Chapter 29—Life's A Bitch
Chapter 29—Life's A Bitch
Jack somehow kept himself from exploding as SG-1 and SG-14 carefully rappelled down the sixty foot shaft to the bottom. There was no point in trying to hurry them and getting someone hurt. They were moving as fast as they could, truthfully, faster than SOP allowed, but all of them were feeling it. It being a sense of doom and gloom, like a thickness in the air they were breathing, almost choking them. It was something that you just knew, a result of time spent in the furnace of battle. Somewhere, nearby, all hell was breaking loose.
Jack finished rappelling down, carefully disengaging his harness from the rope. Stepping back, he watched for a moment as Sergeant Yankowski took a small crowbar and used it to pry open the door. After he got it started, Teal'c joined him, and together, the two men pulled the door open far enough for the team to exit.
Jack immediately went to hyper vigilance as the sounds of automatic weapons fire became audible once the doors opened. Someone was firing off an enormous amount of rounds in what sounded like the firefight from hell. He noticed with approval that everyone had flattened to the sides of the elevator shaft, well away from the open doors, while Yankowski was using a mirror to make sure there wasn't anyone waiting to ambush them.
Suddenly, Yankowski dropped the mirror with a grunt of surprise and disbelief. Simultaneously, something
leaped through the door opening, bouncing once off the floor, before landing on the wall of the shaft opposite the door, somehow clinging sideways there. Jack got a brief impression of scales, claws, teeth, a sickening mixture of reptilian and insectoid characteristics. For just a second, he stared at it, feeling a sense of wrongness that made his stomach heave, then it was on them.
It hit Specialist Terry Webb of SG-14 like a buzzsaw, claws and teeth flashing, a steely iridescent sheen to its skin as it moved. Jack was frozen in horror for what felt like eternity as Webb screamed like a girl as blood splattered the entire bottom of the shaft, but couldn't have been more than a second. Then he was leaping forward along with Carter and Teal'c, to club the thing savaging the man on the ground. As he brutally hammered at the armored back, Jack cursed the circumstances of being so enclosed that he couldn't fire his weapon. Any misses would ricochet around the shaft, potentially injuring his men. At that moment, a single blow from a long segmented leg slammed him into the wall behind him, robbing him of breath. Jack struggled to breath and tried to lurch to his feet.
By this time, Webb had stopped screaming and thrashing, and his limp body was further shredded before the thing seemingly grew bored with its prey. With a whirl that threw blood in a crimson arc across the shaft, the horror zeroed in on Carter, who like Jack, had been knocked off her feet. It was gathering its legs beneath it to leap upon her, sickle claws scraping the floor, when Teal'c landed upon its back, the blunt end of his staff weapon hammering into the thing's head. It fell to the floor under Teal'c's weight and the blow he'd administered, legs scrabbling for purchase. Meanwhile, Teal'c reversed his weapon and fired a plasma bolt point blank into the thing's head, which burst apart in a grisly explosion of superheated fluids and flesh.
Jack nearly vomited as something that immediately started to burn landed on his cheek, a stench that defied comprehension assaulting his nostrils. He wiped his face in disgust, only for his eyes to widen in disbelief as the monstrosity, instead of dying immediately, attempted to lurch to its feet again. Teal'c, displaying an agility that was beyond human, stayed erect on it back and fired again, straight into the abdomen of the creature. The entire energy of the plasma bolt was absorbed by the thing's body and seemed to be enough to kill it, as it abruptly collapsed and went limp.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
“Oh, God! Oh My God!”
“Help me! Someone help me!”
What had been an organized reconnaissance had become a complete clusterfuck of panicked individuals, all shell-shocked and stunned. Jack struggled to his feet, ignoring the taste of bile in his mouth and the ringing in his ears, and shouted, “Attenhut!” There was no point in being quiet; Webb's screams would have alerted anyone, or anything, that they were there. And his men needed a reminder of discipline to them pull themselves together.
All eyes swung his way. In an quiet, but intense voice, Jack ordered, “Daniel, Carter, check on Webb. Teal'c, guard the door. Nothing gets through. Seaburn, with me. Yankowski.”
The sergeant, looked up from the gory mess that had once been a comrade in arms and met Jack's eyes. Jack could tell at a glance that he was on the ragged edge. Jacked nodded to the rope they'd used to rappel down and said, “Sergeant Yankowski. Get back up that rope. I want you back at the Humvees and on the radio to the SGC. Contact General Hammond and tell him this: Foothold. Foothold. Foothold. Use the confirmation pass code when prompted. After that, fall back two hundred meters, and be ready to paint the house. Do you understand?”
Yankowski stared a moment before the message seemed to sink in. He pulled himself to his feet from where he'd either collapsed or been knocked down and announced, his voice still shocky, “Yes, sir. Up the rope. Back to vehicles. Contact the General. Foothold. Foothold. Foothold. Confirmation pass code. Back off 200. Paint for an airstrike. Got it, sir.”
Jack nodded, then turned to the last person there, Sergeant Matthew Hilliard. “Sergeant Hilliard, break out the SAW. I want complete interdiction when we move out. Nothing gets past you. Lethal force authorized. Do. You. Understand.”
Hilliard nodded jerkily, while simultaneously saying, “Yes, sir. Interdiction of this doorway and corridor using the M249. Lethal force authorized, sir.”
Jack paused. “And Sergeant? For anyone to leave, there needs to be visual confirmation of one of us, plus a GDO signal. Understand?”
Sergeant Hilliard nodded with more assurance. “Yes, sir. Evacuation requires both visual confirmation and GDO signal.”
“Good man.” Jack nodded, then turned to Captain Seaburn, noting his unhappy expression. He had just effectively dismantled his team. What he had just witnessed was almost without a doubt an incursion of the type for which the Foothold Scenario and SOP had been developed. That he had just sent one of Seaburn's men to communicate with the SGC, and tasked the other to control the egress point of the base, was necessary.
“Colonel, I am not bellyaching about what you did. I understand the necessity. But I don't see what my role is,” Seaburn stated. He looked almost normal, except for the tightening around his mouth and the way he kept rubbing at the spots of dried blood that he, and pretty much everyone else was coated with. Then his eyes flickered to his downed man, and Jack could see the helpless rage there. Well, he would provide him an outlet for it.
“Captain, I need you to grab the other SAW and accompany us. Not only do you have the most experience in combat, but you've been through the Alien Physiology Class recently and might be able to ID who we're dealing with. At a minimum, weak points for weapons' fire. We need to go in and find out the sitrep. This might have turned from a rescue into stopping an invasion. Carter! How's Webb?”
Samantha Carter raised her head from the blanket covering the wreck of a human being that she had been trying to help and shook her head. “Deceased, sir. He never had a chance.”
Beyond Carter, Daniel rose shakily to his feet, his face pale and his eyes full of horror. “Jack, that thing tore this man apart. It's like nothing I have ever seen or read about. I don't-”
He was interrupted by the boom of the Teal'c's staff weapon as he fired through the doorway. Jack immediately headed that way, his P90 at the ready. However, seeing Teal'c relax and bring his weapon to rest, he safed it and asked, “Was it another of those creatures?”
Teal'c's eyes never left the corridor as he shook his head and stated, “No, O'Neill. It was nothing I recognize from Earth or elsewhere, but not the same thing I just killed. I dealt with it. Are we moving soon to rescue your child?”
This time, Jack didn't even react even in his mind to what Teal'c had called Cali. She was somewhere inside of this base with things like that moving around. He would find her and get her out. If something had already happened to her, then God help whoever was responsible, because he would make them pay. In a biting tone, he ordered, “Everyone move out. Teal'c, you have point. Seaburn, you're second. I'll take third spot, then Daniel. Carter, you have rear. Watch our backs. Everyone, keep both eyes out. Move it!”
With a last glance at the blanket covered form of the young soldier behind him, Jack freed the safety of his P90. God help anyone between him and Cali.
Buffy had never realized just how difficult being the Slayer had been on her. Not just psychologically, with the mental stress of fighting countless bouts to the death as well as all of the crushing responsibility of protecting everyone on the Hellmouth pressing down upon her slender shoulders, but also physically. Buffy had never understood just what a toll those selfsame countless fights had taken upon her body. The constant battles, the grueling hours training and patrolling, while also trying to go to school and have a life outside of Slaying. It had placed untold stresses upon her. Stresses that Buffy never really had a chance to recover from.
Even as a Slayer, Buffy always had some kind of low grade pain going. After the first six months, she had just taken it as a given. Magical Slayer healing meant she almost healed any wound overnight. The operative word there being, almost. As the Slayer, Buffy never had a chance to get completely well; to allow the regeneration gifted her by the Slayer to repair every old injury. To bring her to one hundred percent physical capacity. And slowly, all of those old injuries added up, combining to slow Buffy down, make her just a bit less crisp and perfect in her execution, until finally, she went from predator to prey and died a lonely and painful death in the night.
But that wasn't this Buffy. At least not now. She'd spent almost an entire year of not being the Slayer. Of not constantly battling, while trying to recover from the previous fight's injuries. Of not using any of the excess energy that a Slayer possesses, until it had almost driven her mad, making her feel constantly jittery, like a caffeine addict after mainlining several of their favorite beverages. Every old injury had completely healed, until she felt like a new person. Until she felt invincible.
And while Buffy hadn't had the constant fights, the battling against vampires and demons to hone her like a weapon to a razor's edge, she had trained her martial arts constantly, using endless hours spent doing Tai Chai to make her balance far beyond anything she'd possessed before. Additionally, her other abilities hadn't faded in the slightest. Buffy wasn't even sure a Slayer could regress in that way. From sword and knife fighting, to the effortless gymnastics that she had always combined into her hand to hand, they were all effortlessly at her command, making her just that much more dangerous.
A year ago, Buffy likely would never have made it across that room, instead slipping and falling, having to resort to battling the demons chasing her. A year ago, she would never have survived the initial surge of the demons through the door, likely being just the tiniest bit too slow to dodge the myriad blows that battered at her, while blocking others with her weapons. A year ago, she would have been on the ragged edge, where death was nothing to be feared, rather the sweet darkness beckoned. Surrender was seductive temptation, promising peace and tranquility after the long fighting that had worn upon her very soul.
Now, however, within Buffy there was no sensation of peace. Nothing of surrender touched her mind or spirit as she fought, killed, and refused to die. Instead, the only things that touched the perfect stillness within her were concepts. Family. Duty. Honor. Courage. Justice. Fidelity. Things that was hammered into her by teachers who wanted her to survive. To thrive. To live, while the enemy did not. To survive and live for something greater than herself. An idea. And the others who also followed that idea. Fight and survive for them.
Buffy had taken these ideas into herself. Internalized them. Made them a part of who she was. Buffy's refusal to die, to surrender to the impossible odds that faced her was more than just being the Slayer. Instead, it was synonymous with sacrifice. With duty. For your country. For your family. And for those comrades in arms who would, in turn, bleed and die for you. It was feeling that anything short of victory meant letting those people down, something alien and unthinkable.
Nothing of the thoughts and ideas that existed within the girl known as Buffy Summers touched her countenance as she battled to save the lives of those others huddled behind a simple door. Instead, savage intensity gleamed in her eyes as she hammered another Glyaspeck to the ground with heel kick. As she took the head of one of the Sisterhood of Jhe. As she absorbed yet another bonecrushing blow, bouncing up like her legs were spring steel instead of human flesh, to strike and kill yet another enemy. Buffy would not bow to death. She had become death. And the long night held no allure for her.
Teal'c led the way as the members of the SGC headed towards the firefight. They had entered into a huge room just a moment after heading into the Initiative. Evidence of both a battle and a massacre decorated the floor of the room. A small handful of alien creatures fed off of both human and alien remains, while a larger group clustered around a doorway, the source of the gunfire that had drawn them here.
Teal'c did not recognize any of the creatures he saw. None of them resembled anything that he had seen or heard of, other than they were bipedal and possessed bilateral symmetry. And not even all of them had that, their shapes more resembling half-melted figures crafted from wax than anything from nature. Teal'c's senses were offended by their existence, though he did not fear them. However, only their deaths would assuage his disgust at their existence.
Teal'c was aware of Captain Seaborn, who had moved up to his side as they'd entered the larger room. He could almost feel the captain's rage and fear as he swung the muzzle of the light machine gun he carried back and forth. He was just about to suggest they stop when from behind them O'Neill called for them to halt.
“Set up here, folks. Seaborn, get that SAW on a tripod and prepare to fire. Teal'c, I want you to use your staff to take out anything that is resistant to gunfire. Carter, guard our rear, I don't want any surprises from that direction. Daniel, you have our left flank. Use the wall, and watch for anything sliding along it trying to get behind us. I'll take the right flank.”
It took only a couple of minutes for everyone to set up while Teal'c waited, his staff at the ready. He approved of the formation that O'Neill had set up. It maximized their firepower, while minimizing their vulnerabilities. He looked forward to the coming battle and a chance to both destroy these abominations and to prove his honor. They would find Buffy Summers and end this threat to the Tauri.
At that moment, O'Neill ordered, “Seaborn, Teal'c, open fire!” And so it began.
Graham blinked away tears as his vision cleared from the latest grenade they'd tossed. Out of fragmentation, the few survivors huddled behind the tables in the armory were reduced to using flash bang grenades. Grenades that were essentially useless against most demons, merely disorientating them for a disheartening short amount of time. Only the vampires and a couple of the other species of demons with enhanced senses seemed vulnerable to the flashbangs, thrashing around in agony after each detonation.
Graham was nearly out of ammo, as were the others near him. He glanced over at Forrest, raising an eyebrow, only to receive a short head shake in return. They were going to die in here. There were at least fifteen demons still alive out there, plus a handful of vampires. With unlimited ammo, they would have had a fighting chance. But with so little ammo and their numbers whittled down to just four effectives, they wouldn't be able to hold off the next rush.
Graham tightened his grip on his assault rifle, preparing to take at least one more of the demons with him, having his eye on the Gla'corn Beast, when he heard the familiar sound of a SAW firing from somewhere in front of him. From outside
the armory. Along with Forrest, he glanced over their barricade to find the demons turning around as they were hammered in the back by machine gun fire. And something else that flashed, thundered, and burned a demon down in it's tracks, its torso blasted apart.
“Mother fucker, the cavalry is here!” Graham cursed as he stumbled to his feet. He glanced at the others who looked exhausted as they still knelt behind their makeshift barrier. “Get up, you rats. Hoorah!”
The “Hoorah” that was returned wasn't loud, but it was fierce. And desperately needed, Graham thought, as Forrest and the other two marines stumbled to their feet. He ignored the pain in his own arm as he grabbed Patterson and pushed him towards the door. A quick glance towards the wounded to make sure no one was in danger of bleeding out, and Graham led the way towards the armory door at a stumbling trot.
Graham and the others opened fire on the handful of demons who held back in the corridor to the armory rather than enter the atrium and the fire that was rapidly taking down every demon there. The buzz saw sound of the SAW firing was intermixed with both lighter submachine gun fire and the thundering boom of some kind of heavy weapon. They were able to see the effects firsthand as they drove the demons straight into the heavy fire. A vampire exploded into dust as it was hit with some kind of superfast burning ball. Graham could feel the heat from fifty feet away as it washed over his face.
Then the last demon was down. Graham cautiously approached the doorway leading out and shouted, “Don't fire, friendlies coming out!”
Graham waited until he heard an answering shout of, “Hold your fire! Confirming friendlies coming out!”
With that, Graham cautiously stepped into the atrium, taken aback as he realized that he was being approached by two different men, one a bird colonel and the other without any rank on his battledress. Bringing up the rear were a major and a captain and another man without insignia. He felt his guts clench as he realized that every one of them had their weapons trained upon him and his men.
Then the colonel barked, “Colonel Jack O'Neill, United States Air Force. I want a full sitrep on what has happened going back forty-eight hours.”
O'Neill? Graham knew he had heard that name before. He drew himself up, and replied, “Agent Graham Miller. I am sorry, Colonel, but the situation here is need to know and you are not authorized.”
The three officers in front of him exchanged bitter glances before O'Neill stepped forward, directly into Graham's face, and snarled, “I am in command here, Agent! We both know this is another NID clusterfuck. I have already called in a Foothold, so unless you want to be bombed into orbit by a B-2, you will brief me immediately. Or so help me God, I'll shoot you myself.”
Buffy was hurting. Badly. She'd thinned her opponents down to the point that, if she'd been even close to fresh, she would have won handily. But she wasn't fresh. The vicious, brutal fight had taken its toll on her and any reserves she might have had left. There was nothing left in the tank.
Worse, she was injured. Something in Buffy's knee was grating and it barely supported her weight. She was covered in cuts and bruises, almost all individually trivial, but decidedly not en masse. Worse, she'd taken a blow to her torso that had broken ribs and torn cartilage, making every breath an effort. Black spots occasionally danced across her vision and she had to focus hard to stay conscious. The grim reality Buffy faced was that if she passed out, she wouldn't be waking up. Not in this world at least. No, she'd be torn to pieces and death would be a blessing.
Unfortunately, Buffy still faced five opponents, two Glyaspeck, two Hozskeers, and another Fyarl, all of whom were relatively uninjured, having arrived late to the fight. She thought she could deal with the two pairs of smaller demons. While they were fast, they weren't that tough. But the Fyarl was a tank who needed a silver weapon to take down. Buffy had already dealt with one Fyarl earlier, using a shortsword embedded into brain to disable it. But Buffy was fresh out of swords, being down to a sole eight inch combat knife for a weapon.
The rest of her weapons lay broken or used in and among the bodies of the various demons. Even her stakes were all gone, dusted along with the vampires they'd slain. Buffy had sold every one of them dearly.
Buffy dodged a blow from the Fyarl that would have taken her head off, coming so close it brushed her hair. Unfortunately, her move almost took her off her feet. The two Glyaspeck, pack hunters that they were, pounced on her perceived weakness. Glyaspeck were tall, slender creatures, with an oily shine to their dark red flesh, who at first glance, seemed harmless. But the delicate hands at the end of each long arm contained stingers capable of injecting lethal doses of poison, which served double duty by also liquefying their prey's insides so as to be easily ingested through suction by their long, narrow snouts.
Fortunately, Buffy had enough speed left to duck around the rightmost one, leaving it out of position and blocking the other. Lightning quick, she reached around its slim neck from behind and viciously slashed its throat, drawing a keening cry from the creature. Using all the strength she had left, Buffy roughly pushed the dying demon into its pack mate, sending them both crashing to the ground. However, she had no time to follow up on her advantage as one of the Hozskeers attacked.
Short and stocky, the Hozskeer was shorter than Buffy by half a foot, but outmassed her by an order of three. Capable of quick, darting movements, its primary weapon of attack were the teeth contained in its almost crocadilian snout. Tough and vicious, it's only true vulnerability lay in its dependence on its vision, its other senses being less stellar. Blinded, they tended to attack anything they touched.
Buffy gauged the position of the other four demons as she somehow managed to somersault over the Hozskeer, using mostly one leg, while simultaneously slashing its eyes with her knife as she moved past it. Buffy was sure she'd blinded it which was confirmed by its subsequent actions. The Hozskeer crashed into the two Glyaspecks and went mad, tearing into them with its teeth like a buzzsaw gone berserk.WHAM!
Buffy flew head over heels for the second time in a row, this time from a hit from the Fyarl. Crashing into the wall hurt nearly as much as the blow itself. Buffy grunted in pain and struggled to her feet. Somehow she'd lost track of the Fyarl for a split second while dealing with the Hozskeer and it had made her pay for the mistake. The only positive thing was that she hadn't landed in the middle of the fight between the Hozskeer and the Glyaspecks, which as starting to wind down, both sides clearly dying. That would have been painful and potentially fatal.
Instead, Buffy had a broken arm, snapped by the hit like a stick and all but useless now. She cradled the damaged limb against her chest as she hobbled around, slowly circling her last two opponents. The Fyarl said something in its gargling language as it moved around with her. The remaining Hozskeer snarled silently as gray drool dripped from its teeth as its eyes followed her movements.
Buffy could feels doubts creeping up on her as she barely held herself erect. She'd never been hurt this badly in any fight she ever been in and even the Slayer part of her was worn out. It was a combination of things, her love for her mother, her sense of duty and honor, and her sheer stubbornness that kept her on her feet. That kept her from just giving up. One foot in front of the other was about all she could manage.
Buffy was coming to the realization that she wasn't going to win this last fight through superior strength or speed. There simply wasn't anything left. No, she needed to be tricky here at the end. Only cleverness and deceit were going to give her another day alive in the sun. Then glancing at her two opponents, Buffy had an idea.
Buffy rapidly came up a plan, trying to finish before the two demons grew impatient and attacked. It only took seconds to come together, but in the meantime, the tension within her opponents was mounting rapidly. When it exploded, there would be one final orgy of violence. All Buffy had to do was get a sense of when it would happen and respond first. Yep, that was all she had to do.
Or make it happen, Buffy decided, determination filling her. Feigning a stumble that was only half trickery, she hesitated just long enough for her opponents to commit to their attacks, the, dove between the legs of the Fyarl. The big demon, not the most graceful at the best of times, tripped over its much shorter companion, sending them both crashing to the ground.
Still, if Buffy had been expecting them to fight based upon that fall, she would have been disappointed. But she hadn't expected that to happen. Not until she jumped on top of the two figures still struggling to their feet, and using every ounce of strength she had left, pushed the Fyarl's hand, which it had been using to fend her off, into the mouth of the Hozskeer, who reflexively bit down.
Buffy's brain whited out a second from the pain as she went flying into the wall yet again. The Fyarl leaped to its feet, and began hammering blows onto the head of the smaller Hozskeer. As she fuzzily stared at the two battling figures, Buffy thought it was lucky that Fyarls weren't the sharpest tools in the shed. Case in point was the fight going on in front of her. The blows from the Fyarl's good hand only succeeded in driving the jaws of the Hozskeer into a tighter grip on its trapped hand, which would eventually result in only one thing happening. It was almost anti-climatic, when, with a tearing crunch, the Fyarl's arm was released, green gore flying. Its stump raised in a mad rage, it tore and smashed at its smaller opponent, who gave as good as it got.
In the meantime, Buffy lay there, not sure if she could move even if wanted. It probably didn't matter that she didn't have a clue where her knife had gone. Her leg was finished and wouldn't be taking even a part of weight anytime soon. The arm she cradled across her chest throbbed in time with her heartbeat. A thousand myriad aches and pains took the moment to make themselves known and Buffy hissed at the sensation.
Woozy, Buffy blinked and was aware of a sensation of lost time. The fight in front of her was over, the Fyarl the victor. It slowly dragged itself upright, clearly hurt nearly as badly as Buffy. The key word being nearly. The Fyarl staggered to a halt in front of her and reached for her with its remaining hand. Buffy's efforts to resist were batted aside and it lifted her by the front of her shredded fatigues. Lifted her until she was eye to eye with it. It spat something in its own language at her before moving towards her face as if to bite. Buffy used her good hand to try to fend it-THOOMPH!!
Both Buffy and the Fyarl turned their heads in the direction of the door at the unfamiliar booming sound. Her brain appeared still capable of registering surprise as she stared open-mouthed at the familiar figure standing there. A familiar figure holding an odd looking staff. An odd looking staff that spit fire from its split open end. Fire that-
As Buffy tumbled through the air for the umpteenth time since the battle started, darkness finally claimed her, for good this time.