Chapter 1: cling to the wreckage
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.”
Chapter 2: an expression of the inexpressible
Teal’c’s smooth voice pulls Sam out of her reverie and she opens her eyes. The ceiling’s just as boring as it was when she closed her eyes five minutes ago. He sets a glass of water and four crackers next to her on the nightstand. She smiles her thanks at him. She’d had a rough morning and Daniel said that the council meeting could go on without her, so she’d climbed back into bed. She lets Teal’c help her sit up and she nibbles at one of the crackers.
She’ll have to tell people sooner or later – as Cassie put it, she’s about to get really fat – but for now they’re covering any absence as exhaustion. People seem to be buying it, having noticed that she worked her ass off to get them all here safe and in one piece while making as fair decisions as possible. It helps that the majority of the town is from the SGC and knows that Samantha Carter wouldn’t miss a meeting to take a nap unless she really needed it.
He nods and sits on the bed next to her. It’s a king-sized bed and the three of them have taken to sharing it, with Cassandra in the guest room down the hall. Sam covers his hand with hers and he turns his palm over to offer a reassuring squeeze. He is somewhat concerned about her; it has been a month and she’s yet to grieve for O’Neill. There is much to be done still to ensure the town is properly set up with stable supply lines and enough food stored up for the oncoming winter, but he fears for when she no longer has anything to distract her. He thinks they’re all still holding onto some hope that O’Neill will knock on the door tomorrow morning.
“How’s your tretonin supply?” she asks. He has to be running low by now, if he isn’t completely out, and she can’t remember the last time she saw him take it.
“I have not had any tretonin in several weeks.”
Sam’s face falls and she feels tears prick at her eyes. She sniffles and looks down at the remaining cracker in her hands. It’s hard enough without Jack, she can’t imagine how it will be without Teal’c. She feels fingertips under her chin and looks up to meet his eyes.
“General O’Neill had authorized a project to discover a permanent solution to tretonin. I was one of their test subjects. It appears to have worked.” If it hadn’t, he would have succumbed to the first bacteria that entered his system as soon as his tretonin supply ran out.
She can’t get her arms around him fast enough. “Next time, lead with that kind of information,” she says, laughing through tears that have turned from despair to relief.
Teal’c hugs her tightly. He had shared his concerns about his diminishing tretonin supply with Daniel, who had recommended that he not share them with her until he knew one way or the other. He’s now glad he heeded that advice. He feels her eyelashes flutter against his cheek and he gently lies down, taking her with him. She sighs and rests her head on his chest. His hands roam across her back, one settling low on her spine while the other rubs across her shoulders.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
“You are welcome.”
They all pull double or triple duty in the first month. Sam’s been kept away from most of the hard labor on account of being in charge of Everything, but Teal’c and Daniel have done everything from housing cleanouts to supply inventory to census work to rescuing frightened cats out of trees. Most of Cassie’s time has been wrapped up in the school; all the supplies were there, but with no certified teachers amongst them, they had their work cut out for them finding others who were interested in teaching and figuring out which students went where.
“Who’s that?” Daniel asks, taking a break with the spray paint can to watch Cassie laugh and hug a dark-skinned man much taller than her. His dreadlocks are held back by a knit hat and Daniel spies several tattoos peeking out underneath the arm of his shirt. He hasn’t shaved in a while, though Daniel suspects that was rather by design.
“I believe his name is Isaac,” Teal’c says, “he was with her backpacking group when they joined the caravan.”
Daniel absently shakes the spray paint bottle. “Huh.” His eyebrows raise when Cassie stands on her toes and kisses Isaac before jogging off back to the school. He hadn’t expected that, but he shouldn’t be surprised. The speed at which people have started to pair off is astonishing.
He paints Earth’s point of origin on the driver’s side door of the black truck in front of him. It’s an identification system full of long-term security holes, but it’s a good start at determining if any newcomers have arrived. It’s also a full day’s worth of work, if the crowd of cars parked in the co-op parking lot is any indication. He’d complain about it, if it weren’t the first sunny day they’ve had in a while.
He moves on to the next car in the lot – he and Teal’c have a bet about who can paint more cars – but muses on Cassie and Isaac as he paints two-thirds of a triangle and adds a circle at the apex. He’s glad that she seems to have found someone.
“What are you working on?” Cassie yawns and squeezes Sam’s shoulder as she passes the kitchen table to get to the sink and pour herself a glass of water. She’s just come home from finalizing the curriculum with the other teachers; school starts tomorrow. “And why are you up so late?” It’s two in the morning. They both ought to be in bed.
Sam looks up from the notebook in front of her and studies Cassie in the flickering candlelight. They’re saving flashlight batteries. “Hayes is dead,” she says blankly. “At least we think. We haven’t been able to connect to him in days.” There’s a chance the President is still alive, but it’s a slim one. She suspects the President himself knew that the last time they spoke, when she’d told him that they’d found a place to settle down; he’d sounded hopeful for them, but she could see in his eyes that he didn’t think much of the likelihood that he’d ever make it there alive.
She’s almost ready to give the order to stop tracking the weather. If conditions are right they can still connect to the satellites in orbit, but at this point she thinks that knowing about the continued destruction is making everything worse. But she can’t quite give up on the outside world just yet.
Wind and rain howl outside, storms now omnipresent and sunshine rare as autumn threatens to turn to winter early.
Cassie sighs and sits down across from Sam. “So what are you working on?”
“Daniel thinks that it might help things if I give some sort of ‘we will prevail’ speech.” She’s avoided saying anything so far, instead choosing to briefly address everyone with updates as needed. She had enough trouble figuring out what to say when her best friend died. She has no idea what to say to herald the death of 4.8 billion people.
Cassie takes the notebook from Sam’s hands and skims over the words she’s written so far. “This is crap,” she says after a moment and looks up at Sam.
Cassie grabs the pen and scribbles out what Sam’s written. She points to the couch. “Go. Nap. Give me an hour.”
With a sigh of relief, Sam stands up. “Thank you,” she brushes a kiss against Cassie’s forehead before lying on the couch.
Two hours later, Cassie gently touches Sam’s shoulder. “Here you go,” she says, and hands Sam the notebook. She sets the flickering lamp on the coffee table and sits next to Sam.
After skimming the speech, Sam looks up. It’s much better except, “Is this from Lord of the Rings?”
Cassie rolls her eyes at herself; it certainly isn’t her greatest work. “Yeah. It’s kinda the kitchen sink of references. Best I could do on short notice.”
Sam hesitates. She appreciates the effort, but she’s not sure that quoting other people is really going to get the job done.
Understanding Sam’s reluctance, Cassie settles against the couch cushions and tries to change her mind. “Look, Sam. The world ended and everything went to hell. And it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse. We dragged six hundred and eighty-three people from Colorado to Saskatchewan and not all of them are going to make it through the winter. People are going to fight over stupid things and be angry. The weather’s crazy, who knows how long our supplies are going to last and, come spring, people who have never kept a plant alive in their life are going to have to figure out how to farm. They’re scared. All of them. Not just the civilians. But your majors and captains that are out there foraging for food and supplies, they’re scared too. Daniel and Teal’c. Me. You.”
She swallows. “No one knows what’s going to happen next, no one knows what the future looks like. And tomorrow night, when you stand in front of everyone and tell them that their President’s dead and so are three billion other people and that things are going to be dark for a while, no one’s going to remember that you quoted Samwise Gamgee. They’re going to remember that you told them the sun will shine again and that the shadows will pass. That’s what matters.”
Sam blinks to focus her vision and for a moment, Cassie isn’t the woman sitting in front of her; she’s the girl who trusts Sam with all her heart even though they’re heading deep inside a missile silo and Sam’s been ordered to leave her behind. With a shaky breath, she pulls Cassie into a tight hug. “Thank you.”
They hold the town meeting in the high school auditorium. It’s the only place big enough to contain everyone and keep them out of the cold, windy rain. The electricity still hasn’t been fixed, so they’ve stationed lamps along the aisles and lit torches to hang in place of lights on the walls.
“I’ve already checked,” Cassie says, “the lighting’s so bad you can’t even see the audience from the stage.”
Sam nods, though that isn’t really reassuring. Just because she can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Cassie’s promised to be in the front row by a lamp so Sam can see her and pretend like she’s just talking to a friend. Public speaking was never her favorite, and her stomach’s been unsettled all day. “Go,” she says, urging Cassie to head out and take a seat. She accepts Cassie’s encouraging hug and then turns to Daniel and Teal’c.
“We will remain here,” Teal’c assures her, knowing that she wants to make a quick getaway afterward.
A sergeant motions at her, letting her know that everyone’s in and settled. She nods her thanks. “Showtime,” she says, sounding a lot more confident than she feels. They both hug her tightly and she hears Walter shouting for everyone to be quiet. He introduces her and the purpose of the meeting and soon there’s a round of applause and she walks out onto the stage.
Taking a deep breath, she steps up to the podium; her speech is already sitting there, lit by a precariously-balanced flashlight. They made the best of it, but it’s still so full of clichés that all she can think is that Jack would hate it.
Cassie flashes her a smile and a quick thumbs-up. Sam nods; Cassie was right, she can’t see anyone from here. She hopes the acoustics in the auditorium are good because she doesn’t trust that her voice will project that much.
“President Hayes is dead,” she says and a murmur of gasps travels through the room, “and I think we can safely assume that most of the US government has perished with him. So have three and a half billion other people. With the changes our planet is going to go through, even more will die. Friends, family, and strangers. There is nothing we can do about it. And as someone who has spent most of her adult life creating the impossible out of thin air and duct tape, I can tell you that that’s hard for me to accept. But it’s the truth.”
“You might be asking yourself why bother? Why did we drive all this way and sleep in tents on muddy ground and not have a proper bath for weeks and eat cold beans if there’s nothing we can do? Why didn’t we just stop and die back in Colorado and Wyoming with the others? They’re the lucky ones, right? They’re dead; they don’t have to deal with any of this. We’re still alive, but we have limited supplies and are facing what I’ve been told is going to be a hell of a winter. Things might be easier for them, but let me tell you this: we left Colorado Springs with a convoy of four hundred people. Six hundred and eighty-three people now live in this town. We left no one behind.”
Her voice shakes and she takes a moment to swallow and compose herself. He would have wanted them to go on without him.
“We refused to leave anyone behind. I saw people finding room in cars already overflowing so a child could come with us. I saw friends pulling each other out of the mud and sharing blankets with people they barely knew. I saw ordinary people become extraordinary, stepping in the middle of a knife fight to spare us all one more life lost. I saw people run into the flames to rescue those trapped inside. When anyone sat down, exhausted, unable to move any further and said ‘no more,’ someone else picked them up and carried them.”
“I’m not going to lie to you. It’s going to be hard. No one is coming to help us. We’re on our own, in the middle of nowhere. Winter is coming. But seasons pass and darkness lifts. And at the end of it, the sun will shine again and it will shine brighter than ever before. Because despite everything, despite the fires and the floods and the earthquakes and the destruction and the ash and the mud, there is good in this world. There is good in you. Humanity is worthy of survival. We are worthy of survival. And we will survive.”
She blinks, finished, and half a second of silence hangs in the air before the room explodes into thunderous applause and cheers. She offers them a smile before she steps back and walks off the stage. Her vision swims as Daniel picks her up and spins her around, excited energy from the auditorium flooding backstage and probably even out into the empty streets.
Teal’c is the first to notice that something is amiss. The tears on her cheeks are nearly invisible in the shadows backstage, but she turns her head just right and the candlelight reflects trails of brilliant orange. He catches her waist and settles her firmly on the ground again, keeping one hand steady against her back. “Samantha.”
She shakes her head and clutches at Daniel’s hands. “Get me out of here,” she whispers, barely audible against the cacophony still ringing out in the theater.
Daniel helps her into a raincoat and scarf before zipping up his own. She’s shaking, trying desperately to hang on to some control as tears cascade silently down her cheeks.
Cassie bursts through the stage door, grinning in excitement. She stops short, suddenly catching sight of Sam, and nearly trips over her own momentum. “What’s going on?”
Daniel shakes his head and Teal’c effortlessly lifts Sam into his arms; she loops her arms around Teal’c’s neck for support as he heads for the door. “We’re taking her home. Cover for us, okay?”
Stunned and confused, Cassie nods. She touches Sam’s knee as Teal’c passes her, and then watches the three of them disappear into night.
Sam begins to sob as all the grief she held back for so long finally breaks through. Cold rain beats down on her skin.
Cassie finally escapes the crowds three hours later. She’d told people that Sam had a migraine and if they wanted to come by to talk to her, there would be an open council meeting in a few days.
She turns in the rain and waits for Isaac to catch up. The rain’s prevented the jubilant crowd from spilling outside and he’s beside her in a few seconds. She tucks her hands under her arms to keep them warm on the cold, wet walk home.
“What’s going on?” He asks, opening a pink umbrella over her head.
Cassie looks up at the umbrella and laughs. They are in rather short supply of things that match, but Isaac seems to go out of his way to find the most ridiculous option. There are red hearts on the umbrella. She wonders where he found it. “Sam had a meltdown,” she says, her laughter short-lived. She shivers; the umbrella keeps the rain off, but she was already soaked and it’s cold. “I’m heading home.”
“I’ll walk you,” he says.
Cassie nods her thanks and zips her coat up tighter, cursing that she’d forgotten about a scarf. Fall is ending and winter will be upon them sooner than they’d like. They walk in somewhat awkward silence; Cassie had spent the night at Isaac’s house earlier in the week but hadn’t had a chance to say anything to him until he caught up with her in the rain. Now she doesn’t know how to ask him to stay.
“Do you need anything?” Isaac asks upon reaching Cassie’s front door.
Cassie shakes her head, lying. “Thanks for walking me home.” She stands on her toes and kisses him before opening the front door and disappearing inside.
“What happened?” she asks quietly, spying Daniel sitting at the kitchen table and reading by candlelight. The lack of electricity is rapidly becoming a problem.
He looks up. “Jack,” he says.
“‘We left no one behind?’” she quotes her own words as she takes off her boots and jacket. Through the frosted windows on either side of the door, she can see Isaac and his pink umbrella starting to head off toward his own house. She inhales deeply and the air smells like campfire; a log settles in the fireplace, an attempt to ward off the chill.
Daniel nods and gestures for Cassie to take a seat. “We had to carry Sam away from the mountain. She didn’t want to leave without Jack. She was going to go back down and look for him.”
They sit in silence for a moment, listening for any movement or words from upstairs. The acoustics in this house are terrible, but they’ve learned that they can hear the master bedroom from the kitchen pretty well. Everything’s quiet.
“I miss Jack,” Cassie says. What she really means is, I miss everyone. But Jack’s the tangible loss in front of her.
Daniel reaches out and grasps Cassie’s hand. She sniffles and looks away, wiping at her cheeks. “So do I,” he says.
She offers him a watery smile and squeezes his hand before pulling hers away. “I’m going to bed.” She stands up. “Oh. You need to have an open council meeting in a couple of days where people can talk to Sam. I told everyone there would be one so they’d stop asking me when they could talk to her.”
Daniel nods. “Thanks. Sweet dreams.”
She pokes her head into the master bedroom, just to check. Sam’s clutching a pillow and curled up tightly against Teal’c, safe and secure in his arms. Cassie wishes she had someone like Teal’c, just for tonight, but she’s piled pillows between the bed and the wall and it will have to do. She can’t very well go back out into the rain to catch Isaac.
Teal’c notices her standing in the doorway and he nods solemnly. Everything will be better in the morning. She nods back at him and heads down the hallway to her own bedroom.
While lighting a candle, Cassie looks out the window and blinks. A pink umbrella with polka dot hearts stands underneath her window. She smiles and quickly makes her way back downstairs. Daniel gives her a confused look when she dashes past him and shoves her feet back into boots before running out into the rain.
“I thought you went home,” she says, once safely again under the cover of the umbrella.
Isaac shrugs. “You looked like you might need a hug.”
Cassie nods and catches his hand, leading him inside out of the rain. “Isaac, Daniel. Daniel, Isaac,” she introduces them when they come upon Daniel standing in the doorway. The two men shake hands, but she’s too tired and ragged to be concerned about first impressions. She thinks Daniel gives the pink umbrella a weird look, but he doesn’t say a word about it.
To his credit, Isaac doesn’t ask her how the whole house works with only two bedrooms and Cassie clearly having one of them. She wouldn’t have an answer for him anyway. He strips down to his boxers while she changes into pajamas. Cassie tosses him an oversized sweatshirt; there are only so many blankets she can try to layer on the bed for warmth before it becomes ridiculous.
She crawls into bed first, pushing away the wall of pillows so they’ll both have room to sleep. Isaac climbs in next to her and she turns in his arms, resting her head on his chest. Exhaustion settles in and she closes her eyes, feeling sleep beginning to come.
Daniel makes his way up the stairs, deciding that he’s given Teal’c ample time to calm Sam and get her to sleep. He pauses at the top of the stairs and instead of going left to the master bedroom, he turns right to poke his head into Cassie’s room, the door left mostly ajar. He smiles, seeing the two of them lying together almost asleep. He shifts his weight and the floor creaks underneath him. Cassie lifts her head from Isaac’s chest and blinks sleepily.
Daniel nods at her and returns to the master bedroom. After quickly brushing his teeth and changing into pajamas, he sits on the bed next to Sam. He puts his hand on her shoulder, but she doesn’t stir. He isn’t surprised; by the time they got her home she was sobbing uncontrollably. He lies down and pulls the covers over all three of them before turning on his side to spoon around Sam. Teal’c’s arm slides his arm a little further, catching Daniel’s shoulder. He looks at Teal’c over Sam and they both nod; they’ll deal with their own grief for Jack later.
Sam stands at the back of the crowd, a cold wind swirling through her hair. The rain has miraculously stopped for the afternoon. Small torches outline a rectangle, containing everyone who wanted to come and giving them enough light to walk home once the sun sets. Daniel and Teal’c stand on either side of her, with Cassie and Isaac next to Daniel. She’d been invited to sit at the front, but she’d shaken her head and opted to be part of the crowd without any special treatment. She takes a deep breath and looks west at the pink and orange sky, the remaining rays of sunlight reflecting off low-lying clouds in a dazzling sunset completely at odds with the gathering.
They’re going to bury the dead.
A man steps in front of the giant, unlit funeral pyre and the crowd settles. He starts to speak, a booming voice that carries on the wind to land upon her ears. She listens to his words and lets them wash over her without actually hearing anything. Her eyes close and she rubs her fingertips across a slip of paper in her pocket. She can almost feel the letters on the page, indentations from her pen.
The service is short and non-denominational, invoking no god or text or mythology. A simple prayer of mourning for the dead.
And then he begins to read. It’s a list of names, alphabetical and collected from the town. Once he’s finished, he’ll place the list in the fire, now lit and beginning to roar and spark behind him. After, they’ll all have the chance to pass by the pyre and say a few words in their own religion, or to simply nod in acknowledgment. They’ll keep the flame going as long as possible, for the addition of names forgotten and remembered later, and to honor everyone no one knows.
She sniffles as he speaks names she remembers, names that made her smile, names that treated her like a daughter, and she knows she’s not the only one with damp eyes.
Hands reach for hers when his name is spoken and she dares a glance to her left and her heart breaks for Cassie. Tucked against Daniel’s side with tears streaming down her face, she’s now lost two worlds before most people have graduated college. Sam sneaks her arm around Daniel to squeeze Cassie’s shoulder. With a hitched breath, Cassie looks at Sam and then up at Daniel.
Daniel switches places with Sam and Sam’s arms are barely around Cassie before the younger woman begins to sob. He swallows and wipes at a few tears of his own. He feels fingers tangle with his and he holds tightly to Teal’c’s hand. There are no tears on Teal’c’s cheeks, but Daniel can tell that he’s struggling to hold it together.
Teal’c returns the squeeze Daniel gives his hand. He nods once, a silent thank you for the additional strength as the list of names ends. A line begins to form and he follows after Daniel. There is no one behind him.
Cassie pulls herself together just enough to walk on her own to the pyre. The heat from the flames dries her tears and for half a moment she stands apart from the others, alone. She whispers words she hasn’t spoken since she was a little girl, not even at her mother’s funeral, and the Hankan prayer for the dead falls from her lips as she carefully places a letter in the fire.
Sam gestures for Daniel and Teal’c to go ahead of her, needing a little bit longer to gather the strength to do this. Their words are in languages she doesn’t understand, ancient and not from this world, but their meaning is clear: be free, go safely, you will be missed.
She wills her fingers to unclench, to keep the paper smooth as she removes it from her pocket. He was remembered with the others, in the long list that’s now merely charred scraps, but she needs to put his name into the fire herself.
Sam closes her eyes and a single tear falls down her cheek as the edges of the paper begin to curl and burn.
Chapter 3: the rock cried out
Sam watches from the sidelines as they unveil the new sign – Welcome to Gateway, population 683. There’s no imminent reason to rename the town, but the debate over a new name gave the civilians something to do other than bother her about food and electricity, so she’d given them the go-ahead when it was brought up. It’s at least appropriate, a subtle reminder of where most of the population came from, even if the civilians in charge of the change didn’t know.
A chill has already settled in over the town, though they haven’t had snow yet. Overnight frost leaves grass and windows sparkling in the early morning sun. They’re quickly running out of time to fix the electricity; Sam makes a mental note to check it out herself if it isn’t resolved in a few days. She’s getting better at delegating, but it’s ridiculous that it’s taking this long for her engineers to figure out something that they all should have learned in high school.
Though she’s been told to stop worrying, she’s still concerned about food. They’ve scavenged the countryside, wiping clean the shelves and stockrooms of the few grocery stores and warehouses they find. When they confirm that the entire area has been abandoned, she orders teams to raid houses and farms outside of town. They stumble upon a cattle ranch that way, which solves their protein problem, though Sam suspects they’ll all be very tired of beef jerky come April. They caught the tail end of the fall harvest, which wasn’t bountiful but wasn’t barren either, and everything that can be preserved has been preserved and the rest stored underground. She's decided to implement a 24-hour guard around the elementary school where most of the food has been kept; they have enough to see them through until spring, but only if nobody steals more than their share.
Fuel is another problem. The two gas tankers they acquired weren’t full to begin with, and the gas stations in town won’t be functional until the electricity starts up again. The prospect of bicycles being their only eventual mode of transportation this far removed from larger cities and the supplies they hold is a dismal one. Sam’s relieved when a team proposes a biofuel project, anticipating that they’ll eventually run out of gas. She approves the project, but makes them take it a mile and a half north of town on account of the smell.
Government is the one thing she doesn’t want to deal with. And it’s the one thing the civilians won’t stop asking her about, slowly growing uncomfortable with the military in charge.
“I’m not running,” she says around a toothbrush. She spits into the sink. Daniel’s been asking her since dinner about whether she’ll run for mayor when the elections are held next month. “Daniel, stop.” She rinses her mouth, glad that the water and plumbing problems were solved quickly and shouldn’t cause any trouble. “I will command the military as long as I have to and make sure that people don’t steal SpaghettiOs, but that’s it.”
“People already know you,” he argues, “they trust you.”
Sam steps out of the way so Teal’c can use the sink. “Daniel, I command the military, which is most of this town. You know that I can’t have a civilian command, too. All it takes is one person pissed off about one decision that becomes my fault and a hundred people are angry and throwing things and Mayor Carter suddenly turns into General Carter and I have to give a couple of airmen the order to shut it down and those hundred people turn into two hundred who can’t understand why I had to switch hats. It won’t end well.”
She sighs. “Also, I’m pregnant.” Her stomach is only a soft curve, barely noticeable to someone who isn’t looking, but that will change. With winter coming, and the food rationing they’re likely to employ, she could probably hide it all the way through. But a newborn is a little difficult to conceal. “Shit’s going to hit the fan when I announce it; I’d rather not give anyone an open invitation to question my judgment.”
Daniel nods and concedes her point.
“Why do you not run, Daniel?” Teal’c’s gradually stopped using their last names. He hasn’t worn a hat to cover his tattoo since they left Colorado, though he has made an effort to ensure that no civilian sees him without a shirt. He’s received enough questions about the tattoo and why he calls his friends by their full names that he’s decided to eliminate the easier problem.
Daniel sighs and tries to ignore his two friends looking at him. “I don’t like politics.”
Sam slides a hand down his arm. “You’re good with people, though. And they know and trust you, too. You’re already on the town council.”
“We made that up,” Daniel reminds her. They’d asked any interested parties to come to the high school one night early on and formed an interim council to oversee things like relocation, education, and food distribution so the military could focus on more important things like electricity, security, and finding supplies. But they’ve exhausted their capacity as a group and need to elect a leader who can make a decision when the rest of the council can’t come to any sort of consensus.
He stifles a yawn. He has been thinking about it lately, but isn’t sure he wants that kind of responsibility. Then he looks over at Sam, tasked by the President himself to keep everyone alive, and says, “I’ll think about it.” His mind is made up, though, and he’ll make it official in the morning. He blows out the candle and follows Sam and Teal’c into the bedroom.
The covers are already pulled back and Sam crawls into the center of the bed. She stifles a yawn and tucks her feet underneath the blanket. Teal’c slides in behind her and waits for her to scoot toward him, pressing her back against his chest, before he tucks his arm around her. His hand splays out across her stomach, over the child he swore to her he would protect at all costs. Daniel joins them and settles his arm across Sam’s waist. She’ll wake up hot in a few hours and push one of them or the covers aside, but for now it’s perfect.
“Can I tell them it’s yours?” she asks Daniel, quietly. She’s safely one month into her second trimester and she knows it’s best to tell people sooner rather than later. She’d ask Teal’c, but once the baby’s born it would be pretty obvious that it isn’t his. “It’s easier than trying to explain Jack.” The unspoken implication hangs in the air: she and Jack broke all sorts of regulations by being together and she can’t afford the possibility of losing the respect of the officers she now commands.
Daniel nods. “Of course.” He kisses her softly, a chaste kiss full of friendship.
Sam closes her eyes and nods in thanks, but wishes he hadn’t kissed her. She’s been horny as hell lately and that did not help matters.
Daniel’s off dealing with town council issues – someone’s cat attacked someone else’s chicken – and Cassie’s at school wrangling a group of under-seven year-olds, so the house is empty except for them. Sam nervously plays with the edge of her napkin and stares at the empty plate in front of her.
“Is everything alright?” Teal’c asks, taking the plate out of her vision. He runs it underneath hot water and cleans it, stacking it with the others when he’s finished.
She slides off the chair to join him in the kitchen and picks up a towel. “I don’t have any right to ask you this,” she starts, methodically drying the stack of clean, wet plates in front of her. “But I’m really…” she trails off, realizing Teal’c probably won’t understand horny and it’s not the right phrase anyway. Extremely in need of an orgasm not delivered by my own fingers in the shower is more accurate. “Nevermind,” she says, feeling her face and neck flush bright red.
Teal’c turns off the faucet and studies her as he dries his hands. He’s noticed her discomfort lately as she squirms on the couch and takes longer-than-usual showers, and knows exactly what she was about to ask him. “Samantha,” he whispers, taking the plates out of her hands. They’ll air dry. Cupping her cheek with one hand, he gently turns her to look at him. He watches the struggle in her face as she brings her eyes to meet his. He kisses her, soft but firm enough that she knows what he’s offering.
Sam pulls back and rests her fingertips on his chest. “Teal’c,” she breathes, looking up at him.
He tilts his head. “If you desire.”
She searches his face for any sign that his offer is out of duty or obligation. She finds none. Only care and, she blinks in surprise, love. She swallows and nods slowly. “Yes, please.”
Teal’c dips his head to kiss her once more before leading her upstairs.
Later, Sam lies naked next to him and stares up at the ceiling as she catches her breath. “Thank you,” she whispers. She exhales happily, sated, and turns on her side to face him. She’d tugged off his shirt to feel his skin beneath her fingers, but he’s otherwise still clothed.
“You are welcome,” Teal’c says with a smile. Mindful of her bare skin and the lack of heat, he sits up enough to catch a blanket between his fingers and he drags it up over her waist.
Sam trails a finger across his shoulder. “What about you? Do you…” she doesn’t finish the thought, silenced by a shake of his head. She’s more than willing – eager – to return the favor, but she sighs and settles into the mattress. Teal’c tucks an arm around her back and she rolls onto her stomach to rest her head his chest. She sighs happily and closes her eyes, her mind finally clear.
The day they get the electricity working is also the day Sam tells everyone she’s pregnant. She slips it in at the end of a town meeting, after warning everyone that the announcement about electricity doesn’t mean that they should stop stocking up on wood. Afterward, she holds Daniel’s hand and smiles and accepts the congratulations and well-wishers; there’s going to be at least one person unhappy with a pregnant general in charge of things, but they won’t speak up until the morning. Once the crowd dissipates enough, she grabs Cassie’s arm and pulls her into a classroom.
“I have a problem,” Sam says. She looks around and realizes that they’re in a chemistry lab. School hadn’t yet started when the earthquakes and volcanoes hit, but the teacher had been preparing for the beginning of the year and the room is a little creepy.
Cassie blinks at her in the dim light. They’ve turned the hallway lights on in celebration, but the fluorescent light outside the door is flickering, almost dead. “Really,” she says, flatly.
Sam makes a face. “Not helping, Cass.”
“Sorry,” Cassie says, not at all sincere. “You have a problem.” She waves her hands through the air, indicating that Sam should continue.
“I’m having sex with Teal’c,” she announces and is mildly shocked by the total lack of surprise on Cassie’s face. “This,” she points to her stomach, “is Jack’s baby, and I’m pretending that it’s Daniel’s.”
“Yeah. I’d say you have a problem.”
Cassie shrugs. She loves Sam dearly, but sometimes wishes she could just smack some sense into her. “You’re being ridiculous, Sam. This isn’t a big problem requiring committees and astrophysics and chalkboards. Open your eyes. In your bed every night, you have two men who love you, probably more than anything else. And you love them, too. You can’t have Jack. He’s dead. But you can have them.”
“So only one of them’s seen you naked recently, whoop-dee-doo. You can fix that. And if it’s the trio thing, I can tell you that there are at least three others in this town right now. And nobody cares.”
Sam crosses her arms over her chest and stares at the floor. “Cassie, until we get a government set up, I’m in command here. People are going to have enough trouble with me being pregnant, I don’t really want to add anything else on top of that.”
Cassie nods and purses her lips. She leans back against a desk; it wobbles and she loses her balance a little. “Teal’c and Daniel, they love you. You can’t choose one or the other. You have to choose both or neither, and I think we know that you’re not going to choose neither. Daniel already knows that something’s going on between you and Teal’c and if you intend to keep up this bullshit about that baby being Daniel’s, you’re gonna need to clue him in and soon. Or you’re going to have trouble in paradise rumors all over the place. And that’s way worse than General Carter’s sleeping with two guys.”
Sam knows Cassie’s right, though she wishes she had some magic Band-Aid in her back pocket to fix how Sam feels about this. She loves Daniel and Teal’c, and she hasn’t exactly been fair to either of them lately. But every time she’s thought about things and come to the same conclusion as Cassie, she starts to think of Jack.
Cassie’s face softens and she pulls Sam into a hug. “You have to let him go, Sam.”
Sam nods and sniffles. She returns the hug, one hand around Cassie’s back, the other on the curve of her stomach, touching her only connection to Jack.
“Better?” she asks when Sam pulls away and wipes at her cheeks. Sam nods. “Then can we please get out of this room and go get some ice cream?”
Sam blinks. “There’s ice cream?”
“Guess who wasn’t paying attention at the beginning of her own meeting,” Cassie mocks, opening the door for them.
“You okay?” Daniel stops in the kitchen and sets the box down on the counter. For having precisely one backpack’s worth of belongings when she arrived, Cassie’s acquired an amazing amount of stuff. She’s almost completely moved out, the other boxes waiting to be unloaded at Isaac’s house down the street, but there’s still some straggling clothing.
Sam nods and looks up at Daniel, her hands on her rounded stomach. “He kicked.”
Daniel raises an eyebrow. “He?”
Sam shrugs. “‘It’ sounds like I’m growing some sort of alien life form inside of me.”
Daniel saves the joke for another time. “Have you started thinking about names yet?”
“No,” Sam shakes her head. Cassie unearthed a book from somewhere, claiming to have 50,000 baby names in it, but she hasn’t been able to crack it open yet. She has been busy, but she’s also having trouble getting started on the hunt for a name when what she wants to hear is Jack mocking half the names in the overly-large book.
Daniel senses her hesitancy and reaches out to loosely clasp her hand. “How about when I come back,” he nods toward the box on the counter, “we take a look? I’m sure we can find something awful to nickname him.”
At that, Sam laughs. She turns her hand over to grasp Daniel’s. “Sounds like a plan.”
All three wake up immediately with the pounding on their front door. Teal’c and Daniel head downstairs to let whoever it is in while Sam pulls on something more appropriate than the tank top and underwear she’s been sleeping in lately.
“What’s going on?” she demands, in full General Carter mode once she reaches the kitchen. Blissfully, someone’s already put on a pot of coffee. She’s cut back considerably, but it’s early and she’s tired and she isn’t above pulling rank if anyone tries to keep it away from her.
“We just got word, ma’am,” Walter says, “the scouts we sent into Saskatoon three days ago are on their way back. We lost a truck and,” he consults the slip of paper in his hand, “three were shot; one critical, the other two are stable.”
Sam nods and gratefully accepts a mug of coffee from Daniel. “What happened?” She turns to Ferretti, her second-in-command.
He shrugs. “Lately our guys have been getting harassed whenever they head over there. It’s been minor stuff so far, eggs thrown at them, cars sometimes get spray-painted, one time someone slashed a tire right underneath a guard’s nose. But we thought it was local kids being punks at the end of the world. Guess someone finally had it with us poking around in there, ma’am.”
Sam exhales slowly. She’d heard about the vandalism, but had thought the same thing as Ferretti. “Okay,” she says. “Ferretti, take a medical team and go meet them, escort them home safely. Everyone else, recall all of our scout teams. Once everyone’s home, I want manned roadblocks a click out on every road in here.”
The officers and airmen who had invaded the kitchen nod, salute and turn, leaving the house to handle her orders.
“Is that really necessary, Sam?” Guarded and armed roadblocks sound a lot like they’re isolating themselves from everyone else, which worries Daniel.
“I hope not,” she says. “But we’ve marked all of our cars and there’s really nothing between here and Saskatoon. It’s not that hard to find us. And if they’re pissed off enough to shoot, they may be pissed off enough to track us down.” She sits at the table and slowly sips her coffee. She won’t be needed until the teams return, she might as well enjoy it.
After finishing his own mug, Daniel rifles through the pantry and tosses a granola bar to Sam. He senses that he’s about to receive a completely unfounded lecture about how she doesn’t need someone to make sure she eats properly, but then Sam catches sight of Teal’c and a pointedly raised eyebrow and she wisely backs off. She rips open the foil and takes a bite, which dissolves mostly into crumbs.
Her radio crackles a few minutes later, making all three of them jump. “Base, we’re coming in hot!”
The remnants of her granola bar forgotten, she picks up the radio. “Where are you, Ferretti?”
“Twenty miles out. I think we can hold ‘em off; injured are way ahead of us.”
She nods, even though he can’t see her. “See if you can bring one of them home with you. I want to find out what’s going on.”
“Wilco, on our way.”
The radio clicks off after seconds of static and shouting.
Sam stares at it and then stands up to grab her boots. She pauses and turns, choosing to finish her cup of coffee first. It’ll be a while before she sleeps. “Teal’c,” she says, “I may need you to be intimidating.” She doesn’t trust that someone who just shot their way along 130 miles of pitch black highway is going to be at all intimidated by a five-months-pregnant woman, regardless of how angry she is.
Sam cups Daniel’s cheek and kisses him softly. She decides that she’ll talk to him, to both of them, tomorrow. But right now, she has to go yell at a few people. She accepts the remainder of the granola bar Daniel presses into her palm and then disappears into the night, Teal’c at her heels.
Sam crosses her arms and glares at the man tied to the chair. She tries to ignore that they’re in the children’s library and there are posters of bright cartoon cats reading books tacked to the walls. She is, however, tempted to find a copy of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in hardcover and use it to smack their prisoner. He’s given them nothing useful over the past thirty minutes, only told very bad jokes and commented on the breast size of one of the female lieutenants who helped capture him. Teal’c isn’t even having any luck.
“Enough,” she whispers and steps forward out of the shadows. She’s tired and cranky and pregnant and her feet hurt and she wants to go back to bed and she just got a note stating that Lieutenant Connor died ten minutes ago on the operating table. She flexes her fingers and slaps the man on the back of his head, hard enough that his neck snaps forward. “This is not a social call.”
He looks at her stomach and then up at her eyes. “Who the hell are you?” He cracks his neck.
“Samantha Carter, United States Air Force. You and your friends killed one of my men tonight. Care to tell me who the hell you are and why you’re so interested in shooting at us?”
He tilts his head and grins at her and something about him strikes her as absolutely crazy. She wonders if he’s high.
“The name’s Ryan, ma’am,” he mocks the deference with which the others in the room have treated her. “The mayor of Saskatoon sends his regards.”
She half-sits on the bright green round table in front of him; he’s tied tightly enough to the chair that he can’t touch her. Now that she has a good look at him, Ryan can’t be more than seventeen. “Does the mayor of Saskatoon have a name to go along with these regards?”
“He’s the Archon. And he wants you to stop poking around in his town. Ma’am.”
She frowns. “I’m gonna need a little more than that, Ryan. They were just there looking for generator parts.”
At that, Ryan’s face hardens again. “That stuff’s ours. We fought for it, we protect it. It’s ours. You can’t have it.”
Sam blinks and looks at Ferretti, who shrugs. They aren’t getting any further with this guy. “Yeah, okay.” She slams her hands down on the arms of the chair and stops an inch away from Ryan’s face. “Here’s the deal. World ended. Four-point-eight billion people died, if you can wrap your brain around that. It’s probably not a good plan to add more bodies to that count. But if the Archon wants to play that way, we’ll play that way. Give him the regards of Brigadier General Samantha Carter and pass on this message for me: any more of his people come into my town, I’m going send them right back to him the way he sent Lieutenant Connor back to me. Bleeding, with a bullet in his chest.” Her eyes narrow and she leans in closer.
“Do not fuck with me.” She pushes on the chair and sends it toppling backward. “Send him home,” she orders. She storms out of the room.
Teal’c follows her into the small office at the base of the stairs. She’s declared it for herself, though she doesn’t use it much. The shelves are cluttered with books and stuffed animals and pictures from the previous occupant, but she’s cleared off the desk and chairs. He shuts the door behind him. She hasn’t turned the light on.
“We’re not a gang,” she says, staring at the wall as she rubs the back of her neck. She can tell that he doesn’t approve of her treatment of Ryan. She doesn’t approve of what she did. “But I am not going to cower in front of some thug who killed one of my people.” She turns to face Teal’c. Never in her life has she wanted to be in charge less than she does right now. She clenches her jaw. “Go home,” she says, “we need to figure out a new security plan, tonight. I’ll be a while.”
He nods and touches her shoulder. “I am sorry.”
Sam gives him a sad smile before heading out to the main room.
A cloudy dawn is pressing on the horizon by the time Sam walks home, escorted by two armed airmen. She pauses briefly by the flame still lit in the center of town and absently thinks that they’ll have to move it indoors for winter.
They’ve decided to make the roadblocks permanent and issue a monthly password. She’s ordered an official census, organized names of residents and where they live and with whom, to take precedence over all other non-essential projects so they have a list of who’s supposed to be here should everything else fail. She’s also sent a team west to Edmonton and Calgary to smooth any feathers they may have ruffled there before things go downhill for them on both sides of town. “Thanks, guys,” she says, smiling to the two men when she reaches her front door. They salute and wait for her to close the door behind her before they leave to go to their own homes.
Sam sighs and leans against the door. She unties and toes off her boots, hangs her coat on the hook by the door, and slowly climbs the stairs. It’s weird seeing Cassie’s door open and the room empty; she still sees Cassie almost every day, but the newness of having the house to just herself, Daniel, and Teal’c hasn’t worn off yet.
She pushes on the bedroom door and slips inside; she makes sure the door catches and clicks closed to block out most of the ambient light beginning to filter in from the hall windows. Before she can wake either of them, she steps into the bathroom and shuts the door to muffle the noise of the toilet and sink. When she steps out, once again clad in her pajamas, Daniel’s blinking sleepily at her. Doubtful that either of them fell fully asleep, Sam smiles at the sight in front of her. Daniel’s always been a cuddler, and Teal’c’s always been more intimate asleep than awake. She wants to burn the image of them sleeping together in her mind so she can bring it up on nights like these and smile.
“How’d it go?” Daniel whispers, though there’s no need: Teal’c’s awake too.
Sam shrugs and sits on the bed next to them. She had planned to say something to them, to really talk about the possibility of them becoming a Them, because this is uncharted territory for everyone. But she realizes, as Daniel and Teal’c look at her in the dim light, that she never knew what she wanted to say; maybe words aren’t necessary.
She leans forward and kisses Daniel softly. His arms come up around her back, one in her hair and the other sliding up under her shirt to trace her spine. The kiss deepens and she sighs into Daniel’s mouth, faintly tasting mint. She thinks that they will talk about this, eventually, but then she feels Teal’c’s hands on her hips, easing her pajama pants down and she stops thinking at all.
Chapter 4: nothing but the rain
It snows on election day. Daniel wins in a landslide, but there are no balloons and no victory parties.
Sam stares out the window at the dusting of white covering the entire town. She crosses her arms. They’d managed to stabilize a satellite connection that morning long enough to grab a few images. People have been poring over them all day, analyzing data and making interpretations, but for the first time in her life she doesn’t care about the science and what it all means. She knows what it all means.
There is no going home. Almost everyone she’s ever known is dead. And she is going to spend the rest of her life in this little town in Saskatchewan near the Alberta border.
She’s not sure whether she wants to scream, cry, or laugh.
A flash of white light envelops her, and then she’s standing on the bridge of the Daedalus. She blinks and stares at the ruins of her planet from space. She’s seen satellite images, but the sight of the entire planet is startling. What used to be a beautiful swirl of green and blue covered in white clouds is now an unrecognizable mass of brown and red. She can see where fires still rage near the equator and where flooding has taken out part of Africa. The continents aren’t right anymore. Grey clouds of ash hover over most of the planet, blocking her view of Europe and the Atlantic coast of South America. She’d expected it, but she has to close her eyes for a moment upon seeing the East coast of the United States gone, replaced by a wash of blue. They really are on their own.
A polite cough causes her to turn around. “Colonel Caldwell,” she says.
“Colonel Carter,” he says, “good to see you’re alive. And…congratulations,” he adds, noticing her stomach.
She smiles tightly. “Thanks.” She turns to Major Marks. “We have radios; contact Doctor Jackson and Teal’c. Let them know I’m up here and will be back in an hour or so.” At his nod, she turns back to Caldwell. “Can we go somewhere private and talk?”
Caldwell nods and leads her off the bridge to his office. “What the hell happened down there, Carter?”
Sam sits down in the chair he pulls out for her. It’s strange to be in space after so long on Earth. The recycled air smells different and she’s not quite sure she has her balance. She’s also a little annoyed at being beamed up without any warning, given that they have no idea of the effects on pregnancy; she’ll ask Hermiod before she returns. “Massive earthquake in the Philippines,” she says, and gives Caldwell the quick overview of the events of the past three months.
Caldwell leans back in his chair and steeples his fingers under his chin. “We’ll take you and the essential members of the SGC with us to Atlantis. But we’ve already picked up the astronauts at the Space Station and we’re going to swing back and pick up everyone from the Alpha Site; we can’t fit all seven hundred of your people on board.”
“No,” Sam says, quietly. She’s dreamed of nothing but getting off of Earth lately, but when finally presented with the opportunity, she knows she can’t. Nor does she want to.
“No. I’m not leaving. My place is down there, with everyone else.”
“I could order you.”
It’s an offer, not a threat – a way to take the decision and blame off her shoulders. “No you couldn’t. The President promoted me to General a few months ago.”
“Congratulations on that, too…ma’am.”
“Always hoped it would be under better circumstances.”
Nodding, he crosses his arms. “So you’re staying then.”
“Yeah,” she breathes. “We’re all staying.”
“Is there anything we can do for you?”
She frowns, again wishing that they’d had a heads up about the Daedalus’ visit. They would’ve had time to think and come up with an entire list of supplies they need. “I suppose you don’t have a spare ZPM lying around.” She could interface it with the electrical plant and they’d have power for years, but the likelihood of Caldwell having one is slim.
She sighs. “Then unless you have an extra season’s worth of food that you’re not going to use, we’ll manage.” She knows they don’t; the Daedalus is probably about as tight on supplies up here as they are on the ground.
“Can I ask…” Caldwell trails off and gestures to her stomach.
“Daniel,” she says, the answer automatic now. She offers him a smile, one she hopes he interprets as thanks for asking, but please don’t continue.
He nods and moves on. “We can give you a couple of med kits, some field survival bags, but that’s it. We’re going be strapped on our trip back to Atlantis.”
“Keep the med kits; there’s a well-stocked hospital in town.” They probably don’t need the survival bags either, but it would be worth it to have a couple of extra sleeping bags.
Caldwell nods. “Is there anything else we can do for you?” He repeats his earlier question, though this time it’s intended exclusively for her.
“I’ll need to talk to Hermiod before I leave.” She takes a deep breath. “If you could contact the Free Jaffa and the Tok’ra and tell them what happened. Tell Bra’tac that Teal’c survived.” She doesn’t know how to contact Ry’ac, but Bra’tac will get the message to Teal’c’s son. “And tell my dad that I’m alive and,” she swallows a knot in her throat, “that I love him.” She nearly asks him to try to find Jack’s transponder, but realizes that Caldwell would have attempted to locate Jack first; she was too far down the command chain to have been the first person he tried to beam up.
She blinks and flips back into military mode. “Pick up everyone at the Alpha Site and take everyone to Atlantis. Tell Elizabeth that we’re sorry, but help is not coming from Earth. Try to survive. Don’t tax the ship by trying to come back for us; we’ll make it.”
Standing up, Caldwell offers her his hand. “I’m sorry.”
She stands and smiles sadly as she shakes his hand. “Me too. Take care of our people.”
“You do the same.”
She’s beamed back down into her living room to face an impatient-looking Daniel and concerned-looking Teal’c. “We’re staying,” she says with a deep breath after explaining where she’s been for the past hour. “They can’t fit everyone, so we’re staying.”
“That’s it?” Daniel asks in disbelief. “They beam you up there and all that happened is that we’re staying?”
She shrugs. “We’re not leaving people behind.” There’s no need to tell them about her talk with Hermiod: the beam had no effect on the baby and Hermiod had run a scan just to prove it when she looked unconvinced. She’ll mention it later, if only to share the news that she’s having a boy. “They’re giving us a 302 and a few supplies.” Mostly she has to pee.
“How are they delivering the 302?” Teal’c asks, aware of the implications.
“They’re flying them in.” Anticipating the argument, she holds up her hand before Daniel can say anything. “Revealing information about the Stargate program isn’t a security risk at this point, and I think the 40% of the town that’s not SGC is going to be okay hearing about this. You, however,” she points to Teal’c, “are still a human with a gold tattoo on his forehead.” He nods. While the non-military residents have proven themselves to be extraordinarily adaptable under the craziest of conditions, she’s not sure revealing that an alien really has been living amongst them wouldn’t be the final straw. Cassie’s so used to passing as human that it’s not even worth talking about.
“And you think they can handle that?”
“The world ended, Daniel. No one went psychotic.”
She fully expects to eat her words when the 302 flies into town a few hours later, but nobody makes a fuss.
“What are we going to do with it, ma’am?” Walter asks, standing next to her in the snow as the 302 lands. Most of the town’s come out to watch, curious about the sudden noise in the air after three months of silence.
“I haven’t figured that out yet, Walter,” she says, because she hasn’t. If nothing else, they can use it to scout out supplies and survey destroyed areas without having to spend twelve hours in a car. She’s already thinking about scavenging it for spare parts, maybe hacking into the energy systems to boost their electrical power through the winter. “But it seemed like a good thing to have.”
The canopy opens and Colonel Caldwell himself climbs out with the duffel bags of supplies Sam’s requested. He drops the bags on a blue tarp and then salutes. “Ma’am.”
“At ease, Colonel,” Sam smiles. “You didn’t have to do this personally.”
“I wanted to see it one last time, ma’am.”
Sam nods. As soon as Caldwell’s back up on the Daedalus, he’s going to fly away with the order to never return. She’d want one last breath of Earth air, too. She finds herself unexpectedly emotional. The likelihood of survival here is slim, but it’s even slimmer in the Pegasus galaxy with the Wraith and who knows what else.
“You sure I can’t convince you to come with us?”
Sam shakes her head slowly. Atlantis has enough scientists and she thinks that if she leaves Gateway, the entire town might fall apart. “No.”
Caldwell nods in understanding and snaps to attention, saluting smartly. “Godspeed, General,” he says.
She returns the salute. If she knew him better, she might break protocol and give him a hug. “Godspeed, Colonel. Now get back to your ship.”
Daniel stomps on the mat to kick most of the snow off his boots. There’s no way to get rid of it all but they’ve agreed that the smaller the puddle of melted snow in the hallway, the better. Though it’s only the second week in December, winter’s been upon them for over a month. He hangs up his coat next to Teal’c’s and blinks at the hot pink boots occupying the usual spot of his brown ones. He tiptoes around the small puddles of melted snow, careful not to let his socks touch the cold water, and walks toward the kitchen and the sound of voices. The kitchen’s pleasantly warm with the stove on – he can smell cookies – and residual heat from the fire blazing in the living room. Getting enough electricity to power central heating was a pipe dream, everyone knew it, and they’ve accepted that their house is going to be full of hot and cold spots all winter and there’s nothing they can do about it. Sam’s already planning on how to fix it come spring.
“Don’t you have your own house?” Daniel asks, spying Cassie at the kitchen table. She’s left her knit hat on, her hair stuffed up underneath it except for a few stubborn strands that have escaped to frame her face, but stripped down to a tanktop and jeans and cast her socks aside somewhere. Her toenails are hot pink.
Cassie looks up from the ornament she’s painting. It started as a holiday project at school, something messy and glittery to occupy the younger kids and something with enough creative possibility to occupy the older ones. When they decided to cancel school for the rest of the winter on account of the weather, there were leftover supplies. “Yes,” she slowly twirls her paintbrush through her fingers, careful to not splatter paint everywhere; the table’s already a mess with glitter, it doesn’t need paint added to the disaster. “But our gas line’s on the fritz again. The guys are neck-deep in fixing it.” She sighs. They’ve managed to make do with cooking in the fire, but it’s a little difficult to bake anything over an open flame. “Help yourself,” she gestures with her elbow to the collection of cookies cooling on the counter and returns her attention to the ornament. “I made an Abydos for you,” she says.
It’s only then that Daniel notices what Cassie’s been painting. Carefully drawn in silver glitter on the deep blue spheres are Stargate glyphs. She almost has the entirety of Earth’s gate painted, plus several symbols that aren’t on their home gate. He smiles, recognizing the address to Atlantis lined up behind Earth’s address. Set off to the side, done in black and silver on a set of smaller ornaments, is what he thinks is the address for Hanka and its point of origin.
Teal’c proudly shows Daniel the ornament bearing Chulak’s point of origin. He’d been impressed that Cassie had all the symbols committed to memory, even more so that she could recall what each of them represented. He’s not certain that either Sam or Daniel can do that.
“Also,” Cassie says, squinting at the ornament in her hand. She gently runs her thumbnail along the line of wet glitter, straightening it out. “Isaac asked me to marry him and I don’t know how I feel about it.”
Daniel blinks at the dramatic change of topic and Cassie’s nonchalant attitude.
“I was not aware your relationship with Isaac was considered serious.”
Cassie looks up at Teal’c. “Neither was I.” They’re certainly together and exclusive, but neither of them had brought up marriage or the future. Cassie hadn’t even been aware that it was a consideration: getting the town set up and everyone back on their feet and surviving the winter seemed like a bigger issue than the technical details of their relationship.
“What are you going to say?” Daniel bites into a cookie, the chocolate warm and gooey from the oven.
She shrugs. “’Yes,’ probably.” She frowns at the glyph and, convinced that a line is too thick and curvy, wipes the whole thing off with a wet cloth and starts over.
“Well that’s certainly a rousing declaration of love.”
Cassie puts down the ornament and paintbrush to look at Daniel. “The candidate pool isn’t exactly huge. And not everyone had the luxury of coming to the end of the world with a pre-existing fire-forged relationship.”
Daniel blinks at her, though she has a point. He, Sam and Teal’c are beyond lucky that they all survived together.
“Statistically, the person I would give the rousing declaration of love for is dead. Isaac’s a great guy.” The timer dings and Cassie stands up. She wipes her fingers on her pants, leaving streaks of blue glitter on the black fabric, and opens the oven to remove the last batch of cookies.
Daniel has to give her credit for making the best of things, though he realizes that if any one of them is fully aware of how to make the best of their world falling apart, it’s Cassie.
By the time Christmas arrives, the entire town is permanently blanketed in eighteen inches of snow. But the snow doesn’t deter anyone from coming out on Christmas Eve, skiing or snowshoeing or trudging through the pathways they’ve managed to keep clear, to the high school cafeteria.
Sam gasps in awe at the room. It doesn’t even look like a cafeteria. It looks more like a grand hall in a castle. Candles line the center of long tables covered in colored cloth, each seat complete with a place setting and a Christmas cracker set on the plate. If she looks too closely, she’ll see through the façade and see the mismatching silverware and the wine glasses that were collected from incomplete sets in the houses no one’s living in and that some of the plates are chipped or plastic, so she doesn’t. It’s perfectly beautiful.
Daniel’s hand is warm on her lower back and they scan the board for their names; everyone’s been assigned seats with hand-lettered place cards resting on the stem of their wine glasses. They find their seats at a table at the front and Sam slides in next to Cassie, already seated next to Isaac. Further down on their table is an unlit menorah, and Sam spies a few others scattered about the room.
She smiles across the table at Teal’c and the baby kicks, seemingly as impatient for food as she is. They’ve started work on names, slowly, and the three of them each have a list. She has two and a half months before it becomes really important, but she’s trying not to think about that. She’s managed to make everything seem somewhat okay while pregnant, but the concept of a tiny human being entirely dependent upon her, Daniel, and Teal’c is terrifying. She blinks away the thoughts and smiles instead when a jingle bell rings, signaling for silence.
They bow their heads as the entire room goes silent while someone says a quick thank you for the food and survival. Sam squeezes Cassie’s and Daniel’s hands and they squeeze back.
Someone hits play on a Christmas album and volunteers start to bring out platters of food.
Tears unexpectedly spring to her eyes and she’s thankful for the candlelight, though those around her notice that she’s suddenly gone still and quiet. She nods and sniffles and wipes at her eyes, assuring the others that she really is okay. The attempt by everyone to make things normal at the end of the world catches her off guard sometimes and she’s reminded of how amazing humanity is, and just why they saved the planet all those times before.
Daniel kisses her cheek and Cassie squeezes her hand and Teal’c’s knee bumps up against hers and closes her eyes. She takes a deep breath and by the time she’s opened her eyes, someone’s set food in front of her.
Dinner was a bizarre spread. In addition to being a celebration, Christmas Eve dinner was an excuse to use up everything that was about to go bad or that they’d have no reason to use before it turned. There’d been attempt to adhere to traditional dishes, but some – like the acorn squash with jalapeño jelly – had been a little on the strange side. Sam liked the flavor of the squash, which Cassie blamed on pregnancy doing weird things to taste buds because no one should like that, but the texture had been too strange for her to eat too much of it.
The three of them walk back to their house in silence as a light snow starts to fall. Sam slides her gloved hands into theirs. She looks up at the cloudless sky, confident that they’ll catch her if she trips. Despite the world being turned upside down, the stars are the same.
She knows that things are bad elsewhere, that the very earth under her feet is still shifting and settling into new formations, that the skies have opened up to torrential rain and unending wind. Mountains have been leveled and islands have sunk, deserts are flooded and coasts have disappeared. Parts of the planet that used to be home to millions are now barren and empty, the land unstable and the air scorched.
Here, life is quiet. It’s cold and snowy and she’s worried about how bad winter will be and what to do when the baby comes, but life is quiet. She can’t quite fool herself into thinking that nothing happened or that this life is normal, and she doesn’t want to. But things are calm and stable for now and they’re safe here. She did everything in her power to bring everyone to safety and here they stand, against all odds.
Sam breathes deeply, the air crisp and cold and clean on her tongue. Their front door has been sticking lately and she turns to face the empty street while Daniel plays with the door. He’s convinced that he’s figured out the secret, though she and Teal’c know that the real secret is just to hit it hard enough. Her breath hangs in small puffs in the dark night and she looks up at the stars again.
Teal’c’s hands on her hips draw her out of her reverie and she sighs as she leans back into his chest. Her son kicks inside of her and she settles a hand over her stomach and tries not to think about how much she misses his father. She bites the inside of her cheek, silencing the rush of sadness rising up in her chest.
Daniel finally gets the door open and Sam turns and follows him inside, feeling Teal’c behind her. She’s not quite so pregnant yet that she can’t bend over to undo her own boots, but she’s getting there. Daniel recognizes the reluctance in her eyes and remains kneeling after untying his own boots to unlace hers. She settles one hand on Teal’c’s shoulder for balance and carefully steps away from the shoes so as to not get her socks wet with icy cold snow.
“Is anyone tired?” Daniel asks, hanging up his coat next to Sam’s. Time and clocks and wristwatches are slowly becoming less important as their electricity becomes more unreliable – Sam thinks they can stabilize the problem if they have enough relief between snowstorms soon – and they begin to depend upon sun and candles for light.
“Not really,” Sam says, heading to the living room. They’d left the fire going when they’d left for dinner, but it’s now burned down to mostly coals with a few licks of flame making their way around the charred logs. She wraps a quilt over her shoulders and sits on the couch while Daniel pokes at the fire to get it going again.
She tugs the handmade quilt closer and wonders who made it and for whom; she’s long moved past being unsettled by living in someone else’s house, sleeping in someone else’s bed and wearing someone else’s clothes, but she thinks about them sometimes, the people who used to live here. She hopes that they’re alive and safe, whoever they are and wherever they went.
Teal’c sits beside her on the couch and immediately settles his arm around her shoulder when she leans into him. He brushes melting snow from her hair. Daniel adds a few more logs and coaxes the fire back to life as Teal’c watches, the flames representing life through the harsh winter that is only just beginning. There is sufficient firewood to see them through stacked in the back of the house, he made certain of that, and likely enough to share with those who ignored his warnings that they had not cut enough.
Daniel leans back on his heels, admiring the now-roaring fire, and sets the spark screen securely in front of the fireplace. He lights a few candles, though a glance out the window at their neighbors confirms that the electricity has chosen to work tonight. Before joining Sam and Teal’c on the couch, he kneels by the Christmas tree and pushes the plug into the outlet with his fingers crossed. It lights up, a soft white glow falling across the room and he smiles in success. They’d found the fake tree in the basement and spent an afternoon removing the multicolored lights that had hung on its limbs, replacing them with white lights tossed into a cart by Cassie on a whim during an early supply run to Edmonton. Cassie’s ornaments hang on the tree’s branches, proudly displaying gate addresses they’ll never again enter for planets whose stars they can’t even see at night.
“What do you think about Jonah?” She asks after a while, breaking the quiet silence otherwise full of wood popping and snow falling. The two of them have made it clear that they will support any decision she makes about her son’s name, but she thinks that they’re in this for the long run and they ought to at least have a vote. The quilt has long been tossed aside, warmth from the two men beside her and the fire in front enough to burn away the chill from her skin.
“It is a good name,” Teal’c says.
Daniel nods in agreement.
Sam rests her hands over her stomach, as if to tell her son that he has a name. He’s settled now, no longer turning somersaults. Daniel’s hand clasps her right and Teal’c’s hand covers her left. She turns her palms over to intertwine her fingers with theirs and kisses each man’s cheek. She swallows and wishes there was a way she could rest her head on both their shoulders at once.
She doesn’t know what kind of world Jonah will be born into, but she does know that he will be loved.
Chapter 5: moving parts
“Steven,” Elizabeth interrupts his predictable protest, “it’s been ten years. You can call me Elizabeth.”
Caldwell frowns. “Elizabeth. For all we know, they could be dead now.”
She tilts her head. “It doesn’t hurt to check. Now that we’ve gotten rid of the Wraith, Atlantis is probably be safer than Earth. If any of those movies John brought are correct, they’ve been fighting for their lives for ten years. I think it’s time we gave them some help.”
He knows he’s inevitably going to lose this argument, but he needs to make all of his points anyway. “General Carter ordered us to leave them behind.”
“And I’m ordering you to go get them,” she says with a smile. “What is it, Rodney?” She asks, finally noticing him loitering to the side of the table she’s sharing with Caldwell. She checks her watch: it’s 2:00 in the morning, they chose the mess because it would be virtually empty and a little more relaxed than her office. But she’s long learned that pointing out the time to Rodney McKay is an exercise in futility.
“I figured out the power situation in the Daedalus. The hyperdrive engines were draining –”
“Let me stop you right there, Rodney. Can you fix it?”
“Yes. As I was saying, it’s a simple –”
“Good.” Elizabeth smiles at him. “Keep me updated.”
Rodney scowls, knowing when he’s been brushed off, but leaves with a curt nod. He’s not looking forward to stripping down the Daedalus and then spending two and a half weeks onboard traveling through the most boring area of space he’s ever seen, even if it does mean that he gets to be part of the rescue mission to Earth.
Elizabeth takes a sip of her tea and returns her attentions to Caldwell. “You leave as soon as the ship’s ready. Go get our people.”
He nods and can’t help the smile that tugs at the corners of his mouth. “Yes ma’am.”
Chapter 6: shadowman
The rumbling noise catches him off guard. He doesn’t recognize the sound and he immediately steps off the broken road in deference to the unknown. The others follow him and the road slowly grows brighter as the sound grows louder. He blinks at it and frowns. His first instinct is to hide in the tall grass until the car passes. It sounds strange to him, the mechanical growling racing through the silence. It’s been so long since he’s heard a car that he’s nearly forgotten what one sounds like. “Hold up,” he says to the others and steps further off the road into the weeds, though they aren’t quite hidden from view.
He lets out a breath when the SUV passes them. He’s about to relax completely when suddenly the SUV swerves. The brakes screech as it turns hard to the left. The tires squeal as the driver reverses, quickly turning around, and the car comes to a sudden stop in front of them. The window rolls down.
His hand automatically goes to the holster at his hip. The bullets are handmade, melted down from whatever metal they could find, and the gunpowder was cooked up in a shack outside of Duluth, but the gun will fire and mostly in a straight line. He squints, still seeing spots from the headlights, hesitant to draw his weapon if he doesn’t have to. Working guns are rare, though anyone with access to enough gas to power the SUV definitely has a nice selection back home. He holds out his hand to his two companions, gesturing for them to be ready to fight but not to start anything.
The driver hits the dome light and he blinks against the brightness in the pitch black night. When his vision clears, he stares at her, not quite believing what he sees.
“Way to be alive, Jack,” Cassie grins. The grin falls as she peers outside the car around him and then looks forward, the way she came. “Get in the car.”
It’s an order. The urgency in her voice keeps him on guard as he hops in the car, followed immediately by Siler and Reynolds. In the enclosed space of the Jeep, he realizes that, as a group, they don’t smell that great.
“Hi, Jack,” Daniel turns in the passenger seat as Cassie takes off, heading in the direction they’d just left behind. He hands them all small canvas bags. “Figured you guys might need some of this.”
Jack opens the bag to discover water and food. It reminds him so much of a packed lunch for school: a sandwich, an apple, and even a little container of what he thinks are homemade potato chips. “Hi,” he says, unsure what to say to his friends after ten years of thinking that they were dead. He pulls out the reusable water bottle and unscrews the lid, desperate for something to drink.
Siler bites hungrily into an apple while Reynolds finishes most of his water in one go. They’ve been running dangerously low on water the past few days, and what they have had hasn’t tasted too pleasant.
“Why are we going back this way? Saskatoon’s that way.” Jack jerks his thumb back behind him.
Cassie glances in the rearview mirror, though can barely see him silhouetted in the darkness. “That’s why we’re heading away. Where have you been lately? Saskatoon’s a mess.”
They’ve been in Toronto, mostly, until the Church of the Revelation finally wrestled control of the city away from the gangs that had been fighting over it since the beginning, but there’s time enough to tell stories later. “Rumor has it they’ve got the lights on.”
Daniel grins. “So do we.”
“Oh, crap!” Cassie slams on the brakes and everyone in the car is thrown against their seatbelts as they come to a sudden stop. “We were gone a minute and a half, how do they have this set up already?”
Jack looks out through the windshield to see Cassie’s headlights illuminating three SUVs blocking the road. Her hand moving toward the center console draws his attention. She pulls out a gun and sets it on her lap. He settles his hand on his own weapon, ready for a fight if it comes to it.
“We had a deal!” One of the drivers shouts out.
Cassie sticks her head out the window. “Just needed to pick someone up, that’s all. No harm intended. You saw us. We didn’t go more than half a kilometer into your territory.” She’s shouting, but trying to be polite about it.
The driver spits out his window. “Tell General Carter that the next time one of her people comes not half a kilometer into our territory to just pick someone up, we’re gonna send them back to her in pieces.”
Jack’s momentarily too distracted by the fact that Sam’s suddenly a general to focus on the idea that she’s alive.
“I’ll pass that along. You gonna move or do I need to drive around this?”
The driver’s eyeroll is practically audible as he moves his car out of the way.
Cassie floors it.
“So, hi,” Daniel says once they’re a safe distance away from the roadblock. “Welcome to Saskatchewan.”
“Thanks,” Reynolds says, sounding a little out of it.
Cassie looks in the rearview mirror. “Oh,” she says, “do not puke in this car. Roll down the window.”
While he ignores Reynolds throwing up out the window on the other side of the car, Jack tries to settle his own stomach. After ten years of walking, broken up by the occasional bicycle, being inside of an enclosed vehicle is strange. “Sam’s alive?” he asks, mostly to distract himself. He’ll figure out how she made general later.
Daniel turns to look at him. “Yes,” he says simply. Beneath the dirt and exhaustion in Jack’s face, he spies a glimmer of hope. “Teal’c, too.” He sits back in his seat as Cassie speeds them through the pitch black night, her high beams the only illumination on the deserted highway. “We’ll take you to the hospital first; you need to get checked out. We’ll set you up in temporary housing, get used to a community again.”
“And a shower,” Cassie mutters. She flicks her eyes up to the mirror again, this time looking at Jack. “Do not argue. The hospital is standard procedure for newcomers.”
Jack knows military SOP when he hears it – though it sounds odd coming from a woman he watched grow up – and doesn’t say anything. It’ll be nice to shower, shave, and sleep in a bed. They’re all wielding war wounds that could’ve used a doctor months, if not years, ago. Siler’s made do with an eye patch, but Reynolds’ shoulder has gotten worse and his own knees are killing him.
Jack realizes that the shadow he’s been puzzling over for the past few minutes is actually a fence. It isn’t very tall, maybe six feet, but it stretches across until far beyond the brightness of Cassie’s headlights. Cassie slows as they drive closer and she stops at a guard house and turns off the car. She and Daniel get out and motion for the others to follow.
“Evening, ma’am,” the guard says, coming out to meet them. “Password?”
“Hear me roar.”
He flips on a flood light that shines right on the car. “Welcome home, ma’am. We’ll be through in a few minutes.”
Jack stands next to Daniel. He makes out the faded outline of a Stargate glyph on the driver’s side door. “What’s going on?” He can see his breath and would really like to get back into the heated car. Reynolds and Siler huddle together for warmth.
“Standard procedure coming from the east,” Daniel says. “We haven’t had any problems recently, but we used to. The Archons would stick stuff on our cars without anyone noticing.”
“Stuff?” Jack raises an eyebrow. He’s heard of the Archons, everyone has now, but he’s never encountered them directly, only as stories told over campfires by fellow travelers; what he’s heard scares the crap out of him. They’ve never gotten any reliable information on where the Archons are headquartered – only a vague Canada, north.
“Nothing ever blew up,” Cassie says, breathing on her hands, “but it was close a couple of times. It’s why we have the fence and the password. Sergeant, can you throw me the radio?” He sticks his upper body into the Jeep to find the radio and tosses it to her. She catches it.
“You’re going to call it in?” Daniel asks as she checks to make sure it’s on the right frequency.
Cassie nods. “Someone was following us until at least a couple miles outside of town. And I don’t think it was an escort.” She switches her attention to the radio. “Base, this is mobile one. Anyone awake in there?”
“I take it the pickup went smooth?”
She makes a face. “Not quite. Bad wolf.”
“You sure you want to call that?”
Jack watches as Cassie and Daniel share a look and then stare out behind them toward the road, peering into the darkness. It’s eerie how well this entire setup collaborates together; he hasn’t seen this kind of collaboration in ten years, not from any of the towns or territories they’ve passed through. Security elsewhere has either been nonexistent or a couple of guys looking intimidating with biceps and guns.
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
For a few minutes, nothing happens. And then five armed guards run out of the darkness from the town, heading toward the guardhouse. Two of them stop to open the gate while three others jump into cars parked off the road. Within seconds, the three cars swerve around the SUV to block the road from Saskatoon. They kill the engines, but roll down the windows and keep their guns at the ready.
“So,” Jack drags out the word, “what’s bad wolf?”
“Lockdown. Probably an overreaction,” Cassie says. The sergeant gives her the all-clear for the SUV and she hops back in when he tosses her the keys. She waits for everyone to buckle up before she turns the key.
Jack senses that that’s the only explanation he’s going to get for now and settles back into the seat as Cassie drives through the gate, turns left and enters the town. They pass a sign – Welcome to Gateway, population 871 – and then suddenly everything looks staggeringly normal. Neat houses, street signs, small stores, a child’s bicycle abandoned at the end of a driveway. He can tell that there’s been an effort to keep control of lawns and gardens, but some houses are clearly abandoned while others are obviously lived in. He finds himself wondering which one is Sam’s and whether they’ve passed it.
Cassie turns right and pulls into the empty parking lot of the small hospital. She parks neatly between two white lines at the front. “Come on,” she says, turning off the car. “Let’s get you guys some quality time with a nurse.”
Sam blinks, clearing her vision. It’s late and it’s just stopped raining, but there’s fog misting up from the ground and everything’s so dark now. She rolls the window of the truck down. The cool air blasts her in the face and she decides to take it a step further and crank the stereo, some obnoxious Texas-based rock band; they found a cache of CDs in the basement of the new house. Twenty more minutes and she’ll be home.
She wouldn’t have gone alone, except the McNally clan won’t deal with anyone but her; trust is rarer than gasoline lately and if driving an hour and a half one way by herself is what has to be done to make sure their friends have a working generator, she’s going to do it. She picked up a goat and four barrels of hard cider in payment. She feels bad for the goat: in addition to the weather, she’s been driving a little like a maniac because she’s had to pee for the past hour, but she knows better than to stop and take care of business behind bushes on the side of the road. West is safer than east, but still tricky.
Her headlights light up the fence and she breathes a sigh of relief. She pauses at the guard house to roll down her window.
“Evening, General,” the guard says.
Sam smiles at him. “Evening, Sergeant. Everything quiet since I left?”
“Yes ma’am. Password please?”
“Hear me roar.”
He radios ahead that they should open the gate for her. “Have a good night, ma’am.”
Sam catches his expression upon seeing the goat and stifles a laugh as she drives forward. She waves at the two men manning the gate and heads into town. Passing the hand painted sign welcoming her home, she breathes a sigh of relief. The relief turns to a frown when she spies three black cars speeding toward her, but decides that it’s not worth making them stop to explain themselves. It’s been a while since they’ve heard from the Archons, they’re due for a lockdown. If she’s needed, someone will find her.
A left, a right, and another left and she pulls into their driveway on the outskirts of town. They moved into the larger house a few years ago when she realized that she was pregnant again; it was silly to make the two boys share a room when there were other houses with enough space. They’d also wanted to move out of the center of town: though things had settled, Daniel had stepped down as mayor, and Sam wasn’t technically needed as often, that didn’t stop people from bothering them in the middle of the night whenever the duty officers couldn’t figure out their problems on their own. The town isn’t large by any means, but it’s a few extra minutes’ walk now in the semi-unpredictable weather and it makes people think twice before waking up her entire house.
She turns off the truck and rests her head on the cool window. The goat bleats and it isn’t thirty seconds before the front door opens.
Teal’c stands silhouetted by flickering lamplight – the electricity’s on the fritz again and Sam suspects that it’ll give out for good after this winter – and he almost catches the small shadow that dashes around his legs and escapes out of the house. Sam grins and hops out of the truck. She swings her daughter into the air and settles her against her hip.
“I missed you,” the three year-old says, burying her face in Sam’s neck.
Sam chuckles and kisses her cheek. “I wasn’t gone that long.” She’d left shortly after dinner.
She yawns. “I listened for you.”
Smiling, Sam bumps the truck door shut with her hip. “Let’s get you back into bed.” She pauses to give Teal’c a quick kiss and promise that she’ll be out in a minute to help him unload. Teal’c kisses his daughter’s forehead and nods before turning to frown at the goat.
The girl’s asleep before Sam even reaches her bedroom. “Sweet dreams, Amelia,” she whispers, brushing a kiss against her forehead as she pulls the covers up over her shoulders and places a teddy bear in her arms.
She pokes her head in the next bedroom and finds her eldest son asleep, dead to the world. Jonah could sleep through a tornado and not notice a thing until the roof was missing when he woke up the next morning. She gives him a goodnight kiss and ruffles his hair.
Though Eli’s been sleeping lightly these days, she gently bumps open the door to his room with her shoulder. She’s not surprised to see him sitting up, awake. “Hey, kiddo.”
“I heard cars,” he says, squinting at her in the dark.
She’s pretty sure he needs glasses, but doesn’t have a clue how to get them for him. “I know,” she says, stepping into his room. “Nothing to worry about, go back to sleep.”
Eli nods and slides back down under the covers. “Goodnight, Mom.”
Sam smiles at him and tucks the blanket around his shoulders. She kisses his cheek. “Sleep well.” She pulls his door shut again and makes her way downstairs, taking a brief detour for the bathroom, and back outside to help Teal’c.
“You have acquired a goat,” Teal’c says, sensing Sam behind him. He stares at the animal.
Sam chuckles and wraps her arms around his waist, hugging him from behind. “I have indeed acquired a goat.”
He lifts an eyebrow. “Why have you acquired a goat?” They have two in the backyard already.
She’s never received livestock in exchange for anything before. The goat bleats again, apparently eager to be off the truck. “Payment for fixing their generator. The cider’s back payment for fuel, I think.” She’s long lost track of who owes whom for what; when she reports the cider to the wiry accountant who took over town finances, he’ll cross something off a list and look sufficiently satisfied. She frowns, realizing what’s been off since she got home. “Where’s Daniel?”
Teal’c squeezes her hands and then extracts himself from her embrace to deal with the goat. They’ll leave the cider in the truck and drive it to the tavern in the morning. “There was a council meeting,” he says.
“At this hour?” Emergency town council meetings can happen, but they’ve been rare lately and usually involve her.
Teal’c nods and decides to lie, for now. “I am unaware of its purpose.” He frowns, unsure how to get the goat out of the back of the truck; making the assumption that the animal won’t bite him, he encourages it to the edge and picks it up and sets it on the ground. There’s a rope loosely tied around its neck and he leads the goat to the back of the house. It’ll spend the night with the chickens, far away from the vegetable garden, and tomorrow they’ll figure out how to rebuild the fence to hold three goats instead of two.
Coming back around the front of the house, Teal’c studies Sam in the darkness, making out her pale features by moon and starlight. He and Daniel had not discussed whether to tell her the news tonight; Daniel had left immediately after the meeting ended. He decides that she should know, but in a few minutes, once they’re inside and warmer.
Sam covers a yawn and follows Teal’c inside. Suddenly exhausted, she makes quick work of changing for bed and washing up; their electricity may be unreliable lately, but their water supply has only been disrupted twice in ten years. She chalks it up to really good luck.
Teal’c blows out the candle and settles into the bed next to her. He nudges her shoulder, waking her up from a slight dozing. “There is something you must know,” he says quietly.
She looks at him in the darkness. The moon is bright tonight, nearly shining out the stars closest to it in the sky. “What is it?” She braces her arms behind her and pushes herself upright, sitting at eye level with him.
“O’Neill is alive.”
She blinks once, twice, three times, and isn’t sure she heard him correctly. “What?”
“Jack,” the other man’s first name feels foreign on his lips, “is alive, Samantha.”
Sam opens her mouth, but no words escape. She closes it again, momentarily speechless. She inhales deeply, wrestling her emotions into something controllable, and then says, “Start from the beginning.”
“Our perimeter scouts reported three men walking east on highway 16 toward Saskatoon. They passed close enough to one of them that he could confirm it was General O’Neill, Sergeant Siler, and Colonel Reynolds.”
She exhales nervously. “Where is Daniel?” She repeats her earlier question.
“He and Cassandra left an hour ago to pick up the three of them.”
At least now she understands the reason for the cars heading out of town: extra security. “I…”she realizes she doesn’t actually have any words.
Teal’c watches as Sam’s jaw clenches, holding back waves of emotion she hasn’t had to deal with in years. She closes her eyes and a tear escapes. He catches it with his thumb.
Sam turns her cheek into his palm, feeling the smooth metal of the ring on his finger. She rubs the matching silver band around her own finger with her thumb. Daniel wears a matching ring as well, but there’s a fourth, hidden away in a box at the back of a drawer. The simple rings had come in pairs, and she hadn’t been able to leave the fourth behind when she found them. She opens her eyes. “I love you.”
Teal’c rests his forehead against hers. He never had any doubt. “And I you.”
Siler and Reynolds leave with two airmen Jack recognizes but whose names he doesn’t remember. It feels strange to be separate from the two men after a decade of spending nearly every minute with them. They’ve all been given doses of homemade antibiotics, with the assurance that the drugs have been thoroughly tested and won’t kill them, and been bandaged up and sewn back together.
“Now what?” Jack asks, stepping out into the grey dawn.
“Cassie takes you home,” Daniel says, “you shower, we burn those clothes, and you get some sleep.”
“Why won’t you let me see her?” It’s nearly a growl and the ferocity of his own voice surprises him. He’s spent ten years alternating between looking for her and thinking that she’s dead and now that he’s within shouting distance of Sam, he can’t think of anything else.
“Because you look like Charles Manson,” Cassie says, matter-of-factly. She takes his arm and guides him to stare at his reflection in one of the SUV’s side mirrors.
Jack knows how bad he looks, but Cassie pointing it out puts it into sharp perspective. They’ve run across barter towns where they could trade a couple hours of work in the fields for a haircut and a shave and maybe a lukewarm bath, but personal grooming took a backseat to survival. He’s learned how to go two months without a real meal, and it shows. With a scraggly beard and unkempt, greasy hair, he does look a little like an older Charles Manson. A shower and shave won’t do anything for the hollows beneath his eyes, but a good night’s sleep might. “Fine,” he says and turns around. “What?” He catches Daniel staring at him with an expression he thinks might be relief.
“It’s good to see you, Jack.” Daniel keeps his voice low, worried that if he speaks up his voice will crack.
Cassie nods and wipes a few tears away before Jack can notice. The adrenaline from the drive to pick him up has finally worn off. “I’d hug you, but you smell really bad.”
“Thanks,” Jack smiles at her. “It’s good to see you guys, too.”
Daniel adds two more logs to the fire before replacing the grate and quietly making his way upstairs. He’d only barely gotten to sleep when someone had knocked on the door and dragged him off to the meeting about Jack. That was hours ago and he’s running on fumes now. They’ve long run out of real toothpaste but they’ve made a pretty good approximation with baking soda and peppermint oil, and he quickly washes up and changes into pajamas.
He folds his glasses and sets them on the nightstand before climbing into bed next to Sam.
She wakes up immediately and turns in Teal’c’s arms to face Daniel. “How is he?” Most of their newcomers have come to them sick and injured lately; years spent fighting for their lives against the elements and other survivors have not been gentle.
“Jack’s fine,” Daniel assures her. All three of them had been declared surprisingly healthy, considering that it had been ten years since they’d seen anyone with medical degree and had patched themselves up as necessary along the road. “He’s staying the night at Cassie’s.”
Sam nods slowly and looks out the window at the brightening dawn. She wants to see him, but she’s also terrified. She’d mentally buried him years ago. The days when she turns and expects to find him sitting at the kitchen table are long gone, but there are rare times when she misses him so badly that it aches.
“Go back to sleep,” Daniel whispers and kisses her forehead.
Sam takes a shaky breath and closes her eyes. If she sleeps at all, it’ll be fitful, but she at least ought to try.
Daniel catches Teal’c’s eyes and the two of them look at Sam lying between them. They know that she’s given them as much of her heart as she can, but a small part of it still belongs to him.
He may be new in town, but Jack has a suspicion that Cassie is taking the long way to Sam’s house. As they walk through the center of town, they pass by a circle of stones surrounding a flame. Cassie looks like she doesn’t want to talk about it so he stops to read the carved sign: In Memoriam. He swallows; he hasn’t seen any memorials in at least seven years. But Gateway’s the safest place he’s been since they left Minnesota. It’s hard to maintain a garden or a statue (or a flame) when you have to constantly look over your shoulder.
His stop at the memorial flame causes him to momentarily lose sight of Cassie. He looks around and heads off in the direction he thought she was taking him. After a few paces, he’s stopped by a piercing whistle. He turns and finds Cassie smirking, standing in the complete opposite direction that he was headed.
“She’s this way,” Cassie points with a grin. “Unless you want to see the croquet court.”
He can’t think of anything he wants to see less, and catches up with her.
Jack finds himself slowing down as they get closer to Sam’s house. Cassie’s given him a basic rundown of the past ten years as she walked him across town but the conversation falls silent over the last few blocks.
“Any advice?” He asks, pausing a few feet out of eyesight from the house. He kicks at a small pile of leaves that have collected in the street and fights back a yawn; Cassie’s twins had woken him up only three hours after he’d fallen asleep, demanding to hear stories and did he know that Mommy was cooking bacon. He’d passed on the bacon, though it had smelled wonderful, and stuck to the pancakes: he knows better than to suddenly load his system with food it hasn’t had to digest in almost a decade.
Cassie shrugs. “She didn’t want to leave you behind.”
His brow furrows in confusion.
“At the mountain,” she clarifies. “Apparently Teal’c and Daniel had to drag her away when she couldn’t find you. She would’ve gone back down to look for you if it weren’t for them.”
Jack nods and takes a deep breath. It had taken them two weeks to dig themselves out of the mountain. They probably never would’ve found her if she had gone back to look for him. “That’s advice?”
Cassie laughs and shakes her head. “Go. And if you need it, there’s a bed at my house for you.”
He pulls her into a hug. “Thanks, kiddo.”
She hugs him back and then playfully pushes him away.
Jack takes the hint and starts walking.
Sam’s cleaning up from lunch when she sees movement through the window. She looks over her shoulder at Daniel and Teal’c. They both nod and she offers them a nervous smile before she wipes her hands on a towel and opens the front door.
Her breath shakes as she slowly walks down the steps of her house. She’s torn between blinking and staring straight ahead, certain that he’s a hallucination that will disappear as soon as she looks away, uncertain that she wants to know for sure. He looks awful, like he’s been to hell and back a few times and hasn’t seen a hot meal in six years, but he’s still Jack. She covers her mouth once she stands in front of him, still disbelieving that he’s really alive, really here. She reaches out to touch his arm, fingers making contact with soft fabric and strong muscle underneath.
He’s still there.
“Are you alive?” she whispers behind her fingertips, needing to hear his voice to truly believe that this isn’t an illusion.
Jack nods. “Yes.”
Sam lets out a breath and bites her lip, her throat suddenly tight. She swallows, but it doesn’t help. She drops her hand to catch his, feeling calloused fingers lace with hers.
Jack bites the inside of his cheek, trying to stem the tears he feels pricking at his eyes. He steps closer to her and, when she doesn’t flinch, wraps his arms around her shoulders.
She sighs and melts against him, bringing her arms up around his waist, holding him close. She feels tears against her cheek that aren’t hers and holds him tighter. “I missed you,” she manages to eke out before her own tears start to fall. She buries her face in the crook of his neck and presses her palms open against his back. Underneath the homemade soap they all use and the faint musty scent from the jacket that must’ve come out of a box, she can still smell Jack.
“God, Sam,” he breathes, still in shock that they’re both here and alive. The memory of her in his arms had gotten him through countless cold and dangerous nights.
They’re interrupted by a concerned and curious, “Mommy?”
Sam laughs and pulls away, wiping at her eyes. She looks over her shoulder at Daniel standing in the doorway. He mouths an apologetic sorry at her and shrugs, but she grins; Amelia can be fast and sneaky when she wants to be. She bends down and lifts her daughter into her arms, giving Jack a few seconds to compose himself before she makes introductions. “Amelia, I want you to meet Jack.”
Amelia tilts her head, studying Jack, and he’s momentarily freaked out by how similar to Teal’c the small girl looks with that inquisitive expression on her face. And then the girl smiles and she looks like Sam. “Hello,” he says.
Jack looks upward, his attention caught by movement in an upstairs window. He spies the face of a small boy who quickly hides behind a curtain. “How many kids do you have, Carter?”
Sam chuckles and shifts Amelia to her other hip. “Three.” She offers Jack her free hand. “Come inside. We’ll feed you some lunch.”
“Grilled cheese!” Amelia informs him as they walk toward the house.
Chapter 7: cities in dust
Jack’s a little unsettled being in a house after so many years spent mostly outside. Sam notices halfway through dinner and quietly opens a window despite the incoming chill; it isn’t much, but it helps. He nods in silent thanks and returns to telling the story about the time he, Siler and Reynolds had to fight off the bear in Michigan. He embellishes the tale a bit for the benefit of the kids. He has scarier stories, ones about people doing horrific things to each other at the end of the world, ones that sometimes give him nightmares if they allow him to sleep at all, but those can be told later and in different company.
Amelia falls asleep first, curled up in her father’s lap in a chair by the fire. Teal’c carries her upstairs to bed and Daniel follows with Eli despite sleepy protests from the boy that he isn’t tired, not yet. Jonah looks first at his mother and then at Jack and decides to follow the rest of his family upstairs. He makes a comment about homework, but what he’s really after is a stash of Captain America comic books he found in the back of his closet when they first moved in.
Sam smirks, she knows her son’s secret, but doesn’t give him away in front of their guest. She kisses his cheek and wishes him sweet dreams. His footsteps creak up the stairs and pad across the hallway into his room and then it’s just her and Jack. Daniel and Teal’c will stay upstairs to give them some time to talk.
“This is amazing, Sam,” he tells her as he settles into the chair across from the couch. “Everything,” he says, referring to the town, her family, all of it. “You did great.”
She smiles widely, her eyes sparkling with pride in the firelight. “Thank you.” There are days, rare now, when she thinks that she’s going to wake up in that rainy tent in Montana and Walter will tell her they have a satellite connection with the President and all of this will have been a dream.
He takes a sip of his tea; he doesn’t expect to taste coffee again in his lifetime. “So. You, Teal’c and Daniel, huh?” He wasn’t entirely surprised when Cassie told him.
Sam feels her cheeks flush. “Yeah. We make it work.” It had taken a while to figure out, even longer still once Jonah was born, but they’ve settled into each other, knowing nuances and tones and feelings. And three parents makes wrangling three kids a lot easier.
Jack looks at her and hopes she knows that he’d never ask her to give up her family for him. He never even thought he’d see her again; being with his friends once more, and playing the role of cool old uncle to their kids, is more than he could ever ask for.
Though there’s one lie she’s having trouble holding on to any longer, he’s had a lot of information thrown at him today. She looks up at the ceiling, Jonah’s room right above them, and decides to stay quiet for now. “I’m glad you’re alive,” she says. It sounds empty to her ears; she’s so much more than just glad, but if she tries to put her feelings into words she’s afraid that she’s going to cry.
“I’m glad you’re alive,” he returns. He covers a yawn.
“Oh.” Sam kicks herself for not thinking of it earlier. He must be exhausted from ten years on the road, not to mention the excitement of today. “We don’t have a guest room,” she says apologetically. “There isn’t much need for it.”
“Cassie said I could crash there for a while,” he says wryly, finding it an odd juxtaposition; he’d extended the same offer to Cassie about his guest room when they were last in Colorado Springs together.
Sam ponders that for a moment and stares at the door to the office they never use. They’re a team and they belong together and he shouldn’t have to leave every night simply because he had the misfortune of being trapped when the three of them escaped. “We could,” she starts softly, “we could make one for you.” She isn’t sure what she’s hinting at, if anything.
Jack latches on to something in her voice, something that wants him close to her, something that doesn’t want to let him go again, and smiles. “That’d be nice,” he says. He’s pretty sure it’ll be weird too, and not just because he’ll be sleeping inside and in a bed, but it’s the nice part that he’s focused on right now.
She stands up. “I’m just going to let them know,” she points upstairs, “but I’ll walk you back.”
Jack nods and puts on his jacket while she’s upstairs. He hears mumbled voices and listens to her footsteps across the ceiling as she checks into each of her kids’ rooms. She lingers a little in one of them – Jonah must still be awake – and then returns downstairs. She zips up her own coat and then lights a lantern sitting by the door. Jack raises an eyebrow at the flashlight next to it.
“We’re saving batteries for radios and emergencies,” she explains, shutting the door behind her. The lantern isn’t much against the darkness, but it lights up the street enough and the half moon is bright against the stars.
“How do you guys still have batteries?” He hasn’t seen working batteries in six years.
Sam sticks the hand not holding the lantern in her pocket and wishes that she’d thought about gloves. It’s getting cold early this year. “There are three Costcos in Edmonton and they like us there.”
“Do I ask what happened in Saskatoon?” Cassie had explained some of it to him over breakfast, but he was so busy savoring the taste of pancakes that he’d missed most of the details.
Sam’s eyes narrow; they’ll be on lockdown for at least another two days thanks to the roadblock Cassie and Jack encountered. “Don’t,” she suggests. She doesn’t want to ruin the mood of the evening by talking about raids and firebombs. She’ll tell him soon. “We’ve handled it,” her voice lightens, “though it was touch and go there for a while.” It was never all-out war, but it was close and they’d buried a lot of good people. They still have occasional run-ins when the Archons decide to go on a rampage, but it’s mostly quiet now.
Jack drops the subject. He has so many questions about the town – how they have things like bacon and butter, and flour for pancakes, and candles and fuel for lamps, and how they’ve stayed so stable with this many people when every other town he’s seen of this size has torn itself apart within two years – but he’ll learn everything in time. A lot of it must come from books, and the natural resourcefulness of the SGC.
A lamp burns brightly in Cassie’s kitchen and shadows move to greet them at the door. Cassie blinks at the two of them in a moment of confusion and then shrugs, stepping out of the way to let them in.
“I’ll walk you back,” Isaac says, descending the stairs from putting their kids to bed.
Jack expects Sam to protest the need for an escort, but she doesn’t argue. It’s not Sam that needs the extra security, it’s General Carter.
Cassie looks at her husband and jerks her head in the direction of the kitchen. They disappear through the door to give Sam and Jack some privacy.
Jack catches Sam’s hand once they’re alone in the hallway. He wants to touch her, to hold her, to feel her underneath him again as his lips silence her moans, but she has a family now, a family that he’s not quite part of anymore.
Sam reaches out with her other hand and traces his temple and cheekbone, a whisper of a touch over his skin. She doesn’t know how to make this work, or if she should even try. She leans in and presses a gentle kiss to his lips. He means too much not to try.
Jack gathers her into a hug, holding her tightly as her cheek rests against his. “Don’t apologize,” he whispers. He doesn’t begrudge her for moving on, or even that she left him in the mountain, and certainly not for finding happiness after she thought he was dead. “I still technically outrank you,” he jokes when he senses her gearing up to argue or apologize anyway.
She laughs at that and pulls away. She really ought to get home. “It’s good to have you back.”
Daniel feels a light tug on his hand and he looks down to find his son squinting up at him. They’ll have to take him to Edmonton soon and see if they have any glasses in stock that will work with his eyes. He lifts Eli up even though he’s getting a bit big for this.
“Who is he?” Eli asks, his attention on his mom and other dad helping the strange man wrestle a bed into the study. He knows the man’s name is Jack and that he means quite a bit to his parents, but he hasn’t been able to figure out anything else.
Daniel takes a deep breath. “He worked with us, Before.” Eli’s grown up in a world filled with Befores and Afters, a weird world where alien technology powers the lights but the biggest threat is from the next town over. He understands safety and strangers, knows the importance of food and water and wood and that everyone needs to help pick vegetables and, when he’s old enough, he’ll learn about guns and self-defense. Daniel sometimes worries that Eli takes after him just a bit too much, choosing to read and watch everyone instead of participating in the soccer game his sister so desperately wants to be big enough to join.
But Daniel has no idea how to explain to Eli just how important Jack is to him, Sam, and Teal’c.
Eli watches as the three adults tilt the wooden frame on its side to get it through the door. They wordlessly work together like clockwork, like no other set of adults he’s seen outside of his own parents. His mom cups his cheek when she passes him, following the two men back outside to pick up the mattress that has been sitting on the driveway in the sun for four days. He nods, satisfied, and slides out of his father’s arms. “Okay.”
Daniel finds Jack sitting on the back porch, bottle of Sam’s homemade beer in hand, staring at the sunset. “You alright?” He sits next to him on the steps, one ear alert for any shouts from inside. Sam and Teal’c have dinner under control, and Jonah’s pretty good at making sure his younger siblings don’t blow anything up while their parents are occupied, but sometimes another pair of hands is necessary.
Jack exhales and looks up at the sky for a moment, a few stars beginning to blink in the twilight. “I’m still looking over my shoulder.” He takes a sip of the beer. It’s also strange having four walls, a floor and a ceiling surround him every night as he sleeps on a mattress with actual sheets and blankets and pillows. It might be even weirder to not have to share body heat with Siler and Reynolds as they camp by the side of the road, but he’s not about to admit that to Daniel.
Daniel studies Jack in the dying light. In the last few years, they’ve had people arrive with the intent to stay, only to leave a few weeks or a month later, unable or unwilling to readjust to living in one place and a stable community. He doesn’t hold that against them; he understands that it’s hard to wander for years and then suddenly find yourself staying put. “You want to talk about it?”
Jack doesn’t answer for a while. He listens to the wind rushing through the overgrown grass that the goats haven’t been able to reach and the clinking of glass as someone sets the table inside and the soft murmur of voices from the house. “It’s not good out there,” he says. He isn’t talking about the weather.
“You haven’t seen it.” It’s not an accusation or the beginnings of a fight, merely a statement.
“No,” Daniel shakes his head. “But we’ve seen the fallout.” When Jack looks at him sideways in confusion, he continues. “We have refugees from the Church of the Revelation. We lost fifty people when things with the Archons got out of control.”
Jack’s mood darkens when Daniel mentions the Church of the Revelation. The Church is the reason Bill Lee is no longer with them – though whether they killed him outright or he converted to save his life, Jack doesn’t want to know – and why Siler’s missing an eye. The Church’s members have a stronghold across most of the livable northern Midwest and the Great Lakes, ending at the Free Zone border in New York. Their run-ins with that cult were few, but brutal. Most of what he’s heard about the Archons has been summed up as crazier than everyone else, and in a world populated by childbearing farms and gun-wielding hippies and people who will kill you over a can of tuna, that’s saying a lot.
Daniel rests his hand on Jack’s knee. Jack’s told them some of the past ten years, but there’s still more to come. A lot more. And while none of them are going to like what they hear, what he chooses to tell them will pale in comparison to what he doesn’t say at all.
Though it’s growing colder each day, Jack still sleeps with the window open. He’s arranged the bed so he can look out at the stars every night and feel a little less claustrophobic as he tries to fall asleep.
Sleep was easy at first, in the relative safety of his friends’ home, in a town protected by guards and a fence. Once he finally kicked his habit of setting up a rotating watch, sleep came easy, he even welcomed it. The mattress is heaven compared to the various cots and sleeping bags and beds of leaves and grass that he’s closed his eyes on over the past decade. And he certainly won’t complain about having a roof over his head when the skies decide to open in a torrential downpour.
But once the novelty begins to wear off, his grasp on easy sleep disappears again. Along with safety and a mattress and blankets comes the luxury of thinking.
He doesn’t like thinking and he doesn’t like what he thinks.
A child’s cry from upstairs, a creak of floorboards as one parent goes to rescue the child from a nightmare, a whisper of words shh, just a dream, it’s okay.
Anger boils up because his nightmare wasn’t just a dream. And they weren’t there.
Jonah frowns at the open door. He hands his sister her requested glass of water and makes sure that she’s steady in her chair before he goes to inspect the room.
It’s empty. The covers are rumpled, but the room’s empty. Jonah listens, but doesn’t hear any of the telltale sounds that someone’s in the bathroom; no pipes creaking, no water flowing. He scans the room and notices nothing missing except for a backpack that usually sits on the chair by the door. The curtains blow inward from the open window.
Though he knows that his parents had a long night last night, his mom and Daniel getting in at some ungodly hour after a town meeting about the oncoming winter went on far longer than usual, he also knows that it’s best for them to wake up now. Once Amelia’s finished, he sets her glass in the sink and guides her up the stairs to go back to sleep.
He knocks softly on his parents’ door, waiting to hear someone sound like they’re awake before he turns the knob.
Teal’c looks at Jonah over Daniel’s sleeping form. Sam starts to stir behind him. “What is wrong?”
Sam wakes up instantly once she registers her son’s words. “What?” She sits up and blinks in the dim light.
Jonah shrugs. “Jack’s gone.”
Teal’c’s already out of bed, finding clothing and shoes while Sam reaches over and shoves Daniel’s shoulder.
“Jack’s left, Teal’c and I are going to find him. You’re on kid duty,” Sam orders to a barely-awake Daniel, making sure that he’s understood her before she trips out of bed to get dressed.
Daniel dodges the kids’ questions as long as he can, giving them half-truths as answers all day until he can guess which question which child is going to ask simply by the expression on their face.
(“he went for a walk”; not entirely far from the truth)
Where are Mommy and Teal’c?
(“town business”; the omnipresent catchall his three children have learned really means grown-up stuff, stop asking, though they rarely listen to the second half)
Why was Mommy so upset this morning?
(“she didn’t get much sleep last night”; also not entirely far from the truth)
Why’d Mom and Teal’c run out after Jack so fast?
(“they’re worried about him”; he tells Jonah this in confidence, as the only one old enough to really grasp the danger of someone new wandering off on their own)
But when dinner comes and goes and it’s time for bed and there still isn’t a sign of Sam or Teal’c, Daniel exhales sharply as Amelia and Eli run through the litany of questions once more. Amelia tries to ask when’s Mommy coming home around her toothbrush and gets a mouthful of toothpaste all over her ladybug pajamas, which inspires a round of tears and a quick change to far-inferior panda bears.
Daniel ducks his head into Jonah’s room to ask him to please make sure Eli doesn’t skimp on brushing his teeth, and then returns his attentions to his daughter. He kneels and wipes away her tears with his thumb and hugs her tightly while she sniffles; even though she doesn’t understand what’s going on, she’s picked up on his own tension and concern for Jack. “Mommy will be home when you wake up,” he promises, and hopes that it’s true.
She lifts her head from his shoulder. “And Daddy?”
He kisses her nose. “Him too,” though if either of them were going to stay out all night to look for Jack, it would be Teal’c. Sam would try to hold her ground and insist on staying with the search team, but standing up to Teal’c when he’s right has never been anyone’s strong suit.
Jack spies headlights off in the distance, traveling along one of the impeccably-straight roads that plague this area. They’re out looking for him and he’s beginning to think he should have left a note, but it’s too late now. It’s been so long since he’s had other people to think about, other people who weren’t traveling with him, that he’s virtually forgotten how.
As strange as it was to be in a house and in one place for more than a few days it’s almost stranger to be out here making camp alone. Siler and Reynolds had been his impromptu family for ten years but the two men have easily absorbed into Gateway, instantly remembering how to live without looking over their shoulders and what it feels like to know where dinner’s coming from every night. He sees them regularly – there’s a surprising amount to be done, enough that no one ever seems to be bored – and there are times when he catches looks in their eyes, looks that mean they’re remembering things he’s trying very, very hard to forget, but mostly they aren’t his family anymore. They never really were, only out of necessity.
He’s almost angry with Sam. He shouldn’t be, but he is. It couldn’t have been easy, being tasked by the President with the survival of nearly seven hundred people and having to drag them north and then set up some semblance of a civilization with only scant months before winter set in. And he knows it’s been difficult keeping everyone safe all these years, especially when violent drug-addicted nutcases live practically next door and when the weather is so unpredictable that an entire harvest can be wiped out with an unexpected early frost or late heat wave.
But while she was sleeping relatively safely in a house with electricity and running water, in a town protected nightly by armed guards and a fence, he was running and shooting for his life.
Had he been able to, he absolutely would’ve given the order for everyone to leave him behind in the mountain. He doesn’t question their decision to leave. In the two weeks it took to dig out of the mountain, avalanches and ash clouds had dominated the surface, leaving the ground a mess of unstable rubble and slippery dust. When he finally took his first breath of fresh air, it had tasted like death and fire.
He looks up at the stars and tries not to resent his friends for their happiness. He should be relieved that he’s finally safe, as safe as one can be in this screwed up world, and that they’re alive and they’re all together. But he’s not.
Jack settles for a pack of dried fruit and some jerky for dinner, not wanting to risk a fire.
Daniel wakes to the sound of someone trying to be quiet and failing miserably out of sheer exhaustion. When Sam runs into the corner of the dresser and whispers a loud shit, ow, he flips on a bedside lamp and sits up.
She rubs her thigh and blinks in the sudden light. “Sorry,” she apologizes for waking him up.
He shrugs and puts on his glasses so he can see her better. “No luck?” He casts his eyes to the bathroom, but the door’s open and the light’s off. Teal’c is still out.
Sam shakes her head and runs her fingers through her hair. She’s been meaning to cut it for weeks, but hasn’t gotten around to it. “No. We couldn’t even find a trail. Teal’c sent me home when I yelled at some new guy for chewing gum too loudly.”
Daniel spends a moment wondering where one finds gum that’s remotely chewable anymore before focusing on Sam again. He’s seen her at the end of her rope only a few times since they’ve been here and is furious at Jack for making her feel this way again.
She quickly changes into pajamas and washes up and turns out the light before sliding in next to Daniel. She rests her head on his chest, lays her arm over him, and closes her eyes. Her shoulders won’t loosen, so she shakes them and wiggles, trying to force her muscles to relax. It doesn’t work.
Daniel shifts and nudges her to sit up. He slides his body behind her and leans against the headboard before gently tugging her to sit between his legs. “Deep breath,” he whispers and begins to rub her shoulders. He can’t get all the knots out, not when she’s this exhausted and this worked up, but he can give her some relief.
Sam drops her head, her chin falling to her chest, and feels the tension begin to slowly trickle out as Daniel’s fingers work magic across her skin. Tears, completely unexpected, start to fall and Daniel brushes a kiss against the nape of her neck. She nods, understanding his message – she’ll let him know when she needs the hug he’s ready to give.
She’s running on fumes now: three hours of sleep and she doesn’t even remember if she ate anything all day, though Teal’c must have pushed a granola bar or some jerky in her direction. Her emotions take over and she leans into Daniel; his arms wrap around her the moment her back hits his chest.
“He’ll come back,” Daniel whispers, gently turning her so she can rest her head on his shoulder.
She nods. “He’d better,” she laughs bitterly.
They’d only gotten to Saskatchewan two days before Cassie picked them up. Jack hadn’t realized that the entirety of Saskatchewan looks like this: flat, grass, former farmland, sky. It’s better than the cities to the south and east, full of gangs defending scraps of territory with fists and homemade weapons, and cults preaching against evil and sin while practicing those very things behind closed doors. But it is boring.
He has a map in his backpack. It’s the same map he, Siler, Lee, and Reynolds used ever since they crawled out of the mountain. The creases have worn down to tears held together by tape and hope, and the edges are brown and wrinkled from years of dirt and water and fingers, but it’s still mostly readable. They’ve marked areas that are impassable, cities that should be avoided, towns and states that are friendly, everything they could think of to help them survive.
Everything’s so damn flat and open here that he doesn’t need the map. Simple navigation by the sun tells him that he’s going the direction he wants. He’s heading north because he’ll probably be killed if he heads east, and to the west lies the Rockies and he’s not interested in crossing those. South hasn’t been an option for years.
Every few hours, he feels the urge to turn back. And every few hours he turns around and stares back where he came from. But he refuses to turn around until he’s no longer furious with Sam, Teal’c, and Daniel for making the best of a horrible situation and leading something that resembles a happy life.
He adjusts his backpack and hopes that he’s able to turn back before he goes too far.
Sam sighs and leans against the fence. “How did no one see him leave?” It’s a pointless question. He could’ve easily climbed the fence or crawled through a hole; the only parts of the town that are regularly guarded are the entrances on Highway 16 and Railway, and their border patrols aren’t perfect, especially at early hours of the morning. She stares across the flat grassland, looking in vain for some sign of Jack.
It’s been three days. He’s far out of her immediate visibility, but that doesn’t stop her from hoping that every movement she sees on the horizon is him.
Part of her had relaxed when they discovered that he’d also taken food and water plus a sleeping bag, knowing that at least he had supplies. But the rest of her had become even more anxious: this wasn’t just Jack going for a walk – he’d intended to leave.
Teal’c places a hand on her shoulder. They’ve had patrols driving further and further out beyond their borders each day looking for him, but Jack’s military training is as much a part of him as breathing: if he does not want to be found, they will not find him. But there is still hope, though it’s weighed against the resources they’re using to find him.
“We don’t even know which way he went,” she muses, talking to herself. She hopes that he didn’t head back east: if he’s following 16 at all, he would’ve ended up in Saskatoon yesterday and is totally out of reach; the Archons will rip him apart the moment they learn he has any affiliation with them. If he went west, he’s probably made it to Edmonton by now but it’ll take a few days before word can get to them that he’s been found, if they even recognize that he’s one of them. And that’s assuming that he’s following the road at all.
“He did not leave you,” Teal’c says.
She turns and squints at him in the sun. “What?”
“He has been walking for ten years, he is not used to staying in one place.”
Sam mutters that Siler and Reynolds haven’t seemed to mind staying still. Jack’s had the most trouble adjusting and she has her suspicions that he never really adjusted to the fact that the world ended. She takes a deep breath and decides that it’s time she did something other than yell at search parties and allow her imagination to run wild. “Let’s go find him.” She lets Teal’c’s hand drop and walks back toward the town to pick up a car.
On the way, they run into Isaac, who tells them that he found a loose corner of the north fence that looks like it was recently crawled under.
Sam takes off at a sprint for the Jeep.
“You,” Sam throws him up against the side of the car, “are an idiot.”
Jack blinks at her in the bright sunlight, trying not to wince at her fingers digging into his shoulders. It takes all of his effort not to raise an eyebrow and pull rank, old habits dying very hard.
“Take a walk,” Sam says to the patrol guards that came with her. It’s a sunny day and visibility’s good; they’ll see any trouble coming for miles. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Needed some air,” he says, unconvincingly.
Sam raises an eyebrow. “Go outside next time,” she suggests. “Outside the house,” she quickly amends, since technically sneaking out of the town in the middle of the night qualifies as going outside. She drops her hands from his shoulders and crosses her arms instead. “You’re finally safe from all that insanity and you want to leave?”
Jack’s eyes narrow and he feels suspiciously like she’s treating him like she does her eldest son when he rides his bike without a helmet. “I’ve been a nomad for ten years, Carter,” he says evenly, not wanting to give away his true motivations for leaving or alert her to just how unnerved he is by staying in one place for what feels like too long.
She runs her fingers through her hair in exasperation. Now that she’s found him, all she wants to do is smack him for being stupid. Or hug him to reassure herself that he’s still here. She can’t decide which. “Yes, but every time you moved around during those ten years, you weren’t leaving behind people who were going to worry about you.”
Her voice wavers on worry and Jack stares up at the sky. A flock of geese flies overhead in formation, breaking the silence.
“I lost you once, Jack O’Neill,” Sam says quietly, her voice barely audible above the wind rustling the grass. “I won’t lose you again.”
Jack returns his gaze to her and blinks away the spots from the bright sun. He can’t see her eyes through her sunglasses. “C’mere,” he says and draws her into a hug.
Sam resists for a moment, just long enough to silently tell him that she’s really pissed at him for this.
Chapter 8: microgravity
Jack wakes up the sound of creaking wood and peers out the window. He spies a Sam-shaped shadow sitting on the porch. He quickly throws on a sweatshirt and goes outside to join her. “Making sure I don’t run off again?”
Sam looks up at him and offers him a corner of the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. “Maybe.”
Jack accepts the blanket and sits next to her, sliding his other arm around her waist. They sit in silence for a while, watching the moon rise into the dark night sky. He can almost feel winter approaching. “I killed two kids,” he says suddenly, “outside Detroit. Fourteen, fifteen years old. They were part of the Church, and were dragging a girl back to their compound. She was maybe thirteen. She tried to fight back, but they were bigger than her.”
She turns and looks at him, but he’s still looking straight ahead. She puts her hand on his thigh.
“I didn’t have to shoot them,” he says, “we could’ve handled it. But it made sense to shoot.” It’s a hell of a world they live in now.
“What happened to the girl?”
Jack shrugs. “We made sure she got home okay, but I think she might have been more scared of us.”
Sam takes a deep breath. “I ordered the bombing of an inhabited apartment building.”
Jack holds her a little tighter. This is confession, for both of them.
“It stopped a war with the Archons, but we never found out how many civilians were inside. No one escaped.” She stood back and watched it burn, making good on a threat. She didn’t sleep for days afterward.
“I watched someone be murdered over a can of tuna. Sat there by our fire and didn’t do a damn thing. Wasn’t my fight.”
“I forced a family to leave. It was little things, a few bags of vegetables missing, a tank of gas. Not getting along with everyone else. We could’ve put up with it, but…I just threw them out.”
“I left Bill Lee behind in Chicago. Didn’t even bother to find out if he was alive or not when they let the rest of us go.”
Sam blinks. She hasn’t thought of Bill in a long time.
It’s been ten years and though it was the right decision, guilt eats at her each time something bad happens. “I told Colonel Caldwell to leave all of us behind.”
Looking up at the sky, Jack finds Orion. “End of the world sucks.”
Sam laughs, and it isn’t funny. “Yeah, it does.”
Silence falls over them again and Sam rests her head on Jack’s shoulder. The moon’s only a sliver of a crescent and most everything beyond the backyard is completely black, but that doesn’t stop them both from staring into the darkness.
They’ve both learned that there is reason to be afraid of the dark.
“Daniel isn’t Jonah’s father,” Sam whispers.
Jack blinks. “Who is?”
Sam lifts her head and waits for him to look at her. “You are.”
The wind picks up and rustles the dead leaves that have collected in the corners of the porch.
“I didn’t know until a week or so After. I asked Daniel to pretend, so people wouldn’t ask.”
He nods, thankful for the darkness to cover that he doesn’t know what to feel. “Who else knows?”
“Daniel, Teal’c, and Cassie. Jonah knows that Daniel isn’t his father, but he doesn’t know it’s you; he thinks his biological father is dead. We all did,” she whispers the last three words. She only told Jonah because she hadn’t felt it was fair to lie to him. “I just…” she trails off and looks away. The wind catches her hair and blows a lock across her eyes. She brushes it away. “I thought you should know.”
Jack releases his corner of the blanket and reaches over to hook his finger under her chin. He gently turns her to look at him again and when her eyes cast downward, he tips her chin up. She blinks slowly at him and he knows that this is a secret that has hurt to keep for ten years. He kisses her softly. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” he whispers against her lips.
Sam rests her forehead against his. It’s not an apology she needs or wants, but it’s an apology he needs to say. “You want some company tonight?”
“Yeah,” he says quietly. He hadn’t realized just how lonely the last ten years had been until he’d watched his three friends head upstairs together every night.
She stands, keeping hold of the blanket, and offers him her hand with a smile. Jack accepts her help and follows her back inside.
The house is silent as they walk across the hardwood floor to his bedroom. Sam squeezes his hand and lets go to remove her sweatshirt. She slides onto the bed and waits for Jack before she lies down. He pulls the covers up over both of them.
Sam feels the tension leave Jack as he curls around her. She closes her eyes and clasps his hand and tries not to reflect on how strange it feels to share a bed with only one other person; even on nights when Teal’c or Daniel aren’t home, she still feels their presence.
“I love you,” Jack whispers and presses a kiss to her neck. He isn’t demanding anything of her and doesn’t want to make things complicated, but he needs her to know that ten years haven’t diminished what he feels for her.
Sam turns in his arms and brushes her fingers down his cheek. She kisses him, gasping softly when Jack’s tongue sweeps across her lips. She responds eagerly, fingers teasing at the nape of his neck. His hand slides up the back of her shirt and her eyes flash open. She wants this, wants so badly to feel him inside of her again, but not tonight. She breaks the kiss, but doesn’t pull away.
Jack nods and kisses her forehead, thinking he knows the reason. “Sorry,” he says, “I didn’t mean…” he’s silenced by her finger on his lips. He’s confused by her smile.
“Jonah’s right upstairs,” she says. Jonah’s not really the reason, but he’s the easiest to explain.
“Sam, are you sure?”
She closes her eyes briefly, hearing the underlying statement: you have a family, don’t throw that away for me. “You’re part of this family, Jack. I don’t know how we make this work between us, but you’re part of my family. You always have been. Daniel and Teal’c know that. I just need to talk to them first.”
Daniel rolls over too far and wakes up, startled by the lack of a body he’d expected to find in his way. Teal’c is staring at him and Daniel’s occupying the spot occupied by Sam when they fell asleep a few hours ago.
“She is with O’Neill,” Teal’c says, answering the question plain on Daniel’s face.
Daniel nods, and isn’t sure whether it’s stranger that his wife is currently with a man she loved ten years ago, that he isn’t weirded out by it, or that he’s noticed that he isn’t weirded out by it. He blames the confusion on not being entirely awake yet. “This would have been easier if he’d been with us from the beginning.”
Teal’c shifts closer to Daniel. He adjusts the blankets to better cover the two of them, assuming that Sam won’t be back tonight.
Daniel turns onto his back and stares up at the ceiling as if it holds answers for them. Unintelligible murmurs float up through the window Sam always insists on leaving open, at least until it starts to snow. He strains for a moment, trying to turn the voices into actual words, but they’re so quiet he can barely discern Sam’s voice from Jack’s. He almost hears Teal’c thinking, and Daniel lifts his head to look.
“Perhaps we are thinking too much about this.”
“Alright. What’s going on with you?” Daniel asks, finally fed up with Sam’s fidgeting.
She sits up and draws her knees to her chest. She’s spent the entire day trying to figure out how to bring this up to them, with absolutely no success
Teal’c turns and props his head on his hand, watching her.
Sam looks upward and decides to just jump in. “Would you guys mind giving me and Jack the house for a few hours?”
She’s met with silence and she takes a breath. “I love you, you know that. But,” she looks away, “God, this is hard.” She swallows. “But I need one more time with Jack.”
Teal’c sits up and puts his arm around her. “Of course.” He feels the tension in her shoulders, trying so hard to hold onto her emotions, and presses his lips to her forehead.
Daniel nods and clasps her hand. He and Teal’c talked about this last night when she didn’t come back to bed, knowing that she’s always kept a tiny little flame lit inside of her heart for Jack. “You got it, Sam.”
Jack gently runs his fingers down Sam’s bare arm and smiles at her in the dying sunlight. “Hi,” he says.
She returns the smile. “Hi.” She shivers and pulls the blankets up higher around them. Jack tightens his arms around her and she hums contently and closes her eyes, tucking her head under his chin. They have the house to themselves until morning.
“So,” he says after a few minutes, no longer able to contain his curiosity, “how does it work with the three of you?” He’s wondered ever since he found out and now that he has the chance to ask, he can’t restrain himself.
Sam shrugs, positive that he isn’t asking for exact details. “It just does. It took some time to figure out, but,” she shrugs again, “it’s good.” It’s far better than just good and the smile in her voice betrays her words. She pulls back enough to look at him. “Why? You interested in joining us?” She smirks so she can brush it off as joking if he says no, but her eyes remain serious.
“Maybe,” he smirks back. Tonight might be the last night he will ever be with just Sam. Once the rest of the family returns in the morning, she’ll return upstairs and he’ll have to think about what he wants. They’ve made it abundantly clear that it’s up to him and that they’re just happy he’s alive and back in their lives.
That’s a thought for the morning, though.
He rolls them over and frames her face with his hands. The sunset glints off her hair and her eyes light up when she smiles at him. He lowers his head and kisses her, sweeping his tongue past her lips when he feels her respond underneath him.
Sam closes her eyes and surrenders herself to the feeling of Jack beginning to make love to her again.
Sam studies Jack in the candlelight over her wine glass. “What have you been doing for ten years?” He’s shared a few stories with them, bits and pieces of the past decade, but the only specifics she’s been able to determine is that he, Siler, and Reynolds walked a lot.
“Where’d the wine come from?” He dodges the question for the moment by asking one of his own, giving himself thirty seconds or so to figure out where to start.
“There’s a pretty good trading system out here.” She knows why he’s avoiding her question and indulges him. “We build and fix things in exchange for people giving us stuff we never got around to learning how to make. Flour, wine, there’s even a guy in Edmonton who figured out how to make soda. Lately we’ve done some good business with homemade antibiotics.”
Jack nods and finishes the last sip of his wine. “So the Western Free Cities aren’t a myth.” He’d heard them talked about with an almost reverent tone for a few years, but had never met anyone who had actually been there.
Sam laughs. “That’s what we’re called?” They’ve made a solid and lasting alliance with Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer; most people from Lloydminster moved either east to Gateway or west to Edmonton, but there’s still a decent population living there providing a way station for travelers and traders making the trip to the larger cities.
Jack nods. “Yep.” He supposes that they don’t get out of their enclave much; the Archons to the east and a small Church of the Revelation stronghold to the south probably don’t make it worth their while to leave. He can’t blame them. “A lot of wandering,” he says, by way of beginning to answer her earlier question. “We stayed at the cabin for a while.” He doesn’t say that they stayed a lot longer than they should have, and stayed because they were waiting for the three of them.
Sam swirls the stem of her now-empty wine glass. They had that plan in place for years Before, ever since the first time the Goa’uld threatened to invade: if the world ended and they got separated, meet up at the cabin in Minnesota.
“We thought about it,” she says quietly, regretfully, “but we couldn’t leave.” She’d spent that first winter, when there wasn’t anything for her to do except be pregnant and worry about people, wondering how they could conceivably get from Saskatchewan to Minnesota and back without attracting the wrong kind of attention. Then Jonah had arrived, followed by spring and a never-ending list of things to be done and they couldn’t spare anyone for a three-week trip that might only be one way and didn’t have any promise of success.
He reaches across the table to cover her hand. “I know.” He takes a deep breath before continuing. “We spent the first winter at the cabin. We took the truck that spring and headed east until we couldn’t find any more gas.”
Sam leans back in her chair and closes her eyes and lets his voice wash over her. They don’t get much news of the outside world, not as removed from everything as they are, and she relishes every word even though it’s news that’s ten years old.
He talks about seeing people so frequently in the beginning, towns that were far enough north to be left alone by all but the weather changes, and populations that were trying to pick up and move on. Everyone was rattled and understood that their world had fundamentally turned upside down, that money didn’t have any use anymore and neither did cellphones and computers; that clean water and electricity were going to become rare commodities and grocery stores were worthless after a few months. But everyone was still where they started, concentrated in definitive towns and cities.
Sam knows, because they aren’t completely cut off from everyone else, that three years After is when everything started going to hell in a hand basket. It’s when most food and drugs expired and when people finally realized that help was not coming from anywhere and they were on their own. Anyone who hadn’t seen that inevitability coming and who hadn’t planned for it from the beginning was monumentally screwed and fighting broke out over the smallest things.
Jack speaks about walking through war zones, towns that had taken up arms against each other (or even within each other), fighting over the last bit of everything. Her face shifts when he talks about his run-ins with the Church of the Revelation – which became everything but a church after a year – and he feels like he’s no longer talking to Sam, but instead General Carter. Multi-tasking has always been a huge part of Sam’s skill set.
But something happened seven years After. Jack still doesn’t know what it was, but suddenly the world seemed to work again. Official borders had been redrawn unofficially, outlining territories and zones, and except for a few wanderers, everyone knew where to go and how to act. The Church was still a menace and there were still rumors of the Archons, and people were still prone to being crazy, but communities began to form again. They were small and fragile and often fell apart, but people started to support each other. Jack looks out the window at the sun setting over Gateway and thinks that if the rest of the world had this from the beginning, things would have been a lot better.
“I never expected this,” Sam says after a long silence when Jack finishes.
“What?” he asks, even though he thinks he knows what she means.
Sam clasps her hands over her stomach and looks out the window. “With everything we saw on SG-1: Apophis, Anbuis, the Replicators. The Wraith in Pegasus. God knows what else is out there. Who knew our own planet would turn on us before the galaxy did.”
Jack nods; he’s had the same thought countless times over the past ten years. He thinks it’s a miracle that no one took advantage of the situation and swooped in to declare themselves God or King or otherwise In Charge Of Earth. He looks out at the stars and wonders if Thor had anything to do with that. He likes to think so.
“You made the best of it,” he says.
“I’m sorry you didn’t have this.” Gateway hasn’t been easy, but it’s better than what else is out there.
Jack shrugs. He’s come to peace, mostly, with trudging across the country, always looking over his shoulder, while his teammates always had a roof over their heads. “I’m here now,” he grins.
Sam laughs and dips her head. “And I’m glad you’re here.” She stands up to clear the table, but Jack’s hands catch her hips before she can grab a single plate.
He stands and cups her cheek with one hand, leaving the other on her hip. He kisses her slowly, thoroughly, until she’s completely forgotten about dishes.
A light comes on in the hallway and they’re both awake in an instant. Sam listens for half a moment and determines that whoever it is doesn’t mean them any harm. She sits up and tugs the blanket with her, covering her chest. Jack is less convinced and scans the room for an impromptu weapon he can grab if it becomes necessary.
Cassie sticks her head in the bedroom. “Get dressed,” she says, and it isn’t a voice to be argued with. “Got a problem with the Archons.” She retreats outside of the room enough to give them some privacy while they change, but not so far as to make them lower their guard about the situation.
“What’s going on?” Sam asks at the same time Jack asks, “Where is everyone?”
Cassie ignores Jack, because the three kids are safely locked up in the school with her own and all the other kids, and answers Sam’s question. “We’re not really sure.” She dares a glance into the room and, finding both of them dressed enough, steps inside again. “Our perimeter guards that way missed a check in and, well,” she gestures to the windows at the front of the house.
Sam zips up and buttons her jeans and follows Cassie’s finger. Even on the complete opposite side of the town, she has a clear view of the flood lights and flashing red and blue lights that have lined up on the outskirts of town. She frowns. They can easily hold that side of the fence, but the Archons have gotten smarter over the past few years and some of their people might be driving around the fence now, without their lights on, to attack from behind. “Is someone getting…”
Cassie nods. “Teal’c’s already on his way.”
Jack pulls his shirt over his head. “I assume there’s a plan for this kind of thing.”
Sam picks her own shirt up off the floor. She runs her fingers through her hair to smooth out the mess after she tugs the shirt down. “Yeah. Don’t get killed. Let’s go.”
Though he’s been in Gateway for a month now, Jack’s never seen the town’s inner workings. He’s the new guy, outside of the military loop, and they have everything nailed down to a science anyway. From what he’s gathered, full-scale alerts happen so infrequently these days that if this hadn’t happened tonight, he probably never would’ve seen their command center.
He tries not to be too weirded out by the idea of a military command center in a children’s library. They’ve exchanged the typical fun-sized table and chairs for something more appropriate for adults, the happy cartoon posters suggesting that kids drop everything and read have been replaced by maps and plans and schedules, and all the books have been moved upstairs to the main library. But there’s no mistaking that the room was originally intended for children; the mural traversing all four walls depicts animals – some with glasses – reading and being read to, even including a giraffe who needs an owl to help him read because he doesn’t have arms.
They’re both handed steaming mugs of tea at the bottom of the stairs. Sam nods in acknowledgment to the teenagers preparing tea for a small army and walks forward to the table in the center of the room. Jack hangs at the edge of the crowd, unsure of his place here. Most of the attention is on Sam, and no one seems interested in deferring to him; he’s thankful for that.
“Teal’c is on his way to the power plant to pick up the 302; he should be there within a few minutes. Dixon is leading a stealth team to the west, Altman has his to the north, and Fischer the south, just in case. Smith is in charge at the east gate. That’s what we have so far, ma’am.”
“Thanks, Walter,” Sam takes a seat at the head of the table and motions for everyone else to do the same. “I think we can assume that because they haven’t shot at anyone yet, we have a few minutes to figure out what’s going on. Do we know what they want?”
Jack looks around the room and spies familiar faces mixed in amongst the strangers. Normally he’d wonder at the ability of a civilian militia but with the SGC to train them, any civilians would be prepared just as well as any SF. He nods at Siler and Reynolds. It’s good to know he isn’t the only one itching to do something.
“Cassie’s theory is that they’re still pissed from when we picked people up a month ago.” This from a man Jack doesn’t recognize.
Ferretti makes a face. “That doesn’t make sense. Why wait a month? Besides, she said they just kinda harassed her and then let her through. They could be on a bender. One of their drink the Kool-Aid, eradicate the nonbelievers rampages.”
Sam shakes her head. “No, if they were high they would’ve firebombed us by now.” She rolls her eyes. “Or started preaching.” That connects two dots in her head and she blinks. “Are we sure it’s the Archons out there?”
Ferretti shrugs. “We got some new crazy neighbors you haven’t told us about, Carter?”
Sam ignores the smart remark and shakes her head. “This isn’t the Archons’ MO. They’re not organized like this.” She twists in her chair to look at Jack, Siler and Reynolds. “Did any of you do anything to really upset someone?”
Jack’s saved from having to answer by Cassie nearly tumbling down the steps, Daniel right behind her.
“We have a problem,” Daniel says, almost out of breath. “Those aren’t just the Archons,” he says. “Those are the Archons plus the Church of the Revelation’s military. And they want Jack.”
A radio crackles to life.
“Base, this is Survey One.”
The room silences as Teal’c’s staticky voice cuts through the air.
“…surrounded. They appear to be attempting to surround the town.”
Chapter 9: bad wolf
Sam leaves her staff to go over the town’s defense plans. She gestures for the three men to follow her into her office. It hasn’t changed much in ten years, except that she’s gotten rid of the pictures of strange people and eliminated most of the knick-knacks that cluttered up the shelves and desk. She shuts the door behind Siler and leans against it.
“What did you do?” She directs the question to Jack. Siler and Reynolds are there to fill in any gaps in Jack’s story. He wouldn’t lie or purposefully leave anything out, not with a situation like this threatening to boil over, but ten years is a long time for a lot of things to happen.
Jack searches his memory for anything that would piss off the Church so much as to track him down in Saskatchewan, call in the local crazies for backup, and surround the town he settled down in. “I blew up one of their food and weapons caches outside of Detroit.”
Sam frowns. That doesn’t sound like enough to warrant this kind of retribution. “Did you kill anyone important in the process?” She’s only familiar with the Archons and their guerrilla tactics whenever the wind blows the wrong way and they think they can smell Gateway; beyond a few isolated skirmishes and taking in refugees, she’s never had any real contact with the Church. Though the Church left them alone after a few years, they seemed just as crazy, albeit a little more sober, than the Archons. And better armed.
“We blew the thing because someone told us that they were stockpiling weapons there, and Detroit didn’t need any more problems. I don’t know if anyone was in there.”
Sam exhales sharply. Both groups are known to be totally crazy without provocation, but this screams of organization and planning. Reynolds shifts in the shadows and she swings her attention around to him.
“Chicago,” he suggests, folding under Sam’s gaze.
Sam blinks, waiting for an explanation. When one doesn’t come, she says, “I need a little more than that.”
Jack crosses his arms and leans against Sam’s desk. He stares at the floor. A lot happened in Chicago – Bill disappeared, Siler lost an eye, buildings blew up – and it all culminated in an explosion of gunfire, bombs and Molotov cocktails that decimated six city blocks. But that was five years ago and not entirely his fault.
He’s either playing dumb because he doesn’t want to tell her what he did, or he genuinely doesn’t remember, and either way Sam doesn’t have time for this because her town is surrounded by armed and very angry terrorists who aren’t going to wait much longer to send someone over the fence. She takes a deep breath and when she meets Jack’s eyes, it’s as General Carter. “You, out,” she points at the door. “Find something useful to do.”
It’s strange to be dismissed by Sam, but Jack leaves without argument.
There’s a brief increase in noise as the flurry of activity outside filters in through the open door, and then it’s muffled again, accentuated by the faint click of the latch.
“Tell me everything about Chicago,” Sam says to the two men still in the room. The details aren’t imminently important, but she would like to know why she was woken up in the middle of the night to contend with neighbors intent on setting the town on fire. And she would really like to know why they want Jack.
Reynolds exhales sharply and starts to explain.
Teal’c flies through the low cloud cover, using it to conceal the 302 as he keeps an eye on the darkened western perimeter of the town. The display blinks, alerting him to the life signs below. A small blip splits into even smaller blips and spreads out along the fence. Three large blips rush across town, Gateway’s own stealth forces.
The ship shudders underneath him and he glances at the panel displaying system output and statistics. The 302 has spent ten years mostly in storage except for winter, when it’s hooked into their electrical supply through a mess of cables, duct tape, and hope. He can count the number of times it’s been used for aerial surveillance or swift transportation on both hands with a few fingers leftover. The Goa’uld gliders it was based upon were not designed for long-term usage; during times of war, if a glider lasted three months it was considered ancient. While Sam and the others have done wonders to keep the ship in working condition, Teal’c suspects that this flight may be its swansong.
He intends to make it a beautiful one.
“Where’s Daniel?” Jack asks, finally meeting up with Sam again on the outskirts of town. She’s leaning against a car with her arms crossed. A pair of night vision goggles rests on the roof of the car and everyone moves around her, a quiet eye in the middle of the storm. There isn’t any point in hiding their activity from those on the other side of the fence right here; the important thing is to keep the attackers from realizing that they’ve sent over half of their forces to protect the rest of the fence, the part that wasn’t lit up with bright lights and torches.
Jack’s voice startles her, but she doesn’t move. “School.” She doesn’t offer an explanation. After a moment, she turns to Jack. “I’m not giving you to them,” she says, as if that was ever an option. “But when this is over, we’re going to have a chat about anything else you may have done, any other failed revolutions you may have led, anyone else important you may have killed.” She can’t protect her people if she doesn’t know everything.
While he’s proud of her for taking charge and directing a misfit town into the success that it is today, he finds General Carter a little scarier than he would like. There’s a hint of anger in her voice, like this is all his fault (and it is, technically, but he doesn’t think he should be blamed for that). Though he’s known Sam for years, he doesn’t have a clue how to deal with General Samantha Carter, Wife and Mother, Who Was Woken Up at 2:00 in the Morning to Deal With Homicidal Neighbors. So he nods and leans against the car. “What’s the plan?”
Sam exhales slowly and softens her attitude. She wants nothing more than to go back to bed with him. But it will be late, if not early dawn, before this is over. The plan isn’t any more detailed than hold the line, don’t die, but through the headlights and torches, she sees Jack shift back into Colonel O’Neill mode. “The plan is to make them,” she gestures to the shadowed figures on the other side of the fence, “think that all of us are here, while most of us are really elsewhere making sure that no one scales the fence.”
Jack nods and watches a pair of young men carry a large box past them. “And Plan B?”
“We have a Plan B.”
Daniel’s halfway through the second chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when the fighting starts. It begins as a low rumble, distinct but barely recognizable as anything out of the ordinary. He pauses mid-sentence, having only a moment to worry about Sam and Teal’c and Jack before Amelia nudges him to continue. He smiles reassuringly at her and the other kids that have gathered in the small room for story time. He’s reading by flashlight; if the fence is breached, the hope is that any darkened building will be left alone.
He thinks that’s a bad plan considering who they’re dealing with, but his personal hope is that the fence won’t be breached.
Muffled gunshots cut through his words and suddenly each child is clamoring for a hug. They’ve lived their entire lives halfway on edge: they’ve all been taught of the hazards that lie to the east and they’ve all lived through scares and false alarms before. But for most of them, though they knew something was wrong the minute their parents woke them up, this is the first time they’ve experienced the true dangers that exist in their world.
Amelia climbs into his lap, wanting Teal’c and clearly settling for Daniel, and Eli sits a little closer. The other children scoot in around Daniel, searching for protection and comfort in numbers. Daniel looks up as a shadow passes by the door.
Cassie pauses in the door to give Daniel the thumbs up sign. She’s camped out in another room keeping an eye on the older kids, Jonah included. Daniel returns the thumbs up with a nod and a smile he isn’t sure she can see. If things get really bad they’ll combine rooms, but for now they stay separate.
“Dad,” Eli whispers, eerily loud in the silent room. Something explodes outside. Not nearby, but close enough to rattle the windows.
Daniel waits for Amelia to settle down before he continues to read about Harry.
They do an impressive job of seeming larger than they are. It has something to do with all the lights and having actual weapons and military training, Jack thinks. The Archons and the Church are fighting with guns, but the ammunition and powder weren’t made nearly as precise as they should be and the range is much shorter than expected.
The first shot wasn’t a shot at all, but a flaming torch thrown over the fence. The fire was quickly extinguished, but was all the residents of Gateway needed to arm their own weapons and wait for Sam’s order.
For the first few seconds, time seemed to stand still. And then, after a simple shrug and nod from Sam, all hell broke loose.
Now he knows why no one lives on this street. He reloads his weapon, sends up the habitual prayer to whoever’s listening that it won’t jam, and aims in the general direction of the fence. Bullets whiz past him, but he’s mostly protected by the open door of a sedan. Sam’s on the other side; no one even tried to convince her to stay out of the action. He fires as soon as he has a target and imagines that once, years ago, they used to tell her to hold back and stay inside out of the fray. He doesn’t believe for a moment that she ever listened. She’s the same breed of officer that he is: unwilling to send people into a battle she wouldn’t fight herself.
She would’ve made a fantastic general in charge of the SGC. But she would’ve hated it.
They’re holding back everyone from the fence for now, but what the other side lacks in sophisticated weaponry, they make up for in sheer determination, energy, and numbers. He ducks as something whistles past his head. “Grenade!” He shouts, recognizing the telltale sound. He crouches and covers his head, glancing to his left to check that Sam’s doing the same. The grenade explodes behind them and he feels the heat of the blast on his back and someone starts to scream.
“We have medics, stay put,” Sam orders when Jack turns to go check on the injured. She sets her jaw and reaches into the car for the radio. “Teal’c, what’s it look like?”
A brief moment of static and then, “Fighting has broken out on this side as well, Samantha. But we are holding the fence.”
“Good,” she says and turns to look backward across the town. Streaks of light flash downward from the sky and everyone feels the resulting thud as the explosives from the 302 hit the ground. Houses block her view, but she nods; Teal’c is laying down cover fire over their enemy beyond the fence. They’ll deal with fire damage later. “Keep on it and if the 302 looks like it’s going to lose power…”
“Head westward and land.”
“See you on the other side.”
She tosses the radio back into the car and frowns at the scene unfolding in front of her. The grenade distracted their front-line forces enough to let a few of the Archons climb the fence. Most of them are easily picked off, but then someone throws up a ladder. And then another. Within seconds, the fence is swarming with Archons and Church militia.
Jack feels like he’s seen this in a movie somewhere, except the walls were taller and there were arrows. He’s suddenly very thankful that there aren’t arrows. He has a scar on his left shoulder from an arrow during a fight in Milwaukee. It hurt worse than a bullet.
He barely hears Sam mutter “screw Plan B” under her breath before she grabs the radio again and says “Plan F,” far too calmly for the situation.
Nothing changes immediately, but there’s a quiet undercurrent to the fighting that wasn’t there before. Jack settles his gun against his shoulder and returns to the action, confident that Sam will clue him in if there’s anything he needs to know. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a few people duck out of the battle and disappear into the night.
There’s a series of clicks and Sam fiddles with the frequency on the radio, switching to a private channel.
“Are you sure, Sam?”
It’s Daniel’s voice and Jack wishes that he could walk three feet away and give them some privacy. Whatever Plan F is, it clearly stands for something and is two plans after D for Desperate.
He tries not to listen as he shoots down climbers.
She slides into the driver’s seat so she’s better protected. “We can hold this, but it’ll be a long fight and we’ll lose too many people.” A grenade explodes inside an abandoned house down the street. “I have to go. Get everyone inside and as low as possible. This is going to be big.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.” She returns the frequency to the Gateway channel.
Jack reaches through the car and grabs her arm before she can hop out. Whatever order she’s about to give, she wouldn’t give it unless it was necessary. He’s here if she needs him. She nods and takes a deep breath. He offers her a smile; she has the same look on her face that he’s had countless times before. Sam withdraws her arm and gives his hand a squeeze before stepping out of the car.
Jack does the same and notices that the Gateway forces have pulled back from the fence slightly. It’s perfectly structured to look natural, as if the enemy forced them to step backward. As some of the people near the back slip away completely and a shadow runs along their side of the fence, Jack begins to get an idea of Plan F.
F definitely stands for something.
“Teal’c, you ready?”
Five variations on aye, sir and yes ma’am come through the radio.
“Three. Two. One.” She pauses for half a second. “Mark.”
The world explodes.
Chapter 10: the light that brings the dawn
The sun’s just beginning to rise as they finish rounding up all of the remaining Archons and their friends. Sam sends them back in their own Jeeps, with enough gas siphoned off to make sure that they’ll have to walk at least a quarter of the way home. She lies through her teeth and warns them that if they ever try something like this again, they’ll be met with much worse.
She stands at the edge of town, next to the still-smoldering ruins of the fence and guard houses, and watches the small caravan disappear into the sunrise. Scraps of metal lay scattered over the scorched ground, but nothing’s salvageable. Their entire perimeter is gone.
“You did the right thing,” Daniel says as he walks up to her. “Jack filled me in. We would’ve lost a lot of people if you hadn’t.”
“Yeah,” she says thoughtfully, “but we can’t rebuild before winter.” Not that anyone’s going to be trying to attack when there’s three feet of snow on the ground, but she’s not going to underestimate just how much they’ve pissed off the Archons, and now the Church of the Revelation.
“We’ll figure something out.” He takes her hand. “Let’s go, there’s breakfast.”
Breakfast is a silent ordeal served en masse at the school cafeteria. While half the town was putting out fires or searching for any still-alive outsiders, the other half was patching up injuries or making pancakes.
The cafeteria is a grim affair: one section is completely curtained off for triage and medical purposes, but the curtain doesn’t do anything to stifle cries and screams from bones being set and wounds being stitched up without anesthetic. They’ve learned the hard way that the hospital is too far away to be any good immediately after a firefight.
Everyone’s exhausted, shell shocked, or both. Even kids who would normally be excited at whole-town breakfasts cling tight to their parents, tired from a long, scary night in the dark.
Sam and Daniel make their way to a table in the corner, already occupied by Teal’c and Amelia. Sam scans the line and finds Jack, Eli and Jonah near the eggs. Confident that she can steal an extra slice of toast from someone (and if not, then she’ll fall asleep right here and has no problem with that), she slumps into the chair next to Teal’c. Amelia uses her father as a jungle gym and climbs over him to get to Sam.
Daniel gives Amelia a hug and slides a hand over Teal’c’s shoulder, giving him a slight squeeze that Teal’c returns with a nod. He finds out what Sam wants for breakfast and goes to join the line.
“How’s the 302?” Sam asks after Daniel leaves.
“It will take off again, but I doubt its ability to land. I returned it to the electrical plant.”
She nods and waits for Amelia to settle down before sliding her arms around her daughter. She’ll deal with the 302 later. Someone accidentally bumps Sam’s chair and she looks up. She nods at Reynolds and Siler as they apologize and pass, glad to see the two of them survived the night. Siler has a bandage wrapped around his head, but he looks like he’ll make it.
Jack, Jonah, and Eli join them with plates loaded full of food. Jonah digs in immediately, always ready for food. Eli pushes his new glasses up before he begins, not quite used to wearing them yet. Sam yawns and waves off Jack when he tries to give her some of his; she points at Daniel getting breakfast for her, but takes the offered piece of toast anyway. She whispers for Amelia to wait a moment before eating, and starts to cut up a pancake for her.
The line moves quickly and Daniel returns in a few minutes. Though her adrenaline and caffeine have worn off and she wants nothing more than to go to sleep, she forces herself to eat. She ignores the rest of the cafeteria; someone gave her a casualty and injury rundown, but she’s not eager to see those numbers visible in empty chairs.
There are only enough seats at the table for the seven of them, and they’re all grateful for that.
The first real snow of the season is firmly on the ground when Jonah finally talks to him. Jack’s gotten to know all three kids and all three immediately took to him, but Jonah’s always busy with school or friends and Jack spent most of the remaining weeks of fall learning how to can vegetables. They haven’t ever really talked by themselves.
Jack’s washing and Jonah’s drying. They’re not usually paired up for dishes, but Sam ran out in the middle of dinner to deal with a potential electrical crisis, Daniel had a council meeting, and Amelia got in the middle of a Jonah-Eli food flinging contest and needed Teal’c’s help to find a new shirt. Eli’s in Time Out for instigating the contest. Jack periodically glances at the small boy sitting on the chair in the middle of the kitchen, patiently swinging his legs and seemingly entranced by the pattern of the tile floor.
Jonah pauses in the middle of drying a plate and looks at Jack. Even standing on a stool because he’s just beginning to hit his growth spurt, he still has to look up to meet Jack’s eyes. “Do you love my mom?” he asks.
“Yes,” Jack says, letting his soapy hands rest on the edge of the sink. He sees something flash behind Jonah’s eyes and feels like he’s just passed a test of some kind.
“And my dads?”
“Yeah.” He doesn’t know what kind of love it is, but it’s certainly love.
Jonah nods, a decision reached. “You can stay,” he says and resumes drying.
Teal’c notices how seamlessly Jack has integrated into their family by the time the holidays roll around. Just as Before, when they were offworld and worked together as a team, the four of them function as a perfect machine. Jack still sleeps alone downstairs (sometimes Sam joins him), but he’s as much a member of the family as any one of them. It’s almost as if those ten years they all thought he was dead had never happened. He feels complete again with O’Neill around.
While Jack and Daniel argue about whether the star on top of the tree is straight or not (it is, but Teal’c has other things to do than intrude on that argument), Teal’c keeps an eye on the children decorating cookies in the kitchen. There will be a mess to clean up, but the three of them are laughing as they decorate stars and Santas. A little food dye on the counter is worth it.
Sam trudges in through the front door, backed by a gust of cold wind and a swirl of snow. She stands in the hall for a moment and waits for her fingers to warm up before she begins to remove layers. They can’t start to rebuild the fence until spring, but the guard houses are almost finished. She hangs up her scarf and coat on the hook and tries to keep the snow chunks to a minimum when she removes her boots.
“How is it out?” Jack asks from atop the small step ladder. He adjusts the star according to Daniel’s instructions and rolls his eyes when the other man frowns again.
“Cold,” she says and rubs her hands together.
Teal’c hands her a mug of hot chocolate and she kisses his cheek in thanks. She peers over the counter at the cookie artwork and raises an eyebrow at the row of Santas with blue beards that sit on front of Amelia, but shrugs and leans against a chair to watch the two men fight over the star.
“Perfect,” she says quickly, before Daniel can say anything, once Jack has made a minor adjustment.
Jack steps off the ladder and stands next to Daniel to examine the star. The two men look at each other, look up at the star, and then back at Sam. “No it’s not,” they say in unison.
Teal’c and Sam look at each other. “Yes, it is.”
“It’s a star,” Jonah says, trying to add a voice of reason. “Does it matter?”
“Yes,” all four of them say together.
Eli and Amelia glance up from their cookies and the three children share a look. They know that, in that moment, they’ve gained a fourth parent. They shrug and go back to their decorations.
Jack senses the change in the room, too. It’s subtle, but he suddenly feels like he’s no longer Jack, Who Was Gone For Ten Years. He’s just Jack.
After the kids are asleep and no one can hold back yawns any longer, Jack follows Sam, Teal’c, and Daniel upstairs.
The sun reflects so brilliantly off the snow that Sam almost doesn’t even notice the white light that envelops her. And then the light fades and she’s standing on the bridge of the Daedalus.
“Don’t you know it’s rude to teleport someone without so much as a hello first?” She smiles as she says the words and turns around. She raises an eyebrow, silently asking why they’ve returned against her orders.
Caldwell returns the smile. “Sorry, ma’am. We’ll do better next time. And don’t even think about telling me to turn around again. I take my orders from Dr. Weir now and she told me not to come back without you, or at least a damn good reason why not.”
Sam looks at each member of the bridge crew, some faces are new and some are old. She spies Rodney McKay lurking near a science station and has to resist the urge to go running toward him to give him a hug. She’s still not sure she likes him, and she’s lost enough decorum already by being beamed aboard in bright purple snow pants and a pink puffy coat. It’s not her fault that they caught her in the middle of snowball fight with her family, but she’s not about to try to explain the sartorial choice. She’s the General, she doesn’t need to explain.
She follows Caldwell to his office, unzips her coat, and sets it on the back of the chair before sitting down. She remembers sitting in this office ten years ago, pregnant and terrified about what the future would hold. The future certainly wasn’t perfect, but they made it as good as possible.
She’s being given a second chance to revisit the decision she made ten years ago when she ordered Caldwell to leave them behind and to pass the same message along to Elizabeth. “How many people can you fit?” Before she even considers leaving, she needs to know if everyone can come with her.
“How many people do you have?” It’ll be a cramped ride, but they stripped the ship of any non-vital equipment to make as much room as possible for passengers and they’re working with a skeleton crew.
“Between 872 and 4,500.” She figures if the Daedalus can fit everyone, she’ll extend the offer to the other cities. Not only would they be leaving a hell of a power vacuum in their wake, they’d also be knocking part of the support structure out from the area, not to mention eliminating their first line of defense from the Archons.
Caldwell’s eyes widen at the extreme range, but he says, “we can fit everyone.”
Sam blinks. She hadn’t expected that answer. “I’ll have to talk to everyone.” What she really means is I have to talk to my family, but she isn’t interested in explaining the details of her life right now.
He nods and hands her an Ancient communication device to take back with her. “It works better than a radio.”
Had the Daedalus shown up only a month earlier, leaving wouldn’t even be a consideration. In that month, the Archons and Church of the Revelation combined their forces and attacked, the fence was blown up, electricity officially gave out, and they’ve had two blizzards, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the winter. Now, leaving sounds ideal.
But it’s still Earth, and it’s still their home, and they’re still contemplating abandoning it for good.
Sam gives the other residents the news at a town meeting, sends messengers west, and tells everyone that leaving is entirely optional, but that if they stay behind, they might not have the same protections as before. She gives everyone four days to think about it.
“I think we should go,” Sam says that night after dinner, once the kids are in bed. They’ll get a say in the matter, of course, but this is something the four of them need to talk about first.
The candles flicker as the wind roars outside.
“I agree,” Teal’c says. Though Earth has come to be his home, it has been difficult these past ten years and while life on Atlantis will certainly not be what it was Before, it will be easier than what it has become here.
“I say we go.” Jack rubs his thumb against the ring on his fourth finger; it’s still new, but feels right.
Daniel takes a deep breath. The idea of leaving Earth permanently and never returning unsettles him – and he knows it unsettles the others – but it would be for the best; they’ve found a good group of people to align themselves with, but everyone else is steadily growing worse. And they’re running out of supplies. “Go.”
Sam smiles softly at the three of them; she hadn’t expected the outcome to be any different, but she’s still glad that it’s unanimous.
“Where are we going?” Jonah asks, finally giving in to his curiosity and joining the conversation from his eavesdropping spot on the stairs.
“Away from Earth,” Sam says, motioning for him to join them.
“Why?” He’s heard his parents talk about outer space and other planets and spaceships, but he didn’t know they were an option.
“Because there’s a better place out there.”