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I become aware of my surroundings in my re-solidified body, the feeling of tingles now barely perceptible. Daniel and I hold the same position we had when we beamed over, with our backs towards each other and our weapons drawn. The sharp light beam of his P90 pierces the pitch-black space, revealing that we’ve arrived in a long, spacious corridor.
A flash of fear gives me goose bumps and I instinctively turn towards Daniel. I don’t really need to. I’ve been here before. I’m not lost. I know the way. We’re completely alone in the immense ship. But the memories of another reality alternate to this one, another dark corridor where I was once taken as Nirrti’s host intrude in my thoughts, uninvited. I remember the other Daniel dead at my feet, the glimmer of a gold device uncomprehendingly wrapped around my hand. The same hand I swore I would only use to heal people.
My fingers tremble when they reach for Daniel’s hand. I take a deep breath to push back the disorientation that sometimes comes when you switch realities. I’m safe now or as safe as one can be while traveling in space. In this reality Nirrti exists no more. She was killed long ago, and her alternate version that once took me as a host is nothing but a bad memory.
“Janet, are you okay?” Daniel asks, stepping protectively closer.
“Yeah. Just thinking about Nirrti.”
I try to focus on the task at hand. I holster my zat gun, turn on my flashlight, and begin to walk towards the storage room at the end of the long corridor with Daniel by my side. I feel his hand on my shoulder.
“How did she know about this ship?” he asks waving his light beam in the air. I know he’s just trying to make me feel better because we’ve already talked about all this. But I’m grateful, so I answer fully because it helps me keep ghosts in their proper perspective.
“Nirrti learned about this ship in our alternate reality. There, it was hidden by the gas clouds and the radiation of the Crab Nebula and was falling towards a black hole. You know that extreme gravity causes time dilation near the event horizon, right?”
“Well, the ship was caught in the gravity well at the beginning of an explosion, like when you pause a movie when something begins to explode. The front of ship was still intact but the back was breaking apart and fire-balling. Nirrti noticed that the radiation coming from the explosion was off the charts and that piqued her curiosity.”
“About the black hole? We have seen black holes used as sources of power.”
“Not really. She believed the ship must had been carrying something truly powerful to make that kind of explosion. She had never seen a ship with that design before and searched in vain for others like it in this region of space. All she found was a quantum mirror in a planet in a nearby sector.”
“The one in Melia?”
“Exactly. Nirrti decided to use it for her search. And you know the rest. When she crossed over to this reality, she located this ship, still orbiting at a safe distance around the black hole and with enough ZPMs in storage to make one hell of an explosion.”
“How many ZPMs did she take?”
“Only a few. She didn’t trust anyone in her reality, so she came back for more power modules as needed.”
“So when the Tok’ra captured Nirrti near Melia, what happened to the ZPM she was carrying?”
“I guess it’s floating somewhere in space. Nirrti ejected it when she felt cornered. I don’t think the Tok’ra ever realized what her plans were.” I know I don’t sound reassuring so Daniel frowns, probably realizing a possible wrinkle in our mission. I’ve heard the Tok’ra have been complicated allies.
“Did you tell them about this ship when they interrogated you?” asks Daniel as we move forward, our light beams lost in the darkness ahead.
“That was the one thing Nirrti and I ever had in common. We didn’t trust anyone with all this power.”
“Jack and I feel exactly the same. The fewer people who know about the ZPM cache, the better,” he murmurs, though there is nobody to hear us in the quiet darkness. “Are we getting close?”
“We are moving in the right direction.”
“I like the architectural design, geometric and austere but with nice organic patterns on the bulkheads,” says Daniel coming closer to the corridor walls to inspect their surface.
I point my light towards the flat panels. They look like woven textiles. “We’ll find a door on the right farther ahead,” I announce. “You’ll know that we are near because of the decorative reliefs.” Even though Daniel has a general idea of what’s ahead, I expect his socks will drop right down the deck when he sees the artwork.
Suddenly, our radios crackle startling us. “Sierra Golf One Niner, this is Odyssey.”
“This is Daniel. Go ahead, Mitchell.”
“Everything A-okay over there?”
“So far so good. We’re on a corridor moving towards the relief panels.”
“Copy that. Report back when you get there.”
“Will do,” Daniel says and pushes his radio down into his pocket.
We walk in silence for ten minutes and as the decoration begins to change and become more elaborate, Daniel’s pace picks up in speed. My shorter legs struggle to keep up with his longer strides until he suddenly stops in front of one of the exquisite sculptural panels imbedded in the bulkhead on both sides of the corridor. His jaw falls open and his eyes can’t get enough. Somehow, the wonder that animates his face makes him look very young.
The panel represents two tall figures, a bit larger than life, in long robes walking among lion-like creatures. The next relief shows two rivers with sinuous lines suggesting the subtle movement of running water. Further ahead, a powerful figure stands alone, his robe covered with coiling designs, and his eyes open in a stare forever blank. The unknown stories represented in the large sculptural panels draw Daniel’s attention like powerful magnets.
We walk through a narrative full of fascinating figures, who in turn silently witness our passing. Daniel stops frequently, filling his eyes with the beautiful reliefs and some interspersed panels showing long texts written in a language reminiscent of ancient Near Eastern cuneiform scripts I’ve seen in books.
He lovingly touches the edge of one of the panels, running his fingers over the uneven surface. “It looks like stone, but it feels like some kind of metal,” he says in a whispery voice. Oh boy, it’s total love at first sight.
“We’ll have to come back with better lighting and take good photos,” I say, trying to offer some hope. “Perhaps we could even try removing the panels and taking them home.” His eyes dilate with archaeological greed. I can’t say I blame him.
Then I see what we were looking for. “There’s the storage unit.”
“You know, I don’t think this is just a cargo hold, at least not in the traditional sense. I’m curious as to why so many decorations… I mean this is a long narrative, and for what purpose? A room with a bunch of high-power batteries?”
I can see his point. The contents of the room may be ZPMs to us, but for the ship’s original owners, these items held some kind of special value.
I push a sign next to the door, which quietly slides open. The room is not large, and three of its walls are covered with niches. In total, I count sixteen columns of five shelves each. Our beams of light follow along the rows and, with a few exceptions, all niches hold dark cubic boxes that are about 13 by 13 inches in size.
“The cache is a few boxes short of 80, and I believe each one of them contains a ZPM,” I say. I could be smug about bringing to Earth such an amazing find, but I’m too scared of what this could do.
Daniel’s jaw drops open as his eyes survey the room and he realizes the incalculable amount of power lying dormant in front of him. He reaches above his head for the one box left on top of the first column, carefully detaching it from its niche, to which the box seems to have been somehow connected. They must be powering the ship. He opens it, revealing a faintly glowing device, about 12 inches in length that is ensconced diagonally inside a fitted base. It reminds me of a collection of crystalline cylindrical tubes tied at one end by a flat base.
“It looks differently from the ZPMs I’ve seen and it’s bit shorter, but given that it was made by a different culture... We’ll need to run some tests,” Daniel says putting the cylinder and its box back in their place. He then activates his com unit.
“Odyssey, this is Daniel Jackson. Please respond.”
“Mitchell here, go ahead.”
“We found the sculptural panels. They are incredible. The best stuff I’ve seen in a long time. I’d love to take some home before the ship gets transferred to the engineering department.”
I see a flat surface in a corner, which turns out to be a rolling table. I push it next to the second column and carefully pull the lower two boxes out of their setting and put them on the table.
“Mitchell, there are some smaller artifacts on display that are more portable. We’ll transport them on a kind of rolling table. Just beam us all together.”
“Roger to that. Use the locator beacon.”
“Okay. Stand by.”
Daniel stands next to me, and another box from the second column, and places it on the rolling cart. As he’s about to reach for another box, we hear a soft hum. A soft light comes on, and a bluish energy shield quietly drops from the ceiling, like a translucent curtain enveloping the rows of niches like a tight protective skin. Instinctively, we step back.
Daniel hovers his hand close to the unwavering blue membrane and quickly removes his hand. I look at him. “It feels like high voltage,” he explains.
He picks up his radio once more while I push the rolling table into the hallway, away from any other possible defense mechanisms.
“Odyssey, this is Daniel Jackson.”
“Mitchell here. What’s up?”
“We, er, seem to have triggered some kind of shield when we removed four artifacts from a shelf. We’re okay, but removing anything else is a no-go right now. I’m documenting the carved reliefs next. Stand by.”
Daniel takes the video camera out of his pack and I grab his P90 and my flashlight to give him enough light to film all the relief panels lining the corridor.
When we are done, we are transported directly to a small conference room on board the Odyssey. We place the four boxes on the table, where the disconnected security camera lies inside a plastic tray, supposedly broken and waiting for repair. We sit down and wait for Mitchell, who doesn’t take long to arrive. He steps towards the table and opens the boxes. We have four ZPMs, or something very much like them.
“How many more in the old ship?”
“Around 80,” I say and Mitchell whistles at the news. “But there may be more in other parts of the ship. I just don’t know.”
“What about the shield that got triggered?” he asks.
“Some kind of automatic defense mechanism,” proposes Daniel. “Sam should take a look at these ZPMs but we need to come back. If something happens and the ship’s orbit changes, we’d never get a chance like this.”
“Sunshine, this is the easiest sell you’ll ever make, but like General O’Neill said, you’ll have to make your pitch directly to the President. If anyone else gets a whiff of what’s out here, all bets are off.”
All of the sudden, the black boxes looked rather ominous.
We fly back to Melia and deep down I feel blessed that this time I see the brown surface of the planet as a free woman, free from the monster that once held me hostage. We beam down at the edge of the arid plateau that stretches away from the Stargate. Daniel dials home and between the two of us we carry the four boxes back to the SGC, where we take them directly to Daniel’s office. Except for Sergeant Harriman waiting for our arrival in the Control Room, we meet nobody else. It’s the end of the night shift and the skeleton crew is getting free donuts for breakfast in the mess hall.