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Spiders crawled towards her from all sides. Sam’s head jerked around and she scanned for a way out. There was none. Terror constricted her throat. Breathe… she couldn’t breathe…
The arachnids scuttled closer and closer, their long hairy legs twitching and wriggling. Soon they’d wrap around her body. Again, she tried to scream, but no sound came out. She was alone down here. All alone.
Her surroundings flashed, and then all went dark. The first furry leg grazed her hand.
Sam jumped backwards and stumbled right against another hairy body, larger than the others. Legs wrapped around her, capturing her, holding her motionless. Then a screech next to her ear made her skin crawl.
Her breath lodged in her throat. She screamed as the spider’s sharp teeth stabbed into her neck. She tried to buck and kick, but her limbs wouldn’t respond.
Spiders approached and gnawed on her hands, her feet, her legs. More balled around her, their red eyes everywhere.
She’d suffocate. Suddenly the pain stopped and the spiders turned into rocks and dirt that fell down onto her, burying her.
She tried to dig herself out, but there were too many rocks. It was too heavy…
She jolted upright with a scream. Panting and soaked in her own sweat, she blinked in the soft light from the petroleum lamp hanging from the tent roof.
“God.” Breath hitching, she dropped her forehead onto her knees. It’d just been a dream. She’d survived, and she was safely back in the resistance camp.
She’d wanted to sleep for a few hours while most of the other camp members examined the newly found underground structure. It would be some time before Daniel deciphered the signs. He’d insisted on copying everything down first before the physicists were allowed to take the technology apart.
She had been exhausted from the day. It had seemed like a good idea to lie down for a few hours and get some sleep. Until the nightmares started.
“Sam.” A voice outside of her tent.
She took a deep breath and ran her palm over her damp face. “Daniel?”
“I’m sorry to wake you, but we have a problem. Sheppard’s gone.” The archeologist sounded miserable.
“What do you mean gone?” Sam peeled out of her sleeping bag and pulled a fresh shirt over her head. A quick look at the watch told her she’d only slept about three hours. It would be morning in another hour anyway, so she might as well get up.
She pulled on her pants, then stepped out of the tent.
“Apparently, Sheppard tricked McKay who was supposed to stay with him.” Daniel scratched his head. “We’re searching for him, but so far we haven’t found him. We have no idea what he’s up to.”
Sam groaned and ran her hand through her tangled hair. “Is Colonel O’Neill awake yet?”
“Apparently he is. He’s still drowsy and suffering from the aftereffects of the drugs, though.”
She sighed. “Alright, I’ll join the search. Just give me a moment to wake up.”
“I’ll get some water and then we can meet up at the old oak.” Daniel turned to move towards the supply tent where the bottles with fresh water were stored.
Sam rubbed her temple. Wonderful. Sheppard was gone again. Damn, McKay. Why the hell hadn’t he paid closer attention? They should have locked Sheppard in the confinement cell, just as she’d suggested.
Yawning, Sam walked up towards the medical tent. If O’Neill was awake, maybe he’d know how to proceed.
When she entered, Janet was rummaging around the shelves. O’Neill lay on one of the field beds, his body turned on his side, his arms folded.
“Hey.” Sam kept her voice down in case he was asleep. Janet’s head turned.
She looked exhausted. Then again, she herself probably didn’t look any better. Who would after a day like this?
“How is he?”
“I’m fine.” The insistent, grouchy tone from her camp commander made Sam raise her eyebrows.
Janet turned around to face him. “Your vitals say otherwise, Colonel, and no matter how often you insist you’re fine, there’s no way I’ll let you get up until your blood pressure and pulse have normalized.”
O’Neill let out a growl.
The doctor rolled her eyes and looked at Sam. “He’ll be fine, provided he rests. His body’s still weak from the narcotics, and he really isn’t helping himself by being stubborn.” She rubbed her eyes and shook her head. “I won’t last through the night without some coffee. Can you do me a favor and watch him for a moment? I need to get a sandwich and coffee from the food tent.”
“Sure.” Sam smiled. Janet dragged herself out of the tent. When the flap closed, she blew the hair out of her eyes and approached O’Neill.
He struggled to sit up.
“Get over here, Carter. Help me get up.” Again that grumpy tone.
Not a good idea. Janet was usually right in her medical assessment. “I don’t think you should be getting up, sir.”
“Yeah, whatever. I need to get outta here. Ya know, clear my head. I hear Sheppard’s gone nuts, so… uggghhh…” He pressed his hand to his stomach and leaned over to catch his breath. Face pale, he swung his legs off the bed and struggled to get up. “Carter, will you help me already?”
“With all due respect, if you need help to get out of bed, shouldn’t that be a clear sign you’re not ready to leave it yet?” She flashed him a teasing smile, but swallowed hard when he lifted his head and gave her a dark frown. “Sorry, sir.”
Damn, hopefully Janet would return soon. She had the authority in medical issues, and a way of handling patients that Sam lacked. “You don’t look well, sir. I really think you should—”
“Ahh, I’m fine.” He slid down from the bed to stand on his feet. The instant he let go of the bed, he dropped like a sack of grain. A tortured groan escaped him as he lay face down on the tent floor.
Sam rushed to him and touched his shoulder. “Are you alright, sir?”
Another groan. He moved his arm and tried to lift himself up, to no avail.
“Oh boy.” She closed her eyes. Great. Why did he have to be so stubborn? How the hell was she supposed to get him back to bed now?
With another groan, O’Neill tried to sit up. Sam hurried to steady him as best as possible. She pushed against his chest and hooked his arm around her shoulder. At last she managed to raise him high enough to shrug him back onto the field bed. Panting, she shifted his legs onto the mat. His head was at the wrong end, his face buried in the blankets. At least he was back on the bed.
“Thank you.” His voice was muffled by the blanket.
“I hope you won’t try that again, sir.” Breathless, she sat down on the bed next to his. She couldn’t suppress her smile. By his growl, O’Neill had heard it in her voice. After he’d managed to turn over on his back, he scowled.
“I might be mistaken, Carter, but I think making fun of your superior officer is considered disrespectful.” He shifted his head slightly to look at the pillow where his feet rested. “Could you, um, give me a pillow from the bed over there? And a blanket?”
She took the pillow and blanket lying next to her and helped him lift his head so she could place the pillow under him. Then she covered his body with the blanket. “Still in the mood to walk around camp, sir?”
“I think I might stay here just for a few more hours. Just, ya know, rest a bit. Not that I couldn’t get up if I really wanted to.”
“Of course, sir.” She bit her lower lip against a laugh.
“Janet told me I died.” His face grew serious.
“Well, it was close, Sir.”
“And what’s all that talk about Sheppard having gone whacko? Where’s he anyway?” He shielded his eyes with his hand.
“That’s the problem, we’re not sure.” She faltered for a moment. “Hasn’t anybody briefed you yet?”
“Carter, would I ask if I’d been briefed? Spill it, what’s going on?”
“Sheppard ran away. We found him last night. He unearthed some old structure about two miles south of the camp, so almost everybody has moved out there to examine it.”
“What kind of structure?” O’Neill looked at her.
“We don’t know yet. At first, I thought it might be an old resistance building. It doesn’t look like it was built by humans, though. Long story short, Sheppard ran away again. At this point, we have no idea where he is. As soon as Janet’s back, I’m meeting up with Daniel to form a search team and comb the forest.” She swallowed. “I had hoped you might be on your feet again. We really need one of our superior officers in charge.”
“Yeah, well.” O’Neill closed his eyes. “Here’s an order. Find him. And when you find him, get him back here to the medical tent.”
“Well, that was kind of a given, sir. I was talking more along the lines of organizing the search. We have no idea who to listen to. Sheppard’s on the run, you’re still stuck here, and Mitchell won’t be back from meeting some contacts until the day after tomorrow.”
“It’s your responsibility to carry out my order, and make sure the others do as well. So consider yourself temporarily in charge.”
She coughed. “What? No, Sir…I can’t…I don’t think I’m…” She closed her eyes to order her thoughts. “I was thinking somebody higher ranking, sir. I’ve kinda had to take charge all day, and I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“If you did it all day, Carter, then you’re clearly capable. People intuitively seem to trust you as a commander.”
“What about Daniel or Vala? Even McKay has more experience than I do, and—”
“Daniel’s a good archeologist, but he likes to discuss txhings with people. Orders need to be given, not discussed. Maldoran is too reckless and uses her brains too little for me to trust her to make decisions that affect the entire camp. And McKay is a genius in science, but far too much of a rookie in the field. And sometimes he’s too arrogant to assess situations correctly.”
“I’m not going to discuss my decision with you, Carter. Organize the search, and report back to me when you’ve found Sheppard.”
She snapped her mouth shut. He was losing his patience with her. She had no idea how to carry out his order, though.
He raised his eyebrows at her when she didn’t move.
“Sir, I can’t leave you alone until Janet gets back.”
“Right.” He groaned and closed his eyes again. “It’s not that I don’t like your company, Carter. I kinda feel like the world’s spinning.”
Sam gave him a soft smile. “Yes, I got that, sir. You need anything? Water?”
“Cake would be swell.”
Sam swallowed. “I don’t have any. And I don’t think there’s a way I can get you any at this time of—”
“It was a joke.”
A smirk crossed his face. She returned his smile and then shifted.
“Sir… When you were lying there on the operating table…I thought…” She swallowed hard. His gaze grew more intense. Her cheeks tingled with warmth. “I’m really glad you’re okay.”
If only her relationship with him were easier. If only it wasn’t tied to some damn marriage contract that they’d only agreed to ignore because of her refusal to enter a romantic relationship with him. She couldn’t change the parameters of their relationship. Not without bringing up the contract again and destroying what they had now.
He opened his mouth to say something, but the tent flap opened and Janet returned. She raised her eyebrows and looked at the two beds, then put a cup of coffee and a sandwich on the table.
“What on Earth happened here?”
“Well.” Sam swallowed and looked at her, then at O’Neill.
“He tried to get up, didn’t he?” The doctor folded her arms and frowned at their commanding officer. Sam remained quiet. So did O’Neill. Their mutual silence apparently provided enough of an answer. The doctor shook her head. “Well, you’re gonna have to stay like that until you have enough energy to move on your own. Hopefully that’ll teach you a lesson.”
“I should…” Sam motioned towards the exit.
“Go.” He gave her an exhausted smile. “But keep me informed.”
They spent almost an hour combing through the forest and yelling for Sheppard. Without success. The search area was vast, and the darkness of the night certainly didn’t improve their progress.
After almost forty-five minutes, Sam shook her head. “This is useless. I’ll go back to the Stargate.”
When Daniel raised his brows, she shrugged. “Well, you said earlier ‘Astria Porta’ means Stargate. Sheppard kept saying it, and the next Stargate window is only fifteen minutes away. I’d say chances are he’ll show up there.”
“She has a point.” McKay flashed the light around them, his shoulders slumped. He was probably just as tired as her. “I think it’s most reasonable to assume Sheppard will try to make use of the window.”
“I already sent Smith and Wong to search the vicinity of the gate.” Daniel scratched his head.
“Sheppard looked very determined earlier when I found him. And Rodney said he stole the lightning gun when he ran away. I think it isn’t unreasonable to assume he’ll try to go through to the gate. No matter what.”
“You mean he might shoot some of his own people?” McKay stared at her, then looked around hurriedly as though Sheppard would jump out of a random bush behind him.
Sam rolled her eyes. “Rodney, I’m not saying anything, but I think it’s an option we have to consider. Colonel Sheppard most likely doesn’t want to hurt us. Which is why he opted for the lightning gun, and not one of our projectile weapons.”
“Alright.” Daniel nodded. “We’ll continue our search here.”
“McKay and I will concentrate on the area around the Stargate. Keep me informed if you find anything.” Sam caught the radio receiver Daniel threw at her.
She and McKay remained silent as they rushed through darkness back in the direction of the Stargate. Rodney probably wasn’t enthused she’d chosen him for this task. He and Sheppard were close friends, though, so if they found him, maybe Rodney would be successful in talking him out of whatever he planned.
As they drew near the clearing with the Stargate, the silence was almost deafening. She faltered.
“Rodney, didn’t Daniel say Smith and Wong were supposed to be guarding the gate?” She scanned their surroundings with her flashlight as they approached the big, dark circle. “Where are they?”
They took a few cautious steps towards the gate, then stopped and listened to their surroundings.
“Ensign Smith? Lieutenant Wong?” Sam’s voice echoed through the forest.
McKay startled next to her and gave her an annoyed frown. “Great idea, yell, so the enemy can hear us.”
“Sheppard’s not our enemy.” She shook her head, then her gaze fell on Rodney’s weapon. “And could you not point that at me?” She pushed the mouth of his gun down.
Damn, she hated working with people who’d never received field training. McKay didn’t even know how to handle a gun. Which was why Sheppard never let him carry one on field missions. Why the hell did he even have one now?
A branch cracked somewhere in the darkness. Both froze.
Sam looked around, her hand shoving McKay’s gun to the ground. Something was wrong. Resistance members didn’t leave their posts without notice.
Her flashlight grazed the dialing device. Too brief to recognize the details, but it was enough time for her to realize something was not as it should be.
She moved the beam of the flashlight back to the desired target, and froze. Shepard knelt in front of the device in the darkness. He’d opened panel on the front. Dozens of small parts and crystals were scattered on the ground around him.
The crystal he had removed from the chair device in the underground structure was hooked up to some cables. Her heart stopped. He’d rendered their Stargate useless.
“Oh God.” She approached him. No more dialing device, no more Stargate operations. What the hell was he thinking? And how was she supposed to explain this to O’Neill?
Sheppard got up when the crystal lit up brightly.
She raised her weapon. “Sir, step away from the device, please.”
Great, just great. It would take them forever to reassemble the dialing device. Nobody had any idea how it worked yet.
“Egeo novus locas.” Sheppard held her gaze, unmoving.
“What the hell?” Rodney stepped forward, scanning the ground, then glared at Sheppard. “Do you have any idea how long that’s going to take to reassemble?” All his previous concern Sheppard might hurt him appeared forgotten. He picked up some of the smaller pieces, then turned to face Sheppard, frowning. “No, you don’t, do you? Just take things apart and let the scientists deal with the mess. I can’t believe this.”
Sheppard glanced at his watch, and then stepped to the dialing device, gently nudging Rodney aside. The scientist still rambled on about the time and effort it would take to figure out how to put the device together again. For once, Sam understood his annoyance. It wasn’t like they didn’t have enough work to do as it was.
Sheppard pushed the first button on the dialing device.
“Sir.” Sam hoped her voice conveyed warning, but Sheppard didn’t even look up. “John, step away from the device. You know we can’t let you go.”
“Oh my God.” Rodney’s voice rang out, startling Sam. She turned her head to look at the scientist, who’d stepped a few feet towards the bushes.
Ensign Smith and Lieutenant Wong lay at Rodney’s feet on the forest floor, neither of them moving.
Blood rushed in Sam’s ears. Sheppard hadn’t really… “Are they dead?”
Rodney crouched down to press his fingers to Wong’s neck. “No, they’re still breathing. My guess is they were shot with the lightning gun. Sheppard, are you out of your mind?”
Sheppard had pushed a fifth button on the dialing device.
“Sir, please step away from the device.”
The sixth chevron locked. If he locked the seventh…
Sheppard pressed a seventh symbol but the event horizon didn’t open. She was about to exhale in relief, when Sheppard pressed an eighth symbol. Sheppard pressed an eighth symbol. The event horizon opened, a shiny, light-blue splash that lit up the dark forest.
Eight symbols. How was that possible? Every gate address consisted of seven symbols. She swallowed. They had to completely rethink their assumptions if it was possible to connect to other planets with more than seven symbols.
She snapped out of her scientific train of thought when Sheppard took a few steps towards the gate.
“Stop.” She tightened her fingers around the handle of the gun. “Sir, I can’t let you go and you know that. You know our protocols. In your state, you’re a security risk. I don’t want to have to shoot you but if you don’t—”
Rodney pounced towards the soldier in an attempt to tackle him to the ground. The lightening gun discharged, and the scientist slumped to the ground with a groan. Frozen, Sam stared at the unconscious Rodney, then her gaze lifted to Sheppard.
For an endless moment, their eyes locked. The lightening gun pointed at her now. Would he shoot her?
A discharge from the lightening gun, though extremely painful, wouldn’t kill her. But it wouldn’t exactly help the situation to provoke him into shooting her, too. For the moment, they’d reached an impasse.
Sheppard took a step backwards toward the event horizon.
Sam shook her head and signaled surrender by lowering her weapon. “John, don’t do that.”
Remorse flashed in his eyes, and his steps faltered. Then he shook his head. “Egeo novus locas.”
If only she’d understand, what he was saying. No matter what she said, she wouldn’t be able to change his mind about going through the gate. Sheppard looked down at the lightning gun, then lowered it, still moving step by step towards the gate.
He’d almost reached it, and their timeframe was almost over, which would mean at any second the wormhole could dematerialize and the event horizon would close. Maybe if she stalled… She just had to gain a few more seconds.
She lifted her gun again. Sheppard didn’t falter. Only two more steps…
Damn, if she wanted to prevent him from leaving, she’d have to shoot him. She aimed the weapon at his knee, her fingers trembling. What would she accomplish by this?
She’d been trained to shoot. By now, she’d even become good at it. But she’d never imagined someday she’d have to shoot a superior officer—especially a friend. They apparently couldn’t help him. Neither Janet nor Daniel had any idea what was wrong with him.
Sheppard, on the other hand, seemed to have a solution for his problem. Maybe it was wishful thinking to interpret his insistence on walking through the gate as knowledge of how to reverse his condition. Then again, something told her she should let him go.
O’Neill had explicitly ordered her to bring Sheppard back to the medical tent. If she acted against his orders now…
She closed her eyes. There was no time to ask a superior officer for advice. She had to rely on her own judgment. She lowered her weapon. “Go, sir.”
Sheppard gave her a reassuring smiled and then took the last step. His body dematerialized into the event horizon.
She stared at the shimmering blue surface and considered following him through the gate, but the next second, the Stargate shut down. Darkness surrounded her. Doubt crept in. She had no idea where Sheppard had gone.
Had she made the right decision? She turned to walk back to the dialing device. The yellow crystal Sheppard had attached to it no longer glowed. The dialing device was dead.
“Sheppard did what?” Jack stared at the small group of scientists standing in front of his field bed, all of them looking rather awkward and remorseful.
When Daniel and McKay remained silent, Carter cleared her throat. “He walked through the Stargate…sir.” Her voice sounded small.
“Well, Jack, you were incapacitated, so we had to make decisions on our own.” Daniel folded his arms and held his gaze.
“You let Sheppard walk through the damn Stargate to an unknown planet?” Jack frowned at them. “Am I the only one who has a problem with this scenario?”
“Actually.” McKay glanced at Carter. “I was against it, too.”
The young woman glared at him, then her gaze locked with Jack’s. “It was my decision, sir. Rodney was unconscious and Daniel wasn’t even there. They had nothing to do with it.”
“Oh?” Jack folded his arms. “And would you care to elaborate why you let one of the highest ranking members of our group leave like that? With all his inside knowledge about our operations? Not to mention one of our most valuable pieces of technology?”
“It was a hunch. Sir.”
A hunch? He glowered at her and Carter flinched. “Some hunch.”
“Well, sir.” She cleared her throat again. “Sheppard was determined to go, with or without my permission. I did what we were taught in training. I minimized casualties. Frankly, sir, I don’t think a gunshot to the knee would have stopped him. So my only choice would have been neutralizing him. And I couldn’t…” She swallowed visibly. “I didn’t want to revert to such drastic means, sir. So I took a chance.”
Jack sighed. She hadn’t been trained for solo missions or assassinations, so he really couldn’t hold her decision against her. Carter’s gaze found his.
“I’m convinced Sheppard knew what he was doing. I can’t explain it, but—”
McKay scoffed. “The man disassembled the dialing device.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
McKay shifted. “Well, he took the entire dialing device apart. I can probably fix it, but that’ll take time, and until then we can’t use the gate. I don’t know what he needed to hook the crystal up for, but apparently it served as some kind of power source to give the gate extra juice to dial eight chevrons. We assume that adds an extra distance calculator to gate travel.”
Jack pressed his fingers against his temples and scowled at them. If he heard one more useless scientific ramble, he was gonna lose it.
“In short.” Daniel stepped in. “We think he dialed a gate that’s outside our known network of gates. Maybe another galaxy.”
“And disabled our Stargate in the process.” Seriously, he didn’t care for the scientific mambo-jambo. How the hell were they supposed to continue Stargate operations if they couldn’t dial the gate?
“Yes, sir.” Carter swallowed hard, her brows scrunched. “But if we manage to reconnect the dialing device back to its original power source, we should be able to get it to work again. He really just replaced the dialing device’s original power source with—”
“My point is, sir, the fact that Colonel Sheppard managed to reroute power in a way we wouldn’t have been able to do says something about his state of mind. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
Rodney scoffed again. “Please…”
Carter folded her arms. “I understand if you don’t agree with my decision, sir. And I’m sorry if I disappointed you. I’m willing to take full responsibility and deal with the consequences. I still believe that I made the right choice, given the alternative.”
“Easy.” Jack sighed and softened his voice. “You made a judgment call. We’ll have to wait and see if Sheppard returns. I’m not happy about the broken dialing device, but I’m sure you all did the best you could. Since we have no other choice but to wait, I suggest you devote your energy to getting the dialing device working again. We need to be able to continue our Stargate operations. We still have a team off world, but returning through the gate shouldn’t be a problem, right?”
“No, sir.” Carter visibly relaxed. “We just can’t dial out at the moment.”
“Alright then, let’s hope you can get the dialing working again.” Jack lay back down against the pillow. Damn, how he wished he could get out of this freaking bed and the medical tent. “Dismissed.”
The scientists turned and moved to leave the tent. Jack leaned up on his elbow. “Carter, a word please?”
She flinched and took a deep breath. He chuckled. Did she expect some kind of reprimand? He studied her for a moment, then decided to put her out of her misery. “I didn’t even thank you yet.”
He softened his voice. “You saved my life back in the mine.”
“Oh. Well, there’s no need to thank me, sir. All I did was have your back. You would’ve done the same for me.” She shifted and swallowed, her gaze locking with his. He froze. Was she blushing? Sweet. “Besides, it was Sheppard who saved you in the end. If he hadn’t—”
He smirked. She was about to start babbling again, wasn’t she? “Still, thank you.”
She returned his smile. “Think nothing of it.” Biting her lower lip, she looked at the exit. “I should probably go and help Rodney with the dialing device.”
“Yeah.” He studied her. Was it just him, or did she not want to leave? “I’ll be stuck here until tomorrow, so you’ll know where to find me.”
“I’ll come by later on.” Her cheeks flushed even more. Damn, she was beautiful. “I mean, to report on the progress with the dialing device and where we are with the underground structure.”
Jack allowed a warm smile. “By all means. That’ll give me something to look forward to while being stuck in this god-forsaken tent.”
A soft laugh bubbled from her. She didn’t look at him as she turned and left the tent.
Sam spent the next three hours fixing the dialing device with McKay. Once Daniel discovered old files in their archives regarding the device, the task was surprisingly easy. Apparently, the scientists who had first studied the gate had drawn detailed blueprints of it in an attempt to understand how it worked. While they had been unsuccessful, their schematics enabled Rodney and her to reassemble the device as it had been before.
By the time they were done, the sun had reached the horizon.
“Alright.” Rodney wiped his palm across his dusty face and yawned. “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to get the biggest sandwich I can find, and then sleep the rest of the day. Wake me up when Sheppard returns. If he returns.”
Sam looked up at the sad undertone in his voice. He’d never admit it, but he and Sheppard had grown to be close friends while working together. Rodney kept claiming he was annoyed at Sheppard’s fixation on acquiring weapons. But he still insisted keeping his position on Sheppard’s team.
She sighed. Sheppard was gone because of her. Yes, she’d defended her decision in front of O’Neill, but if she was honest with herself… What if she’d been wrong? What if she’d let personal feelings influence her decision?
Sheppard was her friend, and she hadn’t wanted to kill him, though protocol dictated she shoot him. Her only other option had been to let him go. What if she’d endangered their position with her weakness?
Sam sighed and packed up her tools while McKay started walking back towards camp.
Sleep… As much as the thought appealed to her, the nightmares she’d had the previous night kept her from giving in to the urge. How long would they haunt her?
Metal screeched as the Stargate began spinning, and chevrons lit up. Somebody from the outside was dialing the gate. Her heart sped up.
It was their Stargate window. Exactly six hours after Sheppard had disappeared. She looked at the scientist who hurried back towards the dialing device.
The wormhole opened, and for about a minute, nothing happened. Then Sheppard stepped through, carrying two crystal devices with him, one in each hand.
“Colonel Sheppard, sir!” Sam exhaled, relieved, and took a few steps towards him. He grinned at her.
“Carter. It’s good to be back.”
“Wow.” He didn’t speak Latin anymore. “Sir, you’re back to normal.”
McKay trotted towards them, regarding Sheppard cautiously. “You’re not gonna shoot me again, are you?”
Sheppard rolled his eyes. “Rodney, I’m sorry. I wasn’t exactly myself.”
“Where the hell did you go? And what on Earth are those…?”
“I don’t remember much, but apparently I built them. I think they’re power units of some kind. I’ll leave the details up to you. Figure them out.” He dumped both crystals into McKay’s arms. “I am exhausted.”
“Well, sir, we think your brain held the knowledge of an alien species for a while, so it’s not surprising you’re tired. How did you reverse the process?” She followed him as he started walking towards camp.
“I removed it myself using one of the machines I found after I stepped through the gate. Don’t ask me how. I just knew how to do it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna take a shower.” He yawned with a stretch.
“I think Janet will want you in the medical tent first, sir.”
She flinched when Sheppard frowned at her. Better to remain silent now. She’d been disrespectful and insubordinate enough times in the past twenty-four hours and, while those incidents had all been justifiable in their own ways, she didn’t want to push her luck.
She was glad that Sheppard had returned safe and sound. The day had come to a somewhat satisfying end. The details could wait until their debriefing.
Jack looked up when the tent flap opened. His mood improved immediately when Carter entered, flashing him a bright smile. Damn… like the sun had just risen in the tent. Did she even know how much she could affect a guy with that smile?
On the bed next to him Sheppard shuffled some papers around. At least he wasn’t the only one confined to the medical tent. He dropped the file he’d been going through.
Sam came to a halt at the foot of his bed. “Hi.”
“Hey.” He smiled at her.
She looked at the papers, then scanned his bed.
Sheppard grinned. “Sorry for the mess. We figured, since we’re stuck here, we might as well work.”
“I was just reading your report about the mine.” Jack held up the file. “You sure wrote it up fast.”
“Well, sir, I wanted it over with. Besides, you always want them as fast as possible.”
He narrowed his eyes when he saw the shadow flash across her face. From what he’d read she sure had been through a lot. Freaking monster spiders. Scary. Not something one wanted to remember.
“It was an impressive job.” Sheppard jumped in and waved at the file. “Jack let me read it.”
“It was a damn good job, Carter.” Jack nodded. “I don’t think either of us could’ve done better, and that’s saying something. You should think about command.”
She gave a soft laugh. “As flattering as that is, sir, I think one day was quite enough. If it helps, I now have a new appreciation for the work you do on a daily basis.” She flashed him a cheeky grin, and he chuckled. “Besides, with my risky decision of letting Colonel Sheppard walk through the Stargate, alone… I hardly think I’d qualify for command.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. Was that self-doubt?
Sheppard shrugged. “It was obviously the right choice.”
“Regardless, sir, it was risky and irresponsible. It wasn’t the best decision with regard to our resistance movement. I ignored protocol. If things had turned out different…” She sighed and dropped her arms. “I consider you a friend, sir, and I think I let those feelings influence my decision.”
“Carter.” Jack shook his head gently.
“Sir, it could have endangered our entire resistance if the destination, which I knew nothing about, had turned out to be an Aschen world. You were right in what you said.”
“You made a judgment call.” He shrugged. “It was risky, but you took responsibility for it afterwards. It’s what we do.”
When she raised her eyebrows, he shook his head. “The reality of the field doesn’t follow a rulebook, Carter. It’s often necessary to, let’s say, bend the rules and hope for the best.”
She ran her hand through her tousled hair. “But sir, if I can’t trust the rules, how can I determine which one is the right decision?”
Jack straightened. A leader. She displayed all the characteristics of a leader, and she didn’t even realize it. Well, how could she. Women didn’t usually become leaders. It probably hadn’t even entered her mind she might be one.
“Instinct.” He leaned forward. “Which you have.”
She raised her head, her gaze meeting his.
He gave her a warm smile. “Your behavior during the last twenty-four hours was exemplary. Granted, I wasn’t thrilled by your decision at first, but that’s exactly my point. Sometimes the circumstances go beyond what’s written in the guidelines. It takes brains to recognize such a situation, and courage to take responsibility for acting accordingly. You displayed both.”
She stared at him and swallowed visibly. “So you’re not angry I disobeyed orders?”
From the bed next to Jack’s Sheppard chuckled. Jack frowned at him, then turned back to Carter. “Have you ever thought about where you want to go in the resistance?”
“Carter, I wasn’t kidding. You should think about a command position. You have excellent qualifications. Besides, people naturally accept you as a leader.”
“Well, I… I didn’t…” She looked overwhelmed. “Frankly, sir, right now I’m just glad I can go back to following orders instead of giving them.”
Another chuckle from Sheppard. This time Sam frowned at him.
“Sorry… sorry.” He grinned. “It’s just that, about eight years ago I told my cell commander the exact same thing. He’s right, Carter. You got it in you and you don’t even know it, do you?”
Jack cleared his throat. “We’re not talking right away, Carter. It takes at least five years of resistance experience to be considered for a command position. So you’ll still have a lot of time and opportunity to take orders. But maybe you should ask yourself whether you can imagine giving them someday.”
She shifted, then after a moment nodded. “Someday, absolutely. Yes, sir.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” He closed the file lying in his lap on the blanket. Then his gaze fell on a little box she held in her hands. “What’s that?”
A blush tinted her cheeks and she fidgeted nervously.
“Well, sir, I was scheduled to go to town with Siler and get this week’s ration of bread. While we were in town earlier, I got you this. I know how much you hate being stuck here, so I wanted to do something nice. But I didn’t know what you’d like, so…” She hesitated, then held the box out to him. It was only slightly larger than his hand. Curiosity growing, he took it from her.
He opened the top. Cake. He looked at her, and the warmth in her eyes made his heart speed up. “Cake’s always great.”
“Well, you asked for some last night, so…” Her smile came almost shy.
His stomach flip-flopped. “Thank you.”
Her smile grew wider and she sat down at the foot of his bed. Jack shifted and studied her. This wasn’t just cake. She’d actually taken time and some of her own money to get him something he liked. There was hope for them.
“Hey, you didn’t bring me anything?” Sheppard looked at her, disappointment flashing across his face. Jack flinched inwardly when Carter paled. Clearly, she hadn’t forgotten about him on purpose. Very effective, though. If Sheppard had still been under the impression she might be into him, this certainly set things straight.
Sheppard seemed to take his defeat with good humor. He grinned at Jack, then eyed the cake. “You willing to share?”
“Not a chance.”
Sheppard shrugged. Oh yeah, he clearly knew when to back down.
“Well, sir.” Carter cleared her throat. “I didn’t know you’d be in the medical tent. I didn’t mean to insult you but… I knew, Colonel O’Neill liked cake and… it was just…”
“Carter.” Why not put her out of her misery? Although, awkward Carter was always cute. “He’ll be fine. Have you even slept yet? You and McKay repaired the dialing device, you wrote up this report, and then apparently went to town with Siler.”
“I slept a couple of hours, sir.” She swallowed visibly. “Frankly, it’s not something I’m looking forward to at the moment. So I’m keeping myself busy.”
He raised his eyebrows and straightened. He recognized the signs of trauma and stress when he saw them. Too many times, especially in his younger years, had he been on dangerous missions and was faced with nightmares afterwards. “Janet has sleeping pills, you know.”
“I know, sir. But I can handle it.”
“You don’t have to handle it.” He grazed her hand with his.
“It’s really no problem, sir. Although I did realize yesterday I might be stuck with a major fear of spiders from now on. That might become a problem in the field.”
“Pshaw.” With a wave of his hand, he grinned at her. “No problem. We can handle that. Let me know when you see one of the little buggers, I’ll take care of it.”
She cocked her head and folded her arms. “Yes, sir, because that wouldn’t be ridiculous at all.”
Sheppard looked up. “You could take one of the field beds and sleep. There’s enough space here.”
“Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Having company around does help with the nightmares.” Jack motioned at the field bed next to his. “Let Janet give you one of her sedatives and bunk down in one of these.”
She shook her head. “I really don’t think—”
“Do I have to make it an order?”
“You can’t give me an order like that.”
“But I can.” The doc’s voice interrupted them from the entrance. “And as much as I normally hate non-medical personnel giving medical advice, these two actually have a point. With everything that’s happened, you need to sleep.” Janet went past Carter and touched the bed next to Jack’s. “Lie down.”
“Janet, I’m fine, I’m not tired.”
“Only because you keep yourself awake. Been there, done that.” Sheppard’s boyish smile faded instantly when faced with Sam’s glare.
“Sam, as the camp’s chief medical officer, I’m giving you a direct order.”
Jack suppressed a smirk. The doc was getting into dragon mode again. How refreshing to see that it was because of someone else for a change. She’d been picking on him all day.
“You can either lie down here, or you’ll be confined to your personal tent until tomorrow.”
Sighing, Carter sat down on the bed, then scowled at Jack and Sheppard. “Thanks for that, sirs.”
“Sorry.” Jack grinned at her.
“No, sir, you’re not. I’ll remember that next time you’re drugged and insist on getting up.” Her voice was a whisper.
He chuckled. “That wouldn’t have happened had you obeyed my order and helped me.”
Janet returned with a cup of water and a pill, and handed both to Sam. “Take this.”
Obediently, she swallowed the pill with the water and then laid back with a sigh. “You didn’t have to give me a sleeping pill.”
“Just a mild sedative. You’re already tired, so all we have to do is get you to wind down a little bit.” The doctor covered her with one of the blankets. “Just try to relax. I’m sure the guys can help you take your mind off things. If you get sleepy, don’t fight it.”
Jack raised his eyebrows at Janet. “Sure, always glad to help somebody fall asleep in my company.”
Sam burst into laughter as Janet rolled her eyes at him. Then the doctor disappeared behind the room dividers in her little office.
“Thanks again, guys.”
Jack turned his head, and held the box out to her. “Peace offering. Want a bite of cake?”
She gave him an open smile. “No, sir, it’s yours.” She shuffled onto her side and studied him for a moment. “I’m really glad you’re okay, you know.”
Her gaze intensified. Damn, why did things have to be so complicated between them? Maybe… if he talked to her again about the marriage contract. He swallowed. But what if they went down the same road as last time?
Jack drew his eyes away from her when Daniel burst into the tent, a stack of files in his hand. “Jack.”
“Daniel.” Jack’s eyebrows rose when the archeologist unceremoniously dumped the files at the foot of his bed.
“Jack, this is amazing. The underground structure—”
“Hi, Daniel.” Jack folded his arms. “How are you feeling? Everything alright? How’s your day going?”
Daniel sighed and rolled his eyes. “Hi Jack. How are you feeling? How’s your day?”
“Good. Better. Being stuck here kinda sucks, you know how it is. You?”
“Great. Alright, can I tell you what I found now?”
“Go ahead.” Better to get it over with fast.
Daniel started into a drawn-out presentation about his findings at the underground structure, the language that Sheppard had spoken, and the alien device that had caused his situation in the first place.
After a good ten minutes, Jack finally stopped him. He glanced at Carter. Surprisingly she looked almost as clueless as he was. “Carter?”
“Um, I’m not sure I understand it myself, sir. Daniel, are you saying you found the same language from the alien device on P63-284 here on Earth, in the underground structure?”
Daniel nodded. “Yes, exactly the same. The language Sheppard spoke, the language from P63-284, the language here in this structure and ancient Latin—they’re all the same language. Well, actually, ancient Latin was probably derived from this language. Sheppard was able to read this.”
Daniel held up some of his photos of the alien device, which Sheppard had so eloquently named ‘headsucker’. “I’ve spend the last hour going over my notes. The entire underground structure was built long before the pyramids in Egypt, or even Rome. Well, back then it was most likely not even underground. See, Antarctica was covered in ice for thousands of years due to our last ice age, and only thawed by the Aschen weather control units about two-hundred years ago. The building might be tens of thousands of years old.”
Jack frowned at him. “Bottom line?”
“Well…” Daniel looked at his notes. “This might be the greatest scientific discovery we’ve ever made.”
He looked from Sheppard, to Jack, and then to Carter. Neither of them apparently displayed the enthusiasm he’d hoped for. Although in Carter’s case it was probably due to the pill Janet had given her. She looked increasingly foggy.
Jack nodded. “Well, that’s great. What does the inscription say?”
Daniel cleared his throat and scratched his head. “I haven’t gotten that far yet. I mean, I can translate some words, single phrases, but not the entire text.”
Jack groaned and looked at him, annoyed.
“But this is still huge progress. Using the coordinates Rodney and Sam remembered from the dialing device when Sheppard left, I think I’ve found a reference to the location. It was one of the cities of the people who call themselves ‘Anquietas’—the ancient ones. There’s a reference to the location in the underground structure. It lists the same Stargate coordinates in reference with a word, “Atlantus”. In Earth mythology, there are references to a place called “Atlantis” in some of the earliest stories from ancient Rome and ancient Greece. Most of the scriptures of those times were destroyed by the Aschen, but I think they might be the same place.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. At this point, shutting Daniel up was futile. “Which helps us how exactly?”
“For one, it’s proof for my theory that aliens came here to Earth. Maybe humans are even descendants of those aliens. But with the crystals that John brought back, we could go there again.”
“Now that’s definitely worth looking into.” Jack looked at Sheppard. “What do you remember of the place? Any weapons or technology we could extract? Would it be safe for us to send occasional science teams there to evaluate the value of the place?”
Sheppard shrugged. “From what I can remember, it’s a huge city, but it was completely surrounded by water. I don’t know why it wasn’t flooded, but there was breathable air all around.”
“Force shields,” Carter mumbled from her bed. Jack raised his eyebrows at her. “It’s an advanced technology that Goa’uld ships work with. Simply put, they’re an energy barrier capable of keeping things in or out. In this case, it keeps the air in and the water out.”
Well, who’d have thought? Drug her, and she was actually capable of giving short explanations that made sense. Jack smirked.
“Yes.” Sheppard straightened. “It did look like there was an invisible wall. The only thing I remember is that I built some of these energy crystals. All of the materials were there already, and I just knew what to do. I exchanged the depleted ones in the city to restore energy, and used a device to heal myself. Then I returned to Earth.”
“Interesting.” Carter struggled to sit up, apparently fighting her drowsiness. “So we could actually send a science team there for a while.”
“Easy Carter.” He didn’t want her getting excited about something science-related again before she’d slept for a few hours. “At the moment we don’t have the resources to send a permanent team anywhere. Besides, we don’t even know who we might piss off by setting up camp there to raid the place for technology. If it’s in another galaxy, we have no idea what we’d be dealing with. Let’s face it, we know nothing about that place. And our aim in going through the Stargate is not exploring other galaxies, but finding help to rid our world of the Aschen.”
Daniel leaned forward. “Yes, but Jack. There could be technology in Atlantis that might help us.”
“There could also be people out there who don’t take our invasion of their city as an act of friendliness. I don’t want to fight a war on two fronts, let alone with another galaxy. Besides, we’ve just found that underground structure. Why don’t you guys get busy on that first?”
“Jack, don’t you understand the implications of this? They’re the same people. The people who constructed the building we found here on Earth, and the people who built that city of Atlantis.”
“Great, Daniel. Then you’ll be able to find out a whole lot about them here on Earth.”
Daniel sighed. “Fine, but promise me you’ll let us go there as soon as we deem it safe.”
“If that happens, we’ll talk about it and I’ll consider it. Emphasis on consider.” Jack watched as the archeologist collected all his files. “Maybe someday, we’ll have more resources and can make it a priority to go out there for the sake of the exploration itself. But not as things are now. Traveling back and forth would require too much power.”
“Fine, then send a permanent team. I volunteer.”
“No. I need you here. You’re our only archeologist. And I need Carter, McKay, Felger and Lee here as well. We don’t have many scientists, and I can’t spare a single one of you for a long-term exploration. As much as I’d like to send Felger to the moon sometimes.”
“Daniel, he’s right,” Sam mumbled. “We know practically nothing about what we’d be getting into. As a physicist, I can think of a lot of things that might go wrong. Starting with the city’s force shields failing, and all of us drowning, because we don’t know how to handle the technology. We have to gather more information first.” She lay back against the pillow and closed her eyes.
Daniel handed Jack a folder. “Fine. This is my first overview of the findings of the structure. We also drew a preliminary plan of the rooms. It doesn’t seem to be very big. I suggest making work on it a priority if we don’t have any missions scheduled. I’d like to devote my time to the translations of the inscriptions.”
“Permission granted.” Jack nodded. “I’ll assign Felger and Lee to support you. McKay can assist when he doesn’t have any missions scheduled. Carter, I want you to focus on the chair device when we’re not on missions. I want a detailed analysis of its technology.” He skimmed over the pages in the file. When Carter didn’t answer, he looked at her. “Carter?”
Her eyes were closed. She’d curled onto her side, features relaxed. She was fast asleep.
“Let her sleep.” Jack smirked at Daniel. “Janet gave her a pill to help her rest. I’ll brief her when she wakes up.”
“Alright then.” Daniel kept his voice soft. He smiled at Carter before he left.
Jack took a bite of cake. Cheesecake. The best he’d ever had. Maybe there was hope for him and Carter after all.