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 – Showcase
Elapsed time on board (ETOB): LD-15. Elapsed time at origin (ETAO): LD-15
"I am truly proud to have been selected to lead this mission." stated the normally impassive Dr. Jocelyn Stevens, casually brushing her long hair off her forehead, an action she had performed unconsciously for years now. "The decommissioning of Prometheus from Stargate Command gave us just the start we were looking for."
The screen cut to library shots of the former battle cruiser taking off from the Nevada desert and lumbering, if that were an adequate description, into the stratosphere on a cloudless day. Dr. Stevens' voice continued over the well-known footage taken when it had first been revealed to the world, flying slowly over The White House trailing a formation escort of F-302 interceptors.
"It has taken nearly three years to replace the weapons systems and other items no longer needed now that peace reigns throughout the Galaxy." she continued, her refined Baltimore accent making it sound as though the whole war against the Goa'uld had been merely an unpleasant interlude. "The scientists on this epic voyage of discovery are at one with me in deploring the former hostile face that the mankind has presented to the civilisations of the Universe, however necessary it was felt to be at the time. This reborn research ship will provide us with knowledge about the true nature of the fabric of space. What we learn will be passed to all races that desire or need that knowledge."
"What will the primary focus of the mission be?" came a reporter's question off-camera.
"To observe the structure of our Galaxy as it really is in normal space- time." replied Dr. Stevens. "The way we might see it through enormous telescopes and other measuring instruments if only the Earth's atmosphere didn't distort the images at such high magnification, nor filter out radiation of various kinds. From that we can begin to understand how it all began and where it's going."
She had been answering reporters' inane questions long enough to know that going into scientific detail was something that the popular TV stations would edit out or voice over. Her selection as project leader had after all been based largely on her ability to handle the media and come out of it smelling of roses. Well, getting repeat air-time anyway and plenty of exposure for the sponsor, with whom she was now inextricably linked in the public's eye. That and the obvious fact that, at the age of fifty five she was stunningly good-looking and could hold her own against any form of aggressive media questioning.
"But don't we have access to all this data by travelling through the Stargates?" came another question.
"Yes, some." she responded. "But not all. Stargates just land us on other planets with atmospheres similar to our own, where the same restrictions apply. All we get is a different viewpoint of the Universe, which while adding to our knowledge, is still limited to what we can see. By taking a stable observation platform into space we can get the level of detail we need to prove or disprove the various theories of how the Universe came to exist and how it is evolving."
"But we've got bigger telescopes on Earth than you'll ever be able to carry on board the ship. How will you see more detail?" asked a woman in the studio.
"Firstly, a small telescope in the clarity and stillness of space can be used to gather more data than a much bigger one on the surface of a planet. Remember Hubble?" said Dr. Stevens. "And secondly, as you will see when we give progress reports at various stages of our voyage, in fact we will have the equivalent of a telescope some sixty kilometres – that's around thirty eight miles – in diameter."
"You'll be gone for a long time, maybe twenty years, before you get back." stated another reporter. "Why is that necessary? Are you really willing to leave everything and everyone behind like that?"
"Because we'll only be using hyperspace jumps to get from one part of the Galaxy to another, where we will carry out the observation runs." she said. "You can't measure anything accurately inside hyperspace until you exit the wormhole that the ship creates to make the jumps. When we're back in normal space, we will be travelling at high sub-light speeds in the *normal* universe, when the time dilation factor predicted by Einstein will become a significant factor. Time will pass more slowly for us on board, so it will seem only as though months have elapsed. For people on Earth and other planets travelling at much lower speeds, it will be anything up to twenty years, maybe more, before we are seen to return."
"But what about the crew? What if they get homesick, knowing that all their friends and relatives will be grown up or dead by the time they return?"
"Everyone last one has been selected carefully and nearly all are folks with few or no attachments back home. All, with one exception, are renowned and capable scientists dedicated to their research. They will come back to new friends and great career prospects. They all believe that it's worth the price."
The obvious question was shouted out by several people in the studio. "Who's the exception? What does he or she do?"
"The insurance company that backs our sponsor, Madonna Megaburgers, has insisted that we take a security expert along with us. We don't think it's necessary, but they do and so we had to comply. But we insisted that the person be able to make a scientific contribution as well, even if it is a limited one. We therefore have former Air Force General Jack O'Neill along for the ride. He was in Stargate Command for a while so he has some experience of space travel. However, we will *not* allow the military mindset to dominate our tasks and strategy. This is a peaceful, scientific mission as I have said already. He will act as an advisor to me and no more."
"Ain't his life going to be peachy?" The comment from a stranger further down the bar interrupted Sam Carter's fixation on the TV screen up on the wall. She looked round to see a well-built older man, probably ex-military himself, throwing back the last of a shot glass of Bourbon before turning to leave, throwing his leather coat over his shoulder.
She'd heard rumours, of course, that after his sudden retirement and disappearance from her life, Jack had been looking for ways of getting off the planet to live out his life elsewhere. Edora, and the probability of him wanting to seek out an old love there was the most likely, she thought. It wasn't as if he had anything or anyone left back here, as much as she had wanted to re-establish contact with him. But why would he want her to do that? She felt the guilt and resentment flare up once more and mouthed a single word in a low voice.
The man beside her looked up suddenly from his own beer. Obviously she'd not exercised enough self-control. Arguing with Pete once again, particularly over the subject of her former commanding officer, had become something she had less and less tolerance for and she just knew what his next words would be, and how she would react to them.
"The record's getting stale, Sam. For someone you supposedly once had the hots for, you sure show how you hate him for running away like that. The guy ran out on you all, simple as that. Couldn't face his responsibilities and knew when to cut out. Got to give him marks for self-preservation anyway. Twenty years hiding away in space will suit him just fine."
Sam's knuckles were white around her beer glass, but she steadied herself and placed it back on the bar top. She paused a moment, continuing to look at the TV screen.
"They turned down my application."
"What application?" asked Pete in surprise.
"That one." she replied, nodding in the direction of the screen.
He turned and stared at her, open-mouthed. "When...?"
"Three months ago." she stated quietly. "Said I had too many responsibilities in the SGC and I was *too valuable* to let go."
"You wanted to go on that mission? For twenty years?" he almost shouted at her. "Jesus, Sam, what the hell were you thinking? I thought we..."
"You thought wrong, Pete. You know as well as I do that it isn't working any more, is it? Don't tell me that you've been coming over here for more than sex at weekends these last few months. What's that English expression that Sarah uses? 'A quick leg-over'?"
"I didn't notice you objecting! Sam, for God's sake, we can put things right again. It's not as if the SGC's much of a place to be now that the Stargate is public knowledge. You can give it up too..."
"Maybe I could, but I won't."
"And why not? Still trying to tread in the footsteps of the *great* Jack O'Neill? The man who's running off in front of our eyes?"
"Just because I was infatuated enough with you to persuade him to let you in on the secret doesn't mean you know diddley squat about him. So I suggest you quit while you're ahead, Pete." Sam's warning tone cut the air and he knew enough of her rare flashes of temper and ability to hurt him physically to back off.
"Look, Sam, can't we...?"
"Not this time. I'm going out riding now for a few hours. Just be gone with all your things by the time I get back." She placed the empty glass back on the bar, reached into the pocket of her riding leathers and threw a few dollar coins on the bar, their shiny newness reflecting the sunlight streaming in through the window as they landed on the counter. She reached down for her crash helmet and walked out without looking back.
She was not surprised to find that Pete had done as she'd wanted, and her house was cleared of the last traces of their three-year romance. She ought to be feeling regret at his going, but if it was there, it was subsumed by the slowly-growing, greater anguish over the loss of someone she cared about more than her own life. Someone she'd taken for granted, made her feel alive when she was with him, hurt when he was hurt, devastated when he he'd left. She had ridden past *his* house on the way back home, in the forlorn hope that he just might be... But the new owners were there, an older couple tending the front garden, smiling up at her as she'd slowed down to a crawl as she passed, rubbernecking the house.
But she knew that although he might avoid making direct contact with her, Jack wouldn't go without saying goodbye to Daniel and Sarah, nor Teal'c, nor Cassie, and after sitting alone in the dark for half an hour, she suddenly was taken with the notion to pay a surprise visit to each of them, dotted as they were in different parts of Colorado Springs. Just to leave a message to tell her when he was visiting. And maybe just in the very faint hope that *he* might be there.
Fifteen days left to do something, *anything* to get her life back on track.