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* TITLE: New Horizons
* AUTHOR: Redbyrd
* EMAIL: redbyrd (at) mindspring (dot) com
* RATING: PG
* CATEGORY: drama
* SUMMARY: The former Endeavor astronauts finally find out what space travel is all about as they are introduced to their new duties at the SGC and face an unexpected crisis. (Sequel to Desperate Endeavor and Following Up)
* SPOILERS: Serpent's Lair, Thor's Chariot, major ones for Message in a Bottle
* AUTHOR'S NOTE: After keeping the poor guys in suspense for two whole stories, I finally had to relent.
* DISCLAIMER: 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.
This story is a sequel to "Desperate Endeavor", which filled in the missing scene for the space rescue at the end of Serpent's Lair and "Following Up". I think it mostly stands alone.
Purcell, Lewis, Connelly and I had gotten up at dawn for a brisk six mile run, as we had every morning for the last three weeks. Of course for the last week, we'd been in Colorado Springs, our new duty station, and at 6000 feet, we were feeling the burn a lot more than we had at sea level, despite the cooler temperatures and drier air of the mountains. The first morning had been the worst. We'd only done two miles and still felt lightheaded and ready to puke afterward. Except for Connelly, of course. She was pushing for us to do the hike up Pike's Peak, but the rest of us had unanimously voted to put it off until we were better acclimated to the altitude. She's a real glutton for punishment. Not to mention that she grew up in the mountains west of Denver where you can find whole towns at over 8000 feet.
Today none of us dawdled at the end of the run, we were reporting at 0800 to our new assignment at Cheyenne Mountain. Our transfer papers said 'Deep Space Radar Telemetry', but the new security passes we had picked up the day before all were stamped "SGC". Of course we all knew that telemetry wasn't what we were really going to be doing. We were former shuttle astronauts who'd decided to seek a new assignment after making a rendezvous with a couple of black alien gliders in orbit and returning with their passengers back to Earth. One of those passengers had been an Air Force Captain named Samantha Carter. I had tracked her down and asked for her help in getting us reassigned to the secret project we figured was America's real space program.
At Cheyenne Mountain, we met with half a dozen other new assignees and were walked through some of the most elaborate security arrangements I have ever seen. Two elevator rides later, we were led through bare gray concrete corridors to a well-appointed briefing room. An airman at the door checked off our names, and then unexpectedly addressed my fellow astronauts and I. "Howard, Purcell, Connelly and Lewis?" When we nodded, she said, "Please follow me."
She brought us to a plain door with a solid brass plaque that read, "General George Hammond". We lined up and braced to attention but the expected 'at ease' didn't come. The airman shut the door behind us. The heavyset balding man behind the desk looked at us with no particular favor. I felt a trickle of ice down my spine. How can we be in trouble already, we just got here? "I want to make it clear to you, that security is something we take very seriously at the SGC."
None of us twitched and he continued. "You were sworn to secrecy following the Endeavor mission, and told not to ask questions. Yet, a month later, here you are." He gave us the senior officer's glare, and while I know it must be partly for effect, such is the military conditioning that I could feel the sweat dripping down my back. "The only reason you are here today is that Captain Carter and the other members of SG-1 argued most eloquently for your inclusion." SG-1? That must be Carter's team. All of her team argued for us? Guess they really were grateful. I'd have to remember to thank them. Hammond continued. "Be aware that any further security issues coming from any of you will result in your immediate removal from the SGC."
"Yes, sir!" We chorused. I caught a glimpse of the others out of the corner of my eye. Yep, they were sweating too.
The airman returned and led us back to the briefing room, with Hammond and an officer with Major's tabs on his collar right behind us. We settled gratefully into chairs in the briefing room getting curious looks from the other new folks. I was curious myself. Though most of the other people in the room were in uniform, there were two people in civvies.
Hammond was looking a lot more relaxed and genial now that he wasn't chewing us out. "I'm sure that you are all curious about your new assignment." No shit. Please get on with it. I was leaning forward waiting to hear just what the hell this was all about. "In the early part of this century, a discovery was made in Egypt." I had no idea what I had expected, but this certainly wasn't it. "Underneath a ten thousand year old cover stone was found-"
I could hear one of the civilians mutter, "Ten thousand? That's ridiculous." Hammond ignored him and continued.
"- a device made of a material unlike anything found on earth. Two and a half years ago, the symbols were deciphered and we were able to activate the device. It created a stable wormhole-" I think that was when Lewis stopped breathing. He had a minor in astrophysics, which I suddenly remembered was Samantha Carter's field. "The wormhole connected to another similar device on a planet light-years away." Nobody was even twitching by this point. We all just sat there with our mouths hanging open while we listened to the general. "That planet was Abydos. We sent a team through the wormhole, where they encountered not only a population of humans transplanted there thousands of years ago from Earth, but a member of an alien race, the Goa'uld, who did the transplanting. The Goa'uld are a race of parasitic aliens-" I was poleaxed. This was unbelievable. Yet Hammond delivered it all with a straight face and kept right on going. "-who use humans as hosts. They believe they are gods and that all humans are naturally their slaves. The first team that went to Abydos was able to destroy its Goa'uld overlord and free the population there. A member of that team discovered the Abydos Cartouche, a collection of addresses for other planets we can travel to through the gate. Since then, the Air Force has created a dedicated command, teams of four to ten people who are trained to go through the gate, explore new worlds-"
"-seek out new life, new civilizations-" irrepressibly murmured the same civilian who had spoken before. This time he got a reproving look from Hammond.
"-make contact with both lost human races and aliens, winning new allies and finding technology to use in our war against the Goa'uld. Make no mistake, people. This is a front line combat facility."
I saw the major tap his watch and move over to a switch on the wall. The general nodded and we watched a metal plate slide down to reveal a two-story room. We all turned to look. The gate had pride of place, dead center, with an opalescent luster that made it clear that it was rock, not metal. A short ramp led up to it. Below, I could see four people, adjusting their packs. I swiftly realized that I recognized them all. Carter, the older man named Jack and the large black guy we'd met on the shuttle, plus Carter's friend Daniel. "That's SG-1, getting ready to leave for Cimmeria," the general told us. Then we saw the inner ring start to spin and clouds of vapor jet from the sides. Part of the device lit up. The major must have turned on the PA system as well, because we could hear something that wasn't exactly a countdown. "Chevron one, encoded." We watched the ring spin and each of the seven chevrons light up, and then there was a whoosh like a whirlpool or the underside of a drain. It settled into a shimmering blue interface like water. I don't know if anyone else had managed to pick their jaws up yet, mine was still somewhere down around knee level.
"It's the event horizon," whispered Lewis, awed. We continued to watch, dumbstruck as the four members of SG-1 strolled casually up the ramp and disappeared into the shimmering surface. The wormhole disengaged, the shimmery surface seeming to dissolve into mist and then nothing. The room was empty, with no sign of the four people who had just stepped into the wormhole. I couldn't take it in. They were hurtling millions of light years through vacuum to another planet, protected by no more than a light jacket. This was space travel?
General Hammond cleared his throat, and a roomful of stunned gazes returned to him. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Stargate Command."
The general waited a couple of minutes for composure to return and then indicated the major. "This is Major Ferretti of SG-2. He'll be continuing with your orientation this morning. You'll get a tour, some background briefing materials and then be split up to start getting familiar with your individual duty assignments. Good day." He started for the door, and Ferretti moved to the front of the room. The talkative civilian was just starting to protest.
Ferretti said, "You have a question, Dr. Marshall?"
"Yes. Are we going to be doing that? Going through that thing?" If the answer was no, he was obviously going to start arguing the matter on the spot. His eyes were shining like he'd just seen the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Most of the officers in the room were looking relieved that someone else was asking questions.
"That will be up to you, Doctor." Ferretti replied cheerfully. "You're all candidates, but anyone on an SG team must pass the medical and fitness requirements. You'll also have to qualify with weapons and basic first aid. Those are the rules, no exceptions. Being a civilian is not a bar, though. Although we don't employ many, there are two civilians currently serving with SG-1 and another on SG-9."
"And if we can't meet the qualifications?" That was the other civilian, a stocky vaguely Hispanic-looking woman.
"Than you don't go through the gate, you sit in a lab at the SGC and analyze what the teams bring back." Ferretti looked sober. "The general wasn't kidding about this being a combat zone, Ms. Espinoza. There's no room on a field team for anyone who can't or won't shoot back if the team is under fire." Ferretti looked at the rest of us. "Most of you have already had some training, but I realize that it may have been a while ago. Everyone will be doing some refreshers, as well as filling in gaps in their original training."
Weapons, first aid, walking; Daniel had given me good advice all right. "Boot camp," murmured Lewis beside me. I was really grateful that the four of us had spent the last three weeks working out and on the shooting range. Despite starting out in good shape, this would have been more daunting to come into cold.
Ferretti must have ears like a bat, he picked up the comment easily. "Very like boot camp, I'm afraid, Lewis." He gave Lewis and the rest of us an amused look. "For the sake of you four, I'll relate one other story before we go back to the general orientation. You may recall having seen or heard about a bright flash in the night sky about a month ago." Everyone nodded.
"The news said it was the military destroying an asteroid," Dr. Marshall said.
"Yes, but it wasn't." Ferretti contradicted immediately. "It was a pair of Goa'uld motherships, coming to attack Earth. That bright flash was SG-1, blowing them out of the sky."
Since it seemed like it was okay to ask questions, I asked, "How?"
"A hell of a lot of C4." Ferretti replied. "At least for the first ship. After they planted the C4 on the first ship, they took the control room more or less by frontal assault, moved the first ship closer to the second, transported to the second ship- the ships have a sort of teleporter for short-range travel. Anyway, they disabled the protective shields on the second ship so that when the first one exploded, they'd both go. Then the remaining team members escaped in gliders as the ship went up."
The four of us were looking wildly impressed. No wonder Jack had said he wished he had nukes. For that matter, why hadn't he had nukes? The rest of the room was obviously finding it tough to believe. Connolly said. "Four people did that? Those ships were enormous!"
"SG-1 has a remarkable gift for beating the odds." Ferretti told her. "Of course Colonel O'Neill and his team had help from some Jaffa on the ship- the Jaffa are another race enslaved by the Goa'uld and used by them as soldiers. A few of them are our allies. Three of them helped in the assault. Two died, the other came back to Earth and returned home through the Stargate."
"Braytak," I said, remembering the oddly dressed older man who we had evacuated off the damaged gliders in orbit.
He nodded. "The other two Jaffa died and Dr. Jackson was badly wounded in the assault on the control room of the first ship. Jackson came back to the SGC via the Stargate."
Espinoza was looking at me curiously, "So what do these people have to do with that?"
I glanced at Ferretti and got a nod of permission. "My friends and I were crew on the space shuttle Endeavor. We got sent up to try and take out the ships if the first plan failed. We picked up SG-1 and, um, the Jaffa Braytak after the explosion and brought them down from orbit."
Marshall was stuck a couple of comments back and looking a bit shocked. " Dr. Jackson is one of the civilians you mentioned? So civilians go out with their teams even on military missions?"
Ferretti shrugged. "We're recruiting civilians to fill technical specialties that we can't find military personnel for. There are relatively few people with anthropology and archeology backgrounds in military service. There are more people with foreign language skills, but not many with specializations in ancient languages or linguistics. If you're counting on a civilian translator to eavesdrop on the enemy and provide intelligence or decipher the operating instructions for the alien spacecraft, he's not going to be a lot of use if he's cowering in the SGC."
Both civilians were looking daunted. Not that the military people seemed less shocked, but they were hiding it better. One of the other officers said, "That's a surprisingly liberal attitude for the military, sir."
"Isn't it?" Ferretti grinned amiably. "All Dr. Jackson's fault, really. You'll understand better when you've heard more about the history of the program."
Espinoza was busy putting two and two together, "I thought that guy looked familiar. Isn't he Dr. Daniel Jackson?"
"That's the one."
"But he's a crackpot. A crank." She looked at the room of blank expressions. "He's an archeologist and linguist, he had some nutty theory that the pyramids were... oh..." She trailed off looking stunned all over again.
"Built by aliens?" Ferretti was openly amused. "Sure. Landing pads for alien spacecraft actually. Check your assumptions at the door, people." He dragged a box full of bound notebooks out from under the table, and started handing them around. I hefted it- several inches thick and it must have weighed over three pounds. "Here are your briefing packages. We'll do the base tour, and then you'll have time to start reading before we assign you to duty areas."
By the end of the day, it felt like they'd tried to stuff the entire suddenly expanded universe between my ears. By the look of it, I wasn't the only one with a headache. Lewis was slouched in a chair in the cafeteria looking like he'd been beaten. Purcell, normally the most reserved of us, had just finished telling us about the labs. His background was biochemistry with a subspecialty in planetology. We often called him Marvin, because he was a passionate advocate of Mars colonization. From the look of him now, he had pretty much forgotten all about Mars. Connolly was a physical chemist and geologist and she told us her assignment was pretty much what we'd expect. "My first job is to get familiar with the properties of naquadah, the material the Stargate is made of," she told us. "I've got a feeling I'm going to be sick of the stuff before I've been here too long, a lot of the alien tech seems to use it." It seemed to excite rather than to disturb her though. She looked at me.
"Looks like I'm slated to learn about alien tech." I told them. Engineering physics was actually not a bad specialty to have for this assignment, given that there weren't any universities offering Alien Technology 101. "I'm working with a guy called Siler- a Sergeant, but rank doesn't always seem to mean much in terms of duty assignments here."
Lewis nodded. "I expect I'll get some of that too, but first I'm going to be cross-training with the anthropologists." At our surprised looks, he shrugged. "I took a lot of anthro courses in college, and since I speak four languages already, they thought I could probably pick up Goa'uld and ancient Egyptian which is what they seem to speak on a lot of planets. And I'm guessing they're kind of short of anthro people. Seems that the Goa'uld aren't the only problem. They lose a certain amount of personnel to ah, cultural misunderstandings with the native races they contact. Lots of inhabited worlds out there, and most of them were split off from Earth cultures thousands of years ago."
"Besides," Connelly gibed, "They might as well assign you to talking, since they aren't going to be able to shut you up anyway." Lewis put on an offended expression and the rest of us laughed.
"Ah, is this a private party, or can anyone join in?" We looked up to see the two civilians, Marshall and Espinoza, standing there with trays.
I shrugged, by the sound of it we were going to be working side by side with these folks. "Not at all, pull up a chair." They set the trays down and looked dubiously at the food.
"Enjoy it while you can," Lewis advised. "It'll be MREs- military rations- in the field."
Espinoza shrugged and dug in. "Can't be worse than undergraduate cooking on a dig."
"You're an archeologist?" I asked.
She nodded. "I'm working on my doctorate in ancient civilizations, but needed to take a break due to an acute cash-flow problem. And I have a minor in Egyptology, mostly for fun, but I expect that's what originally interested the military. It's almost impossible to get jobs in the field." She stopped looking nonplussed, and said, "Or it used to be."
We laughed again. I asked Marshall, "How about you?"
"Cultural anthropologist and linguist," he said. He nodded to Espinoza, "You know, after you mentioned him earlier, I remembered hearing about Daniel Jackson. A brilliant scholar, wrote some articles on comparative linguistics of the Afro-Asiatic language groups. He hasn't published much lately that I'm aware of."
"He was rumored to be dead." Espinoza told him. "Dropped out of sight completely after the whole pyramid alien thing a couple of years ago. I guess he must been here all that time."
"I bet there is a great story there." Lewis remarked. "One of the guys in the anthro lab said something weird about that. How did it go? 'Jackson gets killed all the time, but it never slows him down for long.' Everyone seemed to find it funny."
I changed the subject. "How about the other guys in our orientation class? Anybody talk to them?"
Marshall said, "I tried to, while we were waiting for you this morning. They all seem to be purely military types. Special forces, commandos, that sort of thing." No wonder the civilians wanted to sit with us. Military or non-military, we were all technical specialists of one sort or another.
The conversation became more general and it was already dark when we trooped out of the mountain in a group to take the winding road back down to Colorado Springs.
The next few days were a whirlwind of activity. Thanks to the homework we'd done before we arrived, we were quickly released from the weapons training, but we continued to work out while studying the details of our new assignments. Luckily for me, Siler was very good at distinguishing between the things they knew about the alien tech, the things they only guessed and the stuff no one had a clue on yet.
The SGC was a hotbed of gossip and we quickly found out a lot about the SG teams and especially SG-1. The reports of their exploits were pretty incredible, but whenever I started to think people were pulling my leg and pulled up an old mission summary to check, the stories were true. I wondered aloud if people were talking about them a lot just because the team was overdue coming back from Cimmeria, but one of the other techs shook his head. "Nah. If they aren't in the middle of a crisis they're recovering from a crisis or preparing to head into another crisis. They make for much more interesting water cooler conversation than who said what on late night TV, or the latest plot twists on ER." Yeah, and it probably didn't hurt that Carter was drop-dead-gorgeous and the three men on the team seemed to be just as attractive to the female personnel on the base.
Still, the keen interest that everyone in the facility seemed to feel about the activities of the SGC's first-line contact team was underlain with a sincere current of concern. The whole place seemed to heave a sigh of relief when they came back from Cimmeria in one piece.
And within a couple of hours, the complex was boiling with rumors. They'd made contact with a highly advanced alien race, the whispers said. One that had helped them kick Goa'uld butt on Cimmeria. Others said that it was Roswell aliens. It was a couple of days later and the official reports were out showing that the rumors had been largely correct when Lewis and I happened to go into the cafeteria and find all of SG-1 sitting there eating breakfast. Lewis and I glanced at one another and headed over to their table. Dr. Jackson gave a friendly wave while Colonel O'Neill turned and looked at us. "Yes?"
"I'm Captain Howard." I began.
"I remember you, Howard." O'Neill assured me amiably enough and looked at Lewis. "And Captain Lewis, I believe." He nodded
"Lewis and I just wanted to say thank you." I told them. "General Hammond told us that you all spoke up for us."
O'Neill shrugged. "Thank Daniel. He said we shouldn't leave you to explode from unsatisfied curiosity. Think of the mess."
Daniel Jackson was looking amused. "Well, I know how I'd feel if I'd caught a glimpse of something amazing and then wasn't allowed to follow up." He gave O'Neill a meaningful look. The colonel rolled his eyes.
The Jaffa, Teal'c, inclined his head gravely. "You handled yourselves most competently in orbit." I felt absurdly privileged.
Carter looked up at us and said, "You were lucky." I hope my face went blank rather than showing the flash of irritation, because she continued. "The kind where preparation meets opportunity. You all had specialties that will be useful to the SGC. It's not all that unlikely that you'd have eventually wound up here anyway." Yeah but sooner is better than later. Huh, guess she decided we'd be of some use after looking at the personnel records I'd given her when I was trying to persuade her to help us.
"We still appreciate it. The general was a little upset that we tracked you down."
O'Neill drained his cup and they all started to rise. "He's understandably worried about just any-" he looked at us "-Howard, Lewis or Connelly being able to track us down and find their way into the program. If you don't do anything else to piss him off, he'll get over it." He nodded to us and left with Teal'c and Carter. Jackson refilled his coffee cup and turned back to us.
I spoke first. "It wasn't Carter. You talked them into supporting our application, didn't you?" I asked him.
He replied. "Sam supported your application."
Pieces were falling together. "But you talked the Colonel into supporting it too. And then you and O'Neill convinced Hammond to ask for us. This would never have happened so fast with only Captain Carter's recommendation. Why?" He answered the question obliquely.
"Actually, I should be thanking you." He told us.
"For what?" Lewis was still two conversations behind me in observing the SG-1 team dynamic, so it wasn't surprising he had missed some of this.
"Bringing them home." He nodded after his teammates and gave us a quick but extraordinarily warm smile. I remembered the things I had heard about this team's legendary closeness. He turned to the door. "I'll see you around."
Lewis looked after him for a moment, uncharacteristically silent. "Did they all seem to you to be, I dunno-"
"A little bigger than life?" I asked.
"Yeah, that's it."
"No shit." I shook my head. "And even then I can't believe they've done some of the things I've heard about. I mean, I believe it but-"
"You don't believe it." Lewis understood perfectly.
We were getting ready for our first jaunt through the wormhole. We'd trained with all the standard SGC equipment, drilled everything from first aid to manual Stargate dialing procedures and gotten our training team assignments. Tomorrow we'd be going on what Marshall insisted on referring to as our first 'away mission' until Lewis threatened to do something unspecified but ghastly to him if he didn't stop with the Star Trek references. Once we'd been on a training mission or two, we'd get permanent team assignments. I could hardly wait. And of course I was nervous. I'd sought out this assignment thinking I'd be working on top secret military hardware. I'd even considered that it might be alien hardware, then chided myself for an overactive imagination. A full-fledged program of exploration on hundreds of worlds across the galaxy was way beyond anything I had considered. A galaxy where the dominant life form was a parasite that preyed on humans was a sobering nightmare, even if it still seemed a bit too far-fetched to take seriously.
It was a struggle to concentrate but I doggedly kept going on my tech training. I was working in the lab with Siler and Simmonds, tracing power lines in the DHD when SG-1 returned from P5C 353 with the alien artifact.
We all mustered with the support teams, geared up in accordance with level 3 precautions, and reported to the gate room. SG-1 was there, wearing space suits, and they had brought back an artifact. As we eased it out of the crate they'd hauled it back in, O'Neill warned us, "Careful with it, it's heavy."
It must have been extremely dense, because it was in fact quite heavy, a small golden globe etched with a microscopically fine tracery of decoration across the entire surface. Carter instructed Simmonds, "Start spectral analysis right away."
And Jackson added, "Oh, and input a detailed imaging of the outer surface into the computer." Then again, perhaps the finely etched lines weren't decorative at all. As we lifted the object I listened to the end of the conversation.
"Everything go as planned Colonel?" That was the general. I kept my head down even with the environmental suit on. I was definitely trying to avoid having him notice me for a while.
"Oh, one small step one giant leap, that kind of stuff sir." O'Neill seemed to be constitutionally incapable of taking anything seriously. Of course he had been doing this job for over a year. I couldn't be sure, but I didn't think that if I did this job for a decade I'd ever be blasˇ about stepping through the gate onto a new world.
As we headed down to the lab, the general finished, "We'll debrief in one hour. Welcome home SG-1."
In the lab, we carefully secured the artifact in a framework to support it during testing. Carter and Jackson followed it in. "That looks good. Lieutenant, you can assist. The rest of you out."
I was burning with curiosity, but orders are orders. I followed Siler out. He looked at me with his usual calm demeanor and said, "Level 3 precautions means they don't expose unnecessary personnel until they're sure it's safe."
I nodded. "Yes, I understand." I guessed he was probably curious too, but he led the way back to the area we'd been working in earlier. Then again, so many alien artifacts passed through this place that may be he was too used to it to let a new one distract him. I spent the rest of the day trying to wrap my brain around Goa'uld technology.
The next morning, I was passing the lab and noted that Jackson, Carter and Simmonds were already there. They had been holed up in the lab when we left the night before and I strongly suspected they'd been at it all night. I saw Colonel O'Neill go in, and then a couple of minutes later, Daniel Jackson bolted down the corridor past me at a dead run as an alarm started blaring. I barely dodged out of the way as he sprinted for the elevator.
Siler came up. "What's going on?"
A few minutes later, O'Neill and Teal'c came out, carrying what looked like the artifact between them. It had grown several unfriendly-looking spear-like protrusions from its circumference. O'Neill yelled, "Out of the way! Let us through!" as they carried it down the hall.
Siler started after them at a brisk pace. "Follow me!"
We arrived at the gate room only a few minutes after them. Siler led me up to the back of the control room, where we could watch without being in the way. The Stargate was dialing as O'Neill and Teal'c waited to deliver the artifact to it. The whoosh of the Stargate opening caught my whole attention. It was after all only the second time I had seen it. But my attention went back to the artifact in a hurry as one of the small spears protruding from the sphere shot out and embedded itself in the concrete floor. O'Neill and Teal'c both jumped back. Another spear slammed across the room into the wall.
Despite the unexpectedness of it, my curiosity was still functioning. "Where is it getting the mass for that?" I murmured. Surely conservation of mass must still apply.
Carter yelled, "Get out of there!" to the two in the gate room.
"The object was very dense." Siler muttered back to me.
We watched helplessly as Teal'c narrowly dodged one spear and O'Neill, despite a desperate attempt at evasion, was caught in the shoulder and carried to the wall. He yelled as it held him there like a butterfly on a pin. After a few seconds with no further spears, everyone relaxed a bit. Well, everyone except O'Neill, that is.
Hammond snapped, "Get security down there. Put the base on full alert."
Carter said, "We need a medical team."
The man at the control panel, whom I hadn't yet met, relayed the orders in calm tones, "Security to the embarkation room. Medical team to the embarkation room."
Teal'c had not even tried to leave the area but ducked around the now rigid rods extending from the artifact to reach the writhing O'Neill. The colonel grabbed his arm for support and ground out, "Kill it! God!" Teal'c didn't hesitate, but turned and ran for the door.
The controller said, "Sir, the umm, Stargate?" and Hammond ordered him to shut it down. Siler and I followed Captain Carter and Dr. Jackson down to the gateroom. Teal'c had disappeared, but Carter, Jackson and the general went over to O'Neill.
Carter was saying, "-goes right through his shoulder into the concrete." Ouch, exactly like a butterfly on a pin. He must have been in agony; he looked ghastly.
Jackson was looking at the spear with an appalled expression, "Oh my God."
The general ordered, "Get something to support his legs." I went for a chair from the control room but found a small ladder in the hall that looked even more useful. When I got back, Frasier was examining O'Neill, and Simmonds had brought in an infrared thermocouple and was taking the artifact's temperature.
Fraiser said, "What can you tell me?"
Carter replied, "I don't know, but it's still hot. Be careful."
Simmonds nodded, his eyes on the gauge, "Temperature is 133 and holding."
The doctor was puzzled, "This wound is too clean. There should be blood. I don't know why there wasn't more trauma."
O'Neill didn't appear to be listening. Trauma or no trauma, it seemed to be plenty painful. He said, "Where the hell is Teal'c?"
Fraiser continued, oblivious, "It's gone right through the scapula. Colonel, why are-"
O'Neill bellowed, "TEAL'C!" as the Jaffa ran into the room carrying one of the alien blast-staffs. I remembered that he'd had one when we had seen SG-1 leave for Cimmeria on our first day of duty. I supposed he preferred a weapon that he was familiar with.
O'Neill was ordering him, "Shoot it!"
Carter protested, "Sir."
O'Neill demanded again, "Shoot it!"
Teal'c turned and looked at the crowd of techs and security people. "I suggest you observe from the control room."
Hammond seconded the order, "Everybody out of here." We cleared the area and crowded into the control room. When he saw that everyone was out, Hammond continued, "Teal'c, fire when ready."
Carter continued her protest to the general, "With respect General, this is a mistake."
Hammond asked, "Why?"
She continued urgently, "We don't know how much of that staff energy will be transferred through the object into the Colonel."
Hammond didn't seem impressed, "Your objection is noted."
Still pinned on wall of the gate room, O'Neill didn't seem to lack any confidence in the wisdom of shooting it. He said, "Do it."
The staff weapon fired with a roar and a flash of light and heat. It engulfed the sphere, but instead of blowing apart the whole thing glowed red and a flash of energy ran out through each of the supporting rods, into the floor and the trapped Colonel. He flinched, but yelled, "Again!" The second flash of energy had him yelling again in pain.
Simmonds was looking at the control panel. "No change."
Carter nodded and said to the general, "Sir it just absorbed the energy."
Below, Teal'c said, "This weapon is ineffective. I shall try another."
Carter was still pointed at the general and talking fast. "No! Sir, that staff energy had to have gone somewhere. We could be feeding it what it wants for all we know."
Hammond said, "I want a cutting torch down there." Siler nodded next to me and slipped out the door.
Carter hadn't even broken stride. "If it's made of the same non-terrestrial alloys as the shell on the orb itself, then it is several hundred times stronger then steel." It occurred to me that may be she wasn't incurably negative, but rather that she had already thought of trying this approach, analyzed it and given it a low probability of success. She didn't seem extremely disturbed at the general's determination to try it anyway. She was probably used to the rest of the world thinking a lot more slowly than she did.
The doctor was headed down the stairs and I decided to look for Siler and see if there was anything I could do to help. I took one last look at the gate room. O'Neill was hunched around the spear, his face still contorted. As I went out, I could hear the general telling him, "Colonel O'Neill, this is going to take some time."
Siler didn't need any help with the cutting torch, so I followed Simmonds back to the lab. As we entered, another set of alarms went off. Simmonds flinched, "Wildfire."
The young lieutenant looked at my puzzled expression. "Full containment. Nothing in or out of the mountain until we have this under control."
"That's happened before, hasn't it?" I asked
He nodded. "Several times. And we've always been able to solve it before it was too late, sir."
I shook my head. "Look, you've been here longer than I have. Let's lose the ranks. You're Graham, I'm Ian. Tell me what I can do to help."
We heard the intercom blare, "Attention, personnel. Level four quarantine is now in effect. Switching to internal power and life support."
Graham said, "Okay, I've got the measurements we were taking just before the artifact became active. Why don't you review them and see if you can figure out what set it off. I want to go back to the gateroom and take some more readings."
I hadn't made any real progress when Carter and Jackson called all the lab people together and quickly recapped the sequence of events for those who hadn't heard, alternating speaking in a way that would have been confusing had they not been so completely on the same wavelenth. Carter continued, "We're going to need everyone's help. Colonel O'Neill is alive but obviously he is in trouble."
Jackson picked up the ball smoothly, "The data we managed to gather before this happened is all in the base computer. It's not much but it's all we have. Use it."
Carter said, "Don't rule anything out and don't make any assumptions."
"I'll be leading the translation team." Jackson said.
And Carter finished, "And we'll be working out of the astrophysics lab but we're all going to have to work together on this one. Any questions?"
Yeah, how do you do that? One of the lab techs swore they were telepathic. I could see why she thought so. I struggled to find something more relevant to offer. "So obviously we're dealing with a weapon."
Carter cut me off at the knees, "That's an assumption Captain. All right. Let's get to work." Okay, I probably deserved that. And this isn't the time to try and impress her, even if I could. I was used to considering myself fairly bright, but it was already clear to me that at the SGC, I was going to have to stretch just to keep up, and there were several people who were just plain out of my league.
I turned to Lewis and Marshall as she left with Dr. Fraiser. Lewis asked Marshall, "How long do you think it will take to translate the script?"
Marshall was shaking his head. "You must be joking. A completely alien language, no correspondence to anything terrestrial? It could take a lifetime. Hell, just think about Linear A. Hundreds of linguists have worked on it for decades and it has never been deciphered." Even I had heard of the famous archeological puzzle that had fascinated scholars for years.
"Actually it has." Dr. Jackson was looking over at us.
"Um, sir?" Marshall was either learning discretion or had noticed that the military personnel on the base addressed Jackson as "sir" despite his being a civilian. May be both.
"Linear A. We found a related language on a planet with a civilization deriving from ancient Minoa, where the spoken language was still in use. It's all in the mission files. Classified, of course. But remind me and I'll show it to you when this is over. For now, we need to concentrate on this."
Marshall and Lewis turned to the translation team, Marshall with a classic stunned-ox look on his face as Jackson started to outline a method of attack. I rejoined the tech group.
The day wore on as we struggled to find some way to attack the problem. The word came down a few hours later that the artifact had been infected with some sort of flesh-rotting disease. We all had to report to the infirmary in shifts to get injections of tetracycline to hold the infection at bay. The corpsman also shone a UV light at us and we could see that most of us had little shimmers of blue showing we'd been exposed. He told us that Simmonds had been taken to the infirmary. I already missed him. At least he understood the diagnostic equipment, whereas I had been introduced to much of it only in the last two weeks. I was starting to get seriously scared. I'd been here less than a month and hadn't even stepped through the gate yet. Dying from some alien bug in a hole underneath Colorado was never part of my plan. I pushed the thought aside and went back to setting up a computer model of the artifact.
Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson had been working for hours, a murmur of voices back and forth setting up hypotheses, checking them against the evidence, discarding them. I'd wondered how two scientists from such disparate specialties could possibly work together. Archeology usually deals with the most primitive of cultures, while astrophysics stretches the boundaries of what we think we know about the universe. I couldn't decide whether it was Jackson's ability to translate Carter's technological explanation into concrete effects, or Carter using Jackson's translations to provide technical insight that made them so effective. Probably something of each.
I was grateful when Siler finally showed up, but he only had more bad news. The normally phlegmatic sergeant was cursing softly under his breath. Carter and Jackson looked up from where they had their heads together over an enlarged copy of the alien script.
"What happened?" Carter asked.
"I exhausted two canisters of fuel. It took hours to cut through just one of those effing rods. And then when I did it, it just extended itself further. Shot out another ten feet, driving the broken end right through O'Neill. It was all a complete waste of time."
Everyone in the lab had dropped what they were doing to listen to him.
"Jack. How's Jack?" Daniel Jackson asked him.
Siler faced him uncomfortably. "Still trapped, sir. Running a fever. The doc gave him something for it. Hurting- the rod going through again didn't help. He hasn't given up, though."
"Of course not." Jackson brushed the idea aside and glanced around the room. "Back to work people." There was a steely glint of determination in his eyes. Most of us had been there for about 15 hours but no one suggested taking a break. O'Neill wasn't the only one in no danger of giving up. I absently picked up a stale sandwich from the tray someone had brought down a few hours ago and returned to the computer. At least the coffee was fresh.
It was several hours later and Jackson had gone out for a few minutes when Carter swore softly, "I was right. Teal'c's staff blast gave it the energy it needed to spread like this. It's reproducing because we fed it. Damn. Why did I let them do that?"
Like she'd had a choice. I looked around and guessed she was speaking to me, if anyone. I tried to distract her, "Okay, so it feeds on energy. How do we use that? It feeds on everything."
She refocused instantly on the problem. "Have the CO2 levels gone up?"
I had been keeping an eye on the environmental screens, something my space training had at least covered. "Yeah, but the scrubbers are handling it."
Carter was still thinking aloud. "Like fire. Add energy a fire burns hotter. Add fuel it burns longer but it can't live without one thing."
Now I was tracking, "Oxygen."
"Yes." She was clearly pleased that I was following her.
"We can't either," I reminded her.
"Yeah, but at least we can slow it down." Her voice was filled with relief at last having found something useful to try. Over her shoulder I saw the computer screen start flashing and fill with gibberish.
I asked, "What's happening?"
Carter didn't seem surprised. Obviously something else she'd anticipated. "It's gotten into our computers. Keep working." She hustled out.
Now I understood why Jackson and Carter had told us to print out copies of the alien script on large sized paper. Losing the computers slowed things down but the translators still pored over them. A bunch of people had gone to grab naps, as they were getting too tired to function, especially after the oxygen levels throughout the complex were lowered. I was tired enough that I'd stopped worrying about dying despite the fact that everyone knew that the facility self-destruct was counting down. Even Jackson had started yawning, though he seemed capable of going on indefinitely so long as he had coffee. I suddenly remembered that he and Carter had been up the whole night before this analyzing the artifact before the crisis had even started. I jumped a bit when he said, "Come here."
"Who?" I asked.
He was staring at the gibberish on the computer screen and didn't look around, "What? Anybody...just come here."
I came over and looked over his shoulder at the screen, "Look at this. Wait for it. There."
A symbol appeared on the screen for a brief second and I recognized it. "That symbol is on the artifact." The symbol flashed again against the background.
"Yes it is." He was staring intently at the screen, wheels turning and every trace of sleepiness gone. "It's trying to communicate with us."
He thought the artifact was intelligent? After the things I had heard, I wasn't going to be the one to question one of his famous leaps of intuition directly, but I asked cautiously, "Could it be flashing one of the symbols from the data we entered?"
"Um." He riffled through the stack of papers. "I'll check." Jackson shook his head. "This symbol wasn't entered. It doesn't appear until later in the document. The computers were down by the time I started on this." He rose. "I've got to find Sam."
"I think she went to the control room." I called after him as he disappeared out the door.
It was all over in less than an hour, and before I knew any of the details of what was going on or how close the countdown had come to destroying the whole base. I was kind of grateful for that. I don't know if I could have made the decision that Carter and the general did, and deliberately let the organism grow until it could communicate through Colonel O'Neill. Siler said afterward that Carter had suspected that O'Neill's order to Teal'c to shoot the artifact immediately after he was injured was prompted in part by the organism's need for energy. That night all I knew was that the artifact had been neutralized and sent through the gate. The base remained locked down while teams went through the whole place with UV lamps, making sure that the organisms were gone before revoking Wildfire.
The scientific teams were all ready to crash. I went by the infirmary to ask about Simmonds before I found a bunk. He was doing a lot better, they said. I could see SG-1 waiting at the other end of the room while the doctors looked Colonel O'Neill over.
Ferretti stopped me in the hall. "Been up all night, Captain?"
"Yes, sir." I replied. "With the tech team.."
"That's fine." He told me. "But you should get some rest. Your training mission was canceled today- well, yesterday, now, because of the quarantine, but that should be lifted in a few hours. If it is, they'll be rescheduling those missions for tomorrow."
My eyes must have widened a little. Tomorrow? We almost lost the planet today but we'll be back to business as usual the next day? Ferretti nodded to the unspoken question. "SGC doesn't shut down longer than it has to, we can't afford to."
Unlike NASA you mean? I kept a straight face and replied, "Yes, sir." I wasn't sure I believed him, but I found a bunk and was asleep before I could do more than bury my face in the pillow. I don't think I moved for fourteen hours, and would have slept longer if Marshall hadn't shaken me.
"Ian, rise and shine." I looked at him and Lewis behind him, looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
"Ungh," I responded. It seemed a suitably intelligent reply under the circumstances.
"Come on." Lewis was practically bouncing. "They just posted the schedule for the missions that were postponed. We're going through the gate at 1000 hours. The briefing is in one hour."
Going through the gate? Ferretti hadn't been joking at all. I rubbed my eyes. "What about the quarantine?"
"They gave the all-clear this morning." Marshall told me.
"Are Connelly and Purcell..."
"They're on the other training team, going out at 1200 hours." Lewis said. I knew that Espinoza hadn't been cleared yet for offworld travel, she still had to meet some of the physical and weapons qualifications.
I squinted at my watch. 0800 hours. "Are they serving breakfast, or whatever in the cafeteria?" I could have eaten a horse.
Lewis tossed me a power bar. "Nope. And you don't want it anyway- remember what they said about eating before gate travel."
I was grateful he had reminded me later as we stood in front of the shimmering blue circle. This was supposed to be a routine mission, a more thorough sample-collecting mission on a world that had been previously visited and was believed uninhabited. But we didn't know. Teams seldom saw more than a few miles of any given planet surrounding the gate. How many places on Earth were there where you could hike for a couple of days without seeing anything man-made? The answer was lots- some of them were even here in Colorado, less than a hundred miles from Cheyenne Mountain.
I caught the signal as our team leader motioned us forward, and even after the events of the last few days, I was too excited to speak. Lewis and I grinned at one another, a little wildly, and stepped through the gate together, only a half step behind Marshall. Jackson had asked me how badly I wanted to know what was out there. I knew now. I knew that I wanted to know badly enough to face alien bugs, hostile Goa'uld, and the chance of dying in the ashes of our own bomb if we wound up having to detonate it to protect Earth. I wanted it badly enough to let an alien device we didn't really understand tear my molecules apart and hurl me through thousands of light-years of space to spit me out on the other end. The dangers were real, but not a good enough reason to stay home.
Stepping through the gate, I couldn't feel my foot come down on the other side. It all dissolved in an intense sense of motion. It was a rush better than wildest roller-coaster ride a terrestrial theme park could offer and all too quickly it was over. We felt a blast of freezing cold as Lewis, Marshall and I stumbled out of the Stargate, sweat frozen on our faces and stomachs churning. The gravity was lighter than we were used to, and the air a bit thicker than what we had left in Colorado. The gate sat on a hilltop, overlooking a grassy slope and woods perhaps a quarter of a mile away. I knew from the briefing that it was local morning, barely after dawn.
Lewis and I tore our gazes from the view to run through the post gate checklist of things to do- confirm that the DHD was there and in good working order, do a visual of the area for hostiles. The experienced troops that were there to supervise were not neglecting to check us on these things, I noticed, not even on a supposedly 'safe' world. All the same, they kept an eye on us as well, and many of them wore reminiscent grins at our excitement as we faced our first new horizon.
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