Pulling on energy reserves she thought were long gone, Sam pushes away the last rock and blinks in the unexpected light. She threads her hand through the small hole, looking for purchase on the ground above. She hears voices calling above her, the words indeterminate and distant, almost so far away she can write them off as her imagination. Almost.
A hand suddenly clutches hers. She’s so startled by the contact that she nearly lets go, but the hand holds on tightly as others begin to remove the debris around her. She ducks her head as dust and tiny pebbles bounce off her head and shoulders to fall into the hole below her. Strong hands grasp her shoulders and heave her upward toward the air. Her feet kick as she’s lifted, searching for footing to push against and help the others pull her to the surface.
Finally free, she scrambles backwards away from the Sam-sized hole in the ground, and wipes her hands across her face. She’s been underground in the dark for two days. She coughs and her lungs feel like they’ve caught fire. Once the harsh burning in her chest has calmed and she can breathe normally again, she accepts the water bottle thrust in front of her.
Muffled voices swirl around her with the dust and she knows chaos when she sees it, but she closes her eyes to block out everything. After two days of climbing up destroyed elevator shafts and digging through collapsed hallways, she needs a moment to adjust to the light and noise before she surveys the situation. She opens her eyes to stare at her scraped and bloody hands and the water bottle between them. Blood catches on the ridges of the bottle and slowly drips down the sides. She winces at the sharp bite of pain in her palm when she twists the cap; the water tastes like plastic and heaven. She looks up as the ground shakes below her.
It’s bright and hot and ash falls from the sky, turning everything and everyone into shades of gray. People she might recognize if she weren’t so blinded by the sun run across the rubble, shouting and gesturing to each other. Fire and smoke rise from every direction as wind whips through the air. She screws the top back on the water bottle to prevent even a single drop from being lost.
A nurse fusses over her for a moment, checking vitals and poking at her where she’s bleeding. She asks a few questions, but Sam merely nods where she thinks she should and makes an attempt at answering what she thinks was asked. Satisfied, the nurse deposits a mask at Sam’s feet and disappears after tying a strip of green fabric to Sam’s arm.
Sam takes a deep breath and struggles to her feet, ignoring the mask. She coughs again and doubles over as her lungs and throat burn even after she’s tried to calm them with a sip of water. She closes her eyes and focuses, taking shallow breaths until she no longer feels like her lungs are starting a rebellion. As she stands up straight and brushes dust off her pants, she hisses when her scraped palms rub against tiny stones and rough fabric. She turns and gasps.
Cheyenne Mountain is gone.
She thinks she hears her name, muted and far away. She touches her ear, finally needing an answer for the trouble she’s having with her hearing, and her fingers come away dark brown with dried blood. Turning toward the shout, she finds herself wrapped in a set of strong, worried arms. “Daniel,” she whispers, recognizing him by feel. A shadow blocks the sun behind her and by the hand on her lower back, she knows that it’s Teal’c. She allows herself another moment to breathe, this time in relief at the touch of two people she hadn’t been able to find down below.
“Where’s Jack?” she asks. If they’re shocked by her use of his first name, they don’t show it. “Where’s Jack?” she demands when they don’t answer her.
“We don’t know,” Daniel says, repeating himself louder when she shakes her head and points to her ears. “Sam!” he shouts after her when she breaks free from his arms to run over the uneven ground, looking for him. Raindrops splatter across the ash-covered rocks and thunder begins to rumble.
The earth shakes again, harder this time, and she stumbles and nearly loses her footing. Teal’c is there by her side and grabs her arm to steady her. “Colonel Carter, we must leave.”
“No,” she says firmly in defiance of Teal’c’s urgency. She blinks rapidly through the mix of rain and ash. “He has to be here.” She pushes her hair out of her eyes, leaving a bloody, muddy streak across her forehead. “He has to.” She can’t have lost him now.
Daniel gently touches her elbow and shakes his head. If Jack was above ground, they would know. “He was higher up when it hit. He should have been one of the first people out, Sam.” Lightning flashes across the sky.
People shout and gesture even more urgently, pointing to the darkened sky and the trembling ground. The earth seems to slip out from under Sam’s unsteady feet and she clings to Daniel to keep her balance through the violent lurch. Daniel tugs at her arm, encouraging her to move and start running with everyone else. To leave.
“No,” her voice hits a pitch of hysteria as she looks around frantically for a familiar profile and a shock of silver hair. She finds nothing but flame and ash and rock. “Jack!” she shouts, her voice lost in the wind.
“We must leave,” Teal’c repeats, more urgently this time.
Sam breaks free of them and runs to the hole she was pulled from, intending to go back down and search. Hands tightly grip her waist and fingers leave bruises in her skin as she’s yanked away from the edge. “We don’t leave people behind!” she screams as Teal’c lifts her into the air. She squirms in his grip and demands to be put down. Tears join the rain and blood on her cheeks as he carries her away.
Daniel pushes back the tent flap and steps inside. The canvas doesn’t dim the cacophony from the camp, but it seems quieter in here. He drops the flap behind him. Sam’s sitting on a sleeping bag in the far corner with an IV in her arm; the bag hangs from a ceiling pole. She’s made a passing attempt at cleaning the dirt and blood off her skin, but her eyes are hollow and haunted. He wipes the rain from his face and tries to dry his glasses on the edge of his shirt. He only succeeds in smearing the water and ash across the lenses.
“Can you guys give us a minute?” Daniel asks of the other occupants of the tent: scientists typing away furiously at laptops, analyzing data and making predictions. It’s pouring rain outside, but they’ll easily find another tent to work in. They nod and slide their computers into bags and step out into the storm.
“Sam,” he whispers as he sits next to her, though she can’t hear him. Both of her eardrums ruptured in the initial explosion, but they’ll heal. He’s careful not to jostle the IV as he settles his arm around her; she’s on her second bag of fluids, rehydrating her after two days trapped inside the mountain.
She stares straight ahead. “We’d,” she starts quietly, not needing to hear herself to know that Daniel can hear her words, “we’d just started. A couple months ago. We thought that because we weren’t in the field together anymore, we’d actually have a chance, even if we weren’t supposed to.” She swallows. “Things were great. Really great.” She bites her lip and blinks; a tear escapes and trails down her cheek, reflecting in the fluorescent lamplight. “And now he’s gone.” Her voice is hoarse and she coughs lightly.
“I’m sorry, Sam.”
Her breath shudders and she leans her head against his shoulder. She knows she should be strong and stand up to give orders and make decisions and maybe find out who’s actually in charge. The ground trembles and she feels the motion travel up her legs to her shoulders. They’re not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot. Sam takes a measured breath – the air still smells burnt – and pulls away from Daniel.
“Can you bring them back in? I need to know what happened.” She blinks, clearing her vision, and wipes at her cheeks. The tape holding the bandages to her hands is rough against her skin.
Daniel nods and stands up. He kisses her forehead and offers her what he hopes is a comforting smile before dashing out into the rain to collect the scientists he sent away.
Alone, Sam draws her knees to her chest. “You can do this,” she whispers, unable to hear her own words. “You have to do this. People need you. Grieve him later.” She looks up when the tent flap opens and three very wet scientists enter, Daniel following them. “I can’t hear,” she says, a little louder for effect, and gestures toward her ears, “you’ll have to type.” She scoots backward so they can set up around her; she’s still tied to the IV and doesn’t want to fuss with it.
They’re all wary of their draining batteries, so she jumps right in. “What happened?” She doesn’t know this new crop of environmental scientists. Jack had just approved their assignments and she remembers him telling her that he didn’t think they were completely boring. Her chest tightens at the thought of Jack and she swallows, willing herself to focus.
9.1 earthquake in the Philippines. Triggered a massive eruption of Krakatoa and a chain reaction of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes around the entire Ring of Fire. We think California’s gone.
“We don’t know?” The earthquake and Krakatoa eruption had made the news a few hours before everything went black for her. She remembers reading a CNN article about the potential effects, but at the time it had just been speculation.
Ash cloud from the volcanoes is blocking satellite imagery; ground telephones are down.
“What happened at the Mountain?” Her earth science is shaky, but she knows that mountains don’t just collapse without reason. Part of the ceiling had knocked her out shortly after the base began to shake. She woke up a few hours later to darkness and eerie silence, and a hole above her lab.
Sam blinks at the word and looks up at the man who typed it. Her eyes widen. “Oh, God.”
He nods. “Yes.”
Daniel waves at them to get their attention. “What?”
With California gone, nothing’s holding up the west coast of the country. The rapid shift in plate tectonics upset the pressure balance under the surface and Yellowstone exploded. The resulting quake triggered even more events throughout the Rockies, including Cheyenne Mountain.
“Yellowstone’s a national park.” Daniel frowns, fixating on that part. It’s easier than trying to comprehend the entire state of California falling into the ocean.
Sam shakes her head; she doesn’t need to hear his words to understand Daniel’s confusion. “Yellowstone’s a volcano.”
Most everything west of us is destroyed or covered in lava or both. We probably won’t run into lava this far from the eruption site, but we need to move fast to avoid pyroclastic flow from any additional eruptions.
Extreme temperature and atmospheric shifts. Ocean currents will go crazy and so will the weather. It’ll start with flooding and rain, but soon we’ll have mega storms. Massive inland hurricanes, tornadoes, the works. Most of the planet won’t be habitable and what is will suffer severe seasons. Boiling summers and freezing winters. We’ll have a better chance of survival if we head north: extreme latitudes will be more habitable and we can’t go south.
Sam isn’t sure she wants to ask her next question. “Population?”
Another scientist brings up an animated graphic on her laptop while the other continues to type.
I think we can safely assume complete coastal destruction in the Pacific. If California’s gone, so is Japan, the Philippines, the Aleutians, Hawaii, and most of Indonesia. Australia probably made it for now, but India’s likely been hit by typhoons.
Sam holds up her hand. “Just…big picture.”
She hits play on the graphic. A path of red animates and sweeps through the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Alaska, California, Mexico and finishes with Central America.
Once the initial event has settled, we estimate 50% survival. But that doesn’t take into account secondary incidents: fires, flooding on the Atlantic coasts from abnormal tides, aftershocks, storms moving inland, people being crazy, etc. It’s probably more like 40%. Then comes the real trouble: the atmospheric changes and everything that comes with them are going to wipe out most everybody else who hasn’t moved north or south.
“What are we talking about?” Sam doesn’t like the feeling of dread that’s settled in the pit of her stomach.
He types a command and the red fades slightly, but orange begins to cover most of the United States, South America, Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and China.
20% in eighteen months. Maximum.
Sam blinks at the screen.
That’s not a typo, ma’am.
She looks up; the honorific snaps her back to reality. “Thank you,” she dismisses them to go back to work. She reaches her hand up for Daniel and lets him help her stand; she’s a little shaky, but he steadies her. She flips a switch on the IV and carefully slides the needle out of her arm. She’ll get the rest of it later. When blood starts to trickle down her arm, she digs a tissue out of her pocket and holds it against her skin. “Where’s the command tent?”
“Oh, I’m coming with you,” he says, unwilling to let her out of his sight. He leads her out into the rain to the tent in the middle of the camp.
Sam opens the flap and steps inside, brushing the rain from her eyes. She can’t hear anything besides a low murmur of activity, but experience tells her that the tent is full of shouted orders and demands. All of it stops when they catch sight of her. She looks around the tent in disbelief. She can’t be the highest-ranking one left. There’s no way. There were at least five colonels on the base and another dozen lieutenant colonels who have held the rank longer than her. She waved or spoke to all of them when she arrived on the base three days ago.
But none of them are in this tent.
Rain beats heavily on the canvas, but she doesn’t hear it.
“Pack it up,” she orders loudly, her voice a lot more confident than she feels. “We’re heading north. Now. We don’t stop until we hit Canada.”
Against all logic and hope, Sam is the highest-ranking officer to make it out of Cheyenne Mountain alive. Someone, a major, suggests that she take a field promotion to general. She does, though she’s not sure she can actually promote herself, because the civilians they’ve picked up along the way are more likely to listen to a general than a lieutenant colonel. She thinks the military might be more comfortable with a general in charge too, even though everyone wearing a uniform knows that she outranks them regardless of the title they use to address her.
Personally, she’d be more comfortable with a different general in charge. She knows how to lead a team of three to another planet and get out alive, she knows how to build a naquadah generator, and she knows how to blow up a sun. She doesn’t know anything about disaster relief or large-scale emergency operations or how to move six hundred people around a lava flow. Jack probably doesn’t know anything about that either, but sometimes she feels her voice waver when she gives orders. Jack never hesitated.
It takes them a week and a half of navigating across unstable mountain highways, and backtracking to avoid pyroclastic flow and destroyed cities before they finally hit the Canadian border. They should go even further north before they pick a spot to settle down and officially regroup, but she gives the order to stop and set up camp. They need the rest. Though the extreme destruction and fires are behind them, the air still tastes like smoke and death.
Her hearing is slowly returning and she’s done away with the inconvenience of paper and computers, instead asking everyone to speak up. A commotion at the front of the tent interrupts her supply briefing and she turns, shocked into silence by the wet, muddy woman standing just inside.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the sergeant apologizes, “she wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Sam smiles. “That’s okay, sergeant. Can you guys give us five?” She waits until the tent has emptied before walking over the muddy ground. “Cassie,” she breathes, hugging her tightly. “Where...how...?”
Cassie pulls away and wipes at her cheeks. The sense of relief at being picked up by the convoy was monumental, but nothing compared to what she felt when she was told General Samantha Carter was in charge (even if it was followed by and no, you can’t see her). “Backpacking in Montana,” she says, unsure if she told Sam she was going. “Hopped on when you came by.” She looks around the empty tent. “Where’s...” she trails off, seeing Sam’s face fall.
Sam recovers quickly. “We don’t know where Jack is.” The likely scenario is that he’s dead, buried somewhere deep in the rubble of Cheyenne Mountain with Siler and Reynolds and the others, but she isn’t ready to say those words aloud. Not yet.
Cassie reaches out and rubs Sam’s arm. “I’m sorry.”
Sam offers her a weak smile before reaching for her radio. She changes the channel and clicks it on. “Hey, Daniel. You want to come in here?”
Cassie’s eyes widen. “Daniel?”
Sam nods. “Teal’c, too.”
“Yeah, Sam. What’s up?”
Cassie takes the offered radio from Sam’s hand. “Hi, Daniel.”
The only perk to being in command, as far as Sam’s concerned, is that she gets her own tent when they stop for the night. She shares it with Daniel, Teal’c, and Cassie, and more often than not she’ll wake up tucked in Daniel’s or Teal’c’s arms; she’s even woken up a few times with Cassie curled up by her side. They all need the support and contact. She’s noticed people pairing off and wonders how long it will be before someone tells her that there will be a baby in a few months.
Cassie shoves at Sam’s shoulder and promptly goes back to sleep. Sam blinks in the dim light from the lamp and sits up. “Yes, Walter?” He’d been hauled out of the dust of the mountain much like she had. He’ll have a nasty scar across his face, but he’s alive and as sharp as ever and she’s thankful for both.
“We have a satellite feed from Washington, ma’am. The President wants to talk to you.”
She nods and pulls on her boots. She stands up slowly, her balance still a little off-kilter, and tugs a sweatshirt over her head. They scavenged for clothes where they could, which means they look less like a military unit and more like a group of colorblind nomads. She shivers once she’s outside the tent. The rain’s stopped for the night and there’s a crisp chill in the air heralding autumn. Fires dot across the camp, smoke trailing upward into the starry sky. “I can’t believe Hayes is alive,” she says, though there’s no reason he shouldn’t be: the Atlantic coast was largely unaffected by the upheaval, though if it hasn’t been hit by a huge storm yet, it will be soon.
“Good evening, Mr. President,” Sam says, taking a seat in front of the laptop. They’ve had a few days of sun and the solar battery is full and the light blinks a confident green at her. “Please excuse me if I need you to repeat some things; my hearing was damaged in the blast.”
“Nothing serious, I hope.”
She shakes her head. “I’ll heal.”
“Let’s just make this official. Through the power of the Office of the President, I hereby promote you to the rank of General. Congratulations.”
Sam nods. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days. “Thank you, sir. What can I do for you?”
“My advisors tell me that Cheyenne Mountain was pretty well destroyed. What do we have to worry about?”
“I think we can safely assume that the gate is buried, sir. Even if someone manages to make a stable connection and get through, they’ll have a hell of a time getting anywhere. Any attack is going to have to come from space. Our last intelligence showed that there wasn’t a single Goa’uld ship anywhere near us. We have some time before anything happens. But Anubis’ plan was to destroy Earth, not enslave us; pardon my candor, sir, but I think that job’s done for him. The rest of the system lords will just be happy to have us out of their way.”
“Speaking of, should we consider this an attack? Anubis has tried the natural disaster route before.”
She shakes her head. “Even if they’d managed to plant a bomb beneath the Pacific undetected, you’d need a significant amount of weapons-grade naquadah or other radioactive element to artificially trigger a quake that large. It would noticeably contaminate the air after detonation and we haven’t detected anything unusual. I think this was completely natural, sir.” The video feed dissolves into static for a few seconds before clearing up. “I’m sorry, sir? The feed cut out there for a moment.”
“Where’s General O’Neill?”
“Presumed dead, sir,” she swallows and clenches her jaw. It’s the first time she’s said it out loud, but she can’t lie to Hayes for the sake of her own hope. “Mr. President, I’m sure your advisors have told you this, but there is no way off this planet. The gate’s buried and the Daedalus is on its way to Atlantis and won’t be back for months. We have no way to contact the Tok’ra or the Asgard. The safest thing to do is head as far as north and inland as you can go. Keep a beacon active and the Daedalus will pick you up when they get back.”
“Unfortunately, we can’t. There’s a massive hurricane about to hit and no one wants to fly through it. We’re going to try to wait it out in the bunker. Where are you right now?”
“Somewhere in southern Saskatchewan, sir. We made it out just before the pyroclastic flow took out the rest of Wyoming.”
“How many people do you have?”
“Between six and seven hundred people, military and civilian. We haven’t been able to get an accurate count yet.”
“You have the largest number of organized American citizens in one place that I’ve been able to contact. Whatever you have to do, keep them safe, Sam.”
She breathes deeply and feels the weight settle heavily on her shoulders. “I will, sir.”
“You too, Mr. President.”
Sam kicks her legs in the open air under the cargo truck. She smiles at Teal’c when he sits next to her. They’ve been sitting for days while driving north and she really wants to stretch her legs, but she’s found that if she’s walking around, people will ask her things she has no interest in answering or, worse, pull her into a meeting about something. So she’s staying out of the way, mostly hidden in the back of the truck, while an exploration team checks out the town.
Teal’c looks at her in concern; she’s paler than usual. “Are you well, General Carter?”
She turns to him. She wishes that he’d call her by her first name; she doesn’t feel like a General and everyone is always yes ma’am and right away, sir with her now and she’d like some familiarity. “I think I’m just tired.” She rests her head against his shoulder and sighs when his arm loops around her back.
They’re far enough away from the disaster zone now that the sun is shining. They’ve been looking for a place to stop, officially stop and start living again, for four days. But every town they’ve passed has either been too small to hold all of them, or still sparsely inhabited. That is, until they found Maidstone. She’s not sure why everyone left, but her cursory look through binoculars hadn’t spotted a single sign of life.
Sam looks out at the expansive caravan settled around her. Everyone else has taken the opportunity to get some much-needed rest from the road. A group of kids, separated from their field trip during a violent aftershock, kick around the soccer ball that they’ve carried with them since they were picked up on the Montana border. They have no family and they have no belongings, but for now they’re just happy to be out of a car and in the sun playing soccer.
Cassie’s backpacking group produces a Frisbee and tries to stay out of the way of anyone needing a moment of quiet. An older couple starts to prepare lunch out of the back of their car and soon they’re serving a small crowd that hasn’t eaten properly in days; they feed their fellow survivors with smiles on their faces. Others stretch out, lying on truck beds or the ground, trying to release tense muscles and crack stiff backs. Sam can’t see the very edges of their camp, but she sees someone setting up what she thinks is a croquet course.
A kite, a bright red and yellow bird, catches the wind and threatens to wrestle the spool out of the hands of the boy holding it. But he regains control and the kite soars high into the sky until it reaches the limits of its string.
Sam marvels at the sheer determination these people had to get to safety, and that they all know when they’ve reached it. Everyone senses that there’s something special about this town.
“General,” a young captain walks up to her, a huge grin on his face.
Sam sits up straight. “Yes, Captain?” She knows it’s good news and they certainly need some of that.
“Town’s deserted, like we thought. No sign of anyone, and doesn’t look like they’re coming back, either.”
“Any idea why they left?”
He shrugs. “Found a TV on, somehow the generator still had power. CBC was telling people to head north.”
Sam frowns. It’s good advice, but they’re far enough north now that they should be safe. She shrugs and hops off the truck. It’s their good fortune that this town is big enough to hold all of them and its former residents paid attention to their government’s suggestion. She’s not about to question that.
“Well then,” she says. “Welcome home. Someone find me a megaphone.”
The logistics are a nightmare. Everyone’s tired of sleeping on the ground and ready for a bed and a real roof over their heads, but they can’t move in until they’ve cleaned up and decided who goes where. She’s sent a team of engineers off to figure out what’s going on with the plumbing and water supply and to get a cursory look at the electricity situation. A large team of volunteers is handling the cleanout of homes to make sure no one’s going to open a refrigerator and find something really unpleasant, and another group is off scouting for supplies from every grocery store within a fifty mile radius.
But mostly, Sam has a lot of people on her hands who all have nothing to do. They’re calm for the moment, though she isn’t sure that’s going to last much longer.
She’s talking to Cassie about setting up a school for the children they’ve collected when her stomach turns. She frowns and continues on with her thought about what to do for the vast range of ages.
“You okay, Sam?” Cassie interrupts Sam mid-sentence.
“You look decidedly green. You want to sit down?”
“No, I want to…” she trails off, stopping short of listing everything Walter told her she had to deal with today, and swallows. “Hang on.” She turns and runs a few feet to a patch of bushes and throws up. Cassie’s hand is soothing on her back and she produces a water bottle for Sam.
“Sit,” Cassie says, after she’s sure Sam’s done throwing up. Sam doesn’t argue, which concerns her. “I’m gonna get a nurse.” They still haven’t determined if there’s a doctor in their midst, but they’re thankfully not lacking in nurses and paramedics.
Sam nods and takes a swig of water. She stares at the grass as Cassie runs off.
Nurse Rush checks Sam over and frowns. “Well, I don’t think you’re sick. Your eardrums are all back to normal, so it’s not that. You’re probably just stressed. Unless…” she blinks and runs her eyes over Sam’s figure. She looks at Cassie.
“Whatever you’re going to say, you can say it in front of her.”
“Is there any chance you might be pregnant?”
Sam blinks rapidly and opens her mouth to say no, until she remembers. A night after a successful mission, Daniel and Teal’c had just left, there was a lot of beer, and Jack had laid her down on the kitchen table. In an urgent need to feel each other, they’d forgotten the condom and, the next morning, discussed the fact that she was on the most advanced birth control science had invented. She and Janet were figuring out what effect the naquadah in her system had on birth control when Janet had died; she hadn’t had the heart (or the need, or so she thought) to continue without Janet. “Maybe,” she says quietly.
Rush digs through her medical bag and produces a standard pharmacy pregnancy test. She slips it into Sam’s jacket pocket. “Even if you’re not, you need to take it easy for a few days. We’ve all been through a lot the last three weeks, but you’ve been running yourself into the ground.”
Sam nods and promises to at least have all of her meetings sitting down today and Cassie promises to make Sam eat something.
Later that night, she lies exhausted on a sleeping bag next to Daniel. They’ve finally finished cleaning out all the houses and taking a census. They’ll start the housing lottery in the morning and hopefully be in a real bed tomorrow night. Daniel slides his arm under her and tugs her close, sensing that she needs a hug. Teal’c sits across from them and reaches out, clasping Sam’s hand with his. Cassie’s in the corner, but Cassie already knows what Sam needs to say.
“I’m pregnant,” Sam says; she’d peed on three tests and all three came back positive. “I’m pregnant, and it’s Jack’s.”