"What's the problem?" Natock asked.
"Control crystal's gone," Ford snapped.
"How did you know?"
"When it was dialing the gate," Ford said, pointing at the dead creature. "It knew how to use the gate, but it couldn't get a lock."
"We're stuck here," Washington groaned.
"Thank you Lance Corporal Obvious," Ford growled. "We need that crystal, and I'm guessing that whatever was hunting that thing has it."
"Makes sense," Colt said, stretching his neck sideways. "Don't want your game running off or getting help."
"Can Alpha dial in if there's no crystal in our DHD?" Ford asked Colt.
"Probably, I'm not sure."
"We'll be overdue for our check in an hour from now," Ford said, looking at his watch. "We'll know then if they can dial in. Between now and then we cache Madison's body by the gate, and we keep watch for whatever was chasing that bastard," Ford said, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb at the dead alien on the ground.
Three and half hours later the gate activated.
"Sergeant Ford this is Alpha Base, you are overdue for your check in," A male voice said over the radio.
"Alpha Base, I have one confirmed team member dead. We found Madison's body," Ford responded.
"I'm sorry to hear that Sergeant," General Willis interjected.
"Sir, I have another problem. We engaged, and killed an unidentified hostile alien life form, but we have reason to suspect it was just prey for another life form that we haven't encountered yet."
"Abort the mission and return Alpha."
"I'd love to sir, but we can't dial out because the control crystal is missing from this DHD."
"I see," Willis replied. "I'll send a team out in a ship to secure another crystal from the nearest planet, but it's going to take some time."
"In the mean time we'll send a shipment of supplies through for you and your team."
"Thank you, sir."
Ford tapped his earpiece and turned to the team. "They're going to secure another crystal, but until then they're sending us supplies."
A few moments latter a flat bed MALP rolled through the open gate with four large plastic boxes strapped on it.
The Hunter watched from his perch as the six wheeled machine rolled through slowly with the containers on it. The Hunter took detailed scans of the machine and added them to the entry on their species.
"Alpha, the MALP has arrived," Ford said, touching his earpiece.
"That's two week's worth Sergeant."
"Thank you, sir."
"We'll check back in six hours."
The gate closed, and the sounds of the jungle returned to normal.
Ford ordered them to unload the crates and move the MALP away from the gate. Half an hour later they had three tents up a short distance from the gate, but still within visual range. Ford looked through his scope at the DHD, and then to the MALP they hid several meters away. He started to drop his rifle when he thought he saw movement by the MALP. He looked again, but there was nothing.
He lowered his rifle and glanced over his shoulder into his tent at the black body bag holding Madison's remains. He scowled at himself and rubbed the whiskers on his chin with his left hand.
"Sarge..." Washington called out from another tent. "I think I got a problem!"
Washington emerged from his tent just as Ford, Colt, and Natock reached it. "Sarge!" Washington whispered as he pulled up his shirt to show Ford his stomach. It was ashen gray with mottled rings of purple and green.
"The creature," Natock said, in a low tone. "Many species are known to carry venom in their saliva."
"Shit," Washington undid his belt and pulled his pants down to his knees, and started to panic. The skin around the bite became a deep greenish purple with a yellow puss oozing from the wound. His leg was whiter than his stomach, and small sores began to form between his knee and his hip. "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit."
"Oh for...calm down," Ford growled at him. "It's just a bad reaction to an alien bite. We'll dose you with some anti-venom and antibiotics. You'll be fine."
"Are you sure?" Washington asked nervously.
"I've seen worse than that on shore leave in Bangkok," Ford laughed, as he walked away.
Natock followed after Ford, and when they far enough from Washington Natock asked him quietly, "Are you sure he will be alright?"
"No, but scaring him won't make it any better," Ford said. "If he gets any worse we'll have to isolate him. He could be contagious."
"We should take the creature back with us."
Six hours later the gate opened again.
"Sergeant Ford, we have an update," General Willis explained over the radio.
"Go ahead sir," Ford replied, touching his ear piece.
"I have an E.T.A. on that control crystal, we should be able to send it through the gate in about three days."
"Yes sir, but I'm not sure we have that much time. Washington was bitten by the hostile we engaged and he seems to be infected with something. It's spreading quickly, and he has a fever."
"Do you want a medical team?"
"They'd just be stranded here with us, and I still believe there is another hostile here," Ford replied. "Slide the equipment through, we'll take care of him from this end."
"You'll have it momentarily."
A hard plastic cases skidded across the event horizon onto the stone platform. Colt and Natock stood in front of the event horizon, and pulled it aside to make room for the next three cases that came through. When all of the supplies were through Ford ordered them across the open clearing to their tents. The gate closed, and Ford looked over his shoulder at the empty circle looming behind him. He ground his teeth and headed back to their camp.
Ford lifted the flap and walked into Washington's tent. Natock knelt beside him, wearing latex gloves, and taking a blood sample. The discoloration had spread over his entire body. The splotches and sore were up to his neck. The Lance Corporal laid on a cot in nothing but his boxers, covered in droplets of sweat.
By nightfall Natock had given Washington the maximum amount of anti-venom and painkillers, but he was still suffering. The sores spread all over his body, leaking puss. Natock stayed in the tent with him while Ford and Colt watched the perimeter of the camp.
Washington was delirious with pain, and groaned softly. When he was no longer coherent Natock stepped out of the tent to get away from the smell of Washington's sores for a few moments. He approached Ford and spoke with him very quietly.
"I don't think he'll last the night," Natock said.
"Shit," Ford growled.
"The anti-venoms and antibiotics are having no effect, all we can do is manage the pain."
"Is he contagious?"
"I strongly suspect he is. Once we get a control crystal and return to Alpha Base we will need to be quarantined."
Ford and Natock stood there in silence for a moment before the realized Washington had gone silent. Ford looked at the tent and quickly walked into it. Natock followed Ford into the tent. Washington was perfectly still. Natock pressed two finders against his throat for a pulse, and then slowly shook his head.
Dawn came slowly. Ford stood just inside the tent looking at the two body bags on the floor. Ford scowled and walked out. Natock and Colt stood a few yards, waiting for Ford.
"Whatever was hunting that hostile is hunting us now," Ford snarled as he emerged from the tent.
"Not if we kill it first," Natock growled.
"Let's go hunting," Colt grinned.
Natock led them off in the direction of the trophy camp in hopes to pick up a trail from there that would lead them to the creature.
The Hunter examined the intruders as they passed under him. He felt like he'd watched them long enough to predict their responses, and that it was time to engage them. He lined up the red triangle on the chest of the intruder leading the others. The one that carried the parasite. He had hunted them more than once, and knew that intruder would be the strongest, and the most difficult to kill.
The Hunter took a deep breath and let it out slowly, with a throaty clicking sound. The target stopped and cocked his head slightly, listening. Just as the Hunter took his shot the intruder darted to his right. The intruder circled around the trunk of a thick tree and opened fire into the tree canopy.
Natock dove sideways behind a thick vine covered tree trunk as a blue plasma bolt streaked through the place he stood half a second earlier. He felt the heat from the blast for an instant before it splashed all across the ground behind him. The Jaffa scrambled around the other side of the tree and returned fire into the tree canopy. From twenty feet behind Natock, Colt opened suppressing fire on the tree canopy where Natock shot.
Twenty feet behind Colt, Ford crouched scanning the canopy through his scope. After a few seconds he saw a large blurred humanoid form spring from one tree to another. He followed it, trying to get a clear shot, but it moved so quickly he lost it for a moment. He didn't see it again until two bursts of blue plasma streaked down from where it crouched on a thick branch.
Blue plasma streaked to the ground and burning debris exploded over Natock. Ford saw two glowing blue eyes flash on the blurred form, so he fired on them. The tree splintered and sprayed sparks over the blur. The falling shower of sparks created a distinct outline, Ford took aim and fired again into the center of the form. Yellow plasma splashed across the creatures right shoulder. It threw its head back and howled in pain before it sprang to another tree. Then it was gone.
"It's wounded," Ford called out as he quickly moved forward beside Colt and Natock. They followed Ford, their weapons aimed at the canopy, until they reached the ground below the tree where Ford hit the creature. "Spread out."
They searched the ground for a body, but found nothing. It was a few minutes before Ford called them back together. "Anything?" Ford whispered.
"No body," Colt whispered. "You sure you tagged him?"
"I saw the bolt splash on him. He had some kind of cloak, but no shield," Ford declared. "He's wounded."
Colt looked away from Ford in confusion for a second. He reached out and touched the tree trunk beside him with his fingertip. He rubbed his finger and thumb together and then turned to Natock. "Have you ever encountered species with blood that wasn't red?"
"There are several species like that," Natock answered.
"You hit it, but this thing is not a carbon based life form," Colt said, to Ford holding up his finger. A faint green-yellow liquid glowed from his finger.
"You sure?" Ford asked.
"I'm no xeno-biologist, but as far as I know carbon based life has a large amount of iron in its blood, which is why it's red when the air hits it. This thing is fueled by glowing Mountain Dew. At the very least, it's not human."
"I didn't recognize the discharge of its weapon," Natock added.
"Me either," Agreed Ford.
"Well, if it bleeds, we can..."
"Kill it?" Colt asked.
"I was going to say track it," Ford corrected him. "This trophy hunting asshole has already killed two of my men. We're not leaving this planet without his head."
"Damn right," Colt agreed.
"Natock, we know this thing moves through the trees, and he's bleeding. Find me a trail," Ford ordered.
Natock nodded and began studying the blood droplets that Colt noticed. A moment later he was on the move and tracking the path. As the sun went down they moved more slowly, and quietly, but the fading light made the trail even easier to follow. After three hours they tracked it to a secondary camp where the hunter hid its ship.
Natock signaled them to stop and he pointed ahead of him. They all lifted their rifles and examined it through their scopes.
"It looks like a drop pod," Natock said.
"Makes sense," Colt whispered. "A small shuttle to get them on and off world. If there isn't a ship in orbit, one may be coming back around when the hunt is scheduled to end."
"Do we attack?" Natock asked.
"We don't know for sure that it's in there," Ford said.
"We know he ain't goin home in it," Colt said as he slipped off his backpack and opened it. He reached inside and pulled out a grenade launcher. He unfolded the stock and slipped a red grenade into it.
"Is that going to be strong enough?" Ford asked.
"Yeah, so I pull some of my ordinance apart and repack it with grains of Naquadah," Colt replied.
"Is that not a breach of regulation?" Natock whispered.
"A great big one," Ford said, glaring at Colt. "Well...light it up."
"Alright ET, you're walking home," Colt whispered as he aimed and fired. The pod exploded and lit up the night jungle, and then a blurred outline just over ten yards from the ship sprang up and howled.
"Fire!" Ford yelled as he stood up, and began firing on the outline with the plasma bolts from his rifle. Natock sprang up and fired. Blue sparks twinkled over the blur and it became a solid form. It roared when one of Natock's shot landed on metal armor plate segments on the left side of its ribs. Then it quickly began sprinting away in giant strides.
The Hunter disappeared behind a massive tree and then a blue plasma bolt flashed between Ford and Colt. They both dove apart as the backsplash erupted up between them. The creature sprang up into a tree as Ford scrambled back to his feet. The creature opened fire with multiple blasts of blue plasma, but they washed harmlessly over Fords personal shield. He flinched reflexively as they bombarded his shield.
Colt activated his own shield, took aim at the creature, and fired twice. The Hunter sprang from his perch into another tree and took off on a path that put a massive tree between him and Colt. He made three large jumps before a yellow plasma bolt struck him on the back of his left shoulder. The creature tumbled as it fell through the trees to the ground.
Natock was the closest to where the creature fell. He fired on it as it ran into the jungle along the ground but it ran in such wide strides Natock was unable to keep up with it. A moment later Ford and Colt ran up behind him.
"He will not be firing his energy weapon again," Natock said, as he glared into the darkness at the glowing trail of yellow green blood.
"Good shot," Ford said. "He's wounded, and he's got no ride home."
"Let's finish him," Natock snarled.
"Hell yeah," Colt agreed.
They followed Natock in silence as he tracked the wounded creature through the dense jungle. The Hunter sprinted off into a wide arc, but it didn't take Natock long to realize that it meant to circle back to the site of its trophies. Natock suggested to Ford that the creature may have medical supplies or more weapons stashed at that camp. He led Ford and Colt from the trail and cut directly back to the location of all the skull filled clearing.
Slowly and silently they crept closer to the camp. Natock was the first to catch sight of the alien hunter, uncloaked and unaware. He lifted his rifle and activated the night vision function of his scope. He watched the creature squatting beside the blackened bonfire pit. The Hunter took a small box from his belt at the base of his back.
Ford and Colt crept towards the clearing as Natock watched the Hunter press a panel on the box, causing it to unfold, revealing smaller compartments within. The first item it drew was a small needled device. The Hunter slipped a tube of faintly luminous red fluid into the device and injected himself with it. It let out a small growl of pain as it rolled its head around. Then the creature stood up and stretched. Natock watched as the painkiller took effect in the Hunter.
It took a deep breath, and threw its head back to let out a long roar that echoed through the jungle. The jungle went silent for a moment, but as the sun crept up the early morning jungle life resumed their daily chorus.
The Hunter crouched down and took another vile from the stained bronze medical kit. He popped the lid carelessly with his thumb and dipped his left index finger into the vile and spread the salve over the plasma burns. Natock guessed it was a burn cream. It winced at first, as it applied the salve, but after a few seconds it showed no signs of feeling anything.
The three of them watched the Hunter intensely for a moment, until the wind changed. It immediately whipped its head to look at them. It's long black dreadlocks swung with the movement. The Hunter sprang up and smoothly drew a throwing knife from a holster on its hip and hurled it directly at Natock. The Jaffa twisted backward, but it wasn't far enough. The long serrate blade glanced off his left shoulder as it passed and continued on in the long jungle shadows.
Ford fired a plasma blast at the Hunter. It landed just off center on its chest. The creature staggered backward and roared. Ford fired again and again, but the creature was still agile enough to dodge the blasts. Natock sprinted out from his cover and circled around towards the Hunter. He lifted his rifle to fire, but the Hunter ejected two long blades from the gauntlet on its right arm and slashed Natock's rifle in half just before it kicked him and knocked the Jaffa over backwards.
Ford continued to fire at the Hunter, but once it was in motion, it was very difficult to strike. Colt circled around to the other side and tried to fire on the Hunter, but it twisted and rolled across the ground. When it sprang back to its feet the Hunter pulled a long cylinder from its right hip and twisted it in his hands. The cylinder telescoped out both ends, and became a six foot long spear. The Hunter spun and hurled it towards Colt. The spear sank deep into Colts stomach just left of his spine. The force behind the spear took Colt off his feet.
The jungle spun around him for an instant until the ground reached up to strike him. A pain more intense than he'd ever felt bolted through his body like an electricity of agony. The spear twisted in his stomach when he hit the ground. New waves of pain washed over him, it pushed his consciousness from the jungle night into total darkness.
Natock fired on the Hunter with his Zat gun and hit it directly in the stomach. The Hunter dropped to one knee, and shook its head slowly. Then it stood back up and lunged at Natock. It knocked the Zat gun from his hand and slashed at him with its double blades. The Jaffa rolled backwards and then back to his feet. He drew a Jaffa blade from his back and parried the Hunters' lunge. Natock countered with a slash over the Hunters left bicep.
A yellow plasma blast flashed past the Hunters head. It dove to the ground and rolled away from Natock into a crouch. The Hunter launched a "U" shaped dart from the gauntlet on its left forearm at Ford. It landed in Ford's shoulder with enough force to spin him around and knock him to the jungle floor.
As Natock charged the Hunter once more it reached behind its back and drew forth a rectangular tube of stained bronze. He pointed it at Natock, and a net exploded outward from the open end. It pinned the Jaffa against a thick tree trunk behind him. Natock struggled, but the net pulled tighter and tighter against him until it bit through his uniform into his skin.
Ford was back on his feet just as the Hunter turned to face him again. His left arm was already numb, and quickly becoming useless. Ford fired a plasma blast that landed on the Hunters sternum. It stumbled backward, stunned, and Ford fired on him two more times. One blast struck its hip and forced it to the ground. He let his rifle dangle against his chest and drew his .45 from the drop holster on his right hip.
The Hunter writhed in pain, coughing up green yellow blood under its stained silver mask as it reached weakly for the gauntlet on its left forearm. Ford put the first bullet into the Hunters right shoulder. It screamed in pain as its limp arm fell to the ground. The next bullet went into the Hunters left shoulder. Then his right knee followed by his left.
The fire in Fords left shoulder pumped pain into his brain, and rage into his heart. This Hunter had killed two of his men, maybe a third. Ford walked slowly towards the Hunter as he emptied his .45 into its stomach and chest. By the time his pistol was empty the creature was dead. He looked over as Natock cut himself free from the last bits of the wire net. The Jaffa was bleeding from several deep cuts all over his body, but cuts meant little to a Jaffa. In a week there wouldn't even be a scar.
Ford shoved the pistol back into the holster and turned to Colt. Colt lay on his side coughing weakly. The spear penetrated his lower left abdomen, but he was still alive.
"I'm okay," Colt whispered weakly as he looked up at Ford. "It's just a...AHH!"
"Don't move," Ford kneeled beside Colt and looked at the six foot long spear sticking through him. Ford wasn't sure if Colt would survive it, but he kept it from showing.
"How bad is it?" Colt whispered.
"Just a little...puncture wound," Ford said, as he struggled to his feet. His left arm hung limply at his side. Ford looking at the projectile stuck in his shoulder. He reached up with his right hand and yanked it out. His knees instantly buckled and he dropped to the ground. "Gahhh!"
"Are you badly injured?" Natock asked, pulling Ford back to his feet.
"No. I think there was some kind of drug on this," Ford answered holding up the serrated projectile for Natock to see. Then he shoved it into his drop bag for later examination.
"You were right," Natock said, as he looked through one of the metal pouches on the Hunters belt. He took out the control crystal and held it up to Ford. "It was in his belt."
"I'm going to go dial the gate and get help," Ford said, as he took the crystal. "It knew exactly how to disable the gate," Ford said looking at the crystal in his hand. "Stabilize Colt, and strip that thing. I want every piece of tech he has. If we ever run into these things again I want to be ready for them."
"Understood," Natock said, as he turned and walked towards Colt.
By the time Ford hiked the three miles back to the gate the sun was just above the jungle canopy. He dropped to his knees in front of the DHD. His left arm was far from just numb. It felt like it was on fire, but he couldn't move it, and rubbing just made the pain worse.
The numb fire reached up Ford's shoulder past his neck to his chin. The left side of his ribs were becoming numb as well. It took several minutes to get the crystal in and pull himself back up to dial Alpha Base. He slapped the red ignition button and slid back down to the ground as the gate opened.
Ford reached across and tapped his ear piece with his right hand. "Alpha base, this is Sergeant Ford. I have two dead team members, and a third has suffered a severe abdominal puncture. My team requires immediate medical attention...and a lot more marines. Ford out."
Ford looked up at the sky as he wondered what the poison on the dart was going to do to him. The clouds whipped around over head, but the sound of the wind quickly faded away. His vision began to blur and darken. Ford thought that he saw someone standing over him, but he wasn't sure. The poison crept into his brain, and he finally passed out.
Ford woke up on a stretcher under the familiar reddish sky of Alpha. He glanced over and saw Natock walking beside him. "We got it, right?" He asked, in a groggy voice. All the people around them wore red hazmat suites.
Natock looked down at him with a wide grin and held up the creatures severed head by its dread locks.
"My Jaffa!" Ford muttered as he reached out and touched Natock's arm. Then his head fell to the side and he drifted back into unconsciousness.
Ford woke up two days later in the infirmary still under quarantine. He looked over at the bed beside him. Colt was laying there on his side working on one of the computer tablets.
"Good," Ford said, through a dry mouth.
Colt looked up at him. "Yeah, I'm fine. Michael popped in with his healing device and helped me along, but I'll still have a really cool scar. I'm gonna tell people it's from a serious belly button piercing accident."
"Of course you are," Ford said, with a faint smile. He turned his head and looked up at the ceiling, thinking about Madison and Washington, his smile instantly faded away. There would be another memorial, and two more caskets sent back through the gate. He spent the next hour staring silently at the ceiling trying to think of what he could have done differently to keep Madison and Washington alive.
He also decided he would never hunt again, unless he absolutely had to.