Author Topic: Chapter 9  (Read 5695 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 9
« on: July 29, 2022, 04:31:44 AM »
Nelson pushed himself off the ground to his knees, and wiped the blood from his mouth before standing. Despite their fatigue, the trainees had formed a loose circle around him and his ambusher, a burly young punk from Valech. He lifted his fists, and nodded at the kid, who circled around a bit before lunging in. Nelson dodged to the left, and got in a quick jab before the kid could back off. Nelson could see the kid gauging his height, and reach. Probably nervous about getting close enough to be tackled, Nelson decided. The kid finally made up his mind and made a rush forward. This time, Nelson was ready. A three-punch combo to the chest, abdomen and side, and the kid crumpled to the ground, coughing.

Not what I had in mind, when I thought about my new job as a drill sergeant. Nelson grabbed the kid and hauled him to his feet, with a little more effort than he liked to show. "Your name, recruit?"

"Galosi, sir." He coughed a few more times, but looked defiantly up at Nelson anyway.

Nelson looked around at the group. "By my count, you all have two more laps left. Get to it!" He shoved Galosi in the right direction, as everyone began moving again. He kept pace with them as best he could, as he tried to get a feel for their mood. During his own basic training, he'd gotten the firm impression that all drill sergeants were sadists. Now, after a week and change of training these kids, he’d decided drill sergeants were actually sadomasochists. After all, the only way he'd gain their respect is if he went through it all with them.

His leg muscles protesting, Nelson gave a short burst on the whistle he’d carved for himself and the whole group, all fifty-two of them, stopped and sagged like puppets with cut strings. A few had the energy to glare at him, and he couldn't help but smile at the thoughts of old times. "All right! Everyone at the practice range in five, with intars so clean I want to be able to see my face in them! Move!" Most of them groaned, and he earned a few more angry looks, but they all started moving again, towards the armory tent.

Nelson bent over to massage his calves, and when he stood back up, Tony was standing next to him, smiling with mild amusement.

"Hey boss."

"How goes your version of boot camp, Ahardt?"

He looked over at the last of the recruits leaving the track. "They're not bad, actually. Not up to Earth standards, but most of them will get there eventually."

The Colonel followed his gaze. "They're all so young. I'd hoped for soldiers, not… kids!" His voice was rueful.

"I don't think so, boss. Remember, their societies are all pretty primitive compared to what we're used to. Their people are considered adults much earlier than people on Earth. As far as they're concerned, we're practically geriatrics. I wouldn't call them children."

"Speaking of which." Tony peered at his cut lip. "Problems?"

"Just a scuffle." Seeing the concern on Tony's face, Nelson hastened to explain. "The people on Valech are a two-fold group. There's a bunch of hunter-gatherers outside the villages, and they were the only ones who wanted to join up. They've got a series of ritual challenges they do to keep the primarch, that's their leader, on his toes. These boys view me as a sort of primarch, so they test me from time to time."

Tony still looked concerned. "I hope they know they can't pull that kind of stunt in a combat situation."

"Oh, definitely. They've got this whole verbal code of conduct thing, but they fall in line if there's any real danger." Nelson shrugged. "It's who they are." He touched his mouth gently, and sighed. "At least it'll go well with my eye. I'm getting quite a bunch of souvenirs."

Tony finally nodded, satisfied. "Who's at the front of the line?"

Nelson thought back over the limited exercises he'd demanded. "Cayo's the best, so far, but those boys you pulled from Talis are strong suckers. Score one for high-gravity worlds, I guess. Chanehi's the best shot, but Cayo's not far behind her there. I was about to move the top ten or so out of endurance and accuracy training and into more detailed stuff."

"My thinking exactly." Tony looked at the recruits just leaving the armory tent. "I want you to give them basic live-fire training. We have no way of getting more ammo yet, so just do the one session for now, and then go back to intars. When that's done, have Cayo and the next best three report to Desousa at the 'gate at 1400 hours, and the next five on the list report to me at the command tent."

"Uh, sure, boss." Unexpectedly, Nelson felt a sense of loss at his orders. In a way, these were his people, too. "You do know they're nowhere near ready for offworld ops yet, right?"

Tony nodded. "I know. But these people signed up to fight, and if we don't show them that they'll get the chance soon, we could have more serious problems on our hands. Desousa will show them the ins and outs of the DHD and 'gate operations, and I'll be taking the rest to check on the other encampments. Make sure the others know that eventually they'll be going on more important assignments, too."

Nelson blinked in surprise. "Other encampments?"

"Right, you wouldn't know about that. Blake and I have been going over the records left by the previous base commander. Apparently, this is one of four camps, or quadrants, spread throughout the woods. Depending on what we find at the others, I'll want some of your people to help us bring stuff back here."

"You got it." Tony moved to leave, and Nelson spoke up. "Uh, boss, what did you end up deciding about Govis and Premin'aha, anyway?"

"What about them?"

It was clear he didn't know what he meant, and Nelson hesitated. "Well, Haley came by yesterday, asking about them. She hinted that she could use them, and told me that she'd talk to you about letting them switch over to her 'side'."

Tony frowned. "Well, she hasn't yet. I'll talk to her. Anything I need to know about either of them?"

"Not really. Govis has a bit of a problem with authority, but he knows his way around an MP5, or at least the intar version of it. Premin'aha, like the rest of the dozen or so Kolasti, is a stickler for the rules. Otherwise, both of them are near the bottom of the list."

"All right. Oh, and before I forget, didn't I hear that some of your people are out sick?"

"That's right. Two of them are laid up in the barracks. Headaches and fever so far. They're both Zau, so it's probably something they had before they left. I'll keep an eye on it."

Tony nodded. "Good job, Ahardt. I've been impressed with how you've handled everything here."

Nelson couldn't help but smile. "Does that mean I get a raise?"

"Sure. I'll file the paperwork today." Tony returned the grin and headed back to the camp. Over his shoulder, he called. "But you know how it is. Between the bureaucracy, penny-pinching, and subspace barriers, I wouldn't hold my breath."

-.-

Tony rounded the corner to the makeshift lab, his mind abuzz. Things were progressing as well as he could have hoped, for now, but he couldn't help but worry about Hargrove and Suna. A few days earlier Hargrove had asked to go to P4C-227 for recon, and Tony had, eventually, agreed. The planet was a moderately populated outpost controlled by Nereus, and he'd agreed with Hargrove that it'd be a good first target for the Survivors, as the recruits had started calling themselves. He'd almost balked when Suna had asked to come along, but relented because of her uncanny stealth, quick thinking, and mostly due to the training she'd already had with guns, back when Zau had first been liberated. Desousa had shut down the 'gate as planned after they'd gone, and they had another four hours before Tony had scheduled it to be reopened.

He couldn't afford to lose Suna, or Hargrove for that matter. No matter how many times they butted heads, Tony couldn't bring himself to dislike the intel officer. He saw some of himself in the man's passionate viewpoint.

Tony stepped inside the lab, respectfully wiped his boots on the mat, and knocked on the partition leading to the back section. Blake was back at the command tent, still poring over the previous commander's notes, so it was just Haley there for the time being. She turned, and stepped out of the sealed portion of the lab, her usual cheer all over her face.

"We need to talk, Doctor." He tried to keep his voice even.

She sighed. "This is about those boys, isn't it? I know I should have come to you first, but I wanted to talk to them, to be sure."

"Just so you know, I don’t like being kept in the dark." Tony crossed his arms and gave her a frown. "Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?"

Haley blushed slightly. "I’ll make sure to remember that. As for Govis and Prem…" She looked out at the practice yard. "Those two are the brightest of the bunch, Tony. If they hadn't been raised in educational wastelands, they'd probably both be done with college by now. I wanted to know how they felt about learning this stuff." She waved a hand around the lab.

"Such as?"

"Well, how Goa’uld technology works, for one thing. You can’t tell me that wouldn’t be useful for us."

"True, but do they even know how to read?"

"Premin'aha was trained in a temple on Kola; he can read Goa'uld, and Govis has picked it up remarkably fast. With the translation program on our laptop, I think I could teach them a great deal." She gave him a plaintive look. "They want to do this, Tony. They're curious, and smart enough to do it."

Tony let her stew for a bit, thinking about it. He'd been all for helping these people liberate worlds from the Goa'uld, but this was a big step beyond that. Education was the first step towards lasting independence, or so he'd been taught, irony of ironies. Eventually, he turned back towards her.

"All, right, you can teach them." She breathed a sigh of relief. "But before you get too excited, remember, we're teaching them so that they can help us. A mechanic doesn't need to understand nuclear physics to be able to replace a tie-rod, and these boys don't need to understand quantum physics to help repair a Goa'uld weapon."

"Actually-"

"Only the basics, Doctor." Tony cut her off. "They can figure out the rest on their own, after this is all done."

She nodded grudgingly. "One more thing. I didn't think about it earlier, when the first few washed out, but if any more wash out, could you send them to me before they're sent home? The ratio of eggheads to knuckle draggers needs evening out, don't you think?"

"If you can find a use for them, all right. Otherwise, they shouldn't be here." He paused. "Next time, come to me first, ok?"

She nodded contritely, at least as far as he could see, but as he left he thought he heard a quiet laugh.

-.-

Freshly showered and dressed in her more-comfortable home clothing, Suna stepped outside and came to an abrupt halt. The moon had risen. It was larger than either of the two she knew and was shining brightly. Near the horizon, she could see at least two more, and they lit up something… unusual. A luminescent purple haze hung in the sky, blotting out all but the brightest stars, and seemed to pulsate every minute or so. No one in the camp seemed that concerned about it.

Squinting, Suna could barely make out a fire just outside the camp, along with voices and some laughter. As she approached she could see Haley, Blake, David and Nelson seated around it, and Cayo returning with drinks. She was unnerved when they welcomed her to sit with them. She and Cayo had a few friends back on Zau, and others who were now asleep in the barracks tent, but with the exception of David most of these tau'ri were still practically strangers. Still, they seemed perfectly at ease with her. She sat a little nervously, and accepted a cup from Cayo.

"Welcome back, Suna." David smiled at her. "How long since you got in?"

"A few hours now. Hargrove and Colonel Marcus are still discussing our mission." She pointed up. "Is that normal for this… planet?" She was still getting used to their way of talking.

"Actually, we’re on a moon." Blake responded. "Our orbit is very slow, but we should be seeing the planet we’re orbiting in a month or so. As for the cloud, it's been there for a few nights, now." he reassured her. "I've taken some readings, and it seems to be something seasonal. Whatever that gas cloud is, it shouldn't affect us down here." He looked back at the camp. "Hargrove's been in that tent with Tony for almost three hours now. What happened on your recon?"

"Nothing very important. We weren't spotted, as far as I know. Tony told us about the other camps. Apparently, they found more food and intars in each. Other than that, I don't know."

Everyone sat in silence for a moment, mesmerized by the flame. Eventually, David spoke up again.

"What d'you miss most about being back on the block?"

"Fireworks." Blake put in after a few seconds. "Nothing quite like seeing the sky light up all at once. Remember that Fourth celebration last year, on the bridge?" He squeezed Haley's hand as she put her head on his shoulder.

"I miss pro football." Nelson said.

"Oh, don't get him started," Blake groaned. "His family's famous games, his uncle's career, blah, blah, blah."

"Hey! I was there for one of his games last month." Nelson protested. "My uncle won the game with that catch. Besides, I don’t complain when you talk about your grandpa’s sports career, do I?"

"He prevented the other team from scoring the winning point?" From what she'd heard, Suna found Earth sports fascinating.

"Uh, no. He got the winning points."

Suna was puzzled. "So he left the goal? David explained to me how the game is played."

She wasn't the only one. Nelson gave her a confused glance.

"She means soccer." Blake explained.

"Ahh. Soccer and football are two different games. Desousa calls it football, but real football is a very different game." David threw a tin cup at him, and Nelson put his arms around his head to block it, laughing.

It took a few minutes for them to explain the 'other' football.

"That seems a strange name for a game where the ball isn't round, and most of the time people are holding it." Suna observed.

Most of the tau'ri smiled, but none disagreed with her.

"I know what I miss most." David stated forcefully after a few seconds. "If I could have brought something with me, it'd be my Johnny Cash collection, and a good stereo."

"Cash? Really?"

"Would you prefer the King?" He glared at Nelson.

Nelson held up his hands. "Cash is fine."

Suna leaned forward. "Who is this King you fear?"

"Well, I wouldn't say fear." David responded.

"What then?" Nelson laughed. "Dread? Horror?"

"The King is what we call one of our most famous singers, Elvis." David finally explained.

"So… not a king, but a priest?"

Everyone looked at her.

"What?" David managed.

"This Elvis is not a holy man?"

"Uhh, not exactly." There was more laughter from the tau'ri. "Maybe you should explain."

Cayo cut in. "Among the Zau, people sing together often, most usually for celebration. But when one person sings alone for others, it is always for some ritual or other, usually a bonding or a final farewell."

"Ah. Gotcha." David continued. "Actually, Elvis isn't singing for anyone anymore. He died a while back."

Nelson leaned forward, his face deadpan serious. "Did he? The King is alive, you know."

"They say that, yeah. Wait, don't tell me you think Elvis is-"

"Yup. Elvis is a Goa'uld."

David covered his eyes in consternation. "That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever-"

"Think about it. He lived a lot longer than he should have, given what he did to himself. He was a way better musician than any human has a right to be, and you can’t tell me he didn’t do that glowing-eyes trick as an icebreaker at parties!"

There was a chorus of groans, and a Blake punched Nelson on the shoulder.

Suna shook her head. She could barely keep up with it all. "Your world is very strange."

"You have no idea. Suna. No idea at all."

It took more than an hour for the campfire group to disperse and head to bed. Near the end, the remainder saw Tony and Hargrove leave their meeting, looking tired but optimistic. When Suna finally settled down to sleep, she could hear faint sobs from the nearby adjoining tent. She could also hear voices, nearer, including Tony's. She considered investigating, but decided against it. From the location, it had to be the Matthews, and she didn't know them well enough to be of any use. Unsettled, she finally drifted off, dreaming of her mother.

-.-

It was 0900 hours, and Hargrove was at the 'gate prepping Cayo and Si'snaav for their first offworld op, when his radio crackled. "Hargrove, this is SR, come in."

He grabbed his radio. "Hargrove here."

Even through the radio distortion, he could hear the tension in the Colonel's voice. "Your mission is scrubbed. Leave a guard at the 'gate and get back here ASAP."

He shared a confused glance with the others. "Acknowledged. Si, keep a watch on the 'gate for now. I'll try to keep you informed."

The dark-skinned Kolasti bowed deeply, and turned his dour gaze towards the 'gate and DHD. Hargrove and Cayo double-timed it back to base.

When they finally arrived, Hargrove could see the Colonel and Ahardt arguing outside the camp, with Blake and one of the recruits from Valech named Posain listening in. "Colonel? What's going on?"

The Colonel sighed. "Looks like we've got a disease spreading through the camp. Last check had eight showing symptoms, and two more in critical condition."

"Make that three, Tony." Haley and Suna emerged from the nearby tent, both looking grim. Hargrove could see Haley's eyes were slightly red, strangely enough. "Looks like the next stage of the disease is respiratory distress. They're having a hard time breathing now." She sighed. "David just started showing symptoms, too."

There was a moment of silence.

"Any idea what this bug is?" The Colonel finally asked.

She shook her head. "The symptoms match a lot of diseases I've heard of, but I'm no MD. All I'm doing is guessing here."

"It could be anything from a flu virus to typhoid fever, boss." Ahardt put in. "Based on how fast it's spreading, everyone's probably been exposed by now. The med supplies on base won't help, and nothing we have left from Earth could do anything but treat the symptoms." He shrugged helplessly. "My medic training didn't cover anything like this."

The Colonel nodded. "It's all right. We'll just need to find another option, then." He looked around. "We could call the Tollans, but I'm pretty sure they won't help us, not as long as we still plan on fighting the Goa'ulds. Same goes for calling Mimir for help. Does this disease match anything the two of you know from your worlds?" He glanced at Cayo and Posain.

Posain shook his head, but Suna and Cayo spoke quietly to each other for a few seconds.

"I never heard the name of the disease, sir, but there was a serious outbreak of something similar on Zau, over forty years ago." Cayo finally responded. "The Jaffa masters were immune to it, and did nothing to help us. Our father told us that many more would have died if we hadn't secretly received medicines to cure it."

"Sounds promising. Where did these medicines come from?"

"A merchant named Kallias brokered the original deal. He was eventually replaced by the merchant you saw," he looked at Hargrove, "named Argyros."

The Colonel looked a little relieved. "All right. You and Hargrove better get back to the 'gate and dial Zau. Hopefully that Elder you mentioned was only blowing smoke when she said she'd bury their 'gate."

"I doubt that, sir. She almost always keeps to her word. But…" he hesitated.

"Go on."

"I don't know if this will help, but I heard others mention his name a few nights ago. Recruits not from Zau."

"Meaning I was right." Hargrove interrupted. "He does use the 'gates to get around." He frowned at Cayo. "You could have told me all this earlier."

Cayo shrugged. "You didn't ask."

"Enough." The Colonel spoke up. "All right. Suna and I will head to Zau, if we can, and try to contact this guy. Cayo, you and Hargrove will interview every recruit who can talk. Get me more 'gate addresses where he's been, in case Zau is 'closed'. And the rest of you," he lowered his voice a bit, "Ahardt's in charge of distributing what medical supplies we have. Treat the symptoms, reassure people, and most importantly, keep everyone calm. People will look to you for strength. Are you up for that?"

Everyone nodded. Hargrove could feel spirits rise in the other Survivors, even if he didn't experience it himself.

-.-

With a frustrated grunt, Tony let go of the DHD, resisting the urge to kick it. "It looks like your Elder wasn't bluffing. So much for that idea. Let's hope Hargrove and Cayo have more luck."

Suna and the 'gate guard shared a glance, and she stepped up next to him. "If we are sick and show no signs, as Nelson said, wouldn't it be better if we stayed away from healthy people? Wouldn't even going to another world put the people there at risk?"

"We don't have much choice." He looked grim. "If this Argyros person has a cure, we have to take the risk." He paced back and forth near the 'gate for a minute, trying to balance seething in frustration with considering other options. "God knows I did everything I could for my people, but I should have seen this coming, too."

"What do you mean?"

"There are lots of different diseases on Earth, and when we go somewhere else on the planet, we get injections that make us immune or resistant to them. Whenever we came back to Earth through the 'gate, a team of doctors would make sure we weren't carrying anything harmful before they let us go home." He sighed. "Now we've got almost sixty people from eight different worlds, nine counting Earth, and only the SGC people have had any immunizations at all! When I think about it, something like this was inevitable. I should have seen it coming."

Suna put a hand on his shoulder. "We will overcome this, Tony. We're like the soldiers of Old Zau. There was nothing they couldn't do, and they always stayed true to each other." She quirked a smile. "After all, you are the religious one, aren't you? Have faith!"

He looked down at her in surprise, not knowing what to say.

"Tony, I wanted to ask you something about Haley and Blake."

"Oh?" He was thrown by the sudden topic change, but decided she was just trying to get his mind off the current situation.

"Last night, I heard you talking with them. And I heard…"

"You heard her crying." He finished for her, and she nodded. He thought about how much to tell her.

It wasn't exactly a secret. "Haley has a daughter, named Sylvia. She turned six years old yesterday, and Haley had promised her she'd be there."

"No wonder." Suna looked stricken for a moment, and then resolved. "Children are stronger than they seem. They may yet spend many birthdays together." She paused. "You said 'Haley has' a daughter. Blake doesn't?"

"From what he told me, Sylvia's father Stan left before she was even born. Blake married Haley over a year later, and he loves the kid too." Tony considered how he'd be in their situation.

"What will happen to Sylvia without them? On Zau, orphans are cared for by everyone, until they are old enough to choose a caretaker for themselves."

"It's a little different on Earth. She was left with Haley's mother before all this started. She may end up with Stan, if Haley can't get home to stop it."

"Such a man deserves no children." Her voice hardened. "Zau parents who abandon their children are forced to abandon the rest of their lives, too. They're exiled for life."

Before he could even begin to think up a response, his radio crackled. "Colonel, this is SR, come in."

"Marcus here. Tell me you have good news."

Hargrove's voice sounded triumphant. "Very, sir. According to two of our people, if he's not already on Cha'havis, he will be very soon. Sorry we can't be sure, but there is 'gate-lag to consider."

"Are they sure it's the same person?"

"They matched his description exactly, sir. Down to the outfit, even. Apparently, he trades with their people too."

"Cha'havis… I don't know that address. What's the SG designation?"

"P8C-0422, sir. Desousa's the one who's had the most contact with them, and they're friendly enough."

"Got it." Tony ran over to the DHD and began punching in symbols. "How's he doing?"

There was a pause over the radio. "No change, sir."

He pressed the red central button, and the rushing-water sound of a forming wormhole accompanied the usual horizontal splash. Suna and a few others had gone through basic 'gate training already, and both of them backed away. They knew how dangerous that wave could be, but thankfully not from personal experience.

Tony smiled. "Si'snaav, isn't it?"

The heavyset Kolasti bowed low. "Yes, sir."

"Do me a favor and don't lock out the 'gate. We don't know how long we'll be gone, but we may be in a hurry on the way back." He lifted his radio as Si'snaav bowed again. "Hargrove, I've got a connection, and am heading through. Good work, you two."

"Thank you, sir. Good luck."
« Last Edit: July 29, 2022, 05:24:58 AM by Daen »