The Demon’s Glass
For all things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold,
The glass of outer weariness,
Made when God slept in times of old.
W.B. Yeats, 1893
2186 C.E. - Thessia
Cerine Asil was troubled as she paced back and forth in the small, poorly lit room. She was a decorated commando, just assigned to lead her own squad a month ago. Now, they had taken more than half of her new team from her and sent them to serve as an escort for that pureblood scientist T’soni. Then they relegated her and the remainder of her commandos to guard the Lonican Artifact. That ridiculous relic was the cause of her misfortune. The Reapers were waging war across the galaxy, and she was assigned the job of a museum curator. While the Reapers had not yet reached Thessia, some of its colonies had not been so lucky. She should be out there on the battlefield not in one of the most secure facilities in the sector. The Lonican Artifact was held in a vault deep beneath the ground, where it had been stored for countless centuries, and suddenly Asari High Command decided it needed a guard. Cerine couldn’t stand the thought of all that solid rock bearing down on her, and she hadn’t seen the sun or had fresh air since her commander had ordered her down here three days ago.
She glanced down at her left arm as her omnitool lit up. “Finally,” she muttered to herself and tapped on the omnitool to accept the incoming call.
“Lt. Asil, this is Captain Jaris. I got your message that you needed to speak with me.”
“Yes, Captain. I wanted to discuss my assignment.”
“Were your orders unclear, Lt. Asil?” Jaris asked. Cerine could easily picture the annoyed look she knew her commanding officer had on her face and stopped her pacing.
“No, Captain, they were quite clear, but…”
“Then explain the problem to me, because I’m not sure I see the issue,” she cut Cerine off, a tinge of anger in her voice.
“Captain, this isn’t where I belong. This artifact is a hundred feet underground. There is no threat here.”
“Cerine, I gave you your own squad because I thought you were ready,” she said, letting the statement hang there for a moment before continuing. “I’m coordinating ten commando squads spread across three different worlds at the moment. We lost three commandos on Kalus this morning. How much time do you think I have to waste on people questioning their orders?”
Cerine blanched. “Captain, I didn’t mean…”
“Do your job, Lt. Jaris out.”
She shook her head with a sigh and approached the artifact. It was highly classified, as she had only learned of its existence when she’d been assigned to guard it. Asari archaeologists had discovered it during a dig at Lonica, one of Thessia’s greatest cities, three thousand years ago. Apparently, it predated even the protheans, and they had no idea what it was, but the possibility that it could be a weapon could no longer be overlooked, not with the Reapers threatening asari space. The Council hoped that Liara T’soni could come in and figure out what the hell it was. Cerine certainly didn’t think it looked like a weapon. It was a large metal ring, just over twenty feet in diameter, with a series of completely alien untranslatable symbols etched on the surface. If they asked her, she would say it was probably some ancient monument or altar to a long-forgotten god. Of course, they didn’t ask her. They just told her to guard it. Whatever it was, it was a waste of her skills and time.
“Lt.?” One of her squad asked as she entered the room.
Cerine continued to stare at the ring.
The soldier cleared her throat. “Lt. Asil?”
Cerine turned and looked at her. She was so deep in her thoughts it took her a moment to realize who it was. “Yes, sorry, Sergeant Mileta. What is it?”
Mileta saluted. “We just got a message transmitted from topside. The squad has rendezvoused with Commander Shepard and Dr. T’soni. They should be here within the hour.”
“The sooner the better,” Cerine replied, and then gestured to the artifact. “This… thing has been in the archives for thousands of years, and suddenly it’s a priority. Entire worlds fall while we guard a giant metal ring that seems to serve no purpose.”
“Yes, Lt. Hopefully, once Dr. T’soni has examined the artifact, we’ll be cleared to return to normal duty,” Mileta said hopefully.
Cerine gave a half smile. “Hmm, well, I’m not sure I’d call fighting Reapers ‘normal duty,’ but I’ll take it over this any day. We’re warriors, Mileta. Warriors need a war.”
“Can’t argue this a safer place to be,” Mileta countered.
Cerine shook her head. “No, I don’t fear dying, just being useless or helpless. If safety is your preference, then you’ve chosen the wrong line of work.”
“I think…” Mileta began then suddenly stopped speaking, her mouth agape. She slowly raised her arm and pointed to the ring.
Cerine arched her eyebrow and turned to look. Part of the metal ring had begun to spin. “By the goddess. What the hell?” She said and pulled her rifle from her back and approached the ring. “Mileta, put the squad on alert!”
Mileta was mesmerized by the spinning ring and didn’t move.
“That’s an order, Sgt.!” Cerine snapped.
Mileta’s cheeks flushed, and she rushed out of the room.
The young asari commando watched as the large ring continued to spin, stopping every few seconds on certain symbols. There was a sudden loud whoosh as a great blast of blue energy shot out from the ring. Cerine stumbled, tripping over her feet as she tried to back away and landed with a thud on her back. She groaned, more from embarrassment than pain, as she pushed herself up on her elbows. A shimmering field of blue now filled the ring, casting a soft glow over the room. Her eyes widened when a body came flying from the energy field and slid and tumbled across the floor. Then the glow vanished as the field disappeared as quickly as it had come. She hopped to her feet and approached the body on the floor, her weapon trained on it, a biotic field forming around her free hand.
“Identify yourself!” she shouted. As she got closer she could see it was a human male in a uniform she didn’t recognize, and he appeared to be seriously injured.
Cerine holstered her rifle on her back and dropped down to her knees beside him, activating her omnitool. She gently rolled him onto his back, drawing a groan from him. She cupped the side of his face, which was unusually warm, and turned his head towards her. His blue eyes regarded her with confusion, and he grimaced.
“Good. You feel pain, human,” she said as she began to scan him. “That means you’re alive. Who shot you?” He appeared to have several burns on his chest from an energy-based weapon. She grabbed the sidearm out of his holster and laid it behind her, then removed his combat vest and began to rip open his shirt to get better access to his wounds.
“Shot… no, fire,” he muttered.
She ran her omnitool over the burns, dispensing medi-gel. She continued to scan, checking that the medi-gel was setting in properly. “Well, you won’t die on me, but we’ll need to get you to a doctor.”
He tried to sit up but quickly fell back with a painful grimace and let out a huge breath.
She shook her head disapprovingly. “Tsk. Don’t rush it, human,” she advised.
“Yeah, thanks,” he grunted hoarsely.
“You are in a secure asari military facility. How did you get here and what is that?” She gestured to the ring. “Who are you?”
He looked at her, his brow furrowed. “I’m… I’m… you’re blue. Sorry… Who are you?”
Cerine smiled, bemused. “Lt. Asil of Thessia and I am quite blue. You act like you’ve never seen an asari before. Perhaps, you hit your head?” She held her omnitool above his face and scanned.
“No, my head is fine.” He gently pushed her arm away from his face. “My name is Daniel Jackson. From Earth. And I’m not sure where I am to be honest.”
Mileta came rushing back in with two other commandos, their guns at the ready. “Lt.?” Mileta said uncertainly, training her rifle on the human.
Cerine motioned for them to lower their weapons. “It’s alright, Mileta. Get a message to Shepard and Captain Jaris. Let them know we have a guest. Tell them… tell them he fell out of the ring. Nayta, go fetch some water. Kira, contact the base doctor,” she said and looked back to Daniel.
Nayta and Kira rushed off to carry out her orders. Mileta hesitated again, not wanting to leave her commanding officer with their “guest,” but she dared not have the Lt. yell at her again.
Cerine took Daniel’s arm and helped him slowly sit up. “I’ve never seen an Alliance uniform like yours. Are you working with Shepard? What is that? How did you get here?” She pointed again to the ring.
Daniel’s eyes narrowed. The rifle on her back, and black armor she wore certainly were unrecognizable to him, but she wasn’t pointing the rifle at him, so that was a plus. However, he was certain if Sheppard had met a beautiful blue alien he would’ve heard about it from McKay in detail. “That’s a lot of questions. You say you know Colonel Sheppard?”
Cerine nodded. “Yes, but I thought it was Commander. She’ll be here soon.”
He shook his head. “She? No, we must be talking about different Sheppards.” The pain in his chest was starting to numb, so he began to climb to his feet. Cerine took his arm and assisted him. He walked towards the gate and then suddenly he remembered the fire that had forced him through the wormhole. “Sam,” he said to himself. He turned back to her, concern evident in his voice. “Did anyone else come through the Stargate?”
Cerine shrugged. “I don’t…”
“That! The ring,” Daniel said, trying to maintain his patience and pointed with both hands to the gate.
She frowned. “No, just you.”
Daniel shut his eyes and took in a deep breath to calm himself. “Not good,” he mumbled.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
He pressed a hand to his forehead. “I have to… I have to get back. McKay really, really messed up this time, and he doesn’t even know it. Where the hell am I?”
She approached him and rested a hand on his shoulder and extended her other hand to him.
Daniel studied the young woman for a moment and then clasped her hand.
“Daniel, my name is Cerine. I will do what I can to help you, but first, we need to get to know each other I think.”
After recovering his glasses from a corner of the room, which fortunately had fared better on their trip through the gate than he had, Daniel stood before the gate. He took a drink from the canteen Cerine had given him as he studied the symbols. Cerine was in the corner, quietly talking into her omnitool, while the guard at the door watched him closely. The gate, which was marked with symbols as foreign to him as they were to the asari, was identical to the one that the Atlantis team had found only days before on a remote outpost in Pegasus. The symbols on it matched none he had ever seen on any gate or in any Ancient database. He had no clue what they meant, or how to use them to get back, and there was certainly no DHD in the immediate vicinity. Of course the one in Pegasus had not had a traditional DHD either but a computer console similar to the one on Atlantis.
“Daniel?” Cerine said after completing her call. She walked up beside him and stared at the gate. She crossed her arms, biting the tip of her tongue as she tried to make sense of it. After a few moments she finally spoke. “So… stargate?”
He nodded without looking at her. “Yes, it allows near instantaneous travel between two gates.”
“I was given a quick briefing on the artifact when they assigned me to guard it. As far as the asari know, it’s the only one in existence. Not just on our world, but anywhere.”
“Well, I stepped through one just like it in the Pegasus galaxy, and now here I am. Wherever here is.”
“I would say you fell through it rather than walked,” she corrected.
Daniel chuckled. “Yeah, well that’s not out of character for me.”
“You’re just lucky the other end of that gate was here. This is Thessia. Some call our world the shining star of Council Space. I would not disagree with them. So, consider yourself lucky.”
Cerine stared at him quizzically then let out a sigh and waved it off. “Never mind. We’re in an area of the Milky Way that the humans call the Athena Nebula.”
“Good to know I’m back at home in the Milky Way, even if it is a different one.”
“Wherever you are from, these gates sound like a mass effect relay. It even resembles the rings from a relay, though considerably smaller.” She tapped on her omnitool and brought up a holographic projection of a relay.
Daniel stared at the projection, and then he shrugged. “I’ve never seen one, so I’ll take your word for it. I think it’s safe to say this particular gate has taken me completely off the grid. Normally, that would be kind of exciting.”
“Well, you met me. That’d make an exciting day for anyone, and it has certainly made my morning more interesting.”
“Well, I have to admit that I’ve encountered much worse things when coming out of a stargate. If I have to be lost, I’ll take charming blue alien over a Goa’uld death trap any day.”
Cerine blushed. “Come on. The medic is going to check you out.”
He gave the gate one last glance and then turned and followed Cerine out of the room. She led him down a short corridor to an elevator at the end. She stepped in and beckoned him in. Once inside she tapped on the console.
“So you’re familiar with Earth?” He asked.
“I’ve never been, but I’m afraid it’s not doing so well. The Reapers have been hitting it hard.”
Cerine nodded. “Reapers. Giant sentient starships bent on destroying almost all organic life in the galaxy. I’m afraid you’ve chosen to visit our galaxy at a bad time. I guess you don’t have Reapers where you’re from?”
“No. I was on Earth just days ago. I can say there were no Reapers. I think I may have travelled farther than I first thought.”
“Yes, it would appear we both have many questions,” she said. The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. She stepped into the hall and then glanced back at him. “I can help with that I think, but let’s have the doctor look you over first.”
She took him into a small room where another asari was waiting. She directed him to remove his jacket and torn shirt and lay down on a bed.
Daniel lay on the table, and stared at the ceiling. Cerine stood on one side of him, while the asari medic stood on the other. He grimaced as the medic poked and examined the burns on his chest.
“I appreciate it, but it isn’t necessary. I’ve been burned before. It’s not that bad.”
“Typical human stubbornness,” the medic said. “Are you a doctor?”
Daniel nodded. “I am actually, just not that kind.”
“Then let me do my job. You say these came from a fire?” She asked as she studied the scans on her omnitool.
“Yeah. Power conduit exploded. I owe McKay for that.”
“Well, Lt. Asil got the medi-gel applied quickly enough. You shouldn’t have much scarring. She said you took quite a tumble though. Any other pains?”
“Nothing serious. Just some bruises, which I’m no stranger to I must admit.”
The asari nodded. “Well, just take it easy for a couple of days.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Cerine said. “Can I speak to him privately for a moment?”
The medic nodded politely as she left the room.
Daniel sat up and Asil handed him his shirt and jacket.
He slid his shirt on. “Cerine, I do appreciate the attention, and I would honestly love nothing better than to stay here and learn everything I can about asari, but I really have to get back. I was working with a friend. If I was injured, she could be too. Now, the gate you have out there matches the gate we found. Do you have any type of control device or console for it?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. If we did it would most likely be stored here with it. We don’t even know what the ring is, Daniel. But Dr. T’soni will be here soon. If anyone can help, it would be her. She’s our foremost expert on ancient civilizations, or so I’m told.”
Daniel’s face brightened. “Wait. An archaeologist?”
“Yes, she is.” Cerine said softly and tried to conceal her disappointment. This was the most fascinating thing that had ever happened to her, and she had the very real fear that Shepard and T’soni would be quick to cut her, a rookie lieutenant, out of the picture. “But while you will need her help, you need to be more concerned with Commander Shepard. She’s the one who will decide whether to let you try to use that gate again. You’ll have to convince her that you’re not a threat. My commanders are concerned that you might be Cerberus.”
Daniel arched an eyebrow. “I assume you’re not talking about the three-headed dog.”
Cerine stared at him curiously. “Umm, I’m not sure about dogs. Cerberus is a terrorist organization. A very powerful one at that. Human terrorists.”
He looked her in the eyes. “Do you think I’m a terrorist, Cerine?”
She gave him a slight smile. “No, Daniel. You seem much too confused to be anything other than lost, but I’ve never met Shepard. I have no idea how much value she’ll give my opinion. However, from what I hear Dr. T’soni and Shepard are quite… close. If you get Dr. T’soni on your side, you may not have anything to worry about.”
“Well, if she’s like me, she’ll be thrilled to meet a fellow archaeologist.”
“Oh, I thought you were a soldier. You dress like one.”
“Let’s say 50/50. I’ve certainly spent my fair share of time fighting, but it isn’t my preference.”
“I was born to be a commando.” She pointed to the small insignia etched on the chest of her armor, her face beaming. “Recently promoted. I’ve been given my own squad, but we were assigned to guard the artifact. Not exactly the exciting assignment I was hoping for my first command, but you have livened things up. Now, it would help, if by the time Shepard shows up, we could have an idea of what is going on.”
“I take it you have a suggestion.”
She nodded. She knew Captain Jaris would probably disapprove, but she was running out of time. “I’ve never done this with a non-asari, but we have the ability to join. I can create a mental connection between us. It could help us both understand each other.”
Daniel studied her for a moment. “Is it safe?”
“Of course,” she replied with an air of confidence. “Asari often join with those from other species.”
He nodded reluctantly. He needed to get back and to do that he needed to figure out what was going on. “What do I do?”
She motioned for him to stand, and then she stood directly in front of him. After removing her gloves, she laid them on the table. She then reached up and lightly pressed her fingertips to each side of his face.
“Close your eyes and relax. We like to say ‘embrace eternity.’ You have to open your mind, Daniel.”
He chuckled. “Not the first time I’ve heard that.”
Cerine’s eyes shifted to black and she focused on the feel of his skin and the flow of thoughts between them. There was a flood of color and sharp pains pierced her temples and she fell back with a cry. Daniel opened his eyes in a panic and looked at her. He grabbed her as she appeared like she was about to faint and lifted her up and laid her on the table.
“Cerine? Look at me,” Daniel said softly. He pressed his fingers to her neck to feel for a pulse.
She looked at him and then closed her eyes, trying to block out the thoughts and images bombarding her mind, but it only made it worse. She took deep breaths, and she could hear his voice.
“I’m going to get the doctor,” he said.
“No!” She grabbed his hand to stop him. “No, Daniel. I’m… it’s ok.”
“What happened? I just got a few quick glimpses of… is that what you call a Reaper?” There was a tinge of concern in his voice. He had seen something like that, a schematic.
She ignored the question, trying to focus on regaining her thoughts. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. Your world… your galaxy is so very different from mine, but it wasn’t that. What are you?”
Daniel’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure…”
She sat up slowly and touched a hand to his forehead as if in wonder. “It was… overwhelming. There is so much memory, and so many thoughts that I see are hidden from you. Taken from you.”
“Wait. You can see that?”
She nodded her head. “But only in the way a grain sand might see a wave rushing towards it. You don’t belong here, Daniel. The Earth you call home is not our Earth. This is your galaxy, yet it isn’t. You truly are lost.”
Daniel sighed, the revelation wasn’t particularly helpful, but Cerine did not look well.
Cerine pressed her hands to her temples and let out a deep breath. “I um… I need a moment alone. Please.” She tapped on her omnitool and summoned Mileta.
Mileta came in a few moments later and was immediately taken aback. Her commanding officer was visibly shaken and rather pale. Her hand immediately went to her sidearm. “Lt. Are you alright?”
Cerine nodded. “Yes. Please take our guest back down to the gate.”
“Yes, Lt.,” Mileta replied, glaring at Daniel. “Commander Shepard will be here in ten minutes.”
“Good. Good. That will give me time.”
“Cerine?” Daniel asked uncertainly, clearly concerned.
“It’s ok,” she said and gave him a reassuring smile. “Please go with Mileta.”
“This way,” Mileta said bluntly and left the room.
Daniel hesitated for a moment but then followed Mileta out.
Cerine waited for the door to slide shut and then could no longer fight back the tears that began to roll down her cheeks. She buried her face in her hands and struggled to keep her eyes open. Every time she closed her eyes the space behind her eyelids was overwhelmed with bright light, then crushing darkness. She could feel the weight of it all so that her entire body ached.