The Ghost and Mrs. O'Neill 2 - Pandora's Box

by Rebecca Ratliff


DATE: November 2004

ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask.  (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)

CATEGORY: AU sometime after mid-season 8, future story, supernatural, S/J, 1st person POV

RATING:  PG-13, language, violence

SPOILERS:  Heroes, minor for Covenant

SEASON/SEQUEL INFO:  Future Season, Sequel to The Ghost and Mrs. O'Neill

SUMMARY:  Take one alien artifact, add some greedy NID folks, and shake well--a sure recipe for trouble.

DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended.  Anybody that you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by midnight. :)

FEEDBACK:  Much appreciated.

P2X-084 was flat plain of rocky sand with a stargate in the middle of it.  Rusty-brown sand and softball sized rocks that looked for all the world like dried blood.  Dim red sunlight filtered through sooty gray clouds.  The air was thin and cold.  The wind whistled and moaned over the desert, kicking up the sand in everyone's faces.  It seemed like the Ancients either put stargates in the middle of pine trees or sand.

Whatever the place used to be, it was dying now.  According to Sam, in ten thousand years, give or take, it would be as barren as Mars and visitors would need to bring breathing gear.  Ordinarily, it would have rated a UAV flyover, maybe a quick survey.  Some energy readings that the MALP had picked up called for a closer look.

Paul asked, "How does it look, Colonel?"

"The readings are definitely stronger in this direction," Sam replied.  She handed the meter to him.  "Take readings every ten minutes to keep us on track."

I was reminded that I'd been out of the loop for two years.  Carter was definitely in command here.  She and Paul had leapfrogged each other up the ranks, and for the moment he was settled in as her 2iC. It was clear they were both on the fast track, though.  For that matter, they all had their places on the team, and I had yet to figure out exactly what my new role was.

If I felt like a fifth wheel, Matthew looked like part of a whole different car.  "Err, what are we supposed to be doing?"

"Walk and keep your eyes open.  We'll scout ahead if we come across anything but sand.  Matthew, what is with you and that white suit? You look like Mr. Roarke."

"Well, I suppose I could--"  He snapped his fingers and appeared in BDUs like the rest of us.

Sam gave me a look that was half sympathetic and half amused.  She was the only one who could see and hear the two of us.  I'd got the job of baby-sitting our guardian angel.  Long story.  The short version is that until Matthew was somehow involved in a screw-up that resulted in my becoming a ghost thirty years too soon, he'd been some kind of cosmic bean-counter.  Looking out for us now was kind of his penance, apparently.

I had my serious doubts about how useful he'd be when things got hairy, but at least we didn't have to worry about keeping him out of trouble.  Apparently not much out here could hurt him, or me either for that matter.

Call it my cynical nature, but to me "not much" means at least one somebody or something is out there that can.

After we'd been walking a couple of hours, Matthew's feet were hurting.

"Hey, Matthew, how come you don't have wings?"

"Well, I do in my real form, but in this thin air it would be as much work flying as walking."

Davis said, "Whoa!  Colonel Carter, these readings just shot off the scale!"

Sam looked for herself.  "Something just powered up, big time."

Daniel asked, "Did we trip some kind of perimeter alarm?"

"I don't know, but I'm going to assume we did," she replied.  She raised her binoculars to scan the distant horizon.  "Still don't see anything.  Let's keep moving."

If it hadn't been for Davis' instruments, we wouldn't have known anything was different.  We kept going another four hours and covered another fifteen miles.

By then I was actually starting to feel sorry for Matthew.  Angels aren't energy beings like ghosts or ascended.  It's more like the time with Daniel and that crystal skull.  Flesh and blood real, just out of phase with the mortal world.  His feet were blistered and I doubted he'd be able to move in the morning.  He collapsed when we stopped to make camp for the night.

The guys had their routine down to a science.  Teal'c took first watch, and set perimeter, which in this environment was simply taking a good look around.  Daniel pitched camp, and I gave him a hand with that.  Sam lit a can of sterno for coffee and heating MREs.

I didn't miss MRE's, but man did I want a good cup of Sam's coffee. I could have had some, but I wasn't going to waste water in a desert a good thirty-five or forty miles from the stargate.

Once she had the hot water on, Sam set up some of her bulkier equipment and started making notes on her handheld computer as she worked.

I checked on Matthew.  "Take your boots off, let me have a look at your feet."

"I can't yet," he explained.

What had been a brisk hike for the rest of us had been a forced march for him.  When I got his boots off, his socks were soaked with blood.  I peeled the socks off as gently as I could.  I knew that hurt.  "Matt, your feet are a mess here.  Can you heal this up by tomorrow?"

He nodded.  "I won't slow you down."

Sam knelt beside us and checked on him.  "If you were a human, Matthew, this would put you in the infirmary for a few days.  Don't you ever push yourself this hard again without telling me you need to stop."

"All right.  I'm sorry."

"Will it help if I clean this up for you?"

Matthew shook his head and concentrated.  The blood disappeared, leaving raw open sores where the broken blisters had been.  It looked like hamburger, but I could see the sores were already healing around the edges.  He just wanted to sleep and let it mend.  Sam gave him something for the pain, and as soon as it kicked in he was off to dreamland.

"Poor kid," Sam said.  "He's getting the whole basic training experience and then some."

"Sure is," I agreed.  "Any idea how much further?"

"Not really, without another reading to triangulate," she replied. "But just taking a guess from these readings, I don't think it could be too much further unless we're dealing with some really huge power source."

Sam could still really get into the thrill of discovery.  Back in her lab.  Out here, her scientific curiosity took a distant back seat to the responsibility of command.  We were walking into a great honkin' big unknown here.  There was the mission and there was her team's safety, and there was the godawful responsibility of deciding which came first.

It had been damn hard to retire and leave her to it, even though my knees were shot all to hell by then, and even though it was the only way she and I could be together.  It was harder now, when all I wanted to do was take that weight off her shoulders, and there was no way I could do that.  You don't take that load off till your boots hit the gate ramp, and you really don't even then, it's still there 24/7.

Matthew didn't look like he was going to move from his spot by the fire, and I couldn't blame him.  He wasn't where he was likely to get stepped on, and I doubted it would make any difference if somebody did step on him, as long as it wasn't Sam or me.  Daniel was on first watch and Paul turned in.  Sam and Teal'c officially shared a tent, but he found a spot where he could shelter his candle from the desert wind and sat down to meditate until he took over from Daniel, tacitly leaving the tent to us for a few hours.  

Sam pulled off her boots and made a few brief notes on her computer then stretched out.

"Do you think we're looking for an Ancient outpost?"

Sam said, "It's possible.  The power level would be consistent with the ZPMs that we've found.  The energy readings are different, but I don't think we've had enough experience with Ancient technology to be able to look at the readings and say 'this is Ancient' or 'this isn't.'  I'm fairly sure it isn't Goa'uld.  I wish I knew what caused that spike, though," she scowled.  "If it is Ancient, do you think you'd still wake it up now?"

"You're asking me?"  I shook my head.  "All I know is that ghosts are energy, like Ascended only--not.  Somehow.  I don't know any better than you do whether DNA makes any difference to a ghost.  Or if their 'Ancient detectors' would even know I'm here."

She acknowledged that.  "Good question."

I had the feeling that sometime in the near future she was going to be holding some Ancient doohickie next to me just to see if it would still light up.  "Good question to worry about in the morning."

She smiled and closed the laptop, which had been the only light in the tent, and we settled down to get some sleep.  She had to be awake on watch in four hours, and we had another long day ahead of us in the morning.

Teal'c woke us up when Sam's turn on watch came up.  By now I was almost 100% sure he could see me, because he didn't try to crawl into the tent until I was out of it.  I made a face to try to get a rise out of him, which of course didn't tell me anything, because only an idiot plays poker with a Jaffa.  Sam laughed and almost spewed coffee.

There was no way I would ever take hearing Sam's laughter for granted again.

There was a reason for giving Daniel last watch.  He would already have made coffee and he would be awake, something you otherwise would not accomplish without setting off a flashbang outside his tent.  The downside was that Daniel's morning coffee doubled for paint remover, but this morning nobody seemed to mind as they crowded around the coffee pot, complaining about the cold.  Paul checked and it was below freezing.  It brought home to me that, while most of the time I could pretend things were back to normal, they weren't and they never would be again.  I was standing there in my usual tee shirt and BDU pants, and I didn't even feel the cold.

Matthew woke up hurting, of course.  His feet were mostly healed, but he was almost too stiff to move.  Which meant he had to, or it was just going to get worse.  I told him about the old trick with Vaseline and two pairs of socks, so at least he wouldn't get blistered again.  Once we got his boots on him, I grabbed him by the wrists and pulled him up.  Sam watched him limp around a little.  "Matthew, how are you doing?"

"I think I'll be all right after I move around a little."

Daniel and Paul looked up when she spoke.  Paul asked, "What's the matter?"

She explained, "We just about ran Matthew's feet off yesterday.  He's really sore this morning."

Daniel asked, "Do angels take Motrin?"

Without waiting for her to answer, Matthew said, "This one does."

The team broke camp and took another set of readings before moving out.  One place on this sand pile looked the same as another to me.  But then I've got my reasons not to be really overly fond of the desert.  I left it to the whiz kids and their instruments to figure out which way we were going.  We continued on yesterday's course for a couple of klicks, until the scanner started showing the energy level of the mysterious power source dropping.  Marking our position, we took a sharp left and walked a while longer, then took another set of readings.  Sam called frequent breaks and kept a close eye on Matthew, and so did I.  After he worked the soreness out, he kept up with the more moderate pace.  Gradually we were able to home in on the power source.

Daniel always just about did back flips when we found ruins, especially ruins from a culture that we hadn't seen before.  These were some low stone structures, none of them more than two stories high when there had been people living here.  Now most of them had collapsed.

I said, "Sam, better let me and Matthew have a look around first."

She nodded.  I could see it in her eyes that she didn't like the idea.  It was hanging there between us that the last time she'd taken her eyes off me, I got killed.  But it just made sense not to risk the rest of the team when I was immune to all the booby-traps I could think of.  I asked Matthew, "What happens if something happens, like one of these old buildings falling in on you or something?"

He gulped, but said, "It wouldn't hurt me.  Do you know what I mean by out of phase?"

"Yeah, like the Reetou."

"Right.  If you can pass through something, it can't hurt you."

"Unless its a TER."

"What's that?"

"Transphase Eradication Rod.  It's a weapon that can hit stuff that's out of phase.  Like maybe us."

"Some of the things that the Ancients left lying around can be dangerous to both of us," he said.

I'd had my own experiences with the Ancients' leftovers, so I could believe that one.  

"In a place like this, though, your biggest worry is going to be other ghosts.  Especially if the civilization here ended violently."

"This doesn't look like battle damage."

"How do you know?"

I'd learned a few things from Daniel.  I took a flat rock and cut down to the stone floor.  "Even in primitive times, there would have been a lot more destruction if a war had been fought here.  Looks like these buildings just deteriorated and fell in.  They didn't get burned down or blown apart by bombs or anything.  Look, this is just plain dirt.  There'd  be a black layer of ash if there'd been a fire here."

"So they just moved off and left a big power source?"

I shrugged.  "Maybe they had another one where they were going, or maybe they were superstitious about it," I guessed.  "Whatever, it looks more like they did just pack up and leave than that somebody came in and wiped them out."

We didn't find anything useful, but there didn't seem to be any immediate danger either.  And no sign of other ghosts.  Sam took Matthew and Daniel to explore the north half of the settlement, while I followed Teal'c and Paul south.

We found dusty old empty buildings, rocks and sand.  The folks hadn't left so much as a home sweet home sign on the wall.  Or worn out furniture or trash or anything.  You know, think about it, if you moved there would be stuff you wouldn't bother packing up to take with you.  Not these guys.

Then Teal'c found it.  The building didn't look any different from the others looking at it from outside.  But inside, standing in the middle of the floor was a column of red stone a little taller than Teal'c was.  It was set with pretty patterns of glowing white crystals.  I could feel and hear a low humming from it.

Teal'c had more sense than mess with it.  He got Paul out of there and let Sam know what we'd found.

She and Daniel were like two kids in a candy store.  Their conclusion was that it was safe to be around.  "The device seems to operate on the same principles as a ZPM, but it looks like this tech developed separately from the Ancients.  And that it isn't operating at anywhere near capacity."

When she started saying things like reverse engineering and clean limitless power source, I pointed out, "Yeah, but how are you gonna get it to the gate?  It's gotta weigh a ton.  That's probably why the original owners left it here in the first place."

She grinned.  "We're not going to take it to the gate.  We'll have to come for it in a ship.  I'll bet if we took the roof off we could ring it up.  But I'm going to advise studying it extensively right here before we try to move it.  We need to learn everything we can from it before we risk breaking it."

By then it was too late in the day to head back to the gate.  We set up camp and then Sam went back to take some more readings on the "generator column" as she'd started calling it.

I'd started calling it boring.  I considered wandering around, but since I hadn't seen anything else around here that looked less boring, that didn't seem to be any better than standing around here listening to technobabble.    Matthew actually seemed to be interested in what they were doing.

I picked up the energy meter that Sam and Paul had used to home in on it.  This was some of the Asgard technology that we'd picked up during the fight with Anubis, and we'd surprised the Asgard by miniaturizing it and getting rid of the control stone.  You know, once Sam really got her hands on their technology and started understanding it well enough to interface it with ours, I stopped hearing so much from them about how primitive we were.

Then I realized something.  "Hey, Sam?  Come take a look at this, will you?"

She came over to see what I'd found.

I pointed out a squiggly red line on the screen.  "Why do these squiggles get bigger whenever someone walks close to the column?  It seems to hum a little louder then too, I think."

"I don't know," she replied.  "It seems like we're interfering with the reading when we walk between the column and the meter.  That's interesting.  Living things have an electrical field, of course."  She made a note of the observation.

By then it was getting dark, so we headed back to camp.  The team spent another cold night in the middle of nowhere before we headed back to the gate the next morning.  It was always nice to go home with presents, especially presents with a money-making potential.

I should have known--with SG-1, things are never that simple.

Things were more difficult for Sam back at the SGC.  In the field she had a job to do, and once the science team showed up to study the power source, she could avoid discussion of her personal problems by concentrating on the job.  Nobody who knew her expected anything else of Sam.  She had always survived by throwing herself into her work.  This was just Sam being Sam.  But once she got back home, there were always people asking how she was doing and wanting to know if there was anything they could do.  She finally settled on simply telling people who worried about her not grieving that she knew I was with her.  It wasn't a lie, after all, and if anything it added to our little Romeo and Juliet story.

Sometimes it was damn embarrassing to stand there and listen to people tell her what a great guy I was.  I mean I knew I wasn't exactly disliked around here.  Maybe the nurses were glad to see my ass disappearing down the hallway after I'd been in the infirmary for a while.  But other than that, I got along OK with people.  What I hadn't realized was that they were going to make some kind of a saint or a hero out of me, and I wasn't either one.  I mean, a lot of other people got killed doing this job too and I wasn't any different from them.  With the life I've lived it shouldn't have been any real surprise that the other shoe dropped.  I just walked into a bad situation.  It wasn't a case of giving my life for my country the way a lot of these people--young people with everything to lose--did.  

Sam was in the cafeteria one day when one of the Marines offered to help her out with yard work or anything like that she needed done, and started in on the accolades.  Sam kept a straight face and thanked him, but when he turned his back she looked right at me and smirked into her coffee cup.

I heard a round of laughter and turned around to see a couple of folks who were the most welcome sight for sore eyes that I could have imagined.  Charlie Kawalski and Janet Fraiser were laughing their heads off.  Janet gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, "Now it's your turn to be the center of attention!"

"Janet, Charlie--God, it's good to see you guys!"

Kawalski slapped me on the back and asked, "Are you getting settled in?"

"Pretty much," I said.  "Have you been here all along?"

"No, not entirely.  Mostly I've been out there making life uncomfortable for the snakes every chance I got.  But ever since this happened, I've been keeping an eye on George.  I met Janet here while she was with Cassie at his house and we decided to look in on the place for old time's sake."

"How is George really?  He always keeps it together for Sam."

Charlie said, "You know George.  He took it hard, but he's got his grandkids to pull him through.  I don't think he needs me looking over his shoulder anymore.  So you and Carter finally got it together.  After she challenged you to an arm wrestling match in the briefing room I sure didn't think it would take the two of you as long as it did!"

"Yeah, well, you know how it is, you always think you've got plenty of time.  If I'd known how things were going to work out I wouldn't have let it wait so long," I told him.  "Janet, catch the guys alone and tell them you're here.  Now that they know there are ghosts--you look a hell of a lot better now than you did the last time they saw you."

"Gee, thanks, Jack, I really had to work hard to do that!"

I hadn't actually seen her before they cleaned her up for the funeral--I was too busy being unconscious for that--but I'd seen enough people hit by staff blasts to imagine what a mental picture the rest of the guys would never get past.

"Can they see you?"  Kawalski asked.  "I've been in and out of here for years and no one ever has yet."

"Just Sam so far.  And I almost think Teal'c."

Janet said, "I don't know if he can actually see me, but he knows when I'm in the room, I'm absolutely certain of that.  But then, he's Teal'c," she said, as if that ought to explain everything.  And it pretty much did.

"Are there a lot of ghosts around here?"  I didn't think there were, or I would have seen them.  But you never know.

Kawalski said, "Nah.  Most folks who buy it around here go straight where they're goin'.  And considering the circumstances it's usually straight up.  You and the Doc here have ties, and me--I've got unfinished business."

I knew that look.  Charlie wouldn't be ready to move on until the last snake went down.  "Some of that luck we had over the years wasn't luck, was it, Kawalski?"

He grinned.  "I might have distracted a Jaffa or pushed something off a table here and there at an opportune moment.  Or kept a system lord or two wide awake at night while stuff was going on.  Tired people make big mistakes--even snakes.  Stuff like that.  You can't really use a weapon unless it's on a fixed mount, you pick up the whole thing at once and that makes it hard to pull the trigger.  But you can push a person hard enough to knock them off balance, or throw something at them."

I'd figured that out.  However ghosts move stuff around, you can't just act on part of it like the trigger of a gun--unless it's mounted on a tripod or otherwise staying in one place.  Pushing buttons and flipping switches is hard, too, because you just need a little push in one small area, but you can learn.

Janet said, "Or just walk right through them.  They'll feel freezing cold.  It's a distraction, but some people do know what it means, and they'll ignore all the distractions if they know it's just a ghost.  Then you're back to flinging whatever's handy."

Kawalski suggested going somewhere and having a few beers and getting caught up, so we headed back to my place, where there would be no questions asked about the empty bottles.  I still wasn't happy about what happened, but it was over, and I still had a contribution to make.  And now I had a couple of good friends to show me the ropes.  Things were looking up.

Sam was in a bad mood.  She was taking some kind of measurements on the power supply, and she couldn't get the results to add up.  And she had a headache.

"Look, why don't you get away from it for a while, get a sandwich from the commissary and go topside for lunch?"

"Good idea."  She logged off her computer, then stood there for a few seconds scowling at a printout before she cleared her desk and stuck her head in the lab across the hall to tell someone where she was going.  We went up to our spot on the mountain, a boulder between a couple of huge old trees.

She said, "Jack, either my theories about zero point energy are as full of holes as swiss cheese--which is entirely possible, considering how little hard data we really have about all of this--or the generator column is drawing energy from another source besides ZP.  There's still that extra five percent that none of our models explains.  Until my theory accounts for that, we're going to be at a standstill as far as retro-engineering any of the ZP sources is concerned.  And I'm losing it to Area 52 next week."

"That sucks."

"Well, the General actually wants us back on the rotation for some reason that escapes me right now," she said.

"Maybe it is drawing from more than one source.  Didn't you say the output jumped when you brought it back here to the lab?"

"Incrementally, yes.  We're not talking about the difference between regular and high-test, but it was definitely there."

"Well, there ya go."

"Maybe the other source, whatever it happens to be, is more plentiful here than where we found it," Sam speculated.  "That could explain it."

I had finally figured out why she bounced ideas off me.  When she gets focused on a problem, she has a tendency towards tunnel vision.  Zeroes in on one idea.  But sometimes she needs to step back and get perspective and that's when she turns to me.  I don't understand half of what she's talking about, but I don't have to.  I just get her looking at it from a different angle.  By the time her lunch break was over, she was off a mile a minute with a few new ideas.

I never get tired of watching her work.  Which is different from Sam-watching.  (That has its own attractions.)  When she gets going with a new theory, it's like watching fourth of July fireworks.  She's in her element and she just lights up.  And it's contagious.  When she gets the geeks on a roll, nothing can stop them.

She practically bounced back into the lab and outlined the idea to Jay Felger and Bill Lee, and the three of them got back to work.  I got interested in CNN when they started talking in mathematical formulas.

Chloe, Jay's assistant, reached right through me to sharpen a pencil.  I don't know who it startled worse, me or her.  For me, it was just the same old special forces reflex when someone sneaks up on me--if I'd still been flesh and blood I very well could have thrown her against a wall before I realized what was up.  As it was I jumped about three feet straight up and let out a string of curses, which no one but Sam heard.  Chloe jerked her arm back and yelled, "I swear I'm gonna kick Siler's ass if he doesn't get the A/C fixed in here!  I just got a blast of cold air like I stuck my arm in the walk-in, over here by the pencil sharpener--but my desk is sweltering!"

I burst out laughing at the thought of bookish little Chloe trying to kick Siler's ass.  Maybe if she climbed on a chair first.  Sam put her hand over her mouth and hid behind her computer monitor until she stopped giggling, having seen the whole thing.  Jay looked back and forth between them in confusion and finally asked, "What?"  Chloe gave him a stare of death.

I figured my work there was done, and went in search of somebody else to pester.

Daniel was always fun.  If he'd been nervous about having me around his precious rocks before, he got absolutely paranoid when they went floating around his office on their own.  I just had to be careful of the cameras.  Sam had already threatened me with the dreaded "or else" if one of my stunts ever showed up on a security tape.  I don't know what "or else" is, and I don't intend to find out anytime soon.  Mrs. O'Neill didn't raise any idiots.

Daniel was busy with some Ancient translations.  As soon as he figured out I was in the room, he set one of the tablets down next to the computer keyboard--after checking to be sure it was out of range of the camera.  Daniel's haphazard stacks of books provided plenty of blind spots in here.

It was part of some king named Justinus' family tree and the names of the places he'd conquered.  Every bit as tedious as the list of "begats" in the Bible.  Whoever this guy was, he must have been collecting taxes on half the Ancient universe.  Daniel enjoyed doing this kind of stuff.  Ack.  

I had more trouble typing the translation than figuring it out, the keyboard kept wanting to slide around.  Or else I'd hold the key down a little too long and end up with a whole line of aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa's or something.  But at least it was something to do.

I wasn't sure how long I'd been working on it when someone got on the loudspeaker and called a medical team to the lab.  I took a shortcut through the walls, and Daniel still got there only a couple of steps behind me.

Sam was lying on the floor, and Chloe was checking her pulse while Felger and Lee looked like they were about to panic.

"Strong pulse...breathing's good...I wonder if she just fainted?"  Chloe said.  She got out of the way when the medics arrived.

Daniel asked, "What happened?"

"I'm not sure, she was going to take some more energy readings and she just collapsed.  Is she dieting--or maybe she just stood up too fast?"

I was pretty damn sure she wasn't dieting, besides I'd seen her eat lunch.  And she'd never been prone to get light-headed from standing up fast, either.  By the time we got to the infirmary, Teal'c and Paul had caught up.  I got in with her, but the nurses stopped everyone else at the door.

It only took Dr. Brightman a few moments to assure everyone that Sam was stable, but she was unconscious for nearly ten minutes before she started to come around.  That was long enough to raise a lot of red flags.  One of the nurses hooked her up to a heart monitor and drew several tubes of blood.  I told her to tell the doctor about the headache she'd had before she ate lunch.

Brightman said, "H'mmm."  I wanted to shake her--I hate it when they do that.  I always wonder if they know something they aren't telling--or if they just say that to make it sound like they know what's going on when really they haven't got a clue.

Sam asked pointedly, "Donna?"

"You fainted."

"Holy Hannah!"  Sam faked horror.  "I never would have guessed!"

"Sam, it really doesn't surprise me.  Listen, I know you've thrown yourself into your work, and that's probably been a good thing, but you're showing some clinical signs of exhaustion.  Eventually you're going to have to slow down and face it, you know.  Would it help to get out of town and go visit your brother for a few days?"

Sam said, "Not if you want me to rest, with my niece and nephew around."

"Well, that's true.  I'm going to keep you here until you've rested a little, then if you don't want to go home go to Daniel's house but I don't want to see you back on base until Monday."

Sam said, "But, Donna, I've only got the rest of this week with the generator column--"

"Is there anything you can't have Jay and Bill do for you?"  She took Sam's hands.  "Maybe you should close up the cabin for the winter.  You could make it a team thing.  I think it would be good for the boys too.  You lost a husband, they lost a brother."

"Well...if I take my laptop with me so I can keep up on what they're doing I don't actually have to be here."

"This is a warning sign, Sam.  Take it seriously and take care of yourself."

I told her, "She's right.  You are running yourself into the ground.  Let Lee and Felger worry about that damn generator."

She smiled and gave in gracefully.  "OK, you win.  I do need to see about the cabin, and you're right about the guys."

Brightman let them in for a minute, SG-1 was out there and Jay and Chloe as well.  Then as soon as they were assured that their CO was going to be OK, the doctor sent them all back to work so that her patient could rest.  As soon as they left, Sam fell asleep.

I kept one eye on her while I followed Brightman into her office to see what she put in Sam's medical file.  But that didn't help because I didn't know what a syncope was, and I already knew the test results were pending.  I sat down on one of the same old hard plastic chairs where we had waited by each other's sickbeds so many times over the years.

That afternoon in the infirmary was pretty quiet.  Sam slept off her fainting spell, but she was OK.  The diplomatic team came through for post-gate exams.  Everything was normal, and they'd just put in an 18 hour day so all they wanted to do was clear medical, debrief and get some sleep.  But I noticed a steady stream of people coming through asking for something for a headache or a case of indigestion.  Nothing serious, nothing to set off alarm bells.  Brightman, however, was spotting a pattern too.  She started asking people what they'd been doing, and what they'd had for lunch.  Nothing they said added up to trouble, but I didn't like it, and neither did she.

Sam woke up around 1600h.  Brightman got Teal'c to drive her home.  Once we were in the car, I was finally able to ask her what happened.

She shook her head.  "I honestly don't know, Jack.  I probably have been pushing too hard."

Teal'c said, "It would not be the first time that you have done so."

That reminded me of how pale and skinny she'd been when the two of them had got me back from Edora.  It was a while before I heard that whole story--she'd practically worked herself into the ground.  And then I hadn't even had the good sense to thank her before I'd turned my back on her and gone running to Laira.  It was the shock of Teal'c showing up out of nowhere, and damn near getting himself killed in the process, but I still feel like an idiot over that whole mess.

I didn't think that was what was going on now.  Sure, Sam had been working hard--but she'd been eating and sleeping too.  She wasn't pregnant, either.

That was something else that wasn't going to be happening now.  Sam had been told a long time ago that motherhood probably wasn't in the cards.  I knew she'd been hoping, though.  Yet something else I screwed up when I walked in front of that zat.

Sam said, "Donna's kicked me off base for a few days.  I'm going to close the cabin up for the winter.  Would you like to go along?"

"Of course."

"I'll call Daniel and Paul later and see if they have plans for the weekend."

Teal'c pulled up in front of the house and waited until we were inside before he left.

Sam said, "I swear, I spend more time in the infirmary than I do in my lab.  And thanks to sleeping all day, I'll probably be awake all night," she grumbled.  "I guess I'd better catch the rest of the boys before they find something else to do this weekend."

I wished I could have hugged Donna Brightman for shipping Sam off to the cabin for a few days.  This has always been where I could come to get my head on straight, and after we got married, it became that for Sam as well.  She would lay out on the dock and work on her tan while I practiced what she started calling the Zen of fishing.  I'd never been able to get the guys to come fishing with me, except Teal'c that once, but after Sam and I got married they'd come up here with us because they knew wouldn't actually have to fish.  Daniel would happily pile up under a tree with a stack of archaeological journals.  Teal'c told me one night that the solitude of the deep forest reminded him of his boyhood on Chulak before everything went to hell, when his father had taught him to hunt and track.  When Paul joined SG-1, we'd brought the city boy up here for a week of wilderness training, where Sam hoped he could make all his tenderfoot mistakes without worrying about walking into an ambush or riling up some alien critter.  They all spun tall tales about mosquitoes as big as Blackhawks but that hadn't stopped Teal'c from bringing Ry'ac and Kar'yn up here once.

Now the air had the crisp feel of autumn.  I remembered hunting trips with my grandfather.

A voice by my shoulder said, "Dr. Brightman did have a point."

I jumped and swung around, almost clocked him one.  "Matthew, if you don't quit sneaking up on me like that, one of these days I'm going to knock you into next week before I realize who you are!"

The angel said, "I'm sorry, Jack."

"Do angels get vacations?"

"Not exactly," he smiled.  "It's still my job to look out for all of you when you're on leave."

"You think we need looking out for up here?"  I'd noticed Matthew was conspicuously absent when things were going well.

"I don't know," he replied.  "Just a feeling....but I've learned to trust them."

I nodded.  I knew exactly what he meant.  I'd have been floating through walls a lot sooner than this if I hadn't learned to trust my gut.

He looked around.  "It's beautiful here."

"My mom's parents lived here, and I practically grew up here," I explained.  I levitated a cooler out of the bed of the truck and set it on the deck.

Matthew gave me a look about the beer.  I glared back.  "You may not be on vacation, but the rest of us are."

"It isn't the beer, it's the quantity of it," he replied.

Sam interrupted us before we could really get an argument underway.  The first thing we did after we got moved in was to split up and take a look around the property to figure out what we'd have to do.  It wasn't just the cabin and the inlet, I'd owned all the way down to the main road.  Grandpa had a sawmill down there; I just figured it kept the place private.  She and I walked around the western shore of the lake as far as the property line.  Teal'c took Matthew to check on the fire road that continued from the cabin across the stream that flowed into the lake, and then on up the eastern shore.  Paul and Daniel were checking out the cabin itself--although I didn't think there would be any major problems.  It wasn't that long since we'd been up here.

Sam scuffed through a deep carpet of pine needles and inhaled the evergreen scent.  "Tell me something, Jack.  Is the reason that you don't like trees offworld, that they're a pale imitation of these?"

I grinned.  "You got me," I admitted.  "Anyplace else just reminds me of Minnesota."

A large rock on the lakeshore marked the property line.  Sam took of her denim jacket and sat down.  The afternoon sun was warm even if it was getting late in the year.  Distantly, I heard the chain saw.  Teal'c must have found a fallen tree on the fire road.  Every year there were a few to clear off.  Kept the woodshed full.

I sat down beside Sam and she leaned into my shoulder.  I held her and for a while, we could pretend that nothing had changed.  After a while we moved to the soft layer of pine needles, and the shadows had grown long before we got back to the cabin.  As we returned, there were lanterns burning in the windows and Paul had steaks on the grill.

I was home.

That turned out to be a good weekend.  Saturday I realized it would have been my 56th birthday.  Everyone else remembered as well, but none of them said anything either.  I guess we all chickened out and decided to avoid the awkward subject of whether ghosts still had birthdays.  There was a lot of work to do so we had plenty to keep us distracted.

When it got dark, everyone was tired enough to pile up around the fireplace and watch a couple of action flicks.  Teal'c made nachos and buffalo wings, which called for the large cooler of beer that Matthew had been scowling at, because Teal'c's idea of food is likely to spontaneously combust.  He'd caught on quickly to the idea of buffalo wings, but couldn't understand why you would dip them in dressing.  After that Sam climbed up on the roof to fiddle with the satellite antenna to try to bring in a hockey game I wanted to see, but no joy.  The last straw was when the wind shifted and blew the smoke from the chimney in her face--and the TV was still full of static.

"Come down from there before you freeze your ass off!  We're probably going to get northern lights or something!"

"Well, wake me up if we do, I want to see them!"  She replied as she descended the ladder.  She stopped to gas up the generator before we went inside.

Teal'c and I got into a chess game.  I knew he was doing it as much to make me practice moving the chess pieces as to kick my ass at chess.  I don't care.  I've beaten him exactly once--the first time we played, when he was still learning the moves.  But I've learned more from him than anyone else I've ever played against.  Daniel and Paul were having one of their discussions about politics.  I wasn't really tuned in to what they were saying, but their conversation was good company anyhow.  Sam relaxed on the couch with the afghan pulled over her and read a computer journal, close enough to reach out and lace her fingers with mine every now and then.  I wasn't sure where Matthew was, but he came and went pretty much as he pleased.  I put Sam's magazine on the coffee table when she fell asleep, and Teal'c turned out the kerosene lantern on the table.  We could see the chess board fine in the light from the fireplace.

I first noticed it was getting colder when I heard the wind howl around the cabin and looked up to see frost on the window.  I looked outside to see it was snowing hard.  "Hey, that came up fast!"

Teal'c said, "It snows here all the time, does it not?"

"Yeah, but it was warm this afternoon.  This must have blown right in from Canada in the last hour or so," I said.  I knew there was plenty of wood in the shed, and we'd brought enough food to feed an army, not to mention a few cases of MREs that I kept up here just in case.  What we didn't have was a lot of gas for the generator, since we'd planned to leave in the morning.

I hated to do it, but I woke Sam.  "It's snowing hard," I told her.  "You need to fill up some water cans in case you get stuck here and the pipes freeze."

"Oh, right."  That had happened to us the first year we were married, we'd come up here for Thanksgiving weekend and got snowed in with no running water.  We'd melted snow but with four people wanting to wash that would be a lot of snow to melt in the morning.  I could pump the water but I knew I'd have made a hell of a mess trying to pour it in the jerry cans.

Daniel heard the pump and got up.  He was a light sleeper.  "What's up?"

"Look outside."

"Hey, where did that come from?"  Daniel didn't look happy about it.  A contented desert rat, is our Danny.  I didn't blame him.  Ever since the time Carter and I almost froze in Antarctica, I haven't liked to be cold.  Not that I had to worry about that now....

Daniel put more wood on the fire and climbed up in the loft to get more blankets, since he wouldn't be building the fire up again until we could see if we were going to be able to get out the next day.

By morning, there was a foot of snow on and it was still coming down.  All of us except Paul had been in Colorado long enough to take snowstorms as part of life.  He was a Southern boy who'd spent most of his career in Washington DC.

Sam went up on the roof again.  This time she got the satellite uplink going, and checked in with the SGC to find out what the weather conditions were.  "Guys--this is strange.  This is apparently the edge of a freak storm that's hit all across the northern midwest and down the Rockies.  It's worse there than here--according to Walter they closed the blast doors for a couple of hours early this morning."

Daniel joined her and looked over her shoulder at her laptop while she got the weather channel on her browser.  "Sam, is Las Vegas getting the worst of this?"

"That's Groom Lake, Daniel, Vegas is nearly a hundred miles south...."

"I wonder what the crap they've done out there now?"

Sam answered me with a shrug, and did some checking.  An hour later, she turned to us.  "Guys, this is bad.  They came and got the power column Friday morning instead of waiting until Monday.  Dixon wouldn't let them tell me because he wanted me to rest.  About 1700h today, somebody cranked it up to full power.  Three hours later, Area 51 went on lockdown, and the storm started a little after that.  There's been no contact with Area 51 since the lockdown."

Davis said, "We need to get back to base."

"Nobody's flying anywhere south of Denver, and Nevada is having whiteout conditions near Groom Lake.  They're reporting snow in San Diego!  I'm going to call the General back with what I've found out.  We know we can get as far as Denver.  From there, we may have to improvise."

Nobody had to be told to get ready to roll.

Sam got some answers, but it sure didn't look like she'd got the ones she'd wanted to hear.  "General Dixon just found out that the communications blackout has been slowly spreading out from Groom Lake.  People who've got out in four-wheel drive vehicles are reporting power outages.  No one can be evacuated due to the weather conditions."

"What do you think is happening?"  Paul asked.

"I think the column draws power from any energy source around it, defaulting to zero-point energy.  When someone turned it all the way up, it began to draw energy from the power grid, and then from the planet itself, which is what's causing the weather anomalies."

"That's what made you faint," Daniel speculated.  "It was sucking energy from the people around it too.  You've been around it a lot more than anyone else ever since we found it."

"I just hope we can get close enough to shut it down," she replied.  "Let's hit the road."

Getting back to the SGC was an adventure all on its own.  There is no major Air Force base in Minnesota, and Minneapolis/St. Paul was shut down.  Our best bet was a private airstrip about 100 miles away.  It belonged to an old friend of mine, a guy named Ole Svenson.  Do yourself a favor--don't make any Lena and Ole jokes around him.  Other than that, he was a fairly easy-going guy, and one hell of a pilot.  His older brother Sven was a guide, and the two of them had a pretty good business going.  Ole had a cargo plane, and he'd take Sven and his clients where ever they wanted to go in the upper midwest and Canada.  That often involved flying in some pretty hairy conditions.  I was thinking if anyone was going to get us to Colorado faster than driving straight through, it would be Ole and that big old barge of his.  And if Ole said he wasn't flying in this, we were driving.

Getting to the airstrip wasn't exactly a Sunday drive.  It took us two hours just to get to the main road.  Once Sam skidded into a drift and we had to dig out.  Then it was Teal'c's turn to get bogged down, but that time he was able to chain up to the Ford and winch himself out.

Even on the highway it wasn't easy.  Sixteen wheelers and people with chains on their tires were plowing through, but there were lots of cars off the side of the road.  It went against the grain to pass them up, but if Sam and Daniel were right about the generator column being the cause of all this, I was thinking those folks could have a whole lot more to worry about than being stranded beside the road.

When we came to a car full of kids, there was no way we could just drive by, but we simply did not have time.  Matthew told Sam, "I'll help them and meet you at the SGC.  Let me off around the bend, I'd better pretend to be human."

Sam pulled up.  "Careful out there, Matthew.  Remember your sore feet?  Frostbite is worse."

"Thank you, Sam.  I'll remember."

As Matthew walked back to the stranded car, we kept going.

The Svenson's airstrip was covered with two feet of snow, but I knew Ole had a plow.  Sam led the way up to the one door with a light on over it and pounded.

"Yah, I'm comin'!"  Ole opened the door.  "We're closed!"

"This is an emergency!  I'm Colonel Samantha O'Neill, United States Air Force!  Can we come in?"

"Yeah, sure.  O'Neill?  You wouldn't be any relation to Jack O'Neill?"

"He was my husband."

"Husband?  Was?"  Ole shook his head and closed the door firmly against the wind and snow.  "Hey!  Sven!  We got company!"  He turned back to Sam and said, "I guess it's been a few years.  I didn't know Jack was married, and I sure didn't know he was dead.  I'm real sorry to hear that, ma'am."


"What can I do for you?"

"We were on a pass when this weather came up.  We need to get back to Colorado Springs in a hurry, and I remembered Jack saying that you could fly that plane of yours through almost anything."

"What kind of a hurry?"

Sam winced.  "A classified hurry, I'm afraid.  I know I'm asking a lot for you to risk your plane and your life on a stranger's word with no real explanation, but there could be a lot of lives at stake.  The Air Force will make this worth your while."

Ole and Sven started pulling on their coats and hats and gloves.  Ole told her, "You're not a stranger, not if you're Jack O'Neill's wife," Ole told her.  "Do any of you know anything about airplanes?  We're gonna have to get her warmed up.  If you can do that while the rest of us clear the runway, we'll be out of here that much faster."

"Ole, Jack was right about you, you're a good man.  Paul, you help me with the plane.  Murray, you and Daniel help Ole."

Ole's wife Ingrid started a couple of big coffee pots.  They would want to get warmed up when they were done shoveling, and they would want to take some thermoses of hot coffee with them.

Ole fired up the snowplow and got to work clearing the air strip while Daniel and Teal'c shoveled the snow and ice off the short taxiway that led to the plane's hangar, a big metal building.  Sam went aboard the plane.

Getting it started wasn't as hard as it could have been.  Ole kept the engine's electric heater plugged into the house's generator.  Sam found the clipboard containing the preflight checklist and she and Paul got to work on that.

I found out I could move snow fairly well.  I had to watch out that the Svensons didn't see me doing it, but that took some of the work off Teal'c and Danny.  Even so, it was another hour before Ingrid kissed Ole and the plane lifted off into the storm.

The flight was every bit as rough as we expected it to be.  The last time we'd flown in these kind of conditions was six years ago in Siberia, when the Russians ran into trouble with their gate.  

Teal'c had a deep distrust of the plane.  Too him, anything without inertia dampers belonged in a museum, not in the air in bad weather.  He didn't say anything about it, but he didn't have to.  Paul told him, "This is the best bad-weather plane we ever built.  The Guardies fly them into hurricanes."

Teal'c inclined his head.  "Indeed.  Now that you have mentioned it, I recall that JonasQuinn and I once watched a program about it on the Weather Channel."

Sven asked, "Murray, where did you saw you were from again?"

"I did not say," Teal'c replied, with such regal dignity that I wasn't sure whether or not he was being a smartass.

Ole had a laugh at his brother's expense, but couldn't spare much of his attention from the plane's controls.  This was no fly-by-wire fighter jet where the plane's hydraulics take their cue from a tiny nudge of stick.  His muscles corded as he wrestled the yoke, holding us on course as the high plains rolled beneath us.

Conditions steadily worsened as we neared our destination.  We were running low on fuel but there was a good chance if we tried to gas up in Denver, we'd be prevented from taking off again by people who had more common sense and less reason to get to the Springs.  Ole made the call to try for Peterson on what we had, with everyone aboard fully aware that it was a substantial risk.  We'd be bingo fuel when we got there--in other words, we didn't have enough fuel to go to the Springs and come back.  One way or another, the plane was going to land at Peterson.

The field was shut down, of course, but Sam got on the radio with the commanding officer, who brought Dave Dixon into the conversation.  There were a whole lot of instances of the word "classified."  "Top priority" got in there too, and so did "damn fool."  But the bottom line was they gave us a heading.

This plane wasn't equipped with a whole lot of instrumentation.  But then, a lot of it hadn't been invented yet when Ole learned to fly.  He had the best navigational sense of anyone I've ever met.  The man just doesn't get lost and that's why we didn't hit the side of a mountain.

Getting on the ground was going to harder.  The wind was bouncing us around like a tennis ball.  That's one thing when you've got plenty of sky around you.  There's a whole lot less of a margin for error when you get close to the ground, which as far as I know has never yet moved out of the way of an aircraft.

Ole got enough glimpses of the runway to line us up, then the storm closed in.  The big Swede told his passengers to hang on and descended.  I hoped for all I was worth that we were still headed down the middle of that runway, but with the turbulence I figured the odds were against it.  From the look on his face so did Ole.

Right when I figured we were going to crash, though, the snow parted just like someone had drawn aside a curtain.  Ole made a couple of last-second adjustments and brought us in for a textbook perfect landing.

I wasn't at all surprised to find Matthew standing there when we got off the plane.  My family was OK.  This guardian angel business was starting to sound like a pretty good deal after all.  "Thanks, Matt," I told him, and I really meant it.

"Any time," he replied.

Sven and Ole wished us luck as a couple of SUVs pulled up to take us to the mountain.  Sam shook Ole's hand and told him, "I owe you a big one."

"Come up some time and I'll tell you some stories about Jack and me," he replied.

I wasn't so sure I wanted that to happen.

Deep under the mountain, it was the same temperature year-round.  After the howling wind topside, that was a welcome change for everyone.  There were more people here than usual.  Whenever it snowed hard, a lot of folks who didn't have four wheel drive would take one step outside, call home on their cell phones, and find quarters on base rather than drive in that.

Dave Dixon looked like he hadn't slept last night.  "Glad to see you made it back in one piece."

"Yeah, it got pretty hairy there for a while, but we had a good pilot.  Have you found out any more about what's going on out at 51, sir?"

"Here's the latest we've got, data from Prometheus and satellite images as well as reports from the ground."  He pointed a remote at a wall monitor and a map of Nevada came up.  A big red target centered on the Groom Lake facility extended almost to Las Vegas.  "People coming out have reported that their car batteries died.  They weren't in good shape, fainting and headaches like you had only worse.  A lot of them were hospitalized with what the doctors are describing as extreme exhaustion, and there are reports of fatalities.  No one's reported escaping from closer than ten miles to the facility.  Prometheus tried to land, but they started losing power and had to abort at 50,000 feet."

Sam said, "That's under five miles.  If the effects on the ground are any indication, they shouldn't have been able to get that close."

Daniel pointed out, "We don't know that the area of effect is spherical."

Paul suggested, "Maybe there's something about the Prometheus' Asgard technology."

Sam snapped her fingers.  "They would have come in cloaked.  The cloaking device works by bending light waves around the ship.  Maybe it bent the energy draining field also."

Teal'c said, "Fifty thousand feet is close enough to ring down to the surface."

Dixon told him, "True, but that wouldn't do a whole lot of good if you keeled over dead as soon you ringed in."

Sam said, "We don't know that the effects are instantaneous, sir.  It may be that there would be time to shut down the power column in plenty of time before its effects become debilitating.  I'm the one who needs to go because I can shut it off the fastest, and I need to go now before the area of effect spreads to Las Vegas.  There are probably a million people there, who can't be evacuated due to the storm."

I opened my mouth to come up with some kind of argument against that, but then I shut it again.  Sam was the most likely person to be able to shut it down, if she had any time at all before the damn thing knocked her out.

Dixon was already on the horn to get the Prometheus here to pick her up.  Sam grabbed her coat off the back of her chair and ordered, "You guys find Jay and Bill and come up with a Plan B that doesn't involve dropping a nuke on Area 51 in case this doesn't work.  In fact the last thing you should let them do is try to blow it up, they'll just be feeding it more energy."

"Got it," Daniel told her.

Matthew and I followed her while she stuffed a bag with equipment she thought she might need, then we headed for the elevator.  Halfway there, Walter caught up, puffing from running after her.  He was carrying something bulky wrapped in a blanket.  "Ma'am!  General Dixon had an idea!  It's the breast plate of that set of Kull Warrior armor that SG-4 captured.  If it keeps energy weapons from getting in--"

"--Then maybe it keeps energy from getting out as well!  Tell the General that was some good thinking."

Red-faced, Walter gave her a quick peck on the cheek and then stepped back and saluted sharply.  "For luck, ma'am!"

Sam grinned in lieu of returning the salute--she had barely taken the time to stamp the snow off her boots, much less change into her uniform.  Then the elevator doors closed and we were on our way topside.

We didn't have to wait long.  There was a clearing with some picnic tables just up the trail from the main gate, where people came to eat their lunch or smoke a cigarette on their lunch breaks.  We couldn't see the Prometheus through the swirling snow, or even hear her lifters over the wind, so it was a surprise when we were suddenly ringed up.  Sam stripped off her coat and adjusted the Kull armor, pulling the straps as tight as they would go.  It was still loose on her but it would do if it worked.  The shields came on line.

By the time she had her coat back on, we were there.  With the inertia dampers it was impossible to judge, but I hoped the pilot had gained a lot of altitude before he went supersonic.  Otherwise we'd just busted a whole lot of windows.  This baby hadn't been built to do her thing in atmosphere.

The closest they could get us was outside the entrance bunker to the lab complex.  The facility itself, like the SGC and a lot of other sensitive places also, had been equipped with Asgardian shields that prevented transport rings as well as their teleporters from taking people in and out.  That had spoiled Thor's fun, but the teleporter technology was well and truly out of the bag now.  It was only a matter of time until the bad guys figured it out.

Sam doubled over, grabbing her head, as the transporter rings disappeared, but she quickly got herself under control. Two sentries lay dead, little more than boys really.  One had dropped where he was standing.  The other had dragged himself to an alarm box and pulled it before collapsing.  Sam gave them a sad little look before she turned to the door.

The electronic locks were all dead.  She had been expecting that and came prepared to blow the door.

We didn't find a living soul all the way down there.  Everyone had been caught in the middle of what they were doing.  Sam's expression went blank and I could see her shoving it all into the back of her mind to deal with it later.  But she had worked here prior to the Stargate program.  She knew the scientists and a lot of them were friends of hers.

I saw a woman standing by the side of a desk, looking around at the devastation with a shell-shocked expression on her face.  Then I realized she looked exactly like the body slumped over the desk.  And Sam couldn't see her.  "Hey, lady?"

Sam asked, "Jack, who are you talking to?"

"There's another ghost here.  That lady who collapsed on the desk there."  I walked over to her slowly.  "Miss?  Can you hear me?"

She looked up at me but I could see nothing was really sinking in.  Civilian who'd never been dead before.  OK.  I figured the first order of business was to get her someplace we weren't knee deep in corpses.  Out in the hall was good.

Sam said, "Jack, I hate to be an ass about this, but we're on the clock.  See if you can get her to tell you what lab the generator column is in."

I looked at her name tag.  "Dr. Williams?  Listen to me, where's that generator column they brought in here the other day?  Where did they put it?"

She started to wake up.  "Y-you--I can't tell you that, you don't have clearance!"

I said, "Yes, I do, I'm General Jack O'Neill of the SGC.  This is Col. O'Neill, the CO of SG-1.  We've got to shut that thing down before more people end up like us."

"It's lab 4A.  I'll show you."

By the time we got to the door about twenty yards down the hall, Sam had turned a couple shades of gray that I'd never seen on a living person.  Her hands were shaking as she set a charge to open the door.

The scientists in there weren't just dead, they were dry, blackened, desiccated husks that looked like the mummies Daniel was always dragging us to see.  Sam brushed against one accidentally and it disintegrated to dust, leaving only bare bones and the bits of metal he had on--belt buckle, keys, a pen and a screwdriver.  The metal bits landed with an obscenely loud clatter.

Sam went directly to the column, weaving like a drunk.  There was a row of carved glyphs around the top of it, and she pressed them in sequence.  But there were still three left when she collapsed to the floor.

"Sam!"  I knelt to her.  "Sam!"

She forced her eyes open.  "Rest of the sequence...7...1...9."

Oh, crap.  Those things were small.  I concentrated on the seventh one, squiggles that looked vaguely like an octopus.  I could push the whole column but that wasn't what I needed.  I tried to shut out my fear for Sam and everything else, and press just the glyph.  Eventually it locked.  Symbol number one was easier, a diamond shape about an inch high.

Number nine was a little tiny dot.

I couldn't tell if Sam was breathing.

I had to focus and do this, or everything she'd gambled would be for nothing.  She was ready to die but she sure wasn't ready to fail.

I thought about the hundreds of thousands of people in Las Vegas, collapsing in terror and pain and dying without any idea what was killing them.

The world narrowed down to me and that damn little button, which I just could not seem to hit.

Yes, I could, I told myself.  It was no smaller than the head of the chess pawns that Teal'c and I had been using up at the cabin.  It clicked into place and the humming stopped.

I knelt by Sam.  She was deeply unconscious, but she was breathing shallowly and she had a rapid pulse that strengthened under my fingers.  The Kull Warriors had caused a lot of devastation, but this one's armor had saved Sam's life and a lot of other folks along with her.

Matthew drew Dr. Williams aside and the two of them disappeared.  It was his job to get her home OK.  After Sam got some of her strength back, we went back outside to wait for Prometheus.

The sky was clearing and it wouldn't be long until the unnatural snow melted into the desert sands.  Prometheus came to a landing a hundred yards away.  Medics and Marines started ringing down to secure the facility.  Before long, Sam was in a nice warm berth in sickbay, with glucose running into her arm and a couple of blankets over her.  The medic told her, "You did it.  The energy drain shut down and the storm is already losing its momentum.  The power's starting to come back on."

Sam looked at me and smiled.  "I had a lot of help, Doctor."

Uncomprehending, the medic just nodded.  "Yes, ma'am.  You should try to get some rest.  We'll get you back to the SGC as soon as the facility here is secure."

The Trust had been dealt a crippling blow by their own shortsighted greed.  I suspected that a lot of the driving force behind their crimes had died here today.  Unfortunately they had taken far too many innocent people with them.  I was sure the government would cover it all up and blame the deaths on the freak blizzard, but it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the eye of the storm had hit Area 51.  Just the mere mention of Groom Lake would be plenty to set the conspiracy-theory bloodhounds on the trail--the same ones who wore tee shirts with Alec Colson's face behind a couple strands of barbed wire.  Sooner or later the cover-ups were going to collapse under their own weight, and the fallout was going to make Watergate look like small town politics.

Once again, though, SG-1 had kept someone else's mess from graduating from a disaster into a full-scale apocalypse.  And Sam hadn't had to give her life to do it.  She had too many contributions to make right where she was for that to happen anytime soon.

She smiled at me.  "We did it."

"Yes, we did."

"I dread the debriefing for this one.  I'm really ready to go home."

"I think you can talk Dixon out of a few more days' downtime."

"Sounds good.  I'm not going to move from in front of the fireplace the whole time."

"That sounds good to me, too," I grinned.  She smacked at the back of my head, but I ducked out of the way and she was sound asleep before she could try again.  I kept watch over her until the Prometheus took us home.