Disclaimer: See Prologue.
Note: Thanks so much for the reviews, it's always great to get positive feedback. I've replied to some of them on the review page. Just want to say one thing here though - this story is not about character bashing. Sure, people make mistakes and misjudge situations, but I'm not character bashing!
“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
04:37 AUGUST 3
All Buffy could hear in the near darkness were her own sharply drawn breaths, and the quiet snuffling of the sleeping body in the twin bed beside hers. A thin film of sweat covered her skin and she tried to control the adrenaline that shot around her veins, but to no avail. Buffy, her golden hair splayed out on the pillow beneath her, lay motionless on her back, her bare arms crossed over her stomach, and stared up at the ceiling, focusing intently on the cracked, peeling plasterwork above her head, frowning in frustration as she tried to will away the voice that was still resounding though her mind. It was a voice she had become to hate over the past month, a voice that invaded her dreams on an almost nightly basis. She didn’t know the owner of the voice, but her growing antagonism towards him, whoever he was, wasn’t any the less because of that fact. Him: that was all she could discern from her memories upon waking. Other details such as age or race she could not tell, but her brain had already begun imagining a face for him that was gradually looking more and more like her father. Oh boy, she thought, forcefully dragging her musings away from the open sore that was the subject of her absentee father; that was somewhere she definitely didn’t want to go this night.
Giving up on getting back to sleep, she rolled over onto her side and sat up silently, pushing the blankets away from her, and swung her legs downwards over the side of the bed until her feet collided with the coarse carpet covering the floor. As she sat there, her hands gripping the side of the mattress on either side of her, she felt an immense feeling of fatigue wash over her. Not merely physical tiredness, but a deep, internal dragging sensation like she wanted to sink so far out of sight she’d disappear beneath the earth.
This was supposed to be a new start, she thought to herself, miserably, her fingers digging hard into the soft material of her bed sheet. Sitting absolutely still, she listened to the muffled muttering and occasional grunts coming from her sister, huddled under the covers in the adjacent bed, deep within an absorbing dream. Buffy hoped it was better than the one she’d just woken from.
The room they were staying in was nothing special – special came with a price tag that Buffy didn’t feel willing to submit to. Although they were mercifully no longer counting every cent, Buffy felt uneasy about spending Giles’ money on unnecessary luxuries. A motel room with a bathroom, wardrobe, dresser, and two single beds served their purposes. The cable that had come with it was an added perk that both she and Dawn had been enjoying for the two evenings that they’d slept there.
Two whole days they had been in Colorado, three including the day spent in Denver, and Buffy was still no clearer as to why she had felt drawn to the city of Colorado Springs. All she knew was that the tug in the back of her mind that nagged her constantly these days was inexplicably linked to the voice that plagued her dreams. It was always the same dream, night after night. She was standing in the caves under Sunnydale, her left hand outstretched and interlocked with Spike’s right, sunlight bearing down on his pale face as he smiled down at her, his expression full of wonder; ironic amusement at the way his fate had fallen before him.
“I love you,” she’d told him, her wide eyes glistening with tears as she realised the full enormity of what he was doing, what he had already done for her over the past days, months. It was the only way she knew to tell him how proud she was, the only way she could communicate the turmoil of emotions she was feeling at that moment.
“No you don’t, but thanks for saying it,” he had replied with complete acceptance, and staring into his eyes, she knew he was right. She didn’t love him, not in the way that he craved, not in the complete heart and soul, die for one another way that she’d had with Angel. She had needed his company and support when her world was falling apart around her and he’d been there, willing to love her for being who she was. As simple and as uncomplicated as that; one soul seeking comfort in the presence of another, which was why after he was finally gone, she could remain standing.
Their fingers interlocked, with the caves beginning to crumble and collapse around them as the power of the crystalline amulet hung around the vampire’s neck began to destroy the stronghold of The First, and the ground shaking beneath them, Buffy had thought the moment would last forever. Time had seemed to slow to a standstill, skin clamped fervently against skin until flames, licking upwards between them, had forced Buffy to release Spike’s hand, stumbling backwards as the dirt bucked under her feet.
“Now go,” he had ordered her, and she had obeyed, ducking and scrambling frantically up the roughly hewn steps as fast a she could, emerging into the school basement and running for her life, leaving Spike to save them all. Well, almost all, she thought sadly. That was the point at which the dream diverged from her memories, and instead of her climbing out of the seal into the basement of Sunnydale High, there was a deafening rushing sound and a wall of white light swept over her, encasing her with a constantly growing pressure until she felt she would implode from the force of it. It was then that the voices arrived; swirling towards her, whispering strange incomprehensible words until out of the confusion came one voice, the one she hated, its tone argumentative, persuasive, and irritatingly insistent.
“Because I think you’re different from everyone else here.” That was all the voice said, but she knew deep down there was some great significance to those words, some meaning that she hadn’t deciphered. It was then that she woke up, every time at that precise moment, three thirty-seven am, the sentence ringing in her ears as though it had been spoken directly into them.
After the third time she’d had the dream, two weeks after their costly victory and the closing of the Sunnydale Hellmouth, Buffy had gone to Giles and told him what she’d seen. They’d spent several fruitless days, with the aid of Dawn and Willow, searching through what little resources they had access to, trying to match what Buffy had related to them with any prophecies. In the end they had given up, having found nothing. Giles had suggested that her dream, in particular the wall of light, was a suppressed memory of jumping off Glory’s tower to save Dawn – her fall into the energy of the portal, intertwined with the present day realisation that she was no longer the only chosen one, no longer the ‘odd one out’ who had to face her burden alone, to sacrifice herself for the safety of others. Buffy would have been inclined to agree with his astute assessment if it hadn’t been for the nagging sensation that she had to be somewhere, somewhere that wasn’t in a hotel on the edge of Los Angeles with a bunch of exhausted and hormonal super powered teenage girls and the remains of her family and friends.
After Giles had wearily informed her that her dreams didn’t appear to be the precursor to some mystical cataclysm or apocalypse only she could prevent, Buffy had determined to ignore them, but with predictable regularity they still wormed their way into her sleeping thoughts. While she came to sincerely look forward to her brief glimpse of Spike that the dream offered, keeping his memory fresh and alive in her mind, she loathed the voice that woke her night after night. She hated it. Hated it because she knew without a doubt that it was important and she would eventually have to do something about it, and after her conversation with Giles the previous evening, she knew it was asking more of her than she was willing to give.
The whispered words that swirled around her, filtering through the crush of light before that single voice took over, had been getting clearer the closer she and Dawn got to the state of Colorado, and last week, she had been able to make one of them out for the first time. She had known immediately that it was in a language she didn’t know, and consequently had turned to the only person she knew who would: Giles. It had taken him longer than she’d expected for him to get back to her with a translation, but when he did, she wished fervently he hadn’t.
“I was wondering,” she had said into the handset, idly coiling the lead into tight loops around the fingers of her left hand, “did you find out what that word meant?”
“Chappa’ai?” he’d answered. “I think so. If I’m right, it’s a dialect of Ancient Egyptian.”
That had surprised Buffy, certain that the word was demonic and not human in origin. Still, the surprise hadn’t been enough to outweigh the disturbing fact that she had known exactly how the word was spelt, even down to the precise location of the apostrophe, from just hearing it in her dream.
“The closest I could get was ‘entrance’, or ‘doorway’ to heaven.”
“Oh,” was all Buffy had said in reply to this.
It wasn’t until later, when she’d had time to contemplate the translation, that she’d realised what it meant: she was going to die again, return to the heaven that she’d been so brutally torn out of nearly two whole years ago. The problem that arose here was that while it was a concept that would have comforted her in the past, now it scared the pants off her. She’d been shown, if briefly, the possibility of a normal life, a life where she wasn’t the chosen ‘one’, doomed to an early and traumatic death; the life that she’d wished for since she was sixteen. She had barely suppressed the tears when she’d realised that all she had thought she’d finally won was going to be cruelly taken away, and worst of all, she was going to leave Dawn all alone once again.
She glanced back behind herself at the sleeping teenager huddled in a pile of blankets and made a silent promise that she was going to spend as much time as possible with Dawn before…
“What’s this for?” Giles had inquired. “Have you come across something I should–”
“No… no,” Buffy had cut him off, not wanting to have another in depth discussion about her sleeping habits, “it was just something Dawn saw on a TV documentary and she, uh, wanted to know what it meant and I thought, yunno, Giles, he knows everything.” The last thing Buffy wanted right now was Giles to worry about her; his energy need to be focussed completely on the new Slayer who desperately needed guidance, and his re-construction of the Watchers’ Council.
“Right…” Giles had replied, not sounding totally convinced by Buffy’s improvised explanation.
Buffy had wrapped up the call pretty quickly after than; Giles had a knack of reading her far too well these days and she hadn’t fancied another argument like one she’d had with him the week before. Well, not ‘argument’ exactly, but Giles had made it transparent to her that she needed to make her mind up about certain aspects of her life. Answers to the big questions needed to be sought, answers to questions such as where was she going to live, what she was going to do with her life, and the real biggie: would she still ‘work’ as a Slayer?
“Where are you now?” His voice had been tinny and distant over the phone line in the small hotel room Buffy had been sharing with Dawn on that particular night.
“When will you be home?” There had been a long pause after his question as Giles had realised that his definition of ‘home’ wasn’t necessarily the same as Buffy’s. “Coming to Cleveland, I mean.”
“I’m not sure.”
There had been an uncomfortable silence at the other end of the line, and then Giles had said, “there’s Dawn to consider here as well, Buffy.”
“I know!” Buffy had snapped back, keeping her voice low so that Dawn, brushing her teeth in the en-suite bathroom wouldn’t hear her. “I don’t… I know she needs to finish school – I swear I’ll make sure she’s enrolled somewhere in time.”
“But not here…” It had been more of a statement of confirmation rather than a question.
“I… we… haven’t decided yet. It’s a big thing Giles, I mean, another Hellmouth. I don’t know if I can do that again, not now that…”
“Now there are other Slayers to share your burden? I do understand Buffy, if anyone deserves a break you do Buffy, but you need to settle somewhere – you can’t just wander around America indefinitely.”
Why not? Buffy had wanted to snap back, but she had bitten her tongue and remained silent. It wasn’t Giles’ fault that happily ever after didn’t exist in the way that she had imagined when they’d all stood on the edge of the crater where Sunnydale had once sprawled. Life just didn’t work that way and she’d been a fool to believe, even for a moment, that it could’ve. Life was messy, and required a lot of hard work whether one was ‘one girl in all the world’ or not.
“You’re not on your own anymore, remember that,” Giles had said softly, misinterpreting her lack of response.
“I never was,” objected Buffy, “I had you, Willow, Xander, and of course Dawn.” Angel. Spike.
“What I meant was–”
“I know,” Buffy had interrupted, and she’d almost been able to see the half smile and slight duck of embarrassment his head made when something touched him. “How are they, Willow and Xander?”
“Willow say’s she’s having a good time with Kennedy in England. They’re planning to take the Channel Tunnel to France soon, then down to Spain and Portugal – it sounds like the Slayer search is going well.”
“He’s… he’s listening to a lot of country music, but… coping...” Giles had hesitantly told her. “You can ask him yourself,” he’d added, irritation rife in his voice at the ‘hey, G-man,’ Buffy had been able to hear in the background, promptly handing the phone over his antagonist.
“Hey Buff, how’s the Dawnster?”
His voice was bright and cheerful as it wound its way southwest across the continent, but Buffy knew Xander was missing Anya terribly. She had known that the argumentative couple, like she and Spike, had put aside their differences before the final battle against The First, and would in most likelihood still be together if Anya has survived her and Andrew’s encounter with the Bringers. She felt guilty about not being there to help him through his grief, but when Giles had announced that he was going to Cleveland and Xander had immediately agreed to go with him, Buffy had known it was the last thing she wanted to do.
She had wanted a break from the constant, life encompassing, duty that had ruled her existence for over seven years; wanted a break from the Hellmouth, and instantly transplanting herself to yet another one after just having closed Sunnydale’s had seemed insane. Giles had offered her a position within the new Council as a kind of ‘Slayer guru’, passing down her knowledge and experience to the ‘green’ Slayers that would soon be flocking their way. The word ‘Watcher’ had gone unsaid, but that had been the gist of his meaning, and Buffy shied away from the suggested role with hardly a moment’s thought. She had wanted, still wanted, a different life; one apart from death, demons and destruction. One where Dawn could have a normal adolescence, making school friends by ‘not’ sharing near death experiences with them on their first day, she’d thought wryly.
So, with that thought in the forefront in her mind, she had gathered together what was left of hers and Dawn’s possessions, and rather than flying to Ohio with the rest of the Scooby’s and the new Slayers, they had taken the longer journey to the east coast, landing in New York with a feeling of fresh excitement and eagerness for what lay ahead. At first everything had seemed normal, she and Dawn had spent an enjoyable few days in the Big Apple, enjoying the sights and exploring the shops, but then she had felt like she needed to move again. With her little sister in tow, who had no objections to the extended holiday they appeared to taking, Buffy had bought a used car and driven south through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, arriving finally in Florida, where a trip to Disney had been inevitable, but once again, Buffy had felt ill at ease and unable to settle.
Her decision to drive west had seemed entirely logical at the time, seeing as how travelling east would have put them in the ocean, but as they gradually circled up through Arizona to Utah, then east again, Buffy had realised it was no coincidence; she had unconsciously responded to the night time coercion. She knew without knowing, felt without feeling, that this was the place the dreams had been guiding her towards, the same way she could always sense even when blindfolded where her opponent was.
Knowing, as well, that all chances of further sleep that night were gone forever, Buffy slowly reached over to the chair beside her bed and lifted up the dark red sweater that was draped over its back. Removing her night vest, she pulled the sweater over her head, then stood to change into a pair of black jeans and rummage around under the chair for a pair of trainers. When fully attired, she knelt down beside her bed and as quietly as she could, slid her suitcase out from under it and unzipped the right hand corner. Ignoring the metal teeth that grazed her wrist, Buffy forced her hand inside and found the stake exactly where she had hidden it back in Los Angeles. It nestled in her hand like an old friend, the smooth surface of the much used, sharply tapered stick a familiar touch against her skin.
She stood in the dim light, her arms hanging limply at her sides, and stared down at her sister, trying to imprint in her mind the way that Dawn’s chest rose and fell, the faint smile on her lips and the twitch of her eyes as she dreamt. She glanced down at the stake at her side, and instantly felt caught between being two people. It was the old dilemma that had been rattling around her head since Sunnydale; could she walk away from being the Slayer? Could she, even if she wanted to, leave everything behind after what she’d been forced to see and do for over a third of her life? For so long now she had been Buffy: the vampire Slayer, who was Buffy if she wasn’t the Slayer. Buffy only had faint recollections of her life before the calling, but what she did remember about herself she didn’t like. At least that was one thing being the Slayer had done for her, she’d become a better person, and of course, she’d been given Dawn.
Buffy picked at the tip of the stake with her fingernails, unwilling to accept that she already knew the answers to most of her questions. She was the Slayer, as simple as that. There was, and never would be such a thing as a ‘former’ Slayer, or a ‘retired’ Slayer, not really. The Slayer was who she was, who she would always be. The part of her that yearned for the freedom of wandering the night alone, that heard and answered the call of the darkness, would always exist whether she denied it or not. Twice, she had given up being the Slayer, the first time after being expelled from her school in LA, the second after she’d had to kill Angel to stop Acathla. Maybe in a perfect world it would have been third time lucky, but this was the real world, and it was far from perfect.
She looked down at Dawn one last time, then, stake tucked neatly up her sleeve out of sight, she crossed swiftly to the motel door, making sure she took the key card from the dresser, and slipped out onto the balcony. She’d tried so hard to resist, but in the end, as it always did, the calling won the battle of wills. With barely the hint of a footfall she trotted down the steps down to the parking lot, and made her way with cat-like grace through the jungle of cars and trucks towards the road that ran alongside, turning southwards in the direction of the city’s outskirts. As she swept through the darkness she felt an intense joy rising unbidden within her chest that almost eclipsed the guilt she felt for what her decision would mean for Dawn.
There was no point in fighting it, she was ‘the’ Slayer, and regardless of however many more of them were out there after Willow’s spell, it would never end.
16:21 AUGUST 6
Colonel Jack O’Neill of the United States Air Force was beginning to flag seriously, and he knew it. The constant drone was getting to him and he didn’t know how much longer he could take it. His eyelids were drooping uncontrollably and his mind was wandering dangerously. He could feel his head tilting inexorably forwards until the point at which his chin would slump against his collar bone. Jack dug his fingernails into his thigh to try and bring even the slightest measure of alertness back to his brain, and tried to occupy himself with planning as many escape routes as possible from his current location.
He was so tired that it wasn’t even funny anymore. It had been weeks since he’d had any real downtime from his position as SG-1 commander and second in command to General Hammond at Stargate Command, not since SG-14 had gone missing at least, and that had been over a month ago. His head felt so heavy, the gentle buzz of the voices surrounding him lulling him into a state of semi-unconsciousness. Jack’s last thought was that there was no way he was going to fall asleep, not in a mission planning briefing of all places.
Jack’s eyes snapped open and stared up at the Major glaring down at him, laser pen directed pointedly at his chest, her blue eyes accusing him of all sorts of heinous crimes.
“Mmmm, what?” he asked, raising his eyebrows in a picture of innocence.
“I was just explaining, Colonel,” said the Major, her tone conveying a degree of acidity, “that if Teal’c can give me a hand with recording the energy spectrum that the structures are emitting, you and Daniel can concentrate on examining the ruins and hopefully that will reduce our required mission time to P5C-989.”
“Oh, yes… right, of course,” Jack muttered, doing his best to ignore the exasperated look the Major was giving to General Hammond, seated regally at the head of the table.
“Are you alright Colonel, because we can continue this–”
“No, no, I’m awake now,” said Jack, interrupting the General with an apologetic smile. “Carry on Carter,” he instructed with a lazy wave of his hand towards to the aerial view of P5C-989 projected onto the screen on the wall at the far end of the briefing room.
“Okay,” said Carter, turning swiftly back to her presentation only to turn back a second later with an irritated frown distorting her face. “What was I saying?”
“Energy, ruins, split up, save time,” Jack reeled off, smirking at the snort of amusement from the man sitting beside him.
Jack shot her what he hoped was an endearing grin, and settled back down to endure the remainder of the meeting. They hadn’t even got onto Daniel yet, he thought miserably as he picked up his pen and tapped it lightly against the pad of yellow paper resting on top of the prospective mission file. In the pretence of giving Major Carter his full attention, Jack found himself staring at the back of Daniel’s head, who having taken the chair directly to his left, was bang in his line of sight. Daniel Jackson, archaeologist, linguist, anthropologist and SG team member. Civilian scientist who had saved his life and the lives of the people in this room a good few times during the eight years that Jack had known him. The man who with his detailed knowledge of Ancient Egypt and ability to ‘join-the-dots’ had solved the puzzle of the Stargate and made the last eight years of Jack’s life the most insane he’d ever experienced.
The Stargate, cited as the ‘most important endeavour mankind has ever undertaken’, or words to that extent, thought Jack. To him it was the means by which he, and the others of Stargate Command battled against the ever present threat of the Goa’uld; alien parasites that ruled large sections of the galaxy by assuming the role of cruel and power hungry Gods. The Stargate had been built by an extinct race of beings called the Ancients, and was a ring of some kind of extraterrestrial ore that went by the name Naqahdah. Using massive amounts of energy it created a wormhole in space between it and another Stargate – Jack didn’t have a clue how – hundreds of light years across the galaxy.
Through the Stargate, they had found many planets populated by humans transplanted by the Goa’uld from Earth in a time long forgotten by the modern world, and many with life forms that were utterly alien, but also races that had once been humanoid, such as the Asgard, who, ironically, matched the description of many a UFO spotters’ ‘Roswell Grey’ to a T. Unfortunately, from the moment they had set foot through the Stargate, journeying to the planet of Abydos just over nine years ago, they had made quite a few enemies, either the Goa’uld and their Jaffa armies, or races of beings that displayed a high level of xenophobia and feared the strength and level of technology that had developed on Earth in the relatively short time since the false gods had been driven out millennia ago.
Not all Jaffa were enemies of Earth, the first world, known to the Jaffa as the home of the Tau’ri. Some, such as the former first Prime of Apophis, now a very ‘dead’ Goa’uld, had been taught by his Jaffa master to see the Goa’uld for what they really were: false gods who had enslaved their people. That Jaffa, Teal’c, now sat opposite Daniel Jackson across the briefing room table and had fought at their side as the fourth member of SG-1 for six long years, still dreaming of the freedom of his people, who often battled against him, refusing to believe his ‘lies’.
Jack rested his chin on his hand, his elbow supported by the rim of the table, and doodled on the pad with the pen, sketching an accurate representation of a P-90, the primary weapon he and his second in command, Major Samantha Carter carried into combat. For some reason he couldn’t get the sight to look quite right, and leaning backwards and looking at the drawing critically he guessed that it was because it was slightly out of proportion with the rest of the weapon. His ears pricked up momentarily as he heard Daniel mention the name Anubis, but relaxed again as he realised the archaeologist was telling Carter that he doubted they were unlikely to come across any of the Goa’uld’s forces off-world. Jack’s role on this mission would purely be as an extra pair of hands for Daniel unless anything unexpected happened, which was unlikely as SG-11 had carried out the initial visit to the planet a week ago and had found nothing of significant threat other than a rodent-like creature with a rather nasty bite; hence his inability to concentrate adequately on the briefing.
As Daniel rambled on about ruins and the cultural implications of said ruins, Jack turned his attention back to his second in command, who had finally sat back down at her place opposite him and was trying surreptitiously to sneak a glance at what he’d been doodling. Sometimes, though he’d never admit the fact to anyone else, Major Carter intimidated him. Only a little, mind. She seemed to be able to combine being an incredibly competent female Air Force Officer with being one of the most versatile physical scientists ever employed by the American Government. Whether it was astrophysics, nanotechnology, or the inner workings of an alien device, she always seemed to get her head around the problem eventually. Jack knew he often acted dumber than he really was, but Carter definitely had a lot more brain cells than he; even before he’d killed most of them off with alcohol and repeated head trauma… And she was, of course, despite her good looks and pert, bouncy blonde hair, totally off limits to Jack as well, a situation he’d struggled with a few years ago.
Jack sighed discreetly, and cast his eyes back down on the paper, leaving Carter staring at him with a confused expression on her face, immersing himself back in his doodling until he realised that General Hammond was addressing him, and the meeting finally appeared like it would be drawing to a close.
“As you know, Colonel, Senator Kinsey will be arriving this Monday with a contingent from the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee,” General Hammond said, closing the briefing file before him and resting his hands, fingers laced together, on top it.
“Yes Sir,” Jack acknowledged, “wonderful news. Where would Sir like the garlic hung, just around the office door or perhaps a little on the desk itself?”
“Colonel,” said General Hammond, fixing Jack with a stern, but tolerant look, “I understand your… dislike… of the Senator, but in the interests of–”
“I know, Sir. Don’t worry, I’ll be the epitome of decorum to our visiting bloodsucker – what?” he said in response to the surprised looks he was getting from his team. “I’m not allowed to use long words now?”
“Not as a general rule, no,” said Daniel, eyeing him owlishly through glasses that had slid down his nose.
“Well, I–” Jack started to retort, but was drowned out by the loud announcement that blared throughout the base, the volume making his teeth ache.
‘UNSCHEDULED OFF-WORLD ACTIVATION, I REPEAT, UNSCHEDULED OFF-WORLD ACTIVATION.’
“No one’s due back this afternoon are they, General?” Jack said, his question answered by the speed at which General Hammond left his chair and headed for the spiral staircase behind him that led down to the operation’s room two floors below. “Apparently not,” Jack murmured, pushing himself away from the table and following in the General’s wake.
Jack clattered down the steps, the rest of SG-1 hot on his heels, arriving in the operations’ room as the ’Gate technician on duty, Sergeant Davis, was receiving an encoded radio signal through the now open Stargate. Although the ’Gate itself was visible through the wide operations room windows that overlooked the Embarkation room below, the event horizon was obscured by an enormous metal shield that spanned its diameter, namely to prevent the reintegration of unwelcome travellers.
“Report, Sergeant,” barked General Hammond.
“Receiving IDC,” replied Sergeant Davis, and then hardly a moment later glanced up at the General with a shocked expression on his face. “Sir, it’s SG-14’s remote code.”
“Open the iris,” ordered General Hammond, only hesitating in his decision to give the order for a split second, “and get a medical team in there ‘stat’.”
Sergeant Davis obeyed instantly, his right palm having been already poised over the control pad.
“Sir, they could have been comprised at any time,” warned Jack, rubbing his hands apprehensively around the back of his neck.
As he spoke, the iris retracted, revealing the shimmering wormhole that had been hidden behind it, appearing almost like the surface of rippling water seen from underneath. It was a sight that Jack had seen many, many times over the past years, and now, rather than seeing the innate beauty of the alien technology, he only saw the threat that allowing a team declared missing in action back through it onto home soil.
The sensible, but admittedly hard-hearted, thing to do would have been to lock out their identification codes when they’d failed to establish communications with Stargate Command. The team could have been tortured into releasing codes and vital information about the base to hostiles, or they just could have gotten lost or abducted and were now escaping home. It was a hard decision to make, and one Jack was glad he didn’t have to take the responsibility for. He watched as the Special Forces, aligned in a semi-circle at the rear of the Embarkation room, raised their weapons at the top of the ramp that led up to the Stargate, their fingers tightening slightly on the triggers of their rifles, ready to fire the moment the General gave the order.
“I’m aware of that, Colonel,” replied Hammond, “but if it really is SG-14 on the other end of that GDO I’m not having their deaths on my hands just because they’re a ‘little’ late home.”
At that moment, a body, clad in only fawn camouflage pants and t-shirt, shot through the Stargate to land heavily on the ramp, rolling several feet downwards before coming to a halt, followed seconds later by another. The bodies lay motionless, scanned by many pairs of eyes that noted their lack of weapons, jackets, and even footwear. One of the soldiers at the base of the ramp placed his foot on the first step and begun to approach the forms but dropped back hurriedly as a figure staggered through the still open wormhole. He was staggering partly from the obvious pain and fatigue, but mainly from the third body, supported over his shoulders. As the medical team rushed in, the man looked up and stared around the Embarkation room, his tear filled gaze resting finally on the operations room and its occupants.
“My god, that’s Mark Hayward,” Jack heard Daniel gasp behind him as the man let out a cross between a cry and a sob, and his legs collapsed beneath him and he fell to his knees, shaking uncontrollably, his burden sprawling before him.
They watched from the relative safety of the operations room as the scene unfolded below them, the white clad nurses and doctors scrambling up the ramp towards the bodies, their faces hidden behind protective masks, hands sheathed in colourless rubber gloves as they pressed expert fingers against the red, blistered and bloody necks and wrists of the motionless members of SG-14. It was the Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Janet Frasier, who eventually stood from where she had been crouched beside the first body and pulled the mask away from her face briefly and spoke up to the General, her voice carried by the microphones placed all around the room.
“Sir, they’re dead.”