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Sam sighed, balancing three cups of coffee on a tray. She pulled the tent flap aside and entered.
The archeology tent. She glanced around. Not much different from the other scientist’s tents except this one looked more disorderly.
Daniel Jackson lifted his head. “Hey.” His lips tugged into a smile.
“Hi. Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“You’re not. Come in.”
Sam walked along a narrow path not covered in files or artifacts of sorts.
The entire tent was stacked with books, some lying on the ground or on boxes, others standing on boards and planks that formed makeshift bookshelves. Papers, artifacts and even more books covered the large wooden table in the middle of the tent.
How could anybody know where to find anything in this chaos? She raised her eyebrows at him. “So this is where you hide out when you’re not at the food stand.”
Daniel grinned. “Yes, this is where I work. Do you need help with something?”
“No. I just…” She sighed and held up the tray. “Coffee?”
“Thanks.” Daniel winced. “McKay’s still using you as his personal waitress, huh?”
Sam stared at him. Great. Personal waitress. So it had already made its round at camp.
He chuckled. “People talk. You’ll get used to it.” He turned with part of an artifact in his hand to get an open book from a nearby box, and compared it to something in the book.
She put one of the cups on his desk, then sat down on one of the boxes that didn’t have books lying on it. She’d better not touch anything. From the looks of it, Daniel had his own system in the chaos, and she didn’t want to mess up his work.
“McKay thinks I’m too stupid to help him.”
“Yeah.” Daniel released an exasperated breath. “Sorry. You’ll get used to him after a while. He thinks everybody’s too stupid to help him. He’s insufferable, but he’s also pretty much a genius, which is why Jack doesn’t even bother to discuss it with him.”
Sam put the tray down. “I just wish he’d share some of his knowledge. The colonel ordered me to brush up on my knowledge of Stargate technology, but McKay won’t even let me get close to anything related to it.”
“Here’s a thought.” Daniel’s face brightened. “I’ve been asking McKay to help me with some artifacts for weeks, but he doesn’t have time. Maybe you could do that.”
Sam’s pulse sped up. Finally something other than carrying around coffee. “I’d love to.”
“But we’d need to finish the categorizations first. All these boxes in the corner there hold artifacts that need to be classified, labeled and catalogued. There are tags over there and somewhere here…” He searched between the papers on his desk. “Ah, here are the pre-printed lists. Just fill them in, and then tag the artifact with the number in the row on the list, so we can find it again later on.” He winced. “I know it’s not exactly complex science.”
“I’ll do it. It’s better than making coffee all day.” Sam grinned at him, taking the lists and the pen he handed her. “Thanks Daniel.”
He returned her smile. “No problem. Once we’re done with that, we can go through the artifacts.”
Sam went to work. Finally, for the first time in three days, she was doing something useful.
“What do you think it does?” Sam leaned in close to look through the magnifying glass.
Daniel shrugged. “I’m not sure. I wish I could read the inscriptions, but I’ve never seen this language before.”
They studied the piece of technology in front of them on the table.
She’d spent the entire last week working with Daniel on artifacts retrieved from alien planets. Surprisingly many of them were pieces of technology.
McKay hadn’t asked for her once. She brought him his coffee every morning and afternoon, and left him alone the rest of the time.
“Well, there’s certainly some kind of power circuit here.” Sam inched the tweezers closer to the circuit. “I think there’s even a power source. These readings indicate some kind of voltage. I just don’t see what the source could be.”
“Can you turn it on?”
“I think I found the switch, but I’m not sure it’s wise to turn it on before we know what it does. For all we know it could be a bomb.”
Daniel shook his head. “It doesn’t look like any weapon we’ve ever seen.”
They looked at each other for a moment, then bent over the little piece of technology again. Their expectations rose while Sam tried to enable the power source of the artifact.
“Daniel.” The tent flap opened and Vala stormed inside. Both Sam and Daniel jerked upright at her shout.
“Holy Hannah.” Sam dropped the tweezers, her heart pounding in her ears. “Vala, don’t do that.”
“Sammie. Daniel.” She flung her arms around the archeologist’s neck and looked at him from under her eyelashes. “Did you miss me?”
“Vala.” Daniel rolled his eyes and tried to loosen her arms from his neck. “We’re working here. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t scare us like that.”
Sam winced when Vala stormed to her and flung her arms around her neck. “I missed you, too. I gotta tell you both all about our latest mission.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” Daniel gently moved her out of the way.
The archeologist chose a book from the shelf and opened it. Vala turned, leaning her backside against the edge of the table.
She smiled at him seductively. “You don’t want me around?”
Sam looked up when Vala’s fingers closed around a small silver ball lying in a box on the table. She held it up. “What’s this?”
Daniel sighed in exasperation and reached over to take the ball from her. She pulled it out of reach with a teasing grin. “What is it?”
“Come on, Daniel. A girl’s curious… about a lot of things.” She let her gaze travel down his body and Sam failed to hide a grin. Was Vala’s interest in the archeologist genuine, or was she playing?
“Vala.” Daniel grabbed for the artifact again, and once more failed to take it from her. He grabbed Vala’s wrist and removed the little ball from her fingers with his other hand. “You’re only curious about one thing regarding artifacts. How much they’re worth on the black market.” He put the ball back in its box and closed it with a snap.
Vala pouted. “My curiosity for you has nothing to do with that.”
Daniel raised his eyebrows. “No? I’m just the guy in charge of all the valuable artifacts.” His voice dripped sarcasm. He went back to his book.
“Sammie, help me here.”
“Sorry, you’re on your own.” Sam tried to reconnect two circuits on the side of the artifact with tweezers, then looked up at Daniel. “Any luck with the language?”
“Anyway.” Vala strolled around the table, touching an artifact here and there under Daniel’s watchful eye. “We just made contact with an incredible new species. They’re called the Nox. They have the ability to vanish and reappear out of thin air. Unfortunately they’re unwilling to share any technology with us.” She looked up, an indignant expression on her face. “They think we’re primitive.”
“You didn’t steal anything from them, did you?” Sam smiled at her.
Vala gasped. “I’m shocked by the accusation.”
“She probably didn’t, but only because they had it all hidden.” Daniel folded his arms, and looked at the young woman over his glasses.
Sam nodded. “Sounds accurate.”
“Okay, I’ll admit.” Vala sighed. “They did hide it all, but even if they hadn’t…”
An alarm wailed.
Sam jumped up from her seat and covered her ears at the shrill sound. Vala and Daniel tensed.
“What the hell is that?” Sam had to yell to drown out the noise. The speaker was in the corner right next to her.
“Something is wrong with our Stargate system.” Daniel gestured towards the exit. “Come on.”
He grabbed Vala’s arm to pull her with him, undoubtedly to prevent her from stealing something while they were gone. Sam moved around the table and followed them. They raced over to the main science tent and hurried inside.
“What’s going on?” Daniel looked at McKay and Dr. Lee.
“I don’t know.” Dr. Lee dropped his arms and shrugged. “Our access to the gate system just shut down.”
“Excuse me.” McKay rushed by him, almost pushing him out of the way. “If you don’t mind, some people are actually working here.”
“Rodney.” Daniel yelled over the alarm. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know yet. And I won’t if you keep asking.”
Sam looked at the flashing screen in the back—the only computer screen she could see—and raised her eyebrows. She’d seen the mainframe before. It looked like the Aschen computer system.
She stumbled forward when somebody stormed into the tent behind her. O’Neill. He grabbed her shoulders and moved her out of the way.
When McKay didn’t answer, Dr. Lee came forward. “Sir…something happened with the gate. We were shut out.”
“Why?” Jack leaned his palms on the table. “Talk to me, Rodney.”
“I don’t know.” The scientist looked up with a scowl. “And I certainly won’t know as long as people keep dropping in here asking me that every ten seconds.”
“Dammit, McKay.” Jack slammed his palms down. Then he spun around. “Will somebody turn that damn alarm off?”
Dr. Lee hurried to one of the computers and entered a command. The deafening wail cut off. Uncanny silence followed, only broken by the clack of McKay entering commands on an outdated keyboard.
“McKay.” O’Neill’s face darkened.
“Okay. Okay okay. There’s been some kind of brief power outage that locked us out. The cause was…” He sighed and looked up at O’Neill. “The generators. I’ve been telling you for months they need to be replaced. But did anything happen? No. We can get new weapons, we can get new tables, we can even get fancy new uniforms, but generators?” He shook his head.
“Rodney.” O’Neill walked around the desk. “Now’s not the time. I have a team due back in an hour. Can you get us back online?”
“I’m working on it, but it’s not that easy.”
“If we’re not back online in an hour, these people are gonna walk through the gate in Powhatan City, right into the hands of Aschen security guards.”
“You don’t have to tell me what’s at stake, and this won’t go any faster if you do.” Rodney mumbled a few curses. “They don’t think they have to take you seriously, but once they need you, everything’s supposed to work and be repaired within the snap of a finger. Ridiculous.”
Jack straightened and inhaled, then paced back and forth. “How long?”
“I don’t know yet. The power only went out for about two seconds, but it was enough to log us out of the system, interrupt the connection, and log us back on without the protocol. The system identified us as unauthorized intruders and locked us out permanently. I’ll have to rewrite the entire access protocol and that’ll take a while.”
“How long?” Jack glared at him.
“A few hours at least.”
“That’s a few hours too long.”
“Excuse me.” Sam pushed her way between Daniel and Vala. “Are you talking about the Aschen computer system?”
“Where’ve you been?” McKay looked up at her. “My coffee’s been empty for hours.”
“I…” Sam cleared her throat. Technically she’d disobeyed O’Neill’s orders working with Daniel instead of McKay. How would he react?
“I asked her to help me classify some artifacts.” Daniel stuck his hands in his pockets. “None of the other scientists ever have time, and she was available. I figured she’d be more useful doing that than carrying around coffee all day.”
Jack turned his head back to McKay and raised his eyebrows. “Well?”
The scientist’s face remained blank. “Well what?”
“She asked you a question.”
McKay released an exasperated sigh. “Yes, this is about the Aschen computer system.”
How dare he use that tone with her? As though she were a five year old child. Sam pushed her anger down. It wouldn’t get her anywhere, and there were more pressing needs. “I assume you were using a double-encryption standard gateway to get in, creating a fake ID that made the system recognize you as an Aschen official?”
McKay’s eyes widened, then he glanced at O’Neill as though unsure whether he should reply. O’Neill motioned for him to answer.
“Yes.” McKay nodded. “I programmed the protocol myself.”
“I’m sure it was good work.” Diplomacy. Always a good start when you wanted to tell somebody they were wrong. “But it’s risky and problematic. The slightest fluctuation will shut you out. It’ll never work if you need to be permanently connected.”
McKay folded his arms and leaned back in his chair with a sarcastic chuckle. “I see. And I assume you’ve found a better way?”
Sam narrowed her eyes. He seemed to have no confidence whatsoever in her abilities as a hacker. Or anything but a waitress.
“I have.” Talking to him would be useless. He wasn’t willing to listen anyway. She turned to O’Neill.
“Sir, I developed an algorithm that works in tune with their security system, and allows me to log onto their mainframe whenever I want, and for as long as I want. The algorithm automatically duplicates IDs of users already logged on. Whenever the user logs out, it automatically clones other logged on IDs in the background. That allows me to can gain easy access to all systems permanently in use, among them the Stargate control unit. Now, if a user—“
“Carter.” Jack pressed his fingers against his temples.
Right. For him, explanations had to be short, simple and to the point. Damn, she’d have to learn to shorten her speeches. She remembered the metaphor she’d used to describe the procedure to Minny.
“It’s like a shadow, sir. Of course it’s a lot more complicated than that. But the basics are similar.”
Jack looked at McKay. “Does that make any sense to you?”
The scientist nodded with a roll of his eyes. “Yes, but it’s impossible. It occurred to me years ago. I’ve tried to crack the Aschen algorithm needed for the procedure to work. You’d need an entire team of scientists, and a few years of research to even come close to cracking it. Sorry, blondie, but people a lot smarter than you have worked on that and failed.”
Blondie? What the hell was his problem? She folded her arms. “It’s how I accessed the system for almost a year.”
McKay barked a laugh. “Oh please.”
How dare he talk to her as if she was inferior? She fisted her hands. This was her field. This was what she was good at. “Sir, I’ve done it before. I can get you into the system.”
Jack looked from her to McKay. “McKay, is this… this…”
“Algorithm, sir?” Sam said.
O’Neill’s gaze locked with hers, though he spoke to McKay. “Is what she says possible?”
“Possible? Yes. Likely? No.”
Sam gritted her teeth. “Sir, you said time is of the essence, here. Please, let me do it.” When he still didn’t move, she closed her eyes and shook her head. “Please, sir.”
O’Neill inhaled. “Carter, you say you’ve done it before?”
“Countless times, sir.”
“You’re absolutely certain it’ll work? Cause if you expose our position—“
“It’ll work, sir.” He still had doubts. She could see it on his face. “With all due respect, sir, I know what’s at stake. I wouldn’t say I can do it, if I wasn’t absolutely sure.”
Something flashed across his face and he raked his hand through his hair. “You accessed the Stargate control unit before?”
“Not exactly the Stargate control unit. I was in the system, but the SGCU is just a subsystem connected to the mainframe. All I gotta do is get you into the mainframe, and all subsystems will be open. I need to make a few adjustments, but that’s normal with every login.”
Impatience flashed across his face.
Sam cleared her throat and straightened. “Shouldn’t be a problem to gain access to the Stargate control subsystem, sir.”
“Well, recreating the algorithm, getting in, applying it, caching the access files—”
Sam flinched. “Five minutes, sir.”
O’Neill raised his eyebrows and dropped his arms. McKay chuckled, and shook his head. “Oh, please…”
“McKay, you say it’s possible?” O’Neill’s gaze still held Sam’s.
Rodney’s head snapped up. He rose slowly from his chair. “You can’t be serious.”
“Carter, sit down and get started.” O’Neill folded his arms.
“Colonel, if she messes up, or makes even the tiniest mistake, they’ll be able to trace our position, and you know what that means.” He scoffed and touched O’Neill’s shoulder. “Think reasonably, I’m by far the smartest person on this planet, and even I didn’t manage to do it.”
“McKay.” O’Neill spun to face him. “She managed to figure out the Stargate all by herself. So excuse me if I’m willing to give her a chance at this. Shut up and let her work.”
Sam sat down and inhaled deeply. No pressure. You’ve done this countless times before, this is no different. Except that lives depended on her now. If she messed up, she would be responsible for the capture and execution of three men. Worse, she’d reveal their position to the Aschen, thereby compromising their entire cell, and the Stargate program.
Light-headed, she rubbed her palms on her pants, trying to focus on the flashing code on screen. What the hell had she been thinking saying she could do it? What if something went wrong?
“Hey.” A warm hand touched on her shoulder.
Sam turned her head. O’Neill’s head was right next to hers, so close she could feel the warmth radiating from him. “Focus on the task at hand. There’s a problem. Solve it. Don’t think about what’s at stake. You’ve done this before, you can do it again. Piece of cake.”
She gave him a weak smile. Her pulse slowed down. O’Neill gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. How could he be so gruff at times, then at other times so sensitive?
He was right. She’d done this countless times in her father’s library. This was her element. She knew the algorithms and access links by heart.
Sam returned her focus to the screen. Calmly, she opened the system’s mainframe. Standard security questions. She opened a command window and started entering the first line of code. Then she wrote the ten-line algorithm into the system cache.
Some adjustments. Double-checking the values of the algorithm. Making sure the connection was established. She hit enter and held her breath. An overlay box flashed up on screen.
Didn’t it take too long? Usually it took less than a second. Right. That had been from her father’s house at the outskirts of Powhatan City. She was halfway across the globe.
The screen flashed. Connected.
“I’m in.” She turned and looked up at O’Neill.
“She’s in.” McKay leaned over her shoulder. “I can’t believe it.”
O’Neill flashed her a gorgeous smile. “Good job. Can you bring up the Aschen travel schedule?”
Focus. Aschen travel schedule. “Yes, sir.” Sam typed a few commands into the designated field. A few moments later the live schedule opened on screen. “There you go, sir. All the scheduled gate activity for next week in live mode.”
“Live mode? This is incredible.” McKay stood up. “That means from now on we won’t have to buy the access codes anymore. We can access the schedules whenever we need to.”
“Not just the schedules.” Sam opened a few of the other subsystems. “I can get you access to all information, from medical data to transcripts of the Aschen proceedings.”
“Are we talking permanent access?” O’Neill leaned back against the desk, his gaze fixated on the monitor.
“Yes, sir.” Sam nodded. “But if there’s a problem with the generators, I suggest you let me write a program that’ll automatically reconnect the system. That might take some time, though. I can’t write a program like that in five minutes.”
“Great.” O’Neill nodded and pushed himself up to a standing position. “Carter, McKay, I want both of you to work on the program, so we can get it up and running as soon as possible.”
“Yes, sir.” Sam and McKay replied in unison.
O’Neill looked at her, then gave her a warm smile. “Sheppard and his team owe their lives to you. Carter, that was a damn good job.” He nudged her. “Seems you know more than just a little physics.”
Her cheeks warmed and she lowered her face. “Thank you, sir.”
“Alright, people.” O’Neill looked around. “Back to work. Carter, McKay. I expect daily reports on the program’s progress. McKay.” He made sure the scientist was looking at him before he continued. “From now on you’ll get your coffee yourself.”
McKay turned red. “I assure you, Colonel, if I’d known—”
“Just get the program ready and working.” O’Neill walked towards the exit. Before he left the tent, he turned around once more, and his gaze locked with Sam’s. She beamed at him and he looked taken aback for a moment. His gaze intensified, as his mouth turned up in a gentle smirk.
Her stomach flip-flopped. She liked him. A lot more than she should, given he was her camp commander. Oh, this was bad. Her purpose in joining the resistance hadn’t been to hook up with a man. Not to mention, O’Neill was a good deal older than her. What was wrong with her?
Surely, this was only a passing feeling of attraction. It wouldn’t last. It couldn’t.
Jack couldn’t avert his gaze from hers. Did she even know how beautiful she was? Those eyes. Bright blue, with a sparkle he’d never seen before. He’d been with many women in his wilder times, right after Sara had left, but none of them had ever affected him like this.
She turned to McKay, who started commenting on her algorithm. She beamed at him as she explained her hack, and McKay took notes. All her insecurity disappeared.
Carter had always been reserved about her skills—to the point of insecurity. But now… The woman he was looking at now glowed with self-confidence.
Damn, she was a scientist. A good one. He disliked scientists. He definitely didn’t dislike her.
Bad train of thought. He turned to leave the tent. What was the matter with him? He really shouldn’t be thinking about a subordinate that way. It was a dangerous road to go down, especially considering he was—at least officially—a married man.
Daniel complimented Carter on her rescue, and McKay released an audibly annoyed sigh.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all get it, she saved their lives. Can we get back to actually working now?”
“You know, Rodney. A little bit of humility really wouldn’t do you any harm, and it might even make people like you.”
Jack smirked. Had to give it to Daniel, he sure wasn’t afraid to tell people what he thought. He trudged downhill towards his command tent.
Carter. What other surprises did she have up her sleeve? She was becoming a very interesting candidate for a Stargate team. Especially since Sheppard and Mitchell pressed him to take a scientist into SG-1.
Up to now, he’d refrained from doing so. Technically, Daniel was a scientist, even though his specialties lay with ancient history and languages. And he couldn’t stand any of the scientists. Carter, on the other hand, she was both. Granted, she wasn’t the best soldier, and she certainly lacked experience, but that would come with time.
A scientist. And the only one at camp who’d received combat training. The only one he could stand being around. He’d have to think about that.