The Antarctica crew get ready to leave for Atlantis.
John kept a calming hand on Cassie's arm as they waited for Elizabeth and Jack to get to the chair room. He felt the tension coursing through her body and softened his touch until he felt some of the tension begin to ease out.
“Just stay calm Cassie. This chair will only activate if you have the ATA or ancient gene, and looking at all the alarms we have going off here, it's a sure bet that you have it and in spades.” He paused and gentled his voice at the alarm that was showing on her face. “We'll need to run a couple of tests to check just how much functionality you have, but I want to wait for General O'Neill and Elizabeth to get here...” Her pale face looked up at him, green eyes bright and startled and he smiled down at her. “ This is like deja vu for me - I know exactly how you feel and brings back vivid memories of my first day in Antarctica... it's pretty much how I got recruited!”
Under John's calming hand, Cassie slowly began to relax and as she did so, began to feel the first stirring of excitement and an underlying power that seemed to hum and vibrate with a subtle energy and crept slowly up through her toes and to the tips of her fingers. Taking slow deep breaths, she closed her eyes and felt a cocoon like warmth enclose her and thoughts and pictures, beyond anything she could comprehend, began to fill her head.
Pounding footsteps broke her reverie and her eyes snapped open.
“Sheppard! What part of “look after her” does this fall under?You let her sit in the chair? Are you nuts?” He paused then as he took in her pale face and the fact that the chair was operational and felt a sliver of fear begin to unfurl inside him. Coming to a stop beside the chair, Jack took a deep breath and placed both hands on either side of the chair, leaning in close. John removed his hand from Cassie's arm and stepped back, a little wary of the coiled energy that radiated from Jack.
“Cassie. I need you to look at me and focus”. Jack spoke sharply to Cassie, fighting to get her attention so that he could remove her from the energy pull of the chair. Unaware that her eyes had taken on a deeper shade of green and had become unfocused, Cassie looked straight at Jack and managed a smile, blinking slightly to clear the sudden lethargy that had taken hold of her limbs. Her eyes were heavy and leaden, bedroom eyes thought John, and he shivered slightly at the sexual jolt of awareness that shot through him.
“Cassie love, take a deep breath and let it out again, that's a girl. Relax your hands on the chair and try and clear your mind. I know your're probably scared sweetheart, but I need you to try something for me. Ok?” Cassie had relaxed her head back slightly in the chair and she once again turned her slumberous eyes to Jack, blinking slowly at him to acknowledge what he was saying. John's eyes were fixed on her and he felt that pull again, sexual in nature and tried to push it away.
“Think of the chair as a living thing, an organic thing if you will. It won't hurt you, but it wants to know your mind, just as you want to know it's mind.” She started to become agitated again as the interface between her mind and the chair strengthened and this time John stepped forward and touched her shoulder gently, waiting until she calmed again.
“Let your mind open.” Jack continued. He knew the chair, had experienced it's effects many times himself and was one of the few people who understood exactly what was required to operate the chair, but he chose his words carefully, so as not to scare her. “The more you relax, the more the chair's interface will respond to you. Let it become one with you, allow the pictures, soothing, pretty pictures, to come – don't be afraid Cassie, I promise you that you have nothing to fear.”
Letting Jack's voice wash over her and noting John's tense posture beside the chair, Cassie allowed the pulsing warmth to enter her mind and immediately a holographic picture appeared in front of her, similar to a giant TV screen, but four dimensional and completely filled up with the image of a giant space ship. The image began to rotate slowly to allow the viewers to see it from all angles. Jack and John slowly stepped back from the chair and Elizabeth, who had chosen that moment to enter the room, stopped her progress further in, as the screen slowly grew to encompass most of the chair room. Flickering lights on the screen showed that the ship was functioning and obviously either flying or in orbit above a planet.
“That's not a go'a'uld ship and the design is not similar to any that we can encountered so far in this solar system.” Jack turned to look at John, who shrugged his shoulders.
“I've read all your mission reports General, from SG1 and I can't say that this remotely resembles anything that any of the SG teams have encountered. Is she tapping into something in another galaxy, say the Pegasus Galaxy?” A note of excitement had entered John's voice. He had yet to find a craft that he was unable to fly and the sheer size and complexity of the ship that was hovering in the air above them suddenly made the possibilities that could result from this new mission, very very exciting.
Jack and John began a heated debate over what the foreign ship could be just as the base Doctor walked in. Trim, with a rather dry sense of humour, Carson Beckett was 100% scottish and proud of it. An extremely skilled doctor, his compassion for patients and all living things made him an extremely valuable member of the SG team.
“What in the blazes is going on? Why is there a civilian in the chair? And what the bloody hell is that giant ship doing floating around in the air?”
Not giving anyone time to answer he hurried toward Cassie, noting her sudden pallour and the twitching that had begun in her hands and feet. His hand went automatically to her forehead which felt warm and clammy and he flicked a terse glance behind him at Elizabeth and the military personnel who seemed more focused on the holographic image that the girl who was producing it.
“And has anyone considered the effect all this is having on this wee lass? You need to get her out of that chair now, before she collapses. We don't have enough information on long term effects the chair's neural interface has – and to put a civilian in the chair? You should all be ashamed of yourselves!”
As if the chair had become aware of the burgeoning distress of it's recipient, the back of the chair suddenly tipped upright and the hologram that had been taking up most of the room, disappeared. Cassie, breathing now rapid and agitated, slowly began to refocus her eyes to find Dr Beckett leaning over her, one hand at her wrist checking her pulse.
“Are you all right lass? Your heart is racing like prize filly. Just lie still for a moment and take some deep breaths.” Cassie locked her eyes onto his, brilliant green to warm brown and Carson saw a streak of something he couldn't define flicker imperceptibly in the depths of those green eyes and he blinked once to clear his vision.
“ You need to come along to the infirmary with me and I want to check you out. Believe me, I know from experience what this chair can do to you!” Gently he helped her upright, still her with a hand on her shoulder before she could rise fully out of the chair. “Easy... get your equilibrium back first.” and she gave him a small smile before then let him help her out of the chair. Jack and John hovered in the background, a little ashamed of themselves, matching chagrinned expressions on their faces.
Jack directed his apology to the both of them. “Sorry Doc, we got a little excited at seeing the ship,and kinda forgot it was a newbie in the chair...” Jack touched Cassie's cheek gently. “Sorry sweetheart, I didn't mean to put you through all that and Dr Beckett is right, you need to get checked out and while he's at it, a full work up will be necessary to make sure you are 100% for the upcoming mission.”
Colour had begun to return to her cheeks but Cassie could still feel the sluggish pull of the chair and wobbled slightly as she stood. Carson reached forward to support her and snapped at John who continued to hover in the background. “Colonel, please help me to get her to the infirmary”.
Cassie sat on one of the infirmary beds, impatiently waving off Carson's suggestion that she rest while he completed his tests. A subdued excitement strummed through her and for the first time since leaving New York, started to believe that Jack knew what he was doing and that she was meant to embark on this new adventure. Carson kept up a constant chatter throughout, giving her insights into base protocol and personnel. Cassie found his mannerisms soothing and understood why he had been chosen to head the medical team that would be going to Atlantis. John had left the infirmary abruptly after ensuring she got there safely with barely an acknowledged goodbye and Cassie had been left staring at the doorway rather puzzled, at the coolness he had suddenly displayed. The small interchange had not gone unnoticed by Carson.
“Ach, don't worry lass – he doesn't mean anything by it. He would be a little angry that he had been left out of the loop where you are concerned. As military commander of this mission, he considers it his job to know everything that is going on around here, unfortunately chain of command sometimes gets a little blurry. Elizabeth should have told him”
Cassie smiled at him and waved it off. “Quite frankly Doctor, I don't think anyone was given any warning, me included, so I get a little where he was coming from, but perhaps he could take his moods out on those higher up in command who perhaps forgot to clips the links into place. I am as much in the dark as he is and while he is annoyed that he is saddled with me, I'm just a little annoyed myself that I was dragged here under duress with no knowledge of what I was coming to.”
Carson's keen eyes flicked to hers and her murmered “it sounds as though you have a long and interesting story to tell lass, and when things settle down around here and if and when we get to where we're meant to go, I shall enjoy sitting down and hearing that story.”
Carson ran through his usual battery of tests, happy to see that her colour had returned and pulse rate returned to normal. “Well lass, you are certainly a healthy young thing, can't find a thing wrong with you, just need to wait for some of the bloodwork to give up their results, but preliminary diagnosis – fit as a fiddle!” Helping her down from the bed, Carson turned back to his laptop to enter the last of his notes. “I suspect you have a long overdue meeting with the powers that be so that things can be made a little clearer to you and to others on base... hmmm?”
An hour later, Cassie found herself in the large boardroom overlooking the “gate” room and got a glimpse of the stargate for the first time. Hands pressed up against the glass, she marvelled at the size and her green eyes greedily took in every detail. It was a giant momumental standing ring, that stood as it must have stood a millenia ago in another time, in another place, emblazoned with symbols that she did not recognise nor understand. She did however, feel a throb of power coming from it and pulsing through the glass. Holding a hand to her stomach, she turned to face Jack, John and Elizabeth, who were seated around the conference table.
“I can feel it as thought it has a life of it's own, a sort of mindless humming, you know... when the lyrics and tune are just out of reach? Am I the only one?” John and Jack exchanged glances, but it was Jack who answered her.
“ We have other personnel who can operate the chair and have expressed similar feelings to what you felt when you sat in it, but the stargate? I don't think that anyone has felt any sort of connection with that.” Before he could continue, they were joined by Rodney and Carson, the former holding a large sandwich in his hand that he was busy stuffing into his mouth. Jack steepled his hands and looked around the people in the room.
“Ok, so the gangs all here... time for some explanations!” Cassie took her seat near the end of the table and idly watched the faces of the other occupants as Jack filled them in on her story and his reasons for bringing her here. He did not go into all the detail of her frightening experience with the obsessed fan, but gave them the abridged version that much of the media had covered. If she wanted to share more detail with them, well, that was a personal choice as far as Jack was concerned. The incident had left him frightened and what the media hadn't known, was that she had been held captive in her apartment for two days, bound and gagged she had undergone mild torture when she had turned away his advances. Through sheer will and determination she had managed to escape, but her captor had gotten away. Although she had a good description of the man, the authorities had not yet managed to catch him.
Cassie's gaze kept returning to Colonel Shepherd, whose expression left little doubt that her presence here was not wanted. He did however, wait until Jack had finished before letting his opinion be known.
“With all due respect Sir, I understand that you want to keep her safe. But with what qualifications does she come to Atlantis with. Every member of this mission is a valuable asset and will be bringing an essential skill with them. We cannot have any dead weight on this mission, especially as we are going into the unknown with every possibility that we may not be coming back!” John abruptly stood and pushed his chair back, scrubbing a hand across already messy hair and walking toward the window to gaze down at the star gate.
Elizabeth glanced at Jack indicating that she would respond. “I'm sorry John, I should have brought you in on this sooner, but due to the urgency of the threat involved, General O'Neill had to make a quick decision to get her somewhere safe. I have thought long and hard about how we can deal with this, and it would be to our advantage to use her artistic skills. Once we get to the Pegasus Galaxy, a lot of our contact with other worlds will involve trade. Yes, we may have superior weapons and medical items that we can trade, but if those items are not required or acceptable then we need another asset to be able to offer them. We can arrange performances and we can utilise her performing ability to become an artistic ambassador for earth. We are fully represented in other fields, cultural, medical, military and artistic would complete that package.”
Cassie's gaze continued to follow John as he turned from the window. Elizabeth's information began to assimilate in her mind and it was not an altogether unpleasant one. She noticed John's frustration though and was not surprised when he walked back towards the table and slapped his hands down. “Artistic? Are you nuts?”
“Sheppard...” Jack began warningly.
John cast a cursory apologetic look towards Jack but continued his tirade. “I mean, seriously? We have no idea of what we are walking into over there. I, and the rest of the military units will have our hands full as it is. We can't be expected to take on the care of a spoilt rock star who suddenly decides she needs a change of pace and wants a place to hide from the rest of the world!”
Jack leaped to his feet to thrust his face threateningly close to John. “Sheppard! Stand down. And that's an order. I am still your commanding officer and this is my decision. I have thought long and hard about my decision to send her here and I will not have you second guessing my reasons. She is to be treated with the respect she deserves and that precludes you giving her a hard time. She is not spoilt, you have no idea of her life beyond what is broadcast in the tabloids, so don't judge her by the package you see before you. I wouldn't have put her here, in this situation, if I didn't think she had the balls to handle it! And we now have the added bonus of another member of the team having the ancient gene and god knows, those are in short supply.”
General O'Neill, generally known for his quick wit and long suffering sense of humour, did not often lose his temper, but when he did, people generally ran for cover. John was not one of these people, and while respectful of his superior office, he had his own reasons for challenging the decision and stood now, in front of Jack, his own formidable expression on his face. He nodded once to Jack, acknowledging what he had said, however the thunderous expression on his face gave Jack, and the others in the room no doubt at all, that he was not in agreement with the decision.
Jack, having made his position clear, chose this as an opportune time to make his exit. He took Cassie's hand and drew her out of the conference room and down the hallway to find an empty room. Framing her lovely face is his hands, he looked into her eyes, which were now swimming with tears. “Don't cry sweetheart, this is the right thing to do – I know you don't think so at the moment, and I wish that I could give you a more rational explanation as to why I've brought you here... but the fact is, I can't. I couldn't stand in that conference room and tell them that I have based my decision on 'intuition' or on a 'gut feeling' – wouldn't go down too well for a general to be basing any of his decisions on those! I want you to understand Cassie love, you are meant to be here for a reason, I feel this strongly, and I know in time, you will come to understand what I mean.”
Her eyes gazed steadily into his, and her breath hitched a little as she sought to control her emotions. “I'm not angry at you Jack, I understand your reaons, I do... and that 'intuition' thing – I've learnt also, over the years, to trust mine, just as I've always trusted you. I'm scared though Jack, they're saying that this could be a one way trip – what if I never see you again? You've been my constant – I feel sick at the thought of not seeing you again.”
He framed her face and lowered his head to kiss her hair. “Oh love, I wish I could give you more reassurance, I do. These scientists going on this mission are the best, and the one's at the SGC, they're just as good – they'll find a way to eventually make this a two way trip, one day... I have faith in that. Come on sweetheart, give me a hug and let's say our goodbye now – I'm needed to run through reports and protocol sheets with the military personnel and Eizabeth before we dial the gate, so we'll take a moment here... be safe love and have faith that this is where you're meant to be.” Crying now, she hugged Jack fiercely, then releasing her, he tapped her gently on the nose and led her out of the room.
For the next 24 hours the activity on the base increased exponentally as MALPS were positioned in front of the stargate, along with numerous light transportation containing food, medical supplies, scientific equipment and any other equipment and supplies that would be considered essential in making a home away from home. During this time Cassie tried to keep out of the way, occasionally John's voice could be heard giving orders or calling out instructions. Rodney ran around with a handheld electronic notebook and seemed to be forever keying in calculations and keeping watch up at the control room, Cassie noticed Jack and Elizabeth in deep discussion and wondered a little at the relationship there.
When a vast amount of equipment had been assembled in the gate room, and the rest of the room began to fill up with a combination of military and non military personal, Cassie noticed Elizabeth had left the control room and entered the gate room. As she entered, most of the noise level went down expectantly and she made her way up the ramp toward the star gate and turned to face the assembled personnel.
“Now, every one of you volunteered for this mission and you represent over a dozen countries. You are the world’s best and brightest; and in light of the adventure we are about to embark on, you are also the bravest. I hope we all return one day having discovered a whole new realm for humanity to explore, but as all of you know, we may never be able to return home...”
As Elizabeth continued her speech, Cassie moved further into the room coming to a stop behind John. She noticed the tension in his shoulders and felt a little sympathy for him. He would wear many hats when they arrived at their destination and stepping into the unknown as commander of a large group of people would be an extremely daunting task and she pushed away the anger she had felt at his treatment of her. As if sensing her nearby, he glanced over his shoulder and his frowning expression softened slightly, reading the little spark of excitement that sharpened the green of her eyes. Quirking an eyebrow at her he asked “so, ready for this?”
“Seriously? I should say no, but I'm tempted to quantify that with a cautious yes... tell me Colonel Sheppard? When I step through that “gate” - what does it feel like?” Startled, she took a step back as the chevrons lit up and while the outer circle of the giant ring remained immobile, the inner circle spun as each co-ordinate was registered. With the locking of the final and eighth chevron,a giant whooshing sound accompanied a water like energy barrier that extended outward towards them like a giant liquid tunnel, then settled back to a shimmering wall of water within the ring of the stargate.
Smiling, John stepped up towards where Elizabeth was waiting and took his place as lead military person. With a glance up toward the control room, a salute for General O'Neill who had just annouced “you have a go!”, John called back over his shoulder at Cassie. “I have no idea, but we are about to find out!” With that final comment, both he and Elizabeth stepped into the shimmering blue and disappeared amongst clapping and cheering from the rest of the personnel. Cassie stepped up onto the ramp, lack of courage had never been one of her shortcomings, and she blew a kiss to Jack who smiled in return and took the step forward that would change her life forever.