Genre: Gen, Drama
Characters: Sam, Team
Pairing: None intended. Sam/Jack friendship (if you squint, you might see pre-ship)
Warning: major character death
The noise preceded the shock wave only by a split second, just long enough for Sam to begin to turn in the direction of Cheyenne Mountain before being knocked flat on her back. Above her, framed by trees, the stars flared brilliantly in the indigo sky, became fuzzy and grayed out, as she felt consciousness slipping inexorably away.
With a gasp, she blinked back to reality and tried to push herself to sitting with shaking arms. As she finally succeeded, it occurred to her that the groaning sounds she'd been hearing were coming from her. And only her. There was no movement other than her own. The colonel wasn't requesting their status. The silence was deafening. Slowly, reluctantly, she swiveled her head to look behind her.
Her breath caught in her chest as she saw her three teammates sprawled on the ground, still as stone. Not trusting herself to stand without succumbing to vertigo, she scrambled over the leaf-strewn ground to the colonel's side.
"Colonel," she yelled, rapidly assessing him for injury. Other than a small trickle of blood running down his cheek from his mouth, there were no apparent wounds. But he was so pale and so still. She reached a shaking hand out to his neck, searching for the beat of his pulse. 10 seconds, 20 seconds. Nothing.
"No," she protested, leaning in to hold her cheek above his face, praying to feel the soft moisture of his breath. "Jack, please." Her hand groped for his without thought, her fingers, cold with shock, interlacing with his fingers, cold in death. "Please," she begged, even as tears began to run down her cheeks as the reality set in.
Colonel O'Neill's dead.
Wanting nothing more than to lay down next to him and just wait, she knew he expected more of her. She was his 2IC. The team was her responsibility now. She crawled over to where Daniel lay, feeling a little more stable physically, even as her world was crashing down around her ears. Hearing a distant boom, she wondered how true that statement might really be. One good look at Daniel was all she needed. He lay on his chest with his neck twisted at a grotesque angle. He must have tried to look back too; the blast wave caught him at just the wrong moment. A tremor ran through the ground underneath her knees.
With little hope, she went to Teal'c's side. Only a few feet away from him lay his symbiote; either trying to escape the dying Jaffa and find a new host, or thrown from his body by the force of the blast. She would have to ask Janet if that was even possible; surely there must be some anatomical safeguards that would protect the symbiote in case of sudden movement.
Janet... A slightly hysterical laugh bubbled up as Sam remembered the source of the original blast. It must have been the mountain. Grabbing her radio from her vest, she tuned to the SGC emergency frequency.
"Sierra Golf Charlie, this is Sierra Golf One. Come in."
A blast of static was the only response. She switched to various team frequencies with no better luck. Finally, she just sent out an open call. "This is Major Samantha Carter, USAF. Can anybody out there hear me?"
She held the radio in her lap, sitting by Teal'c's side, listening to the static. Her mind slipped back to earlier.
This was the location for one of the upcoming new recruit testing exercises they would be overseeing next week. They had hiked up here in the afternoon to do a dry run and intended to camp out overnight, just for fun. No watches, no worries. They had just started to set up camp when the colonel initiated an impromptu game of keep-away with Daniel's hat that had culminated with them all collapsed in a pile on the ground, laughing, as their attention was drawn to the west.
The sunset had been breathtaking, the colors almost unbelievable as they sat quietly together. She had looked over at the guys, smiling as she saw them enjoying this quiet moment, here on their home planet, as much as she was. Then the sun was down and the colonel quickly assigned the tasks that really should have been completed earlier, and so they were all separate when it happened.
Sam shook her head as the sound of the static pushed through her reverie. She turned the radio off and stood, a little shaky, but fairly stable. Clipping the radio back on to her vest, she looked at her team, unable to believe they were really gone. What had happened? She remembered Daniel pointing out a shooting star. She had looked up to see multi-colored trails illuminating the night sky. Beautiful but so, so wrong. She had just opened her mouth to say so when they heard it.
Why was she still alive? The concussive wave had hit her, just as it had hit the colonel, Daniel, Teal'c. How was it possible that she was standing when they weren't even breathing? A blast of that magnitude should have disintegrated them, blown their dust ahead of its forward edge.
Dropping her head, she realized that if she wanted answers, she would have to leave. She returned to the colonel and knelt by his side. She could feel tears on her cheeks as she looked at him. She opened her mouth, wanting to say something, anything, to try to convey how important he was but no words would come. She bit down on her shaking lip and settled for resting her palm along his cheek, letting her thumb move gently across the already cooling skin. Moving her hand to his head, she lifted it just enough to slip his dog tags off.
She moved away quickly, sure that if she stayed any longer she wouldn't find the strength to leave him. She tore the name tags from Daniel's and Teal'c's uniforms, tucking them into a pocket with the colonel's tags.
Ignoring the tears running down her cheeks, she quickly dumped all four packs out, sorting through and repacking those items she might need into one pack. Sweat dripped now, mixing with the tears, and as she wiped her forehead, she realized that the air temperature was increasing. Looking skyward, she still saw no signs of fallout or particulate masses accompanying this heat.
Dammit, Sam, you're supposed to be so smart. What the hell could have done this?
She shouldered the overstuffed pack and flicked on a flashlight. Not risking a look back at the bodies, you should be there too, she began slowly picking her way back down the trail.
Every so often she thought she heard a faraway rumble, usually followed by a definite tremor rolling through the earth. Time had lost its meaning, except as a measurement of one footfall to the next. The brilliant lights of earlier had faded, leaving only oppressive blackness cut by the beam from the flashlight; the silence broken only by the crackle of leaves underfoot. She concentrated solely on what the light showed in front of her, stepping around and over obstacles, watching each foot fall in its proper place, leaving no brain power for thinking of those she left behind. She was surprised when she stepped forward into a clearing, the darkness just somewhat lessened, and could dimly make out the outline of the colonel's truck.
Despite the wooden heaviness that had spread through her body, she nearly ran to the truck. Digging through the pack, she pulled out the keys and unlocked the door, stepping up through the driver's side door. Turning the keys in the ignition yielded no response: no engine, no lights, no radio. A quick look showed nothing out of place in the engine, and she slammed the hood back down in frustration.
While her pack was off, she went ahead and shucked her lightweight jacket and outer shirt. The ambient temperature was continuing to increase. That done, she packed up again and started off down the dirt road they had driven up not so long ago. She hadn't made it to the tree line before a more pronounced ground tremor threw her off balance, and she pitched sideways into a tree. Sliding to a sitting position, she rubbed her shoulder where it had impacted and leaned her head back against the trunk.
She was so exhausted, physical exertion and emotional chaos combining to drain her of all initiative. It felt so good to just sit and be quiet, to look at the stars. She ignored the little voice that kept reminding her that she shouldn't be able to see them at all. She let her mind drift among the little sparkling lights as she closed her eyes, just for a minute.
The colonel's voice is strained. "What's happening?"
She tries to open her eyes, but all she can see is blackness.
There's a blurry mess of other voices all chaotically overlapping. It's too much for her brain to sort out, but she thinks she can sometimes hear Janet or Teal'c or Daniel. She draws a shuddering breath, trying to suppress the pain and loss when she thinks of her friends.
Words sometimes filter through but like most dreams they make no sense.
She wants to shout at them to just talk to her, but can't make her mouth work any more than her eyes. She thinks she might have made a noise, but then everything is silent.
Sam felt herself beginning to wake from her unintended nap and strained to hold fast to the dream state, clinging to the last pieces of those she had lost. She lost the battle and opened her eyes to a bright, sunny, silent day.
She dug a power bar out of her pack before beginning the trek down the lower half of the mountain. Despite a lack of appetite bordering on nausea, she forced herself to eat it. At this point, she was simply existing, surviving out of sheer stubbornness. There was no real plan. The complete silence surrounding her, the lack of flight activity in the air, everything pointed to her being the only living creature for miles. She headed vaguely in the direction of the SGC, although she thought it likely that she would get there only to find the gate buried under a mountain's worth of rubble.
She made it through Colorado Springs without seeing anyone, living or dead. As she walked through the empty streets, she knew that she should be concerned, or at least interested, in why there weren't any bodies anywhere. But she just wasn't. She thought she should probably be concerned about that too.
It was as she was passing Janet's neighborhood that Sam found a sliver of her old drive. She sprinted down streets until she was at the house, banging on the door, panting, each gasp a lightning bolt of pain in her chest.
There was no answer at the door. When she got her breathing under control, she yelled, "Cassie! Cassandra, are you there?" She continued banging her fist on the door as she yelled for Janet's adopted daughter. "Cass, please, open the door! It's Sam." Tears were rolling down her cheeks now. She knew that Cassie wouldn't open the door; she'd known that before she came here. Sam sank to the ground, her back to the porch railing, and sobbed.
Alert and on her feet in an instant, Sam looked around anxiously. She could have sworn she heard Janet's voice. But no one was there. The entire world was just as empty as it had been before. Sam wondered if she was going insane; had her grief driven her crazy? Or maybe the insanity had come first, and all of this was happening in her head.
She wanted to believe that, to believe that Cassie and Janet and her team were all safe somewhere. She'd willingly sacrifice her mind for them. But then she remembered the bodies, feeling their flesh cool and plastic beneath her fingers, seeing the lifeless eyes staring up at her. The nausea came on quickly and she barely had time to lean over the railing before bringing up her stomach contents.
She closed her eyes as she heard the voices again although she couldn't make out any words. Janet's voice was close but muffled; Daniel's held an undercurrent of anxiety and was often overlapped by Teal'c's calming intonations. She didn't hear the colonel at all, which left her feeling strangely bereft. She wondered if the voices would fade out one by one until she was once again all alone.
She left without a backward glance, retracing her steps out of the neighborhood and back to the main thoroughfare. The voices came with her, sometimes stronger, sometimes almost silent. The stifling heat combined with the crushing grief to produce a strange apathy; she felt no connection to anything, no desires, no needs as she forced herself to take step after step toward Cheyenne Mountain, which she could see rising impossibly before her, barricaded behind closed security gates that she didn't remember approaching.
With some effort, she managed to push one side of the gate back far enough to slip in. She crossed the wide expanse of the parking lot, noting the colonel's truck and Daniel's car as well as her own, before she reached the entrance. Realizing that the elevators aren't going to work without power, she changed course and wearily headed for the emergency ladder.
Descending 28 floors by ladder was challenging at the best of times and Sam was certainly not at her best. After her feet slipped out from under her several times, Sam took a break on Level 16, reasoning that she could visit the secondary command center and see if there was any indication of what had happened. She made her way slowly down the hall, each footstep echoing weirdly, emergency lighting casting her shadow in odd directions. The voices were quiet now, as they had been periodically since Janet's house.
She reached the command center and gratefully collapsed into a chair in front of the bank of computers, all of which were dark, and wiped the sweat off her forehead. If possible, the heat was still rising. She experimentally tapped a few keys, but received no response from the electronics.
She absentmindedly rubbed at her chest, feeling a heaviness settling in, as she pondered what to do next. If nothing up here was working, there seemed very little reason to continue on to the lower levels. But there didn't seem to be much else to do.
She rested her head against the back of the chair. She could sleep, she thought. Just stay right here, close her eyes, and forget about this... whatever it was. Maybe the voices would start again if she was just still for a few minutes. They could come and soothe her while she waited to die. Because it wasn't fair that they were all gone and she was left here with no enemy to fight, no mission to finish; just left here, crushed under the solitude, the weight of the memory of their deaths.
But no, that wasn't who she was. She could almost hear the colonel telling her to get up and fight. So, she would stand up and keep going until she couldn't anymore. She would fight in their memory, even if there was no other reason. She returned to the ladder. She began coughing, falling back off the ladder as deep wracking coughs managed to do what exhaustion and gravity couldn't.
Sam lay for a few minutes at the bottom of the shaft, taking inventory of her condition. She figured she had only fallen maybe two floors; she hadn't lost consciousness and nothing appeared broken. But she was fighting for every breath and wasn't certain whether the fall had knocked the air out of her, or if this was related to the coughing and the now-persistent heaviness in her chest. As she remained still and the coughing continued, bringing with it a shooting pain in her lungs, she figured that was her main problem now.
She felt a rush of cool air down her neck and back, and the spasms started to ease. She shone her flashlight around, looking for the source of the ventilation but couldn't see anything. Feeling somewhat revitalized, she pushed herself to her feet, her whole body aching in protest, and forced open the hatch into the level 27 hallway.
Even the emergency lighting was fading down here and she felt the weight of the mountain above her. This floor was just as empty as 16, just as empty as the surface. She entertained various thoughts as she made her way through the briefing room to descend the stairs into the control room. The blast, whatever caused it, vaporized everyone... except her team. The Asgard appeared and beamed everyone up... except her team. She groaned with frustration. None of this made sense.
As she stepped off the final tread, she noticed a flickering light in the control room. Hurrying forward, she saw that the blast shield had been partially lowered. Through the small crack of window remaining visible, she could see the blue-ish glow of an active wormhole. She crouched down to look through the small opening into the gate room. Maybe everyone had been evacuated to the Alpha Site, and they were on their way back now. But the room was empty and still, save for the gently fluctuating event horizon.
Standing back up, she looked around the control room and froze. One monitor was lit up, apparently displaying information on the active wormhole.
She rubbed a hand across her face, sweat making her forehead slick. This wasn't possible. There was no power; she tried a few of the other stations just to confirm. An incoming wormhole drew its power from the source, but it didn't feed that power back into their system. She sat down in front of the monitor, her monitor, perplexed as she read the data that shouldn't be displaying on the screen.
According to the data, it was an outgoing wormhole initiated around the time of the initial blast. But that was nearly 10 hours ago. How was it still open? She entered several commands to query the data but there was no response. The data displayed remained constant. All the readings indicated that the wormhole was stable. Its destination was the next planet up on SG-1's mission schedule. She had just read the briefing memo yesterday before heading out with the guys. They were scheduled to depart next week after overseeing the training exercises.
More spasms of coughing overtook her, bringing more pain. It took several minutes before the coughing stopped, leaving her gasping for breath. She wasn't going to last very long like this. She looked back at the monitor. An outgoing wormhole. If she went through and didn't find any help there, she would be stuck unless the wormhole disengaged. From the briefing, she knew the planet was inhabited, but the technology there was significantly less advanced that Earth's. The chances of obtaining medical help or finding a way to force the wormhole to close were not great. But they weren't really all that great if she stayed here either.
Without really thinking, she walked down to the gate room and stood at the bottom of the ramp. A one-way trip, she mused as she stared at the gate. She chewed on her lip, unable to make up her mind. She felt so alone, so tired. She dropped down to sit on the grating. Tears came again, sadness and frustration and anger welling up in her as the past day replayed itself in her brain. There were no answers anywhere. Why did it matter if she went through the gate? Wouldn't it be better to stay and die on Earth with the rest of her team than alone, or surrounded by strangers, on some alien world?
She knew there was no way she would make it back to where she'd left their bodies, but she could at least stay here in the gateroom, at least maintain that connection with them. The coughing started again, and she rocked herself over onto her hands and knees trying to ride out the pain that now ran throughout her chest, diaphragm, and back.
She felt something through the spasms but was unable to concentrate on it. Something cool and comforting moving across her back as she coughed and choked and gasped. Finally, she was able to breathe, shallow movements of her chest as she tried not to aggravate her sensitive lungs. And still the cool firmness was there. It felt so much like someone rubbing her back that she looked behind her sharply, but no one was there. The touch stopped when she moved. She almost cried at the loss.
She slowly stood back up and looked up at the gate. Then she felt the touch again, this time as a soothing weight on her shoulder. Her eyes wanted to close. She wanted to sit back down. Then she heard the colonel's voice.
"Come on, Sam. You can do this. Come back to us." It seemed clearer than it had before, like he was standing right next to her.
She whirled around, desperately looking in all directions although she knew he wasn't there. "Colonel?" she called. All she could hear in response was the thudding of her heart. The gentle weight on her shoulder lifted, leaving her feeling chilled and alone. After a moment, she thought she heard him yelling, but it was farther away and fading.
She looked at the gate, still shimmering, and then back around at the dark and empty gateroom. No one here, no bodies, the gate active despite all laws of physics. What if this wasn't real? Could the others really still be alive? But if they were, why couldn't she see them?
She felt a chill. What if she was the one who had died? She thought about the 'tunnel and light' imagery that so many people reported after near-death experiences and looked back up at the glistening gate. This certainly wasn't what she had been expecting. Of course, she hadn't been expecting to die on Earth either.
Dead. Sam felt a hollow pit form in her stomach as she thought about it.
"I'm dead?" She tried saying it out loud, but it was just swallowed up in the emptiness surrounding her, muted under the quiet hum of the wormhole. She looked around, waiting for someone to contradict her, but she was alone except for the murmuring voices that seemed to have faded to background noise once again.
Where was everyone who was supposed to be waiting for her? She may not have been perfect, but, still, if there really was an afterlife, wouldn't she be headed for a good one? Again, her eyes were drawn to the shimmering wormhole. She chewed on her lip as she considered her next move.
Sam slowly walked up the ramp and stopped just shy of the event horizon. She remembered years ago, standing here with Jack just beside her, his impatient shove propelling her into a life she had never imagined. She wanted to turn around and look back for the ghosts she was leaving behind, but was afraid she would lose the last remnant of courage. Blowing out a breath, she stepped through the gate.
The disorientation on the other side was worse than normal, and when Sam was finally able to look around, she found herself on her knees in the wide expanse of grass shown in the pictures captured by the MALP. She scrambled to her feet, reaching for a weapon that she hadn't equipped, before she realized that she was still alone. No MALP, no sign of an active civilization, no heavenly welcoming committee.
"Guess I made the wrong call," she muttered to herself as she started assessing her situation. The DHD looked intact, but the incoming wormhole remained stable behind her, making a dial-out impossible. The sun seemed to be setting and she wracked her brain trying to remember what the briefing report had said about temperature fluctuations. All she knew was that it was a good twenty degrees hotter on Earth than it was here and she could feel the chill of sweat against suddenly cool skin.
The sound of moving water caught her attention and she suddenly realized that she was desperately thirsty. She followed the soothing noise until she ran into a small stream lined on both sides by tall, leafy trees. Kneeling on the bank, she brought some of the water to her mouth. It smelled okay and tasted better, and she allowed herself to drink enough to drive the parched feeling from her mouth before using her hands to try to wash the dried sweat from her neck and face. A more extensive bath would have to wait a little while, she thought, as she leaned back against a tree, feeling another wave of exhaustion overtake her. She looked up at the leaf canopy and smiled as her eyes slowly started to close.
It felt like no time at all before she opened her eyes again, but based on the sunlight's angle and intensity, she must have slept through the night. She tried to stretch, but something was caught on her left arm and was pulling as she tried to move. She tried to reach across to brush whatever it was off, but her right arm caught in something soft and cool. She could hear her strained groans as she struggled to free her hand and had only just succeeded in pulling it out of the tangled mass when she realized that she wasn't leaning against a tree anymore.
She looked around in disbelief. She was lying in a, well not a bed, but a cot, an IV stand running a line into her left arm. Around the bed were a few chairs and a standard vitals monitor; all of this was under the green canvas walls of a long-term field encampment. She tried to call out, but her throat was so dry again that she only managed a croak.
Nevertheless, less than a minute later the tent flap was pulled back and she got a glimpse of the colonel silhouetted against the light as he entered before her eyes filled with tears. Sobs were pouring out of her before she could even think of trying to control it; relief and fear and grief and desperation all pushing to be acknowledged. She heard him call out and then he was at her side, sitting on the cot, carefully gathering her up into his arms.
"You're back, Sam," he murmured against her ear. She grabbed fistfuls of his t-shirt, holding tightly, trying to breathe in the scent of him between sobs, to reassure herself that he was there and warm and real and alive...
Then she heard other voices and reluctantly drew back, taking deep breaths to try to control the tears, still keeping one hand on his arm. She looked at his face first. He looked tired, concerned, but almost as relieved as she felt. Then she looked up to see Daniel and Teal'c smiling and chattering about welcoming her back. Then Janet was entering the tent and Jack moved off the cot and onto a nearby chair, as the doctor began checking vitals and responses.
"What happened?" Sam spoke, her voice dry and cracked. "Where are we?"
Daniel quickly poured a cup of water and helped her take a sip. "We're on P8C-493."
She looked around at the four of them. "How did you get here? We're not scheduled to go for another week." She didn't miss the slightly concerned looks exchanged among her teammates.
"What do you remember, Sam?" Janet asked gently.
She opened her mouth to talk about the attack, but closed it again. "I don't know. Everything seemed so real, but... it wasn't?"
"Probably not," Janet replied as she finished up her exam. "You were exposed to a fungal spore that caused some pretty severe reactions. In speaking with the natives of this area, and observing your test results, I'd say it pretty much shut down the electrical field in your body. It can also cause vivid hallucinations. They tell me that memory loss isn't that uncommon for those who survive it."
Sam saw the colonel's jaw tense at Janet's words and wondered exactly how close she had been to dying. "I," she began slowly. "I remember we were going to go camping after a dry-run of the testing scenarios?"
They all nodded. "And nothing weird happened?"
Jack shook his head. "Nope, nothing weird."
She let out a gust of breath, trying to resolve the images still haunting her with the lively, smiling faces watching her now. She slowly told them all that she had experienced. After she finished, there was silence for a minute. Finally, Janet spoke.
"Well, from our perspective, you all had a normal week. You did your dry-run, had a good weekend, the Colonel made one of the new recruits cry during the tests, and you came here four days ago."
"Four days?" Sam repeated, watching everyone nod in agreement.
"It was evening on your first day here that you became ill, and it was pretty much touch and go between then and now. From what you said, it sounds like your mind was trying to make sense of what was happening to you; literally trying to walk you through from your last concrete memory to where you were supposed to be."
"Will I ever get those memories back? I mean, a whole week just gone is..." she trailed off.
"I don't know, Sam. I wouldn't count on it."
"When can we go home?" she asked.
"Well, I've been keeping everyone here just to make sure that there's no risk of contamination back home. Your blood tests are clean now and no one else has shown any signs of the illness, so I think we can get you back before tonight." Sam could feel the colonel's hand tighten around her fingers in encouragement. "But I will want you to stay in the infirmary for another couple of days. You've been through the ringer and I want to make sure you don't have any side-effects from your experience."
Sam was too tired and overwhelmed to even argue. She closed her eyes and heard everyone start moving around the tent, gathering supplies to pack up for their return. But she realized that she could still feel the warm press of his hand around hers and opened her eyes to see him settled back in the camp chair. His eyes caught hers immediately and saw the question in them.
"Colonel's prerogative, Major. I'm supervising this one. Not going anywhere," he said.
She kept her eyes open as long as she could, just watching him, slowly redrawing the image in her mind. And when she couldn't stay awake any longer, she drifted off safe in his grasp.