The Journey Back to Her
Dr. Rodney McKay glared at the figures on his laptop as he took another bite of his Big Mac.
“Ah hah—gotcha you tricky, little bastard!” he gloated, as he found the erroneous formula that had been throwing off his model. “Jeannie is smart, I’ll give her that, but she’s no genius,” he muttered gleefully.
It was the last day of the 4-day international physics conference in his native Vancouver, which he’d been attending with his sister, Dr. Jean Miller, and his friend and colleague, Dr. Samantha Carter—who also had the distinction of being a full bird colonel in the US Air Force. While Sam was an astrophysicist in addition to being an officer, both Rodney and his sister were theoretical physicists and civilian consultants with the USAF on the most classified, way-out top secret program on Earth (and travelling to other planets—and even other galaxies—using an alien device that produced artificial wormholes constituted way-out in Rodney’s book).
They’d decided to skip the last couple of hours—nothing interesting happening there anyway that wasn’t light years behind his work on wormhole physics—and spend the afternoon at Jeannie’s house before he and Sam flew back to Colorado, and to Stargate Command. From there Rodney would then head out across the galactic divide to the Pegasus Galaxy, and to the Lost City of Atlantis, where he held the post of chief scientist.
However, he was categorically not going to spend the next forty-five minutes to an hour battling Vancouver traffic on an empty stomach, so they’d stopped off at a mall near the convention centre to have lunch before heading out to the ’burbs. At the moment, both Sam and Jeannie were stuck in lines on opposite sides of the food court—Sam opting for a sub and salad, while Jeannie looked to be still waiting to order at a sushi kiosk.
“Gotta love MacDonald’s,” he chuckled around a long pull of his Coke as he set about fixing Jeannie’s errant formula. “After all, they put the fast in fast food.”
“Damn it, Miro! You promised to be here!”
A vaguely familiar voice slashed across his happy mood, compelling him to look up in confusion. Across the mall’s food court, a petite—and obviously pregnant—woman smacked a scruffy-looking man repeatedly with her purse as if to punctuate each word, while he tried ineffectively to fend off her blows without retaliating.
“You said I could count on you!” she continued to rant. “I don’t know why I keep giving you second … third—hell, fourth chances!
“Oww! Woman, what the hell have you got in there?” the man protested.
Rodney stared at the woman in shock. “What is she doing here?” he muttered.
“I was only five minutes late, Gwen!” the man whined, scurrying after the small, retreating figure storming—okay, more like waddling—off in a fury towards the double doors that led to the parking lot.
Rodney stared at the spot where the fighting couple had been, burger and computer both completely forgotten. Suddenly the image of a US flag-draped coffin rose in his mind—and with it the memory of the miasma of grief and depression that had settled in the corridors of the SGC for weeks afterwards.
“Wait a minute—isn’t she dead?” he blurted out without realizing it.
“Isn’t who dead?” Samantha Carter asked, sitting down in the chair across from him. Rodney blinked as he turned his confused gaze to the beautiful, blonde Air Force colonel. When he didn’t respond, Carter’s expression became concerned. “Rodney, what is it?”
“Do you remember that doctor who died a couple of years ago?” he asked in a low voice.
Carter gave him a bemused half-smile. “You’re going to have to be a bit more specific than that.”
“You know, short one with the reddish-brown hair—the tyrannical medical chief O’Neill called a power-hungry Napoleon or something like that,” he insisted.
The blood drained from Samantha Carter’s face, but Rodney didn’t notice as he combed through his memory for the woman’s name.
“What was her name again?” he muttered to himself. “Farmer—no ... Foster ...”
“Fraiser,” said the glacially cold voice of Samantha Carter. It was a voice that immediately snapped Rodney McKay out of his ramblings to meet the ice-blue gaze that—paradoxically—burned with the white-hot fury of a sun.
“What about Janet Fraiser?”
Another memory—of Sam laughing in the SGC commissary with the petite brunette doctor—hit him with the force of a freight train, along with another bit of SGC gossip ... that Carter had taken time off to be with Fraiser’s daughter after the doctor’s death until the kid finally settled in at college.
Friends, he realised as he remembered Sam’s eulogy at Fraiser’s funeral—the list of names she had recited, of all the people the good doctor had saved since becoming CMO of the SGC. Carter and Fraiser had been good friends. Best friends.
Now, Rodney was not usually one to take into account people’s feelings, but Samantha Carter was one person he liked and admired and—most importantly—considered a respected peer and equal in the realm of science, even if he’d never admit it to another soul.
“Sorry Sam,” he said quietly. “I was so shocked—I’m sorry; I forgot you and Dr. Fraiser were friends.”
“What are you talking about, Rodney?” she asked from between clenched teeth. He could see her anger was building.
“There was a woman here just now—well across the food court over there,” he said pointing to the spot recently vacated by the couple. “Sam, she looked exactly like Dr. Fraiser.”
Pain flashed through Sam’s blue eyes and then they hardened to diamond chips again. “People have look-a-likes in this world,” she said quietly. “Dr. Fraiser died six years ago.”
Even someone normally as obtuse about other people’s feelings as Rodney was could read her message loud and clear; drop it! He nodded wordlessly and returned his gaze to the laptop screen.
“God, what a zoo,” Jeannie groaned a few minutes later as she sat down, her purse clattering noisily as she let it drop. It took a moment of wrestling with her plastic Bento box to get it open. “Mmm,” she moaned noisily around a piece of California roll. But as she selected a piece of salmon sushi, she noticed the unnatural silence between her brother and his colleague from the SGC. “What’s wrong you two?”
There was another short silence before Rodney replied. “Nothing, Jeannie. There was a couple causing a scene across the food court earlier and I thought I recognised the woman as someone we used to know back at the base in Colorado.”
Jeannie chuckled, startling Rodney. “Oh, you mean Gwen and Miro.”
“You know them?” Rodney said in shock.
His sister smacked him upside the head. “Of course I don’t know them.”
“Oww! What the hell was that for?” he complained.
Sam couldn’t help but chuckle at the siblings’ antics as Jeannie continued. “The fight started in the elevator over near the sushi place,” she explained. “They came down from the second floor—probably the doctor’s office. There’s a bunch of professional offices up in that area. Anyway, apparently Miro was late for Gwen’s appointment—probably only five minutes—but the idiot kept arguing with her! I mean, seriously, what kind of moron argues with a hormonally pissed off woman who’s seven or eight months pregnant.”
“Wait a minute—she was pregnant?” Sam asked in shock.
“Yeah,” the younger woman replied. “Didn’t Meredith tell you?” she asked, using Rodney’s hated first name.
Jeannie glared at him.
“What?” Rodney returned irritably. “She barely even let me suggest that Dr. Fraiser might still be alive before she got upset! And another thing,” he whispered angrily holding Sam’s gaze, “it wasn’t seeing her that first got my attention. I was just working on my laptop and I heard her voice, like I did so many times back at the S—I mean the-the base. And you may not believe me, but it was her voice, Sam.”
“Her voice?” Jeannie said curiously as the silence stretched out between her brother and his friend. “Well, I guess it was a rather distinctive voice,” she continued thoughtfully. “Sort of had a soft drawl to it, I suppose, and her accent got worse the madder she got at Miro—come to think of it, she did sound rather American at times, from one of the southern states … Texas maybe.”
Sam blanched and gripped Jeannie’s arm tightly. “Jeannie, are you sure?” she asked urgently.
“Yes. Was your friend from the south?” Rodney’s sister asked gently.
Sam nodded as she let Jeannie go in order to rifle through her briefcase. She pulled out a photograph of a smiling brunette with a pretty, honey-blonde teenaged girl and handed it to Jeannie.
“Yeah, that’s her—that’s Gwen,” Jeannie said. “Her hair is lighter—more of a blondish red—and styled differently—sort of flippy at the ends, but you can see where her darker roots are growing in. She must have stopped dying it when she found out she was pregnant. It’s recommended because some dyes can affect the baby. She also looks a bit older than your friend—early to mid-forties maybe.”
“Janet would have been forty-three now had she lived,” Sam whispered as Jeannie returned the photograph to her. “But it couldn’t be her—we recovered her body.”
“But maybe she managed to catch a bit of the … ah … Daniel Jackson syndrome,” Rodney said looking meaningfully at her as he whistled and twirled his forefinger pointing skywards. “In a way that left ah … some evidence behind—and then if she managed to tick her new friends off by breaking the rules—” His whistle ended on a descending note as he twirled his finger pointing down.