blinked again. "Really. Wow. I wonder how long it will be there...maybe I can arrange a visit. I have been wanting to research- I mean, uh, is everything alright?"
"Mostly. They took some damage and had to land to make repairs."
Cam smirked, "Quite the location to do it, huh?"
Sam nodded as she turned and began to walk with them out of the gateroom, "Yeah, but they managed to activate the shield in time, so the public can't see it. Couple of our ships took some good hits too, but looks like Earth lives to fight another day."
"So it would appear," Teal'c said, as he unbuckled and handed his gear off to waiting gate techs.
The group made their way into the briefing room, and SG1 filed in and sat around the briefing room table. They all turned to face Sam expectantly.
"Aren't you going to debrief us?" Cam asked when Sam didn't move to join them at the head of the table.
"Actually I am," answered General Landry as he strode in from his adjoining office, "I just returned from Washington. Colonel Carter is to due to gate to the Delta Site to check up on the progress of the Hammond," his eyebrows dropped, "I hear she's gonna get the grand tour this visit."
"As my last 'big chair' duty, I just thought I'd take the opportunity to welcome you all back," Sam said gamely as she turned to leave the briefing room.
"And you wanted to see the look on my face when you told me Atlantis was on earth," Daniel grinned.
"Of course," she said over her shoulder, just before exiting the room.
"Have fun with your ship, Sam!" she heard Vala's cheerful voice just as the door to the briefing room shut behind her.
She was actually looking forward to seeing the nearly completed X-304 that was to be her next command. But as she geared up in the locker room alone, and entered the gateroom, Sam couldn't help but feel a pang of nostalgia for the team she left upstairs. As the address of the construction site dialed, Sam craned her neck to get a look up at the briefing room window. She couldn't really see anything, but she knew exactly what happened in a standard exploratory debrief.
After all, for ten years of Sam's life, with the exception of several months spent at Area 51, the SGC and being a member of SG1, had been her anchor. In a bizarre way, despite the unpredictable and dangerous nature of the work, the job itself was a very stable aspect of her life. The relationships Sam had built working at the SGC formed the foundation of her personal life. Her family. On Atlantis, Sam felt that she had just begun to gain a new equilibrium, away from her comfort zone. That is, until the IOA's abrupt and unexpected removal of her command had ripped the rug from beneath her feet. And as much Sam hatedto admit it, even to herself, she knew that the IOA's decision to change her command had shaken her confidence.
It was as though her personal life fell together just as her professional life fell apart. It made you wonder whether it was really possible to have both. Objectively, Sam realized that not everything to do with the dismissal was so bad, particularly in her private life.
Her return to earth had allowed Sam to spend more time with Cassie, whom she adored. It also allowed her to continue exploring this "thing" she had going on with Jack. And Sam had to admit that that was really good, even if they were both probably being a bit emotionally obtuse about it. Sam found it was infinitely better to be a flight away from Jack than light years away from him. She was back at her house, and could spend time with her friends. She'd even been able visit her brother more regularly. All definite positives to leaving Atlantis.
Professionally, however, this past year Sam had felt adrift, or rather in limbo. None of her projects were as satisfying as they had been in the past. Sam was itching to get back out in the universe. She couldn't go back to commanding Atlantis, or go back to her old team. The Hammond would launch soon, but it had been under construction for most of the past year. And while working on programming to integrate the Asgard core to the ship was important work, work Sam had been doing for most of her time back on earth, it didn't make Sam feel like the command of the Hammond really belonged to her.
It wasn't quite her place. Yet, anyway.
The sharp sound of the kawoosh drew Sam's attention back to the gate. She took a deep breath and walked up the ramp towards the wormhole, mentally shaking herself.
Come on, Sam. Stay Positive.
The old days of team missions and SGC debriefs were gone, just as much as her command of Atlantis. Neither could be recaptured, even if a part of Sam missed them. But the Hammondwas the next step on her path, a new anchor, a new challenge, and Sam couldn't deny that she wanted to take it.
When Sam stepped through the wormhole to the other side, she was temporarily blinded by the bright light of an alien world. As she blinked the world into focus, both a familiar and unfamiliar figure came into view.
"Good morning, Colonel Carter," Colonel Greg Reynolds, formerly of SG3, said smiling amiably, "Welcome back to Delta site."
"Thank you, Reynolds," Sam returned his greeting. She liked Colonel Reynolds. Over the years they had developed a certain bond as soldier-scientists, each having to walk the thin line between pursuing scientific discovery and following military regulations.
Reynolds gestured to the man accompanying him.
"May I introduce Lt. Colonel Anthony Swift," he pointed back and forth between them, "Swift, this is Colonel Samantha Carter. Carter, Swift. Swift, Carter."
Colonel Swift shook her hand and eyed her appraisingly, "Pleasure to finally meet you, Ma'am. I've been at Gamma site prepping my F-302 squadron for deployment on the Hammond. Looking forward to finally getting a good look at the ship."
"Likewise, Colonel. Glad to meet you too."
Sam recognized the man from the personnel file she'd reviewed of staff who would be stationed aboard her ship. Swift would be the second highest regularly stationed officer aboard the Hammond, though not a bridge officer. He would be in charge of the F-302 pilot team down below and had served a tour on the Apollo F-302 team the year before. He wasn't a very tall man, but something about his posture radiated strength and a silent intensity.
"Okay, follow me," Reynolds said buoyantly, turning to lead them to the Delta base and its massive aircraft hangers. He set a brisk pace, and Sam and Swift followed a few paces behind.
"Well Carter, we have been really busy lately. The Apollo paid a visit for some small fixes and the Chinese have left the Sun Tzuhere for some more extensive repairs," Reynolds glanced back at Sam, eyes twinkling, "Something about a pesky little Superhive attack on earth...practically never had so many X-304's in one place at the same time, at least in dry dock."
Pesky is quite the descriptor.
Sam acknowledged his comment with a small nod, and she exchanged a sideways glance with Colonel Swift.
"I wouldn't say it was little."
That made both men chuckle. She could tell Reynolds had settled nicely into his new position as base commander of the Delta site, and Sam was happy if a bit envious after her experience leaving Atlantis. The Delta base itself was primarily used as the off-world construction and maintenance site of the entire X-304 fleet. The base was in some ways more secure than earth, and given the destruction of the ancient weapons platform at Area 51, Sam could see the wisdom of not putting all of earth's defense apples, as it were, in one basket.
When they reached the hanger, complete with its retractable roof, Reynolds lead them in. "We have made a lot of progress since your last visit Colonel Carter. Right on track for launch in June. Things are looking good."
Sam followed him into the massive building. The sight that met her was breath taking. She thought General Hammond would have been proud of the vessel that shared his name. The last time she'd visited, only the bare frame of the massive vessel had been complete. Now, the seemingly never-ending silver hull of the Hammond was largely completed, with only a few sporadic welders suspended from above, adding the final touches.
Sam let her eyes roam every part of the ship that she could see, only pausing to spare a glance at Swift who also seemed to be engrossed in theHammond.
When he saw how enthralled with the ship she seemed to be, Reynolds gave her a small wink, "Good looking ship."
"That's to be expected," Sam said, grinning wistfully, "Has to live up to its namesake."
Swift nodded, "Yes, Ma'am."
Reynolds turned to her knowingly, "It will."
Sam knew that he missed the old general too.
"Alright," Reynolds continued rubbing his hands together, "Let's get this tour going. Ready?"
I think so. Definitely.
Sometimes Jack O'Neill hated the IOA. Actually he hated it most of the time. He hated their political infighting, and endless power plays. He hated the way that every little aspect of a decision was analyzed, contested, and re-imagined by sub-committee representatives from various countries with headache inducing frequency. It all seemed to obscure the issue at hand and to discount the human effort required to operate the Stargate program at all. Jack longed for the decisive efficiency of the military chain of command. He thought that politics, particularly international politics, sucked.
Case in point, the phone discussion Jack was currently having with Petr Bezborodov, (not so affectionately nicknamed "Bezboredy" in Jack's own mind) the new Russian IOA representative felt like it was going around in circles.
It's like talking to a brick wall.
"Well, Mr. Bezborodov," Jack concentrated on breathing slowly, willing his voice to sound calm, "while I do appreciate what a wonderful research opportunity having Atlantis on earth is, I think we'd be better served by focusing on fixing the damn thing, and getting it back in space because right now it is floating in the San Francisco Bay."
Bezborodov was not dissuaded, "But General-"
Jack cut him off, waving his finger to his empty office for emphasis, "Ah, ah! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to maintain a Naval quarantine in such a heavily populated area?"
By the end of the conversation no progress had been made, and Bezboredy had made veiled threats of mentioning the conversation to his superiors. Jack was reasonably sure that the president and the rest of the IOA would never allow Atlantis to remain indefinitely in the bay, nor would they be interested in shipping it to Russia, so this whole thing with Bezboredy would probably only continue as a minor nuisance. He hung up the phone and shook his head.
Jack was less sure about whether all the members of the IOA would be willing to let Atlantis return to the Pegasus galaxy after it was space worthy. Already there were rumblings about keeping Atlantis very near to earth, especially given the recent loss of the Ancient weapons platform. The conflict this argument would create in Homeworld Security was sure to be a doozy.
Jack winced and pinched the bridge of his nose. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.He settled down and got started on his ever present pile of paperwork. On days like today he really missed sticking it to the man, rather than being the man.
His phone rang again, and Jack sighed. Maybe this Bezboredy thing wasn't going to turn out to be as small an issue as he had originally considered. He let his hand hover over the phone briefly before he reached down and picked it up.
"Hi Jack!" He was pleasantly surprised to hear the excited voice of Cassandra Frasier on the line.
"Hey Cass," he said instantly more relaxed, though slightly confused, "Why didn't you call my cell?" That was the phone to which Jack liked to direct his personal calls.
"I did, but it went straight to voicemail, so I figured you forgot to charge it again."
Jack fished the damn thing out of his pocket, and eyed it suspiciously, fingering the power button. It didn't come on. Come to think of it, Jack couldn't really remember when he had last plugged it in.
"Well," Jack said smiling somewhat sheepishly, "I may have forgotten to do that."
"No worries," the young woman answered, her voice sounding slightly breathy as she fought to conceal her amusement. "Do you have a minute to talk?"
"For you? Two minutes."
Jack relaxed and leaned back in his chair. Hearing Cassie's voice always made his tension and stress vanish. Jack was so proud of Cassie. She was a part of his family, and he knew he couldn't love her any more than her already did, even if she really were his own daughter. He didn't see or talk to her near as much as he wanted to since his move to Washington, so he cherished any and all moments of contact with her.
"Speaking of time, aren't you supposed to taking, your final *final* exams as a college student, Miss senior?" he teased.
"Actually I mostly had papers due. All I have left is to turn my last one in at 3, then that's it."
"Undergraduate degree," Jack said, "Done and done."
"Yeah." She sounded like she hardly believed it herself. The past few years had been hard on Cass, and the road to college graduation had been long, and decidedly non-linear. Only 17 when her adopted mother Janet died, Cassandra had initially left Colorado for Nevada to attend university. But the girl had had a really difficult time, and been overwhelmed by the weight of her loss combined with the weight of her coursework, and trying to acclimate to a new location.
After Janet's death, all of SG1 had rallied around the teenager. Carter had taken over the "mom" role in Cassie's life, and never was this more evident to Jack than in her care for Cassie following her first semester at UNLV. Sam had transferred to Area 51, rented a place in Las Vegas, and helped Cassie to get back on track. In the end, Cassie decided that she needed to stick closer to home, near her emotional support system of family and friends, so transferring to the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs was a better choice for her than Nevada. She'd also used the transfer to change her major from Pre-Med to Journalism and Pre-Law. This choice surprised her SG-1 family, but they'd all supported her, and Jack loved how the changes allowed Cassie to thrive in the past 4 years. No matter what, he was glad the young woman was happy.
"Jack?" Cassie interrupted Jack's thoughts. "I just want to go over some of the logistics for this weekend. You're still coming right?"
He winced at the uncertainty in her voice. Jack had missed quite a few things over the years, most recently her senior thesis presentation because of a meeting with some senator about the progress (or lack of progress) achieved by the Icarus project. Luckily Sam, Daniel, Teal'c, and even Cam and Vala had managed to make it. He still felt awful about missing the presentation, another reason to hate the IOA, and had made absolutely certain he would be able to attend Cassandra's graduation.
"There is no way in hell I'd miss your graduation Cass. Sam said your thesis presentation went really well, and I'm sorry I couldn't make it. But this?" he lowered his voice conspiratorially, "Nothing short of an alien invasion will make me miss this."
Jack coughed slightly thinking that the recent wraith superhive incident had nearly created this exact scenario. That was beside the point.
"Don't worry about the presentation. It's really okay, Jack. But, um- so this weekend. It's just that there's more than just the ceremony on Sunday..." Cassie said awkwardly.
"More?" Jack prompted when the girl's pause stretched into a silence.
"Yeah, there's a Journalism reception for the families of students in the department on Saturday afternoon. I know you don't always like that kind of thing, but Sam and Daniel and Teal'c are going and if you come I can introduce you to my advisor, you'd like him, and-"
He decided to ease her nerves and stop her from rambling, "Actually Cassie, Sam does let me know about most of this stuff."
Though Jack was damned if he knew how Carter kept track of so many small details. Even when she was in Atlantis, she'd forward him emails about things going on in not only Cassie's life, but for the other members of SG1, Rya'c, and even stuff about her own niece and nephew.
"She sent me a copy of the whole schedule, so I know about this shindig, and the awards reception Sunday and its all fine. I'll be there, with bells on."
"Bells?" Cass still didn't sound comfortable.
"Jack, there is something else. I was uh, wondering well…Sean and I thought it would be nice for our families to get together and have dinner. His parents and little sister are coming for the ceremony, and they'll be there on Saturday…so I uh, thought that you and Sam could come and we could all eat together."
Jack hadn't expected this. He knew about Cass's boyfriend, but generally tried to avoid thinking about Cassie and romance at all. On some level he still found it hard to believe that the little girl they'd rescued from Hanka was now a grown young woman, one who had been dating this Sean guy for almost two years. He'd never met the kid, which up to this point was probably for the best as Jack was afraid he'd scare the poor guy away in a bid to make sure he was good enough for Cass, so he was a little taken aback by Cassie's request.
Jack also found he was flattered that Cassie was casting himself and Carter as her de facto parents; the two people she wanted to introduce to Sean's family. He wasn't all that surprised about Carter actually, but Cassie could easily have asked Daniel, or even Teal'c to the dinner instead of Jack.
"Sam already said she'd go," Cassie continued, taking his silence as a refusal, "so it's-it's fine if you don't want to do it."
"No, no, no," Jack backpedalled quickly, "I'll do it. Don't worry. It's still just a little hard for this old soldier to believe you have a…well, a someone."
Cassie chuckled, clearly relieved, "No bells then?"
"I'm thinkin', no."
"I promise it won't be that bad."
"Of course not," Jack stole a glance at his watch, and groaned, "Look Cass, I'm sorry, I have a meeting in ten. I will do any and all family related graduation stuffs. It'll be my pleasure. I'll be back in the Springs late Friday night, ok?"
"See you at home then," she added.
By home, Jack guessed Cassie meant Carter's house. For all three of them.
Jack, and Sam, and Cassie.
Strange. It was still hard for him to believe.
After Jack sold his house and moved to DC, he and Sam fell into a quiet relationship of sorts. No longer directly in the same line of command, separated by regulations, they just, well, came together. They'd started out by going fishing, and things had...escalated. To Jack it seemed that they were already so emotionally entwined and knew each other so well, that the shift in their relationship was inevitable. Like gravity or something. And because they were both still working in the military, their new relationship wasn't exactly something either Jack or Sam liked to broadcast.
Unfortunately, they'd never solidly lived together beyond the odd weekend, or week or so of leave. They'd also never really stopped and talked about anything, or agreed to define 'it', their relationship, (whatever it was) either. Still, Jack considered the new state of affairs to be a major improvement over the emotional agony they'd endured before, when they were in the direct chain of command. He found that their newly explored physical intimacy alone was well worth maintaining the undefined nebulous "relationship" he and Sam now shared. No way he'd complain. And so far Sam hadn't either.
To be honest Jack didn't really know what Sam thought about it. She never said anything about labeling their "thing". He was more comfortable labeling what it was not. It was not an affair, or a fling. It was not casual or short term. But beyond that definitions could elusive.
Jack was more than happy with the new status quo, so he certainly didn't want to rock the boat. Besides, he felt that they didn't need words and concrete definitions anyway. They just were. Together. So, things were still complicated, but Jack thought they were doing okay, considering that the relationship had survived a yearlong intergalactic separation, and appeared to be in no danger when facing another series of long term separations.
Now, whenever Jack came to Colorado, he stayed at Carter's house, even when she wasn't there, even when she was in the Pegasus Galaxy commanding Atlantis. Jack had his own key, and Sam did the same thing at his apartment when she was in DC, though that occurred a lot less often than Jack visiting Colorado, because he liked to get away from the Pentagon as much as possible when he had the chance.
Through this arrangement and in light of their 'something', Jack felt he was beginning to really know Carter, beyond being his 2IC, or even his friend.
He now knew that when she wasn't "on the clock" as it were, or drugged out of her mind in the infirmary, and most especially after they'd...well, after,Sam sighed a lot and sometimes even snored in her sleep. Unlike Jack, who could never fully shake the light sleep of a Black Ops man, always ready to jump into action at a moment's notice, when Carter was in her own house, and in her own bed, she slept hard, flipping into various positions and tangling blankets throughout the night.
Jack now knew the exact location of Sam's infamous, ticklish (oh yeah) and, at least in Jack's opinion, under-appreciated mole. He now knew that Carter liked filling her home with pictures of friends and family, not just in the living room, or dining room. There were framed photos in the study, the kitchen, the basement and in every hallway. A few snapshots could even be found in her garage.
And now Jack knew that the somewhat ratty afghan that was always draped on Sam's living room chair, had been started by Sam's mother, in an attempt to get her tomboy of a daughter to learn to knit. Teenage Sam had never really gotten into it, and it was only half finished when Mrs. Carter died. After that, Carter had guiltily taught herself to knit and finished it, and she'd told him that she still regretted not letting herself learn from her mother when she had the chance.
Jack supposed Carter's place was now a home for Cassie too, though she spent most of her time in a shared an apartment near the university's main campus. More than once Jack and Cassie's visits overlapped. Sometimes it would be the three of them, which was always nice, and allowed for cozy chess tournaments and laughter filled evenings. Jack would barbecue if the weather was good, and let the ladies pick some girly tv show to watch. If Sam was off-world, and they were both there, Jack and Cassie ruled the roost, watching silly movies, old hockey games, and eating pizza. It suddenly hit Jack that these were probably the recent moments that made Cassie ask him to meet her boyfriend's parents.
Cassie's voice pulled him from his realization.
"Love you, Jack."
"You too, Cassie. Don't forget to turn in that paper."
That comment got a laugh.
"I won't. Bye."
They hung up and Jack shook his head smiling slightly, wondering when his personal life began to resemble something "normal". That conversation could easily be mistaken as one belonging to an ordinary family. Pig might be flying somewhere.
Well, excluding the fact that Cassie was born on another planet, that Sam spent a significant amount of time on other planets, and that his upcoming meeting was a project update on a scientific and military base light-years away from earth, on, in fact, a different planet.
Oh, yeah. Completely normal.
Sam could barely contain her glee. She had to at least try to appear somewhat calm, she was a Colonel after all, meant to be stoic and decisive, surrounded by a crew that would soon be under her command. But as she toured the decks of her new ship, Sam couldn't help but marvel at all the fascinating new systems being installed aboard the USS George Hammond. Most of the new systems had great potential, from both a scientific and military perspective.
This visit was proving to boost Sam's spirits. Gone was the melancholy she'd felt this morning, replaced now with a buzzing anticipation. This would soon be her ship, and slowly she was beginning to feel comfortable with that. Above all, Sam was excited.
Designed for exploration, and defense, Sam knew the schematics of the Hammond like the back of her own hand, and could list its features and specifications better than she could recall her own grocery list. Asgard shields, trinium enhanced bulkheads, state of the art hyperdrive, railguns, beam weapons, Asgard core, transporter beams, transporter rings and no less than 8 onboard science labs.
The Sun Tzu only has 5 labs...but maybe that's petty...
With only little bias, Sam could confidently describe this ship as easily the most advanced in the Tau'ri fleet.
Her current tour guide, a young space geologist, Dr. Kofi Aguda, was clearly finding it difficult to contain his own enthusiasm. "Ma'am the capabilities of this particular laboratory for shipboard examination of space-born particles are compelling! The research conducted here could be nothing short of groundbreaking."
He turned to his left and began to point out the various pieces of equipment on that side of the lab, punctuating every one with fluid hand gestures.
"This microscope is so accurate! Very nice." Dr. Aguda carefully gave her a thorough article by article tour of the lab, giving her detailed information about each piece of equipment, complete with his own happy commentary. The obvious joy the scientist had for the project colored his slightly accented voice, and within the tight metal walls of the lab, his words seemed to echo, holding more weight.
Considering how this lab would fit in with the rest of the ship's capabilities, it really did have the potential to change the way that the X-304 examined space matter, if you cared about space matter, as Dr. Aguda clearly did. Confronted with the young doctors obvious excitement, Sam couldn't help but join in a little.
"True, and in conjunction with the ship's Asgard core, the potential for discovery and quick identification of debris far exceeds anything on the rest of the fleet," she agreed.
"Oh yes!" the young man beamed and a broad toothy smile spread across his face, "Instant access to that database alone will increase the laboratory's ability to identify materials in a timely and accurate way. It very much beats traditional chemical analysis."
"I'm sure it will."
"I cannot wait!" Dr. Aguda gushed.
Sam smiled back. She could hardly wait either.
As if he sensed her thoughts, Aguda turned to face her.
"I imagine you are looking forward to launch day next month, Ma'am, just as much as I am. I have never been actually posted to an X-304, though I did some short term research on the Apollo last year," the doctor continued conversationally, "I went with them to the Pegasus, you know. When you all fought the Asurans? And the replicator bubble? Oh my! I never thought I'd see such a thing as that…"
Sam nodded, recalling the event that occurred during her command of the Atlantis mission. Her abrupt change of command continued to be a sore spot for her, but hearing the young scientist's awestruck description of events, Sam could recall that part of her time as leader of Atlantis fondly. Dr. Aguda was a luminous sort of person, and Sam had the feeling he would be very difficult not to like. He had a certain gravitas, he was good with people, and at ease among them; a skill that she knew some in the scientific community lacked, so Sam suspected Aguda would be an asset to crew.
"Well, I look forward to working with you," she said as she held out her hand, "And thank you for the thorough tour of the laboratories."
"Not a problem, Colonel," Dr. Aguda said shaking her hand vigorously.
When Sam walked out of the laboratory into the adjoining hall, she found Reynolds and Swift already waiting for her.
"Last stop, bridge and command center," Reynolds announced, before quickly turning and walking down the hall.
Gosh does the man ever walk at a normal pace?
Sam couldn't remember him walking so fast at the SGC. Then again, he was probably excited about the ship too.
Her mood thoroughly improved from the morning, Sam followed along, upping her pace to match Reynolds. Swift however stayed several paces back. Soon they would be working together, so despite the officer's marked tendency toward silence, throughout the joint parts of their visit, Sam continued to make attempts at conversation.
She called back to the other officer, "How are the F-302's?"
"Fine, Colonel. Pilots will love it. Everything looks good," he waited a beat and then said, "How are the labs?"
"Oh, great. They should be able to do some useful experiments. We can also do a lot of on-board analysis too. And all the scientists I met seem to be really dedicated..."
Swift, trying valiantly to look more interested than Sam suspected he actually was, nodded, and continued to walk a few paces behind in silence.
When they reached the bridge, Reynolds backed in, spreading his arms in a wide welcoming gesture.
"Here we are," he said, grinning, "New design for the bridge turned out pretty nice. Asgard core access at every station. State of the art weapons and communications array."
Sam and Swift stepped onto the bridge, and walked in opposite directions around the room. Reynolds stood back and let the other Colonels explore. Swift went right to a weapons consul, while Sam continued to survey the rest of the room.
It really was quite a sleek set up. Sam thought back to the other bridges of earth vessels she had visited. Earlier earth space vessels had tended toward small and efficient use of space, taking only just as much space as necessary. The bridge of the Prometheus had been much smaller than theHammond's, and very cramped. Once she'd been trapped aboard that ship alone, and concussed. The size of the bridge had made Sam's addled mind feel as though the walls of that ship were closing in around her, a feeling which occasionally persisted long after her recovery. The standard X-304's that proceeded the Hammond, had rather larger bridges, and to Sam's relief, it was clear that this newest ship followed suit.
She leaned forward and activated a tactical station, smiling faintly as the system flashed to life. After clicking her way through a few programs, Sam glanced up was surprised to meet Colonel Swift's beaming gaze. His eyes twinkled with the most animation she'd seen him exhibit throughout their whole visit.
"Well Ma'am, I have to say that I am dying to to test this thing out in the air."
Sam grinned broadly. Swift seemed giddy. And she could hardly blame him. The Hammond was undeniably an excellent, state of the art vessel, with the potential to be a force for good throughout the Milky Way.
"Are we satisfied?" Reynolds queried in a very measured tone, as though he was talking to a pair of small children who'd just been to an amusement park.
Swift cocked his head at Sam, raising his eyebrows in a silent question with a barely concealed smirk on his lips.
Sam turned and faced Reynolds, idly leaning on the arm of the nearest consul chair.
That and more.
This has got to be the longest meeting ever. EVER.
Scientists droned on. It made Jack O'Neill miss Carter's clear and 'General-friendly' descriptions of complexly dull concepts. IOA folk bickered. It made Jack miss the days before the organization even existed. The politician...well politicked. Jack was certain he'd never miss anything about politics.
Jack pursed his lips, and fidgeted with a black BIC pen. He flipped the slender object from finger to finger. He winced, and exchanged an exhausted glance with General Maurice Vidrine. He seemed as frustrated with the whole mess of a meeting as Jack was. Time to interrupt. Just as one very nervous looking member of the science team, somebody Volker, took a breath to continue his report, Jack opened his mouth.
"So, let me see if I have this straight. You guys know that this 9th chevron thing is...important. And you know theoretically what needs to happen to open it. Using the planet's Naquadria core for power and all that. Still no idea what dialing this chevron will actually do, and no idea where it might go. Right?"
He looked at the lead scientist, Dr. Nicholas Rush, who held his head with one hand, and a pair of glasses with the other.
"That's correct," was the accented answer.
Jack looked back at Vidrine, indicating the collection of folders in front of the other general.
"And these reports from Colonels Telford and Young say that the Icarus Base on P4X-351 is reasonably secure militarily for the time being; it's isolated from the gate-network; Free Jaffa and Vidrine has X-304's monitoring the area as often as possible. Telford's team is raring and ready for the mission as soon as you guys," he swung back to the scientists, pointing his pen in their direction, "figure out how to dial the 9th chevron without blowing the whole planet up."
Nods all around.
Jack raised his eyebrows, "But you're all hung up on the math?"
The Scottish scientist answered again, "Yes. However, I believe more progress can be made given more time-"
Okay. We have a math problem. That shouldn't have taken hours for your guys to explain.
"Ah," Jack held up a hand to stop Rush, "Yeah, you want time, I get that."
He turned finally to Senator Alan Armstrong, "You think this is a matter of needing an outside perspective. Too many of the same minds looking at the same problem."
The Senator looked smug, "Well, General O'Neill sometimes when your too close to a situation you can miss important details. A fresh set of eyes might do this project wonders, and frankly, financially it would be better if we could solve this problem sooner rather than later. To that end, it would be best for the project to do whatever we can to find that outside perspective as soon as possible."
Objectivity and being too close to a situation are interesting concepts for you to bring into the conversation given that your kid is your assistant, do ya think?
Across the meeting room table, three of the IOA representatives shifted uncomfortably, as they began to place papers back into folders, and folders into brief cases. However, their committee head, Dr. Carl Strom, met Jack's gaze evenly, and didn't blink.
So you knew about this plan of his already. Smooth...the politicians and pencil pushers know everything before the military and even the damned scientists are given any information. Typical.
Jack nodded and pressed on.
"Your proposing that we put this...math thing on the internet. In a game, so that some-what? Some undiscovered genius who happens to play these games will solve it? What are the odds that this would work? There is a risk of creating leaks here. We put the problem into the game and what? We just wait?"
"Exactly General," Armstrong smiled and got all preachy, "I feel that there are plenty of intelligent and as you say, undiscovered people in our world who could make fine contribution to not only the Icarus project, but to the program as a whole, if they were given the chance. My assistant has pointed out to me that online gaming is a great way to vet candidates, particularly gifted young people. The competitive nature of gaming will drive the search for a solution in low pressure situation, and I believe it will make things go faster. I feel that this is a magnificent opportunity for the Stargate Program."
The Senator stood up and looked away from Jack surveying the whole room. "And frankly the president agrees with me. Programing and implementation plans are already underway. The project should be online by the first of the month."
Talked it up to the Commander in Chief already, huh? How very very typical.
Armstrong turned to the Rush and scientists "You will assist in further development and soon this whole project will be a great success. If that's all?"
Then the politician rose and left the conference room, followed awkwardly by IOA representatives. Rush looked angry as he stood up and stormed out a moment later, throwing only a brief nod to Jack. Strom pushed his chair back last, almost lazily, giving Jack the briefest smirk before exiting the room.
That's that then.
Jack looked at the remaining people in the room. The other scientists murmured amongst themselves, and General Vidrine still looked as frustrated as Jack was.
Jack cleared his throat to interrupt the scientists waved a hand toward the door, "Dismissed..."
They scattered and soon the room was empty except for Jack and Vidrine.
The other General looked at Jack wearily, "I'm not sure I like this O'Neill."
Jack's mouth twitched slightly, "I don't think I like it either, but since Hayes and the IOA have already signed off on it...At the very least, even with the game, we still have plausible deniability, and there is no guarantee anything that might leak would be that bad. It's just some math problems after all."
Vidrine nodded, "Yes. However, I am also concerned about potential problems even if the game is successful and someone solves the equation. There is a reason only a select group of people are recruited into this program. A reason only a small number of people have access to sensitive scientific and military information. Not everyone is qualified and equipped to do this kind of work, even if they are objectively intelligent. I'm not saying we never let a broader base of people in, but I think this idea might be a few years ahead of its time. Either way, we have to keep a close eye on this so we can be as prepared as possible."
"I will put in a call to the president see how invested in the plan he really is, and at the very least to see why on earth this little idea has gone as far as it has without either us or the relevant scientists being notified. Still, I am sure we're gonna end up trying it, so yeah," Jack nodded, "we'll keep very close eye."
They both stood to leave.
Something about this just doesn't feel right. This whole thing better not blow up in our faces.
Somewhere in the middle of eating Chinese food at Cam's house with her old team, Sam realized that she had well and truly fallen in love with the USSGeorge Hammond. She was currently gushing about the enhanced hyperdrive systems, and a quick survey of her friend's expressions told Sam that they were probably only feigning interest because they loved her, as opposed to any deep desire to learn about the mechanical workings of her ships intergalactic capabilities.
"Um, Samantha," Vala said, leaning forward apologetically, "As fascinating as all this is..."
The physics of it all really is fascinating!
"I'm boring you guys; sorry," Sam added, reigning herself in, and moving her chopsticks to grab another piece of kung pao chicken.
"Well, now we don't mind," Cam said with a careful grin, "We may not understand everything you say, but that doesn't matter. We're glad you're enjoying yourself. Besides, I for one will feel a lot better knowing you're out there flying around watching our backs."
"Hopefully with the destruction of the Ori, Replicators, and the Goa'uld, there'll be less imminent need of back up," Daniel added ruefully, counting enemies down on his fingers.
"Indeed," Teal'c intoned, "However, I do believe that the galaxy is sufficiently dangerous enough without a large enemy force. We have encountered problems on countless missions that had no relation whatsoever to the Goa'uld, Replicators or the Ori."
"Yeah," Cam conceded, "We will probably run into trouble either way, 'specially with you spending more time with the Free Jaffa, but I'll rest easier knowing Sam's out there, armed and ready to beam our butts out."
Now wait just a minute...
"It's not like I am going to be in orbit around every planet you visit-"
Cam cut her off with a nudge and wink, and soon everyone was chuckling. But then he grabbed her arm, his face taking on a more serious expression.
"Things are a little quiet out there lately," Cam explained, "I think the Lucian Alliance is up to something. I got a feeling it'll be big and bad. Earth and the good guys could use some more ships out there and I can't think of anyone better than you for the job."
Daniel and Vala, nodded in vigorous agreement.
"You are most uniquely qualified for such an endeavor, Samantha Carter," Teal'c added.
"Thanks guys. That means a lot to me. Really."
The evening wound down, and Sam snagged one last piece of chicken before checking the time on her cell phone.
"Hey guys, I should probably get going-"
Vala's eyes lit up dangerously and she gave Sam a toothy grin, "Ah yes! Can't miss a certain call from Washington..."
The guys all shared a knowing glance, and Daniel grinned, "Tell Jack 'hello' for me, alright?"
Sam tried to play it cool until her cheeks flushed. Traitors.
She smirked back at her friends, and said her goodbyes before heading home.
It wasn't as though their friends didn't know about Sam and Jack. Quite the contrary, Sam suspected that Daniel and Teal'c clued into them long before they themselves actually could verbalize whatever was between them.
And things in the relationship, (she thought calling it anything else made it seem sordid and it wasn't) had been well underway by the time Sam got close to Cam and Vala. So, Sam was used to the whole team knowing. Still, their gentle ribbing always made Sam feel a little giddy, and a little out of control, which she wasn't used to feeling.
About 15 minutes after Sam arrived at her house, her cell phone buzzed, and rushed to grab it. Her calls to Jack were in many ways the best parts of her day. Their conversations were easy, more so than they'd ever been when they were still on the same team. Even the silences were kind of golden, because Sam knew he was still there, with her, listening, even when nothing was being said.
Sam accepted that it would be difficult losing daily contact with Jack when she went on tour with the Hammondfor weeks or months at a time, but the fact still made her sad.
She frowned. Their nightly private phone calls would be impossible soon.
Don't worry about that now. We survived a year apart for Atlantis, we can survive this.
"Hello Jack," she said sitting down and curling into the soft cushions of her sofa. If Sam closed her eyes, she could pretend he was right to her, whispering into ear, instead of miles away.
He sounded tired. Weary even. Must have been a tough day at the Pentagon.
The line was silent for a beat. Jack exhaled, and Sam thought he was trying to figure out what to say.
Oh no. Today was definitely rough.
"Yeah, well, politicians you know? They suck."
Sam laughed. No matter how difficult a Homeworld Command situation felt, or how exasperated Jack got, he always managed to not only be brutally honest about it with very few words, but brilliantly funny too.
"They do. I'm sorry. Had to do with the Icarus project?"
"Things with the IOA and this off world spending committee are just heating up. They all want to speed everything along, despite an apparent lack of progress with the 9th chevron. Enjoy the command structure while you have it, Sam."
Sam didn't respond right away, giving Jack the chance to vent, if he needed it. He hardly ever took the opportunity, and preferred to keep "shop talk" to a minimum during their precious phone time. However, she wanted the opening to be there for him. Tonight, to her surprise, Jack continued.
"Strom, that IOA committee head is, I don't know, slippery. I mean, it's hard to read him, even for me.It's like he thinks working with the military is an unfortunate and unnecessary part of the Stargate program, and yet he'd use us against someone else in a heartbeat, if it benefited him...I dunno."
"And Carter? What do you think of Dr. Nicholas Rush? He's another hard one to read. His file is pretty bare boned. In person he seems a bit cold, but I can tell there's also more going on there, but I doubt I'll find out what because we're not exactly going to reach that 'share time' level. He's not the type."
"Rush? Well, I don't know him that well...Daniel recruited him. We never worked directly together."
"Just-what do you think?"
"He is a brilliant scientist."
The science is as much a part of him as a limb, Jack. This I understand.
"He is," she continued, "and he knows it, so not being able to get the 9th chevron working is probably bothering him. Rush wants to be the one guy who can figure it out."
"Except he hasn't."
"That bothers him."
"A lot, and I do know the feeling, but I'd bet it's worse for Rush because-well his wife died pretty recently. Cancer. It wasn't pretty I guess. You can't control a disease like that, no matter how smart you are. So, now, for Rush, I think maybe a lot rides on finishing this project. Maybe he cares about it more. If hesolves it, then he's fixed it, and his intellect controls something, even though he couldn't control his wife's cancer. After you lose someone well...you're not quite yourself in how you approach things."
"Loss makes you behave differently," he agreed, and Sam lamented that Jack knew this truth from deep experience.
They don't really talk about Charlie. Sam knew Jack didn't ever want to talk about it, and this line of conversation was coming a bit too close, so an awkward silence fell between them.
Someday, maybe, Sam would to push him to talk, but not today. Predictably he shifted the topic, deflecting away from pain and loss.
"Well, uh, thanks. How do you find out this stuff about Rush anyway?"
"Dr. Lee had a research assistant to transferred to the Icarus team. She told him. Bill told me. He likes to talk."
"Oh. Good ol' Bill."
Jack coughs a little and the line goes quiet again, and Sam tries to visualize his expression.
Definitely a head tilt, and maybe a wince.
"But hey, enough of that, I spoke with General Vidrine today, he's all excited about the Hammond, says it's the best of the fleet. And considering the meeting two of us sat through today, I think he is doubly glad the 304 program is doing well. No senate committees or IOA types can mess with that. Haven't seen him this revved since Prometheus."
"Vidrine gets revved?"
He chucked, "Oh yeah. In his own way, you gotta watch close. Anyhow, so? How was your visit?"
Want the long answer or the very long answer? Maybe the unexpected answer...
"Cool?" Jack sounded incredulous. He didn't expect her to give short answers.
"It's beautiful Jack. I mean, everything is so-wonderful, fantastic, astronomical, amazing. I can't think of enough adjectives for it. I met some of the future crew, and saw the labs and the hyperdrive engines, and I just started to feel like I-"
"Like you have arrived!"
Big smile. 'There's cake in this building' size smile.
"Ha, no. But yes. I mean, I am ready for this. I feel ready for this."
"I know Carter. You are ready. You'll be brilliant"
"It's different than Atlantis. I'm not stepping into anyone else's place. Me and the crew, us and the ship, we'll all be stepping out into the universe all together. "
"Not just stepping. Hyper-stepping. Hyper-jumping."
They both laughed, then Sam heard him stifle a yawn.
Sam wondered if he might be getting sleepy. It was late D.C. They've talked long into the night on these calls before, and she always feels guilty that "late" for her was "ridiculously late" for him. Tonight especially, since Jack had had a rough day.
"I could honestly talk about it for 24 hours straight, but I hate to keep you up. The short answer is I love love love it. I can't wait to get out there."
"So my competition for your heart is a giant grey hunk of metal named after a beloved bald man. Hard to beat."
"Ha, don't worry, I love you too."
And Sam did. She marveled at how easily the word love flowed between them. Especially given the slightly nebulous definition of their actual relationship. They were two people who loved each other. Sam never doubted Jack when he said he loved her, and always meant it when she spoke the words to him.
A part of her feared defining and categorizing their 'thing' because every time Sam's past relationships had been neatly boxed and filed, love had stopped meaning love, and had stopped being said easily. In the end she and Jonas and Pete were hurt, and the relationships had entered a new category: failed.
That couldn't happen with Jack. Sam wasn't sure she could handle that.
"Whew. Good to know," Jack's voice pulled her back to the phone, "Oh before you go! Cassie called me today, double checking all this graduation stuff. And she asked about the dinner with her...her boyfriend."
"Oh good. She said she would do that."
"What do you know about this Sean kid?"
"Not a whole lot. Cass tells me some stuff, most of which she wouldn't want me to tell you, and I doubt you'd want to know anyway. I met him once when they first started dating, before I went to Atlantis. He's a photography major, I think. He liked motorcycles."
"So of course you approve. Motocycle bias!"
No such thing.
"I think he is very good for her, Jack."
"Okay, but would Janet like him?"
Sam had often asked herself the same question.
"I actually think so. Better than Domonic anyway."
"Hmm. We shall see." He sounded skeptical.
"You don't need to go evaluate him, or scare the crap out of him. Cassie just wants us to meet his parents."
"Us. I know. Kind of...normal, huh?"
"I'm too old for this. I mean it feels like Cass should still be 12 or something. I'm not sure I am ready for her to be so grown up."
Preaching to the choir.
"It will be fine, and I guess Sean's parents-" Sam paused placing several errant strands of hair back behind her ear, "his parents are just as nervous as we are."
"Well, they should be. They are about to meet a General and a Colonel in the US Air Force. We are kind of a big deal."
She laughed out loud.
Touche. We kind of are, aren't we? Even with the program so highly classified.
"Well, you're not too old, Jack."
"Carter, at that dinner I'm probably gonna order off the 'honored guests' section of the menu. If that doesn't scream OLD, I don't know what does."
She heard another yawn before he continued.
"Anyway, I get back Friday night. I'm sure you've missed my company."
"Oh yes, I've missed dirty socks in my living room. And your boxes of Fruitloops tipping over in my cabinet. And your dried toothpaste on my counter-top. Can hardly survive without them."
She was teasing, but Sam really did love having these things in her house. Concrete evidence that she and Jack shared a life together, in this home, however irregularly. And of course Jack knew this.
He saw through her tease, and teased back. They fit each other.
"Gotta keep you honest, can't have the place looking like a model home, you've owned it for years!"
After their laughter calmed down, a golden silence descended, and Sam reveled in the sheer comfort of an easy conversation. Soon the call would be over, but before they hung up Sam knew they'd try to make it last longer.
"There are other things I've missed..." she added suggestively.
"Oh yeah? BIG things?"
Wow, he really doesn't want to hang up.
No yawns now, but Sam knew they both must be very tired given the decidedly sophomoric direction this conversation was quickly taking. They really should go to bed.
"Okay, now you wound me."
Sam couldn't help it. More giggles.
She was still working to control her laughter, and imagined Jack's face now wore an irresistible pout.
"Agreed," Sam said resolving to stroke his ego a bit, "But seriously, I can't wait to see you. All of you. Size does not matter. Quality over quantity."
"I'll be sure to bring the Bengay."
Jack laughed too. Her treacherous cheeks burned again.
"Hanging up now?"
They both remained on the line.
The end of their calls were always like this. They both felt goofy, but each was loathe to hang up first.
Sam and Jack were both reluctant to end the call. Reluctant to stop talking to each other. To return to their being physically alone and miles apart.
"Love you, Carter."
"You too, Jack."
There was a soft click and the line went silent. He was gone.
Until the weekend.