The invisible jumper slips beneath the giant chrome ‘snowflake’ that wrapped around the middle of the golden pyramid that formed the main body of the Ha’tak-class Goa’uld mothership and headed straight towards a gapping opening at the bottom of the wide darkened black steel trench that broke the gold pyramid-shape into seven sections. Normally the black steel looked as though it were embroidered with pinpricks of white lights, but not this time. The jumper glided, still undetected, into the darkness of the hangar bay and entered Team Atlantis into an environment they were totally unfamiliar with.
The interior of a Goa’uld mothership was unlike anything they had ever passed into before. It was no sanctuary, no Ancient facility of any kind. No Genii compound. No hiveship. Although there was something to be said about the hangar bays on the bad guys’ ships: they were always dark, and shadows became a whole new realm of imperceptibility that boggled the mind, played with it, and threw it into depths only it could come up with. There were only hints of light spartanly displayed from the ceilings so high up the shadows became a species of inanimatecy all their own.
It was dark and what light there was helped cast shadows across them in the jumper’s practically ghostly-bright lit interior through the slowly travelling vessel’s windscreen. And the fact that they were passing by empty stretch of metal, grated and railed gangway after empty stretch of metal, grated and railed gangway didn’t help dissuade the distinct feeling of ‘ghost town’ that kept crawling over their skins. Even emptiness in a hiveship, in anything they’ve encountered that was at one point in time controlled by the enemy, was a bad thing. It only led to one question: why wasn’t anyone here?
The shadows glide over them. Triggering images of the sound of ominous music in the back of Kenmore’s mind. Like long odd notes being drawn down violins, mimicking the slither of snakes; they’d start out high-pitched in the sudden appearance of the darkness on the jumper’s front like the sudden navigating lunge of the stealthily stalking head of the snake then the sudden note would writhingly descend down it’s scale slowly like the rest of the snake’s body following it’s head’s lead, just flowing and sashaying behind it… the shadows.
The muscles at the base of Kenmore’s neck prickle. Tighten. Despite herself, she sits up a little straighter in her seat. Just slightly, but it was enough to throw her own mind off. She had intended to remain still, the whole thing was suspicious, shady enough as it is without her mind giving into it. She shouldn’t have done it. The Goa’uld liked manipulation, turned it into an art form and mode of operation that worked galatically well for them for over five thousand years until the Tau’ri figured out how to use their Stargate and Apophis made the dumb mistake of coming to Earth and taking a soldier from the SGC and killing a few others while he was at it. Kenmore’s lips tighten and the corners turn up just a hair, guess the Goa’uld learned the SGC’s military motto the hard way: We never leave a man behind.
Another shadow slithers across her face bringing her mind back. She spots the movement just inside her line of vision at the corner of her eye. With an exaggeratedly gentle movement, Jacob points to the not-too-distantly far end wall, resplendent in its two forward walls and third background wall between them of gold and bordered with panels of polished granite, bearing the colors of lilac and gold, lined with finely cut gray stone. Its bottom level is clear and large and open… but heavily covered in the deep shadows. Kenmore stiffly nods a couple of times and course corrects the slow moving puddle jumper’s path to the specified ‘parking spot’.
* * *
They, the Atlantis team and Kenmore armed with their usual guns and Carter armed with a zat gun, file out of the cloaked jumper alert, slow, aimed, and ready. They look around the bay. Kenmore looks up where the gliders normally dangle from the ceiling and hang beside and about eight feet above the gangways, waiting for their pilots and the call for their use.
“There’s no one here.” In the silence, Ronon’s low voice sounded like a surge of thunder rolling across the room and bouncing off its distant walls. It was disconcerting to him to sound so loud when he had definitely not meant to; Ronon always prided himself on the maintenance of his stealth, this didn’t prove that.
“That isn’t unusual if an assembly has been called.” Even Jacob’s far lighter voice echoed in the combination of silence and expanse, which didn’t make Ronon feel as self-conscious about his mess up as he had been. If someone so used to these places’, like this old man was, voice echoed, then Ronon’s didn’t seem to come across as such a glaring underestimation of this new enemy environment.
“Or the alert has been given,” Kenmore says quietly enough that her voice doesn’t seem to echo as much as the men’s had while she’s still staring up at the ceiling, “There aren’t any gliders.”
Everyone looks up at the dozens of empty ceiling clamps. Some actually catching the stark hazy shafts of light that streamed down from the ceiling. Others lost to the oceans of shadows, but judging by the spacing of their illuminated brethren, were there. And all of them hauntingly empty.
Jacob looks back down ahead of them again.
“We need to get to the control room,” Selmak says. Even though the Tok’ra elder always sounded exceedingly serious, there’s such a cacophony of foreboding in his voice that makes everyone on John’s team grip their P-90s, or Beretta in Rodney’s case, just a little bit tighter.
The group moves forward again to a smooth panel of gray stone wall, still baring the sweeping tool marks of the blade that had cut and honed it, crosscut by three semi-circular lines of gold and recessed back in between two gold panels resplendent in dozens of columns of raised hieroglyphics. It was amazing how in dense shadow the golden panels still managed to twinkle brightly enough to draw people to their burnished light. To draw the followers to their God, Kenmore wanted to snort. Instead she settled for glancing almost insanely from side to side. Team Atlantis might be good against the Wraith, but the Goa’uld are not Wraith. As cartoonish as they may come across as enemies in their hosts, that was the hosts. Goa’uld in their true, host-free form, that was where the spooky as hell factor came into play with them.
Jacob Carter steps up to the left panel, looking over the glyphs while the others assume a guarding semi-circle behind his back. Lieutenant Kenmore wasn’t the only one searching the shadows, so were Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan. Yes, the Goa’uld were not Wraith and, yes, this is not a hivehsip, but if the Wraith were here, Goa’uld or not, the shadows were their friends. And the Wraith get along with inanimate friends real well.
“So who does the ship belong to,” Kenmore asks, a few feet away from Ronon’s right side.
“I don’t know,” Jacob answers, “The door control has been blasted.”
“Even zatted, you should still be able to read the symbol.”
“That’s what I mean…”
Judging by the way he trailed off, Kenmore looks back and Jacob steps away from the paneling to reveal a charred hole in the midst of all the columns of symbols indicating where the door mechanism should have been.
“The button’s been destroyed,” he tells her.
Everyone turns around to stare at the charred hole. Rodney steps forward and examines it.
“Was it Wraith weaponry,” Teyla asks, there was the slightest hint of fear and urgency in her voice. She had never before heard of the Wraith doing anything like this, but perhaps up against a new foe, the Wraith could have felt the need to be… creative in their endeavors to dominate this ship full of humans, alien as they may be.
Rodney shakes his head, “I can’t tell.” Even though those weapons were meant to stun, even Kenmore had proven that enough juice built up in one of the small pistols could be enough to generate a massive kill blast when she assassinated Shiana. It was possible that the Wraith utilized the same technique here. There wasn’t much left of the door mechanism. Nothing he could work with at least.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re running out of time,” Sheppard pipes up after watching a moment of Rodney’s fidgeting indecisiveness.
Selmak nods, “Agreed. There are more doors just above us on the gangways. I may be able to break into the interior of the ship from one of them.”
Sheppard nods and the group moves off from the door.
* * *
After finally managing to jerry-rig the wiring behind the door mechanism—again it had been blasted to a scorch mark—by Rodney, they finally managed to get enough juice running to the doors from Rodney’s computer tablet to be able to pry them apart with Ronon, Sheppard, Kenmore, and Jacob’s help with Teyla watching their butts, the empty gangways ghostly lit disturbed her, and Rodney making sure the juice kept running. The single golden semi-circle line etched into the cut stone of the door from its top left corner to its bottom right corner split open with the second golden semi-circular line underlining a small portion of the top of the door splitting from the two lower sections and disappearing into the top of the door’s golden frame as the lower sections disappeared into their mutual sides of said frame at the same time. Ronon watched it open as did Teyla; she willing to chance a glance back at her teammates, Lieutenant Kenmore, and General Carter in case she needed to fire through the opening door at a previously unknown attacker. It was so curious, she had never before seen a door open in such an ornate way. It was so… elegant. Ronon, however, stared through the widening gap at something he had never before encountered in his home galaxy. The nearest he could think of was Atlantis, but even then, the legendary, practically mythological, Lost City of the Ancestors seemed too distant and was a rather pale comparison.
The door’s triple sections finally receded totally revealing a ship’s interior that was more palace than ship. The floor was a solid deep black, as black as the void of space beyond this ship’s hull, and it’s was so lacquered that every fraction of the blackness shined like obsidian in sunlight. It was so polished Ronon could see not their shadows, but the reflections of two of his friends and the general and Kenmore, minimal as they were, on the ground instead. That didn’t make him feel any more comfortable here; any enemy could actually see them coming ahead of time. That was bad. The wall directly opposite them was tall, angling towards them a handful of degrees, and was broken into segments of seven-foot wide panels of solid gold, like the ones beside the door they’d just opened, and each segment was bordered on both of its sides with columns embedded in the wall. Each column was made of the same black stone as the floor but they were not lacquered like the floor was. Just dark and devoid of detail like the void. And set on top of the unyielding, unbetraying black were methodically cut four-inch wide bands of more solid gold. Each band had further raised geometric shapes cut into them making them look like miniature steps of what his Earth friends and many of the more scientific people of Atlantis called ‘ziggurats’, Ronon just called them temples.
It was not dark on the other side of the door. There were recessed overhead lights that spotlighted the area of black wall on either side of the stretch of decorated paneled wall. So every facet of gold shone and glittered at him. Atlantis was the most ornate place he had every encountered, ever set foot in, and even then the city’s beauty was still functional. Nothing without means. Her stained glass windows actually helped keep people out of view except for the clear parts at their center which made it defensible, pretty but defensible. This… this was just blatant glutinous opulence. Over-the-top extravagance for the sake of over-the-top extravagance.
…And that’s just the walls.
Gently, Ronon leaned in ever so slightly and lifted his eyes upward. The gold and black columns went up to the tall ceilings where they turned into buttresses and, even then, they angled a handful of degrees upward to end in the same columns up above on the wall Ronon was now peeking out of. The one good thing Ronon could see about these things, which showed him that the people who built and used these ships were apparently as glutinous in their greed for power as they were in their greed of luxury, was that each column came out from their walls far enough to fit a person hiding beside it. Even Rodney’s and Kenmore’s not exactly as fit as the rest of the team’s frame would have more than enough coverage by one of these things… But still, Whoever these Goa’uld were, they’re ridiculous.
Instantly taking up their weapons, their eyes never leaving the sight of the corridor beyond them, Carter and Kenmore look across from them. Each staring up the particular stretch of corridor opposite them. Then they take a single quarter of a step forward, the tips of their shoes sliding into the corridor, and angle their heads to view the stretch of corridors that would be behind them when they moved out into it. Either way is clear.
Swiftly Jacob and Kenmore slip out of the doorway, into the corridor, and plaster their sides against the wall they’d just cracked open. Kenmore defending the left of the door, Carter guarding the right, both guarding each other’s backs. It was a fluid coordinated movement of military prowess that Ronon actually admired the precision of. Normally he didn’t see the Lieutenant work so well with others. So exactly what her training was supposed to convey on every mission she went on, but had yet to show itself to him on any mission she’d been on with him so far. It was getting to the point where Ronon was starting to consider skipping both Sheppard and Woolsey and go straight to the SGC to ask if this little brat had any actual team training whatsoever… and if not, then why the hell not… and what exactly did the SGC think it was doing sending an ineffective soldier to such a critical front? Let alone ordering her put on the top team. Who did these people think they were bringing her here? But this…
After a full ten seconds of silence all around them and nothing shifting in their line of vision, Jacob snaps a turn on his heels and sprints across the plenty-of-room-for-three-people-wide hallway. Taking up defensive position with his zat—Ronon still wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to saying that word, it just sounded ridiculous and funny, but not in a good way, that a lot of other words the people from Earth came up with—behind the ample cover of the column directly across from the one Kenmore installed herself behind. There was another pause…
Without looking back, the two old-hat SGC soldiers curtly nod their heads a single time. Sheppard immediately slips out into the corridor followed by Rodney then Ronon and lastly Teyla.
The three pieces of the hangar bay door slide back shut, sealing them in and looking as though none of them had come through there in the first place. Ronon approved of the evidently fortress-option this flying palace provided.
* * *
Kenmore, Ronon, and Sheppard move stealthily down the left side of the corridor as Teyla, Rodney, and Carter walk parallel on the right side of the corridor. Sheppard and Carter both take care to walk backwards, making sure the group’s rear is covered. From what, they didn’t know; it wasn’t like anything was here, which hadn’t taken them long to find out. About thirty yards into the corridor outside the hangar bay, they hadn’t discovered any bodies. Not even signs that there had been bodies. It had all rendered them more than a little spooked. Even Wraith left husks behind of their victims. But no, nothing. Just more blown to bits door mechanisms on every door they came across, which were many. It seemed that about every ten feet had a hidden alcove that harbored a door behind a group of three columns. Which was good, even better cover than just the columns provided. Actually everybody was pretty much loving the place for being able to storm it while remaining perpetually hidden the entire time they’d been here already. More than once every single member of team Atlantis felt a pang of regret that Wraith hiveships weren’t as invader friendly as Goa’uld motherships seemed to be, and following those pangs were moments of extreme relief that as civil war prone as Wraith were towards each other, they were never as vindictive towards each other as warranting their ships to reflect that in-fighting. Obviously the same could not be said of the Goa’uld. But… the bodies…
Where were the bodies? Where was anybody, dead or not?
So far each and every one of the gold-covered walled and lacquered black floored and ceilinged corridors were empty, this was their third one. Spic and span, free and clear empty. After the clearing through the second empty corridor though, they’d just abandoned their method of hiding behind the columns or in the alcoves and just stalked down the hallways out in the open. In truth, it had freed them up to notice more things.
“There are so many symbols everywhere,” Teyla breathes. She had never before encountered anything like this. She remembered the caves of her people that Kenmore had used to discover an Asgard outpost. The walls had been covered in carved murals and painted symbols, but nothing as organized… or as elegant as this.
“It’s Ancient Egyptian—well, we thought it was Ancient Egyptian. It’s actually Goa’uld,” Kenmore tells her, “Their written language was composed of collections of symbols. I wouldn’t be surprised if the walls were covered with tales of this ship’s glorious god.”
“’God’,” Teyla asks.
“Yeah, the Goa’uld like to think they’re gods. They use their technology to fool less advanced worlds into believing they’re gods and enslaving those worlds into worshipping them. One Goa’uld, named Ra, took up residence on Earth at one point in time and established the culture we came to know as Ancient Egyptian.”
“But Earth is not enslaved,” Teyla pointed out.
“You’re right. Ra left to enslave other worlds and when he did, his slaves on Earth overthrew the contingent of Jaffa he’d left behind and they buried the Stargate so he couldn’t come back that way. Centuries later, we uncovered it and went to one of the other worlds he enslaved. And Ra came back to it while we were there.”
Kenmore lifts her hand, calling for a stop as the corridor begins to turn. She motions the team forward even more slowly and guardedly than before. Just like they had done all the other times they came to a bend in the hallways in this place.
“What happened,” Teyla whispers. She always enjoyed a good story especially ones about enslaved peoples gaining their freedom and keeping it.
“We led a revolt there, well the original first SG team did, and nuked Ra and his mothership,” Kenmore whispered back then a smile tugged and lifted the right corner of her mouth, “Right in his face.”
Teyla nods with a smile on her face. Like she said, she always did enjoy a good story about enslaved peoples gaining their freedom.
The team cautiously rounds the corner and discovers yet another empty corridor. Surprise, surprise; well, someone would have said that had not the feeling of creepiness intensified at the sight of yet another thoroughly barren hallway. They repeat their stealth and continue down the corridor. A few steps ahead of Kenmore, only about four feet into the hallway anyway, a small wormlike creature crawls from underneath the lip of the left wall and out into the open corridor. Kenmore stops the team and untenses.
“It’s a symbiote,” Kenmore says. And it’s clear that was the last thing she had been expecting to see here. A Jaffa carrying a symbiote in his stomach pouch, yes; the big Goa’uld baddy themselves with the symbiote already embedded in their brains, maybe. But just the symbiote by itself slithering around… no.
“That is a Goa’uld,” Teyla asks beside her. Clearly underwhelmed and perhaps more than a little bit confused. How could something so small, so… innocuous as a little longer than two-feet long pink worm, despite the four fangs, small and rounded and rather ineffective looking as they were, at its head and the short spiny fin on its back and both of its sides, be perceived as such a great threat as the Wraith? Even the creature’s two black eyes, that looked more like small beads to Teyla, failed to impress upon her any idea of threat.
Kenmore nods, still confused herself at the sight. Although not for exactly the same reasons. It was just… symbiotes don’t do this.
The symbiote urges itself towards the Lieutenant, small timid movements that seemed to be taking a lot of the creature’s energy with it, squeaking at her as though it were pleading to her in agony. She steps toward it. Suddenly it goes into tortured convulsions, screaming at Kenmore. Shrill and piercing in more ways than one. She rushes towards it. Horrified.
Abruptly the symbiote stops squealing and convulsing. Kenmore stops. Quickly the symbiote jumps up in the air at her face like a coiled snake releasing its strike. Knowing their accuracy when survival is the desperate motivation, Kenmore has no choice but to fire at the creature. She gently pulls off a single shot from her P-90. Blowing away the symbiote’s head in a ragged spray of blood and matter. The rest of the worm body falls to the floor in front of her.