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Sam stirred with a moan. Warmth surrounded her. Comfortable softness. Voices mumbled around her, too unclear and distant to make out the words. Images of childhood days flooded her mind. Days when she’d lain in her soft bed, and her father or Minny had read her bedtime stories.
Somebody walked by her bed, touched her arm and forehead. That was unusual. What were people doing walking around in her bedroom? Her eyes fluttered open. A ceiling of dark green canvas. Definitely not her bedroom.
Opening her eyes wider, Sam turned her head. She lay on a slim field bed in what looked like a large tent. The voices she’d heard had to come from somewhere outside.
Where was she? And how had she gotten here?
She’d been drugged, kidnapped. She jerked to a sitting position—and regretted it when dizziness hit her hard.
With another moan, she moved her legs out from under the blanket to get up. When she leaned on her hand, sharp pain shot from her palm, through her entire arm, up to her shoulder. Hissing softly, she tried to get up using only her left hand. The room spun and she had to grab on to a wooden shelf next to the bed to keep her balance.
“Whoa, whoa. Easy there, sweetie. You really shouldn’t be getting up yet.”
Sam turned her head. A red haired woman hurried towards her, dropped a file onto the bed and helped her sit back down. Sam didn’t fight her. Getting up wasn’t such a good idea anyway.
“I want you to stay in bed for at least another day until the chemicals have washed out of your system.” The woman took her left hand and began unwrapping the bandage from her palm. “This was a serious cut. I had to give you a few stitches, but it should be fine again in one or two weeks.”
Sam observed her before she finally gathered enough focus to ask the question burning in her mind. “Who are you?” She looked around. “And where am I?”
“I’m Janet Fraiser.” The doctor smiled without losing her concentration in wrapping a new bandage around Sam’s hand. “Chief medical officer of resistance Cell 4.”
“The best doctor in the entire resistance,” a male voice added from the entrance of the tent.
Sam looked up. A tall, bespectacled man, probably only a few years older than her, had stepped inside and strolled closer.
Janet rolled her eyes. “Daniel, as always you’re exaggerating.”
“She’s just modest.” The man smiled at Sam and extended a hand to greet her. “Hi. I’m Daniel. Daniel Jackson.”
He chuckled. “No, I’m an archeologist.”
“Oh.” Sam nodded. “Part of the resistance, I assume?”
“Yeah. Science department.” He grinned. “I’m responsible for decrypting texts and artifacts brought back from missions.”
“You bring back artifacts from missions?” Sam hissed when Janet hit an especially sore spot on her palm.
“Sorry.” The doctor taped her bandage and then released her hand.
Daniel Jackson cleared his throat. “Has anybody told you anything yet?”
Sam shook her head. “I just woke up here.”
“Ah.” Daniel pushed his glasses further onto his nose. “Just the rough treatment, huh? Sorry for that. We’re actually pleasant people, despite what you might think after your experience with our camp leader. He’s convinced it’s necessary to sort the wheat from the chaff. If you ask me, it’s unnecessarily cruel.”
“So’s the field.”
Sam recognized O’Neill’s voice instantly. She looked up. “We had this discussion, Daniel. I need to be sure the new recruits are gonna be able to handle the stress in the field. Otherwise we’ll soon have tons of civilians out there who know about us and our procedures, because they dropped out of training.”
“Jack.” Daniel folded his arms, glaring at him from over the rim of his glasses.
“Daniel.” O’Neill’s face remained blank.
“She’s a woman. Was that really necessary?” The archeologist pointed at her hand.
“Actually.” Sam shook her head. “It was my fault.”
“Yes, but why did it even have to come to this? Jack, can’t you at least use fake weapons?” Daniel sighed.
“The gun was fake,” O’Neill said. “Everybody else always goes for the gun. Kinda surprised me there a little bit.”
His smile made her heart jump. He looked different now, in khakis and a black shirt. Like a soldier. And a handsome one at that.
“Your gun was secured. Besides, I’ve never handled one before.” Sam held his gaze and gently rubbed her fingers over her bandaged palm.
O’Neill smirked. “See? You don’t learn if somebody still uses their wits in a stressful situation by talking to them. You gotta see them in action.”
“Daniel, I won’t discuss this anymore. I’m responsible for the safety of this camp, and for the trustworthiness of the recruits. Besides, McKay was looking for you for help with the inscriptions on the new artifact.”
Daniel left the tent, visibly discontented with the outcome of their conversation. O’Neill sat down on the bed next to Sam’s. Now that they were alone, his expression changed.
“I knew there was a beautiful woman under all that dirt and dust.”
Sam felt her cheeks grow warm and she lowered her eyes, her fingers self-consciously touching her lips.
“Listen, Daniel’s right where one thing is concerned. That shouldn’t have happened.” He touched her hand gently. “And I’m sorry about being so rough with you. I had to make sure you were not an Aschen spy, and that you have what it takes.”
Sam gave a weak smile. “I’m just glad you didn’t kill me. Where are we?” She readjusted her position to lie back on the soft pillow. Immediately, her headache and dizziness faded. Resting longer definitely didn’t seem like a bad idea.
“Resistance camp. I can’t tell you the location. Just a precaution to make it harder for spies to betray us.” He gestured to her arm where he had sedated her and she nodded.
“Right. Just so I know, how often can I expect to be drugged during my training?”
His lips twitched into a smirk. “No more drugs or sedatives. Promise.” He held her gaze in a way that made her tense with a previously unknown nervousness. What was wrong with her? Why did she become so self-conscious all of a sudden? Her skin tingled when his gaze gentled. “Get some rest. You were really weak when we got here, and I want you at full strength when your training starts.” He got up to leave.
“Jack.” He stopped. “Thank you for, you know, not killing me and giving me this chance.”
“I said I wouldn’t harm you.”
“Yes, but during the past month, I’ve come to realize people tend to lie when it comes to that. Especially to women.”
He studied her with a serious expression. “You have the perfect mindset for a resistance fighter. But from now on, you’ll have to learn one thing. Trust me, and the members of this camp.”
“Only if you refrain from drugging me in the future.” She gave him an open smile, and something flashed across his face. Something that made her muscles coil.
“It’s a deal.” He brushed her forearm with his fingers. “Get some rest. Your training’s scheduled to start in about ten days, so you need to have your strength back by then. If you need something, let me know. Or let the doc know.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “And follow her orders. I know she doesn’t look like it, but she can turn into a real dragon if you make her angry. First-hand experience here.”
Sam smiled. He straightened and walked towards the exit. Before he left, he turned around once more. “Oh, and Sam. Don’t leave camp until further notice, understood?”
She nodded, and watched as he left.
What an attractive man. How was that possible? Hours—or perhaps days ago—she been sure he’d kill her. He had a dangerous and relentless side to him. Trusting him might be a bad idea.
A few days later
“Guess who’s baaack?”
Sam shielded her eyes from the bright sunlight leaking into the tent as the entrance tarp flew open. With a groan, she pulled the pillow over her head and turned on her other side. Just a few more minutes of sleep.
“Who’s that?” the strange female voice asked. Okay, no sleep after all. She turned and eyed the woman who stood next to her sleeping bag. Her long black hair fell in pigtails at either side of her head.
“Hi.” Sam dropped her head back on the pillow. Janet was already doing her hair in front of the mirror that stood on a wooden box in one of the corners. “You must be Vala.”
As Janet had explained a few days ago, there were only three women at camp, so they’d have to share this tent. Since it was a standard tent designed for four people, each of them still had plenty of room. Much more than Sam needed, given that she didn’t own anything except the clothes she’d worn when she’d arrived.
“Vala, meet Sam.” Janet smiled into the mirror.
“Oh, great! A new one!” Vala clapped her hands, and dropped onto her sleeping bag. Then she loosened the hairbands holding her pigtails in place.
Janet grinned at Sam. “She can get on your nerves at times, but she’s okay. Just send her away when she gets to be too much for you.”
“Hey.” Vala looked at her, sulking. “I’m right here.”
Janet put down her hairbrush and turned her head. “I told you before, sometimes your cheerfulness is annoying. Don’t act like you care.”
Vala held her gaze for a moment, then shrugged and beamed at Sam. “She’s right, I don’t care.”
“Oh boy.” Sam sat up. Vala crawled over to sit next to her and eyed her curiously.
“So… what are you? Doctor? Nurse?”
“Soldier, I think.” Sam rolled out from under the covers. It was way too early for her to engage in cheerful chitchat, let alone answer questions from a complete stranger. She needed a shower first. And coffee.
“Hey, me too. This is great, maybe we’ll work together.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Sam got up and left the tent to sit down on one of the tree stumps close by. It was still early, judging from how low the sun hung in the sky. The air was mild and fresh, though.
Inside the tent Sam heard Janet chuckle. “She’s not an early bird, Vala. Not everybody is as energetic as you are.”
Sam raised her brows. Humans? Was Vala an Aschen woman?
“Look what I found on the last mission.”
“Does Daniel know you took that?” Amusement layered through Janet’s voice.
“In a way… he ordered us to pack everything up and take it home.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean for you to keep it.”
“Well, what he doesn’t know…” Oh boy. Sam couldn’t help a chuckle. Vala was sneaky—and a thief apparently.
“I’ll never understand why you’re so fixated on acquiring artifacts,” Janet said. “It’s not like we can use them against the Aschen in any way.”
“But I can sell them. Do you know what pure gold is worth on the black market?”
Sam’s head jerked up. Daniel Jackson stormed towards their tent. He faltered when he saw her and waved at the tent.
“Is she in there?”
Sam nodded and bit back a smile when he tossed the flap of the tent aside.
“Vala, where is it?”
“Daniel,” Vala purred suggestively in an obvious attempt to distract him. “I knew some day you would come to my bed.”
Oh boy. Sam shook her head. Who the hell were these people? This was beginning to feel like some kind of theatrical comedy. She threaded her fingers through her tangled hair.
“Vala. Where is the mask of Nefertiri?”
“What mask?” Oh, yeah. That sounded mock-innocent even if Sam couldn’t see Vala’s face. “Daniel, come on now. Forget about the mask.”
Rummaging sounded from inside the tent, then Daniel stormed out, carrying a small golden mask in his hand.
“Oh come on, Daniel.” Vala followed him. “I was gonna give it back. Eventually. Daniel!”
The archeologist stomped off without looking back. Sam closed her eyes and enjoyed the warm morning sun on her skin, the way the damp grass felt under her naked feet. A warm breeze grazed her bare arms and ruffled her hair. This was freedom.
Her training would start in three days. So far, everybody seemed to respect her. She’d spent most of the time with Janet while going through her medical check-ups. Her hand had almost healed, and two days ago, a man named John Sheppard had given her a basic introductory briefing about her upcoming weeks of training at camp. All rather basic information that gave no inside details about proceedings.
Curiosity peaked, she waited patiently through the briefings, the medical exams, and the introductory classes.
She looked up at the sound of O’Neill’s voice. She’d hardly seen him during the past few days. Flushing, she glanced down at herself. Jack didn’t seem to care she was still in the shorts and top she wore for sleeping. His gaze remained on her face.
As camp commander and highest-ranking officer, people respected him. He always seemed to be aware of his status and kept his distance from many of the other members. Sam admired him for what he had to put up with on a daily basis. Just yesterday, she’d witnessed him getting into a lively discussion with one of the scientists—an unfriendly, and very arrogant man—about some type of equipment that he needed.
“Jack.” Sam winced when he raised his eyebrows. Damn. Messed up already. “Sorry, sir.”
His gaze softened. “With me please.” He turned and trudged towards the large tent that marked the center of the resistance camp.
She got up from the tree stump and hurried after him on bare feet. Pulling aside the mosquito net covering the entrance, she followed him into the command tent. Jack walked around his desk and picked up a few papers.
“I got the results of your physicals this morning.” He looked up at her, his expression blank. Sam hugged herself and waited for him to continue. “Everything looks fine, except for one little detail.”
“Oh?” Sam held her breath. Was there something wrong with her health?
“You’re gifted.” He sat down, his gaze fixating on her.
She folded her arms, jaw clenching. How could Janet run a fertility test without informing her? It was bad enough the Aschen invaded people’s privacy that way.
“I take it you’re aware of your condition.” His expression darkened, no doubt for her hostile behavior. “When exactly were you planning on telling me?”
“Frankly? Not at all. It doesn’t matter. I’m just as capable a fighter. I can do things just as well as non-gifted females—or males.”
She didn’t avert her eyes. If he meant to intimidate her with his hardened gaze, he was mistaken thinking she’d cave that easily.
“This has nothing to do with you being a woman.” He put his pen down. “I like women.”
Something about the way he said it made her feel tingly. A dangerous feeling. Dangerous and disturbing.
Jack leaned back in his chair. “They’re excellent fighters from what I’ve experienced. Plus, on covert missions they’re a lot less suspicious.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“The problem is, you failed to inform me, or Janet. We had to find out through testing. Gifted members are a lot easier to identify by the DNA comparison with records in the Aschen ‘gifted’-database, which puts their friends, families and other social connections in danger.” He rubbed his palm over his face. “Trust is imperative here, Sam. I need to be able to trust you and for that I need you to tell me everything.”
“The Aschen don’t know I’m gifted.” She dropped her arms. He had a point. She hadn’t considered the possibility of identification.
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I wasn’t sure…” She pressed her lips together, groping for words.
Jack leaned forward onto the desk and gentled his voice. “Weren’t sure of what?”
“I wasn’t sure whether you’d dismiss me once you learned.” She lifted her chin and swallowed, suddenly feeling uncomfortable under his scrutiny.
“I’m gifted, too.” He looked down and made a few notes on a piece of paper in front of him. Sam’s eyes widened in surprise. “I understand why you tried to keep it secret. You’re not the only one carrying that burden. At least here at camp, it’s nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. Nobody will hold it against you or treat you differently. Janet and I just have to know so we can take precautions.”
“What do you mean?” She sat down on one of the wooden boxes that lined the tent, apparently filled with all kinds of files and papers.
“Janet developed a serum. Provided it’s administered once a month, it makes any fertility test result come back negative. Something about protein markers. You’d have to ask her for the details, I’m not much of a scientist. One side effect is you won’t be able to become pregnant for as long as you receive the treatment. But I assume that wasn’t on your to-do list anyway.”
Sam released a little chuckle and shook her head. “Definitely not.”
“The treatment’s still experimental, but it worked for me, and seven other people at camp. For now, it’ll have to do.”
Sam jumped up. “That’s incredible. You could make the treatment accessible to the general public. If everybody got a negative test result, the strict Aschen rules wouldn’t apply anymore. Many gifted people could live free of oppression.”
“No.” Jack played with the pen, his dark eyes locking with hers. “That is not, and will never be, an option. We need the human race to survive. Until we’ve found a cure against the infertility, the breeding system is our best chance of that happening.”
“That’s cruel.” Sam narrowed her eyes. How could he, as a man who was gifted himself, talk so coldly about the oppression that was going on? “Those are people out there. Humans like you and me.” She fisted her hands and shook her head. “I don’t believe this.”
“We can’t change that at the moment.” Jack’s eyes blazed. “We can’t fight at all fronts. There are other fields that we have to spend our resources on. Preventing the human race from procreating hardly seems the right way to defeat the Aschen in the long run.”
“So, what, we’ll just let those people be?” This was infuriating. How could he talk about an entire class of people as though he didn’t care about them at all? As though they were casualties.
“That’s exactly what we’re doing.” His voice hardened. “And so will you.” He took a deep breath. “Sacrifices have to be made.”
Sam scoffed. “I see. Just not by you.”
Jack jerked up from his desk and slapped his palms on the files. “Don’t you dare believe this work doesn’t come with sacrifices.”
Sam held her breath, and swallowed hard.
“Sometimes you’ll have to make bigger sacrifices than any other human on Earth ever could.” His voice gentled when she lowered her head. “Trust me on this for now. Once your training is complete, I’m sure you’ll understand my reasons.”
Sam nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I want you to give the treatment a try. So far there’ve been only minor side-effects, like mild headaches in the beginning. And you’ll be under constant surveillance, so no need to be concerned.”
“I’ll give it a try.” She lifted her eyes. His gaze was calm again, an almost amused glint in his eyes.
“Little piece of advice, though. In the future, you might wanna refrain from getting into discussions with superior officers. Not that I mind a bit of sass in a recruit, but some instructors and other camp leaders aren’t that liberal.”
She smiled. “Yes, sir. Sorry. I—This whole command structure thing is new for me. I’m grateful you’re giving me this chance.”
“Sam.” His tone softened as she turned to leave the tent. “From now on I want you to trust us. We can only react accordingly if you confide in us.”
“Understood.” With a faint smile, she turned and left the tent.
Jack swallowed hard as the young recruit left his tent. His eyes dropped down to her bare legs and he averted his gaze quickly. Damn was she beautiful. And feisty.
He still remembered his first day in the resistance, and the fierce speech he’d given his own camp commander about sharing weapons with the public. Sam Carter couldn’t know better, she hadn’t been briefed about their activities yet. Could he blame her for seeing things the way she did?
He chuckled and leaned back in his chair, his hands pressing against his forehead. He’d never met a woman so brave and ready to fight for her convictions. Somehow, he couldn’t shed the feeling she’d be a handful. But something about her perseverance, creativity and wits also told him she’d be worth the effort.
When he’d first seen her in the bar, he thought she was interesting. Only a blind person would be oblivious to her beauty. He groaned. Here we go again.
She was his subordinate now, for crying out loud.
He couldn’t ogle a recruit and remain impartial in his judgment of her abilities. When it came to resistance matters, he’d always been able to tune out personal feelings. One-night-stands or affairs with co-workers, or worse, recruits, were out of the question.
He’d probably have to be careful around Carter. The rules didn’t forbid having affairs or even relationships with lower ranking members, but he’d seen affairs go wrong in other camps. When relationships went badly it tended to mess up operations.
He’d had many affairs when he was younger—right after Sara had left. He’d used sex as a means to vent his anger and pain, but as he grew older, the desire for such short-lived experiences faded. So, certainly he’d be able to keep his physical attraction for her in check.
He didn’t get involved with relationships that developed at camp. Considering their isolation, it was natural for people to grow close. Too strict rules lowered morel and motivation, especially with a cause as seemingly hopeless as theirs.
Yet he was very careful about getting involved with somebody himself. And he just had a feeling that Sam Carter would put this principle of his to the test, whether she intended to or not.