[ Chapter 1: Escape | Chapter 2: Stranded | Chapter 3: Where are we? | Chapter 4: Discoveries | Chapter 5: Finding Shelter | Chapter 6: Daily Life | Chapter 7: Strange Discoveries | Chapter 8: An Unpleasant Surprise | Chapter 9: Developments | Chapter 10: An Attack With Long-lasting Consequences | Chapter 11: Myth and Reality | Chapter 12: Breaking and Entering | Chapter 13: Rest and Results | Chapter 14: A Meeting | Chapter 15: Captives | Chapter 16: Revelations | Chapter 17: Some Explanations - and an Alliance | Chapter 18: Some Information | Chapter 19: A Dangerous Mission | Chapter 20: Prisoners | Chapter 21: A Fight - and an Escape | Chapter 22: Guests | Chapter 23: A Motel | Chapter 24: Next Day - and Travel | Chapter 25: A Pleasant Night, Followed by an Unpleasant Morning | Chapter 26: Meeting Ba'al | Chapter 27: Escape - and a Confrontation | Chapter 28: A Surprising Turn of Events | Chapter 29: Some Measure of Success ]

After the dinner, SG-1, Martouf/Lantash, and Jacob/Selmak took the offered blankets and went out into the barn. It turned out to be much nicer than expected.

The building was fairly well insulated, there was a lot of hay to sleep in, and there was some old wooden furniture, which was used outside during the summer months. They even had access to a small bathroom, which the fruit farmer had installed there for convenience.

Since the farmer and his wife had insisted their guests did not begin working until after Christmas, SG-1, Martouf/Lantash, and Jacob/Selmak took the opportunity to relax after the past several days hardship. None of them had gotten much sleep recently, so this was a welcome opportunity to catch up on that.

"So, what do we do now?" Daniel asked, when they had all found a comfortable place to sleep in the hay.

"We stay here for a week, do the work, and hopefully earn enough to get us to Colorado Springs so we can check out what's going on," Jacob said.

"Sounds like a plan." O'Neill yawned. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I am going to sleep."

"I have already finished my kel'no'reem, so I shall be keeping guard while the rest of you sleep," Teal'c said.

"I don't think that's necessary - we're perfectly safe here, aren't we?" Daniel wondered.

"Probably," Sam agreed sleepily.

Martouf nodded. "That is my assessment as well, however, this is not my world, so I may be mistaken."

"We'll be fine," O'Neill said. He yawned again. "Goodnight kids... you too, Jacob." He turned over on his side and fell asleep.

"Samantha?" Martouf said, walking up to where Sam was standing, looking out the dusty window at the orchard outside.

It was mid afternoon, Christmas Day, and they had spent most of the day in the barn, playing cards. Sam had excused herself about half an hour ago, and the others had continued playing.

"Game's over?" Sam asked, turning her head to look at him.

He shook his head. "No, but I'm out of it again. This 'poker' is clearly not as easy as I thought."

Sam laughed. "You need to practise. I think the Colonel has played it a lot. So have I - and my dad. Actually, I'm surprised he hasn't tried teaching it to you."

"He has mentioned it, but we hadn't gotten around to it yet. Regretfully."

"The Colonel is teasing you about losing?"

"Hmph." Martouf made a noncommittal sound.

Sam grinned, then decided to let him off the hook. She sighed and looked out the window again. She wondered for the umpteenth time what was going on at Stargate Command, how her friends and family were doing - and how much of what had happened would have gone different if she and the others had not travelled through time. She needed to clear her head of those thoughts. "Listen, the weather outside is nice - for the season, at least. Would you like to take a walk?"

Martouf smiled. "Yes, I would enjoy that very much."

They had walked for some time, mostly in silence, when Martouf turned towards Sam. "Samantha... is something troubling you?"

Sam did not answer at first, but eventually she nodded. "Yes... this..." She waved her hands noncommittally, indicating the place, time, everything. "What's happened during the years we... skipped? What's going on at Stargate Command? Why is everyone being reassigned or let go? Anyone we knew or worked with - they all seems to have left. In one way or another. And why doesn't Earth have any contact with the Tok'ra anymore?" She shook her head. "I have a really bad feeling about it all."

"It is not my world, and I do not know how your organization works, other than what I have learned from Jacob. However, I do agree that it sounds... strange. Do you have any theories?"

"No... no, it's nothing concrete. It's just weird. Even if Hammond is dead, and the new guy changed stuff around, then everyone wouldn't be gone. It's as if... no, that doesn't make any sense. Forget about it."

"Easily, as you have not told me what it is I should forget," Martouf said. They walked for a little longer, then he took her arm, stopping her. "Samantha..."

She turned to him. "Yes." She sighed. "What I was thinking... it sounded more like a conspiracy theory than something I would usually say."

"A conspiracy theory?" Martouf wondered.

"It's... well, it's an Earth thing, I guess. When there's something people don't know the answer to, or when they think they haven't been told the whole story - or when what they've been told doesn't make sense to them, or they don't understand the explanation - then they'll try to think up an explanation that they feel do make sense."


"Yeah, well. Problem is, many of these conspiracy theories are more than a little nutty - and there's apparently lots of people out there who's willing to believe them." She rolled her eyes.

"What is 'nutty'?"

"Crazy. Insane. I mean, some of the ideas isn't too far fetched, but there's some that are really far out. Fortunately, there's fewer people who believe in those."

"I am curious, what would be examples of these 'conspiracy theories'?"

"All sorts of things. You name it, someone's probably believing it! For instances, there's those that think the government - or the Air Force - hides knowledge of secret alien technology, or proof of alien life, or even are working with aliens, and hiding the fact."

"I see." Martouf smiled, then bowed his head.

"But that is all true, is it not? It is my understanding that your 'Stargate Project' is kept secret, as is the existence of everyone and everything you have encountered outside of your planet. Is that not correct?" Lantash asked.

"Well, yes, but..." Sam sighed. "Yes, it is, but they don't know that. There's also a lot of people who think some aliens they call 'Roswell Greys' are abducting people and performing experiments on them..." She groaned. "Okay, now I think about it, I realize that the descriptions of those aliens sound like they're Asgard, but please don't tell me they're in the habit of snatching humans to perform experiments on them!"

"There have been... incidents, where Asgard scientists have abducted people for their... examinations. Did you not know this? I would assume they have ceased their experiments on people of your world, though. They rarely continue doing so after official meetings with a race. Anymore, at least."

"You're kidding!" Sam stared at him.

"Not at all. The Tok'ra Council negotiated a treaty a number of centuries ago, and the Asgard agreed to refrain from abducting Tok'ra - and they also promised to... limit their experimentations to... less technologically developed races. It is not ideal, but they would not agree to stop entirely. Understandable, I suppose. Their race is slowly dying from problems caused by both the many changes they have deliberately done to their code of life, and their repeated copying of themselves."

"Wow. We knew nothing about all of this!" Sam said, shocked. "You guys have had a lot of dealings with the Asgard?"

"We have had some, though the Asgard rarely visit our Galaxy for long. They are occupied elsewhere. We send them reports on the Goa'uld, and we have a number of treaties with them."

"Now you mention it..." Sam got a distant expression. "The Tok'ra have... an agreement with the Asgard. We..." She shook herself. "The Tok'ra are safe from the Asgard devices, like Thor's Hammer. It recognizes you as friendly, and doesn't touch you. Right?"

"You remember this from Jolinar, of course. Yes, you are quite correct. However, it is not something we speak of, and I would prefer it if... if no one else heard about it."

"Why?" She shook her head. "Of course, it's not something you can risk getting out, especially to the Goa'uld. If nothing else, it would probably cause them to want the... the protected planet's treaties re-negotiated."

Lantash nodded. "Yes, that too." He hesitated, and took her hands between his, looking at her imploring. "Samantha... can I ask you not to tell anyone about that treaty, please?"

"Of course, I promise," Sam said, meaning it.

"Thank you." He smiled at her, squeezing her hands for a moment before letting go. "So... what about that conspiracy theory of yours? Would you like to share it, even if you think it is... 'nutty'?"

Sam sighed, then grinned. "Okay, if you absolutely want to hear it... You know who the NID is?"

"An... organization on your world, who has a... shady branch, which attempted to steal technology from the Tollan and others, with the intention of using it for weapons against the Goa'uld?"

"You got it in one."

"We were warned about them, should those who escaped turn up and attempt to trick us." He got an arrogant expression. "Not that they would have succeeded, of course."

"Mm, well, I was thinking that maybe... somehow, an organization like them, supported by some of our politicians... that they could take over Stargate Command, get everyone who disagreed fired or reassigned, and then use it for their own agenda. That would explain why they seem to have broken off all contact with any of our off world allies."

"Do you think this is possible?" Lantash asked, looking concerned.

Sam hesitated for a moment, then shook her head. "No, not on the scale this looks like, but problem is... I can't find any other explanation that isn't worse."

"Would they cooperate with a Goa'uld, if it gave them power to take over Stargate Command?"

Sam looked at him, surprised. "You know, I said... an explanation which isn't worse. That is worse! You've got some flair for the dramatic, mister!"

Lantash looked at her, not quite understanding her wording, but then smiled, getting the gist of what she meant. "Too unrealistic?"

"You should write conspiracy theories!"

They both laughed, then continued walking, enjoying the afternoon sun.

"Being here... in California, it reminds me of when I've visited my brother Mark and his family for Christmas. The winters are so much warmer than in Colorado," Sam remarked.

They had reached the end of the large orchard, and were slowly walking back towards the barn where they were staying for the next week.

"You brother lives nearby?"

"Well, in a manner of speaking. It's not next door, but it wouldn't take long to get there in a car. He lives in a place called San Diego."

"And you usually visit him during this holiday, Christmas? Correct? Jacob visited them as well for this holiday, about half a year ago. He had much to tell when he returned." Martouf shook his head. "Of course, it is no longer half a year ago, but closer to 12 years ago. His grandchildren are much older now."

"Yeah..." Sam got a wistful expression.

"Forgive me, it must be difficult for you," Martouf said, looking remorseful. "This is a time usually spent with family, and now you are - in effect - stranded here."

"Yes. So close, but in some ways farther away than if I was on another planet." Sam shook her head. "It's okay. I don't normally celebrate holidays much - or spend a lot of time with family and loved ones. I usually end up staying at the base, doing something in my lab." She gave him a wry grin.

"It is commendable that you wish to dedicate your time to your work, but you should permit yourself time to relax as well. Even the Tok'ra do so - when we have the opportunity."

"Now don't you start too!" Sam said, mock angry. "The Colonel and Janet are bad enough!"

"Janet is your healer, correct?" Martouf asked, realizing she was not really angry. "She is your friend?"

"Doctor Janet Fraiser... and yes, she's a friend. A close friend."

"Mm, you should listen to her then. I remember her - she seems to be very... determined." He grinned at her, seeing her roll her eyes. Then he grew serious. "Samantha... you mentioned spending time with your brother and his family, and it pleases me to hear you have a good friend in Doctor Janet Fraiser. As she is apparently now with the Tok'ra, she has not suffered from whatever unfortunate changes has happened at Stargate Command, at least. Your brother and his family were never involved with Stargate Command, so they should also be well. Still, it is hard to know they have thought you were dead for all this time."

"Yeah, well... I just wish I could contact them, but at least they're hopefully okay, as you say." Sam smiled at him, a little bleakly, though she was grateful he understood, and cared.

"12 years is a long time, especially for someone with a human lifespan." He hesitated. "Samantha, I have not thought to ask, and I realize I should have. Do you have other... ah, loved ones that you are missing... A... a mate, perhaps?"

Sam stared at him. "A mate? You're asking me if I'm involved with someone? Like if I have a boyfriend?"

"Um, yes." Martouf looked embarrassed. "I apologize, it is not my place to ask."

She snorted. "When would I have the time to find someone? I spend all my time at the base, surrounded by people I'm not allowed to date! Working with stuff I'm not allowed to tell anyone outside the base about!"

"I see," Martouf said, managing to look both apologetic and pleased at the same time.

Sam calmed down. "Sorry, it's okay. I don't mind you asking. I can see it's a legitimate question. If mean, if I did have someone that got left behind, 12 years ago, then that would certainly have been something that would affect me. At least I don't have that to deal with." She sighed. "To be honest, I don't think any of my team members do either. What about you? No Tok'ra girlfriend?"

"No," Martouf answered.

"I'm sorry. You and Jolinar were together for a long time. I can understand why you wouldn't just... find another immediately."

Martouf nodded, sombrely. "Lantash and I have grieved for her and Rosha. We will always remember them, but while the knowledge that they are dead is still painful, we are now able to focus on the fond memories of them we have."

"That's good." Sam smiled, reaching out and giving his arm a squeeze.

"Yes, and we feel that we are now ready to truly live again, and to love again. Samantha, we have become very fond..." Martouf began.

"Ah, there you are! Hi, guys!"

Martouf/Lantash and Sam turned to see Daniel walking towards them.

"Hi, Daniel," Sam said.

"The farmer's wife... Jane, she says they've got so much food for their Christmas Dinner, that there's more than enough for us. Apparently, she and her sister had miscommunicated, and the sister thought she should bring the turkey! They've also got stuffings and side dishes, and who knows what... enough for three times as many people as they are. Anyway, Jane offers that we can have one of the turkeys, with all the various potatoes and vegetables and gravy that we want. We just need to come and get it in the kitchen."

"Wow, that's really nice of her!" Sam exclaimed.

"I agree. We are most fortunate to have met these people." Martouf smiled.

Chapter 7: Strange Discoveries