"Colonel... Uh, Tjalfe... I think you should look at this," Jonas, who had been standing at the window looking out in silence, said. Jack turned and looked. It was Thor's ship with the Prometheus flying close behind it. They had just dropped out of hyperspace and now flew calmly towards them like nothing had happened.
A hologram of Thor appeared and he spoke for a while in the language of the Asgard that no one -- except maybe Daniel -- had any idea about. Tjalfe seemed surprised and happy to talk to Thor. They apparently had tight friendships amongst the Asgard, too. Tjalfe turned and looked at him. "Colonel, I will connect you to your second-in-command. I believe you should prepare yourself for a surprise," Tjalfe suggested.
An image of Sam appeared. Jack wasn't sure if it was something about the uniform, her face, or something else, but there was something different about her. "Sir, I am glad to see your face again. I am happy to report the Prometheus is safe and ready to be returned to your command as soon as you beam over," she said. He swore he could hear someone snicker in the background, but he couldn't see anything except what looked like the bridge of the Prometheus.
"Right, Jonas and I are on our way," he said and looked towards Jonas, then at the Asgard. It felt like a weight on his shoulders had just been lifted off. "It was a nice visit and thanks for the save. I hope we’ll meet again one day," he said.
"Likewise, Colonel. Thor says you have quite the wit, for a human, and I hope to experience it myself one day," the Asgard said, before they were again enveloped in white light and reappeared on the bridge of the Prometheus.
The bridge of the Prometheus looked different than it should have. For one thing, everything looked like it worked
. But beyond that, there were controls where there hadn't been before, consoles had moved, and many of the displays and readouts had different graphics than they used to.
He spotted what was different about Carter right away. Her uniform had changed, looking more like the blue working uniform of the SGC, and it was not the green combat uniform she had worn when he had last seen her. Her hair looked a bit longer, and a few of the wrinkles around her eyes were slightly deeper than before. He wondered if time had passed somehow for his friends because of the explosion.
Teal'c was sitting in another new, blue uniform with a teenager of maybe 15 or 16. Her long blond hair reached all the way down the back of her uniform. She was looking at him with a goofy smile, as if expecting something. "Carter, what's going on here?" he said.
"Damn," the girl said, and Teal'c handed her something. "Jack, couldn't you have cursed? Honestly, now I have console duty on this bucket of bolts all the way back to Earth," she said and walked over to sit at the second-in-command console.
"Your own fault for betting," Sam said as the teen passed her. The girl grinned. It couldn't be who he suspected it was.
"Carter?" he asked again, noticing the Major just smiling for a moment before saying. "Sir, I know I have a lot to explain. When we were hit by that Replicator weapon, we weren't destroyed. We were moved," she said.
"Where? And where is Buffy?" he asked, looking around.
"Present," the girl said and lifted a hand as if she was answering roll call.
"What?" he asked, completely confused for a moment.
"Sir, we weren't moved in space, but in time
. Thor figured it out afterwards. When he hit the weapon -- which was designed to shred even Asgard ships into bits smeared across time and space -- it created a massive time distortion. It sent us back through time. We ended up right here, four years ago," Sam explained.
Jack wanted to say ‘what?’ again, but he knew that what Sam was describing wasn't impossible, especially given all the other bizarre things he had seen and done over the last few years such as being taken over by alien consciousnesses. He stepped through a wormhole on a daily basis. He had time-travelled before, totally by accident. Who was he to argue?
"So, couldn't Thor have returned you immediately?" he asked, looking at Buffy and guessing that this group had been together in space for the last four years without him. It left him feeling strangely envious.
"No, sir, the Asgard know about time travel using the gate system, through their knowledge of Ancient technology, but they long ago decided to confine their manipulations of time to limited spatial fields and to not develop actual time travel devices. They believe the Ancients did a lot of research into this, but the Asgard decided against researching it. They do have rules for situations dealing with it, though. Which is why we're here now," Sam said.
Sam paused as if remembering something. She turned back towards him and saluted, before saying very formally, "Colonel O'Neill, I hereby return command of this vessel, dubbed the Prometheus,
to your command."
"Take it, Jack; we're even returning it in a better state than we got it in," Buffy said with a smile. While Sam looked largely unchanged and Teal'c looked like the years had completely ignored him, Buffy had grown up a lot. She had turned into a stunner who would make any teenage boy stutter and drool with a single look. There was also something almost unapproachable about her, as though she were nobility out of the old fairy tales.
"What does she mean?" Jonas asked, breaking his silence.
"How about we first ask Thor to start towing us, before we sit down in the mess hall and talk over a pleasant dinner?" Sam suggested.
"Sure... wait, who’s cooking?" Jack asked.
The tiny group looked at each other, then back at him. Buffy and Sam said almost in sync, "Anyone but Teal'c." The huge man just nodded his agreement.
"I guess it’s my turn. Buffy, you have the bridge. Oh sorry, sir, I forgot. Command is habit-forming, I guess," Sam said.
"No, no, it’s fine. If you trust Buffy to do it, then she should. I wouldn't want her to default on her bet. But shouldn't someone talk to Thor?" he said.
Buffy nodded, tapped a few buttons, and began talking in the really strange language of the Asgard for a short while. Thor's voice replied in the same language. "Done," the teen said while turning to him.
He nodded, more than a bit stunned, and followed the others off the bridge.
They were halfway down the corridor before he asked, "Did she just speak another language?"
"Yes, sir. We didn't have a lot of distractions, so Teal'c and Thor decided to teach a bit of what they knew to me and Buffy. Well, mostly Buffy. I was busy with the ship. I can speak pretty fluent Goa'uld now, and I can read Asgard. Buffy is a bit better with the Asgard language, and since Teal'c wouldn't speak anything but Goa'uld to Buffy for two years, she speaks both languages fluently and reads Asgard. The kid who sucks at languages actually mastered two.” Sam turned her head towards the big Jaffa, “Teal'c, she told me she was actually a bit peeved that when she got home she’d be able to speak two entirely foreign languages, but both are classified, and so she'll keep scoring ‘crap grades’ in stuff like French and Spanish, which she has never had the chance to use," Sam said.
Jack noticed Sam was talking more and talking faster than she used to. That was probably the effect of being with a small, closed circle of people for so long. "Indeed, she indicated the same to me," Teal'c replied to Sam's comment. It seemed the big guy hadn't changed during their long stay away.
"Oh, damn," Jack said, realizing the amount of trouble and paperwork their new situation would bring about.
"Sir?" Sam asked.
"You couldn't have, oh, I don't know, gotten thrown into another galaxy or something? All that paper shuffling I'll have to do! Evaluations of the Prometheus
, the mileage, the wear and tear. The Joint Chiefs will have my ass for giving their new toy back to them very used. Oh, and then there’s Buffy suddenly jumping four years in physical age. You’ll have to put in for back pay and vacation time. This is not making me happy, Carter," Jack explained.
Sam smiled pleasantly, as if this came as no surprise to her. "At least Buffy wasn't lying, sir. We're returning a better ship than they would’ve had, even if it had been completely finished before it ever got off the ground. With the time I had and a bit of help from Thor, let's just say that this bird now has features we intended for the battle cruiser production line that was only being talked about before we left Earth. And even better, I come bearing gifts, sir," Sam explained.
They reached the mess hall and he settled in with Teal'c and Jonas. Outside the glow of hyperspace told him that Thor was towing them back to Earth. Sam looked very at-home in the kitchen. In a few hours, he'd be home on Earth, unless Thor wasn't hurrying. Then, it might be an hour or so, maybe more.
A few minutes later Sam reappeared, pushing a trolley with food. She dished it out and pressed a small, black square device. "Buffy, food’s ready; you can come down in about ten minutes, when Jonas is done eating, he'll replace you," Sam said into it.
"Got it," Buffy answered. It seemed the device was a tiny radio.
Jack waited until Sam sat down, and then asked, "So what the hell really happened?"
Four years earlier for some people.
Sam saw the bluish energy wall hammering through the room. There was a white flash all around her, just as the blue energy enveloped her. It felt as though she had just been zatted. She felt her limbs weaken. Sam fell to the floor. She had spots in front of her eyes and felt like something had just punched her in the gut.
She lay on the floor trying to regain her bearings. "Mom," she heard Buffy yell out. She felt her daughter's warm hands on her shoulders. Her daughter was okay, but then she usually didn't have to worry about Buffy.
"I’m just stunned. It feels a bit like I was just shot with a zat," she said.
"I agree," the voice of Teal'c added from somewhere in the room.
"You okay, Buffy?" she asked.
"I’m fine. It hurt, but I’m feeling okay," Buffy replied.
There was a noise that she could only associate with the Asgard beaming technology. "Ah, it seems Colonel O'Neill and Jonas Quinn made it off in time," Thor said.
She rolled to sit up and saw the gray-skinned alien approach. Thor seemed to be deep in thought about something... at least, she hoped that was what his expression and blinking meant.
"I have brought bad news," Thor said. She noted that they were apparently in hyperspace, if the view outside was any indication.
In the left corner of her eye she could see Teal'c rise from the floor.
"The device I destroyed moments ago was a Replicator-made weapon, an adaptation of the Asgard Time Dilation device combined with some other technology that was, I suspect, Ancient in origin, according to its energy signature. Its destruction prevented it from shattering our component particles across subspace, but unfortunately the explosion had an unintended side-effect," Thor explained.
Sam rose and put her arm around Buffy's shoulders, holding her against her side. She was unsure about what Thor was going to say next, but when an Asgard said it had bad news there was always reason to worry.
"After the explosion I learned that my ship and yours had been unharmed but displaced in time. According to my ship's analysis of the star positions relative to our position, we are now four years earlier than our previous time," Thor said.
"So what? You’ll just take us back to our time now," Buffy remarked.
"No. Not only do the Asgard not have reliable time-travel technology, even using the Stargate wormholes, but we have also long ago made rules against studying it. Any travel in time or manipulation of the time-line is strictly forbidden. Our protocols dictate that, in the case of accidental travel to the past, we have to isolate ourselves, unless we can immediately make our way back to our own time. I am currently moving us to an isolation zone, in what you call the Large Magellanic Cloud. We're going to a planet called Vindgloed. It is a very pleasant planet with a base in a tropical climate, set up as a place for us to dock and live for the duration of our quarantine," Thor explained.
"Live? What...? No, we can't do that. I have exams in a few months. I was supposed to graduate high school," Buffy said.
"I am sorry," Thor admitted.
Sam thought about it. Thor was right. If they didn't have a clear way home, they had to stay isolated, to avoid causing any paradoxes. "Alright, if we really don't have a safe way home, we have to make the best of this. First of all, we need realize that for the next few years we are all we've got, and therefore we must all try our very best to get along at all times. Also, we will become starved for entertainment, so I think we should consider how we can best distract ourselves. We should have several projects going on at all times, and we all need to see each other and talk to each other as much as possible... Thor, resources will be a problem. I am sorry to say, but Asgard food isn't really tasty for humans," she said and looked at the alien.
"That will not be a problem. I will have my crewmen analyze your food and encode it into our transporters. That way, we will have all the resources you'd need. I also agree with your assessment of the need for activities. I believe Asgard holographic teaching projections could be of great use," Thor suggested.
"That sounds like a capital plan," she said looking down at Buffy, who still wasn't looking happy.
"I will have to get back to my ship. Most of my crewmen are going to enter stasis for the period, and I want to oversee the process. I would offer the option to you as well; however, our technicians believe our pods are not set up for human physiology, and it could do you harm to use them. I will contact you again when we arrive," Thor said and disappeared in the white glow of the teleporter.
Teal'c gravely looked at Buffy, then at her. "I believe I should inspect the ship for further damage due to the explosion," he said and left.
For a while, she puttered around on the bridge, reading the sensors and looking at the computer-generated reports on the ship's condition.
"Mom," Buffy said.
"Yeah," she replied, recognizing the unrest that lay behind the tones of her daughter's voice.
"I’m afraid," Buffy admitted.
She turned and looked at her long-haired daughter, who was studying her with those beautiful eyes -- eyes that had captured her heart, even back at Winterhome years ago. "What are you afraid of?" she asked.
Buffy looked confused for a moment, then said, "It's difficult to explain. I guess I’m afraid of becoming weird, of not being able to relate to people after this. I am a superhuman girl, mom. I have, by accident, become much smarter than I was before I became your daughter. I know so many things I can't talk to anyone about. And now I am going to live in space for years. How am I going to explain anything to Anna when I get back? What about Cassie and everyone? Sometimes I just wish I was normal."
"Buffy, shhh, shhh," she took her daughter into an embrace. "Listen to me, if you learn nothing else for the next few years, then at least learn this from me, now. I know there will be times when you hate me and when you don't listen to me. But what you're afraid of is actually entirely normal. Everyone -- me, Jack, and Cassie -- we've all been through this. You feel like either you're not special enough, or else you’re too different from everyone. That no one can understand you. But that’s not true. People can understand you if you trust them and they're good enough friends. What you're so afraid will alienate them, will actually turn out not to matter to them at all. People call what you're feeling right now ‘teen angst’. It won't go away immediately, but it will pass over time. I bet in your memories you might even find that your previous self dealt with it, too, and she probably managed to survive it with good friends at her side, no matter that she was also superhuman. I will always be here. Janet and Cassie will be there when we get home. And I promise that, when we get home, I will arrange it so that Anna gets permission to be told enough for you two to remain friends." She explained as well as she could and hoped that this first sign of teenager issues in her daughter was handled, for the moment.
Buffy looked thoughtful and so she continued working for a while, leaving her daughter to her deep thoughts. Sam found that they were having a few power leakages in the hangar area -- probably from some damaged electrics -- and decided to start a list of things that needed to be fixed on the ship. In the end, she decided to make finishing the Prometheus
her first project.
"Mom," Buffy said. Sam looked up again.
"You're right, you know. I do remember enough to know that being different isn't something I should fear. I’m never going to be one of the herd, so I might as well accept my differences and that this is how I should be and live," Buffy said and watched her, probably to see how she reacted.
"Good, honey, it sounds like your memories were really helpful there. Buffy, we should think about your future, though. With your school thousands of parsecs and four years in the future I guess we should consider a work-education program for you. I'm afraid I can only teach you college- and Ph.D.-level math and physics, as well as military skills. Teal'c can teach Jaffa warfare, martial arts, and Goa'uld language, culture and use of their technology. I have no idea if Thor and the Asgard would be willing to teach you anything. Do you think you could put up with that?" she asked.
Buffy thought for a few moments, then said, "I have no idea, but I promise I won't be difficult. Whatever I can do to pass the time that makes sense is fine by me."
"Okay," she said, leaving her daughter to think about her proposal, because it looked like Buffy had to adjust to that thought before she'd accept it.
A few hours later the Prometheus
emerged from hyperspace, still being towed by Thor's ship as it slid into orbit over Vindgloed, the planet Thor planned to use as their hideout for the next four years. Sam looked over the scans of the planet. It was a beautiful, watery planet with large but shallow oceans, dotted with millions of islands.
Thor appeared as a hologram on the bridge in front of her. "Major Carter, my sensors tell me that a powered landing -- while possible for your ship -- might be a little precarious and would also cause disruptions to the atmosphere that could stress the wildlife needlessly. Would you mind if the Beliskner uses its tractor beams to guide you down safely?" He asked.
"No, not at all," she said.
"Good," Thor said and disappeared again.
They descended towards the planet, aiming for a large island near the planet's equator. Sam busied herself with making sure the sensors took all the scans and pictures they could. In a way it was an excellent trial run of the Prometheus
' sensor array and software.
"Nice, I should have brought a bikini. I’ll have to remember that for my next kidnapping," Buffy mumbled. Sam wondered why Buffy was still a bit glum. It was as if her daughter was stuck with some sort of memory that haunted her. But given all that had happened to them within the last 48 hours she was sure her daughter needed someone to talk to. She guessed she would miss not having Karen, Buffy's therapist, nearby.
"Well, at least you'll get your tan back," she teased. Buffy had remarked several times over the years that she used to live in California and that Colorado was way too chilly for her. Sam had long ago decided to just remind Buffy, when she said something like that, that things could be worse. She could get deployed to somewhere less comfortable, like Alaska or Nevada to oversee one of the many projects to develop the technologies found off-world.
"Oh, yeah, like you're gonna let me while away the days by working on a solid case of skin cancer for four years," Buffy said a bit more cynically than she'd have expected from her.
"Are you alright?" Sam asked.
Buffy blinked and then looked remorseful as she said, "I'm sorry. I think I’m channeling my dark side, or something. I just want things to be semi-normal for a while."
"Naturally. I promise I will try to make everything as normal as I can," she vowed. She paused and looked at Buffy. Then they both laughed as they came in for a gentle landing over the very high-tech Asgard base that they were going to be calling home for the next four years.
"Yup, but I guess what you mean is normal for us
," Buffy said, "I don't mind the ship, aliens, or even that I’m different. It’s more the entire fighting, dying and mortal danger thing that I would like to have completely pass me by for a while."
"Deal," she agreed as Teal'c came back onto the bridge to witness the ships' landing.
Jack studied his second-in-command. "Did you really spend four years at an Asgard base with only each other and Thor as company?" he asked.
"Mostly. There were two other Asgard, Roeskva and Vidar, but they were kind of shy and didn't hang out with us much," Buffy, who had joined them a few minutes into Sam's story, said.
"So, I guess you missed Earth a lot," he said.
"Oh, yeah. Well, maybe not all the time. I did have several times that were a lot of fun, like when Teal'c taught me all about Mastaba and Jaffa fighting methods in general. Or when Mom taught me to fly the X-305s and sky-dive. I love sky-diving . . . well, and regular diving, but that is another story," Buffy said.
Six months earlier for some people.
"Are you sure it’s alright? I’m not even old enough to drive?" Buffy asked again. She really wanted to take the new ship up. She had studied hard for months to do this. She had learned to sky-dive, and had also learned a ton of military stuff, like radio discipline. She had even learned enough about the technology of the ship’s engines, so that she understood the basic principles.
For a moment she mused that it was strange to remember a different self at about her current age who wouldn't have recognized a differential equation as much more than chicken scratching, but then be able to do them now.
"I am sure," her mom replied from the navigator seat behind her.
"Alright, just checking," she said, and then flicked on the different switches and turned the knobs that they needed to power up the engines, inertial dampeners and shields. As she ran through the pre-flight check-list she felt butterflies in her stomach. She had tried taking off before, but so far all her training had been in a holographic simulation over on the Beliskner. It was actually her first time in the regular X-305, as her mom called it.
Finally she called out the last check on the list and could say, "Prometheus
. This is X-305 ready for take-off. Over."
"You are clear to launch," Thor's voice came over the radio.
Buffy grinned, put her foot on the afterburner switch and sent them nearly over the clouds, while yelling like a mad woman, and then laughing as she enjoyed the feeling of the G-forces trying to force her hard into her seat. G-forces she could easily resist.
"Buffy! Behave!" her mom ordered, sounding a bit disturbed.
"Sorry, I was just enjoying it. This is so cool. I am totally gonna be a pilot as well. This is better than sky-diving," she said. She put the ship into a massive nosedive enjoying the rush for a moment stabilizing the plane before her mom told her to stop fooling around.
"Whoa, you know how to fly? And don't you mean an X-302?" Jack remarked.
"Well, sir, when we’d finished the Prometheus -- after a year’s work and a lot of help from Thor and the Asgard beaming technology -- I got down to learning everything I could from Thor. He limited himself, as agreed, to helping me understand technologies that we had already recovered from the Goa'uld. Well, that’s not entirely true. I think he wanted to thank us for our help, and maybe he felt guilty about stranding us for four years, so he did give us two additional upgrades to our technology: an Asgard hyperdrive that could take us from Earth to their galaxy in maybe five weeks with our current energy output, and shields like they have on their O'Neill-class ships, to help us against Anubis. However, that didn't really do much for us offensively. About three years in, I finally cracked several of our design problems. I figured out how the Deathglider and Al'Kesh propulsion systems work. And I got the energy weapons to work, as well. So, we now know how the staff weapons are powered and the physics behind them. I might, with a bit of research, be able to help us reproduce the zat's, but I do have their physics down. I wanted to retrofit the X-302 with beam guns, but then Buffy gave me an idea," Sam explained.
"Ray guns? Cool!" he felt was the only thing he could say. The Pentagon was practically drooling at the idea of the X-302s already, but with both the X-302 and the X-303 they were worried about the relative weakness of their weapons, which were limited to naquadah-enhanced missiles and nukes at the moment.
"Well, Buffy happened to mention two things. We still had the hyperspace window generators on the X-302s, but they weren't really functional, and she also asked me, when I was troubled about power requirements for the new weapons, why the naquadah generators weren't enough to power smaller guns, like on a fighter. I must admit, I almost smacked myself on the head when I thought about that. As a result, I designed a new craft. I kept the airframe, but I removed the entire engine section and its innards. I replaced those parts with ten naquadah generators and constructed a new engine that worked like a Deathglider’s, with some modifications from what I’ve learned about Asgard sub-light engines, making our ship much faster in a straight line than a Glider and almost as maneuverable. Then I added two sets of guns: one set replacing the regular guns. The other was placed on the wingtips. They're less powerful than a glider's but with smaller more precise bolts and a much higher rate of fire. Finally, I dropped the hyperdrive but used the power couplings and the excess power to give us a low-powered but still strong shield. I am kind of proud to say we've rebuilt the one X-302 we had into my X-305 design, and it works," Sam explained.
"Carter, the entire research and development department will throw you a party, the Joint Chiefs will shower you in medals, and I believe our pilots in the near future should greet you with a kiss. A fighter with beam weapons, better engines and a shield is a massive achievement," Jack said.
"I had a lot of help from Thor. He helped me with all my calculations. He helped me look in the right direction hundreds of times for every theory I had. That is not false modesty, either. The Asgard have really helped us on this," Sam explained.
"I knew they'd come through eventually. It’s good to have allies you can trust," he said.
"Which reminds me. Mom, we so gotta call Granddad the second we get home," Buffy said.
"Yeah," Sam agreed, looking wistful.
"The old guy is going to have a stroke seeing you all grown up," Jack said, and for the first time really studied Buffy. She looked relaxed, and -- to his shock -- he once again realized she was no longer just cute or pretty. She was what young boys called ‘hot’. That was weird, as all the thoughts about what that meant and could lead to flew through his mind. He had never had a daughter, and Charlie had never gotten old enough to... Anyway, the girl looked like she would only have to twirl her hair and throw a coy look over her shoulder to get the entire male teenage population of her high school to come panting after her. The idea of visiting Buffy's classes and giving all the male students a vicious look while carrying a rifle flew through his mind. Or maybe he’d just greet any potential boyfriend of Buffy's with Teal'c by his side and maybe a heavy pistol in hand. He was feeling protective, but he was unsure if it was just because the idea of her actually being sixteen hadn't sunk in yet.
"So, other than finishing this ship and making an entirely fighter all you did was marking time while you were there?" Jack asked.
"Yeah. I will turn in a complete report. But basically it was all work and study, broken up by beach visits and a few local adventures into sky-diving, scuba-diving, and improving relations with the Asgard, sir," Carter explained.
"I bet the General will look forward to that report," he said.
"I bet he won't be looking forward to signing over my back pay and my request for a vacation," Sam said.
"Vacation?" he asked, a bit surprised that Carter was considering a vacation, especially given that they were still in great danger from Anubis.
"I know I am needed, sir. But I think I need maybe a couple of weeks off duty, with no obligations, no cell phone, and room service on speed-dial," Sam said.
"Hear, hear," Buffy agreed.
"Haven't you had enough vacation, kiddo?" he asked.
"Hey, repairing and finishing your ship was actually hard work. I -- a mere civilian, by the way – have spent the last four years of my life, against my will, aboard a US Air Force spaceship. I demand that I be treated with respect, and maybe a nice amount of back allowance," Buffy said with a smile on her lips.
"I believe you are bending the truth, Buffy. Did you not hide aboard this ship when the Asgard arrived, so that you could join us on our mission against the Replicators? In fact, you are not here against your will," Teal'c said.
"Hey, no fair reminding him of that," Buffy said.
"You should not use your charm to make O'Neill overlook what was a flawed decision on your part, while you try to make personal gain from it. That is dishonorable," Teal'c said, sounding a bit like a teacher trying to make a point.
Buffy laughed, then said, "I wouldn't have. I just wanted to make sure Jack didn't forget that I am not one of his soldiers, even if I am wearing this shapeless sack Mom calls a uniform."
"You would indeed have tried to profit from this earning O'Neill pity and have him treat you with clothes and those shoes you covet, and so I had to warn him," Teal'c said.
"Fine. Ruin my finances, will you?" Buffy said, then got up, having finished her meal, "I have to go, anyway. I have console duty, and by now Jonas will be all lonesome up on the bridge. See ya all later."
"Bye," Jack said and watched the girl walk away, she was still smiling.
"She really doesn't like that uniform. She actually had the computer run a verbal countdown this month, so that she'd know how long it was until she could get back to Earth and be closer to some clothes shops and shoe stores," Sam said.
"I thought she liked the BDU I gave her," he said, before remembering that it was years ago for Buffy.
"She did. And really, she had nothing against her uniform, either. She considers it an honor that I gave her an SGC uniform, but she is not thrilled about wearing it full time, every day for years, with nothing nice to change into in between," Sam went on to say.
"How long until we get to Earth?" he asked.
"About one hour, sir," Sam said.
Carter turned to Teal'c and asked, "I forgot. Has Thor removed the holographic teaching room?"
"What's that?" he asked.
"Sir, It is an access point to the Asgard database on human culture, technology and well in truth everything they know. I believe it is a lot like the Library of the Ancients only containing what the Asgard know instead. Thor installed a holographic projector tied to an edited version of it for us to learn from. He used it to help me understand and visualize technology. And help Buffy learn Asgard," Sam explained.
Two years earlier for Buffy.
"Thor, are you sure? I am not good with languages. I mean I am beginning to scrape by in Goa'uld but I am barely fluent in American. Why teach me Asgard?" Buffy asked. She studied the gray alien, who had become a steadfast if a bit remote friend to them especially now in their exile.
"Buffy, I believe it necessary to understand a people's language before you can really understand their language, culture or methods. Also even though my tests have lead me to believe, that while you like Colonel O'Neill represent a view of the genetic future of the human race you do not hold the key to our future, I still think that you like your friends and parent will become most important to the human struggle against the Goa'uld," Thor explained.
"I am just a kid. Sure, I am like airquote special, but deep down I am a girl like every other," she replied.
"Do you intend to aid humanity in its quest for space and safety from danger, no matter the cost? " Thor asked and looked intently at her.
She felt almost embarrassed that the kind but battle-hardened Asgard Supreme Commander knew her almost better than she did. Sometimes deep down she tried to picture herself living a normal life, but somehow the fantasies always died in the face of reality and her personality. She decided to answer truthfully, "I do. But don't tell my mom about the last bit. I don't want her to know how far..." She stopped and looked at Thor. He gave her an understanding nod.
"Good, now let's commence with the basic alphabet," Thor said and an bluish wall of transparent blue covered in runic letters surrounded them in a flash. She waited expectantly trying to remember how the one in front of her was vocalized.
He sighed as the Prometheus settled into its moorings, once again hidden in the sands of Nevada. Outside, Major Davis would probably be expecting them. The Major had no idea what he was in for.
The three time travellers had left Jonas and him to take the ship down with the help of the apparently upgraded computers of the Prometheus
, which seemed capable of landing the big ship almost completely without them.
He headed for the main airlock and met up with Sam, Teal'c and Buffy, who were waiting with several bags and boxes, probably containing the personal belongings the last few years had produced.
Jack took a deep breath and headed out to meet the people whose mind he was about to collectively boggle.
Buffy studied her surroundings as she walked down the halls of the SGC. It all seemed to go so amazingly fast now. All around her the people were going about their business. She was loving the buzz of activity, but again, as when she had returned from Winterhome long ago, she was almost getting dizzy from the amount of sensory input she was receiving. A pair of cute airmen were taking her to the conference room, after she’d been cooling her heels in a room with a pair of interviewers for a couple of hours. Apparently the rule was that she had to be debriefed in full, which meant she had to rehash every little thing they had done ever since she stepped onto the Prometheus, four years ago from her point of view.
"Ah, Buffy, it's good to see you," General Hammond said, but she could see he was having a bit of trouble with the entire four-year thing.
She decided to make it seem more real to him and went for a hug. As always, the big sentimental man was all perplexed by affection. "It's good to be back here," she said and went over to sit at the table.
The general went back to talking to her mom and Teal'c, allowing her to look around. She had thought about the SGC and their mission a lot of the last year or so. She remembered a lot of her other past and how she had been a warrior of good, for the lack of a better word. In this universe, she was coming to realize that if she wanted to fight for Earth in this universe, she'd have to work for the SGC. That would be easiest if she joined the military.
Buffy had wondered for a long time now if that was how she should do it. She knew she sucked, almost literally, at following the orders of someone else, but since she had no way of becoming her own private SGC she needed to integrate into the chain of command. Besides, unlike the dangers she had fought in her fragmentary memory of the past, the issues she was dealing with here were bigger than what could be fixed by a single person. There was also all the shiny gadgets the SGC had access to. She had talked to her mom about her obsession with technology: it was most assuredly an effect of her mom's DNA. In the end, she knew she would have to join the SG program, and that meant either as a scientist or as a soldier. Still, while she was currently off-the-chart-smart, she didn't have the temperament to be much more than one of the Indiana-Jones-style scientists. So that meant the military, a chain of command, and a whole lot of other things like having to maybe follow orders she didn't agree with. That was her main problem currently: to decide if she could live with that thought, or not.
Buffy noticed that the conversation was finally moving away from the past and towards what they'd do now, and so she started to listen. "Sir, has someone come to some sort of decision on how we can get Buffy slipped back into school and normal life in general?" Jack asked.
"We have been working on a plan for that, but quite frankly the current version would require Buffy to live under an assumed name with Major Carter as a legal guardian," General Hammond explained.
"I don't want that. I didn't ask to be misplaced in time. Besides, I suck at secret identities. Why don't you just stick me in another school and fake my records to show me being older?" she suggested.
"We would be unable to provide the same educational setup as you had been enjoying, and it is still considered paramount that you do receive that education," General Hammond said.
"Well, Buffy doesn't need that much help anymore, anyway. She just needs to pass a few remaining courses; then she can graduate and start at a college. She could finish those classes by mail, and take the SAT at a test center or something. At least, if Teal'c and I haven't wasted our time these last years," Her mom responded.
"Teal'c -- what did he teach? American History?" Jack commented with a playful smile.
"More like philosophy. Honestly, Jack, I already knew enough to graduate High School when I left on the Prometheus
. Teal'c and Mom have been keeping me on my toes, and well... Since I am part nerd on my Mom's side, I also kind of picked up big parts of a science education. But Teal'c taught me a lot of really practical stuff too," she explained, and remembered how it had been.
Two years earlier for her.
Their Bashaak staffs impacted with a metallic clang repeatedly. Buffy wasn't trying to hit her teacher today. Mostly because he was still healing from their last offensive practice match. This time she had been told to purely defend herself until such a time as her teacher managed to actually hit her.
She danced out of reach as Teal'c swung a massive blow that hammered against the hangar deck, startling her mom who was tinkering with a part of the Prometheus
, while occasionally looking up to watch them. Buffy jumped over Teal'c's staff.
Her jumps, moves and gyrations went on and on. For almost two years now she had trained like this every day. She was in better physical condition than ever before, actually showing muscle definition rather than just soft arms. As she parried a blow-- swinging her staff over her head so that its tip lay against her lower back to take the hammer blow by Teal'c -- Buffy mused that, for all her recollections of fighting and training from her other life, she had no memories in which she had actually shown as much discipline as she did at that moment. Her old self seemed inspired, graceful and powerful, but she had no memories of iron discipline. She was sure it couldn't be true, given her successes and survival in a life of constant battles, but rather it was proof that even now, years later, she still didn't remember completely -- especially not the emotions that should have been attached to the memories she had.
"Focus," Teal'c growled in Goa'uld. It had been nearly a year since the warrior had spoken English to her, and he pretended not to understand when she spoke anything other than Goa'uld. Still, it had worked. She had learned, albeit haltingly, the language just like so many other Jaffa things she had been taught. Things like the meditative techniques of Kel no'reem or how Jaffa social groups worked together. She had found that learning another culture and way of thinking was incredibly fascinating.
"Sorry," she said, still parrying his every blow even, if she was sure she was practically dripping sweat from the cuffs of her sweatpants.
"Guys, dinner is in half an hour. Buffy, finish him," her mom called out.
She smiled, sidestepped a kick, parried Teal'c staff, and before he could pull back she launched into her attack. The part of her she recognized as the Slayer almost seemed to mentally purr at finally being allowed to strike back. She hit his staff aside, dashed forward, spun and kicked him in the shins. Before Teal'c could recover from suddenly being dropped to his knees, she clobbered him in the back with the staff, being careful to not hit hard enough to break bone. It had taken her a while to learn how to control her strength, and at times when her form was good it still surprised her. It seemed she had portioned it right this time. Teal'c flew forward onto his chest.
"The battle is over," Teal'c said and rolled over onto his back.
She offered him her hand and he grasped it, allowing her to pull him up.
"So, Master Teal'c, what do you think of my form?" she asked, struggling a bit with the Goa'uld word for ‘form’. It was a language where most sentences could be interpreted two ways, and so she sometimes did a foot-in-mouth kind of sentence.
"It was fine. You have nearly reached mastery in all the martial arts I can teach you," Teal'c said, sounding pleased about that.
"Thanks... Damn, what are we gonna pass the time with afterwards?" she asked, thinking about the immediate future. Their exile would last a few more years.
"You still have much to learn about the art of warfare. I will soon move our lessons away from the tactical and towards strategy. I will teach you to plan a battle, then a war, and finally long campaigns as the Jaffa do them. Together with your mother we will then add the Tau'ri methods, as well," Teal'c said.
"Great, a well-rounded education. Geek lessons, fighting, and now warfare. I am so gonna scare the therapist the SGC sends me to when we get back," she replied.
"I guess we could arrange things like Major Carter suggested. I will try to get everything lined up so that you can take the necessary tests . . . after a proper period of preparation, of course," General Hammond agreed.
"’Proper period of preparation’, try saying that five times fast with spit in your mouth," she commented before she could stop herself.
"Buffy!" her mom said, looking shocked.
Hammond just chuckled, and the conversation moved on to things like getting the inventions her mom had made out of the Prometheus and the X-305s and down onto paper, as well as her mom’s succinct inquiry about getting paid for her time on Vindgloed and maybe some vacation time for them to go see the world. She remembered when they had decided it would be a good idea.
Four months earlier for her.
"Buffy, what's the capacitance on it?" her mom asked. Buffy looked at the meter she had just attached to the circuit board of the X-305 avionics. She was completely baffled for a moment, not by the terms or the value of the meter, which she read out loud. No, she was baffled -- or rather, amazed – that somehow DNA, teaching and persistence by her mom and other instructors had actually allowed her to understand these technical terms. Her old self would never have understood it, but she hadn't needed to, either. Now she did need to. She believed that, along with a big help from the DNA changes and the impetus of necessity, she had found the way even she could learn difficult science things. She needed to do it, because if she didn't learn she wouldn't be good enough to be invited to join the SGC after college. She had considered bypassing college entirely but her mom had given her a mom-guilt-look, and so she had dropped that idea again.
There was another thing on her mind. Given all her gifts and knowledge, she was still afraid. Not of people and friends rejecting her, but of her rejecting them. She knew she was superior to most people. There was maybe one or two percent – if that – of the world's population with the same amount of smarts as her. Sure, her intelligence was mostly lodged in her ability to learn physical skills, but still she was off-the-chart smart. She was also stronger, faster, and had more endurance than a small team of athletes. Put that all together with the stuff she was privy to and she knew that, she was pretty darn far ahead of everyone. And she hated feeling that. She couldn't get herself to express it in words or emotions, but that inherent arrogance had settled into the deep recesses of her mind, together with the dark violence given off by the Slayer part of her personality. She didn't like the thought of coming off as a know-it-all or a bitch, but she had the feeling she might easily come off as both.
"Mom," she said.
Her mom looked over the edge of the cockpit, probably alarmed by her tone. "Yeah?" her mom remarked.
"I'm worried about some stuff... with the both of us," she continued.
"What stuff? You're putting me in the middle of your mental conversation, Buffy; please help me catch up," her mom, who had lightened up considerably over the last years, replied.
"Sorry. I was thinking. You and me, we're special people, and we're so busy all the time. It'll even get worse when we get home. I think... Last week I realized I hadn't thought about normal life for months. I hadn't thought about music or school or Cassie or Anna or anyone for so long. I think you're the same as me. We're surrounded with so much stuff and so many obligations that we don't have a life with the people you're protecting and who might think I am arrogant or stuck-up," Buffy explained.
"First of all, Buffy, your idea that people think of you as arrogant is wrong. Second..." her mom paused stopped her rebuttal. "You know, I think maybe you're right about the other part. When we get home, the demands on our time will just continue, and it might get worse. And I'd feel obligated to keep working, and you'd go back to school trying to catch up on everything. It would turn to busy living again. And maybe after all this time cooped up together here we need to live like regular people for a while," her mom said.
"Promise?" Buffy asked.
"Promise," her mom said.
Finally, after the long meeting was over, her mom took her down to the room that would be her latest temporary home until they got new false papers for her, got her through the SAT’s, and Buffy somehow found out what the hell she was supposed to study in college. "You seem a bit quiet all of a sudden," her mom commented.
"Yeah, sorry. It is a bit much. A happy bit much, but still. I have to pick a major and maybe even a career, and I’m just sixteen. I guess it’s my fate. It was pretty much the same the last time I was sixteen, although there is less of the dire this time around," Buffy explained.
"There better be less of the deadly threats than in your past, too... Buffy, about your career choices. You don't have to make a final choice right away. Take a diverse set of courses when you get to college, find out what you like doing, and then pick your major that way. You even get to change your opinion halfway through. Besides, Uncle Sam is picking up the bill," her mom explained.
"Huh?" she said.
"Well, they're paying me for the whole four years, and the General even wants to throw in you getting paid for your work at the same rate of pay a regular Airman gets. Basically, combined with your existing college fund, you could get a Ph.D. and I'd still have money to spare," her mom explained.
She smiled and hugged her mom.
"Aww," Jack commented, appearing with a roguish expression on his face in her doorway.
"What do you want?" Buffy asked.
"Who says I want anything?" Jack replied.
"You have Jack-face... That pretty much either means you want something, you're going to prank me, or you have bad news of a kind you find funny," she said remembering her second favorite living male friend well.
"You got me. It is the last one. Janet wants to check you two out in the infirmary," Jack said.
"Damn," she remarked, and her mom didn't look much happier . . . until they both remembered they hadn't had much more than a welcome-home hug from their shared friend and hurried off together.
They walked into the infirmary. Buffy had noticed that there were no lights on inside and had already whispered, "Surprise party," to her mom.
"Surprise!" everyone from Janet and Cassie to most of the R&D department yelled out as they walked inside.
"Hi, everyone!" Buffy yelled and rushed over to hug or shake hands with all her friends.
"Janet," she whispered as the surprised woman -- still unused to her new age and height -- gathered her into a welcome hug. Janet was still, after four years’ absence from Buffy’s perspective, almost as much of a mother as Sam, and she was sure she'd still spend many a nervous night with the woman, waiting for news of her mom as Sam traveled the galaxy.
She slipped out of the hug, and after a shared moment Janet went off to talk to her mom.
"I don't freaking believe it," Cassie's voice came from behind her.
Buffy turned and smiled as she remarked, "Yeah, now I’m as tall as you."
"Ah, what do I care? I’m just glad you're home safe," Cassie said and wrapped her in yet another welcome embrace.
They separated and stood holding each other by the shoulders. Buffy looked over towards her mom and called out, "Mom, we're home!"
Her mom smiled and nodded at her through the crowd of welcome-home wishers.