Vala hears the sound of feet moving toward her cell. She expects they want to take her by surprise, but she felt the ship stop ages ago. Either they're going to maroon her, or they don't trust her alone on the Prometheus. None of them consider tossing her out an airlock as a possibility.
The door slides open, and General Hammond walks into the room. He's followed by Daniel, who stays one step behind and to General Hammond's right. Major Lorne - charming man that he is - enters behind both of them.
Vala leans back on the bank and surveys them with a calculating look. She smirks when Daniel's jaw tightens, and wiggles her fingers at him. Rumor around the galaxy has it that he'd become one of the Old Ones, but had been found wanting in some way. He'd returned to the Tau'ri with gaping holes in his memory that no one had been able to heal.
As a former Old One herself, one who'd not been found lacking and is therefore in possession of a rather terrifying and complete set of memories, Vala finds it all extraordinarily amusing. When she isn't choking back a scream.
"We're disembarking, Ms. Mal Doran." General Hammond is still upset, which is a shame. It isn't as if she'd killed him. Just almost, and by accident. Honestly, if Vala held a grudge for every time she's almost died, accident or not, she's positive the required revenge would have denuded at least half the populace of the galaxy by now.
"I'm sure you'll all have fun on your lovely vacation." If anything, Vala's insouciance gets worse, and she sees a muscle tic start up on Daniel's cheek. She lets her silence stretch out until Daniel draws breath to speak. "Did you want to do something other than gloat at how you're leaving poor little me all alone in prison?"
"Ms. Mal Doran, you're far too much of a security risk to be left alone on this ship," says General Hammond.
"Smashing!" exclaims Vala, grinning brightly. She leaps to her feet and snatches her pack from underneath her blanket. "I've been bored in here. When do we leave?"
"Where did you get that?" General Hammond's skull - well, the top of his head, if Vala is going to be accurate, which she may as well be - is bright red.
"What, this old thing?" Vala gives her pack a careless glance, then chuckles at the uneasy look her guards give her. "It just showed up one morning. No idea where it came from."
The armory, as a matter of fact, under several layers of security. Vala enjoys a good challenge.
"You're actually considering taking her down on the planet with us?" asks Daniel, pushing his glasses up with his forefinger. "Sir, she can't be trusted."
"Would you rather leave her alone up here? Maybe she can steal my ship again?" asks General Hammond. The look he gives Daniel is irritated. Vala sticks her tongue out at them, and is gratified by Daniel's glare.
"Yes, Daniel, you can't ever leave me alone," says Vala. She plants one hand on her hip and grins. "You'll have to stay with me every moment, sleeping and waking. Unless you want Major Lorne here to be my constant companion instead?"
Lorne doesn't move a muscle. Vala bats her eyelashes at him. The man is delightful, at least when there are no commanding officers to rein him in. With General Hammond in the room, he's a stick in the mud. Maybe she can get him to loosen up a bit.
"Let's just get this over with." General Hammond heaves a sigh, and Vala has a great deal of sympathy for him. He looks very tired as he gestures, and Major Lorne lets her out of her cell.
She pouts when he handcuffs her. "What, don't we get to have any fun?"
Doesn't matter. It won't take her more than half a minute's work to get out of these.
The sunlight sparkles on the ocean. Waves lap at the shore. The trees are green. Surely there are adorable little animals frolicking in the forest. This planet is the picture of idyllic beauty. It's just made for adorable little animals.
Vala's skin crawls. Nothing that perfect can be real.
"We should go back to the Prometheus." Vala blurts it out, because she's afraid. Because she knows they won't believe her. No one ever wants to believe that there's something out there, lying in wait underneath the beauty. Something horrible and ugly that crawls into your soul and changes you, and makes you more and less than human, so all you can do is watch through veiled eyes as your hands are bathed in blood.
She feels a slap against her face. Vala comes back to herself. The taste in her mouth is salt. She's bleeding. It's unmistakable. When she called herself Qetesh, she gloried in blood. It's surprising to realize she's been speaking the language of the Goa'uld as she was clawing at the windows.
The look Vala gives Daniel would make any man flinch. He meets her gaze, stony-eyed, and she knows he's not a man, or not only a man. Not any more.
"There's something wrong on this planet," says Vala. Her voice is quieter, but no less fervent for that.
"What happened to you, young lady?" asks General Hammond. He's staring at her with more sympathy than revulsion. More fool he. Any half-wit villager from her home planet knows enough to drive her away on sight. This man is patting her hand and trying to comfort her.
"I'm afraid you don't want to know." Vala takes her bound hands and puts them over General Hammond's. He's a nice man. She might even be sad if something happens to him.
Major Lorne is wary of her. Smart man. She thinks that might keep him alive longer than the rest of them.
Daniel is disdainful. "What if I want to know?"
Vala lets her gaze wander from the top of Daniel's head to the toes of his boots. She pays extra attention to the way his eyes narrow at her. He gets a smirk in return.
If there's one thing Vala loves almost as much as financial security, it's irritating people. When they're annoyed, they're off-balance, and just that much easier to fool. Vala loves that.
They don't stop their descent, of course. No one ever listens. Vala's used to it, also of course. At least Major Lorne double checks his weaponry, and she sees him add some more of the gray explosive to his pack. She really must find out his first name one of these days.
The pilot, whoever he or she is, sets them down without a bump. Vala contemplates striking it rich, running away, and luring one of the Tau'ri men into coming with her. They have wonderful biceps. So very firm. Perhaps it's a trait all the Tau'ri men share?
"Do you plan on uncuffing me before we head out to the den of iniquity?" asks Vala. She holds up her bound hands and smiles.
"Vala--" Daniel grits his teeth. "There's nothing wrong."
"Just a deserted planet, right? Inviting, isn't it? Haven't you people learned yet that you never let your guard down on the prettiest planets?" Idiots, every one of them. They'd survived uncounted centuries on Earth exactly how?
It's clear that Daniel is very invested in thinking he's an ordinary human. He shakes his head in disgust and moves to where General Hammond is briefing the burliest of the soldiers.
Major Lorne, on the other hand, is intrigued, not to mention wary. It's a fine line to walk. Too much knowledge, and he's going to end up like Vala, half insane and struggling to hold onto whatever shreds of humanity he has left. Too little, and he's going to end up dead, probably in a very messy fashion. It's impossible to find any kind of middle ground.
"If you stick with me, your chances of surviving are better," says Vala. Her laugh has a hollow echo.
"How much better?" asks Major Lorne. He glances out the viewscreen. "I had a friend--"
Vala holds her bound hands out to Major Lorne, who undoes them after General Hammond gives a terse nod. "Next time you're going to tie me up, buy a girl dinner first."
Major Lorne chuckles, and Vala takes a break from rubbing circulation back into her wrists to slap him on the arm. "Now," she says, her expression sobering. "Let me guess. Your friend saw something he - or she - shouldn't have, and was forever changed by the experience."
"Happens more often than I'd think?" guesses Major Lorne. From the shadows in his eyes, she thinks his friend is dead.
"Hard to say," says Vala. She shoulders her pack. They really should search her, better, though she won't remind them of that. "How often do you think it happens?"
They're several miles from the coast, which is where Daniel says there are signs of human habitation. The air is so humid that Vala's clothes are sodden with sweat. It's appalling. She whines incessantly about the insect life, the length of their hike, and the fact that the undergrowth seems to take an almost vicious pleasure in smacking her on the face.
After a thorny plant tears at her sleeve, Vala stops and stamps her foot. "This planet is out to get us!" Her hair is in her face, there are tears in her eyes, and her voice catches.
Daniel huffs and rolls his eyes as he turns away. Major Lorne is stone-faced and stoic, but he hands her a rag and a canteen. Vala gives him a grateful smile, then wrinkles up her face and sticks her tongue out at Daniel.
General Hammond looks over at them. The fact that he's trying to decide between amusement and irritation is obvious in his expression. Vala winks, and General Hammond shakes his head and chuckles.
"You have a way with men, don't you?" asks Major Lorne. He leans over and nudges Vala with his shoulder when General Hammond starts moving again. He's got a devilish gleam in his eye.
When Vala laughs, Daniel rounds on them. "Don't you two think you should be taking this seriously?"
"You know, Daniel, I don't think you understand just how seriously we're taking this." Vala frowns as she looks at him. Every muscle in his body is tensed. He's pale, despite the heat, and his eyes are more than half wild. No one but Vala seems to notice.
"Cadman, what's your team's position?" asks Major Lorne, clicking on his radio.
Vala doesn't recognize Cadman's voice, but it comes across the radio loud and clear. "Hard going, sir, but I'd say we're within a mile of the beach."
"When you reach it, hold and wait for us to rendezvous with you," says Major Lorne. "Any signs of habitation?"
"None yet." Cadman sounds cheery, not spooked out.
They make it to the beach without incident. Lieutenant Cadman is waiting there with her team. The waves lap at the sand, and the sun shines on the water, bright and cheerful. It's like a picture.
Vala waves at the Lieutenant, who gives her a puzzled look. Word of Vala's abortive little try to take the Prometheus was hard to keep secret. That's what she gets for stranding almost the entire crew on a teltac whose atmospheric controls were on the fritz. In her defense, the atmospheric controls are the one system she's not guilty of sabotaging.
No one believes her when she says that, of course.
"Report, Lieutenant," says General Hammond.
"Everything's fine," says Lieutenant Cadman. She shrugs at Vala's sharp look. "Yamato here keeps saying something's watching us, but I don't get any sense of that at all. Neither does Coughlin."
"Well, actually, we saw you coming a while back."
Vala whirls around. Behind them stands a man with dark, spiky hair. She half expects him to be holding a weapon on them, but, instead, he scrubs at the back of his neck with one hand. It's meant to make him look harmless.
It makes Vala's skin crawl. She looks around. Daniel's curiously wary, General Hammond is frowning, and Major Lorne looks uneasy. Lieutenant Cadman smiles at the man, and he gives her an approving look in return.
That's it. Vala's keeping an eye on Lieutenant Cadman from now on.
It turns out the man is one of the last survivors of the Atlantis expedition. His name is Major John Sheppard, and he's the highest ranking military individual left. Lieutenant Ford and Sergeant Bates emerge from the trees on Major Sheppard's signal and flank him. Where Major Sheppard is full of easy charm, these two bristle with mistrust.
None of them are human, of course. It's something about the eyes that gives them away, and, of course, there's also the fact that if Vala doesn't look at them straight on, they have the oddest expressions. She knows the Tau'ri don't do that sort of thing unless they've been changed.
Idiot Tau'ri. They never know what they're stumbling into. On the other hand, ignorance is bliss.
When Vala catches Lieutenant Ford giving her a sidelong glance, she keeps her expression very, very bland. She's not sure if her eyes give her away or not. Unfortunately for her, the pressure of his gaze is too much after the spell she had on the ride down, and she sways.
Major Lorne catches her before she falls, and lets her lean against him. Vala gives him a grateful look, and doesn't comment on how lovely his arms are.
It's the truth, after all, and she's had that used against her one time too many.
Vala spends the rest of the hike trying to avoid the hard looks of Sergeant Bates. Her personal rule is only one session of foaming at the mouth per day.
The remnants of the expedition are settled just off the beach. Major Sheppard jokes that it's because he's going to take up surfing one of these days, whatever that is. There are a dozen buildings clustered together, and a small plot of farmland cleared from the land that borders the beach.
Vala looks around. It's quiet, just like the quaint monastery she'd spent some time in. The one she'd had to leave in a hurry. How was she supposed to know they had a penchant for eating the flesh of gods, former or otherwise? Last she'd heard, though, they'd all perished in a hail of fire, her ex-partner included. Well. She rather thought he'd deserved it.
Major Sheppard doesn't give any kind of signal that Vala can detect, but a woman pushes open her door and steps out. Her long brown hair shines in the sunlight, falling in curls down to the middle of her back. The thing that strikes Vala, even before she realizes the woman's shirt is the color of blood, is that her eyes are old. Vala thinks of herself as - well, if not aged, per se, then a little more experienced than most - but this woman is ancient.
She glances around. Daniel seems puzzled, blinking at the woman and frowning, though not in the same way he frowns at Vala. His frown deepens when a blonde woman steps out and stands next to her. "Dr. Weir. Dr. Heightmeyer." He shakes his head. "You look different."
The women's eyes meet as they give each other a sidelong glance, and amusement passes between them. The blonde's eyes flicker back to Daniel with a significant look.
"We've been stranded here for almost a year," says the dark-haired woman. "What do you think we should look like?" Her voice is vibrant and alive in a way Vala doesn't think quite fits roughly made huts on the beach of a planet that hides its nightmares in a tropical paradise.
Some people say Vala has a talent for hyperbole. They'd be right, but not in this case.
"I guess I thought--" Daniel trails off, like he's not able to put his finger on what's making him uneasy. Vala thinks that she could tell him, but she'll let him flounder a while. Just because she's not an Old One any more doesn't mean she's not given to the occasional bout of bloodthirstiness. Not literally of course, or not literally very often.
Vala realizes she's whispering in Goa'uld under her breath, and bites the inside of her cheek until she bleeds. That's when she can stop.
It's harder than Vala expects to sneak into Major Lorne's tent in the middle of the night. Most of the surviving expedition members are up and about. It doesn't match with what she knows of the Tau'ri, but Vala and Qetesh have both traded in information. She's got her suspicions, and now's the time to compare them with someone else.
Vala gives a low whistle at the sight of Major Lorne's bare, broadly muscled chest. His eyes snap open at the sound. Smart man, not sleeping heavily on a planet like this. Vala grins.
"Jesus." Major Lorne scrubs his hand over his face as Vala collapses into a cross-legged seat on the ground next to him. "You could scare a guy to death."
She has, as a matter of fact, more than once.
"Hello, handsome," says Vala, grinning. When he reaches for a shirt, Vala puts her hand over his. The heat she feels at the contact surprises her, and the startled expression on Major Lorne's face tells her that he feels it too. "Don't get dressed on my account."
"Right," says Major Lorne. He gives her a long, considering look, then pulls his hand away and settles back down. "What's up?"
"I don't like this place." Vala glances around. All she can see are the tent walls, but she's picturing the whole compound. Lieutenant Cadman is chattering away with Major Sheppard, and Vala suppresses a shudder whenever he looks at her. Daniel, she knows, is wandering the grounds, half-glimpsed memories from his time as an Old One affecting him.
General Hammond is done meeting with Dr. Weir, and is sleeping peacefully, if looking a bit shell-shocked. He might be the only one sleeping well tonight.
"Aren't you supposed to be locked up and under guard?" asks Major Lorne. He doesn't look particularly upset by her being out and
"When has that ever stopped me?" asks Vala. Impertinence is her stock in trade.
"Good point," says Major Lorne dryly. "What's wrong?"
"They're not human. None of them." Best to get the crazy sounding parts out of the way fast.
That gets Major Lorne's attention. He sits up, and the blanket falls down to his waist. Vala tries not to get distracted. "What are you talking about?"
"It's all in their eyes," says Vala. She lets her gaze slide down his body.
Major Lorne rolls his eyes. "If you're going to act like that, honey, I'd rather you call me Evan."
"Are you flirting with me?" asks Vala. She doesn't manage to hide quite all of her surprise, but maybe he'll think it's false.
"It's that obvious?" asks Lorne, and his surprise is definitely feigned. "How do you know they're not human?"
"It's in the eyes," says Vala. She raises her chin, giving Lorne a defiant look. "I wasn't-- I'm not entirely human myself."
"Takes one to know one?" asks Lorne.
"Something like that," says Vala, ignoring the sympathy in Lorne's expression. "The difference is that I clawed my way back to humanity - literally - and they're quite happy with remaining what they are."
"And what are they?" asks Lorne. His voice is quieter. He's taking her seriously. "Because they all checked out fine when they left Earth."
"It must've been Atlantis," says Vala. She's convinced that's the answer. "It must have done something to them. Ancient technology is one of the most dangerous things out there, and they lived on an Ancient city for, what, nearly a year?"
"Just about that," says Lorne. "I'm hoping General Hammond finds out what happened to it."
"It blew up a few months ago," says Vala, giving Lorne a very innocent look when he frowns at her. He's not fooled, of course, and she's surprised at how that's just fine by her. "Sabotage by one of the natives. What is it with you Tau'ri and ex-Tau'ri being so xenophobic?"
Vala thinks that, what with everything out there in the rest of the galaxy, it's a good survival technique, but it's a little hard not to take it personally. After all, she's part of everything out there in the rest of the galaxy.
"Says the woman who tried to steal our ship," says Lorne dryly.
"You aren't going to hold that against me, are you?" asks Vala, fluttering her eyelashes.
A footstep scuffs outside, and Vala moves without hesitation. She leans forward and presses a full, open-mouthed kiss on Lorne's lips. He doesn't pull away. As a matter of fact, his arm snakes around her waist, and he pulls her closer. Vala's crushed against Lorne's chest, so she twines her arm around his neck.
Not only is it a perfect distraction, it's something Vala doesn't want Lorne to stop. The moment ends, however, when Lieutenant Cadman shoves her way into the tent. Well. Maybe it doesn't end right away.
"Lorne, did you miss every single seminar on why we don't get romantically involved with people not from planet Earth?" asks Lieutenant Cadman.
"Who says it's romance?" asks Vala, after she breaks away from Lorne and gives him a pat on the cheek. "It's been a very exciting week. Darling, if you haven't just thrown yourself at somebody to work off tension, you haven't really lived."
Lieutenant Cadman laughs. "Just remember who's going to get court martialed if General Hammond finds out." She ducks back out.
"I'm flattered," says Lorne, dryly. He's not angry, at least, which is probably all Vala can ask for.
"Darling, if she thinks all I'm here for is a quick roll, she's not going to suspect that we know anything." Vala lounges against Lorne, her fingertips trailing up and down his chest.
He doesn't stop her. As a matter of fact, his arm wraps around her, strong and sure, and he tugs Vala on top of him. "Is this all just to throw Cadman off the scent?" His voice is husky as Vala leans over to kiss him. "Why do we suspect Cadman, anyway?"
"We suspect Cadman because she likes these people," says Vala, breaking away and taking a deep, ragged breath. "And the rest of it depends on if you care that I'm a madwoman."
Lorne cups his hand around the back of her neck. His fingers are soft over the ritual scarification that once marked her as Qetesh. Vala shudders, cursing softly in Goa'uld as she's swallowed by the searing light of her former godhood.
"I'm starting to think I'm crazy too," says Lorne. He palms Vala's breast, his hand sliding along her nipple. "I shouldn't be--"
Vala groans, interrupting whatever he was about to say. Lorne is foolish to come anywhere near her, and even more foolish to touch her. She's mad not to send him away, to let him stay safe in his ignorance. He should board the Prometheus right now, they all should, and go back to the Tau'ri homeworld. It might be too late.
She thinks about it, but she doesn't bother. He should go, but he doesn't leave, and she won't make him.
Her bodysuit is easy to shuck off, and there's nothing underneath it. Lorne stares, distracted by the fact that Vala doesn't believe in underwear below a skintight outfit, and doesn't notice Vala stripping him.
It's been so long since she's been close to anyone. She covers his body with her own. Lorne grabs her, tugs her up and parts her thighs, then drops soft, delicate kisses on her skin. Vala has to stifle a moan. The idea is to use sex as a distraction for the Old Ones, not to get caught in the act by General Hammond.
Lorne's very good with his mouth. He slides it against her clit, licking at her with flat, broad strokes of his tongue that start Vala shuddering. Waves of pleasure wrack her, and Vala's mouth opens in a silent cry.
Before she can recover, she moves so that she can side down on Lorne's cock. His eyes roll up in the back of his head as he thrusts into her. Lorne's hands grip her hips tightly enough that Vala wonders if she'll wake up tomorrow with bruises. Vala grabs his hands and pins them down to solve that little problem, and Lorne grins up at her. He's already close, panting and with a sheen of sweat that covers his chest.
Vala leans down, moves against Lorne, matching him thrust for thrust. She bites him on the shoulder, trying to mark him as hers in a way that she knows she shouldn't. When Lorne lets out a hoarse grunt, she kisses him again, muffling the cry he makes when he comes in side her.
They lay together, breathing loud in the tent. Lorne is a solid wall of muscle under Vala, warm and breathing, and everything she wants. Everything she's going to ruin, if he lets her in, despite all her best intentions.
"That hurts," he tells her after a few minutes, rubbing at his shoulder.
"A big, tough man like you can take a little pain." Vala looks for something to clean up with, then decides she doesn't care. It's not her bedroll.
Ever the gentleman, though, Lorne hands her his shirt. "I've got another in my pack."
Vala stays until dawn. She slips out of Lorne's tent when the sky lightens, trips over a depression in the ground, and falls into the mud with a grunt. It takes only a quick glance to see who's around and might have heard her embarrass herself.
Dr. Weir is slipping into a hut, and stops to stare at Vala, a speculative, inhuman gleam in her eyes. She's in shadows that are slowly being eroded by the morning light. She flinches when a ray of sun falls on her, before Dr. Heightmeyer and Major Sheppard push aside the thick woolen door hangings to drag Dr. Weir into the cool darkness of their hut. Soft, low sounds come from inside. They stop when Vala moves closer.
It's interesting what she finds out when she's underestimated.
The days at the Lantean settlement are quiet. Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir explain the threat of the Wraith to General Hammond and what they've lived with. Most of the survivors, the few who were off on the mainland when the Wraith blew Atlantis up, spend their days out gathering food. Without a chappa'ai, they're limited by the growing season on this planet, and none of their agriculturalists survived.
Vala, of course, doesn't believe a word of it. General Hammond, being one of those poor men who believes in the innate goodness of all sentient beings, does. Cadman, lovely, suspiciously accepting girl that she is, spends all her time with the Lanteans. She calls it "gathering intelligence." Vala calls it flirting, not to mention being seduced by unspeakable horrors. She tries to tell them, but, as usual, no one listens. They might, if only she could control the convulsions when she thinks too hard about it.
Daniel doesn't even pretend to listen. He's quite distracted the whole time, muttering old tales of Alteran iniquity to anyone that will listen. The problem is that he mutters them in Alteran, so the only ones that understand him are Vala and Dr. Weir.
No one believes Vala when tells them what he says, and Dr. Weir gives soft, fond smiles to Daniel. It's worth the frustration if only for the fact that Major Sheppard and Dr. Heightmeyer glare at Daniel if Dr. Weir is around when he starts talking.
Of course, Lieutenant Cadman spends all her time with Major Sheppard, which makes Dr. Weir and Dr. Heightmeyer jealous. She wishes they'd be sensible, but the Old Ones have always had strong passions.
Daniel comes over, and Major Sheppard gravitates toward Lieutenant Cadman. Lieutenant Cadman comes over, and Dr. Weir moves to where she's last spotted Daniel. Dr. Heightmeyer seems to be the only one who doesn't home in on the Prometheus' crew. She watches everyone, looking like the most patient woman in the world. It's like she's taking her time to pick out her prey.
Vala never, ever lets her guard down. General Hammond feels sorry for her, so he sends her on patrol when Vala asks for the chance to do something useful. If there were such a thing as a second chance for a woman like her, she thinks the Tau'ri planet would be the best place for it.
The forest is idyllic, of course, peaceful and full of life. One by one, all of the Prometheus' personnel let their guard down. All of them except Lorne. He's assigned to guard Vala while they patrol, but since they've started sleeping together, he's less wary around her. Sometimes, in the forests around the beach, Vala lets him press her against a tree and kiss her. They may be in unspeakable danger, but she's not averse to taking a break now and then.
There's something in Lorne's past. Part of his caution is her influence, but he was wary before. Something has him on edge. He must have been shielded from the worst of whatever it was. He's far more sane than Daniel.
In just a few weeks, after finding the nearest available chappa'ai and sending teams throughout the galaxy, General Hammond starts talking about returning to Earth with the surviving members of the expedition. Dr. Weir goes on about gratitude, but when Vala looks out of the corner of her eye, she sees a triumphant expression.
Dr. Heightmeyer 'accidentally' stumbles into Lorne a few hours later and mentions that Beckett has come up with a foolproof way to activate the ATA gene. She wants him to take the shot, so that he can operate Ancient technology, just like Laura Cadman can already do. She's got an alluring smile, and she tosses her hair as she flirts with him.
Vala's mouth thins and her eyes narrow. If they're after Lorne, then it's time to move. Vala's going to make sure they don't get him. Or the entire Tau'ri species.
Lorne's not the type of man to roll over and fall asleep after sex, but he is tonight. Vala thanks whoever that guard was that wasn't watching the door to the Prometheus' infirmary. She left a note telling them to lock up the sedatives better, but no one's going to find it for at least a day. Possibly two.
By then, she'll have figured it all out, and hopefully gotten herself out of trouble for the theft.
She's into the forest when she hears the rustling of the leaves. Soft whispers just outside of her hearing tantalize her, trying to draw her away. Vala's not that stupid. She hears Qetesh whispering to her in her sleep, calling her to take up the mantle of godhood once again. She knows not to listen to voices in the night.
"You really thought you could slip me a mickey and get away with it?" whispers Lorne, his hand clamping down on her arm.
Vala jerks herself free and glares. "I thought I had!" She keeps her voice a hiss. There are too many things whose attention they can draw. "You're not supposed to be involved."
"I should take you back to the Prometheus and lock you in the brig," whispers Lorne. He's furious with her, which she supposes he has the right to be.
"You can't keep me there, darling." Vala kisses him. She likes anger. It's hot and furious, and passion flares. It's everything she lives for. His mouth is hard against hers, and Vala's chuckle is low and throaty.
"That's the only reason I'm not," says Lorne. He looks around. The night is quieter than it should be, and Lorne, not being stupid, knows it. "What's going on?"
"That's what I'm trying to find out," hisses Vala. She grabs Lorne's arm and drags him into the trees and then down the path to the ocean caves. "Whatever's happening, it's happening now."
The caves are filled with the sound of the ocean. The further in they go, the louder the waves are. They fill Vala's ears, and, just out of range of her vision, red and blue and green lights sparkle. She thinks she sees something underneath the rock.
Evan follows alongside her. After spiralling downward for what seems like hours, they burst into a large chamber. It looks like a dank cave, made of rocks covered in seaweed and filled with the smell of rotting fish, but when Vala lets her mind slip into a haze of sickly yellow light so she can see, she curses in Goa'uld.
Near the far wall, in front of spreading veins of Alteran glasswork, a chappa'ai grows from the ground, its two halves separated by a hair's breadth of space. The smell of salt air fills the room. The presence she's felt since they entered orbit is heavy and thick, crawling against her skin, and it pulses around her like a heartbeat.
Lorne squints at the walls of the cave, trying to see what upsets her so. "It's a cave. So what?"
"You can't see it?" asks Vala. Of course he can't, he's blind, the poor, human man who doesn't know what's out there. She doesn't think on it, she can't, the whispering susurrations in her mind are growing to a clamor.
If she doesn't make him see, if she can't make him see, she loses him tonight to the Alterans. It would be kindest of all to kill him, but Vala isn't kind. She can't be, she was Qetesh, she was a goddess, and the seeds of godhood are still inside her. No goddess is kind. The haze over her vision spreads, becomes a blinding, golden glow.
Her wrists are trapped in Lorne's hands, and Vala is speaking in Goa'uld, recounting the tale of how she discovered the gods of the deep, how she became one of them. How she returned after centuries of exile, but not all the way. They're deep below the surface of the planet, where Qetesh is strongest, and Vala twists her hands, breaking Lorne's grip and grabbing him. She pulls him to her, kissing him again, and everything is so bright, so clear.
The golden light flows through her mouth, through her eyes, and into Lorne, opening up his mind to what human eyes can't perceive. Vala lets go of his wrists, pushes at Lorne, at his arms wrapped around her, and frees herself. She collapses to the ground, panting and wondering at the blood dripping from her hands. She doesn't remember if she scratched herself, or if it was Lorne.
He stands still, staring at the walls. Qetesh's glow is gone; he seems like an ordinary human once more, but no ordinary human can see Atlantis regrowing herself. Only time and caution will tell whether the seeds of godhood will take root in Lorne's soul.
"You can't grow a machine," says Lorne. "You can't grow a gate." The walls are beautiful, glowing with green light and covered in black tracings. Every few moments, dots of ocean blue and blood red light bloom across the green background. There is beauty in Atlantis, in its pallid, corrupt lights. It's designed to draw the Tau'ri in and remake them in the form of the Alterans.
"On the contrary, Major Lorne, you can grow a machine quite easily," says Dr. Weir, stepping inside the cave. She's triumphant, tugging General Hammond along with her, his hands bound behind him. There's a bruise on his skull, and he slumps against the wall and then down to the floor, unconscious. "If it's not a machine, but just looks like one."
Lorne reaches for his sidearm as he swears incoherently. He aims it at Dr. Weir, who doesn't seem upset.
"Don't bother with your gun," says Lieutenant Cadman, coming down the steps behind Dr. Weir. "Seriously? You cannot possibly think that this is anything but a good thing."
"They got to her on the first day," says Vala, crossing her arms under her breasts. "Hard not to, since she's got the blood of the Old Ones running through her veins."
"Look who's talking, you creepy bitch," says Lieutenant Cadman. "Like you're Miss Innocent?"
Major Sheppard is next to her, his walk graceful and his movements inhuman. He smiles, and Vala shudders. "Come on, Laura, we can still all be friends here."
Without hurrying her movements, Vala walks toward the chappa'ai. She inspects it, waiting until she's on the other side to thumb the emergency transmitter clasped in her hand. They need to lock those up better on the Prometheus. When she walks back around, Dr. Heightmeyer has arrived, Daniel in tow. He's bloodied, whispering to himself about Oma Desala, and laughing at nothing. Or nothing that's visible, at least.
"Quite nice," says Vala, coming out into the center of the room, next to Lorne. "Evan and I were wondering how you found the seed to grow yourselves a new chappa'ai after the city got blown up."
"I'm starting to think I should send a thank you card to the Wraith," says Lorne. There's a wild look in his eyes, and Vala would pity him if she were capable of it.
"Why should we tell you anything?" asks Major Sheppard. He spreads his hand out on the wall, which glows red underneath his hand. "You two aren't impressed. I can tell."
"This is ridiculous," announces Daniel, stepping forward. "I'm not going to stay here and listen to this any more. You should've let the city stay dead."
Dr. Heightmeyer doesn't stop him, just watches with an amused smile. "Good-bye, Dr. Jackson," she says, and gives Dr. Weir a triumphant look as Daniel starts to glow.
His body dissolves into brilliant white light, and his arms and legs lengthen, drifting in the air. The ocean recedes and the sound of the waves stops as they shield their eyes.
"Oh, that's just lovely!" exclaims Vala, gesturing at Daniel with her free hand. She uses the distraction to slip the transmitter back into its hiding spot. "You're going to go all glowy and tentacled, because it's far easier to go right back into being an Old One instead of dealing with mortal peril!"
Which it is, of course, but Vala's not going to give in to Qetesh's seductive whispers. Not again.
"I'd been hoping to get information out of him before he took that route," says Dr. Weir, fixing Dr. Heightmeyer with a glare.
"Poor Elizabeth," says Dr. Heightmeyer, more mockingly than Vala expects for someone sleeping with Dr. Weir. "I know you wanted him."
"Are we letting John have Laura?" asks Dr. Weir. She raises one eyebrow.
"He's had his eye on her for weeks," says Vala. She laughs, a delightful, mocking sound that's meant to drive anyone who hears it wild with anger. She's very good at that.
"What the hell, Cadman?" asks Lorne. He's appalled. "You were giving me grief over Vala, and you're shacking up with Sheppard? Are you shacking up with Sheppard?"
"I belong here," says Cadman. She shrugs. "What the hell do you expect? I was born with the ATA gene. This is where I'm meant to be."
"That's just creepy," says Lorne.
"Lorne has never run into anything like this," says Vala, patting his bicep. She'll protect him. Qetesh has chosen him as her consort. Vala has chosen him as her consort. "Let's try not to break his mind open all at once, shall we?"
"Sanity's overrated," says Dr. Heightmeyer. Her smile is wide. "I should know."
She draws a gun and, before anyone can react, shoots Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir between the eyes. They shriek in high, almost metallic voices that claw their way up and down Vala's spine, then fall to the ground. Dr. Weir stares at the ceiling, sightless, and Major Sheppard gasps once before he stops moving.
A low hum begins to vibrate through the cave. It sets Vala's teeth on edge. Atlantis is angry with Dr. Heightmeyer.
"Don't be ridiculous," says Dr. Heightmeyer, her glance flickering up to the ceiling. Her gaze snaps back down and meets Vala's. "They're too much a part of the city. They can't see the threat you are, not like I can."
The weight of the Old Ones is too much for Lorne. He's not used to the pressure on his mind. The gun wavers, and a muttered oath slips out. It's in Goa'uld, but Lorne doesn't realize that. Vala grabs his arm and squeezes, gives him something to focus on.
"Stand by the water," says Dr. Heightmeyer. She aims at Lieutenant Cadman. "Or I could take away any chance you have of saving Laura."
"I think I'll take my chances," says Lorne. He keeps his gun aimed at Dr. Heightmeyer. "Move out of the way, Kate."
Laura is leaning against the wall and laughing at them. "Is he the only one that doesn't get it? What do you see in him, Vala?"
"It's his endearing innocence," says Vala scathingly. "I'm not used to it."
"You don't understand, Evan," says Dr. Heightmeyer. She doesn't level the gun at him, but lowers it to her side as she chuckles. "We were on Atlantis when it blew up."
"Holy shit," says Lieutenant Cadman. She stops laughing as the wall starts to glow behind her, and Atlantis' remnants echo in their bones. She glances back at the wall. "It's talking to me, Kate. I can hear it, just like Sheppard said." There's an unholy light in Lieutenant Cadman's eyes, and the shudder that runs through her is pleasure, not terror.
"You're freaking me out, Cadman," says Lorne. He's still tring to make some sense of it all.
Dr. Heightmeyer is sidling closer, moving through spaces that human eyes can't see. Lorne isn't used to looking at them, but Vala spots the glint of metal in her hand. A syringe. Probably the ATA injection.
This has gone on long enough. She's not about to risk whatever that thing will do to them. Vala draws the zat she's not supposed to have and fires at Dr. Heightmeyer. Lieutenant Cadman launches herself at Vala, while Lorne shoots at her.
Major Sheppard's corpse twitches, its hand reaching for something. Dr. Weir's eyes are locked on Vala.
Vala is unmoved. Her eyes are cold as she pulls the trigger a second time, and blue fire crackles through the air. Dr. Heightmeyer dies. Whether that means anything or not remains to be seen. Vala pulls the trigger a third time--
She and Lorne are enveloped in a cone of white, and, as they are whisked away from Atlantis, Vala curses.
They land in the hollow depths of some strange kind of creature; it's smooth-skinned, with ribs arching meters over their heads. She and Lorne are surrounded by creatures with sharp teeth and skin that hold the pallor of the dead. Vala feels the emptiness of space outside of the creature; she knows what it is to traverse the stars. Qetesh spent centuries immersed in the void between worlds.
"What the hell?" asks Lorne. He doesn't lower his gun. Smart man, learning to start out suspicious.
"We've been transported someplace," says Vala, in a voice that makes it clear she wonders why Lorne's even asking. She doesn't lower her zat as she cocks her head and studies the creatures that crew this ship. This looks like one of those times to start from a position of strength.
"That does seem obvious, doesn't it?" asks Dr. Weir. She sounds amused. "I'm glad to know you two survived on the strength of your wits, not sheer luck."
Vala and Lorne whirl around, then glance at each other, confused. This Dr. Weir has short hair, shoulder-length at best, and she doesn't move the way the other one does. She sits at a throne on top of a dais, a beautiful woman with dark skin and even darker eyes sitting in a throne next to her. This Dr. Weir isn't the same as the other one. She's more human, for one thing.
The other woman gestures, and the beings surrounding them dissipate, drawing back into the murky depths of the creature that carries them through the deep. She watches them with silent, hungry eyes, but when her gaze alights on Dr. Weir, the woman looks like she's at a feast.
"Last I saw you, you were coming back from the dead," says Lorne, his voice dry. He's taking this with more aplomb than Vala is used to from humans. The Tau'ri are sturdier stock than she'd thought.
"What, again?" asks Dr. Weir. The lightness in her voice is forced. "I'd hoped she was going to stay dead the first time."
"No such luck," says Vala. She studies Dr. Weir. Behind her stands a man with long, black hair gathered back into a ponytail. "I don't suppose you have another Sheppard or Heightmeyer with you, do you?"
"Kate's alive?" asks Dr. Weir, frowning. "And John?" There's a desperate hope in her eyes.
"Alive, bugfuck nuts, and homicidal," says Lorne. His eyes are flinty as he holsters his gun. Vala shrugs and tucks her zat in her waistband. No use trying to hide it now. "You want to explain what's going on, Dr. Weir, and why there are two of you? Not to mention, how did you find us?"
"I've been given to understand that at least half the Tau'ri are bugfuck nuts," says Vala. She holds out Prometheus' remote distress beacon, which she's held in her possession for quite a long time. Since she first boarded Prometheus, at least. "All of the ones who leave the planet belong to that half of the population, but at least they recognize an Earth-based distress signal when they hear it."
The woman sitting next to Elizabeth laughs. It echoes throughout the room. She leans to the sides, her elbow resting upon the arm of her chair. "Elizabeth, who are they? Two of your people?"
"I'm afraid I only know Major Lorne," says Dr. Weir. She gives Vala a curious look. "You're not from the SGC. Or from Earth, are you?"
Memory flares in Vala, of negotations with the Tau'ri by the System Lords, and she murmurs in Goa'uld. Dr. Weir - no, this one's Elizabeth - draws back with a gasp. Vala digs her nails into her palms. The sharp bite of pain brings her back to herself, and she glances up at Lorne. His eyes are wide with fear.
"I understood that," he says. His voice stays firm, but underneath it is terror. Terror of her. "What did you do to me?"
"I hope you never thought I was safe," says Vala. The words are light, but every one of them is true. That's rare for her. She holds her hand out to Lorne. He doesn't take it, so Vala rolls her eyes and lets her hand drop to her side. "Vala Mal Doran. I was Qetesh, long ago. She's dead."
"Not entirely," says Elizabeth's friend. She's perceptive, looking through Vala's skin and seeing the remnants of godhood buried underneath. Of course, Vala's perceptive too. She sees the burning hunger that never ends.
"Who are you?" asks Vala, giving the woman a challenging look. She hears the echoing sounds of a tomb within this woman's heart. "The rest of us know each other, if only by proxy, but you're quite the stranger."
The woman smiles, proud and strong, and nods at Vala. "I am Teyla Emmagan, one of the queens of the Wraith. We have been at war with the Alterans for more than ten thousand years."
"Kate told me about her," says Lorne. He backs up a step, then looks around, as if realizing he has no place to go. "She said you blew up Atlantis. You and the other Wraith."
"I'm afraid that was me." Elizabeth looks serious, one eyebrow raised. "I couldn't risk Earth. I set the self-destruct on the city to keep Earth safe from them."
"We wished to take Atlantis for ourselves," says Teyla. She looks to the side, and a man with deathly white skin strides toward her. The tension between them is almost solid, and he kneels beside her, his head bowed.
"Michael, you and Ronon need to oversee the planetary bombardment," says Teyla. She touches his cheek in a fond gesture. "There is no one else I trust."
"Save for yourself and Elizabeth," says Michael. His voice is almost a hum. He nods at the man behind Elizabeth, who gives them a grim smile and leaves with Michael.
Vala gives Elizabeth a sharp look. "I didn't think the Tau'ri went in for planetary bombardment."
"We don't," says Lorne, frowning. "We have people on that planet, not just the expedition survivors and whatever they've become. You can't kill them."
"There are no other human life signs coming from Lantea," says Elizabeth. Her head bows for a moment, and Teyla places her hand over Elizabeth's. "Do you think we didn't look?"
"Your life sign scanners aren't very good if they read me as human," says Vala, amused. She's sorry that everyone's dead, of course, but the name of the game is survival. Vala is very, very good at that.
"Very funny, Vala," says Lorne. He grinds the words out.
"I'm serious, Evan," says Vala, glancing over at him. "I haven't been human since long before you met me. There's no one on this bloody ship who's human."
"What about--" He glances at Elizabeth. When Vala looks at her, harder than before, she sees hunger as it begins to grow inside Elizabeth. It must be a terrible burden to bear, as terrible as godhood is when forced upon the unwary.
"On a Wraith vessel, humans are prey," says Teyla. She looks over at Elizabeth, whose expression is smoothed into a blankness that says something in its absence of emotion.
"It was inevitable once you stepped foot off the Tau'ri homeworld," Vala tells her, shrugging. It's true, of course. Those that want to survive adapt to what exists between and upon the worlds. Those that do not let themselves be changed are devoured by the rest. "Just ask Jolinar."
"She goes by Colonel Carter," snaps Lorne, glaring at Vala.
"Only to you," murmurs Vala. She knows Jolinar, remembers from when they were prisoners of the Tok'ra and found what comfort they could in each other before escaping and slaughtering their captors. Rumor tells of how Jolinar lies in wait amidst the Tau'ri, and the day will come when Vala will find her once more. It's good to know that Lorne knows her already; her whole plan will come together without a hitch if she's got another in on the Tau'ri world.
Which means Elizabeth and her friends are going to be very, very useful some day as well.