Action/Adventure, Drama
Set in Season


Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, The Sci-Fi Channel, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is written purely for my own entertainment, and that of anyone else who may happen to read it. No infringement of copyright is intended. It is not intended and should never be used for commercial purposes.

SG-7 and all other original characters, situations and ideas contained within this work are the property of the author.

Author's Notes:


A big thank you to my dogged – and very thorough – beta reader, Sarah, who betaed this fic around her NaNoWriMo and stayed sane.

SG-7 in The Sky on Fire


Captain Meredith 'Merlyn' Lloyd walked through the ruins and she shivered. She had seen many strange and alien sights in her time with SG-7, but rarely anything so utterly, unspeakably old. Even the twisted, arterial passageways of abandoned Scourge temples were more recent than this place. She gazed up at the weird, corkscrewed towers and unnatural angles of the alien architecture and felt the weight of – literally – millions of years pressing down around her. The broken and weathered stones should have been dust long ago, for they were older than the pyramids; older than humanity.

Older, a treacherous inner voice told her, than God. Merlyn shook her head. Only older than the knowledge of God, she reminded herself, sternly.


She turned at the voice, glad of the reminder that there were other humans present, and strode through the ruins towards the speaker. Her team leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Ferretti, stood by a wall; Lieutenant Alexa Rasputin stood at his side. The wall had once been painted, but the paint was cracked and faded and the wall itself was crumbling. As with the rest of the ruins, however, it was nowhere near as cracked, faded and crumbling as it should have been.

"See anything you recognise in this rogues' gallery?" Ferretti asked.

Merlyn examined the wall and almost at once saw that it depicted the building of the city. Three races appeared on the wall: one small and frail with two arms and two legs; one tall and imposing, with three eyes and six limbs; one shapeless and awful. The exponent of this last race was depicted raising huge blocks simply by the application of its massive bulk, compressing and expanding like a car jack.

"Shoggoths," Merlyn sighed.

"Ma'am?" Alexa asked.

"An amorphous mass of semi-putrefied flesh, bound together by a resonant energy field – a psionic force, if you will – and directed to perform simple tasks by the psychoactive or mechanical manipulation of that field," Merlyn replied. "Unfortunately, the larger one grows – and they can grow to virtually any size – the more complex the field resonances become, until they combine and reinforce to create a base level of sentience and independence. At that point – and bear in mind that they weigh several tonnes by this time and could rip a nuclear submarine in half – they start to resent being given orders."

"And when did their creators work this out?" Alexa asked.

Merlyn shrugged. "I think in the brief period between being disobeyed and being dead," she replied sadly.

"And this little fellow?" Ferretti asked, indicating the humanoid.

"Ancients," Merlyn replied. "As near as we can make out, given recent revelations regarding the origins of the Ancients, the first 'humans' in this galaxy were Alteran slaves, brought here in the impossibly distant past to serve these pre-Ancient beings," she explained, indicating the master race. "There are references to Earth in these ruins," she went on. "Old references; they use the syllabic Gate address written in the scriptural form of the Ancient's sidereal-symbolic alphabet."

"Sideways what now?" Ferretti asked.

"The sidereal-symbolic alphabet is the early Ancient script based on the telluric constellations." Merlyn paused. "Star signs as seen from Earth," she expanded. She searched the wall until she found an example of the script, which Ferretti did find familiar. "The full alphabet consists of almost one hundred and fifty characters, phonetic and ideographic, but the simplest phonetic elements form the basis of the Gate address system," Merlyn explained.

Ferretti blinked. "What do they say?" he asked.

"Lots of things." Merlyn turned back to the wall and ran a hand along a line of text. "This line, for example…" She studied the text for a long moment. "Basically says 'know your place and don't argue with the masters, who are as Gods unto thee'." She frowned darkly. "But it also says 'but they are not Gods, for they are mortal as are you'. The masters must not have understood the Ancient script," she mused. "They had a slave to write this, but that slave wrote defiant words." She shook her head, dismissing those thoughts for another time. "The other writing, where Earth is named, seems to refer to a world seeded with specimens of a primitive race who were used as slave labour."

"Primitive?" Ferretti asked. "I thought the Ancients were technologically advanced?"

"Not originally," Merlyn insisted. "Everyone has to start young and grow up; even the Ancients. Once they were as primitive as we were a few thousand years ago and that was when they were brought here. The Alterans who came here under their own steam were probably seeking to learn what had become of their enslaved kin in the intervening millennia. As far as we can make out, it was because they learned that they had once served other creatures who stood as their gods that the rationalists abandoned religion altogether, separated from the Ori and set out to learn what had become of their former masters. Eleri, my RA, is working on a paper detailing her theory that the Ancient culture we know of – inasmuch as we can be said to know anything – arose from the mingling of the two cultures; the Alteran explorers and the civilisation that had arisen from the slaves on Earth."

"Is the paper any good?" Alexa asked.

Merlyn shrugged. "Based on Eleri's early work, it'll be a cracking read, but short on rigorous methodology. She's a good RA, but pretty sloppy as an independent theorist."

"Then why do you employ her?" Alexa asked.

"Her qualifications are almost unique," Merlyn replied. "She knows about pre-Ancient writings and isn't psychotic."

"Better to employ a flake for the post that a raving megalomaniac," Ferretti added.

"I don't know that I'd say 'flake'," Merlyn noted.

"Only because you're very polite," Ferretti reminded her. "Don't get me wrong," he added. "Goffanon's a lovely girl and all, but she is, undeniably, a flake of the first water."

Merlyn gave a tolerant smile. She half-turned away as her tac radio crackled.


"Go ahead, Roberts," she acknowledged.

"There's something down here that you should see, Merlyn," Lieutenant Timothy Roberts reported. "I'm in the east wing of the structure," he added. "Second on the right as you come in."

Merlyn looked to Ferretti, who nodded his head.

"On my way, Roberts," Merlyn confirmed.

Ferretti watched her go and then touched the controls for his own radio. "Pearson," he said. "Bring the high-def camera to the main building; let's get this stuff on tape."

"Yes, Sir," Technical Sergeant Alexander Pearson replied.

Ferretti sighed. "Walls and walls and…"

"More walls?" Alexa suggested.

"Yes," Ferretti mused. "More walls."

Alexa shrugged. "On the plus side, walls don't shoot at us. These days, that alone is enough for me to love this place."

Ferretti laid a hand on her shoulder. "Don't jinx it, Lieutenant," he cautioned.


The building that Roberts was examining had the characteristic cellular layout of a monastic or – and this seemed more likely in context – a slave dormitory. It had an altogether more terrestrial appearance than the rest of the complex, as befitted the quarters of a humanoid race. Merlyn entered the structure and headed for the second door on the right, but as she did so she caught sight of her colleague in the first room on the left.

"So, what do we have, Lieutenant?" Merlyn asked, but the question swiftly became redundant.

Roberts stood in front of a wall that was caked in dust, but he had cleaned off a large space, revealing a mass of scrawled and faded text. Roberts turned as Merlyn entered and moved at once to cut her off.

"It's one of the other rooms I wanted to show you," he explained.

"Why not this one?" Merlyn asked.

Roberts made another attempt to block her, but she was his superior officer and so he was obliged to move aside and let her see the wall behind him.

The graffiti was written in the sidereal-symbolic script and, like the more official inscriptions, appeared to have been stained deep into the stone in some fashion. Merlyn ran her fingers along the line of the text as she strove to translate the archaic dialect.

"It isn't anything important," Roberts assured her. "Really, I think this is just…"

"Oh!" Merlyn snatched back her hand and the back of her neck flushed red. "I…suppose in some ways it's comforting to know that the Ancients shared much of our own – and by 'our' I mean your – fascination with, um…that."

"Quite," Roberts agreed. "Do you want to see the political stuff?" he offered.

Merlyn turned her back on the obscene scribblings of a bored slave and tried to surreptitiously wipe her fingers on her fatigue pants. "Ah, yes please," she said. "Oh, that image is going to stick with me."

"It was quite graphic," Roberts agreed. He left the room and led the way to the next; here too, the wall was covered in graffiti, but the script was smaller and neater and the section that Roberts had cleared of dust was not the fevered fantasies of a menial.

"What have you made out so far?" Merlyn asked.

"It seems to be a journal," Roberts explained, "kept by someone who claims the title 'elder of the slave quarters'; man or woman, I couldn't say for sure, although it reads like a man's writing to me."

"How so?" Merlyn asked.

Roberts shrugged. "Something in the syntax," he explained. "It's an assumption, and one with little to back it up since this was written so long ago."

"I will take your hunch over many men's theories," Merlyn assured him. "Or women's," she added.

"It's very interesting reading," Roberts assured her. "I may be mistranslating horribly, but it reads like a crude religious text. There is mention of a deity…here." He pointed to one part of the text.

"The…Ah…The Watcher from First to Last," Merlyn read.

Roberts nodded his agreement. "We'll need to wait for a full translation but I think we may be looking at the basic tenets of an Ancient analogue to Vodun or Candomble; a slave religion camouflaging itself behind a conquering faith."

"Ancient religion?" Merlyn asked. "That confirms the antiquity of the site, at least. The Alterans who came to this galaxy as a technological power were staunch – not to say fanatical – rationalists."

"I know," Roberts agreed. "I'll get this wall on video and then send it back to the anth lab for a full linguistic work-up."

Merlyn nodded her agreement. "There's a lot more to be surveyed," she said. "I'll speak to the Colonel and see if we can't get a larger team on this one. In the meantime, you get the pictures here and then carry on exploring; see what else you can find. If we're asking General Landry for an expanded presence we're going to need a lot of evidence. And probably paperwork," she added.

Roberts chuckled. "We've got soft," he told her. "Everyone else always had to do this, whether General O'Neill read the paperwork or not."

Merlyn gave a rueful smile, mourning – as the entire team did – the 'special relationship' that Colonel Ferretti had shared with their former Commanding Officer. General Landry accorded the leader of SG-7 the respect due to a Lieutenant-Colonel and the Behemoth Protocols were still ingrained in the offworld SOPs, but it was not the same. A lot had been taken for granted under General O'Neill that did not apply in the new order. Merlyn's recommendation, with no other support than Ferretti's approval, was no longer enough to bring a full anthropological survey team to an alien planet and she missed that.

It was almost enough to make her wish for a Code Behemoth situation. Almost, but not quite.


Pearson unpacked the high-definition video camera from the FRED and replaced the case. He turned back towards the ruins, but a familiar sound halted him in his tracks. He hurried to a nearby wall and ducked down behind it.

"Hound, this is Monkey," he whispered into his radio, using the personal callsigns that his team had recently adopted. Opinion was divided as to Ferretti's motivation for making the change. Some thought that it was a way of asserting their place as one of the SGC's longest-serving teams, but Pearson's own suspicion was that Ferretti was doing it in order to be deliberately unconventional. He had been undergoing something of a crisis since Jack O'Neill had left the SGC and appeared to be cultivating a reputation for being 'difficult'.


Pearson peeked over the top of the wall and saw the liquid plume of the unstable vortex explode from the Stargate. "We have company," he announced.

The event horizon settled and then disgorged three robed figures. Each of the three carried a tall staff in their left hand and, as they stepped down from the Stargate's platform, Pearson could see that they were barefooted. Although their faces were covered, their reaction to the FRED was unmistakable; surprise and…anger. They huddled together and then one of them stepped forward; he – if it was a he – took a slim tube from his belt – a spyglass of some kind – and raised it to his face. Pearson ducked back into hiding and took the periscope from his own belt.

"Monkey? Do you require backup?"

"Keep back for now," Pearson suggested. "They look twitchy, but there's only three and they don't seem to be armed. Probably better to meet them in the ruins than run out mob-handed at the Gate. Don't want to spook them, do we?"

"Confirmed, Monkey. We'll act casual and try to make it look like a coincidence."

"It is a coincidence."

"Always the technicalities. Hound out."

The newcomer continued his surveillance for several minutes, but at last he seemed satisfied that there was no ambush waiting for them. One of his companions had turned her attention – Pearson thought that this one, and only this one, was female – to the FRED.

Pearson put away the periscope, took his PDA from his pocket and activated the remote link to the MALP camera. He did not want to risk moving the camera, but he could see the three newcomers and after a moment the woman turned towards the probe. Her face swung into view, half-shadowed but definitely female; if she were as human as she looked, anyway. When she spoke her voice, as relayed across the channel from the MALP, also sounded human and female, but it was strangely cold.

"Xen," she said softly, in a rasping voice.

The man with the spyglass turned towards her. "You are sure?"

"There is no mistake," she assured him. "This is Xen technology."

The man nodded. "Then let us go carefully. We must take no chances with such a dangerous race on the loose; the sacred city must be protected."

The second man stepped forward, the first movement that he had made. "Do not overreact, Nexil," he cautioned. He said something else, but he had his back to the MALP's microphone and Pearson could not hear him.

"Come," Nexil insisted. "Let us see if the Holy of Holies has been desecrated."

Pearson watched them walk away, letting them get well away before speaking into his radio again. "Hound. They're heading for the west of the ruin; sounds like they're some kind of pilgrim, and they said that they recognised our tech."

"Did they sound pleased to see us?"


Roberts' voice broke onto the channel. "It looks like our reputation precedes us."

"Maybe," Pearson replied. "Although, if it does they've got the name wrong."

There was a short pause. "Alright, Monkey; get the camera up here. Get what footage you can in case we need to make a swift and undignified exit. Owl and I will head west and bump into the new arrivals. Hawk; I want you and Cat ready to back us up if it gets nasty."


When he saw the robed figures bowing before a pillar, Ferretti was convinced that Pearson's assessment had been accurate. Nexil had thrown back his hood to reveal strong, handsome features and short-cropped dark hair. He knelt on the ground with his arms flung wide and was intoning what was almost certainly a prayer; the other two had their heads held low to the ground. Ferretti's gut reaction was that Nexil was some manner of priest, leading the supplication of the laity, and it was a tribute to Merlyn's training that he filed this in his mind as an assumption rather than a solid fact.

"Do we hang back or interrupt?" Rasputin asked.

"Display a disrespect of their religion or get accused of spying on them," Ferretti mused. "Decisions, decisions…"

The radio crackled in Ferretti's ear. "We're in position on your right flank," Merlyn advised. "Just say the word and we'll come in; either shooting or looking nonchalant, as you prefer."

"Confirmed. Alright, Lieutenant; let's go down and say hi."

The pillar stood in the centre of what had once been a courtyard, before the buildings on one side fell down, leaving a space. The pillar itself looked far newer than the surrounding buildings, but Ferretti had been around the Goa'uld for long enough to recognise that it might have been much older, just better preserved. From their concealment in the shadows of the most complete side of the courtyard, Ferretti set out with a jaunty stride and Rasputin followed.

Nexil looked up at their approach and the intonation died on his lips. "Unbelievers!" he bellowed. "Shield the Codex!"

The three pilgrims sprang to their feet and formed a line in front of Ferretti and Rasputin, holding their staffs crossways, as though spoiling for a fight.

Ferretti stopped and raised his hands, palms forward. "Whoa, there! Let's just take a step back, okay. I'm Lieutenant-Colonel Ferretti, this is Lieutenant Rasputin and we're not here to engage in any hate crime."

Nexil narrowed his eyes. "This place is the heart of our faith and not for the eyes of unbelievers," he said. "Go back, now, or you declare yourselves our enemies."

"That's not our intention," Ferretti assured him. "Look; if this courtyard is out of bounds, could we at least maybe talk somewhere else? We're very interested in this place and we'd like to learn more about it."

"The Holy of Holies is not put here to be understood by unbelievers!"

"I'm guessing yours isn't a converting faith."

The woman reached up and pulled off her hood. Like Nexil, she was dark haired and dark eyed, but where his gaze flashed with the flame of righteous zeal, hers burned with a cold, analytical light. "You do not come to seek enlightenment," she accused in her susurrating voice.

Ferretti shivered, half-fascinated and half-repelled. The woman was attractive, but her unblinking stare and loveless purr put him in mind of a cat playing with a bird. As his callsign suggested, he had always been more of a dog person himself and so he kept his attention on Nexil, who had much about him of the steady, by-the-book – not to say dogmatic – hound.

"Would you like us to leave this site altogether, or just this courtyard?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice neutral. He hated to back down, but he was not eager to go rushing in to a fight against an unknown enemy. It could not hurt to withdraw temporarily; they held the Gate and, if SG-7 did want to return, three could not have fortified this site.

Nexil seemed about to reply, but then the third pilgrim stepped forward and lowered his hood. He was as dark as his companions and his look was very similar to the woman's, but the cast of his features was quite unlike hers and he had as much warmth in his eyes as she had chill in hers.

"It will suffice for us if you can avoid this courtyard and the buildings around it. It is important for our faith that you not be in a position to look at the writings on the pillar, but the city itself is not sacrosanct. We must finish our devotions now, but afterwards I am sure that Pater Nexil, Teschma and myself will be glad to join you."

Ferretti was not convinced that Nexil and Teschma felt quite the same way, but this seemed to be a decent opening at least. "Sounds good," he agreed. "We'll meet you out the front when you're done then."


In the end it was only one pilgrim who joined SG-7; the younger man, whose name, it emerged, was Las Rajime.

"I must apologise for my sister and Pater Nexil," Rajime said when he emerged from the ruins. "The Pater is extremely resistant to change and the idea of unbelievers in the ruins is one that he would sooner not consider. He will pray and try not to think about you and Teschma is always keen to curry favour."

"But you're a little more open-minded?" Ferretti asked.

"I am a believer, but foremost a scholar. I look at things from an academic viewpoint; Pater Nexil only sees things through the scripture and he likes to keep his life simple. My sister is not so narrow-minded, but she hopes to enter into the priesthood and so cultivates a somewhat exaggerated orthodoxy."

Ferretti made the introductions. Pearson and Alexa moved apart to make space and Rajime sat down between them.

"If this is the centre of your faith, why don't you live here?" Alexa asked.

"Because this is the centre of our faith," Rajime explained. "It is a place for pilgrims to affirm their devotion, not for everyday living. The first of our people to find the ancient city, those who first learned the wisdom of the ancestors, travelled many millions of leagues to come here. As the founders of our religion travelled, so we too travel to pray before the pillar and to know the splendour that they knew." He favoured Alexa with a bright smile. "I sometimes wonder if the Pater remembers that we are supposed to find joy in our faith."

Alexa grinned back at him.

"Do your scholars study the ruins at all?" Merlyn asked.

"Not anymore. We discovered the ruins centuries ago and devoted all of our scholarship to translating the wisdom of the ancestors; the wisdom that has formed the basis of our spiritual life. Every stone of this compound and every pebble, rock and boulder for miles around have been scoured for any writings. We have long since exhausted the store of texts in this place, although the interpretation of those texts continues to be hotly debated."

"Naturally," Roberts drawled, grinning cynically at Merlyn, who shot him a tolerant glower in return.

"Then are you here only to renew your faith?" Alexa asked.

Rajime shook his head. "That is the primary reason, it is true, but for a scholar it is also fascinating just to be here; to see the place where it all began with my own eyes. I have made a great study of the writings here, but never before seen them for myself. Perhaps I could show you around," he added, clearly talking specifically to Alexa.

Alexa blushed a little and looked questioningly to Ferretti, who gave a small shrug.

"I'd like that," she replied.

"And I shall speak to the Pater," he added, addressing the entire team. "Perhaps if you can show that your intentions are pure, he will decide that you are worthy to study the writings on the pillar."

"Define pure," Ferretti invited.

Rajime smiled. "Well, our ancestors did not come here to discover a universal truth. I think that at the least you would have to be prepared to look upon the pillar without preconceptions and be prepared to accept its wisdom without prejudice."

Ferretti shrugged. "Reckon we could offer that," he agreed, "although I can't promise we'll make the same of it as you do."

"As I say, interpretations vary, and Pater Nexil is not an unreasonable man; he is simply rather set in his ways. I shall speak with him tomorrow and see if he is willing to listen. For this evening, perhaps you would join me for a walk around the edge of the ruin, Lieutenant Rasputin; as a prelude to a full tour tomorrow."

Alexa smiled. "I'd love to. And please; call me Alexa Vasilisovna."

Ferretti watched them go with mixed emotions. It was always good to see Alexa coming out of her shell, but on the other hand he knew very little about Rajime and he knew that the lieutenant was still very vulnerable after her traumatic experience on Nign.

"Penny for them, Sir?" Merlyn offered.

Ferretti shrugged. "What do you make of him?"

"Seemed pleasant enough," Merlyn replied. "I mean, I don't trust his motives with Lieutenant Rasputin, but only in as much as I mistrust Roberts." She turned and smiled at Roberts, to assure him that no insult was meant, but he was not smiling.

"You don't trust him?" Ferretti asked.

Roberts shrugged. "There's something…off about him," he admitted. "I don't trust prophets and prophecies at the best of times. Besides…something about him reminds me of Tyus Ygtoi."

Merlyn shuddered at the thought of her fish-eyed suitor.

"Well, if his sister tries it on with you, we'll start looking out for shoggoths," Ferretti agreed. "Meantime, we carry on as planned. Do all the recon you can, but don't piss these guys off. You never know, we might still get a look at that pillar without any trouble at all and we really don't know what they're capable of."


Later that night, Roberts left SG-7's camp and went for a walk. He made no particular effort to go unseen and he was not surprised to see that, almost as soon as he made a move towards the buildings surrounding the courtyard, a robed figure appeared from the shadows.

"It was agreed that you would not enter the surroundings of the sacred space."

"And I haven't," Roberts replied. "It seems very cynical to assume that I must have been trying to sneak a look at the pillar, Teschma."

"Curiosity is a most predictable trait," the woman replied. "Xen are curious."

Roberts raised an eyebrow at the double meaning. "But you are free of that burden?"


"Well; goodnight then." Roberts turned and walked away.

"What is your name," Teschma demanded.


Roberts did not turn, but he could almost feel her eyes narrowing behind his back. "I simply wish to know which of Lieutenant-Colonel Ferretti's followers was disobeying his orders. When I inform him of your disobedience, I would not wish to accuse the wrong man."

Now, Roberts did turn to face her. "Well, I'm pale and interesting and the other one's dark and handsome; you shouldn't have much trouble."

"Tell me your name."


"Because you know mine."


"Tell me your name."

"Why?" Roberts asked again. He was enjoying baiting the woman, but at the same time he was aware that the game was a dangerous one. Behind her façade of cool reason, Teschma was a fierce and fanatical woman who would have no qualms in raising arms against any enemy of the faith. He was fairly sure that she would restrain herself against taking such violent action for personal reasons, but that was not the kind of hunch he would be willing to bet his life on.

"Tell me!"

"Why? If you want my name, you only have to say it."

"Say what?"

"You know."

"Tell me your name!" she shrieked.


"Because…" Teschma's face contorted into a look of distaste. "Because I am…curious."

"I'm Lieutenant Roberts," he admitted. He held out his hand "A pleasure to meet you, Teschma."

Grudgingly, Teschma returned his gesture and clasped his arm, fixing her hand powerfully below his elbow. "The pleasure is entirely yours."

"I'm sorry; I must be losing my touch."

"Pleasure is a frivolous pursuit."

"But it's so nice."

Teschma snorted. "I have my duty; I can waste no more time in idle talk. Return to your own camp and do not approach the courtyard again."

Roberts smiled his most charming smile. "I still maintain I had no plans to approach it in the first place."

The woman did not even bother to dignify this with a response. She turned away and strode into the shadows of the building, her robes flowing dramatically behind her.

"What an interesting girl," Roberts mused.


In the morning, Alexa rose bright and early, eager for her tour of the site, but Merlyn and Roberts were awake before her. The former lived her life by rigorous routines and never seemed willing to wait until sunrise to get up and begin her day with her prayers. The latter hardly seemed to sleep at all, attributing his boundless energy to skilful catnapping; a doubtful suggestion, but not as laughable as his previous claim of 'clean living'.

Alexa found herself looking forward to spending time with Rajime far more than she had looked forward to anything in a long time. She had surprised no one so much as herself with the speed with which she had formed a connection with the pilgrim scholar. It had once been a matter of routine for her to strike up friendly, even flirtatious, conversation with total strangers, but since the loss of her sister she had become introverted. Even now, with her sister in some small way restored and surrounded by a team who both trusted and cared for her, she usually found it hard to get to know new people; with Rajime there had been no difficulty.

"Be careful," Roberts said, apropos of nothing.

"Of what?"

"Just…be careful," he repeated. "You don't know anything about him and we don't want you getting hurt."

"I'm not going on a date," Alexa assured him.

"I know; and I didn't mean hurt emotionally. He may be the reasonable one, but that's only by reference to a pair of raving zealots. I understand you don't want to take your MPX on a friendly stroll…"

"It might send the wrong signals," Alexa agreed.

"…but keep your sidearm handy. Maybe I'm just a grumpy, suspicious old man…"

Alexa made a shocked face. "Not old!"

"…or maybe he really isn't what he seems."

"Of that I am sure." Alexa's expression and body language sobered and she spoke in all seriousness. "The charming Rajime is definitely hiding something from us, but then everybody has secrets. If I have to try and find out what they are, I may as well try to enjoy myself a little while I'm about it. I'm fairly sure I learned that from you," she added.

"Just watch your step."


Roberts watched with a pensive frown as the Russian walked away.

"Penny for them?" Merlyn offered.

"I'm worried about her. She's still vulnerable and he could take advantage of that. But we can only watch over her, not lead her life for her." Roberts shook his head. He stood and headed for the ruins. "I have something to show you, Captain."

"Nice segue!" Merlyn called as she hurried after him.


This time, there were four pilgrims who emerged from the Stargate and they had not travelled light. They brought with them a ground-effect sled, laden with heavy-duty boxes, of the kind that might be used for transporting munitions. The pilgrims glowered from beneath their robes, but said not a word as they filed past Ferretti and Pearson.

"Good morning," Ferretti muttered sourly. "Nice to see you too."

"I don't think they're big on talking to outsiders," Pearson said. "It may be that the really dedicated ones just don't believe that unbelievers exist."

"It's a strange religion that tells you to ignore the evidence of your own eyes."

Pearson shrugged. "Most religions do it to one degree or another. If I were still a strict Presbyterian, I'd have to believe that I only fancy other men because God is testing me."

"I thought the standard doctrine was that gays made a choice because they were perverts," Ferretti noted affably.

"Perhaps, but I know I didn't make a choice, so where does that leave me?"

"Huh." Ferretti was silent for a moment. "Sergeant…?"


"You don't know what I was going to ask."

"I do, Colonel," Pearson assured him. "Most people do after they find out – assuming they don't just shout names at me – and the answer is no. It's nothing against you personally," he added.

There was another pause. "What about Roberts?"

"Sir, please…"

"I'll take that as a yes."

"Can we please drop the subject, sir?" Pearson begged. "I mean, I'm glad that you're cool with it, but it just doesn't feel right talking to you about which men I happen to find attractive."

Ferretti shook his head. "And that's the real difference between gay and straight."

"Not really, sir. It's just that you are straight, and an officer. I could discuss it with another gay sergeant until the cows came home; or even a woman, probably, if it wasn't grounds for dismissal even to talk about my sexuality with another serving member of the military. It's just that we have no common frame of reference. It would be like you talking to Captain Lloyd about whether you thought Teschma was hot."

"Okay; you just mentioned sex – obliquely, perhaps, but nonetheless – and Merlyn in the same sentence. I hate it when people do that. It reminds me I'm a Catholic and I'm supposed to feel guilty about this stuff."

"And do you?"

"No. But I feel guilty for not feeling guilty."

"This is why I thank God every day for making me a Protestant, even if I am a very bad Protestant."

The Stargate opened again and disgorged another convoy of heavily-laden pilgrims.

Ferretti shook his head again. "My religion may involve more paraphernalia than yours, but even Catholics would be hard pressed to take this much luggage on a pilgrimage."

"Unbelievers! Cease this spying!"

Ferretti turned and watched in amazement as Teschma all-but flew across the ground that separated them. Her legs were hidden beneath her robes, but there was something almost inhuman in the way that she moved.

"You invade our sacred space and now you profane our rites by your ogling!"

"We weren't ogling anything!" Ferretti insisted indignantly. "And there was no profanity whatsoever. All we are doing is waiting for a chance to use the Stargate to signal our leaders and let them know what's going on."

With an effort of will, Teschma calmed herself. "It will be long before all of our number have arrived. Return to…If you would care to return to your camp, we will inform you when we are done."

"Glad to," Ferretti replied. "You send someone by. Let's go put the kettle on, Sergeant; looks like being a long morning."


As they walked away, Ferretti asked in a whisper: "Was it just me, or did she seem a little uptight, even for a religious fanatic."

"She was a little excitable," Pearson agreed. There was a short pause. "Sir…?"

"Disturbingly so," Ferretti replied.

"Ri-ight. Straights are so weird."


"Our relationship with the Builders is actually rather complex," Rajime told Alexa. "You see, as an enlightened race it could not escape our knowledge that those who created this place had been – if you will pardon my resorting to a modern and emotionally-loaded term – evil."

"Is that so?"

"Oh, yes. Their society was based on slavery of the worst kind. They enslaved the bodies of their labourers, subjugated the minds of other sentients with their psychic abilities and even twisted the very stuff of life to create their awful beasts."

"The shoggoths?" Alexa asked.

"You have heard of them?"

"Only a little. My team mates have encountered them more than once, however."

"Then they are lucky to be alive."

Alexa smiled. "I'm not sure about that. I've found that they tend to make do without resorting to luck."

Rajime looked uncertain, but when he spoke again it was on a quite different tack. "Come," he said. "I want to show you something."

He led her through the ruins to the foot of what looked at first glance like a bare terrace, but which Alexa realised was merely a set of cyclopean steps, leading up to a wide platform. Rajime scrambled up onto the first step and reached down his hand to help Alexa climb after him.

"How did they bring their slaves here?" Alexa asked. "Did they have spaceships?" She reached up and took his hand.

With surprising strength, Rajime drew her up and pulled her hard against him.

"Hello," she said, breathlessly.

"They had no ships," he told her, his voice a soft, velvety whisper in her ear. "They needed neither starcraft nor Stargate. The mental powers of the Builders were colossal; they could cross the universe without ever leaving their home."

Rajime turned and scrambled up the next step. Although still reeling from his closeness, Alexa climbed up after him without assistance and then took the next step without slowing.

"Astral projection?" she asked.

"Of a sort. Using their technology to boost their own mental gifts, they would project themselves across space and home in on the unique psychic trace of sentience. They would send their minds into the bodies of primitive creatures, controlling and shaping their civilisations, their ways of thought; their very biological evolution, when it suited them. They would spend entire lifetimes of these 'lesser' races living among them, while their own bodies were cared for here."

"Then how did they bring slaves to this world?" Alexa asked as she mounted another step. "If they only travelled through mental projection, how could they have Alteran servants?"

Rajime beamed at her, clearly impressed both by her insight and her athleticism. "The transfer worked both ways. The consciousness of the being into whose body the Builder projected would be conducted back to this world and stored in a containment vessel. Although they would never allow a primitive to access their own bodies, they discovered one race that they deemed sophisticated enough to use as slaves, not merely as hosts. They used their mastery of the living code to copy the physical structure of this other race – the Alterans, as you called them – and so create duplicate bodies for the minds to inhabit on this world.

"Of course, most of the slaves thus taken had no idea that they were no longer in their original bodies; they merely thought that they had been taken to another world."

"That's horrible!"

"As I said; the Builders were, by our standards, quite decidedly evil," Rajime agreed. "However, this does not belittle their achievements. Their powers and their technological ability were almost limitless and it is this wisdom for which we revere them, even as we recall that they committed great crimes. They are, in a way, our gods, but we hold that they were thrown down for fiends and tyrants. We remember and venerate their great achievements, but morally we hold them as a paragon of corruption and even as we strive to recreate their greatness, we never lose sight of the warning of their fate. We know that we must never become as they were, lest we invite our own deserved destruction."

Alexa reached the top of the steps and looked down at Rajime. "Wow. That is a complex sort of religion; God as a salutary warning."

Rajime clambered up beside her, struggling to hide a slight shortness of breath. "You are in good shape."

"Healthy body, healthy mind." She gazed at him, seriously. "That's also why I avoid messing with the mental abilities of ancient, evil beings."

"But although they may have been evil, the powers that they wielded were merely tools; as a blade can be used by either a murderer to kill or by a craftsman to create. You yourself carry weapons that could be used to slaughter indiscriminately; it is only your good will that makes them tools of protection and justice. How are these powers any different?"

Alexa shook her head. "It is one thing to carry a weapon, but quite another to have one of your limbs transformed into a weapon. If I carry a pistol, I may use it, but must not only will myself to use it, but also physically draw the weapon, work the action to chamber a round, release the safety catch, aim and squeeze the trigger. The pistol makes it easy for me to kill, but not without time for reflection; not quite.

"If the pistol answered directly to my will, or if my mind were the weapon, then it would need only an angry thought to end a life. One lapse in concentration, a single moment of abstraction, and I could kill someone. That is how those powers are different."

Rajime watched her, his eyes filled with fascination. "You have a sterling character and a good heart, but you do not understand the discipline and focus required by these techniques. It would not be possible to wield them in anger."

"Then you have studied them?"

"Oh, yes," Rajime agreed. He held out his hand. "Let me show you."

"Show me?"

"Yes. We are standing at the summit of one of the focusing platforms from which they viewed the universe."


"Do not worry," he laughed. "Mere mortals such as you and I could not hope to see anything beyond this sphere; beyond the ruins indeed, but…" He took her hand in a gentle grip and then closed his eyes in concentration.

"Wait…" Alexa began, but already the world was spinning about her and her vision blurred. There was a sensation of great speed, although her body stayed in place, and then the Stargate loomed before her and she saw the Gate site, as though she stood before it. "Oh," she whispered.


"You sneaked into the courtyard and shot video of the pillar while the pilgrims were asleep?" Merlyn demanded, caught between admiration for the lieutenant's abilities and anger at his lack of respect for another faith. She might be a devout Catholic, but she retained a certain regard for all sincere believers; or at least for those whose religion did not involve offering her up to be a fish-god's special friend.

"Actually, I sneaked in and shot video of the pillar while Teschma at least was still awake," Roberts corrected.

"You're a bad man, Lieutenant; although very good at your job."

"Thank you, Ma'am."

"So, although I'm not really sure that I want to know the answer, why did you take the risk of annoying a group of respectable pilgrims to illicitly record images of their most sacred shrine?"

"I took a walk in that direction and Teschma ran me off," Roberts replied. "You would have thought that they might have trusted us a little further than that. Plus, if she thought that was the best I could do in the way of a surreptitious approach, I was frankly insulted."

"So this was an act to salve your wounded pride?"

"Something of the sort."

Merlyn sighed. "You're just a big teenager, really."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"I'm surprised you didn't just flash her a grin and make her melt into your arms."

Roberts gave a short laugh. "Not a very likely scenario, given that she isn't human."

"Do you base this assertion on anything besides her failure to melt into your embrace?" Merlyn asked seriously.

"Isn't that enough?"


Roberts gave a small nod. "She doesn't move like a human being," he explained. "Not unless she's really trying. When she was angry and distracted, everything about her was wrong. For a human, I mean. Her arms and legs didn't bend like a human's; even her neck wasn't jointed right. Outwardly, she's as human as you are, but under the skin her skeletal and muscular construction are quite different. I'd bet the same is true of her companions."

"Yet her brother seems quite taken with our little Alexa."

"Hence my concern. Even if he isn't faking it, Rajime wouldn't be the first non-human to fall for Alexa's psychic self and the last one wanted to kill us all and transform her into a goddess."

"Show me the tape," Merlyn agreed. "There's something off about this whole business."

"Yes, Ma'am. We can use the graffiti in the slave quarters and the inscriptions in the main hall as a basis for translation and…"

"But what do you make of this carving over here?" Merlyn asked suddenly. "Obviously it's important because it's in the master script and not the slave dialect, but I'm having a little difficulty with the context."

If he was baffled by the sudden shift of topic, Roberts did not show it. "Well, it's hard to say since the functions of the masters' parts of the complex are so hard to recognise. If they were human, we could make a guess, but the architecture in here is so utterly alien that it's hard to tell."

"Alright. So we decipher what we can, then try to fit it into various contexts and see what…" Merlyn lifted her head and looked around. "Did you feel that?"

"Feel what?"

"We were being watched; I'm sure of it."

"I didn't hear anything," Roberts noted, not quite managing to hide a trace of wounded pride.

"Neither did I," she assured him. "I…It was just a feeling. If you didn't get anything, it's probably something psychic."

Roberts pursed his lips. "That's not an encouraging thought."

"Not remotely. I find it almost as worrying as the realisation that I've stopped even considering that these things could be my imagination." Merlyn closed her radio circuit. "Monkey."


"Can you set the MALP to scan the psionic frequencies?"

"Already doing it," Pearson replied.

"You too, huh?" Roberts asked.

"Not that I felt anything," Ferretti noted.

"I think they might just be making it up."

"That's enough, Lieutenant." Merlyn let her arm hang down by her side and drummed her fingers pensively on the side of her leg. "Have you called in yet, Hound?" she said at last.

"Not yet. The pilgrims are still bringing in the sacred packing crates. We hope to get a window in the next couple of minutes."

"Good. We need to head back to access some reference materials," Merlyn explained. "Hold the wormhole for us."

"Access reference materials?" Roberts asked.

"Well; look at that video somewhere more secure against psychic surveillance." She shook her head, ruefully. "Do you ever wish you had a more ordinary job?"

"No," Roberts replied, without hesitation. "I don't think I'd deal well with the quiet life."

Merlyn forced herself to smile, but inside she shivered, thinking of what little she knew about Roberts' father. He had not dealt at all well with a quiet life.


Of course, the remote link on the MALP gave Ferretti and Pearson plenty of warning that the pilgrims had finally finished their supply run, but as they were denying any surveillance, they had to act as though they were surprised when Teschma came to announce this fact.

"About time, too," Ferretti groused. "I mean, I have no intention of interfering in your religious observances, but surely that can't have been ritual shipping."

"You do not understand us," Teschma replied, disdainfully. "You have no spirituality yourself and so anything that is more than merely physical is lost on you."

"I wish she hadn't used the word physical," Ferretti groaned, once the pilgrim had turned on her heel and stalked away.

"You're a deeply unwell man, Colonel," Pearson insisted. "I mean, I don't like girls at all, but if I did, I wouldn't go for her."

"Well, I wouldn't 'go for her'," Ferretti assured him. "I'd be likely to get my arm broken. There's just something…potent about her. Like…Well, like she's the kind of girl who could break your arm if you went for her."

"And that's what works for you, is it?"

"Kind of, yeah. Comes of growing up in farming country, where a boy wasn't a man until he could pull a plough when the horse was sick and a woman was just a girl if she couldn't dead lift a farrowing sow."

"The very thought makes my eyes water."

"Come on. Let's report in before they decide they've left their toothbrushes behind."


Despite Merlyn's request that they keep the wormhole open, she and Roberts reached the Stargate ahead of Ferretti and Pearson.

"Roberts!" Ferretti called out, seeking the support of an expert. "Teschma: Hot or what?"

"Definitely what," Roberts replied. "And I mean that in a xenobiological sense. She's got a cute face when she isn't scowling, but her shoulders bend the wrong way."

"Not a word, Pearson," Ferretti cautioned. "Just dial it up. So what are you two going back for?"

"Translation reference," Merlyn replied.

"You realise that'll leave us short – not to say un- – staffed in the socio-linguistic field."

"We'll send Eleri back to help out," Merlyn promised, "and we'll be back as soon as we can. Are you getting any reinforcements?"

"I hope so," Ferretti replied. "Either we've got here in the first week of Hajj or these so-called pilgrims are up to something. There're about a dozen of them now and they've brought enough gear to build a church or set up an impromptu fortress."

With the usual kawhoosh, the Stargate opened. Ferretti keyed open a channel to the SGC, while Merlyn transmitted her IDC.

"Sierra Golf Charlie, this is SG-Seven-niner; do you copy?"

"Affirmative, Seven-niner," Sergeant Davis replied. "We're receiving an IDC; is there a problem out there?"

"Just a couple of my guys heading home to do a little reading. Has the General had a chance to look at my request for additional personnel yet?"

"That's affirmative, Seven-niner. We're sending out SG-12 to help with the survey."

"Roger that, SGC, but we might need something a little heavier. The alien presence I mentioned has been strengthened and it looks like they might be spoiling for a fight. We could use a little backup as well as some more brains."

There was a short pause and the voice that replied was that of General Landry. "Understood, Seven-niner. I'll send out SG-2 to carry out a security review; if it looks like you need them we can ship you a Marine team later on, but if you think you'll need more than that…"

"We'll be on the first wormhole home; understood, SGC."

"Anything else you need out there?"

"Captain Lloyd wants her RA to come help out with the translations."

"Understood. They'll be with you in ten minutes. SGC out."


Alexa sat on the top step and held her aching head in her hands. Rajime crouched beside her and laid a gentle hand between her shoulder-blades.

"I am sorry," he said. "Perhaps that was a little bit too much to throw at you all at once."

"It was…quite something," Alexa replied. "A real Palantir moment."

"I do not understand."

Alexa shrugged. "Lord of the Rings," she explained, "not that that's going to tell you much. But remote-viewing isn't my thing; I've never liked having my viewpoint shift without my body – astral or otherwise – moving. It was like…like using a Shay battle helmet linked to a druj'ha's external sensors."

Rajime stared, blankly.

"That doesn't help much either?"

"Not really."

"Well…like this." Impulsively, Alexa reached out and touched Rajime on the temple. With great care, she ordered her thoughts within her mind and pushed her memories of the flight to Nign aboard the Wilhelmina to the forefront of her mind.

Alexa's psychic abilities were due to a weakness in the mental defences possessed by most humans, a gap in the barrier that should have protected her from the horrors of the collective unconscious. Through her touch she could feel a similar opening in Rajime's mind. Very gently, she pressed against the inside of her wound so that the edges dilated and allowed her gathered thoughts to dribble slowly through the gap in Rajime's own guard.

Rajime gasped aloud and jerked away from her. "I…I see," he breathed. "That is an impressive gift."

Alexa shrugged. "Not so much. It's your own sensitivity that lets me show you these things. An ordinary human is so much better evolved to resist psychic influence."

"Better evolved?"

"Just a personal theory. Most of the scientists studying this sort of thing believe that psychic abilities result from an advanced evolutionary adaptation; a 'third eye' that allows the psychic to make a connection with the electromagnetic fields generated by other minds. I choose to believe that we are throwbacks to a time before spoken communication, lacking an advanced resistance to psychic phenomena. If those phenomena began with the pre-Ancient races; if they resulted from an entry wound where the psyche was injected into a host body…" She shook her head. "I shouldn't speculate. I don't really have the Latin for this; it's all intuition."

"Your intuition is very good," Rajime assured her, "and your power is…impressive. You are an extraordinary creature."

Alexa rubbed her temples gently. "I'm not sure I like being called a creature," she noted.

"I am sorry," Rajime said. "I meant no offence."

"I know." Alexa levered herself back to her feet. "I think I'm ready to go on now. Shall we continue the tour?"



Pearson looked up from the MALP. "Not to worry you, Sir, but Teschma's coming back," he said.

"Oh, great," Ferretti groaned.

"Colonel Ferretti!"

"Ms Las."

"We require the use of the Stargate again. You must withdraw to your camp once more."

"In a minute," Ferretti replied.

"We require the Stargate now!"

"We waited; now it's your turn," Ferretti insisted. Behind him the Stargate thundered into life.

Teschma glowered at him in triumph. "My people are coming. You must leave."

Ferretti lifted a hand to his earwig and grinned. "Sorry, Teschma," he said, without a sign of regret. "This would be my people."

The event horizon rippled as the two SG teams emerged from the wormhole. Major Willis of SG-12 and Major Penhall of SG-2 led the way, followed by the huge frame of Lieutenant Cowper, who could probably have fired his M16A2 over the heads of the two senior officers if necessary.

SG-12's civilian consultant, Dr Alex Landers, followed Cowper, walking side-by-side with Lieutenant-Commander Mary Raleigh, and Ferretti was thankful that Roberts was at least temporarily absent. Although he had not been aware of it at the time, he had since learned that Roberts and Raleigh had been involved in a relationship that was, if not quite in breach of regulations then certainly skirting the edges of acceptability. The relationship had ended when Raleigh had been forced to watch through the eyes of a Scourge simulacra – a perfect double of herself – as her lover shot her dead.

Despite this potential discomfort, SG-12 were the obvious choice to assist SG-7 in their exploration of the ruins. Landers was a gifted linguist and Raleigh a brilliant engineer, but more importantly all four members of the team, having been held prisoner by The Scourge, had been added to the Behemoth Register and were therefore cleared to access information about the Elder Threat. SG-2, on the other hand, were not and would therefore be forbidden to leave the immediate area of the Stargate.

"What's the plan, Colonel?" Major Penhall asked, as his team followed with a loaded FRED. "Set up at the Gate and keep watch?"

"Much as I'd love to see the look on Teschma's face, no," Ferretti replied. "Pull back fifty yards from the Gate and set up to cover it as best you can from there, but don't be obvious about it. There are too many of these pilgrims to risk them getting twitchy. I honestly don't trust them as far as I could…" Ferretti's face fell as one of the new arrivals left the company of the others and headed straight for Teschma. "Oh good gosh almighty," he groaned.

"Bore da!" Eleri Goffanon exclaimed, holding out a hand to Teschma in open friendship.

To Ferretti's amazement, Teschma's natural hostility seemed to be utterly disarmed and overwhelmed by Eleri's good nature. Almost without meaning to, Teschma mirrored Eleri's gesture and found her hand seized in a powerful, ebullient grip and pumped energetically up and down.

"Excuse me…" Teschma began.

"I'm sorry." Eleri dropped Teschma's hand and grinned, broadly. "I'm also Eleri; Eleri Goffanon. And you are…?"

"Teschma," she replied. "Las Teschma. Excuse me; we must make preparations, there are things to do."

"Of course! May I watch?"

"I am sorry, but we could not permit an enemy…or a potential enemy…"

"What about a potential friend?" Eleri pressed.

"A friend would not come before us armed," Teschma insisted.

Eleri blushed and put her hand awkwardly on the butt of her intar. "What? This thing? It doesn't even kill people; they don't trust me with a real weapon. Please, Teschma; I assure you that I mean no disrespect, but I would be fascinated to observe your preparations."

"Ah…Miss Goffanon!" Ferretti called. "Let's leave the nice pilgrims to their business."

"No!" Teschma replied, sharply. "I mean…" The pilgrim took a moment to compose herself and when she spoke again there was more warmth in her voice. "If Miss Goffanon would care to remain then we would not object to our activities being observed by one with such an open and accepting heart." She turned to Eleri with a smile that was too wide to be human, but which nonetheless seemed genuine. Eleri beamed back at her.

"I don't think…"

"I'll be fine, Colonel."

"Eleri…" Pearson began.

"I said I'll be fine, Technical Sergeant."

"A quick word, Miss Goffanon?" Ferretti asked.

"Sure." The self-styled white witch bounced over to him and the men in the group – aside from Pearson, of course – tried not to stare too obviously. Eleri Goffanon was a striking and well-endowed young woman with a penchant for low necklines that no amount of pointed hints – or even direct instructions – regarding the decorum of military uniform seemed able to cure. When she bounced – and she was a very bouncy person – she really did bounce.

"Colonel?" she asked brightly.

"A little less honesty and a little more discretion, please," Ferretti said. "It's great they seem to trust you, but please try to find out as much as you can about them without telling them everything about us."

The girl's face fell and her cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. "Oh. Of course. I didn't realise that…I'm sorry, Colonel."

Ferretti sighed and shook his head in despair as Eleri's lower lip quivered. Of course she hadn't realised that there could be any harm; no-one as incapable of treachery as she was could ever think it of others. "Just…Just be yourself," he conceded at last.

"Yes, Sir," she replied, chastened. She turned and walked back to Teschma, all the spring gone from her step. Once again, the straight men in the group struggled not to display their emotions, but this time they were trying not to glower at Ferretti.

"What!" Ferretti snapped. At once his subordinates dispersed to go about their tasks, but even without their gazes he felt like a heel. Even when she was wrong, Eleri always managed to make you feel like telling her off was tantamount to kicking a particularly small and adorable kitten. "You could have been more help," he accused Pearson.

"I really don't think I could have," Pearson replied, ruefully.

Ferretti narrowed his eyes. "Why not?"


"You mean you really haven't noticed?" Roberts asked, astonished.

Merlyn rolled her eyes. A young corporal stepped around them as they rounded the corner of the passage in front of him. "Noticed what? Just tell me why Eleri shouldn't go offworld."

"I don't mean offworld in general," Roberts admitted. "I'm just worried that she might be a little too vulnerable to be around a pack of zealots."

"Why so? Let me guess; this is to do with the thing I haven't noticed."

Roberts shook his head sadly.

"If you're about to tell me I need to get laid, you can skip it."

"Yes Ma'am," Roberts agreed. "I just thought everyone must know that…" He broke off as they passed an SF. "I mean, it was you who…" He stopped again and increased his pace until they reached the armour-plated door of the Behemoth secure library, known affectionately as the Chamber Unbreachable.

He only continued once the heavy portal had closed behind them. "You were the one who told her about Pearson, weren't you?"

"Yes. I guess I needed someone to talk to and everyone else I know is in the Air Force and therefore can't be told. So?"

"Didn't you notice her heart breaking when you did it?" Roberts demanded.

"Not…especially. I mean, she seemed upset about it, but I didn't realise…"

"You really aren't good with the subtext, are you Ma'am?"

"Not very."

Roberts sighed again and sat down at the isolated computer terminal. As he busied himself with the USB cables to connect his recorder to the terminal, he went on: "Pearson has been flirting with Eleri since she got here."

"I thought that was your job?" Merlyn joked.

"I fool around with grown women who know what they're doing; Eleri's just a kid. Pearson on the other hand will flirt with just about any girl he meets."

Merlyn was nonplussed. "Pearson is gay."

"Which I think is why he doesn't see the harm in it. He isn't really attracted to them, so he doesn't realise that they're attracted to him. Eleri was pretty serious about him; like that girl on Erd was."

"Mara Belkin?"

"Didn't you ever wonder why she was so pissed at him?"

"Subtext, remember."

"Right. We're ready to go," Roberts reported, calling the video images up on the screen.

Merlyn nodded. "Okay. I'll oversee the OCR; you dig out Werms' Commentary on Agrippa, Constantius' Pnakotic Translations and Volume 2 of Candarian Translations. So, she was pretty upset when I just dropped it on her that he was gay?"

"As far as she was concerned, he felt the same as she did. Eleri is a sweet, bashful girl. Her dress sense may have half the SGC picking their jawbones off the floor, but she honestly has no idea she's doing it; if anything, she thinks of herself as dumpy. Guys stare, but they very rarely talk to her, let alone have the guts to flirt; the ones who do are probably jerks, so she thinks she only attracts lecherous pigs. But Pearson…" Roberts dropped the Werms carelessly onto the desk beside the terminal.

"Careful!" Merlyn snapped.

"Sorry," Roberts replied abashed. "It makes me very angry."

"Even I have noticed that Eleri has no shortage of men willing to defend her honour, Roberts; can you at least worry a little more about defending my books?"

Roberts smiled. "Yes, Ma'am. Although it's not really about Eleri," he added. "It's just that so long as he remains in the closet – and I understand that he can't do anything else unless he wants to quit the Air Force – Pearson is giving philanderers a bad name."

"Oh, say it ain't so!" Merlyn laughed, but for all her ignorance of the subtleties of human sexual interaction, she did understand his qualms. Once, many years ago, Roberts had been entirely careless of the feelings of others. A girl whom he cared about – and if Merlyn had any empathy at all, he had cared for the girl far more than he had realised at the time – had been badly hurt because of his carelessness and that had gone a long way towards making him the man he was today: driven to protect those in his care and almost pathologically responsible in his casual relationships with women. Pearson's behaviour would have offended both of those sensibilities.

"Pnakotic Translations," Roberts reported, handling the severely foxed volume with as much care as he might a wounded team mate. "Do you want the original?"

Merlyn shook her head. "It's just the translation notes I'm interested in. I've got the text; I'll run off a hardcopy and we can get to work."


"Your religion sounds fascinating," Eleri said. "It must be incredible, to have such an ancient and authentic source to draw on."

"You are religious yourself."

"Yes," Eleri answered, although it had not been a question. "But my religion only really goes back a hundred years. Some people try to claim that Wicca is ancient, but its all whiffle. We simply draw on ancient ideas for inspiration; there's no text and certainly no unbroken oral tradition. Not that that makes it any less valid," she added.

"Of course not." Their course around the edge of the ruins brought them to a broken wall. With uncanny agility, Teschma climbed up onto the rugged top of the stonework. Her hands seemed to adhere to the bare stone and Eleri would almost have said that she flowed up the wall. She turned and extended her long, fine-fingered hand. "Come."

Eleri reached up and clasped Teschma's wrist; the pilgrim's fingers closed around her arm, the touch cold and incredibly powerful. The ease with which Teschma drew Eleri up to the top of the wall suggested a more-than-human strength in that slender frame.

"Somebody eats her spinach."

"Miss Goffanon?"

"Eleri, please." She grinned. "May I ask a personal question?"

Teschma smiled back. "You may ask; I will not promise to answer."

"Why are you so cold with the others?" Eleri asked. "You're so friendly, but around the Colonel…"

"The Colonel does not trust us," Teschma observed.

"And do you trust him?" Eleri challenged. "Perhaps if you weren't ordering him away like a nosy journalist, he'd be less inclined to think you were up to something. Colonels – Lieutenant or otherwise – have worked very hard to get there; they don't like being treated like children."

Teschma looked as though she was about to argue, but instead she simply shook her head, ruefully. "Perhaps you are right. We have had this place to ourselves for so many centuries; it may be that we have forgotten our place. This is not our world, after all, and its wisdom is ours in trust only. Perhaps…"


Teschma reached out and brushed her fingers against Eleri's temple. Her eyes became unfocused, as though she were looking at something very far away. "You have an open heart, Eleri; a trusting soul. It is quite beautiful. Perhaps you should see our writings. Not the Colonel, not yet, but you."

Eleri was taken aback and for a moment could think of nothing to say.

Teschma turned and dropped down on the far side of the wall from the Stargate. "Come; jump."

"Are you sure?" Eleri asked. It looked a long way down and she was suddenly aware that following Teschma any further would take her out of sight of her comrades.

Teschma smiled her too-wide smile. "Don't worry. I'll catch you."

With a last look back at the SGC camp, Eleri stepped forward and dropped from the wall. Teschma reached up and caught her, and as the pilgrim's body tensed to slow her descent, Eleri could feel the joints bending and it did not feel human. For a moment as her feet touched solid ground, she felt an urge to bolt; to turn and run from this thing that looked human but was not. Almost as soon as the feeling rose, however, she stifled it, her very nature revolted by such a judgemental reaction.

"Are you hurt?" Teschma asked.

"No. Thanks. Sorry; I just haven't met many…Well, it's been mostly humans I've met up until now." She blushed, feeling awkward.

"I understand. I have only ever met members of my own race before now."

"Really!" Eleri gasped. "Oh; I'm sorry. That sounds so rude. Of course there's no reason that, just because you're non-human, meeting other lifeforms would be any less strange to you than it is for me, but I…I'm rambling."

"I do not mind," Teschma assured her.

"So, why is the pillar so important?" Eleri asked, eager to change the subject.

"The other writings in the ruins are our guides and our teachers, but the pillar contains something more. The inscriptions form the final codex of our sacred texts. They are a prophecy; the final revelation of the Old Ones."

"And what do they say?"

"Come; I will show you."

"Show…You mean I can see the pillar? Now?"

"Not the pillar," Teschma replied, with a hint of regret, "but I will lend you a copy of the sacred texts and you can read for yourself."


Stargate Command

2000 hours

Unaware that their painstaking and underhanded work was being shortcut by a winning smile and an unsuspicious nature, Merlyn and Roberts worked at their translation all day long. The printouts of the pillar text were soon covered in scribbled notes, with Merlyn working in red pen and Roberts in green as they checked and rechecked each other's notes. At nineteen-hundred, Roberts realised that they had missed dinner and went to scrounge some leftovers from the commissary. While he was gone, Merlyn made a start at transcribing their notes into her notebook.

"What've we got?" she asked Roberts on his return.

He deposited two covered trays on the desk, whipping away the covers with all the flair of a born showman. "For dinner this evening we have Tuscan bean soup, then corned beef hash with potato, carrot and onion gravy. Pie and cream to follow," he added, tapping an upturned bowl placed to keep the dessert hot. The food steamed convincingly enough, which meant that he must have persuaded one of the cooks to reheat it.

"Have you been romancing the kitchen staff again?" Merlyn asked.

"Lucy and I are just good friends," Roberts insisted.

"Well, this is quite a menu for 'just good friends'."

"Nothing but the best for my captain," he assured her. His blue eyes flickered towards the notebook. "So; have we got anything coherent? I've been too busy with words and sentences to give much thought to what this thing actually says."

Merlyn chewed meditatively at her hash, then picked up the book. She swallowed and then began: "Well, it looks like a record of the last days of the pre-Ancient civilisation on that world. They called themselves the Ûgh'l, by the way, which, if it once meant something other than 'old ones' doesn't anymore." Most of the early part of the text simply confirms what we already knew from the rest of the ruined city: The Ûgh'l bred shoggoths for heavy labour and construction, and brought the ancestors of the Ancients across the void to perform the fine work of artistry and engineering. What is interesting is that they refer to the Alterans by two different words; dthlh – little-mind – and hl'd."

Roberts frowned. "I know that word," he said. "I think I do, anyway. Given the lack of vowels it's hard to know if you're pronouncing it right." He drummed his fingers on the table. "Now where did I hear…halda!" he realised.

"Halda?" Merlyn asked. "Well, that can't be right, surely. Halda is a Shay word."

"Verb; meaning to repeat or copy," Roberts agreed. "So why would they call the Ancients that?"

Merlyn shrugged. "Another time," she decided. "Now; the reason that they needed the Alteran slaves was that the Ûgh'l had atrophied, physically. Their technology was designed to respond to telepathic commands and their bodies had grown feeble; so feeble in fact that they found it hard to repair their own technology when its telepathic receptors broke. They used the hl'd to effect repairs for a time, then brought the…Now, this is odd."

"Which page?" Roberts asked, sorting through the printouts. "Right; yes. That's definitely the right translation," he assured her. "They used the hl'd for a time, then brought the dthlh to the hl'd and they…cg l'k. Sometimes I wish I'd been raised speaking a language which used proper glottal stops."

"Cg l'k. Arrived together?" Merlyn offered. "Except that the hl'd were already there. But how can they have been if the hl'd and the dthlh are both the Alterans?"

"Clearly they aren't." Roberts tapped his pen on the paper. "There's a passage here that I couldn't make head nor tail of, but I'm starting to get an inkling. Look here; what if kl'd is related to hl'd? Then we have 'that dthlh took their hl'd and made kl'd, as their masters had intended they should not.'"

"Clear as mud."

"If hl'd is related to halda," Roberts went on, "then maybe we should be thinking 'halada'."

"Which would be…"Merlyn snapped her fingers impatiently and closed her eyes in concentration. "Copy, again; but in the noun sense."

"Exactly. A duplicate. And now I know where I heard hl'd before; it wasn't in any Shay writings, it was something that Mary said when SG-12 debriefed after 126; a phrase she heard in her mind after I…"

"What phrase?" Merlyn asked, gently.

"Hal'd t'," Roberts replied.

"T'?" Merlyn asked. "That would be…separated, lost or…dead? Then you think that hl'd means simulacra?"

"And kl'd would be cognate with keladrin; original."

"The little-minds took their simulacra and made originals?"

"Took their false, copied bodies and made children," Roberts said. "I mean, we know from the graffiti that they were at it."

"And that would certainly scare the Old Ones," Merlyn agreed. "If they put these things into bodies they built to be sterile and they were somehow reproducing…"

"…then they didn't have as much control as they thought. The monster was coming back to get Dr Frankenstein, just like…"

"…the shoggoths! Yes; and they already knew about them, because there are references to the largest being sealed in unbreachable vaults before they grew strong enough to break free of their masters' control."

"So the shoggoths were growing and the Alterans were breeding; evolving. What happened then?"

Merlyn leafed through the remaining pages of the text. "They panicked," she said. "The slaves revolted and took control of the machines. The Ûgh'l were terrified; without the machines they were all-but powerless. In their desperation they set the shoggoths on their slaves, even throwing open the vaults to release those that they had imprisoned.

"Their gambit worked; even with their masters' technology the Alterans could not hold out against the larger shoggoths and they…Well, again it says that they 'arrived together', but if you're right about hl'd then it isn't 'arrived', but…"

"…Came together," Roberts gasped. "They fused into one."

"Yes! That makes sense now!" Merlyn picked up one of the sheets and scribbled furiously on it. "If we take that translation and…" Her face suddenly fell. "My God," she breathed.

"Merlyn?" Roberts asked. He was deeply concerned, knowing that the captain would only ever utter that phrase in sincere supplication.

"The shoggoth came together with the little-minds and the Ûgh'l's own psychoreactive technology. The essence and the lifeforce of the Alteran rebels, focused through the Ûgh'lan cyber-organic devices, catalysed the transformation of the shoggoth's nascent consciousness into something new: a fusion of organic mass and inorganic technology, possessing vast psychic reserves and a hunger for biological and psychic energy."

"The Scourge?" Roberts asked, appalled.

"The very first Scourge Mind."


Banished once more from the area of the Stargate, Pearson walked a patrol around the ruins to ascertain the area of the pilgrims' activities. They certainly seemed to be restricting themselves to the buildings around the pillar courtyard, but there were traces elsewhere; the pilgrims were doing more than praying and they were doing it with expert stealth. Pearson felt a shiver run down his spine; he and the Colonel were both rather nervous without Roberts there to watch their backs.

Hearing voices ahead, Pearson quickened his pace. He rounded the edge of a broken wall and saw Dr Alec Landers cleaning the dust from a frieze. Eleri was sitting cross-legged on the floor, looking up at the revealed scene and comparing it to the contents of a large book that lay open on her lap.

"Hmm. Obviously the pillar includes a condensed version of some of these texts," Eleri said. "Combined with these translations I think we can make a good crack at the wall writings."

"You can read their writing then? The pilgrims?" Landers sounded impressed.

"Just about. There's only so many linguistic structures in the galaxy; about four, I think: Ancient, Furling, Goa'uld and Dragr. Once you've got the basic frameworks in your head you can trace most variations back – if you can decipher the script – and then work your translation forward again. This one is similar to half-a-dozen others on the books that must belong to the same language group; with a few pointers from Teschma the rest was elementary."

"You're very good at this."

"Thanks." Eleri flashed the linguist a smile which caused a blush to spread up the back of his neck. "I enjoy my work; that's the secret."

"That's obvious. I've hardly ever seen you without a smile on your…" Landers turned away from the wall and took a step towards Eleri, but the movement brought Pearson into his field of vision. "Sergeant," he said.

"On my sergeant?" Eleri asked, but she followed Landers' gaze and her smile faded. "Oh. Hello Sergeant Pearson."

"Dr Landers," Pearson replied. "Eleri. You shouldn't be out this far without an escort. The pilgrims…"

"The pilgrims are harmless," Eleri insisted. "I spent most of the day with them; if they wanted to do me harm they would have done it."

"There is more to them than meets the eye," Pearson insisted.

"You could say that about anyone. I could certainly say if of you, Sergeant Pearson."


"I would prefer you to call me Miss Goffanon," Eleri said coolly. "My friends call me Eleri." With slow, steady movements she stowed the pilgrims' sacred book in her pack. She stood and swung the bag onto her back. "Friends like Alec, or Teschma."

"Don't be so stupid!" Pearson snapped. He regretted it at once, but the words, once spoken, could not be withdrawn.

Eleri stared at Pearson with a hard, cold gaze that he would not have thought her capable of. "Alec," she said, softly.


She turned and kissed Landers on the cheek. "I need to speak to Sergeant Pearson in private, dear heart. Would you mind?"

Landers turned bright red. "I…No," he agreed. "I'll…a wall…over there." He waved vaguely in the direction of the Gate.

Pearson watched him go. "That was unkind," he accused.

"Hah!" Eleri spat. "Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!"

"That's different," Pearson insisted. "I didn't…It's just how I am, El…Miss Goffanon. You knew exactly what you were doing to the poor man."

"Maybe I like him. Did you ever think of that?"

"It doesn't matter what I think, but he thinks it now."

Eleri blushed, furiously. "Just leave me alone, if I'm so stupid."

"I didn't say you were stupid," he muttered. "I said you were being stupid. You're trusting Teschma without question because you're angry with me."

"I'm trusting Teschma because she's never given me a reason not to."

"They're keeping secrets…"

"So did you!" Eleri's hands clenched into fists as her voice rose in a strident yell that was quite uncharacteristic. She paused a moment and calmed herself with an effort. "And they don't keep secrets from me. Teschma told me everything I wanted to know about their faith. If they wouldn't tell Colonel Ferretti…Well, there's a reason that I don't discuss my religion with the Colonel. He tends to consider anything more recent than Islam to be utterly risible."

"You can't trust her," Pearson whispered.

"Yes I can," Eleri replied, firmly. "Goddess knows how, but I can. I didn't think I'd be able to."

"I don't understand."

Eleri pursed her lips tight. Spots of red broke out on her cheeks and her eyes quivered with angry tears. "You…" she began, but could not finish. "I thought there was something between us, Xander. I thought you really cared about me. I don't get that often."

Pearson did not tell her that he did care; he knew it would not have helped.

She laughed miserably. "Goddess; I was so happy to find a guy who could talk to me without staring at my chest."

"I'm sorry," Pearson said. "I know…"

"You don't have a clue how I feel!"

Pearson felt a flash of anger himself. "What? Do you think because I'm gay I've never had my heart broken?"

"Yes! That's exactly what I think! I hate you! I hate you for being gay and I hate myself for thinking like that! You've made me into a bigot!" Eleri leaned towards him, fists tight by her sides, and then as she finished her outburst she deflated and staggered away from him. She leaned against a pillar and slid down to sit on the stone base. Tears flowed from her eyes, but she did not sob. She spoke again, this time in a broken whisper. "So forgive me if I'm excited to find I can still connect to someone."

When Pearson tried to put a hand on her shoulder she started up and stumbled away into the night.

"Eleri!" he called, urgently. "Eleri, wait! Oh…damn." He groped for his radio. "Hound from Monkey," he said.

"Go ahead, Monkey."

"Wicca is alone and on foot in the ruins and I…I don't think she should be left out there."

"Acknowledged. Can you go after her, Monkey?"

"I don't think that would be a good idea," Pearson admitted ruefully.


Eleri stumbled through the ruins, fighting not to cry. Her vision blurred and she tripped on an unseen stone, falling hard against a wall. She cried out and, finding the release of sound cathartic, she railed and raged against the stone, kicking and swearing for a good minute. At last, her fury was spent and she slumped against the wall.


Eleri spun around in alarm. "Teschma!" she gasped. Hurriedly she wiped her eyes and tried to appear more composed. "I didn't know…I mean, I didn't hear…"

"I would have thought not," Teschma replied. "If you had heard anything it would have been a marvel." She raised her right hand and laid the palm on Eleri's temple. "Be calm, Eleri; tell me what troubles you."

"It…It's nothing."

 Teschma set her left hand in place on Eleri's right temple. "You shed so many tears over nothing?"

Eleri closed her eyes, ashamed of her weakness.

"Do not think that my people do not weep," Teschma told her softly. "I can see that you have been hurt, Eleri. Tell me how." She put an arm around Eleri's shoulders and gave her arm a gentle squeeze. "It may be that I can help."


Alexa was growing weary of the tour. The parade of infamous deeds that the Ûgh'l had perpetrated was hard to bear, but she did not want to tell Rajime this in case he ended the tour and returned to his rituals. She enjoyed his company and found him very relaxing to be around; unlike other tellurian humans, he was not easy for her to read and that allowed her to be at ease with him. With her own kind she was constantly bombarded with a mixture of body language and psychic leakage which left no mystery in any relationship. It was hard to let oneself accept a suitor's advances when you were more aware of the naked lust behind their sweet words than even they were. Alexa could not even work out if Rajime actually fancied her.

"The destruction of this great people was a tragedy," Rajime said, "but a necessary one. Their evil could not be allowed to continue, but their wisdom must not be allowed to die. We preserve their teachings through our faith, while seeking to live by a better code."

"And you practice their…their psychic abilities as a part of that preservation?"

"In a way, yes," he agreed. "But there is more to it than that. Although cultivating the abilities within ourselves is a way of keeping the past alive, it also places in our hands a powerful tool; we would be fools not to use it."

"It is dangerous to use anything that powerful; even for good."

"We are careful, Alexa. We have been doing this for centuries."

"I'm sorry."

"It is alright," he assured her. "In the early days of our faith you would have been correct to express concern; or rather to feel it. Expressing it might have been rash. There was a great schism in the early church," he explained. "The most powerful practitioners of the ancient mental arts began to use their gifts to control the populace, believing that they had the right to rule because their powers gave them the ability. Several of their most gifted students led a revolt; the death toll was…catastrophic.

"Many people argued then that the abilities of the old ones should be forgotten; locked away and never practiced again. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and it was noted that what is learned can not be unlearned."

"The genie can not be returned to the bottle."

"I think that I know what you mean, and that is precisely the point. The skills, the techniques, had been rediscovered and it would not be possible to ensure that all sources of that knowledge were destroyed. Therefore, the only safe course of action was to rigorously control access to the training needed to use those abilities. Only those who passed the most stringent tests of mental discipline and spiritual purity would be permitted to be trained, forming a cadre of skilled psychics who would be able to wield those powers responsibly and also suppress any renegade who might gain access to an uncontrolled record of the techniques."

"The psi-police?" Alexa asked doubtfully. "And do they…do you enforce anything else, or only the renegade use of psychic powers?"

"Once trained, we are attached to military units and civilian authorities. Our abilities are regulated by the church; our activities are managed by our employers."

"And who employs you?"

"No-one," he assured her. "As yet I serve only the church; my sister and I are in training with Pater Nexil. She wishes to become a priestess; Mater Teschma," he added with a chuckle. "My goal is to become a Quaestor."

"An enforcer?" Alexa asked, recognising the Latin – or rather, Lantean – roots. "A…witch-hunter?"

"Nothing quite so dramatic," he assured her. "There really aren't enough renegades to support any kind of permanent enforcement division. Quaestors are inspectors; they visit every licensed practitioner regularly to conduct a review of their activities, to ensure that they are not abusing their powers, and that their employers are not seeking to employ those abilities towards questionable ends."

"And what if the practitioner doesn't make the grade?"

"Well, provided that they do nothing so foolish as attacking their Quaestor, they are called to account before a tribunal comprised of the investigating Quaestor, an Examiner – that is, a senior Quaestor – and a third person nominated by the practitioner. If they are found to have fallen below the strict standards of discipline and usage set by the church then they are usually sent for retraining; if their employer is found to be in error, they are disciplined."


"Usually by no more than the withdrawing of church support," Rajime assured her. "We are an enlightened people, Alexa."

"I understand that," Alexa assured him, "but my own people believed themselves enlightened, although they lived for years under a corrupt and oppressive regime which was not above making 'undesirables' disappear. It doesn't do much for a girl's trust in authority when her favourite teacher vanishes overnight without explanation."

"I am sorry to hear it," Rajime assured her.

Alexa sighed. "But it isn't fair to tar your people with the same brush. I am glad to hear that you take such care in the exercise of your powers." Impulsively, she clasped him by the hand. After a moment, he squeezed her fingers gently. "I believe that our people have much to offer each other."

Rajime smiled wistfully. "It would be good if our races were friends," he agreed.


Merlyn looked up from her work. "This isn't good," she said.

Roberts came to look at the passage that she had just translated. "We need that final revelation."

"Well I think we already know what it's going to say, but we do need confirmation. Come on; let's get back to the planet."

"You think we'll find a clue there?" Roberts asked, uncertainly.

"No," Merlyn admitted, "but I have a nasty feeling they're going to need you."


Teschma sat beside Eleri, a comforting arm around her shoulders and her fingers still brushing lightly against her temple. "It seems to me that you have every right to be angry," she commented.

"It isn't his fault that he's gay," Eleri argued. "Oh, Goddess; listen to me. I'm calling being gay a 'fault' now; what happened to all my liberal principles? Am I only a good, accepting person when it doesn't get in the way of what I want?"

Teschma shushed her. "You are hurt and confused," she murmured. "Of course you want to lash out; blame someone, something; even yourself a little bit."

"I shouldn't hate him for being gay; I should be able to accept it."

"And you will, in time. But you hate the fact that he lied to you; that he pretended to be something that he was not. You hate the fact that he gave you hope and then snatched it away, and why shouldn't you?"

Eleri sniffled. "But I understand why he did it."

"No!" Teschma snapped. "Do not make excuses for him, Eleri! He is to blame, not you. He is to blame, not for his own feelings, but for making you believe that he felt other than he did. He lied to you Eleri!" she declared hotly, her eyes wide with a passion that had not shown there before. "He…used you to keep his secret and in doing so he led you to a false belief, careless of your feelings."

"Then you think…?"

"I think that you should hate him. Hate him for what he did to you. In time you may be able to forgive, but for now hate him so that you need not hate yourself."

Eleri leaned her head against Teschma's shoulder in an attempt to hide her fresh tears, but the pilgrim lifted her by the shoulders and held her still.

"Do not grieve, Eleri," she said. "Be glad of your freedom." She leaned forward and kissed Eleri's cheeks.

Eleri felt a soft, feathery touch on her skin and realised that Teschma was gently licking the tears from her face. She half-recoiled, but the sensation was not unpleasant.

"Maybe he's right," she murmured. "Maybe I'd be happier if I went gay as well."

Teschma gave a soft chuckle. "If you mean what I think you mean, I am flattered," she said, "but you would have to be a lot more open minded than that."

"What do you mean."

Teschma put her lips against Eleri's ear and whispered: "I am not even human, remember."

Eleri could only stare. "Oh."

"Stay here," Teschma suggested.

"Why? Where are you going?"

Teschma looked puzzled for a moment, then she gave her head a sudden shake. "Oh my; I had almost forgotten. I do have to go and attend to some pressing preparations for the ritual," she admitted, "but I did not mean that. I meant that I would be pleased if you would consider staying here permanently, or rather, coming back to my homeworld with me, for a time at least. You would love Kali, Eleri, I know it."

"I…Teschma; I am flattered, but I don't know. It would be a big step."

"Of course," Teschma agreed. "Stay and think a while. I shouldn't be long and we can discuss this again when I return."

Eleri smiled at her. "Alright. I'd like that."

"As would I, Eleri." Teschma kissed Eleri once more on the cheek and then rose to her feet. "Until my return."

"Take care."

Eleri lay back on the stone and gazed up at the stars, trying to sort through her muddled feelings. She did not think that she was really attracted to Teschma, but the older woman – if she were indeed older, or even female – had an air about her, a presence that made Eleri feel safe and loved. "Of course, it would be hard to explain to Mum and Dad," she sighed. "I was dreading telling them I was dating a black, Protestant, US airman; if I tell them I'm running off with a space lesbian I'll probably kill them."

Shaking her head, she dismissed such thoughts and focused on Teschma's offer. It was a big decision: an indefinite time away from Earth; away from the SGC. Away from Pearson.

"Kali," she murmured to herself. "Sounds nice."


Teschma slipped through the ruins, propelling herself effortlessly over the low walls and scrambling up the remaining ramparts.

"You are late," Pater Nexil snapped as she dropped down into the courtyard. The priest was waiting with two of the armsmen who had arrived with the last group of pilgrims.

"I was with Eleri," she replied.

Nexil snorted. "You take a risk, if her body is found…"

"She is not dead!"

"What? What were you doing to waste so much time if not delivering her to death?"

"Talking," Teschma replied tersely. "I do not want her killed. I want her to come back with us."

"Madness," the priest insisted.

"Please, allow her to live."

"None must survive."

"She is harmless; an innocent. Her heart is free from malice. I will take her under my guardianship and teach her our ways. She shall become one of us, Pater Nexil."

"If she does not get in the way…we shall see. Come now; we have a duty to perform." He gave a derisive grunt. "I trust that you will not shrink from this? You will not ask to keep any other pets?"

"No, Pater Nexil," she replied. "And I do not want a pet," she added, when he was too far ahead to hear her.


"God damn that girl!" Ferretti snapped.

"Sir?" Raleigh asked.

"Eleri still hasn't reported in."

"Tell me about it," the naval officer laughed. "Alec is about ready to rip Pearson a new one." She cast a quick glance at her team mate. "Or, you know, try. It makes me nauseous. She's half his age and Welsh."

Ferretti rolled his eyes. "Right. Who does he think he is, Michael Douglas? As if we didn't have enough troubles. I guess we'd better go find her. Come on; the walk'll do us good," he suggested.

"Yes, sir," Raleigh agreed, gathering up her gear and clipping her P90 to its sling.

Thank God for that, Ferretti thought.

"Expecting Lieutenant Roberts back?"

"I used to be so sneaky at school," Ferretti sighed. "Still, I honestly don't fancy going off alone." He picked up his radio. "Monkey; see if you can find Owl and bring her back to the camp. I got a bad feeling in my gut."

"Affirmative, Hound. What about Wicca?"

"In hand," Ferretti assured him. He broke the channel and muttered to himself: "Although what she expects if she switches off her radio…"

"She's just a kid," Raleigh reminded him, "and she's hurt. I don't know what Pearson did to her, but…"

"Pearson didn't do anything to her," Ferretti assured her. "Of that I am as sure as I am of anything."

Raleigh shrugged. "Maybe that's the trouble."

"Seems to be," Ferretti agreed. He led the way to Gate-west, intending to make a circuit of the main ruin. "So…How are you keeping, Commander?"

"I don't hold a grudge," she replied, "but I don't think I can really describe how much it hurt. I know it wasn't me he shot and I've tried to convince myself there was something off in the way my simulacra acted."

"There was," Ferretti assured her.

"Thank you, Sir, but it doesn't really help. He shot me and…Maybe I was kidding myself, Sir, but if I could speak freely?"

"Please do."

"We had something, Colonel," Raleigh said. "There was something special between us and afterwards it was…" She shrugged. "I couldn't feel the same way about him after that. It wasn't even that he was prepared to shoot something that looked like me; there's just something cold about him when he fights. I'd never seen that before."

Ferretti shrugged uncomfortably. "Truth be told, neither had I. He's changed lately and I don't know what's up with him. I'd probably worry less if I didn't know he could take the rest of the team blindfold."

"Come on, Colonel," Raleigh laughed. "I know he's tough, but he's just one man."

"Yes; that's what the supervillains always say. I'm serious, Raleigh; Roberts is something else entirely. You haven't seen him fight recently, he's barely…"

"Hound from Cat."

Ferretti shivered.

"Pure coincidence," Raleigh whispered.

"I hope so. Go ahead, Cat."

"Falcon and I are on site," Roberts reported. "We've found some worrying references but we're having some translating problems. We need to check a few inscriptions, then we'll meet you at the camp."

"Roger that, Cat," Ferretti agreed. "Keep an eye out for Wicca; she's gone walkabout."

"Acknowledged. Over and out."

Ferretti sighed. "I hate it when he gets scared; it's never a good sign."

"He said worrying, not scary."

"We've been working together for years," Ferretti replied. "I can hear it in his voice."

Raleigh made no reply. She was staring off into the ruins.


"There's a pilgrim over there," she replied, looking in every direction but one. "Standing guard with a weapon of some kind."

Ferretti did not look in the same direction that she was not looking and saw the sentry. "My curiosity is piqued," he admitted.

Moving casually, they strolled around behind a largely intact section of wall. From there, they were able to slink closer to the sentry without being seen. Ferretti was actually quite impressed by Raleigh's skill; he did not usually associate nuclear engineering with special ops training, but the Lieutenant Commander could have given Colonel Carter a run for her money.

They stopped behind another broken wall and Ferretti took out a periscope to peer around the corner. Through the gaps in the ruined building, he could make out moving figures. "Well, that's quite a gathering," he noted.

"And one hell of a party popper."

Glancing over, Ferretti saw Raleigh looking through her own periscope.

"Swap?" she suggested.

Ferretti nodded and they switched sides. From this new vantage point, Ferretti could see what Raleigh had meant.


"Well, I may not be an engineer," he muttered, "but I know a bomb when I see one."


"Can you track anyone so unerringly?" Merlyn asked. "Or is it only pretty girls?"

"I'm a whiz at finding lost kittens," Roberts assured her.

Eleri opened her eyes and looked up at them. "Hello. You're back."

"Looking for any inscriptions made by our pilgrims," Roberts confirmed.

"Hmm," Eleri said. She sat up and lifted her pack. "I might be able to help you out," she offered, producing the book. "Teschma let me borrow one of their…well, bibles."

Merlyn looked astonished. "Thank you," she said. "I'll let the Colonel know we've found you. He's been worried."

Eleri perked up a little. "Really?"

Robert smiled at her reaction. "You seem a little…rattled," he noted.

"It's been a bad day," Eleri admitted.

"It's here!" Merlyn gasped. "The whole thing; the whole pillar text."

"Yes," Eleri agreed. "I told you, it's their holy book, based on that pillar."

"And they just gave it too you?"

Eleri grinned.

Merlyn shook her head. "Why do we bother, Lieutenant?" She sighed. "But this just confirms what we were afraid of."

"The prophecy?" Roberts asked.

Merlyn nodded.

Eleri frowned. "What about it?"

Merlyn passed the book back to Eleri. "Come on. We're leaving. Roberts."

"Ma'am." Roberts tapped the controls of his Omega suit radio. "Sierra-Gulf Seven-three to all SG units. Dunkirk, Dunkirk, Dunkirk."

"Dunkirk?" Eleri asked.

"Emergency evac," Roberts explained.

"But why?"

Roberts caught her arm and pulled her to her feet. "Because your friendly pilgrims have connected the prophecy on that pillar with references to Earth within the ruins and decided that we're going to destroy the universe. Consequently, they're going to try and kill us all."

Eleri was dumbstruck.

"Come on, Eleri. We have to go before…"

The radio hissed and squealed in his ear. "…at the camp…body armour…bullets aren't…"

"Balls," Roberts muttered.


Alexa heard the gunfire as she and Rajime were heading for the Stargate area. She broke into a run, Rajime loping smoothly after her, and burst out of the ruins to a scene of horror. SG-2 had been incapacitated; Alec Landers and Colin Cowper lay beside them and the armsmen stood over them, weapons in hand. Teschma turned towards Alexa and gave a ghastly smile.

Alexa drew her pistol and fired three times. The bullets slapped into Teschma's chest, but aside from punching holes in her robe they seemed to have no effect whatsoever. Her wrist was caught in a powerful grip and twisted to make her drop the pistol. She groped left-handed for her knife, but although she felt it sink into the flesh of Rajime's chest, he did not slow down.

"I am afraid that your pitiful weapons are quite ineffective against us," he told her.

"What are you doing?" Alexa demanded.

"We're going to save the galaxy from destruction," Rajime replied.

Alexa's head was spinning. "But…What have you done to my comrades?"

"They have been incapacitated," Teschma replied. "We felt that they might attempt to interfere with our work."

"But why?"

Rajime shrugged. "I'm afraid that in order to save the galaxy, we will have to destroy your world."


Pearson ducked into cover at the approach of a trio of armed pilgrims. He was somewhat startled to find that he was not alone; his chosen hiding place was already occupied. Merlyn crouched low and Roberts had Eleri in a vicelike grip, a hand over her mouth to keep the frightened civilian from screaming.

"This doesn't look good," Pearson murmured.

"Not very," Roberts agreed.

The channel crackled in their ears and they heard Alexa's voice coming clear across the airwaves. "That's insane. It's immoral."

"Brave girl," Roberts whispered.

"Immoral?" Rajime replied, his voice more distant. "What would be immoral would be to fail to act when the chance is offered to us."

"What threat could we be to you?" Alexa demanded. "Our weapons don't even seem to affect you."

Another voice mumbled something, much further from the pick-up.

"Teschma," Eleri gulped.

"What did she say?" Merlyn asked.

"The advantages of high-density flesh and multiple organ redundancies," Roberts replied.

Merlyn did not bother to ask how he had managed to hear that. "So not body armour at all, then."

"So there's nothing we can do to you. There's no need for you to send a bomb through the Gate."

Merlyn pursed her lips. "Not good at all," she said. "Alright, Roberts, get to the camp and see what you can do. Eleri and I will try to keep the guards busy; Pearson, you try to get to the bomb and deactivate it."

"Yes, Ma'am," Roberts replied, "although I'm not sure what I can do against an invulnerable enemy." As he spoke he passed is M181 to Pearson and drew his MPX. "How's your firearms training?" he asked Eleri.

"Slim to none," she admitted, wide-eyed and breathless.

Roberts pushed the MPX into her hand and snapped open the shoulder stock. "Well, just try not to kill anyone we know."

Eleri swallowed hard. "Yes, Roberts," she agreed.

"Good luck, Merlyn."

"And you, Roberts."

Roberts nodded once. "Let's move, Sergeant."


"Of course, you realise there's no way for you to deliver your bomb," Alexa told Rajime. "Without an IDC the iris won't be opened; the worst you'll manage will be to irradiate the Gateroom a little."

"We understand the system," Pater Nexil assured her. The priest strode over to stand beside his apprentice and glowered at Alexa as though at an offensive insect. "Your security measures are crude, to say the least, and far from insurmountable. You have very kindly brought a dozen officers to this world and, if they will not break under the question, I am sure that the child will."

"Child?" Alexa asked.

"Miss Eleri Goffanon," Nexil explained. "She is weak and foolish; it would take little effort to persuade her to reveal her secrets. A little pressure and her mind would open like a…"

"No!" Teschma protested. "Pater Nexil, please…"

The priest held up his hand for silence. "Besides, Rajime has suggested a far more reliable means of extracting the necessary data."

Rajime smiled benevolently. He passed Alexa to Nexil, who caught hold of her from behind. He wrapped an arm around her waist and another across her shoulders, pinning her against him. She fought, but his arms were like steel bands.

Rajime caught hold of Alexa's hair and jerked her head back so that her eyes were forced to meet his. "How did you describe it? A wound in your psychic defences." He touched her brow with delicate fingers.

"No," she whispered, but already she felt the pressure on the edges of her third eye and against her will her psychic senses expanded. She could sense the sleeping minds of her comrades and even the emotions of her inhuman captors. Although their psyches were still distant and alien to her perceptions, she could identify many of their feelings: fanatical zeal from all three of them; a kind of revulsion from Teschma; regret from Rajime; and a sick glee from Nexil. The two younger pilgrims disturbed Alexa because they were so willing to bury their objections beneath the dogma that Nexil provided, but the priest was worse; a once-devout man, now he enjoyed power and revelled in pressing his apprentices to perform acts which appalled their sensibilities.

So much for the rigorous selection process, she thought to herself.

Alexa's mind whirled drunkenly as Rajime brought his power to bear on it. Desperately, she rallied her psychic defences and threw up a barrier in his path. The physical world fell away from her and she saw only the struggle which was being conducted between their two minds. Here, Rajime looked agreeably alien and the air seemed to crackle and spit where their powers clashed.

Surrender to me, Alexa, he told her. You can not resist my power for long; do not force me to destroy you. He was arrogant, utterly sure of his ability to crush her resistance, but she sensed a reluctance in him as well; he genuinely did not wish to harm her. Pater Nexil may yet agree to let you live.

Alexa reeled as one of her barriers collapsed. I will fight you as long as I can, she told him. If I am to be the cause of Earth's destruction, I would sooner not live to regret it.

Your resistance is futile. I have studied the powers of the Old Ones, your abilities are mundane and insignificant by comparison.

And earlier you said I was incredible.

You are incredible. If I could only teach you what I know, Alexa, with your strength…You would be extraordinary. Let me train you, he pleaded. Embrace this as your destiny.

Another of Alexa's shields was torn asunder, but she forced herself to laugh. I turned down my shot at godhead, she told him. What else can you offer?

Then I am truly sorry.

With a final surge, Rajime blasted through the last of Alexa's defences and plunged into her mind. He sent probes and feelers deep into her memory and dragged the knowledge of her IDC up towards the forefront of her psyche. With an effort of will, Alexa pulled it away again and threw walls of memory in front of it: summer days spent riding on the steppes; the thrill of swimming in icy water; the heart-stopping, ringing-eared wonder of her first kiss. Not precise memories or cold facts, but rich, powerful moments in her life, redolent with sensory and emotional associations.

Foolish games, Rajime snapped as he dived into the morass, forcing his way through the images. His progress was slow, but inexorable; although it would take him some time, he would reach the IDC. But that was alright. All that mattered to Alexa was that he went slowly.

In the mental realm, Alexa's psychic self watched as Rajime ploughed through her memories. Then she turned and sprang into his unprotected mind.


Taking her courage in both hands, Merlyn stepped out in front of a pair of hooded figures. "Hello," she said. "Do you have a match? Only we wanted to set the sky on fire."

The pilgrims glanced at each other in surprise, but they were only distracted for a moment before they swung long weapons from the folds of their robes. Merlyn dived aside as the weapons cracked and flashed and small projectiles spanged off the stonework.

"Run!" she advised Eleri.

"Right!" Eleri jogged alongside Merlyn, following the captain as she jinked through the ruins. "You know, I've never actually been shot at before."

"You get used to it."

Merlyn grabbed Eleri by the arm and hauled her around a corner; a flash of heat struck her right shoulder. Merlyn leaned back around the corner and fired wildly, then dragged Eleri on.

"Are you alright?" Merlyn asked.

"Sure," Eleri replied. "Why shouldn't I…Oh." Glancing at her arm, she realised that the heat against her shoulder had been a glancing hit from a bullet. "Hey. Another first."

Merlyn threw herself against Eleri, once more driving her around another corner just ahead of a volley of gunfire.

"How do you know to do that?" Eleri demanded. "You didn't even look round."

"Hanging out with Roberts, something had to rub off," Merlyn replied.

They slipped behind another wall and this time there were no bullets; instead, an electrical discharge splattered against the stone.

"We've been upgraded," Merlyn noted.


"Stun blasts; they want to capture us. I'm almost flattered."

"Down!" The voice echoed around the ruins and Merlyn dragged Eleri to the floor. The rattle of automatic weapons cut through the air as the two women crawled to cover.

"Good to see you, Colonel," Merlyn said, "although I'm not sure how much good you're doing."

"Not much," Raleigh replied. "The bastards aren't even bothering to take cover."

"Now that's just rude," Ferretti said. "You know, Merlyn, you might have got away from them if not for all the chit-chat."

"Yes, sir," Merlyn agreed, "but we weren't trying to escape, exactly."


"We're the decoy!" Eleri announced cheerfully.


Two pilgrims patrolled between the ruins and the SG patrol's camp, but Roberts evaded them as easily as he had evaded Teschma to record the pillar text. There was a decayed section of wall overlooking the camp with an indentation in the crest; Roberts had identified it as a potential danger when he first reconnoitred the area and had placed a motion sensor as an alarm when the pilgrims arrived. It was the work of moments for Roberts to scramble up the broken stonework and position himself in the indentation, invisible and deadly.

He wrapped a length of blanket over the barrel of his M181 to disguise its shape and laid it at the edge of the wall. Propping himself on his elbow, he set his eye to the scope and surveyed the field. The bomb – a great mass of steel and bronze – stood close by the Gate; half a dozen pilgrims stood between the ruins and the bomb, watching for any attempt at interference, although they had not yet spotted Pearson making a wide arc around the edge of their perimeter.

In the camp itself, the SGC personnel lay still, but they were breathing. The original three pilgrims – Rajime, Teschma and Nexil – were there with Alexa Rasputina. Nexil held Alexa helpless while Rajime's hands lay tenderly on her head. From her expression – intent, but vacant – Roberts could tell that Alexa was in the midst of some psychic episode. Together with the things that she had managed to transmit to them through her suit radio it was not hard for Roberts to work out what was happening.

The pilgrims possessed extrasensory powers and they were trying to extract an IDC from Alexa. Roberts could not let that happen. Without a tremble in his hands, he increased the zoom of the scope so that Alexa's pretty, elfin features leaped into the centre of his crosshairs.


Pearson paused at the edge of the scrub. So far he had gone unspotted, but there was a hundred feet of open ground to cross to the bomb itself. Steeling himself, he set out, crouched low and moving fast. Perhaps he went too fast, because he was spotted just short of the device and obliged to dive forward into the only available cover.

"Oh wonderful," he sighed. "Just when you think a day can't get any better, you end up sheltering from gunfire behind a bomb."


At last, Rajime's questing, mental fingers managed to close upon the information that he sought. He dragged it close and felt the knowledge of Alexa's IDC filter into his mind. For a moment he felt flushed with triumph, but then another fact stole in on him from Alexa's memory and victory turned to fear.

Retracting all of his psychic presence, Rajime turned his attention entirely to his own mind. Although he had expected it, he was still shocked to feel Alexa's presence in the deepest levels of his psyche.

What are you doing? he demanded.

Just looking around, Alexa replied.


Unlike you, I spend most of my time facing powers that far outmatch mine. I've become quite adept at a sort of psychic judo; evading, redirecting, using my enemy's psychic strength against them. And see what I've found. She turned and a blazing fire roared up behind her shoulder.

Rajime recoiled in terror. Get out! he screamed. Get out of my mind!

As you wish.


Rajime reeled back from Alexa, throwing up his hands in terror.

"What is it?" Nexil demanded. "Did you find the information that you sought?"

"She does not…" Rajime began, but then he recalled the greater threat. "She knows!"

Nexil snarled. "I told you that this would not help," he spat. "You and your sister are too soft."

"But Pater…"

Nexil silenced him with a sneer and shifted his hands to clamp down on the sides of Alexa's head. "I will find the information."

Alexa cried out.

"But, Pater…"

There was a sharp crack and Nexil's head snapped backwards, his right eye bursting in a spray of humours. The priest staggered back, clutching at his face, and released Alexa.

Alexa dropped to her knees. "Fire!" she screamed. "They're afraid of fire! Fire can hurt them!"


Ferretti's clip ran dry. "Well, that's me out," he said, ducking down behind the fallen pillar that they were using for cover.

"Fire!" Alexa's voice came across the channel. "They're afraid of fire! Fire can hurt them!"

"Oh, great," Ferretti muttered. "Two years without a cigarette and now I'm dying for want of a lighter. What am I supposed to do? Run up and rub a couple of sticks together in their faces?"

"Not sure that's practical, sir," Merlyn admitted.

Ferretti snorted. "Well you'd better come up with something, because as I recall it was you who browbeat me into quitting."

"Got a flare?" Raleigh asked.

"Yeah, but it's not exactly a firebomb."

Raleigh shrugged off her pack and dug inside it. "Toss it over," she said.

"Heads up!"

As Ferretti threw the flare, one of the pilgrims charged, sensing that the weight of fire had slackened considerably. Raleigh caught the flare and snapped it against her knee. As the pilgrim sprang over the pillar she lifted the flare in his face and jammed her finger down on the top of an aerosol can of hairspray. A six foot jet of flame blasted into the shadows of the hood. The pilgrim dropped his weapon and staggered back, screaming in terror and pain.

"Nice," Ferretti said.

Eleri leaned over the pillar and snatched up the pilgrim's rifle. As she ducked back, a bullet nicked her ear.

"Careful!" Merlyn snapped. "What are you doing?"

"Well, would you make a rifle that couldn't hurt people?" Eleri asked.

"If I could," Merlyn replied, "but I take your point."

"Well, I just hope it works," Ferretti said. "Unless you have a can of hairspray in your pack, Merlyn?"

Merlyn ran a hand through her close-cropped red hair. "I don't have much call for it," she admitted. "Eleri?"

"I don't use product," Eleri replied primly.


Nexil stepped forward and swung a powerful, backhand blow against the side of Alexa's head.

"Pater!" Rajime protested.

"Pathetic humans!" Nexil spat. "Is that the best you can do!" he bellowed.

In the ruins, movement revealed the man who had shot him. His vision was blurred, reddened and oddly distorted, but by squeezing shut the lid of his ruined eye he was able to force a sort of focus to his vision. The man sprang down from the broken wall, an eight foot drop but he took it like a step. He was fast and strong, but only human; Nexil knew that no human could hope to defeat him, not armed with a projectile weapon. Half-maddened by pain and spoiling for blood, Nexil drew his knife and strode towards the man. At the same time he lashed out with his power; lances of psychic energy stabbed out at the man and drove at his psyche. The blasts would rip into the man's mind, scattering his cognitive energies, tearing at his consciousness, forcing synapses to misfire and cooking the very meat of his brain with the wild electrical discharges from its own neurones.

But a moment before they struck, the lances shattered, disrupted by a wave of psychic interference. Nexil recognised the mental touch. "Rajime!"

"The power is not a weapon!" his apprentice roar.

Nexil gave vent to a bellow of rage. He charged at Rajime with his knife raised. He barely noticed as the human lifted the weapon to his shoulder, and when a jet of super-heated plasma darted from the upper barrel of the M181 and engulfed his body, Nexil hardly had time to scream.


Pearson had a few flammables in his backpack; not enough of anything to make a serious incendiary, but there was little use in being a genius if you could not improvise. By strapping cans of grease, cleaning spirit and phosphorous around a grenade with half-a-reel of primacord and a length of electrical tape, he was able to jury rig something crude but workable. He pulled the pin and lobbed the ungainly mass over the pilgrims' bomb. A flash of fire blossomed forth in the path of the advancing enemy.

There was a scream and a cry of fear as the pilgrims bolted.


Ferretti gripped the alien rifle and popped up over the wall. He fired twice and the pilgrim – the one who was not clutching his burned face in pain – reeled under the impact. Clearly something in the design made it more effective against the pilgrims than any Earth weapon, but still he did not feel that the man was seriously hurt. Nonetheless, coupled with the incendiary attacks from various quarters it gave the pilgrims pause for thought.

"They're falling back, sir," Roberts noted.

"Same here. Let's go; rendezvous at the Gate."


Roberts suggested detonating the bomb on this world, but Alexa argued against it.

"Sure you're not still dazed?" Merlyn asked.

Alexa smiled. "I'm fine, Ma'am."

"You know they'll use it on us," Roberts cautioned.

"Perhaps," Alexa replied, "but Rajime…"

"He was just trying to get close."

"I know that, Roberts," she assured him, firmly, "but he saved your life. You probably didn't feel it, but Nexil was a powerful psychic and he tried to fry your mind. Rajime disrupted the attack; he told me that they used their powers responsibly and he meant it. Whatever Nexil was trying, it would have killed you. Rajime saved your life," she repeated.

Ferretti vetoed the plan anyway, but it was that which affected Roberts. Alexa wondered if he saw what she had seen all along; that he and Rajime were very much alike. She did not want to tell Roberts, but that was why she had trusted Rajime in the first place.

Raleigh watched Roberts with a strange expression as he spoke to the younger woman, but she said nothing. There was very little time to waste and she had nothing left to say to Roberts that would have taken less than half an hour.

As it was, the pilgrims began to return as the members of SG-7 dragged their unconscious colleagues towards the Gate. Roberts warned them off with the plasma lance and the bomb provided decent cover against the sporadic rifle fire. Fortunately, Cowper shrugged off the results of the stun blast more quickly than the others; he could carry two of his comrades back to the Gate at a time, while it would have taken two of them to carry him. If not for that small mercy, the pilgrims would probably have had them.

In a quiet moment, Ferretti looked at Alexa, who seemed well despite her bruised face. "You took a risk," he noted.

She shrugged. "What could he have got out of me?" she asked. "I haven't had a current IDC in nine months."

"Not what I meant, Lieutenant."

Alexa shot him a grateful look. "I'm actually pretty good at this, sir, but thank you."

"And the rest? How you holding up?"

"I'm getting pretty used to men wanting to trample on my feelings," Alexa sighed. "Well, if not wanting then prepared to do it. I'm not sure that's something I should be getting used to," she added, thoughtfully.

"Here they come!" Roberts cautioned.

"Dial it up," Ferretti ordered, pushing Alexa's troubles onto a back burner. "Let's move it!" He transmitted his IDC and the response receiver flashed green. "Okay, Cowper! Go, go, go!"

The retreat was quick, but efficient. Cowper carried Landers and Willis and the others followed with SG-2. It was almost too quick; most of the team had gone when Pearson realised that Eleri was not with them. Indeed, he only realised when Teschma called out to the girl from the edge of the ruins.

"Get through that Gate, Sergeant," Roberts ordered.


"I got her," Roberts replied, hurrying back towards the bomb. "Just hold the damn door."


Teschma saw Eleri standing, watching the ruins and read the confusion on her face; the confusion that mirrored Teschma's own. She called out and took a step forward.

"Keep back!" the leading armsman warned.

Teschma ignored him and moved further out of cover. "Eleri!"

The armsman came up beside her and raised his rifle, taking aim at the lone figure standing by the weapon.

"No!" Teschma pushed the barrel aside and the rifle went off; the heat of the barrel stung her hand. Eleri turned and began to flee and Teschma sprang forward, eating up the ground between them with her long, flowing strides. "Eleri, wait!"

She rounded the edge of the device and found herself facing Roberts, the man who had confronted her on her first night in the ruins and who had killed Pater Nexil. After that first meeting, she had decided that Roberts was a fool; she did not think that any longer. His blue eyes were cold and his gaze was utterly unreadable. He was as perfect and deadly an instrument as she had ever seen and any doubts that she might have harboured as to the danger presented by the Xen were banished now.

For a moment, Teschma was sure that she was going to die, but then Eleri was there.

"No!" the girl cried. "Please, Roberts; don't."

"Go," Roberts ordered. "Get back through the Gate."

Teschma could not help herself. She flung out her hand and called: "No! Stay!"

Eleri paused and looked at her. "Why?" she asked.

"Because I want you to," Teschma replied. "I want to teach you our ways and make you understand…"

"Understand what?" Eleri asked. "Why my world has to die? Why you want to keep me alive while my family are butchered?"

Teschma had no answer for that. She stepped forward, but Roberts warned her back without the slightest movement.

"Go, Eleri," Roberts told her. "The wormhole won't last."

"Just…Why do you care?" Eleri demanded.

"Because I want to understand you," Teschma replied. "Stay and help me to understand. You said yourself that you feel out of place on Earth now, but here you will be wanted and welcomed. Stay. Please."

Eleri looked at her for a long moment. "Goodbye, Teschma," she said, and then she turned and ran for the wormhole.

"Eleri!" Teschma screamed. She started forward, but a bullet from Roberts' rifle ripped through her knee and she fell. She looked at him, knowing that he could have killed her and he nodded. Then he turned and ran after Eleri.

The armsmen clustered around the device, standing ready at the launch controls.

"Weapon ready," the leading armsman called. "Shall we deploy?"

Teschma looked at Rajime. With Pater Nexil slain, authority in this matter passed to them.

"Shall we deploy?" the armsman asked again.


The iris slid closed behind Roberts. The Gateroom was abandoned and the team waited for the telltale thump of a heavy object striking the shield.

The wormhole closed. There was no thump.


"So," General Landry asked. "Who were our pilgrims?"

Ferretti looked at Merlyn. "They gave the name of their homeworld as Kali and Teschma referred to us as the Xen," she replied. "That and elements of their scripture match with documents found in the home of an alien agent killed while attempting to mastermind the downfall of the human race."

"Where was this home?" Landry asked.

"Des Moines," Ferretti replied.

"There's a planet called Des Moines?"

"Not as far as I know; this was the one in Iowa," Ferretti assured the CO.

Landry frowned. "Why do I get the feeling that there were gaps in the 'complete files' that I was given when I took this job?"

"The files tend to be sketchy in these areas," Ferretti agreed. "There are far more aliens living on Earth than the grey men want to admit to, so the Pentagon like us to put our fingers in our ears and sing 'lalala I can't hear you' whenever we find one."

"How very productive."

"We only know about it because Roberts and I were with the team who kicked the door in," Ferretti went on. "I think it was the first time we worked together," he added nostalgically.

"That's charming," Landry said. "Do we know what they want?"

"Read the prophecy, Roberts. I mean, I could do it," he added, "but Roberts is so much better at this Gothic crap."

"Colonel," Roberts acknowledged, although instead of reading he recited the passage from memory:

"In the time of testing, when the stars are right,
Ancient gods shall fall,
Ancient seas shall boil.
The Song of the Scourge shall be heard,
And the Destroyers will be Destroyed.
The Great Eye shall open and the people of the Star Blood shall rise from the dust.
They shall shake off their shackles and look into the void,
And they shall set the sky on fire.

"Nice," Landry drawled. "And what does it mean?"

"Well," Merlyn explained, "we're the people of the Star Blood, the re-evolution of the Ancients. They picked us rather than anyone else because of the references to Earth in the other texts among the ruins."

"The Song of the Scourge…Well, that's our old friends," Ferretti noted. "Never heard them sing before, but there's a first time for everything."

"And setting the sky on fire?"

Alexa shrugged. "They think we're going to destroy the universe," she said.

"And just who are 'they'?" Landry demanded.

"They're called the Kalica," Ferretti replied.