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* TITLE: Desperate Endeavor
* AUTHOR: Redbyrd
* EMAIL: redbyrd (at) mindspring (dot) com
* RATING: PG
* CATEGORY: drama, action, missing scene
* SUMMARY: The crew of the space shuttle Endeavor has a *very* weird day.
* SPOILERS: Serpent's Lair
* AUTHOR'S NOTE: Despite all the terrific fics inspired by this episode, I couldn't find any that filled in the space rescue at the end of Serpent's Lair. So I had to write one. This is the first fanfic I've ever let out of the closet into the light of day. Comments welcome.
Note: At the time I wrote this, I hadn't seen Touchstone, and didn't know that they retrieved both gliders. I've updated the story to include that detail.
The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.
I'd found her. She was as fair as sunlight and she held my every dream and ambition in her hands. Is it any wonder that my buddies thought I was a victim of Cupid's arrow?
It started with a dream, a personal quest that had guided me since the first day I stood with my parents outside Cape Canaveral and watched a rocket launch. I was five, and I knew that someday I wanted to do that too.
As an obsessed teen, I'd papered my walls with star maps and pictures of every craft ever launched into space. I'd applied to the Air Force Academy, served my time in planes. I loved planes, but I still set my sights higher. The day I was accepted for astronaut training was the happiest of my life. Four years later, my number finally came up, and I flew into space. By then, realism had set in. The real job that astronauts do is public relations. Only one shuttle at a time. Months between flights. Only a handful of people a year went into orbit and the competition was fierce. I had started to wonder if it was worth it, hanging around for years waiting for a few days in orbit. And if I did leave, what would I do instead? And then one bizarre day, it all changed.
It was early in the morning that I was told to report in, along with four other astronauts. We were not on the same teams normally, but looking around, I did notice that we were all military. None of the civilian mission specialists had been called up. When we were all present, our CO brought in another officer, and shut the doors.
"People, this is Major Hanson from the Pentagon. He'll be conducting the briefing today." The man sat down.
Our gazed turned to Hanson. "The first thing that I have to say is that everything discussed in this room today is classified top secret. You will not discuss today's mission with anyone, including one another, outside this room."
That got all our attention. I mean NASA has a publicity department for the purposes of shouting practically everything we do to the world. Classified stuff- well, it's almost never done. It did explain why an all military team, though.
Hanson continued. "Early yesterday, deep space telemetry picked up two objects on a course inbound for Earth. The course is not plausible for an asteroid or comet. The speed is... high. They'll be here in hours. We have reason to believe that they may be hostile."
Beside me, Lewis was obviously biting his tongue to suppress the question that we are all thinking. Hanson didn't seem to mind. "You have a question-" he paused.
"Lewis," he supplied. "What reason?"
Hanson shook his head. "That information was not part of my briefing," he replied. "In fact, there is really very little that I can tell you. Your orders are to prepare for liftoff as soon as possible, and then hold for instructions."
Lewis shook his head. "It's like some kind of bad SF movie. Earth makes first contact, and we want to shoot them."
I leaned forward. "Major. Exactly what do you think that we're going to be able to do if they are hostile? The shuttle isn't exactly armed." I was waiting for someone to tell me this was some kind of elaborate practical joke, but he answered me seriously.
Hanson shook his head. "We do have another plan. Hopefully, we won't have to launch the Endeavor at all. If we do, however- you'll have to do whatever you can. But if the primary plan fails, chances are the only way you'll be able to damage the ships is with a boarding action." I noticed that we had gone from objects to ships already. Obviously his briefing had included some information.
Connelly and Purcell were shaking their heads and spoke in unison. "This is insane!"
Fitzgerald was only a beat behind. "We're supposed to sneak up on them and do what, plant explosives?"
"Basically, yes." The man's calm confirmation silenced us. He continued. "Purcell, you have missile background." It wasn't a question. "We have two small nuclear devices. You'll get the instructions on how to arm them. Your instructions are to get those devices on board the ships, or failing that, immediately adjacent to them. Inside is better. My briefing was that the ships may have defensive screens. If so, Plan A isn't going to work. The Endeavor is Plan B."
I was stunned speechless, but nothing can keep Lewis quiet for long. "I sure hope you've got a Plan C."
Hanson frowned at him. "I believe Plan C is where the cities of Earth get bombarded from orbit, and pretty much everybody dies. So, if you can think of anything else you might need..?"
I asked, "Can we assume that these ships probably didn't build airlocks to international standards? Cause if so, we may need some stuff to improvise a mating hatch?"
Connolly said, "Guns.. something that will work in vacuum?"
In the end we came up with a short list. A large portion of the briefing dealt with communications protocols. Unlike many missions, communications for this one needed to be secure. The rest of the briefing dealt with more normal logistics. The next shuttle flight hadn't actually been due to go up for a month, and it was our good fortune that the shuttle was even on the pad. There was a lot to do to get it ready.
Outside the briefing room, the world was bizarrely serene. There was nothing mentioned about mysterious objects in space on the news. We were forced to hurriedly prep for the mission, ignoring the resentful and bewildered looks from the crew that had been scheduled to go up in several weeks. In addition to the nukes, they gave us weapons that they said had been modified to work in vacuum, a lot of extra medical stuff as well as the sealant and materials I had suggested.
A day later, after a whirlwind of activity, we sat on the pad, holding at T minus 10 seconds for over an hour. Hanson's voice came in our earpieces. "I have been advised that other measures we have undertaken were unsuccessful. It's going to be up to you."
Houston Control restarted our countdown and we lay there grimly, wondering what the hell we were going to find in orbit. T minus six, and the engines roared to life. I couldn't hear anything over them, but I knew that Houston was announcing liftoff, just as I had heard it so many times before. As the acceleration mounted, I was still wondering if this had been some kind of bizarre hallucination.
Booster separation came and went, and then the external fuel tank dropped, and we were soaring for orbit. The pressure slacked off and we started checking our boards. "What was that?" Purcell asked.
"What was what?" I replied going down my list.
"Dunno- like a bright flash. Somewhere behind us."
Then we heard a yell in our headphones. "Houston, say again," Lewis asked calmly.
After a brief pause, Hanson's voice came on. "We have reports of an enormous explosion in orbit over Colorado. Hold please."
After an interminable wait- at least two minutes- he came back. "Your mission profile has changed. The objects appear to have exploded. We want you to look and see if you can spot anything left, or any survivors. And if you find any, um, approach them with caution?"
"Roger." Lewis gave the regulation reply but looked back at the rest of us and rolled his eyes. I didn't need to be psychic to read his mind. We're up here looking for little green men with nukes in our back pocket. Yeah, cautious, we're cautious already.
It was Purcell that spotted them. Two dark shapes, winged like miniature B1s. "We've got them." He reported. They were in a higher orbit than we were, but already maneuvering to match velocities with us.
"Um, how do we approach with caution?" Lewis muttered. "They're coming to us!"
Then the bizarre day got stranger. As Lewis was describing the two tiny craft to Houston Control, they contacted us on the radio- in English. "Shuttle, come in. Shuttle come in."
Lewis hesitated. "This is the shuttle Endeavor."
"Boy, are we glad to see you." It was a male voice speaking with a slight midwestern accent. "Our crafts were damaged in the explosion. We can't make reentry in these things without becoming seriously crispy critters. Think we can hitch a ride?"
Lewis' jaw was hanging open but I had already started to get angry. Why had I never considered the obvious? The government knew that the crafts were hostile because they weren't extraterrestrial at all, but something else. Not that that made a lot of sense either. Nobody has the kind of infrastructure to get anything really big out of atmosphere. And whatever that explosion had been, it was big. We could still see the cloud of debris on radar.
My thoughts were interrupted by Houston. "Unidentified craft, this is Houston Control. I must inform you that all security regulations are in effect. All security regulations. This is not a secure line. Do you understand?"
"That is understood, Houston." Funny, but the guy in the black spacecraft sounded like he knew a lot more than Houston did.
"Then, can you please report personnel present. By first name only." Hanson's voice was flat and even. Pretty obviously he was being fed a script from somewhere else, and wasn't liking it a bit.
"Right," the male voice didn't seem to find this especially surprising. "That would be Jack and Braytac in one vessel, and Sam and Teelk in the other."
A second voice came in, a woman's steady soprano. "And we need to start figuring out how to transfer to the shuttle, sir. We are still losing power here."
There was a brief pause, and the male voice came back. "Yeah, we're going to need a plan there. We don't have anything remotely resembling an airlock, and also no spacesuits. Any chance these things will fit into the shuttle bay?"
Lewis addressed a remark to Houston Control. "Um, Houston? Are we authorized to pick up hitch-hikers?"
Hanson came back online, sounding if possible even more mystified. "Endeavor, that is affirmative."
We could see the two black craft clearly now. They looked like a cross between a B1 and something out of Star Wars, vaguely fighter shaped, with a clear cockpit and two figures visible in each. There was a brief pause while the four of them and five of us eyeballed the geometry. "Not a chance." Lewis said to the midwestern voice. "Your craft is too wide."
There was a murmur of conversation that didn't make it into the mike, and the cool female voice came back. "We're reconfiguring the glider- the wings fold up for, um, storage." And we watched as the craft's wings tipped in like a butterfly. Or at least one did. The other only closed partway. That was a "glider"? Well the small craft maneuvering closer to us were streamlined in a way that suggested they were designed to work in atmosphere.
"Sam, can you get that to close any more?" The male voice asked. "I think that's still not going to fit."
"That's right." I confirmed. "If you can get both wings cranked down, I think we can just close the bay doors on you, but not the way it is."
The woman, Sam, came back calmly. "I don't think so. We took a lot of damage. Half our controls are out on that side." She continued, "May be you should offload Jack and Braytak while we think about this."
"That's a negative-" The male voice came back. "We've got full control and power. Besides, if at all possible, I want to take this glider down with us. There definitely won't be room for two in the shuttle bay. That means we board last. Besides, how are you for air, Sam?"
"Not as low as power, sir, but not a lot. These gliders are supposed to be air-breathers, remember."
Okay, the two normal names belonged with the two American voices. Made sense.
"I've maybe got an answer for that." I broke in. "One of the things we were supplied with for this trip was tubes and sealant, on the assumption that we might need to improvise adaptations for our airlock. Can you describe your craft's egress?"
Lewis had been reporting their progress to Houston and came back to tell the strangers, "We've been asked to retrieve both gliders if at all possible."
The woman said, "If you can get us out, perhaps we can boost into a higher orbit before we cut the first glider loose. Then someone can retrieve it at leisure."
Getting the two out of the damaged craft turned out to be both annoying and difficult. The "glider" had a sort of mechanism that dropped a ladder down. It was airtight when sealed but not even close if they cracked the shell.
We brought the damaged glider as far into the bay and as close to the airlock as possible. Or rather, we left the shuttle on a straight path, while the other pilot maneuvered the damaged glider with tiny precise flares until it came within yards of the shuttle. Even given that the other craft was way more maneuverable than us, it was a fancy piece of flying. Lewis and Purcell went EVA and joined the vehicle to Endeavor with cable. The other pilot gave his craft an outward nudge to pull the cables taut and stabilize the two ships. Lewis and Purcell brought out the enormous roll of space rated tubing, and sealed it at both ends to improvise an airtight tube connecting the glider hatch with the shuttle airlock. Thank god they gave us so much of it, because the ladder had to drop down a full five or six feet inside the tube for the passengers to exit the glider. And all this at the painfully slow pace that was the best Lewis and Purcell could manage while hampered by EVA suits. Then Connolly suited up and went into the inside of the tube, while I waited inside the airlock.
We left the tube in vacuum and prepared to let our guests bleed air out of their damaged craft to give the tube a small amount of pressure. Lewis and Purcell stood ready with sealant to get any leaks. "I'm not real crazy about this." Lewis said over the radio. "We're wired into the airlock on the shuttle end, but if the sealant lets go from the glider we could lose the whole tube."
The pilot of the craft spoke in a low bass rumble. "The risk must be taken. We cannot remain here indefinitely."
Sam chimed in. "Teelk is right. But I'm more worried about the hatch ripping the tube off."
Jack had been fairly quiet while we rigged the temporary tube. Now he spoke, "Sam, can you disable the opening mechanism, and open the hatch more slowly?"
"That's actually what I've been trying to do," she replied. "It's not like I have a machine shop in here though."
"I'd offer to lend you my Swiss army knife, but I think I left it in my other pants," Jack told her.
"Yes, sir, have I ever told you that as a stand up comedian, you.." From my post inside Endeavor, I could see a blond head disappear below the level of the hatch. Sam sounded a bit breathless as she evidently wrestled with some piece of machinery.
"I what?" Jack asked.
"..shouldn't quit your day job. There, I think that does it." Her head popped up again. "I think we're ready to give this kludge a try. Lewis."
"Yes, ma'am." Lewis replied. I blinked. That had the crack of command, in sharp contrast to the bantering going on a moment earlier.
"I don't see any point in wasting the shuttle's air supply. I'm going to crack our hatch, as little as possible. We'll let the tube pressurize. If it blows, I'll try to reseal so we can take another shot at this. If it holds, we'll start venting some of the glider's air supply into the tube, enough to let Teelk and I stay conscious. If the hatch opens fully but we don't come out, Connelly's going to have to pull us. Anything I've missed?" The crisp professional summation ceased.
Connolly spoke, "Ma'am it might be good if you let me guide you to the airlock. I've got a good handhold on the glider and I'd be happier if you touch the tube as little as possible."
"Good idea." Sam approved. "Okay then. Cracking the hatch on three, two, one..."
I held my breath as the tube billowed out, but the lash-up held with only a few minor leaks as the tube billowed. "Okay, Sam." Lewis reported. "The tube is holding." Purcell squirted sealant on a couple of minor leaks. The hatch moved slowly down, Connelly checking to be sure that it didn't affect the tube. The tube was semi-opaque, but I could see bare outlines. A figure swam out into the tube itself, insulated from vacuum only by the thin tubing. This was the scary part. There was only enough room for one person at a time in the airlock. The second man would have to wait in the tube. I waited on the other side of the hatch with oxygen, eager to see the visitor.
And what a visitor. Sam turned out to be a tall blonde woman, startlingly beautiful. She looked quite normal and entirely terrestrial. I smiled at the woman. "Hi, um, Sam?"
She smiled. My brain stopped working. Wow. Lust induced brain freeze. Big time. She said, "Thanks for the lift." I could fall into those bottomless blue eyes.
I kicked my brain into gear and took a closer look. Okay, beautiful. But also tired, in a bone-deep exhausted sort of way. "Can I offer you something to eat or drink? I'm afraid our menu isn't much, but the room service is terrific."
She didn't quite laugh, but her serious expression lightened up. "I'm fine, thanks. Though I could use a blanket. It was freezing out there." I hastened to supply her with one, seeing white patches on her hands where she had touched the airlock. She clutched the blanket around her shoulders and looked around the shuttle shaking her head. "You know, I always dreamed of joining NASA. I never quite expected it to happen like this."
Fitzgerald and I exchanged a glance. "And here we were, expecting you to say 'take us to your leader'." I quipped, not quite fishing.
She did smile then. "I'm sorry. I really can't tell you anything." She turned back to the airlock, looking anxious. I had swung the interior door closed and now we could hear the outer door close as well, as the pumps raised the air pressure to equalize with the inside of the shuttle. The air in the tube must have been pretty thin, they hadn't wanted to stress it more than absolutely necessary.
"He's safe." I said, nodding at the lock. "The tube held long enough for him to get in."
She nodded gratefully but grabbed on to a handhold and kept her gaze fixed on the lock until the man came through. Teelk turned out to be an enormous black man. He was wearing the same unmarked military style uniform as Sam and had a watch cap pulled low over his forehead. His gaze went first over Sam, as if to assure himself that she was all right, then he took in the interior of the shuttle as he pulled himself inside.
Once the airlock cycled, Connolly, Purcell and Lewis pulled in the glider tight to the bay and cinched it down. They disconnected the tube and reentered the shuttle while we boosted into a higher orbit, the other glider keeping pace easily, though we could see burned and melted metal marring its hull. Once in the new orbit, we cast off the improvised airlock and damaged craft. The other ship gave it a nudge and it moved slowly away from the shuttle.
The other ship was able to fold itself neatly and snugly into the cargo bay with no trouble at all. As soon as the hatch was sealed, we let the pressure in the bay rise up to normal. The hatch on the glider could only just barely be opened, but the two passengers squirmed out easily between the wings, and our other two guests joined us. Jack was a lean fit man, dressed in the same uniform as the others, though wearing a baseball cap. The fourth man, Braytak, was dressed more oddly, in a sort of metallic tunic, with a tight fitting skullcap that revealed a gold design on his forehead, rather like a tattoo. Several of them were carrying odd devices at their waists, and Jack had a machine gun, a MP-5 that he brought out of the glider with him. He carried it as if it were so natural, he'd have felt naked without it. Who are these people? I wondered.
After we loaded our passengers and secured the glider in the bay for safe landing, we started preparations for reentry. Once we reported safe retrieval of the four people and the one spacecraft, Houston told us to maintain radio silence, except for normal landing procedures, but it still took several hours. We had to make sure the glider's mass was balanced so that it wouldn't interfere with our landing. It also took time to rig extra acceleration couches. We hadn't anticipated bringing more people down than we had launched with. Our passengers floated mostly out of the way, and except for occasional glances up at the Earthlight above us, generally seemed to take their position in stride. Most people, even most astronauts, get space-sick, but not these people.
The nagging resentment came back. Probably orbit was old hat for these folks. Actually, despite Jack's earlier comment about being glad to see us, they didn't even seem very happy or excited about the unlikely rescue. I overheard some of their low-voiced conversation as I improvised straps for the makeshift acceleration couch.
Jack was looking at the crates stenciled with radiation warnings and webbed to the floor that held the two nukes we hadn't had to use. He muttered something that sounded like, "I sure wish I'd had those yesterday." I wasn't sure what was more frightening- that he would have wanted them, or that he obviously recognized what they were on sight.
"I can't believe we actually made it, sir." The blond woman said, looking out at the view.
He turned toward her. "We should be *so* dead." Jack agreed quietly. The phrasing sounded like an attempt at humor, but there was something in his voice- pain?
Sam suddenly looked like she wanted to cry. "I'm sorry, sir." Sorry she wasn't dead? What the hell?
"Not your fault." The slight emphasis on 'your' suggested he had someone else in mind for assigning blame.
This seemed to be fairly clear to Sam, though. Her voice dropped to a near whisper and I could barely hear. "Did.. suffer?"
"For crissakes!" The raw unhappiness in the man's tone was clear, but then he too dropped his voice, glancing in my direction. I could only catch a few words. "...chest... burned away." I looked up to see the huge black man looking at me solemnly, and I was suddenly sure he knew I'd been eavesdropping.
"May I assist you?" He asked me in a deep rumble. He had no accent, but the stiff formality of his speech suggested that English wasn't his first language.
"I've got it." I fastened the last strap and tugged hard on it. "I think this will do. Let's get you people strapped in. I looked over at the fourth man, Braytak. Something more than just his weird clothes set him apart from the other three, but I couldn't pin it down. "Sir, please come here. It's time to strap in."
Braytak looked at me curiously, and the other man, Teelk, said something to him in a language I didn't recognize. He pushed off and floated easily to the chair. The others moved to their couches and I helped them to strap in before securing myself. Lewis started the landing checklist. As our engines fired, I watched the other glider slowly recede as it circled in orbit, waiting for retrieval.
The ride down was smooth, right up until the jolt of landing. I climbed out of the shuttle and onto the landing area. We'd only been up for seven hours. Hell, I could have been back in Florida in time for lunch. The usual bus ferried us to the control room, but our guests didn't get to go in. There were cars waiting. An officer in Air Force dress uniform stepped forward and addressed Jack. "Sir? We have a car waiting."
Jack nodded, but turned back to us. "Thanks for the ride." He shook hands with each of us.
"We'd have been in serious trouble if you hadn't come along." Sam added with a smile. "We owe you one. Thank you." The other two men added their own thanks.
We were all grinning. "Our pleasure, sir." Lewis said.
"Yeah, it beat the hell out of the way we thought our day was gonna go." I added with some feeling.
Jack smiled tiredly, "Yeah, not such a bad day after all."
He turned to Sam and Teelk and I suddenly caught the difference between them and the fourth man. Those three were teammates. They moved like parts of the same organism, with a bone-deep awareness of one another that I'd only seen in experienced combat units. Is that what they are? A combat unit? Jack still carried his MP-5.
They climbed into the car and were driven away. We didn't get back to Florida in time for lunch. We spent the day in detailed debrief, going over and over everything we had seen and done. Ten hours later we were given the most severe security lecture I had ever heard, forbidden to so much as think about anything that had happened that day, and sent on our way.
As we left, Lewis turned to the rest of us. "Are you guys thinking what I'm thinking?"
We looked at one another in deep understanding. "Yeah," I said, "There's gotta be an easier way to make a living."
Okay, so we weren't supposed to discuss anything. What was to discuss? There was a way to go to space in this country that wasn't NASA, and now that we knew it existed, we wanted in. Well, most of us. Fitzgerald opted to stay with NASA. He had two kids and thought the new gig was probably more dangerous than he could live with. But Purcell, Lewis, Connelly and I were bang alongside of a career change. We just had to figure out where to send the job application.
I looked down at the Air Force Academy yearbook in my hands. I had been prepared to take months to search, but it had been almost absurdly easy. There were a lot fewer women officers in the USAF than men, and the ring of command suggested career, suggested the Academy. I'd guessed her age almost right, found her in the third one I tried. Her name was Samantha Carter. Alumni records online told me she was currently a Captain, stationed at Cheyenne Mountain working for the Deep Space Telemetry group. Yeah, right. The paging system blared and I got up to catch my plane. I had a week of leave and tickets to Colorado Springs. I shut the yearbook and put it in my case next to the four transfer request forms. Just one blank to fill in on each, for the assignment we were requesting. I thought Sam would probably be willing to help us out. She did say she owed us.
Go on to sequel: Following Up
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