Moved into her freshman dorm room by putting bedding on the bed, some clothes in the closet and dresser, her laptop on the desk. She didn't put any posters on the walls. She didn't tack any photos on the corkboard over the desk. She hadn't brought any stuffed animals. She didn't want it to feel like she lived here. She didn't want to pretend she lived here. She wasn't ready for college and she knew it, but Mom wanted her to go to college and how do you rebel against a ghost? Way to win an argument, Mom. It made Sam happy, too -- or, OK, not happy, Sam was pretty unhappy that whole summer, but when Cassie caved on the college thing it was like Sam thought she had this one thing under control, this one thing going the way she wanted it to go, and that was better than the constant arguments they couldn't really have because Mom wouldn't have wanted them to argue all the time, and at least going off to college got her out of that damn house.
Sam just wasn't really there. Being in the house with Sam was worse than being alone; when Sam was in the house it was all about what they'd lost instead of what was happening now, it was like being happy for a second was a betrayal. Jack stopped coming around and finally she asked and they said it was OK, he hadn't died or anything like that, she shouldn't worry (like that wouldn't just make her worry), but he'd be away for a while and no they couldn't tell her where or why or for how long. She kept trying to make dates to do things with Teal'c and they never worked out; he was always cool about taking her calls but he was a really crummy conversationalist on the phone, and she needed to see him. She'd always thought Daniel understood how she felt better than anyone, since he was orphaned too and then had a pretty good foster home and then lost that too, but even he was kind of distant, as if maybe whatever was bugging Sam was bugging him too. Plus, whenever they did get together he always made sure there was somebody else with him, Sam or some nurse from Mom's staff or some other woman from the base, as if he was afraid it'd look funny if he was alone with her. She got that, she did, and it would be OK, her male teachers were the same way, never closed the office door when they had a conference with you and stuff like that -- except it meant that she really wasn't family (if she were his real niece nobody would get stupid about them hanging out), and it meant she could never talk to him privately about the stuff she really, really needed to talk about, like what a pill Sam was being, and how she used to pretend Jack would marry Mom and be more like a dad than an uncle and how fucked up she knew that was but she just had to say it, just had to tell someone to make it not be just in her head anymore ... but there was never a chance. And she got this feeling that she reminded them all of how Mom was gone. She was like a total human downer for everybody. They smiled when they saw her and for a split second it was real but then their eyes got all hurt. It got to where she just didn't want to be around anybody who ever knew Janet Fraiser at all.
Well, now she was.
She wanted to hate them all, but she knew they were trying, and she knew they'd miss her and they'd be sorry they didn't try harder, and that just made it worse.
She hoped she'd last the year, maybe get some idea of what she wanted to do with her life, maybe do something besides sitting in her expensive single room drawing made-up stuff in her sketchbook or playing chess against herself, but she wasn't putting money on it.
Filled up her gas tank. The bike was brand-new but already coated in road dust; she'd ridden it straight out of the dealership, straight east out of Colorado Springs, and put almost 190 miles behind her before the gauge got scary low. That was fewer miles than she'd budgeted for, which meant she'd miscalculated somewhere, but the maps and mileage tables and spreadsheets were all on the notebook computer in her pack, and when she got to the first youth hostel, she'd fix it, and do better tomorrow.
She didn't know how far she'd get before they caught her and hauled her back. She'd buzzed her hair short and bleached it, she had two different IDs she'd stolen in the spring from girls close enough to her size and age at the city pool and the restaurant where she worked the coat check, she had plenty of cash, and she'd mailed her "I'm OK don't worry about me just let me go I'll be in touch" letters from the Springs right before she left. She knew she was a huge security risk running around loose, and she knew the military would bust its ass to get her back where they could watch her, so she might not have a lot of time. But if she played it smart and kept learning and stayed flexible, she might keep ahead of them just long enough to get her head on straight.
Sam had taught her to ride the bike and helped her get her license; it was like their secret bonding thing that Mom wasn't supposed to know about. Sam had taught her everything she knew about computers, and auto mechanics, and self-defense -- and keeping secrets. Sam had given her all the tools she needed to do exactly what she was doing now. She knew this was a crappy way to repay that. She hoped someday Sam would understand.
Keeping ahead of them for as long as she could was what would get her head on straight. She'd been under their thumbs for long enough to know that they would never let her go if she asked. This was the only way, for her and for them.
She got back on the bike and rode out into the wind and the distance, the taste of freedom on the back of her tongue, and every heartbeat was another mile between her and the hole in the ground she'd come out of, and another mile closer to whatever she was going to find out here.
Reported for Basic at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Janet and Sam and her uncles hadn't wanted her in a military academy -- they'd wanted her to get a civilian degree like Janet and then decide if the military was the right place for her -- and they'd won that argument and she'd gotten into a few state schools, but Janet wasn't around now to make her go, and there was nothing anyone could do about her enlisting.
She'd loved sailing when Janet's family in Charleston introduced her to it, she'd fallen in love with the sea the first time she saw it, and she loved the idea of the sea and OK maybe even romanticized it a little bit, but those weren't the reasons she'd gone to a Navy recruiting center the day she made up her mind for sure.
She went Navy because she'd been landlocked all her life and stuck in Colorado Springs for the past seven years and she wanted to travel and there were a million places to see right on this planet, forget about exploring the stars. She went Navy because it wasn't Air Force and they'd have more trouble pulling strings she couldn't see but it was still military and so the government wouldn't freak because they couldn't keep an eye on her. She went Navy because it wasn't Air Force but that didn't mean she couldn't still wind up back in the Stargate Program someday, if that was where her career took her and what it turned out she wanted to do. According to Sam, spaceships were like aircraft in some ways and like submarines in other ways, and Prometheus had been staffed across branches of service same as the gate teams were. She didn't know yet whether she'd want to learn that much astronomy or whether she'd want to go for Officer Training School if she got the opportunity, but those possibilities were out there, and if they were right, then she'd find her way to them -- and she'd do it on her own, earning her own way, on her own terms.
She went Navy because she wanted to be a navigator, someone who could find her way across the rugged, fragile, complicated surface of the world; she wanted the world to be a place that made sense, a place you could map and understand; she wanted to take bearings and set waypoints; she wanted not to be lost anymore.
Married Dominic in Las Vegas. She hoped that Mom would be happy for her -- she loved Dominic and he loved her and they were really, really happy -- and not too disappointed about the school thing. She knew that was really important to Janet ... but Janet wasn't here anymore, Janet died umpteen bizillion light-years across the galaxy and was buried hundreds of miles away in her family plot in Charleston. She couldn't touch her college money unless she went to college but she thought they could get by for maybe a year on the rest of what Janet left her if they had to and they could always go stay with Gramma Fraiser in Charleston, she'd begged Cassie to go back with her after the funeral and she called almost every day to say "whenever you need us, honey." She could find work at a boatyard, maybe, or around the docks somewhere, and sell her paintings at the art festivals; it could be a good life, if Dominic wanted to go. But Dominic had landed a job in one of the casinos, and she supposed she could see how that worked out first. The main thing was that they were together now, with nobody hassling her about being too young or wasting her life or at least getting her college degree first. She didn't want to go to college. She didn't think that having a baby was wasting her life. She wanted to have a family, and they were starting a family tonight.
Stepped through a Stargate onto another planet for the first time since she was eleven years old.
She was twenty-three. The fall after Mom died she'd entered the Air Force Academy the way they'd agreed. She'd had kind of a hard time her first year, and Sam switched jobs in June so they could spend the summer together in Nevada, and she straightened out and did OK after that, even better than OK, graduated with distinction. But the Academy was in Colorado Springs and SGC finishing school was in Colorado Springs, and except for that summer near Groom Lake and the holidays she spent with Mom's family in Charleston and the blur of military bases during the eighteen intensive months of special-operations training the Stargate Program required for offworld candidates, she hadn't been out of the Springs much. She'd never really left the Springs, not like this, not for good; it had been her home for as long as she'd lived on Earth.
The area around the gate on the destination planet looked like pictures she'd seen of mobile operating bases in foreign countries, tents and Quonset huts and neat stacks of supplies in an orderly kind of chaos, personnel moving about their duties, activity that didn't make sense to her yet but would resolve into patterns soon enough. Some kind of Delta or Gamma site, so classified that the scuttlebutt was only rumors about other people's guesses. Beyond the camp was a forest of blue conifers rising up into hills. A piney scent came to her on the breeze, and the smell of canvas and Sterno and sun-warmed metal.
The DHD operator gestured toward a patch of ground off to the side and told her and her team to wait there for processing. The other teams were still coming through behind them; five new teams had been assigned here in all, most of them, like hers, on permanent change of station. She slung her duffel onto bluish grass and turned east, toward an alien mountain range that could have been the Rockies if you dyed them purple, and thought that it looked surprisingly like home around here. She hoped that was a good sign. She'd thought that about Earth, too, when they first took her topside, when she was a kid. But she hadn't known anything then. She wondered how much she didn't know now.
Her team leader gave her shoulder an urgent shove, and she turned back to face the camp and saw who'd come out of the nearest Quonset hut to greet -- or at least check out -- the arrivals: a full-bird colonel in fresh fatigues, a bearded civilian in bluejeans and a dirt-smeared sweatshirt, an older civilian in baggy cargo pants wiping oil or something off his hands with a rag, and a tall Jaffa in layers of brown and beige robes.
Oh my god, she thought, in that eyeblink. So this is where you were!
She snapped a salute, at full attention with her military teammates, and felt the civilians among the five teams draw up so straight with astonishment and respect that they might as well be at attention too.
The colonel returned and released the salute and said, "At ease, and welcome. I'm Colonel Samantha Carter, the military authority on this base. This is Doctor Daniel Jackson, until recently chairman of the board of the Catherine T. Langford and Ernest J. Littlefield Foundation, which supplies our funding and a lot of other things he'll tell you about in due course. Beside him is General Jack O'Neill -- "
A small, tolerant smile. " ... former commander of the SGC and former director of Homeworld Security on Earth, and beside him is Teal'c of Chulak, former leader of the Free Jaffa. We are your new command staff."
"You guys have kind of a lot of paperwork to do right now," the bearded civilian in jeans and grungy sweatshirt said, picking up the thread without looking at the colonel or stepping forward, as if they spoke unthinkingly with one voice, "and there's a lot to explain about our mandate here, and our goals, and how the operational setup of this facility differs from the operational setup of the SGC that you were all trained for."
"Get signed in, find your bunks, drop your gear, use the latrine," the gray-haired civilian said, terse military cut-to-the-chase. "Orientation's in forty minutes, Building A. Anybody wants out after they hear the deal, requests for transfer back to the SGC will be approved without prejudice." He grinned, and as suddenly as that the general was gone and he was the charming and easygoing and charismatic man Cassie hadn't seen at all in a year and hadn't seen for a long time before that even when they got together for visits. "But this place is gonna be really cool," he said. "Believe me, you're gonna want to stick around."
Lieutenant Cassandra Fraiser went through processing with the other teams, and found her bunk and the latrine and Building A, and there were no hugs for her, no special treatment from her aunt and uncles, not so much as a wink; she sat and listened with everyone else to the presentation on this military-supported civilian-administered scientific-and-exploratory outpost, and how all of them had been hand-picked the same as the Jaffa and the operational staff and scientists already in camp, and thought, This is what they wanted the SGC to be, all those years when the SGC had to be a front-line defense installation. This isn't a Delta site or a Gamma site, this is the SGC all over again, their own SGC, set up from the start the way they would have done it if they knew then what they know now. She saw the same realization cross the faces of the nineteen other gate-team recruits, and she felt the strangest, strongest swell of pride when not a single one of them opted out -- a feeling stronger than her joy at seeing Sam and Jack and Daniel and Teal'c again, a feeling of This is my family now, these people are my people, we're in this for the long haul, we're in this together, and we're going to do extraordinary things.
That was when she knew she was home, finally and for real, and she thought, Oh, Mom. Oh, my god, Mom. You'd be so proud of this.
They broke for supper in the mess tent, and Cassie stepped into her future.