Does An Ursa Hunt in the Woods?
Working for Stargate Command made for demanding, consuming, often thankless work. It meant secrecy and relationships strained to breaking point. It meant giving everything you had and knowing it might be no where near enough. It meant long hours and constant danger. For the Gate Recon teams most of all.
Still, every job had its hidden benefits. Colonel Jack O'Neil considered his job to have more than most. Like being out and about, enjoying the air in a forest that towered higher than anything left on Earth. He'd sooner take a bullet than admit it, but it humbled him. Made him feel like he was just a boy camping in the woods.
Not to mention the quiet. Nothing but plants and the occasional small animal, which made these worlds serene in a way that hiker-stuffed nature parks never were. It was the kind of silence that most men hesitated before shattering.
"Am I the only one thinking that this world might be one for the ATVs?"
Having proved he wasn't like most men, Dr Daniel Jackson bent over to plant his hands on his knees and panted softly. A few metres away, Tealc raised an eyebrow and suppressed the decades old urge to bark at his squadmate for disrupting formation. He had long since learned that working with civilians, even those as capable as Daniel Jackson, meant a lot of suppressing such urges.
A few paces in front of them, the other two members of SG-1 came to a halt with a lot more dignity. At least until Jack pressed a hand to his spine and groaned low in his throat.
"You know Carter, I know you said we wouldn't but I'd swear I can feel that extra point one of a gee right in the small of my back."
"Point nought one sir. That's about enough to make our long jump records slightly more impressive here, but unless you want to launch a rocket it won't make a real difference."
"Huh. Maybe it's just that rock I slept on back on p4x-2...something something."
Daniel scowled up at his friend and -technically- commanding officer, "I said I was sorry Jack, what more do you want?"
"My back to not be broken?" Jack shot back, "How could you miss a boulder like that?"
The other two looked on in resigned amusement as Jack and Daniel bickered like long lost siblings. Carter tugged a tablet out of her webbing while Tealc kept his weapon up and his eyes roaming the trees.
"Remind me again Carter, why we're here instead of enjoying the beach on 429 with everybody else? I heard they traded with the locals for some kind of rum and SG-3 is gonna roast a whole pig."
"Well Sir, as you would know if you listened to the briefing, on June 23rd 2014, during the first year of the Atlantis expedition-"
"Carter you can just say 'about two years ago', I promise not to get mad and write you up. And I did pay attention to that briefing: there's not not much intel; alpine climate; no signs of extreme weather; no Jaffa comm traffic; and nothing to suggest this planet's inhabited."
Danny cut in, "So you just slept through the scientific part of the briefing?"
Jack opened his mouth to respond but Carter spoke before he could.
"As I was saying," Carter's glare dared anyone to interrupt her again, "Rodney found a secure section of the Atlantis database and it just so happened that damage to the system let him extract a partial gate address. That gate address lead us to examine a region of space in our own galaxy that is acting very...strangely."
"Wait, wait, I know this one. That's the Amoeboid Cloud things."
"The Aeoobic Cloud, O'Neil."
"That's the one. Really big space cloud, ships can't get into it, you don't know why."
"Yes Sir. So Siler and I put together an auto-dialer program to try and find a gate we could access within the cloud and, well, this is it. Since we're not sure if the cloud might block gate travel sometimes, I asked General Hammond to consider the mission urgent."
Jack looked like he was considering her words, then after a few moments' thought he shook his head and said, "No, no I'm sure that the briefing was much longer than that. More boring too."
"Well sir, I used longer words in the briefing."
"Then next time...don't."
"Sorry Sir," Carter hid her smile behind the tablet, "If it helps, none of my readings have shown anything strange so far and the Gate diagnostics suggest we have plenty of time. Maybe we can still make it to the beach?"
Jack scowled, "I hope not. SG-3's cooking? Colonel Darkur is the worst cook I've ever seen, which is one more reason to feel sorry for her girlfriend."
"So it's the rum you wanted." said Daniel. "Though apparently not enough to bury the hatchet with our colleague." With his breath finally caught, Daniel stood up and raised his own weapon, stepping up beside Tealc to keep watch.
Jack heaved himself upright as well, and said "I'm happy to let bygones be bygones. Just as soon as she admits to cheating at poker."
"How can you be so sure she cheated?"
"She called me with a jack high Daniel. No one is that good."
"As I recall it O'Neil, your hand was a ten and an incomplete straight. Were you not attempting the same strategy?"
"Even you Tealc? We'll see if you're saying the same after she does it to you."
"I am not afraid to face her. I remain undefeated at poker." Those who knew Tealc very very well, might have noticed a hint of smugness in his voice.
All three of the humans present considered Tealc's declaration, then nodded and hummed their agreement.
"Okay then, Tealc versus the cheater can be something to look forward to. In the meantime, Carter, you got your readings?"
Nodding absently, Carter switched off her tablet and tucked it back into her webbing. "Yes Sir, just one more batch and we can head back. I just wish we had some of the Atlantean energy readers, none of what I'm picking up is abnormal and I'm starting to think our handheld equipment just isn't going to help with this one."
"Take it up with requisitions Carter. Let's move out."
Qrow Branwen was not a happy man.
It wasn't that he didn't like his job. In fact he loved it more than almost anything else he had left in his life.
Nor did he object to his wooded surroundings. Most people would be terrified to be so deep in the wilds, alone and without any hope of support. Not Qrow. He relished the experience. Seeing places others wouldn't dare to, tasting freedom on every breath.
Even the litany of tragedy and heartbreak that composed his life story didn't weigh too heavily upon him. In the night it would be different, the photo of his team would feel heavier and heavier, dragging him down into pain that would break him apart if he dared to face it sober...but not in the day.
In the daylight he remembered the good times. The solid feel of Taiyang, his partner and brother in all but blood, guarding his back. His sister's muttered 'observations' on anything that irked her, which had been everything. Feeling like he had to keep them in line, but acting grumpier and grumpier because it was the only way he could hold back his laughter. Only for Summer to catch his eye and smile in that way that told him that she knew he wasn't really mad, and she knew he knew that she knew, and she knew that he knew that she knew that he knew, and she was never ever going to let him forget it.
When the sun was shining and there wasn't another soul for miles around, Qrow walked with his friends once more.
So what on Remnant could the problem be?
The problem was that he was out in the wilds and that meant he couldn't drink more than the occasional sip.
His flask was compression forged, so it held plenty to keep him going. However even a drunken wreck of a Huntsman knew better than to get more than slightly buzzed this deep in the wilds. A thousand and one things could go wrong at any moment, and that meant he had to be able to flare his Aura and sober up at a moment's notice.
Most people who knew Qrow well enough not to dismiss him as a vulgar drunkard assumed that he drank because of pain. They weren't wrong, but he'd started drinking long before he'd learned what pain really was. Mostly, Qrow drank because he enjoyed it. Which, as he'd always told his adorable little nieces, was enough of a reason to satisfy anyone.
Anyone except stick-in-the-mud heiresses determined to waste their incredible talents supporting Atlas' efforts to forget every lesson of the Great War.
Qrow pulled himself out of his daydreams in time to casually behead a Beowolf mid-leap. Two more were about to pounce so he dug his foot into the loose dirt and pushed, flashing past the creatures in a flicker of air and steel. Then he returned his blade to its place at the back of his waist and kept walking as the Grimm collapsed behind him. One of their bone masks having found its way into his hand.
Toying with the smooth and short-lived trophy, he struggled to recall what he'd been thinking of, then dismissed it as unimportant. After all, if it was that important then he'd think of it again later. For now he just wanted to relax and clear his head of the usual noise.
Long ago, Taiyang had taught him how to meditate. Not just in the famous Vacuo style posture with all the loud humming, but while standing, or walking, or drilling with his weapon. His partner had seen the turmoil that raged in him back then, and shown him a way to get away from it for a while. Another good memory.
Thirty years on, Qrow smiled a little and started counting his breaths. In for a count of five, out for a count of seven. In, count. Out, count. In. Out. In. Out.
His awareness remained keen, his surroundings were still there, but with every breath his thoughts quieted a little more.
Until all that touched his mind was the sunlight on his face and the wind in his hair. His head empty but for birdsong and the rustle of his steps. It wasn't as good as being drunk, but it was the best he could get and nothing could spoil it f-
A burst of gunfire proved (as if there was any doubt) that the gods hated Qrow.
Some other Hunter just happened to be nearby right when he wanted peace and quiet, not to mention his current need for secrecy. He swore explosively in every language he knew, then made up a few more words just to make sure. He was turning to walk away from the noise when several more bursts of gunfire sounded out; too long to be controlled and with too much overlap to be co-ordinated, panic fire if he'd ever heard it. Which meant civilians.
Blood running cold, Qrow let go of the Grimm's mask and was leaping from tree to tree before it even began to fall.
"There's definitely something up there." Jack lowered the monocular and slipped it back into its pouch, "I don't know what it is, but it's circling us."
SG-1 were hunkered down in a ditch, concealed by the lowest branches of something halfway between a willow and a cherry tree.
"Some kind of drone?" said Daniel.
Sam turned her tablet to show them the short video of the object that she had captured. It was little more than a dot, too small to make out any details. Nevertheless, she'd scrawled notes and calculations all over the footage. "With the height and this terrain there should be strong winds up there, but it's holding to a smooth course." She gave them all an expectant look.
Jack realised her meaning, "So it's big enough not to be blown around, almost certainly a ship or drone."
"No Jaffa would pilot a Ha'tac so high." Tealc interjected, "The Goauld wish their vessels to be seen clearly from the ground." He left unspoken the kinds of terror tactics that they used the fighter's distinctive profile for.
"Maybe it's not looking for us?" Daniel said absently, peering through the foliage at something. Jack followed his gaze and saw...a bear?
The basic shape was right, but Jack had never seen a bear that was pitch black and armour plated before. Not to mention that it was roughly the size of minivan. Not to mention looking right at them.
Jack's grip tightened on his weapon, his finger flexing against the triggerguard. Despite the way his instincts were screaming at him he held his fire. Shooting first might eliminate a threat before it could attack his team, or it might just draw the ire of some bulletproof alien uber-bear. Not to mention the slim slim hope that Danny could always be relied upon to remind them of.
"Maybe it's not aggressive?" Even Daniel didn't sound convinced.
Carter moved slowly, carefully swinging her tablet around so that the numerous sensors mounted on its back were pointed at the creature.
The little knobs and lens combined the latest and hardiest Earth tech with all the alien gear that they could afford to stick on something that could be lost on any mission. So mostly Earth tech, and not the best of it either. Nevertheless he knew that it got all kinds of readings, he'd even seen Janet use one to take a patient's temperature at a distance, even if the doc still didn't consider it tested enough to take the place of a simple thermometer.
All of which meant that his instincts got a little closer to winning when Carter frowned at her screen and said, "Nothing."
"Uh, nothing? What do you mean, nothing?" said Daniel.
"I mean nothing." Carter barely acknowledged the question, too busy swiping at some control or another.
"I believe Daniel Jackson is inquiring whether the bear is truly present, or merely an illusion." O'Neil glanced from Tealc to Daniel and was very confident that the archaeologist's question was much more complicated and much less practical.
Which meant Tealc had intercepted it just it time, "Yeah Carter, are we looking at ghost bears? Is old man Withers trying to scare us away from his diamond mine?"
Finally tearing herself away from the readings, Carter said, "No, no it's definitely there. It's even a little bit hotter than the surroundings now I have this calibrated right...it's just, there's no life signs at all. No blood flow, or too little to detect. No nervous system activity I can pick up. It's like it's in stasis of some kind."
She wasn't wrong. For all that it was staring right at them, Winnie's mean cousin from the wrong side of the tracks wasn't doing anything else. It wasn't breathing, or fidgeting, it didn't even twitch when a bird landed a few feet in front of it. It was like it had died standing up.
O'Neil had lived with the pain for long enough that he knew it was coming the moment he thought of death. Without a nice firefight to distract him there was only one thing that could pop into his mind's eye. The worst thing he ever saw. The last time he held his son.
For an instant he felt cold flesh, then he shoved the memories away with a practised effort and realised that the bear was no longer standing still. No it was growling now...and it was looking right at him.
A dozen stupid tips about bears flashed through his mind. The obvious solution of carrying a big gun reassured him and he brought his to bear. Then the damn thing began it's charge and he realised that its probably-bone armour was a lot thicker looking when it was moving and-
Holy shit it was fast.
O'Neil rolled to his feet and spent an instant to glance around and reassure himself that his team also got clear. Then he snapped his weapon up to a firing position and squeezed off a burst...which bounced off the damn armour because of course it did. Fucking alien bullshit.
It roared like a jet engine, shaking his bones and setting his blood on fire. 'Oh it is on.'
Course, it would be a bit more on if the bear hadn't immediately charged him again, crossing a dozen yards in the blink of an eye and forcing him to hurl himself out of the way again. Its claws still skimming the straps of his gear. He hit the ground and scrambled to his feet and his team unloaded on the boney bastard.
It ignored the staff blasts that left scorched little craters in its armour, and treated the P90 fire like rain. Though rain usually didn't leave scratches on things it hit.
Meanwhile he occupied himself mostly with avoiding the attacks of a being that seemed extremely eager to give him a hug, trusting his team to wait for clear shots. Which meant a lot of diving and rolling and general exercise of the sort that would have left most men half his age panting for breath.
Funny how often a good cardio workout had saved his life.
Finally the inevitable near miss happened. A root snagged his boot tip and slowed him just slightly. Enough that a claw scoured a hot red line across his shoulder and knocked him off course. Instead of rolling to his feet, he slammed into a tree and found himself upside down and facing the oncoming death train.
Bringing up his weapon, Jack held down the trigger until the clip was empty and barely slowed it down. His free hand fumbled at his webbing instead of reloading, it was already too close.
Then a staff blast, fired from a weapon that had been designed with the kind of accuracy brief that involved the words 'close enough', burned out one of its eyes. It flinched and trampled the ground beside O'Neil, instead of the ground beneath him.
'And they wanted me to take a Russian on my damn team instead.' He snapped off a warrior's nod to Tealc -an awkward head bob that said 'thanks for saving my life' without getting all Top Gun about it- knowing he'd understand like few others.
Rumbling in his soles had O'Neil throwing himself aside again, but in the air he realised it had never aimed for him. No it was after Tealc now. Which wasn't happening on his watch.
They didn't have nearly enough firepower to handle this thing, 'Note to self, requisition bigger guns,' at least, not if they kept up the current plan.
"Ceasefire!" He ordered, loud enough to make his evil old drill sergeant proud. Then he did the exact opposite of the smart thing to do. He leapt towards the car sized monster repeatedly throwing itself at them. Unsurprisingly this lead to him getting bounced off and tumbling through the bushes, while it kept on charging towards Tealc and missed yet again.
It was unfair that Tealc could be older than him and still make the whole thing look so easy.
'Then again,' O'Neil thought as he flicked aside the safety plastic on the little black grip he held and waited for the right moment, 'This is gonna look pretty damn cool.'
It passed Tealc and crashed into the undergrowth. He pressed the shiny red button.
The plastic explosive stuck to its side blew with a plume of flame and an obscuring cloud of dust and smoke. It would also have sent the bullets he'd dug into the underside of the block speeding through any amount of armour that a living thing could carry. Unless it was made of weird space metals.
Absently reloading, SG-1 waited for the smoke to clear. When it did O'Neil saw firsthand that there were no weird space metals involved.
Why the ragged gap where the bear used to have a front left leg and shoulder was red and oozy. There wasn't the slightest sign of metal.
There also wasn't much sign of it dying. Meaning some kind of weird space flesh instead, had to be. So Jack O'Neil drew on his decades of experience, analysed every factor of the battle and his team, then brewed it all in the cauldron of his mind until he had the perfect order. "Retreat!" He bellowed.
They didn't need telling twice.
Just like raising a camp or setting up a dig site, they'd done this enough that it was second nature. Carter and Daniel sprinted ahead immediately. Daniel because he was the worst fighter among them, Carter because she was as good as him at spotting ambushes and choosing paths. Then after a moment or two spent firing instead of running, which was more or less pointless in this case, he and Tealc ran ahead while the other two covered them. It was a tried and true tactic that could be easily modified on the fly to change how many shot and how many ran, allowing adaptation to different enemy numbers and degrees of haste.
It was a waste of time against this thing.
"Forget cover fire! Just run!" O'Neil took his own advice and sprinted for the trees, keeping the other three in his peripherals. Daniel was years past being out of shape for stuff like this, the other two would keep up no matter what, and a glance back showed that the trees were barely slowing it down.
Oh, and there were a bunch of equally armoured and coloured werewolves following right behind it. Wonderful.
O'Neil palmed a grenade and yanked the pin after a brief struggle with the safety. Damn things already stuck when you needed them right that second. He didn't bother tossing it, just dropped it and kept running, already grabbing another.
Carter had veered off to the side a little, enough to stick her gun back behind herself and blind fire without fear of hitting him. Tealc swept his staff up to rest on his shoulder and fired backwards as well. O'Neil dropped another grenade, and Daniel focused on not tripping on a branch and getting them all killed trying to rescue him.
None of which changed that the damn things were gaining fast, and they couldn't keep firing the whole way back to the gate anyway.
An earlier comment about ATVs echoed out of his memory and O'Neil barely resisted the urge to tell Daniel to shut up. Couldn't waste the breath.
Another glance behind told him what he already knew. The bear was barely half a dozen yards back, the werewolves right behind it, and he had more plastic explosives.
God, he hadn't been expecting to die when he woke up this morning. Then again he had learned a long time ago that that was how almost everyone went out.
So Colonel Jack O'Neil, standing on an alien planet beneath a shattered moon he'd yet to have a chance to see, dug out the rest of his explosives and shoved a detonator into one block. Looking ahead he saw a spot where they'd have to draw together. Already Carter and Tealc had stopped firing as they ran for it, afraid of hitting him as he took up the rear. Twenty more steps and he'd drop the explosives and hope he made it far enough before hitting the button, knowing that he wouldn't.
Fifteen steps, he realised that his goodbye letter was in his goddamned about to be exploded to pieces, jacket.
Ten steps, he heard a change in the pounding footsteps behind him. The loudest set veering off to the side for some reason.
Five steps, he thought of every strike against the existence of actual gods that he'd ever come across, before and after joining the SGC. Then he ignored every one, thought of the Ascended, and hoped with all his heart that this was the part where he saw his boy again.
Then an artillery shell slammed into the ground and sent them all flying forwards. Just about the story of his life these days.
In mid-air he caught a glimpse of something and red silver among all the black and white, and heard the faintest whisper of steel through all the ringing in his ears. Only for the ground to hit him and drive all those thoughts out of his head, along with the air from his lungs and the lack of pain from his everything.
Lying face down with a mouthful of dirt, O'Neil couldn't hear the beasts chasing them any more. Not that he let that stop him from taking a well earned moment to rest on the sort-of-but-not-really comfortable ground.
Eventually though, he could put it off no more. Hauling himself to his feet, O'Neil's priority one was checking that his team -his friends- were all present and intact. Check. Priority two was looking back and seeing what was holding up the monsters from snacking on them all. That one was where he stalled.
It wasn't the crater in the ground that started a few yards away from where they'd landed. That made sense.
It wasn't the scattered pieces of black wolf monster, nor the nasty thick blood stuff oozing from their bits and pieces. That was about what he'd expected when he wasn't eaten alive.
It wasn't even the way those body pieces were dissolving into a black mist (which then vanished entirely before it even reached the canopy's height) before his eyes. That wasn't even in his top ten weird sights.
No, it was the man standing amongst the bodies, with an enormous great scythe in one hand, and a silver booze flask in the other. Wearing a ragged red cape and looking at them like he wasn't sure whether to be bored, smug, or pissed off beyond all reason.
Whoever (or whatever) he was did at least know how to speak, "Yona oi ymnekrd? Fryd dral lulg yona oi tuehk drec taab ehrd nr Femytc?!" Those were probably words. Right?
With a heavy sigh, Jack gave the man a long look, taking in the ridiculous cape and the eyes of a hardened veteran. He matched the man's smile with an even cockier one and said out the corner of his mouth, "Daniel, I think this one's for you."