• Published 27th Jul 2017
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Two Score, Minus Two or: A Stargate Tail - Lithl

Containment breached! Humans are transforming into something else; did a Stargate team bring something home to Earth?

  • ...

Chapter 1: Three Times, it's a Pandemic

Stargate Command Infirmary
Mitchell sat uncomfortably on one of the infirmary beds dressed in a hospital gown as Doctor Carolyn Lam née Landry, M.D. examined the diamonds that had mysteriously appeared on his buttocks.

Vala stood nearby, not-so-subtly trying to take a peek at the goods underneath Mitchell's gown. He glared back at her, clutching the gown to make sure she didn't get her own peek at the diamonds underneath, and more importantly the anatomy they were attached to.

"It's just a tattoo, Doc. Vala must have done it while I was asleep," Mitchell complained, trying to get away from the medical prodding.

"I did no such thing!" Vala objected. "If I had the opportunity to put a tattoo on your butt, I would have done much more than just tattoo you, and I would have made sure you knew about it. While it was happening," she clarified.

In Mitchell's opinion, Vala's defense did not inspire much confidence.

Doctor Lam rolled her eyes, both at her uncooperative patient and his lascivious onlooker. "I told you, Cam, it's not a tattoo. First of all, if you'd gotten a tattoo since your last examination, your skin would still be red and irritated."

"She could've used some Goa'uld device to make the tattoo without the irritation!"

"I assure you," said Vala, "if the Goa'uld had such a device, my skin would look much different than it does now."

"Second," Lam continued forcefully, "all tattoos ultimately result in pigment getting trapped within fibroblasts just below the dermis-epidermis boundary. Over the course of decades, the pigment migrates deeper into the dermis." She stood up and motioned for Mitchell to cover himself once again, to Vala's consternation. "The skin sample I took earlier has pigmentation from the surface of the epidermis all the way down, and as best as I can tell, it continues all the way to your muscle tissue. Hell, maybe even deeper than that. Your bloodwork is still being analyzed, but this is not a tattoo."

Vala folded her arms and smirked. "See? I told you this wasn't my fault."

Mitchell glared at her and said, "I'm still blaming you."

Just then, Teal'c walked into the infirmary. Tilting his head, he greeted Doctor Lam, who asked, "Is there something I can do for you, Teal'c? Have you run out of Tretonin?"

Tretonin was the drug used by many of the Free Jaffa to replace the juvenile Goa'uld symbiote they normally carried in a pouch in their bellies. The symbiote was just one more way the Goa'uld had subjugated the Jaffa, replacing their immune system. Tretonin replaced the need for the symbiote with a new dependence, but it was a dependence on a drug that could be synthesized fairly simply, and one which the SGC was happy to give to the Free Jaffa without compensation. The mere existence of the Free Jaffa Nation was compensation enough.

Teal'c smiled and shook his head, "No, DoctorLam, my supply of Tretonin should last me for several weeks yet. I have come to speak with you on another matter, if you are free?"

"Sure, I'm done with Mitchell here, at least until his bloodwork comes back. Colonel, you're off-duty until I figure out what's going on, but you don't need to stay here." Cameron nodded, grabbed his clothes, and tried to escape Vala's interest.

Fortunately, Teal'c's situation had captured her attention, and Mitchell got out of the infirmary clean. "What's up, Muscles?" she asked.

"Vala?" Doctor Lam stared at Vala pointedly, and tried to get the onlooker to leave without making it an order.

Teal'c lifted one hand to assuage the doctor. "It is okay, DoctorLam, I do not mind if she stays. I was performing Kelno'reem in my quarters when a peculiar floating sensation woke me. This was strange enough, as I do not normally experience such things while meditating. Stranger still, I felt an itching sensation after I awoke. When I removed my trousers to investigate the source of my irritation, I discovered an image of three pink butterflies imprinted on my skin, similar to my mark of Apophis prior to becoming First Prime."

Concerned, Doctor Lam said, "Show me." Teal'c calmly pulled one side of his pants down far enough to reveal the mark on his buttocks. "Hmm... this is suspiciously similar to what happened to Mitchell. I'm going to need a blood sample and a biopsy from the affected region before—"

Doctor Lam was interrupted by Daniel knocking on the doorframe to the infirmary entrance. "Bad time?" he asked, glancing to Teal'c and his half-removed pants.

Lam glanced at Teal'c and then back at Daniel. "Let me guess," she said, "you've got three colorful tattoo-like images on each buttock?"

Daniel nodded, "Red apples."

Carolyn sighed and said, "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it's a pandemic."

Vala looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "I'm pretty sure the quote goes, 'three times, it's enemy action.'"

"Yeah, well, as Chief Medical Officer, I'm not taking any chances," Lam said, as she crossed the room towards the big, red button on the wall near the door. "I'm calling it 'alien communicable disease' until I've got further information." With that, she punched the button, setting off the base alarm. All over the SGC, spinning red lights turned on, and a blaring klaxon began to sound.

"But the important thing is," said Vala, "it's not my fault."

Stargate Command General's Office
General Landry was not having a good day. The SGC's established procedures failed to catch a new contagion before it could spread, and to Landry it always seemed like his command was sitting under the Sword of Damocles; one false step, one escaped alien threat, and the International Oversight Advisory would have his head, not to mention the potential fate of all of his subordinates in the Stargate program.

"Give me the breakdown, Carolyn," said General Landry. His eyes kept glancing at the red telephone on his desk which only dialed one number. The base alarm lights were still flashing, but Landry had ordered the klaxon turned off, so that Doctor Lam and her team could hear themselves think while they worked on the problem.

"Around five percent of base personnel have been infected, including all members of SG-1 except for Vala Mal Doran." Doctor Lam held up a clipboard with her findings to read over her statistics. "So far, the only symptom has been the appearance of tattoo-like pigmentation, in the same location on all subjects. Many have a trio of identical or near-identical images, but that is not universally the case. Lieutenant Colonel Carter, for example, has a cloud with a rainbow-pattern lightning bolt.

"Bloodwork for many of the infected is still being processed, but I've already gotten back the results for my first few patients, and there's nothing in the bloodstream that our tests could find, no apparent cause to the changes. No viruses, no foreign bacteria, no nanites, nothing. Our samples don't even have exotic particles from the radiation emitted by the artifact. At least, nothing we could turn up. I've ordered full DNA workups, but that's going to take longer.

"We don't have enough isolation rooms for everyone displaying symptoms, so I've confined most of them to their quarters on base. Of course, nobody's leaving the base with the lockdown." Doctor Lam chewed on her lip and said, "Our best guess as to the source is the radiation being emitted by the artifact SG-1 brought back from PHK-519, and to that end Colonel Carter has requested that her isolation be moved to one of the labs, so that she can investigate it herself. That's pending your orders," she said, pointing to one of the papers on his desk. "That said, we've got more personnel showing symptoms than can be explained by direct exposure to radiation from the artifact, since the radiation is not escaping the artifact's containment."

"You don't think this could be another Prior plague, do you? Something planted on PHK-519 for us to find?" the general asked.

The Priors were the preachers of Origin, a religion devoted to worshipping the Ori, a group of beings that had ascended to a higher plane of existence. The Ori were the ones who had initially driven the Ancients, the group who had built the Stargates, to the Milky Way galaxy. Freedom of religion was all fine and dandy from General Landry's point of view, but the Priors tended to do things like raze towns if there was a single holdout against conversion, or burn heretics alive. And they had superhuman powers such as telekinesis, granted to them by the Ori directly, there was that too.

Doctor Lam crossed her arms and huffed, "It seems unlikely. There's no way the Priors could know exactly which planets we would send teams to, so it seems like a crapshoot of a plan. And according to SG-1's mission report, the artifact had apparently been on PHK-519 for longer than the Priors have been in this galaxy. If this radiation is the source, it's not a 'present' from our friendly neighborhood Priors.

"That said, this thing seems far more insidious than the PRIOR2 virus. At least with that plague we could use a Goa'uld healing device to temporarily relieve symptoms. I had Vala attempt to use the healing device on Mitchell, and if anything the image gained focus."

General Landry nodded and asked, "What procedures have you taken for protecting your team?"

"BSL-3 with hazmat suits while working directly with patients, and one of the tech guys has already come up with a radiation badge for the stuff the artifact was putting out. It might prove ultimately unnecessary, but I'm keeping them at BSL-3 just to be safe."

General Landry stood and walked around his desk before grasping the doctor's shoulders. "And how are you holding up, honey?" he asked softly.

Doctor Lam pulled herself out of his grip and growled, "Dad, how many times do I have to tell you to keep it professional?"

The general cleared his throat and said, "Sorry, doctor. What are the odds that this disease will spread beyond the base?"

"'Will?' General, if this is contagious and SG-1 represents our index case, I'm absolutely certain that it already has."

The Pentagon, Homeworld Command General's Office
Major General Jonathan "Jack" O'Neill (two L's) leaned back in his chair handling a stress ball. He, too, was not having a good day. On the computer monitor in front of him, Hank was video-conferencing with him over a secured satellite feed.

"Your daughter's right, Hank," Jack said, "this thing has already breached the SGC. We're doing our best to keep on top of things, but I doubt even the CIA's best information warfare guys can keep this bottled for very long."

Hank quirked an eyebrow on the screen. "CIA is involved?" he asked.

"Oh yeah," Jack nodded, squeezing his stress ball. "Hank, we've already got intel on at least one case for every continent. Dollars to donuts there are a bunch that we don't even know about. For all I know it's already spread to every country on the planet. On the other hand, our information suggests that the worldwide population of infected is much lower than what you've got in Cheyenne Mountain." Jack paused. "Haven't heard anything about Madagascar, though."

"How in the world could it have spread this fast? We haven't even had the artifact on Earth for two weeks!"

Jack shrugged. "Probably airborne. Or magic. And you know how I feel about clichés," O'Neill smirked.

"'Any sufficiently advanced technology...' Jack. It seems this isn't an Ori plot, but the artifact came from somewhere other than PHK-519. I've already sent a team there with orders to figure out anything they can about the alien visitors that brought the hat, and Carter has begun her own investigation into the radiation it's still emitting."

Major Paul Davis appeared in the window of General O'Neill's office door, and Jack waved him in while General Landry continued relaying status updates from the SGC, which had been quarantined once the existence of the contamination was made apparent. Davis walked up to O'Neill's desk briskly and passed the general a thick file folder. "An updated list of confirmed cases, and a compilation of our analysis so far," Davis whispered. The Pentagon liaison hesitated for a moment before adding, "Check page three, sir. About a quarter of the way down the page."

Jack nodded to the major, dismissing him, and flipped the file open, scanning down the third page as recommended. "Hank," Jack interrupted the other general. "Could you please tell Sam that Cassandra is now on our list of confirmed cases?" Cassandra had been a young girl discovered on another planet, the only survivor of a bacterial plague engineered by one of the Goa'uld System Lords. Janet Frasier, SGC's Chief Medical Officer at the time, ended up adopting the girl, and Carter had become her legal guardian after Janet's death four years ago. Of course, she was hardly a young girl any more; the fabricated birth certificate that the SGC had created for her put her at 23 years old today.

There was a brief silence on the line. "Sure thing, Jack."

Stargate Command Isolation Room 2
Doctor Lam had assigned the patients that had been the first to display symptoms to isolation rooms, with the remaining patients confined to quarters, with the exception of Carter, who was confined to her lab. As some of the first reported and the highest-profile cases on base, SG-1 was given the dubious privilege of being some of the few staying in isolation. Mitchell, Daniel, and Teal'c occupied Isolation Rooms 1, 2, and 3, respectively.

"Daniel, I'm bored!" Vala, of course, was neither confined to quarters nor stuck in an isolation room. As such, she had decided to pester one of her teammates using the intercom in the observation booth over the room.

"I feel oh so sorry for you, Vala," Daniel snarked without looking up from his book. "Not being infected by a potentially deadly, alien, unknown form of radiation. Woe is you!"

"But that's just it! You've got this exciting adventure!" Vala flailed her arms to emphasize her point. "I'm stuck out here, unable to help fix the problem, and unable to leave the base."

"Don't you normally watch television?" he asked.

Vala slumped into one of the chairs in the observation booth. "It's Tuesday. There's nothing good on Tuesday evenings."

Daniel grinned and said, "Well why don't you put all that... creative story-telling of yours to good use? Try writing something! I'm sure that will keep you busy for a few minutes, at least."

Vala spared him a withering glare. "Ha-ha, very funny. I'll have you know that I have an excellent attention span."

"Alternatively," said Daniel, glancing at his watch, "you could go to sleep. It's 2237 and if there's one thing I've learned over the years, no matter the malady, sleep generally helps." He placed a bookmark in the leather-bound volume he had been reading from, and placed the book on a tray table to the side of his bed. "See you in the morning, Vala."

"But Daniel...!" Vala whined.

"Goodnight, Vala!" Daniel shouted, as he hit a switch, turning out all of the lights in the room with the exception of the emergency illumination.

Stargate Command, Colonel Carter's Lab
"May first, 2007, 2200 hours. Examination log for artifact PHK-519-alpha," Carter spoke into a handheld voice recorder. The hat that SG-1 brought back from PHK-519 was inside a hazardous materials glove box rated for handling radioactive materials in Carter's lab, although she did not use any of the safety precautions being employed by Doctor Lam's team, as she was already displaying symptoms of the infection. Whatever it was. A number of sensors were attached to the glove box, feeding information into Carter's laptop on the table nearby. A plastic cage with a lab mouse shared the glove box with the hat, and several similar cages with other mice sat on tables around the room.

"The artifact is emitting an unknown form of non-ionizing radiation. When unshielded, the radiation was detectable as an EM signal from a range of several kilometers, but standard radiation shielding appears to be effective at halting the emissions. The artifact appears to be crafted of normal felt, thread, et cetera. Common, everyday materials. Unfortunately, destructive testing methods have not yet been authorized.

"Several mouse test subjects have been subjected to the radiation for varying periods of time, to no apparent effect so far." Sam sighed quietly before continuing, "Blood samples from each subject and control have been taken prior to exposure, during exposure, and immediately following removal from proximity to the artifact."

Carter turned the recorder off and sat with her chin in her hands, staring at the mouse inside the glove box. "What's going to happen to you, hmm?" she asked the mouse, neither expecting nor receiving any response. It had been nearly a week after SG-1's brief exposure to the hat before any visible symptoms appeared; hopefully the mice would produce something sooner, or there would be something detectable in the bloodwork before visible symptoms started popping up.

Then Carter could work on trying to figure out how the infection had spread to individuals that hadn't been directly exposed to the hat. None of the members of SG-1 or her test subjects had begun emitting the strange radiation; that was certain.

Stifling a yawn, Carter stood and stretched. "We'll see how you do with several hours' exposure more than your buddies," she said to the mouse. "Maybe time to the appearance of symptoms is related to exposure time." With that, she closed her laptop, putting it to sleep, and crawled over to the bed she'd set up in the corner of the lab. Sleeping near radioactive alien artifacts wasn't so bad, when you got to do rewarding work.

"Let's save the world, one more time," Sam mumbled to herself as she flicked off the lights.