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Fanfiction: Twelve Days - Part II

For disclaimer and author's note see Part I



Twelve Days - Continued

On the sixth day of Christmas…

"They're descended from geese."

Sam refused to drop her head and bang it against the table. She settled instead for glowering at Daniel over the table in the officer's mess. She hardly ever used the private dining room preferring instead to catch a meal in the main mess with everyone else like she had done in Atlantis. But when SG1 had beamed back up from the planet, she'd decided somewhere less public for dinner and debriefing was in order. Once she'd gotten access to the computer systems on the planet that morning, Sam had spent the rest of the day on the Hammond overseeing the finishing preparations for the X402's test flight and catching up on her command duties. She was eager to know what SG1 and the survey team Homeworld had sent to help had learned.

"You're kidding." She said.

"He's not." Vala twirled spaghetti around her fork in a wonderfully competent way that Sam had never learned but which Vala did naturally.

"Doctor Sanchez thinks they're related to true Geese. She's named them the Coscoroba." Daniel said.

Sam noted the mention of the Gamma site xenobiologist. Sanchez was on loan to the hurriedly put together Homeworld survey team; the mission was short notice and many of the usual personnel had leave over the Christmas period.

"Coscoroba Swans are the closest living relatives of true geese." Teal'c informed Sam sagely.

"You googled Wikipedia again, didn't you?" Cam accused Teal'c.

Teal'c simply raised his eyebrow in response.

"Anyway," Daniel said hurriedly, ignoring his plate of Bolognese in favour of talking, "there are five repositories of information; historical, scientific, agricultural, biological and cultural in line with the five buildings. From what I learned from the historical database, the society was slightly ahead of our own and had started space exploration to the nebula. It was the equivalent of satellite pictures that revealed to them the encroaching ice-age."

"The next part is very romantic." Vala declared.

"Six of the Coscorobans decided to get together and save everyone." Daniel said. "They constructed the repositories…and the satellites that they sent into the nebula."

Vala slapped him. "That's not the romantic part." She paused for dramatic effect. "The six scientists fell in love!"

"I believe, Vala Mal Doran, that Daniel Jackson finds the preservation of a civilisation to be romantic." Teal'c gently chided her.

"Good to know, Muscles," Vala said breezily before winking in Daniel's direction, "I'll keep that in mind."

Daniel huffed out an exasperated breath.

"The six scientists fell in love with each other?" asked Sam, trying to keep the conversation somewhat on track. The look Cam shot her wished her well in her endeavour and predicted failure in her immediate future; she couldn't say she blamed his pessimism.

Vala sucked up some spaghetti. "Mating pairs."

"Sanchez says that geese tend to be monogamous." Daniel said.

"Like swans?" Sam desperately tried to remember anything to do with avian scientific classification since she'd reviewed the whole avian arm of it when the Jakrian's had emerged.

Daniel frowned. "I don't know." He waved the fork he held at her. "Anyway, not the point…"

"Was there a point there, Jackson?" asked Cam dryly.

Daniel glared at him. "The point is that these six scientists created the legacy of their civilisation. They sent up satellites with what we think translates to eggs into the nebula hoping to attract another race into investigating."

"You're thinking Gadmeer." Sam said excitedly, immediately seeing where Daniel's conclusions were leading.

"Yes," Daniel agreed with enthusiasm, "I think the satellites are all containers of everything they need to reseed their population." He thrust his hands out and sent drips of Bolognese over the table.

Teal'c glowered at him and pointedly moved his plate further away.

"So, obviously, we need to go into the nebula." Daniel concluded happily.

Sam frowned. The nebula's properties would play havoc with the Hammond's sensors. They'd be flying blind. She had faith in her crew but she'd want more time to prepare them.

And then there was the imminent X402 flight test to consider.

"Getting back to the romantic point," inserted Vala.

"There is no romantic point!" exclaimed Daniel.

"That's because you're not romantic." Vala berated him lightly. "Now, hush: the leader of the geese scientists, M'Rau, was a great lady very in love with her mate, Amrak, and she believed that they could only entrust the future of their civilisation to someone who loved as fiercely as she did so she created a device which would scan and do some kind of telepathic or empathic analysis of whoever was around the nebula, and assess whether they were good enough." She sat straighter with a triumphant expression. "And if they were good enough they got the light show that matched the code on the planet."

"Seriously?" asked Sam, surprised despite all the years she'd spent in the programme.

"Isn't it romantic?" demanded Vala.

"Indeed." Teal'c replied.

Sam smiled at him briefly before her expression shifted back to concern. "I'm a little worried that we've been telepathically or empathically scanned and didn't have a clue about it."

"It can't have been that dangerous or there would have been side-effects by now." Daniel said logically.

"Do freakish coincidences about a Christmas song count?" Vala asked brightly.

"Good point." Cam chimed in. "You have to admit it has gone from freaky to freakier."

Her mouth full, Sam made an accepting gee-I-guess half-nod with her head.

Daniel rolled his eyes and gestured with his fork again. Teal'c's threatening glare promised retribution should any Bolognese fall upon his meal but it didn't deter Daniel.

"Look, maybe the scan happened on the first day of Christmas and maybe," he conceded, "it was the Peartree and Partridge thing which convinced the scan that we loved fiercely enough to be entrusted with this. But," he made another fervent motion with his fork, "I find it difficult to believe that the scan then went on to influence people in another part of the galaxy into giving Sam a statue of a two birds or a scientist into turning French people into bird dinosaurs."

"We were also not four call girls." Teal'c added.

Sam almost choked on a laugh.

"I guess it's easy to start seeing something that isn't there and start romanticising things." Cam mused.

"You're trying to argue that five wasn't important yesterday and today we don't have six geese scientists?" Vala argued passionately.

"I agree with Vala." Sam said, pushing her plate away.

It was Daniel's turn to choke. "You do?"

"There's something going on." Sam said firmly. "Maybe it isn't related to whatever telepathic whammy scan these Coscorobans invented but something is going on that's interesting; statistically the odds that events would produce some correlation with the song 'Twelve Days of Christmas' for twelve days running is very remote. "

Vala beamed at Sam. Teal'c inclined his head in agreement.

Sam checked her watch. "I have to finish up my reports." She gestured at Daniel. "I'm going to tell Jack 'no' on going into the nebula by the way."

Daniel hurriedly swallowed his food as his eyes widened. "Why?"

"We need more information before we put the Hammond at risk taking it into a nebula where our sensors are compromised." Sam stated authoritatively. "You've barely scratched the surface of the databases and I want to know more about the satellites, this telepathy scan thing and the Coscorobans before we head in. I did promise Jack I'd try to keep you from stumbling over another alien bad guy."

"You know I preferred you when you used to immediately say yes to dangerous space races." Daniel grumbled.

But she could see him accept her position in the way his gaze shifted from disgruntled to thoughtful. She left SG1 to finish the meal and headed to her quarters.

Jack's usual email was waiting for her when she logged into her account.

"Re: Daniel's report on the Geese Guys

Carter,

I'm assuming you're going to say no to flying into a nebula when we hardly know a thing about the telepathic geese folk?

I'm not sure how I can argue that I sent you six geese eggheads but I'm going to claim I did anyway. Happy Sixth Day of Christmas!

Always, Jack x"

Sam smiled.

"Re: Daniel's report on the Coscorobans

Sir,

I concur; we need more information before we investigate the satellites within the nebula. I suggest a full survey team be assigned to assist SG1 in mining the alien databases for information and any follow-up should be delayed until after the flight test of the X402.

Colonel Carter"

She sent a personal email with the rest of her thoughts.

"Jack,

You did request the Hammond for the scientific mission of studying the nebula. So arguably yes, you gave me six geese scientists.

Daniel has a theory that the telepathic scan may have approved of us on the first day of Christmas when you sent me Peartree and Partridge because it proved we loved fiercely enough for them to trust us.

Vala thinks it's romantic.

So do I.

Love, Sam x"

o-O-o

On the seventh day of Christmas…

"So," said Sam taking in a steadying breath as she glared at Sanchez, "let me get this straight: this morning you decided that experimenting with the Ancient device, a device that turned three people into dinosaurs, was the answer to Doctor Jackson's requirement by Homeworld Command that he gain more information about the Coscoroban people before a determination is made on whether to proceed with a mission to assess the satellites within the nebula."

Sanchez fidgeted under Sam's relentless glare.

Sam had ordered the young xenobiologist into an area of relative privacy by the walls of the ruins of the building that led to the biological database for her chewing out. Unfortunately, Sam was only too aware that the male members of SG20 were still lurking nearby along with an embarrassed Daniel, an amused Cam and a frowning Teal'c (it was all in his eyes).

"Colonel…"

"I haven't finished, Doctor Sanchez." Sam said tersely. "Because apparently your decision then led you to return briefly to the Gamma site where you appropriated the device without proper authorisation and I know this because before I was called down here, I had just read a report from Homeworld detailing the theft of the device since you didn't even inform Doctor Hendricks that you were taking it."

"I borrowed it!" Sanchez squeaked out, her hands moving in a flustered pacifying gesture that Sam ignored.

"Colonel Alain and Doctor Hendricks don't have the same opinion." Her lips tightened when Sanchez rolled her eyes. "To make things worse, you then returned and allowed seven female scientists and military personnel to think the experiment was sanctioned, changing them using the device before the power once again blew out."

Sanchez blushed but her lips settled into a stubborn line. "They all consented, Colonel, and all were female to prevent the issue that occurred on the Gamma site."

"You know nothing about this race!" Sam pointed out incredulous at the defence Sanchez was attempting. "You have no idea if same-sex pairings weren't part of their reproduction! And regardless, you didn't actually change these women into Coscorobans! You changed them into their ancient ancestor which seems to be a swan!" She straightened her shoulders and glared at Sanchez. "And because you didn't take the minimum requirements such as changing them in a contained environment as soon as they got changed – they flew away!"

Sanchez was chagrined at that. "I didn't think…"

"That's right, Doctor Sanchez, you didn't think." Sam stated forcefully.

"With respect, Colonel," Sanchez retorted angrily, "I believe you are reacting emotionally to events since one of the individuals changed is Doctor Fraiser and…" she stopped abruptly at the hard angry look Sam shot her.

"Oakley! Peel!" Sam barked across the space. The Sergeants came running along with Grogan. "Escort Doctor Sanchez back to Homeworld Command. She is confined to Homeworld to face an investigation into scientific misconduct."

"My contract's with the IOA! You don't have the authority…" began Sanchez heatedly.

"I have plenty authority." Sam broke in furiously, jerking her head at the two waiting Sergeants. "Get her out of my sight."

Oakley and Peel immediately contacted the Hammond for beam-up.

The rest of SG1 wandered over as Grogan sighed and rubbed his forehead.

"What now, ma'am?"

Sam took another deep breath to calm herself. Sanchez was partially correct in accusing Sam of being emotionally compromised because Cassie was one of the changed women. Cassie would always be special to Sam; to SG1. But this wasn't like the time Jack had gone missing and Sam had yelled at Bill Lee because it wasn't just Cassie who was now a swan; Vala, Anna Casey, Captain Peartree, Jennifer Hailey, Lindsay Novak and Doctor Susan Cambridge. In short, one member of SG1, one archaeologist trying to make-up for her inaccurate original survey, the test pilot and the lead designer for the X402, the Hammond's chief engineer and medical officer.

Sam clicked her earpiece. "Hammond, can you get a lock on the personnel changed into swans?"

"Yes, Colonel." Phelps replied. "They're about half a click from your location near to a large body of water."

The reservoir they'd seen on the UAV; swans were waterfowl. They'd probably headed off for a swim, Sam thought sourly. But thank goodness for subcutaneous transponders.

"Beam them into a cargo hold and seal the doors." Sam instructed. She clicked off the radio as Phelps confirmed her order.

"OK, so problem number one sorted." Cam said brightly. "The swans are corralled."

Grogan looked relieved. "Thanks, ma'am."

"We still have problem number two." Sam admitted. She looked around. "Who has the Ancient device?"

Daniel cleared his throat and handed it over to her. Sam examined it and blew out a frustrated breath. Her fix-it from a few days before had been wrecked.

"I need tools." Sam said. "I'm going to beam back to the ship and work on this."

"You were pretty harsh on Sanchez." Daniel commented.

She looked over at Daniel incredulously. "You do realise that she did all this because she has a crush and wants to impress you?"

"I believe that is the reason for Daniel Jackson's guilt in this matter, Colonel Carter." Teal'c informed her briskly.

Sam's lips twitched. "Indeed."

"The guy who had a crush on you brought the entire Stargate system to a halt!" Daniel said defensively.

"Oh boy." Cam murmured, taking his cap off to scratch his ear.

"At least Jay Felger had permission from the General!" Sam retorted. "Sanchez ignored every single scientific protocol that we have!"

Daniel conceded with a huff. "What do you think will happen to her?"

"I'm going to send her to Atlantis." Sam stated firmly. McKay would either break her of her bad habits or have her running for the hills. He was useful like that.

Cam whistled. "That's…"

"Inspired." Teal'c inserted with a hint of a smirk.

"Now," Sam said firmly, "I'm going back to the ship to…" she waved the device, "fix this."

"Thank you, ma'am." Grogan said appreciatively.

She sent him a reassuring smile. "Jenn'll be fine, Matt."

And she was. Two hours later, Sam stood in the cargo bay with seven reformed human women.

"I flew!" Captain Peartree spread out her arms. "I actually flew! It was incredible!"

Sam felt a twinge of jealousy but pushed it down and nodded at the assembled group. "Everyone gets checked out by Doctor Lam. She's waiting in the infirmary."

Cassie wandered over to her as they all started to file out, Peartree happily babbling to Jennifer about the experience of flying.

"Sorry I worried you." Cassie said sheepishly. "But it was a really interesting experience, Sam. You would have loved it." Her eyes shone with excitement. "It was like being a passenger in an actual swan."

"Uh-huh." Sam slung an arm around her shoulder. "You get to tell Jack."

"But…"

"No, we made this deal when you decided you wanted on a SG team." Sam said lightly. "You do crazy stuff; you get to deal with Jack."

Cassie sighed. "He's never letting me off world again, is he?"

Sam laughed but secretly thought Cassie might have a legitimate worry. "You also get to tell your fiancé."

Cassie rolled her eyes, smiling. "Jonas is going to be jealous. He's never turned into a swan."

"Neither have I." Sam said but inwardly agreed with Cassie. Jonas Quinn loved new experiences. It still surprised Sam that Cassie and Jonas had ended up together. They had been close when Jonas had been on Earth, becoming fast friends, but Cassie had been too young and Jonas had mostly ignored the crush she'd had on him. They'd bonded as adults on a shared Langaran-Earth mission though and their relationship had quickly solidified into a real love story.

The rest of the day sped by in a rush. The disaster with the swans had meant morning meetings on the X402 had been postponed to the afternoon; reports from engineering and the infirmary had been delayed.

It was late by the time Sam checked her email.

"Sam,

Firstly, Cassie is never going off world again.

Secondly, Bill yelled at that Sanchez woman for a whole hour. I was kind of impressed. Do we still send scientists to Siberia? You know she actually said the words 'no harm, no fowl?'

Thirdly, Cassie is never going off world again.

Fourthly, are the Geese Guys really Swans because hey, didn't you have seven swans a-swimming this morning?

And lastly, never again.

Happy New Year's Eve!

Always, Jack x"

Sam uploaded the photo of the seven swans in the cargo hold and attached it to an answering email.

"Jack,

Firstly, Cassie is already off world as she's tucked up in bed on the Hammond. She thought the whole thing was awesome, by the way.

Secondly, Bill is a man of hidden depths. And no, we don't send scientists to Siberia but we are sending Sanchez to Atlantis.

Thirdly, see response above.

Fourthly, we don't really know enough about the swan-like ancestor that the Coscorobans descended from to call them swans in the same sense as Earth swans but Earth swans and geese had a common ancestor. So yes, theoretically, we had seven swans a-swimming this morning but them trying to fight the V'Breeni statue was more amusing (see photo).

And lastly, Cassie and I love you too.

Sam x"

o-O-o

On the eighth day of Christmas…

"…and we've completed the last of the computer simulations for the X402 flight test showing she should be able to perform the group fly-by with the F302s that General Vidrine wanted for the visiting VIPs." Jennifer Hailey said with smug satisfaction.

The fly-by was completely unnecessary in Sam's mind and inappropriate for a first test flight of her new baby. But Vidrine hadn't gone for her 'with all due respect, General, you do remember what happened with the X301' and made it a direct order to put on a show.

So they would put on a show.

"Good," said Sam, realising that Jennifer was waiting for a response, "and how is Captain Partridge…"

Her earpiece crackled.

"Bridge to Colonel Carter. Incoming message from Homeworld Command, Colonel. Should I pipe it to your office?"

Sam repressed the urge to roll her eyes as the 'what now?' flickered through her mind. She tapped her earpiece. "Thank you." She gave Jennifer an apologetic smile. "Homeworld's calling. I'll catch up with you later, Major."

"Yes, ma'am." Jennifer nodded and departed briskly, closing the door as she left recognising that Sam would need the privacy.

Sam turned to her computer and brought up the communication window. Jack was already waiting impatiently for her. He gave her a small wave.

"Carter."

"Sir."

They smiled at each other.

Walter cleared his throat in the background.

"So, the Langaran Stargate Command just called," Jack made a vague gesture with one hand, "apparently their premier team has run into troubles on P4S988."

The premier team of the Langaran Stargate programme was led by Jonas Quinn.

Sam's nose wrinkled. "Isn't that the planet with the weird Ancient marriage dome?" She vaguely remembered the report. SG1 had discovered the planet while Sam had been the Atlantis Expedition Leader. She was almost certain that it involved Vala getting trapped in the dome and Daniel having to compete with some of the locals to win her hand. She had a brief memory of a series of emails from the different SG1 members, all complaining in their own way that if Sam had been with them, Daniel wouldn't have ended up marrying Vala (except for Vala who complained that Sam should have been there to stand as her matron of honour).

"That would be the one." Jack agreed breezily. "The Langarans have requested your assistance in retrieving Jonas from the dome."

"They do know I'm already married." Sam replied with a raised eyebrow.

Jack smirked at her. "I may have pointed that out to the Ambassador," he admitted, "but as the Ambassador pointed out to me, Daniel's original report on the planet, which we shared with the Langarans during our last 'we're really sorry we commandeered your Stargate to call the stranded Destiny crew and send them supplies' apology, was filled from head to toe with how if you had been there he wouldn't have had to marry Vala."

"Ah." Sam sighed with understanding. "And I'm guessing sending me to help is going to be our latest 'we're really sorry we commandeered your Stargate' apology?"

The commandeering fiasco had happened during one of her and Jack's fishing vacations in Minnesota. They'd both gotten back to Washington to find out what had happened in their absence at the instigation of a bunch of stupid politicians spurred on by the late Senator Armstrong's widow and the IOA's head Carl Strom. To say Jack had been furious at their treatment of their old ally (as annoying and frustrating as the Langarans were, they had given them Jonas and relations had been much improved when they'd re-established official contact after the Ori war was over) was an understatement.

She understood in some ways. When Nicholas Rush had dialled the ninth chevron to escape a Lucian Alliance attack, Rebecca Armstrong had lost her husband and her daughter was trapped on an Ancient ship travelling millions and millions of light years away through other galaxies. The woman wanted her daughter home or safe and Sam respected that. What she didn't respect was the behind-the-scenes politicking to get a decision Jack had made (which said they would only use the Langaran Stargate with its access to its naquadria planetary core to dial the Destiny only if the Langarans agreed to it) reversed in his absence.

Strom's motivations had always been obvious. The head of the IOA had thought he'd score a political coup by achieving something Jack had said shouldn't be done. The fallout had effectively ended Strom's career because most of those on the mission had been given the incorrect impression it had Jack's approval and the Langarans (and thank God for Jonas) had blamed everyone but Jack for the incident and now would only deal with him or the former members of SG1.

"'Fraid so, Carter." Jack said. "I need you geared up and ready to leave yesterday."

"With your permission, sir, I'd like to bring SG20 with me." Sam said quickly.

Jack stared at her. Sam arched one eyebrow and waited.

"Carter…"

"Sir, in the event that I cannot as Daniel postulated work out how to get a trapped individual out of the dome, then it makes sense to have Jonas's fiancée be the one to take part in the competition." Sam argued.

She tried to keep the look of exasperation off her face. Jack did accept that Cassie and Jonas were a couple – in theory. He just generally stuck his hands over his ears and tried to pretend it wasn't happening whenever the subject was raised directly.

"Fine," grumbled Jack, "but just so we're clear if the worst comes to the worst and Cassie has to enter the competition," he paused dramatically, "she's under no obligation to win."

Sam knew her amusement was written all over her face. "I'll tell her you said good luck, sir. We'll check in once we're on P4S988."

They signed off and Sam headed to the bridge to make arrangements for her departure with SG20.

P4S988 was beautifully sunny and Sam appreciated the sun warm on her skin and the light breeze through her blonde ponytail as she was greeted by the two women in Jonas's team; his military advisor, Sian Terra, and his scientific advisor, Kianna Seer. His lingual expert, Errold Var, had stayed with Jonas in the dome for moral support.

"We're glad you're here, Samantha; Cassandra." Terra said.

Sam could tell the petite redhead was concerned and annoyed.

"Why did Jonas enter the dome?" Cassie asked, tucking a lock of her own reddish-brown mane back under the cap she wore.

"Jonas thought he had a way of entering the dome without triggering the wedding trap." Terra explained.

"It was a good theory." Kianna said brightly. "It just didn't work."

"That's my Jonas." Cassie quipped, laughing.

Sam took in the sights as they walked briskly through the town. It was very reminiscent of the other villages that had been seeded by Merlin; pre-industrial and medieval yet with odd legacies of Ancient technology.

The white dome occupied the centre of the town green. They all made for the entrance. Sam's gaze swept around the circular space. It was largely empty except for the altar in the middle and the milling townspeople. Jonas was trapped there behind a shimmering force shield of white. He had been sitting with his back resting against the altar but as soon as he saw Sam and SG20, he got to his feet.

He moved to stand just behind the force shield. "Sam! Cassie!" He waved at the rest of SG20. "Sorry about the fuss." He said with a rueful grin. He motioned at the town's mayor. "Sam, this is Vernon Bol. Vernon, my betrothed's guardian, Samantha, and my betrothed, Cassandra Fraiser."

"Mayor Bol," Sam said respectfully, "may we have a word in private with Jonas?"

Bol, a squat looking man with a weak chin, nodded enthusiastically. "Of course! Now you are here we can prepare the competition!"

Sam waited until Bol and the rest of the townspeople had left before turning back to Jonas. "I can get…"

"No," Jonas said hurriedly, "this is a sacred place to them and I only asked for Terra to ask for you because I thought Cassie would be off-world somewhere and unavailable. If I can get out of this without dismantling their technology, I'd like to do that." His eyes shifted to Cassie.

She grinned at him. "You want me to fight for you, huh?"

"Only if you want to, Cass." Jonas said seriously. "But…"

She shook her head. "No, we're in agreement about local customs being respected; you know that."

They both turned to Sam expectantly.

Sam cleared her throat. "This is your mission, Jonas, you make the calls. I guess we should invite everyone back in then?"

Vernon was quick to turn up again when they asked for him. "If you will come outside the competition will be held on the green because of the animals."

"Animals?" asked Sam warily.

"Amber Cal was the first to enter the dome following Mister Quinn accepting the judgement of the Ancestors in the selection of his bride." Vernon said pompously. "As our tradition demands she was the one to set the challenge."

Sam vaguely recalled the rule from Daniel's previous report.

"So what's the challenge?" asked Cassie.

Vernon smiled thinly. "Perhaps we should go outside?"

Errold indicated he would stay with Jonas as did Grogan. The rest of them trooped outside the dome and frowned at the bovine-like creatures lined up on the green.

"Seven of our town's eligible maidens have indicated they would like to compete," Vernon said with false bonhomie, "so we have procured an eight bovi for you, Miss Cassandra. The winner will be the one who can milk the bovi most efficiently within ten parsecs."

"I assume the milk will be measured by a neutral judge?" checked Sam.

"By the Ancestors themselves." Vernon declared. "Each maiden will carry her milk into the temple and give it to Mister Quinn. The temple will then only allow the one who has won to pass through the barrier and claim her husband."

Cassie grinned widely, stretched out her arms and hands in front of her. "Cool."

"Are you sure you can do this, Cassie?" asked Sam sceptically.

"I used to milk the goat when I was little." Cassie said shrugging. "Don't worry. I've got this."

Sam sighed but waved her towards what appeared to be the bovi set up for Cassie. The ten parsecs was the equivalent of five minutes and it passed in a blur as the families spurred on the competitors. Sam made sure that she, Oakley and Peel yelled just as loudly for Cassie as the others did for their daughters. The dark-haired girl who'd set the challenge had an almost full bucket by the end of it but so did Cassie. It was going to come down to the two of them.

Everyone made their way back inside and each bucket was handed through the force shield to Jonas with solemnity. He bowed to each girl and thanked them for the honour they showed him in participating.

"It is obvious that only two girls produced enough milk to challenge." Vernon declared. "As the first to enter the dome, Amber Cal will approach the force shield first."

Sam held her breath as the brunette approached confidently. She reached the force shield and stretched out a hand only to be repelled by a surge of blue light.

"It is not Amber Cal." Vernon said sadly.

Cassie straightened her shoulders and approached the force shield. She reached out a hand toward Jonas and he reached back…

The force shield fell.

Cassie skipped the last step into Jonas's embrace and they hugged briefly before turning back to the gathered populace.

Jonas cleared his throat. "I would just like to thank everyone for this experience. My fiancée and I are honoured to have taken part in this sacred ritual and to have received its blessing on our marriage."

Vernon beamed at Jonas. "Then come! We will feast and celebrate your forthcoming nuptials!"

Three hours later and two check-ins with Homeworld later, Sam staggered back to the Hammond with SG20 and a chirpy Jonas, who had somehow wrangled himself an Earth 'we're really sorry we tried to commandeer your Stargate apology' invitation to the test flight of the X402. Sam figured he just wanted to spend time with Cassie.

She opened her email and was happy to see the usual message from Jack waiting for her.

"Carter,

Obviously I knew that you'd see eight maids milking when you went off to rescue Jonas's ass.

Happy Eighth Day!

Always, Jack x"

Sam laughed and uploaded the picture that Peel had managed to take of Cassie milking the bovi.

"Jack,

If you ever walk into a marriage trap let's hope I don't have to milk a cow to prove I'm the best wife for you.

Love, Sam x"

o-O-o

On the ninth day of Christmas…

Sam smoothed down the front of her service blues and briefly brushed a finger over the eagles that she wore. They were shiny and looked new but they had originally been Jack's. She always thought of him whenever she wore them. She knew he had tucked away her father's General stars for her to wear someday.

Sometimes she wondered if she would make it to General. She'd had a blessed career for the most part; an active member of SG1 for more years than she could count, head of Stargate R&D even while she had been TDA'd back to SG1 during the Ori crisis, leader of the Atlantis expedition for a year, and the CO of the Hammond. She'd also deputised for both the former SGC commander Hank Landry and for Jack at Homeworld during the year between Atlantis and the Hammond. It would be nice to get a set of stars but she couldn't deny that she loved her current assignment.

She'd love it more if Jack was aboard and she got to see him every day, but at least with the Hammond they returned to Earth every three weeks and stayed one week. Jack always made sure his schedule aligned to hers so they'd have time together during her week on Earth. It was more than they'd had when she'd been on Atlantis.

She sighed unhappily. Jack had initially been scheduled to attend the flight test of the X402 but he had been requested by the President to attend an important Middle East strategy meeting back on Earth. She knew he was annoyed that he wouldn't be able to attend and she missed him.

Still, even if Jack wasn't attending, it didn't mean that there was an absence of Generals or other VIPs. Hence the dress-up for herself and the senior staff.

Sam made her way out to the bridge. She hated being in the blues during operations. They weren't particularly restrictive – the jacket left plenty of room for easy manoeuvre, the skirt wasn't overly tight, the low heel shoes comfortable enough – yet she vastly preferred her operations jumpsuit.

Of SG1, only Cam and Teal'c were in attendance; the rest of the team was down on the planet continuing the trawl of the databases trying to find the information they needed to get the jaunt into the nebula authorised. Cam had remarked that morning that he had handed over Daniel and Vala babysitting duty to Grogan as a learning experience. Cam was in uniform and Teal'c in a smart suit with a silk grey tie and a Star Wars tie-pin that had been his Christmas gift from Cassie. Jonas stood alongside him in his official Langaran BDU.

Her Hammond team, comprised of Franklin, Marks and Hailey, were all decked out in their uniforms, and she nodded her approval as the on duty communications officer confirmed that Phelps had greeted the VIPs at the Stargate and they were ready to beam-up. Sam joined her officers and confirmed the beam-up.

Immediately Sam's eyes went to the two unexpected Atlantis personnel at the back of the group. She yanked her eyes away and saluted as Franklin confirmed there was a General on deck. Vidrine smiled widely and saluted back.

"Colonel."

"General." Sam smiled warmly at him. "Welcome aboard the Hammond."

"It's our pleasure." Vidrine turned to the people with him. "You remember Senator Morrow?"

Morrow was the new Stargate liaison to various Committees in Congress, taking over when the last Senator had died in an Alliance attack on the Pentagon. He was young, dynamic and sympathetic. He beamed at her. "It's a real pleasure to be here, Colonel."

"Senator." Sam smiled warmly. Jack liked Morrow; Morrow was honest and forthright, and Jack appreciated that.

Vidrine continued the introductions. "You know Carl, of course."

Carl Strom lowered his head briefly in acknowledgement. "Colonel Carter."

"Director Strom." Sam answered politely as she shook the outstretched hand of the Head of the IOA. "Good to see you again."

"I am looking forward to seeing if your design does all that it says it can." Strom replied.

Sam kept her smile with effort. "I don't think you'll be disappointed."

Vidrine cleared his throat. "You also know Jean-Pierre Michel…"

"Samantha!" The debonair Frenchman swept forward and kissed her hand effusively. "It is a delight to see you in person so I can thank you for all the effort you made saving my cousin and her husband from being the dinosaurs!"

"It was really no trouble." Sam replied diplomatically, although she felt herself relax a little under his twinkling blue eyes.

"Your husband sends his regards." Jean-Pierre continued ignoring the sour look on Strom's face. "I cannot believe your President has requested his presence and so he cannot be with us today, but to say thank you properly for your help I offered to deliver to you a gift…" he gestured at his assistant who stood behind him and took a box from him swiftly, "and here it is!"

The gaily wrapped box was quickly handed over to an Airman to take to Sam's quarters and she fervently hoped that it wasn't three French hens.

Sam endured the rest of the IOA introductions (and wondered exactly how many of them it needed to witness the test flight). Finally, Vidrine got to the two personnel she wanted to greet.

"You obviously know Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay." Vidrine said with amusement. "I've asked them to come along today to assess whether a squadron of 402s would be a good addition to the Atlantis expedition."

"Colonel." John grinned at her.

"Colonel." Sam replied.

"Oh please don't start that again." Rodney pleaded with an accompanying hand wave between the two of them. "And can we get this started? Some of us have important work that we could be doing."

"Good to see you too, Rodney." Sam quipped.

Sam resisted the urge to smile as John elbowed Rodney less than discreetly and smiled in a charming benign way at the IOA guys which had most of them forgetting Rodney's brusqueness.

"Let's get to the observation deck." Sam said brightly to the gathered group.

The next hour saw the majority of the guests glued to the large viewing windows as they watched Peartree and Partridge put the X402 through its paces. It was a beautiful machine; sleek wings angling down, sharp nose, compact body. It was a dull black colour allowing it to fade into the vastness of space with only the merest glimmer of starlight off its armour to give away its position. It had everything Sam had been able to build into a ship; stealth with an Ancient cloaking device, lasers designed from Asgard technology, a hybrid engine design that would enable it to go into hyperspace. But it was small enough to fit through Stargates and its manoeuvrability was well beyond the F302.

"Well, I'm sold." John said quietly, coming to stand next to Sam as the final fly-by show got under way, the X402 joined by eight of F302s from the Hammond squadron. "It's a great design. We can launch them from Atlantis directly through the 'gate." His hazel eyes met hers knowingly. "I'm guessing that was the plan, right?"

Sam shrugged. "It might have factored into it." But she knew John was remembering a night somewhere in the middle of her command when they'd found themselves on the balcony drinking a beer and John telling her of his wish that the 302s fitted through the 'gates.

"Huh. They might not be entirely useless." Rodney stated, folding his arms, his chin lifting belligerently. But she could read in his eyes that he was impressed by the way he'd grabbed the monitor tracking all of the data streaming in from the X402s online computer earlier.

"I can't wait to fly one." John confessed sheepishly.

"There's a surprise." Rodney teased him. "You can't wait to fly something."

"I can't wait either." Cam moved up to stand on Sam's other side. "I don't suppose there's a chance of getting a ride once Peartree gives up the keys?"

"Maybe." Sam grinned at them. "But you have to get in line behind the rest of the Hammond squadron."

"Aw, come on!" Cam groaned.

"I'm only here for the day!" protested John. "And…and," he said triumphantly, "how much better can Rodney and I make a determination about the X402 if not from getting our own personal ride in her?"

"Oh no!" Rodney retorted. "Leave me out of it! I'm perfectly happy to wait."

"No, you're not." John pointed out. "You hate waiting."

Rodney looked for a moment as though he was going to argue before he conceded under John's knowing look with an exaggerated eye roll. "Fine. I hate waiting." He glanced at Sam and gestured at John. "Just…just say yes already before he gives you the puppy eyes."

"I don't have puppy eyes." John said defensively.

"Oh, you so do!" Rodney shot back.

"I have to go with Rodney on this one." Sam said lightly, enjoying their familiar banter.

"Now that's disturbing!" Cam drawled.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow as he joined the group. "Indeed."

"Oh, come on!" John said pointing out of the window at the weaving forms of the F302s around the X402. "She's the belle of the ball! Who wouldn't want to dance with her?"

"I might have known you'd want to play Prince Charming," sniffed Rodney.

"Does that make you Buttons or the Fairy Godmother?" asked Cam with amusement.

"I believe Colonel Carter fulfils the role of Fairy Godmother as she will grant Colonel Sheppard's wish to dance with the X402." Teal'c said sagely.

She held up a hand before an argument could break out. "John, you and Rodney can have ten minutes with her to make an assessment."

"Seriously?" asked Rodney as John grinned delighted and Cam pouted.

"This looks like a much more interesting discussion than the one I have been stuck having for the last ten minutes." Jean-Pierre said as he approached them with General Vidrine.

"We were just discussing the merits of Colonel Sheppard taking the X402 out for a flight once the test is done." Sam stated.

"Ah, excellent!" Jean-Pierre said, clapping John on the shoulder. "How else would you be able to make such an important determination of whether to have these in your arsenal, hmmm, Colonel?"

"My thoughts exactly." John beamed at the Frenchman.

"Good call, Colonel," Vidrine nodded at Sam, "or should I say Colonels?" He motioned out to space where the X402 continued to dance. "I'm impressed, Colonel Carter. How soon can we move to the next phase?"

"Mass production will take three months to shift into full operation complete assuming we have budget, materials and resources." Sam confirmed. "There's also the question of pilot training and…"

Daniel burst onto the observation deck, Vala skipping along in his wake. He was grinning widely and gesturing with a folder filled with paper. "Coordinates! I have coordinates!"

"We can find the geese people!" Vala said happily.

The IOA VIPs looked at them with shock.

Sam swallowed an exasperated laugh and smoothed over the interruption with the VIPs even as she clasped Daniel's arm and led him out to have an official debrief somewhere else.

Later, in her quarters, Sam reviewed the footage of the flight of the X402 taken with cameras on the outside of the Hammond. Her baby really was the belle of the ball, she mused, as she followed its path through the eight F302s that it had flown with.

She glanced at the snow globe sat on her bedside table and the nine figurines skating around an icy pond that made her think of Jack's cabin – their cabin. She picked up the note that had accompanied it.

"Carter,

Maybe we have to rely on weird coincidences for the rest but I saw this and couldn't resist.

Happy Ninth Day of Christmas!

Always, Jack x"

She smiled and picked up her laptop again. She uploaded the video file of the flight to an email.

"Jack,

I love the snow globe.

The universe did give us nine ladies dancing too – check out the X402 with the F302s today.

Maybe this was just meant to be.

Love, Sam x"

Continued in Part III



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