the law of gravity
the whatnow? Juno scoffs. that’s the cheesiest code-name we’ve ever heard.
Quantico Marine Corps Base, Virginia, U.S. · Earth · The Milky Way
2003 (Terran time) · 767 days before the Uprising
“Lance Corporal MacGrimmon, report!”
The bark is not wholly unfamiliar. He rushes to obey. Sergeant Hill is there, waiting, by the threshold of the hangar; and he’s not alone.
He raises his gaze in surprise. The person standing there is not at all whom he imagined it to be; not the old man or the chief. A stranger. He snaps into attention anyway, back straight, because the person nearing is wearing dress blues. Sharply cut. Not carrying weapons with her.
Also: Air Force. Wait, what?
Now what? Juno wonders for the both of them. Oh, this ought to be good.
This makes no sense. What’s a zoomie doing here? A Major, to boot. There’s not a speck of dust on her uniform. She has a pleasant kind of face, that easy-going character that’s easily likeable. Her Daemon isn’t that large, moderately fierce. Doesn’t look ready to rip his throat out. J.J. takes a leap of faith to mean that she comes bearing good news.
“Thank you, Staff Sergeant,” she says to Hill. “I’ll take it from here.”
“Ma’am.” Hill gives him the briefest of looks as if saying Don’t screw this up, before he turns and leaves J.J. and Juno to their fate. And he wonders if this means not a sudden unexpected demotion but a longed-for opportunity. There is nothing to speak silently of where this zoomie comes from, her mission.
She asks him to walk with him outside, on the track running westward in a circle above the base and he cannot obey. Follows. Tense. She seems pretty relaxed, as if this is a routine thing. At first she is rather quiet, as if waiting for him to make a move; a test? And he says, “Permission to ask a question, ma’am?”
“Granted.” The way she says it – like she comes from somewhere with a pretty relaxed attitude to protocol. The hint of a smile.
“Why are you here, ma’am?”
“Let me introduce myself. I’m Major Amanda Hurst of the US Air Force, and I’m extending an offer to you on behalf of the Program for which I work.” Sounds like it needs a capital P, that. She looks at him from the corner of his eye, and he tries his best to seem just intrigued enough but not too curious, but the words don’t reveal anything at all – so: classified. To some degree, at least. Secrets. “An opportunity to do something very unique.”
Probably means there’s paperwork to sign before he can get to know what exactly he’ll be signing up for – or refuse without ever knowing.
“And what exactly is this … program, ma’am?”
“I’m afraid I cannot reveal anything pertinent until you agree to sign a non-disclosure agreement. But,” she says, pauses in step to look at his face and he follows suit. “I can tell you that this is might be the most amazing thing that could happen to you. You were recommended to us by Lieutenant Gregory Martinez of the USMC.”
Greg? Hasn’t exchanged words with him for a while. They try to meet up sometime every now and then, though, when their leave corresponds with each other. Good guy; and to be recommended … What kind of base does that? What kind of place selects its individual marines so carefully? This has to be something else.
Ugh, what if we get stuck lifting weights? Could be nothing at all that it claims to be, Juno says across their Bond, privately so that the Major cannot hear.
“Do you think you’ll be up to the challenge, LC?”
Without hesitation: “Yes, ma’am.” Adding, carefully (is this a test?) -“I believe myself capable of figuring out a way to beat the odds, ma’am.”
She smiles. “You need that kind of attitude with the Program. Think about this over the weekend. If you’re still interested by then, call this number. Ask to speak with me.” Hands a card with neat, sleek print on it. Very anonymous: a number, her name and rank. No insignia or logo stamped in the corner.
“What if I were to say yes, ma’am?”
“Then transport will be arranged to base, and after signing non-disclosure agreement you will be told everything,” the Major explains. Need-to-know. “Think about this closely.”
“And … what if I were to say no?”
“Then we would not bother asking again,” she says brightly. “The Program only requires the best, the most dedicated.” Something implied which he cannot quite catch. Maybe it’s just the usual: the chiefs all say that. You’re the best and that’s why you’re here. No matter where.
She begins to move away. “That is all, Lance Corporal. As I said, think about it.”
(As it turns out, that was not a weird day at all by comparison.)
That isn’t quite how it starts, though. One version of it, more like.
It starts when J.J. drops out. It’s part accidental (the moments stacking together and creating a critical point), part rebellious teenagehood coming into form. They’re seventeen, and Juno’s Settled on a final, absolute Shape four months earlier. They like it.
All right, so J.J. wouldn’t have minded if his Daemon was a bit tougher-looking. Part of the image, he guesses. Has to be – should be – that way. On the other hand, with a Daemon with such kind, soft expression, people are a little bit less likely to deem him an unreliable thug at first glance, the dangerous stereotypes. God knows they suffer enough of those. The constant underlying dangers and fears.
They’re seventeen, and he hasn’t gotten straight A:s ever but it’s gotten worse over the years and mom and dad they ask him to try harder; when he doesn’t pick up, pleading amounts to arguments, and hours of sulking silence, and skipping out on classes and duties. His dad, Jimmy, is a baker. Whole lot of people don’t think that, that stern face doesn’t fit the picture, they think. They all help out in the off hours, the whole family have got to do that for the business to go around. J.J.’s seventeen, he’s tired of it all, he wants - he wants something more. Something within him reacts. He’s had enough.
Mom and dad despair. Wonder why he’s suddenly made this turnabout from sweet and kind to roughly rude and dismissive. Skips classes. Gets into trouble. They’re worried, and he’s just - for a moment, he doesn’t want to care about anything. Loitering, they think. Frightened at the thought of what he might get up to, late nights. Not at all like his younger siblings, the twins and little Jonah who isn’t that little anymore, a scrawny boy of fifteen (and J.J. doesn’t tell until long afterward why he’d come home with scraped-up fists that Thursday night, doesn’t explain why he’d picked that fight for them looking down at Jonah and calling after him using his deadname) and they’re disappointed he’s not shaping up. Not fulfilling the dreams as he should. Doesn’t come with them to church anymore on Sundays.
Hadn’t ever thought he’d end up in the Corps.
Greg says, once, can’t quite recall the exact moment; they’re sitting on the bridge, they’re turning eighteen in less than a month (funny thing: born nearly the same day, moms best friends who met at the ward) and they grew up in this neighborhood together and didn’t notice the differences of the world until they’re older – J.J. first – and Greg had says: “I’m thinking about signing up.”
And J.J.’d thought he was being thoroughly ridiculous. Couldn’t see him like that at all. “You? C’mon, be serious, man.”
“Sort of am.”
Greg’s dad is in the Corps. Been kind of quiet lately and J.J. finds out why, eventually, later. How Greg’s dad didn’t come back home.
“And you? You gonna be stuck here, as what, a baker?”
And he shrugs and almost says yes, but he’s tired of this place, he wants to see new things. He’s not doing all of the stuff mom and dad are worried about, though. Think they worry too much. “Nah.”
“Tell you what, let’s do it together, a month from now.”
They’ve done a lot of stuff together; like brothers, blood doesn’t really matter; it doesn’t matter at all.
Greg nods, enthusiastically: “Chicks dig that kind of stuff, y’know, with the uniform –”
J.J. shakes his head. “You’re off your rocker.”
“Hey, let’s make it a bet.”
“You wanna sign up as a bet.”
“Turn us into decent men.”
“Seriously, you’re off your rocker.”
And twenty-seven days later, they’re standing in the recruitment office and there’s a guy telling them about possibilities and turn-abouts for the future. Chances. That it’s simply a good thing;
(J.J.’s wanted to get out of town for ages; and he hasn’t got the grades to apply to uni, nevertheless the money. and Greg smirks, the most challenging look.
a challenge like that has got to be accepted.)
He’s granted a twenty-four hour leave. As if Staff Sergeant Hill might know what this is about, or has a hunch. Knows that he has to think. Grants him as much. J.J. is both relieved and confused. Heads off base, downtown, away from Quantico and its familiar air. There’s this nice and cozy place that serves really nice beer with perfect fries and there aren’t a lot of whites here, so he feels he can unwind fearlessly, relax. Join in a game of poker. Some old friends are there. Laughter and banter and casual remarks.
After, he considers the number the zoomie Major had given him. Tries looking it up online but it doesn’t yield results. Whatever this is, they want to keep in a secret.
An amazing opportunity – unique …
A search for ‘The Program’ is even more useless because the term is so generic. He tries, anyway, just to see. But it leads to nowhere, and he goes to bed not really tired, but restless, and might dream odd things. Wakes up not that refreshed but he makes up his mind, there while stirring his coffee.
He can do it. This base here, it’s not a place that feels like the place to really be. Not home or especially pleasant, though he has been far worse off too. A tour in Afghanistan. That was kind of rough. There had been no mentions of abroad or even tours.
He considers the number. Picks up the phone, using his left thumb to press the digits one by one and hovers for a second over the final button. Then: yes. He’s going to do this. Of course he’s going to do it.
As if knowing – as if waiting for this – it’s the Major speaking and she simply asks: “Have you made up your mind?”
He takes a deep breath. Before the plunge. “Yes, ma’am. I have.”
Please, God, don’t let me regret this, he prays as the transport – and how weird is that, being picked up so secretly and privately? – bears him and three other recruits (but not especially young or fresh-faced so maybe that’s the wrong word) through Colorado Springs to a place the driver simply calls ‘The Mountain’. It’s like any base, surrounded and fortified and guarded. Marines with rifles patrolling. IDs checked.
The man by the control station is gray-haired and looks at them, their temporary Guest IDs and the complicated paperwork which the driver (damningly anonymous too in his cammies) had had them sign, and he smiles as if knowingly. “Welcome to the Mountain,” he says, a brief salute. Then onward.
They enter on Level One, and Major Hurst is there. The ride had been tense and thrumming with excitement. No one knows more than him, and here he finds out their names: Thompson, Markham, West. Mixed backgrounds, experiences, ranks. From the outside they are simply the most ragtag bunch and yet they have been personally picked, reviewed, considered.
Past the greetings: they sign a document which is long and full of tiny script. His vision starts to swim but he tries to read it all, orderly and slowly – they are given time. Can pull out if they want to but no one does. Reaches the line eventually and puts his name there. Next new IDs are issued, photos taken anew.
“Better stuff will be fixed later,” the Major says, handing them the freshly laminated plates to attach to their cammies. “But at least you’re no longer Guests. This way.”
Toward an elevator. There are some thirteen sublevels marked there, and they go all the way. Then, across a hallway – grey, the basic underground works. First time J.J. has been in a base this deep underground and it is much larger than before. Still they haven’t been told much.
“So, we’re going to be let in on the big secret now, ma’am?” Lieutenant West asks pleasantly.
Another smile. “Soon enough.”
Another elevator. This one requires a code and a secure key to enter, and it’s a bit larger. Goes even deeper. Major Hurst presses the button labelled 28, each lower level having a higher number than the other. The ride is surprisingly smooth; though there is not a hint of rust, there’s just something about this place that seems a bit … antiquated. Like a left-over nuclear bunker from the Cold War, looking to have never been renovated from the outside; the inside is another story. Going down makes his ears pop uncomfortably, but J.J. refuses to let the slightest discomfort show. No one shuffles their feet. Hearts are thrumming loudly. This is it. What they’ve signed up for.
Some underground bunker. Oh, great.
Down here, as they leave the elevator behind, there’s loads of folk moving around. Reminds him of an aircraft carrier, though maybe not as cramped. The hallways are brightly lit. They follow the green and red lines on the floor, past some bulkheads. Up a curled stair. A conference room of some kind, with a large briefing table at the center. There’s a large plasma screen on one wall, catching his attention. High-tech. But Major Hurst gestures them away from that. There’s a large window and it’s covered in a protective grey shield of steel. An airman is waiting in the corner of the room.
A brief exchange: “More newcomers?”
“Yeah. I’m giving them the Grand Tour – thought I’d start out big.”
“You always do, Hurst,” says the airman, inclining his head and chuckling. “All right. Want to do the honors?”
“No, you go right ahead, Tim.”
A button is pressed and the shield lifts. It’s not as loud or bulky as expected. A sliver of light: the room below comes into view. Spacious.
“This is an old missile silo,” Hurst explains, but J.J. just vaguely listens because there’s something very weird in that room. It doesn’t look like it belongs here. In fact, it looks unlike anything J.J. has ever before seen.
It’s a … ring. Tall. Sitting there quietly. It’s grey and brown and there are symbols raised onto its surface; maybe steel, or something else, hard to tell. Actually, it looks more like one ring within another. There is a glimpse of marines spread out below, a protective half-circle around the mysterious ring; almost like a mock-up of a ceremony of prayer;
“What’s that?” blurts Markham.
“That is the reason you’re here, gentlemen,” Hurst says. “This is the Stargate.”
The whatnow? Juno scoffs. That’s the cheesiest codename we’ve ever heard.
And it looks nothing like a weapon or nothing.
The Major glances at her wristwatch. “And the show should be starting right about … now.”
All of a sudden the inner ring begins to spin. Turning from left to right in a decisive, gentle move. J.J. follows the movement with his eyes, realizing that the edges of the thing aren’t entirely smooth but there are these raised … things – he had no words for them. Like clamps, maybe, shaped a bit like broad, thick Vs.
A voice calls over the intercom:
“Chevron One encoded!” as the spinning pauses, the V-shaped clamp moves, locking down for a moment and lights up in orange, like the marking of a symbol. Then the spinning starts all over again. “Chevron Two encoded!” This happens twice, thrice, five, six times; and the last time, the voice declares: “Chevron Seven locked!”
And blue freaking light bursts out of the ring, out of thin air, speeding from the edges and to the center like a rapid wave. A surge outward. Stabilizing. Major Hurst doesn’t even blink. J.J.’s jaw drops as the ring is now filled with water. Except it’s not really water, too blue and deep and it’s hovering in a completely unnatural way inside of the ring.
What. the. fuck.
He isn’t the only one thinking this. But he can’t tear his gaze away. A team of people – in cammies, armed with some model of the P-90, it looks like – are moving below. A blonde woman; a grey-haired guy; some other younger guy who appears like he’s talking half a mile a minute, wearing glasses (civilian?); and there’s a big guy carrying some weird staff. They move toward the ring of light. Step into it.
Then the light flickers off.
No sign of the people just walked through the not-water.
What. the actual. fuck.
“That’s the Stargate,” Hurst returns to saying very calmly far too calmly like what. what. is this normal around here? “That’s an alien device archaeologists found in Egypt in 1924.”
“… Alien,” Markham repeats, stunned. Blinks. Refrains from repeating what they’re all thinking: is this some kind of sick joke? He isn’t reprimanded for the lack of protocol.
The Major acts very understanding at their stunned befuddled confusion. “Yeah. I could barely believe it at first either. You just witnessed the formation of an artificial wormhole – think of it a bit like temporary highways through space. We dialed a planet a few hundred lightyears away from Earth.”
Planet. Lightyears. Aliens.
Oh my God. What have I gotten myself into? is J.J.’s first thought.
His next is: Oh my God. I wish I could tell Jonah and the twins about this!
“This, gentlemen, is why you’re here. SG-1, the people who just left, is a so-called offworld or Gate team, who explore other planets, greet the natives, and expand our knowledge about our galaxy and the Stargate system.”
Team. J.J. glances at the men by his side. So they’re to become a team now? Like that … SG-1?
It’s Thompson who voices the question.
“We’ll see. You’ll be tested individually and in groups, and, if you’re lucky enough, you may find yourself part of a team. I’m not going to lie, this is going to be tough. It’s going to be weird. You will do things and see things you probably cannot even imagine,” Hurst answers.
“Could you give an example, ma’am?” West asks, like testing the limits of his own mind.
“There’s a race of aliens out there called the Goa’uld. They’re our number one Bad Guys at the moment. They’re a parasitic race that crawl into your neck, attaches itself to your spine to tap into your nervous system, and takes control of your body. They like to pretend they’re gods and enslave the human race.” At their silence – too shocked to know if this absurdity can be laughed at or not – she adds: “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the place.”
A gesture at the nearest door. J.J. forces his feet to move. They feel heavy like his boots have been replaced with lead. It’s difficult to think.
Major Hurst sounds cheerful and understandingly gentle (as if to somehow soften the shock) all at once: “Welcome to Stargate Command.”
He tries to call, but reaches only voicemail. Number’s outside of the covered area. J.J. leaves a message on repeat (ends up almost yelling, incoherently, the shock finally setting in and he’s pretty sure the only reply he’ll get is hysterical laughing) – there’s an alien device a Stargate a gateway to the stars;
“Greg, you – How long have you known about this shit? and been unable to tell me? You. You made me watch Wormhole X-treme! and, oh, God, this is why you guffawed through the whole first season, isn’t it?! and told me that it’s worth watching and there’s something, something very realistic ‘bout it, huh? Huh? Why the hell did you tell me you were assigned to D.C., you fucking liar?!”