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It's Hard to Say Goodbye
"What's going on?" Daniel asked quietly when he and Casey entered the bridge. Jack, Sam, and Teal'c were standing behind Colonel Bradshaw's chair, the crew of the Persephone in place once again.
Jack glanced over his shoulder. "It seems that Case managed to do a bit more damage to his ship. He's slowing down, scans show he's having trouble maintaining his shields. We're waiting for them to drop completely, then we're going to blast him out of the sky."
"What about all of those escape pods?" Casey asked.
"Homing beacons are already working, they should arrive at this point in about two hours," Sam replied.
"Long range scans show two bogeys closing fast," the com tech reported.
"Identify," Colonel Bradshaw replied.
"Looks like two al'kesh," was the response after several tense seconds.
"They're going to try and keep us away from that damaged mothership," Jack muttered.
"No…he's going to transfer onto one of them. The mothership will…stay here…and try to intercept those pods," Casey said softly, her eyes closed as she 'listened'.
"Crap!" the gray haired general hissed. He wiped a hand over his face. "Contact Duncan. Tell him to get the Phoenix out here ASAP. If we let him get away, he could make it to Gamma. We can't let him take those pods. We have to get our people, and I want those scientists of his."
Colonel Bradshaw nodded to the com tech. "Be sure to give our current position as where the Phoenix needs to be, and tell them they have one hour, forty nine minutes to get here."
The young woman turned her attention to the console, and relayed the message. Three minutes later she had a reply. "Phoenix has six more satellites to deploy. Best ETA one hour, forty minutes."
Jack heaved a quiet sigh of relief. "Okay, send a message to Colonel Bailey. Let her know that she's going to be picking up escape pods, and there's an unfriendly who wants to do the same thing."
"Okay, kids, let's get a nice SGC welcome ready for those assholes who want to crash the party," Jack said, his voice low, steady, calm…deadly.
SG-1 slid into seats vacated by the Persephone crew. Vincent Sabotti grinned at Casey as he relinquished control of the weapons console to her. She grinned in return, sat down and began to arm all torpedoes and missile bays.
"Picking up chatter," Sam reported, listening carefully to the messages being sent from the Goa'uld mothership to the approaching An'kesh. "Dagon is ordering the ships to destroy us, and then he plans to ring over to one of them."
"Jack, we've intercepted ring transports before, maybe we could capture Dagon," Daniel said from his place at the helm.
"We have to know ahead of time about the transport, in order to be in position," Jack said. "We'd have to know exactly which ship he was ringing to, as well."
All eyes immediately went to Casey. "I'll do my best," she said softly.
"Al'kesh within firing range in twenty seconds," Teal'c said, watching the navigation screen in front of him.
"Let's draw them in a little closer," Jack said. "Tell all hands to brace for attack."
Bradshaw nodded. "Attention on ship, all hands assume battle stations! Brace for attack!"
The ship shuddered around them when the first volley impacted on the shields. "Shield integrity down to eighty-nine percent," Casey reported.
"Okay, easy does it," Jack said quietly. "Daniel, I want you to give me best speed on my mark. Teal'c, plot a course that will take us right between those two ships. Then I want a one-eighty, and we'll fire on all three of them. Casey, ready to fire torpedoes."
"Ready," Daniel said softly.
"Torpedoes armed and ready," Casey said.
The ship was hit again, and again, each time causing the entire vessel to shake. The al'kesh began to move closer, convinced that the Tau'ri vessel was too damaged to return fire, or move away. They were preparing to deliver what they thought would be the final blow.
"Easy…easy…" Jack said softly. "Now!"
To the Jaffa on the approaching An'kesh, the Persephone appeared to jump between them, then was suddenly turning and firing on them, and the badly damaged mothership. Casey was firing missiles when she saw them. "We have gliders coming in."
"Launch all fighters," Jack replied.
"Launching fighters." With a flick of a switch, the red light in the hanger bays turned to green, and pilots anxiously awaiting word to enter the battle did just that.
"Oh, shit," Casey mumbled.
"Talk to me," Jack said.
"I’m counting thirty, no…make that thirty-five…thirty-five gliders. We have nine 302's."
"Okay, so the odds are a little off. But they asked for it," Jack replied.
With a giggle, Casey began to fire on any and every glider that came within range of the Persephone. "Better than a video game," she said, taking out two of the small Goa'uld vessels. Several of the crewmembers behind her snickered.
"Persephone, this is Alpha leader. Seems that mothership is trying to get away," a voice said, echoing through the bridge.
"Copy that, Alpha leader," Jack replied. "Okay, let's shut him down. Send a couple of nukes over, Case."
With a nod, she lifted the plastic cover that hid five toggle switches from view. She flipped each one, waiting until she had a green light before moving to the next one. "Nukes armed and ready."
"One at a time," Jack said. "Take him out, Case."
She watched the targeting computer. Cocked her head to one side slightly, reached for Daniel. She tugged slightly, felt him move toward her. She held tightly to him, then closed her eyes. She needed to hit the ship in the most vulnerable section. The pel'tak, definitely, she wanted to take that rat bastard out. And one more…there…right there! She let her mind move her fingers over the keyboard, locking the coordinates in. "Firing nukes three and five," she said softly.
The mothership exploded in a flash of light. Thirteen seconds later the energy wave crashed into the Persephone, rocking the ship from side to side. The al'kesh were affected as well. Both of those ships began to fire continuously at the Tau'ri vessel.
"Tell me we got him," Jack said, watching the scene that played out through the window in front of him.
She reached out. "Damn it!"
"Don't say it!" Jack warned.
"Okay. I won't say it," she replied.
"He got away," Jack grumbled.
"I didn't say it," she mumbled. "Yeah. He's in a glider."
"Alpha leader, this is Persephone. Take those damn gliders out, all of them. Snake is in one of them," Jack said.
"Copy Persephone. Taking gliders out."
The al'kesh continued to fire, Daniel and Teal'c worked to keep the Persephone moving, hoping to take as few hits as possible. Shield integrity was continuing to fall. Admittedly, the best that they could hope for was to keep the ships at bay, and pray that the 302's could take out the glider that Dagon was in.
Suddenly, the al'kesh began to pull back. The gliders raced for the two ships, 302's in hot pursuit. Debris from the dozen or so destroyed gliders and the destroyed mothership was making maneuvering a problem for the pilots as they attempted to get closer to the An'kesh. The two Goa'uld ships began to move away.
"Follow them," Jack ordered sharply.
The ships were heading for the small planet that was barely visible behind them. And they were heading there in a hurry.
"Okay, what's down there that he's so hot to get?" Jack asked.
Sam was already trying to scan the planet. "I'm not finding much of anything, not yet anyway. We're not close enough for me to do a thorough scan," she admitted.
"Soon as you can," Jack said.
Casey, still holding tightly to Daniel in that sunny meadow, reached out, trying to find anything that would interest the Goa'uld. She found nothing. It was a beautiful planet, covered with forests and mountains, deep valleys and wide plains. It would be an amazing place to live, she thought briefly. She was 'skimming' over the trees, following a wide river when she saw a flash of white and gold. She went back, moved closer. "Oh, shit!"
"What?" Jack asked instantly.
"He's got some sort of…like a small base there! And a temple! Huge, freaking monstrosity of a temple! Looks like…at least a hundred Jaffa. More gliders…um…I count ten. The compound isn't large, but it's enough to give us…oh, no!"
"Um…give me a second," she replied. Carefully she moved down to the lower levels of the bunker she encountered. "Remember old oily face and his labs?"
"Well, I just found Dagon's."
"Shit! Okay, we need to take this place out," Jack said. "Colonel, if you and your people would like to take the con, we'll head down to the transporter. Get those fighters back here, then get us to that planet."
"Yes, sir!" Colonel Bradshaw responded. He slid into the chair that Jack had vacated. "Alpha leader, get your squad back here, we're heading out."
"Copy, Persephone," the leader's voice replied.
A A A A A A
SG-1 met up with SGI-3 in the armory. The two teams began to arm themselves, taking extra explosives and magazines for the P90s, as well as zat'nik'tels with the specially modified power units. They could only assume that the modifications that made them effect against the Kull warriors would also work against Dagon's zombies. Casey drew out a diagram of what she had seen, giving the teams a vague idea of the layout of the bunker. She did another search, finding that none of the four levels were as heavily guarded as they expected. The bunker was shielded however, and they would have to transport down outside of the entrance to the underground facility. Getting in would no doubt be the easy part. Getting out would be much more difficult. The armbands that rendered them invisible to detection by electronic means would do nothing in protecting them against regular patrols.
Jack made sure that a message was sent to the Phoenix, alerting them that the mothership had been destroyed, but warning that the al'kesh might decide to return. Persephone would be unable to give chase, to do so would strand the two teams on the planet.
Both al'kesh had cloaked, the Persephone had followed suit. Colonel Bradshaw had made it appear that the Tau'ri ship was returning to the interception point, hoping that it would give Dagon the false impression that they were leaving the area. The crew on the bridge was searching the area, trying to determine where the Goa'uld ships had gone.
Ten minutes later the two teams were on the surface of the planet, staring down at a well-fortified temple complex. In the center of the large compound was the temple, it most probably served as Dagon's residence when he was on the planet. It was ornate, to be sure. They could see several people moving just in front of the structure.
"Two priests. Five priestess'," Daniel said, looking through the binoculars at the temple. "Looks as if they're in the middle of some sort of ritual."
Jack was also studying the base below them. "Our best bet is to wait until dark. We'll have a better chance of slipping in. Let Bradshaw know we're going to be here awhile."
Sam nodded and quietly contacted the ship that orbited above them.
"Let's settle in," Jack said. "It won't be dark for a few hours yet."
Casey let her pack slide from her shoulders, sat it beside Daniel's, then settled with her back against his. She was watching the blue sky above them, marveling at the number of planets in the universe that resembled Earth. Wondered briefly if she would ever see Earth again. Oh, sure, they had been at UCLA for Daniel's speech, for all of about twenty minutes. Before the NID had disrupted the entire proceeding. They hadn't left the building. Some days she longed to walk through Silver Springs again, maybe spend the day on Pike's Peak; or visit the Space Needle in Seattle; or the Dohnecky Flower Gardens in Seacouver; or the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma. She had never seen the Grand Canyon. Or Mount Rushmore. Or Niagara Falls. Or the Eiffel Tower. Or the Basilica in Rome. Or the Pyramids of Giza. It was unlikely that she would, site-seeing on Earth wasn't going to happen for a very long time. She shook her head mentally. Her home was Gamma, now. And probably would be for many years to come. She doubted that the SGC would ever return to Earth. The 'original' SGC was now nothing more than a 'gate for commerce. It was still in the belly of Cheyenne Mountain. And it was still operated by the Air Force. But there were no SG teams, no missions being undertaken. The labs all remained silent and empty. That all fell to the Stargate Command Colonies.
The US military was losing recruits to the SCC. The United States wasn't the only country seeing eligible recruits moving off world, however. The enlistment rate in the Gamma Military Force was at a record high, most of the personnel stationed at either the Alpha or Beta sights. But more and more were moving to Gamma as well. General Hammond had set up training facilities at Alpha, where boot camp made the training in US bases look like a Sunday School picnic. Out of every 'class' of one hundred recruits, barely half made it through the first four weeks. Of those, only half would graduate. The men and women who put on the black and silver uniform of the GMF were the best-trained troops in the galaxy.
She sighed softly.
She smiled. 'Nothing. Just thinking.'
'This and that. Nothing specific. Guess my mind was wandering a bit.'
Daniel reached back, caressed her hip. 'Love you.'
'Love you, too.'
His thoughts were more focused. Casey hadn't been able to 'shake' those ships, not until he had sent his Fire to her. He wasn't about to let her take it again, it was too overwhelming for her. Hell, it was hard enough for him to handle! Her slender, one hundred fifteen pound body just wasn't strong enough to deal with the heat…the power…of the Fire that flowed through him. How stupid had he been to think that she could control that Fire, and protect the Persephone? The Fire, his Fire, would have killed her, had he not been able to regain control of it and pull it back. Casey was a powerful seer, and that exposed her to more than enough jeopardy, mind and body. She didn't need extra risks that threatened her well being. He didn't need her exposed to extra risks. Yet, like an idiot, he had asked her to do just that…expose herself to danger, doing something she wasn't yet able to do…something she might not ever be able to do alone. Together, they could reach out and 'shake things up'. Never again would he allow her to do anything like that without him. 'Are you okay?'
She knew what he was asking. She could still feel the panic, the Fire racing through her, around her, burning her, leaving her breathless, struggling to regain control of the power that filled her. 'I'm fine. Totally in control again.'
'I'm sorry, babe. I never should have asked you to do that.'
'You have nothing to be sorry about. I think…I think the next time I do that, I need you to help me, not just give me your Fire. Which obviously I can't control. You're so…Daniel, your power is…amazing.'
He smiled. Knew for a fact that each time that he used it for a 'new' purpose, the Fire grew hotter, stronger. 'Sometimes it feels like I barely have it under control, Angel.'
"Heads up," Jack whispered.
The two teams quietly slipped further into the forest that surrounded them. Two patrols were moving up from the base below them. They didn't know if their presence had been detected, or if it was a normal occurrence. Hidden in the brush, the Tau'ri watched as the armor clad Jaffa moved passed them. It seemed that the fabled SG-1 luck was holding. Neither of the patrols appeared to be aware of the intruders.
A A A A A A
Nightfall came quickly. Jack insisted that the teams take time to eat, the cold MREs may not have tasted the best, but the calories were needed for the physical exertion that they were about to face. With their night vision goggles in place, they began to move slowly down the side of the ridge, toward the first group of guards.
Teal'c and Daniel had agreed that it would be highly unlikely that any priests or priestess' would be about after the final 'prayers' had been delivered for the night. Which hadn't occurred until two hours after sunset. The entrance to the underground bunker had to be in the temple, there were no other structures nearby, except for six large tents in one corner of the compound, which housed the Jaffa. It was always possible that one of the tents disguised the entrance, and the elevator that was needed to access the subterranean levels. But it was highly improbable. So, the temple was where they needed to go.
Jack, Teal'c, Daniel, and Craig Weatherby, one of the Immortals of SGI-3, moved closer to the Jaffa who stood just outside the walled perimeter of the compound. Quietly and efficiently, using well-known hand-to-hand techniques, the guards were dispatched, and dragged to the bushes where the rest of the team members waited.
Her heart was hammering against her ribs, echoing in her ears as she waited with Sam and the rest of 3. It was always this way when they were in the midst of such a dangerous mission. She could remember that the first few times she had gone through the 'gate with SG-1, she had been terrified that the enemy would hear the pounding and know one, that she was there, and two, that she was scared to death. Experience taught her that the enemy was more likely to hear her breathing. And to never let that enemy know just how frightened she really was.
Staying in the shadows that played against the wall, SG-1 and SGI-3 moved inside the compound. SGI-3 began to make their way toward the gliders that could just be seen in the moonlight, and SG-1 moved toward the temple. Once C-4 had been planted on the gliders, SGI-3 would then return to the gate in the thick wall, and wait for the flagship team. They would be in position to watch 1's six, and keep their escape path clear. The plan was to make it back to the beam down point before sun up. Not knowing exactly how long the day/night cycle was, they figured they had no more than three hours to secure their objective: the total destruction of the laboratories that were hidden in the bowels of the planet.
Another group of guards came around the corner. Everyone froze in position, not moving, not even daring to breathe. The three Jaffa passed them by. All of the patrols consisted of three Jaffa. And six patrols roamed the courtyard at regular intervals, on what appeared to be a set pattern of rounds. It had only taken twenty minutes to see the half dozen patrols follow the path twice. Timing their movements to occur between the rounds, they continued to move deeper into the compound. So far, they had remained undetected.
Life-sized statues lined the wide ingress from the gate that allowed entry through the outer wall to the steps that led up to that oversized, ostentatious abomination of an architect's nightmare. Whoever he was, she decided, Dagon had absolutely the worst taste in building design she had ever seen. The pillars that supported the roof of the temple some eighty feet above the floor were at least six feet in circumference, and every inch was covered with hieroglyphs in colors and patterns that she had never seen before. Daniel was certain that they were Kushite glyphs, if it was an ancient Earth language. It was more probable that it was an alien language. He had managed to get a few close up shots of the pillars while they had waited for darkness to give them the cover they needed to infiltrate the compound. He would be able to tell them more when he had had a chance to study those photos. As it was, he was looking around with interest, trying to see everything, commit what he saw to memory.
The statues offered convenient places to hide while they waited for the patrols to pass them by. Casey was beginning to think that Dagon must be certain of his power, his compound was easily breached. No doubt no one had attempted to do any such thing in many years, if ever. It occurred to her that no one was aware of the existence of this compound, scans from the Persephone had shown no Stargate located on the planet.
Thirty minutes later SG-1 was slipping up the wide steps, all thirty-two of them - Casey counted as they ran. She was glad that Jack had decided to leave the heavy packs hidden in the brush by the perimeter wall. They each carried a bottle of water, just in case, but none of them planned on needing MREs, sleeping bags or a change of clothes. She pulled off her night vision goggles; braziers, sconces and torches lit the interior of the temple. Winced slightly as she looked around.
It was a garish combination of reds, purples and greens. Maybe Dagon was colorblind. The walls were deep red, the floors made of black marble tiles. Purple and green drapes hung between the columns, creating rooms inside the massive structure. More statues, all of them life-sized, extremely detailed depictions of naked women in various poses, most of them erotic, lined the central corridor. Each face was a study in either rapturous pleasure, or excruciating pain. Which was which depended greatly upon the viewer, she decided.
'I thought Framone's taste was over the top! This is absolutely disgusting!' She shuddered as she looked around. She heard him chuckle.
'He's a 'god'. They always do everything on a grander scale. Including decorating with bad taste.'
She was standing near one of the statues when the fingers caught her eye. Every line, every crease that was found on a real hand was present and visible. Every finger even had fingerprints! She frowned as she examined the fingers. When she looked up into the face of the statue, she barely bit back a scream. She had no doubt that she was staring into the blind, stone colored eyes of a real woman. She reached out and slowly touched the hand. Stone. Cold. Hard. Yet, there was something. She studied the face for a few more seconds. Images began to flood her mind. The sound of marching feet…the clinking sound of armor, the paralyzing fear …the need to escape…running, running, running so hard, so fast…can't breathe…need to rest…a hand that seemed to come from nowhere snatching her up…carried back to the village…stripped…raped…tortured…must escape… god or no god, must escape…She gasped out loud, backed rapidly away from the statue. Only the fact that Jack's hand covered her mouth kept her scream from echoing around them. She struggled against him, desperate to get away from the strong arms that had wrapped around her.
"Casey, it's me!" the older man hissed in her ear. "What the hell is wrong with you? You trying to get us caught?"
She shook her head, the tremors in her body so strong that the man holding her didn't dare to let her go for fear of her crumpling to the floor. He gently pulled her back toward the place where he had been hiding.
"Found it," Sam's voice said, a whisper in their ears from the radio earpieces they wore. The tall woman was barely visible behind a thick, velvet swag of deep purple.
Daniel hurried to her side, trying to decipher the glyphs. It took several nerve-wracking minutes before he nodded, then pressed five symbols. The wall separated, and revealed an elevator. They all stepped inside. Weapons were held at the ready, they had no idea what they would find when the doors opened.
What they found was darkness. They quickly donned night vision goggles and looked around. Teal'c, Daniel, and Sam began to move around, checking each room, finding seven different labs, each one seemingly for a different 'project', Jack and Casey kept an eye on the elevator and their backs as they moved down the passageway. It was the large room at the end of the hallway that made blood run cold in all five of them. Lining the walls were what looked like stasis pods. And inside them were men …pale faces gaunt, bodies emaciated.
"They're alive," Casey whispered. "Just barely, but they're alive."
"What the hell were you doing up there?" Jack asked, grabbing her by the sleeve. She had never stepped out of hiding like that before, had never put the team at such risk.
Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c looked at the two.
"I…I'm…I’m really sorry, Jack," she whispered, the shudder moving over her body unmistakable. "Those statues…aren't."
"Those statues, of women? They're real women, or at least they were. The one…" she shuddered again. "I…she…she was running, trying to get away from the Jaffa. They caught her…beat her…raped her…beat her more, then brought her here. She was to be sacrificed to Dagon, she tried to escape. I have no idea what he did to her, or how, but…" she shook her head.
"Jesus!" Jack hissed. He put his arm around her shoulders, pulled her against his chest in a tight hug, understanding that she had experienced, in a series of 'flashes', what that woman had lived through. "You okay?"
"Is that what is going on here?" Sam asked, nodding toward the stasis chambers.
Casey shook her head. "I don't know. I wouldn't think so, unless he wants statues of starved, beaten men."
"Okay, let's get the C-4 planted. We can't help these guys, they're too far gone, and it would probably kill them to take them out of those things," Jack said.
No one raised any opposition. Most likely, killing these men would be the kindest thing they could do for them. Moving quickly, quietly, charges were planted in each of the rooms. They repeated the procedure on the three levels that were above them, noting that those rooms all seemed to be empty.
Casey reached out, just as far as the temple above them. So far, no one knew of their presence. If they could get out undetected, they had a chance of making it back to the ship without any of Dagon's people knowing that they had been there. His labs would just suddenly explode. Just before she pulled back completely, a wave of dread washed over her. Well, hell!
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