It was another anonymous sandy planet. The planets connected to the Stargate-network seemed to mostly come in one of two models: forest or desert. This one fell into the second category, with a surface covered by fine white sand baking under a broiling hot sun. The computers back at Stargate Command had named it PQX-830. Daniel had with Jack’s unending support lobbied for them to give it a proper name. However, once they’d arrived on the planet neither of them had been able to think of anything suitable to call it.
The Stargate-site was slightly unique. The big circular naquada-device was placed at the end of a deep canyon that hid it from the incessant winds plaguing the planet’s surface. On the other hand those same winds had forced quite a lot of sand into the canyon, forcing SG-1 to wade through deep dunes as soon as they exited the ‘gate.
They came through in their usual configuration: Colonel Jack O’Neill on point, with Dr. Daniel Jackson and Major Samantha Carter close behind, and the Jaffa Teal’c bringing up the rear. As soon as the blue puddle winked into nothing they fanned out to perform their standing initial assignments. Sam and Daniel checked the DHD and dialed back to Earth to confirm that they were able to do so. Meanwhile Jack and Teal’c surveyed the area to make sure there weren’t any immediate threats. When everything checked out they regrouped and headed out along the floor of the canyon.
They were headed for a collection of ruins that sat a fair distance into the desert beyond the canyon. Those ruins – or rather something in those ruins – were the only reason they were on this dustpan of a planet. The MALP had picked up a faint energy signature at the first screening of the planet, and when they sent a UAV through they’d been able to pinpoint it inside the remains of what once had been a medium sized city. The honorable mission of finding out what the energy signature was and whether it would be useful to Earth had fallen to SG-1. It should be an appropriately straightforward mission for the team that were still getting used to being back together.
The sand collected in the canyon was soft and just a few yards from the ‘gate-platform their feet sank in deep with each step. For every two steps they seemed to be gliding back one, making their progress slow and laborious. It wasn’t surprising; the MALP had been unable to travel very far from the ‘gate before it got stuck, but they had hoped to be able to find firmer footing between the deepest dunes and make their way to the end of the canyon. The UAV had registered the remains of an ancient road that would lead them on to the ruins.
After thirty minutes of struggling through the veritable sea of sand, Jack called a halt and turned to the rest of his team.
“How you doing, kids?” His attempt at a light tone only barely disguised the fact that he was out of wind, and his very real concerns were betrayed by the serious look in his eyes. Sam took her cue from his eyes and responded honestly. Her need to assert herself against the male-dominated culture of the air force had been decidedly dulled over her time with SG-1.
“It’s tough going through the sand, sir.”
Jack cast an eye in Daniel’s direction. His need to ‘be fine’ had not been dulled by their time together, but Jack had learned to read him like a book. Right now he saw that the archeologist, despite his much improved stamina, was exhausted.
Finally he turned to Teal’c, the very symbol of endurance on the team. Him too Jack had learned to read, and now he identified the very slight crease on the Jaffa’s brow that communicated that he was also feeling the strain of pushing through the deep sand.
Jack also knew that part of the reason for that crease was worry for the rest of them. When Teal’c had first joined the team he had found the alien’s fatherly attitude to all of them offending, but now he understood that it was born out of the same place as his own dutiful loyalty. They both saw it as their job to look after those weaker than them, and Jack’s greatest concern was now – as always – Daniel. The younger man would doggedly continue to push through, but at the slow going they’d managed so far getting to the road at the end of the canyon might take them all day. If Daniel was exhausted already Jack didn’t know if he could cope for that long. He returned his gaze to his second in command.
“Carter, which direction are those ruins?”
“That way, sir,” she answered and pointed to their right. “Compass puts it to the northeast according to the magnetic field of this planet.”
”Right.” Jack glanced at the compass on his own watch to confirm, and then eyed the cliff face in the appointed direction. The wall was steep and about twelve feet high, but a short intense climb might prove less difficult than hours of trudging through the dunes.
”Okay, campers. Let’s see if we can manage to scale that wall instead, and skip out on the round trip of the scenic route.”
”You think that’s wise, sir?” Carter asked, and no one could miss the look she cast towards Daniel. His exhaustion hadn’t passed her by either, but she had yet to reach the same conclusion regarding the best solution as the colonel.
”It beats sand-swimming.” Jack pointed out, and she couldn’t give him fault there, even if not all of them were as good climbers as him. Jack seemed to have read her mind, because he continued, “I’ll go first and secure a rope to help the rest of you up.”
It took them another ten minutes of 'take two steps, slide one back' to cross the twenty yard distance to the base of the wall. When they finally reached it Jack knew by the look on Daniel’s face that stubbornness alone was keeping him from collapsing in a panting heap. This’ll be the better option, Jack thought, even if I have to pull him up myself.
Jack unclipped his backpack and handed it to Sam, who in return gave him a roll of rope she’d picked out of Daniel’s pack. He slung the rope over his head and across his chest, and bent down to pick up a handful of sand. In lack of chalk the sand would have to serve in reducing the slipperiness of his hands.
After giving his hands a good rub he turned to study the cliff face. It was rough and full of jagged edges, but that only made his job all the more easy. Every edge was a place for him to hold on to. With a short nod to his teammates Jack began scaling the wall.