Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado — 1994
In some ways, this ornately-carved hunk of stone had been her life’s work, or at least her life had revolved around it. And still she didn’t understand it, couldn’t figure out where it came from or how to make it work.
Catherine had seen the films when the Pentagon finally released them, grainy black and white footage of her father’s attempt to harness and control whatever power it was this artifact possessed, but still she wasn’t sure she was any nearer to making it work. They’d tried repeating the symbols on the film, matching them carefully after long hours of deciphering the sequence, only to discover that their system wouldn’t allow it. Nothing worked.
She’d even tried recruiting another scientist, one labeled as a temperamental genius in his own field, thinking there was something flawed in the translations that had been done back in the 1940’s. Even though Dr. Robert Rothman had jumped at the chance of joining the project, without giving his decision a second thought as he’d stood in the rain outside an empty lecture hall with nowhere else to go, he’d yet to figure out what was wrong. He was adamant the translations were correct, after all, so there was little room for maneuver.
Something clearly was wrong, though, otherwise they’d have made this "door to heaven," this "Stargate" as Robert called it, work by now, but there was no indication of what that something was.
Like so many times before, Catherine found herself staring down at the artifact, almost mesmerized by the lights as they prismed from the red crystals that adorned it. A snuffling breath by her side told her she wasn’t alone in her contemplations.
"Any inspirational thoughts, Dr. Langford?" Rothman asked, with a smile, as he wiped his nose.
Despite her best efforts to stay professional about it all, despite the annoying adenoid problems that he kept putting off surgery for, Catherine had found herself liking the man. He reminded her of someone, someone she’d known long ago, someone she hadn’t forgotten despite the passing of years.
A noise interrupted her thoughts, a noise that came from the room she’d been observing. Catherine turned to the man seated at the computer controls.
"Did we authorize a test?" she asked, as the familiar sound of the chevrons engaging traveled to where they stood. Catherine glanced back at the artifact—two of the crystals had lit now and the internal ring of the device itself was spinning towards a third lock.
"Who says it’s us?" he replied, shrugging.
Catherine turned back to watch, Rothman silent at her side, as the chevrons engaged then an almighty wave of something blue swept into the room below. She’d only seen the black and white footage, had never realized the sheer majesty of the artifact in action.
"Is it stable?" she asked, without taking her eyes from the scene playing out below her.
"Looks like it."
The eruption of blue had settled now, leaving a shimmering pool of light that hung suspended inside the inner ring of the artifact itself. Ripples of light wavered across its surface, and then broke as something began to emerge.
"Hold your fire!" That was General West’s voice from the floor of the room below, years of command keeping his airmen alert but calm. Catherine’s hands gripped the concrete edge of the observation window and she found herself leaning forward, watching the surface break and reform, trying to focus on what, or more precisely "who," had emerged. "Identify yourselves!"
Two men stood at the top of the ramp leading to the artifact, two men in long pale robes backlit by the wavering light of the artifact’s creation.
"My name is Dr. Daniel Jackson," the slighter of the two men said, hands reaching up as he pushed back a hood that had formerly hidden his face from sight. "And this," he said, nodding towards his taller, more solidly-built companion, "is Teal’c."
He smiled at his companion then, a smile that sent shockwaves of memory through Catherine, taking her back almost fifty years in a heartbeat.
"Should I mention that we come in peace?"
Catherine was halfway down the stairs from the control room almost before she realized she’d moved. It was only as she entered the artifact room that she tried to catch her breath, conscious of Rothman’s steadying presence at her heels. If only Ernest had lived to see this moment—he’d always been so fond of Daniel, always spoken kindly of him.
Daniel turned slightly at her voice, taking an inadvertent step forward before the stuttered movement of the airmen raising their weapons slightly made him halt. He smiled sheepishly and shrugged, the light glinting from the amulet he wore as a slight movement of his body made it swing free from his robes.
"Please, General," she said, crossing to where West stood and resting a hand on his arm. "I assure you Dr. Jackson means us no harm. Please ask your men to lower their weapons so I can greet an old friend properly."
West looked at her for a moment, as if gauging the genuineness of her words, then looked at the newcomers once more. Finally, after a moment, he nodded.
"Daniel," Catherine said, rushing to meet him at the foot of the ramp and smiling as Daniel swept her into an embrace. "It’s so good to see you!"
"You too." Daniel held her at arms length for a moment, his bright blue gaze as sharp as ever as he examined her. "You’ve aged well," he said finally. "Better than I have, anyway."
Catherine laughed, Daniel’s words taking years off her.
"You don’t look so bad," she said. "But please, introduce me to your friend."
"Teal’c," Daniel said, beckoning the stranger forward. "Catherine, this is Teal’c, an old friend of mine. Teal’c, this is Catherine Langford."
"It was she who gave you the Eye of Horus." Teal’c’s voice was sonorous, but tinged with humor and interest.
"It was," Catherine said. "And I’m glad to see you wear it in good health, Daniel. But you got something wrong—it’s Catherine Littlefield, not Langford. It hasn’t been Langford for a very long time."
Daniel smiled again.
"I’m glad you found the happiness you deserved," he said, capturing Catherine’s hand and sweeping it to his lips to kiss it playfully. "Is Ernest here?"
"No, Daniel," Catherine said. "Ernest died three years ago."
"I’m so sorry." Daniel squeezed her hand, the light of shared pain bright in his gaze. "I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about."
Catherine felt her face fall a little—Daniel had seemed so happy, so like his old self or happier even than she’d ever seen him, that it was hard to believe he’d ever experienced loss.
"Tell me you haven’t been alone all this time, Daniel."
It was the worst thing she could think of—her own life with Ernest had been so happy she hated to think that Daniel hadn’t experienced the same kind of happiness in his own life. She’d always wondered where he was, why he’d left so suddenly, and it was only when the film of the "door to heaven" in action had been released by the Pentagon that she’d begun to figure out just what had happened on her father’s project that fateful day. And what it had led to.
She’d seen Colonel O’Neill, who she vaguely remembered from occasional meetings, step through the Stargate only for the wormhole to disengage behind him, severing the rope that tied him to this side. It had taken a while to figure out how closely the colonel’s departure and Daniel’s own disappearance had coincided, and what that might mean.
"No, Catherine," Daniel said.
He hadn’t let go of her hand, as if he needed it to anchor himself to this new reality. In some ways it felt as though they’d never been apart, as if the almost fifty years that separated them from their most recent encounter had been the blink of an eye.
"Daniel Jackson is very much a part of everything on Chulak," Teal’c said, almost as Catherine was beginning to forget he could speak. Out of the corner of her eye she could swear she saw him smile fractionally, even if it was just a glint of humor in his dark expressive eyes.
"Chulak?" That was Rothman, whose presence Catherine had almost forgotten about.
"My home," Teal’c said gravely, turning his attention to Rothman. "Once a part of the realm of Lord Apophis, and now home to the free Jaffa."
There was movement behind them then, the surface of the strange water effect rippling once more as another person emerged onto the ramp, dressed in a robe similar to the one Daniel wore.
"Am I late?"
"Jack," Daniel chided. "You know you are."
Daniel had dropped her hand, turning to meet the newcomer and taking a couple of steps toward him, the tone of his voice as casual as if they were meeting by chance rather than at the foot of a metal ramp in a heavily-guarded USAF establishment.
"Jack?" Catherine echoed, when the name sunk in. The newcomer came down the ramp to where they stood, pushing back the hood of his robe as he did so. "Colonel O’Neill?"
"Jack, you remember Catherine?"
Jack smiled as he held out his hand to her and Catherine was struck by the differences in him—there was little to remind her of the uptight Army Air Force colonel she’d last seen almost fifty years earlier. His hair was almost totally white now, his face and eyes alive with a humor that had only been hinted at when they had worked together. He’d aged well too.
Jack reached where Daniel stood, tried not to look like they were more than friends, but there was something about the way he looked at Daniel that gave the game away completely. Ernest had looked at her like that, when he thought he wasn’t being observed, like the sun rose and set with her—it had annoyed and pleased her in equal parts, but whatever her feelings about it, that expression was unmistakable to anyone who’d ever seen it.
Even if she hadn't put two and two together so long ago, Catherine thought she would have guessed there was something going on between these two long-lost friends. Teal’c had obviously been primed for the occasion, instructed that Jack and Daniel’s relationship might not be accepted here, and was acting accordingly.
In the spirit of "don’t ask, don’t tell" she knew the USAF worked within, Catherine was determined that their secret was safe with her.
The three of them followed her up to the briefing room, trailing up the circular metal staircase behind her, Jack and Daniel still bickering a little over Jack’s sense of time-keeping.
They took their seats at the long table, General West at its head, the three visitors arrayed along one side, Catherine and Rothman on the other.
"We’ve been trying to dial home all this time," Jack said. "But we couldn’t ever get through, at least until this time round."
"I guess it was because the Stargate was in storage," Daniel said, interrupting.
Jack nodded, Daniel’s interrupting him clearly something he was accustomed to.
"But now we’re here, General," he continued, his eyes still on General West. "And we’ve got a lot to talk about. The universe is a far bigger place than we’d ever imagined and that doo-hickey there," he said, cocking a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the embarkation room, "will take you most anywhere you want to go."
"Anywhere?" That was Rothman, eyes bright with the possibility of a thousand different planets. Jack smiled.
"Anywhere," he said. "Not all good, some downright bad, but we made a lot of friends along the way and we look forward to introducing them to the people of the Tauri."
"The Tauri?" Rothman echoed, and then sneezed suddenly, before fumbling for a handkerchief.
"Gesundheit," Jack said. "Daniel? Would you like to explain what we discovered?"
Daniel smiled, nodded, and then folded his hands together on the briefing room table as if settling in to give a long lecture. Catherine settled back into her seat, recognizing that gesture for what it was from the memories of a long time ago—warning that the Jackson bandwagon was about to roll.
"My pleasure," Daniel began, smiling at Catherine as he did so. "But I warn you, this could take some time …"