"Receiving MALP telemetry now," Sergeant Davis told Sam.
"Oh, god," Sam breathed a moment later.
"Major?" Hammond asked, looking over her shoulder. "The MALP's sensors aren't detecting any atmosphere," Sam said. The video feed cleared and they could see bodies lying in the corridor outside the gate room. "The station must have experienced an explosive decompression shortly after Teal'c and I left."
"O'Neill and Daniel Jackson will have found a secure position," Teal'c said.
"If they had time," Hammond said.
"They are most resourceful."
"General, it is possible," Sam said, turning her chair so that she could look directly at Hammond. "The station was compartmentalized, like a ship. There should be survivors."
"We have no idea what the situation is, Major. You said there were bombs going off. I can't put any more people at risk without knowing more about what they might be facing."
"I've been thinking about that, sir," Sam said. "We don't know for certain what happened, but there is another possible explanation. I hadn't had time to fully investigate. I hadn't even had time to mention it to Colonel O'Neill."
"Mention what, Major?"
"I believe there's a significant problem with maintenance and repairs on Mennona," Sam said. "It's entirely possible that this explosion, even the decompression, was the result of an accident."
"When you say problem...?
"The Mennoni have no means to replace metal," Teal'c said. "No trading partners, no access to raw ore."
"So as parts wear out or are damaged, they're unable to replace them," Hammond said, nodding his understanding.
"They aren't being lazy or careless. But unlike crops or livestock, metal can't be propagated," Sam said. "This artificial planet is subjected to constant solar radiation and space debris along with the normal wear and tear caused by hundreds of thousands of people. Sooner or later the damage exceeds their ability to repair."
"Even if metal fatigue was the cause of the disaster, I don't see how that makes the situation any better."
"Well, it means no one would actively be trying to kill us," Sam said.
"It's still highly risky."
"We are willing to take that risk," Teal'c said. Sam nodded her agreement. Hammond regarded them both for a moment.
"General, please, let us go back," Sam said. "We'll talk to the Mennoni government. We'll find Colonel O'Neill and Daniel."
"You'd need full suits and life support."
"I'll contact NASA," Sam said, standing up. "They've loaned us equipment before."
"And you'll need backup," Hammond added, reaching for a phone. "SG-3 was scheduled for a recon mission later today. I'll just go amend those orders."
Daniel put his hands over his face and took a deep breath. His eyes burned and watered. He couldn't even attempt to read the schematics for more than a couple of minutes at a time. And he'd only been trying for twenty minutes. At this rate it would take him the entire week they might have left to finish the technical readouts.
Daniel jumped when Jack's hand landed on his shoulder.
"Hey, take a break."
"No, I got it." Daniel leaned forward, peering painfully at the screen, and scrolled to a different schematic. "Do you understand this?"
"Yeah," Jack said, studying the diagram intently. "Yeah, I think so. Looks pretty simple actually. But I'm going to need some help. I can make the necessary adjustments to the power flow, but I'll need you to man the cut off switch to make sure we don't drain the power for our life support too low."
"I can do that with my eyes closed," Daniel said in a light tone.
"No, you can't. You'll have to read the power levels." Jack patted him on the shoulder. "You have about a half hour to rest your eyes while I reroute the power output."
"Damn it," Jack yelled. Daniel kept peering at the power level, his anxiety rising as the level dropped. When it reached the appointed level he made himself flip the switch, stopping the power drain on the life support system. He waited, expecting an outburst from Jack. The silence he heard instead was unnerving.
"Jack?" Daniel turned, leaning back against the wall. His eyes were watering constantly even when he kept them closed. "Jack?"
"Stop rubbing your eyes." Jack's grim voice so close startled Daniel. "Easyit's just me. Let me get some more water and we'll try flushing your eyes out again."
"Did it work?"
"No." There was a long pause. "No, I underestimated the planet's gravity. Even with the extra power the thrusters just aren't strong enough to break away."
"But you at least bought us a little time, right? Moved us away from the planet a little?"
"Not really," Jack said. "Because I underestimated the pull of the planet's gravity, I also overestimated the amount of time it would take for us to fall into the planet. Basically, we now have the time I originally thought we had. Stupid, right?"
"You had no way to know," Daniel said. "No way to measure the planet's gravitational pull."
"Guess I should've stuck to flying combat missions. At least when you go into free fall in a jet, it doesn't last long."
"I prefer to have some time to find a solution," Daniel said. "Speaking of which...?"
"Maybe forty-eight hours. Maybe." Jack sighed. "Probably less."
"That's okay then," Daniel said, processing the information in his mind. "We're good."
"Good?" Jack said, incredulous. "We're going to crash into a planet that makes hell look inviting and you say we're good?"
"It's Thursday. Or it will be."
"I never die on a Thursday."
"Come again," Jack said, staring at Daniel.
"In forty-eight hours it'll be Thursday," Daniel said, knowing that Jack thought he'd finally lost his marbles. "I never die on a Thursday, ergo we're okay."
"You never die on a Thursday," Jack repeated. "Is this a religious thing? Or some weird archaeology superstition?"
"No, it just that in my whole life I've never died on a Thursday." Daniel shrugged. "I know it's not the best theory I've ever dreamed up...."
"No, noI can work with that."
"Hey, Ferretti," Sam said, turning to greet SG-3 as they entered the gate room.
"So it sounds like we've got to go pull the colonel's ass out of the fire again," Ferretti said. Sam nodded sharply. "General Hammond said that this space station thing had an explosive decompression."
"That is true," Teal'c said.
"So what are we expecting?" Ferretti asked, his expression grim.
"We know that O'Neill and Daniel Jackson survived the initial explosion," Teal'c said.
"And the station is built in sections. Each section will seal off automatically in the event of decompression," Sam said. "The colonel and Daniel just had to be in an intact compartment."
"Okay, I can work with that," Ferretti said. He turned to his team to finish gearing up.
"SG-1 and SG-3: you have a go," Hammond's voice announced.
Sam nodded up at the general before turning to help Teal'c secure the helmet of his spacesuit. Then she accepted Teal'c's help in securing her own gear.
"Ferretti?" Sam asked over the suit's radio. "You ready?"
"Let's rock and roll."
"Okay. That's just...spooky," Ferretti said, staring through the face plate of his suit.
"We need to search the entire sector," Sam said, very determinedly keeping her eyes focused in the opposite direction.
"Major," Ferretti said, gesturing at the gaping hole in the exterior surface of the artificial planet. A hole that allowed them to look out into the black chill of space.
"They were alive after the bomb went off," Sam insisted.
"You have to admit, it doesn't look good," Ferretti said. This area was almost clean. Everything in the immediate vicinity had been sucked out through the torn skin of the planet. There were just bits and pieces of debrisplants, papers, even clothingscattered around, landing helter-skelter when the fierce rush of the exiting air had faded.
"They're not dead until I see the bodies," Sam said. "And even then they're not necessarily dead."
"Major Carter, we have detected no signs of life on this level," Teal'c said as he rejoined Sam and Ferretti.
"Okay, well, they must've made their way to a different level. Let's see if we can find Councilor Toma."
"He has already been found."
"What?" Sam grimaced when she realized what Teal'c meant. "Oh."
"We'll check it out," Ferretti said, gesturing to his team. "Why don't you and Teal'c see if you can find some of the local officials. Maybe they can help."
"So what do you think Sam and Teal'c are doing?" Daniel asked.
"Oh, yeah. Teal'c's a real Parcheesi fiend," Jack said.
"I didn't know that."
"You know Teal'c. He keeps everything inside."
"Yep, that's Teal'c all right," Daniel agreed. He tried to think of other topics of conversation, but it was nearly impossible to avoid the most immediate concerns. "Jack, what makes you think it was a bomb?"
"Because it was."
"You can't know that for certain."
"What blew up, Daniel?"
"What...? It was the wall by the...."
"That doesn't prove anything," Daniel protested.
"In my experience walls don't go boom without provocation," Jack said.
"It could've been an accident. Presumably they route power lines and that kind of thing through the walls."
"Or they could've been sabotaged."
"But why? Okay, something blew up...but that was a pretty localized event, right?" Daniel asked.
"Doesn't have to be a big explosion if it's in the right place."
"But the explosion happened and everything was okay. Well, not okay, but it wasn't some kind of Armageddon scenario."
"It seemed to be a relatively small blast," Jack agreed. "But maybe that's just all that we saw of it."
"Okay, an apparently localized explosion. Then what?"
"Then then it was quiet for maybe as long as ten minutes."
"And then another explosion."
"Are you sure?"
"We both heard it." "You didn't see it?"
"No, not this time. But I heard it. You heard it." Jack scrubbed at his five o'clock shadow. "Look, Daniel, we know there are members of Mennoni society who are not happy campers. Now maybe they only intended a small explosion, maybe a large one, but either way they may have intended to make an issue of the satellite's vulnerability."
"Trying to scare others into sharing their point of view?"
"Pretty typical terrorist tactic," Jack said.
"I'll admit that a bomb is possible, but I don't think we should accept that as the only possibility."
"Frankly, at this point the cause really doesn't matter," Jack said. Daniel nodded slowly, because it really didn't.
"High Councilor," Sam said as she entered the central command post. She recognized the head of the Menonni government from a meeting shortly after SG-1's arrival three days ago. He was looking far more harried now.
"Major Carter. Teal'c. I did not expect you to return."
"Our teammates remain here," Teal'c said.
"I regret to say that they are dead."
"You know that for a fact?" Sam asked.
"They were in the section that was destroyed."
"They will have taken shelter," Teal'c said.
"There is no shelter. See for yourself." The High Councilor led them to an array of monitors showing the status of various systems. He waved his hand at one screen. "As you can see, the entire section is devoid of atmosphere."
"Lifeboats," Sam said as she studied the information. She looked up at Teal'c. "There was a docking bay in that section, wasn't there?"
"I agree," Teal'c said. "That would have been the most likely course for O'Neill to take."
"I doubt they would have had time to reach one of the ships," the High Councilor said.
"But it is possible," Teal'c said. "Do you have a means of communicating with the escape pods?"
"We do," said a young engineer. He emerged from behind his console and joined Sam and Teal'c, bowing his head respectfully to the High Councilor.
"Major Carter, Teal'cI present Technician Poul."
"Nice to meet you. Can you try contacting the ships?" Sam asked.
"I already have tried," Poul said. "Our monitors showed that several of the escape pods had separated from the planet. We couldn't tell if this was accidental or deliberate, so I attempted to contact them, in case anyone was on board."
"Did you receive any response?" Teal'c asked.
"I'm sorry, no," Poul said. Sam grimaced and looked away. "In all truthfulness I cannot swear to you that the communication systems were not damaged. If they separated by accident, one of more of their systems may have been disrupted."
"Do you not have a means of communication?" the High Councilor asked Sam.
"We tried our radios as soon as we returned," Sam admitted. "We didn't get any response, but that could just mean that they're out of range."
"Can you determine the escape pods' position in relation to the planet?" Teal'c asked.
"I can. In fact, I already have," Poul said. "At least two of the ships have fallen into a closer orbit to Mennona. At this time, they should be on the far side of the planet from us."
"How long before those ships are clear of the planet again?" Sam asked.
"I'll have to do some calculations to be certain, but a couple of hours would be my guess."
"Damn it," Jack muttered. He added an arm to the little stick figure on the paper. "I should know better than to play Hangman with a linguist." He did know better, but they both needed the distraction. Hell, they just needed something to do.
"How are you doing?" Daniel asked.
"Three more body parts and I'm toast," Jack said. Daniel reached for his bandaged eyes, and Jack leaned over and knocked his hand away. "No rubbing."
"The bandage isn't going to help," Daniel said.
"It'll keep you from straining your eyes trying to see," Jack said. "G?"
"No," Daniel said. Jack scowled and added an extended middle finger to his stick figure. "And what difference does it make?"
"You don't want to end up blind, do you?"
"We're going to crash into a heavily volcanic planet in something like twenty-four hours. I'm not sure I necessarily want to see that," Daniel said.
"What happened to never dying on a Thursday?" Jack asked.
"I never said anything about never crashing on a Thursday."
"God, you're worse than Charlie," Jack muttered, batting at Daniel's hand again when it crept toward the gauze wrapped around his eyes.
"If he was anything like you, I can believe that," Daniel said.
"Sheesh, yeahhe was as stubborn as they come."
"So he did take after you?"
"Hell, he was at an age where he wanted to be me," Jack said ruefully.
"I can think of much worse people he could've wanted to emulate."
"Really?" Jack said skeptically. "Like who?"
"Maybourne springs to mind," Daniel said. "Kinsey. That cashier at the 7-11."
"The guy with no front teeth and a scary obsession with Elijah Wood?" Jack asked. Daniel nodded. "Gee, give a guy nightmares why don't you?"
"I'm just sayingCharlie could've chosen worse," Daniel said softly.
"Yeah. Thanks." Jack doodled aimlessly on the edge of the paper for a moment. "M?"
"You do know this word has to be in English, don't you?" Jack said.
"And you do know that your little stick man has to be human, don't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I've been keeping track, Jack. Just how many legs have you given him?"
"Three," Jack admitted reluctantly.
"So...obviously not an Asgard," Daniel said.
"Idiot," Jack said, grinning.
"Jack, is there any chance you can control the ship's entry into the atmosphere?"
"I already told you that's not likely. And what would be the point?" "The planet's surface isn't entirely molten. If we could get to an area of solid land the ship's shields should protect us from the worst of the heat and...."
"And then something else would have to happen."
"Oh, well, as long as we have a plan," Jack said.
Sam looked up as the door to the command center opened. Her face fell when she saw Ferretti and his team enter, still removing the last of their spacesuits.
"Sorry, Major," Ferretti said, reading her expression. "We didn't find anything. Except this."
"Our packs," Sam said when Ferretti held up two standard SGC packs. One of his teammates held the other two.
"We found them in what I'm assuming were your quarters," Ferretti said. "But there wasn't any sign that the colonel or Daniel had been back there."
"I am sorry for your loss, Major," the High Councilor said, joining the SGC personnel.
"They're not lost," Sam said stubbornly. "We have to keep looking."
"We are in a crisis situation," the High Councilor said. He waved his hand at the people working in the center, every single face grim. "I cannot continue to assist you in a fruitless endeavor."
"All we need is one person," Sam said. "Just one person to help us use your computer systems to assist in our search."
"Your friends are dead. It is time to accept that fact," the Councilor said. "And I must use all of our resources in aiding our own people."
"We can assist you," Teal'c said.
"Sure," Ferretti chimed in. "Back at the SGC we've got equipment. We've got experts. We've got dumb grunt labor. Just tell us what you need."
"If we find your friends," the High Councilor said suspiciously.
"Our help isn't contingent on finding Colonel O'Neill and Daniel," Sam said. "But helping us would be a really nice gesture."
"How many men could you supply?"
"I can't say for certain. That would be up to General Hammond," Sam said, glancing at Ferretti.
"Probably a dozen men for the immediate emergency," Ferretti said. "After that...it'll depend on what you need. I'm sure we can work something out."
"Right now we need help in both reinforcing the seals on the damaged section, and in evaluating the site of the explosion," Poul said.
"I'll go talk to General Hammond," Ferretti said. He waved one of his men over to help and began the task of donning his spacesuit. Sam watched him go, then turned to the High Councilor.
"Poul may continue to assist you," he agreed. "And others, if it becomes necessary."
"Thank you." Sam watched the High Councilor return to his task of organizing and reassuring his people.
"Ma'am?" Poul said hesitantly.
"Guess we should get back to scanning for life forms," Sam said.
"Actually, I had come over here to tell you that the other escape pod has emerged from behind the planet."
"Perhaps we can now attempt to make radio contact," Teal'c suggested.
"Right." Sam pulled her radio from her vest, staring at it for a moment. "Well, here goes nothing."
"What the hell?" Jack said, sitting up straight.
"Radio?" Daniel asked, looking as stunned as Jack felt.
"Doesn't work. I tried," Jack reminded him.
"Not the ship's radio. Our radio."
"Damn it." Jack had tossed their jackets to the side while working on the ship earlier. It took him a couple of moments to find his and retrieve his radio.
"Carter?" Jack yelled.
"Sir? Where are you? Is Daniel with you?"
"We're both here," Jack reported, sitting back down in the pilot's seat. "We're both fine...more or less."
"More or less?" "More," Jack said. "Where are you, Major?"
"On Mennona. The artificial one, sir."
"I thought I ordered you to go back to the SGC."
"We went. Then we came back. We brought SG-3 with us."
"Oh, okay then."
"O'Neill, what is your situation?" Teal'c asked.
"Well, we're in one of those lifeboats. We've got no drive engines and we're in an unstable orbit around the planet."
"How unstable, sir?"
"I figure something like twenty-four hours before we hit the ground, and that's probably a generous estimate."
"Twenty-four hours," Sam repeated, turning to look at Teal'c and SG-3.
"The Prometheus?" Teal'c asked.
"From its current location it would take a minimum of four days to get here," Sam said, shaking her head. She looked over at Poul. "Can one of those ships withstand an uncontrolled reentry?"
"Not likely, Ma'am. And even if it could, the planet's surface...."
"Right," Sam said, remembering the pictures of the volcanic activity on the planet.
"The escape ships are engineered so that power can be diverted from one cell to another if necessary," the engineer volunteered.
"Colonel," Sam said, opening the radio link again. "It may be possible to reroute power to your thrusters."
"Yep. Tried that. Didn't work."
"Do you have any ships large enough to acquire the escape pod?" Teal'c asked.
"Well, our cargo transports are powerful enough, but they're designed to carry cargo on the exterior. The cargo containers are clamped to the underside of the transport."
"Could not the lifeboat be clamped to the transport in the same manner?" Teal'c asked.
"It's not configured for that."
"Can it be modified?" Sam asked.
The engineer glanced at the High Councilor, who nodded his permission.
"I think so," Poul said after a few moments of hard thought. "I have an idea that should work."
"How long would the modifications take?" Teal'c asked.
"Twelve to fifteen hours if everything goes well."
"We can work with that," Sam said. She grabbed her radio again. "Sir?"
"We're working on a way to retrieve your ship, but it's going to take some time."
"How much time?"
"Half a day if all goes well," Sam promised. "In the meantime you'll just have to sit tight."
"Carter, if I was sitting any tighter you'd need a crow bar to...."
"Thank you, sir. That's good to know," Sam said quickly. "We'll be in touch when we have a more definite time table."
"Well...this is fun."
"It is?" Daniel asked.
"Oh, sure. This whole narrowly averting death thing is a real hoot and a half."
"It certainly beats failing to narrowly avert death."
"Not going to be a problem," Jack said confidently. "The SGC cavalry rides to the rescue again."
"Apparently," Daniel said under his breath.
"Mr. Negative," Jack chided, punching Daniel lightly in the shoulder.
"Not negative. Just not counting my chickens before they're hatched."
"If they don't succeed, it won't be for lack of trying," Jack said.
"No, I know that. It's just that...."
"Usually to us," Daniel agreed.
"Daniel," Jack began after a long pause.
"What do you meanno?" Jack asked, turning to stare at Daniel.
"We don't do the 'honor to serve with you/I die free' thing," Daniel said.
"Not normally," Jack agreed.
"I'd prefer to keep it that way."
"You're superstitious," Jack said with a surprised laugh.
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are. You're afraid if I said something like 'I'm glad to have had the opportunity to know you,' it might kill us."
"No, I'm afraid that the shock of hearing you say something like that might kill me," Daniel said.
"Bitch," Jack said. Daniel just looked over at him with a partly suppressed grin. "No, seriously, you are a bitch."
"You're just mad because I don't have a decent stereo you can grab when I'm gone."
"You don't have a decent anything I can grab when you're gone," Jack said. He shrugged. "It's a moot point anyway. Carter and Teal'c will save the day."
"Is that an order?" Daniel asked.
"Yes, actuallyit is."
"Okay, I can work with that."
"Land," Jack called out melodramatically as he stepped out of the escape pod. The Mennoni crew stared at Jack, perplexed. Jack just shrugged and looked over his shoulder to make sure Daniel was right behind him. Daniel had ditched the bandages, over Jack's protests, claiming that his eyes had improved significantly. Jack still wasn't convinced, so he was keeping a close eye on him.
"Wow, Danielwhat happened?" Sam asked as she and Teal'c crossed the docking bay to join Jack and Daniel.
"Just got a little singed in the initial explosion," Daniel said. "Why? Does it look bad?"
"Like a really bad sunburn," Sam said.
"Merely a mild disfigurement," Teal'c said in what was apparently supposed to be reassurance.
"Disfigurement?" Daniel asked, mildly alarmed.
"Temporary," Jack said, giving Daniel a reassuring pat on the back. He looked to Sam and waved his hand at their surroundings. "So is this area secure?"
"What? Oh. Yes, sir. We're clear."
"The explosion was not the result of a bomb," Teal'c explained. "It was, in fact, caused by metal fatigue."
"Really? You're sure?" Jack asked.
"The final analysis will take some time, but I've seen the initial data and I'm confident that the explosion was an accident," Sam said.
"How...?" Daniel began.
"A high pressure hydraulic line in the wall ruptured, exploded," Sam said. "Part of the blast was transmitted back through the line, causing a second and more devastating rupture at another weak point. It was like knocking down a line of dominoes. The blast continued moving through the pipe, causing ruptures at each weak spot. Eventually the stress caused a section of the outer hull to give way, causing the entire sector to decompress."
"You two were lucky to make it out," Jack told Sam and Teal'c.
"We were extremely fortunate," Teal'c agreed.
"The truth is it was purely luck that the explosions only took out one section," Sam added.
"Not lucky for the section we were in," Jack pointed out.
"No, sir, but it could've been far worse."
"Were there any other survivors from our section?" Daniel asked.
"Only yourselves." The High Councilor nodded at Jack and Daniel as he joined the group. "I am greatly pleased to see you both alive and well."
"No one else tried to use the escape pods?" Jack asked.
"I'm afraid not. And I fear that is due to our own complacence," the Councilor admitted. "All are taught about the lifeboats from childhood, but no one ever thinks about the possibility that they may truly have to use them."
"You need to run escape drills," Jack said, shaking his finger at the Councilor.
"Your Major Ferretti has already suggested such a measure," the High Councilor said. "If we remain here, I will strongly advise that we initiate this practice."
"If you remain here?" Daniel asked. "The artificial Mennona has suffered significant wear and tear over the years," Sam said. "The SGC is going to help them give the satellite a complete check-up, top to bottom. If the damage is too extensive...."
"Then we will be forced to relocate," the High Councilor said with obvious regret.
"We can help with that, too," Jack said.
"Your General Hammond has already offered assistance, and we have accepted, gratefully."
"Well, I suppose we should go check in with the boss," Jack said.
"Please, relay my thanks to him once again." The High Councilor turned to Daniel. "Dr. Jackson, our medical personnel would happy to treat your injuries."
"No, that's okay," Daniel said quickly. "It's minor. Nothing that can't wait until I get back to the SGC."
"Very well. I wish you a safe journey home."
"Well, Daniel, I think you've got a date with the infirmary," Jack said as the High Councilor walked away.
"Janet'll be all over you," Sam said with just a hint of glee. Daniel groaned and looked after the Councilor, wondering if he'd be better off with a Mennoni medic.
"Fear not, Daniel Jackson. Major Ferretti was able to retrieve your pack and, along with it, your bribe for Dr. Fraiser," Teal'c said. He pulled a small bag from his vest pocket and held it up.
"It's not a bribe," Daniel said, reaching for the package.
"Then perhaps you wish to wait until another time before giving it to Dr. Fraiser?" Teal'c suggested, pulling the package back out of Daniel's reach.
"I don't wish," Daniel said. He stepped forward and snatched the bag out of Teal'c's grasp. Jack snorted as Daniel headed for the exit and the corridor back to the stargate.
"Not a bribe," Daniel called back.
"Dr. Fraiser will not have had time to warm up the stethoscope before receiving her gift," Teal'c predicted.
"She warms up the stethoscope?" Jack asked. As far as he could tell it always came straight from the freezer. Teal'c merely raised an eyebrow at him. "And I've got twenty says Daniel caves in the gate room."
"Oh, please," Sam said, turning to follow Daniel. "He's going to throw it through the gate before he ever goes back."
"That will merely alert Dr. Fraiser to the fact that someone is injured," Teal'c said.
"Bad move," Jack agreed. "OkayI got twenty says Daniel will be getting at least one shot he doesn't need."
"I got fifty says he's going to get it in a place he doesn't need it," Sam said. She looked back at Jack and Teal'c with an evil smile before turning into the corridor.
"Major Carter and Dr. Fraiser would make formidable Jaffa," Teal'c said with admiration.
"Yes, they would." Jack clapped Teal'c on the shoulder. "But let's not tell them, okay?"
* No, I hadn't heard of Parcheesi either, so I Googled it. It's American for Ludo ;-) Ed.