Major Sam Carter stepped onto the green jungle world on the other side of the stargate and the rich smell of decomposing vegetation assaulted her nose. Sweeping her gaze around the perimeter she saw that just as the MALP video had shown, the stargate was situated on a slope in the midst of tall, thin trees that towered overhead and thick vines hung down from the canopy far overhead.
Raised roots snaked through the thick leaf litter carpeting the ground and crawled over rocky outcroppings that protruded out of the soil. Fallen leaves and roots were the only things on the ground for plant life did not linger on a jungle floor as it had to reach upward, to the sunlight, to survive.
The team held their positions around the stargate platform for a moment as the event horizon remained open behind them and watched and listened.
Overhead a trailing vine swayed, rocked by an invisible creature moving far above in the canopy. And although they could hear the chirping and chattering of the jungle denizens, it had a muted, faraway quality to it. Here, sounds were flattened by the canopy and muffled by the profusion of vegetation.
In any case, it was the silent ones that were the most dangerous to humans—scorpions, poisonous spiders, malaria bearing mosquitoes, botflies, and venomous snakes.
Give her an alpine forest any day. Or even plains, yes plains were lovely things to explore. No trouble with sand like desert world’s had and not crowded with trees that made good cover for ambushes.
“Okay, we’ve got,” the Colonel adjusted his grip on his MP5 to glance down at his watch, “thirty-six minutes to see if the DHD is okay. Make ’em count Carter. You know how the penny-pushers hate holding the wormhole open.”
“Yes Sir.” Sam took point, dodging the vines hanging down and stepping over roots on the ground as she headed for the DHD.
The device was entangled in a dozen ground vines, but not, thankfully, enveloped by the trunk of a tree. That might have written the mission off or at least, meant they’d have had to pack chainsaws with them. It also had moss growing over it and although it looked like the glyph keys and centre button were just covered over by the moss, it had been impossible to tell if the moss was concealing any damage without physically checking.
“Some help Daniel?” she requested upon reaching the DHD and began unclipping her backpack to get at the hatchet in her kit.
“Ah, sure,” Daniel replied as he too, dropped his backpack to the ground.
Together with hatchets in hand they began hacking the vines off as the Colonel and Teal’c stood guard beneath the blue glow cast by the still open wormhole behind them.
As she cut at a vine as thick as her wrist she knew that the growth of the vegetation showed that it had been a long, long time since anyone had dialled off this planet.
Offworld the case tended to be that even if the natives did not use the stargate to travel, if they were aware of it, the device held ritual significance to them and was cared for as a holy ground. Generally, if the stargate and area was uncared for, then the natives were unaware of it.
Sam mentally grimaced as she pulled the wrist-thick vine away from the pedestal.
They had of course encountered a few exceptions of that rule. Like with the Byrsa people of Cartago or the Unas. In those cases the stargate was not an emblem of the gods, but of demons, and thus cursed or otherwise forbidden ground and for people coming through the stargate… things did not generally go well.
Cutting the last vine away and freeing up the DHD she looked at Daniel. “What do you suggest for removing the moss?”
Daniel dug his fingertips into the feathery green plant carpeting the pedestal. “Hand shovels should be fine. The moss is growing on a layer of dirt made from decomposed leaves and should scrape off easy—and it takes more than our steel to scratch the material of a DHD.”
She nodded her agreement and popped the hatchet head off the shaft and clicked the shovel blade into place to convert the tool to a hand shovel while Daniel did the same. Using the blade more as a scraper than a shovel, she scraped away the moss and the soil it was growing upon.
As they scraped, the undamaged glyph keys and centre button emerged from the dirt. Once the moss had all been removed they dug the dirt out between the keys with their fingers and pressed down on the keys lightly to test their function.
With the ‘gate open none of the keys could engage and light up to verify they were operating properly but at least none of them stuck or jammed which was good. However, their functionality was what needed to be checked. Leaving Daniel to finish cleaning the DHD off, she set her tool aside and thumbed her radio to report to the base. “Sierra-Golf-Charlie this is Sierra-Golf-One Charlie. We’ve freed the DHD and the exterior is undamaged. I’m checking the interior now. Over.”
The radio crackled and Sergeant Harriman responded. “Copy that.”
Sam dusted the dirt from her hands and carefully set about twisting the centre button from its moorings to get at the crystal circuitry beneath.
“Hold this please,” she handed the red button to Daniel who accepted it gingerly. Taking out her penlight she shined it around inside, the beam glinting off the crystals within and casting coloured beams of light about. After a very thorough look-see comparing what she was seeing against the schematics in her head, she clicked off the penlight, pocketed it, and thumbed her radio again, “Delta-Hotel-Delta seems undamaged. Please shut down the ’gate to allow a return dial for MALP retrieval. Over.”
“Wilco,” Harriman answered as the base disconnected the connection and the event horizon closed with its signature zipping sound.
Daniel handed her back the centre button and she fitted the red cover back into place.
“Trying the gate now,” she warned her team as she keyed the asterism Auriga which lit up on the pedestal. The inner ring of the stargate spun until the Auriga glyph was in position beneath the top chevron which proceeded to engage and the first chevron glowed orange. She next keyed the asterisms for Cetus, Centaurus, Cancer, Scutum, Eridanus, and Earth and then pressed the centre button.
The event horizon boiled into place and the vortex noisily whooshed out before settling into the placid blue puddle and she took a relieved breath. Relief that her evaluation had been correct and that they wouldn’t have to risk sending one of their naquadah generators through to provide power for them to get home.
“Sierra-Golf-Charlie,” she spoke into her radio, “this is Sierra-Golf-One Charlie. Do you read? Over.”
“Sierra-Golf-One Charlie this is Sierra-Golf-Charlie,” issued through their radios and the MALP whirred to life. “We are retrieving the MALP now. Over.”
“Copy that,” Sam responded and watched the remotely controlled probe roll backwards into the open horizon. Slowly counting down from four in her head, the time it would take the MALP to transverse the wormhole, Harriman spoke through the radio right when expected.
“MALP has successfully been retrieved. Sierra-Golf-One you are good to precede. Over.”
“Copy that,” she replied. “Disconnecting the ’gate now. Out.” She pressed the centre button a second time and the event horizon dissolved.
“So…” Daniel looked around the untamed jungle in an uncertain manner, “which way now?”
“Forward, James!” the Colonel quipped and set off downhill.
Sam felt her lips twitch in amusement over the mangled quote as she took up position on their right flank but made sure her face showed nothing when Daniel suspiciously glanced her way. Daniel had a different opinion regarding the Colonel’s sense of humor, unlike herself whose amusement was easily aroused by him.
Among other things.
She deliberately pushed that thought into the back of her mind and told herself she could control her thoughts.
Plus Daniel was already down about the prospects of this mission, which from MALP telemetry had all the appearances of a survey recon so she had some sympathy for him. Ruin exploration and first contact recon missions of course where what Daniel loved the best but there had been no ruins or settlements within sight of the camera. They also couldn’t launch a UAV through the canopy for a broader aerial view that might have revealed either.
The mission looked like a dud for her area of expertise as well.
No energy readings had been picked up and while mineral and soil sampling might reveal something, she wouldn’t know what until they were back home and the samples had been tested in the labs.
With no natives, ruins, mining interests, or dangerous wildlife the planet could still serve as an offworld site for SGC. But temperate planets were preferred for that, not jungles because no one like dealing with weather extremes.
It might end up on the list of possible immigration planets for displaced natives though. Natives tended to want to transplant themselves to somewhat familiar environments but it was just as likely to end up on the ‘Been There, Seen It, Worth Nothing’ list.
In other words they’d spend a couple of days camping out, seeing and doing nothing, and then return home.
Although after their last… offworld experience that might be best. She mentally winced at the guilty memory of the fiasco that had preceded their assignment to this planet.
General Hammond she suspected was still not happy with any of them—well, except Teal’c. Teal’c had been the only one to obey, and act, under orders. Her, the Colonel, and Daniel… no, they certainly had not been obeying or acting under orders once compromised by the Atanik technology.
“Do you hear that?” Teal’c questioned, head tilted to the side and staff weapon poised.
She cocked her head and after listening really hard thought she heard running water. It might be whatever Teal’c had picked up on, but with Jaffa having more sensitive hearing than humans she couldn’t be positive without confirmation from him.
“Sounds like running water,” the Colonel commented.
So she was hearing the rushing of water.
“A river?” Daniel guessed.
“Likely, if we’re hearing it,” the Colonel answered.
“A water sample would be good Sir,” Sam spoke up. Locating a water source would be beneficial for them too, for setting up camp and replenishing their own water supply.
He nodded and adjusted their trajectory through the jungle.
With running water the only way to tell if you were dealing with a large body of water, or a small one, was how quickly one approached the source of the sound in proportion to its noise.
It took them a few minutes to reach the source and when they did, it was revealed to be a small river running beneath the canopy. The vibrant sound it was making came from the fact that the murky water, heavy with silt from spring runoff she guessed, was rushing downhill over a stone riverbed.
Sam crouched on the riverbank besides some moss covered boulders and retrieved her specimen containers from her pack. On one of the aluminum canister labels she wrote down with a water resistant pen the subject as ‘water - river’, filled in the planet designation, noted the distance and degree from the stargate, the date, and her name. Taking out the canister’s interior glass test tube she filled out basically the same information on its label and then dipped the tube into the river to collect a sample.
Securing the tube in the canister and going to put into her pack she suddenly realized something about one of the mossy boulders she’s set her kit down on.
It was carved.
Weather worn and grown over by a fine moss, a scene of a large many-armed figure with very, very full breasts sitting cross-legged with smaller accompanying figures and humped cows had been carved into the rock face.
“Daniel!” she called out as her hand went to rest on her MP5 and her eyes scanned the riverbanks. She immediately registered the proximity of her teammates, Teal’c standing guard over her with Daniel further downstream and the Colonel even further than that. “You need to come see this!”
“Sam?” He asked curiously, jogging back up to her position.
“There,” she indicated her discovery with a tilt of her head; her eyes still busy examining the riverbank.
Daniel made a thrilled sound and immediately crowded her over as he got right up to the rock carving. “Would you look at this? It’s a beautiful bas-relief of a goddess sitting on a lotus throne under the protective canopy of cobras heads—”
“Cobras?” the Colonel yelled sharply from his position downstream. “As in, snakes?”
Daniel paused in getting out his camera. “Um, yes. Snakes, well technically serpents or naga as they are known in Sanskrit are a class of semi-divine beings that are associated with waters—rivers, lakes, seas, and wells—and are generally regarded as guardians of treasure.”
“So, because of the naga this carving is Hindu?” Sam asked.
“Naga appear in the stories and are depicted in the art of most South Asian countries,” Daniel lecture absently as he began photographing the carving, “not just Hinduism. For example in Tibet they are minor gods, in Buddhism they are door guardians, and in Jainism—”
“We get the point,” the Colonel cut in as he came up to them.
Daniel cleared his throat. “Right. Well, this carved scene does depict a Hindu deity. Hindu gods are frequently portrayed with multiple arms—just like this one is.” He touched one of the extra limbs that the primary figure supported. “The multiplicity of arms emphasizes the immense power of the deity and his or her ability to perform several feats at the same time.”
She had always wondered about that.
“Talk about multitasking,” the Colonel remarked. “So, who is this carving of?”
“I…” Daniel stopped taking pictures and studied the carved scene with a frown. “I actually don’t know. Vedism and the religions that developed from it are not my area of expertise and identifying the deities of India often depends on symbolism of what they are wearing or holding and context, that is, which scene from scripture is being depicted. But I have no idea who this is supposed to depict. It could be any number of goddesses.”
“Do you know her Teal’c?” the Colonel questioned.
“I too, am unable to identify the figure.” Teal’c answered.
The Colonel shrugged. “Worth a shot. Come on, let’s move forward.”
Sam lifted an eyebrow at her commander. Did he really think he’d be able to budge Daniel so soon after an archaeological offworld discovery? The bland look he gave her in return said he accepted her challenge and that he was going to win it too.
“But I’ve only finished taking pictures and still need to take measurements!” Daniel protested; head down as he scribbled furiously in his notebook.
“Okay,” the Colonel rocked back on his heels, “if you don’t want to check out the others. We’ll stay here.”
Daniel’s head whipped up. “Others?”
Now that, she had to confess, was the perfect lure for Daniel. Even in situations where impending doom loomed over their heads, Daniel would fight to last the second to stay and study an artefact but dangle the promise of more artefacts before him and he would be happy to move along.
The Colonel nodded downstream. “I saw the head of a carved statue just above the waterline down there.”
Daniel looked torn for a moment as he scribbled some more notes down before he rose to his feet and said, “Show me.”
The Colonel led them downstream to what he’d seen.
Soon they’d come upon the head of a life size, high relief carving that had been cut out of a stony section of the riverbank with the high water of the river lapping at the figure’s lips.
The face was worn, and even more worn protrusions encircled its head and Sam figured the knobs, as they matched the first carving found, represented cobra heads. As she peered into the water, she could see the shape of the neck and shoulders beneath the water before its murkiness obscured the rest and that indicated that the figure had been carved when the rock had been above the waterline.
Her boulder carving and the Colonel’s statue head turned into only the first of their discoveries along the river.
Working their way downstream, they found more boulders and areas of the stony riverbank had been carved with figures and scenes comprised of figures and animals like humped cows, frogs, alligators, snakes, and fish. Or anyway, wildlife that look like those Earth creatures.
While keeping her eyes out for the carvings, she also did her own job of collecting plant specimens and samples from the thin, sandy soil.
A low whistle from the Colonel brought her to join him further downstream from the current bolder scene Daniel was finishing up working on.
Breathe whistle from between her teeth as well when she saw what he was seeing.
The river had flattened out for a dozen or so yards and the water rushed shallowly over the stone riverbed that had been carved with hundreds of round dome-circles cut in a perfect grid from bank to bank. In the centre of the grid of circles was a square lined with circles and in its centre was another square with an open end directed downstream and yet more circles nestled inside.
“Any ideas?” he asked.
Daniel came up behind them and said in wonder, “Sahasra lingas.”
She and the Colonel looked at each other but neither one of them understood, so they then looked back to Daniel.
“Speak English,” the Colonel growled.
“River of a Thousand Lingas,” Daniel translated. “This is a River of a Thousand Lingas, just like Stung Kabl Spean River in Cambodia. The first section of the Cambodian river was carved with linga-motifs and linga-yoni designs and later on, depictions of Hindu gods and various mythological motifs were added to the site.”
“A linga is a phallic symbol of the Hindu god Shiva. A yoni is the womb symbol of the goddess or the Hindu Divine Mother. “
The Colonel made a face. “Why the hell would anyone carve a bunch of those into a river?”
It was a question Sam shared although she would have definitely put it more tactfully.
“Sanctification,” Daniel answered. “Water, and purification through water, is important to Hinduism. The union of linga-yoni represents the eternal process of creation and regeneration and the water of the river is sanctified by flowing over the religious sculptures and flowing downstream to…”
They all looked downriver.
“To what?” the Colonel prompted.
“Well, in Cambodia,” Daniel answered thoughtfully, “the river flows down to the Angkor temple complexes.”
“You believe it is the same here?” Teal’c asked.
He nodded slowly. “On the Cambodian river it is mostly the gods Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma that are depicted in the art, unlike here where I’m only seeing a goddess figure and companions, but I can’t see the purpose—of blessing the water—being any different. So if we keep traveling downstream, I’m sure we’ll find a temple or a settlement or something.”
“Or something will find us,” the Colonel said darkly. “Okay, we’ll keep going later. But for now,” he clapped his hands together, “lunch!”
Sam glanced at her watch and saw that as he had declared, it was time to for lunch back on Earth and as this planet had a similar day-night cycle, it was lunch time here too. Breaking out the MRE packages they swapped the rations around until everyone was somewhat happy with the meal they had and dug in.
Following lunch they made better speed downstream for Daniel did not take quite as much time on each discovered carving along the riverbank before moving onto the next discovery.
At a small cascade waterfall that descended over a series of three rock steps, they saw the riverbed had been carved with more linga circles and the rock face behind the curtains of water had been carved with rounded columns that Daniel said represented linga as well.
The next stretch of river they travel was empty of carvings or at least, they didn’t see any more carved boulders along the riverbank and the murky water flowing in the channel concealed any carvings on the riverbed from their sight.
They heard the second waterfall before they reached it. This one in comparison to the first cascade was a broad block waterfall where the curtain of water dropped about a story and a half in height and they had to rappel down the ledge.
The base of this waterfall was also carved with many rows of linga and many smaller linga-yoni representations than were simpler than the first they’d seen—just a basic square with five or eight circles inside, the latter forming a floral pattern.
“O’Neill, look,” Teal’c pointed across the river to the opposite bank.
Sam saw what her teammate was pointing out to the Colonel. Where they had been walking over leaves and moss on this side of the river, the other side had a sandy bank and from that bank, leading into the jungle, a path had been worn through the fallen leaves.
“Of course we have to be on the wrong side of the river,” the Colonel griped. They scouted downstream a bit for a shallower place to ford but came to the decision that crossing over the carvings at the base of the waterfall was as shallow as they were going to get.
It still meant getting her knees wet though.
She found the swift flowing water refreshing against her legs as she carefully followed Teal’c across. The carvings were smooth underfoot, both from the action of the water wearing them down overtime and the algae that grew over then.
They emerged without incident on the sandy bank and a check for leeches revealed they had also thankfully emerged without passengers.
The next hour walking the sandy path passed slowly in comparison to the trek along the river where they’d had the search for carvings to occupy their minds. She even caught her gaze lingering a few times on the green fabric over the Colonel’s well-shaped backside instead of watching the green foliage around them like she needed to be.
That wasn’t something she could allow. Being compromised by the Atanik technology had taught her that.
It was bad enough being compromised by alien possession but it had been worse having her thoughts and abilities to make sound judgements and risk assessments, compromised. She’d never believed that she could so casually disregard the rules and regulations that guided her life—and yet she had.
In retrospect they had been so fortunate that they’d done nothing more than disobey orders to satisfy the metabolic demands the technology had placed on them with steak and their heightened aggression had at first, found outlet against the men in the bar and then later, in the assault on Apophis’s prototype ship.
That aggression, the heightened senses and rush of adrenaline could have been so very, very easily become something… much more intimate.
And much more costly.
Telling herself again that she could control her thoughts, she returned her full attention to surveillance.
At last they emerged from the jungle and found themselves standing on the ridge of a plateau overseeing a broad plain.
Below them, the river that they had followed emerged from the jungle, threaded its way through the plain and was joined by other distance tributaries to form a mighty river that vanished into the far distant horizon.
And dominating the plain was a walled city.
The structures rose up over the plain upon a mound, likely to raise it above the floodwaters of the river it was built beside, and she would indeed call it a city. Not a village, or a town, but a city of thousands. Even from here, she could see the systematic grid the mud coloured multi-storied square-shaped buildings with flat roofs were built upon, all enclosed by thick red walls.
And it was a city that was host to more than the people inside its walls, for outside the city walls along the right bank built along the same grid principle, was a tent city.
If she was calculating the square mileage and possible population density correctly, there could be close to ten thousand people down there.
“That’s not something you see every day,” the Colonel remarked.
It wasn’t either. Beyond Chulak, Sam couldn’t think of one Goa’uld occupied or controlled planet that had a native population so large. But they had encountered such large populations on worlds that were free of the Goa’uld. “Can you say what kind of people they are Daniel? Where they might have come from?”
Daniel shook his head. “No, we’re too far away. We need to get closer.”
No one disagreed with that so they began the trek down the path that led over the edge of the ridge and down to the plains below. The path relentlessly switched back and forth, making it relatively easy to physically descend but ate up time.
At length they reached the bottom and headed for the city. Some of the first things they saw along the way were herds of hump-backed cows and then the untamed vegetation gave way to cultivated fields dotted occasionally with distant figures at work.
The closer they drew the wider and more compact the path became until it was a road with double-lane wheel ruts cut into the hard dirt. They also saw more people and could see that the black haired and light brown skinned natives wore clothing that made Sam think of India, the women in colourful saris with painted patterns and the men wore loose white tunics over baggy pants.
Both genders also wore jewelry and from what she could see, armbands, finger rings, and earrings were sported by everyone and by all ages. Women alone wore bangles that were often so numerous they lined the arm from wrist to elbow and bare feet showed off belled anklets and toe rings.
She was relieved to note that as they walked through more and more people on the road coming from the city that while they drew blatantly curious stares, they seemed to draw nothing else. And it could be her imagination, but she thought Teal’c was drawing the most looks. No one however made signs against the evil-eye or anything else showing hostility, but no one approached them either.
That is, until they were about half a klick from the city’s outer wall of red bricks and a boy who was no more than eight years of age planted himself in their path. His dark colouring was emphasized by the periwinkle coloured tunic and pants he was wearing and as he tilted his head from side to side observing them, like a curious bird might, the dangling earrings of gold piercing his earlobes tinkled.
Sam shared a look with her teammates and they shifted positions a bit for Daniel to come forward as their speaker.
“Hello! I’m Daniel Jackson, we’re peaceful explorers from the planet Earth.” Daniel introduced himself.
The boy’s brow furrowed and he gave them a puzzled looked.
“Ah, okay. You don’t understand,” Daniel muttered under his breath and tried again in Goa’uld.
The frown vanished from the boy’s face and he responded in a rapid stream of Goa’uld.
Well, Sam thought, at least they could communicate and the fact that the natives spoke Goa’uld did not necessarily mean this was a Goa’uld world. Goa’uld was the most common language of the galaxy and where it wasn’t the common language, it was often the lingua franca used by people who did not have the same native language.
She didn’t consider herself the most fluent speaker but her understanding was sufficient that even with the boy’s accent making it hard for her to easily understand what he was saying, she could figure out the conversation from Daniel’s responses.
“So, um,” Daniel turned to them, “this is Rishi of Sindhuvas—either this city or the planet, I’m not clear on that point or it could be the name of both like Chulak—and he welcomes us travellers—”
“Pilgrims,” Teal’c corrected. “He did not merely call us ones from afar, but ones from afar who have come to the blessed land.”
“Makes sense,” the Colonel unexpectedly nodded.
“Um, what?” Daniel blinked in surprise.
Sam was surprised herself.
“It explains the tent city,” the Colonel nodded his head to the right where outside the red wall the neat rows of tents were set up. “Yeah, it’s possible for a refugee camp to be that orderly—and if their city is any indication these people have a thing for order—but the tents are too good. Nothing clobbered together. It looks like we got here in the midst of some… Mecca like pilgrimage.”
She found herself agreeing with the Colonel as she looked closer at the tent city. Neatly laid out in rows and blocks and even though the tents varied in colour and size, they were all in good shape. Nothing about the set up gave indication that it had been constructed in response to some disaster. And she wasn’t seeing any difference in clothing or jewelry between the people moving about the tents, from those they’d met on the road coming from the city.
Daniel spoke to Rishi for a moment and then turned back to them with a sheepish expression. “Ah, you’re right. And that should teach me to make assumptions. I was assuming that he was speaking generally, that as most people regard themselves as ‘chosen’ when taken by a Goa’uld from one place to another that their new home becomes the ‘blessed land’ to explain the move.”
Rishi said something and Daniel nodded in response. “Right, sorry, getting back on track. Rishi has offered to be our guide and would like to know where we’d like to go first.”
“Who’s in charge?” the Colonel asked.
“He’s just a boy Jack. How is he going to know who’s in charge in a city this large? He’ll probably just take us to his father.”
“You haven’t noticed, have you Daniel?”
“He’s the only one in blue I’ve seen yet. And since he’s started talking to us, the natives haven’t circled around us but simply walked passed us. That tells me, whoever he is, that him talking to us signifies acceptance of something.”
“Really?” Daniel looked owlishly around at the people on the road passing around them.
“Indeed.” Teal’c affirmed. “This child is more than a mere boy. It is possible that he is a messenger dispatched to meet us.”
“Like a page from a royal house?”
“That is possible.” Teal’c answered.
Daniel spoke to Rishi and with a nod and a smile, the boy gestured for them to follow him as he set off towards the city.
“Well, ah, looks like you were right Jack.” Daniel admitted. “He says he’ll take us to Mayor Kadru.”
Minutes later they were passing through the wide gateway into the city, the red brick arch standing about eighteen feet tall over their heads and the walls half as thick. A wide avenue stretched out before them, so wide that as she watched two bullock carts pulled by humped cows and piled high with goods pass either abreast. A line of flagstones ran down the centre of the avenue and two more flagstone rows lined both sides of the road where mud-plastered houses stood two or more stories tall.
She figured, as she could see windows with elaborately carved lattices decorated with garlands of flowers on the sides of the building that the fronts were without windows to keep out the dust and noise of the main street.
And the people, the streets were full of people. In small groups or pairs, men talked to men and women talked to women and individuals of both genders carried about loads of goods upon their backs or in their arms as children thronged underfoot. The children were busy too, some appeared to be helping adults but most were engaged in something much more fun—play.
Sam couldn’t remember a time she’d seen so many kids playing with toys. They chased after hoops with sticks, towed on strings model cows that waggled their heads, pushed about toy carts on working wheels, and generally added to the noise of voices with happy cries and rattles and bird-whistles.
No ball-type games though, that she noticed, and she had a suspicion that if given the chance that would be the first thing the Colonel corrupted them with. If it wasn’t his yo-yo. Children across the universe had a strange fascination for his yo-yo and the tricks he could do.
As they walked the street she realized that the city was amazingly clean given the number of people it housed and its apparent level of technology. “I wonder what their waste removal system is.”
Her teammates glanced curiously at her.
“I mean, I don’t see any refuse on the streets and that’s unusual given that I haven’t seen anything that indicates their technology is above the Bronze Age. Even most European cities when they were heading into the Industrial Revolution still had open gutters for dealing with household garbage and sewage.”
“It’s possible they have covered gutters,” Daniel indicated the flagstone lines that ran the along the lengths of the buildings.
“What about the middle one?” she questioned the wide line of flagstones that ran down the centre of the street.
Daniel shrugged as they reached the end of the avenue.
Here, there was another walled gateway and as the five of them step up through its arch they found themselves in a very large, completely empty space in the shape of a rectangle that was the equivalent of three football fields laid end to end. Unlike the streets, there were no rows of flagstones anywhere but it was possible as the centre row of avenue’s flagstones disappeared beneath the sill of the gateway that they were simply buried beneath the raised ground.
Directly across the space from where they stood was a raised platform with its four corners marked out by decorated poles in front of a third gateway that was even more massive than the two they’d passed through.
The open layout and sudden absence of people compared to the section of city they’d just traveled through, or even temporary structures that were common to primitive market squares, marked the space to her as a public forum, where city officials would deliver speeches to the general populace. Or from which a Goa’uld would demand worship.
After they crossed to the platform and climbed it, she saw that the poles marking the four corners with flower garlands twisting down their wooden lengths were cobra-headed staffs identical to the ones Jaffa priests carried. They were the first overt signs of a Goa’uld presence but it was also a very subtle one.
Subtle or not however, she found herself a bit more wary than she’d been before and from the increased tension she could sense coming off the Colonel and Teal’c, she wasn’t the only one.
Her hand resting on her weapon she stepped up through the third gateway and found herself in a large walled area sheltering an orchard with a square pool of water as wide as a football field but half its width dominated the view and behind that was a palace-like structure.
Rishi led them down a lane of flowering trees that led them around the pool. The trees sported small white and pink blossoms and the branches were further decorated by strings of flower garlands.
It was then that Sam realized the flowers she’d seen on the window lattices and dais staffs weren’t just to make things pretty, but probably religious decorations for the upcoming festival. People didn’t pilgrimage after all except for such events.
“Daniel,” she adjusted her stride to get closer to him, “you never did say. What is this festival? Who is it for?”
“The goddess Sindhu.”
“I’ve never heard of that Hindu god.”
“That’s because she isn’t a Hindu god, well not precisely. She predates Hinduism, appearing in the Vedic scripture. Well, actually, he appears in the scriptures as a river.”
“He?” the Colonel asked from behind. “How does a he go to a she?”
“Probably like Nirrti,” Daniel answered. “Likely at one time the Goa’uld was in a male host and later took a female host.”
“What’s that about him—or her—being a river?” she asked.
“Um yes, Rig Veda—the Vedic scriptures—describe several mythical rivers including one name ‘Sindhu.’ Rivers are seen as goddesses, with as I just said the exception of Sindhu. That is the only river in the hymns that is attributed with a masculine gender. Now Sindhu is thought to be the present-day Indus River of India and Pakistan.” Daniel jerked to a stop with a stunned expression on this face. “The Indus River. Oh my God. The Indus River Civilization! These people! This place! It’s a perfect match!”
“Which civilization?” the Colonel gave Daniel a push on the shoulder, guiding him forward so they did not trail too far behind Rishi.
“The Indus River Civilization!” Daniel repeated as the push started him walking again. “It’s also called Harappan after Harappa, the first of the civilization’s sites to be excavated in the 1920s not unlike Babylonian is both a culture and state, named after the city of Babylon. But that’s beside the point,” Daniel waived his sidetracking away before the Colonel could call him on it.
“The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that started about 3300 BCE and along with Egypt and Mesopotamia it was one of the earliest civilizations and of them, the most widespread. Its civilization extended from what today is northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northeast India,” Daniel informed them as they finished passing by the pool. “The cities are noted from their urban planning, brick construction work, and elaborate drainage and water supply systems. Houses have bathrooms and in some cities, each house had their own private well.”
Sam was always a fan of indoor plumbing. Especially of good indoor plumbing and if their clean streets and clean smell to their city were an indication, they had good plumbing.
“That is what is known about the civilization but there is a lot more that is unknown. We don’t know how they organized their societies, if they were led by kings or priests, or priest-kings because there is no monumental statuary or depictions of leaders like you see in Egypt and Mesopotamia. We don’t know why their urban planning or weights and measurements are so remarkably uniform, if they were a single kingdom, city-states with shared culture, or an egalitarian people who spread knowledge equally. Nothing speaks overtly of warfare either.”
“Walls are for defense. That says war to me,” the Colonel commented as they emerged from the orchard in front of the palace structure.
Sam was surprised that instead of heading for the palace-like structure, Rishi headed for a gateway in the wall to their right. She exchanged a quick look with the Colonel but he just shrugged and kept on following the boy.
“Yes, they do in most cases. But very little weaponry has been excavated and it is just as likely that the walls are defenses against flood waters. Those questions, about leadership and warfare might be answered by their writings but the Indus script is undeciphered.”
“Why is their alphabet unreadable?”
“It isn’t an alphabet Jack, it’s a logophonetic script. Alphabetic systems rarely have more than forty symbols whereas syllabic systems typically have between forty to one hundred or so symbols. Logophonetic systems run upwards of hundreds of symbols and the Indus script has about four hundred although there are two hundred basic signs.”
“You’re point is?”
“Not one you’re interested in, right.” Daniel raised his hand to forestall any response. “The problems with the Indus script is that the writing we do have comes from seals with the average number of symbols being five and the longest to my recall is… twenty-something. The spoken language the script is writing is unknown and there are no bilingual texts like there was with Egyptian hieroglyphs.”
“The Rosetta Stone,” Sam specified as Rishi led them through the fourth gateway into another large walled area of the city. This area did not have an orchard or pool and the buildings did not stand as tall as the palace structure but they did cover more square footage. There were also a number of people bustling about that, like all the people they’d so far were looking at them as curiously as the team was looking back.
“Correct.” Daniel nodded.
“So,” Sam indicated Rishi and the people, “what about these people? Could they be your Rosetta Stone?”
“God, I hope so,” Daniel said fervently. “It would be a fantastically breakthrough and help us understand so much.”
Rishi hopped up onto the doorstep of one of the many doors of the building just as a spat of raised voices issued from inside and he jumped back, out of the way.
Sam tensed and then relaxed with a smile as a child’s hoop rolled out of the doorway, without a child behind it to roll it along, and bounced down the doorstep. Obviously the toy had escaped from its child and now she could identify the voices as the raised ones of children.
Just as the hoop began to wobble in an ever decreasing spiral on the ground in front of the team a small mob of girls, ranging from Cassie’s age to younger, burst through the doorway and dove after for the wobbling hoop with dismayed shouts and laughter. As the hoop fell down onto Daniel’s boot the girls realized there was a group of strangers standing in front of them and they all drew up short in surprise.
Adults and girls regarded each other. However, the surprised silence and stillness lasted for only a moment before one of the younger girls, the one with the hoop stick, darted forward and reclaimed her toy.
Rishi and the eldest girl spoke and then the girls stepped back to clear the doorway and Rishi beckoned them inside as he stepped into the building.
A small nod of the Colonel’s head signaled her to enter first and she did so and found herself in a mud-plastered corridor instead of the expect room and the space was noticeably cooler in temperature than outside. Rishi and the girls with their many bracelets chiming led the team along the corridor for a bit before darting into a room. The room was lit by a brazier and simply furnished with chairs and a table-chest but the floor was thickly carpeted with brightly coloured rugs with beautiful geometrical patterns and tapestry-like scenes.
A middle age man with strong features and wearing a white tunic and pants with pierced ears, many rings on his hands, and thick armlets encircling his muscular upper arms all made of gold with polished coloured stones set into the metal rose from one of the chairs. His hair and beard were neatly combed and the black kohl around his dark eyes made them seem darker.
Uncertain if it was acceptable to speak to this man, Sam entered the room but held back from approaching him. While she’d seen men and women both walking about freely on the street, and the women had been without head or face coverings that was a huge warning sign one was dealing with a rigidly gender segregated society, she hadn’t seen many cross gender interactions except among the children.
They had learned long ago that it was best if Daniel spoke first when meeting new people.
Daniel was fortunately the next one through the doorway and he eagerly stepped forward. “Chel hol! Mekta Daniel Jackson, tek’ma’tek ȧr Tauri.”
“Chel hol,” the man returned the greeting with a smile that crinkled the corners of his kohl lined eyes, “mekta Mer nu’t Kadru en Sindhuvas. Ya duru arik re ȧr mer’t tu uāb.”
Sam was interested to hear that as Daniel introduced the rest of the team to Mayor Kadru that Teal’c was called a ‘holy man’ by the mayor. She couldn’t recall a time that Teal’c had been identified as a holy man—a warrior of the gods or a demon servant, yes, but never a holy man and she wondered at the reason behind it.
They were invited to sit and as the team shrugged off their packs in order to sit, Rishi and the mob of girls were dismissed by the mayor. The team had just seated themselves and Daniel and Kadru had begun to talk when five of the girls reappeared carrying things and a middle-aged women supporting a toddler on her hip accompanied them. The woman had a line of bright blue paint down her hairline and was wearing a green and painted gold patterned sari. Her sari was accented by the gold jewelry studded with polished green stones on her fingers and toes, belled anklets, bangles to her elbows, and a blue bead necklace with a gold pendant.
Kadru, without rising from his seat, introduced the woman as his wife Anjasi with his son Ishan with evident fatherly pride. The pride was undiminished when he introduced the five girls as his daughters. The eldest two daughters Barhat and Charanyu had carried in with them large jugs, the third, named Divya, a metal tea set upon a tray, and the youngest two Gatha and Hotra bowls and small bags that they set up on the table-chest.
The youngest, Hotra, who could not be more than four years of age had a particularly studious expression on her face that made her look adoringly cute as she carefully arranged on the table-chest the small bags around the metal mortar and pestle that had been carried in with the tea set.
Sam watched Anjasi, who had set her son onto the floor, open up a bag and take out something that looked like a stick of cinnamon bark that the woman proceeded to grind to a fine powder with the mortar and pestle. But just because it looked like cinnamon, and smelled like it too as it was ground up, didn’t mean it was cinnamon. She looked to the Colonel and saw that he had the same concern that she had regarding what looked like the impending ingestion of an alien substance.
“Daniel,” the Colonel spoke up quietly.
Daniel glanced away from Kadru, took in with a swift look the tea preparations, and gave a subtle hand signal to his teammates to wait a moment. He spoke with Kadru a few more moments and then both men turned to them. “In India it is traditional to offer guests something to drink; chai, coffee, water or juice and it is impolite to refuse.” Daniel gave the Colonel a pointed look.
“Here it seems,” Daniel continued, “only chai is offered.”
“No coffee?” the Colonel complained.
“No,” Daniel frowned at him. “I made it seem like we’re interested in the ingredients as trade items so Kadru is going to tell us about them as his wife makes the drink. I also said Teal’c is our spice expert so he’ll be able to test things for us. Right now, cinnamon is being prepared.”
It was a tactic they’d developed to discover what was in the food or drinks they were offered and did not ruffle any feathers like direct questioning often did. And Teal’c was their taste tester because his symbiote was able to deal with anything that might drug the human members of the team, or just plain poison them.
“You sure it’s cinnamon?” the Colonel questioned.
“Yes. T’sheps, that is cinnamon,” Daniel clarified, “was used in ancient Egypt for medicine, as flavouring, in their incense, and in embalming. They were well acquainted with the spice.”
“Embalming?” the Colonel muttered beneath his breath. “What a waste.”
“Cinnamon is known to have anti-microbial properties,” Sam murmured quietly.
“Still a waste.”
Anjasi finished grinding and held the mortar to Teal’c who dabbed a small sample onto his fingertip and tested the brown powder with the tip of his tongue. After a thoughtful pause he gave a regal nod and earned himself a bright smile from Anjasi.
Next ground up were some small green seed pods that released a minty aroma as they were crushed, followed by things that from the smell were probably cloves, ginger, and pepper. Each ingredient was presented for Teal’c’s inspection and each one duly earned itself one of his regal nods.
As the spices had been prepared, they had been placed into a pot and now water and milk were poured over top. Dried tea leaves and honey were added and the pot was placed over the brazier to heat.
Daniel and Kadru were still deep in conversation about trade when the pot began boiling and Anjasi took it from the brazier. She poured the hot liquid through a fine strainer into the teapot, filtering out the solids, and then from the teapot poured the tea into the small steep-sided bowls that served as cups. She offered the first cup to Kadru who in turn offered it to Teal’c. The process, from Anjasi to Kadru and then to a member of SG-1 repeated.
Sam was the last to be offered a drink and she accepted the hot cup carefully. She didn’t mind being the last person served for it was a definite improvement over the times when she was offered nothing under the assumption that she belonged to one of the guys and thus they were responsible for providing for her.
Cradling the warm clay cup in her hands she lifted it to her face to examine the milky brown liquid and inhale its aroma. It certainly looked and smelled like any chai tea she’d had. Cautious sips reveal that it tasted like the beverage too, only richer and more flavourful.
She considered herself more a coffee drinker than a tea drinker but she could certainly enjoy drinks like this.
As they drank the conversation between Daniel and Kadru went from trade discussions to talking of gods with Kadru waxing on and on about their goddess Sindhu, the spring festival that the city was preparing for, and that it was a great honor for the team to come at this time to participate.
Daniel of course took the opportunity to ask about their goddess and from Kadru’s they learned it had been centuries since the Goa’uld had visited and not since his grandfather’s time had they had visitors, such as themselves, from beyond the mountains.
She was not keen on the idea of participating in the festival. Most offworld festivals were really just big parties that everyone, from babies to the elderly celebrated with eating and being merry. Spring festivals, well really fertility festivals, were a bit trickier to judge though.
They could be relatively harmless and all the team had to do was avoid drinking the copious amounts of alcohol served but they could be downright dangerous when involving orgy inducing aphrodisiacs in the food or drink, or worse, the festival incense. Thank God for Teal’c. Because of his symbiote he was often able to extract them from such situations quickly enough that nothing more dangerous than hot and heavy dreaming happened as they slept off the alien drugs.
Her ear was now so attuned to the rhythm of Kadru’s voice and her mind to interpreting Goa’uld that she heard what he said next as clear as if he’d said it in English.
“I am afraid,” Kadru spoke, “you cannot join the festivities until you are properly attired.”
Oh no. She really hated those two words. ‘Properly attired.’ The first time she’d heard them had led her to being stuffed into a blue dress and ultimately to being kidnapped and sold to a Mongolian chieftain. The other offworld incidents that had followed where those words had been invoked had not been much of an improvement.
Well, except a few times where the words had only applied to the guys—they really were something to see in loincloths.
“Daniel,” she spoke up, “did he just say what I thought he said? Properly attired.”
“Um, yes,” he answered.
“So help me Daniel, if you say one word about anthropologists, I will do something painful.”
“And I’ll help,” the Colonel added with a look that already promised pain.
If her thoughts on dressing up for the natives were dark, the Colonel’s were darker. And not just because he hated wearing something that offered less covering than his swimming trunks. Dressing up usually ultimately disarmed them and separated them and the Colonel hated when they were put into a situation where they could be harmed, no matter how harmless the natives really were.
“Come on guys,” Daniel cajoled. “It will be fine. It’s an amazing opportunity to participate in ritual that has not been observed on Earth for over five thousand years!”
The looks they gave Daniel said they were not impressed.
“Look, from what Kadru’s said so far you won’t be wearing anything different than what we’ve seen the people wear already,” Daniel coaxed. “Just a little fancier maybe.”
“It’s still a dress Daniel.” Sam answered.
“Actually, a skirt and blouse is worn underneath a sari.”
Sam gave Daniel a piercing look that said the distinction did not impress her.
“Please? I really want to observe the festival’s rituals and there could be some good trade opportunities with these people. Not for technology I know, but who knows what goods these people have. They could even have naquadah and trinium. And if nothing else, this world could potentially be a safe haven for refugees.”
“Okay, fine,” the Colonel growled, “we’ll do it. The clothes better fit though!”
Daniel beamed happily at their leader, turned back to their host, and accepted the provision of acceptable attire. A beaming smile creased Kadru face at the news and in short order the team had picked up their packs and were being escorted deeper into the building. The girls skipping ahead and disappearing from view in short order.
Sam brought up the rear of the group along with the mayor’s wife. As they traveled through the hallway and passed by doorways she glanced in and saw the rooms were a mixture of scribal sanatoriums, rooms with hammocks, and other parlors and such with a variety of people in each. She came to the conclusion that the building was a combination mayoral office and private home, with other officials and their families residing within its walls.
As they walked down another hallway Anjasi laid a hand on Sam’s arm and pulled her towards one of the doorways along the hall.
“Sir,” she spoke quietly. Being separated from the guys to change into native dress was often unavoidable—heck, even back home they’d get sidelong looks if she opted to change with them when a female change room was available—but that didn’t mean she’d go off without alerting her CO first.
The Colonel glanced back, scowled, and turned to Daniel. “Can you get them to agree to a watch on Carter at least? Before we get changed.”
Her eyebrow rose a bit. It wasn’t the first time the Colonel had said such a thing in such situation but usually those were made in slightly more tense conditions. On planets where the sexism was in-your-face or just some sixth sense put their back up over something. She hadn’t gotten any of those vibes from this world though.
Daniel looked hesitant, likely trying to phrase the Colonel’s request in more polite terms in his head, before speaking with the mayor. After a brief conversation he turned back to them. “Ah, I don’t think we’ll need to do that. Kadru says we’ll just be down the hall three doors.”
The Colonel’s measured the distance between the doors with his eyes and was evidently satisfied somewhat for he grunted his acquiescence to the situation.
Sam braced herself for whatever was about to happen and followed Anjasi into the room. Within she found where the mayor’s daughters had gone, as well as three other women waiting. Two were middle-aged like Anjasi in burgundy and red coloured sari respectively, and the third was a gray haired matron in an orange sari. Like Anjasi they wore heavy gold jewelry with jewels and had a line of blue painted down the centre part of their dark hair.
She had barely set her pack onto the floor and unclipped the strap of her MP5 when the native women descended upon her. As fast as she could field strip her weapon, they had her out of her vest, uniform, boots and socks and stripped down to her underwear. They even poked and pulled on her sports bra before Anjasi gave a satisfied nod.
“Is good you wear own choli,” the woman patted her arm. “No time to make one on such short notice.”
Not sure what a choli was, she was nevertheless glad to keep on her own underwear.
Doing her best to not fidget uncomfortably as the women prodded, tisking over her hair, and making intrigued noises upon discovering the plastic spacer in her navel piercing, she let out a relieved breath when they stepped back.
The women conferred with each other for a moment before opening up one of the chests in the room and drew out a green coloured skirt. It was held up to her waist by Anjasi before the mayor’s wife rejected it with a head shake.
Sam hadn’t seen anything wrong with it but apparently it didn’t meet their criteria.
More talking occurred amongst the women as the first skirt selection was set aside and all the chests were opened up. A few more colours were selected and rejected before the matron picked a pink skirt and as it was being held to Sam’s waist spoke in heated tones. Whatever the matron said evidently convinced the other women and the pink skirt was chosen.
Sam blew out a breath as the Barbie pink shade was secured around her waist and reminded herself she had agreed to this. Well, not to being a living doll, but she had agreed to wear what the natives wanted her to wear.
The sari almost made her change her mind though.
It wasn’t that it was pink heavily decorated with silver embroidery, it was that it was made of a sheer veil-like material that would hide absolutely nothing draped around her torso. It was also completely unlike the solid sari these women were wearing and the other women she’d seen in the city.
If there had been a moment to protest though, she missed the opportunity as the women were quick to put the long piece of fabric into place. And she learned how complicated the simple, elegant looking sari really was to put on.
First one end was tightly wrapped around her waist, overtop the skirt, and then a bunch of the fabric was gathered into pleats. She sucked in her belly as the pleats were then tucked tightly into her waistband and the fabric was wrapped around her again before being pulled across her front and draped over her left shoulder. It wasn’t just draped though, more pleats were made and then it was left to fall over her shoulder.
Fingering a portion of the water drop-with-curled-tip and vine embroidery pattern on the sheer fabric wrapped around her, Sam wondered how the native women moved so freely. The skirt and sari around her waist were incredibly tight and she was afraid to breathe too deeply, let alone move and potentially unravel the shoulder pleats and send all that fabric sliding off her shoulder to the ground.
“Now, for jewelry. You have husband?” Anjasi asked.
“No,” she answered and hoped she wasn’t getting herself into cultural hot water.
Anjasi made a sympathetic noise and patted her on the arm again. “We pray to Sindhu. No Barhat,” she turned to her daughter who had approached carrying an open box of gold jewelry, “not that one. She is golden already and yellow will not look the best on her. And speak to the others,” she called out as Barhat nodded and departed the room, “she cannot wear metal bangles.”
“I have no daughter yet,” the woman in the burgundy sari spoke up, “she can wear my maiden bangles. They are ivory.”
“Ah, yes, those would look lovely against her skin. Sindhu’s blessing upon you.” Anjasi replied and the other women left the room to fetch the bangles.
Barhat was not gone long before she returned carrying another box of jewelry and while there were some gold pieces in it, most looked like they were made of silver.
The first items taken out were belled anklets and Sam knew sadly that it looked like wearing boots to this festival were out of the question for her. Then large and heavy chandelier earrings were hooked through her earlobes and one hoop-style earring was selected for her navel piercing.
Anjasi slipped it into place with a sly grin. “I fear you may start new trend among girls! Most enticing for men to think of jewelry beneath sari.”
Sam gave a self-conscious smile, not sure if it was the sort of trend she wanted to start offworld. The woman who had offered the loan of bangles returned and the ivory ornaments were slipped over her hands.
“Sorry, we cannot offer rings,” Anjasi apologized as she pushed the last bangle into place.
“That is fine,” Sam was quick to reassure. The less jewelry she had to wear, the better. “I am more than grateful for what you can loan me.”
“Now for your hair. It is most sad it is so short but fortunately you will still be able to wear Sindhu’s crown.”
“Sindhu’s crown? Is this a… um, a special piece of jewelry?”
“Yes.” Anjasi smiled as she lifted a string of chains with a pendant from the jewelry box. “Please, you must sit so it may be placed in your hair.”
She moved carefully to sit on the closed lid of a chest and after the matron ran a brush through her hair a few times, the piece of jewelry that was called Sindhu’s crown was placed onto her head.
Touching the item after it in place, she felt the pendent against her forehead and the chain it hung from that ran down the centre part of her hairline and the other chain that looped around her head like a headband.
“You will have to be careful but do not worry too much,” Anjasi cautioned. “We cannot secure it with braid like is traditionally done but if baby Sindhu crowns stay in place with no hair, I believe yours will stay in place with short hair.”
Sam was relieved to hear that. And not only that she didn’t have to worry too much about it staying in place, but that babies apparently wore them too. It probably meant the ‘crown’ didn’t signal her out as the sacrifice or something.
“Carter, you decent?” the Colonel’s voice came from just beyond the doorway.
She reflexively surged to her feet. “Yes Sir.”
“Good.” He ducked into the room and after the initial, swift assessing tactical check that she was okay, his brain apparently caught up to his eyes and he came to an arrested stop and looked her over again.
The women giggled at the reaction and Anjasi shooed them and her daughters from the room, leaving them alone.
Sam had to admit as he stared she did some looking in turn. The natives had dress him in a light grey, form fitting brocade jacket cut above the knees decorated with the bent water drop motif and he’d been given a pair of the native’s baggy pants in a charcoal grey colour to wear. He was barefoot like her and all the grey went surprisingly well with his greying hair and really drew out his dark eyes.
His dark eyes that had flicked back up to the top of her jewelry adorned head before stroking down her body, lingering on her midriff for a heart pounding moment, before sliding down to her toes.
Her toes curling beneath his gaze, she felt herself growing warm as his gaze oh so slowly tracked back up. She tried to convince herself that there was nothing intimate about him looking at her in a skirt and a sports bra but somehow wearing those and draped in sheer fabric changed things and it didn’t work. The tightness in her chest and shortness of breath wasn’t from embarrassment.
As his dark eyes met hers again she found herself blurting out the first thing that came to her mind in an attempt to break the sudden heated tension. “It’s pink.”
The corner of his mouth quirked up. “Well, it could be worse.”
“How’s that?” she challenged.
“It could be blue.”
She felt herself flushing pinker. There was that. Natives had a strange penance for dressing her in blue and really, the only blue she wanted to be wearing to native ceremonies were her dress blues.
“So, ah,” she groped for safer ground, “where are Daniel and Teal’c?”
“They’re still trying to find a top that will fit Teal’c. Carter, when’d you get your belly button pierced?”
She flushed hot and cold as her hand flew down and covered the incriminating piece of jewelry. “I, ah… it’s not important.”
“Not important? Tsk, tsk, Carter. You have a belly button ring. You don’t think this is something your CO should know?”
“No, it’s personal.”
“But what if I have to identify your body or something?” he asked innocently.
“If that ever happens Sir, I’m sure identification wouldn’t depend on my navel piercing. Can we not talk about it? Please?”
“Okay,” his grin said he would try getting it out of her another day. “You got anything on under that?”
“Sir!” she squeaked.
“What? No, I wasn’t asking if you had any…” he turned a bit red himself, “uh, never mind that, I mean, are you carrying?”
She looked down at herself, at the leg wrapping skirt, tight sports bra and body hugging sari and then back up at him and arched an eyebrow. “Does it look like I can carry anything?”
“No, I don’t suppose so. Can you fit anything on your thigh or ankle?”
She grimaced, her bangles chiming as she lifted up the edge of her skirt, and lifted up a foot to display the chains of bells that encircled that ankle. “Ankles are out. Boots too I suspect.”
“Uh, yeah, us too. Or, anyway, Daniel says they don’t wear boots so we shouldn’t but I was hoping to convince him otherwise. Thigh?”
“No good,” she shook her head as she dropped her skirt hem, “I wouldn’t be able to get at it. And I’m afraid to try getting it on. I would probably wreck this outfit and upset our hosts.”
“Crap. I was hoping you’d be able to carry something. Daniel already shot down my attempt to wear my sidearm and he was pretty emphatic about not carrying our MP5s too.”
“He really insisted?”
“He really insisted,” he grimaced.
Sam grimaced herself. If Daniel had really insisted, there was probably some cultural thing behind it and they might be in more danger if they tried to keep their weapons with them than setting them aside. “Well, I should be able to slip a knife somewhere.”
“Do what?” Daniel asked as he popped into the room wearing a dark brown jacket and lighter brown coloured pants. It was not a bad colour on him and he looked good.
“Nothing you have to worry about,” the Colonel dismissed and changed the topic. “They found Teal’c a shirt?”
“They have O’Neill,” Teal’c answered for himself as he too stepped into the room to reveal he had been clothed in a cream coloured jacket and baggy pants that were only two shades darker. The light colour attractively contrasted with his dark skin. “It is a most pleasing garment.”
“It does look great on you Teal’c,” Sam said with a smile.
“Yeah, yeah,” the Colonel grumbled. “I’m just glad the clothes cover everything this time.”
“Speak for yourself,” she said sharply.
“Well… yours does cover everything it just doesn’t…” he waved his hands to encompass her body, “cover, cover.” He coughed awkwardly and clapped his hands. “Well, let’s get this show on the road kids. Daniel, Teal’c, after you. I’m sure Sam has to finish putting away her pack.”
Daniel frowned as he looked at the neat pile of her pack. “Jack…”
“No buts, out we go,” he efficiently shepherded them out. “See you in a minute Carter.”
“Yes Sir,” she smiled at his retreating back. Taking the minute the Colonel had given her she secured a knife and then joined the men. Just as she joined them, a breathless voice called out from down the hall.
“Holy one! Holy one! Wait!”
The team turned around as very portly man holding Teal’c’s staff weapon and wearing a purple coloured jacket and pants like the guys puffed up to them.
“Your staff holy one,” the man said as he pressed it into Teal’c’s hands.
Sam was surprised but Teal’c accepted the return of his weapon with his usual unruffled calm.
The man beamed brightly and then with a bow, puffed back the way he had come.
“Daniel, explain this to me. I can’t keep my sidearm but Teal’c get’s his staff weapon?’ the Colonel demanded.
“I don’t know Jack! The man called it a staff. So maybe they just think it is a staff? A ah, sign of office?”
The rest of the conversation was derailed when Kadru swept up to them and immediately engaged Daniel in conversation. The mayor had changed clothes too; he no longer wore the loose white tunic and pants but was now in a form fitting orange jacket and yellow baggy pants.
As Kadru led them back through the building they encountered more men in that style of jacket and to her relief, women wearing sheer sari just as she was. She also noticed that all the jackets had bent water drop-motifs while all the women had the same bent water drop and vine embroidery.
Walking, thankfully, loosened up her almost too-tight waist to a comfortable snugness and she didn’t feel like the cloth draped over her shoulder was going to slide off at any minute.
Her suspicion that the bent water drop motif, sheer sari, and jackets were religious symbols to these people were bore out when they emerged from the building and encountered a crowd of people dressed as they were. She recognized the faces of Anjasi and her daughters and the women that had dressed her, also now in transparent saris, and a lot of the women she noted even wore jewelry with the water drop-with-curled-tip shape.
Proceeding through the fourth gateway they encountered a sea of blue. Lined up like an army presenting itself for parade among the trees of the orchard, men of all ages in sky blue filled the east side and boys in the same periwinkle blue that Rishi had worn, filled the west.
And a swath of shirtless men wearing sky blue pants, their bare muscular chests glistening with oil and displaying the blue bead and gold pendant necklaces they wore, held staff weapons.
Jaffa? She thought in dismay as she instinctively reached for her MP5 before remembering she didn’t have it. Nothing about this planet had indicated a recent Goa’uld visit, let alone the active presence of Jaffa.
“Daniel!” the Colonel hissed. “I thought you said it had been centuries since the snakes had visited here!”
“That’s what I understood!” Daniel hissed back.
“Those are not staff weapons,” Teal’c interjected.
Sam blinked and took a closer look as the rest of her team was doing and realized that Teal’c was right. They weren’t staff weapons. At first glance they certainly looked like staff weapons but a second closer look revealed they had the basic shape but not the details. The closer examination of the bare-chested men also made her realize something else. “I don’t see a symbiote pouch and I’m not getting a weird feeling from any of them Sir.”
“I too, sense nothing,” Teal’c confirmed. “These men are not Jaffa.”
“So, bashaak training staffs?” Daniel questioned.
“I do not believe so,” Teal’c answered. “Training staffs are inherently plain, those staffs are highly decorated.”
And not only decorated, some had flower-and-leaf garlands wrapped around them which she couldn’t imagine any Jaffa warrior permitting.
“So, what are they?” the Colonel questioned.
“I think…” Daniel trailed off, spoke with Kadru for a moment, and then turned back to them with a satisfied expression on his face. “These are the priests of Sindhu. I think it is likely that Jaffa weaponry were taken as a symbol of the god and were incorporated into the priesthood as a sign of office. Which would actually explain why they keep calling Teal’c a holy man.”
“His staff weapon,” Sam said.
“Right. They must think that he is a priest to our people.”
“But not all these priest have the staffs,” she pointed out.
“Well, all the ones holding the staffs are only wearing pants so probably they are a special sect within the priesthood.”
A horn sounded and an army of masculine voices arose in chant and the priests began to file out the third gateway. With the mayoral party, SG-1 found themselves swept up in the priests wake. They proceeded out the third gateway, across the public square, and through the second gateway to the city proper where the side roads along the main avenue leading out the city were crammed full of people to allow the procession of priests to pass.
“Any idea where we’re going?” she shouted into Daniel’s ear in order to be heard over the joyous noise of the crowd as they reached the city’s main gates.
“No idea!” Daniel shouted back. “But Sindhu is a river goddess! Probably somewhere along the river!”
Near the head of the festive procession, they could do little but follow. The tight packed procession strung out a little bit as they left behind the confines of the city walls but did not however, head for the river just outside the city. It marched down the same road SG-1 had traveled to reach the city and before long Sam had little doubt that they were headed back to the jungle.
Oh no. She suspected she knew where they were going now and she was not looking forward to the long trip. Especially barefoot.
The singing was good though and she found it very joyful. It didn’t have her skipping along like most of the children but she could understand the urge.
As they climbed the switch-back path up the face of the plateau, she glanced down and shook her head over the clear view she now had of the miles-long train of people following the priests. Every able bodied person in that city, not to mention all the pilgrims from the tent city, must be behind them. “Crazy.”
“I’d say,” the Colonel grunted.
Into the jungle they returned and up the mountain they went until they reached, as she’d suspected, the large waterfall of the carved river. By the time the mayoral party had reached the waterfall, the river was full of topless men and boys in blue and the riverbank was lined with their folded jackets.
The young boys in periwinkle blue began emerging from the river, wet from head to toe from submerging themselves beneath the waterfall, and the children in the mayoral party and mothers cradling infants waded into the river to take the novices’ places. She was surprised to see the women entering the river with their saris on and found it curious that the guys had to remove their tops.
Sam was startled when her hands were caught up by the mayor’s two eldest and they tugged her forward. She glanced at her teammates but found no help from them as Daniel made hand motions that urged cooperation and the Colonel just waved her forward with a smirk.
With a mental shrug she decided to enjoy herself and let the girls tow her forward into the river. The water was as refreshing as she remembered and while the rocky bed of the river was slick it thankfully did not feel slimy underfoot. Confident of her footing on the carved bottom, she waded into the knee deep center.
With Barhat and Charanyu on either side of her, she had two examples to copy from as they performed the ritual.
She did not though attempt to chant at the same time as she cupped water in her hands and lifted it over her head before lowering it back down. She did listen to the chanting though and understood that it was about given thanks for water and praying for fertility and good crops in the season to come. So far this festival of Sindhu was shaping up to be one of the better ones they’d gotten roped into joining.
The ritual lift and lower to the waist was done on her right side now and next on her left side before she raised her hands up to her head again and splashed the water onto her face and neck.
Cupping water into her hands again, she repeated the lift over her head, lift up to her right, and lift up to her left before splashing the water onto her right arm. The motions were repeated for a third time before splashing the left arm.
Head, arm, and shoulders wet now from the generous splashing the three of them waded to an open spot beneath the waterfall. More forceful than a strong shower, the water beat down on them and Sam had to grab onto her sari to keep it from being washed off her shoulder.
Completely soaked now, the three of them began wading back to the riverbank.
As Sam was wading out, the guys were just wading in and her gaze was drawn to the Colonel. She couldn’t help but smile a bit when she noticed that he’d managed to hold onto one item of their clothing—his belt along with his sheathed knife.
Her smile faded as she continued to watch him wade forward. There were, she supposed, natives just as muscular and fit as he was or even more so—like Teal’c for example—but none had the power of his presence.
It wasn’t just the dangerous power implied by the faded scars that marked his skin, testimony of battles fought and survived, but the supreme confidence in his movement. He was a man who knew his body and knew what it could do well and the promise of that, well, that was enough to make a woman shiver in delicious anticipation of sinful things.
She rubbed at the gooseflesh along her arms, telling herself it was because she’d been in the water too long and it was getting too cool for her now.
“Cold Carter?” he remarked as he reached her.
She flushed and guiltily jerking her hand down, lied, “A little Sir.”
The quick movement sent the drape of the sari sliding down and she attempted to hitch it back up with a simple shoulder shrug but the combination of wet fabric and wet skin meant it was futile motion. To her embarrassment, the entire length of fabric slid off her shoulder and down her body. “Oh no.”
“Here Carter,” he reached out a hand.
“No, I’ve got—” she jerked back in surprise at his movement and her barefoot slipped on the slick stone riverbed underfoot and her hasty attempt to reassure him turned into a squeak of dismay as she tumbled backwards. “Ah!”
Strong hands seized her arms and hauled her up against a half naked male body that was hard in all the right places. And there was entirely too much skin on skin contact for her sanity. Naked belly to belly and the wet fabric of her sports bra presented no barrier to feeling the warmth and shape of his chest.
“You alright Carter?” his chest vibrated against her as he spoke.
“I’m fine Sir,” she said faintly, unable to catch her breath to speak with any force and considering how breathing and talking pressed them tighter together her lack of breath might be a good thing.
“You sound like you’re out of breath,” his dark eyes propped hers. “You sure you okay?”
“Yes,” she said again, drawing a deeper breath and flushing as her belly pressed firmly against his. Her voice was firmer when she’d next spoke. “I’m sure. Just surprised.” She pushed against his shoulders. “Could you, ah, let go?”
“You sure you’re not going to slip again?”
His hands loosened and she stepped back but jerked to a halt when she felt a tug at her belly. She looked down between their bodies and her breath caught in her throat when she saw that her navel piercing had caught on his belt buckle.
“Sorry Sir,” her cheeks felt superheated, “I—”
Their words and then fingers tangled as they both reached to unhook the piece of jewelry at the same time. Feeling short of breath she jerked her gaze up and found it ensnared in his, just like her fingers were tangled with his.
“Let me,” he repeated softly.
Her cheeks undoubtedly a scarlet hue by now, she managed to wrench her gaze from his through a supreme effort of will and lift her hand away. “Yes Sir.”
It was almost impossible to breathe as his fingers unhooked the silvery hoop and the gentle tugging on the metal piercing through her skin as he freed it was excruciating. Each, gentle almost not there tug lashed through her with a fiery whip of sensation and aroused her to a fevered pitch.
“Sir,” she choked has his knuckles brushed against her belly.
His hand froze. “Am I hurting you?”
“No, I just…” she was going out of her mind feeling his fingers resting against her skin and not being able allowed to do anything, “please Sir.”
His hand remained still for a moment longer before breath hissed between his teeth as he understood her plea. He finished unhooking them but as he let go of the jewelry hoop his thumb slid across the hypersensitive skin just below her piercing.
She shuddered and jerked away and half blinded by lust headed for the riverbank and the refuge that being among the natives and having to focus on interacting with them, represented.
To be compromised by alien drugs, technology, or possession was one thing. To find was she unable to even maintain her professionalism during a harmless spring festival that even babies participated in?
She was so very screwed.