Violent Themes. Angst. Minor Character Death.
Big thanks to Channach for plot-editing this chapter and to Raven Clark for style-editing this chapter with me line by line.
I hope you’re all having a wonderful Christmas time 2014! ;)
A high commander. Sam’s heart pounded loud and fast. Only three high commanders were stationed on Earth. They dealt with the most severe crimes.
She spun and sought Jack’s gaze. He looked calm, controlled, reserved. How the hell could he stay so relaxed when faced with Aschen Justice?
“Hands up.” One of the agents pushed her from behind. Flinching, Sam lifted her hands. God, they’d probably observed them from the moment they’d left the mill. How could she have been so stupid to think the old mill would serve as a great hiding spot?
Jack lifted his arms, calm. Only his tight jaw revealed a hint of anger. No, no, no. He couldn’t just surrender. She stared at him. His dark eyes locked with hers.
She’d worked too long with him not to understand the signal. Do as I do. Hesitantly, she stepped closer, her hands folded behind her head in surrender. She had to trust him. Just as she always did on missions.
“What are you doing here?” The high commander stepped up in front of Sam. When she didn’t lift her head, he grabbed her chin and forced her to look him in the eyes. Cold. Icy Blue. No emotion in them. Typically Aschen.
“We’re taking a walk,” Jack deadpanned. Sam turned her head and studied him. Sarcasm? Really? Even in the face of Aschen Justice agents?
The high commander turned and studied him. He had to lift his head slightly to meet Jack’s gaze. “Who are you?”
“Farm workers.” His posture feigned submission, but his vague answer made clear he wasn’t willing to give out more information than absolutely necessary.
He didn’t surrender, he tried to survive. God, if only she could learn to control her emotions that well someday.
“Your names.” The commander eyed him darkly. “I want your names.”
Next to Sam, Jennifer panicked. With a yelp, she spun, pushed one agent aside and raced along the path. A futile attempt at escape. Within seconds, the agents had caught up with her.
Sam looked at Jack, but he gave a slight shake of his head. She got the message. Don’t you dare try that. Damn. Her stomach tightened. They were in real trouble.
Jennifer sobbed as two agents dragged her back and pushed her roughly against Sam.
The high commander glared at her, then at Sam, then at Jack. “One more wrong move from any of you, and I will have you all executed on the spot.” He stared at them, grimly assessing one after the other. “I’ll only repeat myself once. I want your names now.”
Jack remained quiet. Wasn’t he going to answer the man? Sam sneaked a glance at him. He stood straight, his face blank. One agent approached him and searched him.
Sam felt blood drain from her face. The Aschen gun… Surely he was going to—
“Commander.” The agent held up the Aschen gun and handed it over to the high commander. The man grimly scanned the weapon, then Jack.
Sam’s heart pounded loud and fast. They know.
“Where did you get that?”
“Found it.” Jack dropped his gaze to meet his eyes. “This afternoon, back there in the field. Wanted to hand it over to one of the justice stations as soon as we’re back in Powhatan.”
“Did you now?” The older Aschen circled Jack. “I think you stole it after you killed two of my agents.”
Jack held his gaze calmly. Not a blink, nor the slightest change in his facial expression. “We don’t know anything about dead agents.”
Damn, he was a good liar. The high commander turned, his eyes blazing. It was the first time Sam had ever seen an Aschen loose his patience. Wow. Apparently, they weren’t used to dealing with humans who displayed the same calm rationality they used.
He nodded at the agent behind her. “Search them.”
Sam gritted her teeth when the agent searched her for hidden weapons. If only she could smack him. Just once. One look into Jack’s eyes made her jaw clench, and she remained quiet and calm.
At last, he released her and moved over to Jennifer. He ripped the bag from her shoulder and opened it.
“Where did you get all these medications?”
“I… I… I…” Jennifer looked about ready to break into tears. “I didn’t… I wasn’t… they’re…”
Sam rolled her eyes. She couldn’t watch this any longer. The woman was so nervous she’d probably rat them out if the agent touched her. “Dr. Ilias gave them to her.”
She ignored Jack’s warning glance, and instead lifted her gaze to the high commander. “He wanted her to deliver them to Dr. Watson down in the other district. He’s short on medicine again.”
The commander took the bag from his agent and looked inside, then back up at Jennifer. “You’re Ilias’ nurse?”
“She is.” Sam fixed her eyes on Jennifer’s.
The young woman nodded hesitantly. “I—I am.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere. She’s Ilias’s nurse. Who are you?” The high commander eyed Sam darkly. She lifted her chin, jaw clenched.
“She’s my sister.” Jennifer fidgeted. Sam snapped her head around. Sister? “And that’s her husband. They’re farm workers. They’re taking me to Dr. Watson’s because…well, it’s quite a long way. Our hovercraft is undergoing repairs at the moment. I always get lost in these fields.”
Talk about lying. Sam glanced at Jack who looked anything but pleased. His eyes blazed. Damn, was he mad? She swallowed hard.
The commander threw the bag at Jennifer. “All right. Come with us. We’ll take samples of your blood to cross it with our database. Agent Birol, please see if you can contact either Dr. Ilias or Dr. Watson. If your stories check out, you’re free to go.”
Crap. They’d contact the doctors and find out they’d lied. Sam winced. They all remained quiet as the agents led them along the grassy path towards a group of trees. In the shadows of the trees, she recognized three hovercrafts. The agent opened the door to the back compartment of one of them.
“Inside.” The commander shoved Jennifer up the ladder. Sam followed her quickly before he could shove her. Inside she looked around. A windowless, metal box. A prison transporter.
She sat down on the bench set into the wall. Jack took seat opposite her. The agents slammed the door shut. Muffled voices drifted from outside.
Jack leaned forward and glared first at Sam, then at Jennifer. “Next time, you two leave the talking to me.”
Jennifer narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t do much talking.”
Jack’s face darkened. He shifted his gaze to Sam. She swallowed. Damn. Somehow they’d messed up. Badly.
“I’m sorry, sir. I wanted to help.”
“Yeah? How long do you think it’ll take them to check your story and find out you two lied to them? Obstruction of justice is a reason for arrest. You gave them a reason to arrest us.” Sighing, he leaned back against the wall, then his face gentled. “Only lie to them when you know they can’t check up on your lie. Don’t give them any reason to arrest you.”
Crap. They had messed up. Sam flinched and lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry, sir. I thought it’d buy us time. I didn’t know…I should have thought about…” She sighed.
“Yeah, well.” Jack leaned forward, his voice softening. “We can’t change what happened. Let me handle it from now on, though.”
The door opened and the commander climbed into the craft. “We couldn’t reach either of the doctors, so we’ll need to take blood samples from all of you.” He turned his head. “Larek, start with the male.”
Sam’s head snapped up. Larek? No, that couldn’t be. Surely this was a different Larek. The one she knew had wanted to study marine biology on the Aschen home world as soon as he passed the university entry exam.
The silhouette of a man appeared in the doorway. Tall, narrow shoulders, stiff walk. Her heart stopped.
Sam lowered her head. Maybe he hadn’t recognized her. She’d changed her appearance after all. She swallowed hard. Please don’t let him recognize me.
Sam closed her eyes. Damn it. Why did he have to be here? He of all people. She looked up and met the Aschen man’s gaze. Larek stared at her.
“You know her?” The high commander narrowed his eyes.
“Um, yes, sir. That’s Samantha Carter, one of the suspects we were looking for.”
Opposite Sam, Jack released a groan and let his head sink back against the wall.
The high commander studied her. “The daughter of a man arrested for terrorism this morning. Accompanied by a man holding a stolen Aschen weapon, and a woman who has an entire bag full of non-prescribed medication.”
Deafening silence fell between them. Sam searched Jack’s eyes. His expression didn’t change.
The high commander stepped back to the door. “That changes things, of course. You’re all under arrest for obstruction of justice and involvement in terrorist activities.” He signaled at Larek to turn around, then looked at one agent near the door. “Shackle them and lock them up. Let’s see if they’re more willing to talk once we’re in the Western district.”
The Western District. God. She’d heard stories about that place. Only the worst criminals were brought there for interrogation. Back then, she’d thought that only included murderers. Her heart pounded when cold metal cuffs closed around her wrists. They clicked, then beeped, indicating they were secured.
She met Jack’s gaze. He still looked calm. That was probably a good sign. Maybe he and Sheppard had talked about something to get them out of here. Then again, when he’d contacted Sheppard, they didn’t know yet they’d be arrested.
After they were all cuffed, the agent left the craft. The door slammed shut, a loud crash with a finality to it that sent cold fear down her spine. She shifted.
In the dim light, she saw Jack lean forward. “Who the hell was that guy?”
She flinched, then dropped her head against the wall behind her.
“Larek.” Her cheeks flushed. “My ex-boyfriend.”
“Oh, fer crying out loud.” He groaned. “Your ex-boyfriend was Aschen Justice?”
“No, he wasn’t with the justice ministry back then. He wanted to study at the university.”
“Yeah, well, apparently he’s with the ministry now.” He shifted and turned his wrists in the metal rings. Then he sighed. “I know it’s not your fault he showed up. But what are the odds?”
“Well, sir, judging by the current Aschen population living on Earth, and the number of Aschen justice agents—”
Right. Oh boy. Why did nervousness still make her babble? She closed her eyes. “Sorry. Having a problem to solve helps me not to overthink.”
Jennifer cleared her throat. “So what now?” She looked from one to the other. “I mean, we have to do something. We can’t let them take us to the Western justice station. I heard they hold people there indefinitely and never let them go again.”
“We’re not there yet.” Again, he shifted in the cuffs. “Carter, any chance we can use that ex-boyfriend of yours?”
“Use him? I guess I can try to distract him, but he didn’t seem overly interested in me anymore. And he certainly won’t help us seeing that he just ratted us out.”
“We need to get out of these shackles first. Any chance we can get the keycard opening these?” His gaze darted to the door.
“Not sure. But maybe we don’t need it.” Sam sat up, her gaze fixated on Jennifer’s hair. Hairpins. Thin, metal hairpins. Maybe she could…
“Carter?” Jack raised his brows at her.
“May I?” Sam reached up with both hands to loosen two of the pins from the front of Jennifer’s hair. “These cuffs work with an electronic lock that needs a key emitting a unique frequency to open them. If I can access the mechanism and short-circuit the power source…” She slid over to the bench on the other side to sit next to Jack, then pulled his hands into her lap.
She fumbled with the pins, tried to twist the metal block in the middle of the cuffs to gain access to the compartment holding the circuits.
“Ouch.” Jack’s breath washed against the back of her head. “Don’t forget there’s limbs attached to these.”
“Sorry, sir.” She trailed her fingers over his arms. “I’m trying my best.”
“I know you are. Just try not to break my arms.” He pecked a brief kiss on her hair, and her heart lightened. Humor. Thank God, he wasn’t mad for her slipup when she’d lied to the Aschen agents.
She fumbled around with the pins. Her own cuffs didn’t make this task any easier. She muttered a curse when one of the pins slipped through her fingers.
“You know.” Jennifer looked at the door. “I don’t want to rush you, but the guards could be back any minute.”
“Easy.” Jack gave Sam’s arm a soothing pat. “It’s fine. She has all the time in the world. You hear me, Carter? Just breathe. Take your time. No rush.”
The hell they had. But she appreciated the effort. She took a deep breath and worked at the tiny locking mechanism again. Once she had it open, the rest should be a piece of cake. “I wish I had one of my tweezers. I’d have this open in a second.”
Jack gave her a wry look. “Hey, if we’re at it already, let’s just wish for the keys. And a big honking gun.”
Sam released a soft chuckle. Leave it up to him to ease a tense situation. She focused her attention on the compartment again. Just another millimeter…
The locking clip snapped open. She blew out a jubilant breath before she opened the compartment. Then she examined the little circuits inside, and moved the pin to one of them. “Okay, this should open up the—”
“Ouch.” Jack cursed through gritted teeth.
“Whoops.” Sam flinched. “Sorry. Wrong one.”
“You don’t say.” He rubbed his hands as best as possible.
“The lighting in here isn’t ideal. I can’t see much.”
The metal handle of the door screeched. Somebody was about to enter. Her heart started pounding again. Alright, it was now or never.
Sam jammed the pin into the remaining circuit, praying it would be enough to disrupt the energy flow. A little spark shot out, then she heard a quiet click.
As the door squeaked open, she jumped over to the opposite bench to sit back down next to Jennifer, hairpins clasped in her fist.
Not a second too late. Larek climbed into the back of the hovercraft. The heavy door slammed closed behind him.
Sam sneaked a glance at Jack. He shifted his arms, sitting casually.
With heavy steps, Larek trudged over to sit on the bench next to her. She could feel his gaze on her and finally turned her head to look at him. The same blue eyes, the same serious expression. Slave. The last thing he’d said to her. She narrowed her eyes.
“Do you even know how much trouble you’re in?”
The hovercraft shifted slightly. Apparently, drivers entered the steering compartment in the front. Doors crashed shut.
“We didn’t do anything wrong.” Jack leaned forward, his face displaying the same rational coolness as Larek’s. Except Sam knew Jack’s expression was a façade.
“So you didn’t kill two Aschen justice agents out there in the corn field?” Larek’s voice dripped impatience. Jack’s face didn’t change.
Sam swallowed, when Larek locked his gaze with hers. Damn, she wasn’t even close to being as good at lying as Jack. And she was also far from being that cool and unaffected. They don’t have any proof. Even though Jack had the gun, they can’t disprove his story.
The engines of the hovercraft roared. They trembled when the vehicle started moving over the uneven ground.
“We didn’t.” She forced herself to meet Larek’s eyes.
“You were seen at your father’s house earlier. And we have information you were scheduled to meet him there.”
How she could have ever seen anything other than a weasely Aschen playboy in him?
“Scheduled to meet?” Jack smirked. “For crying out loud, Jacob’s her father. He’s my father in law. We were gonna meet for cake. You make it sound like a criminal conspiracy.”
“Her father got arrested as a terrorist. We have reliable information he’s been involved with terrorist activities for at least the past year.”
“So what?” Jack shrugged. “We’re guilty by association? We don’t know who or what he’s involved with.”
Larek hesitated, apparently contemplating the validity of Jack’s words. Then he waved towards Jennifer. “All right, if you have nothing to hide, why did you lie? And who is she?”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Jack stared at him. “Have you seen yourselves? You swarm around here and arrest everybody who’s in the vicinity. Are you seriously wondering why one might feel threatened and act defensive?”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
The two men glared at each other.
Sam cleared her throat. She softened her voice. “She’s a friend of mine.” Submissive, innocent. Just as she’d always been when they’d still dated. If she convinced Larek she hadn’t changed… “I haven’t been in the region for a while. We all wanted to meet up for coffee and catch up. I had no idea my father was involved in terrorist activities, and much less that he’d been arrested.” She grabbed Larek’s hand with one of hers. “Larek, you know me. You know I was never an enemy of the Aschen government.” Not a lie. She had never been. Until he’d broken up with her, and made her realize what was actually going on in their world.
Larek’s eyes flickered with something. Sympathy? The willingness to believe her? He released a sigh. “Sam, what do you expect me to do?” He shook his head. “You lied to the high commander.”
“I was scared. I had no idea what was going on. I’ve never done harm against the Aschen government, but you treated me like a criminal.” Also not a lie—technically. She’d never directly acted against the Aschen government before.
“Sam, all you have to do is be honest.”
“What will happen to us now?”
“You’ll be taken in for questioning. If you tell us the truth and you can’t be connected with any kind of terrorist activity, you won’t be harmed.” He turned his head and studied Jack. “Is he really your husband?”
“Yes.” Sam nodded. “He is. We’re officially registered. You can check.” At least that she knew was true.
Silence. The hovercraft ran over some irregularities on the ground. The vibrations of the engine hummed through Sam’s body. It would have been soothing had their surroundings been different.
Her gaze locked with Jack’s. The hint of a smirk played around his mouth, and his eyes sparkled. Undoubtedly amused by her lies.
It didn’t look as though he was gonna make use of his free hands soon. Well, what were they going to do anyway? If they jumped out of a hovercraft traveling at full speed, they’d most likely retain severe injuries. Besides, they’d never be able to run fast enough to evade recapture.
If they waited until they arrived at the Western justice station, though, there’d be no way for them to escape anymore. The Western justice station was known for its security measures. Nobody had ever escaped from there.
Jack didn’t seem to be concerned at the least. Or if he was, it didn’t show in his eyes.
Next to her, Larek turned. “You’ve changed.”
She turned her head, studied him. “So have you. Aschen security agent? I thought you wanted to apply for a master’s degree in marine biology.” Hopefully her smile didn’t look as fake as she felt.
“I didn’t pass the entrance exam. Maybe next year.” His eyes drifted up to her hair, then he reached a hand out and touched the short strands at her temple. Sam forced herself not to flinch at his touch. “I love your new hairstyle. It’s different.”
Take your filthy hands off me before I break your arm. “Thank you.” She smiled that girlish, naïve smile she’d used so often with him. As she turned her head, her eyes met Jack’s. He observed her with an indefinable expression. His eyes had darkened, his jaw clenched. Such subtle signs, and yet she recognized them because she’d studied his features a thousand times. Ready to wring Larek’s neck, wasn’t he? She almost wished he would.
Larek brushed her hand with the hairpins. Sam turned to him and took his hand in her free one, tangling their fingers, distracting him. If he took the wrong hand and found the pins… “Sam. About how it ended between us…I never wanted it that way, it’s just…there are laws.”
“I’m over it.” She smiled, almost scared by how unaffected she was. Oh my God, I really am over it.
“What I said when we broke up—”
“You were right.” She turned away from him and looked at Jack. “I belong with my people. We wouldn’t have had a future. You’re Aschen. I’m human. It was never serious.”
No, it hadn’t been. For such a long time she’d thought she loved Larek. But now, compared to what she felt for Jack…
“I’m glad you’re not holding a grudge. I’m glad you and your husband get along well. It was for the best.”
“Yes, it was.” Without their breakup, she’d have never joined the resistance. She’d have never learned to fight. And she’d have never met Jack. Her stomach fluttered with an unfamiliar lightness. It had been for the best.
Larek leaned down and opened the bag at his feet. “All right. I’m supposed to take some blood from all of you for cross-referencing your DNA with our genetic database. I’m sorry, but it’s protocol.”
“Sure.” Sam nodded and offered her arm. “Anything to support the Aschen Confederation.”
Opposite her, Jack chuckled and hurried to mask it behind a cough. She glared at him. His eyes twinkled.
The hovercraft shook again, and then turned sharply, nearly throwing them all off balance. Great, and he wanted to put a syringe in her arm under these shaky conditions?
She flinched when the sharp sting of the needle pricked her arm. Not even disinfectant. Apparently the health of suspects wasn’t a concern at all. Bastard. She managed a smile when he put a band-aid on her arm.
Jennifer shifted when he slid over to sit next to her and prepared the next syringe. She winced in visible disgust. “You should apply some kind of disinfectant first. The sheer number of bacteria present on a tiny patch of skin is incredibly high.”
He glared at her, then forcefully pulled her arm back. She yelped in protest when the needle penetrated her skin.
“Really, this is risky. I’m not kidding when I say a person can die from an infection with bacteria from unhygienic—”
“Jennifer.” Jack shook his head. “Let it go. He doesn’t care.”
She fell silent, but her posture showed she did so reluctantly.
Larek had just finished drawing Jennifer’s blood when the hovercraft slowed, then came to a halt. Sam straightened. They couldn’t have reached the Western justice station yet. It was at least a twenty-minute drive from her father’s home to the Western district, even on the most modern hovercraft.
“Why did we stop?” She looked at Larek.
“Probably exchanging info with another security craft.” He got up and sat down next to Jack.
Sam was just about to relax back against the wall when Jack jerked his arm up. His fist impacted Larek’s nose. He jumped up and delivered another blow against his head. Larek slumped against Jack, who let him sink to the ground without a sound.
Sam stared at him. Talk about unexpected ambush. She jumped up when Jack signaled to the door.
The door handle creaked when she pushed it. She froze. Voices. Right outside. Damn. She flinched at Jack, who searched Larek and took his gun. She wasn’t in an ideal position to fight with her hands cuffed.
Finally, Jack nodded at her to step aside. He kicked the door open. It bumped right into one agent, who went to the ground groaning. Jack fired a shot at the second agent before the man even realized what was going on. Then he jumped down to the pavement.
Sam followed him and looked around. Forests surrounded them. They had to have taken the road around Powhatan’s center. Jack searched the agent, took his gun and some smaller items. Then he turned.
Jennifer stood on the craft and stared at them, wide-eyed and apparently unsure of whether to trust them.
“Come on.” Jack grabbed her around the waist and lifted her down. “We gotta hurry.”
The second agent who’d been hit by the door stirred, then fought to get back up. Sam didn’t hesitate. A well-placed kick sent him back to the ground. Jack spun, lifted the gun and shot the agent into paralysis.
“Come on.” He urged Sam gently towards the tree line, off the road. Sam looked at the street in front of them. A fallen tree blocked the way. What a lucky coincidence.
She panted. Cuffed hands didn’t make running on uneven ground any easier. In front of her, Jack slowed. She looked up at him. “Jack, where are we go—”
An ear-shattering crash sent her flying to the ground. Her ears hummed and dizziness made the world spin in front of her. Disoriented, Sam lifted her head and leaned up on her arms. What on Earth?
She turned. The Aschen hovercraft had turned into a fireball. An explosion. She held her breath and got to her feet, staring at what used to be the vehicle. What could have caused an explosion like that?
Then she froze. Larek. He’d still been inside.
Something stung in her chest, made her want to run to the burning craft, pull him out. What was the matter with her? He was the enemy. He’d betrayed her. She hated him. Hated. Him.
Besides, there was no way he’d survived the explosion.
She imagined his face. How he’d smiled at some of her jokes. Told her about his studies and school. Kissed her. One year they’d been together. It’d been a good year, regardless of how it ended. And still, after all she knew now… Why did his death leave her so empty?
What was that feeling? Love? Fulfilled revenge? Rage? Sadness? Maybe a little bit of everything.
“Hey.” A warm palm on her shoulder made her turn her head. Jack’s face swam before her eyes. She gave him a smile, or at least tried to. “He was the enemy.” His voice was gentle.
“Yeah.” She nodded, and took a deep breath, then wiped her hand across her eyes. “I know. He deserved this.”
“Yet it’s not that simple, is it?” He drew her close and pressed a quick kiss against her temple. “Come on, we gotta go.”
Casting a last glance at the burning hovercraft, Sam hurried to follow Jack. He’d changed direction and ran back towards the street.
Next to Sam, Jennifer panted. “Guys, shouldn’t we be running into the forest? I’m sure their reinforcements will be here any minute, and if we stay on the road—”
Jack turned his head. “Our reinforcements are here now.”
Really? Sam stared at him. As they reached the pavement, the puddle jumper decloaked in front of them and Sheppard stepped out.
“Get inside. Hurry.” His gaze rested on Jennifer, his face hardening. “Who the hell’s that?”
Jack passed him by and smacked his shoulder in greeting. “A fugitive. Doctor. She saved Carter’s life. She’s with us, at least for now.”
“Ah.” Sheppard’s face gentled and he grinned at the young doctor who looked even more nervous than before. “In that case, step inside please.” He held his hand out in invitation. Jennifer smiled back, visibly reluctant.
Once inside, Sam dropped onto one of the benches near the wall. Sheppard closed the hatch and raced to the pilot’s chair.
Jennifer turned and looked around with wide eyes. “What is this place? Who are you people?”
“Classified.” Sheppard’s voice drifted from the pilot’s seat as the jumper lifted into the air. He turned his head to Jack. “Unless you’ve been cleared?”
“She hasn’t.” Jack got up. “She just wants to get out of Powhatan. Right?”
Jennifer stared at him. Her nod was visibly hesitant. “Right.”
Jack lowered in front of Sam. She handed the hairpins to him, and he threw a quick glance at Jennifer before he went to work opening Sam’s cuffs. “Ya know, the original offer still stands. If you change your mind, let me know…”
The cuffs clicked open. Sam released a relieved breath and rubbed her wrists. Jack gave her arm a reassuring squeeze and placed the pins in her hand. “Can you take care of hers? I gotta talk to Sheppard.”
“Yes, sir.” She smiled. “Thank you.”
As Jack strolled to the front of the jumper, Sam slid over to Jennifer. Narrowing her eyes, she tried to open the little compartment of the cuffs.
“Can I ask you something?”
Sam looked up. “Sure.”
“Are you resistance?”
Sam swallowed and glanced at Jack and Sheppard. They were obviously not listening to them. Damn. She wasn’t authorized to give any information away. Better to remain silent.
Jennifer cleared her throat. “I don’t want to cause trouble. It’s just…you offered me a job, and I want to be sure, if I decided to take it, I wouldn’t be joining an organization of criminal slave traders.”
Fair enough. Sam met her gaze. She understood her reasoning. And yet… “I can’t answer your question.” She faltered. “As far as I know, doctors have an excellent insight into human nature. Maybe you should trust your initial assessment of us.”
Uh oh. Fine line she was walking here. Her cryptic hint sounded almost too much like a yes. Jennifer’s cuffs clicked open and she rubbed her wrists. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” Sam leaned her head back and closed her eyes. No more tasks to fulfill. She could rest. Finally. Her muscles ached and her head thudded with a dull pain. Too much had happened. Dad. The Aschen had arrested him and were doing who knew what to him at that very moment.
Detainees were usually tortured for information, although officially the Aschen government kept insisting they’d never used any kind of torture against humans. She’d heard stories of the methods they used to gain information.
Days of keeping suspects in a dark room. Starving them. Beating them. Depriving them of sleep. Putting a wet cloth over their face and draining water down on it until the victim thought he was dying. Her throat constricted. They were gonna kill him.
Dad. Last time she’d seen him she’d been so angry at him. She’d said such horrible things. I’m so sorry.
Larek’s death should lift her spirits at least a little. Instead everything had become so numb. What was going on?
She opened her eyes and stared at the grey wall of the jumper.
“You should rest. Your body’s been through a lot.” Jennifer’s voice pulled Sam out of her thoughts.
She frowned at the young doctor. She really wasn’t in the mood to be patronized about what she should and shouldn’t do.
Jennifer swallowed visibly. “I’m just saying. The Aschen stun gun put an incredible strain on your body. If we were at a hospital, I’d put you on a mineral infusion to prevent any long term deficiencies.”
Sam sighed. “Yeah well, that’s not really an option at the moment, is it?”
Silence. Then Jennifer turned her head to look at her again. “I’m sorry. About your ex-boyfriend, I mean.”
“Can we not talk about that?” Whoops. That’d come out gruffer than she’d intended.
“Sure.” Jennifer leaned her head back against the wall. “I’m sorry.”
Sam closed her eyes. Yeah, that had been uncalled for. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I just have a lot on my mind right now.”
The jumper gave a slight bump as it set down on the ground. Sam lifted her head as Sheppard and Jack got up and opened the exit. “What’s going on?”
Jack stepped in front of Jennifer. “If you wanna leave, now’s your chance. We’re about two hundred miles south of Powhatan, far enough for you to go anywhere you wanna go without running into Aschen Justice.”
“I…” Jennifer got up slowly. “What if I wanted to take you up on your offer?”
“Then you’d be welcome to.”
“Okay.” She inhaled deeply, then looked from Jack to Sam. Back to Jack. “I might regret this, but if what you said is true, if I can in fact study under a real doctor in your organization, I’d like to try it.” Sheppard and O’Neill exchanged a glance. Jennifer cleared her throat. “You said you needed a second doctor.”
“You gotta understand ‘I’ll try it’ is not exactly the answer we are looking for.” Sheppard folded his arms.
Jennifer looked from one man to the other. Then she straightened and lifted her chin. “Honestly, I don’t know what else to tell you. I don’t know you people. If you’re the resistance against the Aschen, I want to join you. If you aren’t, and I’ll end up in a slave labor camp or patching up injured sex workers in a mob hospital, I reserve the right to end my commitment.”
Sam lowered her head to stifle a smile. She was kinda cute trying to play brave. And it would have worked, had every one of her limbs not trembled in fear. She looked up at Jack and cocked her head. Come on, sir, don’t give her a hard time.
Jack smirked, then relaxed his stance. “All right. We’ll have to sedate you.”
“You…what?” She took a step back.
“It’s fine.” Sam put her hand on the woman’s shoulder. “It’s just for our protection until you’re cleared.”
“You guarantee I won’t wake up prisoner in some slave camp?”
Jack gave a firm nod. “You have my word.”
“Okay. Not sure that counts for much, but up to now you’ve stood by what you said.” She released a sigh. “Do what you have to do.”
“Sheppard…” Jack nodded at the other colonel, then he locked his gaze with Sam’s. “Carter, a word?”
He signaled to the open jumper’s exit. Confused, Sam followed him down the ramp outside. Crisp wind made her shiver, and she rubbed her arms against the breeze. Sheppard had parked in the middle of a vast field on a cliff. On the right, the Atlantic ocean sparkled under the rays of the evening sun. So peaceful. She inhaled the salty air.
When they were about ten meters away from the jumper, Jack turned. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” She swallowed when he tilted his head, studying her. “As okay as possible after everything that happened.”
He took her hands, his thumbs trailing over her wrists. “We had to blow up the hovercraft with the puddle jumper to make it look like we’d all died in it. I know Larek’ death unsettled you and—”
“It’s not…It’s fine. It was the only reasonable solution.” She closed her eyes. If only the numbness inside her would go away. “There was nothing between Larek and me anymore.” She squeezed his hands.
“I know that.” He nodded and drew her closer. “Revenge’s not as satisfying as one might think, is it?”
She looked up, drowning in his eyes. The evening sun brought out the chestnut in them.
“You’re allowed to be sad. Nobody’ll judge you. He was your first love.”
“No, he… He was the first man I dated.” She sighed. Had she ever loved Larek? Maybe she’d thought she did at some point, but with what she knew now… She studied the man in front of her. Jack. The wind ruffled his short, unruly hair. “He was the reason I joined the resistance. I wanted to become stronger so that one day I could take revenge and pay him back for what he did. Show him I’m not a slave. And now he’s dead.” She swallowed hard against a lump in her throat. “Suddenly all that is gone. And I feel so empty.” She inhaled deeply.
“C’mere.” Jack pulled her into his arms. He nuzzled her neck.
“And my dad…” Her eyes burned. She didn’t wanna cry. Not now. “We have to get him back.”
“Yeah, about that.” He cupped her face with his hands. “I won’t go back to Antarctica with you. I’ll go back to Powhatan and find your dad.”
Her heart beat faster. She gave him a determined nod. “I’ll go with you.”
“No. You’ll go back to Antarctica with Sheppard.”
“You’ll need backup. I know Powhatan like the back of my hand, and I know people there who could—”
“Carter.” He frowned at her. “That wasn’t a request.”
She lifted her chin and folded her arms. How dare he talk to her like that. When it was about her family. Her father. He had no right to make this decision for her. “Jack, you can’t expect me to—”
“Yes, I can, Ensign.” His eyes flared. “I’m your commanding officer, and I’m giving you a direct order.”
She gritted her teeth against her curse. He couldn’t tell her what to do. Not now. Instead of saying anything, she spun around to face the ocean, her fingers clutching the material of her shirt. They’d agreed he’d never abuse his command position. How could he order her not to join the search for her father? She knew Powhatan better than anyone else. He couldn’t just exclude her because he wanted her safe.
“If this is because you want to protect me—”
“No, Carter, it’s not.” Behind her, Jack sighed. “And I’m not in the mood to discuss my decision with you now.”
“Oh, how convenient.” She scoffed.
“As your commanding officer, I don’t have to justify my orders.”
Sam turned and glared at him. His eyes blazed, then his face gentled.
“Sam. Aside from the fact you just got shot, you have no solo mission training. I don’t have the time to teach you the skills you need for this mission. You’re not qualified.”
Her shoulders slumped. Why did his reasoning have to be so logical? She hadn’t received solo mission training. She hadn’t been trained for on-world missions or contact with the Aschen.
“You’re most likely on the Aschen’s wanted list, so I want you as far from Powhatan as possible.” He stepped up to her and pulled her close. “You’d be a liability. I can’t afford to have to watch out for someone. The nature of this mission leaves little room for teamwork. You gotta trust me.”
“It’ll be dangerous.” Her eyes found the horizon. Infinite blue melting into red.
“You’ll be on your own.” She wrapped her arms around his waist, pulling him impossibly closer. He’d be all alone. Nobody to watch his back. If something went wrong…
“It’s nothing I haven’t done before. I was trained for these kinds of missions. I’m used to working alone.” He lifted his head and gave her a gentle smile. “That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer working with my team.”
She smiled through her pain, cupped his cheek with her hand, and placed his forehead against hers. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I promise.” He turned his head and placed a hot kiss against her palm.
She’d have to let him go. She’d lost her father. What if she lost Jack too? Her breath hitched when he pulled her into a tight embrace once more.
“I’ll bring your dad back to you.”
Behind them, Sheppard cleared his throat. Both of them shifted to look at him. The other colonel grinned. “She’s unconscious. Ready to start if you are.”
“All right.” Jack nodded. “Carter’ll be right in with you. Sheppard.”
Sheppard raised his brows.
Jack cleared his throat. “Take care of her, will you?”
Sheppard nodded. “Of course. And you be safe.” He disappeared in the jumper again.
Sam turned back to Jack. At the horizon, the ocean glowed red. “I’ll see you when you get back?”
“Yeah sure, ya betcha.” His eyes sparkled. She smiled through the sting in her chest and took a step backwards toward the jumper. “Hey.” His hand closed around her wrist.
The next moment, he pressed her flat against his chest, his hot lips taking hers. Her palms flat against his chest, Sam opened her mouth to his darting tongue, melted into him. His heart pounded hard and fast under her fingers. She leaned into him, allowed herself to fall into the kiss.
If only this moment wouldn’t end. If only she could freeze time. This felt too much like a last goodbye.
She clutched his shirt as if, by sheer willpower, she could delay their separation. When they broke apart, her vision blurred. He released her. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered against the cold.
As he turned and trudged over the grass towards the next road in the distance, she watched him grow smaller and smaller. Sam closed her eyes and swallowed against the lump in her throat. If only she could go with him.
She turned and, after one last glance at the ocean, stepped into the jumper. The hatch hummed as it slowly shut. As the locks clicked into place, the finality of the sound made her throat tightened. She closed her eyes and laid her hand against the cold metal.
Please come back to me.