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Posted January 27, 2006
Fan Fiction: Eclipse
Act One: Exploration
The first touch of air on Sam's face after stepping through the Stargate always felt warm to her, due to the chilling effect of wormhole travel. She'd gotten used to it over the years. Her first breath on PM3-44G, however, made her feel like a new recruit all over again; it was like a blast from a furnace, and she gasped reflexively in response.
The wormhole slurped behind her, disgorging the rest of her team, and she stepped automatically away, raising a hand to shade her face from the incredible glare reflecting from every surface in sight. The single, smallest sun was overhead at the moment, and its bright, bluish light made her squint even through the Air Force-issue sunglasses she wore. The Gate sat upon on a small hill surrounded by a rolling plain of sandy, rocky terrain, with the suggestion of a canyon a short distance away. Further details were obscured by the haze of heat waves rising from the ground.
"Wow." The Colonel stepped past her, boots crunching in the dry soil underfoot. "Note to self: when Carter's report says 'very warm', what she really means is 'blazing hot'."
"Oh, it's not that bad," Daniel replied off-handedly, walking past them to check the DHD. "We've got water, and plenty of sun-block; it's not like we're planning on spending several days here." He stripped off his uniform jacket as he spoke, and Sam could see patches of sweat already beginning to darken the fabric of the T-shirt beneath his arms.
"Of course it feels like home to you," Jack muttered, irritably. "But some of us aren't all that fond of deserts."
"At least there are no trees, O'Neill."
Sam threw a quick grin in Teal'c's direction. Of the four of them, he appeared least affected by the heat; he'd even turned down sunglasses, claiming to have lived and fought in climates worse than this while in Apophis' service. She received only a raised eyebrow in response to her smile, but after seven years of serving with the taciturn Jaffa she'd learned to see the subtleties in his expressions. A twinkle in his eye and a twitch at the corner of his mouth gave away his amusement.
"Very funny, Teal'c." Jack turned to Sam with a carefully bland expression, and gestured toward the foot of the hill with the P-90 clasped in his arms. "So which way do we go, Carter? This is your party."
Sam schooled her face back into 'mission mode' and pointed in the direction of the narrow canyon. "That way, sir. The initial MALP readings picked up mostly cinder, gypsum, and evaporite deposits; I think a lot of this area might once have been covered with water. If there was a living culture here at one time, it seems likely that they would have moved into more sheltered areas, like that canyon, to protect themselves from the growing heat ..."
"... And regardless, any evidence washed into the canyon by receding waters would be more likely to have remained unburied than anything out here in the open," Daniel interrupted, completing the thought. "In fact, I'm surprised the Gate is still exposed; any open water here must have dried up thousands, even millions of years ago. The dust storms must be fierce." He had tied his jacket around his waist, and was now staring out at the horizon, examining the bank of dirty cloud that hugged the ground in the direction that the blue sun would have risen from.
"Think someone still visits here? Often enough to keep the Gate from getting buried?" Jack perked up at that suggestion.
"The MALP found no evidence to suggest that," Sam objected, then looked down to check her watch. "The specialized UAV I requested will be sent through in another fifteen minutes, though; I'll make sure it gets some shots of the ground while it's up. If it finds any evidence of Goa'uld or other activity, we'll know in a couple of hours."
"All right then," Jack nodded. "Let's get a move on, people. We're burning daylight."
"Uh, Jack? You do remember that there is no night on this planet?" Daniel spoke up, quirking a smile in the Colonel's direction.
"Figure of speech," Jack said in a put-upon voice, and started down the hill.
Sam suppressed a smile and moved to follow.
The team covered the distance to the canyon quickly, and without incident. They saw no evidence of any kind along the route to hint at previous Goa'uld or other civilized activity on the planet, but Sam's suspicions of organic life were proved true; as they drew closer to the narrow passage, they began discovering small bones and bone fragments scattered amongst the loose stones at their feet.
Sam called a halt a couple of hundred yards from their goal to take a few samples of the bone for testing, and a few more from the rocky soil around them to examine for trace elements when they returned to the base. If Daniel's theory about the dust storms was correct and the planet did still receive visitors, there would have to be a reason; perhaps the MALP readings had been incomplete. She planned to take more samples from the canyon floor as well, and from the strange, protruding earth formations that the MALP's telescoping cameras had detected nearby. She had a couple of theories about how they might be formed, and was eager to see which was correct.
"I think that's enough for now," she said, tucking the last bone sample away in her kit in a protective plastic baggie. "The bone fragments are too small to tell what the animal or animals they belonged to might have looked like, but they were almost certainly warm-blooded vertebrates of some kind, and definitely lived here after the planet's transformation into a desert. There must still be water available, somewhere."
The Colonel sighed and tugged the ball cap from his head, then ran a hand through his sweaty, graying hair. "Did we take a wrong turn into some kind of alternate universe where you're the archaeologist, Carter? I thought you picked this planet because of the unusual stellar arrangement, or something."
"Oh, I did, sir." Sam checked her watch again, then squinted up at the sky. "In fact ... there goes the UAV now." The tiny automated aircraft soared by overhead, special sensor packages and cameras recording information for later assessment. "I can't make any direct observations of the stellar geography of the system, for obvious reasons; I'll have to analyze the data from the UAV when I get back. But that wasn't my only reason for coming."
Jack grunted and put the cap back on. "Carbon-based life in extremely dry environments, Martian studies, yadda yadda," he said, grudgingly. "I read your pre-mission report. I dunno. I just thought we'd get to do something a little more interesting if I put you in charge of picking our next destination - like the time we went to Cassie's planet to observe that black hole eclipse."
"That, of course, being the mission where we lost SG-7 and found out about Nirrti," Daniel put in, dryly. "I should hope this mission would be a little less interesting than that one." He had dropped into a crouch a few paces nearer the canyon than Jack's position, picking over the debris at his feet, with Teal'c looming at his back like a portable shade-generator.
"Indeed," Teal'c commented, raising his eyebrows at the Colonel.
"You know what I mean," Jack groused.
"Don't relax too soon," Daniel added, in an absent tone of voice, as he picked up a larger bone fragment and turned it over in his had. "There are tooth marks all over these bone fragments - deep gouges, and the way they're spaced, they probably came from a pretty large predator. I wouldn't want to meet up with the owner of those teeth unexpectedly."
"Not the kind of excitement I was looking for, Daniel, but thanks for trying," Jack sighed, and glanced back at Sam. "Let's get a move on, then. We'll take a water break at the canyon, re-apply sun-block, and decide where to go from there."
Daniel dropped the bone he was holding and stood, dusting his hands off on the thighs of his uniform pants. "Really, though, I don't think we have much to worry about," he continued. "The dry climate preserves things pretty well, but I'd guess the bones are at least a couple of decades old. If there were a population of these things in the area, I'm sure we'd see more recent spoor."
"That's good to know," Sam said, wiping droplets of sweat out of her eyes as she headed toward the canyon again. The glare had dimmed a bit as the blue sun dipped toward the horizon, but she knew that wouldn't last much longer; the paired red and amber suns would be rising in another hour. The lower oxygen content of the air was beginning to get to her, too; it felt as though she'd been jogging on a treadmill for half an hour, rather than walking. It was better than it could have been, though. After living at more than a mile of altitude in Colorado for the last several years, the team had become acclimatized to relatively thin air.
More details of the narrow gap became visible as they approached it. The cliffs on either side, though steep, were not particularly high - even now, there was not much shadow at the bottom. As the mirage effect of the heat haze dissipated due to lack of distance, however, something else became visible on the canyon floor. The vague whitish blurs that Sam had at first taken to be more highly reflective stone surfaces or perhaps a lighter-colored mineral resolved into something else entirely.
"Wow." Jack whistled softly at the sight. "Got your digital camera with you, Daniel?"
"The predators on this planet must be formidable indeed," Teal'c commented.
Portions of an enormous skeleton were wedged into the space between the cliffs, bones larger than anything Sam had ever seen outside of a museum. The canyon curved a little further in, but just before that point she could see a column of huge vertebrae suspended horizontally a dozen feet off the ground by the arching vault of an enormous ribcage, a macabre tunnel they'd have to walk through if they decided to explore the area further. Other bones littered the narrow space like giant-sized jack straws dropped by a clumsy hand.
"I don't ... I'm not sure, I'll have to take a closer look, but I don't think all of these bones are from land-based creatures," Daniel said calmly, lifting his digital camera to take a few shots. "The larger ones appear considerably more weathered than the fragments we found out there, and they're more protected here, too; they could have been here a very long time. I think they might - from the types of bones I'm seeing, I think they might be from sea-going creatures, wedged here when the water evaporated."
"Like whales?" Sam blurted. "Wow. That's the last thing I expected to find in this place, even if my theory about the third sun proved to be true."
"Well, consider it proven," the Colonel said, gesturing at the boneyard before them. "Shall we take a closer look?"
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