A Stargate SG-7 Story by Uli Kusterer
Ferretti didn't look happy. The worry lines that were constantly set on his face, even when he was happy, were deeper than usual. Not because of the mission they'd been given. It was a perfectly decent mission, and one quite like others they'd been asked to carry out before. Quite the opposite, even, he was looking forward to this mission.
Even though, at this point, he would have been looking forward to pretty much any mission. A milk run? Sure, just point me at the cow!
And that was exactly the problem. He was a veteran of the SGC, one of the few to take part in and survive the first mission. He was on a first-name basis with Brigadier General O'Neill. His team was one of the most reliable, most experienced teams. Shouldn't that count for something?
He did not object that they had been scanned and prodded for close to a week. A Tok'ra had died pointing in their general direction, and accusing them of being Goa'uld traitors. The Tok'ra were trusted allies. If they made such claims, Lt. Col. Louis Feretti would not discount them easily.
He also knew that a traitor did not have to be one willingly. While Kawalski had been stopped before he had been able to cause much damage, he had been both the trusted friend Ferretti and O'Neill had known for years, as well as a traitorous snake. That's what these things did to you. They took you over without you knowing.
Well, no, not without you knowing, but without you being able to do anything about it. Many former hosts to Goa'uld and Tok'ra had remembered what they had experienced while under the control of the snake.
But still, to the outside, they acted normal. They knew all the right things, laughed about the right jokes, they weren't Terminators that had to be taught how to say "No Problemo" and "Hasta la Vista, Baby." He remembered how he'd stood off to the side, out of sight of Kawalski so he didn't have to see him tied to that terrible contraption of an operating chair, seeing Kawalski break down, crying, begging O'Neill to only let him wake up as himself, not one of them.
He had changed back then. Just as he had always done. When someone shot Ferretti, he bled, when someone whipped, hit and bashed him, he eventually went down, his face would be swollen up, but he would not give up. If his body forsook him, he'd use his mind. He couldn't stop them now, so he'd do the next thing: Squint through swollen eyelids and memorize the address.
That had been his moment of weakness. His friend. And he'd stayed away after a few hasty words. He regretted it now. Those had been his last words, and he hadn't been able to console his friend, hadn't had the decency to stay with him and at least provide his quiet support. And now it was too late.
What had woken up hadn't been Kawalski. It had been a snake. A snake that could fool you into thinking that your best friend was what he appeared to be, when he was really a suffering puppet, signals sent down his nerves to use him like a marionette.
Since then, he had stayed with his friends. When SG-1 had gone AWOL, saving the world from some administrative ass's stupidity, he'd volunteered, asked General Hammond to let them go through. It was all he could do. He hadn't had Pearson back then. Nor did he have Carter. He'd tried to find out how to operate the dialing computer himself, but as all operations had been shut down, he had no way.
That wasn't the reason he'd assembled this team around himself. He wasn't a bad tactician, but he was not that calculating. He liked to think of them as the flotsam and jetsam of the SGC. Of course, that was romanticizing it. They were qualified professionals.
But each had a blemish to them.
Pearson, a genius who, Ferretti was certain, could work out any technology if given enough time to examine its workings, had clashed time and again with his colleagues in the labs. Not because he was confrontational, but because they just didn't understand him. As one of his former colleagues had described it, they found him "too touchy-feely around technology". Ferretti didn't care whether Pearson took technology out to dinner and a movie to do his magic, the wiry man with the dark eyes provided results in the field, and that's where he needed him.
Then there was Merlyn. The innocent, proper folklorist and linguist. If stuff needed reading or interpreting, or researching, she was the person to ask. But everyone you asked at the SGC had a bad feeling about her. Nobody trusted someone who came from Area 51 to the SGC. They'd stealthily transferred a Stargate from the secure storage facility to the Trust. Even Agent Barrett had had to admit that the influence of what had started out as a rogue faction of the NID over the Stargate program was far from over.
Then there was Commander Raleigh. Not technically a member of the team, she was frequently assigned to their missions by the General. A Nuclear engineer about to be retired for trauma incurred on SG-7's first encounter with the Scourge, who had miraculously been returned to active duty. If he had to choose someone as a mole for the Trust, Ferretti would have chosen her. He definitely wouldn't have chosen her for most of the missions she was joining them on.
True, she had proven her worth time and again, fixing devices even Pearson had been unable to figure out, stood in for him when he'd been out of commission, but her numerous abilities had all been surprises to him. So much of her file was classified. Even to him, her CO.
Roberts seemed to trust her. Which was unusual in and of himself. The tall blond warrior with a gothic novelist's soul always seemed to hold back something. For example, why his promising career had been curtailed abruptly. Whatever had happened, it would have him stuck at Lieutenant for the rest of his career, it seemed.
And despite Roberts's extraordinary reflexes and fighting skills, and an uncanny ability to befriend the local population and gain information, despite having been an honors student at the Air Force Academy and being one of the authors of the Gate assault guide that every commissioned SG-team member had to memorize to be allowed into the field, Ferretti had so far not been able to convince his superiors that whatever had happened should be forgotten.
But despite all these points against the team, they had performed flawlessly in all their missions so far. Exceeded expectations. They were Ferretti's team, and while they never got any medals or presidential invitations, they were the ones one relied on when the job had to get done. All of Ferretti's teams had been like that.
But this time, for some odd reason, that hadn't been enough. After the cat-scans had been made, hundreds of little pictures, proving that none of them had a snake in their heads, after blood tests trying to detect whether anyone of them carried a previous symbiote’s protein marker or the typical Naqadah traces, after inquiries regarding every moment the members of the team had been apart, the word of one dead Tok'ra agent had still carried enough weight to keep them off duty for another month.
Then, finally, someone had called off the whole sordid affair. Oddly, it hadn't been Jack. Rumor on the base attributed the release to everything from a collection of signatures among the base crew, to whoever was pushing for Raleigh to go on missions with SG-7, to the Trust intervening to get Merlyn back where she's of use to them, to Roberts secretly escaping his room and holding the president at gunpoint.
At least, that's what Ferretti had heard at the impromptu celebration that had been held in the commissary. He was sure one airman had also had a theory involving Pearson, but that guy had been too pissed to be coherent. All he could understand was something about a lost cell phone, a skyscraper and someone named Steven.
So, as Ferretti was pulling taut the shoelaces on his boots, he wondered who had set them free, and why. Jack had tried, but even the president refused to hear him on this. Maybe the real Goa'uld traitor was here after all, and was hoping to draw attention from himself? Maybe one of the rumors across the base was true after all? But that was idle speculation. A pointless waste of time Ferretti didn't indulge in.
Instead, he grabbed his kit bag and headed for the exit. His team was waiting, and they had a mission to complete.
When he exited the security checkpoint, they were already waiting at the front gate. Just beyond the tunnel entrance, standing there and simply, innocently enjoying the warm summer breeze. It was odd to see them like this: In civilian clothes.
Merlyn was wearing a white pantsuit that was similarly in its environment here as it would have been at a less casual occasion. Well-dressed, closed to the neck, yet not overly prim or formal, her red hair and a small golden chain whose links reflected the sunlight out of her collar the only color on her.
Roberts's clothes were simpler. Mostly earthy tones, robust fabrics, comfortable to work in, and nonetheless still fashionable. Like Ferretti's black slacks and dark gray T-shirt, he would blend in, yet could also disappear into the night if the need for breaking and entering arose.
Pearson wore blue jeans and a matching shirt. His brown leather shoes were, as always, perfectly shined, matching the tone of his skin so well that Ferretti thought he was standing there barefoot for a second.
A little off to the side stood Raleigh, in gray slacks and a sleeveless top that showed a moderate amount of cleavage, and also an open, long-sleeved shirt, obviously negotiating with a caller on her cell phone, and not too happy about it.
"Oh, screw it!" she cursed loudly as she flipped her phone closed with a clap, just as Ferretti reached the little group.
"So. School trip, eh?" Ferretti smirked with his best teacher's expression. "Lunch boxes all packed?" Pearson and Raleigh looked back quizzically. "Guns, papers and rest of the luggery." Ferretti explained.
"Well then, off to the Gate-mobile." Ferretti led SG-7 down a gravel path to the parking lot.
"Shotgun." Mary Raleigh called as she caught up with Ferretti.
"Can you read a map?" He challenged her with a good-natured smirk.
"Of course." Raleigh smiled at him, ready to take the challenge. "UAV maps have prepared me for EVERYTHING!" She explained, stretching out her hands in a melodramatic, all-encompassing gesture.
"Well then," Ferretti pointed the keys at a conspicuously inconspicuous black van and triggered the central locking, "let's find the house of the wicked witch. I'm taking bets whether it's the one of the east or the west."
Water is life. Life, is water. The symbiote was in bliss at being submerged. Nourished, safe. That was what life had meant to it, forever, as long as it could think. As the alien reached into the tank, five oily tubes, covered in taught skin, the blood underneath pulsing uncomfortably hot, it screeched in angry protest.
The tubes slung themselves awkwardly around the symbiote, not flexible enough, bending in far too few places, but still managing to get a grip around the smaller body. Quickly the symbiote found itself torn out of its natural surroundings, into hot, unbelievably dry surroundings. It thrashed around, trying to bite the alien, reach it and strike the oily tubes away. But there was no escape.
Then, finally, its opportunity arrived. A mistake by the alien, no doubt: A broad patch of soft, oily skin, fully exposed, pressing right against its scales. The symbiote seized the opportunity, opened its mouth and dug its tiny, sharp teeth into the being's skin.
All of a sudden, millenia-old racial instincts kicked in: The first bite was quickly followed by a second, and the second by a third, and in barely a breath's time, before the still-limp alien body had time to react, it had begun burrowing into the soft tissue, digging towards a familiar, long line of bones, striving upward.
It did not have to be told to be careful with the thin strands that tightly hugged the bone, it just knew. It wound around nerves, muscle, all these even softer parts of the alien's inner anatomy that now lay at its mercy. It pushed forward as its intuition told it. Avoiding the strands repelled by a rote feeling of wrongness, danger, while digging through other tissue because it just felt right, because it would bring it closer to its mysterious goal.
And then it found a place that felt so right, so good, so appropriate that it stopped its burrowing for a moment. It oriented itself towards an odd, bowl-like shape, partially slipped in, and then sent out tendrils with nerves of its own, extending from its fins and other parts of its strong reptilian body.
To the symbiote, it felt like hours, positioning each tendril just right, digging for the impulses, slowly, step by step attaching itself to this alien body. Until, finally, mere seconds after the assault had begun, the connection was complete.
The symbiote felt a moment of triumph, before the assault began. Strange, foreign thoughts began pushing into its mind, inundating it with disgusting images of limbs, breath, touch of hard objects against soft, oily skin.
It fought, defended itself, worked hard at suppressing these foreign elements. Every time it triumphed against one wave, the next one hit it: Pressure gave way to heat and cold, heat and cold gave way to smell, which gave way to sound, and finally, it felt itself blinded by the bright light of the room in which the alien had torn it out of its state of bliss.
"Are we there yet?" Feretti asked petulantly. Sgt. Pearson looked up from his seat in the back of the van at his CO and his co-pilot for this trip.
"Still two more miles straight ahead." Raleigh repeated, not even bothering to look at the map in her lap again.
"Corporal Murphy?!" Merlyn's surprised voice could suddenly be heard above the general murmur in the back of the van. "That is no matter to joke about, Roberts!" she admonished her colleague.
"You didn't know?" Ferretti called to her.
"He is really dead?" Merlyn was obviously still hoping the two were playing a prank on her.
"Yes. He got in an accident with his old Yamaha." Roberts returned to the conversation. "Nora told me he did some work on it and took it out for a ride. Drove through a cow fence and the boards took his head right off. She claimed they’re still searching the roadside for vertebrae, four weeks afterwards."
"Sgt. Nora Wilkes from SG-24?" Ferretti grinned from the front seat. "You must've left out the more colorful parts of the description."
"The same." Roberts agreed. "But she wasn't colorful this time. Apparently she only found out when he didn't show up for the weekly poker night."
"Wait, Wilkes played poker with Murph?" Ferretti chuckled. "She cheats!"
"You do, too." Merlyn admonished Ferretti.
"Oh for crying out loud, that was ONCE."
"Twice." Roberts corrected.
"Didn't you say we should be there by now?" Ferretti stealthily changed the subject.
"The storehouse dead ahead." Raleigh confirmed. "You really think the official papers will get us access?" she asked incredulously.
"No, but we have to have tried regular channels at least once, before we can ..."
"... use the illegal channels?" Roberts suggested.
"Roberts," Ferretti grumbled, "I thought we'd agreed that we'd call them the inofficial channels."
"Sorry sir." Roberts smiled.
"All right, let's play this charade and see what nice show they've prepared for us." Ferretti pulled an envelope from his jacket.
"So you think they're expecting us?" Merlyn wondered.
"Sure as-- Sure." Ferretti stopped himself in mid-swear. "As soon as the General filed the order for our little visit here, they'll have been notified by their friends."
"So let's hope he's been lagging behind with filing his paperwork." Roberts suggested. The soldiers around him turned and stared.
"Sure hope not." Ferretti grumbled. "If the cross-check fails, they'll gladly arrest us for forging documents." He steered the van into the gravel-covered spot that passed for a parking lot in this place and put the gear in park in the middle of the square.
"I can park the car if you don't want to." Raleigh offered.
"This ain't parking. It's a message." Ferretti waved her off. “Out.”
In the short time it took them to disembark the car, two security agents had already arrived in the parking lot, eagerly conversing with their shoulder-mounted walkie-talkies, gun-holsters unbuttoned.
“Hey! You can’t park here!” The less overweight of the two yelled at Roberts, believing the angelic-looking blond man to be an easier target than the slightly weathered senior officer.
“Colonel Louis Ferretti, Air Force.” Ferretti raised his arm, slow enough to make sure it wouldn’t be perceived as a threat, and held out his air force ID card. “I need to talk to whoever’s in charge here.” The Colonel deflected the guard’s attention back to him.
“About what?” the second security guard roughly demanded.
“I’m afraid that is on a need-to-know basis.” Raleigh barked in a hard voice that hit the guard like a projectile. As the guards quickly turned and led the way up the winding gravel path to the building, Roberts said towards her:
“Effective. If not quite true.”
“Observe the mean rent-a-cop in his natural habitat.” Ferretti grumbled under his breath. “Trying to defend his stomping grounds from intruders, then tucking his tail to bail.”
The couch in the reception hall of the storehouse was too small for all of them. Pearson, Ferretti and Merlyn were sitting, while Roberts was leaning against the wall, looking like a predator leisurely examining his unknowing prey.
Raleigh, meanwhile, was pacing up and down the room, bursting with energy and impatience.
“Commander,” Ferretti addressed her, hoping to interrupt or slow down her pacing to gain a bit of peace and quiet, “How was that with those parallel realities?”
Mary Raleigh stopped in her tracks and turned towards her CO: "That comes a bit out of the blue." She collected her thoughts. "It's a big topic." Her eyes widened as if the enormity of all parallel realities was pressing in on her. "What exactly are you unclear about?"
"Well..." Ferretti stalled, enjoying the peace and quiet her abrupt stop had brought. "so I know that there are an endless number of parallel realities, like this one, but different. Right?" Raleigh nodded. "One for every decision we make, and could make." Raleigh's face became unhappy:
"Not quite." She interrupted, attentively holding Ferretti's eye, while at the same time seeming a million miles away. She smirked. "Well, statistically, yes, at least that many, but there's nothing to say that they have to be different. In fact, most of them might well be identical. Forever, or just until they reach a point where they branch off from the main line."
"So there is a main reality?" Ferretti asked, his attention suddenly caught. Raleigh's eyes widened:
"No! Forget I said that. There would be many identical ones, yet different from other identical ones ... they're just ... random." She shrugged.
This caught Merlyn's attention: "So, if there is no main reality, what's the point behind it all?" she posited. "If they're all just random, randomly different, randomly the same, then why should we do anything? Why shouldn't we just go to another reality and loot it for our own benefit?"
Mary grinned. "Yes. Why shouldn't we?" She looked Merlyn in the eye provocatively, then suddenly decided to change tracks: "Scientifically, there is no reason." She began. "We're entering the territory of philosophy and ethics here. The best science can give you is enlightened self-interest: The only way humanity can continue existing is if everyone is given the same freedom, right up to the point where he or she conflicts with someone else's freedom."
"Do unto others as you would have them do." Merlyn quoted.
"A much more lyrical way of saying it." Raleigh agreed. "Of course, there was this one Goa'uld culture who had an interesting theory." She continued on her new track. "You see, their belief was that we humans are actually multi-dimensional beings." She noticed that except for Pearson, whose interest had now been caught as well, she had lost everyone else.
"OK, you know what a dimension is, right?" She took a different angle of approach. "Width, hight, depth." She grabbed a magazine off the small glass couch table and held it in the air, flat, the binding facing her friends. "This is a two-dimensional planet. That picture of George Clooney on the cover is a two-dimensional life form.
Now, he is two-dimensional, which means he has no depth. It also means he can only see in two dimensions, width and height. He essentially sees the entire universe as a page-thin slit. And only that slit." Everyone nodded. "If he comes toward this 'O' in the headline, he only sees a closed wall. He can't see inside." Nods again.
"I, on the other hand, am three-dimensional. So, if I want to be seen by him, I have to somehow be in view of this thin strip that is the continuation of the magazine page." She placed her arm upright between her friends and the magazine. "'You are like the letter 'O',' 2D-Clooney will say. 'A big, tree-trunk-like thing.'" She lowered her hand so that her fingers were on the sight-line of 2D-Clooney: "Now he will say: 'My, how thin you are, you have changed, you look like five trees.'"
"Like the Elephant and the three blind men." Roberts smiled warmly. "He only sees part of you, and it looks different every time." Raleigh smiled back:
"I'm impressed!" She paused shortly, looking around, but nobody had arrived to pick them up yet, so she continued: "Now, while we can understand 3 dimensions, that is hard for 2D-Clooney." She patted his head affectionately. "We could probably build a machine, some kind of elevator, that he could go on, and let him travel by choosing the right floor. He would seem to suddenly disappear, then he could walk along that other floor, to a second lift, and back down there. It would be like he disappeared and then popped up in another place later. It's a different floor, so while he feels like he is walking the same distance, he doesn't meet anyone."
"But how would that be with a fourth dimension? It's hard for us to imagine what a fourth dimension would be. The closest we can think of is time. If 2D-Clooney wants to meet a friend five meters from the elevator, it's no use if he doesn't tell the friend what floor to meet on." She looked around to find everyone accepting this as obvious. "Same with time. If you" she waved in Pearson's general direction "tell Merlyn to meet you at Bear Creek Nature Center, it won't do her much good if you don't tell her what time. Two people can be in the exact same place at different times." She let that sink in for a bit. To her surprise, Ferretti returned to the conversation:
"So, time is the fourth dimension?" He asked, visibly a bit confused.
"Let's take a step back to 2D." Mary simplified. "We have an elevator with 100 floors. Each floor is a sheet of paper. Right?" She flicked through her magazine and got cautious nods. "So, we have 100 copies of our 2D world. Identical copies maybe. But they are all full sheets of paper and they don't overlap. Nobody on page one even needs to know that the page 3 girl is naked. Right?" She grinned naughtily.
"Same with a fourth dimension. It would mean that there is some kind of elevator that takes you from Bear Creek in our dimension to Bear Creek's location in another dimension. Of course, nobody built Bear Creek in that other dimension, so it might not be there ..." She paused, aware she was losing them again. "Okay, time could be the fourth dimension. Or the fifth, it doesn't matter, really. It's just one more. Every second is a copy of the whole 3-dimensional universe. Like a chain of pearls. In each such universe-copy, you are in a different location." Everyone nodded. "It is several different universes, yet it is always you. So how does that work?" She grinned, enjoying the confused looks on her colleagues' faces.
"Like your hands?" Ferretti surprised everybody. "You can have different fingers on different pieces of paper, that would be the same...?"
"Exactly." Mary answered. "However, it would mean that a human is a weird, four-dimensional hand, whose fingers each look like an entire human. Kind of a bunch of humans connected by invisible tentacles."
"Extrapolating that to parallel realities ..." Pearson joined in, "there would therefore be a 'parallel reality' fifth dimension in which they all reside, each at a different 'position' in this dimension. And every version of me is connected with me. Not just across time, but also across parallel realities."
Mary smiled. "That's exactly what those Goa'uld thought. They had a goddess. Well, three."