I started this story quite a while ago and lost my inspiration for it. I'm reediting it and this time, I promise, I will finish it. Thank you to those of you who have put up with me and I apologize to those who have not.
Thank you. Please enjoy!
Leaves rustled in the breeze created by the opening wormhole. Blue and white light, like water, shone through the night, silhouetting the four forms that emerged. Trees surrounded them and Daniel's first thought after he emerged from the wormhole was that they had stumbled into yet another forest. But there was something different about these trees, they were neatly trimmed and surrounded by neatly mowed grass. Under his feet, instead of the usual rough stone platform, were smooth concrete steps with a path leading down from it and weaving through the trees lined with trash cans and benches. They were in a park. It was late at night but wasn't dark even after the gate disengaged; the park was illuminated by lamps. Electric lamps.
A few yards away children were running about in a playground. One little girl noticed the gate open and its travelers emerge. She shrieked, her shrill voice carrying over the park, and ran to her mother, hiding behind the folds of the woman's skirt. All the other children immediately stopped what they were doing, abandoning their toys in the now silent playground and scurrying to their parents, tears in their eyes and fear in their expressions.
Scattered through the rest of the park, picnic baskets were forgotten as people hurriedly cleared the area around the gate, gathering in frightened huddles like sheep protecting themselves from wolves. The park was thick with startled faces, there were too many people for them all to have simply decided to have a nice Sunday brunch; the team seemed to have interrupted a celebration.
"Well this is…" Jack began, pulling down his sunglasses, walking down the first few steps of the gate platform.
"Almost like home," Daniel looked around at the terrified people around him, all of which seemed to be dressed in a fashion that wouldn't look out of place in a suburban town back on Earth.
"Hi folks," Jack waved, producing no response except for a few confused looks and hushed whispers from the crowd. "Carter?" he said under his breath, glancing at her.
"I don't understand sir," Carter said quietly, keeping her eyes on the uneasy crowd. "We sent the MALP through but it looked like your average, everyday other planet. Nothing extraordinary. We were having problems with the transmission, but it looked like a forest, and there definitely weren't all these people here."
Jack looked as if he was about to say something, but at that moment a squirrelly little man pushed through the crowd, coming to stand a few feet away from the gate platform, wringing his hands nervously. He spoke, and from his appearance and his voice he would not have been out of place walking the streets of India. "You were not supposed to come until tonight, please! Our celebrations are not yet over."
"Daniel, do your thing?" Jack said.
Daniel nodded, stepping down from the steps in front of the Stargate so as to be less intimidating. The Indian man's eyes were wide and he stared at Daniel and his companions with a mix of horror and dread. Daniel had seen that look in the eyes of people all across the galaxy. It was the same fear that cursed millions, a fear of a certain snake-like life form. "It's alright, we're not the Goa'uld," his voice was as gentle and reassuring as always.
The man's eyes narrowed slightly and he glanced at Teal'c suspiciously. "You travel with a Jaffa."
Daniel smiled, "Teal'c," he gestured to his teammate, who nodded solemnly when he was mentioned, "renounced the Goa'uld and now fights against them." Daniel gestured to himself, "I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson, and this is Captain Sam Carter, and Colonel Jack O'Neill." Jack waved.
"I-I'm Figgins, Mayor Figgins," the man said after a few moments. He eyed each of them suspiciously, appearing to be especially dubious of their guns and Teal'c staff weapon. However, seeing as they weren't trying to kill him or zap his head with a ribbon device, he seemed to come to the conclusion that they were indeed not Goa'uld. He visibly attempted to collect his wits, pulling down the sleeve of his suit jacket where it had ruffled from his wringing his hands and taking a shaky breath. "Well then, please, join our celebration. Although I must ask… why are you here? We have never seen any other than the Goa'ulds come through the Chappa'ai."
"We're explorers," Carter explained, going down the last three steps of the gate platform to join Daniel at the base, her M16 cradled in her hands, not threateningly, but at the ready in just in case. "We go to other planets to contact races who would join us in the fight against the Goa'uld. If I might ask," Carter glanced around at all the people assembled in the park, noticing all the brightly colored banners that were hanging between the trees, "what are you celebrating?"
"The Last Day," Figgins said.
"The Last Day?" Daniel asked. He tried to think of a planet they had gated to that was so similar to Earth, but failed to think of one. Even if these people wouldn't make the technologically promising allies, there was a lot that could be learned about the development of both planets if they were to become friends.
Figgins gestured for them to follow him through the interrupted celebrations. "Yes, the Last Day, the final day before the Goa'uld come and take the loveliest among us." The natives tripped over each other to get out of the team's way, eyeing them suspiciously. "They come every ten years," Figgins continued, "we have learned to stop fighting. At the last Taking Time, we tried to resist; this town and our neighboring town of Westerville are all that remain for miles."
"You folks seem advanced enough," Jack eyed an abandoned device that looked a lot like a barbeque grill on which slabs of meat that looked a lot like hamburgers were burning. The cook was nowhere to be seen; he must have fled when the gate opened.
"Not any match for them," Figgins said sadly. He was leading them away from the main celebration area to a small uncovered stage surrounded by a few rickety chairs. It looked as if it had been carelessly set up at the last moment, two lanterns hung on each side of the stage casting a meager light over the wooden surface. The chairs weren't even lined up, but scattered around the stage in no particular pattern. "Please, the concert is about to begin." Only a few people were there; they looked bored. Figgins obviously wanted SG-1 as far away from his citizens as was politely possible.
"Why would they celebrate the coming of the Goa'uld?" Sam eyed the locals back at the main celebration area, who had returned to their celebrations. Most of them seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite their impending threat.
"Well, think about it, if you knew that the Goa'uld were coming to take your loved ones and there was nothing you could do about it, wouldn't you want to have your last day with them be special?" Daniel said.
"I would spend my last day preparing for a fight," Jack started to sit in the furthest seat from the stage. Daniel, however, ignored him and headed towards the front and found a spot near the center of the stage with a good view. He looked back at the others and waved them toward three empty seats near him. "Damn it, Daniel," Jack grumbled, using the armrest of the chair to push himself back up again, "I'm missing the Simpsons right now. Carter, do you see any reason to stay?"
"They seem to have a similar level of technology to us, but that doesn't mean we couldn't benefit from trade," she said.
Jack groaned and trudged over to Daniel, easing himself into the chair next to him, wincing as his bad knee bent. "This planet better be worth it."
Daniel opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by Figgins who had made his way up to the stage.
Figgins tapped the microphone that was set at the center of the stage to check that it was working. "Quiet," he said, a slight feedback making Daniel wince, "quiet please." SG-1 made up about half of the audience, and no one was being particularly loud. "It is my great pleasure to present McKinley High's the New Directions," it didn't seem possible that anyone could be introduced with any less enthusiasm.
From a yellow tent that was set by the side of the stage a group of teenagers emerged, one who was in a wheelchair had to wait for a ramp to be placed for him so that he could roll himself onto the stage. "For a civilization that's still under the control of the Goa'uld, these people are incredibly advanced, more so than most of the other cultures we encounter," Sam whispered to her team.
Daniel nodded in agreement. He was eager to learn more about this world. Usually he could guess from which Earth culture a new planet's peoples came from as soon as he could speak to the natives, but this culture had him stumped. From what he had seen so far it almost seemed that this culture had separated from Earth fewer than a few decades ago, but seeing as the Earth gate, until the last few years, had been buried under the sands of Egypt, that was obviously impossible. Figgins was of Indian descent that much was clear. However, just from looking at the teenagers on the stage, this planet represented a variety of different ethnicities. "We could learn a lot from them."
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed.
Jack sighed, leaning back and making himself comfortable in the hard, fold-up chair. "Alright, this better be good."
A brunette girl stepped forward, smiling broadly, "Thank you all for coming. We're the New Directions and I'm Rachel Berry." She seemed oblivious to the fact that a majority of her audience was empty. She signaled the boy in the wheelchair, who leaned down and switched on a radio. The music was obviously derived from an English folk song, but it had elements of modern pop that made Daniel think that he could spend years studying this culture.
Petite Rachel Berry retrieved the microphones from its stand. "As I walked forth one summer's day," she sang, the other teenagers layering their voices in perfect harmony in the background, "to view the meadows green and… where are you going? Mr. Schue half our audience just left!"
Daniel glanced behind him to see that the other people in the audience had indeed gotten up and were heading back towards the rest of the celebrations. "Where are they going? I thought she was good," Daniel frowned. He turned back to the stage. The girl had stormed back to the tent and the other teenagers were looking lost, the music playing sadly in the background.
"Come on," Jack got up, his knee audibly cracking, "we're leaving too. Hammond didn't send us here to watch a bunch of kids sing."
One of the performers, an unnaturally tall boy with a vacant expression, seemed to have heard him, "Please stay, we all practiced for a long time. I even learned how to dance!"
Daniel turned to Jack, "He even learned how to…"
"Oh come on Jack, at least let them finish the song!"
"Hey," a black girl stepped forward, hands on her hips, "aren't you the people who came through the Chappa'ai?" She was the only one they had encountered so far who didn't seem bothered by that fact.
"Yes, we are. Sorry about scaring your people by the way," Carter replied.
"We'll if you aren't going to watch our show, will you at least come with us to the party?" A slender blonde said.
"Brittany!" the black girl exclaimed. "Don't invite the aliens to the Chosen's feast. You don't know where they've been."
The diva who had stormed off stage earlier had returned, a middle aged man, who was presumably the Mr. Schue she had run off to find, in tow. "I don't see anything wrong with them coming along, although you should know that you're missing out on witnessing my incredible talent."
No one knew quite how to respond to the girl's statement, except for Teal'c who simply raised an eyebrow.
"Um, Jack?" Daniel half expected the Colonel to order them back to the gate. He could see the man's patience running thin from the way his jaw was set. After a year traveling to other worlds with the man, braving alien diseases and unimaginable dangers, Daniel knew exactly what to say to get Jack to agree to stay. "We can't just…"
"Fine," Jack agreed, "let's go to a party."
Daniel blinked. "I thought…"
"You and Carter are probably right," Jack admitted. He sighed dramatically, "This planet might be worth it." There were children here, all of which would be in mortal danger if the Goa'uld arrived. Kids, just like Skaara, just like Charlie… Jack flinched, that wasn't a door he wanted to open.
"Great," Rachel said, "Maybe there'll be a stage at the feast. We've been rehearsing for weeks." She trotted down the steps on the side of the stage. The rest of the New Directions followed suit, some just sitting on the edge of the stage and dropping down to the gravel below.
Rachel swung her brunette hair over her shoulder, "Follow us, the banquet is at the City Hall, all the Chosen are invited." She smiled as the tall teen slung his arm over her shoulder. She and the boy headed off in the opposite direction from the celebrations.
"On with the tour of the local scenery," Jack followed them, the rest of SG-1 in a relaxed formation behind him; a handful of singing teenagers were hardly the biggest threat they had ever encountered.
"Why do you and your friends all have weapons?" an oriental girl with a blue streak in her hair fell into step next to Carter.
Carter bit her lip, "Your people are familiar with the Goa'uld. We go to lots of different worlds, we never know when we'll run into Jaffa."
Rachel and her boyfriend were leading them down a sidewalk that followed alongside a paved road. After about ten minutes they came to the entrance of a large building, pillared, which gave Daniel the idea that this culture might be descended from the Greeks. This theory was immediately thrown out however when he saw the inside. The decor looked like it had been plucked from a mid-American suburb and tossed a few thousand light years. The City Hall was slightly shabby, with a boring blue carpet that was probably supposed to look professional and serious. Wood paneling lined the walls There was a fountain bubbling up from the center of the entry way. Security guards stood at each door, not looking like Jaffa, but still producing an air of captivity that made Daniel nervous. He glanced over at Jack to see that the older man looked equal uneasy. The guards swung open a door as the group approached. One guard eyed SG-1's weaponry but seemed to decide that refusing to let them enter with the guns would only result in a few injuries for him.
The room, lined with a grey wallpaper, was already full of people all sitting at long tables. Jack and Teal'c stood out sharply and drew a few odd looks; none of the others in the room seemed to be over thirty. To the side of the room, against the wall was a table strewn with steaming plates of food, a variety of dishes with mouth-watering odors. With a small shake of his head, Jack ordered his team away from partaking in the feast; they had had too many bad experiences with alien foods to take the risk. There was one planet, a few weeks ago, where the natives had gifted SG-1 with pies. Carter had been the only one who had made the mistake of taking a bite and she had been the one to discover what the pies stuffed with; sautéed bugs. She had been miserable for the rest of the mission… and had used up all of their water supply washing her mouth out. Daniel explaining that many Earth cultures considered insects a delicacy had done nothing to improve her mood.
Rachel gestured for them to sit, taking a seat next to a few of the other singers. There weren't many seats, so the team found themselves having to find spots where they could. Jack sat near the back of the room, where he could keep an eye on his entire team at the same time and could also see the guards at the door.
Daniel found a chair near the feast table, sitting between a Hispanic girl and a slender boy with bright blue eyes and a scarf wrapped around his neck, both of which Daniel recognized from as members of the New Directions.
The girl was chatting with another of the singers, but the boy was silent, staring down at his plate as if his mind was somewhere else. He frowned and pushed his plate away. "You chose the wrong day to come to this world," he said darkly, glancing at Daniel.
"I'm starting to get that idea."
"I don't see that there's anything to celebrate," the boy continued.
"You seem to be the only one here who feels that way… I'm Daniel by the way," Daniel offered him a hand to shake.
"Kurt," the boy accepted the gesture, "and none of them are worried because…" he sighed, "my mom was taken at the last Taking Time. I'm afraid that at midnight tonight, when the Goa'uld return, they will bring her with them… and she will be… different. That happens sometimes, people are taken and if they ever come back they don't remember anything… they become like the Goa'ulds." A single tear ran down Kurt's face.
The boy sitting across from Kurt looked at him worriedly, reaching out and taking Kurt's hand, squeezing it comfortingly. "Kurt…"
Kurt gave the other boy a small smile, "I'll be okay, Blaine."
"The Goa'uld took my wife as a host over a year ago. I know what it is to lose someone to them," Daniel said gently.
Kurt looked back to him, pity in his eyes. "I hope you find her," he said sincerely.
"Thanks," Daniel said quietly. It had been nearly two weeks since he had returned to Abydos to find Sha're there expecting and once again in control of her own actions. That had lasted a cruelly short time and she had vanished through the gate with Apophis. Nothing had been heard of either of their whereabouts since. To have her for such a short time, only to have her snatched away was agonizing. Every day he lived with the guilt of not protecting her from being taken in the first place. There was so much he could have done, and so much he didn't do. And not only that, but to have Skaara taken as well as Daniel had watched, unable to help him, to save him… "How do your people choose who gets presented to the Goa'uld?" Daniel said slowly.
"Everyone in the two remaining towns, this town, Lima, and the neighboring town, Westerville, between the ages of ten and thirty-five are taken and lined up in front of the Chappa'ai," Kurt recited all this with practiced ease as if the words had been told to him all his life. Not unusual, most planets had long ago accepted living under the tyranny of the Goa'ulds, and even though this planet seemed to have once tried to free itself, its spirit had been broken to the point where celebrating their final day of freedom instead of celebrating the arrival of their 'gods' was these people's last remaining act of defiance. "The Goa'uld make their choices and take them back through the gate. He paused, his breath catching in this throat, "This will be the first year I will be part of the Offering."
The other boy, Blaine, leaned across the table, placing on hand on Kurt's cheek, "I won't let them take you. I promise."
"Daniel," Jack was walking over to him, his backpack swinging in his hand. Carter and Teal'c were close behind. "Making friends?"
"Jack we have to help…"
"Daniel," Jack said, a tone in his voice that Daniel recognized as a warning. It could mean a variety of things: don't argue, do as you're told, no you can't keep the alien as a pet.
After knowing the man almost two years, Daniel knew the perfect response, one that was highly affective. "Jack."
"We're going to find that Figgie guy, see if we can offer to evacuate some of these kids to Earth until the Goa'uld leave. Then were shipping out. It's getting dark. General Hammond will be getting worried; we're out past curfew."
"I'm actually making progress here, so I'll catch up if that's okay. Although maybe I should come with, seeing as the mayor's name is Figgins."
Jack took a deep, frustrated sigh. "Five minutes, then I want you down at the gate. We don't want to be here when the Goa'uld show up."
Daniel nodded and watched as his team headed back out the way they had come in before turning back to Kurt. He had barely opened his mouth to ask about the revolts against the Goa'uld the mayor had mentioned earlier when Figgins appeared at the corner of the room, having entered through a side door.
Daniel pulled up the flap on the pocket of his jacket in which his radio rested, about to tell the team that the man they were looking for was back in the hall. He was interrupted however, by Figgins clearing his throat. "It's time," the few conversations that had continued when the mayor had entered the room stopped and silence hung over the room, "Please make your way to the gate."
"What's going on?" he whispered to Kurt, although he had a horrible suspicion that it would be too late to evacuate anyone.
"It's the Taking Time," Kurt said shakily, he got up slowly, the rest of the people at the other tables doing the same. Blaine reached over to take Kurt's hand, somewhat supporting the other boy, who looked like he was going to faint or be sick or once.
The guards had moved from their places at the doors, standing at the far wall on either side of Figgins. At some point they had retrieved staff weapons and were now brandishing them at the crowd. A few people obediently headed for the door, like sheep, but two brave individuals split off from the group and tried to sneak through the door Figgins had entered through. They didn't get far however, before they found their way blocked by the business end of a staff, its ends open and glowing red. Their eyes wide, the two hurried back into the group, pushing their way to the center to get as far from the staff weapons as possible.
Daniel tried to make a grab for his backpack, which he had placed under the table when he had sat down. He was pushed forward before he could reach it however, and found himself being jostled along with the crowd. This really wasn't good. Against his thigh, his Zat gun thumped as he walked, reminding him that at least he had some way of defending himself. He could have Zatted his way out of the situation easily, but couldn't risk hitting one of the terrified people surrounding him. Instead he subtly reached down and slid the Zat gun out of its holster, stashing it in his jacket. There had been a time, not so long ago, when he held a gun as if it was an explosive about to go off. Now he used them with an ease that disgusted him, almost as good a sharp shooter as Jack. He still didn't like them, and although he had come to accept them as an unwelcome necessity, he still occasionally thought longingly for the days when he didn't regularly do an Indiana Jones impression, shoot now, study the artifacts later.
The Chosen were led back down the same path SG-1 had taken earlier. The street lights, although just as light as before now seemed to cast small pools of light in an eternity of darkness. Shadows lurked beyond the edge of what could be seen, lit by a pair of small moons that cast little light.
It seemed to take much longer than it had before to get to the gate. The Chosen were led down a hill and lined up in front of the gate, surrounded by the elderly and the very young, most of whom were weeping. The two guards from the City Hall had now been joined by four others who stood behind the group of terrified youth and forced them to their knees. This was all too familiar. In a flash Daniel was reminded of a dark, musty dungeon. People from a hundred different worlds united in their fear. Sha're appearing from behind a veil, the Queen of a monster. Daniel forced himself to focus on the here and now as the gate activated, sending a wave of blue energy forth.
His worst fear was confirmed, he was going to be part of the Offering to the Goa'uld.