Chapter 3: Deployment
"Say again, SGC?" Jack said. He couldn't have heard that right.
"The Asgard ship Beliskner showed up in orbit and projected a hologram at the foot of the stargate," Hammond said. "A…man calling himself Thor said that he had come to meet with you about a matter of grave importance."
"Me?" Jack asked skeptically.
"You, Colonel. The System Lords are planning to attack Earth."
Teal'c stiffened. "Apophis struck in haste, with much of his fleet engaged in claiming Ra's territory," he said. "If the System Lords have agreed to strike as one, their force will be far greater than his."
"That's what Thor said," Hammond confirmed. "He wants to put Earth in the Protected Planets Treaty, and wants you, Jack, to represent Earth."
"What?" Jack asked, aghast. "He doesn't want me. He wants Daniel."
"No matter who he wants we need you back here," Hammond cut Jack off. "Report."
"Dial-out failed," Jack said. "Carter thinks this gate isn't built to dial out."
The radio was silent for a few moments. "Do we have any way to get you back?"
Chrono stepped up and waved to Jack. Jack nodded to Daniel who handed his radio to the man. "This is Admiral Chrono Harlaown of the Time Space Administration Bureau. We are prepared to offer your people passage on one of our ships, in the interest of further relations."
"Admiral. On behalf of my people, I am grateful for your offer. SG-1, you are authorized to take whatever actions are needed to return home safely."
"Understood," Jack said. "Sir, while we have the Admiral on the line, I suggest you petition for aid against this potential threat."
Another pause. "Admiral, would you be able to assist in the defense of this world?"
Chrono smiled grimly, but of course Hammond couldn't see that. "On my personal authority the Claudia will be ready to deploy tomorrow. We'll be at Earth a day later for a fact finding mission."
"The Asgard don't know when the attack will happen," Hammond said grimly. "A few motherships are already heading in our direction."
Chrono's face hardened and he turned to Nanoha. "Emergency orders," he said to her as much as Hammond. "The Claudia is to be ready to deploy in an hour, flank speeds. I want to be on Earth tonight."
Nanoha snapped a salute, a relieved expression on her face. "With pleasure, sir!"
"…again, thank you," Hammond said. "If I may ask, why…?"
"My mother owns a house in Japan," Chrono said. "I have friends on and from your world."
Another silence. "SG-1, I look forward to your report. Time is short, so it will wait."
"Leave a light on for us, sir," Jack said. "We'll be planetside in…"
"…five hours," Chrono finished. "Assuming normal conditions."
"And if not?" Hammond asked.
Chrono sighed. "Seven hours on the outside." Unless someone blew a hole in the dimensional wall again, then it could take six months. "Or as few as three. Dimensional travel is much like sailing an ocean, but the winds and currents are less predictable."
"Understood. SG-1, anything further to report?"
"Nothing critical, sir," Jack said. "Keep a light on for us."
"Godspeed, Colonel." The stargate cut out a moment later.
Jack turned to Chrono. "So how did we go from days to hours?" he asked curiously.
Chrono's expression was grim. "I'm going to run the generator up to 110% recommended and dump it all in the engines," he said. "The techs will have my hide, but we'll be in position if things go south."
"And combat ready?" Jack asked dubiously. "You might be flying into a war zone."
Chrono nodded. "We'll be able to fire at least one barrage before being forced to retreat. These goa'uld do not have dimensional drive?"
"I have never heard of such a thing," Teal'c rumbled.
"Then we'll be able to retreat easily," Chrono assured, "and can deploy troops from a safe distance."
Jack nodded. "You seem to have thought this out."
"I was an Enforcer," Chrono said. "You think on your feet and think fast, or you die. Now, I have a ship to organize. Verano, get them to the port. Colonel, I want a briefing on what the hell we're jumping into."
Jack nodded. "You'll have it, Admiral."
Chrono nodded and teleported out.
Jack stared. "Okay, that's just cool."
Chrono was true to his word. Within an hour the Claudia's crew had been recalled from shore leave (not without a few grumbles) and the mighty warship was breaking orbit and almost instantly transitioned into dimensional space.
Jack and Teal'c looked out the window at the swirling maelstrom. "That doesn't look like hyperspace," Jack said.
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed.
They looked for a few more moments. "Well, that's a thing," Jack said, turning away.
"Sir, this ship is giving me a headache," Carter reported. "There is enough computer equipment that it should just be a matter of translating alien standards into measurements we know, but some of the sensor feeds they've let me access…is it possible they're sending us faulty data?"
"I doubt it," Daniel said. "Mr. Verano was fairly open about many things. They don't really have a policy to keep scientific knowledge out of our hands."
Sam scowled. "According to this, the laws of physics are having a holiday, complete with singing, dancing, and waking up the next day with a hangover."
"I'm guessing that's bad," Jack said dryly.
"Sir, the only way these readings make sense is if we are surrounded by exotic particles. Which are by their very nature highly energetic, unstable, unpredictable, and uncontrollable."
"An accurate assessment, Captain," Chrono agreed, walking into the room. "But they can be guided, and the ship is shielded from most adverse reactions."
"Most?" Jack asked warily.
"The probability of something we can't handle is about the same as getting struck by lightning," Chrono assured. "The chances of it happening fast enough and close enough that we can't avoid it are an order of magnitude worse."
"So, what, one in a million?" Jack asked.
"Trillion," Chrono corrected.
"Oh. That's okay then," Jack said, mollified.
"we like to think so," Chrono said. "Now, I believe you were about to explain the goa'uld, Asgard, and the Protected Planets Treaty."
Jack turned to his team. "Daniel?"
Daniel launched into an explanation of the history of the goa'uld as best they knew, which started at the time Ra found Earth. "Ra discovered that human bodies were receptive to his technology more than the hosts and slaves the goa'uld used before, which we believe to be called unas, or the 'first ones.' He used the stargate to seed his worlds with slave colonies of humans, and they spread among his brethren as well. Ra was cast off Earth some time later by massive slave rebellions."
"You thought MidChildans are originally descended from slaves stolen from Earth?" Chrono asked curiously.
"We honestly don't know what to think of your world," Daniel confessed. "The artifact we found with your address is contemporary with the stargates, by our estimations. The goa'uld are more recent."
"Ra was a dominant force among his people, but he wasn't a match for their combined might. The galaxy existed in relative stasis and infighting among the goa'uld until, well, until we figured out the stargate."
"You, personally?" Chrono asked.
"Well, Sam led the team that designed the computer that runs the thing," Daniel said.
"And you're the one that figured out what it did and how to dial," Carter countered.
"I'll take that as a yes," Chrono said dryly. "So how did your gate travel disrupt this balance?"
"We met Ra," Jack said lightly. "And then we exchanged gifts. He tried to shoot energy into us, we put a nuke on his ship. Our gift was better."
"Ouch," Chrono observed. "So I'm guessing Ra is…"
"Space dust," Daniel confirmed. "I kept an eye on the dust cloud for a few months. There's nothing left to revive."
"Which changed the balance of power," Chrono guessed.
"Apophis claimed much of Ra's territory and led a small raid through Earth's stargate a year later. That…set off a major chain of events that ended with him leading an attack with two motherships."
"Two more nukes?" Chrono asked.
"They fired a couple missiles." Jack shook his head. "If you can get a bomb on the inside of the ship, they work great. Missiles just hit shields. We took out the ships with C-4."
"What is C-4?" Chrono asked.
Jack opened a pouch on his vest and slid a thin strip of some beige clay to Chrono. "It's a simple explosive. Packs a hell of a wallop. That strip is a great door opener."
"You're carrying high explosives?" Chrono asked, shocked.
Jack shrugged. "Never know when you might need to open a door."
Chrono pushed the explosive away carefully, like it might go off if he breathed too hard. "That's crazy."
"It's a stable compound," Sam assured the mage. "Without a proper detonator attached, it's very hard to set off."
Jack picked up the explosive and returned it to a vest pocket. "If anything sets it off, it would probably have killed me anyway," he says with a shrug. "Anyway, moving on."
"Apophis's lost fleet included some of his best jaffa," Daniel continued. Chrono's eyes flickered to Teal'c for a moment but he didn't interrupt. "Worse, it was a sign of weakness. His rivals tore him apart. He came to us for sanctuary, but died from his injuries. We turned his body over to the goa'uld Sokar so that he would stop attacking us to get to Apophis."
"So that's two of these 'system lords' that you've killed," Chrono said.
"We also took out Hathor just a few weeks ago, but she wasn't a system lord anymore," Jack said.
"I think I know why they might see you as a threat," Chrono said dryly. "What kind of ships do they use?"
"We've encountered four distinct classes," Sam said. "The ha'tak is basically a giant pyramid and fills the role of a battleship with carrier capability; a mothership. They carry fighters called death gliders."
"Sounds charming," Chrono offered wryly. "Armament?"
"A ha'tak is capable of leveling cities from orbit," Teal'c said gruffly. "Their weapons are evenly distributed for battle against other ships, and they are protected by a powerful energy barrier. However, few of their weapons can target small, agile vessels. The death gliders are made for strafing ground targets or intercepting other ships as needed."
"The other ships in common use are called al'kesh and tel'tak," Sam finished. "Tel'tak are unarmed and used for cargo or scouting. Al'kesh are a lighter combat vessel, like a destroyer or cruiser rather than battleship, and take the role of bomber in atmosphere."
Chrono nodded slowly. "Without some hard data it's hard to know how we'll match up against them, but it helps knowing about their fleet composition. What about the Asgard?"
"No idea," Jack said.
"Jack," Daniel admonished.
Daniel rolled his eyes. "We've only encountered the Asgard a few times. All we know for certain is that they were allies of the gate builders and at least one other advanced species we encountered, their technology dwarfs the goa'uld's, and they have a treaty with the System Lords that stipulates that the goa'uld are not allowed to attack or otherwise interfere with certain planets. Based on the mythologies that grew up around them, they can be reasonably considered to be benevolent, but let people solve their own problems until they're in over their heads."
Chrono nodded, thinking that over. "Not an unreasonable position," he decided. "So if that treaty isn't signed and the goa'uld attack…"
"It's not likely that they'll intercede, no," Daniel finished.
Chrono asked a few more questions, pulling details of tactics and response patterns from Teal'c's expertise and technical information from Sam. Sam responded by asking as many questions about the Claudia, and slowly she gained an appreciation for what different systems did, if not exactly how.
The day-night terminator had just swept over Colorado Springs when the Claudia emerged from a swirling vortex into Earth orbit.
"Admiral," came a call from the sensor operator. "We have a contact in geosynchronous orbit, sydar-only. Contact is negative on the EM range."
SG-1 was on the bridge, observing. Sam frowned at the report. "Sydar?" she asked.
"Scrying detection and ranging," Chrono answered. "Basically a magic version of radar or ladar."
"Captain?" Jack asked.
Sam turned to her commander. "The ship is cloaked somehow, so the only way they spotted it was with their 'magic,' sir."
"Thank you," Jack said. "What's it look like?" he asked louder.
A starscape appeared on a forward monitor, empty. A grid of green lines outlined a shape based on sydar reports, a large ship with a vaguely hammer-shaped prow.
"That's Asgard," Jack said. "Can you contact them?"
"They're contacting us," a different officer called. "We have a subspace carrier wave trying to penetrate the hull."
"I appreciate the gesture but we're going to start this on equal footing," Chrono decided. "Can you match the carrier?"
A few clicks on the keyboard. "Done. Set to channel alpha-two."
Chrono triggered one of his own controls to transmit full audio-visual on that channel. "This is Admiral Chrono Harlaown of the Time-Space Administration Bureau. We are friends of the world below."
A new screen opened on the forward view, presenting an Asgard face. The ship's commander spoke with Thor's voice. "This is Supreme Commander Thor of the Asgard Fleet. We also claim friendship with the peoples of Earth."
Chrono nodded. "One that goes back somewhat further than our own," he said, waving Jack forward.
Thor's eyes flickered unreadably. "O'neill."
"Thor," Jack greeted. "Good to see you. Here to help us blow up some goa'uld?"
"Unfortunately no," Thor said calmly. "We cannot protect Earth without violating the Protected Planets Treaty, which would put many more worlds in danger."
"We are under no such restrictions," Chrono put in, "however it is not currently clear how long we can defend this world."
"Indeed?" Thor asked, shifting slightly. For an Asgard, it was a telling display of surprise. "Then it seems that getting Earth into the Treaty is our only long-term solution to this threat."
"Crazy idea," Jack said suddenly. "The Asgard have technology that severely outmatches the goa'uld, right?"
"Yes," Thor said.
"And you hate the goa'uld, right?"
"Our antagonism towards the goa'uld is not as emotionally charged as that," Thor offered.
"Captain?" Jack asked.
"The Asgard want to stop the System Lords but don't hate them," Carter translated.
"Then why don't you just take your ships and blow them away?" Jack asked. "Why bother with the treaty at all?"
"While it is true that the Beliskner and ships like her could easily stop a small goa'uld fleet, we do not have enough ships to fight the combined might of the System Lords."
Jack stared at the screen. "You're…bluffing?"
Thor hesitated a moment and glanced at Carter. "Captain?"
"Colonel O'Neill is asking if your stance as being more powerful than the goa'uld is a fabrication," Carter explained. Daniel coughed a laugh.
"Oh. Yes," Thor said.
Chrono frowned. "Excuse me, I don't understand. If you've kept up this bluff as long as you have, how do you not have more ships constructed?"
"Unfortunately, the situation is not that simple," Thor said. "We are currently at all-out war with an enemy whose technology and motives make them a far greater enemy than the goa'uld."
Daniel shuddered. "That's…that's a good reason for having a shortage of ships."
"And a bad reason," Jack said sharply. "You said currently at war. You're not winning, are you?"
"No," Thor said.
"How the hell have we missed this!?" Chrono exploded. "Are there any other evil bastards in the galaxy that we need to be introduced to?"
"Neither we nor our enemy is of this galaxy," Thor explained. "However, you have never encountered the goa'uld?"
"No," Chrono said. "We are here officially to hold negotiations for forging a relationship between the TSAB and Earth."
"Negotiations held aboard a warship?" Thor asked.
"We are also officially here to evaluate the threat to Earth as described in their emergency request for aid," Chrono said. "Unofficially, we're here to stop whatever attack you were talking about. We've never signed any agreement with the goa'uld, so there's no problem with us stepping in, right?"
"It is true that your actions would not damage our Treaty, however were you to destroy goa'uld ships in the name of defending Earth, it could have uncertain implications to the negotiations."
Chrono nodded and turned to Jack. "Colonel, I think you and your team should teleport to the surface. This is clearly a matter for your planet to decide upon."
Jack nodded. "I agree. How do we contact you with our decision?"
Thor held a small, ovoid, smooth stone up for inspection. "Place this device on your shirt and squeeze it." The stone glowed brightly a moment and vanished.
A similar glow appeared in the air before Jack and he jerked forward to grab the materializing stone. He looked over his prise a moment before lifting it in salute to Thor. "Thanks."
Thor nodded and ended the connection with his customary abruptness.
"Charming guy," Chrono observed with a touch of sarcasm.
"Mou, be nice Chrono," Nanoha said, walking onto the bridge with Vivio.
Chrono grinned. "That's Admiral Chrono," he chided, but he was clearly not serious. He and Nanoha had known eachother far too long for such formalities to really hold with them, especially with Vivio around to tear down Chrono's seriousness with her uber-cute pouting eyes attack.
"So how do we contact you?" Jack asked, although his eyes were on Vivio. Cute kid. He'd always had a soft spot for kids.
Nanoha handed him a scrap of paper. "Here," she said.
Jack took the scrap and looked it over. It was a series of numbers, seemingly random. He studied it a bit and then passed it to Carter. She looked it over, frowned, and then looked to Nanoha. "Okay, I give up. Radio frequency?"
Nanoha blinked. "It's my cellphone number." She held up a perfectly normal phone, clamshell design, pink and white cover.
"Oh," Carter stared for a moment, looking between the ubiquitous device and the phone number that suddenly made perfect sense. "How did you keep the service active from offworld?" she asked, lacking anything intelligent to say about her rather obvious blunder.
"It's on my parents' plan," Nanoha said.
Daniel looked at his friends, the advanced Asgard communication rock, the cellphone number, and shook his head. "Is this surreal to anyone else?"
"Just a bit," Carter muttered.
"Yeah," Jack agreed.
Nanoha was still grinning when she transported down to the surface with Vivio. It really wasn't fair to the Americans to judge them for not recognizing a phone number after all the strangeness they had taken in stride, but it still made her want to laugh for the absurdity of it.
The two of them had teleported to a small alley where they wouldn't be seen not far from the Takamachi home. Vivio happily led the way and rang the doorbell three times before Nanoha calmed her down.
"I'm coming I'm coming," came the muffled voice of Shiro Takamachi. He was quiet for a moment and Nanoha knew he was looking out one of the windows to see who it was, and she knew that she'd never spot him if she tried. Besides, the door was flying open. "Nanoha!" he cried happily. "Vivio! What are you doing here?"
"Grandpa!" Vivio cried happily, launching herself at Shiro. The two hugged for a moment while Nanoha smiled contentedly.
"Something came up fast, Dad," she apologized. "We didn't have a chance to call ahead."
Shiro's smile shortened a bit and he put Vivio down. "Something?" he repeated. He gave Vivio's head a ruffle and stood back up, ignoring the slight twinge in his back that reminded him why he wasn't a bodyguard anymore.
Nanoha shrugged and smiled helplessly. "I can't really get into it," she admitted. "I promised…friends."
"It's something here, not on MidChilda?" Shiro asked.
Nanoha nodded, looking uncomfortable. "Please, Daddy, I really shouldn't."
Shiro looked his daughter in the eye. He knew that look; he had his own set of secrets from back in the day. "You're going to stop it from being dangerous?"
Nanoha nodded. "With everything I have," she promised.
"Then that's all I need to know," Shiro declared. "Now get over here and give me my hug."
Nanoha found herself in her father's arms and sighed. It was good to be back.