Kenmore kneels down, still horrified, and touches what’s left of the symbiote’s body.
“Poor thing,” she whispers in pity.
“It was a Goa’uld,” Ronon says, again clearly not understanding what the problem was. It was the enemy, it’s dead now; where does the pity come in? Where does it come from?
Kenmore turns sharply to look up at him.
“It was still a person,” she bites angrily.
She looks back at the body, sympathy once more filling every part of her body for the little creature.
“There was something wrong with it,” Selmak says.
Again, without the heads-up, the sound of the voice so suddenly beside him made John almost jump.
“What do you mean,” Rodney asks. He hadn’t seen anything wrong. It was squeaking and slithering and tried to attack Kenmore. What was so wrong? Wasn’t that what Goa’uld do, especially the symbiotes looking for a host?
Kenmore nods, “Selmak’s right. I’ve never seen a symbiote do that before. The talking, yes, but I’ve never heard of a symbiote ever actually attacking somebody.”
Rodney looks at her, he had. Samantha Carter got taken by the Tok’ra Jolinar in a rather Goa’uld like way. She’d simply bent down to give a wounded and fallen refugee CPR during an attack by the Goa’uld and the Tok’ra symbiote dove from the host’s mouth to Carter’s mouth and stabbed itself through the back of her throat and slithered into her skull. Rodney already knew he did things very differently from the way the people in Cheyenne Mountain, hell, the whole SGC do them, but he’d definitely label Jolinar’s taking Sam as a host as ‘attacking’.
“Goa’uld symbiotes don’t attack you face to face, they sneak up behind you and ambush you through the back of your neck. They know they aren’t liked or wanted,” she went on.
Rodney still looks at her, “And how is ‘ambush’ not ‘attack’? On what planet does that make sense?”
Everyone ignores him.
“Was it a Goa’uld,” Teyla asks the Tok’ra.
“There is no way of telling,” Selmak says, “We are all the same except for how we treat others.”
“Well considering it tried to attack her, I would say it was a Goa’uld,” Sheppard throws in his two cents.
Kenmore shakes her head as she stands up, “I don’t think so.”
“What do mean?”
“I felt like I knew him,” Sheppard stares at her still keeping her focus on the symbiote body lying on the floor; her voice was so calm, so mournful…, she turns her head to look over at the General, “Selmak, did you know him?”
The man shakes his head at her.
“I cannot do that. I can only sense that another symbiote is near, not whether or not it is someone I am familiar with Goa’uld or not.”
Kenmore nods and looks back down at the dead symbiote. Her sympathetic demeanor was actually pretty disturbing to say the least. It was so, so, so unlike her, it, it… John fought the urge to shiver or to shake off the urge to shiver. Okay, this was all weird as hell and not the sort of weird as hell they were used to handling. It was more the sort of weird as hell that a group of teenagers at summer camp met up with in horror flicks. He didn’t like it.
“Do you sense any other symbiotes,” John asks their Tok’ra ‘tour guide’. Trying to keep the mission at hand still at the front of his mind, despite the circumstances—or because of them—he really didn’t want to run into anymore of those things. Big tromping Wraith drones or even regular more catlike in their stealth Wraith males were actually pretty easy to hear coming, something slithering out of the walls behind you with absolutely no sound whatsoever was something else entirely. He really didn’t want to run into anymore of those things. The hibbey-gibbies weren’t his thing. He looks up and down the corridor. Had any come up behind them yet? Damn it, the hibbey-gibbies…
“I sense many others,” the Tok’ra answers him. The entire Team Atlantis and Kenmore tenses.
Ronon looks around, up and down the corridor too. But nothing.
“Then where are they?”
“The symbiotes can still live even if the host has died. They just can’t live that long beyond the host,” Rodney tells them all, not like Selmak nor Kenmore needed him to, “They’ve got a twenty-four hour window.”
Ronon looks around them again.
“Then where are they,” he repeats. Ronon knew Rodney figured he’d just answered the question, but the scientist really hadn’t.
“I agree with Ronon. I find it disturbing that we have yet to find a body, any body.”
Kenmore looks over at Teyla, “You still want to know whether or not the Wraith have been here.”
Teyla nods, Kenmore nods back. Sheppard turns to Rodney and gestures at the lifesigns detector in the doctorate-bearing astrophysicist’s hand.
“Is that thing still on the fritz?”
“Yeah, it’s still registering lifesigns but they’re everywhere. I think it’s saying that they’re even in the walls. According to this, we’re surrounded.”
Everyone looks around, seeing only the décor and themselves still. Although they had also seen just that before the dead symbiote had slithered out of the wall a handful of seconds ago…
“Well, I think that’s wrong,” Ronon says.
“Maybe not,” Rodney counters, “I’m also reading energy spikes in select areas.”
“That would not be unusual,” the Tok’ra speaks up again, “Motherships use different systems at different times. If a sarcophagus was opening, everything would be focused on protecting that room and making sure the sarcophagus was as secure as possible.”
“Aren’t sarcophagi coffins,” Sheppard asks. Just when the mystery of the spooky ghost Goa’uld mothership hanging out dead in the middle of space wasn’t goose pimpling enough already with little snake aliens slithering out of the walls in their own rendition of Invasion of the Body Snatchers…
“On Earth, but to the Goa’uld they’re more like regeneration tanks,” Kenmore answers.
Sheppard starts nodding, “Okay, so that’s a little creepy. I’ve never seen anyone rise from the dead before.”
“What are you talking about,” Rodney scoffs as ‘Oh my God, how stupid can you possibly be’ as he normally does, “You’ve seen Wraith do it.”
“Yeah, but they didn’t look like Dracula when they did it. They’re more like Frankenstein.” Big burly drones just suddenly sitting up with chests riddled with P-90 fire.
Rodney just stares at him. The look of ‘Are you seriously telling me that that’s any better?’ on his frank face. Sheppard shrugs it off and looks away. Teyla, however, shifts uneasily where she stands. She is agitated. Unusual for her, although the entire situation was unusual for all but two of them.
“Where is the nearest spike,” she asks.
“You figure that the Wraith would go for the nearest spike because that might be the best indicator of where the food would be,” Rodney asks.
Teyla nods. Her eyes still searching all around them, every crevasse of the corridor’s richly ornate walls. Showing particular care to the crevasses where the walls gold detailed paneling ended and the shining black lacquer of the smooth floors began.
“I also fear that they might have found one of the regeneration tanks,” she adds.
“Why,” Rodney wonders, “The Wraith already have considerable regenerative capabilities. Besides I don’t think they could use a sarcophagus even if they wanted too. Like Kenmore said, it was designed only for the Goa’uld’s and subsequently the human host’s use.”
Teyla looks at him, “And if the Wraith have found out that they now have a way to feed on a human to death and then regenerate that person back to life at no expense to themselves and feed on them again?”
The look of horror spreads across Rodney’s face like a deep grimace of pain and regret… for another person. His shoulders remained squared underneath the weight of his tactical vest, but the lines of his mouth sagged so much downward that it gave the illusion of his whole body sagging underneath the burden of sorrow like a depressed bulldog. A sorrow he’d just found out others that were perhaps like him were suffering. His eyes taking on this acutely alerted to shocking pain and misery look. As usual, it was more obvious than the tangible disturbance exhibited by Ronon and Sheppard. Their bodies became even tauter, but the subtleties were there between the two. Ronon’s normally stern and blatantly pissy caveman face softened. There was a haunted memory there of being covered in superficial cuts and hooked up to an IV while standing beside the hospital bed of Doctor Elizabeth Weir, hooked up to machines with her brain severely damaged and her life only not fleeing her by the support of the machines around her. He looked down on her then just as softly at her condition, this strong woman who had given him a home and a life after so long without both… and he said thank you to her… and good-bye. In the face of so much pain and undue suffering, he couldn’t help but feel it all. His prominent brow pinching. And for Sheppard, every muscle in his face tightened to the point of the muscles in his body. Pulled so tight by the sudden retreat of his own emotions threatening to suddenly overwhelm him. But their existence was still there in his eyes. The way they stared at the floor just a few feet ahead of him, as though they could burrow through the solid stone with their dedicated intensity. The tight furrow of his brows. Drawn so boldly together they looked as though they had been etched into his face that way. His upper lip, although contributing to holding his mouth open slightly, was drawn so tightly it looked like a thin parallel line over his much looser bottom one. Every fiber of him told anyone who was looking that no matter what the threat was, no matter how grave, no matter how… he would not let it happen to them no matter the cost.
“They would have just discovered a way to extend the limits of their food supply which would mean…,” Rodney trails off, his lip quiver slightly as his eyes glaze over the horrific scenario his mind’s eye was showing him.
“A whole new hell for the people in the Pegasus Galaxy,” John picks up grimly.
Rodney scrambles to look back down at the detector in his hand and read where the nearest energy reading is.
“It’s up ahead and to the right,” he points.
The astrophysicist leads the way and the others taking up their positions guarding him as they move. Still leery, but motivated more by urgency now then any sense of personal danger. Teyla’s thoughts, as they always do when something like this comes up, go to the people of her galaxy. If, like she had suggested, the Wraith had gotten a hold of a Goa’uld sarcophagus, it would be an unspeakable horror upon the humanity of this galaxy. At least one good thing from the feeding process and the Wraith’s opinions of humans was that once they fed on a person, that was it. That person was dead. They did not have to suffer anymore. But with a sarcophagus… all that would change. The Wraith with such a device in their possession using it to continually regenerate their fed-upon dead back to life only to be fed upon again… What had become a legendary horror in this galaxy would now become a legendary terror. Torture.
Rodney follows the detector to another black, cut-stone panel of wall guarded on both sides by gold, symbol-laden paneling. He stops a few feet away from it, making sure that it’s where the spike is coming from.
“This is it,” he finally announces.
He looks up from his lifesigns detector. As before, there’s a single scorched mark on the gold panel to the right telling him where the door mechanism had been obliterated.
“Is every door in this place blown out,” he exclaims.
The others glance over.
“I mean the glider bay I understand, but every single door. It’ll take forever to hotwire through them all,” he goes on.
Kenmore looks at the tri-pieced door itself. She walks over to it.
“It’s ajar. I can see something glowing inside. Here…”
She lowers her gun, slips her fingers in between the two black stone panels of door and the half-inch gap therein, and begins to pull. Ronon and Sheppard step forward and help her pull the door open from the opposite side. The doors slowly pry apart before Jacob, Rodney, and Teyla. The light blue glow spreads at their feet and across their bodies and Sheppard, Ronon, and Kenmore’s fingers. Teyla, Rodney, and Carter step forward in astonishment and appall.
“Oh my God,” Rodney gasps.
“What,” Ronon asks, still helping to pry the door the rest of the way open and blocked from view by most of his side of the door’s bulk. But the others are so riveted, they just keep staring and don’t answer him back. He’s not even sure that Rodney heard him, any of them heard him, anymore. The Satedan glances down between his arms to see Sheppard’s eyes glancing up at him. The Colonel barely discernibly nods. The towering Satedan returns the gesture.
Ronon and Sheppard plant their half of the door as Kenmore plants her half. They come around to see what they’ve uncovered. Kenmore’s eyes widen and her mouth gapes softly at the scene. The room is so dark that they can barely tell what features it has, but in the very center of the room is a giant platform table, ornate and gold with trim of an Ancient Egyptian egg and feather motif carved into the tabletop’s wide circular rim. It was actually quite pretty, just like everything else in this place, but what was sitting on top of it was anything but. To John it looked just like a giant fish tank, one of those huge fifty-gallon suckers, like the sort of super-aquarium people really into their fish have as sort of pseudo-shrines to them. He’d always thought those people were demented, but the decoration of this tank actually looked like it. It was glass, as you’d suspect a fish tank to be, but it wasn’t trimmed or capped or decorated in any way in gold, they way he’d figure a Goa’uld fish tank would be if the Goa’uld had fish tanks. It was trimmed in gray, the same gray the stone of the doors is colored. Long strips of whatever it was, it looked like it was poured rather than hewn from any larger lode—so that ruled out it actually being the same stone as the doors… or did it actually rule out the doors being stone? Anyways—the strips of whatever seemed to be poured over the glass sides of the rectangular tank dividing the long sides into four tall but narrow sections of glass and the shorter sides into two such sections. The overall frame of the tank’s square corners were usual by Earth standards, blunt and sharp and completely nothing more than structure. With a fat cable running around the edge of the table top and many more smaller ones, about a half-inch thick as opposed to the two-inch thickness of their source cable, running from the tank and the bigger cable into the shadowy left wall. And the whole thing was capped off by… nothing. It was open and the tank was full of water… and symbiotes. The group steps closer to the tank but keep their distance, their last encounter still fresh in their minds. But Kenmore after a moment’s pause takes more steps closer.
“Kenmore,” Sheppard hisses at her through gritted teeth. She’s doing it again, he wanted to roll his eyes, run forward, and yank her back.
She doesn’t pay attention to him as she continues her slow approach to the tank. The closer she gets the more symbiotes crowd to the side of the tank she’s approaching. The whole thing fascinates her. Finally, only a few steps away, the symbiotes are fighting to get to her so hard that they start to splash in the water. Creating so many bubbles they’re fogging up the water. She can see that some are getting crushed against the glass or pushed out of the water completely, but they don’t seem to care; they’re so desperate to get to her. Kenmore lunges forward and grabs onto the lip of the tank in one sudden movement. Her mission comrades flinch behind her; Sheppard letting another sharp hiss escape his teeth.
God, they shouldn’t do that to themselves, she thinks, gazing at the outskirts of the panic her presence was creating. Without knowing it, one of her fingertips dangles over the edge, close to the waterline. She feels a sudden suction on the tip. She gasps. Yanking her hands back and jumping away from the tank. Ronon draws his weapon. But Kenmore holds up her hand at him.
“No, it didn’t hurt me.”
She shows them the fingertip then brings it back to her face to examine it herself. She turns and walks back up to the tank, curious.
“I think it kissed me,” she says.
“What,” Rodney exclaims, disbelieving.
Kenmore looks at her hand again then down into the tank then back at her hand again then plunges her arm into the tank with the crowd of symbiotes. Sheppard surges forward. Jesus Christ…
“Hey, hey, hey.” The last time she did that—well, every time she’s done that—bad things happened, albeit really fortuitous things that usually revealed something that they really, really, really needed to know about, but still… Bad things happened.
“They aren’t attacking me,” she dismisses his worries as he steps up beside her.
She looks down into the tank, he catches the soft expression on her face out of the corner of his eyes before he looks down into the tank too. The symbiotes are clinging to her arm, but more importantly they’re crowding in behind her arm. In between her arm and the glass of the tank in front of her.
“They’re afraid,” Kenmore tells them.
The rest of the group cautiously walks up to the tank. Teyla comes just a hair further than the others though still not as far as Kenmore. Out of nowhere, it’s like the symbiotes suddenly sense her presence. Or more like they finally see her. About half of the crowd swim out from behind Kenmore’s arm and swim towards Teyla. Again, crushing the closest against the glass at the corner of tank Teyla’s approaching and shoving the highest above the waterline. Their intent is clear. The new smaller crowd is desperate to get to her as well. Like Kenmore, Teyla’s compassion overwhelms her and she comes just as close to the tank as Kenmore is, but she holds onto the lip of the tank with her fingertips rather than shove her arm down into its depths. Despite the claims of two of her companions on this mission, they still had not fully identified whether or not the other symbiote that had tried to attack Lieutenant Kenmore had been a Goa’uld or a Tok’ra.
“My God there must be hundreds of them,” Rodney breathes. He was floored.
Selmak shakes his head, “No, dozens. There’s no more than a hundred in this tank. Could the Wraith have done this?”
This time it’s Teyla’s turn to shake her head. Her delicate amber locks moving swiftly from side to side, “I have never heard of them being this… courteous before.”
“If you can call terrifying symbiotes courteous,” Rodney adds.
Teyla accepts that. It had been why she hesitated before using the word. But it was the best she could find to describe this treatment, if indeed the Wraith had done this.
“What if they couldn’t feed on the Goa’uld,” Sheppard supplies.
“What do you mean,” Ronon asks, “Their hosts are human.”
“That’s just it. What if having these symbiotes in their heads made the hosts less tasty?”
“So they took the symbiotes out and ate the hosts,” Rodney asks Sheppard’s already thought of conclusion. “Yeah, sure, ‘cause the Wraith are always so nice that way. Not to mention neat and tidy.” And he lets the sarcasm of the thought show in the expression he aims at his team leader.
Sheppard offers a simpering ‘Oh hah hah’ expression back.
Ronon shakes his head, he didn’t agree with his team leader’s idea either.
“No, if the Wraith can’t feed on you, they use you. Remember,” he angles the barrel of his gun at the back of his neck where years ago the Wraith had placed a tracking device in him and his teammates had taken it out then another Wraith put one back in and his teammates had to take that one out again.
Rodney nods with a gesturing of both his hands towards Ronon and a slight bow of his head that seemed more like he was presenting Ronon in a tuh-dah moment than anything else.
“Is every energy spike a tank such as this,” Teyla asks. Her eyes surveying the continuing churning water. She feels a pang inside of her, in her heart that makes her want to echo Lieutenant Kenmore’s actions and place her arms in the tank as well in order to give these poor desperate creatures the apparent safety and security they so frantically desire. The longer she stands here, the more she sees the desperation of her people in these symbiotes, the more the sympathy grows.
Rodney checks his detector.
“The readings vary slightly, but I think they are except for one. Its readings are massive,” he looks up at the expectant faces watching him, “It might be the computer powering the tanks.”
“We should go check it out,” Sheppard tells them.
Teyla nods emphatically. Kenmore tries to pull her arm back out of the tank when she feels some of the symbiotes suction themselves through the fabric of her BDU shirt to the skin of her arm. She pulls her arm only a few inches out of the water and sees several of the snake-like creatures dangling from it, from her skin. Twitching, not wanting to let go of their safety net. Not wanting their haven to leave them. Kenmore carefully slips her arm back into the tank beneath the waterline.
“Okay, okay guys,” she tries to soothe them, “You have to let go. I can’t help you if you won’t let me go. I promise we’ll help all of you, I promise, but you have to let me go.”
After a moment in which everyone stares at Kenmore and Rodney in particular stares at her as though she’s crazy, they see the symbiotes detach themselves from her. Kenmore pulls her arm out of the tank, shakes as much of the water off as she can, wrings her shirt sleeves and cuffs some to get the rest of the water out, and takes up her gun dangling in front of her again. Okay… so Lieutenant Ursula Kenmore was apparently the Goa’uld/Tok’ra—whatever it was, doesn’t matter—symbiote whisperer. John eyes her movements, eyes her. She was so unconscious of how people might or were looking at her when she did something like that. Even more now than when she had assassinated Shiana, he saw how little she cared about what other people think when she believed something so strongly nothing was going to stop her from doing it. Faith? Or was it confidence? He couldn’t tell which. And he wasn’t sure, in her, there was a difference.
“Okay. Sheppard, Teyla, General, you three should go find the control room. Ronon, McKay, and I will go after that computer and see if we can help these guys,” she snaps off the order.
Ronon looks at Sheppard, clearly unhappy with Kenmore’s taking control of the team, let alone the way she’d divided the teams up. It was obvious, like with all enemies, or just strangers in general, Ronon didn’t want to help these things. And he definitely didn’t see why Lieutenant Kenmore kept making sure he was always with her when she split up the team into groups. And why the hell was Sheppard always letting her do it? But before he can ask that question…
“I like that plan,” Sheppard says. He keeps his face pointed directly at Kenmore. Clearly ignoring his friend and teammate’s stare… and possibly the question he was seeing there.
Ronon looks away from Sheppard, fighting the urge to roll his eyes—he’s never had to do that before; he’s never wanted to roll his eyes at John before—and down at the tank, adjusting the heft of his four pound gun in his hand. John felt the muscles in his own shoulders and neck prickle and tense. Great, he hoped Ronon could have at least been on good behavior with a guest around, especially if that guest was Colonel Samantha Carter’s dad and knowing how Ronon has a high respect for the woman. Apparently John had been wrong in that assumption. Damn. At least he hoped the man would do their friendship, tried as it has been for a while here, the courtesy of obeying his orders when John gave them… John hoped… again. He fought the urge to rolls his own eyes and sigh in a very Rodney-esque manner, Aw damn, this is gonna be tough.
“Sounds good to me,” General Carter agrees. John wanted to jump again, he didn’t, but thank God the lack of transition this time had startled him out of his musings on how bad the Ronon/Kenmore factor was going to make this mission, and how bad the Ronon and he friendship was getting.
With them all—well, most—agreed with the present course of action, the mission team starts to head for the door. After only a few steps, Sheppard puts a hand out on Ronon’s arm, halts them both in their steps, and leans in to his friend slightly.
“Don’t shoot her,” Sheppard orders him.
Ronon doesn’t physically acknowledge him, but John can see the muscles in the man’s face tighten. He was grinding his teeth and that was enough of a confirmation that Ronon had heard John that Sheppard needed. Then they too join the group leaving the room.