We make our own gravity to give weight to things.
Then things fall and they break and gravity sings.
If Sam turned the glass just so, slid it to just the right spot, she could make the scotch reflect ripples on the table that reminded her of the Stargate's event horizon. There was plenty of sunlight streaming through the cabin window to refract the patterns onto the wooden surface.
She traced her fingers over the table where the light fell through the tumbler. "Amber," she said to no one. Not blue. Not blue for months now. Never blue again.
She brought the glass to her lips and drained away the memory.
General Jack O'Neill headed west five months after the world ended.
The world's worst attack had come without warning. Ninety-five percent of the Earth's population gone within 14 hours of the first report of a massive cloud that originated near Colorado Springs.
No bodies. No explanation. Just piles of dust.
Jack tried to stay in the Washington area as long as possible, assess what was still there and what he could do. Everyone associated with the Stargate program in D.C. was gone, and there was little government structure left. Anarchy took hold within a week, and Washington became a ghost town as people drifted out to more rural areas looking for food, other people and loved ones.
Jack waited for an alien race to claim responsibility or to hear from someone at the SGC. No one ever came, and the game changed from protection to survival. With the Asgard gone, Jack had nowhere to turn for help or retribution. So eventually, Jack grabbed a motorcycle and a warm coat, siphoned some extra gas, and headed west.
Of all the people Jack expected to see in a roadside diner in Kentucky, the least likely person was Pete Shanahan. It was a surreal moment to see the man behind a counter cooking for a handful of folks sitting at the candlelit bar. Foregoing the built-in griddle, Shanahan had a series of Coleman grills with propane tanks sitting on a worn-down countertop. Since most areas Jack passed through were without power, he thought it an ingenious, if non-elegant, solution.
Jack took an empty seat at the bar and waited for Pete to turn around.
"Katy, here ya go. Over easy. Want some toast with…" Pete was visibly surprised to see Jack sitting at the counter. "I'll be damned. General O'Neill?" Pete set the plate down in front of a teenage girl with long brown hair and wiped his hands on his pants. He came around the counter and held his hand out.
Jack shook hands with Pete. "Shanahan," he said.
"What are you… Damn, man. It's good to see a familiar face," said Pete. "Something to eat?" he offered. Jack nodded and sat back down at the bar.
"Eggs?" said Pete. "We have a pretty steady supply of them from the chicken farm here in town. I'd offer chicken, but we'd have to make a run to the creek for it," he said.
Jack took in that comment. They'd obviously established some sort of order here. "Eggs are fine," he said. "Scrambled."
Back behind the counter, Pete cracked a couple of eggs into a mixing bowl. ". Have you heard anything from Sam?" Pete looked up and Jack saw the shadowed worry in his eyes. "I don't know if she's…" He started again, "She hasn't contacted me since… just what did happen anyway, O'Neill?" His friendly tone was edged with a touch of bitterness and maybe a slight shade of blame.
"I'm not sure, Pete." Shanahan seemed either skeptical or surprised, but he said nothing as he turned and started preparing Jack's eggs.
Pete's easy-going manner from a few minutes earlier shifted into uneasy silence as he cooked. Jack noted the man had lost weight and had a slightly angular look, an edge not formerly present when Jack last saw him at Jacob's funeral. Unwilling to scrutinize Carter's ex too closely, Jack looked around the diner to see the consolidation of cooking supplies – grills, sterno cans, boxes of canned and dry goods. Pete handed Jack his plate, and Jack saw him size up his reaction to the makeshift food shelter.
"Quite the setup you've got here, Shanahan," Jack said. He bit into a forkful of eggs as Pete set a capped bottle of water down in front of him. A couple got up from the bar and thanked Pete. "Same time tomorrow?" Pete said, and the couple nodded before heading out the door with a flashlight.
"We manage," said Pete. "It's easy when you don't have to worry about paying for anything. Getting around the 'no power' thing is the real trick, but country folk can survive, right?"
"Country folk?" Jack raised an eyebrow. "Weren't you a cop in Denver?"
"I was raised here," said Pete. "Katy is my brother's daughter. After… whatever, I made my way this direction to see if anything was left of my family. She's the only one I've found."
"And you haven't heard from Carter?" said Jack, trying to keep his tone neutral. He finished off his eggs under Pete's close scrutiny.
"Nothing," said Pete. "You done?" Jack nodded. "I have a feeling we should go back to my place and talk."
Pete ushered Jack into the house, a sprawling two-story home with a staircase just inside the front door. Pete led him to the living room. "Just let me get some of the candles lit," he said. "Saves on batteries."
Katy stuck her head into the room. "Uncle Pete, I'm heading up to bed, OK?"
"Sure thing, sugar. G'night," Pete said.
"Nice meeting you," Katy said to Jack. She waved before disappearing up the stairs.
"You too," Jack called after her.
Pete struck a match and lit three candles on various end tables. He gestured for Jack to sit down, and Jack took a seat on the roomy sofa. Pete pulled a bottle of whiskey from under a nearby cabinet and grabbed two glasses. He held the glasses up and Jack nodded. "She seems like a good kid," he said.
Pete poured two moderate pulls of Jack Daniels and had a seat in a chair opposite O'Neill. "So," he began. "Just what in the fuck happened to the world, General?"
Jack decided 'straightforward' was the best approach. "I don't know, Pete."
"I had hoped you'd know about Sam," said Pete. Jack felt a pit in his stomach. Not knowing about Sam, or any of the rest of his former team, had given him plenty of restless thoughts. "I tried to get to Colorado Springs right after, but there was so much chaos. And I went west to check on my parents." His voice shook. "While I was out there, I stopped to see about Mark. He didn't…" Pete sat back in his chair. "You really don't know what happened to her?" He sounded lost.
Jack could identify. "I haven't heard from any of them," he said quietly.
"We'll be counting the cost from this one for a long time, won't we?" Pete asked.
In response, Jack swirled the last of the Jack Daniels in his glass.
Jack stayed for two days. On the third day, he told Pete he was moving on. "I need to know what happened," he said simply.
Pete understood. As Jack was leaving, Pete said, "If you… when you find Sam, tell her I love her. That she'll always have a place here with me, if she wants it." Jack recognized the slightly broken tone. Lord knows he had felt that way enough recently.
Jack shook Pete's hand and handed him a piece of paper with an address. "This is where I'm heading, eventually," he said.
"Minnesota?" asked Pete.
"I have some property there," Jack replied. "I figure maybe they'll… drift that way."
Sam had made a game out of trying to get the elk to come closer to the cabin. At first, she tried piles of mulch hay from the storage shed, placing them near the lake's edge where it would see them when getting water. When that wasn't effective, she tried vegetable scraps from her stockpile of canned goods. It wasn't like she was eating much, anyway, so why not share?
Cliché as it was, carrots finally got the elk's attention. Once he made a habit of coming up about midway through the yard, Sam left the vegetables in the same place. She would start her morning around sunrise each day, watching him from the swing on the porch and thinking of anything to fill the time.
Sometimes, she took a notebook with her. She would fill it with formulas, trying to solve riddles she never had time to complete. Would one of these formulas have changed anything? She didn't think so, but the doubt kept her active.
Sam wanted for nothing; she had food, shelter and isolation enough to make penance.
Sitting at an empty gas station in Joplin, Missouri, Jack weighed his options.
Heading further west would take him to Colorado. The Stargate was there. Maybe. Answers were there. Again, maybe. Would anyone else be there? And if they were, would it matter? With no clear enemy to fight and no realistic means of fighting them, would heading for Cheyenne Mountain be the best course of action?
If the gate was working, Jack could go to the Alpha site and find out what remained of the SGC network, maybe figure out who or what had done this. He wondered about his former team and whether or not they were off-world when things went down. Realistically, he had no way of knowing if they had even survived what Katy had referred to as The Dusting.
The thought that any of his people were in the dust that sometimes choked him as he rode made his stomach churn.
North was the cabin. The cabin had supplies: a stockpile of munitions and survival equipment stored from days long ago when having a definitive exit strategy was a requirement of the job. There was also the unspoken contingency plan with SG-1; in a pinch, fishing was never a bad idea.
Jack kicked his bike back to life, turned north on to Highway 71 and made his way towards Iowa.
Sam's daily routine was simple. After mornings on the swing, Sam walked as far as she could safely go down the snowy road towards the mailbox, eight miles away. If she needed supplies, she'd go ahead and walk the extra three miles into town, but with no plows to make the path easy, she tried to make those trips rare. The stores there were sparse but mostly abandoned. Of the residents that had previously lived there, only three or four remained. Most of them expressed plans to head out soon to look for scattered family. Sam figured she would have the entire town to herself within the year.
Just her, the cabin, the elk and the stars.
In the early evenings, Sam liked to take a drink or two outside on the dock and sit by the thawing lake. She wouldn't have much – her stopping point was when she messed up the order of the Periodic Table of the Elements three times. The world had nothing more basic to offer, she thought, than the elements. And basic is what she needed right now. Yes. Elements. And scotch.
"Rutheniumum, Rhodium, Palladium," she chanted. "Shilver, Camium, Cam…" She thought of Cameron Mitchell with his twinkling blue eyes and sense of humor. She let herself remember his face, remember how he had opened those blue eyes wide in surprise just before… she took another drink. "CAD-mium, Indium, Tin, Antin… Antin…"
"Antimony," said a male voice, and she whipped around.
Jack O'Neill. Standing on her, well, technically, his dock. Alive. Not dust.
Jack ran out of gas about three miles out from the cabin. He grabbed his pack and his pistol and started walking. The stillness over the white-spotted mud patches was eerily serene after miles of roaring engine.
It was shaping up to be a clear evening, and after so many hours on the bike, Jack didn't mind the walk as dark settled in and the stars became visible. He pinpointed the constellations and let them be his companion on the hike.
He was about to round the corner and head into the cabin when he heard a sing-song voice on the breeze coming from the lake. Definitely Carter. Jack strained for Daniel's counterpoint or Teal'c's bass, but there was only Carter chanting. Her voice was enough to quicken his pace and his heart rate after months of not knowing the fate of his friends.
She was on the dock, silhouetted at the end of it, perched with her boots dangling over a patch of ice. He stood a moment, just drinking in the sight of her profile. He could hear her clearly now, and he wanted to laugh. Carter was still a geek even when she was drunk.
"You're… you're really alive?" she said.
"It would appear so," he said, reaching out to help her up.
"But Daniel said…" She grabbed his hand and pulled herself up halfway before falling back.
"Whoa, Carter. No operating heavy machinery for you." He gave her his other hand and pulled. This time she came up and landed in his arms.
"You're here. You're really here." Sam pressed her head to his chest, wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly. The enormity of the moment hit him, and any previous humor in the situation fled.
"I'm here, Sam," he whispered. "We're here."
They stayed on the dock under the stars until Orion was high in the night sky.
When Jack woke the next morning, he dressed and found Sam outside on the swing. Her brow was furrowed and she was furiously scribbling in a notebook, so he went back in and rifled for supplies. Jack reached in a high cabinet and pulled down a percolating coffee pot. At least she found the pump, he thought, as he poured water into the pot from the plastic jug he found near the sink. He set the pot over the rig Carter had created from his wood-burning stove. A quick search in a lower cabinet helped him find the coffee grounds, and he added those to the percolator.
After a few minutes, Sam stuck her head inside. "Do I smell coffee?" she said. He handed her a cup and moved to the table with his own.
"So what's dribbling from your brain onto the notepad?" he asked.
She sat down across from him and said, "Do you have any idea how good it is to hear someone else's voice, sir?"
"Sir?" he said. "Carter, we're so far away from 'sir' right now that I don't even know how to respond to that."
"Jack," she said, trying the taste of it. "So, Jack. What took you so long?" She looked up and there was no smile anymore. He recognized the desperate look from the night before.
"Carter," he started. "What happened? Where is everyone? Was it the Ori?" The looking up and down stuff is distractingly repetitive.
"Gone." Her voice cracked. She took a slow sip of her coffee.
"All of them?" he prodded.
"Teal'c and Vala made it. They were headed to Kansas, last I saw of them," she said. "And Siler. A handful of others…" she tapered off.
"Daniel?" he asked, fearing the worst but needing to know.
She shook her head. "He… he…" Jack said nothing while she collected herself.
After a couple of breaths, she continued. "Jack, it was the Ori." She looked at him with clear, pained eyes. "And they used Daniel to do it." Jack's stomach lurched. "They planted a trigger in him with some bio-weapon, and he… exploded inside the SGC."
Jack started pacing the room. "We need to go to Cheyenne Mountain. We need to get the gate going, find some place to start hunting. Get in touch with Atlantis."
"Sir," she said. "We can't."
"What do you mean we can't?" he said, raising his voice. "We can't just sit here. I can't sit around and do nothing anymore." He started gathering things into his pack from the couch. "I've already wasted enough time dicking around in Washington." He zipped the bag and carried it back over to the table. "Are you going with me or what?" He was practically yelling at her now and she flinched.
"Dammit," he said under his breath. He quieted his tone. "Sam…" She took a long draw on the coffee and held the cup to her forehead. "Sam, we need to move. We have to get back to the SGC and get to the Alpha site."
"That's what I'm trying to tell you," she said from under the cup. "Jack, we can't go anywhere. When we woke from the explosion, the gate was gone."
The sound of morning crickets provided a mocking soundtrack of life carrying on outside the cabin. He dropped his bag.
"Gone," he finally echoed. Jack sat back down and let the chair hold his collapsed weight. The adrenaline rush crashed down on him, bringing despair.
Sam crouched in front of him. "We're stuck on Earth."
Jack noted Sam's daily routine and decided to create one of his own. By the time she returned from her morning walk, he would be out behind the small shed chopping firewood. He had not said much since that first morning, taking his therapy instead by hacking as many downed trees as he could find in the surrounding woods.
At night, he would follow her out to the dock and sit on the end, staring out over the water and into the sunset. Sometimes they would see Sam's elk, which Jack called "Bucko," to Sam's chagrin. The two would talk about dwindling townsfolk, plan how to best prepare for the winter and wonder what Teal'c and Vala were up to.
"They went searching for Cam's parents," Sam explained. "They wanted to take his remains…" She stopped and picked up the tumbler beside her and took a sip. "Vala said he and his parents were very close."
When Jack told her about his trip he watched her face closely when he mentioned Shanahan, but her only reaction was relief that Pete was alive. When he said that Pete would not be averse to her joining him, she bit her lower lip, but all she said was, "I'll keep that in mind." Jack was perversely pleased she continued to stay where she was. If she had thoughts of joining Shanahan, she was keeping them to herself since the topic never came up again.
What Jack really craved was answers. He desperately wanted Teal'c to return because he'd had given up on getting anything more from Carter. The more he pressed, the more she clammed up. Jack asked her about Daniel, but Sam wouldn't talk about it much but to say that she wasn't sure exactly when they lost him to the Ori mask he wore. Even when Jack told her about her brother and his family, she closely guarded her grief. During the day, she went about routine tasks. It was easy to pretend that things could be normal again, and Carter seemed to be giving normalcy her dead-level best. But the muffled sounds of crying he heard through the walls of the guest bedroom where he slept let him know that she was struggling, too.
A man surrounded by irony most of his life, Jack could appreciate the dark humor in his situation: here he was with all the time in the world to fish (and living with a beautiful, smart woman), and all he really knew from day to day was devastating loss and bewilderment at what to do about it. Anger was satisfying, if futile, but two cords of wood later and even it was somewhat tempered.
Close proximity led to brief spats, Jack saw a spark of the Carter of old.
"Dammit, Jack, why didn't you refill the jugs?" Sam emptied most of the water into the tub on the porch where he was setting out clothing to be washed. "And hey, I need clean clothes, too, you know."
"What, are your arms broken?" Jack sorted his laundry now on the deck table into colors.
"It's not hard, you know," she said. "You take them to the pump, you refill them, you bring them back."
Jack held up a pair of non-matched socks in response. Muttering under her breath, she took the jugs to the nearby pump, priming it with a small amount of water left in one of the larger ones.
"Awful mouthy, aren't we, Colonel?" he yelled after her. He went back into the cabin and grabbed another small stack of clothes, deliberately ignoring anything of Sam's. Propping the screen door open with his leg, he snagged the bar of soap before setting the remaining clothes in his hand on the table.
Which was suddenly wet. Along with the back of his shirt, his hat, the hair underneath it, and the top of his pants. He turned, sputtering, to find Carter setting down a small jug. The other larger one she had carried, he noted, was decidedly empty.
"Oops, General," she said and gave him a 100 megawatt grin. He smirked back. Her smile changed to a nervous look. "Um, Jack?" He walked towards her slowly, deliberately.
"Carter," he said.
"I was just… you know, um, teasing?" she said.
"I know." He kept his slow pace in her direction but grabbed the smaller jug from the porch along the way.
"Jack, forgiven, right?" she said, retreating into the yard. "I mean, I was thinking that I don't mind doing the laundry so much if you'll take care of the dishes…"
"Oh, I forgive you, all right," he said. "And sure, we can switch." He stopped at the edge of the porch with the jug hefted in his left hand. She brightened up. "Just one thing, though."
"Yeah?" she said.
"You are so toast!" he said, making a break for her. He chased her around the perimeter of the yard, grabbing her around the waist just before she made it to the dock. They both let out an "oomph" as it turned into a tackle. He made a big production of pouring water all over her squirming body as they wrestled in the grass.
She finally knocked the bottle out of his hands, but he managed to pin her before she could escape. They were both drenched, muddy and covered in brown grass, but when she dissolved into giggles, Jack smiled in spite of the cold mud creeping down the back of his pants
"Bully," she said once she caught her breath.
"Nag," he grumbled. The moment stretched and transformed into the old, familiar undercurrent of nervous energy between them when Jack realized very suddenly that there was a wet, happy Carter underneath him. Oh, that, he thought. His immediate reaction was to shove it back in the corner of his mind with the rest of his can't-haves, but then he realized that he didn't have a compelling reason anymore to hold that part of him back.
Bucko broke the moment when the elk made its way to the lake's edge and started to drink.
"Guess we didn't scare him off, huh?" said Jack, rolling off to the side. His mind was whirling with his recent epiphany, but he knew it was too soon to discuss it. The implications of their situation floored him, and for the first time, he was scared to realize he had nothing to hide behind when it came to Sam. He needed time to think things through, though, and he knew Sam still hadn't come to terms with the larger world just yet.
Sam got up and started brushing grass off her wet clothing. She glanced askance at Jack, who was still sitting on the ground. "No," she said. "We didn't." She picked up the now-empty jug from the grass and walked back towards the porch.
That night, Jack brought his telescope out to the dock. They took turns with the moon and stars and enjoyed the simple magic in naming spring constellations: Libra, Ursa Major, Scorpius. Sam told Jack about her first experience flying at night, and Jack told her about his college physics professor. The night spread out lazily before them, and the air held no chill.