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in the sand
by Raven

G, gen. Sam follows footprints along the beach. Written for Am-Chau.

The beach was perfect. Like the lake shores of her childhood, Sam decided; magical and tinged with the memory of blue skies and holidays long ago. The tide was coming in, single wave by single wave, gentle and steady as a heartbeat, and behind her, dunes curved away into the distance, sleek and sculpted and decorated with marram grass. The Stargate was visible as a circular monument some distance away, so little used that birds flew through the ring without fear and nested in the DHD. It belonged here, a part of the landscape the way the Stargate on Earth had belonged in Egypt, a part of nature and history.

Out at sea, something metal rotated and caught the sun before getting back to the serious business of sinking. Sam stared at it, taking in the sleek lines, the way it reflected the light as flashes of intense white, and decided it must be the UAV. They were designed to float in seawater, but Ė she put her fingers in the water, then let them brush her lips Ė the seas were less salty on this world than most. The craft might bob along for another few hours before finally sinking; whatever happened, it was irretrievable. She didnít mind. They had come to a beach and that was enough.

She had taken off her boots and socks some time before, and Tealíc had raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The sand was soft and warm against her toes, and she smiled as she saw how her footprints changed from heavy, military standard issue treads to the delicate imprints of a woman barefoot. And there were other footprints, too; Tealícís, deep and even and always at her side, and in front of her were two slightly older sets of prints, blurred at the edges by drifting sand, but still visible. They led and she followed. She would meet them eventually.

First, the long, deep strides. The military swagger, she reminded herself. Left, right, left, right, straight ahead, primary mission objective, retrieve UAV. And on the side, the other footprints, wandering, variable, less deep and much less regular, crossing the first set of footprints at random intervals. Pauses as the military footprints became decidedly less military, and then stopped altogether. They had stopped here, and Sam found a small piece of MRE foil stuck in the sand like a flag.

She leaned down to pick it up, and found the touch of a human hand; Earthís point of origin, traced by a slender index finger in the sand. She remembered Archimedes, a mathematician not a myth, finding the footprints of man in the geometric figures scored in the sand, and thought about the soft science and hard science together in the symbol.

But the footprints picked up again, and she had to follow. This time the footprints on the left were more irregular and the ones on the right, more regular. Onwards and further onwards, until suddenly, they changed. They became deeper, more widely spaced, and Sam, realising suddenly, exchanged glances with Tealíc. They were running. From what? From whom?

She stopped abruptly, described a full circle, scanning the horizon and trying to force it into giving up its secrets, but there was nothing and no-one to be seen. Only emptiness, windswept dunes and soaring gulls, and the fade-out blue of the sky.

So she carried on, as she always did. And eventually, it became clear. The footprints slowed and stopped, and there were scuffed, wide marks across the sand, difficult to interpret until she found the two perfect oval marks. Just as if Ė and she smiled as she pictured it Ė an archaeologist wearing glasses had been pressed into the sand, and Ė quite possibly Ė had further sand stuffed down his neck.

It took a long time for the footprints to become even again, and even then they changed and deepened and overlapped at times until finally they settled into a rhythm, closer to each other than they had been and steady, like the waves still lapping in.

Sam could feel the sand cooling beneath her feet. Soon it would be dusk, and there was an hourís walk back to the gate, and no UAV to show for the trip, but she didnít mind. Maybe she ought to request downtime, once they were back home. Go down to the sea. Take her niece and nephew and have ice-cream.

She took a deep breath. Maybe she ought to bring them here. Yes, the idea had a certain charm; bring them here to where the sand and shore were perfect, the seawater nearly fresh, the skies endless and perfect blue. When the saving-the-planet thing got old, she decided. Sheíd take vacations here and bring her family.

She sighed, and Tealíc glanced at her. He had been staring down at the ground, and after a second she followed his gaze. One set of footprints suddenly stopped and changed like her own footprints had changed. No heavy boots Ė rather, delicate imprints of bare feet that continued a mere five paces before stopping for good. She sat down beside the sleeping archaeologist, wondered if he was dreaming about the beauty around them, and watched as Tealíc went out to meet his commanding officer, who was standing by the edge of water and shouting something about very big fish.

Sam lay back on the sand, savouring the last of its warmth even as the cool evening breezes stirred her hair. The sun was setting over this world, over the sea, and she was tired. The birds were curving upwards into the sky, the very first stars were becoming visible and her family were already here.

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