Authors: Sally Malcolm
“No. The Wraith brought us here. Like cattle. My father’s father…” He sucked in a breath. “He found the village. Empty. They…”
Keller was readying a syringe. “Marchal, hold on.”
“Don’t go back,” the villager whispered. “They’re awake now. Don’t go back.”
Keller did her best, but there had never been any real hope. She kept working on Marchal even while Sheppard was piloting the jumper up and out of the ocean, only stopping once they were in the air. Maybe, he thought later, she had wanted his final moments to be in daylight.
At cruising speed it took only minutes to get back to Ceana’s village. Sheppard had expected the little community to be in chaos, the villagers milling in terror. The explosion must have been clearly visible, even through the fog.
There were no panicked crowds to greet him, though. He set the jumper down on an empty beach.
The fog had thickened overnight. A solid wall of it met him as he stepped out the cargo door, the sudden chill harsh in his throat. It felt like a physical weight, oppressive. It deadened sound, halted the air. There was no wind at all now.
Even the sea was silent.
Keller trotted down the ramp to join him. “Where is everyone?”
“Hiding, probably.” He checked the P90, settled his headset more comfortably over his ear. “Look, you’d better stay with Ceana. We’ll find the villagers, try to set up an evacuation plan.”
“John, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” She hugged herself. “Something’s not right here.”
Sheppard couldn’t help but agree. There was something ugly about the silence, something sinister. He turned back, as if to reassure himself that the jumper was still real and solid behind him, and as he did something small and slender darted from it and scampered away into the fog.
“Ceana?” He squinted into the grayness, trying to see which way the child had gone, but she was already out of sight. “Ceana!”
Wright was in the hatchway. “She just ran straight past us.”
Sheppard sighed. “Okay, everybody spread out, full sweep. As soon as you find someone, call in.”
He made his way through empty streets, past dark houses with windows shuttered and doors ajar. After a few minutes he gave up calling Ceana’s name, or shouting for anyone to answer him. There were no replies, not even echoes. The village was lifeless.
Finally, as he emerged from checking Sul Dughan’s lodge, he heard something that was not his own breath or footfalls. High above him, a quiet sobbing.
It took a few minutes for him to find his way to her, up a narrow, rocky path half hidden in the jagged rocks of the cliff face. By then Ceana’s weeping had ceased. She stood quietly now, gazing out to sea, her pale skin and bleached wool shirt making her almost one with the fog.
“You had me worried,” Sheppard gasped, as he drew close. The path had been steep, and the fog was raw and choking. There was a fire in his chest.
“Ceana?” She hadn’t moved at all. Sheppard wondered how close the edge of the cliff was, and froze. “Where’s everyone hiding?”
“They’re not hiding. They’re gone.”
“I don’t understand. Gone where?”
“To the Sea Folk.”
He shook his head. “Ceana, you don’t have to worry about the Sea Folk any more. We blew their ship up. They’re all dead.”
“You stupid man!” She whirled. “The Sea Folk aren’t Wraith! They were here before the Wraith, before the ruins…”
“Kid, listen, that doesn’t make any sense.”
She sighed. “My people came here on that ship. The Wraith brought us, but they crashed. Most of them died. My ancestors killed the rest. When they found the village on this island they thought they finally had a safe place to live…” She turned back to the invisible sea. Sheppard noticed that she had her bone flute clutched in one hand. “I was five when people started vanishing. The Sea King had woken, and he was taking his due.”
It was a legend, a fairy tale, but she was telling him as though it was a truth she’d known all her life. “Dughan said we should feed him a Wraith. He knew how to make the draught, how to bait them, catch them. Chain them in the cave of bones.” She nodded downwards. “There, so nobody would hear them screaming. They heal, you see. The Sea Folk take us quickly, but Wraith last for ages.”
Suddenly, everything made sense to John Sheppard. People going mad under the mutating sky, wandering out into the ocean like Dughan had told him. To explain it, a legend of some carnivorous king beneath the waves. The Elder and his chosen few sailing to the Wraith vessel for their sacrifices, baiting them with children, drugging them with the draught. A cave of bones, carved into flutes for their macabre festival.
The Wraith were not preying on the village. It was the other way around.
He wondered how long a Wraith would survive, chained and roped above the wild waves. Weeks, maybe. Months. The thought sickened him. “Ceana, come with us. We’ll find your people. You don’t have to do this any more.”
She looked back at him, over her shoulder. “I played well, didn’t I?”
Sheppard realized what was going to happen then, and lurched towards her. But she had already taken her final step into the mist, and was gone.
He ran, as hard as he had ever run, down the path, past the dark, silent lodge and into the cove. He ran to the water’s edge, calling her name. Knowing she could not answer.
A hundred feet down onto jagged rocks, into the cold, silent sea. There was no hope. But he waded out anyway. He could not leave her to the ocean.
When he was in up to his knees, he stopped. There was something blocking his way. A shadow, a tall shape in the fog, tattered and dark and as motionless as stone.
A tiny, thin body, pale and broken, was cradled in its arms.
Sheppard stumbled to a halt, brought the P90 up in shaking hands. He had seen this shape before, in the village streets, but this wasn’t a costume. Its limbs were not stilts. The ragged edges of it were not sailcloth. And the blank, terrible mask it wore was not carved and painted wood.
The sight of it stopped the breath in his throat. It took all the strength he had left to speak.
“Give her back.”
The shape moved, then, its awful head tipping slightly towards him; just enough for him to see that, contrary to what he’d first thought, the Sea King wore no mask. Then the fog heaved, churned by the black waves beneath, revealing for the briefest of times that the water beyond it was peppered with dark shapes, as hunched and frayed as the faceless thing before him. And among those forms, something else, something that could, if he chose to believe it, be the heads and shoulders of human beings, two hundred or more, shrinking away into the ocean as they walked, step by slow, unhurried step, away from the beach and into the domain of the Sea Folk.
But Sheppard could not bring himself to believe that. The thought of it was too vile. And besides, when the fog moved again there were no shapes in the water, no bent and tattered shadows extracting their terrible tribute.
There was just the grey mist and the black sea. He was alone, beneath the dreadful, changing sky.
When On Earth
by Sabine C. Bauer
had disengaged, and the Chappa’ai stood inert. This and the fallen were the only things silent in the entire room. Hil’tac, the last of Apophis’s Jaffa who had pursued them lay dead, struck by multiple projectiles from the Tau’ri’s weapons. His comrades who followed had been destroyed by the contraption the Tau’ri referred to as an ‘iris.’ But means notwithstanding, Teal’c was the one who had killed them, and he would have to make his peace with that. Not now, however. Now adjusting to this new world took precedence.
He was accustomed to people keeping their Chappa’ai in all manner of locations — most frequently out in the open for ease of access — but he could truthfully say that he had never in his travels come across an arrangement as peculiar as this. The Tau’ri Chappa’ai sat on a dais constructed of some kind of metal mesh — surely not designed by the Gate Builders — at one side of a square, unadorned, high-ceilinged chamber that was small for its purpose. In fact, it reminded Teal’c of nothing so much as of the inside of a gray box.
Set high in the opposite wall was a wide window, the only one in the room, and behind it Teal’c could see another, darker chamber and people staring down at the mayhem unfolding around the Chappa’ai. A short while ago someone had shouted for ‘medics,’ and he assumed that this referred to the men who soon after had rushed through the doors carrying what he took to be medical paraphernalia. Jaffa had no use for those, of course, but he had frequently witnessed their application.
These medics had taken away the one called Casey, who had sustained serious injuries when covering their escape from Chulak, and were guiding out several other wounded. Major Kawalski, who had guarded Casey until the arrival of the medics, had refused to go with them and now stood staring, seemingly as adrift in this sea of bodies as Teal’c felt. The room was still teeming with people. In fact, more seemed to be arriving constantly to fuss over the refugees, soothe nerves, inspect minor injuries, and issue directions.
O’Neill, Daniel Jackson, and Captain Carter slowly descended the metal walkway. Teal’c followed hesitantly, no longer sure of himself. Despite the number of people milling about, a path cleared almost instantly as refugees and Tau’ri alike attempted to put distance between themselves and the Jaffa. He was familiar with loathing and fear — after all, until this very day he had been in the service of Apophis — but he had never been distrusted. He could have laughed at the irony of it. As First Prime he had been the most trusted of Apophis’s Jaffa when he least deserved that trust. Now, although he was entirely truthful in his allegiance, trust was withheld.
Rankle as it might, he would not question it, Teal’c promised himself. They had a right to be distrustful, and but for one hot-headed, impulsive act — which Master Bra’tac would likely hold up to students to come as an example of how not to arrive at a decision — he had done nothing to inspire confidence in anyone. Not in the snotty-nosed child who stared at him with terror-glazed eyes, not in the old woman who would mutter a quiet curse as soon as she had ducked from his scrutiny. Certainly not in Daniel Jackson who was battling his hatred and not quite succeeding. Perhaps not even in O’Neill.
Beckoned by the short, stout, bald man who had dismissed the team earlier and who seemed to be the leader of the Tau’ri, O’Neill had left the room and presently appeared behind the window in the chamber above. Evidently the Tau’ri leader had desired a more private conference. Just as evidently that conference became heated within a very short span of time. O’Neill’s posture bespoke a man barely controlling his temper. His leader, as was a leader’s prerogative, did not find it necessary to exert such control. Clearly, Tau’ri technology was more advanced than Teal’c had originally surmised; the large transparent pane in the window served to smother the sound of the man’s angry voice even to a Jaffa’s acute hearing.
Teal’c walked over to Hil’tac’s body and picked up the staff weapon. His own weapon he had entrusted to Captain Carter, who had taken it away, but habit forced him to follow tradition, even though he no longer knew why. It was a last gesture of respect to the fallen to secure his weapon and pass it on to his next of kin, but here, among the Tau’ri, there was no one to whom he could possibly pass on this legacy.
As he straightened up, he noticed two black-clad warriors approaching him. For a moment he fooled himself into believing that they might wish to extend their welcome, then he saw the apprehension, as well as the steely will to obey their leaders’ commands in spite of it. Not an offer of friendship then. They were, however, courteous.
“Sir?” the elder ventured. “We have orders to take you to the infirmary.”
“It’s routine,” added his comrade, a little too brightly. “Everyone who’s been off-world has to get a checkup. Alien bugs, you know?”
Indeed, Teal’c did not. Had the Tau’ri had a problem with insect bites while visiting other worlds? And what was an ‘infirmary’? Did he strike these people as so physically feeble that he needed to be brought to a place of that name? He carefully kept his face blank, certain that any admission of ignorance or confusion would produce sneers rather than explanations.
The elder warrior’s reaction seemed to confirm the wisdom of that choice. He leveled a cold stare at the younger man and barked, “Cut the crap, Jenkins!” Then he returned his attention to Teal’c. Almost. His gaze lingered on the staff weapon in Teal’c’s hand. “That’s some kind of gun, isn’t it?”
“It is not.”
“You cut the crap too!” the man snapped. “I’ve seen those other guys who were geared up just like you!” His eyes briefly darted to the place where the other Jaffa had fallen, then continued to scrutinize Teal’c’s armor. They were hard as flint and filled with misgiving. “They shot balls of fire with those sticks!”
Teal’c arrived at another spontaneous decision, as instinctive and potentially ill-advised as the one he had made in Apophis’s dungeon. Tradition would have to change. Or perhaps it merely was time for fresh kinship. He extended his arm, shoving the weapon at the warrior — who took a step back and raised his own gun.
“Do not fear. It is quite safe, unless it is pointed at you,” Teal’c endeavored to reassure the man. “Take it.”
It was the younger warrior, still prone to the rashness and carelessness of youth, who took heart first. Without a moment’s hesitation he lowered his gun and snatched the proffered staff weapon. “Wow,” he whispered. “Cool!” Almost reverently his fingers glided along the shaft, then they encompassed the thickened center portion, tracing its intricate carvings.
“I advise caution,” Teal’c said. “You might —”
He was too late.
The man had inadvertently depressed the trigger. The top of the staff split open to release a menace of blue light. A heartbeat later the charge launched.
Mercifully, the young fool had been pointing the staff back at the Chappa’ai and the scaffold it stood on. Thus, instead of killing or injuring any of the Tau’ri or the refugees from Chulak, the blast merely scorched the railing and sent a glob of molten metal dripping to the floor beneath the site of the main impact. At the same time warning klaxons erupted, replacing the stunned silence in the room with their own kind of mayhem.
“What in the hell is going on down there?” The bellow of a disembodied voice very nearly drowned out the klaxons. Teal’c could not determine where it came from — did the Tau’ri possess a
? — but he recognized it as belonging to the Tau’ri leader.
“Sorry, sir! Jenkins was trying to secure the alien weapon!”
“Could have fooled me, Sergeant! Have you tried to
in securing the weapon? And somebody shut down that goddamn noise!”
“Yessir!” shouted the man — was ‘Sergeant’ his name? — at the same time as the klaxons ceased their wailing. His face had reddened alarmingly, and he yanked the staff weapon from Jenkins’ grasp. “Idiot,” he muttered under his breath, then he glared at Teal’c. “You! Mind telling me the trick?”
“There is no trick,” Teal’c informed him. “But for now, I would advise against touching any of the engravings.”
“No kidding,” muttered Jenkins with a furtive glance in the direction of the window and the squat figure beyond. At last, he frowned at Teal’c. “You got any more of those alien gadgets on you?”
There was the
, of course, but recent events suggested that it might cause more unnecessary upheaval if Teal’c admitted to carrying one. Best perhaps, to keep his own counsel. He very much doubted that the Tau’ri, should they find it on him, would identify the
as anything more consequential than a bauble. And they would likely permit him to keep such a bauble. Who knew when it might be of use?
Schooling his face into a neutral expression, he replied, “I do not.”
“Just as well,” growled Sergeant, and added, “You’ve got to come with us.”
“If you don’t mind,” Jenkins supplied, which earned him another foul stare from his mentor.
Teal’c had yet to decide if it was intentional. He could not be entirely sure, but if it was, the Tau’ri were either far more cunning or far more tedious than he had expected. Like any Jaffa he had learned early on in his training to memorize any route he took. He had attempted to do so, from sheer force of habit, if nothing else, and found he could not.
Sergeant and Jenkins led him through a seemingly endless succession of corridors. Each of those corridors looked identical to the last, gray and unremarkable. Each of them was crossed by other gray and unremarkable corridors, their monotony broken only by sturdy metal doors that had numbers stenciled on them. At one juncture they entered a transportation device that took them upwards and to another set of corridors, equally gray and unremarkable. By that stage Teal’c had given up even on committing to memory the exact sequence of left and right turns they had taken. It was futile to do so without a reliable point of reference.
At last they turned into a short cul-de-sac. At its end a door opened into a large, brightly lit room where the gray monotony was broken by an abundance of white fabric and the colorful displays of various devices whose purpose Teal’c could not begin to fathom. It reminded him of nothing so much as a dormitory at the barracks, except the cots were uncomfortably narrow and too high.
This had to be the place where the medics had brought at least some of the injured. He was unable to see Casey, but he recognized several other faces, including that of a little girl who had an ugly gash on her forehead and had seemed petrified with fright as she watched him come through the Chappa’ai. Now she was seated on one of those tall, narrow cots, and a Tau’ri man shone a tiny light into her mouth. What could he possibly hope to discover in there? And how would it aid in healing an injury to her brow?
Before Teal’c was able to so much as guess an answer to either of these questions, another man approached him and his escort. His garb was similar to that of the person who took care of the little girl. Presumably this indicated that the man worked in this… infirmary?
“Evening, fellows,” he offered cheerfully and, with a nod at Sergeant and Jenkins, added, “How about you guys just get out of the way? Guard the door or something? I’ll take care of him, and get him ready so the doc can have a look at him.”
Jenkins shrugged and cast a questioning glance at Sergeant whose frown suggested that he either disliked the proposal or was considering it with more diligence than warranted. Finally he sniffed. “Sure. Why the hell not? We’ve got his gun, and it’s not like he can get out of here.”
This last piece of information was cause for alarm. For the first time since his arrival, Teal’c consciously registered the fact that he had yet to see a window or a door that did not lead into more windowless spaces — or any sign that there actually was such a thing as open air, wind, rain, and a sky on this world of the Tau’ri.
Was the planet’s surface poisoned? The atmosphere unbreathable?
Teal’c had seen such planets. Some, though inhospitable, had been beautiful — in a lethal fashion. Some even had had inhabitants, burrowing deep underground and huddling in sealed caverns, much as the Tau’ri appeared to do. Unlike the Tau’ri however, those people had borne the telltale signs of poison: skin covered in sores, thin, bleached hair, red-rimmed eyes, any number of indicators betraying that their world would kill them before long. Not so the Tau’ri. They all appeared to be in perfect health — or, as Daniel Jackson’s flawed vision proved, as healthy as anyone could be without a symbiote.
“Alright, pal! It’s you and me!” exclaimed the infirmary worker. He seemed to be unduly thrilled about this. His left eye closed and opened again, which had to be either a nervous tic brought on by excitement or a Tau’ri gesture intended to signal jocularity.
“Indeed it is not,” replied Teal’c, resisting an absurd impulse to mimic the man’s eye-blinking. “It would appear that there is a great number of other people in this room.”
“Trust me to pull the shy one!” The man jovially slapped Teal’c’s shoulder. “Come on, buddy. We’ve got a private room for you.”
“I am not shy. Also, I advise you do not touch me without warning. I am a trained warrior. I may misconstrue your intentions and accidentally harm you.”
“I very much doubt that,” the man replied on a laugh. He was either a fool or supremely confident. “I’m tougher than I look.”
Teal’c very much doubted that. However, he considered it unwise to prove his point; the Tau’ri would almost certainly take exception to it. So he kept silent and waited for what was to come.
What came was something of a surprise.
The man sighed, his shoulders slumped a little, and his demeanor changed markedly. “Okay. I guess the chirpy bedside manner thing doesn’t work for you. So how about we try the straightforward approach?”
“That would be appreciated.”
“Well, that’s something.” He reached out, reconsidered, and let his hand drop. “Right… right. Look, we decided it might be better if we took you to a private room. Folks here” — his arm described a sweeping circle that encompassed this peculiar room and everyone in it — “well, they’re kinda worried about you.”
“I understand.” Teal’c had surmised as much. If the furtive glances and ducked heads had not been revealing enough, he had heard all he needed to hear. The curtains that were drawn around many of those strange high cots could not stop anxious whispers and angry snarls from floating around the room.
“Mostly about that… snake-thing?” his talkative companion supplied. “The critter you carry in your… womb?”
“We refer to it as a ‘pouch.’”
“My people. The Jaffa.”