Stargate SG-1 fic: Concerning Command
[#3 of The Great Ring series]
by jennickels (aka Jen Connelly)
The newly formed Alpha Team goes on their first mission. Things, of course, don’t end well and Jack finally confronts Sam about her command.
don’t own… wish I did, but I don’t. No infringement intended.
Sam watched over the shoulder of the technician as he controlled the dialing program to the Ring below. She could almost hear the tech’s teeth grinding in agitation.
“No, sir,” Sam said, turning to face the general. “The program seems to be working fine.”
He nodded in response then moved between her and the controls. Sam took that as her cue to leave. Seconds later she joined the other two members of her team. They were kitted out in full gear—jungle fatigues, tactical vests, heavy packs, helmets and MP5s each.
Sam struggled to get her pack on over her bulky vest until O’Neill pulled it roughly onto her shoulders with a barely contained sigh. Sam was reminded of needing help with her school bag in kindergarten. “Thanks,” she muttered. He watched her put on her helmet and adjust her weapon.
“You okay?” he finally asked.
Sam glanced around the room quickly. Kawalsky was at the foot of the ramp chatting with an SF. The other guards were at their posts, out of earshot. She looked up at O’Neill. His eyes tracked her intently and Sam felt pulled into their depths. She could get lost in those eyes, she thought. Realizing where her thoughts were going, she shook herself out of it.
“Fine, why?” she answered a tad too late.
O’Neill regarded her a moment longer, his hands resting lightly on his gun—the picture of relaxed—while the giant metal ring turned behind him. “You look nervous.”
Sam frowned. “I’m not.”
“It’s okay to be nervous.” She was slightly surprised he didn’t laugh outright at her.
Adjusting her helmet one last time she told him, “I said I wasn’t nervous.” She didn’t sound all that convincing even to her own ears and she could tell nothing would get by the ex-colonel. She felt slightly sick.
“I remember the first mission I lead. I threw up twice before we left.”
“How do you know this is my first mission?” Sam gripped her MP5 tightly, using her growing irritation to cover her nerves and shaking hands. O’Neill just gave her a look that made her feel as if he could almost read her mind then turned to face the Ring as the tech called out the sixth chevron. The ramp began to vibrate in full force, the metal chattered loudly against the concrete in the expansive room. The air felt charged as the inner ring swept around looking for the final symbol to lock onto. Sam felt all the hairs on her arms stand up adding to the edge of uncertainty.
“How’s this thing work again?”
She glanced sideways at O’Neill, not sure if he was serious or trying to distract her. Either way she couldn’t resist. “In theory-” Sam rattled off her prepared speech. She’d told the thing so many time it just became her standard response any time anyone asked about the Ring. The rest of her recitation was drowned out by the sudden surge of the unstable vortex into the space in front of her. No matter how many times she watched it form she was still in awe. She realized her jaw was hanging open and snapped it shut. She was sure O’Neill was grinning at her.
The planet they were going to was chosen because it appeared abandoned by the Goa’uld. There were no guards at the Ring that they could tell with their remote controlled probe—the MALP. It would be an easy first mission for the Alpha team—something to ease them into Ring travel and working with each other.
Kawalsky looked a little awestruck, too, but O’Neill looked completely nonchalant as he watched everyone, almost ignoring the glimmering pool of the event horizon. Sam wondered how he could be so relaxed when they were about to cross the galaxy to an unknown planet with just one step. He turned to her with a bright smile and a glimmer of mischief in his eyes. After a moment he raised both eyebrows in an obvious silent question. Oh, right, Sam thought, I’m in charge.
Regaining her composure she looked up to the control room and an amused Hammond.
“You have a go, Alpha team. Godspeed.”
Sam licked her lips then signaled for her team to move out. The three quickly ascended the ramp but all, even O’Neill, hesitated at the event horizon. Sam felt some perverse relief that the ex-colonel was just a little leery of what they were about to do.
“You said this thing tears apart our bodies?” Kawalsky asked, his voice wavering a bit.
“It separates matter into sub-atomic particles then transports-”
O’Neill cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Is it safe?”
Sam narrowed her eyes at the shimmering pool before her. She knew it wasn’t really water but the effect was all the same. “I don’t see why not. The Jaffa have been using it for transport for thousands of years.”
O’Neill only grunted in reply. Kawalsky looked even less assured. Slowly Sam reached out her hand, sweeping it through the glistening water. She was surprised to feel… nothing. It wasn’t wet or cold or any sensation she could explain. She glanced at each major, squared her shoulders and marched through, sure her men would follow.
* * *
Jack only had seconds to react as he tumbled violently out of the other side of the wormhole. He ducked and rolled with the momentum, coming to a stop at the bottom of a small mound. Lying on his large pack he looked up at the Ring as the blue water blinked out of existence leaving them completely isolated on an alien planet. Talk about a rush.
His insides lurched suddenly at the thought—alien planet. His Charlie would have loved this. Somewhere behind him the colonel lost her lunch. Jack didn’t feel all that great himself and his knee was sending warning signals up his spine that he worked hard to ignore. Kawalsky was the first to his feet.
“What a ride.”
Carter groaned. Jack snorted but still didn’t move.
“You okay, Carter?” he called over his shoulder.
Her face, covered in a layer of frost, appeared above him. She didn’t look happy. Jack gave her his most charming half smile and her glare slowly morphed to a soft grin that she tried to bite back. Then she rolled her eyes. He’d only known her a week but he found he liked making her do that. A lot. The exasperated half-snort/half-groan that followed was his second favorite reaction from her.
“On your feet, Major.” Her blue eyes twinkled when she gave commands like that. He frowned inward at where his thoughts were straying. She was, for unavoidable circumstances, his CO after all. This had to be the weirdest team he’d ever been on.
“Yes, ma’am,” he told her with a cocky grin and a sloppy salute. She rewarded him with another eye roll before wandering off. Kawalsky grabbed his hand and helped him up. “What?” he asked his friend when he noticed the expression Kawalsky wore.
He just shook his head. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You boys coming or what?”
“Yes, ma’am,” they both answered in unison, both trying to hide their grins.
Carter ordered them to spread out and check the perimeter.
“Looks clean,” Kawalsky said when they regrouped about a half mile from the Ring.
Jack nodded in agreement. “All I’ve seen is trees, some little rodent type animal, trees, birds and more trees.”
Carter smiled at him. “Your first alien planet and you’re bored already, Major?”
“Doesn’t look that different than home,” said Kawalsky, his hand shading his eyes as he looked around. “If I didn’t know better I’d think I was back in Colorado.”
“Trust me, Major,” Carter said with a bigger grin, “we are definitely on another planet.” She pointed up and Jack followed her finger. Hanging above them in the azure sky were two giant looming moons—the larger white one partially hidden by a smaller yellow one. It was unlike anything Jack had ever seen.
He whistled in amazement. Kawalsky dug out the camcorder and started recording everything around them.
“What now?” Jack asked, watching the new Lt. Colonel. She looked a little unsure as she thought it over. Jack really didn’t blame her. This was so off the charts you’d never be able to prepare for it. His first instinct was to go explore but he waited to see what his CO would order.
“Let’s get the samples the scientists back home wanted.”
Jack refused to show his disappointment as they trucked back to the Ring where their supplies weighed down the MALP. They had only made it about half the distance when they all suddenly froze. Jack knew they’d all heard the same thing—a low whistling sound.
Kawalsky and Carter looked around in confusion.
“What the-” Kawalsky started.
Jack’s trained eyes darted towards the sky just in time. “INCOMING!” He lunged for Carter, knocking her out of the way. They rolled, a tangle of arms and legs and packs and guns, down an embankment just as something large and flaming landed in their previous position. Hot debris rained down on them. Instinct took over and Jack threw himself over his new CO. Somewhere in the distance he heard screaming.
“You okay?” he asked Carter once he disentangled himself. She looked pale, trembling slightly. He didn’t have time to worry about her… besides she look fine even if she was suddenly mute.
The screaming grew louder as he crested the hill. He recognized the voice.
“Charlie!” The ground smoked, small patches of grass on fire. Jack fought to see through the haze. “Charlie, answer!” No doubt that was a command.
“Over here,” came the pained reply.
Having trouble moving, Jack chucked his pack and helmet then scrambled through the burning debris. Kawalsky lay on the ground, his hands clutching his side. Still working on instinct alone, Jack was only vaguely aware of Carter coming up behind him.
“Where are you hurt?”
“Side mostly. Just shrapnel. I’ll live.” He pulled a bloodied hand away and Jack could see where he was hit in the less dense adjustable side of his vest.
“I need some compresses.” He glanced over his shoulder at the dazed colonel. “Carter,” he barked, his natural command taking over.
That seemed to snap her out of it. She shook her head then realized what he needed. But before she could get the bandages another hum filled the air. All three sets of eyes went to the sky. More flaming rocks descended on their position sending the team scattering.
“Carter,” yelled Jack over the crackle of burning vegetation. He couldn’t see her through the smoke but thought she had gone to his left.
“There,” hollered Kawalsky, pointing. Jack followed his gesture and, through the billowing haze, could just make out the blond head as she got to her feet. She staggered over to them with a grim, set face. She was hurting. Jack wore that same face when he was trying to pretend he wasn’t in pain.
“Are you okay… ma’am?” he asked, tacking on the honorific at the end hoping she understood she was still in command.
She nodded. “We need to get out of here. Kawalsky, can you walk?”
“I think so.”
“Lose the pack and let’s go.”
Jack helped him wiggle out of the extra large pack then the two got him to his feet. They had only gone fifty feet when something flew past them.
“Ouch,” he yelped, his hand coming to the back of his neck. Blood covered his fingers when he pulled it back. “What the hell.”
This time it was Carter that knocked him out of the way just as another arrow shot past. He looked up at her as she sprawled on top of him. This was definitely not how he saw this mission going. Kawalsky was running full tilt towards the Ring despite his injury. Carter rolled off and fired a few warning rounds into the surrounding woods.
* * *
Kawalsky landed hard at the base of the Ring, his legs finally giving out from the pain and shock. He managed to twist around and lay down some cover for the other retreating members of his team. They arrived at the dialing device at almost the same time—both out of breath.
“You do know how to work this right?” O’Neill asked between pants.
Sam glared at him. She’d studied images of the device for days and was pretty sure how to use it. It seemed pretty self explanatory. She dug in her pocket for a slip of paper that she wrote the return address on. The nearly constant gunfire was distracting.
“Colonel, we’ve got company,” Kawalsky yelled over the noise. She glanced over her shoulder as O’Neill opened fire at a growing crowd of angry natives brandishing spears and arrows. Sam smacked each symbol from her paper. The Ring did nothing.
“What’s wrong?” O’Neill asked, coming up even behind her, still firing randomly at their attackers.
“I need an origination point.”
“The ring needs seven symbols to operate. Six tells it where to go and the last one tells it where it is at.”
“I don’t know which symbol represents this planet.”
The major turned his intense gaze on her. For several beats he just stared then glanced at the device. He only gave it a few seconds study then slapped a symbol. The globe in the center glowed red and he slammed his elbow into it as he fired at the rapidly approaching hostiles.
“It was the only symbol I didn’t recognize.”
“But…” Sam stammered, “but what if you’re wrong?”
“Only one way to find out. Start punching in that security code.”
Sam did as she was told, only realizing after that he was giving her commands again. She watched as he toggled his radio, leaning his head to his shoulder.
“Command, this is O’Neill-”
They waited and then a second later they heard Hammond’s voice. “Go ahead, O’Neill.”
“Good to hear your voice, sir. We’re coming home a little early.”
Any response was drowned out by a hail of gunfire. Sam ducked behind the dialing device and tried to devert attention from the more exposed Kawalsky.
“And we’re coming in hot,” O’Neill yelled. He grabbed her by the back of the vest causing her last shot to go wild. “Time to go, Colonel.”
Moments later they tumbled through the Ring, hitting the ramp hard and rolling. The screech of metal on metal filled the room and they turned to watch the titanium cover—Earth’s last line of defense—close over the center.
Sam let her head fall back with a sigh. What a disaster.
“What happened?” Hammond asked, his voice high with alarm and concern. He came to stand at the bottom of the ramp, looking up at the Alpha team.
Sam pulled herself to her feet. The trip back through the Ring wasn’t as bad but they had thrown themselves through and landed oddly. She felt a little light headed and it took all her concentration not to hurl all over the general.
O’Neill answered for her. “Looks like the natives don’t like outsiders, sir.” He pulled Kawalsky up. The major swayed slightly but managed to stay upright.
“Natives? I thought this world was unpopulated.”
All eyes turned to Sam. She swallowed hard. “The MALP data showed no signs of human activity around the gate.” She frowned at her feet. “It’s range is limited, though.”
“Any idea what they wanted?”
“Yeah, for us to leave,” O’Neill answered with a grunt. “Anyone recognize the language?”
Sam shook her head. How could such a simple mission go so horribly bad? She had checked and double checked all the data, analyzed it from one end to the other and was sure nothing would go wrong. That was probably her first mistake. And if O’Neill hadn’t been there… she groaned internally. She was so lost in her thoughts that she missed their dismissal.
She looked up to find the room mostly empty, the guards going back to their regular duty stations. O’Neill stared at her with a funny look on his face. She tried to still her lurching stomach and school her features then followed the major out into the hall.
In the infirmary the doctor tried to check Sam but she waved the woman off. “I’m fine.”
She just smiled. “You’ve got a pretty nasty cut on your head, Colonel.”
“I do?” Sam’s hand started to come up but the doctor smacked it away. On the next bed O’Neill snickered.
“You’re next, Major.”
“I’m fine, doc.”
The haze in Sam’s brain started to recede as she realized the problem she was trying to solve was too complex for the moment and gave up. She stared across the space between the beds at O’Neill.
“You were bleeding,” she told him.
She narrowed her eyes at him. He amazed her with his ability to switch from commanding military leader to mischievous, insubordinate child in the blink of an eye. It surprised her to find that both personas fit the major.
“I saw the blood. You were shot with an arrow.”
That got the doctor’s attention. She looked over her shoulder as she cleaned up Sam’s head. The major flushed at the scrutiny.
“It’s just a scratch.”
“Scratch or not, Major, I’m going to look at it… next.”
O’Neill groaned. Sam had an overwhelming urge to stick her tongue out at him but bit it back. In the bed on the other side of O’Neill, Kawalsky chuckled. Another doctor had just finished with him and he was flying high on some powerful pain killers.
* * *
Late that night Sam hunched over her computer in her lab, the only light coming from the screen. She was determined to figure out a way to make Ring travel a little less unpredictable. Security footage from D.C. showed the Jaffa easily walking from the Ring, not being hurtled across fields. She was so intent she missed the knock on her door.
“You’re going to hurt your eyes like that,” O’Neill said as he flipped on the overhead light. Sam blinked in response, her eyes watering at the sudden illumination. He came in and set a plate on the table next to her. “You missed dinner.”
“What time is it?” She rubbed at her eyes, a yawn trying to escape.
“About 2300 hours.”
“Really?” Sam tried to get her eyes to focus on her watch but they kept crossing. “Guess I lost track of time.”
“That seems to happen a lot.”
Sam shrugged and turned back to her computer. She was so close—she just knew the solution would jump out at her. O’Neill tapped something against the table, distracting her.
“Is there something else, Major?” She noticed him physically flinch at his rank but otherwise showed no outward sign of caring about his demotion. He didn’t look up from the tool in his hand.
“You need to eat.”
“Are you ordering me around again?”
That seemed to grab his attention. He dropped the device and stood up to face her. “Hey, I gotta do what I gotta do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sam was so not in the mood for this. She stood up, the lab table between them and glared.
“I’m just saying if it works…”
Why did he have to be such an ass, she wondered. “If you have something to say about my command, Major, then just say it.”
“Fine,” he stood up taller, if that was even possible, “I have serious concerns about your ability to lead this team. You’re inexperienced and completely out of your element in the field. I have no doubt of your genius but book smarts does not transfer to real life all that well when you’re being shot at.”
Sam felt her face flush. She couldn’t remember ever being chewed out by a subordinate but she couldn’t deny what he was saying. She had no clue what she was doing most of the time.
“Look, Carter, let’s face it—the only reason you made Lt. Colonel was because of the Ring thing. And the only reason you’re CO of the number one frontline team is because you are the only one that understands the science behind it. You’re not ready for command. Maybe in a few years, with time, I could see it happening. You’ve got the potential but they threw you to the wolves, so to speak. You froze up and-”
Sam felt anger rising. “Then why don’t you stop trying to subvert me every chance you get and help me?”
O’Neill’s mouth stopped open mid-word and just hung there for a moment before he snapped it shut. “I wasn’t-”
“Maybe not consciously.” He frowned, jamming his hands into his pockets. Sam waited a few seconds before continuing. “We both know I suck at this and that you would be a hell of a better choice for CO. But these are the cards we were dealt. Unless you want to leave the team or try to undermine me so bad I lose my command-”
“No,” he said suddenly, cutting her off, “I don’t want either of those.”
“Then help me. Give me a hint on what I’m supposed to be doing.”
He bit his lower lip, his eyes still on the table between them. Sam couldn’t help but think how cute he looked like that—boyishly handsome, strong but slightly vulnerable as he debated his options. She forced the thought from her head as he finally looked up.
“All right, Colonel. It’s a deal.” She smiled at him, the tension subsiding considerably. “First lesson: you’re supposed to watch out for us, not the other way around.” He pushed the sandwich towards her.
Sam sighed, taking a small bite. “Lesson two?”
He grinned. “Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? What’s wrong with to-”
“No. That’s the lesson,” he said, his smile sliding into a lopsided grin. “There is always a tomorrow for work. As CO you get to delegate and then go home, kick up your feet, have a beer and watch the Simpsons.”
“Uh-” Sam said, giving him a skeptical look. She had no doubt that was how the major would spend his evenings.
“No?” He fiddled with her very expensive diagnostic tool again forcing her to reach over and take it away like he was a small child.
“Actually,” she told him, “no one else here even understands the equations I’m running so I can’t delegate.”
He seemed to consider that. “Fine, point conceded.” He came around the table and started to guide her to the door despite her protests. “You can work on it tomorrow… during normal working hours. Go home, eat, take a bubble bath, whatever it is that girls do to relax.”
Frowning, Sam stopped him with a firm hand on his chest. She could feel his heart rate suddenly increase but tried to ignore it. He stared at her hand until she slowly pulled it away and his eyes found her face. “That sounds a lot like an order, Major.”
He gave her another cock-eyed grin. “Old habits, Colonel, old habits.”