Part One: Contact
Disclaimer: ‘Stargate: SG1’ was created by Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner and is owned by MGM Television Entertainment and Gekko Productions.Part One: Contact
On Earth Genghis Khan’s armies had just captured Beijing and King John of England had been forced to sign the Magna Carta. Fifty-seven thousand light years away a Goa’uld System Lord had a minor altercation with a slave who addressed her in disrespectful fashion. The last of those events was by far the most significant…- - - - -
“You are insolent!” Ninmah spat. She raised her hand, ribbon device poised, and was on the verge of blasting the slave out of existence.
“Forgive me, Great Queen,” the slave pleaded, dropping to his knees before her. “I meant no offense.” A nerve jumped in his jaw, betraying his fear, but otherwise he controlled himself well.
Ninmah delayed her retribution, relishing his terror, and then a thought struck her. The man was a skilled craftsman who had produced items both useful and decorative for her pleasure. If she slew him he would produce no more. She lowered the ribbon device and debated what lesser punishment to inflict that would not hinder his craft skills.Craft
skills. This slave was skilled with his hands, not with his tongue, and perhaps his insolence was unintentional. A mistake rather than a gesture of defiance.
“I accept that you had no malicious intent,” Ninmah said. She searched her memory and came up with the slave’s name. “You are forgiven, Ent’arah. Choose your words with more care in future.”
“Thank you, Great Queen,” Ent’arah said. He rose to his feet, keeping his head bowed, and backed away from the Royal Presence. “You are merciful.”
“Too merciful,” one of Ninmah’s subordinate Goa’uld commented.
“Do you presume to criticize me?” Ninmah’s eyes flashed and her hand rose again.
The subordinate met her eyes. “Yes.”
Ninmah’s eyebrows rose. “Your frankness is surprising, Enshag. Although, in a way, admirable. Did my mercy towards the slave give you the courage to also address me disrespectfully?”
“It did,” Enshag admitted. “That is indeed my point. We control the slaves through fear. To treat them mercifully will diminish that fear and therefore weaken our control. To fail to punish insolent language is to take the first steps on a road that may one day lead to rebellion.”
“The slave is a skilled worker,” Ninmah said. “To slay him would deprive me of his services. I would be punishing myself as well as him.”
“That cannot be helped,” said Enshag. “It is the way things have always been. It is how they must be.”
Ninmah’s brow creased. The tip of her tongue showed between her full lips. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. What if there was a better way?”- - - - -
The picture from the MALP’s camera went up on a monitor. The sound link came through the speakers.
Daniel put a finger to his lips. “Wow,” he said.
“I’ll see that ‘wow’ and raise you a ‘that’s impressive’,” Jack said. “Although, on second thoughts, maybe that’s not really a raise.”
“It is impressive, though,” Sam chimed in.
“Indeed,” said Teal’c. “It seems the planet is quite advanced.”
The Stargate stood in a wide plaza. Beyond it, in the distance, tall buildings could be seen; majestic towers resembling the most stylish of Earth’s skyscrapers. Closer at hand were seating areas shielded from the elements by sweeping, curving, translucent roofs; booths with people seated at positions resembling those of customer service or sales positions in Earth establishments; and three-sided display screens standing on impossibly thin central support poles.
Daniel stared at one of the screens. “It’s cuneiform represented in LCD or LED form,” he said. “Sumerian or Akkadian script. ‘Supported by lodestones, wagons carry people, place of departure, follow arrows’,” he translated.
“Maglev station platforms this way,” O’Neill said.
“That would be a valid interpretation,” Daniel agreed.
“I’m not interpreting, Daniel,” Jack told him. “One of the signs is in English.”
“Oh.” Daniel put a finger to his glasses and adjusted their position. “Fascinating. It’s very rare to encounter English script on other planets. It implies they’ve had contact with Earth sometime in the past few hundred years, probably since the Sixteenth Century, or else with a world settled with Earth refugees transplanted by the Asgard. It couldn’t have been while the Antarctic gate was still operational, modern English hadn't really evolved by then...” He fell silent, ran his fingers over his lips, and frowned.
“Their technology seems to be slightly ahead of ours,” Sam commented.
“I haven’t seen anything you wouldn’t see in Tokyo,” Jack said. “Well, apart from the Stargate.”
“Even so, sir,” Sam said, “it’s still a wonderful opportunity. They’re bound to have things that we don’t and we might well have things that interest them. We could trade technology.”
General Hammond nodded. “That’s a distinct possibility. We could use a success on that front to shut up some of the people in the Pentagon.”
“And the NID,” Jack muttered.
On screen one of the natives had approached the MALP. He scrutinized it and then spoke in slightly accented English. “People of the Tau’ri,” he said, “if you can hear me, your machine is obstructing the way of passengers. Please move it to the side of the arrivals area.” He pointed off to one side.
“Sergeant Alberts, move the MALP like the man requests,” Hammond ordered.
The technician obeyed, bringing other parts of the area into view. The viewers noticed that the hazardous area in front of the Stargate, where the initial pulse of the event horizon on activation would extend, was delineated with yellow markings on the ground. More signs appeared. ‘Welcome to Shuruppak’. ‘Stargate Arrivals: Commonwealth Citizens’. ‘Stargate Arrivals: Non-citizens’. ‘VIP Travelers’. All were in three languages. Akkadian, English, and Goa’uld. Periodically they changed to display a message reading ‘Scheduled services may be subject to a slight delay due to circumstances beyond our control. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.’
“They’re running the Stargate as a regular transport service,” Sam observed.
“Either they don’t know about the Goa’uld or they’re pretty confident in their ability to deal with them,” Jack said.
“Some of the signs are in Goa’uld, sir,” Sam pointed out.
“I noticed that,” Jack said, “but the language might be hanging on from thousands of years ago. Like the funky writing that looks like a packet of thumb-tacks spilled on a hardware store counter. They might have forgotten what the snakes are like.”
“I believe that there are concealed weapon positions covering the Chaapa’ai,” Teal’c opined, “and perhaps force field generators too.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “You could be right,” he said. “So, they’re cautious but not paranoid. They look okay so far. Then again, so did the Aschen at first sight.”
“We can’t pass up this opportunity to make contact with an advanced civilization,” Hammond decreed. “Shut down the Gate, sergeant. It won’t help us make a good impression if we disrupt their schedules for too long.”
“Yes, sir,” the senior Gate technician said, and he obeyed.
“This is definitely one for my premier first contact team,” Hammond went on.
“Who? Oh, you mean us,” said Jack.
“I do indeed, Colonel,” Hammond said. “Briefing at 08.00.”- - - - -
The team emerged from the gate into the plaza. There were quite a few people around; not exactly a crowd but something like what you’d see at a medium-sized city’s railroad station in the middle of the day. Hardly any of them paid any attention to SG-1. They were more interested in the Arrivals and Departures boards flashing up messages about an interruption, hopefully brief, to scheduled services.
“Well, this is a change,” Jack said. “Somehow I don’t think ‘Hey, we’re visitors from another world, take us to your leader’ is going to get us anywhere much.”
“Except for ‘take your place in the line’,” Daniel agreed.
“They’re certainly pretty blasé about interstellar travel here,” said Sam. “I wonder if Earth will be like this in, maybe, fifty or a hundred years’ time.” She pointed. “The ‘Arrivals: Non-Commonwealth Citizens’ desk seems like the right place to go.”
“Indeed,” said Teal’c.
“Ever thought about varying your expression of agreement a little, T old buddy?” Jack asked, as they followed Sam’s suggestion and headed for the appropriate position. Behind them the Stargate shut down briefly and then ‘whooshed’ as it activated again.
“I have not, O’Neill,” Teal’c said.
“Just wondering,” Jack said. “Hello there,” he greeted the woman who stood behind the ‘Arrivals’ desk. “We’re from a planet called Earth. You might know us as the Tau’ri. We’re exploring, looking to maybe trade technology, that kind of thing.”
The woman nodded. “Oh, yes, we’ve been expecting you since your remote vehicle came through yesterday,” she said. “You’ll need to see a First Contact specialist from the Department of Interstellar Relations. I’ll call them right away. Would you prefer to wait here for the specialist to arrive, perhaps in the cafeteria, or take the Maglev into town and be met at the station?”
Jack raised an eyebrow and looked around at his team. “What do you think, guys?”
“I’d like to see the Maglev,” Sam said.
“Sounds good to me,” Jack agreed. “Okay, we’ll take the train.”- - - - -
It was sleek, comfortable, and fast. Extremely fast. Prior to departure signs, in the same three languages that appeared to be standard, lit up displaying ‘For your comfort and safety please remain seated during acceleration’. A spoken message over a speaker system made the same announcement. The train then moved off and gee forces pressed them back into their seats.
“It’s not easy to work out speed without known points of reference,” Sam mused, once the acceleration had slackened off and the train appeared to have reached full speed, “but I’d estimate it at something over two hundred and fifty miles an hour, maybe close to three hundred.”
Jack nodded. “I’d say about the same. Not too shabby.”
“The Chinese have something similar operating in Shanghai,” Sam went on, “and there are a few demonstration lines in Japan and Germany, but it’s still pretty impressive.”
A passenger across the aisle overheard them and leaned slightly towards Sam. “The long distance lines are faster,” he said. “They go at more than half the speed of sound. The ones under the sea, in tunnels with no air, reach ten times that speed. You are from outside the Commonwealth, I take it?”
“Yes,” Sam said. “A planet called Earth.”
“Ah, yes, the Tau’ri,” the native said. “I have heard of you.”
“I have to admit I’d never heard of your ‘Commonwealth’ before we arrived here,” Sam confessed. “I don’t even know if it’s one world or several.”
“Twenty-seven,” the local told her. “The capital is on Akkad. This is Shuruppak, the second most important world, or at least we think so. The citizens of Eridu, Larsa, Uruk, or Sippar might disagree.”
“Thanks,” Daniel said. “Do you, would you, tell us something about your worlds?”
“There is hardly time,” said the man. “The journey is short. You may learn something from watching our news broadcasts.” He obviously correctly interpreted their baffled expressions. “Like this,” he said, moving his hand over the back of the seat in front of his. Suddenly it was a viewing screen. “You operate the menus like this,” he said, demonstrating. “I will leave you to it and catch up on the local news myself.”
“The menu is in Akk- no, it changes,” Daniel said, as he emulated the gestures. “Fascinating.”
“Just a touch screen interface,” Sam said, less impressed. “It is a beautiful design, though. Very user-friendly and intuitive.” She grinned. “Bill Gates eat your heart out.”
“Entertainment,” Jack read. “Tempting, but I’d probably only just start getting into whatever they have instead of ‘The Simpsons’ and then we’d get to the terminus. Music, Politics, News, Documentaries, Children’s Shows – hey, this place seems a whole lot like Earth.”
“We’ll learn most from News,” Sam said. “Oh. Local, Planetary, Commonwealth, Galactic. They’re pretty, uh…”
“Cosmopolitan?” Daniel suggested.
“That’s the word,” Sam agreed. “Which do you think we’ll learn most from?”
“It’s probably a moot point,” Jack said, “seeing as how I think we’re starting to slow down. Let’s all pick something different. I’ll take Documentaries for five hundred, Alex.”
“I claim Galactic News,” said Teal’c.
“Commonwealth for me, then,” said Daniel.
“Then I’ll go for Planetary.” Sam turned back to the helpful passenger. “Excuse me, sir, how do we get sound?”- - - - -
“Okay, guys, looks like this is where we get off,” Jack said, as the Maglev train slowed to a halt. “About all I learnt from the in-flight entertainment was that they have space travel by ship as well as by Stargate. And they have a military. Oh, yeah, and they have trees.”
“All I saw was places and people that didn’t mean anything to me,” Sam said. “It was worse than watching Russian TV.” She rose, retrieved her field pack from an overhead locker, and joined the others in making their way to the carriage door.
“I saw news of the hak’tyl rebellion,” Teal’c said. “It was quite informative.”
“And all I found out was that their Government is headed by a Queen,” Daniel said, as they stepped out onto the platform, “but they have a Parliament as well.”
“Sounds kind of British,” Jack remarked.
“Will the Tau’ri from Earth,” an announcement came over a PA system, “please make their way to the flashing red sign, where they will be met?”
“They’re pretty well organized,” Jack said. “And polite.” He waved an arm in acknowledgement of the message, guessing that he was probably being watched either through a window or on some equivalent of CCTV, and headed for where a sign was indeed flashing the word ‘Tau’ri’ in red. “It beats having some guy standing there with a word scribbled on a card. Okay, let’s do what they say.”- - - - -
There were two men waiting under the sign. “Hello, there,” one greeted SG-1 as they arrived. He was relatively young, maybe around thirty or so, and was clad in the pants, loose tunic, and collarless jacket that seemed to be the normal male apparel on this planet. “I’m Nelem’kish, from the Department of Interstellar Relations. I’m pleased to meet you.”
“Thanks,” said Jack. “Colonel Jack O’Neill, US Air Force. This is Major Samantha Carter, Dr Daniel Jackson, and Teal’c.”
Nelem’kish’s eyes widened. “You are SG-1? Really? Oh. Rē‘û tabrītu ni! The Beloved Queen will definitely want to meet you in person.”
“To the astonishment of me,” Daniel muttered, automatically translating the Akkadian speech. “Or, colloquially, ‘Astonishing’.”
“That is correct, Dr Jackson,” Nelem’kish confirmed. “Your knowledge of languages is as wide as the stories tell. It is almost unknown for us to meet people from outside the Commonwealth who speak our tongue.”
“Akkadian is your native language, then?” Daniel asked.
“That is so,” Nelem’kish replied, “although many of us also speak Goa’uld and, these days, English as well. Our Queen encourages learning of languages. Actually she encourages learning of all kinds.” He half-turned and gestured in the direction of an archway labeled, in the customary three languages, ‘Exit to vehicle waiting area’. “The station is not the best place for conversation. Please, come this way, and I will take you to the Department.”- - - - -
The streets were wide, the cars seemed to be electric, and driving was on the left. The dominant architectural style was towers of steel and glass, although the buildings had more curves than the usual Earth skyscraper, and there were occasional smaller buildings. Screens on some of the buildings displayed pictures and slogans that were apparently advertising various products. “Very much like Tokyo,” Jack commented, “only not as crowded. Or London. If they knocked down all the old bits and built everything new.”
“I suppose there are only a limited number of ways in which one can lay out a city,” Nelem’kish said. He used a miniature computer, worn on the back of his left arm and operated with a stylus on the touch-screen instead of a keyboard, to compose and send a message. “If there’s anything you’d like a closer look at, or you’d like to know more about, just tell me,” he said. “I’m afraid there’s no-one on this planet qualified to do anything like negotiating a trade treaty and you’ll have to wait until someone comes over from the capital. It may well be the Beloved Queen. In the meantime I’d be happy to show you around.”
“How long is it likely to be?” Jack asked.
“I doubt if it will be long,” Nelem’kish said. “If the Beloved Queen is too busy, or on vacation, then First Minister Enshag, or Interstellar Relations Minister Ri’mush, will come instead. They won’t keep you waiting. I should be able to tell you more in a geš
?” Jack raised his eyebrows. “How long is that?”
Nelem’kish applied his stylus to his wrist computer. “Sorry, I’m not totally familiar with your time measurement system,” he said. “I’ll just...”
“Four minutes,” Daniel put in. “The Akkadian time units, inherited from Sumeria, were the basis for the ones we use but there were a few differences.”
“Thanks, Daniel,” Jack said, cutting off Daniel before he could go into the differences in detail. Jack focused his gaze on Nelem’kish. “So, why do you call your ruler ‘Beloved Queen’?”
“Because she is,” Nelem’kish replied. He smiled broadly. “She sometimes says that it’s a little silly, because it’s not as if we have any other queens she needs to be distinguished from, and that we should just call her Ninmah.”
“Great Queen,” Daniel translated.
“Well, yes,” Nelem’kish said, “but it’s also her name. Most people call her Beloved Queen anyway. Because she is beloved by us all.”
“So, she’s a fair ruler?”
“Fair as in just, and fair of face also,” Nelem’kish confirmed. “Actually most of the laws are made by the planetary Parliaments. Ninmah can veto them, but if she does she has to submit a report of her reasons, and if a law is put forward three times she has to pass it the third time. That hardly ever happens. She doesn’t often veto laws and, the last time a law went through over her veto, it turned out to be a bad idea in practice and Parliament withdrew it themselves before the year was out.”
“Does she make laws herself?” Daniel asked.
“She deals with most interstellar matters,” Nelem’kish replied. “It’s much more efficient to have a single person handling negotiations, with authority to make deals on the spot, than a committee. Her staff would work out the small details, such as the exact terms of a trade deal, but she would make the decision about if there is to be a deal at all. She has to submit treaties to Parliament for approval but I don’t think they’ve ever made more than the most minor of amendments.”
Jack zoned out slightly and looked out at the city. “Nice place you have here,” he said. “So, what does this planet have in the way of sports?”
“Foot-racing is the most popular,” Nelem’kish said. “We are also fond of wrestling, vehicle racing, and pukku mekkû
. That is a game where teams of players strike a ball with sticks to drive it into a net.”
“Sounds like field hockey,” Jack said. “Ever thought about trying it on ice?”
“On ice?” Nelem’kish’s eyebrows shot up. “Would the players not fall over?” His wrist computer beeped. “Excuse me.” He opened its clamshell lid and scanned the screen. He broke into a beaming smile. “The Beloved Queen is indeed coming in person,” he announced. “She is looking forward to meeting the famous SG-1 and she will be here in just over a bêru
“Two hours,” said Daniel.
“Hey, we’re famous,” Jack said. “You hear that, guys?”
“Until she arrives I am at your disposal,” Nelem’kish said. “I can show you around the city, or at least part of it, or take you somewhere you can get something to eat. Whatever you wish.”
“Well, I’d like to send a message back to home base,” Jack said. “We’d need the Stargate open for that.”
“That is not a problem,” Nelem’kish said. “If you give me the Gate address I will arrange for it to be opened for long enough for your communication.”
“Uh, we’re not really supposed to give out the address until we’ve put the contact on a little firmer footing,” Jack said. He shrugged. “You know how it is.”
“I understand,” said Nelem’kish. “One has to take precautions. I will take you back to the Gate station if you wish. The Maglev trip is short enough that it would be merely slight inconvenience.”
“It’s okay,” Jack said. “We don’t have to check in for a while yet. We can leave it until after we’ve had the meeting. Although,” he mused, “if we’re meeting royalty maybe I should go back to the SGC and get my dress uniform.”- - - - -
“Sir,” Sam said to Jack, keeping her voice low, “we may have a problem.”
Jack was in the middle of unclipping his P-90 to leave it, together with his field pack, in a locker provided by the Akkadians. He froze with the weapon in his hands. “I hope you just mean you can’t decide whether to take them up on the technology demonstration or push for a shopping trip instead.”
Sam gave him a brief, tight, smile. “No, sir. I’ve detected a Goa’uld.”
Jack reflexively raised the gun. “Where?” Beside him Teal’c stiffened.
“More than one,” Sam went on. “That guy Alulim, who Nelem’kish was talking to about arranging the conference room, for a start, and one of the girls working at the computer terminals. I’m pretty sure there are others around but they’re the only ones I’ve pinned down to individuals.”
“Are you certain, Major Carter?” asked Teal’c.
Sam bit on her lip briefly. “Not absolutely,” she confessed. “Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between Goa’uld and Jaffa. But, well, you saw them. They weren’t like any Jaffa I’ve ever seen.”
“If a Goa’uld is working as a clerk or a secretary, or whatever, on a human planet,” Jack said, “it means either there are one whole lot of infiltrators or else the girl is working on something top secret. I don’t buy that. This just isn’t the right kind of place. It’s a local government office, on a provincial planet, with one small Interstellar Relations department tucked away in a corner. How are they going to have the kind of secrets that would interest the Goa’uld?”
“I agree, sir,” Sam said. “It’s not like on Langara. Kianna was working on a project to recover naquadria. It wasn’t any huge surprise when we found out she’d been taken over by a Goa’uld. Here? I don’t get it. If it was a cover for something secret they’d never have brought us here.” She shook her head. “Maybe I’m wrong. They could have naquadah in their bloodstreams for some reason other than being Goa’uld. Or they’re Tok’ra, although I don’t see what Tok’ra would be doing in those jobs any more than Goa’uld.”
Jack unclipped his gun. “Even if you’re right there isn’t much we can do about it,” he said. “If we start flapping our mouths off we’d only be putting ourselves in danger. Or we wouldn’t be believed, and we’d end up running along the freeway shouting ‘They’re here, already! You’re next!’ like in the movie. Maybe we’ll drop a word in the Queen’s ear once we get a feel for what she’s like.”
“Is it wise to divest ourselves of our weapons, O’Neill?” Teal’c asked.
“A few hundred rounds of ammo wouldn’t make much difference if things turned bad,” Jack said. He set the P-90 down on a shelf. “This city looks to be as big as Chicago. They could stomp us flat with sheer weight of numbers if they wanted. And how’s it going to look if we change our minds now? No, stick with the original plan.” He closed the locker door. “Okay, on with the tour.”
They rejoined Nelem’kish and he escorted them through the corridors towards the exit from the office building. On the way they passed near to a water cooler, very similar to the ones that were to be found in a million offices in the USA, and a similar custom of shared gossip during water breaks seemed to prevail here. Three girls were at the cooler as SG-1 passed. One was the girl whom Sam had identified as a Goa’uld. She was speaking in Akkadian.
Daniel raised an eyebrow. He slowed down and listened. “Fascinating,” he muttered, as the girl and her companions broke into a shared giggle. “Very intriguing.” He realized that his companions were in danger of leaving behind and he hastened to catch them up. “Inūmīšu nadānu lānu
,” he muttered to himself as he went. “That would be ‘in the time of handing over the body’. What can she mean by that?” - - - - -
Nelem’kish ushered the members of SG-1 into an empty conference room. “Take your seats,” he told them. “The Beloved Queen will be here very soon.”
“Any particular items of protocol we need to know?” Daniel asked. “Like, in our world it would be customary to stand up when she entered the room. Is it the same here?”
“I believe that she would be happy for you to follow your own customs,” Nelem’kish said. “I shall inform her that you are ready to meet her.” He departed again.
Jack chose a seat and sat down. “I’ll make a nice change to meet a Queen who doesn’t want to torture us. Or to mate with Daniel.”
“You do realize, sir, you’ve probably jinxed us?” Sam said.
Daniel sat down and clamped his legs tightly together. “I hope not.”
“Hey, Space Monkey, the way they talk about her she sounds like a cross between the Queen of England and Angelina Jolie,” Jack said, “or maybe like Princess Diana apart from not being dead. It might not be so bad.” Daniel rolled his eyes and forced his legs even closer together.
The room door opened. Nelem’kish stood there, drawn to attention, and announced “Ninmah, the Great Queen of the Akkadian Commonwealth.”
“Thank you, Nelem’kish,” a warm and pleasant female voice said. Nelem’kish stepped aside and, as the members of SG-1 rose to their feet, Ninmah walked in. Alone, somewhat to Jack’s surprise, without any aides or bodyguards accompanying her. Nelem’kish pulled the door closed behind her.
Ninmah wore a simple white dress. Her dark hair, long and wavy, hung loose. Apart from one slim gold bracelet she wore no jewelry. She was slim, pretty rather than stunningly beautiful, and seemed to be in her late twenties. Almost imperceptible laughter lines showed at the corners of her eyes and mouth.
“Greetings, people of Earth,” she said. “Welcome to the Akkadian Commonwealth.” She approached Jack and extended her right hand. “Colonel Jack O’Neill of the renowned SG-1, I presume?”
“That’s me,” Jack confirmed, taking the proffered hand. “Thank you, your, uh, Majesty.”
“Please, just call me Ninmah,” she said. “Major Samantha Carter, no doubt,” she went on, turning to Sam.
Sam’s jaw dropped. “You’re a Goa’uld.”
Ninmah raised her eyebrows slightly. “Oh? That explains the longevity, then, and the strength. And that thing I can do with my eyes.” She grinned widely. “I was already aware of my race, Major Carter.” She extended her hand again. Sam, slightly gingerly, shook hands.
“Tek ma’tek, Teal’c,” Ninmah addressed Teal’c. She took hold of his arm in Jaffa fashion.
Teal’c, his eyebrow climbing to unprecedented heights, reciprocated her grip. “Tek ma’tek, Queen Ninmah,” he replied.
“And you are Daniel Jackson,” Ninmah concluded, holding out her hand to Daniel. “As you are no doubt already aware,” she added, shooting a glance at Sam and grinning again. “Šulmu, Dr Jackson.”
“Uh, greetings to you too,” Daniel replied.
“I… don’t understand,” Sam said, studying Ninmah intently. “Are you… Tok’ra?”
Ninmah snorted. “Hardly. I am indeed Goa’uld, a member of the High Council of the System Lords, but I have my own way of doing things.”
“I have to say so far I like your way a lot more than the usual,” Jack said. “I take it you won’t be putting us behind bars, torturing us, and doing… other things with Daniel?”
“Not unless your tastes run that way,” Ninmah said. She took a seat at the head of the table. “Please, sit down, gentlemen, and Major Carter.”
Sam still had a stunned, deer-in-the-headlights, expression on her face. “Do your people know you are a Goa’uld?” she asked, as she obeyed and sat down.
“Of course,” Ninmah said. “I’m surprised that you didn’t know. It’s not exactly a secret. Perhaps no-one thought to mention it simply because it’s so widely known that everyone took it for granted that you knew too.” She grinned again. “You’ve had enough contact with the other System Lords that I would have thought one of them would have mentioned me. Still, I suppose they were too busy torturing you and – what exactly are those other things they did with Daniel?”
“It’s a long story,” Daniel said, his cheeks showing a hint of red. “You said you’re one of the High Council of System Lords. You weren’t at the summit two years ago that I managed to attend.”
“Was that the one where they admitted Anubis to the Council? I had no direct interest. Lord Yu has my permission to vote on my behalf when I’m not present,” Ninmah explained. “He is my closest ally among the other System Lords – my only ally, in fact – although recently Lord Yu has been unreliable. Irrational, even, on occasion.”
“Lord Yu is unwell,” Teal’c informed her. “We believe that he is approaching the end of his life.”
“I suspected as much,” Ninmah said, nodding.
“You had no interest in Anubis?” Daniel’s eyebrows climbed higher than the rims of his glasses.
“At the time, no,” Ninmah replied. “His identity was unknown and he was just another upstart who had achieved some victories over the lesser powers.”
“Lesser powers?” Daniel probed.
“Baal, Bastet and Kali, Morrigan, and so on,” Ninmah said.
“They’re the most powerful of the System Lords,” Jack said. “How come you call them ‘lesser’? Just how big are your forces?”
Ninmah directed her gaze at him and gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. “I’m not going to reveal any military secrets,” she said, “but the population of the Commonwealth is thirty-two billion. You do the math.”
?” Jack’s jaw dropped.
“No-one has dared challenge me since I defeated Ra thirty years ago,” Ninmah went on. “Technically I suppose that makes me Supreme System Lord but I’m really not interested.”
“You defeated Ra
?” Daniel’s eyebrows were in danger of disappearing into his hairline.
“So did you,” Ninmah said. “Thank you for killing him, by the way. He would have tried again, eventually, and although he couldn’t possibly have succeeded against me he could have caused a lot of damage. I suppose Apophis might have been stupid enough to try to show his power by attacking me as well.”
“Do you have Jaffa in your service?” Teal’c asked.
“Twenty per cent of the population, in round figures, are Jaffa,” Ninmah said. “Ten per cent are Goa’uld. The Jaffa are not directly in my service. They are citizens of the Commonwealth with the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. Most of them do serve in the military, for at least one ten-year term, however. After their service they remain part of the reserve forces.” She met Teal’c’s gaze directly. “There is no need for you to try to stir up rebellion amongst them, Teal’c, for there is nothing for them to rebel against. All know that the Goa’uld are not gods.”
“And yet you rule over them,” Teal’c said.
“I rule by consent,” Ninmah replied. “The people choose their representatives. They make the laws. Was this not explained to you? I serve my people. They do not serve me, except indirectly, and I would have it no other way.”
“How come?” Jack asked. “You’re not kidding you do things differently from the other Goa’uld. Why?”
“Why did Egeria choose her path?” Ninmah asked in return. “Eight hundred years ago I decided that to rule by fear was inefficient. I sought another way and decided that if my people loved and respected me they would obey me of their own free will. I set out to make them love me and I succeeded. In the process something occurred that I had not foreseen. I came to love them in return.”
“What of the other Goa’uld?” Teal’c asked. “Did they not think that you were foolish and act to stop you and usurp your place?”
“Of course,” Ninmah said. “Many tried. All failed and died. Those who survived were those who saw the wisdom in my actions. We are one people now. Goa’uld, Jaffa, human; all citizens. No Goa’uld takes a host without consent. Including me.”
“How do they get volunteers?” Sam asked. “My father volunteered to host a Tok’ra because it was the only way to save his life. Surely there can’t be enough terminally ill people to fill the demand. Especially not if your medical technology is up there with your transportation and communications tech.”
“It isn’t a problem,” Ninmah assured her. “There is a law that all Goa’uld must surrender control to the host every sixth day, absolutely and without reservation, except for serving members of the Armed Forces where the host is not in the military in his or her own right. Many people, certainly enough for our needs, regard that as sufficient compensation.”
“Inūmīšu nadānu lānu…” Daniel muttered. “So that’s what the girl at the water-cooler was talking about.”
Sam looked a question at him. “The girl you recognized as a Goa’uld,” Daniel explained. “She was telling her friends that ‘Lunbau’, presumably the host, liked a particular boy as well, and so there would be no embarrassment on ‘the day of handing over the body’.”
“Exactly,” Ninmah said. “We call it ‘Host Day’ in English. It can be awkward if the host and the Goa’uld desire different partners. It has happened to me. Rarely, for Shamhat is not only my host; she is my best friend.”
“You do the ‘Host Day’ thing too?” Daniel’s eyebrows reached new heights.
“I would not demand that my people do something that I would not do myself,” Ninmah said. “Sometimes affairs of state require that I cannot do Host Day on the day appointed, but in that case I give her a day at another time. She understands the necessity.” She grinned again. “Usually Shamhat likes to spend her days at the beach, riding boards towed behind a fast boat – waterboarding, I believe you call it.”
The three human members of SG-1 exchanged glances. “Uh, no, waterboarding is something different,” Sam told Ninmah. “You mean water-skiing, or maybe wakeboarding.”
Ninmah nodded. “Thank you. I shall correct my vocabulary accordingly.” Her gaze played over Daniel and her grin grew wider. “Shamhat says that, if you are still on this planet on two days’ time when she next has Host Day, she would like Daniel Jackson to come... water-skiing with her.”
“Same old, same old,” said Jack.
“Jack...” Daniel protested.
“Daniel,” Jack replied.
“Uh, we’ll see,” Daniel said to Ninmah. “We hadn’t planned on being here that long. Maybe.”
“I can see why you don’t pretend to be a goddess any longer,” Sam remarked.
“Such a claim is only sustainable when the population is ignorant,” Ninmah said. “I desired that my people become educated. It occurred to me that if I had no secrets I need not fear that my secrets would be revealed. I encouraged the people to learn. The other Goa’uld lords discourage learning lest the Jaffa discover that they are not gods.” Her lip curled. “Fools. They stagnate as we advance.”
“I take it your people have made advances on the military side too?” Jack asked.
“Of course,” Ninmah said. “Any one of our ha’taks is easily a match for two System Lord flagships. The squadron flagships could take on an Asgard vessel on even terms. Our foot-soldiers have weaponry far superior to staff weapons.” She stared into Jack’s eyes. “And, before you ask, I will not share military technology with you. I may despise the methods of my kin but I will not betray them.”
“They’d betray you,” Jack pointed out.
“Perhaps,” Ninmah said, “but those who betray me once do not live to do so again. Lord Yu has always kept his word to me, as for that matter has Baal, and the late Tilgath. Also, if I did give you military technology, one day in the future your world might turn it against the Commonwealth. I will not change my mind on this issue.”
“Disappointing,” Jack said, “but I can see your point. Hey, but what if we could offer you something you don’t have? A weapon that can take out Anubis’ super-soldiers, for instance?”
“We have such a weapon,” Ninmah said. “We have already destroyed two of the Kull Warriors and captured two more.”
“Oh. That’s, well, good for you,” Jack said, “and good for everyone in general, I guess, but bad for us in that it means we don’t have any leverage.”
“There are still things that we can trade,” Ninmah said. “I am informed that you were impressed by our Maglev system. The one you traveled on is a third-generation system; on Akkad we have fourth and fifth generations. I can see no military application for a transport network that runs only along fixed lines and would have no objection to giving you the technology behind the fourth-generation Maglev.”
Jack glanced over at Sam. “That could be worth billions, sir,” she told him.
“Sounds good,” Jack said, “but what would you want in return? Any technology we have you probably already have too. Uh, the internal combustion engine?”
“We gave those up fifty years ago,” Ninmah said. “Too many unpleasant by-products. Once we developed electric cars that could match gasoline cars for speed and range the gasoline engine was relegated to some battlefield applications for which a naquadah generator is inefficient.”
“Those cars sound pretty neat too,” Jack said, “if we can come up with something to trade. Help me out here, Carter. Daniel, feel free to contribute.”
“Most of the things I know about went out of use when Heron of Alexandria died,” Daniel said. “Sorry.”
“Everything I’m coming up with off the top of my head is military,” Sam confessed. “There was that Clifford Simak story where the Earth guy trader gave the formula for paint in exchange for an anti-gravity device…”
Jack pointed at the walls. “They already have paint, Carter.”
“I’m trying, sir,” Sam protested. “Look, we can go back to the SGC and get some ideas there.”
“I would be happy to make an agreement in principle, Colonel O’Neill,” Ninmah said. “You may have the schematics for the fourth-generation Maglev and the electric car motors. If you cannot come up with any technology in which we would be interested then works of entertainment would be an acceptable alternative. There is always a market for such things.”
,” suggested Teal’c. “It is an epic that has true heart. Any with the blood of Jaffa would value it highly.”
“It sounds interesting,” said Ninmah. “Tell me more.”
“Long ago,” began Teal’c, “in a galaxy far, far, away…”
Jack groaned and sank his head in his hands.- - - - -
“It’s a Goa’uld world, General,” Jack reported.
Hammond raised his eyebrows. “You seem remarkably tidy to have fought your way out,” he said.
“It’s a… different kind of Goa’uld world,” Jack expanded. “I hate the snakeheads but if there was one that I didn’t hate it would be Queen Ninmah.”
“You don’t hate her the way you don’t hate Mary Steenburgen,” Daniel teased.
“She’s… not bad,” Jack admitted. “Which is a good thing. They’re at least fifty years ahead of us in damn near everything, probably way more than that when it comes to the military stuff, and they outnumber us by a whole lot. A hell of a lot. She said the population of her planets totals thirty-two billion and I believe her.”
“Is she a threat?”
Jack shook his head. “I never thought I’d say this about any Goa’uld, but, no. She could probably squash us like bugs, if she wanted, but she won’t. Unfortunately she won’t help us against the other Goa’uld, not even Anubis, but she’s giving us some non-military technology that should be worth serious money. At least it might get the bean-counters off your back.”
“She has also offered to supply arms to the hak’tyl,” Teal’c added. “She despises Moloc as a barbaric tyrant and, although she will not openly act against him nor aid the Jaffa Rebellion as a whole, she would give aid to the hak’tyl. She has obsolete weapons no longer any use to her forces, stockpiled in vast numbers, and she says the hak’tyl may have enough to meet their needs. Staff weapons and zat’nik’tel.”
“Obsolete?” Hammond’s eyebrows rose.
“I think she regards our P-90s in the same way as we think of bows and arrows,” Jack said. “It’s a damn good thing she’s not hostile. One thing we really, really, never want to do is get her pissed.”- - - - -
A short time later came the mission on which Dr Janet Fraiser was killed. A succession of crises followed. The new President replaced General Hammond with a civilian newcomer. SG-1 learnt of a forthcoming attack by Anubis and a desperate race for the Ancient technology that could fend off Anubis ensued. Jack ended up frozen in stasis, his life threatened by the Ancient knowledge downloaded into his brain, and a mission to get the Asgard to revive him turned into a death struggle against the Replicators.
With all that was going on Ninmah, neither a threat nor an active ally, was a very low priority. The technology trade went ahead but otherwise she was almost forgotten. The only time she cropped up in dealings at the SGC was during the meeting with the delegation of System Lords who sought Earth’s help against Baal.- - - - -
“Who’s ‘Ninmah’?” Dr Weir asked. “The System Lords seemed pretty startled when you suggested they ask her for help.”
“She’s in the briefing material,” Daniel replied.
“Dr Jackson… Daniel,” Dr Weir said, “it would take me days to go through all the briefings. I skimmed them, and I read up on Yu, Camulus, and Amaterasu. That’s all I had time for.”
“Queen Ninmah is a System Lord, possibly more powerful than all the rest of them put together, but she’s not like the other Goa’uld,” Daniel explained. “We’ve established friendly relations with her. We bought transportation technology from her in exchange for the Star Wars trilogy.”
“We weren’t going to inflict Jar-Jar Binks on someone with whom we want to stay friends,” Daniel explained. “Anyway, she’s not going to help either side.”
“Why not? If the System Lords are desperate enough to ask us for help and offer us hyperdrive technology…”
“They’re scared of her ideas,” Daniel said. “Her worlds run as a democracy with Goa’uld, Jaffa, and humans all equal. How long do you think the System Lords would survive if that became common knowledge among their servants? They’d rather be conquered by Baal. If I’d thought it through I wouldn’t have bothered bringing her up. Forget about Ninmah.”- - - - -
They did, to a large extent, and when Jack was awoken from stasis, and promoted to Brigadier-General and commander of the SGC, Ninmah was the last thing on his mind. When the hak’tyl rebellion was compromised, and they needed to be resettled, it never occurred to Jack to suggest that they seek shelter in the Commonwealth.
And then the Trust stole the Stargate and, before SG-1 could recover it, launched missiles through the Gate at Goa’uld worlds chosen totally at random. Missiles full of a concentrated version of the Tok’ra symbiote poison. Lethal to all Goa’uld and symbiote-carrying Jaffa. Capable of killing millions.- - - - -
“Unscheduled Off-world Activation!” The alarm blared out. Brigadier-General O’Neill entered the control room. “Any…” he began. The iris quivered with the impact of particles unable to reform, trapped within the wormhole, before he could complete the question.
“Missiles, sir,” Harriman reported. The iris quivered again and again.
“Who the hell…?” Jack wondered. “Baal?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Harriman said.
“Yeah, I know, silly question,” Jack said. He waited. The members of SG-1 joined him in the control room. The impacts against the iris continued. “That’s a lot of missiles,” he remarked, after a while. “If we didn’t have the iris the base would be toast. If they’re nukes Colorado
would be toast.”
The rain of incoming missiles continued for about three minutes and then stopped. “Whoever is attacking is really, really, serious about wanting us dead,” Jack commented.
“Indeed,” said Teal’c. “The barrage was sustained but, thankfully, ineffective.”
A minute later there was another impact. “You have to give them points for perseverance,” Jack said, “but what are they doing? If the first missiles had got through there’d be nothing but a crater. What are they doing, bombing the rubble?”
There was only the one impact this time and then another period of silence.
“Sir, I think that last one was a recon probe,” Sam suggested. “Intended to assess the damage from the bombardment.”
“Could be,” Jack agreed. Even as he spoke something came through the iris. A female figure. A dozen guns swung up to point at the apparition.
“Stand down,” Jack ordered. “It’s a hologram.” He squinted at the slightly shimmering figure. “Ninmah!” he exclaimed. “Holy crap!” He rushed down from the control room. Sam and Daniel scampered after him. Teal’c followed at a more measured pace.
“Queen Ninmah!” Jack shouted. “What’s going on?”
“O’Neill,” Ninmah’s hologram replied, her voice the metallic tones of a Goa’uld rather than the human voice she had used in their previous meeting. “Betrayer. Murderer.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Jack asked. “What did I do?”
The hologram figure’s lip curled in disdain. “Do not waste my time with protestations of innocence. We know who is guilty. For what you have done you, and your planet, will burn.” The image of Queen Ninmah vanished into non-existence.
“Now what was that about?” Jack asked the world in general. “I thought she was our friend.”
Daniel chewed on his bottom lip. “Oh boy,” he said. “Oh, this is bad.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “You have an idea what’s gotten her so pissed?”
“I might,” Daniel said. “I hope I’m wrong. Boy, do I hope I’m wrong.”
“Well,” Jack said, raising an eyebrow, “are you going to tell the rest of us?”
Daniel hesitated before replying. He grimaced, frowned, and ran his fingers across his lower lip. At last he spoke. “Did we ever get a full list of the planets the Trust attacked?”
Sam’s eyes widened. “Oh my God!” she gasped. “The missiles…”
“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed. “They slew many of the Jaffa and the Tok’ra. Shuruppak is listed in our records as a Goa’uld world, for such it is, and the traitors may have targeted it before we retrieved the Gate.”
“Oh, crap,” Jack said. “We’re dead.”
“Ninmah is a peaceful ruler but I sense she has the heart of a warrior,” Teal’c said. “Her response to such a cowardly attack will be forceful and direct. The situation is dire indeed.”
“Tell me about it,” Jack said.
“I can tell you no more without definite information about the strength of her military forces,” Teal’c said.
“It was a figure of speech, Teal’c,” Jack said. “Although… yeah, getting some hard information would be good. All we know about her strength came from her. It’s possible she was shooting a line.”
“I doubt that most strongly, O’Neill,” Teal’c said. “My belief is that everything Ninmah told us was the truth.”
“When I suggested to the System Lords they should go to her for help against Baal they said the price she would ask was too high,” Daniel said. “They never said she couldn’t beat him.” He shook his head. “She’d offered Yu asylum,” he went on. “He was insulted by the offer but I think, maybe, he was thinking of taking her up on it if push came to shove. The System Lords definitely believe Ninmah is at least as strong as Baal.”
“Yeah, I know, I know,” Jack said. “I’m just clutching at straws. Some sign that maybe we’re not just a jackrabbit in the path of a sixteen-wheeler.” He sucked in one cheek, and then let it out and sucked in the other. “I’ll get on to what few contacts we have left with the Tok’ra,” he said. “Maybe they might have some intelligence on Ninmah’s strength. Getting information out of them these days is like pulling teeth, especially since the Trust killed Zaren, but you never know. I’ll ask nicely.”
“And I will ask among the Jaffa,” Teal’c said.
“Thanks,” Jack said. He bit his lip. “And we have to find out what damage the Trust did.”- - - - -
“Unscheduled Off-world Activation!”
“Receiving IDC transmission, sir,” Harriman reported. “It’s the Tok’ra.”
“Open the iris,” Jack ordered. “Let’s hope they have some good news.” He went down to the Gate room to meet the Tok’ra visitor, hoping that it was Jacob Carter, but he was disappointed.
“Anise,” he greeted the familiar figure. “Long time no see.” He held back the ‘not long enough’ that he might have uttered in other circumstances.
“More than four years,” Anise agreed. “Congratulations on your promotion, General O’Neill.” Her smile was perfunctory and vanished as soon as she had spoken.
“Thanks,” Jack replied. “So. Let’s skip the catching up on old times. What can you tell me about Ninmah?”
“I have been on her capital world, Akkad, for the past two years,” Anise revealed, “evaluating the suitability of the Commonwealth as a place to seek refuge in the event of our resistance being overrun by the Goa’uld.” Her lips tightened. “I was there when Shuruppak was attacked by the Tau’ri.”
“It wasn’t us,” Jack protested. “There are these guys, the Trust, they’re fanatics. They stole the Gate and used it.”
“It is not I whom you must convince,” Anise said. “We have had our differences, complicated by Freya’s feelings for you…”
“Which I would like to scrub out of my memories with soap and water,” Jack muttered.
“…But I respect you nonetheless,” Anise continued, “and I do not wish harm to come upon you or your people. Alas, it seems inevitable.” She opened a small shoulder-bag and took out a clear case containing a silver disc. “I recorded a broadcast. When your request for information was passed on to me I transferred it to a medium that I believe is compatible with your machines. You must witness it at once.”- - - - -
Jack switched off the DVD player. “We’re screwed,” he said. “I thought maybe it might be something we could apologize for, maybe make reparations, but how the hell do we say sorry for that
“You have to take this to the President, sir,” Sam advised him. Her voice shook and there were tears visible in her wide grey eyes. Daniel wasn’t present; he was hiding out to avoid Anise.
“The President, General Hammond, and the Joint Chiefs,” Jack agreed. “Not that there’s a damn thing they can do about it, but they have to know.” He turned to Anise. “You lived there for two years, and I have to admit you’re a pretty good intelligence operative, so you must have found out some useful stuff. Are Ninmah’s ships as good as she claims they are, and just how many of them does she have?”
Anise told him.
Jack could feel the blood draining from his face. “I have to take this to the President,” he echoed Sam’s earlier words. “Right now.”- - - - -
Jack pressed ‘Play’ and the screen lit up to show Ninmah sitting at a desk facing the camera. The bracelet on her wrist rattled against the desk as her hands trembled. Her face was tear-stained.
“The t-t-total fatalities are n-now confirmed at th… th… three million one hundred and forty-six thousand,” she said. “Rescue services are clearing up the d-d-dead and trying to cope with quarter of a million orphaned children.” She broke into sobs. Tears poured down her cheeks. “I have failed you,” she cried, in a voice filled with grief and despair. “I have failed my people.”
A voice from off-screen, possibly that of one of the cameramen, could be heard calling out “It’s not your fault! Blame the bastards who attacked us.” Other voices added comments such as “That’s right!” and “Kill them!”
Ninmah wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, achieving little except to smear her eyeliner, and choked back her sobs. “I thank you,” she said, “but I know that the failure is mine. It never occurred to me that anyone could do such a barbaric thing.”
Her eyes flashed. “We know who is responsible,” she went on, this time speaking in the metallic echoing voice of a Goa’uld who was making no effort to appear human. “They will suffer for this atrocity. I have given orders for the fleet to assemble. Half shall stay on guard to protect the Commonwealth from further attack. The rest shall go to Earth.” Ninmah’s face contorted and her voice reverted to its human form. “We shall burn the planet of those… animals… to a smoking cinder. Our dead shall be avenged!”
Jack paused the DVD and looked at the grim faces of General Hammond, General Maynard of the Joint Chiefs, and President Hayes.
The President shook his head. “Mass murder,” he said. “Totally unprovoked. A slaughter of the innocents by Americans
. I can hardly believe it.”
“We knew they’d attacked Goa’uld worlds,” General Hammond said, “without caring that they were massacring the rebel Jaffa, and killing deep cover Tok’ra operatives, along with their intended targets. But this...”
“It was sheer insanity,” General Maynard added. “They claim to be patriots and say they want to protect Earth. How is making new enemies doing that?”
“I guess to them one Goa’uld is the same as another,” Jack said, “but they couldn’t have picked a worse target if they’d set up a think tank and planned for a year. We are – pardon my language, Mr President – totally screwed.”
“I’d use worse,” President Hayes said. “Just how bad is the situation?”
“As bad as it could get, sir,” Jack said. “The Ancient weapon is drained and useless. Even if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be enough.” Jack swallowed hard. “Mr President – Anubis came close to destroying us when he attacked Earth with thirty mother-ships. Ninmah has two thousand