Knowledge of the Ancients
Deep blue skies showed twinkling stars when I finally opened my eyes. My head hurt and it was hard to focus, but the moss under the high trees was softer than I had ever felt and the soothing wind made the leaves whisper. When I raised myself up on my elbows a sharp pain made me cry out and fall back down. I couldn't believe what I had just seen rising between the branches: a planet, giant and red, was pushing itself above the horizon. For moments all I could do was stare at it, it's enormous horizons and white and blueish streaks across its surface until my headache subsided and my heart calmed down.
Only then did I notice the absence of life, no birdsong, no rustling in the undergrowth and no cicadas. It was as if no life ever had been here. I was surprised at myself how calm I was, studying my surroundings with so much attention to detail instead of panicking. This wasn't earth, none of the stars in the sky showed familiar constellations, and I was by all appearances abandoned on an uninhabited moon orbiting a strange planet in an unknown solar system. But part of me knew there wasn't a point to panicking and losing my mind, after all, there was nothing I could do. I had no idea how I came to be here, there weren't any space ships except in the books and films I enjoyed so much, and even if the red giant was a known planet, it was not at all known to me. And not just my location was unfamiliar, also my clothes had changed since I last was conscious. Instead of my beloved jeans and shirt I seemed to be dressed in a long white gown, held on my shoulders by oval, bronze brooches and tightened around my waist with means of some leather ribbons, patterned in a strange design I had never seen before. Also my long, brown hair was loose and by now covered in dry leaves and twigs.
With great care I sat up once more and started dividing my hair, taking care to keep it off the floor. Usually I would pin it up to stop it from getting the way, simply sitting down was enough to trap the tips under my legs, but none of the sticks on the floor were sharp enough to make it through my auburn mess, so I gathered it over my left shoulder in the front and hoped for the best. But looking at my surroundings, I felt it would be a miracle if I got far without catching on branches with my dress and hair with every single step I took. Nevertheless, I decided to abandon my comfortable bed and go in search for some sign of civilisation. If some aliens had kidnapped me, I found it unlikely for them to abandon me in the middle of a forest for no reason whatsoever.
I hadn't walked far when I heard a cracking not too far from where I was, and the noise seemed to get nearer. Desperate I reached for the closest branch on the ground and weighed it in both hands. It had been a while since I held a weapon like this, and unlike the angel sword I once had, this would be much more difficult to use. The wood was dense and the stick was heavy, but at least this meant it wouldn't shatter on the first blow. I had no confidence in being able to defend myself with nothing but a stick, but I hoped whoever was coming towards me didn't know I was here and would be surprised enough by my attack, for me to gain the upper hand. Panting I reached a forest giant and cowered between the great roots, hoping I was hidden from sight. Should whoever was stamping through the forest simply walk past me and was not in fact looking for me at all, I planned to stay out of their way and, if possible, find out if they could help me.
The steps came closer, and I was certain it was at least three people coming my way. I tightened my grip around the stick and saw my knuckles stand out white against the dark bark. For a few moments I held my breath as the steps came ever closer. I didn't dare look when I heard one set of boots—I was sure they were boots—stop walking right on the other side of the great root behind which I was hiding. Someone was breathing heavily and I heard multiple guns being cocked. It seemed my chance of a surprise attack was getting slimmer every moment I waited. But I hadn't expected many people, so was there any chance at all?
With a suddenness that even surprised myself I managed to jump up and swing around to attack the man standing behind my root. He stopped my swing with a simple movement of his hand and his face was as wooden as the noise my stick made when it met with his palm. I knew well enough not to fight the new direction of the stick but accelerated it on its path and aimed instead at his head, but again his hand stopped me. I retreated, never letting him out of my sight, so that my next attack might get his knees. In that moment, I felt a light brush against my left arm, then I heard the sound of a gun being fired. Someone shot at me. Did they miss? I didn't look, tried to use the few moments I would have before the shock would wear off and the pain would kick in, with all my might I half turned around and aimed a sweeping attack at the man's shins, screaming with determination, but he merely stepped on my stick, and before I realized what had happened, his giant hand was around my neck and held me up against the tree. My feet lost contact with the floor, and no matter how hard my fingers dug into his hands, his grip didn't loosen. My mouth opened and shut with the effort of gasping for breath, but no air reached my lungs. Not a sound came over my lips when I tried to shout, communicate, something, anything. In this very moment the pain spread from my left upper arm like a supernova across my entire body. Blood started running down my arm and dripping off my elbow. The agony was too much, my arms dropped to my side and only a faint whimper escaped from my swollen lips. I could hear voices behind the man, some shouting in anger, some in fear, but all I could do was stare at the man whose hand was my death sentence. His eyes were black as the abyss, his skin nut brown, and under his bald head his forehead was engraved with a gold symbol: two ovals encircling a waved line. My vision was starting to get dark and I saw flashing lights in the corners of my eyes when I heard one single voice shout: 'Teal'c, that's enough!'
The man pulled his hand away from my throat and I dropped half a meter before my feet hit the ground and my legs collapsed under me. For a few moments all I could do was stare at my opponent, unable to breath through my crushed windpipes and I felt my body burn with the pain of my wound. I had never been shot before in my entire life, and it was certainly an experience I hoped never to repeat. Slowly I felt my throat ease up and with huge gasps I breathed in life once more. Two people rushed to my side, while my opponent turned and walked away to the group of people that had come through the trees. All of them seemed to wear an olive green uniform with symbols on their arms, shoulders and front pockets. With difficulty I turned my head to my left. Someone was carefully lifting my hand into my lap to expose the wound on my arm. My head lolled like I was drunk, and I saw the blurred image of a woman with short blonde hair, I saw her lips move but I only heard the murmur of voices and the sound of the leaves overhead.
I watched her hands carefully bandage my arm, saw the blood push through the layers of bandage she put on the wound. As my breaths slowed, the slightly slurred feeling to the world vanished and I felt I could see her quite clearly. She was a beautiful woman, maybe just over thirty years old, her hair was cut short, but her blue eyes and face shone with a female radiance that would turn any man's head. I couldn't help but stare at her while in the background the chatter of the voices became more comprehensible, even though the context didn't seem to make sense to me.
'Sergeant, did I order you to shoot?' - 'No, Sir, but-' - 'Did I in any way ask you to fire your weapon?' - 'No. Sir, but-' - 'Didn't I specifically explain there was to be no use of weapon against unarmed-' - 'But Sir! She was attacking-' - 'She had a stick, sergeant, a stick! Knowing Teal'c, I'm sure he could have handled it. And if you interrupt me one more time...'
Then suddenly her face got serious and I heard her say: 'I'm sorry, this is going to hurt a little.' With force she pulled the last rounds of bandages tight and started to make a knot into it. The pain shot from my arm through my entire body and I couldn't help but scream. It felt as if someone was amputating my arm without regard for me, blood loss or the fact that rusted saws posed a vital threat to my health and life. Then the pain ebbed off, and I saw the syringe the woman pulled out of my shoulder.
'It's just painkiller,' she said with a smile when she saw my face. 'And the wound isn't too bad, no major arteries where severed, so all we have to do now is keep it clean. You'll be fine.'
'Thank you', I whispered hoarsely with all the voice I could muster after being strangled. I felt a grip around my right hand loosen and turned my head to see a bespectacled man, also in his thirties. He had short brown hair and a chiselled, handsome face. His uniform said soldier, but his soft, slim hands and the intelligent look in his blue eyes contradicted that.
'Hi, I'm Daniel,' he answered my curious look. 'Dr Daniel Jackson. How are you feeling?'
'I just got shot,' my cynic vein took over, while the rest of me was too shocked to get a word out. Why? Why did it have to be that name? 'How do you think I feel?'
'Fair point,' he said and gave a little embarrassed laugh. 'Sorry, that was a stupid question. What I meant was, are you well enough to get up?'
There was still a numb pain in my arm, which the blonde woman had put into a sling and was tying around my neck now, my throat was sore and my legs felt like rubber.
'Could I have another minute?,' I rasped, trying to hide the fact that I didn't feel I should stand on my two legs until I had a good sleep. And I had too many questions.
'Sure', he said, sitting down beside me and trying to cross his legs. He looked like a stork trying to do yoga. 'Can you tell me who you are?'
'I'm Pan,' I replied, pulling the now bloodstained skirts of my dress over my bare feet. As the sky was getting darker, the forest got colder by the minute and I felt it like sharp stings on my skin, even with the painkiller. But I resisted the urge to cross my arms, remembering the sling and, more importantly, the still oozing wound in the bandages. 'And this,' I gestured around with my right hand, 'is not technically my home.'
'Not ours either,' said the blonde woman, packing up her first aid kit back into her backpack. 'I'm Sam, by the way. Major Samantha Carter, but Sam is fine.'
I smiled weakly and nodded to thank her.
'I guess we have time for some introductions,' said Dr Jackson, then he gestured to a wiry man with short grey hair, probably in his late forties, shouting at a group of younger men in uniform, one of them kept looking at his shoes and nodding. 'That's Colonel Jack O'Neill and this,' he pointed at the man I attacked, who seemed like a silent mountain next to the other soldiers, standing there with his arms crossed behind his back, 'is Teal'c.'
I saw Teal'c look my way and resisted the urge to look away again, deciding staring him down was my best option. He almost killed me, choked me even after someone had already shot me, but after looking into my face, he briefly bowed his head in my direction and I thought I even saw the corners of his mouth twitch upwards for a fraction of a second. I nodded back at him and turned my attention to the other soldiers.
'And who are the others?', I asked hoarsely and tried to clear my throat. My voice still hadn't fully recovered.
'To be honest, I don't know their names either,' Dr Jackson murmured and shrugged. 'Collectively we call them SG14. They're pretty new and for most of them it's their first mission.'
'And what is SG?,' I asked raising my shoulders and hugging my elbows.
I saw the man called Colonel O'Neill detach himself from the group and walk over.
'Can we get moving?,' he shouted in our general direction.
'Do you think you can get up now?,' asked Major Carter. 'It's getting darker and we still have a bit to go before we can make camp.'
'I ... I can try,' I stammered, surprised at the sudden change of topic. With both my helpers' hands I managed to get to my feet and even though my knees were shaking violently I managed to take a few steps towards the group of soldiers. Then my feet slipped on a branch hidden under the leaves, and hadn't Dr Jackson held on to my healthy arm, I would have hit the ground. They helped me back on my feet again and I managed the last few steps on my own.
'Good,' said Colonel O'Neill. 'Let's go.'
No questions, no explanation, the others simply started following him as he marched through the undergrowth. I tried my best to keep up, Major Carter walked ahead and caught up with Teal'c. For a while I found myself staring at his neck and shoulder muscles and wondering if he could have simply snapped my neck. I was probably lucky to be alive. So I found myself walking with Dr Jackson and decided it was time to ask some more questions.
'Your major said before that this is not your home either,' I said as quietly as I could while still being heard above the noise of boots trampling through the forest. 'What did she mean by that?'
'Oh, we're not from around here,' was his vague reply.
'Not from this moon, you mean?' I hoped the hope in my voice wasn't too obvious, but he didn't seem to notice.
'No, as a matter of fact,' was his answer and he smiled again. Every time he did that, little dimples formed in his cheeks, and I caught myself hoping he would smile more at me, just to see them again. My cheeks suddenly flushed hot and I was happy it was dark enough so Dr Jackson couldn't see me blush. This was wrong. Why did it have to happen again? 'We come from a planet called Earth, and it's pretty far away.'
'Earth?,' I gasped, suddenly feeling alive again. 'As in Terra, solar system, Sol3, one moon, closest planets Venus and Mars?'
'Yeah,' he answered, his forehead wrinkling. 'That's the one.'
'Yes!,' I shouted, punching the air with my right and instantly regretting it. Through the sudden movement my other shoulder started hurting and it felt like I ripped all muscles in my left arm off my bones. With a yelp I fell to the floor, hugging my hurting shoulder and breathing through my teeth, my eyes pressed shut. I felt my body starting to shake violently while a fire was still burning under the bandages. Slowly the pain subsided and when I opened my eyes again I noticed an army jacket around my shoulders. When I looked up I saw Colonel O'Neill in a black t-shirt standing before me and offering me a hand.
Carefully I reached for it and had him pull me back up on my feet. Then he held up a warning finger.
'No more questions until we make camp.'
'Yes, Sir,' I murmured, still feeling my shoulder and arm pulse in pain. I blinked as he turned away and felt cold streaks on my face. When I reached up, it felt wet.
'You OK?,' asked Sam next to me.
'Yeah, yeah, fine,' I replied. With my right hand I pulled the jacket tighter around my shoulders. My skin was so cold, I couldn't tell whether it made a difference or not, but it made me feel a lot safer. When I had a closer look I saw symbols and stripes on the shoulders and sleeves, one a huge circle with a strange symbol in the middle, the others made little or no sense at all seen upside down. The only one that made any sense to me was on my right chest and said 'O'NEILL'.
The group started moving again and though I tried, it was too hard to keep up. Sam waited for me when I fell too far behind and walked my pace with me. The sky was so dark now, the trees were black shadows against the red planet in the sky. There was virtually no light at all, and I only avoided colliding with anything and loosing my way by following the faint silhouettes of the soldiers I saw walking ahead of us. They had slowed down and when we had caught up with them I noticed a tension. Most had their guns in both hands now, looking around at the trees. Then they started fanning out, moving as stealthily as possible with their army issue boots, heavy backpacks and both hands on their guns.
'Something is there,' I whispered, but nobody was listening. Sam had moved ahead and had a quiet debate with the colonel. Teal'c held a weird looking staff and was looking around at the tree tops. I could feel it too, a faint electrical charge in the air and a buzzing that seemed to come from everywhere. But unlike the others it didn't put me on edge but it felt reassuring, like a warm hand on my shoulder. 'They are the guardians.'
I had no idea how I knew that, but it felt – right. Somehow this all seemed familiar, and when I finally spotted one of the hovering spheres I nearly laughed with relief. The soldiers were uneasy, but seemed reluctant to open fire without provocation. Some of the spheres started buzzing in a deeper tone and emit faint sparks of blue light.
'Don't shoot,' I cried out, and suddenly had everyone's attention, including the spheres. They shot towards me, circling me in a spiral of flashes and then hovering in a spinning circle above my head. As we all watched they created electrical sparks between each other, forming a circle of light and then suddenly they all discharged into my head. To my surprise it didn't hurt one bit, it just felt like a strong water current pushing against my skin. It still seemed to draw all strength out of me and my knees gave way once more and the lightning disappeared. Then it was all over. I saw figures rush towards me and held up a hand, warning them not to get too close. A message formed in my head and I understood it was the spheres that had transmitted it. Guardians they were indeed, and of what I could only now begin to understand.
'They are not your enemies,' I said quietly, but the eerie silence of the forest carried my voice to everyone in the group. 'They are the protectors, the guardians of the lost temple. And they said they will not attack unless provoked.'
'Guardians?,' asked Teal'c, lowering his staff. 'How did they tell you this?'
'The electric charge,' said Sam behind him. 'It's a direct neuron link, same as the connection between synapses in the cerebral...'
'Yes, fascinating, Carter,' came a bark from Colonel O'Neill. 'And once more for the normal people?'
'The lightning was the message, Sir,' she tried to explain.
'Ah. Was that all of it?'
'Not quite,' I said, getting back to my feet.
'Well, care to tell us the rest?,' Colonel O'Neill asked me impatiently.
'Directions and the secret entrance,' was my reply. The information had just appeared in my head, and now that I had them, I could use them. 'The guardians will only give them to those they consider worthy.'
'Ah,' said the colonel with a sarcastic grin. 'And you're telling us that you are?'
I shrugged with the one shoulder I could use. 'No idea. They just said it is up to me to help you find it, or, if I don't trust you, not.' That wasn't what they had said, but the true message was too confusing and embarrassing to tell anyone else. The guardians had given me custody of the temple and its location, assuming I was the only person allowed to know and to pass that knowledge on to others. They had said normal travellers were given a test to evaluate their character, but why they had made an exception for me remained a mystery. Since they had struck me with their sparks the headache had become worse and in some moments strange images flashed across my mind. Images I didn't recognise, some of a shining city and some of glowing letters.
But for the moment I focussed on the map the spheres had left in my brain before they had disappeared into the darkness as fast as they had turned up. The colonel allowed me to lead the group and after only a few moments I had led them on an overgrown path in the forest. The old cracked stones that had once paved it could still be seen in places under the young trees. Obviously it hadn't been used in a very long time, but it still formed a much easier way through the forest, the branches weren't as dense and without my skirt and hair getting caught every few steps I picked up speed. Apart from the information the guardians seemed to have given me new energy and while the headache stayed, I finally had full control over my legs once more.
As we approached two pairs of columns, I slowed down and saw the colonel lift his hand for the rest of the group to stop. There were two columns, one on each side of the path, and a few meters further two more, spaced apart the same, but the remains of the path stopped before the first two pillars. The forest looked no different from anywhere else, but I felt a breeze, too strong to be coming from between the mighty tree trunks, and I knew that this was the place the spheres sent us. Dr Jackson pushed his way to my side and began inspecting the symbols on the pillars with a torch.
'Any clues?,' called Colonel O'Neill.
'Not really', Dr Jackson called back to him. 'Just something about a hidden door and only those of noble character being allowed to enter. The rest', he saw the look Colonel O'Neill was giving him, 'well, let's say it isn't related to the temple at all.'
'That's because they are on the wrong side of the door,' I interrupted. Dr Jackson looked me with his eyebrows drawn together, then he walked back toward me and cocked his head on one side.
'The wrong side?,' he asked.
'I'll explain later,' I said. My fatigue was getting stronger again and I knew there wasn't much time before I would terminally run out of energy to keep going. And what I had to do next would take even more strength than the way here. I motioned to the others to stay behind me, then I turned to Colonel O'Neill. 'I need something made from silver. Or gold, gold should work, too.'
'Why?,' he asked, screwing up his face in disbelief.
'They expect me to use the ceremonial knife,' I started explaining, not quite sure where the information came from, 'but I don't have it and no time to look for it, so I need something made from the same material to open the door.'
He pointed at the oval discs that held my dress together at the shoulders.
'What about those?'
'Copper, Colonel. It won't work, trust me. Silver or gold are the only metals that will get us in.'
All looked at Teal'c. I looked at the symbol in his forehead which even now shone golden in the light of the planet overhead, but if this was their answer I would have to find another way. I wasn't here to humiliate anyone. But to my surprise he reached in the breast pocket of his black vest and pulled out a gold pendant on a chain. Without a word he approached me and placed it in my outstretched hand with a bow of his bald head.
'Thanks,' I breathed. Then I cleared my throat and addressed the colonel once more. 'The doorway won't be open for long, so please stay close behind me and follow quickly.'
'You heard her,' he shouted over my head. 'No dilly-dallying, we're on the clock!'
I took a deep breath, placed the gold medallion in the centre of my palm, tied the chain around my hand and knelt down next to the front left pillar. Moving my hand through the air I drew an arched doorway between the two pillars bordering the pathway, and maybe it was my imagination, but I was sure I saw a gold trail remaining in the air, even when I had finished I still saw a faint outline.
'Follow me,' I told the colonel, and without waiting for an answer I stepped through my doorway.
On the other side there were no trees ahead. The second pair of pillars stood as before, but the path continued between them and I knew the symbols had changed. Further down the path sloped into a shallow, treeless valley in which I saw the ruins of a great building reach for the sky like the long dead carcass of a giant whale. A wave of nausea caused me to stagger and lean against the next pillar for support. My headache returned with the blow of a sledgehammer against my skull and I sank to the floor, pressing my right palm against my forehead. It was hot, hotter than it should be. Or was it just my hand that was cold? I heard the others pass through the gate behind me and move on along the path down towards the remaining walls and pillars. Only three sets of boots stopped next to me and waited patiently. It felt like something was hammering against my head from the inside, making flashes in purple and yellow appear in front of my eyes and my ears ring.
A sudden hand on my shoulder made me jump a little and look up. Sam was looking down on me, concern in her eyes.
'What's wrong?, she asked, crouching down beside me. Behind her I saw Teal'c and Dr Jackson, one stone-faced as ever, the other with folded arms and worry in his face. I tried to smile, but it seemed to only make things worse.
'Headache,' I croaked.
'Just now?,' Sam wanted to know. As a reply I shook my head and instantly regretted it. A cannonball seemed to roll around inside, colliding with thoughts and my skull and making me flinch in pain.
'Since I got to this moon,' I whispered. 'And it's getting worse.'
I had had headaches before, migraine even, and through careful analysis had found out it correlated with the weather. Whenever there was a severe drop in air pressure over less than six hours, my head started aching. And nothing would help, no painkiller, no tea, hot baths or whatever other myths my friends and family had thought up. I just had to put up with it until it went away. This felt similar, and after all, not even the painkiller Sam had given me before had done anything to help.
'Can you walk?,' asked Dr Jackson, crouching down as well. The concern in his voice and face hurt me more than I liked to admit. This felt like history repeating itself all over again. He had been like this as well, always helpful, kind... But I couldn't let it all happen again. Not like last time. With my back against the pillar I pushed myself back on my feet, but as soon as I lost my grip on the stone I lost my balance, stumbled and fell back down. My shoulder started hurting again and all I could do was sit there and hold my injured arm. I felt tears rise into my eyes and hung my head so they couldn't see my face behind my hair. This was too much even for me to take.
I felt a big, warm hand on my shoulder.
'Please,' I heard a deep voice boom from above. It took me several moments to realise that this was Teal'c, speaking for the very first time. 'Allow me.'
Before I could say a word, he had swooped me up in his arms and carried me down the path towards the ruins. I was stumped. For one I was lying on my hair and couldn't move my head at all, but nothing like this had ever happened to me. I wasn't the kind of girl who got carried around, especially by men. It was simply out of the question, I was a grown woman and I had my own two legs to walk on.
'No,' I murmured, knowing full well I wasn't able to walk anyway. 'Please, I can...'
'You are injured,' Teal'c said from above. He shifted his grip a little and I managed to free some of my hair. 'And you are in need of rest.'
I couldn't argue with that, so I didn't, rested my head against his black army vest and closed my eyes. Maybe when I woke up this nightmare would have ended and I would wake up in my bed. That would make a lot more sense to me than whatever else was happening.
The background noise of people making camp got louder, and when I opened my eyes I saw fire reflected off some of the walls near the centre of the ruins. Colonel O'Neill was waiting for us, a dark shadow against the light, standing legs apart and one hand on his gun. I hated weapons, self-defence or not, even when I had one, besides, one of them shot me.
'Was she making trouble?,' he shouted in our general direction.
'No, Sir,' Sam shouted back. 'Just tired.'
'Alright. We should have an extra pack somewhere...'
Teal'c put me down by the fire, then walked off to help the others put up tents. I shuffled around, pulled the jacket tighter around my shoulders and reached one hand for the fire.
'Careful,' I heard a voice behind me. 'Don't burn yourself.'
Dr Jackson appeared out of the darkness and sat on my left.
'I'm more worried about my hair catching fire,' I admitted. He reached out one hand and moved a rogue strand from my face behind my back. I tried not to take too much notice and act as naturally as possible. 'Thanks.'
'How is the arm?,' he asked.
'I'm not sure.' I pushed the colonel's jacket off my left shoulder and tried to inspect the bandage from above. 'Every time I move my shoulder everything hurts.'
'Ah, yes,' was his reply. 'Muscle trauma. That could last a few days.'
I put my right hand on my left arm, rubbing gently over the bandage, and suddenly I had one of the memory flashes, followed by a crazy idea. I shut my eyes, tried to shut out all the noise and only feel the heat of the fire.
'Are you alright?'
I barely recognised Dr Jackson's voice. I screwed my face up in concentration and imagined pure white light come out of my right palm.
I felt the light penetrate the bandages and imagined it binding together my skin, sealing the wound. Then it went deeper, rejoining tissue, reconnecting nerve ends and resealed blood vessels.
I opened my eyes and suddenly felt the cold night air again. I gasped for breath and my right hand dropped from my left arm, no strength left at all. With amazement I saw that the blood stains had gone. I checked, the ones on my dress were still there, but the bandage was pure white, as if nothing had ever happened. Dr Jackson reached out a hand and touched the bandages, then, with great care, he untied the knot and layer by layer he unwound it. I heard more people approach as the last loose loops slid down my arm and gathered around my elbow. The shot wound was gone, only rosy skin showed where it had been and was fading quickly. No blood, no scar, it was as if it had never been there. With all my will power I lifted my limp right arm, my hand was shaking with exhaustion, and ran my fingers over my left arm. Even to the touch there was no difference.
Sam reached out and took the clean, white bandages off my arm, turned them this way and that, looking for any signs of the bleeding wound that had been there. Colonel O'Neill looked over her shoulder and let out a quiet whistle.
'You know,' he said then, 'I have this shirt at home and that damn coffee stain...'
'Sir, I don't think that's how it works,' Sam interrupted him. Then she gave me a sharp look. 'How did you do that?'
I shrugged, too tired to talk. Besides, I had the feeling the answer 'I have no idea' would not be satisfying enough and I'd get even more questions. My head started to hurt again, icy cold slashes through my brain and down my spine. I hugged my knees and buried my face in my arms. For all I cared the world could end. It wasn't even my world. The pain in my left arm and shoulder was gone, but the downside was that now the others would probably never trust me. Supernatural powers, and what else could it be, were always frowned upon. Unless I could somehow regain their trust or lose those abilities I had never asked for, my only chance of ever getting home was gone.
Once more I felt a hand on my shoulder, gentle, not the rough and merciless grip I had expected. I raised my head, blinking in the suddenly bright light of the fire. Sam was kneeling on the floor next to me. She smiled. That was a good sign.
'I think you need some sleep. And tomorrow we'll see.'
I nodded gratefully and allowed her to help me up and lead me away to one of the tents. On the way there she took my right hand and turned it over two times, as if making sure there was nothing else. They had prepared a sleeping bag and Sam had even laid out a spare uniform for me. I had been wondering how much longer I had to wear what looked like a mix of a nightgown and a wedding dress. In the cover of darkness and behind a crumbling wall I slipped off the colonel's jacket and the dress and pulled on a black t-shirt and green army pants. The dress I gathered up in a ball and returned to the tent where I used it as a pillow as I slipped into the wonderfully warm sleeping bag. But the events of the last few hours were spinning in my mind and I kept shifting my position, trying to fall asleep. The headache was another problem, although I was hoping it would be gone in the morning.
As I lay in the dark awake, I heard Sam talking to the colonel.
'... no device, and she has an awful headache.'
'Well, that sounds like-'
'I know, Sir. I suggest we take her back to base tomorrow and have Dr Fraiser check her out.'
'Yeah, sounds like a good idea. And that thing with healing herself...'
'Are you thinking of the incident in Antarctica, Sir?'
'As a matter of fact...'
They walked away and I could not hear any more. After what felt like an eternity I felt the warm cotton of sleep forming in my head and with a happy sigh I gave in.
When I finally rose from the deep chasms of dreamless sleep, the sun was high in the sky and everyone else in the camp was busy. The first thing I noticed was my headache. It was back, not as strong and as piercing as the day before, but nevertheless my head felt heavily bruised, inside and out. I pushed myself onto my elbows and brushed my hair out of my face with my left hand. Surprised I stared at my hand and my arm. I remembered being shot, and I thought I had dreamt the healing. But it turned out that it had been real as well. Next to me I saw another sleeping bag, as well as a notebook and some pencils. With a careful look around I made sure nobody was there, then I took one of the pencils, twisted my hair up into a bun and fixed it there with the pencil. At home I usually used a long hair stick with a red pin-wheel on the end, but this was not my home and a woman had to make do with what she had. I pushed myself out of the sleeping bag and saw an army jacket bunched up together with the white dress I had woken up in yesterday. After I had freed it, I started walking through the almost abandoned camp, looking for the colonel.
I found him leaning against a pillar close to the entrance and presented him with his jacket he so graciously had given me last night.
'Thank you, Sir,' I said as he took it without a comment.
'No problem,' was his brief answer. Then he motioned toward the pillars around the entrance with his gun. 'So, that secret entrance. Anyone else know about it?'
'I couldn't say, Sir,' I admitted. 'Like I told your Major Carter yesterday, I'm not-'
'- from around here,' he finished my sentence. 'Yeah, I heard that. But what exactly does that mean?'
'Well, as a matter of fact, I-'
He interrupted me with a gesture and pulled me behind the pillar. We both watched in silence as four people approached the pillars from the other side. They wore strange metal armour, knee-long chain mail shirts, metal arm and leg bracers and a circular chest and shoulder protector that covered their neck as well. And they carried staffs similar to the one Teal'c was carrying.
'Who are they?,' I whispered.
'They're jaffa warriors, probably sent by Ba'al or Anubis,' he hissed back. We watched as they slowed to a halt in front of the first two pillars, looked around and then marched straight on, through the second pair of pillars and disappeared. Colonel O'Neill drew a deep breath, then he gave me a sharp look. 'You were sure they wouldn't be able to come in?'
'As far as I understand it, the temple is protected by a forcefield that acts as a hologram and a portal as well. Only those who use the doorway actually enter it,' I tried to explain. 'But who-?'
'And nobody but you knows the doorway?,' the colonel insisted.
'I couldn't say, Sir,' I had to admit. This didn't seem to satisfy him, but he saw there was nothing more he could do. 'Who are Ba'al and Anubis?'
'So,' he said ignoring my question, putting a hand on my shoulder and leading me back to the camp, 'if you're not from here, where are you from?'
'I'm not sure you'd believe me if I told you,' I said with a sigh. The only two people I would trust to believe me on this were Sam and Dr Jackson. Everyone else seemed a little too narrow-minded to me.
'Try me,' was the colonel's reply.
'I'm from the same planet you are from,' I said slowly. He blinked.
'Yeah good one,' he grinned. 'And this time please-'
'Sir, you are from a planet called Earth by its inhabitants, it has one moon called moon, one sun called sun, yes, aren't we humans imaginative when it comes to naming the things closest to us. The closest planets are Mars and Venus and there are six other planets in our solar system, named after other Roman deities.'
He gave me a long look. 'And what is that supposed to prove? Any of the others could have told you that last night.'
'Yes, Sir, but they didn't. You can ask them,' I replied, getting annoyed. I knew this would happen. But I wasn't done yet. 'But I could tell you some things the others would maybe not been able to tell me. The current human population on Earth has just passed seven and a half billion, there is still ongoing conflict in the Middle East, no thanks to your country's effort, and by the way, I am from Oxford in Great Britain.'
That stumped him for a moment and I could see him think very quickly about what I had just told him.
'Yes,' he said then. 'But what kind of a name is Pan for someone from Oxford?'
'What kind of a name is O'Neill for an American?,' I asked back. We glowered at each other for a moment, before I gave in. I would never be able to win a staring contest against a stone-faced colonel. 'Yes, I am aware of the potato blight and the following flow of Irish people into the US. And Pan is short for Pandora. My parents liked the name. And now please don't tell me that Pandora is an alien name as well.'
'I wouldn't know that,' Colonel O'Neill grinned again. 'You'd have to ask Daniel, he's the mythology expert.' He spat the last word like others said 'freak'.
'Is he?' Dr Jackson got more interesting by the day. But this wasn't what I wanted and also not the point of this conversation. 'So do you believe me?'
The colonel shrugged. 'Maybe, but it's not my decision anyway. We'll take you back to base tonight and we'll find out there.'
'Where is that base of yours?' I was very curious. Was it on another planet? And if it was on Earth, how could they hide it from the rest of the world?
'Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado,' he said and walked away. For a moment I considered running after him, since he ignored my question before, but I guessed our conversation was over in any case. He had told me everything he was going to tell me, and at least now I knew I was going to go home, or at least to my home planet. Whether or not they would let me go was of course another question entirely.
I stood in the spot where the colonel had left me for a few moments, looking around, then I decided to explore the ruins myself. Nobody seemed to be too interested in me, and, for some reason I couldn't make out, the colonel didn't have anyone chaperoning me either. I wandered around the toppled pillars and half-standing walls, looked at the strange symbols and carvings. Some of them seemed to nag at me, taunt me to try and read them, but I couldn't say why. I had never seen anything like it before. The rock was a uniform grey but looked strangely artificial. There were no veins of different colours, no irregularities. Gingerly I reached out and traced some of the odd, pixel-like symbols. These writings looked like a strange 8-bit font made up by someone programming a Nintendo game. All symbols seemed to be assembled in a 4 by 2 square grid, and some of the boxes were carved out of the rock, others were left level with the rest of the surface.
One foot in front of the other I walked along the carved walls, stroking them with my hand as I walked past and trying to figure out the basis of this alphabet. I had no experience with this, but I figured the most occurring characters would be vowels. Unless the language was anything like Welsh, in which case anything was possible. I climbed over some rubble and fallen pillars and chose one that was leaning over and resting halfway over the low remains of a wall. With great care and on all fours I climbed up it, over the fallen wall and all the way to the top. There I tried to make myself comfortable, two and a half meters above the grassy paths between the structures, my feet dangling in the light breeze and I turned my face toward the sun with my eyes closed. I enjoyed this very much, only birdsong and the buzzing of bees was missing to make this moment perfect. But like the night before, the ruins and the forest were eerily quiet and not a single natural sound could be heard.
Something brushed against my soles and when I looked down I saw Dr Jackson waving up at me. He pointed at the bit of wall where the pillar was resting and called up to me: 'Do you mind? I don't want to get crushed.'
'I'm not that heavy,' I called back, pretending to be offended, but then I simply slid off the side of the pillar and landed in the grass next to him. 'What's so interesting?'
'Oh, everything,' he said, bent down and stared at the symbols, then he made notes in a notebook he was holding in his left hand.
'You can actually read those?,' I asked in amazement.
'Sure, it's not that difficult,' he told me over his shoulder. 'The language is basically Latin, and once you know that the rest is simply figuring out the alphabet.'
'Yes, but is it a phonetic alphabet?'
Dr Jackson turned around to look at me.
'Because let's face it, English is not the most phonetic language. Latin however was, and they invented the letters we are using, if I'm not completely wrong, so they should be almost identical to our normal alphabet, right?'
Dr Jackson was still staring at me.
'I had two semesters of linguistics at university,' I explained with a shrug. 'It's just one of the things that always annoyed me about English.'
'Yeah, I agree,' Dr Jackson said slowly.
'So, Dr Jackson, what does it say?'
'The wall,' I pointed behind him. 'Can you read it?'
'Parts of it, other parts will take some time to analyse.' He turned to face the wall again and scratched his head. Then he pointed at the second last line just visible under the pillar. 'Like this part, talking about the red sun...'
'Planet,' I corrected him without hesitating. He paused and turned back to me again. 'It doesn't say sun, it says planet, which is red, so that makes sense, wouldn't you say?'
He continued to stare at me while I could feel the headache welling up and reaching new levels of pain.
'Yes,' he ventured then, 'but how did you know that?'
I couldn't tell him, because I had no idea where that had come from. And the headache was slowly climbing up the insides of my head. My throat felt like it was on fire, my nose was burning and when the stabbing feeling reached my eyes, I quickly covered them with my hands and crouched down on the floor. The pain kept moving, all the way up to my crown, then it ebbed off again. When I took my hands off my face, Dr Jackson's face was right in front of me, looking concerned. His blue eyes pierced into mine and I could only stare back for the fraction of a moment, then I had to look away, confused about my heart racing and my cheeks starting to flush red hot again. I gave a little embarrassed laugh.
'I'm fine,' I lied weakly. 'And I don't know how I know. The words were just suddenly there.'
He didn't move.
'Can you please stop staring at me like that?'
'Oh, sorry,' he said quickly, then he reached out a hand and helped me back on my feet again. 'So, Pan, where are you from then?'
'I live in Oxford,' I explained to him. 'As in Oxford, UK, Earth.'
His forehead wrinkled. 'So you're not just not from here, but you're actually from the same planet as us?'
'Looks like it,' I said, rubbing my forehead. The pain had passed, for now, but a prickling sensation was still there. 'Although I'm pretty sure on my planet the American army does not have secret interstellar missions where they travel to foreign moons and look at alien ruins.'
'Well, you'd never know,' he said with a wink. There was that smile again, but it was gone in an instant. 'But they are not the army, they're US air force.'
'That's not the same thing?'
I shrugged. 'I wouldn't know. Never had much interest in uniforms and guns.'
'And, sorry for asking, but ... your name?'
'Pan is short for Pandora. Don't ask me why my parents chose that name, but it brought me grief ever since I opened my lunch box at school on the first day. I went by Pan ever since then.'
'I see,' Dr Jackson replied with a grin. 'Just don't tell that joke to the others, they are unlikely to appreciate it much.'
'Thanks for the warning,' I grinned back. Then I took a step back. 'I better stop distracting you from your work.'
'That's alright,' he said quickly. 'If you want some food, see if you can find Sam. Other than that, try not to get lost or wander off.'
'I've had my share of jaffa patrols this morning, I think I'm good.'
I left him kneeling under the slanted pillar and walked on through the alien structure. For a moment I considered returning and asking him about Ba'al and Anubis, but then I decided to try and keep my time with Dr Jackson to a minimum. Some of my old memories were returning, and they were even more painful than the headaches. The walls around me had mostly crumbled to rubble, but it still felt like a maze. They had put up the tents of the camp in the only empty space all around. Possibly a large chamber when this building had still stood tall and proud, I thought.
Behind the next corner I almost ran into the giant called Teal'c. In bright daylight he was still as intimidating as ever, his bald head shone in the sun almost as brightly as the gold symbol on his forehead. We stared at each other in silence for a few moments, his African features not changing one bit, apart from one eyebrow, that slowly climbed upward. I backed down first, giving him a smile and reaching out a hand.
'I just wanted to say sorry about last night,' I started. This all felt really awkward. 'I didn't know where I was and who you were and whether you were the ones who had abducted me in the first place. I only attacked because I knew you were right behind me and I thought you had found me.'
Teal'c bowed his head and the corners of his mouth first twisted down and then upwards. He reached out his right hand and carefully took mine. Then he let go.
'Indeed, I had discovered your hiding place. I thought you might be a jaffa waiting to ambush us. When I discovered you were just a young woman and no trained warrior I merely defended myself and planned to render you unconscious. However I was interrupted before I could execute my plan entirely.'
'So you weren't trying to kill me?' That was blunt, even for me, but 'just a woman' was a worse insult than this.
'By no means did I wish to cause you harm, and had I succeeded I would have volunteered to carry you all the way to the camp, but it seemed this duty only fell to me on the last few meters.'
'Yes,' I agreed, 'but had you taken me out, you wouldn't have found the ruins in time.'
'Indeed,' he replied and bowed again with his strange, crooked smile.
'Have you seen Sam anywhere?,' I asked the question I had wanted to ask all this time, trying to end this conversation as quickly as possible
'Samantha Carter? I believe she has returned to the camp after making some observations this morning.'
'Okay, thanks,' I said, gave him another smile and walked back the way I had come. Teal'c was a strange person, and I guessed he was not from Earth at all. The jaffa I had seen this morning also had had strange marks on their foreheads, but black and not gold like his. However they carried the same weapons, and even if Teal'c was not wearing a grey metal armour but an air force uniform, I was still certain he had at least once in the past been a jaffa, whoever they were, as well, or maybe he still was.
Behind the tent I had woken up in I found Sam sitting on the base of a broken pillar. She was brooding over some notes of her own and occasionally cross-referencing with another two books she had on the ground in front of her. She looked up when she heard me coming.
'Hi, good morning,' she called and gave me a bright smile. Then she noticed the pencil in my hair and laughed. 'Oh, that's where it went. I was looking for that.'
'Oh, sorry,' I said quickly and reached for the back of my head. 'Do you want it back?'
'No, it's alright.' Her smile was still as bright as the sun shining down on the camp. 'We have plenty. Did you have breakfast?'
'I think lunch is more the term used for this time of day,' I grinned back. I had no idea how long I had been sleeping or indeed how long the nights on this moon actually were.
'Actually, that sounds like a good idea.' Sam closed her books, stood up and led me to the fireplace. The ground was still charred from last night's camp fire, but someone had already collected dry kindling and some heavy-looking branches and logs in preparation of the next night. Sam picked up an abandoned pack by the fire, fished around in it and then handed me two wrapped up bars and a bottle of water. 'Army rations,' she said with an apologetic smile. 'You can have a proper meal tonight when we're back at the base.'
'So you're taking me with you?', I double-checked. I unwrapped the bar in great haste. During all this walking and exploring I hadn't even noticed how hungry I was.
'We thought it would be for the best. If you are from Earth, we'd like to confirm that, also how you got here. And we'd like to run a few medical tests on you.'
'Will I become a lab rat?'
'Not quite,' she laughed. 'It's protocol. We'll all be checked out once we get back, and the results compared to our last examination.'
'And since I never had an examination,' I completed her sentence, 'mine will be a lot more thorough.'
'Exactly,' she replied and gave me another bright smile. 'And don't worry, our doctor is one of my best friends, and she's a really great person, so no need to be nervous.'
She had actually seen right through me. I smiled back. 'As long as she stays away with the syringes, I'm happy.'
We sat down in the grass and I felt that I finally had the chance to ask the question that had bothered me for so long.
'If you are from the US air force, how did you get to a different solar system?'
'Or are there some space ships I should know about?'
'No, not at all. We don't travel that way. Not far from here there is a device we call a stargate.'
'Stargate? That sounds fancy.'
'It actually looks really cool,' she admitted. 'But it works pretty much like an interdimensional doorway.'
'Like the doorway to the TARDIS?,' I asked, cross-referencing with some of my favourite science fiction. 'Is it bigger on the inside?'
'Well, that's one way of putting it...' I could tell she had no idea what I was talking about. 'I'd like to think of it more as an anchor for a wormhole. We create a direct connection between two gates, step through one end and within seconds come out at the other end.'
'Okay, that is pretty awesome.' I nodded. My knowledge of physics and astronomy were limited. My degrees in Literature and Art History didn't cover a lot of those topics. Of course I still found them highly interesting, but when it went beyond the basic principles and into the formulas I usually shut off and thought of something else instead. 'Did you build it?'
'Oh, no, they were already there.'
'On Earth and all the other places we visited. As far as we know there are more than ten thousand gates scattered across the universe. So far we have found out that an ancient alien race created the gate system spanning across multiple galaxies and then just disappeared. We still don't quite understand how they built it, which is why we examine any of their ruins and remains we come across.'
'So this whole place was built by them as well?' I was in awe. Maybe the universe was much smaller than most people thought. 'I mean, not that it couldn't be, I just thought there'd be more intelligent races out there.'
'There are, the ancients have just been around the longest,' Sam explained. 'We have met a few more races, some friendly, some not, but even they can't tell us enough about the ancients to satisfy our curiosity.'
'I see. And were those ancients friendly?'
'Who knows,' she grinned. I had the feeling that there was something more, but even if I asked, I knew she wouldn't tell me now, not yet.
'I heard Colonel O'Neill mention two names before,' I ventured. 'Who are Ba'al and Anubis?'
'Well, they are some of the unfriendly people we have met so far,' she answered vaguely.
'Look, I'll tell you more tonight at the base, okay? It's not something I can discuss.'
'You don't trust me,' I stated. I didn't blame her, we only just met on an alien planet and I claimed to be from her own home world. I could see that that was difficult.
'It's not that I don't believe you,' she tried to reassure me. 'But it would be better if I wasn't the one doing the explaining. We'll answer all your questions later, I promise.'
After our little chat, Sam walked away to continue her research, and I continued wandering through the ruins. It would probably have been a lot more interesting, had I actually known something about those ancients and their culture. In high school our art teacher had taken us on an excursion to Rome, and I had enjoyed every minute of it. Speaking Italian was of course an advantage, but there had been nothing more fantastic than sitting at the Fontana di Trevi until after midnight in the warm summer air and surrounded by chattering people. I had surprised myself how much I really enjoyed that moment, even though I hated other people as much as cats hated water, but then and there all the other people had just been the background, and all there really was were the night lights reflecting off the fountains and illuminating the beautiful facades.
I sat down on a stone block that was almost as high as my hip and looked around. I saw soldiers walk in twos between the toppled walls and all the way to the edge of the shallow valley, I saw Teal'c practise his fighting with imaginary enemies, and I saw Colonel O'Neill stand like one of the few remaining pillars and stare toward the entrance, not moving a muscle. For the moment all I could do was sit and enjoy the sun. And think. Sometimes I really enjoyed just sitting and thinking about myself and my place in the world, and it seemed it was time to include some new insights into what I had already established over the years.
It was quite ironic how many people declared to go on a journey to find themselves, and if you really took an interest, you would see a lot of instagram photos of food, things they did and people they met, but only a handful of people would know that this was not how you discovered yourself. To do that, you didn't even have to travel anywhere. I had spent most of my childhood in a pretty isolated place, and being a bookworm I never had a lot of friends in school. So instead of going to parties, getting drunk and getting laid I had spent a lot of time with myself. I would not call myself enlightened, but at least I knew what I liked, what my decisions were based on and that my intuition was right most of the time. To find yourself, the first step was to observe yourself, and in the age of Netflix, Facebook and media not telling you what was important but what they thought you'd like, it was quite hard to shut the noise of our crowded little planet out and discover who you really were on the inside. And here I was, sitting on another planet in the ruins of a long dead alien civilisation and trying to re-establish all those things I thought I knew about myself.
I had only been brooding for a few minutes before heavy steps coming through the grass towards me interrupted my thoughts and I looked up. Dr Jackson was coming my way, his notebook in his right hand and one finger between the pages.
'Am I interrupting?,' he asked, but I just shook my head and invited him to have a seat. My insights could wait for another time. 'I found another passage not far from where you helped me before, and I was wondering...'
He showed me his transcription of the carving and his translation. "The door shall open in the darkness" was what he had translated.
'It doesn't make sense,' he explained. 'And I have to admit that this language is harder to read than any other dead language I have come across. Many words are ambiguous and depend on the context.'
I nodded. I knew they did, even though I couldn't tell how. Deep inside my brain the hammering of the constant pain started to increase slowly the longer I stared at the alien yet somehow familiar letters.
'And since you figured out the celestial body in the writing meant planet instead of sun,' Dr Jackson concluded, 'I was hoping you could...'
'Eclipse,' I replied hastily and looked away. 'The word translates to eclipse.'
My hope that my short and quick answer would somehow stop the headache turned out to be false. As if a mining team of dwarves had let themselves in through my earholes, my head was filled with hammering stabs of pain, my forehead felt like it was bulging with every blow and my ears were ringing with metallic noises. Flashes in bright neon colours clouded my vision and created a firework in front of my eyes. I tried not to show it this time, but something in my face must have given away the pain I felt at that moment.
'Do the headaches get worse?,' asked Dr Jackson and wrinkled his brow.
'It's a constant pain in the background,' I tried to explain. 'But at times it's stronger and then it's almost gone again.'
'When does it get stronger?'
'I'm not sure.' I pointed at his notes. 'But that certainly makes it worse.'
'Yes, maybe there is a connection. How do you know what the words mean?,' he insisted and pushed his round glasses back up his nose. They seemed to make his blue-eyed stare even more intense and I could swear I felt the heat on my skin.
'I told you, I don't know,' was my reply, and I couldn't help but sound slightly annoyed. 'Until last night I never saw writing like this, and I swear I still can't read it. The translation just appears in my head.'
'As an actual phrase?,' he wanted to know. 'Or just a concept?'
I stared at him. 'Yes, a concept, a base idea without any words or language. That's how I always think though, so I couldn't tell you if any other way was possible.'
Now it was Dr Jackson who stared at me.
'I'm just ... Why do you not think in words?,' he asked curiously.
'Because first my head would have to decide which language to think in to start with and then constantly translate into another to transfer the subtleties native to each one. So at some point forming actual words with your mind becomes too inconvenient and you...'
'Yes, but what other languages...? Sorry, I should have mentioned, I'm a linguist,' he explained himself.
I laughed. 'And here I was thinking you were a physician, Dr Jackson, not a polymath.'
'What makes you think I'm a polymath?' He seemed almost shocked at my implication. 'And you can call me Daniel if you like.'
'Well, Daniel,' I continued and grinned,'you are part of a space program, which I consider to be astronomy or astrophysics, you are climbing around ruins which should be the job of an archaeologist, and you study dead languages which is the only thing so far that relates to your job at all.'
'Ah, but I am an archaeologist and anthropologist as well,' he said with a raised digit. 'So maybe not too strange after all.'
'Fair enough.' I laughed. I enjoyed this conversation far more than I would care to admit. And I felt that I liked Daniel way more than the short time I had spent with him should allow. I knew what this meant, and what my response should be: extreme caution. This was just what my head had been waiting for, another Daniel to enter my life, someone to fill the void that had been eating me from the inside for the last few years. But I knew this shouldn't be happening, not now, not like this. So I decided to try and keep my distance, as far as having a highly interesting conversation, shielded by ruins and surrounded by green grass in bright sunshine allowed for any such distance to be kept.
'Back to my question,' said Daniel, 'what other languages do you speak?'
'Really just one other,' I told him. 'But I picked up the basics for a few more, wouldn't consider myself to be fluent though.'
'Italian,' I interrupted him. 'My family is Italian. But I also learned French and a bit of Spanish and Old English. Nothing too impressive though, my main two are English and Italian.'
'Di dov'è Lei?,' was Daniel's next question, and I had expected something like that. Linguists like all other academics loved to show off.
'Actually I'm really from Oxford, I was born there. But if you want to know where my parents came from, they just moved back to our family home close to Montepulciano in Tuscany.' I hadn't answered in Italian. Every time someone learned I spoke Italian as my first language, they assumed that I'd prefer that, even though I had never lived in Italy. We had gone for family holidays and all that, but having people assume I wasn't English just because I spoke another language had always been quite offensive to me. 'And what alive languages do you speak, Daniel?'
I had inserted 'alive' for good reason. This guy even spoke an alien language that had been dead for a few thousand years, maybe longer.
'Well,' he began, 'there is the ancient Egyptian dialect I first discovered on Abados...'
'Okay,' I interrupted him. 'Maybe apart from alive I should have added terran. After all, I don't know any other planets.'
'Okay,' he started again. 'My grandfather is Dutch, so that was one language I picked up at a very young age, and, well, to be honest I lost count.' He laughed. 'Over the years I picked up all Roman and Germanic languages, most of the African and Asian dialects and quite recently I have learned the basics to the South-American languages.'
'I think the question better applied here is, what language do you not speak.' I laughed. 'Most people must find it incredibly hard to keep up with you.'
'That is probably true.' His face was very serious when he said it, and for a moment he seemed lost in thought. Then his face went blank and his eyes lost their shine. He almost looked sad. I wasn't sure what was going on, and I couldn't decide what question to ask next, they all seemed equally important, and whatever I had brought up, it didn't seem to put him in a good mood. So I just sat there in silence, looking around at the temple walls and trying not to read what it said on them.
'Daniel?,' I finally asked after some time had passed, and even though I saw it coming, the stab of pain in my chest surprised me.
'Why have you come to this moon in particular?'
'The ruins. The address was on a list we knew was closely linked to the Ancient civilisation, so we decided to have a look.'
'Ah, yes. We came here through an object we call the Stargate...'
'Yes, Sam told me about it. Something to do with wormholes?'
'Stable wormholes yes, and basically you dial the gate like a phone, a sequence of six symbols and the symbol of origin. And one of these sequences lead us here.'
'I'm not sure I understand that,' I admitted.
'Neither do we,' he laughed again. 'But it works.'
'Right. And you expected to find ruins?'
'We expected to find something, but -'
'Hey, Daniel and , uh, ... Forest Lady!'
We turned around and saw the colonel come our way.
'What's up?, shouted Daniel back and jumped up.
I slid off the stone as well and turned to the colonel 'Forest Lady? Are you serious?!'
'He doesn't mean it,' hissed Daniel. 'And if he did, it wasn't intended as a compliment. He's not that kind of person.'
'Time to pack up, campers,' the colonel shouted, waved and turned around without another word.
'Alright then,' said Daniel and motioned me to follow him as he made his way back to the camp. A little bewildered about the sudden organised chaos in the group I tried my best to stay out of the way where I could and help where I couldn't avoid it. But it turned out I only had to carry my own bundle of clothes and most of the boxes stayed in the camp.
'This place is safe, right?,' the colonel asked me again after taking me aside.
'I believe so, sir.'
This answer didn't seem to satisfy him very much.
'Unless they know the way to open the door, nobody could find this place,' I tried to reassure him.
'The guardians know the way, don't they?'
'Yes, sir, but they would never give that information to anyone seeking destruction,' I said, knowing I was talking to a soldier of the US military here, air force or not. I never trusted the yanks. I had seen too many movies.
'Good. I'll just leave two men here then.'
That seemed to be another conversation concluded and I simply tried to stay as inconspicuous as possible while orders were given and packs were packed. Apparently we would also be accompanied what looked like a medium size Mars Rover they called MALP that would carry most of the heavy items for us. Within a few minutes everyone was ready to go and I was told to join Daniel Jackson in the middle of the group with the colonel, Sam and Teal'c walking in the front and two of the other soldiers bringing up the rear. We assembled in front of the four pillars marking the entrance and after reassuring ourselves there wasn't another group of jaffa approaching, Colonel O'Neill lead us away into the forest. The sun was still fairly high up in the sky, I would have called it early afternoon, and somehow in broad daylight the journey through the forest didn't seem as long and terrifying as it had the night before. Maybe it was also because of a lack of long hair and skirts getting caught on branches on my part.
Everyone seemed tense and had their guns at the ready, always listening for footsteps getting closer. Even Daniel carried a gun, I noticed. But for some reason that didn't upset me half as much as it should have. Nobody spoke and somehow we made it through the woods in a fairly short time, following the overgrown pathway and the GPS systems they all carried. It lead straight to the edge of the forest, or so it seemed. When we finally stepped into the bright sunlight I saw it was just another clearing, not quite as big as the one containing the ruins. There was a giant upright ring with strange symbols and glowing arrows all around it and we were rushing towards it. In front of it was a pedestal with a round top surface on waist height, which had the same symbols and a large red button in the centre. The soldiers took up defensive positions all around us while Daniel started pressing symbols all over the circular keyboard on the pedestal. He noticed me staring at him and gave me a little smile.
'Don't be frightened,' he said, then he put his hand on the semi-spherical red button in the middle. His hand looked tiny in comparison. The button lit up and so did the arrows on the ring, then suddenly the ring filled with a white and blue glow and with a noise like rolling thunder a huge wave lashed towards us, as if a boulder had been dropped into a lake. I nearly fell over backwards from shock, but then it was like nothing had ever happened. The ring was filled with what looked like shimmering water. Only through a haze I noticed the beeping as the colonel punched little buttons on a device on his wrist.
'So that's a wormhole,' I breathed, staring in disbelief at the calm watery surface. It was hypnotic and terrifying at the same time, water standing upright like that and not flowing away.
'It's the event horizon of a wormhole, yes,' I heard Sam's voice next to me, but I couldn't take my eyes off it. It was so beautiful, glittering in the sunlight.
'And we have to go through it?'
'Well, if we want to go home, yes,' she agreed.
'I'm not sure I can,' I admitted. 'When you first told me, I thought it was amazing, but now...'
'Scared?' The colonel sounded almost amused at my discomfort.
'Terrified, sir,' I said flatly and for the first time took my eyes off the circle to stare him in the face. 'But that won't stop you, will it?'
'Nope,' he said, turned around and walked straight into it. He disappeared. The others began to follow him, Teal'c went, then the two other soldiers, only Sam and Daniel remained with me in front of the stargate.
'We have to go, otherwise it will close on us,' Sam said quietly as the rover disappeared into it as well. For a moment I was tempted to run behind the circle to see whether it really disappeared, but the watery surface was slightly transparent and I could tell there was nothing but deserted forest behind it on the other side of the gate. So I took a deep breath and took slow steps toward the gate, watching as it filled my entire vision. I reached out one hand to feel the surface. It really did feel like a thin film of cool water, and behind it nothing. I pulled my hand back but it was dry, as if all I had touched was air. So I looked to Sam and Daniel on my sides for confirmation before I finally took another deep breath, hugged my clothes bundle tightly with both arms, closed my eyes and made the final step into the stargate.
I couldn't tell how long the journey took, but it felt like it took forever, and at the same time I knew I was there in a heartbeat. With great speed I exited the gate on the other side and only Sam's quick grab for my arm stopped me from falling to the floor. As amazing as the journey had been, I was even more surprised by the sudden change in scenery. Sunlight had turned into neon tubes on a high ceiling, the grassy floor, forest and blue sky had become concrete floors, walls and ceilings. I was surrounded by people in uniforms, some pointing guns at me. With a gushing sound the stargate behind me deactivated and the shimmering light, that had also filled this room, disappeared. I backed away, not used to this grade of passive aggression. I saw Sam wave at a window further up the wall and I saw a bald man in a short sleeve shirt hurry down some stairs in the room behind it. Only moments later he came through a door on the left of the room.
'Stand down!,' he called to the soldiers who immediately lowered their guns and tried to look inconspicuous, then he started talking to the colonel, who I hadn't even noticed among the uniforms. Sam gestured me to follow her off the ramp that lead to the stargate. As I walked, I turned to look at it once more. It looked different to the one on the planet. It was in big red braces and seemed to be connected to a lot of high voltage power lines. Also I couldn't see the device Daniel had used to operate the gate on the moon we just left. Sam approached the bald man, who had his hands behind his back, stuck his chest out and was looking me over as I approached. He wasn't short, but he was quite round, and a good few years older than the colonel.
Sam stopped in front of him and saluted.
'Welcome back SG1,' he said and a fond smile flashed across his face. Then his gaze travelled back to me. 'And I see you brought company.'
'Yes, sir,' Sam replied, half turning to me and giving me a smile. 'We found her disoriented on the other side and she claims to be from here.'
The old man's eyes hardened somewhat and I felt it was better to say something.
'I'm Pan, sir,' I said quietly. 'Pandora Polo.' I knew better than to offer my hand. He did not look the kind of person who would have taken it.
'Well, we'll see about that,' he said not unkindly and turned to the colonel. 'Debriefing in 10 minutes, and please get her checked out.' Then he turned and walked briskly out one of the doors on either side of the hall. And that seemed to be it.
Sam gently led me through a door, down a corridor and around a few corners past lots of rooms and other corridors and by the time we entered what looked like a field hospital I had completely lost all sense of direction. Inside were brighter lights, a few hospital beds lined up against one wall and on the other, higher up, was a viewing room with a large window that was deserted for now. Several medical machines flashed and beeped steadily and several people in white lab coats were bustling about, tending to people, some on or in the beds, others simply milling about.
A rather short woman with a face like a mouse came up to us, gave Sam a warm smile and then looked at me.
'And who do we have here?,' she asked and tucked one of the brown strands back behind her ear.
'We picked her up off-world,' Sam explained before I could open my mouth. 'Just check her through and I'll pick her up after the debriefing.'
'Anything I should know about?,' she asked while still looking at me.
'She has some awful headaches from time to time,' Sam explained and I thought that I saw a look the two women shared for just a moment too long.
'Alright, I'll have a look,' the doctor said and led me through the room to a bed in the corner.
After what felt like an hour of getting needles stuck into me and being screened by every single machine they had available I sat on the edge of the bed and observed my surroundings. The doctor, who had introduced herself as Dr Janet Fraiser, had disappeared into another room to evaluate the results and nobody else had bothered to talk to me. I saw the colonel come through the door, pay absolutely no attention to me and got ushered behind some curtains by a nurse. After a little while he came back out, massaging his arm, looked around and saw me. He walked over and gave me a nod. I shrugged. I had never been one for non-verbal communication.
'The general wants to see you,' he explained and walked off. I jumped up and had to jog to catch up to him. He led me through the maze of corridors, up some stairs and into a room that was full of computers, screens and people, but was dominated by a giant window looking down onto the stargate. As I watched, the dark circle came to light, spinning, groaning and giving off steam.
'Hey!,' I heard a call from behind me and saw the Colonel O'Neill already halfway up some stairs in the back of the room. I hurried to catch him up and climbed after him. On the next level he entered through a door into what looked like a conference room. The enormous table in the centre was surrounded by many chairs, but only five were occupied and by familiar faces at that. At the end of the table sat the bald man from before, and the others were Sam, Dr Fraiser, Dr Jackson and Teal'c.
'General Hammond,' the colonel said. 'The girl from the forest.'
I shot him a look. 'I do have a name.' But he ignored me and simply sat down, leaving me standing in the full spotlight of attention. The general mentioned to a seat next to the doctor and I sat down gratefully.
'And what name would that be,' General Hammond asked when I had stopped shuffling in the leather seat.
'My full name is Pandora Lucrezia Polo,' I admitted with hesitation. I was still wondering what my parents had thought when they called me that. It was an embarrassment. 'But I'd be obliged if you could call me Pan.'
'And you are from...?' He left the question hanging with a hook on the end, but I was confident enough I could prove my answer if I had to.
'Oxford, sir. I was born there and was planning to move to Edinburgh once I finished my degree.' Aware that I was talking to an American who probably hadn't too much interest in foreign geography I added: 'My parents moved back to Montepulciano when my grandmother died a year ago. They are originally from Italy, but I prefer a cooler climate, sir.'
His blank stare made me nervous, but I had said all that needed saying and waited for another cue.
'We'll talk about that later,' he decided after a moment of silence. 'I called for you because Dr Fraiser wanted to share her findings on your medical and I wanted you to hear them.'
I nodded gratefully, but at heart I was terrified, and I couldn't decide whether it was because they seemed just as prepared to talk about my medicals without me, or that they deemed it important enough to talk about it at all. Dr Fraiser cleared her throat and opened a closed but rather large file in front of her.
'Her vitals are all as they should be,' she began and handed some printed sheets to the general. 'And her DNA confirm that she is from Earth.' She made a pause and I felt my heart stop. There was something terrible, and she didn't want to say it. 'I also found the source of her headaches.' She looked at me out of the corner of her eye and pulled a few pages from the file that looked like MRI brain scans. She handed them to the general and I craned my head to see. They were talking about me like I wasn't in the room, and this was after all my brain. I had a right to know. General Hammond studied the scans in silence and then handed them back to the doctor who finally passed them on to me. It looked like someone had sliced my head open just above the eyes and filled it in with dark blue ink. The left side was light, and the right side was dark as night.
'Half my brain is missing?,' I ventured. It didn't feel like that, and I had meant it as a joke, but nobody even smiled. They all just looked at me like I was about to die.
'Quite on the contrary,' the doctor replied and took the scan back. 'Your right brain half has increased in density to almost 700%.'
It took me a moment to process that. 'So my left brain half is normal?,' I asked and got a nod. 'And my right brain half has seven times more synaptic connections? How did that happen?'
'I suspect it is a tumour,' said Dr Fraiser gravely and I felt the floor drop away and I fell backwards into a giant black hole that had opened under me. A tumour. My breathing seemed unnaturally loud to me and my heart was racing wildly. Only when a voice pierced the silence did I feel the chair pressing into my back again and loosened my grip on the armrests.
'This case sounds familiar,' the general said with a frown. 'Didn't Jonas Quinn experience something similar?'
'Yes, but not on this scale,' the doctor explained. 'His anomaly was so small we could safely remove it, but I would strongly advise against removing a whole...'
I pushed myself up out of the chair, knees shaking.
'I need some air,' I murmured and made my way to the door on unsteady feet. On the way down the stairs I nearly missed one and only didn't fall down because I held on to the handrail in time. My brain felt very fuzzy and full of thoughts just out of reach. But one part was thinking very clearly and told me that we were far underground, and to get some air I had to find a lift. I knew I had passed several sliding doors that looked like lifts on the way to and from the hospital, but I would be lucky if I found them in the maze of identical concrete tubes. Breathing seemed to get more difficult and I had to hold myself upright with one hand on the wall. I took a few random turns and was completely lost after just a few moments. Soldiers were rushing around me, once or twice I saw a person in a lab coat, but they were heading in completely different directions, so I decided not to follow them. After a few more turns I gave up, my legs were shaking and I felt hot and cold at the same time, my heart was still racing and I felt like I was trying to breathe underwater.
With a whimper I slid down a wall and hugged my knees. The concrete felt cold through my t-shirt and made me shiver. I closed my eyes to stop the tears, but of course it didn't work. It never did. I heard running footsteps approach and die away again. This corridor seemed to be less busy than the others and the air was a bit cooler, even if that did nothing to improve the stuffy smell of too many sweaty people. The footsteps came closer again and stopped running. Then I felt a warm hand on my wrist. I didn't look up, I didn't even open my eyes. I just sat there, struggling to breathe.
'Got lost?,' I heard Sam's voice just above me.
I nodded. Then I blinked the tears out of my eyes and struggled back to my feet. I was still shivering, but my legs felt firmer than before. Wordlessly I followed Sam back down the corridor and around a few turns before she stopped in front of a lift and pressed the button. We waited in silence until a bell announced the arrival of the cabin. As we stepped inside, I heard another pair of boots running our way and to my surprise I saw Daniel racing towards us. My arm shot out and I stopped the closing doors just as he came to a halt in front of us. He and Sam exchanged a glance.
'I'll see you later,' said Sam and exited the lift. 'Meet me in the canteen when you're back.' Then she walked away and the doors closed on Daniel and me.
Hastily I wiped the tears of my face as the cabin was set in motion. I wasn't sure whether to be happy or annoyed about Daniel's presence, but I decided it was better than being alone right now. Other people usually helped to get my head clear and keep my feet firmly on the ground. However a small part of me would have preferred Sam's company. It was better than constantly having to watch myself so I wouldn't think or feel anything that was inappropriate in his company, that was so familiar, and yet so strange.
In silence we rode to the surface and exited the mountain through a giant car park full of army trucks and armed guards. Daniel led me through an opening into the rays of the late sun and off the road into the trees that grew all over the compound. I nearly didn't see the fences with barbed wire and the watchtowers. We walked under the green branches and I felt my head getting lighter and the warm evening air stopped my shivers.
'It can get to you, news like that,' Daniel said finally, breaking the silence.
I nodded, not sure what to say.
'I just want you to know,' he began and stopped mid-sentence. I halted and looked into his face. He readjusted his glasses and smiled. 'We have a lot of experience with these things. There are many situations we haven't come across yet, but I'm not lying when I say that we believe more than the average person on this planet. We have seen a lot of crazy things.'
I nodded again.
'And if General Hammond makes a background check on me and finds nothing?,' I asked, my voice nearly breaking and I felt tears rise to my eyes again. Ever since I arrived here that had been my worst fear. Not having a family, no place to return to, and even worse, losing the trust of the only people who might be able to help me.
'Then we'll find a way,' Daniel said quickly. 'Your DNA test was positive, so we already know that you're not lying. But we have encountered alternate realities before, so it wouldn't be the first...'
I leapt forward and hugged him. I couldn't help it. Tears streaming down my face I buried it into his chest and felt his arms around me for just a moment. Then I freed myself, struggling against my heart that told me to hold on.
'Thank you,' I said and smiled back. 'And sorry.' I looked at the wet marks my tears had left on his shirt, but he waved it away. 'What was that the general said about a similar case? I think I wasn't paying a lot of attention after...' My voice faltered and I hung my head.
He nodded. 'Jonas Quinn. He joined the team while I was ... away.' I noticed the pause, but that was a question for another time, so I just nodded. 'His DNA was altered artificially and he developed supernatural powers, he had visions of the future, but every time he had one his nose started bleeding and he had a seizure. They discovered that the alteration had caused a tumour in his brain, that was directly responsible for the visions he had. I think he learned to control it and managed to save the team and the base before it got too dangerous and they removed the part of his brain causing the visions.'
I nodded again.
'What do you think my brain does?' I asked and wandered over to a tree. It looked so real and smelled so beautiful after spending time underground. I could hear a few birds singing in the distance. This was a pleasant change after the quiet forest on the Ancient moon.
'Well, so far it appears you can heal yourself and read Ancient,' Daniel replied, following me.
'Who are those Ancients?', I asked back.
'They are an alien race that died out a long time ago,' he explained, watching me fondling the bark. 'They were incredibly advanced and were wiped out by a plague. Many had supernatural powers and could heal like you healed your arm.' Instinctively I looked down at my arm and back up again.
'And I have their language in my head?' I asked.
'I wouldn't know.' Daniel shrugged and scratched the back of his head. 'The last time anyone spoke their language, it was because Jack stuck his head into one of their libraries and it nearly killed him. It completely rewrote his brain with their knowledge and it took the Asgard to save him.'
I opened my mouth to ask the obvious question, but Daniel held up his hand and I shut it again. Obviously another question I wouldn't get answered. We walked back to the lift and went down into the maze.
'It should be either the general or Jack who tells you all this and answers your questions,' he told me when we walked into the canteen. As we came in, Sam got up from one of the chairs and came over.
'Right, I'll take you to your room,' she said with a bright smile and walked me out. 'Feeling better?,' she asked when we were out of earshot.
'Yeah. Sorry for running away like that,' I began, but Sam interrupted me.
'That's okay. We understand. The general will do some background checks once we have some details from you and Doctor Fraiser wants to keep an eye on you for the next few days.' I nodded.
'And what do I do the rest of the time? Can I leave the compound?'
'I'll ask, but I think it's better if you stay in here for a while.'
Of course they didn't trust me. But I saw there was no point in trying to persuade her otherwise, she wasn't even the one making the decisions. So I just sighed.
'Could I have a sketchbook and some pens and pencils? I don't like being bored.'
'Sure, we can pick some up on the way if you want.' She took a sharp turn and stopped in front of a grey door that looked like all the others. 'That's my lab,' she explained as she opened the door and turned on the lights. There were filing cabinets, tables, computers and screens all over the place. She rummaged in one of the cabinets and produced a sketchpad and a few pencils. 'If you want more, just ask,' she said and handed it all to me. I took it with a smile and followed her down more corridors. We stopped in front of another grey door that had a card lock and a guard in front of it. I looked at Sam with raised eyebrows.
'It's a safety measure,' she explained as she pulled her key card through the magnetic reader.
'Whose safety? You mean in case I steal his gun and start shooting people?'
That comment just got me a stern look from both of them. 'In case we have a situation that requires you to have a guide. An evacuation for example.'
'Does that happen often?'
We stepped into the room and Sam closed the door behind us. Apart from the uniform grey of the walls, the artificial lighting and lack of windows it was quite a nice room. It had a bed, a desk, a wardrobe and even a pot plant.
'Not as a rule,' she said in answer to my question. 'But there is the possibility, and we always put safety first.'
I nodded. The dress I arrived in, which one of the nurses had taken off me, was cleaned and on a coat hanger on the wardrobe and someone even put a selection of books on the bedside table. I scanned the titles and saw nothing of interest to me, a romance, a thriller and a spy novel. I put the sketchpad and the pencils down on the desk and sat down on the bed, dangling my legs. Then I looked up at Sam.
'I have to get back to work, evaluate my notes on the moon. But you can do what you want, really. Just stay out of prohibited areas.'
'I thought the whole complex was a prohibited area?' I was slightly confused. How was I supposed to tell the difference?
'Technically yes,' Sam said slowly. 'Just try to stay away from doors with locks on them, unless the door is open and people inside. That should keep you out of trouble. You can try and find the others if you like, maybe one of them can give you a tour.'
I nodded and she left. After another look at the books I picked them up and placed them under the desk. No need for them to take up room where they weren't wanted. Then, after another look around at my new home, I went outside. I stood outside my door for a few moments, looking around, then I turned to the guard outside my door.
'I'll go and explore a bit,' I told him. He stared straight ahead, not even looking at me. I resisted the temptation to wave my hand in front of his face. These guys weren't the Queen's Guard, so I wasn't too sure what he would do then. 'In case I'm not back when curfew starts, I'm probably lost, so someone has to come and find me, alright?' Still no reaction. 'Very well, see ya.'
I started walking straight ahead and to my relief didn't hear any footsteps following me down the hall. At the next intersection I turned to the left and to the left again, until I reached my door again. This time I went in the other direction and like that I started mapping out the underground maze that was now apparently my new home. I saw labs full of people in white coats, working on alien machines, pointing lasers or generally arguing, I rediscovered the canteen and I also found a gym, a locker room and several store rooms. As advised I stayed away from any closed door with a lock on it, but other than that I left no handle unturned. After a while I bumped into Daniel while cutting a corner on the left side.
I had forgotten that Americans had inverted traffic, like the rest of Europe. With a grimace I rubbed my shoulder.
'Sorry about that,' I said and helped him gather up the papers he had dropped.
'It's alright,' he replied and stood back up. 'It happens quite a lot around here.'
'Yes, but I'm British, and we apologise.'
'Only on paper.' I grinned.
I was about to walk on when Daniel started talking again.
'Have you had dinner yet?'
'Oh, is it that time already?' I hadn't even noticed how long I had spent walking around. But it had been afternoon when I arrived here, so it seemed about right.
'How about I drop these off in my office,' he said slightly too slow for normal speech. 'And then we can go grab something in the canteen?'
'Alright, why not.' I gave him a smile. That was the most reluctant invitation to dinner I had ever had. But it wasn't that at all, I told myself when I trotted after him. It was just him being polite and taking responsibility for someone strange to the facility. Besides, the entire staff would be there as well, so it was hardly an invitation to an intimate tête-à-tête. But why was there a part of me who was regretting that?
Pull yourself together! Remember last time.
When we reached the canteen I was slightly aghast at how many people were sitting in there having their dinner off a tray. This brought back unpleasant memories of my gratefully brief time in a boarding school. Some looked up as we walked in, but none paid us any notable amounts of attention. Daniel conducted me to the buffet and I did my best to avoid the too suspicious items that had been 'kept warm' to a brown crisp and seemed to be the wrong shape and colour. I wasn't a big eater and I was quite happy with my plate, but the cook behind the counter gave me a pitiful look and an extra scoop of chips when my plate went past her. I sighed. For some reason or other all Americans expected other people to behave exactly like them, and having ridiculously large dinners seemed to be a part of that. Hopefully nobody would notice me not eating all of it.
I followed Daniel to a table that was already being used by Colonel O'Neill, Teal'c and Sam. Daniel asked me to use the last chair at the table and went in hunt of a fifth into the crowd. When I had settled down, I noticed that Daniel's and my tray were the only full ones at the table.
'We thought, well, I suggested that maybe it was a good time to get all those questions answered,' Sam began, but the colonel waved her into silence. He fixed a gaze on me that went through me like a hot knife. But if he had tried to scare me with it, it didn't work. My nonna had been a master starer, and the colonel didn't even come close. I had learned that most people used it to test you rather than for any direct effect. Having your mind read was less scary than someone just acting like he was. I raised an eyebrow in return.
'What d'ya want to know?,' he said then and stole one of my chips. I didn't take any notice.
'Just like that? I thought the general...'
'Gave me full confidence on the matter. And I think it's better if you don't slow us down because you don't understand something.' The explanation didn't seem very satisfactory, but for now I didn't care. Someone was going to answer some questions. But which one first?
'I don't even know where to start,' I said pressing one hand against my forehead. 'There are so many confusing ones, and I think they may all be connected...'
A chair was dragged across the floor in a scratchy staccato and Daniel joined the table.
'I missed something again, haven't I?,' he said after looking around at our faces.
'Pan was going to ask some questions,' Sam told him.
'Yes, but which ones,' I wailed. 'There's too many... Like, how long have you been travelling? Who were the people on the moon? Why weren't you freaked out about me being there? Who are the Ancients?'
O'Neill reached across and put a finger on my open mouth. I shut it quickly. Daniel looked around the table.
'Why don't we tell her from the beginning?,' he suggested. 'And then afterwards she can ask questions.'
I nodded gratefully and picked up my knife and fork. One nearly empty tray, more stolen chips and about an hour later they told me that they had got the gate address off the list of addresses entered by Colonel O'Neill before the Asgard removed the Ancient knowledge out of his brain. And now I knew that Daniel had had a wife. Why was that the most important information out of the whole tale that should have turned my world upside down? But I had experienced something similar before, hadn't I? With Jeff and Lucy. And somehow Daniel's wife was almost a personal topic of interest for me. I scolded myself for my selfishness. There were more important things at stake here.
'So, colonel, you already had knowledge of the Ancients in your head?'
'Yeah,' he said, chewing on another one of my chips. 'But after a while I went insane, couldn't talk English anymore.'
'I see,' I said, looking down at my nearly empty tray and then around the room. Only a handful of people were still in the canteen, playing cards or generally socialising, but compared to before it was empty. 'So that's what will happen to me?'
'We don't think so,' Sam said quickly and gently grabbed my wrist. 'Jack's brain was completely overwritten by the ancient device, where as in your case the knowledge seems to be added and interlaced with your previous brain structure. It's not replacing your knowledge but adding to it.'
'I can't control it,' I tried to point out. 'And it gives me headaches.'
'That's another difference. Jack never had headaches.'
I looked at the colonel who shook his head. Then I looked down again. I knew about the Goa'uld, the Jaffa, the Asgard and even more about the Ancients, including the slightly disturbing story of Daniel's resurrection from the Ascended. But there were still a few questions left.
'So what happens now?'
They looked at each other. 'We return to the ruins and make some more research,' Daniel said. 'Sam wanted to make more observations and I still have a few things I want to check, inscriptions to copy and so on.'
'And me?' That was what I had actually meant.
Again they exchanged glances. 'It would be best if you stay in the base tomorrow,' Sam said. 'Janet is worried about the scans and wants to keep you under observation, maybe run some more tests and figure out what exactly happens when you get those headaches. Only if you want to of course,' she added quickly when she saw my dark expression. So the doctor wanted to experiment on me, I thought. But I was curious too what was going on, so I would have to endure some more pain to find out exactly how to avoid it. And maybe, just maybe, they found a painkiller that actually worked. I sighed and nodded in agreement. Maybe I needed a day for myself to figure some things out. I hadn't really had a minute to do that since I woke up in a stupid night gown in the middle of a forest on an alien moon.
And there was just one question left.
'Why? Why me?'
And nobody could answer that one.