The first thing he knows is pain, though he does not know the word for it.
It passes quickly.
And then he knows light. It's such a contrast from the calm, dim environs he's used to that he's blinded.
Gradually, he grows accustomed to it. The light does not burn, and freed from the excess of stimuli, he realizes that he can sense other things. Not the physical, for he doesn't have reference for hot and cold, up and down, here or there.
Still, he feels. There is fear. Anger. It's bitter - a high-pitched whine - and it makes his head hurt. It comes from all around him, behind him, beneath him. It makes him want to curl up as tight as he can and stick his thumb in his mouth, like he had been what seems like only moments before. It's the only source of comfort he knows.
But right in front of him is something that drowns out the shrill buzzing. It's thick and slow, and it makes him feel heavy. Something tickles the back of his mind and then he knows what he's feeling is sorrow. It wraps the room like a blanket and muffles the noises on the other side of the walls.
He watches, hanging off to the side so as not to intrude, though they have no way of knowing he is there. The woman, pale, lies still, eyes closed, breathing slow. Were she to speak, he'd know her voice more intimately than he'd recognize his own unuttered cries. The man is beaten. He sits at her bedside, hands folded, head bowed. He's almost as still as the woman.
The man reaches out, tentatively, touches the woman's fingers, then takes her hand and holds it tight. There is fear again, though it only hums, muted by the sorrow.
There's another noise, but neither occupant in the room seems to notice. He feels a touch on his shoulder and turns. The light has form and blinds him again, but this time he feels only peace.
"Come on," the light tells him. "We have much to do." The light starts to recede.
"Wait," he hesitates. "Who are you?"
A pause. "They used to call me Franklin."
He is ageless.
The Planet and the Obelisk
He's five when his mother dies.
Matthew guesses it's pneumonia, but he's not a doctor, and even if he were, there's nothing on this planet that can help her. They've all grown up in such over-sterilized, antibiotic resistant environments that anything they can concoct from the plants they gather barely makes a dent in her fever.
She makes him promise to look out for Adam between fits of coughing that leave her weak and shaking. She tells him to take the child away. She tries to protect her son right until the very end.
When Matt returns in the morning to check on her, TJ is gone.
They bury her in the loamy soil near the lake where she first fell in love with the idea of staying. Matt recites a prayer that no longer brings him comfort, and Adam says nothing. This isn't the first person they've lost, so he understands that his mother is gone and not coming back.
They start back towards the clearing with the small collection of shacks and lean-tos. Matt wonders, not for the first time, what their lives might have been like had they capitulated. They'd been foolish to think they could start a new life with only a handful of souls.
Adam stops short as they enter the clearing, and Matt almost runs into him. He's small for his age, though Matt has only TJ's word to go on. His own daughter barely lived a week before they laid her to rest next to Chloe, and his son is a million years away. Adam is small and suddenly looks even smaller as he falters in the doorway of the shack that is now his alone.
"Hey," Matt takes his hand and pulls him away towards his own place. "Maybe tomorrow. We'll get all your stuff and move it over here." Adam says nothing, but at least allows himself to be led away.
A month goes by, and then two, and the leaves begin to change. Adam still does not speak. Matt's worried at first, but then decides there's nothing he can do, so there's no sense pushing the boy. He's already drifting further and further away. He talks to him anyhow, because he's afraid they'll lose themselves in the silence and end up wandering the forest, ranting about salvation like poor Dr. Cain.
Matthew begins to realize that when it comes to losing their marbles, he's the more likely candidate.
The winter comes and goes, and they're still alive and in one piece. Matt continues to talk. He tells Adam about Earth… about baseball and muscle cars… about movie theaters and kissing girls who taste like popcorn and licorice whips… things the boy doesn't have a hope of comprehending because he doesn't have a frame of reference. He tells TJ how much Adam's grown and how she'd be proud of how good he's gotten at tracking game, even when weeks go by without enough rain to soften the ground and collect prints.
Matt asks Chloe if she can ever forgive him for not insisting they return to Destiny when they had the opportunity. Sometimes, he even asks Colonel Young if there's any chance they might be able to turn the ship around because he should really meet his son one of these days.
And still Adam does not speak.
He figures they've been planet-side for nearly eight years when Adam shakes him out of a sound sleep. Matt follows him outside and almost loses him in the dark before he hears the boy's light footsteps heading past the edge of the camp and into the forest. He scrambles to catch up. Stumbling and pushing himself up and over rocks and around tree roots that threaten to trip him up and hobble him, he calls out to Adam to slow down, but doesn't expect him to answer.
Finally, breathless, he catches up. He stands at the edge of the tree-line, bent over, hands on his knees, and gasping. He doesn't have time to wonder how often Adam's come here that he could find his way in the dark with such speed, because the boy is tugging on his sleeve with one hand and pointing with the other. In the clearing stands the obelisk, its light finally dimmed, but that's not what has his attention.
There is a ship.
For the first time since he realized that they were the last two people left, Matthew does not speak.
He's sixteen when the details of the Stargate Program go public.
Everett comes home from basketball practice one afternoon to find his mother sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper and a pile of photographs. A small pile, but they're pictures he's never seen before. He's curious, and as he leans over her shoulder to sneak a peek, he sees that she's been crying.
His mom almost never cries.
At least, not in front of him. He leans down to put an arm around her shoulder and notices that the photos are old. He picks up one of her in her Air Force uniform, sitting on a table in a lunchroom with a couple of other people, officers, he guesses from the bars and birds on their collars. He's been checking the Air Force website and getting his school classes in order because he wants to enroll in the Academy, but he hasn't told his mother this yet. He's a little afraid of how she'll react.
His mother wrinkles her nose at him.
"Ugh. Shower before supper," she orders as she gives him a shove. "Go. I've had patients from the shelter that smelled better than you do." Everett's not offended; she's teasing him. As far as moms go, and he's had a lot of his friend's well-meaning mothers think they need to take him under their wings over the years, she's pretty cool. She works long hours at the hospital, but she somehow manages to make it to most of his basketball games.
"So… I want to make a little change to the itinerary for our road trip," his mother tells him as she piles spaghetti on his plate like he's been away a week without food.
Everett looks up across the table, suddenly worried. They've been planning this trip across the country for the last two years. She's traded a lot of shifts and call weekends to make sure she can swing enough time off for this vacation. If that whole balancing act crashed, he'd understand, but it still wouldn't stop him from being disappointed.
"We're still going," she assures him. "I just want to make a detour through Colorado Springs."
Secretly, Everett is thrilled. Maybe he can talk her into driving by the Academy so he can see it in person.
It's late afternoon when they arrive at the monument. Everett's got his learner's permit and they've been sharing the driving, but today his mother's been behind the wheel the whole time. He watches her cut the engine, get out of the car, and then hesitate with her hand on the door handle, before turning to ask him if he's just going to sit there all day or if he's going to get his butt out of the car. Her voice is cheery, almost falsely so. She hadn't said much since they'd stopped at that roadside burger stand for lunch.
If he didn't know better, he'd swear she was nervous. His mom is never nervous.
He follows her up the path to the huge polished cut in the rock face. Even from a distance he can see that there are names engraved there. They stop a few yards short of the wall and Everett is sobered by the size of the thing. He hasn't been to Washington, so he can't compare this piece of stone to the ones out there, but all the sharpness of the newly cut letters make him wish he hadn't left his ball cap in the car so he could take it off. He'd like to properly show his respect. They're looking at a tally of the missing and the dead.
They are the only people out here at the moment, for which he is suddenly thankful as he watches his mother stop in front of a section of the wall labeled 'Icarus'.
"I was there," she tells him. Everett has to strain to hear her above the buzzing of the grasshoppers and the dry rustle of the grass in the breeze. She clears her throat. "I knew these people."
The list is mercifully short.
Everett's about to wander off a ways to give her some privacy; he doesn't quite know what to say to her and she's never really spoken about what she did during her Air Force days, but she grabs his hand before he can take a step and pulls him over to another panel.
The second list is much longer.
She doesn't let go, even though he's been too old to try and run off for years.
"Mom?" he asks when she doesn't say anything, and he feels her squeeze his hand. There's a picture of what he can only guess is a space ship, along with the word 'Destiny' engraved into the rock. His mother touches a name cut just below.
He feels his heart speed up and bang into his rib cage as he reads his own given name under her fingertips. He lets her put her arm across his shoulders and lean her forehead against his. There's nobody out here except the grasshoppers to see him getting a hug from his mom, but he wouldn't care anyhow; right here in front of him are the answers to questions he's asked over and over throughout the years, questions which she's never been able to answer to his satisfaction, until now.
"I'm sorry Everett," she says, sounding a little choked up to him. "I really wish you could have known him."
Everett doesn't know what to say, so he just stares at the names and tries to memorize each one of them. His eyes keep jumping back to the one at the top of the list.
When he figures out the right words, he'll tell her that it's okay, because he knows his dad must have been a hero.
Destiny Comes Home
He's nine when Destiny makes it to Earth.
They manage to keep it out of the news, at least until the families have been contacted.
Emily Young stands on the fringes of the crowd and watches the first shuttle touch down on the tarmac outside the hanger. Mothers, fathers, siblings, husbands and wives… the families of the missing all jostle and crane their necks, each trying to catch that first glimpse of their lost-and-presumed-dead loved ones.
Emily hangs back; her husband is the senior officer on this mission and he'll be among the last to leave the ship. She isn't all that sure he'll be terribly excited to see her, considering how they'd last parted, but she still felt she should come to see with her own eyes that he was home safe, if nothing else.
By the time the shuttle sets down for the last time, the crowd has dispersed some, people moving off into small groups as they share hugs and tears and try to figure out what comes next. There are a few children in the crowd, mostly infants being passed around to their newly acquainted extended families, and a couple of wide-eyed pre-schoolers, scrambling and stumbling through their first taste of the natural gravity of their native planet.
Ten years is a long time to be gone. Emily is surprised that there aren't any older children among the survivors, but from the stories she's been overhearing, it's nothing short of a miracle that they made it through those first terrible years after they went missing.
People are starting to wander off, families finally reunited for that last leg of their journey to the places they've been dreaming about as 'home'. She still hasn't seen any sign of her husband. He's probably tied up with some official duty or report to the higher ups. She wanders over to the line of chairs along one of the hanger walls to wait.
When the kid turns to look up at her, Emily is hit with the sense that she knows the boy, though she can't quite place from where. She's lost touch with a lot of the families of Everett's colleagues over the years he's been gone, and the few children she might have remembered from those days would all be grown up now.
"Hi," he says and flashes a quick half-smile as she takes a seat a few chairs down. She's struck by how he looks both young and old at the same time. No, not just old, ancient… like those kids on the Sunday afternoon infomercials begging for sponsorship for their villages in some war-torn and forgotten country. Like he's been witness to more tragedy than any child ever should be.
"Hi," she answers back. She's never been comfortable making small-talk with kids. "Waiting for your mom or your dad?" she asks and wonders why he's sitting over here all alone.
"My mom's over there." He points to a woman in a patched and tattered jacket – probably all that's left of the original uniform - barely visible in the throng of what must be her parents and extended family. The woman glances their way and the boy waves back. Emily sees the woman nod and the boy says, "They're from San Francisco." He looks a little puzzled, whether by the name of the city, or by these newfound relatives, Emily's not sure.
"It's a nice city," she tells him since she can't speak for his family.
"Okay," he answers, taking her at her word, and as he looks down at his obviously too-large, hand-me-down shoes, Emily is struck again by a sense of familiarity at his profile.
"We're going to live with them. My mom and me, at least. For a while."
"It might not be too bad," Emily says. He shrugs and it breaks her heart to see this child looking so displaced… so lost on what, for him, is an alien planet.
Anything else she might say is interrupted by a familiar voice on her other side.
His voice hasn't changed, but he certainly has. Thinner, graying, and looking a lot worse for wear, Everett stands with his hands in his pockets and offers her that half-smile of his – the one that always made her heart speed up just a little bit.
Emily glances back at the boy, who's no longer looking like he's lost his best friend and is asking, "Are you done with the briefings yet? Can you come with us now?"
"I'm afraid not," Everett tells him. He squats so he's eye-level with the boy. "Your mom and I agreed that this is best… at least until everything gets settled. There's… things…that we have to work out. I have to stay here." He glances up at Emily and she knows that he's not only talking about the mission follow-up. "People I need to talk to."
The boy turns away and refuses to look at him.
"Hey," the woman from the crowd softly interrupts. She touches the boy's shoulder. Emily hadn't seen her approach. "We're going to head out soon, buddy. You ready to go?"
Everett closes his eyes, just for a second, but it's long enough that Emily catches his wince, and knows he's pulling himself together. She's an outsider here, an interloper in her husband's family, but she still knows this man well enough to see that this is going to be the most painful of good-byes.
"I have a spare room. It's a double bed, but you don't look like you take up much space," she says, while looking at the boy. She knows that ten years ago, with the scars from Everett's infidelity still fresh on her heart, she wouldn't have made the offer. But as they say, time and space heal all wounds. God knows they've had enough of that. "For a couple of days… think you and your dad might be able to share?"
She's avoiding looking at Everett, so she turns to the woman and tries to appear as un-threatening as possible; tries to assure her that she's not going to harm her child.
She's surprised when the woman whispers the words 'Thank you.'
Destiny Ever After
He's lost track of how old he is, but his senses are still sharp enough that he knows his great-granddaughter is hiding in the back corner of the hydroponics room, even with the overhead lights turned off. He pretends not to notice her until he's worked his way up the middle bench, thinning the tiny sprouts in their trays as he goes.
"Your Ma knows you're down here?" he asks without looking up, and he hears a foot stomp against the deck plating as she realizes that she's been found. He doesn't tell her that if she wants to really hide down here from whatever has put her in a disagreeable mood this time, she shouldn't stand in front of the window where the aurora paints her in silhouette as some wild-fronded palm tree escaped from one of the other growing rooms.
She's always been spirited, this one.
He says nothing as he continues to thin, weeding out the weaker two or three seedlings in each cell so the fourth can spread roots and grow strong. His fingers are thick and slowed with age, and it's both time-consuming and tedious work, but he feels a measure of satisfaction when he sees the people of Destiny sit down to a regular meal. He still remembers those lean years of his boyhood.
By the time he's reached the end of the second bench, she's stopped sulking enough to have left her hiding place and trail along behind him, occasionally sweeping a palm along the tender plants just to feel them tickle.
"When are we stopping at a planet again?" she asks as he empties his pail of rejected sprouts into the compost bucket.
"Whenever we drop out of FTL next," he answers, for she knows as well as anybody on the ship that there's no way of predicting with complete accuracy when Destiny will stop again.
"Zayde," she chastises. "How can you not know that? You know everything."
He was not raised Jewish, but his daughter-in-law had been, and when she'd presented him with the swaddled and crying mess that was her first-born, she'd called him 'Grandfather'. The name had stuck. There are very few left who still remember his given name.
"Not everything, Tam," he says. "The universe is too vast, and I am still too young."
She strokes her fingers across the seedlings, watching as they bend and spring back again behind her. "If the universe is so vast, then why can't we go somewhere else? I'm bored here."
"Bored?" He steps around to the far side of the bench and resumes plucking. "Or run out of mischief to find?"
Tam rolls her eyes at the suggestion. "Tell me a story, Zayde?"
"A story?" He makes a show of scratching his head and stroking his beard as if in thought, just to watch her fidget. What point is there to being the oldest soul on the ship if he can't have a little fun with these fourth-genners?
Tam hoists herself up between two growing tables with a hand on each edge and swings her feet back and forth. She sighs, loud and pointed. He relents, lest his seedlings become the unintentional victims of her impatience.
"A story… hmmm. Okay." He begins as his mother always began for him. "Once upon a time- "
"Not a baby's story." She drops back down to the floor. "Tell me something new."
He stands for a moment watching Tam trying to draw herself up and appear as though she is as grown-up in body as she imagines herself in spirit. She watches him back with those dark eyes of hers that never seem to miss a thing, and he decides that yes, she is old enough not to be coddled with fairy tales.
"Not a child's story, then." As he goes back to thinning, he begins, "Once up a time- "
"Ah." He holds up a finger. "All good stories start this way." When she is quiet again, he continues, "Once upon a time, there was a ship. And on that ship, a baby was born… "