Title: In the End Is the Beginning
Author: ocean gazer
Fandom: Stargate SG-1
Season: starts in season 8, jumps to season 3, ends up in season 4
Spoilers: major spoilers for Shades of Grey, Jolinar's Memories, The Devil You Know, 1969, 2010; minor spoilers for Serpent's Song, Point of View, Fair Game, and The First Commandment
Pairing: Sam/Janet, both established relationship and first-time
Summary: How do you stop the zombie apocalypse? Time travel, of course!
Category: AU, mild horror, drama, angst, hurt/comfort
Rating: 18+, please
Warnings: violence, occasional language, minor gore, after-the-fact descriptions of torture – nothing too graphic, but read carefully if that's a squick
Archive: Passion and Perfection, Pink Rabbit; others, please ask first
Disclaimers: I think we all know I don’t own the characters, the show, or the concept; that honor belongs to Showtime, MGM, Double Secret, Gekko, so on and so forth. They're just nice enough to let us all play in their sandbox. I write for my own entertainment and – occasionally – edification, and make no money from it.
Author's Notes: I'm not even sure where to start with this one. The story is not at all what I intended – it was supposed to be a short and somewhat tongue-in-cheek story for a zombie ficathon. That didn't happen. First, the ficathon was more than a year ago – I might be a little late for it...lol. Second, all these unexpected references to a somewhat dark back story kept popping up. Somehow, I ended up with three acts and a story that was only partly about zombies. The story got shelved for a while, then I started the editing process, added about 7000 words, and ended up with a short novella that still was only partly about zombies. Shrug. In the process of writing this story, I've discovered that time travel gives me a headache, that story research can lead you down interesting paths, and that the CDC has a blog entry about the zombie apocalypse (no, I'm not kidding). I'd like to thank the folks at Stargate Wiki – they've compiled a wealth of useful information and their episode transcripts were particularly helpful. I also want to give a special thanks to Pink Rabbit Productions for some helpful feedback on an early draft of the story, and for coming up with the acronym MHD (and letting me use it). What else? I guess that's about it, other than to say that I hope you enjoy the story. Feedback is, as always, adored, but never required.
Act I – Present
Daniel Jackson fidgeted, fighting the by-now instinctive urge to look over his shoulder for hordes of zombies. For one thing, Sam Carter, Janet Fraiser, Cameron Mitchell, and Teal'c all stood behind him on the porch; if there were any approaching undead, one of them would see the threat. For another, given the massive concrete walls and obviously well-trained sentries of the fortress town they were in, it was highly unlikely that a zombie could have gotten inside in the first place. In the five years since the newly dead of the earth began rising and eating the living, rural pockets of civilization had survived by barricading themselves away in fortified communities. Urbanites had survived, too, of course, but not in quite as cooperative and organized a fashion.
He pushed away the irrelevant thought and knocked on Jack O'Neill's door for the fifth time, his knuckles slippery with sweat. It was more humid here in Minnesota than he was used to in the mountains of Colorado. Especially since he spent half his life inside the cool depths of Cheyenne Mountain.
"Well, this is a waste of time," Janet muttered from behind him.
Daniel rolled his eyes. Of course it was a waste of time. After all, O'Neill had stormed off and retired – for real – after the whole sordid mess where he'd gone undercover on behalf of the Tollan and Asgard, infiltrating Harry Maybourne's rogue operation to steal alien technology. After leaving the SGC, Jack hadn't seen fit to answer the team's phone calls or return their messages. When three months had gone by with no contact, Daniel and Sam had taken leave and driven halfway across the country to Jack's cabin, to try and convince him that they understood what he'd had to do and that they missed him. The former colonel had listened – stony-faced and with a beer in hand – and then had told them in no uncertain terms that he was done being ordered to do things he didn't agree with and not to let the door hit them in the ass on the way out.
He and Sam had left defeated, but with plans to come back in a few months and try their luck again. But a few days before their next scheduled trip, the initial signs of the zombie apocalypse had shown up on the military's radar, and from that point on, a visit to sweet-talk a stubborn, petulant ex-colonel no longer registered anywhere on the priority list.
The only reason he and the others were here now was because Thor refused to help them carry out their plan to save the world unless O'Neill was involved. Even though Daniel and Sam had saved the Asgard more than once in recent years with their "dumb" ideas, Thor apparently still thought O'Neill hung the moon.
And damn, there was no reason for him to stand here woolgathering. Daniel swore under his breath and started to turn, to tell the rest of the team that recruiting the retired colonel was clearly a lost cause. Then he heard a wooden creak and turned back to face the door, which was slowly opening. For the first time in five years, he was face-to-face with Jack O'Neill.
Daniel quickly managed to swallow his surprise. Pasting on a nonchalant grin, he lifted his hand and waved. "Hi there," he said brightly.
Jack blinked owlishly at him, like he'd just woken from a nap, and scowled. "What the hell do you want?"
Nice to see you, too, Daniel mused. He opened his mouth, then closed it, not exactly sure how to respond to Jack's rudeness. Thankfully, Teal'c stepped forward and stated firmly, "That is no way to greet old friends, O'Neill."
"Friends, you say?" The querulous tone of Jack's voice almost made Daniel laugh; O'Neill sounded just like he remembered. "Seems to me that we weren't on very good terms at the time I left."
Daniel felt Sam's familiar presence as she moved up to stand beside him. Her voice was soft, but intense. "Sir, you know that we were just angry at the situation, at being kept in the dark about your mission. It didn't mean we weren't still your friends."
Jack shook his head and waved a dismissive hand. "Bah." He stepped back into the little house, clearly planning to close the door on them.
Daniel barreled forward, shoving against the door with his body and forcing Jack backwards into the house. His patience was just about at an end. "No, Jack. You shut us out before; you don't get to do it now. When it was just about you and us and the team, that was one thing. This time, it's about the fate of the planet...the human race. You don't get to just walk away."
Even in the dim light, he saw Jack narrow his eyes, the older man's face reddening in anger. Daniel pushed his way further into the house, motioning for the others to follow him inside. When they were all in the pocket-sized entryway, facing O'Neill, Daniel turned back and slammed the door shut, then locked it. It didn't surprise him when Jack swore robustly under his breath before stomping out of the room.
Daniel shook his head and followed, the others trailing behind him, and arrived in the living room just as Jack flung himself down in the middle of a couch that had seen better days. He sat next to Jack on one side, watching as Teal'c sat down on the ex-colonel's other side, flanking him. Janet took the threadbare easy chair across from them, and Sam perched next to her partner on the arm of the chair. Cam, who didn't know anything about O'Neill other than the Asgard and SGC legends, was standing at attention off to the side of the tableau, looking strangely star-struck. The sight irritated Daniel, and he glanced at Sam and Janet, taking comfort in the exasperation written on the doctor's face and the carefully neutral expression on the astrophysicist's.
He looked back over at Jack. O'Neill crossed his arms over his chest, glared at Daniel, and grumbled, "So...to what do I owe this invasion of my space?"
Daniel kept his answer succinct. "Zombies. We have an idea for how to undo the whole mess, and we need your help."
Jack continued glaring at him, but uncrossed his arms and waved a hand around in the air. Daniel took that as an invitation to continue, and looked expectantly at Sam, who cleared her throat and launched into an explanation. "Basically, sir, we've recently learned from the Tok'ra that one of the Goa'uld System Lords, Ba'al, was behind the creation of the MHDs."
Daniel turned his attention back to Jack in time to see the older man's raised eyebrow. He stifled a grin and clarified, "MHDs – Mobile Hostile Deceased." He wasn't surprised by O'Neill's snort of amusement, but ignored it and continued, "The military came up with that. You know how they are about using their own jargon and trying to objectify everything and put it into neat little categories. Most of us ended up just using the word zombies, since that's a term everyone knows and understands, but some people still use the acronym."
He braced himself for a sarcastic comeback, but Jack simply said, "Of course they do."
Daniel glanced at Sam, her hastily averted eyes telling him that she was slightly embarrassed. But her voice was steady as she picked up where she'd left off. "Ba'al engineered a virus, infected a group of his human slaves, then brought them to Earth on a cloaked Tel'tak and unleashed them. From ground zero, they managed to infect enough people to start the worldwide spread of the virus before anyone truly realized what was going on. We've had no luck finding a cure for the virus; it's well beyond our current research capabilities and knowledge base. But once we learned what the precipitating event was, we started going over old data, and pinpointed the general location where the Tel'tak landed, as well as narrowed down the time frame for when it arrived."
During Sam's rendition, Daniel had been watching Jack closely, and he saw that the man's eyes were starting to glaze over. He jumped in quickly. "So now that we know when and where it started, all we have to do is use the Stargate during a solar flare to go back in time and stop it from happening at all."
O'Neill rolled his eyes. "I think you've all been out in the sun too long. You've clearly fried your brains."
Before Daniel could vent his irritation with Jack's belittling response, Teal'c's steady voice entered the conversation. "We are in full control of our mental capacities. We have spoken with the Asgard about this plan and they have agreed to assist us. They have Ancient technology that can predict solar flares, so that we will know when to enter the Stargate in order to travel to the correct point in time."
Daniel jumped when Jack pounded his fist on his knee. "Okay, fine, so you've got some brilliant plan to monkey around with time travel. Cool. Knock yourselves out. But what the hell does that have to do with me?"
Janet spoke for the first time since they'd entered the house, her tone matter-of-fact, though Daniel picked up on the faint hint of annoyance under the surface. "The Asgard specifically asked for you to be involved. Thor wants you to go on this mission with SG-1. He thinks very, very highly of you."
Daniel didn't miss the sudden spark of interest in Jack's eyes. But it also didn't surprise him when the former colonel immediately shook his head. "Nope. Not interested." O'Neill paused there, apparently thinking it over, then shook his head more vehemently. "Oh, I'm so not interested. Not only is it insane to think we'd be able to stop a cargo ship full of zombies by ourselves, it's insane to trust that we'd really end up at the right point in time."
Daniel heard Sam clear her throat. She said, "We'll have time to set up a perimeter to ensure that none of the MHDs can escape to infect the general population, no matter what might happen to us. With all due respect, sir, the Asgard know what they're doing when it comes to using Ancient technology. If they say they can send us back to the right time, then they can do it."
Predictably, Jack didn't give in so easily. "Even so, it's still completely ridiculous. And you're making it sound too damn easy. Back in my day, we had to walk ten miles there and back to kill zombies, and it was in a blizzard."
Cam entered the conversation for the first time, his bemusement evidently outweighing his hero-worship. "Um...Colonel O'Neill, we didn't have zombies back in your day."
Daniel ignored his confused teammate, since he was too busy snorting with laughter. "Yes, Jack, and you were barefoot."
Janet was laughing too. "And armed with only a BB gun. No...wait...a slingshot!"
Glancing over at the two women in the easy chair, Daniel saw that even Sam was grinning like a fiend as she added, "Don't forget that it was uphill both ways."
He looked back over at Jack and saw the dawning of a smile on the older man's face, then shifted his gaze over to Cam, who was rolling his eyes, apparently getting the joke. Daniel sighed softly as some of the tension in his shoulders eased a bit. It was good to know that five years hadn't completely changed Jack O'Neill. It didn't mean Daniel was completely over his anger at their former team leader for being such a stubborn ass, but in the grand scheme of things, the possibility of having Jack's help on this mission outweighed anything else.
Jack was grinning openly now. "Damn. It's been too long since anyone really got my jokes. So...tell me more about what you and my old buddy Thor have been cooking up."
Four hours later, Cam and Jack had been officially introduced, rabbit stew had been made and eaten, plans for the trip back to the SGC had been discussed and argued over, and most of the group had collapsed in exhaustion. They'd be leaving early the next morning and a good night's sleep was in order before trekking across the deceptively dangerous plains, even if the naquadah-powered tank they'd be traveling in was nearly impervious to attack by the small groups of undead that roamed the open spaces of the prairies.
Sam sat at O'Neill's kitchen table, a single candle burning in front of her, once again going over the schematics she'd drawn up. She and Thor had already put together a list of potential Stargate coordinates – planets that at this time of year were on the other side of the sun from Earth. As she knew from SG-1's unintended trip back to 1969, dialing a set of coordinates precisely on the opposite side of the sun at the exact moment of a solar flare would turn the wormhole back on itself towards Earth and create a time distortion.
Her task was to calculate the effect of the sun's gravitational pull and subsequent spacetime warping on the wormhole paths between Earth and each of those planets. Her calculations would go to the Asgard, to be uploaded into the Ancient computer core. When Thor had the time of a solar flare, he'd run a program that would combine her data with Ancient and Asgard data to extrapolate the extent and duration of the time distortions, precise slingshot effects, and other things that he hadn't bothered to explain to her.
What mattered was that Thor could use all of that information to select the correct coordinates for them to dial to travel into the past, as well as tell them exactly when to enter the wormhole to end up at the right point in time. As she knew from personal experience, a matter of a few seconds could make a huge difference between going thirty years or going ninety years.
A computer printout that held the bulk of her work sat off to the side. She scribbled more numbers on a sheet of paper, double-checking one of the formulas, knowing that her calculations had to be exact in order to be of any use to Thor. It was crucial that they end up at the right time in the past to ensure that everything was ready before Ba'al's Tel'tak arrived...had arrived...would arrive...
Both the math and the grammar were giving her a headache.
She felt slender hands on her shoulders and didn't need to turn to know they belonged to her lover. Janet began a gentle massage and Sam relaxed into her touch. Daily life with its ever-present threat of MHDs was stressful enough, even sheltered as they were by spending much of their time at the SGC with its barriers and protections. But finalizing these plans, knowing that once again the fate of the world might just hang in the balance, had been a bigger burden than she'd expected. And it had been topped off by the prospect of having to face her ex-CO and deal once again with all the emotional baggage his abrupt departure had brought up. She'd doubted herself for a long time afterward, especially after he'd turned her and Daniel away at his door.
She felt a kiss on the top of her head. Janet spoke softly. "Relax, hon. Just relax."
Sam took a deep breath and then smiled. She knew that Janet knew exactly where her thoughts had gone. Amazingly, there was one really good thing that had come out of Colonel O'Neill leaving the SGC. His absence was actually what had brought her and Janet together as more than friends. She'd initially just turned to the doctor for support, since Daniel and Teal'c had their own anger and hurt to work through. But over the course of several months, their conversations had gradually grown deeper and more intense, leading to a closeness neither woman had ever expected. Granted, they hadn't become lovers for quite some time after they'd gotten so close, but they never would have gotten to that point at all without the unbreakable friendship born from the ashes of the colonel's burned bridges.
With a start, she realized that she wouldn't change a single thing about what had happened five years ago, when her team fell apart, since it would mean not being with Janet today. Sam felt a weight lift from her shoulders that she hadn't even known she was carrying.
She whispered her realization to her lover and felt Janet's arms encircle her from behind. "Thank you, Sam. I wouldn't change any of it either."
Though Sam had to smile at the irony of the fact that they were, in fact, planning to change a great many things. Just not the one that meant they had to go to Minnesota in the first place.
"Well, now, isn't that special? Looks like nothing's changed since the last time I was here."
O'Neill's tone was acerbic and Janet fought the urge to reach out and smack him. They'd just passed through the exterior fence that guarded the entrance to Cheyenne Mountain. Okay, so compared to the places they'd just traveled through, it did look pretty much the same as it always had, though her experienced eyes could pick out the subtle signs of disrepair in cracked pavement, faded roadway paint, and the not-so-crisp uniforms of the soldiers on guard duty. But still, Jack's attitude grated on her nerves. He'd run away and deserted this place and these people; he'd lost the right to make scathing comments about any of it.
From the corner of her eye, she caught the look Sam was giving her. She took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly, shoving her annoyance away. Her desire to rid the world of zombies and – hopefully – let things go back to how they used to be was far, far stronger than her desire to read O'Neill the riot act for how he'd treated her lover – not to mention the rest of the team and the other members of the SGC.
The tank stuttered to a halt along the side of the road, just past the guard booth inside the gate entrance. Janet unbuckled her safety belt, gathering up her travel pack with practiced ease. The vehicle was too big to maneuver easily inside the mountain entrance, so they'd walk the rest of the way from here. That was fine with her after being cooped up inside the metal shell for the past few days, tense from the arduous journey. Inside the armored tank they'd been safe enough from the wandering undead, but in this strange new world, they'd learned to never, ever let their guards down. Zombies weren't the only problem they could have run across. With society essentially in shambles, armed gangs and renegade militias had sprung up from the cracks, and they usually didn't take kindly to strangers on their turf.
The group filed quickly and quietly out of the vehicle and made their way along the road into the mountain. It was about a third of a mile from the tunnel entrance to the end of the road – a staging area where jeeps and trucks used to off-load personnel and supplies. At the narrowest point of the road, just before that now-useless staging area, they came across the checkpoint to enter the SGC. A ten-foot-high concrete barrier blocked the road from tunnel wall to tunnel wall with four troops standing guard behind it, perched on platforms built for that very purpose, armed with zats and crossbows. Emergency lights mounted to the ceiling and powered by rechargeable batteries gave enough light to see in the dark tunnel. On the outside of the barrier, the side where Janet and the others stood, a guard shack snuggled up against one wall and a metal shed stood next to the other, its door open, a white curtain bunched together at the side of the open door.
Janet nodded when the two guards inside the shack came out and beckoned to her. She waited at the shed entrance while one of the guards switched on the lamps inside, then entered the small space with the other guard behind her, hearing the metallic rasp of the curtain rings as the curtain was drawn across the entrance to give some privacy. Knowing the drill, she stripped down so they could check her thoroughly for bite marks. She heard the murmur of Daniel's voice outside the little shed, and even though she couldn't hear what he was saying, she knew he had to be explaining this new procedure to Jack. She tuned it out, just as she tuned out the hands on her, knowing it was a necessary precaution. They'd prevented three infected crewmen from entering the base by doing this.
The exam didn't take long, and she dressed quickly, then waited while the guards summoned Sam in. Janet helped the anxious blonde undress, then examined her – the guards watching closely and doing their own visual check, but knowing better than to touch Sam. Within minutes, Janet ushered her silent lover out of the shed, rejoining the rest of the group, while Daniel took his turn.
Before long, all of them had been examined. Two of the guards atop the barrier lowered a rope ladder, and without discussion, Teal'c climbed up first, so that he could help the others if needed. Janet didn't hesitate to let him help her over the top of the barrier and on to the steel ladder bolted into the concrete on the other side. Once they'd all made it over the barrier, they walked together in silence into the dark staging area. The giant blast door that led into the SGC proper stood partway open, just wide enough for two people to slip through side-by-side. That way, the door could be shut and sealed quickly if the guards at the gate felt there was an imminent threat to base security.
Janet heard O'Neill whistle as they made their way down the corridor beyond the door, and turned her head to see him looking up at the overhead lights with interest. His voice betrayed his surprise. "Whoa. How'd you guys manage to keep the electricity on? I know there wasn't enough fuel to keep the generators up and running this long, and, well, you guys know as well as I do how thoroughly the zombies have overrun everything."
Yes, they did. The zombies weren't intelligent, by any stretch of the imagination; they were slow, uncoordinated, and bumbling, driven only by their violent hunger and an instinct to seek out human flesh. Yet the undead, who had no sense of pain or fear or self-preservation, could do incredible damage just by sheer mass. If one zombie ran into a wooden fence because it was in his way, it wouldn't budge. But if ten or twenty zombies all ran into it at once, then it would topple. The damage done all over the world to the trappings of civilization happened for two reasons: one, there weren't enough of the living to keep things up and running, and two, there were too many of the dead to keep things from falling down. It was worst in the urban areas, where the bulk of the zombies congregated because that's where their food supply was.
Janet knew they were just lucky that Cheyenne Mountain was so remote – not many of the undead made the trip up the steep, winding road, and those that did were generally alone and thus fairly easily dealt with.
She shook herself out of her musings when she heard Sam's answer. "Well, sir, it pays to have allies across the galaxy. The Tok'ra and Asgard still needed our help out there, so they've given us some naquadah power sources that keep many of our systems up and running, including the Stargate."
Jack's bitter "Well, isn't that just peachy?" didn't really surprise Janet. She knew that having power was a luxury most of the world didn't have any more. Not that it made life at the SGC easy. She opened her mouth to make that very point, but Daniel beat her to it, his voice tight with anger.
"Well, believe it or not, Jack, that power comes at a high price. We've lost a lot of good people while continuing to fight the Goa'uld, and helping our allies. Most of us work sixteen to twenty hours a day, every day, between missions through the Stargate and doing the same tasks of daily survival that the rest of the world does – growing food, collecting water, making clothing, so on and so forth. We may have lights to see by rather than candles, but other than that, our lives are the same as yours."
Daniel paused for a moment, and when he continued, Janet heard the anger give way to resignation. "Actually, I guess our lives aren't really the same. We have to make do with limited supplies and resources just like everybody else does – only we're not just dealing with zombies and the fall of civilization, we're also fighting aliens and trying to keep the planet safe at the same time."
Janet watched O'Neill closely and saw his mouth snap shut on whatever smart-ass comment he'd planned to make. Which was a good thing. She hadn't really thought about it until she heard Daniel state it so baldly, but in some ways, the people at the SGC were worse off than those outside. Those outside were responsible only to themselves and their chosen communities; they didn't have the same weight of the world on their shoulders. Zombie plague or not, the Goa'uld still had an interest in Earth and the Tau'ri, and still posed a threat to the planet.
She stared at Jack as he looked at each member of the group in turn, really looked at them. Up to that point, while he'd come along on their "little adventure," as he'd termed it, he'd still been holding himself apart, playing up the role of put-upon outsider. Now, something in Daniel's words seemed to have struck a chord and reminded him that he used to be a part of this team, this life. It didn't surprise her when both Sam and Daniel blushed and looked away under Jack's sudden, serious scrutiny. She studied him while he studied the members of his former team.
Janet didn't need to look around her to know what was finally registering with him. They'd all lost weight, Sam and Daniel looking almost gaunt, and they all had lined faces and bags under their eyes from nearly non-stop work. All but Teal'c sported new scars, from injuries her limited medical supplies couldn't adequately treat – and while Sam had gotten more proficient with the Goa'uld healing device, it took too much out of the blonde's already-limited energy reserves to use it except in the most dire emergencies.
She saw Jack's eyes linger on twin jagged scars running down Daniel's cheek, then on the mess of stark white lines marring Sam's hands and wrists. Those scars had barely been visible in the dim light of the ex-colonel's house or the dark interior of the tank, but stood out in stark relief under the fluorescent lights inside the SGC.
Her gaze was still focused on Jack, so she saw him swallow hard as his face paled. When he finally spoke, his tone was completely serious for the first time since they'd shown up on his doorstep. "What the hell happened to you guys?"
For a long moment, she waited to see if Daniel – who'd played unofficial spokesperson thus far – would respond, but he remained silent. Not too surprising, since he and Sam had been seriously traumatized by the incident that gave them those particular scars. Janet stepped forward, putting her hand unobtrusively on her lover's back, and spoke softly. "They were taken prisoner by Apophis." She saw a shudder run through O'Neill at the mention of the name. "As you can imagine, he wanted a little revenge for your escape on Netu."
She could have said more – could have told him how close the team had come to dying under the torture, how close the SGC had come to telling the Tok'ra to take a hike once and for all when they refused to risk the identity of an undercover operative to aid in the rescue. But she didn't, feeling Sam's tensed muscles under her fingers. She rubbed her lover's back soothingly, and said simply, "They went through hell, Colonel. But that's a story for another time."
His sharp gaze landed on her and she jerked her chin minutely at Sam and then shook her head. Thankfully, he was as adept as ever at reading her non-verbal cues, and merely cleared his throat instead of asking the questions she could see written in his eyes. Following her lead, he said, "Right. So...I take it we're heading down to see General Hammond."
Cam jumped into the conversation. "Yeah. Things are a lot more informal now since the chain of command outside the mountain is pretty well non-existent. But George still likes to meet with all his teams, make sure the lines of communication are completely open."
Janet almost laughed at O'Neill's raised eyebrow and disbelieving look. Not that she could blame him. For someone so steeped in military life – resigned, retired, or not – using only a superior officer's last name was a breach of protocol, let alone using his or her first name. But she sobered quickly at the reminder of how completely the world had changed. George Hammond was still very much in charge of the SGC, but most of the trappings of rank and privilege had been thrown out the window as soon as it became clear just how thoroughly the SGC was on its own.
Daniel had clearly picked up on Jack's reaction as well; she could hear the trace of humor in his voice. "You'll get used to it quickly enough. Well, maybe. Sam still hasn't quite mastered it."
Janet chuckled at the mock glare her lover shot the archeologist. Not that his statement wasn't true; Sam just hated the reminder that she was still too damn polite for her own good. No matter how endearing and/or amusing the rest of them found it.
Cam led the way and they headed for the stairwell. Before Jack could ask, Daniel was explaining, "While we do have a power source, we've found it's best to ration what we use it for. So we have computers and some lights up and running, but the elevators and non-essential services are shut off. There are entire floors we don't use any more."
The conversation lapsed then, since they were spread out single file on the staircase. Granted, going down was a lot easier than going up, but it still took a while to get down to the lower levels of the mountain. They emerged onto level 28 and headed into the corridor leading towards the gate operations room. Janet and Sam trailed slightly behind the others, and the doctor watched as O'Neill looked around with obvious interest. Either he'd forgotten what the place looked like, or a part of him had missed it. She wasn't sure which one was more likely.
And then, there was no time for further reflection, because they were in the operations room and heading up the small staircase that led to the briefing room. She wasn't too surprised to see George Hammond already sitting there, clearly waiting for them. He didn't bother to stand; Janet knew his back was probably bothering him, since he'd been scheduled to spend the past three days at the Alpha Site fields, planting corn and potatoes alongside Cassandra and his granddaughters. But his face split in a wide grin when he caught sight of Jack, and his tone was warm. "Welcome home, son."
O'Neill's answering grin was more smirk than smile. "It's interesting to be back."
Janet noted the way Sam and Cam both winced at the ex-colonel's expression and statement. Glancing around, she saw that Daniel was merely rolling his eyes and that Teal'c's eyebrow was slightly quirked in his patented I-still-do-not-understand-why-the-Tau'ri-p
She watched as O'Neill sat down on George's other side, with Daniel and Teal'c quickly taking seats on that same side of the table, leaving Mitchell standing alone, looking troubled and confused. That only made sense, she supposed, since Cameron still didn't really know the former colonel and had no frame of reference to understand the undertones.
When Cam spoke, his words only confirmed her assessment. He walked over to stand behind Hammond, stared down at O'Neill, and said, "Look, I don't want to be the bad guy or anything, but if you don't want to be here, then why the fuck did you agree to come? We've been busting our asses to find a solution to this zombie plague, and now we think we've got a good shot at stopping the whole thing from happening. We can do it just fine without the help of a selfish, bitter, entitled jerk."
Janet tensed at the anger in Cam's words and the stormy expression that crept over Jack's face. She heard Sam's sharp gasp and Daniel's muttered "Oh, boy."
Thankfully, it was Teal'c who broke the tension, turning a stern eye towards his teammate. "Cameron Mitchell, you should not make judgments about those whom you do not know. O'Neill's sense of humor is quite different than what you are accustomed to hearing." Then his gaze swung over to his former team leader, his dark face implacable. "O'Neill, while I understand that you are, indeed, being humorous here, in general you have been acting like a petulant child. The choice to leave was yours, as was the choice to return."
For a long moment, there was silence as Teal'c and Jack stared each other down. When O'Neill sighed and looked away, Janet let out a breath she hadn't been aware of holding. The ex-colonel's words were soft, but sincere. "You're right, Teal'c. I did choose to come back and help out. So let's get down to business."
It wasn't exactly an apology, but it was as close as they were likely to get. Janet watched the way Cam looked over at Teal'c and saw how he waited for the Jaffa's slight nod before he made his way over to sit down next to Sam. Not for the first time, it amused her that even though Mitchell had officially been appointed the leader of SG-1 after O'Neill resigned, in many ways it was Teal'c who led the group, through his quiet observations and calm presence.
Hammond cleared his throat and all eyes swung to him. "Since we're ready to proceed, let me signal Thor so that he can join us." The general reached out and pressed a button on a contraption the Asgard leader had left with the SGC, so that they could make contact in case of an emergency that threatened the safety of Cheyenne Mountain or the Stargate. Or, as in this case, when they had other pressing reasons to speak with the Asgard Supreme Commander.
Even after all this time, the Asgard beaming technology still managed to catch Janet off-guard. She blinked in surprise as Thor – or rather his holographic image – appeared at the other end of the table from General Hammond. The little grey alien stared at her for a moment, and then his gaze swept around the table to take them all in, before going back to linger on one person in particular. Thor's voice was warmer than usual as he said, "O'Neill, I am pleased to see you again. I have missed your presence."
If it was possible for the hard-boiled ex-colonel to squirm, he was doing it now, Janet noted, amused by the sight. O'Neill's words were hurried. "Um, yeah, good to see you, too, Thor. So...I hear you're going to help us out with this whole zombie situation."
If the alien was perturbed by the abruptness of the greeting, his response didn't show it. "Now that Samantha and Daniel have found a solution that we are able to assist with, yes. We regret that our war with the Replicators has prevented us from being of more assistance, since we are indebted to all of you for your help over the years."
Janet still had her hand on top of Sam's and could feel her partner's start of surprise at the words. Thor was rarely effusive when it came to thanking them for their help; normally, he simply snatched them up without warning and returned them as abruptly as he'd beamed them out.
But there was no time to reflect on that, since Thor continued, "Based on solar activity, it appears a series of suitable flares will begin in roughly fourteen Earth hours, though our technology can only predict the exact time of each flare about an hour before it happens. We will dial the Stargate from our ship to ensure that the opening of the wormhole is synchronized with the beginning of the flare. We will then tell you exactly when to step through the Stargate to ensure you arrive at the correct point in the past. I assume Samantha has done the calculations for the various coordinates, as we discussed earlier, and has them ready for us to upload."
And that was a lot sooner than Janet had expected. She looked around the table, seeing the mix of anticipation and uncertainty on her friends' faces. Sam nodded at Thor in response to his question, O'Neill scowled at no one in particular, and Hammond took a deep breath. The general spoke up. "Thank you, Thor. That will give the team time to get their supplies together and get a little bit of rest before they leave."
O'Neill cleared his throat and Janet swung her gaze over to him. He said, "Okay, so I know I'm late to this party. But if you don't know exactly when the Goa'uld's cargo ship arrived, then how do you know we'll get there in time? And what, exactly, is the plan?"
This time, it wasn't Thor who responded, but Sam. "To answer the second question first, sir, the plan is pretty simple. Once we arrive, we'll set up a force field perimeter to make sure the MHDs can't get past us. Then, we'll find a secluded location and set up camp while we wait for the Tel'tak to arrive. When Ba'al unleashes his infected human slaves, we'll do whatever is necessary to destroy them. If we're lucky, we might even be able to blow up the Tel'tak somehow and eliminate the general threat posed by Ba'al. We're out of C4 and grenades, but I might be able to rig up some kind of explosive device out of the supplies we bring with us."
It didn't surprise Janet when Sam paused there; she knew it meant her lover was gauging whether or not she still had the attention of her audience. After a moment, the astrophysicist continued, "To answer your first question, by looking at old satellite data and thermal maps, we were able to spot an atmospheric disturbance that could only be caused by something like a Tel'tak. Unfortunately, there were not precise time stamps on the data we had; we pieced together a basic time frame by cross-comparing the data to other known events, including the extrapolated beginning of the MHD viral plague, but couldn't narrow it down to anything more precise than a five-day window. We'll arrive several days prior to the beginning of that window in order to ensure we can complete our preparations before Ba'al arrives."
Janet was watching Jack, amused to see that the years of his absence hadn't improved his patience with long or scientific explanations. He shook his head and muttered, "Okay, if you say you've got it figured out, that's all I needed to know. So we...what?...go back, take out the original zombies, and destroy this bowling ball guy if we can. Fine, sure, piece of cake. Then what?"
Staring at him for a long moment, Janet realized that they'd never really talked too much about that part of the plan. The few conversations the team had had about that piece of it ran mostly along the lines of: "We need to make a pact to ensure that none of us ends up turning into zombies." She realized, to her horror, that she – and presumably the others – had assumed that none of them would survive the mission. They'd run out of conventional ammo a couple of years ago, and they'd discovered the hard way that zats had no effect on the creatures, so the fighting was likely to be up-close-and-personal. She'd figured that everyone except Teal'c would end up getting bitten when they got close enough to the undead to destroy them, and that the Jaffa would then have to eliminate his teammates before they became zombies themselves.
She shook herself out of that wholly depressing train of thought, though judging by the sober looks on the faces of her friends, they all were thinking the same thing. Teal'c said, very softly, "I do not believe any of us thought we would be returning. I believe, at best, we thought if we survived, we would be stuck in a past in which we had no place."
Janet turned to look at Jack again, who was staring at them as though they'd all lost their marbles. He blurted out, "Well, that plan totally sucks. I've done the whole suicide mission thing and it's way overrated. How about we figure out how to kill off the zombies without getting eaten in the process?"
Daniel's voice was exasperated. "We've talked about that, Jack. I assume you know as well as I do that in order to stop these zombies permanently, you have to completely destroy them. You can't simply shoot them, because you can't kill what's already dead. And for some reason that we don't understand, zats don't have any effect on them. Even a third zat blast won't disintegrate them. It should, but it doesn't, and all we can guess is that Ba'al built that kind of safeguard into the virus for some reason."
When he paused, shaking his head, Janet picked up the thought, saying, "We don't know exactly how it works, but that little virus cooked up by Ba'al is sheer genius. Sheer evil, mind you, but still genius."
She saw Jack opening his mouth, presumably to object to the characterization, and was glad when Daniel spoke up quickly, getting back to his original point. "We all know that even taking a P90 and blowing their damn heads off won't stop the bodies from moving, though at least they can't bite anyone to infect them." He paused again, before finishing with, "Still, that's a moot point because we don't have any more bullets for our guns."
Jumping in, Cam volunteered, "Teal'c's staff weapon works great for taking their heads off, but since zats don't work, the best the rest of us can hope for is to use swords or knives to damage them enough that they're stopped in their tracks. Then we can throw them all in a big pile, make a bonfire out of them, and completely destroy the bodies. But we'll have to get pretty damn close to do that – we'll be well within biting range."
Jack was shaking his head in open disbelief and Janet found herself wanting to snap at him for dismissing their plan so casually. After all, she'd been there for the hours of agonizing discussion they'd had over it; it wasn't something they'd just thrown together on a whim. Trying to keep her temper in check, her gaze went to her partner's face; Sam always was able to calm the worst of her demons. The blonde met her gaze and Janet was momentarily taken aback at the dullness in blue eyes that hinted at soul-deep weariness and defeat – and she was suddenly aware that beneath her own anger, she felt the same way.
Abruptly she realized that maybe that was really why Thor wanted O'Neill to be involved – the ex-colonel brought a fresh perspective to a tired conversation. The rest of them were exhausted and operating in self-sacrifice mode – they'd spent too long by themselves on the front lines, trying to save everyone else.
She wasn't aware that she'd muttered that last bit out loud until she heard O'Neill cough. She looked over to see him staring at her with sudden sympathy. His voice was kinder than she'd expected. "I do get it, you know. It wasn't that long ago that I was out there, willing to die to keep the planet safe. But I'm not in the mood to die today, so let's figure out a new plan. One thing: if the zats don't work on them, then it's probably safe to assume that this Ba'al character made it so that a force field won't have any effect on them either."
Daniel sighed. "It's too bad that there are only a handful of Free Jaffa. If they had any staff weapons to spare, that would help a lot."
Cam sighed. "I know, right? Even if we had something like spears, which are designed for throwing, I don't think that any of us would be that dead-on with the aim. Hell, most of us still aren't very good with the crossbows."
Sam sighed. "How on earth are we going to ensure that the MHDs don't slip past us if we can't use a force field?"
Jack threw his hands up in the air. "You guys are starting to depress me. C'mon!"
Janet sympathized with his obvious frustration, but at the same time, she was annoyed with the man. They'd had a plan set up, even if it wasn't the best plan in the world, and he'd trashed it without offering any alternative idea. She was about to give in to her temper and tell him that, when she heard Teal'c clear his throat.
"We can do nothing to change the weapons we have available. Swords and knives are what we have and what most of us are proficient with; we will have to find a way to make those work. Perhaps we should change the terrain on which we fight."
Janet narrowed her eyes, trying to figure out what he was talking about, and glanced around the table to see that everyone else, except Sam, was staring at the Jaffa, clearly as confused as she was. Sam had her head quirked to the side, lost in thought. Teal'c raised an eyebrow and offered, "The area of northern California in which the Tel'tak will land is heavily wooded. We could climb into the trees and attack the zombies from that angle. There will still be risk involved, but as the beings lack the coordination to climb, we would be able to retreat upward in the face of danger, rather than being on equal ground."
Janet was mulling that over, when she heard O'Neill exclaim, "See, now that's what I'm talking about. We need ideas like that!"
Cam's response to his teammate's suggestion was sarcastic. "How the hell are we supposed to climb up to get out of reach if we're hanging down low enough to attack the zombies?"
Janet had to concede his point, only Daniel popped up with, "Well, maybe one person could be hooked up with ropes, hanging down to fight, and another person could be holding the ropes in order to pull him – or her – up out of danger."
Hammond coughed and Janet's attention swung back around to him. His voice was stern, but not unsympathetic. "Until you actually see the ground you'll be fighting on, you can't really come up with a definitive plan for how to fight the MHDs. Given that you need to be ready to ship out in less than fourteen hours, you also don't have a lot of time to sit around arguing about the details. I suspect you'll have to figure this out once you're in place and waiting for Ba'al's cargo ship to arrive."
Daniel spoke up. "He's right, you know. We'd better just take anything and everything we think might be useful, and then see what the terrain looks like when we get there. Though we'd probably better figure out what we're going to use as a perimeter if the force field won't stop them."
Unexpectedly, Sam chimed in. "I think I have an idea for that. The MHDs lack coordination and the mental capacity to process information or make plans. So if, for example, they fall into a deep hole, they can't figure out a way to get out. What if we dig a circular trench – like a moat? That could be our perimeter, and we could hide its presence from Ba'al's sensors by using the force field."
Janet swung her gaze over to Jack, who looked suitably impressed. "Good thinking, Carter. Of course--"
"I know, sir. We'll have to arrive earlier in order to have time to dig the trench, and I'll confer with Thor about the specifics of that..."
Janet almost laughed when Sam sputtered to a stop, the blonde's face red with embarrassment about interrupting her former superior officer. O'Neill, for his part, just raised an eyebrow and said, "I see some things never change."
He paused there, clearly as amused by Sam's embarrassment as Janet was, and then continued, "Okay, so we'll get there a little earlier and make up the plan as we go. Now there's just the matter of what happens after we win this little fight. I assume that even though none of you thought about this, the Asgard wouldn't send us into the past unless they knew how to bring us back to the future...I mean, our time...I mean, right now. But once we've changed the past, then how will we know what's happened over the last few years, since we won't have lived through it?"
His face scrunched up as if he had a headache, and Janet completely sympathized. She'd just started thinking along the same lines. They couldn't stay in the past, since they already existed there. Well, actually, they could; there was nothing like entropic cascade failure to contend with since it was their own reality. They'd just have to stay away from everything and everyone they'd ever known to avoid contaminating the past. But coming back to the present would mean a five-year gap in their memories – and how the hell could they explain that away? One person could claim amnesia without causing much suspicion; six of them claiming it would raise enough red flags to cover the distance between the SGC and the Pentagon.
No wonder time travel was nothing to play around with. The chances of screwing everything up beyond repair were enormous.
She glanced at her lover, half-expecting her to jump in with a long, complicated explanation, but Sam just sat there, shaking her head. It wasn't an "I don't know" gesture; Janet could read her expression well enough to know that the astrophysicist knew the answer – or at least one possible answer. When the blonde finally spoke, her words were succinct. "Because we're deliberately changing the past, instead of trying not to, it will create a paradox – and it's impossible to predict what the ultimate effect will be."
Janet stared at Sam in confusion, not having to look to know that O'Neill, Cam, and Teal'c were doing the same. She started in surprise when Thor spoke abruptly, saying, "I will take care of it." She'd completely forgotten the little alien was in the room.
Still looking at Sam, Janet saw the way the blonde cocked her head to the side, studying the Asgard, her gaze intensely curious. Thor said, "I will not tell you the specifics, Samantha, for that is knowledge the Tau'ri are not yet advanced enough to have. Even the Ancients, who knew the secrets to traveling in time, did so only on rare occasions and did not share that information freely or lightly, as it is a great responsibility to bear."
Janet saw the slow nod Sam gave in response; she had no doubt the astrophysicist understood that better than anyone else in the room.
Thor inclined his head slightly, in what Janet had come to recognize as a show of respect, and continued, "I can ensure that when you re-enter the timeline, you will carry the memories of your lives as they have unfolded in that timeline. I have a device that will open the iris and beam you directly to the forest when you step through the Stargate into the past. You will use that same device to signal my past self if you successfully complete your mission. There will be an encoded message on the device that will let my past self know what has happened, and tell him what he needs to do in order to avoid a paradox when he sends you back to the right point in time."
Thor stopped there, and Janet watched her lover, seeing that Sam was thinking hard, trying to put all the mental pieces together. The Asgard spoke again, his voice taking on a strangely hypnotic quality. "I appreciate your desire to understand, Samantha, and there may come a time when I can explain the details to you. For now, I simply ask that you – that all of you – trust me."
Janet glanced around at her friends, not surprised that Daniel, Teal'c, Cam, and Sam were doing the same. They were non-verbally checking in with one another to see if they were all still on board with going ahead without knowing the particulars. She noticed that Hammond missed the by-play entirely, his eyes focused instead on O'Neill. For his part, Jack had a big grin on his face and eyes only for the little grey alien. The ex-colonel's voice was more cheerful than she would have expected under the circumstances. "Of course, we trust you, Thor, old buddy. That's all I needed to hear. Let's get this show on the road!"
She saw the lingering questions in Sam's eyes, the uncertainty on Daniel's face, and the slight twitch of a muscle in Teal'c's jaw. Cameron alone seemed completely at ease with the situation, his gaze shifting over to O'Neill, clearly reassured by the former colonel's enthusiasm. The other three members of SG-1 turned to Janet for her opinion, and she shrugged in response. Her words were soft. "Whatever he has planned has to be better than dying or being stuck in the past."
Sam took a deep breath, Teal'c gave a nod, and Daniel straightened his shoulders, rubbing his hands together as he said, "Right. Let's do this."