Cassandra Fraiser felt a wave of dizziness. The equation she had just written into the test booklet on the desk in front of her blurred. She closed her eyes, and rubbed the heels of her hands against them. Staying up half the night, studying for this math exam, might not have been the best way to prepare for it, after all. She heard a voice, distant and echoing, as if the speaker was at the far end of a long tunnel: "Are you ready to be strong?"
'Of course I am,' thought Cassie. After everything she'd been through she thought she was already pretty strong. She'd survived when everyone else on her planet was killed by the Goa'uld. She'd made a new life for herself here on Earth, with a new family, and friends. She was more than ready.
The dizziness passed. Cassie looked around, trying to identify the speaker of those words, but she saw no one but her classmates, hunched over their desks, writing away. Everything was sharply focused now. She could hear the scratching of pencils on paper. She could smell the rubber from the guy, two rows up, who was wearing a hole in the page as he erased an answer for the third time. She felt that she was being watched, and looked toward the teacher, who was staring at her now, with a frown on her face.
'Right,' thought Cassie. 'Eyes on my own paper.' She looked back down at the exam that, a few seconds earlier, had been threatening to put her to sleep. She felt fully awake and aware now. She went back to work on the problem in front of her. She was already three quarters of the way through the test, in half of the time allotted for it. She figured she'd be able to get it finished, read it over to make sure she hadn't made any stupid mistakes, and still be done soon enough to get out of here fifteen minutes early. She pressed her pencil against the page, to write down the next step to solution to the problem.
The lead broke.
Cassie didn't get home as early as she'd hoped. Her pencil had kept breaking all through the rest of the exam, and she had to spend time sharpening it, but she was feeling good as she entered her house. She was pretty sure that she'd aced the exam, which would please her mother, and she felt energized by the bike ride home. She had always been in good physical shape, but she had made today's ride in record time. She had almost felt like she was flying on her bicycle.
Her foster mother wasn't home yet. She wouldn't be getting off duty at the base until five, and it would take her another half hour just to clear herself through all the security. Cassie didn't expect to see her until nearly six. She still had lots of time before she had to start making dinner.
The light was flashing on the phone to indicate that there were messages waiting. Cassie quickly skipped over a couple from telemarketers, until she heard her mother's voice. "Hi Cassie. It looks like I'm going to be held late at the base. Nothing for you to worry about, I should be home later tonight, but it looks like you're on your own for dinner. It's still okay for you to go out with your friends tonight. You'll have to let me know how your math final went when you get home. Have fun, and try to stay out of trouble. I still want you home by midnight. Bye!"
Janet Fraiser had sounded a little rushed, but not harried, so Cassie didn't think that it could be too serious. Probably just that SG-1 had come back from a mission with their usual collection of scrapes and contusions, but nothing life threatening. Her mom not coming home meant that she could order a pizza, and not have to listen to a lecture on proper nutrition.
Cassie got home about ten minutes after midnight. She hoped her mother was in a good mood. She had been half hoping that she wouldn't be home yet, but she'd seen her mother's car in the driveway as she approached the house.
Dr. Fraiser was in the living room, watching TV: something that surprised Cassie a bit. Her mother didn't watch much television. She saw the CNN logo in the corner of the screen, over top of some talking heads. "Hi Mom. What's up?"
"Hmm?" Her mother looked away from the television. "Just seeing if there was any more news about what happened in California this afternoon." She looked at the time. "You're a little late."
"Uh, yeah, sorry," said Cassie. "We lost track of the time, a bit." She decided to try for a distraction. "So, any more news? I heard that there weren't nearly as many casualties as they first thought." The earthquake that had destroyed the town of Sunnydale was big news—big enough that even a group of kids celebrating the end of the school year had spent some time talking about it.
"Apparently the town was mostly evacuated, before it happened," said Janet. "We're still trying to figure out why."
"The SGC is involved?" asked Cassie. "You think that this might be because of…" She tipped her eyes up toward the roof. "Anything I should be worrying about?" They never talked openly about what Dr. Fraiser did inside Cheyenne Mountain, even when they were alone together in the house. That made it less likely that they would slip, and say something that they shouldn't in front of anyone else.
"There were some concerns," said Janet, "but we haven't found anything to indicate that we need to worry. Colonel O'Neill and his team were sent to California anyway, to have a look. Just in case."
Cassie looked back at the TV. The image had changed. It now showed an aerial shot of a gigantic crater. Cassie knew that it couldn't be live: the sun had set in California hours ago. From the length of the shadows she judged that what she was watching was shot shortly before sunset. The bottom of the enormous hole was lost in the shadows. The voiceover from the commentator confirmed her evaluation. "This was the scene, just four hours ago," he was saying. "You can see the beginning of the collapse of the south-western rim of the crater." The camera zoomed in on a section of the crater wall. "The first trickles of water can be seen seeping from cracks, eroding the rock. They look small in this picture, but remember that what you are seeing here is a mile across. Some of these 'trickles' are torrents that would wash a house away in seconds. If you watch carefully you can see bits of rock, some of them ten or twenty feet across, being carried away." Circles highlighted dark specks falling away with the wisps of the waterfalls that dropped into the darkness. They seemed to be moving in slow motion, but that was an illusion created by the immense scale. "And here we see the critical failure," said the commentator. "A section of the wall, nearly a quarter mile across, collapses, and the Pacific Ocean begins to pour in." Again, what Cassie was watching seemed to be happening in slow motion. A large section of the rim fell away, carried by a cataract of white water. "We estimate that the initial flow rate was nearly that of Niagara Falls, and it grew quickly. More water than is carried by ten Mississippi Rivers is pouring into that crater as we speak. The noise level at the scene is deafening. Even at this rate, scientists are predicting that it will take several days for the crater to completely fill with water." The torrent was growing, even as Cassie watched. The camera panned down, following the falling water. The initial drop of the waterfall was several hundred feet, until the water crashed into the slope of broken rock at the foot of the cliff. Mist rose from it, obscuring the base of the falls, but the river of water continued to flow away down the slope.
"Wow!" said Cassie. Words seemed completely inadequate to describe what she was seeing.
Janet grinned. "To quote Teal'c: 'Indeed!'"
The images of the huge waterfall were replaced by a panel of geologists and other scientists, all giving conflicting theories on what had taken place. It was pretty clear that no one had any idea how the Sunnydale crater had really formed.
"So, you're sure that you-know-who had nothing to do with this?" asked Cassie. "How could something like that be natural?"
"Yes, after long consideration, we are absolutely sure that Lord Voldemort had nothing to do with the destruction of Sunnydale," said Janet Fraiser.
"Mo-om!" said Cassie, in the aggravated tone that only a sixteen year old girl could produce. "You know what I meant."
"Yes, I know," said Janet. "And we're as sure as we can be, for the moment. All of the usual suspects seem to be accounted for, doing what they do, in other places. Like I said, we've sent SG-1 to look things over, just in case, but at the moment it looks like this is something that is completely outside of the SGC's jurisdiction. Now, tell me about your day? How was the math exam?"
"I think I pretty much aced it," said Cassie.
"Good," said Janet. "You need good math grades, if you want to study any of the sciences in university."
"I've still got a year before I have to worry about that," said Cassie.
"Not really," said her mother. "You have to make your course selections for next year soon, and they'll be based on what you want to study at university, and your SATs are in the fall."
"That's still months away," said Cassie. "Lots of time to worry about it later."
"Less than you think, young lady," said Janet. "But you're right, we don't have to make any decisions tonight." She yawned. "Oh, sorry, but it's been a long day. Let's go to bed." She picked up the remote for the TV, and turned it off.
"Okay. G'night Mom." Cassie gave Janet a quick kiss on her cheek, before going upstairs to her bedroom.
Cassie's sleep was troubled by dreams. Dreams of monsters, and girls fighting monsters. One dream in particular repeated over and over: a horde of creatures in a vast cavern attacking a small band of about thirty girls. The creatures reminded her of something out of that movie Shadow of the Vampire, but the vast numbers of them were more like a scene from The Two Towers. What was more amazing was the way the girls fought. They had a strength and a skill like nothing she had ever seen before. They beat back the horde until it was destroyed by a blinding flash of light.
She was surprised that she felt as rested as she did when the morning came. She didn't have to get up—she was done with school for the year, and Sam was away, so she wouldn't be stopping by in the middle of her morning jog for Cassie to join her—but when she heard her mom moving around, she decided to get up anyway to join her for breakfast.
Her mother gave her a concerned look when she entered the kitchen. "Are you feeling alright?" she asked. "With Sam out of town, I expected you to sleep till noon, and I heard you cry out in your sleep a few times last night." She came over and placed a hand on Cassie's forehead to feel her temperature.
"I'm fine Mom," said Cassie, as she dropped a couple of slices of bread into the toaster. "In fact, I feel great. Just had some weird dreams." Ever since the incident with Nirrti's retrovirus last year, Dr. Fraiser tended to be a little over-cautious where Cassandra's health was concerned. If Cassie so much as sneezed, Janet wanted to take her into the Mountain to run tests.
"Your temperature feels okay, but you tell me right away if you start noticing any symptoms," said Dr. Fraiser.
"I will, Mom," said Cassie, determined to keep any symptoms that she might start feeling to herself. She busied herself getting the rest of her breakfast ready, while she waited for her toast. She poured herself a glass of orange juice, and got the strawberry jam out of the fridge.
"So, what were you dreaming about?"
"I don't really remember," Cassie shrugged, "just that it was weird stuff." Her toast popped up, and she went to work buttering it, and then applying a thick layer of jam. She put the lid back on the jar when she was done, being sure to close it firmly. Her mother tended to be a bit of a neat freak—Cassie figured that that came with her being a doctor—and she abhorred a jar with a loose lid.
Janet put a couple of slices of bread into the toaster for herself. "What are your plans for the day?"
Cassie washed the toast in her mouth down with with a sip of orange juice. "Nothing much. Go for a run, head over to Debbie's to hang out, maybe go to the mall."
"Have you considered looking for a summer job?" asked Janet.
Cassie looked at her. "A job?"
"Sure, give you some extra spending money, and colleges like to see things like that in your application, or maybe you could find some volunteer work?"
"Can I at least have a couple of days to enjoy my summer vacation?" asked Cassie.
"I'll give you a little time before I chuck you out in the street." Janet grinned at Cassie. Her toast popped up, and she quickly moved the hot slices to her plate. She spread butter over them, and reached for the jar of strawberry jam. She twisted the lid. Nothing happened. She tried again, harder. The lid wouldn't budge. "What did you do to this?"
"Nothing," said Cassie. "I didn't put it on that tight."
"You must have done something to it." Janet got up and went to the drawer to look for a jar opener.
Cassie picked up the jar, and gave the lid a twist. It came open easily. "Uh, Mom?" She held up the jar and lid. "I guess you must have loosened it for me."