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Beautiful Far Away

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"Morning, Carter.”

Sam slid into the space across from her commanding officer on the bench of one of the picnic-style tables that circled the village well.  She squinted behind her sunglasses and tried to swallow her groan of displeasure over the brightness of the suns.  He pushed a clay mug of steaming grey liquid towards her.  His cocky grin was almost enough to make her refuse on principle.  Almost enough.

She grabbed the cup.  “Good morning, Colonel O’Neill.”

“Party a little too hard last night, Captain?”

“I think that last round was a bad idea,” Daniel said and plopped onto the bench next to her.  She leaned over to rest her head on the archeologist’s shoulder until his floppy hair tickled her forehead and his voice rumbled uncomfortably through his torso to her aching head.  “How can you be so chipper this morning, Jack?”

The colonel grinned and poured another cup of the Rorilian coffee they’d learned to stomach just in time to go home.  He started to slide the cup across the table as he’d done for Sam, but Daniel’s hand shot out and captured it as if he were afraid the colonel was going to snatch it back.  Daniel took a long gulp of the overly caffeinated beverage and Sam was once again astonished to observe his ability to tolerate the extreme heat. 

“Colonel O’Neill and I declined the offer of the local celebratory beverage,” Teal’c’s deep voice washed over her. 

She had to lean back a little to look up enough to see his face despite the fact he was on the other side of the table.  Unfortunately, that put his face right next to the bright ball of the closer sun.  “You guys could have said something,” she groused then downed a mouthful of the kevvi that, thankfully, tasted a lot less like dishwater than it looked.

The colonel raised an eyebrow at her and she opted to ignore it.  It was as close to insubordination as she’d ever get, and it felt good on top of the hangover.  She took another swallow of the kevvi then looked across the square towards the construction site.  “They’ve really made a lot of progress in just a week.”

“It’s pretty fascinating, actually, that they’ve waited so long to construct a weights and measures building,” Daniel launched in with more excitement than his hangover should have allowed.  “For a successful agrarian society, it’s—“

“We know, Daniel,” the colonel reminded him.  “You were just as excited about it when we got here.”

“It is my understanding that those functions were previously carried out in the temple offices,” Teal’c said and frowned at O’Neill when he offered a cup of the kevvi the Jaffa had turned down each of the six previous mornings as well.

Colonel O’Neill clapped his hands and pushed back from the table.  “Okay, kids.  Let’s get packed up and move out.  We’ve got six klicks to cover to recover all of Carter’s thingamabobs—“

“Seismic sensors, sir,” she put in.

“Her seismic sensors,” he repeated dutifully with humored exasperation and a roll of his eyes, “and a date with the ‘gate in two and a half hours.

Sam drained her cup.  “It’s strange we haven’t felt any tremors.  With the readings we received from the MALP, I anticipated stronger seismic activity.”

“Did you not say there might be activity we could not feel?” Teal’c asked.

“Maybe,” she shrugged.  “But I’ll be anxious to see last night’s data.  The previous days didn’t look like I expected.”

“Did you figure out what was causing the strange spikes?”

She shook her head at Daniel.  “No.  It’s metallic, whatever it is.  But the Rorilian people either don’t know or won’t say what it would be and it’s nothing that my equipment recognizes.” 

“Carter, these people barely have a passing acquaintance with hygiene.”

“They’re aware of common metals and elements, sir.  They’ve got manufactured tools and implements.”  Sam gestured towards the village’s religious leader’s wife, Ohara, “And clearly they have more than a passing relationship with the precious metals.” 

“Well, time’s up, Captain.  You’re going to have to use the data you’ve got.”

“Maybe General Hammond will—“

“No can do, Carter.  We’ve got a jam-packed mission roster.  Fifteen minutes,” O’Neill pre-admonished his easily distracted scientists, “and then we’re headed out.”

Well, that was patently untrue, but if the colonel said the mission was over, the mission was over.  “Yes, sir.”  She trudged back to the squat, clay house where she’d been given quarters while the guys headed back to the barracks where they’d been sleeping alongside what amounted to the village’s security force. 

She packed her rucksack and thanked her hostess, a young village woman whose husband was away farming the grain fields on the plains on the other side of the mountains that formed the western boundary of the village.

Twenty minutes later – five of which Colonel O’Neill spent prodding Daniel out of various conversations with the villagers – SG-1 headed back towards the gate taking the scenic route on which Sam had set up her sensors.  After watching her grimace for a half a klick, the colonel tossed her a little bottle of ibuprofen he pulled out of a pocket and she smiled at him gratefully.  She dry-swallowed three and tossed the bottle back.

They made it first to the field in which she’d set up the last of her sensors.  The grass was knee-high and pale in the late autumn sun and a group of kids played a pick up game of Rorilian stick ball while a few of the village elders talked amongst themselves.  Sam recognized two among them, the religious leader Eduan, and the village representative Baurton.  They were gesturing towards the far end of the field and no-doubt planning the planting of the spring wheat they’d been discussing during the previous night’s festivities.

“Colonel!” a young girl with long brown hair called out from her place in the center of the field that was set up more like cricket than baseball.  She jumped and waved emphatically.  Sam watched as the colonel’s eyes crinkled at the corners as a grin split his face.  He was a jovial enough guy, but real smiles from him were rare and most often elicited by children.

“Nenetl,” he acknowledged warmly as the girl broke from the game and rushed across the field to him.

“How is it he can pronounce her name but not a single other word I introduce him to?” Daniel huffed good-naturedly.

“You must leave today?” the girl asked, tiny hands wrapped around the colonel’s wrists.

He crouched in front of her and Sam wandered off to collect her sensor, oddly uncomfortable with his easy affection for the young girl.  As she packed the sensor back into its case she watched out of the corner of her eye as the little girl hugged the colonel, then Daniel, and then, after a moment of consideration, a very uncomfortable looking Teal’c.

By the time Sam made it back to her team, the rest of the young girls had abandoned the boys to their ball game and were skipping around the male contingent of SG-1, picking flowers and singing.  The guys stood talking amongst themselves, the colonel’s hands resting comfortably on top of his weapon as he leaned back into his hips in that way he had of looking casual when he was really calculating his surroundings.  Sam noticed how the elders across the field were no longer surveying their land but her team.

The girls huddled together and giggled, throwing glances over their shoulders and Sam had the sensation that they were laughing at her – a sensation she was familiar with despite the passage of nearly twenty years.  Before she could stop it, little Nenetl had skipped over and joined Sam’s hand with the colonel’s.  He looked at Sam and shrugged.  His warm palm was strong against hers that was starting to sweat.  She shouldn’t be touching the colonel that way.  She moved to release his hand, but Nenetl wrapped her little hands around the officers’ clasped ones.

Sam chanced a look into the colonel’s eyes and found them twinkling.  The elders had crossed the field and stood only a few yards away.

“Colonel,” Nenetl said solemnly.  “Sam.”  She patted their hands to indicate they should keep them together then stepped back with a smile.  She took a handful of the tiny white flowers from her friends and set them atop their hands.  “And now you shall be married of the flowers and the grasses and waters and winds to come.”

She giggled and her little friends did, too.  The colonel grinned.  “How about that, Carter?  It was a helluva lot cheaper than my first wedding.”  He dropped her hand and clapped her on the back; the little white flowers floated to the ground.

Sam, for her part, wondered how he could be so cavalier about something that caused panic to tighten around her lungs.  She hadn’t thought of marriage in more than a year and wasn’t ready to think about it at all.

The village elders were murmuring amongst themselves.  Considering they were back to their discussion, the Colonel was chuckling, and the children had run off to continue their games, Sam realized she needed to shake off her momentary panic and get back to work.  What had just happened was nothing.  Nothing at all.  She was the only one making a big deal about it, though no one knew about the anxiety that was brewing in the pit of her stomach.

She picked her sensor case up off the ground.  “I’m done here, sir.”

“Lead on, Mrs. O’Neill,” he said with a grin.

She resisted first the urge to blanch and then the urge to roll her eyes at him as she set off towards well-worn path that would take her to the old circle of outbuildings where she’d placed another sensor.  When she was far enough ahead, and had regained the ability to take a full, deep breath, she looked back at him over her shoulder.  “That would be Doctor O’Neill, sir.”  She saw his smile before she turned back towards the path. 

********

 It took two hours to collect and repackage all of her sensors.  By the time they made it to the gate, they’d collected a larger contingent of villagers than they’d expected considering they had said their goodbyes before leaving the village.  Nevertheless, there stood Eduan and Baurton, who certainly had better things to do than watch SG-1 dial the gate.  Nenetl and her gaggle of girlfriends managed to follow along; their games were not location specific.  Ohara had joined her husband, and a few others who were dressed in the Rorilian temple robes had gathered close by.

Just as Jack gave Daniel the order to dial the gate, Sam registered the concerned looks on the faces of the adults.  As Daniel approached the gate, the ground shook beneath their feet.

“Carter, would that be your seismic activity?”

“Uh, yes, sir.  It would appear so.”  Sam pulled a hand-held device out of her pack and took some basic readings.

“Dial ‘er up, Daniel!” the Colonel prodded.

“Sir, wait.”  She watched out of the corner of her eye as the colonel shifted his glance between her and the village elders.

“Sam,” he said quietly, “we get out of here now.”

She looked at him with the shift in his tone.  She followed his eyes.  Eduan and Baurton were advancing towards them.

Baurton indicated the device in her hands. “Does your machine tell you what is happening?”

Sam looked at the colonel before answering.  He shrugged, so she answered. “Well, see this spike?” She turned the device so he could see the small LCD screen. Baurton nodded. “That is a rise in the number of free-floating molecules of the unknown metal in the air. And that one,” she pointed to the opposite side of the screen, “is the electromagnetic resonance from what I can only assume is the same metal. These are the highest spikes I’ve seen so far.”

“So is a volcano about to blow or what, Carter?” O’Neill badgered.

She shook her head emphatically. “No, sir. The seismic activity I’ve been recording is occurring between the ionosphere and surface of this planet.”

“And that means what, exactly?”

“Something is interfering with the planet’s geomagnetism.”

“And you think that something is the metal?”

“Well, sir, it’s my best guess right now.”

“Carter, I’ll take your best guess over somebody’s definitely any day.” He turned back to Daniel in time to miss her flush over his offhanded praise. “Why are you still not dialing, Daniel?”

“You cannot leave, Colonel O’Neill,” Eduan interrupted.

Sam bit her lip as the colonel raised an eyebrow at the man. She knew that look and it didn’t mean he was idly curious. Behind the colonel, Teal’c’s grip on his staff weapon shifted. He didn’t prime the weapon, but Sam could see his hands were in position to do so. Daniel shot concerned glances between the village elders squared off with O’Neill, Teal’c’s defensive position, and the DHD.

The colonel took a deep breath and Sam just knew he was about to say something to the religious leader it would probably be better he didn’t.  Apparently Daniel thought so, too, because he warned the older man with a low, “Jack.” O’Neill threw a look over his shoulder Sam was glad to not be the recipient of, but he checked whatever it was he was about to say.

“Edoon,” O’Neill started.

The religious leader narrowed his eyes.

“Ed, ew, on,” Sam enunciated the syllables clearly and quietly.

“Eduan,” the colonel tried again and spread his hands in manufactured supplication, “The SGC would be happy to help if there was something we thought we could do but Carter here says it’s due to the—“

“We do wish for your help, Colonel,” Eduan interrupted, “but we will not be needing anything more than what is already here.”

“Sir, I don’t have the necessary supplies or equipment to study this further,” Sam interjected.

“You misunderstand,” Eduan said with certainty.  “This problem, it is not scientific as your machines suggest.  Our gods have made known their preference; the ritual begun by Nenetl shall be seen through to its end.”

“Gods?” Sam questioned, being the first any had been mentioned despite the presence of a religious leader and temple.

“Ritual?” Jack asked warily while eyeing the little girl he’d smiled fondly at just a couple of hours before.

Some of the village men, a few of whom had only joined the elders since the stop in the first field, had moved around the group and situated themselves between SG-1 and the gate.

“Uh, Jack?”

“Daniel?” the colonel asked without taking his eyes off Eduan and Baurton.

“I think they’re serious about not leaving.”

O’Neill looked back towards the gate.  Sure enough, six very large and muscular men were standing guard.  Teal’c turned, identified the threat, and primed his weapon.  The village men radiated tension, unarmed as they were.

“Wait a minute, Teal’c,” the colonel implored with a practiced calm that always made Sam’s blood run a little cold.  “I’m sure one of these nice gentlemen would like to explain what is going on.”

“As my… esteemed brother… has already said,” Baurton began in a way that gave the impression the man didn’t hold Eduan in esteem at all, “you will not be leaving us now.”  Baurton looked pointedly at the device in Sam’s hands.  “There are a few things that must be tended to.”

“What ritual?” O’Neill questioned again.

“Your tlālli marriage,” Eduan said as if it should have been obvious.

Lolly marriage?” the colonel attempted.  “What the h—“

“Jack!” Daniel interjected.

Colonel O’Neill took a deep breath.  “What kind of marriage?”

“Tlālli,” Ohara spoke up.  “A marriage born of the earth and elements.”

“As opposed to…”

“Do your people have but one kind of marriage?” she questioned.

“Well, yeah,” O’Neill said.  “I mean, two people, a priest…” he snapped the fingers of one hand then the other before smacking with one fist with the heel of his other hand, “done deal.”

“You have unions that are not heart matches, though, do you not?”

“I think she means arranged marriages.”

“Thank you, Daniel.”

“Here, you marry for the elements or you may marry as the gods decree.  Nenetl has begun the tlālli ritual for you and your captain, Colonel O’Neill.  It is a great honor.”

“She’s seven years old, for cryin’ out loud!” he exclaimed as if that were the most worrisome part of the whole thing.

“Our people are quite adept at recognizing tlālli matches,” Ohara attempted to soothe.

“Marriage?” Sam finally asked, her concern breaking through her confusion during the rapid-fire conversation.

“I think there’s been some kind of mistake,” Daniel tried.

“There has been no mistake,” Eduan halted all the conversation with his deep and decisive voice.  Another tremor shook the ground.  “The gods have made their desires known.  The ritual will be completed before they see fit to shake the buildings from their pilings.”

Baurton turned his attention back to Sam’s hand-held and pointed at the screen.  “This spike is the tremor we just felt, no?”

“Yes.  And here,” she pointed, “is the associated spike in airborne particles of the metal.”  She dimly registered the colonel fussing about tlālli matches.

Baurton spoke to her quietly so as not to be overheard.  “You believe these tremors to be the work of this metal.”

“Yes,” she said as if it were obvious.

Baurton threw a casual looking nod towards the men near the gate.  They shifted and closed ranks, forming a solid wall between SG-1 and the DHD.  He spoke strongly. “Then, as Eduan has requested, you will stay.”

“Requested?”  O’Neill questioned incredulously.

“We have more weaponry than these people, O’Neill,” Teal’c observed in that way he had of making veiled threats.

“We can’t kill them, Teal’c,” Daniel.

“Shut up, Daniel,” O’Neill warned.

“You can’t seriously be—“

“Daniel,” Sam warned quietly with a shake of her head.  She didn’t like the idea of blasting her way out any more than Daniel did, but she’d quickly learned the tones in commanding officers’ voices and Colonel O’Neill’s left no room for challenge.

The colonel made a quick risk assessment – the men standing in front of the DHD; the children and other villagers nearby in the tall grass; the large and unpredictable man standing next to Sam; the religious leader and his regal wife. Sam could see it right away – the risk of civilian casualty was too great.  They weren’t going to be fighting their way off the planet.  Not at that moment, anyway.

After looking around and then taking three deep breaths for the kind of good measure meant to keep the other side off-kilter, O’Neill spoke.  “We need to check in with our superior officer.  If we don’t, they’ll send more people with weapons through the gate and things might not go so well after that.”

“You will communicate via your radio,” Eduan indicated the comm unit on the colonel’s shoulder he’d seen used several times over the course of SG-1’s week-long visit.

“Fine,” O’Neill said.  “One more time, Daniel.  Dial ‘er, up.”

********

An hour after they were supposed to have been home, the members of SG-1 found themselves letting their packs fall next to the beds they’d vacated that morning.  The colonel and Teal’c were somewhere talking strategy and Daniel had already gone back to what amounted to a library but that the Rorilians referred to as Scholar’s Hall.  Sam had fired up her laptop, thankful she’d requested backup batteries from the SGC along with some more advanced equipment she could use to further examine the effects of the unknown metal on the planet’s electromagnetic stability.  It would take several hours for the SGC to pull her requested items together and then she’d walk the nearly four miles to the gate.  Again.

It didn’t matter, really; she had a couple hours’ worth of test parameters to write before she could put the new equipment to work, anyway.  Not twenty minutes had passed when Eduan swept into the kitchen of the small home she was working in.  It was the only room in the house with a table big enough for her to set up her computer and enough sheets of paper to make notes without having to keep shuffling things around.

“Captain Carter, there are attendants available for you in the temple rooms.  You must be appropriately attired for the rituals.”

Sam looked at him uncertainly.  “My orders are to design and run the necessary tests before nightfall and to check back in with the General.  I understand your rituals are important to you,” she attempted to placate, “but I’m not at liberty to disobey my superiors.”  She congratulated herself on her restraint.  What she’d really wanted to do was tell him where exactly he could shove his marriage rituals.  She liked Nenetl, she did, but she could have throttled the girl for starting what was turning into an interplanetary incident. 

Eduan was visibly taken aback by her flat refusal to do his bidding and he huffed and swept back out of the room.  No doubt, she figured, to find Colonel O’Neill and beseech him to order Sam to comply.  Ha! she thought, unlikely.  If he’d initially been amused by Nenetl’s game, he’d quickly changed his tune when Hammond had extended their mission by at least twelve hours.  The General had spoken the carefully coded phrase that alerted SG-1 they should play along to ensure their safety but not commit to anything that might cause further interest.  If the Rorilians were at all concerned the man in charge of an extraterrestrial exploration team was suddenly interested in what team won a game they’d never heard of, well, they didn’t show it.

She’d just recovered from Eduan’s last visit and begun making more progress when he returned.  “Your Colonel O’Neill does not seem to understand the seriousness of this situation, Captain.  Perhaps you could explain it to him.”

Oh, she recognized the veiled threat but she got more than a little thrill when she told him, “Daniel’s in charge of cultural exchanges.  He’d probably be more useful, under the circumstances.”

Eduan leveled a look at her that surely caused more than one village female to bow to his demands.  She wasn’t his average village female.

She wasn’t altogether surprised when Eduan’s wife appeared nearly an hour later.  Ohara floated into the room in a cloud of lavender and sweet grass that had put Sam instantly at ease when she’d met the woman a week prior.  She wore her social status like she wore her hair: a loose and flowing beautiful thing with which she didn’t concern herself too much.  She pulled a stool across the room to the other side of the table Sam was working at, collected her long robes around herself, and slid onto the seat.

“My husband does not quite know what to do with you, Captain Carter.”

“He wouldn’t be the first,” Sam observed and erased a variable from an equation on a nearly full sheet of paper.

“You are resistant to the tlālli marriage.”

“I’m resistant to all marriage, Ohara, it’s nothing personal.”

“So you are likewise uninterested in…how do you call a trabaho marriage?”

Sam shook her head.  “I don’t know what that word means.”

“It is a,” Ohara twirled her hand in the air, “relationship for the benefit of business.”

“Oh.  Well, no.  Not one of those, either.”

“Are you already married?”

Sam sighed.  “No.  Where I come from, I don’t have to be married.”

“I suspect your hesitation comes from more than our cultural differences, tuhiha.”

The familiar appellation made Sam smile.  Daniel had explained it was a conceptual word describing someone else’s daughter but that the Rorilians used as a term of affection for women.  The language, to his delight, shared many similarities with the Nahuatl language of the Aztec peoples of Earth. 

Sam pushed her bangs back off her forehead and sat back on her stool, abandoning her work for the moment.  “I was almost married, once.”

“You do not wish to marry that man now, though.”

Sam laughed derisively.  “Absolutely not.  I couldn’t marry him anyway,” she said with a slight shake of her head, then pursed her lips.  “He’s been dead a while now.”

“I am sorry, Samantha,” Ohara said and covered Sam’s hand with her own.

“Thank you, but I’m not.  Not really.  He was…he was not a good man.  He demanded power over people and he didn’t deserve it.”

“And yet you agreed to marry him?  It was a trabaho match?”

Sam shook her head.  “No.  No, it was…I chose him.  Well, he chose me.”

“Your Colonel O’Neill…is he a good man?”

Sam looked at Ohara, slightly taken aback.  “I think so.  I don’t know him, really.  Not as anything other than my commanding officer.”

“He is fair?  Kind?”

Ohara looked out the window and smiled.  Sam followed her gaze and watched as the colonel dropped to a knee in front of Nenetl and spoke to her firmly.  The little girl looked sad, but not frightened, and he laid a heavy hand on the crown of her head, stroked the side of her face, and then tugged the end of her long hair playfully.  He said something else and the little girls smiled.

“Sure.  I guess,” Sam allowed.

“So, he would make a good husband?” The question drew Sam’s attention back into the kitchen.

“I’m sure he would, but—“

“And yet you are resistant to marrying him though Nenetl has proclaimed you to be a tlālli match.”

“About that,” Sam deflected, “she’s just a child and she’s hardly spent any time with either of us.  How would she be able to make that kind of prediction?”

“It is said there are girls born of each generation who can see into the hearts of our people.  Most all of our unions are trabaho.  A lucky few are gifted with tlālli unions.  My parents were among those,” Ohara revealed with pride.

“In this case,” Sam said gently, “I’m afraid she’s wrong.  Even if the colonel and I were a tlālli match, the regulations we are bound by prohibit a relationship between us.”

“There are exceptions to rules, tuhiha.”

Sam’s focus slipped back to the courtyard where the colonel was accepting a handful of the little white flowers from Nenetl.  Sam ripped her gaze away from her commanding officer before she started thinking of him as a man.  “Anyway, I’m a scientist, Ohara. You’re better off allowing me to solve your problems with this,” she said while waving a hand across the table full of her work, “than you are by making me a wife.”

“I do not believe that to be true, Samantha,” Ohara said, surprising Sam with the use of her given name.  She stood and conceded with a smile, “But my beliefs are not yours.”

At the door, Ohara turned and offered one last piece of advice.  “My husband, he will not be swayed.  Our gods have decreed you will be married by way of the ancient rites or our village will suffer.  Eduan is a man of many convictions, his belief in our gods chief among them.  If you want to see your science through, perhaps you should allow him his rites.  Consider it a…cultural exchange,” she finished and departed leaving only the dusty smell of lavender and confusion in her wake.

********

Despite the extra laptop batteries and equipment, at eight thirty that night Sam admitted she didn’t have anything remotely helpful.  She knew the metal she’d detected occurred frequently but randomly throughout the mountain formations, she knew microscopic particles of the metal were released into the air each time a tremor shook the village, and she knew those particles were interacting with the ionosphere causing more tremors and perpetuating the cycle.  While the tremors were still slight and infrequent, they’d been strong enough to dislodge the lumber scaffolding from outside the weights and measures building.  The unfinished building was still standing, but both the colonel and Teal’c had questioned how long that might be, as the footings hadn’t yet had a chance to settle.

As the day had worn on, the tremors continued – one every three hours or so.  Eduan had grown increasingly agitated with her reluctance to enter the temple and be attended to

At one point Daniel had come in, his arms full of books, and told her the marriage rites consisted of eight phases – one of which she’d already undergone – but the rites could be completed fairly quickly if she’d just…  She hadn’t let him finish because she was not going to, under any circumstances, marry Colonel O’Neill.  Not even for pretend.  That was the last thing she needed.  Honestly.  It was a gross violation of fraternization regulations, but if it weren’t, it wouldn’t matter.  She wasn’t remotely ready to begin contemplating what marriage might mean.  Not to a man she didn’t know.  Most certainly not after what she’d nearly gotten herself into by thinking about it so little the first time around.

Around six o’clock the colonel had grasped her shoulders and physically turned her away from her equipment.  He waved something heavenly smelling and vaguely taco-like under her nose.  She’d eaten it in four large bites while he laughed at her and she remembered she hadn’t stopped for lunch despite more than fifteen miles of hiking to the gate and back that day.  She licked the juices of some tasty local animal off the side of her hand and got back to work.  Five minutes later, another hunk of meat wrapped in the thin, flexible cornbread appeared at her elbow.

Trudging back to the gate that night in the last slivers of dual-sunlight, Daniel made his case to the officers.  He spoke quietly to avoid involving their escorts, Baurton’s men, in the conversation.  “I know it isn’t exactly what you want to do, but if you’d just consider going through the marriage rites you could buy yourself enough time to do some more research.”

“Daniel, I don’t want to hear it,” the colonel replied. 

Sam happened to agree.  “I don’t have time for that, Daniel.  The data suggests the tremors are going to get stronger and more frequent as more particles are released into the air.”

“Well, they’re not going to let us leave until you two get married.”

“We can’t leave,” Sam exclaimed a little too loudly. Daniel shushed her.  “We can’t leave,” she hissed.  “If I’m right, the tremors could destroy the village.”

“So you want to what, Carter?  Save them?  They’re holding us hostage.  Besides, we suggested evacuation earlier and it was a non-starter.”

“It’s not like they’re mistreating us, sir,” she pointed out.  “If I could just have a little more time I might be able to find a solution.”  Sam recalled her earlier conversation with Ohara.  “If we played along, sir, it might buy us enough time.”  As she heard the words coming out of her mouth she was trying to shove them back in.  “Of course, there’s got to be another way to—“

“I think Sam’s right, Jack,” clearly both pleased and confused Sam had come around to his way of thinking.

Shut up, Daniel.

Colonel O’Neill stopped walking and turned around to face Sam and Daniel.  “You,” he said pointing at Daniel, “really think the best way to handle this is to buy time by going through with this marriage crap?”  Daniel nodded.  “And you,” the colonel pointed next to Sam, “agree with him.”

“Well, sir,” she hedged, “what are we going to do there, exactly?”  She waved ahead towards the gate.  “We’re going to tell the General I haven’t figured it out yet and that the Rorilians have taken our weapons and we’re not obliged to leave.  Then we’re going to tell him we recommend against sending a rescue party through the gate as we’re not actually in any danger.  Right?”

His eyes narrowed at her and she knew she was pushing her luck.  He graced her with an answer, though.  “Your point, Captain?”

“My point, sir,” she said with as much aggrieved sigh as she felt she could get away with, “is if we at least pretend we’re going to go along with it, we might be able to buy enough time to figure out what’s going on here.”

“How much danger are we in if we stick around?”

He asked the question and she already knew she’d won.  She tried not to smile; besides, winning meant trying to solve a problem she couldn’t wrap her head around yet while simultaneously pretending to marry her commanding officer – who was, incidentally, a man she barely knew.  Yes, winning was a relative term under the current circumstances.

“Right now, sir, it’s difficult to say.  The tremors are currently only registering between 2.0 and 2.7 on the seismograph.”

“Meaning…” he led.

“Meaning we’re not in any danger, sir.  At least not yet.”

The colonel turned around and set back off towards the gate.  “How long?”

Sam attempted to grimace but ended up grinning; it was a puzzle and despite the other challenges, she was going to get to try to solve it.  “Three days?” she asked.  It was less than she thought she’d need, but she’d already learned to push by degrees when it came to Colonel O’Neill.

“Fine,” he said and dug the heels of his boots hard into the trail with each step towards the gate.  “Three days, Captain.”

Three days, she thought.  Oh boy.  Well, how married could they get in three days, anyway?