Content suitable for all audiences.
4 weeks later
Sam’s head jerked up. There it was again. A distinct rustling sound behind the thick stone walls of the temple. Insects crawling? Sand falling down?
She listened carefully, and then leaned over the console she’d been working on for the past few hours.
It was the seventh day they’d spent on this planet, evaluating the technology they’d found at the temple and the immediate surroundings. Daniel had neither recognized the language in the inscriptions nor the nature of the technology. Everything pointed towards a new, previously unknown alien race, and so the mission had been awarded priority.
Another rustling behind the walls.
She brushed the back of her hand over her forehead and shifted. Damn heat. And the darkness in this temple chamber wasn’t helping either. She didn’t hear anything from outside. Would anybody hear her screams for help if there was a problem?
Bad train of thought. She needed to focus on the task at hand. Sam leaned over the console again and looked at two circuits through her magnifying glass. Where did this piece of technology draw its power from? She was sure it was connected to the strange dark screen set into the wall, but neither of them appeared to be a source of power.
She squinted and tried to reroute power with her tweezers.
With a yelp she jolted up, her heart pounding loud in her ears.
“Whoa.” O’Neill raised his hands, the hint of a smirk playing at his lips. “Easy. Tense much?”
“Oh God.” She panted and leaned against the console. “Sorry, sir. There’s strange sounds coming from behind these walls and I haven’t been able to figure out the source.”
“Ghosts?” His eyes twinkled.
She cocked her head and gave him a half-annoyed look. “Not funny, sir.”
Leaning onto the console, she held his gaze longer than intended, then swallowed and focused her attention back on the alien device. During the past weeks, things between them had slowly returned to normal.
Nothing in O’Neill’s behavior indicated they were married. He wasn’t being overprotective, nor did he pull her out of missions as she had feared. He kept his distance at camp, obviously respecting her wish not to have anything to do with him.
Occasionally on a mission or after a briefing he’d come in and ask her some banal question about her report or some piece of technology. He even appeared to interrupt her a lot less now when she went into one of her long-winded explanations.
She sneaked a glance at him as he strolled through the room, studying an inscription on a wall. Cocking his head and squinting his eyes as though the drawing would magically make sense. She lowered her head and smiled.
“Daniel thinks the mural represents an ancient harvest ceremony.”
“Does he?” He scratched his head, stared at the image for a bit longer and then turned. “I don’t see it.”
She fought another smile.
“If you want, I can stay and keep you company for a bit.” He waved his hand around. “You know, scare the ghosts away.”
Her heart skipped a beat. She swallowed hard. “I’m not afraid of the dark, sir. You’d be bored. I’ll just be working and there’s not much to do.” Although… with those weird sounds, it would be nice to have some company.
“You could, you know, explain what you’re doing.” He walked over and leaned in to look at the console, his face inches from hers. Sam glanced at him from the corner of her eye, and shifted when his scent made her light-headed. Warmth radiated from him.
She cleared her throat. “Well, sir, I’m trying to figure out which circuit controls what, and what this device in the wall might be used for.” She gave him a weak smile. “It’s really not that interesting. Up to now, I haven’t had the slightest bit of success.”
“Ah.” O’Neill nodded and straightened, then strolled over to the wall. “This device over here?”
“Don’t go any closer.”
He turned and looked at her, his brows furrowed.
“Sorry, sir.” Sam winced. “It appeared last night when Colonel Sheppard stepped too close to the wall. The dark hole in the middle of the device opened and the lightshow started inside. It seems to be activated by proximity. Nobody should get too close to it until we’ve figured out exactly what it’s used for.”
“Gotcha.” O’Neill stuck his hands into his pockets. “So, how long do you think this is gonna take?”
“Well.” She looked over her devices and notes. “Frankly, sir, I don’t know. Are you planning to move out?”
“No, I was just wondering…” O’Neill touched the edge of the console with his finger, leaning in as if he was studying the crystals with interest. “…how about dinner?”
“Um.” She swallowed and straightened, her eyes widening. “What?”
“SG-4 returned from Earth and brought sandwiches and beer for everybody.” He shrugged and cleared his throat. “So… we should hurry before McKay eats all the sandwiches. You know his appetite.”
Dinner? With him? Her pulse quickened. Definitely a bad idea.
“I have a lot of work, sir, and this is gonna take a while.”
“You could take a break.” His eyes gleamed, his gaze making her skin tingle. “Come on, Carter, you really wanna have to eat emergency rations later on?”
No, she didn’t. A sandwich and beer did sound good.
“There’s turkey sandwiches.”
She stared at him. How did he know her favorite sandwich? They’d never talked about it. She exhaled and nodded. “Alright, just let me finish this series of tests. The crystals in here are arranged in such a complex order that I need to stick to the system I started with and finish the complete line, or I’ll be lost and have to start over.”
“Great.” He gave her an open smile. Her stomach flip flopped. His dark eyes seemed to burn right through her, to stir something inside of her she wanted to bury. How the hell did a man hold such power over her emotions? Not even Larek had made her feel this way.
They turned. Sheppard strolled into the room, followed by an annoyed looking McKay.
“Jack, do you mind explaining to McKay that we can’t move half his laboratory equipment here?” Sheppard strolled over to the console and looked over Sam’s shoulder.
McKay scoffed. “I’m not asking for half the laboratory. But you can’t honestly expect this to move fast if you refuse to give me the right equipment. There are tons of tests I can’t perform here. Would you rather I move this entire temple back to Earth?”
O’Neill pressed his fingers to his temples. “Alright kids. Calm down. Nobody’s moving anything anywhere.”
Sam bent over the console again and stifled a chuckle as McKay walked over to O’Neill. Here we go. One of McKay’s discussions.
“Wouldn’t wanna be him…” Sheppard winced.
Sam gave him a cheeky grin. “Who? McKay, or O’Neill?”
Sheppard smiled at her. “Both, I guess.” He strolled around the console and studied the crystals she had hooked her measuring device to. “Do you know what that wall thing does yet?”
“Right now, I can’t even get this to work.”
“Come on, not even a clue yet?” The soldier strolled around her. “A wild guess?”
“Colonel, this is science, not a guessing game.” She squinted to attach another node to a micro-circuit. She looked at the display of her measuring device, and her heart sank. Still nothing. Damn. “At this point it could be anything, from a weapon to an entertainment system. This technology is so far beyond anything we’ve ever seen before I don’t even know where to—”
A scream cut her off. She spun around. Sheppard had apparently stepped too close to the device in the wall. The black screen had somehow extended forward and seized his head.
“God!” She dropped the cables and rushed over to the device, where she tore at the black, hand-like material holding the soldier. After a few seconds it released him. Sheppard dropped to the ground, body trembling, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling.
“Colonel Sheppard.” Sam knelt down and slapped his cheeks. Ice poured into her veins when he didn’t react.
“What happened?” O’Neill hurried towards them, closely followed by McKay.
“I…I don’t know, sir.” She felt Sheppard’s pulse with trembling fingers. He was alive, thank God. His pulse was erratic, though, and he was unresponsive. “The machine just grabbed him and…and… I don’t know what it did.”
O’Neill went to his knees and hit the younger man’s cheek. “John, can you hear me?”
Sam studied the wall device. No more lights. The center screen had gone dark. All the power seemed to have been depleted.
“What did it do to him? What’s it for?” McKay stepped closer to look into the center of the device.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t able to find out yet.” Her voice shook.
“So, what? You thought it was a good idea to just let him put his head into that thing?”
She what? “Rodney, I did not let him do anything. Usually people don’t just run around in here and stick their heads into things we know nothing about. How was I supposed to expect—”
“Well, it’s Sheppard.” Still that accusing undertone, as though this whole situation was her fault. “He always touches things, you know how he is.”
“I didn’t even realize he was getting that close to the wall. One second he was standing right next to me, and the next—”
“Yeah, well, if you’d been paying attention—”
“You were only a few meters away over there. And if you hadn’t been so engaged in one of your self-serving discussions—”
“Hey!” O’Neill’s voice dripped anger. Both turned. Sam swallowed hard when she caught his glare. “Would you two knock it off? Sheppard needs medical attention.”
“I merely stated how irresponsible—” Rodney cut himself off when O’Neill glowered at him.
“I. Don’t. Care. McKay, help me take Sheppard back to the medical tent. Carter, find out what this thing did to him.”
“Given that Sam hasn’t been very successful in her analysis so far, maybe I should be the one to—” McKay waved at the device. O’Neill straightened with a frown. McKay swallowed visibly, and nodded. “Yes, colonel. Back to camp.”
“Carter, inform me as soon as you’ve got something.”
“Yes, sir.” She watched as McKay and O’Neill carried the unconscious Sheppard out of the temple.
Damn, was McKay right? She should’ve paid attention. Yes, Sheppard was her commanding officer, but in matters of science, she outranked him. Sighing, she leaned against the console and closed her eyes.
Please let him be okay. How was she supposed to know he’d stick is head so close to the screen? Sheppard always touches things. McKay was right. In her two weeks duty on SG-2, she herself had been witness to the colonel’s reckless curiosity. She should’ve known.
She turned around, then froze. All previously lit crystals in the console were dead. Releasing a frustrated growl, she slammed the screwdriver onto the console.
Without power, there’d be no way for her to determine what the purpose of this device had been. Or how to repair it.
Sam pulled the flap that covered the entrance aside and entered the medical tent.
“Hey.” Her smile shook when she approached Sheppard, who lay on a field bed. From the looks of it, he’d recovered, or at least he was on his way to it. She interrupted a lively discussion between him and Janet about leaving the medical tent.
“Carter. Please tell me you found something to prove to Janet I’m fine.”
She winced and shook her head. “Sorry, sir. The device is dead, and our only clue are the symbols on the walls and console. So far Daniel hasn’t been able to make heads or tails of them.”
“Damn. Did you at least bring me something to read?”
“I’m afraid not.” She shifted awkwardly when his gaze rested on her. “I can bring you something later on, if you want. I actually came here to see how you were.” She swallowed and met his gaze. “Sir, about what happened—”
“Is McKay still blaming you for it?” Sheppard sighed. When she raised her eyebrows in confusion, he shrugged. “Janet told me.”
“He has a point. I should have told you not to get close. I’m sorry. If I hadn’t been so immersed in my tests—”
“Carter.” He shook his head, a gentle smile softening his face. “I have a tendency to touch things and try them out even if you science geeks tell me not to. This time it went wrong. No big deal.” He sat up and studied her. “Is Jack giving you a hard time, too?”
“What? No. Not at all.” She shook her head. “He didn’t say anything.”
He held her gaze for a long moment. “Good. If he does, let me know. I’ll handle it.”
“If he does what?”
Startled, Sam spun and looked at O’Neill who entered the tent.
Sheppard scratched his head. “I was just telling Carter that what happened to me wasn’t her fault. And she should tell me if you give her a hard time about it.”
“Ah.” O’Neill’s gaze rested on her longer than what would have been normal before he turned to Sheppard. “I’m sure Carter’d be more than capable of talking to me herself if she felt treated unfairly. Besides, I was actually gonna give you a speech for just sticking your head into alien technology. But I guess being stuck in the medical tent for two days kinda makes my point. No offense, doc.” He smiled at Janet, who shot him a grumpy look.
Sam bit her lower lip against a smile.
“Any results yet?” O’Neill leaned against the table and folded his arms.
“I’m afraid not.” Janet looked up from the file she was studying. “Preliminary tests indicate there’s no permanent damage, but since nobody seems to know what the alien machine did to him, I don’t know which tests to run, except for standard ones. I’d love to keep him here for regular blood work and monitoring his vitals to rule out any long term effects on his body.”
“Alright. Keep me informed.” He straightened, then hesitated for a moment, looking at Sam. “Carter? A word?”
“Sure.” She glanced at Sheppard. “I’ll come by again later and see if I can bring you some reading materials. In the meantime, don’t make Janet angry.”
He grimaced, and his reaction made her laugh, before she hurried to follow O’Neill out of the tent.
“Did you find a way to recharge the device’s power source?” O’Neill asked when she caught up with him.
She raised her eyebrows. Why did he sound so grouchy all of a sudden?
“No, sir. I’m not even sure where it drew its power from.”
“Any results on the language written on it?”
She stumbled after him. Apparently he didn’t even care that she struggled to keep up.
“No.” Panting, she quickened her step. “But frankly, that’s more Daniel’s field of expertise. I’m really not sure how I’m supposed to help him.”
“Sir?” Why wasn’t he even looking at her? “Is something wrong? If you’re angry at me for not paying attention to what Sheppard was doing—?”
“It wasn’t your fault, Carter. Let it go.”
She closed her mouth. Why the hell did he sound so angry? “Um, if that was all, sir, may I be dismissed? I promised Colonel Sheppard I’d bring him some books and afterwards—”
“Sure, go ahead.”
He stopped abruptly and spun. Sam took a sharp breath when she ran right into his chest. Hands on her upper arms, he steadied her. She lifted her head and froze at the expression in his eyes.
“I’d appreciate it if you refrained from complaining to Sheppard about my command decisions in the future, though.”
“What?” She stared at him. “Sir, I don’t understand. I didn’t—”
“Ah, forget it.” He let go of her and scratched his head. “Go. Find those books.” He turned and marched up the hill toward the scientist’s tents.
She stood frozen for another moment. What was the matter with him? Why was he acting like she’d done something wrong? She’d defended him in front of Sheppard. And she hadn’t complained at all. She hadn’t even been the one who started the conversation.
Ah, well. It wasn’t her problem if O’Neill was in a bad mood. Fisting her hands, she marched back downhill to Sheppard’s personal tent.
Jack slapped his palm against his neck while he trudged through the high grass. “Damn things. Remind me to add mosquito repellant to the list of required field pack material.”
“Yes, sir.” Carter’s voice drifted from close behind him.
Those diplomatic missions were worse than one of the scientific ones. Long hours, long talks. Overall boring. Yes, the Krushar were nice people, but there was nothing he could do to advance the process.
Daniel’d been the one insisting that, despite the Krusha’s lack of advanced technology, they’d be valuable trading partners. So he’d let him figure out the details.
How the hell had a planet as agrarian as this even been spared from occupation by either the Aschen or the Goa’uld? He refrained from voicing the question again. Last time he’d done so, Carter’d launched into a lengthy explanation about the Krushar planet being located at the far edge of the galaxy in one of the outermost solar systems.
During the summer in its northern hemisphere, when the planet was at the outer side of the ellipse around its sun, apparently almost no stars were visible in the night sky. The other half of the year, they could see the stars of the entire galaxy.
Of course, Carter had told him much more than that. But after the star part, which had actually been interesting, he’d stopped listening.
“How long do you think they’ll take?” He turned his head to glance at her. She looked annoyed, though he couldn’t tell whether it was because she was equally bored, or because he made her run through a field. On a hot summer day, with mosquitos buzzing all around them. For no purpose whatsoever.
“I’m not sure, sir. As Daniel said, it’s a del—”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s a delicate process.” Last thing he needed was her throwing Daniel’s words back at him.
“It was your idea to explore the fields around the village.” Was that snippiness? He raised his eyebrows at her. She swallowed visibly. “It’s only been half an hour since we left, so they probably haven’t made much progress, sir. But if you prefer to go back to check—”
“Carter, if I have to spend one more minute listening to Daniel politely list things we might offer in return for a sack of grain, I’m gonna lose it.” He scanned the landscape. Nothing but fields and rocks in the distance. “That way.” He pointed towards a little group of trees. At least there’d be a bit of shade there. Carter followed him.
“Sir, with all due respect, what exactly is it you’re looking for?”
“I’m not looking for anything, Carter, I’m just…exploring the surroundings. Enjoying the landscape.” Yeah, right. He waved his hand around and hit the other side of his neck when one of the little monsters got him again.
Why the hell were they even here? This was SG-2’s mission. If Sheppard hadn’t been so reckless, he’d be here now wrestling with local insect life. Jack’s mood dropped even more. Sheppard.
He’d recognized the glint in the soldier’s eyes when he’d talked to Carter yesterday. Sheppard was flirting with her. And she seemed to welcome his advances. Damn. His gut wrenched. Women seemed to find Sheppard attractive, and he was a lot closer to Carter in age. They even shared a few interests. Sheppard had a curiosity for the sciences he himself lacked. And most importantly, Sheppard wasn’t a total jerk—like he’d been.
If Carter was into him, there wasn’t a damn thing he’d be able to do about that. He couldn’t order them not to pursue a relationship. Yet, he wished he could smack the younger man in the face.
He closed his eyes. This was bad. Sheppard was his friend. Carter was on the verge of getting there again. Why the hell couldn’t he just let it go? She’d made clear she didn’t wanna be with him, so he had no right to be possessive with her. Just… the thought of Sheppard touching her…
“Sir, I don’t think there’s anything in that direction except for the forest.”
“We’ll see once we get there. Maybe we can find some old ruins for Daniel to get all exc—”
The ground under his feet broke away. Damn rabbits. It wasn’t until he heard Carter’s scream and didn’t stop falling, that he realized he hadn’t stepped into a rabbit hole.
“Sir!” She tried to grab his arm. Stupid move. Then her eyes widened when she lost balance and fell after him headfirst. Really stupid move.