Monochromatic

by Crockett

 

 

            General George Hammond hung up the grey telephone in his office with a sigh.  I really don’t need this right now, he thought.  Rubbing his temples briefly, he reached out once again for the grey phone and dialed.

            “Colonel?  Could I see you in my office?”

            Scant minutes later Colonel Jack O’Neill tapped on Hammond’s door. 

            “General?  You wanted to see me?”  He was dressed in olive fatigues, apparently catching up on in-house paperwork today.  SG-1 had caught some rough missions lately, and O’Neill still looked tired and worn.  Hammond hated what he was about to do.

            “Come in, Jack.  Close the door.”

            Something in his tone of voice caused O’Neill to look at him sharply.  The colonel stepped inside the office and closed the door gently.

            “General?  Is this a ‘General’ conversation or a ‘George’ one?”  The man’s dark eyes missed nothing, including the small slump of his commanding officer’s shoulders.

            “A little of both, I’m afraid.  Take a seat and I’ll explain.”  Hammond waited until O’Neill had pulled up the more comfortable of his two visitors’ chairs, then began.

            “Jack, I just got a phone call from an old contact in the intelligence business that has some knowledge of the NID.” He held up a hand as O’Neill started to growl a comment.  “Hold on, let me finish.  This contact, whose name shall not be mentioned inside this facility, passed on some disturbing news.  Apparently there is still an NID team off-world, working on alien technology.  My contact is not privy to the Stargate Program, but he picked up multiple pieces of information that support this conclusionHH when interpreted in light of potential off-world activities.”  He picked up a page of notes off his desktop and handed it to O’Neill, mentally apologizing for the sketchiness of the data.

            “This is the information I have.  I don’t need to tell you that we can’t afford another situation like the fiasco with the Tok’ra, Asgard and Tollan technology.  My contact assures me that no one outside of the NID is aware of this project at this time, and we’d like to keep it that way.”  He folded his hands together as if in prayer. “You know as well as I that we have enemies that would like to see us both drummed out of the Stargate Program, if not court-martialed for our tactics and resistance to certain political factions.  I’d rather not see that happen on both a professional level and a personal level.  The members of this command deserve better than to be pawns to a political machine.”

            O’Neill slouched in the chair, skimming the document.  “General, you’ve heard nothing from our allies about this project?”

            Hammond shook his head. “Nothing.”

            O’Neill rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That implies that this NID team is working only with Goa’uld tech, and not with anything belonging to other allied races.  Any hints as to what exactly they’re working on?”

            Again, Hammond shook his head. “My contact had no additional information.”

            O’Neill sat up straight in the chair. “Sir, I’d like to bring my team in on this.”

            Hammond responded instantly, “Do it.  I didn’t like it last time when we had to leave them out of the loop, and I’m not about to make that same mistake.  See if you can come up with a short list of potential operating sites for this NID project and we’ll proceed.  But no one outside SG-1 is to hear about this.”

            “Understood.  I’ll update you by close of business today.”  O’Neill stood and reached for the doorknob.

            Hammond stopped him with a word.  “Jack?”

            “General?”

            “Thanks.”

            O’Neill spared him a grim smile. “Don’t thank me until we have these bastards in the stockade.”  He left with the sheet of notes, closing the door with a soft click.  Hammond sat back in his leather chair, hoping he’d just made the right decision.

 

            That evening, Hammond’s phone rang.  Hammond,” he answered curtly.

            “General?”  O’Neill’s voice filled his ear.  “I think we may have something.  Do you want us to come up there?”

            “Yes.  My briefing room, please.  I’m anxious to hear what you’ve come up with.” He’d been fighting a tension headache all day, waiting for the red phone to ring to tell him that the latest NID fiasco had become public knowledge among the Powers in Washington.  That would be all he needed: more implications from Washington-bound desk jockeys that he couldn’t manage his command.  He pushed the traitorous thoughts away and focused on the idea that SG-1 had come up with a potential solution.

            He tidied his desk and stepped into the briefing room.  Moments later, the four members of SG-1 filed in and took their accustomed seats around the big table.  Major Carter pushed a folder toward Hammond.  He picked it up and skimmed the contents.

            “Give me the summary,” he commanded, looking at O’Neill.

            O’Neill gestured toward Carter. “Carter and Daniel actually figured out where these bozos are- probably.  I’ll let them start.”

            Carter took a breath.  “Sir, the information that you provided suggests that the NID project is on P2D-119.  It fulfills all the criteria given by your contact, including time since SGC survey, relative planetary mineral value, lack of evidence of an indigenous population and acceptable terrain in the vicinity of the Stargate.  The planet was initially surveyed by SG-3 under Colonel Makepeace.”

            Hammond didn’t miss the slight narrowing of O’Neill’s eyes at the mention of Makepeace’s name, and sent him a warning look to stay quiet.  He was well aware of O’Neill’s antipathy toward the man he’d once fought beside as a colleague.

            Carter continued. “The planet was deemed unsuitable for exploitation based on a lack of mineral or plant resources near the stargate and a lack of evidence of useful artifacts or sites.  It was also disregarded as a potential alpha site due to some extreme temperatures during the winters.  However, the planetary year is almost thirty-eight months long, and it is presently late spring.  The NID team, if they are aware of the weather patterns, would have well over eighteen months before they would have to either leave or make permanent arrangements.”

            Hammond mulled over that for a moment. “Sounds promising.  How are they getting there?”

            O’Neill interjected, “That we don’t know yet.  They’ve got to have Gate access from somewhere, and it isn’t here.  But we do have a plan for finding them.”

            Daniel began, “The difficulty is to set up a mission to P2D-119 without raising any flags.  Obviously you can’t gate directly there, since the address would remain in the dialing computers.”

            Carter broke in. “I can erase the information, but not until afterward.  And the longer the information remains in the computer the harder it is to make it ‘disappear’.  Other files would have to be altered, and a skilled analyst could likely uncover the fact that there’d been changes made.”  Carter tapped the table with one short blunt fingernail.  “No matter where you gate to, there will be a record.  I know you have to account for every activation that shows up on the record…”

            “So you’ll make sure there’s no record,” Hammond agreed.  “But that means you won’t be able to go, since our best bet at covering our tracks is for you to alter the computer files immediately after departure.  There’s no knowing how long this mission could take.”

            O’Neill chimed in, “That’s okay.  For a quick recon like this, a smaller team might be better.  And we’d be going covert all the way.  If you want to keep the knowledge pool as minimal as possible, that means me and Teal’c.”  He patted Daniel on the shoulder.  “I’m even leaving Daniel at home.”

            “I still don’t want to involve anyone outside of SG-1.  But I think two people is cutting it a bit close.”  He thought for a moment, then came to a decision.  Hell, it’s my neck on the block as much as anyone’s.  “Colonel,” he began.  “How would you feel about having an old desk jockey along?”

 

 

            O’Neill, Hammond and Teal’c stepped through the gate onto P2D-119.  The late afternoon sun slanted across the vegetation, creating long shadows.  Hammond glanced around cautiously, knowing his companions were doing the same.

            “Okay, head for the tree line.  Single file, quietly.  Stay low.”  O’Neill gestured toward the greenery about fifty meters away.  He stepped out on point, followed by Hammond, with Teal’c bringing up the rear.  Hammond followed, knowing that his 2IC had far more experience at this than he himself did.  He tried to recall his long-ago training, and those four crazy days in Nam, which were all the jungle survival he’d ever had during his career.  There were times he regretted following the standard fighter pilot career path, and never more so than since he became familiar with the Stargate Project.  His current job required much more far-ranging military knowledge than he’d had when he took command of the SGC, joint forces assignments be damned.  I’m damn lucky I’ve got field commanders that are good at their jobs.  The assignments that made them ‘unsuitable’ for ordinary career paths made them exactly what the SGC needed.  What I needed.  He thought not only of O’Neill but also of many of his other soldiers and airmen with somewhat ‘unconventional’ backgrounds.

            Hammond shook himself out of his mental reverie.  It wouldn’t do to be lost in thought on a potentially hostile world.  Stay alert, George.  This isn’t a walk in the park.  He watched his surroundings closely as the trio crept toward the trees, but saw nothing except some small bird life and a few insects.  There was no sign of human habitation as far as he could tell.

            The three soldiers reached the relative safety of the forest’s edge.  Following O’Neill’s hand signals, they hunkered down in a small copse of scrubby trees.  O’Neill spoke quietly.

            “All right.  This place doesn’t look heavily used.  Even the grass around the gate was tall enough that it’s been recently trimmed by the plume.”

            Surprised, Hammond peered back at the gate.  Sure enough, the tall grasses were cut short in the familiar radius of a gate plume.  Damn, he doesn’t miss much, does he?

            Teal’c said, “There is evidence of a trail from the gate.  It has not been used in several days, perhaps a week.”

            O’Neill and Hammond both peered at the area in question.  Hammond didn’t see anything and opened his mouth to say so.  But O’Neill beat him to it.

            “I missed that, T.  Can you follow the trail, but keep us off to the side?”

            “I believe I can, O’Neill.”  Without further words the Jaffa took point, moving off along the tree line.  O’Neill gestured for Hammond to follow, then fell in at the rear.

            After several hours of slow but steady progress, Hammond saw Teal’c hold up a fist.  He froze, and knew O’Neill had done the same.  Long moments later, Teal’c’s fist relaxed and he beckoned to his companions to join him.  The Jaffa indicated the direction ahead.

            “I believe we have found our quarry.”

 

 

            Hammond crouched behind O’Neill in the dense brush and reached for his binoculars.

            “There they are.  Not trying to be real stealthy, are they?” commented O’Neill.

            “No reason to.  They know that this planet’s been surveyed and essentially discarded by the SGC,” said Hammond, focusing the instrument.

            “Still…,” continued O’Neill thoughtfully.  “You’d think they’d at least post a guard.”  He sounded annoyed at the camp’s disregard for military discipline and force protection.

            The presumed NID compound was set in a flat, open area at the edge of the forest.  Several tents of various sizes and a few pre-fabricated buildings were clustered at one end of a mowed dirt strip, and more tents and camouflage netting covered indistinct shapes nearby.  The equipment was obviously of Earth manufacture, with ‘Tent, General-purpose, Medium’ stenciled in large letters across the side of the nearest structure.  At least one heavy-duty generator was running in the compound, filling the air with the noise of an unmuffled internal combustion engine.  Several Gators, small four-wheeled all-terrain light cargo vehicles, were parked in a staggered line between two of the tents.  A large deuce-and-a-half cargo truck loomed in their midst.

            As the trio watched, a few people walked from tent to tent, some carrying tools or clipboards.  A pair of BDU-clad men wheeled a cart holding a construction of bronze-colored curved metal tubes from one of the smaller tents to one of the larger ones.  Another generator was started, adding to the noise level.

            “That looks like Goa’uld equipment,” offered Hammond.  “Any idea exactly what it is?”

            O’Neill shook his head briefly in a negative. “T?”

            “I do not recognize it.”

            Hammond grimaced. “We need to find out how they got here and how they’re being resupplied.  Setting this place up was a lot more than just a day’s work or an illicit couple of trips through the gate.”  He could see the agreement in his 2IC’s eyes.

            O’Neill checked his watch. “We’ve got about two hours until local sunset.  I’m going to scout around and see if these yahoos have any sort of security arrangements.”  He nodded at Hammond. “If that’s all right with you, General.”

“I think that’s an excellent idea, Jack.  We can observe from here and try to determine numbers.”

            Teal’c inclined his head in acquiescence.  “As you say, GeneralHammond.  Although we may have to move slightly in order to obtain a better view.”

            “Just don’t get lost.  I’ll be back by around sunset.”  With that, O’Neill melted into the forest.

            Hammond shook his head bemusedly as the colonel vanished into the woods, fading into the forest like a camouflage-clad ghost.  I didn’t know he could do that.  He sure didn’t learn that in Air Force basic.

 

            About an hour later Hammond blinked as O’Neill materialized just a few feet away.  At some point in his reconnaissance the colonel had applied camouflage face paint, and he had been utterly invisible to the General until he was nearly within arm’s reach.  Hammond kept his face impassive.

            “Jack?  What did you see?”

            “General, we’ve got trouble.”  The seriousness in O’Neill’s eyes conveyed the grim truth.

“Not only are these guys messing around with stuff that I think is way above their heads, but they’re not alone here either.”

            Hammond gestured for his 2IC to continue even as he started considering different scenarios.

            “First, they’ve got two entire tents full of Goa’uld tech, most of which I don’t recognize.  Some of the things that I do recognize are weapons mounts from Death Gliders or tel’tacs.  They’ve got what looks like unrefined naquada and a benchtop smelter.  They’ve got an armory tent full of standard ammo and weapons, but they’ve also got cases of grenades, more Goa’uld stuff, and even some air-to-surface missiles.”  His voice became even grimmer. “And they’ve got aircraft.  Fighter aircraft.  Russian fighter aircraft, three of them.  MiG-27s, and it looks like there’re Goa’uld weapons on them. ”

            There was silence for a long moment.

            Yep.  Sounds like trouble, all right, thought Hammond.  “That goes along with what we saw,” he agreed.  “That mowed strip is actually surfaced with pierced steel planking, like was used in World War Two and Viet Nam to build runways in unstable terrain.  It’s long enough to function as a runway for short-field fighters.  Plus, we saw a couple of people wearing flight suits.”

            Teal’c interjected, “O’Neill, you said that they were not alone.”

            The colonel nodded. “I found evidence that somebody- several somebodies- have been observing this camp in the past few days.  Not Earth-based surveillance as far as I can determine: smooth-soled footwear, no clues that would indicate their origin.  Just a few areas out in the grass that somebody’s camped in and a bit of abandoned food remains.  These guys in the camp are oblivious, too.  No guards, no perimeter, nothing.  They could be surprised by a bunch of five-year-olds throwing a birthday party.”

            “Shoot,” muttered Hammond. This definitely isn’t good.  Not only were the NID operating illegally off-world, but they were possibly about to be overrun by an unknown force.  Who knew what could happen if the unknowns obtained the obvious weapons technology the NID were engineering?

            “There appear to be approximately twenty-four to twenty-eight of the Tau’ri forces in the camp,” contributed Teal’c.  “Several are carrying Tau’ri weapons, either P90s or handguns.”

            “We haven’t been able to determine a camp leader or the ranks of any of the personnel,” said Hammond.

            O’Neill looked at Hammond, eyes bright in his camouflaged face. “General, do you have a plan of action?”

            Hammond nodded. “There’s a lot more going on here than the three of us can handle.  It’s time to bring in some additional help.  I’d like to send Teal’c back to the gate at first light to contact the SGC and bring through Dave Dixon’s and Lou Ferretti’s teams.  I trust them almost as much as I trust SG-1, and they should give us enough people to take the camp. The delay’s unavoidable; there’s no moon here, and with the unknowns I don’t want to risk anyone traveling at night.”  He rubbed his chin in brief contemplation. “Hopefully they’ll also provide enough armed response that we’ll convince the unknowns not to try anything.  Jack, you and I will stay and observe, and hopefully come up with a plan for the assault.  I’d rather the camp not know we’re here until we’ve got a few more bodies on our side.”  He paused again. “I really didn’t want to involve a bunch of SG teams in this, but I don’t see any other options.”

            “We don’t have other options, General, unless you want to kill everyone in the camp,” O’Neill said bluntly.  “I can do that right now, all by myself.  I’m assuming you’d rather have them alive for questioning?”

            Hammond nodded.  “Yes, preferably.  Especially for purposes of covering our sixes, if you know what I mean.”

            He could see by the expression in O’Neill’s eyes that the soldier did indeed know.

           

           

            Hammond made himself as comfortable as possible in the small depression in which he lay.  Camp was bare-bones this evening, hidden in another copse of low-growing trees just out of sight of the compound.  No fire, no tents and cold MREs were his orders, which O’Neill and Teal’c accepted wordlessly.  Following supper he’d set up a watch schedule.  O’Neill would stand guard first, then Hammond himself, then Teal’c.  He’d instructed Teal’c to wake both Jack and him before setting off for the gate in the false dawn.  Sometime between worrying about the SGC and wondering just what he was doing out here in the woods, Hammond fell asleep.

             A touch on his shoulder woke him.  Teal’c was near-invisible in the dark and made no sound as he knelt next to Hammond.  His tattoo gleamed dully in the faint starlight.

            GeneralHammond, I will now depart.  I should reach the gate in approximately three hours.”

            Hammond nodded, knowing the Jaffa’s keen eyesight would see the gesture. “Colonel O’Neill?” he asked.

            “O’Neill is observing the camp.  He will return shortly.”

            “Teal’c.  When you return, please ask Major Carter to keep this as quiet as possible given the circumstances.  She’s still to try to hide the additional activations.  And tell her it’s all right to let Colonel Riley in on the game.  He’ll need to run interference for me.”

            “I shall do so.”

            Hammond grunted in assent, allowing Teal’c to melt into the underbrush before stiffly rolling to his knees.  Damn, I’m too old and fat for this.

            After indulging in a few isometric exercises to warm up his cold-stiffened muscles, Hammond crept carefully through the underbrush to the previous day’s observation post.  O’Neill lay motionless, prone under a bush.  Upon Hammond’s approach, he lowered the night-vision binoculars from his eyes.

            “Status?” murmured Hammond.

            “Mostly still tucked up for the night, General.  Two up so far, working in a couple of the tents.”  O’Neill handed the binoculars to Hammond. “I’ve also been listening on the headset radios.  The camp doesn’t seem to be using our frequencies.  They’ve got to have some radio comms with the aircraft, but nothing I’ve been able to pick up.”

            Hammond grunted acknowledgement. “You get breakfast?”

            “Already ate.”

            “Feel like a perimeter stroll?”

            “You betcha…General.” With a cocky grin, O’Neill rolled smoothly out of his concealment and to a crouching position.  Fastening his vest and securing his weapon, he stepped into the underbrush and was gone.  Straining his ears, Hammond failed to hear any sound of his passage.  Yep, he’s good at this.  So is Teal’c.  I’ve got good soldiers here, make no mistake about that.  He began to feel slightly more sanguine about this ‘operation’.

            Hammond observed the camp for nearly an hour, watching for movement.  The occupants were evidently late risers by military standards.  As the large, faintly reddish sun climbed over the horizon, Hammond noticed movement in the tall grass on the opposite side of the camp.  He refocused the lenses and counted first four, then six, then ten men slipping cautiously through the grass, barely visible.  A quick sweep of the area revealed at least three more similarly-sized squads.  Uh oh.  I don’t think the reinforcements are going to get here in time.  He looked at his watch. Teal’c had been gone only two hours.  Nope.  Definitely not in time.

            He zoomed in on the first group he’d spotted.  They looked human, or as close to it as made no difference.  They were dressed in earth-toned, loose tunics and trousers with vests and leggings of something like leather.  The vests had pockets bulging with supplies of some kind.  Ammunition? Are these guys natives, or another race that uses the gates?  The men were all carrying weapons, rifles mostly, but a few hand weapons were in evidence.  The clothing looked almost like a uniform, although there was some variation evident.  Hammond looked for any sign of communication equipment, but saw none.  He reached for his radio to call O’Neill.

            Just then his earpiece crackled. “General?  Trouble.  The watchers are mounting an attack from the grass.”  O’Neill’s voice was rushed but very quiet, as if he were trying to remain undetected.

            “I see that.  Got a count?”  He kept his response brief, not wanting to distract O’Neill from a potentially compromising situation.

            “Stand by.  I’ll be in touch.”  The radio clicked off.

            Hammond mentally gnawed his fingernails for what seemed like forever, then chastised himself for his lack of faith in his 2IC.  Relax, George.  Jack’s damn good at his job and he’ll get back to you.  Pushing his concerns aside, Hammond concentrated once again on the natives that he could see, shifting stealthily through the grass.

            He watched as the brown-clad men seemed to form a rough line in the grass about a hundred meters from the camp perimeter.  The distance was difficult to determine exactly, since the soldiers had a good deal of woodcraft and appeared and disappeared in the gently-moving grass.  There was a pause during which he didn’t see any of the men.  The forest swelled with silence, as if in anticipation.  Then, as if on cue, a fusillade of shots rang out.  Within moments, the air was filled with noise as the occupants of the NID camp scrambled to respond to the attack.  Hammond remained motionless as NID personnel dashed willy-nilly between tents, some shouting commands or questions as they ran.  One generator started, then another, and large pole-mounted lights blazed outward from the camp. He watched as one man clad in BDUs without a blouse staggered, a dark stain blossoming on his trouser leg as he darted from one of the tents to a building.  Another shot apparently took him in the back; he fell with arms outstretched and was still.  Another person ran awkwardly from a tent to one of the Gator vehicles; he made it, but with bullets kicking up dirt within inches of his feet.  A few bullets rang off the metal of the vehicles as well before the shooter decided to aim for more accessible targets. 

            They don’t seem to have a defense plan in place, noted Hammond.  Bad luck for them.  If they don’t get their act together pretty damn quick they’re going to be overrun.  As if in response to his thoughts, five people carrying machine pistols burst out of the second pre-fab building and lay down cover fire as they took up a defensive position behind three Gators and a deuce-and-a-half truck parked close together.  Several of the men were wearing loaded rucksacks; Hammond hoped for their sake that the rucks were full of offensive weaponry.

A tall lean figure loped from a tent to one of the prefab buildings, meeting two other BDU-wearing men and passing out what appeared to be more weapons.  The three split up, and seconds later the detonation of a high-explosive grenade ripped through the air.  Other figures were now moving throughout the camp, but they all looked like NID members; the attackers were hanging back and staying mostly invisible.  Some NID personnel were still milling about chaotically, apparently completely unprepared for any attack.  Mentally Hammond began to sort them out. Soldiers and scientists, I bet.  And nobody told the scientists they might get shot at.

            O’Neill’s voice filled his right ear, still speaking quickly and softly.  “General, I count at least forty of the attackers.  Most are in the grass.  There are a handful entering the forest; I’m going after them.”  His voice paused for a few seconds, and Hammond could hear rapid, even breaths, as if O’Neill were running.  “Rifles and handguns, not Earth tech.  Kind of crude, but they have sights.  Can’t estimate range or accuracy yet.” The radio clicked off. 

Hammond pressed his own microphone button. “Jack?  The camp’s in trouble.  If we don’t make some decisions there may not be any left to arrest.”

“Yeah?  What a shame.”  The sarcasm in O’Neill’s voice was unmistakable, even with the scratchy quality of the radio transmission.

“Jack,” warned Hammond.

“Yes sir.  I’ll see what I can do.”  Another click and he was gone.

Hammond lifted his P90 and sighted it toward the tall grass.  Too far for accuracy, damn it, and lousy lines-of-sight anyway.  And since the camp doesn’t know we’re out here they’d probably shoot at us as well.  He sighed and put the weapon down, wishing for a sniper rifle.  Better yet, how about those reinforcements?

His radio crackled again.  “General, I’m headed back your way.  So are a handful of the attackers.  You might want to find some good cover.”

Hammond double-clicked his microphone in acknowledgement.  Clambering to his feet but remaining low, he pulled his attention away from the camp and back to his immediate surroundings.  Nothing seemed out of place, and the birds were still active nearby.  Casting about for a good location, he spotted a dense group of bushes surrounded by a couple of large fallen logs.  Perfect.  He swiftly made his way to the hiding spot and crawled carefully into the bushes.  As soon as he was situated, he called O’Neill.

“Jack, I’m hidden.  I’m about thirty meters from the recce spot, in a clump of bushes and fallen logs.”

“Okay.  There’s two headed your way.  Take them out if you can. They won’t be expecting anything.”

“Roger.”  Hammond unholstered his pistol.  The 9mm would be quieter than the P90, and he was unlikely to need anything greater than the handgun’s range.  He also didn’t know exactly where Jack would be and didn’t want his 2IC to become a friendly fire casualty.  He needn’t have worried.  He had been waiting for an interminable five minutes when his radio activated.

“General, I’m behind you now.  Let the first one go by, then take the second.  I’ll get the other.”

Hammond clicked his radio twice.  Bring it on.  His heart began to beat faster in anticipation; he hadn’t seen anything like close-quarters combat since Bosnia, and that had been an accident.  His NATO squadron had been traveling, early in the conflict, through the war-torn country via HMMWV en route to their airfield when they’d been ambushed by a group of Serb rebels.  The firefight had been short but bloody with casualties on both sides, but the superior weaponry of the American troops had turned the tide.  Plus the fact that we had more ammunition and working transportation.  That conflict had been Hammond’s first field grade operational command; he’d been a light colonel, assigned as the squadron XO, and his commander had taken a bullet to the head.  The way he’d handled the situation had gotten him promoted, much to his chagrin.  It was his first experience shooting another human being personally.  He’d had other kills, sure, but they had all been from the cockpit of a Thud or an F-15.  I wonder how many ‘conflicts’ Jack saw by the time he was a light colonel? How many enemy troops had he taken out?

Hammond mulled over that thought as he lay under his concealment.  His mental clock told him that the natives- heck, might as well call them natives- should make it to his position at any moment.  He willed himself to be perfectly still, to blend in with his environment.  Less than a minute after his mental time hack the two natives appeared, swiftly but cautiously stepping through the undergrowth.  They didn’t appear to be taking any particular care to be stealthy but nevertheless made little noise.  They didn’t speak to each other but moved as if they’d been trained to work together, scanning first in one direction, then the other.  They passed within six meters of Hammond’s position, close enough for him to hear every footstep and see the slightly copper-colored finish of their weapons.  Their boots were sturdy brown leather, mid-calf height and well broken-in from the look of them.  Their clothing was of finer weave and manufacture than he had initially thought, and one small corner of his brain wondered briefly about their level of technology. 

Hammond let the first one pass, trusting Jack to take care of him.  The second followed about ten meters behind.  As the first stepped beyond Hammond’s peripheral vision, the general sighted the M9 carefully on the second soldier’s chest and squeezed the trigger slowly.  The weapon barked, and the soldier went down in his tracks.  His companion whirled, rifle rising to a ready position as Hammond rolled over.  He was trying to gain a shot at the other man in case Jack missed, but the soldier sighted on him first.  An expression of fury twisted the man’s face and his finger began to close on the trigger of his weapon.  Oh, damn. Hammond held his breath, still frantically adjusting his aim, knowing the native would have a shot before he did.

            Then O’Neill launched himself silently out of the tree and onto the roughly-clad man below.  Riding the stunned man to the ground in a flurry of dead leaves and humus, O’Neill rapped him sharply behind the ear with the butt of his weapon.  The blow made a dull thud in the suddenly-quiet forest.  The soldier twitched and lay still, O’Neill’s knee pressed between his shoulder blades.  The colonel pulled a zip-tie from his vest and secured the man’s hands, then pulled his head roughly to one side to insert a gag torn from the man’s own shirttail.  The unconscious native’s ankles were secured and he was dragged out of sight under a bush.  Hammond mentally praised the foresight of his 2IC in keeping the man alive in case they needed intelligence later.  Way to go, Jack.  You can watch my back anytime.

            Moments later O’Neill reappeared.  Using hand signals, he indicated his intent to range further from the recce point.  Hammond signaled acknowledgement and returned to his own surveillance, kneeling behind a scrubby blue-green bush some distance away from which he could see the camp.  The camp was still in chaos, sporadic firing of earth-manufactured firearms interspersed with the more muffled thump of the native weapons.   The weapons fire was loud enough that the leaves of the trees around him trembled with particularly loud detonations. BDU-clad soldiers were forming a ragged line, taking cover behind the parked vehicles to obtain protection from the native marksmen.  The brown-clad soldiers could be seen occasionally darting through the tall grass, impossible to pin down once they’d dropped from sight.  The tactical situation in the camp didn’t seem to have changed much in the few minutes he’d been distracted.  Hammond hadn’t seen any more of the natives enter the woods on his side of the field, but he wiped his hands one at a time on his trousers anyway after holstering his M9.  He settled back in to watch the action.

            Ten minutes later he froze, the hair on the back of his neck standing straight up.  Someone was near.  Feeling horribly exposed within the scrubby brush, Hammond willed himself not to move, not to breathe. Don’t make a move, George.  Not if you want to see home again. Using his peripheral vision he scanned the area.  Nothing, nothing, nothing…there.  Just inside his left visual field was an incongruously straight line.  Turning his head slowly, just a few degrees, he brought the target into sight. 

            It was a native soldier, clad in a crude ghillie suit.  Less than ten yards away, he’d apparently crept up on Hammond’s location but missed the General himself because of the suit’s face covering and the dense underbrush he was crawling through.  Hammond knew he wouldn’t have seen the camouflaged soldier himself if it weren’t for the line of his rifle barrel.  Nothing in nature was that perfectly straight.

            What now?  He could certainly take out the camouflaged soldier, but at the expense of announcing his position.  The man was too far away and too alert to sneak up on, and Hammond had never learned how to throw a knife.  His mind turned over the possibilities, and he reached a decision.  He touched the butt of his M9 just as the cold muzzle of an alien weapon was pressed into his cheek.

            Hammond straightened slowly, hands palm out.  He turned slightly toward his captor.  The burly brown-clad native met his eyes, determination plain in his gaze.  His crudely-machined rifle was held in steady hands, the muzzle still caressing Hammond’s cheek.  The stubble-faced man raised the weapon slightly, his intent clear.  Hammond prepared to meet his Maker with grim resolve as the native’s finger tightened on the trigger.

            Suddenly a flurry of movement to his left distracted both Hammond and his captor.  Hammond’s brain registered the incongruous image of a BDU-clad figure with legs wrapped around a flailing bush, then instinct took over and he was moving.  He pushed the muzzle of the weapon away from his face with one hand, ignoring the sudden heat against his palm as the weapon fired.  Stepping sideways toward his assailant, he drove the other elbow deeply into the man’s diaphragm.  Foul-smelling breath whooshed next to his ear as he pressed his advantage.  Using his considerable weight, he steamrollered the man to the ground, then redirected his motion and yanked the weapon away as he straddled the man’s chest.  He drove the butt of the rifle into his attacker’s face and reversed with a reciprocal blow to the temple.  The native went limp.  The whole skirmish had taken no more than two seconds, but he was breathing as if he’d run a mile, heart thumping with adrenaline release.

            Tossing the rifle aside and yanking the M9 from his leg holster, Hammond spun toward the location of the camouflaged soldier.  He drew up abruptly, raising the muzzle of the pistol toward the sky as he saw Jack O’Neill climb off the now-motionless ghillie-suited sniper.  Dropping to a knee, panting, Hammond let the colonel approach him.

            “You okay, sir?” he asked quietly, eyes looking for any sign of injury.

            “I’m fine.  You?”  His eyes couldn’t miss the bloody graze under O’Neill’s right eye, already swelling.

            “A couple of scrapes.  Nothing that’ll slow me down.”  Deft hands wiped a blued knife blade clean, then stowed the weapon in a forearm scabbard.  O’Neill then zip-cuffed Hammond’s opponent, gagged him and rolled him under a bush for concealment.  The dead sniper followed shortly, sans cuffs.

            Breath caught, Hammond demanded, “Report.”

            “I saw no other hostiles within two hundred meters of our location.  There are only a couple more in the woods; the rest are in the grass on the opposite side of the runway.”

            Hammond nodded understanding. “They were trying to flank the camp.  If they could approach from this side the NID would lose all their cover.”

            “There’re still two more that could break that cover,” reminded O’Neill.

            “Well, what are we waiting for?  Let’s go!”  Hammond got to his feet.

O’Neill sketched out the approximate locations of the two remaining native flankers in the forest duff, erasing the lines once Hammond was sure where his target was.  Hammond took the easternmost man, creeping as silently as possible from the rear.  He was acutely conscious of a lull in weapons fire from the direction of the camp.  Every heartbeat thundered in his ears, until he was sure the native could hear him coming.  Knowing that this man and O’Neill’s target were the only native warriors within earshot expanded his options.  Kneeling carefully twelve meters behind the soldier, Hammond squeezed the trigger of his weapon.  The weapon barked sharply and the projectile struck his target dead center.  The soldier crumpled to the ground.  Hammond hoped he was too far away from the camp for any of the NID to have heard the characteristic sound of the P90 over the pervasive roar of the gas-powered generators.  He paused for a moment to listen for any sign that he’d been detected, then concealed the native soldier.  Jesus.  I just shot a man in the back.  And to save NID, too.  What’s the world coming to?  He felt detached from the action he’d just taken but knew he’d have some soul-searching to do when the mission was over.  How does Jack do this?

            His radio earpiece crackled. “General?” It was O’Neill’s voice, somewhat breathless.

            “Go,” responded Hammond.

            “West bogeys are contained.”

            “Copy. Bogeys?”

            “There were two.  I missed one the first time.”

            “Roger. RTB.”

            Two clicks of the microphone switch were his acknowledgement.  Hammond dusted bits of dried leaves off his uniform and made his way back to the recce point.

 

 

            Hammond handed the binoculars back to O’Neill. “They’re going to be overrun soon.  I can’t tell how many natives there are out there, but it’s definitely more than the NID folks have.”  He gestured briefly toward the camp.  “Plus, have you watched them shoot?  There are only about four of them that look like they know how to handle a weapon.”

            O’Neill scrutinized the scene for over a minute. “I think the reason the natives are hanging back is because they’re waiting for the flanking maneuver.”

            “I agree.  I haven’t identified the leader of that ragtag bunch, but somebody’s going to have to make a decision soon.  They’re going to realize that the flank isn’t going to happen.”

            “What do you think, General?” asked O’Neill. “Will they advance, retreat or send out another squad to flank?”

            Hammond used the binoculars once again. “Second flank.  There goes a squad now.”

            O’Neill pulled out and focused his monocular just in time to catch five natives fading, single file, from the grasslands into the forest. “That’s going to complicate things.”

            Hammond nodded in acquiescence.  “If they stick together, and they probably will, it’s going to be tough for the two of us to neutralize them.”

            O’Neill agreed, “Especially if they have any kind of patrol discipline.” The tested tactic of spreading out a patrol such that each man could just see the man in front and the man behind meant that an ambush of the entire patrol would be impossible for two people.

            From the way the native patrol had entered the forest Hammond had to assume they would be familiar with such a tactic.  His mind whirled, considering and discarding options.  Then his earpiece spit squelch into his ear, followed by a welcome voice.

            “O’Neill, GeneralHammond.  I have returned with MajorFerretti’s and ColonelDixon’s teams.  We should reach your location in three hours.”  Teal’c’s deep voice resonated through the tiny earpiece.

            “Copy, T.  The camp is under attack from forty or more natives.  Use caution in your approach.”  O’Neill beat Hammond to the punch, and Hammond lifted his finger away from the transmit button.

            “Acknowledged.”  Teal’c signed off.

            Hammond came to a decision. “Jack, I think it may be time to ID ourselves to the NID camp, advise them of the flanking maneuver and try to convince them to fall back into a more defensible position until the reinforcements arrive.”

            O’Neill grimaced.  “I don’t know how much good that would do.  You’ve seen them shoot.  Adding the two of us to the mix might just be adding two more redshirts to the Alamo.”

            Hammond winced mentally at O’Neill’s mixed metaphors, apt though they might be.  “All right, then.  Give me some other options.”

            “Let me go after the patrol.  I can take out at least two of them, then fall back and wait for a chance to try again.  It’s obvious these guys don’t have anything like radio communications, so any disruption of the plan takes a long time to make it back up to the top.” 

            “I don’t like that much.  You against a five-man patrol aren’t odds I like to bet on.”  And I don’t want to send you out there on a suicide mission to save a bunch of traitors from the NID.

            “I’ve had worse odds.  And I have the advantage: I know where they are, and they don’t know a damned thing about me.  Especially that there’s only one of me.”  O’Neill met Hammond’s eyes steadily. “If that NID crew is going to have any chance we have to give them somewhere to fall back to.  We have to keep the woods.”

            Reluctantly, Hammond yielded the point.  “All right.  But I’ll still have to make contact with the NID to let them know they have a fallback position.”

            O’Neill nodded. “They definitely need some help.”

            “Let’s go, then.  Keep in contact.”  He clasped his 2IC firmly on the shoulder. “Good luck, Jack.”

            “Thanks, George.  You too.”  O’Neill gave a faint grin and vanished once again into the forest.

           

 

 

            Hammond walked boldly up to the group of BDU-clad NID staffers, protected from enemy fire by the flat-tired hulk of the deuce-and-a-half. He held his empty hands out away from his body but did nothing to conceal the P90 slung from his vest and the M9 in its thigh holster.  He was challenged by a tall hawk-faced man.

            “Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”

            “Major General George Hammond.  And I’m here to take command of this unit.”

            A stunned silence met this declaration. 

            “The hell you are!”  The hawk-faced man snarled, stepping into Hammond’s personal space.

            Unfazed, Hammond stood nose-to-nose with the other man. “The hell I am, unless you’d like to be filleted by that bunch of Cro-Magnons out in the grass.  Your choice. But I’ve got to tell you that there are a damn sight more of them than there are of you, and your unit’s marksmanship skills could use a lot of work.  How much ammo did you bring, anyway?”

            The man was silent for a second, anger in his eyes.  His subordinates, ones that Hammond had labeled as scientists, were not so reticent.

            “How many of you are there?”

            “Did you bring help?”

            “I didn’t sign up to get shot at!”

            Immediately Hammond was besieged with questions and demands from the group of anxious-looking people huddled behind the Gators.  He held up his hands to halt the babble. “Whoa!  Hold up.  In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re still being shot at.”  As if in response, an alien bullet ricocheted off the fender of one of the vehicles and everyone except Hammond ducked.

            Hammond faced the hawk-faced man.  “I assume you are- excuse me, were- leading this ragtag bunch?”

            The man nodded once, curtly, dislike radiating off him like a heat shimmer on a desert road.

            “Name, rank and unit,” demanded Hammond, his tone brooking no argument.

            “Lieutenant Colonel Grant Shelton, United States Air Force.  Currently seconded to NID,” the man snarled. “Sir.”

            “Colonel Shelton, you stand relieved.”  Now ignoring the seething officer, Hammond surveyed the rest of the group quickly.  “Now, who else is military?”

            Six hands were raised, including one of the women. 

“The rest of you are scientists? Or engineers?”  Heads bobbed in the affirmative. Hammond pointed to one of the soldiers, a shaven-headed man who looked to be in his forties. “Name and rank.”

            “Technical Sergeant Ken McCann.”

            “Sergeant McCann, you and you,” he pointed to another soldier, a slight dark-haired woman who handled her weapon with easy competence, “keep an eye on our friends in the grass and make sure they don’t get any closer.”

            Both soldiers looked at Colonel Shelton for permission.  Shelton nodded sharply. “Do what he says.” For now, his eyes promised.  The exchange was obvious to Hammond, who knew he was a long way from actually having command of this unit.  He pressed on, now mostly addressing the scientists, as the two soldiers took up guard positions nearby.

            “I’m not going to lie to you.  You folks are in a world of hurt,” began Hammond.  As he started to explain the situation to the stunned, frightened scientists, one part of his mind was wondering what Jack was doing right at that moment, and when the other teams would arrive.  Standing here in front of a group of overtly resentful, armed soldiers brought stories of Viet Nam fraggings uncomfortably to mind.  If any one of them decides to take me out there’s not a damned thing I can do to stop them.

            “All right, listen up.” A hand wave brought silence to the murmuring group. “You’re facing a force of at least forty natives, maybe more.  They look as human as you or I.  They’re armed with both rifles and pistols, as you’ve probably already noticed.  What you haven’t noticed is that they’ve been trying to flank you since dawn, to surround you.”  He paused to let the impact of his words sink in.  He was getting through to them; every pair of eyes was fixed on him.

            “My people have been taking the flankers out, as quietly as possible.  The enemy leadership doesn’t seem to have caught on just yet, but it’s only a matter of time.” He continued quickly, not wanting to waste a lot of time talking but knowing he’d have a better chance of cooperation with an explanation.

            “When they do realize that they’re losing people, they’re going to do one of two things.  They’re going to send a large contingent to flank, a bigger one than my people can handle…or they’re going to stage a frontal assault.”

            A timid hand waved. “Why haven’t they charged us already?” asked one of the scientists.

            “I’m fairly sure that they thought they could take you with minimal casualties to themselves by surrounding you.  As I said, once they figure that’s no longer the case they’re going to launch an all-out attack.”  He pinned the military members, one by one, with his eyes.  “And if they do that, you’d better put jam in one pocket and butter in the other, because you’re toast.”  He paused for effect.  “Unless you let me and my people give you a hand.  Then you just might- and I emphasize might- have a chance.”

           

 

            “All right, are we set on the plan?”  Hammond crouched with his “platoon” behind the now bullet-riddled Gators.  Master Sergeant, you and your team will start tossing grenades to land between the tents and the natives.  Alternate Willie Pete with HE, and toss a Molotov every now and then for variety.  You’ve got to keep them distracted and blinded enough that the science team can make it to the ammo tent and back, and that Colonel Shelton, Captain Petrovich and I can make it to the aircraft, along with our ground crew.”

            The master sergeant nodded, as did his three ‘assistants’, one of whom had been a minor-league baseball pitcher before going to graduate school.

            “Ground crew, you’ve got to get the planes uncovered and get us in the air.  Once we uncover the aircraft we won’t have more than a minute before the natives figure out what we’re doing.  You’ve got to assume they’ve been here long enough to see what you’ve been doing with the fighters.”

            The handful of civilian aircraft maintenance engineers nodded their agreement.  One of them spoke up.

            “The ground power units are already on, so once you’ve started the engine we just have to disconnect them and you’re good to go.”

            Hammond acknowledged the information.  “Good.  We’ll only have the weapons on board: some cannon, as long as the ammunition lasts, and the Goa’uld energy weapon.”

            The senior scientist, a man with somewhat wispy grey hair, reminded, “The energy weapon is not yet completely validated.”

            “Understood.  Don’t use it until you run out of conventional ammunition.” Hammond warned.  “You all know more than I do about what could go wrong with that weapon.”

            The other two pilots nodded grimly.  “I’d rather not get blown up by my own weapon,” said Petrovich in a surprising Southern accent. 

            Shelton’s face was impassive.  “Only two of the aircraft have the Goa’uld weapon.  The third isn’t yet modified.  It still has the standard MiG load-out, though.”

            “That’ll work just as well.  Maybe better, if your new toy doesn’t perform as advertised.” Hammond decided.  The plan was coming together in his mind, but he needed to let O’Neill know what was going on.  Plus, worry was niggling at the back of his mind.  It’s been a long time since he left.  He should’ve checked in by now.  He keyed his mike.  “Jack?”

            Silence.  Then a terse “Stand by.”

            Hammond double-clicked the microphone switch in assent.  Long seconds stretched by, then a minute.  Two minutes passed.  His radio sputtered, then crackled normally.

            “I’m coming at you.  Let those guys know not to shoot.  Your four o’clock.”  O’Neill’s voice was tense but quiet.  Hammond’s internal alarm started chiming for his attention, but he tamped it down.  He turned to the NID crew, indicating O’Neill’s direction. “One of my men will be approaching from that direction.  He’s in BDUs. Do not fire on him.”

            Several heads nodded.  The more-disciplined soldiers turned back toward the grassland, Hammond noted, while the scientists peered interestedly toward the woods that Hammond had indicated.  Hammond divided his attention between the woods, the opposing force, and the NID soldiers.  He definitely didn’t trust the NID but thought they had a tentative agreement as long as the native attackers were the greater threat.

            His gaze was drawn toward the tree line as O’Neill jogged into view.  He was moving quickly enough but Hammond noted a slight tentativeness in his movements.  He’s hurt, his brain immediately concluded.  As his 2IC drew closer Hammond saw the dark stain at the waist of his BDUs, just under the edge of the vest.  As he pulled up to a stop behind the cover of the deuce, O’Neill glanced meaningfully at the NID soldiers.  Hammond caught his meaning.  Right, Jack.  We don’t mention any possible weaknesses in front of the enemy.  Any enemy.

            “Colonel O’Neill.  Report.”  Hammond snapped.

            “Sir, the enemy patrol is neutralized.  No survivors.  Our forces still hold the woods.”  O’Neill’s crisp military delivery and deliberate omission of just where in the woods the unspecified reinforcements were located solidified Hammond’s position with the NID soldiers.  Hammond recognized the ploy for what it was and mentally congratulated Jack for coming up with it.

            “Very well,” he responded.  He turned to the assembled group.  “Colonel O’Neill will command the ground forces while Colonel Shelton, Captain Petrovich and I handle the air attack.”  From the corner of his eye he thought he saw O’Neill blink at the mention of an air attack, but the colonel hid his surprise well.  Sorry, Jack.  You’re just going to have to keep playing along.  Good thing I know you’ll pick it up quickly.

            “Colonel, we’ve lost the ground control radios for the aircraft, so we’ll be out of touch once we’re airborne.  We’re going to try and strafe the enemy positions and take a shot at using the weaponry these folks have been working on. I’ve laid out a plan for cover fire to allow us to get airborne and so you can resupply from the armory tent.  You have command.”

            O’Neill nodded, “Yes, sir.  I have command until you return.”  He turned to the group in front of him.  “You have your instructions for now.  Once the aircraft are up, fall back to this position for further orders.”  He looked at Hammond, who nodded once. 

            “Go!” commanded O’Neill, and the personnel sprinted in their assigned directions as the soldiers lay down covering fire.  Grenade detonations filled the air with noise and dirt, and the sporadic fire from the enemy soldiers ceased for a brief while.  Hammond took one last look at the camp, then turned and ran for the line of fighters.

            The dash to the aircraft left him slightly breathless and he cursed the desk job that had let him get soft.  By the time he reached his chosen aircraft the ground crew had already stripped the camouflage netting from it and had the canopy open.  Hammond clambered up the ladder and settled into the cockpit, buckling the harness and donning the helmet that had been on the seat. A ground crewman pulled the ladder away.  It’s been what? More than fifteen years since I’ve been in one of these things?  He hurriedly tried to recall the nuances of flying the foreign craft as he fumbled for the plastic-clad checklist.  Deliberately but as quickly as he could he went through the start checklist.  The big turbine whined and caught, and Hammond leaned the fuel mixture as the powerful engine smoothed out.  The ground crewman unplugged the ground power unit and wheeled it away, then returned for the chocks.  Hammond released the brakes and the fighter lurched forward.  He added power and taxied the aircraft toward the makeshift runway. 

            Another aircraft had pulled out ahead of him and the third was behind him.  Hammond switched on the radio.

            “…al Hammond, are you up this frequency?”  Colonel Shelton’s voice blasted into his headset.  Hammond quickly turned the volume down to a more tolerable level before clicking the mike switch.

            “I’m up.  Are you number one?”

            “Affirmative.”

            “After takeoff circle left over the woods, then come back parallel to the runway.  Strafe the grassland area from the camp perimeter out to a couple of hundred yards.” Hammond instructed.

            “One copies,” responded Shelton.

            “Three.” Captain Petrovich’s radio-transmitted voice acknowledged receipt of the orders.

            Their voices were professional, giving no clue what the soldiers might think of Hammond.  Every once in a while military discipline does come in handy, Hammond thought.  He advanced the throttles and the MiG-27 bumped up onto the steel planking as Shelton’s craft accelerated into a takeoff roll.  Hammond followed seconds later, the throaty roar of the big afterburning turbine filling the air as the acceleration pressed him back into the seat.

            He saw the lead aircraft rise from the end of the runway, then wobble dramatically.  Black smoke burst from its engine and the aircraft wallowed to the right, toward the hidden enemy positions.

            “I’m hit!  Ground fire!” came Shelton’s voice. “Shit!  I’m going in!” The Flogger seemed to halt in mid-air before slipping sideways.  It passed out of Hammond’s sight as he lifted his aircraft into the air.  He kept the fighter low to the ground for several seconds, wanting to maximize his distance from the enemy fire before climbing.  When he estimated he was several kilometers from the camp he brought the aircraft around in a slow, wide sweeping turn to the left, climbing to 2000 meters.  He saw a thick plume of black smoke rising from the grasslands just outside the compound.  With any luck, he took out some of the natives on the way in.

            Hammond craned his neck but didn’t see the other MiG.  Nor did he see another smoke plume.  He keyed his mike.  “Three, Two.”

            “Three. I’m on your five o’clock.  Board’s green. Colonel Shelton went in.”  Petrovich’s transmission told Hammond that the captain was formed up on Hammond’s aircraft and that he was mission capable.

            “Copy.  I’m green. Is my aircraft one of the modified ones?” he asked the other pilot.

            “Negative, sir.  Mine and Colonel Shelton’s.  Yours is stock -27J with a full load-out of 30mm cannon and Kerrys.”

            “Copy.” Hammond felt a small measure of relief.  He had experience with the standard Russian ordnance and was pleased that he had that as available armament instead of the Goa’uld weapon.  I don’t know how well I’d shoot in an aircraft I haven’t flown in two decades and with an unfamiliar weapon.

            Hammond brought his aircraft around in a wide turn back toward the compound, selecting the hardpoint-mounted Kerry air-to-surface missiles. 

            “I’m going to fire a couple of Kerrys from max range, then I’m going to thump them,” he sent.  Hopefully the Russian missiles would take out some of the enemy soldiers, although the weapon wasn’t meant for use against ground troops.  Thumping, or breaking the sound barrier just over an enemy’s head, might also be a deterrent to an enemy that appeared to be behind them in terms of technology.  “I’ll come back around and use the rest of the Kerrys on the second run, then switch to cannon.”  He paused, adjusting the targeting computer for the missiles. “Are you still Mach capable with the Goa’uld weapon?”

            “Affirmative, sir.  Max speed Mach one-point-two, though.”

            “Starting attack run.  Follow me.” Hammond sent.

            Two clicks acknowledged his transmission.  He knew Petrovich would stay on his wing and follow his lead.  He accelerated to 700 kilometers per hour and lined up on the target, swinging the wings back into their supersonic configuration.  Five kilometers out he released the missiles, watching as the weapons sped away from his aircraft with their characteristic trail of white smoke.  He saw them hit, exactly where he’d aimed them just outside the compound, and pulled the Flogger into a near-vertical climb as he lit the afterburner.

            G-forces pressed him firmly into the chair webbing as he guided the craft up to 10,000 meters.  Looping over backwards, he pushed the stick forward at the bottom of the loop.  He was too high to see the camp itself and allowed the targeting computer to guide him back around. Careful, he warned himself as he leveled the aircraft.  Don’t accelerate too fast or you’ll break Mach before you get there.  Breaking the sound barrier at a specific geographic position was difficult, since the speed at which the aircraft traveled near Mach One meant he was covering over twenty kilometers of ground per minute.  He mentally did the calculations as the targeting computer counted down the distance, and held the powerful aircraft at 0.95 Mach as he approached 350 meters altitude.  At two kilometers out he leveled the wings, pushed the throttle to maximum power and counted.  Five…four…three…two…

            As the compound flashed below him the aircraft became eerily silent, the only noise the quiet rushing of air around the fuselage.  He’d left the noise of the engine behind.  Perfect timing, George.  You haven’t lost the touch.  He pulled the Flogger up sharply, allowing his speed to drop back below Mach one as he rolled the MiG-27 back over the camp at 2,000 meters.  There, he thought.  They just got a pair of sonic booms, maybe four if Petrovich’s timing was right.  That should rattle their cages a bit.

            He swung the ground-attack fighter back around and checked his fuel, cutting the afterburner.  Enough fuel to finish the job.  He brought the wings back out to the extended position as his speed dropped.  Reprogramming the targeting computer to fire the remaining air-to-surface missiles, he pointed himself toward the enemy.  He released the missiles at three kilometers out and banked sharply away from the camp.  No point in letting them have a shot at me if I don’t have to.  The next runs are going to be the hairy ones, low altitude and slow.  He switched his weapon from the now-expended missiles to the 30mm cannon, bringing up the targeting sight.  Firing two rounds into the air to check the weapon, he rolled the aircraft back toward the enemy emplacements.  Lining up on the camp, he saw thin smoke plumes rising from three craters bunched at the edge of the camp.  Looks like the targeting computer works as advertised.

            He keyed his radio.  “Three, two.”

            “Three.” The response came instantly.

            “Status.”

            “Still green.  I have enough ammo for one more strafing run, then I’ll try the Goa’uld weapon.”

            “Copy.  Starting my strafing runs now.”  Hammond dropped the craft slightly in altitude and lowered the nose.  He made a total of four passes over the area before the cannon ran empty, but couldn’t tell if he’d made any impression.  The missile craters were still smoking slightly and he didn’t see any natives, but at several hundred kph that didn’t mean much.  He saw his wingman circle around the camp in the opposite direction.

            “Trying the weapon now,” came Petrovich’s disembodied voice.  Out of ordnance, Hammond circled wide as the other fighter approached the camp.  He watched as a series of brilliant yellow flashes of energy streaked from the fighter toward the ground.  Where the bolts hit, dirt and brush cascaded into the air in a conflagration of smoking plant matter.  That’s pretty neat.  I wonder what the power source is?   Suddenly, as the other MiG made a second pass with the weapon, the color of the energy bolts changed to an eye-searing white and turned into a continuous inferno-like stream.

            “Got a problem.  The weapon’s overload-  Petrovich’s voice cut off abruptly.  A ball of fire filled his viewscreen, tongues of orange and white flame licking toward the ground.  As the conflagration faded, Hammond saw small pieces of flaming debris rain down on the grasslands below.  He unconsciously banked his aircraft to keep the area in view.  There was no wreckage to be seen, and no ejection seat or parachute.  Holy Toledo, he thought.  It just…disintegrated.  It took him a moment to collect his thoughts, his mind reeling. He shook himself mentally and took stock of his situation.  Petrovich’s just…gone.  I’m out of ordnance.  Guess I’d better set this thing down and see if I have any people left.

            As Hammond leveled the fighter’s wings the aircraft rattled alarmingly.  Moments later, red lights lit on his control panel.  Damn. Ground fire must’ve hit the fuel system at some point, even though I didn’t feel a thing.  I’ve got to set this puppy down, now.  He banked the damaged aircraft, looking for the runway.  I don’t know what the winds are, but I don’t think it matters much.  He decided to land the MiG in the opposite direction from which he’d taken off so he could taxi back closer to the compound.  Hopefully there’s still a compound left…and a squad of soldiers and scientists to go with it.  He spotted the runway, lowered the gear and flaps, and took the Flogger in.

 

 

            As Hammond taxied his damaged fighter back toward the camp, he was wary of enemy fire but none came.  Just to be safe he steered the crippled aircraft off the steel planking of the runway and toward the woods, trying to maneuver the Flogger into the area of cover provided by the camp.  He shut down the engine and raised the canopy, slithering out of the MiG and dropping with a painful grunt to the ground eight feet below.  Straightening up and looking toward the camp he became aware of the sweat running down the center of his back and soaking the waistband of his BDUs.  Discarding the clumsy helmet, he forced himself to jog back toward the group of soldiers.  He noted several changes since he’d left.  During his absence they’d managed to move several of the vehicles to create multiple areas of cover among the tents and back toward the tree line.  Personnel were scattered, avoiding having all the potential targets in one area, he noted with approval.  And it looked like at least one of the military contingent was with each small group of scientists.  Jack’s been busy.

            He spotted Jack kneeling behind one of the big generators and changed his course to intercept the colonel.  Hammond noted with concern that O’Neill’s face was pale and tense, but the strain eased as Jack identified him. He didn’t know who went down, Hammond realized.  He thought it was me.  Maybe that’s why he’s pale.  Or it could be his wound.  He looked closely at his 2IC, but the man gave no indication that the injury was bothering him.  Like anyone could tell anyway- Jack never admits he’s hurt until he’s ready to drop.

            “General.  Good to have you back.”  O’Neill’s businesslike tone belied the welcome evident in his eyes.  “Any problems?”

            “Glad to have made it.  I’m fine, no injuries, but the aircraft is toast. You saw that the others went down, I’m sure. How did we do?”  He eyed the area, noting the distinct absence of enemy gunfire.

            “I think you did them some serious damage, sir.”  O’Neill indicated the blackened grass where the enemy had been entrenched. “Fire dropped off significantly after you thumped them, and nearly disappeared after the strafing runs.  We’ve only heard one or two weapons since the second fighter went down.”

            “Any casualties?”  Hammond wanted to know.

            “One of the ground crew was taken out before you got airborne.  Two scientists were killed during the initial reentrenchment.  About six or seven injured, one seriously, from either gunfire and shrapnel, plus a couple of likely perforated eardrums in idiots that didn’t listen when I told them what you were going to do with the aircraft.” 

            He walked Hammond to a protected area well back from the clustered personnel as they talked.           “The natives tried a rush attack between your strafing runs.  I think they were getting desperate.  Fortunately they hadn’t noticed how much we’d moved everybody and charged right into the center of camp.”  O’Neill smiled thinly. “Instead of overrunning our positions like they probably intended, they found themselves surrounded.  We took out an even dozen of them before the remainder ran for the grass.”  He indicated the bodies now visible near the abandoned tents. “A couple of those NID kids can really shoot.”

            “That’s better than I expected, given the odds.”  Hammond noted.  “Good job.”  Especially with a force made up of two-thirds scientists. 

            “Even better, T called.  He’s only about a half-hour out.  They’ll be coming in from the woods as we did.”

            “Excellent.  With any luck we just may get these folks back to Earth and into custody without further incident.” 

            “Given how close our reinforcements are, I’d prefer to stay put until they arrive.”

            “I agree.  We’ll stand fast for now.  If there are any of those enemy soldiers still out there I’d hate to invite them to take another shot at us.  When Colonel Dixon’s and Major Ferretti’s teams arrive we’ll have some of them scout the area.”

            “I could…” O’Neill began.

            Hammond cut him off.  “You’re injured.  They’re on the way.  Give it a rest, Jack.”  He waved a hand to indicate that no further discussion would be welcomed, and O’Neill bit back the protest he’d been about to make.

            Hammond’s voice gentled.  “How bad is the wound?  And don’t give me any of that ‘it’s fine’ horse hooey.  I’ve got eyes and I can see it’s hurting you.”

            O’Neill touched his side gingerly, a faint smear of blood coming away on his fingertips.  “A bullet caught me just below the ribs.  It’s just a graze and torn muscle. It bled a bit, but it’s mostly stopped.  It’ll keep until we get back.”

            “Colonel Dixon’s got that young sergeant, Mendoza, on his team.  He’s a medic.  Get him to take a look at you when they arrive.”

            “He’ll need to triage the wounded first.  That scientist, Hunter, is pretty bad off.  Sergeant Ferrus is doing what he can with the first-aid bag, but he needs to get real medical attention pretty soon.”

            “Jack, in case you hadn’t noticed, you are one of the wounded.  I’m not about to see you denied care in favor of a bunch of NID traitors.  You will have your wound looked at when the SG teams get here,” Hammond said firmly.

            “Yes, sir,” O’Neill said in resignation.

             As if he could’ve said anything else, thought Hammond.

 

 

            GeneralHammond, we are approaching your position from the woods.”  The radio earpiece transmitted Teal’c’s welcome bass rumble.  O’Neill was speaking with a small knot of NID scientists, but he looked up and met Hammond’s eyes at the transmission.  Hammond keyed his mike. “Copy, Teal’c.  We’ll make sure you’re not fired on by our people.  Be aware there may still be bogeys in the woods.”

            “Understood, GeneralHammond.  We will maintain vigilance.  Teal’c out.”

            O’Neill was moving between each small knot of NID staffers and soldiers, his gestures indicating that he was warning them about the approach of friendly forces.  He received nods in return.  Satisfied that his 2IC was taking care of communicating the information, Hammond leant back against the wall of the prefab building and awaited the arrival of the additional SG teams.

            They were there less than five minutes from Teal’c’s call.  Dave Dixon trotted up to Hammond and halted in a relaxed sort of parade rest.

            “Sir, reporting as requested with nine personnel from SG-13 and SG-2.”

            Hammond nodded approvingly.  “Welcome to P2D-119.  We’ve got approximately two dozen NID personnel, including five military.  They need to be taken into custody and disarmed, and some require medical attention.  There are also an undetermined number of hostiles still out in the grass.”  He paused to let Dixon process the information.  “We thought there were forty or more hostiles initially, but we’ve been unable to determine casualty counts.  I recommend you detail a couple of people to scout the area.”

            Dixon nodded.  “We’ll take care of it, sir.”  He turned to brief his people, but Hammond thought of one more thing.

            “Colonel?”

            Dixon turned back. “Sir?”

            “There were also some prisoners taken.  Get with Colonel O’Neill and have him show you where they’re located.”

            “Yes, sir.”  After pausing another moment to apparently make sure Hammond wasn’t going to remember anything else, Dixon jogged back to the knot of SG teams.  Soon Hammond saw Teal’c and a young Army Ranger, Sauers, head toward the perimeter, apparently the scout team.  Most of the rest moved toward the NID personnel.  The remainder of the SGC soldiers stood with ready weapons, providing security.

            The SG teams moved among the NID contingent, relieving them of weapons.  A pair of men with medic bags also circulated, treating the wounded.  O’Neill, Ferretti and a young soldier Hammond didn’t recognize slipped into the woods.  Probably going to find those men we tied up.  I wonder if they’ll learn anything.

            For the next half hour or so Hammond sat on an ammo crate and felt like a fifth wheel.  He’d given the orders, and now he just had to sit back and wait for his people to carry them out.  He was just thinking of checking in with Dave Dixon when Staff Sergeant Mendoza stepped up beside him.

            “Yes, Sergeant?”  He greeted the soldier.

            “General, I wanted to check with you and make sure you weren’t injured.”  The medic was eyeing him clinically.

            “No, Sergeant.  I’m not injured.  Have you seen Colonel O’Neill?  He took a hit.”

            “No, sir.  I’ve not seen him since he left with Major Ferretti and Sergeant Triplett.”

            “Find him, would you?  Never mind, give me a moment.”  Hammond reached for his radio and keyed the mike. “Colonel O’Neill, what’s your location?”

            A hiss of static, then O’Neill responded. “Checking out our prisoners.  We’ve got them at our recce site.”

            “Copy.  Hammond out.”  Turning back to Mendoza, he gave the soldier directions to the site.  “Have a look at him, please.  And don’t let him weasel out of it.”

            “Right away, sir.  I’ll just let Colonel Dixon know where I’m headed.”  The sergeant loped off, and a minute later Hammond saw him head into the woods.

            A few minutes after that, Teal’c and the Ranger reappeared.  The Jaffa approached Hammond, while the young soldier hung back.  Hammond stood to meet the Jaffa.

            GeneralHammond, we have investigated the area.  There do not appear to be any remaining hostiles in the area.  There is evidence that several warriors survived the attack, but their spoor indicates that they have departed toward the distant hills.”  Teal’c’s posture was relaxed, his staff weapon nonetheless held at the ready.

            “Thank you.  That puts my mind more at ease.”  He glanced around, then flagged Dave Dixon down.  The colonel trotted over.

            “Sir?”

            “What’s our status, colonel?”  Hammond inquired.

            “Just about ready to move out, sir,” Dixon responded.  “All the wounded are triaged and ready for transport.  Just two on stretchers, Dr. Hunter and Dr. Lawhon.  All NID personnel have been relieved of their weapons and IDs noted.  Major Ferretti has two hostile detainees- do you want them brought back to the SGC?”

            “Have we gotten any information from them?”  Hammond asked.

            “No, sir.  There seems to be a language barrier.”

            “Bring them, then. We’ll give the linguists a crack at them and try and figure out why they attacked the camp.  Teal’c, I’d like you and Corporal Sauers to maintain a scout patrol during the transit.”

            Teal’c nodded solemnly.  He stepped away from Hammond and, with a tilt of his head, gathered up his young Ranger sidekick.  The two headed for the woods once again.

            “Roger that, sir,” acknowledged Dixon. Hammond listened as the SG-13 leader issued orders over the radio, then reached for his pack and weapon as the group assembled for the hike back to the gate.  He saw O’Neill, Ferretti and the soldier he now recognized as Airman Padilla march the two attackers out of the woods, weapons at the ready.  He waved O’Neill over.

            “Colonel.  Any luck with the hostiles?”

            “Nada.  They speak something none of us have ever heard.”  O’Neill shook his head in frustration.  “Maybe Daniel’s gaggle of tame linguists can figure them out.”

            “They’ll certainly have a crack at it.  Did Sergeant Mendoza find you?”  He carefully avoided looking at the colonel, knowing how prickly the man got about being injured.  Instead he watched as SG-2 chivvied the NID scientists into a ragged line and got them pointed toward the gate.

            “Yes, he found me.  I’m fine, and he even put another bandage on it.”  The mild exasperation in O’Neill’s tone convinced Hammond that maybe he’d pushed that subject about as far as was prudent.

            “Good.  Why don’t you stay back here with me for the trip back, and we’ll let Dave, Lou and their people handle the rest of this.”

            “Whatever you say, sir.”

           

 

                        As the expanded group made their way through the forest back toward the gate, Hammond walked with Jack near the back of the group of travelers.  Despite the presence of nearly a dozen SGC personnel, he still wasn’t entirely sure the NID military contingent wasn’t going to try something.  He wanted to keep an eye on them.  And on Jack, who he thought was looking a little shaky despite his earlier affirmations of health.  As they walked slowly through the widely spaced trees, Hammond brought up the operation.

            “Jack, you did a good job back there.  I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome, given that it was just you and I.”  He paused to step over a fallen log. “Where’d you learn your woodcraft?  I know it wasn’t in basic, at least not Air Force basic.”

            O’Neill looked at him askance, apparently trying to decide if Hammond was really interested. “Here and there.  I grew up in the woods, in Minnesota.  Hunting, fishing…they all teach you how to move quietly in the woods.”  He studied the path ahead of them.  “The rest…I guess you could call it on-the-job training. You’ve seen my file.”  His face showed that not all the ‘training’ had been pleasant.

            “You’re good at it.  Better than just about anyone I’ve seen.  The only ones that come close were an Army Ranger group I spent a few days with in Nam in ‘71.  They were a Long Range Patrol squad I ran into after my Thud went down near the Laotian border during Operation Lam Son seven-nineteen.  I stuck with them for four days until the weather cleared enough for us to be extracted, and they were damn near invisible in the jungle.  I’d had the standard stealth and evasion training in SERE school, but I felt like a herd of buffalo next to them.”  Hammond adjusted his thigh holster to a more comfortable position; all the hiking was causing it to chafe the side of his leg.

            O’Neill eyed him with new interest. “You were with a LRP in Nam?  Those were some of the best jungle recon units ever.  Some of the stories…” he shook his head.  “Pretty impressive.”

            They walked for a few dozen meters in silence.  Then O’Neill remarked, “You were pretty good out there yourself for a jet jockey, General.  You looked like you’ve had some experience of your own in ground combat.”  He looked meaningfully at Hammond. “Not exactly the standard Air Force officer career path, then?”

            Hammond sighed.  “No, I guess not.  Besides my Viet Nam adventure, I ended up in a handful of ground skirmishes in Bosnia a few years back.  This was before the areas around the allied airfields were secured.  We weren’t trained for it, but we managed.” He laughed shortly, without humor.  “More of that OJT you mentioned.” 

            “I know what you mean.  What about the MiG?  Exchange tour in the Soviet Union?”  Jack inquired, only half-seriously.  “I’ve never flown one, but you had that thing turning cartwheels for you.  And the thumps were perfect.  You couldn’t have timed them any better.”

            “I have a few hours in -27s,” admitted Hammond.  “I went to test pilot school as a new major, and we had the opportunity to fly a number of opfor aircraft.  The Flogger was just one of about half a dozen I learned to fly.” He paused to take a drink from his canteen, tucking the container back into his LBE when he was finished. “It was my favorite because I used to fly Aardvarks back in the seventies, after Nam.  There are actually a lot of similarities; they’re both good solid ground-attack aircraft and are a kick to fly.”

            “Cool,” said Jack, and stumbled.

            “Jack?”  Hammond eyed his 2IC with concern, reaching out a hand.

            O’Neill waved him off.  “I just tripped.”  But then he swayed noticeably. He was also breathing rapidly, Hammond noted with increasing alarm.

            Hammond grasped the colonel’s upper arm, steadying him.  “Sit down,” he commanded, guiding Jack to a nearby tree and easing him to the forest floor.  He noticed Staff Sergeant Mendoza looking back at them and waved the medic over, then helped Jack take off his pack.

            “Colonel O’Neill seems to be having a little trouble, Sergeant.” Hammond said.

            Mendoza dropped his aid bag to the ground and knelt beside O’Neill.  “Sir?  How are you doing?” 

            Hammond stepped back to give the medic more room, but watched closely.

            O’Neill sat against the smooth bark of the tree, eyes closed.  “I’m okay.  I got a little dizzy for a second.”  He opened his eyes. “I’m good to go.”

            Mendoza’s hand on his shoulder prevented the colonel from climbing to his feet. “I’m going to take a look at you anyway, sir.”  He unzipped the aid bag and pulled out a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff.  Applying them expertly, he also looked at O’Neill’s eyes, felt his pulse and checked the blood-soaked dressing on the wound.  Within a minute he was scribbling notations on O’Neill’s casualty card.  “Colonel, your blood pressure is low and you seem a little shocky.  I’m going to give you some fluids while we wait for transport.”  He took some supplies from his bag and efficiently started an IV in O’Neill’s arm.  Once the clear fluid was flowing into the colonel’s vein he turned to Hammond.  “General, would you please contact Colonel Dixon and let him know we need a stretcher back here?”

            “Whoa, wait a minute here,” protested O’Neill.  “I can walk.  We’re only a few minutes from the gate.”  He looked entreatingly at Hammond.  “I don’t want to go through on a stretcher.”

            Hammond looked at his 2IC ruminatively.  He understood Jack’s desire not to be carried through the gate, but the man was injured, damn it.  He thought for a moment.  “Let’s see what you look like once you’ve had the fluids.  If Sergeant Mendoza says you look okay, you can walk.  With help.  If he says no, you ride.”  His tone was final.  “Sergeant, it’s your call.  I’ll back you up, whatever you say.”

            “Yes, sir.”  Mendoza hung the fluid bag on a stub of branch.  “This will take ten or fifteen minutes, even wide open.”  He extracted another field dressing from his bag, then unfastened O’Neill’s vest and BDU blouse.  “I’m going to put another dressing over the wound as well.  It’s still bleeding a little, probably from all the hiking.”  Reaching around the colonel’s torso, he tied the field dressing tightly in place on top of the already-soaked dressings.

            O’Neill winced as the dressing was tied.  Ow!  Geez. Take it easy there.”

            “Hold fire, Colonel,” Hammond recommended.  “He’s just doing his job and trying to keep you from falling on your face.”  He stepped away from the protesting O’Neill and called Dave Dixon on the headset radio.  Advising Dixon of the situation, Hammond asked him to hold up at the gate until he, O’Neill and Mendoza could join the rest of the group.  Or until I call back for a stretcher.

            Hammond seated himself on a handy log while he waited for Jack’s IV fluids to run.  He eyed the colonel closely, evaluating him.  He was still pale, but not so much as a few minutes ago.  He was still communicating, which was a good sign.  A quiet colonel could often be a badly injured colonel. We’ll get him to Dr. Fraiser and she’ll fix him up.   I still can hardly believe he took out that entire patrol by himself without getting killed.  I’m glad he’s on our side.       He mused briefly about his plan of action once they returned to the SGC.  He’d have to call both the President and the Joint Chiefs and let them know what had been happening.  There would be an inquiry, and the NID personnel would have to be interrogated.  We have to find out where they staged from and what gate they used.  And who’s keeping them supplied.  Maybe if they could keep the interdiction quiet they could stake out the gate on this planet and catch whoever did the resupply.  It was worth considering, anyway.

            His attention was diverted by Mendoza, who was re-checking Jack’s vitals after removing the IV catheter and fluid bag.  The medic made another notation on the casualty card and looked over his shoulder at Hammond.  “General, Colonel O’Neill’s pressure is back in the normal range.”  He paused, obviously considering his next words.  “I think he can try to walk to the gate.  If he has any more dizziness, though, I’m going to want him on a stretcher.”

            “All right, son.  We’ll give that a try.”  He levered himself off the log and joined Mendoza at Jack’s other side.  The two of them helped the injured colonel to his feet.  Mendoza continued to steady him as Hammond picked up Jack’s pack and P90.  “Ready, Jack?”

            “Absolutely.  Let’s get out of here.”  O’Neill declared, looking better than he had previously.  “I’m allergic to stretchers.”

            Hammond smiled at that.  It just might be true.  His 2IC had staggered back through the gate on more than one occasion rather than be carried.  “Onward, then,” he declared.  “Slowly.”

            They made it to the gate without further incident, much to Dave Dixon’s obvious relief.  At Hammond’s nod Dixon dialed up the gate and, once the wormhole had formed and the IDC had been sent, advised the SGC of who would be coming through.  Once his transmission was acknowledged, Dixon methodically sent everyone through to the SGC.  Hammond, O’Neill and Mendoza were last, save for Dixon himself.

            Hammond felt the familiar chill of wormhole transport, then stepped out into the SGC, the metal ramp ringing beneath his feet.  Taking a deep breath of the familiar ozone-flavored recycled air, he looked up and saw Major Carter, Daniel and Colonel Riley watching from the control room.  Walter Davis and Siler were also there.  I should’ve known they’d all figure it out.  He nodded at the SFs manning the weapons in the gateroom and stepped off the ramp.  Jack and Mendoza arrived just behind him, followed by Dixon, and he thought Jack stumbled just a little bit down the steps of the ramp.  If so, he recovered immediately.  The wormhole closed with a slurp as Hammond looked for a medical team, but apparently they had all left for the infirmary with the wounded NID personnel. 

            “Sergeant, would you please escort Colonel O’Neill to the infirmary?  Let Dr. Fraiser know that the rest of us will be there shortly.”  Hammond handed both his pack and O’Neill’s to one SF and handed both weapons to another.

            “Yes, sir,” acknowledged Mendoza.  After a quiet word to an obviously annoyed O’Neill the pair left the gateroom.

            Colonel Riley, up in the control room, reached for the microphone.  “Welcome back, General,” he said, smiling.  “I’m glad to hear you’re over your flu.”  Mild amusement was evident in his voice.  “The Joint Chiefs would like to hear from you once your sore throat has resolved.”

            So that was the excuse his people had come up with.  Whatever works.  He smiled back at his determinedly-loyal soldiers.  “Thank you, Colonel.  I’m feeling much better now and will probably be able to speak with them later today,” he said.  “In the meantime, I think I’d better visit the infirmary for an, ahem, check up.  You three are welcome to join me at your convenience.”  Not waiting for an acknowledgement, Hammond headed for Level 21 and the infirmary.

 

 

            The next day Hammond met the members of SG-1 in the infirmary, where Jack was still under Dr. Fraiser’s care.  The team was just finishing lunch, with plates and lunch trays set on various flat surfaces.  Hammond sat heavily in one of the chairs, his muscles sore and his dress blues feeling confining and scratchy compared to BDUs.

            “How are you feeling, Colonel?” he asked.  Jack was sitting in bed, on top of the covers, wearing scrubs and socks.  An IV line was still taped to one hand, but he looked reasonably rested and alert.  A handheld video game was nearby on a table, next to a plate with a piece of pie and a fork.

            “Peachy.  Doc said I should be able to go home tomorrow.”  He fidgeted with the IV line until Daniel slapped his hand gently.  “I could go home today, really.”

            “Janet said another day of IV antibiotics, sir,” reminded Major Carter.

            “Yeah, well, what does she know?” muttered O’Neill.

            DoctorFraiser would appear to know a great deal about healing, O’Neill,” stated Teal’c.

            “Whatever.  What’s happening with the NID, General?” O’Neill asked, changing the subject.

            Hammond settled himself more comfortably in the chair.  “The detainees are being held on level 16.  Some are being quite talkative, particularly the scientists.  Apparently they were trying to avoid all non-NID oversight of their activities.  We’ve already learned a great deal about their projects on that planet.  Unfortunately, the scientists were kept unaware of the location of the gate, and the military contingent is being rather close-mouthed at this time; we still don’t know who’s behind the logistics and resupply of the mission.  The science staff was able to give us enough information, however, that CID has been able to make several arrests of persons they identified.”

            “Good.  Every NID slimeball we catch is a slimeball off the street,” declared O’Neill.  “What about the natives?  Or whatever they were,” he amended.

            “Dr. Jackson will be able to tell you all the details, but basically we’re still at the ‘Me Tarzan’ stage of communication.” Hammond said with a bit of humor.

            Daniel looked dyspeptic at the description but didn’t gainsay his words.

            Jack, eyeing Daniel, carried on addressing Hammond. “I do have another question: why MiGs?  Why not F-16s or some other U.S. aircraft?”

            Hammond smiled thinly.  “Apparently they were easier and cheaper to obtain than U.S. manufactured aircraft.  And I’m told they’re also easy to modify due to their simplicity of manufacture.  They brought them through the gate in pieces and assembled them on-site, which would’ve been damn near impossible with most aircraft given the limited facilities.”

            “Figures,” commented O’Neill.  “Damn things look like they’re built out of some kid’s abandoned Erector set.  But they seem to fly pretty well, considering.”

            “Both the President and the Joint Chiefs send their congratulations on a job well done,” Hammond continued, ignoring the colonel’s commentary.  “We dodged a bullet there.  The Joint Chiefs in particular admitted that they had heard that the SGC was conducting rogue operations, but the evidence and personnel we brought back from P2D-119 convinced them otherwise.  With the entire NID operation presented to them so neatly, they could hardly make a case against us.  You and Teal’c will both be receiving commendations.”

            O’Neill waved the proposed commendation away.  “Just my job, General.  You know that.”  Teal’c, predictably, remained silent.

            “Nonetheless, it was a job well done.  I wanted to pass on the congratulations from higher up.”  He stood, brushing the wrinkles from his blue uniform trousers.  “I have to get back to work.  It seems that a great deal of paperwork has accumulated during my absence.  Take care, Jack, and listen to what Dr. Fraiser tells you.  Come see me when- and only when- she releases you for duty.”  He nodded to the rest of SG-1.  “Major Carter, Teal’c, Dr. Jackson.  Good day.”  He stepped out of the infirmary and strode toward the elevator, still relishing his adventure.  I just might have to go through the gate again sometime, he thought.  After all, the teams shouldn’t get to have all the fun.

           

END

 

 

Plot bunny assigned:

Time frame: Any

Pairings: None

Plot: The scenario is Jack and Hammond off-world together. It can be Colonel

Jack or General Jack, whichever works itself into your plot the best. The

why and how is up to you but we must see Jack and George in action together.

We know from canon that Jack has some special ops skills but what is in

Hammond's military past? After all, he hasn't been riding a desk his entire

career. Let the two of them have a rip roaring adventure, face danger as

brothers-in-arms, and strengthen that bond of friendship that we've seen

develop over the years.