Summary:

Well over a decade has passed since the defeat of the Goa'uld, the Ori and the Replicators. It is a time of relative peace within the Milky Way galaxy. Some old faces, and a few new ones, find themselves brought together in order to revitalize a de-funded stargate program, only to face off against a foe that will take the fight to Earth's very doorstep. Enemies abound, both among the stars, and even upon Earth itself.


Prologue

Each footstep took a little more effort than the last. Each breath a little shallower than the one that came before it. The muscles in his arms and the legs ached, almost screaming from the constant, prolonged exertion. Heart pounding, sweat building under the armoured suit. Specifically, the sleek rubber under-suit that was beneath the black armour plating. It clung to him like a second skin, as was its intended function, the lightweight but durable armour plating atop it serving as an adequate layer of protection from all manner of small arms. Even so, he did not feel comfortable getting shot at. Each errant staff blast that zoomed on by him carried with it the chance of death, or crippling injury. His armour might have been good, but a direct hit from the likes of a staff weapon would be enough to put a severe crimp into his day.

Within the fortress grounds, he found himself funnelled through one narrow, winding lane after enough. Stone and gravel was underfoot, the sky above crisp blue and the searing alien sun only serving to make him all the more uncomfortable. He pumped his legs and his arms as hard as he could. A short distance ahead, perhaps only several paces, his compatriot and commanding officer lead the way. Clad in rugged black armour, his face concealed underneath a scuffed helmet and gold-tinted visor, the officer moved with somewhat more confidence. Commander Corasar seemed to have an unlimited supply of stamina, and the younger soldier almost envied him for it.

Valkas kept on moving, their pursuers not far behind. Exhaustion was seeping into his every muscle, the aches and pains it brought only further hampering his run. Still, he pressed on, recalling some of the lanes they passed through from when they had first infiltrated the fortress. Further behind them, the fortress keep itself stood tall and stalwart, all brown and grey sandstone, arches and spires. The symbol of the Eye of Ra was adorned over the front steps, a large golden ornament that served to inform newcomers of the one who had dominion over this land. And for all these years, the people here had continued as normal, waiting for the 'sun god' to return. Rumours of his death had spread, certainly, but no one here believed them. Not when they were used to his long absences from this otherwise unremarkable planet.

Little could be seen of Valkas' actual form, covered in armour as it was. It was rugged black and grey plating, the red-and-black symbol of his battalion adorned upon the shoulders. Yellow trim worked its way around his pauldrons and along his chest plates, representing his overall rank: Sergeant. Corasar's armour bore a more elaborate golden-trim pattern, indicating his much higher station. It had been unusual, for a veteran of his standing to come on this mission with only a Sergeant for support, but it was proof of his trust in the young Sergeant, not to mention the importance of this reconnaissance mission. A mission that had, by and large, gone horribly wrong.

Somehow, they had been discovered. Ambushed so near to their intended objective, they had been forced to shoot their way out. And that they had, exhausting most of the charge in their weapons in order to emerge on the outside. Now it was a matter of getting back to their shuttle, which was easier said than done. Although it was unlikely their enemies had discovered their carefully hidden escape-craft, to get to it they had to make their way through a maze of old tunnels and sewers. And that required getting through the small 'town' that lay within the grounds of the fortress itself.

Closely packed sandstone hovels and the like lined the lanes they crossed, with a mostly human population present. Peasants, mainly, although none were likely to be friendly to the two of them. And with the alert sounded, the civilians had cleared the streets and disappeared indoors. This made it all the simpler for the warriors present to chase down the fleeing pair.

Above, the scream of a 'death glider' made itself heard, roaring over the fortress city. Three of them, in fact, zooming along in a triangle formation before two broke off in opposite directions in order to better widen their search. Valkas glanced up and saw one of them swooping down low, skirting just above the tops of the surrounding buildings. It did not fire at them, not when the warriors in pursuit were so near to the intended targets, and certainly not with civilians hiding within the nearby houses.

Commander Corasar skirted around a corner, taking them westwards, towards the nearest wall. It was a tall, twenty-foot stone wall at that, and it ran its way all around the perimeter of the fortress city. At the very base of it, nestled in a ditch that ran between homes, was a partially open drainage grate. Murky water had filled the winding ditch to about knee-height, and the smell was rank, to say the least. Still, seeing it there told them both that they were at least halfway back to their intended destination. And here, Corasar stopped, booted feet sloshing through the water. Valkas joined him at the grate, the voices of the pursuing warriors echoing down the street. They were deep, augmented by the elaborate animal-inspired helmets they wore. It would be moments before they were on top of the pair, leaving them little chance for rest.

Corasar checked his plasma rifle, the inside glowing a blue-white as energy sizzled within it. Even so, the readout on the side of the weapon told him that there was only a minimum of power remaining. Valkas did the same with his rifle, finding it to be in much the same state. He had no side-arm, unlike Corasar, and in its place had brought a combat blade. Whatever good that might do him now, he could not be certain.

"Did you confirm the package?" Corasar turned to the Sergeant, his voice stern through his helmet's vocoder.

"That's what you're worried about?" Valkas had lost all thought about their objective once the mission had been blown. He had been far too concerned with escaping this place in one piece, something that became less and less likely with each passing moment. "I had no time to search the armoury. They were on us as soon as we were through the door."

"So we don't know it's there?" Corasar's voice developed an angered edge. Valkas frowned, not that this could be seen through his visor. "I need some kind of result, Sergeant. It was your task to confirm that what we were after…"

"It was here. Yes, I know, Marshall, but I got a bit distracted, as you can probably imagine." Valkas did not normally speak to his commanding officer in this way, but the situation was straining him as it was, so he supposed he could be forgiven for a little bit of insubordination. Judging from the way in which Marshall Corasar tensed, he thought that maybe the veteran might get angry, give him a verbal hiding for his insubordinate tone. However, before anything of the sort could occur, one of the loyal warriors stationed here appeared at the top of the ditch. Outfitted in elaborate bronze-coloured armour and white wrappings, the blue eyes upon the animal-head helmet glowed brightly. Staff weapon raised, the end of it sizzling with barely-contained energy, the warrior took aim in the seconds it had taken for the pair to turn their attention to him.

Both soldiers fired, blue bolts of light leaving the barrels of their guns before striking the warrior in the chest. Smoke and sparks erupted forth, and the smell of burning flesh became evident as the warrior came tumbling down into the ditch, staff weapon leaving his grip. His body splashed into the dirty water next to the pair, ending up face down, the staff weapon landing in the reeds by his corpse.

Straight away, Corasar had pulled open the drainage grate. He plunged headlong into the murky depths of the drain, the stench of mud, sewerage and general waste-water both thick and pungent within the rank confines. Valkas followed, keeping an eye on their rear as they progressed into the tunnel. It was only just large enough for them to stand in, booted feet sloshing through the water and the mud. Valkas glanced ahead as Corasar forged a path, taking them back the way they had come through the wall.

It had been deemed too dangerous to use the stargate. Said gate was located within a courtyard outside of the fortress. It more or less served as a glorified delivery service as raw naquadah was shipped off-world. Other than that, it remained still, standing sentinel before the fortress itself. To have used it to come here would only have blown their cover straight away, and an overbearing amount of guards had prevented them from using it as a means of escape. Corasar had opted to go back through the wall, however troublesome that might have been, in order to reach their shuttle.

Working through the tunnel, it became apparent that their pursuers had followed them inside. Rounding a corner, the first staff blast that followed them lit up the dim interior with a bright, rapid-moving yellow glow. And then it flared suddenly, as it struck the wall behind Valkas, a large puff of smoke erupting forth. Pieces of stone tiling fell away, each one rendered hot from the impact, sizzling as they struck the water underneath.

The pair pushed on. Valkas fought against the urge to slow down, as his weariness threatened to overtake him. The thought of the warriors some ways behind them kept him going, as did the thought of his imminent death. He had been trained to be a soldier like any male of his species, and this was far from his first mission. However, it was the first that had gone as wrong as it had, and this was after Corasar had assured him that the threats they were up against were fairly minor. The minions of some long-dead System Lord hardly seemed worthy of fear, yet right now, they were doing a fairly good job of sending him running.

Rounding a corner, the pair emerged out of the other side of the city wall. Before them was a rocky slope, hardly a sheer drop but certainly rough going. Water drained down a naturally-eroded channel that worked its way along the face of the slope and amongst the rocks. Rocky barrens and the occasional spot of dry vegetation opened up before them, all cast under a deep blue sky and a young, blazing yellow sun. Valkas' visor adjusted accordingly to the change in light. Some way ahead was a set of rocky passes that worked their way amongst hills and dunes. Hidden somewhere among them was their escape craft, cloaked from detection both visibly and to any sensors their pursuers might have had at their disposal. That was still a good few kilometres away, and with death gliders surveying the desert from up high, it seemed very much unlikely that the pair could make it there unmolested.

"Keep up, Sergeant." Corasar checked the display pad at his left forearm. There, a small map of the region had appeared, with a red blip indicating the location of the ship. He slung his rifle around one shoulder, freeing both hands for the climb downhill. Valkas did the same, able to hear the heavy footfalls of their pursuers echoing from down the drainage tunnel behind him. They were unrelenting, perhaps unusually so. By intruding on their domain, had these two interlopers somehow insulted the people here? Or were they spurred on by the fact that both intruders were of a species none had encountered before?

No, Valkas realised. It was because this place had been a closely-guarded secret for centuries. If these two intruders got away, it would only bring more attention. Getting hold of the location of this place had taken some doing, now it appeared as if the reconnaissance team was about to leave empty-handed. Hardly the kind of result the higher-ups back home were after.

They were halfway down the rocky slope when the first of the armoured warriors emerged from the tunnel. A staff blast hit the rock closest to Valkas on his left, causing an explosion of dust and debris that made him stumble. He swivelled around as he fell, arm unslinging his rifle as he went. Falling against the rocks at his other side, he used them for support as he raised his weapon and returned the gesture. He planted a bolt of energy into the warrior's helmeted head, blowing open the face-plate and searing away whatever face the warrior had had underneath. Bone and metal fused together, flesh charring from the heat of the blast. The warrior fell forwards, tumbling down a set of rocks before landing awkwardly, the fall enough to have twisted one leg into an unnatural position.

Valkas turned back around and continued after the Marshall, as they neared the base of the slope and the rough terrain of the surrounding desert. The howl of a death glider became apparent as the pair rushed for the shelter of the nearby rocky pass, and Valkas turned around in time to see the winged craft swooping in for an attack. The pair of forward-firing cannons fitted upon it let fly with a volley of yellow pulses, each one sending up a flash of flame and a plume of dirt as they struck the ground nearby. Valkas dived to one side, landing behind a gnarled, alien tree. Dirt showered upon him, each impact causing the ground under him to shake. As for Corasar, he kept on running, heading for the narrow passage ahead that lead in the general direction of their ship.

Valkas took a moment to get back on his feet. Head turning back to the wall, he could see about half a dozen staff-wielding warriors coming down the slope after them. Some had taken up position to fire at the exposed pair. Ahead, Corasar kept pressing on. Valkas took aim at one of the warriors, firing a volley that sent him darting into cover. Above, the death glider was turning around to make another pass. A second glider appeared, moving in from the south.

The pair's chances of escape diminished by the second. Valkas turned back around, rifle in one hand as he charged after Corasar. As he neared the corner, another volley of staff blasts found their way towards him. One came in low, striking him in the back of the left leg. His armour absorbed much of the impact, but the searing energy bolt was powerful enough that some of the heat went through to the flesh underneath. The pain was sudden and intense, and the sheer force of the impact sent Valkas falling. He stumbled, struggling to remain upright as burning hot pain worked its way up the back of his leg. Despite his best efforts, he fell flat on his face, barely able to break his landing with his hands out in front of him.

His rifle fell from his grasp, and his hands scrambled in the dirt for it. Further ahead, Corasar had paused, having heard his subordinate's pained yelp. The yellow visor of his helmet fell upon the wounded Sergeant, and for a moment there it appeared as if the Commander would come back for him. Valkas tried to scramble back upon his feet, but his left leg refused to properly obey the commands his brain sent it. Pain overtook every muscle in the limb, and he could feel the sweltering sensation of metal and rubber having fused to flesh. Had the armour not been present, he might very well have lost the limb entirely. As it stood, he had little chance of walking at a reasonable pace anytime soon. Even if Corasar came back for him, he would be a liability. Valkas knew this, and Corasar no doubt did as well.

Valkas looked straight towards his commanding officer. Their eyes met through their visors, at least as best they could given the golden-yellow tint that hid their faces entirely from outside observers.

"Commander…" Valkas called, although he was not at all certain why, or what he was going to say. Would he beg for rescue? Request to have his commander carry him across his back? It was not dignified, hardly fitting for a soldier of his calibre. Yet the desire was there, that hope for rescue, of some kind of attempt at self-preservation even.

The warriors in pursuit would be on them within moments. Corasar appeared to make a decision then and there, as he levelled his rifle towards his subordinate, intentions clear. Neither of them could be taken alive, it was something both had accepted when being placed on the mission. There was too much both of them knew, sensitive information that could benefit even these backwards, remote System Lord lackeys. Perhaps, even, Corasar felt that he would be doing his subordinate a favour. Death before dishonour, spare his Sergeant the humiliation and pain of interrogation and torture.

Valkas was on his knees then, and he had little chance to say anything further when his commander shot him. The bolt hit him square in the chest, blowing a hole through the left-hand chest plate on his armour. The world around him seemed to spin, a burning sensation enveloping his torso as it did so. Valkas fell backwards, smoke wafting from the impact point on his armour. His vision grew hazy, his strength leaving him suddenly, his body wracked with an intense pain that threatened to overwhelm all his senses. He was bleeding, not to mention the hole that had been shot through him. Suddenly struggling for breath, he worked one hand up to his helmet, finding the release at the neck and pressing it.

Ripping off the now claustrophobic headpiece, Valkas allowed his naked eyes to gaze up at the blue sky above. He could hear footsteps, those of the pursuing warriors, marching towards him. Corasar was gone, pushing on ahead, not even bothering to check if his shot had had the desired effect. No time for that, not with the enemy hot on his heels. As for Valkas, he might have been dying, he could not be certain. Amber eyes looking skywards, he found himself overcome with an odd serenity, as if everything was going to be all right. Maybe that was just a means by his brain to keep himself from panicking, or more likely a result of the mix of painkillers and whatever other calming chemicals had been injected into him by the automated systems of his armour suit. No use panicking, not when he was on the verge of dying.

Unfortunately for the blue-scaled alien warrior, death was a long, long ways off.