Actions

Work Header

Message in a Bottle

Work Text:

How the world ended is less important than the fact that it ended. At least, that's what John likes to think.

John was in the mess hall on Atlantis when it began happening. He was supposed to have lunch with Rodney, but Carter had called in with some problem and requested his assistance. Since their return to Earth, Atlantis was rather sparsely populated, a lot of folks chose to visit family or simply took time off. There were also more scientists around than usual, which pissed Rodney off. John figured it was probably a good thing Carter had something to distract Rodney, and he idly wondered if she'd done it on purpose.

Alarms sounded and John was called to the gate room. When he arrived, Rodney was onscreen talking animatedly about phase displacement and gesturing wildly, a sure sign that he was rattled about something. Radek seemed to follow his diatribe though, because he began using Atlantis's sensors to scan the surface of the planet. The surface of Earth, John reminded himself.

“What's going on Rodney? And where are you?”

Rodney didn’t bother to look up from his display to respond to John. “I'm at the SGC. This problem Sam called me in for is worse than we thought.”

“Worse how?”

“The effects aren't just in the vicinity of P3X-412, they're showing up all over the sector and are starting to fan out. Definitely worse than we thought.”

“What is fanning out? What is going on?”

Standing just behind Rodney, General Landry answered before Rodney could speak. “Several days ago, Colonel Carter and SG-1 went to P3X-412 to investigate reports of disappearing populations. It seems some of our allies are beginning to think the gods are back and are angry for being overthrown. Cities, especially those that have an energy grid or are in any way advanced, are disappearing. Simply vanishing.”

“That's...” John was about to say impossible, but reconsidered, “...worse.”

“No,” Rodney interjected, “that's bad. What's worse is that it's starting to happen here.”

Radek interrupted, speaking rapidly. “Rodney, there's a slight spike in energy output just before those sites disappear and an energy signature that the database recognizes. I'm sending you the data now.”

“Disappear? I thought you were scanning here.”

Distracted by the technical aspects of task at hand, Radek continued. “So far, we've lost Beijing, Moscow, London, New Delhi, New York City, Munich, Lima, Dallas and Sydney. We're now losing 3-4 large sites approximately every 15 minutes.”

The room fell silent. No one pretended not to be eavesdropping anymore, the shock of what Radek was really saying took a moment to sink in. They were on Earth, not in the Pegasus Galaxy. This was happening on Earth! No one wanted to estimate how many lives were involved. John recovered first. “What is this energy signature?”

“Whatever it is, it's setting off warnings all over the city. The database is in backup mode and won't let me in, the piers are retracting and the gate won't dial out... I think the city is getting ready to submerge.”

Onscreen, John could see that Rodney was typing furiously at his laptop. “John, you need to evacuate. We can't stop the submersion, Atlantis is shutting down. Unpopulated areas are probably safer. SG-1 is dialing back now, so we'll see what Sam could find, but there are--” Rodney's last thought was cut short by a burst of static and the screen went blank.

John looked to Radek who was studying the sensor output. “The mountain is gone,” Radek said, almost like he didn't believe it.

“Gone? How can a mountain just be gone?” John’s voice was low.

“Um.... it could be a communications failure. The operations center, gate room and most of the facility is deep underground.”

John frowned and chewed his lip. “Evacuate. Prep all the jumpers. Tell everyone to head for sparsely populated areas. And keep trying to contact the SGC.” The inhabitants of Atlantis were no strangers to emergencies, and the evacuation began even before John had finished giving the order.

As the last wave of evacuation jumpers disembarked, John and the last few people in the gate room headed towards the jumper bay. Radek's arms were full of laptops and connections he had yanked from several consoles and he continued to chatter on about the phase displacement and disappearances. As they arrived at the jumper bay a round of klaxon alarms greeted them and they looked up to see the overhead bay doors closing.

Radek dropped his equipment on the floor of the last jumper and ran to a panel near the door of the jumper bay. “No, no, no....” he trailed off into a string of curses in Czech.

“Radek?” John asked, looking for a report.

“The bay doors are closing and I can't override them from here.”

“Can they be opened from the gate room?”

“Yes, but we don't have time to get there and back here again.”

John looked above them at the closing doors and rushed to the jumper. “I'll go. You get this last group out of here.”

“We can't leave you behind. We'll find something else.”

John grabbed an emergency inflatable raft from under one of the seats in the back of the jumper. He held it up, waving it towards Radek as started back to the gate room. “Plan B, Radek. We're not that far from shore.” He was gone before Radek could argue.

Re-opening the jumper bays was a bit trickier than he thought. Even with Radek walking him through a few subroutines, it took nearly twenty minutes to get the right sequence of commands to open the doors.

“They're open!” Radek shouted over the comm. “We're heading out. John, have you heard from any of the other jumpers?”

“No one has checked in since they disembarked. I thought you said communications outside the city might be affected.”

At first, Radek didn't respond.

“Radek?”

“My jumper's sensors can't find them. But I'll be out of the city shield in a few minutes, perhaps I'll find them then.”

John had a bad feeling about this. “Radek? Do you think the shields are preventing this.... what happens if you disappear once outside the shield?”

The radio only crackled in response.

“Radek?”

This wasn't supposed to be how I started my weekend. John muttered to himself. He thought of Cam and wondered if he’d made it off P3X-whatever. When Atlantis arrived last week, he and Cam had made all sorts of plans. Not only had the fate of Atlantis been tied up in red tape for months, meaning a decision hadn’t been made and the Pegasus Galaxy could hope for her return, but DADT had been repealed. John rolled his eyes recalling how Cam had declared that they needed to celebrate these things while they could. They debated for hours and had finally settled on going to Vegas for the weekend, since it was located between San Francisco and Colorado Springs and they both had to report for duty on Monday. They could plan ski trips and surfing trips after that. They hadn’t planned on the world ending. Considering their jobs, perhaps they should have.

Lost in thoughts of Cam, he was surprised when the chevrons in the gate room lit up. When the computer recognized the IDC, he was even more surprised. When Carter and Cam stumbled through the gate, his heart nearly skipped a beat.

Carter was leaning heavily on Cam, one arm slung across his shoulder and her other hand holding a field dressing firmly to her side. Cam guided her away from the gate and bellowed for a medic.

John rushed to them, grabbing a first aid kit along the way.

“Welcome to Atlantis. We just evacuated.” John knelt by Carter's side and opened the kit.

“What's wrong with the primary gate? Why aren't we at SGC?” Carter's voice was weak, but steady. “It's started here, hasn't it?”

John nodded and Cam cursed. Carter attempted to sit up. “Hand me the device.” She gestured to the pack Cam had carried through the gate.

“Easy. I've got it,” Cam replied while placing his hand on her shoulder, urging her to stay still.

“It needs to be re-calibrated to use on this gate.”

“Just tell me how to do it, Sam. While Sheppard here patches you up.”

John shot Cam a skeptical look, but Cam wouldn't meet his gaze. Cam had to know Carter's injuries were bad and all the field dressings in the world weren't going to change that.

Carter slowly outlined instructions for Cam and he attached a strange looking box to one of the chevrons on the gate. The chevrons lit up, but didn't dial. Carter declared it a success.

“So, it's fixed. We're good?” John asked.

Carter shook her head. “No. This merely slows the rate. Hopefully down to a crawl. Places of high population density seem to be targeted first. The device....” Carter trailed off for a moment. She took a ragged breath and gathered strength to continue. “...device should slow the progress enough for us to find a way to reverse the process.”

For a few moments, no one said anything. Cam settled in next to Carter, gently moved a stray strand of hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear.

“We may also want to submerge the city before we leave.” Carter's voice was weakening.

“It's already submerging.”

“Good. Then we should go. But not by jumper … something without an energy signature.” Carter's eyes closed. Cam held her hand but made no move to get underway. He looked at John, his eyes shone with clarity for what was happening but were clouded by the precursors of grief. John nodded. He understood.

John was trying not to think about the energy signature comment, fearing confirmation of what happened to all the Atlantis personnel. “So, ideas for reversing the process?” he asked.

“Not yet.” Carter whispered and she squeezed Cam's hand weakly once before her grip slackened. John didn't know she had been answering him or not.

 

Escaping the submerging city on the emergency raft John had lifted earlier, John and Cam landed near Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco. The sun seemed to have sunk into the ocean along with Atlantis, and the sky was soon black but with stars that were brighter than usual. The moon hung full and low on the edge of the horizon, bathing everything in a soft light.

Weary and a little in shock, they didn't travel that night. They found a good spot on the beach and settled in.

“Well, it's not Vegas.” Cam's voice was unsteady and his eyes were red. He looked out towards the ocean and wouldn't meet John's gaze.

John sat beside him. “I didn't want to go to Vegas anyway. A moonlit night on a beach is way better.”

Cam leaned into John and they wrapped themselves around each other and held on through the night. Both hoping that morning would prove this whole thing to be some sort of nightmare.

Morning didn't oblige. The next day seemed desolate and the quiet sky, void of aircraft, unsettled them both. They packed the gear they thought they'd need and silently headed east.

Conceptually, both of them had understood that cities had been disappearing. In reality, they hadn't understood a thing. They were traveling on a highway outside Sacramento and it just ended. It's like Mother Nature herself chose everything that was man-made and simply removed it. The land was still there, pristine and untouched; there were more old-growth trees that John could recall ever seeing on Earth before. He thought it would've been beautiful under different circumstances.

The lack of roads that led anywhere made travel by vehicle unpredictable, so they set out to walk to Colorado Springs. Expecting the journey to take a couple of weeks, they had packed what they had hoped were enough supplies to cover them on their journey. But the advanced rate of disappearances made travel much more difficult and great swathes of terrain took days to cover that would've only taken hours had they had a paved road.

Cam made a couple stunted attempts to talk about his team and about Carter, but couldn’t seem to follow through on anything. John didn’t even know where to start since he had no clue where any of the Atlantis personnel were. Except Rodney, who was at Cheyenne Mountain when it had disappeared. He didn’t know what to do with that, so he just stayed quiet. They walked for days like that, each man carrying his own grief.

The first time they encountered people, it came as a bit of a shock. Several small towns and rural areas were still populated and communities still seemed to be intact. Carter's device was still stalling the process.

In the back of his mind, John had been worried about vigilantes and packs of apocalyptic power mongers, but in reality the surviving population didn't seem bent on hoarding or strong-arming others. It was rather surprising, actually. Just another thing Hollywood got wrong, he thought.

When he mentioned it to Cam, he offered the barest hint of a smile. “Sometimes people will surprise you.”

Hot meals, hot showers and the sound of other voices seemed to alter Cam's mood. That night instead of drifting off into an exhausted sleep, he reached for John with urgency and blind need. With one hand gripping his hip, the other buried in his unruly hair, Cam pulled at him like he was a lifeline while John fumbled with Cam’s belt and sucked at his lower lip. Their uncoordinated attacks lead to falling and tripping and it wasn’t at all graceful, but that wasn’t the point.

For the first time since they'd left Atlantis, they spent two nights in the same place. When they did leave, they promised to carry news and names East.

About a week later, near the California and Nevada border, there was a wall in the town hall with information plastered on it in a seemingly random pattern. Notes about survivors and where they'd gone, notes looking for family and loved ones. Some contained pictures, but most were just scribbled on scraps of paper – like a message in a bottle.

Frank Simmons, age 34, resident of Reno, NV passed through here on August 11th heading towards Bozeman, MT in search of family. Taking the northern pass through the Cascades.

Jason and Lucille Transom are looking for news about their daughter, Jeanne Beaucamp, a school teacher in Lakeview, OR. If anyone is traveling that way, please send news to her that her parents survived and are planning to settle in or near Eldorado National Forest as of August 18th.

Cam procured a couple field notebooks. He and John copied down every single note from the wall, leaving a note of their own containing information they had discovered along the way. The process took several hours. Afterward, they tracked down an abandoned motel on the edge of town that claimed to cater to honeymooners. They slept in a heart-shaped bed with satin sheets before moving on. John laughed when Cam wanted to leave a note apologizing for the broken bed.

 

By the end of the month, they were nearing the Colorado border. Cam had several pages in the notebooks filled by now, and John suspected he also had them memorized considering the amount of time he spent reading them. John didn't really pay all that much attention to them after transcribing, and figured reading them was something Cam had to do to keep himself busy.

“You seem strangely resigned to this,” Cam mentioned casually as they stopped for a midday break.

“Resigned to what? Walking to Colorado?”

Cam waved his arm around. “No. Yes. Resigned to everything. The end of the world.”

John shrugged. “How am I supposed to be acting?”

Cam considered John for a moment. “I don't know. Never mind.”

“No, I mean it. How am I supposed to be acting? Because you're seem to be all 'business as usual' yourself and I can't quite tell what's going on in that brain of yours. You keep at those notebooks like they're part of a mission or something.”

“They're people, people who are just trying to figure out how to find other people.” Cam shrugged. “I'm worried about my folks, I guess.”

“Want to head to Kansas?”

“Colorado is kind of on the way. We really should check in at the SGC first.”

“Assuming it's still there.”

“It's still there.”

“Care to tell me why they haven't contacted us yet?”

It was an argument they've been having the past week or so. Ever since the night in the honeymoon suite, John was going with the worst-case scenario and Cam was holding on to hope.

Anywhere there were survivors, they find places where people left notes. As the weeks rolled by, the notes became older. New messages became more rare. John took to wandering about and looking for supplies while Cam took notes.

They passed through Colorado in September. Neither mentioned anything when they found nothing at Cheyenne Mountain. They had trekked around the mountain for three days, seeing no signs of any man-made entrances or habitation at all. It was all simply.... gone. Not even one of Cam's precious notes remained. Despite all their previous losses, this seemed to be the hardest for them. It was like their last lifeline had finally been cut.

They continued east towards Kansas, stopping in abandoned hotels for a night's rest every now and then. Empty houses creeped them out, although neither would fully admit it. The closer they got to Kansas, the more John worried about Cam.

John worried over how Cam seemed so intent on the post-apocalyptic news service he and Cam had started with the messages, almost to the point of making it a priority over anything else. One afternoon, it started to rain. They stumbled across a resort near a golf course and broke into the clubhouse to get out of the cold, wet weather. The place was well stocked and seemed pretty luxurious.

John hadn't seen Cam smile in weeks, which he supposed wasn't too unusual considering the circumstances. But it was unusual for Cam to not even bother to try. Cam was the optimist with the sunny disposition, not John. So he hovered over Cam, trying to draw him out but not understanding how.

“Stop being such a mother-hen.” Cam said, not bothering to turn to look at John.

“I am not a mother-hen.”

“Stop staring at me all the time.”

“What? So now I can't even look at you?”

Cam turned and cracked a flirtatious smile. “Like what you see?”

John grinned. “Now that you mention it, that shower and shave has certainly improved your appeal.”

They were more playful with each other that night than they had been in a long time. More tender, too. Lacking the urgency and the desperation that had shadowed most their lovemaking since the end of the world, they simply allowed themselves to be themselves again. They could almost pretend that they world hadn't ended and that enjoying life wasn't a crime. Almost.

 

They arrived in Kansas in late October. They walked up to the house and found the front door unlocked; a coffee cup and a spoon sitting in the sink. Cam left the house abruptly and walked to the schoolhouse in town, the most logical gathering place for survivors. There was a bulletin board but it named only five survivors who decided to walk to Kansas City. A few scraps of paper were left by people passing through, the most recent was dated in August. Cam scanned the board and re-read every scrap of paper several times, but there were no notes, no directions to point the where Frank and Wendy might have gone.

John, who had stopped writing anything down weeks ago, took the notebook out of Cam's pack and began writing. Cam watched him with an unreadable expression for several minutes.

“You shouldn't bother. It doesn't matter anymore.” Cam reached up and touched one of the notes. John merely shrugged and continued writing. John understood now what Cam had been doing all these weeks. He had been grasping for any purpose that meant something, proving to himself and to fate and to the universe that it wasn't over. People were still here, we hadn't all disappeared. Now that Cam was forgetting, it was John's turn to take up the thin thread of hope.

They walked back to the farm and spent three days in the Mitchell home. They didn't talk much. Not because they were angry with each other, or because John was giving Cam room to grieve. There was simply nothing left to say. At night, they'd sleep in Cam's childhood room in a bed entirely too small for a grown man – much less two. It was there that John knew how to comfort Cam. With a touch that said I know and another that said I'm right here and a kiss that said I've got you, I'm not going anywhere.

On the morning of the fourth day, John walked downstairs to find Cam sorting though their packs. He looked at John and said, “Thought we'd head out today.”

John nodded. “Which way we headed?”

Cam shrugged. “South?” Cam carefully stuffed the notebooks into one of the packs along with a framed family photo.

At least we’re doing something, John thought. Even if it’s only carrying messages to people who are no longer there from people who are already gone.

~end~