Down the rabbit hole
Author’s note: Apologies for the mega-extended absence. Would you believe it? Alien abduction – again!! And no laptop in sight! Anyway, thanks as always to the people who have been posting reviews giving feedback and encouragement (along with the one or two scoldings). Part 16: Down the rabbit hole
Even in the car, with the windows rolled up tightly, the air was electric. The wipers fought to keep up with the big fat drops of rain pelting the glass, while the reverberating cracks of thunder followed quickly on the streaks of lightning cutting the sky of the darkened afternoon. If she were paranoid, Buffy thought, or self-centered – OK, a little more
self-centered – it would be easy to imagine that the storm was aimed straight at them. She was not the least bit ashamed to be glad that it was now Jack who was driving. This was not
the kind of weather for which life in the Southland prepared a person.
Jack glanced over at her. "Sudden, huh?"
"Eyes on the road, mister," Buffy answered him. "Where did this come
Jack took her rhetorical question literally. "Early summer: this is thunderstorm season for us. Warm air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico tangles with the colder air here and all kinds of interesting things happen. Not just thunderstorms, but hail, tornadoes…"
"I don’t think we’re in California any more," Buffy muttered.
Jack, distracted, asked her, "Say again?"
"Nothing," Buffy said. After a moment of thought, she added in an apparent non sequitur, "But sudden can be good, right?" She could sense rather than see Jack’s smile.
"Sure," he said. "But you have to be careful. Colorado is ranked 11th in the country for deaths and injuries from lightning."
"Oh, well, thanks for that
news flash," Buffy said, turning on the car’s heater.
But they arrived safely back at the base and were struck only by raindrops as they crossed the parking lot. Once they had toweled off and reunited with Giles, Willow and SG-1, however, they found very different atmospheric conditions from the ones they had left outside: mostly gloomy, with an increasing probability of demoralization.
They seated themselves around a table in what was apparently the same conference room in which they had met before, although the Scoobies, still disoriented by the SGC maze, would have been hard-pressed to say for sure. This time, however, someone had provided a coffee setup, for which Buffy, for one, was profoundly grateful.
Daniel explained the mood.
"Willow was a trooper" – he paused to smile at the redhead – "and we gave it our best shot, but we’ve really got nothing. There’s no crossover between what she picked up from the aliens and anything we’ve got in our database. If I worked on nothing else for a couple weeks, I might be able to make some headway on the language, but then again…" He shrugged. "Sam is about to send what we have off to the Tok’ra."
"There will be no need to trouble your Tok’ra allies with this problem," a new voice said.
As Jack said, "Howdy, Thor, and thank god for small favors," Buffy, Willow and Giles struggled to make sense of what their eyes and ears were telling them.
In a flash of dazzling white light, a small being had materialized at an unoccupied corner of the conference table – complete with his own, somewhat throne-like chair. That’s good, thought Buffy in a daze, because it would take an awful lot of phone books under his alien butt to get much more than his head above the level of the table.
What a funny color, mused Giles, the inconsequential thought the first one to float to the surface of his clouded mind. Gray, but a pinkish gray, as if there were warm red blood running below its … his? … skin. He wondered if that were true.
Willow closed her eyes, rubbed them like a child, and opened them again. The new visitor was simultaneously absolutely strange and weirdly familiar; he looked as though he had just come from a Hollywood casting call for a Roswell crash victim, circa 1947. The seemingly unflappable Captain Cortez, too, appeared to be in a state of shock, her mouth half-open. Catching Willow’s gaze, she shut it firmly, looking chagrined.
Willow and Buffy both turned to Jack, who was grinning broadly. "I believe some introductions are in order. This is Thor, supreme commander of the Asgard fleet," Jack began – and then was interrupted.
Thor himself had swiveled to stare directly at Buffy, a move that involved his whole tiny body and oversized head. "It is a very great honor to meet you," he said simply. He sat composedly, and blinked his great round dark eyes once, very slowly.
The other members of the room were completely silent for just a moment, absorbing this. Sam, Teal’c, and Daniel exchanged glances. And then Jack blew. "You knew
?" he demanded of Thor.
Thor just blinked again, equally as slowly.
you did," Jack grumbled. "For cryin’ out loud, Thor, you could have said something! They’re part of our planet
. I know, I know, we’re a very young race
, and we have much to learn
." Buffy could hear the quotation marks around the phrases as he said them. "But how are we going to learn
if nobody ever tells
In response to Jack’s outburst, Thor only patiently waited for him to subside. It was clear to Buffy that this was not new territory.
Buffy felt at least five different things at once. She was amused to see more of Jack’s grumpy and undiplomatic side; she was still recovering from Thor’s spectacular materialization; she was a little flattered and yet somehow appalled that somebody from another galaxy
knew who she was, and intensely curious to know how and why; and she was even more eager to find out what light Thor could shed on their problem.
She smiled at Thor, fumbling for something to say. She was horrified to hear "Right back atcha" coming out of her mouth, a phrase that she was quite sure she had never uttered before in her life. Thor looked quizzically at Sam for a translation.
Sam smiled too. "The Slayer also feels that it is a very great honor to make your
"Ah," said Thor. "Thank you, Colonel Carter." From his chair, he gave Sam a little half-bow.
Watching all this, Giles felt as though plopped down in the middle of a 21st century version of a scene from a Jane Austen novel, but written by someone who had taken one too many trips down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole.
"I am sorry, O’Neill. I did not mean to discompose you," Thor said. Yes, thought Teal’c, but O’Neill is so easily discomposed. Nobody looking at the Jaffa would ever have guessed that he was stifling a grin; he did this very successfully. "You will understand that we Asgard, with our long history of monitoring the development of your sentient Earth species, would find the special capabilities of the Slayer and her friends worthy of particular interest." Thor spread out his spindly arms in a gesture that included Giles and Willow, as if conferring a benediction.
Jack appeared far from satisfied with this explanation. Thor seemed not to notice, however, and proceeded on: "I am afraid that I bring information, but not good news. We have spent the time since receiving your communication researching and consulting our sources." An Asgard version of Google?
thought Willow at Buffy, and it was Buffy’s turn to bury a grin. But she sobered, as did everyone, as Thor went on to tell what his people had learned.
Will and Buffy’s nightmare apparitions were, in fact, offshoots of the Goa’uld, Thor explained calmly. At a certain point in the life of the Goa’uld, one branch of this parasitic race found itself cut off from the rest of the tribe – how this happened the Asgard did not know. Isolated on a planet in a remote region of space where humans were scarce and Stargates nonexistent, they apparently were equipped with one startling ace in the hole: a capacity for extremely fast evolution, which, over time, enabled them to survive without taking hosts. They grew in size, they clambered upright, they generated limbs and opposable digits, and they eventually became accomplished genetic self-engineers. Some of their reptilian heritage, however, they could not overcome; thus their inability to speak, for which they came to compensate through telepathy.
At this juncture in the tale, Jack could not suppress himself. "I knew it!" he said. "Mutant Goa’ulds. Well, at least now we now what to call them."
"I almost hate to ask," Daniel said, "but what?"
"Supersnakes," said Jack with a smirk. Daniel groaned.
Willow gathered her courage and asked Thor a question. "Um, Commander Thor? What about the cold and the darkness that Buffy and I always sense when we sense the … Supersnakes?"
Thor appeared troubled – though it would be hard to say what minute rearrangement of his limited facial features managed to convey this. "There is more," he said. "Something, we do not know what, caused the planet of the mutant Goa’uld to begin to die. Perhaps the cause was what you would call an environmental catastrophe. Their planet started to darken and cool, and as they had done for many generations, they adapted. Other life forms perished. The pursuits of the Goa’uld narrowed to the search for a means of enduring when the morbidity of their planet became too advanced even for their adaptive capabilities. Gone were whatever art or music they had appropriated from other cultures in their ancient times, whatever other intellectual interests they had maintained. Their culture shrunk only to this pinpoint: finding a way to survive."
"And did they find a solution?" asked Sam, with an edge of fear in her voice. "Are we it, somehow?"
"I apologize," Thor answered. "I was not clear. The events I am describing took place many thousands of years ago. They did discover a solution, and they have been implementing it over this span of time. These Goa’uld found the means by which to induce on other planets the same processes, in an accelerated fashion, that brought their original planet to ruin. They have become nomadic colonizers, appropriating a new home for a time, rendering it inhospitable for its previous inhabitants in the process, and then moving on as it becomes inhospitable even for them, leaving another dead world behind them.
"Our search for the information you requested led us to the descendants of survivors of one such colonization, whose civilization had developed interstellar travel. By this method a small group of survivors escaped. The remainder of the story we extrapolated from Goa’uld legend, and I cannot verify its accuracy on all points."
Thor paused. "However, we hypothesize that your Earth is their next target. And, regretfully, we believe that in certain crucial respects their technology overmatches ours. We do not see of what use we can be to you in answering this threat, except, perhaps, to help in effecting an at least partial evacuation from your planet."