Author Topic: Chapter 15  (Read 5580 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 15
« on: July 29, 2022, 04:31:12 AM »
"What the hell is this?" Nelson demanded, as Desousa gaped openly. Haley moved past them and looked out through the flap.

Hargrove spread his hands placatingly. "You can relax, Major. The situation is under control." He looked at Haley, who nodded and left. "Keep your voice down, all the same, all right?"

"This is insane." Nelson said harshly. "You've got freakin' symbiotes in jars here! We'd be better off trying to tie up a bear with twine!"

He'd never seen a live symbiote before, but now that Nelson could see them close up, they looked as nightmarish as he'd imagined. Both looked like finned snakes less than a foot in length, each with four mandibles twitching as they swam. Their eyes were like tiny red pinpricks through the glass.

"Do you have any idea how dangerous this is?" Desousa managed. "If one of them got out…"

Hargrove shook his head. "They're not old enough to take a host yet, Captain. Even if they were, that glass is strong enough to hold them."

"Oh, and we can just take your word on that? Just how many Goa'ulds have you wrangled so far, hm?" Nelson threw up his hands and turned away. After a moment, he looked back and continued, a little more quietly. "Where did you get them, anyway?"

"We've been searching Jaffa corpses carefully, during the last few missions. These were the only two to survive their Jaffas' deaths."

"And you just decided to bring them back here??" Something suddenly occurred to Nelson. "Oh, no. When the boss finds out about this, he'll blow a gasket!"

Hargrove hesitated.

"He already knows, doesn't he?" Desousa put in softly.

Hargrove nodded. "The Colonel signed off on the plan three days ago."

"Willingly?"

"I wasn't happy about it at first," Tony admitted as he pushed open the flap and entered with Haley, "but I believe we can safely contain them."

He seemed calm, considering everything, and Nelson found that even more frustrating. "With all due respect, boss, what the hell is going on here?"

"It's part of an extension of the deal we made with the Deuca, Nelson. We're studying their physiology, as well as their gear. Argyros gave us what we needed to safely transport symbiotes, and to keep them alive here in the med tent. He's bringing equipment to analyze them. The deal is, we capture them, they study them, and we all see the results."

Nelson choked back some of the more colorful things he'd been planning to say. "And you didn't think we deserved to know any of this?"

"You didn't need-" Hargrove began, but Tony raised a hand to cut him off.

"The truth is, we couldn't risk the Survivors finding out about them." He looked in the direction of the training yard. "You know how they feel about the Goa'uld. If they found out, they might just up and kill the symbiotes, and we can't learn much from corpses."

Nelson and Desousa exchanged glances. It made some sense, but that didn't help the fact that they'd both been kept in the dark. Nelson was about to ask who else had known, but Desousa spoke first.

"What's our endgame here, sir?"

Tony looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"Hargrove said they're too young to take hosts. We can study them for what, weeks?" He looked at Haley, who nodded. "Ok, then what happens? Do we kill them and dissect them? Do we leave them in those tanks forever? Exactly what rights do they have?" He continued before any of them could respond. "Look, I know what they are. They inherited all the memories of their ancestors, and that's why they're all born powerhungry and without any regard for human life. A leopard can't change its spots, right? But the instant you-" he hesitated. "The instant we brought them here, we became responsible for what happens to them. They aren't just casualties of war anymore; they're now prisoners of war."

"Wait a second," Tony put in. "Weren’t you the one who refused to trust any symbiote- Goa’uld, Tok’ra or otherwise?"

Nelson still remembered the argument between Temens and Desousa back on Earth. It had been only a few months ago, but it felt like a different lifetime entirely.

Desousa shrugged. "Just because I don’t like a Taliban doesn’t mean I’d lock him up and experiment on him. Symbiotes are sentient beings, after all."

There was a long silence.

"He's not wrong." Haley said.

"Wait, you're not planning on putting them in anyone, are you, boss?" Nelson realized. "To learn what they know?"

"I suggested it, but the Colonel vetoed that idea." Hargrove put in.

"The truth is, it's too risky. Even if we could trust anything the Goa'uld said, which we can't, we have no viable way of removing it from its host. Also, it could kill the host instantly if it suspected anything." Tony sighed. "I hear your concerns, both of you. And I agree with most of them. If push comes to shove, we can leave them for the other Goa'uld to find, but for now they'll stay here. We could learn a lot about them, and every bit helps. We do have a deal with the Deuca to uphold, too."

Nelson looked around the room. Everyone seemed to have their minds set except Desousa, who kept his face impassive. "Let me guess. This doesn't leave this room, right?"

Tony nodded, looking grim.

Nelson felt a deep sense of foreboding. "This could blow up in our faces in no time. I hope you know what you're doing, boss."

"So do I."

-.-

Despite extensive wear and tear on its systems, the MALP was still functional, so the Colonel had allowed David to use it on his mission. For his own peace of mind, he'd put the captive symbiote situation on the back burner, at least for the time being. I'll get more information when I get back, he promised himself, maybe get Archie's take on the whole thing. As he rolled the MALP through the shimmering event horizon, Haley, Blake, and a nervous-looking Govis stood around looking at the readout coming up on the laptop. David was impressed at how far Blake had come since their first days on that monsoon-ridden planet. He stood confidently in front of the 'gate, seemingly ready for anything and everything that may come. Haley was a lot more experienced as well, but she'd always been confident, or at least given that impression.

"We've got atmospheric readings, David." Blake waited a moment for the computer to process the incoming data. "It's hot, and dry, as expected. Otherwise, looks safe."

"How can you tell? I don't see any images from the camera."

"We had to remove the camera a few days ago. It's the most delicate part of the MALP, so Tony insisted we use it only on critical missions. Until the Deuca can get us another one, I mean." He shared a smile with Haley. It had become something of a running joke among the Survivors that whatever they needed, they could get from the Deuca. If they were willing to wait a few days, that is. Archie had only responded to this joke with an enigmatic, 'we will see', before continuing his medical duties.

"All right, let's go." David suited actions to words and stepped through, a moment ahead of the others.

He'd expected to have almost all the moisture leave his lungs as soon as he arrived, and to get hit with a blast of hot air. He hadn't expected the dozen or so guys with guns pointed at them.

The 'gate was in a stone hall, with four pillars situated around a DHD in the middle, and the gunmen were using the pillars as cover. Just after the others arrived and the 'gate shut off, one of them shouted some kind of command in a language he didn't understand. With a meaningful glance to the others, David slowly raised his hands, careful to keep them away from his P90. "We don't mean any harm," he called out after the man shouted another command. "We're friends, from Earth."

That got their attention. Whatever language they spoke, they recognized that last word. The speaker nodded at another one, who darted out of the hall. After a few tense moments, he returned with a young bare-chested man with long black braids.

"Cha'hali! Balla nasi tau'ri va!" The young man called out to them, and they slowly lowered their guns, which David noticed were all MP5s.

The young man turned to face them, smiling apologetically. "Please be forgiving them, friends. The chappa'ai opened and one of your machines came through, but we heard nothing from this," he produced a small radio, "so we feared the worst."

David breathed a sigh of relief. He looked at the others, who also lowered their hands. "Uh, no problem. I'm Captain Desousa, SG-14, and these are my friends Blake, Haley and Govis. We didn't know you had a radio, or guns for that matter, or we would have called ahead." He hesitated. "Sorry to startle you."

The young man bowed slightly. "I am Skaara." He gestured out of the stone hall, and walked with them. The guards remained in position around the 'gate, looking relieved.

As they walked through the large structure housing the 'gate, David appraised the young man. "I've heard of you. You're Colonel O'Neill's friend, right?"

Skaara nodded. "Before, we would hear from Onier or Danier at least once a new moon, but there has been no word from them in a long time." He looked sideways at them. "Have you come from their First World, D'susa?"

"I'm sorry, no. It's a long story, Skaara." David shook his head sadly. They all covered their eyes at the sudden glare, leaving the structure.

The sun beat down at them from overhead and as far as the eye could see, vast dunes covered the horizon, just under two setting planets. From his vantage point David could now see the edges of the pyramid they'd left, which had once served as the Supreme System Lord Ra's temple, and personal landing pad for his ship. Even after five years of disrepair, it was still a staggering sight.

David shook his head to clear it. He still had a mission here. "We need to see the Cartouche left behind by Ra. If you can take us there, I can fill you in on the way."

-.-

"You? A drill instructor?" Temens clapped both hands to her mouth to keep from laughing too loudly. "But… you barely made it through Basic in one piece!"

Nelson smiled indulgently. "I know. Turns out, I'm actually good at it. Go figure, right?"

They were sitting in the living room of the Tollan housing unit she'd been provided. It was… sterile and spartan, but then that made sense. It wasn't like she'd had time to pack before coming here. Outside, he could hear a stream flowing down past the window, and the laughter of some kids playing. Something about the sound troubled him, but he couldn't place it.

He wasn't sure how Tony had managed to convince the Tollans to let them visit, but he was grateful for it. Tony and Hargrove had also come with him, presumably to update Colonel Stokes on current events. Several of the Survivors had asked to come along, but Tony had refused. The Tollans were still pretty tentative about the meeting, he'd explained, and he didn't want to risk future visits by bringing in people they'd never met.

"It's harder than you'd think, actually." He continued. "The Byrsa are sticklers for the rules, and look down on anyone who doesn't follow the letter of the law- their law, by the way. The Valei are kind of the opposite; they're big believers in 'might makes right'." Nelson fingered his lip. "When you mix in the Kolasti, who believe that 'inter-tribe conflict' is an abomination, along with a lot of other things, you've got all the ingredients to a training-camp sized powder keg!"

She smiled proudly at him. "And you kept it from going off."

"For now, at least. No one back home has to deal with this; everyone has about the same background in culture there. At least the other cultures we've brought in are more easygoing. Also, ever since we've started doing combat missions together, and 'promoting' a few of the best ones, things have gone a bit smoother."

At Temens' insistence, he gave more details about his work. Meeting Archie, dealing with the infection scare, leading some of his people into the fights they'd seen. It helped him put what he'd seen in that med tent out of his mind. Or at least in a dark corner of it.

She listened to it all, wide-eyed, and prodded him for as much detail as she could. When he finally asked her why, she sighed.

"Sometimes I wish I were out there with you." At his surprised look, she explained. "I made the right decision, I know, but a lot of the SG people here have had trouble fitting in here."

"Why is that?"

She shrugged. "Mostly, it's what we know, I guess. Narim and a few others seem comfortable with us around, but it's easy for most of the Tollans to view us as barbarians, I think. Our technology is primitive, and we're violent, by comparison to them. We don't exactly get asked over for dinner very often, if that makes any sense. The Tollans have the strangest rules, too. Did you know, there's a law against hunting on this planet?"

Nelson thought about it. "Well, it's not like they need to hunt to feed themselves, but don't any of them want to? What about the whole 'man versus nature' thing?"

"Apparently, there were a series of mass extinctions on their previous planet. They're jittery about this one, I guess." She sighed. "I get where they're coming from, too. We aren't their equals, and we don't fit in here. That's why some of us left."

"What?" Nelson leaned forward in his absurdly comfortable chair. "Where did they go?"

"The Tollans are building a few offworld colonies, and the Curia let a few of us go to one of them to help them with the construction. They had to be careful," she added sardonically, "to let only the 'dumbest' of us go. They can't risk us being able to duplicate their technology, if we ever go home. A few went to the Nox homeworld, too, but they didn't last long before coming back here. Apparently, the Nox way of doing things is even more boring than here."

Nelson chuckled, and then immediately thought better of it. "I'm sorry. It's just, I envy you. To be able to sit back and relax for once, not worrying about being attacked, or being called out to attack. I really miss that. It's like I'm still at the SGC, but now I'm always on a mission." He sat in silence for a moment. "The grass is always greener, right?"

She cracked a smile at that, and soon they were both laughing, though neither could say exactly why.

-.-

As he sounded the door chime to the Tollan… 'apartment' for lack of a better word, Hargrove felt slightly curious about how this would go. He'd left the Colonels in their meeting after providing a basic outline for their progress, and had told them he was going to visit an old friend. It was only partially a lie. Friendship wasn't really strong enough to describe what they had. It was more like family by now. Hargrove winced inwardly at the comparison.

The door opened, and Lieutenant Garrett Pierson saluted, stiff-backed. "Sir. Please come in." Though he looked like a wiry little stick of a man, the tow-headed Lieutenant was surprisingly strong. But then, he had a penchant for giving misleading impressions, both with his actions and his appearance. Garrett had been extremely useful during their less… documented activities overseas.

Stepping inside, Hargrove saw the same kind of sparsely decorated, white-walled room he'd met with the Colonels in.

"Can I get you something to drink, sir?"

"Yes, thanks. I love what you've done with the place." Hargrove said wryly, choosing his words carefully.

"Thanks. I just had it cleaned."

That simple interchange was all they needed to say. Hargrove relaxed slightly, now that he knew they weren't being overheard.

He stepped over to Pierson, grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a brief embrace. "How've you been, Garrett?"

"Better, now that I know you're still in one piece, sir. It's been over two months!"

Hargrove grimaced. "I know. I'm sorry I couldn't contact you earlier. I had to make sure Colonel Marcus came up with the idea to visit here on his own. You know how it is." Garrett nodded, looking a little puzzled.

As he surveyed the room carefully, one of Hargrove's concerns voiced itself. "You're sure they don't have ears in here?"

"The Tollans all believe in their- and our- right to privacy." Garrett snorted. "It's like they're just asking to be wiped out. You'd think after the close call with the Goa'uld last year they'd have wised up a bit." He shrugged. "But I checked, just to be sure. We're clean."

"Good. Have you found a target yet?"

"I think so, sir. I still need to confirm some of the criteria you gave me." He paused. "I take it telling the Colonel about this is off the table?"

"Definitely." Hargrove accepted a drink, and sat down near the window. "I considered bringing him in on the plan, but decided against it. He's a remarkable leader: clearheaded, brave, aware of the problems in his command. Still, he has trouble doing what needs to be done sometimes. If he found out, the first thing he'd do is warn the Tollans." He gave Garrett a tight grin. "You know the old saying:"

"The best asset a leader can have is the moral high ground." They recited together. It had been almost a credo for their team, for years before they'd even heard of the SGC. Hearing it spoken aloud again plunged Hargrove into his memories, of missions they'd undertaken together. Missions that were denied even after being deemed successful. His superiors hadn't known some of the things he and his team had done, mostly because they didn't want to. It was easier that way.

They sat quietly for a moment, sipping their lightly flavored Tollan beverages.

Eventually, Garrett broke the silence. "Sir… I'm not sure how to say this, but-"

"Spit it out, Lieutenant."

Garrett took a moment, apparently gathering his thoughts. "Sir, you know I had objections to this assignment when you first gave it to me, but I want you to know that I will carry out my orders. I hope you knew that from the start."

"Of course."

"Good. I just wanted to say, I don't want to stay on the sidelines forever. I want to be out there, with you and the others, sir. Making a difference."

Hargrove injected some hardness into his voice. "You know how important this assignment is, Garrett. It could be the difference between dying out there, and success." He eyed the younger man sternly. "You and I took that oath together, Garrett. You know the stakes, and the odds."

Garrett stiffened. "Yes, sir. I won't let you down. Just… save me a spot out there, would you?"

"You got it." Hargrove smiled tightly at him. "Now, tell me about this target you've almost decided on."

He could see Garrett relaxing slightly as he started going over their details.

-.-

Like most of the other Goa'uld architecture David had seen, the Cartouche chamber was grand, expansive, and pretty much over-the-top. It appeared the Goa'uld penchant for melodrama wasn't limited to just their dress and speech. Skaara had led them inside, and then had to light torches just to see the far side of the room. Goa'uld writing covered the walls, symbols after symbols etched into the stone, and painted in black. It didn't look like a galactic map to David, but then it would be hard to represent the known galaxy on stone tablets, he admitted to himself. Regardless, after gawking at the enormity of it for a moment, Blake and Haley got started on their data retrieval, and Govis followed suit. Skaara watched them for a bit with amusement, and then pulled a torch from one of the sconces and began escorting David around the room.

"Danier found this place a few moons before I was taken. I'm told the tau'ri used to come here often, to learn from the map." He stopped, and peered at David. "Strange that something made by such evil could be so helpful, no?"

"You don't know just how helpful, Skaara. Without this find, the SGC wouldn't even exist. This map gave us a whole galaxy to explore." As Skaara raised his torch to inspect one of the sets of hieroglyphs, David could see a pale vertical scar on the back of his neck between the braids. He wrestled with the question for a moment, before asking it. "What does being a host feel like?"

Skaara froze for a moment, giving him a wide-eyed look.

"I can understand if you don't want to answer." David assured him quickly. He berated himself silently for asking the question so bluntly. "I just wanted to know what to expect, in case…" he trailed off.

"Some of my kin have asked me that," the young man responded softly, "but I couldn't make them understand." He turned a little, his eyes looking far away into his past. Suddenly he looked years older. "I don't know if you can understand, but I will try."

He looked over at the others, apparently making sure they weren't in earshot, but began walking towards the exit anyway and David had to hurry to fall into step beside him. "At first, it was pain. The demon can hurt any part of you, or all of your body at once, and mine would hurt me for days at a time. I remember fearing I would go mad with the pain. Even when it slept, within the sarcophagus, I knew it would soon start again. It was only later, after the demon started to take the pain away, that I began to understand why." Skaara looked at him with haunted eyes, as they stepped up the stairs and out into the shade. The massive statue they'd seen earlier, presumably of Ra, towered over the desert, and the map room had been built underneath and behind it. The five shaggy beasts they'd ridden out here relaxed in its shade.

"The Goa'uld can control the host whenever it wants, you see, but that control wearies them. What they truly want is a host who is broken to their will. One who doesn't need to be told their wishes, and doesn't need to be always under control." Skaara reached out to his mount, who snuffled a bit before nudging him back. "They train their hosts with pain, and the threat of pain. My demon trained me, as surely as we train mastadge to serve our will." The wind picked up for a moment, and the mastadge lumbered off to join the others. "I have never seen beasts of burden in the same way, since."

"That's horrible." The word, all words, seemed inadequate, as David thought about what that must have been like.

Skaara shook his head. "I was lucky, now that I think of it. My demon was young. Too young, really, to be a good trainer." He admitted bitterly. "I was freed, too. Death is the only release for most hosts, and with the sarcophagus, only a brief release at that." He looked back at David. "I was host for less than two years, D'susa, and I will carry the weight of it forever. Only one who has been a host can truly understand."

David had always believed that knowing is always better than not knowing. Even after finding out the terrible danger the Goa'uld posed to Earth, he'd held that view. Now, he had to admit he wasn't so sure anymore.

"There are some Goa'uld who keep a host for so long that they can even become fond of him. In the same way that you or I would favor a pet."

Skaara's voice had lost some of its bitterness, and taken on a reflective tone. David responded, hoping to draw his thoughts further away from what he'd been through. "Did they talk to each other about their hosts?"

"No. The Goa'uld don't trust each other, the ones in power least of all. My demon had memories of older Goa'uld, and how they had lived." He abruptly turned to David. "I don't know why you asked me this, but hear me clearly, tau'ri. I am glad to be free, to be alive, but if I had known, I would have opened my veins before the demon could take me. I would have killed my sister, too, to keep her from that fate. I hope that you are wise enough to do the same for yourself or your friends."
« Last Edit: July 29, 2022, 05:11:54 AM by Daen »