stringertheory: (Cam)
[personal profile] stringertheory
Title: Z is for Zero
Rating: PG
Fandom: Stargate SG-1
Characters: Cameron Mitchell
Word Count: 1143
Categories: character study, drama
Spoilers/Warnings: Set during "Flesh and Blood" (10.1). Mild spoilers for the same.
Summary: He cannot calculate his life without zero.
Note: Never-ending gratitude to [personal profile] lolmac for saving this fic from itself, and from me.

A serving of Cam Alphabet Soup for SG-1 Gen Fic Day.


Some cultures don't have a zero, don't have a concept or a signifier for nothing. Cam remembers reading that somewhere, or seeing it in a documentary. Or maybe it was Jackson who first told him.

Jackson had said something about a culture – the Babylonians or the Persians or some long-dead society on P-whatever (or, hell, maybe all three) – not having a zero. It had been interesting, but considering that he'd brought up the fact while they were battling a deceptive countdown – “...which may or may not have a zero – based on the markings, this society appears to be related to the Babylonians, who had no symbol for zero – so either we have five or four--” “Jackson!” – interest had quickly evaporated in favor of self-preservation.

The memory rushes back to Cam as he shifts his grip on the yoke, tension coiled in every square inch of his body. Around him, the Odyssey crew stands in tense silence as the ship glides toward the tiny speck of white that is Sam, hanging in space near the Supergate. With one eye on Sam and the other on the gauges in front of him, Cam tries to imagine having no way to name the entire concept that zero defines.

Zero. Zilch. Zip. He cannot calculate his life without zero.

He'd been a good kid, though a wild streak near the end of high school had tarnished that reputation. His mother's heavy sighs and shouted warnings hadn't done much to tame him; the call of his last carefree days was too tempting in light of everything that was looming ahead of him. But his father met him on the front porch in the dark of a Thursday morning and gave Cam the one bit of advice that could turn him around.

“The Air Force has a zero tolerance policy, son,” he said quietly while they sat in rocking chairs, the porch boards creaking beneath them and the crickets singing like the church choir.

That conversation helped Cam stay centered for years, kept him from pushing back when authority pushed him on. The finality of zero tolerance was a warning siren against bad decisions, resounding inside his head in his father's voice. It kept him focused on his dreams instead of the heady lure of recklessness that sometimes rose inside him, usually at the worst times. Even today, the de facto leader of the world's most elite military team, traveling through space and time and whatever else there is to travel through, sitting at the controls of the most expensive aircraft ever built, the warning of zero tolerance still echoes in the back of his mind.

Out in the black, Sam hovers in the air like a dust mote, dwarfed by the Gate nearby. She is frighteningly small through the Odyssey's windows, and Cam clamps down on the wave of terror that rises in him. With no planet to anchor the view, the vastness of space becomes overwhelmingly present, and he narrows his focus to the Gate and Sam to hold himself steady.

He can imagine what Sam is feeling, held in place by zero gravity, unable to help herself or even move. He's never been a fan of zero gravity himself, though he knows people who enjoy it. One of his friends from Academy went on to join the space program and loved to brag about his training. They still keep in touch periodically, and Cam amuses himself imagining what his friend's reaction would be if he cut into stories about trips to the space station to talk about trips to other planets. Cam prefers to travel in ways that don't involve him losing control of his own body. He doesn't like the feeling of weakness that comes with zero gravity. He'll take the Odyssey's artificial gravity and Gate travel over the weightlessness of the comparatively rickety ISS any day.

Sam's voice crackles to life on the comm, and he can hear her fear and uncertainty. He reassures her as best he can, trying to convince himself that he completely feels the confidence in his reply. He checks the gauges, slowing the ship's velocity as much as he can manage. The indicator barely clears the zero mark, but on a ship the size of the Odyssey, even the smallest movement requires significant force and he knows he's flying much faster than he'd like.

In space, there's no altitude. With no reference point, no gravity, there's nothing to be “above.” Though the Odyssey is meant for space flight, she routinely enters atmosphere and therefore comes equipped with an altimeter. Cam glances at it, unsurprised to find the reading flat. Zero altitude, pushing for zero airspeed. A trickle of sweat slips down the back of his neck and the memory of his first emergency ejection pulls him in.

He'd been coming in for landing during a training exercise when his engine caught fire. At such low airspeed and altitude, he had no time to contemplate his options, and he hit his zero-zero ejection a split second before control ordered him to. His parachute opened just before the engine failed completely and the plane hit the ground. He floated above the burning wreckage, his heart hammering in his chest and his hands shaky on the chute controls as he guided his way back to earth.

Zero-zero got him home safely. Zero took him to the stars and to the other side of the universe.

A Zero Point Module brought him into the SGC. Colonel O'Neill's quest, SG-1's trouble, Cam's role in the fight over Antarctica and everything that followed – it was down to a ZPM. A ZPM gave them Atlantis, gave them a home far, far away from home. He has stood on a planet in another galaxy, under unfamiliar stars above a floating city-spaceship. All down to zero.

Sam disappears from view as the ship closes in on her position and Cam turns his full attention to the gauges in front of him.

There's no room for error. There will be no opportunities to try again, no do-overs. Zero tolerance.

The gauges hold even, zero bank angle, zero angle of attack, heading unchanged. Cam feels the entire ship hold its breath as they reach the final moments of the insane maneuver he is attempting. The whispers of long-ago aerodynamics lessons, the voice of flight instructors, the memories of the ridiculous maneuvers he somehow managed to pull off in the past crowd the back of his mind, a murmur. Cam shuts them down and focuses on controlling the ship, on the sound of Sam and Kvasir on the comm, on the feel of the yoke in his hands.

Zero second chances. Zero room for error.

He holds his breath until he gets the call that Sam has landed safely.




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