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Sounding Taps
by Maj. Cliffhanger
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'Killed in Action'...

Jennifer closed her eyes and dropped her forehead to rest against her locker door, swallowing the taste of bile in the back of her throat as her CO's quiet words echoed in her mind. Lt. Col. James had been kind enough to give her the news in private, knowing that she and Elliott had gone through the SGCs new training trials together.

It seemed like just yesterday, not two weeks ago... Two weeks. Such a short time when you thought about it. She'd been the inside plant for the final test they always did, the foothold scenario where the training was supposed to 'get real'.

He'd almost figured it out.

She'd found out later they'd been afraid he was suspicious after Col. O'Neill pulled them back from the gate room. Of course he'd been suspicious! He'd gotten a glance inside. Then there was that faux pax after they found Maj. Carter. They'd gotten back to the lab too early and discovered the colonel releasing one of the SFs. The major had done a good job of covering that one but it was just one more little thing in a series of little things that had plagued the test - so when Elliott had split them all up and sent her to tackle the open wormhole by herself, she'd been tapped to play a second scenario...

The thing was, Jennifer knew, if Elliott had been a good little soldier and done what he was told to do, what he was supposed to do, he still would have passed. They couldn't fault him because they suspected he was suspicious.

But Jennifer had known exactly what he'd do. Feed him just enough 'facts' and he'd go that one step beyond, just like the SGC wanted... He was the perfect candidate for an SG team. And he'd proved it.

Now, two weeks later... he'd proved it again; only this time it was for real, not part of some game designed to test their resolve and commitment. There were no details, only that the rest of SG-17 was dead as well - so it was no accident. And there were no bodies to bury either...

She clenched her teeth and resisted the urge to hit something. Well, controlled it anyway. Her hand hit the cold metal beside her head with a lot less force than it could have. His first off-world mission, damn it! He'd been so proud... She closed her eyes, remembering him telling her. His eyes had been so alive, his fear covered up with that cockiness he liked to don when he was most nervous.


Jennifer jerked herself upright and turned to see Maj. Carter standing at the end of the row of lockers. Damn! She jerked back around and ducked her head. Maybe the major had been too far away to notice the tears. "Sorry, ma'am," she spoke quickly and clearly, knowing it was the bang on her locker door that must have drawn the other woman's attention. "A little trip. I'm fine." She bent down and concentrated on tying her boots. She and her team had been given an hour to shower and change before they were due for debriefing.

The major wasn't buying it. Jennifer closed her eyes again and fought to calm her emotions even as she heard the other woman approach and stop behind her.

"Haley?" There was just a hint of demand in her quiet tone, as well as concern, warning Jennifer that she should know better than to lie to a superior officer.

Jennifer winced and then let herself slump, lifting her hands to wipe at her face. "Lieutenant Elliott, ma'am," she answered simply. The major would know exactly what she meant. SG-1 had been their opponents during the testing. They'd also been the point team for his first mission. With a frown for being slow to remember that the major had been there, she turned to look up at the other woman. "Can you tell me what happened, ma'am?" she asked boldly.

Maj. Carter frowned sharply and glanced away, several different emotions at war on her face - and none of them good. It was a long moment before she answered. "It's classified, Lieutenant." She offered a sad shake of her head.

Jennifer had been expecting that. Elliott had admitted he was looking forward to meeting his first Tok'ra. If they were involved than it was bound to be classified. She turned back to her locker and nodded. "Yes, ma'am," she acknowledged and dropped the subject.

The fact that it was classified wouldn't keep her from finding out. It just meant she'd have to be really careful about how she went digging in the computers... She finished tying her boot and stood to retrieve her field jacket.

The major was still standing behind her.

"Ma'am?" she asked, glancing back over her shoulder. She was fairly sure her eyes and face were dry this time.

The major offered her a pensive frown, then came to some sort of decision. "Meet me in my lab in thirty minutes, Lieutenant," she ordered simply and turned away.

"Ma'am!" she called after her. "Sorry, ma'am, I have a debriefing in ten minutes. I doubt I'll be done by then."

The major glanced back over her shoulder and the two exchanged speaking looks. "Whenever you're done, Lieutenant," she answered quietly with a nod. "I'll be waiting."

"Yes, ma'am." Jennifer nodded in turn and swiveled back around to face her locker. Apparently she wasn't going to have to go digging after all...

Two hours later, Jennifer Haley found herself knocking on the frame of the open door to Major Carter's lab. As she'd promised, the major was still there and glanced up from her work. "Lieutenant," she nodded. "Close the door behind you."

Jennifer entered and shut the door without a word, then brought herself back to attention.

"At ease, Lieutenant," the major sighed and waved her to a tall stool a few feet from the one she occupied. "Have a seat."

"Ma'am," Jennifer said by way of thanks as she took the indicated seat.

"I don't bite, Haley," the major sighed, then awarded her a mild frown, however it wasn't a look of irritation or anger. It was a tired look, a look of bone deep weariness, not physical, but emotional - a look that said she'd seen too much death lately and would never get used to it. "What have you been told?" she asked simply.

"Only that Major Mansfield, Lieutenant Elliot and the rest of SG-17 were killed in action when something happened on your last mission with them, ma'am," she answered clearly. "Beyond that I only have speculation."

"Speculation?" the major asked with a lifted brow.

"It was no secret that SG-17 was scheduled to go through some kind of orientation with the Tok'ra," she answered. "Elliot was quite excited about it. I assume you all gated to one of their secret bases and that the Goa'uld attacked while you were there."

Maj. Carter glanced down and offered the desk a wry smile. "Have you ever been told you're too smart for your own good, Lieutenant?"

"But there's more to it than that, isn't there." It wasn't a question. Jennifer leaned forward and rested an arm on the desk. "SG-1 wasn't there for a simple orientation."

The major glanced up in surprise."SG-1's mission was completely separate from that of SG-17," she told the lieutenant firmly, "and is off-limits here. Understood?"

Haley straightened back on her stool and frowned in surprise. "Yes, ma'am," she answered smartly.

Major Carter sighed and ran a hand through her hair, obviously regretting snapping at the subordinate officer but offering no apology either. "Look, Haley," she said more gently. "There's not a whole lot I can tell you. I know you and Lieutenant Elliot were friends, but I'm not going to break protocol here, okay? I'll tell you the same thing that his family will be told: that he died a hero. If it weren't for him, we all would have died. I'll also tell you that Colonel O'Neill is putting him in for the Medal of Honor - but that fact doesn't leave this room."

Haley blinked in surprise.

"He earned it," the major assured her firmly, then sighed again and glanced down at her desk. "He knowingly and unflinchingly sacrificed himself to save us... Unfortunately, because his actions and death occurred in a war against an enemy that the present administration cannot acknowledge and that the American people know nothing about, the recommendation and all accompanying documents will be classified top secret and filed away. Only when the Stargate Program and everything we're doing here becomes public knowledge, will those files be opened and the world be made aware of exactly what Lieutenant Elliot did." She glanced back up at Haley. "Until then, I'm afraid you'll have to be satisfied with knowing he didn't die in vain. There's nothing else I can tell you."

Haley nodded and glanced down, finding herself close to tears again but fighting them back until she could shed them in private. After a long moment she glanced back up and caught the major's eyes. "Thank you, ma'am," she said quietly.

Sam nodded and then cocked her head to the side, awarding the other young woman a knowing smile. "Now promise me you won't go digging in the computers for the details. They won't be there."

Jennifer found herself returning that smile. Major Carter knew her too well. "Yes, ma'am," she agreed. "I mean, I promise. I do have questions but... I'm just glad to know he didn't die in vain. He would have hated that."

Major Carter nodded and rested her hand on the other woman's shoulder in shared understanding.

The End

Notes: 1.) The Title - Though originally just a variation of the military signal for 'lights out' at the end of day, 'Taps' is now better known as the hauntingly beautiful bugle call sounded over US soldiers graves and is an official part of a full military honors funeral. You can hear it played for Daniel in Fire and Water.
2.) The Medal of Honor is presented by the President, on behalf of Congress, to a person who, while a member of the military, distinguishes themselves by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their life above and beyond the call of duty [...] The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so remarkable as to clearly distinguish the individual above their comrades and must have involved risk of life. Incontestable proof is required and each recommendation is evaluated on the standard of extraordinary merit. (The closest civilian equivalent is the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction) Because this medal is awarded at the direction of Congress, and because the specifics of the citation are read into the Congressional Record, it is very public. I do not see how it could be awarded to any SGC personnel without full disclosure of the Stargate Program.