Exploration of a Past.
“You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both.” --John Ruskin; ‘On Art and Life.’
The young man lay face-down, his arms and legs securely bound to the medical bed, as was his torso. There was a hole for the face to poke through -- and one could not keep from remembering when Kawalski was in just such a bed -- and the glimmer in his eyes bespoke the fact that he was not in control of himself.
“How many are you?” Sam heard her grandfather asking.
“One,” said the young Jacob Carter -- or rather, Jacob spoke the word that his alien controller instructed him to say. His voice was not the deepened tones of the Goa’uld and Tok’ra, simply a version of his own voice that was different, no question there.
General Jack O’Neill fast-forwarded the tape past the electroshocks and repeated answers.
“What do you want?” grandpa Carter asked.
Jacob looked right into the camera and said “Peace.”
Jack turned the tape off, then the TV likewise, and swiveled his chair around to face SG-1. “Questions?”
“The Goa’uld have several words for peace,” Teal’c said. “One of which is purely a curse and has no bearing to a lack of war.”
“Where did you get this?” Sam asked.
“It came to light,” Jack said. “Now that I’m head of planetary security, things like this cross my desk every now and then.”
“So what exactly do you need?” Landry asked.
“Us,” Sam said.
“Makes sense,” Cameron agreed. “Why else come all the way down here, when you’ve got a small fleet at your disposal?”
“He has a point,” Daniel said.
“There’s one more thing you need to know,” Jack said. What he said next, he said only because these were his friends, the people he could trust with his life. “The Goa’uld.”
“What about them?”
“Okay, not the Goa’uld in general. Baal, specifically.” He paused for a moment while they processed that before continuing. “He turned himself in, and handed the Trust over to me.”
“Why would he do that?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, what does he get out of it?” Daniel asked.
Turning on the TV again., Jack placed a second tape in the VCR, Jack pressed Play.
Baal appeared on the screen. “Your astronomers have learned that there are stars which roam the galaxy on no fixed path.”
“Your point?” Jack asked.
“I have been informed that one of my observatories has detected a space station, one dating to the era of Peace domination.”
“When’d this information come in?”
“There a Stargate in the area?”
“Inside the station?”
“Only if the Ancients were successful in breaching it.”
He fast-forwarded a bit before stopping once again.
“You’re telling me where to find alien technology. Why?”
“You may use it or destroy it,” Baal said.
“And you didn’t answer my question.”
“I seek to retire on this world. My previous bargaining collapsed; I trust this is a more appetizing offer.”
“It got my attention,” was all Jack would concede. Then, and you could almost bet that Jack had leaned forwards a little, curious, “What were the Peace?”
“Poor socializers,” Baal said. “They found early Goa’ulds and shaped us into what we are today.”
“Need to double-check my Christmas list. What happened to them?”
“Shortly before we became true Goa’uld, we exterminated them.”
“Oh, there’s gratitude.”
“They gave us genetic memory. Prior to that, their rule was long, each of us was forgetable; after, no more.”
You could hear the hypothesis forming even before he said it: “So this station you’re giving up, it’s one that you guys missed...however long ago.”
O’Neill hit the Stop button, and turned off the VCR and TV. “We leave as soon as possible,” Jack said, standing up. “Dismissed.”
“Wait, sir --” Sam said. Jack waited, listening to her. “What address do we enter into the computers?”
“Baal gave several, Colonel,” Jack said. “Some of them are based on the assumption that there’s been a ‘gate put in that station, and the rest assume we need to ‘gate to a nearby world and fly the rest of the way.”
“Baal’s giving us ships too?” Mitchell asked.
“He said that whatever we need, is ours. Mi casa e su casa he said.”
“This is unreal,” Daniel said.
“Not really. He knows I’m the one person able to have his citizenship terminated -- and that’s what’s gonna happen if anything happens to me on this trip.”
“You’re going?” Sam asked.
“Of course. Sitting behind a desk all day, just not good for the knee, you understand.” Sparing a grin, he continued. “Nothing personal.”
“Oh I know,” Landry said. “I figured that’s why you brought your own chair for this meeting.”
“Yep,” grinning widely.
THREE HOURS LATER:
SG-1 and Jack stepped through the Stargate, arriving in the gateroom aboard the station. “Yep, the Ancients definitely got here too,” he said. “Lets hope they didn’t raid the cupboard til its bare. Can’t say I think much of the decor,” sparing a look at the triangular room, each wall fifteen long feet of pasty turquoise, more watery-blue by the floor, and more dingy-green near the ceiling.
When the wormhole disengaged, everyone noticed that the walls gave off their own faint light. As did the ceiling and the floor. “I’m going to go out on a limb here,” Jack said, “and say these folks never bothered with inventing nightlights.”
“Maybe they were nocturnal,” Daniel suggested.
“Or their hosts were.”
“The early Goa’uld?”
“No, the Peace,” Jack said. “They’d grab onto your back, shove a nerve cluster into your spine, and, well, you saw the tape.”
Silence fell as they digested that. Hopefully something this old could be used against the Ori in some way.
As Sam walked towards one corner, the walls shifted, the corner becoming the entryway to another room. Peering into it, “Another triangle,” Sam said. Shaking his head a little, O’Neill wondering if that was a design principle the Peace were big on.
This second room had less than half the floorspace of the Stargate room. Big and little triangles. I just hope they didn’t go overboard with that theme.
Jack wasn’t the only one to note that, It wasn’t much of a doorway; so either the pre-Goa’uld had considerably a thinner host species, or the door mechanisms weren’t fully functional after...”Got a question. How long’s this place been sitting pretty?”
“Seventy million years,” Jack said. “Maybe eighty. It isn’t like the Goa’uld cared much about how long they were dormant.”
“Many Goa’uld,” Teal’c said, “in the mythologies they teach to their Jaffa and humans, make mention of a great sleep. They typically claim it to have been an earlier cycle or creation of the universe than this one.”
“Makes sense,” Mitchell said.
“How’s that?” Sam asked.
“Would the Ancients have put their genes in other species -- and ensured that only their genes could work their technology -- if there were Goa’uld running around at the time?”
“I sure hope not,” Jack said. It suggested things about the Ancients he’d rather save for when he was securely back in his office.
As this second room opened its wall-corner to lead to a third room, “Sir,” Sam said, “about the Peace...if the Goa’uld wiped them out, how is it that that other tape...that it shows...?”
“A lone capsule survived,” Jack said, running one hand along the joining of two walls, trying to find a gap or a latch or something. “A capsule whose content knew it was the last of its kind.” The walls kept still.
“With respect, how could it know -?”
“Same way we’re sure there aren’t any Eurondans left,” Jack said firmly.
Sam stepped towards the wall, one arm in front of her --
And the walls turned, becoming a doorway.
If the doors ever closed, they realized, the mission would be kaput. This place had the potential to be the most nightmarish maze, but fortunately the computers controlling the walls were cooperating. And that was a good thing: compasses were useless here: each room had a different magnetic north. Progress was therefore a matter of letting Sam lead the way -- she didn’t know what route to take, but the walls seemed to sense the traces left in her by Jolinar, and thus far, had not led Sam astray. It was the only explanation they could come up with since no one were able to open up a clear passage except her.
Those same walls didn’t budge, didn’t so much as twitch, when Teal’c tried to open them.
While most of her attention was focused on the here-and-now, keeping on the lookout for traps and other surprises, part of Sam’s mind was a little concerned. A concern that sprang from wormhole physics: that the back-and-forth motion of a wormhole opening destroyed all matter which was in its path. Yet there was one exception they’d known of for years now: on Nyan’s world, the rock wall gave no evidence of the ‘kawoosh’ as the motion was informally known -- not a single wormhole-made groove or etching in that rock.
And now, now there were two examples: Nyan’s rocks, and this space station. Boy could we’ve used this sort of material back when the X-302 and X-303 were on the drawing boards. Even just knowing that it existed, that something like this was possible -- that’s a major hurdle right there.
This door opened for her, swinging on itself. Clearly keyed to respond to the presence of a symbiote...or the remains of one.
They entered the room warily -- “Sir!” to O’Neill, asking that he too see this. It looked like it belonged in a big-budget sci-fi movie. You almost expect George Lucas to say ‘cut.’ Holograms shimmered throughout the room, some immediately over stone-red panels, others simply in mid-air and affixed to no particular point.
And it was the same size as the Stargate room.
“Whoa,” Daniel said.
“Cool,” Cameron said.
“Quite ornate,” Teal’c said.
Jack shrugged when he saw it. “Okay,” he said at last. “Let’s see whats here.”
“Anything in particular?” Mitchell asked casually.
Sam had the same thought as Daniel: that no member of SG-1 would’ve questioned Jack -- and, just as fast, realized that this was a very real blinder. If we learned nothing else from his undercover stint post-Edora... “General?” she asked, backing Cameron’s position.
Teal’c stood there, blocking the door, waiting patiently.
Jack nodded, conceeding. “Baal suggested -- more by hints than outright saying-so, that if this place hasn’t been looted, it’d have weapons and specimens -- and we’re welcome to take what we like.”
“Yeah. Representatives of Peace host and proto-Goa’uld host species.” Looking around, “If they’re here, we’ll offer them a new life.”
“One in which they will no longer risk becoming hosts.” Teal’c said.
Nodding, Sam went over to one of the consoles, uneasily noting the shape of the seats -- rising from the floor. They looked like a pair of parrot perches or human armrests. Sighing, bite the bullet, Sam, she told herself; and sat down -- briefly startled, and glad, when the seat molded itself to her. The entire chair didn’t morph into an SGC-style chair -- just a relaxing of the topmost section.
FIVE MINUTES LATER:
Looking at the holographic diagram, Sam said “According to this, since we arrived, the star’s expanded to encompass the entire station.”
“I’m not even warm,” Jack said.
“Good plating, I’d guess,” she said, having not found anything on the hologram that resembled a force shield. “It also means we can’t leave just yet, sir.”
“Either this is an abnormal star, sir, or somebody polluted it. If we open a wormhole between here and anywhere, it’ll carry the pollutant through the atmospheres of several human-inhabited worlds and their suns.”
“Yes sir. Exactly like it.” Only with no Asgard to come to the rescue, she thought to herself.
“So we drive it out,” Jack said.
“The station. We drive it out of the star.”
I suppose we can try...if I can figure out where the steering is on this, Sam thought to herself.
Or, Sam thought, the star’s corona was already nestled around this station: you don’t need protective camoflage when you’re so well-protected. Thus far, she hadn’t been able to get the holograms to display animations or videos -- so the question would have to stay unanswered a while longer.
“Problem?” Jack asked after Sam had been looking at the see-through skematic -- not pressing through anything, just looking. Hope she hasn’t gone numb. “Carter?”
“Just trying to figure it out,” she said, slumping slightly, her chair compensating.
“What, it’s a space station.”
“Exactly. So how did it get here?”
“How would I know?” Jack continued a moment later. “Maybe they built it here, and the sun expanded afterwards.”
“Considered that, and it can’t do that.”
“Once a sun starts expanding, it can’t live as long as this one has.”
“Oh. That could be a problem.”
“Yeah,” she she said, sighing a little. “You know, it may be that I’m going about this all wrong.”
“Yes. I mean, we know not to travel through polluted coronae -- but that’s because we’re used to the restrictions that are part and parcel of the Stargate system. But this place dates to before the ‘gate network.”
“Ergo, different rules?” Jack asked, himself still stitching together the pieces.
Both their radios clicked. “Jack,” Daniel said. “I think you’re going to want to take a look at this.”
“The doors en route to us are still open, sir,” Cameron added. Once Sam had sat down, the walls stayed open letting the other team members explore the station.
“Find something?” Jack asked.
“I’m pretty sure it’s an Ancient,” Daniel said.
“Don’t touch anything until I get there,” Jack said, knowing these guys listened better than Sheppard did -- or at least Teal’c and Mitchell listened on a regular basis.
Patting Sam on her shoulder, “I’ll be back.” The holograms all through the room flickered, their lines in a new color, then just as swiftly returned to normal.
Now alone in the room, Sam hoped she didn’t have to try thinking like a parasite. From the dossier Jack had brought to the SGC, Sam knew that the Peace were even more parasitic than the Goa’uld -- the Goa’uld could at least attempt physical symbiosis.
When Jack entered the room that the open doorways led to, he saw the guys standing around the frozen Ancient, pointedly not touching anything. But it was the frozen body that caught his attention -- just like after he’d fired the drones and gone into that closet-chamber, the very air around him had crystalized. This sap had gotten crystallized half-lying down, in the middle of the triangle room; and something had been entrapped with him: a worm of sorts.
Legs bound to the floor by an adhesive that trailed back -- clear as duct tape -- to the alien worm, the Ancient looked more alarmed than Jack had thought Ancients could possibly get.
In one hand, the Ancient had a device that was clearly a weapon, bearing a strong resemblance to a gun, minus the barrel. The other hand was outstretched, fingers raised and palm aimed at the worm-thing that was perched upon the Ancient’s belly and left leg. All that was missing from the tableau was a Goa’uld hand device, since the part of the worm that the palm aimed at, was caved in, crumpled up.
Unlike the Goa’uld, this worm’s body didn’t even make a pretense of having skeleton. Instead, thick coiled bands of muscle wrapped around unseen innards. Two-pronged mandibles -- side-to-side like a wasp -- hung from the worm’s meager attempt at a face.
Noticing that Mitchell was looking at the thing from a different angle, Jack crouched down and saw the same thing as Mitchell: several sets of mandibles: several sets of mouths, evenly-spaced, from face to tail. On Earth, individual organisms were content with one mouth, even if they had four or six mouthparts to chew up their food; the same held true for the ancestral world of the Goa’uld and a score of other species. “I’d guess things were different back then,” Mitchell said.
Jack nodded. “Looks like,” he said, standing back up, Mitchell doing likewise.
Daniel shook his head. “Can’t think of any references to this in mythology -- either alongside or set against the gods.”
“That’s a bad thing?”
“Well, it would suggest that the Goa’uld didn’t want anybody to know about it...not even as a ‘don’t repeat their mistake’ sort of tale.”
Servitor’s image appeared in the air right in front of Sam -- startling her, and wiping away what she’d been hard at work on.
“Holy Hannah,” Sam said to herself.
The main body was that of a wine goblet -- with crystaline glass replaced with crystalline flesh, tourmaline-toned flesh. The cup part was either mouth or the biggest set of lips she’d ever seen. Rising from one side of the cup, a thick stalk -- though not as thick as the walking base -- was tipped with a pair of crab-claws, and had another pair at the midpoint of that stalk. Tool-user, Sam guessed. Host?
“-Hhnnaah,” it replied, its voice barely more than a series of breaths.
The next minute went by silently. Sam didn’t know that there were sound-dampeners in place throughout the station: it kept her from hearing the gunshots that didn’t dent anything.
Cameron’s voice came over the radio, “Got a problem here,” he said. “How’re you doing?”
“Think I’m finally getting this figured,” Sam said, toggling an image, and -- jackpot, several screens of video appeared. All were simulations enacting different aspects of what the station could do. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing much,” Jack said. “Learn what you can, Carter.”
“Understood,” and continued ignoring the goblet-alien.
Less than two minutes later, Sam clicked her radio. “I think I got it.”
“We’re glad,” Daniel said.
“What’s happening?” she asked, having still not found any internal-security screens.
“Oh, we found a worm earlier, and it woke up.”
“And it throws slime like a skunk,” Cameron said.
“Skunks don’t have slime.” They do have saliva. She remembered that pet well.
“Okay, bad metaphor,” Cameron said, taking it in stride. “But it also rolls and dodges pretty good.” He paused. “Just shot a string of silk at General O’Neill’s gun.”
“What’d you find out?” Jack asked.
“According to this,” Sam said over the radio, “the station had a single active defense.”
“You mean something other than silk-spitting worms?” Jack asked.
“It can turn on its axis, and hurl its star towards whatever’s threatening it.”
“Okay, I’m no astronomer,” Cameron said, “but isn’t the star the one with all the gravity on its side?”
“Normally, yes. But the artificial gravity inside here, its only a fraction of what’s operating on the hull...and that can itself be turned up.”
“But we won’t turn into flapjacks?” Cameron commented.
“Tell me that wasn’t deliberate,” Jack said.
“Didn’t notice the pun until you mentioned it, sir.”
Smiling, Sam said “We’ll be fine -- internal gravity won’t be affected. Its a distant cousin to the artificial gravity used on Goa’uld ships...only without the crystals.” Which makes it that much harder to re-wire...so I’ll hope it doesn’t come to that, and be prepared in case it does, she added silently to herself.
O’Neill considered before giving the order. He knew Sam well enough to know that she wouldn’t ask, but she wouldn’t hesitate to wait for him to say yea or nea. Throwing a star...definitely never did that with the Goa’uld. On the other hand...
Throwing a sun at the Ori, even a big-ass star like this, wouldn’t accomplish anything; Jack was certain of that much. They can make wormholes...and ev’rybody knows that a black hole is just a wormhole cut in half. To Sam, “Do it.”
She nodded. “Engaging spin cycle.” Never thought I’d say those words. Once she’d activated that system, she stood up and headed for her friends, ignoring the messages Servitor was sending her.
Entering the room, Sam kept one eye on the worm, one eye on her destination: her team.
The worm shot a silk at her as it backed up. Sam ducked, and rejoined her team. Gathered in a close group, each body looking in a different direction as Sam strode towards the Stargate. If the gate isn’t where we left it, we’re all in trouble. The worm hesitated, and turned away from them, seeming to be stalking something else now -- and was promptly re-crystalized.
The team and Jack were soon back in the gateroom, Cameron dialing the Alpha Site. Just in case.
As they left -- he walked behind the others. “We’re going to need a bigger ship to handle this,” Jack said to himself, already planning a second recovery operation -- that was, after all, why he had the big office.
Sam, under the night sky of the Alpha Site, thought
to herself, I just hope the sun doesn’t hit anybody.
Author’s note: While I tried to keep my aliens truly alien (which means avoiding anything from Earth prehistory), I wound up borrowing from the modern-day (velvet worms and planateria were the source of the many-mouth) and the Cambrian Explosion (I simply added claws and a second stalk to a cup-shaped critter).
Story assigned to: Rodlox (Rodlox@hotmail.com)
Pairings: Gen or ship
Plot: SG-1 have to find the Stargate through a maze/labyrinth