Dr. Daniel Jackson stood in the center of his office, staring at the detritus of his life's work cluttering every available surface. The dim, red glow of the emergency lighting threw eerie shadows behind every item, turning perfectly ordinary artifacts and sheaves of paper into objects of mystery, posing questions he couldn't answer. Questions he would never be able to answer, now.
He'd already packed the most essential items - primary reference works, artifacts with personal meaning, his few photographs, his laptop, his journals - but there was so much left behind. How could he just abandon it all like this? How was he to know what they'd need, and what they wouldn't, down the road? Once the last of the Mountain's personnel had stepped through that wormhole-- the instant the event horizon evaporated behind them-- nothing would remain of the once-proud Tau'ri heritage and culture save the people themselves and what few items they'd managed to carry with them.
So much for the Fifth Race. What would the Asgard think of them now? Or the Ancients, for that matter? Had they watched as it happened, making mournful noises at the spectacle and regretfully declining to interfere? It wouldn't surprise him if they had. Thor would say that the Protected Planets Treaty was never intended to protect a people from itself, and Oma's compatriots would rather mourn the death of billions than lift one incorporeal finger.
"They should never have sent me back," he whispered numbly, and swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. This was worse than the destruction of Abydos. He'd known, intellectually, that he would never see Ska'ara or his Good Father or the house in Nagada he'd shared with Sha'uri again, but the Swiss-cheese effect his Descension had had on his memories had blurred the grief he'd felt at the news. Then, too, Jack had been swift to assure him that Oma had taken the Abydonians with her when they'd died. He'd thought of it more as Shifu welcoming his family, than his losing them. There were no such sureties today, no such comfort to be found, and no emotional distance to be had.
Sam's voice was soft behind him, thick with strain, and he sighed deeply before turning to face her. "Hey," he said, twitching the corners of his mouth in a half-hearted attempt at a welcoming smile. "Just taking one last look."
She swallowed and looked down at the floor. "I was doing the same thing," she said, then glanced back up again, her blue eyes luminous and wet with unshed tears. The skin under her eyes was still a little puffy from previous bouts of grief, and she looked far older than her years. "Teal'c came by, on his way to the gateroom - it's time for us to go."
Was it wrong of him to be grateful, for once, that he had had no family and few friends left on Earth? Sam had lost her brother, his children, and Pete; Jack had lost Sara and the house where they'd raised Charlie; Hammond's daughters and granddaughters were gone; the list went on and on, for every survivor on the base.
"Janet's group left already?" Daniel asked, his voice as quiet as Sam's. The petite doctor had been working non-stop for hours, packing up the wounded and every piece of medical equipment that would fit through the gate, and she had been one of the last people scheduled to leave. She'd taken the loss of Cassie very, very hard, and she'd been taking her grief out in a frenzy of over-organization.
Sam nodded. "Five minutes ago. Everyone's at the Alpha Site now except for the General, the gate techs, and SG-1. We'll be the last ones through."
"They've called off the search parties, then?"
She nodded again, biting her lip, not trusting herself to words.
Daniel couldn't blame her. The Stargate program had been lucky, buried under so many layers and levels of other organizations, but the uppermost floors of the Mountain had taken a great deal of damage in the attack. Those few unfortunates working there who hadn't been crushed in the rubble were probably already dead from lack of oxygen or radiation poisoning. Daniel shuddered at the thought; recorporealized or not, his body still remembered what that felt like. It was one of the worst deaths imaginable.
He ducked his head and stepped out of the office, turning his face away from Sam in an effort to keep his composure, and gently closed the door behind him for the last time. "Did we ever hear anything from Area 51?" he asked, desperate to break the choking silence, and turned his feet toward the gateroom.
"No," Sam sighed, walking next to him. "But then, we didn't really expect to. After we heard from Crystal Peak... well, whoever this John Connor is, he knows a lot about what's going on. He says most of the US was in the primary blast zone, along with any other major population centers or military bases around the world."
"Primary blast zone," Daniel echoed the words, numbly. "You know, it still doesn't seem real. After everything we've gone through, for it all to end like this-- so meaningless--"
"I know." Sam stopped suddenly in her tracks, sniffling, and rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. "God, five billion people-- we saved the Earth so many times, and then-- just, no warning at all--" She took a deep breath. "It isn't fair."
Daniel halted beside her, reaching out to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I know, Sam, I know." He glanced around the hall, recognizing a few old scars and burn marks left from one of those turns at playing savior, and shook his head at the irony of it all. "You know, after everything that happened with the Replicators, I can't believe they didn't at least put some kind of doomsday switch in the software."
"Why should they have?" Sam snorted, her tone bitter. "With all the secrecy surrounding the SGC, the people involved with the project probably never even heard of the Replicators. They wouldn't have expected Skynet to develop intelligence at all, and even if they had, they would never have expected it to turn on them. I guess they never read Asimov."
"Asimov?" Daniel repeated, vaguely puzzled, frowning at her. What did a science-fiction author have to do with anything? Though he supposed he was one to talk; he'd been hearing echoes of Shelley's "Ozymandias" around every corner.
"You know, the three laws of robotics?" she replied, frowning faintly back, and a little of the spark crept back into her eyes as she tried to explain it to him. "The first law begins, 'a robot may not injure a human being'. But it has to be hardwired directly into..."
Above them, the speaker system came suddenly to life, echoing through the empty halls of the Mountain. "FIFTEEN MINUTES TO AUTODESTRUCT," Hammond's voice announced hoarsely. "ALL REMAINING PERSONNEL TO THE GATEROOM. I REPEAT, FIFTEEN MINUTES TO AUTO-DESTRUCT."
Sam flinched at the announcement, then faded away again before his eyes, looking as lost as it was possible for an Air Force Major to be. "I guess we'd better get moving," she said listlessly, then turned toward the gateroom again, letting his hand slip from her shoulder as she walked.
Daniel watched her for a few seconds, taking in the grief and exhaustion written in the slump of her shoulders and the dragging pace of her steps, and took a moment to mentally yank himself back from the same abyss. There was a time and a place for everything, and God knew he felt the same way, but this was not the time for despair. If they gave in to it now, they might as well have died with all the others. They owed it to the few survivors elsewhere, to Mr. Connor and his efforts at organizing what little government was left, to close this avenue of expansion to the machines and preserve what little they could. If the Tok'ra could survive to plot another day after facing utter destruction, surely the Tau'ri could do no less.
"We'll be back," he muttered, willing himself to believe it. Then he took a deep breath and followed Sam to the gateroom.