A Heavenward Striving
Written for the SG-1 Team Ficathon, responding to nandamai's request for a mission, an argument, and some snark. Thanks to tingler, tripoli8, and troyswann for beta, and especially to cofax7 for replacement of the word "she" above and beyond the call of duty.
Sam liked schedules. Mostly she liked making her own schedules, but given the choice between an order using the word "threeish" and one using the words "1515 hours," she'd take the latter every time. Besides, when you were getting the chance to go through the Gate and meet people who were expecting you for once, it was a bad idea to be late.
So at precisely 1510 hours she found herself in the control room, listening to Colonel O'Neill as he stared up at the MALP feed on the monitors and declared, "Appointments suck." The extremely wet MALP feed was currently showing a dozen or so soggy, well-dressed people clustered together beneath colorful umbrellas. Or anyway, Sam assumed they were well-dressed. For all she knew, they were wearing the planetary equivalent of Metallica T-shirts. The Colonel yanked irritably at the sleeves of his poncho. "You know, some people put their Stargate under a roof. They should look into it."
"There's probably some cultural significance to the public display," Daniel offered. "Religious, maybe. I'll ask."
"I'm just saying, they could put up a tarp or something." The Colonel settled his cap firmly onto his head, then pulled the hood of the poncho up over it, looking vaguely like a tropical Eskimo. "See, this is why I like planets where they haven't developed the clock yet. No appointments. Where's Teal'c?"
The technicians very carefully did not turn around and look at him. "He's waiting for you in the Gateroom," General Hammond finally said. "He's been down there for ten minutes."
They all leaned over to look down into the Gateroom. Teal'c stared back up at them from the foot of the ramp. The Colonel sighed. "I swear to God, used to be I was the gung-ho one in pretty much any crowd." He gestured expansively toward the stairs. "Well, lady and, uh, gentleman? Shall we?"
Sam's stomach had eventually gotten used to wormhole travel, but even now going through the Stargate made a monkey somewhere in the back of her brain gibber like the world was ending, particularly when the change in environment was a big one. Like, oh, say, going from an air-conditioned underground bunker to a steamy courtyard in the middle of what looked and felt like a monsoon. For a moment, she couldn't catch her breath, her throat and lungs absolutely convinced that she'd been tossed into a lake somewhere and would drown if they weren't careful.
They'd come through into a high-walled courtyard, undecorated save for the MALP to one side and the people waiting to greet them. There was one closed door in front of them, and several narrow windows high above; designed for defense, she thought, though what with the rain she couldn't see whether or not there was anyone watching them through the windows in question. Couple of drains, which implied some kind of underground sewer system. No DHD, which was part of what made them hopeful that these folks would have something to offer; either they'd managed to move it, which spoke well of their technical accomplishments, or they had a way to power the Gate well enough that they could manage it by hand-dialing. Both possibilities were... interesting.
Daniel stepped forward first, and was met halfway by a young man dressed in a familiar red uniform. Sam didn't recognize the face, but she knew the outfit, since everyone Daniel had spoken with via MALP while setting up this visit had worn it. Daniel had thought they were military until he'd managed to offend one of them by implying she was a soldier, but she had admitted that she was part of an organization dedicated to protecting and monitoring the Stargate and, most importantly for their purposes, that they were indeed armed. So Sam figured that was close enough to military, though as the Colonel had pointed out, there was a chance that "the Mafia" would be a more accurate translation.
Well, whichever it was, they'd been very interested in learning more about the possibilities for trade with Earth. And they'd allowed Earth's representatives to bring their sidearms, too, which made her feel a little better about walking into someone else's fortress. No P-90s, but oh well. You took what you could get.
Their greeter bowed his head and said something that Sam couldn't hear over the drumming of the rain. Daniel replied, gestured back toward the rest of the team, up toward the sky. The man nodded and indicated the door, and then, to Sam's relief, Daniel turned around and beckoned to them, shouting, "We can take this inside, guys."
The corridor behind the door was just as featureless as the courtyard, plus cramped, but at least it was dry, once the locals had folded their umbrellas and shaken them free of water. One-two-three-four-five-six folks in uniform, including someone who Sam thought was the woman who'd been so offended to be called a soldier, all armed with an unfamiliar but definitely gun-like weapon; three umbrella-carriers, in less fancy attire, probably servants of some kind; and a middle-aged man and woman in the fanciest dress of all, hair braided and adorned, robes wildly embroidered. They were shockingly dry, all things considered--apparently having official umbrella-holders was good for something--but even they hadn't escaped the rain unscathed, and when the man of the pair stepped forward Sam could hear his shoes squishing against the floor. This, she thought a little smugly, was exactly what waterproof boots were for.
The guy who'd spoken to Daniel earlier inclined his head again and said, in a very announcing-arrivals-to-the-ball kind of voice, "You are now within the city of Tynas, and you greet Basinia Urven, brother of Sanat, who is cityblood. As Sanat's guests, you are welcome here."
Assuming the man who'd just stepped forward was Basinia, he didn't say a word, just stared stonefaced at Daniel, who smiled a little nervously in turn. "Thank you. We're very pleased to meet you. I'm Daniel Jackson, I've spoken with some of your people already, and this is our leader, Colonel Jack O'Neill."
The Colonel kept his hands to himself--well, one of them was on his sidearm--but he nodded in a friendly enough manner. "Call me Jack."
Basinia's face broke out into a wide smile, and Sam felt herself relax a little. Smiling was better than no smiling, any day. "Then you may certainly call me Basinia. I'm very sorry for any confusion our little ritual caused. A holdover from the old days, you understand; we certainly don't expect our offworld guests to know the social niceties, but one must observe them oneself, mustn't one?" He stepped to the side and indicated the woman behind him. "This is Halina Yatso, a sister of Peros, who is here to observe, and she does love her niceties. Halina, Jack O'Neill, his son Daniel, and..." He trailed off, expression inquiring.
"Oh, I'm, uh, I'm not Jack's son. That's just a coincidence. This is Major Samantha Carter, and Teal'c. We're all very pleased to meet you as well, Halina."
"You may refer to me as Peros," she said, with no smile at all. "Teal'c, you are Jaffa, but your companions are neither Jaffa nor Goa'uld."
"That is correct," Teal'c said evenly. "I am no longer in the service of the Goa'uld. You have my word that this is so."
Basinia was still smiling, and he reached out to lay an arm across Halina's shoulders, to her obvious displeasure. "Don't worry, Teal'c, we welcome all kinds in the city, so long as they're here in good faith. When it comes to others' conflicts, we are entirely neutral."
"Fantastic," the Colonel said, deadpan.
"Isn't it, though," Basinia said, heartily. "Well, then. We've set aside an apartment for you, which will have, I promise you, a lovely view of the garden once the rain's stopped. Vostel and Ethren will show you the way, and of course you will have guardians from the family at your disposal throughout your stay. You're expected at dinner after the fifth bell, so that should give you a bit of time to settle in; we'll discuss future scheduling then, shall we?"
The Colonel glanced over at Vostel and Ethren, who were young and strapping and looked an awful lot like soldiers, no matter what term they preferred. "We shall." After a brief pause, in which Basinia clearly expected more and the Colonel clearly didn't feel like providing it, he made a shooing motion toward their... escorts. "Shalln't we, gentlemen?"
Frescoes covered the walls of the corridors they were led down, mostly landscapes, images of fruit trees and green river bottoms and livestock in the field. The two guards were quiet, beyond the occasional warning of an uneven step ahead, and the halls were completely empty except for the six of them. Pre-arranged, Sam wondered? Or was it always like this? It was, she supposed, a little early for that kind of question; there was time enough for probing later.
They stepped out briefly into an arcade looking out over a garden courtyard, columns fashioned of stone carved into the shape of herons, each one slightly different in posture or appearance from the last. Fresco gave way to mosaic, and Daniel stopped dead to examine it, peppering Vostel and Ethren with questions about whether there was a narrative, and who was this figure, and that one, and how long ago was that, and, and, and. Vostel seemed to be on board with the idea of explaining the whole thing--he even smiled, shockingly enough--but after the first few exchanges Ethren brought an end to it and led them all through a heavy wooden door into a high-ceilinged suite of rooms.
The Colonel tossed his pack onto the floor and peered out one of the open windows to the courtyard below, sticking out one hand to capture raindrops coming off of the awning above. "Nice," he said. "I'm guessing you guys will be right outside if we need anything?"
Ethren nodded stiffly. "All you have to do is ask, sir."
"Right. Well then, thanks for the nice walk, seems like a lovely room, we'll see you on our way to dinner."
After a brief pause, Ethren turned smartly on his heel and went back out the door, Vostel following in his wake with what might possibly have been an amused glance at Daniel. For his part, Daniel looked like he half wanted to follow them out the door so he could keep quizzing them about the mosaic, but he resisted, joining the Colonel at the window instead. "Nice view," he said, leaning out into the open air.
"Little too high to be a good back door," the Colonel said. "They seem friendly enough, though. Don't suppose we all get bedrooms?"
This last was directed toward Teal'c, who emerged from a side room shaking his head. "We do not. There are two sleeping rooms, each with only one bed. However, they do appear to have indoor plumbing."
"Well, that's something." The Colonel pulled his poncho off, looked around, shrugged, and tossed it onto the polished stone floor. "Carter, you take one, Daniel and I'll bunk in in the other. We got what, a couple hours before dinner? Anyone know if we've gotta dress for this?"
"Sir, as you're well aware, we didn't pack formal dress," Sam said. He got grumpy about getting all fancied up for aliens he'd never met, and so Daniel had taken it on himself to check that they wouldn't be causing mortal offense by showing up in BDUs. Things had gone much more smoothly since that item had made its way onto the first contact checklist.
He frowned at her. "And it's a damn shame, too, don't you think? No dress, then. Our charming personalities will have to be good enough." He flopped down on a fragile-looking fainting couch and started in on the laces of his boots, pausing a couple of times to wipe his hands on the drier parts of his pants. "Thoughts? Opinions? Considerations?"
"Other than 'I'd rather sleep out here on the couch, because at least I know Teal'c doesn't snore?'" Daniel asked, all innocence.
"Yes, Daniel, other than that."
"Their sidearms looked like energy weapons of some kind," Sam offered. "I wasn't familiar with the design, though--Teal'c? Did you recognize them?"
"I did not. I agree that they did not appear to be projectile weapons, however."
The Colonel stretched, wiggling his toes up at the ceiling. "The boss people had swords. Short ones, but they were there. Whaddaya think, ceremonial?"
"Could be," Daniel said, hopping up to sit on the windowsill. "Back on Earth, the Sikhs carry knives as a religious obligation without in any sense rejecting modern technology. And while they wouldn't tell me much over the MALP, I got the impression they hadn't had their Stargate up and running for all that long. It's possible they've jumped ahead quite a bit technology-wise in a relatively short amount of time, which would account for a certain amount of confusion. Also for the lack of air conditioning."
"See, if I lived here air conditioning would be very high on my list, personally," the Colonel said. "All right, maybe rayguns would come first. I didn't see any evidence of how they were controlling the Gate. Carter, you see anything?"
"No, sir. It could just be that they managed to move the DHD and conceal the leads; that wouldn't be all that difficult, and frankly, it doesn't look like they've got the knowledge to manage to put together a dialing computer like ours. Though then we're back around to a Nox situation, which... there's just no way to tell for sure at this point."
"Yeah, well." A delicate silver bowl filled with nuts was on the end table to the Colonel's right; he picked up one of the nuts, stared at it thoughtfully for a moment, then put it back with a sigh. "Topics of conversation for dinner. I'm just gonna go unpack. Don't mind me."
It was still overwhelmingly humid, and hot even with the rain, though the wide, screenless windows let in enough of a breeze to make it bearable. Sam tossed her pack onto the low bed that took up most of her room, tugging idly at the fine netting bundled above it. Mosquito netting, she thought, or anyway something meant to keep out the local insect life, whatever it might be.
A tiny green lizard appeared in the window and froze, flashing a red crest. "Yes," she said kindly, "you're very scary," before taking a step toward it and watching it run headfirst down the wall into the garden. When three bells rang, she was standing in her stocking feet on the bed, looking at the wide, glowing panel overhead. By the time they reached four bells, she'd opened up the panel and resisted the urge to start pulling out the wooden molding that concealed what had to be the power cord. A bell was about fifty minutes; with ten minutes to go she clipped the cover back onto the panel with a sigh, promising herself she could look more later. It just didn't look jury-rigged enough to be a recently homegrown development, somehow, which was interesting. Also, she hadn't yet figured out how to turn it off beyond actually disconnecting the power, which seemed like it would be a useful thing to know.
Colonel O'Neill was a little drowsy-eyed when she came out into the common room, face and hands well-scrubbed, but he sounded alert enough. "Surveillance?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No sir, not that I saw. You?"
"Nothing that looked suspicious." He yawned prodigiously. "I'm telling you, they'd better have something coffee-esque at this dinner. I'm Gatelagged to hell and back. Daniel! Are you done yet? We're gonna have to go soon."
"I'll be done when it's time to go, Jack," Daniel called from the other bedroom.
"Embroidery on the bedspread," the Colonel said with a sigh. "Something about closeups and artificial fibers, or something. I'm just glad I don't let you people bring microscopes as part of the basic kit."
Daniel did appear promptly when Ethren rapped on the door, though he couldn't be dissuaded from bringing along the digital videocamera once Ethren said solemnly that no, that would be fine, the close kin would tell them if they objected but he hadn't been told to forbid it. He got the mosaic on the way out, and no one said a word, though Sam thought she saw Vostel smile a little to himself.
Rather than going back the way they came, they went deeper into the building, winding through more empty halls, down wide flights of stairs, never more than a stone's-throw from the outdoors. The sound of rain, a little gentler now than it had been when they arrived, followed them everywhere they went, and until their escorts began to slow Sam thought the murmur of voices was just more of the same.
There was one last wide archway, with open doors that were both more intricately carved and much lighter than the ones leading to their room above--meant more for privacy than for security, maybe, though there was a guard posted on either side of the entrance. The one on the left nodded a red-capped head; Ethren held out one red-sleeved arm, indicating that SG-1 should stop, and proceeded into the room. A few moments later, there was an almighty boom from inside the room. They all jumped--well, except for Teal'c--which won them an honest smile from Vostel and half-concealed smirks from the other guards. "It's a drum," Vostel said. "You'll be expected after the third strike."
"Thanks for the warning," the Colonel snapped. Vostel just smiled again, and inclined his head slightly. Apparently he had a sense of humor. Normally, Sam thought, the Colonel appreciated that in a person, but startling him was just never a good way to get on his good side.
When the second drumbeat came, Sam didn't jump, just stood there and let it roll through her bones all the way down to the floor. Now that half of her brain didn't think it was a bomb, she could appreciate the sound, the way it echoed through the halls until it disappeared behind the sound of the rain. Daniel had his eyes half-closed, hand suspended in the air like a conductor; soon after she couldn't hear the drum anymore, his hand twitched something that could have been a downbeat, to no effect. He made a disappointed face, then shrugged ruefully when the last drumbeat sounded a couple of seconds later and Vostel motioned them into the room.
It wasn't quite as large a room as she'd expected, wider than it was deep, with only a low wall and a few delicate, curving columns separating it at the far end from yet another garden. No electric light here; the room was lit by flickering lanterns hanging along the walls and in the archways at the far end. Square tables hugged the edges of the rooms, clustering beneath the lanterns, and the center was occupied by some sort of monster tympani, with Basinia standing in front of it. He smiled and came forward, taking the Colonel's hands in both of his. "Colonel Jack O'Neill, of Earth, Sanat bids you welcome and welcome and welcome to our city. You and your people and all your possessions are of Sanat, and any offense to them will be an offense to Sanat, and your blood will be Sanat's blood." His voice shifted then, picked up an amused tinge, though he was still projecting enough for everyone in the room to hear them. "So I would consider it a personal favor if you could refrain from making unpleasant work for me, Jack."
"Not a problem," the Colonel said heartily, shaking Basinia's hands up and down a couple of times.
Basinia clearly wasn't sure quite what to do with that, but he hung on gamely until released, and dropped his voice back to a normal level as conversation began to rise around them. No more ritual, apparently. "You'll be seated at the head table, of course, but there'll be time to mingle with the rest--" he indicated the other tables and the thirty or so people sitting at them--"after dinner. Everyone will certainly be very excited to make your acquaintance."
'Everyone' was interested in them, that was for sure--people turned to watch them pass, in waves of elaborate hairstyles and embroidered robes. Sam felt way, way underdressed, though not as much so as she would have without her zat. The three occupants of the head table stood when they arrived, and Basinia urged each of his guests into a specific chair, tucked close enough together that their elbows almost brushed. Sam ended up next to a woman maybe a decade her senior, with the same dark hair and skin and eyes as the rest of the locals. Her hair was bound up tightly into a bun at the crown of her head, with a profusion of long, thin golden pins secured through it. At the end of each hung a little bauble, a gemstone or a golden charm or a silver bell. The whole effect reminded Sam strongly of one of those sombreros with the fringe that she'd had to wear when Teal'c had insisted they take her to El Porton for her birthday, but the woman seemed friendly enough, and Sam resolved not to be distracted.
Well, to try not to be distracted, anyway. Heck, she was just grateful it wasn't a topless planet, because frankly she'd had her fill of those.
She kind of expected Basinia to go through some new greeting ritual, but he just claimed a serving spoon from the platter in the middle of the table and started to move a selection of unrecognizable foods onto the Colonel's plate, spinning the platter on its rotating base to get access to the full selection. It did smell good, Sam was pleased to realize. Her brain, searching for familiarity, kept trying to convince her it smelled like Indian food even though it really didn't--it was sharper somehow, more green, and without the common undercurrent of curry she was expecting. Basinia served himself before handing off the spoon to the elderly man sitting next to Teal'c; Sam, mildly disappointed that everyone else was apparently going to get served first, turned to her dinner companion. "Hi," she said, with a bright smile. "I'm Sam Carter."
The woman smiled back, flashing crooked teeth and nodding her head enough to make the bells on her head ring. "I am Linat Yatso, sister of Peros. The Peros meant to be here, but after standing in the rain this afternoon, she felt unwell and sent me in her stead. I certainly hope you will not take offense."
"Oh, no! No, of course not. I'm just sorry it was our fault. I hope she'll be all right."
"Believe me, she's lived through much worse. There are people in this room who've been waiting for her to die for years." Linat eyed the serving spoon as it passed into the hands of Daniel's dinner partner, then looked back at Sam, a little embarrassed. "I'm afraid I missed luncheon today, and they always serve the formal dinner so late, to leave time for dress..." She shook her head again, intentionally this time. "Usually I would just have something delivered to the lab, you know, but I didn't have time."
Lab? Well, that was more like it. Sam perked up immediately. "You're a scientist, then?"
Linat's eyes widened. "No, no. I just wish there were time for that. I'm the head developer for the city; I evaluate new technology, establish parameters for use, that kind of thing. That's why Peros asked me to come--I'd have met with you soon in any case."
"Well, we're certainly very interested in hearing about what you have to offer," Sam said, in her brightest, most personable salesperson tone. "For instance, you didn't seem to have a DHD for your Gate."
"I'm sorry, I don't..." Linat frowned. "You mean the console? Stands so high, symbols in a circle, used to select a destination?"
"The console, right. I'm sorry, I go around assuming I can go to other planets and everyone will use the same abbreviations I do."
Bells rang as Linat laughed, nodding. "I can sympathize, believe me. I have to try to explain things to family all of the time, and nine times out of ten they just don't understand a word I'm saying."
"Yes! That drives me nuts," Sam said, lowering her voice, and the look of total agreement on Linat's face made her smile in turn. Yes, she thought, this dinner was going to work out just fine.
Dinner was heavy on the meat and on the spices, though there was one dish of sweet peas in a yellow sauce that Sam went back to for a second and third serving. The locals tore off bits of the tortilla bread they'd all been given and ate tiny bites of each dish without dripping on their robes or even getting a bit of sauce on their fingers, which Sam thought was a near-supernatural feat.
Teal'c was managing it, but then Teal'c would. Daniel and the Colonel weren't, but Daniel was having as good a time as he normally did in these situations and the Colonel got to slip in his cheerful and not-at-all subtle description of what would happen to the city were SG-1 not to check in on time and go home in one piece, so they both seemed happy enough.
Sam was happy too, because Linat was an excellent dinner partner, smart and technically minded and most of all fascinated by all the things Sam said that she didn't understand. She did repeatedly steer the conversation so that Sam was the one giving information, but that was all right; Sam had been doing this for long enough that she wasn't worried she'd let something slip that she shouldn't, and the rules for what not to talk about were very clear. It wasn't as if Sam herself would have done any different if their positions had been reversed, and it was just such a relief to be able to actually feel the friendly for once rather than having to fake it.
There was a short musical performance after dinner--Sam had preferred the food, frankly--and then people began to circulate slowly around the room, moving bit-by-bit toward the head table in what looked like some sort of ancient dining room choreography. The first to approach was actually a little girl, maybe ten, with a fat dachshund in a colorful collar held securely in her arms. Her position at the head of the line was explained when Basinia swept her up into his lap, demanding that everyone comment on the overwhelming beauty of his baby girl. The Colonel got on her permanent good side by complimenting her dog, to Linat's overwhelming amusement. "She does love that dog," she said. "Bought it years ago. Everyone thought she'd lose interest eventually, but no, she just has a thing for dogs. Once she's a bit more grown I expect to see it become a fashion; as it is, everyone's very careful how they deal with dogs around her... oh, look, the pastry's coming out."
Much later, when they'd finally mingled as much as they had to mingle and could politely take their leaves, Linat even hugged her. "Tomorrow morning, then," she said. "I'll be the one in practical clothes."
The next morning, the other three were hauled off to breakfast with Basinia while a new, mumbly guard whose name Sam didn't quite catch escorted her to Linat's lab. It was the only underground room she'd seen so far; between that and the near-fluorescent lighting, Sam felt almost like she was back in Cheyenne Mountain, except for the blocky Tynasian script covering the blackboard at the far end of the room.
Linat seemed much smaller than she had the night before, without the jewelry and robes she'd worn to dinner. Her grace was the same, though--for all her protests, she'd worn her formal dress like a woman born to it, which presumably she had been--and so was her smile, when she hopped down off of a stool and waved the guard back out of the door. "Sam! You're ready to begin? Have you eaten?"
"Well, I had some fruit. But I really--"
"That's not breakfast!" Linat sounded honestly appalled, practically launching herself across the room to summon the guard. Sam tried to protest--she wasn't really much of a breakfast person, she swore, there was no need to go to any trouble--but Linat, indomitable as any Italian grandmother, ignored her. "That should only take a few minutes," she said cheerily. "So! Let's get started."
Presumably they were in a working lab, but if so, it'd been well-cleaned. There was nothing identifiably interesting lying around; just the book Linat plopped down on the bench in front of them, filled with what looked like laser-printed pages in a hand-sewn cover. Linat hesitated, thumb poised to riffle through the pages. "I assume you'll want to start with military applications."
The whole experience was weirdly reminiscent of wedding planning, actually, though Sam enjoyed looking at pretty technology with Linat a lot more than she'd enjoyed looking at centerpieces with the wedding planner on the couch next to her and Jonas looming over her shoulder. Linat flipped through her well-organized book, pointing out technologies they'd developed themselves before they'd opened the Stargate, technologies they'd acquired since and could reproduce, technologies that they couldn't provide themselves but that they could get for SG-1 for the right price.
"So you maintain relations with all of these people, then?"
"Yes," Linat said, tucking a few stray locks of hair back up into her bun. "Via empty worlds, mostly; it's not unusual for us to bring visitors here, though generally we don't allow them to learn the address. You were something of a special case, since you'd found us already. And of course you should understand that this isn't everything," she added, flipping to the page that described, in rather unspecific terms, the weapons that the guards carried on their belts. "We do have to keep in mind the difference between making a profit and making ourselves a target. I'm sure you understand."
"Well, we're... profit isn't really the goal for us," Sam said. Which was true, so long as you stuck to a careful definition of 'us'. "But of course I can see why you'd want to be careful. Actually," she added, cautiously, "I'm a little surprised we're meeting alone as it is. There's usually quite a bit more... um..."
"Politics?" Linat brushed a few muffin crumbs off of the bench and into her hand, then carefully deposited them on the china they'd been brought. "Oh, there will be. But we've been doing this once or twice a year for a good long time. So long as you're allowed to speak with me alone..." She shrugged. "It's all cleared ahead of time, of course. I've already told them you've clearly got enough to offer to make trade worth our while."
Sam thought for a moment, staring at the book in front of them. "I have to admit, it sounds like we've got a much stronger ability to manufacture than you do. Speaking just for myself, and not politically..." Linat nodded, offering a sympathetic smile. "...we may well be more interested in knowledge than equipment here. For instance, the force shield, here." She flipped backwards in the book, feeling a little ridiculous, like she was going to point out some fleece jacket she really liked rather than a piece of immensely powerful alien technology. She couldn't tell for sure, but it certainly sounded like the things they'd run into at Goa'uld installations before, and they'd been trying to figure out a way around those things other than 'blow it up from the inside out' for a couple of years now. "You can't replicate it, but if you could share what you've learned about it..."
"Well..." Linat looked down at her hands, obviously uncomfortable. "I don't think I can help you much there. You have to understand, I don't even have the basic theoretical knowledge to get a grip on any of this." Frustration crept into her voice, and her hands began to move, sketching something in the air too large for her to grasp. "We've had explosions--more than one--destroyed valuable equipment... I had to stop and back up to things I was at least close to understanding. So it sounds like anything that would be new to you..." She shrugged helplessly. "I just haven't been able to get as far as I'd like. As I said last night, mostly I'm evaluating function, rather than investigating the theory, and it's not as if anyone else could."
"It's just you?" Sam asked, surprised. Linat had used the word 'I' a lot, but Sam had assumed she must have a staff, or there was a group dedicated to the pure research she didn't do, or... something.
"Well, I have apprentices. Three of them. But the ones I've got aren't that bright. The bright cityborn I can't have because they're Peros and Sanat won't allow it, or they're Sanat and Peros would throw a fit, and there must be people out there--" she waved her hand toward the unknown land beyond the citadel--"who would pick this all up quickly enough, but of course we can't tell them about all this, and even if it were allowed how do you get someone from thinking it's magic to understanding the principles of hydraulics? It's not like they're educated." She wasn't watching her tongue very well, Sam thought, but then finally getting to talk to someone who would understand could do that. "Even the shield, we've had that for nearly ten years and I've got less than no idea how it works."
Sam leaned forward, thought about putting a hand on Linat's knee, decided that would be too much. "You know, if I could just take a look... we could help each other, maybe."
"What, at the shield? No." Linat shook her head firmly. "We don't touch that. There's only the one, and if it were damaged... No. We might be able to arrange it for something else--"
"I can't speak for Colonel O'Neill," Sam said, cutting her off, "but I think the shield is what we're going to be most interested in here. We've seen the technology before, but never in a context where we could really take a good close look. But I do have a great deal of experience working with this kind of alien technology, and I feel confident that I could at least look without doing any harm."
"I don't think--"
"You could ask, couldn't you? Could that hurt?" Sam smiled as widely as she could, and knew she had her She'd heard the yearning tone in Linat's voice when she talked about having time to finally really learn how these things worked.
A little hesitantly at first, and then more and more confidently, Linat smiled back. "No. No, I don't think that would hurt at all."
After a break for lunch--during which Daniel burbled excitedly about the impact of technology and cross-cultural pollination and something about the founder of the city of Tynas being the son of a woman and a tiger, which Sam had heard enough mythological bestiality stories to know to not listen to too closely--Basinia took them for a brief tour of the area where, as the Colonel put it, the real people lived. "The outskirts," Basinia called it, reserving the word "city" for the citadel they'd already seen.
As it turned out, what had at first seemed like an airy garden retreat really was a citadel as well; to get out they had to pass through a narrow, reinforced gate in a thick stone wall, which looked like some relic of the Stone Age next to the carefully carved and painted halls within. They were preceded and followed by armed guards and more umbrella-bearers and other servants whose purpose was unclear, thirteen in all, which frankly Sam thought was a little excessive. She kept feeling like she was going to trip over someone, though they flowed out of the way every time she came close, well-trained to be present yet invisible.
If Sam had wondered where all the people were during their visit so far, the outskirts of Tynas answered her question. She'd expected some transition, a gracious plaza before the gates, but instead they were thrust straight into a bustling, narrow street. There were a lot of sidelong looks, a few stares, but no movement toward them; the guards each had a hand on their weapon, and the people on the street made way for the group from the city, many flattening one hand to their hearts and respectfully murmuring "Sanat," as they moved aside.
The smell was remarkable. "You, ah... don't have sewers out here, I guess?" Daniel asked Basinia, stepping over a pile of dung.
"Oh, no. Do you have any idea how large the outskirts are? Though some of the minor families have their own systems in their homes, if they're close enough to the river. And we have dung collectors, of course. They must use it for something. Fertilizer, maybe." He sounded distinctly uninterested in the topic, though one of his attendants clicked his fingers at another man, this one carrying a broom. The second man ducked his head, looking a little embarrassed, and hustled forward to clear their path.
They'd been promised a visit to the Grand Temple, where the Tynasian Stargate had rested beneath an altar until Basinia's forebears had dug it up nearly thirty years before. It wasn't very far, a couple of miles maybe, but on foot it took them almost two hours between the crowds and the narrow streets and the occasional stop to look at this architectural feature or that small shop. At one point, they went straight through a market that seemed to lack streets altogether, though flimsy-looking stalls were clustered by topic--here five people selling vegetables, there seven selling animals, some alive in cages, others hanging dead and ready for butchering.
Eventually they reached exactly the kind of plaza Sam had expected to see in front of the citadel, wide and stony and treeless, with a long, low marble building at one end. For a Grand Temple, it was remarkably simple, though certainly big enough to deserve the name. The color that had been everywhere in the rest of the city was completely lacking here; everything was white stone, smoothed by long effort and worn by many feet, though you could see the effect of generations of use in the smoke-stains on the inside walls. Sconces that must have once held candles or oil lamps now cradled electric lights, the first Sam had seen since they'd left the citadel, though there was still one fire burning in a floor-level brazier at the far end of the hall. Other than that, the effect was very much mid-20th-century courthouse, somehow; fluorescents and marble and echoes, since the people who'd been there when they arrived were being swiftly ushered out.
After a decent interval, during which everyone got to toss a flower into the fire and Daniel whipped out the videocamera again to record the extent of the "new" stones laid over the Stargate's old resting place, the Colonel wrangled permission from Basinia to steal a couple of guards and head back to the citadel. Teal'c, lucky man, beat Sam out for the chance to go back with him, on the off chance that there was some other sacred item lurking around the temple that might be, oh, powerful alien technology that only Sam could identify.
Sam didn't think that was very likely, and Daniel's conversation with the priestess--a tiny, round, white-haired woman who'd been there long enough to remember the earthquake that had led to the Stargate's discovery--only made her more convinced that there was no reason for her to be there. She and Daniel and Basinia and the priestess stood behind the fire, since there were no chairs. Daniel and the priestess talked, and Basinia occasionally interjected a question or, more commonly, a statement about some way in which Sanat was really, really fantastic. And it wasn't that the history of the place wasn't interesting, but Sam's fingers were itching to get back to the citadel and Linat and the knowledge that she knew was there. Basinia seemed likable enough, but he was just another one in a long line of powerful men and women--well, okay, men mostly--for whom the Stargate was just one piece in an endless political game, and Sam just wasn't in the mood for hearing why his family was so much better than Linat's. Her conversation with the other woman that morning had been blessedly free of that kind of thing.
In the end, she was saved by fashion. Basinia had dressed down for their little excursion, and since there was to be another formal dinner that night--God, Sam thought, she was going to go home heavier than she'd left for once at this rate--he needed to leave time to change for the event. The afternoon rain had begun since they'd arrived, and so their return trip was done double-time, with attendants splashing along after them with umbrellas, their own hair plastered flat to their heads. Daniel had slowed down for a bit, hoping he and his umbrella-carrier could both stay dry if they squished, but there was just no way; Sam just walked faster, figuring that would get everyone inside as soon as possible.
She'd expected a smart comment from the Colonel as soon as they got in, something about her soaked pants or Daniel hitting on the priestess or who knew what. Instead, she got a pleading look from Teal'c and the finger of righteous indignation from her commanding officer. "I don't like these people," he said, flatly.
"It's not exactly the home of social mobility," Daniel said, "and apparently they're passing off their technology as magic which I don't really approve--"
"They eat dogs," the Colonel interrupted.
Daniel blinked at him. Behind him, Teal'c shifted his gaze toward the window, obviously already tired of this conversation. Sam frowned, squeezing water out of the cuffs of her pants. "What?"
"The market? With the animals? On the way back, we stopped, and they eat dogs. The little sausage ones, like what's her face, Basinia's granddaughter, had. That's why everyone thinks it's so adorable she's got one, it's like someone having a pet chicken."
The Colonel was obviously appalled. Sam, for her part, was battling laughter. Daniel offered, "Well, that's actually not unknown on Earth. For instance, several of the native cultures of the Americas..."
"They eat dogs, Daniel." The finger of righteousness returned. "They are clearly not trustworthy."
"So lying to the general population is fine, but eating puppies is out?" Oh, now Daniel's finger of indignation had appeared too. Fantastic. Sam flopped down onto the couch and eyed Teal'c, who was still stalwartly refusing to get involved. "You've eaten monkey brains, which is much more morally questionable--"
"I ate those monkey brains in the service of my country!" the Colonel nearly shouted. No, he did, he did shout it, and Sam had to bite her cheek her to keep the smile from escaping. Apparently he realized how he sounded too, because he stopped and frowned a little and let the finger drop. "Which is not the point. The point is, I like dogs, and I don't think these people should be eating them, and we are having some serious conversations about what's for dinner tonight. So, Carter. Find anything good at the old temple, there?"
"Afraid not, sir," Sam said. At Daniel's wordless protest, she amended, "Nothing technological, anyway, though I believe Daniel got some useful information out of it. Linat did promise that she would ask if I could take a look at the shield--Teal'c, you should come too, see if you think it's Goa'uld. They've only got the one, so they're not interested in selling, obviously."
"Of course not." The Colonel leaned against an alarmingly fragile-looking end table and massaged his eyebrow with one hand. "That'd be too easy. Well, worth a shot, anyway. You offered to share what you found?"
"Yes sir. Their grasp of basic science is considerably behind our own, so far as I can tell. To hear Linat tell it, politics has held her back quite a bit."
"See, a sensible political system gives you incentives for that kind of shit. At least when it comes to learning how to blow stuff up."
Daniel snorted. Teal'c, who had apparently decided that this conversation was safer ground, essayed an "Indeed," to the Colonel's evident satisfaction.
"I'm all for political theory, sir, but if I could change my pants for dinner before we get into it..." Sam lifted her feet and wiggled them back and forth.
"Yeah, sure," he said. "Daniel, hang on a second. I've gotta talk to you about setting up some new ground rules about identifying dinner ingredients, here."
Sam had hoped to be paired with Linat at dinner again, but apparently Halina--Peros--whatever she wanted to be called, she was feeling better, and so there was a lot of extremely polite conversation about poetry and history and the dangers of cultural degradation instead of more interesting things like engines. They hadn't talked any business at all; Sam had broached the subject of the conversation she'd had with Linat that morning, only to be met with a thin-lipped frown from Peros and a hearty "oh, that's hardly a topic for dinnertime," from Basinia.
Early the next morning, a guard--another new one, though they'd seen Vostel and Ethren again the night before--appeared at their suite asking for Sam. Linat wanted to meet with her again, the young woman explained, it would likely take less than an hour, she'd be back well before the mid-morning meal they were to share with Basinia. The Colonel waved her off good-naturedly, and it wasn't until they went up their second flight of stairs that Sam started to wonder where, exactly, they were going.
"Isn't the lab downstairs?" she asked, pleasantly, watching carefully to see whether her companion was planning to go for her gun.
"I wasn't told to bring you to the lab," the guard replied, ushering her through a door painted in blue and black--the same colors Peros had worn, Sam realized suddenly, and Linat as well, at the banquet that first night. Behind the door was another suite of rooms, reminiscent of the ones SG-1 had been given, but grander, and filled with the scent of what must be breakfast. "Peros maintains her own kitchen," the guard said, unnecessarily. "We have... different tastes, in food, than Sanat. This way, please."
Waiting for her in an interior room, wrapped in a plain blue robe, was Peros. Her hair and face were both unadorned; she looked older this way, smaller, but no less self-assured. "Major Carter," she said. "Please sit. I would offer you food, but we have little time; I hope you can forgive this impropriety."
"Of course," Sam said automatically, taking a seat on a low bench across from Peros' couch. She even pressed her knees together, though it wasn't like she was wearing a skirt; somewhere, she thought, her formidable Carter grandmother would be proud. "I'm sorry, there must be some confusion. I... thought I was going to meet with Linat."
"Yes, that was a lie," Peros said calmly, sipping her tea. "Sanat will tell you at breakfast that you will not be permitted to examine the shield. He is concerned that it could be damaged in the process. However, I think that we can find a way around this difficulty that would benefit us both."
"You think you can change Ba--Sanat's mind?" Sam asked, keeping her expression as bland as possible.
"No." Peros set her cup down on the coffee table. "But Linat is Peros, and we have family among the guardians set on your door. We could arrange for you to gain access to the shield, so long as any information you gathered was shared with us."
"I see," Sam said, mind racing. Peros had made it clear that there was no love lost between her and Basinia--or at least they'd both been acting that way, ever since SG-1 had arrived. So it could be a real offer. Still--"I'd be concerned about betraying Sanat's hospitality were I to do that."
Peros considered this, smiling slightly. "Linat speaks very highly of you," she said. "From her description, I feel sure that you would like very much to see our shield, and that you would not wish to cause her the difficulties that would ensue should Sanat hear of this conversation. No decision is necessary at this moment. Should you decide to follow through, merely speak with me in private, or with Linat." She took a bell from beside the abandoned cup of tea and rang it firmly; the doors behind Sam opened again, and the guard who had brought her here entered. "Tisrat will return you to your rooms. Pleasant day to you, Major."
SG-1 was all tightly scheduled for the day, yet again, with little time set aside for private discussion, so they talked it out in the hour before breakfast, retreating into Sam's room and dropping their voices low enough that they wouldn't be heard outside of the kind of surveillance equipment that would make hoping to hide anything from their hosts pointless anyway.
"It would be a fairly serious breach of Basinia's trust," Daniel said from his seat in the window.
The Colonel looked keenly at Sam. "Nothing else worth seeing, I gather?"
"The shield is by far the most interesting thing Linat showed me. There may be more..." She trailed off, shrugged. "I'm just notifying you that it's an option, sir. We certainly don't have to take her up on it, though I'd prefer we didn't tell Basinia about this. Peros made it clear that doing that would make trouble for Linat."
"Do you believe that you would gain enough knowledge from a brief examination to make the risk worthwhile?" Teal'c asked.
"Well--there's just no way to know ahead of time. Anything that adds to our store of knowledge is valuable, of course, and this would be a whole new area of research--we've never seen the actual generating mechanism for this kind of thing. But would I be able to go home and build one in my garage, no, probably not."
"Cool, though," the Colonel said.
Sam felt herself grin. She didn't want to make trouble, but damn, if she hadn't wanted to get a good look at one of these things for years. "Very cool."
"Then as far as I'm concerned, it's your call, Carter. You say you feel like you know this Linat woman. If you think she's trustworthy, go for it."
"Uh, could we wait a minute, maybe?" Daniel leaned forward, clasping his hands between his knees. "You aren't worried that this might, oh, throw a little bit of a wrench into the negotiations?"
"I think that this is exactly the kind of thing we go through the Gate to find in the first place, and it's not like we're stealing something, here. Open it up, take a look, put the cover back on, no one's the wiser."
"You're just still mad about the dog thing!" Daniel said, incredulous.
"Okay, you of all people are not seriously getting all wound up about the rights of a bunch of people who are keeping their subjects in the Dark Ages for their own convenience. I mean, don't get me wrong, Basinia seems like a nice guy, but give me a break."
Daniel rolled his eyes and turned his attention to Sam. "Do you really think you can trust Peros? She doesn't strike me as the kind of person to do something like this out of a commitment to intellectual freedom."
Sam shook her head. "I'd trust Linat. She doesn't... you've met people like that, haven't you? People you just get, right away?"
The Colonel swung his feet up onto the bed, leaving a streak of dirt on the embroidered coverlet and making Sam flinch. "You're losing ground with me, Carter. Usually when that happens to Daniel, they turn out to be evil."
She took a deep breath, let it out. "All I can give you is my best guess, and my best guess is that Linat is genuinely motivated by, what was it, intellectual freedom? Or at least a real hunger for knowledge."
"She's a geek," the Colonel said.
"Well, what I'm motivated by is visions of pretty force shields all over the SGC dancing through my head. Carter, you have a go. Use your best judgment, and for God's sake don't get caught."
At breakfast, Basinia was polite and charming and absolutely immovable on the subject of examining the shield. So they let it go in favor of doing the talk-about-how-we're-going-to-talk-about-this thing, laying down some ground rules and general areas of interest before SG-1 bailed on them and sent in specialists. It all went remarkably smoothly, enough so that they planned one more blow-out dinner followed by an early morning departure. Linat was there all day, smoothly and blandly professional, but a little bit of eagerness slipped through the mask when Sam pulled her aside during a break.
"You spoke with Peros?" she asked.
Sam kept her voice down and her body language relaxed. "This morning. I'd like to take you up on your offer, if I could."
"Thank you," Linat said quietly, face lighting up. "I can't tell you how grateful I am for the chance to learn something about it. I'll tell Peros, and she'll arrange something for late tonight. Just--don't sleep." She grinned. "I haven't snuck around the city at night since I was a little girl. It should be fun."
God, Sam thought, I hope so.
Sometime after midnight, there was a light knock on the door. It was no surprise to see Tisrat waiting on the other side--she and Ethren had been their escorts back from dinner--though Sam was a little surprised that Ethren was nowhere to be seen. "You're alone?" she asked.
"I have a sister." Tisrat's manner was matter-of-fact, businesslike, not sly at all. "She and Ethren are spending some time together this evening. He's never been as reliable as he seems, that one. Are you coming?"
Sam was used to sneaking through empty hallways, gold-colored ones usually. So it was a little strange not to sneak at all, to walk along like she belonged there, with a local escort at her side. Most of the lights had been turned off for the night, and she could smell the last of the rain coming in from the gardens. The echo of their footsteps worried her, but what could she do but follow Tisrat's lead? After all, they hadn't been told they couldn't leave the room at all, only that they shouldn't do so without a guard. So if they were seen... well, if they were seen, she'd make Tisrat talk fast. Sam had never been very good at undercover.
Once again, they completely failed to head underground toward Linat's lab. Instead, they climbed upward, finally stopping in front of an undistinguished door and a single red-clad guard. "Brother," Tisrat said, and the man stood aside, let Sam pass through to the tiny room beyond.
The door closed behind her--a little nervewracking, but Sam was committed now--and in front of her, Linat sprang up from where she'd been kneeling on the floor, bright-eyed and smiling. "You came! I'm so glad. Here, look, this is the casing, it releases from a latch here..."
Once they got the thing open, it was clearly Goa'uld. Crystals everywhere, a ridiculously tiny naquadah power source tucked away in one corner, and not a single label to help the investigating engineer, damn them. Sam had brought the videocamera, along with a notebook small enough to hide in her pocket, and she sketched rapidly, explaining what she saw and what she knew to Linat as they went. The positions of the crystals would give her some idea how the whole thing worked, at least; they were slowly building a database of function by color, though Sam suspected that there might be some subtle differences involved that were invisible to the purely human eye. Besides, there was internal structure, and the kind of data storage that they knew took place in the DHD crystals--they'd barely even begun to understand how to access that--but this was something. Better than nothing, that was for sure. And Linat knew quite a bit about how the shield worked in practice, not all of which the SGC had managed to figure out from their encounters with it.
"We got this one pre-set," Linat explained. "When it's on, it makes a dome excluding anyone trying to come in through the front gate or the Stargate. They actually moved most of the guardians' quarters out of the area the dome would cover after we got it, since obviously if the shield's brought up we'll need people outside to deal with the problem. That's only happened, twice, though. Problems in the outskirts, both times. See, you can trigger it from the room where we keep the console--sorry, DHD, yes?--or from the front gate, or from Sanat's chambers, or from here." She stood up and pressed an orange panel on top of the casing, bringing the equipment to life.
Light seemed to ooze into the crystals, making Sam squint. "Um, should we be turning it on right now?" she asked. "We don't want anyone to know we're here."
"Oh, of course. Don't worry, no one will have noticed at this time of the night." Linat tapped the panel again, paused, then pressed her thumb against it, hard.
The light didn't fade. Sam looked up at Linat, frowning. "Linat..."
"It won't turn off. Why won't--" Linat stared at the panel for a moment, then ducked her head down, looking into the innards of the console. "What did you do?"
"Me? I didn't do anything! I barely touched it. I certainly didn't change anything." Sam moved to the side, giving Linat room to peer at the crystals close-up.
She reached in, then hesitated. "What happens if I disconnect the power? Do you think it'll start up again?"
"It should. It might reset, though." Sam levered herself to her feet and examined the control panel more closely. Unfortunately, it had clearly been carefully designed for use by idiots. There was nothing adjustable, no readouts, just an on/off touch-panel big enough for a thumb. Dammit. "When you got this, they didn't tell you anything about how to work it, beyond how to turn it on and off?"
"No," Linat said, voice muffled by the casing. "Nothing. The adjustable version would have been too expensive, Sanat said. Isn't there anything you can do?"
"This is why I didn't want to touch anything!" Sam sat down heavily on the floor, cross-legged, and took a deep breath. "Okay. We could try pulling crystals at random, but I really have no clue what that would do, and it is possible to overload these things. If we pull the power source, we might reset some of the programming, but it should still work. But Linat, I can't be tied to this--"
"No, no, of course not," Linat said, distractedly. "I'll say I was looking, we could get one of the family guardians to say they'd noticed some kind of problem, there is a regular test done... you should do it, take out the power source, I mean. It's familiar to you, isn't it?"
"Sure. Let me--hang on--" She leaned over into Linat's toolkit, untouched so far, and took out her heavy leather work gloves. They were a little too small for Sam's hands, but better than nothing, at least. Linat peered over her shoulder as Sam reached in to disconnect the power source, and missed. "Damn," she swore, "it's smaller than it looks."
The second time she tried, she noticed the sparks that appeared when she tried to get a grip on the connector.
"Oh, God," she said, heart sinking into her boots. "It's shielded."
As it turned out, it wasn't just the power source, but the crystals as well. Sam worked her way through all of them, and not a one would come loose intact. "There'll be a shift change at the fourth bell," Linat said breathlessly. "They'll know by then, when the guardians can't come through. That's... there's no time to open anything else up, there's... you should go." She stood and grabbed Sam's upper arm, pulling her to her feet as well. "Go back to your room, I'll cover for you as well as I can. I'm sure I can figure something out..."
She looked a little frantic, and Sam had never been a woman who liked leaving problems for other people to solve. "Linat, let me stay. I might see something you don't, and it's not like anyone's going anywhere now anyway..."
"No," Linat said, urging her toward the door. "Go. If I can't fix it before they notice, I'll ask for your help, that'll sound reasonable. Tisrat! Take her back to her room, then wake Peros, tell her there's a problem, I can't turn the shield off. Sam, please! Go."
Sam was left staring at a closed door, with the guard she didn't know beside it looking a little pale and Tisrat beside her as expressionless as ever. "Major," she said. "Shall we?"
For about an hour and a half, Sam had hopes that they'd get away with it. The Colonel had been waiting up for her in the living area of the suite when she got back, which was disturbingly reminiscent of her father staking out the kitchen when Sam had stayed out too late on a date in high school. He didn't shout--making noise was hardly going to help--but he did swear, viciously, and send Teal'c to drag Daniel out of bed.
"So help me," he said to Daniel, as he emerged half-dressed and sleepy-eyed from his room, "if the words "I told you so" pass your lips I'll..." He trailed off and made a face. "Never mind. We've got a problem. Carter, we've got how many people who have to keep their mouths shut here? Your little friend, the old lady, and two guards? Plus if Ethren's got any brains he's gonna figure out why he got some tonight damn quick."
"They will all suffer if they confess the truth, however," Teal'c said. "That may give them enough reason to support Linat's version of events."
"Wouldn't that be nice," the Colonel muttered. "We're cut off from the Gate, Carter?"
"Linat said so. And it makes sense that they'd want the shield to work that way, sir. I'm sorry, I swear I didn't know she was going to turn it on."
"Wait," Daniel said, looking a little more alert. "The shield's on? Right now?"
"Okay, so, no way out without blowing the thing, then. Which would probably look a little bit suspicious."
Daniel raised his hand. "Uh, excuse me? We're stuck inside the shield?"
"Linat turned it on and we can't get it to turn off," Sam said.
"Did you try unplugging it?"
"No, Daniel, I didn't think of that," Sam snapped. He frowned at her, and she sighed, slumping back farther into the couch. "The leads are all shielded when it's activated. There must be some way to disconnect it without blowing it into a thousand pieces, but there wasn't enough time. Linat said she'd cover for me."
"Yeah, well." The Colonel scrubbed at his face, then looked over at Daniel. "Get dressed, Daniel. Don't forget the gun." Outside the window, a bird twittered; the dawn chorus was starting up already. Judging by the last couple of days, the fourth bell Linat had talked about would come soon. "No one goes anywhere alone and for God's sake don't admit Carter left the room last night."
Four bells rang while Daniel was still in the back pulling on his shirt. They retreated to one of the back rooms and waited, and listened, and eventually the Colonel broke out a deck of cards and started playing War with Teal'c, because it's too early in the morning for card games with rules, dammit.
Shortly after five bells, with the sun just peeking over the horizon, there was a knock on the door. Daniel levered himself off of the bed to answer it, Teal'c trailing along behind; a moment later there was shouting, shit.
Sam and the Colonel both had weapons drawn when they came out into the main room, but Daniel had already taken up position between the hallway and the guards standing just inside the door, hands extended placatingly. "It's okay, just a little argument about whether they could come in, there's some kind of a problem--"
"That one," a man in the back said, pointing at Sam. With a sinking stomach--who knew it still had farther to fall?--she recognized the guard that had been assigned to the shield room above, the one who had smiled at Tisrat and called her sister. "That's the one who attacked me."
Basinia was still in his bedclothes when Sam and the Colonel arrived, rumpled but sharp-eyed. Sitting next to him, damn it, was Peros, perfectly dressed and coiffed. Her eyes were cold, and the slight smile on her face seemed more threatening than anger would have.
"I only requested Major Carter's presence," Basinia said flatly, all effusiveness gone.
"Yeah, well, it's two-for-one day," the Colonel replied.
Basinia frowned at him, then clicked his fingers once. The guards stepped back, except for the one Sam remembered, the one who had, apparently, turned her in. "Halina has informed me that this guardian of her family was overcome outside the shield room. As of this moment, we are unable to lower the shield, as well. Do you have some explanation for this?"
Sam jumped into the breach before the Colonel could get started. "Basinia, I give you my word, I have never harmed anyone here. I don't know why this man's told you a story like that, but I was in my room all night."
He snorted and put his feet up on a plump ottoman, robe falling open to reveal knobby knees. "As it happens, Major, we have heard of fingerprints. But let's say you're telling the truth. Halina, you're certain there couldn't be any other explanation for all this? Maybe you could get a better story out of the Peros girl who was assigned to her door last night than I did."
"I will ask, if you'd like," Peros said politely. "That sister has always been extremely dependable, however. No doubt the Major was able to exit her rooms undetected using some form of alien technology. It would hardly be the first time one of your guests has gone walkabout."
That was a dig, clearly, but Basinia didn't respond, just turned his attention back to Sam. "In any case, I want this problem fixed. Since Halina informs me that Linat is indisposed," he said, with a smile as mirthless as Peros', "I expect you to do it. Once we can access the Gate again, you will be permitted to depart."
"Hey, wait a minute," the Colonel protested. "That's it? No investigation, no due process, no nothing? You're just taking this guy's word for it?"
"Jack," Basinia replied, "I could have you all hanging dead in my garden before breakfast arrived if I chose. I would recommend that you take what you can get."
Sam raised both hands hurriedly. "Okay," she said. "I can look at the shield. Okay? I don't know anything about it, but I can look."
She could feel the Colonel wanting to protest at her side, but apparently he thought better of it. He shrugged instead. "Hey, we're always glad to lend a hand. But if you're sending her off to screw with funky alien technology you don't understand, she's not going alone."
Half an hour later, Sam was back in the room she'd vacated in the early hours of the morning, accompanied by Teal'c and two guards who had been very clearly referred to as brothers of Sanat. Three times, actually, though she was pretty sure that had been for Peros' benefit rather than hers. Neither of them could out-loom Teal'c, though, which made her feel marginally better about the whole situation.
Unfortunately, the equipment was just as resistant as it had been earlier. Sam made a show of taking some time to figure out how to open it, peered inside, made hmm noises, got the guards to summon someone to show her how it ought to work, pushed the on/off panel several times to no avail. She got breakfast delivered, then lunch--so they weren't trying to starve her, at least--and then she took a deep, steadying breath and got down to business.
By the time she heard the faint rumble of the first afternoon thunderstorm, Sam had to admit that business was not going well. She couldn't remove the power source, or any of the crystals. Given enough force, she could have smashed them, but that was hardly going to get her back into Basinia's good graces. It seemed like there had to be some kind of connection between the thing's guts and that damned mocking panel on the top, but if there was, it wasn't obvious. "What the hell do the Goa'uld have against wires, anyway?" she asked Teal'c. "Wires are a great invention."
"I regret that I cannot answer that question, Major Carter," Teal'c said, very kindly not adding the eyebrow. "Though it seems that the lack of wires is making this piece of technology considerably more difficult to damage than it would be otherwise, which is certainly advantageous."
Sam sighed and added "enforced technological ignorance among the Jaffa" and "Goa'uld childproofing" to her list of things to swear about, which was getting longer by the minute.
Nine hours in, Teal'c actually sat down next to her and started making suggestions, which she figured was a bad sign. Soon after they passed the twelve-hour mark, Daniel showed up with dinner and sent Teal'c back down to their room, saying that he figured Sam could use some fresh eyes. Twenty minutes after that, they were sitting against one wall, eating melon with their fingers and trying to get a new perspective on the problem.
"I wish I could get Linat to come up here and take a look," Sam said. If only the guards had been elsewhere she'd have said I wish I knew what Linat told them like she wanted to. Peros knew the truth; had she kept Linat from telling the story she'd promised Sam she'd stick to? Or had they planned to blame the whole thing on Sam if something went wrong from the very beginning? "I just don't even know where to start, Daniel. If it were just a matter of making the shield come down, I could do that, but I'd have to destroy the generator and I can't imagine they're ready for that step yet."
"That might be sooner than you think," he said, through a mouthful of melon. "There's already some unrest in the outskirts, apparently. Minor families taking advantage of the opportunity to make trouble, that kind of thing. The cityborn are locked in a meeting room right now discussing the situation."
"Oh, good, politics," Sam said. "That'll help."
She didn't leave that room for anything other than bathroom breaks for three days. The Colonel stopped by the first night to let her know he'd thrown a fit and gotten nowhere; Basinia was unavailable, and the guards were all suddenly awfully twitchy about following the boss' instructions to the letter, to no one's particular surprise. Anyway, a daybed appeared--the Colonel had gotten that far--and the rest of SG-1 rotated through helping her out and listening to her complain. By halfway through the third day, all four of them were sprawled out on the floor playing Hearts, because she'd given up and sent a note to Basinia telling him she didn't see any option other than explosives at this point. Given a year, a month, even two weeks, surely she could have figured it out. But there were enough people trapped inside that food was getting low, and time was of the essence.
"I mean, there must be a way to turn it off," she told them. "There must be. But the timeframe is so tight, and at this point..." She shrugged, led the three of clubs, and winced at the rain of hearts that appeared. "No one had any clubs left?"
"No," Teal'c said, a slight, triumphant smile playing on his face. Easy for him to say; he'd shot the moon already in this game. Like all of them, Teal'c liked to win, and his head for cards was seriously scary sometimes.
The door swung open without warning, and they scrambled to their feet, hands on sidearms. When she recognized Linat in the door, Sam thought about relaxing, then didn't. She was flanked by two more guardians--Tisrat was there again, Sam saw--but there was no red on them, not a speck of it. Linat had bells in her hair again, and the same robe she'd worn the night they'd met, though her eyes seemed a little sad.
"Sanat is dismissed," she said to the two red-uniformed men standing inside the room. When they tensed, she shook her head, making a noise like windchimes. "Don't. The decision has been made. Go and find out for yourself, if you like. Satso will escort you."
Once they were gone, Linat began to reach into her robe, then halted, looking at the four of them standing there on a hair trigger. "I am not armed," she said. "I'm here to fix the shield."
"Good luck," the Colonel muttered. Linat just looked away and down, as she withdrew a tiny red crystal, barely more than an inch long, from a pocket hidden somewhere in her sleeve.
"Linat?" Sam asked.
"I am sorry," she said, looking just as hungry for understanding as she had when they'd talked about the joy of discovery and the frustrations of outside pressure. She walked right by them and knelt down next to the shield generator, pressing her hand flat against the side. A tiny compartment slid open, and Linat slotted the crystal into it, stood, pressed the panel on top.
Without a murmur, the shield turned off.
"It's not your fault," she told Sam. "That panel won't open for offworlders. We paid extra for that, as a safeguard. And a lot of what I said was true, Sam, I really did want--" Maybe she saw something in Sam's expression, because she stopped and bit her lip, suddenly looking much younger than her face should have allowed. "But we've been waiting a very long time for an opportunity like this. And Peros is family, you see."
There was no ceremony to see them off, no fond farewell. Peros thought it important to be extremely cautious with offworld contact, Linat explained as she led them through the halls to the Stargate. They'd contact the SGC if they wanted to reopen negotiations, but it wasn't likely to be soon. Having made her case with the minor families based on Sanat's recklessness when it came to offworlders and alien technology, it would hardly do for Peros to turn around and follow the same policies as her predecessor. Support had shifted quickly, given a concrete example of the dangers; given a good reason, the tide could go the other way just as easily.
"But I thought you wanted to learn," Sam said, putting all the sarcasm she could muster into her voice. She was furious, with Linat and with herself. She should've known better, but dammit, she'd been so sure.
"I do," Linat replied evenly. "Hopefully I'll have the opportunity now. But blood is blood, Sam, and we've been down for a very long time. Surely you can understand that."
Sam looked straight ahead, not meeting Linat's eyes. "Not really," she said.
So they went back home empty-handed, save for Daniel's notes and Sam's. General Hammond had some very strong words for them about getting involved in internal politics, and Sam guessed there had been even stronger words used with the Colonel in private, though of course he would never say so. Bad judgment, they admitted, but everything had seemed to be going so well. They were all somewhat inured to the pain of discovering new and exciting ways to screw up by that point, and when the Colonel wandered into her office a week later it barely smarted at all to tell him she was working on the notes she'd taken while examining the shield.
"Hey, at least you got a real good look, right?" He leaned over her shoulder and peered at the plan she was sketching out by hand. She always liked to work by hand initially; it helped her feel the design. "You gonna be able to build us one of these things?"
"Probably not," she admitted. "But if we happen to pick one up at a yard sale I'll know where all the pieces go."
"Well, that's something." He laid one hand on her shoulder, patted it a little awkwardly, then withdrew. "All for the good of the family, right?"
Sam's pencil stopped for a moment. When she looked over her shoulder at the Colonel, his eyes were gentle; he didn't blame her, not now, though she thought maybe he should. After all, it'd be her instincts that had led them down this path. "Right," she said. "Family always comes first."
"Damn straight." He cocked his head, turned on his heel, and sauntered out. Sam watched him go, thinking about blood, and family, and the way she'd laughed when Linat had complained about politicians who just didn't understand. And then she turned back to her desk and clicked out another couple of millimeters of lead from her pencil and got back to work.
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