Antarctica, Jeannie and Carolyn
Jeannie had made a deal with Carolyn when they were first assigned to the Antarctic outpost: for every month of Carolyn's complete co-operation with the Ancient chair, Jeannie would divulge one of her vegan cookie recipes. They were nearing the end of their sixth month together, and had over 130 hours logged in the chair and a half-dozen batches of cookies to show for it.
Baking ingredients were usually impossible to come by so far from civilisation, but Carolyn apparently had some pull with the Air Force. It had made Jeannie nervous at first, worried about being all Suzy Homemaker in front of internationally renowned scientists like Colonel Carter and Dr. Markova--but once the cookies had started showing up in the mess hall, she'd suddenly found herself quite popular.
But it was Carolyn who became her closest friend on the project, despite their different personalities and backgrounds, or perhaps because of them. Carolyn's brisk, no-nonsense approach to the military stationed at the outpost helped Jeannie to overcome her awe of big, big men with big, big guns. In contrast, Jeannie had a sincere fascination with people that pushed her to make friends, despite the foot-in-mouth-disease endemic to the McKay clan, which baffled stand-offish Carolyn. But Jeannie had decided early in her career to break family tradition: she never wanted to be so consumed by her work that she missed out on simple human interaction. While Carolyn didn't have the same drive to be friendly, she reaped the rewards of Jeannie's efforts when it came to hearing the latest gossip. "I like people fine," she always said. "I just don't want to make small talk at the water cooler."
When it was the two of them, however, Carolyn didn't have a problem talking. "It's not that I'm an adrenalin junkie who needs to have her hands deep in someone's guts to have a good time," she was complaining as they made their way from the genetics lab to the chair platform. "But I feel useless down here, taking care of frostbite and the occasional flu. I'm a surgeon with no patients to save."
"Come on, you don't give yourself enough credit," Jeannie chided her. "You kill yourself studying every night. You're the only person I know who went out and got a PhD in human genetics simply to study her own DNA. Your work with Dr. Biro on the gene therapy is going to be invaluable once we get to Atlantis."
"Assuming we get there," Carolyn shrugged, clearly not seeing her accomplishments the same way. "I wouldn't have even known where to start without Dr. Beckett's research. He's the one who should be going, he's been working on the Ancient gene for three years--I've been working on it for six months."
Jeannie nudged her shoulder. "Not your fault his mom got sick," she said. "Anyway, he's terrible with Ancient technology." To be fair, none of the ATA gene-carriers they had were great at interfacing with Ancient technology. Simply turning on the chair took incredible focus and even Carolyn, who had clocked more chair time than anyone else working on the project, could only access the most basic functions.
There was always General O'Neill, of course. But as Elizabeth reminded her every time Jeannie brought up his name, Air Force generals had more important things to do than play glorified light-switch for a bunch of geeks. His words, not hers.
In the chair room, Carolyn immediately pulled her hair out of its ponytail before climbing the the platform and settling back in the chair with her eyes closed. Frowning, she concentrated on powering up the chair while Jeannie began inputting the parameters of her next test: six months of the same routine meant they barely had to glance at each other to know the other was doing her part.
They worked quietly for twenty minutes before Carolyn's concentration flickered and the chair automatically powered down.
"Oh, wait!" Jeannie exclaimed, waving her hands. "Go back, there was something--" The readings had started to form a pattern she'd never seen before, a pattern that had pinged her brain as important in the way it organised power flow. It could perhaps even be the key to understanding how the various systems of this alien outpost interacted. And she'd almost had it, almost grasped it. "Lean back, concentrate," she said urgently, wanting the numbers back. "Come on, please?"
"My ass is going to leave an imprint if I sit here for much longer," Carolyn sighed. "I should get back to the lab. That gene therapy isn't going to perfect itself, you know."
Despite her reputation for Canadian politeness, Jeannie could be pretty tough on her volunteers, pleading and cajoling with them for five more minutes, just ten more minutes. Most of them gave in simply because she asked so nicely, even though Dr. Weir herself had ordered all ATA gene-carriers to limit themselves to 30-minute sessions until the effects of long-term use of alien technology could be determined.
"Fine, fine," Jeannie grumbled, tucking her computer tablet under one arm. "It's just that I saw something really interesting, right before you stopped. But we can probably pick up its trail again, it's fine." She crossed her fingers behind her back.
"Ugh. Okay, okay," Carolyn groaned, collapsing back in the chair. "Five more minutes, then we're done."
"Really?" said Jeannie, perking up--she'd expected more negotiating before Carolyn gave in. Not wasting a second, she turned back to the results she'd seen before. "Okay, let's start again at the primary power distribution centre. You were thinking of how the ZPM connected to the drone system."
When Carolyn had the chair activated again, pale blue light spilling over her dark hair, Jeannie began to probe deeper at the drone system commands. "Good, good," she murmured. "You're doing great. Okay, once you're at the drone system, look around for a way in, maybe a command pathway."
"What's a command pathway even look like?" Carolyn asked, her forehead wrinkling. "Um, this looks like a door. I think."
"Try it," Jeannie urged. "Just think 'open sesame'."
"Open sesame," Carolyn echoed, then, "Oh, shit." Her eyes popped open, shocked.
The crash and screams coming from outside the chair room made Jeannie spin around, but before she could take a step, Peter came running in with Elizabeth hard on his heels.
"A drone got loose!" he called out. "You've got to shut it down!"
Panicking, Carolyn grabbed Jeannie's arm. "What do I do?" But it was Elizabeth who calmed Carolyn enough that she could find the drone whizzing through the air, chasing after the helicopter transporting General O'Neill, and it was Elizabeth who coached Carolyn through the mental process of deactivating it.
Once the drone was no longer a threat, Lt. Ford gave the good word that the chopper was unharmed. "They're ten minutes out," he reported. "Also, General O'Neill says, 'What the hell?' His words, not mine."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Elizabeth replied, her voice only a little shaky.
Breathless with relief and feeling painfully incompetent, Jeannie dropped down to sit on the platform steps and covered her face with her hands. Still sitting in the chair behind her, Carolyn sighed and said, "Oh yeah, my dad's going to hear about this one."
Antarctica, Jeannie and John
The Ancient gene was a random characteristic, according to the experts, but knowing this didn't actually make Jeannie feel better about Carolyn and the others having the gene while she was one of the billions of humans who didn't. Not that she was jealous, exactly. Just... disappointed.
The chopper pilot, as it turned out, had the ATA gene. Correction: the chopper pilot had the ATA gene the way a gamma ray burst had energy. If Jeannie had been less blown away by the sight of Earth's solar system appearing like magic at a mere thought--and if it wouldn't have landed her a mandatory visit to the shrink--she would have done something immature like stamp her foot or kick him in the shins.
The chair room was ringed with scientists, all agape at the holographic images being projected high above, while the chopper pilot laid back in the Ancient chair with a peaceful curve to his lips and a bright look of wonder in his eyes. "We have to get him on the expedition," Jeannie muttered under her breath to Elizabeth, her own gaze torn between his amazement and the brilliant light show overhead. "Just think of what he could do for us if we made it to Atlantis."
She'd given up trying to direct his exploration of the chair's various functions--he'd leapt from system to system, following a process as it flowed from one into the next into the next, before doubling back at a whim. At first it'd seemed as though he was letting the chair pull him in random directions, flirting with a command line here, abandoning it for an energy spike there, no method to his madness. But as she watched him work, a picture began to emerge of the Ancient outpost, quick lines on a sketch pad becoming eyes, nose, mouth, a portrait of the inner workings of this alien place buried a mile beneath the Antarctic ice.
Carolyn slipped through the crowd to stand next to them. "Dr. Weir, please, give me five seconds with him," she pleaded, holding up a handful of swabs. "I just need some DNA."
"He's on a roll," Jeannie protested, but Elizabeth nodded at Carolyn, who jumped at the opportunity.
"It's been close to an hour already, Jeannie," said Elizabeth, watching closely as the chair powered down and the man sat up with a dazed expression. "You've collected enough data to keep you busy for months." Carolyn collected her cheek scrapings and asked him a few questions, which he answered slowly, fumbling for words like he'd forgotten speech. Whatever he said, or more likely how he said it, gave Carolyn pause. Frowning, she held a finger in front of his face and made him track it with his eyes.
"Damn it," Jeannie muttered, going over when it became obvious Carolyn wasn't letting him back in the chair.
"He needs a break," Carolyn told her, in that 'I'm the doctor and you're going to listen to me' voice. "Get some food into him, let him move around. Talk to him."
"Talk to him?" Not that Jeannie didn't have a million questions to ask, but that's probably not what Carolyn had in mind.
"You know, your 'nice, cuddly Canadian' schtick," she smirked. "Gets them every time."
Jeannie glared, but only a little, because she wasn't too far off the mark. Kneeling next to the pilot, she waited until he turned to her, still vague around the edges. "Hey there, you feeling okay?" When he nodded slightly, gaze drifting off to one side, she shifted to keep herself in his field of vision. "I'm Dr. Jeannie McKay, chief scientist on the Antarctic outpost project." She held out a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Major...?"
"Major Sheppard," the man replied, shaking her hand automatically. He blinked, then, and suddenly became present, aware and staring hard at her. "You're in charge? Aren't you a little..."
"Young?" Carolyn smirked. "She's also a genius, so it balances out. And Dr. McKay's not in charge of the entire project, Dr. Weir is." Sheppard glanced past them to where Elizabeth was keeping an eye on things. He still hadn't let go of her hand, so Jeannie eased it out of his grip while he was distracted. "But I'm sure Dr. McKay can fill you in on who's who."
Giving him her best smile, Jeannie put a hand under his elbow and helped him to his feet. "This way, Major. We can get some hot coffee in the break room, and I'm sure there are snacks. We're not really supposed to keep food down here, but that elevator ride to the surface isn't very convenient."
In the tiny break room, Jeannie parked him in a chair in the corner and went to the counter to grab a coffee, some crackers, and the last banana. "Stop it, you guys!" she hissed at Drs. Simpson and Kusanagi, who were seated near by and openly staring. Abashed, they ducked their heads behind their open laptops, peeking over the screens at Major Sheppard. Jeannie figured it was a good thing they were scientists and not spies, because they seriously did not understand the concept of 'subtle'.
"I hope you like bananas," Jeannie said apologetically, handing it to him. "It's all they had left."
Sheppard looked up at her. "This is insane," he said, abrupt and almost angry, and it took Jeannie a few seconds to realise he wasn't talking about the limited choice of fruit. "You're telling me that aliens are real. That I've got alien DNA."
"I-I never thought of it like that," she stammered, sitting down in the chair opposite him. "I'm not a geneticist, but essentially, yes, you and a dozen other people we've found have remnants of a specific alien gene in your DNA that allows you to access and operate certain technology." She wrapped her hands around the cup of tea she'd brought over for herself, biting her lip and wondering how much information she should provide. "Actually... From what I can tell based on your facility with the Ancient chair, you must have quite a bit more of the gene than anyone else we've found so far. Probably even more than General O'Neill."
He barked a laugh in disbelief. "And this is supposed to be a good thing?"
It was the barely-there thread of fear in his voice that surprised Jeannie more than the doubt or anger, and then she had to wonder why she was surprised. They were talking about DNA, the very building blocks of who they were. "It doesn't make you any less human," she told him, as earnest and sincere as she could. "The Ancients looked just like we do, had an almost identical genetic make-up. They seeded life in this galaxy: it stands to reason there are probably a thousand different traits we've inherited from them."
"But very few people have this, this special gene," he said, clearly trying to wrap his head around the idea. "The ATA gene that lets me use the chair."
"Yes, exactly!" said Jeannie, eyes wide with excitement. "God, you have no idea how amazing you are. You've accomplished more in sixty minutes than the others have in six months. Think about what you could do, how much you could help us," she said, leaning forward eagerly while the major stared at her, bemused. "You could come with us, Major. Unlock the secrets of an advanced civilisation. Figure out how this technology works, expand the sum of human knowledge. It'll be an incredible experience, I promise."
"Whoa, hold on," he said, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. "Go with you where."
Jeannie blinked at him, surprised. "General O'Neill didn't tell you? I assumed he'd told you--" When Sheppard held up a hand, she said quickly, "Atlantis, we're going to Atlantis. We're going to find the lost city."
Stargate Command, Jeannie and Carolyn
Probabilistically, it was a one-way trip. Jeannie had done the math. So had a few others, whose findings corroborated her own, so she decided fear was not an unwarranted reaction. But she couldn't dwell too much on the numbers, or the fear, or she'd scare herself right off the mission roster. This was the opportunity of a lifetime, she told her reflection in the mirror every morning. Most days she even believed it.
Still, when Elizabeth finally got confirmation of their scheduled launch date, Jeannie laid awake that night until dawn--what passed for dawn at the south pole when the sun never left the sky--and nearly convinced herself it made perfect sense to take a pass on the expedition, re-focus her career, maybe find a nice, safe job at a research university that paid less, but gave better odds of her dying in her sleep at the ripe old age of ninety.
"Don't wuss out on me now," Carolyn warned from her perch on the top bunk. A pair of socks, rolled with military precision, sailed over the edge and dropped into the duffel lying open on the floor. In the bunk below, Jeannie was sewing up a tear in her long-johns while simultaneously reviewing the final reports for the Antarctic project from each of her department heads. "You'll regret it if you do." Three more pairs of socks rained down.
"I'll regret dying horribly even more."
Carolyn's head popped over the edge to hang upside. "You and me, McKay. We're in this together."
Jeannie made a face and said, "You sound like a Marine when you get all gung-ho like that, anyone ever tell you?" The comment earned her a baleful glare. "I don't know what to tell my brother. Am I supposed to invent a believable cover-story to explain why I never call or email? Deep space radar telemetry in outer Mongolia?"
"Yeah, no. I'm pretty sure Mongolia has email. And phones." Her head disappeared from view, and a bag of toiletries thudded on top of the socks.
Tying off the thread, Jeannie used her teeth to snip it, then packed away her sewing kit. "At least you don't have to lie."
"Well, it helps when your dad works for Homeworld Security and your mom used to be Deputy NSA," Carolyn snorted, then reappeared over the edge of the bunk, feet first this time. She collected jeans and sweatshirts from her designated drawer, rolled them, and packed everything neatly away in thirty seconds flat.
The other women were also attempting to pack for the long journey home, but spent more time wandering in and out and around the room, searching for belongings that had somehow gone astray even in the tight quarters of the bunkhouse. "M'aiderez-vous?" Dr. Dumais asked hopefully, then backed off when Carolyn raised a cool eyebrow.
When Carolyn turned that eyebrow on her next, Jeannie held up her hands in surrender. "I'm not saying I want to drop out, or that I'm going to drop out." She started to roll her long-johns the way Carolyn showed her. "I've come too far to not see this through to the end, whatever that might be. Just, you know, if I freak out at the last second, I'm giving you permission to drag me kicking and screaming through the wormhole."
"I'll hold you to that," said Carolyn with a faint smile.
Thankfully, the expedition was scheduled for several practice runs through the stargate in the weeks leading up to their departure, which Jeannie hoped would at least give her a chance to stop breaking out in a cold sweat every time she even thought about being demolecularised.
"It's a piece of cake," Colonel Ferretti assured them the first time they lined up in the embarkation room. He and the other training officers took their time checking everyone over to ensure they were properly outfitted. The civilians were in full field gear, but unarmed, even those who had qualified on service pistols, with the reasoning that they didn't need accidents happening if an inexperienced gate traveller got spooked by harmless alien fauna or by the Tok'ra or Asgard dropping in unexpectedly. The handful of scientists who had experience in the field tried to dispense advice to the newbies; some even managed it without being condescending.
Three military personnel who'd been recruited into the program for their ATA gene were also undergoing off-world training: a Japanese soldier named Yamoto, a Marine named Mehra, and Major Sheppard. At least they got to carry intars.
In the control room above, General O'Neill flailed his hands at them, to which Ferretti raised his eyebrows. The general leaned down to activate the mike. "Why are you still here?"
"In our own sweet time, sir," Ferretti drawled. "Walter, dial it up!" The inner ring began to spin.
Jeannie had seen the stargate in action many times in the four years she'd been working for the SGC, though she'd never crossed the event horizon herself. The unstable energy vortex pluming outward before settling into the rippling pool of a stable wormhole was always an awe-inspiring sight, but this time she found herself transfixed by Sheppard's reaction.
He stared, wide-eyed, mouth gaping slightly, as the wash of blue light played over his face. "Wow."
"Alpha site reports clear," O'Neill announced from the control room. "Training team, you have a go."
Colonel Ferretti escorted Elizabeth through first, the rest of the trainees following, four abreast, trying not to jostle each other. Jeannie lined up with Carolyn on her left and Major Sheppard and Lieutenant Ford on her right. "What's it feel like?" Sheppard asked as they neared the top of the ramp.
"Hurts like hell, sir," said Ford soberly, the voice of experience after serving ten months with SG-18 before being picked for Atlantis. Then he grinned a delighted little boy grin and threw himself backwards through the gate with a wild whoo-hoo!
Taking a deep breath and squinching his eyes shut, Sheppard stepped through next. "I can't do this," Jeannie said suddenly, freezing in her tracks and grabbing Carolyn's elbow. "I can't, I can't."
"It's fine, it's easy," Carolyn said soothingly, trying to tug her along. "Come on, I've done this before." Behind them, the next four trainees waited impatiently as Jeannie tried to unlock her knees. The muttering behind them grew louder as expedition members continued to bump into the row ahead before grinding to a halt.
"What's the hold-up, Dr. McKay?" Kavanagh called out from the back of the crowd. "If you've changed your mind, you should step aside so the rest of us can go through."
Carolyn shot a dirty look over her shoulder, then grabbed Jeannie's hand. "You've come too far to chicken out now," she said fiercely, dark eyes snapping. Her grip was so tight that Jeannie's knuckles creaked. "Close your eyes, okay? Step forward on three."
Jeannie nodded quickly, trying to comfort herself with the thought that the Ancients were brilliant engineers and the chances of the stargate putting her back together wrong were astronomically slim. She turned to face the event horizon, straightened her back, and forced herself to stare into the rippling surface. "One," said Carolyn, calm and strong and familiar. "Two." No different than Carolyn telling her to breathe deep and hold for a count of three during a routine check-up. "Three."
Gripping each other's hands, Jeannie and Carolyn stepped through the stargate.
Alpha Site, The Three Colonels
Colonel Ferretti had led their team to a worn field adjacent to the Alpha site complex where a mock stargate and DHD had been erected. They'd been conducting emergency dial-out scenarios for nearly two hours when Ferretti got a call from Colonel Caldwell, the Alpha site commander. Stepping off to the side, he kept his back to the group and his voice lowered as he conferred over the radio, but the line of his back grew more and more rigid, and the other trainers, clearly tuned to his body language, were suddenly ten times more alert even as they continued the scenario.
The expedition members grew distracted, going through the motions of the exercise while keeping an eye on Ferretti. "What do you think is going on?" Jeannie asked, not liking the sudden tension in the air.
"I don't know," said Elizabeth, "but I'm going to find out." She walked over to Ferretti and began a whispered conversation with him that soon put a frown on her face. A minute later they apparently came to a conclusion because Elizabeth nodded and Ferretti signalled his team to pack up.
"Okay, kiddies, we're heading back to base!" The colonel was not a big man, but his voice carried across the field, crisp and clear. "Team leaders, ensure all equipment is properly stowed, then line up at your markers."
Dr. Gardner, who'd been volunteered as leader of their team because she had the most off-world experience, guided them into place before the colonel. Once everyone was ready, Ferretti marched them quickly back to the complex and into one of the smaller hangars used mostly as a recreational area.
Carolyn ditched her team and came over. "Do you ever get that sinking sensation?" Elizabeth and Colonel Ferretti were speaking with a tall, bald man in his fifties and a younger officer with light brown hair. "Oh, I didn't know Cam had been cleared for off-world duty," Carolyn said, surprised, and Jeannie had to assume she meant Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell, hero of the Battle of Antarctica, whom Jeannie had heard about but never met.
Carolyn wasn't the only one surprised--Jeannie saw Major Sheppard do a double-take when Mitchell turned at that moment and caught his eye. They nodded at each other, a brief acknowledgment.
"Listen up, people!" The room quieted instantly at Ferretti's command. "We've just received word from the SGC that Replicators are attacking Ba'al's forces throughout the galaxy. This is not actually a good thing: it won't take the Replicators long to completely overrun Goa'uld territory and then turn on the rest of us." Jeannie's hand found Carolyn's and clung on. It didn't matter how many times SG-1 had saved the day just in the nick of time: the impending apocalypse never stopped making her want to pee her pants in terror.
"Colonel Carter is working with the Asgard to find a way to stop those bastards," Ferretti was saying. "I figure, a room full of eggheads, we might as well put you to work helping her out. For now, you're staying here at the Alpha site while my team returns to the SGC. You need anything, tell the sergeant, don't go bothering Colonel Caldwell." Ferretti grinned. "He's not cuddly like me."
Both he and Caldwell exited then, leaving Elizabeth and Colonel Mitchell to answer the sudden burst of questions from the trainees.
"Everyone, calm down!" Elizabeth called out over the din. "This may not be a training exercise, but this is exactly the kind of situation we're likely to face when we step foot in the Pegasus galaxy. I believe we have the capacity to attack even a problem of this magnitude. Let's just sit down and start thinking of solutions."
Jeannie wasn't quite so optimistic as Elizabeth or Colonel Ferretti, but she got her people organised, laptops and whiteboards at hand. The rest of the trainees--the medical team, the soft sciences, the military--sat off to one side and talked amongst themselves. Major Sheppard proved to be the exception, possibly because he still hadn't been briefed about most of the Stargate Program's extremely colourful history, because he seemed utterly fascinated by the theories Jeannie was tossing around with Drs. Markova and Zelenka.
"The Replicators adapt too quickly for new disruptor technologies to remain effective for long," Jeannie explained to him in a quick aside as Markova and Zelenka wrestled with an equation. "Even the disruptor weapon General O'Neill built using the knowledge of the Ancients couldn't hold them off indefinitely."
"I'm still stuck on the part about giant killer robot spiders," he said, sounding more baffled than afraid. Probably because he'd never actually seen a Replicator in action before. They weren't scary until they were chewing through four inches of solid steel wall, or tearing hapless victims to shreds.
"I'm sure Dr. Jackson has a PowerPoint to explain them," she offered distractedly as Markova tried to turn her attention back to the discussion at hand. Sheppard continued to eavesdrop shamelessly, though it all had to be over his head, until Colonel Mitchell finally stole him away.
Eventually Carolyn forced Jeannie to take a bio break and a quick walk outside the rec room, which is when she saw Sheppard and Mitchell again, holed up in a little alcove further down the corridor. But Carolyn steered her back the way they came when Jeannie would have kept going, saying, "They've probably got a lot of catching up to do."
"Are they friends?" Jeannie asked, curious.
"Yeah, kind of," said Carolyn. "They had mutual friends in Afghanistan. Why do you ask?"
Jeannie shrugged casually. "No reason."
Snorting a laugh, Carolyn patted her shoulder and said kindly, "It helps not to blush when you lie." When Jeannie glared at her, she shook her head and added, "Come on, I'm going to get it out of you eventually."
"Fine," Jeannie gritted through her teeth. "I just think he's cute, okay? No big deal."
"Well, of course he's cute," Carolyn laughed. "I didn't date the guy for six months because he was repulsive."
By now Jeannie could really feel the heat in her cheeks. "I meant Major Sheppard, not Colonel Mitchell. I think he's cute." She figured Carolyn would start teasing immediately, because Carolyn usually found her taste in men pretty hilarious--but this time she stared at her for a long, silent moment, an unreadable expression on her face. "What?"
"Nothing," Carolyn said quickly.
"Oookay." Frowning, Jeannie tried to broach her next question without sounding like a pre-teen who needed her best friend to pass a note to the boy she had a crush on. "So I'm wondering, if they're friends, maybe you could get Colonel Mitchell to put in a good word for me?"
"Jeannie..." There was clearly something Carolyn didn't want to say. "I don't think that's a good idea." She shrugged one shoulder, glancing sideways at her but not quite making eye-contact. "You're not really his type."
"You can't know that," said Jeannie, a little hurt. It was easy for Carolyn, who was stunningly beautiful, but Jeannie didn't have hot guys trailing after her, constantly asking for her number. "Maybe I'm exactly his type."
For all that Carolyn could be brusque with people she didn't like, and sarcastic even with those she did, she was not a hard-hearted woman. "I'll ask, okay? I can't promise anything, but I'll talk to Cam before we ship out, see if he'll talk to Sheppard."
Mollified, Jeannie said, "Thanks, that's all I'm asking," then added with a deprecating smile, "Who knows? It's not like we'll have many options if this really does turn out to be a one-way trip."
"Yes, that's exactly the kind of positive attitude we need when talking about your love-life," Carolyn sighed, and tucked her arm in Jeannie's as they headed back to work.
Colorado Springs, Jeannie and Meredith
SG-1 saved the day, of course. The Replicators were defeated. Anubis was gone. The Jaffa won their freedom. Daniel Jackson returned from the dead, again. But there was a very personal cost to their victory: Jacob Carter and his Tok'ra symbiote, Selmak, died very soon after the battle, leaving Colonel Carter bereft and an orphan at last.
The Atlantis expedition members who had previously worked with Colonel Carter attended the SGC memorial service for her father. Jeannie had only met General Carter a few times in passing, but he'd struck her as a brave and intelligent man with a dry sense of humour. At least Colonel Carter could take comfort that she'd had a good father, someone who'd loved her and cared about her well-being, who wouldn't have had his secretary send her a fruit basket at Christmas.
Feeling sad and bitter, she wondered what Mer would say at her wake if she'd died helping to save the galaxy. Would he be proud of her? Would he regret the distance between them? Or would he still criticise her life choices and belittle her accomplishments? She'd tried calling his cell phone a couple of times, only to get his voicemail, and she'd emailed him about being incommunicado for an indefinite period of time. But since he never responded, she wasn't sure if he'd received her messages and had no comment on the situation, or he had simply deleted them all out of hand.
The official farewell party for the Atlantis mission was held in Washington, DC, two weeks prior to their departure, to which the mission leaders were required to make an appearance. Jeannie, Carolyn, Elizabeth, Dr. Jackson, and Major Sheppard flew in from Denver, while Colonel Carter flew in from Pennsylvania where she and her brother had been visiting relatives after burying their father. It was a grand affair, with flags and formal wear and speeches from IOA representatives, politicians, and Pentagon brass that spoke a lot about advancements in medicine and technology and the benefits to humanity, as though Earth was one happy global village that shared fully with its neighbours and where war and famine had been abolished. Jeannie had long ago reconciled herself to the U.S. government's proprietary approach to science, particularly the new and alien technologies brought back through the stargate. It still jarred with her personal ethics, but she'd learned to live with it. That didn't mean she wouldn't roll her eyes on the inside.
Dinner was followed by dancing, which at least gave Jeannie the opportunity to discover that John Sheppard could waltz beautifully and could make even a partner with two left feet look like she knew what she was doing, so the weekend wasn't a complete loss.
They returned to Colorado Springs the next day, Dr. Jackson and Colonel Carter both hung over from being wined and dined a little too aggressively, but thankfully Teal'c, Dr. Fraiser, and Cassie met them at arrivals to chauffeur them safely home. SG-1 was currently living out of Dr. Fraiser's house now that Dr. Jackson and Colonel Carter had shut off the electricity and water in their own homes; Teal'c was staying over because apparently he made pancakes to die for; Cassie was treating it like every night was a girl's night in, even with the boys. Jeannie envied them that closeness.
The weeks turned into days and suddenly their departure date loomed before them. Elizabeth had her wireless headset almost permanently fused to her ear as she finalised mission details and spoke to government officials demanding ridiculous last minute requests that she'd already denied months ago. On particularly stressful days, she would go into General O'Neill's office and close the door, and General O'Neill would pull out the bottle of whisky he kept hidden in his desk.
Jeannie ended up giving her cat, Max, to Bill to care for while she was out of the galaxy since Nyan's wife was a dog person. Carolyn came over that night to make the apartment seem less lonely. "Your brother still hasn't called you back?" She shook her head, her lip curling in disgust. "What the hell is wrong with him? You're leaving the galaxy, you'd think that would at least warrant a text message."
"He doesn't know I'm leaving the galaxy," Jeannie pointed out, scooping more mint chocolate chip ice cream into her bowl. "Anyway, it's not a big deal. If we make it back safely, he won't know the difference, and if we don't make it back, he'll just have to live with the inevitable guilt." Or maybe he wouldn't feel anything at all, not even a twinge--perhaps not a charitable thought, but Jeannie was halfway through a pint of Haagen-Dazs and feeling like crap.
So she was surprised, shocked, stunned, to say the least, when four days before their departure her brother called while she was out for dinner with Carolyn, Ahmad, Peter, and Francine.
"Hi, Jeannie," said Mer. "It's your brother," he added unnecessarily.
"Uh, hi?" Jeannie said, bewildered. "What are you doing calling me? Is something wrong?"
Carolyn half turned from her conversation with Ahmad to send Jeanie a questioning look. "It's my brother," she mouthed, and Carolyn mouthed back, "Finally."
"Nothing's wrong. What, I can't just decide to call up my little sister?" said Mer, in that 'who me?' tone Jeannie hated.
"Well, considering the last time you initiated a phone conversation was five years ago when you got into a car accident, yeah, forgive me for assuming the worst." Jeannie eyed Carolyn, who was paying far more attention to her phone call than to Ahmad's attempts to discuss the cell samples they were bringing with them. "So let me ask again: why are you calling?"
"Because my secretary is a nervous wreck! Can you please tell that friend of yours, Dr. Ram or Lamb, it's some kind of sheep name--"
Jeannie's eyebrows shot up to her hairline. "You mean Dr. Carolyn Lam, as in L-A-M, which is a Vietnamese last name and has nothing to do with ungulates?" Across the table, Carolyn looked torn between embarrassment for being caught meddling and annoyance at yet another Westerner mangling her name.
"Yes, her! She keeps calling and insisting she be put through to me. She just wouldn't take no for an answer!" Mer exclaimed, exasperated.
"Yeah, she's stubborn like that," said Jeannie, glaring at her friend, who at least had the decency to shrug apologetically. "Please tell Marigold that Dr. Lam is very sorry for pestering her."
"Oh, Marigold quit last month, can you believe that? After I gave her over-time and everything. I have a new girl now, Sandy, Sandra, something." Typical Mer. And yet, still a vast improvement from the way he treated his first secretary, back when he'd launched the dot-com that had made him a millionaire. He would never have become a successful businessman without learning some social skills.
Jeannie excused herself from the table, wishing for privacy to have a serious conversation with her brother now that he'd actually made contact. "I'm glad you called," she said after she'd slipped outside into the warm July evening.
"Your friend said something about how if I didn't call you tonight, I might never get the chance? What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Did you read my last email?" asked Jeannie.
"Yes, of course I did," said Mer quickly. "But, uh, the pertinent details have escaped me, so why don't you refresh my memory."
Rolling her eyes, Jeannie said, "The project I've been working on just got the green light to move ahead. We're scheduled to fly out in four days."
"And this concerns me how?" Mer asked, honestly perplexed.
"Because I'm going to be out of touch for a while!" Jeannie burst out, impatient. "No email, no phone calls."
"That's ridiculous," was Mer's response. "You work for the American military, you can't seriously expect me to believe they don't have satellite phones where you're going."
"My contract is with a multi-national oversight advisory, actually, not with the Air Force like before." Considering he had his own contracts with the American government, Mer could be very disapproving about his baby sister working for The Man. "And we're going to be stationed in a very remote location."
"What, like the North Pole? The Himalayas?" Obviously he wasn't buying it. "Where exactly did you say you were going?"
"Nope, sorry, that's classified," Jeannie said snottily, but when Mer didn't respond, she sighed and said again, "It's remote, okay, Mer? It's going to be a long time before you hear from me. I just wanted a chance to say good-bye before I left."
"Why? I probably wouldn't have even noticed you were gone." When Meredith wanted to be blunt, he could be painfully blunt. Jeannie nearly hung up on him, but then he added, "It's nothing personal," like that would somehow make her feel better. He could apparently sense she hadn't liked what he'd said, even if he didn't agree. "I'm a very busy man. That's why I have Marigold to keep track of the little things."
"You mean Sandy. Sandra." Jeannie closed her eyes and leaned back against the rough brick wall. Carolyn had her heart in the right place, but it might have been better if Mer had never called.
"Right, her. Anyway, it's not like we see each other all that often," he pointed out.
"Fine," Jeannie snapped. "Then I'll just say good-bye. Have a nice life." She lowered the cell phone and let her thumb hover over the end talk button, but hesitated when she heard her brother still speaking. "What."
"I said, don't forget your antihistamines," said Mer. "Though I suppose you won't need them if you're going to the North Pole, but better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them, right?"
Jeannie tried to find an appropriate response, then settled for, "Yeah, I guess so."
"Right, well. Have a good trip. I'll talk to you when you get back?" The faint hesitance in his voice was what convinced Jeannie to try to salvage this phone conversation.
"Yeah, Mer, I'll see you when I get back," she said. "I'll miss you," she added, crossing her fingers.
"You will?" He sounded genuinely surprised. "I mean, I'll miss you too, of course. And, you know, we should try to get together when you're back in the land of phones and internet. Maybe for Christmas?"
Jeannie found herself getting teary-eyed and choked up, moved by her brother's fumbling efforts. She wished, briefly, that she had fought to get him clearance the way Elizabeth had got clearance for Simon, when what she wanted to say was, "I may never see you again, this is a dangerous mission, I could die, a million things could go wrong, tell me not to go." Not even Mer would have been able to talk her out of her decision to go, but it would have been nice to hear him try.
"We should do that, definitely," she said, laughing and crying and generally making a mess of herself. "I love you, Mer." When he didn't respond immediately, she swiped at her eyes and said more plainly, "Mer. I love you."
She heard him clear his throat, a nervous habit. "Right, yes, I love you too," he said, coughing. "You're my sister."
"I'll talk to you when I get back," Jeannie said, a promise. "Bye, Mer."
She gave herself a few minutes to cry and breathe, leaning against the restaurant's exterior with pedestrians passing in front of her on the sidewalk, and when she finally looked up again, Carolyn was leaning against the wall beside her. "You okay?" she asked. "Do I have to go beat him up?"
"No, I'm good," said Jeannie, sniffing. She dabbed at her nose. "Thank you. I mean it, Carolyn, thank you."
Carolyn shrugged with a small, kind smile. "Hey, what are friends for?"
Stargate Command, Catherine Langford
The mission was a go for launch, minus Dr. Jackson, who had been shanghaied by a space pirate dominatrix with Goa'uld marriage bracelets/prison cuffs. Dr. Gardner was stepping up as head of anthropology, though she seemed nervous at the sudden promotion, and admittedly worried that her old boyfriend was passed out in the infirmary and possibly psychically linked to a crazy person.
"You'll do a great job," General O'Neill told her. "He'll be pissed as hell when he wakes up, but I know he'd trust you to handle things."
Colonel Carter was sitting next to Dr. Jackson's bed with Colonel Mitchell in front of her with a camcorder: apparently she was filming a quick good-bye video for Dr. Jackson since they had expected to go to Atlantis together. She was crying, holding tight to his hand, and Jeannie had to leave quickly before she was noticed.
"I'm kind of concerned that we're losing expedition members even before we've actually left," Carolyn whispered to Jeannie as they geared up.
"It's going to be fine," Jeannie said, hoping that if she said it enough times, she'd start to believe it. "We've prepared as best as we can, Elizabeth has worked out more scenarios than I ever thought would be probable, even given the multi-universe theory, and Colonel Carter has been going through the gate for years." She tugged her last strap into place. "We're going to be fine."
The SGC was a chaos of crates and anti-grav skids, expedition members calling greetings and shouting instructions in a half-dozen languages, the SGC staff weaving around it all to prepare for the dial-out. Jeannie went with Sergeant Siler to connect the ZPM to the generator powering the stargate. "I can take it from here, Doc," he told her. "You don't want to miss Dr. Langford's speech."
Elizabeth had invited Dr. Langford to give a speech for the expedition's official send-off. In the gateroom, Jeannie found Carolyn and gave her an excited hug, then turned to look as Elizabeth escorted a white-haired elderly woman up onto the ramp.
Dr. Langford might have been in her nineties, but her voice was as strong as a young woman's. "Today you step through the stargate into the unknown, as the Ancients did millions of years ago. I wish I could go with you, to discover what you will discover, to learn what you will learn. You have already accomplished so much, in Antarctica and in various projects with the Stargate Program, where results have been tangible and immediate. It might be easy to believe that mission failure would mean failure outright, but I tell you now that would be a lie. I myself laboured for decades without seeing fruit. But look at you now! Look at this gate to another galaxy behind me!
"You have done this much already: you are here, daring to seek the lost city of Atlantis, all for the sake of your own thirst for knowledge. And I have every confidence you will accomplish so much more, perhaps beyond what we can even currently conceive. The possibilities might well be limitless. Whether the leaders of the many nations represented here consider this mission a success or not, I know, and I hope you know, in your hearts, that every tiny step we make towards a better, clearer, fuller understanding of ourselves and our universe is an achievement worth celebrating.
"There are some of you, perhaps all of you, who are afraid of what you'll find on the other side. Perhaps you are afraid you'll never see home again. When we opened the stargate in 1945 for the first time in five thousand years, a man stepped through and found himself trapped, alone, for over fifty years. I can't imagine what he endured all that time, with no hope of return. But he never stopped searching for answers, in his prison, which had been the meeting place of four great races. He deciphered a universal language that helped to translate texts found in Heliopolis, which have contributed to our understanding of the Ancients and the stargate network they built, and, ultimately, to the mission you undertake this day.
"My husband was lost for fifty years, but we found him, and we brought him home, we brought home all he had learned, and I promise you now: we will do no less for you. The people you leave behind will do all they can to follow and find you and bring you home once more. And I will be here waiting, eagerly waiting, to hear your stories and toast your achievements and share in your discoveries. I will wait, even if I have to wait another fifty years. I will see you again."
Dr. Langford stepped down off the ramp to thunderous applause, and to tears. Jeannie had to wipe her wet cheeks with the sleeve of her expedition uniform, and even Carolyn sniffed a few times, her eyes suspiciously bright. They listened with rapt attention as Elizabeth ran through their final checklist, and offered the members of the expedition one last chance to change their minds and stay behind. Jeannie glanced around the room, but not one team member even blinked, not one person backed down.
Elizabeth smiled and glanced up at the control room where General O'Neill, Teal'c, Colonel Mitchell, Dr. Fraiser, Cassandra, and Dr. Langford were watching and waiting. "Begin the dialling sequence," Elizabeth said, and the inner ring of the gate began to spin. The vortex exploding out of the gate looked brighter and more beautiful than usual, to Jeannie's eye. When the control room announced that the MALP reported favourable conditions, she had to hug Carolyn again out of sheer excitement.
Colonel Carter and her first team of Marines marched up the ramp, with Elizabeth tucked safely in the middle. At the event horizon, Elizabeth turned back and nodded at O'Neill. Colonel Carter turned as well, and saluted. In the control room, O'Neill, Mitchell, and Dr. Fraiser saluted back, and Teal'c bowed. Cassandra and Dr. Langford waved. They'd all said their good-byes last night.
The two women glanced at each other, then faced the gate, and stepped through.
The expedition guided their anti-grav skids into place, up the ramp, and through the stargate as practised, while the military personnel watched their backs. "We ready for this?" Jeannie asked, when it was their turn. Both her hands were full this time, but she managed to tuck her pinkie into the cuff of Carolyn's jacket sleeve.
"Hell yeah," said Carolyn, grinning big and fierce. "This is going to be wild." And together they stepped through the stargate.