Day 1: "If I should die..."
you're talking to a man who has laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom
and chuckled at catastrophe!"
Major General O'Neill's grin on the monitor was familiar and Sam couldn't help but snort despite the tears gathered in her eyes. Only he would quote Wizard of Oz at the most heartbreaking moment of their time.
"Sir…" she said, her voice taking on a sad note.
O'Neill's eyes softened and Sam suddenly felt like she was exposed. She was consciously aware of everyone around her following their conversation on the monitors, of the swirling sound of the open wormhole, and of the strong, warm presence just a few feet behind her.
"I know, Carter, I know." O'Neill's voice became mute and resigned.
Sam's smile fell as tears started trailing down her cheeks. Her hands fisted and she was tempted to reach back to that comforting presence, to grasp his hand tightly, but she couldn't. Not now. She had to be strong. All eyes were on her now: the one who would be in command once the connection closed.
O'Neill's eyes glinted a bit as he reacted to whatever he saw from his side of the monitor. "Now wait just a minute, people! No shedding tears, you hear?"
He gave his best commanding tone, and Sam immediately wiped her tears off. She noticed several others were sniffing in the background.
Again, his eyes softened and he seemed to seek her personally, lowering his voice just a little. "Don't worry, Carter. You'll be fine. You've got the best, and some of the worst, Earth had to offer." He paused, most likely thinking about the particular people he was referring to, who unfortunately was somewhere in the gate room at the moment. "Try not to strangle 'em."
"Yes, sir," Sam said, managing another smile. The Major General smiled at her.
"That's what you keep, Carter. Don't stop smiling. That's an order."
O'Neill looked at her fondly and Sam met his gaze, even though she was acutely aware of the other people in the gate room, especially the one standing behind her. She knew what was coming. They were both trying to portray all their feelings and thoughts across the screen and the millions of light-years that separated them. She felt nauseated.
"Jack…" Sam's voice was tinged with pain, and her throat constricted.
Even now, after almost thirteen years of service and standing on the brink of the abyss, they found the words difficult to say. Sam's hands clenched and O'Neill simply stared at her with that something in his features. The something she still found herself responding to, even if that train had passed long ago.
Their gaze was broken by klaxons going off in the background. Startled, Sam and the rest of the gate room realised quickly it was not coming from their end, which meant…
O'Neill's face was drawn and, even though he smiled, he was sad. "Looks like this is it, Carter."
Sam's tears welled up once more and, despite her promise, she couldn't keep them from falling. The presence behind her stepped close enough to touch. Even if they weren't holding hands, Sam felt his warmth and silent strength. She couldn't look at him, however, and instead directed her eyes elsewhere and saw people were reacting to the news, all in their own different ways. Some cried, some were solemn, some stood on their own, and some clutched their neighbours. Yet everyone was as resigned as the people on the other end of the connection.
Behind Major General O'Neill, Walter Harriman and a few other SGC technicians were sitting by the gate controls, typing away at the computer systems Sam had once built from scratch. They were quiet, resigned, staring at one another before moving to their stations. All of them were prepared for what was to come.
Major General Landry stepped up to O'Neill and gave an acknowledging nod to Sam through the monitor. O'Neill gazed at the people on his end and then turned back to Sam, his shoulders square and his back straight.
"Take care, Colonel, all of you. You're the last of us." He looked at every one of them, then added with a light tone, "Oh, and tell Daniel I'll know if he works through the night again. I'll come haunt him this time."
The last attempt at humour raised a bittersweet smile on Sam's lips. Several of the people gathered in the gate room snorted, including the man almost holding her hand.
Sam raised her chin in response, straightening her back. "We will, sir."
O'Neill cleared his throat and Sam almost imagined tears gathering in his eyes, but Major General Jack O'Neill would never look like he had anything but calm control, if not a little confusion added to the mix. "Well then… From all of us, to all of you: A very Merry Christmas."
"The same to you, sirs, from all of us." Sam's throat was thick as she raised her hand in a perfect salute, seeing in the corner of her eye that every military personnel did the same.
On the monitor, the two Major Generals and the remaining skeleton SGC personnel saluted in turn and smiled, and then the screen went black. Milliseconds later, the wormhole whooshed closed.
No one said a word as silence fell over the gate room. Sam felt like she was tethering on the edge, hands fisted to remain in control. She fought back her tears and straightened her back. Looking around, she saw both people she had served with for years and newcomers to the base holding their own, some crying openly, some just waiting.
Sam found the gate technician's eyes and ordered firmly, "Chuck, dial the gate."
The Canadian sergeant snapped into action with only a second's hesitation.
As the gate began to dial, the people who had gathered in the operations centre shuffled slowly to the balconies overlooking the gate. Sam found herself standing next to John and Rodney, and sought her 2IC's eyes just as the seventh chevron locked.
While Chuck punched the final coordinate, John met her gaze silently and Sam suddenly wished she were somewhere else. Somewhere where the mantle of command belonged to someone else and she could be simply Sam, and he could be…
"Eight chevron will not lock."
Sam's burning eyes closed and she reached out for something to hold on to. John's hand was there, clutching hers as strongly as she did his. I'm here. I'm not gone.
"Are—Are you sure you got it right?" Rodney's voice broke through the tense silence. "I—I mean, did you punch the right chevron?"
"Rodney…" John's voice was just beside her. Sam opened her eyes, seeing how her fellow scientist's wide eyes flickered from person to person, all of them staring at him with varying degrees of hope and defeat in their features.
"I'm serious! What if there's a malfunction in the dialling sequence, or there's power fluctuations messing with the gate's distribution nodes, disrupting the connection to the final chevron, or—"
"Rodney," said Sam pointedly, shutting him up momentarily. He stared at her, mouth open, a tablet already in his hands. She swallowed. "There's no malfunction."
"There's got to be something, something we haven't tried—"
"McKay, let it go!" John seemed to finally reach through to the Canadian scientist, halting him completely. He stood with a forlorn look on his face. Sam stared pointedly at the gate as John lowered his voice, which sounded oddly detached, and said, "They're gone."
Slowly, everyone looked at each other, coming to the same realisation.
No further evacuations. No further twisting brains together in search of an answer as time ran out. No further supply runs. According to Major General O'Neill, every last resort had been tried and failed. There was simply nothing more they could do. This was it.
Earth was gone and they were on their own, stranded on the only base that bore traces of their home world. Atlantis was now the final hope for survival for the Fifth Race.
Sam met John's eyes and saw all her fears mirrored there.
After a painstakingly long moment, Sam withdrew from John's gaze and subsequently let go of his hand. She turned to face Zelenka, who stood next to the Lantean monitors with a lost look on his face, his glasses forgotten in his hands. "Radek. What's the status on the Wraith Hive ships?"
The Czech scientist stared at her incomprehensively for a moment before Rodney jolted him out of his stupor. Jump-started into activity and brain function, Zelenka pushed several buttons and the monitors woke to life once more with the picture Sam had memorised for the past week. Five Hive ships, one of which was reported powered by a ZPM.
"Ehrm," Zelenka stuttered, half-wringing his hands. "They'll be here in less than a week."
Sam closed her eyes. The evacuation could not have come at a worse time.