Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate or its characters.
Title: Before the Surface
Timeline: Set just before what we see in "Beneath the Surface."
A/N: Happy 2018, readers! I have been AWOL for far, far longer than I ever wished to be. For those who so faithfully read "The Return of King Arthur," I am so sorry for my absence, and I assure you that I will finish that story.
Since I stopped updating, my first laptop died, along with some of the next few chapters of the fic, I changed jobs, and then later I started graduate school, which is currently sapping all of my time. Thankfully, I was able to do a little writing over Christmas break, and here's what randomly came out after watching "Beneath the Surface." It's likely a one-shot, but I do have some ideas for a follow-up.
All mistakes are mine! Enjoy! -Jess
He wasn't paid enough for this. Minnesota winters were bad enough without having to experience what other planets could dole out. A torrential gust of frigid air hit Jack square in the face and blew right through the fleece mask covering his mouth and nose, taking his breath away.
"How much further?" Jack knew Daniel was yelling, but his voice was little more than a whisper in the wind and blowing snow.
In front of them, Carter hunkered down over her techno-whats-it, ducking her head down to the screen. When she turned back, Jack could see the white crystals covering her eyebrows and lashes. "Only a few minutes more." She faced forward again. "Straight ahead, Teal'c."
The Jaffa had taken point, trudging through the snow, and the rest of SG-1 followed in the path he created. Violent winds had caused huge drifts, and though the snow was only up to Jack's knees, there had been points where it had been past his waist.
Another gust sent a blast of snow and ice into Jack's face. He lifted his thickly mittened hand to shield his eyes and considered trading his rustic Minnesotan cabin for a time-share in Florida.
"There!" Teal'c pointed ahead, and Jack squinted, trying to make out what the Jaffa could see. He could see nothing but white, but sure enough, a few steps more and the space in front of him darkened and coalesced into an opaque and shadowed wall. In spite of his limited visibility, Jack could tell that the wall was enormous and extended as far as the eye could see ... if he could see as far as he normally could.
The snow only reached passed their ankles here, and Carter moved ahead of Teal'c, her nose still in her scanner. "We're right on track," she called. "There should be an opening right about ..."
Jack could only imagine that the door's opening was accompanied by a loud mechanical whirring, but the howling wind drowned out any other noise. As soon as the opening was tall enough to step through, all four members of SG-1 surged through the wall. They were greeted with a blast of warmth and the door immediately closed behind them.
Jack stomped his feet and brushed off the snow clinging to his jacket. "You know," he said, "it's a special kind of cold when your boogers freeze in your nose!"
"Ow!" Daniel's mittened hand smacked him in the abdomen, and when Jack looked at him, the archaeologist's eyes were wide with horror. "What?"
Daniel looked up and Jack followed his gaze. His snow-burned eyes slowly adjusted to filtered light inside the dome, and he noticed the stern official and the several aides who were there to greet them. "Ah! The welcoming committee!" Jack pulled off his mitten and extended his hand. "Administrator Colder, isn't it?"
A pair of beady eyes lowered to his extended hand and ignored it. "Caulder."
"Too bad," Jack shrugged. "Colder would have been appropriate."
Sam lowered her hood and pulled off her ski mask. She sucked in a deep breath of warm air and marveled at the sight around her. P3R-118 was a planet in the middle of an ice age, but the inhabitants had apparently met that challenge head on. The sun refracted through the top of the enormous dome, which cast long rays of light over a bustling metropolis. Skyscrapers and other high-rise buildings filled the landscape, and if she hadn't just trudged three miles through the frigid cold, she would have sworn it was a comfortable 70 degrees on the planet. They'd entered into an open area filled with grass and bushes and trees lining the path leading to the city. She wondered what kind of system they had in place to produce such an environment within the dome, and she made a mental note to find out.
"Administrator Caulder, we're so pleased to meet you." Daniel stepped forward and in lieu of the Colonel's ignored hand, he gave a small bow before introducing each of them in turn. "General Hammond was very excited when you responded to our radio calls."
"Our city's leadership was likewise enthusiastic when your radio signal came through," Caulder said, though his pinched expression suggested he didn't share that enthusiasm. "It seems that our two cultures are quite alike in technological matters."
"Oh, there are some differences," Colonel O'Neill quipped, and Sam followed his gaze. Many of the buildings were connected by open skyways high above the ground, and her heart skipped a beat when she realized that there were hundreds of automobiles traveling on them. Immediately she began considering the implications of a society that could create vehicles and yet exist inside a relatively confined space. How did they handle the issue of internal combustion? Perhaps their design to help with the fuel emission problem on Earth. She made another note to ask for the chance to examine an alien car while they were here.
"But such differences mean that a trade agreement may be beneficial to both our peoples," Daniel said diplomatically. "We were very interested by some of the metallurgical and chemical technologies that the prime minister informed us about earlier, and we hope that what we offer will be just as beneficial."
"Indeed," Administrator Caulder raised an eyebrow, and if his narrowed gaze hadn't been so off-putting, Sam would have found the similarities to her Jaffa teammate amusing. "I regret that our city's prime minister could not be here to join us, but he has given me his authorization to begin such negotiations."
"Wonderful!" Jack exclaimed. "But before we begin, we'd like to be able to divest ourselves of our winter clothes. It's not nearly as cold in here as it is outside."
"Of course, you are correct, Colonel O'Neill," Caulder said with a small smile. "Our heating system is quite effective. We will return to the city and continue our talks after you've had time to change."
Caulder and his aides, who Jack thought looked far more like beefy Marines than secretaries, led SG-1 to a building on the edge of the city. Instead of traveling through the streets, they traveled between the administrative buildings by means of transporters. As of yet, they had not seen any of the denizens, and Caulder was apt to keep it that way.
"All in good time," he stated. "You must understand, we've always known that there were other beings beyond our planet, but this is the first time that we've received alien visitors. For now, we'd prefer to keep you within our administrative district and away from the general population."
"That shouldn't be a problem," Daniel assured him. "I'm sure that would do the same on our world."
Jack didn't know why, but Caulder's comment set him on edge. Daniel's comment was true; the general population of Earth would never have been introduced to aliens either. Perhaps it was Caulder's general snakey demeanor and haughty mannerisms rubbing Jack the wrong way, but the unease grew as he realized how deep into the city they were traveling.
"Do not worry, Doctor Jackson. There will still be plenty for us to discuss under these constraints."
"Administrator, if I may?"
"Of course, Major Carter."
"Your city is clearly impressive, but what else lies beyond the dome?"
"Very little, though the ice fields are extensive."
"Really?" she said, clearly intrigued. When she turned to look at Jack, her eyes were wide with that enthusiasm that only belonged to geeks and scientists. "I'd love to take some core samples in those areas. They would provide more information about the geological history of this planet."
Caulder's gaze shifted to Carter. Far from expressing excitement about learning more about his own planet, his voice held a note of suspicion. "No one has ever expressed a desire to explore the ice fields. The environment is far too hostile for even a brief period of research."
"While I'm sure that we'd be up to the challenge, Administrator, we'll have to save the idea for another time." Jack infused the comment with more confidence than he felt, but he bristled at the implicit criticism of SG-1's abilities. Caulder's eyes narrowed even more, but he didn't push the subject.
Three transport rides later — two to travel between buildings and one to get up to Caulder's high-ceilinged office — Jack and his team were finally able to remove their winter weather garments and stow them for their time in the city. Jack threw off the snow pants and the puffy white parka, and then unzipped his tac vest in order to remove his green BDU jacket as well. He considered stowing all of the equipment, but he grabbed the tac vest with the attached P-90 and threw it back over his long-sleeved black shirt.
"Sir?" Carter took note of his hesitation as she also removed her BDU jacket. She ran her fingers through her abnormally long hair and pushed it behind her ears.
Jack zipped up the vest. "May be nothing, Carter, but it never hurts to be prepared."
Carter's brow furrowed, and then she also grabbed her vest and P-90 as well. Jack didn't know if that spoke more of her respect of his intuition or in her assumption that things were rarely as they seemed in their line of work.
By the time they returned to Caulder's office, Daniel and Teal'c were already there. Daniel was holding a square bowl of green fruit. He held one in his hand and was examining it closely. He gestured when they came nearer. "Jack, Sam, it looks just like a kiwi fruit!"
"That's fascinating, Daniel." After four years, Jack felt no need to hide how unfascinating alien fruit was to him.
"I was just telling your teammates how very proud we are of our kava fruit, Colonel O'Neill," Caulder stated.
Unlike Jack, Carter did seem genuinely interested. She reached forward and picked up a piece of fruit. It was almost identical to a kiwi. "You are able to grow fruits like this within your dome?"
"All food is grown within the dome."
"I assume that you must be able to create a greenhouse-like environment to do so. Does the sunlight assist in that, or are you able to accomplish it with only your power systems?"
"You show a very marked interest in our heating system, Major Carter." Jack's stomach knotted as he heard not appreciation, but reproach in Caulder's voice. He saw Teal'c and Daniel both straighten in surprise, and his gaze flicked to Carter, who also seemed shocked by Caulder's tone and narrowed gaze.
"Coming from Carter, that can only be a compliment, Administrator," Jack said pointedly, trying to defuse the rising tension.
"Of course," Sam said, recovering herself. "My interest only stems from my understanding of what an impressive feat it is. I meant no disrespect."
Caulder seemed to force his face into a more relaxed expression. "My apologies. I know you meant no harm. Please –" He gestured at both Daniel and Carter – "try the kava fruit. It is a delicacy and has very sweet flavor."
Both of his teammates looked to Jack for permission. Generally, they stayed away from alien foods — drugged marriage cakes tended to make a person wary — but in spite of Caulder's abrasive manner, there hadn't been any other cause for concern. Jack shrugged in casual permission, and Carter and Daniel ate the green fruit from the fuzzy rind.
Daniel pulled a face, and though Carter hid her reaction slightly better, Jack could tell that sweetness was not what they were experiencing. Caulder seemed a bit put out by their reactions, and after swallowing, Daniel offered an explanation. "Well, perhaps humans from Earth experience taste a little different than your people."
"Yes, that seems to be the case," Caulder agreed tersely. He took the square bowl from Daniel and placed it on his desk. When he returned, he was grasping a red handkerchief. He wiped his hands fastidiously before tucking the silky material in his pocket.
"Now, if you'll follow me," the Administrator's cool smile was firmly back in place. "You have an escort waiting to give you a tour around the city."
Even though Caulder wished to keep them from the general population, there was still plenty to see on their tour. A visit to the city archives hinted at the long history of the city within the dome. A meeting with several members of the city council explained more fully the prime minister's desire to acquire Stargate addresses and use the 'gate. And a visit to the tallest building in the dome allowed for an impressive view of the sprawling city. Their escort was a young administrative intern, far more adept at answering Daniel's questions about her society than Sam's questions about their technology. Eventually, she stopped asking, and simply allowed herself to observe.
Everywhere they looked, the city was immaculate, efficient, very impressive. The alien automobiles rumbled continually over the skyways, and transporters whizzed up and down and between buildings. They hadn't seen any useful weapons technology, but these people could be beneficial allies, especially if Stargate technology would allow them to progress and expand their own understanding of technology. And yet, Sam couldn't shake the feeling that it was too good to be true. She adjusted her hold on her P-90 and noticed the Colonel doing the same.
"What is the current population of your city, Ama Dolan?" Teal'c asked, looking over the metropolis below.
"Just over 25,000," the young brunette replied.
"And everyone lives within the city?" Sam asked.
Ama pointed out the window to the far right, where the buildings gave way to empty fields. "The city encompasses the majority of the dome's space, but there is farmland surrounding the city. Some of our population lives in those areas, but yes, the majority live within the city proper."
"I imagine it's crowded based on how large your population is."
"Indeed it is," Ama agreed. "Yet, our society is one of efficiency. Everyone has a role in the survival of our society, and everyone understands how important they are."
"Everyone believes that?" Colonel O'Neill looked skeptical.
"Colonel, our existence is a difficult one, but I believe we have met our challenges admirably. In spite of the ice age around us, we thrive within the dome. We have no unemployment and no crime."
"Really? No crime at all?"
"We take care of our people, Colonel. And we know that it is an honor to serve the greater good."
The longer the tour went, the more Jack couldn't shake the feeling that these people were hiding something. No city could be this perfect, this well-organized. And there was still something to be said about how Caulder refused to allow them access to the general population. In fact, since arriving in the city, they hadn't even stepped foot outside. The transporters allowed them to travel between buildings with complete anonymity, but they'd only been able to view the city from above, not from the ground level.
Maybe it was paranoia. They knew so little about this society. And yet, Jack could feel the same tension within his teammates. Carter had grown quieter as her technological questions went unanswered; Teal'c spent more time eyeballing the stoic guards placed around the buildings than observing the city. Daniel continued to project a friendly and interested demeanor, offering questions and observations to Ama Dolan, but every so often, he would glance back at Jack with a wary expression.
They'd just reentered Caulder's building via the transporter when Jack noticed a large courtyard outside. He gestured to Ama. "Down there," he pointed out the tall glass window. "There's a big statue in the courtyard."
"Yes," Ama replied. "That is a statue of our current prime minister."
Daniel seemed to pick up on where Jack was going. "In that case, I think that we'd love to take a closer look at it, considering we haven't had a chance to meet your prime minister in person."
Ama looked reluctant, but then she smiled. "I'm sure that could be arranged."
The courtyard was empty except for a few guards and other guides like Ama herself, which was probably why it was deemed acceptable for SG-1 to explore. The square was reminiscent of Earth: concrete walkways, trees and bushes placed strategically around the area, and several monuments of societal value represented. The largest was the statue of the prime minister, wearing the same stiff uniform Caulder wore and looking up into the sky as if he could look beyond the dome. Daniel engaged Ama, asking questions about the achievements detailed on the statues base, but Jack noticed Carter staring past the statue to an alley that ran between two of the buildings.
Jack placed a hand on her arm. "What's goin' on?" he whispered.
Sam looked at him so as not to draw attention to where she was looking before. "In that alley, there are large cylindrical tubes coming out of the ground. Those must be ventilation shafts of some kind, which means their power source must be underground."
"Must be a pretty big facility down there to heat this whole dome," Jack said, catching on.
"It is our greatest hope that you'll be able to meet the Prime Minister the next time you visit." Jack and Sam straightened as they realized Ama was addressing the group as a whole.
"Of course. That's our desire as well," Jack said and then looked down at his watch and feigned surprise. "Ooh! I'm sorry to cut this a little short, but I just remembered that Carter and I have a meeting with Administrator Caulder to discuss some of your chemical technologies."
"Then we will return to the administrator's office now."
"Don't worry about it." Jack waved her off nonchalantly. "Carter and I remember the way back. It just eight floors up through those doors, right?" He pointed at the doors they'd just come out of.
"Yes, that would be great," Daniel said, sensing a plan in the works. "They can meet with Caulder, but I think I'd like to return to the archives a gain a better understanding of the history of your planet's government. Teal'c, you wanna come with me?"
"Indeed, I would, Daniel Jackson."
Ama again looked wary, as if she were trying to sense some duplicity. "If you're sure you can find your way back?" she said to Jack.
"Shouldn't be a problem," Jack assured their guide. He reached out his hand and took hers. "Thank you for the enlightening tour, Ama. But we're already late for Caulder, so we're going to head out."
Jack started off toward the building, and he could hear Sam close behind. They made their way through the automatically opening doors and ducked into an empty corridor. When the peeked around at the door, Ama was still standing in the courtyard with their teammates, making sure that they returned to Caulder's building. Satisfied that they did, she turned and began walking back in the direction of the library. Daniel was already asking her another question.
The corridor was completely silent, but Jack still whispered, afraid they might be overheard. "So, Carter, what do you think is down there?"
She shook her head, and he was standing close enough that her newly-grown-out hair brushed against his chin. "I've got no idea, sir. All I know is that the power requirements must be enormous, and Caulder seems completely unwilling to talk about their system."
"You have to admit, that seems strange considering how willing they are to offer us their other technologies."
"So, what do you want to do Carter?"
Her breath was the only sound in the hallway as she considered his question. "I think we need to get down there and see for ourselves."
"And damn the consequences?" If they got caught, they could almost certainly screw the treaty, not to mention they could be prosecuted for trespassing.
She turned enough so that she could look at him, her jaw set firmly. "They're clearly hiding something, sir."
Jack patted her shoulder. "Well, then it must be our job to figure out what that is."
They walked out the door again, only stopping to ensure that the area was devoid of people, and then strode purposefully toward the alley across the courtyard. Just as Sam had seen before, there were several large cylindrical vents originating from apparently nowhere. Sam stepped around the vents and the Colonel followed her. He breathed a sigh of relief when it seemed they'd gone unnoticed.
"Okay," he said, "so how do we get in?"
Sam pulled out her electrical scanner and began to pass it over the wall of the nearest building. "Well, I'm only guessing sir, but I'd be willing to bet that where there are ventilation shafts, there's also probably an entrance to the underground complex."
The slow rhythmic noise of her scanner turned into furious beeping, and Sam knew that she'd guessed right. There, in the middle of the bricklike wall of the building, and nearly imperceptible to the naked eye, was the perimeter of a door. As she felt along the right of the door, one section popped open to reveal a control panel on the inside.
There was still much too learn about this planet's technology, but she knew that their system was close enough to their own that it followed the same electrical principles. All she had to do was get the cover off of the control panel, cross a few key wires, and then ...
Success! The hidden door slid open, revealing a dark passage that traveled steeply downward.
The Colonel flashed a smile at her, his excitement palpable. "Nice!"
He took point and stepped into the passage. His boots clanged on the metallic grates which formed the steps going down beneath the building, and as Sam closed the outer door and followed him, she took care to step lightly in order to minimize any noise.
She couldn't see anything, but even after the Colonel turned on the light on his P-90, Sam realized that there wasn't anything to see. The steps just kept going straight down, but soon the dark became tinged with red light, and where there was only silence, Sam could hear the pounding of hammers, the crackling of fires, and the whirring of machines.
By the time they reached the bottom of the staircase, the red glowing light was bright enough to see several large and clunky machines, rumbling loudly and giving off substantial heat and steam. It was clear that this underground compound was nothing like the city above. The city was smooth and metallic, its buildings created with rounded arches and sloping lines; the underground complex was hard and rough, angular and industrial. Sam took in a breath of dry, stale air and resisted the urge to cough.
There was no one around, though they could still hear hammers pounding and people mulling about, so Colonel O'Neill walked toward the nearest machine and Sam followed.
"What do you think this is?" he asked.
Sam didn't need much more than a cursory glance. Though a glass exterior, she could see a roaring fire, and thick pipes flowed up and in the same direction of the ventilation shafts they'd seen on the surface. There were open shafts to fuel the fires near the bottom of the machine, and she noticed something dark and hard on the concrete floor. She stooped to pick it up and rolled it in her fingers.
"Coal," she told the Colonel. "This has to be some kind of heating generator, and a pretty primitive one at that."
"So this is how they heat this entire dome?" O'Neill asked.
"Well, not just this machine, sir," she said, looking around at the other machines that continued as far as she could see. "I'm willing to bet this entire complex is full of generators, and each one is fed out into the dome for heat and energy. But they look so primitive, it must require a whole work force to fuel and regulate them. Hundreds of people at least."
A whole work force beneath the city. Colonel O'Neill's gaze narrowed in the hazy light. "We should keep going and see what else we find."
From Sam's left, a neighboring machine began to rumble violently, and up ahead, a whistle blared to signal a problem. "Carter?"
There was a measuring instrument attached to the base of the pipes of the malfunctioning equipment, and though Sam couldn't read the alien numerals, but her eyes widened when she saw the arrow was pushed well into the "red" section. "Sir! Something's wrong."
"I don't know!" She raised her voice now as the rumbling grew louder. "But if I had to guess, I'd say this instrument is monitoring pressure output."
"And that means..."
"I think the machine's going to explode!"
The alarm blew again, and over the vibrating machinery they heard the clattering of boots on the concrete floor. "Crap! We're gonna have company!"
Sam whirled around. There was nowhere to escape, if they ran up the metal staircase, they'd be spotted. There were no other corridors around, and that left just one place to hide.
Colonel O'Neill had come to the same conclusion. "Go, go!" He pushed her in the direction of the malfunctioning machine. There were tall pipes that could hide them, but there was little more than a foot of space between the wall and the pipes, and there was still the problem of a potential explosion.
But first things first. Sam unzipped her tac vest and noticed the Colonel doing the same. Scooting behind the pipes, Sam reached out to steady herself on one of the metal tubes and then jumped back. "Ow!" she cried out, cradling her hand to her chest.
"What?" The Colonel reached over and grabbed her hand, which was bright red and already throbbing.
"The pipes are hot!" Not good.
Still they had no choice. Sam caught a glimpse of the first workers running toward the machine. She pressed her back up against the wall and slipped behind the pipes. Colonel O'Neill followed her, his larger form in even more danger of touching the steaming metal. "Should've laid off the banana cream pie in the commissary, huh?" Sam could barely hear him over the growing rumbling.
All around the workers were yelling, "We've got to evacuate!" "The pressure's building up!"
The hot pipes visibly rattled in front of Sam, professing their inability to handle the pressure building up inside. She looked to her left and her right, trying to find some way to vent the pressure.
The Colonel grabbed her shoulder. "Carter!"
He pointed up, and she saw what he was gesturing at. Several feet above them there was a valve where the large vertical pipe was siphoned off into a horizontal one flowing away from the machine. The valve was in a closed position, but if they could reach it, they could open it and allow the pent-up pressure a release and hopefully stave off the explosion.
"Sir," Sam said. "You've gotta lift me up!"
It was difficult in the confined space, but the Colonel settled into a lunging stance that allowed Sam to step up on his leg, and then he wrapped his arms around her waist to stabilize her. Finally eye to eye with the valve, Sam could see the heat visibly rising from the metal. She pulled the material of her long-sleeved tee over her hands and grabbed onto the circular handle and twisted hard to the left.
Nothing. She tried again, harder, but it wouldn't budge. She released the handle and noticed the red flaky dust covering her t-shirt sleeves.
"What's wrong, Carter?"
"There's rust all over!" she called. "It's completely corroded."
"We've gotta get it open, Major!"
The noise from the machine reached an unprecedented whine. It was now or never. Relieve the pressure ... or explode.
Sam covered her hands again. "Yes, sir!"
Taking a deep breath, Sam grabbed on to the top of the handle and pulled to the left. She lifted herself off Colonel O'Neill's leg in order to put her entire body weight into turning the crank.
Free of her weight, the Colonel moved away from her, and then jumped into the air. He grabbed the left side of the handle just below Sam's hands and pulled. With their combined effort, the valve gave way and the pipe with it. There was the sound of an explosion. Thick steam poured into the air, and Sam lost her grip on the handle.
Unbalanced, she fell backwards, scrapping an elbow against the brick wall, but she felt the Colonel's arms tighten around her before she hit the floor. He pulled her to him, and they stayed still, huddled between the wall and the pipes. As the steam continued billowing toward the ceiling, the rumbling of the machine slowed and grew quieter. The Colonel's breath was loud in her ear, and Sam struggled to slow her own breathing as she realized they were no longer in immediate danger.
"That was close," she breathed.
"Yeah." The edge to his voice told Sam just how close he thought it had been.
The Colonel stiffened around her as footsteps once again clattered on the cement. They edged further back behind the pipes to avoid detection, but Jack's arms didn't move.
"The pressure's down!" The voice was gravelly and harsh. "Looks like one of the pipes ruptured!"
"Thank the Maker," another person exclaimed. "That explosion could have taken out the entire plant."
"That is most unlikely," the first voice said gruffly.
"Perhaps you're right, Foreman, but it easily could have blown out one of the skylights and exposed us to the ice and snow! If that had happened, we could not have survived, and the effect would have been just as devastating."
"You worry too much," the first voice harrumphed. "Thank the Maker if you must, but we've only lived one more day in the middle of an ice age. Nothing more."
"Go tell Brenna that it's safe for the workers of section 29 to return. Tell her that I'm diverting workers from sections 23 through 26 to this section to help with the clean-up; everyone else will return to their duties. I'll relay the message to the section leaders."
"It is an honor to serve, Foreman."
Two sets of footsteps faded away, but Colonel O'Neill straightened up, slowly pulling his arms back to his sides. Sam turned to face him, his concerned eyes still working their way over her.
"You alright?" He gestured toward her hand.
"Fine," she said. "It'll heal."
They had bigger problems. "We were right," she said. "There is a whole work force down here."
"They don't know about the city."
"Seems that way," said the Colonel. "And if they don't know about the city, then they must have been kept down here their entire lives."
"So, this must be what Administrator Caulder wanted to keep secret."
"Dollars to donuts," O'Neill agreed. His eyes were jet black in the red light. "State-sanctioned slavery."
"Unbelievable." Though in their line of work, less unbelievable than it should have been. Of course, Sam thought bitterly, it had been too good to be true.
"We need to get back to the surface, Carter. Before they come back." He stooped and grabbed his tac vest and slipped it back on. Sam did the same.
"This changes everything, doesn't it," she said. "For the treaty."
"Oh, yeah." The Colonel's words were short, clipped, and like the pressure in that machine, she could tell that rage was building within him.
"What do you think of our city, Colonel?"
Jack took a deep breath and turned away from the window in Caulder's office. The administrator was enjoying his bitter-tasting kava fruit at his desk, and his enjoyment of the treat annoyed Jack more than it should. But there were hundreds of people ... perhaps more, slaving away beneath them.
"Very impressive," Jack said coolly. "Too bad it's a lie."
Caulder's brow furrowed in confusion. "I don't understand."
"While we were on the grand tour Carter spotted some ventilation shafts coming out of apparently nowhere. We checked it out."
"You were supposed to stay with your escort." Caulder wiped the sticky juice off his sticky, slimy hands.
"Yeah. I can see how you wouldn't want outsiders to know about the slave labor force you keep underground."
"They're merely workers." The smug smile never left Caulder's face.
"And what made them so worthy of that?"
The smile disappeared. "Colonel…"
"Administrator, I will not recommend trade with a culture that enslaves its own people." Jack made sure his tone brooked no argument. "I don't care what kind of technology you have to offer."
Caulder leaned forward in his chair. "This system of government has allowed our culture to survive an ice-age."
"Tell me …" Jack whispered conspiratorially. "What's the secret? Starvation, torture … what?"
"Our methods are actually quite civilized." Whatever that meant, he was proud of it.
"Yes, in fact …" He paused as if an idea was forming. "I'll show you."
The doors of Caulder's office hissed open and admitted two guards who could have amounted to college linebackers. Jack couldn't say that he was surprised, but part of him regretted leaving Teal'c with Daniel and Carter out in the lobby.
"This is unfortunate," Jack kept his tone diplomatic, but his fingers moved passed his P-90 to his zat gun. If he could stun Caulder and the guards, maybe SG-1 could escape before anyone else realized what they knew.
"More than you know, Colonel." Caulder ran his slippery red handkerchief through his fingers, wiping them continually. "You see, if you had remained ignorant, we both could have benefitted. But I can tell that you and your team are much more trouble than you're worth."
Jack's hand tightened around the zat ... and then the door opened again, admitting a guard with his beefy arm around Carter and his pistol at her throat. Shit. They were followed by half a dozen guards with their weapons trained on Daniel and Teal'c. His teammates' arms were restrained behind them, and Carter had been divested of her vest and P-90, but it looked like they'd put up a good fight. The guards looked just as pissed as SG-1 did, and there were several bloody noses and bruised jaws amongst them.
Caulder must have a panic button on his desk, Jack thought absently. There was no telling how many people knew about this now.
One of the guards moved toward Jack. He gestured for him to remove his vest. Aware of his teammates' precarious positions, he resisted the urge to pull the zat and go down with a fight. Instead, he handed over the vest and the P-90 and allowed the guard to clasp a thick metal cuff on each wrist. The cuffs bonded together magnetically and though he tried to pull his hands apart, the restraints wouldn't budge.
"You're making a very big mistake," he said.
"Mistakes has already been made, Colonel, starting with allowing you into our city." His gaze passed between Jack and Sam. "It would have been so much easier if you had stayed with your escort," Caulder sounded like he was reproving a child. "However, the damage has been done. You wanted to see how we maintain control over our workers, Colonel. Now you will know."
Caulder tucked his handkerchief into his pocket and pressed a button on the desk. "Brenna?"
A woman's voice crackled over the intercom. "Administrator."
"I'm sending down several new laborers for you. Three males and a female. Please make them comfortable and then set them to work."
"You've got something else coming if you think we're just going to surrender to this."
Caulder's pinched smile was positively snake-like. "Oh, I know you think that, Colonel, but you'll find life beneath the city easier to acclimate to than you expect."
"Our people will come for us," Daniel reasoned, falling silent as one of the guards pushed his pistol between his shoulder blades.
"That is true, Dr. Jackson," Caulder noted, looking at Sam, "but as I recall, Major Carter expressed a great interest in exploring the ice fields beyond our dome for scientific study. Of course, we cautioned against such a reckless endeavor, but–" he turned to Jack– "Colonel O'Neill was overly confident that his team could handle the conditions. He was wrong."
"General Hammond will never believe such a story," Teal'c intoned.
Caulder gave a huff of satisfaction and smiled. "We'll see."
He turned to the guard standing behind Jack. "Take them beneath the surface."
Sam didn't recognize the room where SG-1 and the guards were deposited by the transporter. There was nothing that reminded her of the plant that she and Jack had seen. The room was sterile and metallic, the universal qualities of laboratories. There were no windows, though that wasn't a surprise given their location, and other than the transporter entrance, there was only one other door leading out of the lab. There were several orderlies standing guard throughout the room, dressed in the same red uniforms as Caulder's goons.
The door opened and a pleasant-enough looking woman entered, dressed in orange-brown garments and rifling through a stack of papers.
"So you must be Brenna," the Colonel said caustically. The woman looked up at took in the sight of Sam and her team. "Caulder sends his regards."
The woman ignored him and looked back at her files. "Place them against the wall,"
The beefy guard — still reeling from the broken nose she'd given him — pushed Sam forcefully against the shiny wall. She turned back to look at the woman, who was clearly in charge, and when her hands neared the wall, they automatically unclasped behind her and then locked magnetically onto the wall, trapping her like a pinned-out butterfly. To her right, Colonel O'Neill met the same fate, and Daniel and Teal'c were farther down the wall beyond him.
In the meantime, Brenna had picked out several files from the stack and handed them to a technician. "Load these identities into the machine."
"Hey!" Jack yelled. "What's going on here?"
"You are here because you failed to fulfill your duties to the city. But there is plenty of work to be done in the service of your people. It is an honor to serve." Brenna's words were clipped and monotonous, as if she'd explained this a thousand times before. Probably she had.
"Our people they're not!" Jack said hotly.
"Your disrespect for our society is the reason why you are here."
"Excuse me." Daniel jumped in. "What he means is that we are foreigners. We came to this planet through the Stargate."
"You are not from the city?" Brenna seemed surprised.
"We are not," Teal'c confirmed.
Brenna turned to one of the soldiers who had escorted them down. "These are the four that Caulder sent down?" she checked.
"Oh, that's us!" Jack returned. "And you can tell that slimy, scum-sucking, good-for-nothing –"
"What?" The Colonel rounded on Daniel.
"We're from a planet called Earth." Daniel continued in his best diplomatic voice. "My name's Doctor Daniel Jackson, this is –"
"Stop!" Brenna held up a hand. "If you are here, there is no mistake. I have no need to know of your names."
That probably made it easier. Whatever it was. The Colonel must have thought the same thing, because he seized on an opportunity to humanize themselves. "In that case, I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill, this is Major Samantha Carter, and the stoic one on the end is Teal'c."
"We were sent to your world to negotiate for technology by our leaders," Sam said.
"You are representatives of your government?"
"Yes," Daniel said. "Sent to open up trade relations between our peoples."
Jack stepped forward as far as the manacles would allow. "But you see, we know all about what's going on down here. Caulder sent us down so that we couldn't blow the whistle on your little social experiment. And you're nuts if you think that we're simply going to submit to working for the benefit of your city."
"Fortunately or not, Colonel O'Neill," Brenna said, "your submission isn't really necessary in this case." Sam's brow furrowed, wondering what she meant by that statement. Her words were confident — born of experience — but Sam heard a hesitation in her voice as well.
The technician reemerged with something that looked like the forehead thermometer Janet used when Cassie had the flu. The technician held a flat screen that relayed the readouts of the device, and he handed the instrument to Brenna. "We're ready to proceed," he said.
"What the hell is that?" Jack's voice held an edge of panic.
"Which identity was loaded first?" Brenna asked as she activated the device. She looked like she was preparing herself.
The technician checked the readout on the screen. "Thera. The female."
Sam's heart skipped as Brenna and the technician began walking toward her.
Jack started yelling. "Stay away from her! Start with me instead."
"It doesn't have to be this way," Sam implored her, aware of the fear she heard in her own voice. "Help us, and we can protect you."
"We all have our jobs." Brenna said flatly, but Sam could see the reluctance in her eyes. "It is an honor to serve."
Sam kicked out with her feet, aiming for the device, but Brenna signaled the technician to hold her feet steady. "No!" Well and truly pinned, Sam could only twist her head away as Brenna came closer with the device. But the other woman pulled her head back and settled the device against her temple.
There was a pain that shot through her brain and Sam gasped loudly. Her vision began to blur, and distantly, she was aware of her body convulsing. The voices around her grew distorted, but she knew her teammates were still pleading for her. The last thing she registered was the Colonel was yelling her name and then she was gone.
Samantha Carter's head fell to her chest, her body still convulsing.
"Jonah," said the technician.
O'Neill was still cursing and yelling even as the woman placed the device against his head.
Until the end, Daniel Jackson continued to encourage their captors that they didn't have to do this. That they could help each other.
When they came for Teal'c, he stood quietly. There was no point in fighting.
They would remember.
They would remember and they would escape.