Neither Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, Stargate Atlantis
, or any other recognizable elements in my story are my property. They are being used solely for my (and I hope, your) amusement.
Author's Beginning Notes:
Some elements of the opening sequence were inspired by the books Barefoot Sisters: Southbound
and Barefoot Sisters: Walking Home
by Lucy and Susan Letcher (otherwise known as Isis and jackrabbit). The story concept itself is something I've been thinking of for quite a while, but I couldn't figure out a plausible opening until I read the Barefoot Sisters
books. You don't need to have read them, though I felt the need to give them mention here. (I'm not using the characters, mind, just a few details and ideas.)
As for the main character, her identity is intentionally concealed in the first few chapters; please, go with it. There will also be no other characters crossing universes (the story concept will not allow for it). Trust me.
I reserve the right to disregard scenes from Season 2 of SGA dealing with the fate of Sateda; I have a slightly different take on it in this story.
This is the second edition of the story. Those of you who read, enjoyed, and possibly commented on the original, will certainly recognize it; I've changed a few things and added a few details.
Chapter One: Alone
Slowly, ever so softly, the world filled itself in around her, or perhaps her consciousness was filling itself in as to the state of the world around her. She woke up, feeling a bit strange. Almost like she'd been hit by a speeding freight train while smashed-off-her-chair drunk. Not that she'd ever actually been hit by a freight train, but that was the closest analogy she could come up with. And she'd never been quite that drunk, though she'd read about that one Slayer back in seventeen-eighty-one, and this was Virginia, after all.
She reached up and brushed some of her long hair - the tips, ever so slightly slightly singed, she noticed - out of her face, tucking the loose strands behind her ears, before trying to sit up. A weight across her shoulders softly, but firmly held her down for a moment, until she realized what that firm softness and the weight of its grip must be.
Reaching down to her sides, she searched for a split second with her fingertips, then found and pulled on the buckles, loosening the shoulder straps of her backpack, enough that she could wiggle out of its harness. That done, she unbuckled the padded hip belt, squirmed out of the backpack's shoulder straps, and clambered to her feet, looking around. Turning slowly to take in her surroundings, while not making it look like that was what she was doing.
First things first, she didn't see the Appalachian Trail, or its white blazes. She'd followed those splashes of white paint from rock to tree, for hundreds of miles, and puzzled at their absence. The absence of any trail at all, in fact. All she could see was just a small meadow on the side of a hill, surrounded by what looked like fir and pine trees, though on second thought, they were much bigger than she would expect. The meadow was about the size of a baseball field, tilted toward one corner at what she guessed was about a six or seven degree slope. A small spring-fed pond, lined with what looked like granite boulders, not fitted by human hands, and no bigger than a jacuzzi, occupied the downhill corner, and its outlet stream bubbled over some more rocks and down the hill into the not-quite-pine woods.
As she finished turning a slow full circle, she noticed the lack of human companionship; not that she was travelling with anyone in particular, but there were a lot of hikers on the Appalachian Trail this time of year, including thru-hikers like herself, and not seeing anyone at all was mildly unusual. She spotted a couple downed logs - or perhaps they were large branches? - that might make for a decent seat, and one large enough to hide behind, along the edges of the meadow, but no sign anyone had ever passed this way before. Indeed, the only sign of humanity in the meadow was herself and her pack and her trekking pole.
She went to the pack, turning it upright. It seemed in good condition, not even a grass stain. Nothing seemed to have been obviously damaged by her fall. At least, she presumed that she fell. She didn't remember how she'd ended up on the ground, much less, at the edge of this meadow. She pulled a simple compass out of one side pouch, and got her bearings. Okay, the granite-lined pond was the south end of the meadow, which would mean it was probably very cold water, being spring-fed and in the shadow of these gargantuan evergreen trees all day, and the uphill corner, that was north. She pulled out her map for a bit, but without more landmarks or a trail, she didn't really have anywhere to start. Nothing about her surroundings could be used to determine exactly where she'd find herself on a map of western Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Picking up her trekking pole, pausing to finger the leather strap before wrapping it around her wrist, she decided to head uphill and try to find a ridge to spot landmarks from. On second thought, she better take the pack, too, since she didn't know if she'd need to come back to this meadow. She unwrapped the strap and set down the pole, balancing the compass on a log - or perhaps branch? - while lifting the fifty-pound backpack and slipping back into the harness, then picked up the trekking pole and the compass, wrapped the pole's strap around one wrist, checked the watch on the other, compared it to the position of the sun in the sky, and headed uphill.
Two hours later, after winding her way through the woods and finding only shorter and shorter trees, she'd reached the ridgeline, to find just a strip of jagged volcanic rock a couple dozen yards wide, breaking through the seemingly endless forest. The ability to see the horizon only came because the trees had slowly shrunken down to the size of something she might decorate for Christmas as she approached the ridgeline. She had still not spotted any trail or blazes, not any human trails anyway. She thought she'd seen a couple game trails. Setting down her pack, she pulled out her trail map and climbed up the biggest boulder she could find, hoping for a clear view of the whole horizon.
First, she looked forward, beyond the ridge. Which, it seemed, was just another valley and yet more forest. The slope seemed to run further downhill than she thought she'd climbed up, but then, she may not have been at the bottom of the slope before. She could see a couple clearings down the slope, including one that was almost rectangular. From this distance, she couldn't tell how big it was, mainly because a lot of it was probably hidden by those mammoth trees she had seen back in the first meadow, but she kept it in mind.
The main problem was that there were no obvious roads, no landmarks other than the landscape itself, in fact. No power lines, no bridges, and no buildings that she could see. There were places that remote, even in 21st-century America, but she knew the Blue Ridge Mountains were not supposed to be one of them. There was supposed to be a marked trail, at least. She hadn't seen a single sign of human habitation since she'd woken up, and she didn't see any now.
Turning back the way she'd come, she saw forest disappearing into a range of jagged, bare-peaked mountains. It reminded her much more of Northern California, or perhaps Colorado, than it did of the part of Virginia that it was supposed to be. Deciding that she must be in the foothills of a mountain range created by the collision of continental tectonic plates, and knowing that such mountain ranges could be hundreds of miles wide and contain peaks of literal breathtaking altitude, it was obvious she should not return that way. She sighed; the trail map was useless, as there were no mountains like that in Appalachia. She was well and truly lost.
A decade ago, that would have been cause for panic. But she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and calmed herself. That decade, from fifteen to twenty-five, had changed her. She knew how to look after herself, and in fact, her quest on the Appalachian Trail was something of a coming-of-age ritual. She could do this.
Shrugging, she turned back to the northern valley, which seemed to confirm her theory. While there was yet another rocky ridgeline on the far horizon, it appeared further away than the one behind her, as well as lower and less rugged, and she decided to take a compass bearing on the largest of the meadows and head in that direction. Humans built on flatter ground, and civilizations depended on water sources. Wherever this was, going downhill was her best chance to find out. If nothing else made itself obvious, she could use downed branches to start a bonfire or lay out a signal for passing aircraft.
There was a thought, and she stilled herself, turning so that her back was to the wind. That was a little trick she'd learned from watching hurricanes on the Weather Channel, of all places, letting her ears shield themselves from the wind. Still, she couldn't hear any sounds that seemed manmade, no sound of engines or helicopter blades, just the call of a few distant birds and what might have been a moose.
She shrugged, checked her watch against the sun's position in the sky, and frowned. Either her watch wasn't keeping time like it should, or something was definitely very wrong. The watch was showing that two and a half hours had passed, yet the sun had hardly moved. Shrugging, she gave it up for now as an optical illusion; she was, after all, mostly a city girl, and it was nearly midday.
Turning back to her compass, she got the bearing of the biggest of the meadows on that northern slope, and wondered about the geological process that could have produced a large rectangular meadow in these mountains. She could think while hiking, she decided, so she gathered up her belongings and then started making her way down the northern slope of the ridge.