By Ted Sadler
Copyright © 2004
All publicly recognisable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Chapter 1 - Pleased to see you again
"I ask you once again." insisted Colonel O'Neill from his place at the far end of the briefing room table. "This 'device' is worth almost any price that they're asking, right? *Any* price at all?"
"As I've already explained twice, Sir," insisted Major Samantha Carter through momentarily clenched teeth, "it most certainly is. Without question. And not only for military purposes. The Andans' subspace multiplier can double or treble the output from generators, batteries and dynamos of almost any size. So not only can we miniaturise the equipment needed to power almost any electrical or mechanical device, we can significantly reduce global pollution and conserve natural resources. I ask you, Sir, whether there could conceivably be *anything* in goods or services that wouldn't be worth offering to a race sufficiently close to us in so many ways for such a prize. The negotiations have reached an advanced stage and should draw to a conclusion - a *positive* conclusion, I may add, within days."
She stared hard at the man she had thought about often during the last four months, after he had seemingly deliberately cut himself off from his former SG-1 colleagues. She had spent only two hours in his presence during the meeting and he had spoken only in the last ten minutes, and already she felt irritated by his negative attitude and persistent questioning about a project that was so near to success. However his next statement took her a little by surprise.
"That's what worries me." said Jack. "But if so many experts here are in harmony, who am I to disagree?" He looked across at General Hammond as if for approval, and Sam noticed the grave expression on the CO's face as he gave Jack an almost imperceptible nod. She looked back at Jack and could not miss the grim set of his jaw.
"Very well." said Hammond. "The mission to complete the trade negotiations on the Andan homeworld will proceed as scheduled tomorrow, departing at 0800 hours. Major Carter, you will be in overall charge. You will lead SG-1 augmented by Captain Hailey, who will assist in the technological evaluation. SG-13 will accompany you to engage in secondary-level talks with the Andans on the subjects discussed earlier." Sam and the others started clearing the papers in front of them in anticipation of the meeting being brought to a close. They were halted by the General's next words.
"Colonel O'Neill will also accompany you to Andar but will not be part of your command and will not participate in the talks. He will report directly to me if at all feasible during the mission. Should that not prove possible, you will follow his orders in the event of an emergency. That is all. Colonel, please remain behind."
'Why does he still do this to me?' thought Sam as she sat at the desk in her office, trying but not succeeding in finalising the mission paperwork. 'It shouldn't matter a bit now that I'm seeing Pete regularly. Maybe his pride was hurt at first, but cutting himself off from me like that is just plain childish. Stupid moron.'
Her musings continued like this, gentler at times but with the occasional angry word thrown in. It was just after the phrase 'mule-headed adolescent' had come and gone that she realised with a start that the cause of her disquiet was standing in the doorway, and must have been there for a few moments at least, watching her in silence. She looked up at him, startled.
"Sir? I'm sorry, I didn't..."
"That much is obvious, Carter. At ease." replied Jack in a gentle voice that neither calmed her nerves nor led her to believe that he was trying to build a bridge back. She was not disappointed when he followed it with "Hammond wants to see you in five minutes."
Sam decided that the only way to feed her burning curiosity would be by direct action. "Sir, why are you coming tomorrow? Are you part of the negotiating team?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes I suppose so." said Jack. "But don't worry; they won't be testing my diplomatic skills. You know that mule-headed adolescents fall a little short of you experts in that department."
Shocked by the realisation that her musings hadn't been entirely silent, she nevertheless ignored the barbed comment and persisted. "Is there nothing you can tell us, Sir? I mean, your abilities are an asset to any team, and.."
"That's bullshit, Carter, and you know it." he interjected. "You people don't want me on this picnic and I would rather not be there either. But don't worry, you won't notice me. And if you do, we'll have other things to worry about."
Suddenly irritated again by his apparently hostile attitude, she retorted, "Are we still talking about the mission, Sir? Or had you something else in mind?"
"Four minutes now, Major." was all he said as he turned and strolled away down the corridor. The last thing she heard was his joyful exclamation of "Daniel! Descended any further yet?" and her colleague's laughing reply.
'Damn you, Jack O'Neill!' she silently raged. She noticed with surprise that her hands were shaking, and she wondered yet again how this man could be having such an effect at a time when she thought that her life was heading in a positive direction both in work and at leisure. Eventually, with a sigh she picked up the phone to tell her boyfriend that, once again, she would be back in a few days time, and no, she couldn't say exactly when. His exasperation was only too clear down the line and she swallowed hard when he angrily terminated the call mid-way through her statement that they could probably look forward to a week-end together sometime soon.
The two SG teams were already lined up when Jack appeared in the Gate Room. Most, except for Sam, smiled at him in greeting and he nodded in reply. It wasn't just his presence that made her react this way - she was puzzled why he was dressed in combat fatigues designed for jungle warfare in place of the regular uniforms that they were wearing, and instead of the holstered side-arms that they all carried, he sported a large rifle cover slung across his right shoulder, tucked in against an obviously very heavy rucksack.
"Sir?" was all she said.
"Classified, Major." was the terse reply, drowned out by Hammond's voice on the loudspeaker giving them the order to embark.
Through the wormhole, they hadn't long to wait on the small island that was home to the only Stargate on Andar. O'Neill called them to a halt before they descended the wide path down to a jetty some two hundred metres distant, where three motor-boats were waiting to transport them to the mainland.
"Major Carter." he called, drawing a small envelope from his front pocket as he spoke. "These sealed orders from General Hammond will confirm what I am about to tell you all." He made sure that he had everyone's attention.
"The trade negotiations will continue for the next two days before the Andans will come to a decision. Under no circumstances are you to question them or speculate about my role in this mission. Do not even mention me. By that time, the success or failure of my task will be known to them, and you can expect their willingness to conclude a deal will depend on that outcome. In the event that they are unwilling to continue, you will disengage immediately and return here to gate back to the SGC without delay. You will not, repeat *not* await my return before leaving if I have not rendezvoused with you here by that time, nor send any search parties. Is that clear?"
A quiet chorus of 'Yes, Sir' went round.
"Very well." said Jack firmly. "I'll be heading off now from the other side of the island. Good luck, Major. Look after them."
"You look after yourself too, Sir." replied Sam, as yesterday's hostility was replaced by a growing concern, the way it used to be when he'd been the focal point of her life. Before Pete. Before he'd gone away. Before she'd realised that she loved him. Just like she loved him now. Damn! And just as always, duty came before personal matters and she rapidly lost sight of him as they headed off in opposite directions.