Title: The Sky is Falling
Word count: ~3,800
For aella_irene, in the apocalyptothon, who requested: SG1, Mitchell & Carter, Europe
Thank you to rydra_wong for alpha and beta help from start to finish.
"Shock wave incoming."
"Roger. Shit. Instruments are dark. Engines out."
"Ow, crap. We have a charge through the metal."
"Cannot restart. Nothing’s responding. I’m gliding her down."
"Mayday, mayday. We are going down. Repeat: we are going down."
"Hold on, Sam."
“Is there any way we can figure out how bad it is? How bad it’s gonna get?”
“Well,” Sam’s voice ricocheted out of the metallic cave she’d been working in. “I ran a lot of simulations, but it all depends on how much they managed, where we stopped them.”
“At some point it becomes irrelevant, though, right? How many times over they destroyed the world, that kind of thing.” He leant against the husk of his 302, directing his words to her feet.
“Are you worried about a nuclear winter? Because at the moment it really feels like something we can’t influence until we get home, and even then it’ll likely be more along the lines of evacuation rather than turning back time at this point.”
“I’m talking about the survival of the human race, Sam, and what it’s going to mean for us. Right now, it looks dark and we know they hit us in at least one way we didn’t expect; people could be panicking, I’d like to have some idea of what to expect, whether I’m being an asshole if I say everything’s going to be fine.”
“There are human beings scattered throughout the galaxy, Cameron, and you’re acting like this is an extinction level event when it’s really more like a power outage at the moment.”
“Sam.” He squatted down and tried to get an angle on her face. “I’m talking about culture here and if it’s going to unravel. Is it going to become all about territory and survival of the fittest? Tell me what to expect.”
She scooted towards him on her back in the dirt, hips rocking, jacket getting rucked up her ribcage, until she could crunch her shoulders up and twist sideways and clear the undercarriage and look at him. She had dirt in her hair and grease on her forehead. He played with a stick in the dust to then threw it a few feet away. “There is no way to say for sure that we’ll devolve back to caveman times, Cam.”
“It could happen, though. We could be drummed out tomorrow for not speaking French, whole place could go Margaret Atwood on us.”
He shrugged. “Just tell me you won’t be blindsided.”
“I’ll kick their asses, promise. Ever vigilant.”
“You’ve got your head stuck in the guts of my plane for hours, only baby toes visible. Haven’t even braked for water often enough.” Speaking of, he located a canteen against a rock a few feet away and handed to her.
“Well, that’s different,” she said, drinking briefly without looking away from his face, “I have you here now, you’re doing the constant vigilance thing, in between pondering apocalyptic novels, apparently.”
“This was bad, they knocked on our door. Hard.”
“It was unexpected. It was also short.”
“Yeah, any idea why that was?” She shook her head, handed back the canteen and made to get comfy with wires and circuits again. “Sam,” he said, “how many times did you really think it was the end of the world?”
“On missions?” She punctuated her question with a clang. He tossed the stick. “It’ll drive you crazy or panicky to think like that. Better to focus on the fact that we’re together, we have options, we’ll stay alert and adapt and we’ll manage until they find us.”
Right, he thought. As pep talks go, it wasn’t that condescending. He patted her a couple of times on her calf and figured he’d better get back to that vigilance thing if she was going to rely on him to be the brawn while she was sweet-talking the 302, so he stood, stretched and made to check the perimeter.
He found her in the elementary school library, pouring over maps she’d spread all over a table by the largest window in the afternoon light and making notes in a black and white composition notebook. He pulled up a miniature chair and sat in it backwards.
“So what have we got?” He asked, trying to read her expression. “Doesn’t bode well?”
She grimaced. “Just stuck. I can’t tell if they hit more than one station, so my estimation of range for their weapon to have directly shorted everything we can see out has a huge error, but that’s not the worst part.” He looked at the protractor circles she’d drawn all over the children’s map with a blunt pencil and wondered if she’d located the stations from memory or translated the words with their borrowed and well-worn French-English dictionary.
“And the worst part is?” He prompted.
“France made surplus energy from their nuclear power stations.”
“They sold it. To most of their neighbors. There had to be direct power conduits to Germany, Italy and Britain. At least.” She stabbed the children’s atlas cartoon versions of the countries labeled Allemagne, Italie and Grande-Bretagne as she spoke.
“So the impact would be a lot bigger.”
“A lot bigger. Over our own networks.”
“And back home?”
“I have no idea. I have no idea of the scope of this.”
Her map of North America was weirdly small; Cam was used to maps of the US taking up entire walls of a classroom, and here it rated a single page. The circles Sam had been drawing covered only the Eastern seaboard so far, but he still felt eerily like he was looking at bomb craters in the map of his country. He looked away and out the window to the grey clouds in the sky.
“Hey, here’s an upside: a power outage isn’t radiation fallout.”
“There’s that.” Yet, that we can detect, here, maybe there it’s different, I can’t explain the radios, I don’t know where our friends are; he heard all the caveats she’d grown tired of repeating, all the error in her own measurements that she’d stopped insisting everyone else remember.
“Actually, the Mayor would like you to tell everybody that at the town hall meeting type thing.”
“Neighboring towns are asking for you to check out their water sources, and he wants to make a bid for retrofitting the mill instead of using up gas and batteries running about the countryside. At least that’s what Clémence said. I’m assuming she meant ‘retrofit’.”
“The wire is fried, new stuff needs to be laid down anyway, we’ll have to trade for it eventually.”
“Maybe he’s playing politics because he’s convinced that the supply lines won’t suddenly resume tomorrow.”
“Well, I guess that’s good.”
He stumbled back into their tiny little row house without stepping on any of the future food he crammed in every corner of the garden, an executive decision he figured he could beg forgiveness for if the original owners ever returned from their holiday of amazingly bad timing. He managed to avoid banging into the doors or walls once inside, and he mostly even picked up his feet, though there was little he could do about the creaky old floors. Cam considered it a triumphant return, especially since there were no noises indicating that he’d woken either his neighbors or his housemate.
Until she came swimmingly into focus in front of their fireplace, wrapped in a blanket and dwarfed by the wings of the armchair. She’d tucked her hip into the back of the chair, and drawn one leg up to wrap her arms around while the other leg hung off the corner of the seat cushion, it’s form and angles clear from the drape of the blanket. He’d paused to lean in the doorway, perplexed at the unusual light after dark, and drawn to the idea that where there was light, there might be some heat.
The dying fire cast orange light and left deep shadows in its wake, making Sam’s hair the color of a dirty penny; he couldn’t really see her face.
He tumbled into a seated position on the floor, knocking his knee in the process and finding it painfully funny. Cameron had noticed, though, that sober people often lacked a certain sense of humor and so refrained from actually laughing and just grinned in a way that was half a mouthed ‘ow’. She turned toward the noise, slightly, but wouldn’t face him.
Thinking that maybe she’d felt left out, he said, “You could have dropped by, you know, if you were gonna stay up anyway.” He was pleased that his voice hadn’t sounded too loud, although there was the crackle of the dying fire to buffer any sound. “Clem was there.”
It was a while before she spoke, and when she did, Cam had to think a minute to make sure it was, in fact, a non-sequitur and that he hadn’t somehow missed the transition.
“Daniel has this theory,” she said, “that you know you’ve given up when you let yourself get drunk with the locals.”
“Really?” He asked, “Talk to him lately?” It was clearly the wrong thing to say, but the words were somersaulting out of his mouth before he heard them.
“Jack did,” she snapped, “Eudora. Daniel didn’t, in Caledonia.”
“I know Sam, I did my homework, once upon a time…”
“I didn’t, at the alpha site, on the Prometheus.”
“That’s other planets, Sam; this is Earth. Well, the Prometheus… you know what I mean.” He suddenly felt old and creaky, curling up on his side to soak up the warmth of the fire, though all he really felt was a few withdrawing licks of light and heat on his knees. “This is months and seasons and it’s time to appreciate that we’re in France, even if we just pulled a bunch of vines to plant wheat.” It was a weird rationalization on their part, to drink in honor of the vines that were sacrificed, but who was he to argue?
“Are you giving up on me?” Spelling it out because obviously he was in no condition for subtlety, but she sounded young when she said it.
“Saaaaammmm,” he flopped onto his back so he could tilt to see her face if she turned it to face him and he lifted his head. “You ever been on a long tour you couldn’t see the end of?”
“Desert Storm,” she said humoring him sadly.
“Oh yeah. Lots of flying time, going home earlier than expected. Not the same.” He remembered those days fondly, before his friends started not coming back with him. “A tour where there are two or three false finish lines before you actually set your sites on home soil? Waiting all damn day in the stress and the heat until you can get to the canteen with your buddies and shake it off?”
Now his voice was too loud. Sam looked left of the fire to the blackened bricks in the empty part of the fireplace. Cam rolled and crawled over to her chair to rest an arm heavily on her leg. “I’m actually being extra patriotic getting drunk off my ass, Sam.”
She snorted lightly, with little sound, just air, and he took that as a good sign. “Can I put another log on the fire, huh?”
“Actually, I’m not sure you can,” she said, and a beat or two later lifted his arm off her leg to get up an fetch a split log from a sizable pile along with a little kindling and put it over the hottest part of the embers still smoldering, holding her blanket around herself with her free hand. Cam had split that log himself, though he didn’t remember bringing it in; Sam must’ve done that.
“’Mere,” he said, grabbing a throw pillow from the chair and stretching out again and punching the pillow out of shape. Sam rocked back over her knees and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of him, glancing from the wood she’d placed to Cam’s face and to the hearthstone. She stirred the embers with a poker unnecessarily and then abruptly set it aside. He thumped the available corner of his pillow heavily and then reached out a hand and tugged the shoulder of her shirt.
Sam seesawed her head from side to side before curling down to the floor and then stretching out the length of Cameron. “We’re family here,” he said to her hair, “and I am not going to give up and I’m not going anywhere without you and I will try very hard not to breathe on you too much even.”
There was a full measure of silence before Sam awkwardly wiggled the blanket out from around her and tossed it back more or less over his hip and knees to cover both of them. She looked back as he shuffled his feet underneath and quickly turned her head back to the fire. “Your breath does reek of wine,” she informed him. He laughed and it ruffled her hair where it was caught on her shirt collar.
The blanket didn’t quite reach the floor, so he had this weird breeze at his back where his shirt fell shapelessly away from his back, but he got to bury his nose in Sam’s hair with the reasonable excuse of being drunk in case she got mad, so he figured there were upsides and downsides to sleeping on the floor.
Her hair smelled of dirt and sweat and wood fire. She’d given up on washing it more than once a week to ration their shampoo; he washed his less often because it was shorter.
“What are we doing?” Cameron asked as he caught up with Sam hiking up a hill between picturesque fields, a mostly empty pack on her back, cinched smaller with a belt. “Besides playing hookey on washing day.”
“I’m not playing hookey, I’m being useful. You were playing.”
“It was a perfectly reasonable way to get the clothes wet, and Marius started it anyway. You object to play?” Plus he’d been hella useful all week working in the fields, thank you very much.
“No,” Sam said, stepping on and over a rock and hitching her pack over her shoulders on the way down, “I just didn’t want to bother you.” The lack of any look back at him in the process seemed to indicate that she wouldn’t mind if he went back to playing, although she was much more thorough about washing as a general rule than he was.
“And you didn’t want to play? You wanted to hike all day in the hot sun? I could’ve packed lunch if you’d told me we were taking a road trip.”
“You didn’t have to come, Cam.”
“Uh-huh. You cross the perimeter and I’m coming with. I know how you get around machines.” Because there was no other reason to be walking over this hill than to get to that clearing, in which the 302 lay patiently waiting, and, apparently, calling to Sam.
“How do I get around machines?” She was letting her feet hit the ground a little too hard, was letting it slow her steps, was close to stopping and turning around to get in his face, maybe putting hands on her hips, he could tell. And it was possibly a little careless to point out that there were few working, powered, machines for her to play with since the mill project was limited by a severely short-sighted lack of an electrical wire stockpile in the village, or anywhere within walking distance, really.
“You fall in love with the project, Sam, and someone’s got to watch your six.”
“I thought we were over worrying, that it was time to play.” Steps resumed their pace and she spoke the words like a sigh.
“The village is within the perimeter Sam,” he said, as though apologizing for tagging along on her private walk.
“It’s not likely to get bad until the end of the harvest, the winter. You know that.”
Still, you protect your people, he thought, better to be in the habit. “Why are we doing this today?”
“It’s a nice day,” she said, only the hint of an upturn at the end of the last word indicating the explanation might not be over.
“And?” He kept his eyes down, away from the wild blue yonder just begging for jet tracks.
“And the 302 has wire.”
“I thought that weapon trashed our wire, made it resistant.” He parroted the last word carefully, because he still didn’t completely understand the theory behind why that had happened. “Or something.”
“Or something. The village was in the power network, and everything hooked directly into that is useless.” She paused to brush a piece of hair that refused to stay tied back behind an ear. “The 302 was shorted out, but maybe the wire is still good, maybe other things.”
“You want to get it working.”
“Because it’s a nice hot day?” And it had started a day for swinging into cool streams, though he could now feel the sweat trailing down his spine.
“Gave me the idea,” she said, pausing and turning her head to look for the first time at him, take in the sight of the canteen slung over one hip with an improvised women’s purse shoulder strap, a shirt they’d filched from their adopted house as well, his good boots for hiking. He noticed the sweat beading on her forehead as she turned and launched into the explanation as she picked up the pace.
He rolled his neck and then caught up. “When we went down, the instruments went dark, and the plane was charged in the metal.”
“Like a thunderstorm,” because hey, yes, he’d been there; sometimes he felt like she forgot that detail.
“Exactly.” She stopped and turned to face him, surprising him in the process; he nearly ran into her, drew his chin in and went up on his toes to avoid it. “The weather afterwards was dark and overcast for weeks, but it was spring so no one thought anything of it, but now the weather’s cleared, and I was thinking about high and low pressure fronts…”
“And the storms dissipated, so maybe the 302’s systems will work now?”
“Maybe -- the short itself could have caused a lot of damage, plus we crashed.” He wasn’t sure what to do with that information. Apologize for crashing their plane? She took a pull off her canteen.
“So what do we do then?” It was a hot day, he drank too.
Sam turned and walked quietly. Cam followed her gaze upward off the trail and thought for a moment that it was odd there were no exhaust trails crossing the blue. It made the sky seem infinitely higher, and Cam realized it had to have been a long time since he’d thought of flying. Let himself think of flying.
“We salvage the wire,” Sam said, as they crested the hill and looked across the 302’s clearing.
They walked side by side the rest of the way.
“I’m sorry,” she said, after he’d busted open a second, moderately dusty bottle of wine from their cellar. Some days were bad enough that you splurged with your comforts until you were guaranteed to put off feeling as bad as you wanted to until the next day. “I wanted to be able to fix it.”
“Then I’m sorry, for not landing her better,” he said after a pause in which he set down his glass and reached for hers to refill it.
“Shouldn’t have assumed they’d use projectile weapons, that was stupid.” Her breath ghosted condensation into her glass since she’d rested it against her chin. She handed it over when he gestured for it, pulling her attention. “I shouldn’t have been so focused on the radioactivity.”
“You had to assume the worst case scenario and you did a pretty damn good job making sure the world didn’t come to an end.” He poured wine to the widest part of the glass, like he’d been taught by the villagers, and then added another half-inch, because, why the hell not?
She didn’t take her glass, so he sank down next to her and balanced it on his knee where it touched hers. “This is not a failure, Sam. This is a couple of years shore leave in an idyllic French mountain village, complete with farms, vineyards and fresh water that is not, thanks to you and verified by you, radioactive.”
“I don’t know why the radios don’t work. They should work.” She wrapped her fingers around the stem her wineglass, under where his were holding the bowl, but didn’t move to take it from him. “I’m sorry for stranding you here.”
“I’m grateful that we got as far as we did. Besides which.” He dropped his hand from her glass, made sure she had a decent hold on hers and reached for his own to refill it. “We’re on Earth, we know where we are, we’re healthy and whole, our French doesn’t suck nearly as much as it did before and the sun shines now, sometimes.”
“You’re right,” she said, watching the firelight play through her wine, “if we were stranded off-world it’d be better; we’d at least have a stargate to try to fix and the knowledge that everything back home was fine.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, filling his glass too full, “that I let us get separated. SG-1.”
She leaned against his shoulder as he set the bottle down and leaned back against the sofa. “I wish I knew they were okay.”
“Amen,” he said quietly, then held his glass up in front of him. “To family.”
She held up her glass to his and he clinked them, surprised when, after taking a sip, she rested her glass on her knee and her head on his shoulder.
He shifted her a bit so he could put an arm around her and said, ‘You know, if we sleep down here again it’s going to hurt like hell bending over the washboards tomorrow.”
“Swinging on ropes that bad for your back?” She sounded like she was smiling, though she pressed her head back into his shoulder fairly firmly as she took a drink of wine and resettled her head.
“We could always crash in the master bed at the top of the stairs,” he offered. There was a reason farm work was called ‘back-breaking,’ but he liked the companionship.
“Maybe later,” she said, the white-orange firelight showing red and purple through her wine.