Author Topic: Chapter 14  (Read 5623 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 14
« on: July 29, 2022, 04:31:17 AM »
It was washing day again. Haley sat on her ankles, waist deep in the water, as she stubbornly tried to get her clothing clean. Suna laughed, and gave her good-natured advice every once in a while, on how to make it easier. Over a dozen people sat in the river, some talking, others silently focused on their work, as the sun rose past the horizon. Just after dawn was the best time, or so Suna advised. It was light enough, and not too warm yet.

Since Apophis hadn't exactly left his infiltration teams with washing machines, they, and now the Survivors, had been forced to clean their clothes the old-fashioned way. Soap had been a problem, at first. Before they ran out, Tony had asked Argyros to consider it a medical supply, and the ever-fastidious Deuca hadn't needed much convincing. They didn't exactly have washing boards, but sections of corrugated tin had been cut from the roof from one of the unused structures, and had worked so far.

It wasn't the sterile, computerized lab she was used to, but Haley could see the attraction in this. It was hard work, true, but then that was part of the appeal. Most of the Survivors had avoided this responsibility somehow, trading favors or goods to be excused, but she could see one of the Deuca assistants to one side, and Tony on the other. When she had asked what he was doing, he'd merely shrugged. "Something Ahardt told me. I'm not just a military commander, here. I need to set an example with other things, too."

"So it's not true you lost in a coin toss with Hargrove?" Suna teased him, and he gave a slight smile in return. Nearby, the pale Deuca boy could be seen with one of Argyros' fine shirts. Or not so pale, anymore, Haley observed. His skin had picked up a much darker tinge over the past few weeks. They were a good distance downstream from the camp, but Haley could hear the training exercises just beginning. Probably the reason why Nelson wasn't here, either.

In a way, washing had been something of a therapy for her. It gave her something to do, physically demanding but not too distracting, while she thought about Sylvia. She'd run the gamut between rage and frustration at being so far away, to fear and worry about her daughter, to near-despair about ever seeing her again. Blake had been the only rock, the only steady thing she had left in her life, and sometimes she wondered just what kept him from running for the hills.

Suna had been a great help, too. She'd been there as often as she could, given their offworld missions, and always had some helpful or encouraging snippet to offer whenever Haley felt like slipping back into despair.

They chatted back and forth, Suna trying to learn more about Haley's work, and Haley trying to learn about Suna's life before leaving Zau. Before she knew it, a few hours had passed, and it was just the two of them left. As Suna stood to go hang her clothing up to dry, Haley waved. "Until next time?"

"Actually, no." She hesitated, a pained look on her face. "I'm being sent on an extended assignment, along with a few others. I may be gone for weeks, if not longer."

Haley felt her jaw drop. "You are? But you're… are you ready for something like this? Maybe you should talk to Major Hargrove."

"He issued the assignment, Haley. He believes I can do this, and so do I."

"But he- the two of you…"

Suna's voice became gentler. "He is a soldier. And I suppose I am too, in a way. Part of that is putting what is best before what we want." She put down her makeshift basket and waded back into the water. Taking Haley into a hug, she whispered, "It isn't easy, trust me, but I'm proud to do this. Just as I'm proud to call you my friend." Abruptly letting go, she left without another word.

Suddenly, Haley found herself wishing she had more washing to do.

-.-

As soon as he stepped off the landing platform, Seraus felt a foreboding chill run through his host's spine. From his vantage point near the north end of the pyramidal hangar bay, he could see Lord Nereus pacing, and fuming. This would not be pleasant.

The recent days had been difficult, and only partially due to the recent attacks. Ever since Lord Nereus had heard what evidence could be gathered about their attackers, he had been… unpredictable and dangerous, even to his own people. As soon as he saw Seraus, Lord Nereus cocked his head in the direction of a private room to the side of the pyramid. Seraus headed there, wondering if these were to be his last moments.

[They destroyed Takeba!] Nereus growled as soon as he entered, sealing the door against eavesdroppers. [Yesterday! Just after midday!]

Seraus gaped for a moment. Takeba was one of his Lord's long-range monitoring stations, and was situated on one of his interior worlds, well within his most fortified zones. [Are you sure it was the tau'ri, my Lord?]

Lord Nereus nodded angrily. [Two Jaffa were on patrol when they struck. They caught sight of the cowards retreating through the chappa'ai! They're being questioned for further details now.]

[And the sensor relay itself?]

[Obliterated. We are blind over Kalsa and Uvuros. If Vanesh moves against me through either channel, I may not be able to reinforce those worlds in time!] Lord Nereus looked at him, blame mixed with weariness on his face. [This is getting out of hand. I want those tau'ri destroyed, now!]

Seraus stepped forward and offered him a tablet with his latest results. [This may help, my Lord. All tests on the pulse weapon are complete. In the most recent version, pain incapacitated the targets in less than a minute, and death followed in less than three.] As he ran through his memories of watching them die, his host gave one of its usual physiological responses, which he easily suppressed. [I suspected you would want immediate deployment, so I began charging the prototype device before I left.]

His Lord examined the tablet, flitting through the results. His expression showed interest at first, only to be replaced with the old anger again. [The delay is unacceptably long, Seraus. I want them taken down immediately!]

Seraus had seen this one coming. [If I increase the particle density to those levels, it will also incapacitate your Jaffa, my Lord.]

[Would they survive?]

[Yes, my Lord, but it would take hours, if not days, for them to recover.]

He thrust the tablet back into Seraus' hands. [Then do it. I want these vermin to know fear. Almost as much as I want to strangle them all one by one! How long until completion?]

[Particle projection is an old theory, but a simple one, my Lord. The devices are easy to construct. Three prototypes should be complete in two days.]

[Tomorrow, Seraus. I want to return the fight to Vanesh, where it belongs. I don't have time for this nonsense.]

Seraus bowed low, breathing an inward sigh of relief. Hedging his construction estimates was a dangerous game to play with his Lord, but in this case it had paid off. Still… he doubted the situation was that easy to handle. Unless they killed all the tau'ri in one blow, they would scatter and become a long-term problem in the process.

His Lord cut into his thoughts. [The enemy spy on Tensis. Was he killed as planned?]

[Yes, my Lord. The base commander followed your orders and executed him. The tau'ri attacked shortly later, but left his body with the others.] He winced. [Most of the searchers were killed by an explosive trap they left behind.]

Lord Nereus grunted. [And Hovak? Does it remain hidden from my foes?]

[I believe so, my Lord. The tau'ri incursion there happened some time ago. It is safe to assume the tau'ri who stumbled upon that world were trapped along with the rest of their planet after they retreated. There is no reason to think these particular humans know anything about Hovak.] Seraus pushed his doubts aside, and spoke up again. [My Lord, I fear the pulse weapons will not be enough to destroy your enemies here. I…] he hesitated, and then pushed forward, [I suggest you call kana'shek, my Lord. The others can solve this problem for you.]

His Lord speared him with a hostile glance. [Kana'shek is a dangerous move to make.]

[These tau'ri are by definition an outside threat! The others would have no choice but to become involved.]

[They're humans, Seraus! They're barely able to think, let alone be a threat! If I did bring in the others to end this problem, what could I possibly say to them? That I'm being threatened by garden pests? Even if they did help, as soon as they were done, I'd be torn to pieces!] He shook his head. [No, you will deal with this problem, and quickly. Return to Hovak and finish the weapons.]

Seraus kept his face impassive with effort. He knew that tone. If his Lord had made up his mind, there was no changing it. He bowed as genuinely as he could manage, and left the room.

Since they'd begun interfering in Goa'uld affairs a few years ago, the tau'ri had been much more of a problem than anyone could have anticipated. They'd defeated Apophis, killed Hathor, and even destroyed the Supreme System Lord Ra, all in just a few short years. Despite all that, everyone in the Domain still seemed to see them as the primitives they'd been thousands of years ago. His mind buzzed with scenario after scenario as he left Lord Nereus' palace. If their attacks continued, his Lord would fall, possibly in as little as a few months. If they had a means to counter these new weapons, his fall was all but certain.

They're going to kill you too, you know. If they don't, Nereus surely will. No matter who wins the fighting, you'll lose. It's only a matter of time.

Seraus ruthlessly silenced the voice of his host, exacting a penance of pain for his audacity in speaking. He didn't dignify the worm with a response.

He had enjoyed a certain prestige under Lord Nereus' authority, and the resources to continue his research. However, Seraus had to admit to himself that it was time to start planning the next phase of his studies. Perhaps it was time to find a new line of work.

By the time he reached the chappa'ai, Seraus already had a preliminary plan.

-.-

As there was no door to the command tent, David knocked lightly on one of the support beams he could reach from the entrance. At the Colonel's soft 'come in', he stepped inside and saluted. Ever since training the Survivors and leading them into battle, formal military traditions had been… more relaxed than he preferred. Still, for barely-trained kids, he had to admit they had potential. They'd hit nine planets in the past week or so, and had always managed to get out before reinforcements could arrive.

Inside, the Colonel was examining the laptop, with what looked like a recon report on the screen. He closed it before standing and returning the salute.

"Colonel, with your permission, I'd like to take Ahardt's place on the upcoming mission to Abydos."

The Colonel looked at him curiously. "Are you sure you want to miss out on the planned offworld visit? We may not get another one for a long time."

"I'm sure, sir. Besides, it makes more sense. Ahardt would get a lot more out of the visit than I would, and you don't need him on Abydos. All you need is someone to make contact with the locals and babysit the scientists for as long as it takes for them to get what they need. Any one of us could do just as well."

"Let me guess," the Colonel mused, "he offered you something to switch with him."

David shrugged uncomfortably. "Something like that, sir. If I may ask… why wasn't Abydos on the original list of recruiting planets? They've fought the Goa'uld alongside SGC people, and won. Sounds like an ideal place, to me."

"You're right, it does, but Abydos is too high-profile. A lot of Goa'ulds know that Ra died there, and it's been visited by at least two other System Lords since then. I scratched it from the list when we first started recruiting because we're trying to keep a low profile. It would be far too easy to pick up a spy from there, and as we are, that could end up getting us all wiped out. I'll allow you to take Ahardt's place on this mission, but remember: minimal contact with the locals. Just go there, get the addresses, and get out. Your return window will be four hours after departure."

"Yes sir. And thank you, sir. I'll let the team know about the change in plans." He exchanged salutes with the Colonel and left in a hurry.

-.-

For the third time that day, Nelson stood next to a group of Survivors in front of the increasingly ragged-looking target dummies. For the third time, he gave the speech he’d come up with the day before.

"Some of you, like the Byrsa and Zau, have had to fight for your lives before. Some of you know what it takes to kill. The rest of you, though…" He walked along the line of shooters, taking stock of their expressions.

"It's not easy, trust me. I can train you to fight, or to run. I can train you for endurance and accuracy. But I can't train you to pull the trigger when you see the face of your enemy staring back at you. I can't train you to knife someone in the night and catch their body so it doesn't make a noise. That'll take something extra, something that not all of you will enjoy having inside of you."

Out of the corner of his eye, Nelson saw Desousa approaching. "All right, you’re dismissed," he told told them. "Re-assemble here at 1800 hours."

Most of them scampered off as they always did, but he could see some of them moving more slowly. Taking his words to heart, hopefully.

He checked for his watch by habit, and smiled ruefully. SR had a rotation slightly slower than Earth, so each day was about eleven minutes longer than it was back home. As a result, he'd had to constantly reset his watch until he'd finally given up and stored it.

"Nice speech."

Nelson snorted. "Oh, yeah. I’m a regular motivational speaker. Are we on?"

Desousa nodded. "The Colonel just gave his permission. I need to tell the Matthews."

"Blake's training some of the Survivors over at the DHD, but I saw Haley go into the med tent a bit ago. Let's talk to her first."

She wasn't to be seen when they first entered the tent, but one of the Survivors she'd drafted as an orderly during the infection scare pointed to the closed-off back area. During the scare, it had been set up as a critical-care area. Desousa had spent a long time staring at the walls in there, but from what Nelson could see, he didn't seem to mind being back here. He moved the flap open, and walked in.

"Good news, Haley. We got permiss-" he cut off abruptly.

Nelson stepped in after him, and stopped short.

Haley and Hargrove were standing next to two large tanks filled with water.

Swimming around inside each one was a Goa’uld symbiote.
« Last Edit: July 29, 2022, 05:12:21 AM by Daen »