The MALP rolled up the metal ramp toward the Stargate and paused an inch from the shimmering event horizon. Sam glanced behind her to the general, who was standing by her with the rest SG-1. He gave her an affirmative nod to go ahead and she moved the clunky reconnaissance vehicle forward again.
The computers followed the MALP as it was almost instantaneously transported the hundreds of light years across the galaxy. Jack made eye contact with Daniel across the room. They had a silent bet as to whether the planet would place itself in the desert or forest category. The room itself seemed to hold its breath in anticipation of the signals from the MALP’s various instruments.
The computer signaled that the vehicle had reached its destination, but still every meter on the monitors remained blank. The camera showed no images, and the indicators for air quality and radiation didn’t move a fraction. A hand landed on Sam’s shoulder; the general’s unvoiced inquiry as to what was going on.
“I don’t know, sir,” she mumbled and tapped a few keys to adjust the instruments on the MALP. There was no visible reaction on the monitors. She tried a different modification but with no more success.
A technician standing to her right let out a sharp gasp. Sam looked up and saw the young woman pointing fervently out into the gate-room at the Stargate. The major, and everyone else in the room, followed the technician’s gaze. The puddle shook and rippled like a pool of water shaken by the first tremors of an earthquake. For a moment a dozen eyes stared at it, unable to make sense of the ‘gate’s aberrant behavior. Then the control room and gate-room alike erupted in activity when the puddle gave a last violent heave and spewed out the MALP. The guards in the gate-room removed the safeties from their weapons with a series of clicks, but the wormhole disengaged before they had even gotten into position.
Sam jumped up and rushed down the stairs to the gate-room, followed by General Hammond and the rest of SG-1. She approached the MALP carefully, hesitantly scanning it for anything amiss. Nothing seemed out of order – except for the fact that it had just returned through an outgoing wormhole, something she’d thought was impossible. Siler and a couple of other scientists entered suited up in full hazmat gear and carrying an array of different measuring tools to scan the MALP for any invisible alien substances or radiation.
Jack circled around the hubbub, his eyes flitting back and forth between the ‘gate and the MALP. He scrunched his face up in thought, then called to Sam:
“Am I mistaken, Carter, or haven’t you always said matter can’t go both ways through a wormhole?”
“Yes, sir. Everything we know about physics and the Stargate technology says it can’t.”
“Then how did the MALP just go through the ‘gate and then come back again without redialing from the other side?”
Sam shook her head. She may be the singular expert on the Stargate, but this was beyond anything they had ever encountered before. It contradicted her very understanding of the technology.
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know how it did that. I’ll have to run a diagnostic, maybe it was some sort of malfunction. We did return to our point of departure that time when we time-travelled because of the solar flare, it could be something similar to that.”
The hazmat herd fished their inspection and Siler shooed them back to their labs before he reported to the general.
“It’s clean, sir.”
Hammond, who had been listening to Jack’s and Sam’s exchange, waved him off with an acknowledging nod.
“Run those tests, Major,” he said to Sam. “I want a report on my desk by 1800 hours. We’ll reevaluate exploration of the planet depending on what you find.”
Sam hurried up to the control room and retook her seat at the main monitor. She pulled up the readings from the dialup and began studying the data. On first glance nothing stood out, so with a disappointed sigh she turned to applying the diagnostics program. It often detected discrepancies that her human eyes could not perceive, but it took more time to process the information as it took every minute variable into account in the analysis.
Leaning back and stretching her by tension and excitement stiffened back, she spotted Daniel by her side. Teal'c was also there, true to his role as the wheelchair bound archaeologist’s discrete shadow. Almost like a body guard, Sam thought with warmth.
When she first met Teal'c he had intrigued her with his silent mysteriousness. Over the years she had learned that the stoic exterior that some perceived as hard, hid a warm and tender heart that beat especially for the few privileged to consider him their friend. Like Daniel. As with most everyone Daniel had had an effect on the big Jaffa, endearing himself to that tender heart to the point where Teal'c referred to him as his heart brother. Sometimes Sam wondered if two of them realized what an odd couple of friends they were. Then again, SG-1 is an odd team. However, as odd as they were, the team worked, and through all they had shared they had all become the closest of friends.
“How’s it going?”
Daniel’s question interrupted her thoughts. She followed his gesture to the computer with her eyes and shrugged.
“I couldn’t find anything at first glance so I’m running a proper diagnostic. It’ll be a few hours before it’s done.”
“Do you want me to wait with you?”
Sam smiled her thanks and they both settled in for the computer geek version of watching paint dry.
Three hours later a loud ping woke them from painfully awkward sleeping positions in their respective chairs. The ping was the diagnostic program’s signal that the analysis of the Stargate operations was finished. Sam sat up with eagerness, and a loud groan of pain, to scan the results on the monitor. All of them were normal, save one. She hurriedly printed out the readings and was already on her way up to the general’s office when she realized two things. One, Daniel was looking at her with an inquiring and slightly longing expression on his face that told her he was insufferably curious about what the diagnostic had yielded. Two, it could only be around lunch and the general hadn’t asked her to have any results for him until the evening.
She halted with her foot on the first step of the stairs and spun on her heel. Equally excitedly as she had been about to hurry upstairs, she hurried back to Daniel to show him her findings. The next five hours they spent scouring the readings and discussing every thinkable interpretation of the discrepancy. Finally, just before six o’clock, Sam scaled the stairs and knocked on General Hammond’s door. He waved her into the briefing room, where the rest of SG-1 was already assembled.
“There was an odd reading when the MALP returned,” Sam opened. “I thought it was a bit familiar, and then Daniel helped me figure out where I’d seen it before. The same thing showed up when we were pinged yesterday. That signal bounced back right after it came through, so perhaps the people on the other side used whatever made the signal bounce to make the MALP do the same.”
“Why would they do that?” the general asked and leaned forward. “Were we wrong to assume that the ‘ping’ was their way of calling for us?”
“Perhaps they want us to come in person?” Daniel speculated, and received a concerned look from Hammond.
“I’m not sure I am comfortable with that idea. The risk is too great with no indications as to what’s on the other side. What if the same thing happens to you as with the MALP, can a human being survive that, Major?”
“We’ve gone in blind plenty of times, sir,” Jack shot in before Sam could answer, and Daniel followed up with a more substantial argument.
“If the people of this planet are really the same as those who used to live on PQX-830 everything we know of them points to a peaceful and welcoming people. Their transportation devices, practically running on belief, and the data base suggest that they have advanced technology. It is not impossible that they may let a living being through even if they sent the MALP back. I really do believe that the ‘ping’ was a call for us to come see them, sir.”
Hammond leaned back and turned his eyes skyward while he considered. The colonel was right; SG-1 had gone in blind plenty of times, both with and without his approval. Dr. Jackson had a point as well. If their assumption that this was the people from PQX-830 was correct everything did point in the direction that Daniel had said. On the other hand, he never liked sending a team in blind. It was a desperate measure he saved for desperate times. This doesn’t really qualify, does it?! On the…third hand?...the data base, and the people who had written it, was possibly a source of knowledge that could be greatly beneficial to Earth. Not able to come to a decision he turned to Sam.
“What do you think, Major? Would it be safe to send a team through?”
“I think the possible benefits outweigh the risks, sir,” Sam ventured. “Despite the MALP returning there’s nothing that points to hostility. Just like Daniel says, the people of PQX-830 seemed to welcome visitors. There’s also no indications that what happened to the MALP would be harmful to a human being, if we don’t get through. It was reintegrated back here just like it would have been on arrival on another planet.”
The general turned to Jack. Just one final issue to settle.
“Colonel, if I authorize this mission, will I be able to be sending SG-1?”
Jack nod was stilted, clearly conveying that he wasn’t entirely happy with the decision he had made. It was after all only on Daniel’s insistence that he was agreeing. The general dismissed them, and went to go find out an appropriate window for their mission in the Stargate-schedule. The more SG-teams that had been formed, the more complicated it had become to plan their departures, returns and check-ins through the ‘gate.