Title- The Destruction of Salvation
Spoilers – Vague ones for Red Sky, In the Line of Duty, Unending, 100 Days, Scorched Earth, Out of Mind, Into the Fire, Learning Curve, Enigma, Torment of Tantalus, Chain Reaction
Content Level – Older Kids
Content Warning- Few cuss words, Sam & Jack Established
Summary- The key to Earth's survival may come from a dead race, if they can just figure it out in time.
Disclaimer: Stargate Sg-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, Sci-fi and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.
The Destruction of Salvation
Colonel Samantha Carter had witnessed chaos before. She had seen panic and fear, terror and loss.
She knew how people would react. She was familiar with how they grieved. She was no stranger to catastrophe. To destruction on a global scale.
Fountains of fire and belching gasses. Columns of ash reaching towards the heavens and choking out the sun. It was hell on earth…literally.
And it was all her fault.
Sam set her mug of tea carefully on the table and then sank down into the recliner. She flipped the footrest up and tossed a warm throw over her legs. Outside fluffy flakes of snow rained down with heavy regularity and it provided a buffer between the living room and the rest of the world.
She reached for the remote and turned the TV on as background noise before she fired up her newest toy.
She navigated through the iPad's menu, calling up an app that would never be available in the app store. "Whatever happened to books?" Jack asked, making his way into the living room. He picked up the remote and took it with him to the couch. He plopped down and started to surf.
"Find me a book that will emulate with the Asgard database and I'll read it," she replied, glancing over at him.
"I'd rather read one of Daniel's mission reports," he declared.
Sam ignored him and continued to flip through the data. Studying the database was a job of a dozen lifetimes but she still enjoyed reading it. The database held the collective knowledge of a whole race. Knowledge gathered over untold thousands of years. Countless studies and experiments and sometimes the eclectic nature of their study amused her.
Bagaar had spent several lifetimes studying the evolution and life cycles of one planet's bees. Egar devoted his existence to studying and monitoring a planet's sea life. But not all the projects were so innocuous. She had found several experiments and studies showing the manipulation of species and planets. To quote Jack, the Asgard were sometimes meddlers. And that was the most depressing part about studying the database. She'd seen a whole new side to the Asgard, and she didn't always like what she found out.
She continued to flip through the database, flagging some files to read later in depth and others to be passed onto others.
"Damn, that's a mess," Jack said.
Sam looked up, frowning at the chaos on the TV screen. "What happened?"
"Massive earthquake," he said. "Looks like China got it this time."
"This time?" One definite downside of her long deployments on the Hammond, she was perpetually out of touch on current world events.
"Every other week it seems that there's another one," he said. "People are getting so spooked that they're talking about extended drills at some of our bases in at risk locations. Some of the more paranoid are even talking about moving some of our assets to safer locations."
"Away from fault lines and volcanoes," he clarified. "Like how MacDill and Homestead ship their jets off whenever there's a hurricane coming."
Intrigued, she closed the database and pulled up the USGS website, scrolling her way through the list of seismic events. "Wow, you weren't kidding."
"I would not be recommending purchasing any real estate in California right now," Jack said. Something tugged at her memory and she pushed the throw aside, getting to her feet. "Sam?"
"Watch your movie," she said. "I just need to check something out."
She made her way back to the den and the desktop computer. Unlike her iPad, the desktop had a secure connection to the SGC mainframe and the entirety of the Asgard database. As she waited for it to boot up she heard the echoes of the TV changing channels. Within minutes she was digging through the terabytes of the Asgard database.
Jack opened his eyes, the gathering darkness outside and the scrolling credits on the TV screen telling him that he'd been napping for a few hours. He got to his feet and stretched, frowning to find Sam's chair still empty, her abandoned mug of tea long cold.
Yawning, he peeked out the window, confirming the presence of at least a foot of snow. Chances are their snow day was going to become days, which was fine with him. He flipped on a few lights and made his way back to the den. There was too much snow on the ground for it to truly get dark, but it was distinctly gloomy both outside and in. "Are you still digging at whatever you're digging at?" he asked, lingering at the threshold of the den.
Sam was hunched over the desktop, one hand scribbling notes on a pad. When she didn't respond he turned on a lamp, the sudden burst of light catching her attention.
"Wow." She blinked and squinted. "When did it get dark?"
Jack sighed, recognizing the signs of total immersion. It always amazed him that she could go from multitasking a dozen things at once to total tunnel vision without batting an eye. "What's kept you so fascinated all day?"
Her focus, which had saved their collective asses so many times over the years, was as much a part of his wife as his own penchant for cartoons and documented impatience was a part of him.
"I, aah, I think we're in trouble," she said.
Jack nodded. "Are we talking 'we' we or…"
"Earth we," she said.
"Ah good. Cause I hate it when it's the 'we' we." She rolled her eyes at him before she leaned back in the desk chair and stretched. "Is this something that can wait until we eat for you to explain it to me or do I need to drop everything and go dig out the driveway so we can rally the troops?"
"Let's eat," she said, pushing away from the desk. "Even if I'm right, a few hours won't make a difference."
"Okay," Jack said, pushing the last of the spaghetti sauce around with the last of his bread. "Boil this down for me."
Sam took a sip of her wine and pushed her empty plate towards the center of the table. "You know that the earth rotates at an angle." She held up her hand, her fingers straight and tilted slightly, representing the angle of the earth. "That's what gives us our season. We rotate a little cockeyed."
"Right, got that part."
"Say we're tilted towards the right right now. Well, that tilt is not stable. It's actually a slow circular spin that takes about 24,000 years to complete. That means it's tilted towards the right now, but soon it'll flip and be tilted towards the left." She changed the angle of her hand to illustrate her point.
"In theory," he said. "No one knows for sure if it'll happen." She frowned and he jerked his thumb towards the TV in the living room. "One of the stations had a doomsday marathon last week."
"The thing is, it HAS happened. That's what I found in the database." She got up from the table and hurried back to the den to retrieve her iPad. As she brought it back to the table Jack was just setting the dirty dishes in the sink. She pulled a chair around, setting two side by side.
He sat down next to her and she pulled up the database. "Thrangvold, an Asgard scientist, was studying this planet."
"He called it 38927," she continued, ignoring him.
"The Asgard were drawn to it because it was a curiosity. Apparently the planet was on one of their major travel routes and it'd always been stable. All of a sudden, they noticed a dramatic rise in seismic and volcanic activity so Thrangvold deployed some probes to watch it."
She called up the schematics. "While the probes were there, the planet flipped." The graphic moved and the pole of the planet switched around. "He observed massive amounts of seismic and volcanic activity."
"How fast was this flip?"
"It actually took a couple of years," she said. "This, in geologic time, is a blink of an eye."
On the screen Jack watched the planet bubble and quake like some odd morphing of boiling pasta sauce and Jell-O. "You think that's what's going to happen on earth."
"The planet isn't exactly like Earth. It's larger and its crust is a lot thinner. But, here, earthquakes and volcanoes are getting a lot more active, just like they did on planet 38927."
"Okay. So, what? If this has happened every 12,000 years, Earth has ridden it out before. We wouldn't be here if it hadn't."
"We've never had this many people on the planet before, at least that we know of."
"Jack, Thrangvold watched this planet go through a flip and it took it centuries to recover. While he watched it, he came up with a theory, a way to, well not stop it, but maybe make it less."
"There's a theory that since Earth has a molten core, that sometimes one seismic event can either trigger or prevent another. Thrangvold had the same theory and he planned to return to planet 38927 for its next flip and try it out."
"Something tells me that didn't work out."
Sam shook her head. "He was a casualty of the Replicator war."
"What was his theory?" Jack asked.
"Thrangvold's theory was if you could vent that pressure you might be able to control the damage. Minimize it."
Jack looked at the expression on her face and sighed. "Exactly how do you vent pressure?"
"He thought you could make strategic decisions, trigger a volcano on an unpopulated part of the planet to stabilize the one closer to any settlements. You sacrifice part of the planet to save the rest."
Jack stared at her for a few seconds, hoping that he'd see a joke or humor in her eyes, but he saw nothing but seriousness. "Yeah, I'm glad we ate dinner first," he said.
Sam sat in Jack's office, finishing a cup of coffee as she waited for Jack to return. She had just presented the Asgard database and her interpretation of it to a few of the Joint Chiefs and then left the meeting, allowing them to discuss in private.
The door opened and she looked up, the expression on his face telling her all she needed to know. "It went that well?" she said as he took off his jacket and hung it up.
"Can't tell me you're shocked," he replied, pouring himself some coffee and refilling her cup before he sat down.
"I saw the looks on their faces," she answered, glancing out the window. Snow still covered the ground, a cold snap after the storm of last week insuring that it would remain for a while. "At least they didn't declare that I was a crackpot."
"They wouldn't do that," Jack said. "But seriously, I have to agree with them, we can't go telling hundreds of countries that they need to evacuate and oh, by the way, some of your countries are going to be destroyed in an effort to save others. Not based solely on the studies that a long dead alien made thousands of years ago."
Sam nodded, agreeing with her husband even as it annoyed her. "So what do we do?"
"Officially? Nothing. You're not taking that study out of the database, but you're not going to shine a spotlight on it either. We don't need panic." Sam snorted. "Sam, seriously, can you imagine what would happen if Felger got ahold of this?"
She chuckled. "You got me there."
"So, officially, thank you for bringing it to their attention, but the Joint Chiefs are disinclined to do anything right now. Unofficially," he said, stressing the word. "Unofficially, when you take the Hammond out next week, take her for a pass by Thong's planet. See if those probes are still there and still recording. See what the planet is like…get us something more up to date than what we got."
"Okay," she said, agreeing with the reasonableness of his orders.
"I'm gonna talk to Landry. Have him go over our mass Evac plans. See if there's any way we can lay in some extra supplies in the Evac sites. I have a couple of senators that have been playing with the 'colonizing another planet' idea. I might see if I can use them for something."
"What about the President?"
"He has no issue with being prepared…as long as we're discreet."
"So, we wait and plan…and I hope you're wrong."
"So do I," she agreed.
Sam signed off on the last of her reports and requisitions, saving the files in the folder designated to be transmitted to Earth in their next data burst.
The Hammond's tour had been an uneventful one, the Asgard planet and remnants of a super nova being the highlights. She enjoyed their exploratory missions. It reminded her of the first years of the SGC, when they explored for the sake of exploring instead of frantic and desperate searches for weapons.
She lost herself for a couple of hours, reading over pages and pages of the database. She was still trying to figure it all out, a task made even harder by all the data having to first be run through a translation program, which also left her translation errors to wade through.
A beeping sound pierced her concentration and she absently reached over to answer the comm. "Yes?"
"Colonel, we just got the data burst from Earth," Major Marks reported. "There was a message marked extra urgent."
Sam blinked and turned to look at the Major. "Extra urgent?"
"It's a direct communiqué from Homeworld Security. Your eyes only." She saw him type and her terminal chirped. "I just sent it to you."
"Thank you, Major."
Sam closed the com channel and opened the message. When prompted, she typed in her password and the message opened. The black square of a video feed filled her monitor and she reached for the mouse, playing the message. Jack's face stared at her through the camera lens. "Carter. We just had a 9.4 quake off Russia. The tsunami's still wrapping its way around the globe. It's gonna be one hell of a mess. In the last week, there's also two other volcanoes that have erupted and a few more warming up. Info's all in the burst." He sighed and pushed his fingers through his already tousled hair. "Turn the Hammond around and bring her home. I hope you found some cool stuff in that database, cause I think we're gonna need it." He reached forward to turn off the camera then paused. "Don't kill yourself getting back here, Sam. We're gonna need you and your ship. See ya soon."
The video flickered to black and Sam stared at the screen for a second before she hit the com switch. "Major Marks, the rest of our tour is scrubbed, best speed back to Earth."
Barely perceptible beneath her feet, she felt her ship slow and stop and then reenter hyperspace. She turned her attention back to the probe data, the scrolling letters and numbers no longer a challenging way to pass the day; they could very well be Earth's only hope.
A slip of paper appeared in front of Jack and he pulled his attention away from the briefing to read it. He got up from his chair, flashing the note as a silent excuse. Fortunately, brief absences were the norm in Joint Chiefs meetings so no one would even remark on his leaving.
He made his way out into the hall, glad to see that Sam had arrived.
"You made good time," he said, wishing that they were somewhere more private. While he didn't give a damn if some of the stuffed shirts saw him give his wife a welcome home kiss, the last thing he wanted Sam to have to deal with was even more gossip than she already did.
"I'm almost afraid to ask my chief engineer how he did it," she answered.
"Says the person that jerry rigged more than one alkash and teltac over the years."
She smiled. "Somehow it's easier when I've got my hands in the engines."
Spying an empty office, he directed her towards it, closing the door for a bit of privacy. "How much do you know?" he asked.
"Just what we tapped into off the satellite feeds. How bad is it?"
"A good chunk of Russia doesn't exist anymore. The Aleutian Islands and Alaska were creamed by a hundred foot tall tsunami. They had maybe ten minutes of warning. California, Hawaii, hell I don't think there's anywhere in the Pacific that didn't get hit. The whole west coast of the US is a mess. Portland and Seattle have been practically destroyed. There's even rumors that some of the low lying islands have been pretty much washed clean. Death toll's in the hundreds of thousands, might even hit a million."
"Oh my god."
He nodded. "There have been a few 'triggered earthquakes' around the world. The most worrying of which is a bunch centered around the New Madrid fault. The Midwest has had a few big ones and they're still not sure if that's all or if they are just precursors to another one. A nine point anything in the middle of the country is not good news. All of this is enough for the Chiefs to start to think that your theory definitely has merit. I don't know if they're ready to commit to any actions, but they definitely want to start planning."
"They do realize that the longer we wait, the greater the chances are that we'll have a seismic event that we'll never recover from?" she asked.
"They will once you tell them," he said.
"You're the expert and it's your plan."
"You couldn't warn me?" she asked.
"Sam, I know you. If I warned you, you'd have spent the last few days coming up with a two hour long presentation. We don't need that now. We need a ten minute briefing."
"Full of 'I don't know's and 'I think'."
"That's all we need for now." He glanced out the window and saw Walter hovering. "They're ready."
"You are so sleeping on the couch," she muttered as he opened the door.
Jack led her to the meeting room and ushered her in. The meeting was at a bit of a lull and several people looked up as they walked in. "Mister President, Colonel Carter just arrived," Jack introduced.
"Colonel, I understand that you have an idea about the situation that we're in," President Hayes said, motioning for her and the others to sit down.
"Yes, sir. You'll have to forgive me, sir. I didn't have any time to prepare a presentation."
"He bushwhacked you, didn't he?" Hayes grinned.
"General O'Neill believes in keeping people on their toes," she replied carefully.
"We can have a more in depth briefing later, Colonel. But if I'm remembering right, your opinion the last time we spoke on this topic was 'the sooner the better'."
"Yes, sir." She glanced around the room as the last person sat down before she started her briefing.
Jack settled back, making bets with himself over which person's eyes would glaze over first.
"You want us to trigger earthquakes to keep volcanoes from erupting?" the Secretary of the Interior asked, his eyebrows crawling up his forehead. Of all of the cabinet members, he'd at least paid the most attention and Jack knew that he was the most likely to understand what Sam had spent the last twenty minutes explaining.
"Just the opposite," Sam said. "We trigger volcanoes and accept some localized destruction to mitigate or lessen the seismic events."
"You want to do what?" the Secretary of Defense asked. Jack silently sighed. Their reactions weren't exactly unexpected. People tended to get a bit upset when you suggested they orchestrate mass destruction.
"With all due respect, Colonel, are you out of your mind?"
"How the hell would a volcano be better than an earthquake?"
"People," Hayes chided.
"Mister Secretary, please," Sam said. "There are several kinds of volcanic eruptions. Some of them are horribly destructive, like Krakatoa, Mount St. Helens, Manitoba. Those had massive pyroclastic flows and ash fall that covered hundreds to thousands of square miles. That is what we're trying to avoid."
"Lava fountains," Jack supplied.
"Yes, sir," Sam answered, smiling at him before she turned her attention back to the people around the table. "Thrangvold's theory and what we're aiming for are eruptions like Kilauea in Hawaii. Non-explosive eruptions that, yes, will result in damage and destruction, but – hopefully – destruction over a few dozen square miles per location."
"The axis shift will generate a tremendous amount of pressure as gravity effects the inertia of the planet. That pressure has to be vented. At the same time that venting is going to have massive and long lasting environmental effects. Instead of having one gigantic volcano trying to release a planet's worth of pressure, dozens of smaller volcanoes will release pressure in a much more stable fashion."
"Thank you, Colonel," Hayes said. He looked around the table. "Before anyone gets bogged down in where's and when's, the colonel's idea is only one that is on the table. Since she brought her theory to the attention of General O'Neill and myself months ago we've had various experts working on it. There will be further briefings on those ideas this afternoon." He looked at Sam. "Thank you, Colonel. I think it's safe to say, regardless of what option we choose, we will doubtlessly call upon your skills."
Recognizing a dismissal when she heard one, Sam got to her feet and left the room, Jack following close behind. "I gotta stay for the rest of this," he said as soon as they were outside the door.
"And something tells me it won't be quick."
He shook his head. "Probably not. Talk to Walter, take my car and go home. I'll be there when I can."
It was hours later when Jack finally unlocked the front door of his leased brownstone and went inside. Out of habit, and he knew he wore his Class A's too much when they were a habit; he hung up his hat and jacket before going into the living room.
Sam was curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a soft robe and tucked under a blanket. She glanced up before taking a sip of her wine. "Definitely wasn't quick," she said, moving her legs so he could sit beside her.
"I swear the building could catch fire and they'd have to hold an hour long meeting just to decide the best way to evacuate," he said. She held out her glass and he took a sip of her wine before handing it back.
"They didn't go for it, did they?" she asked.
Jack shook his head. "The other ships are being recalled from their missions. They're to look for evacuation sites." He sighed and pushed his fingers through his ruffled hair. "They just don't get that it'll take dozens of planets to take everyone."
"You know as well as I do that everyone won't be evacuated," she said. "Some will refuse to go; others just won't be able to get there. Jack, we've seen this before. The trouble we had finding a planet for the Enkarens, the G'Tau that wouldn't leave, how hard it was to find homes for the Nasyians and the Edorans. And those were populations of a few hundred to a few thousand. We have BILLIONS." She shook her head. "Even if we have months, we'll only ever be able to save a fraction. I've only been through part of the data and I didn't pick up any of the satellites. Maybe there's more information in them. Maybe if I go back and retrieve some of them and—"
"And what, Sam? You said it yourself; it could take you months to go through all that information. And that's only if you can translate it fast enough. They're not going to go for it. How soon can you get the Hammond ready to go?"
She sighed, openly frustrated but not willing to fight over it. "Few days, maybe less if we don't wait to recall everyone and go out with a skeleton crew."
Jack shook his head. "Few days won't make that much difference. Get your crew. We're going to go over the SGC's database, focus on habitable planets. The ships will then do an in depth survey, see what we really have."
"You mean they don't want to base our survival on the ten miles around the gate," she teased, bringing up a long standing debate between them. True, the stargate had opened up whole new worlds to Earth, but they never explored more than a few miles from the gate. Both Sam and Daniel had argued that there could be whole civilizations on the 'uninhabited' planets they explored.
"They're scared, Sam. The mess out on the west coast is just making it worse," he warned. "There's a lot of very rich, very powerful people making phone calls and calling in favors. And half of them don't even know what they're asking for." Exhaustion tugged at him and he leaned back, closing his eyes.
"Let's go to bed," Sam said. Jack slowly opened his eyes to see her finish off her wine. "If I'm going to spend a few weeks surveying planets, I want one more night not sleeping alone." She pushed back the blanket and got to her feet. She held out her hand and offered it to help him up. He got to his feet and made his way to the bedroom while she rinsed out her glass.
He changed into his pajamas and joined her in the bed. He pulled her close and breathed in deep, trying to memorize the scent of her lotion and the feel of her within his arms. He regretted that she would leave soon – at his order – and he wanted nothing more than to not have given it. He wanted nothing more than to not have a job, not have duty, to simply have each other.
He sighed, pushing aside his wishes and wants and resigning himself to reality. The reality that this was the last night for a long time that he would have her close.
"Approaching the planet," Major Marks said, glancing back at Sam. "As near as I can tell, Colonel, the satellites are still in place."
"Here's hoping they're not just space junk," Sam said. "Take us in, Major. Let's check them out." Her stomach churned a bit. She was torn between the forbidden thrill of disobeying orders and the knot in her gut at defying her husband's – and commanding officer's – orders. She knew she was right. She could feel it in her bones. But she had to prove it. And the only way to prove it was to…tweak what they wanted done. They weren't going to spend much time here. Just a few hours. In the grand scheme of things, not much time. And, if she was lucky, either they'd never know she was here, or she'd have enough proof to fix things and they wouldn't care.
"Colonel, sensors are picking up another ship," Marks reported.
"Can you identify it?" Sam set down her iPad, her attention riveted to the view screen.
"It's a teltac. There's no ID signal that I can detect." He glanced back at her. "It's in extremely close proximity to one of the Asgard satellites."
"How close?" Sam asked.
"Close enough to ring it in."
"Let's not give them the chance," she said. "I don't need them cloaking or going to hyperspace either. Ready the weapons disable his engines."
Marks raised an eyebrow at her then turned to his console, manipulating the controls to fire the weapons. Beneath her feet she felt her ship vibrate slightly as two beams of energy shot from the bow, striking the teltac. The small ship spun then canted to its port side, listing in space.
"Send out two fighters, bring it in. I want armed guards in the landing bay, just in case they're grumpy with us."
Sam watched as two of her fighters left the Hammond and retrieved the teltac, dragging it back to the ship between them. As soon as she knew it was safely inside she got up from her chair. "Keep your eyes peeled in case he has a friend," she ordered as she left the bridge.
She made her way down to the landing bay, pleased to see the squad of armed soldiers waiting. She nodded to the leader and entered the landing bay. Her two pilots remained in their cockpits, their weapons ready just in case the teltac pilot had something up his sleeve.
The door to the teltac opened and Sam heard the clatter as her guards readied their weapons. A singular man stepped out, his hands held up in surrender. "I hope you don't expect me to be grateful that you
didn't leave me floating in space to die."
"We could have just blown you up and then then that whole death thing would have been over in an instant," Sam replied.
The man frowned at her. "I suppose you do have a point."
"I'm Colonel Carter of the Earth ship Hammond. And you are?"
"Theodore Cosgrove, esquire." He made a grand dramatic bow and Sam fought the urge to sigh. She could only imagine what Jack would say if he were here.
Theodore's grand words were belied by his attire. Even from a distance, Sam could see that his boots were heavily scuffed and his pants were faded. The jacket and shirt that he also wore looked equally worn.
Theodore himself was tall and lanky with long dark blond hair that reminded her of Daniel's in the first couple of years of the SGC program.
"That's a nice teltac you have, dare I ask which system lord you…appropriated it from?" Sam asked.
"There are so many that are so dead…does it really matter? Besides, it's a shame to let good technology go to waste."
Sam shrugged. "And is that why you're here, scavenging Asgard technology?"
"This is an Asgard planet? I didn't know."
Sam nodded, the falsehood of his statement so blatant that even Teal'c would have picked it up. "Search his ship," she said. "Let's make sure there's no other 'lost' technology in there."
"Colonel! I must protest!"
"Yeah, there's a surprise," Sam muttered. "Regardless, we're searching your ship. If we don't find anything else stolen from this planet, we'll repair your ship and let you go."
"You have no right to search my ship," he said, his pleasant expression fading to one of anger and his stance stiffening to that of a person on guard.
"Yes, I do," Sam said. "The Asgard gave their technology to us. That satellite you were…examining, is Asgard technology, which means, technically, you were stealing from us. Please stand aside or these men will make you stand aside."
He scanned the group and Sam guessed he was assessing the odds. It took him just a few seconds to shrug and relax. "Fine, search away." He made a grand sweeping gesture with his hand.
Two of her guards escorted Cosgrove away from his ship and a half dozen entered the teltac. "That's quite the responsibility you have," he said. "Guarding an ancient race's left overs."
"We all have our burdens to bear," she quipped. "If you'd like to join me, Mister Cosgrove, I have a few questions."
She led him to one of the ship's few conference rooms and gestured for him to have a seat while his escort remained outside the open door. She poured two glasses of water and set one in front of him before sitting down herself. "What will my men find?" she asked.
"My dirty laundry if they dig too deeply," he said, taking a sip.
"Generally speaking, Mister Cosgrove, I have no issue with people scavenging."
"I dare say you shouldn't," he said. "If my information is correct, the Tau'ri spent several years appropriating all manner of discarded goa'uld technology." He looked around himself. "For all I know this fine ship of yours used to belong to someone else."
"I can assure you, it's quite ours. What do you want with that satellite?" she asked.
"Is that was it is?" Cosgrove shrugged. "I didn't know."
"I'm sure," Sam said, not believing him but not in the mood to argue with him. A knock at the door saved her from having to say anything more. "Come," she said.
Major Marks stuck his head around the corner. "I have a communiqué from Earth, colonel. Marked 'extra urgent'." Sam shook her head in amusement.
"Ooh, sounds quite important," Cosgrove said.
Sam ignored him. "Escort him to quarters. One that's off the grid. I'll deal with him later." Sam got to her feet. "If you'll excuse me."
"I don't think I have a choice," Cosgrove said, nonplused by her exit or attitude. "You are going to feed me, aren't you?" he called after her.
She chuckled and shook her head, dismissing her uninvited guest and turning her attention back to the message. She knew it was Jack. He was the only one she knew that would tag a message 'extra urgent'. Unfortunately, she knew it wasn't for fun. Jack wouldn't do that. Something was going on back home.
She entered her office and sat down at her desk. She togged the controls. "Send the message on down," she instructed when Marks answered.
The screen flickered and Jack's image appeared. "The planetary survey hasn't been going well. The other ships haven't had much luck finding planets that can take millions of refugees. Something I know will shock and amaze you. I'm forwarding on a list of planets for you to check out. That's now your number one priority. Anything else you may be doing, or maybe thinking about doing, it's just gonna have to wait."
"Stupid," Sam muttered, shaking her head. "Stupid, blind bastards." She didn't even ask how Jack suspected where she was and what she was doing. There was a downside to them knowing each other so well.
"Report in after every survey. The info they want is in the packet." His voice changed. "Sorry, Sam, they don't want to waste time on a longshot that might work. Evac will. Do what you can to find friendly planets. Bonus points if they have gates. Take care. Talk to you soon."
His image blinked out and Sam sat back in her chair, trying to deal with the frustrating bubbling in her chest. She'd forgotten how aggravating it was to deal with superiors that were complete and total idiots. She knew that her idea would work. It wouldn't be perfect. There would be losses and damage but even that was better than trying to evacuate the whole planet.
Evacuation was a mistake. It wouldn't matter if they had years, they would never get Earth evacuated.
She knew exactly how it would play out. No matter the country, the rich and wealthy, the well connected, they'd go first. Then would be some 'deemed necessary' to the group's survival. Then things would get really ugly. There'd be bribery and corruption, lies and even murder. All in the quest to survive and to keep others from doing the same.
They'd seen it before and they'd see it again. "If Jack was here he wouldn't put up with this bull shit," she muttered, tossing her pen across her desk in disgust. A thought occurred to her and she stopped, a grin creeping across her face. "He so would not put up with this crap."
She reached out and toggled the controls, summoning Major Marks. He arrived at her office in a few minutes.
"Our orders have changed," she said, motioning for him to sit. "We are to help survey planets, find
possible evacuation sites for earth." In reality their orders hadn't changed a bit. But her crew didn't know that, they couldn't know that. It was her decision to check out the satellites, and if it was a wrong one, the blame could only land on her.
"Is it that bad?" he asked, shocked.
"It might be." She handed over a list. "This is the list of planets from Homeworld Security."
He scanned the list. "It's very…"
"Thorough," she said. "Yes, I know. Hundreds of planets."
"Ma'am, given the distances between them, this will take years."
Sam smiled ruefully. "Yes. Now the other ships are taking a share of these but I think we need to…search smarter."
"I'd like you to go through the list. Eliminate some of the planets that we know won't work. We have civilians evacuating. What we in the military would deem survivable might be a bit too rough for them," she explained.
"With all due respect, Colonel, if the planet was blowing up I'd be happy with any port in a storm," he said.
"So would I," she agreed. "I've actually visited a few of those and they're not bad. But we don't have the resources to ferry them from planet to planet. Where we put them needs to be where they stay."
"Understood. How soon do you need this?"
"I think, given the distances involved, if you could get us a couple of planets in the next few hours or so, then the rest soon thereafter," she instructed. "We'll search as many as we can, as quickly as we can before we have to go back to Earth to resupply."
"Colonel, wouldn't it make more sense to plot these geographically, so to speak. Search all the potential planets in a given area rather than zooming back and forth? If we just took a little time to plot it out, we could search more planets, more efficiently."
"You are absolutely right, Major," Sam said. "I think I can put off Homeworld Security for about twenty-four hours. You are relieved of your other duties for the time being. Please have me a list as soon as possible."
He got up and left her office. Sam waited until the door was closed before she smiled and go to her feet. She'd just bought herself twenty-four hours, now she needed to salvage as many satellites as she could.
Jack looked out the window of the helicopter, the heavy thrum of the rotors vibrating through his body. Next to him, a young aide looked around, almost giddy with the excitement of his first helicopter ride while two secret service agents impassively looked on. The President sat across from Jack, his gaze fixed out the small window.
"I didn't realize it was this bad," President Hayes said, his voice distorted over the intercom.
"The tsunami reached up to twenty miles inland in some places," the aide piped up. "Even further than that in river channels and ports."
Jack ignored the young man. His wide eyed enthusiasm and burgeoning ego grated on Jack's nerves.
"That land's all but ruined, sir," Jack said. "With the salt water contamination it'll be years before it's fertile again."
Jack could see people moving around, aid workers and emergency personnel along with residents. Even from altitude he could see them picking through the rubble, searching for anything worth salvaging.
"Put this thing down," Hayes said.
"Sir?" one of the agents said. Agent Bordeaux was a serious man. Short and plump but as tough as a bulldog. The only fault Jack could find with the man was his self-done buzz cut that only accented his florid face. In a lot of ways he reminded Jack of George Hammond, if George had been crossed with a Marine drill sergeant.
Bordeaux seemed to be the antithesis of a clichéd Secret Service agent. Slightly rough, rather blunt, but Jack knew he was fanatically loyal to Henry Hayes.
"We're not scheduled to stop anywhere, sir," Bordeaux said.
"Ed, need I throw my rank around?" Henry said.
"No, sir," Bordeaux said. Jack smothered a grin as the agent spoke to the pilot. Almost immediately the chopper canted and circled, the pilot presumably looking for a place to set down.
"What's going on?" the aide asked, grabbing the seat nervously, the two agents checking their weapons doing nothing to calm him down.
"Relax," Henry said. "We're just going to do a little sightseeing." He looked at Bordeaux and his partner. "I seriously doubt they're planning an assassination down there."
"We're indulging you, sir, you will indulge us," Bordeaux fired back, the grin in his eyes belayed by the serious set of his jaw.
"The disrespect I have to put up with," Hayes groused. Jack chuckled and Henry glared at him. "You too?"
"Thought that was why you hired me," Jack said as the helicopter set down. The two agents got out first while Jack unbuckled his harnesses. "Have you ever been to a disaster zone, sir?" Jack asked, looking Henry in the eyes.
"We've been to several," the Aide, Chuck, piped up.
Jack nodded. "Planned trips, arranged in advance. This is different. There's debris out there, and it's not cleaned up. Those people, they're not chosen or cleared or approved. They might be nice; they might jump down your throat."
Jack glared at the aide, shutting him up without saying a word. "Chuck, these people have lost their whole lives. Everything they own is on their back or in their hands. Hell, they can't even brush their teeth without begging for a tooth brush."
"How many of these have you seen?" Henry asked.
"Too damn many," Jack said.
"Watch your step. There's bound to be glass and nails and god knows what else lying around. Hopefully the bodies have been cleaned up, but they might not be. You stumble across a dead anything, keep your hands to yourself. Do not touch anything. There's likely been sewage contamination as well and god only knows what else out there. When you get home tonight, examine yourself. Any cuts, scrapes, report them. Not only is tetanus a very real possibility but any other nightmarish sorts of bacterial
contamination." Jack paused. "It's gonna stink too. And when you get done, you're gonna stink too." He
nodded at Henry. "Sir."
He got out of the helicopter, grateful that he hadn't gone for the full class A uniform. Henry followed with Chuck bringing up the rear. It wasn't as quiet as Jack would have expected, but the normal noises of a neighborhood and city were replaced with the distant whine of chain saws and the shouts of workers. A few people moved towards them, obviously curious about just who'd landed a helicopter in the middle of their neighborhood. Others ignored them, barely looking up before going back to work.
It was hard to recognize what used to be where. Tree branches laid where the waves left them, jumbled like abandoned tinker toys against a large stone wall.
Thick, slick mud dominated the low spots and Jack could hear the low buzz of insects. He could see other debris amongst the branches. What looked to be clothing and toys and other bits and pieces of suburban life. Mud was everywhere and coated everything. In some places the ground had been scraped clear, leaving mud streaked pavement, in other places it remained. And it stank of rotten food and gasoline and stagnate water.
A few attempts had been made to clean things up. Piles of garbage and debris sat beside empty streets, waiting for someone to come and pick it up. Jack could see that their little entourage was starting to get noticed; a few of the residents seemed to recognize Henry and were pointing at them.
A woman stepped forward, tugging her gloves off as she walked. "Where's the entourage, Mister President," she called out. She was wearing ragged shorts and a t-shirt with battered tennis shoes on her feet. Her dark hair was tousled and tied up randomly and Jack recognized the look of a person that was working so long and hard that personal hygiene didn't matter, presuming she even had access to trivial things like running water, soap and towels.
"Excuse me?" Henry said.
"That's all you people come here for," she said. "Politicians having their photos taken, score some PR points, gawk a little and then you all leave. You go back to your houses and mansions and you leave us here."
More of her neighbors joined them and Jack saw Bordeaux tense. He didn't envy them their jobs. It was hard to balance keeping the President safe while maintaining an open image and staying discreet.
"Sir," he said, his tone cautious.
"Stand down, Ed," Henry said. He stepped forward, smiling pleasantly. "Henry Hayes," he introduced, holding out his hand.
"Yeah, I know who you are," she said.
"There's no entourage here, ma'am," Henry said. "And no photos." He looked pointedly at Chuck, who hurriedly slipped his phone back into his pocket.
"Aahah," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "So why are you here? Marine One get lost?"
Henry chuckled. "Technically, that's not Marine One; they get a little touchy about what they call it. And now, we didn't get lost." He stopped and looked around. "I just…I had to see this. I think everyone needs to see this. They need to see what it's like, and they need to see it with their own eyes."
"That's all you damn people do is see," one of the neighbors said. He gestured around at the rubble. "We should sell tickets. Every damn one of you want to come and look and gawk and take pictures but no one will so much as pick up a shovel and help."
"I know," Henry said. "That's why I had to come. Because you just can't comprehend how much there is to do. And I know help has been slow in coming. Can you show me what you need?"
Jack watched as Henry's calm demeanor defused some of the frustration and hostility in the residents.
Jack listened as the residents vented, mixing needs and wants with complaints about delays or refusals. Along the way he studied his surroundings. Empty foundations where he could tell where the rooms used to be by the different flooring. Mud covered toys lying abandoned. Random piles of fabric that used to be clothing tangled in the few branches that survived. Sheet metal and shingles twisted and wrapped around tree trunks like it was aluminum foil.
Something caught his eyes and he stopped. "What the hell?" he muttered, trying to verify it was what he thought it was.
"Fish," he heard a voice say. Jack turned to see one of the residents standing beside him. "They're all over the place. That's the worst thing about trying to clean up. They ain't found all the bodies; they probably won't ever find them. But there's dead fish and birds and cats and dogs. You can't even bury what you find."
"Tsunami took my shovel." He shrugged. "I don't even have a trashcan to put things in. I got plenty of money in the bank, but there's no electricity so they can't pull up any records or give out anything. There aren't any stores open to buy anything from or roads open to get there. You gotta walk about a mile to get food or water and carry it back," he said.
"Why don't you stay in a shelter?" Jack asked.
The man shook his head. "They're all full. They keep talking about evacuating people but they can't. The highways are trashed, there aren't enough air craft, there's whole communities that are cut off cause the bridges were washed away." He shook his head. "It's like we all got sent back to the dark ages with those damn waves."
"Chuck, what's the rest of my afternoon look like?" Jack heard Henry call out.
"Umm, aah, sir." Chuck fumbled in his pocket for his PDA. "You have a meeting with the governor and his staff in less than an hour and then a photo op and then—"
"Yeah." Henry waved him off. "Jack."
"Use some of that rank I gave you and cook up an excuse. Cancel the rest of the day."
"Yes, sir," Jack replied, one part amused by Henry's spontaneity, one part fumbling to think up a good excuse.
"Tell those pilots they can come and help too. More the merrier."
"Help?" Chuck asked quietly. "General what…"
"Trust me, Chuck, just go with it," Jack said. He looked down at the man's dress pants and shoes. He stepped closer, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial tone. "And the next time he goes on a field trip, you better wear your old shoes."
Henry sat back in the comfortable leather chair, the drone of Air Force One's engines welcome white noise. He randomly picked at the dirt under his fingernails. He was sore and tired and dirty but he didn't mind. It was honest dirt from an honest day's work. And that was a feeling he hadn't felt in far too long.
"Come," he answered to a knock on the door. Peter, his head steward, bustled in, his arms laden with towels and a basin of water.
"Excuse me, sir. I thought maybe you'd like to clean up." He set down the basin. "I will bring you a change of clothes and—"
Henry looked up and saw Jack standing in the door way. "Peter, a little dirt won't kill me. Go round up those clothes but give me at least fifteen minutes before you bring them back," Henry ordered as he waved Jack in.
"Yes, sir." Peter left the room and closed the door behind him.
Henry motioned for Jack to sit while he washed his hands off in the basin, splashing a bit onto his face.
"You knew what we'd find down there, didn't you?" he asked Jack.
"Suspected. I've had my feet on the ground of a few too many of these. I don't know how many of the reports you read, but the SGC helped evac dozens of planets over the years."
"You provided humanitarian aid too."
"We did. Volcanic eruptions, natural disasters. But we were lucky. Most of the people we evacuated were small settlements, hundreds of people maybe," Jack said.
Now a bit cleaner, Henry sat down. "Evacuation won't work," he said flatly.
"Even if we had years, we'd never get everyone," Jack said. "Not to mention the lives that will be lost in the chaos and anarchy that'll follow any announcement." Jack shook his head. "We don't have enough ships. Even if we try to send them through the gate, we'll only be able to send hundreds at a time. Once the other countries find out what we're doing, they'll storm the place. The gate will be the focus of a war. Thousands, maybe millions will die in that. Our ships, instead of ferrying survivors, will be pressed into service to defend the gate." Jack shrugged. "It's Armageddon any way you look at it."
Henry nodded. "Do you really believe in Colonel Carter's plan?"
"I believe that she believes. Honestly, Mister President, it's our best shot." He sighed. "And I honestly would say this no matter whose plan it is. Evacuation is impossible. Not on the scale it'd need to be."
Hayes sighed. "Now I just have to convince the rest of the Joint Chiefs."
Sam sat at her desk, doing her best to ignore her headache as data scrolled up her screen. The data was there, the proof was there, she just needed to find it. Her crew continued their surveys, dutifully taking the Hammond from planet to planet. They spent about three hours at each one, scanning the atmosphere and climate, searching for existing civilizations or obvious problems. As per their orders, Major Marks sent a daily data burst with the progress.
Sam was proud of her crew. They were doing a wonderful job carrying out their orders. They were all well trained. Which was a good thing, because she was trusting her crew to do their jobs without her direct supervision.
She spent her days sequestered in her office, studying the database and the probe data. She knew there was an answer in there. There had to be. She just needed to find it.
Her door chimed and she looked up, rubbing the back of her neck as she welcomed the break. "Enter."
The door opened to reveal Mister Cosgrove and his escort. "Mister Cosgrove," Sam said, waving him in.
He stepped forward as his escort remained outside. "My crew reports that your ship is fixed and flight ready," she said, waving for him to sit.
"Yes, your people did an admirable job repairing the damage you inflicted upon my vessel," he said.
Sam smiled wryly. "So you're ready to leave then."
"I'm giving it some thought," he said, casually looking at his nails.
"Really? After all the fuss you made. I'd think you'd be chomping at the bit to get out of here and on your way." She leaned forward, propping her elbows on her desktop.
"There's a certain appeal. And your food is definitely much better than what I'd cobble together on my own." He leaned forward and looked at her screen. "Seismic events. So that's why you're so interested in the satellites."
"My interest is none of your business," Sam said, turning off her monitor.
"Seismic events." Cosgrove got to his feet and started to pace. "Since you seem to care so much, it must be the Tau'ri home world. Now why would you be searching for information about an old Asgard planet unless…unless you were looking for some magic bullet to fix your home world."
"I think you've been watching too many sci-fi movies," Sam shot back unwilling to let him get any sort of hold over her.
"Now, as I see it, you have a major obstacle which is…well it's not like you can just press a button and make a volcano, it's a little harder than that," he continued.
"And what exactly does a…entrepreneur like you know about making volcanoes?"
"I've done many things in my career. One thing I do know is that your ship, as advanced and pretty as it may be, does not have the ability to drill through miles and miles of rock," he said.
"My ship's abilities are my concern," she dismissed. She refused to show to him that he was right. That was one major stumbling block that she had yet to figure out. How exactly to drill through miles and miles of rock to release the magma beneath.
"What if I were to tell you that I know of technology that could help you," he said.
"How do you know what we need help with?" she asked, turning to face him.
"People talk, I listen," he said. "And a crew facing the evacuation and destruction of their home world talks a lot. Your ships have good weapons. Nice, advanced Asgard weaponry. But there's better out there."
"And let me guess, you're willing to help us find it, for a fee, of course."
"Of course. A man has to make a living."
"If there were better weapons out there, how come we've never heard of them? The Goa'uld took down anyone that even started to develop anything."
"True. But when the inventor is a Goa'uld, there is a bit of leeway." He sat against her desk, his arms crossed over his chest.
"The Goa'uld are scavengers, not investors," Sam said.
"A few were. Ba'al for example."
Sam frowned, her eyes narrowing at the mention of their longtime nemesis. "I sincerely doubt Ba'al, or any of his clones, willingly left any technology behind," she said.
"On the contrary. It's been my experience that he left many caches scattered around the universe. You just need to know where to find them."
"And you do."
He shrugged. "Some. Certainly not all."
"And the price for your information?" Sam asked.
He shrugged. "Nothing too extravagant. Merely…a blind eye from your comrades."
"I have avoided the Tau'ri quite well to this point, however should our paths cross in the future, and I simply ask to be allowed to go about my business, unmolested."
She shook her head. "Without knowing exactly what your business is, I can't guarantee that."
"I assure you, Colonel. I am no bounty hunter or murderer or anything unsavory like that," he said.
"What are you then?"
"When the Tau'ri defeated the Goa'uld, they left behind hundreds of planets. Some already picked clean, others ripe with potential."
"And you harvest that potential."
"I do. After millennia of subjugation and slavery there are whole populations that want nothing more than a chance to start over. The technology I find gives them that chance."
"For a price."
"The Tau'ri do the same. Your assistance may be given without expectation of monetary rewards, but you exact your toll just the same. You demand loyalty or mining rights or trade. At least with me the deal is clean and quick and I'm on my way."
She shook her head. "I can't promise you immunity. Not from other commanders at least. Show me or tell me where this weapon is and you have my word that – if your information is correct and if I don't find whatever you're doing morally reprehensible, I'll be willing to pretend I didn't see you if our paths cross again," she bargained.
He narrowed his eyes and looked at her for a few seconds. "I agree to your terms, provisionally."
"If you use this weapon to save your planet, I'm going to need a lot more than just one commander's blind eye. I expect to renegotiate our agreement."
"And if it doesn't work, or if this weapon isn't where you say it is, you take your ship and leave and all agreements are off."
He held out his hand. "Deal."
"Deal." Sam took it and shook it. "Now where is this planet?"
Vala looped her arm through Daniel's and leaned into him. "It was so nice of you to take me shopping, darling," she said, completely aware of just how much that tone of voice annoyed him.
"I don't recall having much of a choice," Daniel said, nodding at a pair of tourists that passed them. He and Vala were walking the streets of Manitou Springs, both of them enjoying one of the first warm days of spring.
"Of course you had a choice, you could have said no," she said, swinging her shopping bag. Manitou Springs was one of the main tourist areas in Colorado Springs, and as such, many of the shops had reduced hours during the off season, but enough were open to give her plenty of places to look around and shop.
"And let you out here alone, no," Daniel said. "Besides, General Landry pretty much insisted that I come."
"Yes, and I'm sure your arm is sore from being twisted."
Daniel chuckled but didn't reply. She knew that a lot of his ire was feigned. That was a quirk about him that she enjoyed, tweaking and pushing him just to see how far she could tweak and push before he reacted. He'd usually respond by not reacting, creating a verbal game the two of them played.
"There is a sweet shop that I wish to visit," she said. "It's quite shocking; out of all the delicacies in the universe, Earth is the only planet that has chocolate."
"Probably because the you know who never got around to terraforming the cocoa plant."
She started to respond then stopped, a low rumbling sound filtering into her awareness. It grew louder and louder and she felt it vibrate through her chest. She looked down the street and stared in amazement as she watched a wave roll down the street.
It rumbled past them and under their feet and Vala staggered into Daniel, clutching at him to keep her balance. "Daniel. I was not aware that Colorado experienced….what do you call them?"
"Earthquakes. And we don't." He grabbed her arm. "Come on, we need to get back to the SGC." He pulled her down the street, bypassing shocked and scared shoppers.
Hank Landry flashed his ID and hurried through the checkpoints. Even a distance from the highway and city, he could still hear the sirens of the various emergency responders. He didn't think that Colorado Springs could have suffered much damage, but he also knew that, when confronted with the unfamiliar, people panicked.
"Not just people," he muttered as he walked into the first tunnel and saw the large blast doors of NORAD halfway closed.
He walked through the narrow opening and made his way past the armed guard to the elevators. They were definitely on heightened security status. Then again, he would be surprised if they weren't. He could only imagine the chaos closer to the epicenter.
He rode the elevator down to Level 27 and made his way to his office. Chatter greeted him in the hall and he stepped into the briefing room. The large wooden table was now covered with multiple work stations and at least a dozen people moved around the room. Sergeant Siler stood in the center of the room, quietly giving orders as the tech scrambled to assemble the command center.
"Status, sergeant," he said.
"We're up and running, sir," he reported. "The techs are just setting up the last few terminals. The President is going to be calling in shortly."
"How bad is it?" Hank asked, shrugging off his jacket.
"Massive earthquake at the New Madrid fault in Missouri. It's far too early for official estimates but the news stations are guessing it's and 8 to 9 on the Richter scale," he reported.
Hank looked at the series of computer screens. Each of them were set to a different news channel and the fact that every single one of them was reporting something different testified to the magnitude of the damage.
"We have confirmed damage as far north as Chicago and east as Maryland. St. Louis and Memphis seem to be the hardest hit. They don't just have damage, they have destruction," Siler continued. "The President's ordered a recall of all personnel."
"Get me in contact with the ships in orbit. We'll need transponder codes of any personnel to be recalled and we'll use the ships' beaming technology to speed that up," he ordered.
"Yes, sir. What do you think will happen next?" As if on cue, the red phone rang, its ringer audible even over the chaos of the room.
"I think we're about to find out," Hank answered.
Cameron clambered up the pile of rubble, the faint moonlight augmented by flickering fires and frantically shifting flashlight beams. People yelled and shouted, some crying for help, others barking orders. Around him, dust and smoke clouded the air, lending an almost surreal glow to the scene. Colored strobes flashed as Fire and Police tried to aid the stricken.
The city of Auburn was in ruins. Every one of its century old sandstone buildings had collapsed in the quake and were now nothing more than a pile of rocks and mortar. Ruptured gas and water lines spewed their contents into the air, the mud and stench only adding to the chaos.
"Is anyone in here?" Cameron shouted, straining his ears for any reply. He didn't think that anyone would be inside. For better or worse, the quake struck late in the evening, meaning that most government buildings or shops were empty.
Cameron followed the cry and scrambled over to another pile of rubble, kneeling beside his friend Chuck. "Marty's under here," he said.
"Marty!" Cameron shouted.
The two of them pulled the stones off the pile, tossing them to the side. "What the hell is he doing in the library at this time of night?" Cameron asked.
"He's been sleeping here," Chuck said. "Bank foreclosed last month."
The two of them continued to dig, barely noticing as others joined them. Probably doing just as Cameron had. He had been at his parents' house when the quake struck. And, as soon as he'd ascertained that they were unharmed, had made his way into town knowing that others would need help.
"Where did he sleep?" Cameron asked, struggling to pick out a floor plan from the pile of rubble.
"Back room," Chuck said.
They moved towards the back part of the library and continued their digging. Around him, Cameron saw others doing the same, digging and searching for survivors.
"Stop!" Cameron shouted, holding up his hand. "Is anyone there?"
"Help!" He heard the cry filtering up through the rubble.
"We're coming Marty!" Chuck yelled.
They redoubled their efforts and struggled to free the man. Cameron tossed aside a rock and something pale flashed in the dim light. It moved and he reached down, grasping the man's hand. "HERE!" Marty grabbed his hand in a death grip and Cameron was forced to kneel awkwardly while the others removed enough of the rocks to free Marty.
Once he was free, other hands reached past Cameron, grabbing Marty and pulling him out of the rubble. Cameron fell backwards, only the support of others keeping him from totally falling over. Marty refused to let go of his hand and so the two of them were half led and half carried off the rubble of the library and into the street.
Through the buzz of adrenaline and exertion, Cameron barely perceived sparse applause as an EMT rushed forward. Grateful for the distraction, he pulled his hand from Marty's and stepped back, looking up to take stock. It just couldn't be real. Not his home. Not Kansas. Not an earthquake. They didn't have earthquakes. They didn't have hurricanes. They didn't have volcanoes. Thunderstorms, twisters, the occasional blizzard. This didn't happen. It couldn't be happening. It just couldn't.
He looked at the wreckage of his home town. Crumbled buildings, indistinguishable streets, trees tilting drunkenly. Phone poles and power poles lying on the ground, their wires serving as snares for the unsuspecting.
Years. It would take years to fix this. And some of it never would be fixed. He'd seen it before. Towns struck by disaster that never quite rebuilt. Once thriving towns filled with vacant lots and abandoned properties. Whole neighborhoods of New Orleans were still empty almost a decade later. Whole streets of Greensburg, once full of houses, now only had one or two houses and the rest a vacant lot or empty foundation.
It was gone. The corner store where he used to buy candy with his allowance. The toy store where he got his first toy plane. The destruction was overwhelming and he felt a sensation akin to panic building in his chest. It was…it was…a brilliant flash of light flashed before his eyes and he blinked, frowning when a demolished city was replaced by slate gray walls.
Cameron blinked and shook his head, following the voice. "Colonel Ellis. What the hell?"
"Glad to see you're alive, colonel," Ellis said, motioning for Cameron to get off the transporter pad. "How bad are things down there?"
"We lost the silo and some out buildings but the house seems okay. The town, however, I pretty much toast. What happened?"
"The New Madrid cut loose. I think everywhere where from Colorado to the east coast felt something. Damage reports are still coming in but St Louis and Memphis are pretty much flattened. Other cities have suffered significant damage. The only thing that might keep the death toll down is that some people fled the cities during the little quakes a few weeks ago."
"Significant damage is an understatement," Cameron said. "Auburn's gone. Any building down there that's made of stone likely collapsed."
Ellis nodded. "Yeah, we know. The President is still deciding what to do, but General O'Neill's feelings are that SGC resources will be used for disaster relief. I'm to get you down to Area 51 where you're going to take command of the 302's. I think the plan is to use them to gather information and help coordinate relief efforts."
He stopped by a door that Cameron saw led to personal quarters. "I'll have the quartermaster bring you some clothes. Get cleaned up and something to eat. We have about three dozen other personnel to recall, then we'll be ferrying you guys to Area 51 or the SGC." He left and Cameron stepped into the quarters, torn between his abandoned duty to his home town and his upcoming duty to his planet.
Major Marks knocked on Sam's door and entered at her command. "We're approaching orbit of the new planet, ma'am," he said. Last night she had abruptly changed her mind, abandoning the previous 'efficient' search pattern and jumping hundreds of light years away to this planet.
"Good." She seemed distracted and he studied her close, frowning when he realized that she was wearing a jacket, and unless he was seeing things, he could detect the distinct bulge of her sidearm.
"Is there something I should know about?" he asked.
"Well, with all due respect, Colonel, you've barely left your quarters in the past two weeks and now it looks like you're getting ready to go anywhere but the bridge," he said. He was well aware that he was skirting protocol, but after knowing her for years – both before and after she got command of the Hammond – he felt that he could, in private at least. And she'd told him once that a good XO wasn't afraid to question.
"Observant," she quipped. She sighed. "I am going on a bit of a…field trip while you and the ship finish the survey."
He nodded. "And I'm sure this has something to do with why Cosgrove is readying his teltac. With all due respect, ma'am, you're not going off with him alone are you?"
Instead of being offended, she smiled tightly. "I think I can take care of myself, Major."
"I'm sure you can, ma'am. But Cosgrove doesn't exactly strike me as the trustworthy type. Why don't I go with you?"
She shook her head. "No. Thank you for offering but…I'm depending on you to get the survey done and take care of this ship." She looked at her watch. "You should be done by 1600 and we should be back long before then. If we're not, then you are to get this ship and her crew safely home."
"And now you are starting to seriously freak me out," he said.
"Major, what I'm about to do, what I have been doing is pretty much off the books. I'll risk my career, but I'm not willing to risk yours, or anyone else's," she said.
"Like my career will be worth a plug nickel if you go off with this Cosgrove guy and don't come back."
"Your career will be worth less than that if you're involved in this and it doesn't work out," she said. "Six hours, Major. If all goes well, we'll be back in six hours. If it doesn't, you're in command."
Theodore landed his ship, not failing to notice that Colonel Carter was paying close attention to just where they were and what he was doing. "Something tells me that this is not your first time in a teltac," he said.
"If the stuff at this stronghold is so good, how do you know this weapon of yours is still here?" she asked, deliberately avoiding his question.
"In the days after the Goa'uld fell, there were a lot of people scavenging." He sighed. "A lot of stupid slaves looking for anything that would get them a quick profit and a fresh start somewhere. Precious metals, jewels, fine fabrics, they were all taken. But other riches, they were less obvious and harder to dispose of."
"A weapon's no good if you don't have a ship to attach it to," she said as he finished powering down the ship.
"Precisely. Or have any knowledge of whom to sell it to." He got up. "Shall we?"
She got to her feet and followed him as he left his teltac, securing the door behind him. Even though his sensors had shown that there were no life signs, he did not want to take any risks. Exercising caution was one reason he was still alive.
He handed her a light source as they entered the fortress. Neither of them spoke as they navigated the abandoned corridors. As he had mentioned, the place had been ransacked. Debris cluttered the corners and lurked in the heavy shadows. The walls were made of a dark stone and most of the sconces were gone, the presence marked by dangling wires.
The shaky beams of their light sources only added to the unnerving atmosphere as the penetrated deeper and deeper into the fortress.
"What the hell?" she muttered as her beam settled on an ominous bundle of clothing.
"Some Goa'uld did not care for the idea of their slaves leaving them," he said, not shocked by the corpse. "Or perhaps someone else wanted to relieve him of his scavenged burden."
"Lovely," she said.
"Fortunately, we don't need to go much deeper. According to my information, it's in a laboratory just down the corridor," he said.
"Your information," Carter asked. She reached out and grabbed his arm, turning him to face her. "I thought you knew the weapon was here."
"Yes. That is what I said. Not every slave met the fate of that poor fellow back there. Many of them were able to find a way off this planet. Which was not easy, I can tell you. There is no Stargate here. And Ba'al was not in the habit of leaving his ships behind. The survivors that gained their escape usually gained it by guiding the scavengers, or bribing the scavengers to take them with them. It was one of those slaves that told me of this weapon," he said.
She sighed and he thought she was annoyed. "Let's just find it," she said.
"As the colonel wishes," he said.
He led her to the unmarked laboratory and tried the door, relieved to find it still secured. He drew a small cutter out of his pocket. He used it on the door, slicing through the metal around the lock. He pushed the door open and she followed him into the dark room.
"This is promising," he said as his light revealed nothing but an organized and orderly room.
"Let's get it and get out of here," she said. They split up and both searched. Some of the cabinets were open and unsecured, others were locked. Teddy used his cutter to get into them. Some of the devices he recognized, others he did not. "You do know what this looks like, don't you?" she asked.
"Of course I do," he said, deliberately not looking at her. Obviously, he'd never seen this weapon, but it had been described to him.
She pulled open drawers and cabinets and removed items, examining some before she replaced them. "You lied to me, didn't you?" she accused.
"I did not lie," he said, turning to face her.
"Then why are we wasting time searching for something that you've never seen before."
"Because you're desperate enough to want it," he said. An item on a shelf caught his attention and he moved over to it, picking it up. It was a large array of crystals, arranged in a way to focus a beam. It was bulky and heavy and he struggled a bit to hold it steady. She shined her light on it and the crystals reflected the light, refracting it into small rainbows on the bleak walls of the lab. "And I am apparently desperate enough to find it."
"Are you sure this is it?" she asked, moving closer.
"Positive," he said.
She looked at her watch. "Then let's go. We definitely do not want to be late."
Four and a half hours after they left, Cosgrove set his ship down in the landing bay of the Hammond. "I need to check in with my crew," Sam said, almost jumping out of her seat.
"I may know the location of a power source," Teddy said, glancing at her as he continued the shutdown procedures of his ship.
"We have power sources," she said. "I'm just trying to figure out which of my existing weapons I can dismantle and replace with this one," she said. "Human and Goa'uld devices are remarkably interchangeable. You just have to have the right power converters and couplings."
As she talked, her mind ran through all the tricks and quirks she'd learned over the years. She'd never tried to totally incorporate a Goa'uld weapon into an Earth vessel. It had been challenging enough just to merge Asgard and Human technology, and she'd had Thor's help for much of it. She was facing this task pretty much on her own, and without the benefit of a dry dock.
The door opened and she picked up the weapon, shifting it a bit until she had the heavy device in her arms and then walked out. Major Marks walked towards her, a piece of paper in his hands. "Ma'am," he greeted. "I take it your field trip was a success."
"So far," she said. "Now I just need to figure out how to get this integrated into the Hammond's systems."
He nodded. "We got a data burst while you were gone," he said. "I took the liberty of reading it—"
"That's fine," she said. "What's it say?"
"We're to proceed best speed back to Earth. Immediately upon arrival, we're to assist with evacuations," he reported.
"They can't have found enough planets already," she said, shifting the device so she could take the paper from him. He exchanged her, the orders for the device.
"It's not that, Colonel. The Midwest got hit, bad. So bad that the roads are nearly impassible, there's countless bridges down or unsafe, no electricity, no communications. They want us and our transporters to help with the relief efforts."
"Oh my god," she said, reading between the lines of her orders.
"We're ready to depart as soon as you order it," he said. "Even at best speed; it'll take us almost three days to make it back."
She nodded. "Let me find out if Cosgrove is ready to leave or not. We'll get underway as soon as possible. Talk to Taylor, see if there's any way he can tweak the engines or find us ways to shave off a few hours."
He turned to leave, and then turned back, returning to her the weapon component. Sam took it and he hurried out of the landing bay. Three days, she had three days to make it work. "More time than I used to get," she muttered as Teddy stepped out of his ship.
Daniel walked into the lecture hall, the SF's checking identification just another confirmation that Vala's rumor had merit.
"When will you accept that I'm right?" she asked, tugging at his arm.
"Oh, I'm sure you're right," he said, glancing at her. "I'm just dreading all the gloating that's to come."
"Darling, is there any other reason for the general to call a mandatory briefing?" she asked. "One so important that every off world team was recalled and all ship and base commanders AND their crews."
"Vala, the SGC going public has been very much a 'when' not an 'if' for about ten years now." Daniel scanned the room, surprised to not only see current but retired SGC personnel too. "Not to mention all the stuff that's been happening lately."
"I don't even know most these people," Cameron Mitchell said, joining them. "Did I miss some recruiting drive?"
"Hey, how are you?" Daniel asked. He hadn't seen his former teammate since the Midwest earthquake.
"Okay, tired," Cameron said. Daniel could see the truth in his words. The man had dark bags under his eyes and his normally ebullient attitude was distinctly muted.
"You've been flying aerial reconnaissance, haven't you?" Vala asked.
Cameron nodded. "Finding and identifying survivors." He looked at Daniel. "It's one hell of a mess."
Daniel nodded and turned his attention back to the room. "It looks like 'all hands on deck'," Daniel said. "A bunch of these people retired or transferred out years ago."
"Real blast from the past, huh?" Cameron clapped Daniel on the shoulder.
"For better or worse," Daniel replied. "I just hope it wasn't a total call back." He looked at Cam and Vala. "Some people were transferred out for good reasons."
"Oh look, even General Fox is here," Vala enthused.
Daniel followed her gaze and sighed. 'Don't let him hear you call him that," he warned. "Jack's already pretty damn insufferable."
He walked away, counting on Cameron to keep Vala under control. Daniel navigated the growing crowd and made his way over to his old friend. Jack stood uncomfortably in the back of the room, Landry's presence and Jack's dress uniform enough to keep all the newbies away.
"Daniel," Jack smiled.
"Hey, are you our mystery speaker?" Daniel asked. He nodded at Landry.
"You telling me you haven't already figured it all out?"
"I have an idea. Vala's running a pool. I think the current odds on full disclosure are 20:1."
"Damn, shoulda got a piece of that," Landry said.
"Full disclosure," Jack said, pitching his voice low. "We've already been using the ships to recall personnel; we're going to use them to help the civilian population as well."
"Wow," Daniel said. "What about the gate?"
"That rabbit is staying under the hat, for a while at least," Landry said.
"The last thing we need is a panicked rush on the SGC," Jack said.
"So, spaceships yes, stargates no," Daniel said.
Jack nodded. "What you're going to be briefed on today is what you can and cannot say when the inevitable press vultures find out who you are."
"Wow," Daniel said, kinda of at a loss how else to respond.
"For the time being, Miss Mal Doran is going to be confined to base. Doctor Jackson, I would appreciate it if you insured that she made it back there," Landry said.
"Of course," Daniel agreed.
Walter appeared and Landry nodded. "If you're ready, sir," he said to Jack.
"Break a leg," Daniel said, ignoring Jack's baleful glare as he made his way to the podium.
Later that day, Jack stood to the side of the stage, feeling more like he was in front of a firing squad than a room full of reporters. As the President spoke, flashbulbs fired and Jack fervently wished he had his shades. Hell, if he could wish for anything, it was to not be in the room at all.
Briefing the members of the SGC had been easy, relatively speaking. Jack has absolute faith in his former command or most of them anyway. They were good, dedicated people that would continue to do their jobs. And, he imagined right now that there were a lot of husbands and wives looking at their spouses in a whole new light.
And he know that the conspiracy theorists were likely going crazy at the moment, digging and searching for any odd event to tie to the SGC. All he could hope was that it'd keep them out his hair for a while.
He barely listened as the President made his speech, revealing the existence of Homeworld Security to the world it was supposed to be securing. Jack didn't really need to pay too much attention. He knew what the President was going to say. He and the Presidents staff had spent the past few hours hammering out just what to say and how much to reveal. Jack knew that this was just the beginning. Right now, people would focus on the miracle of beaming in supplies and rescuers and beaming out the injured. They'd be grateful and wouldn't question too much.
But that wouldn't last.
Suspicion, fear, resentment and the quest for power would come to the fore and that's when the real work would begin. There'd be finger pointing and blame gaming and jealousy inspired fits of anger, most of which would be hidden behind carefully spin doctored 'expressions of concern'.
The SGC itself was playing it safe and was on lockdown and what Jack and the others hoped was that people would be too busy picking up the pieces to waste time and energy bickering over the hows and whys of a classified project.
"I would like to introduce you to the commander of Homeworld Security, Major General Jack O'Neill. General O'Neill can brief all of you on the current plans to assist in the efforts as this country works to recover from Mother Nature's latest challenges."
Jack stepped forward, smiling politely as he shook the President's hand. Jack stood in front of the podium, his eyes scanning the throng of reporters. Faces warred with cameras and microphones as he began his speech.
"We need something to bridge these two," Marks said, holding up a cable that led to the weapon and another that traced back to the power supply.
"I can probably come up with something," Sergeant Taylor said, frowning at the cable. "Although it may need to be a converter to a converter to the power supply."
"That won't work," Sam said. "To have enough power to give us the beam we need to cut through solid rock, I'm already bridging two naqahdah reactors through a capacitor. Anything we use needs to handle both short term and long term gigawatts."
Despite Sam's best intentions, she found her chief engineer and XO helping her integrate the acquired weapon into the Hammond. Unfortunately, not even the tripled manpower had her any closer to success than she'd been two days ago. Their failure was evidenced in how the three of them had spread out across part of the landing bay, surrounded by laptop computers and discarded cords and wires.
Taylor sighed. "Maybe I should just work on getting the emitter end outside our hull," he said. "Without risking structural integrity and breaching it."
"What about one of the 302's? We don't have to spacewalk for those," Marks suggested.
Sam shook her head. "By the time we put two generators in there won't be room for a pilot. And we do not have time to rig a remote control."
"At least we won't be using this under fire," Marks said. "At least right now. I haven't even seen it fire yet so I can't modulate the shields to let the beam through."
"This is what sucks about scavenging stuff...no offense ma'am," he said quickly to Sam. "This is like trying to hook my uncle's eight track into my iPod."
"More the other way around, technology speaking," Sam said. "I get your point but, Sergeant; I've been interfacing goa'uld and Ancient technology with our tech for years."
"Yes, ma'am, you have. But unless there's a mission I don't know about it was never anything this powerful, or in a vacuum."
Sam briefly considered thinking to see if he was right and then dismissed the thought. Didn't matter if he was right or wrong. What mattered was getting the weapon up and running before they made it home. The more she thought about her plan, the more she felt that she was right. But she also knew that once she got back to Earth, she wouldn't be able to stray from her orders. And there would be nothing in there about test firing a new weapon.
"It's too bad we don't have a Goa'uld ship," Marks said. Sam and Taylor looked at him. "Well, think about it. Most of our problem is trying to interface human and Goa'uld tech. If we had a Goa'uld ship, all we'd need to do is figure out how to mount it."
Sam merely stared at her two officers, smiling as she waited for them to catch up.
Cameron few his 302 over the landscape, grateful that it was going by so fast that he really couldn't focus on it. From this distance and at this speed, it looked almost normal. He couldn't see the crumpled buildings or the scars left by sand blows and the massive firestorms fueled by broken natural gas lines.
He couldn't really see the flooding caused by fallen bridge spans clogging waterways with debris. He couldn't really tell that roads, from the biggest interstates to the smallest county roads, were largely impassible.
He considered himself lucky that he was on aerial recon. The alternative was to be on the ground, going building to building, hoping to find the living but mostly just recovering the dead. Or, in some cases, marking where the dead were. He'd heard rumors of mass funeral pyres – the ground was too unsteady to bury the dead and there weren't enough coffins anyway. He tried not to think about it too much. He found it was easier if you didn't let yourself get bogged down in needless details. His assignment was aerial recon, find and log the location of survivors. Answer any SOS calls and generally be the eyes and ears for the SGC and their so called relief effort.
"We have a convoy," Adam, his backseat, said. Cameron looked out the window and slowed down, taking another pass before reporting in. "This is Angel Flight Three, I have a caravan of approximately thirty vehicles heading west on I-50." He heard Adam log in the precise coordinates and estimation of the numbers.
"They'll never make it across the Missouri river," Adam said.
"I don't think they're thinking that far ahead," Cam said. "They just want to get out of the city."
"Why? That's where all the help is right now. Out in the country you're on your own."
"And every single one of those demolished buildings is full of bodies. The water's contaminated, food is limited, there's thousands of places to hide, cities are Mad Max right now," Cam said. "They're the last place you wanna be."
"I guess, sir," Adam said.
"We can't save them all," Cam said. "And the way things are looking they're just running from the frying pan into the fire."
"Sir, we have new orders coming in," Adam said. "They want us to go west."
"Define west," Cam said, turning his bird around.
"Evidentially they're picking up some rumblings on the San Andreas fault. They want us and our sensors to check it out."
"California here we come," Cam said, kicking in the after burners. Even at Mach 3, it'd still take him the better part of an hour to get there.
Jack walked into the subterranean situation room having a moment of déjà vu as he heard Colonel Reynolds's voice. Even through the distortion of the TV, he could pick out the restrained patience of an officer tolerating the press.
Jack spied Hayes and the President waved him over. 'He seems to be handling himself well," Henry said, motioning towards the TV.
"He was my XO for a year," Jack said. "Not to mention all the fun and games of the SGC. He's got a good head on his shoulders."
Reynolds was, what Hayes termed, the 'face of the SGC'. The officer asked, coerced into being the main press liaison between the facility and the press.
The situation room was what would easily be termed a hive of activity. Easily two dozen personnel manned stations around the room, each of them with a computer monitor in front of them. Jack could see video feeds and maps from all over the US and the world. In a lot of cases, the footage was sadly similar, people being rescued, shrouded corpses being taken out of the rubble, endless lines of refugees shuffling their way through food lines.
"What's the latest info on the ships?" Hayes asked as other members of the team took their seats.
"The Sun Tsu and Odyssey are working in the Midwest. The Hammond should be in later today and the Daedalus tomorrow," he reported.
"I want them on the west coast," Hayes said.
Hayes motioned to a man seated at his left. "Doctor Frankle of the USGS. He'll explain it all."
The man waved an insecure hello. "We've aah; we've been getting various rumblings from the San Andreas Fault."
"Define rumblings," Jack said.
"Micro quakes, several hundred feet down." The man's anxiety faded as he settled into lecture mode. "They may be nothing. It could simply be a response to the other seismic events. I doubt any of you remember, but a few decades ago, after a California quake, Old Faithful stopped erupting for several weeks. This could be a similar situation."
"The San Andreas rumbling because of New Madrid?" Hayes asked.
"Maybe," Frankle said. "Honestly, Mister President, so much of what I do is educated guess work. I wish I could tell you more."
Hayes nodded. "I've asked for a flight of your 302's to go to California and see if their sensors can gather any data that might help Doctor Frankle and his people get an idea what's going on." He sighed.
"Although, as Jack can tell you, the infrastructure's such a mess due to the tsunami I don't even know if we can warn survivors what might be coming."
"We're bound to scare the crap out of people, but we can start beaming them out," Jack said.
"We may need to do that," Hayes said.
Frankle's phone beeped and he pulled it out of his pocket, ignoring everyone else as he manipulated the screen. "Doctor?" Hayes asked.
"Umm, sir, we may be in trouble," the man said, his eyes darting from his phone to the President.
"I thought we already were," Jack said.
"More." Frankle got out of his chair and went over to one of the techs. Henry looked to Jack who shrugged then the two of them got up and joined Frankle. "The San Andreas just had a 6.2 earthquake," he said.
"So maybe that was it," Henry said. "6.2 isn't horrible."
"No, sir, it's not. Unless this is just a precursor and there's a bigger one coming."
Cameron flew his 302 as slow as the bird could fly. It made him edgy to skirt this close to stall speed, an edginess that was only exacerbated by the fact that they were just a thousand feet above the ground. If something went wrong, he figured that he had about two nanoseconds to respond.
"You remember what I said about being bored," Adam said. "You can forget that, sir. Reconning for survivors is the bee's knees compared to this."
"Do bees even have knees," Cam said, keeping his eyes on the horizon.
Northern California sped by below his ship, the manicured fields and forests nothing but a blur of color. "According to my grandma they did," Adam answered. "Sensor data is still coming through," he reported, setting the kidding aside.
Cam nodded. "We should finish our run in a couple of minutes," he said. "If we're lucky, they won't expect us to make another one."
"I just hope they don't expect us to stay up here just in case another earthquake happens," Adam said.
"Can you imagine flying back and forth for days?"
"Unfortunately, I can," Cam said. "And I hope like hell no one gets that idea."
"If only this thing had an autopilot then it….we have an inbound bogie," Adam said, his voice going from random chatter to restrained excitement in an instant.
"What do you mean inbound bogie?" Cam asked. "It's probably just an airliner."
"No, sir. This came from space and it is not one of our ships. It's way too small."
"What's SATCOM say?"
Adam paused a moment, listening. "They would greatly appreciate it if we'd take a look," he said.
"Roger that," Cameron said. He kicked in the afterburners and felt the 302 rocket from their way too slow speed to Mach 3 in just a few seconds. "Where is it?"
"Five hundred miles. I'm feeding you the coordinates now. It seems to be hovering, but it's not over a major city or anything."
"Let's hope it stays that way." Cameron didn't quite know what to think. He didn't feel that it was any sort of invasion. There weren't very many planets out there with space capability, and none of them were really pissed off at Earth at the moment. It was probably some piece of space junk or some mistake on the radar or—
"I'm reading a teltac, sir," Adam said.
"Teltac? Are you sure?"
"What the hell is a teltac—"
"Sir, it's firing!"
"I'm reading some sort of an energy signature from the ship. It has to be a weapon."
"What's out there for it to fire at?"
"Mt. St. Helens? That's all that's out there. And things just got more interesting. Seismographs are registering another quake."
"You have got to be kidding me."
"We're coming up on the teltac, sir."
"Open a frequency. Let's see if they want to talk."
"Unidentified teltac, this Angel Flight Three. Who are you and what are you doing here?"
"Cameron, is that you?"
"Sam?" Cam frowned, recognizing the voice of his ex-teammate. "What the hell are you doing on a teltac and why are you shooting the mountain?" He was close enough now to see the teltac and to also see the brilliant orange beam emanating from the bottom of the small ship. He wasn't quite sure but it looked like she was shooting the mountain.
"It's a very long story, Cam, but I need to do this."
"Sam, what are you talking about?"
"Stopping the earthquakes."
Cameron flew in a circle around her ship and watched as the beam tore through the rocks of the mountain. "How is shooting a mountain going to stop the earthquakes?"
"It's not a mountain, it's a volcano. If I can just get it to erupt, it should stop the earthquake," she said.
"No one told me anything about a mission to stop the quakes," Cam said.
"Sir, I'm getting word from SATCOM. That ship is not supposed to be there. Our orders are to stop it," Adam said.
Cameron toggled the radio. "Sam, how come SATCOM doesn't know anything about your little mission?"
"I just need a couple more minutes, Cameron."
"Sam, my orders are to stop you."
He heard her sigh over the radio. "Cam, I swear to you, this is going to work. You just need to let me finish."
"Sam, the last time this baby blew it took half of Oregon with it."
"That was an explosive eruption. This won't be. If we release the pressure from the magma, it should stop what's happening in California."
Cam toggled his radio. "Adam?"
"It's still shaking, sir. It's….it's not a big quake, but a lot of smaller ones. They're talking literal falling off into the ocean stuff." Cam could hear some of the radio chatter, a cacophony of panicked voices and cries for help. It was Armageddon.
"I'm not stopping her," Cam said.
"I think it's too late anyway."
Sam's yell barely registered before Cameron's instincts kicked in. He yanked the yoke of his fighter, pulling it away from a large fountain of lava streaming out of Mt. St. Helens. In direct reversal of footage he saw as a kid, fiery red molten rock bubbled and spilled out of the mountain. It poured out the low side of the crater and into the valley below.
Cameron looped back, staring for a moment before he took up station beside the teltac. "Sam, there are still people down there."
"I checked. Everything is evacuated other than the USGS station. We can stop and pick them up."
"Sir, it stopped," Adam said.
"The quakes, they just stopped."
"The quakes, they just stopped."
Sam leaned back in the control chair and couldn't quite come up with a good reply to Cam's RIO. It worked? Had it honestly, actually worked?
"How did you know that would work?" Cameron asked.
"I aah…Cam, I should get those USGS guys out of harm's way." She manipulated the controls to set the teltac down.
"Copy that," Cameron answered. "Hey, you need bail money, gimme a call." He pulled away and peeled off.
"Funny, Mitchell, funny," she replied, closing the channel. "Cept they don't let you bail out of the brig," she muttered. She shook her head and pushed the thought out of her mind. It wasn't like she could change things anyway.
Three hours later she stood in front of a desk, unable to deny the anxiety that churned her stomach. This was definitely the downside to going off the reservation…paying the piper.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" Jack was angry, angrier than she'd seen him in a while. As evidenced when he broke out his 'lecture the recruit' voice. "Do you have any idea the panic you caused just showing up like that? We were this close to going to DEFCON2." He held his hand up, his fingers pinched together.
She didn't respond, knowing enough to let him get it out of his system. They were both at Nellis Air Force base; it being the closest secure facility that they felt was reasonably out of danger from the quakes and volcanoes.
So far, it looked like her plan had worked. The San Andreas Fault seemed to be either quiet or shifting so slightly that the quakes barely registered and Mt. St. Helens was calmly pouring rocky lava out of its crater, making mile after mile of new land.
Sam's teltac was parked in a secure hanger, right where Sam had been ordered to take it as soon as she dropped off two very bemused and shocked geologists.
"Mitchell almost shot your ass out of the sky," he continued.
"He never even armed his weapons," she said, keeping her voice even.
"And that was damned negligent of him! His job is to follow orders."
She frowned. "So you wanted him to blow me out of the sky?"
"If you had taken just a few seconds to tell us what you were doing, he wouldn't have had to make that choice," Jack said, glaring at her.
Sam nodded. "Right. People were dying by the minute in California. Buildings were crumbling and bridges were falling down and that volcano just happened to be getting ready to erupt, but by god I needed to call you up and ask permission so you and the rest of the stuffed shirts could convene a meeting to discuss options," she ranted. "Something needed to be done so I did it."
"What you should have been doing, COLONEL, was your job."
"I did!" she said, moving to be toe to toe with him. "We did our surveys, we found our planets, we came back here and the Hammond was exactly where it was supposed to be."
"Without its commanding officer. For crying out loud, you ran off in a teltac with this Cosgrove person. What would have happened had you not been able to get back?" he asked.
"Major Marks knew if I didn't make it back within a certain time frame, he was to take the Hammond and come back to Earth," she said. "There were at least a dozen planets within range of that teltac that had a gate. Making it back home or to the Beta site wasn't an issue."
"Presuming you got control of the teltac."
"Presuming that," she agreed. Of course he had to find the one weak spot in her plan. "I wasn't too worried," she said.
"Oh, you weren't?"
"At no point in time was my crew in danger."
"No, you just roped them in on helping you defy orders," he accused.
"I did not rope them in. In fact I did everything I could to keep them out of it. Hell, if you want to believe the scuttle butt, half of them think I was on a top secret mission all along. The stories have been kinda fun to listen to."
He stepped back and spun away, looking out the office's small window. The sun had set and the last bit of light painted the desert a dark purple. "Do you have any idea what it looks like for you to blindside me with something like this?" he asked.
"Probably what it looked like for General Hammond when we hijacked the gate and stowed away on Apophis' ship. Or when you snuck Merrin off the base. Or when Daniel told Catherine about Earnest or that night when the Tollan 'got away' or when you and Maybourne got the dirt on Kinsey or –"
"Stop," he said. He turned back. "I had a damn good reason for every one of those situations."
"And I had a damn good reason for doing this. I knew my plan would work. Every bit of research from Thrangvold said so. But I knew you couldn't get me permission to do it. If I had proof, maybe they'd listen but they wouldn't let me experiment to get the proof. So when we came into orbit and the sensors picked up the faintest beginnings of an earthquake, I took the teltac and decided to make proof."
"And if it hadn't worked or if you'd made things worse?" he challenged.
"The way things were playing out the only way we'd have gotten 'worse' would have been if we did nothing. People were dying. And I couldn't just stand by and watch it happen while you guys worked out whether you'd meet around a square or round table and what was for lunch!"
He stared at her for a few seconds. "Why didn't you tell me? I would have found a way," he said, his voice calmer.
She shook her head. "If I'd told you and it didn't work, the Joint Chiefs would have been asking for your resignation right about now."
"Protecting my career isn't your job."
"Just like protecting Hammond's wasn't yours," she shot back.
"You should have brought me into the loop," he insisted. He pushed his fingers through his hair. "I look like the husband that can't control his wife,"
She stopped for a second, taken aback by his words. "You don't 'control' me," she said. "And this is pretty damn rich coming from the man whose motto was 'action first, permission later." He glared at her and she sighed. "Presuming, sir, that I still have command of my ship, I'm gonna go back up there. You can let me know what you decide." She turned to leave and turned back. "By the way, I kinda promised Cosgrove ten pounds of trinium for his teltac. That or five pounds for the weapon and he gets his ship back. Let me know if you'll sign off on the requisition or if I need to go and find a mining planet to pay him off."
She left the room and made her way to the teltac, using its radio to call the Hammond for beam up. She didn't regret anything she'd done today…she just hoped she could live with the fallout.
Jack walked down the halls of the SGC, unable to deny the sense of belonging and 'home' that washed over him.
It seemed odd that he'd feel that way about a military base with its sterile concrete walls and institutional flooring. All in all, it was a rather unremarkable warren of grey walls and barren rooms. But the place had been a safe haven too many times over too many years for him to feel differently. Mission after mission, this place had been a refuge. Getting here meant getting home, it meant safety.
He stepped into the control room, motioning the personnel to ignore him as he remained in the back of the room and out of the way.
Down below the gate was open and the shimmering blue light of the wormhole reflected off every surface. Sam was on the ramp and he could only guess that it was Cosgrove that she was escorting through the gate based on the heavy bag the man was carrying. Jack watched her exchange a few courtesies and then say her farewells. Cosgrove crossed the event horizon and the wormhole snapped shut. She walked back down the ramp and Jack indulged himself in simply watching her. He didn't get to do this too often, just watch his wife. When she was unguarded, when she wasn't being Sam, wasn't being his subordinate, just being an officer and person.
She chatted for a moment with the gateroom guards and then Jack saw her look up into the control room and her expression changed. The smile faltered for a second and he saw her take a breath and then smile again. She walked out into the hallway and he knew that she wasn't going to come into the control room. He followed her out into the hall, well aware that he needed to handle things very carefully. She wasn't just his second in command anymore, she was a leader and officer in her own right and she didn't deserve to be at the wrong end of any rumors. "Colonel."
She paused for a second and he knew she was contemplating ignoring him. She finally turned and he recognized the look on her face. It was the one she wore when she was merely tolerating someone.
"Can I have a moment of your time?" he asked.
"Of course, General." She stood at parade rest, her attitude screaming 'go away' even as her words followed expected protocol. Jack sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was talk to her in a busy hallway.
"Here," he said, opening a nearby door and pushing her through it.
"Wow, a supply closet, this is cozy," she said, stepping away to turn and face him.
"Sam, would you just—"
"Can we talk?"
She shook her head and grinned with irony. "Talk?"
"I was out of line," he said, his calm admission catching her off guard and she frowned at him. "That whole control you stuff, that was bullshit. It was more my bruised ego than anything else," he confessed.
He saw her relax a bit as she processed his words. "Still doesn't mean that you shouldn't have brought me in," he said. "One little note in the data burst. One little 'I got a plan'. At least then, when you started your drilling operation, I could have honestly told the President 'must be Carter's plan. She didn't have time to fill me in'."
"Point taken," she said. "To be honest, I just got so caught up in trying to make the weapon fit the teltac…
"You did that whole tunnel vision thing, didn't ya?"
"Maybe a bit," she said. She sighed. "I never realized how hard it is."
"Knowing your superiors are idiots and you can do a damn thing about it." Jack raised his eyebrows.
"You know what I mean."
He nodded. "I don't think I ever fully understood how hard it was for George to just sit there, in that big red chair of his, and just wait…and wait and wait and wait and wait." He threw his hands in the air. "I don't know how he did it."
"That's probably why he…" she trailed off and gestured towards her head.
"Do not start on the hair." She laughed and he opened his arms. "C'mere." She winningly walked into them and leaned into him.
"It's a hell of a job we have, isn't it?" she asked.
"Ya think," he said. "Did you know you're gonna be earthbound for a while?"
She pulled back. "Really?"
"Your idea, your bird. The teltac flies the missions, Hammond is support. Ain't gonna be easy though because Hayes, and pretty much everyone else, wants there to be at least one geologist involved, preferably people that have experience with the various volcanoes. Lotta red tape, lotta meetings, lotta debate."
"Joy," she groaned.
"There is an upside," he said. "Since the Hammond is going to be the base of operations then it's going to play host to the whole negotiating team, civilian and military."
She looked at him, something in his tone tipping her off. "Anyone I know gonna be on this military team?"
He shrugged. "Maybe. A certain flag officer with fantastic experience and just loads of charm." She started to laugh. "I hear he's a quite handsome man."
"Oh god," she groaned.
"I do think, as befitting his rank and sheer coolness, you should probably let him stay in your quarters."
"Oh, I should, should I?"
"If you know what's good for you," he mock threatened.
"Sounds like I better get him up there as quickly as possible," she said.
Colonel Samantha Carter had witnessed chaos before. She had seen panic and fear, terror and loss.
She knew how people would react. She was familiar with how they grieved. She was no stranger to catastrophe. To destruction on a global scale.
Fountains of fire and belching gasses. Columns of ash reaching towards the heavens and choking out the sun. It was hell on earth…literally.
And it was all her fault.
"It looks kinda pretty," Jack said, joining her at the windows.
"Pretty?" she asked, leaning into him as he wrapped his arms around her middle. "What's pretty about it?"
"Oh, maybe the fact that it's still there."
Below them, the Ring of Fire was living up to its name. It was night over the Pacific Ocean and the darkness only accentuated the fires below. With the last of the magma vents open, Sam was now back on her ship and the Hammond stood in a stationary orbit over the Pacific, monitoring the magma and lava.
"I guess," she said. She just couldn't rally her enthusiasm. Not yet. Not when she'd seen with her own eyes the destruction created by their magma wells. Whole towns no longer existed. In the daytime you could even see the heavy black strokes across the landscape. Thick scars of rock that would mar the surface of the planet for millennia.
"Hey," Jack said, giving her a squeeze. She turned back to the view out the window and Jack leaned over, tucking his chin on her shoulder. "I know you, miss glass-is-half-empty, but I honestly think this will work."
"I hope you're right. I'll just believe it if there's still a livable planet down there in a year."
"Tell ya what," he bargained. "Earth doesn't blow up, we'll get a cat."
She blinked slowly, pulling out of his arms and turning to face him. "You hate cats. And you're the one that keeps on with wanting to get a dog."
"Yeah, but you like cats. So if your plan works, we'll get a cat," he said. "I'll even clean out the litter box."
"You got a deal," she said, reaching out to take his hand. "Now, I can't remember the last time we were alone, with nothing to do for hours and hours." She tugged him towards the bed in the corner of her stateroom. Despite sharing the same cabin, between his meetings and negotiations and her missions with the teltac, they were honestly more like absentee roommates.
"You can't, can you?" he teased, willingly following.
"In fact, it's been so long that I almost can't recall exactly what's supposed to happen," she teased, one hand unzipping her uniform top.
"I think I can probably do something about that," he said, starting to unbutton his own shirt.
"You damn well better," she smiled. "I mean, I've blown up a sun and spent the past couple of months making volcanoes. You never know what I'll get up if I'm not kept properly occupied."
She slipped her jacket off and dangled it from her fingertip before allowing it to fall to the floor.
"Then I guess, for the safety of the planet, I better clear my calendar and keep you out of trouble."