"Daniel, I believe this, uh, new recruit belongs to you?"
Miko peeked around Colonel O'Neill, who was blocking the entrance to an office. While she was known for her patience, she was beginning to wonder if she'd made the right decision. Since she'd arrived, she'd been passed off to three different escorts and led through what felt like miles of corridors interspersed with the occasional elevator ride to finally end up in the base commander's office.
General Hammond had introduced himself and asked Sergeant Harriman, who'd been very kind and helpful, why she was in his office. The sergeant explained that she was new to the program, had signed all the required non-disclosure agreements, and had waited for over two hours at intake for Dr. Jackson. Colonel O'Neill, who'd just been leaving the general's office as she arrived, had sighed and shaken his head before telling the sergeant he'd escort Miko since he needed to talk to Dr. Jackson anyway. Thankfully, it had been only one more elevator ride and two corridors to what she hoped was her final destination.
"Hmm, what was that, Jack?" The bespectacled, shaggy-haired man behind the desk - presumably the missing Dr. Jackson - looked up from the large book on his desk and blinked in puzzlement. "Uh, new recruit? Wait, was that today?" He scrabbled under some papers to retrieve what looked like a PDA. "Damn, I forgot to charge it again." Popping the offending object into a charger on the desk, he stood and hurried to the door, bowing and tripping over his apologies. "I'm so sorry, Dr. Kusanagi, a thousand apologies. Kon'nichiwa. Please, please come in and have a seat."
Waiting until the colonel stepped to one side, Miko bowed in return. "Kon'nichiwa, Dr. Jackson." Accepting the offered seat in front of the messy desk, Miko smiled. "No apologies are required. I understand that you are a very busy man."
"But not too busy to greet you personally on your arrival, Dr. Kusanagi. Your credentials are very impressive and extensive." Dr. Jackson smiled at her before turning his attention to Colonel O'Neill, who'd stolen the desk chair and immediately propped his feet on a nearby cardboard box. "Jack, Dr. Kusanagi is exactly who I've been waiting for in this program. She not only has her doctorate in cultural anthropology, but she's also specialized in computer forensics and programming."
Colonel O'Neill looked up from Dr. Jackson's PDA and nodded with a quirked half-smile. "Very impressive, Dr.. Your solitaire score, Daniel - not so much."
"That's not all." Dr. Jackson's excitement had him bouncing in place. "She's created a symbolic language translation program, which she used in her dissertation for her second doctorate of applied linguistics from the University of Barcelona."
Smiling at the correct lisp in the city's name, Miko inclined her head in acknowledgment. "My honorable father has always indulged my insatiable curiosity, which has led me in many directions."
Dr. Jackson bowed again. "And I'm very pleased it's led you here, Dr. Kusanagi. I have been looking forward to your arrival. Some days, it feels as though I'm drowning in storerooms full of artifacts that need to be evaluated and cataloged. I'm also hoping your translation program will be very helpful in...."
Miko tried to resist, but a small sculpture on the desk was whispering in a way she hadn't heard since she'd left her grandmother behind in Japan. Reaching out, she touched the cool, smooth surface and it lit from within, a familiar glow from her past. She looked up in dismay, stricken by her blatant trespass. Before she could apologize, Dr. Jackson smiled and shrugged his shoulders in resignation.
"That's if Daniel can steal some of your time from the labs after they find out just how special you are." Colonel O'Neill barked a laugh as he rose to his feet, tossing the PDA and charger back on the desk. "You're going to make my life so much simpler, Dr. Kusanagi."
"Pretty amazing, isn't it, Dr. Kusanagi?" asked Lieutenant Cadman, the other woman on SG-12. "I never get tired of seeing other worlds."
Agreeing with a nod, Miko gazed in wonder at the giant trees surrounding the clearing. "It is amazing, but please call me Miko. Teammates have no need for formality, do they?"
"No, no, they don't, at least not when the brass isn't around. I'm Laura." Flashing a brilliant smile, Laura turned to their other two teammates and pointed. "That's Aiden on the left - he's almost as new to this as you - and the other is Evan, who thinks he's in charge just because he's a major finally assigned his own team while Aiden and I are lowly lieutenants. In fact, Evan is just a rock geek looking for an alien-free naquadah mine. Aiden and I handle the important job - keeping the team safe." Laura stuck out her tongue at Evan's rude gesture before announcing cheerfully, "Now, let's fall in and go have some fun!"
Stealing a moment before taking her protected position between her military escorts, Miko softly pressed a hand over the dragon netsuke tucked in her top vest pocket, hoping her grandmother could see her smile.
Miko usually wore an olive-green down vest over a black turtleneck and insulated pants. When she mentioned that she always felt ready to go skiing, Aiden volunteered to take her for a cross-country jaunt on the next clear day. If she hadn't been so busy, she would have taken him up on it, constantly feeling a little claustrophobic after too many days away from the sun. She missed going through the gate with Aiden, Laura, and Evan, even though their last assignment had been to a rain forest planet that left them soaked every few hours and their clothing furred with a foul-smelling mildew. When she wrote an email to Laura, reminding her of the soggy boots that Miko had replaced with steel-toed UGGs, Laura returned a sour raspberry sound byte and a picture of her own boots - green with mold and poised above a waste can.
Despite the long hours and frequent frustrations, Dr. Jackson remained a pleasure to work with, his enthusiasm brightening any room he walked into - no matter how frigid the atmosphere. Miko remained thankful he'd chosen her as his second in his search for a lost city.
Hearing the unmistakable bellow across the frigid room, Miko hurried and met the messenger halfway. Miko never took it to heart when Dr. McKay could not remember her name. He was a very important man, always rushing thru the icy halls of the Antarctica outpost, too busy to take the time to learn anyone's name outside of Dr. Weir and the kind-eyed Dr. Beckett. It wasn't until his discovery that she didn't simply translate Ancient, but could also initialize artifacts, that Dr. McKay began using her name semi-regularly, usually by shouting, "Kusanagi, get over here!"
With the remainder of her team still back at Stargate Operations, most people at the outpost addressed her as Dr. Kusanagi, with only a few of the friendlier using Miko. She expected that, since few people had ever used her given name of Miyuki, which was written with the kanji 深雪 meaning deep snow because she was born in the winter. A notable exception was her esteemed father, Kusanagi Hirotomo, who had always addressed her formally as he inquired about her studies during his rare visits to their house in Kyoto. Another very busy man, Hirotomo had spent the rest of his time in Tokyo, where the corporate headquarters of the family business and his penthouse apartment were located. With Miko's two older brothers also living in Tokyo, first at university then working their way up in the business, it had just been Miko and her grandmother in the house where she grew up.
Hirotomo was a modern man of science and business, but he had honored tradition by taking his widowed mother-in-law, Narumi Chizuru, into his home. That choice had worked to his advantage when his wife, Hana, died shortly after premature labor and an emergency cesarean. Chizuru had named her tiny granddaughter and taken care of Miko's every need from the day she was born. When Miko was old enough, Chizuru had insisted on teaching her the family fortune-telling rituals, in addition to her schoolwork. Hirotomo had called it illogical and a waste of time, but it seemed his heart was kind beneath his harsh words and he'd never forbidden it. Miko had always suspected it also had something to do with his knowledge of his mother-in-law's iron will. The lessons would have happened regardless of any command from him.
You wonder how we exist if all of Hideaki's family was killed? Ah, you see Hideaki had seen his own futures revealed in the orb as he understood how his greed had caught the warlord's attention.. A few weeks before the fateful day, Hideaki walked into the forest with his beloved eldest daughter. He alone returned, his yukata torn and bloodied, tears running down his face as he told of the bear that had taken his Kiyoko away to be eaten.
A few days after the warlord departed, Kiyoko walked out of the forest, unharmed. She had followed her father's instructions and stayed hidden, eating nuts and berries to survive, sleeping in a hollowed tree. Making her way to the edge of the lake, she dove in like an ama dives for pearls, although she sought something much more precious. She too had seen her futures in the orb and, being the only one of Hideaki's children granted the gift of sight, she knew exactly where to search. After only a few trips back to the surface for air, Kiyoko had retrieved her treasure, unharmed and gleaming despite its sojourn underwater.
Wary of reprisal, Kiyoko became Hana, the same name given to your mother in her honor. Hana kept her gift a secret as she traveled south to Kyushu, as far away from the warlord's destruction as she could get. Eventually, she settled in a fishing village and married a fisherman, secretly using the orb to guide him to the best fishing spots while pretending to use ordinary futomani for her divination. After using the orb in secret, she would heat the shoulder-blade of a stag until it cracked then pretend to read the cracks for fishing advice. Her new family prospered without being persecuted and, when her eldest daughter was old enough, Hana revealed the secret she alone had held for so many years, the same secret to be passed down from daughter to daughter and never revealed to any man, for they would use it to destroy, as men always do.
Although Chizuru had originally insisted on training Miko, explaining how she followed the bright images of the patron to find an answer to their question, she rarely allowed Miko to touch the crystal. The first time, after warning Miko not to dwell too long in the realm of Uraniwa no Kami for fear she would be lost to the here and now, Chizuru had Miko place her finger next to hers, smiling at Miko's quivering anticipation. Closing her eyes, Miko fell into chaos, a stream of bright and dark images swirling past, only a few recognizable. With a gasp, she pulled back, instantly apologizing for her lack of courage. Chizuru merely smiled and said, "It was sufficient, Miko-chan. I saw that you are not meant for this life. Your path will be under different stars, always learning." After that session, Miko merely assisted with the setup when she had time after her studies.
One night, ever curious, Miko crept into the cha-shitsu to open the lacquered box and carefully extract the silk-wrapped treasure that whispered to her in words she was unable to understand. It weighed almost nothing in her hands, odd for something that looked carved from a rare mineral or stone. Unwrapped, the globe looked almost ordinary with only a few faint engravings to be seen on its surface. Miko let the silk fall to her lap as she knelt to examine it further and, suddenly, the orb swirled to life, the cool crystal warming beneath her hands.
With her eyes closed, she tried to make sense of the images swirling through her mind, but nothing was clear until she concentrated on her own name, Miyuki - Miko - then she focused on the glimmers she knew to be herself. There were pieces of different futures, at different ages swirling past, some dark, some bright: living in a beautiful home with two children, swaddled in cold weather gear trudging across windswept ice, yet another standing in front of a class teaching something that looked complex, then walking through shimmering blue into a beautiful city of colored glass and strangely marked walls.
Miko held tight to the crystal, fascinated, until one of the dark images burst into view. She watched as she followed a group of people in gray uniforms to large oblong objects - possibly machines - that opened to her touch, wondering why the image was so dark. It wasn't until she turned away to splash towards a closed door that she began to understand. She struggled with a panel as the water rapidly rose above her waist, until a current tore her away. There was no safety to swim toward and then she was submerged, her black locks floating around her as darkness enveloped her. Startled, Miko squeaked and dropped the globe, opening her eyes in time to see it roll across the floor until it touched the paper wall. Thankful that it hadn't broken, Miko used the silk wrapping to pick it up and return it to the carved box, vowing to never touch it again unless her grandmother was present.
Despite what she had seen, Miko refused to bow to fear. After weeks of listening to Miko's entreaties, Chizuru finally agreed to spend time teaching her how to navigate the stream of images, always cautioning Miko not to depend too much on the possibilities she glimpsed. As they worked to hone Miko's skill, Chizuru often repeated, "Do not forget that while I believe in destiny, free will also exists to change the futures I have touched." Miko would nod and promise to remember. As she learned to focus and limit her searches, Miko's initial fear shifted to anticipation as she allowed the images to guide some of her choices for study, hoping they would lead her to the shining city, to her brightest future.
Chizuru taught Miko how to separate her images from a patron's, using herself as an example. Miko eventually came to visualize stepping out of the maelstrom to stand on the banks, dipping into the stream. Her test was thinking of something before entering and being able to hide it from Chizuru. Miko thought of her pet hamster Yuko, imagining it curled in the palm of her hand, its whiskers and tiny paws tickling. Chizuru never caught a glimpse.
It is also said that a mother's mother's mother's mother once gazed into the shimmering globe she held in her hand until the ancestors spirited her away before her daughter's eyes. The daughter told of how her mother swirled like dragon's breath until she was gone, taken away to the kami's realm in the land of the shining city. It was then that the chabudai was built and the dragon that protects was sculpted, and both became part of our suishō uranai, our way to see possibilities.
Miko was stuck under just such a console when she heard Dr. Grodin curse followed by the sound of scrambling feet and shouts. By the time she managed to extricate herself, the immediate danger had subsided, but it appeared the errant drone was still a threat to any nearby aircraft. Aware that Dr. Jackson had been expecting General O'Neill to arrive within the hour, Miko hurried to his side, fearing the worst. Diverted on the way by Dr. McKay's shouted commands to Dr. Beckett, she reversed direction, hurrying to offer her assistance with the control chair, grateful it hadn't been her turn to work with it.
The crisis narrowly averted, Miko was assisting in the clearing the mess the drone left behind when she heard Dr. McKay's strident voice again. Rushing back to the chair room, she arrived in time to marvel at the hologram floating above reclined chair. Smiling at the stranger - a pilot who'd managed to outfly a drone yet was gaping up in wonder - Miko couldn't suppress a chuckle when Dr. Jackson whispered in her ear.
"He's got it in spades. I think we're going to Atlantis after all."
Although Miko was officially on Dr. Jackson's team as a linguist during the search for the 8-glyph address, Dr. Weir asked her to join the expedition soon after discovering Miko's ability with Ancient artifacts. Dr. Weir had wanted Miko under her supervision as a translator, but Dr. McKay had objected strenuously, saying, "I want Kusanagi because she's reasonably intelligent and won't whine if I assign her to something outside her specialty because she hasn't wasted her time being a specialist in just one discipline." Miko merely smiled at the implied compliment and said nothing about the instructions she'd received from Dr. Jackson, acting as his proxy on the trip.
Preparing for the trip through the stargate to the Pegasus galaxy was different from even the longest of the treks she had taken with SG-12. She helped with the packing of enormous pallets of scientific equipment while others handled medical supplies and foodstuffs. They had to assume there would be nothing there they could use to survive, although the odds were in their favor that the planet they arrived at would be similar to those settled in the Milky Way and therefore compatible for human life.
Miko had decided to carry her own military-grade 40-gigabyte laptop filled with compressed books and movies - along with a prototype solar charger provided by her father's R&D division - rather than include them in the scientific pallets. She had calculated the space available in her backpack and the weight she could manage - an amount that had surprised Aiden considering her size - and had managed to fill every inch of space down to the ounce. In addition to the logical clothing, extra pair of boots, toiletries and a towel Douglas Adams would approve of, she had managed to include a large tin of macha and a small solar teapot. Tucked inside the pot, wrapped in a silk scarf, was a sturdy bamboo whisk. Miko had used her tea tools before on trips through the stargate, sharing the relaxing ritual with her teammates after a stressful day. This trip would be no exception.
Tea wasn't Miko's only comfort from home. Scanned personal photos on her laptop included her mother's wedding photo and several of her father and brothers, but Miko's favorite was a snapshot from their trip to Disney World. She'd always loved Chizuru's impish smile with Miko's beloved mouse ears perched precariously on her head. Years later, she carried that bedraggled memento made of black felt and plastic wherever she went, usually flattened inside a whisper-soft yakuta with an obi wrapped around for protection.
Miko had always been pleased that someone so immersed in tradition held no qualms about using modern devices, her daidokoro a wonderland of kitchen appliances. Chizuru had faithfully followed several doramas for years on a state-of-the-art television and often sat to watch children's shows with Miko, clapping her hands in pleasure at cartoon antics. Declaring Snow White to be her favorite Disney movie, Chiruzu had been just as eager to visit the newly opened theme park as Miko. They'd spent two wonderful days just outside of Tokyo, wandering from ride to ride and staying nights at her father's penthouse. It had become an eagerly anticipated yearly tradition for them up until Miko left Japan for university.
The well-worn mouse ears weren't simply a souvenir of happy times with her grandmother, but also a reminder of how disarming a quip and a smile could be.
Born a month too early, Miko was not only smaller than her schoolmates, but also wore thick-rimmed glasses. This made her a figure of fun for those who often resented her for excelling in her schoolwork. One day, she came home in distress because one of the bigger boys had called her Mikkīmausu in derision, the insult traveling through the classroom until everyone began using it. Chiruzu had dried her tears and told her she must turn the cartoon mouse insult back onto her tormentors with humor, reminding Miko of the hat with ears.
Wearing them to school the next day, Miko didn't need to wait long for the first hissed sneer of "Mikkīmausu...Mikkīmausu...." "Not Mikki, Mikomausu!" she giggled back as she twirled in place, her amusement infectious. By the end of the day, the insult was a badge of honor, particularly after Miko merely smiled while being reprimanded for breaking the dress code.
When Miko arrived home that day - wearing the contraband ears rescued from detention in the teacher's desk - Chizuru sing-songed a greeting. "Welcome home, Mikkīmausu."
Miko had giggled back, "No, no, no! I am Miko! Mikomausu!"
She was Miko from that day forward.
The whisper she'd always associated with Ancient artifacts wrapped around her with a murmur rising to a song as she ventured deeper into the darkened city. Shoving her pallet toward a waiting soldier, she mounted the steps before to the brightening room overlooking the gate, disregarding the weight on her back in her bemusement. She paused at the top, watching Major Sheppard initialize consoles by following Dr. McKay's strident demands, uncertain of her place in the chaos.
The city felt so familiar and welcoming that Miko couldn't believe that she might be treading one of her darker paths. Unwilling to take the chance, she hurried to Aiden and tugged him aside, whispering, "Can you go with me? There is something I need to check on right away."
Aiden glanced toward Colonel Sumner, who was occupied directing his troops and discussing options with Dr. Weir. Seeing no immediate need for his assistance, and already under orders to explore, Aiden nodded and agreed with a fond smile. "Okay, lead the way, Miko-chan."
Three levels down and one minor wrong turn later, Miko found what she'd been seeking. As she slowly approached them, she heard Aiden speaking into his radio, his tone as tense as his posture. "Colonel Sumner? You need to see this, sir. It's really important."
They waited silently, peering through the murky windows at the unexpected sight, although the city's name should have been a clue. Rapid footsteps approached - accompanied by muttered complaints about unnecessary interruptions - complaints that trailed off to gasps of amazement.
Major Sheppard was the first to state the glaring, frightening, obvious. "We're underwater."
"And there's some sort of force field holding it back," Dr. McKay explained. Pointing toward a section that imploded as they watched, Dr. McKay frowned, his voice worried as he admitted, "And I have no idea for how long, but it doesn't look good." Turning away from the window, he hurried back toward the stairs, muttering, "I was checking the available power when Sumner dragged us down here...."
Miko had already know power was going to be a problem, not needing a computer to verify what she'd witnessed in visions so many times before.
She needed every bit of that resolve as she stood in front of a console she recognized, determined to convince Dr. McKay, Dr. Weir, and Colonel Sumner that she had the solution to their immediate problem. The three were huddled in the command center, debating their next actions.
"I nearly lost three men to a compartment failure." Colonel Sumner's clipped tones spoke volumes. "We need to get this city out of the water or we need to evacuate."
Dr. Weir shook her head. "Where would we go? The hologram said the city was submersed for a reason. Should we risk raising it without more information?"
"As I said before, power levels throughout the city are dropping like a stone," Dr. McKay's tone revealed his rising impatience. "I can't guarantee how long the shield will hold and when it goes...." He trailed off with a pained look on his face. "Drowning is not how I thought I'd go, uh, never mind, we're not dead yet." He turned back to his laptop with the cobbled together connection to a different console. "Let me just see if I can...." His commentary trailed off to muttering under his breath.
Miko straightened her spine and stepped forward. "I know how to raise the city. Safely."
"Dr. Kusanagi?" Dr. Weir turned to her, a puzzled look on her face. "How do you know that?"
With a slight bow, Miko continued. "It was during my research on the city, the little we had. I found directions to a fail-safe that didn't make sense at the time, but...." Miko walked over the console she'd found, led by her vision, and pointed one of the central tiles. "It's this one."
"And we're just supposed to believe this?" Colonel Sumner followed Dr. Weir to frown down at the Ancient equipment. "What if it drops the shield instead?"
"It won't. We already found that button." Disconnecting from his console, Dr. McKay shoved his way between the two in order to reconnect to Miko's find. "Let me see what...."
Colonel Sumner shook his head. "We should be working on an evacuation plan, finding a planet we can gate to safely."
"We'll lose the city!" Dr. Weir objected, her voice rising. "Don't forget the reason we came here!"
Taking a deep breath, Miko interrupted. "Dr. Weir, this is why you brought me." Reaching out, she pressed the tile in question then stepped back. She felt a rumbling vibration beneath her feet then pressure as the largest elevator she'd ever been in began to rise.
"It is not always that simple. Your mother viewed her futures and still risked a dangerous pregnancy. She chose you, Miko-chan, just as I will always choose you."
Kneeling in the cha-shitsu while listening to her grandmother's oft-repeated admonitions, Miko had sometimes wondered if that was how the legendary ancestor had vanished, her life consumed by the possibilities. Standing in the shining city she'd seen so long ago, surrounded by people whose futures seemed more bleak than bright, Miko decided not to let regret lead the way. Even without the kesshō, she could, she would choose bright paths on her own, whenever they appeared.
She would not let herself disappear, lost in what-ifs.
Miko took a half-step back, her eyes wide in horror. "Oh no, that must never be!" she whispered back. "I help my soba, my grandmother, dress in kimono to help calm my thoughts."
"Of course, I forgot you think he walks on water." Dr. Simpson sneered in return.
Raising her hand to cover her mouth, Miko ducked her head and giggled. "Oh no, I fear he would drown, too busy shouting with his hands to swim."
Dr. Simpson's scowl twitched into a smile, followed by a snorting laugh when Miko waved her hands imitating Dr. McKay while saying "Where did all bloop this ridiculous water bloop come from bloop."
It was worth being banned to the farthest corner of the laboratory where she and Dr. Simpson, who insisted Miko use her nickname Annika, spent the rest of the day saying "bloop" to each other and giggling.
The unique portion of the ritual for Chizuru was preparing the chabudai before anything tea-related was placed on it. The specially-designed tea table was thicker than most to allow a covered section in the center. Chizuru would carefully transfer a crystal orb from an ornately carved box to the indentation, using a silk cloth to avoid touching it directly. The cover was then fitted in place leaving only a small slice of the crystal visible, a slight glossy projection above the smooth wood, which was then covered by a porcelain dragon with a matching indentation in its base.
After the arrival of the patron, the tea ceremony would unwind as tradition dictated. Conversation was restricted to that of the room's decor, the utensils, and the preparation of the teas - the thick koichai first, the thin usucha after a light meal and dry sweets served by Miko, who would return to the daidokoro for each course.
At the conclusion, the table was cleared - including the dragon - to allow room for a different ornate box containing calligraphy implements. Each movement precise and graceful, Chizuru would extract a sheet of hanshi, arranging the hand-molded paper on the soft cloth shitajiki to protect the wood beneath, and weighting it down with an inscribed metal bunchin. Chizuru would then carefully grind a sumi in the suzuri, combining the ground particles from the inkstick and water in the well of the special mortar, creating ink in the perfect thickness to allow her wolf's hair fude to glide across the paper. During this preparation, she asked the patron to calm their thoughts and state clearly their concern or question. When the blue-black ink was ready, the patron's words would be brushed to life in flowing sousho style.
The completed request set to one side to dry, the calligraphy set would be returned to the box, the brush wrapped in a damp cloth for later cleaning. It was then finally time for the crystal to come into play. Asking the patron to place their index finger next to hers on the lustrous apex, Chizuru would touch the question with her other hand, claiming it helped her focus. The moment her finger touched the orb, it would begin to shimmer with a cool, white light. Her eyes riveted to the glow, she would not speak for almost a minute before pulling her finger away with a quiet, "Jūbun'na." The glow would immediately fade, gone before Chizuru began her telling of the patron's fortune.
Although there were times Chizuru declared the ancestors had no answers, for the most part she was able to impart enough information to please the patron. Nothing as crude as payment ended the session. Instead, the patron would be gifted with their words folded into an elaborate origami envelope. In return, Chizuru would be presented with a wrapped gift, which she would always politely decline three times before accepting it in both hands.
The gift would be opened later, in private, but Miko had seen many of the beautiful vases and vintage netsuke Chizuru had received. If some of those were later sold to collectors to reduce clutter, it was Chizuru's choice. She had, however, kept the deed to a luxury apartment in downtown Tokyo, presented to her by a faithful patron after he made a fortune on the Tokyo stock exchange. She'd seen a shining apple on one of the bright paths of his future.
A small girl broke away from a small group and ran up to her with a smile and a bright, "Who are you? I am Doni."
With a small bow, Miko introduced herself. "I am Dr. Kusanagi, but you may call me Miko."
"This is Hanoo. He is my best friend." Doni smiled and held up the small animal she'd been cuddling.
Miko was surprised to see an animal on Atlantis that wasn't confined to a cage for study. She smiled as she reached out slowly. "He looks very soft. May I hold him?"
"Hold him like so," Doni said, demonstrating the proper technique.
"You are lucky to have saved him." Miko smiled and used a finger to smooth the brown fur of the rat-like creature. "I used to have a pet like this when I was your age. I called him Yuko."
Miko hadn't thought about her pet for years. Although Miko's father had given in on the divination lessons, he was inflexible on Miko's entreaties for a dog or cat. Miko's grandmother managed to bypass the no pets rule with the gift of a small cage containing a dwarf hamster. Yuko charmed Miko and she would hold him on her cupped palm, giggling as his whiskers tickled in his search for another treat. She loved feeling the fluttering beats of his heart against her fingers and she would let him explore the table while she did her homework, only scolding him mildly when he nibbled on a paper. Distressed at the end of his short life, Miko decided she could not bear to replace him.
While Miko had been lost in past, a group of children had gathered around her, abandoning whatever game they'd been playing in the common room while a few parents supervised. One of the boys pointed at Miko's face and asked, "Why do you wear that...thing?"
Miko thought the Athosian children were a delight, filled with wonder. She loved answering their questions and learning about the Athosian culture in return. The boy's question was another opportunity to share. After carefully returning Hanno to Doni, Miko answered, "My glasses? They help me to see things more easily." She took them off and handed them to the boy who'd asked. "See for yourself."
He immediately put on his prize and peered through them before staggering around, laughing at the distortion to his vision. The glasses were handed from child to child until they all had a turn, so there were more than a few smudges to polish away when Miko finally got them back. Settling them on her nose, she grinned at the children, saying, "I don't see very well without them and you don't see well with them."
"Is it because your eyes are shaped wrong like this?" the original boy asked as he drew up the corners of his own eyes to make them thinner and slanted.
"Hush, Badar! That is very unkind."
Miko smiled at the child asking the question, as well as the mother who'd likely assumed it was a birth defect.
"I could answer it was the way I was born, which is correct, but how they look is not wrong, just different."
"Oh, like Loontener Ford with his burnt skin."
Miko smiled at Aiden's mangled rank and nodded. "I could also honor your curiosity, which is to be encouraged. It is how you learn." Taking a seat on the floor, she waited for the children to join her before continuing. "You know how it looks different when you walk through the Ring of the Ancestors?"
"The land, yes, but the people mostly look the same."
"Yes, I would expect that after thousands of years of groups joining together through the ring." Miko looked at their puzzled faces and smiled. "On our planet, there is only one Ring of the Ancestors, but there are many different lands with different weather separated by water too vast to cross. So many people you could count them for days and not finish."
"I have never known of so many people in one place," Mirah spoke from the back, a frown crinkling her face. "It wouldn't be safe."
"Our world has been very fortunate not to have an enemy like yours." Miko shared a frown, remembering that the Wraith were a deadly form of population control, but then forced a smile for the children. "In each land, the people changed to suit the weather. Lieutenant Ford's ancestors came from a hot, very sunny land and their skin darkened for protection from the sun. My people came from cold, dry lands where our eyes needed protection from the dusty winds. Major Sheppard's lived where the sun and air and wind were more gentle, like yours."
Looking around at her rapt audience, Miko smiled and concluded with, "It has been only a few hundred years since we built boats that could cross the water, so that our different peoples could mix together. I believe that someday in the future, we will all look much the same, just as you do."
Aiden grinned at her across the mess hall table. "Well, you do kind of look like an owl in them." When Miko pretended to frown at his teasing, he relented with, "A really cute owl. My cute owl."
"I guess that's okay," Miko said with a smile. She thought Aiden wasn't too far off with his label since she'd chosen extra large frames with safety glass, which worked nicely when goggles were advised. Knowing they were necessary didn't mean there weren't times she resented the fact that no one else in her family had ever needed glasses, not even her mother according to her grandmother. She'd considered laser surgery, but the risks were not worth the return, especially since she would likely still need glasses with a milder prescription. Carrying two extra pairs of glasses was easier than sets of contacts and bottles of cleaners when space was at a premium.
Reaching across the table, Aiden covered her hand with a little squeeze. "Actually, I really like those glasses because I'm the only one who gets to see how beautiful you are without them."
Miko smiled and dipped her head with a blush. She was still a little uncomfortable with public displays of affection, but Aiden was steadily breaking down her barriers with his gentle gestures and sweet words.
Being on SG-12 was the first time Miko had felt close to someone other than her grandmother. Her life had been one of a lonely scholar, following her own path, never wasting study time to make friends and usually turning down dates. It had been easy to deflect attention with a quip and the gift of her chosen nickname, avoiding anything more than acquaintance. That changed when she became part of a team with a common purpose. It had opened up her world.
Although she liked Laura and Evan well enough, it was Aiden who'd first stepped beyond teammate into friend. He had taken responsibility for her physical training and made sure she left the lab at reasonable hours for meals and sleep. She soon became accustomed to seeing his smiling face at most meals and enjoyed their workouts. One day, in-between off-world assignments, he'd stopped by the lab to ask if she wanted to get something to eat and see a movie. Expecting it to be a team activity, she was surprised when he arrived alone at her quarters and then escorted her to the surface. They'd chatted about nothing special on the drive to Colorado Springs and during dinner. Miko hadn't minded the mental downtime - something very different for her and surprisingly enjoyable.
During dinner she asked Aiden to choose the movie because she was often baffled when it came to pop culture. Expecting the latest action-adventure because of his fondness for explosions, she was surprised at his choice of '50 First Dates.' When she gave him a puzzled look, he'd smiled almost shyly and confessed, "I've always been a sucker for a good romance." Inside the theater, he put his arm on the seat behind her and she slowly relaxed and rested her head against it, ignoring their shared popcorn to enjoy his warmth in the air-conditioning. When she shivered, he pulled her closer with her head tucked into his shoulder, and she smiled when she felt his lips against her hair, welcoming the easy change in their relationship to more than friends.
It was no surprise when Aiden asked her to join SGA-2 as their scientist and pilot. He already knew she could handle herself in the field, and her specialties could be very helpful when meeting new cultures and negotiating for food and other goods. When asked about the no fraternization rule because he would be her team leader, Aiden shrugged and said there was no way he was allowing her to go into the field without him.
Since she felt the same way, she let him think he won the non-existent argument.
"As you wish. This is one I have not told you before, but you are now old enough to understand and it is time."
"Now you have me very curious."
"I hope you do not regret that curiosity. There was once a beautiful young wife, whose husband contracted the itching disease from his young sons. Although the disease is more dangerous the older one is, he survived, but it sadly left him unable to father any more children. This meant the young wife would never bear a daughter, and she mourned the lack for her ancestors and the loss of their traditions. As it sometimes happens, when the wife was no longer so young and visiting her mother, she met a handsome young man. A year later, the joyful wife bore a daughter she would never see, greeting her ancestors even as her daughter greeted the world."
"Such a sad story. But Oba-chan, what did the husband say about the daughter he knew could not be his?"
"He greeted the child as a gift - as all children are - and presented that gift to his wife's mother to cherish."
One of Chizuru's patrons was younger than the others, a politician named Nishijima Osamu. Miko had always been pleased to see him too, feeling a kinship with someone who wore glasses with thick lenses like hers. No one else in her family had ever needed glasses, not even her mother according to Chizuru. Always greeting Miko with a smile and gift, he'd asked her about her days and schoolwork, listened with smiling interest as she'd always hoped her father would. He had even asked about whether she had her grandmother's gift and if she would care to read his future someday. Her grandmother had quickly intervened before Miko could say yes, saying she did not think it wise for such a young one to practice on such a favored and honorable patron.
That was the last time Miko had seen him, so she was surprised to receive an invitation to dinner when she was in Toronto, a few weeks before she completed her doctorate. While they waited for their meal, he inquired about her studies - just as he had long ago - and whether she had signed any contracts for future employment. She'd thought it odd how he'd relaxed when she had responded that she would be taking a small vacation in Japan while she decided between several offers, including a position in her father's business. He then spoke of her mother and of how beautiful she had been, his eyes soft with memory behind thick lenses and, for the first time, Miko wondered what her grandmother would say if she asked who her father really was. After their meal, as they sat drinking tea, he hinted at his involvement in an international expedition, which she agreed sounded intriguing.
A week later she was invited to the Japanese consulate, where Nishijima Osamu explained he was the Japanese representative of the newly-formed International Oversight Advisory and offered her the opportunity of a lifetime. She didn't require much convincing to sign a non-disclosure agreement and she was read into the Stargate program.
Miko often regretted missing that vacation with her grandmother - usually when she was wet and miserable or baking under an unrelenting sun - but even then she held no regret for joining the SGC.
Teyla inclined her head in return, her smile sweet as she answered, "I have seen you in here before him, practicing...."
"It is called karate, the way of the empty hand. I learned it as a child and returned to it when I joined a team on Earth," Miko explained. "It is both exercise and a means of defense. Weapons may not always be available, but minds and bodies are."
Extending one of her sticks in invitation, Teyla nodded in agreement. "That is true and it would be my pleasure. We will start with one."
Teyla sipped her own tea before accepting graciously. "I would truly enjoy that."
"Of course, it would not be a traditional tea ceremony like those I have shared with my grandmother...." Miko's apology trailed off as she remembered all the Athosians had lost when they fled their world, and how rich she was in comparison. "But I still find it helps to calm my mind when needed."
"Something to be cherished then." Setting her mug aside, Teyla relaxed into what Miko found very similar to a lotus position. "Meditation helps to clear and center my thoughts," Teyla said as she closed her eyes, a wry smile on her face. "Something Dr. McKay needs yet refuses to try."
Miko concealed a giggle behind her hand as she tried to imagine the frenetic scientist pausing long enough to meditate. "Indeed, I believe he even works in his sleep."
With a laugh, Teyla straightened and opened her eyes, her gaze warm as she asked, "You spoke of how your tea ceremony calms you. Can you share that with me?"
As Miko described preparing the room, the food, and the teas, she found a measure of much-needed peace.
Based on the principles of the quantum mirror, it was merely a viewer, with no organization or ability to enter or effect outcomes. According to the entry, the Ancients had abandoned their research because extended contact with the device left the user disoriented, unable to cope with too many choices. When Miko finally tracked down an image of the device, she knew what she needed to do. There was too much at stake to ignore a way for her to help them survive.
Actually finding a working quantum precognitive transducer was a matter of serendipity. Miko had been cataloging one of the labs they'd discovered after the great storm when an alarm sounded and the door slammed shut. Calling Aiden over the team's channel did little to calm her fears, especially after she learned Aiden's life was at risk. Pacing the room wasn't helping, so she returned to her work, keeping the channel open in case Aiden needed her.
The kesshō was tucked into the back of a cupboard, hidden inside a padded case, safe from accidental handling. Just as she was about to extract the orb from the case, she heard the instructions to shut down all Earth electronics to save them from an EM pulse. Powering down her laptop, Miko waited, hoping for good news. The disappointment and fear in Aiden's voice as he reported no success nearly broke her heart. Returning to the kesshō, she pulled it free from the padding then sank to her knees and closed her eyes, trying to calm her racing thoughts. The smooth crystal warmed in her hands, but no coherent images appeared, echoing the turmoil in her brain.
Aiden's voice came over their channel and Miko braced herself for goodbye, tears running down her face to drip on the useless Ancient orb.
Miko hadn't expected Aiden's quiet, stammered suggestion, even though her breathless wait in a quarantined lab had clarified her feelings toward him. She snuggled a little closer in the narrow bed, kissing the underside of Aiden's chin before saying, "I agree, even without a balcony."
"You know I, uh, I love you, right?"
Miko should have expected the tickling demand that she say it back.
Miko nodded and stepped a little closer to the elderly woman lying so still on the hospital bed. "Yes, Dr. Weir. I am honored you remember me after so many years."
"It was easy to recall the names and faces of the brave, those who tried so hard to save us."
Dr. Weir's eyes slowly slid shut after her halting explanation. Miko wondered if she should leave her to rest, but the sole survivor's next words froze her in place.
"You brought us to the gateships and opened them, but you refused to leave without Dr. McKay. You drowned trying to get the doors open from the other side, fighting the controls until the very end."
Unrolling a straw mat woven by the Athosians, Miko set out her tea utensils before changing into her yakuta and obi. Her solar-powered teapot was on their balcony, keeping the water heated until Aiden returned from the mess hall with dinner.
"Oh, hey. You haven't done this for a while," Aiden said when he walked in, pausing at the door to remove his boots. "I love how you look in that."
Miko looked up from where she knelt, smiling as she replied, "I thought it was time and thank you."
They ate their meal with quiet conversation, and Miko relaxed into calm as the old rituals fell into place. Clearing everything away at the end, she motioned for Aiden to remain sitting as she brought out the padded box holding the kesshō and set it between them on the mat.
"What's this, a present for me?" Aiden asked as he reached out.
Miko gently stopped his hand and shook her head. "Not really, although it could be." Settling back on her heels, she began to explain, starting with the stories she'd heard so many times growing up.
"That would be a crude way to describe it."
"So prove it. Read my fortune, or do you need tarot cards too?"
"It would be easier if you stopped laughing and put your finger next to mine."
"Never thought I'd fall in love with a crazy woman. Good thing you're beautiful."
"Be quiet and let me concentrate. I'm going to focus on the addresses the old Dr. Weir gave us."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
"Shush or you'll be sleeping in your old quarters tonight."
Dr. McKay narrowed his eyes and frowned for a moment before agreeing. "Another pair of eyes couldn't hurt. Sheppard has been complaining he's bored, and I'm afraid he and Stackhouse are going to start tearing out pages and making paper airplanes."
"Lt. Ford has also offered to help as our guide, Balera, is needed on the mainland for a few days," Miko added, knowing she would need Aiden's help to retrieve the ZPM safely.
With an impatient wave, his attention already elsewhere, Dr. McKay gave tentative approval. "Yes, yes, whatever. It's up to Sheppard."
Aiden flashed a thumbs-up from the doorway of the lab, signaling his success with Sheppard. Miko walked toward him with a smile. His trust in her ability was a gift beyond price.
Now all they had to do was smuggle a depleted ZPM onto Dagan, ambush the Genii and capture Kolya, and then switch ZPMs to prevent the Brotherhood from disappearing with the charged ZPM.
Coming up behind her in the locker room, Aiden helped adjust her heavier-than-usual backpack before kissing her neck. "Piece of cake," he whispered and led her out of the room with a bounce in his step.
Miko wasn't privy to the plans made in the meeting room, but she could see her worry mirrored throughout the lab and mess hall as everyone waited for their next orders. Seeing the possibilities in the kesshō meant nothing when she had no input to the decisions to be made before energy was expended to dial the gate for Earth.
When she walked into their quarters, she wasn't surprised to find Aiden already there, the box holding the kesshō sitting on his lap.
"We've got to tell them, Miko."
Miko sat on the bed next to Aiden, feeling the weight of her ancestors' secret on her shoulders. She sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. "I know. I also know how dangerous this power could be in the hands of the wrong people. I just don't know how or if they'll believe us."
"They have to be wondering already how I knew the Genii were on the planet and the whole switcheroo business...." Aiden trailed off and set the box aside to pull her into his arms. "It's not the craziest thing the SGC has found. There was a crystal skull that sucked Dr. Jackson inside and quantum mirrors and considering the alternative is the Wraith...."
Miko stopped the listing with a kiss. "Let's go tell them."
"Well, not right away."
The box tumbled to the floor and the kesshō rolled free, but no one was paying attention to Ancient artifacts just then.
Miko nodded. "A kesshō, yes. It means 'orb of destiny' and my ancestors were kept as slaves to emperors when it was discovered our precognitive abilities were more accurate than heating the shoulderbone of a deer and reading the cracks."
"And you claim you can see the future in this." Dr. Weir looked torn between disbelief and fascination. "If what you say is true...."
Dr. McKay cut her off with, "Considering the Ancients' constant attempts to find an easy way to Ascension...."
"Or I could just give it a try and see what all the fuss is...." Major Sheppard's voice trailed off as his eyes focused on the orb he'd taken from the box before Miko could stop him. His eyes widened and he shook his head before returning the artifact to Miko with a hushed, "Whoa, bad trip."
Snapping his fingers impatiently, Dr. McKay held out his hand. "Give it here since Sheppard is unable to supply any coherent feedback."
With a sigh, Miko handed it over - with a caveat. "It took me years to learn how to use the kesshō. I'm afraid the images wouldn't mean much to you."
"It works. It's how I knew the Genii were on Dagan," Aiden insisted, trailing off when he noticed Major Sheppard's scowl.
His brow furrowed in thought, Dr. McKay placed the orb back in the box and rose to his feet. "I want to see the database entry on this before I make any recommendations." Leveling a finger at Miko, he added, "However, I do know what to do about someone on my staff secretly using Ancient technology. Come with me."
Miko followed Dr. McKay out of the room, exactly two paces behind like one of her ancestors under an emperor's rule.
Accepting the need for vague references, Miko bowed her head to acknowledge the honor granted before voicing her request. "There is one thing, if you would please consider it. Now that transportation is more readily available, I would like my grandmother to visit my last posting in person. After all, she was the one who started me on my journey there."
Minister Nishijima's eyebrows rose, although his voice remained calm, just as a diplomat's should. "Your grandmother knows about your work and its location?"
"I have never violated my non-disclosure agreement, if that is what worries you." Miko smiled as she remembered how it had all begun. "You are, after all, aware of who she is and what she can do, as well as how discreet she has always been. She knew there would be a shining city in my future, just as I knew where to find the...energy source that allowed us to complete our mission."
"I see. That information does not appear to have been included in any of the reports the Advisory received. It is just as well." The minister nodded, his eyes kind behind the thick lenses so similar to Miko's. "What you ask for does seem a reasonable reward for everything you have done. I can make no promises, but I will see what can be done. "
Spotting Aiden waiting to one side, she clapped her hands and called him over, using the English she had learned alongside Miko. "Aeeadun, come here, my boy."
Aiden trotted to her side and bowed as Miko had taught him. "Welcome to Atlantis, Mrs. Narumi."
"Ah now, you are too formal when you are married to my Miko," she protested, reaching out to take his arm for the support she'd denied Miko. "I am Oba-chan to you, even though I am angry that I missed the wedding. Now show me this city I have dreamed of for years."
Miko held back and watched the two of them slowly walk toward the hallway that would take them to Dr. Beckett, who would make sure the 88-year-old woman was healthy after her travel between galaxies. She wasn't worried. Pegasus natives of all ages had gone through the stargate for centuries without problems. Resting a hand atop the gentle rise of her belly, Miko followed her two beloveds to the infirmary knowing that Dr. Beckett would insist on checking her and her daughter-to-be.
Hana Kusanagi-Ford would be the next to inherit the secret art of suishō uranai, protected from the tyranny of emperors by the inhabitants of Atlantis.
It was their destiny.