"The Candle That
note: I wrote the first two lines and final three lines before
writing the rest.
spoilers: 2010, Learning Curve.
Sam opened her eyes. "I'm - we're not dead?" Lying on a carpetless
floor, yes; dead, no.
"Would you rather be?"
"No," Sam answered honestly. "I just thought that -- well, that the
Aschenn defense system would be fatal." As it was, her legs and arms
were still numb.
"Tsk. After all these years, you still are incapable of telling the
difference between Aschenn and Tollan handicrafts?" She
chuckled. "Are you suggesting that you did what you did because you
thought it would be a one-way affair?"
Sam craned her neck up to see who she was talking to. "Merryn?
What're you doing here - wherever here is?"
Merryn nodded. "'tis I, said the fly. As for your second question;
well, it was either me or Jack... And he's not really in the mood
for talking to you right now."
"I can about imagine." From what Sam could see, she was in a jail
cell; and Merryn was outside of it, sitting on a rail that ran the
length of this room.
The much younger woman raised an eyebrow. "Can you? I much doubt
"And why's that?" Sam wanted to know.
"I don't understand."
"You graciously accepted the knowledge of how to build naquadah
reactors -- yet you were against both the nanites and the old-
fashioned learning we proposed to return to."
"It wasn't old-fashioned, Merryn!" Sam said defensively. "It was
barely a step away from nanites themselves." Sam could still
remember the shudder of revulsion she'd felt when faced with a swarm
of tiny mosquito-like robots...the 'old-fashioned way' according to
"Not for you," Merryn corrected. "But for us, those were old-
fashioned." A curious grin appeared on her face. "Tell me, did you
think we created the nanites ex nihilo?" A weary sigh excaped her as
the grin left. "So we had no choice but to tell them."
"And by 'them', you mean...?"
"One of the many allies you carry anger towards: the Aschenn. We
asked, they did."
"You *asked* them to??" Sam repeated. There was some feeling
returning to her arms and legs. "Why?"
"Equilibrium, Colonel. A concept I thought you were familiar with."
"We never rendered any worlds barren."
Merryn raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"
"On Pc2-t57, the Tilgathwii have a saying, 'when System Lords fight,
it is the Humans who suffer.' By wiping out the major Goa'uld, you
encouraged that sort of fighting...as well as clearing the field for
Apophis and Anubis to come dangerously close to supremacy.
"In contrast, we of Orban simply asked the Aschenn to use a temporary
device, so that you could see what a dislocated society felt like,
the sensation that you are living on the final razor edge of your
"I'm simply surprised it took you this long to figure it out.
Doesn't say much about intelligence, does it?" with a Jack-like irony.
"You still haven't said why it's equilibrium."
"You want an example?" asked an amused Merryn. "You were
instrumental in bringing Earth monoculture crops to Edora. How many
Edorans were left, after the Fire Rain Famines?" Sam opened her
mouth, but Merryn interupted. "'Not our fault', is that what you
were going to say?"
Feeling returning to her arms, Sam pushed herself up into a sitting
position. "How?" she asked. "How did you do it?" half afraid to
hear the answer.
"It was simple, actually. I visited the Holocaust Museums in a few
Earth countries, returned to Orban to share that bit of knowledge
with a few Orbanians who were part of our diplomatic mission to the
"That still doesn't answer the question."
Merryn's eyes narrowed to slits for this sentance: "They saw in Earth
what they saw on the Volian Union -- mass death."
Sam frowned. "You're saying that they did this to us because of
something in our past?"
Nodding, "What other reason is there?"
There was a knock on the door, it opened, and Jack and Apia joined
Merryn by the railing. Apia, an Orbanian, was Sam's age...which
likely was why Sam was struck by a sudden pang of jealousy, seeing a
pregnant bulge in Apia's middle. That, and the fact that Sam had
logn resigned herself to: that Apia was Jack's wife.
"Any news?" Merryn asked, though Sam suspected it was more for the
prisoner's benefit than Merryn's.
Jack nodded. "The Aschenn are making public statements, thanking the
famous SG-1 for taking time from our busy schedules to help them
demonstrate the safety systems around the Stargate.
"Wait a minute," Sam said. "They're claiming it was a PR stunt?"
"Not PR," Jack said. "More of an efficiency rating. It passed.
"The Tollans're selling those things like hotcakes now. From what
Ambassador Narim just told me, even the Breeders've put in an order
for a dozen sets." The Breeders, whose own name was two-dimensional
rather than linear, and enemies of the now-extinct Eurondans. "He
also asked me to say Hi to you."
"So sending the note had no consiquences other than good business?"
Sam asked, feeling slightly queasy at the thought.
"Elementary temporal physics," Merrin told Sam. "The very act of
trying to change the past will alter things sooner than you thought."
"Then why didn't it work?"
Apia raised an eyebrow. "And what makes you so certain it didn't?"
"Because we're still here."
"And where did you expect to be?" Jack asked.
"In -" Sam started to say, and stopped, thinking about that. "I
thought that by sending that note, it would -- well, make
this ...cease to exist."
"Definately not happy with the way things turned out," Merrin quipped
"I'll admit that -- wait a minute! You were at Colonel O'Neill's
"Does the word 'retired' mean anything to you?" Merrin, Jack, and
Apia-Merryn asked, very nearly in one voice.
"What exactly were you expecting, Carter?" Jack asked her. "That
we'd be back together like the last eleven years'd never happened?"
"Well, that was the point of trying to change the past." One of
them, she reasoned.
"I'm sorry for you, then," Jack told her honestly, "that the last
eleven years have been non-stop suffering for you, Miss Nobel Prize-
Winner two years in a row."
"This isn't about me," Sam objected. "This is about the future of
the human race."
"Not about you?" Jack repeated. "Tell me, what was it again that
made you decide to go up against our Aschenn buddies?"
"When I saw what they'd done to the global birthrate."
"And what exactly made you take a look at that?" Jack asked, wanting
to see if Sam still had the fire he remembered, or if she'd shy away
"My own infertility," Sam admitted.
Jack nodded; she still had it. A hope that she had it had been why
he'd helped her in the first place, despite his misgivings. "And?"
"And the fact that my Aschenn doctor lied to me about it!"
"Carter," he said, leaning against the railing, "you helped the
Aschenn in the Goa'uld Conflict, right?" Sam nodded. "Have you ever
known an Aschenn to give somebody bad news?"
Sam thought, trying to remember even one time . . . "No," she
"Exactly." His watch beeping for a few seconds, Jack took a
breath. "Look, we're going out to eat now. You want to come with
"I'm not hungry," Sam protested.
He shrugged. "Alright," and put the key in the keyhole, turning it,
unlocking the cell. "You're welcome out anytime you want." He was
tempted to say 'nobody's angry with you.' "I'm sure Joe'd be estatic
to see you again."
Sam said nothing, even as the three headed for the door. Merryn, the
last one through, paused in mid-stride.
"Remember, Colonel," Merryn said.
"Remember what?" Sam asked.
Merryn gave a Cheshire grin. "That the candle burning brightest,