Convolutions Chapter 14. Return of the Shepherd
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
The copter hovered momentarily and then touched down on the deck as gracefully as a dragonfly skimming across the water of a tranquil pond. The rotors slowed, expending the last of their energy as Nelson stepped onto the deck of the carrier and stared blankly at the multitude of faces surrounding him. A select few made their way forward and he stepped aside as skilled hands moved Chavez onto a waiting gurney.
Nelson quickly advised the sailors of Chavez' injuries as they moved him away from the copter. He was still yelling out his warnings beneath the sound of the engines as they paused on the flight elevator and disappeared below deck. He rubbed a dirty hand across his tired features then moved to follow, his large frame in a crouched position and the wake of the rotors tugging at his cap. A shouting voice nearby caused him to turn in that direction and he watched calmly as a young officer jogged towards him.
"I'm sure he'll be ok. Don't worry; they'll take care of him."
Nelson just nodded, too tired to smile or speak, he stood in a motionless stupor.
"What about you? Are you injured?"
Again, he shook his head but this time he managed a single word.
"Chow then? Maybe a shower?"
Another silent nod and they were moving across the deck towards the stairs that would lead them into the belly of the giant ship.
"And then I'll take you to see the Captain."
A little over an hour later, feeling refreshed from the shower and hot food, Nelson followed the young officer into the infirmary.
"I'll wait here while you check on your friend but don't take too long, ok?"
Nelson nodded and walked across the room to the row of beds that lined the wall. Only a few were occupied and it was short work to find Chavez. He was resting peacefully beneath the glaring white sheets that surrounded him. His dark skin was freshly bathed and his hair lay in tight curls, just as it had dried, against his forehead. His wounds had been cleansed and bandaged, his broken bones realigned and protected beneath still damp casts. Nelson absently fingered the assorted tubes that were slowly dripping powerful antibiotics into his system and his eyes traced the multi-colored wires that led to an impressive amount of machinery designed to monitor the slightest change.
"Who are you?"
The voice startled him from his observations and he spun quickly to face a young medic standing only a few steps away.
"You shouldn't sneak up on folks like that, you know? I...I just came to check on Chavez. How's he doing?"
"He's stable for now but he's not cleared for visitors. I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave."
Nelson raised a hand as the man approached. "No problem. Just take good care of him, ok?"
"We always do."
Nelson stepped into the hallway with a determined gait. They had allowed him a brief respite but now it was time to debrief the Captain. He followed Jones obediently for several minutes, winding down long hallways and ducking through hatches until they reached a war room just off the bridge where the Captain was patiently waiting.
Jones knocked quietly on the door and then opened it as he heard his commander's voice. The Captain looked up as the duo entered the room and nodded to his officer with a warm smile.
"That will be all, Jones, thank you."
Nelson watched silently as a sharp salute preceded the expected words.
Then he was out the door and gone, leaving Nelson alone with the ship's captain. There was a momentary silence in which the captain studied him carefully, asserting his authority with only his posture and expression as tools.
"Well, they tell me that your friend is doing well and that you report no injuries. Sound about right?"
Nelson smiled slightly at the captain's relaxed attitude. "Yes, Sir. Thanks for the rescue, Sir."
"You're welcome. Now, you want to tell me what the hell you're doing on the Yucatan?" The captain stammered for a moment realizing he didn't even know this soldier's name. "Um...."
"Colonel Nelson, Air Force."
"...Nelson, right. And why are you sending out a Pentagon GPS distress call, Nelson?"
Nelson looked down at the floor momentarily and then raised steely eyes to meet the Captain's.
"My orders were issued by the Pentagon, Sir. That's why the GPS.... but I'm afraid the rest is classified."
"Classified, huh? Well, I could have guessed that! And that's all you can tell me?"
"The guy in the infirmary is USMC...Captain Francisco Chavez. Can you get him home, Sir?"
"Well, yes, of course I can...but he'll have to be approved for travel first, Nelson. What about you?"
"I could use a secure phone, Sir. I need to report in...we're a bit late."
"You mean those Pentagon types didn't provide you with a slick, new sat phone when they gave you that GPS?"
Doubt and sarcasm were readily apparent in his tone as he spoke sharply to Nelson wondering what they could possibly be doing in this part of the world.
Nelson smiled and reached into his pocket removing the phone and holding it up by the antenna for the Captain to see. An amused smile spread slowly across the Captain's face.
"Battery's dead. Doesn't work so well without it."
He shrugged innocently and then smiled broadly.
"Nelson, those batteries last for...."
"Yes, Sir. It's dead, Sir...trust me."
A few minutes later Nelson was alone in a secure communications room. He plugged in the phone and pressed the button waiting for it to power up. It beeped to life and began to rapidly display the list of waiting messages. Nelson scanned them hurriedly and then held the phone to his ear as he began to listen.
Most of the messages were standard advisories, nothing critical but as he sat listening to the recorded voices, he suddenly froze. His brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed as he focused his concentration on the voice, listening intently to the words of the message.
The second the message ended he was dialing, punching at the digits with an urgency bred of deep concern. He rose from the chair intending to pace the room but the restraint of the cord held him close to the power source and he craned his neck upwards in frustration as he waited. He listened to the ringing in his ear, growing more and more impatient as each one went unanswered.
After the fifth ring with no response he pressed recall and dialed another number, cursing in a low intense tone. Three rings...four and finally a familiar voice spoke a simple 'hello'.
"Jack? JACK! Where the hell are you?"
"Daniel, where's Sam? I tried to call but she didn't answer."
"Um...no, no she wouldn't. She's in the infirmary, Jack. Why haven't you called before now? We've been trying to contact you!"
"What? Still? How bad is it? I thought you said it was just a minor wound!"
"Well, yes, it was but there have been some complications. The bullets were poisoned and Sam seems to be having some...weird reaction to it. Are you on your way here, Jack?"
His voice dropped a bit as he answered but Daniel couldn't detect if it was just hesitation or despair.
"What? Why not?"
"Daniel, can you just tell me what the doctor said? Is she going to be all right?"
The frustration in Jack's voice was rising to a dangerous level as Daniel continued to supply only vague information.
"Yes...no... I don't know, Jack, I don't think anyone does. They're giving her antibiotics trying to counteract the poison... but they can't find the right combination. She's getting worse, Jack. It seems to be reacting to the naq...to something in her blood."
"Daniel, I want to talk to her. Can you get to the infirmary?"
"I'm not at the base, Jack. Dr. Summers made me leave for a while but Teal'c is still there with Sam."
"Uh, Jack....before you talk to her you should know...things are going to be strange. Her memories are a bit off. She just remembers bits of things...whole blocks of time are missing or confused."
"What are you trying to tell me, Daniel? That she doesn't remember me?"
"No! No, she remembers you, Jack...she just doesn't remember...everything."
Daniel was stammering. He didn't want to tell his friend over the phone about all the things that Sam had forgotten. His mind was racing to find the right words. He knew they were having problems and he knew they hadn't really talked since Jack had returned to Washington. On the other hand, he didn't want Jack to walk into this thing blind and send Sam into a panic. She didn't remember that they were married but the love and concern was still there, albeit hidden beneath the military faade. All he had to do was figure out how to tell one over-anxious, over-aggressive and highly reactive General that the woman he loved didn't remember being his wife.
Daniel's frustration was apparent in his voice as he almost whined into the phone.
"What? Just spit it out, Daniel!"
"Ok. Well, she thinks you're still a Colonel, Jack. I mean, we told her you'd been promoted and that's why you weren't here...but she doesn't actually remember. So, you need to be careful when you talk to her...go easy."
There was a long, disturbing silence on the phone as Jack processed Daniel's words. He got it. Oh, yeah, did he ever. She remembered Colonel O'Neill but not Jack.
Jack scrubbed a hand across his features and then pushed his hair towards the back of his head. They had waited so long for their time together, enduring years of hidden emotions to fulfill their duties and then when they had finally taken those last, few, hard steps...Sam had pushed him away. He'd expected rough days but he'd never expected this. He'd promised himself that he wouldn't let her slip away without a fight; that he'd do whatever it took to keep her with him but now...she didn't even remember him, just her CO. The past few months together had been completely erased. They were back to denial. Jack's head was spinning as worry and distress mixed with exhaustion and confusion foiling all efforts to maintain control. He was almost in physical shock as he sank into the chair.
Daniel was pressing the phone tightly against his ear, squinting hard and holding his other hand against his ear to shut out any excess noise. It was so quiet he couldn't even hear Jack breathing and for one frantic second he thought the connection had failed.
"Jack? Jack! Are you there? Hello?"
"Yeah, I'm here, Daniel."
"Good! So, you're coming home, right?"
Another long silence filled the air before Jack answered.
"I've got to report in and then we'll see. I'll be there as soon as I can, Daniel. Tell Sam I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Where are you, Jack? What's going on?"
"Um...I don't know exactly. We'll talk when I get there, ok?"
"Take care of Sam and tell her..."
Daniel cut him off. He already knew what Jack was about to say. He could hear the worry in his voice.
"Just get here and you can tell her yourself! She'd rather hear it from you anyway. She hasn't forgotten everything, Jack! She took out a few SF's and threatened Landry trying to get to you. She even took on Teal'c."
"Long story. Just get here, ok? I'll tell Sam you're on your way."
"No...just tell her I'll be there as soon as I can, ok? I've still got calls to make."
"Right! Ok. See you soon."
Jack echoed Daniel's words and the line went dead. He let out a long sigh and dialed General Baker's office. The man was as good as you could find and Jack knew he'd done exactly what he told him to do. He wasn't worried about the state of security because he knew Alan Baker was watching every point of concern. What he needed to know was how much trouble he was in with their boss.
"Jack, good God, man! Where the hell have you been?"
"I've been a bit busy, Alan. Everything ok?"
"It's quiet at the moment, things seemed to have stalled."
"Yes, one can only hope. So what's the latest from the President?"
"He's pretty upset with you, Jack. Said something about kicking your butt if you were off on a lark."
Jack chuckled softly. "He did, huh? What makes him think he can actually do that?"
"Dammit, Jack! This is serious. We've had half the damned armed forces looking for you!"
Jack pulled his lips back in a tight grimace. Right! He'd conveniently forgotten that he was a valuable asset and that the President didn't like having his orders ignored. Once he'd slipped into combat mode he'd given no thought to the stir a missing general would create. As far as he was concerned he was following orders, the President's orders and he knew he'd do the same thing again.
"Yeah. I'll call him. Anything I need to know?"
"Jack, Colonel Carter."
"I got the message, Alan. Anything new in the last few minutes?"
"Ok, then. Send Andrews home. Give her a week off. If I know her she's probably been there ever since I left."
Alan chuckled. "You do seem to inspire loyalty, Jack. Ok. I'll take care of it."
"Tell her "mission accomplished" and that she did an excellent job."
"Jack? Are you telling me that Andrews knew where you were all this time? When none of the rest of us knew? Not even the President!"
Another low chuckle escaped Jack's tired lips as he answered.
"Did you even ask her, Alan?"
"Well, no. I didn't think..."
"Guess the plan worked then, huh...what can I say? I had to trust someone and you were better off not knowing."
"Yeah, well let's see if you're still laughing after you talk to the President, eh, Jack?"
"Can you hold the fort a bit longer?"
"Sure, do what you need to do, just let me know where the hell you are this time!"
"I'll do that. Thanks, Alan."
Jack stared at the phone for a couple of minutes before dialing again, thinking this might be a bit unpleasant and as the phone rang into the inner offices of the President, Jack O'Neill was the perfect mixture of military respect and charm.
"Jack! Dammit! Where the hell..."
"Good evening, Sir."
"Do you know what time is it, Jack? And it seems your days are a bit longer than mine, by the way! I expected you back here over a week ago!"
"I'm sorry, Sir there was a bit of a snag. I'm just calling to let you know that the target has been eliminated. The wolf is gone, Sir and the shepherds are safe in the arms of a formidable archangel."
"Did you say archangel?"
There was a long silence as the President absorbed his words. He knew the man was working out exactly where he was and how he got there but it didn't matter. He wasn't yelling anymore and that was the main thing.
"One injured but no enemy fire."
"That's good to hear, Jack but we still have this little issue of disobeying orders and then going missing for what...a week or so?"
"I truly am sorry, Sir, but it couldn't be avoided."
"Yes...I'm most interested to hear what kept you! Jack, did I ever tell you that you are the most exasperating..."
"You did, Sir."
"All right, I get it, no arguments, no explanations. Sat phone?"
"Yes, Sir. There is still one concern that needs exploring but I can't address that at the moment."
"When are you due back then? I want a full briefing."
"Well, that's just it, Sir. I need to delay that briefing for a bit, with your permission, of course."
"No, Jack, absolutely not! Get your butt on a plane! You seem to be skilled at commandeering my aircraft and whatever else you need so get back here now! I want you in my office first thing in the morning! And don't you dare disappear again, General or you'll be shoveling sidewalks in Alaska for the remainder of your career!"
"No, Sir. Wouldn't think of it, Sir. No disappearing."
Jack grimaced at the angry tone in his boss's voice and the disappointment was easily discernible in his own. The line was quiet for a few seconds as both men gathered themselves into a calm demeanor.
"Sir, I've received a message that Colonel Carter has been wounded and is in undetermined condition. I'm requesting permission to divert to Cheyenne Mountain before returning to Washington. I can file a secure report from there, Sir."
There was another long pause and when the President spoke again, his angry voice had softened with concern.
"What's happened to Colonel Carter, Jack? I haven't received any urgent reports."
"I don't have all the details, Sir. She was exposed to some sort of poison and they've been unable to find the antidote. She's in the Cheyenne infirmary, Sir."
There was a silence as the President considered Jack's request. He'd known these two for many years, first through George Hammond and then personally as their many adventures filtered across his desk.
A long sigh escaped into the phone just before the President spoke.
"All right, I suppose I can't deny that request. You did after all do what I asked and you've more than paid your dues. Just get that report filed as soon as possible. I don't like being in the dark, General."
"As soon as humanly possible, Sir and thank you."
"Give my best to Colonel Carter. I hope she's all right by the time you get there."
"Thank you, Sir. So do I."
Jack pulled the phone free and stuffed it haphazardly into his pocket. Then he moved quickly towards the door. In a second he was hurrying down the hallway, eating up the distance in long strides as he jogged back towards the bridge and the Captain's office. Commandeering a plane here would be a bit tough unless he could snag one right off the deck but it would be much easier with the Captain's help.
He thought of Sam as he moved, anxiety building in his chest like a wild storm on the ocean, his muscles tensing along his broad shoulders and his blood tracing a fiery path through his body that left his skin hot and tingling.
He needed transport and he needed it as soon as possible. It was readily available on board this carrier and he saw no reason for the captain to deny his request. And that's all it would be a request, he wouldn't use his rank or station unless it was a last resort. He preferred to gain the captain's cooperation and had every confidence in getting just that as he spilled out his request in nearly frantic, intense words. He answered the few questions thrown at him as vaguely as possible and filled in the missing data on Chavez. The captain finally agreed and had already sent for Jones to escort Jack back to the flight deck when he rose from his chair.
"You know, Colonel, I have this nagging suspicion that if I were to call the Pentagon and ask for a certain Colonel Nelson...they'd probably tell me that you don't exist."
"That's possible, Captain."
"Yes...I suspected as much and yet you expect me to believe that it is vital for you to return to Washington tonight."
"Not Washington, Sir, MacDill will be fine. I can get my own transport from there."
"Yes...I suppose you can. Well, perhaps one day you'll look me up and tell me what the hell this was all about...until then, Godspeed Colonel."
The captain reached out a hand towards Jack and he moved to clasp it in his own, shaking it solidly.
"There's one more thing, Captain."
"Oh? And what might that be?"
"There's a navy pilot on the ground about an hour or two south of where you picked us up. He's waiting for me actually so if you could...maybe send someone over there to tell him we're..."
"I understand, Colonel."
"He'll need to land and refuel before he returns to the Gulf."
"He should have plenty of fuel for the Gulf, Colonel."
"No, Sir, not that Gulf...this one's on the other side of the Atlantic."
The captain's eyes grew wide in surprise as the words sank in and he shook his head slowly as he studied Jack.
"Well, you certainly get around, Colonel. We'll recall the pilot and provide whatever assistance he needs. What's his name?"
"And his ship?"
"I'm afraid you've got me there, Sir. But they'll be looking for him so if you'd..."
"Is that it, Colonel? Sure there isn't anyone you've forgotten. No submarine captains or high-level bombers waiting for your command?"
The captain's tone had changed to one of disbelief and aggravation but Jack merely smiled and shook his head gently as he answered.
"No, Sir. That's it. And thank you again, Sir."
"Out the door and to the right, Colonel. You'll meet Jones on the way."
"Thank you, Sir."
Jack turned away and had disappeared into the gray hallway before the Captain could speak again. He was satisfied that this man would retrieve the pilot and get Chavez home as soon as he was able but made a mental note to check on both once he was back in Colorado.
He met up with Jones and followed him to the deck where a jet was ready and waiting. He climbed into the backseat and pulled on the helmet, settling the shield over his eyes and pulling the safety harness snug around him. Then he rested his hands lightly on his knees and waited as the pilot secured clearance for takeoff. The lights from the instrument panels glinted against the ring on his left hand and as his eye registered the tiny spark of light his mind traveled instantly across the miles to Sam.
Having a wealth of memories to draw on, Jack could easily picture her in the infirmary. She'd been there too many times before but in the past he'd always been there, too, sitting beside her bed or checking on her at all hours of the day or night. This time was different. The physical distance mixed with the factor of the "unknown" adding new concerns and complications for him. For the first time he allowed his mind to consider all the possibilities, looking at each one with as little emotion as possible. With so little information available, his mind painted a very dark prognosis creating the worst possible scenario he could imagine. He had no idea what he would find when he arrived or what to do for that matter. His instinct was to wrap her in his arms and never let go but Daniel had indicated that she didn't remember their marriage so that was probably a very bad idea. He smiled briefly as he imagined Sam's response to any open show of affection but it faded quickly as fear gripped his heart at the final scenario that snapped into his mind.
In this scenario Sam wasn't waiting in the infirmary when he arrived. Or in her lab. Or even at home. No, this was the one that stole his very breath and froze the heart now beating wildly in his chest. This was the fabric of nightmares; of fear pushed consciously away into the deep recesses of his being. That horrible, unthinkable alternative where he didn't arrive in time to save her; where the hero of the story failed miserably and the damsel suffered the fatal consequence. A violent shiver ran through his soul and he pushed that thought forcibly from his mind before pulling her smiling face from memory and speaking clearly into the microphone.
"Let's go, Lieutenant! Get this bird in the air!"
Jack rested his head against the seat a fraction of a second before he felt the g-forces tug violently at his body as they were catapulted off the deck of the carrier and the pilot initiated a steep climb which sent them streaking upwards into the night sky. Jack listened to the comforting sounds of flight as they rushed around him in the darkness, his hands slightly restless at the absence of controls.
"Relax and enjoy the ride, Sir. We've got nothing but excellent weather and a clear flight path ahead of us."
Jack pushed back his worry and disturbing thoughts, reaching into his easy-going, cocky military persona to hide his concerns.
"So...no coffee or cute flight attendants, Lieutenant?"
A rich, warm chuckle played back through his headset and then the pilot drawled out his response in a calm, well-practiced voice.
"I'm afraid not, Sir, a bit short on room this flight."
Again the light-hearted chuckle as Jack stared into the darkness.
"But what we lack in room, we'll make up in speed. The Captain tells me you're in a hurry to get home."
"Yes, yes I am."
"Well, I'll have you on the deck at MacDill in no time, Sir."
Jack's voice lost its humorous nature as a sincere appreciation crept into his tone.
"That would be most appreciated."
"Not a problem, Sir. Feel free to catch a few winks and I'll wake you on final approach."
"Thank you, Lieutenant."
Jack again leaned his head against the seat, relaxing his body as much as possible into the familiar setting of the cockpit and then turned his head slightly to stare into the night. Unable to differentiate between the dark sky and the dark sea, he closed his eyes and imagined Sam beside him as he drifted slowly into welcome sleep.
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