Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

Under His Gaze

by Flatkatsi




Wet slush pummelled their faces, hitting goggles and sliding down their parkas, as the huge helicopter's rotors churned up the air around them.

"Inside as quickly as possible." The direction wasn't necessary, any thought of sightseeing disappearing in the face of the fierce wind that buffered them. The group hurried after the speaker, heading for the large building sitting atop the ice.

Colin Godwin and Melody Stanmore were the last in, Melody putting out a hand to stop Colin from slipping on a patch of ice near the entrance, the man giving her a quick nod of thanks as they followed the rest in through the large doors.

The interior of the building wasn't much warmer, but the sheer relief from the elements had most of them smiling, the exception being the two green clad air force officers who had sat alone and unspeaking throughout the long flight.

"Follow me." The tall man who had greeted them on the surface pushed his jacket's hood back and took off his goggles as he spoke, revealing a thin, angular face, his small ginger moustache a mere wisp across his top lip. "I'll do the introductions when we're a little more comfortable." His breath puffed white vapour into the chill air. Turning, he headed for a small metal door slightly to his left, and pulling it open, gestured them forward. "I'm afraid it's a bit of a climb. There are plans to put in an elevator, but for the time being we have to make do with what we have." He twisted, entering the door backwards, and began descending the ladder that stretched away into the icy shaft.

There were a few exclamations of surprise as each person reached the top of the ladder and looked down before beginning their climb, and not a few were breathing heavily by the time they reached the bottom.

They were standing in a large cavern, lit by strong lights that illuminated the strangely shaped stalagmites and stalactites jutting out from the floor and ceiling. Several passages branched off in various directions, and it was down one of these that they were led, eventually coming to an even larger chamber.

"You'll find it's pretty warm down here." The man was already pulling off his blue parka, and the others followed his lead, peeling off the layers of bulky clothing gratefully and hanging them on hooks attached to a metal partition nearby. "I'm Doctor Peter Burton. At the moment I'm in charge of the scientific side of things here, but that, like everything to do with this project, may change at any time." He gave a short, half-hearted smile, and hurried on. "You're the first group of scientists to arrive and I'm afraid you'll find things are a bit rough and ready, as you saw from the access. Over the next few weeks we'll expect to see some changes as our presence here becomes more established."

"Ah...Doctor George Spiteri here." At Burton's nod of recognition the older, grey haired man continued. "I know we were all given some details before we left...at least I assume we were?" His gaze travelled to the still silence Air Force officers standing to one side of the group.

Burton nodded. "Yes, everyone has been briefed, Doctor. Please continue."

Spiteri looked around at the rest of the group, before continuing. "I don't know about the others, but I'm finding it a little hard to believe what I've been told. I mean...aliens and spaceships....it all sounds like a plot from a Hollywood movie." There were a few muttered sounds of agreement from the people beside him. He put up a hand to stop the other man before he could speak, and continued. "I'm sure the explanations we've been given for recent events are truly what the government believes, but, let's face it, they aren't scientists. Have they investigated other possible causes, atmospheric storms for example?"

"No, they didn't - they had no reason to. The cause of the destruction of our warships and the resulting deaths of thousands of our troops, both at sea and in the air in the later battle is fully known." The answer was terse, and Burton's eyes flickered to the two Air Force officers as he spoke. "Now, follow me please and I think you'll find all your questions answered by what you are about to see."

They trailed after him, some hanging back slightly as they stared around, fascinated by what their surroundings. Tantalising glimpses of strange architecture showed through the clear blue ice, grey metallic looking walls covered with strange decoration. Susan Pritchard, the archaeologist of the group, already had her notebook out, frantically scribbling in it as she walked practically backwards as her gaze shifted from doorway to wall and over to shapes looming out of the ice. So engrossed was she that she almost collided with the man in front of her, who had stopped suddenly. She gasped and looked up, startled.

Straight into a pair of vacant, downcast eyes.

"Hell!" Colin's soft exclamation broke the silence.

Standing, leaning slightly sideways, his eyes open and staring, was a man, his features obscured enough by the block of ice encasing him that all they could tell was he appeared to be middle aged, his hair grey, and his face lined and tired looking, his eyes ringed with fatigue.

"This sure wasn't in the briefing!" Spiteri turned to Burton, his arms up, his hands gesturing wildly. "Surely this body could be removed - studied under proper conditions. Why was it left here?"

"If I may, Doctor Burton?" The older of the two Air Force officers stepped forward, the light glinting off the eagles on his shoulders. He didn't wait for an answer, turning immediately to face the group. "Colonel Reynolds, US Air Force." He moved forward, the others parting to let him through, and came to a halt facing the icy tomb. For a few long seconds he stood silently, then, abruptly, he spun, glaring at Spiteri. The doctor took a step back, flinching. "This is Colonel Jack O'Neill, and..." He practically spat the words, "he is not dead. He's the reason you are all standing here. The reason this planet is still free from the Goa'uld."

xxxxxxxxxx

Colonel Gary Reynolds walked slowly through the room, his eyes narrowing as he surveyed the activity going on around him. In the three weeks since his last visit to the Antarctica site there had been a noticeable increase in the number of staff at the isolated base. A team of international experts had augmented the original group of scientists as the need for particular specialities arose, and the need for appropriate facilities had grown with them. He thought back to those early days as the mismatched group of men and women had struggled to come to terms with the overload of information they had received.

He sought out one particular figure, finding the man on the central platform, bending to look at the base of the chair, and frowned. Spiteri had proven to be argumentative and extremely demanding. Unfortunately he was the best man they could find to try and figure out exactly how the alien device operated. At least Rodney McKay, finally recovered from his latest batch of flu, was due to arrive in a few days and would take over from Burton as the overall scientist in charge of the operation. Reynolds smiled grimly. McKay wasn't one of his favourite people, but he didn't suffer fools gladly and Gary hoped to see Spiteri firmly cut down to size. It had been understandable that the scientists had questioned the events leading up to their selection - after all, it must have been a shock for them to be uprooted from their comfortable jobs and sent to the ends of the Earth with only a few days notice and very little preparation. They'd certainly had no say in the matter - their participation wasn't voluntary - but the final straw had been Spiteri's reaction to Colonel O'Neill. Now, with the arrival of scientists from every nation, it was becoming harder and harder to maintain a military presence on site, even Doctor Jackson had been made to return to the States as the political posturing became more intense. Reynolds was just grateful he had been allowed to return, albeit under strict instructions that he had no authority except in one vital matter only. And hadn't Spiteri just loved it when he heard that!

Reynolds turned and carried on, putting Spiteri from his mind. The reason for his return to the base was the same as it had been on his original trip. There was one thing that couldn't be left in the hands of the scientists - these unknown people who had no personal stake in the matter.

He approached a section of the room, partitioned off from the rest by flimsy sheets of plywood, slipped through the side opening.

And stopped.

One thing hadn't changed. Jack still stood, sightless eyes gazing into the room. The activity in the rest of the complex was in complete contrast to the stillness surrounding the man, and Gary just managed to suppress a shiver.

No one knew just what, if anything, Jack was experiencing within his thick coating of ice, but looking into his eyes, Reynolds felt an almost overwhelming sense of loss.

After the first tentative investigations of the chamber's controls the decision had been made to not attempt to revive the Colonel. Doctor Jackson had concentrated his research on any information they could find on the chamber, but, apart from managing to interpret some basic readouts, he had come to a dead end, and he had finally been compelled to return to the SGC. At least they now knew the Colonel was still alive. Spiteri had almost won the argument to have the whole coffin-like box transferred to the States for study, assuming that the man inside it was dead. Reynolds peered at the small lights on the side of the contraption. The ones indicating heart rate were glowing a faint teal blue, a far cry from the dark blue light he had seen on his last visit.

"Doctor!"

"Yes, Colonel?" The soft Scottish burr heralded the arrival of Doctor Beckett.

"What's this mean?" Reynolds pointed at the offending lights, and watched as a look of regret crossed the face of the short man standing beside him.

"Ah, yes." Beckett shook his head. "I'm afraid the Colonel's vital signs appear to be fading."

"Fading? What do you mean, fading?" Reynolds kept his voice down, matching the low tones of the doctor. It was a phenomenon he had noticed whenever anyone was within a few feet of the Colonel - they lowered their voices as if in the presence of sickness or death.

"I'm sorry, Colonel, but I mean exactly what I said. From the reports, Colonel O'Neill's life signs were very weak before he was put in suspension. This was something we were expecting." At Reynolds look of enquiry, he continued. "His body is too weak to stand long periods in what seems to be a state of suspended animation. Remember that this is an Ancient device - designed for their physiology. Despite the Colonel having some Ancient abilities, his body is still that of a normal, average human being and the equipment obviously can't cope with the levels needed to sustain his life, given his condition on entering it. The fact he has survived this long I can only attribute to the adaptation that took place to allow him to use the Ancient technology."

Reynolds felt his heart begin to beat faster as the doctor's words sank in. He looked up at the face of the man he had respected for so long, the man he had followed into battle, the man who had saved his life more than once.

They weren't going to lose him. Not after everything he'd been through.

It wasn't an option.

xxxxxxxxxx

Susan Pritchard sighed deeply as she pressed the heel of her hands into her tired eyes. There just weren't enough hours in the day to cover even a tenth of the work that needed to be done in this room alone, without even thinking about the side passages still filled with ice. However much she was revelling in the challenge the site represented, she also was finding it frustrating in the extreme.

It had been different when Doctor Jackson had been working with her, before he had been forced, practically kicking and screaming, to leave - his experience in the Ancient language had been invaluable, even if most of his energy had been understandably taken up by the Colonel.

Susan straightened, stretching her back and rotating her shoulders, and moved away from the wall panel she was examining.

"I'm going to get some tea. Do you want anything?"

One of the two people working alongside her looked up. Colin Godwin smiled, brushing his slightly too long hair away from his face. "No thanks, Susan. I want to do as much as possible before I try the controls again." He gave the man beside him a slight nudge. "What about you, Uri? Do you want anything to drink? Susan's buying."

The older man looked over his shoulder, frowning. "Buying?" Then his face cleared and he smiled. "Ah, another of your jokes. Thank you, Miss Pritchard, I would enjoy an orange juice."

Susan gave the Russian engineer a quick nod and smiled as he immediately turned back to the open panel, his short fingers already back amongst what was to her, an incomprehensible jumble of crystals. She headed for the small staff rest area, situated over by the elevator.

"Hey, Susan!" Her friend's cheerful voice caught her attention and she turned to find Melody hurrying over from her work station. The other woman gripped her arm, pulling her away from a small group clustered around a computer. "How's it going?"

"Fine, Mel, fine." Susan grinned, waiting for the inevitable question.

Melody smiled back. "That's good. Has Colin said anything about me?"

Sometimes Susan felt like her friend was a young teenager with her first crush instead of the supremely professional computer programmer she knew her to be. She nodded. "Yes, he said you were the most beautiful woman on the continent and that he wanted to marry you and have fifteen children. You can all live here together in an igloo city."

"Idiot!" Melody's light punch on her arm wasn't designed to hurt. "It's just not fair, me being all the way over here, and you working next to him."

"I tell you what - I'll swap. You can spend your day kneeling on ice with your back bent picking away at a wall, while I sit here in a nice comfortable chair and play solitaire on the computer all day."

"Yeah - right! Anyway, what are you up to? Getting another cup of that weak excuse for tea that you drink?" Without waiting for an answer, Melody started for the canteen. "I'll come with you. I could do with a break."

Together they wove their way between the various groups dotted around the complex, nodding greetings as they went.

"Things have certainly heated up around here." Susan observed as she was bumped into for the second time, smiling in response to the muttered apology.

Melody bent her head in to the other woman, and lowered her voice. "It's Doctor McKay."

"Why? He seems perfectly nice to me."

"You obviously haven't been on the receiving end of his sarcasm then." Melody shuddered. "He almost had Spiteri reduced to tears yesterday."

Susan sniggered. "I can't say I'm sorry to hear that. What did Spiteri do?"

Melody's face sobered immediately and she paused as they entered the small alcove and got their drinks from the dispenser. Sitting at one of the small tables, she finally answered her friend's question.

"It's the Colonel." Instinctively they both glanced towards the partitioned section. There was no need for Melody to clarify, as far as anyone on the base was concerned there was only one colonel of any importance. O'Neill's presence was never forgotten even as they worked around him, and more than one had woken up in the middle of the night and found themselves unable to get back to sleep, the look in his eyes indelibly imprinted into their brains.

When Susan had been at her most despondent, feeling out of her depth and totally alone, her thoughts had turned to the Colonel, locked in place, standing suspended between two breaths, between one heartbeat and the next with unmoving, unblinking eyes staring out at them. And she had realised she really didn't have anything to complain about. She was alive, and working in a job she loved, and all because of him. Admittedly, his fixed stare had been uncomfortable at first, but after Colonel Reynolds had had privacy screens erected around him, she had found herself missing his gaze. Despite the screens, some of the personnel still found it upsetting to have him here, and Spiteri had been the most vocal opponent of his presence.

"I've heard he isn't doing too well." Susan turned her attention back to the other woman and took a sip of the hot tea.

"No." Melody looked down, her usually exuberant demeanour subdued. "I overheard Doctor Beckett - he doesn't think they have much time left to find some way to revive him before..."

"Damn!" Susan couldn't help it, she was just so angry. "If they just let Doctor Jackson come back, he might find something. I feel like I'm hitting my head against a brick wall here, trying to interpret a fraction of what I find."

"They're not going to, Susan."

"I know, Mel. It's just so unfair." Susan cupped her hands around her drink, feeling the warmth. Despite it being reasonably warm down in the complex, there was still a definite chill in the air from the surrounding ice. "Anyway, you were going to tell me what Spiteri said to McKay that got him in trouble."

The tall red head smiled. "He was harping on again about having the Colonel shipped out. Said something about him being practically dead anyway, and McKay just exploded. It took us all completely by surprise." She shook her head. "I mean, McKay hasn't been exactly vocal in his support of the military, but the way he was talking it's obvious he knew...knows...the Colonel from before." At Susan's look of surprise she continued. "Yeah, he ripped into Spiteri. Told him that he wasn't fit to lick O'Neill's boots. He said a lot more too, but I was trying so hard not to laugh that I missed most of it. Anyway, Spiteri ended up sitting at his desk for the rest of the day, not saying a word. Best day we've had in ages."

Susan couldn't help laughing. The fact that Doctor McKay knew the Colonel wasn't as much of a surprise as him defending him so vigorously. The acerbic Canadian seemed to object to any authority, but especially military. There was certainly something about the Colonel that encouraged loyalty.

She drank the last few mouthfuls of tea and holding the disposable cup in one hand, picked up the orange juice she had got for Uri with the other, and stood, Melody following her.

"Oh well, back to work we go." Mel sighed, throwing her cup in the trash as Susan did the same. "At least it isn't long until my lunchbreak. Tell Colin I'll come over when I've finished this program I'm working on."

"Sure."

A bright light flashed across Susan's retinas, and she blinked, turning to its source.

"What the...!" Rodney McKay's voice broke the stunned silence, and people began running towards the corner of the room, McKay amongst them. Susan and Melody joined the throng, arriving in time to see the partitions thrown down.

"Okay...now this is not good!" McKay was the only one to vocalise what they all felt as they stood in stunned amazement, staring at the empty space where the Colonel had been only moments before. The lights on the outside of the chamber had turned to deep, inky black.

All that remained of the Colonel was a man size impression within a block of solid ice.

xxxxxxxxxx

Wet slush pummelled their faces, hitting goggles and sliding down their parkas, as the helicopter's rotors churned up the air around them.

General Jack O'Neill thought of making some comment about the cold, but refrained from doing so, deciding to leave the more obvious clichs to his companion.

"God, it's cold!"

Jack grinned, knowing the parka's hood would conceal it, and kept walking, Major Davis hard on his heels. He looked around curiously as he approached the sizable building in the centre of the complex, seeing an outpost much larger than he expected.

"General. It's good to see you again." A figure loomed up in front of him, and he stopped, peering for a second as the voice registered.

"Doctor Weir."

"Elizabeth, please." The woman smiled as she ushered the two men through the door and out of the wind. "You'll find things have changed since you were here last, General."

"I don't actually remember anything at all." He took of his goggles, shaking the snow off them. "And it's Jack. I haven't got use to answering to General yet, and I wouldn't want you to think I was ignoring you."

"Very well, Jack." Doctor Weir nodded, gesturing to the elevator. "Shall we? There are a lot of people who would love the meet you."

Major Davis chose that moment to interject, as he unzipped his parka. "The General doesn't have a lot of time, Doctor Weir. We have a fairly tight schedule we must adhere to."

"Well, seeing we've just got here, Major, I don't think that we're behind schedule just yet, are we?" Jack faced Davis, obviously expecting a response.

"No, sir." Despite the General's apparent admonishment, Davis was smiling as they entered the waiting car.

The doors opened to a group of people standing waiting.

"McKay." Jack nodded to the familiar figure.

"General O'Neill, it's good to see you, sir." Rodney turned slightly, indicating his companions. "May I introduce Doctor Peter Burton, Doctor George Spiteri, and Doctor Carson Beckett."

"Doctors. I've obviously come to the right place if I feel ill."

Spiteri shook his head. "No actually, I'm not a medical doctor, General O'Neill. Beckett is the only medical doctor amongst us."

Jack smiled pleasantly. "Really. I'm glad you've cleared that up for me." He caught the muffled snort from Beckett, as Davis continued to smile, and started to enjoy himself.

McKay wasn't quite so diplomatic. He glared at the short man. "Yes, thank you, Spiteri. I'm sure the General values your input - as do we all."

From the scowl on Spiteri's face it was clear to Jack that there was more to McKay's words than first appeared. A little battle of wills perhaps?

"Shall we continue, gentlemen. The General is on a tight schedule." Doctor Weir's words brought their attention back to the matter at hand. "We thought a quick tour of the facility first, before we get down to business...?"

"Yes, indeedy. Let's tour." Jack rubbed his hands together, before slipping off his parka, handing it to a hovering staff member with a nod of thanks. He waited until Weir and Davis had added theirs to the pile in the man's arms, then gestured. "After you, Elizabeth."

They had barely gone three feet before he found Beckett beside him.

"I understand you can't remember anything of your time in the cryogenic chamber, General, is that correct, nothing at all, not even impressions?"

"Well, I wouldn't say nothing." Jack looked at the small doctor bouncing along beside him. "I do have a vague memory of twins."

"Ah...twins, sir?"

"Yes, twins. Interesting, isn't it." The General's strides slowed as they approached a group of people.

"General O'Neill, this is Colin Godwin and his fianc, Melody Stanmore. Melody is a computer programmer, and Colin is working with the team attempting to reactivate the Ancient technology." Jack nodded, his gaze caught by the gorgeous, tall red headed woman.

"We're all quite excited by your visit, Sir. This could be just the breakthrough we need." Colin moved sideways slightly, giving the other woman with them a small push forward. "Susan has found several references to the Ancient's ability to mentally control the equipment."

"You read Ancient, Miss...?"

The woman ducked her head self-consciously, blushing. "Pritchard, General. Susan Pritchard. Yes, I'm an archaeologist and linguist. But I had a lot of help from Doctor Jackson. I couldn't have done as much as I have if it weren't for him."

"General?" Major Davis again interrupted, and Jack turned, on the verge of saying something, then felt better of it. The man was only doing his job, annoying though it was. It wasn't Davis's fault that he felt a decided reluctance to do what he came here to do - see if he could activate the Ancient control chair again. He looked over to where it stood, dominating the room, then let his eyes travel to the other object he had avoided up until now.

He had spent months in that thing.

Months of his life gone.

The whole experience was condensed down into a few fleeting sounds and images, too vague to get any grip on.

Except he seemed to remember eyes.

Staring at him. Watching him.

He looked around and found the eyes of everyone on him. And they all had the same look - one he couldn't quite identify. It wasn't pity. He was familiar with that one after Iraq and Ba'al. It wasn't fear, or even curiosity - those he would have understood, given what he had apparently done while sitting in that chair.

No, if he didn't know better, he would have thought it was affection, mingled with a touch of something else, but that was patently ridiculous, so he gave himself a mental shake.

"Let's get this show on the road, then shall we?" And with a determination built more of pride than want, he strode to the platform. "What do you want me to do?"

McKay was quick with an answer. "We think it works by thought, so if you'd just sit in it and...ah...think." His words ground to a stop and he looked a little sheepish.

"That's what I've always liked - you just ask Carter - a nice, straightforward scientific explanation. Sit in a chair and think. I can do that. Anyone got a beer?"

Jack didn't wait for a response, he just turned and sat, suddenly wanting to get it over with.

The problem was, he didn't know what to think.

"Isn't something meant to happen? Glowy lights, maybe? At the very least strange beeps?"

"I think you need to concentrate your thoughts, General. Can you do that?"

Jack glared at Spiteri. "Yes, thank you, I can concentrate. I've done it quite often. Especially when I'm shooting people."

He shut his eyes, holding back a grin at another quiet laugh from the Scottish doctor.

He thought.

Just for a moment he felt a sense of peace wash over him, and on the edge of his perception he heard excited voices, then his mind was swept by a wave of input that overpowered him, as information, emotions, images, sounds, all vied for room.

He leapt up, his eyes snapping open, as the lights that shone from the chair faded away.

"No, find someone else. Not going to happen."

He was barely aware of the voices pleading with him to try again as the pain spiked in his skull.

"General, are you alright, sir?" He looked up to find Beckett staring anxiously at him.

"I'm fine, Doctor. Davis, we have a schedule to keep, remember. Chop, chop."

His farewells were swift, his refusal to try the chair again definite, and as he looked down at the base receding into the distance, General Jack O'Neill decided never to have anything to do with Ancient technology ever again.

The End