Sam caressed the outside wall of the temple. The pale rectangular building looked innocuous in the warm, bright sunlight. A grasshopper hopped onto her weapon out of the high grass. The green insect looked and stridulated exactly like its earthling counterparts.
The Colonel called her back, and the grasshopper jumped away.
"Yes. I'm sorry, I was."
"Busy playing with the wildlife, I saw that. We have no time for that, Major."
Sam bit her tongue. She followed the Colonel to the spot where Teal'c and Daniel were waiting. The latter looked eager to go. She didn't want him to. She was afraid, very afraid. What had happened in the temple was beyond her understanding. The technology involved. The cruelty. It was too much.
"Time to go. Carter, Teal'c, you stay here."
"No but. If something happens to us, I want you to head back to the 'gate and get the hell out of Dodge."
Sam kicked a small stone. "I understand. Colonel, I'd like to point out that it might take a while. Last time we were unconscious for seven hours."
"Wait for twelve hours, at most. If we're not back by then, leave."
Sam nodded. She brushed a finger over Daniel's cheek and asked, "Are you sure?"
She closed her eyes and hugged her friend. She saluted the Colonel, and watched him and Daniel disappear in the temple.
"You must trust Daniel Jackson," said Teal'c.
"They are back." Brown's voice betrayed no emotion. "What should we do?"
Grey was relieved that the Jaffa and the woman hadn't followed the two men in the temple. That would make two less victims if they decided to kill the intruders.
The men looked harmless. The one named Jack had removed Daniel's glasses and slid them in his pocket. They faced each other, arms dangling, too far from the wall to be able to see anything.
Daniel started to move, but Jack grabbed him before he could go very far. The two men hugged, clenching tight. Grey couldn't remember this sensation. The embrace looked both strong and tender, full of an emotion that Grey was longing for.
If he squeezed Brown like that, she would break. Grey snorted. Maybe that wasn't such a bad idea.
Jack sat on a bench, his elbows resting on his knees. Daniel, the one they had hurt, marched across the temple to the wall. He didn't look back at his companion.
"He is brave," Grey said.
"Why did the other man come with him? He knows he is in danger, doesn't he? He should leave the silenced one on his own."
"They are not as selfish as we are."
"We're not selfish!"
"Really?" Grey brought his attention back to the room. He couldn't see Daniel anymore. He was too close to the wall. "What is he doing?"
"He's touching the words."
"He shouldn't be able to try reading."
"Didn't you hear me, stupid? He's just touching them, I said! Not reading."
Grey could feel it too, now. Daniel was rubbing the faded flourishes and scribbles. "Annoying."
"Isn't it?" Brown shivered. "Let's do something."
As the man's fingers brushed faster against the hard surface, it became harder to focus. Nevertheless, Grey managed to keep his calm when he asked Brown: "You want to kill him?"
He saw her lean into the touch. "I'm not so sure anymore."
The grinding of the stone of the front door barring the exit was as painful as the screech of chalk on a chalkboard. Daniel looked back, peering through the dust. At the other extremity of the room, Jack was talking into the radio. He was out of reach, ridiculously far away in the small temple.
Daniel tried to smile at him. They shared a last, unwavering look before the column of light fell on Jack. When the dim quietness returned, the man slid from the bench, unconscious or dead. Daniel gulped. He couldn't stomach that thought, so he focusedá on his task.
His fingers had remained in contact with the wall, their tips resting on rust-coloured vines. Even though he knew what he was looking for, it took him a while to notice the change. The stone was as cold and dry to the touch as before, but it wasn't still anymore. The movement was slow, patient almost. One by one, the scribbles and flourishes unravelled, disappearing into the depths of the building, leaving a blank tan surface.
"Peace," Daniel said.
The door he had tried so hard to open on his first trip glided noiselessly down the ground. Daniel tracked the last grey line marring the immaculate fašade to the dark opening. Nobody was waiting, but Daniel found an architectural invitation to go further. He flicked on his flashlight and stepped on the stairhead.
There was no sound. No footsteps, no foreign breathing. No rat squeaking to hide away. The staircase wasn't lit, nor was it adorned with statues or murals. It went straight down below the ground, so deep that Daniel couldn't see the end of it.
He went down the flight of stairs. He counted inwardly in English, in Goau'ld, in Abydonian, in every language he could think of. As he progressed, he could see the landing at the bottom of the flight, a closet with no visible access but for the stairs themselves. He reached the last step in English. Four hundred thirty one. He said each digit separately, taking his time, wincing at the garbage that left his mouth.
The front fašade slid aside to reveal a bright room. The walls, made of a transparent material that reminded Daniel of quartz, seemed to produce their own light, or to draw the rays of the sun down into the cave. Whatever the source, it filled the place with a light so natural that Daniel could almost feel it warm his face.
Rows and rows of shelves stretched to the depths of the room. What looked like shoeboxes were stacked on them, from the floor to the ceiling.
Daniel entered the warehouse and followed the wall perpendicular to the shelves. He soon reached a bare area that had been concealed by the high partitions. The only piece of furniture in the ten-square-yard chamber was a simple, massive stone table. Daniel had seen similar articles used as sacrificial altars. He couldn't help stepping back.
"Come in," a male voice commanded. From behind a shelf, two figures walked into the chamber. Their shambling gait matched their withered faces. Their lips curled downwards, pulled by deep wrinkles. The woman was bending under the weight of her hump. To a careless observer, the grey man and the brown woman would have appeared innocuous. Daniel, however, took in the roughness of their skin and the snaky ribbons entwined in their hair, and feared for his life.
Gorgons, he thought. Quickly, Daniel lowered his head and stared at his feet. If the legends held true, looking into the creatures' eyes would be an immediate death sentence.
"Don't be afraid, child. Look at us." The female Medusa's voice was raspy.
Too scared now for his words to pass the barrier of his damaged brain, Daniel shook his head. He peeked at the entranceway: the concrete wall was back in place. Daniel was at the mercy of the ancient Gorgons.
"Is he cold?" Brown asked.
The man was shivering. Apart from a short glimpse, he hadn't looked at them since they'd come out of hiding. He was leaning against the wall, one hand held open in front of him as if it could push them back. That Brown couldn't read his attitude bothered Grey. "No. I rather think he's afraid."
"Yes. You remember 'afraid', don't you?"
"Yes, that's one feeling I'll never forget, thank you! I was there, too, when our race fell to dust! I was there. Do you think I can't still see their faces when the liquid death came from the sky? Their eyes."
"Stop it! You're scaring him." Grey came between his companion and Daniel, who had fallen to the ground and had folded his legs so that his knees touched his chest. Eyes closed, ears plugged, he seemed to refuse the contact he'd been seeking before.
"He doesn't understand me. I can't see how what I say would upset him."
The snakes on Grey's head hissed. "The tone of your voice would scare a piece of wood, dear."
"Ah! You can talk."
Grey pushed his hair out of the way. Unlike Brown, he had trouble restraining his emotions from showing through the mobile, noisy strands that grew on his head. It was his theory that females had more control over their feelings, or even maybe that they had less of them. He couldn't prove it either way. Brown was the only one to which he could compare himself to.
"So, are you going to stare at him all day?"
"I think we should unlock him."
He expected an argument. She simply roared before hurrying to Daniel. She knelt in front of him. "Look at me, child!"
Grey rolled his eyes. That was no way to win the man. He saw her grab his chin and lift it upwards. "Wait!" he said, stopping her just in time. "Don't squelch him. He is delicate."
Brown released her grip and cupped his face in her hand. "You're right. He is soft. So soft. Please, look at me, young one. I want to see the life in you."
The man opened his eyes.
The two white holes staring at him dazzled Daniel. These were not eyes. These were needles, firebrands, colourless suns. Daniel tried to avert his gaze. When he realised he was unable to do that, he understood that the Medusa's gaze had petrified him like it had the statues up in the temple.
He should have guessed. The statues were too realistic to be artificial objects. On the ones that hadn't been decapitated -- and how cruel was that, anyway?-- every wrinkle, every scar had carved its signature in the stone. It wasn't the masterwork of a sculptor. It was murder.
Flat-tipped fingers were palpating his skull. Lots of them. Maybe they were not fingers, but snakes from the Medusa's hair. Daniel managed to shiver, despite the numbness of his body. The gaze intensified, piercing through his eyes, and he felt a sting of pain in his brain as one of the palps explored his temple.
"Can you hear my words at present?"
Daniel frowned. The Gorgon had spoken quickly in a grotesque mix of Goau'ld and Greek. Despite this and the headache that was blooming since he'd started looking into her eyes, he had understood every single word. He tried to answer, but his rebellious tongue twisted in his mouth.
"Ah! It doesn't work. What has been done cannot be undone." The brown woman stood and looked behind her. Daniel sighed, relieved to be freed from her gaze.
"It took some time for the petrifaction to settle in his brain. You can't expect it to soften back instantly."
The grey Gorgon's hair lengthened and wrapped around Daniel's body. Snakes coiled onto his limbs and his waist. They lifted Daniel, who watched helplessly as the noisy creatures pulled at his arms and legs to straighten them and laid him on his back on the table. Their task accomplished, the snakes withdrew until they were out of sight. Daniel tried to wiggle his fingers. He wasn't sure whether he was successful or not.
"I think he is ready now, my lady. So, Daniel. Why have you come back?"
Daniel mouthed a why, not expecting it to take shape. But the question rose from his stomach to his throat, paused against his teeth, and came out loud. It startled him.
"That's my question, yes. Why, Daniel?"
"By my snakes, I was mistaken! He is stupid! Answer, child. We've been patient, but."
"Patient?" Daniel heard a hiss he assumed came from the grey man's head. "Patient? You're everything but. Give him a minute to get over it. He is flesh and blood, and."
"He was flesh and blood until a minute ago. Anyway, you picked him. You said he was dangerous. I was more worried about the woman."
"Ah! She hasn't even dared to come back. But no, no. Of course I wasn't wrong. He was smart. You turned him into a brainless dimwit when you played with him."
"I didn't! Shall I remind you who, exactly, practiced the petrifaction?"
"It was your idea!"
The conversation was rapid. Each word crossed Daniel's mind like a sharpened knife. He would have liked to sit and plug his ears, but the brown woman had deprived him from this possibility. He had to stop the arguing if he didn't want it to drive him crazy.
Daniel dragged a lungful of stale air -- noting that he could breathe -- and willed himself to talk. "Uh. Please, could you stop talking about me like if I wasn't here?"
Grey froze, and his hair slopped around his shoulders. He was ashamed at forgetting his guest. Or should he say 'experiment'? Victim? Daniel was here to save his soul, he'd better focus on that. Grey pushed Brown aside none too gently and shuffled to the table. He looked down at the man, placing his head above him so they could see each other despite Daniel's position, and directed his gaze to the man's lips. Daniel hadn't died of fright from staring directly into Brown's eyes, but Grey didn't want to push his luck.
"Will you forgive us?"
"Depends on what you're going to do with me." This was said on a tone that wasn't as bitter as Grey had expected. While he couldn't remember all the nuances of the fleshed beings' speech, he clearly detected a hint of curiosity, maybe even of playfulness.
"We don't know yet."
"What options have you been thinking of?"
"Killing you. Making you one of ours. We could do with some company. Letting you go."
"With my brain intact?"
"I know which one I would choose."
Grey chuckled. His palps lengthened to meet Brown's, who was laughing. It'd been a long time since he had last heard that.
Daniel's smile was forced. "You know my name, but I don't know yours."
"I'm Grey. She's Brown." They'd had more beautiful names before, but they didn't hold true anymore. Grey could barely remember them. "We are the guardians of our people."
"There are more like you?"
Grey glanced at Brown. "We should show him. Have a little talk. Then we can decide."
Brown's snakes floated above her head. After some wavering, they settled down in an image of agreement. Grey extended one of his tentacles to the man's neck.
"Let me do that," Brown said. "I wouldn't trust you to liquefy water. You'll turn this Fleshed into a pool of blood if you touch him!"
"Fine, fine, woman!" Grey raised his hands in exasperation and stepped back.
He couldn't but admire her skill when she brushed the man's face, only with her fingers at first, then with ten of her snakes. For all her boasting, Grey couldn't deny she was a much better craftswoman than him. She'd been that close to breaking Daniel's jaw, but when she put her mind into it, she really was the best.
Yes. Now he remembered why he had chosen her to live this excuse for a life with.
Daniel complied. He pushed himself up and let his legs dangle over the edge of the table. His shoulders hunched, he gripped the edges of the stone as if he was afraid of falling. A vein in his neck was pulsing. Grey touched it with his index finger. It felt warm. Supple. Alive.
Daniel lifted his hand and grabbed his, provoking an upsurge of envy in Grey. The Fleshed's limbs were pliant and warm. Brown, too, was jealous, as was obvious from the way her palps kept coming back to explore Daniel's face.
"You're beautiful," she said. "So perfect."
The man's face became a shade paler than it already was.
Insane. Daniel wasn't sure about the male one, but the female Gorgon was definitely insane. This way she had of touching him called up ugly memories. He felt the hair on the back of his neck rise.
Grey was coming closer. "You were asking about our race."
Daniel thanked him inwardly for interrupting the woman's exploration of his body. "Yes. I'm curious. I'm, I'm a traveller. I've met different people, but nobody quite like you."
"There were lots of us before the fake gods came," Grey said. He sat near Daniel and wrapped one of his arms around his back. Daniel tensed, which only made Grey clench him tighter. "We were living in peace. Our planet was comfortable. Then they came, bringing slaves of flesh and blood onto our world. At first we rejoiced, because the Fleshed were attractive. But then."
"Then they started taking some of your people?" asked Daniel.
"Yes. Apparently their Fleshed were dying. Degenerating."
Brown passed a finger on Daniel's lips. "They didn't look as good as you."
"Hands off, dear! One of the gods managed to steal one of our women. Medusa."
"I've heard about her," murmured Daniel.
"Some of us followed her. Some rebelled, but we were crushed. The Goau'ld have long left this world and forgotten about the last survivors."
"Us two, and the unborn ones."
Daniel caught Brown glancing at the shoeboxes. The hard wrinkles carved deeper into her face as she did so, and her hair uncoiled and drooped. Daniel slid from Grey's grasp and walked to the first set of shelves, always keeping an eye on the Gorgons. They didn't seem to mind him moving around, even though Grey's snakes followed his every moves.
He stopped in front of a box. There was no lid that he could see, and it was made of stone. He'd been fooled into thinking it was cardboard by the colour. So there went the idea that those were shoeboxes.
"There's a button on the right side." Brown's voice had lost of its harshness.
Daniel rubbed the bridge of his nose. "You sure?"
"Of course I am! I've designed them!"
"He didn't mean it like that. Yes, Daniel. We want you to open it."
So he did. And he didn't like what he saw. The bottom of the container slid forward, revealing a creature that looked like a miniature Asgard. Grey, with a big head and huge, pale eyes. Veins smeared its frail body. The fingers and toes were webbed. It had no sex. No snakes on the head, either. It hadn't quite reached this stage of development yet.
"Foetuses? You stash foetuses in this place?"
"Thousands of them."
"We crafted them, child. We two, and the other rebels. We carved them out of our bodies." Brown had moved noiselessly to Daniel's side. He wondered how she'd done that. A palp lowered to the foetus's abdomen, and she brushed it delicately.
"To save our race! Isn't that obvious?"
"We sent warriors through the Chaapa'ai to exterminate the Goau'ld. We're waiting for their return." Grey faltered on the last words.
"I'm sorry to tell you, but you may be waiting for a while yet."
He was met by silence. Slowly, Grey moved to his side. Daniel felt he was in an uncomfortable position, framed as he was by two Gorgons whose hair was winding around his body, with a predilection for his neck. He kept staring at the foetus, who didn't breathe but whose eyes looked alive enough to numb every cell of Daniel's body. Then Brown pressed the button again, and the cradle slid back out of sight.
"You said you haven't met any of ours out there?" asked Grey.
"No. That said, we haven't been everywhere. But there are still plenty of." Daniel almost said snakeheads, in Greek at that, but swallowed back the word in time, "Goau'ld."
Brown moaned. Shrieked. It was a painful sound. Daniel wished it to stop, and Grey probably did too, because he stuffed one of his tentacles into Brown's mouth. When he removed it, she was crying.
"I'm sorry. They are our enemies, too. Maybe we could, you know, fight them together." Daniel talked faster, marvelling at last that he could talk at all, when he'd been forced into silence so easily for days. He couldn't dwell on it, though. "You're powerful. You do this thing with your eyes, and this, uh, hair you have. I'm sure that."
"No," they said together. Grey explained further, "We are to remain with the unborn ones. If either of us gets killed, who is going to bring them to life? Who is going to teach them our culture?"
Brown sniggered. "The child is afraid and wants to leave us."
"Well, yes, I'm afraid! Of course I am! You, you chomped my brain and you stole my words, and then you turned me into a freaking statue! Who wouldn't be afraid?" Daniel clenched his fists, and he would have kicked the shelves if the knowledge of what precious treasure they were carrying hadn't stopped him. "Why did you do that to me in the first place? I was just reading your stupid stuff on the wall, and it doesn't even make sense. There was nothing, nothing that could threaten you!"
"That's where you're wrong, Daniel. Brown saw it in you. She may well be the craziest mush in the whole universe -- sorry, darling -- but she's never wrong about Fleshed's brains. Never. The ones we've petrified up there, for example. I thought they would help us. Brown read in them that they would kill our children. They were traitors."
"Sorry, I'm. I suppose I'm a bit confused." Daniel shook himself free from the tentacles. He strolled back to the table and sat. Throwing a tantrum was not standard procedure in the middle of negotiations with hostile aliens. He was afraid he had just blown up his chance of getting out of here in one piece. "I don't do that usually," he said. "I didn't mean it."
"Yes you did. Don't lie. You're angry with me because I saw what you are. I saw you could find us, that you could see us on the wall, watching you, smelling you. I saw you could touch us and guess we were alive. And Grey is a bigger mush than I am, because I would have killed you right then!"
Daniel waved at Grey. "Thank you. I think."
"Don't imagine I did it for you. Brown was right. You could see the messenger behind the message. You revealed us even though we'd invalided your brain."
"Hey, I'm not stupid! I couldn't talk, but I could still think, you know."
"We can fix that," Brown scowled.
Daniel looked at her. Her white eyes, her moving hair; the sad wrinkles around her lips. He didn't get her. He really didn't. The fact he couldn't hold his tongue wasn't helping either. Jackspeak and diplomacy didn't fly in the same universe.
"If we ever get rid of the Goau'ld. I mean, we're working on it, we've killed a couple of nasty guys. I'd tell you, but it's a long story. So, if you let me go and we win, I can come back and tell you. Or if I meet some of your people." Daniel took a deep breath. If he met more of their people, he'd probably run away as fast as his legs could carry him.
"Stop looking into her eyes. You'll die of a heart attack before you know it."
Daniel stared at the tips of his boots. He had a scratch on the right one. "I'm scared."
"Of course you are."
"He's holding his own. He's as fearless as can be."
Fearless? Daniel snorted. He couldn't have said that. He was that close to peeing in his pants, and he had stopped thinking straight a long time ago -- how much the itch in his brain accounted for that, he couldn't tell. He resorted to begging, not because he thought it would be the smart thing to do, but because he couldn't help it. "Please let me go. Remove this thing from my brain. Please. I want to go. I need my friends. I need them."
Grey winced. The man wasn't going to last much longer if Brown kept staring at him like that. Daniel had closed his eyes, but that wouldn't change a thing at this stage. Brown's gaze was fiery. Soft eyelids couldn't stop it.
His knuckles were white from grasping the edge of the table. He wasn't shaking, but that was only because his skin was hardening again, turning a deep blue colour characteristic of the stone known as Sodalite. Grey could do with a Sodalite friend. He was more than bored by his Muscovite partner. He himself had been a nice shade of green Tremolite in his youth. His vitality had gone with his hopes of seeing his people coming back one day, and he had only retained a dull grey base that shamed him.
"Just stop a minute, will you?" he asked Brown.
She hissed and turned her back to the man.
Grey was wondering. If they petrified him -- not completely, but just so that he would still be alive -- would it be enough to save Grey's soul? Daniel would never be one of their people, not quite. He wasn't born one, and even Brown's science couldn't go past this obstacle. She would get close, though. Was close good enough? Was it fair to him? "Probably not."
"What?" the man asked.
"Nothing. Lower your eyes."
He didn't. Instead he stared at him, his blue eyes boring into his soul so deep that Grey wondered if the man could turn stone into flesh. This thought was alluring. Yet he knew it couldn't be.
Daniel had stopped breathing. The terror was taking over his body, but he didn't turn his gaze away, not by an inch. Grey closed his eyes. "Why are you doing that to me? Why did you come back? You could have remained on your world. You'd have been safe."
Daniel didn't answer. His tongue was certainly hard like a block of granite, and the part of his brain Brown had been toying with was solidifying again.
Brown lumbered across the room to the table. She grabbed Daniel's right wrist and brushed his hand against her face. She let it drop almost right away. "Not soft anymore."
"Of course not. You looked at him."
"How could I not be looking? He's gorgeous. It's a nice change."
"Thank you very much, dear. But you're still the most beautiful, of course."
The woman smirked. "I am." From the sound of it, she hadn't get the sarcasm. Grey rolled his eyes. Her snakes were coiling around the man, searching the skin underneath the jacket and the tee-shirt. The longer ones went lower to a place Grey didn't want to look at.
She was leering at him. Caressing him with all her palps and fingers. Smelling his scent, still full of the blood that wasn't rushing in his veins anymore. Daniel's blue stone skin was vibrant. Its metallic reflection captured the soft light diffused by the pellucid walls, turning it into thousands of cold stars. He was beautiful.
Grey hated him with a passion.
"What are we going to do with him?" Brown asked.
"It's your call." Grey felt a part of him die. He didn't care. He only cared about Brown. He had hoped she would like the gift -- but she only looked disappointed.
No love between them. Not anymore. A toy wasn't going to change that.
"So?" he asked, mildly curious.
|©2005 Tefnut||Home • Fanfics • Articles • Fav'Fics • Links • LJ|