Please send feedback to redbyrd (at) mindspring (dot) com. It's incredibly motivating to know that someone is actually reading my stories :) If you'd like to be notified when new fics are posted let me know and I'll add you to my update list.
* TITLE: Eve of Destruction
* AUTHOR: Redbyrd
* EMAIL: redbyrd (at) mindspring (dot) com
* RATING: PG
* CATEGORY: drama, action
* SUMMARY: Major Lou Ferretti thought Daniel Jackson's story of an alternate reality was pretty wild. But once the two Goa'uld ships were detected near Saturn he was too busy to do more than desperately hope SG-1 hadn't waited too long to listen.
* SPOILERS: TBFTGOG, Politics, Within the Serpent's Grasp, Serpent's Lair
* AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to BetaCandy for beta-ing. If you'd like to read more 'about the story' notes, I've posted all that on my Livejournal.
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.
Lou Ferretti left the locker room, feeling a warm sense of satisfaction. SG-2 was finally back in the rotation for the first time since the ghastly accident on P4T-765 that killed two of his team and left himself and Warren sidelined with broken bones. After the weeks in a cast and weeks more of physical therapy it was good to walk without even a twinge of pain. He still felt a pang of guilt at the loss of Williams and Malikos, even though there was no way they could have known the building would collapse like that. It was remarkable that he and Warren hadn't been more badly hurt. If they still were a little twitchy about ruins and occasionally woke up crying as they relived Bill's tortured breathing finally stopping- well, Ferretti was no stranger to PTSD. It was only to be expected.
His new team members had performed well. They'd gone out on what was supposed to be a routine mineral survey, found another of Daniel's lost civilizations. Ferretti would have paid real money to have had Daniel with him instead of Carver, but they'd played charades, and managed to make friends anyway. Another day, another wormhole and any mission you could walk through the gate after was nothing to complain about.
Debriefed and on his way to the locker room to shower and change, Ferretti was looking forward to getting home at a reasonable hour. Having dinner with the family had gotten to be a pleasant habit the last few weeks, and he was just as happy not to give it up just yet.. which probably was the thought which jinxed his evening because that's when the alarm went off. Ferretti stopped dead, wincing, and then headed for the control room. With O'Neill and SG-1 offworld, the general might be needing an SG team. And it could be SG-1 calling.. god knows they had spent the last year demonstrating an almost unparalleled ability to get into trouble.
Ferretti arrived with Hammond in time to hear O'Neill's broadcast. "We were just about to come back.. the world is posted with what Teal'c tells us is a Goa'uld contamination warning. The problem is Daniel, sir. He's missing. I called him to leave, he didn't answer, we went back and he was just gone. No sign of any hostiles. This complex is huge. I'd like whoever is available to come out and help us search. Carter says it's safe enough if we don't stay long."
"Understood, Colonel," Hammond turned to look at Ferretti who nodded vigorously. "I'll be despatching SG-2 and 5 to your location momentarily." Lou headed for the door to round up his team while Hammond continued to talk to O'Neill.
Ferretti stepped through the wormhole with Warren beside him and Carver and Devereaux at their heels. SG-5 had moved out of the way to give them room. He looked around at the dimness of the room, the mysterious gadgets lying around. "Nice place you got here," he said to O'Neill.
The colonel had a worried crease in his brow and didn't bother to return a smartass remark which was enough to tell Ferretti just how worried O'Neill was. "Ferretti, I want you and your guys to head down to the lowest level and start working your way up. We've already searched all of this area. SG-5, take the next level down and we'll leapfrog you until we meet up with SG-2. Look for any signs of life, or anything that could be a transporter. As far as we can tell, Dr. Jackson was on this level or headed back to the gate when he vanished. Questions?"
Ferretti was wondering what Daniel's life expectancy would be if it turned out that he had just seen something interesting and lost track of time. He'd heard enough of O'Neill's loud and occasionally profane lectures to the scientist to know Daniel hadn't changed much from the kid who wandered off to feed candy to a mastage on Abydos.
Brealey from SG-5 asked, "Do we know how long we can stay here safely?"
Carter answered crisply. "This complex appears to be relatively free of contamination, and periods less than a day should have no effect on us. Don't go outside- the surface is deadly. Don't activate any devices, we don't want you accidently transported outside without protective gear. And when we return, we'll all be doing full decontamination."
There were a couple of groans at the prospect, but no dissent. "Nobody mentioned decontam when they asked for volunteers," Carver muttered, sotto voce.
Ferretti stifled a grin as O'Neill, who he had good reason to know had the ears of a bat, looked straight at Carver. "Would that have made a difference, Lieutenant?" he asked.
"No, sir," Carver responded immediately, eyes widening slightly.
Ferretti rescued him with a timely question. "Which way to the stairs, elevator, ladder or whatever?"
"The lower levels are accessed via a spiral ramp," Teal'c said precisely. "You will find the entrance at the end of the corridor through that door."
"Right," Ferretti stepped forward to lead the way. "SG-2 move out."
The complex was huge, dusty and empty. Also, it had apparently been abandoned without any time at all to pack. They found no bodies, but plenty of personal items, clothes that would have fit slightly oddly-shaped humanoids and myriad odds and ends. "Daniel would be fascinated," Ferretti said as they carefully investigated room after room. The lower levels were cold and a little stuffy, like the air hadn't circulated here in a while.
"It reminds me of the SGC," Carver said thoughtfully. "You know, Stargate, secure underground complex, labs, quarters."
"And the people who lived here were enemies of the Goa'uld," Ferretti said grimly.
"You think he wandered off on his own?" Warren asked. "We haven't seen any signs that there's anybody else here?"
Despite his own speculations along those lines, Ferretti didn't really think that was what had happened. "I don't know," Ferretti said. "Daniel's a bright guy. He might have stopped to look at something interesting, but he wouldn't be gone for this long unless something happened. Maybe he got locked in."
"Or maybe he found a door to the surface," Devereaux, the other new guy, ventured. "If he didn't know it was dangerous-" That tidbit Lou hadn't heard until Hammond briefed them before they went through the gate.
"He wouldn't have gone outside without backup," Ferretti said certainly. "Or without telling anyone he was going at least. He knows better."
None of the others responded, but their expressions suggested they didn't share Ferretti's confidence in the SGC's peripatetic civilian consultant. He'd acquired something of a reputation, this last year. It hadn't helped that none of other civilians they'd recruited had worked out, not that there'd been many.
They finished the level and trudged back to the spiral ramp, an invention that Ferretti was beginning to regard as purely evil. His calves already ached fiercely from the walk down. He reached up to click the radio and reported cheerfully to O'Neill. "One level down, colonel, thirty-one left to go."
Six hours, innumerable dusty rooms and a dizzying number of ramp spirals later, they'd reached level 23 and what they thought were medical facilities when they got the call.
"All personnel, this is O'Neill. We found him," there was clear relief in the man's tone, but still an edge of uneasiness. "Stay on alert. He's injured- something like a staff weapon. Still no- well, no other sign of hostiles."
Ferretti waited a moment to be sure no one else was going to talk, then asked. "Where was he, Colonel?"
"Level 1," O'Neill responded. "Same room we last saw him in. Don't ask. We have no idea."
Ferretti winced. That suggested Daniel wasn't talking, and 'staff weapon wound' conjured up some pretty scary images. "Acknowledged," he replied, and led SG-2 back up the ramps at their best speed, wishing the elevators were working. They'd found the circular tubes on the first level, but without power they were useless.
He was relieved to find when they got upstairs that Daniel's injury was a graze to the arm. Probably painful as hell, but definitely survivable. He was conscious and mumbling, but not making a lot of sense. He blinked as Ferretti came up. "Lou wasn't there," he told O'Neill. "Neither was Kawalsky."
Kawalsky? Charlie had been dead for going on ten months now. What the hell was going on?
"Get Daniel on the stretcher," O'Neill ordered.
That got Daniel to start trying to climb to his feet. "I can walk, Jack."
"Daniel, a minute ago you were passed out on the floor. Stretcher." They loaded him on still protesting. He let them strap him in but tried to cross his arms, a maneuver that apparently made his head swim, since he grimaced and his eyes suddenly lost focus.
Ferretti claimed one corner of the stretcher as Carter, Tealc and O'Neill picked up the other handles. "Carver, dial us up," O'Neill ordered as they followed SG-5 and the rest of his team back to the gate.
They debriefed still without knowing what had happened to Daniel, and it wasn't until the next day that the news got around, though it was nearly eclipsed by the arrival of the Senatorial inquisition.
"Alternate universes?" Warren asked, his mouth dropping open.
"That's weird, even for Daniel," Ferretti admitted, trying to wrap his brain around the concept.
Carver shrugged, passing on the news he'd gained in the infirmary somehow. Ferretti made a note to find out if one the medical staff had told him or if he'd somehow managed to eavesdrop on Jackson's conversation with his teammates. "So while we were tearing that complex apart-"
"He was in an alternate universe, going back through the gate, and he'd somehow found another SGC. One that was being invaded by the Goa'uld. And losing." Carver confirmed, then shrugged. "Or so he says, anyway."
Warren rolled his eyes. "And I thought the robot SG-1 was pushing the bounds of probability. Now you're saying there's an infinite number of SGCs, Hammonds, O'Neills.."
"According to Carter, possibly so."
Devereaux said, "Does it matter?"
Ferretti and the other two men stared at him.
"I mean," he said uncomfortably. "I hear that the powers that be are closing this place down. So what effect does any of this have, anyway?"
"They won't close us down," Ferretti predicted. "They're meeting with the general and SG-1 now. Have some faith."
Lou pushed open the door nearly twenty-four hours late and gave his wife a rueful smile. "Hi, honey, I'm home?"
She smiled back at him with heartstopping pleasure and came to kiss him while ten-year-old David wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Hi, Dad." Thirteen-year old April was too cool to come running to hug him these days, but she grinned at him and then went back to the book she was reading. He looked at the cover curiously, something with horses and owls on it.
"Hi sweetie, good book?" he asked, not letting go of Liz. April seemed to be really getting into science fiction and fantasy. He really hoped that someday he could tell her about some of the places he'd seen.
She blinked at him suspiciously, "Yeah, it's really cool."
Liz was giving him a comprehensive once-over for cuts, bruises, missing limbs or other signs of mental or physical trauma. "Trouble at the office?" she asked casually.
Lou dropped the arm around her shoulder to strip off his jacket and hang it up. "Nothing major," he said. When the kids were a little younger, he'd have jokingly responded 'nobody died' but he was more careful what he said aloud these days.
Of course Liz had known him long enough by now to read the truth in his expression, and she relaxed infinitesimally. It was part of their unspoken pact. He might not ever be able to talk as freely about his job as other men did, but he never tried to hide the way he felt about it. And she supported him with her own quiet strength, as she had from the earliest days of their marriage. He felt guilty sometimes that his military duties kept him from being the full-time parent that Liz was. But mostly he was grateful. Lou shrugged off his work responsibilities and just enjoyed being home. "So, what's for dinner?"
"I can't believe they've got this whole complex nearly shut down. It's only been two days," Devereaux said.
SG-2 sat in the nearly empty commissary. " 'Have some faith'," Warren quoted Ferretti. "I hear that Senator nearly had a stroke in the conference room, they pissed him off so much."
"He made up his mind even before he got here," Ferretti said. "Nothing they could have said would have changed it."
Carver said tentatively. "Maybe he's right?"
"What do you mean?" Ferretti asked.
"We have discovered a lot of dangerous things out through the gate," Carver said.
"And so we're shutting down our only chance to find ways to fight them?" Ferretti asked sarcastically. "What if Daniel's right? What if they come in ships? 'Cause I'm here to tell you, I was underneath one of those puppies when they landed, and we got nothing, nothing at all that could even make a dent in one." If he lived to be a hundred, Lou was never going to forget his first trip to Abydos.
The blowing sand hissed over the stone of the pyramid in counterpoint to the howling wind, and the daytime heat was forgotten in the dry aching chill of the desert night. He and the others stopped talking as the odd vibration increased. Lightning crackled, momentarily casting a a blue glow across the stone floor. The whole pyramid trembled, stone grinding harshly against stone. Ferretti, Porro and Freeman huddled against the inner wall in the dark. "What the hell is going on?" Freeman yelled. Sand sifted down from the ceiling as the whole pyramid shook ....
Ferretti shivered. "That ship was bigger than the Great Pyramid. You've never seen anything like it."
Warren looked at him in some surprise. "You think the doc is right? There's an invasion fleet on the way?"
Ferretti half-shrugged. "Well, I don't know about 'on the way'. But we know they have ships. And we surely have pissed them off. And if you haven't been paying attention, Teal'c is taking Daniel's story seriously. And Teal'c is not what you'd call an alarmist. If he thinks an attack in ships is a real possibility, I'm not gonna dismiss it."
"But Teal'c is taking Dr. Jackson's whole alternate reality thing seriously," Carver protested. "What if it was all some kind of hallucination?"
"I suppose that SG-1 and all of us hallucinated Jackson being missing for six or seven hours in a complex with nobody else there?" Warren asked. "And where'd his vest go? His pack and his weapon? How'd he get wounded?"
"Teal'c had a staff weapon-" Devereaux pointed out.
"Teal'c would shoot himself before he'd let anything hurt Daniel," Ferretti said flatly. "If he wouldn't, O'Neill wouldn't have him on the team."
The shrilling of an alarm brought them all to their feet without volition. "What the hell?" Warren asked.
"There are still two teams out-" Devereaux said.
"That's not an incoming wormhole," Ferretti said, starting for the door. "That's a security alert!"
They headed for the gate room, meeting General Hammond and a security team en route. They were stunned to see the blast doors at A-2 snap shut in front of them. Hammond slid his card through the reader to no effect. Ferretti glanced at the pattern of blinking lights, one he recognized though he'd only seen it in drills before now. "It's on security lockout, sir."
Hammond snapped. "Well get it open, Major, now!" He turned to Harrison, the leader of the security team. "Try going around to corridor C."
The sergeant snapped, "Yes, sir!" He led his team off into the maze of corridors repeating "Move out! Corridor C!"
They got into the gate room just in time to see the backs of the last two figures disappearing into the event horizon. Hammond scowled at the silent gate. "Major, I want you to confirm the identity of whoever went through that gate. And find out where they went."
Ferretti was morally certain that he knew, but he said only, "Yes, sir!" and turned to the gate room technician as the general left. "Harriman, how long will it take to find the destination."
The sergeant shrugged. "That will depend on how good uh, whoever, is at covering their tracks. Give me ten minutes, sir."
"Right." Ferretti guessed that it also depended on whether they cared if the SGC knew where they had gone. He was pretty sure that Carter could make the gate computer lie down and whistle Dixie if she really wanted it to.
He made the trip to the nearest security checkpoint in person and reviewed the control room tapes. SG-1 hadn't taken any particular precautions about concealing their faces. He looked at the businesslike black special ops gear and hoped O'Neill knew what the hell he was doing.
A quick check of the armory confirmed that they'd gone loaded for bear. They'd taken relatively little in the way of supplies in favor of a full weapons load, extra ammo and two full cases of C-4. Sergeant Alvord looked a little puzzled at why Ferretti was asking. "Colonel O'Neill signed it out himself, sir. There was nothing irregular about it. Just ask him."
"I'm sure it was fine," Ferretti said a little weakly. Crap, O'Neill hadn't geared up for a recon mission. More like a war. He met Warren and his other two teammates on his way back down to the control room. "What's going on, sir?" Warren asked.
Ferretti knew it would be all over the SGC in a matter of hours anyway. "SG-1 went to check out that address Daniel brought back," he said bluntly.
"What?" Warren's mouth dropped open. "Hammond approved it? I thought the gate was shut down?"
"Nobody approved it," Ferretti said. "They went on their own."
Warren gaped. "But that's.. "
"Yeah." Ferretti looked at his team. "I'm gonna volunteer to go after them. You guys in?"
"To the address Daniel brought back. Probably a Goa'uld homeworld," Ferretti said.
"Sonofa-" Carver swore.
"Count me in," Warren said, chin setting stubbornly. He'd been with the program since the SGC had been created and was a veteran of the first mission to Chulak.
Carver nodded slowly. "I'm with you, sir."
They looked at Devereaux who gulped but said calmly enough. "Me too."
Good men. Even as short a time as they'd been working together, Ferretti was proud of them. "Good enough," he said briskly. "I'm going to see the general now."
In the control room he asked Walter. "Tapes show it was SG-1. What have you got?"
"They used SG-1's clearances sir," Walter confirmed. "The security lockdown was initiated by Captain Carter and approved with Colonel O'Neill's code. And they went to-"
"The address Daniel brought back?" Ferretti guessed. Walter nodded. "Come with me," Ferretti instructed as he headed up to report to Hammond.
"Sir, we've confirmed that is was SG-1," Harriman told the general. "They went to the coordinates Dr. Jackson brought back with him from that...other place."
Hammond didn't look any more surprised than Ferretti had been. "If what he saw was indeed real, then that's the origination point of the Goa'uld military attack on Earth."
Ferretti blinked. He was starting to get a bad feeling about this. First O'Neill, Carter and Teal'c found Daniel's story credible enough to go AWOL, now Hammond was buying into it? Crap, what the hell were they going to do with four people, only one of whom was Special Forces trained? Not that Teal'c would be less than an asset, but Daniel and Carter were scientists.. They'd proven damned useful on a first contact team, but this was shaping up to be pure special ops work.
"Pretty hostile place to go, wouldn't it be, sir?" Davis asked.
"You want SG-2, to go, get them, bring them back, sir?" Ferretti offered. Of course Carter and Jackson had done okay on the covert mission to Chulak, but still..
"You'd only be bringing them back for court-martial." Hammond said.
That wasn't exactly what Ferretti had in mind. "Permission to speak freely, sir?" he asked.
"Sir, Colonel O'Neill saved my butt more than once. I would like to go in and back him up." His pulse speeded up. Ferretti knew the President had ordered the gate shut down. If Hammond took him up on his offer, they'd both be on fairly shaky ground.
"I can't send your unit..." Hammond protested.
"My men are willing to take the risk, sir," Ferretti told him.
Hammond met his eyes with unspoken understanding and a hint of warning. "I'll take that under advisement, Major." He turned to his office, Harriman at his heels.
Ferretti found a phone and called his wife to tell her not to expect him. She understood he couldn't always manage that and didn't automatically worry if he didn't show up. Not many women would have been so understanding. After all, he was supposed to be working underneath a mountain. Which was a friggin' ridiculous cover story considering his background and training. Liz simply nodded knowingly when she first heard it, and took it for the cover it was. But then he'd probably always told Liz more than he should. She kept his secrets, guessed more than she ever said and listened on the rare occasions he just had to let it out. He'd wondered more than once what she thought of their abrupt transfer back to Colorado. He remembered her coming to see him in the hospital after the second Abydos mission.
"Lou-" There was unmistakeable anxiety in her voice when she entered the room.
"Hi, Liz," he smiled at her. "It's not as bad as it looks, really." He almost wished they'd left the bandages on. The livid purple bruising surrounding his swollen left eye looked appalling. At least they had left the pad of gauze taped over the eye itself. They were predicting another week at least for the swelling to go down enough for him to get any vision back on that side.
She came to side of the bed and leaned over to kiss him, then sat down in the chair beside the bed and took his head. "The doctor said you fractured your skull."
"He should have talked to Charlie," Lou joked. "He claims it's a good thing I hit my head- at least I didn't break anything useful."
Liz smiled, "Is Charlie here too, then?" she asked.
"Yeah,we both got pulled in for this." Lou took a deep breath, "Hon, how would you feel about moving to Colorado Springs?"
She blinked. "Now? We've only been in South Carolina for five months."
Lou nodded. "Yeah, well, something came up. They really want me- I have some qualifications they can't easily duplicate."
"And they've put the paperwork through on the transfer, and you're trying to break the news gently about the move?" She said lightly.
Lou shrugged uncomfortably. "The timing isn't what I would have chosen but I'll have some medical leave coming. And afterward, I can stay in the BOQ on base if we want to wait until summer to pull the kids out of school." It was still four months until school let out, but they tried whenever possible to let the kids finish out the year in their old school. Even then, they had some of the typical problems of military kids- missing some lessons, doing others twice, starting over somewhere new every two years.
Liz looked thoughtful. "I'll do some research and look at some houses while I'm here, but if I remember rightly the schools here are pretty good. It might be better to move the kids now so they have some time to make friends before summer vacation. How long is the assignment for?"
"Indefinite," Lou said. "But I'm betting longer rather than shorter. It's going to be high enough security they 'll want to minimize personnel transfers in and out." They'd been living in Germany the last time he'd been at Cheyenne Mountain. He'd been called in as part of O'Neill's handpicked team for the first Abydos mission, no doubt on Charlie's recommendation. When the gate was closed, he and Charlie had returned to their former duty postings and finished out their assignments. They'd been assigned to different teams when they transferred back to the states, but Lou suspected Charlie had engaged in some behind the scenes finagling for them both to wind up in the same state.
"That would be nice," she said placidly. "I like what I've seen of Colorado. And it's got seasons, unlike Carolina," she made a face and Lou grinned. Liz had grown up in Michigan, and hated living in places where an inch of snow was an unprecedented natural disaster. He'd sort of been counting on that to reconcile her to the move.
"I'll call a few real estate agents while I'm here," she said decisively.
"I'm not going to be much help for a bit," Lou warned her.
"I can manage," she said.
"I wish you didn't have to-" he said. It was an unfair side effect of his job that they moved so often and frequently the brunt of the packing and organizing fell on Liz. He worked hard not to take it for granted. Liz handled their itinerant lifestyle with equanimity and a quiet competence that minimized difficulties and always looked on the bright side of any situation.
"Um, hi, I hope we're not... we could come back later.." Lou looked at the door and saw Daniel Jackson, with O'Neill a half step behind him. Daniel was wearing shabby civilian clothes and an oversized brown jacket whose sleeves hung three inches past his wrists. O'Neill looked sharply dressed in contrast, with his military haircut and leather jacket.
"No, please, c'mon in," Lou urged, smiling. "I'd like you to meet my wife." Liz was rising to shake hands as he made introductions. "Liz, I'd like you to meet Colonel Jack O'Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson."
Liz murmured a polite greeting to the colonel and shook Daniel's hand with a faint puzzled glance at her husband. "M.D.?" she asked.
"No, archeology," Daniel answered at the same time as Lou said, "He's a linguist."
Liz blinked. "Both, actually," Daniel said hastily. "Archeology and linguistics."
"That sounds interesting," Liz said. Lou suspected she was being ironic, but her tone was conventionally polite.
"You're looking better," O'Neill said to Lou.
Ferretti didn't know O'Neill as well as Charlie did- the Abydos mission last year was the first time they'd served together- but there was something off in his manner. Ferretti glanced at Daniel, who was standing with one arm wrapped over his midsection, the same way he had at their last meeting on Abydos. "I'm fine. Any news?" he asked.
Daniel shook his head and the shadow that crossed his expressive face made Ferretti suddenly nervous. Liz looked from the two men back to her husband. "May be I should excuse myself for a few minutes?" she offered.
"No, not at all," O'Neill said. "It's just- Lou, I'm afraid I have some bad news."
O'Neill had never called Ferretti by his first name before. "What's going on?" he asked, bracing himself.
"Charlie is dead," O'Neill said bluntly.
Liz jerked in surprise. "Charlie Kawalsky?" she asked. At O'Neill's nod, she said, "I didn't know he was hurt too."
"No one did," O'Neill said. "He thought he was fine. We all did until he collapsed." He glanced out the window and put his hands behind his back, an approximation of parade rest. "It was a parasitic infection he picked up on our last mission. No one caught it."
Ferretti's good eye opened wide.. did he really mean..? O'Neill nodded slightly as Liz turned to look at her husband with sudden concern. "Was that what that last set of tests was about this morning?" he asked.
"Yeah," O'Neill assured him. "But you're clean and so's everyone else."
"Jesus," Ferretti was shaken and upset. He'd known Charlie for years off and on, and they'd always gotten on well, been work buddies. Since Abydos, they'd been even closer, the shared ordeal forging their casual liking into an unbreakable friendship.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said. There was compassion and sorrow of his own in his eyes, and for an instant, Lou remembered the four of them before the pyramid on Abydos.. he and Charlie soaked in sweat, stinking and filthy. The colonel and Daniel, cleaner but looking utterly exhausted, and all of them so high from the simple fact they'd survived that no drug could have ever duplicated the feeling.
O'Neill and Daniel apologized for bringing him bad news and withdrew sombrely. Liz sat back down, looking stunned. "I can't believe it. Not Charlie," she said with a trace of moisture in her eyes. Charlie'd been a frequent dinner guest at the Ferretti household over the last year, flattering Liz's cooking extravagantly while slandering the mess hall food in flights of hyperbole. "Who'll tell his ex-wife?" she continued.
Lou said, "I don't know. Since they aren't married anymore.. I should call her, I guess. Or O'Neill maybe. I'll talk to him about it the next time I see him. You have a number?"
"I'll dig it out," she promised. Keeping track of their mobile set of military friends was another of the things she had taken on herself, so seamlessly they'd been married five years before Lou even realized he no longer did any of that himself.
He took her hand again. "I suppose this isn't a good time to mention this new assignment isn't going to be exactly..."
"Safe?" Her hand tightened around his. "We knew that when you applied for special ops, didn't we? You just- take care."
"I will," he promised. "I will."
She leaned down to kiss him firmly. "I'm proud of you." They sat in silence for a moment, then Liz asked him a question about the sort of house they should get.
It had always seemed unfair to ask her what she'd thought of the move when he couldn't explain himself in return.
Ferretti grabbed a few hours of sleep and a shower, then went back down to the control room. "Any news?" he asked.
It wasn't in his job description, but Harriman always had a handle on what was going on, along with amazing discretion about who needed to know what. Evidently he was currently figuring Ferretti needed to know. "Deep Space Radar has picked up two large blips passing Saturn, on course for Earth. No possibility that they're natural. We're running some computer enhancements of telemetry from Hubble now, but we're guessing they're Goa'uld."
Ferretti let out a low whistle. "They think it's Daniel's- Dr. Jackson's attack on the way?"
"It's a strong possibility," the sergeant said. A low buzz sounded and Harriman pushed a button and listened to his earpiece for a moment. "The general would like to see you, Major," he said.
Ferretti took the spiral stairs two at a time and walked in the door to Hammond's office. "Sir?" He stood at attention.
Hammond's eyebrows went up. "That was quick, Major." He reached down for sheets of paper that were peeling out of the secure fax beside his desk. "I need you to coordinate with supply and Major Williston at Petersen. We may be forced to implement the Genesis protocol."
"Genesis, sir?" Ferretti asked.
"It's a plan we've been working on for the ultimate emergency," Hammond explained. "We evacuate as many people as we can to a world capable of supporting them indefinitely in the event of an attack. SG-2 scouted the planet we plan to use. You recommended it. P3X 984."
Ferretti blinked. "I said I thought it would make a good spot for an offworld base. I wasn't thinking colony. I thought we wanted somewhere to send teams if the stargate here was temporarily offline."
"We did. But the science teams have cleared it as a Genesis rallying point as well. It will be designated the Alpha site. I'm putting you in charge of it."
Lou managed to keep his jaw from falling open, and stammering something ridiculous. They were putting him in charge of this? "Don't we need everyone here to defend the SGC?" he asked.
"We'll be sending out plenty of personnel, but we need an experienced first contact team to be in charge, Major, and after Colonel O'Neill, you're about the most experienced we've got. I can't send a bunch of people who've only known about the stargate for less than a day off to another planet without experienced people to keep them safe."
Ferretti felt the weight of responsibility fall onto his shoulders with enough force it should have driven him to his knees. "Understood, sir. I'll do my best."
"I know you will, son," Hammond gave him the kind of look he'd mostly seen directed at Jack and his team- confidence mixed with regret that the general had to send him into harm's way. "And the president hasn't approved the evacuation yet. But I want you to start going over these plans now just in case. Ascertain what supplies we have on hand, what we can bring in from Petersen, NORAD or the Academy if necessary. And give me your recommendations for any changes in three hours."
Ferretti accepted the stack of paper numbly. He'd be lucky if he could read this lot in three hours, let alone make recommendations. He nodded as Hammond dismissed him and went to find his team. No way could he do this alone.
Devereaux was reading and taking notes at the same time, his pen scratching almost continuously. The plan was little more than an outline. Apparently no one had expected they'd be having to use it this soon. Lou flipped back through the inventory figures the supply sergeant had given him. And even if they had, this was a lot different from your standard expedition plan, because he had to assume no resupply would be possible. That meant critical items like medical supplies, weapons and ammo had to be increased. He rubbed his brow. "Damn. I think we need to increase almost everything. The most optimistic estimates say we can't expect to be self-supporting for food inside of six months. And unless we take actual livestock, it's going to be a vegetarian base."
"Are you factoring in offworld sources of supply, sir?" Carver asked.
"Offworld?" Lou looked at him.
"We can trade for some food," Carver said. "The Land of Light and the world with the nanites would both probably be willing to help. Maybe Cartago, too."
Ferretti shook his head. "No wonder O'Neill took mostly ammo. He figured SG-1 could probably hit up their friends for supplies if they couldn't get back right away." He looked back at his list and struck several items. "Okay, so we go with four months of food and plan to trade to supplement it. We can probably hunt and forage as well- we've been to several uninhabited planets that could help supply us. That should let us take extras on the stuff we can't easily replace."
"We should take all the Goa'uld weapons we've got," Warren said. "They're not as accurate, but the power packs are very long-lived, way more than our ammo."
Lou made another note. "Good idea."
"Major?" The four soldiers rose to their feet as Hammond appeared in the door. "At ease. I just wanted to let you know the President has approved the evacuation of the Genesis personnel. Start getting supplies organized. The first people will begin arriving in six hours. They'll need to be briefed, then we'll start sending people through."
His team's eyes widened as they realized just how fast this needed to happen. "Yes, sir," Ferretti said. "One question?"
"The Genesis personnel.. how are they.. " Hammond gave him a compassionate look as his voice trailed off.
"All are military personnel or civilian contractors either associated with the Stargate program and/or physically located within three hours of Colorado Springs. It's not going to be anything like a comprehensive list. Just the best people we can find in the time we have available."
Lou's throat was too tight to speak, but Devereaux asked the question that was burning on his tongue. "No families, sir.. or children?"
Hammond shook his head sadly and Ferretti knew he was thinking of his own two granddaughters. "It's impossible to say what will happen, Lieutenant, and we can't afford to take people offworld who can't contribute immediately. It would tie up too many resources to make a colony viable. As it is, if it came to that, there would have to be a deliberate program of outbreeding to make a colony self-sustaining."
Devereaux swallowed. "Yes, sir."
"Also, if we bring everyone back, as we hope, we'll still need security containment regarding the existence of the gate," Ferretti said, with what he hoped was an impassive expression.
Hammond's swift glance acknowledged the stupidity of trying to satisfy both the need for secrecy and that of speed and long-term efficiency. "Very true, major," was all he said. "Carry on."
Ferretti picked up the phone, a sinking feeling in his gut. Call or not call. But this was too close and too real to risk. Liz was levelheaded, she wouldn't panic. He dialed. "Hello?" Her usually pleasant alto sounded a little blurry, as if he'd woken her up.
"Honey, it's me," he said. "Have the kids left for school yet?"
She sounded a little irritated, "Lou, it's just past five. What's going on?"
"Liz, this is important," he said, in what she called his officer-tone.. the serious voice they only rarely heard from him.
"What is it?" She sounded wide awake now and listening.
"I want you to call in sick, take the kids out of school and go visit-" he thought briefly about their farflung extended family, "- your great aunt Edna and uncle Will."
"My great-aunt Edna?" Liz repeated. "She lives in Nebraska, Lou."
And far away from any target the Goa'uld were likely to think important. "Yes, I know."
"What am I going to tell my boss?" Liz asked.
"Family emergency," Lou said briefly.
There was a brief silence. "Can you give me a hint?" she asked carefully.
"It's a long story," he said. Their code for things he wasn't allowed to tell and Liz would be happier not knowing about. She knew he'd done some scary things. She accepted them serenely and never asked. One of the many things Lou was grateful for in his marriage.
"Okay," she said tentatively, and paused again. "I can do that. Or better yet, why don't we go stay with my folks in Virginia? We can do the capital, it'll be educational for-"
"God, no!" Lou exclaimed, breaking out in a cold sweat. "For god's sake, Liz, stay away from DC."
Another pause, and he could almost hear the gears turning in her head. "You're scaring me, Lou."
"It may be nothing," he said. "I hope I'm being needlessly paranoid." His tone would tell her he knew he wasn't. He heard a step outside the office. "I'm going to be out of town for a few days," he said. "I'll call you when I get back." If I get back. If there's anything to get back to. Warren was standing inside the door. "I've got to go."
"I'll get packed up and leave this morning," she promised. Her voice was calculating. He knew she was already making lists of what they'd need to take. Her voice dropped. "DC and Colorado Springs, or all cities, Lou?"
"Yeah, all of them," He confirmed in a casual tone. This was illegal as hell.. but he wasn't supposed to have to risk his family to keep his job. "I love you, honey. And the kids. Tell them for me."
"I will," she said.
"Bye," Lou hung up the phone and met Warren's eyes blandly.
"Letting the wife know you'll be gone?" he asked.
"Yeah," Lou confirmed. "It's a miracle I manage to stay married in this job."
"You're either a fast talker or you've got a very understanding woman."
"Understanding woman," Lou said with a faint smile. He was sure Warren had guessed what he was doing. And wasn't going to say anything. "Got the manifests on the emergency supplies for the Alpha site?" he asked. He pushed his family to the back of his mind. He'd done the best he could.
Ferretti and Warren strode into the busy briefing room, laden with paperwork. The table was already surrounded with other SG team leaders, along with a scattering of officers Ferretti didn't know. The newly briefed ones were easy to pick out. They were the ones directing glassy wide-eyed stares at the stargate visible in through the briefing room window.
As Hammond came in, Janet Fraiser came scurrying in, to grab the last empty chair beside Ferretti. Everyone rose, but Hammond pulled out his seat and asked for reports.
Makepeace started. After O'Neill, he was the next most senior officer on the base, and would be functioning as Hammond's second in command. "All personnel have been called in. Security details have been doubled. We're issuing weapons to all personnel who remain on base. Evacuation schedules for SGC people going to the Alpha site are ready to be issued."
An officer Ferretti vaguely recognized as their NORAD liason said, "I've warned NORAD personnel there will be some unusual activity going on down here, but there isn't a lot we can do since a general alert has not been authorized. I've given them a list of names of those on the Genesis list, and they know they're to report here in four hours."
Ferretti nearly choked. Four hours? Jesus. They were going to be lucky if half the supplies were here then. "Sir, is four hours our designated evacuation start time?" Ferretti asked.
Hammond nodded, unsurprised that the word hadn't made it around the facility yet. "Yes, Major."
Ferretti said, "With your permission, sir, I'd like Warren to go start queuing the first loads of supplies then."
Warren excused himself, passing his pile of status reports to Ferretti.
"Doctor Fraiser?" Hammond asked.
"We're in good shape, sir. We have a full field hospital kit, and I'll be taking all the extra supplies we can fit, along with roughly half our staff. Dr. Warner will be maintaining the infirmary for the use of any wounded during the attack." Fraiser's tone was crisp and businesslike, but she was a shade paler than normal, and there was a worried look in her eyes. What about Cassie? Ferretti wondered. The young girl was well known to just about everyone in the facility after her dramatic rescue from Hanka.
Then it was Ferretti's turn. He outlined the basics of the evacuation plan, changes he'd made, penciled in some suggestions made by other officers around the table and once again revised upward his estimate of what they still had to do.
He was frantically trying to rethink some of the loading plans.. they only had six FREDs, unless the new unit had been delivered.. when was that due? He listened with half an ear to the remaining reports, taking a few more notes on when various people and supplies were expected to arrive. As the meeting broke up into knots of purposeful people discussing the plans in low tones, Ferretti thought of a couple more things he should check on.
As he was scribbling on the end of his already monstrous to-do list, he heard Hammond pulling Fraiser aside. "-thought I would mention, Doctor, that my daughter.. two girls of her own. Would be happy to have Cassie stay..."
As he stacked the towering pile of paper and headed back to the Alpha site ops control room, Ferretti was conscious of a sense of warm respect for George Hammond. Like all the rest of them, he was making hard choices. But he still was looking out for his people.
Ferretti frowned at his clipboard. They'd only moved a quarter of the supplies so far, and evidence to date was suggesting that military or not, the Genesis party was going to be confused and disoriented, taking longer than they planned to get through. He looked into the gate room.
The crowd of people were standing quietly, looking around curiously at the equipment. Their eyes snapped forward as the gate began to turn, steam hissing from the mechanism. A couple turned around to stare at Harriman, who was calmly announcing the chevrons. Hammond walked in and turned to face them at the foot of the ramp, just outside the safety line. They straightened to attention.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, as you have all been made aware..." Hammond began. Behind him, Harriman announced, "Chevron 4 encoded."
The general looked around at the "...this nation, the entire world, faces a deadly threat. With this knowledge, you have all volunteered for a mission intended to preserve human kind. You've been chosen because you represent the best we have in all fields of expertise."
By now the crowd was mostly staring past Hammond as the gate chevrons lit. "What you have not yet been told, for reasons of security, is where you're going or how you're going to get there."
"Chevron 7 locked," Harriman said over the speaker.
Hammond didn't move as the gate whooshed behind him. Eyes widened, and several people stepped back involuntarily, looking down to see if there was water running onto the floor. Hammond pointed back at the gate without taking his eyes off the people in front of them. "You're going to step through that. Once through the stargate, you will find yourself on the opposite side of the galaxy. A place we call Alpha site. If we do not prevail, you, and those that follow, will call it... home. A new colony. Godspeed." Hammond saluted, and nearly all of them were well enough conditioned to return it, even though they continued to stare at the event horizon.
"Jesus," Warren said. "If the military people are this shellshocked, the civilians are going to be hopeless."
Ferretti hoped he was wrong but was afraid he wasn't. "SG-2, move out." He ordered. He walked up the ramp with his team, leading the first non-SGC group out to the Alpha site.
Ferretti yelled to Carver to move the pile of pallets closer to the site where they planned to erect the shelter and sent ten more of the Genesis people to help. They were stunned, reeling and still a little nauseous from the ride through the stargate, but the ones from the first batch were starting to regain their wits. A few had wandered over to stare at the trees and were saying, "But this looks like Earth..."
"It's not," one of the others denied flatly, and pointed up. Several other people followed his pointing finger up and they stared at the two small moons in the sky, the second moving noticeably with respect to the other and the sun.
"There are three more," Warren told him casually. "None of them as big as Earth's."
One young man was visibly shaking. "Y-you m-mean this is really-"
"Another planet, yeah," Ferretti said, wondering "Was I ever this bad?" His unfortunately excellent memory presented him with the image of himself throwing Daniel's books down a sand dune and yelling at him to find a way home. He softened his tone to something more reassuring. "Look, this is a planet we've scouted. It's no more dangerous than camping in the woods back on Earth." Probably. They hoped. "We'll hang out here until we find out how things are going back on Earth." He asked, "What's your name, airman?"
The young man's eyes flickered to the rank markings on his shirt and he said. "Lieutenant Kevin Morrison, sir!" and braced to attention, the familiar ritual seeming to steady him.
"At ease," Ferretti said. He added Morrison to another group of ten and set them to sorting out the pieces of the large shelter. Another young lieutenant volunteered that she was a civil engineer, and Warren found her some surveying tools so she could mark off a site to start assembling it. She was one of the group looking around in barely suppressed excitement, clearly jazzed to find herself on another planet.
"Your name?" Ferretti asked.
"Lieutenant Lisa Swift," she replied. He assigned Swift a couple of assistants, and let her get to it.
Other parties were sent to gather deadwood for fires, and start laying water pipes from a nearby natural spring. "No groups of less than four," Ferretti warned. "If you find anything strange, don't touch, just report it. Remember that no matter what it looks like, it's still an alien planet. There could be things here the initial surveys didn't find." As much as he didn't want them any more skittish than they were, he couldn't afford to start losing people.
By the time the third group came through, Ferretti and his teammates were ready with tasks to keep them busy and not thinking too much. The civil engineer came back a couple of hours later with a neatly sketched camp layout. "I thought you might want to see this, sir." She pointed out locations for the temporary latrines and mentioned leechfields.
Ferretti nodded, asked for a couple of small changes, and then approved it. "Very good, Lieutenant."
"I'll just go move the stakes for the quarters, then," she said, a bit tentatively.
"Yes, go ahead," Ferretti told her.
Before he could dismiss her, she said, "Permission to ask a question, sir?"
"Of course," Ferretti said.
"These, these aliens? Have you seen them?" The first flush of excitement had evidently worn off and her expression was a mixture of apprehension and lingering disbelief. "I just can't believe... This morning I was working on updating the base emergency snowplowing plan!"
Ferretti gave her a sympathetic look. "I know it's a lot to take in, Lieutenant." He noticed the unsubtle shift of attention among those who had overheard her question and raised his voice slightly. "But the aliens are very real. They regard humans as a lower species, fit only to be slaves. They destroy any civilization that advances to the point of being a threat to them." Only three days ago it had been P3R-233. The cold dusty corridors beneath the surface of a dead planet seemed more sinister in memory than they had at the time. "I was on the first offworld expedition, when we encountered the aliens," Ferretti told them. "They attacked us on sight."
The pyramid had finally stopped shaking but they could sense movement in the darkness. Every instinct Ferretti had was screaming danger. He said to Freeman, "Hey, let's move out," as he grabbed some extra ammo. When he turned, his teammate was gone, and a nightmare figure stood in his place. It was immense, and in the dimness Ferretti could only see the faintest glimmer off its cruel polished beak. Ferretti pulled the trigger even as he fought to swing the weapon around, but pain exploded in his head before he could take down his attacker.
"I thought the guards were bad," he continued. "But then they hauled us upstairs."
He couldn't have been out for long, but it was enough for the bird-headed guard to drag him into the room with the stargate. At first he thought the creature was going to activate the gate. The metallic boom of the rings made Ferretti jump, and then then he was washed in blinding blue light. When it cleared, he was somewhere else. There were lights and for the first time he could see his captor's head was encased in some kind of elaborate mask. The guard shoved him across the floor and he half-stumbled, half-walked where he was pushed.
They stopped beside an immense gold box, like a tomb or crypt. Two of the bird guards knelt in front of it. The box opened and Ferretti saw a hand come out. The guard hit him savagely and forced him down onto his knees. When he was allowed to look up again, he could see a gold mask, like the ones found on mummies on Earth. King Tut, he remembered. The mask of a pharoah. The creature spoke, and whatever it was, the voice didn't seem human.
Ferretti stared at him stupidly. He wasn't bad at languages. He'd learned Italian from his grandmother, could curse in gutter Arabic with the best, had a working knowledge of Russian and German, and spoke fluent Spanish with a Columbian accent. He'd never heard anything remotely like this. When he failed to answer, the guard hit him again , knocking him sprawling on the floor. He came up spitting blood and glaring into the mask. Right. Masked bullies, people beating him up for not being able to speak their language... who said special ops wasn't good preparation for star travel? It was oddly steadying, despite his fear.
The blank gold mask turned in his direction, then the voice spoke some more. Another guard stepped forward, bowing. He held Ferretti's gun, his wristwatch and radio. Golden-mask examined them, then dropped them back on their tray. Another stream of gutteral speech had the guards dragging him away. When they went back to the rings, Ferretti dared to hope he was being released. Instead, they emerged somewhere else.
"They brought me before the head guy and knocked me around some, but pretty quickly figured out I didn't speak the lingo," Ferretti said. "So they stashed me in the dungeon for a while. Cold nasty place, flooded with water."
He was marched into a bare stone room. As he walked forward, the guards let him go. But before he could exploit the situation, the floor was moving under his feet and then he was falling.. surely too far to avoid injury, he thought, until he hit the water with a cold splash.
He had no sooner surfaced, spitting the foul stuff out, when the light was blocked, and Ferretti was driven under again by someone being thrown down on top of him. They went right to the bottom, the floor scraping Ferretti's back as he fought not to inhale. Ferretti managed to drag Freeman out of the way before Porro and Reilly were dumped as well. Reilly was already dead. Porro and Freeman were deeply unconscious,Porro badly wounded; Freeman with a nasty lump on his head. It was too dark to check his pupils, and in any case there was no way to keep them from drowning except to hold them. He wrapped one arm around each man's chest to keep the two men's heads above water and waited for them to wake up.
After some unmeasurable period of time, Freeman finally started coughing feebly. "Easy, pal," he said. "Take it easy."
Freeman stopped struggling. "Ferretti?"
"Yeah. You've got to stand or kneel," Ferretti told him. "Water's too deep to sit."
"Where are we?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," he had to admit. "They took us through a couple of transporter things. I think we've found the dungeons though." He loosened the arm around Freeman's chest. "Can you stay upright on your own? My arm's about to fall off." As Freeman took his own weight, Ferretti could finally shift his aching arms to get a better grip on Porro.
"Who's that?" Freeman asked, feeling fo r the second figure.
"It's Porro," Ferretti told him. "He's wounded and hasn't woken up yet. He got hit in the shoulder, I think."
Freeman gently explored the wound he could barely see in the dimness. "Crap." Ferretti could only nod. They had no medicine, no bandages, and they were drenched in cold filthy water. Infection was inevitable, even if Porro hadn't lost too much blood to survive.
Freeman shifted around to help Ferretti support Porro. They traded off until Porro's steadily weakening breathing finally rattled to a stop. Freeman carefully retrieved both his and Reilly's dog tags and looped them around his own neck.
Ferretti stopped and took a swallow of water from his canteen, suddenly realizing why four days trapped under a collapsed building listening to Malikos die had triggered weeks of nightmares about the rebellion on Abydos. He looked around at the rapt circle of listeners. "So they left us there for most of a day until they captured the rest of the team. They were all dumped in with us, except Jackson, our linguist, who could talk to them. He found out they were going to send a bomb through the stargate back to Earth. Bury our gate. The alien, Ra, planned to have us publicly executed to show the people on Abydos he was all-powerful."
His audience was perfectly silent. "So that's when Jackson and some of the natives rescued us. We managed to get the bomb back and use it to take out Ra."
"If you could do that, they can't have been that tough-" Morrison started.
"We lived because we were lucky," Ferretti cut him off. "And because a bunch of the locals died trying to help us. And we lost Freeman in the escape." He sighed. "Half the team didn't come back. It was miraculous that any of us did. We can't count on having that kind of luck again." On chilly mornings when Liz stole the blankets, Feretti sometimes woke up thinking he was still in that freezing pit, his relief at seeing Charlie and O'Neill still alive turning to despair when he realized they'd all been caught and there was no way out.
There was a faint murmur of voices, and Ferretti realized he'd been silent for several seconds. "Anyway, from what we've seen, Apophis isn't any nicer than Ra was, and he wants to see us dead or completely subjugated. So, no, Lieutenant, I don't think this evacuation is an overreaction." The young woman looked abashed. Ferretti checked his watch. "We've still got about three hours left before local nightfall, people. Let's make it count."
By the time the light was starting to fade, there were shelters up for everyone and one of the groups that finished early had volunteered to heat rations. They built several large fires, and clustered around them. Not something they'd want to do every day, Lou thought, but it was reassuring for their first nightfall on this planet. The unappetizing MRE suddenly tasted even less appealing as he realized he was thinking they'd be here for some time. He forced himself to finish the last few bites, and deposit the wrappers in their trash bin. Trash disposal, he reminded himself. They were going to need some kind of garbage pit. SG teams usually carried their trash out, but this group was large, nearly four hundred people.
By far the best organized section of the camp was the field hospital. Janet Fraiser had efficiently directed a mixture of her own medical staff and Genesis personnel to get supplies and equipment set up and ready for a possible influx of casualties evacuating from the SGC. "How's it going, doctor?" Lou asked her quietly. "Anything you need?"
Fraiser turned from watching one of her nurses strap some hapless airman's sprained ankle- their official first casualty- and said. "We're fine, Major. At least until we start getting customers."
Ferretti grimaced. "Yeah, hard to tell. Strategically, what the Goa'uld will try to do is to dial into the gate to prevent anyone from escaping. We may not get any more."
Fraiser sighed. "I hope.. I really hope this is a false alarm."
Ferretti wanted to say something encouraging, but the last group through the gate had reported the latest images from Hubble confirmed two Goa'uld motherships. She turned and looked at him. "I know, not much hope of that. It's just- Do you have a family, Major?"
"Yes- boy and a girl. Ten and thirteen," Lou smiled. "The thirteen year old is going to be too cool to talk to me any day now."
Fraiser laughed. "Lord, I can see it coming myself. Cassie gets more American every day. She rolls her eyes at me when I tell her to be careful walking to school."
Ferretti said. "Hang in there. You'll hear her saying, 'Mo-om.. you don't understa-and' before you know it."
Janet Fraiser smiled. "I'll hold that thought."
Lou circulated around the campsite as people finished eating, asking names and answering questions as he tried to get acquainted with as many people as possible. The fires weren't nearly bright enough to dim the brilliance of the stars on a world without air pollution. Several groups of people had moved out of the firelight to stargaze at the unfamiliar constellations and three small moons. The magnitude of his job was staggering. Somehow, he had to ensure that these people survived, along with any more the SGC could manage to send.
As if the thought had triggered it, he heard the distant sound of the gate turning. He jogged for it, the red glow of the chevrons shining in the darkness. Several dozen curious personnel followed behind him, and he yelled at them to stay back, but they milled around like sheep. The glow of the event horizon lit the security team stationed around the gate. They were bracing all over the clearing and aiming weapons at the stone ring, while personnel wandered into their line of fire. Ferretti cursed under his breath. "Clear the area in front of the gate," he yelled impatiently. At least they were far enough away not to be caught in the whoosh as the seventh chevron locked.
The event horizon had barely settled before a figure hurtled headfirst out of the gate. There was a scramble as the security team tried to follow the figure with their weapons, but he was moving so fast he sailed completely over the dias and bowled over three of the stunned evacuees. Ferretti was already yelling, "Hold your fire!" before his forebrain actually registered recognition. By now, several flashlights were trained on the prone figure clad in black. Ferretti dropped his own weapon from ready position and stepped forward to grab Daniel Jackson by the arm. "Daniel! What the hell are you doing here?" Behind him, the event horizon dissipated like a soap bubble.
Daniel seemed a little dazed with the force of his arrival. "Wha- Lou?" He let Ferretti pull him to his feet, rather to the relief of the two men and the woman he'd landed on, but swayed unsteadily. "Sorry," he apologized to them automatically as they scrambled away, regarding him warily. Daniel squinted into the glare of the flashlights trained on him and looked around curiously. Before Lou had even framed a reply to the question in his eyes, he was saying. "Oh. Genesis list. You were evacuated?"
"Yeah," Ferretti was surprised. "How did you know?"
"It's what they did in the alternate reality," Daniel said, tugging his sleeve out of Lou's grasp and turning to the DHD.
"Daniel!" Lou protested. "What's going on? Where have you been?"
"There were two Goa'uld ships in orbit over Earth-" Daniel said. "I have to get back."
"They know about the ships," Ferretti said. "We spotted them on radar. They were going to fire missiles."
Daniel blinked, "Oh. That must have been what hit the shields." He started pushing symbols rapidly, hardly looking at them. It took Lou a moment to register the address for Earth. Daniel laid his hand on the central crystal and it glowed red.
Lou's heart sank. "The missiles didn't work?"
"Um?" Daniel stared at the gate impatiently as the inner ring spun. "No, but the C4 we planted should take out at least one of them. Jack and the others were going to try and do something about the other ship."
The gate splashed open, and Daniel punched his code into the GDO, holding the device up so he could see.
"Why-" Lou didn't get the question out as Daniel jogged toward the gate virtually the instant the lights on the GDO went green.
"Long story," he called back. "Tell you later.." And Daniel disappeared into the event horizon.
He turned to see the third of the encampment who'd come to see what was going on staring at the collapsing event horizon. The night seemed darker without the light from the gate. "What happened?" Warren called. "Was that Dr. Jackson?" He and Carver had followed Ferretti, and Devereaux was already there, he'd been commanding the detail securing the gate.
"I don't know. Yes." Ferretti answered. "He said SG-1 was on those ships."
"No kidding?" Warren grinned. "We may not be in such deep shit after all."
"What's SG-1?" One of the puzzled evacuees asked.
" 'Our last best hope for peace'," quipped Carver, echoing Warren's grin.
Ferretti had to struggle not to give in to the sudden wild surge of hope. "He said they only got one ship," he said. "And even SG-1 isn't immortal."
"Dunno, haven't they already been dead once and come back?" Devereaux said.
That got some dubious looks from the evacuees and a round of snickers from the scattering of SGC personnel.
"Come on, folks," Ferretti said. "Might as well try and get some sleep."
"But maybe we'll be going home soon.." One of the medics protested.
"This is the government," Ferretti retorted. "Even if Daniel tells them all the Goa'uld have been sent to bed without supper, it'll still be morning before they okay us to come back."
It was nearly two hours before the gate activated again. Ferretti had given up any pretense of sleeping and was sitting with the security team, sipping his fourth cup of coffee.
This time, the crowd attracted by gate activation stayed well back, cowed by the bawling out Ferretti had given them after Daniel left. Kaplan from SG-8 darted out of the event horizon, looking around quizzically. "Major Ferretti?" he asked.
"Here," Ferretti said. "What's going on?"
"We're all clear, sir. SG-1 destroyed both the Goa'uld ships," he said.
A ragged cheer went up from the security team and the few bewildered evacuees still awake. Lou grinned hugely, an enormous weight lifting. "That's good news, Captain," he said. "How'd they do it? Daniel said they planted C4 on one of the ships-"
"And Colonel O'Neill and the others managed to destroy the shields on the second ship so the explosion of the first one destroyed them both," the man said. "He and Captain Carter and the Jaffa escaped in death gliders and were rescued by the Space Shuttle."
"The Space Shuttle?" Lou choked on a sip of coffee and wondered how the hell they were going to cover that up. "What's our brief as far as security?" he asked.
"I have instructions for everyone to sign a non-disclosure agreement, sir," the captain said, waving the thick packet of paper. "Then we can start transferring people back to Earth in accordance with this roster. We do want you to finish constructing the living quarters and so forth, so we can retain this world as a permanent base, however."
"Right." Lou accepted the sheaf of paperwork and held it under the light Deveraux was obligingly shining on it. He quickly scanned the orders, "Okay. Everyone except security detail, hit the sack. We'll start transferring folks back in the morning. The following personnel will stay here to finish construction of the temporary base. Swift, Engels, Jimenez..."
Major Lou Ferretti stepped out of the gate almost twenty-four hours later with a sigh of relief. The last of the Genesis list had already come back to Earth. SG-8 had relieved them at the Alpha site, until permanent staff could be assigned. There would be a continuous military presence there from now on, providing an alternate base of operations and emergency rallying point if SGC teams could not for any reason return to Earth.
As he stepped off the ramp, he saw a smear of something blue on the floor. The head of the security team followed his gaze and sighed. "Frosting, sir. I'll call one of the cleaning staff."
"Frosting?" Ferretti said, raising an eyebrow.
"There was a bit of a party after Colonel O'Neill and his team got in. I believe there's still some cake left in the commissary."
"Not if Colonel O'Neill got there first," Ferretti said cheerfully, and the sergeant grinned.
The infirmary looked perfectly normal, which didn't surprise Ferretti since Janet Fraiser and most of the medical staff were in the first group to go back to the SGC. Fraiser came over to say hello. "How's Cassie?" Lou asked.
Dr. Fraiser smirked. "I'm the meanest mommy in the whole world."
Ferretti raised his eyebrows. "Fast work."
"Apparently, a good mommy would let her talk on the phone to her best friend for several hours at a time," Fraiser said. "Honestly, you wouldn't know she'd never even seen a phone until six months ago!"
"Wait until she gets a boyfriend," Ferretti advised wisely.
Her expression was horrified. "Surely not at thirteen?"
"Not quite yet," Ferretti said with open relief. "But the signs are there."
Fraiser shook her head sympathetically and motioned him into an exam room.
His next stop after the infirmary was a phone in a quiet office where he could talk to Liz. A bit to his surprise, she answered the phone at her great-aunt's.
"Hi, honey, it's me," he said.
"Lou!" Liz sounded relieved. "How.. um, are you all right?"
"Fine, not a scratch. Looking forward to seeing you and the kids," he said. "When do you expect to be back?"
"I think we'll probably head back tomorrow," she said after a brief pause. "Things have been a little - busy- here."
"Oh?" Lou glanced around to see one of the other officers who shared the office coming in. "I look forward to hearing about it."
"I'll see you tomorrow," she said. "Bye."
"Checking in with the wife?" Castleman said.
Ferretti nodded. "Yeah, and hey, I'm still married. Good news."
Castleman laughed. "I know what you mean. There's classified, and then there's classified. My wife doesn't understand at all why I can't talk about work."
"How long have you been married?" Ferretti asked.
"Five years," he said. "You?"
"Fifteen," Ferretti told him. "If you can get past eight, you'll be fine.."
"Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of," Castleman said.
Debriefing, reports, checking in unused supplies and armaments ate up the rest of the day and then some. He stayed on base that night. In the morning, he ran into Daniel having breakfast with Captain Carter. Ferretti collected a plate of sausage and eggs and joined them. "Hey, Daniel, Carter."
"Hi Lou," Daniel said cheerfully.
Carter's mouth was full, but she waved welcomingly as she swallowed. "How's the Alpha site deconstruction going?" she asked.
"Turned over to SG-8 as of yesterday," Ferretti said. "But forget me, I want to hear your story. Rumor has it you got a ride on the shuttle?"
She smiled, but then gave Daniel a look Ferretti couldn't quite make out. "Yeah, it was pretty cool," she said. "And do you know, they didn't tell the astronauts anything... they were expecting little green men when they came out to pick us up."
Ferretti shook his head. "What the hell did they think the shuttle could do against two Goa'uld motherships anyway?"
"Apparently, they were going to do a spacewalk and try to sneak a nuke through the hatch, or something," Daniel said.
Ferretti froze, orange juice halfway to his lips. "You're kidding?"
"Unfortunately not," Carter said. "You know, they didn't even give them the lightweight rebreathing air packs Area 51 designed for us. If they'd actually gotten onto the ship they'd have collapsed on the floor from the weight of their space suits."
"Insane," Ferretti said.
"Anyway, that's not nearly as exciting as Daniel's story," Carter said.
Daniel blinked at her. "Hey, you got to blow up two Goa'uld motherships. I only got to help with one."
"Technically, it was our C4 that blew them both," Carter told him. "So if you want to paint two little pyramids on the side of your desk, go ahead."
"Three, counting Abydos," Ferretti corrected helpfully.
Daniel looked thoughtful, "I'm not sure that's an appropriate place to put them."
Ferretti grinned. "They'd be a little hard to explain on the door of your car. So what was so exciting about Daniel's trip? Besides his hit and run visit to the Alpha site?"
"Oh, I got shot again," Daniel said matter of factly. "I wound up having to make a stop at the sarcophagus before heading back."
"Which you got out of less than two minutes before everything went kablooie," said Carter. "And which the rest of us didn't find out about for over eight hours." She gave Daniel a severe look. "We thought he was dead."
"Again?" Ferretti said.
"Kablooie?" Daniel repeated, brows knitted dubiously.
"It's the colonel's word," she said.
Ferretti shook his head. "You think you can manage to go a whole year without getting killed, Jackson? It's kind of stressful for your teammates."
"I didn't get killed this time," Daniel protested. "It was a misunderstanding. Could have happened to anyone."
Ferretti exchanged a glance with Carter. "No it couldn't," they answered in unison.
Lou walked into his own home shortly after noon, finding the house uncharacteristically quiet without Liz and the kids. He swept the floor, emptied the garbage and tidied up the debris of their hasty departure. The milk in the fridge was sour. He poured it out and started making a list of groceries.
A message from Liz had given him an estimated time of arrival, so Lou started dinner. The kids had been arguing in the background of the call, and he figured they'd all be tired and grumpy from traveling. He was dumping chopped sausage into the pot of spaghetti sauce, when he heard the sound of the engine and crunch of gravel that told him his family was home.
"Daddy!" David ran in and hugged him, while April followed more sedately. Her studiedly grown-up expression gave him the feeling she thought she was too old for hugs, but she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek readily enough for all that.
"How was your trip?" he asked the kids.
"Bo-oring!" they chorused.
"Kansas is really flat," David said.
"So is Nebraska," his sister said. "And David whined the whole way. And there was nothing to do."
"I whined?" David gave her a sullen look. "All you could talk about is how you were missing that stupid sleepover."
"Well you complained about Aunt Edna not getting any good TV stations," April said.
"So did you!" David retorted.
"You were both rotten little brats," Liz said severely. "Now go put your dirty clothes in the laundry and wash your hands before dinner."
Lou winced. "Sounds like a miserable trip."
Liz kissed him. "It wasn't the most fun I've ever had, no. But Edna was certainly grateful we were there."
"She was?" Lou asked dubiously.
"Will had a heart attack," she said. "Triple by-pass. Fortunately, we could help take care of the house and cook and so forth so she could go and sit with him." Ferretti blinked. "A heart attack? When?"
"The day before we left," Liz said. "Ironic, since I'd already told my work I had a family emergency."
"That was--" convenient "-- uh, unfortunate," Lou said. "But I'm glad you were able to help."
Liz gave him a quizzical look as the children thundered down the stairs. "Later," he mouthed, and kissed her quickly again before the horde descended on dinner.
The kids were finally settled in bed and Liz and Lou sank down on the couch together, heaving a simultaneous sigh of relief. Liz waited a moment, then turned to him seriously. "Okay, Lou. I know I shouldn't ask. But what the hell is going on?"
Ferretti froze, and his expression must have been hunted, because his wife suddenly giggled. "Lou.. I'm sorry, but I just..."
Lou pulled her close and laid his cheek against her hair. "No, Liz. I'm sorry. You have no reason to apologize. I just have no idea what to tell you. I wasn't supposed to tell you anything. I should have just.."
"You were afraid," she said astutely. "Afraid something would happen to us. I've been watching the news all week, but there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, until that huge explosion in the sky a couple of nights ago. We saw it from Nebraska, you know."
"Ah," Lou said, releasing her and pulling back enough to see her face. "I'm afraid I haven't had a chance to catch any of the news coverage. What are they saying?" He knew the cover story that had been issued, but wasn't sure how it was being reported.
"The Air Force launched a pair of missiles at a cometary fragment approaching Earth's orbit. A lot of it was ice, which vaporized, and the solid bits burned up in Earth's atmosphere." She raised her eyebrows. "Not a bad story, if someone hadn't asked me to stay out of cities."
Far too late to try and sell the company line, in other words. Lou gave her a sheepish look, "Uh, well, whatever you're thinking, it's probably something not terribly far from the truth."
Liz shook her head. "You have no idea what I've been thinking. My first theory was we were headed back into the Cold War. But the last couple of days, I've been tending more toward the kind of thing you'd find in one of April's sci-fi adventures." She glanced humorously toward her husband and then caught her breath at his expression. "Lou?"
He caught both of her hands in his own and held them tightly. "I can't tell you, Liz. I really can't. But you remember that mission I went on a little over a year ago?"
"The one where you came back covered in bruises and with a second-degree sunburn in October?" she asked dryly.
He smiled. "Yeah, that one."
"Something changed for you on that mission," she remembered, her eyes widening slightly.
"I got a look at the big picture," Lou agreed. " Really big." Abydos had changed him, he thought. He'd been scared shitless through just about the whole thing. Something about the idea he was thousands of lightyears from home under an alien sun had frightened him more than he would have believed. And yet everyone around him had risen to the challenge. Daniel- god, if Daniel had been scared, he'd never shown it. As far as he could tell, the kid had been too consumed with curiosity to think about being frightened. Kawalsky had pulled a couple of the damnedest stunts under fire he'd ever seen. O'Neill had turned from an emotional wreck to a pretty decent guy. The Abydonians had fought and died for their freedom and the lives of the visitors who'd helped them see the truth.
Liz waited for him to sort through his thoughts.
"I don't think I've ever been as scared as I was then, Liz," he admitted painfully. "You know I can't tell you details. But I was crapping bricks. I was sure that was it- I was never coming back."
"What happened?" she asked, her eyes never leaving his.
"A miracle. Maybe two. A couple of lucky breaks. And some of the bravest goddamned people I have ever met in my life." Ferretti said. "A bunch of civilians, who faced down a vastly better armed force with frigging clubs to save our lives."
"Colonel O'Neill and Charlie were on that mission," she deduced. "And-Dr. Jackson?"
Lou chuckled at her astuteness.. she'd only met them a couple of times, but she'd sensed the bond he felt with them. "Daniel saved all our lives. And so did O'Neill. Though by the end, I think we lost count of how many times we'd almost gotten killed. Charlie was amazing." He wished he could tell her the whole thing. Skaara, the kids, Kasuf, Sha're.
"A bunch of them died," he said softly. "The locals. Saving our butts. And you know, it's a cliche, but every day since, I've woken up thinking it's another miracle, a gift, that I'm still alive and have you and the kids. And I don't want to forget that. Not ever."
After Abydos, Ferretti was never going to be that scared again. He'd hit the bottom of his personal valley of darkness on that mission. He'd been sure he was dead. But his teammates hadn't given up, hadn't even slowed down, and they'd made it through. A year later, he spent four days in the bottom of a pitch-black hole on P4T-765 and he never doubted they'd escape. Warren confessed afterward he'd almost given up, and said he admired Ferretti's faith.
Lou hadn't known how to explain his resolve had been fired in the crucible of the Abydos rebellion. He'd marveled afterward that Charlie had been so little changed by the experience. Ferretti found in himself an indefinable strength he'd never had before. And he suspected that O'Neill and Jackson had also found it a life-changing experience.
Liz assimilated his story, hazel eyes intent, putting two and two together. "I'm surprised they were able to cover the incident up."
"It was in a pretty remote location," Lou said truthfully, realizing Liz thought the mission had taken him somewhere on Earth, to the site of another alien invasion.
"Is it over?" she asked.
He had to look away. "No," he said flatly. "Not by a long shot. But we don't expect anything like the last few days to happen again for a while-" he added.
"And that's what you're doing.." Liz shook her head. "How on earth-" she stopped and laughed helplessly. "How on earth.. do they think they're going to keep this out of the public eye forever?"
"I doubt they do," Ferretti said. "But until it goes public..."
She smiled at him and rubbed a hand along the side of his neck. "Someday I look forward to hearing all about it." She glanced at the clock. "It's getting late," she said.
Lou checked his watch, "Not that late."
She gave him an impish smile. "Yes it is, hon."
Lou blinked, then realized. "Oh. Late. Right. I'll be right there."
Her low laugh floated back down the stairs as he locked the doors and turned out the lights before following his wife up to bed.
Return to home page