6. Fragile

Our strength is often composed of the weakness that we’re damned if we’re going to show. — Mignon McLaughlin

 

9 August, 1415 hours

Sixty-seven minutes after O’Neill’s confrontation with Hammond in the Control Room, SG-1 stood in the Gate Room, waiting as the gate was dialed.

Samantha Carter glanced at O’Neill’s face as he prepared to lead them through the the gate to P2A-870. He looked almost… Well, ‘haggard’ was a term she hated to apply to her CO. But he was clearly still feeling the effects of all that had taken place recently. The fact that Janet had cleared him for this mission obviously meant that he was physically up to gate travel, but all the same, there was something just not quite right. Carter supposed she was seeing the cumulative effects of physical and emotional trauma. If he were anyone else, she might be almost tempted to use the word ‘fragile’ to describe the way he looked and moved at present. But if there was one thing in the universe that Jack O’Neill was not, at least in her experience, it was fragile. A lot of other things, perhaps, but never that. Not even when he’d thought he was dying, lying there in the ice cave created by the Antarctic gate. Delirious, regretful, half-frozen, severely injured, and damn near dead, yes. Fragile, no.

She shook her head to clear it, and blinked as the familiar kawoosh of the unstable event horizon dominated the Gate Room for a second before settling into the calm ripple indicative of a stabilized wormhole. The colonel squared his shoulders before turning to look first at Teal’c, then at Daniel and herself as the MALP trundled up the ramp and disappeared through the gate.

Carter saw him fidget impatiently as they waited for the device to arrive on the other side and send back its telemetry. After what seemed an interminable interval even to her, General Hammond keyed the mike from the Control Room above. “SG-1, SG-5, MALP telemetry indicates mild weather conditions and no sign of snow. Also no sign of hostiles or any other presence in the immediate vicinity of the gate. You have a ‘Go’ for the mission. SG-5, proceed through the gate and set up a secure perimeter, then report back via radio. SG-1, you may embark as soon as SG-5 reports.”

After SG-1 shed the cold-weather gear they’d donned as a precaution, O’Neill continued to fidget while waiting for SG-5 to signal them. He turned to her and commented in a stage whisper, “You’d think we’d never gated solo to another planet before.”

Carter smiled in spite of herself. “Well, sir, to be honest, having a little help on this one isn’t a bad idea. If nothing else, it gives us more pairs of eyes and ears for the search.” She caught the split-second of bleakness in his eyes before he schooled his features to something closer to his normal demeanor. Carter felt a faint regret over her words. Not that she’d said anything wrong, she knew, but clearly her CO was on edge over this mission, and she’d apparently triggered something. This definitely means more to him than just the normal ‘leave no one behind’ thing, she realized.

SG-5 must have sent a signal back, because Hammond keyed the mike again. “Okay, SG-1, you’re cleared to embark. Godspeed.”

O’Neill was halfway up the ramp before the general finished speaking. Carter darted a glance at the other two team members as she jogged a little to keep up. Daniel gave her a nearly imperceptible shake of his head, while Teal’c merely raised an eyebrow. They caught up to O’Neill just at the verge of the event horizon, and the gate swallowed all four of them together.

Stepping out onto P2A-870, the first thing Carter noticed was bright sunshine and abundant greenery. As far as she could tell, the blizzard encountered during last month’s attempt to explore the planet must have been a meteorological fluke. Today’s weather was pleasantly warm. As the wormhole snapped out of existence behind them, SG-1 descended shallow stone steps to a flagstoned plaza. Lieutenant Barber already had SG-5 arrayed around the area, weapons at the ready. “We have secured the perimeter, Colonel,” he reported. “Still no sign of hostiles.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” O’Neill eyed their surroundings. The Stargate occupied a flattened circular plaza ringed by four stone megaliths atop a low hill surrounded by forest. He turned to his team. “Fan out, and we’ll comb the area from here to the edge of the forest. Maintain radio contact, and no one goes into the woods alone. If we find no sign of him in the open, we’ll split up into pairs and tackle the woods.”

Half an hour later, they had a good overall idea of the terrain immediately surrounding the gate, but there was no sign of Colonel Cromwell. However, Teal’c had noted a well-worn trail leading into the forest. It showed signs of recent use. O’Neill detailed Barber and his team to search the forest nearest the stargate and maintain radio contact while SG-1 investigated the trail.

As they followed the trail — almost more of a narrow road, really — all four members of SG-1 kept a sharp eye out for signs of any human activity or passage. Carter and Daniel noticed a number of trees and other plants that appeared to belong to Earth species. “Looks like there’s been some transplantation from Earth, Jack,” Daniel commented.

“Wonderful.” SG-1’s leader grimaced. “That means the Goa’uld were busy here, too?”

“So it would seem, O’Neill,” agreed Teal’c. “I have no personal experience with this world, however.”

“Sir, at least that means this trail was probably made by humans. If Colonel Cromwell is here, he may have been able to obtain shelter and aid from the local population.” Carter was determined to find something she could say that would lift the shadow from her CO’s eyes. Although, on closer inspection, it appeared that simply having arrived here and being engaged in some type of action was helping. He still seemed tense, but she recognized it as the tension of anticipation now, rather than of dread. She knew him well enough to be aware that as long as he was doing something positive, he would cope better than he would while merely waiting for something to happen. She often felt the same way herself.

“Carter, I hope you’re right,” O’Neill responded.

They hiked along for another couple of minutes in silence, until Daniel broke it with a question.

“Sam, there’s something I still don’t get.”

“What’s that, Daniel?”

He frowned, blue eyes squinting behind his glasses the way he always did when he was trying to visualize something just beyond his understanding. “Well, when the SGC dialed out to P3W-451, what caused the black hole’s gravity field to leak back through the wormhole? I didn’t even know that was possible.”

Carter shook her head. “Neither did I, actually, until it happened. But as far as I can tell from my calculations, it’s got to be part of the same mechanism that allows MALP telemetry and other comm signals to travel through the gate bi-directionally, even though matter transmission is strictly one-way. Conditions inside the wormhole simply affect matter and energy in different ways. The gate breaks down and reconstitutes whatever matter enters or exits, depending on whether it is in sending or receiving mode. That’s part of the difference between an incoming and an outgoing wormhole. But since energy is already energy, it gets transmitted in its original state. The gate doesn’t have to do anything to it, so it just passes through, regardless of what the gate itself is set to do. Gravity is energy, rather than matter, so it passed through the same way. This was the first time that we’d ever encountered a gravitational field of that magnitude, which is probably why we never noticed the effect before.”

“So gate technology treats matter and energy completely differently, right?” Daniel asked for clarification.

“Well, yes. I mean, inside the wormhole, everything is energy, and exists outside of our universe in a realm where the laws of physics operate differently from what we’re used to. The wormhole itself can theoretically be affected by structures in our universe projecting into this super-universe beyond, but within the wormhole, our physical laws simply don’t apply, which makes wormhole physics a completely different field. Once I went back and re-did the calculations last night, I realized this was the same reason why once Colonel Cromwell had passed our gate’s event horizon, the gravity and even the bomb blast would have ceased to affect him in any normal sense for as long as he remained within the wormhole. From there, it was only a matter of calculating how the energy introduced by the bomb would combine with the gravitational energy and the time dilation to affect the internal geometry of the wormhole itself, including the time it would take an energy pattern representing an object inside to complete transit from one end to the other, compared to how long it was from the time of entry until the wormhole jumped. Once we knew how far the jump was, that gave me some figures to work with that I didn’t have before. The model I’ve constructed still isn’t perfect, but it was close enough” — she waved an arm, indicating the forest around them — “to send us on a rescue mission.”

Daniel was nodding now, while Teal’c looked intrigued. Carter glanced at the Colonel and noticed that his eyes had taken on that glazed look he got whenever she tried to explain the science behind something.

“Care to simplify that for me, Captain? It sounds like you’re saying that we’re transmitted as energy when we travel through the gate, and we only become matter again as we exit. Have I got that even close to correct?”

She hid a smile. “What did you think ‘molecular deconstruction’ meant?”

“Carter?”

“Sir?”

“Did it ever occur to you that I’ve spent the past couple of years trying not to think about it?”

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