DISCLAIMER: Stargate SG-1 and its characters belong to MGM, Gekko, Secret Productions etc. No copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILERS: Set after Season 10: Morpheus. Spoilers up to that point.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Teal'c had warned us off the mission the moon designated M4R-449 which he knew as Usaht had an 'unsavory reputation' he said. At first he would say no more but after General Landry badgered him for a while longer he further admitted that it was reputed to be haunted by a kalshek'tak, a stealer of souls once a Goa'uld called Serkhet who had angered the System Lord Isis and been cursed by her, condemned to a living death.
The UAV showed Daniel a set of ruined buildings that he tentatively identified as a temple complex in Graeco-Roman style. We were able to get enough definition on one shot to show a colonnade with about eight columns still standing, another ten or so fallen, lying on their sides in the encroaching undergrowth. Each column seemed to be densely engraved with pictographs. Daniel was so excited we could have probably powered the Stargate off the nervous energy he was putting out. It reminded me of how he was in the early days of the project, before we turned him into just another soldier. He was fascinated with what Teal'c could tell us about the mythology surrounding the place.
The UAV showed me a complex interweaving of power signatures, weak but still very much active. There was both Goa'uld and what looked suspiciously like Ancient technology in the vicinity, something that had once been very powerful. Perhaps a shield generator, perhaps a weapons system. Possibly powered by another ZPM. We had to go and check it out. I hadn't been afraid of the dark since I was two. Carter's didn't believe in ghosts.
Cam wanted to go because it was there and Vala would tag along with us because there was the possibility of picking up a few items, hopefully before Daniel declared them artifacts and yet again denied her the possibility of 'loot'. And neither of them put much credence to ghost stories either. Teal'c didn't look too happy at being outvoted but didn't raise any more objections to the mission.
So, at first light Usaht-time we went through the gate on a two-day mission. Unlike some places we had been to the Gate was within half a klick or so of the structures we were interested in so we were there within ten minutes. It was a temperate day with a light breeze, the birds were singing and this place looked as if it could be a treasure trove.
I had the strangest feeling I had been here before as soon as I saw the ruins from ground level. In my mind's eye somehow I could clearly see how this place had once looked. I had walked this route from the Gate to Isis's temple more than once. I knew that I, Samantha Carter, had never been here before, so I could only assume Jolinar.
Her memories of this place must have been pretty powerful for them to be coming through so strongly to me. And suddenly I was feeling sick to my stomach. Every instinct that I had from her was telling me that something terrible had happened here: was still happening.
This place was the equivalent of the fairytale gingerbread house. The more we looked, the less we saw. The UAV images had over-sold the place. It was the equivalent of the alien face on Mars.
Teal'c and Cam were out walking the perimeter we had set. I checked in with them. All was quiet. Daniel was taking pictures of the fallen columns, 'aided' by Vala. He looked happy enough. I tried to interrogate Jolinar's memory again for something more specific but apart from the sick feeling of dread I got nothing concrete. Then as has happened so often before the memory trace faded away as if it had never been.
Damn her anyway.
I started to work in earnest, tracking down the strongest energy signal. It seemed to be coming from under the floor at the far end of what appeared to be a ceremonial hall. There was the remains of a throne on a dais at the far end, but it was nothing like the 'chair' we had seen in Antarctica. It wasn't the source of the energy readings. In fact, there was no evidence the Ancients had been here beyond wishful thinking.
The floor was a moss-overgrown mosaic that must once have been spectacular. I didn't recognize the myth it was illustrating but no doubt Daniel would be able to tell me all about it later. It might be significant it might be just a really expensive floor.
An hour's fruitless work later led me to the singularly unsatisfactory realization that the power grid I was looking for wasn't under the mosaic it was the mosaic. A significant number of the tesserae were naquada or naquada combined with a series of other elements. Some of them were missing, apparently dug out and scattered across the floor which was why the power levels were just to say ticking over. It was not only a work of considerable beauty; it was a work of genius. And utterly useless to us. I sat back on my heels and considered my options.
My radio clicked twice. It was Cam. "How's it going in there?" he asked.
"A little frustrating," I said. "The power source isn't a ZPM, it's something we've never seen before. And it seems to be an integral part of the structure of the building."
"So it's a bust, then," Cam said. "We'd have to destroy it to claim it."
"Pretty much," I said. "I'll keep looking around just in case the other energy signatures are something we can use. How's it going out there?"
"Quiet as the real quiet," Cam said. "Not much in the way of wildlife though we found evidence of a few old kills birds and what looked like a rabbit so there must be a medium size predator about somewhere. No sign of any recent human activity so Teal'c's relaxed some. I can see Jackson and Vala from where we are, they've moved on to the columns that are still standing. Well, Jackson has. Vala looks as if she's working on her tan."
Neither of us was too worried about our team-mates apparent inattention. We knew that Vala Mal Duran would be up and fighting at a moment's notice should the need arise.
"Okay. I'm going to call Daniel in here to look at a mosaic floor I've found, see if he can tell me what the decoration signifies. Check in again in an hour. Carter out," I said.
I switched frequencies to talk to Daniel. "How's it going with the columns?" I asked.
"Intriguing and very frustrating," he said. I knew how he felt. "We've got most of the visible surfaces on camera. They're in several languages but seem to have been created at the same time and by the same hand. From the bits I've been able to translate, they're a history of some kind, but the order of things is all mixed up "
"So no quick answers, then," I interrupted here. "There's something in here you should see. A mosaic floor. In the main hall. I'm going further in."
"We're almost finished here," Daniel said. "I'll look it over when we're done. Do you need any help, Sam. I could send Vala "
"No, it's fine," I said hurriedly. Vala and I were still finding our feet with each other. She disconcerted me. I don't know that I was ready to spend much time alone in her company just yet. She was still trying to work out what made me tick, which buttons she could press, what she could use with me to her advantage. And I was too much my father's daughter to let just anyone do that. And paying her any kind of attention beyond politeness and what was necessary for the team dynamic seemed disloyal.
The next room was empty of any artifacts or power signatures, but the third room was circular and had a mostly intact skylight and appeared to have been used as some kind of observatory. At the centre of the room was a tall bulbous structure shaped like a flower bud of some kind that appeared to be made of a quartz like substance sitting in a naquada bowl. It was about four feet in diameter and stood about six feet high. The workmanship was incredible, there were no toolmarks that I could see on the surface. Inside there was some kind of flaw, a darker substance at its centre or maybe it was part of the mechanism but the quartz was too opaque to make it out. In appearance and construction it looked a little like the light fountain on P4X-347. The wall surfaces were free of the decoration I had seen in the other rooms and were also apparently mirrored. I say 'apparently' another queer chill ran through me as I didn't appear to have a reflection in any of them though the rest of the room was reflected perfectly.
The sun was almost directly overhead now, shining into the room with almost blinding intensity. I slipped on my shades, blinking back tears and went to examine the mirrors. As with the floor in the other room there was a faint power signature running through everything. The mirrored surfaces seemed to be acting as solar collectors of some kind as the power levels were slowly rising.
Something was happening with the central structure. I heard a noise that sounded like glass breaking a long way away. The surface of the crystalline structure was changing, showing moiré patterns, darker then lighter. For a second it seemed as if a face was staring out at me, a hand pressed against the crystal, energy flaring out from the fingertip pressure points like kirillian photography. I couldn't move And then it was gone and I didn't know what I'd seen.
The sun went behind a cloud, the radiance faded. I blinked. And moved. Back, away from the crystal. My heart was beating so fast. For a second it was as if
The dark sweet lethargy stealing my strength, my senses. I tried to tell them as they lifted me into the isolation pod. If we slept, we died, the parasite would kill us. They closed the lid over me and I knew I knew they were putting me in my grave. But I wasn't dead I wasn't I
Was that what this was? A tomb? Or a prison the power levels were they enough to keep someone alive, and for how long. Centuries, millennia later, was Serkhet still being punished by Isis for her failure to find to discover Tantalising, the answer was on the tip of my tongue but the memory was stubborn.
"Sam?" Daniel's voice came from one of the other rooms. Although I didn't need an excuse, I was so glad to get out of that room.
Daniel was in the great hall, staring at the mosaic. "My god there was a dig in Turkey about eight years ago an emergency excavation before a whole complex was lost under a dam project. They discovered a Roman villa with the most exquisite mosaics I've ever seen until now."
"Do you recognize what it's depicting?" I asked. We were looking at this temple as it had been in its prime, the throne at the end of the room burnished dull gold, the female figure on it exotic and beautiful. She looked Egyptian, probably from the same stock as the Abydonians had been. Isis. And her court, arrayed in gold and purple, iridescent blues and greens going about their daily business of adoring their mistress, their goddess. Most of them dark skinned like Isis's host body. Except for one to the side, looking out of the mosaic, her obvious youth belying her white braided hair, dressed in cloth of gold, her eyes opal-pale, ivory skinned, slender and fox-faced. There was no way I should know her name but I did. We were looking at Serkhet herself.
Daniel walked around the edge of the mosaic, his lips pursed, eyes narrowed. "Not immediately," he said at last. "Given what we've seen already and given Isis's connection with this place and the use of the lotus as motif I would say it depicts her court but I'd have to cross-reference it with other images. It could be purely allegorical each element here because it has a personal meaning to whoever it was created for rather than depicting a particular story. Without the proper referents, we might never make head nor tail of it." He raised his digital camera and began to take images and then paused. "Or it could just be a depiction: a day in the life of Isis's court fascinating either way. And beautiful."
"Yes," I said. Daniel was in his happy place. "I'll continue investigating the other rooms, then." Daniel made a non-committal noise, intently snapping away at the mosaic. I don't think he heard me.
In truth there wasn't much to see in the other four rooms that made up this building, a jumble of rusted metal and very degraded plastic-like material that split and crumbled at my touch. The ceiling had collapsed in one room and didn't look particularly safe in another one. The power signatures I could trace were residual only, stand-by patterns, echoes of what once had been. There was nothing here I recognized, nothing I could use and certainly nothing that seemed worth the bother of hauling it back through the gate to investigate further. Like everything else here, all style, no substance. All too soon I was back in the solar.
There was a strange smell in the air not ozone, which I was half expecting given the electrical activity earlier. I could almost taste it like soda that had been left overnight, slightly metallic tasting, warm and sickly sweet. Every time the sun came out from behind the clouds for more than a few seconds the power levels in the room started to build but always fell back before they reached a critical point.
I was no nearer figuring out the purpose of the room. There were no obvious control panels, no writing or hieroglyphs, just the squat bulbous flowershaped crystal in the centre of the mirrored room. And I still couldn't figure out why 'I' wasn't reflected in the room. Unless they were more examples of the quantum mirror we had discovered on P3R-233. I sternly reminded myself under no circumstances to touch the mirrored surfaces directly. My counterparts might have the yen to travel through these things, but not me. There were many many things I would like to change about my reality, but plenty of other things that I liked just the way they were, thank you very much.
Perhaps this power source was supposed to connect differing realities the quantum mechanics of that made my head buzz and my skin tingle. The sun was out from behind the cloud cover, the device powering up in response. There was that faint sound of glass breaking again
"Sam?" Daniel was standing in the doorway.
The light was getting brighter, the crystal in the centre darker. The failsafe if that was what it was was not cutting in. I could clearly make out the shape inside the crystal now, foetal, head turned staring at me, hand reaching out reaching out before the surrounding light grew blinding
"Daniel! Get out of here!" I screamed. "Run!" He disappeared I tried to follow him but it was as if I was a fly trapped in amber. Everything happened in slow motion, the air too bright, too heavy, crushing me everything slowing slowing until without warning everything flipped into darkness and I was moving so fast now, flying helplessly through the air as the silent explosion sent me crashing through the doorway and into the wall of the corridor. The tinkling glass sound turned into the sound of malicious laughter as everything spiraled away from me.
"I don't think we should try to move her " Daniel sounded worried.
"Then I will return to the SGC and bring a medical team here," Teal'c's voice was unmistakable. The pain when I tried to lift my head was incredible. Another damn concussion. Janet ah, hell.
Some things still hurt more than any injury.
"Carter stay still. Teal'c's gonna head back to the SGC, bring through a medic to have a look at you."
"I'm fine," I said groggily. I could taste blood which was never a good sign. "Just give me a minute and then " I still hadn't opened my eyes. Either that or I was blind.
"You hit the wall hard enough to put a dent in it," Vala said. "I really wouldn't move." I heard the catch in her breathing, a soft snort of amusement as I tried again to sit up and managed to open my eyes long enough to glare at her. Not blind then always a bonus. Vala smirked back at me but I could see the concern on her face. I had obviously looked better. With her on one side and Cam on the other I managed to sit up, resting my back gingerly against the wall. All my senses were coming back on line. I could distinctly smell something burning. It smelt almost like insulation. My head was pounding and my back and ribs had seen better days but it didn't hurt too badly to breathe. I might yet make it out of here under my own steam. Vala pressed a folded up towel into my hand. I looked at it, then her in confusion. With another sigh, she lifted my arm and pressed the towel and my hand against the left side of my head. The sticky wetness on my neck and shirt took on new significance. I was bleeding heavily.
Daniel ducked out of the solar followed by Teal'c. "I thought we weren't moving her."
"I'm fine, Daniel," I croaked. The taste of blood, vile as always, seemed to be getting stronger. Okay, so I might be bleeding internally. I didn't live with a medical doctor for nearly four years without learning something. "How bad is the damage in there?"
"The crystal thing is broken right across, split in two. It looks as if it might have been hollow inside," he said.
"The space inside bears the distinct impression of a human body," Teal'c said. "As if someone had been entombed in the crystal. Perhaps the old legends about this place had some basis of truth after all." Roughly translated that meant if you'd listened to me in the first place, none of this would have happened.
"Well, there's no sign of the body now," Daniel said.
A particularly vicious twinge of pain made me close my eyes again. Given the Goa'uld's usual methods whoever it was had probably been alive when this was done to them
She held herself proudly as Darh'k, First Prime to Isis beckoned those holding her to bring her forward. Serkhet had always been aware of the impact of her presence, the unusual beauty of her host body. An albino, rare indeed, prized and feared in equal part. Her mistress, Isis sat on her throne, feigning boredom with the whole affair. I watched as Serkhet who only a few short days before had been Isis's most trusted ally was forced to her knees in the crucible. The lashes that marred the pale skin of her back and shoulders were already starting to close. Serkhet's intricate braids swept the floor as she was forced to bow low, almost foetal. Isis raised one languid hand to her mouth as if masking a yawn, then her eyes closed and her long fingers activated the controls on her hand device. The crucible began to glow. A force-shield activated around Serkhet's foetal body, holding her in place as the crystal began to flower around her, the terrible irony of the lotus blossom forming in front of us, the death in life that Serkhet was condemned to for her failure to find the traitors, the Tok'ra...
She was brave until the last. Then her strength of will deserted her and she screamed, her body twisting so that her face and hand pressed against the crystal that entombed her imprisoning her in a living death for eternity.
'Tok'ra bitch! I see you now '
I jerked painfully upright, dislodging myself out of Jolinar's memory, the vicious whisper echoing in my head. "Did did you hear that?" I whispered.
"Hear what?" Vala asked. Painfully, I turned my head and at the edge of my vision I saw a fox-face bone white with pale grey eyes fade back into the solar. It was her. Serkhet .
"Teal'c's gone back to the SGC to get a medic," Cam said. "Hang on, Carter."
"Serkhet she's here, we released her when the power went full on " My scientist mind reasserted itself. "I still don't understand how that happened the circuit was disrupted, the mosaic was damaged " I wasn't too far gone to miss the looks exchanged between Daniel and Vala. "What did you do to the mosaic?"
"I was bored " Vala began. "Daniel said it would be all right."
"She put the missing tiles back into the pattern," Daniel said. "I honestly didn't think "
"It's all right," I heard myself say. "You couldn't have known." A painful cough welled up from deep inside my chest, my throat suddenly felt thick, choking. Something warm and wet filled my mouth, spilled over my lips.
"We have to get her back, right now " Cam said urgently. "We can't afford to wait for Teal'c and the medical team. She's busted up inside somewhere." Vala tried to wipe away the blood, her face close to mine. Then it morphed into Serkhet again. With a sly smile, she leant forward and pressed her lips to mine, filling her mouth with my blood. I tried to struggle, pushing her away. Vala landed on her bottom, swore at me. Cam held my arms. "Carter you've got to hold it together, just a little longer."
Everything was strobing. Freeze frames flickered. Serkhet dancing. Her sinuous arms weaving patterns in the air, her long fingers tipped with gold. I knew those fingernails would be razor sharp. I knew she knew how to use them, her lovers bearing the scars, her particular mark of affection. Once I had born them myself Lynx eyes the colour of water flickered over me.
'Tok'ra bitch. I died for you.'
Daniel and Cam lifted me between them, carried me out into the open air. The sun was setting, the shadows lengthening. Vala walked next to me but sometimes she was Serkhet and I tried not to be afraid. I flinched as long gold fingernails reached out to stroke down my cheek but then it was Vala and she looked hurt that I had rejected her touch.
We dialed home, the medical team meeting us on the ramp. Dr Lam's hand on my pulse, shouting instructions to her team the lights above me dizzying as we raced down the corridor. Serkhet had followed us home but blood choked me when I tried to let them know we had been infiltrated. She smiled in triumph as darkness claimed me, and her teeth, her teeth were rimed with blood.
Tok'ra. Death is sweet, don't fight. Join me. Join her.
Today I go home. The residual effects of the concussion are manageable. I've been here before after all. The ribs are healing nicely and there were no complications from the internal injuries to my lungs which caused the hemorrhage that nearly killed me and scared everyone else to dea you know what I mean.
I've experienced the aftermath of concussion-induced hallucinations before, when I was on the Prometheus. I don't need to talk to anyone about what I thought I saw what I believed.
There wasn't much left when Teal'c and Cam went back to retrieve our gear. The explosion must have structurally weakened the building and it had collapsed in on itself. Daniel's been working on the translations from the pillars but he doesn't think there is going to be anything useful there certainly nothing that will help us against the Ori.
I know the effects of my injuries are going to take time to disappear. So when I look in the mirror and see a fox-faced girl with pale grey eyes and bone white skin just for a moment, I don't scream or flinch. No one would ever know there was anything wrong. And when I stiffly extricate myself from Cam's truck (I'm not allowed to drive myself for a while yet) and look up at my house and see her face in the window looking down on me I know it's just my mind playing one last trick. There are no such thing as ghosts after all.
But I must have slipped up then, something in my expression that Cam caught. "You okay?" he asked. "You look like you saw "
"A ghost?" I finish his sentence with a smile. "Nah. No such thing." I tell myself that it isn't her laughter I hear, just the wind in the trees.
Return to Stargate Fiction
Return to Main Page