Lorne's team had been off-world when the plague started. By the time they knew it was out of control, all off-world teams were being shunted to the Alpha and Beta sites. Unfortunately, it had carried there before they knew how trivially it was transmitted.
Humanity was dying out.
The simple irony was, it wasn't the Ori. The painful irony was, if they hadn't been evicted from Atlantis, they wouldn't have to be on Earth watching coworkers, friends and loved ones die.
General Landry had been one of the first to catch it. The next thing they knew nearly everyone was sick. Even Dr. Lam got it. Colonel Mitchell, acting head of the SGC, locked down the mountain, but it made no difference. Almost everyone got sick, and those who got sick died. Col. Mitchell died in Col. Carter's arms. Lorne wished he hadn't been there to see it.
They were sitting in the mess, empty except for them. Colonels Carter and Sheppard, Dr. Beckett, Daniel Jackson, Teal'c, Lieutenants Maronni, Johanson, Sullivan and Flaus, Sergeants Scott, Cho and Wu.
This was it, what was left of the SGC.
"Why are we alive?" Daniel asked, and all Lorne could think was, "Why aren't we dead?"
"I don't know, son," Dr. Beckett said, "I wish I knew. Maybe I could have saved the others. I tried... I tried..." Becket looked miserable, like he was about to burst into tears. The dark circles under the eyes full of pain showed how hard he was taking this. Sergeant Cho leaned over and patted his hand, making gentle murmuring noises. "Mother hen," Lorne thought, and realized it was a good thing. Beckett always did take things a bit personally, someone comforting him could only help.
"The gene," said Colonel Carter. Everyone looked up in surprise. Carter had been virtually silent since Mitchell had died, inconsolable in her grief. After watching so many others die, losing Mitchell had seemed to break something within her.
"What, Sam?" Daniel gently asked.
"The ATA gene. That must be it. That must be what's keeping this group alive."
Lorne thought about that with a sense of horror. He know all of the soldiers at the table. Except for Colonel Carter, all had been on Atlantis at one point.
"Then what about you, Daniel, Teal'c?"
Sam was silent for a moment. Then, "Naquadah. I bet it's the naquadah in our blood."
"Sam," Daniel says patiently, "I've never been a host."
"No, but - maybe it's a leftover from being ascended."
How weird was that? Saved by the ATA gene. Lorne couldn't decide if it was a curse or a blessing. He looked around the table. Sheppard looked drawn, pale. They knew Dr. Weir didn't have the gene. Sheppard had told Lorne he'd tried to contact McKay at Area 51 to see if he was ok, but wasn't able to get through.
Suddenly the power went out, then emergency lights kicked on.
"The power grid must be falling apart," Sheppard said grimly. "There aren't enough people left to keep it running." He looked at Carter. "We should make our way to the surface."
"And go where?" she asked, the bitterness in her voice so very harsh.
"Boulder," said Lorne. He wasn't sure why he'd said it out loud.
"Boulder?" Carter said, confused, "Why Boulder?"
Lorne knew this was going to sound weird, but he had to say it. "Look, I know this is gonna sound like I'm ready for the nut house, but, I- I had these dreams. About people. People in Boulder."
Lorne saw Sullivan trade looks with Scott and Wu. They'd been part of a team on Atlantis, and often had spent time together. When they came back to Earth Sheppard and Lorne had both quietly suggested to General Landry that they be separated.
Cho was staring at him intently. "And an old woman?" she asked.
"OK, that's weird," Lorne said, "How did you know that?"
"And she keeps saying, 'You come visit me.'" Cho was almost in a trance. "Mother Abigail. She's so old. And she's surrounded by others. A pregnant woman. A man who can't hear. A teenager who can't remember. A man who-"
"Cho! Laurel!" Sullivan was nearly shaking her, growling. "Snap out of it."
"Stand down, Lieutenant," Sheppard ordered. His hand reached up to scrub at his face, tired and weary. "She's right. I've had the same dream."
"As have I, Colonel Sheppard, Major Lorne," said Teal'c. "In my dreams I have seen the people Sergeant Cho described. And others. There is one man who looks somewhat like Jonas Quinn." Teal'c face twisted into a grimace. "But I do not like the look in his eyes."
Lorne looked at Teal'c and shuddered. Next to him, he felt Sheppard do the same. He wondered if Sheppard also dreamed of the dark man.
Teal'c turned to Carter. "Have you not had this dream, Colonel Carter?"
Carter looked down. "I haven't been able to sleep. Not for more than a little bit, here and there. Not since... since..." She trailed off.
Everyone in the room seemed to be holding their breath.
"Ok, then. It's settled," Carter said, breaking the tension, "We go to Boulder."
The climb to the surface was long and tiring, made worse by the packs they wore and carried. They took with them as little as they could, but the extra weight bore down on them, and the weariness from the past few months took its toll as well. Dr. Beckett insisted that everyone add a bit of medical supplies to their packs. "We don't know what we'll be able to find or when we'll need it," he pointed out, and nobody could argue with that. Although Boulder wasn't that far, for all they knew they'd be traveling on foot. Best to be as prepared as possible.
They made it to the car park, still filled with vehicles. Many were parked haphazardly, as if the driver hadn't cared - or noticed - where the car landed. Some of the cars had corpses in them. The smell was horrific. Lt. Flaus started throwing up. Sgt. Cho ran over to help her.
"Should we try for one of the base trucks?" Lorne asked.
"It's unlikely we can maneuver one through this," Col. Carter replied.
"Let's see what we can find outside," Sheppard agreed.
They moved on.
They came to the surface to find it was late afternoon. They had totally lost track of time underground. With everyone dying, time seemed to stop mattering.
The air smelled clean and sweet, doubly so with a breeze blowing. Lorne and the others just stood there for a while, catching their breath. Lorne felt the sun warm on his face and the breeze trying to clear the horrors of the car park from his nose and mind.
The late summer air was soothing, but the nights would still be cool. Carter, Sheppard and Jackson huddled for a bit, then said they'd decided the group would walk as far as possible, then camp for the night. Wordlessly, the others picked up their things and the group headed off.
Lorne wasn't sure exactly where they were when they stopped but they'd found a nice bit of unused area -- wooded, not visible to roads, so they set up a camp and settled in. They were all experienced with this routine, even Dr. Beckett, who had been off-world many times while they were on Atlantis. They set up a watch schedule, not knowing, literally, what in the world was left around them, and went to try to sleep.
"Major. Major! Wake up!" came the hissed voice. Lorne opened one eye to see Laurel Cho looking at him.
"Sergeant," Lorne growled, "I don't think I'm on watch yet."
"No, sir, but -- it's Lt. Sullivan. I went to wake him for his watch and -- he's gone, sir."
Lorne jerked himself awake. "Gone?"
"Yes, sir," Cho replied, "I went to look for Wu and Scott to help me search but they're gone, too." Cho looked miserable, as if she had personally misplaced the missing three.
"OK, Cho, take it easy," Lorne said, "Wake the others. We'll set up a search and figure out what's going on."
Over the small campfire they'd been taking the risk of keeping, Lorne and Cho quickly briefed the others on what was going on. Carter asked Lorne and Beckett to check where the three had been sleeping and check the general supplies, then set the others off in a perimeter search of the area.
Twenty minutes later they were back to report. The search group had found nothing certain, although Teal'c thought they might have backtracked their original path into the woods to mask their tracks. Worse, Lorne and Beckett had found that they'd not only taken their own equipment but a sizeable amount of the medical supplies as well. Beckett cursed himself for not keeping a closer eye on them. Sheppard put a hand on his shoulder and gave him what was probably supposed to be a reassuring look. Lorne was sure that Sheppard didn't blame Beckett for anything, and likely blamed himself.
"What now?" Daniel asked. "Do we try to track them down? Bring them back?"
"The question is: do we want to?" Lorne asked.
"Where do you think they've gone?" Cho asked.
There was uncomfortable silence. Lorne suspected they were all thinking the same thing, but it was Sheppard who said the words out loud. "Las Vegas."
It took them over three weeks to reach Boulder. They were slowed down by feelings of being watched, and from being unable to sleep well. They were tired and had to stop often. Once they were attacked by a pack of feral dogs and wolves. Flaus's hand was injured, but Dr. Beckett had been able to keep infection from setting in. They counted themselves lucky.
When they got to the Boulder town limits they were astounded at the signs of living people and civilization. They were greeted by a pair of young men who grew excited to learn that they were military, and not just paper-pushers. "It's not the guns, so much," they kept saying, "but we can use any technical expertise we can find."
The young men took them to meet the Free Zone Committee. "They don't see every new group that comes in anymore," the young men told them, "but the word is out to bring in any military folks. And scientists. Are any of you scientists?"
As they got out of the van, a large man came running up to them. "Hello!" he called, "I'm Tom Cullen!" He grabbed Lorne's hand and shook it, asking, "Who are you?"
"I'm Major Evan Lorne, US Air Force. Or whatever's left of it," he replied glumly.
"Air Force! Air Force!" the man cried with delight, clapping his hands, and Lorne suddenly realized that Tom must be mentally handicapped. "That means you fly planes! M-O-O-N, that spells plane! Tom Cullen knows that!"
"You sure do, Tom," Lorne said with a grin. Tom's smiling mood was infectious.
A familiar voice came from within the building in front of them, babbling like a brook. "- is them, we'll have even *more* brain power, we should be able to get that power equipment you want up and running before we-"
They were ground to a halt with the sight of Rodney McKay, who was followed by Miko Kusanagi. McKay saw them and yelled, "Oh my God, it is you." Then he promptly passed out.