11 Million Years Ago
Avalon was burning. Fires raged mercilessly across the surface of the planet, forests were burnt to cinders, buildings plumed toxic smoke that covered the sky, blotting out the sun and plunging everything into oppressive darkness.
Only one outpost remained, the others were buried under the flames and ash, and as if that fact was not soul destroying enough, the last few Alterans still occupying the outpost could see the impressive star drive of Atlantis from the domed control centre viewpoint as it raced from the blazing galactic fireball. Truly, it didn't make much difference to those that saw, the men and women were dead anyway - struck down by a plague so devastating the almighty Alterans were fleeing an entire galaxy to escape it.
But there was the contingency plan, and it was one that Hryna Ulesk was tasked with carrying out. He tried to blot out the devastation around him and focus solely on the workstation before him that linked him to the galaxy seeding device - named Redemption by his people - housed thousands of light years away. Ignoring the ache that seemed to be burrowed all the way through him since contracting the plague, Hryna waited.
In only a few moments a beep came from behind him, indicating that Atlantis had successfully opened a hyperspace window. He waited a few moments more, although time was of the essence he didn't want to doom the remainders of his race to the same fate he faced. While they travelled in hyperspace Redemption would not affect the city ship or it's inhabitants, detached as they were from space-time, but if something were to interrupt their journey...
He pushed the thought away, Atlantis' journey had been plotted to perfection over weeks by leading astro-navigators and he couldn't afford to hesitate any longer, he already felt the heat in the control centre rising. As he was about to initiate Redemption a wave of nausea came over him and he bent over double in his chair, the plague was reaching out to claim his life even now, after it had wrought such destruction in the years leading to this moment.
Losing balance, he fell from the chair and writhed in pain on the floor. Although unaware, Hryna must have cried out because another of the doomed Alterans - a young woman named Evyra - approached his station.
'You must initiate Redemption.' He urged, his voice sounded weaker than he had realised and when the woman stopped just short of where he sat, Hryna assumed she didn't hear him. He repeated the order as loud as he could while trying to drag himself up. When Evyra still didn't move, Hryna used the last of his ebbing strength to clamber back into the chair.
When his eyes fell upon her cold dread gripped him despite the rising heat of the air. She was smiling; a cruel and wicked smile he had only heard about in rumours, stories of the plagues true purpose. Veins turned black protruded her skin, she looked demonic - it was the most frightening thing that Hryna had ever seen.
The Infinite Beast was supposed to be a legend, a story cooked up to frighten children, enhanced by some primitive fear of the unknown that existed even within the heart of a race as old and advanced as the Alterans. But here it stood before him, exactly as described; not locked away as the stories told, but wreaking its terrible havoc.
'It is over.' The smile vanished when she spoke, replaced with a sneer. 'Your Redemption will bring about my Retribution, infant. I will protect this shell through the seeding, hide in this body until it feels the suns rays again. Then the vessel your people sealed away will rise. I will destroy everything you create, even if I have to wait a millennia.'
'Why?' Hryna croaked, his eyes roving the room, only to find the other two members of his staff lying on the floor in the throes of agony as he had been. 'What have we ever done to you?'
'You exist.' The possessed woman reached out to grab him but Hryna was quick enough to slam his palm on the pad that served as the activation signal for Redemption, simultaneously opening every Stargate in the galaxy and causing the controls hidden deep inside the abandoned temple that housed Redemption to automatically align themselves.
Moments after the woman was upon him, tearing at his flesh even as the blue energy swathed past them, creating a blank slate over the top of a disease ridden galaxy, so that life could begin anew.
His last thoughts were of her words, that this terror would awaken once again and plunge the galaxy into darkness with no end. He prayed for the race that would face this unimaginable horror, and hoped with everything he had left that they would survive.
Civilians bustling around Stargate Command was neither a regular or welcome thing, especially when they all wore badges marked IOA and busied themselves taking audits, checking regulations and handing around enormous amounts of paperwork. But for Daniel Jackson it provided a window. With all Gate activities suspended during the visit he had holed himself up in his office, working on translations and research papers that had been left on near permanent hold for years.
But as comfortable he felt surrounded by his books and shuttered away a profound sense of uselessness overwhelmed him. It had barely been two years since first contact with the Ori and he felt duty bound - as the person who alerted them to a human presence outside of their own galaxy - to be out amongst the stars and loosening the Ori grip with all the powers at his disposal.
He dropped the book he'd been examining and it impacted against his cluttered desk with a resounding thud. Exhaustion weighed on him heavily and he thought back through the past few months, trying to figure out the last time he had slept for a full night since returning to the SGC with the Odyssey. The answer wasn't exactly promising, especially considering he hadn't left the base more than twice in that time.
Like never before in his life Daniel felt defeated. Sure, there had been times when everything looked bleak before but he had always held onto hope that all of their enemies could be overcome. With the Ori it was different - there had been no real victories, only countless losses as more and more of the galaxy fell under the thrall of the Priors or were wiped from existence entirely. In the early morning hours when sleep evaded him all he had were hazy waking nightmares that followed the Path of Origin from where it began to where it ended; with the utter annihilation of free will in the galaxy and a cloud cast over its occupants darker than anything he had ever witnessed.
These thoughts spiraled through him until he could take it no longer, and he pulled himself from his chair, maybe a short walk could clear his head of the depression that seemed to relentlessly tear at his conscious mind. He tried not to sarcastically admonish himself; realising he'd attempted the same thing dozens of times before to no effect.
As he moved across his office towards the door he caught sight of the clock on the wall, only half surprised that it was now morning - the last time he had noted the time it had been the afternoon - and realising that he was in danger of running late for a budget meeting with Woolsey and his IOA cronies. He cursed at the thought of enduring the endless debate and recommended budget cuts in his current state but moved towards the door anyway, at the very least it would give him something to focus on.
Once out of his office he walked towards the elevator at the end of the hall and passed on half-hearted pleasantries to airmen and civilians as he went. When he was a few feet away a raven haired woman slipped quickly into the elevator and pressed the floor button. Daniel sped up to catch it but the doors began to close immediately and by the time he reached it he couldn't fit through. He did, however, manage to see Vala's grin and teasing wave before the elevator doors closed completely.
He cursed her in several long dead languages and waited in front of the elevator with a resigned sigh. Lack of sleep had all but driven away his patience but Vala seemed to take it upon herself to test it to the very limits. He often found himself wondering how he had survived an entire lifetime on the Odyssey with Vala's constant teasing. Teal'c hadn't given much away but had left Daniel to believe he'd discovered some method of endurance.
The elevator doors opened after a short while and Daniel stepped inside. He selected the briefing room floor and as the car began its steady journey down he began thinking about counter arguments to what he believed the IOA would complain about. He didn't feel ready at all when the doors opened again but pressed forwards anyway, arriving at the briefing room after a short walk.
'Daniel, you're late.' Vala mockingly reprimanded, a smirk threatening to break out at the side of her lips. Daniel fixed her with a stony glare that, despite his intentions, brought her smile to full bloom and apologised - to everyone in the room except Vala - for his lateness.
He examined the people sitting around the table as he sat down, General Landry took up the head of the table, with Woolsey and two other suited men on the left. SG-1 were position to his right, and Daniel felt Samantha Carter's absence strongly. She had left not long after the Odyssey incident to take up the position as Atlantis administrator, and he knew he could have used her support for this meeting.
'That's quite alright Dr. Jackson.' Landry spoke up before Woolsey had a chance, but Daniel had the feeling he would have shared an opposite sentiment. 'Now you're here we can begin.'
'Good.' Woolsey spoke sharply and handed out manila folders to the people gathered around the table. 'I'd like to make a start with an overwhelming concern that has always remained prominent throughout the Stargate Program's existence; that being the usage of power for every single Gate activation. We are constantly draining reserved power, and sometimes-'
'The power issue is already being addressed by the UN,' Daniel argued, smiled inwardly at Woolsey's uncomfortable grimace - the man had tried to have him killed not that long ago after all. 'Massive solar panels are being erected across the Sahara Desert, and we've already been promised at least thirteen percent of that power as Stargate priority, that should solve all of the blackouts the Gate causes.'
'That program will take years to complete,' Woolsey retorted 'What we need is a solution nearer to present time. The losses of power across this state alone are getting harder and harder to explain as the years go by-'
'What are you suggesting, exactly?' Mitchell spoke up as he played idly with the pencil in front of him, not even looking up at the lawyer.
'Well, for starters-'
'Mr Woolsey,' A quiet voice interrupted, coming from a man in his mid-thirties that approached the table with an apologetic look on his face. 'I'm sorry sir but the technicians have found a strange reading on one of the Gate diagnostics from four years ago that we were reviewing.'
Four years ago, the year that Daniel spent on a higher plain of existence. The memory, or lack thereof nearly made him shiver. He buried the thoughts, he had given up on ever truly remembering what had happened to him long ago, but whenever the time was mentioned the same thoughts resurfaced, what had he learned on the higher plane? Who did he meet? Why did the Alterans that did ascend refuse to interfere with any of the events below them, even as the Ori gained more and more power?
'A strange reading?' Vala asked, cutting through Daniel's reverie 'What do you mean?'
'If you'll come with me, I can show you.' Mitchell looked at General Landry nearly begging to be excused from what he obviously saw as a pointless meeting.
'Go ahead.' Landry consented with a curt nod, his voice not betraying the anxiety Daniel saw in his eyes. Mitchell clearly didn't need to be told twice and stood, followed quickly by Vala and Teal'c. Daniel waited for a moment - guessing that somebody needed to stay to defend the SGC against the IOA but when Woolsey started collecting his things to follow he got up from the chair and followed behind the group.
'I can't believe we missed it.' Dr. Lee was checking the readings on his computer screen continuously with hand written notes laid out on the desk. Daniel could empathise with his high stress levels, imagining what he himself would feel like if he translated something inaccurately, especially during an audit. Eventually he stopped the checks and after sighing heavily addressed the group in the lab. 'The readings here don't lie but the energy burst was so incredibly subtle it was barely noticeable. Still, we should have picked up on it much earlier.'
'The IOA have also looked through the logs on numerous occasions.' Teal'c rationalised, much to Daniel's surprise, and Dr. Lee visibly relaxed a little. 'Is it not true that the sensors have improved since the last time this data was analysed.'
'That's true,' Dr. Lee nodded emphatically 'thanks largely to the Asgard technology implemented here based on the Odyssey's new systems.'
'So what have we got?' Mitchell asked.
'A spike in the Gates power, but with no visible sign of an outside power source being used, as if the Gate turned itself on for a millisecond by it's own volition.' Dr. Lee explained as he resumed his numerous checks.
'By itself?' Daniel's tone was more disbelieving than he had intended but the thought of a Gate turning itself on without being activated from the Earth end or another planet was unlikely, but he had to remind himself of how many impossible situations he had seen over the years and even theorised for himself. He decided to take a different tact. 'When did this happen?'
'June 22nd, 2002.' Dr. Lee replied curtly.
'The day you guys found that frozen Ancient.' Mitchell mused, causing Daniel and Vala to stare incredulously at the Colonel; while Teal'c raised a bemused eyebrow in his direction.
'You knew that off the top of your head?' Daniel asked, not sure if he was impressed or unnerved.
'I told you I read all of the mission reports before starting this assignment.'
'Yeah, I just didn't expect you to remember them all with pinpoint accuracy.' Daniel replied.
'I really wanted this job.' Mitchell replied matter-of-factly with a shrug. Daniel opened his mouth to say something else, but thought better of it and turned back to Dr. Lee.
'Can you bring up the video feed of the Gate at the moment of the spike?' Daniel positioned himself behind the doctors chair as he slipped in the appropriate memory card, feeling the other SG1 members follow his lead.
They watched a few seconds of the scene they had all seen a thousand times of the Gate room, the centre focus being the Stargate itself. When nothing happened Dr. Lee clicked his tongue in irritation and reached for the card drive. He paused as Vala laid a hand on his shoulder.
'Wait, run it again but slow it down.' Dr. Lee shrugged but complied and seconds later they were watching the footage again, but now the timer in the bottom left of the screen was moving several times slower. When the timer reached the exact point of the spike, something inexplicable happened. A wormhole opened and closed, within the space of a millisecond, no spinning of the rings and no event horizon pluming out like a wave. It shouldn't have been possible at all, as Dr. Lee was vehemently trying to convince himself but after watching it happen several more times, Daniel had to admit it was looking very possible indeed.
'Do you see that?' Mitchell asked, pointing at the screen.
'Yes genius, it's the Stargate opening.' Vala replied with venom.
'No, there's something going through it, there.' Mitchell paused the feed and pointed at the Gate the moment it opened. Daniel squinted at the place he was pointing.
'It appears to be a gas of some kind.' Teal'c observed.
'That's not a gas,' Daniel had noticed something familiar about the wisp of dark smoke barely visible leaving through the Gate. That recognition sent a chill down his spine and he hoped to god he was wrong. 'Can you play the footage so it enhances energy signatures?'
'Sure, wait just a sec.' Dr. Lee tapped a few buttons and the image on the screen changed to show colours, the room was mostly dark, but the gate shone a brilliant white, contrasting the wisp of energy Mitchell had noticed. It was silhouetted against the white back drop so clearly, a ball of energy circular in the centre with branches shooting out to each side. Daniel knew the shape well, at one point in his life he had looked like that himself.
'It's an ascended being.' Daniel concluded, there was no mistaking it, but what was strange in this case was that the energy was black, contrasting with the gate behind it, he'd never seen anything like it.
'So what?' Mitchell spoke up, sound uninterested 'The Ancient lady moved up to the higher plane, a few years ago I might have had more to say on the subject but now, it's water under the bridge right? I mean you were ascended at one point Jackson.'
'But Daniel Jackson's appearance was very different.' Teal'c noted.
'Exactly. Plus the fact that from what I was told the Ancient's body didn't disappear when she died.'
'That was the case.' Teal'c agreed and then turned to the scientist. 'Dr. Lee, is it possible to track the energy to it's origin?'
'Of course.' Dr. Lee replied and hastily tapped on some buttons on his computer, the images flipped up, heading away from the Gate room until they reached the room where Ayiana had died, the energy moved towards her and seemed to melt into her body the moment she fell.
'What the hell is that if it's not ascension?' No one had an answer for Mitchell, and the group stood in silence for a few moments before Daniel broke it, surfacing a question that must have been going through all of their minds.
'Can we find out the destination of the wormhole?'
Dr. Lee tapped a few buttons on the keyboard. 'There's no record of the activation in the log,' he turned and shrugged to the group 'I'm sorry but my guess is the only people with even a slight chance of working that kind of mojo on the dialing computer are both about seven million light years away.'
'Sam.' Mitchell guessed.
'Yep, and Dr. Rodney McKay.'