Warnings: 1. Those who don't like confusing stories shouldn't read this one.
2. F-word used 2 and 1/4 times.
Authors notes: 1. I am grateful to Admiral Q O for editing this story.
2. I am grateful to Beatrice Otter for the inspiration.
It's a matter of energy.
Experiment on me.
There was no known family, nor friends, so they sent all that was left – a few books and small leather-bound diary - to Stargate Command. And since the military had no use for any of those items, they ended up on the desk of the one Doctor of Archeology.
Now the archeologist - rather famous in narrow circles we may say - was sitting by his desk and reading the diary, struggling through uneven handwriting of somebody who seemingly thought in pictures, not in words.
Bacteria have a mechanism to exchange parts of the genome between species. Iratus bug has a mechanism to insert chunks of foreign DNA into its chromosomes. And there is retrovirus delivery system, which can incorporate such mechanism into the human genome…
Running slight fever. Nothing like a week ago – I thought I was going to die. Retrovirus infection must be massive to work – every cell should be infected. Injections into the brain to bypass the blood-brain barrier are my favorite.
It worked. Seemingly. My body is ready to accept the bug DNA injections.
It is funny, how our memory works. I can clearly remember some moments of that day, almost half a year ago, and the other moments totally elude me.
I never felt that disgusted in my life. I yelled at him and slapped his face. After that it's all blur.
Another moment: Doctor Weir is talking to me. The meaningless string of harsh words.
Doctor, my ass.
I look above her shoulder and wish to kill Senator Kinsey so much it hurts. I know, he is dead already, but for bringing that woman aboard he deserves to die again.
She was fast in figuring out that protégé of The President is a more reliable position than protégé of The Vice-President. So what? She still is Kinsey's hand picked employee.
She falls silent. I think she knows what I am thinking.
I am trying to tell her that my way is the only way. We are doomed without finding an alternative food source for them. And that experimenting on prisoners of war without their agreement is not unethical, not cruel, not unjust… It is impossible if we still want to call ourselves humans.
It is so difficult to talk about kinetochore - centromere interactions with somebody who barely knows what DNA is. Funny, I can't hear my own voice.
"You are insane!" It's Beckett, standing at the office door. For how long he has been listening I do not know. "And who would volunteer for that mission, may I ask? I doubt that Hoffans would cooperate with us on that!"
The desire to hit him in the face manifests itself as a pain somewhere behind my eye sockets. His arm twitches in a protective gesture and he tries to control it.
Don't worry. I am not going to slap you again. You didn't understand what the first one was for.
"You are going to do it anyway, aren't you?"
I am grateful for the indifference in Weir's voice. If she would pretend to care I would slap her too.
You think I don't know that the only thing you care about is that… pet of yours?
And yes. I am going to do it anyway. Unless you lock me up.
"It's worth trying," she shrugs.
Now the machine is ready, thanks to Rodney. My 'drug' is ready too. As much as it could be.
Talked to Dex today, cornered him in the empty corridor.
He is a funny guy. He looks down at me, not because he is snooty, but because I barely reach his shoulder-height, and smiles one of those strange smiles of his.
He agreed to help me. I made him repeat the oath in his own language, and he did. I felt he was about to laugh, but I believed him. Can't understand what it is that is so weird about his face…
Hives. It's an interesting analogy. They do have Queens. And working bees. And drones. Funny thing is – the sex determination for bugs and mammals is completely different… Working bees are infertile females. So those… toothy elves, since they are diploid, are females from the bug point of view. They are XY though, so from the mammal point of view they are the proper males.
I think the drug works. It is a very strange feeling – like tickles all over my body. I can hear Marines breathing outside the door - two of them, their voices hollow and free of emotions.
Overheard Weir-Beckett conversation today. Not intentionally – they were two corridor turns away.
"Self-sacrifice? Elizabeth, you must be kidding. Rodney blowing up the entire planet, along with himself and our dear friend John – was that a self-sacrifice too?"
"No. And yet…"
"'Yet' what? Rodney's madness is just… more vocal. Their insanity doesn't prevent either of them from being wrong. "
"So you think it wouldn't work?"
"You mean the transformation? Oh, that will work. I couldn't design those experiments better myself. But the entire idea is against everything I believe in."
Here is MD for you. But he believes that we must respect the Hoffan's choice to kill half of their population. How do you like that? What's next? Should we legalize black market of donor organs? Respect a choice of those poor buggers to sell their kidneys for couple of hundred bucks? The one thing he is right about – self-challenge is not the same as self-sacrifice.
Drones. Probably the most interesting of them all. Brainless, though. Almost literally. Without the constant connection with the others - I don't know how they would operate. Bee drones are haploid; they develop from the unfertilized eggs. Drones we encountered here are diploid, but only technically. Paternal set of chromosomes is almost totally inactivated, except for the Y. Fascinating. The mechanism of inactivation is similar to the one that is used to inactivate the second X chromosome in human females. Only difference is that human X chromosome is inactivated randomly throughout the body – some cells have active paternal, and some – maternal X.
I had to repeat all injections, just to be on the safe side.
Shedding like hell. The new hair grows fast - my head looks like a porcupine dying of old age.
Hungry. Didn't eat for three days – body wouldn't accept any food. Running slight fever, but everything else seems to be all right.
The body gets… dryer. Denser. I am the same weight, 112 pounds as always, but… It seems like only skin and bones are left.
Queens. Diploid, XX – they are females from both points of view. It is so simple – X chromosome is more than five times bigger than any of autosomes – result of the merging. Almost ten times bigger than Y. Spermatozoid, which would give a life to female is much heavier. I wonder, what is the Hive sex ratio? One to a thousand? One to a couple of thousands? My theory is that Queen's body can sort the sperm (by its weight, for instance), and existing sex ratio is result of her conscious decision.
Hungry. Nauseous. Can't wait to try the machine. But my body is not ready yet. Got some water in, and it seems that it is going to stay with me. Unlike that energy bar this morning.
My stupidity leads to destruction of brown things.
What the heck does that mean? I put it in this morning. Don't remember.
Got a couple of weird looks. Idiots. It is just hair.
Every joint hurts. Every bone, every inch of the muscle. It seems like my body tries to rearrange itself into something…
Hungry. Tomorrow I will try the machine – no matter what.
Rodney. Yelling at me. Mathematical terms are heavily greased with swearing, so the lonely 'You are a moron!' sounds almost sweet in that cacophony.
Out of all those creeps I like you the best, Rodney. You must understand. You must understand.
I smile at him. It is not the effect I had expected.
Ah, teeth. I'm not gonna bite you.
At least he is silent now. I write a couple of words on the scrap of paper and push it toward him along the bench. Mustn't talk. Voice is worse than the teeth by now. He looks at my hand. Radiation burns - bonus from an unsuccessful attempt to use the feeding machine - are still on it.
Yes, Rodney. I'm not a blond yet, but I'm dumb. I screwed up big time this morning. However, my wounds will heal.
Suddenly he looks aside, the guilt on his face.
I'm not green! Thanks Infinity… Somebody was listening for my prayers – my skin is white and glossy, with a slight blue tint around the mouth and nose.
Well, it is not my favorite eye color. And the vision didn't change much. Maybe I don't have enough juice to run it properly...
My palms look funny. Proper, but funny anyway. All those holes… Tried to crop the talons, but they grow so fast. I wonder what they are for?
My hair is colorless now. Not dull, like grey hair of old people, but silky and shiny.
Studied the strand under the microscope – perfectly healthy, perfectly round in cross section, perfectly straight. I have to pull out the follicle and study it. Not now. Too tired.
Hungry. Can't use the machine. Energy surge is harsh, and I burn myself again.
Beckett offered some painkillers and sedatives. I sent him… far away.
Rodney works on the machine day and night; I think he is as tired as I am. I can see him. Finally. I can read him like an open book. He doesn't know what to do.
He says that the idea to imitate all energy emanations of the human body is as dumb as the idea to operate the Gate by computer system instead of a dialing device.
We look at each other for a long while.
"At least the priority will be yours this time."
He looks aside. We both know it is possible. Not easy, but possible.
I know what those extra nostrils are for! The bastards by the door are not very keen of morning showers, but now I can ignore them!
Major breakthrough – my body can take energy from the machine! Still harsh and painful, and I think our tuning is a bit off.
My body got heavier. The energy distributed itself as a weight wrapped around my skeleton, two red-hot lines along my backbone.
Gravity compensation immediately kicks in. I can fly! Well, I can jump across the room.
The GC turns itself off in the mid-jump – not enough energy to support it. Couple bench worth of equipment scattered on the floor.
My body can take the energy and store it. Can't use it. I can't give any advice to Rodney. Poor chap is devastated.
Beckett says I should stop eating. Totally. Supporting the secondary systems like liver and kidneys just takes energy from the primary ones. Like gravity compensators. According to Rodney's calculations I need to consume about two million energy bars a day to run this body. Three square meals will take me through a couple of seconds of gravity compensation.
Today I caught myself stalking the… Major. Why? No answer. The guy gives me creeps. Perhaps he is the most dangerous one. My body doesn't want him alive.
"What do you want?"
Funny, his eyes are not green or hazel as everybody thinks. They are grey with the bright brown ring around the eye pupil.
"Major?" I try to look innocent. It's impossible.
Will see if you dare to correct me.
He stays silent. He knows that I know how he got that promotion.
Last couple days Mr. Dex is almost meditatively polite toward me. I never saw him like that before.
We are circling the City like bunch of sharks – I'm stalking the… Major, silent Satedan stalking me.
I am IN. It is such a magnificent feeling – never to be alone. Always have somebody to comfort, to support… No one pays attention to me, maybe because I'm doing nothing – just floating around like a dead dog in the lake.
Beckett tries to check my weight. Not applicable, my dear. Balance monitor wouldn't stabilize.
"Do you have a death wish?" His lips are grey and not moving. "Then please do be so kind as to not to blame this suicide on me."
Son of a bitch. But he is right. I shouldn't waste the energy on jokes. My body devours every spare bit as it is.
I turned the GCs off. 230 pounds – not a joke. Medical verdict is to take it easy.
Marines by the door are thinking sex. Funny, their thoughts are almost identical – huge orgy, involving all inhabitants of the City.
Their eyes are following me, full of lust.
Just look at me, you idiots. I'm ugly.
Males. They don't care.
"I am contagious."
The fear and disgust are in their eyes.
Oh, why should I be such a pig? I should of slept with one… or both of them, and make them wash the sterile box for me. I should have done that two days ago. Too tired. Too hungry.
After the hunting season is over and everybody went to sleep, Queen absorbs most of the People without Faces – energy requirements for the mating season are enormous. Soon Queen chooses her first consort. Rather often he is her favorite, whom she will let to stay awake beside her the entire sleeping season. Soon her first son is conceived. She carries a child like a human female would, and milks him the entire next year. After that the child will sustain itself by solid foods, not unlike the human child of his age. After reaching the adolescence, the young one is provided with enough humans to carry him through the rest of the sleeping season, and goes to sleep.
Rodney tuned up the machine. I feel how energy is building, soft and warm, along my backbone. Can't use it. I wish I could – Universe is so beautiful, but I have barely enough power to look at it, left alone to understand it…
Weir says that her way is the only way. That without trying the machine on the real one (oh, I love that 'real')…
Right after her first child is born, Queen chooses another consort and breeds again. The second consort goes back to sleep, and the cycle is repeated as many times as necessary to replenish the losses of the hunting season. Those few People without Faces, which are left help to take care of the young. After breeding season is over, and another hunting season approaches, Queen takes her rest. There will be no younglings when the hunting season will begin.
He is here. The City is filled with his hunger and hatred. I wonder how he does it – every floor of the City is floated by his emotions only knee-deep. Not deeper. I don't want to touch the floor. If I just push my stool from the bench, I might reach the gurney and get some sleep. It is a bad habit to sleep in the lab, I know, but...
Right before the beginning of new hunting season Queen breeds again. Those are very short pregnancies. She brings a couple of big litters – a few dozen barely developed fetuses, almost embryos. They are placed directly upon the immobilized body of the human host, and can take energy from it at the moment they are born. Provided with food, they can grow to the full size in a few days. They will make a new army of People without Faces for the new hunting season.
Hatred is almost solid in the cell. It is difficult to breathe. He moves in the cage like scolopendra in the jar. I ask Marines to remove the field. They object and Rodney yells at them. I almost love the man.
Field is gone and finally I can see him. The creature in the cage is powerful and quick like a forest fire, but its emotions are cold. He looks at me and shows no surprise, I feel the icicles of his mistrust under my skin.
He is my baby, I hold him in my arms, and try to rock him. Damn, I wish I'd remember some lullaby… Ah, here is the one.
Little gray wolf will come…
He will grab you by your side…
He will take you in the woods…
Under brittle willow bush…
It seems to calm him down, and the flood of his hatred starts to subside. Soon only hunger is left - his hunt was unsuccessful, the season is very bad…
"Stop staring at him! We have stuff to do besides admiring his physique!"
It is Rodney, and I hate the man immediately.
Strange, but talking to our captive proves to be much easier, than I thought it would be. He accepts the images I show him, and responds in pictures. Soon we are crouching by the cage bars, and I show him the machine – huge thing of wires and monitors. I touch the feeding panel for a second, and pull my hand away, waiting for him to respond. The hundreds of colorful lines on the large monitor are dancing in concert, showing the various frequencies of synthesized energy.
Soon he develops a taste for the game. He touches the feeding panel for a moment, then sends me image of the line, which should be corrected. He changed all of them a hundred times over, and still he is not satisfied. I fall asleep in the middle of the exercise.
The first culling is the most difficult one for the young. Almost a third of them are lost every season. The young hunter stays with the House of his Mother for the entire season, but at the Gathering, which is usually held when season is over, he can be chosen for another House. If it didn't happen, he stays at his old House for another season. By the third season all younglings belong to the new Houses. Exchanging the young ones not only increases the diversity, which is a pressing problem in the society of half-brothers. It is a very powerful way to gain allies and keep peace between the families, for the hunter, while loyal to his new family, retains the loyalty to his Mother for a life. So a Queen which breeds strong and successful hunters is an invaluable treasure for the family.
His palm is pressed tight to the feeding panel, pinkish slime seeping from underneath it, dripping to the floor. I can feel his pleasure.
The lights blinked and went off – we overdrew the power limits, and the City cut the main energy line to this sector.
I can see in the dark almost as good as when the lights were on. My pupils are probably huge and round now, the size of the entire iris. His are... I can see my reflections in his eyes.
I push Rodney farther from the bars, just in case, poor chap screams and runs headfirst into the wall.
The emergency lights are on in couple seconds. I try the machine myself – oh, God, what ecstasy! It's better than… than anything I have ever experienced! It is so… warm, multicolored, alive…
And useless. My body can't use it.
Our captive looks at me sadly.
Oh, go fuck yourself…
He is perplexed, doesn't know what to make of it.
When the female is born, she is raised like a Queen from Day One. The males hunt for her, the males serve her. She usually stays with the House of her Mother for three or four cullings, learning and starting to breed by the end of her first season. She breeds with her mother's consorts at first, then after the second season, if her young have proved themselves strong, she starts to take consorts of her own. When the family becomes too big, the second ship is built, and the family divides. But alliance between the mother and the daughter is for life.
Before it all started there were two things I was afraid of the most. Besides, of course, the possibility to die a slow and painful death. Of course. Where was I? Ah, two things – to lose the ability to laugh and to lose my pointless curiosity. Both of them are still with me, thanks Infinity. As for everything else – who knows; it's impossible to tell.
Weir: "Could you please stop that?"
Why? Those chairs have such a smooth spin... All right, all right, I'll stop...
Weir: "Do you realize that this might be the single most powerful weapon against the mankind in this Galaxy? Wraith hadn't exterminated every human yet because they needed them as a food source!"
Genius. Oh, my dear – you thought of it just now? I've been thinking about this since… before it all started. And if they were in any way similar to me, that's what they would do. Exterminate every fucking human in this Galaxy. But they are very different.
Besides, it is not my decision to make. I'm just a research specimen here... I don't even know for how long you'll let me roam free.
Beckett starts to explain in length that their genomes most likely would fall apart without an input of human DNA, and proposes a rather complicated system of treaties between… ahem… and humans.
Thank you, Doctor.
Weir: "I think it's just too dangerous."
Yah. Perfect timing.
"Then kill him. He didn't tell anyone yet."
And you'll need an empty cage pretty soon too.
Major: "How do you know?"
Oh, you think that only your little friend there is telepathic?
"Let's just say - I know."
Major: "So, you can read his mind?"
That's right. An interesting reading too. That thing has mind of a frog: 'We ate, now we can sleep. We slept, now we can eat.' Want to know what is he doing now? Standing in the corner of his cage, sleeping, a huge satisfied smile on his face. And that imbecile doesn't give a… slime droplet about your plans to torture him to death…"
"No, I can't. But the others are too far away."
Major: "So you know where the others are?"
"Oh, go f…"
I shouldn't laugh. But the connection makes me overconfident and reckless. It is such a strange feeling – if my body dies, I will live forever anyway. I will live in every one of them…
Weir: "We want your kind to know that we have an alternative food source. We are willing to share the technology. Can we be reassured that you'll tell them?"
What an idiotic question. How is he going to hide it, if he shines like fully charged ZPM in the dark room?
He doesn't listen to her. He doesn't even look at her. Across the Gate-hall full of military he looks at me, and I am satisfied with indifference of his stare.
"You made yourself wrong. Your body needs real food."
He turns around and walks through the Gate, while the icy glycerol of his statement seeps slowly through my body and forms a frozen puddle at my feet. All eyes in the hall are upon me, both my Marines shift simultaneously, giving themselves a leeway for maneuver, moving from each other's fire line.
That bastard said it out loud. What did he do that for?
Evening. My Marines are fast asleep – I put a decent portion of Beckett's medicine into the water of the water stand they were using.
I still can hear him, halfway across the Galaxy. I am still connected to everyone, and I don't know for how long it will last.
It is so simple! You need energy to extract and use energy. The more you have, the wider your options are. We have more than humans, but not enough to use any decent energy source, like radiation, or gravity, or the energy which keeps the matter particles together. If we would have more, we would…
That was all. The archeologist put the diary aside, and read the reports, including the transcript of Dex's last debriefing. The Satedan didn't talk much during that final conversation with Lt. Colonel Sheppard and Dr. Weir.
"I gave my word," that was about all he said in response to all their questions.
After that debriefing the big guy had marched directly to the Gate hall, leaving behind his few possessions, dialed himself out and walked through the Gate, never to be seen again.
The archeologist put the report aside and pulled another one from the pile.
Negotiations. Slow, quiet, almost unreal. Three aliens waiting politely for Dr. Weir to stop talking, uttering a word or two. The single demand of the ambassadors was so strange, that it took a good half an hour to Dr. Weir to realize that they are not talking about the machine. And another half an hour has passed in fruitless attempts to explain to them that their demand cannot possibly be met. Until Lt. Col. Sheppard intervened with his:
"Which part of 'she is dead' do you not understand?"
The archeologist leaned back in his chair, thinking, his glasses reflecting soft light of a desk lamp. He barely knew the man, so he failed to picture in which tone of voice those words were said. Then he tried to picture himself saying that, and failed again…
Oh, he was far from anthropomorphizing the aliens. God only knows, what made them negotiate for a freedom for the dying female of unknown species, and what they were after, maybe they'd just wanted to make sure that that… being is no threat to them anymore. But for some reason the archeologist kept hearing the voice of his friend, who said once about Earth allies:
"We don't need their stuff… We do need them."
Maybe it was because Sheppard's words finally stirred some action.
"Then I want the murderer!"
The archeologist tried to imagine what was behind that exclamation sign, single in the entire report, and the single 'I' instead of impersonal 'we'.
Remains of broken chair by the wall, splinters on the floor, cracks running along the table surface from the place where taloned hand hit it…
After the member of the delegation was harshly ordered to leave by the other ambassadors, and left under heavy guard, the negotiations were over in about ten minutes. The guests bluntly accepted all the terms and sent down scientists. The scientists patiently listened to Dr. McKay's explanations and ignored all his pleas for the questions…
And in about two months, strange reports started to come from all ends of the Galaxy. They were so bizarre, that no one believed them at first.
Like no one on Earth the archeologist knew that the plane of one's existence does not depend on how good or evil one is. It's just a matter of energy. The solution was so simple it was astonishing that no one had thought of it before.
The archeologist pulled the diary toward him again. Yes, he was very happy that the terrible ancient problem was no more. That the people of the Pegasus Galaxy now could live in peace, and raise their children, and expect to die of old age, instead to be culled and eaten, like some sort of animals.
The regret was so tiny, that he didn't want to admit its presence at first. But now, in the depths of the night, he allowed his regret to surface, and studied it, like he would study a rare artifact.
Yes, they were communal creatures, but what had made them, all at once, leave behind their lives, and their social structure, and the millennia of traditions? The archeologist felt painful regret that no one would ever know what had done it - an uncontrollable greed, or lust for power, or curiosity? That no one would ever find out how it all happened. That no one would ever be able to make a connection with the live memory of those ancient ships, and read the old texts, and interpret the long forgotten proverbs…
All that was left of that ghastly society – the couple of hundred ships scattered all over the Galaxy, all empty, devoid of any speck of information, decomposing like dead fish. And the small brown book, lying on the desk in front of him.
The archeologist sighed, then took a pen and wrote the final entry into the diary, unwittingly trying to imitate the uneven handwriting of the author.
The Night from Day sixteen to Day seventeen.
His immobile body is at my feet. I sense his desperation.
Tsk, tsk, my dear. There is no way out. There is no one here to save your butt.
Weir'll kill me tomorrow. Heh, heh…
He tries to say something. I enjoy my power over him, and disgusted about it, but the desire to take his life is overwhelming.
The Universe rotates around me and starts to fall apart. Funny, it is almost no pain at all – the severing my connections with the others is much more painful. Oh, I chose the right man for the job, didn't I, Mr. Dex? His body is so close I can hear his heartbeat.
Now I know why his face always looked so weird to me. The man has two smiles, and neither of them quite reaches his lips. They live in his eyes – sad in the left one, and content - in the right.