Hey guys! Wow, can't believe I'm so close to the end. Only one more chapter to go after this. It's sort of sad, but exciting at the same time. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing the last chapter. And, once again, to Jon Harper for looking this one over. :)

P.S. I would just like to take the time to remind you all that this story is AU to Agents of SHIELD S2.


Act IX, pt i

THE TAU'RI

"... and it looks like we've managed to resume our connection with the NBC New York studios. Chuck, Sibilia, it's good to see you again. The last thing we saw before the feed cut out it looked like the whole building was shaking. Is everyone okay over there?"

"It's good to see you too, Leroy. We're not entirely sure what was going on, but it felt like there were explosions coming from the subway tunnels, which knocked out one of our emergency generators. Thankfully, our resourceful tech crew managed to patch it up and now we're back in business."

"As you can imagine from Chuck's description, it was pretty harrowing there for a while. However, we've been very lucky and there've only been a few minor injuries."

"That's good to hear. Is is just my imagination, or has it quieted down over there?"

"It has, Leroy. We've been unable to get ahold of anyone, but the bombardment has definitely stopped."

"In fact, I don't think I've ever seen New York this quiet. It's sort of eerie. Unfortunately, we're too far away from the action to see exactly what's going on, but we did get these images to show you. They were taken by our staff photographers about half an hour ago from the roof of this building."

"...Wow, that looks even more like a pyramid up close."

"Yes, yes it does. A slightly beat-up pyramid, but definitely a pyramid."

"I guess Erich von Daniken is getting the last laugh today, although I bet he never expected this."

"Probably not, Leroy. However, the pyramid's not the only interesting thing in the photos. Do you see those small lights in the frame? There should be a close-up in the photos..."

"Yes, I think so, Chuck... Ah, there it is. Are those the same lights that destroyed the Ori ships in orbit?"

"They're from the black and silver alien ship hovering above New York. From what we can tell, there are two sizes. Even from up close they're quite beautiful."

"But deadly."

"Oh definitely. I'm glad they're on our side."

"Well, unfortunately, that's all we have for you at the moment. However, Vanity Fair's Christine Everhart is currently making her way towards Central Park on foot to try and find out more about what's going on, so hopefully we should have more information for you soon."

"That's very brave of her. Everyone here in the studio certainly wishes her luck. Thank you Chuck, Sibilia. For your sake, and the sake of everyone still in New York, we hope the worst really is over."

"Thank you, Leroy."

"Yes, thank you."

"Well, folks, that was Chuck Scarborough and Sibilia Vargas in New York. And once again, if you have family or loved ones in New York, the Office of Emergency Response is maintaining an alphabetical list of civilians rescued from the city on their twitter feed, #outtaNY. For civilians evacuated from Manitou Springs, we've been informed the lists are a bit slower in coming due to the large number of people being sent directly to hospitals and medical centres across the south-west. There are also rumours of shielded safehouses having been created in the northern parts of the city that have been cut off from all communications due to power outages. However, Major Paul Davis from the Homeworld Security Office assures us that every effort is being made to compile that information as quickly as possible and post it to the office's brand new facebook and twitter accounts, #safeManitouSprings."


"... and that was the latest from the world. To those of you just tuning in, this is your morning news with CBS Detroit. I'm your host Hillary Pierce and this is my co-host for the morning, Richard Wells."

"Good morning, Detroit. We've got your weather for the day in just a minute, but first we've got Eugene Kent on the line from Roswell, New Mexico where he's been talking to evacuees from Manitou Springs."

"Good morning, Eugene, it's good to see you made it in one piece."

"Good morning Hillary, Richard. Air travel is, as you know, still suspended across the United States, Mexico and Canada, but other than the roads in the vicinity of Colorado Springs and then going into Manitou Springs, which have been blocked to in-coming traffic by State Police, the driving actually wasn't too bad. If anything, it seems like a lot of people are staying where they are if they can, but in a lot of places it's still business as usual."

"That's true. Although most public schools across Colorado and New York State have opted to close until the conclusion of the battles, life is continuing on everywhere else."

"Exactly, Richard."

"Eugene, could you please describe where you are right now for the audience?"

"Well, Hillary, right now I'm standing in front of the New Mexico Medical Center in Roswell, New Mexico. Behind me you can see the parking lot, which has been transformed into an emergency triage centre. The hospital itself has canceled all other surgeries for the day, and all emergency cases are being redirected to other hospitals in the city so that the hospital's staff can concentrate solely on patients being sent in from Manitou Springs."

"Now, that seems to be quite the distance. How exactly are they getting to Roswell?"

"Hillary, the answer to that should be in the footage I sent you. We've heard mention of it before, but I really think it needs to be seen to be believed."

"We're putting that footage up now... Okay, there it is."

"...Wow. Is that a transporter?!"

"Yes, Richard, it is. Instantaneous transportation from one place to another is apparently no longer the exclusive purview of science fiction television."

"I can feel the airline industry bracing itself already."

"Haha, that's probably true, Hillary. When I think of how many long hours I spent in a car to get here when there's a way it could've been done in seconds and without needing to deal with traffic..."

"So, Eugene, describe what it's like at the Medical Centre?"

"Well, Hillary, the Medical Centre's a beehive of activity. It's all hands on deck for the hospital staff and many of the nurses, doctors, and technicians have been on their feet for well over twenty-four hours at this point. The same can be said for the army of volunteers helping out. High schools in the city have given their students a free pass from classes today if they're volunteering at either the hospitals or the nearby sporting arena, where injured not requiring hospitalization are being transported to. Food, blankets and extra medical supplies are pouring in from the Red Cross, charities across the cities, and other hospitals. Everyone is working hard to make this operation run as smoothly and efficiently as possible."

"That's inspiring to hear, Eugene. Did you manage to talk to any of the evacuees from Manitou Springs?"

"Yes, Richard, I did. Most of them are shaken, but relieved to be out of the war zone. More than a few expressed surprise at being alive at all. All of them described being rescued by US marines and then transported to the USS Daedalus, where they were quickly examined by a medic and then sent to the Medical Center."

"And CBS News will have that full report complete with interviews from the survivors during their Emergency Broadcast starting at nine-thirty."

"Well, Eugene, it looks like we're out of time. Thank you for your report. I'm sure we'll be talking to you later."

"You're welcome Hillary, Richard. I'll be talking to you later."

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was Eugene Kent in Roswell, New Mexico."

"Proving that someone in the Air Force has a sense of humour."

"Yes, indeed. And now we turn you to Mark Malina for your daily weather repor–"

"–Wait, hang on. We've got new information coming in..."

"Sorry, Mark, it looks like the weather report will have to wait. It seems there's something going on in Washington. For more information on this, we're turning the mike over to CBS reporter Naomi Patel, who's been camped out in front of the Pentagon for the past two days. Naomi, what's going on?"

"..."

"Naomi, we seem to be having some technical difficulties. Are you there?"

"Sorry, yes I am, Hillary. I'm not quite sure what exactly is going on just yet, but about ten minutes ago a junior officer came out and told the assembled press and civilians that General George Hammond would be out shortly."

"Wait, civilians? Are you saying it's more than just the press camped out in front of the Pentagon?"

"That's right, Richard. Ever since General Hammond's initial press conference, the area in front of the Pentagon has steadily filled with people. City police have had to close down the roads leading up to the Pentagon due to the size of the group waiting to hear war reports and announcements in person. As you know, there have been a number of updates over the past twenty-four hours, the last one being at approximately 11:30 pm last night when General Hammond announced their science teams were working on a way to over come the Ori soldier's technological advantage."

"I guess this is where we find out whether or not they've been successful."

"Most likely, Hillary, yes. Okay, there's General George Hammond now."

"..."

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I can't say how much it warms my heart to see so many of you anxious to hear how the men and women in the armed forces are doing in New York and Manitou Springs. The last time I stood on this podium, it was to tell you our scientists were hard at work inventing a way to overcome the Ori soldier's technological superiority. And thanks to the tireless efforts of our teams, led by Doctors Rodney McKay and Captain Jennifer Hailey, I am here to tell you they were successful. I would also like to extend special thanks to civilians Tony Stark and Jeannie Miller, whose help was also vital to the team's success.

Now, before you start cheering, that's not all folks. But before I tell you the real news, on behalf of everyone from the President's Office, Homeworld Security and Stargate Command, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support. From those citizens of New York who refused evacuation in order to help build barricades, to those helping at the hospitals and evacuation sites, to those of you holding vigil and praying for our soldiers in the field and the civilians they've been fighting to protect.

I would also like to take this time to officially thank our extraterrestrial allies, the Jaffa and the Tok'ra for their assistance in both Manitou Springs and New York City. And, of course, our terrestrial allies, specifically those in Russia and the People's Republic of China, who have finally given their permission to release the names of the brave ship commanders who fought alongside ours within the Solar System.

So, with that in mind, I would like to commend Colonel Ivana Petrovska of the Illiaya Muromet and her crew for their brave defense of our planet and send our deepest sympathies to the families of Colonel Jiang Li and the crew of the Sun Tze. Colonel Li, in particular, who was recalled from preparations for his son's wedding in order to head into battle. I sadly only had the opportunity to meet him once, but he seemed to be a brave and honourable man.

And now to the part you've all been waiting for. The latest news from the battlefield came in from Colorado less than fifteen minutes ago. It is my honour to announce that at approximately 8:06 am Colorado time, the Ori army surrendered. In New York, the Ori army is being pushed out of the main part of the city and contained into Central Park. Ladies and gentlemen, the fighting in both Manitou Springs and New York is over and we can stand proud knowing that no one across the entire galaxy has managed what we've just done: defeated the Ori army.

Well, that concludes the news I have for you all. But before I take questions, I would like to add my own two cents. Not as a representative of the United States government, or a former general in the United States Air Force, but as the man who's seen the Stargate Program evolve from a shelved, forgotten basement project, to one of the most innovative and integrated projects in the world.

This moment, right now, this is where each one of you individually decide how the future will play out. Yes, you've been lied to and yes, grave mistakes have been made over the course of this project. I'm not going to deny that or excuse it.

Despite that, I urge you to approach everything you're about to learn with an open mind. Consider that, for the first time in living history, all of you – all of us – are being challenged, truly challenged, to think of ourselves as part of a larger unit. To the Ori, to our allies, in fact to the rest of the galaxy, we are not American, Canadian, Russian, Chinese, Mexican, or Arab. To them, we are the Tau'ri, the people of Earth, the First Planet, from whence all human life in the universe originated.

Thank you for your time. I will now answer questions."


Christine had never been happier that she kept an emergency pack in the trunk of her car. The navy suit and four inch heels she'd worn to the conference had looked sharp and professional, but were entirely unpractical for wandering through post-battle New York with all the rubble strewn everywhere. She'd kept the blazer for appearances, but donned jeans and hiking boots for the journey. She'd also changed her briefcase and pink and silver Coach handbag for a large beige canvas messenger bag with enough room for two bottles of water, a handful of powerbars, a legal pad, her camera, cellphone, and voice recorder.

And a small handgun with both her spare clips carefully tucked into a side pocket.

She'd never seen New York so eerily silent. The Ori army hadn't actually reached the NBC studios, no matter how close the battle had felt, how the building had shook, how the sound of explosions and gunfire had rattled their bones. It wasn't the first war zone Christine had been to, but it was certainly the last one she'd ever forget. If forgetting a war zone was even possible.

She tried to keep out of sight of the soldiers as much as she could, taking side-streets and sneaking through abandoned buildings – knowing New York as well as she did helped in that regard. Sometimes, it was to avoid being seen, sometimes it was to avoid rubble, burning cars or... other carnage. The contributions of some of New York's superhero community were obvious and she knew the smell of burning flesh would be haunting her nightmares for years.

Once she'd hit the first signs of the battle, she'd taken out her camera. No picture would ever truly show the horror of a battlefield, but she determinedly took pictures anyway. It was easier to bear the horror and devastation if she looked at it through the lens of her camera, concentrated on getting the right angle for a shot rather than on what she was actually seeing. Already she could feel the smell of smoke, gunpower and blood settling into her skin, hair and clothes.

She rounded a corner and was surprised by a small group of armored soldiers. Christine froze, her eyes widening. She'd seen men and women dressed like them helping the military clear rubble and carry wounded. She took a deep breath: these had to be the Jaffa, not the Ori. Her eyes slid upwards to the golden embossed tattoos on their foreheads. They looked Egyptian. So, definitely the Jaffa.

"Who are you, woman?" the large dark-haired man in the front demanded.

Christine pulled herself together and smiled. "I'm Christine Everhart. I'm a reporter for Vanity Fair..." She trailed off at their blank looks and confused frowns, kicking herself when she realized that being from another planet, they'd of course have no idea what Vanity Fair was. Did aliens even have reporters? She held up her camera instead. "I'm taking pictures of the battlefield, to document what happened here. So that I can tell the rest of the world about it."

That seemed to make more sense to them. The lead man nodded. "You should be careful. There are still Ori soldiers hiding among the rubble and in the buildings."

"I will, thank you." She snapped a picture. "You're Jaffa, right?"

The lead man nodded. "Yes, we are warriors of the Free Jaffa Nation. I am Quin'tak of Reshal."

"Well, it's been nice to meet you Quin'tak."

He nodded to her and then he and his group continued on their way, their movements somehow quiet despite the metal armor they were wearing.

She watched as they passed her, but they were only a few feet away, when she suddenly felt the urge to call out: "Quin'tak!"

They paused in their steps and turned, the other warriors stepping to the side to give their leader a clear line of sight to her.

Christine smiled. "Thank you. All of you, thank you for coming to help us. It would've been a lot worse without your help."

Quin'tak smiled warmly. "You are very welcome, Christine Everhart. We are quite happy to return home to spread the word of the Ori army's defeat. It will bring hope to those who have already been subjugated by the Ori's followers, and to those who continue to fight."

Christine continued to watch until they turned the corner, the smile still on her face. Then she, too, continued on her way, pleased that her first encounter with an alien (Cassie didn't count) had gone so smoothly.

Her first encounter with an Ori soldier didn't go quite so smoothly.

He was hiding in the rubble of a convenience store. An Ori fighter had crashed into it and then been abandoned by the pilot. She didn't see him until she was almost on top of him. In her desire to get a better angle of the downed fighter, she'd forgotten Quin'tak's warning. It wasn't until she was looking into wide, desperate eyes staring back at her from the shadows of the Ori fighter that it occurred to her the convenience store would make a perfect hiding spot.

"Shit," she swore softly.

For several, long moments neither one of them moved. The Ori soldier was dirty, his armor crusted with mud, dust and blood, though she couldn't tell how much of it was his. But his eyes were what scared her the most: they were wild with fear, and desperate.

Christine couldn't even say what broke their stalemate, but suddenly the soldier's arm shot out to grab his weapon and she was scrambling backwards, not entirely willing to take her eyes off of him, but needing to see where she was stepping. She could hear him behind her, his armor clanking as he followed. The ground was uneven, a challenge when she'd been carefully watching where she was going, but hazardous when she was rushing.

It was almost inevitable that, eventually, something would give way beneath her feet. Her ankle rolled on the unsteady piece of ground, causing her to cry out in both pain and surprise. Then she hit the uneven surface and screamed as pain seared across her upper arms and left knee. But panic quickly overrode her pain and she rolled to the side, sliding about a foot down towards the fighter. The clanging was closer. Her right hand closed over something loose.

She twisted her body, ignoring the twinge of discomfort as something sharp nudged against her tailbone, and threw the piece of masonry at the Ori soldier. It made him pause for a moment, but the projectile didn't come anywhere close to hitting him. Still, it gave her enough time to open her canvas bag. She rooted desperately for her gun as he once again began his approach, a grim, determined look on his face.

If he got to her, he was going to kill her. She knew this in the very depths of her being.

"Come on, come on, where the fuck are you?" she muttered under her breath, because talking to herself was better than hyperventilating.

He was close enough she could smell his pungent body odor.

Finally, she felt led. Grabbing it, she yanked the gun out, not caring what else was being dislodged from her bag in the process. She fumbled with it once before managing to point it in the right direction.

"Stop!" she screamed. "Don't come any closer or I'll shoot!"

The soldier paused, his expression surprised – and slightly confused. And then the fear was back and Christine saw the desperation flicker back into his eyes. A hysterical part of her mind wondered if the Ori soldiers even spoke English. Though he seemed to be understanding her well enough right now.

"Back off!" she commanded, glad to note her voice sounded steadier, less hysterical, even if she didn't really feel it.

The Ori soldier hesitated. Christine unlatched the safety and took a deep breath. Was he desperate enough to try and come after her even when she was armed? Her hands were shaking and she knew she wasn't a great shot to begin with, just enough not to be completely useless. If he came after her, she had about a fifty percent chance of actually hitting him and a kill shot would probably be a complete accident...

The soldier darted to the side. Christine fired and saw a spark as the bullet ricocheted off the shoulder plate of his armour. She adjusted her aim, fired again, her pulse drumming loudly in her ears, drowning out the sound of her gun going off.

He raised his long metal weapon and she cried out in pain as it came down on her right wrist. The gun fell from her hands. He raised the weapon again and she brought her hands up in front of her to shield her head.

And then the soldier let out a cry of surprise and alarm.

Christine cracked her eyes open and looked up. The soldier's arms and head were covered in a white, gauzy substance he seemed unable to dislodge. Not waiting for any further miracles, she scrambled backwards, gritting her teeth against the pain that shot up from her right wrist.

And then there was strong pair of arms lifting her up. She let out a cry of alarm, struggling in the stranger's grip until a gruff voice with a thick Brooklyn accent said: "Stopa strugglin' woman, we're tryin' ta help you!"

She stilled and managed to get her feet under her, wincing at the sharp pain from her knee. Another figure hurried past them, and she relaxed further at the silver Jaffa armour. He stepped in front of them, a long staff weapon in his grip, which he pointed at the Ori soldier. The front of it opened with a mechanical hiss, immediately capturing the soldier's attention.

"Cease your struggling!" he commanded. "If you surrender to us peacefully, then you shall be harmed no further!"

And then a lanky red-and-blue costumed man swung down from above them. Christine blinked. Not gauze, she realized, spider-webbing. Oh, so this was the infamous Spiderman the Bugle's Head Editor kept grousing about.

The Ori soldier froze and, for a moment, no one moved. Christine barely dared to breathe. Finally, the Ori soldier let go of his weapon. As it clattered to the ground, his body seemed to crumble in defeat. Spiderman walked up to him and began to disentangle him from the webbing.

The Jaffa warrior half-turned towards her and she was surprised to see a silvery-grey beard. "Are you unharmed?"

Christine swallowed, feeling slightly shaky. "I wouldn't say I'm unharmed, but I'll live."

He nodded slightly before turning his attention back to Spiderman and the Ori soldier. The soldier's face was entirely different than when she'd first seen him. The fear and desperation were gone, replaced with eyes that were dull, defeated and weary. She almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

She cleared her throat. "Thank you for rescuing me."

The man behind her grunted and then let go of her as he stepped back.

Spiderman turned to her and she could almost imagine him grinning behind his mask. "You're welcome," he said. Then he paused and cocked his head at her comically. "Hey, you're that reporter from Vanity Fair who broke the alien invasion story!"

Christine straightened, happy to be recognized. "Yes, I am," she said. "Christine Everhart. I'm trying to see how close I can get to Central Park to see what's going on there."

"Oh, cool. I didn't ever get that far, but these two were there at the start of the battle."

She perked up at that. "Really?" She turned to the man behind her just as he swept past her to grab the Ori soldier to drag him up and out of the rubble pile. He was a well-muscled man with unkept, longish greasy dark hair that created a curtain around his face. And one of his arms was encased in metal – or perhaps made of metal, Christine couldn't quite tell.

Spiderman bounded up to her. "This is pretty much what we're doing now," he said eagerly. "Trying to route out all the left-over Ori stragglers."

"Do, or do not," said the Jaffa warrior sagely as he walked past them, his feet far more agile than hers had been on the unstable rubble. "There is no 'try'."

Spiderman was silent for a long moment. Then he turned to her. "Did he the alien commander just quote Star Wars at me?"

The Jaffa paused at the top and looked back down at them with a frown. "I was told these were the words of a great Tau'ri philosopher. Is this incorrect?"

Spiderman blinked. "A great philosopher? Uh... yeah, sure we can call him that."

Christine knelt down to retrieve her camera, her gun, and the few things that had fallen out of her bag before following her rescuers back to the street. When she finally made it to solid ground, the Jaffa commander and the metal-armed man were conversing in quiet tones beside the captured Ori soldier. Finally, the metal-armed man nodded and both of them turned to her.

"Christine Everhart, Asset Bucky also has reason to travel towards your central park," the older man said. "And so you will travel together. Do not leave his side for he will protect you."

Christine blinked at him. She'd fully expected to be turned away and escorted out of the area. Not one to look gift horses in the mouth (especially one that would probably look rather handsome after a shower, shave and haircut), she smiled and nodded. "I'd be happy for the traveling partner."

The Jaffa grinned. "Excellent!" He placed a friendly hand on Asset Bucky's shoulder. "My friend, it has been an honour fighting by your side. I hope that, by the time we meet again, you will have found your friend."

Asset Bucky's lips quirked into an almost-there smile. "Thanks," he said. "And, uh, you too."

"Bye!" Spiderman called after them as they went their separate ways. "Good luck with the story!"

Christine waited for about two blocks before she took out her voice recorder. "So, describe the beginning of the battle for me," she said to her new traveling companion with a bright smile.


Slowly, gradually, Bruce woke up. It was less of an awakening and more of a gradual realization that there was a world beyond the darkness. His eyelids felt like they were being weighed down and he would've loved to just let the darkness pull him back into sleep, but his instincts were alert now. There were sounds around him he didn't recognize, voices that were foreign – he'd spent too many years on the run to be able to ignore them.

Bruce forced his eyelids open. The world was a blurred haze of light and colour. He blinked, his eyelids cooperating more easily now that he'd pried them open. He stared at the ceiling. It was a soft silver-grey. Metal. Unfamiliar.

Slowly, carefully so as not to make a sound, he turned his head towards the voices and sounds. His breath caught in his throat at the all-too familiar sight of military uniforms. Not army though, but air force, marines – neither were much better. Except... none of them seemed to be so much as looking in his direction. Instead they were standing around a table speaking softly. One of the soldiers moved to the side and Bruce caught the outline of a body laying on the table.

Bruce tensed further. His eyes scanned the room. He paused. Blinked. Then blinked again, now tense and confused for entirely different reasons than a moment ago. The familiar instruments he'd expected to see weren't there. Well, he supposed the odd-looking console next to his bed could possibly be a heartbeat monitor. It certainly looked like it was measuring something using a familiar squiggly line. And a lot more somethings in addition to that. There was also a coloured graph and several other values, all labeled in some strange language he didn't recognize.

He wondered idly whether it was possible for him to get brain damage from Hulk over-exposure. Not that he had any clue how long he'd been hulked out for, but somehow the exhaustion still weighing his limbs down made him think it had been longer than usual.

Curiosity overcoming his anxiety for the moment, Bruce forced his arm to move towards the monitor. He winced as he pulled at something in his arm. Bruce looked down and froze. There was an IV attached to his arm. He stared at it, horrorified, but instinctively took a deep, calming breath, knowing the Hulk wasn't who he needed just yet.

He glanced towards the soldiers. There was a man with them now, a stethoscope draped around his neck. He was wearing flak pants and black uniform t-shirt bearing a flag Bruce didn't recognize, but no military rank: a civilian doctor working with the military then. The Doctor stepped into place at the head of the group and reached out to cradle the body's head and neck. Ah, so not a dead body then. A patient. He heard a muttered countdown. The entire group moved as one as they shifted the patient off the table and, presumably, to a waiting gunnery.

"Bruce."

Bruce started at his name, then relaxed when realized the voice was familiar. He heard a shuffle of movement and then looked up at the presence that appeared at his side.

"Welcome back, Bruce," said Natasha, a small smile on her face and dark bags under her eyes. She pointed at the two IV bags suspended beside his bed in turn. "Liquid. Nutrients."

Bruce nodded to her gratefully, finally relaxing back into the bed. "Wh-ere?" he croaked, his throat desert dry.

"You're on the Victory," she said. Her eyes gleamed with excitement. If she were anyone else, Bruce knew she'd be grinning. "Daniel's treasure hunt was successful."

Bruce chuckled. "I'm glad," he rasped and then cleared his throat. "I take it we won?"

"Of course."

Bruce let his eyes slide up and down Natasha's body, checking her for injuries. There was a livid bruise on the right side of her face, and a piece of gauze covering her lower jaw just below it. Her left wrist was bandaged and Bruce could just make out more bandages peeking out beneath her shirt. "How is everyone?"

Natasha opened her mouth to answer.

"And just what do ye think you're doing out of bed, lass?"

Bruce tensed, his eyes shooting towards the voice. It was the Doctor. He was standing a few feet away from his bed, arms crossed over his chest and looking directly at Natasha with narrowed, stern eyes. The soldiers and patient were gone.

Whatever look Natasha had on her face, the Doctor rolled his eyes at it. "Ye do realize I have Ronon, Sheppard and McKay as regular patients? Now that hip o' yours isn't going to get better if ye keep putting pressure on it."

"Carson, I was just making sure Bruce knew he was safe," Natasha said calmly, her voice casual, as though she didn't care what he thought of her answer. "Wouldn't want him to panic while in the infirmary, would we?"

The Doctor snorted and pointed at the monitor next to Bruce's bed. "If those readings are any indication, I'm fairly certain Doctor Banner couldn't 'Hulk out' if he wanted to, lass. In fact, I highly doubt he could so much as stand at the moment. Now off to bed with ye! I can still have ye transferred to a real hospital like the rest o' my patients."

To Bruce's amusement, Natasha finally gave in and slinked back to the bed on the other side of Bruce. He frowned when he noticed her slight limp, but his attention was diverted when the Doctor moved to stand next to his bed. Bruce looked up to meet his eyes warily. The open, friendly smile that greeted him took him by surprise.

"Now then, it's a pleasure to finally meet you, Doctor Banner. I'm Doctor Carson Beckett. How are you feeling?"

"Tired," said Bruce honestly. "Thirsty."

"Aye, I apologize for the lack of ice chips. We've been in a bit of a rush since we took possession of this ship and haven't quite figured out where everything is just yet. I've got someone fetching more water, though, so shouldn't be much longer before I'll have something for you to wet your mouth with. In the meantime, would you like me to go over what I've done here so far?"

Bruce blinked, finding he couldn't quite find himself capable of being leery of the warm, friendly Scotsman. It was partially the accent, he was sure of it. Still, he wasn't about to let the other man know. "Please. Also, if you wouldn't mind explaining this strange monitor beside me. It almost reminds me of a heart monitor, but I can't read any of it."

Doctor Beckett laughed. "Aye, 'tis the problem with dealing with technology that's older than the English language. Doctor Simpson and some of the linguists built translation software, but sadly we dunna have it here."

He either didn't notice or chose to ignore the slack-jawed look on Bruce's face – he was likely used to it in any case – and pointed to the console.

"Anyway, as ye already guessed, this 'ere monitors your heartbeat. Then on this side we have blood pressure, body temperature, kidney function, and levels of brain activity. This graph is measuring your approximate glucose levels, white cell count, hydration, and electrolyte concentration. Oh, and this strip at the end is your stat chart."

Beckett tapped on the top of the strip and Bruce jumped as it expanded. Only instead of expanding across the screen the way he would've expected it to, it popped out of the screen and became a thin holographic projection.

"Up at the top are your vital statistics, below that the condition you arrived in – in your case that would be extreme fatigue, dehydration and dangerously low blood-sugar levels. And, below that, my diagnosis and treatment." Beckett concluded his presentation, his eyes twinkling with mirth at Bruce's obvious amazement. "It replaces the traditional clipboard at the end of the bed."

Bruce shook his head and chuckled. "Well, I must admit, even after living in Stark Tower, that is impressive. So, how exactly is the monitor scanning me? The only things I seem to be attached to are the two IV bags."

"Ah well, Rodney's had more important things to concentrate on than figuring out medical equipment, but I'm fairly certain there are sensors in the bed. Might even be inside the padding."

"Hm, makes sense." He looked back to the Doctor, keeping his face serious. "Where can I get one?"

Doctor Beckett laughed. Bruce smiled.

"Sorry, lad, at the moment, I'm trying ta figure out how to get one of me own."

"Lad?" Bruce asked, his eyebrow rising in amusement. Beckett shrugged.

The doors to the infirmary slid open with barely a sound. Bruce's smile widened at the two men entering, arms full of crates and cloth bags slung over their shoulders. Both looked over in his direction as soon as they entered. He wiggled his fingers at them in greeting.

Steve's eyes lit up and a wide grin spread across his face. "Bruce, you're awake!"

"Hey Bruce, you're looking a thousand times more alive than when Natasha dragged you in here."

"Ehem," Beckett interrupted them gently, his lips twitching. "Before you get too carried away there, did you bring the water?"

"Oh, right, sorry Doc," said Sam. He and Steve quickly placed the crates they were carrying onto the ground next to the wall.

Steve then shrugged off the cloth bag and handed it to the Doctor. "We've got both water and some of that tea-juice stuff from Aeneid."

Beckett nodded and then looked to Bruce. "Any allergies I should know about?"

Bruce shook his head. "No, I've never had any and thanks to the Big Guy I can't develop any."

"The Big Guy?"

Bruce tensed. Damn, how had he forgotten that Doctor Beckett didn't actually know him? "Oh. Uh, the Hulk. It's what I call the Hulk."

"Ah, I see." Then he turned to Steve. "I'll take a bottle of water, please, and you can give Doctor Banner one of the tea-juice. I analyzed some to test the equipment and there's no citrus, but it's full of vitamins C and D. Plenty of electrolytes as well, and even a dash of magnesium."

Steve stepped up to the other side of Bruce's bed and passed Beckett a plastic bottle of water and then reached back into the bag and pulled out a bottle of water, which had been refilled with a pale peach-coloured liquid. Bruce accepted it gratefully.

"Hey, by the way, Bruce, you should talk to Carson about your research into the Super Serum," Steve said, suddenly looking eager. "He figured out why I ended up as me and you ended up as the Hulk and it wasn't anything you did! Apparently, Doctor Erskine just got lucky when he picked me for the experiment. He was also thinking there might be a way to use the serum, or an altered version of the serum, for other applications than making super soldiers."

Bruce blinked. He turned to Beckett, who merely shrugged.

"ER doctor's just my day job," he said. "I'm really a geneticist. I was brought into the program after I discovered a latent gene that seems to exist in approximately 12% of the population."

Bruce's eyes widened. "And Steve has this gene?"

"Aye, and a particularly strong expression of it at that, though how much of that is due to the serum is difficult to tell."

"No original samples," Bruce said automatically, his mind whirling at the new information. A gene that happened to be present in Steve's blood, but not in his. That changed everything researchers knew about Project Rebirth. He gasped. "That means that even Erskine wasn't actually successful in his original goal. Steve was just a happy accident!"

Natasha snickered. Bruce winced and looked up to Steve, an apology on his lips. However, Steve just looked amused.

And then the infirmary doors slid open again, this time admitting Daniel supporting a man in an air force uniform – Bruce tensed at the three stars on his shoulders. The General looked up as they entered and scanned the room in the same way Natasha, Clint and Steve always did, an automatic response regardless of whether or not they expected danger. He didn't even pause in his grousing to do it.

"–I had box seats and everything! Was gonna fly up next weekend and surprise you and Cassie, and maybe Sam if she was around. I'd even let Mitchell and Vala tag along."

"Wow, that's such a shame, Jack," Daniel replied, not sounding the least bit disappointed. "You know how much I love baseball."

The General glared at him.

Daniel ignored him. Instead, he looked over to their corner of the infirmary. "Hey, Bruce!" he greeted him with a grin and then looked to the Doctor. "Carson, where do you want him?"

"The third bed from the far end is already set up for the General," Doctor Beckett called back.

Daniel nodded and steered the General towards the bed.

"Doctor Beckett, is that General O'Neill?" Bruce asked quietly.

"Aye, that he is. And please, Doctor Banner, call me Carson."

Bruce smiled up at the Scotsman. "Then I'm Bruce."

Carson grinned at him. "Well, it was nice to meet you, Bruce. You rest up now and we'll talk later." He frowned. "I've got more difficult patients to take care of now. Sam, you make sure the Black Widow stays in that bed."

"Got it, Doc!" Sam called back, glancing nervously at Natasha.

With a last nod to Steve, Carson hurried off to his new patients. "And Daniel, you can take the bed behind him!" he called as he went.

"Carson, I'm fine," Daniel replied. "Just a few scratches. I don't need you to–"

"–I'll be the judge of that! I've heard all about your definition of 'fine': yer all 'oh, it's nothing, just a mite of indigestion' all the way up until collapsing in the middle of a briefing when yer appendix finally bursts!"

The General grinned. "It looks like the medical staff's been sharing information. The tips and tricks of handling one Doctor Daniel Jackson."

"Jack?"

"Yes, Danny?"

"Stop being a pain in the mikita."

"Ah, but it's so much fun being a pain in your mikita." The General frowned. "No, wait. That came out wrong."

Daniel burst into laughter. "Well I won't ask if you don't tell," he teased.

"Daniel, I do know where you live."

"Well, considering you've stayed in my guestroom on several occasions, I'd be worried you were going senile if you didn't."

General O'Neill muttered something about smart-ass dirt-diggers before gritting his teeth in pain as Carson helped him lift his legs onto the hospital bed. One of them was in a partial cast and bandaged at the thigh.

"Are they always like this?" Bruce asked the others. He tried to imagine General Ross joking around and bantering with anyone while in uniform and came up blank. The idea simply did not compute.

"Well, we only picked General O'Neill up after the Ori blew up the Antarctic base..." said Sam. He shrugged "But, from what we've been able to figure out, yeah, pretty much."

"O'Neill was Daniel's team leader before he got promoted to General," Natasha added. "They've been through a lot together by the sounds of it."

"He's also got that same special gene I do," Steve added, sounding happy.

"Hmm, interesting," said Bruce thoughtfully. He looked to Steve. "He's Cassie's Uncle Jack, right?"

"Yup. It was his cabin Ross blew up."

"Aaah."

The doors to the infirmary slid open again and another man rushed in. He was wearing the same jumpsuit as Carson and holding an open laptop in front of him as he went. Bruce took note of the Canadian flag stitched onto his uniform and the lack of military insignia.

"Carson!" he barked.

"Take a seat, Rodney, I'll be right with ye," Carson called back, calmly.

The man – Rodney, apparently – looked up just in time to avoid bumping into a stand of medical equipment. He scanned the room and frowned. "I can come back later."

"No, ye won't. You'll get engrossed in some new project and I'll not be hunting you down on a strange ship."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "I've got my communicator on me. You just have to call me when you're ready. Oh, and we just got word from Colorado, apparently it was Thor who downed the Ori ship. Their Thor, not ours, obviously. Our Thor is sadly dead, unless you count him living on in hologram form in the Odyssey's engine room..."

"McKay, your point?" said O'Neill through gritted teeth as Carson re-bandaged his leg.

"What? Oh, right, well anyway apparently they've boarded and secured the ship and they think it should be repairable."

"Good. That'll make figuring out what to do with all the leftover Ori soldiers much easier."

"You want to send them back to the Pegasus galaxy?" Daniel asked, sounding mildly curious.

O'Neill shrugged, his face relaxing slightly as the painkillers Carson had given him apparently started to take effect. "With an escort. After we've disabled their weapons. I mean, we can't exactly keep them and, besides, how else is everyone on the homestead gonna learn we kicked their asses if no one goes home to spread the word?"

Daniel nodded. It was a ruthlessly pragmatic idea and typical Jack O'Neill. Not only would it help destroy the image of the invincible Ori Juggernaut that had been prevailing across the Milky Way, but it would also show the Ori's followers that their gods were not all-powerful. And, perhaps, it would be what they needed to get the few allies Earth had left off the fence and into the fight.

Suddenly, Rodney's hand went to his ear. "Yes, McKay here..." His face lit up. "Sam, I'm glad you're still alive. What do you need my help with?" As he listened to the response, a gradually-deepening frown appearing on his face. "You're sure–yes, I know you know what you're doing, but the Phoenix was damaged in battle. Are you sure it's not a problem with the sensors?"

Even as he questioned the sensors, Rodney was already crossing the room to what turned out to be a panel in the wall. With one hand he placed his laptop down onto one of the empty beds as he reached into his khakis with the other and pulled out a screwdriver. While he spoke with the mysterious 'Sam', he got to work opening the panel and pulling it open.

Bruce blinked as he caught a glimpse of white crystals and wiring. Before he got a chance to ask about it, however, Rodney was pulling cables out of another pocket and hooking the laptop up to the wall panel. And then he turned his full attention to the laptop.

"Hm, okay I've got the Victory's sensors up... I don't see anything... Where are you seeing this?!" His frowned deepened for a moment and he squinted at the screen as he tapped away at the keys. "Okay, I've got something, but it's smaller than I was expecting. In fact it's tiny. There's no way that–" He rolled his eyes. "Alright, fine, but I'll have to go to engineering... no, I'm in the infirmary. I'm fine. Carson gave me stimulants earlier and you know what a Scottish mother henning witch doctor he is."

Bruce looked over to Carson, who was rolling his eyes. It felt almost routine.

"Yes, yes, I'm on my way. I'll call you when I get the sensor logs up. McKay out." He tapped the comm unit in his ear and began hurriedly disconnecting his laptop from the wall panel. "Carson, I've got to go check out something Sam caught on her sensors."

"I heard," said Carson, sounding resigned to loosing his patient. "You have an hour, Rodney."

Tucking his laptop under his arm, Rodney breezed past them – barely pausing to grab the MRE Steve held out to him – and waved off Carson's words. "I'll make sure I'm back before I collapse somewhere."

Carson's eyes narrowed at him. "One hour, Rodney." Then he turned and winked at Bruce before calling out just as the doors were sliding shut again. "Dunna make me send the Hulk after you!"

Less than five seconds later the doors were sliding open again and Rodney stepped back into the room, looking horrified.

"Carson! I've seen footage of the Hulk. There is absolutely no way he'd fit into the corridors! Besides, with our luck the internal sensors would probably decide he was a biological hazard and activate the security protocols. Do you remember what happened the last time the internal sensors on Atlantis glitched and sent us into lockdown?! And this time I am literally the only person on the ship who could unlock the lockdown, assuming that's the only security measure this ship has. For all we know it might be programmed to deal with biological contaminants by transporting them to the nearest sun–!"

"McKay!" the General barked. "I'm pretty sure your hour is ticking away as you rant."

Rodney huffed and then turned on his heel. The doors slid shut behind him. They didn't open again.

"I need more morphine to deal with him," the General grumbled. And then frowned. "Or possibly less. I'm not really sure."

Bruce continued to stare at the door, not entirely sure what to think. After a few moments, he turned to the others. "Atlantis?" he asked mildly.

Steve, Sam and Natasha grinned back at him. Steve reached into his bag and pulled out a large sketchbook. He leafed through it until he found what he was looking for and handed it to Bruce.

"Atlantis," he said, eyes sparkling with excitement. "Not so lost anymore."

Bruce took the sketchbook and stared at the image of a city made of smooth lines and pointed towers floating on water. Mesmerized, he traced the delicate-looking outline.


Rodney stared at the screen, torn between wanting to rant about the sheer impossibility of what he was seeing, and excitement at the fact that he was actually seeing it. There was also some worry and fear inching its way past his outrage, because he had no idea what he was seeing. Physics and engineering simply did not work like this.

Except that they apparently did.

He grabbed the tack vest he'd taken off and thrown against the wall days ago and put it on, securing his pistol at his waist. He paused, before grabbing his P-90 as well and slinging it over his shoulder. Just in case.

He tapped his comm as he headed back to the engineering console. "McKay to Stark."

There was a pause. "Yeah, I'm here. What's up, Rodney?"

"The Phoenix's sensors detected something entering the Solar System using a hyperspace window. They've been tracking its approach to Earth, but it's like nothing we've ever seen before." He hunched over his laptop and typed away. "I'm sending you the sensor data now. The Phoenix lost it on its sensors, so it must also have some sort of shielding, but I'm pretty sure I know where it's going."

"Let me guess, it's not Miami. Whoa! I'm getting your sensor data now. Is this for fucking real?! This generated a hyperspace window?"

"That was pretty much my reaction. I'm also sending you my estimated trajectory for this thing. I'll inform the General and meet you on the ground."

"Roger that. I'll get JARVIS to run a sweep and intercept it. See if I can't figure out what the hell it is."

"Keep me posted. McKay out."

Modified lifesigns detector in hand, Rodney took two minutes to double-check the Victory's sensor data and then reaffirm that the Lieutenant watching the engineering consoles would inform him of any changes in the readings. Then he was out the door, tapping his comm as he went.

"McKay to Jackson."

"Jackson here. Is there a problem, Rodney?"

"There's a something. Not sure if it's a problem yet. I need you to get your gear and meet me on the bridge."

"Uh, okay. I can do that."

"O'Neill to McKay. Don't suppose you'd like to inform your commanding officer what's going on?"

Rodney rolled his eyes as he stepped into the elevator. "I was getting to that. Also, you're technically not my commanding officer."

"Right now I am."

"The Phoenix sensors caught something coming out of hyperspace. They tracked it on an approach towards Earth, but lost it before they could try and reel it in. Neither Sam nor I can figure out what it is, but my guess is it's heading towards us."

"Us as in New York?"

"Us as in people on the Victory."

"Is it Ori?" Daniel chimed back into the conversation.

"If the Ori had this sort of tech we would've have stood a chance against them. No, I have a hunch, but I won't know for sure until I get a chance to scan it up close. See, Sam didn't recognize the construction using the Phoenix's sensors, but the Victory's database has a few entries Sam's doesn't. It recognized the metal the object is made of as being one of the metals used in the construction of its own hull. Which is why this probably isn't Ori tech. The energy signatures and materials are all wrong for that."

He heard a sharp intake of breath just before Daniel came back on, voice full of excitement. "Rodney, are you saying that the object on approach was built by someone who had a hand in building the Victory?"

"That would be exactly what I'm saying."

"I'm on my way. Jackson out."

"Hang on, Daniel! McKay, you haven't called this a ship, but what are the odds that this is a weapon?"

The elevator doors opened and Rodney stepped out. "It could be anything, General. Could be a bomb, a beacon, a surveillance device... All I know is that somehow this thing came out of a hyperspace window and it's no bigger than an over-inflated beach ball. When I was a super-genius about to ascend, I managed to build a hyperdrive into a puddlejumper and I still haven't been able to figure out how I did that. This, whatever it is, is a lot smaller than a jumper. Whoever built it, their physics are so far beyond us we might as well be cavemen. Quite frankly, General, if they want us dead, we're screwed."

There was a long silence. Finally, O'Neill let out a weary sigh. "Keep me informed, McKay."

"Yes, yes. McKay out."

As soon as he reached the bridge, Rodney thew himself at one of the consoles and brought up the ship's long-range sensor readings as well as the analysis from engineering.

"Uh, Doctor McKay?" he heard Lorne ask carefully. "Is something going on?"

"We've got an unidentified object on approach to New York."

Behind him, the bridge fell silent. "Ori?"

"No." He paused. "Well, probably not. Almost certainly not. Look, I don't actually know what it is, let alone who made it."

The doors to the bridge slid open. Rodney looked up as Daniel walked onto the bridge followed by Rogers and Rogers' friend – the one with the wings. "The General didn't trust you to go alone," he said dryly.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Jack's feeling a little overprotective since Carson won't let him leave the infirmary again."

"Yeah, I don't blame him," Sam commented. "You do realize the rest of the Ori army is on our doorstep, right?"

Lorne looked between them. "I'll be in the chair ready to activate the drones if you need them."

Daniel nodded to the Major. "Thanks, Evan. If Jack wasn't high on morphine, he probably would've already told you to be."

The corners of Lorne's lips twitched. "Yes, sir," he said as he headed to the command chair.

Rodney had seen Central Park from the Secondary Command Chair Room, but on the ground, surrounded by the stench of blood, death and burnt flesh, it was even more horrifying. He had to close his eyes for a moment and count backwards from ten to keep the dizzying nausea at bay. Taking deep breaths didn't help. But this wasn't the first battlefield he'd ever been to, and so he knew what to do to shove the unpleasant parts out of his mind.

He opened his eyes and looked down at his scanner, bringing up its connection to the Victory's sensors.

Meanwhile, Daniel, Sam and Steve were looking around them in stunned horror.

"Fuck," said Sam in a low voice.

Central Park looked like it was in the midst of an identity crisis. The south side of the park was a bloody, muddy mess of craters, masonry and dead bodies. The north side was still green, though greyed with dust, as though in mourning for the city. Luxury condos, old solid buildings that had once proudly over-looked the park, were laying in crumbled pieces along the park's perimeter. It looked as though someone had taken a knife and carved a chunk out of the city, leaving it carelessly discarded behind. Sitting on the grass, in a parody of the park's usual denizens, were dull-eyed, tired Ori soldiers, with more being herded into the park. Though obviously past caring about anything, they still seemed to almost religiously avoid the shadow cast by the Victory.

In the middle of the carnage, lay the Ori ship, its giant corpse bone-white in the morning sun.

Daniel forced himself to look away and turned to Rodney. "Anything?"

"Not yet. Wait." He tapped his communicator. "Stark, it's McKay. I've got it on sensors. Do you have visual yet?"

"Iron Man here. Hang on, JARVIS has something. I'm moving to intercept. I'll let you know when I've got eyes on it."

"Okay."

There was a mechanical sound from behind him and Daniel turned to see that Sam had unfurled his wings and was sliding his flight goggles down over his eyes.

"I'm gonna go put another pair of eyes into the sky," said Sam.

Daniel nodded. "Good idea."

Sam took off without another word, sailing over Central Park like the falcon he was named after. Daniel noticed the Ori soldiers watching him in the sky with something between awe and fear. If he'd been less tired, he probably would've tried to reassure them, but he wasn't sure he could do so convincingly right now.

"Uh, hey guys, it's Iron Man. JARVIS has a second object on approach. Looks like the God of Thunder's decided to drop by to say 'hi'."

Daniel chuckled. "Jack will love that. He's a fan of guys named Thor."

Steve looked over to him in amusement. "Does he know a lot of guys named Thor?"

"Oh, just the one really. Asgard Thor really liked Jack, for reasons none of us could ever entirely figure out. Personally, I think he found him amusing."

"Okay, Iron Man here again. I've rendezvoused with Thor and we've got visual on the UFO. Seems to be heading straight for you, so we're gonna fly escort. In case you're wondering, Thor says he doesn't recognize it."

"Got it," said Rodney. "We're waiting outside the ship for you."

"See you soon."

Daniel looked up. It was, if anything, a great excuse not to look at his surroundings. He stared into the distance, willing the object and its escort to show itself overtop the buildings.

"Falcon to Jackson. Do you hear me?"

He tapped his comm and saw Steve, beside him, doing the same. "Yeah, I hear you Falcon. What's up? Do you have visual?"

"Yeah, but not of Iron Man. I'm incoming with a couple guests. Let Rogers know I found someone who's looking for him."

"I'm here, Sam," he heard Steve say beside him. "Is- is it Bucky?"

"Look around and see for yourself, Cap."

Steve whirled around, his hand still on his comm. Daniel stepped over beside him as Sam began to descend. He had his hands hooked under the arms of another man... who was holding a blonde woman in his arms. While Sam was managing his load, it was clearly straining him. Their landing was a bit of a stumble, but neither the man nor the woman complained.

The man looked like he'd just walked off the battlefield, his skin and shoulder-length hair caked with dust and blood. There was a plasma burn on his torso and blood sluggishly trickling from cuts on his left arm. In fact the only part of him that didn't look bruised or bloodied was his metal arm, which looked only slightly dented.

He was almost gentle in the careful way he set the woman back down. She smiled at him gratefully and then thanked Sam for the lift. Then her eyes zeroed in on Daniel. Daniel swallowed, wondering if running now would seem cowardly. Except that Daniel had faced down System Lords, priors, evil Asgard and even the Ori themselves, and he didn't even know who this woman was.

She headed right for him and held out her hand. "Doctor Daniel Jackson?" she said with a bright, determined smile. "I'm Christine Everhart of Vanity Fair."

Oh dear God, she was worse than the System Lords and the Ori. She was a reporter. Who knew who he was...

Daniel shook her hand, frowning. "It's, uh, nice to meet you, Ms Everhart. Although I'm surprised you know who I am."

She raised a single, delicate eyebrow. "Well, I suppose you've probably been too busy trying to save the world to watch the news."

"A little. Also, alien spaceships don't exactly get cable."

She smiled, obviously amused by his flippant response. "Point. Your niece, Cassandra Fraiser, told me about you. She had quite the story to tell the world, both about herself and a bit about you. I certainly got the impression that, when it came to you, she was leaving out more than a few details."

Daniel blinked at her and then groaned. He pinched the bridge of his nose, remembering Jack mentioning something about Cassie being busy. "She went to the press."

"Well, to me specifically." She paused, looking him over thoughtfully. "She said you were the one who figured out the Stargate."

His eyebrows shot up. Did the world actually know about the SGC? That... was huge. Way too huge to contemplate at the moment. "I, uh, just figured out the significance of the symbols on the gate. The scientists would've figured it out eventually. It was really an accident that I got there first."

"But you did figure it out first."

"Well, yes. For better or for worse, I did."

"You mean, you're not sure it was a good thing anymore?"

Daniel sighed, looking away from the woman's searching gaze as he gathered his thoughts. "No, I think it's a good thing. An amazing thing really. What we've discovered... The Stargate Project is quite possibly the single most important undertaking anyone on this planet has ever done. I've believed that since the beginning and I still do. It's going to change the world. In a lot of ways, it already has even if people couldn't see it."

He looked back to her, idly noting the voice recorder in her hand. And the handle of a small-calibre handgun poking out of her blazer pocket.

He shrugged. "The spaceships, the technology, it's just the beginning. The Goa'uld had been taking humans from Earth for centuries and relocating them across the galaxy. What we have out there are pockets of cultures, communities long extinct on our planet. The first people we encountered had been taken from Ancient Egypt more than five thousand years ago. Without the influences of outside cultures the Egyptians on Earth had been subject to, their language and culture had evolved, but it was much closer to Ancient Egyptian than what we consider modern Egyptian to be. On another planet, we found a settlement of Minaons. Do you know how little we know about Ancient Minoans? Almost everything we know about them has been filtered through the eyes of the Greeks. But on the Planet of Light, their culture remains almost perfectly preserved. There's just so much out there for us to learn. About ourselves, about those who came before us..."

He trailed off, realizing he'd been lecturing. The woman, however, didn't look annoyed. She looked fascinated.

Her smile widened. "Doctor Jackson, I'd really like to write your biography."

"My what?"

"Daniel!" Rodney barked and Daniel's attention snapped instantly to the scientist. He was peering up into the sky now. "We've got incoming."

Daniel followed his gaze. There were two large dots flying towards them, flanking a third, smaller dot. As they came closer, he recognized the Iron Man armor and Avenger Thor.

"What's going on?" Christine asked, having obviously picked up on the tension in Rodney's voice and Daniel's posture.

"We're not entirely sure," he said, pushing her behind him. "But we're pretty sure it's not Ori."

"Pretty sure?"

"Jackson!"

Daniel glanced over to see Cameron jogging in their direction. The SG1 team leader looked to be in mostly one piece, give or take a few strips of uniform and some rather impressive bruising he could see beneath the rips. There was a bandage covering the tip of his right ear and a long cut along his cheek. And dark bags under his bloodshot eyes.

He looked like hell.

"Hey, Cam, come to join the surprise welcoming party?" Daniel asked when the other man reached them.

"Uh, that depends. What are we welcoming?"

"That's the surprise."

"Oooh, I like surprises!" Vala exclaimed in his ear as she grabbed him by the arm.

Daniel winced both at the pitch of her voice and at the bruises she was inadvertently squeezing.

"Yes, well, we have yet to determine whether this is a good surprise or a bad surprise," said Rodney dryly as he shifted his gaze between the tablet in his hands and the object that had now reached Central Park with its escort. "So you might want to tone down on the excitement."

Oddly enough, it really did look like an over-inflated beachball from a distance. It was almost perfectly round, save for a stubby circular protrusion at the top made of glass. As it crossed the distance towards them, it also became more obvious that its surface wasn't entirely smooth. Instead, it was littered with pock-marks at regular intervals, though more concentrated along what was probably its base. They glowed with a dark blue light.

"Okay, that has got to be the weirdest-looking thing we've ever seen, right?" said Cameron.

Daniel cocked his head thoughtfully. "That'll depend on what it does."

"It's definitely one of the more advanced pieces of tech we've ever seen," said Rodney. Then he paused and looked up thoughtfully. "Actually, scratch that. The quantum mirrors were both weirder and possibly more advanced than this."

"Right, the quantum mirrors," said Cameron knowingly.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "You've never seen one."

"Read the reports, though."

"Of course you did," said Vala.

Daniel felt the tension grow around him as the object flew – or possibly floated – closer towards them. No one's eyes left the object, no matter what their mouths did. The bickering felt normal, grounding. So the universe had decided to throw them another curve ball? They were SG1: together, they could deal with all the curve balls, all the false gods and all the weird alien doohickeys it threw at them. Not even death could stop them.

And then it came to a stop just above their heads, bobbing on the spot for a few moments before floating slowly downwards, stopping only when the glass protrusion was at eye-level. Thin tendrils of green light streaked across the surface of the sphere, but other than a faint almost-humming noise, it was silent.

Iron Man and Thor both continued to hover above them, repulsors and hammer at the ready. A man surrounded in flames streaked in and flew around them once before stopping to hover a little to Iron Man's right. From behind him, he could hear Christine Everhart of Vanity Fair snapping pictures.

"Guys, just a head's up, I'm pretty sure it's scanning you," said Tony, his voice sounding flat and mechanical through the suit.

"Well, fair's fair," said Daniel with a quick glance to Rodney, who was furiously typing away at the lifesigns detector. "We're scanning it."

The green lights stopped abruptly and the sphere began to rise.

"What, that's it?" Sam asked.

"Uh, I seriously doubt it," said Tony, his voice sounding slightly nervous despite the suit's voice modulator.

Rodney cut in before he could continue. "Its power levels are increasing. And I think I'm picking up a signal... outgoing – no. Wait, hang on, I think it's a two-way signal: outgoing and incoming."

"Holy shit, I see it. Wow, that's amazing. Beautiful."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Long-range communications. It's not that impressive. Although, the bandwidth is nearly non-existent, which is very impressive."

The sphere stopped rising when it was just past the height of the nearby treetops. And then it slowly flipped upside down until the glowing glass protrusion was facing towards the ground. At ground level, in the middle of the semi-circle they seemed to have formed, a speck of white-blue light appeared. It then began to grow, causing them to step back and, in a few cases, flick off the safeties on their guns. The sphere of light didn't stop growing until it was roughly twice the size of the original device.

"Daniel Jackson? Ah, is Scholar Daniel Jackson there?"

Daniel blinked and then stepped forward. "Uh, yes, I'm here," he said, stepping forward with a frown. "Who are you?"

"Daniel, my friend! I thought I was supposed to see you? Ah, just a moment..."

Meanwhile, Cam stepped closer. "Friend of yours, Jackson?"

Daniel's frown deepened. "I'm not sure..." The voice sounded familiar, but there was something odd about the words. They felt alien, the syllables off in some small way that made the voice sound wrong even as it sounded familiar.

And then the large ball of blue-tinted light shimmered. When it came into focus again, there were three figured standing in the middle of it.

Daniel's mouth dropped, his eyes widening in surprise. "Hektor, Dion!" he exclaimed, a delighted grin stretching across his face. He bowed slightly to the third. "Head Protector. It's good to see you all alive and unharmed. What happened?"

Inside the ball of light, Hektor's grin turned solemn, but it was the Head Protector who answered. "As you said, the Ori came in their large ship. Cowards," she spat. "They shot balls of flame from the sky, as though we were nothing more than vermin to be eradicated. The Watch Tower fell first, knocked down like nothing more than a stack of childrens' blocks. The operators inside died at their posts. Only a few messengers were rescued from the rubble."

"But we were saved!" Hektor interjected excitedly. "The Watching Screens inside the Temple are much better than those in the Tower and so several of us were able to witness the event. It was incredible. Another ship appeared out of nowhere. It was so much smaller than the Ori's beast that I feared for its fate, but its size was immaterial. The Ori ship fell before it had the chance to resist!"

Daniel closed his eyes, swallowing down the lump that had lodged in his throat. He'd barely allowed himself to think of the fate of the people of Aeneid, who they'd abandoned in order to reach Earth. They'd had no choice, not really, but that didn't mean it hadn't weighed heavily on him. He'd been terrified that when they finally got the chance to go back, it would be to bury the dead.

"I'm glad," he said softly. He opened his eyes and smiled at them. "I'm very glad the town survived."

"As are we, Daniel," said Dion with a soft smile of her own. "And you, too, have been victorious?"

"Yes, we have." He looked behind him, to where the Victory was casting her shadow over what was left of the turf of Central Park. "The Victory saved the day. She's amazing." He turned back to them. "I – no, we, all of us – owe you a dept of gratitude. We would've never found her without your help. Thank you."

The Head Protector nodded, a slight smile on her face. "On behalf of the people of Aeneid, you are welcome. As we ourselves have witnessed, the Ori are an evil that can neither be ignored nor overlooked. It is the sort of evil that good warriors must raise arms against."

"Speaking of which, how is your wife doing?"

Her smile widened. "My wife is recovering well. As are the others struck down by the plague. Our doctors believe they will stand again within days."

"That's good. Doctor Carson will be happy to hear that."

"We're all glad to hear you made it," Steve suddenly added and Daniel looked over to see him standing beside him, frowning slightly. "But, how are you suddenly speaking English?"

Daniel blinked and then looked back to the ball of light. The three people inside looked confused. Of course, Daniel realized, that was why Hektor's voice had sounded so strange.

Rodney snorted. "Obviously the device has a universal translator."

"Oh," said Steve.

"Basically, Cap, they're not speaking English, you're just hearing them in English."

Steve looked up at Iron Man. "Huh, that sounds mighty useful."

"Trust me, we've been trying to figure out how that works for ages," said Rodney. "Most of the Stargates do something like that too."

"Really?!"

"Then it is good that we can speak to you and be understood by all of you," said Hektor, pulling their attention back to his group. He had an amused smile on his face. The Head Protector was, meanwhile, looking up at Iron Man with interest. "However, we will have to find time for that later. Our rescuers are rather anxious to meet you, Daniel."

Daniel's eyes widened slightly, all the exhaustion that had been haunting his limbs gone in an instant. "I'm probably just as excited to meet them," he said honestly.

Hektor's smiled knowingly. "Then allow me to introduce Commander Marvel."

Dion and Hektor stepped aside to make room for a tall, solemn-looking man wearing a red and green form-fitting suit to step into the globe. His dark hair was combed away from his angular face, giving him a severe look. There was a blaster of some sort at his waist, but it appeared to be his only weapon. Or at least the only item Daniel recognized as a weapon. But the man's most noticeable feature was his blue skin.

"Greetings Daniel Jackson of the Tau'ri," he said, his voice deeper than Daniel would've expected from his slim build. "I am Commander Marvel of the race you no doubt know as the Furling."

Daniel clamped down on the urge to whoop loudly and jump for joy.

"It's an honour to meet you, Commander Marvel. I confess, I've been excited to meet your people since we first learned of your existence. Information about the Furling is frustratingly illusive."

The Commander's eyes coloured with amusement. "That is likely because we were mostly visitors in this galaxy. Our friendship with the Asgard, Nox and Alterans is what kept us returning, however we were mostly explorers and so were careful not to leave any marks that time would not erase."

"Unlike the Ancients, who were compulsive litterers," Cameron grumbled.

Commander Marvel must've heard him, because he chuckled. "Indeed, history tells us the Alterans were great scientists and builders, who enjoyed expanding into new places and thus leaving behind evidence of their existence. Of course, history also tells us they were well aware they were dying, so perhaps it was their way of ensuring they were never forgotten."

Daniel noticed Thor drifting down to the ground, a deep frown on his face.

"So, you haven't been back to the Milky Way in a while then?" Daniel asked.

"Not since the Nox entered into a time of change. It was after the Alterans finally left this plain of existence. The Asgard isolated themselves with their science and the Nox were going through societal upheaval. Our home was also being threatened by an enemy from outside our nebula and so we pulled back to deal with it." He shrugged. "And so the Alliance of Four fell apart."

"But, like the Nox, you answered the call of Aeneid's beacon."

"I confess it was curiosity as much as duty that brought myself and my ship to your galaxy."

Daniel grinned. "There is nothing wrong with curiosity."

"Yes, I hear I am not the only one struck by that particular affliction."

Just then the Furling Commander stepped forward, and the glowing orb he was surrounded by moved with him. He looked up at the Victory, his eyes sweeping over her curiously, though Daniel also detected not a small amount of awe in his expression as well. Several moments of silence passed before he spoke again.

"There is a legend of a great ship built by the Alliance of Four, one that combined the best of their technology as well as their desires and ideologies. It was a ship built to fight, built to protect. The fiercest battleship any of them had ever created... If this is it, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is, then it is magnificent."

"It is. Without her, we wouldn't have defeated the Ori's armada. At least not nearly as quickly."

"It is not who she was designed to fight."

"The Wraith. She was designed to fight the Wraith, possibly even free the Pegasus Galaxy from their oppression and win back Atlantis."

Commander Marvel looked back to Daniel in surprise. Then he threw his head back and laughed. "Then you have gotten further than even I had imagined. Not only do you know Atlantis, but you have faced the Wraith. I spoke to Lya and Anterus of the Nox before sending this communications orb to you and they told me of the Asgard's legacy. And that they think you have yet far to go, but that they believe you have the potential for greatness."

He paused and looked around. Daniel winced. This was quite possibly the worst time and the worst place to make first contact with the representative of a powerful advanced alien race. Commander Marvel, however, did not appear disappointed when he turned back to Daniel.

"You are treating the enemy that arrived to destroy you with compassion."

Daniel frowned and looked over to where the Ori soldiers were being herded. There were army and air force medics scuttling within their ranks, providing what emergency medical assistance they could. Others were going around with water and some sort of basic rations, although Daniel was too far away to tell what exactly they were being given.

He turned back to the Furling Commander. "We've defeated them. There's no reason not to be compassionate. They're living, breathing beings, like us. There's no point to being cruel for the sake of cruelty; it doesn't show superiority and it's wrong."

"And what do you plan to do with them?"

Daniel shrugged. "We have a second ship that's in better shape, probably repairable. Jack – er, the General – says he wants to fix it up, disable the weapons and then send them home."

Commander Marvel nodded, looking satisfied by his answer. "Yes, I think I understand what the Asgard recognized in your people. You are young, eager to learn and have in fact made great leaps in the last decades, according to the Nox."

Daniel's lips twitched. "But we are not yet the tree."

Commander Marvel chuckled. "No, not yet. But Lya believes that one day you will be. Just as the Asgard believed. As the Alterans had obviously hoped."

Finally, Daniel couldn't resist the words he'd wanted to say since he'd first realized who he was speaking to. "Commander, the Furling have been a mystery to us for so long. I would love to learn more about you, about your history, your world. Anything and everything you are willing to tell me."

"And I would love nothing more than to tell you everything you wish to know. But, it is not yet the time nor the place for such things."

Suddenly, with a swish of bright red cloak and golden armor that gleamed under the sun, Thor stepped forward, his expression thunderous. "Liar! You are not called the Furling!" he said accusingly. "I recognize you well. Your people are called the Kree."

Commander Marvel's eyebrows rose. After a moment, he shook his head. "I do not lie. The Kree is what we call ourselves. When our first exploratory vessel came to this galaxy, we met the Asgard in short order, however our languages were quite different and unknown to each other. When they asked us who we were, the expedition commander answered that we were 'furling'. In our language, that means 'friendly traveler', however the Asgard took it to mean the name of our race. And so, to our friends and allies in this galaxy, we became known as the Furling."

"Geez, that's the most ridiculous misunderstanding ever," said Cam. "I mean, you wouldn't think it was that difficult to get the language right."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Really, and just how long were Native Americans called Indians because of a ridiculous misunderstanding?"

"Canada is only called 'Canada' because of a mistranslation," Rodney added, though his eyes never left the scanner in his hands.

Cam sighed. "Fine, point taken."

"Asgard has long known of the Kree," Thor persisted. "This story is unknown to me."

"Uh, we'll explain later, Thor," said Steve as he walked over to his teammate's side and placing a placating hand on his forearm. "But they're not really talking about you and your people. The Asgard are different from Asgardians."

Thor frowned in confusion, but backed down.

"Ah, I see. That is most interesting."

Daniel looked back to Commander Marvel, who was examining Thor curiously. As though feeling his eyes on him, the Furling glanced to Daniel and smiled ruefully.

"I regret not having more time to exchange tales. I feel yours would make a worthy trade for mine."

"Well, it's certainly not boring."

"Unfortunately, the communications orb is reaching its limit. It was a pleasure meeting you, Daniel Jackson of the Tau'ri. Though it will likely not happen within our lifetimes, I look forward to the day our people meet as equals. When the Tau'ri take their place as the Fifth Race."

"You're right, it probably won't be within our lifetimes, but I'll keep hoping that one day it will happen," said Daniel. "Even if this is the only contact we have until then, I am honoured to have met you and spoken to you, and happy to know the Furling did not die out or disappear, that you're still out there somewhere."

The Commander nodded and then the globe shimmered, the image disappearing. The globe of light began to shrink back to nothingness. When Daniel looked up, he saw the dark sphere turning once more until the glass protrusion was facing upwards again. It was no longer glowing.

And then the sphere flew away. This time, no one bothered following it.

"Oh my god," Daniel breathed, feeling all the excitement he'd been clamping down on bubbling up to the surface. He turned to Cam and Vala, eyes sparkling. "I just met the Furling!"