There's a knock on my door and someone I don't recognize standing at it.
I walk around my desk and extend my hand. "Yes, Major … "
"Davis. Paul Davis. You're a woman." He realizes what he's just said. "Not that I come from a tradition that forbids women to preach -- it's just uncommon."
I grin "What tradition do you follow, Major?"
I go back to my chair and gesture for him to sit. "Are you new to the SGC? I haven't seen you around the halls."
"No. I'm the Pentagon liaison."
"So just visiting."
He's looking thoughfully at the little globes I use as bookends. "I can't talk to my priest about my work. And I can't even discuss -- hint -- at the existence of the SGC to one of the Fort Meyer chaplains."
"So you thought you'd find the SGC chaplain and lo, and behold, she's a Unitarian."
"You're Unitarian? I can't catch a break." Major Davis is grinning as he says it.
"It's so hard to tell. I keep pestering the higher ups for question mark insignia, but they won't approve my request."
He laughs sharply, then looks at my globe again. "I nearly destroyed it today."
"The world." He looks me full in the face. "How do the people here do it every day? Face the idea that their actions could have literally earth shattering consequences?"
"I don't know. All I have to do is listen to them when they need an ear or pray with them when they need help finding a deeper meaning."
"Have you been off world?"
"Just for training. It was astounding."
"I haven't. If I'm around when there's a crisis, I'm designated for the Alpha Site, but I haven't been …"
He slumps a little in the chair. I don't know him well enough to know whether to press him or open a space for him to talk. I take a chance.
"Look, it's after five-thirty. The general lets me keep a fifth of bourbon in my bottom drawer as long as nothing happens where he has to officially know about it. Would you like to join me in a glass?"
I open my bottom drawer and pull out two small glasses. "If you were SGC, I'd know whether you were in a twelve step program."
Davis smiles at me. "No. I rarely drink, but sometimes … "
I hand him a glass with a finger of bourbon in it and finish the thought, "the day just calls for it."
We clink glasses across the desk and Major Davis loosens his tie. "I was supposed to make a command decision. Isn't that what we're trained for as officers? Command decision."
"One of the benefits of the chaplains' corps -- I'll probably never have to make a life or death decision. Well, not regarding someone else's life or death. The command decisions I make weigh my orders from people against my other orders." I point skyward.
We both take a sip of our whiskey.
He begins, "I was given a direct order by a superior officer. And I waited for a civilian to tell me it was okay to follow it."
Major Davis says, "That about sums it up." He knocks back the rest of the bourbon and puts the glass on my desk.
I look at him. When he nods, I pour another finger of whiskey into it.
He takes the glass. "Thanks. I assume you're cleared to read all mission reports."
"I do too, but I'm not a hundred percent certain." I think for a moment. "Anything that involves inscriptions in Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, Ancient, or Goa'uld I've probably read. And the general has never denied me a report if I've requested it."
"How well do you know SG-1?"
"Daniel's my boss for translating work. Janet Fraiser's become a friend, and I know Sam a bit through her. And Teal'c is working on converting me to atheism. We have some good conversations."
Davis looks nonplussed. "I'll bet."
"Why did you ask?"
"How well do you know Colonel O'Neill?"
"I rarely run into him. The few times I have were in Daniel's office or the infirmary. He's intimidating as hell."
"He's the one who gave the order. Took off his helmet so I could see his face and ordered me to blow up a ship he was on with Teal'c."
My eyes snap to him.
Major Davis holds up a hand. "They're fine. Thor beamed them to an Asgard ship in the nick of time."
I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding.
"I couldn't give the order. The colonel had addressed it to Daniel originally. He stammered a bit, trying to think of an alternative."
"And Colonel O'Neill's face was onscreen the whole time?"
"Yeah. No anonymity. Daniel knew who he was going to be killing."
I just nod.
"So the colonel calls me by name and orders me to blow up the sub."
That's lost me. "Sub?"
"Alien tech invasion on a submarine. Destroying the sub destroys the tech, but kills Teal'c and O'Neill. Two others had already been killed by these things. Not to mention the entire crew of the submarine was already dead before we entered the equation."
"And you couldn't do it?"
"I waited for Daniel to say 'go ahead.' I can tell myself I was waiting for him to pull an idea out of his great brain, but the truth is, I was unprepared to give an order that would kill people I knew."
"You said you waited for a civilian to give the okay?"
"Daniel came through. Told me, 'do it.' I gave the order; Siler sent the torpedoes. But Siler watched the screens that told him what the torpedoes were doing, and I couldn't look at any of it. Daniel could. Daniel watched the whole thing thinking he was watching his friends die."
"When did he know they were safe?"
"Right away. He's the one who saw them beamed out. But he saw it because he had the courage to see through the consequences of his decision."
I look him dead in the eye. "And you think you didn't?"
"Every Sunday morning I say the words 'we have left undone the things which we ought to have done,' but today is the first time I've really felt it; known I failed in my duty."
There's not one battle medal on his uniform. Nor is there one on mine. I read Davis's resumé in the patches, medals, and insignia he does have and understand.
"It's the major problem."
"What's a major problem?"
I gesture to the brass oak leaves on my shoulder and lift my chin toward his. "Major is the rank where we start to be winnowed in earnest. A second lieutenant may choose not to put in for promotion, serve her time and out. But if she does put in for it, unless she's caught in flagrante with her hand in the till or on the base commandant's wife, she'll make first lieutenant. Same with lieutenant to captain. You know that."
He nods, and I continue, "Captain to major is a tougher transition, but it's really cutting out the dead wood. The lazy, the careless, the arrogant all tend to get their comeuppance here. You don't strike me as any of those.
"But the thing is, even with all the attrition, unless there's an active war going on, the chances are good that we've never had to show true leadership -- the ability to make the tough decisions. You're intelligent or you wouldn't hold the position you do, but you've never been tested as a leader before this."
"And in the clutch I did the wrong thing."
It crosses my mind to disagree with him. The hesitation allowed Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill to live, but I realize he needs honesty in this moment so he can pass through it. "Yes. This time there were no consequences. Unless O'Neill mentions it in his report, there will be no ramifications for you."
"But I'll know I failed."
"You'll know what your weakness is. In civilian life, kindness isn't a weakness. I truly think you hesitated out of kindness, both in hope that a solution would be found and to give Daniel -- and yourself -- a moment to accept the loss."
"If I'm completely honest, I didn't want more blood on my hands. Two men had already died because I'd brought orders from the Pentagon."
"Do you really see their blood on your hands? You weren't commanding them. Colonel O'Neill was from what you've said. The orders weren't yours. You were the messenger."
"That's my job. I'm a messenger. Sometimes, I'm an advocate for the SGC at the Pentagon, but mostly I'm a conduit for the brass who make the decisions."
"Which doesn't answer my question."
He's leaning forward in his chair gazing at his hands. "No. I would have been responsible for the destruction of the submarine and for the deaths of Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill, but not those other men."
"Would the responsibility outweigh the benefit?"
He looks up at me sharply. "I told you. The world could have ended had that sub not been destroyed."
"It's not me I'm reminding." I hope my voice is gentler than my words.
"What do I do, Sheila?"
"Remember. That's all you can do. Remember that this time you hesitated, so that next time you won't."
I feel a shift in the room. I take a risk and begin the Anglican confession "Almighty and most merciful Father … "
Davis recognizes the words and joins in, "we have erred and strayed from thy ways … "
A burden lifts.