There were few things as certain in Dr. Simon Coombs life that he would call "destiny." As a man of science, he was averse to making sweeping predictions about what would happen in the future without sufficient evidence to support them. Simon was not a man of violence, he'd barely been able to dissect lab animals as part of his undergraduate training. He hadn't even been able to bring himself to be mean to people in either Baldur's Gate or Fallout 2. He hadn't been able to bring himself to steal in Daggerfall because it made him feel too guilty. It had taken him six different goes at the pistol qualification before he'd been able to come close to passing because he found the very idea that he was holding something that gave him absolute power over life and death to be terrifying. It bore repeating that even with his improved comfort level, he "came close" to passing. He had not yet passed.
Suffice it to say that any man building a predictive model based around Simon's life thus far would have relegated the probability that he would do violence to his fellow man as being a statistically negligible factor.
None of that changed the immutable fact that Simon was going to kill Jay Felger if they lived through this – possibly just maim him if outright murder proved logistically impractical. Perhaps he'd do both, he wasn't married to any one plan. But the series of moronic decisions that his co-worker had chosen to do in order to get them to this point ought to merit some degree of permanent and painful corrective behavior adjustment.
Felger belonged in a lab. He belonged in a highly supervised laboratory environment with a protective layer of bureaucratic limitations between him and his funding to delay his process enough that his interns and co-workers were given the opportunity to sanity check his processes. Dr. Felger was one of those men unfortunate enough to understand the possibilities of his actions but unburdened by the sense of cause and effect that prevented one from releasing an alien with delusions of godhood from a prison that looked like it belonged in an early Dungeons and Dragons module.
Simon understood how someone with Jay's knowledge base truly was vital for the analysis of Goa'uld technology, there were fewer than a dozen scientists with even half Dr. Felger's knowledge base of weaponized plasma or Goa'uld power generators and only four of them had passed the medical exams necessary to go on off world missions. That three of the four were currently onboard the Goa'uld mothership had required just short of an act of God – though a lesser pantheon of Goa'uld Lords dropping the most powerful weapons system ever owned by the American military had apparently sufficed. Even in context with just how important it was for them to be there, Simon was pretty sure that leaving Jay to his own devices was going to prove as – if not more – dangerous than whatever was attacking the ship.
He sent Jay a spiteful glare, willing the man to die in a fire as he growled under his breath. "You see! You see what you did? All that we had to do was stay put and don't touch anything. That requires literally no effort."
"I know Coombs." Jay hissed back.
"That woman is a Goa'uld. We are currently prisoners of a Gou'uld." Simon growled.
"I know Coombs." Dr. Felger rounded on Simon, his eyes bulging slightly as he shushed his fellow scientist. "Complaining about it isn't going to make things better. We just have to think… what would Colonel O'Neill do in this situation?"
"You want me to shoot you?" Simon replied acerbically, Felger's hero worship really could be tiring.
"No – not, I mean, there has to be something that we can do to fix this." Jay bemoaned, watching their new "god" Druana. The possessed Nox had largely ignored the two scientists except to sent them vitriolic glances when they got too loud, focusing instead upon meddling with the Goa'uld ship's main computers. She seemed to be trying to gain control of the ship, a task at which she was failing woefully. As far as demonstrations of divine power went, it was pretty sub-par.
"Oh great, I guess we try just asking her to get back in the glowing nightmare prison and just shut the door behind her." Simon snorted, rolling his eyes.
"You think that would work?" Jay replied in mild confusion, looking from the door to the Goa'uld and back. "It seemed pretty crummy in there."
"No I don't think it would work you – " Simon let out a deep breath and counted down from thirty in his head. "No Jay, I don't think that we're going to be able to just talk this genie back into the bottle."
"Hey, don't get mad at me just because you haven't thought of a better solution." Jay shrugged.
"That was… that was my idea!" Simon gritted his teeth.
"Potato, potato." Jay replied, pronouncing the word slightly the second time from the first. "Stay constructive Coombs. That's what SG-1 does, and they haven't lost yet."
Simon's pinched the bridge of his nose, resisting the urge to scream and choosing instead to focus on what the Goa'uld was doing. Druana had started re-sequencing the command codes in order to get around some of the ship's safe guards in a way he hadn't seen done before. No, it was more than that, she was actually writing an entirely new operating system to superimpose over the existing one that had been gutted when the Goa'uld had scuttled the ship on the moon's surface. That actually was exiting, possibly even worth the near lethal danger they were in provided that he was able to get back to the SGC once this all ended. Goa'uld coding was non-binary, meaning that its construction wasn't always intuitive to the human mind. This was probably the first example he could remember of an academic actually getting the chance to watch a Goa'uld computer system constructed from the ground up.
She didn't seem overly frustrated by the task, so either she was particularly gifted in computer programming or the construction of this sort of system was something held within the collective genetic knowledge of the Goa'uld. It was a shame that the Goa'uld were universally evil, Simon thought. He could have achieved incredible things were such an intellect put to constructive purposes.
There was a shuddering whirr of energy across the holographic display in front of her shimmered from orange to blue, her newly constructed operating system taking control of the mothership. She paused for a moment to read various messages and warnings that she now had access to before devolving into a metallic screeching combination of words that Simon was entirely certain constituted the Goa'uld equivalent to swear words. Her eyes glowed bright enough to light up the room as she went from system readout to system readout, assessing the damages done.
"That doesn't sound good." Jay swallowed.
"It's not." Simon agreed, reading the messages as best he could from across the room. His Goa'uld wasn't great, but he got the gist. "Thor scuttled the heck out of this ship. They disabled every weapons and propulsion system so that you'd have to manually enable each of them."
"Why would they do that?" Asked Dr. Felger in surprise. "I thought they were our allies."
"If I had to make a guess, I'd say it was so that we didn't accidentally blow up the moon. They have some nasty weapons on these ships." Simon replied. "We have literally no idea what these things do and are wandering the ship just poking stuff in the hope that it works. Turning off the multi-megaton death cannons feels like a decent idea."
"Asgard?" Growled the metallic hiss of the Goa'uld goddess from across the room. "This was done by the Asgard?"
"Oh… crap…" Simon winced, realizing that it was probably not the best idea to reference the ancient enemy of their captor. He yelled in shock as the Goa'uld twisted her hand and lifted him into the air through apparent telekinesis. His toes dragged across the floor as she pulled him towards her, lifting him so that he could meet her eye to eye. He looked down, afraid to meet her gaze.
"Clever little thing." The Goa'uld purred, pushing a tendril of moss covered dreadlocks out of her face as she ran her finger across Simon's chin. "You know not to gaze upon your betters."
"Hey! Hey, hey, hey." Jay yelled as he scurried across the room to try and pull Simon back to the ground. "There's no need for that. We're complying! We're complying!"
"Funny creatures." The woman smiled, exposing a mouth full of bone white teeth set in blackened gums that stank of rotting plant matter. "Tell me of the Asgard, and I will not punish you."
"Thor! Thor was the one who gave the ship to us." Jay spoke before Simon could even try to tell him not to. "We got it as part of the protected planet's treaty when Heka surrendered to us."
The woman's eyes flashed, a worried expression crossing her face. "This planet is protected?"
"Yes, the Tau'ri joined the protected planet's treaty." Jay continued, nodding emphatically. "The System Lords added us this year. Yu and Chronos came to Earth to sign it."
There was a long pause before the Goa'uld spoke, "Tau'ri? The first world? I am on the first world?" In a tone that implied much but revealed little.
"Well, its moon but yeah – you're near Earth." Simon replied, realizing the implication of that question. The Goa'uld were afraid of the Asgard. By all accounts an Asgard warship could annihilate a Goa'uld fleet without too much trouble. Emphasizing Thor's connection to the American government was definitely in Simon's best interest.
The possessed Nox's rage smoldered as she turned back to the computer, caressing several keys before exposing an image of SGC personnel bound and guarded by a cadre of men whose skin rippled and shifted as they changed form. She fiddled with the life-signs detector, scrolling across reams of data before letting loose another metallic sound that Simon was certain signified swear words.
"Major Carter!" Jay shouted in worry, "They've taken her. We have to do something!"
"These are not allies of your world?" Queried the Goa'uld.
"No – I don't know who they are, but they attacked and captured our best warriors." Jay replied. "We need to help them. To help her, please let us go."
"No, the brood would not deign to deal with lessers." She let go of Simon, dropping him unceremoniously to the floor. "Sorcerous bastard. He left me behind to be consumed by the creatures of this world. He knew. That bastard Heka knew the Asgard wouldn't see through the warding he set on my cell till his armistice ran out."
Simon did his best to blend in with the floor rather than draw more attention to himself, but found himself once again the focus of the Goa'uld's attention. "Tell me, this ship, was it a place of great battle before it was surrendered to you? Was there much death in this place? Much suffering?"
"Yes…" Simon replied, a shiver running down his spine and the near sexual eagerness in the possessed nox's voice. "I mean, there was a lot of blood in the halls but we never found any bodies other than the dragons."
"Good. Very good." The Goa'uld cackled, her eyes glowing. "Then you two shall be the first witnesses to my glory and to the divinity of my power. I will re-take this ship from the brood, and cast them into the pyre from which they came. I will rescue your 'Carter' and show you the power of a true god. You will have your help, and you will speak of your new god's divinity to all those who would listen."
One death obsessed snake with delusions of godhood and two scientists against an army of shape-shifting warriors capable of disabling the world's most capable soldiers. Perfect, she was insane in addition to being telekinetic, Simon thought to himself. This day just kept getting better.
The Goa'uld raised her hands to the sky. Inky tendrils of power washing out across the room from her, the whole world shifting to a shade of azure in an instant. Simon shivered, a cloying cold washing across him as he exhaled and watched his breath turn to steam. He reached out to grab a book that fell from his pockets only for his fingers to pass through the solid object entirely. He yelped in shock, scrambling from the item as though he'd been scalded.
"Mortal, the material has only partial relevance to where we now stand." Druana chuckled. "The place between is unnerving for those who have not experienced it before. Do not stray too far or I cannot take responsibility for what happened to you."
Simon stood up, his eyes trying to focus on the space around him. They were still in the ship, or something that resembled it, but there was something off about it. The physical land marks were different somehow, though he was certain that nothing had moved in the room after she'd cast out the dark-light. It felt different, like an echo of the room they'd been in – an impression of what the space had represented in the past.
Very quickly, however, he became less interested in the geography as a grey humanoid form phased through the wall. The details were obscure, the proportions slightly off, as though he were looking at a badly molded plastic doll of a human. It had no real features, just gaping eye-sockets within a skull-like face, and a wide, empty mouth that hung open as though the lower jaw's tendons had stretched out like old rubber bands.
It moved forward with a shuffling grace, as though it had no weight and only needed to touch the ground to propel itself forward with its toes. It came at them, it's rattling breath the shadowy echo of the scream it had once been. It approached Simon, mindless and graceful as a hungry jellyfish.
"Jay, what the hell is that!" Simon screeched, pulling himself up with the help of the fellow scientist's outstretched arm even as his mind ran through a litany of horror movies that might have fit the bill.
Druana was unimpressed by the creature, stepping in its path. "Begone wraith. I have no time for you. This chattel is mine, and I would not part with it so easily."
The creature let loose a hollow rattle, reaching out to slash at Druana with its insubstantial fingers. She caught the creature's arms before reaching it to the creature's chest and pulling a glowing mote from the creature's center. A cloud of something that looked like steam poured out from the creature, light kindling within it to play shadowy images across the vapor. The images grew dimmer until there was nothing left of the creature but a sagging outline of what the creature had once been and a colorless lump upon the ground.
Jay opened his mouth as though he were about to ask a question, but only managed to make a an incoherent screech of fear and incomprehension as exactly what he'd just witnessed. He managed another two high-pitched yelps before forming, "What?"
"Do not fear the wraith, they are echoes of longing and not to be tolerated. They hunger for life and in the spaces between, those who are whole and hale are a feast." Druana chuckled as she painted glowing symbols in the air. They were neither goa'uld nor English, and followed a non-liner progression of movements through three-dimensional space that would have been impossible on any page.
The ground rippled as the glowing forms of men and women started to enter the room, passing through the walls, floor, and ceiling. They were nervous, chittering in fear and speaking animatedly in Goa'uld. They resembled Jaffa warriors and human slaves, each of them bearing wounds and injuries that Simon was quite certain had been enough to slay them all. Their wounds were terrifying but their expressions of fear and yearning were more distressing to Simon in a way that he could not quite put his finger on.
Simon was a man of science. Presented sufficient evidence he was willing to re-assess his perspective. As evidence went, this was anecdotal but highly persuasive evidence that ghosts were real. This could easily be an illusion, there were numerous Goa'uld technologies which were able to replicated any individual aspect of what he was witnessing, but something instinctual, primal and entirely unscientific in the back of Simon's mind had him convinced that the opposite was true.
He was staring at what might be the first reliable account of experience with the supernatural. There was apparently a life after death and it was awful. Was this it? Just wandering around terrified and injured until something put you out of your misery? That was more terrifying that any afterlife he'd ever imagined.
Druana was not bothered by the sudden appearance of the ghosts, nor troubled by their metaphysical implications. She addressed the collective spirits in her metallic rattle. "Children of the System Lords, heed me. You have been unable to pass on because your god has abandoned this place. The wards remain even though there are no priests or gods to give your last rites and send your Ka's heart to be weighed. If no one comes to release you, you will be as damned as the Wraith I just unmade. You will live as much of eternity as you can endure, hungering and mindless until the bitter end. But worry not, for I will set you free."
The spirits listened, their dead eyed faces and hollow rasping breaths focused on Druana's words. There was a horrible eagerness to them, they were desperate for the release she offered. The Goa'uld smiled wickedly, "This ship has been taken by those of the brood of serpents. Slay them and I will perform the last rites to free you. Salvation or damnation, your choice."
The spirits rattled their assent, flitting down through the floor towards where the SG teams were imprisoned. Jay watched them leave before looking at the Goa'uld and asking. "What were those?" In a voice of abject horror.
Druana's acerbic laughter echoed with the metallic tone of the Goa'uld. "I forget how young the race of men still is. How little you understand of death."
"What does death have to do with anything?" Jay blinked, a very real possibility for what the things they'd just seen running through the doctor's mind even as he rejected it as lunacy. There were no such things as ghosts after all.
"Dear child, we are in the space between what is and what is inevitable. The land that only the Nox have mastered thus far, though our elders are too weak to use it to its full potential." Druana's smile widened. "We are in the land of the dead."
"I don't believe in ghost stories." Simon lied, fear infecting every syllable of his voice.
"You might as well start." Druana winked as power coalesced around her fingers again. "Given that you're in one."