Sam stared as Jack groaned, holding his forehead. The metallic sound had come out of nowhere. There was nothing but trees and thicket around them. What on Earth…?
He tumbled back and his face pulled into a grimace. “That’s new.” The hollow clank repeated when he kicked the air in front of him with his foot. “Carter?”
Sam stepped closer. There was nothing there except the winding path—at least nothing they could see. When Jack turned to look at her, she swallowed.
“I’m not sure, sir.” She reached out. Cold, smooth… Definitely a metal surface. “This feels like a wall of some kind.”
“This’s it. That’s the ship.” Daniel browsed through his notes. “Yes. Here, it was saying something about an invisible shield. Maybe it doesn’t mean invisible shield, but shield of invisibility.”
“Okay.” Jack turned to him. “How do we turn it off? And how do we get inside?”
“Um.” Daniel scratched his head, and turned a few pages before he shrugged. “To be honest, it doesn’t say.”
“Then how exactly does this help us?”
Sam groaned inwardly. For the past few hours, the two men had fought over stupid banalities. She wouldn’t stand another one of their discussions. “We could search for an access panel or a door.” She reached out again, sliding her fingers along the smooth metal. Hopefully it didn’t have any sharp edges.
Jack and Daniel looked at each other, then joined her in her efforts. They marked the edges of the structure with stones and branches.
At last Sam’s fingers made contact with something that appeared to be… “I think I found an access panel.”
Jack and Daniel stepped back and looked at her expectantly. She outlined something big and round with her fingers. A button? Damn, this was the worst possible scenario. Pushing a button without knowing what it did could very easily lead to a disaster.
“Daniel, you’re sure that this is a ship?” She looked at the archeologist.
“Um, yeah, why?” He pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Relatively sure, at least.”
“Well, I think I found a button. If this is a ship, this could be an outside access panel to gain entry. On the other hand, if it’s something else, something like a huge cloaked weapon or bomb…” She flinched.
“Well.” Daniel shifted from one foot to the other. “It’s the ship. I mean it has to be. It fits the descriptions in the notes.”
“Alright.” She nodded, looking at Jack. “Sir?”
“If Daniel says it’s the ship, I say, what do we have to lose? Try the button.”
“Yes, sir.” She turned to the ship. Her fingers moved over the round shape. Hopefully the mechanism was still functional after so many years.
Heart pounding, she snapped her hand back. Bomb. It was a bomb after all, wasn’t it?
Jack scowled at Daniel. “Hey!”
Daniel flipped through more of the pages, apparently reading up on something. Then he visibly relaxed. “Okay. It says here, rectangular. It should be the ship.”
“You sure?” Her body shook from the surge of adrenaline.
“I am. I think.” Daniel nodded.
“Cause if you aren’t…”
“Oh fer crying out loud.” Jack rubbed his fingers across his forehead. “Carter, push the damn button already.”
She turned and pressed her palm against the smooth button. It gave in with surprising ease. Low humming sounded next to her. She jumped aside, away from the ship to make sure she wouldn’t be crushed by some unseen part of it. Some invisible hatch had to have opened, judging from the impression on the leaves and dirt on the forest floor.
She took a hesitant step forward. The ground under her feet became smooth, solid and a ship appeared in front of her.
Eyebrows raised, Sam turned and looked at Jack and Daniel, who glanced around aimlessly. As if they didn’t see her.
“I’m here, sir.” She took a step back off the ramp. The cloak must affect any person stepping inside it as well. “It’s the ship. We’ve found it. Just follow me in.”
Jack and Daniel stepped inside after her. The ship held space for maybe ten people overall. It looked more advanced than any of the technology they’d come across so far.
Jack gave a low whistle. “Wow. Cool.”
“Very.” Sam stepped into the pilot’s cabin to look at the console’s controls. “It’s definitely Ancient, sir.”
“Is it still working?” Jack gave her a sidelong glance while he examined the large round installation in the middle of what looked like a small cargo bay.
“Yes, sir, I think so. Since the invisibility shield is still functional, it has to draw power from somewhere. And if there’s power, the ship has at least basic functionality.” She stepped aside to let Daniel pass.
The archeologist’s eyes grew wide with fascination. “Can you get it to fly?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. Ancient technology is so advanced we haven’t even been able to interface it with our computers. It might take some time.” She examined some of the controls in the cockpit. “Hey Daniel, do these symbols mean anything to you?”
The archeologist leaned in and studied the symbols. “I’ve seen some of them before, in the Ancient underground structure at Antarctica. I might be able to translate at least a few without my dictionaries.”
“What’s this?” Jack hit his foot against the installation in the back of the ship. Sam scrunched her brows. The style and design were slightly different from the rest of the ship. Maybe it had been set in after the ship was already completed. She stepped closer.
“It looks like an independent subsystem, but frankly, at this point I don’t have a clue what any of this is.”
“It doesn’t seem to work anymore, though.” Daniel sat in the pilot’s seat and randomly pushed some of the buttons on the display in front of him. “Nothing happens.”
“Well, that’s a bummer.” Jack folded his arms and leaned against the wall.
Sam shook her head. “That doesn’t make sense. It must draw power, otherwise the shield wouldn’t be working. May I?”
She urged Daniel aside to open one of the panels at the side of the pilot’s seat she recognized as an access panel from her work in the underground structure. “There’s power. The circuits are lit, and the hum indicates the flow of an electric current. Maybe some of the contacts are fried. I might be able to fix it once I know where the problem is. Getting there will take a while, though. Especially without my tools and instruments.”
“All right.” Jack pushed himself away from the wall. “We’ll make camp here. Daniel, let’s see if we can find water and food. Carter, you’ll take care of the ship.”
The archeologist dropped the bag with his notes and strolled back outside.
Jack turned and leaned over the console as if studying it. “We’ll stay within hearing distance. If something’s wrong, just yell, okay?”
“I’ll be fine, sir. The ship is cloaked, so I’ll be safer in here than you are out there.” She gave him a weak smile. He nodded but kept studying her.
She raised her eyebrows when she felt his eyes bore into her. “Sir?”
“What happened to you while you were gone?” His face gentled. “Did Ba’al…did he…hurt you?”
“No, I’m fine.” She pushed the returning memories aside. If only he wouldn’t remind her of it.
“Sam, what happened?”
“Nothing happened. We talked. He tried to rape me. I fought him off. That’s all.” That’s all? As if that wasn’t enough. She still felt the Goa’uld’s hands on her body, between her legs. Still felt the remnants of her surrender, her arousal. If only she could take a shower. She squeezed her eyes shut, then forced herself to smile at him. “I’m fine. Really.”
Jack released a curse. “I swear, next time I see him I’ll—”
“It’s fine, sir. I was more than capable of handling it.” She straightened and folded her arms. Why couldn’t he let it go? Why did he have to turn it into a big deal? And why that damn sympathy on his face?
She certainly didn’t deserve his pity. Not after what she’d done. “It’s part of the job. We get caught, we fight our way out. I read the resistance reports, it’s happened before. It’s what we were trained for.”
“Not like that.” He raked his hand through his hair and plopped down against the console. “I’m sorry, Sam. I’m in charge and should’ve never let you go with them. I should’ve protected you.”
She spun around, a sudden rush of aggression welling up. “I don’t need your protection. Sir.”
Jack stared at her, visibly perplexed.
“I’m more than capable of defending myself without your help.” Her insides iced. What was she doing? This wasn’t his fault. She shouldn’t snap at him for this. She didn’t even want to. If anybody was to blame, it was her. He’d done nothing wrong. Why did she feel so powerless, so out of control? Shower. She wanted a shower.
She had a task to complete. She needed to fix this ship to get them home. Ship, circuits, technology. Her area of expertise. Pulse racing, she turned to the controls.
Jack’s warm palm touched her arm. “Sam, I wasn’t implying…”
Such a gentle touch… on her skin still covered in disgusting ointments. Something snapped inside her. She jerked away from him.
“You implied you wished you’d prevented the guards from taking me away, because apparently you think I’m incapable of protecting myself. We got out. I got us out. You think it would’ve gone better if you’d taken care of things?” He might’ve ended up dead. Her heart wrenched.
Blood rushed in her ears and she forced her breathing to remain calm. Why couldn’t she be strong? Why couldn’t she get that sense of power and control back? Everything seemed to be slipping away from her. She had to hang on.
Soldiers don’t have freaking panic attacks. Especially not in the field.
Her eyes stung. She turned away and hugged herself. If only Jack would stop looking at her like that. If only she’d stop feeling as though he could see everything Ba’al did to her. And how her body had responded.
Jack stared at Sam’s back. Why did she act like he’d attacked her or criticized her performance? And what the hell was with that snippiness? Anger welled up in him.
“Watch the tone, Carter. I wasn’t implying I’d have done a better job. What’s the matter with you?”
“That would be ‘Forget it, sir’.” He frowned at her when she spun.
She slammed the cover of the access panel down on the helm and glared at him. “Pulling rank? That’s your answer to this? You keep saying I can’t defend myself, and then you dare pull rank on me? Why engage in an equal conversation when you just have the power to shut me up, right?”
“Carter.” His heart hammered. Was she trying to challenge him? Push his buttons? What the hell was the matter with her? “Calm down.”
Okay, that’s it. He grabbed her shoulders. Panic flickered in her eyes as he pulled her close to him and forced her to look at him. “That would be ‘No way, Colonel.’ Now shut up, and listen to me.”
She flinched, her hands against his chest applying warning pressure as if she was preparing herself to shove him away.
He softened his grip. “I don’t know what the hell just happened, but I was neither implying you didn’t do a good job, nor that I would’ve done it better. For crying out loud!”
He released her and scratched his hand through his hair. How the hell had the situation gotten so out of control? And more importantly, why?
“Then why don’t you trust me to defend myself?” Her tone was weak, her voice void of emotion.
Jack stared at her. “I do trust you. I never said or meant to say that I didn’t.” He narrowed his eyes, leaning forward. “But I don’t think that’s the issue here. The issue is that you don’t trust me.”
“What?” Again that glare.
He scowled at her. She wouldn’t start into another one of her rants now. “This isn’t even a professional problem. No, we’ve had this problem ever since you learned we’re married. You’re unwilling to rely on me. I don’t think that changed even when we agreed to try dating.”
“I’m not done, Ensign. If you were able to rely on me, you wouldn’t have the constant need to prove you can do things on your own. If I wanted people to fight on their own, I’d send rogue fighters through the gate. We have teams so we can have each other’s back. But you don’t trust me to have yours. Or, you don’t want me to. I don’t know which one it is, or which one would be worse for that matter.”
She stared at him until her eyes glistened. Then she lowered her face to some undefined point on the helm.
He waited for her to say something. Anything to give him a hint about what the hell was going on. Any sign that she cared, or was willing to work on it with him. She remained silent. His heart grew heavy as he shook his head.
“Sam, this isn’t gonna work if you won’t trust me. I need you to rely on me the way I rely on you. And I most certainly won’t have you pull one-man-stunts just to satisfy your need to prove something.”
Maybe it was the cold tone in his voice, or what he said, but something made her look up.
“Jack.” She pressed her lips together, held his gaze. Still unwilling to talk.
He straightened. “It was wrong to start this discussion here. We’ve got more important things to worry about. See if you can get this ship to work. Daniel and I’ll go look for water. We’ll stay within hearing distance.” He turned and left her standing where she was.
Once outside, he trudged off into the forest without a word. Daniel followed him quietly.
Jack growled. All he asked of her was honesty and loyalty. Was that really too much? And why did she have such a problem relying on him? He picked up a stone and flung it into the forest. Food and water. He had to concentrate on what they needed.
No letting personal feelings interfere with duty.
Yeah, right. Easier said than done.
Sam rubbed her arms against the cold as she walked to the back of the ship. Jack and Daniel had managed to close the hatch, but it was still way too cold, at least with the outfit she wore.
She pulled Jack’s jacket close around her and buried her face in it. It smelled like him. Her heart ached. He’d made a bed in one of the corners, his back leaning against the wall as he studied her. She took a step toward him, then faltered. He’d touch her, pull her close. Smell the disgusting ointments.
She turned and then opted for a corner opposite to where he lay. After what he’d said, he probably wouldn’t even want her near him. Did that mean it was over between them?
This isn’t gonna work if you won’t trust me.
His words echoed in her mind, tugged at her heart, made her want to curl up into a ball. How had this happened? How could things go downhill so fast between them? She liked him. She wanted to be with him.
Well, life didn’t always work out the way one wanted. She pulled the jacket close and shivered. Cold filled her from the inside as she stared at the wall. If only she could talk to him about what had happened. He’d never understand, though. Who would, if she herself didn’t know how Ba’al’s hands on her body could’ve had such an effect?
Her stomach clenched as the images flooded her mind. His hand moving down her belly, pressing between her legs, rubbing. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her and she closed her eyes. She wanted to wash, shower, anything to erase the memory.
She shouldn’t feel like this. Damn it, she was a soldier. If all the training she’d gone through couldn’t make her strong enough to fight of attackers… Her eyes stung.
Sleep eluded her for most of the night. Whenever she closed her eyes, the images flooded back. Aside from that, the temperatures dropped below freezing.
When the first sunbeams leaked through the trees, she was almost relieved. She’d be able to get back to work. At least that would distract her. She delved into the masses of circuits and crystals while Daniel went back to translating the symbols all around the ship.
Jack stood watch.
After a while, she found some crystals which looked like they were burned out. She managed to replace them with intact ones from a little box they’d found in a compartment under one of the benches in the back section, but it didn’t make any difference. The ship didn’t react to any of the commands.
At last, Jack stepped back inside the ship. “Alright, I’m putting an end to this. We can’t waste our time here with a wrecked ship. We gotta find water and food. Then we’ll make our way to the gate to get to the beta-site.”
Sam closed the lid of the control panel. Fine, so they’d leave this ship here. She didn’t care.
Daniel glanced at her and she gave him a shrug. He turned to Jack. “Jack. I think we’re close. We found out this middle panel is a mobile control unit for the Stargate. You can remotely dial the gate. That further strengthens my theory that the Ancients were the builders of the gate and not the Aschen.”
“Does it work?” Jack folded his arms.
“Well, not exactly. Yet. But—”
“Daniel, you two’ve been at this for hours, without any progress.” He stepped into the cockpit and plopped into the pilot’s seat. “Show me one thing that works on this damn ship, and I’ll reconsider—”
Controls flickered, then the panels in front of him lit up. Sam stared at him, then at the panels. How the hell did he do that?
He cleared his throat. “Okay. That’s something.” Brows raised, he glanced up at her. “Carter?”
“I…don’t know, sir. How did you do that? Daniel and I have tried activating it for hours.” Her heart quickened as she leaned over the console.
“I didn’t do anything, I just sat down.”
He was right. He hadn’t done anything else. She studied the seat, the armrest with its gelatinous pads at the end, and then she froze. “Of course.” The pads now glowed blue. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Of what?” Jack scrunched his brows.
“Neural interface.” Excitement shot through her. This technology was so much more advanced than she could have hoped. If they managed to figure out how it worked, they’d gain a major advantage over the Aschen. She caught Jack’s quizzical look. “That means the ship’s directly linked to your brain, sir. You control it with your thoughts.”
“Swell.” He still didn’t look convinced. “So why didn’t it work when Daniel sat down? Or you?”
Good question. “I don’t know. Maybe it was broken. I replaced some of the crystals earlier, so maybe I did fix it without realizing it.”
Daniel leaned in. “We should see if we can fly it.”
Sam studied the controls and flickering lights, then nodded. “I don’t see why not. But we should first test if I’m right. Sir, why don’t you try deactivating the cloak?”
“Just think it, Jack.” Daniel’s voice dripped impatience. “Concentrate on it.”
Sam stifled a smile. Just the right person to say that to. Jack stared at Daniel, then closed his eyes, apparently putting effort into trying to de-cloak the ship. She hurried down the ramp outside. Then she turned. “Nothing happened. It’s still cloaked.”
From the inside, she heard Jack’s defensive tone. “Hey, I’m trying.” Another moment of silence. Then the forest in front of her flickered and the ship appeared out of nowhere.
“It’s working, sir, you de-cloaked it.” She hurried back inside. Now that they’d de-cloaked, they were sitting ducks. “You might wanna enable it again, now that we know it works.”
Jack groaned. “This is harder than it looks.” It was. Way harder. He focused his mind. Cloak. Cloak. Cloak you damn thing.
Suddenly there was an undercurrent in his mind, almost like an internal dialogue happening on an intuitive level. Vague, and only there if he concentrated hard.
Okay, close the door.
The hatch hummed closed, then locked with an audible click. This was easy.
“Let’s see if I can get this baby up in the air.”
He’d barely finishing speaking when the engines started. Low vibrations hummed under his feet, through his seat. Then the ground disappeared as the ship lifted through the tree crowns.
“Wow.” Sam leaned forward, her hands on the panel as she looked out of the window.
The forest floor grew smaller under them. Twenty feet, thirty feet, forty feet. Jack swallowed hard. An unpleasant tingly feeling spread through his stomach at the height.
“Um, sir.” Sam’s voice shook. “Be careful not to crash us back down. At this height we’d end up smashed—”
“I know. Doing my best.” He flinched. The ship took a sharp left turn. Daniel and Sam stumbled and crashed against the wall.
Crap. Jack closed his eyes. He had to focus. Actually flying this thing required much more concentration than closing the door or cloaking and de-cloaking. Information flooded his mind.
All systems full power.
Life support engaged.
Dampeners at full capacity.
Artificial gravity enabled.
Too much. Way too much. Artificial gravity? Dampeners? Did they need those? Ship, disengage dampeners.
Okay, so they probably needed those. He glanced left, and the ship took another sharp left turn. Sam stumbled against his chair.
“Jack.” Daniel glared at him.
“Sorry. I swear I’m trying my best here.” Okay, focus on what’s important. Speed. Outer atmosphere and winds. Fly steady.
They gained speed, racing over the tree tops. The world below flew by. Sam leaned forward to look outside as if not believing her eyes.
“This is incredible. At this velocity, the G-forces should press us against the back wall, but I don’t even feel it. The dampeners are beyond anything we’ve ever seen before, and that includes Aschen machinery.” Her eyes gleamed as she looked at him.
Damn, why was he piloting the ship again? She’d be so much more qualified. She’d probably know what all these different measurements meant.
“Shouldn’t we, um, talk about where to go?” Daniel sat down in the co-pilot’s chair.
“I was thinking we just dial the gate and fly home.” Jack shrugged, keeping his eyes fixated on the blue sky in front of them. Daniel and Sam gave him wide-eyed stares.
“Jack, do you think it’s a wise move to risk flying this ship right into the hands of the Aschen in Powhatan?”
“No, he’s right.” Sam straightened. “With the engaged cloak, the Aschen won’t even be able to see us come through. They’d only see an open event horizon. This might actually work. We could fly the ship from Powhatan back to the camp at Antarctica.”
“Okay.” Daniel leaned back and folded his arms. “Then there’s just one problem left. How do you wanna fly this ship through the gate?”
In the distance, the gate drew closer.
“Didn’t you say there was a dialing device in here? If they had a dialing device, then this ship was meant to travel through the gate.” Jack turned his head to look at Sam. “Right?”
She swallowed visibly. “That’s a valid assumption, sir.”
“Daniel, you might wanna start dialing Earth.”
Daniel gulped, then dialed the coordinates. In the distance the pool of the event horizon formed.
“Sir, you have to slow down.” Sam placed her hand on his shoulder. “If you miss the event horizon and crash the ship into the gate—which, at our current velocity, is more than just a vague hypothesis—”
“I know. I’m trying.” He grimaced. “Just relax, sit back… enjoy the ride…” Slowing down. Easier said than done. The gate was damn small, and this felt like threading the needle. The bright blue splash raced toward them.
Sam’s fingers clenched his shoulder. Daniel squeezed his eyes shut. Oh, yeah. Damn. They were gonna crash.
Suddenly the ship took over. Jack felt the controls slipping away from him as though some kind of auto-pilot had set in.
Angle of entry calculated. Set.
They entered the event horizon. The next second, the familiar green grass of Liberty Park shimmered under them and the crystal towers of Powhatan City rose in the distance.
Transfer completed. Air quality, excellent. Atmosphere can sustain carbon-based lifeforms.
“Well, that was different.” Jack stared at the controls in front of him.
Sam leaned forward again. “Oh my God. We made it.”
“You had doubts?” Jack gave her a smug smirk and she smiled softly. His heart jumped.
“We did?” Daniel opened one of his eyes. “I was sure we’d crash.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Even though he couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of his voice, he had to admit he’d also thought they’d crash. “To be honest, it wasn’t me.” He waved at the controls. “I can’t explain it, but before we passed through, something like an autopilot took over the ship.”
“That would make sense, sir.” Sam glanced at him. “If Daniel’s right, and the Ancients did built the Stargates, these kinds of ships might have been designed specifically for gate travel. They would have to have an automated program to make sure passing through the gate doesn’t end in an accident.”
“Jack, do you realize what kind of options this opens up to us now?” Daniel jumped up.
“At the moment, I’m kinda busy focusing on getting us home. Really, it’s not as easy as it looks.”
“You’re doing a great job, sir.” Sam’s breath hitched audibly when they flew out across the ocean. “I’ve never seen the ocean from this angle.”
Jack leaned forward. Sunlight reflected on the water, making the waves sparkle like a million diamonds as they raced over the surface. Not even a shadow from their ship was visible. That’s one kickass cloak. Daniel was right, this would open up whole new possibilities. Not just for off-world exploration, but also for on-world missions.
When they landed in Antarctica roughly two hours after traveling through the gate, Sam’s scientific fascination faded. They were home. Shadows settled over her mind. She would finally get to have a shower.
As soon as Jack de-cloaked the ship, camp members started to approach. When McKay and the other scientists arrived, questions became very technical.
She slid out of the ship and past the crowd before anybody could turn to her for answers. They’d made it back home. She should be happy, and yet… Emptiness numbed her. She’d lost Jack on that planet. No, worse than that. She’d lost part of herself.
When she turned on the cold water in the shower and washed the remnants of the oils from her skin, she wished the stream would take her memories with it.
If only she could forget.