by Rebecca Ratliff
DATE: July 2004
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
CATEGORY: Action-Adventure, Angst, S/J UST, AU
SPOILERS: Major spoilers for The Lost City
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Between seasons 7 and 8. Gates of War series,follows Pinch-Hitter. Previous stories in this series are archived at http://buckeyebelle.tripod.com/sg1/sg1index.html
SUMMARY: Leave no one behind.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: If you have not seen the Lost City, or at least read the transcripts, this will make very little sense.
DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc.
This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. Anybody that you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by midnight. :)
FEEDBACK: Much appreciated.
A warm breeze blew across the camp, rustling the tents and setting the cooking pots swinging over the campfires. Serenshai sharpened her swords as she sat in the shade of Master Bra'tac's tent. A short distance away, the Tok'ra Malek sat in deep study of an artifact that some of the Jaffa had found in their explorations. Malek's host Jeryn was studying with Bra'tac. Malek was a scientist, and the gift of a bit of long-forgotten technology had been a most welcome one. The pine-scented breeze ruffled his curly brown hair but didn't disturb his focus on the item in front of him, any more than he paid attention to the rhythmic, whispered passage of stone over steel.
It was almost a homelike feeling, as close to home as Serenshai ever came. She tried not to think of the word home, because it brought with it memories of her village on far-away Daltregon--Seren's queen, Shai's human parents, their many brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins, her consorts, all dead now at Kali's hands. Kali. When she had taken a vow of silence until her people were avenged, she hadn't known then to which system lord the Jaffa whose bodies were scattered among those of her dead had belonged. Not until she had met others here among the Free Jaffa who bore the same mark had she learned that name. Kali.
She drew her stone along the edge of her blade one last time, and held up the edge to sparkle in the noonday sun. Kali. Blade, know whose blood you thirst to drink. Kali.
She was distracted from her meditation by Malek's sudden cry. She whipped around, and found that he was startled, not frightened. The device he had been studying had activated. It was hard to see in the bright sun where he was working, but a hologram of a star map had formed above it.
Bra'tac came out of his tent when he heard Malek shout, and also immediately realized there was no danger. They took the device inside the tent where they could see the hologram more clearly.
The Jaffa master was no stranger to reading a star map, and his career had led him all over the galaxy from his native Chulak. He recognized several of the stars. "You have a real treasure here, Malek. This is the sky as seen from some of Kronus' worlds--or rather, as it would have been seen long ago in the days of the Ancients when this was crafted."
Malek said, "You're right--I didn't recognize the patterns because I was thinking in terms of modern day star charts! There has been significant change during the ages that separated the galaxy of the Ancients from ours today. Let me run a star charting program to calculate how the stars would have appeared from Kronus' worlds during that time and pinpoint exactly where and when this chart would have been accurate."
Bra'tac said, "If this leads to another outpost of the Ancients, perhaps it holds the key to the location of lost Atlantis, and an answer to O'Neill's imprisonment."
Malek nodded. He too hoped the device might be a clue to saving their friend. "Once we have a location, Master Bra'tac, we can scout it out and see if there's anything there worth getting excited about before we contact the Tau'ri. I don't want to give them false hope and then have it turn out to be nothing."
"Indeed," Bra'tac nodded. Earth had been saved and Anubis defeated, but at a terrible cost. Their friend O'Neill now languished in stasis, and there he would have to remain until someone discovered a way to reverse the download of Ancient knowledge into his brain.
It didn't take long for Malek's computer to pinpoint the location, the star chart was accurate for the place where it had been found. When the device had been new, the world known as Reatha had been a primordial jungle. Over the years it had changed, turned to mostly savannah. The mountains were inhabited by tribes of naquada miners, but much of the planet was unexplored--by humans anyway.
Malek asked, "Who holds this world now?"
Bra'tac glanced at Serenshai. "Reatha was one of the worlds grabbed up by Kali in the confusion following Kronus' death."
The silent queen nodded. She had always known that one day her path would lead her to the murderer of her people. Kali.
Reatha seemed a sere and barren land to Serenshai, after the pine forests and flower-filled meadows of Chulak. It wasn't desert but it was an arid land of dry brittle grasses that grew shoulder-high to the small queen. The backwash of the gate had mowed a swath directly before it, clearly marking the danger zone which the four travelers quickly vacated.
It wasn't the steamy midsummer heat of Daltregon or Chulak. Instead the air was dry, like the blast of heat that escaped an oven. Here and there the biggest grasshoppers she had ever seen clung to stalks of grass, their mass enough to bow the stems toward the dry soil. She could hear the delicate clicking of their mandibles as they lunched on the meager fare.
Something larger slithered off into the shelter of the tall grass. She pointed out the disappearing tail of a rather formidable looking snake to Malek. "Good thing we're all wearing high boots, what? He's bound to have relatives," the Tok'ra commented.
Serenshai nodded. Shai had suffered a painful bite on the ankle as a little girl. Though now that she was one soul, Seren could deal with the poison, she still had an agreement with scaly things such as snakes and lizards. If they left her alone, she would leave them alone. Those who broke the agreement would quickly find themselves missing a head.
She wondered what other creatures might be out there in the high grass. She had seen pictures of the great cats of Earth. She thought that she would like to see lions--but she would prefer to see them before they saw her. In this terrain, she hoped if there were lions, they had already eaten well.
Ry'ac, Bra'tac's youngest apprentice, checked the DHD. Everything appeared to be in order. Bra'tac saw more and more of Teal'c in the young man every day.
Bra'tac immediately discovered the tracks left by the band of Free Jaffa who had found the star map. They led west, toward a range of high, jagged mountains where the warriors had been fomenting rebellion among the mining tribes. Looking for a hidden place to camp one night, they had come across some ruined buildings, and within one of them had been the artifact. He had memorized the map that they had drawn for him, and oriented himself with the stargate and the nearest mountain. Although each of them carried a copy of the map for safety's sake, in case they somehow got separated, Bra'tac was unlikely to need to refer to it again.
They set off single file, with Bra'tac bringing up the rear. Ry'ac, he thought, was ready to be released from his apprenticeship. He was a fine warrior. It was time he found a place for himself and started a family of his own.
Bra'tac was glad that Serenshai had found some peace studying with him. She had suffered greatly. The Jaffa understood her vow not to speak until Kali was dead--it was the kind of thing a bereaved Jaffa would have done. In their acceptance and understanding, she had begun to find a much-needed healing.
Jeryn, too, had found a place here and Bra'tac challenged him continually. He was already a formidable martial artist, but now he was ready to go beyond mere fighting skill and follow the path of the warrior. The other half of that pairing, Malek, was as happy here as anywhere. The Jaffa understood Malek's need to break with the Tok'ra over a matter of honor. Malek could not forgive Da'lak for (as Malek saw it) taking the path of the Goa'uld. Bra'tac also understood that Malek hadn't questioned his host's desire to stay as an apprentice here because that was the choice Serenshai had made.
Avenging one's kin was a solemn responsibility, but one also had a responsibility to the future. Under his crusty exterior, Bra'tac was just enough of a romantic to hope that they saw that future in one another's eyes.
The mountains were a good four hours' trek from the chappa'ai. They reached the ruins just before darkness and made camp in a sheltered valley under an overhanging cliff. Once they had secured the area, Ry'ac started a small cooking fire in the furthest recesses of the overhang, where its light wouldn't give them away. The evening wind promised a chill night so they pitched the tent.
Serenshai looked over the ruins, which began near the overhang and continued down the narrow valley, on either side of what had once been a wide street. Each building had once been a series of rooms, sharing side walls with their neighbors. Most had been flattened, and only the floor or a stray corner here and there marked where they had once stood. Here and there skeletal walls stood, having defied the elements for millions of years. Occasional small patches of brightly colored paint still clung to the gray walls. She wondered why the ruins hadn't been buried in all that time--when she knelt to dig in one, she found only a hand's width of soil over the floor.
For all she knew, the elements had claimed the site and retreated many times over the intervening years. Now the setting sun cast long shadows of the standing walls over the ruins.
It was a haunted place, restless spirits wandered among the stones. They took no interest in the mayflies who made their camp here tonight. Even so, Serenshai warded the camp before she sat down to dinner with the others.
The next morning they began to explore the ruins, beginning with the chamber where the star map had been discovered.
Bra'tac pulled down some heavy vines with the end of his staff. A burn mark still scarred the wall, after all these millenia. "I doubt the device was originally here. There was obviously fighting."
Malek agreed. "Whatever they used as a building material, it's still in good shape. I think we'll find that all these buildings were damaged in the fighting, not worn down by the passage of time. Everything is as it was when the Ancients fled."
Serenshai looked up. If that was so, then perhaps they had left things lying around in the confusion of battle that might answer questions.
If the star map had been dropped here as someone fled, it seemed sensible to backtrack along their route, if she could discern that route. She studied the structure, which was less damaged than those surrounding it. She figured that the Ancients would have been running for the doorway that she had just entered, but from where? Whatever the building's function had once been, there were no other doors that she could see.
Malek cleared the rest of the vines from the walls, hoping they concealed some answers.
Bra'tac said, "I think that you are on the right track, but it looks to me like there is more likely a trap door somewhere in here."
Malek said, "A ground-penetrating radar would be useful right now."
Since they didn't have one handy, they got shovels from their packs and began to dig. A couple of hours later they had cleared the dirt and debris from the floor. No trap door was obvious, but one could easily be hidden in the intricately patterned mosaic floor. Even with a light covering of dirt its floral design was beautiful and soothing.
Malek knelt to brush some of the dirt away so that he could admire the deep cobalt blue of some vining jungle flower that no longer grew here. "I wonder who these Ancients truly were, to have such an eye for beauty and yet...have destroyed themselves with their own biological weapons."
Bra'tac said, "I do not think them evil, not in the same way that the system lords define the word for us. Rather, they were consumed by their lust for more and more power. That power was their undoing when it escaped their control."
Serenshai nodded. The Jaffa master's words struck a chord with her own Daltregonian philosophy. All life was one life. The wise sought to live in harmony with the universe, not to reign over it. Everything subjugated, controlled, enslaved would eventually rise up. Everything sent out into the universe would eventually return.
Malek's attention turned to the floor again...or rather, what was under it. "Oh, yes, wait a moment! There's a ring platform under here. Either it's very deep under the floor or it doesn't have as much naquada in it as the ones we use today, but it's here!"
They felt out the circumference of the rings, then went on a search for the controls. Serenshai found them, another hidden panel in the tiles.
Ry'ac said, "I wonder where they go? If it's sealed up, there won't be air there now."
Malek nodded. "After somewhere around two million years, I am absolutely amazed that they are still in good working order. The ring mechanism alone--it is unbelievable."
Bra'tac said, "Yet we found the outposts on Proklarush Taonas and on Earth as well preserved."
Malek said, "True. Both of them were inside force domes, though, were they not? This ring platform is open to the elements. This construction was meant to last an eternity." His voice turned somber. "The technology here--I sincerely hope that we do not come to regret tampering with what we find in these outposts."
Bra'tac remembered the Ancient weapon that O'Neill had first controlled and then used to destroy Anubis' entire fleet--it had seemed less a weapon than a demonic force. Other such things could well be waiting. "Indeed. Let us proceed with caution when we do get into the outpost. There could be literally anything in there."
Ry'ac and Serenshai bowed their heads in acknowledgement of the command.
Malek set up several instruments in the rings, then they sent them through, and retrieved them after a while. The visual showed a dark, forbidding room with several large shapes looming over the ring platform.
Jeryn said, "I am not sure what to make of this...they look like sarcophagi?"
Bra'tac looked up, surprised that Jeryn had chosen to speak. The one-time bounty hunter usually kept his silence. No wonder Serenshai's silence didn't phase Malek--he was used to it from his enigmatic host. The Jaffa replied, "They do, but more...streamlined somehow. The false gods originally developed the sarcophagus from technology invented by the Ancients. Can you lighten the display?"
Malek worked with the hologram projector. "This is about as light as I can make the image without washing it out."
Ry'ac asked, "How are the environmental conditions?"
"The oxygen level is somewhat low, but nothing that we won't be able to tolerate. Other conditions are normal for the planet. The sensors detected nothing harmful, no toxins or radiation or anything like that."
Bra'tac said, "Then there is no time like the present." The four of them removed Malek's test equipment from the platform. Bra'tac set the controls then took his place inside the rings with the others, facing outwards for mutual protection. A moment later the rings cycled through.
It was as if they had traveled two million years back in time. The room was huge. The hologram had not really given them a sense of its size. Beyond the four large objects which they had taken for standing sarcophagi, they recognized the area as a laboratory of some sort.
No one dared touch anything, but as they walked among what were obviously laboratory benches they found strange equipment and a number of the stone tablets that the Ancients inexplicably used to record data. Why a civilization so advanced should use such a primitive form of data storage as that was a mystery to Bra'tac.
When he mused aloud about that, Malek said, "My theory is that they wanted to record on a medium that future generations--ourselves--would comprehend as an important message, and be able to translate. More high-technology forms of data storage would have been rendered useless if we didn't know what they were, or if we weren't able to figure out the readers or viewers necessary to unlock the data within them. Stone tablets would probably be universal in the history of any culture which found them."
Bra'tac nodded. "That makes sense. They knew their civilization was dying, but they could not bear to cross over without planting the seeds for it to live on in some future race."
Malek studied one of the tablets without lifting it from the bench where it rested. "I hope the answers we seek are here. We should inform the Tau'ri. We will make nothing of this without someone who reads the Ancient language."
Serenshai had been studying the sarcophagi. She clapped her hands for attention and the others joined her to see what she had discovered.
She held up her light crystal. The door, or lid, of the sarcophagus was a translucent smoky gray. They could see that the device contained a body, although they could make out no details about it.
Ry'ac asked, "Could this Ancient still be alive in there?"
Bra'tac replied, "Yes, and he could also be a carrier of the plague that killed his people. It was a similar situation which led to the Ka'nan fiasco."
Malek said, "I think we should leave this all alone until we have someone here to translate these tablets. There is too high a risk of activating the wrong thing."
Bra'tac agreed with his apprentice's caution. "Let us return to camp. Ry'ac and I will go to the stargate and inform the Tau'ri of our discovery. Malek, you and Serenshai remain on guard."
A few hours later, Bra'tac and Ry'ac stepped out of the stargate into the SGC gateroom. Dr. Weir and Teal'c were there to meet them. Bra'tac acknowledged Weir with a bow as Teal'c and his son embraced. Ry'ac had grown into a man, easily Daniel Jackson's height and well-muscled from constant training.
"Tal ma'te, Father. It has been too long."
Weir smiled. "It's good to see you again, Master Bra'tac."
"And you, DoctorWeir."
"I've sent for Major Carter and Dr. Jackson. We can wait for them in the conference room."
Teal'c turned to her with one arm still around Ry'ac's shoulders and said, "DoctorWeir, I do not believe that you have met my son." Paternal pride shined through his stoic expression.
Weir greeted the young Jaffa. "Ry'ac, isn't it? I've heard a lot about you."
"Nothing too bad, I hope," Ry'ac said, inclining his head in a respectful Jaffa gesture.
"Not at all."
Sam met them outside the gateroom, just as they started up the stairs. "Daniel's on his way. Do you think you may have found something, Bra'tac? Hi, Ry'ac."
The younger man answered with a nod of his head as Bra'tac began to speak. "As you know, all our scouts have been told to send word to me if any more Ancient relics come to light. A Jaffa advance party happened upon another Ancient outpost. I believe it to be some sort of laboratory. There is an occupied stasis chamber within."
Weir asked, "Do you think it could be the scientist who was working there?"
Bra'tac said, "It is possible, but I think not. What led us to the outpost in the beginning was the discovery of a hologram projector containing a star-chart. The ruins where it was found show severe battle damage. I think it likely that the projector was dropped as the inhabitants fled the battle. I cannot see anyone putting himself into a stasis chamber when they were about to be overrun."
Weir nodded. "Maybe someone who can answer a few questions, at least. I can't approve taking him out of stasis until we know for sure we wouldn't be killing him, though. If he has the Ancients' plague, we need to leave him where he is."
Daniel said, "The answers we're looking for may be on those tablets."
Bra'tac said, "There is another complication. This is one of Kali's worlds. We may not have an unlimited time to study the outpost."
Weir asked, "Was there any sign of her Jaffa near the ruins?"
"No, DoctorWeir, and there may never be. The site is located in a narrow valley. I think it unlikely that pilots flying an ordinary patrol would notice it unless they were specifically looking for it."
Weir thought about it. "All right, you have a go. Draw hazmat suits and any other equipment you'll need."
A couple of hours passed by the time SG-1 cleared medical and got their gear together. Carter went to her lab to collect a few things and found Sirikat there, taking advantage of her large table to clean the dirt off a stone tablet.
"Nyan and I had the idea to go through the artifacts room and see if we could find anything that might have been overlooked. SG-2 brought this back with them a while ago from some marketplace on a planet that they visited. Daniel doesn't think it from the Ancients and I'm sure he's right. The Ancient tablets look almost new, and you can see how worn this one is. There's just something about it, though....Nyan told me to clean all the dirt out of the carvings so we can get a good scan and enhance it."
Carter nodded. "You'd be surprised how much detail you can bring out that way."
"May it be unnecessary. Perhaps Master Bra'tac has found something," Sirikat replied.
Carter was reminded that she wasn't the only one agonizing over Jack's fate. "Are you staying on base?"
Sirikat nodded. "For tonight, anyway. Jonathan has Jamie, so I thought I'd work on this."
"Doesn't Jonathan have school?"
"Sam, summer vacation started last week."
Carter hadn't paid attention. She had hardly left the mountain for anything other than to spend time with Jamie. It was jarring, in a way, that even though their lives had come to a grinding halt, outside their small circle, everything continued as always. It was surreal that, while they moved heaven and earth to find a way to bring Jack home, others were planning vacations and getting suntans.
She laughed at herself. Of course they were. That was why they took the chances and made the sacrifices that they did. As long as people could live their lives without fear of death raining down from the sky, they had done their jobs.
She deliberately slowed down long enough to give Sirikat a hug, and found herself receiving as much comfort as she gave. "Don't pull one of my stunts and forget to eat or sleep."
"I may forget to eat if they have that awful meat loaf in the commissary again," she smiled. "Sam, be careful."
"Always," Carter promised. She headed for the locker room to gear up.
Carter stepped out of the event horizon with every nerve on edge, and even after she had assured herself that there was no immediate threat, she still didn't completely relax. This was enemy territory, as unlikely as it was that the Goa'uld would ever suspect that they were here. They cleared the backwash zone and she conferred briefly with the SGC before the gate shut down, then she quickly got the team moving. No one wanted to stay in the neighborhood of the gate on a hostile world--it was the one place that the Goa'uld were bound to show up sooner or later.
She refused to let herself think ahead to what might be found in the Ancient outpost. That hope distracted her too much from her job right now, which was to get everyone there in one piece.
Daniel directed her attention to dark shapes moving on the horizon. She raised her binoculars and focussed in on a huge herd of grazing animals the size of buffalo, then passed the binoculars to him. "We're fine as long as they stay over there and we stay over here," she said. She'd seen one too many stampedes in Saturday afternoon cowboy movies to want to get too close to the herd.
Daniel brought up another concern. "Nomadic tribes follow herds like that. If there are any, we don't want to be spotted by their outriders. They might report us to Kali."
They stepped up their pace for a good couple of miles, and only paused when they came to a small stream. Everyone finished off one canteen and refilled it, adding purification tabs in the case of the Tau'ri. The Jaffa could afford to be fairly cavalier about drinking stream water, since they were either on Tretonin or had symbiotes, and likewise the Tok'ra didn't have to worry about it. Carter and Jackson, however, had no desire to chance drinking from a raw water source and getting Montezuma's revenge!
She took off her cap to wipe her forehead. Bra'tac asked, "Do you want to take a rest break here, or wait until we reach the tree line?"
"Oh, we'll wait." She appreciated Bra'tac's concern, but she and Daniel were hardened to long marches and could easily keep up with the rest. The sooner they got out of the open, the better.
They climbed up the stream's opposite bank and set off toward the distant mountains once again. The sun neared its zenith in a cloudless blue sky. All around them the grass rose and fell like waves in very welcome breeze.
It was another two hours' walk before they reached the shelter of the trees. Carter tore open the wrapper of a ration bar and leaned against a tree trunk, munching while she looked back out over their back trail. Everything was lazy in the midday heat, even the bugs. She could almost hear Jack's sarcastic remarks about the trees, and she missed him so much it literally hurt.
She allowed herself sixty seconds of that, then turned back to the others and deliberately joined in Daniel and Teal'c's speculations about the Ancient outpost. They were looking to her now, and when she let herself start feeling Jack's absence, so did they. For them, she pushed all her grief and terror into a little box and locked it away to deal with later.
Back at the SGC, Sirikat and Nyan waited for the computer to finish rendering the enhanced image of the stone tablet. They had got Dr. Weir's permission to use the mainframe for that. Its massive processing power did in minutes calculations that would have taken hours on Nyan's desktop. Nyan sent the results to the plotter and brought the blueprint-sized printout to the table.
Sirikat set a pencil cup on one corner to keep it from rolling up. Nyan said, "Oh, yes, this brought out a lot more of the inscription. Your hunch was right, it is Ancient. Or rather, a later copy of an Ancient tablet. That's why it's so degraded, and that's what had Daniel and me fooled. It's carved from ordinary stone, not whatever that substance is that the Ancients used."
"What does it say?"
"It will take me a little while to translate it. Some of these phrases aren't familiar. But it's something about a murderer?"
Sirikat felt a sudden chill, and her nagging feeling that this tablet was somehow important grew to an absolute certainty. She wasn't a seer like her grandmother Karumai. Her talents lay far more in crystal magic than in divination. Precognitive flashes were rare for her, and usually only came in the form of interpreting the patterns formed by clouds traveling across the moon. This was different and its power scared her. "I let you work on it then. I make sure there are no more of these tablets in the vault."
Nyan nodded without looking up from one of the Ancient language reference notebooks. He was already absorbed in the translation. Sirikat got the vault key card from the desk drawer and headed down there.
Over seven years, the SGC had collected a lot of artifacts. Scientific devices were studied here for a time, then shipped off to Area 51 for more detailed analysis. Written material, whether it was a stone tablet or a recording crystal, typically remained here unless it could be tied into some bit of recovered technology. A rather large vault carved out into the mountain held rows of metal shelves laden with stone tablets, scrolls, books, and crystals, as well as various art works and other miscellania. Every item was carefully tagged and identified with its world of origin and the circumstances of its discovery.
Right inside the door, a statue of some lost culture's frog god fixed everyone who entered in the gimlet glare of its topaz eyes. Its tongue lolled out, prepared to capture its next meal. Sirikat detected no hint of magic about it. The idol was just carved marble and gemstones. Even so, it gave her the creeps whenever she entered the vault, and she hoped the lights never went out while she was working in here. Resuming her search where she had located the first tablet, she began to methodically check the rest for similarities.
Even though she knew they were nearby, Carter was still surprised when they came upon the ruins. If the Jaffa party of agents provocateur had not explored this sheltered valley as a safe place for a base camp, the outpost might have gone undiscovered for millenia longer. She knew that, simply flying over it, she wouldn't have given much thought to the bits of rubble poking out of the vines and tall grass. She was a fair archaeological assistant after working with Daniel for all these years. A complete layman wouldn't have seen the significance from a quick glance in a fly-over.
"I wonder if the other outposts had settlements over them like this one did?"
Daniel answered her a little distractedly as he picked his way through the rocks of a collapsed wall. "Probably, Sam. The outpost's workers had to live somewhere. There could be ruins frozen in the ice over the Antarctic site and we'd never know it unless we looked for them. Anything outside the force dome on Proklarush Taonas would have been destroyed by volcanic activity a long time ago."
"That's true, Daniel. I wonder how many of these places there are?"
"I don't know, but if we can find one of those control chairs and figure out how to activate the star map, we just might find out." He was focused on the mission objective--finding a way to get his best friend out of the deep freezer--but that didn't completely overshadow the thrill of discovery.
He looked up and said something in Abydonian, then turned his attention to the foundation stones of the next building over. Sam asked, "Did Sha're find something?"
"Just this geometric pattern. I think it's purely decorative, though."
Bra'tac said something in Goa'uld that elicited identical raised eyebrows and subtle smirks from both Teal'c and Ry'ac. Carter reflected that if she hadn't already known they were father and son, she would have then!
Bra'tac glared at them. "I knew there was someone else here! You two were very well aware that I have been watching our back trail the entire way from the gate because I was sure we were being watched."
Teal'c said mildly, "I did not wish to deprive you of the opportunity to figure it out for yourself, Tec'ma-te."
Bra'tac only gave him a look that warned him he had better be well prepared for their next sparring session.
Malek and Serenshai had a hot meal and a big pot of spicy-sweet herbal tea waiting when they reached camp. It had enough of a pick-me-up to it that Daniel was more than willing to baptize it coffee and drain a mug before he got into the stew pot.
Fresh meat was a welcome surprise. Daniel looked up at Serenshai, who answered by pointing to a rabbit pelt, which she had carefully scraped and washed and stretched to dry while they were waiting for Bra'tac to return with the Tau'ri. Like many peoples who still lived close to nature, she believed that once she killed her prey, she was obligated to let nothing of it go to waste lest the creature's spirit take offense. Her arrow had broken, and she was removing the bit of shaft that was left in order to re-use the arrowhead.
He had a thousand questions which would have to remain unanswered as long as she kept her vow of silence. Still, he couldn't blame her. He thought of Abydos, of his failure to stop Anubis' destruction of the home where he had spent the happiest year of his life, and completely understood.
The difference was that Serenshai's people were dead and gone and she had toiled for days to build the funeral pyres for the bodies that they had left behind. While it was true that Daniel was separated from his good father and the rest of their tribe by the veil between the mortal world and the higher planes, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were safe and well and living as they had always lived, in the restored version of Abydos that they had collectively created. Sha're's presence was a constant blessed reminder to him that the finality of death was nothing more than a cruel illusion. He wished that he could share that certainty with Serenshai, but her people already had strong beliefs in a life after death. There was nothing that he could add to that faith. Certainty would come, all in good time.
Daniel sipped his tea. Was that the original reason for the Ancients' doctrine of non-interference? That some lessons can be learned only by experience? If so, there was wisdom in it. And foolishness as well, for allowing an admirable guiding principle to degenerate into rigid, uncompromising law with no consideration for differing circumstances and obvious need.
After they had finished eating, Daniel and Sam were anxious to get into the lab and see exactly what they had. nbsp;Bra'tac led the way to the ring portal.
Sam went immediately to the stasis pod, examining it while careful not to touch anything that might deactivate it. "This isn't the same as the dormata device."
"Maybe they still had to close this door over it when this was built because they hadn't developed the force field technology yet? That might explain why there wasn't a force dome over this outpost," Daniel theorized. "Couldn't this be an earlier form of the same technology?"
Sam nodded. "Possibly. If it is, then it might help us bridge the gap and understand how the dormata works."
Daniel said, "Maybe there are schematics here somewhere. We could really use an owner's manual right now."
Sam shot him a quick grin. They'd been lucky enough to find things like that a few times, but usually they were on their own to figure out how alien technology worked. Hopefully, without blowing themselves sky high in the process! "We need to record all of this. If Kali shows up, we might have to bug out without taking any of it back with us."
With that, they unpacked the video cameras and set up lights. The place quickly turned from fascinating discovery to working archaeological site, as everyone got busy.
In the process of recording the tablets, Daniel was able to read enough to figure out what had been going on. "This place was doing some kind of medical experimentation with cybernetics and neural implants. It must date before the healing technology that's still in use now in the sarcophagus. They were bypassing damaged areas of the spinal cord and replacing lost limbs with artificially grown replacements that were just like the real thing, when the process was successful. They were still working out the bugs, apparently."
Bra'tac asked, "What about the man in stasis?"
Daniel's expression turned grim. "He's a guinea pig."
"What is a guinea pig, DanielJackson?"
The archaeologist replied, "Guinea pigs are rodents back on Earth. They're commonly used as experimental subjects in laboratories."
Bra'tac studied the man in the stasis box. "The more that I learn of your world's Ancients, the more like the Goa'uld they seem to be."
Sam said, "They weren't always the nicest people you could hope to meet, that's for sure. They developed their bioweapons for a reason and I don't think it was purely academic! I just wonder who the other guys were, some alien race or a different faction within their own people?" She scowled a moment, then asked, "Daniel, have you seen anything to indicate that they had the plague here?"
"None whatsoever. In fact I'm almost sure these dates are as much as five hundred years before that. I'll need to check my references to be absolutely sure."
"So they were just keeping this guy in stasis until they got around to taking him out and experimenting on him? And when they ran out of here, they just left him?"
"That's exactly what it looks like. Sam, if we can thaw him out, he might be grateful enough to tell us how to help Jack."
Carter considered that with growing excitement. "I want to make absolutely sure he isn't in there for a good medical reason before I do anything irreversible, but that's the best hope we've had so far."
Bra'tac said, "Indeed. We are agreed, then, that there is no harm in moving the tablets?"
Sam said, "None that I can detect with any of my instruments."
"Then if I may move one of these lights, I shall begin to record the ones further down in the stack on that table," he said.
Daniel said, "Sure, I'll give you a hand with it."
It took them about three hours longer to record everything, and by then, even the Jaffa were starting to get tired. Carter tore herself away from her study of one of the vacant stasis pods. Once again, she felt that sense of loss, just like someone had ripped off her right arm. O'Neill should have been the one calling a halt for the night and making her and Daniel get some rest. She called, "All right, let's all finish up what we're doing right now and get back to camp."
They left the lights and monitoring equipment in place, bringing with them only the recordings they had made. As it was, they had to go through the ring portal in two groups, and there was no sense dragging all that stuff to camp with them only to bring it back again in the morning.
They checked out the empty camp with all due caution, but when nothing was amiss and Teal'c and Ry'ac had cleared the perimeter, they gratefully gathered around the fire ring. They sorted out a watch schedule and decided that pemmican and ration bars would do instead of bothering with anything more complicated. They passed around the recordings that they had made and discussed the day's find, while Daniel referred to the Ancient language references scanned onto a secure digital card in his PDA to clarify his translations of some of the tablets. Gradually, though, the camp settled down for the night.
Back at the SGC, Nyan had been working on the translations for nearly twelve hours straight. His eyes were burning and he was starting to see Ancient script even when they were tightly closed. At last, however, he had finished.
The tablet had apparently been copied by rote, by someone who didn't know what it was he was copying. There might well have been several generations of copies between this tablet and the original, because artistic differences had crept into the carvings. Once Nyan had recognized that as the problem, the translation had gone much more swiftly.
On the surface of it, the tablet seemed to have nothing to do with Col. O'Neill's situation. It was a court record, for lack of a better word, concerning the sentencing of a murderer. The man had been condemned to medical experimentation, apparently one of the ways that the Ancients executed their worst criminals. This individual, one Arimat, had been among the worst, a sadistic terrorist who had committed mass murder in his attempt to foment a revolution and become a dictator.
He went off to the scientists' break room, where Sirikat had told him she was going to take a rest from her survey of the other artifacts in the vault, and found the girl drinking coffee. She had taken her braids down and twisted her long hair into a bun on top of her head, which she could cover with a cap. No matter how they tried, the artifact vault was always dusty--perhaps an unavoidable tangible evidence of the age of the writings contained inside. Nyan shook off that whimsical thought and got himself a cup of coffee, then spread the printout he'd been working with out on the table. "I've got it!"
Sirikat woke up immediately and read the translation that he had penciled in between the lines of Ancient writing. To his surprise she went white as a sheet and dropped her cup, which shattered on the concrete floor and splashed coffee on both their ankles.
"Sirikat, what's wrong?"
"Nyan, you didn't know--? Bra'tac found a man in one of those pods in that Ancient outpost! Don't you see? It him! This murderer! We have to stop them from waking him!"
Nyan wanted to object, with a lot of common sense reasons why she was more than likely jumping to an unsubstantiated conclusion in assuming that it was the same man. But she was sure. Just as sure as she had been that Anubis was coming, and she'd been right about that. "We've got to tell Dr. Weir."
Elizabeth Weir was getting used to being awakened at all hours of the night by someone frantically knocking on her door. The fact that it happened so frequently was one of the reasons she had just stayed in quarters here on base rather than finding an apartment in town. It was easier to walk down the hall to the elevator than drive all the way up Cheyenne Mountain.
She grabbed her bathrobe and knotted the belt as she called, "Coming!"
The archaeologist and his young helper had such looks of distress on their faces that she thought at first something had gone horribly wrong and Jack O'Neill was dead. "What's wrong?"
Sirikat said, "You have to warn SG-1 not to wake up that man in the stasis pod. He's a dangerous criminal and if he gets out, a lot of people are going to get killed."
Now wide awake, Weir switched on the lights and told them, "Come in, calm down, and start at the beginning."
Sirikat let Nyan explain while she calmed herself. If this was what her grandmother Karumai went through with her visions in the firelight, she could keep them.
Weir listened to Nyan's translation, and then to Sirikat's report of the vision she had just experienced. "He can't be let out, Dr. Weir."
"Sirikat, I can't authorize another mission through the stargate on the strength of a vision." She held up her hand to stop Sirikat's immediate protest. "I believe you! But I'm not the one who makes the decisions, ultimately. The people who vote on our funding are looking into how the role of the SGC should change in response to Anubis' attack. These aren't people who believe in visions and prophecies. Sometimes all they can see are dollars and cents. I need to be able to justify it to their satisfaction every time I order someone to dial that gate. If they decide that I'm being wasteful, they could shut down the gate entirely until those decisions are made. If that happens, we won't be able to look for a way to cure Colonel O'Neill!"
Sirikat looked stricken, then another thought came to her. "If I decide to leave Earth and go home, would they stop me?"
Weir said, "Of course not. Your diplomatic status gives you the right to come and go more or less as you please."
"Then I will go home, and from there to Chulak to gather up any of my Jaffa who are handy, then from Chulak to Reatha."
Nyan said, "I'd like to go along, if I may. So that Sirikat doesn't have to travel back to her village alone, of course."
Weir took a long look at him. "Nyan, when's the last time you slept? I know that everyone has been pulling long hours, but you look like something the cat dragged in. You're not up to a fifty mile hike carrying a full backpack."
Sirikat assured him, "I won't go alone into anything dangerous, Nyan, I swear it. Besides, my guards would never let me."
He nodded. "Just be careful. I wouldn't want to explain to the colonel when he wakes that something happened to you while I was sleeping."
"I promise to take no unnecessary chances."
"Yes, well, it's the necessary ones that worry me! Jack won't thank us for saving him if you get yourself hurt in the process."
Weir didn't add her two cents' worth to that, Nyan was already doing an excellent job guilting her into being careful. "I'll meet you in the control room, you can head out whenever you're ready."
The wormhole disappeared behind her as Sirikat stepped out into a sunny morning on Daltregon. She allowed herself a moment to take in the familiar sights and sounds and smells of home, before she greeted the warriors on duty. They were from a river tribe whose lands bordered hers to the south and she recognized some of them immediately.
One of them was a youth of her age, someone that she had known all her life. Most Daltregonian queens never had human children. With half their souls asleep during the pregnancy, they weren't seen as in a fit state to lead their people, and generally went into seclusion in the temple while they waited nine months to give birth. So Dylantar was a rarity, both host and symbiote sons of one mother before they had become one soul, when their mother had felt led by the gods to give birth to a human baby.
He had grown taller than she since the last time she had seen him. She found herself looking to see if he wore a betrothal bracelet or if his belt was marked with the knotwork declaring him a married man. Neither was the case. And then the thought of her consorts came crashing back and she felt guilty, as if by admiring another man she was somehow betraying their memory.
There was no time for this now. She waited to be recognized by the gate guards, then headed for the command tent.
To Sirikat's delight, her friend Rialla was in the garrison. The two young women embraced warmly, and Rialla asked, "Are you home for a while?"
Sirikat shook her head. "Passing through. I need to go to Chulak and collect my Jaffa, then there's something else that I have to do."
Rak'nor said, "Forgive me for interrupting, but things are unsettled there after Anubis' disappearance. The rebellion is spreading, but some still cry heresy. You will be known on sight. It is too dangerous for you on Chulak. Wait here, my queen, please, while I go and fetch your guards."
Sirikat nodded. "We must go quickly. Bring those you can find in the town. If all are not there, then so be it."
Rak'nor bowed to her in the Jaffa fashion before he called to a couple of others and the three of them departed for the stargate.
In high summer, dawn came early on Reatha. Carter drank her morning coffee and they prepared for the day's studies. They had finished recording everything on video the night before. "Malek, I was thinking that you and I should study one of those stasis pods. We need to find out as much about them as we can, since there's no way we're going to be able to retrieve one for study back home. They're just too big."
Malek nodded agreement. "I wish we'd brought Anise. I know she's a pest, but she knows more about stasis technology than I do."
"When we're finished here, she'll have to work from your notes," Sam replied. As much as Anise annoyed her, she would have been glad to have the Tok'ra's assistance.
Daniel said, "I'll be working on the translations. There's a lot of material here."
Bra'tac said, "There has to be more of that place than we have seen. We have found no storage areas or anything of that sort, and they must be here somewhere, yet the ring portal has only the two stations. The rest of us will do the most good searching for hidden entrances to other areas."
Carter agreed. "Let's get busy, then."
Sirikat and her companions changed time zones once again when they arrived on Reatha. It had been mid-afternoon on Chulak and it was just past dawn here.
Tha'lak, a middle-aged man with close-cropped black hair and eyes nearly as dark, was the commander of her guard. His mark was that of Apophis, but Sirikat had often thought it should have been Bra'tac's or Teal'c's, because he had been one of the first to throw in with the rebellion. He knelt to look more closely at the tracks around the gate. Sirikat followed his keen eye and had no trouble reading the tracks. "Jaffa, a patrol of them. These tracks are too recent for Bra'tac and Ry'ac to have made them."
"Too many of them in any case. These were Kali's men, no doubt, my queen."
"I was afraid of this. Will they be able to follow the trail?"
"Undoubtedly. Too many have been coming and going lately. But it will not be easy in this high grass."
"And we have the advantage of knowing our destination," she replied. "We can pass them and warn the others that they are on their way."
Rialla settled her gear for more comfortable running. "Who is this Kali anyway?"
Tha'lak said, "One of the lesser system lords. She was never much of a force before Ra was destroyed, but now she sees the chaos in the galaxy as her chance to increase her power."
"As do they all," replied Al'dor, the youngest of the four. "But Kali is weakened now that her alliance with Bast is no longer so secure as in times past."
Tha'lak nodded. "Bast was ever the wiser of the two. That one, now, she feels the winds of change and will change with it as she must. Kali will miss her guiding hand in their partnership, but do not underestimate her because of that. She is still dangerous. Al'dor, take point and be on the lookout for her men."
He bowed a salute and ranged ahead of them. After a time, they followed.
They caught up to the Jaffa at the stream, and circled around them, traveling fast.
Serenshai jumped back from the wall, zat in hand, as a carving clicked under her hand and a section of the wall slid aside. Everyone else left what they were doing to see what she had found. Carter switched on her flashlight and looked around the room on the other side. The beam picked out shapes of unfamiliar furniture and equipment. Daniel looked for the light controls inside the door--form followed function in most cases. There was a series of pops, then one light fixture came to dim, flickering life.
Serenshai took a step backward, making a face as if assaulted by a noxious odor. The rest of them had to figure out the use for the room before they understood her reaction. It had the look of an infirmary or sickbay, but Carter realized this was where the lab's experiments had been performed. In this ghastly lighting, she didn't want to know the specifics, but horrible things had happened here.
Now that they knew what to look for, they spread out to find the doors leading into the rest of the complex. They found sleeping quarters and a kitchen, smaller rooms that they took for offices and laboratories, and last but not least an exit. A small doorway that blended into the surrounding rocks opened out on the cliff above the valley. It didn't seem to be so much deliberately hidden as designed to blend with its surroundings.
They didn't take too long to look around. All of this was interesting, but it had no bearing on their mission. They went back inside and resumed their work.
Sirikat and her companions came upon the deserted ruins about midday. The camp was there, but It appeared to be abandoned. She said, "They said there was a ring portal around here somewhere. Let's spread out and find it."
Al'dor and Dre'nak, a tall, sharp-featured man with a jagged scar across his face that had nearly cost him the sight in one gray eye, broke off to check one set of ruins, while Sirikat and Tha'lak checked some nearer the cliff wall. It was Rialla and Kor'vak, a slender young man only a year or so Al'dor's senior, who located the ring portal.
Rialla said, "I wonder if we shouldn't send a note through first. If we scare them they might shoot us!"
Sirikat sent her knife through, Carter had seen it often enough to recognized the scrimshaw handle with its carving of a fox and an eagle. Presently Carter, Daniel and Teal'c came through, at the ready.
"Sirikat? What's up?" Carter asked, as she returned the knife.
"Trouble. Kali's Jaffa are on their way, and you can't wake up that man in the stasis pod, he's a murderer."
"How could you know that--never mind, we've got to get our stuff together and clear out of here."
There was staff fire. Carter and Teal'c raced to help hold off Kali's men while Daniel grabbed what they really needed from camp. "Go through the rings! We found another way out of the lab."
Sirikat and Rialla obeyed. Sirikat shouted a warning, "Kali's Jaffa are coming!"
They dived clear of the rings, knowing that the others would be retreating this way. Everyone started grabbing what they could salvage as the rest of them came through the rings, Carter and Tha'lak last of all, with their weapons still at the ready as if they had been firing till the very last second before the rings activated.
Sirikat said, "What about him? We can't leave him there to escape!"
Carter stared Sirikat in the eye and held up her P-90. "Are you sure enough that your vision is right for me to shoot him right now?"
Her eyes widened and she looked back and forth between the stasis pod and Carter, and froze. "I--they can be wrong--"
"Then let's get the hell out of Dodge! We can outrun those Jaffa, but not their radios."
Sirikat nodded and they ran for the hidden doorway to the rest of the complex, never taking their eyes off the ring portal the entire time.
They had barely closed the door behind them when the portal activated. There was a lot of yelling and tromping around, and they heard glass shatter. They didn't take the time to investigate, however. They hurried everyone through the complex, carefully closing each door behind them to buy time.
Within a few minutes, they were all clustered on the ledge overlooking the valley. Ry'ac dropped to the ground and belly- crawled to the edge, cautiously scouting the territory through the branches of a thorny bush. He reported in a whisper, "I only see two of them, on guard outside the ring building."
Jeryn located a treacherous looking steep, narrow path at one end of the ledge. It came out near the end of the ruins, still within the canyon yet out of sight of the ring building. It didn't look like anything a mountain goat could travel, but it was the only way up or down that wasn't a sheer drop. Without hesitation, Carter uncoiled her rope.
They began their descent with exaggerated care, trying not to dislodge rocks whose clatter might alert the two Jaffa on guard duty. Consequently it took what seemed like forever to get down the cliff.
Carter felt herself slip and gripped the rope hard. Behind her, Bra'tac and Rialla braced themselves to take her weight, and she recovered. Two or three pebbles went over the side. Everyone froze, waiting for the guards to sound an alert. After a moment, when nothing was forthcoming, Carter breathed a sigh of relief and signaled everyone forward once more.
Without any further incidents, they reached the valley floor, and moved carefully from cover to cover.
Without warning, the silence of the ruins was shattered by a powerful explosion that rained debris down on the valley below. Carter ducked and crossed her arms over her head until rocks stopped landing around her.
Loud shouts told them that the explosion had the guards' attention. Taking advantage of the diversion, they made their escape. They made use of the stream flowing down the canyon to hide their trail, and stayed in the water for a half-mile or so once they had left the canyon. Carter and Malek took point, and the three Daltregonians brought up the rear to cover their trail, with the rest in the middle ready to deal with trouble wherever it came from.
Once they had pushed on for another five miles or so, they stopped for a short rest and water break. Carter asked, "How hard do you think you made it for them to pick up our trail?"
Rialla said, "They shan't find it easy. For one thing, we were very careful to conceal where we left the stream in the first place. I think it more likely that they'll figure that they know where we're going and they'll try to catch us at the chappa'ai."
Carter nodded. "That makes speed more important than stealth now."
Daniel grinned, "I was afraid you were going to say something like that." He re-laced one of his boots to ward off a blister.
"No sense giving them any more time to set up an ambush than we have to," she said.
No one argued with that logic. They picked up their gear and set off for the stargate. They were already near enough that the naquada it contained was an unerring compass for all of them except Daniel.
As they established a quick pace, Sirikat mused, "I wonder what that explosion was. Did someone set C4?"
Carter shook her head. "That would have taken way more C4 than we have with us. Considering Ancient technology--it could have been anything!"
The explosion hadn't improved Bra'tac's opinion of the wisdom of poking around in Ancient ruins, not that they had a choice in the matter. They would not abandon O'Neill to his fate, whatever the risk. In a wider sense, they could not afford to pass by the chance to find some Ancient weapon that would give them an advantage in the war against the Goa'uld.
They made good time, keeping a vigilant lookout for any sign of an ambush as they neared the stargate. About a quarter mile out, Teal'c, Serenshai and Tha'lak ranged ahead to scout out the situation at the gate. Serenshai had a hunting spell that helped her blend into the tall grass, but she could extend it only to a couple of other people. The rest of them waited for the scouts to report back.
It wasn't ten minutes later, however, when Teal'c radioed back, "MajorCarter, you may approach. The Jaffa guarding the gate are all dead."
"Roger that, SG-1-3. That was quick work, even for you."
"I cannot claim the credit," he replied. "You will have to see for yourselves."
"Okay....SG-1-niner out." They moved out.
The area around the stargate was a scene of absolute carnage. Six dead Jaffa lay around the DHD. Each had been killed in a more horrific manner than the one before, and only one of the corpses was in any shape to be identified as Kali's man. Thousands of tiny crystal darts had gone straight through him, armor and all. Some of the wounds had bled more than others--he had been alive for the first few volleys. The flesh of the one lying next to him had apparently been dissolved from his bones.
Serenshai looked green, and they knew it wasn't the gore that had made her ill. Malek drew her aside, blocking her view of the bodies as his and Jeryn's auras shielded her from the shadows of the evil that had been done here.
Sirikat was a little better, but only because she was less skilled as a witch and therefore less sensitive. She said, "This...pure evil." She lifted several crushed stems of grass, revealing a thin sharp dart made of what looked like shattered crystal--but it melted before their eyes. "I should have told you to shoot him, Sam."
"Maybe the Jaffa back there tried, and that's why he blew them up," Daniel theorized. "It would explain why he was so mad at these guys."
Teal'c said, "I suspect that this was not an act of rage. These men were interrogated. Arimat was in stasis for many ages of civilization. He would have needed to orient himself."
Carter stood. "Dial us out to Daltregon, Daniel. Sooner or later Kali's going to send someone looking for these guys, and I don't want to be here when they find them."
As soon as they cleared medical and debriefed Dr. Weir, Daniel and his team of linguists sequestered themselves to begin translating the recordings of the tablets from the Ancient outpost. Malek was continuing his study of the star map device, in the hopes that it would lead them to more such installations.
Weir said, "Whatever else you can say about that hellhole, it was a medical facility. You might very well have found useful information on those tablets."
Sirikat said, "Jack won't thank me for loosing Arimat on the galaxy in the process."
Sam told her firmly, "Sirikat, you made the right call. We don't have the right to set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner when we don't have all the facts."
Weir quoted, "An ye do no harm..."
Sirikat recognized the Wiccan Rede, the central tenet of the Tau'ri faith so much like her own, and nodded. Although Weir did not share her faith, she had taken the time to learn what she could of it, and Sirikat appreciated that.
Her older companions were right. Visions gave her forewarning, but they were not clear enough to merit signing anyone's death warrant. Otherwise how many innocent people would be put to death for crimes that they might potentially commit in the future. Arimat had murdered those Jaffa, and he alone bore the guilt for it.
Weir said, "Do you realize that it's seven o'clock on Friday evening? Go pick up Jamie from day care and spend some time with him. You know Daniel will tell us as soon as they learn anything from the translations."
Sam was reluctant to leave, but Jamie needed them. They had to conclude that they were in this for the long haul. That was underscored when they reached the surface and climbed into Jack's truck--she drove it once a week or so to keep it in good condition for him when he returned to them, however long that took.
Sirikat reached over the car seat to take Sam's hand. "We will find a way."
Sam looked up and gave the younger woman as much comfort as she accepted from her. "You bet we will," she replied confidently. She put the truck in gear and headed home.
Back to SG-1 fanfic index