Title: Rain in the Desert
Author: Shenandoah Risu
Content Flags: disturbing description of genocide
Spoilers: pre-Season 1/ none
Prompt: How Vanessa James got involved in the Stargate Program
Summary: She looks out over the green hills, knowing that within a few days the earthen desert colors will be back, and she experiences a sudden feeling of vertigo, as if the universe had shifted around her.
Author's Notes: Written for the LJ Comm Femme Fic Ficathon and Art Challenge.
Thanks for reading! Feedback = Love. ;-)
Rain in the Desert
…the rain is on the roof…
Like most people, Vanessa James has grown up with the classic misconceptions about deserts: nothing but heat, sand dunes, camels and Bedouins, and it never rains.
When she's first dispatched to Iraq she learns very quickly that the only part that was accurate was the one about the heat. Temperatures soar up to 120 degrees during the day. It takes her a while to get used to the heat, but she manages surprisingly well.
Vanessa is stationed in the province of Al Anbar, between the cities of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah. There is a US Air Force landing strip near Al Habbaniyah and she works security and transport safety.
She loves her job. She patrols the airstrip and surrounding areas with her team and helps provide tactical support for supply convoys. The area is severely ravaged by the long war but most of the terrible infighting has ceased by the time she gets there, so her mission is mostly one of peacekeeping and rehabilitation.
There are occasional pockets of unrest, of course – as one of the most violent areas of the war things may never completely return to normal there, after all.
Still, she enjoys the daily challenge of her assignment and the drastic difference from her home in the coastal Pacific Northwest where she grew up, where rain is a daily occurrence. As a kid she had a t-shirt that said on the front "Annual Oregon Rain Festival" and on the back "January 1 – December 31".
She makes friends with a few villagers from a small settlement near Al Habbaniyah, and she finds she loves learning the language, and she adores the food. She has the deepest respect for the people who live at the fringe of the desert – their frugality with their resources, and their inversely proportional big hearts and hospitality.
They like her there, because she and her team lend a hand with repairs of the roads and infrastructure. One of them, Sergeant Curtis, turns out to be an excellent mechanic, and she herself has a minor degree in electrical engineering, so the two of them often help with generator repairs after their shifts.
She's at her friend Asiya's place for dinner after she's wired a new feed to her house, and Asiya and her three young daughters Miriam, Sara and Hajirah enjoy a simple meal, and after the girls have gone to bed she talks quietly with Asiya, her fat black cat Baba curled up comfortably in Vanessa's lap.
Vanessa tells her about all the rain in Oregon and Asiya shakes her head, unable to imagine such a thing. Her English is quite good, as she shares stories of her husband Omar who was killed by a land mine a few years ago. She is an irrigation worker, like Omar was, working at a nearby watering facility.
Asiya tells her that it does rain in the desert – it is very rare, and it usually causes devastating flash floods and wash-outs, due to a lack of vegetation and too much dust.
"Desert rain makes big changes," she says. "Flower in sand. Break your heart, very beautiful."
Vanessa scratches Baba under the chin and the cat purrs loudly.
Curtis comes by later on and together they head back to the barracks.
That night she can feel the storm approaching – she tosses and turns, and the lower temperatures bring no relief. There is static electricity in the air, as the wind whips up the sand and dust. She steps outside, covering her nose and mouth with a cloth, and watches the clouds chase past the waning moon, lightning visible in the distance.
The storm is upon them in an instant, sirens blare and she ducks back inside and suddenly it's as if the sky had opened up and all the water in the world was falling through the gap.
She's never seen anything like it.
There's no more sleep for her that night, she's too excited and stunned to rest.
As the sun rises the transformation of the land is breathtaking: many familiar landmarks have been blown or washed away, roads have collapsed, and there are millions of tiny little craters in the sand – like a miniature lunar landscape. Incredibly, a faint green hue is covering the plains and hills around her, and it seems to intensify by the hour; the next day she marvels at an explosion of color as small bright flowers open up everywhere, painting the hills with vibrant signs of life.
…hurry high butterfly…
Then they get an emergency call from a staff nurse who has gone to the settlement to check on a few ailing residents. She radios a possible sarin nerve gas alert, and Vanessa grabs her SCBA gear and gathers her team and they are on their way.
They are met by a gruesome sight upon arrival – dozens of dead bodies in the street. They suspect an insurgent attack – though why anybody would target the little settlement is a mystery. Vanessa dreads checking the house she has just visited a few days beforehand, and there in the road she finds Asiya and her daughters, face down, huddled together.
Baba lies next to them.
Vanessa sinks to the ground in shock, the visor of her gas mask fogging up with her tears.
She looses all track of time in sorrow and despair.
Finally pulls out her testing gear. After determining the air is safe again it takes her a while to radio back to HQ and pass the information on to the local authorities.
The men they send show up with an old truck and load up the bodies – they are devastated but they've seen it all before.
The cat is left behind.
Vanessa pulls her trowel from her pack and starts digging a hole behind the house. She buries Baba at sunset, and she feels like she'll never be able to stop crying. She digs out a few of the tiny flowers from the yard and places them on the small grave. A small butterfly settles down on them to rest.
Curtis comes by with a jeep at nightfall, and they head back without exchanging a word.
What a horrible waste, she thinks to herself.
…as clouds roll past my head…
The next day she resumes her patrol of the airstrip which took considerable damage in the storm. At the far end a piece of the edge has collapsed and she climbs down the side to inspect the supporting rock layer.
Something glints in the sand and catches her eye. She scrambles alongside the embankment and finds a gleaming golden object with a large orange jewel.
She motions to her team to back up and directs Curtis to establish a safety perimeter, then she calls in to HQ.
"It's an artifact of some sort, Sir, but nothing I've ever seen before. It's not local for sure. I can't establish what danger it might pose, but I think it could be an antique, though certainly not from here. If anything, it might be Egyptian."
She pulls out her GPS and takes several readings, then borrows Curtis' device as well to confirm the coordinates.
"Stand by," the operator at HQ says, and she waits for a long time.
After almost half an hour the radio crackles to life.
"Lieutenant James, maintain your position. A special retrieval team is on the way."
"Roger that," she responds and settles down nearby.
Her head is spinning. She keeps hearing Asiya's voice, and her warning about the big changes. Asiya and her family are dead, and she can't help but feel that it was a punishment for divulging a secret. The desert has been transformed for sure, but there is something about the artifact that makes Vanessa queasy. She's found all sorts of things in bomb craters, always following protocol of establishing an exact location and calling in an archeological team to process the item. This one, however, creeps her out. It looks like a giant finger ring, squished flat so one's entire hand could fit into it. The orange jewel has ornate carvings of what looks like hieroglyphs to her – definitely out of place in this area.
She gets up when she sees the jeep approaching, and a tall blonde woman and a portly little man get out.
The woman shakes her hand.
"Dr. Andrea Palmer, so nice to meet you. This is Nyan Bedrosian – we're from Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado."
"NORAD? What does NORAD have to do with this?"
The man blushes furiously and smiles.
"We're not from NORAD, although we share some of their facilities."
Vanessa stares openmouthed as Dr. Palmer pulls out a small device and passes it over the object. It starts beeping ominously and Palmer and her colleague share a knowing look.
"Has anyone touched the artifact?" Bedrosian asks and jots something down on a note pad.
Vanessa shakes her head.
"No – I radioed as soon as I saw it. It's not local, is it?"
"No," Bedrosian says, and then she watches them take all sorts of measurements and samples. Finally they carefully remove the object from the sand and place it in a shatterproof transport box.
"Are you archaeologists?"
"Nyan here is. I'm a geologist."
At Vanessa's confused look Dr. Palmer continues. "It's important to establish whether the artifact was deliberately buried or accidentally lost here."
"Well, given that this is the fourth item found this month I'd say a stash of them was lost quite some time ago – perhaps in an ambush earlier in the century. They've been here for a while, for sure."
"Why'd they fly you in all the way from Colorado?"
Dr. Palmer smiles.
"We were dispatched when the first item was found. You did the right thing when you called it in – your description alerted us and thanks to you we've made another significant discovery. Colonel Young flew in yesterday. He wants to see you at HQ right away."
"Also from Cheyenne Mountain."
Palmer hands the case to her colleague who carefully stashes it in the jeep.
"Good job, Lieutenant, " she praises her. "Now, you and Sergeant Curtis please report to Colonel Young ASAP."
And they climb into the jeep and drive off.
Vanessa stand dumbfounded.
She looks out over the green hills, knowing that within a few days the earthen desert colors will be back, and she experiences a sudden feeling of vertigo, as if the universe had shifted around her.
Desert rain makes big changes.
She suspects there is more to come.
…I know why…
Shortly thereafter she and Curtis report to a newly erected command tent outside of HQ. A young corporal named Barnes ushers them in.
Colonel Young is sitting at a folding table, filling out paperwork. He's a stocky yet slight man in his forties, with short dark hair and friendly eyes. He looks up at them and smiles.
"Lieutenant James, Sergeant Curtis, please come in."
He motions at two chairs and they sit as he pulls up a chair for himself.
"I suppose you have a lot of questions, and unfortunately there isn't a lot I can tell you yet, since most of our work at Cheyenne Mountain is classified. Suffice it to say you found an extremely valuable item, and I am told you showed exemplary foresight in securing and reporting it."
"Thank you, Sir," they answer in unison.
"You like the desert, James?"
Young smiles a little sadly.
"I heard about what happened to your friends near Al Habbaniyah. I'm sorry. Despite all the mess there are good people here, and I understand they were fond of you as well."
Vanessa thinks of Baba's body, left behind by the authorities. She swallows hard.
"You're a good mechanic, Curtis – is that right?"
"Yes, Sir, so I'm told."
"And you, Lieutenant, are good with electrical systems?"
"Thank you, Sir – it's something I enjoy doing."
Young taps his chin, then points at them.
"Of all the people who discovered artifacts over the past month you were the only ones to follow protocol correctly, and thanks to you we were able to gather data that our people back home will drool over for months."
He reaches behind him and hands them each a folder.
"I have an offer for both of you, but before I extend it you need to sign this non-disclosure agreement. Please read it carefully. There are dire consequences for breaking this contract."
Vanessa feels her heart hammering in her chest.
A classified operation!
Desert rain brings big changes…
She and Curtis both sign the agreement and Young nods, looking satisfied.
"Some fifteen years ago the Air Force began experimenting with a large circular artifact found near Giza in the 1920s. A young archaeologist by the name of Dr. Daniel Jackson successfully deciphered a combination of glyphs and the device was activated. It turned out to establish a stable wormhole between two planets – Earth and one in another star system. Since then many teams have been exploring planets throughout the galaxy via this device, which we call a Stargate. We operate out of Stargate Command at Cheyenne Mountain, where we are located beneath the NORAD facility."
They stare at him in shock.
"Sir?" Vanessa manages to get out.
"It's all true. Here is an official invitation of General Hank Landry, leader of our program, and we're looking for bright young people like you who can do the right thing under adverse circumstances. I will pass on a recommendation for both of you to join the Stargate Program."
Curtis is speechless. Vanessa elbows him. He jumps.
"Thank you, Sir."
"It's a great career move for both of you, I can guarantee you that. I hope you will consider joining us."
"What about the artifact?"
Young leans back casually.
"It's a Goa'uld Healing Device – made by a parasitic alien race that has dominated the galaxy for thousands of years. We played no small part in their recent downfall."
"I'm sorry, Sir?"
"You met Nyan today, right? He's from another planet. The Goa'uld use human beings as hosts and they have set up civilizations of slaves all over the galaxy. Nyan is a refugee from one of those planets. He works for us now."
Curtis sputters. :"That guy was an alien?"
Vanessa shakes her head. "If I understood the colonel correctly, he's human – just from another planet."
"That's right," Young nods.
"So, I'll give you a few minutes to think it over. We can have you out of here and on a transport to Colorado on a scheduled run tomorrow. I hope to see you back at the barn there."
He rises and they both jump up and salute as he smiles at them and leaves.
"Damn." Vanessa sinks back into her chair.
Curtis shuffles his feet. "Am I dreaming this?"
"I don't think so. Look, we signed the non-disclosure agreement already. Don't you want to know more?"
"Sure I do. It just sounds a little too sci-fi to me."
"I don't think he was kidding."
"No, I'm sure he wasn't. What are you going to do?"
Vanessa thinks of the dead bodies of her friends lying in the street, of Baba the cat, of the rain and the flowers.
"Desert rain brings big changes," she whispers. "I'm going."
…the skies all cry…
Vanessa likes it on Icarus. It's a desert, too, breathtaking in the intensity of its colors, but not that different from Iraq. It's a cold dry desert, though, and she can see two ringed planets above, and a nearby nebula provides the most colorful night sky she has ever seen.
After the basic training at the SGC she and Curtis were transferred to Icarus Base, doing essentially what they did in Iraq.
She guards the air strip and helps with some electrical repairs, and Curtis gets down and dirty with the generators. She learns about the Goa'uld and the mineral naquada and its derivative naquadria, and at some point Dr. Palmer joins them again. It turns out she was actually the one who discovered Icarus, and she and Vanessa become friends.
She notices the change in Young, though. The jovial character she met in Iraq is gone, replaced by a far more serious demeanor. She suspects a personal loss and the rumor mill points at marital trouble.
She's not sure she really wants to know. He's her commanding officer now, and she respects him for his position and his silent authority and his patience with the many civilians and scientists on the base, some of which drive her up the wall.
One day a remote weather monitoring station falls silent and Young dispatches her and Curtis to check it out.
It turns out to be a simple wiring issue in the generator which burnt out a gear and brought it to a standstill. They make quick work of the repair and start the equipment back up.
On the hike back she notices the static in the air. There's always some on Icarus, but she can smell the ozone now, and they make it back to the base just in time before a gigantic storm hits.
The next day Icarus looks sparkling clean, the colors vibrant like never before. She and Curtis are in the Honor Guard welcoming several important guests who all contributed to the establishment and research projects on Icarus Base.
There is a tangible feeling of something in the air that she can't quite define. But one thing she knows for sure…
Desert rain brings big changes.
When the base comes under attack she knows it's the truth.
…om om heaven om…
Note: Song lyrics: "OM"/ The Moody Blues