Jennifer grew up by a river, by a lake. When she was seven she spent the summer dropping folded messages into the river and waiting for someone to write back. The night after her senior prom she and her date watched the sun rise over the far shore.
She went east for college, med school. The Atlantic was silver-blue and glittering where she saw it. Her roommate swam; Jennifer brought her textbooks on those long weekends and sat on a camp chair watching the color of the sea change from green to brown to violet beneath the silver shine.
When she started working with the air force she was sent to Cheyenne Mountain, buried in the middle of Colorado. They had forests, and dirt. She worked with hazmat gloves covering her skin; she got covered in alien substances, in blood, in worse. She scrubbed herself clean again when she went off-duty in her apartment's tiny shower, staying under the water until it ran ocean-cold over her skin. She fought death, pressed wounds closed, bargained, stitched in quick tiny flashes of a needle, finally begged it. Sometimes the patients—her patients, she claimed them with the salt water of her sweat and the tears she hadn't learned not to shed—lived; sometimes they died. She did her best. Dr. Lam told her she was good.
The first time she saw the Stargate open, like the sea bursting into a silver ring, she almost wept.
Dr. Lam recommended her for Atlantis and Jennifer thought of drowning deeps, of Eliot's chambers of the sea. She thought of shell-wrought cities, of ruins, of the wreck of the Titanic; of age, of beauty, of power. She thought of Plato and the people who'd thought he meant it and been disproved by all the latest science, of a ton of silly sci-fi films—but her life was a silly sci-fi film now—she thought of a land in the ocean, with water everywhere, and all the secrets of the Ancients waiting to be found.
She said, "Please."
The Stargate didn't open for her; she went with the Daedalus (Jennifer thought of the Icarian Sea, Icarus falling, falling into the ocean). She arrived to chaos, the CMO dead, the city grieving. Dr. Biro was rotating back to Earth. The medical staff was torn by guilt; everyone was mourning, fumbling through their day-to-day routine like they'd been thrown onstage without a script.
And suddenly Jennifer had a lab, a division to head, wide-eyed and wondering at it. Atlantis was sea-colored, sleek and spiky, sweet and sterile. She had nobody to count on, but there was a faint tidal hum to the city, and there was medical equipment like she'd never seen. She was alone, in charge, in the middle of another galaxy, and she had no idea how she'd gotten there, but it was terrifying and incredible all at once.
At the end of her first day she went out onto one of the balconies by the control room. The sun was setting, burning a spicy gold color, tinting the buildings copper-rose and almost translucent, making the water blood-dark and glittering. She felt the pull of the tide in her blood, the yearning of it. She could see so far, God, all the way to the horizon, to the edge of the world, and she hung onto the railing to keep from falling into the coral and lavender sky. The air smelled like salt, and she could hear the deep swell of the waves like her heartbeat.
Dr. Weir stepped out onto the balcony beside her carrying two cups and handed one to Jennifer. It smelled a little like lilac. "Fruit juice," Dr. Weir said, when Jennifer looked at her questioningly. "I should bring champagne to a toast, but grapes don't seem to grow in Pegasus." She lifted her cup and Jennifer hesitantly clinked hers against it, more of a click than a chime.
"Welcome to Atlantis," Dr. Weir said, with a smile that didn't reach her exhausted eyes or ease the tension in her stance (Jennifer wanted to prescribe deep-tissue massage, at least a week's rest, but the latter was impossible and there wasn't really time for the former).
Jennifer smiled back, trying to project energy and enthusiasm and optimism, to somehow pass it with her smile through the air. "Thank you," she said. "I'm honored." And she was; she was honored and glad with a fierceness almost like terror.
They stood there together for a while, cradled by the boundless sea, as the stars glimmered slowly out of the deepening sky.