Content suitable for all audiences.
4 weeks later
Sam inhaled the crisp morning air and stretched with a yawn. The first light of dawn reflected in the drops of dew that clung to the grass from the previous night’s frost. Today was the day. The start of a new life. She’d made it.
Balancing a cup of coffee in one hand, she looked at the label of the sandwich the kitchen aid had given her. Ham. She sighed. When would Janet take her off the alternate nutrients plan?
She pulled the tent flap aside and entered. Four of the remaining eleven recruits had already arrived. She nodded to them when they greeted her. Everybody still looked sleepy. Nobody liked these morning briefings, especially if they went on until the afternoon. Hopefully this one was her last briefing as a recruit.
She’d finished her last training exercise the previous day, passing all the tests with a decent mark. That made her eligible for assignment to a post within the resistance. At last, three months of training were finally ending.
One after another, the rest of the recruits filled the tent. Only eleven of them left. Aside from Hanson, who’d been kicked out, seven others had decided to leave training.
Sam smiled at Jason Morris as he took a seat next to her. “Don’t you look awake.”
Jason nudged her. “Have you looked in the mirror, Miss Tousled?” He chuckled when she ran her hand through her hair and smacked his arm. His eyes shifted to the bag in her lap. “That wouldn’t happen to be a ham sandwich, would it?”
She smiled. “Trade you if you have a turkey one.”
He held out his bag and they switched sandwiches. It had become somewhat of a ritual between them to trade sandwiches. Though she was still on an alternate nutrients plan, she didn’t care for the heavy meat sandwiches Janet ordered her to eat.
“Good morning, recruits.” O’Neill entered the tent, and walked past the wooden benches they sat on.
They stumbled to their feet and straightened. “Good morning, sir.” It had become such an automated reaction, she didn’t even think about it anymore.
“At ease, sit down.” O’Neill placed some files and rolled up posters on the table in the front.
“During the past three months, you’ve all learned basic skills that enable you to survive our resistance operations. As of today, you’re all considered full members of the resistance.” He smirked. “That means no more curfews, no more restrictions.”
Loud cheering filled the tent. O’Neill allowed them a moment before he cleared his throat.
“You know I don’t like speeches, so I’m gonna cut it short. I hereby announce your official promotions to ensigns. Welcome to the organization. We looked through your training records to determine the ideal field of work for each of you according to your character and skills. Some of you’ll leave us today to join other cells and continue work there.”
Sam looked at Jason. Would they be assigned to the same cell? Or would she never see him again?
“During the course of today’s briefings, you’ll learn about your respective cell’s operations, the history behind them, and what your tasks will be. In the evening, you’ll have the opportunity to say goodbye to friends who got assigned to other cells. But please don’t discuss any of the information you’ve learned during your briefings.”
He sat down on one of the wooden boxes that served as chairs.
“As y’all know our beloved friend Daniel here—” He gestured at Daniel who entered at that moment, his eyes still small from sleep. “—is famous for his insightful and not at all boring lectures that will wake you all right up.”
Sam had to lower her head and stifle a smile. Dr. Jackson was famous for his drawn-out lectures. Daniel shot his friend an ironic look.
“You’re most welcome. So, Daniel here will take care of all the organizational stuff. You know how much I hate doing those things.”
Daniel put a cup of coffee down on the table and cleared his throat.
“Alright.” He pushed his glasses further onto his nose and looked through his notes. “Let me just dive right into this. Some of you have suspected there’s more to the resistance than just this group. At the moment, you’re staying at the basic training camp operated by resistance Cell 4. Resistance Cell 4 is one of twenty-one cells spread all over the world.”
All over the world? Exactly how big was the resistance? How had she’d looked for weeks before finding any sign of them?
“Each cell has its own specialty or region it operates in. Due to the sensitive nature of our operations, locations of each cell’s base will be kept secret.” He looked up. “That means, members of different cells aren’t allowed to have contact with each other.”
He paused for a moment, and went through his notes.
“Your briefings will vary depending on your cell. Reyes, Millowitz, Wong, Stewart, Longfellow and Niles.” He looked up from his sheet of paper, when the addressed recruits jumped up to stand at attention. “You’ll be assigned to other cells, so please report to Colonel Sheppard. He’ll divide you up and take care of the rest of the briefings. The rest of you will stay in resistance Cell 4 for now.”
The six recruits left the tent talking enthusiastically amongst themselves. Daniel turned back to the remaining four.
“Okay, well, welcome to our camp family. Since you won’t be switching cells, you’re all familiar with procedures and who to address if problems arise. So let me tell you what we do here.”
He rifled some of his papers and cleared his throat again. “As you’re all aware, there’s a device in Washington D.C. referred to as the Stargate, a circular device which allows the Aschen to travel thousands of light years through the galaxy to their homeworld.”
Sam jerked into an upright position, instantly awake. She placed the cup of coffee on the bench next to her and locked her gaze on Daniel.
He unfolded a large map and fastened it on a whiteboard at the front of the tent. Sam recognized the map from her history books. An old map of Earth.
“About 200 years ago, the Aschen set up weather control systems on our entire planet to increase the productivity of Earth’s farmlands. As a result, the huge masses of ice that covered the North and South Pole melted.” He turned back to them. “This revealed a second Stargate, which had previously been buried deep under the ice of Antarctica.”
Sam fidgeted impatiently. Her teacher had already told her all about the Aschen weather control systems, but a second Stargate? They’d found a second Stargate?
Daniel turned to the map again. “Due to the massive change caused by the weather control systems, both Pole regions became thriving forest areas. Those areas were unusable for farming because of the polar nights, the rocky grounds, and more drastic weather changes. Therefore, the Aschen never put resources into populating the region. Because of that, the Stargate wasn’t discovered by them, but by two humans. Andrew Siler and Matthew Keller, the founders of our organization.”
He turned to face them. “Welcome to the Antarctica forests.”
Sam held her breath. Antarctica forests. That was her location. Where they’d discovered a second Stargate. Her pulse raced. Was it possible…?
Daniel unfolded another map. “Okay then… Let me give you a bit of an overview of the history of our planet since the Aschen started using the weather control units.”
For the first time during one of Daniel’s lectures, Sam almost burst from impatience. He spent almost two hours explaining the impact of the weather control systems. About how the polar caps had melted. How the Aschen had started extracting vast amounts of salt water from the oceans to fertilize desert regions. How over ninety percent of Earth’s landmass had been converted into farmland. All information she was familiar with. But from the expressions of some other recruits, they hadn’t known as much her.
She snapped back when Daniel returned to the subject of the Stargate. Talk about taking a detour.
“When the Stargate was first discovered, Keller and Siler didn’t know what to do with it. They didn’t even know how to use it, because it was believed to be an Aschen invention leading only to the Aschen homeworld. An understandably big surprise to find out the Aschen weren’t aware of a second Stargate.
They were wise enough to keep their discovery a secret from the Aschen government. One hundred and fifty years ago, they formed what would become the first cell of our resistance movement. Since then, our group has grown and spread throughout the world. Antarctica marks the birthplace of the resistance.
During the past century, our organization recruited some of the smartest people on the planet. Eventually the ‘Stargate Program’ was formed. Almost thirty years ago, after a lot of research and planning, the Stargate’s functionality was finally put to the test. This had to be done carefully and in accordance with the Aschen’s gate travel schedule. Whenever the gate was activated, it had to be precisely timed to adhere to a strict timeframe used by the Aschen in between their gate activities.”
Sam’s eyes widened. “Four minutes ten seconds.” Of course. If they tried to form a wormhole at the same time, two Stargates on the same planet would cancel each other out. Blood rushed in her ears. The second Stargate could be used.
So the Aschen couldn’t be the builders of the gate. Otherwise, they’d have known there was a second Stargate on Earth. She’d been right. All this time, her theories about the Stargate had been correct.
Jason elbowed her. Sam looked up. Daniel and O’Neill both stared at her. She straightened and swallowed. She’d spoken out loud. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Um.” Daniel glanced at O’Neill, visibly put off. “That’s correct. The Aschen use exactly four minutes and ten seconds between gate travel activities.” He turned to Sam. “How—um—how do you know that?”
Sam shifted when everybody looked at her. Damn her excitement. “I just read about it once when I was—um—looking around their computer system. Sorry, Please go on.”
O’Neill leaned forward, his stare turning more intense. Daniel looked at him again, apparently unsure of how to carry on.
O’Neill didn’t take his gaze off her. “Carter, what do you know about the Stargate?”
“I—“ Sam bit her lower lip. “Know, sir? Really not a lot. I know it’s the device that leads to the Aschen homeworld. It is a ring made of a material called naquada, capable of forming a stable wormhole that allows matter to pass through—“
“Okay.” O’Neill winced and lifted his hand.
Sam closed her eyes. Damn, she’d managed to annoy him already. “Sorry, sir.”
“I was referring to things that aren’t in standard textbooks.”
“Sir?” What did he want from her exactly? Why did he assume she knew more than what was in the textbooks?
“You apparently know the timeframe between gate-travels. Which is highly classified information. Anything else you know about the gate one wouldn’t find in textbooks?”
“Well.” Sam fidgeted. “I sometimes gained access to the Aschen system. I’ve always been fascinated by the gate, so I studied their schematics of it and the dialing device belonging to it.”
She beamed at him. “Actually, this is really fascinating. Did you know the system of the Stargate itself is a lot more advanced than Aschen technology? The program the Aschen use to operate and control the gate is a bridge between their system and the Stargate one. So it stands to reason the Aschen might not be the builders of it as they always claim.” She looked at Daniel. ”That the Aschen were unaware of a second Stargate on Earth is further proof.”
O’Neill and Daniel exchanged a strange glance. Sam cleared her throat awkwardly. “Of course that’s just vague speculation, sir. I’m not a scientist.”
“Go on.” O’Neill nodded. “Tell us more.”
Sam inhaled. “Well, sir. Let’s assume the Aschen are not the original builders. That raises the question, who is? And more importantly, it could mean the gate doesn’t just connect to the Aschen homeworld. There are billions of suns in our galaxy, so what if there are Stargates on more planets? Maybe even beyond our galaxy. Think about it. There are 39 symbols, and the gate comes in connection with a dialing device. Why would you need 39 symbols to connect to only one world?”
Sam glanced from O’Neill to Daniel. Okay, maybe she was becoming a bit too enthusiastic. The archeologist stood frozen, his eyes wide. Probably the wrong audience for her wild speculations.
Sam sighed and went on. “It’s not as unreasonable as it sounds if you think about it. When the Aschen dial their homeworld, they need seven symbols. Out of thirty-nine. I found that information in their files as well. So if you take those numbers and do the math… 39 symbols. That means roughly 1.9 million possible destinations the gate might connect to. That’s assuming every symbol can be used only once per combination and, provided that every address needs exactly seven symbols. If that’s not the case there’d be a potentially infinite number of destinations that could be dialed.”
Both still looked bewildered. Sam flinched inwardly.
“Of course, I know the number 1.9 million is highly unlikely. Not every planet in our galaxy is inhabitable. More likely only five to ten percent of all the possible addresses will lead to another world. I can’t make sense of the different symbols yet, so it’s really all speculation, but—“
“Coordinates.” Daniel leaned against the table behind him.
“What?” Sam shook her head, confused.
“The symbols. They’re coordinates in space.”
Coordinates. The most obvious solution and she hadn’t even thought of it. Space was three-dimensional, so additional calculators were needed to determine specific locations.
“Of course.” She prevented herself from jumping up from her seat in excitement at the last second. “The vast dimensions of space. Yes. Seven symbols are necessary to—“ Something else dawned on her. Her eyes widened and she looked from one man to the other. “Oh my God, it’s not just speculation, is it? It’s true.”
“Um. Yes, yes it is.” Daniel nodded and folded his arms. “And it took our scientists almost a century to figure it out. So, how on earth do you know all that?”
“I—“ Sam swallowed. “I like physics.”
“No kidding.” O’Neill smirked. Sam straightened. He’d not taken his eyes off her for the past five minutes. Her cheeks heated. “Carter. When this briefing’s over, I want you to report to me. I’ll move you into the science department for now.”
Science department. “Sir, I’m not a scientist, though. I never visited a university.”
“Yes, sir.” She beamed at him. Science. She’d actually be able to do something related to science. Heart pounding fast, she focused her gaze back on Daniel.
“Okay.” The archeologist put his coffee cup down. “So, about thirty years ago, a random combination of symbols proved successful, and we managed to send a team through our Stargate to make contact with a primitive people. They provided us with a large list of gate addresses. Since then, the main objective of Cell 4 has been to explore other worlds and bring back the technology we find.”
He rolled out another poster showing their galaxy. “So far, we’ve been on hundreds of worlds. And thousands more still need to be explored. Most of you will join a so-called Stargate team, and participate in the explorations.”
Going through the Stargate. Dizziness washed over her.
“So let me tell you a bit about what you’ll encounter.” Daniel pushed his glasses further up one his nose. “There’s a hostile race called the Goa’uld out there. They’re snake-like creatures who take humans as their hosts. An army of Jaffa warriors protects them. As far as we know, they’re the only race in our galaxy technologically advanced enough to match the Aschen.”
He started handing out a few papers, and Sam looked down to study them. One was a reference guide that included a drawing of a Jaffa warrior, as well as background information about the Goa’uld.
“The Goa’uld consider themselves superior to humans. Just as much as the Aschen do. So our policy up to now has been avoidance. The Aschen and the Goa’uld are hostile towards each other. If you’ll all read through your handout real quick, you’ll get an overview of the basics.”
Sam took a sip of her now-cold coffee and started reading. Basic information about the war between the Aschen and the Goa’uld. Apparently, they’d been engaged in an armed conflict until a little less than three hundred years ago. Since then, they’d been in a state of cold war, with each party constantly trying to undermine the other.
No wonder the Aschen are so paranoid. That they’d managed to keep the existence of other worlds a secret when there was a war going on in the galaxy was astounding. And scary. Sam looked at the paper thoughtfully. The Jaffa warrior looked intimidating in his metal uniform and helmet. He carried a strange long staff in his hand. A weapon, the notes explained.
Daniel cleared his throat and Sam lifted her eyes again. “Sooner or later you might run into a Jaffa patrol on one of your missions through the gate. The Goa’uld are territorial and they claim uninhabited planets for themselves to expand.”
He got up, walked over to the whiteboard, and drew a table on it. “The Aschen undermine and conquer silently and without any kind of armed conflict. Earth is a perfect example. Eight-hundred years ago, our planet was home to thousands of thriving cultures. The development stopped when the Aschen arrived through the Stargate uncovered in the north of the African Continent. They established themselves as saviors, and over the centuries, slowly diminished our race.”
He turned to the group. “The Goa’uld are different. They openly attack and subdue the worlds they conquer. They have advanced weapons and attack vessels.”
“And they’re suffering from a superiority complex.” O’Neill straightened. “So if you run into one of their troops, don’t provoke them. We don’t have the resources to fight against two enemies.”
Daniel nodded. “Even though we’re relatively protected since Earth is an Aschen ruled world, we don’t want to draw attention to the fact that humans are travelling around the galaxy. So far, we’ve managed to stay below the radar of Aschen intelligence. However, we’ve observed an increase in territoriality in the Goa’uld recently. So be cautious.”
Morris lifted his hand. “Excuse me, sir. But what’s the purpose of going through the gate if we don’t even interact with the Goa’uld or the Aschen? Aren’t we trying to fight a war?”
“Generally, yes.” Daniel folded his arms. “Specifically us, no. Cell 4’s mission is to acquire weapons and technology off world, as well as establish contact to potential allies and trade partners.”
Jason scratched his head. “Isn’t that like going the long way around? I mean, wouldn’t an open attack make more sense?”
“If you wanna lose the war, yeah.” O’Neill shot him a wry look.
Daniel rolled his eyes at O’Neill, and unfolded another poster. “What you don’t know is, the Aschen have managed to build a huge confederation of planets. We estimate that hundreds of worlds belong to their territory. Most of them are used like Earth, for farming and food production. Others, closer to the Aschen homeworld, are used for weapons and spaceship construction.”
He marked the Aschen territory on the map of the galaxy. “Starting an open attack would be pointless as long as we remain outnumbered. So for now, our efforts are limited to acquiring weapons and allies, as well as information. Knowledge about what’s going on in our galaxy is of enormous value, since the Aschen keep us in the dark.”
“So we’re not engaged in attacks against the Aschen at all?” Jason’s body slumped.
Daniel sat back down on the table. “There are other resistance cells that take care of attacks on Aschen officials when needed.”
Sam sat up straight. “Are the Aschen aware of what we’re doing?”
Daniel nodded. “They’re aware there is a resistance movement, or at least a group of rebels. They aren’t aware of the Stargate and the operations surrounding it. Which is why secrecy is imperative. You’ll all be directly involved with Stargate operations, so you’re all responsible for keeping this program a secret. Thanks to our location in Antarctica, we’re naturally isolated.”
Sam rolled the paper in her hands. “Yes, but how do you keep the Stargate a secret? As you said before, the Aschen use theirs, so don’t the two gates cancel each other out?”
Daniel’s face lit up at her question. Obviously he was thrilled to talk to somebody who knew about these things. “Technically you’re right. Which is why our procedure always follows a strict protocol. We download the Aschen’s gate travel schedule once a week, which allows us to determine four fixed three-minute windows each day, during which teams can leave or return through the gate. If a returning team misses their window, they’ll have to wait another six hours for the next window. If our gate goes online, the Aschen’s Stargate will be disabled temporarily without them even knowing it. Which is why it’s important we adhere to their travel schedule.”
Daniel walked back to the whiteboard. “Okay, now that your most important questions are answered, let’s get into the details.”
The meeting went on for another four hours. The more Sam learned, the more excited she became. The resistance had its own Stargate. If only she could be assigned to one of the teams. Who’d have thought her dream of going through the gate would happen so soon.
At the end of the meeting, O’Neill referred all of them to the ‘basic operations’ tent, where later that day, an older soldier named Walter would take care of the administrative duties. He’d give them new camp uniforms that designated them as full members, as well as provide them with standard weapons and equipment.
When everybody got up to head out of the briefing, O’Neill approached Sam.
“Carter, walk with me.”
Sam gathered her papers and hurried to follow him. He waited for her in front of the tent. They walked up the small hill towards a smaller group of tents, the science camp located at the far end of the clearing.
“You didn’t tell me you were a scientist.” He kept looking ahead as they trudged through the grass.
She shook her head. “I’m not, sir. As I said, I’ve never visited a school. Women aren’t allowed to study, so everything I know I learned from homeschooling and studying by myself.”
“All the more impressive.” He glanced at her. “You sure know an awful lot about this stuff. Where did you grow up again?”
Sam tensed. “Um… the West, sir… near the Pacific Coast. In a small town.” Was that right? Damn, she didn’t remember exactly what she’d told him when they’d first met.
“I see. And who did you say your parents were?”
“I didn’t say anything.” She stopped and narrowed her eyes at him. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Why do I have the feeling you’re testing me?”
He stopped and turned to study her. Then a smirk crossed his lips and he continued walking.
“Sir?” She hurried to keep up with him.
“I was testing you, Carter. A young woman with your background shouldn’t have that much knowledge about the Stargate technology. You’re not a covert Aschen woman, are you?” His eyes twinkled, and Sam exhaled. Thank God, he was joking.
She shook her head. “Definitely not, sir.”
“Didn’t think so. Aschen women are usually a lot less attra—“ He cleared his throat. “—feisty.”
“Yeah. You know. Courageous, tempered, outspoken. Aschen women are usually dull and boring. Never joke, never show emotion.”
“Sounds like you have a lot of experience with them.” When his head jerked around and she saw the glint in his eyes, she paled. “Oh, I didn’t mean—I wasn’t implying—I meant experience talking to them, sir. Not…” She flinched and forced herself to stop babbling. What was going on with her?
“Not what, Carter?” O’Neill nudged her with his shoulder.
She swallowed. “I didn’t want you to think that I was implying anything sexual, sir.”
“Weren’t you?” His smirk told her he was still teasing her. Her cheeks warmed. Damn him. Apparently he enjoyed her awkwardness. She cleared her throat and fixated her eyes on the science camp again.
“So, Carter, no family ties, no home to return to. Essentially that means nothing to lose. Makes you the perfect soldier.”
“Maybe, sir.” She stared at the grass. Her father. It had been over four months since she’d run away.
Would she ever be able to return home to him? Or did she really have no family left? Somehow her memories of her life back then felt like flashes from another lifetime. Glimpses into the life of a different person.
She looked up. O’Neill scrunched his brows at her.
“Yes, sir. Why?”
“You got kinda quiet there for a moment.”
They reached the scientist’s camp. The tents were a lot bigger than they’d appeared from a distance. O’Neill entered the biggest tent and held the flap open for her. Sam entered behind him.
The inside was stacked with boxes, books, weird looking machines, and computers.
“Hey, McKay.” O’Neill looked around.
A dark-haired man lifted his head from the device he was working on. Sam had seen him around camp a few times, but he’d always ignored her.
Except that one time when she’d run into him at the food tent and he had started yelling at her because he’d nearly stumbled into a bowl of lemon slices…
“Well, what do you know.” McKay folded his arms. “Did my reports finally get your attention?”
“Nice to see you too, Rodney.” O’Neill leaned against the desk, looking unaffected by the man’s hostility. “Remember how you’ve been bugging me about getting you an assistant?”
“Remember?” McKay gave a sarcastic laugh and picked up a stack of papers from his filing. “See this? Not a day goes by where I don’t send that request to you. Ever since Dr. Felger and Dr. Lee started working on their own projects, things’ve gotten a lot worse around here. There.” He pointed to a small monitor. Numbers flashed across the screen.
O’Neill raised his eyebrows. “That supposed to say anything to me?”
McKay rolled his eyes. “I’m never going to finish my work if you don’t start putting more resources into our physics department.”
O’Neill groaned. “Okay, listen. For now, I’m granting you at least one wish. Carter? Meet McKay. You gotta excuse his horrible manners. I want you to work with him for a coupla weeks. See that you brush up on your knowledge on Stargate technology.”
Sam smiled at the scientist and extended her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
McKay just looked at her, unmoving. Then his eyes shifted to O’Neill. “That’s a woman.”
Sam faltered. She turned her head to O’Neill and found him smirking at her. “Perceptive, isn’t he.”
A giggle threatened to bubble up and she quickly lowered her head.
McKay scowled. “Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?”
“What in my expression makes you think I am joking? She’s smart from what I can tell.”
McKay rolled his eyes again. “Yeah, well, that really doesn’t say much. No offense.”
Sam raised her eyebrows at O’Neill. He still looked unaffected. Apparently, he was used to the scientist’s arrogant demeanor. “You know, McKay, maybe that’s why I haven’t responded to your requests until now. They’re just too smart for me. I think from now on I shouldn’t even bother reading them anymore.”
McKay sighed and dropped his arms. He walked up to Sam, scrutinizing her. “She doesn’t even have a degree in science. Or any kind of degree for that matter. What on earth could she help me with? Am I supposed to teach the rookies now? ‘Cause seriously, my time is way too limited to—“
“You asked for an assistant, here she is. Knock yourselves out.” O’Neill straightened. “I expect you to show her around, McKay.” He nudged Sam’s upper arm. “Have fun.”
Then he left the tent. McKay stared after him, brows lifted in disbelief. He shook his head. “They expect you to bring the best possible results. They expect miracles. And who do they send? Ridiculous.”
“Hi.” Sam extended her hand again, but McKay just nodded with a sigh.
“Yeah, yeah. Since you’re here already, why don’t you make yourself useful.” He walked back up to his desk.
“Of course.” Finally she’d get to work in a field she was comfortable in. Numbers, experiments, equations. Her gaze roamed over the scientific devices scattered around the tent. Which one would he want her to work on first? “What do you need me to do?”
“Move some of those boxes out of the way. And get me some coffee from the food tent. I’m never going to get this done without coffee.”
Sam dropped her arms, her shoulders slumped. Coffee? He wanted her to make coffee and move boxes around? Not quite the brain teaser she’d hoped for, but it was a start.