Disclaimer: see Prologue
17:27 AUGUST 6
Quite why anyone had actually been surprised when SG-14’s mission to the planet designated P2W-666 by the base scientists went horribly wrong, Jack would never understand.
They had first known things weren't as they should’ve been when SG-14 had missed their scheduled report to General Hammond, six hours after their departure from SGC through the Stargate. Following their second missed ‘call home,’ General Hammond had sent a Mobile Analytic Laboratory Probe, or M.A.L.P, through to 666, but aside from the team’s Field Remote Expeditionary Device there had been no sign of life anywhere within the vicinity of the ’Gate. That was when Jack, along with Sam, Teal’c and Daniel, had volunteered to go through the Stargate and try to find them. The General only agreed to their request after the UAV, sent into ‘orbit’ twelve hours after SG-14’s failure to initiate contact, had sent back a reading of no detectable life signs on the planet’s surface.
SG-1’s visit to 666 had been the first of a total of three separate rescue expeditions to the planet by both it and SG-5 in their search for the missing team. It hadn’t been a world that Jack had liked very much. It had been hot, very, very hot. This was mainly due to the fact that the planet was bound to a binary star system, and the moment one sun chose to sink leadenly behind the depressingly vast sand dunes, the second peeked over the horizon from the opposite direction, only allowing for mere seconds of what could only be described as ‘dusk’.
Jack had started by concentrating SG-1’s activities west of the Stargate, where, in a brief break from dry, grey coloured sand, there was an area of volcanic rock with pumice-like cavities and craters, home to dense deposits of minerals and metal ores; SG-14’s reason for exploring the planet. Aside from having to watch for plumes of boiling steam that jetted from narrow fissures that ran nearly a metre either side of the path Teal’c took through the maze of rock, the planet didn’t seem too dangerous, and certainly hadn’t been classified as such by earlier aerial surveys of the area.
But, despite this, there had been absolutely nothing to explain why SG-14, and all sign that they had ever been there, had eroded away in the hot, dry wind. Heavy-hearted, they had returned home, and after subsequent search and rescue missions that had been equally unsuccessful, General Hammond had declared SG-14 missing in action. That had been one and a half weeks ago, which was why, when the vanished team had dropped out of an artificial wormhole into Earth’s Embarkation room less than ten minutes earlier, everyone there to witness the event had been a little shocked…
It would have perhaps been a more joyous occasion if three of the four team members hadn’t been dead, but that was looking at it rather negatively, thought Jack; it was fortunate in his line of work if one got the ‘bodies’ back after their owners had finished with them.
The only survivor of whatever catastrophe had befallen them, a young Sergeant named Mark Hayward (and by young, Jack meant late twenties) was currently under the strict ministrations of Doctor Janet Fraiser in one of the base’s many medical isolation rooms, deep within the Mountain. Jack, along with General Hammond, the rest of his team crowded in behind them, was staring, and occasionally wincing with sympathetic pain, as the Doctor administered a multitude of tests and checks. Sergeant Hayward though, gave no sign he was even aware that Doctor Fraiser was even present, sitting on the edge of the gurney, his hands resting limply in his lap, his mouth slack, gazing blankly at the wall, a vacant expression in his red-rimmed eyes.
It was another ten minutes before Doctor Fraiser glanced up at the observation room, as if noticing her audience for the first time. She was a small woman, prone to wearing ridiculously high heels for someone in her position of Chief Medical Officer for the Stargate Programs, but she got away with it simply because she had practically every person on the base, male and female, wrapped around her little finger. Doctor Janet Fraiser invariably commanded intense loyalty; there was something about her delicate features and dark, lively eyes that communicated deep intelligence and caring – that, and the fact that she had treated or saved the lives of each and every one of them over the past seven years.
Removing her gloves, turning them neatly inside out with a slapping sound that made Jack’s teeth clench involuntarily, she had a quick word with one of the nurses and then swept out into the corridor and made her way round to where the General was waiting impatiently, pulling down her surgical mask as she passed into the room so that it hung around her neck.
“What’s his condition, Doctor?” General Hammond asked, barely giving the woman time to draw breath.
“Well, physically he’ll recover,” Fraiser replied, her words belied by her grave expression. “He’s dehydrated and has nasty burns to his face and arms, which I’m guessing were caused by overexposure to UV radiation.”
“Sounds about right…” Jack muttered, remembering the dual suns that beat down relentlessly on 666.
“He is also anaemic,” continued Fraiser, “and has cuts and bruising around his wrists from what look like restraints, but it’s his mental state that I’m worried about General.” She glanced down into the isolation room at her charge, worry marring her forehead. “I’m no psychiatrist, but he’s evidently in shock, and to be honest I haven’t seen anyone like this since… well, I’m not sure I have seen anyone in his condition before. I’ve taken the liberty of contacting Doctor Mackenzie and he’ll be down first thing tomorrow morning to make his assessment.”
“What about contagious diseases?” asked Carter, her arms folded tightly across her chest. “What did the others die from?”
“Loss of blood as far as I could tell – their throats had been cut,” Fraiser replied bluntly. “I don’t think there are any viruses to worry about, but I’ll know more after a post-mortem has been carried out on them. Until then, Sergeant Hayward is quarantined.”
“I’m not surprised he’s in shock,” said Carter, raising a hand subconsciously to her neck.
“Oy,” breathed Jack. The Air Force trained their men to cope with warlike situations, but still, some things went beyond the call of duty, or, as was clearly evident, one’s sanity.
Sergeant Hayward had become an Airman later than most in life, having had a long education in several prestigious universities before choosing to serve his country. Jack knew that despite the young man’s capabilities in the field, he was still very much a scholar at heart, and had been spending several hours a week with Daniel, since the older man’s return from Oma-Desala-land, cultivating a healthy interest in cultural history. Looking over at the sick expression on the archaeologist’s face, Jack didn’t think Daniel was taking his apprentice’s situation very well. Nine years, and Daniel still hadn’t learnt to deal with the simple fact that in war there were casualties, thought Jack, not for a second entertaining the idea that perhaps that was a good thing.
“How soon before we can find out what happened to them?” General Hammond asked, passing a hand over his bald head, his hair having deserted him long ago.
“I don’t know,” sighed Fraiser, “I’ve been trying to get through to him for the past half hour, but it’s like his mind has just closed down. Whatever he witnessed he just can’t deal with it right now.”
“Like his team being slaughtered in front of him, for example,” said Daniel, his voice betraying a simmering anger just beneath the surface of the icy, if nauseous, calm he was projecting.
“Daniel, we don’t know for sure that’s what happened,” interjected Jack.
“Probable though, don’t you think?” replied Daniel, raising his eyebrows in a silent challenge that Jack didn’t rise to.
“Teal’c, does this look like the handiwork of the Goa’uld to you?” asked Jack, turning to the large Jaffa.
“I cannot say, O’Neill,” Teal’c admitted.
“I think that’s unlikely. The Goa’uld wouldn’t return the bodies,” Daniel explained bitterly.
“Not really their M.O. – we shall torture and execute the infidels, then return their remains home for a decent burial by their own people…” Jack trailed off as he saw the look Daniel was giving him, realising too late the crass nature of his comment.
“No…” Daniel agreed, tight lipped.
“Why did Sergeant Hayward not share in SG-14’s fate?” Teal’c queried, breaking the uncomfortable silence that reigned between the two men.
“Good question,” murmured Carter.
“Well the questions are going to have to wait I’m afraid, you’re not going to be able to get anything out of him soon, and certainly not tonight,” Fraiser said firmly, conveying to all of them with no need for clarification that they were to go nowhere near her patient without her permission.
“Thank you, Doctor,” said Hammond, inclining his head slightly to acknowledge her unspoken order. “Please notify me if there’s a change in his condition.”
“Yes, Sir. Now if you’ll excuse me…” and with a waft of starched white coat, laced with medicinal chemicals, she disappeared back into the realm over which she ruled with Napoleon-like authority; and which Jack tried to avoid at all costs…
With General Hammond having also retreated back to his office, back to write some difficult letters to the families of the three deceased members of SG-14, the four of them loitered in the observation room alone, watching as Sergeant Hayward was injected with sedatives and mild painkillers, eventually being persuading to lie down on the metal railed bed.
“Makes you think, doesn’t it,” Daniel said quietly, crossing to the window and leaning against it, his palms splayed flat on the glass.
“Not really,” Jack sourly replied.
“Just look at him,” continued Daniel, ignoring the Colonel’s words.
“Daniel,” growled Jack, glaring at the archaeologist’s seemingly oblivious back.
The first thing Jack O’Neill had learnt as a young Captain with the Air Force, serving a country at war, was that people died, and more than often in his line of work they died in horrific circumstances. One day you were sitting ignorant and innocent in the commissary with your friends and colleagues, and the next you could just as easily be sitting alone, the only survivor of an almighty fuck up; and god knew, Jack had seen enough of those over the years.
Afterwards, you got drunk, you got angry, and you beat the shit out of a punch bag for a few hours. The one thing you did definitely did ‘not’ do, was think about it. The people Jack knew who’d started thinking were the ones who invariably started falling apart. Then again, the idea of Daniel deliberately not thinking about anything defied all the rules of the known universe…
Suddenly, Jack was too tired to get into a full blown argument about military psychological detachment, especially when Daniel was evidently spoiling for a fight. The overpowering fatigue that had abated for a short time with the rush of adrenaline accompanying the arrival of SG-14 was reasserting itself with a vengeance. Jack was simply too shattered to think straight, let alone follow a discussion with a double PhD humanities scientist who could talk circles round him, even on a good day.
“I’m going to get some sleep,” he announced, nodding to Carter.
Jack raised his hand briefly in a half wave to his team, and backed clumsily through the door.
Five minutes later, four floors’ descent in the main elevator, Jack had sleepily located his quarters and had collapsed onto the bed with a grunt, not even bothering to first remove his boots or over-shirt. Lying on his back on top of a grey military blanket that barely cushioned him from the thin mattress beneath, he fell into a deep sleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow, his dreams only slightly disturbed by the hordes of Jaffa that chased after him through fields of bright purple grasses, brandishing unfinished mission reports.
20:14 AUGUST 6
Buffy hunched over the dregs of her strawberry smoothie, elbows resting lightly on the plastic veneer of the diner table, watching with amusement as Dawn attacked the largest chocolate fudge sundae she’d ever seen with focused determination. Dawn’s ability to consume large quantities of rich, sugary food without feeling the slightest bit sick baffled Buffy, who’d lost her own sweet tooth a long time ago.
The diner they were eating their evening meal in was fairly average as diners went. The food was honestly priced and not too bad, well, not too bad for fast-food. The two of them were sitting opposite one another in a window seat, so that they each had a clear view of the street outside, the near vicinity of which was bathed in the neon pink glow of the diner sign, and could watch as the lights gradually flicked on as daylight receded, and the traffic began to thin to the occasional car or truck speeding down the main street.
Dawn dipped her spoon into the fluffy cream topping of her sundae and dug down hard, piercing the layer of hot fudge beneath but avoiding the core of soft vanilla ice-cream, then expertly twisted her wrist and raised it to liberate a large portion of the fudge, which was duly consigned to her mouth. After sucking the spoon clean, then lowering it for a repeat ‘run’, Dawn paused and stared up at her sister, her eyes questioning.
“Buffy,” she said, her dessert forgotten for a brief moment, “how long are we going to stay here?”
“You want to leave?” Buffy asked in return, avoiding directly answering the query.
“No…” Dawn said slowly, shaking her head, “it’s just…”
“You miss the others?”
“Yeah,” agreed Dawn, playing with the end of her spoon.
“I do too,” Buffy said quietly.
“But I like doing this too,” Dawn said quickly, as if to reassure Buffy that she wasn’t complaining, “it’s fun.”
Buffy smiled, glancing at Dawn with sparkling eyes.
“It doesn’t take much to keep you happy does it,” she laughed.
“Just my big sister, and sugar,” mumbled Dawn, pushing a large ice-cream and fudge sauce loaded spoon into her mouth and grinning cheerfully.
“I think we can just about manage that,” said Buffy, pushing her napkin across the table as a small trickle of melted ice-cream escaped onto Dawn’s chin.
She was about to say more, but her eye was caught by a figure passing swiftly past her on the other side of the glass. Despite the fact that Buffy could only see the back of the man, clad almost entirely in dark blue denim, her spidey sense, or so Xander had named her ‘vampire radar’, was going crazy. She watched the ‘man’ cross the street and disappear into a deserted alley at the side of a hardware store. It took all of her self control not just to get up there and then and go after him.
Buffy hadn’t told Dawn she’d been ‘hunting’ again. She was pretty sure her sister wasn’t aware that she’d been slipping out in the small hours of the night and Buffy simply didn’t know how to raise the subject. All Dawn knew was that her elder sister had been getting up to go running first thing each morning, and Dawn being of the age where lying in bed all morning came naturally, she didn’t suspect anything was amiss. If Buffy was totally honest she was scared of telling Dawn she’d been slaying again because Buffy was certain Dawn wouldn’t take the news well. That was, however, a piece of news Dawn would take better than the news that Buffy’s Slayer dreams had returned and were prophesying her death once again.
“Buffy? Something wrong?” frowned Dawn, regarding her sister with concern.
Buffy brought her gaze back from the pedestrian bustle of the street outside to smile warmly at her sister, raising her hand to the side of Dawn’s forehead and brushing a long brown strand of the teenager’s hair away from her face with gentle, loving fingers. She’d get that vampire on her patrol tonight; just as soon as Dawn fell asleep, she’d be after him.
“No, Dawnie, nothing’s wrong.”
00:30 AUGUST 7
Jack rolled off the bed with a groan, sliding onto his knees before he was even fully awake. In the darkness he fumbled for the light switch then squinted at the clock that told him he’d been asleep for nearly six hours. Pushing himself stiffly to his feet with the aid of the bed, he stumbled bleary eyed to the door and pulled it open, wincing at the shrieking alarms that violently assaulted his ears.
In the corridor the alarms sounded much louder than they had in his sleeping quarters, and Jack’s head ached in protest at the rude awakening. Just in time, he stepped backwards hurriedly into his doorway to avoid being mown down by the company of SF’s that ran past towards the elevators, their weapons held at the ready.
“What the hell’s going on?” Jack yelled down the corridor after them, thinking he was going to be ignored until the end man, wearing the distinguishing badge of the marines halted and trotted back towards him.
“Hostiles, Colonel. Last we heard they were on level twenty one,” the marine said quickly.
“Upstairs?” said Jack, somewhat confused, still trying to shake sleep from his mind. “They didn’t come through the Stargate?”
“Not as far as I know, Sir,” replied the marine, glancing repeatedly after his disappearing colleagues.
“You got a side arm?” Jack asked, running his eyes over the marine’s ordinance.
The marine nodded, immediately reaching for his berretta and handing it, along with a spare clip of ammo to Jack.
“Thanks,” said Jack, stuffing it into the back of his pants. “Dismissed,” he told the marine who nodded again and ran off instantly to rejoin his unit. Jack looked around himself in bemusement, shaking his head at the disappearing soldier; why on earth was the infirmary under attack? “This is what happens when you go to bed early,” he muttered darkly, then set off at a sleepy paced jog down the corridor to where he knew the emergency escape shaft was located, knowing that it would be the quickest way to get to the combat zone without being seen.
Having released the bolts that secured the steel door hiding the shaft that descended throughout Cheyenne Mountain, Jack yanked it open with a grunt and stepped gingerly over the black hole, swinging himself onto the rungs of the metal ladder that spanned unseen both above and below him. With a quick check to make sure his weapon was still held tightly in his belt, Jack reached over and pulled the door to behind him, and begun to climb upwards.
It was just after he’d passed level twenty two that Jack felt his right hand come away from the ladder wet. Puzzled, he held his hand before his face and sniffed at the liquid, but it was totally odourless to Jack, and in the darkness he could hardly see a thing. Tentatively he touched his palm to the tip of his tongue, then instantly grimaced and spat, tasting the distinctive metallic flavour of blood.
“Fuck,” he swore, wiping his hand on his shirt. Then, he froze, feeling a draught against the thin film of perspiration that covered his brow. A waft of fresh air. That meant only one thing; the hatch on the mountainside had been opened, and coupled with the evidence of blood, Jack guessed he wasn’t the only person to have been using this route recently. He began climbing the final metres upwards with renewed vigour.
A few seconds later, his heart pumping loudly in his chest, Jack found the exit door to level twenty one hanging open. Carefully, he traversed himself into the doorway and stepped down into the corridor, dropping instinctively to his knees and rolling as a volley of bullets impacted deafeningly with the steel door that thankfully shielded his body from the onslaught. As he rolled, his right arm snaked behind him to grab the hilt of the weapon he’d requisitioned several minutes earlier and raise it before him, ready to return fire, crouched uncomfortably in a squatting position.
“Hold your fire, hold your fire,” he heard a woman’s voice cry, just audible over the blaring alarms, and saw Major Carter running forwards from the midst of a group of heavily armed Airmen.
“Carter,” Jack called back, not moving his gun away from the Airman on which it was trained; the Airman who’d ever so nearly killed him only seconds earlier.
“Lower your weapons,” Carter ordered, dropping down beside him on one knee. “Colonel, are you injured?” she asked, staring pointedly at the dark smears of blood on his hands and shirt.
“It’s not mine, Carter,” Jack said irritably, rising to his feet. “What happened? Where’s General Hammond?”
Jack watched as the Airmen moved in to secure the escape shaft he’d just exited, and he noticed for the first time the bloody handprints all around the outside of the door and surrounding wall. Whoever had opened it prior to his arrival had struggled with the release bolts, and had finally, Jack realised with disbelief, simply ripped the door free of its restraints.
“We’re not sure yet,” answered Carter, her eyes meeting his with a haunted look. “General Hammond’s with Fraiser – you need to see this,” she told him, gesturing with her rifle in the direction from which she’d come.
Jack had a sense of foreboding even before he followed Carter round the corner and saw the trickle of blood that had flowed out of the morgue to pool in the corridor, where careless boot clad feet had trodden in it, bloody foot prints leading back the way they’d come. Carter stepped back to give him clear access to the morgue and Jack stepped gingerly over the mess on the floor and into the room, having to balance himself unexpectedly on the doorframe to avoid tripping over the body that lay half slumped against the interior wall.
Scanning the morgue, Jack counted a second body, nearly hidden by one of the large metal tables. Bodies in a morgue should have been perfectly normal, except for the fact that these had died very recently, and from their formerly white lab-coats, Jack could easily identify them as the morgue staff. He knelt down by the body nearest the door and turned him over so that the mans’ head flopped back, exposing what was left of his mutilated throat. It had been literally torn away, vivid coloured blood still oozing sporadically from the severed arteries. Christ, he could see the spine.
Jack made a face and retreated from the body, feeling his mouth go dry. Why would anyone want to kill a bunch of pathologists?
“Their throats were slashed, Sir.”
“I can tell that,” replied Jack, moving across the room towards the second body and poking it gently with his boot. “Geez,” he breathed, crouching down with his back to Carter and parting the folds of material around the dead mans’ neck to look at the blood splattered military tags. Jack suddenly realised whom the blood on his hands and clothes belonged to, and remembered what it had tasted like.
“Anyone else hurt?” he asked, rising and turning back to Carter, trying to resist the urge to spit.
“Just one,” said Doctor Fraiser, suddenly breezing into the room, all white coat and business. “One of my night staff suffered a minor head injury and a broken arm, but she’ll recover.” Janet looked sadly down at the body lying at Jack’s feet that definitely wouldn’t recover in this lifetime.
“Did she say what happened?”
“It’s a little strange, but she swears blind that it was SG-14.”
Jack looked up sharply and met the Doctor’s eyes, only to see that she was being utterly serious. It was then that he noticed that all of the tables in the morgue that should have had corpses laid out for post-mortem examinations were empty. That Major Brooks, Captain Samuels and Lieutenant what’s-her-name’s bodies, waiting for the thorough analysis by the medical staff to determine the cause of their death, were gone.
Jack swallowed. “Are you telling me they…” just got up and went on a killing spree? was what he’d been going to say, but that sounded weird even to him, despite all that he’d seen during his years spent on the Stargate program.
Before Fraiser could answer there came a pounding of feet down the corridor towards them and Daniel sped into view, red faced and panting, a tape clutched between the fingers of his right hand.
“Sam,” he gasped, “I’ve got surveillance camera footage from this level.”
“There’s a video player hooked up in my office,” Fraiser said quickly, leading the way out of the morgue and down the corridor, pausing only to order a SF to summon General Hammond from the Infirmary where she’d left him minutes earlier.
* * *
The stunned silence that filled the Janet’s office seemed like it would last forever to Jack. No one said anything, just stood there, staring at the grey fuzz that filled the monitor, each of them trying to come to terms with what had just flashed before their eyes.
Daniel hadn’t managed to retrieve any of the video feed from the morgue itself at such short notice, only the corridor outside, but it had been enough.
After fast forwarding through several minutes of uneventful film there had been a sudden bang, faintly audible through the speakers that’d had Carter diving for the volume control. Jack wished that she had left it alone once he’d heard the screams that followed. There were cries of fear and pain that permeated even through the sturdy base doors, and a chill ran down Jack’s spine as the sound was recreated; he knew that to get a guy to scream like that you had to do something pretty horrific to him. Jack was suddenly grateful that they didn’t have any pictures from the morgue – he wasn’t sure he wanted to see them.
Soon after the blood curdling cries had died away, the door, just visible in the top right hand corner of the camera, had opened, and everyone clustered round the eighteen inch screen had taken an involuntary gasp of breath. Major Alan Brooks, leader of SG-14 had walked out into the corridor, closely followed by the other two, formerly dead, members of his team. It wasn’t just the fact that three people whom Jack was certain had been permanently deceased the last time he’d seen them were doing an exceptionally good impression of being alive, it was the fact that they were all marked to some degree with the blood of what Jack assumed was the two morticians. And the really disturbing fact was that the blood was primarily on their faces, specifically, their mouths.
They moved swiftly across the bottom of the screen and were out of view within moments, but just before they passed out of the range of the camera Major Brooks glanced up at the camera, and for a split second, Jack could have sworn that the Major’s face changed, his eyes flashing a golden colour, not unlike that of a Goa’uld asserting dominance over its host.
Jack didn’t trust what he thought he’d seen until he’d run his eye over the shocked faces of the people around him and saw them looking as wide-eyed as he was.
“They ‘were’ dead, right?” said Jack, hesitantly breaking the silence. “They looked ‘really’ dead earlier…” he trailed off, staring at the picture Carter had rewound and paused on the blurred face of Major Brooks.
“In every medical sense,” said Fraiser, sounding overwhelmed.
“Then how…?” asked General Hammond, gesturing at the frozen image before them.
“This is beyond me, General,” Fraiser confessed, shaking her head in bemusement. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Her confession was strangely reassuring to Jack; he would have been greatly disturbed if she had. The dead shouldn’t rise, at least not this long after Easter, and he would have been hard pressed to convince himself that there’d been anything ‘holy’ about the carnage in the morgue. It had been far less ‘biblical’ and more ‘horror movie’ territory, thought Jack.
“What about a parasite infestation that was somehow missed – something alien?” asked Daniel, his arms wrapped defensively around his torso.
“I suppose that’s possible,” conceded Fraiser, shrugging, “if they were taken over by some form of Goa’uld it would explain the Major’s eyes.”
“They’re not Goa’uld,” Carter announced firmly, speaking for the first time.
“You sure?” asked Jack.
“Yes,” nodded Carter, turning to General Hammond. “There’s something different about them, and besides, if they were Goa’uld they wouldn’t have appeared dead – they need a living host to survive,” she explained.
“Yes,” said Daniel, his tone making it clear he disagreed, “but remember Teal’c used to be able to go into such a deep state of Kelnoreem that he could appear dead.”
“I don’t think that’s what it is this time, Daniel,” argued Carter. “I didn’t sense the presence of a symbiote.”
“Maybe not,” replied Daniel, “but don’t you usually have to be in close proximity to tell?”
“So, either Dr Jackson is correct, and we’ve got a bunch of Goa’uld’s on our hands, or…” summarised General Hammond, gesturing his desire for further scenarios with palms raised upwards.
“Or SG-14 brought something back with them, something we couldn’t detect in the ’Gate room,” said Carter.
Jack had been just about to mention the Reetou, when Teal’c appeared in the doorway, staff weapon held spear-like beside him, looking out of place alongside his military fatigues.
“General Hammond,” the Jaffa said in a deep voice that commanded instant attention.
“Teal’c, have SG-14 been apprehended?”
“No, they have not,” said Teal’c. “It is my belief that the hostiles have left the mountain and are on the surface of your planet as we speak,” he reported.
“He’s right, Sir,” agreed Carter, “we found evidence that they used the emergency shaft to exit the base.”
“You think they may have gotten past the perimeter?”
“It is likely that is the case, General Hammond,” answered Teal’c, inclining his head slightly so that the gold emblem on his forehead flashed under the electric lighting.
“General, Mark Hayward is so far not demonstrating any symptoms other than shock, but if this – whatever this is – is somehow infectious and they get into the city, then the repercussions are going to be huge,” said Fraiser, her dark eyes full of worry.
“Or if they just start killing people,” added Daniel, raising his eyebrows above his glasses.
“Indeed,” said Teal’c.
“I agree,” nodded General Hammond, turning quickly to Jack. “Colonel, I want search teams all over the mountain and the surrounding area. If they’ve breached the perimeter I want your presence in town to be as covert as possible – I DO NOT want a public panic. If the situation gets out of control, or beyond our jurisdiction, then the local authorities will be informed, but only then. I want this contained, and I want SG-14 back here – alive if possible.”
“Understood, Sir,” acknowledged Jack, finding his second in command with his eyes. “Carter, you and Daniel liaise with the K-9 units. Teal’c, you’re with me,” he ordered, indicating with a jerk of his head for the large Jaffa to lead the way up to the secondary armoury on level nineteen.
“Alive, Sir?” queried Doctor Fraiser once the four members of SG-1 had left her office.
“If there’s any way to undo what has been done to our people I want it found, Doctor,” said General Hammond, meeting the Doctor’s eyes with intense seriousness.
02:28 AUGUST 7
It was about this time of night that everything got really quiet in Sunnydale, but in the bustle of the city, Buffy had come to find that life never really went to sleep. There were always the shops that opened all night long, serving the insomniacs and shift workers, the dustmen and street cleaners that patrolled the thoroughfares even more regularly than she.
More night time activity meant, as Spike would have put it, ‘more happy meals with legs’, for the vampires and other demon-kind that preyed on stray humans, but to Buffy’s guilty annoyance, aside from the odd vampire and occasional demon that ventured from its lair, there wasn’t that much for her to do in Slayer capacity. In fact, she’d prevented muggings more times that she’d sensed anything supernatural over the past two nights.
The vampires she had ferreted out and fought had been substandard to her critical eye, but perhaps she’d become so used to the far superior Turok-han that normal vampires seemed small fry in comparison? Buffy didn’t know. Surely Slaying used to be harder? Despite the strong military presence in Colorado Springs she had expected there to be more of a demon underworld, at least in the city outskirts or the more seedy downtown bars, but so far she had found practically nothing of any note. Even Spike would’ve been scornful of the quality of the demons, and Buffy was really beginning to question why the Powers had summoned her to Colorado.
Rousing herself from her dreams after a few hours of sleep, Buffy had checked the time on her watch, then sat up and leant over towards the other bed, making sure Dawn was soundly asleep, before sliding from her bed and pulling her clothes back on. In the early hours of the new day, she had retraced her footsteps back the Diner at which they’d eaten that evening. It had taken her about an hour to locate the vampire she’d spotted during the meal, tracking it through a series of back alleys and side streets until she came to a derelict building in the west of the city where it dwelt. But the short fight, during which the vampire had been transformed into a cloud of dust, hadn’t been enough to satisfy Buffy, and she’d roamed on through the night in search of yet another opponent until reaching an area of Colorado Springs that was undergoing development.
The site was just east of the Cheyenne Mountain reservation, in the shadow of the majestic pinnacle of rock that dominated the skyline. It was there, realising that no demon was stupid enough to live in a place that was swarming with builders during the day and guarded constantly at night, that Buffy had turned to head back to the motel and the comfort of her bed. She had only walked five yards before a figure, dropping soundlessly from the scaffolding that ran up the side of a half finished building and disappearing behind the cab of a stationary crane, caught her eye.
No human would have survived such a fall.
Buffy grinned in the darkness, anticipating the hunt before her, and removed her stake from where it was tucked inside her jacket. She spun it expertly in her hand, showing off to a non-existent audience.
Avoiding the main gate which was guarded by a night watchman who would have definitely denied her entrance, Buffy scaled the mesh fence that ran along the edge of the outer limits of the site where it fell into shadow, noiselessly landing on the sun dried mud on the other side. Acrobatics in high heeled boots is an art form, thought Buffy as she crouched motionless; listening to make sure she hadn’t been seen. As she waited there, hunkered down in the shelter of the fence, Buffy found it hard to shake the feeling that she was being watched; but with no accompanying cries or accusations she did her best to dismiss the sensation, rising quickly and running towards the skeletal building, her stake gripped ready in her right hand.