“This is more difficult than I thought it was going to be.” Samantha wiped her brow with the back of her hand, sharing a wary look with Martouf. His smile hitched with his heartbeat when their eyes met.
“What’s wrong?” Since Samantha had arrived, Martouf had hardly left her side. He'd sat with her long into the night as she pounded on her keyboard, trying to decrypt the crystal technology for interfacing with her laptop. By now even Dr. Jackson had gone to sleep.
“There’s something different about this crystal. Like the information is protected.” Samantha turned to Martouf. “Are you sure this is just information retrieved from a Tok’ra operative?”
Martouf bowed his head and when he looked up, it was Lantesh who spoke. “This information came with a high price. The crystal was damaged during the operative’s escape. That is why we cannot access the information as we normally would.”
“I know.” Samantha sighed heavily. “I’m missing something.”
Martouf smiled sadly, having regained control of his body. “You are.” He stood up. “Sleep," he said with a smile, tucking away his misgivings. He held out his hand to Samantha. "It’s late.”
Samantha rubbed her temples. “I want to work a little longer. Don’t let me keep you, though.”
Martouf began to sit back down.
“I mean it.” Samantha reached out and grabbed his hand. Their eyes met for only a few moments, but it was stretched time for Martouf that reached back into his history with Jolinar and Rosha. She squeezed his hand. “Go on,” she said softly.
Martouf inclined his head, pushing away his past. “Do not work too long. Good night, Samantha.”
“Good night, Martouf.” She picked up Dr. Jackson’s scribbled translation and was already back to work before Martouf had even left the room.
* * *
Martouf stalled outside the entrance to Anise’s lab. She would want to know of Samantha’s progress and a quick conversation with her now would be more honest than one held in front of Samantha in the morning. Regardless, it was not a conversation Martouf was looking forward to. Finally Lantesh took control and strode into the laboratory.
“Lantesh.” Anise nodded in greeting. “How does Major Carter progress?”
“Slowly. The process has been more grueling than she expected. The majority of the problem is the decryption.” Lantesh rested his hands on the top of the lab table.
“I am not surprised. The system is quite advanced. I only hope that the electronic technology of the Tau’ri can bypass the systems that prevent us from reading that crystal.” Anise placed her datapad on the table. She read it briefly and then pressed a symbol on the screen.
Lantesh cleared his throat. “Martouf is concerned about what we have told Major Cater.”
Anise looked up and quirked an eyebrow.
“He believes her progress would be faster if we had given her more—” A mental kick from Martouf caused Lantesh to redirect his sentence. “If we had told her the truth.”
Anise frowned. “We told her all the truth she needs to know. The crystal is damaged beyond our knowledge. How that damage occurred—whether it was or was not intentional—is irrelevant.”
Lantesh nodded. “Martouf believes that if Major Carter were informed—”
“It is not our decision,” Anise snapped.
Lantesh nodded. He lingered a moment longer and then left for his quarters.
* * *
Samantha had fallen asleep over her laptop again. This time she had at least closed down the screen and lay with her arms over the thin black casing. She looked peaceful. It made everything she was going through seem so much worse.
Martouf set the mug down next to her, allowing the smell and his small sounds to wake her slowly. He sorted through some of Dr. Jackson’s notes. Dr. Jackson seemed to be close on the translations. He and Samantha would figure it all out shortly.
Martouf feigned a deeper interest in the words as he watched Samantha, her sandy hair shifting over her forehead as she stirred. Slowly she awakened. She raised her head and then rubbed her neck.
“Good morning,” Martouf said quietly.
“Oh.” Samantha jumped. “Martouf. Good morning. Is that coffee?” She reached for the mug next to her. “Thank you.” She took a long sip. “It’s morning?”
Martouf couldn’t help but smile. “You should have come with me when I offered to take you to bed.” He ducked his head and blushed. Samantha didn’t seem to notice. “You might not have slept on your computer.”
She grinned. “Not like that’s the first time.” She stretched her neck out. “I think I made some major breakthroughs last night. It’s a good thing I kept working.” Samantha opened the laptop and pulled up a file. An array of ones and zeros filled the screen. “I realized that I was looking at this all wrong. I had to get down to the absolute basics first.” She punched a few buttons and the display changed. Several Goa’uld symbols glitched on the screen—broken and erratic, but there. “Even so, there’s still work to be done.”
She figured this out much faster than Anise had anticipated. His Samantha was quite brilliant.
Martouf placed the notes on the lab table and slid into the chair next to her. “I would be happy to assist you.”
Samantha smiled apologetically. She was obviously carefully choosing her words. “I, uh, I’m hoping Daniel can help me finish this off.”
Martouf quirked an eyebrow. “Dr. Jackson is very skilled in his translations, but Goa’uld isn’t his first language.”
Samantha placed the mug down and turned to Martouf. “Daniel’s been working on this already. He, uh, he really wants to be the one to finish this.”
Martouf bowed his head, accepting the polite brush off. “Then I’ll see to it that he comes to assist you. I’m sure he’s finished his report to the SGC by now.”
“Thank you.” She took another sip of coffee. “Really, Martouf. Thank you.”
* * *
He retired to his quarters, fighting the urge to go to her. Samantha was here and he wanted to be with her, wherever she was. It wasn’t just because she was Jolinar’s last host.
We could easily love her. Lantesh’s voice in Martouf’s head.
Could love her? Martouf’s sarcasm was palpable. He picked up the gold and carnelian necklace that lay in the trunk.
I was trying to go easy on you. Your emotions—our emotions—they’re not easily expressed.
Martouf smiled to himself as he toyed with the gold interwoven charm. I just don’t see any point in you being easy on me.
In that case—she’s a Tau’ri. It’ll never work.
Martouf covered his eyes. Maybe talking about this isn’t such a good idea. He put Jolinar’s necklace—the only possession of hers he had—back in the trunk.
Martouf sat on his bed and rubbed his temples. Then you’ll—?
Keep my opinions to myself. Though you’re not the only one falling in love with her.
Martouf nodded. I know.
You’re also not the only one who hurts because we’re lying to her.
Martouf sighed. If you don’t mind, I’d rather believe that you’re the one lying to her.
Lantesh chucked. What is it Jacob says? You say tomatoes?
I think I understand. Martouf clenched his fist. I just want it to be over—the deception. There’s no reason to lie to her.
There’s never any reason. Not really. But this is the way we are.
Martouf hung his head. Sometimes—
I know. Sometimes their way is better.
* * *
“—wasn’t damaged during an escape,” Samantha accused. Apparently Dr. Jackson finished his translation successfully. Despite the confrontation that was to come, Martouf smiled to himself.
“How the crystal was damaged was not your concern.” Anise was calm, her voice level.
“Damaged? I’d hardly call encryption ‘damage.’” Martouf entered the room to see the look on Samantha’s face—disgust. And when he appeared it was aimed at him, sobering him immediately.
“No, Sam. It’s in the finesse of the words. You just need to have a broader definition.” Martouf had never heard the soft-spoken archeologist speak so vehemently.
“Samantha, I can assure you—” Martouf’s plea seemed as false as what Anise tried to argue.
Samantha turned to him. The corners of her mouth turning, her features softening. “You lied to me.”
“I never meant to.” It came out as a whisper—meant only for Samantha.
“Moreover—cloning? If you had wanted the technology, we would have asked the Asgard for you.” Dr. Jackson hadn’t lost his wind. The moment between Martouf and Samantha had gone unnoticed.
“The Asgard would not freely give this information. They fear that what has happened to their own race could happen to others if cloning were used as the sole method of procreation.” Anise quirked her head to the side to punctuate her sentence.
“I’m sure they would have made an exception.” Dr. Jackson gestured his frustration in staccato movements of his hands.
Lantesh took over where Martouf’s voice failed. “The Tok’ra have no other means to procreate. But based on our hosts physiology, the Asgard have been non-responsive to our requests.” He turned to Samantha, looking her in the eyes. “We never meant to deceive you.”
Samantha pressed her lips together. “I asked you—directly—about the crystal.”
Anise piped in, “It was the High Council’s wishes—”
Dr. Jackson grabbed his pile of notes and held out his hand to Samantha. “I’m sure we’re needed back at the SGC.”
Samantha nodded and gathered her laptop and few written notes Dr. Jackson had missed.
“Nice to see you again,” Dr. Jackson told Anise as he passed.
Samantha picked up her things and stopped in front of Martouf. She placed the crystal in his hand.
“I’m sure you know that the research was being done by Niirti. She was researching on children.” Samantha turned away. “She experimented on Cassandra.”
Martouf inhaled sharply. “I didn’t know.”
Samantha looked at him. “I didn’t know I’d have to tell you.” Her eyes searched his. Martouf tried to apologize, beg for forgiveness. She turned and left.
Martouf stayed and listened as the ring transports took her to the surface. Then he was alone.