Jack Carter had never been all that close with his cousin Sam. Part of that was the way they were both brought up; his dad was law enforcement and her dad was Air Force, and they were rarely even on the same side of the country. But part of it was just that they never really clicked as people. Not like Jack and Sam's brother, Mark.
They'd struck up a pretty solid friendship as kids, one that had strengthened after the deaths of Jack's girlfriend and Mark's mother in car accidents. They'd made the effort to keep up with it over the years, through college, careers, marriages and kids; in some ways, it had been like having an extra sibling. For awhile, they'd even lived just a couple of hours apart on the California coast, more than close enough for monthly visits and celebratory get-togethers.
Sam, on the other hand... Sam had been an incredibly intelligent child, proud of that fact and determined to succeed on her own terms. A lot like Jack's sister Lexi; a lot like the people he was around every day now in Eureka. Jack didn't think she'd ever deliberately talked down to him, but she'd hardly been the first person to leave him scratching his head in conversation, and she wouldn't be the last. They liked each other well enough, but they'd just never had anything in common. She'd followed her father into the Air Force and been married to her job ever since; these days, Jack was lucky to get a birthday card from her posted within a week of the actual date.
So maybe it should have been less of a surprise than it was the day he walked into the lobby of Global Dynamics to see a familiar blonde head of hair bowed in conference with Stark, Allison, and several other scientists. Physics. Military involvement. Peanut butter and chocolate where his cousin was concerned, right? The thing was, he hadn't so much as heard a whisper out of her in months, and the last card had come misaddressed from his old address in L.A. He wasn't even sure she remembered that he'd moved to Oregon in the first place.
Not to mention the fact that last word from Mark had put her at the same mysterious 'Deep Space Radar Telemetry' job in Colorado she'd been posted to for the last several years. If she'd come for anything 'telemetry' related, he'd have expected to see her during Rocket Week, or some other ostentatiously space-themed experiment. Which meant-- that many big brains in one room, including one borrowed from halfway across the country? Whatever they were up to, there was no way it boded well for his blood pressure.
Jack wondered idly if he should just call Jo, lock the town down, and get it over with. Ten to one, it would save time when the experiment of the week inevitably backfired.
"Carter! It's about time!" Stark looked up as he walked into the rotunda, catching sight of Jack over Sam's shoulder. Then he paused to correct himself as Sam started in surprise. "I apologize; I should have said Sheriff Carter, Dr. Carter," he chuckled, mouth curved slightly in amusement. "No relation, I hope?"
"Aw, Stark. You know how I live to dash your hopes," Jack drawled. "Hey, Sam."
Sam's eyes widened as she turned and caught sight of him standing behind her. "Hey, Jack," she said, with a slightly confused smile of greeting. "I didn't know you worked here?"
He replied with a casual shrug. "I don't, exactly. Not here, here." He stabbed a finger down at the floor, ignoring Stark's eyeroll and Allison's raised brows. "It's more like I protect the rest of the town from this place. But hey; I can see how you might have been too busy to pay attention to the family news, seeing as how you're so busy with Deep Space Radar Telemetry and all."
The corner of her mouth twitched at the mention of her obvious cover job; so did Stark's and Allison's, though, which he found much more interesting. Secrets. Ugh. It wasn't as though his previous job hadn't had its share of confidential information, but he'd never fully appreciated the potential of the unknown to endanger his life in wild and unexpected ways before his assignment to Eureka.
"Jack..." she started to say, whether to apologize or chide him for his snark he wasn't sure.
Either way, he wasn't having any of it. He hadn't been able to greet her without teasing her at least a little, but it was always good to see family, and it really had been a long time.
"Oh, don't worry; I won't ask," he said. "Though you should tell your commanding officer he really needs to come up with a new cover story; that one's getting kinda worn. I'm just glad it means I actually get to see you sometime this decade."
Her smile warmed as he opened his arms, and she stepped into a brief, cousinly hug. "It's good to see you too, Jack. Mark said he'd been seeing less of you lately; I guess this is why. Did he tell you he and Dad are talking again?"
Jack nodded as he stepped back and tucked his hands in his pockets. "Yeah. Said he still sees about as much of you as ever, though. Busy girl. I'm guessing you're not planning on retiring when your twenty are up?"
She snorted, grinning at him. "Like you are? Right. He's one to complain, though; he never brings the kids to Colorado to visit me. I do plan on stopping by San Diego after I leave here, though; I can't pass up the opportunity while we're on the same coast for once. They grow fast at that age, don't they?"
"Sure do," Jack nodded. Mark's son and daughter were still under ten, and he remembered watching his own daughter grow up that way between long assignments as a US Marshal, something different about her every time he came home again. "Hey, which reminds me-- you better stop by my place before you leave. Zoe'll kill me if she finds out I got to see you and she didn't."
"That's right, she's in high school now, huh?" Sam smiled. Unlike Jack and Sam, Sam and Zoe never ran out of things to talk about; whatever Zoe said about her IQ results, he was pretty sure she was closer to Sam's end of the scale than his. And more power to her. She could be anything she wanted to be; he was just glad she seemed to have got over her felonious phase.
Their reminisces were broken into by a loudly cleared throat, and both Carters looked over to see Stark staring at them, arms crossed. "As touching as this is," the scientist said in his driest tones, "it wasn't the reason either of you were called here. Allison-- would you fill the Sheriff in on the problem in Section 2? I'll take the major down to Section 5 and give her the background; we'll wait to start until you join us."
"Of course," Allison said, giving Jack an apologetic grimace.
Jack sighed. Section 5. Of course. "Dinner at Café Diem tonight, all right, Sam? And Stark-- don't blow my cousin up, okay?"
Sam agreed, then turned to follow Stark, who hadn't bothered to dignify Jack's comment with a reply. The rest of the scientists followed in their wake, like a bunch of geekily dressed ducklings.
"Sam in Eureka," Jack mused, shaking his head as they walked away. "I don't know whether to be more pleased or worried."
"Worried? Why?" Allison asked, puzzled.
Jack smiled and shook his head. "Ah, nevermind. So tell me, what exactly's gone wrong in Section 2?"