John woke up disoriented, seeing nothing but blurry white. His head was pounding and his eyes felt like they were going to pop out of his head. It took him a few moments before he realized he was hanging upside down…that explained his swollen head, but the white light nearly blinding his eyes was still a mystery.
He squinted and rolled up in a sit-up and looked at his feet. They were fixed against the white blur, he couldn't move them at all. Some sort of translucent material covered them like glue, but he couldn't make out what. His abs started burning from the exertion so he grabbed his pant legs to hold himself up as the blood drained out of his head, clearing it.
John's eyes started to adjust to the glare and he realized that the mass of white was light reflecting off the snow above, below, and around him. He was in some sort of snow cave…and his feet were stuck to the ceiling in a mass of clear ice.
"What is this?" John asked, staring into his knees. Off in the distance he heard a low, echoing roar… "No," he said, disbelievingly. "No, it can't. Uh uh. This can't be happening."
Again, the roar came. This time it sounded closer.
"Oh crap…come on, John," he told himself as he futilely tried to pry his feet loose. He let go and dropped back to his inverted position as another, closer roar/gurgle echoed from the tunnel in front of him. He looked around, trying to see anything other than the white snow and ice and caught a glint of a non-white object to his left.
"Son of a…" he said, not believing it. A small cylindrical metal object was half buried in the snow. John reached towards it, but he was a meter short. He tried rocking himself sideways, but that didn't work at all with his feet solidly sealed in place above him.
A slight rumble reverberated through the ice and fear spiked in John's gut. A couple of seconds later another followed it, then another, and another followed by a very loud roar.
"No, no, no," John whispered angrily. He was completely helpless.
A few meters down the tunnel a large white-haired thing plodded around the corner. It roared deafeningly loud when it saw him, then raised large, claw covered hands and walked towards him.
John couldn't do anything but watch. "Somebody…help!" he screamed, knowing it wouldn't do him any good. The creature moved up on him and dug its claws into his throat. He felt the blinding pain…
…then woke up in his bed in Atlantis, sweating heavily.
"Oh, hell," he whispered, sitting up. He felt his neck out of reflex…it was still there, intact and covered with beard stubble but no blood. He breathed heavily for a minute then laid back down, the nightmare already vanishing from his memory.
"That's the last time I watch Star Wars before bed," he swore to himself as he closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep.
A wormhole formed in the center of the yellow gate, with a large kawoosh leading the way. It quickly retracted into a stable event horizon. The activation attracted the attention of several nearby Priors who altered the Doci through their interconnected staffs. A long moment later the Orici stepped out of the event horizon into the newly rebuilt city of Celestis.
Four nearby Priors bowed with respect as he passed them by. Before he was fifty meters from the gate the Doci found him.
"Orici," he greeted him respectfully, but did not bow more than his head.
"Doci," Ryan returned the greeting. "Status?" he asked as the head Prior dropped into step with him.
"Twelve percent have begun construction, but only three percent are complete," he said apologetically.
"Twelve is more than I expected," Ryan told him. "I hope you're not overextending yourselves."
"I have made sure we are not," the Doci assured him, "but there are so many villages to renovate that we cannot afford to be lax. I assure you we are working with all diligence and speed, but we have not sacrificed the integrity of craftsmanship to do so."
"As it should be," Ryan agreed. "Take me to one of the completed projects."
The Doci nodded and the pair walked off to a ring platform hidden within the architecture of the city. They used it to transfer to the set of rings near the Ori stargate on the planet.
The two upright prongs of the gate were just outside the edge of the forest on the furthest extreme of the plains that as of now were covered with a thin layer of water that made them shimmer in the daytime sunlight. Situated directly in front of the stargate, yet sufficiently distant from the threshold, a small pillar rose from the ground constructed of the same gleaming silver metal.
The Doci pressed three buttons head high on the pillar, then another two at hip height.
The small gap at the top of the stargate connected with a brilliant arc of energy, then the oblong event horizon formed with an equally distorted vortex. Once it settled, the Orici and Doci stepped through the gate to one of many planets within Destra. This one, in particular, had been one of the first reconstructed after the brief yet brutal civil war the Ori had fought after the truth of their existence had been revealed.
The stargate on the other side was also situated in a forest…but off in the distance two cities rose above the tree line.
Ryan turned around as the gate deactivated and saw another three domes in the distance. Where there had once been primitive villages, the Ori had replaced them with more advanced structures on the Orici's order. Living simply didn't necessitate living primitively.
There was a series of stone paths leading away from the gate, of which the Doci let Ryan choose. Together they walked several kilometers toward one of the domed cities, discussing a myriad of subjects along the way. Every time they met the Doci was eager to hear more of the Alterra and their history with the Ori…and Ryan was happy to oblige.
When they reached the outskirts of the 'village' they came before two small structures adjacent to the entrance to the dome. They sat nestled up against the twenty meter high wall that the dome then sprung from. Stationed just above the structures were two concealed weapons nodes imbedded into the wall.
Half a dozen guards exited the checkpoint buildings and immediately fell to their knees in respect. The two leaders walked by them and into the city.
Once they got through the thick walls, they emerged into a wide courtyard with a view of the sun overhead. A transparent dome capped the sky, with a number of towers rising beneath it. One came from the structure in the center of the courtyard, the others came from buildings ringing the perimeter. Other buildings surrounded those, then there were the walls. It wasn't a large settlement, but it would house over a thousand people comfortably.
That said, the streets and buildings were spartan in nature. No ornamentation was visible aside from that which had been built into the infrastructure. There were no carts, tables, chairs, kiosks, or anything else that had been typical in the previous village at this location. A scattering of people moved about until they laid eyes on the pair…then they froze in their tracks and looked on them with awe.
Ryan observed them, felt their minds briefly, and took notice of their clothing. They'd adopted a slightly altered version of their previous garments. These had less cloth and more trim lines, with just a hint of Alterran design to them. Almost all of the garments bore the Ori symbol over the left breast or the collar.
One mind, however, stood out from the rest. It too was surprised to see the Doci and the Orici in their small village, but that surprise quickly turned to anger. Forewarned, Ryan knew the stone was coming before the man even threw it.
The Orici stopped the paving stone in mid air, then slowly turned his head in the direction of the man. The Doci immediately stepped between the two of them, but Ryan mentally called him off.
"Come here," the Orici demanded. When the man stiffened and held his ground, Ryan telekinetically pulled him across the courtyard until he was barely a meter away.
The Orici looked him in the eye for a long moment, reading his mind. "Not only was your attempt to harm me futile, your ire is misplaced. I did not kill your sister."
His jaw visibly shaking, the man uttered a quick reply. "The Ori... sent her to die. You are…the Orici. You are as guilty as they are."
"Were," Ryan corrected him patiently. "The ascended Ori are dead and gone. Those who sent your sister and her husband off into another galaxy to fight a war not of their making are no longer here for you to avenge yourself against…and had you tried when they still lived, they would have wiped you from existence with a mere thought."
"You are like them," the man said, more defiant by the minute. "You are them."
The Orici pointed a finger and the stone, still suspended in the air, traveled back to the place in the courtyard where the man had pried it up. It settled back into place, making the white tile courtyard whole again. Ryan then reached out a hand and touched the man on the forehead. He bled off his anger and stared directly into his eyes, his words sounding aloud and within the man's mind.
"Let go of the past. Your sister is lost, but you are not. Live in her memory…do not die in it, as you tried to do today," he said, then left the man standing in a mixture of shock and awe as he and the Doci continued onward.
John woke to find himself again hanging from the ceiling of the ice cave. This time he knew where he was and looked up at his feet to confirm it.
"This has got to be another dream," he said, his head pounding again. He pulled himself up and stared at his knees as his head cleared. The clenched muscles and stretched joints, however, told him this was real. As his head cleared he tried to figure out what was going on. He'd had dreams before, but in them there was always a part of his mind that was shut down, some reasoning or sensation that was denied to him, but right now he could feel everything and with the blood quickly draining from his mind he found he could think clearly too.
"What is this?" he asked aloud as the first distant roar sounded.
"Not again," he said, looking around for the small metal cylinder. He knew he was short of it, but reached anyway…still a meter off.
He couldn't reach it, so instead he tried to claw away at the too smooth ice covering his boots…his boots.
If he could unlace them…but no, the ices were laced over too. Damn.
The second roar sounded, just like it had before. John knew he didn't have much time left.
He released his hold on his legs and let his body swing back down. He tried to rock himself forward and back…hopefully cracking the ice above him. He tried for seven swings, but did little more than make himself dizzy. His feet were stuck solid.
The pounding of footsteps began and John began to panic. Of all the ways a person had to die…helpless was the worst.
The creature came around the corner and John committed himself to at least go down fighting. Hanging upside down he balled his fists and waited for the creature to come within range.
The white ball of fur and claws stomped towards him and John swung at it with his eyes closed. He felt his fist bounce off its dense muscle beneath the fur…then he felt the claws tearing at his throat.
With a start John woke up in bed again, the recent nightmare quickly fading from memory.
He pulled the thermal cover off his bed and quickly stood up, feeling his neck for cuts.
"What the hell is going on?" he half yelled as his eyes fell on the clock beside his bed. His morning alarm wouldn't go off for another two hours but, tired as he was, he didn't feel like going to sleep again. Instead, he got dressed and headed down to the commissary to get some early breakfast cubes. An hour later and all traces of his nightmare would disappear from his memory. The next night he would go to bed without a clue that it was about to happen again.