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String Theory: An AU Series

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Ficlet 1: Pendant

The first time Jack sees her, he’s wandering in front of the windows of the briefing room, half listening to Daniel’s latest emphatic discussion of something or other. Movement in the room below catches his eye, a welcome distraction.

At the center of the room stands a woman he has never seen before. His first impression is that she looks sort of…washed out. A pale face is framed by shoulder length blond hair, and the white lab coat she wears does nothing to break up the monochromatic scheme. She is so still, that for a moment he wonders if he is going to have to start believing in ghosts now too.

“Daniel,” Jack says, not caring that he is rather rudely interrupting the archeologist’s latest diatribe.

“Yeah?” Daniel answers with a sigh of annoyance.

“Who is that?” Jack asks pointing down below.

Daniel drifts over to the window, his irritation dropping away in the face of curiosity. He peers down at her with his arms crossed over his chest. “Oh, her,” he says. “That’s Dr. Samantha Carter.”

“Archeologist?” Jack queries, not bothering to hide the hint of displeasure in his voice.

“No,” Daniel patiently says, squinting up at Jack. “Theoretical astrophysicist.”

“Just what this place needs,” Jack grouses, “another geek doing some job I can’t even pronounce.”

Shaking his head with fond exasperation, Daniel moves back to his seat at the table to wait for the rest of their team.

For some reason he can’t quite explain, Jack stays at the window watching the theoretical-whatsis. She’s still standing at the base of the ramp, but then she glances furtively over both of her shoulders as if looking for someone to tell her she doesn’t belong there. Which she doesn’t, new scientist or not. But Jack decides to ignore that fact for the moment.

Apparently having gathered some courage, the woman starts slowly up the ramp, her footsteps echoing eerily. She stops only when she stands within the giant circle. Reaching out one hand she hesitantly reaches out to touch the gate, running her fingers down the sweeping curve of the inner ring.

With both of her hands on the gate now, it strikes Jack that she is somehow trying to make the mysterious object more real…more concrete. It seems a strange sentimentality for a scientist, but then again, Daniel surprises him all the time, so he’s learned to expect the unexpected.

One of the blast doors slides open with a clang and the scientist jumps as if burned. She turns quickly, her hands dropping to her sides. She quietly watches the changing of the guards around the gate.

Then, for no evident reason, she lifts her head and looks straight up at Jack. He stares back at her and his first thought is that he’ll have to rethink his initial assessment of her as bland. It’s her eyes, he decides. They give him the inexplicable feeling of someone just waking up, coming alive after long hibernation. He surprises himself by wanting to know what exactly had given her that look.

“Colonel,” Hammond’s voice calls from behind Jack.

Jack spins around to find his team already seated at the table.

“Why don’t we get started,” the General says, gesturing to the table.

“Sure thing, sir,” Jack says, sticking his hands in his pockets as if he hasn't just been caught off guard.

He spares one more moment to glance back over his shoulder, but the mystery scientist is gone. Jack stares at the gate for another beat before settling down at the briefing table, the conversation turning to P8X-987 and SG-1’s next mission.

By the time the meeting finishes, Dr. Samantha Carter is long forgotten.

*     *     *     *

Her fingers are methodically kneading dough when Sam registers the soft click-thump of the daily mail delivery. With half a mind on the feel of the elastic dough sucking at her skin, her eyes automatically glance at the clock, registering 3:15. Right on time. She counts out the last few folds of the dough and sets it aside in a warm corner of her kitchen. There is just enough time for her to run to cleaners while it rises.

Her heels click loudly through the house as she crosses the foyer to retrieve her purse. Envelopes spray over the entryway in casual disarray and she bends down to pick them up. ‘Dr. & Mrs. Fleming’ peers up at her from various bills and pieces of correspondence. She’s collecting them together to place at Jeff’s seat at the table when one drab grey envelope catches her eye.

It’s addressed to Dr. Samantha Carter.

She stares at the name like something foreign, rather than something from her past. From her life before.

Somewhere in the background a timer dings loudly in the silence of the house. Sam registers that it is time to add one half cup of stock to the roast to keep it from drying out. But she doesn’t move back towards the kitchen.

The rest of the mail spills back to the floor and with trembling fingers Sam rips open the startling missive. A letter to the woman she had once been. She reads it quickly twice through, the heavy bond paper thick and uneven between her fingers. Lifted just so, the light streaming through the windows reveals a strange government water seal of sorts.

Any other day, or any other moment, she probably would have been more distracted by the flour under her nails than the vague offer of a job halfway across the country. She would have pressed the letter into the pages of her dissertation now collecting dust in the library and promptly forgotten about it. She would have picked up the mess in the hall and taken care of dinner.

But not this moment, not with this particular breath of air in her lungs. Maybe the difference is in the alignment of the stars or the bright glint of sunlight reflecting off her gleaming hardwood floor. Or maybe it’s the sick feeling in her stomach that she’s lived with so long that she barely notices anymore.

She spares a thought for the dry cleaners and the roast and her perfect rolls.

Stepping over the jumble of envelopes, she reaches for the nearest phone, dialing the unfamiliar number. She listens to it ring over the heavy pounding of her heart. Moments later a voice answers at the other end and she forces herself to respond.

“This is Dr. Samantha Carter.”