Lost Cities

They didn't hear about it until Tuesday. They were off-world on Monday, fighting a threat greater than anything anyone on Earth could imagine. Then they came back to the usual round of infirmary exams and reports and debriefs and brief periods of rest, crashing on cots in their quarters. If the atmosphere around the SGC was a bit more somber than usual, how were they to tell? Earth faced annihilation on a daily basis, especially as the Ori conquered more and more worlds. It wasn't exactly cake and confetti around here.

They learned it from different sources. One of the nurses said something to Mitchell. She was a little teary, and she wasn't one of those bleeding hearts who cried at every 6 o'clock feature about oil spills killing otters, either. You couldn't let your grief flow that close to the surface in this job, ever. She had a cousin at Virginia Tech. And she liked Mitchell, maybe hoped he could give her something, so she told him. He hugged her. It probably wasn't enough, but he hugged her.

Daniel heard from one of his research assistants, the chatty one who always summed things up for him. A celebrity had offended a segment of the population, a pop artist was being accused of plagiarism, how about them Cubbies?, oh, and thirty-three people were killed at a college in Virginia. Biggest gun massacre in U.S. history, doncha know. Then the guy was gone. Daniel looked it up on And then, consummate researcher that he was, he had to keep clicking those little links at the bottom of the articles, finding out all he could. He couldn't help it.

Dr. Felger told Sam. He seemed to need to share it with someone. He had a good memory for details, and she let him talk. He seemed to need this, needed to explain it to someone who didn't know yet, needed to hear the words in his own voice, making these incredible concepts concrete. Sam tried to think about quantum mechanics, but the equations slipped away. She didn't look anything up afterward. She didn't want to.

Teal'c subscribed to a newspaper. It had arrived before they did. Afterward, he went to the gym and wrestled with marines, those who still thought they could take him after enough tries, or who had made a bet, or who were new and didn't know any better.

And then they were all in "their" corner of the cafeteria, drinking coffee or eating pie or jello, or just sitting there.

"Sometimes I wish I could just tell them," Sam said after awhile. "Sometimes I think, if people only knew, they couldn't possibly do these things to each other. The world is so much bigger."

Daniel took a swallow of coffee, too large, too hot. It burned all the way down. "The first kid who died, the RA, he was a triple major. English, Biology, Psychology. I wonder . . . I wonder what amazing things he could have done with his life. If he hadn't been killed yesterday, at the age of twenty-three."

"Just kids," Sam murmured.

"Such a horrific waste." Daniel laughed, stared into his empty cup, stained dirty brown. "You'd think I'd be used to it, right? Just another drop of tragedy in the ocean. I didn't even know them."

Sam reached across, gripped his hand. Mitchell tilted his chair back against the wall. Teal'c kept eating his pie.

"I'll forget about it in a couple of days, though," Daniel continued. "We'll get another mission. The Ori will come up with something else, and we'll have to come up with a countermeasure. Won't matter. That's Virginia. This is the galaxy."

He thought about abandoned cities, half-buried in the sand. Thought about exploring them, digging deep, finding parchment sealed in jars, preserved and ready. Though about how it usually was, finding parchment not so well-protected, parchment that crumbled in his fingers, history lost forever.

Mitchell bumped the back of his head thoughtfully against the wall, once, twice, a third time. "What bothers me most . . ." he said slowly. "What bothers me most, is that—when I heard about it . . . I didn't feel anything."

"Such tragedies have happened in your country before," Teal'c said. "Even since I came."

Columbine. 9/11. That lady who killed her kids. They couldn't even remember the names.

Daniel nodded. "Nothing changes, and nothing remains the same."

"'Things fall apart, the center does not hold.'"

It was Teal'c who quoted Yeats, of course. Who else? Who understood that line more intimately than one who had sought and seen the destruction of his own pantheon?

No one knew how Vala had found out about it. No one ever knew how she found out about anything. But suddenly she was there, trying to sit on Daniel's lap, stealing Sam's jello, eyeing Teal'c's pie. Always spreading her elbows, pushing her way in. They didn't put up much resistance anymore.

"We're still here," she said.

It was the most true thing any of them had said so far. The four vaguely normal members of SG-1 looked at each other and acknowledged this silently. They were still here.

The team sat together at a table under a mountain. They drank coffee and ate pie and jello, and they talked about nothing. And everything.