A Stargate SG-7 story by Uli Kusterer
A dry, dreary world, and no way back. SG-7's only chance of return lies in a taxing journey across an empty, dead plane.
Thanks to The Prophet for letting me play with these nice characters. If it's good, it was probably Prophet's idea, if it's bad, blame me. Oh yeah, and we borrowed Ferretti and the gate from MGM, Gekko and Double Secret. But don't worry, Lou is tough, he'll get well again soon after this.
I bow to my Supreme Beta Lords Lizardbeth Johnson, and Nancy "Momoftoad". One the successor to the other, and thus both ruling without doubt. Additional thanks to the Oxford Dictionary, Nick Shanks, Andrew Pontious and Adrian Sutton for trying to help me find the right words.
M4X877, Day One (Day One Earth Time)
Quiet was over the Planet. The sun reigned supreme in cloudless skies. Stark red rays glared drearily at the world beneath: Colourless ash-streaked water, unprobed depths of lifeless, hostile liquid. Only a few small crater-riddled islets, connected through wooden walkways, floated on top in a small area near the northern pole. A handful of tiny specks of dust-covered rock, huddled around a larger central mass that looked like it had been cleaved in two. The end of the deep rift marked by a smooth, pointed spike that rose tall and threateningly towards the sky. Dead rock, bathed in shades of dirty grey and red.
But now, the planks of one particularly old and worn walkway commenced a slight shiver, emitting a soft, moaning sound. A slight stirring of life that was otherwise missing from this scene. There was a rumble, a sound of splashing water, and suddenly something shot out of the tall metallic circle at the end of the walkway, ascending into the sky, higher and higher. Sensors softly humming from electricity, camera-lenses clicking, it commenced its survey. The first time this moon's quiet death had been interrupted in almost a millennium.
It would take several days before the ring would tremble again. This time, the entire walkway shook under the strain. The vibrations carried on into the tall posts that held the walkways thirteen feet above the water, sending strained ripples through the black waters. The lights on the ring lit up once again, seemingly glaring white, in truth just as red as the world around them. Then a violet fountain erupted from the ring's centre and collapsed back, settling into a slightly undulating surface.
A moment later, a middle-aged man with a slowly, but surely receding hairline emerged from the rippling event horizon. His mouth was a tad too wide, and the left side was angled up in a disapproving frown that carved wrinkles in his forehead and cheeks that were too well-fitted in their place to be new.
He was followed by a tall, young woman with very short, red hair, that appeared almost platinum blond in this dusky light. Her features were clean and alert, her steps precise on the dusty planks, yet not stiff. Her eyes immediately took interest in the surroundings, scanning for marks and signs, shortly glancing at the dial-home-device at the edge of the walkway like at an old friend.
There was a slight pause before a dark-skinned man came after them. His face was young. His dark yes eagerly scanned once over his surroundings. His quick mind did not need any more time to give him a clear impression. Though slightly disconcerted by the rash landscape, he immediately turned about and directed the six-wheeled cart on his heels using a handheld joystick.
A second woman emerged from the gate behind her. She was less tall, and her brown hair was at the border of regulation length. Her first step was almost too trusting, causing her foot to almost slip on the dry wood. She adjusted quickly, treading more carefully, while her surprised gaze travelled across the horizon as if taking solace in what little familiarity it offered.
A tall, bright-haired man had the rear, his rifle at the ready. That and his smooth walk and taut body were the only things betraying he was a seasoned fighter.
"All clear, Colonel Ferretti!" he called ahead to the man in front. The addressed glanced over his shoulder. "Thank you, Lieutenant Roberts." The older man called back. "Give me a call if company comes a'knockin'."
Lt. Roberts had just opened his mouth to reply as the creaking of the ancient boards underneath them suddenly rose into a loud and threatening groan. Exceptional reflexes made Roberts leap forward, suspending him in mid-air for a moment, while an entire section of the walkway underneath him broke off and tumbled thirteen feet straight down along with sixty-four-thousand pounds of Stargate.
Sharp splinters of wood shot upwards in an arc, ripping into Roberts' vest and shoulder. A careless movement sent him spinning in the air, falling head-first. Then he felt a sudden yank, and a slim hand firmly clamped around his ankle. The abrupt stop knocked the wind out of his lungs, and his shoulder against one of the tall supporting poles underneath the walkway. His face slammed against the rough wood, and his field of view erupted in colourful sparkles and dark blotches.
As he wrapped his arms around the tall, man-thick pole, holding on for dear life, the post next to him toppled over and fell into the Stargate, where it was evaporated with a sharp sizzle. The gate hit shallow water and clouds of hot steam shot up around Roberts. He clamped eyes and mouth shut against the sudden heat.
Roberts' breath thundered through a momentary silence, and then he slipped with a sudden jerk, mere inches. He awkwardly looked up the post to see the slim shape of Lt. Commander Mary Raleigh through gaps between the planks. The slight brown-haired woman was frantically trying to find something to grasp to compensate for the difference in weight.
He glanced downward at the quivering shape of the water-like cone that stuck out the gate's back. Taking his eyes off the deadly gate, he clung on to the post more tightly, trying to bear as much of his own weight as he could, even though his hands were slippery with his own blood.
Then he heard a scrambling and bumping sound on the wood above him, followed by Colonel Ferretti's
A violent yank made Mary disappear with a shocked yelp, pulling Roberts up onto the walkway. He shifted to avoid more splinters of broken wood and the DHD that now sat precariously alone at the edge of a slightly wider section of the walkway.
He crawled forward two more steps on all fours, moving the rifle still attached to his vest aside, then craned his head around. He chuckled. Before him lay Commander Raleigh, flat on her stomach, her forehead pressed against the dusty wood. Her right leg was firm in Colonel Ferretti's hands, who was lying on the long walkway himself, sprawled out backwards, half underneath her, half on top of Captain "Merlyn" Lloyd.
Roberts rose, one hand brushing a shred of bark off his fatigues while holding out one hand towards Commander Raleigh:
"Commander?" he offered. For a moment, he thought she would refuse his hand, but then she quietly accepted.
"Thank you, Lieutenant." She said stiffly, avoiding his eyes as she propped herself up on her other arm, then pulled up one leg as she attempted to get up. "That's-- Ow!" She winced, her face tense with pan. She rolled onto her back before sitting up. Merlyn was already with her, tearing open the side of her slacks.
"The knee muscles are sprained." She assessed after a few short brushes across Commander Raleigh's right leg.
"I need my team mobile, can you manage that?" Ferretti inquired. Merlyn gave the leg another practised look,then replied: "Will she have to run?"
"No plans for outrunning Sergeant Pearson's F.R.E.D. today." Ferretti nodded, then addressed the other two members of his team, who had meanwhile moved towards the edge, staring down at murky dark water streaked with ash. Dull and black, with the occasional streak of grey in it. There lay all their hope of return. Tantalizingly close.
The gate switched off with a deceptively low click, the water-like cone evaporating on the spot. The gate shifted slightly, slipping onto a small spike on the ground. Ferretti groaned.
"Sergeant, tell me that wasn't what it sounded like." he turned to Alexander Pearson. The Tech Sergeant hooked the control-device for the eight-wheeled cart into a ring on his belt, then replied.
"I'm afraid the gate is blocked, sir." Pearson had to fight shock for a moment as he realized what he'd just said. "There is no connection to the DHD, and this piece of rock is just as efficient at preventing an event horizon from forming as cover-stones were. No communication to the SGC, no supplies."
Ferretti motioned to Roberts to help Merlyn with Commander Raleigh.
"We need to lift it up again, but we only have pulleys and the F.R.E.D. engine. That's not enough to lift it."
"Pearson, you're beginning to sound as glum as Roberts..." Ferretti patted the Tech Sergeant on the shoulder. "We can still put the gate upright, right?"
"Not from here...?" Pearson was confused. "But yes, if we found a way to get the DHD down there on the other side of that crevasse, if we hooked it up to that gate, if the F.R.E.D.'s batteries keep that long--"
"Make those 'if's 'when's, Sergeant." Ferretti encouraged Pearson. Then he turned to include the others: "Merlyn, Pearson, we're going to secure supplies and set up shelter. We're a little off the holiday traffic routes, and I want us to be cozy until they miss us and send Colonel Ronson here to collect the fare back home." The addressed nodded as Ferretti continued.
"Roberts, you secure the perimeter around camp. Just don't go overboard. I don't want to accidentally walk into a ring of Claymores unless it's necessary, and we might have other uses for them yet."
"Consider it done." The handsome Lieutenant smiled.
"Commander Raleigh," Ferretti addressed their guest on this mission, "I need you to go over the maps and the UAV protocols. Find me anything that even remotely looks like it's not just ashes and rock. Food, clean water, best route back home, anything you can deduce from that pixellated mess. Scram!" with that they all headed off on their assignments.
A few hours later, they were sitting on the rough, rocky ground. Dry ashes and rocks were the only thing around them. Only above them a small red sun was glaring down on them, its rays hardly breaking the ashen atmosphere, everything bathed in the dirty red of sunset the sky had worn insistently since they had arrived here.
An eerie stillness pervaded the unnatural atmosphere of tiredness and pressed itself on the five travellers. Their hearts told them it had just been morning, but all their senses told them to get ready for a night that wouldn't arrive in decades. Merlyn let her gaze wander across the faces of her companions arranged around an imaginary bonfire.
They were five. To her right, Colonel Louis Ferretti knelt in front of the small camping stove, heating water for a second round of coffee that looked dull and ashen in the pale light.
Sergeant Alexander Pearson was standing a little ways off, securing a camouflage net over the F.R.E.D. Next to him, Lieutenant Roberts was cleaning his own blood stains off his half-disassembled rifle with practised motions, the bandages on his shoulder glowing blood-red through the dimness.
A few feet to her left sat Commander Mary Raleigh, hands buried deep in her long brown curls of hair as she went through a thick stack of well-thumbed aerial photographs.
"Still nothing, Colonel." Raleigh exhaustedly dropped the stack on her backpack. "There's not even a hint of any opportunity to cross the crevice between here and the spike."
"We will have to go the long way round." The Tech Sergeant returned to the group, his check completed. "and we'll have to take the DHD with us."
"Will do, Sergeant." Ferretti conceded. "You and Raleigh stick your heads together and work out the 'how'. The rest of us'll hit the sack. I have a gut feeling your Sahib Louis will need strong load-bearers tomorrow." He downed the last of his coffee and shuffled off in the direction of his sleeping bag.
"Commander Raleigh, you have first watch. Lieutenant Roberts, you're second. Merlyn, you'll get the morning." He smirked as he quipped: "You're the only one here that knows how to make decent coffee."
When he went to sleep, he briefly wondered whether he had been too anally retentive giving them orders for such a simple situation. He'd never had to do that before. But this time was different. Colonel O'Neill had saddled him with Commander Raleigh, supposedly a specialist for this mission, and Raleigh didn't know the team. Better safe than sorry.
Though he wasn't sure Raleigh was safe. O'Neill hadn't provided any rationale why a Nuclear Engineer who'd been on leave from active duty for months was needed on a simple exploration mission like this. After all, he had Sergeant Pearson, one of the smartest heads the SGC had ever put on an SG-team. Ferretti suspected O'Neill had been ordered to take her along. And when O'Neill was micromanaged like this, it meant the order had come from somewhere where the air was really thin.
That always meant trouble.
Lieutenant Roberts was already awake when he felt Commander Raleigh's hand on his shoulder.
"Tim." She whispered, not removing her hand. He opened his eyes and smiled at her.
"You smell different. New perfume?" He could feel her hand stiffening as she froze for a moment, then she pulled it back angrily.
"Don't." she said painfully. But she didn't leave for her sleeping bag. Instead she sat down awkwardly at the coffee pot. He unzipped his sleeping bag and quietly approached her, sitting down not quite opposite her. Without a word she handed her cup to him.
"Thanks." he tasted the coffee. Mary's coffee. He'd missed that. Even standard-issue tasted like Colombian when she poured it. "I meant that about the smell, I like it." He offered.
"You shot me."
He had no reply to that. It was true. He had shot her, when the Scourge had taken over her form. Several times, even.
But that was the one thing he had done right. The defenceless Lt. Rasputina had caught on much earlier that it hadn't been the real Mary, and he had almost killed the Lieutenant instead. He had let his feelings cloud his judgement. But he couldn't tell her that. She was right, he had shot her, had killed her several times, and he had accepted that one of the simulacra he'd killed could be the real one. That she was alive in front of him right now was in no way his doing.
Was there something wrong with him? He had shot his lover, and all he could think of was he should have done it earlier, should have been more ruthless. He'd fail to make her understand that, he'd already tried, but he couldn't help but offer peace:
"I'm glad they let you come back. For a while it looked like they wanted to retire you for trauma--" She had turned abruptly as he spoke. Her eyes were slits, thin and holding an anger that completely surprised him. Then she just got up, turned her back on him and chuckled in disbelief. It wasn't a happy laugh. Not at all like the ones he was used to from her. Silently she stepped over to her sleeping bag and slipped in. Roberts looked at the still, slender bundle just a few feet from him with confusion.
"When she did speak, her words were enigmatical..." he quoted quietly.
M4X877, Day One (Day Two Earth Time)
Ferretti scowled mistrustingly at the DHD. It was heavy, his back told him that. It also had that annoyingly rounded shape that made it impossible to hold on to it decently, and since it sat on a comparatively thin base relative to the heavy set of symbol-buttons on top, its balance on top of the F.R.E.D. wasn't very stable either. This wouldn't be easy, but he'd be damned if he let this piece of space junk get the better of him.
"This oversized bird-bath will stay up there, right?" Ferretti addressed Pearson, not even waiting for a reply. "I mean, we've secured it with sturdy ropes, and we'll be there to catch it. Sounds good to me." Pearson was checking the makeshift set-up a second time, and so didn't notice his CO's conspiratorial smirk and answered:
"No. As I already explained, it may be the best we could manage, but if it falls off, all we can do is get out of the way."
"You know Pearson, no matter what Roberts may say, sometimes it's okay to just say what you wish to be true. It's just more fun for the rest of us." he turned towards the DHD. "You will keep, you ropes, because I tell you so. Clear?" he paused, then matter-of-factly addressed the Sergeant again: "There you go. They're co-operating. Let's get going."
Pearson softly thumbed the joystick on the remote, and the F.R.E.D slowly crawled forward. He meticulously adjusted the speed of both rows of wheels to make sure that even when the wheels lost traction on the dusty, dried-out planks, the machine wouldn't turn and catapult the DHD off. This was the most critical part of the transport: if anything went wrong, the device would fall off the walkway and land in the muddy waters. And if they weren't lucky and the water here was only knee-deep, the chances of even finding it in the depths between swirls of ashes were very unfavourable.
"Careful, that one's chipped." Ferretti warned the Sergeant from his position in front of the drone. Without stopping the cart or taking his eyes off it, Pearson moved to the other side of the device. He made a few adjustments and the F.R.E.D. inched minutely sideways.
"Whoooops..." Pearson groaned as the DHD shifted just as minutely under the ropes. It was leaning heavily on the side where Pearson had been just a moment ago, visibly straining the ropes. It shifted slightly, the ropes making a horrible crackling sound, and then, with a sudden 'clack', the device slipped an inch on the F.R.E.D. The ropes relaxed. Pearson, though visibly relieved, held his concentration and continued leading the device forward inch by inch.
Merlyn and Roberts both audibly exhaled when the device reached the end of the walkway. The terrain led steeply downward to each side, as if someone had made an effort to elevate this portion of rock solely for the purpose of meeting this single walkway out into nothing. Ferretti suppressed the urge to shush them. Nonetheless all of them entered a reverent silence as the shaking contraption neared the point where wood met earth, though a quick glance told Ferretti that Merlyn was mouthing a soundless prayer. Good. They needed all the help they could get.
The change in height between wood and rock was hardly noticeable to a human, a single step of a little over an inch, but enough to tilt the F.R.E.D. unfavourably if it didn't meet the step with both front wheels at a right angle to it. Pearson was frowning in concentration. Each correction of the machine's direction bore the danger of losing it all at the last moment. He had to make them count. Softly he gave the controls a tiny nudge, and the F.R.E.D. responded with a subtle movement that was hardly noticeable, save for the straining sound of the ropes as the DHD stubbornly insisted on another course. But fortunately, it wasn't for long.
With a wretched sound of tensing ropes and the deceptively silent 'click' of a short shift of metal on metal, the drone rumbled off the walkway onto the jagged rock surface. Immediately a few of the spikes dug into the solid rubber wheels, as Pearson began to slow the machine. It inched forward, the ropes protesting for a while, until finally it had stopped.
The Sergeant wiped his forehead, moistening his palm with a few rare, cautious drops of sweat. For a moment, the light tricked him into almost believing he had literally sweated blood and water.
"Good work, Sergeant." Ferretti put his arm around the man's shoulder. "You have fifteen minutes to get your nerves back on track and do other unspeakable things, then we're moving on." He paused, then remembered he had a wounded newbie on his team. "Commander, you get acquainted with Pearson's stick--" he broke off as confusion greeted him out of his team's eyes. "Isn't that what you called it?" he turned and motioned at the control device.
"Uh... it's a joystick, sir." Pearson grinned embarrassedly.
"Well, I'm not calling it that." Ferretti said indignantly. "Why couldn't they give it a track-pad instead..." he added through his teeth. "Anyway, Raleigh, you're driving. We need someone with a good leg to help support the DHD."
As Roberts returned to the team moments later, Pearson was still clumsily attempting to convey the subtleties of controlling the F.R.E.D. on this difficult terrain to Commander Raleigh. She had that slightly confused, doe-eyed look on her face that Roberts knew meant her brain was eagerly registering every small detail. In the back of his mind, something wanted to tell him that this was one of her many entertaining facial expressions he had noticed early on. But the professional part of his mind was in charge right now, and he did not indulge in acknowledging this fact.
Pearson had never been too good at explaining things to others. He was more of a doer, but there was no way to let Mary practice with the F.R.E.D. In the end, it was obvious the Sergeant realized he would not get much further and ended his explanation with a nod to Ferretti. Ferretti, Roberts and Lloyd immediately assumed their places next to the cart as Pearson handed Mary the control device.
"Goodspeed." Pearson offered.
Very deliberately, Mary released the safety on the device. Everybody was ready. Softly, she began pushing the joystick forward, and gradually motion crept into the small cart. Pearson looked pleased:
"All right, slowly now... good!" Merlyn and Pearson had the lead, their eyes scanning the jagged ground for obstacles. Roberts and Ferretti were at the back of the cart, keeping an eye each on the surroundings and the ropes. At first, their itinerary led them forward in a fairly straight line, and all that was left for Commander Raleigh to do was to slow the F.R.E.D. occasionally when the ground demanded it.
But as they crawled inch by inch along the wide plain that was devoid of live for hours in each direction, the ground became more and more irregular, deep crevices, tall poles of rock, jutting out towards the pale sun at odd angles.
"Like spears in a rhino trap." Ferretti mused. "And that's the herd of Rhinos" he pointed at a number of oddly-shaped boulders nearby that had the same spiked surface as the ground all around them.
"Look more like porcupines to me, sir."
"You always go porcupine-hunting with a bazooka?" Ferretti smirked, scratching his cheekbone. "Those Rhinos have holes inside them that look as if someone had driven Jonas's 'The Core' digging machine through them..."
"I doubt Mr. Quinn has your taste in vacation spots." Roberts jibed. "Sir." he quickly added.
"Well, someone certainly does." Ferretti pointed at the closest of the herd of boulders triumphantly. "That hole definitely didn't grow naturally. Too regular." Ferretti shot an uncomfortable glance towards the greyish-black clouds that oppressively hung above them. "Any bright theories on what those rocks may be?"
"They are certainly not smooth enough to be worn-down ruins." Merlyn offered.
"Landing pads for aliens." Roberts smirked, rubbing the back of his hand.
"Yeah, right." Ferretti smirked. "Just because Jackson made a lucky guess once, don't think you can get away with it, too."
"Maybe they contained some sort of generators or surveillance gear that was plundered?"
"Maybe it was -- Crap!" Raleigh cursed, grabbing her hand with the other and jerking the joystick to the side in the process.
"Unlikely." Ferretti's lips pressed together as the F.R.E.D. lurched to the side at the same time the control device clattered to the ground.
"Commander! What in hell's-- Stand clear!" he yelled as the DHD slipped to the side, tilting the F.R.E.D. Roberts squared his shoulders, then rammed against the device, trying to meet the down-thrust.
"Roberts, damnit! Back!" But Roberts didn't listen and tried it again. At that moment, Commander Raleigh decked Roberts. He stumbled backwards, more from surprise than actual force, as the cart tipped and hit the ground where he had stood moments before. Both of them were staring at each other with the same immeasurable surprise on their faces. Ferretti didn't wait for either of them to recover:
"Roberts, are you deaf!" He screamed at his Lieutenant. They both came out of their bafflement simultaneously, and turned towards their CO. Ferretti fought hard to keep down his anger.
"You know what they'd have called you back where I went to school?" He demanded of Roberts in a low voice, the tension audible under a gossamer-thin veil of control.
"Dim." chuckled Mary, and started giggling, still rubbing the back of her hand. Roberts shot her a dirty look, while Merlyn bit back a mirthful chuckle, apparently sharing in Mary's private joke.
"And what, Commander," Ferretti said icily, "were you thinking exactly when you started juggling the control-- Ouch!" Ferretti slapped his cheek.
"I thought there weren't any insects here?" he turned to Merlyn. Whether it was her shocked look or the near-black blood on his hand that gave him the clue, he raised his eyes to stare into the sky.
"Oh crap..." Mary whispered.
"The Boulders!" Ferretti called to his team as a sizzling drop of rain burned a tiny hole into one of the spikes around them. Ferretti started sprinting towards the back-most rock pair, with Merlyn right beside him. Pearson and Roberts followed a yard behind, trying not to step on anything pointy that could be avoided. Roberts only hissed when a drop burned through the good shoulder of his BDUs.
Mary wasn't there when he glanced over his shoulder. He craned his head to look behind himself.
She had fallen back several yards, and was obviously struggling to keep up with them. She was limping worse than it had looked before. When he saw another drop of steaming rain scorch a bang of brown hair, he didn't think. He just stopped, spun around and ran towards her. Mary didn't even have time to register that something came towards her when she felt an arm wrap around her waist and pull her up.
In seconds she found herself slung over Roberts's shoulder, her chest pressed against his backpack, as he ran for the first of the boulders. Mary stared on with shock at the F.R.E.D., immediately below the acid cloud. Drops sizzled across the cart, burning right through its casing, the acid rain grew in density, as did the sizzling noise, and slowly a cloud of fumes began rising back there behind them as the acid cloud advanced after them. Soon it would be on top of them.
The cloud was sweeping across the plain with shockingly high speed. Already it had left the F.R.E.D. behind, its casing damaged, but to what extent she could not see. Then she was lowered onto the ground and pushed into the hole in the first of the boulders. Immediately, Tim slipped in beside her. Awkwardly, she wrapped her arms around him inside the tight hole. It was obvious now that this was what it had been intended for: Provide cover from the all-devouring rain outside. However, it hadn't been intended for two.
"Everybody under cover?" Ferretti called from the farthest boulder, his voice sounding oddly hollow in his small tunnel.
"Sergeant Pearson present, sir."
"I have shelter." Merlyn called while the hissing sounds were growing closer.
"I have the Commander here. We're okay!" Roberts called past Mary. Then, more softly, he addressed her directly "Can you shift your leg a little? It's in conflict with my family planning."
"Oh! Sorry." she gasped, Pulling herself a little deeper into the hole, straightening her leg in the process, her chin pressed against his bandaged shoulder. Roberts shifted slightly and the pressure lessened.
"Never thought I'd end up in this position again." Roberts grinned. Mary stared at him uncomprehending. Then she blinked, blinked once more, and since he could feel her chest slowly pushing against his, he knew it wasn't the sizzling and eating sound of the acid rain that was now on top of them, but rather the sound of Mary sighing in exasperation.
When her muddy olive eyes opened again, Roberts thought he could see a hint of fear in them. And ... something else.
"Don't even think about it." She admonished him coldly. "Or the next time one of us is shot, it will not be me."
M4X877, Day One (Day Three Earth time)
They had been walking along the edge of the gaping cleft for the equivalent of two days now, the DHD teetering on top of the creaking, burnt and abused carcass of a F.R.E.D., partially-dissolved wheels scraping across a black, jagged surface at excruciating slowness.
"Stop!" Merlyn yelled for the umpteenth time, throwing herself against the device that was once again threatening to slide off the F.R.E.D. as it had done with annoying regularity every half hour for as long as the five of them could remember. Her shoulder collided painfully with the machine, but it stubbornly insisted on leaning to her side even more. She felt a shudder go through the heavy object as Roberts thrust himself against it to prevent it from crashing down again.
"One more Tim! Quick, it's-- Crap!" Mary yelled in mid-sentence, and caused the other four to jump back, just as the rope snapped with a sharp sound and the dial-home-device came tumbling down to the right of the rusty F.R.E.D.
Merlyn started coughing heavily, as ashes whirled up around the heavy object, once again covering them. Ferretti let himself drop to the ground with a tired sigh, where he was quickly joined by Roberts, Pearson and Merlyn.
"Look!" Mary pointed along the edge of the gaping split in the rock as she limped towards her colleagues. For the first time in hours, four heads didn't look at the sieve-like casing of the cart that Pearson had barely managed to get running again, but forward towards a huge black spike sticking out of the rock ahead on the horizon, signalling the end of the cleft.
"We're this close already? Why didn't you say so?" Ferretti asked her, wiping a greasy ashen smear off his high forehead.
"That thing isn't quite made of glass." The Commander pointed at the quartzite device, that had stayed miraculously untouched by their last ordeal. Ferretti rubbed his temples tiredly, looking around at the barren landscape, red sky glowing ominously around them like a dome made from half-dried blood. The fact that he could see the horizon all around him only increased his feeling of trappedness. Like a cheese cover. He shook the thought from his head and twisted his arm to get a look at his watch, an itching red burn-mark on the back of his hand reminding him how close it had been.
"Well, time for bed, kids." He almost succeeded to sound jovial. "And no reading underneath the sheets." He quipped half-heartedly as he rose to set up camp for the night.
M4X877, Day One (Day Four Earth time)
As their fourth Earth-day on this midnight-sun moon drew to a close, Commander Raleigh was sitting on the ground next to Captain Lloyd, in front of the tall spike, half kneeling on her healthy leg, the other one stretched out to the side. She had shed her jacket and gloves, and as Ferretti approached her, he noticed that she was wearing a large coppery-golden bracelet on her upper left arm. It was covered over and over in strange Egyptian symbols. From its lower end, a metallic ribbon emerged and meandered down her arm to vanish between her fingers, which were busy wiping sand off a line of hieroglyphs at the very bottom of the spike. That was definitely not regulation jewellery.
The Colonel looked down at them with a questioning gaze.
"This is definitely pre-dynastic Goa'uld, maybe older. Definitely older than most artifacts we have encountered so far." Merlyn explained to her CO.
"According to this, the moon's name is apparently Naunet. In Egyptian mythology, that's the smaller counterpart to the great ocean Nut. The remainder of the text seems to be Egyptian mythology as well." She said by means of introduction, before she rose and began reading:
"And Ra-Atum sent his Eye to find Shu and Tefnet, the lion-gods, who dined with him at the table of the divine company, and were in the body and soul of Ra. But when the Eye returned to bring home those that had made their own bodies, who had gone to explore the waters of Nut, it found that Ra-Atum had replaced his Eye with another." She bent down to a spot where the hieroglyphs picked up again below the likenesses of two heads, one of a man with a feather and what appeared to be the rear end of some animal on his head, the other of a woman with a disk encircled by a snake, her face that of a lioness more than of a human.
"The Eye was enraged, until Ra wept with joy, and the tears of the High God brought forth the Ta'uri. And Ra placed the Eye on his forehead, so the Eye could rule the world. And it was the sun, and the Eye was the moon."
"So, it's a pretty story about our dear deceased friend and his problems with his cheeky kids?"
Raleigh grit her teeth and nodded: "That's one way to put it."
"So, what do we make of it?" He turned towards Merlyn.
"There are various small openings and plates set into the surface that the Commander believes to be controls. However, as far as Pearson and I were able to determine, this artifact is fairly old. If this is the only thing on this planet, it must either be a very small, very important temple, or a very powerful weapon, or--"
"Or the outhouses." Ferretti offered.
"It's an Elevator." Mary Raleigh said as if it was the most natural conclusion.
"To where?" Roberts joined the conversation.
"Well, down, I would suppose." Raleigh grinned at him playfully.
Before he could reply, she had risen and placed one hand onto a polished plate next to one of the heads. Then she reached over to the opposite side of the spike and slid a finger along the outline of the depiction of a medallion. With a gentle humming sound, the rock in front of her parted, exposing a small cabin that was just as black as the outside.
"Any other questions?" Mary winked at Roberts.
M4X877, Day One (Day Five Earth time)
Pearson felt tense. If someone had asked him, he would have pointed out that they were committing one of the most clichˇd movie-mistakes: They were entering enemy territory using an elevator. There had been no other choice for them, and none of the officers had appeared too worried about taking the elevator. Still, he could not help a feeling of dread.
A soft nudge in the side abruptly brought him out of his thoughts.
"Pearson, stop huffing and puffing or you'll blow our house down..." Ferretti chided him in a low voice.
"My body's just trying to compensate for the lack of breathing when I meet my untimely demise in a few minutes, Sir." He replied.
Pearson hoped he was just being paranoid, and this place was deserted as everything had indicated so far: The walkways above and this car in particular weren't very well-kept, and no inhabitants had come when the gate crashed into the ocean either.
Without so much as a 'click', the cart stopped. Quietly, the door of the elevator slid aside. At a wave of the Colonel's hand, Roberts, Merlyn and Raleigh took their posts as he glanced into the corridor that went past the elevator.
"Clear," he mouthed, then motioned for Roberts to follow and threw himself against the opposite brick wall. He nodded his head to his left, and signed for the Commander to take his place, as he and the Lieutenant headed for the first bend of the corridor, ready to lay down cover fire. They exchanged glances then drew back:
"Dead end." Ferretti whispered embarrassedly as they passed the elevator and repeated the procedure at the other end of the corridor. They proceeded down the single path that was occasionally turning left or right at right angles, devoid of even the faintest trace of life.
"I don't like this..." Ferretti whispered, gaining a silent nod from Roberts. Suddenly the Lieutenant's face set, his eyes examining the floor.
"Colonel." he pointed at the next turn ahead of them: Although the ground had been stained and dusty, strewn with scratches of a time long gone by, there was an almost square patch at the end of the corridor that was clean and smooth.
"Trap door?" Merlyn offered, kneeling down and testing the surface with one hand. "No, single surface."
"Crap." They all turned in the direction of Commander Raleigh's surprised curse.
"Where did that come from?" Ferretti moaned as Pearson approached the wall obstructing their way back. The Sergeant confirmed his suspicions with a careful touch:
"Naqadah compound." He said defeated. Ferretti gave him a blank look. "No way we're getting through here without blowing ourselves up along with it." He explained. Suddenly there was a grinding sound above them.
"The Ceiling! Run!" With a thundering noise, a huge block fell in place, forcing them forward, bricks shattering as it impacted on the floor and dust and splinters showered the five SG-team members as they dove forward. They had barely recovered their feet, as another block rumbled down, forcing them onward down the next bend, more brick fragments clattering off the wall there. The fourth block barely missed Commander Raleigh, the spray of splinters sending her sprawling towards the other end of a small room at the end of the former corridor.
"Everybody okay?" Ferretti held out a hand to help the still limping Commander up, while dusting himself off with the other. Affirmative statements coughed from around him. "OK, looks like they didn't want us to stroll around. Let's find out who they are and why they wanted us here." The Colonel checked out the sides of the narrow chamber, as all of a sudden a wall vanished into thin air in front of him.
"Jaffa! Kree!" a voice called out as eight figures in Horus armour flooded in, staff weapons aimed at the five intruders. A blast from Roberts' MP7 threw two of them against the edge of the hole they had come from, the beaks of their masks causing sharp marks on the bricks. Ferretti pulled the trigger of his MP7 and ricocheting bullets sent two more to the floor.
An abrupt piercing scream from the other end of the room made him spin around. Commander Raleigh was struggling in a futile attempt to separate herself from an unmasked Jaffa. His strong black arms were wrapped around her neck and waist, her feet kicking the air in defiance as the alien disappeared back into the hidden passage from which he had sneaked up upon the woman, dragging her with him. Relying on the cover fire laid down by his comrades, Ferretti tracked the movement with his nuzzle. But the bald attacker was cautious, he left him no opening. Her scream suddenly broke off and the man re-emerged from the passage and the helmet of his silver armour unfolded into the menacing hawk-head, green eyes shining angrily at the Colonel.
The Colonel edged to Lloyd's side, firing a few rounds at the silver army that was building up ahead. There was nothing they could do for the Commander while this attack was in progress. And then there was the confined space, which forced everyone except Roberts to fire on manual to avoid ricocheting bullets.
Suddenly, lightning crackled next to Ferretti, and Merlyn was shaken by spasms before she tumbled against him, her gun dropping to the ground. He felt the crackle of lightning jumping over from his comrade to him, little pinpricks that numbed his shoulder. The clicking of a Zat behind him barely warned him that they had been surrounded, before a searing pain struck him and darkness took his consciousness away.
M4X877, Northern holding cells, Day One (Evening Five Earth time)
The sound of dripping water thundered through Ferretti's head, pain throbbing in his forehead at the slightest motion. He stared ahead into the darkness, although he could discern nothing, wincing as he realized that even moving his eyes hurt.
"This is worse than Skaara's moonshine..." he mumbled weakly, forcing himself on his elbows, ignoring the insistent burning in his abused muscles.
"Colonel?" Merlyn's voice sounded through the darkness, eerily bodiless.
"Captain?" His mouth felt almost as tender as his legs.
"Here and healthy." Pearson's voice sounded mere inches from him, and hadn't he still been more lying than crawling, he would probably have toppled over in surprise. Man, was he groggy.
"You too? I can work with that." Ferretti rasped. "What about Raleigh?" He tried to make out something in the direction of the voice, but there was only black, save for a troupe of stars dancing tauntingly at the edge of his sight.
"Nothing, Sir, and we've already searched the room. Roberts is missing as well." Ferretti could hear two sets of boots nearing, and soon four arms helped him on his shaky feet. Stumbling, he made a mental note not to be hit by a one-and-a-half Zat blast ever again...
"What else do we have?" Ferretti began to assess the situation, rubbing his sore neck. It figured that Roberts would revert to old form now and just up and away to save his own neck.
"Apart from the pencil and pad of post-it notes I have on me," Pearson began.
"Sergeant, I doubt any of us can build a bomb out of that and a piece of bubble-gum. Sounds more like SG-1's speciality. Anything else?"
"We found water coming out of a wall over there," Merlyn offered, "and there's a small opening near it for food."
"Any exits?" he asked, though he already knew the answer.
"None that we could find." Pearson stated in defeat.
"We even checked for an opening for a ring transporter. Nothing. If there are any doorways, they're hidden, like the ones outside."
"Great. It was annoying enough when Ra closed the door on us and we couldn't get in to help the Colonel. But now his family seems to have abolished doors completely. Any guesses who we're up against? Tell me it's not old flashlight-eyes himself?"
"I am not sure we are even dealing with Ra's family here. If I remember the briefings correctly, the planet's co-ordinates are too far outside Heru'ur's domain, nor are they near any of Ra's other known relatives." Merlyn offered.
"Not even this Shoe and Tiffany from upstairs?" Ferretti asked.
"According to the Tok'ra, Tefnet was an alias for Hathor a few millennia ago. That is supported by similarities in their texts. They even had a picture of her host back then, and it certainly did look like our 'much loved' goddess -- a term both of them had in common."
"You mean she had that ugly red wig all these years? I still can't believe the Colonel fell for her..."
"As for Shu, they suspect that was merely a name for whoever she chose to be her consort."
"Don't tell Daniel about that..." Ferretti mused. He took a few tentative steps forward, finishing his own reconnaissance trip through the rather spacious cell and leaning against a wall.
"I guess we will have to wait for Lieutenant Roberts to get us out of here before we can find out more." Captain Lloyd said with conviction.
"Better not bet on that, Merlyn. If you ask me, Roberts is the only one that Roberts will get--" he broke off abruptly as he fell backwards, barely able to cover his head against the impact, to find an armed staff weapon pointing down at him.
"... out?" He squinted against the bright light flooding in through a corridor that had not been there seconds before. The staff pulled back a little, and Ferretti let his friends help him to his feet, taking the opportunity to size up the opposition that had gathered around them. Five Jaffa with lethal weapons in close quarters. And, just like on their previous encounter, they were all covered up, dull silver armour plating covering everything but the joints, which were hidden behind chain mail. No chance of effective hand-to-hand combat.
"I think they want us to go along." Merlyn whispered.
"If you say so." Ferretti nodded and stepped forward, pre-empting any encouraging action from the two guards behind him. Just like before, there were no branches in the path they were led through, only sudden turns and corners around which the steadily marching warriors guided them. No room for failure had been left to these soldiers. That meant no room for escape either.
After meandering along this corridor in tense silence for several more minutes, the guards quietly parted to the sides as the corridor widened into a large hall, respectfully remaining behind as the three cautiously entered the expansive, well-furnished room.
While Merlyn marvelled at a simple decorative carpet on a side wall of the room, Ferretti took the lead, Pearson following behind him, the sound of their footsteps muted by dark blue carpets lying in strange zigzagged, yet orderly patterns across the white stone floor. The walls were coloured similarly, and hardly noticeable grey lines criss-crossed across them, beautifully reminiscent of the etchings on the Stargate. Merlyn turned her head a little, taking in the shape of the hexagonal room and the simple yet comfortable chairs set around a large patinated copper table.
The room didn't strike her as overly decorated, but considering the appearance of the planet above and the base in particular, it couldn't have been easy to get all these amenities here. When she stepped farther into the room, she noticed a well-built man sitting calmly in an armchair at the table, enjoying the pleasures of a variety of foods set up on various plates, his strong legs stretched out underneath the table. He was obviously tall.
Just like the entire room around him, the man had the air of understatement. He was dressed lightly, not in armour, but rather in the traditional pleated white linen kilt and sandals, held together by a simple blue belt with white gold clasp. His head was framed by a headpiece of similar white fabric that fell like long hair over his broad, bare shoulders, with subtle blue lines painted on it like a corona. Resembling nothing so much as the prototypical image of the Egyptian Pharaoh, including a gleaming lion's head at the front of the headband that he wore around his forehead, above a straight, almost Grecian face.
Seemingly oblivious to the presence of the new arrivals, he finished a plate with slices of delicious-looking exotic fruit, at least five of which Merlyn had never even seen before. When he had finished, he put down his knife, took a clean white piece of linen off a small side table to wipe his mouth, before serenely turning towards the three.
He did not even blink as he found himself facing the tip of his knife at the hands of Colonel Ferretti. Merlyn saw the Colonel's hand pull back and thrust towards the man's throat, immediately followed by a slapping sound, not unlike a whip, and suddenly a blue flash hurled the Colonel through the air to land in a cursing heap on one of the carpets. The silent man had hardly moved. His dark eyes sent a reproachful look after the Colonel, residual lightning crackled in the air, lighting up the outline of his personal force field for a moment. As Merlyn hurried to the Colonel, Pearson stepped between his friends and the man at the table.
"Entertaining, but unimaginative.", the soft tone of his deep voice was belied by the harshness of the Goa'uld language used. The Goa'uld stepped past Merlyn and Pearson, who were helping their Colonel to his feet, towards another smaller table on which a torso-sized cylindric device sat.
"What is your name?" he demanded of Ferretti. The Colonel just glared at him angrily, wishing he could curse at the alien, but fully aware Merlyn wouldn't translate it.
"I am Shu." The Goa'uld said matter-of-factly as he swiped his hand over the surface of the cylinder, which was made of the same patinated green copper as the furniture. For a moment, Merlyn thought part of the machine had lit up under the surface, a strange pulsing light, slowly but gradually gaining in intensity, but apart from that ominously silent. A faint rumbling somewhere far away in the corridors brought him out of his reverent admiration of the device. He glanced at the foreigners shortly, then entered a quick sequence of symbols into the device.
"Do keep still. It would be unfortunate if you were killed." he said and tapped the side of the device. Ferretti's eyes narrowed. Shu was between him and the device, he could hardly be trying to shoot him with this thing. So what was he talking about?
And then he felt it. As if a boiling hot knife was slicing the skin off his left arm, the outside of his arm was suddenly crumpling, turning red, drying up, small flames scorching his flesh from the inside. Pain shot up to his shoulder and down to his fingertips, as if his bones were riddled with nails. He pulled away his arm against the strong pull of something invisible, and with a ripping sound and shocked screams from his companions, the patch of skin tore off as it retained its position, slowly, painfully disintegrating into the air, just to land on the ground at a few feet's distance with a drily slapping sound.
"Bastard." Ferretti cursed through clenched teeth as he felt hot blood soaking his torn sleeve.
"Though you will hardly appreciate it, my apologies." The Goa'uld deactivated the device with a brush of his hand. "What you felt was the hydrogen in your skin being incinerated during transport. An unfortunate side-effect of this device. If you do not wish for this to happen again, I suggest you co-operate fully when next I call for you. Otherwise I could be tempted to perform my next test on one of your limbs." Once more, a piece of wall disappeared, to reveal the corridor through which they had come, and the same heavily armed Jaffa escort that had brought them. With them was another man in Horus armour, who approached Shu reverently. After retracting his hawk-faced headpiece, he whispered something to his master.
"And the guards?" Shu replied in a threatening voice. The Horus guard, who bore the golden tattoo of a First Prime, lowered his head as he answered silently. Upon that, the Goa'uld's eyes glowed as he spoke firmly: "You will resolve this issue, Geb!" Then he dismissed him, turning towards the cylindric device again.
"Why are they still here? Return them to the cell!" Geb pushed one of the guards forward with his staff as he stormed out of the hall, unaware that Merlyn had borne witness to most of their exchange. As they set out back towards their cell, Ferretti couldn't help but notice Merlyn's smile. And what did that faint thundering sound mean?
M4X877, Garrison, Day One (Day Six Earth time)
Kefal was leaning against the hard brick wall, looking at the figure that lay in the bed at the other end of the softly lit room, at the face that was so different from what he had expected. The skin even paler than that of his master Shu, her hair a strange brownish colour he had never seen before. And when he had attacked her, she had shown none of the powers his grandfather had spoken of. Had he made a mistake by taking her here, instead of delivering her to Shu? Had he forfeit his life on a mere hunch?
He shed the wrist-pieces of his armour, regarding the white palms of his hands with new-found curiosity. Maybe the gods were like them, after all? Maybe they just weren't black on the outside like the Jaffa? An hour before, he would never have entertained such thoughts, but knowing that he was dead if he had erred was a liberating feeling. He had already taken the path. All that was left to do was wait until he found out who was treading beside him.
A soft moan drew his attention towards the bed again. The woman's eyes fluttered as her body slowly straightened. Her hand fought with the thin sheets for a moment before it made its way up to her throat, coughing. She reopened her eyes, and with an undignified yelp jumped backwards, pressing herself into the corner the bed stood in, pulling the sheets protectively up to her neck, screaming something in a strange language Kefal was unfamiliar with.
He pressed his lips on each other in defeat. With each movement she made, he became less certain he had chosen the right one. Picking his words carefully, he began:
"I am Kefal. Servant of her who is the waters of the moon. Descendant of the last Prime of Tefenet." He observed the face opposite him, her eyes narrowed as her forehead wrinkled in confusion.
"Tef-net?" She spoke softly to herself, then suddenly her face brightened for a moment, before setting into an earnest mask that gave away no further emotion. She paused a moment before she began in a slightly archaic dialect of Goa'uld:
"Tef-net?" She spoke softly to herself, then suddenly her face brightened for a moment, before setting into an earnest mask that gave away no further emotion. She paused a moment before she began in a slightly archaic dialect of Goa'uld:
"Where is Tefnet?" At these searching, calculated words, something sunk inside the Jaffa. If she did not know, she could not be her.
"You are wearing her sign." He said, resuming his usual calm demeanour. The woman instinctively brushed her hand along the dull golden bracelet on her upper arm, self-consciously glancing at her jacket that lay draped over one of the bedposts. She looked up at him, obviously considering between several options before choosing an answer that surprised him:
"The Goa'uld aren't gods." Her voice was barely a rasp as her eyes caught his. Muddy olive against hazel brown.
"If he were, would I not be dead already?" He spoke out loud what he had been pondering the whole time, more stating a fact than asking her for an answer.
"You serve gods you do not believe in?" She prodded, "malevolent gods?" When she brushed aside the sheets, sitting up, he did not stop her.
"I believe in Tefnet, she who brought us here, not in the one who claims to be her brother." He stated decisively, not noticing how she winced at his declaration of faith. "Never would she have let anyone else have her sign." He paused, enjoying how she fidgeted restlessly. She was interesting. He felt as if he had found a new pet. She looked up questioningly, and he resumed:
"So, either my goddess has sent you, or she is no more." The hint of a smile played about his lips as he picked up the wrist-pieces of his armour and re-attached them. "Whatever the case, it would be most circumspect of me to aid you, in both my own interests," he reached for the mechanism at the back of his neck that engaged the helmet, and as it shut, his voice turned an octave lower, "and the interests of my goddess."
She hesitated momentarily as he took his staff weapon from the wall. Then she pulled on her jacket and stood, exhaling audibly, visibly composing herself:
"Where are they keeping my friends?"
M4X877, Northern holding cells, Day One (Day Six Earth time)
"Anything more?" the Colonel's voice echoed through the darkness of their cell as he bit his teeth together, at each throb of pain in his arm. They'd managed a makeshift bandage, but that didn't help the pain.
"No sir." Merlyn replied. "Geb was talking too low for me to be able to comprehend any of what he said."
"Sir?" Pearson entered the conversation.
"That device he used on you," he began, "we can't leave it to Shu."
"I admit I was a little too ... preoccupied to notice how this Ferretti-Slicer 2000 is going to revolutionize anything apart from the beef industry. Care to enlighten me?" Ferretti had to fight hard to keep the anger from his voice, but for the benefit of his team, he managed without them noticing.
"It's a teleporter, Sir." Pearson explained. "You remember how easy it was for Osiris with her Asgard teleporter?"
"If he is anything like the other Goa'uld," Merlyn joined in, "he will attempt to use it to rise in the ranks of the System Lords. Sooner or later, he will use it against us, or if he fails, the victorious Goa'uld will."
"But couldn't he just build a new one?" Ferretti offered. "Sure, Colonel Carter would probably trade me her Matt Mason Astro Trac, and Sgt. Storm if I brought her this thing, but we'll have enough trouble trying to get out of here. And then he'd go and build a new one and we'd be just as screwed."
"I doubt he knows how the device works, Sir." Pearson said carefully. "He didn't at all seem comfortable with it, and he didn't look like he'd leave anyone else around who knew more than him. Even I don't have a clue." He was audibly uncomfortable with this.
"Pearson, I know you're good, but you can't possibly expect to know how this thing works just by looking at the casing." He paused a moment, then added confusedly: "Can you?"
"Colonel, he probably just meant to say that he usually has an idea of the principles a machine works by. Like you recognize a Porsche engine by its sound, and tell it from a Volkswagen." Merlyn offered.
"The Beetle has a Porsche engine." Pearson mumbled under his breath, then added, "We'll need the teleporter anyway. It's the only thing I've seen so far that would let us lift the Stargate."
"Wouldn't that blow it up?" Merlyn asked in surprise. "Granted, I am by no means a chemist, but back at the-- back at school I learned that Hydrogen is in nearly everything."
"It is present in the Stargate's Naquadah compound as well," Pearson explained patiently, "but it's a matter of amount and density, and we would have seen a chain reac--"
"You promise it won't blow up, Sergeant?" Ferretti interrupted.
"That's enough for me. Besides, imagine how cool it would be to carry one of these babies the next time we're up against SoupSoldiers." He paused, remembering the size of the cylinder. "It can be carried, right?"
"It didn't shift around as he keyed it. Compared to the other things in the room, I'd say three of us could move it, slowly." Pearson admitted.
"Remember how I told you on our first mission together, 'slowly' and 'enemy territory' are words that should always go together?" Ferretti didn't wait for an answer. "I meant for sneak attacks. When drawing back, they should stay as far from each other as far as Earth and this dusty rock." He sighed. "Can you break it?"
"I believe so. It would be much easier with Commander Raleigh still around, but I should manage."
"Well, at worst we'll try it the good old-fashioned way and just blow it up somehow. It worked for Ra, after all. So much for the Astro--"
There was an audible commotion outside, and suddenly a wall only a few feet from the Colonel slid into the roof so fast and noiseless it seemingly vanished from one second to the other. The three jumped to their feet, squinting against the light. The tall frame of a Jaffa in full armour threw his shadow across Ferretti, a black silhouette from which cold green eyes glowed. Ferretti exchanged glances with Merlyn and the Sergeant. One Jaffa. They could certainly do that. The Jaffa's helmet noisily retracted as a second shadow slowly wound its way around him:
"Are you coming, Sir?" they heard Raleigh's voice, holding out two MP7s to the prisoners. Only when the Jaffa turned to leave, light playing across his features, did Ferretti recognize him: It was the soldier that had led the attack of the Horus Guards in front of them. The one who, to all appearances then, had killed Commander Raleigh. Pearson nodded towards the Jaffa with a questioning gaze.
"He's with me." The Commander explained, handing each of them a zat and Pearson his backpack, then at Merlyn's critical stare added: "Hey, I know he doesn't look too trustworthy, but he did have ample opportunity to kill me." Merlyn nodded, ceding the point without a real argument.
"His name is Kefal." Raleigh offered in a miserable attempt to make him more palatable.
In the corner of his eye, Ferretti noticed Pearson pulling out one of his black handheld devices, the Naquadah detector no doubt, first pointing it at a wall, then at Raleigh. Pearson made eye contact with Ferretti and shook his head imperceptibly. No Goa'uld as far as he could tell. Not that this meant much after P3X-888. Ferretti patted the pocket at the back of his pants. Pearson shot him a confused look. The Colonel sighed:
"Could I have the note pad, Sergeant?" Pearson grinned embarrassedly:
Ferretti decided he didn't want to know what Pearson had thought he'd meant. Suddenly, Merlyn called from up ahead:
Ferretti hurried to catch up with the Commander and her Jaffa, who were already at work liberally distributing plasma bursts and bullets into a significant group of silver-armoured guards, trying not to topple over the Horus guard that still lay there from their earlier entrance, the sickeningly sweet smell from his staff blast wound still in the air.
More silver hawk heads started flowing into the corridor, dozens over dozens of metallic beaks steadily gaining room with each clanking step. Kefal began yelling agitatedly. He called a second time, still sending staff blasts into the group, and just as finally the front rows began to thin, Mary Raleigh and Captain Lloyd quickly pulled back, pulling Ferretti and Pearson with them.
"What's he saying?" Ferretti yelled, as he fell into a light run next to Merlyn.
"The Jaffa claims there was a second exit we can use to escape." the 2IC answered.
"Captain, take them to the machine, I'll be right there!" he rummaged in his pockets for a moment, then picked up the staff of the corpse that had been guarding the second exit, noticing that he had been thrown against the ground so hard the pavement had given in. He hurried to the Jaffa, sending a round of blasts into the herd of soldiers approaching.
"Thanks, buddy." he slapped the Jaffa on the back with his free hand, hoping he'd understand. But the Jaffa just yelled at him, pushing himself in front of Ferretti as an orange blast grazed the human's staff, barely missing his ear.
"Okay, okay, feller! No need to be angry. I'm already gone." the Colonel backed around a corner, then turned and hurried after his friends, the adrenaline pushing him forward.
M4X877, Supporting Corridor 7, Day One (Day Six Earth time)
Tal'var hated guard duty. Maybe it had to do with the fact that what he was guarding was an empty corridor. An ancient corridor that merely existed to provide redundancy when it came to approaching the throne room. Thus, and due to the fact that it meandered around the holding cells generously, nobody ever passed through it.
Except for Tal'var, obviously. Who hated guard duty. With a vengeance.
When the small ovoid object skittered into his corridor, and before he had fully grasped what it was, a strangely relieving thought shot through the Jaffa's mind:
"No more guard duty."
Then, with a loud thundering rumble, the Goa'uld grenade exploded, collapsing the corridor on top of its trusty guard.
M4X877, Throne Room, Day One (Day Six Earth time)
When Ferretti burst into the hexagonal room, he was met by the click of a Zat'nik'tel inches from his face.
"Oh, it's you." Merlyn greeted and drew back her weapon.
"Yeah, I know. Here, this little baby should be more effective for holding the fort." he offered the staff weapon, thumbing the small switch in its middle playfully. The result was nothing but an embarrassed silence.
"I doubt that will do us any good." Merlyn said after a quick glance at the scorched top. Ferretti sighed. That was just what they needed.
"Here, hold that, will you?" he dumped the useless device in Raleigh's lap.
"How is Kefal doing?" Merlyn inquired, her eyes idly searching the corridor behind the Colonel with practised professionalism.
"Kefir? What?" The Colonel took a few steps into the room towards his Tech Sergeant. Pearson hardly raised his eyes from the greenish machine when he replied:
"Commander Raleigh's Jaffa, sir."
"He is not..." Mary complained, beginning a methodical disassembly of the staff, spreading bits and pieces all around her in a chaotic circle, "... my Jaffa."
"Sir!" The Sergeant interrupted her. "I think I have it." He thumbed a few of the signs on the machine, producing a healthy humming sound, and with a horribly creaking noise one of the heavy chairs began bending, distorting, finally folding in on itself, audibly protesting against this mistreatment of its molecules. When Pearson annoyedly flicked a button and the machine's hum subsided, Lou walked over and gave the smouldering heap in front of the table a slight tap with his foot:
"Is that covered by our insurance?"
"Okay, next try, Commander." Pearson sighed over his shoulder as he pushed a sequence of buttons to reset the machine. "Did it implode, or compress?" Mary paused in her tinkering with the staff, giving the amorphous heap another look:
"That's a tough one. The sounds indicate slow implosion, but then we would've also heard air rush in, and it wouldn't have retained its rectangular shape."
"I'd say compression as well." Pearson nodded thoughtfully as he swiped his dark fingers over the machine's side and thumbed a few more buttons with practised motions. Immediately symbols lit up on its surface and the humming resumed. "Now which one could be the vertical scale factor?"
"Is there a half-moon?" Raleigh replaced a small green crystal into the staff's head and then commenced re-assembling a complex-looking set of gears and levers that were obviously part of the staff's opening mechanism. Ferretti shook his head, as if to clear it, and then directed his worried eyes in the direction he had entered from:
"Is this going to take much longer? I don't really see that Shoe-guy giving his cronies pocket money to buy new prisoners when they tell him they've lost the old ones." This time Raleigh actually interrupted her work long enough to look up from the weapon and groan.
"Captain?" Ferretti ignored her inarticulate criticism and addressed his 2IC, nodding towards the entrance. "We'd better find something to block the way."
"Sir, may I?" The Sergeant offered.
"Sure, knock yourself out." Ferretti waited for another snarky remark from Raleigh, but luckily it never came.
The Sergeant tapped the side of the device, and the humming increased. Suddenly, a clattering and rattling filled the room. Ferretti turned towards the large table to see its green surface vibrating, a vase, shuddering violently, began a shaky march across the trembling table's surface, ending in a suicidal jump off the edge.
"You're right, that vase annoyed--" He broke off his mumbling. The by now high-pitched humming was making his teeth clatter. And was there an echo in the room he hadn't noticed? Although the noise had decreased, it was coming from the entrance as well.
Ferretti turned, to find the door blocked by the very table that had only a moment earlier witnessed the destruction of a piece of porcelain whose preservation would probably have got him on Daniel Jackson's good side for over a year. The rattling was coming from the door exclusively now, and the Colonel took a glance over at Pearson to find him observing his handiwork with an excited glow in his eyes. The rattling subsided, and a violent cracking sound and a puff of dust made the four start, as splinters of rock rained down.
"What was that?!" Raleigh burst out, jumping to her feet decidedly more nimble than anyone with her leg should have done. Pearson had apparently noticed Ferretti's suspicious look and sent him a scolding one back, before answering.
"I guess I rammed the table in the floor." He offered, then turned. "Commander, could you come over so we can work out the vectors for the gate?" The Navy Commander took a few steps forward, then stopped:
"Hey, Colonel!" she called. As Ferretti turned, she threw him the heavy staff with a practised thrust. "I think that's yours."
Ferretti caught the tumbling object easily, regarded the scorched top of the staff with mistrust, then flicked the switch. A satisfying click-and-fizzle sound greeted him.
"Colonel!" Merlyn suddenly called out, firing two shots through a narrow opening at the top of the door frame. Ferretti hurried to his comrade, kneeling down at another opening in the lower right and sent a couple of staff blasts into the corridor. Over the curses and the clattering of slumping bodies in Jaffa armour, the Colonel yelled to Pearson:
"Sergeant, this better not take too long!"
The God Shu stepped over a dead Horus guard, flashes of Zat lightning uselessly bouncing off the force field that he had extended in front of him. A staff blast shot out of the blocked door opening, slithering across the floor with a black trail, ricocheting off the force field and striking another Horus guard squarely in the face. As the guard slumped to the floor of the narrow corridor, the brick wall exploding from another staff blast and spraying its fragments like shrapnel into the room, a young Jaffa boy hurried to the dying soldier, thrust his gloved hand into the pouch and tore out the writhing symbiote, hurrying down the corridor and away, under the careful gaze of his master, who stood in an ocean of fire and lightning, unfazed, untouched.
Shu's tall form approached the table, not even blinking as a burst of heated plasma exploded inches from his face. His hand brushed over a greenish table leg that stuck out of the brick wall as if it had been thrust through it, sharp splinters of rock fiercely pointing from the opening. His eyes darkened. The Machine. They were using the machine. His eyes flashed as he turned and stepped towards one of the Horus guards providing cover fire, careful to stay just within the force field's boundaries:
"Geb." His hand grabbed the neck of the hawk-head and effortlessly lifted him off his feet, the sleek movement of muscle underneath flawless skin the only indication of exertion. His eyes were glowing menacingly. "I will not tolerate another failure, so listen closely," he began his instructions to the First Prime.
"I don't like this." Ferretti mumbled, interrupting his defensive fire to watch the Goa'uld leaving with a few of his Jaffa. "Sarge?" he glanced at the two technicians. "What on Earth are you doing there?!" he groaned at the Sailor and NCO lost in discussion.
"... one minute, Sir ..." Raleigh mumbled in the middle of a twenty-two-syllable-word. Then she pushed a few buttons on the device, and a ray of light shot out of its top towards the roof, fanning out like a peacock's tail, splitting into different colours.
"Yessss!" Raleigh celebrated.
"What. Are. You. Doing." Ferretti called over to them in between shots.
"We've found a map." Raleigh said defensively.
"We need co-ordinates," Pearson explained, "the map doesn't have a 'Stargate' button." Then he mumbled a few numbers: "17, 304, 15?"
"You're the genius, I just push the buttons." Raleigh shrugged, then corrected: "Shouldn't the last one be twenty-eight?"
When the Sergeant nodded, Raleigh punched a few symbols, brushed her fingers softly along the side of the cylinder, and the machine obediently began humming louder and louder. Another loud rumble shook the walls, but it was barely audible over the whirring and humming noises the machine emitted now.
"Commander? Pearson? I trust you know what you're doing?" Ferretti yelled into the noise. The Sergeant glanced at Mary, and then nodded:
"I think so!"
Luckily, the Colonel hadn't heard. The rumbling and humming grew louder, and lights started flashing on the device, and then a high, ear-splitting whirr filled the room. The two jumped back from the device, pressing their hands onto their ears to protect their eardrums from the painful sound.
The Colonel and Merlyn kept firing at the momentarily distracted guards outside with grating teeth, one hand on the gun, the other on an ear, the second ear pressed against the shoulder.
And then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. An eerie quietness filled the room, and for a second, everyone feared they had lost their hearing. The crackling sound of the Colonel's Zat and the shocked scream of a Jaffa on the other side alleviated their fears.
"That's not the usual attack pattern." Merlyn noted. "They should be much more aggressive."
"Yeah. It's almost as if they were trying to keep us--" A clicking sound behind them made the three spin around.
"Crap." Mary Raleigh summarized the situation.
Geb couldn't help but feel pity for his master's four prisoners. It wasn't because the way they were bound to the four heavy patinated chairs was uncomfortable. Rather, it was because he knew what happened to prisoners that tried to escape Lord Shu's grasp. Even before he had become First Prime to the Lord of Dryness and Heat, he had witnessed him exercise his godly powers on numerous occasions. In fact, the stink of the desiccated corpse of his predecessor was still a frighteningly fresh memory to him. The execution of Shu's previous Prime had happened similarly to this.
Shu had looked his fallen right hand deeply in the eyes, and suddenly the Jaffa's eyes had bulged, and their colour had become dull. He'd made no sound, even as his fingers clamped into the armrest, even as his skin had begun bubbling and reddening. For a moment, back then, Geb had thought he'd seen surprise in the face of his God. Ridiculous, of course, that a God could be surprised by anything. But Geb himself had definitely been surprised.
Just like on that fateful day, which had seen Geb take the mantle of the First Prime, the God Shu was now looking one of the prisoners in the eyes. But she did not wither and dry out. Though they all had the air of defiance to them, he remembered that this one had resisted, futilely, even as the four had already been disarmed and surrounded by Jaffa. Even the highbrowed prisoner, obviously their leader, had realized the danger his friend was placing herself in and had called out to her. In the end, she had given up. Naturally. Nobody could resist a God.
"Who are you?" Shu gazed at the dark-haired woman with calm interest. Her reaction was odd. The fear in her face was palpable, but her mouth was clamped shut in proud defiance. She made no sound. His eyes lit up angrily as he raised his deep, inhuman voice: "Answer me."
What happened next was a blur to Geb. It started with the sound of great thunder, a rumble, nearby. Then the door to the throne room, where the table had been lodged in its place, along with a good part of the wall, was blown in with a loud bang, sending fragments of wall, bricks and greenish metal into the room, and the few guards that hadn't been buried under boulders half as tall as them were blown to bits by Goa'uld explosive grenades.
Geb immediately hurried for his god, who lay half-covered by one of the larger rock fragments:
"My Lord!" he called out, as he helped his master to his feet, staring with shock at his bloodstained face as he hurried the limping god through the side exit.
Roberts climbed over the rubble and dropped his backpack on the ground.
"Roberts!" Merlyn smiled.
"Decided to come back for us after all?" Ferretti offered. Roberts, who didn't notice the edge to Ferretti's comment, nor Merlyn's reprimand, pulled out his knife, started severing Pearson's bonds and replied jovially:
"It was tempting. After all, I'd inherit your astronaut dolls. But the white space-suits just looked too cheery for my tastes." As he slid his knife under Ferretti's bonds, he added, "By the way, I hope you don't mind that I helped out a Jaffa that was fighting a whole lot of his colleagues near their holding cells?" Both women looked up in surprise. "You remember? The one with the hawk head and 'don't kick me, I'm chicken' post-it on the back?"
"Ah, that one." He motioned for Pearson to get to work on the teleporter. "Yeah, Raleigh picked him up, but you know how she is. Just can't hold on to her toys." Seeing the Commander pick up her bracelet from behind the last barely-standing column, he smiled: "So that's why you were putting up such a fight!"
"Is it that valuable?" Merlin added. Raleigh quickly slipped it on, then turned:
"It's just an imitation I picked up on a dig in Saqqarah once. It had the symbols for Tefnet on it, so I thought I'd take it along."
"Ready to go, Sir." Pearson interrupted.
"So, what'd you do?" Ferretti asked.
"Set it to teleport itself." Raleigh said after a short glance at the controls. "That'll cause an endless recursion and blow the machine sky-high."
"Recursion? Wasn't that this 'chicken eating itself' thing?" His team laughed despite the situation. "I don't think I'd want to watch that. Anybody know the way?"
"Left, right, ahead should get us back to the elevator." Mary answered without hesitation, then added "At least that's what Kefal told me."
"Sounds about right." Roberts agreed, consulting a Goa'uld reading plate and page-turning device he'd pulled from his pack. "Nice what dead Horus guards carry around with them, isn't it?"
Ferretti waited with his answer until Pearson had dutifully performed his Naquadah-detector scan.
"By the way, sir, I took the liberty of transporting the F.R.E.D. with the DHD to the gate."
"Good thinking Sergeant." Ferretti maintained the pretence of a conversation. Pearson shook his head.
"Okay, let's risk it." the Colonel addressed his team again.
"Oh, Colonel?" Roberts held up a remote trigger. "You want to do the honours?"
"Not until we're outside." Ferretti grinned as he accepted the device from the Lieutenant and led the way down the left corridor. They hurried along the narrow brick-lined stretch until they arrived at another branch.
Ferretti stopped abruptly and signalled for the others to remain silent, then slowly crept along the wall, MP drawn and ready.
Before he could dare a glance down the corridor, a huge figure in Horus armour appeared in front of him and grabbed his gun. Ferretti had no chance to react as another Jaffa stepped into view and brushed the bigger Jaffa's hand off Ferreti's weapon:
"Cha'hai!" with a quick motion of their hands, both Jaffa retracted their helmets.
"Kefal." Mary stepped towards the smaller Jaffa.
"The path to the elevator is clear." He smiled at the woman. "But you must hurry. Shu is preparing to send his Tel'tac after you as soon as you are located. And there are but few Jaffa I can trust to not notice you."
"He has a heavy bomber?" Roberts inquired. Kefal nodded.
"You will have to hurry if you want to return to your ship." he added. Roberts and Merlyn exchanged glances.
"No ship, we came through the Stargate." Mary explained before either could prevent her.
"Mary!" Roberts admonished her. But Mary just shook her head at him. The Jaffa exchanged disbelieving glances.
"There is no gate on Naunet. Shu would not permit it." Kefal said with utter conviction. The bigger Jaffa placed a hand on his shoulder, and suddenly, Kefal straightened. "There is no time for this. Attempt your escape. We will try to delay the Tel'tac. That is all we can do for you." The two turned to leave through the opposite corridor.
"Wait!" Raleigh called. The two Jaffa turned back towards the small woman. "We've rigged this place. Get your people out of the way." The two nodded and hurried down the opposite corridor.
"Okay, would anybody care to inform the commanding officer what the democratic team just decided to do?" Ferretti grumbled while he trotted after his team.
"We leave, the Jaffa buy us time." Merlyn explained to Pearson and the Colonel. Ferretti raised his eyebrows in surprise:
"Boy, I'm good at delegation!"
The way back to the elevator was uneventful. Roberts placed some additional charges along the way, and soon they found themselves rattling up through the rocky ground.
"I didn't know you spoke Goa'uld." Roberts turned towards Mary with a friendly smile that belied the suspicion that had roused his question. She wasn't fooled.
"Impossible that stupid little Mary would take advantage of her forced downtime and learn a new language..." she said in a faux-friendly tone. Before Roberts could counter, the cabin started to rattle and shake.
"Ground floor. Stargates, DHDs, pies and Jaffa cakes. We hope you enjoyed your shopping experience." Ferretti mumbled, stepping back into a corner next to the exit and aiming his MP7 in the average Jaffa's chest height. Merlyn did similarly, with Pearson and Raleigh behind them. Roberts, for lack of cover, got down on the small cell's ground.
The moment the door creaked open, a blast of superheated plasma shot through the spot that Roberts' head had occupied less than a minute ago and left a dark scorch mark on the back wall of the cabin. Before Ferretti had blinked away the dancing spots the staff blast had left on his retina, Roberts had pulled the trigger twice.
The first shot ricocheted off the Jaffa's chain mail, but the second hit him right in the neck, sending him to the ground instantaneously. The marksman didn't have an opportunity for a second attempt. The casualty's colleagues turned and unlocked their staffs when Ferretti fired a round and sent the tallest one tumbling backwards, then tipping over. A bright blast intended for retaliation exploded between Ferretti and Sgt. Pearson, the backlash throwing the NCO against the back of the cell, where he sank to the ground.
Merlyn had no problems taking out the third Jaffa with a round of her own. When she ducked back, six zat blasts from the Commander sent the remaining three soldiers staggering apart as the fourth one in their middle collapsed with a loud smacking sound, dead. Roberts and the Captain fired again, supported by more zat blasts, but it took another round from Ferretti's MP before all their opponents finally surrendered to gravity.
While Roberts, Ferretti and Merlyn proceeded forward, Commander Raleigh went back to Pearson.
"Clickety-clear." Ferretti announced, tentatively kicking one of the Jaffa to verify his state of death. "How's the Sergeant?" he asked Raleigh as he watched Merlyn pick up one of the Jaffa's staff weapons.
"Not good." Raleigh answered. "Conscious, but really not--" at that moment, Pearson fell over forwards and emptied his stomach's contents into the cabin.
"Tell me that was his nerves, ... ?" Ferretti grit his teeth.
"Sorry sir..." Pearson groaned weakly, while Raleigh slung his arm over her shoulder and slowly began dragging the stumbling and disoriented man out into the open. Roberts quickly stepped closer and took some of the weight off her:
"How's the leg?"
"You had to remind me, didn't you?" Mary deadpanned.
"That up there our gate?" Ferretti pointed towards a thin black smudge at a good distance east.
"Either that, or a good imitation." Mary grinned.
"Don't jinx it, Commander," Ferretti picked up one of the staff weapons and commenced to march east, "after all, the Tok'ra do think this place used to belong to Hathor." He paused. "Reminds me: Roberts, you have any ammo left? I'm fresh out of bird seed for Horuses."
"One clip, in the gun."
"Same here." Merlyn agreed.
"Nothing left, sir." Raleigh admitted.
"Okay, so we're down to Zats and--" Ferretti was interrupted by a loud rumble behind them.
"Incoming!" Merlyn yelled, and a massive plasma blast carved into the ground between them, immediately followed by an equally massive bomber.
"Run!" Ferretti called to his team as he turned and sent staff blasts after the heavy ship. Merlyn stopped, fired two shots from her staff, then turned towards Roberts.
"Take the staff. I can take care of Pearson." They swapped positions and the two women ran for the gate.
"It's coming around!" Raleigh called, awkwardly shooting zat blasts in the direction of the approaching ship.
"It's no use!" Roberts yelled.
"Drop!" Ferretti warned the women, who immediately threw themselves to the ground as he sent a volley at the vaguely pyramid-shaped Tel'tac. He could see the cannon coming directly at him. He ran, then jumped, and the force of the ground exploding beneath him with hot plasma sent him flying right over Pearson, his 2IC and the commander, landing oddly on his side. He felt a rock spike dig into his shoulder and screamed. Still half-impaled, out of the corner of his eye, he suddenly saw his opportunity. Just as the attacking bomber was turning for another pass at them, it passed right over the elevator spike.
That was when Ferretti triggered the explosives. There was a rumble, the ground started shaking, and then fire leaped up through the ground, sending the black spike skyward like a rocket. But the ship had advanced too quickly, and the projectile barely scratched it. The bomber shook, twisted, its aim thrown off and the hot blast tore a hole into the rock about 50 feet from them. The ship veered slightly off its trajectory and past them, but was already preparing to come around a second time.
M4X877, Shu's Tel'tac, Day One (Morning Seven Earth time)
Shu felt a murderous rage boiling inside him, that numbed the pulsing of pain in his right leg. Even his multiple fractures, most of which he'd already had before the collision with the spike had thrown him across the ship, were hardly more than an itch.
"Geb!" he called angrily. "Are you still getting signs from the labyrinth?" "Affirmative." The first prime answered, blinking against the blood that was burning in his eye.
"When will we be in position?"
"Soon, my Lord." the servant answered dutifully as he brought the ship around. These humans had blown up his labyrinth. Killed many of his Jaffa. His last reserve of larvae now lay buried down there. And without a queen, he could not procure more. Shu called up the ship's database and punched in the point of origin these humans had worn so demonstratively on their shoulders. He gasped.
"The Tau'ri!" he exclaimed. "Then my revenge will be sweetened doubly!"
"My Lord." Geb interrupted. "We are in the requested position."
"Lock on to the teleporter's energy signature and initiate retrieval." Shu called, stumbling from his seat shakily towards the ring platform. Bright light announced the arrival of the rings. The ray of light paled, the rings dropped through the floor, and all of a sudden a loud, whirring noise filled the ship.
"No." Shu quietly cursed as he fell backwards, crawling away from the device. The overloaded teleporter sent a blindingly bright burst of energy straight through the ring platform, blowing a hole into the bottom of the Tel'tac. The backlash of this incredible force sent the ship to thunder straight up towards the pale grey planet that hung in the sky above them.
"Should'a bought Ion Pro for his engine..." Ferretti grinned mischievously. "That couldn't have gone better if we'd planned it that way, Pearson." The addressed dry-heaved a few times, then weakly groaned:
"... sir." Ferretti helped his Tech Sergeant to his feet, immediately supported by Merlyn.
"Pearson? C'mon, you still need to hook up that DHD..." they hurried towards the gate as best they could, carrying Pearson between them, while Raleigh covered the front with her zat and Roberts had the rear. They were almost at the gate as Roberts called from the back.
"Pick it up! Hostiles at 6:00, closing in!" Roberts sent a volley of blasts their way to slow them.
"Pearson is out cold!" Merlyn called from ahead.
"Who cares?" Raleigh answered and slowing her run to sit down at the gate, "Nuclear Engineer outranks Tech Sergeant!" she said and began connecting the live wires at amazing speed. By now, the approaching Jaffa had realized what was going on and began firing for Raleigh.
"Ungh!" she yelled as a shot barely missed her, the heat throwing her on her back next to the barely-conscious Pearson. She got up, brushed scorched hair from her cheek and went back to work on the wires.
"don' do that.. wroh..." Pearson choked.
Ferretti, Roberts and Merlyn had taken cover behind the DHD and were sending plasma and lightning towards the Jaffa with little success. Suddenly, there was a crackling sound, then a loud clap, and Mary was thrown backwards abruptly.
"Raleigh!" Roberts called, then jumped out of cover in her direction. Ferretti bit down a curse and laid down cover fire, finally managing to hit one of the Jaffa straight in the pouch.
Merlyn began punching symbols into the DHD, which had suddenly come to life. "I think she did it!" she called while Ferretti tried to keep the approaching Jaffa busy.
As the sixth chevron engaged, white-hot sparks flew from the connection cable, and showered Roberts, his face a painful grimace.
"She's out, too, but still alive!" Roberts called, over the noise of the engaging gate.
Roberts and Ferretti each grabbed one team member in a firemen's carry while Merlyn hurried for the gate, firing with both Ferretti's staff and her zat, but the Jaffa just kept coming. Ferretti punched in the iris code on his GDO, then the three threw themselves into the event horizon.
They exited the gate on the other side at projectile velocity. Ferretti found himself materializing 5 feet above ground, taking another impact with his damaged shoulder, barely avoiding a collision with the still-unconscious Pearson.
"Damn!" he hissed as the pain finally hit him.
Roberts and Mary tumbled out the gate as a tangled bundle of arms and legs that didn't come to a stop until it hit the end of the ramp. Merlyn arrived last, stumbling out the gate, and thus barely avoiding a staff blast that had followed her through the gate and left a ashen mark on the reinforced window in front of Sergeant Harriman.
"Close the iris! Medics to the gate-room!" They heard the General call. "Dammit Lou! What the hell ...?!"
"Wasn't me ... she hooked up the gate." Ferretti interrupted O'Neill, not quite himself yet. Roberts stood up shakily, then carefully helped Mary to her feet.
"Mary?" he asked softly.
"Sorry, dampeners would've taken too long." She stumbled, and Roberts caught her.
"Easy..." he said, wrapping his arms around her as her legs gave in.
Earth, SGC Briefing Room, Day Ten
"Hey Carl!" Ferretti offered a left-handed salute to one of the MPs on guard in the briefing room. "Expecting visitors again?"
The stocky, grey-haired man nodded wordlessly to the bandaged Colonel. "Off-world visitors." He said in his usual, clipped style.
"Damn. I guess you can call your wife right away that I won't be with you for the poker game tonight. Visitors usually mean a mission isn't far behind." He sighed, shrugged and turned towards the table to sit with the rest of his team.
"Sir." Merlyn greeted, looking clean and chipper as if their last mission had been a pleasure cruise. The rest of the team didn't look as good. Roberts had taken the least damage. A few burn marks that were obviously healing, and also looked very painful, and probably a shoulder bandage under the uniform. Raleigh's hands and face were partially bandaged owing to several burn wounds, and Pearson was wearing bandages like a turban, still recuperating from his concussion, and had a nasty black eye, broken collarbone and several wounds that had been stitched.
And he himself? Several stab wounds, and his entire right arm and shoulder had been bandaged. A splint had been put on one of his legs, and his face was black and blue. Nothing he hadn't experienced before, but with that new doctor's faible for bandages, he now looked like the friggin' Marshmallow Man.
When O'Neill entered, Ferretti could see from the look on his face that he was thinking the same. O'Neill's smirk quickly straightened when his eyes fell on the file he had with him. That wasn't good.
"Hi Lou." O'Neill ended the salute. "Sorry to drag you guys all away from your cozy infirmary beds, but we called the Tok'Ra and Jaffa resistance asking for info on that Shu guy. The only one who'll be happy about the Jaffa's report will be Daniel, but the Tok'Ra sent word to an operative who'll be here soon."
As if in answer, the base siren began to blare. "Unscheduled off-world activation!" Sgt. Harriman's voice sounded over the P.A. "Unscheduled off-world activation!". Everyone in the room stepped towards the large window looking down into the embarkation room as marines began filing in, manning the gun batteries. O'Neill picked up the phone.
"It's the Tok'Ra IDC, Sir." Harriman's tinny voice came through the speaker.
"Open it up." O'Neill said. As the iris swished open, staff blasts came through the gate and dotted the walls. "Enemy fire!" Harriman announced the obvious from the control room as a skinny woman in stained Tok'Ra uniform stumbled through the gate. As the iris started to close, zat lightning crackled around the metal and one shot hit the new arrival and made her stumble. Two more staff blasts shot through the gate. One barely bounced off the edge of an iris segment and hit the ceiling, another scorched a wall, barely missing the fuse box, while another shot straight out. The woman was hit straight in the back and stumbled sprawling forward, hitting the ramp with a sickening "smack".
"Medics to the Gate-room!" Harriman's repeat call was finally audible as the gate closed and bathed the room in quiet. O'Neill was just about to hurry for the door, as he noticed movement on the ramp. Slowly, painfully, like a broken rag-doll, the Tok'Ra raised her head, her pointing arm aimed vaguely in the direction of briefing room window.
"Hold the Goa'uld traitor--" she began, then broke down, dead.