A/N:I'll be following an alternating chapter scheme for this act of the story, so don't get confused by the sudden change.
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL - PART 1 OF 2 - UNDERDOG
McNamara and Rothchild stood in the half-illuminated darkness of the elder's quarters, having received the grim news from the East.
"It's… unfortunate, yes, but we've been expecting it for quite some time. I suppose it's up to his daughter to carry out his burdens. Just when we were on the brink of recovering from the incident, this pops up. It seems that there's no end to our misfortune, is there?"
"How could they be so blind?" asked McNamara. "The holy grail of prewar technology is right here yet they still run around picking up the pieces of a world that had already been broken a long time ago. They are aware of its presence, and they even tried to seize it, but now they seem to treat it as little more than a novelty. I will admit, I used to think that way as well but as recent events go…"
"Priorities, elder," replied Rothchild. "What purpose does the Stargate have if we can't even use it because enemy forces are bearing down on us? The recent disaster only exacerbates matters, especially given the casualties we've sustained during the operation."
"It was an oversight. Had we known that the enemy would rather kill themselves than hand their technology over to us, we would have reacted to the situation accordingly. I know it's ironic, given our own attitudes, and we should have expected it. We didn't have enough time to react and given the circumstances, and of course the alternative, it seems like a small price to pay. And don't forget - we were winning,Rothchild. That cannot be ignored."
"I am fully aware of that, elder. The fact remains, however, that there is trouble in the east and as it stands the fate of our whole chapter may rest on it. It is, simply put, a matter of life and death. We haveto go back."
"I see," said McNamara. He sighed. "If you have to, then to do so. Your chapter has gone above and beyond the call of duty, and you are beyond my jurisdiction. I can only hope that Owyn's daughter gives your chapter the direction that it needs."
"I hope so as well. We'll be leaving behind some personnel to help in your projects – mostly scribes. Some of the paladins have requested permission to remain here as well. In the absence of direct orders from the elder, I'm placing them under your control. God knows you need all the manpower you can get. Speaking of which…"
McNamara nodded. "I know. It's a radical decision, but I can only hope that they can see the wisdom in it. They're resilient, free from radiation and above all they can't sell us out to the NCR. Their civilization is still quite primitive but I'm sure that can be easily rectified. The scribes will have more than enough to do for once. As for technology, we'll be handing over some of the more common alien technologies we've found and a crate of naquadah for your chapter to utilize. Use it well. I know it will take years of research for you to fully understand, but when you do I'm sure it will be well worth the effort."
"I'm glad you took heed of the suggestion, elder. I'll make the proper arrangements for my departure. Good luck."
The elder nodded and shook hands with Rothchild in a farewell gesture. "God knows we need it."
"Remember your role here, McNamara. Everything you do sets a precedent for the future. All I ask of you is to lead these men down the right path."
Teal'c struck out like a centaur and knocked Veronica flat on her ass with a quick lunge of his wooden quarterstaff. Veronica crashed down onto the soft mat under her and let out a groan of pain.
"You must work on your balance, Veronica Santangelo," remarked Teal'c. "You are far too reliant on your fists."
"I like fisting," she complained.
"That may be, but your over-reliance is, as you say, a crutch," replied Teal'c, missing the joke completely. He tossed her the quarterstaff that she'd been wielding earlier. "You must become more versatile. Again."
"Right," she muttered. The training was tough on her and it grated on her at times, but she knew she needed something to keep the edge off. Here, she didn't need to think about Cass, nor about the big bad Goa'uld who took up residence in her, or Six's little gift in the form of her chip. There was only the pleasant, primal feeling of physical combat. It made her feel alive; especially now that she'd met someone who matched her skills when it came to unarmed fighting. The staves were Teal'c's suggestion, though, and she agreed that she could use the additional training.
Arcade was leaning on the doorway and watching them. He had a genuine bagel in his hand, a recipe that someone from the first expedition had given to one of the Abydonians. He'd acquired a great fondness for them, especially since the taste of fresh, non-irradiated bread was a rarity in the Wasteland. He took a bite of it and savoured the taste for a few moments before Veronica took a glance at him. The distraction gave Teal'c all he needed to knock her down again.
"Your eyes wander, Veronica Santangelo," said Teal'c. "You must focus."
"Dammit," she muttered. She waved a hand dismissively at Arcade. "Go away, doc. I'm trying to beat this guy over here."
"It is highly unlikely that you can defeat me with your current technique, Veronica Santangelo."
"I can try," she retorted, smirking. "Come on, let's go again."
Arcade shrugged at her and started continuing his morning routine as he walked throughout the facility. It had become a thing for him to walk around, exploring the corridors of the vast underground base that the Brotherhood now called home. With House's Securitrons out of the equation, he no longer had to fear crossing their paths and somehow ending up angering the invisible man who ruled it all. The Brotherhood seemed to view him as less of an outsider now, although they still held some reservations. There's no better way to get people to like you than to fight with them against a common enemy, he supposed. His walk was interrupted when a group of Capital Wasteland scribes started trudging through the corridor, pushing around a makeshift forklift full of meticulously-labelled metal crates.
Curious, Arcade ran up behind one of the scribes and cleared his throat. "Excuse me," he said. "What's going on?"
"Not right now, doctor," she replied. "We need to ship these over to the vertibird. We're about to leave."
"Leave?" he asked. "I thought…"
"Haven't you heard the news?" she said. She just left him hanging while she continued pushing along the forklift.
"News, huh?" he muttered. Curious, he headed over to the common room to get some answers. Along the way, he encountered more hectic movements that indicated that something big was, in fact, happening. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a woman burst into tears, being consoled by a knight in a set of recon armour.
"Elder Lyons is dead," he said. "They're packing up and leaving us in the dust. We'll be all alone, once again. As much as I may dislike some of them you have to admit that without their support we wouldn't be where we are today. I'm speaking positively, of course."
"Well," said Arcade. That… complicates things. All of them?"
"It sure as hell looks like it, doctor," said the Paladin. "And…"
A high-pitched, whining drone erupted from the intercom. The Pre-War alarm system seemed to be working well, thought Arcade.
"ATTENTION," declared a synthesized, robotic female voice. "ATTENTION." The system repeated the statement a few more times.
Everyone stopped dead in their tracks for a moment. After the robotic voice faded out, Ibsen's voice entered. "Uh, yes. All members of the Planning Council are requested to report to the briefing room. All members of SG-1 as well. That is all." A burst of static. After some whispered reactions everyone went back to their business.
Planning Council?thought Arcade. He wasn't aware that they'd already declared an official name for the group. As far as names went, though, it was good enough. He didn't have any particular objections to it, but he felt that it was just a bit… lacking. He didn't quite know how to put it. He supposed it was like replacing the title of Hamletwith Royal Story. It was a somewhat accurate depiction of the story, true, but it lacked something. He was sure he'd come up with a proper term for it later in the day. He always did.
When he entered the briefing room, he found more than a couple of seats empty. SG-1 sat where it always did, along one side of the briefing table while the senior staff sat on the opposite side. The empty seats, he recalled, would have hosted delegates from the other chapters of the Brotherhood that decided to assist in the project. In the early months, the row had been full. After alienating the Western chapter, it stood empty and nobody bothered to sit on their former seats any more – everyone was too used to where they were to move. Now the Capital Wasteland staff was gone. An ominous sign. At the helm of the table, Elder McNamara stood leaning forward slightly, his hands clasped in front of him.
Veronica and Teal'c, fresh from their training session, were dressed rather haphazardly in their combat uniforms. Veronica was chugging down a bottle of ice-cold Nuka-Cola and Teal'c, stoic was ever, simply observed. Daniel Jackson was stirring a mug containing a drink synthesized from an alien plant which he said was "pretty much coffee". Arcade sat down next to the doctor. They nodded at each other in acknowledgement. Elder McNamara cleared his throat.
"I'm sure you're all well aware of why I called you here today," he said. The senior staff nodded, all of them trying their best to look confident but their little mannerisms indicated at least a little bit of nervousness. Ramos was trying coyishly to scan the area by swivelling his eyeballs from side to side, subtle but noticeable if you try hard enough. A learned combat reflex which worked surprisingly well in social situations, especially coming from a position of authority. Schuler was silently tapping her fingers on the underside of the table. Scribes working under her usually took it as a cue to leave the room and end the conversation that when she started doing that. Lorenzo just sighed quietly, a typical response emulated by his subordinates thanks to their overburdened situation.
"Is this about the thing?" asked Veronica, referring to a rather scandalous situation that had occurred two weeks prior. "I swear, it wasn't me. It was Beaker. All I did was…"
"It's not about that, Veronica," said McNamara, shutting her down quickly. He got straight to the point. "Elder Lyons is dead. Aside from a scant few personnel that have elected to remain, the Capital Wasteland is completely withdrawing their support in order to reorient their attention to the East. They won't be coming back any time soon. In addition to that, they've lost contact with SG-2. They still have confidence that he will arrive, but his continued tardiness cannot be excused. We need a contingency, but one matter at a time. We have a lot to discuss."
He cleared his throat and relaxed his seating position. "First, and most pressing, is the issue of manpower. With the Eastern contingent no longer supporting us, our position is extremely precarious. Although they were generous enough to leave behind most of their equipment for our use, the implications of their departure are obvious. Key positions will remain understaffed, some even unoccupied. Our operating capacity will be reduced severely, and we'll essentially become sitting ducks. Easy targets for the Goa'uld, the NCR, and other threats may appear. To that end, I've already drafted a solution to our problem."
"Is this what I think it is?" asked Daniel Jackson, with a hint of condescension. He'd been expecting this for quite a while. His satisfaction was muted, however – he didn't want to seem too arrogant.
McNamara sighed. He had expected Jackson's response and was waiting for Gannon's. A quick glance at his direction, however, made him realize that if the other doctor was going to react he wasn't going to do it right in front of the Elder. "That depends on your assumptions, Doctor Jackson. We've decided to allow Abydonians into the Brotherhood. With reservations, of course. We willhave standards."
Much to Arcade's surprise, there wasn't a storm of vehement objection from the senior staff. Ramos spoke up. "Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose," he muttered distastefully. "I won't object to it. We don't really have any other choice. All I can say is that there will be difficulties, sir. I know that we can't recruit Wastelanders like Lyons' chapter did, especially with the risk of the NCR discovering our operation. Although the Abydonians may be practically human, the fact of the matter is they're aliens.And alien tribals, at that. Half of them can't even understand us, and the other half that do often end up misunderstanding us completely. How would you expect us to train them?"
McNamara cast a sideways glance to the two doctors, indicating the solution. "Doctor Jackson, Doctor Gannon, you will be instrumental to this effort. With Doctor Jackson's encyclopaedic knowledge of Old World cultures and of course the experience of several decades living with the Abydonians, and with Doctor Gannon's relation with the Followers of the Apocalypse, rehabilitation-"
"Rehabilitation?" asked Daniel. "I don't object to the idea, but I just find it distasteful how you people keep using that term. Rehabilitation implies that they're somehow lesser than we are – that their way of thinking, their civilization, is an illness that needs to be treated. True, they might not speak our language, and true, their beliefs may not exactly line up with ours, but that doesn't mean that they're savages. They're still people, and we have to treat them that way."
"And respectfully speaking, doctor Jackson," objected Arcade. "No matter how you look at it, they're primitive. In fact, I believe that a vocal minority still believe in Ra and they've been causing quite a bit of trouble. They've been stuck where they are for thousands of years, and it shows. Tradition has its place, but times have changed. Sooner or later they're going to adapt, and it would be better if they had someoneleading the way. If there wasn't, well, all you have to do is look at history. True, their adaptation is likely going to be driven by militaristic intentions but at least it's something." He looked at McNamara. "I only hope that you don't go full Caesar on them and-"
"Enough, doctors," said McNamara, frustrated. "You can have debates about the nature of your task later. Although you may find it philosophically objectionable, you will have to do it. Need I remind you that neither of you are actually members of the Brotherhoood? Please, hold your objections until after the briefing is done. We still have a lot to discuss."
The two doctors just nodded. They shut up and listened.
"I trust there are no objections to this proposal?" asked the elder.
"Would it matter if there were?" asked Schuler. "Either we do it or we're dead in the water. I'm not going to object, but I agree with Ramos that it's going to be difficult. Our scribes already have their hands full with all of the technology we're trying to understand. We'll have to halt our research on some of the more exotic projects in order to allocate enough instructors for these savage- err, potential recruits."
"Ditto with the difficulty," said Lorenzo. "We have enough problems with our supply consolidations as it is, and with the recent inventory reorganization we've been working way beyond our recommended capacity."
McNamara nodded at Schuler. "I suppose the doctors will help you with that. As for you, Lorenzo, we will discuss your predicament later on. Teal'c, I trust you will be able to lend your expertise to this initiative?"
"I will endeavour to exceed your expectations, Elder McNamara. I have a wide range of knowledge concerning the Goa'uld and I have had extensive dealings with their subjects. It will be useful in rehabilitating…" - Daniel, again, recoiled at the word. He knew that Teal'c was only imitating what he heard but it still stung. "…these Abydonians. However, I will do this after I return to Chulak with Bra'tac and my son. We have many tasks to finish there. I will be grateful if you can offer your help."
"I see," said McNamara with a nod. He opened a folder in front of him and inspected its contents. "What exactly are you hoping to do there?"
"I have matters to attend to with my son, Rya'c, and my master, Bra'tac. It is of great importance."
Ramos looked at him in curiosity. "We cannot allow you to act there without supervision just so you can attend to things that we don't even know about. Tell us, what are you going to do?"
Teal'c simply stared Ramos down gravely. "I am not at liberty to discuss these matters. If you are suspicious of my intentions, I can assure you that I will not do anything to undermine your goals or otherwise aid the Goa'uld. This concerns jaffa only."
"Chulak…" muttered Arcade. "No offense, Teal'c, but that seems like a terrible idea. We just came back from kicking their god to the curb and now we're just going to waltz back in?"
"Their forces are depleted," said Teal'c. "There will not be many trained jaffa left behind there. It is the perfect opportunity to strike back if you wish to do so."
"Out of the question," said Ramos. "Our manpower situation is far too dire for that. Besides, we're taking on enough risk as it is."
"Then perhaps I can justify that risk," replied Teal'c. "If you do not attack, then I will take the liberty of making this effort 'worth your while', as you say."
McNamara clasped his hands in front of him as a gesture of interest. "How?"
"There are many Goa'uld larvae on Chulak – one of the few places in the galaxy where they are found in great abundance. If you desire it, I can procure these symbiotes for your research, along with any technology that we can acquire."
Schuler's attention was caught by the mention of symbiotes. "Intact?"
Sschuler turned to McNamara and held up her folder for effect. "Elder, if I may…"
McNamara held up his hand and sat silent for a while, thinking it over. "Bra'tac has proven valuable in expanding our knowledge of the Goa'uld, and Rya'c likewise. They have shown that they are willing to betray their masters, but how can we be so sure that we won't do the same to us?"
"I will vouch for their honour with my life," said Teal'c. "They wish for freedom just as much, if not more, than I do. If they ever prove to be loyal to Apophis then I will strike them down myself in front of you."
"Very well. You can't go there alone," said McNamara. "I will assign an escort team to assist you. You willbe put down if we ever find even a single shredof evidence that you are attempting to undermine us. Do not mistake my acceptance of your service to us as leniency, Teal'c – as far as we're concerned, you're still a threat. For anything that happens there, we will hold youaccountable unless we have overwhelming evidence that can prove otherwise."
Teal'c nodded. "I understand. I am willing to take the risk. If necessary, I shall die for it."
"Make sure you don't, then," said Veronica. "We care about you, y'know."
"We will discuss the specifics of your matter later, Teal'c," said McNamara. "Moving on, as a provisional measure and a method of training, the Abydonians will be inducted into a category thus designated as the Irregular Division. After finishing a required basic training period, they will essentially act in support or substitution roles for SG-1 and other future SG teams, performing operations under the supervision of personnel acting under the control of a staff member. Through this, we can both reinforce the amount of personnel in key positions while simultaneously training them for induction into the Brotherhood proper. Once their sponsors feel that the irregular's training is complete, they can refer said irregular to a staff member for proper promotion to the rank of Initiate. It's up to the discretion of the staff member to determine whether or not the training is sufficient. Once the irregular takes up the position of Initiate, they will be treated as a proper member of the Brotherhood, with all the responsibilities and privileges that it offers. Any questions?"
Arcade nodded along and absorbed the information. "Historically, irregular units have been mobilized by militaries in order to conduct operations that would normally be out of their scope. They're known for employing guerrilla tactics that the normal military wouldn't be able to perform. The way you describe it, though, it seems more like a reserve corps, or maybe a levy. I don't have any objections. I just feel like the term needs a little bit more clarification."
McNamara sighed. "Thank you for that insight, doctor," he said half-heartedly. "I'll keep that in mind. Anything else?"
Daniel Jackson raised an eyebrow and mulled it over for a bit. "Where does the language and cultural education come in? I mean, surely…"
"That's part of the irregular training program. In addition to standard operation procedures, they'll be taught along the way about how a member of a Brotherhood should conduct themselves. I've noted Doctor Gannon's experiences with the Abydonians and concluded that a regular classroom environment will not be adequate for their education, so hands-on training will be more productive."
"Makes sense," said Jackson. "However, I do have a suggestion. The Abydonians aren't completelyresistant to conventional classroom teaching. All you have to do is convert that environment to something that's appropriate to their culture, like, say, emulating the environment of a village elder telling an oral tale. Their way of thinking is more mythical and based on narrative, so you have to take advantage of that. Tell them stories about the Brotherhood, give them something to believe in."
Veronica, finding herself about to die of boredom, tried her best to stay awake. Unfortunately, her willpower was lacking when it came to these matters. This was a battle that she couldn't win. Conceding defeat, she just buried her head in her arms and tried her best to keep her head down while everyone else talked about regulations and training procedures. Thankfully, she was mostly ignored while the discussion took place.
"Emulate the Spanish," entered Arcade. "Remember what Doctor Jackson said about their beliefs not lining up with ours. We can use those and introduce the proper concepts of how things work by explaining things in a way they can understand. Put it in the framework of their belief system. At first, they'll believe it's magic. That's not a problem, in fact it's an asset - go along with it. They continue watching how things work, see how it really is." He glanced around and saw that the senior staff's interests were quickly deteriorating when it came to this subject. He hurried it along. "An extremely simplified explanation of what I'm saying is that basically their belief system breaks down in the presence of these facts, and once their faith is shattered they'll look for meaning in something else. That's where we come in."
Daniel shook his head and began to speak up, but McNamara interrupted.
"We can discuss these matters at a later time, doctor. Any otherquestions?"
"What about weapons?" asked Ramos. "We only have so many Wattz, Winchesters and AERs, and we can't simply give them away."
"According to Doctor Jackson's reports, the Abydonians are already familiar with firearms, as evidence by their liberal usage of it against Ra's forces during our initial expedition. This is where the Cassidy shipments come in. I trust that those are still remaining steady, Lorenzo?"
"Y-yes sir," said Lorenzo, sitting up straight in his chair after attention had been diverted to him. "Ammunition, chems, and weapons are being delivered at a constant rate. There is a problem, though, sir. Although we still have a sizable discount on their products thanks to Veronica's agreement with the company's last CEO, we still have to pay the caps and our reserves are running low. If we don't find a way to produce any caps within this quarter, we may very well enter the red if the expenses continue at their current rate."
"I might have a solution for that," responded Schuler. "As you all know, this facility was designed to be self-sufficient in case of disaster. For unknown reasons, the garrison abandoned this area but that's not the point. We found several derelict fabrication machines in one of the facility's storage silos. According to the specifications we found in the data archives, they were supposed to be producing some sort of military-issue beverage right before the war broke out. Some sort of corporate partnership deal, I believe. It will take some effort to jury-rig them back to their original capacity but with access to resources outside the planet, it would be trivial to get them to, with a few modifications of course, produce late 2076-model Nuka-Cola bottle caps if we have the right samples. Given enough time, we could probably buy out an entire town if we want to."
"Noted, Schuler. Get those presses working. Lorenzo, keep up the good work. As long as we have those presses running, I trust procuring firearms wouldn't be a problem. Going back to the previous matter – about weapons, we'll be starting the irregulars on firearms instead of energy weapons. Once they've been granted the rank of Initiate, they'll be given proper training on the use of our standard weapons."
"I see, sir," said Ramos. "I suppose it's not that hard to make a leap from guns to lasers."
"All you have to do is move a little finger," said Arcade. "Not that hard, relatively speaking."
They discussed the provisions and regulations about the Abydonian recruitment project as length, and by the time they were done the sun was almost setting. Not that it mattered, though – underground, it didn't matter if it was night or day, and when it came to the environments of other planets, the day-night cycle of Earth didn't even matter. Veronica periodically fell asleep and woke up, feeling like crap every time she did. By the time she felt like she couldn't even muster the energy to take another nap, she was saved by the fact that Ramos was about to enter his closing remarks.
"…And I suppose that wraps up the matter of tactical training," said Ramos. "I'll ask Volker to collaborate with me on the creation of an irregular training manual."
"Send it out for review before you start distribution," said McNamara. "I suppose that should go without saying, but anyhow… I suppose that wraps up our discussion on the irregular training program for today."
"Finally," breathed Veronica wearily. "I could murder an entire Brahmin right about now."
"Not yet, Veronica," said McNamara. She groaned. "A few more matters to wrap things up. The other staff members are already aware of this, but I suppose it's time you knew as well. We'll be forming another expeditionary team, designated SG-4. With the other two teams absent, it seems prudent that we add another group to the roster. Although we're short on manpower, that doesn't give us any excuse to slack off. To start with the team will have four members. We've vetted our list of candidates extensively and so far we've found four people who can fight the criteria - Scribe Grayson, Senior Scribe Light, Senior Knight Sable, and Paladin Cordoba. As always, there is going to be a period of introduction and training before they're fully introduced to the field. They will need guidance, and as such they will shadow you and support your next operations until such time as they've been deemed ."
"Fine, fine," she said, twiddling her thumbs. She cleared her throat. "I mean, it's not that I'm challenging your decision or anything, but… It miiightbe a bit awkward though… I mean, some of them kind of, you know, taught me. And they're all higher-ranking than me. It's just weird, that's all."
McNamara nodded. "Understandable. Good of you to bring that up, because this brings us to our next topic. As a sign of thanks and as recognition of your outstanding achievements in the last operations, I'm granting you a promotion. As you may be well aware, the Capital Wasteland contingent of the Brotherhood modified their rank structure when they arrived given their extraordinary circumstances. Aside from just recruiting Wastelanders, they've also expanded and diversified their rank structure in order to suit their purposes. I found it prudent to borrow the idea and adopt one of their ranks into our own hierarchy. Effective immediately, we're promoting you in order to facilitate your role in future events."
Veronica was in the middle of rocking her chair slightly back and forth and almost fell down. Teal'c caught her chair and pushed it upwards. She thanked him with a nod and straightened up considerably. Shocked, Veronica took some time to answer. "I think I need to get my ears checked. Did I just hear that?"
"From here on out, you're being assigned the rank of Proctor. The position seems appropriate, given your experience. You occupy a special position in the chain of command that has never been seen in this part of the Brotherhood before. I'm lifting your restrictions on your usage of power armour – it seems only fair that you have free reign to use it, given the fact that you worked on it yourself and the possibility that we may encounter increased resistance from the Goa'uld in the future. Do understand that the rank comes with responsibilities. I can see that you need some time to process this, so we will discuss the matter at length tomorrow."
"I, uh…" she stammered, standing on the verge of hyperventilating for a few moments before she calmed herself down and took a couple of long, deep breaths. The rest of SG-1 looked at her with an expression of general curiosity. "Okay. Okay. Okay. Thanks, I guess… I mean, wow. That's great, and uh… Sorry if I sound a bit, you know, right now, so, uhm… Yeah. Thanks."
"And if there's no more questions, I think that's all," said McNamara, standing up. "Ramos and Teal'c, remain. The rest of you – dismissed."
Veronica waited outside the briefing room for a while and when the meeting was done she tapped Teal'c's shoulder to get his attention as he was coming out and smiled at him. "Hi."
"Greetings, Veronica Santangelo," said Teal'c.
"If you're going to Chulak…" said Veronica, pausing.
"I am indeed going to Chulak. Do you have any concerns?"
"It's about Cass," she continued. "Look… If you find anything…"
"I understand," replied Teal'c. "If we find anything pointing to her whereabouts, then we will relay the information to you as soon as possible. I am aware of the importance of this Cassidy to you. I will do everything in my power to retrieve her if she is there."
Veronica beamed at that. She playfully punched his shoulder in gratitude. "Thanks. I owe you one."
"One of what?" asked Teal'c. He never got a reply since she was already walking away.
The next day, after McNamara had introduced Veronica to her role as a Proctor and all the wonderful responsibilities it had to offer, she had called on SG-4 and Arcade into one of the instruction rooms in order to introduce them to the SG team. Daniel had been occupied at the time with assisting the recruitment effort on Abydos, and Teal'c returned to Chulak with Bra'tac and Rya'c alongside a squadron of Brotherhood liaisons so it had been left up to the two of them to show new team the ropes. Although Veronica felt nervous at the time, she felt that she did a pretty decent job of introduction.
"So, that covers the bit about intercultural contact, as Doctor Jackson so eloquently put it in one of his long, long reports," said Veronica. "There should be some stuff that I haven't covered yet, but I'm sure you'll find all about that in the dossier. Hope you guys learned something. I don't want to end up killing someone accidentally because of the leadership jitters. Feels weird being on the same level as Schuler now."
"Don't worry too much about it, dear," said an older woman with graying brown hair curled into a ponytail, wiping her glasses on a handkerchief as she let out a gentle smile. "We can handle ourselves. We may seem like a ragtag bunch of misfits, but I have faith in McNamara's abilities. He wouldn't have put us together in the same room if he felt that we didn't have potential." She was clad in crimson-red Scribe robes emblazoned with her family's crest on the right shoulder, with smaller versions embroidered on the collars. The crest was the letter "L" typeset in fancy Medieval lettering, with a four-pointed star in the background. She was one of Veronica's role models when growing up, and she admired her quiet conviction for things that normally went ignored.
Senior Scribe Melinda Light was a woman of considerable experience and knowledge. She married into a long and storied line of eminent scribes stretching back to the days of the Exodus, and her late husband often remarked that she would have been more than a match for the family's original patriarch when it came to intellectual capacity. When she was a Journeyman, her superiors often commented that she wrote like she was running out of time, and there was no end to her research output. Her two sons, an Initiate and a Journeyman Scribe, were promising young up-and-comers in the Brotherhood's ranks. Although she recently spent most of her days lecturing and working on the Brotherhood's lesser-appreciated scholarly duties, she was no stranger to combat and could hold her own beside any experienced Paladin.
"Can't wait to get out there," said a man with a high-and-tight crew cut wearing a dark grey jumpsuit and a Brotherhood-marked combat chest piece. He looked like he was fresh out of dry-fire training and the acidic smell of spent energy cells drifted through the air around him, faint but noticeable. Arcade seemed to find him more interesting than anything else in the room, but his interest was muted. He was the one member of the SG-4 team that didn't outrank Veronica before her promotion, but she found little comfort in that. She was one of her closest friends as a child, but after she discovered herself they started drifting apart. There had been a lot of things left unsaid. Their more recent interactions have often been marked with mutual disinterest and pregnant silences, especially given the fact that they shared romantic partners more than once.
He was Knight Alexander Sable, an adventurous young man who had a reputation being slow to anger when things got out of hand. Despite that, however, he more often than not got the mission done, often exceeding expectations using unorthodox methods of completing the objective. He was more than welcoming when it came to outsiders, and didn't respond well to overbearing authority. When he followed orders, he did it his way and his superiors knew enough to let him do his thing, even though they disapproved of his methods. He fancied both men and women, and was also notorious for leaving behind a trail of broken hearts wherever he went.
"Out to screw your way through a plethora of aliens, I suppose," retorted the other scribe, a pale young woman with her hair bound into a tight bun. Scribe Grayson had a sharp tongue, but she rarely used it since it often took a special occasion to get her to actually talk to someone. She was busy typing something down in front of a terminal, without looking at the screen. The way her fingers were moving, it sounded like a machine gun. She was a genius when it came to computers, and more often than not she spent her time with Ibsen and his crew in the robot pits looking for ways to tinker and improve their designs. Although her father, a decorated paladin, disapproved of her career path, and indeed, disapproved of almost anything she did, she pursued her passions anyway despite his protests. She had no regrets, and she was proud of it.
"Hey, they're basically human," replied Sable. "And like the good Doctor Jackson said, people are people no matter where you go."
"I don't think that's his intended interpretation," said Arcade. "But I suppose if that's the way you want to see it. You understand how the Incas died, right?"
"The who?" asked Sable. "My good doctor, I have no idea what you're talking about."
Arcade sighed and rolled his eyes. "Never mind."
Light simply chuckled at that remark. "Oh, what I'd give to be young again."
Cordoba simply sat at the back of the room, thumbing through an old Grognakcomic book. It was the issue where Grognak encountered a bunch of extremely voracious worms with an appetite for scantily-clad women. He mostly stayed in the background, keeping to himself unless called upon. He had the kind of stealth that could only be called situational invisibility – his teammates often noted that they didn't know he was there until he said something, a feat that perplexed them due to the fact that he wore his suit almost all the time. It was hard to miss a man in power armour, but somehow he managed to do it. He sat there silently, making mental notes about the meeting. He had gone to other worlds before and usually at a combat role. Adding him to an SG team was merely a formality – with the amount of times he'd accompanied SG-1 and 3, it was only a matter of time before he actually became a member of one. He followed orders without question, and he never spoke his passions or his views. Unless he was called on, he was practically a mute.
"I'm sure Dr. Jackson feels the same," muttered Grayson. "Veronica- Er, I mean, Proctor, ma'am, respectfully speaking, is there anything else? I have other things to do."
Veronica nodded at Grayson. "Oh yeah, right. SG-4, I'm pretty sure you've all read the dossiers already so you should know what to do. I guess I'm just here to answer questions or something, so, uh, have at it. Any questions? Reactions? Song requests?"
Grayson casually picked up the folder next to her terminal and glanced through it for a few seconds. With her other hand, she kept tapping on the terminal, slowing down her pace to accommodate the fact that she was only using one hand. "No computers, no electricity, no firearms… Hell, they probably don't even have working plumbing. What are we supposed to do here? I was led to believe that being part of an SG team meant you recover all sorts of ancient technology. More ancient than Pre-War stuff, even, and somehow more advanced. I don't see how mingling around with a bunch of savages has anything to do with that, except maybe satisfy Sable's insatiable lust for anything that moves."
"Thaaaat's right. No phones, no lights, no motorcars," said Veronica. "Not a single luxury. Primitive as can be. Sounds like it sucks, right?" She sighed. "Look, I know you're looking for the fancy stuff right away, Grayson, but this is kind of like looking through the Wasteland for Pre-War scraps, only this time with less radiation. And bloatflies. You look for information, learn as much as you can, look for the hints that anything might be out of place. You know how tribals often get their hands on things they don't understand? It's like that. Most of the time they think it's some sort of magic artefact or they just take it for granted, using it for everyday life without knowing how it works, but… you know. It's like a big game of Find-the-Nuke. It might be there, it might not. Either way, we get to learn something new."
"And it's not just technology we're supposed to look for," added Light. "There's a wealth of knowledge to be recovered from seeing these ancient traditions in practice. Technology is a wonderful thing, sure, but there are other forms of knowledge out there that need to be recorded and kept track of. I think it's time the Brotherhood realized that. The so-called 'soft sciences' have been ignored for too long, as I'm sure Doctor Gannon would agree."
"No arguments from me," said Arcade. "The Brotherhood isn't one of the places you go to when you're looking for top-of-the-line socioeconomic research."
"All right, all right," replied Grayson, her tone resigned. She muttered something under her breath. "I know when I'm being lectured. I don't care. Just tell me where the technology is and I'll take care of the rest. If we find it, that is. Am I allowed to bring a robot?"
Veronica mulled it for a moment. She didn't quite know how to respond. "I'm… not sure. Is she?"
"Up to you," said Arcade. "You're the Proctor now, remember?"
Veronica nodded and thought about it. "I suppose you can bring one."
Grayson smiled. For some reason, that unnerved Veronica. She began to wonder if giving her that privilege was a good idea, but it was too late to backpedal now. "Just be sensible, Grayson. Anyways, any other questions? No? Then get ready. We're leaving tomorrow."
McNamara sat in front of the Brotherhood's banner in his office. The light streaming down from above gave off the impression of power and he was reminded of his responsibilities. It was a weight that always accompanied him, and by now he'd gotten used to it. "First, the talk of spies from what's left of the disgruntled administration who still remain in Lost Hills. Then the Capital Wasteland contingent leaves because of the death of their elder. And of course the ever-present threat of alien forces with the ability to obliterate us at any moment. We're stretched far too thin, and it will take time for the Abydonians to be accepted as a full part of the Brotherhood. The reaction to their induction is just as expected, I assume?"
"Suspicion," replied Ramos. "Complaints. Anger. The usual, sir. Some people are more level-headed, however. I'd suggest we give our men time and they will eventually come to accept them. Treating these aliens as equals, however – that's another story. Even now we're receiving complaints from our more… radical brothers, and of course from the outsider doctors, that some of our men and women have been doing less than exemplary activities in regards to these natives."
"No need to sugarcoat it, Ramos. I know full well what they're doing and I'm not happy about it either. I'm trying to find some way to fix it but it will be difficult. It's not a problem that's going to be solved any time soon, and the wrong move in this matter could be disastrous. We can't afford to alienate any more of our men than we already have."
Schuler butted in. "It doesn't matter. They're no more than tribals, and after living for thousands of years under Ra it's not like they know any better. If anything, our treatment would be seen as an improvement compared to what they went through."
"Yes, I suppose that's right," muttered McNamara. "It's not our main priority right now. Lorenzo, what's the status on the supply front?"
"We've managed to restore about half of the recovered suits during the Apophis operation back to working order. We've fitted most of them with naquadah-bonded fusion cores and modified them with improvements suggested by the Knights, but we still have a lot of work to do. I know you've heard this before, but we're overworked."
"Everyone is, Lorenzo," said McNamara. "I fear that things may never really come back to normal, at least the normal we've known before. Given the scope of our operations, I find it prudent that we should once again change our strategy. Drawing upon our history – as with the Enclave and the NCR, we once again find ourselves facing an enemy that we cannot ever hope to defeat given our current state of affairs without incurring great losses or even total annihilation. We are no longer the guardians of the Wasteland. We are no longer at the apex of the technological pyramid – those days were gone even before we discovered the Stargate."
"We're the underdog," said Ramos.
"Succinctly put, Ramos," said McNamara. "And we have to think like it if we don't want to stay that way."
"What about Veronica?" asked Schuler. "Assigning her a rank like that… it's unprecedented. Where does she stand on the Chain That Binds?"
"She doesn't," said McNamara. "The only person she has to report to is me."
Ramos sighed. "It seems like a terribly unwise decision, given her track record. Are you sure you did the right thing?"
"I trust in her capabilities, Ramos. We've underestimated her time and time again and it's often proved to be disastrous for us to treat her that way. I think it's time for us to acknowledge her full potential, don't you think?"
As the meeting went on about the Brotherhood's future, Veronica strolled past the office and made her way to the repair bays that held most of the power armour suits. She'd received a message on her personal terminal about a surprise for her, and she wasn't one to miss out on an exciting offer.
"Ah, Veronica!" said one of the knights with a smile. Corbett, a brash young woman who often teased her about her girlfriends when they were still initiates. "Ma'am." She giggled after saying that. Veronica supposed that the strange feeling of being a superior was something she would have a long time getting used to. "We have something for you. Congratulations on the promotion, by the way."
"Thanks," replied Veronica . "What is it? Is it a Fancy Lad generator? Please tell me it's a Fancy Lad snack cake generator."
The knight laughed at that. "Ah, not quite, proctor. Something a little less glamorous. It's still pretty neat, though. We found this on the corpse of a Paladin during the mission a few months back; one of the Eastern soldiers. We took the liberty of cleaning it up for you and restored it to working order, give or take a few enhancements."
She pointed at a suit that looked like a bulkier and more polished version of the T-45 sitting on one of the racks. Two of the other knights caught Veronica's glance and waved at her. She knew them both and waved back. "Ma'am," they said, accompanied by a giggle similar to Corbett's.
Veronica frowned. "You know, I'm starting to think that you guys should treat me with a little bit more formality. What can you tell me about the suit?"
"Sorry about that," said Corbett, who glared at the two knights. They were initiates, and her glance indicated that they were to be given a stern talking-to after this affair was done. They started working a lot more efficiently after that look. "In any case, this is T60 power armour. These things saw little distribution out in these parts, but apparently these things are popping up like candy in Pre-War facilities out in the East. Based on their reports, this thing's basically a step between T-51 and Enclave armour. We figured that you should have the honour of piloting the first one in our chapter. I took the liberty of clearing out all the bureaucratic stuff for you, so for all intents and purposes this suit is yours now."
Veronica walked towards the suit and inspected it. The knight initiates got out of her way and busied themselves with something else. Although the armour was marked with a variety of scratches, bumps, and painted-over scorchmarks, it looked a lot more pristine than her old T-45 Bullet-Eater suit. She reached out to touch it and felt the difference between their tactile sensations. Yes, this was clearly going to be an improvement. It'd take some time for her to get used to it, though, like everything else that was happening to her. "Wow. I don't really know what to say. Thanks for the free suit, I guess?"
Corbett let out a wide grin. "Welcome! Tell us if you need anything tweaked or whatever, even though I'm pretty sure you'll be the one to do the modifications yourself. That operation with the ships was a mixed blessing. For once, we finally have more suits than we have people. We figured one of them should go to someone who'd make good use of it instead of lying dormant in the storage room waiting for someone who isn't born yet."
"All right, then," said Veronica. "I don't suppose you still have those Fancy Lads lying around, don't you?"
Corbett shook her head. "Unfortunately not, ma'am. In any case, I'll leave you to it. Enjoy."
"Posters," said Scribe Cynthia Penrose, a (according to herself) bright young mind with meticulously-braided black hair who fancied herself the brains of the self-appointed Recruitment Initiative. Operating under the lax supervision of Senior Scribe Schuler, they were supposed to handle the recruitment of new Abydonians into the Brotherhood's Irregular Division, enticing impressionable young men and women to take the fight to their false gods. "We need posters, for sure. With fancy graphics and all. You've seen those Pre-War fliers up on the walls when we were travelling around, right? We need something like those. I was thinking we could have Paladin in power armour – T-51b, the good stuff, you know? And the Paladin is like, holding a huge ripper and he's about to slash this giant sphinx-head guy who's about to attack him with an energy staff. And under that graphic we should have a slogan like… 'NO MORE FALSE GODS!' or 'FIGHT FOR FREEDOM!'. What do you think?"
"Perfect idea, Cyn," said Knight Angela Monroe, a critically-minded woman who tried to see the best in everything even though she always ended up disappointed because she always changed her expectations last-minute. "Except they can't read English. You have to translate the slogan first, but other than that it seems like a solid idea for a poster."
Schuler, curious about the new developments on the propaganda front, decided to hover over the workers for a while and observe their progress. She wanted to have Arcade Gannon or perhaps Doctor Jackson's input on things, especially given their experience on these sorts of matters. Although she fancied herself to be a well-read academic, she considered herself to be more of the technical type – she could easily name each and every part of the human brain but heavens be damned if she ever tried to actually relate them to how people act. She may know the human body inside and out, but the human mind – it was a total mystery. While she had training in neurology and psychology thanks to the Brotherhood's extensive cache of Pre-War knowledge on the matter her understanding of them rarely ever extended beyond what she'd read in the textbooks. Beyond that, she felt like she was trespassing on territory that viewed her as an unwelcome intruder.
"Interesting suggestions," muttered Schuler, trying to recall a bit of knowledge from her sociological studies, "perhaps we should focus on our accentuating our image. It can't be that hard to get them to view us as knights in shining armour, can it?"
Penrose nodded thoughtfully. She scribbled down a series of notes on a hefty leather notebook that bore her name in carefully-kerned letters on the cover. "Yes, yes… That's a great idea, ma'am. Knights in shining armour. That's exactly what we are, aren't we? 'When evil forces are closing in, when there's nobody else to turn to, the Brotherhood is there to save you!' It needs a bit of tweaking, I suppose, but it's perfect. Hell, they already view us as heroes, so it shouldn't be thathard."
While he was talking, Schuler had went off somewhere. Penrose took little notice of it – she knew she had many things to do.
"What about the girls?" asked Monroe. "With that culture of theirs stuck in that way of thinking, it's going to be hard to get more of the fairer sex into our ranks. Now don't get me wrong, I like all of your ideas but don't you think it's a bit too loaded with testosterone?"
"That's a cultural problem," replied Penrose dismissively. "Let the Education guys handle it. Our job is inspiration, not reformation."
"There's still the matter of the language barrier, you know," said Monroe. "I don't suppose you're just going to dump all the posters on Ed too?"
The scribe thought it over for a moment and scratched away a series of scribbles in her notebook. "Yes, yes, that's right… I suppose we'll have to do away with the slogans altogether. Let the images speak for themselves. Like one of those old paintings, you know, from waaaay before the War? Just slam a symbol on that thing and they'll know exactly what we're talking about."
Monroe started playing around with a little toy soldier she found in one of the living quarters. "You should hit up Cordoba. I hear he collects Pre-War posters. One of his hobbies is restoring them. He might have something for us."
"Who?" asked Penrose.
"One of the Paladins. Doesn't really go out much, keeps to himself."
"Ah. Well, if you find him ask him about it. We need all the inspiration we can get."
"You know what else we need?" added a third voice. Scribe Hamilton, a chronic underachiever from the Capital Wasteland who occasionally had perplexingly good ideas, even though most of the time it's too late to apply them. "Dress uniforms. Pre-War soldiers had them, and I've seen pictures and they look damn good. Think of how many more recruits we're going to have if we dress to impress. I mean, power armour is good and all but think how much better they're going to like us if we have something a bit more formal, if you know what I mean."
"Attempting to recruit these savages is a waste of time," said Senior Scribe Mueller, who had just popped up out of nowhere. He oftentimes had the habit of walking into a room completely unannounced, which made him the bane of many a group of scribes who were looking to slack off. "They'll come to us. In any case, it's not a wise decision. I have no idea what McNamara has in mind, but we have enough men as it is. We can make more, but unfortunately it seems that most of the females these days are neglecting to perform their duty. And with Santangelo's recent promotion, they're starting to get ideas. It's disgusting."
"Oh, hello, sir," said Hamilton, trying her best to ignore his recent rant. "I take it you're not too excited about the Elder's recent decision?"
"Excuse me," muttered Knight Monroe. Mueller had a certain reputation when it came to women, and Monroe knew it. "I have something to attend to. Good day, sir."
"Good day," said Mueller, nodding at her as she left the room. He turned to Hamilton and Penrose, reviewing their works. Penrose's desk was a mess of doodles and potential catchphrases. Most of them had been scratched off, a strikethrough going through them as a sign of rejection. "Is this your job now, Penrose? What a shame. We needed all the men we have on understanding the alien technologies."
"Not my choice, sir," said Penrose. "Just doing my job. I figure if I'm going to do something, I might as well be enthusiastic about it. I'm trying to my best to be enthusiastic about it since it's my mission. No use doing a job if you don't like it, right, sir?"
Mueller nodded at Penrose. He often advised his scribes to enjoy their jobs. "Indeed. All the best for the Brotherhood, I suppose. I can't fault you for doing what I told you to. It's just a shame that your potential is being wasted on this… tawdry affair. Recruiting tribals? I know McNamara's desperate, but we're not thatdesperate."
Penrose nodded along. "I suppose so, sir."
Mueller stared off into the distance for a while and sighed. "Indeed… Oh well. I will leave you to your jobs. Take care."
Mueller went out of the newly-designated Recruitment Department and headed over to the place that he called home – the place where the magic happened. The facility's laboratories were sparse during the initial discovery of the Stargate, but after several SG missions and especially after combat operations against the Goa'uld the once sparsely-populated labs have grown into rather ample workshops that always bustled with activity, even during the regimented sleeping hours. There was an old Brotherhood proverb – "There is no such thing as rest for the Scribe". This is where the proverb was proven true. Research was always ongoing, and there was something new being made even while everyone else was sleeping.
Inside his office, one of the Initiates knocked on his door and peeked inside. He was holding a clipboard. "Sir?"
Mueller looked up from his research and raised an eyebrow at the initiate. "What is it now? Is it important?"
"A message from the Elder, sir," said the initiate. "About the power interruptions. These recent outages have been causing problems with normal operations, sir, and he asks that you tone it down."
"Tell him that those cannot be avoided," said Mueller. "Our energy research is going splendidly, and we are on the verge of a major breakthrough. If we cut down on power use now, then it will be a hindrance to our research. Respectfully speaking, I ask you to tell him that we still require full use of the facility power grid. I'm sure the other departments can make-do with a few seconds of outages every few hours or so."
"Very well, sir," said the initiate. "I will relay your message."
"See that you do," he replied. Once the initiate was gone, he sighed and stood up. He went out of his office and headed over to the room that held his personal project – a group of scribes and knights was always there, working in shifts. A test was about to occur, and the personnel were frantically scrambling around with terminals and blackboards, making last-minute calculations. A scribe took note of his attendance and ordered his peers to work faster. Mueller just gave him a nod of acknowledgement.
"Trial number six-forty-three!" shouted the scribe behind the windowpane. Beyond it, a knight in a hazard suit gave a thumbs-up and entered the decontamination chamber. There was bright blue light shimmering behind the window, which made it hard to discern exactly what was inside it. The scribe gave a nod to Mueller as he was given permission to commence with the experiment. Behind him, the scribes on the terminals began typing away.
After the experiment's third phase, the power system was overloaded and as a result it immediately shut down as a safety measure. Mueller wasn't surprised – this was a typical occurrence given the nature of his work. After a few minutes, the power went back up and the scribes started assessing the results of the latest trial.
"A decent enough increase in output," he said with a smile as he read the results of the experiment from a terminal printout. "Promising, but not enough."
It was designated P-067. Typical of most gated worlds, it was much like Earth was before the Great War, only it was shrouded in thick tropical rainforest, at least at the region where the Stargate was located. The lack of easy access to orbital reconnaissance made it hard for the Brotherhood to identify exactly what a planet was like save for the immediate local region around the Stargate at first glance. It had gigantic plants that looked like palm trees with canopies at altitudes that would have rivalled the Lucky 38, and all manners of strange creatures that the Earth hadn't seen in a long time walked around in droves, but Veronica felt that none of them were dangerous enough to survive the Wasteland. These creatures may have been tough, but they didn't have the advantages provided by FEV and radiation.
Arcade and Veronica had learned their lessons from their earlier ventures into tropical worlds, and adjusted their equipment accordingly. Daniel was already used to it, and so he went along with his usual outfits. Veronica wanted to try out her new suit as soon as possible, but she had to wait until after making initial contact with the planet's native population. The Eyebot scouts had detected a human village in the distance, and the control room scribes made sure that it wasn't spotted. They had learned their lesson after they'd lost too many drones to either wandering jaffa or just plain superstitious fear of the unknown on the part of the planet's natives.
If SG-4 was uncomfortable, none of them showed any signs of it. As always, Cordoba was clad in a full suit of T-51 power armour, and its self-contained nature made sure he was comfortable no matter where he was, whether it was a desert, jungle or winter wonderland. Light's reaction was understated, she was simply fanning herself lightly with a rolled-up piece of paper. Sable seemed to be enjoying it, as he was wearing a rather insolent grin on his face. Grayson took no notice of the heat or the humidity, even though her face was practically drowning in sweat. She was pushing along a large metal crate placed on a forklift beside their regular supply shipment. The crate was marked with the symbol of the US Air Force, and there was a large release valve similar to those on a back of a T-45 suit in front of it.
Veronica eyed it suspiciously and looked at Grayson. "Robot?"
"Yep," said Grayson, wiping away a bit of sweat from her forehead with a frayed towel. "Mr. House left this thing behind when he decided to suddenly just go away. It took a bit of time to get through his accursed code and anti-tampering routines but I managed to reprogram her."
Veronica looked at the crate again. It was a head taller than Grayson herself, and taller than any of them except for the T51b-clad Cordoba, but it seemed appropriate enough. Too thin to fit in a Securitron or a Sentry Bot, too big for an Eyebot. One of House's enhanced Protectrons, she guessed. She supposed it was appropriate enough for the mission. "All right then. Looks like it's not thatridiculous."
Grayson just smiled. She tore her gaze away from the scribe to the rest of SG-4. "How about you guys?"
Sable had a twinkle in his eye. "The feel of a…"
"Sable," said Veronica, who knew exactly what he was about to talk about. Her voice was firm. "No. Not on your first mission."
"What?" asked Sable. "I was talking about the environment. Geez, ma'am…"
"You know full well what you were going to say," quipped Grayson.
"Oh shut up."
Veronica grumbled. "You two are quite the handful, aren't you?"
"Kind of reminds me of the first time we met," said Arcade.
"Oh shut up doc," said Veronica. "We're getting off-topic. Is everyone ready? We have to go look for the village."
"Take the pups out with you, Veronica," suggested Light. "As much as I'd like to go gallivanting around right now, I still have to set up the observation equipment and guard the gate. If you need either of us, we'll be right here. Besides, I'm sure you'll feel more like a leader if you don't have an old teacher like me hovering over your shoulder judging every decision you make."
"Mmhm," said Cordoba. He was busy fiddling around with a portable Eyebot charging station. "I'll stay behind as well on sentry duty. Mandate from Ramos."
Veronica blushed at Light's compliment. "Oh, uh, gee, thanks. We'll call you if we need you."
"And we'll answer it if it comes," said Light. "Go on now."
And so it went. The group made their way over to the first settlement spotted by the Eyebot, and the villagers there, after some rudimentary introductions from Daniel, gave them directions to the planet's capital. According to what they could glean from the locals, this planet was once held by a Goa'uld from the Aztec pantheon until several centuries ago when goa'uld named Shiva ousted his control and set up shop in one of the area's swamps. The culture was a strange blend of Indian and Aztec traditions, and Daniel remarked that such cultural syncretism was common when planets changed hands between Goa'uld lords. Arcade started arguing with him about that as they walked along the ancient stone avenues shadowed by the gigantic trees. Veronica took the time to inform Sable and Grayson about proper mission procedures while the two doctors were immersed in their argument.
Along the road to the capital they encountered a trading caravan that took interest in the planet's new visitors. Arcade and Daniel took the opportunity to assail them with a barrage of questions concerning the planet and everything they knew about it. The traders were happy to oblige, and the company helped to stave off the boredom of walking several miles to the city. The gigantic tropical rainforest soon gave way to a valley populated with wheat and corn farms, and as they journeyed on various inhabitants stepped out of their houses to gawk at the team and chat amongst themselves in typical bystander fashion.
By the time they reached their destination, the sun was high in the pale-blue sky and one of the planet's moons, which Daniel remarked as looking like a tiny version of Mars, was faintly visible on the horizon. The capital was built around a network of five Mesoamerican-style ziggurats arranged in what looked to be a diagonal cross pattern, with the centre pyramid being the tallest, looming all over the city with its shadow helping to act as a respite against the harsh midday sun. The city was surrounded by massive wooden walls with bronze-clad guards wielding spears peering over the parapets. Veronica couldn't quite make out what they were doing, but she assumed that it was related to routine city security stuff. By the time they reached the front gates, it became apparent what the guards were doing. They were greeted with the sound of bugle-like instruments and a lavish entrance ceremony that made them stop in their tracks.
"Either they think we're gods again," said Daniel. "Or they must not have had any visitors in a while."
"It's probably both," said Arcade. "You know how this goes. Care to do the honours again, Doctor Jackson?"
"Hey, I like it when this kind of stuff happens," said Veronica. "Until we tell them the truth and then all the fun gets drained out of it, that is. Can't a girl feel like a goddess even just for a little while?"
"Not when more important things are at stake," said Daniel. "Remember what we came here to do, Veronica."
She just chuckled. "Such a killjoy, doc."
"Does this happen everytime you go off-world?" queried Sable. "What an interesting life."
"Sometimes," answered Daniel. "But we make every effort we can to dispel any preconceived notions about us. That's something you'll have to keep in mind when you start operating independently. I'm sure, as a member of the Brotherhood of Steel, that you're able to put your duty above your own personal pleasure."
That just elicited a scoff from Grayson. "Not with Sable, doctor. He has… a reputation."
"Hey!" retorted Sable. "I'm all for the truth, doctor sir. If necessary, I do what I have to do to get the mission done. If I get a little pampered along the way, then I suppose it's just a necessary sacrifice, isn't it? No harm, no foul."
"Nonetheless," continued Daniel. "We have to make our intentions clear and avoid any confusion. It's better to tell the truth right at the start and solve any problems stemming from that quickly than to lead them along under false assumptions and have it all fall apart once they eventually find out the truth. Remember, these people are not as advanced as we are."
"Finally, he admits it," said Arcade.
"Technologically speaking, that is," said Daniel hurriedly. "That doesn't mean they're ignorant savages whose culture needs fixing."
"Docs," said Veronica. "Can you can it for a second? I think I see this place's head honcho about to stroll up to us."
The high priest, Tarun was his name, invited the group over to the grand temple for a celebration. Compared to most men who held the moniker, he seemed rather young and seemed a lot less pious than his rank would demand him to be. Once they were inside, Daniel and Arcade went about their explanation process while the rest of the team settled down. Sable started eyeing some of the native girls and smiled at them. Grayson was busy scanning the area and writing things down on her notebook. Once the initial confusion was dealt with, due process took its place and Tarun called the servants up for a meal. Despite Daniel and Arcade dispelling the notion that their new visitors were not, in fact, gods, they were still as hospitable as ever. They took their meal below the cracked and forgotten statue of an alien being whose head had been cut off, at a long table where they knelt down and sat on soft chairs filled with the feather of one of the native birds. Daniel looked at the statue curiously and looked at Tarun.
"You know," said Daniel. "I would have expected a temple such as this to take better care of its statues."
Tarun looked at the statue and laughed. "Oh, that is a statue of Shiva. Many centuries ago we worshipped him. He is the Lord of the Demons, and we have been fighting him for centuries."
"Why is that?"
"It is a long story. Truth be told, my title is little more than a relic these days. A joke goes around: we handle everything exceptmatters of faith." He laughed at that. "Shiva is powerful, yes, but he can be defeated. Once, a long time ago, we gave him tribute and were completely subservient to him. My ancestors put a stop to that, and we fought to free ourselves from his bondage. Much blood was spilled and even today we honour their sacrifice every third cycle of the second moon. Those still loyal to him are exiled to the Great Forest where he now lives, and we battle his demons every chance we get."
"Interesting," said Arcade. "This may be the first time we've heard of a population actually succeedingin rebelling against the Goa'uld, to an extent. Without our help, at least. Most of the time revolts are crushed with impunity and nobody's left behind to tell the tale. How'd you manage it?"
"The stories will tell you that Shiva was once more powerful than he was now. He held control over worlds beyond this one, and he could perform powerful feats of sorcery that would make even the most stalwart warrior retreat in fear. One of his servants, Kali, betrayed him and struck him down. For a time, it was believed that he was dead. And then he appeared here, with his army of monsters and demanded that we pay tribute to him lest we be destroyed. Ever since his defeat, however, we knew that he was not invincible. We fought back. There were many battles, and the war has been raging for many years. We forced him and his followers into his Forest and from there we were able to live our lives free from him for the most part."
"You said that his loyalists still give you trouble," said Daniel. "What do you mean by that?"
"There are still people who believe in him. He has monsters, terrible beasts that will follow his every command. He sends out many of them to raid our villages, kidnap our people and steal our food. We fight against them but they just keep coming. They are hard to kill and they possess the strength of many men. Recently, however, our smiths have discovered a new method of making weapons strong enough to kill them. Now they can be killed with only one man instead of five. We've spent the last few years planning our final attack, and now we are confident we can defeat him once and for all. Once the monsters are gone, the loyalists will be next."
As Daniel and Arcade continued quizzing the high priest, the rest were busy eating the meals that had been delivered to them. Sable happily ate up what was set down in front of him, while Grayson was hesitant and only took small bites. Veronica, hungry as ever, followed Sable's example and gobbled everything down as well. By the time the food baskets were empty, Daniel and Arcade found that they were satisfied with the answers given to them and stood up. Daniel looked at Veronica and nodded.
"Arcade and I are going to take a walk around," he said. "We're going to gather what information we can about this place's culture and history. It's possible that this Shiva has the technology we're, or rather you're," he dropped a suspicious glance in the general direction of the Brotherhood, "looking for. In any case, I relish the chance to learn more about this… interesting culture. If you'll excuse us, Tarun."
Tarun nodded at them. "Go, go! As you please, the city is grateful for your presence. It is not often that we meet visitors from another world. The Great Forest is a forbidding place, and you are lucky to have survived it."
"Forbidding?" asked Daniel. "What do you mean? We didn't see a lot of danger on the way here, save for the occasional run-in with the wild raptor."
"It is where Shiva and his followers dwell. Many battles have been fought near the ring of the gods. Our forces are holding steady there in preparations for the siege. You are lucky to have arrived when you did, otherwise… There is no telling what happens when you are taken by Shiva and his monsters. Many of those kidnapped never return and those who do refuse to speak of their experiences."
"I see," said Daniel. He turned to Veronica. "Do you think our position is still safe over there?"
"They'll be fine," said Veronica. "Cordoba can hold his own and Light's not that bad of a fighter herself. Hell, she still has the top score for sniper training in Taggart's VR sims and even now nobody's been able to beat it, save for…" She tried to recall who it was. "I forgot the name, but they're second place. Paladin now, I think."
"And my robot's there," added Grayson. "If necessary, and if the signal holds, I may be able to activate it remotely and activate its defensive subroutines. If not… Well, I assume Senior Scribe Light knows how to work her out. Most of her more advanced functions will be disabled since it's locked to my signature but her combat inhibitors will be fully functional."
"Good to know," said Daniel. "Well, I'll go take a walk now. Arcade's already outside and he looks like he's starting to get antsy. Try not to offend anyone while you're here."
"Got it, doc," said Veronica. She took a bite out of one of the courses that the temple servants had prepared for them. This one was a milky dessert food with some sort of fruit inside, which Daniel had told her tasted like strawberries. She quite liked it, and she had almost finished the whole plate by herself, which earned an endearing compliment from one of the natives about how the temple cook's skill could earn the admiration of even foreign dignitaries. Veronica shot back with another compliment and asked for more. The high priest obliged and sent for another round.
Once the meal was done, Tarun gathered the temple's servants together and informed the group that their quarters were ready. The natives handed them several gifts – figurines, blankets, and a sample of the local fashion – Grayson and Veronica received long yellow-and-purple dresses which tapered on the sides to showcase their legs, embroidered on the chest and on the sleeves with fancy golden cloth symbols written in the planet's native language. Sable, on the other hand, was given something a bit less glamorous – a plain brown robe for the legs and a black vest without a shirt for the torso that would have left his chest bare. He assumed it to be warrior garb, given the way that similar attire was being worn around the place by city guards under their armour.
Veronica was ecstatic. This was one of her favourite parts of the off-world missions – getting to play dress-up. It wasn't exactly a fancy gown but she found it appealing enough, especially after studying the way the clothing wrapped around several of the natives she saw earlier.
"It's so thin. And no shoes?" complained Grayson as she held up the clothing. "I'm not going to walk around barefoot in this flimsy chemise like a sava…"
"Sarong," corrected Sable. "I heard that in a holotape at some point. Don't look at me like that, I can be cultured too."
"Whatever. You get my point."
Veronica shrugged and continued inspecting the garment. "Up to you if you want to wear it. I think it's pretty cute."
Grayson shook her head. She'd heard of Veronica's proclivities before and she wanted to have no part of it. "I don't. I'm fine with my issued robes. I'd prefer to be drenched in sweat inside this thing rather than expose my skin for all of these lechers to see."
Sable, on the other hand, was more accommodating. "Looks comfy." He then looked at two of the girls he had been eyeing earlier. He smiled at them and they blushed. "But I'm afraid I can't seem to figure out how to put this on. Perhaps if I had some help…"
Veronica sighed. "Don't sleep with them, Alex. That's an order."
The girls took Sable's clothing as he continued to beam at them. Once they had all of the gifts given to him they beelined it straight to his room. He just wore his insolent grin and nodded. "Understood, Proctor."
The moonlight in this planet was a spectacular thing, like nothing he'd ever seen before. It cast long, dancing shadows in the dark room that enthralled the man and the woman on the bed. They were both naked. The man extended his arm around the woman's shoulder.
She rested in his embrace, content and satisfied. "I… I have never felt like this before."
"There are so many worlds out there," he said. "It's astounding that in all of them this is the one where I found you."
She just giggled at that remark. "I bet you say that to everyone."
He smiled. "Only to people who matter."
She slapped him for that. He laughed playfully as they once again laid down to begin again. "Liar."
"It's the truth."
In the middle of their kiss, he suddenly heard voices outside the room. Many of them. From what he could make out, it seemed like they were looking for him. He immediately rose from the bed and grabbed his pants. "Shit."
The woman sat down in an upright position and looked at him curiously. "What's wrong?"
"Hide." He looked around, looking for somewhere to stash his lover. He found the closet and pointed at there. "There. Whatever you do, don't make a sound."
She complied and ran towards the closet. She heard sounds of struggle and strange sounds that she could only assume to be the work of sorcery. By the time she had gathered enough courage to peer out of the closet, they had vanished without a trace. Overwhelmed by surprise, she blacked out.
The next day, Veronica called up the team to breakfast in one of the opulent gardens resting on one of the central pyramid's steps, overlooking the city. According to Daniel, these gardens basically served as restaurants for the rich and elite of the planet's society, and servants, as always, were at their beck and call to attend to their every whim as honoured guests of the high priest. Even here, there was a stark difference between the rich and the poor, which Arcade theorized was a universal mark of any sufficiently-developed human civilization. Daniel agreed with him on that, and they launched into a discussion which Veronica could only follow for a few minutes before it started giving her a headache.
Grayson popped up after half an hour of Veronica sampling the local cuisine, wearing the dress given to her alongside her boots. She tried to avoid making eye contact with Veronica as she moved to sit down across from her, looking at the food prepared for her with feinted enthusiasm.
"I thought you said you weren't going to dress like a savage," said Veronica. In the sarong, she admitted that Grayson struck quite a sight despite her constant grouchy attitude. "You look good, though."
A blush crept up Grayson's face at the compliment. She didn't receive many of those, least of all from one of her superiors. She tried to avoid returning the favour out of a misplaced sense of pride. "I was unable to sleep in the robes, ma'am. It was… uncomfortable."
Veronica raised an eyebrow, as if to suggest something. "Oh?"
Grayson made a show of eating her food and pausing thoughtfully while she was chewing. After she swallowed, she cleared her throat in a conspicuous manner. "I was simply uncomfortable, ma'am. Nothing less, nothing more. It was…"
"Hot?" finished Veronica.
"Y-yes, ma'am," she said quickly. Veronica tried to stifle a laugh at the way the scribe was growing uncomfortable. "As in, there was too much heat and it was causing sweat which-"
Veronica stopped her before she could make the situation more awkward. She was starting to feel sorry now. "That's what I meant. I understand what you mean."
"Oh…" Grayson mulled over her response for a few seconds and then shook her head. She figured that if she had to endure this, she wasn't going to be stuck in this position alone. "Well, in addition to my uncomfortable position I am also obliged to disclose that Knight Sable has disobeyed one of your direct orders and-"
"Is that why else you couldn't sleep?"
Grayson flushed again and nodded hastily. "Y-yes, ma'am. In addition to the uncomfortable-"
"All right, Grayson. You don't have to explain yourself. We know how much that man can't resist… doing his thing. Well, if he disobeyed a direct order then I'm inclined to reprimand him for that, am I?"
Grayson simply kept her mouth shut and nodded. At the sound of Veronica's exasperated sigh, she perked up considerably, which when it came to her meant nothing more than a little smile that played around with the corners of her lips. Veronica stood up and made a show of dusting off her shirt. "Well, I suppose I should go give him the stick, then. Where is he?"
"I believe he's still in his room, ma'am. I haven't sight caught of him since last night."
With that, Veronica left the two doctors still immersed in their conversation about the merits of class and its place in human society and trudged off to look for Sable's room. After some confusion within the temple and a less-than-accidental glimpse into the female baths she managed to find the room that had been given to him. Red flags were immediately raised in her mind when she saw Tarun and a gaggle of the planet's highborn clustered around the doorway which had been blocked by one of the temple guards. Tarun looked pale and was sweating profusely. Veronica slowly crept up behind him to avoid getting noticed and listened.
"Dark magic…" muttered Tarun. "He must have been taken by Shiva."
Veronica blinked. "Come again?"
"Your friend has been taken," said Tarun, not even bothering to remark on her sudden appearance. "Last night. One of our guards spotted a party of unknown men last night barging into his room. We followed them, but it was too late – they had already disappeared. The servant he spent the night with claims that she heard the sound of sorcery being performed-"
"Tell me where he is."
Tarun was surprised by Veronica's answer. "Did you not hear what I said? Shiva has taken him, there is nothing you can do to-"
"I'm sorry, but let me rephrase: where is Shiva?"
"You cannot be serious."
Veronica didn't bother to answer back with a witty retort. She was not joking this time. "I am."
Tarun just stood there, slackjawed. "I can not believe this. You are insane to think that you can stand up to him on your own."
Veronica just smiled. "We'll take him down. Watch and see."
"How?" he asked. "You can't possibly hope to fight against him on your own."
Veronica curled her fists into a ball and tried to stifle her emotions. "That doesn't matter. We're going to kick his ass. I'm not just going to stand by here while my men are being taken from me. Bring along your men with me if you'd like – they can pick off the leftovers while we do the job for you like we've always done."
"Impossible. Our battle preparations are not ready."
"We don't need your help," said Veronica. "We're going in anyway. Where is he?"
Tarun noted her reactions and rubbed his chin in thought. He could tell that he wasn't going to stop her no matter what he said. "I see… Your resolve is strong. I have no doubt that you are great warriors, but perhaps it is best if you wait until our battle preparations are complete, yes?"
"No," said Veronica. "We can't afford to waste any time. We need to go now."
"Very well," said Tarun. "I am sending a scouting party into enemy territory later tonight before we make our attack. Captain Rajit and his men should be making preparations now – if you wish, you can accompany them until you reach the gates of Shiva's domain. It is more advisable than going there alone. They know the lay of the land and they can advise you on what threats you may encounter."
"That would be nice," said Veronica with a cocky smile. "I'll make sure the party's in full swing by the time you get there. Drinks are on me."
Veronica went back to the terrace and gathered up her squad, and after a brief conversation with Arcade they grudgingly decided to accompany her on the quest to recover the lost knight. After gathering their gear, they met up with Rajit's men – a squad of native warriors swathed in camouflage and light bronze armour, each carrying weapons whose metal gleamed in the sunlight. Daniel asked them about it and discovered that each weapon had somehow been imbued by the smiths with a recently-discovered alloy that was more powerful than anything they'd ever made before. They set off on the journey back to the forest and encountered no resistance along the way, although they couldn't help but sense that someone was watching them all along the way. When they reached the Stargate clearing in the forest, the night was already in full swing and they were greeted with a flood of blinding light thanks to the camp's two spotlight turrets and Cordoba's brightness-enhanced helmet headlight. There was little sound save for the sound of crickets chirping in the forest and the sound of a portable fusion generator humming near one of the tents.
Cordoba's voice echoed throughout the clearing. "HALT!" he shouted. "Identify yourself!"
Veronica started waving her arms around. "Pizza delivery!"
"Damn it, Veronica," said Cordoba. "One of these days…"
"Love ya too. Where's our stuff?"
"Same place where it's always been," said Light. She'd changed into a set of attire more fit for field duties – a thick set of fatigues with lots of pouches and pockets for technological instruments and other miscellanea. On her hand she was wearing an advanced polymer combat helmet with an HUD visor. "Are we ready to return? I've managed to collate a lot of data concerning the planet's environment, flora and fauna. Cordoba's been busy as well. We've encountered hostiles."
"That must be our mutual friends," said Veronica. "What can you tell us about them, Cor?"
"They're tough," he said. "Haven't gotten a good look at them yet. They hide."
"They tried to attack us once," continued Light. "A few shots in their general direction dissuaded them and they never tried again. We see them peeking every once in a while, though. They seem to be acting defensively rather than actively trying to root us out."
"Is that it?" asked Veronica. "Figured you might have something more concrete. These guys live in the forest, apparently. Looks like they're being cautious. Do you think I should establish contact with the Elder and ask for more guys to back us up?"
"No need," said Grayson. She walked over to the crate that held her robot. "It's time."
Once Grayson released a valve on her crate and opened up what looked to be some sort of terminal on the side. Hydraulics hissed and released various catches around the extensively jury-rigged metal box and once the surprise was revealed, Veronica held her mouth agape in surprise.
"You told me to bring something sensible, ma'am, so I did," she said with a grin. "I call her Athena. From what I could gather on the archives, her production line is known as the Assaultron. Saw limited distribution out in the west coast."
Veronica squinted. It was something new, to say the least. "I hope that thing's combat inhibitor is safe. It gives me the creeps."
"Not to worry, ma'am," replied Grayson. "She's under my complete control."
The way she said completeonly served to unnerve Veronica. She couldn't quite figure out why, but there was something about Grayson that just felt… off. It had been a feeling that stayed with her ever since they were initiates. "Right… Let's go, then."
Shaking the thought of Grayson's eccentricities off her mind, the group geared up for combat. Veronica stepped inside her newly-refurbished set of T60 power armour and broke it in by walking around in circles around the gate while the others got ready. After gathering their belongings, Light joined up with the group. Strapped to her back was a long metal gun case and on her belt were a variety of tools that were designed to inspect whatever technological items they found on their trek. Cordoba stayed behind to guard the Stargate. Rajit and his men were awestruck by Veronica's power armour and couldn't keep her eyes off of her, while the others looked at Grayson and couldn't keep their eyes off of her as well, although for different reasons. She was less accommodating than Veronica was in that regard and often shot venomous looks at her gawkers. They got the message quickly after the metal man following her stared them down with its large red eye.
Their journey stopped after Captain Rajit noted down a burned-out ranch on the way to their destination. It looked like it had been hit recently – and the assailants were still there.
Veronica squinted at the hulking green figures camped out near the farmhouse. They were clustered around the fire, huddling for warmth. There were four of them; each wearing what looked to be huge pieces of iron armour with medieval-looking pointy helmets that left only the eyes and the mouth exposed, much like what the guards were wearing back at the planet's capital. They were singing something in a language that reminded her of a holotape she'd seen long ago. Was it the one with the dinosaurs? She couldn't remember.
Veronica pointed. "What arethose things? They're like lakelurks, but they're not. I've heard enough lectures from Arcade to realize that those things probably didn't come from Earth, so they must be native here or something. What can you tell me about those guys?"
"They are called Unas," said Rajit. "Monsters, the lot of them. Many of them serve as elite warriors in Shiva's army, and they are brutal when it comes to carrying out his will. A long time ago it was said that they numbered in countless legions that laid waste to many worlds enforcing his law, but that was before Kali struck him down. He may have had control of his empire wrested from him but he still controls quite a large number of them. After his fall he sent them out to raid and plunder us whenever he pleased, at least until we rose up against him. They must be destroyed at all costs."
"How many of them are there?" asked Daniel.
Veronica put on her helmet and switched to night vision. She could spot four of the creatures, one of them eating something – a large piece of roasted meat. "Three," she said. "We can take them down in less than a minute."
"Can I use her now?" asked Grayson. "I want to…"
"Not yet, child," said Light. "No need to spook the natives more than they already are. We'll handle this one."
Grayson just looked at Light suspiciously and raised her eyebrow. She grumbled and cross her arms. "What can youdo?"
Grayson set down the long metal case she was carrying on a fallen log and opened it. Inside was an M72 gauss rifle built exactly like the one she was using in the VR sims. "Once upon a time, I was the best sniper in the sims if you'd believe it. When I wasn't busy writing something or picking apart my husband's work for minor details I was camping out in the pod, picking off virtual targets one by one. Not even Hardin could hope to match my high score. I know this gun inside and out. It's time to put all those hours spent in the pod to good use, don't you think?"
"More power to you," said Veronica. She took out her glove box and started picking out her tools much like someone picking out groceries at the Super Duper Mart. She decided to go with two plain pneumatic gloves – she wanted to see how well the T60 would fare without anything fancy. "Doc, can you back me up?"
"Way ahead of you," said Arcade. He slid a microfusion cell into his Q-35 rifle. He looked at Light and Veronica beside him. "I'll take the one on the left. All at once?"
Light squatted beside the fallen log, rested the rifle on it, and took aim. She slid in her 2mm EC projectiles into the rifle and nodded. "Ready when you are."
"You mean to attack them on your own?" asked Rajit. "You truly are a courageous bunch, I must say. Bordering on the edge of foolish."
"The surprise wears off once you get used to them doing it so many times," said Daniel. "It gets annoying, actually. Violence neverends up as a last resort."
"Well, of course it's not going to be the last resort if theystart shooting first," said Arcade. "Turns out it's actually quite difficult to resolve your problems diplomatically while you're under plasma fire. Fun fact."
"Ready when you are, doc," said Veronica after the gloves slid into place with a satisfying hydraulic hiss. She adopted a fighting stance and stood ready to rush her enemy.
Light fired the first shot. The 2mm projectile rocketed out and distorted the air it came into contact with, giving off the impression of a miniature heat wave along its trail. By the time they heard the sonic boom the first unas had already been killed and itts helmet had exploded into metal shrapnel which served to make its head stop existing. Arcade followed up Light's attack and hit the second one with a plasma blast to the torso. It screamed in agony and turned around to face its attacker, but by the time it saw him Arcade already fired another shot and reduced its chest to molten pile of mixed liquid slag. Veronica was quick on the uptake and rushed the last one. Caught by surprise at first, it quickly saw what was coming and took out its spear. It ran to match Veronica, but she stopped mid-run and took hold of the weapon's metal pole, bending it easily with her T60-assisted strength. The creature staggered backwards and drew a knife from its belt, trying to stab Veronica, despite her armor. An act of desperation. She answered the attempt with a punch to the chest. It fell down on the ground, got back up and turned around to run away.
"You're a tough one," she said, her voice coming out from her helmet as if it were being filtered through a radio. She casually followed the unas and grabbed its arm, causing it to fall down once more.
"Ka!" it shouted, its voice guttural and rough. The voice reminded Veronica of a Super Mutant, only somehow less refined. "KA! KA!"
"Veronica!" Daniel shouted towards her. "He's giving up. You should-"
It was too late. Veronica had already torn the unas' arm off and finished it off with a power-assisted boot to the head. Daniel's objections were drowned out by a cacophony of cheers from Rajit's squad.
"Well done!" he said. "It takes many of us to kill these monsters. To have beaten them so quickly… Truly you are something else!"
"All in a day's work," said Veronica as she casually wiped green blood off her fists. Daniel walked up to her and inspected the unas' body.
"So much for asking questions," he muttered. "But perhaps we could have interrogated them, at least?"
"You cannot," said Rajit. "Their language is far too demonic for us to understand. We have tried, in the past, to offer peace but they do not listen. Shiva has them under his complete control."
After tending to the remains, they inspected the rest of the site and noticed that the farmhouse was a little less abandoned than it should be – the building was intact, but it was clear that it had been attacked. They opened the doors and found a scene straight from a horror holofilm.
Veronica held her breath. She was spared the smell thanks to her helmet's filters but it didn't make the sight of it any less horrific. "My God…"
"The smell…" muttered Arcade. "Far too familiar."
"Now you see why they must be destroyed?" said Rajit. He took a weapon from one of the fallen inhabitants and brandished it. "They put up a fight, but it appears that it was futile. This is the problem with people who live in the Forest. They believe that they will be free here, but they fail to heed the warnings."
Grayson looked inside the house and immediately blanched at the sight. "Excuse me," she said as she put a hand over her mouth. She ran outside and tended to her business while the rest of them inspected the contents of the abandoned cabin.
"We have to hurry," said Veronica, her voice urgent. "Before they do… thisto Sable. If we're too late, I'll do everything in my power to make sure they regret it."
This was a quiet world. They had not seen the Goa'uld for centuries, and they lived peaceful lives. They were waiting for the return of the beings known only as the Asgardians, who in the prophecies were said will return in their moment of most dire need. That all changed when the visitors arrived.
An army of strange men and women clad in unfamiliar clothing walked through the giant ring that was said to herald the arrival of gods, each of them carrying weaponry and tools that defied comprehension. Creatures made of metal followed behind them, looking around and scrutinizing everything that they saw.
The planet's native populace greeted them with great warmth, but it seemed that the visitors were rather apathetic to it all. They didn't care about them. And then…
"LOOK AT ALL THESE SUBJECTS!" said one of the metal creatures. "SWEET, UNSPOILED, UNIRRADIATED SUBJECTS! TEAR THEM ALL APART, LOBOTOMITES! TO A LIMITED EXTENT, OF COURSE. I NEED THEIR ALIVE BODIES FOR MY EXPERIMENTS."