The Wrong Apocalypse
Fate hasn’t finished playing with Cordelia – and this time there isn’t even a Vengeance Demon in sight. Pairings:
Beginnings of Cordelia/Teal’c, with Samantha/Jack in the background and others as canon for now. Disclaimer:
I don’t own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, NCIS, or Stargate SG-1. Notes:
Loosely set during the 5th season of BtVS. Continued from Fate’s Little Plaything Vol.1
– this will probably only make sense if you’ve also read some of the preceding stories in the series first, especially Making the Quota
and Someone Else’s Mess
. Note that there are some major AU components. The Gate Room, Stargate Command, US Air Force Cheyenne Mountain Complex, Colorado – 1st January, 2001
She’d always wondered if, one day, there would be an apocalypse she couldn’t prevent. Now, however, that the end of the world – at least as she knew it – might be just around the corner, it wasn’t anything like Buffy had expected. For one thing, the Hellmouth was still closed and, for another, Glory wasn’t at the root of it.
Just a small matter of six Goa’uld Motherships bearing down on the planet, either to land a Jaffa invasion force, or simply to blast Earth’s surface into molten slag. Or perhaps a combination of both. Unfortunately, this was one potential apocalypse which was far beyond the Slayer’s abilities to stop - or anyone else’s, for that matter. General Hammond had contacted the Coven, as a final resort, but even the most powerful witches might be hard put to stop half-a-dozen massive Goa’uld Ha’taks, orbiting thousands of miles above the planet surface.
The SGC had received a message from the Tok’ra several hours before, warning them that Bastet had despatched an attack fleet to deal with the Tau’ri, once and for all. Now at war with just about every other System Lord, she apparently no longer felt bound by the Protected Planets Treaty. More worrying, Bastet also seemingly wasn’t overly concerned about Asgard retaliation. Furthermore, it seemed as though the Goa’uld had successfully called their bluff, as so far there had been no response to Hammond’s urgent call for help.
In the meantime, with an estimated eight hours – at most - remaining before the fleet arrived, the General had put the evacuation plan into effect. Under Operation Sanctuary, those regarded as the country’s “best and brightest” were once again, as had been the case several years previously when Apophis was planning to attack, being rounded up and flown to the SGC as rapidly as possible. From there, they’d be shipped out to one of the four last-ditch refuge sites. Most were bound for the Delta Site, where the resident Varrini population would be on hand to support them. Several large groups had already passed through the Stargate, as Hammond attempted to evacuate as many as possible.
“General, you’ve the weirdest notion of “best and brightest”,” Buffy protested for the fifth time, as she and Tara were provided with an M4 apiece and a rucksack loaded with essentials, then hustled in the direction of the Gate Room.
“I-I’m kinda with Buffy on this one, General,” Tara agreed nervously.
With Cordelia, Buffy had only arrived at Cheyenne Mountain the previous day, to visit Willow. At 5am this morning, however, the Slayer had the rudest of awakenings, as she was practically dragged from her bed by an SF, briefed, and kitted out. The blonde also wondered who put together the list of “essential” evacuees. She was shocked to find her own name recently added to the selectees - and equally surprised that there were comparatively few politicians. On the other hand, there were large numbers of scientists, engineers, agricultural experts, doctors and teachers.
After the first threatened attack by Apophis, the General had tweaked the emergency plan somewhat. About four times as many key people, plus spouses and children, were earmarked for evacuation this time around, under a far more efficient plan to collect the fortunate individuals and transport them to Cheyenne Mountain. The civilians were a much more diverse group than previously. Evidently, someone had decided that a new human colony needed a wide range of professions and skills, plus families, if it was to have any viability in the longer term.
If all went well and the Asgard did indeed intervene, the evacuees would soon be back on Earth, thereby giving the SGC a major security headache. Adults deemed to be a low security risk would be required to sign the usual Non-Disclosure form, but others – and the children – posed a different problem. The Tok’ra apparently had the ability to suppress parts of someone’s memory and no doubt the Covens could come up with a magical alternative. Hammond found either alternative somewhat distasteful, but if he was faced with that ethical challenge, it would at least mean his planet had survived intact. And right now, he was praying hard for that security nightmare.
“How about “the best, the brightest and the vitally important”, then? From where I’m standing, Slayers – and witches - definitely fit into that last category. But I don’t have time to argue any further, either of you!” Hammond replied firmly.
“My orders are to assure the security of these people to the best of my ability. In the worst possible case scenario, they could be the sole survivors from this planet, and who’s to say what dangers they’ll face in future? Dangers that might need a Slayer and a witch to deal with them, perhaps? This time you can best serve your planet by not dying with it.”
He indicated a heavily armed and laden SG-3, SG-16 and HG-1. “And you won’t be alone. I’m sending Saedria and her Sentinels out with the next group.”
The Varrini Protector and her girls had been training at the HGC Colorado facility for around a month. Saedria had finally tired of being a Protector without a clear role and had, therefore, volunteered herself and most of the remaining Sentinels, as a back-up to Amyra and the Sunnydale group. Now she was reluctantly returning home, under circumstances no one could have foreseen.
“And Willow?” Tara ventured fearfully, trying to blink back the tears.
Not only was this her first apocalypse, but she was terrified for the safety of her girlfriend. Tara suspected that basically immobile hospital patients, regardless of their special gifts, wouldn’t have a high priority in the evacuation schedule. Willow, however, had firmly sided with Hammond. The Scoobies had always been about saving the world and, if they couldn’t do that, in this instance they could at least try to protect some of the survivors. The redhead had, moreover, told them both – and in no uncertain terms – that she’d never forgive them if they sacrificed themselves out of loyalty to her, if that meant leaving humanity’s remnants vulnerable to supernatural attack.
Tara, nevertheless, felt torn in half. Leaving her lover behind to die, in the service of the greater good – which also felt very much like running away – or following her heart and remaining at Willow’s side. No doubt, she wasn’t the only one who had to make such a harsh choice today – but that was of no consolation whatsoever.
The General couldn’t quite look her in the eye. The brutal fact was that the evacuees would be living on bare essentials, with a minimum of medical care available. Each person through the Gate would have to carry his or her own weight from the outset, to ensure that at least a small portion of the Tau’ri line continued.
“I’ll try to find a space for her with one of the later groups...” Hammond temporised.
Tara smiled sadly and shook her head. “It’s okay... I understand, General.”
“And Cordelia?” Buffy asked nervously.
She’d been parted from her sister about half-an-hour earlier, Slayer Lite disappearing into the armoury and returning fully tooled up. The brunette had then disappeared into a hasty briefing session with Hammond and O’Neill’s team. Obviously, the General had some important – and probably dangerous -task for his flagship team.
Hammond’s expression hardened. “SG-1 have a specific tasking from the President. And your sister will be going along with them, for extra muscle. If this planet falls, their orders are to make sure Bastet doesn’t live to celebrate. But you’ll see her again on the Delta Site, before Colonel O’Neill and his team move out.”
“Cordy will get it done, General,” the Slayer acknowledged grimly.
If there was any possible way of getting to the heavily protected Goa’uld, her sister would wreak bloody vengeance. Slayer Lite, after all, was equally suited to taking down the bad guys from a mile away, or snapping their necks with her bare hands.
“I’ve no doubt of that, Buffy,” Hammond agreed.
“What about you, General?” Tara asked.
Hammond was dressed in camouflage gear, with body armour, and a loaded P90 slung over one shoulder.
“I’ll be staying right here. Defence of the planet can best be coordinated from the SGC and the Mountain will probably be one of their first targets. They’ll want to take the Gate intact, but this old warhorse has at least one good fight left in him!” the General replied in determined tones.
A last stand, Buffy told herself sadly. Exactly what she’d have been doing, if the General hadn’t pointed out that even the Slayer couldn’t affect the outcome of this battle. Part of her still wanted to stay and fight with her friends, but Willow was out of commission, Tara was by her side, and Giles and Xander were hundreds of miles away. Logic told her that Hammond was right, but her heart wasn’t so sure. Running from the fight certainly felt wrong, especially when many of those she loved would be left in peril. On the other hand, she was being trusted – at least in part – with the safety of the evacuees. If Earth were attacked, then the small number who escaped to the Delta Site would be a very precious charge indeed. The General couldn’t order her to do what he perceived to be the right thing, he could only appeal to her broader sense of duty.
The best that Earth could look forward to was mass casualties from an orbital bombardment, which would knock its people back to the stone age, followed by enslavement for the survivors. Of course, if Bastet’s forces had the slightest inkling that the planet had more than one Hellmouth, they’d simply raze every inch of it. O’Neill had explained that particular Goa’uld policy and the enemy certainly had the capability. Apparently, a single salvo from one of their Motherships could flatten an entire city.
In the worst instance, at least Glory would get hers, too. But that was no real consolation, not with the prospect of billions dead.
Just in case the Slayer and her friend were still wavering, the General gestured towards the frightened mass of humanity preparing to pass through the Stargate. None could hide their shock at this sudden and terrifying turn of events, even those who’d been in the same position in the past. For many, the mere existence of the Stargate added another level of bewilderment. In most cases, the fear and the vulnerability were quite palpable.
“This is a horrible choice, Buffy... But I d-don’t think I could refuse, then live with myself,” Tara admitted.
Not that she was likely to have to live with herself for very long, if she remained at an SGC under Goa’uld attack.
“You know how to back a girl into a corner, General,” Buffy growled.
Hammond managed a thin smile. “Didn’t get these stars without knowing how to manipulate people, Buffy.”
“How l-long?” Tara was trying, at least outwardly, not to appear as frightened as the assembled civilians.
“We’ve eight hours left,” Hammond tried to sound optimistic. “I can get a lot of people off-planet in that time. And maybe the Asgard will respond. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve been late when we called...”
“If they don’t, you should be asking for a refund. Some fricking alliance, if they arrive even an hour too late!” Buffy snorted.
“I’ve put my own people on apocalypse alert, General,” she added. “And the moment they attack? Send Giles a message. Just three words... Little Green Men. He’ll make sure everyone knows it’s War of the Worlds time – the Covens, Potentials, Watchers – and they’ll all go to ground. Not many resistance groups can turn the bad guys into rats...”
Most of the Assembly and allied Covens didn’t know the first thing about the SGC and its real purpose – didn’t even know it existed, in fact – but the Slayer and Giles had made contingency plans for just such a day. Earth’s other defenders maybe couldn’t stop a fully-fledged invasion, but they could make the invaders pay a heavy price.
“I’d have your people in Sunnydale flown here, but Operation Sanctuary uses every available asset on a pre-arranged schedule and...” Hammond offered apologetically.
Buffy shook her head. “We haven’t finished planning our own emergency transport scheme, either. And that’s something to think about later - if the Asgard ride to the rescue. Might need some advice on shopping for helicopters, actually... But Giles wouldn’t leave the Hellmouth without some sort of protection anyway.”
Nor, for that matter, would Amyra. The Varrini had sworn herself to Earth’s protection and she believed that it was a divine task, having been Chosen on this planet. And wild horses wouldn’t drag the fierce Protector back through the Gate, if she had a chance to kill some of Bastet’s warriors.
Hammond checked his watch and tilted his head towards the Stargate, a steady stream of evacuees passing through the wormhole.
“I’m afraid it’s time you were both leaving,” he shook both their hands.
“Hopefully we can still resolve this. But if not? It’s certainly been an eye-opener, working with you and your friends!” the General smiled.
“Likewise, General. And we’re so not giving up yet,” the Slayer assured him.
Things had, indeed, changed in so many ways since Operation Van Helsing. The formation of the HGC, the destruction of the old Council and creation of the Slayer’s Assembly, having the ear and cooperation of government, actually trusting government and the military, using firearms as a matter of course – the list was quite extensive.
Of course, the other shoe just had to drop at a time when – leaving Glory aside – the good guys were finally organising themselves into a large and effective force for the light. Fate was no doubt laughing her capricious ass off.
“Thank you for everything,” Tara added, a slight quaver in her voice.
“Thank you, both,” Hammond responded, moving off to talk with another outward-bound group.
Buffy shook her head and growled. “This sucks way beyond description. A great guy like that should be looking forward to years of retirement with his grand-kids, not fighting to the last fricking bullet.”
Tara nodded numbly, then stared at the shimmering wormhole event horizon.
“D-does it hurt?”
The Slayer gently took her by the arm and they joined the growing line on the ramp. “Not a bit. Just a helluva ride...” Giles’ Apartment, Sunnydale, California – 1st January, 2001
Everyone, Giles noted, looked just as tense and frightened as he felt. This was a new kind of threat, one they were ill-equipped to fight – at least for now. However, they had to at least try and, in the absence of Buffy and Cordelia, the Watcher had urgently summoned the twins, Amyra and Xander to an emergency Scooby Meeting. For now, together with the Sentinels, they potentially represented the Sunnydale branch of a prospective Earth resistance movement. And Giles was far from optimistic about their chances.
“Just got to say, this is different...” Xander voiced everyone’s thoughts. “Not only pretty early in the year for an apocalypse, but we can’t just go Slay this wannabe Goddess. Anyone up for introducing her to the real thing? Where’s Glory when you need the real fricking article?”
“The last thing we need right now is another enemy to confuse matters,” Giles responded dryly.
Admittedly, the mental image of the insane Hell Goddess cutting a bloody swathe through hordes of invading Jaffa, then tearing their Goa’uld leader limb-for-limb, was quite an agreeable one. Unfortunately, Glorificus was hardly likely to cooperate with her enemies in Sunnydale. In fact, she’d probably barely notice an alien invasion.
Xander grunted. “Used to be that all I had to worry about on New Year’s Day was my parents getting even more smashed than usual.”
He looked hopefully at the Watcher. “So do we have a plan? We do have a plan, right?”
Giles cleaned his glasses more vigorously than normal. “That depends on the strategy used by the Goa’uld. If they simply opt for planetary destruction, our options are – to say the least – limited.”
“Good old British understatement, Giles. Who else could use “planetary destruction” and “limited options” in a sentence?” Xander offered lightly.
Giles glared at him. “If, on the other hand, we are faced with an invasion? Then we have a few options, though odds will remain very much against us.”
Aphrodite nodded. “The Covens won’t normally use their powers to intervene in human conflicts. But this is different...”
Her twin-sister, as always, agreed. “We’d be prepared to use spells normally forbidden to us...”
“And the Covens would also be willing to forge alliances with other magic users, whose methods and sources of power we would normally shun,” Aphrodite continued.
Althenea sounded a cautionary note. “Miss Harkness doesn’t, however, believe that we could effectively use our powers against ships so far from the planet.”
“If Bastet is foolish enough to land her troops on this world, my Sentinels and I will ensure that they regret it. For the brief time they have to live...” Amyra put in darkly, to a murmur of agreement from her girls.
“Has the General shifted Tara’s, Buffy’s and Cordy’s butts off the planet?” Xander demanded.
At least some of his girls would be safe, he consoled himself. Given the sort of priorities that the authorities were most likely wrestling with, his best friend wouldn’t, in all probability, have the option. Xander guessed that Willow would most likely be trapped in the Mountain when the Goa’uld struck.
“Neither wanted to leave Earth, as you might imagine. Cordelia, however, had very little option, but to agree. A soldier does not disobey direct orders, especially during an emergency. Buffy technically had the option to refuse, but she‘d have no means of returning here before any attack. In any case, the President wanted a Slayer to accompany some of the evacuees from the planet and she – eventually – saw the logic.” Giles responded.
“Helping to ensure the survival of human civilization? Makes sense... And if the Buffster’s off-world, maybe she’ll have a chance for some payback,” Xander said hopefully.
He couldn’t imagine Buffy playing nursemaid to some VIPs on an alien world, while her own planet went unavenged.
“Perhaps. Though I believe that’s Cordelia’s direct assignment, together with the rest of Colonel O’Neill’s team...” Giles offered equally optimistically.
“Go Cordy!” Xander growled.
“Saedria will also make Bastet pay. The Varrini will avenge both of our worlds,” Amyra promised.
“The Asgard may yet intervene,” Giles tried to remain up-beat. “And in the event of a pre-invasion bombardment, the Goa’uld are most likely to target large cities. Sunnydale is a small target.”
“With a stonking great military base a few miles away,” Xander reminded him.
Giles grimaced. “There is that, I suppose. But we could retreat underground – Sunnydale isn’t short of tunnels, caves and so forth. The normal residents might object, of course...”
Amyra grunted dismissively. “They would object for a very short time.”
She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Aphrodite mentioned alliances of convenience. It may be that some of the creatures around here might welcome a change of prey. Jaffa are no more immune to vampires and demons than humans.”
“If an invasion seems certain, then we’ll talk to Spike. Half of the creatures in this town may hate him, but he’s still our closest link to the sort of supernatural element which might help,” Giles was trying to think like a potential resistance leader, rather than a Watcher.
The blonde vampire was still unaware of the SGC’s real purpose. Quite simply, no one trusted him enough to share that particular secret. Nonetheless, if Earth was suddenly swarming with Jaffa, secrecy would swiftly become a moot point.
Aphrodite raised a hand. “One little problem... If demons become too much of a problem – or if Bastet discovers that Earth has more than one Hellmouth – there’s a chance she’ll simply take out the whole planet.”
“It could even happen indirectly. My world was destroyed because Bastet’s attack prevented us from keeping our Hellmouth closed,” Amyra reminded them bleakly.
Xander sighed heavily. “In other words, we might just kill a few Jaffa, but in the long-run we’re totally fucked.”
“Leaving aside the profanity, I would have to agree with you,” Giles agreed soberly, pinching the bridge of his nose. The Armoury, Stargate Command, US Air Force Cheyenne Mountain Complex, Colorado – 1st January, 2001
“Still feels like every Slayer for herself. Someone just give me a white feather, please...” Cordelia grumbled – Buffy wasn’t the only one who felt as though she was running away.
“For crying out loud, we’ve been through this a hundred times in the last hour, Sergeant!” O’Neill growled.
In truth, he didn’t like leaving Hammond and a skeleton defence team behind, either. Not that the General or the others would be around for long if the worst happened. The moment one of Bastet’s Jaffa set foot anywhere near Cheyenne Mountain, Hammond had every intention of triggering the self-destruct mechanism.
“And don’t even think about disobeying orders. As of now, we’re effectively at war. Which means they can put you up against a wall for things like that...” the Colonel warned her.
O’Neill told himself that all the times he’d been creative with direct orders didn’t really count, as Jackson raised a pointed eyebrow in his direction.
Slayer Lite shot him a glare. “I know my UCMJ. And you’ve known me long enough to know that I don’t disobey orders, sir. Bitch like Hell about them, maybe...”
“Do me a favour? Quit with the bitching and make with the preparations!” the Colonel shot back.
O’Neill’s – and her own – increased snark levels aside, Cordelia was surprised at how outwardly calm everyone in SG-1 appeared to be. No doubt, they were all as torn up inside as she felt right now. On the other hand, it wasn’t their first apocalypse either.
“If they knew what was going on, I guess all these armchair prophets – the bozos who claimed the world was going to end with the new millennium – would be saying I told you so...” the brunette sighed, trying to squeeze an extra three M4 clips into her bulging rucksack.
“Depends,” Jackson allowed. “Half the world thinks the millennium started in 2000, the other half is going with this year...”
“Then there’s the rest of us... Who’re all so tired of that argument, we don’t care, Daniel,” O’Neill rolled his eyes.
“As we have saved the world several times a year since I joined you – and the same can be said for the Slayer and her friends – any prophecy is irrelevant, Cordelia,” Teal’c opined.
“Talk to Buffy sometime and ask her how irrelevant prophecies are,” Slayer Lite shot back, recalling her sister’s death at the hands of the Master.
Carter appeared beside her, carrying a cased rifle. “We don’t keep too many sniper’s rifles in the Mountain. It won’t shoot as far as you might like, but it’s the best I could do. And that’s match-grade ammo, so it’ll add a bit to the accurate range.”
“That’s Ray Schama’s rifle,” O’Neill noted quietly, taking the weapon for a moment.
Carter nodded. “He was practicing for a competition shoot on Saturday...”
Captain Ray Schama had been a member of SG-20, the team so recently wiped out on Tramizar. While not quite up to Cordelia’s standard, the Air Force officer had probably been the best shot in the SGC.
“I’m guessing he’d have wanted you to have it for this mission, Cordy,” the Colonel handed over his former colleague’s competition-shooting weapon.
Slayer Lite briefly withdrew the proffered weapon from its case. It was a Remington 700, the original basis for the Army’s M24 SWS, but chambered in this case for the .300 Winchester Magnum. Or it had once been a Remington 700, before Schama customised the weapon for his own purposes, with a heavy free-floating barrel, a high-power scope, and a fully adjustable stock. While it wouldn’t shoot so far as her favoured AWSM, the rifle-bullet combination was more than adequate for most purposes and, with the competition-grade rounds, could certainly take down a target out to 1000 metres or more.
“Achieving a successful shot against Bastet may be difficult, Cordelia. Like other System Lords, she is rarely seen out in the open,” Teal’c warned.
Slayer Lite’s eyes flashed dangerously. “If I have to sit in a fricking hole for a year to get a shot at that bitch, then I’ll do it. And if I can get close enough to carve the snake out of her ass with my stake? Does the job just as well.”
Two soft-nosed rounds through the head would, according to Teal’c, cause sufficient damage that neither a Goa’uld healing device nor a sarcophagus would bring Bastet back to life. If SG-1 needed a stealthy, close-in option, Cordelia would also be O’Neill’s natural choice. However, though she might be SG-1’s ace-in-the-hole in some respects, Slayer Lite was well aware of her own limitations. Her combat experience – fighting vamps and demons aside – consisted of a single operation. Fighting Somalia militia was a long way from the massive interstellar war Earth had become embroiled in. She wasn’t Supergirl and was glad the others realised that crucial fact. After all, they’d been fighting this enemy for several years, while she’d only stepped through the Gate once before. For plans requiring more firepower, explosive demolition, or expertise in Goa’uld installations and equipment, they’d need the whole team – and perhaps others. Planning Bastet’s demise would, however, have to wait until they were off-world.
O’Neill would certainly have no shortage of volunteers, if he needed them. Hammond was sending every SG-Team currently on Earth out to the Delta site and recalling all others to the same destination. If they lost Earth and most of its population, the survivors would need allies and alien technologies more than ever, and the SG Teams’ precious expertise in off-world exploration would be at a premium.
Cordelia’s shoulders momentarily slumped at the sheer magnitude of the disaster humanity might be facing. Try as she might, Slayer Lite couldn’t shake the mental images of Willow, Giles and Xander callously shot down by Jaffa, and everywhere she’d ever known blasted to rubble by Goa’uld Motherships. No doubt her Special Forces comrades back in Fort McGregor – assuming they survived the initial attack – would also go down fighting. Xander had once forced her to sit through Independence Day
, as payback for an extended shoe-shopping trip. Cordelia was pretty sure the Goa’uld could do pretty much the same to Earth’s cities as the aliens in that movie. Except, of course, that this time there would be no Will Smith with a ridiculously unfeasible plan to save the planet.
If Slayer Lite was honest with herself, this time she was terrified. Far more so than had been the case when several Somali Ak-47s were shoved in her face. She tried hard to focus on the mission. Only the mission mattered now – that was what they always said. And the ubiquitous “they” were so full of crap.
“Fuck! I just can’t fucking believe this shit,” the brunette shook her head sorrowfully, lapsing into barrack-room speak.
“Chin up, Cordy. We’ve been here before and come through it – and so have you, back in Sunnydale,” Carter reminded the Sergeant.
“Do they not say that it is not over until it is over?” Teal’c recalled a line from a baseball match O’Neill had once compelled him to watch.
“Better not be over,” O’Neill snarked. “Thor owes us more than one. Saving his skinny grey ass when his ship was overrun by the Replicators. Carter saving their whole frigging planet from the bugs...”
It did, indeed, seem odd to Cordelia that Earth’s advanced allies had been so accommodating in helping Dawn and Joyce reach a place of safety, yet weren’t here at the time of Earth’s greatest need.
Slayer Lite forced herself to smile. “I know it isn’t over, Teal’c... If only ‘cause you still owe me that second meal we never had in Sunnydale.”
She turned to Carter and lowered her voice. “I’ve also no intention of dying a fricking virgin. I need to get laid already...”
Slayer Lite still wasn’t sure where she stood relationship-wise with the Jaffa. And right now, she could have cared less. With potential world-endage only hours away, her needs were more of the moment.
Unfortunately O’Neill, standing by the door, had better ears than she’d suspected. And up to now, she’d been keeping her total lack of experience in the sack as a secret from the Colonel.
“Have at it, Trench Rat. Might do wonders for that snarkiness...” O’Neill suggested archly.
“Colonel!” Carter’s eyes widened – her fiancé usually wasn’t quite so blunt about such things.
“If you didn’t outrank me – sir – I’d suggest you pucker up and kiss this little Slayer’s lily-white ass!” Cordelia retorted waspishly.
The SG-1 CO sniggered. “I rest my case.”
O’Neill had already recognised that the tetchy young NCO was actually scared out of her wits. It was scarcely surprising, however. The youngest and least-experienced member of his team – even if her Sunnydale experiences were included – was facing a leap into the unknown, on top of a potentially apocalyptic crisis. He’d long-since recognised that Cordelia’s default reaction when afraid, or facing something unfamiliar, was full-on snark. And the best way to make the brunette forget her fears was to provoke her, if only just a little.
“Indeed, regular sex does not seem to have improved Colonel O’Neill’s moods in that respect,” Teal’c offered, to everyone’s surprise.
Carter suddenly didn’t know where to look, while O’Neill coughed and glanced at the ceiling.
“It’s definitely the apocalypse. Teal’c’s cracking jokes...” Jackson suggested dryly.
“It was merely an observation, Daniel Jackson.”
Cordelia permitted herself an internal chuckle. In at least one way, SG-1 were like the Scooby Gang. The level of repartee and inappropriately-timed jokes seemed to increase in direct relation to the seriousness of the crisis. Control Room, Stargate Command, US Air Force Cheyenne Mountain Complex, Colorado – 1st January, 2001
“They’re moving, sir,” a young USAF Lieutenant confirmed, checking the readings and image on his screen.
Two hours before, the first pair of Ha’taks had exited hyperspace just beyond the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. They’d been joined by other ships at various intervals, until the sixth arrived only fifteen minutes previously. Bastet obviously wanted to hit Earth with overwhelming force. One Mothership was overwhelming, Hammond thought wryly. Six was overkill – or just plain showing off.
“At their current speed and course, they’ll be within firing range in sixty-eight minutes,” the Lieutenant confirmed.
Earth’s ability to detect and track approaching ships had been improved markedly following the previous attempted attack by Apophis. Defences were another matter, though. Between them, Russia and the US maintained several dozen heavy satellite-booster rockets, with multiple Naquada-enhanced nuclear warheads and large numbers of decoys, specifically modified to deal with attacking Goa’uld ships. Last time around, however, Ha’tak shields had withstood such devices with ease. Though the Goa’uld-Busters now had an uprated warhead yield – almost double that of those used previously – and the scientists hoped that a dozen or more hits, supplemented by targeted EMP pulses, would collapse a Mothership shield, the General was quite sure it wouldn’t be enough. If they were lucky, the enhanced Mark 12A warheads and their Russian equivalents might just take out one – maybe two – Ha’taks. Equally, the heavily armed Goa’uld vessels could probably target the incoming warheads and swat them like flies.
A year from now, Earth’s first purpose-built starship - the as-yet unnamed X-303 – would have entered service. Even in seven months’ time, he’d have several dozen F-302 space fighters to call upon. Right now, however, there was nothing to even briefly challenge an attacking fleet.
On the ground it was different. As a fighting force, the Jaffa were basically light infantry troops, normally employed either against each other, or civilizations even less advanced than Earth’s. The combined firepower of swarms of Al’kesh and Death Gliders was, therefore, generally used to make up for structural deficiencies in Jaffa ground formations. Earth, however, was a harder nut to crack. In a straight fight, even the average medium-sized army – well-equipped with main battle tanks, heavy artillery and gunship helicopters – would chew up a much larger Jaffa assault force and spit it out. Similarly, Al’kesh and Death Gliders were reasonably vulnerable to modern fighter aircraft equipped with long-range radar and fire-and-forget missiles, especially since the Goa’uld craft couldn’t make maximum use of their speed within an atmosphere, or when dogfighting.
Of course, the Goa’uld weren’t likely to make it a fair fight. Their most probable course of action would be to pound every major military installation from orbit, before landing the first wave of Jaffa. Only when the landing force was satisfied that organised resistance had been crushed would the massive Ha’taks possibly attempt a landing. Hopefully, Hammond reflected dourly, someone would squirrel away a few tactical nukes, for just such an eventuality. The Goa’uld Motherships’ shields might be immune to nuclear attack, but not necessarily to having the ground vaporised underneath them.
“We have confirmation that Kneecap is now airborne, with the President and Joint Chiefs aboard,” Major Paul Davis, the Pentagon liaison officer announced from his own duty system.
“We’re moving to DEFCON One, with the Russians assuming an equivalent posture,” he added, as a buzzer sounded and the appropriate panel on the Threat Level Indicator Board illuminated.
Fraiser appeared in the doorway, armed and clad in green fatigues. As designated Chief Medical Officer for the evacuees, she’d also be amongst the last to leave the complex.
“What’s our status, Doctor?” Hammond asked tersely, aware that time was running out fast.
“Two more groups, sir. My people are ready to leave, with a basic aid team remaining in the infirmary. All volunteers...” Fraiser replied pensively – volunteering to stay hadn’t been an option that was permitted to her, but she still hated leaving any of her close-knit staff.
The General paused for a moment. “Your patient?”
“Willow Rosenberg?” the CMO enquired. “Meditating and concentrating her powers, ready for an attack. But she won’t be able to fight much from her bed...”
Willow was the only patient currently occupying a bed in the SGC infirmary. Over the last few days, she’d demonstrated a remarkable recovery in most respects, fully able to communicate and manage most tasks for herself. For the most part, her magical gifts also remained intact, though spell-casting still drained her reserves more than normal. Unfortunately, she couldn’t yet walk unaided. The muscles of one leg were somewhat wasted and weakened from several weeks in a coma, while the other had suffered permanent nerve damage. The redhead would effectively have to learn to walk again, but she’d never regain full use of one leg. In the remote eventuality that she actually had a life ahead of her, Willow would need a walking stick for the rest of her days.
“How much medical treatment does she still require?” Hammond rubbed his chin.
Fraiser shrugged sadly. “In terms of resources? Not a great deal, actually. From this point, we’d normally be prescribing an intensive physiotherapy programme. But recovery would be very much dependent on her own efforts and determination. Of course, that’s all academic now...”
“Take her with you. No sense sacrificing yet another young life. Besides, Miss Maclay could certainly use some magical back-up, after Miss Rosenberg has recovered. I’m sure Cassie would be willing to help get her back on her feet,” the General directed.
“Yes, sir,” Fraiser responded with some relief.
The prospect of abandoning even one patient hadn’t sat well with the SGC CMO. Fraiser might be a USAF officer, but she was also still deeply wedded to the precepts of the Hippocratic Oath.
She spotted the unmistakable shapes of several Ha’taks on a nearby video screen, the images transmitted from an orbiting satellite. Actually seeing the enemy served to confirm the finality of Earth’s dire situation. Up to now, somehow, this had been just another crisis, like many before it. Barring an Asgard-shaped last-minute miracle, this was the end.
“Is that...?” the CMO’s voice faltered.
“Live video feed, I’m afraid. Which means you don’t have much time left to ship your people out to the Delta Site,” the General confirmed grimly.
“So I guess we can say you’re done here. It’s been an honour to work alongside you, Doctor and... Dismissed,” he suddenly ran out of things to say.
Trying to ignore the pricking of tears around her eyes, Fraiser snapped to attention and saluted, then turned crisply on her heel and left the command centre. At least, Hammond consoled himself, his best people would still have a chance.
“Sir?” the communications officer piped up. “I’m picking up a signal... Sir, it’s from the Goa’uld!”
“On speaker!” the General commanded.
The voice was unmistakably Goa’uld, given its tones, intonations, and the sheer pomposity and arrogance dripping from every word.
“To Hammond, the protector of the Chappa’ai, and the leaders of the Tau’ri. I, Toutatis, offer these terms to the people of Earth. My lady Bastet requires and demands that you disarm and surrender forthwith. In return – and once the ranks of your leaders and warrior caste have been purified - you will be permitted to survive as servants of the mighty and divine Bastet. If you have not accepted these generous terms by the time our ships are within range, all will face the consequences of blasphemously defying the will of my lady.”
Toutatis, the General decided, was most likely some minor Goa’uld, probably commanding the attack fleet. Bastet herself was unlikely to make an appearance, given that the bulk of her forces were currently engaged against the System Lords in a war of unimaginable proportions.
“It’s on repeat, sir. And very specifically targeted at you, on our operating frequencies,” the comms officer pointed out.
Which, Hammond reflected, meant that Bastet almost certainly had a source inside the Mountain. If they survived the next few hours, he’d turn the place upside down until he found the culprit. And he’d hang the treacherous bastard so high, the crows wouldn’t be able to reach him or her.
“Patch it through directly to the President,” the General ordered tiredly.
With the President airborne and mobile in the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, or NEACP - usually abbreviated to Kneecap within the USAF – the Goa’uld at least wouldn’t be able to triangulate his position to any static location.
Hammond glared at the six Ha’taks, clearly visible in splendid high-definition, and arrogantly bearing down on his planet. All the struggles, crises and battles the SGC had weathered over the last few years and it came down to this. Humanity might have its weaknesses, but the people of Earth didn’t deserve to be slaughtered or enslaved by these thrice-damned parasites. The General clenched his fists hard until the nails dug into his palms. He’d never hated anyone or anything quite like he hated Bastet and those of her ilk. If there was any justice in the universe, the Goa’uld – all Goa’uld – would eventually get what they deserved. *This chapter is somewhat shorter than normal, but I decided to give my regulars a small taster/minor cliffie, just to get the next volume started. Hope you enjoy it.*