Well, I'm at it again. More madness from my mind. This one, at least, comes from the collision of two excellent stories…may I do justice to them both. Certainly I didn't do justice to the name.
Chapter 1: A Day Off
Colonel Jack O'neill looked at the memo in his hand and sighed. Really, he lost almost every memo anyone sent him, and this is the one that managed to catch him when he was actually on the same planet?
He was supposed to be fishing by now! He was supposed to be at his cabin by the lake that he'd never so much as seen a fish in with a six pack and a frozen trout he could toss on a grill. Really, after everything Hathor had just put them through, he deserved the break.
Instead, Daniel had translated something that Carter found fascinating and Hammond had decided was worth calling a briefing over.
Jack was staring at Daniel with a blank, empty expression as the nerd went on about something Jack had done after getting his head trapped in that Ancient head sucky database archive…thing. Then Carter got up and took over, turning on the screen which displayed a galactic starmap with stargate icons dotting it. Jack realized this all had something to do with the stargate addresses that he had entered into the computer, the ones the Goa'uld had never heard of.
"We never understood this part of the pattern," Carter said. She gestured at one of the galactic arms without any stargate addresses at all. "As far as we know, this region is not at all different from any other. There are of course any number of hazards inside it, but nothing to explain the huge gap."
"The goa'uld call this region Alard," Teal'c said. "Apophis decreed that no ship should venture inside it long before even Bratak's time."
Daniel frowned. "Alard…sounds like a loan word, but I have no idea from where. Does it mean anything?"
Teal'c shook his head. "I do not know."
"Maybe no one found anything interesting there," Jack suggested.
"That's what we thought with the Abydos gates," Sam agreed. "There'd be no reason for the goa'uld to build gates where there weren't any slave colonies."
"But the goa'uld did not build the gates," Teal'c said.
"Exactly," Sam said with satisfaction. "It wasn't until we met the Tok'ra that we got a hint. One of our early trades was for some potentially useful stargate addresses."
"Meaning they didn't give us anything that cost them," Jack pointed out.
"Trust takes time, Colonel," Hammond reprimanded gently. "Captain, please continue."
"The Tok'ra led us to another Ancient outpost. There wasn't much left there, SG-2 only managed to come back with a few broken crystals, but the Ancients left writing on the walls…literally." The screen changed to picture ruined walls covered by the strange, rectangular glyphs used by the Ancients.
Daniel stepped up again. "Most of the writing was too damaged to recover…and I'm still translating a lot of the rest. But this section," the screen changed and five, more familiar symbols joined the Ancient writing, "is clearly an address. Or at least part of one. The writing around it says 'place of the magi.' I believe this means scholars, perhaps scientists."
"We haven't matched the partial address with any that Colonel O'neill added to the system," Carter said. "However, there's only one piece missing. It took a while but we eventually backtracked the possibilities to a total of seven valid locations. All of them in this blank arm of the galaxy."
Hammond turned from the display to the conference table. "Any science or technology we can recover from the Ancients could give us an advantage against the goa'uld. If any of these addresses pan out, SG-1 has an immediate go."
"Yessir," Jack said.
Naturally, the first six attempts refused to lock. The seventh and final address, however, went through.
"Chevron seven locked," Corporal Walter announced.
"Send the MALP through," Hammond ordered.
SG-1 turned their attention to the monitors and waited the few tense seconds needed for the MALP to emerge and transmit data.
The static cleared and they got a good look at… "Well, we know it's inhabited," Jack said.
"By humans," Carter added. "Industrial or better, judging by her clothes."
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed.
The woman on the screen was saying something he couldn't understand. "Chinese?" Jack wondered, studying the image. The colonies they'd found had all been pretty racially distinct, since they tended to have a common ancestry.
"Japanese. But why is she pointing a staff at the MALP?" Daniel wondered.
"Walter, turn up the volume on the MALP's microphone," Hammond ordered. The room filled with calm-sounding gibberish. "Doctor Jackson, do you understand what she's saying?"
"Um, she's threatening to impound the MALP," he said uncertainly.
"Is that why she's pointing a staff at the camera?" Jack asked.
Nanoha smiled. She'd never admit it, but it was good to have a day off every once in a while, especially if it didn't involve another hospital stay. It would have been even better if Fate hadn't been offworld, but they could sync up some leave time next week. Today, though, it was just her and Vivio. The cloned Belkan princess had been her daughter for nearly three years, but while those mismatched eyes and cheerful voice were familiar, Nanoha knew she'd never stop feeling a thrill from seeing her little girl happy.
Today they were visiting one of MidChilda's largest museums. The Central Mid Grand Museum boasted attractions for all ages and interests, and having been there more than a few times, dating all the way back to when she and Fate were no older than Vivio, Nanoha knew better than to doubt them. The grand, sprawling, stately marble building held within it one of the wonders of modern MidChilda, a stable oriented surface projected over an unknown number of dimensions on a topologically nontrivial space. The first exhibit in the door was a diagram of the knot that the museum currently used to generate the surface, and not even her long experience with the physics-heavy math that was MidChildan magic let Nanoha follow more than a portion of the structure, which changed as exhibits were added and removed.
The practical result of the departure from normal three-space was that there were a dizzying number of ways to get around the museum, each passage marked by a topic that relates one exhibit to the next. Backtracking or finding a specific exhibit was nearly impossible, making the CMGM an unpopular destination for scholars, but it was a perfect place for a family day trip. There were exhibits of art and history, of course, but the big draw were the sections of science and magic, filled with interactive displays and games for the kids and some impressive displays that even the most severe, unchildish adult could enjoy.
Nanoha paid for their tickets and let Vivio take the lead. The heterochromatic girl squealed and ran down the bright yellow MAGIC pathway. Nanoha jogged after her. "Vivio, don't run!" she called.
"Okay, mama" Vivio called back, slowing to…well at least she wasn't running anymore.
Bottle the energy of a child and you could sell it for a fortune, Nanoha thought wryly. The first exhibit was fairly bland, a demonstration of core principles, but there were a dozen different pathways out of it, each following a different thread of magical lore. To Nanoha's surprise, Vivio followed the Belkan path. For hours Nanoha followed as her daughter explored her heritage. Sometimes she stuck to magical connections, but just as often she'd follow a branch with historical interest.
It was one of those branches that led them to a massive ring, held upright on a pedestal. It was about two stories tall and black as obsidian, although the display said it was made of some unknown super-heavy metal rather than stone. It had nine triangular panels on it, although two were hidden under the pedestal, and was covered in strange glyphs. The whole thing was mounted in a framework that it could spin freely in, but no one had managed to get it to budge. Eventually the magiscientists grew tired of trying to figure out what it was supposed to do and, since it didn't react to any magic anyone could think of, sent it to the museums as a curiosity, an inert lost logia. Current theory was that it was an experiment with magic circle geometries.
Nanoha and Vivio were about to leave when a wave of power flashed across their senses. "Master!" Raising Heart cried in alarm.
The two spun to see the nine panels flash white once, then the contraption spun. It slowed, stopped, and a light on top flared. One of the panels lit up at the same time, and stayed lit as the ring spun again. "Raising Heart, set up," Nanoha said softly.
"Standby, ready," the device reported. "Set up, Axel Mode. Barrier Jacket: Aggressor Mode."
"Vivio," Nanoha said, leveling her staff at the strange ring. "I want you to get help, okay?" She was already sending telepathic distress calls to the local TSAB ground forces' branch for someone qualified to work with lost logia, but she didn't think Vivio would react well to an order to run for her life.
"But mama," Vivio protested.
Nanoha's eyes narrowed as a third panel lit up. "No argument," she said sternly. "You need to be brave for mama, okay?"
Vivio nodded. "Okay. I'll get help, mama!"
Nanoha glanced behind her to see Vivio run down the red corridor. That one always led to the exit, no matter what exhibit you started in. Good. She was safe. She turned back and saw five panels lit. She walked closer. "Raising Heart, can you seal this thing?"
"I can try," the device said in its usual monotone.
Nanoha frowned. That was probably a no, but the thing just lit a sixth panel. She didn't want to know what it would do when all nine were lit. "Sealing, stand by-"
The ring stopped for a seventh time.
"Protection!" Nanoha's years of combat had honed her reflexes. The brief flicker of blue was all the warning she needed to throw up a shield against the sudden flash of destructive energy that blasted out at her. A roiling blue vortex scoured the barrier and forced her to load a cartridge to keep from breaking before the mess of power. She felt it eat at the barrier, ripping its outer layer to pieces even as she created new layers below it with the boost of energy. Then the attack was over.
Nanoha took a few steps back to get a better look. It was like…like there was a standing pool of water inside the ring. What in the Saint's name was this thing?
The answer, apparently, was a deployment system for some kind of robot. The strange device that rolled through the veil of watery energy was unlike anything Nanoha had seen on MidChilda. It was far too primitive to be a gadget drone; she could see the crude camera and antennae arrays, and the obvious grasping arm and wheels were dead giveaways. This thing wasn't built to fight a mage. Still, whatever it was, it had attacked first.
"No AI response, master," Raising Heart announced.
Ah, a remote controlled drone, then. Hopefully that meant they could hear her. "Attention, operators of the unidentified robot. You are under arrest for trespassing and using a registered lost logia. Identify yourselves and state your intentions or we will impound your robot."
She waited patiently for a reply for ten seconds. [Raising Heart,] she sent silently, [Area Search.]
[Alright,] Raising Heart sent back. Three small pink balls floated from her staff and through the 'water.'
"Trespassing I kinda get," Jack said, "but what's a logia?"
"Their name for the gate, probably," Daniel reasoned. "We need to tell her something."
"Agreed," Hammond said. "Doctor, I'd like you to tell her-"
"Sir!" Walter interrupted. "I think she's trying to send something through the gate."
"We'll be fine," Carter said quickly. "It's an outgoing connection. The only thing that can come backwards is…" her voice trailed off as the three balls materialized in the gate room. "…energy. Which, apparently, those are."
Hammond sounded an alarm. "Security teams to the gate room!"
"The…probes are splitting up," Walter announced.
"Sir," Jack said, nodding outside the command room's window. One of the probes hung there, watching them.
The woman on screen said something. "She wants to know who is in charge," Daniel translated.
"Tell her I am," Hammond said.
"Good," the woman said in accented but understandable English. "I am Nanoha Takamachi of the Space Time Administration Bureau. It is my duty to inform you that you are under arrest pending an investigation into the circumstances of this incident. If you surrender peacefully you will be able to defend yourself at trial."
Hammond frowned. "I am General George Hammond of the United States Air Force. We are on a peaceful mission of exploration."
Nanoha's expression faltered. "United States?"
"This device you call a logia is known to us as a StarGate. It allows us to travel between worlds." He glanced at a monitor that showed her probes going down corridors. "I need you to call off your probes or I will be forced to terminate our connection.
Nanoha's mind spun. Unless she missed her guess, she was talking to people on Earth. That wasn't possible. Her homeworld had trouble sending people to the moon, let alone across the stars. But if they had found some lost logia, learned to use it…
Impossible. Even the Belkans couldn't make something that magicless people could use safely. That base of theirs was pure tech. Yet clearly it was possible, because it was happening.
"Very well," Nanoha said, willing her other two searchers to wink out of existence.
"Thank you," Hammond said, visibly relieved. "I was hoping we could open a dialog."
"I understand," Nanoha said. "This is less than an optimal situation for such negotiations, however."
"Agreed," Hammond said. "I would like to send a team of representatives, called SG-1." He gestured to the people near him. "They are ready to embark now."
Nanoha didn't know much about guns, but she could recognize them. "Your firearms are illegal on TSAB administered worlds," she said.
Hammond's expression darkened. "I do not send my people into unknown situations unarmed."
Nanoha nodded. "A reasonable policy. I will need an hour to confer with my superiors, but it might be simpler if we visited you."
Hammond nodded slightly. "I should advise you that gate travel is one way. You would need to use a device to open the gate on your end. It should be a stone pedestal, about waist height, with buttons bearing the same symbols as on the gate itself."
Nanoha glanced off the camera for a moment. "The exhibit doesn't mention anything like that."
"You're in a museum?" Jack asked with mild amusement.
Nanoha offered a wry smile. "This was supposed to be my day off."
Jack offered her an identical look. "Mine, too. So you don't want us in with guns, but you singled them out, not 'weapons.'"
"Nonmagical weapons are illegal under TSAB law," Nanoha explained. "The previous regime used such to devastating effect on civilian populations."
"Nonmagical?" Jack asked skeptically.
Daniel snapped his fingers. "We could go in with staff weapons," he offered, gesturing Teal'c forward. The jaffa presented his staff to the little bauble.
Nanoha looked surprised. "Oh. Okay, that should work fine," she said brightly.
Hammond shook his head. "Without any way back?" he asked. "I cannot authorize a go."
"We can dial out manually," Daniel argued. "The gate is obviously in a secure location."
"And how do you know it will have the power to dial?" Hammond asked.
Carter turned to the probe. "Miss Takamachi, the stargate requires a large, preferably sustained supply of power to safely dial out. Could such a thing be arranged?"
Nanoha thought that over for a moment. "Worst case scenario, I need to call in a few favors. Yes, we can make sure you get home safely."
Hammond looked each member of SG-1 in the eye and saw determination and willingness, mixed with plenty of curiosity. He nodded. "You have a go."
An hour later, Nanoha waited in front of the silent "stargate" with Admiral Chrono Harlaown and a green-haired woman named Erisa Verano from the TSAB's diplomatic corps. "I'm surprised they got this together so fast," Nanoha commented.
"This isn't the first time an unadministered world has initiated contact," Verano said calmly. "Although it's usually a deep space encounter or transmission. The 'stargate' is a new twist on things."
"So this is what, standard operating procedure?" Nanoha asked dubiously.
"Exactly," Verano said. "A joint navy-civilian task force is put together. The Navy side pulls in whoever they know has worked on or around the planet in question. The civilian side does the exact opposite."
"With world 97," Chrono explained, "that means the Takamachi, Harlaown, and Yagami families are all being brought in. As ranking officer, I'm in overall command."
Nanoha nodded. "What exactly is our official goal here?"
"Evaluate the world for affiliated status and establish a treaty," Verano explained. "Usually the treaty's terms help us pave the way for TSAB membership."
The stargate unleashed an indescribable wave of power, again, and started dialing.
"Hmm," Chrono mused. "Not the most elegant means of teleportation."
"Dimensional transfer is limited to a few light years, even with a boost," Nanoha pointed out. "Earth's more than a day away at top cruiser speed. What it lacks in elegance it makes up for in range."
"Are you entirely sure it was world 97?" Verano asked.
"A few of their offices had star charts," Nanoha answered. "Their control room even had a galactic map. Yeah, I'm sure. And they had MidChilda pegged on that map, too. Barriers."
Although the SGC had warned everyone not to stand in front of the stargate when it opened, they didn't know exactly how the "unstable vortex caused by the formation of an artificial wormhole" would manifest unobstructed, so Nanoha and Chrono put up a bunch of barriers that would keep them safe as the seventh symbol rolled up to the top of the gate. It turned out to be unnecessary, however. The vortex was remarkably contained, well within Captain Carter's recommended safe distance.
A moment later the four members of SG-1 walked through and the portal vanished. They were wearing uniforms Nanoha recognized as military, with vests that looked like they could carry a decent sized field pack distributed over their bodies in lots of little pockets. They each carried a slightly ornate staff, taller than each of them and bearing a few moving parts, each one an identical copy. Some kind of storage device, then, mass produced for general use, rather than intelligent devices custom made for their bearers.
The leader, an aging man, looked around. "This isn't the same room," he said. He caught sight of the stargate and did a doubletake. "That's different."
Nanoha shook her head. "We moved the stargate into the TSAB ground force's main office complex," she explained. "Holding a meeting like this in a museum would be a little…odd." She gestured to Chrono. "May I introduce Admiral Chrono Harlaown, commander of the task force assigned to this meeting, and Erisa Verano, head diplomat of same."
Jack stepped forward and extended his hand. "Admiral. I am Colonel Jack O'neill, commanding officer, SG-1. My second in command, Captain Samantha Carter. Doctor Daniel Jackson, cultural expert. And Teal'c."
Chrono's eyes gauged the man Teal'c whose role went unstated. The gold brand on his forehead didn't mean anything to him, but his stance and demeanor were easy enough to read. He didn't know why a military man felt the need to have a bodyguard, though. "A pleasure," he told Jack, taking the man's hand. Western style greeting, just like Nanoha told them to expect. A round of hand-shaking commenced.
"How did you get the stargate in here?" Carter asked curiously.
"We called in someone really good with teleportation magic," Chrono answered. Getting a teleport to work in that museum demanded someone with skill, to say nothing of the mass of the gate.
Carter and Daniel traded a glance at the reference to magic. The Nox had been very vague about their apparent powers, but never denied that they were technological. They'd never seen anyone but goa'uld slave societies refer to magic so openly.
"I'm sure we have a lot to talk about," Verano said smoothly. "Perhaps a tour of the facility to start?"