"The shield holding back the water has collapsed to its minimal sustainable levels," Sam said, pulling up a map they'd managed to find in the city's computers. It was pure luck that she and McKay were already used to working with completely alien systems.
"You can see here and here where the shield has already collapsed entirely, flooding the city." McKay jumped in, pointing to the screen.
"What it fails completely?" Major Sheppard asked, frowning lightly at the map.
"It's a matter of 'when', not 'if'," McKay said, hands flailing in the air.
"The whole city will be flooded in a matter of minutes," Sam said.
"Colonel Sumner," Elizabeth said firmly, "you need to call back your people."
Sumner nodded, already on his radio.
"Can't we power the shield ourselves?" Woolsey looked more worried than the rest of them combined.
Sam shook her head. "No, our naquadah generators don't supply nearly enough power."
"What about more ZPMs?" Elizabeth asked.
"If there were any more here, we'd be able to detect them," McKay said, waving back at his screen.
"Can we use the Stargate?" Woolsey frowned at the map.
"Not to get back to Earth, no. But we do have enough power to go somewhere here in Pegasus," Sam said.
"Fortunately, some Ancient technology still uses good old-fashioned push buttons, so we've been able to access the Stargate control system and a library of known Gate addresses in the database." McKay pointed to what they'd decided was the DHD.
Elizabeth nodded. "Good. Colonel Sumner, I want you to take a team through the Stargate. We need a safe evacuation point, or better yet, more power." She paused and said carefully, "I'd like you to take Major Sheppard with you. His affinity for Ancient technology could help you find a power source."
Sumner hid his grimace, but Sam knew enough of his type to see it. "Ma'am." He clicked on his radio. "Lieutenant Ford, gather security teams one and two. Everyone gear up."
"Perhaps I could help," an unknown voice said from behind them. Sam whirled around, her gun at the ready, and saw Sheppard and Sumner doing the same out of the corner of her eye.
It was an elderly woman, dressed in a long white gown. She held her hands in the air to show she was unarmed.
"Identify yourself." Colonel Sumner's voice was almost a growl.
"My name," the woman said in her thin, thready voice, "is Doctor Elizabeth Weir."
Sam turned to look at their Elizabeth. Elizabeth's face had gone pale, and she was gripping the side of the console. Her hand tightened, and she stood tall, obviously coming to a decision.
"Colonel Sumner," Elizabeth said, "we still need that evacuation point, and we need it now. Go."
"Doctor Weir, I don't think...."
Elizabeth cut him off. "We don't have time for this. We need that evac point."
"Yes, Ma'am," Sumner said, voice flat. "Colonel Carter, can I have a word?"
"Sir," Sam said, and followed him to a corner. She could hear Elizabeth, Woolsey, and McKay throwing questions at the woman behind her, and the woman trying to convince Major Sheppard to lower his gun.
"Carter, you have more experience with this kind of thing. Could she be who she says she is?" Sumner asked, quietly.
"It's possible, sir. We've had experience with both alternate realties and time travel before." Sam shrugged.
Sumner nodded curtly. "I'll trust to your judgment. If anything happens while I'm gone, do not hesitate to shoot to kill."
Sam resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the assumption she'd hesitate in the first place. Marines. "Yes, sir."
"Damn it!" Sam punched the bulkhead and sank down to the floor, her back to the wall. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. If only she could figure out what Jack had done to the engines after he'd 'gone Ancient', she might be able to fix them.
"Is there a new problem with the engines?" Teal'c asked, coming into the rear of the Tel'tak.
"No, still the same one." Sam sighed. "I'm sorry, Teal'c. I don't think I can fix them. What Colonel O'Neill did is so far beyond me that I don't even know where to start."
Teal'c knelt down and put his hand on her shoulder. "If you can not do it, it can not be done, Major Carter. We have done what we could."
Sam gave him a weak smile. "At least we're still in the Milky Way. I can get us enough power to take us to the nearest system with a gate."
"Indeed," Teal'c said, and stood.
"Give me an hour." Sam turned back to the crystals. She heard Teal'c walk back to the cockpit and bowed her head. She could get Teal'c and herself back to Earth, but they hadn't managed to make contact with the Asgard. They hadn't even manged to leave the galaxy.
Sam was going to have to face the fact that she couldn't save Jack. At least, not today.
Sam stood in front of Elizabeth Weir's desk, hands behind her back.
"So let me get this straight," Elizabeth said. "You couldn't contact the Asgard, you gained nothing to help return Colonel O'Neill to normal, and you lost the most advanced ship we had access to."
"We know exactly where the enhanced Tel'tak is," Sam protested. "It's on P3X-624, safe and sound. We can just as easily study it there as we could in Nevada."
"But it's not here, where it could help defend Earth." Elizabeth tapped a pen against her desk.
"Well, no," Sam said, sheepishly. "But the hyperdrive is shot anyway, and at sublight speeds the Prometheus is just as capable as a Tel'tak, if not more."
Elizabeth nodded. "I'll take your word for it. I tried to read the technical specifications and could just feel my eyes glazing over. Engineering's a bit out of my area." She stood. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry about Colonel O'Neill."
Sam took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment too long. "Thank you, Doctor Weir. So am I."
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at Sam and then looked down at her watch. "Tell you what. It's after five, it's Friday night, and you and I have both had a hell of a week. Let me take you out for a drink. I've been here for a month and I still don't know where to find a good bar."
"Can't have that," Sam said. She paused and thought about it. Elizabeth was an unknown quantity, but the fact that she didn't know Jack well was strangely appealing. Sam wasn't sure she was up for Daniel's frustration and anger and grief, which would only magnify her own, and Teal'c had told her he was planning on spending the evening in meditation. "Sure, why not. Just let me go get changed."
Elizabeth nodded. "Of course. I'll meet you up top in fifteen?"
Sam waved a hand in agreement as she walked towards the locker room. She changed quickly, avoiding anyone who might want to stop and talk. She wasn't ready for sympathy, not with Jack still technically alive. Not when she'd failed in the only way they knew how to save him.
She nodded at the desk sergeant who manned the elevator bank and walked out to the parking lot. Elizabeth was chatting with the guard.
Sam waited for a pause in the conversation. "Ready to head out?"
Elizabeth nodded. "More than." She waved to the guard. "Goodnight, Joe."
"Goodnight Doctor Weir, Major Carter."
Sam held up her helmet. "I've got my bike, so if you'll follow me?"
Elizabeth nodded. "I'm just over there," she said, pointing to a generic silver sedan that screamed 'company car'.
Sam drove out to a quiet sports bar she knew Jack had never frequented. Elizabeth followed her inside, and they sat down in a booth.
"How are you settling in?" Sam asked, after the waitress had brought them both a beer.
"It's strange, but fairly well." Elizabeth smiled wryly. "I never thought I'd feel this excited to be working for the military."
"The program has a tendency to get under your skin." Sam took a sip of beer and stared out the window. A few minutes passed in silence.
"Forgive my impertinence," Elizabeth finally said, "but were you and the Colonel... involved?"
Sam put her beer down carefully and looked at her hands. "No," she said definitively. "No, we never were. We might have been, but with the regs, we just couldn't take the chance. We talked around it a few times, but no. We weren't involved."
"I'm sorry," Elizabeth said quietly. "I can't imagine what that must've been like. My first girlfriend was my TA, but that's not quite the same thing."
Sam took it for what it was - one potentially dangerous secret for another - and smiled ruefully. "No, not at all." She picked at the label on the beer bottle. "I'll miss Jack as a friend, more than anything else. I have a boyfriend and..." Sam cut herself off and shook her head. "Boyfriend sounds ridiculous at my age, doesn't it? Anyway, we're mostly happy."
Elizabeth put down her beer bottle. "Well, you might not entirely welcome the other thing I wanted to talk to you about then."
"So we're not just drowning my sorrows?" Sam took a sip of her beer.
Elizabeth quirked her lip. "You didn't think we were."
Sam tipped her beer bottle at Elizabeth in acknowledgment. "So, what did you need me out of the Mountain to talk about?"
"You know about the issues our friends had with the Antarctic site?" Elizabeth asked, choosing her words carefully due to the public venue.
Sam nodded. "They were worried we had too much power over it."
"That's been tentatively resolved, and our friends have agreed to to set up a joint base there, largely civilian-run." Elizabeth paused and took a drink of beer. "It's been agreed that I'll actually be leaving to head it. The past few weeks have demonstrated that it's probably still best to have the military in charge of the local project."
"I'll be sorry to see you go," Sam said honestly. No one could replace Hammond, but they could've done a lot worse than Elizabeth Weir. Anyone who stood up to Kinsey was good in Sam's book.
Elizabeth smiled in thanks. "I'm not sure I should be telling you this, but General Hammond told me to go ahead. You're being promoted. Congratulations."
Sam blinked. "Ah, thank you."
Elizabeth smiled. "With the promotion comes an option. And it's definitely an option, not an assignment. You can say no."
"Yes?" Sam asked, warily.
"There were only three people our friends could agree on to potentially head the science section of our new base. Svetlana Markov, Rodney McKay, and yourself. If you agree, you'll be one of the only officers on base, and either Doctor McKay or Doctor Markov will be working alongside you - you wouldn't be completely in charge. Our friends don't trust the American military that much. And I would be above you both." Elizabeth put her hands on the table and leaned forward. Sam leaned in to hear her. "General Hammond told me to say that you would also be there to discreetly work on the 'O'Neill Project'."
Sam sat back and stared at her.
"I don't need an answer right now, of course, but the General and I thought you should have time to think about it before you get asked directly." Elizabeth had another drink of her beer.
Sam gripped her beer bottle tightly. She'd have to give up SG-1, but Teal'c and Daniel were family by now anyway, and without Jack she had no idea if SG-1 as it currently stood would even still exist in a week. There was the Pete factor, but Pete had always known her work came first. She grimaced. Pete was definitely going to assume everything was about Jack, when it was about family and team and leaving no one behind. Pete had never understood that part of the military mindset. She thought this might end up straining her relationship with Pete to a breaking point, but she wasn't too terribly sad about that, which said everything, really. Team came first.
The most important factor was probably Cassie. Sam stared out the window and had another sip of her beer. Janet was barely in the ground and now Jack was... not dead, he wasn't dead, but gone, and god, she hadn't even told Cassie about that yet. But two members of Cas's adopted family gone in less than six months, and Sam moving to Antarctica on top of that might push Cas to a breaking point. Especially since, without Jack or SG-1, Teal'c would likely go back and join Bra'tac, leaving Cassie with only Sam and Daniel. On the other hand, Cas was at school in California, so it's not like Sam saw her much anyway. She could call and e-mail her just as easily from Antarctica as she could from Colorado Springs. They'd just have to figure out what they were doing for holidays.
Plus, the Ancient outpost was amazing and she really didn't want to potentially leave all the discoveries to Rodney McKay, of all people. Sam looked down at her hands. And Jack was there. Frozen in stasis until they could fix his brain (and they would, even if took the rest of her life to figure out how), but there. She couldn't deny he was a large reason why she was even considering this.
Sam took a deep breath. "I don't need the time. I'd love to go."
Elizabeth nodded. "The General thought you would. Welcome aboard."
"I really hope it's Svetlana, though," Sam said, under her breath.
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. "Not a fan of Doctor McKay?"
Sam flushed. "I take it you haven't met him yet?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "No, I haven't."
"He has a thing for intelligent blonde women, and he's not afraid to go on about it. At length." Sam looked pointedly at Elizabeth's own blonde hair.
Elizabeth winced. "Well, look on the bright side. If he's the one who accepts the offer, I'll be one in charge of disciplinary action."
"I'll drink to that," Sam said.
"Well, Doctor Beckett?" Elizabeth asked, standing in the corner room they'd quickly designated the 'designated personnel only' area.
"There's not much I can do without the advanced equipment, mind, and no one's letting me unpack that," Carson said peevishly.
"What, so you can just leave it here when we have to run through the Stargate to avoid sudden death?" McKay called out from the other side of the room.
"Stop listening to us and work on the power distribution, McKay!" Sam called back. She'd honestly rather be with him, but as head military officer in base, her responsibility was here.
"You were saying, Doctor Beckett?" Elizabeth said, impatiently.
"She's definitely from Earth, at least. She has ten fillings and two crowns, and she has a smallpox vaccination scar." Sam could tell Carson was stalling.
"Yes, but is she me?" Elizabeth asked.
Carson shrugged. "You have the same blood type. Your facial features are similar. She claims to have the same parents as you. But she also doesn't recognize you and asked where our Doctor Weir was. Without the DNA sequencer I can't be certain, but I'd guess you're not the same person. It is, however, very possible you're in some way related. Sisters, maybe."
Elizabeth frowned. "I'm an only child."
"It's possible her reality is different enough that your mother got pregnant a little while before or after she did in this universe, leading to you being different people," Sam said reluctantly. They'd never seen that before, but she couldn't rule anything out when it came to alternate realities.
"But that we ended up on the exact same career path?" Elizabeth asked disbelievingly.
Sam shrugged. "That does stretch credulity it a bit, but alternate realities can be strange, Elizabeth. It's not entirely out of the question."
"Excuse me," Woolsey broke in, "but what does it matter who she is? She was here before us and she claims to be able to help. Let her help and then question her later, when we're out of danger."
"You're assuming she actually does want to help," Elizabeth pointed out. "You're a lawyer, Richard, you know people lie to get what they want."
"I think this is a calculated risk worth taking!" Woolsey said, loud enough that everyone else in the room turned to look at them.
"Be that as it may," Elizabeth said, "I'm not entirely convinced. Sam?"
"I think I have to agree with Woolsey," Sam said. "I'm not entirely happy about it, but we're between a rock and a hard place here, Elizabeth. If she can help, I think we have to at least see what she's offering."
Elizabeth sighed. "I see your point."
"Doctor Beckett!" Doctor Biro poked her head in the room. "She's out again."
"Whatever you decide," Carson said, walking towards the door, "you'd best do it quickly. I don't think she's going to last much longer."
"Understood," Elizabeth said. "Sam, why don't you go help Rodney. Richard and I will hash this out."
Sam nodded and walked across the room, picking up a tablet along the way. She grimaced at the power readings. They'd already lost another section of the city and hadn't gained anything in their power stores.
"Oh, so you've decided to play scientist again?" McKay glared at her.
"Just get me up to speed, McKay." She'd mostly managed to get him to stop hitting on her, but she wasn't really sure this was any better.
McKay sighed. "I can't find anything that we could use to extend the life of the ZPMs."
"What about increasing the output of the naquadah generators?" Sam flicked through his calculations.
"Again, nothing. The city is flooding and we're all going to die," McKay said, matter-of-factly.
Sam rolled her eyes. "We are not going to die, McKay. If we can't figure anything out, we'll just go through the gate."
"Where we'll probably end up as intergalactic nut farmers." McKay frowned at his tablet.
"Come on, McKay. Back to work. Don't retire to a life of nut farming just yet," Sam said, settling in. "You work on the ZPM, I'll take the generators."
McKay nodded absently, already lost in his work. Sam opened the naquadah generator calculations she already knew inside and out and stared across the room at Elizabeth and Mr. Woolsey. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but she hoped they came to a decision sooner rather than later.
Sam rubbed her arms, wondering again why she'd agreed to move to Antarctica. She'd never done very well in the cold. She could hear McKay arguing Carson into the control chair again behind her and sighed, staring at the Ancient device they thought might be some sort of medical tool. She'd been working on this device for the past two days, and she was no closer to understanding what it did or to knowing if it could help Jack.
"Not having any luck?" Peter asked, coming up behind her.
"I think I just need a break." Sam stretched. "How about you?"
"There's not much I can do with the drones inactive, but activating them is too dangerous." Peter sighed. "We all need a break."
"What's this about a break I hear?" Elizabeth asked. Sam jumped.
"Aren't you supposed to be off translating with Daniel?" Sam asked. Daniel had come down a few weeks ago claiming that he needed to see the database up close and personal, but Sam thought he really just wanted to spend some time with her and Jack. They'd spent most nights since he'd gotten there sitting in the black tent the base had constructed to hide the stasis pod, reminiscing.
"I'm on my break," Elizabeth said cheerfully. "No, Hammond's helicopter just left McMurdo, and since he's bringing a representative of the newly formed International Space Oversight Board with him I wanted to take a moment to clear my head. It wouldn't be the best first impression if I greeted them in Ancient or Latin."
"You never know," Peter said. "They might take it as a sign that you're clearly more intelligent than them and they should listen to everything you say."
Sam choked down a laugh. "I wouldn't count on it."
"We have found something interesting, though," Elizabeth said. "We think we've found the real location of the Lost City."
Sam stared at her. "Seriously?"
Elizabeth nodded. "We think it's...."
Sam held up a hand to cut her off. She called over to the control chair. "McKay! Get over here!"
She faintly heard Carson ask, "Can I get up now?"
"No. Keep thinking about where we are in the solar system!" McKay turned to yell behind him, walking towards Sam. "What?"
Sam gestured at Elizabeth to continue.
Elizabeth sighed. "As I was saying, we think we've discovered the real location of Atlantis."
McKay gaped. "Really?"
Elizabeth nodded. "We've been looking in the wrong place all along. It's an eight symbol address."
Sam sat down. "So it's in another galaxy."
"We could go there?" McKay bounced on his toes.
"If we could talk the board into letting us use the ZPM, possibly," Peter said.
"That's partially what I hope to...." Elizabeth stopped as the drone Peter had been working on went screaming up the elevator tunnel.
Sam ran over to the control chair. "Carson, what did you do?
"I don't know!" The panic in Carson's voice was overwhelming.
McKay was on her heels. "Turn it off!"
"How?" Carson pleaded.
"Just think about the drone shutting down, Carson," Sam said quietly, her fingers clenched. General Hammond was on that helicopter, and she did not want to lose another friend.
Carson squeezed his eyes shut. "I think I got it."
"The helicopter is reporting the drone has been shut down," Lieutenant Ford said.
"Well." Elizabeth sighed. "That will certainly bring the representative around to our cause."
Sam stood and watched, her hand on her gun, as Elizabeth slowly helped old Elizabeth from her stretcher to the control room.
"Are we sure this is a good idea?" McKay whispered to Sam, standing a bit too close for comfort.
"No," Sam said curtly. "Do you have a better one?"
"Aside from running for our lives?" McKay asked.
"Yes," Sam said, rolling her eyes. She did that a lot around McKay. "Aside from that."
"We could reconfigure the... no, we tried that. We could... no, that wouldn't work." McKay frowned.
Sam stared at him. "So, no then."
McKay wilted. "No."
"She says she can raise the city to the surface, McKay. We have to try." Sam paused. "Besides, if she really wanted us dead she could've just done something from anywhere else in the city."
McKay opened his mouth, then closed it again. He pointed at her. "I didn't think of that."
She raised her eyebrows. "What happened to being the smartest man in the galaxy, McKay?"
McKay narrowed his eyes at her and didn't answer. Sam grinned at him, and turned back to watch the old woman. Carson was right. She looked like she was going to keel over any second. Sam had no idea how she was managing to keep on her feet. She tapped her radio. "Sergeant Markham, could you find us a chair, please?"
"Right away, ma'am," came the immediate response.
Elizabeth nodded Sam and McKay over to the control consoles. "She says she'd like the two of you to watch."
"Any particular reason why?" Sam asked, coming up behind her.
"You're the scientists," the old woman said. "You should know how to do it." She paused and frowned at Sam. "But you shouldn't even be here. Everything is different. Janus warned me that might happen, but I wasn't expecting...." She shook her head
Markham brought a chair into the room, and old Elizabeth sank into it gratefully. Sam nodded her thanks.
"How is it different?" Their Elizabeth asked quietly, crouching in front of the chair.
"Colonel Carter should still be on Earth," old Elizabeth replied, "and Peter and Radek should be... are Peter and Radek here?"
"Peter Grodin and Radek Zelenka?" Sam asked, more than a bit disconcerted. She knew that every reality fell out differently, but to have someone flat out tell her she shouldn't be here was a new one. For her, at least, apparently that happened to Daniel all the time.
"Yes, where are they?" The woman looked around anxiously.
"Peter is on Earth," Elizabeth said. "He agreed to take over hard sciences at the SGC when Sam signed on to the mission. Radek is around here somewhere." Elizabeth looked at McKay.
"Who?" McKay asked.
Sam sighed. "Radek Zelenka, McKay. The Czech? The one you actually like and think 'isn't a total moron'?"
Elizabeth smirked at Sam behind McKay's back. Sure, Elizabeth could laugh. She wasn't the one stuck with McKay every day.
"Oh right, him." McKay frowned for a moment. "I think he's still working on the naquadah generators."
"Do you want us to call him up here?" Elizabeth asked.
"No," the old woman shook her head. "No. Everything is just so different. I'm not even here." She looked at Elizabeth. "You have my name, but you're not me." She cocked her head. "You look like Aunt Lucille."
Elizabeth quirked her lips. "So the entire family has told me."
"This is nice and all," McKay said, "but imminent death by flooding?"
Old Elizabeth nodded. "I need to stand."'
Sam reached out and took her arm, helping her up. She leaned over the console and starting pressing a long sequence of crystals. Sam watched, trying to memorize it. She heard the whoosh of a gate activation, but didn't turn to look.
"It's Major Sheppard's IDC!" a tech whose name Sam didn't know yet called out.
"Lower the shield," Elizabeth replied.
Old Elizabeth finished and sank back into her chair. The city began to shake, and Sam watched in wonder as the city soared up out of the water. It was one of the most beautiful things she'd ever seen. She heard cries from below and turned to look at the Stargate. Dozens of people were pouring through it, far more than Colonel Sumner had left with. She squinted and frowned. Colonel Sumner wasn't among them.
"What's going on?" Sheppard asked, dashing up the stairs.
"Our guest was raising the city out of the ocean for us," Elizabeth said, putting her hand on old Elizabeth's shoulder. "Who are all these people, Major Sheppard?"
"Survivors from the settlement. We were attacked, and Colonel Sumner and some of our men were taken," Sheppard said.
"Major Sheppard," Elizabeth said and sighed, "we haven't even settled in ourselves."
"Seems like that should make it even easier, Doctor Weir," Sheppard said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes.
Sam remembered her own second trip through the Stargate, when they'd brought back Teal'c and hundreds of refugees from Chulak, and bit her lip to keep herself from breaking out into a highly inappropriate smile. John Sheppard fit in with the Stargate program just fine.
Sam stepped out of the meeting room and cracked her neck. They'd been trying to talk General Hammond and Richard Woolsey into letting them use the ZPM to go to Atlantis for over four hours now. She thought they were maybe starting to crack.
It wasn't that Sam didn't share some of their concerns, but with the Prometheus in orbit and the Asgard technology it held, they could get the ZPM to Colorado and back to the Ancient Outpost in less than five minutes if they had to. Earth wouldn't be undefended for long, and they could keep a close eye on the skies. They'd have far more than a five minute warning if an attack was coming from space. Her bigger worry was Jack, but the stasis chamber didn't draw that much power on its own and a naquadah generator should be able to power it for months, if needed.
Jack. She felt almost like she was abandoning him going on this mission, but they'd found nothing in the Ancient outpost that could help him, and they still couldn't make contact with the Asgard (which was pretty worrying in and of itself, and she really hoped Thor was okay). Her only chance of finding a way to save Jack was to go to Atlantis. If that meant leaving him, then that's what she'd have to do. It's not like he was going to notice she was gone. Daniel would still be here with him, anyway. Sam knew Daniel wanted nothing more than to come to Atlantis, but one of them had to stay, and he knew that she had a better shot at finding what they needed on Atlantis than he did.
The main part of the outpost was quiet. Most everyone was either in the meeting with General Hammond and Mr. Woolsey or enjoying their evening in the base's meager recreational areas. Sam walked towards the tent. She needed to take some time with Jack, settle her mind.
Sam rounded the corner, intending to enter the tent, when she spotted Major Sheppard standing alone and staring at the control chair.
"Major?" Sam asked, walking up to him. "Are you all right?"
He didn't turn away from the control chair. "I'm fine, Colonel."
"You don't look fine," Sam said, peering at him.
Sheppard glanced at her and raised his eyebrows.
"So today you've been attacked in air space where you didn't expect it, found out you have some alien ancestors, and were asked to join a mission to another galaxy. That kind of thing can mess with anybody's world view. I know it messed with mine, when I first found out about the Stargate Program." Sam cocked her head. "Did I miss anything?"
There was a long pause. "Well, the mess is out of turkey," Sheppard finally said. "That was pretty tragic."
"Ah," Sam said. She stood for awhile with Sheppard, staring at the chair. It was mostly McKay's baby, but she'd spent a few days obsessed with it herself. It was an amazing piece of machinery, more advanced than any of the Goa'uld technology she normally worked with. It was also beautiful, in an abstract sort of way. She kind of wondered if some Ancient had descended and started the Art Deco movement. Elizabeth was working on a theory.
After about ten minutes, she asked "Have you made a decision yet about the mission?"
Sheppard looked at her. "Look, Colonel, it's not that I'm not flattered, but I was expecting to be here and maybe some other undesirable posts until I hit my twenty, and now I'm suddenly being asked to go on a super top secret mission to another galaxy that might end up being a one way trip."
"Do you want to get out of the service?" Sam asked, curiously.
Sheppard shook his head. "No, but I didn't figure I had much choice."
Sam stared at him and made a decision. "Come with me, Major."
"Colonel?" Sheppard asked.
"I need to show you something," Sam said, leading him to the tent. She untied the door from the wall and gestured him inside. He looked at her curiously, but entered without saying anything.
Sam followed him in and tied the door closed again. She turned to look at Sheppard, who was staring at Jack, his eyes wide.
"What the hell?" Sheppard asked, his voice quiet.
Sam put her hand on the barrier, and looked at Jack's wide open eyes. She remembered them staring into hers and Daniel's when the stasis chamber activated, and it still felt like they were peering into her soul.
"This is Colonel Jack O'Neill," Sam said. "My former commanding officer. We were both members of SG-1, the primary gate exploration team, for over seven years."
She felt rather than saw Sheppard's start. "You kept the same team for seven years?"
Sam stepped back to stand next to him and quirked a smile. "The SGC's a bit different than you're used to, Sheppard. Once you're in the program, you're almost never transferred out again. Sometimes there's internal transfers, but honestly not very often." She shrugged. "If the program ever actually goes public, we'll probably end up spun off into a new service branch all together."
"I don't understand what you're trying to tell me," Sheppard said.
Sam gathered her thoughts together. She was terrible at explaining things that didn't in some way involve math. She finally settled on, "Do you know why I'm here, Sheppard?"
"I refuse to answer existential questions," Sheppard said absently, his eyes locked with Jack's.
Sam snorted. "Not here on this plane of existence, here in this base."
"Then no," Sheppard said. He was starting to sound amused.
"I'm here because I'm under express orders from General Hammond to do everything in my power to save him," Sam said, gesturing to Jack.
Sheppard jerked his head around to look at her. "Save him?"
"He's in stasis, Sheppard. To put it in common science fiction terms, he's been cryogenically frozen. We actually know how to revive him, but he's... well, he has a whole alien supercomputer in his brain and his brain doesn't like that," Sam said. When they finally managed to get the Ancient repository of knowledge out of Jack's head, Sam was going to hit him so hard for doing that to himself again. Even if it did save the world. "We have to get that computer out of his head, or he'll die."
"This isn't really inspiring me to join your quest," Sheppard said.
Sam ignored him. "And I'm here, because the SGC does not leave people behind, Sheppard. If our people die, we mourn them and move on - well, sometimes they come back - but...."
"They come back?" Sheppard's voice almost squeaked.
"Ask Doctor Jackson," Sam said gleefully. She wanted to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. "But what I was going to say is that if there's the slightest chance of saving them, we take it."
"You've seen my record," Sheppard said, flatly.
Sam nodded. "I have. And I'm telling you in that in the SGC, you would've gotten a pat on the back instead of a black mark."
"I disobeyed orders." Sheppard wasn't looking at her or Jack.
"I've done that," Sam said, waving a hand in dismissal. "We saved the world doing it once."
"My motives were a little less pure than saving the world, Colonel. I just wanted to save a friend." Sheppard put an odd pause before 'friend', like he almost said something else.
Sam nodded, noting the pause. "I've disobeyed orders for that, too, and I was just promoted. Sheppard, I think you'd be a good fit for the SGC, and I'd be saying that even if wasn't for your alien ancestors. Jack would've loved you." Sam smiled sadly at the man frozen in stasis. "Even if you decide not to come along to Atlantis, you should ask for a transfer to the Mountain. I know General Hammond would approve it."
"I'll think about it," Sheppard said quietly.
Sam nodded. "That's all I ask." She laid her hand on the barrier one last time and went to untie the tent door. She paused. "Sheppard," she said, without turning back to look at him, "you should also know that the SGC tends to completely ignore certain types of regulation violations that have no effect on performance, and that you have to be open-minded to work with aliens."
She smirked as Sheppard made a choking noise behind her, and walked out of the tent. She'd had a long enough break from the meeting.
Sam ran her fingers through her hair and stared out at the ocean. It was beautiful, but she wasn't really seeing it.
"You told me the SGC always goes back for its people," Sheppard said angrily.
Sam nodded. "I did." She took a deep breath and turned to Elizabeth. "With the ships we found, the spacegate won't be a problem, and Major Sheppard is an excellent pilot. Elizabeth, we have to do this."
Elizabeth frowned. "I still don't like it. It feels like a trap."
"I think we have to take that risk," Sam said, softly. "We can't leave our people out there, Elizabeth, and they weren't the only ones who were taken."
Elizabeth's hands tightened on the balcony railing. "You're right. I don't like it, but you're right."
Sam let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Major Sheppard, you have a go. Assemble a team for a rescue mission."
"Yes, ma'am," Sheppard said, almost shocked, like he hadn't really expected to get that answer. Sam thought back to his history and winced. He probably hadn't.
"You can't seriously be considering this," Woolsey said, stepping out onto the balcony.
"Richard, this isn't your decision," Elizabeth said, turning to look at him.
"Elizabeth, we have no way of knowing these people didn't contact these Wraith in the first place." Woolsey walked over and put his hands on the railing, staring out.
"With all due respect, I really don't think they'd destroy their own village to get to us," Sheppard said.
Sam agreed, but she'd had enough experience to know it wasn't entirely out of the question that they might have.
"Richard, the point is moot. Sam and I have agreed to authorize the mission. You're here as an observer and advisor, and while I will gladly hand over some of the everyday bureaucratic nonsense to you once we get settled in, you don't get to have a say in military matters," Elizabeth said, firmly. "You agreed to this months ago."
Woolsey bowed his head. "You're right, I'm sorry. I just don't trust this."
"We have to take some risks here, Richard. You know that," Elizabeth said.
Sam saw Sheppard inching towards the door. "Major Sheppard."
Sheppard stopped. "Yeah?"
"Take a second person with the gene with you, just in case," Sam said.
Sheppard nodded in agreement and walked back inside.
Sam turned to Elizabeth and Woolsey. "Well."
Elizabeth half-smiled. "That about sums it up, yes."
"What do you want to do about your doppelganger?" Sam asked, curious.
"I have absolutely no idea." Elizabeth sighed. "I don't suppose you have any ideas?"
"I'm not sure we have to do anything," Woolsey said. "Doctor Beckett seems convinced that she's going to die sooner rather than later."
Sam nodded. She looked in through the window at the old woman lying on the stretcher. She was currently surrounded by the survivors Sheppard had brought through the Stargate, who seemed to almost revere her for her age. She didn't like what that might say about age expectancy in this galaxy. "She mostly looks lost. I don't think she's a threat."
"I don't think she'd be a threat even if she wanted to be one," Elizabeth said, looking at her.
Sam looked at Elizabeth. Her face was still paler than normal. "How are you holding up?"
Elizabeth shrugged. "I'm dealing. Doctor Beckett is fairly sure she's not actually me, but the thought that in another universe or another timeline I'm a different person entirely is," she paused, obviously searching for the right word, "uncomfortable. To put it mildly."
"I'd like to ask her some questions about that universe," Woolsey said. "I can't imagine what she's been through."
"So would I," said Sam. Though, Sam admitted to herself, the questions she wanted to ask were less about her life and more about how much old Elizabeth knew about Ancient medical technology and stasis chambers. Sam couldn't forget one of the main reasons she'd agreed to come on this mission.
She just hoped that Major Sheppard was able to successfully rescue Colonel Sumner, so she'd have the time.
"Colonel Carter," a voice said in the doorway.
Sam looked over and immediately stood. "Colonel Sumner, sir. I wasn't expecting you."
"No, you wouldn't have been," Sumner said, stepping into Sam's lab. The SGC had kept it for her while she was in Antarctica, expecting that not to be a permanent assignment. She had no idea what they were going to do with it now. Maybe Peter would get it.
Sumner shut the door behind him. "Sit down, Colonel."
Sumner paced around her lab, looking at various projects she was in the middle of or had abandoned years ago. Sam let him continue for a few minutes before she finally asked, "Sir? Was there something you wanted?"
Colonel Sumner looked over at her and nodded. "There was."
Sam waited for him to continue.
"I wanted to get your opinion on something," Sumner said, slowly.
"I'll help in any way I can, sir," Sam said, closing her laptop.
"I finished the final military roster today." Sumner picked something off one of her shelves and stared at it. "What is this?"
"It's part of a Goa'uld staff weapon, sir, I'd recommend putting it down," Sam said. "What about the roster do you want to discuss?"
The Colonel carefully put it back on the shelf. "As you know, yourself and Major Sheppard are the only American non-Marines going on this mission."
"You're also the only two I didn't choose personally," Sumner continued, and then stopped, looking her straight in the eyes.
"Sir?" Sam asked. She wondered which it was going to be that offended him, that she was Air Force, that she was a scientist, or that she was a woman. The SGC had mostly managed to weed out officers who cared about the last one, but people always slipped through the cracks.
"Your record is solid enough," Sumner said, "with enough battle experience that I feel confident having you as my second in command, despite your lack of significant military leadership experience."
"I. Thank you, sir," Sam said, shocked.
Sumner nodded. "I understand that you're going to be primarily a scientist on this mission, but I fully intend to lean on you for your experience dealing with new alien races."
"Of course, sir," Sam said. It was true that her position on this mission was strange. Officially her title was going to be "Science/Military Liaison Officer", which so far as she understood, meant that her job was to interpret science for the military and stop the scientists from rebelling. But she'd been in the field long enough to know that she'd likely end up in battle fairly often anyway.
"However," Sumner said and paused, "I am much less confident about Major John Sheppard. His record indicates that he's an Air Force hotshot who has trouble with authority and has been disciplined for disobeying a direct order. I have no idea how he made it to major."
Sam said nothing. Sumner nodded as if he expected that.
"I don't like having him on my mission. I think he's a loose cannon. But General Hammond and Doctor Weir have ordered me to include him." Sumner looked extremely unhappy about that.
"I think you'll find he might surprise you, sir," Sam said carefully.
Sumner snorted. "I admire you for your loyalty to your fellow Air Force officer, Colonel Carter, but I highly doubt that."
"If you say so, sir," Sam said. She was really not enjoying this conversation, and she had a feeling life on Atlantis was going to be a lot harder than she initially thought.
"I've decided to put him directly under your command." Sumner stopped and looked directly at her. "He will be your responsibility, Colonel. If Doctor Weir and General Hammond want him along to turn on all the fancy gadgets, he can be under the jurisdiction of the science department. Any missteps he makes, and he will make them, will be on your head, Colonel Carter."
"I understand, sir." It was a good thing Sam actually liked Sheppard, or this would be as bad as Sumner thought it was going to be.
Sumner looked at her and nodded. "I think you do. Thank you for your time, Colonel Carter."
"Whatever you need, sir," Sam said.
Sumner let himself out, and Sam sagged against her chair. And here she'd thought going to Atlantis was going to a nice change from stepping through the Stargate into imminent danger every day. She was probably going to be begging for a chance to lead a gate team by week two. Sheppard could be her second. She bet he'd be fun on missions.
Sam refused to let herself check her watch to see how long Sheppard and his team had been gone. It was never fun being on this side of a rescue mission. She'd much rather be out there with a gun in her hand than sitting in base keeping the kettle on.
"Feeling antsy?" Elizabeth asked her, sitting down next to her.
"Just a bit." Sam shifted on the piece of wall she was sitting on that was probably not actually intended to be a bench.
"Why aren't you helping Rodney?" Elizabeth held out a cup of coffee. "It's just instant, but we might as well appreciate it while it lasts."
"Thank you," Sam said. "He's trying to figure out if we can justify using the tiny remaining bit of power in the ZPM to phone home." Sam took a drink of the coffee and winced. She'd forgotten how much she hated instant. "I can already answer that - we can't. But it's keeping him occupied until we have lab space cleared for him to start doing serious work in."
"And the reason you're not out with a team clearing space?" Elizabeth asked, reasonably.
Sam shrugged. "The marines trust me to give them orders just fine. Most of them know me from the SGC. But they don't know me well enough yet to know that I wouldn't be there just to check up on what they're doing. I have to show them I trust them to make their own decisions."
"You're talking like you think Colonel Sumner won't come back," Elizabeth said, staring at her.
Sam sighed. "I hope he does. I think Major Sheppard and his team will do the best they can to get him back, but we're dealing with an unknown enemy here. We have no idea what they do to their prisoners, or if they keep prisoners at all. They may kill captives outright. Even if they don't, Colonel Sumner is the type of man who will always offer himself before his men." Sam squeezed her coffee cup tightly. "If anyone is already dead, I wouldn't be surprised if it was him."
Elizabeth sighed and stared off into space. "I hope you're wrong, Sam."
Sam smiled weakly. "So do I, Elizabeth. So do I."
Elizabeth stood. "Well, then. Care to join me in talking to myself?"
"I would," Sam said. She stood and gestured with her coffee cup. "Lead the way."
They had old Elizabeth laying in the sunshine, where she could look out on the city. They'd thought about moving her to the room Carson had designated the infirmary, but she looked so happy staring out at the city and the ocean that they just didn't have the heart. Carson had privately told Sam, Elizabeth, and Woolsey that there was nothing he could do for her anyway, so she might as well die in peace.
"Elizabeth?" Elizabeth said softly, approaching the stretcher. The Athosian who had been attending her bowed his head and left.
"Hello," old Elizabeth said weakly, giving them a smile.
"Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about the city or the Ancients?" Elizabeth put her hand on top of the old woman's. "Or anything you'd like to tell us about yourself?"
"I had a piece of paper. Did I give you my paper?" Old Elizabeth suddenly looked frantic, and patted around her dress.
"Doctor Beckett found your paper," Elizabeth said soothingly. "Is it important?"
"Oh, yes." The old woman closed her eyes for a moment. Sam thought she was asleep again and got up to talk to Carson about the paper when she spoke again. "Elizabeth?"
"Yes?" Elizabeth asked.
"Do you know Simon?" Old Elizabeth smiled wistfully.
Elizabeth shook her head. The older woman's smile faded away. "Oh. He was my fiancé. I'd hoped we might have that in common, at least."
Elizabeth smiled sadly. "I'm sorry, no. I have an arrangement with an old friend of mine from grad school." Elizabeth paused for a moment. "Her name is Rebekah."
"Oh! Oh, we have so little in common. Everything is so very different. Janus warned me, but I didn't believe him. But at least I've saved you. I saved you."
"Saved us from what?" Sam asked, quietly, almost unwilling to interrupt.
"Everyone died," old Elizabeth said. She twisted her hands in her dress. "They all died. The shields failed and the city flooded and everyone died."
"How did you survive?" Sam asked.
There was a long silence.
"I'm sorry," Doctor Biro said, "but she's gone again."
Elizabeth nodded. "Thank you. I think I'll stay for awhile."
Sam closed her eyes and went to go find Carson. She didn't want to sit and watch this woman die.
Sam gaped at Elizabeth. "They want to what?"
"The International board wants to put one of their own members on the expedition," Elizabeth repeated, squeezing the bridge of her nose.
"What would they even do?" Sam asked. So far as she could tell, everyone appointed to that board was a lawyer, a bureaucrat, or both.
"'Observe and Advise'," Elizabeth quoted. "I think they're worried that if it does end up being a one way trip, we'll go native."
Sam snorted. "And what, they think their people wouldn't?"
"Apparently." Elizabeth sighed. "We don't have much choice here, Sam. Without their approval, this expedition is dead in its tracks."
Sam sighed. "I know. Who do they want to send along?"
"Richard Woolsey," Elizabeth said.
Sam remembered Woolsey well, and sighed again. At least he was relatively reasonable and could be swayed with arguments, which was more than she could say for a lot of bureaucrats. "Why him?"
"I volunteered," Woolsey said, standing in the doorway of Elizabeth's temporary SGC office.
Sam flushed. Being caught talking about someone was never fun.
"Come in, Mr. Woolsey. We were just talking about you." Elizabeth smiled to reduce the sting. "Coffee?"
"Please," Woolsey said. He sat down and waited while Elizabeth poured him a cup before he spoke again. "I just wanted to say that I don't want to step on anyone's toes. I'm not going to try and take over your job, Doctor Weir." He quirked a smile. "I doubt anyone would listen to me if I did."
"If I may ask, then what will you be doing?" Sam asked.
"Observing," Woolsey said, dryly. "Advising. Paperwork and accounting, if you need it. And of course, I'm always willing to be an intergalactic lawyer." He sighed. "The others want a spy, someone to make sure you're doing what they want you to do. I don't like that idea, but I was over-ruled. So I volunteered. My wife left me and took the dogs, so I don't have much to lose."
Sam looked at Elizabeth and shrugged.
"Well then, Mr. Woolsey, Sam and I were just going over some final requisition orders. Would you like to give us a hand?" Elizabeth swiveled her computer monitor so that he could see it.
"I'd love to," Woolsey said. "Thank you."
Sam stared at the piece of paper Carson had found on old Elizabeth. They were obviously gate addresses, but for what? She put it in her pocket. She'd show it to Elizabeth and McKay later, after Sheppard and, hopefully, Colonel Sumner returned.
The Stargate wooshed open, and Sam stood, worried.
"Receiving Lieutenant Ford's IDC, ma'am," the tech manning the DHD said.
"Lower the shield," Elizabeth said, obviously just as tense as Sam was.
The ugly, cylindrical ship came through the wormhole, stopping and ascending to the hanger above the gate room floor. Sam and Elizabeth dashed up the stairs, waiting.
The back hatch lowered and Sam waited as everyone came out. She saw Sergeant Bates and a number of people she couldn't put names to, including a number of Athosians. Sam smiled as a young boy ran up and hugged one of them. But there was no Sumner.
Finally, Sheppard came out and handed her a pair of dogtags. "I'm sorry, ma'am."
Sam closed her eyes for a moment and nodded. She'd been expecting this, she had. That didn't make the sudden responsibility any easier to bear.
Major Sheppard was still standing in front of her. "Colonel Carter, I need to take to you and Doctor Weir. In private."
Sam nodded and followed him back into the ship To her surprise, Lieutenant Ford was still sitting there. "Ma'am," he said quietly.
Sheppard shut the hatch behind them. "I need to tell you how Colonel Sumner died."
"Of course," Elizabeth said, softly.
Sheppard took a deep breath. "I shot him."
Sam stared at him. "I'm sorry, Major, could you repeat that?"
Sheppard closed his eyes. "I shot him, Colonel Carter. The Wraith, they...." He stopped.
"They eat people, ma'am," Lieutenant Ford said.
"Eat people." Sam thought she'd rather have parasitic snakes with delusions of grandeur.
"Yes, ma'am. They're like intergalactic space vampires. They put their hand on your chest and your life just flows out of you. Like the machine in Dark Crystal," Lieutenant Ford said.
Sam stared at him. "I really don't think that's an appropriate analogy right now, Lieutenant."
Ford ducked his head. "Yes, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am."
"Also, I don't know what it means," Elizabeth jumped in. She looked a little green. Sam couldn't blame her.
"One of the Wraith, a female, was interrogating Colonel Sumner, ma'am, and in the process began to feed on him. It was like he aged 50 years in 10 seconds. I was in position to take the shot, and Colonel Sumner nodded at me to do it. And I shot him." Sheppard's voice was dead.
Sam nodded. "That was a mercy killing, Major. You did what was right."
Sheppard nodded, but said nothing.
"Is there anything else?"
"Before he died, Colonel Sumner revealed the existence of Earth to the Wraith female. She was using some sort of telepathy on him." Sheppard's face was grim.
Sam nodded. Of course he had. That just made her day even better. "I think we'd best keep most of this to ourselves for now, if you agree, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth nodded. "We should bring in Carson, Rodney, and Richard, I think, but no one else for now. We'll let people know about the existence of the Wraith, of course, and what they do - if nothing else, with the Athosians here that wouldn't stay quiet for long - but how Sumner died and that they're trying to get to Earth should between us for now."
Sam stood, Sheppard lowered the ship's hatch, and they walked out of the hanger. Sam listened to Elizabeth calling Carson and McKay for an emergency meeting, and went to stare for a moment at the corner where old Elizabeth was still sleeping. Sam had never gotten to ask her about Ancient medical technology.
Sam closed her eyes. She was going to have to put that anyway, for now. Her role had changed. She didn't get to be the scientist with a gun here, not anymore. Jack was in stasis, he wasn't going anywhere. He could wait for awhile. Sam squeezed Colonel Sumner's dogtags in her hand. She had a war to fight.
"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" Sam asked, phone tucked against her shoulder.
"Yes, Sam, I'll be fine," Cassie laughed. "Daniel's already promised to come out for Thanksgiving. You need to go and find a way to save Jack."
"I will, Cas, I promise," Sam said. "Study hard. I'll be back before you know it to make fun of your math grades."
"Yes, Sam," Cas said, and Sam could just hear her rolling her eyes. Cassie had adapted to being an American teenager a little bit too well. "Love you."
"Love you, too," Sam said. She heard the phone click and set hers in the cradle, sighing. She still felt guilty about leaving Cas, but everyone agreed this was the best way to find a way to save Jack.
She picked her hiking backpack that contained everything she was allowed to bring up off the floor, looked around her lab one last time, and worked her way to the power room. This was it.
"Oh, there you are," McKay said as she walked into the room. "I thought we were going to have to leave without you."
Sam ignored him. "Are we almost set?" She asked Sergeant Siler.
He nodded. "Yes we are, Colonel Carter."
Sam took a deep breath. "Well, time to see if this works."
"Of course it will work," McKay said. "I designed it."
"That's what worries me," Sam said. She grinned at him, and helped him settle the ZPM into the special power adapter cradle. It settled in with a click, and McKay pointed to Siler, who flipped the switch. The ZPM lit up, bright and golden, and Sam felt a weight in her chest ease. That was one more worry gone.
"Come on," McKay said, "let's see if this actually connects. Or if there's really anything there."
They made their way up to Stargate Operations. Sam settled her pack on the floor and went to stand behind Sergeant Harriman.
General Hammond nodded to her. "Let's get this show on the road, people."
Harriman called out the chevrons and they waited with bated breath as he said said "Chevron seven encoded. Chevron eight is locked."
The wormhole splashed open. Sam knew it didn't look any different. She walked through intergalactic wormholes before, and the only difference at all was that they took more power to connect. But it felt different, this time. She didn't know if it was that first day of school anxiety, the excitement of a new challenge and finding the real Lost City of the Ancients, or just the fact that she was one step closer to finding a cure for Jack, but the wormhole looked brighter and clearer and like it was saying "welcome."
Sam shook her head and watched as the MALP crawled up the ramp. She watched the screen felt her breath catch when video came back. She looked at the data. "Radar is indicating a large room of some kind."
"Structurally intact?" Daniel asked behind her.
"Sensors say there's oxygen, no measurable toxins. We have viable life support," McKay said. "Looks like we're not getting out of this."
Sam watched McKay walk down to the gate room and turned to Daniel. "Take care of Cassie for me," she said.
"Of course." Daniel reached out and hugged her tightly.
"Colonel Carter," Teal'c said, "I know you will do everything in your power to find a way to return Colonel O'Neill to himself."
Sam nodded, solemnly. "You have my word, Teal'c."
He smiled, clasped her arm, and brought her into a brief hug. "I hope to see you again soon."
"You will," Sam promised.
She watched through the Stargate Operations window as people began to walk through, pushing and carrying everything they could. They were going to leave the Stargate open for the full thirty-three minute window, but as she was technically co-head of Science, she really should go sooner rather than later.
She picked up her pack and turned to General Hammond. "Goodbye, sir."
"Good luck, Colonel Carter."
Sam walked down the stairs to the gate room and grabbed a pallet to push, staring up at the wormhole. She hadn't felt this way since that very first time she'd gone through the Stargate, so many years ago. On the other side of that wormhole was the real Lost City of the Ancients. On the other side of that wormhole there might be a way to save Jack O'Neill's life. On the other side of that wormhole was hope.
She took a deep breath, and walked through.