Chapter 1: Conference
Dr. Daniel Jackson leans against the back wall of the elevator with a weary sigh, pinching at the bridge of his nose and wishing desperately for a nap.
Or at the very least a cup of coffee.
Honestly, whomever came up with that hoary old ivory-tower cliché obviously never witnessed a gaggle of horny professors and grad students downing drinks and partying until the wee hours in a hotel bar.
Not a pretty sight, especially the aftermath. The sound of his neighbors on either side throwing up into their respective toilets at three in the morning wasn't exactly conducive to a sound sleep, either.
He's definitely not a morning person.
Daniel finds conferences annoying anyway, preferring to spend his time in fieldwork and research instead of schmoozing with his peers. If appearances like these weren't practically pro forma he'd never leave his cozy office at the university (which isn't much bigger than a broom closet, but at least it's his).
Even after the selection committee approved one of his papers for presentation, he persisted on dragging his feet; it finally took the severe threat of pulling funding for next year's dig at Saqqara to convince him to go. He hates playing office politics with a passion, but his precarious position in the department's his last chance to make something of his academic career. So here he is.
The car gives a slight jerk as it stops. Daniel straightens, starting to exit before realizing it's not his floor. He steps back in time for a petite young woman to enter, hefting a tall stack of papers almost reaching to her chin.
With one hand awkwardly wrapped around the pile she struggles to push a button on the panel with the other. The elevator starts up again and she stumbles. Papers slip from her grasp and she curses under her breath in a language he's sure isn't English.
(Not surprising considering the hotel's full of linguists for the conference, but that particular dialect she's using intrigues him.)
On impulse he rescues a few on the way to the floor. "Need some help?"
"Thanks. Guess I should've made two trips." She smiles at him briefly, before dropping her gaze down to the pile. A blush tints her pale cheeks.
"Where are you taking these?"
"Meeting room 2B. My advisor needs them for a round table discussion he's chairing."
"That's on my way. Why don't we share the load?"
"Oh! Thank you, but you don't have to--"
He divests her of almost half the pile, his long arms easily cradling them. "I don't mind. I remember having to act as beast of burden for my advisors duiring conferences, too."
The elevator stops. Daniel waits for the young woman to exit then follows her down the hall. The room is empty save for a single long rectangle table with chairs in the middle and a smaller table offering beverage service.
"Dr. Lyon's not here yet. I guess I'd better get these sorted before he arrives." The young woman sets her portion of the papers on the table and Daniel follows. "Thanks for your help. I really appreciate it." The blush deepens slightly as she glances at him, a small smile flirting with her lips.
He returns the smile, quietly amused at her apparent embarrassment. "You're welcome. See you around."
Lingering by the doorway, he watches her quiet, deliberate movements as she neatly sorts out the papers, unexpectedly taken by the inner strength and poise which belies her seemingly delicate appearance.
Soothing. Charming, even.
Watching her makes him feel a little better.
But he still needs that cup of coffee.
Becky Grahme shifts in her seat during the chairperson's introductory remarks, fidgets with her notes, stares out at the audience.
Only a year into the dual Master's program at UCLA (Linguistics and Cultural Anthro, after an accelerated undergrad program recommended by her mentors at the Phoenix Foundation). Still hard to believe Dr. Lyon actually believed one of her term papers could be a worthy contribution yet here she is, barely 22 and already presenting at her first academic conference.
Everyone's watching her. Prepared to judge every word she's labored on, crafting her precious theories into something she hopes is a valid contribution to her chosen field of study, maybe even enough to impress her peers.
Her heartbeat steps into double time and it's getting hard to breathe. A rising tide of panic threatens to overwhelm her. What if she's not good enough? What if she's laughed right off the stage?
Becky gives herself a mental shake. Enough already. Time to get a grip.
Be brave, she can imagine both her uncles saying, as clear as if they were right beside her. You can do this.
Mrs. Avery- her redoubtable choir teacher from high school- had the perfect advice: find someone in the audience, ignore everyone else, and focus entirely on getting through to that one person. Once that's accomplished, the rest is easy.
She quickly scans the audience. A tall man stumbling into an aisle seat catches her eye, glint of silver-rimmed glasses followed by a mop of brown hair, sun-streaked blond in places.
The helpful, soft-spoken- and undeniably gorgeous- guy from the elevator.
As if aware of her gaze he looks up from the program in his hand, eyes widening with interest as he recognizes her. Nods and gives her a small smile.
Yeah, she can do this. Piece of cake.
A smattering of perfunctory applause. It's time.
Becky steps up to the podium, takes a deep breath, and begins her presentation.
The next morning Daniel's as ready as he can possibly be, considering yet another sleepless night. The last time he had neighbors who partied this hard every night had been during his undergrad years.
Everything's going about as well as can be expected.
Daniel defends his paper on the cross-pollination of cultures in the ancient world, laying out theories, backing up conclusions with his own translations displayed on the overhead projector. Mostly sticking to the topic, but every so often going off on a tangent or two that seems relevant at the time.
The audience is mostly receptive, though some are shaking their heads.
It's okay. His theories aren't exactly what one might call mainstream, yet he's got this gut feeling someday they'll be proven right.
The hieroglyphics of Naquada III sing to him, as nothing else does. So deceptively simple, yet he's certain particular words- or perhaps proper names- have hidden meanings concealing a deeper truth, lost to history.
(What do the words "Goa'uld" and "Jaffa" really mean, anyway?)
A few more months of research and results from the dig in Egypt are all he needs to complete the capstone for his third Ph.D. Not bad for a man his age, with two doctorates already under his belt.
Time for the Q&A. A few formal questions at first, which he takes care to answer with equal aplomb.
Then of course his chief academic rival- smarmy Dirk Sanderson from Syracuse- just has to stand up and start laying into him. Calling his theories complete garbage, sneering at the validity of his research, all that crap. Nothing he hasn't heard before, unfortunately.
He longs to return blow for blow but doing so would merely serve to diminish his already precarious academic reputation. It's all he can do as it is to stand stoically at the podium as the tirade continues.
Out of the blue after one particularly nasty slur the young woman from the elevator- who delivered a very intriguing paper the other day- jumps up and launches into her own impassioned verbal defense of his work.
Well. Maybe his theories aren't really as far from mainstream as he'd thought.
Daniel doesn't even have to add anything, Sanderson just stares at her, mouth stupidly agape. By the time the session's over she's got the jerk on the run. Literally, though not without him muttering a few curses and threats under his breath before leaving.
The audience disperses, leaving the two of them in the suddenly echoing room.
He quickly stuffs notes and transparencies into his briefcase without looking and steps off the stage. Approaches her carefully, as she's still a little stunned by her own outburst. "Hey, you okay?"
She blinks up at him. "Huh? Yeah, I'm fine. Though to be honest I'm not exactly sure what just happened."
"You mean, defending the honor of strangers isn't something you normally do?" He grins, to show he's not offended.
She blushes. "Not exactly. I didn't mean to disrupt your lecture. But what that guy was doing, dismissing your work like that..." She shakes her head in disgust. "I normally don't speak out in public, but I was just so appalled I felt compelled to say something. Why is it that supposedly brilliant scientists have to be so rude and obnoxious?"
Daniel shrugs. "Sanderson's a cretin, always has been. Don't worry about it. Besides, it's better than the response I usually get from an audience. Luckily no one wanted to burn me at the stake for my heretical thoughts this time."
She frowns, a small crease forming between her brows. "Why would anybody do that? Your theories make perfect sense to me, and the reasoning's sound enough."
"Unfortunately not everyone sees it that way."
Daniel doesn't know why he's not just leaving, seeking solitude to decompress as per usual. But he's oddly drawn to this petite young woman. There's something about her that feels familiar. Like a kindred spirit.
He decides to take a chance. "You still look pretty shaken up. Want to go somewhere for coffee?"
"Away from the hotel?"
"Why not? We're in Seattle, after all. Capital of caffeinated culture," he quips and she chuckles. "I'm sure we can find even a halfway decent place not far from here."
"Sure." She hesitates. "Um, mind if I ask you something really dumb?"
Never stop asking questions. Even the dumbest ones can lead to the most amazing discoveries.
Dr. Jones taught him that, one of his favorite archaeology professors back in his undergrad days.
"I beg your pardon?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.
Belatedly he realizes he must've spoken out loud. "Sorry. What did you want to know?"
A flush tints her cheeks again. "What's your name?"
He blinks in surprise, then offers his hand. "Oh. Right. Daniel Jackson."
"Becky Grahme." A spark runs through him as she places her small hand in his.
She's cute in an attractive sort of way, and her eyes are awfully pretty, like the sky on a clear winter's day. Her glasses slip down her nose and he's seized by the impulse to reach over and gently push them back up.
Her clear interest in him (and his theories) is gratifying. Then again, he ought to be realistic.
After all, who could possibly be attracted to an awkward, bookish geek like him?
Maybe it's just his imagination.
The coffee shop's cozy and inviting. Rough red brick walls, warm wood, scuffed linoleum parquet. Tables, chairs and couches with an attractive patina of age. The smells of hazelnut, burnt coffee and baked goods. Soft jazz playing in the background.
Daniel's a perfect gentleman. Offering his arm to steady herself at the crosswalks, inclining his head to listen as if everything she says is of the utmost importance, opening doors. All the things that make her feel like a lady.
Becky collects her drink and chocolate croissant, follows him to a secluded booth. "You didn't have to pay for me. I mean, I've got money--"
He waves away her objections. "Consider it thanks for standing up for me. Also, sort of a 'welcome to your first academic conference' gift."
"How can you tell it's my first?"
"I have my ways." He sips his coffee, a touch of mischief making his eyes twinkle.
Neither of them are fond of small talk, so they soon slip deep into discussion without even realizing it, touching on a dizzying array of subjects, one idea flowing effortlessly into another.
At one point she waves a hand wildly to describe an especially interesting concept, knocking his coffee cup over. His hand brushes against hers as they both scramble for napkins to mop up the liquid; the heat from his touch zings through her body. She yanks her hand back, quickly.
He blinks at her, surprised. "Something wrong?"
God, why does she have to blush so easily? "Sorry about that. I get so lost in my thoughts sometimes I forget to pay attention to what's around me. My mom always used to say when one's eyes are on the stars it's important to keep one's feet on the ground. Guess I need to remember that."
"I get the same way myself, a lot of the time. Sounds like good advice for both of us."
Despite her physical ineptitude it's so easy being with Daniel; all of Becky's awkwardness has virtually melted away in his presence.
Which is unusual, to say the least.
She's never felt this comfortable with any other man before, except for her uncles. Could it be she's found a kindred spirit at last?
He's brilliant and gorgeous, with beautiful blue eyes regarding her kindly behind his own glasses and a gentle smile on those full lips. She suddenly possesses an irrational desire to run her fingers through his hair.
(Is this falling in love? She has no idea.)
Anything's possible, but Becky's a realist when it comes to her personal life. He couldn't possibly be interested in her in a romantic way.
She's too short, too shy, too awkward, too much the bookish nerd. Not unattractive yet not exactly a fashion plate, either.
Keep your feet on the ground, girl.
At least the conversation's fascinating.
Daniel scowls down into the glass of scotch and wonders for the hundredth time what he's doing at this godawful party.
He hates everything about it. The oppressive crush of people. The stench of body odors masked by perfumes and cologne, mingled with alcohol. The appallingly loud music. The inane, insipid small talk and gossip making the rounds.
If it wasn't for the pressure by his peers he wouldn't be here. He thinks longingly of the quiet room upstairs, the comfort of books.
Not too far away he spies Becky standing against the wall, gazing miserably around her at the jostling crowd. Looking as desperate as he feels to be anywhere else right now.
He feels a surge of sympathy. Perhaps he should approach her, rescue her from this ordeal.
But as much as he enjoyed her company earlier in the day, he's worried she might get the wrong impression of his motives if he comes on strong. Maybe he should hold back for now.
Or maybe not. He frowns as a dark-haired man approaches her. Tall, abrasive and angry as hell over his earlier humiliation. Looming over her petite figure as he speaks and she pulls away, grimacing at the overpowering stench of alcohol on his breath.
Sanderson. Oh, joy.
Daniel's just close enough to hear her say, "Please, leave me alone. I'm not interested, all right?"
Sanderson glowers. "Think you can just yell at me and get away with it, huh? I don't like being yelled at. Especially by little brats like you." He staggers forward, she involuntarily steps back. "But I can be forgiving. How 'bout making it up to me with a dance?"
"No, thank you." Her response is more firm than before. "I don't want to dance with you, or do anything else with you for that matter. Go away, please."
"Think you're better'n me, huh? Just 'cause you sided with Ol' Four-Eyes Jackson. Say," Sanderson leans into her space, using his greater bulk as though to entrap her. "You're a four-eyes yerself, aren't you? No wonder you got nobody."
Becky glares at him but says nothing.
"Come on, just one li'l dance with me an' I'll forget the whole thing."
As he clumsily paws at her it's obvious even to Daniel the guy's incapable of standing on his own two feet, let alone dance.
"I said no!" Becky's putting up a brave front, but words alone are obviously no longer sufficient enough to ensure her escape. She frantically glances around for help, but no one nearby appears to be paying the slightest attention to her plight.
By now Sanderson's essentially backed her into a corner. He leans in close, murmurs something in her ear, most likely both deeply suggestive and offensive at the same time. Becky's eyes widen and she visibly pales. He takes advantage of her shock to grab at her arm and she struggles to get free.
That does it. Time to intervene.
Despite his anger, Daniel keeps his tone controlled as he steps towards them, unwilling to attract attention. "Leave her alone, Sanderson. Go pick on someone your own size."
The bully turns to him, a nasty grin spreading across his face. "Well, well. If it ain't Ol' Four-Eyes Jackson himself. The guy with the crazy theories 'bout aliens in ancient Egypt. What'cha gonna do if I don't, huh? Sic your pyramid-building aliens on me with their ray guns?"
"Look, let her go already. It's obvious she wants nothing to do with you."
"Make me, wimp," Sanderson sneers. "C'mon now, brat. You're coming with me."
He tugs at Becky's arm hard enough to bruise, making her cry out in pain. As he pulls her roughly towards him she abruptly turns and rams a knee straight into his groin. He doubles over with a muffled yelp.
Daniel takes the advantage to pull her away from him. "You okay?" he asks her.
"I'm fine. A little shaken is all." She glances behind him and blanches. "Oh god, he's getting up--"
Daniel turns, sees Sanderson glowering at them, uttering curses as he stumbles to his feet. He charges straight towards them, fists cocked, ready for a fight--
Without thinking Daniel steps into his path, blocking his advance with a right uppercut. Sanderson immediately crumples, knocked out cold.
Daniel steps back, momentarily stunned by his action, hand aching from the blow.
There's a tug on his arm. "Let's get out of here before we get into any more trouble," Becky urges quietly.
He allows her to lead him away, slipping through the crowd.
People- no doubt the same ones who didn't lift a finger to help earlier- watch them speculatively, immediately start chatting with each other.
Great. They'll be talking about this for years to come, he's sure.
There's nothing like the academic rumor mill to make or break reputations.
(Not that he cares particularly, but it's still pretty annoying.)
Another of Seattle's ubiquitous coffeehouses. A Bach concerto plays softly in the background, the classical music a sharp contrast to the shop's sleek and modern appearance. City lights begin to twinkle in the gathering dusk outside.
Becky's sitting opposite him in the booth, looking at him in concern. "You're sure you're all right? You seemed a bit surprised after hitting him."
"I'm fine," he reassures her. "It's just...Well, I like to think of myself as a pacifist. Hitting another person's completely unlike me. Even if he deserved it."
"You mean, defending the honor of strangers isn't something you normally do?"
He blinks at her in surprise then chuckles, recalling the same question he'd asked her earlier in the day. "No, not really."
"Well, thanks for defending me anyway. I really appreciate it."
"You're welcome. Though you dealt him a pretty good blow yourself."
She flushes. "Best I could think of, at the time. I wouldn't have been there, even, if I hadn't been pressured into going. I'm not good with social situations like these." She shudders. "Dealing with people's pretty exhausting. I need a lot of alone time to recharge."
Daniel nods in perfect understanding, sips at his coffee. Thinks of the quiet solitude of his apartment, the joy he finds in his work. "Me, too."
"I think I've always been an introvert. Runs in the family, my dad especially."
"He still alive?"
She shakes her head. "Car crash. My mom and older brother, too. Happened when I was 14. All three gone, in one fell swoop."
There's a sadness in her eyes, one he empathizes with all too well.
"I'm sorry," he says, as gently and earnestly as he knows how. "I know what that's like. I lost my parents as a kid, too. They were both archaeologists, there was an accident while setting up massive stone blocks for a museum exhibit."
"I'm so sorry," she replies with equal sympathy and gentleness. "Do you have any other family?"
"My grandfather, but he refused to take me in. To this day I don't know why." He shakes his head. "Never mind. I went into foster care after that."
"I've got two uncles, my mom's younger brothers. Twins, as it happens. One is a problem-solver of sorts, working for a think-tank down in Los Angeles. He was my legal guardian until a few years ago. The other's in the Air Force. Just made colonel after serving in Iraq."
"They don't mind you're not following in their footsteps?"
"Not at all. Both pretty great guys, each in their own way. Encouraged me to follow my dreams no matter what. I've been lucky." A small, fond smile. "Always had a gift for languages, and I like learning about other cultures, so linguistic anthropology seemed a good fit. What about you? Have you always wanted to be an archaeologist?"
He nods. "Something of a family tradition I guess, starting with my grandfather. All my life I didn't want to do anything else. Interesting work, and I enjoy it. So much to learn."
"I know what you mean. Three doctorates, have to say I'm impressed."
Daniel gives a self-depreciating shrug. "A real slog sometimes. Worth it, though. Mind if I tell you something?"
"I'm glad we met, even if it was by accident."
"Me, too." Such a sweet smile.
There's an undeniable connection between them now, he's sure of it. He wonders if she senses it as well.
All Becky wants to do the next morning is hole up in her room for the day. Hope the rest of the world forgets about her.
So why is it she finds herself dressing to go out, taking the elevator up to Daniel's floor and knocking on the door?
After some grumbling he opens it, blinks at her. Blue cotton t-shirt and faded flannel pajama bottoms, floppy hair charmingly askew.
Adorable. Not to mention gorgeous.
She can just imagine snuggling up with him in bed, her head against his chest. Each reading their own book but occasionally sharing a kiss or two...
God. It feels like a flock of butterflies are loose in her stomach.
(Falling in love is terrifying.)
"Becky? What are you doing here?"
She mentally shakes herself. "Sorry, did I wake you?"
"No, I was just reading. Something the matter?"
"After what happened yesterday, I'm kinda afraid to face the music downstairs, and I really don't want to run into Sanderson again if I can help it."
He nods in understanding. "I don't blame you."
God, this is awkward. Best just to get it all out. "Thing is, I thought about spending the day in my room but I'm staying with a couple others and they've got awful hangovers. The last time I visited here was as a kid with my parents so I'm not going to the usual tourist sites. Care to come with?"
Daniel blinks at her, and she worries she's crossed a line. He's a fellow introvert, after all. She should know better than invade his private time like this.
Is this why she's so lousy at relationships? No sense of timing?
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
She sighs. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to intrude. I'll see you later--"
"Hey. It's okay." He reaches out before she can fully turn away, gently clasping her arm. She's surprised, but makes no move to shake him off. "You just caught me by surprise, is all. What do you have in mind?"
"Oh, you know. Museums. Bookstores. That sort of thing."
There's that twinkle of mischief in his eyes again. "Playing hooky today sounds like fun. Let me get dressed."
Becky's silent as they take a taxi back to the hotel, her mind in a turmoil.
A very enjoyable day, overall. Plenty of intriguing museums and bookstores around the city to explore. Nothing blooming this early in the season, so neither of them have to worry about seasonal allergies.
Daniel's been wonderful company the whole time, kind and attentive, humorous and insightful. There's a difference of several years between them- plus a few academic degrees- yet he treats her as an intellectual equal. Such a joy to match wits with him.
The taxi pulls up to the hotel and they each pay their half of the fare. Daniel climbs out of his side and comes around to hers, offering his hand to help her out. There's a spark as she places her small hand in his.
He holds onto her hand the entire way through the lobby. The long, capable fingers wrapped around hers. The warmth of his smile, every time their eyes meet.
They stop at the elevators and she breathes a silent sigh of relief when he finally lets go. His touch does strange things to her, making it hard to breathe. And the flock of butterflies from earlier are back in her stomach.
The car's empty at first but as others enter the elevator on the conference level floors they're gradually pushed to the rear, until Becky's squeezed right up against Daniel. "Sorry about that," she whispers.
"I don't mind," he replies just as softly, resting a hand lightly on her shoulder.
She feels the solidity and warmth of his tall body against hers and a shiver runs through her.
It makes her wonder if he's expecting something more intimate in return for his companionship. Which she's not exactly prepared to give anyone, as of yet.
Finally they exit the elevator, walk down the hallway to her door. Becky pulls out her key, smiles up at him. "Thanks for going out with me today. It was fun."
"You're welcome. I haven't done anything like that in a long time. Have to admit I enjoyed myself."
"I'm glad." He says it softly, his eyes intently searching her face. She swallows and drops her gaze first.
Daniel continues to study her, a bittersweet smile on his lips. Then he reaches out, tilting her chin up and leaning down to cover her mouth with his.
The kiss is tender, gentle, sweet. Soft pressure, demanding nothing more.
He pulls away, his hand carefully cupping one side of her face, then brushes her other cheek with his lips. "Good night, Becky. Sweet dreams."
"You too," she barely has time to whisper before he's gone.
Her mind reeling, she unlocks the door and closes it behind her, still feeling the faint tingle of Daniel's hand on her face, the touch of his lips against hers.
Sensations that linger in her memory even after sleep comes, living on in her dreams.
Daniel scrambles to retrieve clothes and toiletries scattered around the hotel room (how on earth did one of his shirts wind up in the bathtub, anyway?) and stuff them in his trusty battered suitcase and carry-on. Scoops books and papers into his briefcase.
Packing time, twenty minutes. Not bad for last minute, even if pretty untidy.
No matter. Everything will get sorted once he's back home. Eventually.
His hand closes on a small white square box.
He enjoyed his time with Becky yesterday, so much it inspired him to buy her something as a token of their new friendship. So to speak.
He doesn't believe in love at first sight, but there's no denying the connection he feels with the young woman he met only a few days ago in the elevator. Attraction, even; for one moment last night he seriously considered giving in to it.
But the moment soon passed.
He's glad. Now he can see her as a friend instead of a potential lover, which makes more sense given his lousy luck with relationships.
Daniel's almost out the door before realizing he'd left the room key on the dresser. He shakes his head ruefully as he retrieves it.
Keep your feet on the ground, Danny.
Pretty sensible advice, considering his life so far. He'll have to remember it in the future.
Becky frowns up at the concourse departure board, anxiously shifting the strap of her carry-on from one shoulder to another.
The conference went well, all things considered. But now she's ready to go home. Back to her own bed, to Uncle Mac, to dear sunny, smoggy Los Angeles.
The air seems permanently laden with sound, bouncing off the wide glass windows. The rumble and whine of mighty jets. The constant chatter, the ebb and flow of passengers and personnel up and down the concourse. All the hustle and bustle of modern life encapsulated in an airport.
There's a tap on her shoulder, making her jump.
"Hi. Waiting for your flight?"
Daniel smiles down at her. Tweed jacket and jeans, slightly wrinkled blue button-down shirt, battered leather carry-on. The picture of academic casual.
"Yeah. You, too?"
He nods. "Join me for coffee?"
With hot beverages in hand they find a secluded corner.
"I'm glad I caught you before you left," Daniel says. "I'd like to keep in touch, and only today I realized--"
"--we have no idea how to contact each other?" Becky chuckles. "Weird, isn't it? I mean, I feel I've known you all my life--"
"--and we only met a couple days ago. I know what you mean."
Finishing each other's sentences, she thinks with a smile as they exchange phone numbers and email addresses. Nice to meet someone on the same wavelength.
"There's another reason I'm glad to see you here. I, well..." He flushes and reaches inside his jacket, pulling out a small, white flat box. "Think of it as a friendship gift."
She opens it to find a pendant on a chain, a gold hummingbird rendered in Northwest Native American design amid silver swirls. Gorgeous.
"Oh, Daniel. It's beautiful. Thank you."
"My pleasure. Among the coastal tribes the hummingbird's a gentle creature, known for its fortitude and ability to overcome great obstacles, and representing peace, healing and joy. Seemed perfect for you."
"Have to admit I also got you something. Kind of a thank-you present, for making my first conference memorable. Though in a good way." She hands him a package wrapped in tissue paper.
A notebook with blank pages of homemade paper, a native design in the center burnt into the dark green leather of the front cover.
Daniel's eyes light up, astonishment plain on his face. "How...how did you know I keep a journal?"
Now it's her turn to flush. "You mentioned it the other day, in passing. I pay attention to things like that. Thought you could use it for fieldwork or whenever."
He takes her hand, squeezes it. "I'll make good use of it," he promises. "Thank you."
Silence falls between them, but a comfortable sort of silence, where nothing really needs to be said between friends yet everything's easily understood nonetheless.
Just as well they didn't sleep together, she thinks. What they have now feels more right, kindred spirits without the undue pressure of romance.
Finally boarding calls are issued. First for his flight, then hers.
Daniel hefts the strap of his carry-on onto his shoulder. "I'd better go."
"I hope it's au revoir and not goodbye."
"Until we meet again. I hope so, too." He smiles wistfully, gently caresses her cheek. "Take care, Becky. Have a safe flight."
"You too, Daniel."
He heads off down the concourse to his gate, though not before turning and giving her a jaunty wave before blending into the crowd.
She waves back, blinking through the tears in her eyes.
It isn't until the plane's at cruising altitude that Becky reopens the little white box. She gazes at the necklace for a while before fastening it around her neck.
Fingering the pendant she smiles, feeling a warm glow of satisfaction. Such a thoughtful man. She's glad they ran into each other on the elevator. Good friends are hard to come by, and she has a feeling this friendship will last a long time.
She leans her chair back, closes her eyes.
And dreams of a handsome, blue-eyed archaeologist.
Daniel stares out the narrow oval window, marveling at the view of the Rocky Mountains spread out below him. He wants to jot down a few observations in his journal; with dismay he realizes he'd finished the latest volume the night before.
Then he remembers Becky's gift. How thoughtful of her.
He pulls the new journal from his carry-on. Smooths his hand over the soft, tanned leather, long fingers tracing the embossed design on the front cover.
Raven. A trickster figure whose antics ultimately help humanity, with a quick wit and sense of humor. Symbolizing curiosity, creativity, prestige and knowledge.
One of his most favorite mythological creatures. How did she know?
Kindred spirits, indeed.
Nice to know he's not alone.
With a fond smile he extracts a pen from his carry-on, flips down the tray table. Opens the pristine journal, ready to be filled with hopes and dreams.
And begins to write.
Chapter 2: Loss
Obligatory references to S04 E02 of MacGyver, "Blood Brothers".
Night outside, the sky deepening to black save for a faint violet line, last residual of dusk on the West Coast. The occasional sprawl of electric lights below mirroring the constellations above.
Becky shifts in the narrow seat, burrowing even more into the airline-issue blanket. Tries hard to imagine the endless drone of the engines as the roar of the ocean, inducement to sleep.
It's not working.
She hates flying. Hates being cold. Hates the turbulence and narrow seats and the random noises of other passengers.
Most of all she hates the reason why they're taking such a late flight in the first place.
She lifts her head, scans the darkened cabin before settling on the lanky figure in the seat next to her. MacGyver slouches, eyes closed, arms crossed over his chest, legs sprawled out into the aisle.
"Unc? You asleep?" she ventures.
Velvet brown eyes open, blink slowly at her. "I was until now," comes the drowsy reply. "In the middle of a real nice dream, too."
She looks down, plucking at the navy blue fleece. "Sorry."
"Kidding." Gentle touch on her arm. "I wasn't sleeping, Beck. Just thinking, is all."
He gives a half shrug. "Memories, you could say. The past."
"Anything in particular?"
He shifts in his seat. "Try to get some sleep, okay? Still got a while before we land."
"Sure, Unc." So he's not in the mood for talking.
After Aunt Sara's frantic phone call yesterday, she can make a fairly educated guess as to why.
They land in Colorado Springs, collect their luggage. The ride to the house is silent except for Mac giving terse directions to the driver. Which is fine with Becky, as she's in no mood for idle conversation herself.
Completely wiped out, and the day's not over yet.
The taxi drops them off in front of the O'Neill residence. A lamp shines through the living room window, and the porch light is on. A telescope perches on a widow's walk, outlined in silver moonlight.
Sara O'Neill opens the door, her eyes red-rimmed, shoulders slumped. She gives them a faint smile, gestures them inside. "Mac, Becky. Thanks for coming."
"No problem," Mac says, setting his luggage down to envelop his sister-in-law in a hug. "How're you doing?"
She shrugs, her eyes downcast. Blinks away tears. "Been better. You guys want tea or something before turning in?"
"Sure." They follow her into the kitchen, sitting at the table by a bay window facing the backyard deck.
Her aunt's one of the most amazing women Becky has ever known (aside from her own mother and Nikki Carpenter, that is). Beautiful, bright and quick-witted, the perfect compliment to the likes of Uncle Jack. Keeping home and family together even as her husband risked his life for his country multiple times over, strong and dependable. Becky really admires her for that.
But now- Sara's different. A mere shadow of her formerly vivacious self. Every move slow and deliberate as she collects mugs from a cupboard, teabags from a box.
As if grief's drained all her energy away, leaving an empty shell.
A change in her outward appearance as well. Barefoot, worn flannel shirt and sweatpants. Blonde hair droops in a lank ponytail. Skin pale without makeup. So unlike the care she usually takes.
She catches them noticing and flushes. "Sorry. Lately I feel it's not worth it to get dressed, some days. I could barely rouse myself today, even though I knew you were coming--"
On impulse Becky rises to hug her. "It's okay," she says, throat tightening. "I'm so sorry about Charlie. I wish I could do something to help."
It takes a moment for her aunt to respond, but the embrace is unexpectedly fierce in return. "I know, sweetheart. Thank you."
"Same goes for me," Mac adds. "Anything you guys need. Just say the word."
A wan smile. "Thanks. It's enough you're both here, right now."
The tea's ready and for a while all the three of them can do is sip and stare out into the night, each lost in thought.
Finally Mac breaks the silence. "How did it happen?"
Sara's voice trembles with suppressed grief- and a touch of rage. "Jack keeps a gun here, in the house. Usually it's locked up tight, but for some reason he forgot to store it after cleaning earlier in the day. And- you know how Charlie's such a curious kid, especially when it comes to Jack's stuff. Always poking around in his office, no matter how many times I tell him not to--" She swallows, tears trickling down her cheeks.
Mac reaches for her hand, gives it a comforting squeeze. Becky hands her a tissue from the box on the table. She nods in gratitude as they wait until she can regain her composure.
"Jack and I were out on the deck getting the grill ready for dinner when we heard the crack of the gun. At first he thought it a neighbor's car backfiring. But I had a gut feeling something had happened to Charlie.
"We found him in the office. Unconscious, bleeding onto the rug. The gun on the ground, still smoking. His mouth open in a little 'o', as if in surprise. So still. So quiet.
"Jack was too impatient to wait for the ambulance, just rolled him up in a blanket. I held him in my arms the whole way. The doctors did all they could, but it wasn't enough..." her voice trails off, into a long silence.
Mac swipes at his face. Becky clears her throat, takes a sip of lukewarm tea. Grimacing at the aftertaste, as bitter as tears for her poor, lost cousin.
Parents should never have to bury their own children.
Mac sighs, rubs the back of his neck. "So where's my brother now?"
Flash of sudden anger in Sara's eyes. "Not here," she snaps. "Maybe off hiking in the woods, maybe the cabin in Minnesota, who the hell knows? Soon as we got back he packed his overnight bag and took off without even one word. Left me all alone, to make the phone calls and funeral arrangements and everything. I'm not even sure he'll be back for the funeral tomorrow."
Mac frowns. "No way. He wouldn't do that."
She snorts. "Oh, wouldn't he? Remember after he came back from Iraq last year? Closed up so tight, refused to see a therapist. Even now I'm sure he's hiding things from me. His own wife, for god's sake!" Becky winces at the rising tone.
"C'mon Sara, you know he does a lot of classified work." Mac's voice is calm, reasonable. "No way he can talk about it with anyone who doesn't have security clearance. I don't even know what he did over there. Neither of us can hold that against him. Besides, Jack's crazy about you, always has been. You know that."
A scowl crosses over her face, disappears so fast Becky's not sure she's even seen it. "You're right," she admits, slumping in defeat. "I still love him. Very much. But I can't stop worrying, either. I'm afraid he'll shut me out completely before too long."
"Nope, not gonna happen. I know my brother. I'll have a talk with him tomorrow, get his head straight. He'll come around, bet on it." Ever the optimist, her Uncle Mac.
Sara remains unconvinced. "We'll see. I'm not sure you know your brother as well as you think you do anymore. Jack hasn't been the same since Iraq. Still has trouble sleeping, though he won't admit it."
Becky can't help but grimace. She understands nightmares, having dealt with Mac's for years. The life of a troubleshooter and Phoenix Foundation agent is not an easy one.
Mac looks at her in concern. "You okay?"
"Feel a little woozy. Think I need to go to bed."
Sara's instantly contrite. "I'm sorry. You've both had a long day, I didn't mean to keep you up this late. Becky, why don't I get you settled in the guest room? Mac, you have no problems sleeping on the couch, right?"
He nods agreement as he stands and stretches. "No problem. I'll keep an eye out for Jack. Your couch is just as comfy as the one back home, if I recall correctly."
"Dearest uncle, one of these days you and I will have to have a long talk about your unhealthy obsession with sofas," Becky quips in a mock-solemn voice.
He grins, kisses her forehead. "Only if I want to be cured. Night, Beck."
Sara smiles wistfully at their light banter. No doubt wondering if things would've been different, with a first-born daughter instead of a son.
Or a niece, staying with them after losing her own family.
"Can I ask you something?" Becky asks as they head up the stairs.
"When I chose not to stay with you and Uncle Jack, after the car crash- you were okay with that, right? Didn't bother you any?"
Sara looks puzzled. "Of course not. You're entitled to make your own choices, Becky. It was the right one at the time, for both you and Mac. Why do you ask?"
"No reason. Just curious, that's all. See you in the morning." A hug for her favorite aunt who needs all the love she can get, right now.
"Good night, Becky. Sleep well."
MacGyver's finding it hard to fall asleep.
Charlie's a pretty good kid. Brave, curious, energetic, loving, and kind. Much like his dad, in many ways.
Now his nephew's in the basement of a funeral parlor. A small, silent body under a white sheet, being prepared for burial in the afternoon.
What his brother and sister-in-law are going through is simply awful to contemplate. Yet ever since the phone call he keeps flashing on another set of memories entirely.
Harry taking Jack on a camping trip, Mom busy with the coffee shop. Perfect opportunity to pick the lock on the desk drawer where their grandfather kept his old service revolver. Showing off his shooting skills with Chuck, Neil and the rest of the gang, firing at tin cans and bottles. Horsing around without a care in the world.
The abrupt crack of the gun going off. Jesse's shriek of pain. A splash of blood, vivid red against his jacket.
The other boys flee, leaving Mac alone to save his injured friend as best he could.
Jesse's death ruled an accident, chalked up to youthful high spirits and carelessness. No open blame for Mac by any adult, not even Jesse's grieving parents.
Yet he knew better. His friend's blood was on his hands, since he provided the means. Harry's gun, created for one sole purpose: taking life.
Allison understood Mac's passionate hatred for such weapons and lifelong support for gun control after that, in psychologist mode deeming it a classic case of transference, shifting negative emotions away from a subject onto an object.
Jack just thought he was crazy.
Still does, really.
It's past midnight when Mac hears the truck pull into the driveway outside, the creak and thud of metal.
A minute later the front door opens and his twin brother steps inside.
Jack O'Neill drops his leather travel bag beside the door with a muffled thump. Broad shoulders slump with weariness. The beginnings of a ragged beard on his face, incongruous with the neat brown military haircut.
He wearily rubs his eyes, blinking a few times in the light from the lamp on the hall table. Utters a long, heavy sigh, the sound bordering on total exhaustion.
Finally scans the room, stopping on Mac. "Hey," he grunts.
"You need a haircut. Starting to look like a hippie."
"Nice to see you too."
"Just got here?"
Mac nods. "Couple hours ago."
"Becky with you?"
"Upstairs. Guest room." Easy to keep things terse when both of them are tired.
"Better get some shut-eye yourself."
Jack gives a short nod, hefts the bag and trudges upstairs.
Mac frowns, thinking of the careworn lines on his face, the pallor, the subdued demeanor. Nothing like his cheerful, snarky brother. Not at all.
Ordinarily Becky loves the rain, finding it comforting. Not today.
She huddles next to Mac under a black umbrella, shivering in the chill wind of late September. A lingering drizzle in the air, autumn just around the corner.
Somber weather for a somber mood.
Rather more people than she was expecting huddled around the gravesite. Herself and Mac, Sara and Jack. Friends and neighbors, Jack's co-workers from the air base, attired like him in full dress blues. Charlie's teacher and several of his classmates.
Sara's own father as well, the only one in the family weeping openly for his grandson.
His daughter clenches her jaw, trying hard not to break down. Mac's long since perfected an air of Midwestern stoicism and detachment in front of others, albeit a bit of tension lurks about the eyes and corners of his mouth. Jack's got his military training to fall back on, along with his natural emotional reticence.
Becky finds she can't cry either, though her stomach clenches a bit.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust..."
The small white casket's carefully lowered into the ground and covered with dirt as the minister drones on. Words of hollow comfort, more for the living than the dead. Unrealistic, meaningless platitudes.
Reminds her of another funeral, seven years ago. Three bodies in three caskets. The same empty phrases.
The same inexplicable, undeniable sense of loss.
The reception's held at the house. Fewer people attending than during the service, but far too crowded for Becky's taste even so. She's in desperate need of peace and quiet.
She stands on tiptoe to whisper in Mac's ear. "I need some air." He nods in understanding.
Upstairs is blessedly silent.
On her way to the guest room she notices one of the doors slightly ajar. Perhaps one of the attendees from the wake had gone looking for the bathroom, decided to take a peek out of simple curiosity.
She frowns. Time to rout the interloper, send him or her packing. Though politely, considering the occasion.
She steps through the doorway, into her cousin's bedroom. An eight-year-old boy's domain through and through, a mix of sports and astronomy. Model airplanes, sports trophies and action figures lined up neatly on the dresser and bookcases. Glow-in-the-dark stars and planets on the ceiling. Drawings in bright crayon colors taped to the walls.
Jack sits on the edge of the twin-size bed, blue uniform coat draped on the comforter, tie loosened. Same ruggedly handsome features and velvet brown eyes as his brother, yet vastly different in temperament and outlook.
He stares into space, clutching a kid-sized baseball glove in large, calloused hands. So lost and forlorn.
Intruding on his privacy seems so wrong at this moment. Probably better to wait for a more appropriate time.
Becky takes a step backwards, back colliding with the edge of the open door. She hisses softly at the pain.
A sharp glance in her direction. She swallows, anticipating a scathing rebuke.
Instead Jack holds out his hand. "C'mere."
He sighs. "I won't bite, Beck. Promise."
The mattress sags slightly under their combined weight. Becky closes her eyes as he pulls her close, feeling the warmth of his body through the crisp white shirt, the gentle press of lips on the top of her head. She breathes in the bracing scent of aftershave tickling her nose, hears the steady, reassuring thump of his pulse.
They draw comfort from one another, nothing more needing to be said.
Jack disappears immediately after the last of the mourners leave, once again without a word to anyone.
Mac frowns in disapproval. While his brother's always been closed-mouthed (though less reserved in comparison to himself, if he's being honest) the act's starting to annoy him.
"Good lord, I'm beat." Sara stretches out on the couch, uttering a faint sigh.
Becky brings her aspirin and a glass of water. "I'm gonna pop one of the neighbors' casseroles in the oven if anyone wants to eat. Is that okay?"
"Sounds good. Thanks for all your help today, sweetheart."
Becky flushes, ducks her head. "My pleasure."
Mac beams at her, affectionately ruffles her hair. "I'm gonna go look for Jack," he murmurs in her ear. She nods, and heads back to the kitchen.
After a cursory search outside and on the first floor, he heads upstairs. Notices the trapdoor to the attic open, allowing access to the roof.
He swallows as he reaches the top of the ladder. How his brother's learned to thrive in high places while he breaks out in a cold sweat is a mystery for the ages.
Jack slouches in the gathering darkness on the widow's walk, nursing a beer. Glares at Mac but otherwise gives no acknowledgment of his presence.
He's been far too silent all day, grief and anger simmering under his stoic expression. Surely something's gotta give, and soon.
"Isn't it a bit overcast to be stargazing?" Mac quips.
"C'mon, you gonna stay up here all night or what? Becky's heating up tuna hot dish. You wouldn't want to disappoint our niece by not showing up for dinner, now would you?"
"Leave me alone," Jack growls. "I'm fine."
"Doesn't look like it to me." Mac risks one glance over the edge, a view he instantly regrets. "God," he mutters, wincing. "Shouldn't you be wearing a parachute or something? Or at the very least set up some nets."
Jack smirks at his discomfort. "Still can't handle heights, huh?" The bottle empty, he reaches for another. "Want one?"
Mac grimaces. "You know I don't touch the stuff anymore. Haven't you had enough yet?"
"There's no absolution at the bottom. I should know."
Jack scowls. "Spare me unpleasant childhood memories, why don't ya? Bad enough I got back from camping with Harry to find you sneaking liquor behind Mom's back, for crying out loud."
"That's exactly what I mean. After Jesse got shot I was an absolute wreck. For a long time the only way I could stop feeling guilty long enough to sleep was to get drunk. Then one day I woke up and realized I didn't like who I was under the influence. Better to stay sober and live with the guilt than feel that out of control ever again."
"Oh come off it, Mac. It was an accident, alright? You were kids, didn't know any better. Jesse dying wasn't your fault."
"But it was, darn it!" Mac snaps. "I was the one who stole Harry's revolver to show it off to Chuck and the others. I was the one who convinced them horsing around with it would be cool. Jesse's death is on me, Jack. Nothing can change that."
"That's why you hate guns so much, huh?"
"Absolutely," Mac says, eyes blazing. "They're made for only two purposes- harm lives or take them. Things happen with a gun. People die. It's not right."
"You've been trying to convince others of that since high school. How's that been working out for you? Why not try to walk on water, since you're attempting miracles?"
A trace of Jack's usual sarcasm in his voice, which Mac secretly takes as a good sign.
"Oh knock it off, already. You're one to talk. Isn't it bad enough you can kill a man ten different ways with your bare hands as it is? Why the heck would you even want to keep a gun at home anyway? You know the damage they do."
His brother scowls. "Stop it. I know what else you're gonna say, so stop it right there. How dare you come here with that holier-than-thou pacifist crap, telling me how dangerous guns are?"
Mac slumps in his seat. "Jack, I--"
"Dammit, I know it's my fault, okay? I never taught Charlie about my gun. He didn’t know how it worked, that he had to be careful with it. My fault I got too distracted that day after cleaning it. I forgot to lock it up and put the box away and now I'm paying for my boneheaded carelessness. Sara's right to blame me." Tears sparkle in his brother's eyes, something Mac's rarely seen even when they were kids.
"She doesn't blame you. Hasn't said anything to me, at least."
"I know she does. Hell, I blame myself. What good am I to anyone, when I can't even keep my head on straight? Can't trust myself anymore. Might as well resign my commission while I'm at it."
"No way. The Air Force is your life, always has been. Besides, what would you do if you resigned?"
"Dunno. Teach astronomy, maybe. Instruct cadets at the Academy. Go work for Boeing or some other aerospace company. Any other job where I don't have to even look at a gun if I don't want to."
Mac's secretly elated, yet he knows his brother all too well. They both thrive on danger and excitement. Dealing with bureaucracy and endless paperwork behind a desk- it's not for them.
Not like it was with their mother, Ellen. He remembers her toiling endless hours at the coffee shop, struggling to make ends meet while raising three kids without a husband's support. How tired she was all the time, no chance to have anything remotely resembling fun. Even so she firmly believed in a strong work ethic, right up to the day she was diagnosed with stage-four cancer.
"You know how you get when you're bored. You'd hate retirement. You'd be climbing the walls within a week, and so would Sara."
"Yeah, about that." Jack takes a swig of beer. "Don't think we'll be staying together much longer."
"That's nuts. I'm the one who's relationship-adverse in the family, just ask Becky. You and Sara have a great thing going here. Why ruin it now?"
"We were fighting even before the accident. Little things, here and there, but all of it circling around bigger issues. Not much else we have in common, really."
"Nonsense. She still loves you. And you love her, I know you do. You can make it work, try for another kid--"
Jack cuts him off with an angry wave of his hand. "We can't. She had trouble during the pregnancy, and after. Charlie was our only chance."
Mac's eyes widen, his heart wrenching in sympathy. "Oh, god. I...I had no idea. I'm so sorry."
Jack shrugs, looks down at his sneakers. "Yeah, well. As for making it work- too much effort for both of us, you know? Better we should divorce now before it gets really ugly."
"Aw c'mon, listen to yourself. You can't mean that."
"I do. I'll only hurt her again, I know I will. She deserves better."
There's a stubborn set to his chin; Mac knows from experience very little can change his brother's mind once he's set on a course of action. A common family trait.
He sighs. "I get it, believe me. But hear me out before you do anything drastic. You're still in mourning, and resigning your commission, getting a divorce- those are pretty big decisions to make. Give it some time, maybe you'll feel differently after a while."
Jack nods. "Fair enough, I guess. Hope you're right."
"So do I." They sit quietly in the evening dusk, staring out into space.
"Sky's clearing up finally. Lots of stars gonna be visible tonight," Jack says casually after a while. "Might need to bring Becky up here after dinner and check them out."
"Just be sure not to keep her up too late, okay? Got a plane to catch in the morning."
Jack gives him a wry smile. "That's the only time you've had to act parental, isn't it? Not my fault she likes to read past her bedtime."
"No," Mac replies, very dry. "That was our sister's influence."
"Yeah." Jack raises his beer. "To absent family."
John O'Neill, their biological father. James MacGyver, their stepfather. Grandma Celia.
Ellen, their strong-willed mother.
Their sister Allison, brother-in-law Michael, and nephew Chris. Grandpa Harry.
And now Charlie.
So many lost, over the years. Until all that's left is the four of them.
Or three, if his gut feeling about his brother and sister-in-law turns out to be right after all.
"Skål." Mac picks up one of the empty bottles, clinks it against Jack's. "Dinner should be ready by now. C'mon down and eat with us while it's hot, because trust me, you really don't want to face Becky's wrath if everything's cold."
Jack actually chuckles. "Yeah, sure, ya betcha."
"Thanks so much for coming," Sara says, cuddling Becky close. "You don't know how much I appreciate everything you've done to help. I just wish you could've had more time to stay."
"So do I," she admits softly.
"Allison's little girl, all grown up. She'd be so proud of you."
She swallows the lump forming in her throat. "I know. Love you, Aunt Sara. Take care."
"You too, sweetheart."
Mac and Jack look at each other for a long moment, taking in as much as they can. To remember until the next time.
Finally they share a brotherly hug, slapping each other on the back.
"Good to see you, Jack. Try to stay out of trouble, huh?"
"Right back atcha. Keep our princess safe, okay?"
"You bet," Mac replies, voice choked with sudden emotion.
Jack turns to Becky, opening his arms wide. "Speaking of whom, where's that hug?"
She chuckles. "Right here."
He wraps her in his embrace, kissing the top of her head. "Thanks for coming, Beck. Take good care of my brother for me, willya?"
She holds him tight. "Of course I will. Love you."
He pulls away, gently caresses her cheek. "Love you too. Be brave."
"I'll do my best."
"You be brave too, huh?" Mac says in Sara's ear as they hug. "You're stronger than you know. Jack will come around, you'll see."
"I hope so, Mac," she quietly replies. "Though I don't share your optimism. I'll just have to take life as it comes, right?"
He can only agree, kissing her cheek.
Becky takes a last look back as the taxi pulls away. They're both waving. Standing side by side, though without touching. Not a good omen for the future.
Charlie's gone, but that won't ever erase memories of her cousin. Nor their love for each other as family.
She hopes Jack and Sara can still find a way forward. Or at least inflict as little damage as possible to each other if things fall apart.
Yet who knows? Perhaps they will find a measure of peace themselves, someday. Together or separately.
"Think they'll be all right?"
Mac sighs. "I don't know, Beck. I hope so."
Time to go home, back to their lives in Los Angeles. To her studies and his missions for Phoenix.
To whatever the future may bring.
Daniel wakes with a jolt, the dream still fresh in his mind. He sits up, yawns and stretches, then lazily rubs at his chest under the shirt, blinking in the bright sunlight pouring into the room.
He reaches for his glasses, stares at the contents of his latest research strewn across the kitchen table. Rubs his cheek where one edge of a book made a slight impression overnight.
Must've fallen asleep while working again, he realizes with a rueful smile. There's a perfectly good bed in the other room, with pillows and clean sheets and everything. So why does he keep forgetting to make use of it?
There's the sound of a door opening and Sarah Gardner stumbles into the living room wearing shorts and faded university t-shirt, still half-asleep.
(Because it's not technically his bed, he reminds himself. It's hers. The whole apartment is, in fact.)
"Morning," he offers, tentatively.
She runs a hand through rumpled strawberry-blonde hair and frowns at him. "You didn't come to bed last night."
"Sorry. I got distracted."
She sighs. "Whatever. Get the coffee on, okay?"
"Sure," he replies as she heads to the bathroom.
Daniel pads towards the kitchen, smiling as a fragment tickles his memory.
Eyes a shade lighter than his own smile up at him, glasses glinting in the light of two moons. A tinkling laugh echoes through his mind. Strands of auburn hair gently lift and sway on a warm evening breeze. Soft full lips part in anticipation as his arms tighten around her, awaiting his kiss...
He frowns, belatedly realizing the young woman in the dream wasn't Sarah.
Neither was the one from the night before, now he thinks about it.
Delicate and tawny-skinned, long curly black hair shining in the torchlight. Wide-set dark eyes shining as she points out pictures and hieroglyphics painted on a rough stone wall. A brilliant smile as she teaches him her language...
He shakes his head to clear the thought away. He already has a girlfriend, for god's sake. Why dream about other women now?
A brief glance at the clock. If Sarah gets out of the bathroom soon there's more than enough time for a shower and shave. And an attempt at a decent breakfast.
But first, coffee.
Later that evening they stumble into the apartment together, juggling briefcases, Indian takeout and- in Daniel's case- a few books borrowed from the office.
So good to be home after classes and an interminable departmental meeting, with Dr. Jordan giving him the stink-eye the whole time. Probably because of his repeated requests to increase funding for the Saqqara site to extend the dig in the fall.
Sarah sets the takeout on a free corner of the kitchen table, frowns as he turns on both computer and modem. "I thought we were going to spend a quiet night together."
"Just wanted to check email," he absently replies. "Only take a couple minutes." She sighs, and fetches plates and forks from the kitchen, along with a bottle of wine and glasses.
He quickly loads his plate, clicks on the icon for the email program.
Ding. New mail.
From Becky, which is always a treat. Her letters tend to be long and chatty, ranging from fun and flippant to serious and scholarly. He enjoys responding in the same manner, taking as much pleasure in the exchange as he had their conversations.
Sarah reads over his shoulder, frowns. "You've been getting emails from her for a while now. Who is she?"
"Someone I met at the conference in Seattle last year," he mumbles around a mouthful of tikka masala.
"Is she pretty?"
He bites a piece of naan in half and chews. "Hmm?"
"I said, is she pretty?"
She flicks a disdainful hand at the screen. "This...this Becky person who writes to you. Is she pretty?"
Daniel tears his gaze away from the computer to blink up at her, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Um, not that I remember."
"You smile an awful lot when you're reading her emails. I've never seen you smile at anything I've written." There's a jealous edge to her voice he's never heard before.
"We're pen pals, that's all. Becky's just a grad student I happened to meet, we hit it off. Nothing more than that. It's not like I slept with her or anything."
Her eyes narrow and her expression hardens. "I'll pretend you didn't say that," she says icily.
He winces. When will he ever learn he needs a filter for anything coming out of his mouth? "Sorry."
Sarah rises from the table, plate in hand. "Whatever. I'll finish eating in the bedroom, maybe read for a while before turning in."
He watches her leave, puzzled. She's been acting colder towards him lately, though for the life of him he can't figure out why. She's known from the start how devoted he is to his work, to the point of spending more time immersed in research than with her.
Still, he loves her, and he's reasonably sure she loves him.
In one of the banks downtown there's a safe-deposit box containing certain items inherited from his parents, including a velvet-lined box containing their wedding rings. Maybe it's time to ask her to marry him, once the quarter's over.
Ding. Another new email, this time from his mentor. See me tomorrow. Earliest opportunity.
Daniel frowns. Dr. Jordan's usually not so terse. But then he's been pretty stressed lately, most likely due to the dismal quarterly budget reports.
Which means the extra funding for Saqqara's probably in the toilet.
Maybe that's such not a bad thing. There's a symposium coming up in October, in Denver. Pretty easy to hop a flight to Los Angeles from there for a couple days afterwards.
He leans over the keyboard, composing a reply to Becky.
"You damn fool!" Dr. Jordan yells, throwing papers at him.
Daniel can only stand there, paralyzed in shock as his life's work flutters onto the carpet around him.
"What the hell are you trying to do? I've personally bent over backwards to give you every damned chance around here. Do you have any idea of how much I sweat working up critiques for this half-assed crap you dream up instead of real solid work? Stop wasting my time!"
His mentor seems even more florid than usual today, the angry flush reaching all the way to the top of his head. Not a good look for a man of his age, tenure, or blood pressure.
Daniel blinks in surprise. "I don't understand, David. I've done everything else you've asked of me. Teaching courses, attending conferences, fieldwork--"
Jordan cuts him off with a wave of his hand. "And there's no question of your competency in those areas. You're an excellent researcher and hard worker. God knows your dedication to the field's second to none and your capacity for languages excels anyone else's in the department. Even your students have no complaints, though I daresay a full half of them are perhaps more enamored of your boyish good looks than your teaching style. You'll go far, if only you weren't so devoted to your rather unconventional theories."
"With due respect, you once taught all theories are equally valid, so long as there is sufficient evidence to back them up. I've put in the work, my theories are as valid as anyone else's. Why won't you allow me to publish as I see fit and let others make up their own minds?"
Jordan sighs and sits down, slowly. "Daniel, you know how fond I am of you. You've been one of the best and brightest students I've ever had. A true prodigy. But no matter how conscientious and meticulous your supporting research, or how well-thought-out your conclusions, no one in the academic community is going to take you and your theories of cross-pollination seriously. Not so long as you also keep insisting a good deal of Ancient Egypt's culture and language- including the pyramids- existed for reasons and purposes other than what's already been well-established. By, I might add, those with far more experience in the field than you."
"Those aren't just my theories. My own grandfather--"
"Nicholas Ballard was a brilliant scientist, to be sure, though you have to admit he was ultimately considered a crackpot and no one took his ideas seriously."
"...Like grandfather, like grandson. Is that what you're saying?"
"Of course not. I respect your desire to redeem his legacy, but surely not at the expense of your own career and reputation?"
Daniel sighs, pinches the bridge of his nose. He has a nasty feeling the other shoe's about to drop. "While I appreciate your concern for my professional well-being, is there some other reason you're giving me this warning?"
Jordan clears his throat, nervously shuffles papers, refuses to meet his eyes. "Certain...rumors have surfaced about you in the academic community."
"Rumors of what, exactly?"
"Mental instability. That you've become seriously unhinged, your...theories...nothing more than artifacts of paranoid delusion."
The words hit Daniel in the gut. Eccentricity's tolerated in academia- even expected to a degree- but there's a fine line between unorthodox behavior and requiring psychiatric treatment. Though god knows he's skirted the knife-edge of sanity in the past.
"What? No. Absolutely not. I'm not crazy."
"I'm sure you aren't, and anyone else who knows you certainly believes that. But son, you have to admit--"
"Who's the source of these rumors, anyway?"
"That's not what's important here--"
"David, for god's sake please tell me!"
"...Dirk Sanderson, of Syracuse University."
Oh, god. Of course. This is how he's getting revenge for his humiliation in Seattle last year.
He swore he'd get even someday. How could Daniel have forgotten?
"The point is he has the ear of some of the most prominent Egyptologists in our field, including those who determine what gets published through the auspices of the AIA. They're already predisposed to discredit you as it is, the fact of which frankly makes what I'm about to say even worse for you."
Daniel's stomach churns. "How much worse?"
Jordan takes a while answering him. "The provosts believe if you persist with your current line of research you're in danger of tarnishing our department's reputation, perhaps even that of the entire university. They're recommending you resign your position if you don't change your tune, and quick."
"Better to sacrifice me than the department's precious honor, huh?" The words come out far more bitter than he originally intended.
His mentor looks a little put out. "Unfortunate choice of words, but true, I'm afraid."
And there it is. The end of his career, of everything he's ever worked hard for. Everything he's believed in since learning of his grandfather's work. The reason he sought emancipation from foster care to forge his own path.
But there's no way in hell he's going down without a fight.
"Just give me one more chance," Daniel pleads, not bothering to suppress the desperation in his voice.
"Son, I've already given you so many--"
"Look, the Denver Archaeology Symposium's in a month. I know it's too late to submit anything through normal channels, but you've got connections with the committee, don't you?"
"I suppose I do. But honestly I don't see how that could help you here."
"Our discipline's supposed to illuminate misunderstood aspects of the past, isn't it? All I want is one chance to make people think instead of blindly accepting useless, outdated theories. To expand their horizons. Please, let me make my case."
Jordan sighs as he leans back, steepling his fingers. "All right. I can't guarantee anything, but I might be able to pull some strings through Dr. Ajami at Columbia to grant you a last-minute session. Fair warning- they won't be as receptive as you think."
"I understand that. I'm determined to try nonetheless."
His mentor smiles, thinly. "You've never been a quitter, Daniel. I can respect that." He pauses for a moment. "Tell you what. I'll write you a letter of recommendation, even extend your grant money by a month to help you get on your feet again. But that's all I can do from here on out. Believe me when I say I wish you well, no matter where you end up. Do have your letter of resignation on my desk by the end of the day, won't you?"
Daniel doesn't trust himself to make a civil reply. Instead he scowls, spins on his heel and storms out.
In his broom closet of an office he hastily composes the letter and applies his signature before turning it in to Candace, Jordan's sympathetic secretary. Packs all his personal belongings in his briefcase and a couple of cardboard boxes pilfered from the storage room, leaving them with the custodial staff to be picked up later.
Maybe not entirely the end of the world. Sure as hell feels like it, though.
So what should he do now? Take time to reflect and reassess his options, decide on a new career path?
No, he really doesn't want to think hard about his career- or what's left of it. Not tonight.
See if Sarah's willing to commiserate with him?
After a glance at the schedule in her office (no bigger than his) he discovers she's currently giving a lecture, so nix on that option.
Drown his sorrows, solo?
Without sparing a final glance for his former life, he heads for the nearest bar, where he downs a bottle of scotch and sourly contemplates the fickle confluence of academia and office politics.
It's nearly midnight when Daniel staggers into the apartment. Sarah's sitting on the couch, staring at the TV without really watching it. He offers her a clumsy wave. "Hey."
"There you are. I've been worrying about you all day." She frowns, wrinkling her nose. "You're drunk."
He stumbles, almost falls backwards into an overstuffed armchair. Closes his eyes, wishing the world could stop spinning long enough to let him off. "Been out," he hiccups, "doing research."
"Researching what, exactly?"
"How much alcohol I need to get myself embalmed from the inside out. Today's my burial day. Feels like it, anyway."
She grimaces. "Dr. Jordan was rather rough on you, wasn't he?"
"Heard? Daniel, the whole department knows. By now it's surely all over the campus."
"My life's work," he sniffs, slumping further into the armchair. "Down the toilet. No way I'm gonna get published now. Damn that Sanderson."
She sighs. "I'm sorry, truly I am. I know how much it meant to you. But you can't hardly say you didn't see this coming, now can you? If you'd only channeled that same enthusiasm into more acceptable topics you'd still have a job. As I've suggested. Think of this as a sign to change your ways--"
"No," he says shortly. "Why should I? The cross-pollination of cultures, hieroglyphs with either secondary meanings or in a dialect unrelated to Ancient Egyptian or the rest of the Afro-Asiatic phylum. I'm on to something really big, Sarah. I can feel it in my bones."
"Are you sure what you're feeling isn't nausea instead?" she quips with a bitter edge to the words.
He groans. "Don't remind me. Please."
"Sorry." A few moments of blessed silence. "I can't do this anymore, Daniel."
"All of this," waving her hand around at the piles of books, lopsided stacks of papers, scribbled notes. "You've changed since you decided to revive some of your grandfather's work. It's like you've become obsessed."
"Sarah," he says plaintively. "You know me. Have I really changed that much?"
A reluctant nod. "I know you're not the same man I fell in love with. I'm worried for you. I'm on your side, believe me."
He sits up, brows knitted. "I don't get it. Why are you acting this way? Don't you love me anymore?"
"Well, that's just it. Perhaps I don't." So matter-of-fact.
Whatever happened to the vibrant, passionate woman he fell in love with?
This isn't the knock-down fight he's feared for the end of their relationship. (Not that he'd expected it to end at all, but still.)
It's quieter, calmer. Even reasonable, all things considered. A whimper instead of a bang.
Which makes it that much worse.
He blinks at her in confusion, glasses slipping down his nose. "But we're perfect for each other. I thought we had something special."
"Daniel," she sighs. "Don't make this harder than it already is. I want what's best for you. Even if you can't see it yourself. Please, give up this nonsense before it's too late."
"Are you saying you've lost faith in me?"
"I have. I'm sorry." There's a stubborn set to her jaw, cold fire in her eyes. Along with a trace of sadness. No changing her mind, then.
With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach (surely not from the alcohol) he realizes the bottom's just dropped out of his world.
"Well, in that case I might as well pack up and leave." He rises from the chair, a trifle unsteadily.
She turns off the TV and stands up. "I already took the liberty. It's better this way for both of us. Clean break."
As she passes by he reaches out to her- in entreaty or desperation, he's not sure. "Sarah--"
He's unable to tell if she's hiding tears or not as she turns away from him, heading for the bedroom. "I'm done talking. You can sleep on the couch overnight, but I expect you to be gone when I return home. Goodnight, Daniel. And goodbye."
The door shuts firmly behind her.
For a while all he can do is stare into space. Finally he heaves a heavy sigh, removes his shoes, suit jacket and tie before stretching out on the couch, taking off his glasses and pulling an afghan over his shivering body. Bites his lip, trying hard not to throw up.
Not easy to do, when his heart's so casually been torn to pieces.
The problem with mornings, Daniel thinks, is they come way too early for his liking. Especially when he's got a hell of a hangover.
He squints into the bright sunlight. On the coffee table beside him is a steaming cup and two aspirins. At least Sarah has that much regard for his well-being.
Not far away are his two battered suitcases, faithful companions since he was a boy. Remembers the thrill of hope he felt every time unpacking in a new foster home.
And the crushing disappointment while packing, after being told "We're sorry Daniel, but this just isn't working out..."
They're suspiciously bulging. She always was a woman of her word.
From there it's a slow slide to oblivion.
Grant money no longer available, the lease on his apartment runs out. A series of cheap, anonymous hotel rooms on the last of his meager savings and friends' couches to crash on become his temporary homes, between unsuccessful attempts to secure positions at other academic institutions.
Sanderson's revenge is complete, for now.
Hopefully October will change all that.
Finally the conference arrives, a dreary day in Denver. If he was at all superstitious he'd consider it a poor omen for a reversal of fortune. He's trying hard not to.
This is it. Daniel's day of renewal, his reacceptance into the academic community. He's as prepared as he's ever going to be, with notes, pictures, transparencies and translations. Every ounce of ammunition he can muster against a tidal wave of disbelief.
It's not enough.
The presentation goes just as Dr. Jordan had warned, with him being laughed out of the room. All because he wanted to defy convention, shake things up. Open people's eyes to new possibilities.
It's pouring by the time Daniel trudges from the hotel, faithful suitcases in hand, shoulders slumped with weariness. Utter dejection seeping into every pore of his body.
Theories eviscerated, academic career and reputation in tatters.
No girlfriend, no apartment, no friends or family to lean on.
Nothing to do, except maybe lose himself in a bottle of tequila from the Armenian at the corner market.
Rock bottom, as they say. Hurts like hell.
Two men in military uniforms holding umbrellas step up to him. "Are you Daniel Jackson?" one inquires.
"Yes..." he replies, warily.
"Please come with us." They turn smartly on their heels, leading him to a limo.
One of them opens the rear door. An elegant, white-haired woman beckons him inside.
"Dr. Jackson? My name is Catherine Langford. I'm here to offer you a job. There are some early hieroglyphics I'd like you to work on..."
When you hit rock bottom there's nowhere else to go but up.
Really, what else can he do but listen?
AIA = Archaeological Institute of America.
Chapter 4: Escape
I know little of plate tectonics or seismology beyond the basics, so any earth scientists out there please forgive any inaccuracies in this scenario.
The cabin floor rolls under Becky's feet. She gasps, bracing herself against the doorway as the world comes crashing down around her once more.
On the porch a pencil attached to a empty tin can swings erratically to and fro, tracing jagged lines on a long narrow strip of paper on a spool. The can's suspended by wires from a narrow board nailed to another in an L-shape, the whole thing braced and mounted on a round cutting board.
Her uncle's homemade seismograph actually works. She's impressed.
(To be fair most of his contraptions do, but not always. A certain egg-cooking robot and a pair of yellow-stained sneakers come to mind.)
A couple minutes later the quake stops. She breathes easier, scooping up the seismograph and gingerly stepping off the porch, mindful of aftershocks.
The ensuing silence is shattered moments later by a pounding beat. Four sleek military helicopters escorting one with twin sets of rotating blades zoom overhead from Edwards AFB, heading westward.
"That'd be the President," MacGyver says by the jeep.
"Come to inspect what's left of the California coastline, I imagine. Everything packed up?"
"You bet." He comes up beside her. Follows her lingering gaze, squinting in the sunlight reflecting off the water.
There's a new bay on the coast. One that hadn't been there previously, formed out of massive tectonic and seismic forces at work.
The Los Angeles Basin's now completely covered by the blue waters of the Pacific. Waves slap against steel, concrete and glass, the remnants of Downtown's tallest buildings breaking through the surface. Every so often bodies or other bits of flotsam and jetsam come bubbling up to the surface, to be picked up by a flotilla of rescue and salvage ships. All that remains of a bustling, sprawling metropolis.
"Guess that's it then," he says softly. "End of an era."
She swallows. "Yeah." A tear trickles down her cheek for the poor people who couldn't make it out in time. So many lives lost in such a devastating disaster.
He gently squeezes her shoulder. "C'mon. Let's get outta here."
With one final wistful glance to the west Becky climbs in the jeep. Marveling on how much the world can change in a single day.
--24 hours earlier--
"Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Candace speaking. How can I help you?"
"Yes, hello. I'm trying to get in touch with Dr. Daniel Jackson. Is he there, by any chance? I'm a friend of his."
A moment of hesitation. "I'm sorry, but Dr. Jackson hasn't been with us for several years now."
"Do you know of any other way I can contact him? Any forwarding address or phone number?"
"No, ma'am. Like I said, we haven't seen him since he resigned his position, and that was five years ago. Sorry."
"I see. Well, thanks for your help anyway."
"No problem, ma'am."
Becky sighs as she hangs up the phone. Another dead end.
Five years since she's heard anything from Daniel. The last time was when he'd written about coming out to visit her in L.A. after attending a symposium in Denver. He never showed up, and she hasn't heard from him since.
Every subsequent email bounced back as undeliverable. Phone number disconnected. Vague rumors of his humiliation at that same symposium in Denver persist throughout the academic community, yet no one has a clue what happened to him afterwards. (Or cares to, which she finds vaguely irksome.)
It's like he's disappeared completely off the face of the earth.
Which is a real shame. She could really use someone to talk to, after her latest failed attempt at a boyfriend. Dylan's a sweet guy, but she's long ago decided against being intimate with anyone if there's no sense of connection and he's not content with merely a platonic relationship.
To be honest, she's never felt anything like the instant rapport she and Daniel had with anyone else. Not for lack of trying, anyway.
Becky absently fingers the hummingbird pendant resting just below her throat. Every time she wears it she wonders about him. Where he is, what he's doing, if he's at all happy. If she'll ever see him again.
She hopes so.
Working for the Phoenix Foundation has its advantages.
After achieving her second doctorate a couple years back Becky's earned a position in the Linguistics Department that merits a cozy office all her own with an actual window, and a salary that's fairly decent by any stretch. Phoenix treats its employees well as recompense for luring the best of the best away from jobs in other, sometimes more lucrative, areas.
She's still living with her uncle and doesn't mind, but one of these days she fully intends to purchase her own place, preferably with a view of the ocean. Especially once Uncle Mac makes his mind up about asking Nikki to move in with him.
It's richly rewarding work but Becky's always been a dreamer, and every now and then she can't help wondering if there's another destiny in store for her. Somewhere far away from here.
For now, though, she's content enough with her life.
If only the darn tremors would stop.
He ambles through the halls of the Foundation, hands stuffed casually in pockets, nodding and sharing greetings along the way. People murmur to each other in his wake, as if pointing out a living legend, though he just laughs it off.
Angus MacGyver, the man who can make anything from practically nothing. Troubleshooter and expert agent.
More consultant than agent though, these days. Still fit and trim despite being in his late 40's, even with gray hairs that keep popping up despite his best efforts to hold them at bay (with judicious applications of hair dye), knees that creak and ache more often than he'd like and laugh lines gathering at the corners of his eyes and mouth.
He passes into the offices of the Linguistics Department, stopping at a familiar door with Dr. Rebecca Grahme engraved on the nameplate.
Every time he sees that he feels a warm satisfied glow, only partially made up of an uncle's pride in his beloved niece. She's come a long way in fourteen years, from the timid, newly-made orphan to the brilliant social scientist, alight in her own sphere.
It's like watching anyone he's mentored over the years- at the Challengers Club or Big Brother program- coming into their own.
Only better, 'cause it's his princess.
He knocks on the door, hears her soft acknowledgement. Opens it just enough to see her in profile, typing on her laptop and absently biting her lower lip in concentration. The midday light through the window makes her hair- cut in a flattering A-line bob- glow.
"Hey Beck," he says, softly.
A grin lights up her face as she turns and sees him, pushing her glasses up her nose. "Hey, Unc. Just can't stay away from this place, can you?"
He gives a nonchalant shrug. "Maybe not much fieldwork these days but that doesn't mean I can't keep my hand in every now and then. Pete left me some tickets for the Twins-Dodgers game this weekend in his office before he left for D.C., thought I'd pick them up and treat my favorite linguist to lunch. Interested?"
"Sure, if you're buying." She checks the time, closes her laptop. "Though actually, I'm due to attend a lecture right now. Join me?"
"What's it about?"
"Plate tectonics. Earthquakes, specifically. The geology department's giving a lecture to anyone who's interested, right here in the building."
"Just to remind us of the seismic powder keg we're already sitting on," Mac notes, very dry. "Sure, why not?"
In the spirit of freely sharing information the Foundation offers a series of lunch hour lectures open to all employees, in a small theatre set up expressly for this purpose. Mac and Becky slip in through the rear door, finding seats at one end of the back row.
The room's remarkably full considering the day's topic, what with all the tremors occurring on a regular basis. Earthquakes are obviously on everyone's mind lately.
On stage Dr. Lewis Meriwether (gangly, thick spectacles and towheaded) and Dr. Clark Williams (robust, deep brown skin and tightly-curled graying hair) are busy studying the laptop in front of them and tapping away at the keyboard.
The presentation- projected on the screen behind and slightly above them- appears to be permanently frozen on the title slide.
Mac frowns. "Maybe I should go and help them out."
"Why?" Becky asks.
"I've been putting up with the IT equipment's quirks for years. Got one or two tricks that might help."
"Unc, they're the two leading scientists in their department. I know you still want to feel useful, but surely they can find their way around a presentation on their own."
The display suddenly unfreezes and flicks forward a couple of slides. Meriwether and Williams heave a joint sigh of relief.
On the main screen appears a detailed map and cross-section of the San Andreas Fault in all its 800-mile glory. From Mendocino to the Salton Sea, the uncomfortable and always-shifting junction of the Pacific and North American Plates.
The lecture begins with basic facts about plate tectonics in general, and the fault in particular. Meriwether and Williams take turns speaking, soft tenor and booming baritone alternating. It takes a little while, but Mac can feel the atmosphere in the room change as people begin to pay attention. He even finds himself getting caught up in the topic, though it isn't anything he hasn’t heard before. Out of the corner of his eye he notices Becky's equally enraptured.
"Experts such as ourselves have been predicting what's popularly known as the Big Quake- which could devastate a significant portion of the state's population- for years," Williams concludes. "We're here to tell you it will happen. There's proof of that. The only questions are when and of what magnitude. We advise everyone to be mindful, and take appropriate precautions."
The floor shifts slightly under everyone's feet, then subsides. The crowd disperses quickly, unsettled.
Even so Mac and Becky linger for a while, waiting until almost everyone has gone. They can hear the agitated discussion between the geologists on the stage even from where they're sitting, as the acoustics in the theatre are excellent.
"I'm telling you, we should've told them of our predictions! The data we analyzed this morning--" Meriwether hisses.
"It wouldn't have done much good," Williams cuts in. "We tried to contact the Governor's office this morning with our warning, remember? Only to be told he's in meetings all day. Ditto the Mayor. The L.A. Times and other media outlets wouldn't even send reporters. Besides, people have heard far too many lunatic rants about the Big Quake these days to take our warning seriously."
"Too bad Director Thornton's out of town, his words would carry a lot of weight in the right ears." Meriwether sighs, his gangly frame seeming to fold in on itself in his despair. "So what do we do, if we're the only ones to know the end of everything's taking place as soon as tomorrow?"
"What we can, my friend. Go home and make sure our friends and loved ones are safe. Now, I'm going to lunch in the cafeteria. I hear the chicken salad is excellent today. Why not join me, hmm?" Williams sympathetically pats his distraught colleague on the back as they leave the stage.
Mac's always trusted his gut feelings to get him out of a jam. But what his intuition's telling him now has him, ironically enough, almost paralyzed with fear.
He sighs and closes his eyes, trying to banish the overwhelming sense of unreality settling over him. For years he's been the one who can solve any problem, avert almost any disaster by a modest amount of knowledge, skill and a lot of sheer luck.
Not this time.
"Oh, god," Becky whispers, her eyes wide with shock. "It's really gonna happen, isn't it?" A strong intuitive sense runs in the family. Good thing, too.
"Yeah," he answers softly. "Bound to happen sooner or later like they said. But now that it's here..." He shakes his head. "Gotta admit I don't know what to do, Beck."
"Me neither," she reluctantly admits. "Maybe we should call someone, but who? Everyone we know is out of town. Penny's up north filming a series in Vancouver, Jack Dalton's flying one of his long-distance cargo hauls, and Pete's in D.C. with back-to-back meetings. Even Nikki's somewhere in Europe on assignment. Fortunately they'll be well out of range when it happens."
"Yeah, but what about the Mayor, the Governor? We gotta warn them."
"Unc, didn't you hear what they said? They already tried everyone, even the news media. And if no one wanted to listen to a warning from two respected Phoenix scientists, how could we possibly convince anyone ourselves, with no proof other than a gut feeling?"
"There's gotta be a way. I keep feeling we should be doing something. Warning people, telling them to get out of town. Anything better than just sitting here."
Becky takes a deep breath. She places a gentle hand on his arm, grounding him. Remarkably calm in a crisis, another family trait. "I feel the same way, believe me. But there's nothing we can do. Unless," she adds with a wry smile, "you can stop a major earthquake with paperclips, chewing gum and duck tape."
He rolls his eyes but the slumped shoulders acknowledge his defeat. "Point taken. Guess we go to Plan B, then."
"What's Plan B?"
Mac turns to her, utterly serious. "We leave. For good."
"Okay. But where to? Pete's cabin?"
"Not exactly. Jack and I worked it out years ago, right after you moved in with me. If the end of the world happens or whatever, we head straight for his place in Colorado Springs."
"Military protection if things get ugly, so to speak."
He nods, glumly. "Yeah. You know me, I like to hope for the best. But in this case--"
"Better prepare for the worst." She sighs. "Yeah, Unc. I got it. Plan B it is."
They drive in ordinary traffic from the Foundation's offices in Santa Monica back to the apartment in West L.A. Everything appears so normal, it's hard to believe at any time it could become a frenzied rush of fleeing urbanites.
Becky flicks her gaze to her uncle. Mac's staring fixedly ahead, long fingers tapping against the steering wheel and a tightness to his strong jawline. Worrying about everything and everyone as he does.
She's concerned as well but panicking about the inevitable won't make it go away, as her mom used to say. Better to face certain disaster with a clear head.
Once at the apartment they both swing into action. Becky's already wearing jeans (casual Friday in the office) but changes her blouse for a practical denim shirt and flats for sneakers. Opens her closet, standing on tiptoes to reach for an old Army canvas duffel belonging to Mac, along with a travel bag she uses for overnight trips. Spreads them open on the bed beside a blue backpack, battered from years of carrying schoolbooks yet still sturdy.
She pauses, thinking fondly of her mother packing for her, three suitcases' worth of clothes and goodies for a summer vacation with Uncle Mac in L.A., fourteen years ago. Overkill perhaps, but Allison Grahme always believed in being prepared for anything.
Becky mentally shakes herself. Time to focus on the present.
Keep your feet on the ground, girl.
Clothes. More jeans, sweaters, flannel shirts and T-shirts. Hooded sweatshirts and sweatpants. Socks- cotton, wool and fuzzy. Shorts, underwear. Second pair of sneakers, hiking boots, a pair of sandals. Also cold-weather gear- gloves, waterproof jacket, long underwear, knit hat. Two blouses, slacks, skirt, nylons and pair of flats, in case she has to dress formally for some reason.
She meets Mac in the bathroom as they pack toiletries. "You got room for extra toilet paper?" she asks, as casually as if it were an ordinary camping trip.
He bends, reaching into the cabinet. "Yeah."
"Good." After he pulls out she ducks under, to retrieve a package of pads. Damned if she won't face her detested periods without them, end of the world or no.
Back to her room, opening the jewelry chest on the dresser. Nothing of monetary worth, but some have sentimental value. Such as the hummingbird necklace, a treasured gift from a friend, and a heart-shaped locket in antique gold containing family pictures. She places both into a small velvet bag.
Speaking of family pictures...
She takes the time to carefully separate the photos on the dresser from their frames and slip them into an envelope. Her mom, dad and brother. Herself and her uncles, at her high school graduation. Jack Dalton, Pete, Nikki and Penny, taken during a surprise birthday party for Mac at Phoenix.
Good times. Happy times.
Becky holds back a sob at the surge of memories, almost absurdly glad their friends are far away from here.
Enough. Back to work.
She wishes she could take every book she owns but space is limited. Settles for some of her most favorite fantasy and sci-fi works, including one she's reading now- Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh. Also a collection of world mythologies and The Norton Anthology of English Literature, holdovers from college.
On her desk are grammar books and dictionaries in Latin and Esperanto, languages she's learning for fun. Might as well pack them too.
"You ready, Beck?" Mac's standing by her door, dressed in jeans, t-shirt and flannel shirt under his signature brown leather jacket, hair curling just above the collar. Leather travel bag and the red nylon gym bag he usually takes to hockey practice in his hands, backpack slung around one shoulder. Still worried but ultimately resigned to their fate, whatever it may be.
"Almost. You got through to Jack yet?"
He shakes his head. "Left a message on his machine. Must be at work."
"Right." Only a few things left to pack. Wallet and other items from her purse, glasses case, sleeping mask, Walkman and spare batteries, select tapes. Her very own pocketknife. Stashes it all in the blue backpack, zips everything up.
She swallows, taking one last look around, then hefts her bags and follows Mac downstairs.
They load the back of the jeep, adding a cooler with ice packs and cardboard boxes, filled with food from the fridge and pantry. Also jugs of water, spare gas can, sleeping bags, camping tent, first aid kit. Same as for any ordinary camping trip, save for a thick wad of cash- the family emergency fund- stashed in the bottom of Mac's backpack, portable radio with extra batteries, and a shoebox filled with spare Swiss Army Knives and duck tape.
"Got a full tank of gas," Mac says, "and I checked both oil and air in the tires. We're good to go."
"Great, but we'd better shut off the gas and unplug certain appliances and electronics, too. Don't want to cause a fire on top of everything else."
"That's my girl. Thinking ahead as always."
She almost bumps into him as he comes to a halt by the front door after taking care of everything. "What's wrong?"
He sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. "Just wanted to take one last look around, you know? Never stayed so long in one place before, save for Mission City. Guess it's a lot harder to leave than I thought it would be."
She can only nod agreement, finding it too difficult to talk with the lump in her throat.
For half of her life this was a second home: comfortable mismatched furniture, an eclectic mix of souvenirs from Mac's travels, stacks of books and assorted sports equipment. Some decorative and organizational touches of her own here and there. A warm, cozy atmosphere.
So many good memories.
The apartment shakes slightly. Pictures rattle on the walls, books and knickknacks fall to the floor. Becky resists the urge to pick them up, choosing instead to follow her uncle out the door.
"Must be our cue to leave." He locks the door behind them, a trace of melancholy in his flippant words.
"Must be." She blinks back unexpected tears. He gently cups her cheek and she gratefully leans into his touch.
"Hey sweetheart, don't worry," his voice full of warm encouragement. "It'll be tough going for a while, but you can do this. Be brave, okay?"
Trust her Uncle Mac to always say the right thing. "Okay."
She takes a deep breath, gives a short, decisive nod. "Ready."
A new chapter of their life's about to begin, one with an uncertain future. So be it.
As long as they're together, everything will be all right.
The Phoenix Foundation has a cabin in the Angeles National Forest, high in the San Gabriel Mountains. Close to the city yet just far enough away to make for a comfortable weekend retreat.
Mac and Becky have the place to themselves (he knows where Pete keeps the spare key), so they spend the first night in relative comfort. Electricity, hot water and a big stone fireplace, perfect for toasting marshmallows and sharing stories by firelight. Cozy beds with actual sheets and blankets.
Becky sighs contentedly, snuggling into warmth. Mac's soft, familiar snores in the other bed and the slow chirping of crickets outside the bedroom window soothe her into deep sleep.
For an uncertain future it's a good beginning.
Mac wakes suddenly. His eyes dart around his surroundings, vision adjusting to the darkness.
In the other bed Becky softly sighs in her sleep. In the first few years, he used to sit by her bed after coming home late from a mission. Watching her, reassuring himself she's alive and well. That he still has a reason to keep going.
Otherwise the night is still and quiet. Too quiet, old DXS instincts insist.
There's a faint shiver along his spine, the kind he gets when something bad's about to happen.
All his senses on high alert now, he gets out of bed and gently rests a hand on her shoulder, nudging her awake. "Becky, wake up."
She yawns, blinking in the darkness. "Aw c'mon, Unc. Five more minutes, okay? Not even light outside yet."
"I'm serious. Got a bad feeling something's about to happen."
A sudden large jolt, followed quickly by a violent shaking that seems to go on forever.
Becky sits up quickly, eyes wide. "Oh, no..."
He struggles to stay on his feet. "Let's get outta here."
No further argument as she puts on her glasses, grabs his hand. They hurry out of the bedroom as objects come crashing down around them.
The cabin's black as pitch, a grim imitation of a carnival funhouse. Every time they take a step, they're practically thrown from side to side. Mac can hear the crashing of glass, the groaning of the house as it rocks to and fro, and beneath it all, the rumbling of the earth itself as the quake spends its massive amount of energy. Wooden beams creak ominously.
Finally they reach the front door, pushing it open and making a mad dash outside. The ground continues to lurch under them for a few more seconds, then finally stops.
Not even dawn yet, but the world's suddenly full of noise as if it were high noon. Birds chirping their distress, dogs barking. The distant shrieking of alarms and wailing of sirens off to the west.
Becky shudders. "God. Must be chaos down there. Good thing we got out when we did."
"Yeah." He nods towards the jeep. "Let's sit in there for a while. Safer than back inside the cabin."
An aftershock rumbles under their feet. "Good idea," she agrees.
They unroll their sleeping bags and spread them around themselves, a layer of warmth against the early-morning chill.
Mac leans his head against the back of the driver's seat and closes his eyes, feeling suddenly drained. Probably as a result of the near-panicked flight from the cabin, post-adrenaline crash after being thrown into a crisis. An all-too-familiar sensation.
The car rocks to and fro, reminding them again of what they'd just been through.
He hears the static and jumbled sounds of a radio being tuned. He opens his eyes to see Becky fiddling with the dials.
"Just want to see if I can get any news," she says, before finally settling on a local all-news channel.
Mac shifts into a slightly more comfortable position and closes his eyes again. He's still too keyed up to sleep, but it's calming to sit there and let the voices on the radio lull him into an in-between state, neither awake nor asleep.
Now if only those darn nerve-rattling aftershocks could just stop.
Becky's eyes fly open. Just after dawn, she guesses by how much lighter the sky has become.
There's an eerie stillness and she's positive she can smell smoke in the air. Probably more than a few fires set ablaze. She's obscurely grateful she insisted on turning off the gas back at the apartment, all things considered.
A shiver runs along her spine, a feeling something really bad is about to happen.
She reaches over, touching his arm. "Unc, wake up."
Unlike her, he's used to waking up fairly quickly. "What is it, Beck?"
A loud shrieking, groaning sound arises to the west, getting even louder. Becky winces and covers her ears.
Mac pushes his sleeping bag out of the way. "Better check it out. Get the binoculars from the glove compartment, willya?"
They walk a few yards, stopping short of the cliff's edge. Good thing the cabin's well away from here, she thinks with a shudder. Otherwise they might've toppled over with the first quake.
The view to the west's one of complete and utter devastation, as far as she can see. Something about the ground seems distorted somehow, though she can't lay a finger as to what.
There's also an awful lot of haze in the air, different quality than the usual smog.
"Think that's just smoke?" Becky wonders.
"Maybe," Mac replies dubiously. "An awful lot of it, though. More than during wildfire season, though I don't see how."
The view shifts again. Almost is if it's shrinking...?
A sick feeling settles in the pit of her stomach. She grabs the binoculars for confirmation.
No, not shrinking. It's sinking.
Mac swallows, eyes wide. "Aw man. Is it doing what I think it's doing?"
She can only nod in reply, eyes equally wide. Involuntarily she and Mac move way back from the edge.
The whole of the L.A. Basin's steadily dropping downwards, probably several hundred feet.
And that's not all.
Where earthquakes happen- especially along the notorious Ring of Fire encircling the Pacific Ocean- there are bound to be tsunamis, as the undersea floor shakes and settles.
Massive walls of water surge in, rising high into the air then come crashing down, wreaking havoc in their wake. One tidal wave after another without receeding, until only the upper thirds of the tallest buildings are visible above the surface.
Mac and Becky can only watch, mute witnesses to the destruction raining down upon what was once a thriving metropolis.
Which, as they soon find out, is only the beginning.
It's not the worst road trip Mac's ever been on, but certainly one of the most surreal. And far from over.
Soon as they reach Victorville they find themselves practically riding point on a flood of refugees headed for Las Vegas, across the Mojave Desert. Not to gamble but to live in disaster relief camps, set up south of the city.
Everyone who can is fleeing inland for safety, it seems.
Significant seismic activity's not limited to Southern California or the West Coast. Not anymore, at least.
According to the news on the radio, the 12-point quake's set of something of a chain reaction, up the coast and all around the Pacific. More earthquakes and tsunamis, even select volcanoes erupting.
Damage already counted in billions of dollars, and millions of lives.
Meriwether and Williams were right, the poor guys. The end of everything, and nothing he and Becky can do about it.
"Jack, it's Mac. Thought you'd like to know we're still alive. Passing through Vegas now, on our way up I-15. If you haven't already figured it out from the news, this is Plan B. Be sure to leave a light on for us, willya? See you soon."
He hangs up the phone, disgusted at having to leave yet another message. What's his brother doing that keeps him so busy all the time?
A chunk of the emergency cash goes to fill up the jeep and spare can with gas (prices are astronomical with the current crisis, but there's no choice) and buy a few foodstuffs to augment their supply. Then it's on the road again.
In St. George he tries again. Not even a dial tone to be had. Phone service must be down all over the West, now.
A minor symptom of the major chaos to come.
They make their way in a northeasterly fashion, but it's slow going. All manner of roadblocks cross their path, from aftershocks rippling through the ground to landslides to fighting refugee traffic heading in the opposite direction. (Is there something else going on they don't know about yet?)
Fortunately it's early October, with the hottest days of the year behind them. Though at this rate Becky reckons it'll be almost winter by the time they reach Colorado Springs.
Days are spent driving as far as they can, using their dwindling supply of gas plus more siphoned from cars abandoned along the way.
Sooner or later they'll have to abandon the jeep altogether, but not yet. Mac's become an expert at keeping his pride and joy running as long as it has.
Nights are spent trying to pick up radio signals bouncing off the ionosphere, piecing together the news of a world inexplicably and inevitably dying.
Tremors are taking place along all of the world's faultlines, tsunamis sweeping away major population centers near every ocean. Previously inactive volcanoes beginning to show signs of life once again.
People panicking, rioting and looting in the streets of what cities remain intact. Governments collapsing everywhere.
It's rather frightening just how tenuous the veneer of civilization really is, when it comes to a crisis of this magnitude.
Worse yet, no one knows why it's happening, or if anything can be done to stop it. Odds are, Becky thinks with a trace of cynicism, if anyone does know they're probably keeping it to themselves.
After taking in as much of the day's crises as they can stand, they fix a hot meal over a campfire and spread out their sleeping bags to spoon together, Mac's arms gently cradling her.
No guns of course, but that doesn't mean they haven't created any weapons of their own, just in case. It's nothing less than a miracle they haven't encountered any threats along the way, human or animal. That doesn't mean it won't happen at all, however. Best to remain vigilant most of the time.
Yet the way Mac holds her at night, protecting her as he always has, keeping her safe and warm--
It's the only time she can relax, lately.
The airwaves these days are chock full of every kind of crazy theory or rant as to the cause. Alien influence, multinational government conspiracy, divine judgement or what have you.
Good thing neither of them buy into that garbage. Mac's always been the skeptic in the family, and she has a pretty good head on her shoulders herself, with a clear sense of when she's hearing utter balderdash. Things just happen, that's all.
Time to be realistic. No salvation's coming for them. No means of escape off Earth, either. The human race is finished, and not even by its own collective hand. It's the planet itself that's doing them in.
Once they reach Grand Junction the tremors start up again, after a whole week of quiet. Even worse than before.
Yet they keep following the road, in the general direction of Colorado Springs.
Besides, stubbornness runs in the family. Mac and Becky aren't quitters by any means.
Jack's waiting for them, after all. Wouldn't do to disappoint him.
The original plan was to take I-70 over the mountains to Denver and head south from there. However a massive landslide's blocking traffic west of Vail, with cars abandoned on both sides of the road. Meaning they have to backtrack a ways to where Highway 24 heads south, a more convoluted route over the mountains.
Every community they're going through has been turned into ghost towns seemingly overnight. It's downright eerie.
Their faithful jeep finally gives up the ghost just east of Hartsel. When a thunderstorm rolls in she spies a storage barn large enough to provide shelter for the night, and they push the vehicle inside just in time.
Rain drums against the metal roof. Farm machinery slowly rusts in piles. The scent of used engine oil makes Becky's nose wrinkle.
Mac takes out the map, spreads it on the hood. "So we're about here," he says, tapping a long finger on the paper. "60 miles to go before we reach Colorado Springs, more or less. Only take us a few more days walking. Not bad, considering."
"All of it uphill," she sighs. "Through the Rockies on foot in the middle of fall. Just peachy."
"Yeah, I know it's not the most ideal time of the year for this, but we gotta keep going. C'mon, we're almost there."
"But I'm tired, Unc," she can't help whining. "Can't we just find a house somewhere nearby and hibernate until spring?"
He raises an eyebrow at her and she sighs. "I know, I know," she grumbles. "God, I wish we were there already."
"You and me both. C'mon, let's eat and get some rest."
Dinner consists of protein bars and water from the canteen. They lean against the jeep and Becky shivers, tugging her jacket tighter around her. Fall comes on fast in the higher elevations, and the wind already carries a biting chill.
Mac opens one of the sleeping bags, drapes it around them. He slips an arm around Becky, holding her next to his heart. She burrows into his jacket with a faint sigh.
"We'll be fine," he says softly. "Just a little more."
"Don't know if I can take this much longer. I really don't."
"Yes, you can. I'm so proud of you, you know that? More of a trooper than I ever expected. My brave princess."
She can't help but chuckle. "I'm 28, you realize. A bit old to be a princess."
"Not to me." Soft press of lips against the top of her head. "Night, Beck."
"Night, Unc." She relaxes against him, sheltered from the storm in more ways than one. Falling into a deep sleep.
Morning is for unloading the jeep, taking stock and balancing the load between them. There isn't much food or potable water left, but it still turns out to be a whole lot for each of them to carry.
Mac looks around the barn, brow furrowed in thought. "With the machinery in here I can probably rig up a cart or something to carry our stuff instead."
"If anybody can, it's you," she agrees.
He does. It's not bad, wheels and axles and pipes and boards. Kinda cute, in a way.
For some reason Mac can't remember they decided to veer off course, believing a smaller road through the forest would be a more effective shortcut than further slogging along the highway. He's too tired to figure out where they're supposed to be now.
Reduced to eating berries and whatever else can be scrounged off the land after their food stash was raided by animals two nights ago. Only water to be had comes from the occasional mountain stream.
He's an expert in wilderness survival, but even so it's hard to find enough to eat at this altitude that hasn't already been gathered in at this time of the year.
Both on their last legs, dead tired and nearly starving.
There's no choice. They've gotta keep going.
One step after another.
The ground shakes under their feet but they're used to it by now. Even the Rockies aren't immune to seismic shifts.
Yet this time it's particularly bad, and there's no protective shelter to be had anywhere in sight.
The shaking soon stops, but the rumbling continues.
Becky frowns, glancing up the slope. "You hear something?"
A few rocks tumble down the mountainside, then more and more.
Landslide approaching, and fast.
Mac grabs Becky's hand, pulls her along as he breaks into a run. If they can get out of range in time...
Head pounding in pain, Mac struggles to get everything off of his niece's buried form.
"Hang on, princess. Almost there."
When the last of the debris is removed his breath catches in his throat. Scratches and bruises along her face and hands. Glasses askew and a little scratched, though not broken (scant consolation, really).
There's a vertical gash in her left side, a deep one.
Becky moans, just barely this side of conscious. "Unc...hurts..."
"It's okay, Beck. I got you."
He removes his shirt, tears it into strips. Presses the fabric against her wound. She's losing a lot of blood. Not much he can do otherwise.
If he was particularly religious he'd pray for a miracle at this point.
Then it happens anyway.
He can't believe what he's hearing at first. The distinct, rhythmic thumping of a helicopter, maybe a mile away or less judging by the sound.
There's a flare gun in one of the outer pockets of his knapsack. Hurts like heck when he twists his arm a bit but he manages to reach it.
Mac really wants to lay down and sleep by his niece's side, but if he does he may not want to wake again. Ever.
He's gotta keep going, for Becky's sake as well as his own.
The helicopter's coming closer. It's now or never.
With a mighty effort he raises the gun straight above his head, fires.
The flare shoots up into the sky, explodes.
Suddenly it's too much. There's nothing more he can do. He'll die here right beside his beloved niece, lost somewhere in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. Jack would never know what happened, his only clue a couple cryptic telephone messages.
Mac wants to laugh at the irony, but he's way too tired.
Lies back against the cool rock, barely able to keep his eyes open. Hurting all over.
There's a loud rhythmic thumping sound in his ears, perhaps his heartbeat. No, it's the helicopter, he reminds himself.
Through narrowed eyes a glimpse of small landing wheels under the black body of a helicopter, coming to rest against the ground not far away. Then a pair of black combat boots, hurrying towards him.
"Geez. You two just can't keep out of trouble, can ya?"
The last person he ever expected to see, kneeling beside him. Same rugged features, velvet-brown eyes, familiar smirk. Hair much shorter, darker and sprinkled with gray. Dressed in green and black with unusual shoulder patches, under a rescue vest.
His twin gives a wry smile. "Good to see you too. Both of you." Frowns at the sight of their wounds. "For crying out loud. What the hell happened to you guys?"
"Tremor...landslide," Mac mutters, wavering in and out of consciousness. "Jack...Becky...."
Jack turns to her, gently touching her cheek. "Hey, sweetheart," he croons softly. "How're you doing?"
"Hurts..." Her voice a bare whisper.
"Sorry to hear that, Beck. Don't worry, you're safe now."
"Oh, good..." She faints.
"Damn." Jack lays two long fingers against her neck, then sighs in relief. "Faint but there, at least. Good thing I spotted that flare of yours when I did, huh?"
A second helicopter lands nearby, several Marines emerge. Jack waves them over. "All right, get some stretchers over here, on the double!"
A medic kneels next to Mac, carefully inspecting him for a concussion or any signs of spinal damage while the one from the other helicopter checks on Becky. She takes her vitals, injects a syringe into her arm. "She needs surgery, but we got to them just in time, Colonel," she yells to Jack.
"Thank god," Jack mutters under his breath. "Load 'em on the choppers," he orders, "and be extra careful about it. They're family."
As Mac's carefully lifted onto a stretcher he waves weakly towards the overturned cart. "Jack...our stuff..."
"Yeah, got it." Jack gestures to the Marines. "C'mon, grab their stuff and let's get back to base already. Don't wanna be out here when the ground starts shaking again. Move it, people!"
Mac's absurdly fascinated despite his exhaustion. He's never seen his twin in full military mode before.
A jostle as he's loaded onto one helicopter, while Marines carry a rather pale Becky onto the other.
"Alright Sheppard," Jack says to the pilot. "Contact the base. Two incoming wounded, one needing surgery ASAP. Let's blow this joint."
The pilot nods. With a slight jerk the helicopter rises into the air.
There's a sting as a medic slips a needle into Mac's arm, then blessed relief from the pain.
"Got your messages, Mac," Jack murmurs. "Plan B's accomplished. Good job. You're both safe now. Relax."
He lets the healing darkness take him away.
Jack frowns at the map spread out on his desk, thoughtfully traces their route with a long finger. I-15 through Las Vegas, then I-70 eastward through the Rockies to Denver, then south on I-25.
His brother and niece should've been here by now, going the usual way. Though there's very little of the usual going on lately, truth be told.
Still, they're overdue by a lot. No way of telling if they had to take a detour, even. He devoutly wishes he knew more. Mac and Becky are the only family-by-blood he has left, after all. He'd do anything to make sure they're safe.
(He now has a second family-by-work here, under Cheyenne Mountain. He'd do anything for them, too.)
Hopefully they'll be here by the time the contingency plan goes into effect.
Two cryptic messages on his machine at home are all the warning Jack's been given. The latest well over a week ago before the phone system went down throughout the west, with nary a peep afterwards.
Plan B. If worst comes to worst, they immediately pull up stakes and join him here, in Colorado Springs. Safest place to be, after the collapse of Civilization As We Know It and all that crap.
Thing is, no place on earth's exactly safe anymore, is it?
The floor shakes slightly under his feet and he grimaces. Case in point.
His 2IC's standing in the doorway, short blonde hair backlit by lighting in the corridor. Blue BDU making her eyes an even more alluring shade of blue.
Samantha Carter, the very model of a modern major-physicist. Gorgeous and courageous and smart as a whip.
The one he cares about. Far, far, more than he's supposed to.
He never thought he'd find someone else so compatible after divorcing Sara, not that he's had much time for relationships lately. Yet here she is, and there's no way in hell they can be together as he'd like.
Doesn't take a Tok'ra mind probe to realize how much he's in love with her already.
Damn the regulations. Why doesn't he just tell her how he feels and be done with it? The world's coming to an end anyway, at least she'd know!
Maybe, just maybe, he'd find out if she feels the same.
Yeah, right. And Teal'c will be singing Broadway musicals next.
She shifts on her feet, frowning slightly. "Um, Colonel? You okay?"
"Never better, Carter." He folds the map, tucking it in a drawer away from her curious gaze. "What is it?"
"General Hammond wants everyone in the conference room right away. A location for the contingency plan's been chosen."
"Good. Hope it'll be someplace tropical," he says, falling into step with her. "I've spent so much time down here lately, my tan's starting to fade."
"Well, every planet has an equator, like anything with a spherical shape. Though due to the differences in axial tilt they wouldn't necessarily have tropical zones like ours, so..." Sam's voice trails off as she catches the teasing glint in his eyes. "Ah, I think you've had plenty of opportunities to work on your tan already, sir. What with all the scouting expeditions we've been sent on to find suitable locations for the contingency plan."
Jack grins. "You're catching on, Carter."
A lot more people in the corridors these days, result of the systematic ingathering of anyone having to do with the Stargate program- civilian as well as military, actual involvement as well as potential- before the quakes and tsunamis shut down international travel for good.
Jack hides an involuntary wince as they sidle around knots of squabbling professionals. Being a man of action he's never been comfortable around most science-minded folk save for Sam and Daniel, not to mention Mac with his chemistry and engineering degrees and Becky with her double doctorates. Everyone else bores him silly; them, he tolerates and respects- and loves- enough to let them do what they do.
(Not that he'd ever admit it to their faces, though. He does have a reputation to uphold.)
Then there's the influx of refugees being housed on levels 5-7 after being processed outside the base, seeking shelter from the chaos beyond Cheyenne Mountain. Ordinary folk who've never had the slightest inkling a secret intergalactic war's been going on above their heads for the past several years.
Civilians like his own brother and niece, if they ever get here.
So yeah, it's getting kinda crowded around the ol' SGC these days.
All part of the contingency plan.
The conference room's packed with members of other teams not already on missions, along with other senior staff and various department heads. Daniel's too deep in discussion at one end of the table to notice his teammates' entrance, but Teal'c nods gravely at Jack and Sam as they take their places beside him.
"Any bets as to the most likely planet, T?" Jack asks the Jaffa warrior.
"I do not bet, O'Neill. Warriors on Chulak often placed wagers for reasons I considered most foolish. While other Primes encouraged such an activity, I sought other means to improve morale among those under my command."
"Aw c'mon. Don't tell me you've never once placed a wager on anything?"
"Indeed I have not. It is, as you Tau'ri say, throwing good currency after bad."
Jack's about to make a witty retort concerning their team poker nights when General George Hammond enters the room. All military personnel immediately straighten and salute while the scientists respectfully incline their heads.
"At ease," he says with a nod. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid I have sad news to report before we get started. At 0730 this morning a 9.5 earthquake was registered along the Atlantic Fault. Consequently a series of tsunamis hit the East Coast not more than half an hour later, centering on Washington D.C. and environs. The President, his family, and the entire Cabinet were in the White House when the first wave hit. There has also been no word from the Pentagon nor any other agency pertaining to SGC operations, including the IOA."
A murmur of surprise ripples through the room. Hammond lifts his hand and it subsides. "Therefore we should consider ourselves entirely on our own, effective immediately. This possibility has already been included in the contingency plan for some time."
"Damned Big Quake took a chunk out of California," Louis Ferretti grumbles. "That's what got the ball rolling." Hammond shoots him a look. "Sorry, sir."
The floor shakes slightly, as if to punctuate Ferretti's statement.
Jack sighs and passes a hand over his face, grateful that Mac and Becky got out while the getting was good. Must've had pretty strong gut feelings something bad was about to go down.
Much like the one telling him they're still alive, out there.
"Dr. Akimoto," Hammond addresses an Asian man at the table straightening his tie, "what has your team discovered about the current situation?"
He swallows before speaking. "Our seismologists and geophysicists have confirmed an exponential increase of earthquakes and tremors worldwide, caused by serious instability within the inner and outer cores. It's only a matter of time before the planet breaks up completely."
"How long would you say we have?"
"By our calculations- four months, tops."
A stunned silence follows. Even Jack finds himself unable to come up with a snarky comment.
The end of the world, just like that. And nothing can be done to stop it, even with every technological trick at their disposal.
Hammond clears his throat. "Based on the circumstances, I have no choice but to put the contingency plan into effect, as of now. While our offworld sites will continue to be used for backup and evacuation, they're far from suitable for long-term habitation. A fourth site- hereafter designated as New Earth- will therefore be created for permanent settlement of civilians as well as auxiliary personnel and the re-establishment of the SGC."
He turns his attention to the scientists seated at the table. "Dr. Giovanni. As chief planetologist, which world have you decided upon as the most likely candidate?"
A brunette woman stands unsteadily on her feet. "Based on scouting reports from the SG teams, sir, my team's come to the conclusion that PX35-172 is the obvious choice. Planetary conditions are the most favorable, with oceans, two continents and several archipelagos. The ecosphere's comparable to our own, though a light shade of cyan seems to be the predominant color of photosynthesis instead of green. A mild, temperate climate prevails on the northern half of the main continent, the most suitable for settlement."
"Which possesses a fascinating geological phenomenon," Akimoto pipes up. "Two mountain ranges complete with foothills face each other, forming an elliptical valley 150 miles long by 60 miles wide," sketching in the air with his hands two arcs not quite touching each other, "with gaps at the north and south to allow for a river running through. The valley's large and rather fertile, with the Gate near the exact center."
"Dr. Mkumbe, any biological threats?"
"No contaminants or pollution present in the atmosphere," states an elegant black woman sitting opposite Akimoto. "I cannot determine if any viral or bacterial threats are present until a more thorough assessment can be done on site."
"Dr. Jackson, what about indigenous populations?"
"No signs of current habitation anywhere on the planet, human or otherwise," Daniel says after consulting his notes. "Which is surprising, considering the presence of the Gate and the suitability of the climate. However, there's a sizeable Ancient outpost near the base of the northern mountain range, almost a city in and of itself. I'm looking forward to investigating, once everything's set up."
"Thank you, doctors. Major Alvarez," Hammond addresses a Hispanic man at the opposite end of the table, badge of the AFCE on his BDU. "I don't envy you the challenges ahead for you and your team. This is a very big project you're about to undertake, and the time window is relatively short for all you need to accomplish."
"No problem, sir," Alvarez replies with confidence. "Just let me know how much of my materials and equipment can get through that Gate of yours and we'll take care of the rest. I've handled worse conditions prepping air bases in the Middle East."
"Very good. Are there any questions?"
Sam puts her hand up. "Sir, what about defense? If we become distracted during relocating that may leave us wide open to attack by one of the System Lords."
"That's already well in hand, Major. The Asgard have agreed to remotely monitor Earth and our solar system in case of incursion. They've also promised to defend us, should it occur while we're at our most vulnerable during the transition."
Hammond sweeps his gaze over each and every individual in the room, making sure he's got their full attention. "Ladies and gentlemen, much as it pains me to admit it, the situation on Earth has become untenable. Steps must be taken to ensure our survival elsewhere. As of now we're on the clock. Four months to put the contingency plan into effect."
"And then, sir?" Ferretti asks.
"Zero hour," Hammond says firmly. "Complete and total evacuation to New Earth. I don't believe I have to remind everyone present nothing less than the future of our species is at stake. There's a lot to do and not much time to do it in, so every second counts. Dismissed."
"Sounds like we have our work cut out for us," Jack comments as the crowd breaks up.
"We'll get it done sir," Sam says. "We've faced threats against far worse odds over the years, and we've always succeeded."
"I admire your confidence, Carter. Speaking of work," he adds with a cheeky grin as Daniel joins them, "how's it going with the translation stuff? Cracked the code yet?"
The archaeologist groans. "Not exactly, Jack."
"Getting an Ancient database stuck in my head for a while doesn't count as help, huh?"
Daniel sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. "You know it's more complicated than that. It'll take a while besides, since I'm the only one currently proficient in the language. And now I have to personally oversee the packing and removal of artifacts and reference materials to New Earth on top of that."
"Sounds like a full plate," Jack comments, very dry.
"You've no idea. I'd kill for a knowledgeable assistant, but haven't found one yet."
Sam frowns. "Really? All the scientists on base, and there isn't another linguist or anthropologist available to share your workload?"
He shrugs. "Everyone else in my department's already assigned to other SG teams, it wouldn't be fair to just yank one of them away to lend me a hand."
Jack smirks to himself, thinking of Becky. He'll have to hook them up, they'd be perfect for each other. "You never know, Danny. Help might just be around the corner. Now c'mon, let's get something to eat. With luck we can get to the mess before they run out of cake."
The atmosphere in the commissary's more subdued than normal, as everyone present absorbs the impact of the General's decision.
Jack toys with a cup of coffee, automatically tuning out Carter and Daniel as they discuss a topic that's already way over his head.
"A small denomination coin for your contemplations, O'Neill." Teal'c gazes at him from across the table, not even a trace of anxiety on his impassive features.
"That's a penny for your thoughts," Jack absently counters.
"And what are your thoughts, at this moment? Are you disturbed by the words of General Hammond?"
"Guess I am. To openly acknowledge the world's coming to an end is one thing, even if everyone already knows. But a full-on evacuation through the Gate to another planet- leaving Earth for good, never to return..." Jack shrugs. "Hard to wrap my head around, you know?"
"A strange saying. Is that not physically impossible?"
He can't help but chuckle. "You can say that. Just makes me feel like we're running away from everything we know and love about this crazy old world, that's all."
"I would indeed feel the same, should my homeworld be in danger. What you must remember is that you will be living to fight another day. Do not fear, O'Neill. Our mutual goal of overthrowing the Goa'uld and ending the slavery of my people can be pursued no matter where you Tau'ri call home."
Jack lifts his head and gives Teal'c a long, speculative stare. He tends to forget the Jaffa warrior's far older than he appears. Wiser, too. "You have a point there, T. Thanks."
A regal nod. "You are welcome."
A small short jolt surprises everyone, followed several seconds later by a few strong, sharp shakes. Beverages slosh around in their glasses. Pictures rattle on the walls.
"For crying out loud," Jack mutters. "What the hell was that?"
"A little scary, for one thing," Daniel says, glancing with startled eyes around the room. "That felt awfully close."
"Stronger than what we've been getting so far, certainly," Sam agrees, brow furrowed in concern.
Jack's gut gives a twist, though not from the meatloaf. "Let's check it out, campers."
"Only 5.5 on the Richter scale," Akimoto says, gesturing at the jagged lines on the seismograph installed in the geology lab. "Epicenter's near Dome Rock, little more than 30 miles to the west."
"Not much around that area," Daniel says, consulting a satellite map. "Except perhaps for a few lone buildings. Though there may still be folks out there who haven't come seeking refuge here."
Hammond frowns. "Hard to believe, considering how many abandoned their own communities entirely to seek our protection."
A shiver tickles along Jack's spine as he stares at the map.
Mac and Becky. Could they be out that direction, in trouble? His gut feeling keeps insisting yes, and it hasn't failed him yet.
He picks up a marking pen and starts twirling it between his fingers, unable to otherwise conceal his sudden urgency to depart the confines of Cheyenne Mountain in search of his family.
Hammond's a decent, compassionate guy for a general, which Jack greatly appreciates (and tries hard not to take advantage of, too much). Surely he wouldn't approve of his 2IC leaving the SGC based on a mere hunch, though.
Or would he?
Carter eyes his fiddling and purses her lips. "Colonel, aren't you on SAR duty today? Wouldn't hurt to see if anyone needs help." She's pretty perceptive, even if thoughts of that mouth's inspiring notions of kissing her then and there.
He mentally shakes himself and looks to his CO instead. "Permission to do a recon sweep by helicopter, sir? In case?"
Hammond looks dubious, but nods. "Permission granted. I'll put in a call to Peterson, get the SAR team assembled."
Mid afternoon outside, the sky bright and clear with the air a little chillier than he expected. The bright colors of aspen leaves contrasting against dark evergreens make for a pleasing sight. A perfect fall day.
Staying under Cheyenne Mountain as long as he has lately, it's hard to believe actual seasons are still taking place outside.
High above the ground on a day like this it's hard to believe the very planet's breaking up under their feet, too.
Jack sits in the copilot's seat, rescue vest over his green BDU. Adjusts his sunglasses against the glare from the snow cap of Pike's Peak, passing just to his right.
Shadows of twin HH-60Gs flicker against the mountain, stark black against the white.
"We're coming up on Dome Rock in a couple minutes, sir," Major John Sheppard says from the pilot's seat. Decent enough guy, with a rakishness and twisted sense of humor rivaling his own. Not to mention unruly hair under the helmet that kinda reminds him of his twin's mullet, back in the day. "Should I do a 360 around the quake site?"
"Knock yourself out."
Sheppard expertly circles the helicopter around the formation, which likely earned its moniker due to its smooth, rounded appearance. At first Jack sees only trees, many downed by the tremor. Plus the odd herd of mountain goats, seriously spooked by the noise of their approach.
Nothing to justify the gut feeling of certainty that two of the five people most important to him are close by.
And then he sees it. The flash of a flare gun.
He looks to Sheppard, who nods. "Saw it too, sir. At ten o'clock."
The helicopter turns in that direction, reducing its speed for a closer look. Turns in a slow circle to survey the damage.
At first Jack doesn't see them.
Then with a lurch in his stomach, he does.
Two bodies sprawled at the bottom of a large pile of rubble, a tall man and a petite woman. Unconscious or nearly so, though the man's stirring a bit. A makeshift cart holding their stuff, overturned nearby.
"Looks like a flat spot to land by the creek," Sheppard says.
"Radio the other chopper. Tell them we're going in."
The HH-60G gently makes contact with the ground. "Wait for me until I give the signal," Jack orders the Marines and medic in the back of the aircraft. They nod assent.
He removes his sunglasses, takes a deep breath before opening the door. Steels himself. Whatever he finds he'll just have to take in stride.
Never in his life has he been so pleased to have his gut feeling proven right. And so dismayed at the same time.
It's definitely them.
His brother, his niece. The only blood relatives he has left.
Both look awful. Bedraggled and thin and oh, so pale. Bruises and scratches all over.
Blood trickles from a cut on Mac's forehead. He's drifting in and out of consciousness, blinking up at Jack as if in disbelief.
Becky's even worse. A really nasty vertical gash on her left side, blood flowing freely through the stained remnants of a flannel shirt. She moans softly, fading fast.
He swallows, reminding himself they're not gone yet.
Plan B successfully accomplished, just in time before the world comes to an end.
All he has to do now is swoop in and play the snarky hero. Thank god.
Jack kneels by his brother's side.
"Geez. You two just can't keep out of trouble, can ya?"
AFCE = Air Force Civil Engineers.
SAR = Search And Rescue.
HH-60G = Sikorsky HH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, used by the Air Force for combat search and rescue operations in the 1990s.
"Coming through! One side! Make a hole!"
Daniel glances up from his book long enough to see two gurneys hurrying towards him, complete with medics tending to patients. He oblingingly steps aside to let them pass.
A glimpse of auburn hair gives him pause. Reminds him of someone, but can't remember who.
Hot on their heels comes Jack, looking more anxious than he's ever seen him before.
"What's going on?"
"Can't talk now, Danny," he throws over his shoulder. "Later."
Shaking his head Daniel watches as they push through the double doors of the infirmary at the end of the hall and disappear.
Yet the memory of burnished copper hair lingers in his mind. Why is that?
Oh, well. Maybe it'll come to him later.
He must've died and gone to heaven.
A beautiful angel's hovering over him, wide-set brown eyes and hair a shade brighter than Becky's. A light stabs into his eyes and he blinks.
"Mr. MacGyver? Can you hear me?"
The ghostly afterimages fade and his vision clears. His angel's still there, wearing a white coat over a uniform blouse with Air Force insignia.
"Wha'..." He swallows, mouth too dry for speaking.
"Relax, you're fine. Do you need some water?"
He nods, she brings him a cup with a straw. "Sip slowly, now."
The water's soothing. "Who are you?" he finally asks. "What happened to me? Where am I?"
She smiles. "I'm Dr. Fraiser. You and your niece were caught in a landslide. You had a mild concussion and your left wrist was sprained, so you're staying here overnight for observation. As to the last question..." A sly glance to one side and her smile turns impish. "I'll let your brother answer."
A familiar face comes into view. "Jack?"
Who smirks, tucking a yo-yo into a pocket of his green BDU. "Hey. How're you feeling?"
"Like a ton of rocks fell on top of me," he groans.
Jack chuckles. "Sounds about right."
Mac frowns, vaguely remembering helicopters and combat boots. "That was really you out there, then? Wasn't hallucinating or anything?"
Another flash of memory. Becky's pale form, bright red blood against her blue denim shirt.
He struggles to sit up. Jack's hands settle on his shoulders, gently yet firmly. "Whoa, now. Where you goin'?"
"Becky. Hurt real bad. I gotta find her."
"She's okay. She's in surgery. Don't worry, the docs here are the best. They'll fix her right up."
Mac raises a skeptical eyebrow, wincing at the slight tug on his forehead from the stitches. "You're not foolin' with me, are you?"
"Aw c'mon. Would I lie?" His twin affects an innocent expression and he can't help but chuckle. "Becky will be just fine," Jack adds, sobering. "Trust me. She's tough, you know that."
"Yeah. So, to change the subject- where am I?"
"Cheyenne Mountain. I work here."
Mac's brow furrows. "You're stationed at NORAD now?"
Jack gives a one-sided shrug. "Not exactly."
A brown-haired man in blue surgical scrubs stops in front of Mac's bed. "Colonel O'Neill," he greets in a soft lilting accent.
Jack nods affably in return. "Dr. Beckett."
"And Mr. MacGyver. Nice to meet a fellow Scotsman."
"Minnesotan, actually," Jack quips before Mac can say anything.
Beckett's eyes dart between the brothers in confusion. "Ah. Well, I wanted to let ye both know Rebecca's out of surgery. Lost quite a bit of blood, but no major organs were damaged and she's gotten some transfusions. A wee bit malnourished and dehydrated as well, but we're taking care of that with IVs."
"So she'll be okay, is that what you're saying?"
"Aye, Colonel. Your niece is a strong lass. She'll make a full recovery."
Mac realizes he's been holding his breath. He lets it out in relief.
"That's great news, doc. Thanks." Jack grins, lightly slaps Mac on the shoulder. "See? Told ya."
Mac ignores him. "Where is she? Can we see her yet?"
"We've set her up in Intensive Care. She'll be unconscious for a while longer. I wouldna see her until later tomorrow, though. She needs a lot of rest."
Fraiser returns, smiling at the other doctor. "Thanks for operating while I was busy earlier, Carson."
"My pleasure." A respectful nod of his head. "Good evening, gentlemen."
"All right, Colonel," she says briskly. "Visiting hours are over. You can pick your brother up tomorrow when he's discharged."
Jack grins down at the petite woman. "Sure thing, doc. Hey," he says with a playful nudge on Mac's shoulder, "do what she says, okay? If you don't she'll break out the big needles, and trust me, you wouldn't like that." He gives a mock shudder.
"You should remember to follow your own advice in future," she says dryly. She waves her hands in a shooing motion. "Now go on. Get."
He chuckles and throws them both a mock salute. "Yes, ma'am. See you guys in the morning."
Mac sighs. "Sorry about my brother. He's always been kinda nuts."
Fraiser chuckles. "I'm used to it. Jack and I are old friends." She makes an adjustment to his IV. "I'm going off shift but my nurses will be checking up on you and your niece from time to time. Is there anything you need right now, Mr. MacGyver?"
"Please, just MacGyver. Or you can call me Mac." He grins, inviting her to use the latter.
She cocks her head, clearly amused. She's awfully pretty. "All right- Mac. I'm Janet. Time to sleep now, all right?"
A sigh of relief as his eyes close. Plan B worked. He and Becky made it to Colorado Springs after all. No idea what happens now, but at least they're all together.
"Colonel O'Neill, are you serious? You want to read your brother into the Stargate program now?"
"Don't see why not, sir. Even the civilians upstairs will find out about it soon enough. Plus I think he'll be useful."
Hammond leans back in his chair, steeples his fingers. "You may be right. His unique skills could come in handy with the contingency plan."
Jack raises an eyebrow. "You've heard of him?"
Hammond smiles. "Don't tell your brother, but I've known Peter Thornton since we both served in Vietnam. Played a lot of golf together between meetings over the years, whenever we visited Washington at the same time. You may or may not be surprised to know this, but MacGyver's got quite the reputation in the intelligence community, for doing what he does without using guns. In fact, we've been holding on to a copy of his dossier for a while now, in case we needed his unusual brand of problem-solving in the program."
"I understand." No, he's not surprised, all things considered. Not really.
"And you want to read in your niece as well. Rebecca, is it?"
"Yes, sir. She's a linguist, a really good one. Also with high-level security clearance at the Phoenix Foundation, for her past dilligence and discretion. Thought she might be able to help Daniel out."
"I remember Pete mentioning her now. Quite the helper when she was younger. Very well, Colonel. You have my permission."
"Thank you, General."
Now for the hard part. Breaking the news to his skeptical brother that aliens really do exist.
Easier said than done.
Buried alive, never again to see the light of day. Cold, seeping into the very bones. Pain. So much pain...
"Hush, now," a woman's voice, soft and soothing. "Take it easy. It's okay." Gentle hands on her hair, smoothing away her fears.
"Mom?" she murmurs, only half awake.
"Sorry, honey. She's not here. But you're safe now, you can relax. I've got you."
She can't keep her eyes open. Not that she wants to, particularly. "Tell me what to do," she mumbles.
"Rest easy. Sleep."
"It's not a coma," Janet insists the next day. "More like an extended sleep so she can get the rest her body desperately needs. Same as anyone else who's been through a lot of trauma. She'll wake herself up eventually."
Auburn hair fans out over the pillow. There's an oxygen tube in her nose. Several IVs protrude from her arms, saline drip and nutrients she needs.
So pale and quiet. The slow rise and fall of her chest and steady beeping from the monitor the only signs of life.
Jack's heart goes out to her, poor sweetheart.
His brother's not doing too well either- emotionally, anyway. But Jack's good at diversionary tactics, and he's got the perfect distraction in mind to keep Mac from losing himself in worry and self-blame.
"It's my fault," Mac gestures at Becky's unconscious form. "I should've run faster, could've gotten her out of the way in time."
"Come off it. No way you would've known that landslide was gonna happen after the tremor. Stop beating yourself up over things you can't control, huh?"
"You don't get it!" Mac finally snaps, pulling away from him. "I'm supposed to keep her safe. It's all my fault. If she never wakes up--" He stops and takes deep breaths, carefully relaxing his clenched jaw.
"Oh, for crying out loud. Take it easy, willya? Becky's a trooper. She'll wake up when she's good and ready, not before."
"He's right," Janet adds in a soothing tone. "Her vital signs are stable for now, Mac. Worrying and blaming yourself in the meantime won't help her get any better. Colonel, why don't you take your brother away for a while? We'll let you know first thing if anything happens."
"Terrific idea, doc." Jack moves his arm around his shoulder, steering him away from the bed. "I'll take you to my quarters. 'Cause not to put it too bluntly, you look like hell and you stink besides."
Mac glares at him. "Gee, thanks a lot."
"Just sayin'. You'll feel better after you've had a bite to eat and get clean, that's all."
As if on cue, Mac's stomach starts to rumble.
Jack chuckles. "C'mon, allow me to show you the epicurean delights of our commissary."
He leads Mac down an elevator, through the maze of corridors. Gray concrete and metal with pipes and safety markings, painted lines on the floor.
Military utilitarian chic, too top secret for a photo shoot in the pages of Architectural Digest.
Scientists and uniformed personnel either nod or salute in greeting as they pass, before doing the inevitable double-take and murmuring amongst themselves.
Jack rolls his eyes. Just peachy. He's used to being solo for so long, now he has to remember his brother's along for the ride.
Hardly anyone knows he's a twin, save for Hammond and anyone else with clearance enough to access his personnel file. Because of his past Black Ops missions he prefers to keep this side of his family life private as a precaution, to the point of even hiding family photos on team nights.
But now Mac and Becky are fully in the picture, so to speak. They're not going away any time soon.
Not that he wants them to, either.
What the hell. It's the end of the world, right? Time he made some introductions.
Not right away, though. Best to wait until Becky gets discharged, and both have some time to get acclimated.
Finally they reach his private quarters on Level 25. Rather basic all things considered but he doesn't need all that much, even with the addition of several boxes filled with stuff retrieved from the house after the quakes started for good. Still, he has the essentials: king-sized bed to accommodate his rangy frame, lone bookshelf, TV and DVD player on the dresser with gaming console and stack of Simpsons episodes.
He sends Mac off to shower (the one privilege of rank he enjoys, a private bathroom); about ten minutes later the door opens to a cloud of steam. His brother steps out, infirmary garb replaced by a spare set of green BDUs, sleeves rolled up over a black long-sleeved undershirt, running a towel through unruly blonde hair before tossing it back into the bathroom.
A rueful smile. "Yeah. Thanks for the threads."
"No problem." Jack opens another drawer, takes out a bottle of whiskey and two glass tumblers and sets them on the small table, pulls up a couple chairs. Pours a double shot in each glass.
Mac grimaces. "You know I still don't drink."
"After what I'm about to tell ya, you're gonna need this. Trust me." Jack lifts his glass. "Mud in your eye, as Harry would say."
"To our princess," Mac counters. "Hope she'll be okay."
"She will. Don't worry about it."
They clink glasses. The whiskey burns a path down his throat, settling his nerves.
Way too early to be drinking- on-duty, even- but for what he's about to do he needs it.
"Obvious you're not working at NORAD," Mac says after a few minutes of contemplative silence. "Way too far underground for that."
"Nope. Got another gig going on here. Super top secret. Way above your clearance at Phoenix, even."
"Huh." A pause. "So are you gonna read me in, or will you hafta kill me afterwards?"
"Depends how open your mind is these days."
Mac raises an eyebrow. "What the heck are you talking about?"
"Just my day job." And proceeds to tell him everything.
Afterwards Mac reaches for the glass and takes a big swallow, eyes wide. Jack smirks to himself.
"No way. You're foolin' with me. Gotta be."
Another swallow. "So. Aliens are real?"
"Wormhole travel to other planets, starships, weird tech?"
"Time travel, alternate universes, the works?"
"All the clichés. Yeah."
Mac shakes his head. "Man, Becky's gonna love this. Exactly the kinda stuff she reads about."
Jack chuckles. "Ya think?"
"So why tell me this now?"
"You know the Big Quake, right?"
Mac grimaces. "Know it? Becky and I saw it happen."
Jack feels his jaw drop. "...No foolin'?"
"Nope. The earth shaking, the L.A. Basin sinking, the water crashing in on top of that..." He closes his eyes, shudders. "Every time I close my eyes I can see it happening, over and over again. Not something I'm gonna forget about for a while, you know? Becky neither."
"Must've had pretty strong gut feelings, to get away just in time before it happened. Good thing you had Plan B, huh?"
He remembers discussing it with Mac, right after the funeral fourteen years ago. Their own private contingency plan.
Plan "B" for Becky. Keep her safe no matter what.
"Yeah. You could say. What else were we gonna do, besides? Yours is the only home we got, now." A glance around his quarters. "Such as it is. Where we gonna sleep, anyway?"
"They'll fix up something for you around here. Don't worry about it."
Mac groans. "Good, 'cause I'm wasted. Could crash for a week straight."
"At least." Jack takes a good long look at his twin. The dark circles under his eyes, the haunted expression. The restless tapping of his fingers against the glass.
If their sister Allison were alive she'd diagnose post-adrenaline crash coupled with residual shock and anxiety, or he'll eat his yo-yo.
Gotta give some latitude, though, to a guy like that. Who sees his world crashing down around him, and still has the courage to stand up and keep on going.
Not that anyone in their family- even Becky, bless her heart- ever lacked for bravery and the willingness to persevere.
He takes another sip of his drink. "Well. Everything that's been following after? Symptoms of a much bigger problem."
Mac nods. "Heard it on the radio, before the transmissions stopped. Something wrong with the planet itself. The world coming to an end."
"Sucks, doesn't it?"
"Real shame, that's for sure. All that training, know-how and knowledge at our disposal, and nothing either of us can do about it."
"Yeah." Jack frowns and stares into his glass, contemplating the amber liquid. Put that way, it is a real damn shame the two of them can't put their heads together and stop it.
Finally Mac clears his throat. "So is there an escape hatch, or something? No way we're gonna get off Earth otherwise."
Jack nods. "That's exactly what the Stargate is. Got a planet picked out, room enough to accommodate everyone, even civilians. Form a brand-new settlement, somewhere else in the galaxy. Live to fight another day."
"What do you need me for, then? I assume you're reading me in so I can help, though I don't see how."
"C'mon. You know how. It's that talent you got, the way you think outside the box. You see solutions to problems before they even happen."
"Never thought of it that way before. Always assumed it was sheer luck and making the most of what's around me, mostly."
"Well whatever it is, we could sure use it in making the most of what we've got. Allocating resources, thinking ahead, alternative solutions. That sort of thing."
"I take it they don't come to you flyboys for answers, then?"
"Course not. We got real live scientists for that. Me, I just stumble around and make lame jokes."
"Figures. Always was your strong suit." Mac cocks his head, smirks a little.
Jack rolls his eyes, but decides to let him have the last word this time. He can be generous like that when it suits him, and Mac's had a hard time of it lately.
The phone rings. "O'Neill."
"Colonel?" A female voice. "Nurse Fitzpatrick in the infirmary. Just wanted to let you know your niece is waking up now, sir."
"Great. We're on our way." He hangs it up, grins at his brother. "See? Told ya."
"Dr. Fraiser, she's coming to."
Warmth. Sound. A light stabbing into her eyes.
Time to wake up.
"Becky? Becky, can you hear me?"
She grumbles an affirmative. Opens her eyes.
A petite woman in uniform's looking down at her, tucking a penlight into a pocket of her white coat. Wide-set brown eyes, auburn hair and a kind smile. "Hi, Becky. I'm Dr. Fraiser, but you can call me Janet. How are you feeling?"
"Good. I guess." She squints. Everything's a bit blurry. "Where are my glasses?"
"Right here, honey." A nurse hands them to her.
Everything comes into focus. Becky blinks at her surroundings, taking in the room, the medical equipment. Dr. Fraiser- Janet- standing nearby and the nurses bustling around them.
Two familiar men watching her anxiously from either side of the bed, leaning forward and resting their arms on the railings. Same velvet-brown eyes and rugged features. Identical green-and-black uniforms with intriguing shoulder patches.
Different hairstyles though. Which is good, otherwise she might have trouble identifying them by sight alone if Unc ever gets a serious haircut.
She smiles faintly. "I must be on some really good drugs. I'm seeing double!"
Jack smirks, shaking his head. "Yeah, she's just fine." He reaches to gently stroke her cheek. "Hey, Becky. Good to see you."
"Good to see you too, Uncle Jack."
Mac sports bruises, one bandage on his forehead and another wrapped around his left wrist, but is beaming at her nonetheless. "Hey, Beck."
"Hey, Unc. So Plan B worked, huh? How're you feeling?"
"Better now." He moves to sit beside her, tenderly pushing hair away from her forehead. "How about you?"
"Tired. Kinda floaty, too."
"I'm not surprised," Janet says. "You're on some pretty strong painkillers now, we'll start tapering off well before you're discharged in a few days' time."
"Speaking of--" Becky searches for a clock.
"About 1730. Five-thirty in the afternoon, to you guys." Jack offers helpfully.
"God, talk about sleeping in late."
"I'll say. I know you're a night-owl and really like sleeping in and all that, but this is something else."
"Oh, for crying out loud," she mutters, rolling her eyes. He's never stopped teasing her. It's a little annoying at times, though she knows that's simply how he shows affection for those he cares about.
"Sorry, Beck. Just glad you're okay." He dabs at his eyes.
"Something in the air, huh?" Mac smirks.
"Don't you start," Jack mutters, shooting him a glare.
Becky groans. Seriously? Do they really have to start bickering now over her bed?
It's official. Both of her uncles are nuts.
She opens her mouth to say just that, but weariness hits instead and she sags against the pillows. "Ughh..."
Janet steps in. "That's enough now. She's still recovering. You two should leave."
"Actually," Mac admits, rubbing his neck. "I could use some shut-eye myself."
Jack nods. "C'mon then, let's see where they've got you guys fixed up."
Just before going completely under she feels the gentle press of two pairs of lips, on cheek and forehead.
"Sleep well, sweetheart," Mac whispers in one ear.
"Glad you're here, Beck," Jack murmurs in the other. "See you tomorrow."
Glad to be here, she thinks. Safe. Warm. Loved.
Becky closes her eyes and lets the healing darkness take her away.
When Jack returns to his quarters after getting Mac settled in on Level 15, he gazes at the framed photos on the bookshelf.
One a candid team shot at a festival on P2B-608, back in the early days. Remembers the locals fascinated by the camera, the relief at not being shot at by arrows or zat guns or whatever for once.
The other a treasured photo of himself and Sara with Charlie at his son's very first softball game. All he'll allow himself to hold onto of that chapter of his life.
Digging in a box, he comes up with another frame- Becky flanked by himself and Mac, taken at the ceremony when she received her first doctorate. Wide grins, arms around each other as they mugged for the camera.
He puts it with the other pictures, making adjustments until all three are equally spaced, side by side.
Stepping back, he stares at them.
"Jack!" Daniel has to jog a bit to catch up to his longer strides. At last, the only time he's been able to talk to Jack in days away from briefings and offworld action.
"Hey, Danny. How's it hanging?"
"Busy. What about you? Haven't seen you much outside of missions."
Jack shrugs, a little too casual for his liking. "Here and there. Around."
"Sam says you've been visiting the infirmary a lot lately the past few days. That's the last place in the whole base you usually like to be." Daniel looks down at the floor, scuffing the toe of his boot against the concrete. "Not to pry or anything...I mean, if it was something serious you'd tell us first, right?"
"Gee Danny, I'm really touched by your concern. Didn't know you cared."
Daniel scowls. This is too hard. Why did he have to draw the short straw? "C'mon, Jack. You know what I mean. Sam, Teal'c and I...we're worried about you."
"Nothing's goin' on, I promise. Tip-top shape, you betcha. Fit as a fiddle."
"Then why are you hanging around the infirmary, if it's not about your health?"
Jack chuckles. "Sometimes you're way too curious for your own good, you know that? Keep that up and it might bite you in the rear someday."
Unbelievable. For a guy who prides himself on honesty (tempered by snark) he sure knows how to evade a direct question. "Jack..."
"Ah!" Holding up the dreaded I'm-the-Colonel-and-I've-had-enough finger, which Daniel hates. "What I do off-duty is my own business. Besides, what is it they say? If you have to ask you'll never know?"
"Fine," Daniel grumbles, crossing his arms over his chest. "Keep your damn secrets. Thought after the rogue NID stuff you were done playing spy, that's all."
Jack grins, actually patting him on the cheek. "Don't worry, Danny-boy. It's nothing like that. In fact, you got dinner plans day after tomorrow, say around 1800?"
He blinks. "Well no, I don't think so. Just the usual with you, Sam and Teal'c."
"Great. Got a couple people I want you to meet."
"Here on base?" He's confused, not an uncommon occurrence when dealing with the likes of Jack O'Neill.
"Yep. No need to dress up. Pass the word along to Sam and T, would ya? Thanks."
"Whatever," Daniel sighs, watching his friend saunter down the hallway.
Next time he'll insist that Sam do the asking.
Their assigned quarters are pretty basic- no more than two sets of beds, dressers and built-in closets, with a round table and two chairs. Communal restroom and shower facilities.
Not that much different than dorm rooms back in college, actually. Right down to their names on the door: A. MacGyver, R. Grahme.
Except there are no windows.
Mindful of the stitches under the bandage on her left side, Becky sits back in bed and tries to lose herself in one of her books, carefully not thinking about the tons of concrete and rock overhead, ready to come crashing down at any time.
The occasional tremor under her feet isn't making it easy.
Discharged from the infirmary the previous day, with medication bottles and a printout full of advice and exercises. Which she does religiously, having picked up on the fact that whatever they do on this base, it's always fighting-fit and mission-ready. She wasn't in bad shape at all before the Big Quake, but after her recent ordeal she'll have to work hard at restoring her health, albeit slowly.
A courtesy tap on the door, then it opens a fraction. "Helloo? Anybody home?"
"I'm in here."
Jack strolls inside, hands casually stuffed into pockets, grinning in that way he does when he's got mischief planned. "Hey, Beck. What'cha doing?"
"Resting, as per Janet's orders. Why do you ask?"
He purses his lips, rocking back on his heels. "Just wanna know if you're up to taking a walk. Got something special to show you."
"Sure, but we'll have to go slow. Almost a week out from surgery, you know."
"I'll make sure we have frequent rest stops."
"He'll meet up with us in a bit." Holds out his hand. "C'mon."
Unbelievable. Stupendous. Fantastic.
No other words for it.
Wormhole generators. Space travel. Descendants of displaced humans on other planets. Honest-to-god aliens, both friends and foes. Weird technology. Adventure and mysteries throughout the galaxy.
And so much more.
Of course there are plenty of dangers out there- the universe isn't exactly a friendly place- but it's balanced by so many wonders at the same time.
Just like the stories she reads, only loads better 'cause it's all real.
No surprise she goes a little nuts over the whole thing. Even Mac's impressed, though he tries to hide it in front of his brother.
Jack sports a smug grin all the while, like the proverbial cat who ate the canary.
It's official. She has the coolest uncles. Ever.
But then she has to sit down so he tells her the rest, as serious as he knows how to be.
The Earth is dying, due to unexpectedly high levels of instability within the inner and outer cores. Makes a certain amount of sense, given the increasing frequency of quakes and tsunamis worldwide.
Nobody knows whether the planet will implode or explode, but fortunately they have a way out before it happens, through the Stargate. Colonizing another planet, making sure the human race has a second chance.
Little over three and a half months of preparation left, then Zero Hour.
After that, the end. And the beginning of something new.
She nods, soberly. "I understand. What can I do to help?"
After that, dinner with members of his team, designated SG-1. His work family, so to speak.
Becky recalls one late night four years ago, when Jack paid an unexpected visit. This must've been what he mentioned without really mentioning, during their informal Q&A session on the couch.
Samantha Carter is amazing. Air Force Major and Doctor of Astrophysics, Jack's 2IC on the team. Beautiful and brilliant.
"Call me Sam, please," she says with a bright grin and twinkling sapphire eyes as she offers her hand.
She raises an eyebrow. "First name or last?"
Jack just shrugs. "Don't look at me. It's a family thing."
Equally impressive is Teal'c, from the planet Chulak. A genuine alien warrior, tall and dark-skinned and built like a linebacker. With a gold mark on his forehead and a grave, courteous manner about him.
"An honor, to meet family of O'Neill," he says in a deep voice. A solemn bow, fist to chest.
"The honor is ours," Becky replies with a bow of her own. She's always thought manners to be important, and her anthropological training's only reinforced that belief.
He gives a small, pleased nod in return.
Jack checks his watch, shaking his head. "Late again," he mutters under his breath. Must be referring to the absent member of their four-person team.
Who arrives in a hurry. "Sorry, Jack. I know I'm late, no need to rag on me about it. I was right in the middle of translating that cuneiform tablet we found on P3O-255 and--"
He stops. Stares straight at her with wide blue eyes. Mouth opening and closing silently.
She stands, her own jaw dropping.
No way. No freaking way.
It can't be him.
Unbelievable. It can't be her.
How is this even possible? What are the odds?
She swallows, pushing up her glasses with a finger. He absently repeats the gesture with his own.
"Becky," he breathes.
And then together, at the same time: "What are you doing here?"
The silence that follows is rich and strange.
Jack asks innocently, "So I take it you two have already met?"
"In Seattle, at a linguistics conference--" she says, her gaze never leaving Daniel's.
"--six years ago. We met in an elevator--"
"--sounds like a cliché I know, but we really did."
"She defended my theories in public from this jerk of a guy--"
"--and he defended me at a party later from advances by the same jerk- what was his name?"
"Sanderson," Daniel says, mouth curving in a wry half-smile. The guy who'd ruined his previous academic career. And inadvertently paved the way for this one.
"Oh god, yeah." She grimaces. "What a cretin. After that we just kinda banded together for the rest of the conference."
The third guy at the table- who must be another uncle, he looks almost exactly like Jack save for the hair- snaps his fingers. "Of course! This must be who you were talking about back then. The archaeologist who gave you the necklace with the hummingbird."
Daniel blinks. "You still have it?"
"Uh-huh. Had a feeling I should bring it with me when we left." Becky pulls the chain out from under her black t-shirt. "Had a feeling I should wear it today, too."
"May I?" Sam tips the pendant up for her and Teal'c to take a closer look. Gold hummingbird dancing amid silver swirls. "Northwest Native American design, right? Very nice."
Teal'c nods his agreement. "Indeed."
Daniel shrugs, self-consciously. "On impulse. Sort of a friendship gift."
"And I gave you that handmade notebook. With the raven on the cover."
He nods. "Which came in handy. I still have it, with my other journals."
"I'm glad." A shy, sweet smile.
"So what happened after that?" Sam asks, clearly charmed by this meet-cute story.
Daniel blinks at her. "What? Oh. We kept in touch. Corresponded by email for a year or so."
Becky nods. "I expected you to visit after that symposium in Denver you mentioned. Only you never showed up. It's like you disappeared completely off the face of the Earth, or something."
"...Which I kinda did for a while," he admits.
"Literally," Jack adds. "After our first gig together offworld. Five years ago."
Becky shoots him a look, as does his twin. "But that must've been not long after--"
"It was," he cuts in, and shares a glance of his own with Daniel that means Don't tell them it was supposed to be a suicide mission.
"I stayed behind on Abdyos, the planet we found on the other side of the Stargate- they've been read in, right?" Jack nods. "There was nothing left for me on Earth, at the time. Or so I thought."
Her delicate shoulders slump. "After that I wondered about you a lot. Where you were, what you were doing. If you were at all happy. If I was ever going to see you again." Slight look of hurt in her eyes.
"I'm so sorry," he says, as gently as he knows how. "I never realized--"
Jack clears his throat. "While all this is fascinating, kids, why don't we save it for another time? Dinner's getting cold and we wouldn't want to miss out on dessert, either. There's a rumor it's chocolate cake."
Becky's eyes light up. "Chocolate? Oooh, yeah."
He beams at her. "That's my girl."
The rest of dinner passes by in a blur, at least for Daniel.
Out of all the people he ever thought to meet in the SGC- at the end of the world, yet- for some reason he hadn't been expecting her.
Although in retrospect he really should've, given the trajectory of her studies at the time and how well their ideas meshed in Seattle. Though the reason why she hadn't been recruited to the program as a linguist before now eludes him.
And hadn't she mentioned her uncles, in Seattle? One a problem-solver, the other an Air Force colonel.
Jack, as it turns out. Of all people.
An amazing coincidence, in a universe full of all manner of amazing things.
Has he been given a chance to work with someone he once thought a kindred spirit?
He certainly hopes so.
Two other stories in my Ad Astra series are referenced in this chapter: Deep at Night and The Coolest Uncles Ever.
Incidentally, pictures of the hummingbird pendant and the raven design on Daniel's journal can be found on my Tumblr blog: https://tanista.tumblr.com/post/185033754325/for-future-reference-and-inspiration
On the whole, people are taking the end-of-the-world thing in a surprisingly calm and civilized manner. Grateful to be someplace where they're sheltered, clothed and fed on a regular basis, even if it's underground. Patiently waiting for someone in authority downstairs to give direction when needed.
Then again, they haven't been briefed yet on the caveat of oh-and-we're-also-evacuating-everyone-soon-to-a-new-planet-through-a-wormhole thing. That should be interesting.
Becky moves along the rows of civilian refugees sheltered on Levels 5-7, one of several assistants to Janet and her crew as they check on everyone's physical and mental needs.
Not much different than what she did as a teenager, really. Volunteer work at the Challengers Club, where many street kids found receiving help marginally more acceptable from a peer than a nosy adult.
She distributes blankets and pillows. Offers water bottles and sandwiches from the small mess on Level 4, which has been dedicated exclusively to feeding the refugees. Looks after small children when parents need a break. Patiently listens to stories of the worsening conditions outside, the trials and tribulations endured to reach here.
And privately counts her blessings on having arrived here with Mac in a timely manner, despite the hardships.
For the past couple weeks Becky's been helping out around the base here and there, sort of an all-purpose assistant. Light duties, nothing too strenuous yet just enough work to make her feel as if she's contributing something to the effort.
"I really wish I could do more, though," she confides to Janet during a break.
"I understand. It's great you want to help out, but you still need to take it easy for a while. Jack always wants to get back in the game as soon as he's patched up, which is never a wise idea in my professional opinion."
"True. He's pretty impatient when it comes to recovering from injuries. Uncle Mac, too."
"I'm not surprised. Based on how patient you were in the infirmary though, you seem to be more sensible in that regard than either of them."
Becky gives a self-depreciating shrug. "I try to be. Sort of runs in the family, my mom was like that. Whenever my uncles got into trouble as kids, as the older sister she always had to pick up the pieces afterwards."
"Bet it happened all the time, knowing Jack," Janet says with a wry smile. "He keeps insisting it's Daniel's fault whenever they get into trouble offworld. Fortunately I know better."
"Somehow I'm not surprised." They share a conspiratorial chuckle.
"Talking about me, ladies?" Jack slouches against a nearby wall, arms folded, mouth turned up in a familiar smirk.
Janet offers him a serene smile. "Actually Becky was just telling me about your sister, Colonel. What brings you up here?"
"Got a permanent assignment for my niece, right up her alley. So is she cleared for duty yet, doc?"
Becky fidgets as Janet studies her, considering. "If the assignment's what I think it is, then I'd say yes. Everything looked good at her last follow-up and she's a whole lot stronger. I don't see why she can't have a full-time duty, provided she doesn't push herself too hard."
"Terrific. C'mon, Beck."
Becky blinks at the colonel and the doctor in confusion. "Um, are you guys sure? I mean, I know you still need help here, Janet. I'd be willing to stick around."
She gives her a reassuring smile and a pat on the arm. "I appreciate your concern, Becky, but we'll be fine. If need be I'll get Cassie to help, she misses talking to kids her own age."
"You could ask Mac to help too," Jack helpfully suggests, "if he can be torn away from meetings about the new settlement or swapping maintenance-related horror stories with Siler. They're becoming fast friends."
Janet cocks her head, smiling faintly. "Good idea."
"I'll pass along the word downstairs. And for the record?" he adds with a faint smirk, "it's Daniel's fault we get into trouble. Every time."
"Whatever you say, Colonel. See you both later." Janet catches Becky's eye and winks.
She returns the wink, noting for future reference the gleam in the doctor's eyes whenever Mac's name is mentioned.
Most intriguing. Wouldn't be bad to have her for an aunt someday. Not bad at all.
Down to Level 11, where with her newly-issued base ID and handprint it's easy to pass the secondary checkpoint and switch to another elevator.
The corridors on Level 18 are bustling with scientists, either working in their labs or chatting in small groups in a lounge area and along the corridors. Jack tenses a bit but she immediately relaxes, finding the eclectic atmosphere of this intellectual oasis amid military drab as familiar as that within the Foundation.
Military officers often came to call at Phoenix, seeking assistance in one classified matter or another. Never anything like this, though. Then again, this was probably even above Pete's clearance, and him Director of Operations.
Jack stops at one particular door. "Keep behind me, willya?"
"It's a surprise."
"You'll see," he replies, tapping a set of numbers on a keypad and grasping the knob. "Hey, Danny. How's tricks?"
Daniel sighs in exasperation. Unbelievable. To think he threw Jack out only a few hours ago (with his destructive yo-yo) and here he comes barging in again, without a shred of contrition.
He really ought to change the code on the keypad, if not for the fact Jack will most likely get Sam to crack it for him anyway.
"Look. Whatever you want, turn around right now and leave. I'm not interested. Got a lot on my plate today, and as usual you're too much of a distraction."
Hand on his heart, Jack adopts an expression of affronted innocence. "Hey, I only came by to offer my help--"
An audible snort from somewhere in his direction. He reaches back, making an odd shushing motion.
Daniel frowns at the unexpected sound, though he agrees with the sentiment. "Help? The last time you were here you broke two tablets and completely upset my cataloging system. Why on earth do you think you can help me this time?"
"Because I have that one thing you really, really, really need. Most of all."
Why does he have to be so infuriating? "What I need is peace and quiet so I can get this done in time. You know we've got a deadline now. I don't need--"
"An assistant?" He reaches behind him, pulls out--
Becky. Who gives a tentative smile and wave. "Um, hi."
"Jack, what is she doing here?"
"I just told you. She's your assistant. Wasn't that what you said you really needed, a few weeks ago?"
"Well, yeah. But I didn't mean--"
Her smile fades. "You don't want me here?"
"No! I mean yes. You're welcome any time. It's just that, um," he adjusts his glasses, as he always does when nervous. "With everything going on I'm afraid I can't spare much time for you, that's all."
"I get it. You don't want me around." Her shoulders slump. A tear trickles down her cheek.
"Easy now, Beck. I'm sure he didn't mean to make you cry," Jack soothes, shooting him a patented glare. "Danny, how could you?"
Daniel looks down at the floor, incapable of meeting the reproach in the eyes of his friend and teammate.
Or the despair in hers. Which shames him all the more.
He's been secretly hoping Becky would help him, so why is he pushing her away like this?
What's wrong with him? What is it about her that's making him so clumsy all of a sudden?
"I, um..." He swallows. "I'm sorry, Becky. I really am. It's just that it's a lot of hard work and you're stil recovering from surgery, so I thought--"
Jack holds up a hand. "Say no more, Danny. Janet cleared her already. She'll be okay as long as she gets a chance to rest every so often. I don't think she'll get in too much trouble among all these books and rocks and whatnot."
"Artifacts," Becky corrects him. "They're artifacts."
"There. See? She knows what she's talkin' about. Why, with any luck she might even help keep you on task," he adds with a perfectly straight face though dark eyes twinkle with humor, "so you don't get distracted reading every book in sight instead of packing them. However," giving his niece a playful nudge, "I can't guarantee that she won't. Never could resist an open book, could ya Beck? Even as a little kid."
She ducks her head, rubbing the back of her neck. "Aw c'mon. Why on earth d'you have to bring that up?"
"Just sayin'. So what's it gonna be, Danny? Ya want her for an assistant or not?"
Jack's right, and he damned well knows it. He really needs one. And Becky's more than qualified, being a linguist in her own right.
She turns her gaze to him, and he finds himself melting at the hope and yearning in her eyes. There's no way he can resist.
"Sure, Becky. I mean, if you really want to."
A relieved grin lights up her face. "I do, Daniel. Thanks."
Jack beams at them. "My work here is done. I'll pass word on to the General, he'll get everything sorted with authorizations and stuff. Now, niece of mine," he adds in a mock-serious tone. "I'm placing my archaeologist under your care. You're responsible for him when we're not on missions. So make sure he remembers to sleep every now and then and actually consumes more than just coffee, take him out for regular walks, pat him on the head when he's been a good boy--"
Daniel sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Seriously, Jack? You make it sound like I'm a dog or something."
"There's an idea. Maybe I oughta find you a collar and leash for missions, we might not get into trouble so often."
Becky rolls her eyes. "Oh for crying out loud, Uncle Jack. That's disgusting. Isn't there someone else you can go pester so we can get some work done?"
"See?" the colonel smirks. "Knew you'd be perfect together. I'll leave you kids to it. Don't have too much fun now, huh?"
The door closes behind him and she sighs in relief. "Sorry about that. He's always been kinda nuts."
He shrugs. "I'm used to it, believe me. He's been that way since the day we met."
"And he's been that way all my life." They share a knowing look of fond exasperation.
"Seriously, I'm glad you're here. I really do need an assistant to deal with all this," he says, gesturing around the cluttered room. "No way I can get it done before time otherwise. We've got our work cut out for us, I'm afraid."
"I don't mind. Anything I can do to help."
An awkward silence follows. They stare at each other, having no idea what to do next.
Finally Becky's mouth curves up in a sly grin. "So, Dr. Jackson. How does it feel to have your crazy theories proven right after all?"
He laughs, the tension draining out of his body. "You know, I've never really had time to think about it much? Pretty good, I guess. You want to have coffee or something before getting started?"
"No, I'm good, thanks," she replies absently, gazing wide-eyed around the room and taking in every detail. "This is an amazing collection. Are all of these artifacts from other planets?"
"Mostly. There are a lot more in storage, of course. But I keep my favorites here. For example, there's this glazed stone bowl from the Selenitic Age of the D'ni people on P4M-724. And these cuneiform tablets from a ruined temple on P3O-255- the Goa'uld must've picked up some Sumerians in Mesopotamia, probably around 4000 BCE. In fact, it's a wonder they managed to hold on to their writing system at all, since it's Goa'uld policy to prohibit literacy and..."
It's like they've picked up exactly where they left off, Daniel thinks.
Only better, as now they can work together as colleagues- even equals, perhaps- as well as friends.
Daniel can tell there's a resemblance between Becky and her uncles, now that he has a basis for comparison. Only it's subtle- the set of the eyes, a certain cocking of the eyebrows, a wry twist to the mouth. A softer touch to the rugged features overall, slightly rounder in the cheeks and chin.
She hasn't changed much, otherwise. Her petite form, maybe a touch shorter even than Janet. The blue eyes a shade lighter than his own, clear winter sky. Hair the color of burnished copper (so it was her he glimpsed on the gurney that day). Her tinkling laugh, her warm, sweet smiles.
Also a dry sense of humor, tempered by slight bashfulness. A lively curiosity and piercing intelligence. A modest, quiet, and courteous nature, which he finds disarming and- ultimately- attractive.
Flash of memory, a view from doorway back in Seattle, watching her neatly sort out papers on a table. Admiring the inner strength and poise which belies her seemingly delicate appearance. The deliberate yet quick movements, reminding him of nothing more than a hummingbird. Which is what inspired him to purchase that pendant in the first place.
Six years ago. He barely remembers who he was back then. Naive certainly. Head in the clouds more often than not, rendering him more preoccupied if not absentminded. Determined to redeem his grandfather's tarnished legacy and build upon it. Possessing the absolute, arrogant, unshakable certainty his unconventional theories would be proven right someday.
Now he wonders how much he's really gained- and lost- due to that same certainty.
Greater knowledge of the universe, more rich and strange than anything ever imagined by a planetbound population. A certain prestige, albeit kept tightly under wraps. Friends and teammates he trusts, closer than family.
But what of the cost?
Without question his standing in the greater academic community, though he counts that as no great loss.
His sanity, a few times. Even his life, though temporarily.
And- yes- love.
Sarah Gardner. Smart, shrewd, passionate. Always mindful of her standing in the academic community. Who loved him once, yet failed to offer support when he needed it most.
Sha're. Sweet, gentle, endlessly patient with his fumbling to adapt to his adopted planet. Met and married by accident, literally. Forever lost to him now.
Would he ever be able to love another as deeply? Or is he destined to be alone for the rest of his life, afraid to open himself to others lest he lose them as well?
All this knowledge of other languages and cultures, and he can't even fathom the depths of his own heart.
Daniel's changed in many ways since she last saw him. Yet in other ways he hasn't.
Gone are the floppy locks, replaced by a shorter style- not military-cut, thank goodness, but flattering enough.
He moves around the lab with grace and confidence now, instead of clumsiness and uncertainty. Shoulders are broader, arms more muscular than she remembers. Both proof of how much training and field experience he's had over the years.
A certain haunted world-weariness hovers about him, she's sorry to note. More lines to his face. A touch of melancholy in his eyes every now and then.
Yet he still retains a sense of wonder at every new discovery, a fierce pride in his work. His unshakable belief that every life matters, his care and concern in doing the right thing. The joy in his voice as he regales her with descriptions of ruins and artifacts found on a multitude of planets throughout the Milky Way.
The connection between them is as strong as ever, she's sure of it.
But the possibility for romance? No. Not gonna happen.
After all, there's nothing special about her. She's too short, too ordinary. Sees the proof all the time in the mirror, for crying out loud. No way he'd find her attractive.
The best she can hope for is a good friendship, which is all she deserves.
Ancient writing is weird, Becky decides.
One day over lunch she admits she's learning Latin for fun, along with Esperanto. A pleasantly surprised Daniel suggests a crash course in Ancient, one of the alien languages they've discovered on quite a few planets. Spoken by the race of the same name who mastered all sorts of high tech and built the Stargate network, before disappearing for reasons currently unknown.
"So you can help with translating," he explains, "while I get on with setting up a catalog template for packing and relocation of every book and artifact to New Earth. Which I should've started a couple weeks ago, to be honest," he admits, slightly abashed.
The glyphs themselves have no correlation to any known Earth languages, but when converted to a Roman alphabet it sounds like medieval Latin with Greek and other stuff thrown in for kicks. And on top of that, different symbols have totally different meanings depending on how they're grouped. Or even how they're oriented- left or right, up or down.
And she thought making connections between ideograms and spoken words in Chinese was challenging.
Or even Basque, the topic of her Master's paper for the conference in Seattle. She's cherished a certain secret suspicion over the years- not one she ever made public, though- that it originated elsewhere, as essentially a language isolate with no connections to anything in the Indo-European phylum. Maybe she ought to ask Daniel if he's encountered it on any other planets yet.
Meanwhile, back to Ancient school.
"This is unlike anything I've ever seen before," Becky confesses one afternoon. "But I think I'm getting the hang of it."
Daniel smiles slightly and leans back against the desk, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'll be the judge of that. You left out one phrase. Translate it and tell me what it means."
She picks up a piece of chalk, tapping it against the blackboard. "Okay. Let's see. It says, 'Huy-Braesealis, astria sto pro oculo prostasía. Quinque pénte puncta energopoiísete.' How's my pronunciation?"
Becky narrows her gaze, frowning slightly in concentration. "Okay. So. Huy-Braesealis- which could be Hy-Brasil, seems out of place here as it belongs to Irish mythology but whatever....Yeah, okay. Got it."
She starts writing: Huy-Braesealis, Star in the Eye for protection. Five points to activate. Sets the chalk down, wiping her hands and steps back to take in the newly translated phrase, bumping into Daniel. "Sorry."
"It's alright. Are you sure that's it?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Let me check." He picks up the chalk, contemplates her work. Lips move silently, which unaccountably sends shivers down her back, thinking of them moving down her body...
Becky gives herself a mental shake. He's a friend and colleague, for crying out loud. Entertaining lascivious notions at this point in time is definitely inadvisable.
Besides, his careful perusal is making her as nervous as an undergrad facing her toughest professor.
Which isn't a fair comparison to Daniel, easily one of the most patient and encouraging teachers she's ever had. Still, the anxiety remains.
"Well," he says at last, "It's mostly right."
"Mostly? What are you talking about? There's no way it could mean anything else, I checked it twice over."
"I'm sure you did. But you see, when grouped another way it could also mean..." He writes in smaller letters, underneath hers: These aren't the droids you're looking for. Move along.
Her brow furrows as she stares first at Daniel, then at the blackboard. Something about that phrase is familiar, but what...?
She groans, slapping her forehead. "From Star Wars, right? Obi-Wan to the Stormtrooper?"
Daniel nods, grinning. "Got it in one. Not bad."
"Unbelievable," she mutters, rolling her eyes. "Obviously Uncle Jack's been a bad influence on you. Maybe next time I should just put in a quote from Raiders of the Lost Ark or one of the other Indiana Jones movies at random and see if you can spot it."
"Too bad I left my bullwhip at home," he quips, eyes twinkling. "Seriously, your translation's well done. You've picked Ancient up faster than I thought you would."
The tension eases, replaced by a warm sensation in her chest at the praise. "Don't know why. It's weird, but it also makes a lot of sense to me, for some reason. So does that mean I've earned my coffee break, boss?"
He chuckles. "Sure. My treat."
One day stacks of folders appear as if by magic in Mac and Becky's quarters, a disconcerting reminder of how little privacy they truly enjoy on the base.
Something for you guys to take a gander at, reads a yellow post-it affixed to the top of one pile. Hope it doesn't give you nightmares. See me or the rest of the team if you have any questions. --Jack
SG-1's mission reports.
Mac shakes his head over the contents as he leafs through them, mutters about an overly-curious vacuum salesman he once met and if he'd been one of those aliens in disguise.
For her part if she hadn't already seen the Stargate with her own eyes she'd consider it fiction on par with any of her favorite literary sci-fi series. Truly amazing stuff.
Nevertheless, she does have some questions. Especially for Daniel.
"So how many times have you died, exactly?"
Daniel frowns, setting his coffee cup down on the worktable. "I was afraid this would come up sooner or later. Jack gave you our mission reports, didn't he?"
"Certainly makes for fascinating bedtime reading," Becky notes dryly. "Action-packed. Hair-raising."
"Yeah, I bet. Honestly, most days I try really hard not to think about it. Wasn't fun, I can tell you that much."
"Sorry. It's just that I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it. I mean, you look so healthy and everything. And I have a ton of questions. Did you really lose consciousness? How did you come back to life? What were you thinking when you risked your life in the first place? Did you ever stop to consider the pain you put Jack and the others through?"
He sighs in exasperation and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Look, I'm not comfortable answering your questions right now. Can't this wait for a more appropriate time?"
But it's a subject she's been curious about for a while, ever since Mac had a near-death experience of his own around the time Harry died. And since reading about Daniel's (or whatever they were) in the mission reports the questions would not leave her alone. So she presses on. "Did you see the proverbial bright light? Or an angel, at least? What did you see? Is there any sort of afterlife?"
"Becky, that's enough!" he snaps, slamming the book on the worktable. "Please stop asking, okay? I'd rather not talk about it. I mean it."
She winces at his tone, much sharper than usual. "Right. Sorry," she says, feeling a flush come to her cheeks. "I, um... Yeah. I'm really sorry."
An awkward silence follows, with neither willing to meet the other's eyes. Tension stretches between them, making her extremely uncomfortable. She hates conflict of any kind, especially when she's the one causing it.
Sometimes she's too curious for her own good. Why can't she learn when to shut up?
Yet to her horror she finds herself talking despite everything. "Look, the reason why I'm asking is that--"
A short jolt, followed by a series of strong, sharp shakes.
Heart pounding, Becky's eyes widen, dart frantically around the room.
Oh god-Oh god-Oh god. Not again-Not again-Not again!
"Becky, you okay?"
She's finding it hard to breathe. Knows she needs to move but can't even lift her feet off the ground--
Nowhere to run, the landslide of rock and dust and debris smothering her, leaving no way out--
"Becky, snap out of it! Let's get somewhere safe." Daniel seizes her shoulders, pulling her along with him until they reach the large office desk in the corner, doging falling objects along the way. He urges her, gently but firmly, underneath. Safest place to be as any, while the shaking continues.
Books slap against the concrete floor, pottery shatters on contact. She peeks outside at the damage, utters a quiet moan and scoots further from the opening, almost colliding with Daniel who makes a soft "oof" at the impact.
"It's okay." Automatically his left arm curves around her, pulling her close. Given their heated discussion a couple minutes ago she half expects him to flinch from the contact but he doesn't.
"I'm so sorry about before. I didn't mean to bring up any unpleasant memories, really I didn't--"
A long finger against her lips. "Ssssh. I know."
The shaking continues.
Her heart speeds up with a flash of memory. The L.A. Basin sinking before her eyes, the ocean inexorably filling the absence.
Not that it could happen here. But there's this short story she remembers of a sizeable chunk of the Midwest slipping down on a heretofore minor fault line to create a third shining sea in the middle of the country...
Becky whimpers. She doesn't want to be buried alive again, with the earth covering her and the cold and the pain and the dark and oh god-oh god-oh god...
"Easy now. Relax. I'm right here. I've got you." Daniel's voice is soft. He strokes her hair, tentatively at first than with growing surety. "Everything will be alright, hummingbird."
What did he just call her? Hummingbird? Why on earth...?
Of course. The pendant.
He murmurs soothing words in other languages, patiently calming her fears. Gentle and strong at the same time.
She nestles closer against his chest, rubbing her cheek against the soft cotton of his t-shirt. Green and black, reminiscent of the journal she gave him.
He smells really nice, too. Leather and books and what Becky can only define as home.
And a heartbeat as steady and reassuring as that of her uncles.
Who cares how many times he's died, really? Or what happened to him? He's here now. Warm and alive. So alive.
The tremor finally ends but she's reluctant to break the spell. As is Daniel, judging by the sudden speculative expression on his face. He reaches out a long finger to caress hers before turning it up to meet his gaze.
God, he has the most beautiful eyes. Like the ocean. Empathetic yet intense at the same time.
What could he possibly see in hers?
"My hummingbird," he whispers, carefully cupping her cheek in one hand.
"My raven," she breathes, quivering at the flame his touch sends through her body.
He leans even closer, those full lips a mere breath away from hers--
No, a voice of caution whispers from within. Not yet.
Becky pulls away, flushing. "We should probably get out from under here, huh?"
He smiles sadly, shadow of regret in his eyes. "Guess so."
They emerge from under the desk, noting the mess before them with dismay.
"No help for it," Becky sighs. "I'll see about getting a broom and dustpan from the custodial closet down the hall."
"Good idea. I'll see what's still intact. Or at least salvageable."
Cleanup takes a while. Picking up books and scattered papers. Assessing damaged artifacts, several of which are either put in a bin for a later attempt at restoration or reluctantly find their way to the wastebasket.
Becky empties the dustpan one last time and sighs. Finally the lab is back to normal, more or less. "Well, that was fun. Sure hope it doesn't happen again anytime soon, though. Otherwise there won't be much left to take with us."
He chuckles, patting her on the shoulder. "Me, too. Why don't we go see if the mess is reopened? We can even find out if there's news about the quake."
"Yeah, that sounds real good right now. And, um, Daniel?"
"You know," she begins, hoping to god she's not making things worse. "If eventually you do want to talk about your experiences or anything else, I'm more than willing to listen."
He shakes his head. "I appreciate what you're offering, Becky, I really do. But I'm not sure I ought to burden you with my problems--"
"Hey. We're friends, right?" She reaches out before he can turn away, gently clasping his arm. He's surprised, but makes no move to shake her off. "All I'm saying is, if you want to just talk, I'm here. Let me share the load. Please. It's what friends do for each other."
For a while he stares at her, considering. Then smiles faintly, giving her a tentative nod in return. "I might just take you up on that offer someday. Thanks."
"You're welcome." She meets his eyes, feeling the connection between them grow stronger with every minute. Along with a mutual attraction.
Her gut feeling is right, though. Now's not the time to act on it. Not yet, anyway.
First coffee, then back to work.
They have a deadline to meet, after all.
Bonus points awarded to whomever recognizes the reference to a certain groundbreaking, puzzle-solving computer game from the '90s.
My excerpt of the Ancient language is a mixture of Latin and Greek, with thanks to Google Translate.
Also blink-and-you'll-miss-it references to two MacGyver episodes, S06 E10 "The Visitor" and S05 E21, "Passages."
The short story Becky mentions is the future/alternate history “The Great Nebraska Sea” by Allan Danzig, originally printed in 1963 in the magazine Galaxy Science Fiction (viewable at https://archive.org/stream/Galaxy_v21n06_1963-08#page/n15/mode/1up) and in the Armageddons anthology by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. A fun read, surprisingly.
MacGyver's never cared much for the military, despite his brother's involvement.
When his number came up for Vietnam he seriously considered slipping across the border into Canada, easy to do in a northern-tier state like Minnesota. He's always been more of a pacifist anyway, and the accident with Jesse convinced him further guns only contribute to the world's problems, not solve them.
Harry had also, however, instilled in his grandsons the importance of service towards family and country, so with great reluctance Mac accepted the draft. In the Army he managed- through raw technical talent, knowledge, and a certain amount of luck- to get assigned to bomb disposal instead of a regular combat unit.
Funny how that experience came in handy later on, in his rather atypical line of work.
For his brother's part, Jack cherished a dream since childhood to follow in their biological father's footsteps as a fighter pilot. To the point of applying for the Air Force academy using O'Neill as a last name, instead of their stepfather's.
After Harry left for Alaska a haphazard combination of punishments and rewards from Mom (when she could spare time from the coffee shop) and Allison prevailed at home, making for some very mixed signals. It came as no real surprise Jack eagerly embraced the structure and discipline the service offered. Military life suits him, even with his casual, irreverent attitude.
So here he is at the end of the world, living in quarters for civilian personnel at Jack's current posting.
Four years his brother's had this whole other life, and Mac never had an inkling. Though to be fair in the past he never told Jack about his own unusual missions for Phoenix, either.
But now that he and Becky have been welcomed in and largely healed of their injuries, they're both determined to make themselves useful.
Mac's finding plenty to keep himself occupied.
"So you actually had to create an electric arc welder in the middle of the Brazilian rain forest?"
Siler's voice is muted, his head in the guts of the mechanism he's repairing on Level 8.
Mac leans against the concrete wall. He likes hanging around with this guy, who knows his way around all kinds of machines and repair jobs. "Yeah. See, this was on an isolated farm and the irrigation pump was on its last legs 'cause the piston was busted."
"No welding equipment on site?"
"There was, but the acetylene gas for the tanks had run out. So I hooked up jumper cables from a truck to one of their generators and used a couple 50-cent coins from my pocket to make an electric arc welder. Then I welded the piston back together 'til it was good as new, or until they could replace it, anyway."
"Huh. ...Mind getting me the socket wrench?" Mac reaches into the toolbox on his right, hands it to Siler. "Thanks. Bet they were grateful."
"Yeah, I guess. Though the next day the owner and I faced a massive horde of soldier ants headed straight towards the farm, eating everything in their path. I'm talking millions of 'em. We finally saved the farm by flooding the ants away."
"By blowing up the dam?"
"Yeah. Even that was a heck of a challenge, since we first had to drive unstable dynamite up a rocky road to get there in the first place."
"Colonel O'Neill likes blowing things up too," Siler says thoughtfully. "Though usually he prefers C4 instead."
Mac grimaces. "Yeah, he would. Always liked to make a big mess of things as a kid."
The chief technician chuckles as he pulls away from the machine. "We had an infestation of bugs in the base too, not that long ago- well, sort of bugs. Nasty machines called Replicators, consuming and assimilating every piece of technology in their path. God help you if you get in their way."
Mac raises his eyebrows. "Machine insects? No foolin'?"
"Nope. Took the Colonel and his team to stop 'em before they could wreak any more havoc."
"My brother? Really?"
Siler rummages in his toolbox. "Oh, yeah. He's not like some spit-and-polish, by-the-book officers I've served under but let me tell you, he's damn good at what he does. Got lots of stories I could tell you about him and SG-1. Maybe not every little detail, but word does get around the base pretty quick. Dammit."
"What's the matter?"
"Thought I had a couple spare fuses in here. I'll have to go get some, but the storeroom's at least six levels down and my work schedule's pretty full today."
"Sorry to hear that." Mac sticks his hands in the pocket of his leather jacket, frowns and pulls out a wrapped stick of chewing gum. "Wonder how that got in there. You wanna split it?"
"Not while I'm on duty. Thanks anyway."
"No problem." Mac pops the stick into his mouth, folds the wrapping paper into a neat rectangle with the metallic side out. "Here. You might be able to bypass the fuse for a while with this, or at least until you have the time to replace it properly."
Siler examines the paper dubiously. "Sure it'll work?"
"Should have enough metal on it to act as a conductor. Couldn't hurt, right?"
After a moment of consideration Siler shrugs, reaches into the machine, affixing the wrapping paper between the wires in lieu of a replacement fuse. "Just so you know," he warns, closing the casing. "I'll try anything once but the General will have my hide if this doesn't work and the base blows up or whatever."
"I'll take full responsibility. Fire it up already."
The machine hums in contentment, everything in order. Right down to the makeshift fuse.
"Well, if that don't beat the band, as my grandma used to say," the technician says, shaking his head in amazement. "Thanks for the assist, Mac."
"My pleasure. Say," Mac nods over at the unusual machines sitting nearby. "Do you know anything about those? Don't think I've ever seen anything with that weird gray metallic sheen before."
Siler glances over his shoulder. "What, those? They're naquadah generators."
Mac raises an eyebrow. "Nock-what?"
"Naquadah. It's the most valuable mineral in the galaxy. The Stargate's made from the stuff. The Goa'uld use it for ther technology. Asgard, too."
Mac shakes his head. "Robotic bugs and alien minerals. Just when I think I'm getting used to this place I come across something even weirder."
Siler chuckles. "I know how you feel. Never a dull moment around here, that's for sure."
"So what makes this...naquadah so valuable, then?"
"Apparently it's stable enough for a lot of high-energy applications, or so Major Carter says. She's the expert around here. You oughta ask her if you're interested."
"I might just do that. Whoops," Mac catches the time on his watch. "Better get going. Time for another settlement meeting, then I'm helping with the refugees upstairs. We'll swap more stories later, okay?"
"Sure thing, Mac," Siler says with a grin as they shake hands. "Just between us? You're a lot more fun to be around than the Colonel. You've got better stories."
Mac chuckles. "My lips are sealed. See you later, Sly."
Establishing a new settlement takes a significant amount of planning and forethought, even in so short a time frame. Also a lot of just plain talking.
Every aspect's considered and debated before agreement. Buildings and housing, food allocation and production, distribution of resources, sustainability measures, waste management, power generation.
As the committee chair, Dr. Elizabeth Weir moderates the discussions with diplomacy and tact, using the same grace and aplomb as she had at the U.N. She's particularly adept at keeping egos out of the decision making, otherwise Mac's sure they'll be arguing until Zero Hour itself with very little accomplished.
In addition, Weir's encouraged a collaborative approach to problem-solving, one he approves. All sorts of ideas are welcome into the mix, no matter how odd. Mac's not sure whether it's out of desperation or merely a desire to start a self-sustaining colony in the best and most efficient manner possible.
Naturally he hopes for the latter.
One of his own ideas is already being implemented, to his surprise. All manner of items are being gathered in before outside conditions turn even worse from a variety of sources- military supply depots, the Army & Air Force Exchange, even four-person salvaging teams (much like Gate recon, a refinement suggested by Jack) scouring the supermarkets and stores of Colorado Springs and environs.
Practical things, mostly. Fruit, vegetable and herb seeds. Gardening and hand tools. Clothing and practical shoes. Foodstuffs not already picked over by scavengers. Combs and toothbrushes. Maybe even knitting needles and yarn, for all he knows. Anything that might remotely be useful, packed and immediately sent through the Gate, stored in warehouses as fast as Major Alvarez and his team can build them.
Also books. From the Air Force Academy library, the Colorado Springs Public Library system and any bookstores in between that haven't already been looted for fuel.
Fiction for entertainment, along with a ton of non-fiction. Texts in every scientific subject along with how-tos on gardening, woodworking, handicrafts and herbal remedies, among others.
Whatever's necessary for people to thrive- not merely survive- on New Earth.
The salvaging was actually one of Becky's suggestions, especially the books. He likes to get her input on ideas. She actually has several, thanks to the sci-fi stories she's read.
"They're important for a civilization," she insists one night while sitting cross-legged on her bed, translating work spread out before her (a bunch of weird-looking lines and spots to him). "We need all the help we can get, in order to avoid any dark ages for future generations. Why deprive them of the knowledge we've gained over the centuries?"
"Isn't that kinda putting the cart before the horse, Beck?" he jokes. "Seems a little soon to be thinking that far ahead."
"Never too early to plan for the future, Unc," she soberly replies. "Not if we're to have any sort of a chance."
If there's anything Becky's inherited from her mom it's the gift of anticipation. Seeing solutions to problems before they even happen.
These days he's taking her advice seriously, more so the closer it gets to Zero Hour.
She's right. They really do need all the help they can get.
"MacGyver? Can I ask you a question?" Cassandra Fraiser comes up to him after he teaches a group of kids how to do a cat's cradle and other string tricks. Hard to believe she's actually from another planet, she's so much like the other kids.
"Sure, Cassie. What is it?"
"Do you have any girlfriends?"
He blinks. Rather forward, but maybe where she's from that's normal.
"Well, no. I've had girls who were friends, but no real girlfriends." Not exactly, anyway. Whatever he had with Nikki was more on-again, off-again than anything. Never could tell where he stood with her.
"Don't know, exactly. Guess I've been too busy."
"Do you like my mom?"
"Yeah. I like her a lot. She's really nice."
"You think she's pretty?"
His gaze strays to Janet. There's something about her compassion, her kindness, and her dedication that really appeals to him. Not to mention a playful sense of humor.
"Yeah, I do. Real pretty."
A wide grin spreads across Cassie's face. It's easy to see why she's considered the SGC's unofficial mascot (though Jack jokingly asserts it's really Daniel, to the archaeologist's chagrin). "Good. She likes you a lot too. She thinks you're really smart and handsome."
"She does?" For some reason it never occurred to him the interest's mutual. How about that.
"Cassie," Janet chides gently as she approaches them, "stop bothering him. Go help Sergeant White pass out those sandwiches, okay?"
"Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Mac." A glimmer of mischief in the girl's eyes tells him she's far from sorry, though. Maybe she believes she's playing matchmaker.
"Sorry about that. I've told her before it's rude to ask personal questions." Janet watches with a fond smile as her adopted daughter accepts a tray from the mess sergeant.
"It's okay," he says. "She wasn't bothering me at all. You've got a good kid there."
"Thanks." A pleasing floral scent under the antiseptics as she leans in close. "Jack and his team brought her back from Hanka- that's what her people called P8X-987," she says quietly. "The sole survivor of a civilization devastated by plague. Scared out of her mind."
"Hard to believe, she's so bright and cheerful now."
"Sam really wanted to care for her but she didn't have the time with her duties. And there's no question of anyone off base adopting her, so I volunteered."
"You're doing a really good job as her mom."
Janet flushes slightly at the praise. "They're pretty resilient if you give them enough love and reassurance. Becky must've been the same, after she lost her family."
"Yeah, which still amazes me even now. She's been quite the trooper all these years. Gotta admit I'm the one who needed the reassurance more, though."
"Jack's told me how impressed he was that you'd agreed to become her guardian back then, considering the nature of your work for the Phoenix Foundation. You must've done something right yourself."
Mac gives an offhanded shrug. "Just did my best, that's all. Guess that's all any parent can do, right? Love them no matter what, hope for the best, and trust they can take care of themselves when the time comes."
"You're right. Would you like to talk about this further over dinner? Compare notes on being adoptive parents?" Janet tilts her head up to stare at him, a speculative look in her eyes making his heart skip a beat.
She really is gorgeous, he thinks. Smart as a whip, too.
And she likes him. A lot.
He's always been wary of relationships, past experience can attest to that. Though lately he's been wondering if it's just plain fear of the unknown that makes him reluctant to take the chance.
What the heck. It's the end of the world, right? Anything can happen.
Maybe it's finally time to let go of that fear.
"Yeah," he says. "I'd really like that."
"Naquadah's a stable mineral ore, similar to quartz," Sam says. "Used in a wide variety of applications from generating limitless amounts of clean energy to very powerful weapons."
"Like atomic energy, in a way," Mac says thoughtfully, idly toying with a chunk of that same alien material. "Potential for both creation and destruction. Is it radioactive?"
"Why, no. Millions of neutrinos coming from nuclear reactions in the Sun pass through our bodies every day without ill effects. Their interaction with human tissue is next to zero. All other charged particles like electrons and protons do interact and in sufficient quantities can be quite harmful."
Mac nods. "Siler says that the Stargate and those generators on Level 8 are made of this stuff. How does that work?"
"In its refined state the naquadah in Stargates, for example, only reacts with neutrinos--"
"--Electrically neutral particles, right?"
She gives him an odd look but continues. "The naquadah converts and stores neutrino energy, effectively functioning as a superconductor."
"And since neutrinos aren't affected by the electromagnetic forces that act on electrons--"
"--They can therefore pass through great distances and even matter without noticeable effect. The energy's stored within a crystal lattice structure built into each Stargate..." She pauses, tilting her head at him curiously. "You know, you're nothing like the Colonel."
"In what way?"
"Every time I try to explain anything related to my work his eyes glaze over. You're actually interested in this."
Mac chuckles. "Yeah. Jack never had much interest in science growing up, even though he was good enough at math to get into the Air Force. I was the one who loved chemistry and engineering, enough to get a bachelor's in college."
"Really? Where at?"
"Impressive. Had you thought of getting a Ph.D.?”
"Nah. My mentor offered a fellowship, but I'd realized by that time academia just wasn't for me. I really liked the hands-on stuff but never had much patience with the mountain of paperwork that goes with it. Or the politics."
"Now that," she says dryly, "sounds a lot like the Colonel."
Mac chuckles. "Yeah, some things run in the family, I guess. So what's it like working with my brother?"
"He's a really good commander. His tactical ability's second to none and he always makes sure the mission's carried out to the best of our abilities, even when it goes off course. He looks out for everyone- not only on his team but also anyone who needs our help..." Her voice falters. "Oh. You're not asking about in the field, are you?"
"No, but I get what you're saying. He was like that growing up, too. Always took the lead, captain of the sports teams at school, that kinda thing. Me, I just wanted to stay in my workshop, do experiments and invent stuff."
Sam nods in understanding. "My brother Mark and I were like that, in a way."
"Is he here on base?"
A shadow crosses over her face. "No. He was in San Diego with his family when the Big Quake happened."
"Sorry to hear that." An awkward silence follows. "So. You like my brother?"
"Why, yes. He's not only a fine officer but a good man. I trust him with my life."
"Good. He likes you, too. A lot."
She blinks in surprise. "Oh. Well, that's good to hear. I guess."
Another silence. He's really not good with small talk, much less regarding his own family.
Best to change the subject to something they can both relate to. "I notice you're working on some kind of sensor drone over there." He gestures towards a nearby worktable, cluttered with components.
"Yeah, I am." She seems relieved. "It's an in-depth, portable long-range array for use on New Earth. The crystals and circuit boards are working within their specs, but I'm worried about the load tolerances."
"Let me have a look." Mac frowns in thought, tapping a finger against his lips as he examines the array. "Maybe add a couple more resistors to the circuit boards, and attach this wire over here instead of there."
Sam's eyes light up. "Of course! And if we relocate this crystal to that quadrant it should balance the load more efficiently." She makes the adjustments and consults a meter. "That's much better. Thanks."
"No problem. Anything else I can do to help, while I'm here?"
She flashes him a bright grin. "I got a few other projects going, if you don't mind sticking around."
"Hey, there you are! Just the guy I'm lookin' for."
Jack comes up behind Mac in the corridor, balancing a meal tray in each hand. "Here, take one," practically pushing a tray into his hands. "They're gettin' heavy."
"Jack, what's going on? Why am I carrying this?"
"Becky and Daniel didn't show up at lunch. It's up to us to make sure they don't starve to death." He sounds positively gleeful.
"Wouldn't it be easier to just pick them up and drag them with us to the mess?"
"Easier, yeah." Jack flashes a wicked grin. "But not nearly as much fun. You'll see."
Mac spares a glance at the airmen following behind. One struggling with a folding table, another with two chairs in either hand, and a third bringing up the rear with a folded blue tablecloth and basket of condiments. "Seems excessive."
"You don't know the Spacemonkey." Apparently his brother's nickname for Jackson. "Once he gets immersed in a project he rarely comes up for air. I'm doing this for the good of the team." Sounds like a conscientious leader but there's no mistaking the mischievous glint in his brother's eyes.
Balancing his tray in one hand, Jack taps out a code on the keypad and opens the door with a flourish.
Mac's been in the lab before. He still carries a fondness for archaeology in his heart and Daniel's stories are always fascinating. He's glad Becky's found a place as his assistant.
They're huddling in front of the computer, heads close together. The archaeologist nods and types while she leans over his left shoulder, murmuring in his ear and gesturing at something on the screen. Comfortable in each other's presence.
Which comes to no surprise to Mac, really. From the moment they saw each other he could tell they were kindred spirits.
"Okay, campers! Chow time!"
Without even looking away from the screen Becky sticks up her index finger in Jack's direction. "Hold on. We're almost done here."
He blinks, nonplussed by the use of his trademark gesture. "Beck..."
Daniel swivels in the chair, raises a warning eyebrow. "Jack..."
Jack narrows his eyes. "Daniel."
Becky frowns. "Seriously?"
Mac has the strangest feeling a lot more is being said. "Um, guys?"
"Mac..." Jack smirks in his direction.
"Jack..." Darn it, now he's doing it too.
Finally Daniel sighs, rubbing his forehead. "Look, we really are almost done. Why are you both here?"
"Dinner delivery," Jack replies, finally waving the airmen inside with the table and chairs. "Since you guys skipped lunch and all."
Becky glances at the clock and groans. "Oh, god. We did, didn't we? Time flies when we're having fun, I guess."
"It does, doesn't it." Daniel winks at her. She ducks her head, a slight pink tinting her cheeks.
"I couldn't call out for pizza," Jack continues, "so this is the next best thing. Hey, if you guys can't come to the meal, the meal comes to you, right?"
"Isn't that supposed to be Mohammed and the mountain?" Becky asks, a wry twist to her lips.
"Comes from Essays, by the English philosopher Frances Bacon," Daniel supplies. "In German, the phrase translates as 'Wenn der Berg nicht zu Mohammed kommt, wird Mohammed zum Berg gehen'. Although there's also a Turkish version that only refers to a mountain and not Mohammed at all--"
Jack waves him silent. "Sheesh Danny, enough with the lecture already! Come and sit, both of you." The table's ready by this time in a corner of the room- tablecloth, chairs and all. He sets his tray down, motions Mac to do the same.
Becky and Daniel share a long-suffering look. "We'd better do what he says," she sighs, "otherwise we'll never hear the end of it."
"You're right." A corner of his mouth quirks up. "Remind me to tell you about a feast we attended on P2Y-724. They roasted this huge ox-like beast, and as the guests of honor we were offered a certain male part of its anatomy as a delicacy. Sam, Teal'c and I tasted it and had no problems with it, but Jack took one bite and turned a fascinating shade of red--"
"Oh for crying out loud," Jack grumbles, leaning against a desk. "Sit down already, willya? Food's getting cold."
Becky and Daniel share a glance and snicker as they comply.
Yeah, definitely kindred spirits.
"Well, that was fun," Jack says fifteen minutes later, balancing a stack of empty trays and dishes in his hands. "You wanna join the rest of us for dinner?"
"Can't, sorry. Janet invited me to eat with her tonight."
His brother's eyebrows rise almost to his hairline. "You and Janet, huh? Our very own Napoleon-in-high-heels? Well, well, well."
Mac rolls his eyes. "She's not that bad. We get on okay. Cassie, too."
"Brown-noser," Jack sniffs. "Just you wait 'til you have to suffer the doc's tender mercies after getting injured on a mission. Big honkin' needles, I'm tellin' ya."
"Maybe it's because you ignore her advice and suffer for it later on. You ain't getting any younger, you know."
"Neither are you. So tell me, when are you gonna stop using that hair dye?"
Mac rolls his eyes. "Jack..."
"Kidding. So, you and Janet, huh? That's terrific. Hafta say I was beginning to worry. A bachelor at your age, imagine."
"Like you're one to talk. How about you and Sam? Don't think I haven't noticed the way you've been making eyes at each other."
To his utter surprise Jack turns scarlet. "Don't tell anyone else, okay? I mean it."
He thinks about the surprise on Sam's face when he mentioned how much Jack likes her and hides a smile. "Sure."
He's learning a lot about his brother lately. More than he ever expected.
It's funny, but in some ways Mac understands him better now than he ever did growing up.
Guess anything's possible, at the end of the world.
References to S05 E19, "Menace" (messing with the timeline a bit, had to give Siler a good story to share with Mac, after all) and S01 E15, "Singularity." Also to S01 E06 of MacGyver, "Trumbo's World."
The explanation of naquadah comes from the Stargate Wiki, an invaluable writer's resource: http://stargate-sg1-solutions.com/wiki/Naquadah
Less than a month to Zero Hour. The pace is picking up at an appreciable rate.
Crates and boxes of all sizes are piling up in the corridors. Acquired alien tech and Sam's adaptations. Biological and geological samples from government and academic research labs around town, for posterity. Weapons and ammunition. Computer banks and electrical components.
More mundane items are included- furniture and linens, batteries and light bulbs, kitchen utensils and spare uniforms. Right down to the merest paperclips lingering in the bottom drawer of General Hammond's desk, which will also in turn be moved to New Earth.
Anything that can be scavenged from around the base and potentially put to use in the settlement. No detail too small to be overlooked at this point, thanks to Becky's insight and Mac's suggestions to the planning committee.
Everyone's willing to lend a hand, even Jack (despite the odd grumble about the state of his knees) and Teal'c, who stoically bears his burdens without a word of complaint.
For their part Becky and Daniel have been working round the clock as it is, cataloging artifacts and reference materials before carefully filling crates later carted off by airmen and added to the piles.
Everything patiently awaiting transfer through the Gate to New Earth.
Which she has yet to do herself, as it happens.
She's curious about Gate travel, of course. Anyone working at the base not part of the regular teams or on site at New Earth would surely have to be.
So she asks around. Sam explains Einstein-Rosen bridges and quantum entanglement. Jack compares it to a roller coaster. Master Sergeant Harriman (affectionately nicknamed Walter the Gatekeeper) in the control room shares anecdotes about entrances and- especially when SG-1's involved- dramatic exits.
Despite being armed with such knowledge the very thought continues to make Becky nervous. She has no idea why.
During one break time she decides to head down to Level 28. Just to take a closer look.
Blue-white light shimmers over personnel hefting items of all shapes and sizes through the Gate.
Keeping close to the walls Becky sidles around until she finds a clear view, a safe distance away from the action.
"Hell of a thing, ain't it," a young black Marine comments next to her. He glances down, blinks in surprise. "Oh. Pardon my language, ma'am. Thought you were someone else."
"No problem," she replies with a smile. "Incredible, isn't it? One step through and you're on another planet."
"Sure is," he replies. "Must be quite a rush."
"Perkins," a deep voice growls. "You're not supposed to be fraternizing with civilians while on duty."
"Sorry, sir," Perkins mutters, abashed.
A tow-headed man of medium height with a cold expression and almost colorless eyes scowls down at her. "I'm Lieutenant Norris. This is a restricted level. Who are you? How did you get down here?"
"I'm Dr. Grahme. I'm a linguist and work here, in the labs," she explains. His glare's really unnerving. "Just wanted to take a closer look."
"I don't believe you. You should be back upstairs with the other refugees. Perkins, help me escort her."
"With all due respect sir," Perkins protests, "I don't really think--"
"You disobeying a direct order, Corporal?" Norris grabs her arm, not gently by any means.
She struggles to free herself. "Let go of me!"
"Ease up, Lieutenant," a voice drawls behind them. "Does she really look like a threat?"
Perkins and the other Marines immediately straighten and salute, Norris a bare second behind. "Major Sheppard, sir."
"At ease." A hawkish face and short dark hair with distinctly non-regulation cowlicks, which reminds her of Mac's old mullet style back in the day. Casual, easygoing way about him. "But let go of her first, okay?"
The lieutenant does, with reluctance. She grimaces as she rubs her arm, sure a bruise is forming under her shirt.
The major's hazel eyes appraise her. "Hey, you're looking a lot better than the last time I saw you. How're you feeling?" He gives her a lazy wink as if saying, Play along.
"I'm good, thanks. And you?" she replies, wondering why this stranger would presume such familiarity when she's certain they've never met before.
"Never better." His smile's both playful and dangerous. Makes her wonder if it's something Air Force officers are trained to deploy when necessary, since Jack has his own version.
Norris frowns. "Major, I've never seen her here before. She can't possibly be authorized for clearance. Probably one of the civilian refugees from upstairs."
"Oh come now, Lieutenant," he chides. "With all the checkpoints and guards around you know that's not likely. I've seen her around, she works with Dr. Jackson." With a finger he tips her ID badge up into the light of the event horizon. "See? She's got clearance and everything. Now why don't we all take it easy. Or," he adds with a raised eyebrow, "should we ask Colonel O'Neill for clarification?"
Norris tenses, his eyes flicking to the badge before traveling up and down her body in a way that turns her stomach. "No, sir. Didn't notice before. Sorry, sir."
"And...?" Sheppard cocks his head towards her expectantly.
"Sorry...ma'am." No trace of genuine contrition in his eyes.
"Come on," her rescuer says, gently grasping her elbow and steering her away. "You can get a better look over here."
Becky risks a look back. Norris is still frowning in her direction. "That guy gives me the creeps."
"Sorry about that. Things may be crazier than normal but that's no excuse for the way he was treating you. Feel like filing a complaint with his Captain?"
"No, not really. As you say, things are pretty crazy and I don't want to make a fuss." She tilts her head up to look at him. Why is it all the good-looking guys have to be so darn tall? "Um, sorry for asking, but do I know you?"
He flashes a charming smile. A twinkle of mischief in his gaze intrigues her. "In a way. I was one of the helicopter pilots when Colonel O'Neill rescued you and your other uncle after the landslide."
"Oh. Well, thanks a lot. And for rescuing me just now, too."
"No problem." Offers his hand. "Call me John."
"Becky. Nice to meet you." No spark like what she feels with Daniel, but there's a solid, friendly feeling about him nonetheless. Like her older brother Chris, maybe.
Sheppard slouches against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest. Becky follows suit, albeit with more uncertainty.
At length the last of the personnel and materials pass through the Gate before it reaches its time limit and automatically deactivates, leaving an empty circle. The platoon stands down with a word from Norris.
"It's something else, isn't it?" John says. "The Ancients must've been pretty remarkable, to figure out how to build a wormhole network that spans the galaxy."
"Yeah, they were," she says, thinking of the simple yet simultaneously complex nature of their language. "Have you been through yet?"
"Not yet. Wonder what it's like."
"Not a clue. Guess we'll all find out soon enough, once the evacuations start."
"Yeah. What do you think you'll do, over there?"
"I've heard they've been developing a new kind of fighter at the Alpha site, one that can go into space. Hopefully I'll get assigned there, 'cause they really need pilots."
"I take it you can fly more than just helicopters?"
"Oh, yeah." There's that twinkle in his eyes again. "Best thing in the world. Nothing like it." He checks his watch. "Whoops, gotta go on duty soon. Nice to meet you, Becky. See you around."
"Nice to meet you too, John."
He gives her a cheeky wink and saunters off.
"New friend?" Daniel comes up behind her, hands casually in pockets.
"I think so. One of the pilots on the SAR team with Jack. He just helped me out of a tussle with that lieutenant over there," gesturing towards the platoon lined up against the opposite wall.
He frowns. "Norris. I've heard of him. Always harasses civilians like us, for some reason. Maybe I should have a word with Jack."
"I guess. There's something about him that makes my flesh crawl." She shudders. "Kinda like Sanderson, you know?"
The frown morphs into a grimace. "Yeah, I see it now. What are you doing away from the lab, anyway?"
"Taking a break. I left a note on your desk."
"I've been busy with briefings. So why here?"
She shrugs. "Wanted a closer look at the Gate. Those Ancients certainly built to last, didn't they. Considering how old it is, I mean."
He glances at the Gate, a funny half-smile on his face. "They certainly did. Let's get back to the lab, okay? We have a few more crates to finish packing this afternoon."
She's certain the colorless eyes of Lieutenant Norris are boring into her back as they leave.
Definitely gives her the creeps.
"You guys up for an outing later?" Jack asks the next day at breakfast.
Daniel peers at him over his glasses, frowning. "Thought we didn't have any regular missions planned until after Zero Hour."
"Yeah, but the General wants me to do an inspection tour of the settlement. Could use the company. Wanna come with? We'll make a picnic out of it."
Sam's eyes light up. "I do, sir. That way Mac and I can give the sensor array its first real field test."
"That's one. How about it, T? A chance to stretch those Jaffa legs of yours?"
Teal'c inclines his head. "A splendid idea."
"Why not? I could use a break."
"Whaddya say, Mac? Gotta take that first jaunt through the ol' orifice sometime."
She and Mac share a glance. Through the Gate. The very notion makes her heart speed up a bit, and he looks a bit startled himself.
All these months and they haven't even considered the fact they might use it one of these days.
Finally he nods. "Yeah. Okay."
"How about you, Beck? C'mon, it'll be fun," Jack coaxes gently.
Everyone's staring at her, making her more than a little nervous.
Oh, why not. Has to happen sooner or later, right? "Sure."
"Terrific!" He beams at his expanded team. "We'll meet down in the locker rooms after the briefing at 1100, get you guys fitted out. Carter, you show Becky the ropes on your side. Mac, you're with the rest of us guys. See ya then."
Becky can't stop thinking about the Gate as she and Daniel head for the lab.
According to Sam it's nothing more than a machine millions of years old, programmed to dissolve her body's molecules in the blink of an eye, sending them to reconstitute elsewhere in the galaxy.
Light-years away from everything she's ever known.
Why on earth is she so nervous? She should be ecstatic. The culmination of many a cherished daydream about exploring the universe.
"Hmm?" It's amazing he can walk and read at the same time.
"Does--" She hesitates.
"Never mind," she sighs. "It's a dumb question, anyway."
He closes the book, leaving one finger in to mark his place. "There's no such thing as a dumb question, Becky," he says gently. "You can tell me. I won't laugh."
"Does it hurt? Going through the Gate, I mean."
He blinks in surprise. "No. Not at all. Why do you ask?"
"I...I'm..." She bites her lip.
"You're worried, aren't you?"
He smiles reassuringly. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Really."
"It's just that it scares me, a little," she confesses once they reach the lab. "I don't even know why. I mean, you guys do it all the time and you're fine. You probably don't get it, but..." She shrugs helplessly, her gaze dropping to the floor.
A gentle touch on her cheek. His gaze is warm, full of sympathy and understanding. "I do, Becky. Believe me. Facing the unknown is always frightening. The first time I went through the Gate I was scared. But more than that I wanted to know what was on the other side. I still feel that way with every mission."
"And that's why you do it? To satisfy your curiosity?"
Daniel nods. "We never truly know where the Gate takes us. Or what we'll encounter. But that's part of the reason why we go in the first place- to see what's really out there, for good or ill.
"Several times the program's been in danger of shutting down, by the hands of those afraid of the unknown as well as seeking power only for themselves. They never understood we need to be out there. We're making a difference, and we have to keep going. There's too much at stake to turn our backs now."
He speaks with such firm conviction, it's hard not to take heart. "Sounds like good enough reason for me to take that first step, then."
"It is. It may not be a friendly universe, but the wonders outweigh the dangers. I really hope I can share them with you. There's so much we can learn together."
"Yeah. I mean, you'll be my assistant on a permanent basis once we get settled on New Earth, right? I think we can really make a difference."
There's a focused, almost fevered quality to his gaze now, one that men rarely cast in her direction. Making her both nervous and excited at the same time.
(Is it possible he has feelings for her? If so, why?)
Becky swallows. For all her wondering about the settlement's future, she hasn't really considered her own. "I'll think about it, okay?"
"Fair enough, I guess." A hint of disappointment in his voice, making her feel more than a little guilty. "Let's get some work done before the briefing. How far along are you with translating that tablet from P5J-348?"
"I'm almost done. There are some phrases you oughta look at, they remind me of something I saw in one of your mission reports..."
Time to focus on the here and now.
It's good to work, keeps her mind off both the slight hurt in his eyes at her hesitation and the impending trip through the Gate.
For a time, anyway.
Black t-shirt, green BDU shirt and pants, black tac vest. Green broad-brimmed field hat. The black boots don't seem to add much in the way of inches to her petite height, though.
It's like she's turned into a soldier. Ironic, since she's always been more of a pacifist.
Nothing like Sam, though, suiting up behind her with easy familiarity. Exuding confidence in herself and her abilities with every movement.
No wonder Jack's in love with her, even though he can't exactly admit it in public.
Or at least not yet, anyway.
Things may change once they're on New Earth for good, or so Becky fervently hopes. Sam would make a terrific aunt.
In the meantime--
She sighs at her reflection in the mirror. "Sometimes I wish I wasn't so short. I had to roll these pants up, for crissake."
Sam grins. "Janet feels the same way, believe me. It's good to have a set of your own, if you ever come on missions with us. Here, let me relace those boots for you. Way they are now you'll be tripping over them all the time."
"Thanks." Props one foot on the bench. "But what makes you think I would? Go on missions, I mean."
She glances up, surprised. "Why, you'll be Daniel's assistant, won't you? You'll have to accompany us if he needs a hand."
"I guess so, but- " Becky shrugs. "Well, I'm not exactly trained for this. I know self-defense but I'm not used to combat."
"That's all right. We'll be looking out for you no matter what. Just like we do for each other." She expertly ties a knot. "There. Now the other one."
"Sam, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure. What is it?"
"How do you do it? I mean, I've read the mission reports. You fight some pretty powerful aliens, practically break the laws of physics, figure out alien tech and invent new stuff, blow up suns--"
A rueful chuckle. "I'm never gonna live that one down, am I?"
"Well, you gotta admit it's pretty impressive. All of it is, really. I'm in awe."
Sam smiles and ducks her head. "Tell you the truth Becky, I don't really know. All I can say is I serve in the best way I know how, with everything that's in me. Just like your uncles, or anyone else here. There you are. Now let's go."
She heads for the door, but Becky can't bring herself to move an inch. She swallows.
"Hey- you're not still nervous about going through the Gate, are you? You seemed pretty worried at breakfast."
"I still am, a little," Becky admits. "But talking to Daniel helped."
Sam nods in understanding. "He's good at that. Don't worry, you'll do just fine. Now let's pick up the drone and get to the Gateroom. The Colonel doesn't like to be kept waiting."
It looms in front of them, an empty circle some twenty feet high made of a mineral not native to Earth.
Door to Heaven (an incorrect translation of the hieroglyphics though, according to Daniel).
Gateway to the universe.
Jack and the rest of the guys are waiting near the wall under the control room windows. He grins. "Love the hat, Beck. Just like Danny's." Who rolls his eyes but gives her a little wave nonetheless.
In uniform Mac's a dead ringer for his brother save for unruly blonde hair tucked under his cap, curling around the collar. He returns her tentative smile with a warmer one of his own.
Jack points to a wicker basket in Mac's hand. "See? Picnic. Got the kitchen to fix us sandwiches and everything. Let's get this show on the road." He waves up at Sgt. Harriman, who nods acknowledgement.
The Gate comes to life, the inner ring of constellation glyphs turning like an old-fashioned rotary dial. Then stops. A chevron opens and closes.
"Chevron one encoded." Walter announces on the PA.
A second spin. "Chevron two encoded."
Becky shifts restlessly on her feet, anxiety rising with every announcement.
A large, dark-skinned hand gently rests on her shoulder. She stares up into the inscrutable gaze of Teal'c. "Be brave, Becky Grahme," he intones. "The chappa'ai is but a means of travel. There is nothing to fear."
"Thank you." His calm encouragement's like a splash of cold water.
Like any other means of transportation. Of course.
She can do this. Time to get a grip.
Besides, it can't be that bad if they use it all the time.
"Chevron seven encoded."
The wormhole forms a watery vortex. Punches straight towards them.
"Whoa," Mac murmurs reverently. She swallows, reaches for his hand, squeezes. He squeezes back.
It's different, watching it from a safe distance high above in the briefing room. Though fascinating enough in its own right.
This is altogether more immediate. More personal, in a way.
The Gate's opening for them. For her.
The event horizon stabilizes, sunlight dancing on water. Pretty.
"Let's go, campers." Jack takes point as they advance up the ramp. Just before he slips inside the blue shimmer he turns towards her and Mac, gives an encouraging wink. "Relax, guys. Think of it as taking one giant step."
"A giant step that spans light-years," Sam adds with a grin before disappearing herself.
"Exhale right as you step through," Daniel advises behind them. "Nothing to worry about. Usually," he adds under his breath.
Becky half-turns, eyebrows raised. "Usually?"
Mac touches her arm. "C'mon, Beck. Ready?"
This is it.
She takes a deep breath, gives a short, decisive nod. "Ready."
Exhale, stepping through the event horizon.
One moment here--
(stars rushing past at the speed of more-than-light
diving through a swooping tunnel of blue
seemingly endless yet no time at all)
--Next moment there.
Just like that.
Emergence. Staggering down a metal ramp fitted over stone steps.
"Whoa," Mac says softly, eyes wide. "That was--"
"--Incredible," Becky finishes, likewise dazed. "So we're really on another planet?"
Jack chuckles, sharing an amused glance with Sam. "See for yourself, kiddo."
A glance back to a Gate identical to the one they just went through. Daniel and Teal'c appearing seconds before the event horizon vanishes.
A sizeable valley. Forests and fields, river meandering through its center, mountain ranges rising in the distance on either side. Fertile and beautiful, despite a blue-green tint to the grass and a darker shade on deciduous and evergreen trees alike. The sun shines white in a blue-violet sky, the very air clear and clean.
Another world. Imagine that.
Brief flash from one of the distant peaks to her left catches Becky's eye. A thrill runs down her spine, though she doesn't know why.
Straight ahead a graded road leads across a broad field, gradually becomes a street flanked by prefab buildings. Major Alvarez and an aide wait patiently nearby.
"Danny, show Becky the DHD. Everyone else, with me." Jack strides forward.
She follows Daniel towards a vaguely cupcake-shaped object with a broad rim, same naquadah material as the Gate. Two concentric circles of glyphs with a red dome in the center. "DHD?"
"Dial Home Device," he explains. "This is what really controls and maintains the Stargate network."
"I thought it took a computer to do that."
"Only because the Gate at the base was separated from its DHD decades ago. Sam was on the team that jury-rigged a workaround."
"Sounds like what Uncle Mac might do," she says wryly, with a glance at her uncles chatting with Alvarez.
Daniel chuckles. "Probably. Not nearly as efficient as this of course, but it works. Remind me to tell you later about an Ancient named Orlin, who built a single-use Gate of his own in Sam's basement. You might even say he 'MacGyvered' it." He gives her a sly wink.
She can't help a snicker of her own. "Sam's something else, isn't she? I don't think I can do one tenth of what she does, even at my best."
"Don't sell yourself short," he says absently, examining the glyphs and taking notes. "You've been more help than you realize. I don't think I would've been able to get nearly as much done otherwise, certainly not the translating in addition to getting everything packed. I really appreciate it."
"You do? Oh." Unexpected compliments always make her flustered. "Um, you're welcome."
"Hey, you two!" Jack waves them over. "Quit dawdling and get over here."
"Our master's voice," Daniel quips. She chortles softly as they catch up with the others.
Major Esteban Alvarez may have cut his teeth constructing air bases in the Middle East as part of the AFCE, but here on New Earth his real talent for city planning has room to shine. The pride in his work is evident as he takes them on a tour.
"Granted, the buildings themselves aren't pretty since they're made out of prefab materials- plywood, extruded plastics, galvanized metal," he says. "But they'll do until more permanent structures can be built. At least this planet's not lacking for raw materials."
The settlement's designed with considerable input from the planning committee, Mac included. A grid pattern with wide, open streets. Hangars, warehouses and workshops congregate in one part of town while residential areas consisting of half-round Quonset huts cluster in another. Each section's further arranged around squares for a cozier neighborhood feel, as well as more efficient use of space. In the center lies the main administration complex and areas for assemblies and distribution of goods.
"Like forums in ancient Roman cities," Daniel observes.
Ever so often they see pipes sticking up in the ground, freshly dug wells ready for water pumps. "I'm also implementing some of your suggestions for alternative wastewater treatments, MacGyver," Alvarez says. "Along with other alternatives for power and other infrastructure. Trust me, I believe as firmly as you do we have to respect the environment from the very beginning. We need to think of it as a clean slate, a second chance to learn from our mistakes on Earth."
Becky silently approves. This is part of what she and Mac have been discussing every night, in conjunction with his committee meetings.
Workers in camo uniforms and hard hats greet them respectfully as they pass by, busy with their own tasks. Alvarez gives them friendly nods in turn. It's easy to see he has a good relationship with those under his command.
"An experimental farm's being set up, over to the west," he continues. "We'll be allocating spaces here and there for community gardens once the botanists and agronomists figure out what Earth crops will take to the soil."
"Where will the SGC be located?" Sam wants to know.
"At the north end of the settlement, not too far from where the Gate's located now. We'll enclose it in a hangar large enough to protect it from the elements and store the dialing computer and other related equipment, along with the armory. Also smaller related buildings, for administration and barracks and such," Alvarez explains. "You can tell Dr. Fraiser the hospital's being set up as we speak, between the SGC and the rest of the settlement."
"Gotta say I'm impressed, Major," Jack comments. "Didn't expect to see so much up already in record time."
"Thank you, sir. You might say we've had sufficient motivation, what with Zero Hour coming up and all. There's still a lot to do, but you're just in time for our latest accomplishment. Yesterday we got Major Carter's naquadah generators hooked up," with a nod to Sam, who grins in reply, "along with supplemental wind turbines and solar arrays. One of the salvaging teams found the parts for us at a manufacturing plant outside of the Springs, thanks to MacGyver's suggestion. In fact, we're ready for the inauguration of the New Earth Power Company, if you all can stick around until dusk."
"Well," Jack drawls, "the General did want a detailed progress report. You're giving us the ten-cent tour, Major. Might as well get our money's worth."
Becky leans against the grass, savoring the warmth of the sun- similar to their own, according to Sam- on her face. A light breeze playing with her hair, the soft whisper of trees.
She feels oddly at peace here. Maybe because it reminds her of home. Not Los Angeles, though- further back, in Oregon. The Willamette Valley where she grew up. Similar layout.
Good to be outside after spending months cooped up underground as well, even if it is on another planet elsewhere in the Milky Way. A fact which still kinda blows her mind.
Not to mention it's early summer here, when it's December back on Earth. Or it would be if the planet wasn't busy tearing itself apart.
They'll make something good of this new world, she's sure of it. Learning from the mistakes of the past.
She has to admit the spot Jack found for their picnic is pretty ideal- a gentle ridge overlooking the settlement, secluded fishing pond behind them near the treeline. All it needs is a cabin and dock to resemble Jack's place back in Minnesota.
"This is the life, ain't it?" Jack stretches out, tipping the brim of his cap over his eyes. "Soon as we move here I'm claiming this as our official picnicking spot. Ours alone."
"It is pretty nice," Daniel agrees. His eyes are closed and head tilted up, like a flower seeking sunlight.
"Indeed." Teal'c sits cross-legged, as if practicing his kel'no'reem. "Most peaceful."
"Beck? What d'you think?"
"It's great, Uncle Jack. Really pretty."
"Carter? Mac? How about you guys?"
Jack sits up, frowns. "Anybody know where they are?"
Becky spies Sam's drone approaching behind him, Mac handling the remote control a distance away. He puts a finger to his lips and winks.
"I'm serious, guys. What happened to them? And what's that buzzing sound?"
The drone swoops down on Jack, narrowly missing his head by inches. He jumps straight up with a cry, batting at his graying hair and knocking the cap off his head in the process. He reaches for his P90- which he belatedly realizes he neglected to bring with him. "What the hell's that?"
"Heads up, Jack!" Mac laughs.
"Sorry, sir," Sam says, valiantly fighting a grin. "Your brother insisted he be the first to test it."
Teal'c raises an expressive eyebrow, otherwise stoic though dark eyes hold a glint of humor.
Becky and Daniel collapse against each other, howling with laughter.
Jack scowls, jamming the cap back onto his head. "Not funny, guys."
"Oh, I thought it was hilarious," Mac says with a grin, keeping it away from his brother's grasp. He tosses it to Sam. "Works fine so far. Should we try out the sensors next?"
"Give it to me, Carter. That's an order."
"Sorry, sir. Not until after we finish with the tests. Which could take a while." Sam's eyes twinkle with mischief.
"Guess you'll have to wait your turn, huh?" Mac teases. "Think you can be patient that long?"
"Fine, whatever," he grumbles. "Have it your way." He turns to a still-sniggering Becky and Daniel. "All right you two. Stop it."
"Stop what?" she asks with a wide-eyed, innocent expression.
"Yeah, Jack," Daniel smirks. "Stop what?"
He fixes them with a glare, though his lips twitch in wry amusement. "I've got the most incorrigible team in the entire SGC, no doubt of it."
"And you wouldn't have it any other way."
He breaks into a wide grin. "Damn right I wouldn't."
Several hours later, after sharing dinner on site with Alvarez and his team. Dusk gathers, the sky deepening to plum then shading into midnight blue. Around her the sweet and intoxicating scent from flowers in the meadow drift in the evening breeze.
Stars come out. Unfamiliar constellations, the Milky Way a pale streak against the velvet darkness of space. Over the mountains to the east floats a great gleaming moon with a pale, iridescent glow, another following by only a few moments, with a pale violet luster.
And to think she got to see this because of taking one step into the unknown.
Daniel comes up beside her. "Look at the moons," he says quietly, so as not to break the spell.
"Yeah," she breathes. "Beautiful, aren't they. What a night. I'm really glad I got to come with you guys."
"So am I." He pauses. "Becky?"
"Have you thought about my offer yet? I'm sorry if I came on too strong earlier. I get that way sometimes, Jack will tell you as much. But I was under the impression you enjoyed working with me, and I really like working with you too, and..." He turns to her with such an anxious look in his eyes. "I mean- we're good, right?"
She wants to help, she really does. She enjoys his company a lot, and the work's as rewarding as what she did at Phoenix, maybe even more so. Surely together they can make a real difference.
So why so hesitant to agree earlier?
Perhaps she had to take that step into the unknown first. Which as it turns out wasn't bad at all. Downright exhilarating, even.
Much like working with Daniel.
Moreover, it feels right. Like it's meant to be.
"Yeah, we're good. And I'd like to. Be your assistant, I mean."
"Really? I was hoping you'd say that. I'm so glad." He beams at her in a rare, brilliant, genuine grin and pulls her close. The solid warmth of his body against hers makes her heart skips a beat.
"Me, too." And she is glad. She really is.
The settlement's abruptly bathed in light. Everyone cheers.
Jack turns to his team. "All right, campers. Let's dial up and go home. We'll be back soon enough."
The blue-white shimmer of the event horizon rivals the brightness of the LED streetlamps.
With confidence she steps through, no longer afraid.
Brief mention of S05 E03, "Ascension."
I've always loved Sam mentioning MacGyver right off the bat in the pilot episode, so that had to fit in somehow in this AU as well.
Chapter 10: Auld Lang Syne
A word of caution: a section in this chapter describes an attempted sexual assault, though short and not at all graphic. Essential to the story, I'm afraid.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
One week to Zero Hour. Everything's as ready as it can possibly get, on both sides of the Gate. Hopefully at this point they're prepared enough to ensure their survival.
Mac and Becky stand shoulder to shoulder with Janet, Jack and the others behind General Hammond. He patiently talks to the gathered refugees, describing the dire situation outside of Cheyenne Mountain and the safe haven awaiting them on New Earth.
Good thing this is happening now, she thinks. While most remain grateful to be safe from the chaos outside a certain sense of cabin fever has crept in here and there, in the form of minor altercations easily broken up by a combination of base security and peer pressure.
A variety of emotions cross their faces as the General speaks. Fear and confusion, denial and concern. Yet most also respond to his words with relief, along with something they surely haven't felt in months.
A glimmer of hope.
Afterwards she and Mac spend time recounting their first trip through the Gate, describing New Earth and the settlement. Soothing fears, offering reassurances until anticipation replaces anxiety once more.
It's a good feeling, knowing she can help out in even this small fashion.
A good feeling in general, working for the SGC. Being a part of something bigger.
Two whole days to evacuate the refugees and others not deemed essential for base operations to New Earth.
Administrative personnel among the first to leave, ready to assist Major Alvarez and his team in processing the new arrivals. Dr. Giovanni and other scientists have already relocated as well, ready to teach the settlers everything they need to know about the new world.
Refugees are escorted in small orderly groups past the checkpoint and taken down directly to Level 28. Even after accepting the General's assurances of their safety many are understandably nervous yet no one turns around to flee, which Becky takes as a good sign.
She and Daniel stand in the control room, watching people move in a steady stream up the ramp. Parents carrying young children or holding their hands, others being assisted by Corporal Perkins and other Marines. Norris standing to one side, glowering at all and sundry after Hammond reprimanded him when Jack relayed Daniel's concerns.
She's gotten to know so many people over the past few months around the base, or at least made their acquaintance. Good people. Kind, decent.
The latest group disappears into the event horizon, and an inexplicable wave of sadness threatens to overwhelm her, as if she'll never see them again. Which is ridiculous, considering Zero Hour's less than a week away.
The sadness remains though. She instinctively reaches out to Daniel. Seeking comfort, or at the very least a sense of connection.
His larger hand grasps her smaller one, long fingers wrapping around to give a light, reassuring squeeze. She's just about to pull her hand back when his fingertips brush against hers, stilling her movement. Carefully turning her hand towards him, trailing butterfly-light patterns across her palm with his thumb then lightly sweeping over the pulse point at her wrist.
Awareness of her surroundings fades to just the joining of their hands. The flame running through her body at his touch.
Becky closes her eyes, savoring the casual intimacy of the moment.
Eventually the Gate shuts off. Walter and other technicians begin their usual post-activation inspections and adjustments.
Jack bounds into the room. "There you two are. C'mon upstairs with me kids, we've got a briefing."
The spell broken, her hand reluctantly slips out of Daniel's grasp. Though not without one last teasing, almost playful caress on his part. She raises an eyebrow at him and he winks.
She follows him up the stairs, faintly bewildered.
Life under Cheyenne Mountain used to be about saving the world. Now all that matters is saving whatever they have and transporting it to New Earth. Where the work will become saving that world instead for future generations, should they survive long enough.
Daniel takes one last look around the empty lab, stripped of everything that's given his life meaning for the past several years. Artifacts and reference materials, furniture and computers. Everything carefully packed by himself and Becky then transported through the Gate, waiting to occupy the small group of Quonset huts temporarily designated as the Department of Archaeology, Linguistics and Anthropology for the New Earth SGC.
Archaeology has labels for every era. Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic. Copper, Bronze, Iron. Each one signifying the predominant tool-making material of the period.
It's an odd discipline sometimes, he has to admit. The existence of whole civilizations extrapolated from shreds of evidence and shards of meaning.
Perhaps their own era ought to be called the Plastic or Disposable Age, judging by the material crowding present-day landfills. Significant discoveries have been made in the middens of the past, after all.
Moot point in any case, as soon there won't even be an Earth remaining to be examined by future scientists. The planet's well on its way to destroying itself completely from the inside out.
Though it's not like he's out of a job by any means. Plenty of discoveries left to be made throughout the galaxy, once they get permanently settled on New Earth.
He despairs of the loss, all the same. So many mysteries and secrets forever remaining undiscovered.
Two days to Zero Hour. The end of one era, and the beginning of another at the same time. Old Earth's chapter is done. Finished.
He gives himself a mental shake. Enough brooding.
Time to leave the past in the past. Focus on the here and now.
Keep your feet on the ground, Danny.
He flicks the light off and shuts the door one last time.
Jack reaches into the cooler for a bottle of beer, nodding thanks to the mess sergeant sitting watch nearby before taking a swallow.
Better savor it, he thinks. Might be one of the last in a long while, or at least until they start trading with other worlds who know how to produce a decent brew.
Or figure it out on their own. There must be instructions somewhere in all those books they picked up. How hard can it be, really?
Hammond's allowed discipline to be relaxed for this one night: part New Year's Eve party, part wake for the late great Planet Earth. Scientists and military, men and women alike swarm the corridors and rooms, a few sticking to their respective divisions while the majority mix and mingle freely.
Hopefully a sign of future relations to come in the new settlement.
What will his own life be like, on New Earth? Probably more of the same as pre-apocalypse: going on missions, seeking every advantage they can get over the System Lords, Replicators or any other menace the universe decides to throw at them. Only with far fewer resources to hand and the added challenge of growing and maintaining a new settlement at the same time.
Still, the human race has proved to be pretty scrappy so far, and those in the SGC- himself included- the scrappiest of all. No way in hell they're going down without a fight.
In the mess an impromptu dance floor has been set up and many are actually dancing to the music coming from the PA, courtesy of Harriman's portable CD player and extensive collection. Classic oldies mostly, plus some decent contemporary stuff.
He drains the bottle and sets it on a nearby table. With deceptively casual ease born from long years of training he scans the crowd for anything wrong.
Becky's standing against the opposite wall, a look of uncertainty on her face. "Hey, kiddo," he says as he joins her. "Enjoying yourself?"
"Not really," she says with a sigh.
"Sorry to hear that. Anyone asked you to dance yet?"
She shakes her head. "You know me, short and easy to overlook." A hint of bitterness flavors her words.
He frowns a little. Growing up she's always been socially awkward, though Mac claims she did just fine during her time as his ward, making friends and everything. He knows she's made a few on base apart from his team but even so it must be tough, given the current circumstances.
Never mind she's earned her place on the program as Daniel's official assistant, and a damn good linguist in her own right. She's still his niece.
"Hey now," he chides gently, caressing her cheek with a long finger. "Don't talk like that. I see you just fine, Beck. Anyone who deliberately overlooks you around here will have to answer to me. Count on it."
A corner of her mouth turns up in a wry smile. "Good ol' Uncle Colonel, always looking out for me."
He chuckles, bending to kiss her forehead. "You bet."
Not too far away he spies Daniel standing on the sidelines with arms loosely crossed over his chest, sporting his own uncertain look. Another classic introvert.
He catches his friend's eye and cocks his head in Becky's direction. Daniel counters with raised eyebrows. Jack nods in reply.
Their unique, team-specific form of nonverbal communication, developed over the course of many missions together.
Finally he nods acknowledgement and weaves his way through the crowd towards them. Becky's too distracted by the dancing couples to notice.
He taps her lightly on the shoulder to get her attention. "Oh. Hi, Daniel." A faint flush tints her cheeks.
"Hi. Would you like to dance?" He smiles, offers his hand.
"Oh." She blinks up at him. "Um. Sure. I mean, if that's okay with you, Uncle Jack?"
For all he plays at being the dumb colonel, Jack likes to think he's pretty perceptive. He's seen the shared glances, the way they band together, support one another. The awareness they have of each other's proximity. All of it instinctively, without realizing they're doing it.
He makes a pretty good matchmaker, if he does say so himself.
He grins, giving Daniel a wink. "Don't worry about me, Beck. You kids go have fun, that's an order."
Sam comes up alongside as they leave. "They make a really cute couple, don't they sir?"
"Yeah. They do." Jack considers his 2IC out of the corner of his eye, her bright smile and twinkling sapphire eyes.
Wonders if he ought to ask her to dance, and damn the fraternization rules.
What the hell. It's the end of the world, right? Hammond's even looking the other way tonight.
Now or never.
"Care to cut a rug, Carter?"
Sam blinks at him in surprise, a slow grin spreading across her face. "I'd like that very much, sir."
Daniel leads Becky onto the dance floor. After a few initial fumbles adjusting to each other's height they're soon swaying easily to the music. Anticipating each other, just like they do when working.
"Penny for your thoughts," he says, smiling fondly down at her. She really is pretty. Attractive, even.
"Jack and Sam make a really nice couple, don't they? We'll have to figure out how to get them together like this more often."
He smirks at the sight of his friends and teammates enjoying themselves, Sam laughing as Jack expertly twirls her around. "You're right. I think if we put our heads together we can come up with a matchmaking plan or two."
Put our heads together. Now why does that phrase evoke images of kissing those soft, full lips? He gives himself a mental shake.
"You know, you dance pretty well, for an archaeologist." She's staring at him through lowered lashes, a glint of humor in her eyes.
"You're not so bad yourself, for a linguist." He pulls her close, adding a small dip that makes her laugh, a soft tinkling sound he loves to hear. Her glasses slip down her nose and he gently pushes them back up.
"Thanks." She gratefully leans into his hand as it lingers on her cheek.
Becky's been more and more on Daniel's mind of late, not surprising since they've been working together so closely over the past few months. How they always seem to finish each other's thoughts, the excitement shared with every new discovery.
The instant rapport between them he first noticed in Seattle, which he hasn't encountered with anyone else.
He wonders if he's ready for another relationship, as it's barely been a year since losing Sha're.
Would it be dishonoring her memory, if he's falling for Becky already?
He has no idea.
"You know, I forgot just how light Jack is on his feet," Mac notes, watching his brother with amusement as he spins a laughing Sam around. "They seem to be enjoying themselves."
Janet peers over his shoulder, grinning. "Looks like they aren't the only ones."
"What're you talking about?"
The doctor points to Becky and Daniel, swaying together to the music. She laughs as he playfully dips her. Her glasses slip down her nose as she straightens, he gently nudges them back into place with a finger. He cups her cheek and she closes her eyes, leaning into his touch.
She's wholly at ease with him, which so far as Mac knows hasn't occurred with any other man except for himself and Jack. Including the handful of boyfriends she's had in the past, not that he's ever willingly pried into her personal life.
No sense of connection, she once claimed. Or at least nothing like what she apparently has with Jackson.
Mac feels a twinge of nostalgia deep within his heart. For the baby he once cradled in his arms, the little girl in braids laughing as he swings her around in a secret meadow, the teenager standing all forlorn at a gravesite for three coffins. Now there's this vibrant young woman in her place, dancing with the man who may well capture her heart soon, if he hasn't already.
Hopefully he won't break it, or she'd be devastated.
Mac can't bear to see that happen to his princess. She deserves some happiness, after everything she's gone through since he became her guardian. Even though to this day she insists she'll never regret choosing to live with him.
"Don't worry about her and Daniel," Janet says, as if reading his mind. "They both deserve to be happy. They'll be good for each other."
"He does seem pretty taken with her already."
Janet stands up from her chair. They're pretty much eye-to-eye at this point. "Speaking of being taken with each other," with a impish glint in her wide brown eyes, "how about a dance, Mac?"
He grins. "Thought you'd never ask, doc."
He enjoys being with her. A lot. And, judging by the brilliant smile she bestows on him as he takes her in his arms, the feeling appears to be mutual.
Maybe their luck really is changing, for himself as well as his niece.
Figures it would be happening at the literal end of the world, though.
Eventually Daniel confesses to needing a break, and others are suddenly intent on having Becky for a dance partner.
Corporal Perkins, who turns out to be a pretty nice guy and a good dancer. A lively spin around the floor with Sheppard to a Johnny Cash tune. Another major named Evan Lorne also claims her for a turn.
Even Teal'c who holds her with a certain delicacy, his graceful movements belying his immense size and strength. "You dance very well," she ventures.
"As do you, Becky Grahme. If I may make an observation?"
"You may." While she finds him intriguing and he's always been quite cordial towards her in return, she's curious what he has to say.
"You and Daniel Jackson have become very close since you arrived with MacGyver."
"I guess so. I like working with him. A lot, as it happens."
"As he does you. Do you, as you Tau'ri say, have romantic feelings for each other as well?"
She blinks in surprise. Straight to the point as always. "Yeah. I...I guess I do. I enjoy his company a lot. Not sure why he'd have feelings about me, though. I'm nothing special."
"You are wrong, Becky Grahme. I have spoken to O'Neill, and to MacGyver. They have both remarked on your curiosity and thoughtfulness towards others, your bravery in the face of danger. Those are also qualities belonging to Daniel Jackson. You will do very well together as a couple."
"You really think so?"
"Indeed I do. Any offspring you produce will surely be most learned."
She stumbles, stares wide-eyed up into the Jaffa's serene features. Swears she sees an amused gleam in his eyes, a faint upward twist to his lips.
Good lord, is he actually joking with her?
"Um, yeah," she says faintly. "I...I hope so."
"As do I. Thank you for assisting me in this activity. I find it a most pleasant means of recreation."
"Me, too. Thanks for the advice."
A pleased nod. "You are welcome."
Becky's mind is still on his words as she heads for the ladies' restroom during a break, too preoccupied to notice her surroundings.
Large hands grab her from behind and shove her to the ground. Hands stinging as they slap against the concrete floor, making her wince at the impact.
One hand clamps over her right wrist, twisting her arm painfully behind her back. She attempts to cry for help but another hand covers her mouth.
"Damned civilians. Gonna teach you a lesson." Her stomach twists at the sound of the familiar voice, thickened with inebriation.
When he flips her on her back she's not surprised to see Lieutenant Norris hovering over her, colorless eyes burning into hers with hatred. Heavy breathing hot on her face as he fumbles with the buttons on her blouse, the pungent smell of cheap liquor filling her nostrils.
She grits her teeth, trying to stay calm. Panicking will only make it worse, according to her self-defense teachers back in L.A.
She squirms a bit, manages to get her arms in a position to shove him away from her chest. Screams for help with all her might.
"Shut up, brat." He sits up angrily, backhanding her several times across the face, making her cry out in pain. Then he's on her again, one of his hands pinning her wrists together as the other fumbles with her jeans.
Ordinarily she'd be no match for his Marine hand-to-hand training. Fortunately tonight he's too drunk to notice anything other than what he's doing. Time to act.
He lets go of her wrists, intent on pulling her jeans further down.
Seizing the opportunity, she folds both of her hands into a single tight fist. Lunges upright, using all the strength in her arms and upper torso to hit him in the center of his chest, forcing him off her to the floor. She scrambles to her feet.
Norris flounders briefly, then regains himself. "Why, you little--" he growls, bolting after her. Grabs her by the ankle.
She stumbles, falling backwards onto the floor.
He looms over her, pulls out a knife. "Teach you a lesson you'll never forget, brat," he growls.
He's a trained Marine, and all she's had are self-defense classes.
She knows she doesn't have a chance.
Jack stiffens at the sudden tingle down his spine.
"Something wrong, sir?" Sam looks up at him curiously.
Nearby Mac's got a similar expression of unease. "You okay, Mac?" Janet inquires.
The brothers share a glance. "Becky's in trouble," Jack says.
"Better check it out," Mac agrees.
As one they swiftly leave the room.
Sam and Janet share a look of puzzlement before following in their wake.
Daniel's thinking about heading to his room when he hears Becky's screams. Automatically he hurries in her direction.
She's sprawled on the floor, clothing in disarray. A look of fear in her eyes.
Norris towers over her, the same guy who harassed her a couple weeks ago. With a knife in his hand and features contorted in anger.
Thankful for the training sessions with Jack and Teal'c his foot shoots out, knocking the weapon out of the lieutenant's hand. Norris bellows in surprise but before he can retaliate Daniel pulls his fist back, belting him soundly in the jaw.
He staggers but remains upright. Marines have a reputation for being pretty tough, and he's no exception.
Murder in his eyes as he lunges for Daniel. "Damned four-eyes, I'll get you for that--"
Two meaty arms grab him from behind, pinning his arms to his body. "You should be grateful we are not on Chulak, Lieutenant Norris," Teal'c says. "Or I would be well within my rights to dismember you."
Norris struggles in the Jaffa's strong grasp. "Let go of me, you alien freak!"
"Easy now, Lieutenant." Jack's voice is deceptively calm though anger simmers within his narrowed gaze. "I wouldn't insult him if I were you. He's like the Hulk when he gets angry. Danny, give Becky a hand, would ya?"
Daniel kneels down beside her. She struggles to sit up, pulling up her jeans, buttoning her blouse with shaky hands. He frowns at the dark bruise against her pale cheek. "It's okay," he soothes when she tenses at his touch. "You're safe now."
She glances side to side, agitated. "Oh god, where are my glasses? What happened to them?"
He spies them to her far left and hands them over. "Here they are. Okay if I help you up?"
Becky puts her glasses on, hesitates before nodding assent. He slips an arm around, supporting her as she stands, balancing on unsteady legs. "Whoa..."
"Here Daniel, I've got her." Janet takes her out of his hands. Speaking in a soothing voice, leading her away. "Easy now. I just want to take a quick look at you, okay? Anything broken?"
Jack stares after them, jaw clenching at the sight of the bruises on Becky's face. Nods to Sam who immediately moves to her side, a protective shield against both the ongoing action and curious spectators.
After one look in the women's direction Teal'c tightens his grip on Norris even more, who squawks in protest. "Colonel, I insist you tell this...this freak to let me go! He can't treat me like this. I'm an officer in the Marine Corps, goddammit!"
Jack slowly turns to him. "Is that so," he drawls, voice even more cold and dangerous than before. "T, you heard the guy. Let him go."
"As you wish, O'Neill," dumping Norris unceremoniously on the floor. The Marine sprawls in an undignified heap before reaching for an ankle holster.
"Watch it, Jack!" Mac calls out. "He's got a gun."
Before the lieutenant can aim Jack swiftly kicks it away from his grasp and reaches for him. Grabs him by the collar of his shirt, shoving him hard against a nearby wall. "What the hell are you doing with my niece?" he demands. "Give me one good reason why I don't just shoot you right now."
"Colonel O'Neill, stand down! That's an order!" Hammond's voice is stern enough to command instant obedience.
Jack scowls but releases Norris, who slumps briefly against the wall before straightening.
No one moves an inch, pinned by the General's intense scrutiny.
"Now," Hammond says, his voice controlled although eyes flash with anger. "Just what in blue blazes is going on here?"
Becky clears her throat and steps forward, supported by Sam and Janet on either side. "General, if I may?"
He regards her injuries with a slight frown but makes no move to stop her. "Go ahead."
She glances at her uncles, who each nod encouragement. Be brave, Jack mouths at her.
"I was on my way out of the ladies' restroom when Lieutenant Norris assaulted me from behind. He...He..." Her voice wavering, she takes a deep breath. "He tried to undress me, force me to...He wanted to..." She turns scarlet, unable to continue.
Sam and Janet both pat her arms in support. Jack grimaces. Mac closes his eyes, swallows. Teal'c glowers at Norris.
Daniel feels a surge of sympathy for Becky. A sudden longing seizes him, to hold her in his arms, ease her suffering. Keep her forever safe from anyone wishing her harm.
Hammond raises his hand, preventing further embarrassment. "Say no more, Dr. Grahme. I understand. Thank you."
"This isn't the first time he's harassed her," Corporal Perkins blurts out, then belatedly realizes he's talking to the Base Commander. "Sir."
Norris glares at him but says nothing.
Hammond frowns. "Explain, Corporal."
"It happened a couple weeks ago when she visited the Gateroom. To take a closer look, she said. Wasn't causing any harm. He grabbed her arm, claiming she didn't belong there. Major Sheppard can attest to that."
"Very well, Corporal. Major?"
Sheppard steps forward from the gathered onlookers, nods grim assent. "He's right, sir. Norris wanted Perkins here to help escort her up to the refugees, convinced she was one of them. He didn't like it at all when I showed her ID badge to prove she belonged with us."
"Thank you, Major. Lieutenant, do you have anything to say in defense?"
Norris stiffens under Hammond's scrutiny. "This is a military base, sir. Civilians have no place here. They're always underfoot. I was teaching her a lesson!"
Jack and Mac both frown, as does Daniel. Some lesson.
Time to step forward. "General, this isn't the first time he's harassed civilians on the base. It's been going on even before the quakes started. There are others willing to give statements, if you want to hear them."
"I see. Thank you, Dr. Jackson." He nods to Major Lorne and two SFs standing by. "Escort the lieutenant to the stockade while I determine the best course of punishment."
Norris quietly fumes as he's led away, glaring at everyone but especially Becky, who shifts uncomfortably under his gaze but doesn't cower, to her credit.
Gives her the creeps, as she once said. Gives Daniel the creeps too. Just like Sanderson.
Hammond's hard expression softens as he turns to her. "Dr. Grahme," he says gently, "my sincere apologies for what happened here. Do you wish to press charges?"
"No, sir. But if I may make a suggestion for punishment all the same?"
She takes a deep breath, sets her mouth in a thin line. "Exile."
Hammond frowns slightly. "Elaborate, please."
"Send him to one of the other bases. A permanent duty, with no chance whatsoever of reassignment to New Earth."
"And why should I do that, instead of other options?"
She swallows. "Sir, we're humans, right? We should therefore be humane, even to the likes of him. So few of us left, you see. Even someone like him can be put to use."
Mac slowly nods his approval. Jack purses his lips in thought, says nothing, though the fierce glint in his dark eyes echoes Daniel's own sudden hot desire to make Norris pay dearly for harming her.
"Thank you, Dr. Grahme. I'll take your recommendation under advisement. In the meantime, do you need to go to the infirmary?"
"Apart from some bumps and bruises she's fine, sir," Janet says before she can respond. "No signs of further assault. She can come in later for an icepack for the bruise on her cheek but no other treatment is needed."
"All right. Dr. Jackson, if you'll please escort Dr. Grahme elsewhere and keep an eye on her while I make my decision?"
"Of course, General. Come on," he says, gently placing an arm around her shoulders. "Let's get out of here."
"Sanderson all over again, I swear," she grumbles as he leads her away. "Didn't I tell you he reminded me of the guy?"
"At least he's getting what he deserves. Never would've thought of exile, though."
"Me, too. Guess I kinda surprised myself." She pauses. "You seem to be making a habit out of defending me, just like in Seattle. Thanks."
Daniel smiles at the memory. The first time he'd had the courage to stand up to a bully, despite being a pacifist. "You're welcome. Sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. He only hit me, didn't do anything worse. I still have my dignity, at least." She frowns slightly as he takes her to the elevator. "Where are we going?"
"There's something I've been meaning to show you for a while," he admits, somewhat abashed. "I just now remembered you haven't seen it yet, and I really want you to."
A corner of her mouth turns up in a wry smile. "I take it you're not talking about your quarters?"
He blinks at her then relaxes. Just like Jack, to maintain a sense of humor despite everything. "Much more interesting, I promise."
Daniel leads her to a large room across the hall from the Gateroom, otherwise empty save for a large stone disc twenty feet high, mounted on a metal frame and illuminated by spotlights.
He's come here every now and then over the years, to remind himself where it all began. With Catherine Langford and the coverstone.
Her eyes widen. "Oh, wow," she breathes. "Is that what I think it is?"
He nods. "Buried with the Gate ten thousand years ago, then uncovered by Catherine's father in the 1920s. It's going to be dismantled and shipped through the Gate first thing tomorrow and it may take a while before we set it back up. I wanted you to see it before then."
"It's too bad she never made it here when the quakes started. From what you've said I would've liked her."
"I think she would've liked you, too."
"That's the address for Abdyos in the center cartouche, right? You know, I'm kinda surprised it wasn't a warning instead, considering everything you guys have gone through since."
"Me too," he admits with a rueful chuckle.
"Yeah, I--God," she mutters, wavering a bit. "Feel really weird all of a sudden."
Probably post-adrenaline crash. "Why don't we rest for a while," he suggests, guiding her to the wall opposite the coverstone. She utters a soft groan as she slides down to the floor, her head resting against cool concrete. They share a companionable silence while contemplating the inscribed symbols.
"Daniel?" she asks after a while.
"Tell me about Abdyos, please?"
The memories remain painful, even a year after losing Sha're. He's never intended to share them with anyone. And yet he finds himself doing just that, with this young woman whose quiet nature invites the sharing of confidences.
He describes the vivid colors of desert sunrises and sunsets. The sharp, flinty smell of unrefined naquadah and the dust forever tickling his nose. The rest period in the heat of the day, the activity after the sun went down. Simple fare- oily flatbread and lizard-which-tastes-like-chicken (making her chuckle at his pathetic imitation). The light of three moons rising over the peak of the pyramid. The coolness within the temple as he studied the inscriptions on the walls.
Then to his surprise he reaches further back. The nasty rumors spread by Sanderson and the breakup with Sarah. Catherine recruiting him after the disastrous symposium in Denver and the insight that led him to discover the seventh symbol. The mission with Jack to explore the other side of the Gate. His accidental meeting with the Abdyonians, the equally accidental marriage to Sha're. The confrontation with Ra and his decision to stay. Jack appearing a year later with Sam through the Gate. The abduction of Sha're and her brother Skaara by Apophis and his joining SG-1 to search for them.
"We didn't find her until about a year ago. She was fighting Amaunet's control but it turned out to be a losing battle, even attempting to kill me herself. Teal'c got to her before she could succeed, and she died before my eyes. Everything at my disposal and I couldn't save her."
"I'm so sorry," Becky says quietly. "You must have loved her very much."
"I did," he admits with a small, sad smile. "I still miss her but I've made my peace with it."
"I can only imagine how awful it must've been for you, spending so many years searching for it to end like that. And for her. Abducted to serve as host, forced to submit--" She swallows. "As I almost was. Oh, god--" Leans forward on her knees, shaking uncontrollably.
For a few moments Daniel can only watch her, unsure what to do. He settles for placing a tentative hand on her back, rubbing in small slow circles. Her body quivers but makes no effort to reject his touch.
"It's okay," he says, keeping his voice soft and soothing. "You're fine. You're safe. It's over now."
"I know that," she gulps. "Intellectually I know that. But god, he came so close..." Tears trickle down her face.
He gathers Becky into his arms, letting her sob against his shirt.
His heart goes out to her. So strong and yet so fragile at the same time.
Smart and shrewd like Sarah, sweet and gentle like Sha're.
Yet nothing at all like either of them. And he's glad.
Daniel wondered earlier if he was falling for her. Perhaps he is.
At length the tears stop. "Here," he says, offering a handkerchief.
He patiently waits while she composes herself. "Feel better?"
"A little," she admits. Removes her glasses to rub at her eyes, blinking away the last remaining tears. "I must look a fright."
"I'm ordinary. There's nothing special about me."
"You're wrong," he insists, brushing a lock of hair away from her face, carefully avoiding the bruises. "You're brilliant, kind and caring, bringing joy to everyone around you. You're more special than you know."
She ducks her head, a flush tinting her cheeks. "Oh, I wouldn't know about that. Not compared to Sam and Janet, anyway. Or Uncle Mac's girlfriends- well, except for Deborah but then she turned out to be an assassin hired to get close in order to kill him--"
A gentle finger against her lips silences her. "You don't need to compare yourself with anyone else, Becky. You're remarkable in your own right, I've known that ever since Seattle. Trust me."
"If you say so," she says dubiously. She's an interesting paradox- generally open-minded yet skeptical when it comes to her own self-worth.
He's looking forward to convincing her otherwise.
"I do. Hey, would I lie to you?" His best wide-eyed innocent expression makes her chuckle.
Daniel reaches out to remove first her glasses then his, setting them aside. She makes no objection.
Beautiful eyes. Guileless, blue as a clear winter's sky. Gazing at him with puzzlement but no fear whatsoever.
A light touch on her face draws her near, their lips the merest breath apart. Just like when they had to hide under the desk during the tremor.
A moment of stillness, saying nothing. Simply breathing in each other.
He closes the distance, seeking her lips gently. Feeling the soft warmth of them against his own.
Just like that one kiss in Seattle. So tender, so gentle, so sweet. Only this time he craves more.
Becky utters a quiet gasp as he wraps his arms around her, pulling her even closer. Brushes her lips against his, tentatively at first then with more confidence.
His mouth opens, his tongue teasing then parting hers to savor her sweetness. A soft moan escapes her as she tastes him in turn, her arms around his neck, combing through his hair. Kissing each other openly now with less hesitancy, more passion.
Their foreheads rest against each other once they finally part. "Oh Daniel," she breathes, "after all this time. I never thought--"
The music on the PA stops. "Attention," Walter announces, "all personnel to the Gateroom. Repeat, all personnel to the Gateroom."
With reluctance Becky pulls away. "We'd better go."
"Yeah." Though he can't resist leaning in for one more sweet kiss, which she obliges.
They retrieve their glasses and stand up together, lingering. Enjoying the feel of being in each other's arms, the intensity of their connection.
"C'mon," he says, offering his hand. "Let's see what's going on next door."
"Sure." With a shy smile she places her hand in his.
It's like walking on air, even though she's standing on her own two feet miles underground.
If Becky hadn't fallen for Daniel before this, she certainly has now.
Her heart goes out to him. Going through so much- including dying a few times- in his search for his lost wife, only to lose her forever just as they're reunited.
Yet he keeps on going. Heart scarred, eyes wise.
What's even more amazing about him, he thinks she's special. Beautiful, even.
And he kissed her. How about that.
All the amazing things she's seen and heard of over the past few months and she never saw it coming.
Her lips still tingle with the memory as they stroll into the Gateroom hand in hand, joining Mac and Janet as they stand to one side of the ramp.
"You okay, Beck?" Mac asks softly, concern evident in his eyes.
She nods, accepting his gentle kiss on the top of her head. "Either of you know what this is about?"
He looks to Janet, who shrugs. "Nope. How about you, Daniel?"
"Your guess is as good as mine."
Jack joins them, with Sam and Teal'c not far behind. "Feeling better, Beck?" he asks her with a gentle touch to her shoulder.
She gives an offhanded shrug. "A little. I'm not fine with what happened, but I'll live."
"Good enough for me, kiddo." He gestures to Mac and Daniel, leaning in close. His voice is low but Becky can't resist eavesdropping. "Hammond's made his decision. Shipped Norris off to Gamma base under escort ten minutes ago. He's out of our hair now."
Mac sighs in relief. "Thank god. That guy gave me the creeps."
"Any chance he'll get back to New Earth?" Daniel wants to know.
"Nope. Permanent posting, no chance of rotation or reassignment. He's not gonna have anything more to do with Becky or the rest of us if I can help it," Jack says firmly.
"Even if he does," Mac asserts, "we'll look out for our princess."
"Absolutely," Daniel agrees.
The fond glance in her direction from all three makes her cheeks flush. Not that she doesn't like the attention but surely she can take care of herself if the jerk ever shows up again.
It's not like she's a kid anymore, for crying out loud.
Hammond enters the room, military personnel automatically straightening to salute.
"At ease." He steps up onto the ramp, surveying those under his command. "Ladies and gentlemen, first I'd like to commend each and every one of you on a job well done in carrying out the contingency plan. You've performed your duties to the utmost in this time of grave danger and I'm proud of the esprit de corps and willingness to work demonstrated by everyone here. Together we've made a new world ready for settlement. Congratulations."
Everyone applauds. Airmen move among the crowd, passing around paper cups full of punch.
"I trust tonight has prepared you to bid farewell to Old Earth and face the New with anticipation. At this time I'd like to ask all of you to join me in a toast." He raises his cup and everyone follows suit.
"To those who have served since the very beginning." Jack, Daniel, Sam and Teal'c along with Janet trade glances.
"And to those whose time with us has just begun." Mac pulls Becky towards him in a sideways hug. Jack grins and winks at them.
"To those we've lost in the line of duty, and to everyone outside these walls who cannot join us- friends, foes and family alike." A respectful moment of silence.
"To those who defy the odds and manage to return to us even when all hope is gone." Jack raises playful eyebrows at Daniel, who rolls his eyes.
"And to those from elsewhere who stand by us, at our best and at our worst." Teal'c acknowledges with a solemn nod.
"Because there is no SGC without every single one of you, fighting the good fight, doing your utmost to protect our home wherever it may be. Cheers."
"Hear, hear," Daniel and others murmur in response. They drain their cups.
Walter glances at the clock. "It's zero hundred hours. Happy New Year."
Silence fills the room.
Becky begins to sing, surprising even herself: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot..." Others join in until the concrete walls resound with the familiar melody of Auld Lang Syne.
As she shares hugs and kisses with her uncles and the rest- especially Daniel- Becky can't help feeling optimistic.
It's different than the usual vague hope things will be better in the new year, however. More like a sense that something bigger and better's on the horizon, just a step away through the Gate.
The old world is ending but a new one's about to begin. Literally anything can happen.
Even falling in love.
Forgot to point out mentions of S03 E15 of MacGyver, "The Negotiator," the Stargate movie, Children of the Gods and S03 E10 "Forever In A Day." Just so you know.
Shockwaves ripple upwards from the Earth's outer core, permanently destabilizing weakened layers of mantle and crust.
Unable to withstand further tectonic and seismic strain, the unstable supervolcano complex under Yellowstone National Park reaches a breaking point. Energies are released in one massive jolt, the force of the eruption reverberating through the entire length of the Rocky Mountains. Clouds of toxic ash and gases pour into an atmosphere already rendered uninhabitable over the past few months.
Accumulated tensions find their release in a devastating fashion, shaking Cheyenne Mountain to its very roots. Stone walls and floors reinforced with concrete and steel shiver and crack, raining debris down on personnel. Sparks fly as the machinery keeping air, water, temperature and everything else required to sustain life starts breaking down under the immense stress.
This is the day the world ends.
The glass panel of the star map rattles in its frame. Technicians scramble to keep computer banks from toppling over. Daniel swallows, bracing himself against a wall through the aftershock.
He's experienced the odd earthquake while working on digs, but nothing compared to this. Like another order of catastrophe altogether.
"Should I begin dialing for New Earth, sir?" Walter asks Hammond, who is standing behind him.
The General grips the back of his chair, struggling to remain in place. He grimaces, staring out the window at the quiescent Gate. "Do it. And sound the call for final evacuation as well."
Klaxons blare, lights flash as Walter makes the announcement. "Sir, what about some sort of headcount?"
Hammond frowns in thought. "No. Too many people will be passing through the Gate for an accurate assessment. Better do it on New Earth."
Within minutes people pour through the blast doors on either side, coming to an abrupt halt a safe distance from the Gate as it comes to life.
"Daniel!" Sam joins him, with Teal'c not far behind. "Have you seen the Colonel?"
"Jack was grumbling a few hours ago about being sent upstairs for some sort of last minute sweep." He frowns, cocking his head. "But now that you mention it I haven't seen him since. Becky or Mac neither. How about you?"
Sam shakes her head. "I haven't, sorry. But they should be here soon, right?" She looks to Teal'c for confirmation.
"Indeed, Major Carter." There are times Daniel wishes he shares the Jaffa's seemingly unflappable confidence. Like right now.
The wormhole engages, the event horizon holding steady. As one the personnel assembled in the Gateroom turn to anxiously look up at their CO through the window, seeking permission.
"Go now!" Hammond orders into the microphone. "That means the rest of you, too," he adds to everyone in the control room. "This is it, people. Zero Hour. Now move it!"
The exodus begins.
Jack braces himself against the walls, cursing as the elevator car sways to and fro during a particularly bad aftershock.
Of course getting stuck in the elevator would have to happen now. Murphy's Law has been the SGC's unofficial motto since the very beginning, after all.
(The official one is Ad Astra- to the stars- but being a top-secret program it can't be used anywhere except on base. With the Gate becoming an open secret on New Earth that might change, however.)
He picks up the emergency phone. No dial tone. "Dammit."
Punches buttons in no particular order just to see what might happen. Not that he has a head for mechanical problems like Mac and Sam but it's better than doing nothing.
Naturally it doesn't work. Just his luck.
Another aftershock rattles the car. Time to get the heck outta Dodge, as Mac would say.
He reaches the latch for the emergency access panel above him without difficulty. Hauls himself up and out, the car wobbling a bit as he balances carefully on top. With dismay he notes one of the steel cables holding the elevator in place is on the verge of coming apart, before his very eyes.
Running down the length of the shaft is a ladder used for maintenance. Takes some judicious swinging- putting more strain on the fraying cable, but it can't be helped- to get close enough to make a grab for it.
A brief sense of triumph as his hand grasps a rung. He pulls himself over the rest of the way.
The cable breaks apart with a loud snap. Jack hangs onto the ladder for dear life, watching the car- followed not long after by the counterweight- drop swiftly into the darkness, missing him by mere inches. A loud crash as they land one on top of the other, way down at the far bottom of the shaft.
He swallows. Could've been him in there if he'd lingered inside, smashed flat as a pancake.
Jack grimaces at the morbid thought, gives himself a mental shake. Time to get a grip, for crying out loud. No good comes of contemplating what might've been. He's a man of action, right?
Better find a door he can force open enough as soon as possible.
As he begins his descent Jack fleetingly wishes Mac was with him, so he can distract himself from his own anxiety by taunting his brother about his fear of heights. He may be an experienced pilot but it's a hell of a long way down.
Oh, well. It'll make for an amusing story they can all laugh at over beers, once settled on New Earth.
Nice to imagine but he's heard the klaxons, and Walter's announcement. No time for woolgathering.
Now he's gotta hustle.
It's one thing to accept the fact the end of the world is near. Quite another when it actually happens.
They've been preparing for months and she can't even get herself to take her uncle's hand and run.
Cheyenne Mountain rocks to its very foundations. The klaxon's blaring. Their only way out is through the Gate.
For some reason her legs still refuse to lift. It's getting hard to breathe.
"C'mon Beck," Mac urges. "We gotta get out of here."
She wants to, she really wants to.
But she can't move a muscle. It's like she's rooted to the floor. "I...I can't."
"You can do anything if you put your mind to it. Just take my hand. I've got you."
Becky swallows, tentatively reaches out for him. Almost brushing his fingertips.
The room trembles. There's a loud creaking, groaning sound above her head. Instead of lunging forward she swiftly snatches her hand back.
Mac's eyes widen. "What the heck--"
A section of the ceiling crashes down between them, accompanied by chunks of rubble and a cloud of dust. She staggers backwards, covering her head.
The room goes dark. Blindly she takes another step behind her, back colliding smartly against a wall. She makes a soft "oof" at the impact.
"Becky! You okay?"
She opens her mouth to reply and winds up coughing from inhaling dust. "Yeah, I think so," she finally manages. "But I'm trapped, Unc."
"Don't worry, I'll get you out. Just gotta make a hole big enough for you to get through. Hang on, alright?" She can hear him scrabbling at the rubble, digging her out with bare hands if he has to.
More creaks and groans from the floor above. Her surroundings shift in a foreboding manner.
Becky takes a deep breath, struggling to quell a rising sense of panic.
It's not working. She whimpers.
Just like her nightmares. Buried alive. No escape possible.
Oh god-Oh god-Oh god. Not again-Not again-Not again!
A portion of stone shakes loose from the jagged edge of the ceiling, hitting her in the face. She cries out in pain, touching her cheek. Blinks in surprise at the feel of blood on her fingers.
"Beck? You sure you're okay? Heard you cry out."
The pain and Mac's voice are enough for her to shake off the panic, for now. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"I'm working on getting you out but there's a lot of stuff in the way. Just be brave and hold on, okay?"
"Okay." She takes heart from her uncle's words.
Every time the odds are stacked against them he's always saved the day, no matter what. He'll get her out. She has faith in him.
As for herself?
Becky takes a deep, shuddering breath. If ever there was a time to be brave, it's now.
Easier said than done, though.
Jack's lost track of how many levels he's passed by now with no luck in getting any doors open.
It's Zero Hour and he's in an underground elevator shaft with the mountain ready any minute now to collapse on top of him. Just peachy.
Not the way he's ever wanted to spend New Year's, that's for sure.
He sighs, resumes his steady climb down the ladder, one rung after another. No choice but to keep going; Ellen Jackson-O'Neill-MacGyver didn't raise her kids to be quitters, after all.
Ten minutes later he finds one he can barely shove open, just enough to squeeze past. With a groan he sprawls on the concrete floor long enough to catch his breath, then forces himself to stand.
About ten minutes before automatic shut-off for the Gate, according to his watch. Better get a move on.
Jack begins jogging down the corridor, towards the door to the stairwell at the other end.
Daniel pauses before the Gate, taking one last look around the room.
Everyone else is gone. Only himself, Sam, Teal'c, Walter (faithful Gatekeeper to the end), and Hammond remain.
No sign yet of Jack though, or his brother.
Or Becky, for that matter.
(Such sweet kisses they shared the other night. He craves more, even as he's beginning to despair of ever tasting her again.)
Sam comes up alongside. "Don't worry, Daniel. I'm sure they're already on the other side. Bet you the Colonel's gonna make a show of tapping his watch and asking what kept us."
He smiles faintly. "You're probably right."
But just in case he murmurs a passage from The Spells of Coming Forth by Day under his breath before stepping through the event horizon: "My heart is as light as a feather. There is no sin in my body. I have not spoken that which is not true knowingly, nor have I done anything with a false heart..."
For Jack, and Mac. Most of all for Becky, who out of all of them may be the most worthy of the best afterlife possible.
If worst comes to worst he'll mourn their loss tomorrow, as deeply and honestly as he knows how.
For now this is the least he can do, to speed them on their way.
The corridors are achingly empty as never before. He's gotta be the last man on Earth by now.
Or maybe not. Jack pauses at a sudden shiver tickling along his spine. It's a little wacko but due to recent events he's come to think of it as a "Spidey-sense" of sorts regarding his family, especially when they're nearby.
Nah, not possible. Surely they're on New Earth by now.
A loud crash in a nearby room. He swears he's going nuts when he hears Mac's voice crying out Becky's name. The tickle remains, though.
Damn. Now he's really gotta check it out, despite the time crunch.
When he enters his eyes widen at the gap in the ceiling above, Mac struggling to move a pile of rubble out of the way with his bare hands. "Need some help?"
His brother half turns, looking at him with startled eyes. "Jack! What the heck are you still doing here?"
"Could ask you the same question. What's going on?"
"Becky's on the other side. I'm trying to get this slab out of the way. See anything I could use as a lever?"
Jack looks around for options. He may not have his brother's talent, but knows how to think outside the box when needed.
He spies a piece of rebar and hefts it. "How about this?"
Mac nods. "Looks long enough. I'll use that chunk of concrete over there as a fulcrum." He sets the rebar in place, shoving one end under the slab. "Becky, you need to keep away for a bit, okay? We got a lever in place, but we don't want you to get hurt if anything slips."
"Who's we? I thought you and I were the only ones here." Her voice is faint, but clear.
Jack shares a look with Mac. "It's me, Beck. Do what Mac says, okay? Don't worry, we'll get ya out of there soon as we can."
"Please hurry. It's dark and cold and oh god, I can't breathe--" Her breathing quickens, probably even hyperventilating.
He shares a concerned look with Mac, who nods confirmation.
Panic attack. Probably residual PTSD, from getting caught in that landslide.
No time to panic themselves, though. "Easy, kiddo," Jack says in a soothing tone. "You've got plenty of air. Just cup your hands in front of your face like you're warming them up, okay? Nice deep breaths."
After a short while she says weakly, "Okay, I'm better now. I think."
"Good girl. You're gonna be just fine. Alright Mac, let's move this sucker." On the count of three they haul like hell on the rebar; the slab eventually shifts enough for them to move it out of the way.
Working together they quickly clear a hole big enough for Becky to climb through. Finally she emerges, covered in dust, a trickle of blood on her left cheek. They help steady her as she carefully makes her way over the pile.
When she's at the bottom she insists on a brief hug from each. "That's our brave girl," Jack murmurs, gently patting her back. "Piece of cake, right?"
"Not to sound ungrateful for the assist, Jack," Mac says, "but what the heck are you doing here?"
"Bathroom break. C'mon kids, let's blow this joint."
They hurry for the Gateroom, dodging scattered chunks of debris and burst pipes billowing steam. The blast doors are closed part way; it takes all three to heave it open.
There's nothing so beautiful as that blue-white shimmer, filling the room with a calm, unearthly glow.
"Thank god," Becky breathes. "We're gonna make it."
The entire room quivers with the force of a single powerful jolt, from floor to ceiling.
Windows shatter with the impact, already weakened by months of accumulated stress. Automatically he and Mac duck their heads, raising their arms to shield Becky and each other from the glass shards raining down upon them.
Enough. Time to get gone.
They break into a run. The ramp shudders with every footfall.
The event horizon holds steady. Promising a way out.
Seven steps to go.
A high-pitched hum fills the air, eerie counterpart to the deep rumble. Volume increasing with every second.
Gate overload. Damn.
Jack spins to one side, drags them off the ramp with him. Just before a shower of sparks erupt from the Gate in every direction.
The event horizon disappears.
The ground rocks. Cracks widen in the high concrete walls.
This is it. They're out of options.
At least everyone else has a chance at a fresh start on New Earth. Gotta count for something, right?
Becky coughs, takes a deep breath. Rises to her feet, wiping the blood off her face before turning to face them. "I'm glad we're together, at the end. I love you guys."
Mac swallows, fighting back tears as he pulls her close against him. Protecting her as always, to his very last breath if necessary. "Same here, princess. Love you too."
Jack wants to do the same, hold his family tight as the mountain comes crashing down around them. But he can't even muster one last quip. He settles on shoving his hands in his pockets.
His right hand closes around something, pulls out a purplish-gray stone, Norse runes carved along the rim.
Of course. A communication stone. Gift from a little gray buddy of his, who surely owes him several favors by now. Time to collect.
The massive concrete walls begin to buckle. A groaning, creaking sound from high above, the ceiling caving in as if in slow motion.
This had better work. "Close your eyes and hold on, okay?" Curving one arm around them, he raises the stone above his head with the other and presses it, hard.
Flash of white light behind closed eyelids.
"The Spells of Coming Forth by Day" is part of the Ancient Egyptian funerary texts collectively known as The Book of the Dead. I figure that's what Daniel might be compelled to quote, despite the references to Goa'uld false gods.
Becky opens her eyes, blinking away the dancing spots. Blinks again at the change of scenery.
Smooth, sleek, curvilinear. Arches everywhere- around doorways, interspersed along walls, containing panels of white lights. Circular viewport behind them displaying a starfield.
Definitely not the military-drab concrete of the SGC.
Mac releases her and staggers back, eyes wide as he takes everything in. "Whoa," he says reverently.
"You said it," she agrees, likewise stunned.
Jack sighs in relief, wiping his brow. "Whew. Talk about your close shaves, huh?"
Movement in front of them catches her eye and she swallows. "Uh, guys? We're not alone."
Beings more than a foot shorter than her regard them curiously. Exceedingly lean bodies and long arms. Skin tones in various shades of gray. Large craniums, slits for nostrils, tiny ears, small mouths parted. Slanted black eyes without pupils. No visible indication of gender.
Mac raises his hands, palms out. "Um, hi. Take us to your leader?"
Jack- of all things- just chuckles. "Hey, there. How's tricks?"
"The male Tau'ri are identical!" one alien exclaims in wonder.
"Yet different at the same time," another observes, staring up at Mac in awe. "The hair on this one is longer." He flushes under the scrutiny, automatically lifting one hand towards his shaggy locks.
"The female is shorter, with hair a different color," another says, gesturing at her with a six-fingered hand. "And wears spectacles, like the Tau'ri Daniel Jackson."
"Enough. Leave our guests alone, all of you." The onlookers part to admit another of their number, nothing distinguishing him from the others yet possessing an air of command nonetheless. "Return to your duties." They scatter.
Jack beams. "Thor, my man! Thanks for the assist."
"I am glad to have provided you and your family with a timely escape, Colonel." The diminutive alien turns to her and Mac, regally inclines his head. "Greetings. I am Thor, Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet. Welcome aboard the Sleipnir."
"Not the one named after me, huh?" Jack looks a little crestfallen.
"Of course not. The O'Neill-class are needed in our fight against the Replicators. This ship is of the Beliskner-class."
An incredulous look from Mac. "Wait a minute. A whole class of alien starships is named after you?"
Jack sports a smug grin. "Yep. Pretty cool, huh?"
"The Colonel and his team have heroically provided assistance to my race on several occasions." the alien explains. "A fitting way to show our gratitude. You are MacGyver, are you not? And Dr. Rebecca Grahme," nodding to her. "A pleasure to meet you both."
"Um, likewise." The scrutiny from those opaque, unblinking eyes makes her more than a little nervous.
Not like Norris, however. Different, more speculative than hostile. Unnerving all the same.
Thor turns to Jack. "O'Neill, you should know that the mountain holding your base collapsed completely not long after you were teleported. The Stargate is no longer accessible."
"Oh, no," Becky gasps. "Everyone on New Earth must think we're dead by now. How awful."
"Do not worry, Dr. Grahme. A message of reassurance will be sent before we leave the solar system. There are some duties to attend to first, but we will embark soon."
"How long will it take for us to get to New Earth?" Mac asks.
"About a day and a half, by hyperspace. Accommodations have been prepared for you."
"Any inflight entertainment?" Jack quips.
Mac sighs, rubs the back of his neck. "Sounds good. Feel like I could crash for a week."
"Perhaps it is time for all three of you to rest," Thor suggests. He nods to another Asgard standing nearby. "Show Colonel O'Neill and his family to their quarters."
"So the mighty gods of Norse mythology are really little gray men, huh?" Mac murmurs to Jack as they follow their diminutive guide from the bridge.
"Aw man, just when I think it can't get any more nuts."
Jack chortles quietly, patting his brother on the back. "Trust me, you ain't seen nothing yet."
His arms enfold her, pulling her close to his body. She melts into his tender embrace, filling her senses with the warmth and softness of his bare skin, the desire reflected in his compelling blue eyes, the intoxicating smell of leather, books and something uniquely, wonderfully him. "My raven."
"My hummingbird." Long fingers cup her face, slowly caress her body as if examining a precious artifact by touch alone, before his mouth hungrily captures hers. She moans as he tastes her, with the same care and complete attention to detail he takes in discovering a new find.
Together they fall backwards onto the bed, hands and lips exploring freely. Seeking those places that send shivers through each other, stoking their shared passion to new heights. Exchanging words of love in every language they both know as their bodies move together...
Becky lunges upright with a start, chest heaving in an effort to slow her pounding heart.
Waves of longing make her shudder and gasp. She draws her knees up and wraps her arms around herself, trying to make sense of the intense feelings flowing through her.
So real, as if Daniel was right there with her. Which is weird, as none of her previous boyfriends had ever inspired a dream so...arousing...before.
And why she's having one like that now, she has absolutely no idea. She's with her uncles on an alien starship after being beamed aboard from a collapsing mountain, for crissake.
In psychologist mode her mom might consider it an unconscious response to facing certain death. Reaffirming an act of life, even if only in her imagination.
Whatever it means, it's most definitely out of the ordinary. A phrase which could be the understatement of the century, all things considered.
The sensations finally ebb and she feels like herself again. She takes a deep breath, letting her eyes adjust to the darkened room. Considers her surroundings.
To her left an endless field of stars outside the viewport.
To her right her uncles sprawl on ersatz beds (sleeping platforms, really), their soft snores adding the only note of familiarity to this whole bizarre situation.
Their temporary quarters are otherwise silent- no beeps, no clicks, no hum of machinery or other sound effects associated with space travel in movies or TV shows. Asgard technology appears to be quiet, clean, efficient.
Not quite what any of them expected in the way of amenities, either. Sanitary facilities a trifle small for human frames, machines that clean their bodies using sonic waves. MREs or their equivalent and bottles of water from a matter converter upon request, kinda like Star Trek.
It's like the Big Quake knocked her and Mac out of the ordinary world, and into one straight out of science fiction. Amazing and terrifying in turns.
Sure beats the alternative, though.
By all rights Becky ought to be going back to sleep but she can't. She's used to insomnia, being a night-owl from way back.
Besides, the idea of watching over her uncles pleases her. She revels in the quiet, finding reassurance in their presence and the simple miracle of being alive.
Though if people had told her even five months ago she'd be in an honest-to-god alien spaceship (rescued, not abducted), to live out the rest of her life on another planet--
She'd have thought them absolutely nuts. No doubt about it.
A soft, almost subliminal chime. The guys shift and grumble but remain unconscious.
Another chime. She makes her way to a panel on the other side of the room, touches it. The door slides open.
An Asgard with a light-blue tone to his gray skin regards her with curiosity. "Greetings. My name is Baldur."
"I'm Becky. Nice to meet you." Automatically she offers her hand.
He takes it, six fingers briefly touching five. Gives a sort-of smile. "Nice to meet you as well. The Supreme Commander wishes to see you on the bridge."
She glances back into the room. "Um, should I wake my uncles for this?"
"No. He has requested only your presence. Please come with me."
They walk side by side through the corridors. She can't help gaping at her surroundings a bit.
"You have never been on one of our ships before?" Baldur inquires politely.
"No, I haven't. This is amazing." A thousand questions swirl in her mind but somehow none of them seem like appropriate topics of conversation. Finally she ventures, "May I ask what you do?"
"I am a scientist. My specialty is a little obscure, but interesting work nonetheless."
"What is it?"
"I study the languages of other races, Tau'ri among others."
"Oh, really? I'm a linguist too."
"Yes, the Commander told me. He thought we might have something in common. I am sorry for the loss of your homeworld. Such a diverse planet, many different ways to communicate."
"Thank you." They walk in silence for a while. "You have an interesting name. It reminds me of a story I once heard."
He cocks his head. "I like stories. Please tell me."
"There once was a Norse god named Baldur. He was generous, joyful, and courageous. Everyone adored him. Then one day he began to have ominous dreams about his death. His father Odin found out it was a true prophecy from a seeress but his mother Frigga tried to prevent it anyway, by seeking out everything in existence and making them promise never to harm her beloved son.
"Once the oaths were secured, the other gods decided to put it to the test. They threw all kinds of things at Baldur- sticks, stones, weapons of all kinds. And true enough everything bounced off and left him completely unharmed.
"Loki the trickster god sensed an opportunity for malicious mischief. In disguise, he went to Frigga and asked her if she really made everything promise to spare Baldur from harm. Everything, she confirmed- except for the mistletoe plant. It looked so small and innocent, she thought it couldn't do any harm.
"This was too good a coincidence for Loki to pass up. He located the mistletoe, bound it into an arrow, and brought it to where the gods were still having their fun. He convinced another god to throw the arrow at Baldur, who died right on the spot.
"After his funeral Hermiod- one of his brothers- volunteered to ransom him from the queen of the dead. He pleaded with her to release Baldur, telling her of the great sorrow that all living things felt in his absence. She agreed, with one condition: If all truly wept for Baldur, she would send him back. But if there was even one refusal, he would remain by her side forever.
"Upon hearing of this everything wept, with one exception- the giantess Tokk, who was later found to be Loki in disguise. Because of the refusal, Baldur was condemned to remain forever in the land of the dead."
"What a strange story," the Asgard muses. "Odin was the founder of our race, though many millennia ago. I have never heard of Frigga but I know of Hermiod. Loki as well, though I cannot imagine any of my fellow scientists willingly doing harm to another being. I confess I do not understand."
She shrugs, belatedly realizing the gesture's lost on the Asgard. "To be honest I don't either."
"Do you know other stories?"
"I do, and so does a friend of mine. I'm sure we'd be willing to share them should you ever visit New Earth."
"I would like to do that someday. Thank you for the story."
"May I consider you a friend? I enjoy your company."
She blinks in surprise. "Why, yes. I'd like that. Thank you, Baldur."
"You are welcome, Becky."
Another alien friend. How about that.
Finally they reach the bridge, full of other Asgard who murmur among themselves at her presence.
"I was under the impression your ships only needed to be run by minimal crew."
"Normally that is the case," Baldur explains, "but this is a special occasion. A planet dying is a rare opportunity for research. There is one final duty to perform, before we leave the solar system for good."
They approach the command chair. An Asgard with a more muddy complexion says to Thor in a pleading tone, "But they are genetically identical! Think of the advance this would make in our cloning research. If you would just give me permission to take samples now while they remain unconscious--"
Thor cuts him off with a curt gesture. "Out of the question, Loki. O'Neill is a valuable ally, and his family is under my protection. Do not speak of this again." He waves the scientist away.
Baldur turns to Loki inquisitively as he passes by. "Are you a trickster?"
Loki stares at him. "Am I what? You are a strange one sometimes, Baldur."
"Dr. Grahme," Thor greets her in a cordial tone. "What do you think of the Sleipnir?"
"It's beautiful. Unlike anything I've ever seen before. May I ask why you wanted to see just me and not my uncles?"
"Because you alone are best suited to undertake something for us."
"And what might that be?"
"When a planet of our allies is dying it is our solemn duty to take note, so its existence will never be forgotten. Will you be Witness to the Earth's final moments with us? You have the right to decline, though you would be doing us a great honor if you agreed."
The thought makes Becky quake inside. The end of the Earth. Right here, right now.
And they want her to be a Witness. Her, of all people.
She's tempted at first to decline. But then reconsiders, thinking of her uncles. She's never considered herself particularly brave, never really believed in herself.
But her uncles always have believed in her, and still do. Among the stories and words of encouragement there's one phrase they've both given her over the years that hasn't failed her yet:
According to the mission reports the Asgard are an honorable race. They didn't have to protect Earth and the SGC during the last few months but they did anyway, out of a sense of duty.
Time to step up and do hers, no matter the consequences. The least she can do, to honor them along with those who perished during and after the Big Quake.
"Alright, I'll be your Witness. What now?"
Thor gestures towards a forward viewer. "Merely open your mind to us, and watch."
Once a blue orb full of swirling white clouds, continents picked out in shades of green and brown. Beautiful. A perfect and unique jewel against the black velvet backdrop of space.
Now Earth's barely recognizable.
Not like it was last month, certainly. Or even several hours ago when she was tucked in her sleeping bag, cozily sandwiched between her uncles.
What's happening is quick and devastating.
Out of all the geologists and planetologists on base, not one has yet figured out what caused the Earth to destabilize in the first place. And most likely never will.
No trace of life on the surface by now. Everything's already destroyed by earthquakes, tsunamis, horrendous storms, toxins in the atmosphere.
Ocean plates soften and melt, joining with the continental plates. Dark islands in glowing oceans of magma that soon dissolve like sugar cubes in water.
Earth's evolution winding back to the beginning, right before her eyes.
Even from this safe distance the scale is immense. At the Phoenix Foundation Dr. Williams once gave a fascinating lunch hour lecture on the Earth's structure. If, he explained, one tried to draw a scale model on paper using the floor of, say, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as a surface with everything in proportion, the crust would still only show up as the thinnest of pencil lines.
The whole of human history, its drama and passion and bustle, occurring on a layer of dirt and rock no thicker than an eggshell. Which is being obliterated even as she watches.
A giant magma plume from the mantle- one of many- blasts out a chunk of rock the size of a small moon, with incredible force. It falls back down to earth, unable to achieve sufficient orbital velocity.
Without thinking Becky takes a step back, shuddering. Small alien bodies crowd around her, offer wordless support.
She's read lots of science fiction over the years, even about the end of the world. Absorbed enough concepts to follow Sam's explanations most of the time.
A big difference, though, between visualizing an author's words for entertainment and seeing it happen for real. Almost too much to accept, for all her open-mindedness and imagination.
She's tempted to turn and run. What she's Witnessing, she thinks, will surely be engraved forever in her mind and soul.
But instead she remains in front of the viewer out of a stubborn sense of obligation. See it through to the bitter end, so the survivors on New Earth will understand once and for all there's no going back.
This is what being brave truly means, she thinks.
Again the Earth has the appearance of a jewel. This time a fire opal- orange, brown and deep ruby red, shot through with streaks of white, yellow and green. Beautiful in its own alarming way.
Barely four months since the Big Quake and the planet is reduced to this.
Cracks widen in the magma, filling up with more incandescent plasma bleeding outwards from the core. Giant chunks of rock burst out of the churning surface with sufficient force to achieve orbit, tracing long, glowing curves in their wake.
At length the last fragile remnants of mantle break apart, revealing the plasma ball surrounding the planet's inner core. Spinning at a fantastic rate as it expands, spitting out fragments of molten rock and iron.
After reaching a limit it contracts, briefly.
Then explodes outward, in a final burst of heat and light.
She staggers as the ship wobbles a bit. "Whoa..."
"A slight gravitational wave," one of the Asgard assures her, a supportive hand on her arm. "Do not fear. The Sleipnir is already compensating."
Abruptly orphaned the Moon shudders then continues its solitary orbit, this time around a cloud of dust and volatiles with tiny black holes and exotic particles at its center.
All that remains of the late great Planet Earth, the thriving diversity and complexity of life that surely made it one of the most remarkable planets in the galaxy, if only to those who lived there.
All of it gone. Just like that.
"Enough," Thor says.
The viewer becomes opaque. The final image burning into her retinas, possibly every neuron and synapse of her brain.
Becky wants to run, cry, faint. Scream to the uncaring universe at the injustice of it all. But she can only stand there, stunned.
A gentle touch on her arm startles her. "Dr. Grahme, close your eyes and remember," Thor says softly. "Please, let us see your world as you do."
Awareness fades as memories and images flicker unbidden through her mind's eye:
Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza. The Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, Pyramids of Egypt, the Parthenon. The Ganges, the Rhine, the Amazon, the Nile, the Mississippi. Olduvai Gorge, where the second evolution of humanity began after the Ancients disappeared.
People of every shape, size and skin tone, living their lives unaware of the larger universe. The beauty and mystery of nature and its myriad creatures.
Sparkle of sunlight on the blue Pacific, the smell of salt spray and the endless roar of the surf. Sand shifting under her feet. Mac's warm hand holding hers as they stroll along the beach.
The warm touch of the sun in summer. Leaves turning colors in the fall, golden and crimson and burnt orange. The chill, stark perfection of winter. The first flowers of spring promising renewal and rebirth.
Smell of fir trees and woodsmoke, the flicker of a campfire. The hoot of owls and rustle of nocturne activity outside the tent.
The comfortable Craftsman home where she grew up. Sound of rain hitting her bedroom window, late nights spent reading with only the moon for company. Summer stargazing nights in the backyard, the family all together, Mac and Jack spinning fabulous yarns about the constellations.
Her mother's wry smiles and warm hugs. Her father's laughter, the smell of his cooking. Her brother teasing gently, ruffling her hair.
Three coffins, a gravestone carved with three names. Her uncles to either side, strong and loving support in reserve.
Lying on her bed in Los Angeles, staring at clouds passing by through the skylight. Singing with friends in high school choir. The way learning a language sparks new connections in her mind.
Heating dinner for Mac when he comes home after a tough assignment. Laughing at Jack's attempts to juggle salad makings whenever he visits on leave.
The L.A. Basin sinking before her eyes, the Pacific Ocean crashing in to fill the gap.
Making new friends, and unexpectedly finding love with an old one. The promise of adventure through a shimmering event horizon.
The world crashing down upon her once again, this time for real. Darkness, cold and pain. Then two strong hands clasp hers, pull her into the light. Her beloved hero uncles, saving her as always when she needs it most.
Flash of white light. Her beautiful, precious homeworld, gone forever.
Moisture gathers in Becky's eyes, trickling down her face. A six-fingered hand brushes a drop off her cheek with infinite tenderness.
"Tears," Baldur says, a note of wonder in his voice.
"Yes," Thor says with satisfaction. "Dr. Grahme, you have done us a great honor, offering tears when we cannot and granting access to your memories of a lost world. You have the gratitude of both myself and my race. With our duty done, we can now leave this solar system."
She merely nods in reply. Stands there in utter stillness, head bowed, shoulders slumped. Too weary in both mind and body to do anything else.
"What are your intentions towards her?" Baldur asks him. "We cannot send her back to her uncles like this. They will be angry she did the Witnessing without their knowledge or approval."
"Which is why her memory will be suppressed until the time is right, when she can speak of what she has seen to an appropriate audience."
"She has risked her sanity for us. You know how most Witnesses go insane after we release them. There must be something else we can offer her in compensation."
"I have been considering that, Baldur. It is in our best interest to make the new Tau'ri settlement as strong and thriving as possible. The High Council believes Dr. Grahme could be instrumental in that goal, with some subtle encouragement from us."
"Surely not an implant! It would go against the treaty--"
Thor waves away his objections. "Merely subliminal suggestions while she is unconscious. It will do her no harm."
Baldur frowns in thought. "She also possess the Ancient gene, as do as her uncles. On New Earth there is one of their cities, not to mention the Star in the Eye--"
"Precisely. She will be needed." He holds up a glowing device in the palm of his hand. "You have our thanks, Dr. Grahme. Sleep now."
A flash of purple light sends her into darkness.
A gentle hand on her shoulder, nudging her awake. "Becky? Time to wake up."
She yawns. "Aw c'mon, Unc. Five more minutes, okay? Not even light outside yet."
Her uncles chuckle as she sits up, taking in her surroundings. The room lit now by soft indirect lighting, streaks of blue out the viewport.
It might be any time of the day or night. Or no time at all, considering they must be in hyperspace now.
"Hey there, sleepyhead," Jack smirks at her, lacing his boots. "Must've been pretty tired, huh?"
"Was I out a long time?"
Mac looks up from inspecting his trusty leather jacket, smiles. "You slept until you were done sleeping. Harry used to say that's often the right amount."
"Not that there's much else for us to do, anyway," Jack adds. "Thor says we've still got some downtime before reaching New Earth. Got any ideas for entertainment?"
She grins. "Might have one. Still got that deck of cards tucked in one of your pockets? I'm up for some gin rummy if you guys are."
"Sounds good. Be prepared to lose a lot, though. My nickname at the Academy was 'Blackjack O'Neill' after all. Which was where my callsign came from, now I think about it. You up for a hand or several, Mac?"
He sets the jacket aside, rolls up his sleeves as he joins them on her sleeping platform. "Why not? I'll deal first. Hand 'em over."
As Mac shuffles the deck Becky rubs the back of her neck and sighs. No idea where this awful nagging headache came from. Not to mention the feeling she's forgetting something really important.
Oh, well. No matter.
Time to have some fun.
Jack groans. "For crying out loud. Again? How many games have you been winning since yesterday, anyway? I've lost count."
Becky laughs, counts through the bottle caps alongside the discarded playing cards. "At the current exchange rate you guys owe me at least ten favors each of whatever I need doing when we get to New Earth."
"She's gotta be cheating or something, right? Why didn't you warn me, Mac?"
"Don't look at me, Jack. If I told ya before we started how good a player she is, you would've said I was nuts. Better to let you find out for yourself." He grins and winks at Becky, who giggles.
"Yeah, sure, ya betcha," Jack concedes, ruefully shaking his head. "But really, how is it you're winning so many more times at this game than we are?"
"Natural skill and talent, I guess. Plus I've had opportunities for practice over the years."
"And just when, exactly, did you have the time among your studies?"
"Mostly playing against Pete and Jack Dalton while waiting for Unc to get out of the emergency room, after getting injured on assignment. Happened often enough for the pretty nurses to start greeting him by name, let me tell you." She winks at Mac, who ducks his head and flushes slightly.
Jack's brow furrows. "Jack Dalton? You mean that wacko foster kid from next door in Mission City who wanted to be a pilot when he grew up? Always wondered what happened to that guy."
"Usually spent a lot of time tricking me into helping him with one crazy get-rich-quick scheme after another," Mac says with a rueful chuckle.
"And succeeding, too," Becky chimes in. "Though he did an okay job keeping an eye on me the other times you were away. Another round, guys?"
"Sure, but I still think you've got somethin' up your sleeve--" The door chimes, and Jack gets up off the bed to answer. "Baldur, is it?" as the Asgard enters. "You're just in time to watch our card-shark niece here beat the pants off us at gin rummy for the umpteenth time in a row."
"Colonel O'Neill," Baldur greets with a nod. "MacGyver. Becky. You are well?"
She has the oddest impression he's aiming that question directly at her. And that he has a different reason for asking other than simple courtesy. She has no idea why.
"Just peachy, thanks," Jack replies. "Any idea how much longer 'til we get to New Earth?"
"We are not long from approaching high orbit around the planet. The Supreme Commander requests your presence on the bridge."
"Terrific. Not that we don't appreciate the hospitality, but this reminds me a lot of being cooped up in quarantine on base. I've been itching to stretch my legs for hours." He scoops up his BDU jacket. "C'mon, guys. Let's get outta here."
From orbit New Earth's actually a pretty nice planet. Just as Dr. Giovanni advertised, with oceans, two continents and several archipelagos. Everything waiting to be explored and named.
Not exactly like Old Earth, though. But close. Shades of blue-green and burnt umber cover the landmasses. Water close to the usual blue, though with a slight violet tinge. Icecaps at the poles and swirling clouds also familiar shades of white and gray.
Two mountain ranges on the northern half of the western continent frame the settlement valley like a pair of parentheses, running north to south. To Becky it resembles an eye, only vertical instead of horizontal.
She frowns. The shape reminds her of something important, yet for the life of her she can't remember what.
Maybe it'll come to her later.
"There it is, kids," Jack says. "Bit different than the more greener planets I've visited, but plenty of trees nonetheless. Not bad."
Mac nods in agreement. "Beautiful in its own way. And a chance at a fresh start, for all of us. Hopefully we won't blow it this time."
"We'll do better by this one, Unc. We're resourceful enough to give it the best start possible. You'll see." Looking down at their new home she can't help but feel optimistic.
"Colonel O'Neill, MacGyver. Dr. Grahme." There's that scrutiny again in Thor's unblinking gaze, making her more than a bit uneasy. "It is time for you to beam down to the planet. You will land in an open area of the settlement, instead of any private dwellings."
"Much appreciated," Jack says with a nod. "And so's your hospitality. Beam down and say hi, next time you're in the neighborhood."
"I will do so, be sure of it. Please tell General-Governor Hammond the Protected Planets Treaty is still in effect, along with our alliance. And that we will be arriving at your Alpha Base soon to aid in building your fighters and ships."
"Will do. And hey, if you guys ever need a hand with the Replicators or whatever, give me a call. We owe you big time for this."
"I was merely doing my duty, O'Neill. But not burdensome, I assure you. I wish you and your race the best of luck in your new home."
"Farewell, Becky," Baldur says beside him. "I am glad to have met you. I look forward to hearing more stories."
"I'm glad to have met you, too," she assures him. "I have plenty of stories to share, and you're always welcome to stop by."
She turns to their host. Manners are important, after all. "Thank you for everything. Safe travels and the best of luck to you and your people as well."
A pleased nod from Thor. "You are most welcome. Until we meet again, O'Neill, MacGyver, Dr. Grahme. Farewell."
Flash of white light.
Becky blinks in the bright sunlight. Right in the middle of a compound. Hangars and barracks and the SGC flag on a tall pole, flying proudly in the blue-violet sky.
Mac looks up at the sky, shaking his head. "Never gonna get used to that..."
Personnel gather around, gaping and murmuring. Jack opens his arms wide and grins.
"Hey, folks. Didya miss us?"
Again, no extensive knowledge of earth science or geology beyond the basics, though I did have inspiration from a couple novels by Stephen Baxter and Greg Bear. Apologies for any errors.
A more detailed recounting of the Baldur myth can be found at https://norse-mythology.org/tales/the-death-of-baldur/
I love the Asgard race in the series. They're so much fun.