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Stargate: Asgard Legacies

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Chapter 1 – Collision

The first time I woke up was to the unsettling sound of metal screeching against metal while I was trying to get a hold on something, anything. A heavy smell of burnt plastic was hanging in the air that was only partly able to wash over the smells of blood and panic. I realized too late what we’ve actually been facing. I had passed out for a few seconds or so, enough time to let go of whatever I was holding on to.
The second impact, the one that I had to face now, was hard. The forces of physics threw me all the way from one wall to the opposite wall without giving me a bit of a chance to grab whatever passed my way. When I smashed against the wall, I passed out again.
--
The second time I woke up in this incredible mess, I found myself being trapped under a heap of rubble. I tried to check myself and was partly relieved that I still felt every part of my body. Everything hurt and felt as if my whole body was one huge bruise, but I knew that as long as I could feel all my limbs, not all hope was lost.
After finally having come to this conclusion, I suddenly realized the silence all around me. Before I had passed out, there had been people in here. Many of them. I remembered the impact and the forces it had let loose. Every fibre of me tried not to think of the possibility that everyone around me was dead. I kept telling myself that they were just unconscious while I brought up every little bit of strength inside my bruised body to move the rubble that was covering me. I failed, of course.
‘Goddammit’ I muttered to myself and fell back. There was not the slightest chance to move anything from my position. My legs were stuck under a huge piece of metal and the blood all around spoke a very clear language of several injuries that I wasn’t even aware of yet. I couldn’t even see all parts of my body, because there was so much rubble around, covering me. Thanks to the amounts of adrenaline in my system I luckily didn’t feel all too much pain. Yet.
Suddenly, when I didn’t even hope anything would happen anymore and thought that my life would end here, I saw a little bit of movement right beside my left shoulder. I turned my head as far as I was able to and felt a tiny bit of relief. There were long, slender, grey fingers poking around, and just a moment later I heard a voice from outside the mess I was stuck in.
‘Dr Talvi, can you hear me?’
This was definitely the voice of Hermiod, our Asgard engineer, and it fit, because the hand was obviously his, too.
‘Yeah’, I mumbled, my voice low and hoarse, ‘Can you get me out of here?’
The hand of the alien rested on my shoulder for a moment as if he tried to comfort me. It was almost funny imagining Hermiod comforting someone, because by now he had acted like an asshole most of the time. At least whenever he had let himself down to even talk to any of the human engineers. Still, this was better than nothing at all, so I was thankful.
‘The ceiling caved in.’ Hermiod informed me. ‘Your current situation is that I don’t know if it’s possible to move any of those pieces of metal.’
‘Crap.’ I cursed.
There was a while of awkward silence while Hermiod’s hand was still lying on my shoulder. I managed to move my right hand from somewhere under a piece of metal and put it over his. He flinched, surprised, but didn’t move.
‘Anyone else out there?’ I finally dared to ask. Part of me didn’t even want to know, but I had to be sure.
‘No.’ Hermiod said after a few seconds, seemingly figuring out whether it was a good idea to tell me the truth. ‘The few who had survived the first impact had run out of engineering in panic as long as it was still possible.’
‘And what about you?’ I wanted to know after having taken a few seconds to digest the information.
‘I only have a few bruises, but otherwise I’m alright.’ He said, hesitating, and it sounded like a lie.
‘I was stuck behind my console.’ He went on. ‘But in the moment of panic all around nobody thought of…’ He trailed off.
‘…of looking back if anyone’s left behind.’ I completed his sentence, squeezing his hand.
It was an odd feeling lying underneath the remnants of the ceiling and holding on to an alien’s hand, but I was glad he was there, keeping me from losing my nerve in all this mess.
‘What happened?’ I finally asked. ‘Why were there those two impacts in the first place?’
‘The Daedalus suddenly dropped out of hyperspace without a reason.’ Hermiod reported. ‘It wasn’t possible to avoid crashing on the planet that appeared in front of us. The ship hit the ground heavily, moved forward driven by inertia and crashed against an obstacle full front. I couldn’t do anything.’
The normally so cold and distant voice of the Asgard shivered when he spoke the last part. I realized that he felt guilty for what had happened.
‘Nobody is actually able to keep a ship from crashing onto a planet that appears right in front of it when dropping out of hyperspace.’ I reassured him. ‘It’s not your fault, Hermiod.’
He remained silent for a while but didn’t move an inch. I took the chance to process everything I’ve come to know. Of course there was always the odds of hitting a planet when dropping out of hyperspace, that’s why those calculations were so difficult. I knew that the Asgard core of the Daedalus’s computer system was a very advanced machine that didn’t make mistakes out of the blue, especially not when an experienced engineer like Hermiod was running it. We could consider it good luck that we hadn’t ended up inside of the planet, so this was a bad case but definitely not the worst case possible.
‘Would you mind trying to help me get out of here?’ I asked after I had put my train of thought to a forced hold. I didn’t want to hang around here doing nothing while there were maybe still people aboard the ship who might need help.
The slender grey hand disappeared and I heard Hermiod taking a few steps back, obviously trying to find out if and how the pieces of debris could be moved. I was fully aware of the fact that this was some kind of horrible Mikado, but if there was anyone who’d be able to calculate how to move those pieces without causing further damage to me, it would be the Asgard. He had more brains than the whole Atlantis science team together, after all.
Suddenly I heard footsteps, not the light ones of Hermiod’s naked feet but the ones of heavy military boots. I heard Hermiod hurrying in the direction the sound came from. The footsteps came to a halt and I heard Hermiod and another voice talking frantically. Then the footsteps came closer and I relaxed a bit.
‘Dr Talvi?’ I heard a very familiar voice.
‘Carson?’ I had never been that happy to hear the doctor’s voice, ‘So good to know you’re alive.’
‘Ah, sounds like you’re in quite a good mood despite your situation.’ Carson stated and I could almost see the friendly smile on the Scot’s face.
‘Can anyone get me out of here?’ I asked hopefully.
‘Hermiod just went to get some personnel over here, so we can dig you out.’ Carson reassured me while I heard him sitting down right outside the heap of metal, right there where the Asgard had stood minutes ago.
‘He actually saved me from losing myself in pointless panic.’ I’ve told the doctor who now had moved his hand through to my shoulder, obviously using the same hole in all this mess that Hermiod had used before.
‘We often only see a character’s qualities when lives are at stake.’ Carson stated. ‘Can you give me an overview on your injuries?’
I could hear some voices closing in from somewhere outside Engineering and was glad that the rescue team was near. Of course we had to find out what had happened, but first we had to attend to our people – that’s what I’ve learned from the Atlantis mission reports I had read in my spare time.
‘I still can feel all parts of my body, but my legs are stuck under a beam that looks too heavy to be moved.’ I informed the doctor.
‘Let that be our problem, Dr Talvi, just don’t move. We’ll get you out of here.’ I heard another familiar voice.
‘Colonel Caldwell.’ I sighed, relieved. Even though most people had their problems with the Colonel, I had always felt kind of safe whenever he captained the ship. He was indeed no friendly man, but he knew what he did and what had to be done, and he always tried his best to keep his people safe.
‘Alright, sir.’ I confirmed his statement in a firm voice.
‘I have calculated how to move the pieces to get her out of there without causing further damage to her body.’ I now heard Hermiod say, who sounded more than concerned. It warmed my heart that he took all those efforts.
‘You’ve heard the man.’ Caldwell said to whomever was standing around him ready to help.
The next minutes were a chaotic mess of people slowly moving heavy pieces while I closed my eyes and tried not to breathe. Finally the worst was done and I could take a look around.
There was Caldwell with a deep cut on his forehead that was still dripping blood, there was Carson who attached an IV to my arm, most likely pain killers, there was Malcolm, Caldwell’s second in command with his left arm in an improvised plaster, there was Dr Zelenka with broken glasses but otherwise seemingly uninjured, and there were also a few young soldiers whom I didn’t know but who obviously had helped to dig me out of the rubble. And then there was also Hermiod, and if I hadn’t known his face so well from all the hours we had worked together, I’d never have been able to read the concern in his expression. It’s difficult to read Asgard faces, because their ability of having facial expressions is quite limited, but when you get to know them better, you realize there’s more to their expressions than expected.
‘Alright. Now let’s move that beam off and we can free her.’ Malcolm said, eying the beam over my legs suspiciously.
‘It’s too heavy to move it away, sir.’ One of the young men objected. ‘But we can lift it a bit, so you can move her out.’
‘Is that possible or will it hurt her any further, doc?’ Caldwell wanted to know.
‘I’d need a pair of additional hands to move her out.’ Carson finally said after contemplating a while.
I knew it was a risk moving me out, because nobody could tell if I had one or more of my vertebras broken, but I decided that it was now or never, and that I couldn’t lie around here the whole day.
‘Yeah, get me outta here.’ I confirmed the doctor’s words.
Caldwell kneeled beside me and put his hands under my back carefully, so he could move me without sliding my possibly injured back over the uneven floor. Carson did the same from another angle and cleared his throat.
The Colonel understood the sign and nodded at the men who already stood at the beam. Now they all got a good grip and lifted the heavy piece of steel just enough to give Caldwell and Carson the chance to carefully move me to a safer place.
‘Holy crap!’ I mumbled when I took a first glance over my body. There was so much blood! I wondered how long it took for an average person to bleed out completely. In the corner of my eye I saw Carson’s face – and he didn’t look happy at all.
He began to examine me briefly, tugging here and there, poking at some spots and checking my reactions. I’ve realized just now that I felt as if at least every second bone in my body must be broken. Everything hurt, but some parts hurt less than others.
‘There are a few broken ribs.’ Carson began to count on his fingers. ‘A broken arm, a broken leg, some open wounds, some pieces of metal stuck in your body, one of them frighteningly close to your heart… ‘
I hadn’t even noticed that chunk of metal by now that was stuck in my chest, but now I at least knew what it was that made everyone stare at me that concerned.
‘It’ll take a while to attend to all of this.’ Carson went on.’ Has any of you ever gone through medical training?’
‘I have.’ Caldwell replied. ‘So I’d like to volunteer as a nurse.’
‘That’d definitely be the highest ranked nurse that has ever attended to me.’ I said with a crooked smile. ‘But don’t they need you to run… whatever has to be run?’
‘We have a huge spaceship that has crashed on a planet. That means we won’t go anywhere for quite a while. I’ve ordered people around to organize what has to be organized and I have them report to me every once in a while. You’re my best engineer and I want to see you on your feet anytime soon. I think you can guess my priorities.’ Caldwell said briskly, so none of us saw a point in objecting.
‘Malcolm.’ Caldwell turned to his second in command. ‘Take charge of everything we’ve been talking about on the way over here.’ Then he turned to Zelenka. ‘Try to get this emergency radio bark running. That’s top priority. And if you come across any medical personnel tell them I’m down here with Dr Beckett and that he could use some extra hands.’
‘Alright, sir.’ Malcolm confirmed, turned around, waved at the other soldiers and left engineering after them and Dr Zelenka. Now there were only the four of us.
‘Can I be of any help?’ Hermiod asked, seemingly feeling uncomfortable without having anything to do.
‘You could, for example, see if you can get your computers running and find out what the hell happened to my ship.’ Caldwell suggested in his harshest military way of speaking.
‘It’s not his fault.’ I said quietly. ‘He surely hasn’t knocked us out of hyperspace.’
Caldwell wanted to object, but Carson raised his hand to stop him in his tracks.
‘I’ve given you some pain killers.’ The doctor then explained to me. ‘They’re strong, so you shouldn’t feel all too much pain while we’re doing this surgery.’
‘Surgery?’ I asked, suddenly startled. ‘What surgery?’
‘We have to get this piece of metal out of your chest without causing any further damage.’ Carson told me. ‘That’s where you’re bleeding the most. We have to close that wound first in order to stop the bleeding.’
While talking he had already torn my shirt apart and eyed the whole disaster of a piece of metal at a place where it definitely didn’t belong. In the meantime, Caldwell had already attended to my broken leg. I’d never have thought the Colonel had medical training, but he was surely not the first one who had had a life before the military.
‘My head is hurting as hell and I’m dizzy…’ I told Carson. Well, that was a great understatement, because, actually, the room was spinning in various directions and my sight grew blurrier by the minute.
‘You apparently have a concussion.’ Carson explained. ‘I’d be surprised if you hadn’t one after all that rubble dropping down on your head.’
I nodded and closed my eyes, hoping that at least the spinning would come to a halt.
‘I’m giving you a sedative.’ I heard Carson say, but he already sounded like being very far away.
--
The third time I woke up was caused by people who were arguing loudly right beside me.
‘Maybe it’s not his fault, but it’s his goddamn computer that failed!’ I heard a very agitated Colonel Caldwell shout.
‘Why the hell should he sabotage a ship that he’s on? I haven’t heard that the Asgard are famous for their suicide bombers!’ Carson Beckett objected just as agitatedly. ‘They’re peaceful people, Steven, they wouldn’t even hurt a fly!’
‘I’m going to find out what distorted the data processing, and for your information, I’m still in the same room with you.’ I heard Hermiod say, and he sounded hurt, as hurt as an Asgard can sound. I had a feeling that it was time for me to make the others aware of the fact that I was awake. My head still hurt, but at least the world didn’t spin any longer.
‘Hermiod.’ I called, annoyed by how raspy my voice sounded. Of course I wasn’t heard by the passionately arguing men.
‘Hermiod.’ I called once more and this time they took notice.
The Asgard scurried over to my place and looked at me with the same concern on his face that I had already seen before the surgery. Surgery. I had to attend to that topic later, now there was an argument to be settled.
‘I know it wasn’t you.’ I reassured him. Of course I didn’t have any evidence, but my gut feeling had never betrayed me. ‘I trust you. It couldn’t be you.’
Slender grey fingers touched my hand and I got a hold of them.
‘I know you wouldn’t do that.’ I reassured him once more and squeezed his fingers.
‘Dr Talvi.’ Carson had also rushed over to me. ‘How do you feel?’
‘Numb.’ I said. ‘Was the surgery a success?’
‘Indeed, it was.’ The doctor told me. ‘We could remove the piece in your chest and end the bleedings. Though, your right leg and left arm as well as some ribs are broken. You won’t be able to move that much until help is here.’
‘Is there any chance for help anyway?’ I asked sternly, my voice full of my natural fatalism.
‘There’s a huge blizzard outside that makes it impossible to send or receive any transmissions.’ Hermiod told me. ‘Though, Atlantis should know by now that we’re lost, and if Dr McKay is able to calculate where we’ve dropped out of hyperspace, there is a chance they might find us.’
‘Yeah, around Christmas or so.’ I grumbled sarcastically.
Caldwell, who had finally come over to my place too, raised an eyebrow. ‘We won’t give up hope, will we?’
‘What have you been arguing about?’ I changed the topic because there was no point in discussing the odds of when or if they’d find us. ‘You’ve mentioned sabotage?’
Carson got up. ‘While you’re delivering the news, I’ll go to attend to the other patients, if that is alright with you, Colonel.’
‘Yeah, sure.’ Caldwell nodded. ‘Keep moving.’
After Carson had left, Caldwell turned back to me. The expression on his face more serious than I had ever seen it on him.
‘The computer that runs the hyperdrive system is faulty. It’s an Asgard device, so it’s almost impossible that it would fail just so. Someone must have laid their hands on it and I’m trying to find out who that is before they cause us further problems.’ He said in a hasty voice.
‘That’s why you’re suspecting Hermiod.’ I made the logical conclusion. ‘Thinking that only an Asgard can manipulate an Asgard system, but that isn’t so. I could have done it just as much. The same applies on most of the engineers who worked here. Hermiod’s actually here to teach us how to work with Asgard technology. It could have been anyone.’
Only now did I realize that I still held Hermiod’s hand in mine. I considered the Asgard a friend, I’d never suspect any Asgard plotting sinister plans, especially not if there was a chance of their own death in the process. They weren’t suicidal and even if there had ever been psychopathic potential in their race, they’d have eradicated it from their DNA centuries ago. That’s what I also told Caldwell.
‘Then who?’ Caldwell insisted.
‘There’s still a chance of the computer just being… broken.’ I suggested.
Hermiod raised what worked as an eyebrow for him. ‘Every computer can fail.’
‘There you have it.’ I told Caldwell.
The Colonel sighed and got up from where he was sitting.
‘Dr Talvi, to be honest, I don’t believe in Asgard computers just failing, so I will keep my eyes open for any signs of sabotage, but I’ll exclude the both of you and the computer from my list of suspects.’ He gave me a crooked smile and then turned to Hermiod. ‘I want you to get back to working on the problem. I want you to get as many systems running as possible and to find out what caused the computer to malfunction like that.’
Then he turned around and went through the shattered door before any of us even got the chance to object.
‘Why the hell do they always blame the aliens first?’ I muttered to myself and shifted to find a more comfortable position.
‘Xenophobia is a very wide spread problem in your race.’ Hermiod told me, let go off my hand and went back to the mess that had once been his console.
Seeing that small grey creature moving around in all that chaos was almost heart breaking. I knew he was the only one who was capable to unveil whatever mystery was happening on the Daedalus. But he looked so alone, so lost in all that mess. In all the daily routine aboard the Daedalus, I had never spent much thought on how Hermiod must feel under all those humans pushing him around. I imagined how I would feel in his place and suddenly felt a wave of loneliness, and along with it came compassion. I shifted again to get into a sitting position from where I could watch him better. When I took a closer look, I saw that his whole body was shivering. And just now I realized that I was shivering myself, because it was really cold inside this room. The first time ever since the impact I glanced around. Someone had moved the bodies out, if there had been any, but what was much more disconcerting was a huge hole in the wall. I didn’t wonder any longer why it was cold in here. Outside it was snowing like crazy.
‘Are you cold?’ I asked after my eyes had wandered back to Hermiod who was working frantically on what was left of his computer.
‘The cold is indeed very distracting.’ He admitted without looking up from whatever he was doing right now.
‘You can have my blanket if you like.’ I offered.
Hermiod finally looked at me and I could have sworn there was a look of surprise on his face.
‘Then you will feel cold.’ He said with imperturbable Asgard logic.
Getting a hold on the wall with one hand and on the beam that had been lying on my leg with the other, I carefully got up. The world began to spin again but I ignored it, just closed my eyes for a moment, inhaled and exhaled. Then I slowly made my way to Hermiod’s workstation.
The blanket was just lightly hanging over my shoulders where Carson had placed it. My arms and ribcage were wrapped up in bandages which made me look like a mummy. A very tired and dirty mummy, that is.
When I finally reached Hermiod, I was completely exhausted and leaned against his console, breathing heavily. The Asgard looked at me as if he wanted to ask if I’m nuts.
‘Take it.’ I said and shrugged the blanket off my shoulders, picked it up from the floor (not without wincing because of my broken ribs reminding me of their existence) and carefully put it around Hermiod.
He gave me an incredulous look and tugged the blanket closer around him, holding it in place with one hand while continuing his typing with the other.
‘Thank you.’ He said. ‘But you really shouldn’t…’
I raised a hand to make him stop talking and let myself slide to the ground once more. Standing was absolutely no good idea at all.
Only moments later my headset sprang to life when Caldwell informed me and the others of the next unpleasant fact. ‘The Daedalus has come down on a glacier and she’s started to move. Get hold on something and prepare for another impact.’
‘Oh crap.’ I mumbled and cowered at a place between the computer console and the next bulkhead, burying my head in my arms. ‘Hermiod, come over here!’
The Asgard was a tad too slow. He managed to come over to me, but he didn’t have the time to sit next to me before the ship began to move, turn on her side and crash against whatever obstacle. Then the Daedalus turned upside down and sent Hermiod flying through the room. I tried to get hold of him but couldn’t. Just a moment later I’ve realized the mistake of removing my hand from where I had got hold to the wall before. I went slithering in Hermiod’s direction and had to make a grotesque move to not land right on him. I heard something inside me crack, then everything went still.
After the noise had died down and there was no further movement, I turned around to look at Hermiod who was lying curled up next to the wall, unmoving. I panicked and tried to get up, but to no avail. It took me several tries to move towards the Asgard while ignoring all the pain that was raging inside my body.
I moved on arms and legs because there was no way of really getting up and walking. There was only one thought in my mind that had pushed everything else in the background, including the pain.
“Let him live. Please.” I prayed to whomever may be concerned.
When I finally reached him I felt as exhausted as if I’d had run a marathon, but I didn’t give in to my body’s needs to take care and relax. Half kneeling, half lying I put a hand on Hermiod’s shoulder and turned him around as carefully as possible. He looked at me through small slits of his eyelids. The torment on his face made him look almost human.
‘Hermiod?’ I asked, worriedly. I didn’t give in to this stupid urge of asking him if he was alright, because he clearly wasn’t.
It took him a lot of strength to lift his hand and touch mine. ‘Pain.’ He said softly. ‘Everywhere.’
Then he closed his eyes and I panicked. My hand flew to my headset, but it wasn’t there. I seemed to have lost it somewhere on the way from one end of Engineering to the other. I looked around frantically but couldn’t see it at first glance.
‘Dammit, dammit, dammit.’ I cursed, still ignoring my own pain while crawling around between all the chaos. When I finally found the headset, I was so wrung out that I just kept lying right there and activated it.
‘Caldwell? Carson? Anyone?’ I asked, full of hope that the others had survived this wonderful glacier ride.
‘Dr Talvi? This is Carson. What is it?’ I heard his familiar but tired voice. I didn’t dare to feel relieved in any way.
‘I need you down here.’ I told him. ‘It’s Hermiod. I… I’m afraid he’s dying, sir.’
‘Crap.’ I heard Caldwell curse, he seemed to have heard my calling too. ‘Beckett, get down there, I’ll take care of the rest.’ I heard some talking in the background that didn’t make its way through the headsets.
‘On my way.’ Carson confirmed. ‘There’s just a lot of extra rubble everywhere, so it’ll take a few minutes. Try to keep him awake if that’s possible.’
‘Will try.’ I replied without knowing to the least how to do that.
I crawled back to Hermiod who was still lying there the way I had left him when searching for my headset. His black almond eyes followed my every move until I finally got back to him and lay beside him.
‘You’re bleeding again.’ He pointed out in a very small voice and made me look at my chest. The bandage that should hold the wound together was soaked in red.
‘Crap.’ I said weakly. There was nothing else to say and even less to do.
‘At least I won’t die alone.’ Hermiod said after a long while of silence. I couldn’t figure out if he was serious about that or if it was just natural Asgard fatalism speaking out of him.
‘You won’t die, you hear?’ I told him sternly. ‘I don’t allow you to die.’
‘I didn’t know you’re able to work medical miracles.’ He said. Was he trying to be humorous? I’ve never thought I’d ever hear him make a joke, but he obviously did. It surprised me to realize that he did it only to make me feel better.
I moved a bit closer to him to wrap my uninjured arm around his small shivering body. The cold, that was almost unbearable for me, must have been murderous for this frail Asgard body, but all I could think of to keep him warm was to share the warmth of my body. I didn’t know where the blanket had gone that I had given him before the last impact.
‘You won’t leave me.’ I whispered in his tiny ear. ‘I won’t forgive you if you leave me alone in this mess.’
I pulled him even closer, not only because I wanted to give him as much warmth as possible, but also to show him that I was dead serious about my words. After all, he was one of the very few persons who had always treated me with honest respect. Plus he had held my hand when I was buried under a heap of rubble, so I owed him one.
I didn’t want to lose him.
My body seemed to be willing to finally take its toll for all the damage I’d caused it throughout the day, but as the stubborn person that I was famous for, I fought against passing out. I ignored the pain, the smell and taste of blood, the throbbing headache, and kept telling myself again and again that I had to stay awake. If not for me, then at least for Hermiod…
--
The fourth time I woke up was to the sound of beeping medical machines and the typical hospital smell. There was busy movement all around me and people were talking in low voices. For the first time in what seemed to be forever I didn’t feel any pain, but I needed several minutes to come to the conclusion that I couldn’t be on the Daedalus any longer. I had to be back in Atlantis.
I opened my eyes and looked around. This was indeed the infirmary of Atlantis. I even heard the ocean outside and smelled the salt in the air. It took a bit to realize and understand that I was at home, that I didn’t lie in my own blood any longer somewhere inside the mess that had once been the proud spaceship Daedalus.
‘Dr Talvi, it’s nice to have you back.’ I suddenly heard a voice from behind me. Carson’s face swam into sight. ‘How do you feel?’
‘I…’ Suddenly all the memories came flooding back loud and clear, and I remembered the last moments before I obviously had passed out although I’d tried so hard not to.
‘Hermiod!’ I exclaimed, suddenly panicking. ‘Is he…’ I didn’t dare to complete that question.
‘Don’t worry, he’s alive.’ Carson reassured me. ‘His injuries were bad, but I daresay you saved his life.’
‘How come?’ I wondered. ‘I didn’t do anything but holding him, because there was nothing else I could have done.’
‘You kept him warm.’ The doctor said with a smile. ‘And in the end that’s all that matters, isn’t it? That we have someone who keeps us warm.’
He pointed to the bed that was situated right next to mine. I turned my head in said direction and saw Hermiod sleeping peacefully, my blood-stained blanket still around his shoulders.
‘He didn’t want to let the blanket go.’ Carson informed me. ‘He always mumbled that if you didn’t make it he’d at least have that.’
‘Really?’ I asked, puzzled.
Carson nodded. ‘Never underestimate an Asgard. They may seem cold, but they actually do have a heart.’
I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of an Asgard heart that was beating for me of all people. I suppose I still smiled when I fell back asleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 - Decision

That morning I was standing on one of Atlantis’s balconies watching the Lantean sunrise. I loved this city, heart and soul, because for me it was the closest to home I could get. Although I really liked my job on the Daedalus, I always looked forward to returning to Atlantis for a few days.
But now that the Daedalus was lying on a distant planet, most likely way beyond repair, I felt a little lost. There were so many losses to mourn, co-workers I appreciated a lot, crew members, some of them friends.
I wondered what Colonel Caldwell was planning. I hadn’t seen him in the last few days since they had brought us back to Atlantis. I didn’t even have a clue how they brought us back in the first place. Carson had told me that when he finally had reached Hermiod and me, we’d both been unconscious and on the verge of dying. It was due to good luck that we had survived this disaster, even more so because many hadn’t.
Hermiod… whenever my train of thought stopped at the Asgard, I felt a little twitch in my heart that I couldn’t quite put a finger on. I knew that I would have taken it more than bad if he hadn’t made it. Working hand in hand with him for months had made him become one of the best friends I’d ever had, but I was afraid that didn’t have much of a meaning, because I had never been good at making friends.
My thoughts kept wandering back to the Daedalus. I decided that I had to make contact with Caldwell anytime soon to find out what would happen concerning the ship. We surely couldn’t leave her in pieces on this faraway planet. Not with all the Wraith out there who were eager getting their hands on Earth technology. Especially the Asgard technology on the ship would be of their advantage. We couldn’t let that happen.
After waking up again on the infirmary, I had spent a lot of time sleeping, because my body obviously needed the sleep in order to recover. At some point when I had woken up the other day, feeling much better, Hermiod had been gone, I don’t know where to. Supposedly he was already making plans with Colonel Caldwell and Dr McKay what to do about the Daedalus. I wanted to join in, but Carson had ordered me to stay another day. He was of the opinion that people with an insane number of broken bones weren’t ready to work. Who would disagree with a doctor?
At least he had allowed me to spend some time on this balcony where I was standing now, because being inside drove me nearly insane. I hated having nothing to do.
Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t alone on the balcony anymore. I only noticed when the person who had joined me started to talk.
‘Dr Talvi, I’m glad to see that you’re feeling better.’
I turned my head and looked down at the grey alien who looked back at me with unblinking black eyes. I couldn’t help but smile.
‘Hermiod.’ I greeted him shortly. ‘I’ve already been wondering where you had gone.’
‘Asgard bodies heal much faster than those of humans.’ He let me know. ‘That’s the reason why I was able to leave the infirmary earlier than you. Colonel Caldwell wanted to talk to me about how to retrieve the Daedalus from M4X-773.’
Apparently they had given the planet a name.
‘Is there even a possibility to move this wreck?’ I wanted to know, instantly excited.
‘It is very unlikely.’ Hermiod destroyed my hopes. ‘But we have to retrieve the Asgard technology, because it wouldn’t be to our benefit if it fell into the hands of the Wraith. We also have to wipe the Earth computer’s databases.’
‘True.’ I confirmed his statement. ‘It’s sad, though. She was an amazing ship.’
‘Colonel Caldwell wants you to join the rescue team.’ The Asgard told me. ‘Your expertise would be of great help.’
‘Yeah, thought so.’ I muttered. ‘You and I are the only ones who really know how all that Asgard stuff works.’
‘Indeed.’
I looked at Hermiod again. Lately I always had a weird feeling somewhere in my stomach whenever I talked to him. That had already begun weeks ago, but since we’ve almost died in the arms of each other, it had increased.
‘What happened to my blanket?’ I suddenly voiced a question that I even hadn’t planned to ask.
‘It’s in my quarters.’ Hermiod replied. ‘If you want me to give it back…’
‘No, no…’ I said slowly, wondering why he still kept that dirty thing.
The conversation was followed by an awkward silence that was only broken when Carson joined us on the balcony.
‘Ah, I see you have a visitor, Dr Talvi.’ He said with a smile.
‘Yeah.’ I confirmed. ‘I’ve heard that social contacts are important on the way to recovery.’
‘I can’t deny that.’ The doctor said, smiling even wider. ‘Unfortunately you have to recover even sooner, because Caldwell keeps nagging that he wants you to be back at work anytime soon.’
‘Fine.’ I exclaimed, delighted. ‘When?’
Carson sighed deeply with this expression on his face that clearly said how much he was annoyed by commanding officers who always expected medical miracles from him.
‘You know how severely injured you were, right?’ He probed.
I nodded. ‘Don’t worry, I still remember all the pain I’ve been through, but if I may be honest, I’d rather get back to work and do something useful instead of hanging around here all day, bored to death.’
Carson’s eyes lay on me for a few seconds, then wandered to an eager looking Hermiod. ‘I ask you to take care she won’t do anything stupid, you hear?’
I could have sworn I saw amusement on the Asgard’s face.
‘Yeah, alright.’ I grumbled. ‘Just let’s all team up against someone who can’t defend herself.’
Carson just winked and went back inside. I stared at Hermiod who just stared back at me. I should have kept in mind that in a staring contest the Asgard always wins.
--
An hour later I attended a meeting in Atlantis’s main conference room. It was still hard to walk with a broken leg, even when using crutches, because it wasn’t only the leg that hurt, but also my broken ribs. I decided to ignore all of that, because there were more important matters to care about than whining over some non-lethal injuries.
When I entered the room I found Colonel Caldwell, Dr McKay, Dr Zelenka and Hermiod as well as Dr Weir and Lt. Colonel Sheppard. It always came down to exactly this group of people when serious problems had to be solved. I had worked with all of them in the past, so I knew that they were really competent at their respective fields and more.
‘Ah, Dr Talvi.’ Weir said with a warm smile. ‘I didn’t expect Carson would really let you go.’
I just shrugged, returning the smile. ‘Maybe I annoyed him a tad too much.’
‘Yeah, either you or Hermiod.’ Caldwell folded his arms and gave me an encouraging nod.
‘However.’ I changed the topic with a surprised glance at the Asgard. ‘Please fill me in with the news.’
McKay pointed at some overview sheet on an Ancient monitor at the wall. ‘As you can see, the Daedalus is lying at the bottom of a glacier amidst a Himalaya-like range of mountains. When we’re going back there, we first have to check if it’s even safe to enter her. The ground is very uneven and therefore dangerous.’
‘Is there a chance to get her flying again?’ Zelenka asked doubtfully.
‘We’re only going to find out if we take a look.’ McKay said, shrugging. ‘It’s a real miracle that she’s still in one piece, but as the hull is broken in countless parts, I’m not sure if we’re able to fix her at least enough to go from there to Atlantis.’
‘Without the hyperdrive we’ll be going nowhere.’ I threw in. ‘Last I’ve heard is that the computer malfunctioned, so we can’t rely on it.’
‘Indeed.’ Hermiod nodded. ‘I would have to fix the computer first. From what I’ve seen in the few minutes I had the chance to work on it, there’s a faulty circuit, but it will take some time to figure out which modules will have to be changed and whether we have enough spare parts in order to do so.’
‘Can’t we contact the Asgard?’ Sheppard wanted to know.
‘We can always contact the Asgard.’ Hermiod replied. ‘I suppose it’s in our mutual interest that this technology may not be retrieved by the Wraith.’
‘Concerning Wraith.’ I interrupted him. ‘Is there anyone who protects the wreck?’
‘We have a group of Marines on M4X-773.’ Weir reported. ‘Though, they won’t be able to defend the Daedalus against an attacking hive ship.’
‘We actually have nobody and nothing in order to succeed in that.’ Sheppard muttered. ‘That’s why our main goal should be to get the Daedalus away from that planet.’
‘I will contact the Asgard.’ Hermiod confirmed his former statement. ‘I suppose Supreme Commander Thor will be very interested in keeping the Wraith away from our technology.’
‘It’d surely be of help having one or two Asgard motherships around.’ Caldwell said, relieved.
‘Do you expect them to send an army?’ I asked smiling, construing the look on Hermiod’s face.
Sheppard raised an eyebrow towards me. ‘As far as I’m informed, the war with the Replicators is over and done since the Asgard killed off all those bugs before it got a real big problem.’
‘There are still Goa’Uld to fight in the Milky Way.’ I reminded him. ‘And don’t forget about the Ori. The Asgard can’t be everywhere at the same time. Their fleet may still be huge, but I’m sure they have other matters to attend to as well.’
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence in the conference room while everyone thought about the range of enemies humanity still had to fight all at once. It was really insane, especially when I came to think about the fact that without the Stargate, things would have gone way easier for everyone. Or at least differently. But then again, without the Stargate, we’d never have met the Asgard.
I felt Hermiod’s eyes resting on me again. I realized that he did that quite often and wondered why. It seemed to me as if he expected something from me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Of course I’d help him to find out what had gone wrong with the hyperdrive, but there was something more in that gaze, something substantial. But as I didn’t want to agonize about the Asgard’s thoughts at the moment, I shrugged it off and put my attention back to the current discussion.
‘I think we should board a puddle jumper and go back to the Daedalus.’ McKay suggested. ‘We’re going to have a brief look at what could be done and then meet up and discuss our possibilities. Though, I don’t have a feeling that we’ll get her flying again.’
‘Don’t be so pessimistic!’ Caldwell objected. Of course he wanted his ship back, because he wouldn’t be a good captain if it was otherwise. I remembered what he had told me in Engineering when we were talking about the odds of getting rescued: “We won’t give up hope, will we?”
Indeed, we wouldn’t give up hope. No way.
‘Well, then it’s settled.’ Weir approved. ‘Get your stuff together. We’ll meet at the jumper bay in an hour.’
--
On my way to the jumper bay an hour later, I came across Hermiod, who was heading in the same direction. He seemed to be worried.
‘Hey.’ I greeted him. ‘Any problems?’
For a moment he looked as if he didn’t want to tell me, but then decided otherwise.
‘On the Daedalus communication is so much easier.’ He complained. ‘Here you have to give your message to the gate operators. They’re relaying it to the SGC and the people there send it to Othala. That means we have to wait until they’ll be dialling Earth the next time before my message to Thor gets through. In the meantime the Wraith have all the time possible to occupy the Daedalus.’
I didn’t wonder any longer why he looked that frustrated. Bureaucracy was indeed a problem I had no understanding for, but on the other hand, Atlantis had just one ZPM and dialling Earth took a lot of energy.
‘Did you ask Dr Weir?’ I wondered.
Hermiod just made a gesture that meant a clear no. I didn’t ask any further because he surely had his reasons. Still, I’d have preferred the message being forwarded to the Asgard home world rather soon than later. We all knew perfectly well that we couldn’t stand a chance against the Wraith. On the other hand, though, we knew that the Asgard weren’t willing to take part in another war, especially not in a galaxy that wasn’t their business at all. But as their technology was in danger to be stolen by such a powerful enemy as the Wraith, they’d maybe change their minds and make at least this one exception.
‘Maybe we’re able to disassemble the Asgard components and bring them to Atlantis.’ I mused. ‘Then at least your people don’t have to deal with that problem.’
‘We still have to make a decision concerning the databases on the Earth computers nevertheless.’ Hermiod reminded me. ‘We can either destroy the complete ship or take it to Atlantis. Either way will be very complicated if not impossible. There are so many interconnected systems that we can’t be sure whether the Wraith would be able to restore any data, no matter how much we delete and destroy.’
He definitely had a point there.
‘Well, then we’d better keep moving and get ready before the Wraith find out we’re there.’ I suggested.
--
We arrived at M4X-773 a few hours later. At least it wasn’t very far to go, because there was a Stargate in a system nearby. The planet that appeared in front of us now looked like a huge snowball with a lot of mountains poking out of the cloudy surface here and there. It was no wonder that Sheppard had named it Hoth right at the moment he had seen it first on the rescue mission a few days ago.
When the jumper descended through the clouds towards the surface, it got more and more clear that Sheppard was completely right with the name he had given the planet. On our way we saw only ice and snow, huge mountains with massive glaciers and snowfall all around. It was snowing so heavily that we almost missed the Daedalus.
And there she was, almost buried under tons of snow, but still good to see. She lay at the foot of a glacier, her hull broken on many places, but as a whole she seemed to be quite intact.
‘That’s a lot of repairs to do.’ Zelenka groaned when he saw the whole disaster.
‘I don’t think it’s possible to get her flying.’ McKay added pessimistically.
‘We’ve got to look if we can close some of the bulkheads and doors.’ I suggested. ‘I don’t want to give up hope that we can take her home in one piece.’
Caldwell, who was sitting next to me, nodded, seemingly in shock about the state of his ship.
‘You can land over there, Sheppard.’ McKay pointed at a certain spot near Engineering. I really hoped we could go down there, because I so totally didn’t feel like climbing around on icy mountains. I’ve never been a mountains person anyway.
--
It was indeed a moment of shock when we entered the Daedalus to see the true scale of destruction everywhere. Hermiod and I went straight to the computer core while everyone else attended to whatever they’ve come here for. I remembered that Hermiod had already tried to solve the computer problem right after the crash but didn’t have much of a success.
‘What do you think?’ I asked him after he had taken a brief look at all the components that were lying in shatters all around. The third impact seemed to have destroyed everything that miraculously hadn’t been destroyed during the first and second impact.
Hermiod, who had always seemed to me like a wizard of technology, activated the computer despite the fact that it seemed to be lying in pieces all around us. Lines and lines of Asgard code flew over the screen, status reports and the like.
‘It seems that at least the main core is still intact.’ Hermiod finally let me know. ‘We could use some modules from systems we don’t need at the moment to replace the broken parts.’
Hermiod spent some time rummaging around in the computer’s remnants without saying a word. I didn’t want to push him, so I waited patiently while looking around the room. Nearly everything was shattered, all the interfaces and monitors were in a really bad condition and it totally didn’t look like we’d ever have a chance to get any of this ever running again. The whole picture was bad enough to lose all hope.
‘I have found it.’ Hermiod exclaimed after a while and pointed at a certain line of code on his screen.
‘What the hell is that?’ I asked, surprised, because it didn’t make any sense to me. It obviously wasn’t Asgard.
‘I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure it hadn’t been there when I performed the last system check back on Earth before we left for Atlantis.’ Hermiod’s face looked more than worried.
‘So it’s really sabotage.’ I concluded the obvious.
‘Indeed.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘I’m not an expert on the Wraith, but this doesn’t seem to be Wraith code. There was definitely a human behind it.’
I shivered because of such disconcerting news. It meant that from now on everyone could be a saboteur, or at least everyone who had ever worked with an Asgard computer.
‘Why?’ I asked myself more than anyone.
‘It’s either to sabotage the mission as such or to discredit the Asgard.’ Hermiod suggested.
I didn’t even want to think of a person who wanted to discredit such an important ally as the Asgard. I mean, honestly, why should anyone do that? They were friendly and peaceful, they always tried to help, at least in a way that didn’t interfere with their treaties.
‘No.’ I said, suddenly angry. ‘I can’t believe in anyone trying to discredit your people. There must be a deeper meaning in this mess. Let’s just go through the rest of the code and let’s also take an overview on all the hardware we have. We will find the culprit’s true reason, because then, maybe, we’ll also be able to find the culprit.’
Hermiod looked at me worriedly, seemingly startled by my sudden outburst. ‘We’re going to unveil this mystery.’ He promised. ‘Please do not worry.’
It was almost cute how he tried to reassure me, although he perfectly knew how hard it was to find out the truth. We still had a very long way to go and there was not the slightest reason to believe in any success.
‘We should talk to Caldwell.’ I suggested. ‘I think he should know.’
--
Caldwell wasn’t happy at all about the news. After Hermiod had told him everything he’d found out, the Colonel started pacing angrily. He didn’t care that there was still a lot of rubble lying around, because with his heavy boots he simply cracked a few of the bigger pieces without even noticing.
‘Let me get this straight.’ He said with a low voice that was almost frightening. ‘We have some human engineer among our people who sabotaged the Asgard system? What for?’
‘I could only guess the reasons.’ Hermiod told him. ‘But the evidence is very clear.’
‘And you’re sure it wasn’t an Asgard?’ Caldwell objected.
Hermiod looked at him sternly. ‘Is there anything you want to tell me, Colonel?’
I could see the hurt in the Asgard’s expression and it made me angry.
‘Why the hell do you keep accusing him?’ I shouted, a bit too loud and a bit to disrespecting.
Caldwell glared at me for a few seconds, then exhaled. ‘I have to take every possibility into account, Dr Talvi, and as I can’t believe any of my people sabotaged my ship, I have to ask questions.’
‘Hermiod is one of your people, too, sir.’ I retorted.
Caldwell was clearly taken aback by me telling him this fact that he obviously had just ignored. Until now.
‘Indeed, he is.’ He finally admitted. ‘And I remember that I had already promised you that the two of you are not on my list of suspects. My problem is that it’s too suspicious to not be taken into account.’
‘Have you ever thought about the possibility that somebody wants it to look like an Asgard could have done this? I mean, for example, to paint over the truth?’ I said with raised eyebrows.
‘So what do you suggest?’ Caldwell asked, his voice low as if he was trying to hold back his anger.
‘Get together everyone who’s able to work with an Asgard computer.’ I suggested. ‘Maybe it’s someone new who boarded the ship shortly before we left Earth. Someone who joined us after Hermiod had done all the system checks. Though, we should remember that many of the engineers died when we smacked into the planet, so maybe the culprit isn’t even alive anymore. We also have to take into account everyone who had left the Daedalus before we went on our way.’
‘That could be a whole lot of people we can’t even think of right now.’ Caldwell mused. ‘I will check with the SGC as soon as we get back to Atlantis.’
‘Alright.’ I nodded. ‘But may I ask you for something?’
‘Sure.’
‘Please stop accusing Hermiod and also take care that others don’t do it either. If necessary I’d stand surety for him.’ I asked, almost pleading, but at the moment I couldn’t care less for letting down my dignity in front of my superior. I wanted people to handle Hermiod with fairness.
Caldwell raised an eyebrow, obviously surprised. ‘What is it about the two of you that you stand up for each other all the time?’ Then he turned around and left the room, most likely because he wanted to fill in the others with the news.
‘An interesting question.’ Hermiod said as soon as we were alone again. It made me almost jump.
I had no answer for him, because I didn’t know, honestly, I had no clue.
--
An hour later, after we all had collected a brief overview on all the damage, the whole group assembled in Engineering for a powwow. Everyone looked worried and tired. To see all the destruction and to know that retrieving the Daedalus was as good as hopeless, gave us an uncertain feeling of frustration and insufficiency.
‘So, Hermiod, how’s the status of the hyperdrive.’ Caldwell wanted to know first. ‘Is there at least a tiny chance to ever get it running again?’
The Asgard didn’t look happy, not at all. ‘At least we can try to use some modules from other systems to make an attempt, but I’m not very positive about the outcome. The impact was hard and the computer is unreliable, so if we activate the hyperdrive again, there’s a chance of colliding with another planet or worse. I’m still hoping the SGC will forward my message to Othala anytime soon, because my people might equip us with a new computer core. I don’t trust this system any longer, even more since I know it was sabotaged. I can trust nobody on this ship except myself and Dr Talvi.’
I felt quite honoured by how much the Asgard trusted me, even more as he didn’t have any reason to do so. I hadn’t done anything different than all the other engineers, except the fact that was the one who’d been working closest to Hermiod.
Sheppard looked at me, obviously surprised by Hermiod’s words. ‘Well, at least we have two people who trust each other, right?’
‘How likely is it that the Asgard provide us with a new computer core?’ Caldwell wanted to know, completely ignoring Sheppard.
‘It depends on the High Council.’ Hermiod stated. ‘It depends on the likelihood of the Wraith being able to retrieve anything useful from the Daedalus. Though, when I look at the current state of the computer, there is indeed a chance that the Wraith may find it useful.’
‘Well, then I’d say you’d either get the hyperdrive running, so we can leave this horrid place, or you destroy it in a way that makes it completely useless for the Wraith.’ Caldwell ordered.
‘I’d prefer to wait for the Asgard’s answer to my request.’ Hermiod objected but was put down by an almost hostile look on Caldwell’s face.
‘Get me enough people from Atlantis that can help getting the ship space-ready anytime soon, in case our Asgard genius finds a way to get us out of here.’ He told Sheppard who gave me an apologetic look before he turned into the direction of the jumper.
I didn’t like the accusative stare at all that Caldwell gave Hermiod before he left to follow Sheppard. The way the whole situation developed right now was so wrong in so many ways.
In a sudden rush of compassion I went over to Hermiod and put my arms around him, just to reassure him that no matter what anyone might think, I’d be on his side, come what may. He looked at me with surprise in those big black eyes.
We didn’t get a chance to talk, because in the very same moment we were swept off our feet when the Daedalus was hit by something that definitely wasn’t a mountain.
This time I acted more on instinct than anything when I fell back and took Hermiod with me. As long as I shielded him with my own body (that reminded me very clearly of all my yet unhealed injuries) he couldn’t smack against a wall again. I didn’t quite know what kind of instinct that was, though, but it was definitely helpful.
‘What the hell!’ I cursed, trying to stagger back on my feet and failed because of Hermiod who tried to steady himself and failed as well.
‘I don’t think it’s another movement of the Daedalus.’ Hermiod told me, still holding on to me.
‘You don’t say.’ I retorted sarcastically. ‘That was weapons fire.’
After the ground had finally stopped shaking, I was able to stand up. I lent Hermiod a hand and helped him back on his feet as well. Whatever had happened seconds ago, it was not good. In the Pegasus galaxy, whenever someone fired at you, there was imminent death ahead. No warning shots, no beating around the bush, no parley. Just death.
Hermiod scurried over to his computer and I followed him, hoping we were able to get the sensors online and find out what had just happened. Though, just a few seconds later we didn’t need the sensors anymore, because through the huge crack in the engine room’s wall I could see some tall figures passing by.
‘Wraith.’ I whispered. ‘How did they find us that soon?’
‘I have no idea.’ Hermiod told me as expected. The look in his big eyes spoke a very clear language of the thoughts that were going on in his massive Asgard brain. I knew that a feeding Wraith could kill a human within half a minute, and I was sure they’d take even less time on a small and frail body as that of an Asgard. I had to keep him safe at any cost. That was all that counted at the moment, at least for me.
‘Get away from the computer and hide.’ I told him sternly. ‘You wouldn’t stand a chance against them.’
For the first time ever I saw fear in the Asgard’s eyes, substantial fear. He seemed to expect to die in here, of course, because we had absolutely nothing to withstand an attacking Wraith.
‘You won’t stand a chance either.’ Hermiod reminded me of the obvious. ‘I won’t hide like a coward and leave you alone.’
Why the hell were the Asgard such overly stubborn people?
‘It’s OK, Hermiod, it really is.’ I reassured him and tried to give him a little encouraging smile. ‘You don’t need to be a hero to impress me.’
By then we both had sat down somewhere behind the Asgard computer console, a place that couldn’t be seen in by someone who came through the crack in the wall. I prayed to any powers that might be of help that the Wraith would ignore us and just disappear. Of course, we should have kept in mind that we were hiding behind the exact piece of technology the Wraith were after.
When one of them finally entered Engineering, I expected certain doom. Hermiod put his hand into mine and looked at me in a way that almost broke my heart.
‘At least I won’t die alone.’ Hermiod said, and I was painfully reminded of the moment a few days ago when he had said the same words exactly.
‘I hate your fatalism.’ I let him know, staggered to my feet, pushed Hermiod behind me and gave the Wraith an angry glare. There was nothing else to do, because I was completely unarmed. I was an engineer, not a soldier. I hated carrying guns, but at this exact moment I wished I had one.
The Wraith came closer, growled and stared back at me. I felt Hermiod holding on to me with all his might. It took me a second to realize that he tried to pull me away, but I kept standing there, unwavering and most likely with the most stupid look on my face that I was able to produce.
‘Is it just the two of you or are there others?’ The Wraith asked. I realized that at least for the moment he wasn’t about to kill either of us.
‘We have an army back there inside the ship.’ I didn’t even try to hope the Wraith would believe the lie. I was an absolutely untalented liar, after all.
‘I don’t believe you.’ He confirmed my doubts. ‘Either way, at least I’ll have a little snack while I’m working here.’
‘You can have me for dinner, if that’s what you’re out for.’ I told him bravely. ‘But you won’t lay your hands on him.’
I seemed to have fallen into a weird and desperate state of heroism, because otherwise I wouldn’t have said something that stupid and suicidal, but I felt kind of protective about Hermiod, so I at least had to try to keep him from harm.
In the very same moment I heard gun fire, and I swear that I’ve never before been that happy to hear it. The Wraith, though, needed a good handful of bullets to go down.
‘Are you guys alright?’ John Sheppard asked when he came into sight behind the suddenly diseased Wraith.
‘Yeah, I think so.’ I uttered carefully. ‘But I suppose he didn’t come alone.’
‘Unfortunately not.’ Sheppard confirmed. ‘They’re swarming all around the ship, but it seems that they’re just a small group.’
‘I’m sure that when there are a few of them who found something interesting, it won’t take long until their hive ship shows up.’ I said pessimistically.
Just as if the other Wraith had only waited for my cue, another impact hit the ship. It was a much heavier impact than before, so I was almost certain that this time it wasn’t just one of those small cruisers the Wraith often used, but one of the bigger ships.
This time, though, I was prepared for the impact and already held on to the wall, Hermiod right beside me. Sheppard was much better at not losing his balance, because although he stood in the middle of the room, he didn’t fall, not even struggle. He’s been trained for situations like these, after all.
I was fully aware of the fact that we had only a few Marines who ought to protect us. That was by far not enough, because when fighting the Wraith, that much I knew, you really needed an army. And some spaceships, armed to the teeth.
Hermiod looked up at me and I met his gaze. We both knew that, as matters stood, we were very unlikely to see Atlantis again. Or anything else, that is.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 - Abduction

The next thing I saw was a blinding light that engulfed me completely. Sheppard, who was still standing ready to fight against whatever might attack us, disappeared and was replaced by whole new surroundings. I glanced around frantically to find out where I was and what had just happened. There was only Hermiod, me and the remnants of our broken Asgard computer inside a huge room with bad lighting and even worse smell.
‘We’re not on a Wraith ship, are we?’ I asked hopefully.
Hermiod tilted his head, the Asgard version of a no. ‘It is most unfortunate, but we are on a Wraith ship, indeed.’
‘I hate being abducted by aliens, you know?’ I grumbled, trying to figure out what kind of room we’ve been transported to.
I can frankly say that I absolutely dislike Wraith design. Everything here looked so organic as if we were caught in the belly of a beast. It was a most unpleasant feeling. Added to the smell it was simply disgusting.
‘Well, well, well…’ I heard a deep, distorted voice right behind me and spun around, startled to the bone. I regretted that move right away, because the Wraith queen I was faced with now scared the hell out of me.
It took only a few seconds to settle, though, then my brain began working frantically. First thing I did was stepping in front of Hermiod, second thing was glaring daggers at the queen.
‘You have the computer, you don’t need us! Send us back!’ I demanded and sounded much braver and calmer than I actually was.
‘Dr Talvi…’ Hermiod said in a low and warning voice. Obviously, he wanted to prevent me from saying something even more stupid and get us into even deeper trouble than we already were.
‘As far as I’m informed, we’re dealing with Asgard technology.’ The Wraith queen began to speak patiently. ‘We don’t have all too much experience with the hardware nor the software. And as you seem to be very experienced with this kind of technology, we decided that you could both be of use for us.’
Crap!
Then again, not so crap, because by now she at least hadn’t wanted to feed on either of us. There was still time to plot an escape. As if plotting escapes was a specialty of mine. Training as an engineer didn’t include the chapter of ‘How to be a hero’ in the famous book of life. I was much more experienced with the chapter of ‘How to be a coward’. But I had to think of something, because I didn’t want to leave Hermiod in the hands of those hostile creatures.
‘And what is it exactly that makes you think we might be willing to help you?’ Hermiod asked, his voice firm and determined.
‘Well, let’s put it this way, little Asgard.’ The Wraith queen replied with dripping arrogance. ‘My Wraith can be very convincing when it comes to retrieving information.’
I desperately glared at Hermiod, not understanding why he dared to be so bold talking like that to a person who could kill us in the wink of an eye. The Asgard just blinked at me and didn’t waver.
‘I’m not willing to give you any kind of information as to how you could read the data on our computer core. Neither will I assist you in connecting it to your own system.’ Hermiod fully ignored the queen’s threat.
I instantly knew this wouldn’t end well. Behind our backs appeared two Wraith warriors, one of them grabbed my arm and pulled me away.
‘She is your prize.’ I heard the queen tell Hermiod. ‘Assist us and she will live. Deny your assistance and she’ll die the most unpleasant death you can imagine.’
Hermiod turned to me, the look on his face told me clearly that he was sorry, but also that he wouldn’t give in to anything the Wraith wanted from him. I knew that it was the Asgards’ top priority to save their advanced technology from enemies, that’s why I had an instant vision of myself ending up as collateral damage.
And I had thought this day couldn’t get any worse…
--
A while later I found myself in a Wraith cocoon, unable to move and completely alone. I’ve stopped both struggling and panicking, because it wouldn’t help me anyway, and just waited for what was about to happen. I admit that I felt kind of betrayed by Hermiod, but I could understand his motives very well. The protection of his people had top priority while I was of no worth for anyone. I silently hoped that the Atlantis team would come up with a good idea to save us anytime soon. They were experts at rescue plans, after all.
I wondered why I wasn’t dead already, because the Wraith who had dragged me away looked really hungry, but I suppose his queen’s bidding overweighed his need to feed, at least for now. After he had put me in this hideous place, he had turned away and left. First I had struggled to free myself, but to no avail. I wasn’t a fighter, goddammit, I wasn’t made for staying alive on a ship full of hostile aliens who wanted to have me for dinner.
After a while of silence, I suddenly heard voices from the direction where the Wraith guard had disappeared. They were too far away for me to understand or even distinguish some words, but they were definitely angry. I strained my ears, hoping to at least get a glimpse of what was going on, but it seemed like sound wasn’t carried far in this disgusting organic structure of the hive ship.
Though, I didn’t have to wait long to find out what was the reason for the argument, because a moment later I saw two Wraith coming around the corner, dragging Hermiod between them, who was protesting loudly against his treatment. He struggled with all his might and made me realize that although he looked so frail, there was a lot of strength in him, even more so as he seemed to be furious as hell. I’ve never before seen an angry Asgard! But then again, besides Hermiod I hadn’t seen any Asgard so far, so it wasn’t on me to judge. Of course, I knew that Hermiod liked to curse, preferably in his own language, when he was annoyed by something, especially humans, but I’ve never seen him throwing a tantrum before.
The argument stopped all of a sudden when one of the Wraith, obviously annoyed and losing his patience, smashed his weapon on Hermiod’s head, knocking him unconscious.
‘Do you have to be that brutal?’ I shouted before I even thought about it.
While one of the Wraith put Hermiod in the cocoon next to mine, the other glared at me, licking his lips as if he wanted to tell me I was already on his menu. I had read enough about Wraith feeding to know that it was painful and most unpleasant, so I’d gladly miss that experience. He seemed to read my thoughts, growled at me and came closer, but just before he could slam his hand in my chest and start feeding, he was held back by his companion.
‘Don’t.’ He just said. ‘The queen still needs her as a bait for the Asgard.’
They both glared at me for a moment, turned around and left.
I turned my head as far as I could to check on Hermiod. He was lying in the cocoon next to mine, still unconscious. Although I had felt betrayed by him minutes ago, I now felt deep compassion for him. He looked so tiny in this huge cocoon that was actually designed for humans.
‘Hermiod!’ I shouted out for him after I had waited a while to be sure the Wraith couldn’t hear me anymore. He didn’t react at all.
‘Hermiod!’ I tried again. And again, until he finally got aware of me.
He slowly opened his eyes and looked around, tried to free himself from the cocoon, but was just as unsuccessful as I had been before.
‘Dr Talvi.’ He said quietly. ‘Are you alright?’
His worried undertone touched something in me that made me refrain from reproaching him for anything that had happened on this dreadful day. It wasn’t his fault anyway.
‘Aegeti.’ I managed, giving in to a sudden feeling of affection. ‘Call me Aegeti, and yes, I’m fine… except that I’m stuck in this horrible cocoon, that is.’
The Asgard raised a brow and looked at me silently for quite a while. ‘I’m sorry.’ He finally mouthed.
‘For what?’ I asked, surprised.
‘For getting you into this unfortunate situation.’ He explained. ‘I never wanted to put you in any danger, but I had to make the queen believe that you meant nothing to me.’
‘Oh, that…’ I nodded gravely. ‘Well, yeah, that was kinda… rude, you know.’
We remained silent for a while before Hermiod began to speak again. ‘They forced me to work on the computer and I took the opportunity gladly.’
I wasn’t sure if I understood that right. ‘You mean you helped them?’ I asked, unbelieving.
‘I pretended.’ Hermiod explained. ‘It gave me time to find out what actually happened to the system that led to such enormous disaster.’
I’ve always liked the Asgard’s way of speaking. His choice of words often sounded kind of old-fashioned, yet charming.
‘Did you find anything?’ I was instantly interested.
‘Indeed.’ He said darkly. ‘The saboteur was undoubtedly good at his profession. I’ve already told you about the piece of code that I had found after the crash. It’s indeed been written by a human, but it wasn’t meant to make the Daedalus collide with a planet. It was only there to drop us out of hyperspace and send a signal to the Wraith where to find us.’
‘Oh, crap.’ I closed my eyes and exhaled. ‘But… why didn’t we detect that signal?’
‘It was hidden inside the automatic distress signal that was sent to Atlantis.’ Hermiod looked absolutely unhappy.
‘Who would have done that?’ I wondered.
‘Is it possible that there are Wraith supporters among the Atlantis expedition or the Daedalus crew?’ He wondered. ‘What do you think?’
‘I have no clue.’ I mused. ‘If so, they’re indeed good at hiding both their actions and themselves.’
Again we remained silent for a while, following our own thoughts. There was nothing much to talk about anymore and I wasn’t a small talk person anyway. I wondered how this whole mess would work out eventually. Would we really die here? Were the Wraith even able to feed from an Asgard? I remembered that I had read a few things about them only feeding on humans or humanoid species, but I didn’t know how much this description applied on an Asgard. Sometimes I really hated myself for not having better memory.
I wondered what would happen next. I was sure that the Wraith weren’t done with us yet. They’d surely try again to make Hermiod work for them, but from what I knew about him now, he would rather die than help them. One of the unpleasant facts about this was that I would have to die first in the Wraith queen’s attempt to convince him to comply. My future, of that I was sure, was going to be dark, painful and very short.
--
We didn’t get much of a choice to relax (yeah, as if we could do that anyway!), because the Wraith queen was seemingly impatient. The two hungry looking Wraith came back after a while and took us to her, not without shoving us around and insulting us in the rudest of ways. They were not so bad towards me, though, because they still seemed to have me on their menu, but they treated Hermiod like crap. While I got the chance to appear in front of her in dignity, they just threw the Asgard at her feet.
‘My, my, poor little thing.’ The queen snarled and bared her teeth. ‘Did you spend your time thinking over what you’ve done?’
Hermiod staggered to his feet and gave her a really frightening glare of doom, but she wasn’t impressed. I had disliked her from the beginning, but now my discomfort turned into hate, because if there was one thing that I absolutely couldn’t tolerate, it was when people were treated like they were worth nothing. But I only gritted my teeth and remained silent. For the moment.
‘I have tried to find out what parts of the computer system are still operating.’ Hermiod said, his voice firm. I admired him for his unwavering attitude. He was so much braver than me.
The queen rose to her full and most impressive height to tower over Hermiod. She was really tall! Even I, who’s a rather small human, was taller than the Asgard, naturally, but this… female was really frightening as she stood there glaring at Hermiod as if he was just a little fly on the wall that she could crush with her thump any time now. And still, Hermiod didn’t waver. He just stood there and glared back at her as if it was nothing. For this I admired him even more.
‘You have tried to destroy the database contents!’ She shouted at him. ‘You have tried to betray me!’
Honestly, did she really think he’d comply? Just so? I wasn’t quite sure whether she was arrogant or just plain stupid.
‘Do you really think I would leave Asgard technology at your disposal?’ Hermiod asked calmly. It was so amazing to see him outsmart the queen on every level.
I didn’t see the queen’s reaction come when she turned around and hit me in the face with all her strength. I fell backwards, slithered through the room and only came to a halt at the opposite wall where I hit my head painfully. Shaking off the daze I tried to get to my feet, but one of the Wraith guards was faster and pinned me to the ground with his boot. I spat blood and realized that my nose must have been broken. “Fine.” I thought. “One more broken bone for my collection.”
Hermiod wanted to help me, but the other Wraith guard held him in a firm grip. His big eyes widened when he saw the mess that my face surely was. I saw realization in those eyes. He knew he had gone too far.
The queen turned to him and laid her ugly hand under his chin. ‘This is just an example for what will happen to her if you continue to work against me, little Asgard. Either you give me what I demand or she’ll suffer even more.’
‘To hell with her!’ I yelled, angrily. Of course, I regretted my audacity in an instant when a heavy Wraith boot hit my chest. My still broken ribs didn’t take that well.
‘Crap!’ I spat some more blood.
While one of the Wraith kept his boot on my aching ribcage, the other dragged Hermiod away. That wasn’t good. I had hoped that we’d at least stay together now, but there seemed to be nothing that would ever go well on this damned day.
--
Being back in my cocoon I wasn’t that unhappy to be alone for a moment to try and sort out my thoughts. Somehow my whole body hurt. All the broken bones that had just begun to heal, seemed to be in a worse state than ever, a fact that I could do absolutely nothing against. My head hurt and breathing was problematic, too. I was sure that if I didn’t get away from the hive ship anytime soon, the Wraith wouldn’t have to kill me. I’d just die from exhaustion.
Of course, they didn’t give me much time to get myself together. The blood on my face had just dried when they took me again. This time the queen was nowhere to be seen, but there were a lot of Wraith gathering in the room where they kept the Daedalus’s computer core. Hermiod cowered on the floor, typing on an improvised keyboard. Surprisingly enough the guards let me sit with him.
‘How are you?’ I asked in a low voice.
Hermiod looked up at me, tired and somewhat broken. ‘Aegeti.’ He said in an even lower voice. ‘What have they done to you?’
‘Me?’ I wondered distractedly. ‘Oh, I’m fine. Don’t worry because of all that blood…’
‘I know you’re in pain.’ Hermiod’s voice was shaking with emotion, something that I hadn’t experienced with him before. ‘I know the sound of breaking bones.’
‘Don’t worry about me.’ I reassured him and took his hand in mine. ‘It’s you I have to take care for.’
Not for the first time did I realize how different the Asgard body structure was from mine. His fingers were even longer than mine, therefore his four-fingered hands looked somewhat strange on this small and frail body. Hermiod was quite tall for an Asgard. I remembered from working with him that when standing normally, he reached to my chin. I’ve never felt like a giant when standing next to him, despite everything I had been told by other people who had the chance working with an Asgard, but they were all taller than me and had dealt with Asgards smaller than Hermiod. Thinking of this I couldn’t help but smile.
‘It’s a sign of a strong character when you’re able to smile in a situation as dangerous as this.’ Hermiod let me know. He most likely thought I was slowly going nuts.
‘I’m not smiling because of the situation.’ I put things right. ‘I’m smiling because I was thinking of something nice.’
‘That doesn’t change my opinion about you.’ He let me know, pulled his hand back and continued his typing on his improvised keyboard.
‘What are you doing?’ I whispered, hoping the Wraith wouldn’t hear it.
‘Procrastinating.’ He whispered back. ‘I don’t want to risk that they hurt you again.’
‘They’ll find out rather soon than later.’ I couldn’t help but being Captain Obvious once more.
‘I’m sure that help is on the way.’ He let me know. ‘We just have to survive as long as possible.’
What did he think I was trying to do? But my hopes for a rescue team coming in anytime soon weren’t high. The longer this whole ordeal took, the less likely we would be saved.
‘You keep surprising me, you know.’ I told him after a few minutes of him typing on his keyboard and me looking around, enjoying the fact that nobody wanted to inflict any pain on me and that I was just left alone.
‘Why is that?’ He asked distractedly.
‘I’d never have guessed that you’re so brave and unwavering.’ I explained. ‘You don’t seem to be afraid of this horrible Wraith queen.’
‘My body doesn’t produce the large amounts of hormones human bodies tend to produce.’ Hermiod let me know. ‘I can’t feel anguish as intense as humans do.’
‘But you do feel something.’ I objected. ‘I saw it when you were looking at me while that Wraith shoved me around.’
‘I’ve never said I’m not able to feel anything.’ Hermiod explained. ‘I’m not afraid about my own well-being, but I do care for you. I don’t want you to be treated so terribly because of me and my duty to save my race’s technology. It isn’t fair. You’re a good person, you don’t belong in a place like this. If I could, I’d get you out of here.’
‘I wouldn’t go without you.’ I muttered. ‘It’s either the two of us or none.’
Hermiod looked at me, surprised, as if he’d never thought anyone would actually do something like this for him. His incredulous gaze made me smile.
‘Have you finished your little chattering already?’ One of the Wraith threw in impatiently. I flinched and backed away. Why hadn’t I seen him come? Note to self: Don’t get caught up in a conversation while my life is in danger, for it could be the last thing I’d ever do.
‘I’m sorry.’ I snarled sarcastically. ‘Won’t say anything anymore.’
He glared at me, then kicked Hermiod with his boot. ‘Get working! The queen won’t be amused about the two of you chatting instead of getting this computer running.’
‘Work would be way easier for him if you just stopped mistreating him like that.’ I hissed, helping Hermiod to sit up again. He winced and pressed one of his arms against his chest.
It was really about time this nightmare came to an end, if not for me, then at least for Hermiod’s sake. All of this was plain crazy.
--

I think I’ll never forget the day when I met Hermiod for the very first time. I had just been promoted to being the chief engineer on the Daedalus, when General O’Neill told me that we would not only have Asgard technology on the ship, but also a live Asgard to operate it and teach us how to use it. I was overly excited about this new technology, but pretty anxious concerning the Asgard himself, even more so as I’ve never met one of his people before.
I only knew the Asgards from what I’ve read on the SGC intranet. For example, I was aware of the fact they had been the initial spark to the Norse belief system on Earth. My grandmother had told me many of the old legends when I was a child. When living on Iceland, there’s no way not to come across the stories about Odin, Thor and the other deities at some point. But, of course, the real Asgard were nothing like that. They were a very advanced and highly superior alien race who helped us pathetic humans on our first steps of intergalactic space travel. Therefore, I respected them by all means and was nervous about having to work with the engineer they had sent us.
However, I had to deal with this, because as a team leader I could hardly ignore him. So, after the first meeting with Colonel Caldwell and the other team leaders, I entered the engine room carefully. The other engineers’ arrivals were announced for the next day, so there was only me, the Asgard and a lot of awkwardness.
He didn’t even look at me when I walked over to the computer interface he was working on. There was a workstation where he pushed some of those Asgard control stones around while he mumbled to himself in a language that sounded stranger than anything I’d ever heard before but also oddly familiar in its intonations.
The first fact I noticed was that he was smaller than me, but his long limbs and big head made him look taller than he actually was. Big black almond shaped eyes were focused on a screen full of strange letters and diagrams, hands with oddly long fingers lay on the control stones. He looked so completely alien to me, so totally out of this world. I immediately thought of science-fiction movies and shows that I had seen, like ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ or ‘The X-Files’ that presented little grey aliens that looked astoundingly similar to the being I was observing right now. It was clear to me that I had to read much more about the Asgard than I had already done.
I walked over to him hesitantly while I wrung my hands awkwardly. Being as nervous as I hadn’t been since my graduation, I tried to avoid getting one of my famous hiccups and cleared my throat.
‘Uhm, hello?’ I greeted him carefully. He looked up at me, wondering. It seemed like he hadn’t even noticed that I had entered the room.
‘Good morning.’ He replied. ‘Dr Talvi, I assume?’
‘Yes, yes, indeed.’ I confirmed, still feeling awkward.
‘Nice to meet you.’ He turned back to his workstation.
‘Uhm, you know that I’m the chief engineer and that we have to work together?’ I asked. ‘Together as in ‘talking to each other’ and things like that?’
‘I will talk to you whenever it is due to tell you something of importance.’ He retorted, seemingly impatient. He obviously didn’t have a very high opinion of humans.
I wondered why they had sent us this specific representative of their people. Were they all arrogant like that or were they just happy to get rid of him and give him to the humans to deal with? According to General O’Neill, the Asgard were friendly and helpful people, but this one would most likely turn out to be neither.
“Fine.” I made a note to self. “Let’s just pretend he’s not that bad.”

--
‘What are you thinking of?’ I was pushed back into reality when Hermiod spoke to me. Now he didn’t sound arrogant and unfriendly at all, only worried. ‘You looked… so lost for a moment.’
‘I was actually thinking of you.’ I let him know. He looked at me questioningly, so that I was obligated to say more. ‘Our first meeting, you know.’
‘I haven’t been an example for the friendly and cooperative co-worker, I suppose.’ Hermiod mused with surprising self-criticism.
‘No, not really.’ I couldn’t help but giggle.
I realized too late that giggling was an absolutely bad idea when surrounded by a bunch of hostile and unfortunately hungry Wraith. One of them came over, and before I got a chance to back away, I got another smack in the face. I was slowly growing tired of that.
‘Is that all you have!?’ I spat at him. ‘Beating people up for no particular reason? Is that all you can?’
‘Don’t keep him from working.’ The Wraith growled, his face unnervingly close to mine. His bad breath, most likely caused by his horrible teeth, almost made me throw up. Why did those folks have teeth anyway?
He let go off me and turned to Hermiod who had let his keyboard fall and just stared at my obviously blood-stained face. I winced when I touched my nose, grumbled something to myself and somehow managed to crawl back to the place I had been before the Wraith had hit me. My gut feeling told me clearly that it was important now to take care for Hermiod.
I didn’t have much time, though, as I’d already foreseen what would happen next. The Wraith guard was about to give Hermiod another kick with his boot, but I was fast enough to get in his way to save the Asgard from further injuries. Instead, the guard kicked me right in the stomach.
‘Ouch.’ I groaned, curling up and biting my lip.
‘Enough with fun and games!’ I suddenly heard the voice of the obviously angry and very impatient queen who was just striding into the room. I tried to sit up, ignoring that my stomach hurt like hell, and glared at her.
‘I wasn’t into that from the start anyway.’ I hissed. Gosh, those creatures were annoying!
I put a protective arm around Hermiod who had lost his cool eventually. He looked like it didn’t take any hormones to scare an Asgard to hell. I felt sorry for him, because he looked so small and frail between all those Wraith.
‘The two of you, you’re really a sweet couple.’ The queen purred mockingly, lowering her head to let her eyes wander from Hermiod to me and back again. I’ve never known the levels of hate intensity that I was able to feel.
‘I would recommend you to finally finish the integration of your computer core into our system, Asgard, because if you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.’ She spat at Hermiod. ‘Although, I have to admit that you wouldn’t have to regret long.’
Hermiod, seemingly getting some of his self-confidence back, got up from the floor. The way he stood there, almost proud and very dignified, showed me clearly that nobody should ever underestimate him. The Asgard had guts, that much was sure.
In great contrast to this, I just kept sitting on the floor, perfectly knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get up anymore. My stomach really hurt, maybe a sign of internal bleeding, my ribcage hurt and everything else hurt too. I’ve actually never felt that beaten and ill before. Tiredly, I pushed some hair out of my face and winced when I accidentally touched one of the surely enormous bruises. To be honest, if I didn’t take Hermiod as such a good example, I’d have long lost myself in self-pity, but as long as he withstood, I wouldn’t back down either. At least as long as my body let me. Given the fact of my all over condition, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to hold on, though. I really wasn’t made to last in a situation like this.
I shifted to sit a bit more comfortably, but regretted it in an instant, because I was forced into a heavy coughing fit that ended up in me spitting some more blood. A definite sign of internal bleedings. Oh, crap.
‘Get her back into one of the cocoons.’ The Wraith queen gave one of her guards an order. ‘It seems she needs a little rest. She has to hold on a while longer, because if she dies too soon, we have nothing left to control the Asgard.’
‘No!’ I objected, when the Wraith wanted to grab my arm. ‘Don’t you dare touching me! I’m gonna go nowhere.’
‘It’s almost cute to see your hopeless attempts to save him.’ The queen said haughtily. ‘Well, if you want to do something for him, tell him to work faster. I’m really starting to lose my patience with the two of you.’
I wanted to object, I wanted to tell her she should push her demands to where the sun doesn’t shine, but I had grown way too tired to even make any further attempts, even more so as it was pointless anyway. Come to think of it, we hadn’t had the slightest bit of a chance from the beginning. I told myself not to give up, to keep fighting for Hermiod, but another coughing fit told me clearly that there wasn’t much to do for me anymore. I spat some more blood, inflicting some more pain in the process. I could have cried but held back the tears. I’d maybe lose my life in here, but I wasn’t willing to lose my dignity also.
After coughing up even more blood and desperately trying not to panic, I suddenly felt Hermiod’s hand on my shoulder. ‘I’ll comply now, Aegeti, just please don’t give up yourself.’
My sight grew more and more blurry, but I could still see his face right in front of mine. I could see the pain in those big black eyes. ‘Nobody should ever die for me.’ He said softly, let go off me and went back to his computer, while I tried to find a position that allowed me to breathe more easily.
‘Don’t.’ I told him in a raspy voice. ‘I’m not worth it, and you know that. I’m not important for the mission nor the Asgard people.’
‘It doesn’t count what you think is important or not.’ Hermiod objected.
‘Are you done already?’ The queen huffed, her voice dripping with annoyance.
I coughed again, not giving a damn on what she said, just keeping my eyes on Hermiod who, accompanied by a Wraith guard, began to connect his computer to the Wraith ship. But I was so powerless already that I couldn’t muster any more objections. It was one of those ‘all’s too late’ situations that I couldn’t get out anymore, not even for Hermiod. I was done with fighting.
And right before I lost consciousness the world went white…

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 - Attachment


The snow fell lightly to the ground, covering everything in immaculate white. I just stood there, arms spread white, pretending to catch snowflakes like when I was a child still, enjoying the beautiful weather by all means. It was peaceful here, far away from the city with all its noise and stress. I’ve always loved this sole place somewhere faraway the coast of Iceland where nobody ever came around, because the little house was hidden in a small valley that couldn’t even be found on the usual tourist maps. Tourists weren’t likely to sneak around here anyways because of the sometimes quite active volcano that was situated in the near vicinity of the house.
It was some time around Christmas. The sweet smell of bakery hung in the air while my grandmother was busy decorating the living room for the small family gathering. My grandparents had only started to celebrate Christmas when I had moved in with them after my mother’s passing, because they were of the opinion a childhood without Christmas just wasn’t right. Though, they didn’t really connect it to religious beliefs, just to tradition. Grandpa wasn’t the religious type of people anyway and grandma was, occasionally, part of a local Asatru community.
I hadn’t come here for presents or anything material though, but for the peace and the silence, for the respect and acceptance that I’ve always experienced with my grandparents. At this place, the world was perfect. None of my everyday sorrows could follow me into this little valley.
I’ve never had an easy life, but I’ve also never complained about it. I suppose people like me were always victim to all sorts of bullying. Maybe it sounds pretentious, but I had easily been able to outsmart the rest of the school, and even at the university I was one of the brightest minds. Unfortunately, all the bullying in my past had left me with a really annoying tic. Whenever I got nervous or overly anxious I got a hiccup that couldn’t be cured. I either found a way to calm down or it would haunt me for hours. There had been so many occasions when the hiccup ruined very important job interviews and the like. I hated myself for it, because it made me feel totally insecure about myself. What were all the brains for, if you couldn’t get a job because of something as ridiculous as that? I never had hiccups at my grandparents’, though, and that was one of the many reasons why I came back here as often as I could.
Standing here amidst the snowfall, I hadn’t noticed that my grandfather had silently closed up to me.
‘This is not your place, Aegeti.’ He said calmly. ‘And you know that. As soon as Christmas is over, I want you to stop hiding and instead find yourself a place where you belong. You’re too smart to spend your life with boring applied science. I know that you could be a great explorer and researcher.’
‘Grandpa.’ I objected. ‘You know how I feel, what I think of myself. I’d love to do some great exploration stuff and the like, but as long as I don’t get rid of… that problem, I’m only going to get myself into countless super embarrassing situations. Nobody would ever take me serious.’
‘Believe in yourself, like I’ve taught you.’ He replied solemnly. ‘You’ve got so many good talents and you’ve got brains. There’s nothing in the world you couldn’t achieve, Aegeti. Just go out there and do it. I know that if you only get yourself some self-confidence, you can change the world, but you can only find it when you take risks.’
From his mouth it sounded so easy, as if I just had to put on my boots and walk into a beautiful and amazing future that was just waiting for me. A future that bore the label ‘Aegeti Talvi’ in bright and shiny letters. I appreciated that he kept fostering my self-confidence at any occasion possible, but it was also tiring.
‘Haha, grandpa.’ I pretended to be funny, because I wanted to wipe this annoyingly encouraging look from his ever worrying features. ‘You just sound like me getting hired on the Starship Enterprise to boldly go where no one has gone before.’ I couldn’t help but throwing in one of my science-fiction quotes I never got tired of.
He smiled at me thoughtfully. ‘Well, if that’s so, then I’d recommend you to get yourself some pointy ears, so they’ll add you to the science crew right away.’
‘Yeah, sure.’ I grumbled, hating not to be taken serious.
‘Hey.’ He said, rubbing my back encouragingly. ‘I know you can make it, I have confidence in you. Aegeti.’

--
‘Aegeti.’ I heard a faraway voice that definitely wasn’t my grandfather’s, but it sounded similarly familiar. I clearly remembered that I had talked with the voice’s owner quite often before, but right now I couldn’t put my finger on who that was, actually.
‘Aegeti!’ The voice sounded more urgent now. Someone obviously wanted something very important from me, but there was an emptiness in my mind that didn’t allow me to find out what that was either.
‘Aegeti, please!’ The voice insisted, getting slightly worried
Suddenly my memories came back full front at high velocity and almost made me choke. I immediately knew the voice’s owner and that I still had to be trapped in a hopeless situation full of violence and pain. Honestly, I didn’t feel like being ready to go back there right now or anytime soon. But then the most important part of the whole mess found its way into my consciousness eventually.
‘Hermiod!’ I gasped and my eyelids flew open. Why the hell had I passed out! I instantly remembered that I had promised the Asgard that I’d protect him, but instead I had nothing better to do than passing out like a whiny teenager! With all my heart I hoped he was well.
Looking around frantically, it took me a few seconds to realize that I wasn’t surrounded by Wraith anymore. In fact, my whole surroundings had changed tremendously. Everything looked bright and clean, definitely alien, but not Wraith.
A huge wave of relief washed over me in the moment I got aware of Hermiod standing at the side of whatever I was lying on.
‘Welcome back.’ He greeted, seemingly similarly relieved.
‘Where am I?’ I asked the most urgent question after I had checked that he didn’t seem to be injured, at least not at first glance. ‘That doesn’t look like the hive ship anymore. Have we been abducted by some other aliens now?’
I realized how impatient and most likely impolite I sounded and felt instantly sorry for it, but this day had been filled with so many bad news that I didn’t dare to hope anything better to come anytime soon. My natural paranoia always let me see enemies and danger around every corner.
The way Hermiod looked at me was somehow strange. If I hadn’t known better, I could have sworn there was amusement in those big almond shaped eyes.
‘In your case, yes. In my case, no.’ He replied enigmatically.
‘Oh gosh… wait… WHAT?’ Now I was totally confused, because for a moment his words didn’t make sense at all. We’ve just been on a ship full of hostile aliens and now we were, obviously, on another alien ship. That were too many aliens for one day, in my opinion.
It was slowly dawning on me that I’ve miraculously been saved from certain death in the last second possible. Things like that normally only happened in movies, that’s why I was slightly uncomfortable. I usually didn’t put trust in things that sounded too good to be true.
‘We’re on the Beliskner.’ Hermiod told me patiently. ‘Supreme Commander Thor’s flagship.’
‘An Asgard ship…’ I sighed, exhaled in relief, and closed my eyes in a sudden rush of sheer happiness. I couldn’t believe that we had come out of Wraith abduction alive and well. Though, the Asgard really could have shown up an hour earlier or so.
After I had sorted out my thoughts, I sat up and observed the room. It was definitely some kind of infirmary, and only when I came to that conclusion, I realized that I didn’t feel any pain any longer.
‘How long did I sleep?’ I asked cautiously, avoiding the term *being unconscious* intentionally.
‘You were unconscious.’ Thank you, Hermiod! ‘But only for a few minutes. I’ve had enough time to stabilize your worst injuries, though. It would take many more hours to heal all your internal injuries and broken bones, but unfortunately we don’t have time to do so right now, so this will have to be sufficient for the moment.’
‘You were able to attend to my worst injuries in just a few minutes?’ I asked, dumbfounded, checking myself. ‘I don’t even feel any pain anymore!’
‘We have very well working pain killers.’ Hermiod explained. ‘And our medical technology can heal all kinds of wounds much faster than yours. I can’t explain these things to you now, because, as I said, we don’t have much time.’ Seemingly even Asgards were able to grow impatient.
As if the universe had just waited for a cue, an impact hit the Beliskner, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as every impact that I had experienced aboard the Daedalus. The shields seemed to be much more efficient and obviously working well.
‘Are we fighting the Wraith?’ I wanted to know, carefully trying to get up from the sort-of-sickbed I was lying on, excited to be updated on the latest news, but as I still felt a bit drowsy, it was difficult not to lose balance.
‘Indeed.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘This is also the reason why we don’t have much time to talk at the moment. Supreme Commander Thor wants to see you on the bridge. Also, I suppose that you want to witness the battle.’
‘You bet!’ I approved. ‘I don’t want to miss a minute of kicking the Wraiths’ butts!’
He lent me a hand to steady me in my attempt to get up. I got a firm grip on it and dropped to my feet. The world started to spin in various directions instantly and made me struggle for balance. Hermiod put his free hand on my belly to steady me while I put an arm around his shoulders in order to get my balance back.
As soon as I was able to stand upright, I pulled my hands back and looked at him awkwardly. I knew that the Asgards didn’t like physical contact in any way.
‘I’m sorry.’ I mumbled, checking if his frail body had taken any damage from holding someone who was much heavier than him. ‘Are you alright?’
Our eyes met for a moment. I smiled at him shyly while he raised an encouraging eyebrow.
‘Don’t worry.’ He reassured me. ‘I’ve taken no damage.’
Then the world went white once more when we were embraced by an Asgard transporter beam that sent us directly to the bridge, a place that was literally swarming with lots of Asgards. Those who got aware of our arrival looked at me interestedly. Supposedly most of them had never seen a human before, so I seemed to be some kind of a sight to see.
I smiled at them awkwardly, then I looked ahead and was completely dumbstruck by my surroundings. Everything here looked so much more elegant (and alien) than the Daedalus. Here I saw the unmistakable proof that the Asgard had been space travellers already when humans were still sitting on trees throwing bananas after each other.
A great part of the wall was an actual window that allowed an exquisite view on the Wraith hive ship that was firing seemingly everything they had at the Beliskner. In a chair that was situated in the middle of the bridge, there sat an Asgard whom I assumed to be Thor. General O’Neill had told me about him, especially about the fact that he considered himself a friend of the humans.
Thor gave one of the other Asgards a very complex order in his own language before he turned to me and gave me a long and interested look as if he wanted to check first whether it had been worth saving me.
‘Dr Talvi, I assume.’ He finally spoke. ‘It’s nice to meet you.’
I was really glad about the approving look on his face.
‘The pleasure is all mine.’ I replied nervously, asking myself how he could know my name. Did Hermiod have the time to fill him in about me or was he simply informed about who among the humans was allowed to work with Asgard technology?
‘As you humans would say: Take a seat and enjoy the show!’ Thor told me, raising his eyebrows encouragingly while pointing at a seat right beside his. His way of talking told me very clearly that he had spent way too much time in the presence of General O’Neill.
I sat down carefully, not taking my eyes away from him. ‘How’s business?’ I wanted to know.
Another impact hit the Beliskner. Thor threw orders all around, then looked back at me. ‘The Wraith are of the ludicrous opinion they could win against two Asgard motherships. I am going to teach them otherwise.’
I couldn’t help but grin widely at Thor’s obvious badassery, while I watched the Beliskner’s plasma beam weapons take severe damage on the hive ship. My smile turned into an almost insane grin when several parts of it exploded. I had a really hard time keeping myself from starting to cackle like a maniac. I appreciated Thor a lot for kicking those hideous creatures’ butts.
Only now did I realize that Hermiod was standing right beside me, having his hands clasped behind his back, watching intently. Though, he wasn’t watching the battle. His big black eyes didn’t move an inch away from me. He had most likely seen many more space battles in his life than humans who were grinning widely while their enemies were torn to pieces by powerful weaponry. I admit, I enjoyed the fact that this horrible Wraith queen didn’t have all too much time anymore until she got what she deserved for the treatment she had given us. The tables had turned, now it wasn’t us anymore who’d die an unpleasant death. I responded to Hermiod’s gaze with a smile.
‘Don’t you think they deserve it?’ I wanted to know.
‘They deserve to be punished for everything they did to us and many others over the centuries, indeed.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘But I honestly don’t care about them, I just find it extraordinarily relieving to see you smiling and enjoying yourself after everything you’ve been through on the hive ship.’
I couldn’t answer right away, because my attention was drawn back to the window. The Beliskner fired again and this time the Asgards had aimed for the perfect target. The hive ship dissolved into a huge ball of fire, making me jump to my feet, clapping my hands. It felt good to see all the debris floating away into space. Though, getting up that quickly was a very bad idea. It reminded me all too clearly of quite a few of my injuries. So I sat down again carefully to watch the progress of the show.
‘Target is neutralized, Commander.’ One of the weapons operators said, his voice calm and even.
‘Very well.’ Thor replied. ‘How is the Mjolnir’s status?’
‘Commander Njorir confirms they haven’t taken any damage.’ Some other Asgard informed him.
‘Looks like it’s been a full success.’ I stated, smiling widely at Thor.
‘I’ve always admired the humans’ ability to be enthusiastic about almost everything.’ Thor said, amused. ‘But I know that the Wraith are the greatest plague of this galaxy and have taken far too many innocent lives, so your reaction is understandable.’
‘I could actually write an extensive book about all the losses that had to be suffered because of the Wraith.’ I confirmed. ‘They know no mercy and they don’t expect any mercy from others either.’
‘Then we obviously arrived in time to intervene.’ Thor said, looking kind of satisfied.
‘Sadly it was just one hive… who knows how many are still out there.’ I mused, but didn’t want to linger on the subject.
At this very moment I was so overflowing with relief and thankfulness that it really took me a lot of self-control not to hug Thor.
--
An hour later we all met up in Atlantis’s main conference room. It was a gathering of the usual suspects, joined by Thor, who looked both pleased and curious. I couldn’t wait to hear what made him decide to interfere at Hoth himself instead of only sending one of his ships.
‘I’m really thankful that you’ve decided to show up and help us out, Supreme Commander.’ Dr Weir said with an honest and very relieved smile on her face. It was obvious to me that she was somehow nervous in front of the high ranked Asgard, but she had enough self-confidence to cover up for it.
‘You may call me Thor.’ He first told her generously, but didn’t wait for her surprised confirming nod. ‘I’ve received Hermiod’s message almost too late, as it seems. It arrived many hours after he had given it to your people to forward it. I would have expected that the security of your own people weighs heavier than the levels of bureaucracy and classification messages have to surpass on the way to your allies.’
I wasn’t the only one who had to stifle a giggle, because Thor had spoken everyone’s thoughts. It was neither the science department nor the military who were so keen on all this bureaucracy and classification. Actually, it was the IOA’s fault, and nobody liked those office sitters who had never participated in a fight or in the fear of dying a gruesome death.
‘I’m sorry for this.’ Weir said openly. ‘But luckily you were able to arrive before anyone was killed.’
‘The Wraith kidnapped two people and stole a very valuable piece of Asgard technology.’ Thor cut her off. ‘Especially your engineer had been in a disastrous medical condition when we teleported her to our infirmary. If we hadn’t given her long overdue and undoubtedly necessary medical aid, the damage on her body would most likely have been permanent.’
While everybody seemed to be uncomfortable about what had happened to me, it was the first time that I really thought about it. I knew that I had been unconscious for a few minutes only, but those minutes were seemingly enough to stabilize the worst injuries. The medical knowledge and technology of the Asgard were incredible.
‘Is Thor implying you’ve saved my life up there?’ I whispered in Hermiod’s tiny ear who was sitting next to me. He just gave me a slow nod, his eyes told me we’d talk about it later.
Weir gave me an apologetic look that told me clearly how much of a bad consciousness she had concerning me. Though, I didn’t hold a grudge towards anyone. We all knew about how dangerous our various professions were, we had all signed up knowing the risks very well.
‘Well.’ Weir went on after a moment of awkward silence. ‘Are you planning to assist us any further, Thor, or is your job already done by retrieving the Asgard computer core and our kidnapped people?’
One of the many things I admired about Dr Elisabeth Weir was her talent of always switching back to her business way of speaking, no matter how terrible news she had just received. She was one of those people who were level-headed most of the time. Atlantis needed a leader with such capabilities, someone who was able to use their brains even in the face of certain death. I knew she had a big heart and cared for each and every person who was part of her team, and that was actually everything necessary to know for not being offended when she spoke her mind so clearly from time to time. Thor seemed to sense that, too.
‘The High Council gave me an assignment to help you retrieve the Daedalus from, as you call it, M4X-773, to supervise the repairs and to install new Asgard hardware into the ship’s systems. We’re also assigned to assist you fighting the Wraith in case they’re going to return for another attack before the repairs are finished.’
That was indeed the best news I had heard in quite a while. We’d have two Asgard motherships to guard us at least for a few weeks. I hoped that the tremendous loss of one of their hive ships earlier that day would make the Wraith think twice before they dared to get back at us anytime soon. The Asgard ships were able to overpower them easily.
‘Don’t you have to attend to any other problems in the Milky Way or your own galaxy?’ McKay threw in, wondering. ‘I mean, there are still Goa’Uld and the like.’
‘We’re of the opinion that your people are able to fight them on their own for the moment.’ Thor answered, sounding a bit haughty. ‘There are much more urgent problems to attend to in the Pegasus galaxy right now. The Asgard have their own problems to work on back on Othala indeed, but the fleet is not needed there.’
We all looked a bit puzzled about that hint, but Thor didn’t seem to want to elaborate on it, so it clearly wasn’t our business to ask further questions.
‘Rodney, Dr Talvi.’ Weir looked first to him, then to me. ‘I want you to overview the repairs on the Daedalus…’
‘Not yet.’ She was interrupted by Thor. ‘Dr Talvi first has to undergo important medical treatment aboard the Beliskner before she’s able to follow your orders. Her injuries are by far more serious than they might seem.’
Weir looked a bit shocked when she turned to me. ‘Yes, of course you do. I’m really sorry, Dr Talvi. We’re all a bit too selfish at times.’
‘It’s alright.’ I shrugged her apology off. ‘There’s a lot to keep in focus these days.’
‘What’s the reason why you want to do her medical treatment aboard your ship?’ Carson now wanted to know, his whole expression full of surprise. He was Atlantis’ head physician, after all.
‘She’d take many weeks to recover if you tried to cure her with your primitive medical knowledge.’ Thor said matter-of-factly. ‘We’ll only need a few hours.’
Carson glared at Thor, more surprised than offended, but obviously not happy about the fact that his profession was belittled in such a rude way. I knew that Thor didn’t want to be rude. The Asgards just had this unnerving attitude of always speaking the truth, no matter what feelings they caused in the humans they dealt with. They were oblivious of such sensitivities and therefore couldn’t care less for people who couldn’t handle the truth.
‘There is something else we need to talk about first.’ I ended the argument before it had even started. ‘Hermiod has found out the truth as to why the Daedalus had dropped out of hyperspace, and I can tell you, it’s most disconcerting.’
At these words the room fell into complete silence. Even Carson forgot to object. I had all eyes on me when I nodded at Hermiod. He caught my encouraging smile and turned to his eagerly waiting audience.
‘I’ve luckily had the chance to check some log files while we were on the Wraith ship.’ He began slowly. ‘There I’ve found evidence that the original Asgard program was altered by a subroutine that definitely doesn’t belong there. One that has obviously been written by a human.’
Everyone stared at Hermiod in total exasperation.
‘Can Asgard software really be altered by human-written programs?’ McKay wanted to know. ‘Is that even possible?’
‘Not on an Asgard ship, of course, but In case of the Daedalus it is possible.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘We have implemented some programming interfaces for your software to interact with ours. For an experienced programmer it wouldn’t be problematic to add any kind of malicious code.’
‘What was it for?’ Caldwell wanted to know, undoubtedly worried. ‘To make my ship smash into a planet? That’s insane!’
‘Not exactly.’ Hermiod said patiently, closing his eyes for a moment, seemingly unhappy with what he had to talk about. ‘It was only there to drop us out of hyperspace and send a signal to the Wraith. That we hit the planet was a mere accident.’
‘An accident?’ Caldwell shouted angrily. ‘You call that a mere accident?’
He was cut off by Dr Weir who glared at him impatiently. She obviously had other priorities.
‘To the Wraith?’ She then asked Hermiod, seemingly uncomfortable. ‘How?’
‘There was a hidden signal inside the standard distress signal the Daedalus started to send automatically after the crash.’ Hermiod explained. ‘It could only be found if someone took a closer look at the malicious program, because it was hidden very well. Luckily, I had the time to take said closer look.’
‘Crap.’ McKay cursed. ‘But who would do that? Who’s even capable of that? Not even I can do that without studying the Asgard programming languages first.’
McKay admitting that there was something he wasn’t able to do was indeed something that should be noticed and written down, just in case he needed to be brought back down to earth next time he had one of his “I’m better than anyone else in the universe” moments. Dr Zelenka chuckled quietly and I, too, couldn’t stifle a smile.
‘Would anyone in this room be able to write such a program?’ Caldwell, who apparently had calmed down a bit, wanted to know. Although he didn’t look at me, I perfectly knew who he was thinking of.
‘Besides myself?’ Hermiod challenged him. ‘No.’
‘Alright.’ Caldwell said, exhaling nervously. ‘And you’re sure you didn’t do it?’
‘Of course he didn’t.’ I objected before Hermiod was even able to defend himself. ‘Why should Hermiod do that? The Asgard have no business with the Wraith.’
Caldwell glared at me. ‘At least except for the fact that they’d want to set a foot in the Pegasus…’
‘No!’ I interrupted him. ‘No, no, no! Let’s not even think of something as ridiculous as that!’
‘Colonel Caldwell.’ Thor reminded Caldwell of his presence in a low but very determined voice. ‘The Asgard have no interest in the Pegasus galaxy except the protection of the Atlantis expedition. We’re not conquerors, as you surely know.’
Caldwell lost the staring contest with Thor, shoved his hands in the pockets of his pants and sighed. ‘I’m sorry.’ He managed. ‘I shouldn’t have said that.’
‘Indeed.’ Thor just replied and turned his attention back to me.
‘There must be a Wraith supporter somewhere among our people.’ I suggested. ‘Someone who has access to the Daedalus’s most important systems, someone who’s experienced with the programming interfaces of the Asgard software.’
‘There were hundreds of people involved in the system checks back on Earth.’ McKay mused. ‘I’m going to check with the SGC. They surely have a list of the personnel that was working on or had access to the Daedalus. That’ll be a long list, though, which means we’ll have to interrogate a lot of people.’
‘We must find the culprit as soon as possible.’ I insisted. ‘As long as they’re running free, we can’t be safe anymore.’
‘True.’ Weir approved, nodding slowly. I’ve never seen her looking so worried before. ‘We’ll start with it right away. Rodney, dial Earth and tell General Landry about our latest intel. Ask him to send us said list as soon as possible and to start interrogating everyone who had access to the Daedalus on Earth at any time. Sheppard, round up everyone who can be of help interrogating people here. Caldwell, I need a list of every person that could have had access to the Asgard computer. We need to proceed fast before the saboteur can take any further action.’
‘We will protect Atlantis from the Wraith until the saboteur is found and put to trial.’ Thor confirmed his earlier offer. ‘As long as there’s a possibility this person still has access to the Daedalus’s systems, there’s no use in implementing a new Asgard computer core. Hence we won’t start working on it until this mystery has been solved.’
‘Good.’ Weir confirmed. ‘Then it’s settled. Let’s get to work.’
--
Not long after this disconcerting discussion in Atlantis, I found myself back on the Beliskner, situated in one of their medical pods that had been altered for me to fit in. I knew that Thor didn’t do this for me because of friendship duty, but because he knew I was the only human engineer available who could assist Hermiod in installing the new Asgard computer on the Daedalus. Of course, I didn’t care about any selfish reasons on his part, because I was no less selfish when approving to be treated aboard the Beliskner. It was great for a change to just spend some time among Asgards, because I’ve come to like their down-to-earth way of speaking and acting. It was just a bit awkward to be completely naked while lying in this medical pod, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t have been different on a human operation table, and those aliens didn’t care for such sensitivities anyways.
‘I have programmed the necessary actions into the pod’s computer.’ Eir, the head medical officer, told me in an indifferent voice. ‘As soon as I close the lid you will fall asleep and only awaken as soon as the treatment is finished.’
Eir was the first Asgard with a female personality that I’ve ever heard of. Of course they didn’t have any genders at all, being asexual and only keeping their numbers constant by cloning. That’s why the necessity of such archaic distinction of genders had become completely meaningless in their society, but they still had distinguished personalities and voices that showed that there actually still were differences between genders. Both personality and voice were definitely female concerning this particular Asgard.
‘How long will the procedure take?’ I wanted to know, not admitting that I was indeed worried. This was alien technology, after all, and I couldn’t be sure of how dangerous it could actually be for human physiology.
‘About ten to twelve hours.’ She said, still totally indifferent. ‘Concerning how severe the damages actually are.’
‘And this is really safe for me, right?’ I asked uncertainly, because I couldn’t keep myself any longer from voicing my worries.
‘It has been tested on humans in various occasions.’ She let me know, now becoming a little bit impatient. I didn’t even want to know what occasions those were, given the fact the Asgard actually resembled the Roswell Greys in their looks. Of course I knew that the aliens of human science-fiction movies and conspiracy theories had nothing to do with the Asgard, but still I felt a bit uncomfortable about the fact that some alien technology was about to mess with my body.
Forcing my worries into the background of my mind, I raised my head a bit to look around the infirmary, my eyes searching for someone special. Hermiod was standing near the door, not wanting to disturb the medical officer at work, but when he met my gaze, he came a bit closer.
‘I’m able to start the process, too.’ Hermiod told Eir in a firm voice. ‘Please give us a few moments.’
The medical officer just tilted her head in surprise and wonderment, then left us alone. I was glad that I finally got the chance to talk with Hermiod about what had happened on the Wraith ship.
‘Thank you.’ I told Hermiod as soon as Eir had left. ‘I really appreciate that you got me out of that mess alive.’
‘Without your encouragement I wouldn’t have lasted in front of the Wraith queen. Your courage showed me it was worth fighting. You were just there for me, and I can’t remember that someone has ever been just there for me.’ He told me earnestly. ‘I suppose the truth is that we’ve saved each other’s lives.’
‘When I look back at the last days, I realize that we somehow need each other to survive.’ I told him with a wink, smiling. ‘It seems there’s been a very wise man who put us on the Daedalus together.’
‘The Asgard don’t believe in fate.’ Hermiod let me know, totally not having understood the joke I made. He was most likely simply oblivious of human humour, but there was also the chance that he instinctively knew that I didn’t want to be funny in the first place, at least not from the heart.
‘Neither do I.’ I just replied. ‘But I do believe in luck, and it was great luck that we got through a lethal mess together twice in just a few days.’
Hermiod tilted his head, the look in his eyes a mystery to me. I’ve spent so much time with him on the Daedalus, but still I couldn’t read every of his expressions. I couldn’t study him with human measures, I had to study him using my gut feeling and a lot of patience, because there was no instruction manual on “How to study an alien”.
‘It’s time for me to get some sleep.’ I broke the awkwardness. ‘The pain killers seem to decrease and I really need to get rid of all the mess inside my body. We need to get back to work anytime soon, after all.’
I could have talked with Hermiod forever, to be honest. Being with him gave me an odd feeling of belonging, of being in a place that was actually meant for me. I shrugged off the thought, though, because this was neither the right time nor the right place for it.
Hermiod took my hand in his and quietly held it for a while. My puzzled look seemingly making him try hard to find an explanation that wasn’t awkward. ‘I’ve noticed that humans do this to both encourage and comfort someone.’
‘That’s true.’ I confirmed. ‘But we also do it to show affection.’
‘I’ve already suspected that.’ Hermiod confirmed.
As I didn’t know how to react on that, I carefully pulled my hand back, smiled at Hermiod’s wondering expression, made myself more comfortable and closed my eyes. I fell asleep as soon as the lid of the medical pod closed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 - Awakening

One of the most awkward moments in my life took place on the day when I found myself standing in front of a certain grey office door on a similarly grey corridor situated inside of an expectedly just as grey building that’s known as the Pentagon. I had received an, in my opinion, quite obscure letter from a department that called itself ‘Homeworld Security’, an authority that seemed to be answering directly to the U.S. President. The letter included an invitation to a job interview, which made me wonder, because I never even had sent an application to the U.S. military. I didn’t even know they employed civilians from other countries. And, to be completely honest, I absolutely couldn’t imagine myself working for the military, because I considered myself being way too clumsy to ever be successful as a soldier. The thought of war was enough already to cause another annoying hiccup. Still, I was curious enough to attend said job interview, especially because I had never heard of a department with the name ‘Homeworld Security’ before. Everyone knew ‘HomeLAND Security’ since they were quite prominent on the news from time to time, but something told me that those two authorities were working on entirely different matters.
So I was standing there, my hand already raised to knock at the door, but completely unsure as to why I’ve even travelled to Washington D.C. It took me a lot of self-confidence to finally allow my fingers to knock.
‘Come!’ I heard a hard voice that was almost enough to make me just turn around and run. I decided otherwise, though, and opened the door carefully, peeking into the room.
‘Don’t be shy, come in.’ The voice’s owner spoke in a friendly way and therefore made me feel a little less uncomfortable. I saw myself confronted with a three star General whose face, for unknown reasons, bore the inviting smile of a man much younger than him.
So this was the fateful day when I learned to know General Jack O’Neill, the very same day when my life was about to change forever. Of course, at this very moment I couldn’t have known that yet.
I entered the room carefully and stood in front of the General respectfully, absolutely oblivious of how to handle this situation. I’ve always had great respect in front of authorities. Everyone has, I suppose, just not everyone admits it. And honestly, here I was, little Aegeti Talvi from Iceland, just promoted, not special in any way, standing in front of this man who obviously wanted to offer me a job. Me. A job. At the Pentagon. Yes, of course.
General O’Neill shook my hand, still with this enigmatic boyish smile on his face, and pointed me to sit down on a chair in front of his desk. I complied, not taking away my eyes from this quite reassuring smile and not daring to utter a word.
‘Do you have an idea why I wanted to see you?’ He asked, his voice friendly and encouraging.
I shook my head, trying with all my might not to hiccup.
‘I’ve read all your essays and scientific works, Dr Talvi, and I’m most impressed by your deep understanding of complex systems.’ He began to praise me. ‘I daresay you’re indeed capable of excelling at the job I have to offer.’
I’m sure my face showed shades of red that I wasn’t even aware of. It was hard to decide what to feel about and how to react to his words. Indeed, I had written some papers that had drawn some attention, and yes, I loved what I did, but this speech of appraisal scared the hell out of me. I knew that when the military gets word of a person they consider a genius, said genius isn’t likely to get out of the whole story alive. Luckily, I didn’t consider myself a genius, so there was still a chance.
‘General O’Neill, sir.’ I managed carefully. ‘I’m just an everyday engineer who’s quite good at… creative thinking.’
‘Indeed.’ He nodded gravely. ‘And this exact creativity and the success you’ve already had with it, is the reason why we got interested in you. I can promise you that if you sign our contract, you’ll be able to work on machinery that you most likely wouldn’t even dream of. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, Dr Talvi, and I’d recommend you to take it.’
‘Just so?’ I wondered, honestly feeling displeased by his hinting on signing a contract that I didn’t even know existed.
‘Well.’ He said slowly, raising his brows. ‘I have knowledge that you don’t really have anything to leave behind, as you don’t have a family or other obligations to attend to. Oh, and your internet access profile tells me that you’re going to be very interested in what I have to offer.’
‘Wait!’ I cut in. ‘You’re reading my internet activity?’
‘Don’t tell me you didn’t expect it.’ He replied with one of his boyish smiles.
Honestly, when it was about governments in general, I’ve learnt to expect even the unexpected, that’s why I didn’t even bother with him knowing about every website I’ve ever accessed and every email I’ve ever written. We were living in a brave new world of paranoid secret services, after all.
‘Alright.’ I muttered hesitantly. ‘What is it that you have to offer?’
He nodded encouragingly, leaned back and gave me a somewhat self-satisfied look before he voiced the question of questions. ‘Tell me, Dr Talvi, do you believe in the existence of extra-terrestrial life?’
--
When the lid of the medical pod opened, I felt like having slept forever or just for ten minutes at the same time. I avoided the term ‘feeling like newly born’, though, because being born includes lots of blood and inconvenience. Instead, I felt refreshed and at the best of my moods, wondering whether it would be possible to use this very comfortable Asgard spa again every once in a while.
I opened my eyes and breathed slowly, letting all my memories invade my mind once more, and realized that I felt at complete peace with myself and the world alike.
I noticed Hermiod still standing beside the medical pod, exactly like he had stood there before I had fallen asleep. It made me wonder about how much time I had spent sleeping. I decided that it couldn’t have been all too much, because I was sure the Asgard had more important business to attend to than hanging around at the infirmary all day.
‘Good morning?’ I asked carefully, not knowing what time of day we actually had.
‘Good morning, Aegeti.’ Hermiod greeted me with sudden relief in his expression. ‘It’s most fortunate that you’re awake and well.’
‘How am I?’ I wanted to know. ‘How long did I sleep?’
‘You’ve been asleep for about eleven hours.’ Hermiod informed me in his business voice. ‘As for what the computer tells me, all your injuries could be cured and you haven’t taken any permanent damage. I would prefer Eir to check on you anytime soon, though.’
Hermiod went to turn to the computer and call her, but there was obvious hesitation in his movement that I couldn’t quite figure out. I didn’t hold him back, though, because I, too, was of the opinion the medical officer should check me first.
Eir entered the room only seconds after Hermiod had called her. She looked at me interestedly and then turned to the readouts on the medical pod’s computer display.
‘Did everything go right?’ I dared to ask the very serious looking Asgard.
She looked at me, raising her brows. ‘Each of your injuries was attended to in the expected manner. Your broken bones and damaged organs have been healed completely. That means you’re of best health now and therefore can return to your duties again.’
I had to bite my lip hard in order to keep myself from laughing about her quite pretentious way of explaining the obvious to someone whose intelligence was presumably inferior to hers. I couldn’t care less, though, because the Asgard just were like that and didn’t mean any harm. The most important thing about her information was – and I was more than glad about it – the fact that I was doing fine again.
‘Thank you.’ I therefore said, lowering my head in respect.
‘You can put on your clothes now.’ She let me know, pointing at a pile of clothes sitting on a chair nearby, but not reacting in any way to my thankfulness. I wondered if it was even possible to make an Asgard show any kind of emotion that was readable to a human.
‘Alright.’ I mumbled and got up very carefully. I was still a bit drowsy after more than ten hours of sleep, that’s why I just picked up the clothes and sat down on the chair instead.
Both Eir and Hermiod watched me putting on my clothes very interestedly. For those constantly naked aliens, it was surely quite incomprehensible why humans were so eager about covering their bodies. If they had asked me right now, I wouldn’t even have been able to explain. We just had this natural shamefacedness that sometimes felt like it was coded in our very DNA.
‘You can leave the infirmary anytime you wish.’ Eir told me. ‘Your business here is done.’
She turned around and left quickly, leaving me dumbstruck by her rudeness. I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that some Asgards were prone to xenophobia, too.
‘I’m sorry.’ Hermiod said, sounding a bit sad. ‘She doesn’t mean to appear rude. We’re just not used to the subtle ways of human communication.’
‘It’s OK.’ I shrugged it off. ‘She’s done enough already in curing me from all the damage, so I’m really thankful and all. There’s no need to apologize, really.’
Hermiod tilted his head, looking at me questioningly for a moment. Then he turned around, ready to leave the infirmary. I had a feeling that he, actually, wanted to talk about something more but seemed to be of the opinion that I was eager to get back to work anytime soon. Without even thinking I reached out my hand for him.
‘Wait.’ I said in a low voice. ‘Just for a moment.’
He turned back to me, wonderment in his big black eyes, and, following an idea incomprehensible to me, put his hand in mine. I still had no idea what it was that I could read in him, in his eyes, his facial expressions, his body language, because all of it was still so alien to me, but I had a gut feeling there was something that should be discussed. Better now than later.
Still holding his hand, I sat down on that small Asgard chair again in a very uncomfortable position. Now I was on eye-to-eye level with Hermiod who looked back at me, puzzled. I needed to get an information from him now. One that was more important to me than anything else at this particular moment.
‘Have you been here all the time?’ I asked carefully, almost dreading the answer. ‘Did you watch over my sleep?’
Hermiod tilted his head in approval. ‘I could not risk you to be without supervision. Of course, Asgard medical technology is very powerful and not prone to fail, but I wanted to be sure…’ He trailed off and broke the eye contact with me.
I realized that I still held his hand in mine, and as he hadn’t protested by now, I plucked up the courage to take the other hand too.
‘I somehow feel that this isn’t the whole truth.’ Honestly, I have no idea where the courage came from that moved me to this audacity. Of course, we’ve become friends by now after all we had gone through together, but that still didn’t give me the right to be so prying.
‘I care for you.’ Hermiod said very hesitantly. ‘I don’t want you to be hurt again, especially not by my people. I don’t want to lose your trust.’
I felt my heart beating a tad faster. Still, I had no idea what to do with this information, because I saw absolutely no reason as to why Hermiod should care for me. Or for any human, that is. What I knew was that I cared for him too.
‘You are holding my hands.’ He pointed out the obvious after I hadn’t said anything for quite a while. I wasn’t able to manage speaking about my thoughts and feelings, to be honest, because I had no clue what I could tell him that didn’t ruin this moment completely. That’s why I only nodded to confirm his statement.
‘Are you doing this because of… affection?’ He asked, curiously.
I let one of his hands go to put mine under his chin, carefully and gently forcing him to look at me. I still couldn’t read Asgard body language, not to the least, and I knew that even if he felt affection for me, there would be no point in it, given the fact that the Asgard didn’t chose partners and the like. Still, there was something in his eyes that I wasn’t able to comprehend. Something of which I suddenly knew that I wanted to find out.
‘Yes.’ I said softly. ‘Humans do that when they’re thankful, you know. I mean, you have spent more than ten hours of your precious time just watching over my sleep. I know that there’s a lot of work to be done on both the Beliskner and the Deadalus, but still you’ve wasted your time for something that’s apparently unnecessary. I’m really touched by it, you know. It’s among those things that humans see as a proof of true friendship.’ The hell, why was I so nervous all of a sudden, and why did I talk way too much when I was nervous?
‘I couldn’t lose you.’ Hermiod told me matter-of-factly. ‘You’re too important… to the Atlantis expedition...’ He trailed off again, and I could have sworn there was insecurity in his voice.
‘Or to you?’ I asked, admittedly hopeful.
‘Or me.’ He confirmed.
My brain started to work frantically, processing and evaluating new information. How the hell had I never noticed it? When I thought back on the last two years, I realized that Hermiod had always been acting differently when he was around me. While he treated everyone else with sarcasm and arrogance, he was really likable and friendly around me. I blamed it on the mere fact that I was his actual superior, but then again, he even treated Colonel Caldwell like a hopeless retard. There were, obviously, facets of our Asgard engineer that I always simply ignored because they didn’t matter or even make sense.
But I did feel affection for him, right? I did feel that special kind of chemistry that only occurred when we were working alone, trusting each other completely in situations where trust was more important than anything. I remembered when, after the Daedalus had collided with Hoth, I was holding the Asgard in my arms to keep him from freezing to death. I remembered how bad I’d have taken it if he hadn’t made it back to the safety of Atlantis. I’ve always known it, but still it came as a surprise.
‘Then I suppose I’ll take care you won’t ever lose me.’ I finally told him to break the silence, a silence that wasn’t awkward anymore, just full of insecurities. ‘Because you’re important to me as well.’
He looked at me in wonderment, his eyes full of warmth, and something about his body language told me my words had hit home.
‘I will do the same for you.’ He confirmed. ‘I’m glad we’re thinking alike.’
Looking into his eyes, I wondered about the road I was just about to follow. How was this supposed to continue, where were we even heading too? I was sitting at the infirmary of an Asgard spaceship holding hands with a being that was more alien to me than anyone I had ever encountered, including the Wraith. But naturally, when an avalanche has already started to move, there was no way to stop it. Avalanches, that much I knew, were able to change everything.
Carefully, to not loose balance on that small chair I was sitting on, I leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on Hermiod’s forehead. His skin tasted somehow bitter and nothing like anything I had ever tasted before, but it wasn’t unpleasant in any way, just… alien.
Hermiod looked at me in utter surprise, obviously not having understood what I had just done. There was even a hint of fear in his gaze.
‘That’s what humans do when they like somebody very much.’ I explained, smiling awkwardly. ‘It’s just another sign of affection, like… holding hands and the like.’
The Asgard tilted his head in comprehension. I knew that he was very interested in human rituals and customs, that’s why part of me hoped he’d also file my kiss somewhere among his notes concerning human behaviour.
‘I… OK, listen.’ I kept talking nervously when he remained silent. ‘I didn’t want to offend you or anything… I know that Asgards don’t like physical contact, so I shouldn’t have been that bold. It’s my mistake and I apologize… ’
‘Please stop talking.’ He interrupted me sternly. ‘I have taken no offence.’
‘Oh…’ I managed, totally thrown off my tracks. ‘OK.’ I didn’t know how to react on what he’d just said, honestly not. I was completely taken aback and didn’t know what to do. A great part of me hoped that Thor would just beam me out of here by accident and that somewhere in the process my mind was wiped. An even greater part, though, hoped for something entirely else.
‘I’m observing that you feel uncomfortable, Aegeti.’ Hermiod said, completely oblivious of the turmoil that was raging in my head. ‘Why is that?’
‘Dunno.’ I mumbled awkwardly. ‘I just… This is… I don’t….’ I couldn’t help but stammer like an insecure teenager, because at this very moment I wasn’t anything but that. I couldn’t handle compliments, I couldn’t handle situations on such an intimate level.
Hermiod let go of my hands and moved a step backwards. Although I knew that the Asgard didn’t have all those irritating and confusing hormones that caused all those contradicting feelings in humans, I realized that I had hurt him somehow.
‘Hermiod.’ I almost shouted. ‘Please, I… Oh, goddammit.’
I was so upset that I totally forgot how imbalanced I was sitting on the chair. In a typical clumsy Aegeti manner, I lost balance and almost fell. It was on pure luck that I reacted fast enough not to take any damage in the process.
So I found myself sitting on the floor, my head leaning at the medical pod I had been sleeping in not long ago, while I was trying to at least find my inner balance. Hermiod watched me with blank eyes. I was fully aware of the fact that I had ruined this situation in every way possible. All I wanted to do now was to save what still could be saved.
I reached out my hand to the Asgard and exhaled in relief when he really dared to come closer again. He sat down on the floor as well, never turning his eyes away from me.
‘I’m so sorry, Hermiod.’ I told him, couldn’t prevent the sadness in my voice. ‘I’m just not good at this, you know, I suppose I’m the one human with the worst social skills.’
‘My social skills regarding the interaction with humans aren’t good either.’ Hermiod comforted me. ‘Why don’t we try to better them together?’
I was dumbfounded by the way he built a bridge across all the crap that I had done because of my damned insecurity. To my positive surprise, this seemed to be really important to him in one or another way.
‘What do you suggest?’ I asked carefully, hoping not to overwhelm him with my sudden compliance.
‘I’ve heard that your people are assuming that the Asgard have no need for sharing their lives with someone, and I can confirm the assumption is correct. Due to our incapability to reproduce, we’ve unlearned how to set up and maintain any relationships, but we’re not incapable of understanding the concept.’ Hermiod began to explain in his calm and down-to-earth way of speaking that I’ve come to appreciate so much. ‘First of all, the Asgard are explorers and researchers, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t explore something as important and crucial as this with you, even more so as you seem to be interested in it as well.’
‘So this is all for the sake of science?’ I asked, clutching for every straw to put things right.
‘It is for whatever you want it to be.’ He let me know. ‘I suppose you’re much more an expert on this matter than me.’
I couldn’t help but chuckle. ‘Actually, I’m not an expert either. I never really wanted to get in any kind of relationship at all, because, well, I suspect something’s clearly wrong with me. I don’t have certain… desires. I could never go that far… you know.’ I fell silent, feeling more awkward than ever.
‘It is no shame to have no interest in sexual intercourse.’ He said matter-of-factly. ‘The Asgard aren’t capable of it anyway.’
To hell with the Asgard habit of always voicing the facts so bluntly, no matter the difficulties it might cause. Everything about this situation right now was embarrassing, and I was sure that the momentary colour of my face was very similar to that of a tomato.
Without even noticing my inner struggles, he went on talking. ‘I’ve been watching humans aboard the Daedalus for about two years now, and I can tell you that you are in many ways different from them. While most of them are part of ever-changing and very complex relationships, you’re oblivious to every male and female that has ever tried to ask you out on a date so far. Of course, I could only guess the reasons, but your reluctance concerning the mere thought of a situation that’s more intimate than just holding hands, is very explanatory, to be honest. So, if you’re not interested in any kind of mating rituals anyway, I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t give us a chance. I would never expect something from you that you’re uncomfortable with. Also, I’m an asexual alien.’ He said the last part with a smirk.
I wondered if anyone had noted the licence number of the truck that just had hit me. I found myself trapped in a situation with an Asgard who was obviously wooing me and telling me in the same sentence that he didn’t expect any human, as he called it, mating rituals from me. I’m certain I’ve never had a conversation as weird as this.
‘Hermiod.’ I said carefully after failing to sort out my thoughts. ‘Is that an offer? I mean, do you want to date me or anything?’
‘Positive.’ He confirmed.
Oh. My. God. I didn’t know what to say, because right now even my sarcasm failed.
I was quite lucky (or unlucky, depending on how I’d make up my mind later) that I got my chance to chicken out without making any kind of decision, because suddenly we were both beamed to the Beliskner’s bridge. I’ve already been informed by General O’Neill that Thor didn’t care the least about privacy and that he never bothered to ask before he used his transporter. I found this attitude of his quite annoying, but right at this moment, I couldn’t care less. I stood up from the ground slowly, lending Hermiod a helping hand. Thor gave us a very interested glance.
‘I hope my interference isn’t inconvenient in any way.’ He wanted to know, raising a brow.
‘No, it’s OK.’ I reassured him, being glad for the chance to postpone the discussion with Hermiod to another day or so. ‘But, if I may ask, why are we here?’
‘I have word from Atlantis.’ Thor informed us. ‘They were successful in finding the presumed saboteur and want you, Hermiod and me to assist in her interrogation. They need an expert’s opinion on that person’s capability of altering Asgard software.’
Thor didn’t even wait for an answer when he beamed us down to the city. Only now did I realize that we hadn’t been in Hoth’s orbit anymore. I really should find someone who could update me on the latest developments.
--
Thor’s transporter beam took the three of us directly to the main conference room of Atlantis, a place where I had participated in too many unpleasant discussions lately. It somehow felt like the room was cursed in a way that made suppressed hostility break through to the surface in all the wrong moments.
Right now I found myself opposite to a table where a young woman was nervously fidgeting and playing with her hair. The word ‘guilty’ seemed to be written on her forehead in big blinking letters. Unfortunately, I knew this woman very well, because she was working on the Daedalus engineering team. Her name was Monica Burbank, and it hit me hard that she was one of those I’d never have suspected to be the saboteur.
Hermiod and I weren’t alone with her, of course. We were accompanied by Thor, Dr Weir, Dr McKay, Colonel Sheppard and Colonel Caldwell, the latter looking furious and obviously barely able to control his anger.
‘Thor, Dr Talvi, Hermiod, thank you for participating in this interrogation on such a short notice.’ Dr Weir greeted us. ‘I know that you’ve just left the infirmary, Dr Talvi, but unfortunately we couldn’t wait any longer.
‘Never mind.’ I shrugged her apology off. ‘I’ll be glad when this is over and done. May I ask to be filled in with the latest news?’
‘Dellingur, one of our systems programmers and expert on the programming interfaces we provide for human computers to our software, has decompiled the complete program that was responsible for the Daedalus’s unfortunate collision with M4X-733.’ Thor informed us. ‘He was able to find evidence of every access to this specific program down to from what console it was entered, at what time this happened and whose user credentials were involved.’
‘Fascinating.’ Hermiod interrupted. ‘I didn’t see this in the log files. It should have appeared there.’
‘It was very well hidden.’ Thor reassured him. ‘After all, it was especially written to deceive both you and Dr Talvi. The culprit knew your routines very well and therefore was able to adapt the program to those particular needs.’
It took me a lot of self-control not to jump up and smash Burbank’s face in. I only refrained from it, because I believed in ‘in dubio pro reo’ whole-heartedly. As long as I didn’t know every detail, it was not on me to judge.
‘That’s the problem when having a ship full of geniuses.’ Sheppard threw in sarcastically, looking at Caldwell with a quite smug expression.
‘I can’t believe it.’ I finally managed to utter in Hermiod’s ear. ‘How could we be so blind?’
Hermiod didn’t show any reaction, but I could sense he was similarly appalled, but most likely not as pissed off as me.
McKay threw a page filled with lines of code on the Ancient display at the wall and began to point at several parts, while he explained how perfectly this piece of software had actually been written. Burbank didn’t say a word, a fact that disgusted me more and more until I couldn’t restrain myself any longer, got up and walked over to the young woman who looked at me with an undefinable glare.
‘Why?’ I asked her the simplest of questions. ‘Why the hell did you risk all of our lives in order to hand us over to the fucking Wraith?’
She closed her eyes and swallowed hard, obviously trying to gather up what was left of her courage. 'Everyone here is only out to kill the Wraith.’ She then spoke in a low voice. ‘But it’s us who are the intruders. We have no business here whatsoever. The Pegasus galaxy is the Wraith’s feeding ground. It’s their home! How dare we try to commit genocide on them?’
We all exchanged surprised glances, because what she said did actually make some sense, at least from a very twisted point of view.
‘It’s not their territory either.’ Thor objected. ‘They came into existence by mere accident as you might probably know. The Wraith would never have evolved from the Iratus bug, if the Ancients hadn’t put humans on the planet in question. They were trying to merge human with Iratus DNA in order to find a vaccine against the bug’s poison. The Wraith were never meant to exist.’
‘But they do exist!’ Burbank fired.
‘Indeed.’ McKay said, his voice dripping sarcasm. ‘Just like cockroaches. But they’re nothing more than a nasty lab accident. One that the Ancients weren’t able to terminate, unfortunately. But as the Ancients’ descendants it’s our duty to rid the galaxy of them, and I’ll happily do so, once the occasion arises.’
‘But don’t you see how amazing they are?’ Burbank stubbornly kept to her twisted reality. ‘We must learn to evolve to be such perfect beings. It actually is our duty to study them and give them what is theirs.’
‘What exactly do you mean by what is theirs?’ I couldn’t help but interrupt her.
‘In my opinion they’re the next step on evolution’s ladder.’ She exclaimed, a certain kind of insanity in her voice. ‘They must survive and we are there to feed them on their way to greatness and immortality.’
‘I’ve honestly never heard anything as stupid as this.’ Weir admitted, disgust written on her face. ‘And I’ve heard a lot of creepy nonsense in my life.’
‘Let me take this straight.’ Caldwell cut in. ‘You’ve sabotaged my ship to hand it over to the Wraith. Is that correct?’
Burbank didn’t answer, seemingly afraid of the Colonel who had left his seat and walked over to her, leaning on his knuckles and looming over her like a hungry vulture.
‘IS THAT CORRECT!?’ He repeated his answer, giving in to his (in my opinion truly understandable) anger. Burbank flinched and tried to duck away from him.
After Caldwell had stared at her for another ten seconds, her self-confidence finally broke. Maybe she learned a lesson right now – the lesson of never causing any damage on something that’s important to Colonel Steven Caldwell. The young woman began to shake like a leave in the storm.
‘Seven people died in the crash.’ Weir said quietly. ‘They were good people, trustworthy people, dear friends and co-workers… Don’t you have a conscience? Is causing innocent death so easy for you?’
Burbank burst into tears all of a sudden, burying her face in her hands. Caldwell exhaled and let go of her. He was of the obvious opinion that his job was done, that’s why he sat down again, crossed his legs and glared at her in a very hostile way.
‘Did you work alone?’ Hermiod asked, seemingly in shock about the young woman’s audacity to mess with his computer.
Burbank remained silent and kept her eyes buried in her hands. Her silence was extremely disconcerting.
‘Hermiod asked you something!’ I confirmed his question, stood up once more and walked over to her. ‘It would be much appreciated if you had the decency to answer him. He’s had nightmares because of that bullshit.’
The young woman raised her head and looked up to me. I had no idea how to read her expression, but it was frightening indeed.
‘Doesn’t it bother you that your little Asgard friend was completely oblivious of what I’ve been doing?’ She challenged me. ‘Also, doesn’t it bother you that he’s oblivious of some other things too?’
‘What the hell do you mean?’ I wanted to know, giving her my most hostile glare of doom.
‘He’s such a stupid little prick.’ She continued. ‘Spends so much time looking at you that he forgets to look at his stupid little programs. It was so easy to deceive him.’
Her insane grin distorted her face in a very ugly way. It was really hard to refrain from beating the living hell out of her. I could cope with people insulting me, I could cope with people jerking around with me, but I couldn’t cope with people offending my friends.
‘There’s one thing you should keep in your bright head.’ I drawled. ‘Hermiod never risked anybody’s life. None of the Asgard ever would. He always tears himself up to help and assist us all. Unlike your oh-so-glorious Wraith who are constantly out for a kill. I want you to think about the fact that you’re worshiping the wrong kind of aliens, and I know that you’ll have a lot of time to think about this fact somewhere in a dark hole after they’ve put you to court martial. The Air Force sees no fun in sabotaging their property or in collaborating with the enemy. Your life, bitch, is over. And you can count yourself lucky that it won’t end at the hands of a feeding Wraith.’
Burbank swallowed hard, her eyes full of tears, but still with a very odd expression on her face. ‘The Wraith are perfect.’ She spat. ‘They’re glorious. I wish they would take me with them.’
I gave up, because as soon as someone has arrived at this particular level of delusion, there’s nothing more that could be done.
‘Well, it’s a bit sad, then.’ I thought out loud on my way back to my seat. ‘Thor shouldn’t have blasted that Wraith hive to hell right away. Maybe we could have arranged a meeting.’
‘There are still enough Wraith out there.’ Caldwell shrugged. ‘We can still arrange a meeting.’
‘I could ready a Jumper anytime.’ Sheppard offered.
I totally loved the turn this whole meeting was taking now, because some people, people like Monica Burbank, only learned the hard way. Though, I was almost sure that there was no way to cure this level of delusion.
‘You would hand me over to the Wraith?’ Burbank asked, a mix of fear and hope in her expression.
I heard someone chuckle and was surprised that it was Hermiod of all people. He squinted at me, but didn’t say a word. I could almost read his thoughts.
‘Well, if that’s what you want…’ I drawled, focussing on Burbank.
‘You can’t do that!’ She suddenly yelled, her face distorted by panic. ‘I have a right to be put to trial. You can’t just speak a verdict over me!’
‘Wait.’ I scoffed. ‘There’s something I don’t get right now. Didn’t you just tell us lots of bullshit about how you admire the Wraith and the like? Didn’t you even just say you wanted to be taken by them? I’ve already suspected my ears played tricks on me…’
‘That… that’s different…’ She stammered, helplessly.
‘Call me stupid.’ Caldwell interjected. ‘But I don’t understand this. You want to feed us all to the Wraith except yourself?’
‘Don’t bother, Caldwell.’ McKay laughed. ‘Her support doesn’t include being their dinner. It’s always the same with that sort of people.’
‘She still hasn’t answered a very important question.’ Thor interrupted the discussion and turned to Burbank. ‘Did you work alone or are there others that need our attention, too?’
‘How am I supposed to tell a little grey alien something as important as that?’ She spat at him. I wanted to jump up and rush over to her again, but was held back by Hermiod who placed his hand on mine. Not for the first time he obviously wanted to keep me from doing something stupid.
‘I’d recommend you to answer to me, then.’ Weir said calmly. ‘This is no fun and games, Ms Burbank. Lives are at stake. You know that very well. So would you finally answer Thor’s question, so we can get done with this and pay attention to the repairs on the Daedalus again? My patience doesn’t last forever.’
Burbank lost the staring contest against Weir in a historically short time. She looked away in almost an instant. Then she lowered her head, her body language telling clearly that she gave up eventually.
‘I’ve worked alone aboard the Daedalus.’ She whispered. ‘But I’m not alone when it comes to leading the Wraith to greatness. There are forces among the Trust that want to try to win the Wraith to fight alongside the Goa’Uld. It was them who gave me the assignment and the software to sabotage the Daedalus. Together they’ll be able to take out Earth’s defences easily and they’ll even be able to beat the Ori.’ She looked up again, glaring directly at Thor. ‘And the Asgard.’
This was one of the moments where I regretted that someone had asked, because the new information was more than disconcerting. If the Wraith teamed up with the Goa’Uld, we’d really have a problem. Big time. The Asgard were our only protective force against whatever threat lurked out there in the universe, but even they would have a hard time when it came to fight a war against the Wraith and the Goa’Uld at the same time. And I hadn’t even counted the Ori in that equation.
‘This is not very likely to happen.’ Thor broke through the haze of my worried thoughts. ‘The Trust has much less influence than you might think.’
‘I agree to that.’ Weir confirmed gravely. ‘Someone has told you a lie, a very well thought out lie, indeed, but a lie nevertheless.’
I suspected that both Thor and Weir weren’t telling the whole truth either in order to take a little revenge on all the insults we had heard from Burbank today, but on the other hand, I couldn’t really tell, because I didn’t know most of the intel about the Trust.
It worked perfectly well, though. I could almost see how Burbank’s self-confidence caved in in an instant. Her eyes widened when she realized the full truth (or what she was told to be the truth). I couldn’t stifle a grin anymore when it dawned on her that she had lost in every way possible, and that fact actually made my day. To know that we’ve found and convicted the culprit was relieving, because now we could finally start our work on the Daedalus without having to fear some more bad surprises to occur, at least for a while, until the Trust came up with another sinister plan. This whole meeting, that much was sure, was as near to a big success as could be.
I wasted no more time on looking at Burbank again when they brought her away to lock her away somewhere in the darkest parts of Atlantis, where she would have to wait until she was brought back to Earth, whenever that would be, given the fact that the Daedalus wasn’t ready to fly and that Earth was only dialled for important reasons due to the constant energy problem. I was sure the Asgard wouldn’t give her a ride either, as long as they knew the Atlanteans kept her in a safe place.
Though, there were still questions to be answered concerning Hermiod.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 - Revelation

Long after the Lantean sunset I had finally found some time to be completely alone, abandoned by every other person in the city. Now I was standing on one of Atlantis’s balconies and gazed out into the night. I loved the silence and peace I’ve always felt under the rich star-specked Lantean sky, a sight that was able to sooth my soul more than anything.
Thor and Hermiod had returned to the Beliskner right after the interrogation. Now that we could be sure not to be disturbed for a while, we’d be able to start working on the Daedalus again tomorrow. A lot had still to be prepared by the Asgard engineers to equip the Earth ship with new Asgard technology, and as I wasn’t needed there for the moment, I had gladly taken the time to spend on my own.
First I had taken a long shower that I enjoyed by all means, then I had put on some casual clothes and walked around the city for a while. Later I had allowed myself a really huge dinner in the cafeteria, because only then did I realize that I was literally starving. I couldn’t even remember when I had had my last real meal.
Here, in the silence on top of one of the city’s towers, I finally came to peace. All stress fell away from me, so I could allow myself not to think about the horrible Wraith abduction any longer, at least for a while. I couldn’t get the queen’s laughter out of my mind, and it was hard to forget how ruthlessly they had treated us.
Us.
There was not one single moment when I didn’t think about Hermiod, about how much he had to suffer, and even more about how much the conversation at the infirmary earlier that day had shaken my foundations. Somehow it was impossible for me to figure out what all of this meant, where all of this was about to lead to, simply because I was completely unsure about my own feelings. I had never given much of a damn about being with someone. Being totally appalled by the mere thought of sexuality, I had never bothered to get a boyfriend, even more so as I had never found out how to handle having one anyway. Maybe I was meant to be wooed by an asexual alien, I thought bitterly.
Suddenly I felt I wasn’t alone anymore and turned around to find out who had decided to disturb this rare moment of peace. Luckily, it was only Dr Weir, because I wouldn’t have been able to handle another conversation with Hermiod right now. Not before I had sorted out my mind.
‘Good evening.’ She greeted me with a smile. ‘I hope you don’t mind my company.’
I shook my head, feeling a bit awkward in the presence of such an important person. ‘Not at all. It’s a beautiful night that wants to be enjoyed.’
She came over to the railing and we spent some silent minutes gazing out at the horizon, just listening to the waves rolling in.
I was born on Iceland, surrounded by active volcanoes, and grown up in a small town in Sweden, far away from the sea. That’s why I had always wished to live somewhere in a city at the coast where the ocean was peaceful and the weather was always sunny and warm. But of course, I’d never have dreamt that this utopia, where I finally came to live at, would be situated in a galaxy millions of light years away from home.
‘How are you?’ Weir broke through my thoughts.
‘I’m fine.’ I answered thoughtfully. ‘Sort of.’
‘You’ve been through the worst mess imaginable in just a few days, Dr Talvi, it would be OK not to be fine.’ She said softly, not knowing how much her presence and encouragement really meant to me.
Some people indeed seemed to have a talent of reading thoughts and emotions like an open book. It took a lot of empathy that most people didn’t have, but Dr Weir obviously had it.
‘Aegeti.’ I said automatically, then swallowed hard. ‘And maybe you’re right.’
According to the turmoil that was still raging inside, I was everything but alright. But didn’t they teach us to fight, to deal with that sort of inconvenience? Wasn’t that part of our job, after all?
‘Elisabeth.’ She answered, just as automatically. ‘If you’d like to talk, I’ll be there for you whenever you’re ready.’
I nodded slowly and spent some more minutes gazing out at the ocean in complete silence. Elisabeth didn’t move an inch either, as though she was instinctively feeling that I had a shipload of stuff on my heart that needed to be talked about, and that I just needed time to make up my mind about where to start. I was thankful that she decided to be a friend in a moment I really needed one, even more so as she didn’t have any reason to do so.
‘What is it about the Trust?’ I finally managed. ‘Are they as dangerous as Burbank wanted to make us believe?’
‘That’s a difficult question with an even more difficult answer.’ Elisabeth sighed. ‘We know they’ve infiltrated many government departments, but we can’t be sure about their ranks there. They’re very subtle in everything they do, so we often only find out about their actions when it’s already too late. I wish it were different, easier, but it seems we’re not safe here yet, regardless of the fact that we caught the saboteur.’
‘Thought so.’ I mumbled, feeling a bit lost. ‘But as long as we don’t get new personnel from the Milky Way, we’re at least safe here, at least for a while.’
Elisabeth nodded, suddenly looking endlessly tired, as though she had been through all of this for too long and too many times.
‘How do you do this?’ The question had just popped up in my mind. ‘How can you survive being terrorized by the Wraith all the time? I’ve just spent a few hours on a hive ship confronted with the threat of never getting out of there alive, and I know I can’t go through this again. So how do you all handle it?’
‘It’s hard to explain.’ She said thoughtfully. ‘It may sound like a stupid cliché, but I think it’s because we always have people to defend and take care for. As long as you know what you’re fighting for, you’re able to carry on.’
I nodded slowly. ‘That makes a lot of sense, actually.’
‘You’ve had something, someone worth fighting for up there in the hive ship.’ Elisabeth spoke again after a few minutes of comfortable silence. ‘Or am I mistaken?’
I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply before I managed to speak. ‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s quite unusual for an Asgard to take a human’s hand to calm her down and keep her from beating someone up.’ She said with a smile, winking. ‘It’s actually even quite unusual for an Asgard to react on human actions in the first place.’
Oh, crap! Was it really that obvious? That came so unexpected that it made me choke. It took a while until I got my mental and emotional balance back.
‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of.’ Elisabeth reassured me. ‘It’s just… it really warmed my heart that none of you was fighting just for themselves.’
‘We somehow kept each other going.’ I said quietly. ‘I’m sure they’ve told you about all the injuries I’ve come by while being on the hive ship. I’ve got many of them in my attempt to protect Hermiod. He’s so…’ I was lost for words for a moment. ‚He’s so frail, you know. The Wraith would have killed him so easily and I couldn’t let that happen.’
With the back of my hand I wiped away some tears that had found their way into my eyes. At no cost did I want Elisabeth to see how much this revelation moved me. The realization had just started another avalanche, as though I hadn’t had enough of those already.
Elisabeth put her hand on my arm, carefully caressing it. ‘To care for others is what defines us as human beings, Aegeti. We wouldn’t make it a single day in this galaxy, if we didn’t care for each other. It’s our innermost need not to be alone when times get rough. Everyone deserves a soul to connect to.’
Maybe she was right, but I just didn’t know.
‘It’s just that I’m not very likely to connect to anyone.’ I told her quietly, still having a hard time holding back stupid and useless tears.
‘Or you just haven’t given yourself a chance to connect yet.’ Elisabeth suggested, taking her hand back, and moved to stand with her back against the railing in order to observe me better.
I remained silent for a long time, because it was anything but easy to calm down and get my head back together. It were moments like these that made me doubt all the decisions that had led me to this particular time and place. Maybe I should have answered General O’Neill’s question with a no, turned around and left. Maybe I should have declined the assignment to the Daedalus and instead stayed at my boring laboratory at Area 51. Maybe I should have stayed back in Atlantis instead of going to Hoth while I wasn’t at my best health yet and there was still the danger of attacking Wraith out there. In moments like these everything felt so wrong as though I had walked in the wrong direction for a long while without noticing. But it was also a direction that had led me directly to Hermiod, and I was so not ready to connect with him.
‘It sometimes appears to me that life in space changes people in many ways.’ Elisabeth began musing after I hadn’t said anything for too long. ‘We seem to be getting closer to each other in the knowledge that certain death is waiting just around the corner. On the Daedalus, I often thought about the fact of only a few centimetres of Trinium between us and the vacuum, and it’s indeed a symbol for what we’re doing here, isn’t it? We’re constantly walking on a very thin edge where we have to risk our lives again and again. But on the other hand, we’re also at a place we never even dreamt to belong to and would most likely never have found out if there hadn’t been a handful of circumstances that brought us here. A few years ago we didn’t even know we’re the ancestors of one of the most advanced races of all times, but we have it in our genes. Atlantis reacts on us because of those genes. It welcomed us when we stepped through the Stargate. We’re part of something that is so much bigger than us, larger than life, and we have all that’s necessary to live up to what we’re capable of. It never really counted where we came from, it’s only important where we are now, who we are and who we want to be. There’s no wrong or right. In the moment a path shows itself to us, why not be brave and take a step onto it? Why not take those with us that make a difference in our lives, no matter how alien they seem to us?’
Wow, now that was some incredible speech. I took all of Elisabeth’s words, inhaled them deeply and let them settle in my brain.
‘That’s the true explorer’s spirit, isn’t it?’ I finally managed. ‘To take a risk and go with it?’
Elisabeth smiled widely, understanding how very well she had aimed and hit the target. I just hadn’t expected such an emotional speech at an accidental late night meeting.
‘Indeed, it is.’ She patted my shoulder amicably. ‘I’ve experienced that we get along best as long as we trust ourselves. Here in Atlantis it doesn’t count what we left back on Earth.’
I’m admittedly a big fan of people who are able to come to the correct conclusion without lots of talking. Maybe she had read my file, but that didn’t tell much about the life I had led before I had joined Stargate Command. Still, she seemed to know enough to analyse my shyness and hesitation.
‘They told me you’re one of the best at what you’re doing.’ She changed topics, completely aware that I wasn’t able to contribute anything to the current discussion.
‘I don’t think so.’ I said honestly. ‘But as people keep telling me that, I must admit that it’s maybe not totally wrong.’
Elisabeth laughed quietly. ‘Unnecessary humbleness is something that the Asgard definitely don’t understand.’
I stared at her in bewilderment, but she just kept smiling, then patted my shoulder once more and turned to leave. ‘Have a good night, Aegeti.’
And off she went, leaving me alone to deal with what she just had told me. When it had finally settled, I spun around swiftly and ran after her.
‘Elisabeth!’ I yelled down an empty corridor, closing up to her. She stood and turned to me, a warm smile on her face.
‘Would you…’ I breathed. ‘Would you please not tell anyone… you know…’
‘My lips are sealed.’ She promised, her smile even warmer.
Walking back to my quarters, I began wracking my brain as to how I should carry on with this whole situation. Though, first I had to get a good cup of sleep, because tomorrow was going to be a busy day aboard the Daedalus.
--
It was already noon when I arrived at Hoth the next day. I had taken the chance to sleep in and have a very opulent breakfast that included three cups of coffee to get awake. As the Beliskner had already left in the morning, I went with one of the Jumper teams. I was OK with that, because for the moment I wasn’t ready to see the Asgard anyway, any Asgard. I still hadn’t made up my mind how to proceed in terms of Hermiod, because I was still completely overwhelmed by his very determined offer to be my, lacking a better word, boyfriend. That was indeed too much to cope with in just one night, especially one night that I had slept like the dead, given the fact that all the injuries and the healing of them had exhausted me to no end. Colonel Caldwell had told me the evening before that I should take it slow and not feel obligated to show up early in the morning, and I was honestly thankful for that. Now I was wide awake and eager to get to work.
Around and inside the Daedalus were lots of people, the whole place was buzzing with life. Some of those people carried all the rubble out of the damaged ship, while others were already busy doing repairs and replacing broken components. I felt a little lost, to be honest, because everybody, except myself, seemed to have an assignment.
I decided to have a look at Engineering first before I tried to find Colonel Caldwell somewhere, who was surely at a hundred places at the same time, because there were lots of decisions to be made. When I entered the room I saw with delight that the huge cracks in the wall had already been replaced with brand new bulkheads and plates. There was a lot of hardware all over the place, some from Earth and others obviously Asgard. Though, besides two men, who were mounting an array of monitors to one of the walls, there was no one to be seen. Even Hermiod, whom I would have expected here, was notably absent. On one of the Asgard devices that were standing around loosely, I saw something that definitely didn’t belong in an engine room. It was way too organic.
When I stepped closer, I realized it was a bunch of flowers, shining in brilliant shades of blue. I’ve seen that sort somewhere at the Lantean shore but never had enough time to go there and actually pick some, although I liked them very much. I picked the flowers from the console to find out how they smelled, then I saw a piece of paper that was lying right underneath the bouquet. I unfolded it carefully with my free hand and saw myself confronted with Asgard runes. I should have suspected that. Although I had learnt to understand all the technical terms necessary for running the Asgard computer system, I hadn’t managed yet to learn the language itself. Right now I regretted that deeply.
I carefully turned to the men who were still busy mounting the monitors and cleared my throat. They didn’t belong to my team, so I had no idea who had sent them and how I was supposed to address them.
‘Uhm, excuse me?’ I managed timidly, and when they both looked at me, I had to be brave and ask my question. There was no chance anymore to just leave and ignore that I had just found some flowers in my engine room, obviously put there by a certain Asgard.
‘Has anyone else been in this room before I came in?’ I asked in a firm voice, not showing how awkward I actually felt.
‘You mean besides that scrawny grey… whatever?’ One of the men asked.
‘He’s an Asgard.’ I retorted, slightly annoyed by the disrespect. ‘His name is Hermiod.’
‘Yeah, exactly, that guy.’ The man went on, ignoring my rush of anger completely. ‘He put some flowers on the console, mumbled something about that he had to check whatever somewhere and left. That was about an hour ago.’
‘Wait.’ The other man said, scratching his head. ‘He told me that we should keep our fingers from that bunch of flowers and allow nobody but Dr Talvi to take them. I assume you’re Dr Talvi?’
‘That I am.’ I confirmed, raising my brows. ‘And that’s all he said?’
‘Well, I’ve been wondering, actually.’ The first man mused. ‘I mean, an Asgard? Leaving flowers for a human? How weird is that?’
I glared at him, admittedly feeling uncomfortable at the thought of upcoming consequences in form of all sorts of rumours. Oh, well…
‘I’ve never heard anything like that.’ The second man let me know. ‘You know, Asgard… they don’t even have…’
‘I perfectly know what they have and don’t have.’ I cut in, getting more and more irritated. ‘Is there a place in your head for the possibility of giving someone a present out of friendship?’
The two men looked at each other awkwardly, but didn’t utter any further words.
‘Now, now.’ I shooed them away. ‘You’ve got work to do, right?’
Suddenly they seemed to remember that I was head of Engineering and therefore their boss. That’s why they got back to their array of monitors in an instant, while I was still standing in the middle of the room, holding a bunch of flowers in my hand, presumably Hermiod’s, and felt pretty lost. I had absolutely no clue how to react on his present, even more so as I didn’t understand the Asgard runes on the piece of paper. First, since when did the Asgard use paper anyway and where did he get a pen, and second, why didn’t he just write English? Did he want me to play Sherlock and go solving weird riddles while I had much more important matters to care for?
I put the flowers back to where I had found them and let the piece of paper slip into one of the pockets of my jacket. Later, back in Atlantis, I would use a translation program to figure out what those runes meant, but for the moment I preferred finding Colonel Caldwell.
I decided to head to the bridge, because that was the most likely place to expect the Colonel’s whereabouts, and I was lucky, indeed. He was just throwing orders around, when I closed up to him and cleared my throat.
‘Dr Talvi!’ He greeted me with enthusiasm. ‘It’s really good to see you. Is everything alright?’
It was clear to me how much he enjoyed the fact that we were finally able to start the repairs on the Daedalus. I knew how much the spaceship actually meant to him and how much this disastrous event had hit him. To see him in such good mood today was indeed delighting.
‘Thanks, Colonel. I’m fine.’ I reassured him. ‘I’ve just been down at Engineering and saw that a lot of work has already been done without me, but there’s still a lot to do. Though, I was wondering if I could get some more personnel. There are only two guys down there who are not even part of my team. I know, we lost a lot of people, but still… where are all those I can rely on? Also, there’s a lot of Asgard hardware all over the place, but not one single Asgard to be seen. Without them it’s impossible to add their hardware to the Daedalus’s systems. I suppose I need a bit more info to really get back to work.’
‘Now that you say it…’ Caldwell mused thoughtfully. ‘I’ve talked to Thor who told me to contact him as soon as you’ve arrived. I’ve also seen Hermiod scurrying around earlier this morning, carrying a bunch of flowers. I have no idea what they’re good for, though, maybe he wanted Engineering to look a bit friendlier.’
I stifled a laugh because of his cluelessness. Obviously, many people seemed to read more into my friendship with Hermiod than there actually was, but Caldwell wasn’t one of them. I was honestly glad about that.
‘Well then.’ I ignored the flowers part completely. ‘It’s time to call Thor, right?’
--
Caldwell had ordered one of his officers to call Thor and then decided to accompany me to Engineering. He seemed to be of the opinion that there wasn’t a single part of the Daedalus that didn’t need his attention, but I was OK with it, because as long as Caldwell was there, drawing all attention to him, people expected less from me.
When we arrived, the engine room wasn’t as empty anymore as I had left it a while ago. The two guys, whose names were still a mystery to me, were currently busy mounting servers into a rack and therefore didn’t pay any attention to our arrival. To be honest, the two Asgard who had gathered behind one of the alien workstations were much more interesting to me anyway. There was Hermiod, of course, who looked extremely eager today, and there was another Asgard whom I had never seen before.
‘Hermiod, Dellingur, good afternoon.’ Caldwell greeted them both, obviously having received more information from Thor than me. I remembered Dellingur’s name from the discussions about the saboteur. He was one of the system programmers and an expert on the interfaces between Asgard and Earth technology. He had most likely come here to supervise the installation of their computers and other systems on the Daedalus.
‘Colonel Caldwell.’ Dellingur just said. ‘I need to talk to you on the matter of retrieving the Daedalus from this planet. According to our calculations, the Beliskner would be able to tow the ship back to Atlantis as soon as the hyperdrive is running again and all outer damages are remedied. It would be much more convenient for all of us to continue our work on Lantea, given the fact of the warmer climate.’
‘That is awesome news!’ I couldn’t help but blurt out. ‘Let’s get away from here, better now than later.’
‘This is good news, indeed.’ Caldwell approved. ‘Our technicians are almost done with fixing said outer damages. I think we’ll only need one or two additional days. As soon as we can be sure the Daedalus won’t fall apart in the process, I’ll be more than glad to move her out of this freezing hell.’
‘Confirmed.’ Dellingur tilted his head in approval. ‘We can begin with our activities right away. I’d appreciate your assistance, Dr Talvi. As far as I’m informed, you’re familiar with Asgard technology.’
‘Sure.’ I acknowledged. ‘Right on duty.’
‘Fine.’ Caldwell nodded in my direction. ‘Keep going. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call me. Oh, and nice flowers there.’
And off he went, leaving me alone with those two Asgards and the two technicians on the other side of the room who were secretly glancing in my direction every once in a while. It seemed like they were still pondering about Hermiod giving me flowers.
Concerning flowers… the bouquet was still sitting on the console, untouched.
I went over to Dellingur who instantly began to fill me in with tons of information what he wanted to do, how and when he wanted to do it, what he expected from me and the like. He was talking at such speed that I had no chance to intercept at any point and therefore just could listen and nod. In the meantime, I was watching Hermiod who stood a bit in the background, obviously already knowing what Dellingur was telling me.
Hermiod’s eyes were focussed on the flowers for a while, then on me. After a few minutes he went to inspect them closer and looked quite satisfied when he discovered that the piece of paper was gone. I really had to find out what those Asgard runes meant and put it quite on top of my list of priorities.
I got my chance when Dellingur sent Hermiod to check some interfaces on the bridge, and I decided to take it as long as it lasted.
‘Dellingur.’ I spoke carefully, walking over to the Asgard whose head was, almost literally, stuck inside the control station for the hyperdrive. ‘May I ask you a question?’
He looked up interestedly and tilted his head, a sign for me to proceed.
‘I have a piece of Asgard writing here.’ I handed the piece of paper over to him. ‘I don’t understand your language well, neither am I firm with reading the runes. I wonder if you could maybe help me out.’
Honestly, I had no idea where the courage came from that made me let Dellingur in on this whole embarrassing matter, but he was my best choice for the moment, because I wanted the riddle to be solved now, and it would take many more hours until I got back to Atlantis to ask the computer. Also, Dellingur wasn’t involved in anything and would most likely not even be interested enough to ask awkward questions. I wondered if he was even able to talk about anything else than computers and hyperdrives and transporters.
Now he took the piece of paper out of my hand and read it carefully, raising his brows.
‘It’s an invitation.’ He finally let me know, puzzlement in his expression. ‘It’s from Hermiod.’
If this whole matter wasn’t so serious, I would have laughed or said something sarcastic, but I decided to remain silent and listen to what else Dellingur would tell me.
‘He wants you to meet him on the balcony of the seventh floor of Atlantis’s west tower.’ The Asgard continued emotionlessly. ‘At 9 p.m. He also writes that he wants you to be on time.’
I realized that the whole room had fallen into complete silence. The technicians had stopped working on their servers and Dellingur looked at me with what I read as surprise.
‘Can’t Hermiod discuss matters here?’ He wondered. ‘Why first go to Atlantis? There’s no business there before the Daedalus hasn’t been brought to Lantea.’
The Asgard’s obliviousness was hilarious, actually, and I had no clue how to explain to him that Hermiod wasn’t out to talk about work but wanted to actually date me. None of his people had spent as much time studying humans and their weird rituals as Hermiod. I assumed that it wasn’t even possible to explain something like a date to any Asgard that wasn’t Hermiod.
‘Mike, I’ve told you he wants to date her.’ One of the technicians finally said to the other, whose only reaction was snorting. I had a hard time not to start laughing as well, because this whole situation was ridiculous in so many ways. Hermiod didn’t have the slightest clue what he was doing, he seemingly just went along with a standard list of how to woo a girl.
‘I suppose it’d be best, if we all just started to act like grown-ups again and get back to work!’ I hissed in the men’s direction. Mike raised his hands, mockingly trying to apologize. The other (I didn’t even want to know his name!) turned around to the server rack. They were obviously enjoying this.
Dellingur, though, still looked at me in bewilderment, waiting for an explanation.
‘Look, this is just some… human thing.’ I tried to wriggle out of this most embarrassing situation. ‘Some kind of… you know, private meeting.’
‘I actually know what a date is.’ Dellingur put me off. ‘Though, I wonder if Hermiod really knows what he’s doing. Either way, let’s get back to the hyperdrive. We have work to do.’
I was honestly thankful that he decided not to torment me any longer and instead do what we were both here for. I trusted Dellingur not to tell everyone what he had witnessed. But I totally didn’t trust those technicians who’d surely leak the latest news to everyone on the Daedalus and in Atlantis, and start lots of gossiping. Sometimes, especially in moments like these, I hated humans.
On the other hand, now that Mike and his co-worker were about to tell the world about me dating an Asgard, I could as well just go with it. I suddenly had an epiphany.
--
The dating history of Aegeti Talvi is most impressive, especially because it’s as good as non-existent. I’ve been out with one or two guys back at college, but one of them was an asshole who just wanted someone to pay for his drinks, and the other one had a bet running with his buddies whether it was possible to get me laid or not. He lost the bet and I wasn’t laid. There was also that guy at university who really seemed to like me, and I somehow liked him back, but I was just not ready for being in any sort of relationship. I’ve always preferred spending my time with computers and technical magazines instead of people. I had always been extremely self-insecure, but when this annoying habit of my hiccups started, I had lost my interest in social interacting completely. That’s why I excelled at my job and epically failed at socializing. To be honest, I was of the firm opinion that some people were made to grow old alone, and I saw myself as one of them.
Of course, in my mind I had always dreamt of a knight in shining armour who’d just come along to ride with me into the sunset. In my heart I was longing for romance, but I considered it so unrealistic that I had shut down my interest in other people in general. I had a few friends, but that’s all. I was completely immune to all kinds of sexual interest, that’s why I was oblivious to respective attempts. I knew the knight would never come, and I had grown comfortable with it, considering it a fact I had to live with. And that’s the reason why not even in my wildest dreams I would have suspected Hermiod of all people to woo me. The thought alone was so absurd that I’d never have taken it into account, and now I had to realize that Hermiod had some kind of crush on me, not only since yesterday but for quite some time already. He obviously had studied me, otherwise he hadn’t known that I loved flowers and the colour blue. I wondered what else he had found out to surprise me in the evening.
I had mixed emotions concerning the evening. Part of me was dreading it, part of me was looking forward to it. But the greatest part of me just wanted to get lost in hyperspace to never be found, just to avoid an epic fail.
No, there were no knights in shining armour out there, but obviously there were aliens in shiny spaceships, and that was maybe exactly what I was meant to find.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 – Close Encounter

I returned to Atlantis about 8 p.m. that evening, enough time to get ready for my presumed date. Oddly enough, I had been caught up in my work so much that Dellingur had reminded me at some point that it was time to go and that there was a Jumper just waiting for me. A part of me had wished to just forget my… appointment, but now that it knew I had no chance to chicken out anymore, I began setting my mind on what was about to happen tonight.
I still had no idea what Hermiod might have planned, but I decided to give the matter a chance. The whole day I hadn’t been able to keep my mind off of the Asgard, and at some point I had come to the conclusion that I really felt more for him than just friendship. That’s why I was ready now to take a little risk and give him the chance he really deserved.
I remembered Elisabeth’s words, and the more often I repeated them mentally, the more truth I found in them.
I first went to my quarters to take a shower and dress decently, because I didn’t want to show up in my work clothes at my first date in ages, even more so as this was really something special to me. It had a meaning, and I wanted to do everything right.
Luckily, Mike and his co-worker (whose name was Colin, as I found out in the afternoon when we all had finally decided to act like grown-ups) had still been busy with their servers at the time I had left the Daedalus, so there was a good chance they hadn’t told anything to anyone yet. I intentionally hadn’t told them to keep their mouths shut, because I perfectly knew that it wouldn’t be of help anyway. “Let them gossip.” I told myself. “It’s Atlantis, after all. We’re only a few hundred people, so there’s no chance for secrecy anyways.”
Still, my self-insecurity made me feel horrible and brought me a very persistent hiccup for almost half an hour. I was sweating and shaking all over, when I finally found myself able to leave my quarters and walk to the elevator. Why the hell did I even do this? I should’ve written Hermiod a letter (maybe even with Asgard runes) that dating me was anything but a good idea.
I hadn’t seen much of Hermiod in the afternoon, because he had been working on the bridge and we had only been talking via headset. I was more than glad about this, as I didn’t know how to act around him anyway. At some point Dellingur had told me Hermiod had left the Daedalus, presumably heading to Atlantis. I started suspecting Dellingur being Hermiod’s secret partner in crime.
Fortunately, there were only a few people in the west corridors. They didn’t even notice me when I scurried past them. I was sure that the word ‘panic’ was written on my forehead in huge letters, hence I was more than relieved when I arrived at the transporter without any encounters with people who knew me well enough to stop and talk to me. Now I stood in front of the transporter’s open doors, but didn’t dare to step inside.
“Aegeti!” I called myself to order. “It’s only Hermiod! It’s not like you’ve never met him before, and you know he means no harm!” That was helpful enough to finally make my way to the seventh floor of the west tower. Seven was a lucky number, right?
When I left the transporter and stepped out on the balcony, I got aware of two things that were in perfect harmony. The sun was almost about to set and was so blinding for a moment that I could only see Hermiod’s silhouette that looked like a perfect paper cut and made me see his alien features very well. When my eyes had finally adjusted to the brightness, I was able to see details. Up until now I had only seen Hermiod in the artificial light aboard several spaceships, but now in the open sunlight his pearlescent skin was beautiful and in perfect contrast to his big black almond shaped eyes. Indeed, he looked very alien, very strange, but no less beautiful.
After I had stared at him speechlessly for quite a while, he tilted his head questioningly.
‘Aegeti, are you alright?’ He asked, almost hesitant.
‘What…?’ My mind finally kicked in again. ‘Oh, yes, yes, I’m fine… it’s just, you know, I’ve never seen you in natural lighting.’
‘Don’t you like what you see?’ He asked, sounding worried. I just smiled. I definitely wouldn’t tell him that I found him beautiful in all his alien-ness.
After an awkward moment of him looking puzzled and me trying to not make a fool out of myself, he reached out a hand to me. I had already realized that the balcony was empty except the two of us, so I assumed that whatever Hermiod was planning for tonight, it wouldn’t take place here. I wasn’t sure what to make out of that, because I dreaded having to leave the safety of Atlantis. However, I carefully took his hand in mine, watched him wrapping his long fingers around it, and held my breath.
‘Do you trust me?’ He asked quietly. I could only nod, lost for words. I was a tad angry about myself for being speechless, but on the other hand, he already knew that I trusted him anyway. ‘Then close your eyes, Aegeti.’
I closed my eyes when we were embraced by an Asgard transporter beam that carried us elsewhere. I wondered where Hermiod would take us, but I wasn’t worried, because I trusted him unconditionally. I admit that I hadn’t spent all too much thought on the matter of where this date would take place, because I had already enough to think about how I would go through it without causing a total mess with my utterly clumsy Aegeti-ness.
‘You may open your eyes again.’ Hermiod said softly.
I inhaled deeply before I opened my eyes. What I saw then was breath-taking, to say the least. The elegant Asgard design all around showed me that we were most likely aboard the Beliskner. It was a big room, one wall of it had been replaced with a huge window that allowed a very exquisite look at Lantea and the sun that would soon set upon Atlantis. I shivered slightly, faced with so much beauty, then I looked around the room that was decorated with hundreds and hundreds of blue Lantean roses. On the floor there was, besides the flowers, nothing but a soft blue blanket. Somehow everything in this room was coloured in various shades of blue that harmonized perfectly with the star-specked sky and the blue ocean that could be seen outside. I’ve never before been at a place of such excessive beauty. Every other guy, that much I knew, would have brought me to a beach to watch the sunset, but Hermiod was no ordinary guy. After all, he had a spaceship at his disposal.
My knees were so wobbly that I sank down on the blanket, but not one second did I move my eyes from this wonderful spectacular view.
‘Hermiod, that’s amazing.’ I whispered, not wanting to speak louder, so I wouldn’t destroy this moment of peace and wonderment.
‘I’m glad you like it.’ He replied and sat down beside me, obviously happy with himself. ‘I know that human females like to enjoy a beautiful sunset.’
I couldn’t help but smile about his matter-of-fact manner of speaking. It was so typical Hermiod to point out the obvious. Added to that, he was also right with his assumption about sunsets.
‘Did you read a book on this?’ I asked half-jokingly.
‘I’ve once listened to a conversation that you had with Lieutenant Cadman aboard the Daedalus.’ Hermiod informed me. ‘You told her that if a man wanted to win your heart, he’d have a not-so-bad chance if he showed you the most spectacular sunset he can think of and surround you with roses. I made my plans according to this.’
‘So you want to win my heart?’ I asked sheepishly, surprised that he remembered a conversation that had taken place months ago.
He looked at me intently with those almond shaped eyes, a thoughtful expression on his face.
‘Yes.’ He said quietly. ‘And not only for the sake of science.’
The seriousness and honesty in those words touched me deeply, because up until now, even after the conversation we had had at the infirmary, things had been somehow playful, light-hearted. But now I had to realize that Hermiod meant every word he said, that he was dead serious and that he had chosen me long ago already.
But I didn’t know how to respond to him. Not at all. A great part of me wanted to just disappear, not because of him in particular but because of my constant panic of letting someone get too close to me, the fear of losing control over my life. Though, there was also another part that wanted to give in to this, not for the sake of science or adventure, but for the truth that was unfolding in my heart.
Another part of me reminded me constantly that he was a grey, scrawny, four feet tall alien that would never be able to date anyone from his own species because there was no need for them anymore to choose a partner, and that, whatever this was about to become, would never be a normal relationship like most people had.
It was something extraordinary.
And I was such a goddamn coward!
‘Listen.’ He finally managed after I hadn’t uttered a word for a far too long time. ‘I know what I am, I know that you deserve someone who can give you whatever a human female deserves and expects. Still, I had to tell you at some point that Asgards do have hearts and that we indeed are able to get attached to someone. It’s very uncommon in our species, but after I’ve spent so much time with humans – with you – I know there’s more to life than just science. I… need a place to belong to.’
That little speech was heart-breaking in so many ways, because it opened my eyes to the very sad fact that Hermiod was lonely and that he wanted to fill this lonely space with me. This was not just a date, it was a moment of revelation. For the both of us.
I’ve never before been so lost for words like in this very moment. I felt my heart beating fast and tears were streaming down my cheeks, while the sun finally set upon Lantea and only left myriads of stars and the far lights of Atlantis. That was way too much for me to take.
‘Why are you crying?’ Hermiod asked worriedly, his voice so low that I could hardly hear him.
‘It’s nothing.’ I murmured, wiping the tears from my eyes. ‘I just… I’m speechless. You know, I’d never have expected that you’re… that you’re so romantic and desperate at the same time.’
‘I’m sorry.’ He said, obviously not knowing how to react.
‘No, Hermiod.’ I continued speaking hastily. ‘No, there’s nothing to be sorry for. I just… wasn’t ready for this. I mean, I was expecting us having dinner together or whatever people do at their first date, but I should have known…’
‘I’m an Asgard, Aegeti.’ He reminded me quietly, looking to the floor. ‘I don’t know how it’s done. I just did what you’ve once told me humans do when they’re unsure about something. I followed my heart…’
I nodded, swallowing hard. Of course he was an Asgard, and of course he couldn’t have a clue about all the complexities of human courtship. Of course, they had studied humans, they were curious explorers, after all, but there’s always a huge difference between what you see from afar and what actually is happening. It was only natural that he was oblivious of all the facets of human behaviour. I couldn’t even imagine how confused he must have been.
He came from a galaxy that could only be reached using an advanced Asgard hyperdrive, after all. Without their amazing technology they’d never have made their way to the Milky Way and we’d never have met. This had a meaning that was way larger than us.
‘Why?’ I managed a question. ‘Why me? Why now?’
‘Because you mean something to me, Aegeti.’ He said honestly. ‘You’re not just a co-worker. You showed me so often that you don’t make a difference between humans and aliens. You’re always gentle, you’ve stood up for me so often when people discriminated me. And after you’ve risked your own life twice in order to save mine, I’ve come to the conclusion that you like me, too.’
I’ll never be not fascinated by the imperturbable logic he kept confronting me with. From Hermiod’s point of view everything seemed to always make sense. I realized that it was only the complexity of my own experiences that made the whole situation so difficult and awkward. When I broke down all the facts into bare essentials, I knew that, putting aside all my insecurities and concerns, it was actually very simple. Maybe I should just do what he did and follow my heart.
I looked out at the dark sky, let my eyes wander down to Atlantis that was shimmering brightly. I had come to Lantea to find something new, something I didn’t know and didn’t have before. I had joined Stargate Command because I knew that I wouldn’t find any kind of luck on planet Earth. And now, at the other end of the universe, I seemed to have found it eventually. So why the hell was I so shy about it?
Because I’ve always been shy and old habits die hard.
I looked at Hermiod for quite a while, still insecure but also kind of approving. It seemed to give him enough courage to take a further step, because he came closer and placed a very soft and careful kiss on my forehead, a kiss that made shivers run down my spine.
‘You’ve taught me that humans do this when they like someone very much.’ He said apologetically when I looked at him in bewilderment. I couldn’t help but smile.
Lost in thought, I took one of the Lantean roses and twisted it between my fingers. There was nothing I could say or do. I kept my attention to the flower, helplessly struggling for words, but to no avail. I didn’t know what to tell him, how to tell him how much I appreciated this beautiful setting he had prepared for us, how much I enjoyed being with him under this star-specked sky, how his kiss made me feel. Speaking of avalanches and how little a mere human could do against them.
‘I don’t expect you to …love me.’ He filled the silence. ‘Just…’
‘Please.’ I whispered. ‘Don’t ruin the moment with words.’
He looked at me with a most perplexed expression. Now it was seemingly him who was lost for words. I wondered how awkward all of this must feel for him and realized that at the same time I didn’t feel awkward anymore.
I realized that I had found a place I belonged to, a place that I had sought all my life and that I had already lost hope for ever finding. I had found it in the very moment I had first crossed Hermiod’s way. To hell with all the mocking that awaited me in Atlantis as soon as everyone found out I was with Hermiod. To hell with what people would think. Again, I remembered Elisabeth’s words.
‘In the moment a path shows itself to us, why not be brave and take a step onto it? Why not take those with us that make a difference in our life, no matter how alien they seem to us?’ I whispered softly.
Hermiod gave me a puzzled glance that made me smile. ‘It’s something a friend told me not long ago.’ I explained. ‘She’s a woman so much wiser than me.’
‘The Asgard are wise people, too.’ He said. ‘That’s why I know that some things are worth it, no matter the cost.’
‘Seems everyone around me is wiser than me, then.’ I replied jokingly, finally defusing the tension.
‘It seems so.’ He acknowledged.
Hermiod took my hand in his carefully, but I felt that it wasn’t enough to just hold hands to reassure him, to make him realize that I had come to a decision. I just wasn’t able to put my thoughts into words right now, that’s why I wrapped my arms around his frail body and held him for a while, my cheek at his cheek, my heartbeat next to his. And still I cried. Tonight I cried more than I’ve ever cried since I had been a very small child.
Hermiod reacted to my gesture in wrapping his long arms around my neck, pulling me even closer. We held on to each other for what felt an eternity, none of us uttering a word.
There was no word necessary, nothing to voice, because everything was alright.
--
It felt completely right to hold Hermiod in my arms, natural in every way, as though the universe had decided for us to be a perfect match. Though, I held him very carefully, because I had no idea yet, if I’d accidentally hurt him just because I was too passionate. Holding him felt like holding a little bird. Everything about him seemed so fragile.
I didn’t feel weird or awkward any longer, instead I was completely at peace with myself and the universe alike. Fate, in case I’d decide to believe in it, had the worst humour possible, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had to travel to a foreign galaxy to meet the one.
The one.
To be honest, at that time I didn’t really know what I actually felt for Hermiod. The whole matter was so strange in so many ways. I held a being in my arms that couldn’t be more alien. His physical appearance was completely different from mine. His odd way of speaking and moving was so, well, extra-terrestrial. Still, I couldn’t get enough of looking into his big black almond shaped eyes that held more emotion than most humans would think he was capable of. Hermiod was able to tell a whole story just with his eyes and facial expressions, but one could only understand them when looking very closely.
I just really didn’t know whether I was in love, because when it came to that, I didn’t trust myself at all.
‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.’ I suddenly heard him say, being totally startled because I hadn’t expected him to talk.
‘Good things take time.’ I replied. ‘Sometimes even too much time.’
I let go of Hermiod to look at him. It’s hard to explain what I felt at that moment, because I had an impression of seeing him through completely different eyes all of a sudden. Now he was no longer my co-worker and friend only. I almost couldn’t handle how much my perception of him had changed just because he had told me the truth about his feelings. Oddly enough, I would never have thought he’d even be able to actually feel, at least not to that extend. Also, Hermiod was most likely the only Asgard who wasn’t uncomfortable with physical contact.
I raised my hand to gently caress his cheek and wipe away some of my stray tears from it that still stuck there after the contact. He didn’t even flinch, just let it happen. Then I wiped away the tears from my own cheek and gave him a smile, the most loving smile I was able to produce.
‘Thank you, Hermiod.’ I said softly. ‘Thank you for all of this. It’s the most wonderful evening of my life.’
‘But why do you cry, then?’ He asked, uncertainty in his voice. ‘As far as I know, humans cry when they’re sad. What have I done to make you sad?’
I laughed quietly, not taking my eyes from his puzzled look. ‘We also cry when we’re overwhelmed and happy. Humans are quite illogical when it comes to that.’
‘Are you happy?’ He wanted to know.
‘Yes, Hermiod, I am happy.’ I reassured him. ‘I’ve never been happier.’
The expression on Hermiod’s face was very hard to read, because I had never seen it before.
‘And you?’ I asked, after he hadn’t said anything for a while and I was growing insecure again.
‘I’m seeing myself in a most fortunate situation.’ He admitted. ‘Even more so as I’ve never thought I’d ever be courageous enough to tell you the truth about me. Maybe I should be thankful towards the Wraith and M4X-773. If we hadn’t been thrown into two catastrophes together in such a short time, I’d maybe never have found out that you…’ He trailed off and looked away.
‘…feel the same?’ I completed the sentence.
‘I wasn’t even sure what I was feeling.’ He admitted in a low voice. ‘I’m an Asgard, after all, I’m not even supposed to be in a situation like this. We don’t fall in love or do anything of what humans commonly do.’
‘I’ve been wondering, actually.’ I mused. ‘I’ve thought that Asgard bodies aren’t even able to produce hormones like dopamine, serotonin and whatnot.’
‘There’s a lot you don’t know about us, Aegeti.’ He explained patiently. ‘It depends on a clone’s qualities. Some are better, others are worse, and I’m just… lucky, as it seems.’
Of course, I did know about the fact that the Asgard were cloners. They had lost their ability to reproduce naturally many thousands of years ago already, but I had never spent much thought on that or on the fact that living in a body that was just a copy of a copy could be problematic in any way. I scolded myself for my ignorance.
Though, at the moment I only wondered how old Hermiod really was, given the fact that the Asgard were transferring their mind patterns from one clone to the next whenever they ‘died’. Somehow it felt good to be with someone who had already seen so much.
I made myself comfortable on the soft blanket, resting my head on my arm. From down there I could watch Hermiod even better. Looking up at him was so unusual, yet comfortable. I made a note to myself that I’d give him many more moments where he didn’t have to look up at me. To him, it was surely good for a change, given the fact that most humans, when looking down on him, did it with disrespect.
‘Come.’ I said softly. ‘Lie with me. Let’s watch the stars.’
He lay down beside me very carefully, obviously not sure what was the point in watching the stars. From an Asgard point of view this maybe really didn’t make any sense, because it was for no particular purpose.
‘They don’t do anything that’s worth watching.’ Hermiod therefore pointed out. ‘Wouldn’t it be more interesting to watch a supernova?’
‘We can go watching supernovae at any other time, Hermiod.’ I declined, smiling. ‘But right now, I just want to enjoy the beauty of these surroundings with you. Just us. Just the stars, the roses, you and me. That’s more than enough for now.’
‘So is this something humans do when they’re on a date?’ He asked interestedly while observing the night sky. ‘Is it considered romantic?’
‘Oh, yes, it’s absolutely considered romantic.’ I assured him. ‘Though, I think I like it mostly because it’s beautiful to see that among all those myriads of stars, this vast universe, we’re so small, so meaningless, and still we’re able to give our lives a meaning greater than ourselves in the very moment we… let someone in. If you know what I mean…’
Hermiod looked at me thoughtfully, comprehension in his eyes. It warmed my heart that he understood the meaning of my unsorted words without me having to explain them further. Mutual understanding was one of the things I’d never have expected with an alien.
Alien. I should really have stopped long ago to mentally call him an alien, because out here all of us were aliens. It just didn’t matter where we came from. In this very moment I knew the only thing important was where we were going to, and that we were heading in the same direction now.
Hermiod made himself more comfortable, getting closer to me in the process, as though, now that he had finally found the courage to tell me what he felt, he wanted to be as close to me as possible. I turned on my back and pulled him in an embrace again, fascinated by how his big black eyes mirrored the starry sky.
‘Is it even comfortable for you to be held by me like this?’ I asked uncertainly. ‘I don’t want to hurt you.’
‘We’re by far less fragile than we look.’ He reassured me. ‘Still, humans are indeed stronger than us, but I would tell you if I felt uncomfortable.’
I nodded in approval. ‘I’d be glad for that, Hermiod. I think we should never not be honest to each other. I mean, if we want this to work.’
‘I agree.’ He confirmed. ‘I want you to know that I’m very determined to make this work.’
‘We’ll find a way.’ I reassured him. ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as they say.’
I was still looking into his eyes fascinatedly. It was beautiful to see all the stars shimmering in them, as though I was looking into the eyes of the universe and the universe looked right back, smiling approvingly. I have no idea where all those poetic thoughts suddenly came from, though. They just popped up in my mind, and I realized that I had never felt that way before. Sarcastic, cynical Aegeti Talvi getting all mushy in the arms of an alien, and it felt perfectly alright. By now I didn’t even know this side of me existed, but now that I had found out, I wanted to explore it.
Still holding him, I shifted in a more comfortable position, watching him intently. I felt that all the walls, that he had built between himself and all the humans he had to work with, were falling away in this moment, and that he was willing to give everything to me, all that he was. I knew that no Asgard had done something like that in millennia – just giving in to someone, letting someone else take control. I wondered how strange this must feel for him, how alien.
‘I’d like to show you something.’ I whispered to him. ‘Something… human. May I proceed?’
For a moment he seemed unsure, but then relaxed in an instant. ‘You may proceed.’
‘I haven’t done this in ages.’ I apologized preventively, just in case I’d screw up everything. ‘So I’ll most likely appear a bit clumsy.’
‘Your clumsiness is one of the many things that I’ve come to like in you, Aegeti.’ He said with the most serious expression on his face. ‘Don’t be ashamed of any facet of yours, because they’re all appreciable and endearing.’
Surprised, but also encouraged by his compliment, I pulled him closer to me and put a hand on the back of his oddly large head. Then I carefully placed a kiss on his lips. They were softer than they looked, and they tasted a bit salty, definitely a flavour I liked to taste more often.
Hermiod flinched, that’s why I drew back immediately.
‘I’m sorry.’ I murmured, blushing heavily. ‘I… I should have known this is too much of an audacity.’
‘No.’ He said softly. ‘I just didn’t expect it. Asgards don’t… I don’t think any of our species has kissed anyone in the last centuries.’
‘Well, humans do that pretty often, actually.’ I told him, glad that he didn’t reproach me, but still embarrassed like hell by his reaction. ‘Most humans enjoy it by all means, you know, but…’
‘For you it is still something special and meaningful.’ Hermiod concluded from my reaction. ‘Therefore sharing it with me means you’re giving me a very personal present.’
I nodded, still embarrassed, and hid my face in the crook of his neck, noticing how oddly soft his skin was.
‘For me it’s the most intimate I can get.’ I confessed, still not looking at him. ‘I’m sorry, I just… I was so overwhelmed by all of this, and…’
‘There’s nothing to apologize for, Aegeti.’ He said softly. ‘I do trust you. In everything.’
I seriously wondered how long he had waited to tell me this, to let me know that he wanted to be mine, and that he wanted to walk a path that was more than uncommon for a representative of his species.
I held him close for a long while, letting myself fall into a world that was ours alone. I’d never have thought I’d ever encounter a moment where all words were completely unnecessary, because everything was clear and simple.
‘What do your people think about interspecies relationships?’ I finally voiced a question that had been on my mind the whole evening.
‘The Asgard are not prone to prejudice. None of them would stand against it or deny it to us.’ He let me know. ‘We have more important things to do than interfere in anyone’s private life. Even more so as most of us don’t even have one. How is it about humans?’
‘Well, sadly humans are prejudging very easily.’ I admitted. ‘I want to be honest to you, Hermiod. This won’t be easy and there’ll be a lot of mockery, maybe even resentment.’
‘Does this mean you’d prefer secrecy?’ He asked, something like fear in his expression.
I shook my head vigorously. ‘No, Hermiod, because I honestly don’t care about people gossiping about me. I couldn’t care less for their negativity, and I’m almost sure that after a while they’ll get used to it and find something else to gossip about. Still, it’ll be difficult, but I’m willing to accept all those difficulties as long as you’re willing to be with me and…. won’t let me down.’
‘Of course I am willing. I will never let you down!’ There was so much determination in his voice, so much reassurance. He made me see how serious he actually was with all he had confessed tonight. I should have expected that, because the Asgard were no people who accomplished only half a task.
This was the very moment when I allowed the avalanche to wash over me and carry me away. Right now I experienced a true epiphany. If I weren’t such a complicated person, I knew I’d have had said epiphany long ago, but as things were, it had taken me a lot of time, and now it hit me even harder. I knew that everything that would follow would be worth it.
Of course I was in love with Hermiod of the Asgard, and I’m sure there hadn’t been much time that I hadn’t been in love with him.
‘May I ask you something?’ I said softly.
‘Anything.’ He replied.
‘I’ve always wondered whether Hermiod is your real name or if it’s just a variation of your Asgard name that humans aren’t able to pronounce?’ I asked a question that had been on my mind for years. ‘I’ve heard you speaking the Asgard language, and it sounds so totally different from human languages, that’s why I wonder…’
‘It is indeed a variation.’ He confirmed my assumption. ‘Asgard names are impossible for humans to pronounce.’
‘Try me.’ I challenged him.
Hermiod leaned forward and spoke, quietly, in his own language, and told me his Asgard name. Although it sounded a lot like ‘Hermiod’ it was also completely different. I tried my best to repeat it, failed epically and couldn’t help but giggle about my own insufficiency.
‘I suppose you’ll need a lot of exercising when I teach you how to speak Asgard.’ He told me with mock frustration.
My giggle turned into soft laughter, because the way he tried to mimic human behaviour was simply adorable.
‘You’ll see, by the end of the year, I’ll speak Asgard fluently.’ I promised him.
‘Is that a challenge?’ He asked, raising his brows.
‘Indeed.’ I acknowledged, hugging him tightly and enjoying this moment of being so casual around him. ‘But I have another question about your name.’
‘What question might that be?’ He wanted to know curiously.
‘Do names have a special meaning to the Asgard?’ I voiced another subject I’ve been wondering about. ‘I mean apart from the obvious.’
Hermiod looked at me pensively for some time, seemingly trying to make up his mind about telling me something important.
‘Our first names normally do have a special meaning in our language.’ He finally allowed. ‘And when I told you my real Asgard name, I actually broke some kind of unwritten law, because we’re usually not likely to tell outsiders our real names.’
‘Oh.’ I mouthed, surprised. ‘I didn’t know that. I’m sorry, Hermiod… and don’t worry, I won’t tell Thor or anyone that you told me.’
Hermiod touched my face gingerly, tenderly brushing some wayward hairs from my brow.
‘Aegeti, there’s nothing to worry about.’ He reassured me softly. ‘If you want to be part of my life, you’re certainly entitled to know my true name. But…’ He paused for a moment, his expression changing to a mirthful one.
‘But?’ I asked uncertainly, locking my eyes with his.
‘You can’t do much with it anyway.’ He said with twinkling eyes, obviously amused. ‘Your pronunciation is horrible.’
He looked so utterly cute when he was trying to make a joke, and I had no chance to remain serious any longer. We both laughed quietly and settled for a more comfortable position on the blanket. I held him in my arms firmly and enjoyed the fact he had chosen to share an Asgard secret with me. It gave this whole evening an even deeper meaning.
After a while of comfortable silence, he decided to ask a question of his own. ‘What about your name, Aegeti? It seems so different from all the other human names I heard so far.’
I nodded thoughtfully, smiling softly. ‘That’s because I’m from a different country than most of the people who work on the Daedalus.’ I explained. ‘I was born on Iceland, an island nation on Earth. My name’s real meaning is ‘dearest’ or ‘lovely’ which is a little embarrassing, to be honest. My mother always had a sense for words…’ I trailed off, lost in thoughts about my childhood.
‘It’s a beautiful name.’ Hermiod reassured me. ‘And it really fits you.’
I just smiled awkwardly and looked away, not wanting to elaborate on my weird first name any further.
‘So your family lives on Iceland?’ Hermiod finally broke the silence, true interest in his voice.
‘Not anymore.’ I shook my head, still not able to let go of my memories. ‘I was born there, but when I was a little child still, my parents moved to Sweden, because it was hard for my father to get a job on the island. He initially came from Sweden, so it was only logical for him to go back there. My mother had never been happy with this decision, but she didn’t have much of a choice. They got divorced eventually, but there’s a lot of… unpleasant drama about the whole story.’
Hermiod observed me carefully while I spoke, obviously sensing my extreme discomfort with the whole subject of my family.
‘You don’t have to tell me more about your family, if it makes you feel uncomfortable.’ He assured me softly. ‘This is not the night for uncomfortable subjects.’
‘You’re right, Hermiod.’ I smiled warmly. ‘This is rather the night for having beautiful thoughts while in the arms of someone very special.’
I hugged him once more, and now I felt much less awkward when hugging him then I had earlier this evening. After he had told me he wasn’t as fragile as he looked, there was no more reason to handle him like porcelain. He returned the hug and we just sat there silently, watching the night sky.
‘Another question.’ I uttered after a while. ‘Have you been serious about those supernovae?’
‘Of course.’ He retorted.
I laughed quietly. ‘I can’t imagine anything more romantic than watching an exploding sun with you.’
I closed my eyes and lay back again comfortably, never having felt as much at peace as right now. Just resting here, hearing the constant silent humming of the Beliskner’s propulsion system, knowing that I was at the most perfect place I could ever be. It was all perfect, and it was hard to believe I was in a situation and place that was just… perfect.
I felt Hermiod laying down too, resting his head on my chest. I knew that if I opened my eyes now, I’d look directly into his. I remembered that on the Daedalus I had often caught him just watching me. So it was true what Monica Burbank had said – he really was watching me all the time, so it would have been no wonder if something had slipped his attention. I felt kind of flattered by the extreme interest he’d obviously had in me long before I realized it.
And now here we were, finally where we belonged.
‘How can I not love you, Hermiod?’ I mumbled tiredly. The feeling of comfort and the warmth of this room, the softness of the Asgard’s skin, everything added up to me being completely at peace, and only now did I realize how tired I actually was.
I must have fallen asleep before he even had the chance to answer.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8 - Musings

 

‘What the hell is this …thing doing here?’

I could already hear the disgust in this exclamation outside Engineering and wondered what had happened to make someone call out like that. I knew that there was still a lot of chaos there, because as long as the construction of the Daedalus was still in progress, there was no need to tidy up. That didn’t explain, though, what was disgusting enough to make someone complain like that.

I entered the room and looked around, only finding two Airmen there. One of them was working at a computer, highly concentrated, while the other was just standing there, staring at our Asgard co-worker as though he was some kind of nasty cockroach. The Asgard glared right back at him, no less disgusted.

‘May I ask what’s the problem here, Airman?’ I asked indignantly, fully aware of what was going on but unwilling to accept it.

The young man spun around in surprise and seemed to shrink under my glare of doom.

‘I didn’t know we’re working with aliens!’ He growled, pointing at Hermiod accusatorily.

‘He’s an Asgard, Airman Billings.’ I let him know, my voice dangerously low. ‘His name is Hermiod, and I expect you to handle him with respect. Even more so as he’s got more brains than you. Also, we need him to set up and run the new hyperdrive that we even wouldn’t have if the Asgard weren’t kind enough to give it to us. Oh, and pointing with fingers at people is considered highly impolite.’

The young man looked at me in surprise, swallowed hard and lowered his hand. ‘So you’re approving of this?’ He asked, still in disgust.

‘What exactly is it about him that I shouldn’t approve?’ I asked, trying best to hold back my anger. ‘Has he done anything to disturb you in one or another way?’

‘First of all.’ He made an unintelligible gesture. ‘Does he have to be naked like that?’

I couldn’t help but laugh about such a stupid comment.

‘Have you ever thought about us being the weird ones with our constant need to cover our bodies?’ I challenged him, watching Hermiod in the corner of my eye who did his best to ignore this useless argument. ‘They are the advanced ones, Billings. We’re only children compared to their experience and intellect.’

Billings looked at me, somewhat offended, but didn’t utter any further word as he came to realize that perhaps he was the mistaken one and that he wouldn’t win an argument against me.

‘However.’ I continued. ‘Don’t you have any work to do? If so, get it on. If not, I recommend you to leave my engine room better now than later, because I’m not going to tolerate any kind of hate against Hermiod. Either you accept his presence here or you just disappear and get yourself an earthbound job where you don’t have to spend time with extra-terrestrials.’

My determined glare seemed to unsettle him greatly, because now he took his toolbox and left Engineering in a hurry, but not without throwing one last indignant look at Hermiod. I didn’t even turn to watch him leave.

‘I’m sorry.’ I apologized to the Asgard. ‘Humans are stupid sometimes.’

‘I’ve been told to beware of xenophobic individuals.’ Hermiod objected, not looking up from his computer. ‘I don’t waste time on them.’

I felt that he was hurt, although he did his best not to show it. I was sure that, despite the fact he always appeared cool and level-headed, the Asgard was at least annoyed by the incident. It was hard to read his body language, but something about him told me he didn’t just shrug off what just had happened.

Still, I nodded approvingly and left him to his work, because he obviously wasn’t willing to talk about the scene Billings had set up.

Instead I went over to the other Airman to discuss some technical matters with him, still glancing at Hermiod from time to time. I had no understanding for people who enrolled for a job on a spaceship and at the same time didn’t want to meet extra-terrestrial beings. The logic in humans was indeed questionable in so many ways. No wonder that Hermiod hardly ever talked to us.

--

I woke up to the odd feeling of the Beliskner slipping into hyperspace. Many people don’t even notice when it happens, but some are more sensitive, just like me. I always got a bit nauseous, but it lasted only a second to get back to normal. But it was enough to make me wake up this morning. I lifted my head to get a view out of the luxurious window to confirm the sensation and saw what I had expected.

Hyperspace is beautiful, yet a tad frightening. The mere fact to know we were travelling faster than light through space that was totally unlike our own space, had been quite disconcerting when I had first heard of it, because to just imagine that the laws of regular physics didn’t apply to hyperspace, could cause nightmares or at least a quite unsettling feeling. Although the Asgard had perfected the technology of their hyperdrives, I still didn’t trust the whole matter completely, especially not since the Daedalus, equipped with an Asgard hyperdrive, had smacked right into a planet. But I fully trusted the Asgard, because they didn’t have any Wraith worshipers among them. I suppose the Asgard didn’t worship anything at all, they were way too level-headed for such nonsense.

When I looked to the side, I got aware of my Hermiod who was just lying there, resting on the soft blanket and watching me intently.

Did I really already refer to him as ‘my’ Hermiod? How could it be that something that felt like a paradigm shift to me could happen that fast? It was so totally not like me, but I couldn’t help it in any way. I just looked at him and my heart said ‘My Hermiod’. It happened without even thinking about it.

And now all I could do was smile when I thought of last night, of all the wonderful revelations that we both had experienced. I was relieved that he was still there and hadn’t left while I had been asleep. He was obviously serious about us.

‘Good morning.’ I murmured, my voice a bit hoarse, as always after waking up.

‘Good morning.’ Hermiod replied. ‘Did you sleep well? Has my blanket been sufficient for you?’

I couldn’t help but smile, while I carefully caressed his cheek. ‘I’ve rarely slept that well.’ I reassured him. ‘But last night I didn’t even find time to ask you how the Asgard prefer to sleep.’

‘Our beds lack the comfort of human beds.’ He explained. ‘But I enjoyed sleeping at your side very much.’

‘So did I, dear, so did I.’ I assured him tenderly. ‘Though… I wonder if there’s coffee on an Asgard ship.’

‘Unfortunately, we don’t have any human food supplies aboard the Beliskner yet.’ Hermiod informed me. I noticed that he concluded the sentence with a ‘yet’ and wondered what he planned.

‘I can provide you with Asgard food, though, if you’d like to have breakfast already.’ He then offered. ‘Also, we’ll be arriving at the Daedalus within the next hour. I’m positive they have coffee there.’

‘In an hour already?’ I wondered. ‘I’ve never realized the Daedalus is that close. The Jumpers always seem to take half an eternity.’

‘Let’s put it that way.’ Hermiod began, seemingly a tad uncomfortable. ‘The Beliskner’s hyperdrive is by far more powerful than the Daedalus’s.’

‘Hey, that’s nothing to be uncomfortable about.’ I reassured him with an encouraging smile. ‘I would have wondered, if the Asgard had given us their latest technologies. We’re thankful for what we’ve got, really. I know the treaties. I’ve read that you normally don’t give any of your technologies away to people who wouldn’t be able to accomplish these inventions themselves. Thor only made an exception because our people helped yours to fight off the Replicators. The eradication of these nasty bugs was in both our interests, after all, and it’s great we could contribute. So this is all perfectly OK with me.‘

‘I’m glad about your understanding, Aegeti.’ He said, relieved. ‘It’s just that many humans never get enough.’

‘Don’t worry.’ I noticed that I was still smiling and must have looked like a retard. ‘I’m easily to please, but I suppose there’s going to be something that I won’t get enough of anytime soon.’

Hermiod gave me the most adorable puzzled look I’ve ever seen on him, but I decided to keep this particular thought to myself. Instead I shifted in a position that allowed me to pull him in a warm embrace. He seemingly hadn’t expected it.

‘How are you?’ I whispered softly and kissed his neck. ‘Did you sleep well?’

‘I did.’ He confirmed, flinching slightly because of the kiss. ‘It was a most uncommon place for me to sleep, though.’

‘Because of the surroundings or because you were with someone?’ I wanted to know.

‘Both.’ He admitted. ‘But I could easily get used to this.’

‘You’ve showed me so much wonderment and beauty last night.’ I held him even closer. ‘Now it’s my turn to show you something. Tonight we’ll be in Atlantis.’

He nodded slightly. ‘Wherever you’d like to be, Aegeti.’

How could a single sentence make me feel so completely happy? Everything that happened to me recently made me feel like I had never felt before and never thought I’d ever feel. I was literally walking on clouds.

‘But first there’s still some work to do on the Daedalus in order to bring her home to Atlantis.’ I went on. ‘I could absolutely imagine way better things to spend the day with, but duty is duty.’

‘Indeed.’ Hermiod replied. ‘Duty is duty.’

--

As everyone already knew their respective tasks, there was not much to discuss when we finally arrived at Hoth. Hermiod went back to the bridge, while Dellingur and I continued our work at Engineering. Colin and Mike had also shown up again to continue their task of installing our own computer systems. I really loved it when things ran smoothly.

Right now we had a really nice working environment, because I’ve got comfortable with having the two technicians around who never seemed to grow tired of making jokes and filling the atmosphere with positive vibes.

Dellingur had observed Hermiod and me very interestedly when we had entered the room, probably looking for any signs as to how our last night’s date had worked out, but he didn’t show any emotion or hint about his thoughts. One of the few things I was really good at was keeping professional distance and not blatantly showing anything of what was stirring my mind. Of course, Hermiod and I didn’t want to make a secret of the relationship we were building, but that didn’t mean we wanted to spend the whole day showing it around. We were no teenagers, after all, we were able to handle this like grown-ups.  

After Hermiod had left for the bridge, Dellingur and I worked on the hyperdrive modules silently until Dellingur’s curiosity finally won over the distance every Asgard kept towards humans. I had already wondered when he’d come to the point where he just couldn’t keep it any longer.

‘May I ask a question, Dr Talvi?’ He looked at me cautiously, trying to read every change in expression on my face. I’m sure there was a lot to read, I just didn’t know how much of it was understandable to an Asgard who hadn’t spent much times with humans yet.

‘Yes, of course.’ I said distractedly, busily reading a data sheet on my tablet computer. Configuring a hyperdrive, a piece of extremely advanced technology, is a huge challenge, actually, at least for those who don’t have a lifetime of experience with it.

‘Has Hermiod been successful at his task last night?’ Dellingur managed to ask the question as innocently as only an Asgard could do and almost made me laugh. Instead of laughing, though, I blushed heavily. I don’t even know why I blushed, because there was nothing embarrassing about the truth, but maybe this was simply a normal reaction on a question so delicate and private.

‘What task are you talking about exactly?’ I tried to wriggle out of the upcoming interrogation hopelessly, my eyes still transfixed on the tablet.

‘He had invited you last night.’ Dellingur reminded me. He appeared to think about humans forgetting even the most important events. Of course, he couldn’t know that we tend not to talk about private stuff that openly.

‘You can be assured everything went quite well.’ I replied anyway, blushing even more. ‘But I don’t think that’s a topic to be discussed in public.’

Dellingur nodded in a way as though he knew exactly what that meant. I had a hard time not to facepalm about whatever he was thinking. I mean, he didn’t know anything about humans and their dating rituals, but still he looked like he was an expert, fully able to draw the right conclusions out of the fact that I was blushing and unwilling to go into detail.

And just as though the Asgard’s curiosity wasn’t embarrassing enough already, the two technicians looked my way, too, no less interestedly. What is it about people that they always are that interested in other people’s private lives? One should think there are much more interesting subjects out there!

I just grumbled, totally ignoring Mike and Colin. Instead I turned back to Dellingur. ‘I’ve just looked through the config files I had set up yesterday, and it seems that I’ve miscalculated some of the hyperdrive parameters.’

‘How could that happen?’ Dellingur asked in surprise. ‘By now your calculations have always been correct.’

‘Yeah, I know.’ I replied contritely. ‘I must have been a little …distracted yesterday.’

‘You were thinking a bit too much about Hermiod and a bit too little about the hyperdrive, as it seems.’ The Asgard told me matter-of-factly. Why the hell did they always have to be that blunt when pointing out a mistake?

‘Yeah, maybe.’ I grumbled, a bit irritated by both myself and Dellingur. ‘I think we should adjust those parameters immediately.’

‘Indeed.’ Dellingur acknowledged, looking at his readouts thoughtfully. ‘If we don’t fix that…’

‘…the hyperdrive will blow us straight into oblivion as soon as we use it.’ I confirmed.

I spent some time working on the hyperdrive configuration silently, trying to concentrate best I could, while my thoughts kept roaming nevertheless. Mentally, I was already planning the evening with Hermiod. I wanted to show him Atlantis’s best parts and also didn’t want to lack romance.

‘Dellingur.’ I suddenly came up with a thought. ‘May I ask you something Asgard related?’

‘Yes, of course.’ He replied, looking up from the data crystals he was placing into the control panel carefully.

‘What do Asgard actually eat?’ I wanted to know. ‘I’ve never seen Hermiod eat something! But, I mean, you must consume any kind of food, right?’

‘Our food supplies are much richer in content than human nourishment.’ He explained. ‘That’s why we don’t have to eat as often as humans do. A meal once a day is fully sufficient.’

‘Lucky you.’ I confirmed. ‘So you’re not able to digest anything else than your own stuff?’

‘That’s correct.’ Dellingur acknowledged. ‘Our bodies are too weak to handle anything else than our own food supplies.’

I found it very sad, actually, that they weren’t able to go on a lazy Sunday barbeque, but on the other hand, I didn’t even think they’d be interested in anything that was mentioned in the same sentence with ‘lazy’.

‘And how is it about humans digesting your stuff?’ I wanted to know.

‘It would actually be much healthier for your kind to live on our food supplies instead of the unhealthy food you prefer to eat.’ Dellingur let me know, sounding a bit pretentious.

‘Well, I’d actually give that a try.’ I retorted. ‘Can’t be worse than the Air Force MREs.’

Dellingur looked at me thoughtfully. ‘If you want to be with Hermiod, I suppose you’d better get used to Asgard nourishment.’ He told me blatantly.

Have I already mentioned how I was annoyed by the Asgard being that blunt all the time? Somehow, they all were like that with Hermiod being the only exception who seemed to try to be a bit more considerate, at least when he was with me.

In the corner of my eye, I saw Mike grinning at me widely. I took one of my screw drivers to throw it after him. Of course, it missed its target. Instead, it was caught by Colin who threw it right back at me. I’ve never been good at catching stuff, that’s why the screw driver passed my ear and almost hit Dellingur.

‘What are you doing?’ He wanted to know in surprise about the attack.

‘Foolish human behaviour.’ I murmured, glared at Colin who just shrugged, and turned to my tablet again. 

Sometimes I really felt like I had been thrown into an expedition that consisted of madmen alone, but on the other hand this was the exact surrounding that I could feel comfortable with.

Still, I had received some very important information from Dellingur. Now I only had to ask him a favour concerning my evening with Hermiod.

I was happy, all in all, and I was most certain that no other person aboard the Daedalus could be happier than me. After I had gone through hell just a few days ago, I was now heading in the completely opposite direction.  

--

The rest of the day I didn’t even try to pretend being less happy than I was, because I perfectly knew that I wouldn’t have been able to hide it anyway. I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings, so there was no point in even giving it a try. I didn’t care about the people who looked at me in confusion, wondering what was actually wrong with me.

On the other hand, people aboard the Daedalus and in Atlantis knew me as a very serious and mostly extremely sarcastic person who didn’t take crap from others and always kept a good distance towards anyone. Now that I was overflowing with sheer happiness, everyone looked at the smile that I wore most of the time in wonderment. I supposed they suspected me to either be on drugs or to have had too much coffee (which surely would have led to the exact same effect).

Concerning coffee.

After the conversation with Dellingur and the confirmation all parameters of the hyperdrive were correct now, I went for the cafeteria. Although there were still tons of more critical systems to get running, someone had been of the opinion that without a well working coffee maker nobody would be able to do proper work. I don’t know who had managed to talk Colonel Caldwell into this, but I was more than thankful towards that person.

I was really happy to finally get my morning coffee. Although waking up next to Hermiod was way better than any coffee in the world, I was sure about the fact that, if I spent more time aboard the Beliskner, I had to find a way to connect a standard coffee maker to their systems. Leaving Aegeti Talvi without coffee was no good idea at all.

I took a seat near the window to look out at the huge mountain range the Daedalus had come down on. Hoth was a peaceful place, generally speaking, because it didn’t hold any life more advanced than a few small, leafless, and obviously frozen trees. The temperatures went far below zero at night, so if there had ever been any life, it had already been frozen long ago. It was a beautiful place, indeed, but no place to live in.

While sitting there, my thoughts drifted back to the morning aboard the Beliskner and to the ‘yet’ Hermiod had provided me with when I had asked for coffee. That little word told me more than anything else that the Asgard was serious about what was developing between us. He wanted to create a place for the both of us to live. It was fascinating how much one little word was able to warm my heart. Now that I sat here, I honestly missed Hermiod and wondered where he was right now.

For the first time in my entire life, I was in a serious relationship now, one of the kind that inspires you to make plans for the future and where to spend this future at. In our case, of course, this life would always take place somewhere among the stars, because that’s where we both belonged, but it would also be a life of compromises and hardship, given the fact of Hermiod and me being representatives of two completely different cultures. I had been serious when I had told Hermiod last night that this wasn’t meant to be easy, that’s why I already sensed a lot of fighting and trouble ahead. What I definitely knew, though, was that I’d go through everything with him, because I felt it was worth it.

He was worth it.

The mere thought of his big black eyes watching my every move intently, of holding his fragile body close, of hearing his quiet heart beat next to mine, made me feel warm and comfortable. I hadn’t felt at home like that anymore since I had spent the last winter at my grandparents’ house in the middle of nowhere on Iceland. Only this time the warmth I felt didn’t come from a fireplace but from love. A love which I was more certain of than anything else in my life.

But I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Asgard in general recently, that’s why I had remembered something that Thor had said a few days ago when he had told Elisabeth he was going to stay around as long as the Daedalus wasn’t ready to fly again. He had mentioned something about the Asgard having their own problems to deal with back at their home world, and that there were by far more dangerous challenges for them out there than the Replicators or the Wraith. Those words made me worry, to say the least, but I didn’t dare to ask Hermiod about what Thor had actually meant. I knew he was going to tell me when the right time for it came, I just hoped it wouldn’t be too late then. I just hoped it didn’t take him away from me, because although we were just at the beginning of our relationship, I already knew that I wouldn’t survive losing him.  

‘May I take a seat?’ My train of thought was suddenly thrown off its tracks. ‘If you don’t mind?’

I looked up from my mug right into John Sheppard’s face. I had been so lost in thought that I hadn’t noticed him entering the cafeteria, pouring himself a cup and walking over to me.

‘Yeah, sure.’ I managed distractedly, gesturing him to sit down.

‘Thanks! How’s things in Engineering?’ He asked while plopping on the empty chair and leaning over to face me.

‘Getting there.’ I informed him shortly. ‘The hyperdrive should be running latest tomorrow evening.’

‘Ah, that’s great news!’ He cheered, smiling at me. ‘It’s really time to move away from this ice cube. I’ve got enough from the cold.’

One of the things that I liked about Sheppard was that he really did care for both people and everything else. He was the guy who could easily be called a best friend, at least by someone who wasn’t as wary towards people as me. But although he often was pretty flirty, he also knew when to be serious.

‘The Asgard seem to be doing a good job.’ He continued. ‘I’m really glad, you know, that they’ve decided to help us out despite their usual politics of not getting involved.’

He leaned back comfortably and took a sip from his mug, obviously enjoying its warmth.

‘Thor’s a good person.’ I discerned, taking another sip of my coffee, too, before I continued. ‘I also suppose General O’Neill had some influence on his decision. As far as I know, Thor owes him more than one.’

Everyone at Stargate Command knew of the special friendship of General O’Neill and Supreme Commander Thor. They had fought alongside not only once and had learnt to respect and rely on each other. It was one of those friendships that are meant to keep the universe in one piece.

Sheppard nodded thoughtfully. ‘Yeah, right. It’s indeed good to know we have Asgard motherships orbiting both Lantea and Hoth. The Wraith seem a bit less of a threat ever since.’

‘Maybe.’ I said vaguely. ‘But the Asgard won’t babysit us forever. Have there been any Wraith activities recently since Thor had shown up?’

Sheppard shook his head. ‘No, not even one tiny hive ship has made its way to Atlantis, yet. They’re either busy fighting each other or they have great respect towards Asgard weaponry. I prefer both options equally.’

‘We shouldn’t get too sincere about that, though.’ I admitted. ‘They’ll come up with new plans anytime soon, so we shouldn’t rely on the Asgard too much. Especially because I suppose they’ll leave as soon as the Daedalus has been brought to Lantea and all the Asgard engines are running smoothly. I’ve heard Thor say they have other problems to deal with back on Othala.’

Only now did I realize what was about to happen in just mere days. The Beliskner, the Mjolnir and the other two Asgard ships would be heading home anytime soon, and there was no guarantee for Hermiod to stay with us. I decided to talk to him about this unsettling matter tonight. The mere thought of him going home and leaving me behind was frightening.

‘Aegeti, are you alright?’ I suddenly heard Sheppard’s voice. I’m sure I had made some really stupid face while my thoughts were drifting without control.

But before I could answer to him, I first needed to back away from the hand he was waving around in front of my face.

‘I am.’ I murmured, raising my hand apologetically. ‘I was just thinking about something. I’m sorry that I got lost in thought while talking to you. I’m terrible at social skills.’

Sheppard nodded slowly, giving me an encouraging smile. He didn’t seem to be quite sure about what he wanted to say next. At some point, though, he plucked up the necessary courage.

‘Honestly, Aegeti, I’m not only here for small talk… I just wanted to know, how are you?’ He asked carefully.

I gave him a puzzled look. ‘I’m fine, Sheppard, really.’  

‘OK, listen.’ He managed awkwardly. ‘I’ve spent time on a hive ship, too, not only once, and I know how traumatizing it is, so if you need someone to talk to, I just want you to know, I’m here.’

‘Thank you.’ I said with a smile, being definitely thankful for the offer. ‘But I’m honest when I say I’m fine. I have someone to talk about it already.’

‘Hermiod?’ He asked, more interested than just curious.

I nodded. ‘We’ve been through this together, so we’re going to deal with this together.’

‘I’ve heard you’ve been dating.’ He said, winking at me.

‘Rumours are spreading like wildfires, don’t they?’ I retorted, still smiling. ‘But yeah, we’ve had something like a date, but he’s an Asgard, so dating him is not at all like dating humans.’

‘I approve of that.’ Sheppard let me know. ‘I’m always in for love among the stars.’

We both couldn’t help but laugh about the absurdity of the situation. It was great to have people around who were always open for a joke and a serious conversation at the same time. That’s why people make friends, after all.

Then I emptied my mug and got up, because with a glance at the clock, I realized that I had already spent half an hour away from work.

‘Thanks for everything, Sheppard.’ I confirmed. ‘I really appreciate it.’

‘Anytime, Aegeti.’ He replied with an honest smile.

I left the room in a hurry, because I had spent way too much time hanging around at the cafeteria lazily, and I didn’t want to get late with my work. There was still an evening to plan, after all.  

Of course, I knew that rather soon than later the severity of the Wraith incident would catch up with my present perception of it, but until then I wanted my mind to be free of it. Of course, I had some scars, both on my skin and my soul, but I wanted to give them a chance to heal, before I poisoned my mind unnecessarily. The Wraith, after all, had gotten what they deserved, and for the moment that was all that counted.

--

I spent the rest of the day with some other engineers to make sure the Daedalus would be able to get into hyperspace without falling apart. Dellingur and Hermiod had made great progress with setting up the hyperdrive and the transporter system, but there was still a lot of tasks to be accomplished. A whole army of workers had spent the last days repairing all the damage that had been done to the hull, because without an intact hull it would be completely impossible to get anywhere, especially into space. That’s why it was so important to check everything twice before confirming it would work properly.

In the early evening Colonel Caldwell, Colonel Sheppard, Dr McKay, Dellingur, Thor, Hermiod and I met up in Engineering to discuss our further progress.

‘We were able to connect the new hyperdrive to your propulsion system.’ Dellingur reported. ‘There’s still some, as Dr Talvi calls it, fine tuning to do, but we’ll be able to move the Daedalus into space as soon as the general system checks are finished.’

‘The Asgard computer system is also connected to the Daedalus’s computer. We’ve maintained a number of system checks that all ran smoothly. We now have full control over the ship’s systems.’ Hermiod added.

‘Yeah.’ I threw in sarcastically. ‘The Beliskner’s crew would be able to remote control us in any way they want.’

‘Unfortunately, we need this connection to tow the Daedalus back to Lantea.’ Dellingur explained, completely unimpressed by my sarcasm.

‘That wasn’t meant as a reproach.’ I raised my hands apologetically. ‘Did that sound like a reproach?’

Dellingur and Hermiod looked at me impassively, while Sheppard had a hard time stifling a snort. I should have known that sarcasm didn’t work with Asgards. Luckily, I got a reassuring look from Sheppard and Caldwell, while McKay just raised a brow.

‘I’d like to know how this is going to work.’ Caldwell said eagerly. ‘Is there anything for us to prepare?’

‘No.’ Hermiod told him matter-of-factly. ‘Dellingur is going to supervise the process aboard the Beliskner, while Dr Talvi and I are adjusting the synchronization of the Daedalus’s hyperdrive with the Beliskner’s.’

‘There’s a lot of adjustment to be done, actually.’ I remarked. ‘Although both systems are Asgard, they’re, well… different release generations, so to say.’

‘So… is it even possible to synchronize them at all?’ McKay now wanted to know, looking quite sceptical.

‘It is.’ Dellingur confirmed. ‘But it takes plenty of expertise and perception. It’s not a task for a standard scientist.’

Now it was on me to stifle a snort, because I knew the exact background to this snide remark. McKay had spent some time disturbing Dellingur’s work earlier that day by asking countless questions and had finally been cut off by him with the remark that the hyperdrive was a device that only experts should put their hands on. That, of course, got totally against McKay’s well-known huge ego, and they had gotten into an argument.

McKay glared at Dellingur in annoyance, but the Asgard ignored him completely. ‘The hardest part will be to move the Daedalus out of the planet’s gravity.’ He went on explaining. ‘Although the standard propulsion system is going to run smoothly, we’re not entirely certain about the hull’s integrity. It’s impossible to check every plate and bulkhead in such a short time. Also, slipping into hyperspace will be a real challenge. The calculations will have to be absolutely exact, otherwise there would not only be damage taken on the Daedalus but on the Beliskner as well.’

‘Sounds a bit more difficult than just throwing out a rope and tie it to the Daedalus, eh?’ Sheppard remarked with a grin.

‘If that was a possibility, we would have counted it in.’ Hermiod said coolly.

We all looked at each other, and while we humans couldn’t help but laugh, the Asgards glared at us in total obliviousness. It was one of those moments that showed me clearly how different our cultures actually were. The Asgard never had any use in things like humour, especially not the sarcastic kind. There was a lot for me to teach when it came to Hermiod, but I knew that I’d learn just as much from him. This mutual learning process was one of the things I liked most about the challenge of being in a relationship with Hermiod. 

‘The Beliskner will be ready and standing by tomorrow at sunrise.’ Thor informed us. ‘Until then the calculations will be done and uploaded to both computers. I expect everyone to be at their respective workstations at this time, because we won’t have any time to lose.’

‘I have a question.’ McKay pointed out. ‘Have you ever done something like this?’

Thor looked at him pensively. ‘Dr McKay, you can be assured that the Beliskner’s crew as well as your engineers will succeed in this task. Everything is planned carefully, including all probabilities.’

‘Alright.’ McKay grumbled. ‘I just want to be sure that we won’t have to deal with two wrecks floating through space somewhere.’

‘Let that be the least of your concerns.’ Thor confirmed. ‘We have experience.’

I trusted the Asgard completely, because there was absolutely no reason not to. Dellingur and Hermiod had taught me everything I needed to know to accomplish the mission and I definitely wasn’t going to fail. I was honestly proud they put so much trust in me. It was both a challenge and a gift, and I gladly took both.

But there was still some time left until sunrise - there was a whole night to be spent properly.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 9 - Trust

 

I arrived at my quarters in Atlantis at about 7 p.m., although I had planned to be there way earlier. I actually would have managed to be on time, but unfortunately another discussion about hyperdrive parameters had broken loose while I was almost on my way out. The next day’s task would indeed be a challenge, but we had prepared everything possible to prepare. Dellingur and Hermiod were perfect experts in their respective fields, and I would give my very best too. All that was left for us to wish for now was a good cup of luck.

But now I was facing a challenge that was much more delicate than any hyperdrive, because when it came to dating, I was a total beginner. Hermiod had created the most wonderful evening imaginable for me, now I wanted to give him something in return. I wanted to have a date with him like humans do, and I wanted it to become better than anything Hermiod had ever imagined. Though, I didn’t even know whether Asgards did imagine and daydream about stuff, but I highly doubted it.

Luckily, I had a partner in crime aboard the Beliskner. Dellingur had consented to help me out with some of those suspicious Asgard food supplies. They looked like perfectly shaped geometric figures coloured in light colours. Yellow squares, green balls, red pyramids and blue cubes. It must be depressing to live on such boring nourishment, even more so as they tasted, well, peculiar. One more reason why I would need coffee, if I spent more time among the Asgard.

Though, this wasn’t the only problem I found myself confronted with. When having dinner, people normally sat down at a table. On a chair. And I had no idea how Hermiod should use one of those quite tall Atlantis standard chairs. The Ancients, obviously, hadn’t planned for any Asgard visitors. It took me quite a while of pondering until I came up with a hopefully practicable idea, so I left my quarters in a hurry. I had to look at the computer first in order to find Teyla Emmagan’s quarters. Unfortunately, I had to walk to the exact opposite side of the city, which, given that time was running from my hands, was more than inconvenient.

Normally, I’m much too shy to just walk up to someone to ask for a favour, but this was some kind of emergency and I had no idea who else could help me solve my problem. That’s why I arrived at Teyla’s door, hoping she was at home and a woman of understanding.

Naturally, she was pretty surprised when she saw me. Maybe I should have called first, but in my hurry, I didn’t even think of this simple rule of politeness.

‘Uhm, hi!’ I greeted her awkwardly, catching my breath from the run. ‘I’m Aegeti Talvi… from the Daedalus… uhm, I guess you have no idea who I am, but…’

Teyla, to my surprise, seemed to actually have an idea who I was.

‘Come in.’ The Athosian invited me with an encouraging smile, gesturing me to get inside. ‘It’s nice to meet you, and I do know who you are, actually. This city is small enough to hear everyone’s name and story rather soon than later.’

I entered the room, carefully observing my surroundings. Teyla had set up her quarters very tastefully with warm colours, cushions and blankets everywhere, nice plants and flowers, candles. It all gave the room a very personal and pleasant touch.

‘So how can I help you?’ Teyla asked, following my observations attentively, obviously curious about the reason for my spontaneous visit.

I bit my lip and held my breath to keep myself from getting one of my nervous hiccups and then exhaled deeply, finally calming down.  

‘Well, the problem is as follows.’ I said uncertainly. ‘I’m expecting a guest at my quarters tonight. I want to set up everything for dinner with him, and it’s really important to me that all goes well. But he’s an Asgard… ’

Teyla’s warm smile told me that she had understood my problem in an instant. Somehow women are a so much better source of information when it comes to the practical matters of dating.

‘Let me guess.’ She interrupted, still smiling. ‘Atlantis standard chairs. I’ve often wondered about the Ancients being quite tall people.’

‘True!’ I nodded eagerly, glad that I wouldn’t have to explain the whole awkward matter. ‘I’m not the tallest person either, that’s why I, too, can hardly put my feet on the ground while eating.’

‘Well, I suppose I know now what you’re here for.’ Teyla beamed. I began wondering whether this woman was even able not to smile. It slowly grew to be a tad unnerving.

‘I thought so.’ I returned the smile shyly. ‘I’ve heard someone talking about that you have lots of seat cushions and stuff like that in your quarters, and I was wondering…’

‘Of course, I’ll borrow you something!’ She acknowledged. ‘Your evening with Hermiod won’t fail because of furniture matters!’

Wasn’t there at least someone in this city who didn’t know about Hermiod and me? We had dated just once, but apparently every single person was interested in what we were doing. I could have reacted in annoyance, but as I needed Teyla’s help, I kept my mouth shut.

She blinked at me, then looked around her room. ‘I suppose we’ll have to carry everything as you’re not going to ask the Asgard to use their transporter?’ She asked, nudging me.

‘Uhm, indeed.’ I confirmed. ‘This whole thing is meant to be a surprise for him, you know. He’s never had a date by… human standards, so…’

‘I’m sure he’ll appreciate that a lot.’ Teyla walked around in her quarters, pointing at two big seat cushions and a small table. ‘How about those? I suppose when you’re going to have dinner, a table would be useful too.’

What would I do without all those aliens keeping my mind together? Honestly, I was overly thankful towards Teyla for using her brain, because I was, obviously, not able to do so while facing my second date with Hermiod. I wasn’t as nervous as the night before, but I couldn’t deny my anxiety. I wanted everything to be perfect for him, I wanted him to feel safe and in good hands tonight, I wanted him to know that I would spare neither trouble nor expense to make him happy.

Or was I even too bold to hope for an Asgard to be happy? I remembered that I had asked him that question last night and that he had replied with ‘I’m seeing myself in a most fortunate situation’, whatever that was supposed to mean.

‘I see you’re quite doubtful.’ Teyla brought me back from my land of worries. ‘Can I help you in any other way too?’

‘What?’ I uttered. ‘No, no, there’s nothing wrong, really. I’m just a bit afraid of failure, that’s all.’

‘When it comes to those we love, we’re all afraid to fail.’ She said wisely. ‘Otherwise the love isn’t true.’

I liked her point a lot, actually, because it made me see once more how serious this was and how eager I was to make it work. Also, it showed me that I had come to the right person to talk to, because despite her youthful appearance, she seemed to be a woman of wisdom.

‘Yeah, I guess you’re right.’ I admitted. ‘All of this is just very new to me and I feel like a bloody school girl having a boyfriend for the very first time, even more so as it’s exactly like that. Not the school girl part, but…’

‘In the moment you realize you’ve found the one who’s meant for you, this feeling is fully understandable, Aegeti.’ Teyla encouraged me softly. ‘It’s the first time of getting into something really serious, something that might shake your foundations in a way you’d never have imagined. Hermiod can count himself lucky for being with such a thoughtful woman who takes so many things in consideration.’

‘Actually.’ I objected quietly. ‘I have no idea what he sees in me, but I’m doing the best I can to make his time spent with me worthwhile. I mean, he has so much other stuff to do, and still he decides to waste time on a private evening. The Asgard are not famous for having a fulfilled private life.’

‘Still, this certain Asgard is willing to make an exception.’ Teyla said, her voice very serious. ‘Don’t measure him with the standards of his people when he’s so eager to give in to the standards of yours. He wants to give, Aegeti, and I feel that you want to give in return.’

I admit that Teyla’s words touched something in me, something hidden well for almost all my life, a part of me that wanted to love unconditionally. Everything Teyla told me made perfect sense to me. That’s why I hugged her spontaneously.

‘Thank you.’ I whispered. ‘That was quite enlightening.’

‘You’re welcome.’ She returned the hug, then looked at me earnestly. ‘And now let’s move. We have to prepare dinner.’

--

I was overly thankful towards Teyla for not only borrowing me furniture, but also for setting up my quarters suitable for one of the most important evenings of my life. She was a natural talent when it came to decorating and creating a romantic atmosphere, while chaotic me would already have failed at that. Epically.

It was a quarter to nine already when she gave me a last approving hug and left my quarters, showing me her crossed fingers. It was good to know that there was someone who really wished me luck and wasn’t only interested in all the gossip.

Now I was pacing my room nervously, taking one last glance at everything. I was lucky that the windows and balcony of my quarters were west-facing, so we’d have the chance to see a beautiful Lantean sunset. Teyla had helped me to lay the table and had frowned over the odd Asgard food supplies that I had brought along. We had lit candles all over the room, ignoring the danger of the fire alarm going off any time, and we had put flowers all around. Up until now my Atlantis quarters had always looked very impersonal, because I had never found the time to make them look nice. Even my quarter on the Daedalus, where I spent much more time, didn’t have that special Aegeti touch. Somehow, when being alone, such matters don’t really count. But now I wanted Hermiod to be part of my life, that’s why I wanted my room to have a personal touch. I wanted to show him all those little quirks that defined me as human.

I startled heavily when I heard the characteristic sound of an Asgard transporter beam. Of course, Hermiod beamed directly into my quarters instead of knocking at the door. The Asgard didn’t have any privacy issues and obviously completely lacked the understanding as to why privacy was so important to humans.

‘Good evening.’ He greeted me calmly, looking around the room curiously. ‘I hope I’m on time.’

He presented me a huge bouquet of Lantean roses that covered his face almost completely. I took it from his hands and inhaled the characteristic fragrance. Then I put it aside and hugged Hermiod carefully, still not having said a single word.

‘Hey.’ I finally managed. ‘I’m glad you’re here.’

I took his hand and led him out on the balcony, gestured him to sit down and then took a seat opposite of him as soon as he had made himself comfortable.

‘So tonight we’re going to do what humans do on a date?’ He asked curiously, his black eyes transfixed on me.

‘Yeah, exactly.’ I confirmed. ‘Thank you for the flowers, by the way.’

Why the hell did I feel so awkward right now? In the morning everything had still appeared so much easier, but now I was nervous to no end, afraid that my idea could be a bad one and that there was a big chance of screwing up everything.

‘Colonel Sheppard told me that a female of your species is always expecting to be given flowers at such an occasion.’ Hermiod explained matter-of-factly. ‘He helped me out with getting some, because I’ve been delayed on the Daedalus.’

‘Uhm, yeah, that’s actually… nice of him.’ I uttered, being taken aback a bit by the fact that now even Sheppard was involved in this, as he surely called it, project.

‘He was very helpful, indeed.’ Hermiod nodded curtly, eyeing his surroundings with hardly concealed curiosity. ‘You have prepared dinner, I assume?’

It was so typically Hermiod to get to the point so straight, but I was actually thankful, because I’ve never been a small talk person either. So I stood up and went inside to pick a bowl filled with Asgard food supplies from the shelf where I had placed it earlier that day. Somehow those exact geometrical figures didn’t match a romantic dinner at all. The same applied on me, actually, because I was a complete emotional mess and so not ready for anything romantic.

When I turned around, Hermiod stood right behind me, his head raised slightly to look up at me. I’m not sure what it was that I read in his eyes, but it spoke of something different than dinner.

‘I’ve already had my daily meal.’ He said softly. ‘I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable because of me. I appreciate this beautiful place you’ve prepared for me, and I’d like to enjoy it with you without being disturbed by something as mundane as feeding.’

‘Oh.’ I just said, lost for words. ‘Alright…’

‘I’m sorry.’ He said hastily, realizing that he just had thrown over my plans. ‘I didn’t want to place you in a dilemma. I didn’t expect having dinner with me being that important to you.’

‘It isn’t.’ I came to my senses again, cleared my throat and placed the bowl back on the shelf. ‘I… I just wanted to show what humans do on a date, actually, but it’s OK with me if you want to do something else. You know, humans… in our society we invite people for dinner to show them we respect them and are willing to share our food with them. Although we have enough to eat at the moment, there have been and always will be people who don’t have much. Sharing food is a sign of friendship, actually, that’s why it’s valued that highly among humans.’

‘I see, and I admit that there is much reason behind this habit.’ Hermiod conceded. ‘Though, the production of Asgard food supplies is very simple and we don’t need much, that’s why there’s no real significance for it in our society.’

‘Well, then…’ I shrugged. ‘No dinner.’

‘I’m sorry.’ Hermiod said quietly, perfectly knowing that this wasn’t going as planned. ‘I didn’t want to ruin it for you.’

‘Hermiod.’ I sighed, just as quietly. ‘You could never ruin anything for me. I mean, you’re here. That’s the most important part, and I’m sure we’ll find a pastime.’

Hermiod kept looking at me attentively with these beautiful eyes that mirrored the sunset outside. I couldn’t get enough of just looking at him, at his greyish skin reflecting the sunlight that made it almost look like human skin. He was beautiful. Not for the first time did I realize that he was beautiful in his very own ways.

‘What are you looking at?’ He finally asked after I hadn’t said or done anything for minutes.

‘You.’ I replied softly. ‘I just… I just thought how beautiful you are.’

He tilted his head questioningly, most likely having another suspicion about humans being weird at all occasions.

‘Beauty is of no importance to the Asgard.’ He told me, shy hesitation in his voice.

‘It’s not the most important thing for humans either, but we appreciate seeing something… someone beautiful.’ I admitted awkwardly. ‘And whenever I look at you, especially since last night, I see the beauty in you, and I can’t help but admire you.’

I bit my lip to keep myself from getting myself into trouble with my unsorted words. ‘Oh gosh, I suppose you’re now thinking I’m a totally shallow person, and…’

He took a step closer to me, eyeing me with even more interest than ever before. ‘You’re beautiful, too, Aegeti.’

I can’t remember that I’ve ever gotten a serious compliment before. I knew the Asgard didn’t lie or say something just to please someone, that’s why I knew he was serious and honest. On the other hand, I had no idea about Asgard beauty standards, but I couldn’t care less.

I dropped on one of Teyla’s huge seat cushions and reached a hand out to Hermiod. He came closer to grab it, and I took the chance to pull him down to me and into a warm embrace. He was obviously taken by surprise, because he needed a second to steady himself.

In that particular moment I allowed the avalanche to hit me full front and gathered up all the courage I could find in me. When I kissed him this time, he didn’t flinch or back away, but gave in to it. Never before in my life had I wanted to be so close to someone, and I still wasn’t completely sure why it was Hermiod of all people who made me feel this way. Or I already knew it, just hadn’t worked it out yet.

I licked his soft lips with my tongue, enjoying every bit of the salty flavour I tasted. Kissing an Asgard was so completely different from kissing a human. His lips were small and thin, his teeth were tiny and his tongue was shaped differently from mine. Everything about this kiss was extra-terrestrial and extraordinary at the same time. He closed his eyes and shivered slightly when I just didn’t stop to kiss him while I held him in a firm embrace, caressing his back.

When I kissed Hermiod passionately, suddenly all the pieces of my life fell into place. I knew that here and now was the moment that would change everything. I would never be the same person again, because until now I had been lonely Aegeti, but from this day on I would be Hermiod’s Aegeti and that was something entirely new and different.

And I have no idea what made me do the following, because I had never been in a situation as close and trustful as this before.

‘Aren’t the Asgard explorers?’ I asked between two breathless kisses.

‘They are, indeed.’ Hermiod said, a question in his big eyes.

‘Then explore what you’ve found here.’ I suggested. I have no idea where this courage and passion suddenly came from, but I had this strong need to give him all of me, to be everything for him.

I wouldn’t even have expected him to understand the hint, because normally he was completely oblivious to the words between the lines, but this time he knew exactly what I meant.

‘Would you like to do something… Asgard, for a change?’ He asked carefully.

‘Anytime.’ I acknowledged, kissing him once more.

Not a second did I wonder when he began to undress me, because from an Asgard point of view, there was nothing more superficial than clothes, and in this very moment I wished nothing more than being just as naked as him. He always did his best to comply to my human behaviour, now it was time for me to be a bit more Asgard.

Feeling his long slender fingers on my skin made me shiver all over and left a tingling sensation wherever he touched me. I stifled a groan when I hugged him even closer, pressing my body against his. Never before in my entire life had I wanted someone so close, so completely, but I contained myself and let Hermiod go.

Though, he didn’t look like he wanted to move even an inch, but he made himself a bit more comfortable, so he could lie beside me and look at me thoughtfully.

‘I don’t understand why humans hide their beauty under all these clothes.’ He noticed, seriousness in his voice. ‘Do you feel cold easily?’

I just smiled and kissed his forehead. ‘We do, actually, and we’re quite… shameful for different reasons.’

‘I understand.’ He said, but I wasn’t quite sure if he really did.

He began playing with my hair, freed it from the scrunchy that I used to keep it in order at the back of my head, and let it fall over my shoulders. I smiled silently about his fascination.

‘Why do humans grow hair?’ He wanted to know, after he seemed to have inspected every single hair of mine.

‘Uhm, dunno.’ I murmured. ‘It’s an evolution thing, you know, from before we wore clothes.’

‘So your species has decided, at some point, to substitute hair with clothing?’ He asked mockingly, pointing out the absurdity of the whole matter.

‘Not quite.’ I objected. ‘It’s pretty complex, actually, but I’m sure there’s some essay about it in our databases that I can give you to read.’

‘I’d rather explore this particular human further.’ Hermiod let me know, starting to inspect all the hair he found on other places of my body until it got too much and I took his hands in mine.

He looked at me in surprise. ‘Did I do something wrong?’

‘No, Hermiod.’ I shook my head slightly. ‘It’s more that you’re doing everything right, and… it’s a bit too much for now. I… didn’t expect this would take such a turn in such short notice.’

‘I don’t understand.’ He objected, his eyes full of questions and insecurity.

Of course he didn’t understand. There’s no way he could have understood the turmoil that was raging in my head. I couldn’t tell him that he had made me discover something of which I was sure I didn’t even have. It was plain crazy that the first person ever that I allowed to get so close to me was an asexual being of all people. And I definitely wasn’t going to embarrass him in any way just because I didn’t have the strength to contain myself. I had that strength, I had cultivated it over many years, and I definitely wasn’t going to change anything about it, because if I didn’t have my fortress to retreat to anymore, I would get lost in the dark.

Though, I knew that, if there was anyone who could find and retrieve me from the darkness, it was Hermiod. I was sure he could do it easily, but today was not the time and this was not the place to take such a risk.

‘You did nothing wrong, my Hermiod.’ I said tenderly. ‘This is just some… Aegeti thing. I’ll explain it to you one day, I promise. But tonight is not the night for it, tonight I just want to be with you and you alone.’

“And not with my demons.” I added a thought.

‘Aegeti.’ He said softly, the most serious expression on his face. ‘I will give you everything that you need, and I will be there for you, no matter what secrets you conceal. I’m yours.’

His sincerity made me almost cry, and I had a hard time swallowing those tears, because I didn’t want to spend this evening in tears and gloomy thoughts. I just wanted to be happy and light-hearted, just once in my life. That’s why I embraced him again, held him as close as I could and put a kiss between his eyes.

‘I love you, Hermiod.’ I whispered softly. ‘I really do.’

--

We spent a long tender moment of mutual silence. Hermiod was resting in my arms as though he’d always belonged there, his head on my chest, his left hand on my belly, and I felt completely comfortable, even with being almost naked like that. Outside I heard the ocean waves roll in and the characteristic screeches of seabirds that were always flying around the city, hoping to catch some food.

It was one of those moments when all the useless, pointless thoughts fall away and nothing is important anymore, nothing but us two people enjoying each other’s company. I could have spent the rest of my life like that. This was a world that belonged to Hermiod and me alone. There was no danger, no threats, nothing to worry about. Just him and me and the silence.

‘May I be so bold to ask a question?’ I murmured after a while, tenderly caressing his back.

‘Yes, of course.’ He replied without looking up.

‘What do you feel, Hermiod?’ I wanted to know. ‘I mean, you know, as the Asgard don’t have that huge amount of confusing hormones that humans have to deal with. I mean, I’d just like to know…’

‘Whether we share a mutual amount of love?’ He asked quietly, obviously sensing the worry in my question, and looked up at me, his black eyes meeting my blue eyes in deep understanding.

‘As I’ve told you already, Asgards do have feelings.’ He said solemnly. ‘The fact that our bodies produce different and by far less hormones than yours doesn’t mean we’re not able to get attached to someone. For us love is not a question of primitive physical reaction but a matter of spirituality.’

‘So you’re indeed able to… love?’ I asked worriedly.

Hermiod looked at me thoughtfully for quite a while, the expression on his face unreadable. I wondered, worriedly, what he was wracking his brain about.

I had always taken into consideration that we were literally worlds apart in so many ways, and that we most likely perceived and understood the matter of love entirely different, that’s why I was both curious and hesitant while waiting for his explanation.

‘I think it is about time that I show you something the Asgard usually don’t show other species.’ He finally came to a conclusion. ‘We have a few more talents than most people know.’

I instantly felt excitement. I knew that if he didn’t feel anything for me, he’d never take such a giant leap of faith. Trusting me enough to show me Asgard secrets was more than a proof of affection, indeed. I looked at him eagerly and didn’t hide the fact that I was anticipating everything he was about to tell me.

‘Close your eyes.’ He told me softly. ‘Don’t be afraid.’

I closed my eyes without even questioning him. He trusted me so deeply, therefore he deserved to get the same amount of trust in return.

Though, I admit that my body tensed a bit, because I had no idea what was going to happen. It was one of those typical Aegeti reactions that came naturally, therefore I couldn’t prevent them from happening.

I felt Hermiod’s hand move from my belly to my forehead, his fingers touching me carefully, tenderly.

‘Just rest.’ He whispered, his mouth near to my ear. ‘I won’t harm you.’

Oddly enough, I calmed down immediately, allowing myself to relax while his hand still rested on my forehead.

I heard him exhale and then it happened.

Suddenly my mind was flooded with myriads of pictures and emotions that were definitely not my own. I saw beautiful places, heard strange music and smelled fragrances I had never experienced before. I lived a whole life on a planet that I recognized as Othala, the Asgard home world. I saw people come and go, felt the changing of seasons. And with all of that came an emotion so strong and amazing like I’ve never felt one before. It was a feeling of affection and belonging, of giving up oneself to someone entirely. I saw myself soaring to the clouds, embracing the sun, singing alien tunes. The sensation lasted only seconds but it felt like forever. It moved me inside, turned my world upside down and changed me for the better.

It was like poetry poured out into an ocean.

It was the essence of the ultimate love of the universe.

‘The Asgard have not always been like this.’ Hermiod whispered softly, pointing vaguely at his body. ‘And even now that our bodies have become so insufficient, our collective emotions are still part of us. You don’t need hormones to connect to an individual.’

I realized that this was the Asgard equivalent of a declaration of love, and it felt so natural after everything I just had experienced.

‘Hermiod, it was so wonderful.’ I sighed, wiping a single tear from my cheek. After having been thrown into this huge turmoil of sensations, I would have wondered if it hadn’t moved me to tears. I took quite a while to get myself together again. Hermiod watched me patiently, his eyes filled with warmth.

‘Thank you for letting me take part in this.’ I managed after a long while of mutual silence and understanding. ‘I indeed didn’t know you were touch telepaths. That’s extraordinary.’

‘It’s not really telepathy.’ He objected. ‘It’s the transmission of memories stored in emotions. I can’t make you see particular pictures, I can only show you what I feel.’

And considering the amount of pictures and emotions he had shown me, I realized his feelings weren’t little. They were huge, and the more I thought about it the more I realized how great of a present he had given me. He truly loved me. With all his heart.

‘Everything felt so real.’ I confessed, sorting out the confusing sensations. ‘As though I were actually there. Othala… it’s beautiful.’ I wanted to add more, talk about how much I loved him back, but I couldn’t find proper words, for there were no words to describe it.

‘One day I’ll show it to you.’ He promised, his warm expression sharing the deep comprehension of everything I said just as much as all the things I wasn’t able to put in proper words. ‘As soon as our assignment aboard the Daedalus is done.’

I loved to see his promise written in his eyes, his intense gaze. Perfectly knowing that the Asgard normally didn’t invite anyone to their home world just so, I realized that this was an amazing gift.

‘I can’t wait…’ I admitted, relishing in the memories of what he had shown me of Othala. ‘I… I only wish I could give you something as wonderful as that in return.’

‘You don’t owe me anything, Aegeti.’ He objected. ‘You’ve given me enough already in the moment you let me in to your world. That is much more than a representative of my species could ever expect. Just… please don’t ever let it end.’

‘Never.’ I confirmed, hugging him tenderly, defusing his worries in an instant.

We remained like that for a very long while. Outside the sun finally set on the ocean, all the sounds slowly died down until there was only the sea and the silent humming of Atlantis’s energy sources left. It was the typical sound of a perfect summer’s night at a place of unimaginable wonders.

And I had become a part of said wonders. The universe had revealed itself to me, and now I was totally lost in a sea of emotions that were swirling all around me. I kept holding on to the one I belonged to. If my life had ended at this very moment, I wouldn’t have had any regrets.

‘I’m fascinated.’ I finally managed.

‘About what?’ Hermiod murmured, his voice muffled because he had buried his face in my hair. I’ve never met anyone before who had been that fascinated by my hair or hair in general.

‘About the Asgards’ sense of beauty.’ I mused thoughtfully. ‘I’ve already noticed the elegant design of the Beliskner, but now that I’ve seen the beauty of your home world, I’m really impressed. I mean, especially according to the fact you declared me being beautiful, earlier this evening.’ I smiled uncertainly. ‘I now understand that you’ve given me a true compliment, and I admit that I hadn’t expected it at all.’

‘We’re used to being underestimated.’ He stated, lifting his head. Was that a smirk on his face? As he said, I really should stop underestimating him, because he was so way ahead of me that I could hardly follow.

‘Well, it’s not like you Asgards make it easy for us mere humans to understand you.’ I laughed softly. Hermiod just blinked at me, then buried his face in my hair again, ending the conversation before it got weirder.

We remained silent for another while, lost in thoughts. It was one of those rare occasion where the silence wasn’t awkward but comfortable. Sometimes, when all is said and done, there’s only tranquillity to be enjoyed.

Though, I wouldn’t be Aegeti Talvi if my head wasn’t full of questions all the time.

‘Another question.’ I shifted to have a better look at Hermiod. ‘About what you did earlier. You know, exploring my body. Does that have a particular meaning for the Asgard?’

‘We’re explorers, as you noticed correctly.’ He explained. ‘I just wanted to see everything of you. Although physical contact is very uncommon among Asgards, it’s still a very probate method of inspecting a subject, because the eyes are not able to gather all necessary information.’

This statement made me genuinely smile, because it was so typical him. ‘Oh, Hermiod…’

I leaned forward to place a kiss on his forehead. He couldn’t even imagine how much of a relief his words were for me.

‘What is it?’ He therefore asked in confusion, obviously worried that he might have said something wrong.

‘You know that for humans all this touching and caressing is often very sexual.’ I tried to explain, lacking all the right words.

‘Asgards are asexual beings.’ He reminded me. ‘We don’t even have…’

I placed a finger on his lips. ‘I know, and that makes you even more attractive to me. I mean, to know that I can hug you and kiss you while you don’t expect me to…’

My voice broke and I looked away, avoiding his thoughtful glance.

‘I’ve sensed that you’re very uncomfortable with the subject of sexuality.’ He let me know, sincerity in his voice. ‘When being with me, you’ll never have anything to fear. I respect your concerns and will never do anything that you aren’t comfortable with.’

‘Maybe I feel so safe with you because I know that certain things just can’t happen between us.’ I mused. ‘Besides all the other great things that make me feel safe with you.’

‘But… I’d actually like to know what happened to you.’ Hermiod said earnestly. ‘What is it that makes you so afraid to be touched?’

I swallowed hard and looked away. ‘I’ll tell you one day.’ I made a promise. ‘But let’s postpone it to some day in the future, alright?’ I had no intention to let my demons in tonight.

Hermiod looked at me with deep concern in his eyes, but obviously decided not to bother me with this unpleasant subject any longer. His sense of tact warmed my heart. Everything he had done so far tonight warmed my heart in a way I’d never have thought possible.

‘Alright.’ He whispered in approval and made himself more comfortable at my side, so he could rest his head next to mine and place his hand back on my belly. I loved the sensation his skin caused on mine, just as much as I loved feeling his breath on my cheek.

As we were lying there, entangled with each other, Hermiod didn’t feel alien to me anymore. We were just a woman and a man connected in trust and love, we were part of a vast universe that didn’t make any differences.

While I was slowly falling asleep, I knew that the best part of my life had only just begun.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 - Departure

 

Waking up in the arms of Hermiod was one of the things I could definitely get used to. He looked so peaceful and cute as he was resting there, his head on my upper arm, his hand placed on my belly, that I could have watched him sleeping forever. It was simply amazing to experience how much he trusted me, how secure he felt in my embrace, how he enjoyed my kisses. Considering the fact that I’ve always thought the Asgard were cold and uncomfortable with being touched, this was a little miracle indeed. I made a silent promise to him to never hurt him, to never disappoint him and to never fail him.

My heart was so full of love like never before in my life. He had conquered all of me and I could only stop and stare in wonderment how this had happened so fast. Within just a few days, he had become the center of my life. He was my constant, my brightest shining star, and I was an unruly planet revolving around him, sometimes tumbling, sometimes dancing joyously through my own personal Pleiades. It was wonderful and it was more than I’d ever have expected. I was perfectly aware of the fact that I hadn’t fallen for him just a few days ago. I had always felt this silent longing inside whenever I had talked to him at work, whenever I had felt his eyes on me.

Yes, I could get used to waking up with him every morning and falling asleep with him every night. I could even get used to being almost naked in the moment of waking up or falling asleep as long as I knew he was there, because I felt completely safe with him. It made me feel so perfectly right to sense his naked skin on mine when he snuggled up to me. Being with someone who needed warmth, hugs and kisses just as much as I did without ever having interest in, as Hermiod used to call it, sexual intercourse, was liberating. I saw a whole new world being created right in front of me, and I was ready to conquer it with Hermiod at my side.

I finally was with a person who respected me in every way possible and didn’t have expectations of which I knew I couldn’t meet. Although we came from two entirely different galaxies, we were the perfect match. If there had ever been a good example for the saying ‘Opposites attract’, it was us. 

But this was, of course, just one of the countless things that I loved about Hermiod, and I was sure that in the near future I was going to discover even more.

It was very early still, the sun hadn’t risen yet, but there was already a silver lining to be seen on the horizon. A silver lining that was ringing in the first day of the best years of my life.

I could have stayed like this for many more hours, but we had to get up early and leave for Hoth within the next hour, because today was one of the most anticipated days the Daedalus crew had ever experienced.

Today we were going to find out whether it was possible to synchronise the Daedalus’s hyperdrive with the Beliskner’s without damaging either of the ships. I was eagerly anticipating the show, but there was also this little nagging voice of hesitation that kept reminding me of the various things that could go wrong, because it wasn’t only the hyperdrive that had to be gotten in tune, but also the shields and the computer connection. It would be the most complicated manoeuvre the Daedalus ever had to fly.

But instead of further brooding, I got my head together, pushed all the negative thoughts aside for the moment and decided it was time to get up.

Hermiod woke up when I shifted, although I was as careful as possible. He looked at me with sleepy eyes and a very consent look on his face. I loved that look, to be honest. It was so full of trust, warmth and understanding.

He sat up and rubbed his eyes slowly, seemingly tired. I wondered how much sleep he normally needed and whether just five hours were enough for the Asgard organism to recreate. When I saw him cowering there, all tired and not really able to get up, I got a nagging bad consciousness.

‘Good morning, sunshine.’ I greeted him tenderly and reached out a hand for him to help him get up. When he finally found the strength to move, I pulled him in my embrace and held him close.  

‘The sun hasn’t risen yet.’ He pointed out, being completely right with this obvious statement.

I loved the fact that he approached literally everything with his imperturbable logic. For him the world seemed to be like mathematics, calculable and always making sense.

He buried his face at my shoulder and inhaled the fragrance of my body. His long arms were clasped around my body as though he wanted to show me that he’d never ever let me go, and I was totally consent with it.

‘I don’t need the sun to give me light and warmth.’ I said with an honest smile and returned his firm embrace to show him that I felt like him, that I didn’t want to let him go either, come hell or high water.

‘I have to go to the bathroom now.’ I told him after a few minutes, keeping in mind that we had an appointment to meet. ‘Will you be OK?’

He lifted his head to meet my glance. ‘If you come back anytime soon, I will be fine.’

I placed a tender kiss on his forehead and let him go. He took a few steps backwards, looking at me approvingly. ‘Good morning, sunshine.’ He repeated my morning greeting.

I blew him a kiss and disappeared into the bathroom, taking a soothing shower. I still felt Hermiod’s hands everywhere on my body and realized how enjoyable this sensation actually was. Dreaming of his beautiful alien features, I let the hot water run all over me.

When I came back to the living room, now wide awake and at the best of my moods, Hermiod was still standing at the same spot, eyeing me interestedly, as though he wanted to imprint every tiny detail of me in his brain. I did the same with him.

Now I wore my standard overall again and had pinned my hair up in my usual ponytail, because it was time to get back to business. On the Daedalus I could hardly walk around dressed in Asgard style. The mere thought made me smile.

‘What are you thinking of?’ He asked curiously, noticing my smug smile.

‘About Asgard dress code on the Daedalus.’ I couldn’t help but giggle.

‘I assume this to be impossible to establish.’ He said seriously, looking at me in confusion when I burst into laughter.

‘That was a joke, love.’ I sad tenderly after I had calmed down again.

When he gave me a most confused glance, I hugged him passionately. ‘Don’t take all of the stuff serious that I’m saying all the time. I’m famous for my sarcasm and weird humour.’

‘I suppose I can get used to it, but it will take some time to learn.’ He murmured, returning the hug.

We held on to each other for some more minutes, simply enjoying each other’s presence.

‘Do you want to go to the bathroom, too, or…?’ I finally broke the spell.

I admit that I was totally uncertain about Asgard morning rituals. My imagination presented me a picture of Hermiod under the shower which was most likely a very pleasant view.

Hermiod just tilted his head in confirmation and went for the bathroom. I could hear water running, but I didn’t dare to go and have a look at what he was doing. Although the Asgard were quite casual about privacy, I decided to keep up my human standards for the time being.  

I spent the time waiting for Hermiod to gather all the stuff I’d need on the Daedalus today. It wasn’t much, though, because most of it was already over there. I hadn’t seen any use in bringing any of my equipment back to Atlantis, because I needed none of it here anyway, except for my tablet computer that was my constant companion whenever I was at work.

Luckily, Hermiod didn’t make me wait long. He reappeared only minutes later. Now he looked just as wide awake as I did. I could see the eagerness and the thrill of anticipation on his face. For him today’s experiment was seemingly just as interesting as it was for me.

Of course, I was still wondering what an Asgard actually did in the bathroom, but I decided to postpone the question to another day, because we were already late. I was sure that Thor wouldn’t appreciate us not being on time.

I looked at Hermiod’s soft expression thoughtfully and smiled at him. It’s hard to describe how much love I felt when I looked at him, and it was hard to believe that we were officially together for only two days now. It felt like forever, like I had just come home to the place where I had always belonged to.

‘Ready?’ He asked, taking my hand in his tenderly.

‘Ready.’ I approved, squeezing his fingers.

Just a second later we were beamed aboard the Beliskner. I had no idea how Hermiod had communicated with his people to tell them we were ready. They must have gotten any kind of signal from him, obviously, because I was sure that Thor hadn’t just challenged his good luck. On the other hand, with Thor you never knew.

There were so many questions that I wanted to ask about the Asgard, and I hoped with all my heart that I’d get the chance to receive all the answers. For Hermiod I wanted to become an expert on everything Asgard. He had studied humans for more than two years, mostly because of me, now it was time for me to return the favour. I made a promise to myself to start my research as soon as we’d have brought the Daedalus to Lantea. Fortunately, I had a private tutor for my lessons.

Oh, and concerning Thor…

The Supreme Commander looked at us in utter interest. Only now did I realize that I was still holding Hermiod’s hand. I let it go and cleared my throat awkwardly, hoping Thor wouldn’t ask any embarrassing questions. I could see on his face that he was brimming with curiosity about the circumstances that made Hermiod hold my hand.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t ashamed of being with Hermiod in any way, but just like everyone else, I didn’t want people to come to conclusions without giving me the chance to explain.

‘Good morning.’ Thor just said casually without commenting his observation any further.

‘Good morning.’ Hermiod replied shortly, obviously not willing to make a statement either.

I swallowed my slight embarrassment and nodded at Thor approvingly, before I followed the two Asgards down one of the Beliskner’s long corridors.  

‘As the two of you and Colonel Caldwell are our only passengers today, we’re going to leave immediately.’ Thor informed us. ‘It will be a busy day.’

I didn’t miss Thor’s annoyed undertone. I supposed it was because he didn’t like and slowly grew tired of the fact that he had been degraded to some kind of shuttle bus driver for the Atlantis expedition, while he actually wanted to be back on Othala to attend to whatever problem was awaiting him there.

‘Wait.’ I interrupted him nevertheless. ‘What do you mean, only Caldwell and us? What about all the other crewmen, technicians, engineers and whatnot?’

That was really a tad spooky, actually, because I had planned with a whole team of people doing their respective jobs. It was almost impossible for a single person to keep tabs on all the computer displays.

‘In accordance to the high risk of the endeavour we’ve decided to reduce the Daedalus’s crew to those who are essentially necessary for the ship to get into space and be manoeuvred to Lantea.’ Thor explained patiently. ‘We would only have needed the two of you, actually, but considering Colonel Caldwell’s affinity towards his ship, we agreed with bringing him along. He might be useful at the helm while Hermiod and you are controlling the engines.’

‘OK, I’d indeed be thankful about every helping hand.’ I quirked a worried brow. ‘But why for crying out loud is the task so risky all of a sudden? Yesterday you said there’s no problem. Dellingur, too, said there’s no problem.’

‘There will be no problem.’ Thor reassured me. ‘But there’s always a residual risk in every space flight and I am not willing to take more risks than necessary.’

Imperturbable Asgard logic again. Even if I had wanted, I wouldn’t have been able to object, because he was right with every word he said. Still, the weird feeling remained. That’s why I couldn’t leave the subject alone just yet.  

‘I didn’t even think it’s possible to fly the Daedalus with just three people.’ I therefore remarked. ‘I’m kind of aware of it because I know every existing manual by heart, but I also know it’s very difficult. This ship was designed for a big crew, it’s not intended to fly with just a handful of people.’

Thor gave me a very disconcerting glance, as though he wanted to tell me that he wouldn’t explain me his reasons any further, because a mere human like me was too stupid to understand him anyway. I wasn’t mad at him, though, because I knew that’s just how the Asgard were. They were smarter than anyone in the universe, after all, and his considerations were surely good and reasonable. Though, the weird feeling of foreboding not only remained but even got stronger.

Thor looked at Hermiod and me for quite a while, before he seemed to change his general opinion. I could read the realisation in his expression and knew that he perfectly knew about the situation concerning our relationship. To me, it felt like a blessing, when he finally gave us a slow approving nod. Then, as a sign of his approval, he decided to share his considerations with us eventually.

‘After interconnecting and synchronising our systems, there won’t be much work to be done on the Daedalus anymore.’ He explained factually. ‘Navigation and other crucial responsibilities will be taken care of by my crew. We mostly need you to supervise our activities and to make possible adjustments.’

I grimly thought about the prospect of being completely remote controlled, but didn’t utter a word. After all, those people normally knew what they did and I trusted them unconditionally. If there was ever a people in the universe whom I’d trust with my life, it was the Asgard.

Thor gave us a last reassuring glance, then left us to our own devices. We were standing at a window from where we could watch the Beliskner slipping into hyperspace. Although I had watched that phenomenon a few times already, it still fascinated me. The beauty of all those swirling shades of blue alone was mesmerizing and always worth watching.

When I had been younger and a big science-fiction fan, I had always wondered how traveling faster than light would actually work, but I’d never have expected that things like hyperspace or subspace really existed. It’s always enlightening when fiction is overtaken by reality.

‘What are you thinking about?’ Hermiod wanted to know, observing me thoroughly.

‘About the wonders of the universe in general.’ I explained pensively. ‘And about the fact that I’d never have dreamt I’d ever travel through hyperspace. It still mesmerises me, and I’m sure it’ll always be that special for me. I’m so thankful for all the wonders of the universe, I can’t get enough of seeing them.’

I gave him a tender smile and put my arms around him carefully. ‘I’m thankful that things like hyperspace exist and that your people are advanced enough to travel from one galaxy to another in no time.’

‘Me too.’ He answered, exactly understanding what I was telling him between the lines.

There are no words to describe how happy and relieved I was that Hermiod was such an incredibly fast learner. Of course, he had studied me for more than two years already, but still there was a lot about me that he had learned only in the last few days. He seemed to be capable to read me like an open book, and I was willing to give him as much to read as possible.

‘I have a feeling this whole endeavour will be more difficult than Thor wants to make me believe.’ I sighed, hoping I was mistaken.

‘It is difficult, indeed.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. As long as the machinery doesn’t let us down, we won’t encounter any problems.’

I experienced his confidence as something really comforting and soothing. When he spoke, even the most complicated matters seemed to become simple.  

‘True.’ I therefore murmured. We were relying on Asgard technology, after all, that’s why I decided not to agonize any longer and instead think of how we’d spent the evening after we’d have brought the Daedalus to Lantea.  

--

We arrived at Hoth when the sun was just rising over the mountain range where the Daedalus was waiting for us. At least the weather would be fine today and we wouldn’t have to endure another blizzard while getting ready to start. The whole scenery seemed inviting today, as though the planet wanted to tell us a friendly goodbye. Though, Hoth could take any effort it wanted, I’d never feel anything friendly for it.

Seeing the Daedalus through the Beliskner’s windows while we approached the planet was still breath-taking. I had spent so much time aboard the ship that I had found something like a second home there over the months.

Of course, she lacked the beautiful elegance of the Beliskner. The Asgard, after all, were space travellers for about 30,000 years already, while we were still at the beginning of our space age. They had had enough time to integrate their advanced technology into spaceship design that suited their own aesthetic standards. And as I knew more about Asgard design and standards now, it was clear to me that their ships only resembled their breath taking architecture. Our ships, though, were only built for functionality, but still the Daedalus looked beautiful in her very own way, because there was indeed beauty in practical functional design, at least if you have an eye for it.

Even now that she was resting on that steep snow-covered mountain, still surrounded by lots of her own shatters, she emanated pride. After all, she was the greatest piece of technology the people of planet Earth had built so far, and maybe it was my own pride that I saw when I looked at the ship. It was the pride of a person who had taken part in the whole construction process.

I remembered the day very well when I had seen the first sketches of her. For me said sketches had already been enough reason to take the assignment of joining the construction team. It had been a great honour and a thrilling challenge. I would have been a fool if I had declined.

The last few days a lot of people had been working to get her suitable for space flight again, but as that was the main goal for the moment, all the other damage hadn’t been attended to yet. The decision to take the Daedalus back to Lantea was the only logical approach, even though it wasn’t without any risk. Nobody wanted to spend more time in this freezing hell any longer than necessary, and the meteorologists who had researched and calculated the planet’s climate had given out a warning that the weather might get even worse any day now.  

That’s why it was finally time to take the Daedalus home.

We beamed down directly into the engine room where everything was already prepared for the much anticipated take-off. It was an enlightening moment, indeed, to finally dare what seemed almost impossible to me. In my opinion the Daedalus was not in a much better condition than a wreck, but she was, at least, a wreck with a well working hyperdrive. Hopefully.

I settled behind my array of computer screens and began to prepare all systems for take-off. Hermiod did the same with his Asgard devices. We were calm and focused, ready to take on the world.

It was a funny feeling, indeed. When I looked at Hermiod who was composed and highly concentrated, everything inside of me calmed down. Being in his presence made me feel at ease in a way I had never experienced before. I gave him a thankful smile, but he was so enthralled by his task that he didn’t see it.  

That’s why I decided to get my head together and follow his example. We were experts, after all, so I was going to live up to that reputation.

‘Bridge, this is Engineering.’ I voiced after I had put on and activated my headset.

‘Caldwell here.’ Came the expected curt answer.

‘We’re maintaining our final system checks right now.’ I reported. ‘Are you ready as well?’

‘Affirmative!’ Caldwell sounded eager enough to be contagious. I could only approve of this, because that was the right spirit for what we were about to do. ‘As soon as you give me steering control, I’m ready to go.’ He added.

‘Understood.’ I replied just as curtly.

It was good to know that Caldwell was with us, because I was a good engineer but I definitely wasn’t able to steer a spaceship out of atmosphere’s grasp, especially not a spaceship as huge and damaged as the Daedalus.  

‘Beliskner, this is Daedalus.’ I spoke in my best business voice. ‘Our final system checks are finished. Everything’s running smoothly, and we’re ready for take-off.’

‘Confirmed.’ I heard Dellingur’s voice on the speakers. ‘We have you on screen and will be ready as soon as you’ve left the planet’s atmosphere.’

‘Alright. I’ll keep the channel open.’ I acknowledged and turned to Hermiod who was standing by at his terminal, patiently waiting for my affirmation.

‘Ready?’ I asked him with a smile.

‘As ready as can be.’ He tilted his head slightly and raised his brows. It was his version of an encouraging smile.  

Taking a look at all my screens, I felt the same kind of eagerness that I had heard in Caldwell’s voice before. My heart was beating fast, my nerves were on high alert, but generally speaking I was fine, because challenges like these were the spice to an engineer’s life.

‘Fine.’ I acknowledged, turning back to my computers. ‘Starting main engines now.’ My fingers were literally flying over the keyboard while I kept an eye on six computer screens, all at the same time. I could feel in my stomach how the engines started to burn fuel. It was one of the best feelings ever, because it sparked the traveller’s passion in me.

‘Colonel, the helm is yours.’ I reported to Caldwell. ‘Manoeuvring thrusters are at your disposal. You can get us out of here whenever you’re ready.’

‘Acknowledged.’ I heard him on my headset. ‘Keep your eyes on the scanners, just in case.’

‘Ready and standing by.’ I confirmed.

Now we were about to experience the first and maybe most important part of the whole endeavour. All the hours of configuring and checking the hyperdrive parameters over and over again would be worth nothing, if we didn’t even manage to move the Daedalus from the planet’s surface.

The first attempt at take-off was neither smooth nor elegant. I heard far too much screeching metal, as though the Daedalus was protesting against getting brought away before she was actually ready for it. Though, Colonel Caldwell knew no mercy when he tried to force the ship to leave the planet.

There was a lot of shaking and clattering, so loud that I almost couldn’t hear my own thoughts anymore. But Hermiod who was standing at the Asgard computer terminal at the far wall was totally calm, as though the take-off was boring routine to him. Well, maybe it was. I’m sure he’d been through many more take-offs than me.

‘Talvi!’ I could barely hear Caldwell through all the noise. ‘I need a tad more power. She doesn’t want to move an inch.’

‘I know.’ I replied curtly, typing frantically. ‘I can give you two of the additional thrusters. Just don’t ruin them right away. We might need them later.’

‘I won’t.’ He promised, while the noise around me was getting even louder. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t cause any damage.’ 

And then I felt it more than I heard it, when two more thrusters came online and gave us that necessary tad of power Caldwell had called for.

‘Alright.’ He told me enthusiastically. ‘Ready to go.’

With a deep frown I kept a close eye on all of my monitors. The Daedalus was rearing up against all the powers of physics that tore at her. I could only grit my teeth and get a hold on my console not to risk to be thrown from my chair.

Then, finally, I noticed we were actually taking-off. The noise remained, but the shaking decreased a tiny bit. While the ship was gaining height, I leaned back and kept watching the computer readouts that counted the miles. Everything looked fine, but I wasn’t relieved yet, because although we were very likely to leave Hoth’s atmosphere soon, we still hadn’t slipped into hyperspace, and in my mind a premonition was forming that the fun had only just begun.

‘Engineering.’ I heard Caldwell after a while. ‘We’re leaving the atmosphere any second now. I can already see the Beliskner. I suppose it’s time to give back control to you.’

‘Acknowledged.’ I let him know, typing commands on my keyboard like a maniac. Normally there were dozens of people on the Daedalus who had their respective tasks to keep an eye on readings, to maintain and check systems and whatnot. Now all of that had to be done by one person alone. Unfortunately, that person was me.

‘OK, Hermiod, we’re out of Hoth’s grasp. Data looks good.’ I reported to my favourite Asgard. ‘Though, I have a nagging perception of the Daedalus being not far from falling apart.’

‘Indeed.’ He confirmed to my great dismay. ‘I have fluctuating atmosphere data from several parts of the ship, but there are only minor rooms and corridors involved. I will close the safety hatches in question, so we don’t get in trouble because of losing atmosphere.’

‘Do you think it’s even safe to dare a hyperspace jump?’ I couldn’t help but frown worriedly.

‘There’s a possibility of losing some outer bulkheads and parts of the hull, but as I said, they’re of minor importance. All of the repairs can be finished on Lantea.’

‘Fine.’ I nodded, trusting him completely. ‘Let’s go.’

‘Beliskner, this is Hermiod.’ I watched him pushing stones around on the hyperdrive control panel, completely focused on his task.

‘Confirmed. This is Dellingur.’ I heard the Asgard engineer’s voice on the speakers. ‘According to our data we’re ready to synchronize with your hyperdrive.’

‘Acknowledged.’ Hermiod said, his voice in a pure business tone. ‘Our calculations are done. Sending data now.’

‘Received.’ Dellingur confirmed. ‘Synchronising frequencies, synchronizing hyperdrive parameters, synchronising shields…’

‘I have strange data on the shield parameters.’ Hermiod interrupted him, working at his terminal even more frantically. ‘Corrected.’

‘Are you sure about the shield data?’ I wanted to know, having the same readings on my screen. ‘Without the shield…’

‘I know.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘If we lose shield synchronisation, we will risk to fall out of hyperspace too early. But the data looks good now. I just had to adjust a few parameters.’

‘Receiving data.’ I heard Dellingur again. ‘Changing parameters. Shield frequencies synchronized.’

I felt sweat running down my back while every single nerve of mine was on edge. Both shields and hyperdrive were extremely delicate devices. It took only one parameter set wrongly and the whole ship would literally blow up in our faces. I tried to breathe slower to calm myself down, trying to find comfort in the Asgards’ confidence. I kept my eyes on the monitors all the time, didn’t even dare to blink.

‘Computer connection initialized.’ Hermiod said. ‘You should have access to our screens now. Transferring computer control to you.’

‘Affirmative.’ Dellingur confirmed calmly.

I really admired the Asgard for always being on total business tone without the slightest bit of commotion in their voices. I was literally on the edge already, taking care that not the slightest bit of data could slip my attention.

‘Colonel Caldwell, this is Hermiod.’ He raised his head slightly to look in my direction, giving me an encouraging glance. I drank in the confidence in his eyes.

‘Caldwell here.’ He sounded still eager but also a bit stressed. ‘That was some bumpy ride… Hope we won’t go on like that while in hyperspace.’

‘That is very unlikely.’ Hermiod either ignored or was simply oblivious of Caldwell’s ironic remark. ‘The Beliskner is ready for hyperspace transfer. Do you approve?’

‘Sure, let’s get this on.’ Caldwell confirmed.

Hermiod closed the connection and keyed some more data into his computer. He was working so fast that I had a hard time following his steps, so I could only watch and hope for the best.

‘Beliskner, we’re ready.’ He finally confirmed. ‘Our hyperdrive is connected to yours.’

‘Transfer now.’ Dellingur approved.

As always, it was just a bit of a second, but the sensation was unmistakable. Hermiod and Dellingur had managed to make the impossible happen. We really had slipped into hyperspace and the Daedalus didn’t seem like falling apart. Everything seemed to run smoothly, there was no shaking, no clattering. It was as though the Daedalus was flying on her own accord. If I hadn’t seen the computer readouts, I’d never have known that we were carried along by the Beliskner.

I slumped down on my chair, exhaled in relief and rubbed my temples. The slight headache I had felt throughout the whole starting sequence was finally ebbing away, fortunately.

‘Well done, Hermiod.’ I murmured. ‘That was good work.’

‘Agreed.’ I heard Caldwell on my headset. ‘Both of you have done a good job. And as there’s nothing more to do on the bridge until we’ll arrive at Lantea, how about me getting us some coffee?’

 ‘Sounds like a good plan.’ I confirmed. ‘See you in Engineering?’

‘Confirmed.’ I could almost hear the big smile on his face. ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes.’

--

Just two or three minutes after that last contact with the Colonel, we immediately knew that the coffee would have to wait, because suddenly the shaking and clattering returned. I was on high alert in an instant.

‘What’s going on?’ I shouted in Hermiod’s direction.

‘We’re losing the connection to the Beliskner’s shields.’ Hermiod informed me. ‘I’m trying to compensate.’

He didn’t have time for compensating anymore, because just a second later the lights went out and the noise died down. All of a sudden there was pitch black darkness all around us until a few seconds later the emergency lights went on.

‘Crap!’ I cursed, uselessly trying to get any of the monitors working again. ‘Crap, crap, crap! What the hell happened!?’

‘We’ve lost the synchronisation with the Beliskner’s shields.’ Hermiod reported. ‘Unfortunately, it came to a chain reaction that made us also lose computer connection and the hyperdrive. We were flying through hyperspace in a completely different direction than the Beliskner before the hyperdrive failed. We’ve lost contact about ten seconds ago. I’m sure Dellingur tried to compensate, too, but it happened too fast. Unfortunately, this is the last data I got before the computers failed as well.’

‘So you want to tell me we’ve dropped out of hyperspace in the middle of nowhere?’ I asked carefully. ‘Somewhere deep in Wraith territory? And nobody out there knows where we are?’

‘That sums it up very well.’ He confirmed.

‘Crap!’ I cursed, kicking my chair and gritting my teeth because of my now hurting toe.

‘Crap, indeed.’ Hermiod said. When it was about cursing, I seemingly was a really bad influence on him.

I could only see his silhouette in the gloomy shimmer of the emergency lights, but I was sure that there was a very worried look on his face that spoke of the disaster we were in. I had no idea how or why we had lost contact with the Beliskner, but I was also sure that without our computers and scanners, we weren’t able to find out, just as we weren’t able to notice any Wraith activities before they literally knocked at the door.

As I didn’t want to be useless any longer, I tapped my headset. ‘Colonel Caldwell?’

‘The communication system is offline.’ Hermiod let me know calmly, stating the obvious.

‘I just noticed that.’ I replied grimly, throwing my headset on my terminal.

I began pacing the room frantically, wracking my brain, trying to find a solution, but obviously there was nothing I could do at this very moment. We couldn’t even find out where we were, because the navigation system was just as offline as every other system on this ship.

‘Is there any system still available?’ I asked hopefully.

‘None.’ Hermiod ruined my hopes. ‘Except life support.’

‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ I mused. ‘It runs on separate batteries that are not connected to the main systems. As long as there’s still enough oxygen in our tanks, we’re at least not going to die from suffocation. Though, there are still a million other ways to die out here.’

Hermiod came over to me, stopping me from my pointless pacing. ‘Aegeti, we’ll find a way…’

‘Oh, sure we will! There are enough Wraith hiveships out there. I’m sure one of them will be so nice to give us a lift to Lantea!’ I began a sarcastic rant. ‘Why the hell is this happening, Hermiod!? I mean, haven’t we been through enough crap lately? It’s enough now, you know! Smashing into a planet, getting abducted by Wraith, and now, to make things perfect, we got lost in space! I’m so done with it!’

‘Please, Aegeti, calm down.’ He begged me. ‘We will find a way out of this. At the moment there’s no reason yet to be agitated.’

‘Agitated?’ I repeated. ‘Well, ‘agitated’ doesn’t cover it at all, you know. I’m at the verge of losing it! I have hoped to get some time to recover from the Wraith incident and all the crap that came with it, just to find myself elsewhere on a ship that’s dead as can be. Give me one good reason for not freaking out on the spot!’

‘You’re not alone.’ Hermiod reminded me quietly. ‘I’m with you, and Colonel Caldwell is there, too. We just need to find him.’

I breathed deeply, trying to get myself under control, because there was indeed no point in freaking out. I was shaking all over and fought upcoming nausea. Hermiod stood right in front of me and now put his cool hands on my cheeks tenderly.

‘Calm down, Aegeti.’ He said, his voice so full of love that it almost broke my heart. ‘We’ll get out of this misfortunate situation. The Beliskner has very advanced scanners. They will find us.’

I realized that his words were really calming. I just didn’t know whether he was right about the Beliskner finding us anytime soon. After all, they didn’t even know where to start looking in the first place. I decided to keep those thoughts private, though, because I didn’t want to bother Hermiod even more. I already was embarrassed enough for making such a pointless scene.

I slumped down on my chair, because I couldn’t rely on my wobbly knees to hold me up any longer. Then I pulled Hermiod into a warm embrace. He was completely right with his statement that I wasn’t alone in this situation. I was in the arms of one of the Asgards’ best tech wizards who also happened to be the one I loved. Also, there was Colonel Caldwell somewhere who was famous for pragmatic ideas. I was sure that with those two around I could go through hell and back. I just had to keep a clear mind and start to work the problem.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 11 - Void

 

After I had finally calmed down and come to my senses a while later, my mind kicked in again and made me get back to my pacing while I cerebrated intensely. Whatever had happened to the Daedalus, we had to find out the reasons or at least a way to get the power circuits back online. Hanging around in an unknown territory somewhere in space was disconcerting and definitely no option at all. I couldn’t even imagine all the dangers that were lurking out there. Besides the Wraith, that is.

‘OK, Hermiod.’ I said, as calmly as possible. ‘What do we have? Any chance to get anything running anytime soon?’

‘No.’ Hermiod destroyed all my hopes in an instant. ‘Apparently we’re not able to find a solution to our various problems at the time being. We need to check every system in order to find out what we still can use. First of all, I’m going to find out why we don’t have power anywhere aboard the ship.’

‘Sounds like a good idea.’ I acknowledged. ‘Could you please get yourself an overview while I’ll try to find Caldwell?’

‘Very well.’ He just confirmed and disappeared somewhere between his computers.

I didn’t feel well leaving him alone in the dark engine room, that’s why I couldn’t bring myself to leave immediately. Instead I went over to Hermiod, squatted beside where he cowered and pulled him into a passionate embrace.

'Oh, my Hermiod.' I whispered. 'What is it about us that we're in trouble all the time?'

‘The fault was neither yours nor mine.' He tried to reassure me. 'It is, as you would put it, just a case of bad luck.'

I held him even closer, placed a kiss on his cheek. 'I'm so scared.'

Hermiod freed himself from my embrace carefully to look in my eyes. 'Don't be.' He gave me the most reassuring glance I had ever seen on him. 'We're together, that's all that matters, Aegeti. We've survived the crash and the Wraith abduction together. We'll go through this, too, because we have each other.'

'Is that Asgard logic again?' I wondered. 'Or are you actually trying to cheer me up?'

'It is a mixture of both.' He let me know. 'I won't give up hope, especially not before I've taken an overlook on all the damage that's been caused.'

I nodded and stood up slowly. 'You're right, Hermiod.' I told him with determination in my voice. 'I'm going to find Colonel Caldwell now, and we'll deliberate the situation together.'

Now it was Hermiod, who got up from the floor and came over to me. He put his hands in mine and looked at me with an inscrutable expression. 'Don't stay away too long.' He whispered, his voice shaking slightly.

'I won't.' I promised and held him close one more time. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’

Then I left, feeling bad about leaving him alone, but I supposed he knew even better than me that this was a time of emergency and we all had to go and do whatever had to be done.

--

Although the emergency lights were on in the corridors, it was difficult to move forward. Everything looked different in the dim red light, dark and gloomy. There were strangely shaped shadows and silent noises that I had never noticed before. They put my nerves on edge and made shivers run down my spine. I had a feeling of being caught in one of those horror movies about spaceships lost in the void where suddenly everyone turned against the others, mutilated by an alien virus, or a strange beast was on a killing spree. Of course, those images in my mind were ridiculous and just fed by my general sensation of helplessness, but they still made me feel highly uncomfortable. I didn't want to experience my very own version of 'Event Horizon' or ‘Alien’. 

Just imagining that we were lost in space without any knowledge about our whereabouts or the reason for this, as Hermiod surely called it, misfortunate situation, was more than just disconcerting. After all, not one single soul out there knew where we were, because everything had happened so fast that the Beliskner surely didn't have a realistic chance to trace us. Maybe this time we wouldn't be lucky to be saved in the last moment possible, maybe this time we had to find our own way to save ourselves or just die out here, buried in an eternal metallic grave named Daedalus.

Luckily, after having followed a few corridors and almost got lost in disturbing premonitions, I saw something that cheered me up a bit. It was a human face, smiling, not a monster baring its teeth.

‘Talvi!’ Colonel Caldwell called out to me, obviously relieved, and closed up to me.

'Caldwell.' I shouted breathlessly and just a tad too loud, not even noticing I hadn’t mentioned his rank, but obviously, he couldn’t care less.

He gave me an encouraging glance while he luckily not only ignored my disrespect but also the fear in my eyes. I had no desire to tell him about my nightmarish thoughts, because now that I didn’t have to roam the ship alone and in absolute silence anymore, I didn’t feel as helpless as before.

‘Good to see you! Any idea of what just happened?’ He wanted to know instead.

‘Unfortunately not.' I reported. 'The computers crashed before we could analyse any data. All I know is that our and the Beliskner’s shields suddenly desynchronized without reason. It came to a cascade effect that made every other device fail too, one by one. By now we weren't able to get any data, but Hermiod is already working on it.’

‘Oh, crap.’ Caldwell cursed. ‘How bad is it?’

‘As bad as can be.’ I replied, shrugging. ‘All systems, except life support, are down. Hermiod's already busy checking whether it’s possible to reinitialize any system. But for the moment I don’t think we’re able to do much, because we don't even have electricity.’

‘It’s indeed damn bad, Talvi, but If you think it's already as bad as can be, I'm afraid you're mistaken.’ Caldwell objected, sounding endlessly tired all of a sudden. ‘I'm sorry for telling you that you’re not aware yet of how bad it really can be. Follow me.’

I gave him a questioning look and followed him down some more corridors. Up until now I hadn't thought things could get any worse, and I couldn’t imagine what could have happened that made Caldwell talk pessimistically like that. Though, the look on his face spoke volumes about the problem's severity. Part of me didn't even want to know what he had discovered, but I went after him nevertheless.

After a few more corridors and turns, we finally arrived at the cafeteria, the place where Caldwell had most likely been at the moment when the ship had dropped out of hyperspace. I remembered that he had been there to make some coffee for us in order to enjoy the rest of the journey. Now he surely didn’t think of coffee anymore, and I wondered what he was about to show me, what it was that made him look that worried. 

Without a further word he softly pushed me into the room and pointed at the window with a quite dramatic gesture.

I blinked. Then I blinked again, and once more, but the colourful picture that presented itself in front of me didn’t change. The sight was breath-taking, indeed, the beauty I saw was undeniable, but for the moment it was the most gruesome beauty possible. I wanted to turn my eyes off of it, but couldn't.

Outside the window there was a very impressive galaxy to be seen. Myriads of stars that were spiralling around a bright center, showing me how vast the universe actually was. Too vast for my taste, at least at this very moment, because this particular galaxy was far away, and we were stranded in a corner of said universe where there were no stars at all. I needed a few seconds to recover from the shock. 

‘Is that…?’ I didn’t dare to finish the question.

‘Pegasus.’ Caldwell nodded curtly.

‘But... how?’ I still couldn’t believe my eyes. 'How the hell did we get that far? Asgard hyperdrives are fast, undoubtedly, but it's impossible to get that far in just ten seconds. I can't believe what I'm seeing!'

‘I have no idea how this could have happened. I don't know much about Asgard hyperdrives and what they're capable of in moments of failure, but however it happened, it doesn't change anything about the fact that we’re in really big trouble now.’ Caldwell said gloomily. ‘Oh, and I can tell you, from the Bridge you have a beautiful vista at Ida. I’ve been there before I went looking for you.’

‘Crap.’ I murmured, rubbing my face. 'You want to tell me we're stuck somewhere between two galaxies, but both seem to be absolutely unreachable at the moment?'

'That exactly.' Caldwell nodded gravely to confirm the statement. 'I have no idea how we could travel those millions of light years without a hyperdrive.'

‘A failing hyperdrive.’ I corrected him and bit my lip, but he just raised his brows.

I glared at the so beautiful and innocently looking Pegasus galaxy for quite a while as though I'd be able to transport us over there by sheer willpower. Of course, nothing happened. Looking out there just got more and more depressing. But before my feelings towards the faraway galaxy could become more hostile, I brought myself to break away from the window and head towards the exit of the cafeteria.

‘We’d better tell Hermiod.' I called over my shoulder. 'Maybe he has a theory, at least.’

‘He'd better have one.’ Caldwell said grumpily, his expression like a wall of bricks, and followed me to the direction of the engine room. 'Being lost between two galaxies looks like a worst case scenario to me.’

‘Well, at least we won’t meet any Wraith out here.’ I remarked sarcastically. 'Their hyperdrives are not the least as powerful as the Asgards'.’

Caldwell couldn't help but stifle a grin. ‘I admire your talent to see the positive in this, Talvi.’

‘I don’t.’ I disagreed. ‘I’m just trying to cheer myself up a bit.’

Caldwell just pat me on the back. ‘It’s always best to take things with humour.’

What else could I do? I had reached a point where my mind had reached the conclusion that there was no use in letting the desperation win over me. Getting lost somewhere was always a chance when travelling through space, and although I felt deep concern and anxiety, I decided to remain level-headed and find a solution with Hermiod and Caldwell. And be it just to bring Hermiod home. I had promised myself that I'd never let him down, come hell or high water, and it didn't make a difference that our momentary hell was actually the coldest place to be.

--

When we arrived at Engineering, Hermiod had already disassembled half of his devices and was now sitting on the floor, almost covered in computer boards, control crystals and whatnot. He looked quite frustrated, while he was working frantically, muttering in his own language. I knew that whenever he began to speak Asgard to himself, we were in really deep trouble.

‘Hermiod.’ I said softly, closing up to him. ‘What is it? Did you find out something?’

He looked up at me, raising his brows. The serious expression on his face told me enough already, but I still wanted to hear it from him. I cowered down on the floor and took his hand in mine. His skin was colder than I was used to, a fact that made me realize the low temperature of the whole room. The life support system was still pumping oxygen into the room, but the air conditioning, of course, had failed alongside with everything else.

I spontaneously took his other hand too and rubbed them tenderly to give Hermiod a bit of my warmth. I remembered from the crash on Hoth that Asgard froze easily, because their bodies weren't able to keep themselves warm. Hermiod looked at me thankfully, and for a moment he seemed as though he wanted to just hug me, but his professional attitude won over the impulse.

‘The cascade effect has destroyed a great part of our components.’ He instead reported quietly. ‘Restoring any functionality would be a question of... great luck.’

Caldwell and I exchanged worried looks. It was one of those moments when you've already thought it can’t get worse, just to find out that it actually can. Hermiod looked so defeated that I wished I wouldn't have to tell him that he didn’t know the whole scale of the disaster yet.

‘Hermiod, we’re stranded someplace between Pegasus and Ida.’ I told him carefully, squeezing his fingers tenderly. ‘If we’re not able to get our hyperdrive online, we’ll die out here. Nobody would ever expect we had gone that far. I don’t even understand how this could have happened in the first place.’

The shocked expression on Hermiod's face almost broke my heart. I shouldn't have told him. Not now. Not yet.

I put a few of the computer boards aside to get closer to him. Only now did I see that he was shivering all over, but I could only guess whether it was because of the cold or the news he had to digest. I felt so much compassion and love for him at this very moment that I was lost for words. I could only hold him to show him I was there.

‘I don’t have any data.’ Hermiod replied after a while, deeply concerned, not moving an inch away from me. ‘Without the computer I can only guess the reasons for the malfunction, but I suppose if our hyperdrive has brought us that far away from our destination, something similar must have happened to the Beliskner. It looks like both hyperdrives experienced some kind of overload that made them reinforce each other to a maximum one of them would never have been able to achieve by itself alone. It is very likely that the Beliskner is floating through space without power, too.’

‘You mean, Thor must be somewhere out here too?’ I wondered, both baffled and horrified by what I've heard. I couldn't even imagine the proud Asgard ship being in a situation as dramatic as ours.

‘Here or anywhere.’ Hermiod tilted his head pensively. ‘As long as I don’t have any data, I can only speculate.’

Deep silence fell upon Engineering, while each of us was trying to process the latest information. I couldn't understand what could have caused an effect like this. It was a one in a million chance. It was already horrible enough that the Daedalus with the three of us on board was in such a precarious situation, but knowing that the Beliskner, with its crew of hundreds of Asgards, could be in the same trouble as us, was even more shocking. It was frustrating that there was nothing we could do, except for hanging around here like a sitting duck, hoping for anything to happen. I released Hermiod from my embrace and he immediately went back to his Asgard devices, working silently for a while. He obviously didn’t want to show me how worried he really was.

‘Are we at least able to send any kind of distress signal?’ Caldwell wanted to know, after he had overcome the moment of shock.

‘Not yet.’ Hermiod replied in his business tone, not letting any of his feelings get through to the surface. ‘I’ll maybe be able to get one of the Naquadah reactors back online, though, so we would at least be able to initialize some of the crucial systems. I’m not talking about propulsion yet.’

'Well, that's...' Caldwell started an answer but was put off by Hermiod with an impatient gesture.

'The reactor I'm talking about doesn't feed into the communication system.' Hermiod ruined Caldwell’s hopes. 'There's only one way to activate a distress signal at the moment.'

'And that is?' Caldwell threw in impatiently.

'I will tell you about it as soon as I've ascertained every possibility.' Hermiod let him know, glaring at him unblinkingly. 'Also, I won't stop trying to repair the hyperdrive.'

‘How long do you think you’ll need to get us flying again?’ Caldwell wanted to know, obviously clutching at that tiny straw Hermiod had given him.

‘I don’t know.’ Hermiod just said vaguely. ‘Maybe a few days, maybe never. It depends on how much is broken and what we’re able to replace with the spare components we have on board. This is no trivial task, Colonel Caldwell.’

The Colonel and I exchanged one more worried look. Things were even worse than we had thought. If Hermiod wasn't able to repair the hyperdrive, there'd be no chance for us to get home. I wouldn't be able to keep my promise and bring my Hermiod home. It took me some moments to get myself together again and not get lost in desperation because of that fact. All we could do now was not to give up hope for any chances or miracles and to try whatever necessary.

‘So we’d better prepare for a long stay at the end of the world.’ Caldwell added up the facts to a final result. ‘I suggest the two of you will do whatever you think is necessary. You have permission to disassemble and reassemble the whole ship, if you see any use in it.'

'Well, that's exactly what we've intended to do.' I replied with a crooked smile. 'After all, we have lots of time out here.'

'Not really.' Caldwell objected. 'I don't think we have enough MREs and water on board to survive longer than just some days, maybe one or two weeks. I'm going to check that right away, but as far as I know, we didn’t stock up for that short flight to Lantea. So we’d better get to work rather soon than later.’

'I consider this a good idea.' Hermiod now said. 'In the meantime, I'm going to find a solution concerning the communication system.'

'Sounds like a good idea.' Caldwell agreed approvingly. 'I'll be back in a while.'

That spoken, he turned around and left, seemingly frustrated. He had mentioned a very inconvenient detail, because if we were really running short on food and water, our time was disturbingly limited. I really hate when bad news are followed by even worse news all the time.

‘How can I help you?’ I turned to Hermiod, overviewing the chaos he had set up all around him. ‘I think it’d do me good to have some work.’

‘Give me a few minutes to reconnect the control crystals.’ He suggested. ‘Then we can try to reinitialize the Naquadah reactor in order to reboot the main computer. If we want to have answers, this is one of the most important steps to take, even more so as we’ll most likely also be able to reinitialise the communication system.’

‘Alright.’ I agreed and changed my cowering position to something more comfortable. 

I sat down somewhere near Hermiod’s heap of chaos, not too close to disturb him. Watching Hermiod working was a sight to see, because he didn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry, just put together components one by one, checked them twice and moved on to the next. I admired that he was so much calmer than me, at least on the outside. I would have given a thousand bucks for his thoughts, but decided not to interrupt him. He kept on working silently for a long while, being the only one who knew exactly what he was doing, while I kept watching him just as silently.  

‘If we were able to send a distress signal.’ I voiced a sudden thought. ‘Would it even be powerful enough to reach anyone?’

Hermiod looked over to me, hesitating. ‘It depends.’ He mused. ‘If I’m able to channel the transmitter’s power supply through the hyperdrive, we’d maybe get enough power to broadcast a signal that’s strong enough to reach one of the galaxies. Though, it won’t be easy to establish a setup like this, that’s why I’m not taking it into account yet, at least for the time being.’

‘You say hyperdrive?’ I wondered. ‘I thought it’s broken?’

‘It is.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘We can’t use it to open a hyperspace window, but we can use its power source.’

‘Wait…’ I interrupted. ‘If we’re able to use the power supply, why can’t we, I don’t know, just try to get the hyperdrive online and give it a shot?’

‘As long as I haven’t ascertained the hyperdrive’s functionality, I’d prefer not to take any risk.’ Hermiod replied. ‘If it malfunctions again, we’ll very likely end up in an even more precarious situation. I still need some time for checks and repairs. Though, I’m quite positive we’ll be able to use the power source as soon as my computer is online again.’

‘Well, generally speaking, that looks like a tiny glimmer of hope to me.’ I rejoiced. ‘I mean, I know that I’m clutching at straws, but still…’

‘I don’t want to ruin your hopes, Aegeti.’ He said, sadness in his eyes. ‘But unfortunately it’s not advisable yet to think any of what I’ve told you is reason enough to increase our chances of being rescued anytime soon.’

Hermiod looked at me with an odd expression on his face that I couldn’t quite comprehend. ‘The chances that our broadcast will be received by anyone who’s able to send help are very limited.’ He added.

‘I know, but at least we’d be able to send a signal.’ I objected. ‘That’s way better than not being able to send one, right?’

‘If you prefer to look at it from this angle, your assumption is most likely correct.’ He told me, tilting his head. Another thought crossed my mind while looking at him.

‘Isn’t Ida the galaxy where your people are from?’ I asked. ‘I mean, don’t you have outposts all around there?’

Hermiod looked at me very pensively. ‘We don’t have enough people to be present at every corner of the galaxy. We can only hope that our signal gets through to one of the automatic transceivers or one of the relay stations, and even if someone receives our signal, it’s still not certain there’s a ship available to come to our rescue. But all of those musings are in vain, if we’re not able to send a signal in the first place.’

He turned back to his work again, while I kept watching him. I knew that if there was anyone who’d be able to create something useful from all this mess, it was him, because he was very familiar with both the Asgard systems and ours.

‘I need you to check on the Naquadah reactor.’ Hermiod told me after a while. ‘We seem to have some broken circuits between the reactor and its control system that keep me from activating it.’

‘I’ll be back in a minute!’ I let him know, jumped up and hurried over to the reactor chamber, removed a panel from the wall and took a concerned look inside.

‘I’ll need to bypass some of the wires.’ I let Hermiod know. ‘There must have been a short circuit that blew up some of the contacts.’

Although the insides of the control device looked disastrous, I felt a bit of excitement growing inside me. The damage was repairable, so the chances to get the reactor online anytime soon had just increased by a million.

I spent the next minutes working on the connections silently, biting my lips to stop myself from trembling in excitement like a leave. There was a lot of damage, but I was able to bypass all the destroyed connections. I should have started working on it long ago, instead of being caught up in panic and useless thoughts.

And then, finally, the job was done.

‘Let’s give it a try, Hermiod.’ I called out to him. ‘It either works now or it’ll work never.’

The Daedalus was equipped with three Naquadah reactors that were wired in series. It was possible to run the ship’s crucial systems on just one of the reactors, but it wasn’t recommended. We’d only be able to run the most necessary components of the ship, that’s why we’d have to choose wisely. Apart from life support, the only system that had come with its own power supply was the hyperdrive, because Asgard devices weren’t compatible to our Naquadah reactors. I knew we’d need a lot of Hermiod’s ingenious tech wizardry, if we ever wanted to be able to not only survive but also go home. To run the sublight propulsion system was impossible with just one of the reactors online, so we’d have to set all our hopes on the faulty hyperdrive.

‘I’m activating the circuits now.’ I heard Hermiod say, while I already strained my ears for characteristic sounds, but only when I heard the reactor powering up, I knew I was allowed to believe in some luck again.

‘It works.’ I whispered and leaped over to Hermiod to hug him passionately. ‘Love, it works!’

‘Careful, Aegeti.’ He reminded me that he wasn’t able to carry my weight.

But his hint only made me lift him from the floor enthusiastically and spin around my own axis with him, holding him tight and laughing joyously, while I felt wonderful adrenaline flooding my veins. Of course, it was just one small step on our long and rocky road, but the point was that we had taken it, that we had taken that so important first step in the right direction.

Hermiod put his arms around my neck and held on close to me, not quite sure what was actually happening to him. I’m certain that he found my behaviour most peculiar.

‘Now let’s boot the computers.’ He finally suggested.

I put him back on the floor carefully, still not letting go of him, but suddenly having a bad consciousness because of my eruption of unsorted emotions. ‘I’m sorry, Hermiod, for this… It’s just… I hope I didn’t hurt you!’  

‘I’m fine, Aegeti.’ He said seriously. ‘It’s very comforting to be so close to you.’

‘Ditto.’ I replied, smiling widely at him. ‘Now… the computer.’

Hermiod’s hand lingered in mine for some more seconds, before he let it go with a tender glance. I’ve never known that Asgards were able to put so much love in their expressions, but maybe it was because Hermiod was such a very special Asgard.

I sat down at my own workstation, while Hermiod went back to his. I glared at the server racks with determination, telling the computers to do their job properly and not to disappoint me.

‘I’m ready to connect with your systems as soon as you give me a go.’ Hermiod told me, his eyes transfixed on his screens.

‘Alright.’ I acknowledged and switched on the first server array. I heard the reassuring sound of booting computers. At this very moment it sounded like sweet music in my ears.

As soon as I had some outputs on my screens, I started to type frantically, checking device statuses, booting up virtual machines and keeping an eye on every log file that rushed over three of my monitors. For a few minutes I was part of the system, completely oblivious of my surroundings, but it didn’t last long.

‘Crap!’ I cursed when one of the main servers crashed and left nothing but an ugly purple screen.

‘Aegeti?’ Hermiod asked worriedly.

‘One moment.’ I raised an apologetic hand. ‘Just one moment.’

I went over to the server racks to take a look at a certain machine, didn’t see any visible damage and therefore just turned it off to switch to one of the spare machines. Then I went back to my workstation and gave it another try.

‘Yes, yes, yes!’ I cheered when the computer came online and gave me the chance to reboot the virtual machines the crashing server had taken into oblivion. ‘We’re getting there, Hermiod, just a bit…’

I kept typing like a maniac, initialising all the interfaces that would come in handy at one or another time, and had to keep myself from laughing out loud in relief. Unfortunately, my happiness was tarnished in an instant, when some error messages popped up on my screens, but all I got was still much better than everything I had before.

‘Hermiod, the main server array is running. I don’t say it’s running smoothly, but it seems to do its job for the moment.’ I finally reported to him. ‘Most of the interfaces don’t respond, though, that’s why we’d need to have a closer look at them later, but the one that’s connected to the Asgard computer core looks fine. You can proceed whenever you’re ready.’

‘Affirmative.’ Hermiod murmured and began pushing stones around on his control panel. I watched the boot-up process on his huge monitor, where Asgard status reports were rushing by at an insane speed. I wondered whether Hermiod was actually able to read all of it or if he just ignored most of it.  

As soon as Hermiod’s computer was back online, I got a respective message on my own screen, confirmed it and exhaled calmly. I still couldn’t believe it worked.

‘So, what do we have, love?’ I asked him. ‘Can we get anything online? Communication maybe?’

‘Unfortunately, I can’t establish any connection with the Asgard components of the communication system nor with those of yours.’ Hermiod told me, a tad of disappointment in his voice, that made me check my own computer outputs.

‘Me neither.’ I confirmed, feeling the same tad of disappointment. ‘There’s no error messages or anything. It just looks like there’s simply no connection to the transceivers.’

‘I have the same readings.’ Hermiod acknowledged. ‘If we were to send a message, we wouldn’t be able to do it from here.’

In the very same moment Caldwell entered the room. I had almost forgotten that he was still around. He looked at both Hermiod and me approvingly.

‘I just had finished checking the supplies stored in our cargo bay, when I heard the reactor power up and the lights went on.’ He let us know. ‘You’ve done a great job, guys!’

‘Not really.’ Hermiod destroyed his good mood in an instant. ‘We only have one of the reactors at our disposal. Also, we were only able to boot up the main computer array, but we can’t operate most of the interfaces.’

‘What do we have, exactly?’ Caldwell wanted to know, now back at his business tone.

‘I’ve just reactivated air-conditioning.’ I reported. ‘I’m going to shut out every room and corridor we don’t need at the moment, so we can save on oxygen. The tanks are full, but that doesn’t mean they’ll last for weeks.’

‘Good thought, Talvi.’ Caldwell praised me. ‘What else? May I hope for miracles?’

‘No.’ Hermiod tilted his head slightly, his eyes wandering over all his screens. ‘The propulsion system is offline. Unfortunately, the navigation system doesn’t work either, that’s why we still can’t determine our exact position.’

‘Is there any chance for repairs?’ Caldwell wanted to know.

‘Unfortunately, we can’t work any miracles, Colonel.’ I told him frankly. ‘It’ll take days to check all the components. I don’t even know where to start, actually. It’s a huge mess that we’re in. Due to the cascade effect we had lots of short circuits that destroyed a lot of the systems. We’d already need hours to get an overview on what can be repaired and what not, let alone the time we’d need to replace the damaged components.’

Caldwell looked endlessly tired when he rubbed his temples and eyes. It made me think of how much time had already passed since we had dropped out of hyperspace. It must have been many hours already. I suppose that if I wasn’t running on adrenaline alone, I’d have been just as dead tired as Caldwell looked right now.

‘So I can’t even have a tiny bit of hope concerning propulsion?’ Caldwell asked after a while.

‘No, sir.’ I replied.

‘OK, that’s that.’ Caldwell pushed his hands in his pockets and began pacing. ‘What about communication?’

‘I’m sorry.’ I said quietly. ‘We don’t have any connection to the transceivers. If we want to broadcast a message, we won’t be able to do it from Engineering.’

‘That sounds like there’s some other place on the ship from where it might work?’ Caldwell perfectly understood the hint that I had placed in my reply.

‘Yes.’ I confirmed. ‘But I’m almost sure you won’t like it.’

‘Tell me anyways.’ He demanded with an eager glint in his eyes. I knew that he wanted to contribute his part, no matter how difficult it might be.

‘Well…’ I started, but didn’t quite know how to finish that sentence.

‘One of us has to leave the ship for an EVA.’ Hermiod answered for me instead. ‘The main transceiver is connected to the Daedalus’s main computer system at the moment, but the interface is down for unknown reasons. It is possible, though, to connect it to the Asgard system, but whoever designed these configurations considered it being unimportant enough to dismiss installing respective components inside the ship. The only switch is situated directly under the antenna array.’

‘You’re kidding, right?’ Caldwell asked bitterly. ‘That’s a bloody joke, right?’

‘No, Colonel Caldwell.’ Hermiod said coolly. ‘The Asgard don’t make jokes, especially not in times of emergency.’

Caldwell sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, suddenly looking somewhat defeated. It was a sight that I didn’t like at all, because he was the one I trusted to keep my hopes for survival alive with his never ending courage and determination.

‘Alright.’ He finally said, obviously putting up with the news. ‘Aren’t space walks the spice to every journey?’

‘Not exactly.’ I replied, ignoring the sarcasm in his statement. ‘I mean, I’ve never done that before, but… well, if we have a space suit somewhere…’ I shrugged, hating the mere thought of leaving the safety of the Daedalus.

‘Talvi!’ Caldwell raised his hands to put me off. ‘I’ve done that once or twice, so I know perfectly how to use a space suit. Also, it’s out of the question that you’re staying here, doing the necessary repairs, while I’m doing a nice little walk. Could need some fresh air anyways.’

I couldn’t help but grin. Who’d ever have known that Caldwell could catch up with me when it was about sarcasm?

‘Though, I’d need someone to assist me putting that damn space suit on.’ He added. ‘I think I don’t have to tell you how much I hate them?’

‘I can imagine, sir.’ I confirmed, silently being glad that it wasn’t me who had to deal with an EVA. I loved being out in space, but I preferred being inside a spaceship while at it.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 12 - Losses

 

‘Of course you’re cheating on me, you useless bitch, I know it!’ I heard my father yell, his voice heavy and slow from too much alcohol. ‘I’ve seen that fucktard! He’s after you for weeks now!’

‘And even if it were so!’ My mother yelled back, loathing in her voice instead of alcohol. ‘It should make you think as to why I would cheat on you. If I did, that is.’

They were glaring at each other for seconds, then continued their argument, throwing insults at each other while their voices grew louder with every half sentence.

‘I’ll kill that asshole!’ My father threatened. ‘I’ll kill him for daring to lay his hands on my wife! Mark my words!’

‘As though you were able to even catch him, you drunk scumbag!’ My mother snarled, hate in her blue eyes. ‘And, goddammit, would you have the decency to listen to me? There is nothing! Nothing ever happened! Although, maybe it should, because every man is better than a drunk like you!’

My father growled at her, unable or unwilling to phrase a proper sentence.

I was cowering on the floor in a corner of the kitchen, trying to be quiet as a mouse, hoping not to redirect my father’s wrath to me. It was by far not the first argument I had witnessed in all the years. My father, being unemployed most of the time and therefore feeling more and more useless, had begun to drink very early, supposedly before my birth already. My mother, on the contrary, had always worked hard to make a living for us. But instead of being thankful to her, my father made her life a living hell. Driven by a feeling of insufficiency, he was jealous about every man who dared just to look in my mother’s direction. My mother, that I was sure of, would never cheat on him, because although he was the worst person imaginable, there had been a time when they had loved each other, otherwise they’d never have married.

Though, right now there was so much hate and loathing in her glance that it was hard to make myself believe she still had feelings for him. I just knew that in her world marriage was sacred.

‘Is that all you can do?’ She spat at him. ‘Are you too drunk already to articulate proper words?’

I knew that in the moment she gave in to her natural sarcasm, a volcano was about to erupt.

My father, seeming to at least understand what she told him between the lines, emptied his bottle of beer and threw it in my mother’s direction forcefully, his head red from all the yelling. My mother, being the sober one, was luckily able to duck away in time, so the bottle only smashed against the wall and left some ugly stains on the tapestry. She tried hastily to get some distance between herself and him, but he moved over to her at a speed that shouldn’t be possible, considering the amounts of alcohol he had already consumed that day.

I whimpered when he slapped my mother’s face. She backed away some more to get out of his line of fire, but he hit her another time, making her struggle for balance. I’ve never seen him so violent before. Yes, he had slapped her again and again, but never before so vigorously. The distorted expression on his face showed clearly that he was out of his mind. He appeared like a predator, ready for the kill.

‘No, dad!’ I yelped. ‘Don’t!’ I jumped up from the floor where I had cowered and tried to grab my father’s arm in an attempt to pull him away from my mother, but to no avail.

‘Aegeti!’ My mother only now seemed to remember that I was still there. She looked at me worriedly, a clear sign that she knew how fast she was losing control over the whole situation.

‘Get out of here!’ She shouted at me. ‘Go to Ms Svensson and stay there until I’ll take you.’

‘No, I won’t leave you!’ I cried desperately, absolutely not knowing what to do. I wanted to get my mother away from this awful man whom I barely recognised as my father, but I was only nine years old, too small and frail for my age. I hated myself for being helpless as that, for not being able to keep her safe.  

‘GET OUT!’ She yelled at me, while my father had closed up to her again, beating her once more, making her tumble to the ground. She made a strange sound when she fell and I was sure I heard a bone break. It was one of the sounds that I’d never forget.

I panicked and gasped for air. I could hardly bear the realisation that there was no chance for me to come to her aid, hence I made a quick decision to follow her orders and run out, but my father was faster, got a grip on my arm and pinned me to the spot forcefully. I whimpered because of the pain and fought the urge to vomit when I smelled his breath, a mixture of alcohol and bad teeth.

‘You stay.’ He growled with a slur. ‘Watch and learn.’

I struggled, using all the power I was able to find in me, kicked his shin, once, twice, and as he still didn’t let go of me, I bit him in the hand that was holding me in a firm grip. He was much stronger than me, I should have known I wouldn’t stand a chance. Biting his hand only fuelled his rage and he still had a second hand to rise against me. Although my mother tried to keep him in her grasp with almost inhuman strength, he freed himself and hit me in the face, hard enough to make me fall to the floor and hit my head on the tiles. I didn’t have to check, I knew I was bleeding.  

‘No.’ I whimpered. ‘Please…’ I raised my arms to cover my face before he could hit me again.

My mother, now finally having freed herself while he had been busy hitting me, got hold of a pan that was lying on the table at her side. She did neither think nor hesitate when she smashed it over his head with force. As soon as he had lost consciousness, I fled out of the kitchen and ran for it, not looking back.

‘Aegeti!’ I heard my mother yell. ‘Aegeti, come back!’

I didn’t come back, too great was my fear of what would happen if I met my father again. Instead I went to Ms Svensson as my mother had told me before. The old woman looked at me in deep concern. She could read the whole story in my face, I didn’t have to utter a word. First she attended to the bleeding wound on my forehead, then she called the police. I’ve never seen my father again.

--

After I had accompanied Caldwell to the cargo bay and helped him to put on the complicated space suit (of which I was really glad I didn’t have to wear myself), I had brought him to the air lock that was closest to the antenna array. Hermiod had reactivated the air conditioning in those corridors after we had deactivated them a while ago in order to save oxygen. It was quite some walk from one end of the Daedalus to the other. We didn’t utter a word on our way. Caldwell was in deep thought, preparing himself for the task at hand, while I was thankful for the silence, because I just didn’t know what to say. I was in deep concern, because spacewalks were undoubtedly among the most dangerous matters there are.

After we had arrived at the air lock, Caldwell glared out of the window with a clouded expression that I couldn’t quite comprehend. He looked more worried than I’d have expected for someone being experienced with EVAs. On the other hand, I assumed that spacewalks were among those activities you just never get used to, that’s why it was impossible for him to keep calm and completely at ease. Caldwell was the commander of a spaceship, after all, not an astronaut. 

‘What is it, Colonel?’ I asked worriedly, trying to be a bit of comfort for him.

‘Well, Talvi, have I ever told you that I’m always getting sick as soon as I’m in zero gravity?’ His voice was low and as heavy as the lid of a coffin. It was understandable for me, though, because I felt already sick just by thinking about leaving the ship.

‘Not yet.’ I therefore replied carefully. ‘Though, I’m sure I wouldn’t feel any different.’

He glared out of the window for another minute, maybe waiting for me to say something more, but I had no idea how I could encourage him any better. I had an honest bad consciousness for being so totally useless.

‘Well, then.’ He finally said with a sigh. ‘Let’s get this on. The sooner I start with it the sooner it’ll be over.’

Caldwell punched a few buttons that were situated next to the inner hatch of the air lock. He took another brief look at me and stepped inside, then closed the hatch and inhaled deeply to stop the trembling in his voice. ‘I hope Hermiod sees me on his monitors. The two of you will have to guide me.’

‘Don’t worry, sir.’ I reassured him. ‘We’ll definitely never lose sight of you.’

‘In case anything goes wrong, Talvi.’ He gave me the most pensive look I’ve ever seen on him. ‘Take care for each other and…‘

‘No, no, no, Colonel.’ I interrupted him harshly. ‘Nothing will happen and you’ll be back in no time. We need you here, and you said you’re a pro at this whole spacewalk business.’

‘I am.’ He told me affirmatively. ‘So guide me well.’

He gave one last nod in my direction and initialized the pressure compensation before he opened the outer hatch. I watched him leaving the ship carefully. He clung to the hull and used a tether to secure himself from drifting into open space, because there would be no chance for us to get him back, unable to move the ship as we were. I watched him moving forward cautiously until he got out of sight.  

I breathed slowly to calm myself down and went back to Engineering in a hurry. Hermiod had already activated his various screens. On one of them I saw a schematic overview of the antenna array where Hermiod would need to guide Caldwell through the reconfiguration steps. Another screen showed the outer structure of the Daedalus where Colonel Caldwell was supposed to be at the moment. A small dot showed his exact position. The third screen displayed some more technical data, all in Asgard, so I didn’t have that much of an idea what they actually meant. On a fourth screen we could see the image that was sent from Caldwell’s helmet camera, accompanied by various readings like heartbeat rate, blood pressure and the like.

I walked right over to Hermiod and leaned against his workstation, eying every monitor intently to get a clue on what was going on. I knew that Hermiod had a perfect overview over every little bit of the action, but still I couldn’t keep my eyes from all the data.

‘Is he alright?’ I wanted to know, not being able to hide my worries.

Hermiod tilted his head and gave me a pensive glance. I knew he was perfectly aware of the worries I was occupied with, but he didn’t comment, because he seemed to sense my displeasure with talking about my feelings right now. Instead he pointed at the readings on one of his screens. ‘His blood pressure is a tad too high, but considering the circumstances, it’s nothing to worry about. As far as I know, he’s well-trained for EVAs.’

‘Which is great luck.’ I admitted. ‘I‘d fail epically out there.’ Actually, that was an understatement.

‘That’s why there are astronauts on one hand and engineers on the other.’ Hermiod said matter-of-factly. ‘Colonel Caldwell wouldn’t be able to do our job. Everybody has their respective talents and strengths.’

‘Mighty philosophical today, love.’ I blinked at him and put an arm around his small shoulders tenderly. I loved the questioning expression he showed me when he lifted his head to look up at me.

‘I’m just pointing out the facts.’ He muttered and made me smile. It was so good to be with him, because I wouldn’t have known how to handle this insane situation without him. Right at this moment I wished we were back in Atlantis, spending the whole night cuddling and not thinking about the universe.

Unfortunately, the universe didn’t care for my wishes and threw me back to our harsh reality when Caldwell had moved to a very critical part of his journey and therefore needed our attention. He was clinging to a part of the outer hull where he couldn’t go on walking anymore. There was a gap of many meters between him and his further path to the antenna array.

‘Do you see me on your screens?’ He wanted to be reassured as he pointed at said gap. ‘I’m just getting to the hardest part.’

‘Affirmative.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘I recommend to move forward in the exact direction of the antenna array. First I want to remind you to take care to be connected to your tether firmly. Then push yourself over the rim. There are no obstacles on the other side.’

‘Thanks, Hermiod.’ Caldwell responded, almost in relief, and performed exactly what the Asgard had suggested. I held my breath until he succeeded to get a hold on the ship’s hull again, pulling his tether over and connecting it to another spot.

‘I’m just a few meters away from the antenna array now.’ He then described his position. ‘Though, the ship’s hull is definitely not designed for long Sunday walks… I’ll take another few minutes to get there. Gonna let you know as soon as I’ve arrived. Caldwell out.’

While we were watching the world from Caldwell’s point of view on the screen, I pulled Hermiod closer to me, suddenly overcome by a feeling of loneliness. Whenever the Colonel took a look ahead to see how far he still had to go, we got a glance at the pitch black space that we were lost in. There were no stars, not a single one, just the Ida galaxy so many light years away.

In the wink of my eye I saw Hermiod’s expression change whenever the galaxy came into sight, his home galaxy, the place where he really belonged to and where I was hoping to be at home, too, some fine day in the future. A future we maybe didn’t even have.

‘You’re afraid you won’t see your people again, aren’t you?’ I asked worriedly, caressing his upper arm. ‘Or any people, that is.’

‘It is indeed not very likely that somebody will come to our rescue.’ Hermiod confirmed my thoughts to my greatest dismay. I wished he’d tell me something more positive, something to hope for, but he wouldn’t lie to me, of course. ‘Even if we’re able to send a signal, even if your people were able to receive our signal, we should indeed prepare for the worst case.’

I hated to hear him talking as pessimistic as that, but it wasn’t the Asgard way to stir hope where there was none. He was just realistic, and I had to accept that he was most likely right with his statement. But giving up wasn’t the human way, and I knew that Hermiod hadn’t given up either. Not yet.  

‘And what about the Asgard?’ I mused. ‘Your hyperdrives can move a ship to the Milky Way or Pegasus in no time.’

‘Ida is further away than Pegasus.’ Hermiod reminded me. ‘It is more likely that, if we can broadcast a distress signal powerful enough, Atlantis might receive it. Othala is too far away.’ There was unmistakable sadness in his voice.

‘But you have so many ships.’ I threw in. ‘I mean, theoretically speaking, if Atlantis got our signal, they could inform the Asgard, or maybe send the Mjolnir. Also, if your assumption of the Beliskner having similar problems is true, the Asgard would at least look for their Supreme Commander…’

‘Please, Aegeti.’ Hermiod interrupted me, a tad impatient. ‘We don’t know about the Beliskner’s fate. Neither do we know whether we can broadcast a distress signal yet. Speculations will take us nowhere.’

Of course, he was right with this remark, but as my panicking mind worked frantically at high velocity and therefore was brimming with various thoughts and ideas, I had the desire to think out loud, because otherwise my head would explode.

‘I’m sorry, Hermiod.’ I told him instead, keeping my thoughts to myself. ‘I’m just…. scared. Being lost in space is so…’ I just shrugged, lost for words.  

‘I know.’ He reassured me. ‘But I do think it is highly recommended to take one step at a time. Before Colonel Caldwell isn’t able to reconnect the main transceiver, any further speculation is nothing more but a waste of time.’

Hermiod’s level-headedness was calming and made me breathe a bit more easily. I loved him for being so reasonable, that’s why I kissed his forehead tenderly and then turned back to the screen where Caldwell was finally closing up to the antenna array. He was breathing heavily and his heart was almost racing. Nobody could tell me he’d done that often before. I more and more suspected him to just have gone on that trip for being a gentleman.

‘Alright.’ He finally said, catching his breath. ‘I’m there. It’s a bit tricky outside here, actually. There’s no really useful place for the tether, so I suppose I’ll have to work without it and hope I won’t lose grip.’

Had that man grown slightly mad in zero gravity?

‘Uhm, no, no.’ I intercepted. ‘No good idea, sir. If you let the tether go and drift out into space, we have no way to get you back. That is not an option at all. Don’t even think of it!’

I’d normally never talk to a superior at that tone, but I perfectly knew that if I didn’t make my point clear, he’d simply ignore me.

‘Talvi, I actually know what I’m doing.’ He pointed out. Yes, of course.

‘I’m sure of that.’ I replied warily. ‘But please let me voice my worries. We can’t afford losing you.’

Caldwell murmured some indecipherable words to himself while he tried to place the hook of his tether somewhere. We all knew the danger of working in space without being secured. In space you fail only once. Humans weren’t made for the rough conditions in space, and especially at this very moment I really doubted my decision to ever have participated in this crazy mission.  

Hermiod and I exchanged a worried glance. He seemed to know exactly what I was thinking, and when he leaned his head against my chest, I knew he was struggling with the same set of thoughts. As long as Caldwell was there, we’d maybe have a chance, but without him, we’d be lost, not only in space, but in general.

I didn’t dare to object anymore, though, because Caldwell was obviously not in the mood for taking advices from people who didn’t know anything about the task he was busy accomplishing. That’s why I kept my mouth shut and watched silently while he proceeded.

‘Folks, I’m at the array now.’ He let us know after some more grunting and cursing under his breath. ‘Just tell me what components to reconnect. I want to get done with this as soon as possible.’

‘Very well.’ Hermiod replied and began leading Caldwell through the process step by step. I just stood by and waited, tacitly praying that all would go well. Hermiod and Caldwell both were absolute professionals, so what could go wrong?

While Caldwell was fumbling with the transceiver’s connections, Hermiod was typing code into his computer frantically, reprogramming the interfaces completely to work with the new setup.

‘Well done, Colonel Caldwell.’ He finally praised. ‘I have an active connection to the transceiver now. I can perform all further changes from Engineering. You may return to the air lock.’

I couldn’t help but smile about Hermiod’s phrasing of the last sentence. It sounded a bit like he was the boss and Caldwell his inferior. Though, I knew Caldwell wouldn’t reproach him for his audacity, because he knew his Asgard engineer long enough already to not take any offence from his words.

‘Good work, Hermiod.’ Caldwell returned the praise. ‘I’m almost on my way back.’

I was more than relieved to see all the lines of code rushing over the Asgard screens, proof of Hermiod’s and Caldwell’s success. From what I was able to understand among all the Asgard text, I noticed that Hermiod was already reprogramming the complete communication system in order to get closer to our goal of broadcasting a distress signal.

Being glad that by now everything had worked so well, my thoughts started drifting towards the future, a future that wasn’t as impossible anymore as it had been half an hour ago.

I was so lost in thought that I startled terribly when I suddenly heard Caldwell curse.

‘Colonel, what happened?’ I was back at present time in an instant, my worries coming back full front.

‘That damned tether went off the hook.’ He said under his breath, glancing around frantically. ‘Crap! I can’t see it…’

Hermiod tried to switch to another camera view and finally got a working connection that showed us Caldwell from another angle. I saw the tether hovering somewhere beside him, but it was already too far away for him to grab it. Unfortunately, the Daedalus was just as much out of Caldwell’s grasp as the remaining part of the tether.

‘Can you get some hold at the ship?’ I shouted, suddenly scared.

‘No.’ He destroyed my hopes. ‘That thing got torn apart when I pushed myself away from the antenna array in order to get back to the ship. It’s a tad tricky here, hard to get hold of anything. Crap.’ I heard slight panic in the Colonel’s voice. No wonder, because he knew exactly what he was facing.

‘Colonel, you must calm down.’ Hermiod spoke to him. ‘Is there any chance you’re drifting in a direction where you can get a grip at something?’

I heard Caldwell breathing heavily while he kept looking around frantically. From his camera’s perspective, it was hard to make out his actual position. There was the antenna array, the pitch black background, some other parts of the Daedalus… and in reverse. He was moving too fast.

‘Sorry, Hermiod, I can’t get a hold on anything. The ship is already too far away and I’m drifting in the completely wrong direction.’ Caldwell sounded much calmer than he surely was. I didn’t even want to put myself in his place mentally. It was horrible.

‘How much oxygen is left in your tanks?’ Hermiod asked, being as cool and level-headed as only an Asgard could be in a situation like this. Me, on the other hand, I was nearly panicking. Losing Caldwell was impossible!

‘It’s still about 80 percent.’ The answer came in hesitation. ‘A few hours, maybe.’

‘Oh gosh, Colonel!’ I suddenly shouted out. ‘There must be a way! You… you just can’t… No!’

‘Talvi!’ He called me back to reason. ‘Listen to me! Don’t panic! You hear? Listen to me!’

I swallowed hard, my hands wet with sweat, and nodded. ‘I’m listening, sir.’ My voice was shaking and I could hardly breathe. That just couldn’t happen! I didn’t allow it to happen!

‘Here are my orders.’ Caldwell spoke in a firm voice. ‘Try to send that distress signal and move your asses away from here as soon as you can. No matter what you do, never stop trying! You’re the best team I’ve ever had the honour to work with, so rely on each other. I mean it! Don’t give up.’

‘But Colonel...’ I whispered.

‘No, Talvi, it’s OK.’ He reassured me. ‘When enrolling for a job like ours we always know we could die out here. Don’t worry, I’m at peace. I had a great life so far. But now I’m going to save on oxygen and power, because who knows, maybe I’ll survive long enough until the cavalry rides in?’

I honestly didn’t know what to say anymore, what to tell a man who had risked his life to give us a chance, to give us some hope. I couldn’t tell him that the cavalry wouldn’t come, because he knew it anyways. I felt tears running down my cheeks, but wasn’t able to utter a word. I screamed silently when Caldwell turned off his helmet camera and microphone. Now I could only see him on the external camera slowly drifting away into space, perfectly knowing his life would end in a few hours and that he’d die a gruesome death by suffocation.

I wasn’t able to stand the view any longer and turned my back on the screens.

‘Hermiod, please tell me this didn’t happen, tell me this is some kind of hallucination or whatever.’ I pleaded.

‘I’m sorry, Aegeti.’ He said quietly, putting a hand on my forearm and caressing it carefully. ‘If I was able to do anything…’

I shook my head vigorously. ‘You couldn’t do anything, love, nobody could. It’s just… I can’t believe that he’s… gone. Just so. It’s not fair!’

I let myself slide to the floor and hid my face in my hands, crying heavily. There was no reason anymore to hold back the tears. All of what I had been through in the last few hours finally caved in on me and swept me off my feet. The helplessness and the big loss I’ve just experienced made me cry in desperation.

I felt Hermiod sitting down next to me, putting his arms around me to hold me close. Although he surely had no experience in comforting a mentally decompensating human, he didn’t do a bad job at all. It was comforting to have him around, to realise how much he wanted to show me I wasn’t alone. I, too, wrapped my arms around him and held him like he was the last bit of hope in a dark and endless void (which was, matter-of-fact, the truth). The whole severity of the situation was settling down on me, making me realize that our odds had never been good, but without Caldwell they were zero. Although he had never been my friend, he had always been some kind of hero for me. One of the sort of heroes that just can’t die. He had been the closest to a father figure that I could imagine. To have lost him now was so unbelievable, yet so horribly true.

The feeling of helplessness was the worst. To know that I wasn’t able to do anything, that there wasn’t a chance for me to rescue Caldwell, was so unbearable that it almost tore me apart. We were stranded in outer space on a ship that we couldn’t even move an inch. We didn’t even have a second space suit that I could have used in an attempt to bring Caldwell back. All the F-302s, that were normally parked in the hangar bay, had been removed days ago, because we had to get rid of as much payload as possible for the Daedalus to leave Hoth and enter hyperspace.

“Murphy’s Law.” I thought bitterly. “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. All the fucking time.”

After a long time of deep silence, I finally looked up, pushed my hair back and dried my tears. After all, we had an assignment. Caldwell had told me that work had to be done, so I would surely not disappoint him and hang around here bawling my eyes out. I got up from the floor vigorously and looked around. Hermiod stood up too, eyeing me interestedly.

‘There’s a distress signal to be sent, isn’t it?’ I asked a rhetorical question, my voice still shaking with emotion.

‘Indeed.’ Hermiod confirmed, glancing at me worriedly. The look in those almond shaped eyes almost broke my heart. That’s why I took him in a firm embrace and held him. I could only guess his thoughts.

‘We will fight, Hermiod, we will survive.’ I said gravely. ‘We won’t give up. Colonel Caldwell gave us an order, and I’d be damned if I didn’t follow it.’ I put the most determined expression on my face and decided to live up to my words, no matter what.

After all, you’d never act against a man’s last will.

‘Aegeti.’ Hermiod uttered. ‘Don’t leave me out, please. Share your thoughts with me.’

I looked at him pensively for some time, trying to sort out all the thoughts that were spiralling in my mind, all the memories, all the helplessness.

‘Hermiod.’ I finally voiced. ‘I’ve been helpless too often in my life. I’ve allowed terrible things to happen, just because I couldn’t keep myself from panicking instead of doing what was right and necessary. I’ve had… losses because of this, but I’ve promised myself that I won’t lose you. I’ve made an oath to myself to bring you home, no matter the cost, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I will not lose myself in tears and desperation. We’re going to get this damn communication system running and send a distress signal. I won’t stop believing that someone will receive it, be it Atlantis, Othala, the Beliskner, whatever. We will not die out here, you hear? We’re going to survive this. I’m going to keep my promise, even if it means it’s the last thing I’ll ever do!’

My voice had grown louder with every word I said, hence I had to catch my breath and calm down after this speech. My eyes met Hermiod’s, and we came to a silent agreement.

One last look, one last nod, then Hermiod turned back to his computer, pointing at the readouts on one of the screens.

‘I’ve already re-established the connections with the transceiver.’ He explained. ‘We’re using the Asgard system now, because the Daedalus’s main communication system didn’t respond to any commands. I’ve already prepared the software to channel the signal through the hyperdrive’s power supply in order to get more power. The message has to cross an unusually great distance, after all.’

‘So you’re already ready to send a signal?’ I asked hopefully.

‘No, unfortunately not.’ Hermiod destroyed my hopes, not for the first time today. ‘I first have to replace some physical connections. Unfortunately, a few of the control crystals and wires literally melted.’

‘Do we even have replacements on board?’ I wanted to know doubtfully.

‘We could use some from the navigation system.’ He suggested, shoving around stones on his control panel. ‘Though, if we do that, we won’t be able to use the system in case we will find a way to leave this place.’

‘How about one step at a time?’ I reminded him of an earlier statement of his. ‘First we send the signal, and as soon as we get the chance to move away, we put the crystals back in the navigation system, because then we maybe won’t need the transmitter anymore?’

‘Not being able to use the navigation system would be a dangerous option.’ Hermiod mused. ‘Using the hyperdrive without that system working would maybe make us collide with a sun or worse.’

‘At the moment using the hyperdrive isn’t an option at all anyways.’ I reminded him. ‘So it’s pointless to cerebrate about any system but communication. But you’re right about the ‘colliding with a sun’ part. We had enough of that sort already. Still…’

‘I can follow your reasoning.’ Hermiod reassured me. ‘I suppose we just have to take the chances that present themselves one at a time.’

‘Right.’ I confirmed. ‘So I’m gonna get those crystals.’

When I wanted to get up, I felt Hermiod tugging at my sleeve. I turned around to him, wondering about the gesture.

‘Wait.’ He said quietly. ‘Just a moment. Please.’

Just one look in his big eyes and I knew clearly that Hermiod was just as afraid as me. He was only better at hiding it, but now it came to the surface. I shouldn’t have taken his level-headedness for granted. So I just reached out for him and pulled him into a tender embrace.

‘Of course, Hermiod.’ I replied, just as quietly. ‘Come.’

We both sat down on the floor again, holding on to each other as firm as possible. I freed my mind from control crystals and the like to focus on the Asgard in my arms, whom I loved more than my life. I caressed his back and kissed his forehead to show him that I understood.

Unfortunately, in the same moment I also noticed this horrible feeling of loneliness again that was tearing at my heart all the time. Our world had shrunk to this very spot: Just the black void, Hermiod and me. I had referred to Hermiod as the center of my life before, but now it was not only figuratively but literally. The desire to bring him home was beyond nature again. I had promised to stay with him, to hold on to him, come hell or high water.

And even now that we were in the middle of a disaster that felt worse than hell and high water, I wanted to hold on to him. He was my all, and when it came down to it, this was all that I wanted, all that I needed to know.

‘Asgards can’t cry.’ He murmured. ‘But sometimes I wish we could.’

‘I’ve cried enough tears for the both of us already.’ I objected. ‘Now it’s time to keep our eyes open and do what Colonel Caldwell told me – to hold on to each other and find a way out.’

Hermiod held me even closer, inhaling the moment desperately. We both needed the strength we found in each other, otherwise we wouldn’t survive.

That was when I kissed him passionately, forgetting the world for a while, reducing it to just him and me. I knew that if we wouldn’t make it back to our galaxy, we’d at least not die alone.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13 - Despair

 

It took us another two hours to gather all the still necessary components and integrate them in our improvised communication system. It was a quite complicated and all but trivial task, considering all the Asgard cursing I heard from Hermiod throughout the process. I’ve always been quite fascinated by him mumbling to himself at all occasions, especially whenever human incompetence (both people and technology) were involved. One of those days I was going to ask him why he of all people had been sent to the assignment on the Daedalus, and I decided that day was today.

‘Hermiod.’ I therefore asked while handing him another two control crystals. ‘May I ask a personal question?’

He looked up from his work, raising a questioning eyebrow. ‘You may ask whatever question you like.’

I had expected that answer, so I just talked away. ‘I’ve always wondered why the Asgard sent you to work on the Daedalus, actually. I mean, I’m sure you’re the most competent among your people, but…’

‘No, actually.’ Hermiod objected, giving me a bewildered glance. ‘The High Council had already asked about a dozen engineers at that time but none of them was willing to spend such a long time among humans. We have gathered much knowledge and information about your race and apparently most of the Asgards find humans quite… irritating.’

‘I wonder why.’ I threw in sarcastically. ‘We’re such nice and logical people…’

Hermiod’s expression was unreadable when he continued to speak. ‘The High Council didn’t ask me, though. It was Thor, actually, who threw in my name.’

‘Why?’ I was back at being serious.

‘Thor and I have been… let’s say… friends for many centuries.’ I heard the hesitation in his words, but decided not to dwell on it, because he obviously didn’t want to elaborate on his relation to the Supreme Commander any further. ‘When he heard about the Council’s assignment, he made a suggestion. It seems they took me as some kind of last resort, because nobody else wanted to go.’ The bitterness in his voice was hard to ignore.

I found those circumstances kind of sad, to be honest, because Hermiod was surely better at his profession than most other Asgards. Although I really liked his people, I was a bit taken aback by so much arrogance. On the other hand, that’s just how the Asgard were. They didn’t waste time on illogical discussions but did what was best for them. Also, I was confirmed in my high opinion of Thor, because he definitely had chosen the right person.

‘It’s not really easy living among us, so I understand your and the other engineers’ hesitation quite well.’ I mused. ‘Then again, if I was assigned to live among Asgards for an undisclosed time period, I’d gladly go, to be honest.’

‘I assume you would find us quite irritating, too.’ Hermiod said matter-of-factly. ‘One day I’m going to take you to Othala, where you will find out that most of us are quite… arrogant and pretentious.’

‘I can deal with that.’ I reassured him. ‘As long as you’re there to keep me from getting into arguments.’ I gave him an affectionate smile.

Hermiod tilted his head, obviously amused by my statement, then went back to the subject at hand. ‘Can you please give me that last control crystal?’

I handed him the crystal and leaned back against the wall, my hands buried in my pockets, while I watched Hermiod intently. Not only now did I realize that he’d become a bit more silent and had begun working a bit less concentrated. Something was happening to him, that much was clear, I just couldn’t point out what it was.

‘Hermiod?’ I asked him tenderly, not clouding the worries in my voice. ‘Are you OK?’

He gave me one more incomprehensible glance. ‘This task is… quite tiring.’ He admitted, looking away.

‘Yeah, it is.’ I confirmed. ‘And I hope it’ll be worth it.’

I was hoping with all my heart that we’d be able to get the communication system online, because if we failed, I really didn’t know how to cope. I didn’t even want to think about the possibility. It just had to work.

‘We will find out in a minute.’ Hermiod let me know, pushing the last crystal into the hyperdrive control system, and checked the connections. Then he checked them again, seemingly distracted.  

Finally, when he was satisfied with his work, he got up from the floor carefully, struggling for balance, which made all my senses jump to high alert. I leaped over to him to catch him and prevent him from falling.

‘Thank you.’ He just said, playing down whatever just had happened to him. ‘I think we can give it a try now.’

I looked at him sternly. ‘Hermiod, please tell me what just happened! What’s wrong? Do you feel unwell?’

‘It’s nothing.’ He murmured, already busy pushing stones around on his control panel. ‘It’s just been a long day.’

‘True…’ I acknowledged uncertainly, not really knowing what to think about his statement. I had never heard him complain about something before. Not once. But of course, this whole situation was nerve-tearing and took way too much from us, both physically and mentally, so it was only natural that Hermiod looked like he would break down any minute now.

‘Hermiod?’ I asked carefully. ‘Is there anything I should know?’

‘I’m fine.’ He repeated impatiently. ‘And I am ready to initialize the communication system.’

I nodded, finally giving up on getting any further information from him, at least for now. Maybe he’d talk to me as soon as we’d have some success.

‘Let’s give it a try.’ I suggested.  

Hermiod worked silently for a while until suddenly a few more of his screens lid up and began showing lines and lines of Asgard code. It was like a revelation.

‘It worked…’ Hermiod said under his breath, obviously hardly believing what he saw.

‘Oh gosh…’ I sighed. ‘Are… are we sending?’

‘Indeed.’ Hermiod acknowledged. ‘We’re sending a transmission, amplified by the power source of our hyperdrive. I wouldn’t have hoped that a setup like this would ever work, but apparently it does.’

‘That’s wonderful, Hermiod!’ I had a hard time swallowing back my tears of relief until I finally gave up and let them come. ‘That’s fantastic! You’re genius!’

He turned around and leaned against me, inhaling deeply. I realized in an instant that something was wrong. Within the blink of an eye my mood changed from absolutely delighted to deepest worry. I got down on my knees and looked up to my Hermiod who was shaking all over. I already had him in a firm embrace before he fell. He wrapped his arms around my upper body.

‘Hermiod… Hermiod, what’s wrong?’ I examined him frantically. ‘Please, tell me.’

I made myself more comfortable on the floor to hold him better and at the same time be able to look at his face. There was a hint in his big eyes that I didn’t know how to comprehend.

‘How long have we already been here?’ He asked weakly in a low voice.

‘I… I don’t quite know…’ I stammered. ‘According to my thirst and hunger it must have been a day or more.’ I realized that I had only fed from a few power bars and a cup of coffee in a time that seemed like forever.

‘Do we have any Asgard food supplies on stock?’ He wanted to know, sounding more and more impatient.

‘No, I don’t think so…’ I wracked my brain to remember what Colonel Caldwell had reported after he had taken an overlook on our cargo. ‘They didn’t stock up on any food before we left Hoth. Caldwell had told me we’d have enough food and water for a week or so, but he didn’t mention Asgard food at all.’

Hermiod just nodded and closed his eyes. ‘Water?’

His voice sounded weaker with every sentence he spoke. I slowly began to panic. Something had to be done for him. If I only knew what, if I only knew how to help him.

‘I can get some water from the cafeteria.’ I suggested. ‘Hermiod, what…?’

‘Take me there.’ He told me, his voice suddenly firm and determined. ‘Please.’

‘Yes, yes, of course.’ I stammered and staggered to my feet, never letting go of the beloved Asgard in my arms.

In this very moment it was great luck that the Asgard were so small and frail people, which meant that supporting him was a minor problem. He suddenly had become incredibly weak and could hardly walk, that’s why I had to support and almost carry him. The corridors to the cafeteria had never before seemed that endless. The load in my arms got heavier with each step I took. Every few steps I gave him a worried glance and at some point I noticed that he wasn’t far from passing out.

‘Hermiod?’ I called out breathlessly. ‘You stay with me, you hear?’

He didn’t utter a word, just held on to me and tried not to stumble. That was the moment when I picked him from the floor to carry him down the last few corridors. I ran as fast as I could with the Asgard still holding on to me like I was his lifeline.

After a few more turns, I finally arrived at the cafeteria that still held a breath-taking view on the Pegasus galaxy, but I couldn’t care less for its beauty. Instead I rushed over to the food storage and scrambled to the floor.

‘Alright, Hermiod, I’ll get you some water!’ I took care that he was sitting comfortably and went over to the sink, grabbed a glass from somewhere and filled it hectically. Then I went back to Hermiod who had closed his eyes while I had been away.

‘Hermiod!’ I shook him carefully, feeling a wave of relief wash over me when he raised his head again and opened his eyes. ‘I’ve got water for you.’

I carefully helped him to drink. He only took tiny gulps while lots of water just ran down his chin and dripped to the floor. If he went on like that, he wouldn’t be able to drink enough to recover, hence I decided to take a big gulp myself and feed him from tongue to tongue. That worked much better! He took the water from my lips quickly, making me realize how necessary it was for him. I wondered how long he had been that thirsty. I definitely had the worst sort of bad consciousness ever, hated myself for not having seen the signs. Then again, how could I have noticed, having that little knowledge about what an Asgard needs. I loved Hermiod so much that my heart ached. It was impossible for me to even think about losing him.  

After I had helped him drink more than half of the glass I had brought him, he turned his head and took a trembling breath. I took his hand in mine fearfully, being more scared than I’ve ever been before. A part of my heart already knew where we were heading to.

‘Hermiod?’ I whispered, not daring to raise my voice to not startle him. ‘Please, love.’ I pleaded. ‘Let me in. Tell me what’s wrong with you.’

He reached out his hand to me and entangled his long slender fingers with my hair that was falling over my shoulders since I had lost the scrunchie somewhere on the difficult way to the cafeteria. I liked when he played with my hair, but not at a time when the expression on his face was so desperate and forlorn.

‘I have never told you why the Asgard have such frail bodies.’ He began to speak softly. ‘One of the side effects of those insufficient bodies is that we need water and nourishment on a very regular basis. Even one left out meal weakens us, but I’ve missed the meals of two full days and didn’t have any water.’

‘I should have taken better care for you.’ I said, my bad consciousness almost killing me. ‘What kind of partner am I…’

‘You couldn’t have known.’ He interrupted, his voice full of tenderness. ‘Don’t blame yourself, especially not after you’ve saved my life when you helped me drink.’

‘I’d do anything, love.’ I whispered. ‘Just tell me…’

‘Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done as long as we don’t have any Asgard food supplies. If I don’t feed in the next few hours, my body will weaken beyond recovery.’

His statement felt like a fist in my face, because I knew in an instant what it meant. That’s why I let him off my embrace carefully and stood up to run over to the food storage. I began searching frantically, my whole body shaking with hope and fear at the same time, but all I could find was human food. It was enough for me to survive half a month, but what was it good for, if there was nothing for my suffering Asgard?

‘Damn!’ I yelled and kicked the storage vigorously. ‘Goddammit! Why didn’t we stock up! We should have foreseen that something could go wrong with an experiment like that!’

I thought of the untouched bowl of Asgard food supplies that was still standing on a shelf in my Atlantis quarters. Why hadn’t I just taken a handful of it with me? Just in case? Gosh, I hated myself for being so stupid and ignorant not to have taken care we’d have enough provisions.

‘Aegeti.’ Hermiod called for me in one of the rare moments when I didn’t yell. The little word, spoken in such a soft and weak voice, ended my tantrum in an instant and let me get back to Hermiod.

‘Love…’ I scrambled to the floor and looked at him fiercely. ‘What can I do?’

‘I’m sorry, Aegeti.’ He replied sadly. ‘Now that it’s certain we don’t have any Asgard nourishment on board, there is nothing you or anyone could do. I’m losing strength. I don’t know how long I can stay awake…’

‘No, Hermiod!’ I almost yelled at him. ‘You won’t leave me! You listen? I… I won’t let you…’

My voice broke when I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. All of this was so surreal, as though I was caught in a horrible nightmare where everything that had ever had a meaning to me was slowly taken away one by one. To know that this nightmare was bitter reality, broke my heart.

‘Will you just stay with me?’ He asked quietly. ‘Just hold me?’

‘Of course I will.’ I promised and wrapped my arms around him carefully to hold him close and to warm him. ‘You’re all I have, Hermiod. Without you, there’s no me.’

‘Aegeti, please…’ His voice was full of emotion. ‘Don’t give up yourself because of me, will you?’

I didn’t answer him, because I didn’t want to lie to him. Of course I would give up myself because of him, because he was all that I had. I had spoken the full truth when I had told him there was no me without him. I pressed my lips together and remained silent, trying not to show my breaking heart all too obviously.

After we had spent an unknown amount of time in silence, I wanted to talk to Hermiod again, no matter the subject. Just hearing his voice would help me to cope, but it would also destroy my heart even further. No matter what I did now, it wouldn’t change the gruesome reality I was facing.

‘What is it that made your bodies weak like that?’ I asked, having a feeling that the answer could be of importance someday.

‘The Asgard suffer from a genetic disease.’ He told me matter-of-factly. ‘It’s incurable, unfortunately, and it’s getting worse with every new generation.’

‘That’s horrible.’ I uttered, but that was an understatement, because in fact it was the most disastrous news I had heard for quite some time. Of course, I’d suspected that cloning didn’t come without the risk of losing or damaging DNA, but I’d never have imagined the Asgard, the most sophisticated people I knew, would be confronted with a problem like that.

‘The Asgard are a dying people, Aegeti.’ Hermiod went on speaking, his voice so low that I could hardly hear him. ‘We’ve made too many mistakes, we’ve taken too much for granted. My people are great scientists, but although we’ve taken great effort to eradicate our disease, we haven’t found any solution by now.’

‘I don’t want you to die.’ I said firmly. ‘Neither of you. The Asgard are among the best that ever happened to this universe. You don’t deserve… to just fade away. What will become of us without you being there? What… what will become of me…’

I could hardly believe what I heard, it was too devastating, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. To know that the Asgard people would die a slow death over the years was horrible enough already, but to know that one of those Asgard, the one who was the center of my world, was dying with them, felt like said world just shattered into pieces, each shard carving deep wounds into my soul.

‘How long?’ I asked after some awkward silence, my voice hoarse from crying and suppressing my despair.

‘I don’t know.’ Hermiod admitted. I didn’t quite believe him, but didn’t want to object. If there were really only a few hours left for me to spend with him before he literally died from starving, I didn’t want to waste them with an argument.

I hid my face in the crook of his neck and cried silent tears. There are no words to properly describe the despair I was in. Still, I felt kind of selfish for being such a crying mess, while it was him who was facing the end of his life.

‘Aegeti.’ Hermiod whispered after a while. ‘Please look at me.’

I raised my head to meet his sorrowful glance. I’d never have thought I’d ever read so much emotion in those beautiful almond shaped eyes. It hurt. It hurt so much to just look at him, to know I’d lose him.

‘Yes?’ I asked carefully, swallowing hard.

‘When I fall unconscious, please keep my body warm at any cost.’ He told me quietly. ‘As long as this body doesn’t die, there’s still a chance to transfer my consciousness into a new clone in case we get rescued anytime soon.’

I nodded, swallowing the lump in my throat. ‘It’s the least I can do.’ I assured him affectionately. I felt even more selfish when I realized that he was still the level-headed one, while it should have been me to comfort him and not the other way around.

I placed a tender kiss on his forehead, inhaling every little detail of the Asgard that involuntarily broke my heart by just looking at me like that, somewhat lost and broken. We were both broken, heart and soul.

‘I wish we would have had a little more time.’ He murmured. ‘I’ve lived hundreds of years alone. Now I’ve finally found a place and a person to belong to, and…’ He wasn’t able to finish the sentence.

‘I know.’ I stammered. ‘It’s so unfair.’

Hermiod shifted and placed a kiss on my cheek, the fingers of his right hand once more entangled with my hair. The tenderness of his touches made me cry heavier, that’s why I wasn’t able to utter a comprehensible word between my sobs anymore. To know that I couldn’t change a thing bereft me of all the words I should have said but couldn’t.

‘Aegeti.’ He whispered once more, and when I turned to him he spoke some words in Asgard, the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I didn’t need a translation program to understand him.

‘I know.’ I just confirmed his words. ‘Forever.’

He gave me one last glance from those beautiful eyes before he passed out, and for a while I just held him close and cried my heart out. I forgot everything around me, didn’t care anymore for the galaxies I’d never reach, didn’t waste any more time on the Daedalus sending out an unheard signal into the void. There was just this one personal space left that belonged to Hermiod and me. Nothing mattered anymore.

I pledged an oath to myself that if I lost Hermiod, I’d follow him. My desperate heart told me clearly that there was no place for me in this and every other world but the one at the side of the Asgard in my arms. What’s a life’s worth when the only reason for living is gone?

I took care that the unconscious Asgard was resting on the floor comfortably, before I unzipped and took off my work overall. Thanks to the still well-working air conditioning the cafeteria was warm and almost cosy, therefore I wouldn’t freeze just wearing my black shorts and t-shirt, but it was too cold to keep Hermiod warm. And I would keep him warm, perfectly knowing that it was most likely the last thing I’d ever do. If it was the only chance to keep him alive just a few hours longer, I knew what I was going to spend those hours with.

Have I been afraid? Yes, I was scared as hell, but it wasn’t my own imminent death that scared me, it was the mere prospect of Hermiod leaving me first.

When I tugged him in the fabric of my overall, I kept on whispering the Asgard words to him that he had told me before. Words spoken in Asgard, a language so close to Icelandic, my native language, but pronounced so entirely different. The ancient Norse people had learned their language from these wonderful aliens who had taught them so much, but over the centuries, the languages had taken different paths of development.

‘Ég elska þig, min elskadir.’

Of course, my pronunciation was horrible, but when it came down to it, I mostly cared for the meaning of the words and for the fact they were Asgard, his language, and I couldn’t stop telling him again and again that I loved him, desperately hoping he might hear me in his coma.

‘Ég elska þig, ástin min.’

I sat down on the floor and pulled him close, taking another sip of water and feeding it to him, let it run from my mouth into his to save him from dehydrating. I promised myself I’d leave nothing undone that I was able to do.

‘Ég elska þig, ástin min.’

I finally lay down, still holding him in my arms like I had held him after the crash on Hoth, sharing all my warmth and love with him. In this very moment I existed only for him. There was no Aegeti Talvi anymore, there was only the willpower of a being who loved Hermiod beyond reason.

‘Ég elska þig, ástin min.’

I’d never have expected they’d have a phrase like that in their language. As Hermiod had told me before, there was no necessity for any kind of affection among the Asgard anymore. Therefore, I suspected the phrase was a remnant from the past when love had still a meaning.

I knew that love had a meaning for the particular Asgard in my arms. He had told me. It was the last thing he’d done before he had given in to the weakness of his body.

‘Ég elska þig, ástin min.’

The words became a mantra and kept me sane while everything in me was screaming in agony. I didn’t think anymore, I just existed and kept on breathing for him and him alone. As long as I could still feel the faint heartbeat in his thin chest, there was hope, and I wouldn’t give up hope to the very last moment.

‘Ég elska þig, ástin min.’

The more often I spoke the words, the more my pronunciation improved. I almost smiled when I remembered how terribly I had failed to pronounce his Asgard name correctly when he’d told it to me first. It had been such a wonderful gift.

‘Hermiod, ég elska þig, ástin min.’

I had forgotten that I was still on a spaceship, I didn’t think of the dark void anymore. There was only one thought left in my mind, ready to smash the last few remnants of my broken heart.

I had promised to take Hermiod home and couldn’t keep my promise.

‘I’m sorry… my Hermiod, I’m sorry…’

I spent a long while being unable to think anymore, devastated by knowing I had broken the only promise that I never wanted to break.

Then, after my mind decided to kick in again, I made a decision for myself to be at home right here on the Daedalus. I had lived here for so many months that it had become my home eventually, and as Hermiod hadn’t been able to go back to Othala anytime soon, it had become a home for him, too.

Home is where the heart is, as they say, and my heart was right here with Hermiod. It belonged to him, after all. If there was anything that ever counted, it was the fact we were together on our journey into the void.

‘Ég elska þig, ástin min.’

I whispered the words to him again and again, automatically already, while I let my thoughts drift to the beautiful pictures Hermiod had shown me from his memories. It was so tragic that we wouldn’t visit Othala together, but I hoped that our spirits would be carried across all those light years to find peace at a place as amazing as that, at a place he would have called home.

Then I realized that there was nothing anymore that I regretted, because every step that I had taken in my life had led me to Hermiod eventually. I found peace in this realization, because it made me come to terms with all the turmoil of the years. I found forgiveness.

‘‘Ég elska þig, ástin min.’

Those were the last words I said before I finally gave in to my own weakness, tiredness and hopelessness. I didn’t want to think anymore, because every thought had become pointless. I wrapped my arms around Hermiod in a firm embrace and closed my eyes, drifting off to long forgotten memories that weren’t important anymore. I got lost in the void.  

--

I had been here long enough that I had gotten used to the hospital smell and the presence of ill people all around. It wasn’t my first time having to spend endless days in a hospital, after all, but it was definitely the hardest. Broken limbs or a horribly aching appendix had been things I hadn’t even complained about, but this was serious, and I still couldn’t point out what part of the whole disaster was the most serious.

It had been a dark and winding road from my birth to this particular moment, and I’d even say that my decisions and actions the night before had been an act of logic. The odd logic of a person who couldn’t cope with the pain any longer.

Sometimes I had looked at the scars my father’s beatings had left behind. They were connected to memories of violence and despair. Remnants of a past that was filled with an abusive and constantly drunk father and a mother who just looked away, too weak or too much a coward to make a change. In the end she did make a change, but it had been way too late already for my scars to ever heal.

I had been angry about my mother over the years, and I also had been quite thankful that after the incident, where she had smashed a pan over my father’s head, I had gotten the chance to live with my grandparents for a long while. I never found out what happened to my father, I only knew that he had to go to jail for some time. I had never been asked to court to give evidence for my father’s deeds. Obviously, my mother had finally had the guts to tell the truth. Children of abusive parents were rarely asked to court, considering the trauma they already had to live with.

Maybe I’d never have forgiven my mother for all those years, but when my grandmother had told me all those years ago that she had been brought to the hospital, I could hardly stay away. Apparently, she had passed out while at work and it had been great luck her co-workers had called an ambulance right away. The next day the doctors spotted a tumour in her brain that had already spread too far to safely be removed. It was her death sentence, and she took it with dignity, maybe because she thought she deserved it.

But even at her deathbed I couldn’t bring myself to forgive her, not even when she asked for it. Too deep were my scars, too bitter were the memories. I had been just eleven, a child still, I had never gotten the chance of a carefree life, and nobody had ever showed me how to deal with the trauma. Before she passed away, we both cried, and she apologized again and again.

I remained silent.

I also remained silent at her funeral. It was a cold and rainy day, but I hadn’t brought an umbrella to the cemetery. For the other visitors it was impossible to tell whether the drops on my face were tears or just the rain. They’d maybe have been devastated, if they had known the truth, because it really was just the rain on my cheeks. At the funeral I didn’t feel anything. My soul was an empty void.

I shut away my feelings for years, never talking about my parents, no matter how often my grandparents tried to get through to me. They sent me to a psychologist, but I didn’t talk to her either. I talked to nobody, stuck to my books and worked on whatever my future might be, because the future seemed to be a bright and peaceful land where there’s no sorrow. Of course, I was naïve, but I was a child still.  

I had never liked to socialize, because even in kindergarten I had already been ashamed of the bruises caused by my father. The other children as well as the caregivers weren’t supposed to know about the horror I went through at home. I had always feared someone would interfere, because I knew I’d have to regret it right away. He’d make me regret it without mercy. Only sometimes I hoped someone would care and make a difference for me to end the pain, but I never dared to ask for help.

When I was thirteen, my grandmother took me on a long walk and told me carefully that my father had committed suicide in jail. Apparently, one of his fellow inmates had found out the reasons for his sentence and incited all the others against him. My grandmother assumed that maybe, when he had been faced with the truth again, he had felt regret. I didn’t want to know, I didn’t ask any further questions, because I simply didn’t care. I also refused to attend the funeral, because I didn’t want to be confronted with all the memories again, didn’t want wounds to be opened again that had slowly begun to heal. I didn’t feel anything, not even relief about the fact he was gone and no longer dangerous.

After my parents had both passed away, I should have felt something, anything, but I couldn’t bring myself to even try. I hated neither of them, but I also didn’t miss them. It’s terrible when a thirteen years old teenager admits frankly she doesn’t miss her diseased parents.

Over the years things didn’t improve, it was more the other way around. The more I hid from the world the worse and the more useless I felt. I was one of the best students, most likely simply because of the fact that I spent all of my spare time studying instead of socializing. I got interested in many subjects and carried some hope that I’d at least get a good job sometime later, although I obviously wasn’t able to establish a well-working social life. My grandparents did their best to give me a good life and all chances possible, but apparently, I was too ungrateful and selfish, too caught up in my own misery, to even notice it, until it was too late.

Just a few weeks ago my grandmother had lost her fight against cancer. Her funeral was the first time in ages that I allowed myself to cry. If there had ever been a person in my life whom I truly loved, it was her. She was the first loss that ever made me feel something that was not only bitterness.

But now, at the sorry age of seventeen, I was lying in this hospital bed, staring at the wall unseeingly and trying to sort out the pieces of my life. There had been a handful of reasons why I finally took the step I had considered taking way too often in all those years. I suppose that for everybody there comes a point, sooner or later, when the end of the line is finally reached.

I had lost track on time, didn’t know how long I had already been here and didn’t even care. I was safe here and taken care of. The incident in the library that had driven me to take the final step (unsuccessfully) began to fade with the daze of the medication they had given me.

I looked out of the window at a mountain range. While I was falling asleep soundly, the sun rose onto a brand new day. Maybe it was meant to be a better one. I couldn’t know.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 14 - Improbability

 

I shifted uncomfortably and tried to open my eyes, but the light that penetrated my eyelids was much too bright to even make an attempt. My surroundings felt different, even smelled different, beginning with the unusual fabric of the surface I was lying on. At the same time, I realized that the sound had changed tremendously from frightening silence to an intelligible bustle all around me. The disturbing silence I had almost gotten used to on the Daedalus was gone, replaced by the soothing and oddly familiar sound of some kind of propulsion system, murmuring voices and people going about their business.

The avalanche of emotions and memories that flooded my brain hit me full front. I suddenly knew I wasn’t on the Daedalus anymore, and therefore, I definitely wasn’t dead yet. Apparently, a miracle had happened. I just didn’t know if it was one of the good kind.

Of course, now I was wide awake in an instant and opened my eyes despite the brightness all around me, partly fearing I had been abducted by whatever hostile aliens. I’ve already had enough hostile aliens for a lifetime.

When the blur in front of my eyes cleared and I was able to distinguish my surroundings eventually, a very familiar face swam into sight. I didn’t like the serious and worried look on that face for sure, but I definitely liked the face’s owner!

‘Thor!’ I exclaimed. ‘Holy crap, Thor! Where the hell did you come from?’

The Asgard Commander produced a sound that reminded me of an amused chuckle. There are no words in the world to describe how happy, how endlessly relieved I was by seeing him. He appeared like a saviour to me. Without thinking any further, I hugged him enthusiastically and held him close for a moment, still not able to believe my senses.

‘Good morning, Dr Talvi.’ He greeted me, unfazed. ‘I, too, am delighted to see you alive and well.’

I let go of him and cleared my throat awkwardly. ‘Uhm… I’m sorry… I just… I think I’m a tad overwhelmed by the impossible chance of being rescued…’

‘Don’t worry.’ He reassured me. ‘I’m certain you didn’t expect someone to come to your rescue anymore. You seemed to me as though you had given up. Eir told me you were catatonic, most likely from some kind of shock.’

I could hardly tell him that I hadn’t been in any kind of shock and that instead I had simply given in to the inevitable. Maybe someday there was a time to talk about it, but that time wasn’t now, because my mind was frantically processing data.   

My eyes darted in every direction, taking in every little detail of the room I was in. I knew the room and its bright walls well, I had been here before. I had a hard time finding proper words to describe the relief that washed over me when I realized I was at an infirmary and surrounded by Asgards. That was definitely much better than the afterlife!  

The Beliskner.

I looked back at Thor, still not sure if this was real or just the result of a weird dream or a near-death hallucination.  

‘Where’s Hermiod?’ I wanted to know, because there was no information more important than the one about his well-being. If I had made it and he didn’t… I didn’t even want to think about the possibility.

‘He’s still sleeping.’ Thor reassured me. I could read on his face that he understood my worries very well. ‘He was on the verge of dying when we found you, and therefore, he will need more time to recover than you.’

‘How long did I sleep?’ I wondered.

‘About fifteen hours.’ He answered matter-of-factly. ‘You were weak.’

I nodded slowly and looked at him fondly. ‘I’m glad you found us, Thor. You’ve saved our lives. Again.’

‘We had great luck when we found you.’ He revealed. ‘I’m sorry for being late.’

It was heart-warming in so many ways to see Thor, the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet, worried like that. I knew I had found a friend in him who really cared, and for the moment it wasn’t important that maybe he only cared for me because of Hermiod. The point was that he cared, and that meant the world to me.

‘Late?’ I asked in bewilderment. ‘Thor, you weren’t late… you… gosh, no wonder that people once worshipped you as a god! You came right in time when we needed you the most!’

He lowered his head. ‘Your praise honours me, Dr Talvi.’

‘Aegeti.’ I said automatically. ‘I know that being on first name terms doesn’t have a meaning to you, but it has to us humans, and I’d be honoured….’

‘Aegeti.’ He repeated my name. ‘I know enough about humans to recognize the gesture.’

We looked at each other awkwardly until I decided it was time to continue the conversation we had started before. ‘Did you receive our distress signal?’ I therefore wanted to know.

‘Indeed.‘ Thor acknowledged, also ignoring the awkwardness. ‘Otherwise we’d never have had a chance to find you. It’s been a remarkable idea using the hyperdrive to amplify your signal. Very creative indeed.’

‘It was Hermiod’s idea, actually.’ I definitely didn’t want to rest on my beloved’s laurels. ‘But even he didn’t believe it would work.’

‘It obviously did.’ Thor acknowledged. ‘Though, we tried to reply to your signal, but apparently you didn’t receive the call.’

‘We most likely haven’t been at Engineering anymore when you called us.’ I mused. ‘Right after Hermiod had reinitialized the communication system, he broke down and I carried him to the cafeteria to get him some water.’

‘Keeping him from dehydration saved his life.’ Thor let me know. ‘Just as your attempts to keep him warm. He owes you a lot.’

I shook my head vigorously. ‘He doesn’t owe me anything, Thor. My love for him would be worth nothing if I didn’t care for him best I can. To be honest, I’m deeply ashamed that I couldn’t do more for him, that I didn’t stock up on Asgard food supplies before we left that awful planet...’

I shrunk a tad under his scrutinizing stare and bit my upper lip to keep myself from rambling on.

‘I’m beginning to understand why Hermiod has such a high opinion of you.’ He finally revealed. ‘You’re not like most of your species.’

‘I’m trying.’ I told him honestly, feeling awkward. ‘However, it’s really good to be here!’

I inhaled and exhaled deeply, enjoying the moment and the assurance that my life wasn’t over yet, and that the universe had given me another chance. It’d surely take me some more time to realize we had been saved and left the danger behind, the void and the imminent death.

‘Where are we now?’ I wondered after a while. ‘Did the Beliskner get lost in the middle of nowhere, too?’

‘Unfortunately.’ Thor confirmed. ‘Though, we only fell out of hyperspace a few million kilometers behind you. Fortunately, we were able to reactivate our sublight propulsion, so we could meet the Daedalus and retrieve the two of you. From what you said earlier, I assume you ran out of food and water?’

‘Asgard food.’ I said quietly, deeply ashamed by my own insufficiency. ‘I didn’t know how important it is for your people to get regular meals. If I had used some brain cells, I’d have taken care to stock up on it before we left Hoth. My damn ignorance almost killed Hermiod…’

How could I ever forgive myself for putting him in such danger?

‘Nobody would have expected an accident like this to happen.’ Thor attempted to reassure me. ‘We’ve done this before and never encountered difficulties. Synchronizing two Asgard hyperdrives is quite a simple task normally.’

My heart sank when I thought about the possibilities that had tossed us into this terrible mess. If the Asgard hyperdrives had functioned normally, where was the fault in our plans? What did we overlook?

‘What happened?’ I therefore was eager to know.

‘We’re not entirely sure yet.’ Thor admitted. ‘But now that we can expand our research to the Daedalus, we’ll perhaps be able to find the answer.’

I nodded slowly. ‘Can I be of any help?’

I was more than eager to contribute to the search for the problem, because the sooner we repaired the damage, the sooner we were to go home and leave this mess behind. There was surely still a lot of work to do, because finding the error was only part of the deal. The Beliskner, not unlike the Daedalus, didn’t have a functioning hyperdrive at the moment after all.

‘We’d actually appreciate your assistance on the Daedalus.’ Thor assured me. ‘As long as Hermiod is not available, you’re the only person capable of investigating the problems that might have occurred on your ship.’

‘Great!’ I approved. ‘I mean, it’d do me good to have a task to fulfil while I’m waiting for Hermiod to recover.’

‘I’m certain Hermiod would approve of your decision.’ Thor told me seriously.

I just nodded curtly. I, too, was certain about that, but I couldn’t go yet.

‘But first… may I see him?’ I pleaded. ‘Just to be sure he’s there?’

‘I assure you he’s in good hands.’ Thor objected, obviously fully oblivious of the fact that humans sometimes needed visual proof, no matter how sure they were about a matter.

‘Please?’ I looked at him with big eyes.

Thor tilted his head and raised a brow, a habit that I knew from Hermiod all too well. Slowly but steadily I learned to read Asgard body language.

‘Come.’ He finally complied. ‘But please don’t be worried about what you’ll see.’

His remark once again put my nerves on high alert. I braced myself for whatever I was about to face and followed Thor into another part of the infirmary that was separated from the rest by a door made of a material that looked like frosted glass, a design element I had already seen in various parts of the Beliskner.

In the middle of the room there was one of those Asgard medical pods that I remembered well, since I had used a similar one not long ago. This one only looked a bit more advanced and was equipped with complex looking control panels and monitors that showed all sorts of Asgard data that I didn’t understand. Two physicians were attending the pod and the control panel, seemingly busy, but I couldn’t quite determine what they were actually doing.

I recognized one of them being Eir, the physician who had supervised my recovery after the Wraith incident. To my surprise, she gave me an encouraging nod before she turned back to the panel, busily shoving control stones around.

‘She’s actually very proud of you.’ Thor revealed the reason for her friendly gesture. ‘In her opinion any other human wouldn’t have reacted properly on Hermiod’s emergency.’

‘Wow…’ I was genuinely speechless, never having even dared to guess Eir would come to kind of like me.

As I was lost for words, I didn’t respond to the praise and instead advanced towards the pod to look through the semi-transparent glass of the lid.

I could hardly recognize anything through the ice-like cover, but I saw enough to recognize Hermiod’s face. He was sleeping soundly as it seemed. Though, something was different about him that I couldn’t quite figure out.

‘What exactly did you do?’ I asked Eir interestedly, now more courageous in her presence than before, since I had found out she had started to somewhat approve of me.

‘His body was dying.’ The physician informed me matter-of-factly.

I swallowed hard, not daring to look at Eir any longer. ‘I know… it was my fault.’

‘No.’ She objected to my surprise. ‘In fact, his body was due to die in the next few weeks anyway. We had begun to grow a new clone from his DNA weeks ago already.’

‘W…what?’ Both my brain and heart stopped for a moment. ‘What do you mean… he was due to die soon anyway?’

‘In normal circumstances the death of a clone wouldn’t have been a problematic matter at all.’ Eir explained patiently. ‘It is standard procedure among our people, therefore we don’t see any use in talking about it. Though, I’m certain Hermiod would have informed you in due time. He still would have had a few weeks to inform you. Fortunately, his clone had already matured enough to transfer Hermiod’s mind patterns without risk. The growth accelerators will do the rest. He’ll regain consciousness in about ten hours.’

I was so dumbfounded that for a moment I was absolutely lost for words, while my brain was working extra shifts. I hadn’t spent much thought on the whole Asgard cloning business yet, but now that I heard the facts from Eir’s mouth in such a clinical way, it all seemed logical and reasonable to me. I had just encountered one more fact that showed me that Asgards and humans were literally worlds apart.

‘And that clone…’ I began a question that I didn’t know how to finish.

Eir, the good soul, luckily helped me out in my helplessness. ‘Indeed, the clone is an exact copy of Hermiod’s former body. It is also not his first time to be transferred into a new clone. As I said, it is standard procedure.’

‘Geez…’ I sighed, tearing my hair, totally overwhelmed by everything I just learned.

Eir tilted her head questioningly, observing me intently while I was struggling for the right words to voice my innermost worry about the whole process.

‘Will he still be the same when he wakes up?’ I finally brought myself to ask, feeling terribly stupid.

‘Of course.’ Eir reassured me. ‘He’ll remember everything. If you didn’t know he’s swapped bodies, you wouldn’t even notice. You can be assured that we perfected this technology long ago already. There’s no need to worry.’

I exhaled deeply, not completely sure whether it was time already to let my worries go. Too much had gone wrong recently, and I was endlessly tired of all the failures I had to deal with all the time.

‘You know that I’ve heard that sentence way too often lately?’ I fired tiredly, a tad too impolite, but Eir either didn’t notice or just didn’t care.

‘There’s no human technology involved this time.’ She reminded me meekly, and I could have sworn that she winked at me. Nobody ever tell me Asgards don’t have humour! But it was this wink and tad of humour that made me feel at ease. I knew I could trust those people and their amazing technology unconditionally.

I gave her a fond smile. ‘Thank you, Eir.’ I said quietly. ‘Your encouragement means a lot.’

She nodded at me curtly, then I turned back to Hermiod, my sweet sleeping beauty. He looked so peaceful and at ease the way he was resting there, literally newly born and innocent. A wave of genuine love washed over me that made my hands tremble. I placed a quick kiss on the lid right above his little mouth, not caring about what the Asgards all around me would think of it.

‘So it’ll take another ten hours for him to wake up?’ I repeated what Eir had told me earlier, just to be sure not to have misheard any important information.  

‘The transfer of his mind patterns is already finished.’ Eir informed me, looking at one of her monitors. ‘Unfortunately, the growth accelerators will need those ten hours to complete the growth process of the clone. We will awake him right after to examine him. If you like, I can tell somebody to inform you, so you can be there when he’s about to regain consciousness.’

‘That would be great, Eir.’ I approved. ‘I don’t want to miss a minute.’

She couldn’t know the whole meaning of this statement, because I not only didn’t want to miss a minute of Hermiod’s wake-up-process, I also didn’t want to miss any other minute of his life.

The physician looked at me thoughtfully and finally gave me a slow nod. ‘You’re a good person, Aegeti Talvi. I’m sorry for having been so impolite last time we met.’

‘All forgiven and forgotten.’ I reassured her honestly. ‘And as soon as you’re able to give me Hermiod back, you’ll be in my hall of fame forever.’

She gave me a perplexed glance but didn’t object. Obviously, she had received a course in understanding weird human behaviour in the meantime. I wouldn’t have wondered if Thor occasionally taught his people how to deal with those illogical and irritating humans. He was the guy for such ideas.

I looked at my sleeping Hermiod one last time, my heart overflowing with love.

‘Alright, Eir.’ I finally broke away from the medical pod. ‘I won’t distract you any further.’

‘Very well.’ She approved.

I gave her a last approving smile before I went back to Thor who had been waiting patiently at the door.

‘Follow me.’ He said curtly and led the way. Apparently he led me directly to the engine room.

‘I take it that you’re interested in Asgard technology.’ He informed me mid-way. ‘You will have to gather great amounts of knowledge, now that you’re living among us.’

Wait… what? Did Thor just introduce me as some kind of honorary Asgard just because I had saved one of their lives repeatedly? The mere thought made me stop in my tracks, not really knowing how to react or even how to comprehend his words.  

‘Living among you?’ I asked, my eyebrow almost meeting my hairline. ‘What exactly does that mean?’

Thor turned around to meet my bewildered gaze. Again, there was this amused chuckle of which I was sure he had learned from General O’Neill.

‘You’ve proven yourself worthy of becoming Hermiod’s partner in life.’ He explained calmly. ‘There are facts about the Asgard society you don’t seem to know, but I’m certain he’ll tell you soon enough.’

Again, I was totally dumbfounded, that’s why I could just keep standing right at this spot and stare at Thor as though he had just lost his mind for whatever weird reason.

‘OK, Thor…’ I said slowly. ‘I think this is all … a tad too much at the moment. I mean, why not take things slow and talk this over with Hermiod first before you introduce me to your people as… I suppose you don’t even have a word for that.’

Thor just tilted his head and blinked at me. ‘Hjarta-kostir.’ He just said and turned around. ‘The word is ‘Hjarta-kostir’ and the literal translation would be ‘My heart’s choice’. A more personal version of it would be Sevendi. And just because these words aren’t used often, doesn’t mean they’re non-existent.’

--

I needed some minutes to get my head together again after Thor’s matter-of-fact revelation about what he saw in me. I just stood there, gaping at him like a retard, trying to get in my head that he had given me some kind of blessing. He had called me worthy to be Hermiod’s partner for life. Of course, I could only make assumptions about the practical meaning of the term, because Asgards surely managed their relationships completely different from humans. They didn’t need partners or family, after all, so it most likely had more of a symbolic meaning. I remembered that Hermiod had told me that in the Asgard society love wasn’t a matter of primitive needs for reproduction. To them it was a matter of spirituality, hence I started to wonder how such a connection actually worked. Though, I was too much a coward to just ask Thor. It seemed to me like a very personal matter that only had to be discussed with the respective partner.

‘Thor.’ I finally managed to speak again. ‘Does that mean I’m somewhat… accepted by the Asgard society? I mean, I haven’t done much to deserve that and I’m just a mere human…’

‘I suppose Hermiod’s opinion about this is entirely different from yours.’ Thor shrugged my interception off.

Now I started wondering what Hermiod had told Thor about me at those very few occasions he could have found time to actually talk to him since we got together. I somehow had the impression that Thor knew some things that even I didn’t know, regardless of the fact that I was the subject in question. Thor, obviously, had come to a conclusion about how to handle me and my presence in an Asgard’s life. I just didn’t understand why his agreement on the matter was so important.

‘May I ask why you have so much of a say in this?’ I therefore wanted to know. ‘Are you some kind of… I dunno, Asgard chief who has to be asked first before some new member may be introduced to the tribe? I mean, if you were against it, what would happen?’

‘The matter is much more complex than you might think, Aegeti.’ Thor denied me an answer. ‘But be assured that you’ll get all the answers to all of your questions concerning my people as soon as we’ve arrived at Othala. Hermiod will be given enough time to introduce you to everything of importance. You’re a part of his life now. That means you’re a part of the Asgard people.’

Once again, I just could gape at him, unable to phrase a meaningful sentence. Thor returned my bewildered glance with unblinking eyes, obviously amused by how much I was taken aback by his words. Speaking of being hit by a truck.

‘I’m a part of… what?’ I almost choked when the realization hit me, and I had a hard time to keep myself from totally freaking out. ‘Why? How?’

‘You’ll learn and understand.’ Thor reassured me, obviously unwilling to explain himself any further. ‘On Othala.’

‘Are we even going to be able to get to Othala?’ I decided to change the subject, because my brain needed time to process the latest news. ‘We’re kinda lost in space, so I wonder…’

‘There are two concerns we’re attending to at the moment. The first and most important one is the repair of our hyperdrive.’ Thor explained patiently. ‘I’ve heard that my engineers are getting closer to a successful result. I recommend you to prepare for our departure within the next twenty hours. As soon as we’ve arrived at one of the long-range transmitters in the galaxy of Ida, we’ll inform Commander Njorir on the Mjolnir and send him our latest data. Then it should be possible for him to tow the Daedalus back to Lantea safely.’

‘Wait, we’re going to leave the ship here? Just so? Without any guards?’ I interrupted him worriedly.

‘I’m certain that the Daedalus will be safe.’ Thor assumed. ‘There’s no danger out here, obviously.’

He definitely had a point there, but I didn’t like the thought of leaving the Daedalus unguarded in an unknown part of space. We didn’t know anything about this place, after all. Maybe there were space pirates lurking under a cloaking device, just waiting for us to leave the wreck behind. As always, my imagination ran wild.

Though, I couldn’t get rid of the impression that Thor was much more interested in finally leaving for Othala instead of taking care of the Earth ship that had become more and more of a milestone around his neck. Realizing this fact made me decide not to insist on the subject any further.

‘Alright.’ I therefore said with a shrug. ‘I trust your judgement then.’ I could hardly object after all the promises he had made only minutes ago.

Thor nodded approvingly, seemingly glad this discussion was over before it had actually started to be annoying.

‘Thank you.’ He therefore said, obviously pleased. ‘Now let’s move. There are still many tasks to accomplish before we can leave for Othala.’

‘So we really won’t drop by at Lantea first?’ I asked, still perplexed by the turns of events. ‘Don’t they need anyone to stay on the Daedalus while she’s brought to Atlantis?’

‘We do not have time for a detour, unfortunately.’ Thor let me know. ‘Also, we already have a person who is willing and able to take care of the Daedalus on the journey.’

‘OK.’ I just shrugged and accepted the answer like so many of Thor’s answers before. ‘Othala it is, then.’

‘I’m sorry, Aegeti.’ I saw in his expression that he meant it, so I didn’t object anymore. ‘We’ve lost far too much time already. My presence on Othala is of major importance. Also, if you want to learn about the Asgard, I’d strongly recommend you to spend time on our home world. I’m certain that Hermiod would appreciate it.’

‘So do I, Thor, and I’m really looking forward to it big time.’ I approved. ‘Although I’m quite uncertain about leaving the Daedalus for an unknown time period. I have a contract with the Air Force, after all, and I don’t know if they’ll give me a few weeks off for… family matters.’

I noticed that Thor’s expression softened at my last two words. I couldn’t quite comprehend what it was that I read in his face, but it looked a lot like fondness.

‘I assure you that there’ll soon come a chance for you to ask for permission.’ He then told me enigmatically. Whatever that meant. Once again, like most of the time, he was a complete mystery to me.

In the meantime, we had finally arrived at the huge door of the engine room. Not for the first time did I realize that the Asgard loved huge rooms and high ceilings as though they wanted to compensate the smallness of their bodies.

Also, I had never seen advanced Asgard technology in action before apart from the hyperdrive of the Daedalus (which didn’t really count, actually, considering that it was a quite outdated model). Therefore, I was incredibly curious about what I was going to see. When we got closer, the door slid open to a really huge room, crammed with unfamiliar machinery and lots of very busy looking Asgards.

Everything looked extremely futuristic in the eyes of a human whose species was much too young to understand the complexity of technology like this. All those computers and control panels, though, were nothing compared to the most prominent sight all around. In the center of the engine room there was a tall column of energy that reached from the bottom of the room to the ceiling that was approximately 30 feet in height. It was constantly surrounded by flashes of light as though it was discharging energy. It’d be an understatement to say it looked spectacular. I knew that the Asgard worked with neutrino-ion reactors, but I didn’t have the slightest idea what they would look like. The dancing energy patterns looked by all means beautiful and the whole scenery emanated so much power that I could only stare and literally inhale the amazement while I felt goose bumps everywhere on my skin.

‘Wow.’ I finally voiced, not knowing how to put my amazement in a proper sentence.

‘For reasons unknown, humans tend to be fascinated by minor things all too easily.’ Thor let me know, a tad snarky, while he was still standing by my side, watching me intently.

I glared at him, amused. ‘For reasons unknown, the Asgard have unlearned to appreciate awesomeness when it presents itself.’

Thor glared back at me, and again I should have remembered that there’s no chance to win the staring contest against an Asgard. So I just looked the other way, shaken by an uncontrolled fit of laughter.

‘I’m delighted to see you in such a good mood, Dr Talvi.’ I suddenly heard a voice from another direction that ended my laughing fit in an instant. I surely wasn’t supposed to hear that particular voice. It was impossible.

Therefore, I was genuinely shocked when I turned around cautiously to meet the glance of a man I definitely hadn’t expected to ever see again.

Colonel Caldwell.

I totally doubted my senses and instinctively wondered what sort of weird Asgard technology was involved to present me such a lively picture of a man who was presumed to be dead.

‘What the…’ I stammered, completely lost for words.

‘Good to see you, too.’ He remarked dryly, patting my shoulder amicably, making me believe that he was real, not just some kind of hologram or whatever.  

‘Shouldn’t you be…’ I was absolutely unable to phrase a useful question, especially as it was considered highly impolite to tell people that they were expected to be dead.

‘Dead?’ He asked. ‘Yeah, I wasn’t far from that when Thor picked me up. Seems to be a good idea to rely on the Asgard whenever help is needed.’

That was an advice I’d frankly have given everyone, even more so as the Asgard seemed to be the only aliens who’d advanced further than most without giving up their benevolence.

‘Ohmygosh, Colonel!’ I finally exclaimed, now that my brain had processed the latest data eventually. ‘Oh, I’m so glad to see you! You have no idea how…’

Again I wasn’t able to finish a sentence. I really shouldn’t let this become the habit of my normal way of reaction. But on the other hand, how should I have explained to him what I had felt when he had closed the radio connection and I had to watch him drifting away into space helplessly? There was no way to describe my relief without just hugging him to death, an option that I naturally didn’t have.

‘Thor already informed me about what happened on the Daedalus after I had left.’ Caldwell told me in his usual business tone. ‘You’ve really been through some crap lately, but when it comes down to it, everything we’ve endured was worth it eventually. We’re all here and we’re alive. That’s what counts.’

I nodded slowly, still feeling like I was caught in a weird dream, created by wishful thinking.

‘Indeed.’ I finally confirmed. ‘Though, Hermiod almost didn’t make it…’

‘I know.’ Caldwell said warmly, his voice softer now. ‘But Thor told me he’ll be as good as new in a few hours.’

‘In every meaning of the word.’ I approved, smiling.

I really had a hard time believing all the things that I had experienced in the last hour or so. Miracles – and the latest turns of events were definitely worth to be called miracles – always need some time to sink in, but they did eventually, and when they did I was so relieved and delighted that I just wanted to hug everyone around to share the utter happiness my heart was overflowing with. Of course, I didn’t give in to that impulse, remembering the awkward moment after I had spontaneously hugged Thor at the infirmary.

A few hours ago, I had been willing to die and give up everything I’ve ever been and had, because I had known, still knew, that I wouldn’t be able to go on another day without Hermiod. It had been a day of losses and pain. First, I had lost Caldwell, then I was about to lose my Hermiod, and now, one or two miracles later, I had them both back.

Fate had indeed the worst sense of humour imaginable. I have no idea what all of this was good for, maybe it had been some kind of a test to prove myself worthy of this wonderful gift the universe had presented me. My thoughts floated to Hermiod who was sleeping peacefully in a medical pod in another part of the Beliskner. I couldn’t wait for him to awake, so I could tell him about all the miracles that had happened.

We were all alive and well, we were here on the Beliskner, and there was no place I’d rather have been at this very moment.

‘So it’s you who’s gonna captain the Daedalus on her way to Lantea?’ I asked Caldwell interestedly, drawing logical conclusions from what I had heard before from Thor.

‘True.’ He confirmed. ‘Thor said there won’t be any problems anymore after the latest modifications his people are just working on. There seemed to be a glitch in the software, but they were quite unspecific in their explanations.’

‘A glitch?’ I interrupted. ‘What kind of glitch?’

‘As I said, I don’t know.’ Caldwell shrugged, obviously no less confused than me.

‘Seems I’ve got to investigate this further.’ I murmured. ‘I mean, I really want to know the reason for the whole disaster we were in. We could’ve died out there and they’re just talking of some glitch?’

‘Quite unsatisfying answer, indeed.’ Caldwell confirmed. ‘But they don’t want to tell me. But you seem to have become good friends with Thor, so maybe he’s willing to give you some more information.’

Wondering where Thor had gone, I glanced around the huge engine room. As the Asgard looked all so very similar, it took me some time to distinguish him from the others. He stood at the other side of the room, obviously in a deep conversation with one of his engineers.

But as I didn’t want to be so impolite and interrupt him, I put the subject on my agenda for later and instead turned back to Colonel Caldwell.

‘So you’re willing to spend some more time on a half-dead and unreliable ship?’ I asked him worriedly. I was quite happy, to be honest, for not having to go back to the Daedalus again, because I’ve had enough of bad experiences with her lately.

‘She’s my ship.’ Caldwell reminded me. ‘It’s my duty to go. Apart from that, someone has to do the job, right? I’ve got word you won’t accompany me, after all.’

Thor really seemed to have talked to everyone about everything concerning me and my further plans, which hadn’t even grown on my responsibility alone. 

‘Yes...’ I said slowly. ‘Thor has invited me to Othala to live there with Hermiod for a while. Though…’

I just shrugged, unsure how to phrase my question. It was absolutely unusual to just leave duty for a long vacation in the midst of a mission.

‘Don’t worry.’ Caldwell smiled at me fondly. ‘Of course you can go. I think after all you’ve been through lately, you deserve a nice vacation. Othala will do you good.’

I glanced back at him, somewhat dumbfounded, because I hadn’t expected him to just give me a shore-leave out of nowhere. I was his chief engineer, after all.  

‘Today seems to be a historical day.’ I murmured. ‘Everyone is so incredibly nice to me. Even the physician, Eir, who didn’t like me at all last time we met, decided to be nice to me.’

Caldwell just patted my shoulder. ‘Seems you’re not used to people being nice to you?’

‘Not really.’ I shrugged. ‘But thanks, Colonel, it really means a lot.’

That moment Thor came over to us, obviously having come to a decision with the engineer he’d been talking to the last few minutes. Only now that they came closer, I recognized the engineer as Dellingur.

‘Dellingur.’ I exclaimed fondly. ‘It’s good to see you.’

‘The pleasure is all mine.’ He replied. ‘Unfortunately, everything else I have to tell you is far less pleasurable.’

‘Means?’ I asked, confused.

‘We have examined the Daedalus’s hyperdrive and found out the reason for its malfunction.’ He said sternly. ‘There are still errors in the human written programs that interconnect with the Asgard computer. Two hours ago I’d have put it aside as just another glitch, but now I’m of the opinion that there’s still a traitor among the Daedalus crew.’

‘What?’ I asked, unbelieving. ‘But besides Hermiod, you and me there haven’t been many people who worked on the repairs.’

‘There were still a few.’ Dellingur objected. ‘I remember two technicians having been present at the engine room all the time. They could easily have altered programs on the Earth computer systems while we were busy repairing the Asgard systems.’

Caldwell, having been calm and composed by now, seemingly grew angrier by the second. It was indeed highly disconcerting to know we still had traitors around.

‘Can’t we trust anyone?’ He growled. ‘Aren’t there any decent people anymore?’

‘It’s time for you to return to Atlantis.’ Thor told Caldwell matter-of-factly. ‘It seems you have a lot of cleaning up to do there.’

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 - Prospects

 

Half an hour later we all met at the Daedalus’s engine room where Dellingur and his team had not only tidied up all the chaos Hermiod and I had left behind, but also had disassembled the complete Asgard machinery to its very core. Curious as always, I went over to them to have a closer look at what they were busily working on.

Colonel Caldwell stood a bit aside to not disturb the Asgards in their work. He looked concerned, to say the least. I wondered what he was thinking.

‘So you’re sure about the error’s origin?’ I asked Dellingur carefully. Of course I knew he was sure, but still I needed one more confirmation, too unsettling was the mere thought of having to deal with another traitor, another Wraith worshipper.

‘Unfortunately, yes.’ Dellingur replied. ‘There’s malicious code in the programming interface and it’s definitely been added after I had checked those interfaces back on the planet you prefer to call Hoth.’

He pointed at a certain spot among all the lines of code that were displayed on an improvised array of screens connected to both the Asgard computer and the Daedalus’s. While reading, I couldn’t help but frown. I had never noticed that part of the program before. It was hidden very well, could’ve easily been overlooked, but I was sure I'd have noticed it, if it had already been there last time I had checked the code the evening before take-off. There would’ve been no way of not noticing it, if I had looked precisely for another proof of sabotage. Though, in all our attempts to get the communication system running, we couldn’t have cared less for debugging those programming interfaces.

‘I had checked that, too, the day before take-off.’ I told him the result of my musings with a worried undertone. ‘It definitely wasn’t there before we finished all our checks back on Hoth. It must have been added afterwards.’

‘Has there ever been a moment where none of you guys had been at Engineering?’ Caldwell asked from his corner, obviously aghast by the harsh confirmation of a truth that had only been speculation not long ago. 

‘There was.’ I said after some cerebrating. ‘In the evening before take-off, we all met on the bridge to coordinate next day’s activities. Do you remember? Engineering was unlocked during the meeting as there were still technicians working there, so everyone could have had access to the computer.’

'You obviously have a severe security problem.' Dellingur remarked, raising a brow. 'It's recommended to lock your doors at all occasions, even if you're just leaving for a minute, as long as you can't tell whom to trust.'

‘But there were people in there.’ I objected. ‘Technicians and the like. I suppose there wasn’t any time to check them, considering how fast everything went. Also, the people on Atlantis were convinced Burbank was the only traitor.’

‘It seems that for the rest of our lives in the Pegasus galaxy, we’ll have to lock every door twice and keep our ID cards close at hand all the time.’ Caldwell grumbled. ‘Welcome to our brave new world of constant paranoia.’

‘It’s completely insane.’ I sighed. 'We have to find a way to sort out all those morons! Wraith worshippers! I wonder if there's ever a limit to human stupidity.'

'There isn't.' Caldwell fired, seemingly annoyed. ‘Not even all you eggheads seem to be immune to such nonsense.’

‘It’s a problematic matter, indeed.’ Dellingur stressed. ‘I don’t know Commander Thor’s opinion yet, but I’m sure he’ll wonder whether our technology is still safe with you humans.'

'Sadly enough, I've asked myself the same question.' I told him matter-of-factly.

'I'm glad you agree.' Dellingur tilted his head with a thoughtful expression. 'I think that as long as humans are not able to take care of our components, we should refrain from leaving them to your people.’

It was an unpleasant thought, no doubt about that, and I perfectly realized what it meant, what a major setback for human space traveling the deprivation of Asgard technology would pose, but I understood Dellingur’s reasoning very well. I'd have felt unwell too, had I been in his place.

‘What?’ Caldwell seemed to need a second to process Dellingur’s suggestion. ‘You mean, you want to leave us without a hyperdrive and the like? You'd really send us back to the stone age of space travel?’

‘If it proves necessary, we surely won’t be willing to leave our technology at your disposal.' Dellingur said mercilessly. 'At least until you can prove there are no more Wraith worshippers among your people. We can’t afford the Wraith laying hands on our technology. Equipped with our hyperdrives, they’d be able to travel to our galaxies easily, which must be prevented by all means. I'm certain Thor has voiced similar thoughts already.’

'Unfortunately.' Caldwell grumbled, understandably angry.

‘I understand this decision, actually.’ I admitted carefully. ‘As long as we don’t seem to be able to take all necessary security measures, we don't deserve being trusted. It’d be selfish to insist on our allies to give us their technology and ignore the fact that the Wraith…’

‘Wait, wait, wait, Talvi!’ Caldwell interrupted me loudly. ‘Have you gone nuts or have you spent too much time among the Asgard already? I assume you’re just kidding, right?’

I shook my head vigorously. ‘No, Colonel. I’m sorry, but I’m dead serious.’

Dellingur looked at me with utter interest. He obviously hadn’t expected me agreeing with him and was truly surprised. To me, his reasoning was completely logical, though, because I saw the bigger picture. Asgard technology was undoubtedly more advanced than anything the Wraith had come up with by now, so it was fully understandable that the Asgard were worried, to say the least.

Also, now that Thor had assigned me to become part of the Asgard people, I, of course, had to include them in my musings, too.

Caldwell glared daggers at me, but I just shrugged. ‘I’m just trying to see the facts from their point of view as well, Colonel.’

‘I think I’m going to discuss this with Thor himself.’ He huffed. ‘The both of you, as far as I’m informed, don’t have a say in this anyway.’

I've never seen Caldwell that angry and disappointed before, that’s why I had a really bad consciousness, because I definitely didn't want to turn against him. Dellingur and I watched him stomping out of the room in surprise, because we both hadn’t expected a reaction as harsh as that.

‘Humans are easily irritated.’ Dellingur remarked dryly.

‘It’s his ship.’ I explained apologetically. ‘I mean, it’s really important to him, so…’

‘I’ve heard of the strange human habit of being affectionate towards inanimate objects.’ Dellingur said coolly. ‘I don’t think we need to discuss the logic of said habit.’

‘Humans are weird, Dellingur.’ I smiled at him fondly. 'We're famous for doing illogical things all the time.'

'Unfortunately, I have to agree to your statement.' He just said while getting back to his screens again. 'Though, I'd recommend to discuss this subject at a later time, because we still have great amounts of work to do, and it’s getting late.'

‘Yes, indeed, let's get back to the computers.' I decided to follow his example. 'Are you able to wipe out all the malicious code?’

‘I can.’ He acknowledged. ‘But I want you to check on the human written programs to confirm nothing slips our attention. We’ve already wasted fairly enough time to bring this ship to Lantea. It’s overdue to finally succeed.’

‘I fully agree, believe me.’ I sighed and sat down at my usual workstation. 'I'm getting more and more tired of this incredible mess.'

Now that we knew what to look for, it was quite easy to find all the malicious code and remove or replace it. While looking through hundreds of lines of code, my mind went wandering, as always when doing a routine task.

I was still shocked by the unsettling fact that Burbank hadn’t been the only traitor among our crew. I agreed with Dellingur that there had to be taken great efforts to find all of them as soon as the Daedalus arrived at Lantea, otherwise nobody there would ever be safe. A life's worth didn't mean anything to the Wraith worshippers, obviously, and they didn’t even have the least bit of respect towards both our own people and the Asgard. I couldn't even find words to describe how much I despised that scum.

Also, I perfectly understood Dellingur’s reasoning. If I were in charge of a decision, I’d definitely take into consideration to deny such advanced technology to a bunch of people that obviously wasn’t able to take care of it. I was sure that Thor wouldn’t make an easy decision, but he was responsible to his High Council which had never been enthusiastic about the alliance with Earth in the first place. The Asgard were benevolent people, indeed, but they wouldn't let anyone jerk around with them.

I had just finished my work, when Dellingur came over to me, looking at my screen over my shoulder, checking my progress.

‘You’ve finished your work on the interface already?’ He asked, surprised.

‘Yeah, sure.’ I acknowledged, wondering. ‘Is there a problem?’

‘No, not at all.’ He reassured me. 'I just didn't expect you to make such fast progress.'

Sometimes I was truly annoyed by the Asgard habit of always pointing out how stupid and slow on the uptake humans generally were.

'I'm taking that as a compliment.' I remarked dryly. ‘There are actually humans who aren’t as stupid as you always suspect.’

‘It was meant as a compliment.' He confirmed. ‘I’m sorry for being so arrogant towards you as you affirmatively deserve better treatment, but, considering the circumstances, we have…’

‘…enormous trust issues.’ I completed his sentence. ‘I understand you, I really do, but haven’t I proven to be trustworthy over and over again? Have I ever done a bad job since you know me?’

Dellingur seemed to be slightly taken aback by my snide remark. ‘I’m sorry.’ He voiced, seemingly a bit uncertain. ‘I didn’t want to appear doubtful.’

‘Thank you.’ I replied softly. ‘Having said that, I assume it’d be a good idea for you to have a look at my programs to ensure their validity. As we humans say, four eyes see more than two.’

Dellingur tilted his head, somewhat relieved that I didn’t want him to explain himself any further, and scrolled down the many lines of code briefly. 'Good work.’ He approved. ‘Now we shouldn't encounter any further problems anymore.'

'I'm glad for that.' I admitted. I had spent far too much time with the Daedalus’s computers lately and wanted to get away from here as soon as possible. Everything in me demanded a vacation, that’s why I was almost happy that I wouldn’t have to go back to Lantea anytime soon.  

I would have asked for permission to leave Engineering, but when I looked at the Asgard engineer again, he gave me an unreadable scrutinizing glare. He was obviously cerebrating how to phrase his next sentence, but as I didn’t know what he was up to, I could only return the glare, wondering.

‘I’ve repeatedly noticed that, unlike many other humans, you’re very fast and concentrated while accomplishing a task.’ He finally spoke momentously.

‘Is that meant as another compliment?’ I asked in surprise but wary, blushing a bit. Not even in Hermiod's presence I was used to that amount of appraisal.

Dellingur darted at me unintelligibly. ‘I’ve learned that a compliment now and then is very appreciated among humans.’

‘True.’ I agreed frankly. ‘I’m just not used to getting more than one of them in such a short notice, especially not from an Asgard who’s not used to praise people for doing their job correctly.’

I felt admittedly uncomfortable under his scrutinizing glare. He seemed as though he was chewing on a very important matter of which he didn’t even know whether it was a good idea to address it.

‘Thor has informed me about… your agreement with Hermiod.’ He told me after he had come to a decision eventually, still watching me in his intense and very unsettling way.

Oh, crap! Would that ever stop? Would there ever be a moment when not everyone had an utter interest in my relationship with Hermiod? I could’ve got used to the gossiping on the Daedalus and in Atlantis, but I'd honestly expected the Asgard to be more decent. I also wondered if they even knew what 'gossiping' meant. I decided to be careful, because I couldn't know what Dellingur was actually up to.

‘Well, to be honest. Thor is making decisions without having asked either me or Hermiod.’ I objected, mentally backing away. ‘He’s making conclusions and I have no idea what he’s actually thinking. I don't even know why he's even wasting time on the matter.’

‘Thor is not used to asking questions when important decisions have to be made.’ Dellingur let me know. ‘If he came to the conclusion that you’re acceptable to the Asgard people, he did it with good reason.’

‘What makes you so sure of it?’ I wondered, now seeing a chance to maybe get some of my desired answers that Thor had denied me so far. Dellingur had become some kind of quasi-friend to me, so I wasn’t all too shy to throw questions at him.

‘We're all many thousands of years old.’ Dellingur said sternly. ‘We have learned to trust both Thor and the High Council in their decisions. They’ve always only intended the best for our people, even more so as we’re facing so many problems nowadays. He sees something in you, and it is not on us to doubt his opinion.’

Many thousands of years? I remembered to have heard Hermiod speaking of centuries, not millennia. It was indeed time to investigate matters further, now that I had an Asgard at hand who seemed to be at least semi-willing to provide answers.

'I have three questions.' I therefore told him. 'First, would you mind telling me what it is that he sees in me? I mean, I'm just an average human and he handles me like, I don’t know, sacred object.'

'I would tell you if I knew.' He replied apologetically. 'I'm sorry for my lack of information.'

'It's OK.' I sighed. 'It would have been too easy anyway.'

'What is your second question?' Dellingur wanted to know, obviously having decided not to dwell any longer on the first question.

‘You're all telling me that the Asgard are facing very serious problems, but so far nobody wanted to elaborate on it. What are those problems?’ I wanted to know worriedly. ‘Thor, too, is all secretive about why he has to get back to Othala that urgently and why it’s so important for me to come along. Would you mind giving me any hints?’

‘Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to talk about such delicate matters to an outsider.’ He said softly. ‘But I suppose you’ll find out yourself soon enough.’

'That's really frustrating, you know.' I objected tiredly. 'I mean, that's just not how things work. It simply feels wrong that Thor is making decisions over my and Hermiod's heads without having the decency to provide even the least bit of information. I understand that you folks trust him unconditionally and I admit that I trust him, too, but I'd frankly say that Asgards are no less weird than humans.'

'You will understand his reasoning better as soon as he's willing to share it with you.' Dellingur reassured me, appearing honestly sorry. 'I can imagine how hard it is for you to be kept waiting.'

‘It is.’ I confirmed. ‘Even more so as I’m of the opinion I’m not an outsider any longer, considering the fact that this is actually about me.’

‘I’m sorry.’ He said quietly. ‘I don’t have permission to tell you anything Thor wants to tell you himself. Please forgive me.’

'Don't worry, Dellingur.' I said softly, tiredly rubbing my temples. 'It's not your fault, so I shouldn’t have thrown that rant at you in the first place. Still, I have a third question.’

I knew instantly that I wouldn’t get an answer to this question either, because suddenly Dellingur lifted his head, obviously getting some kind of signal. I still wondered how the internal communication system aboard the Beliskner worked, because I had never seen anyone using a headset or anything similar, but still they seemed to talk to each other over some kind of very advanced radio system.

‘Eir is calling.’ Dellingur told me. ‘She has started the wake-up process and demands your attendance. Hermiod will regain consciousness in the next quarter-hour.’

I had forgotten the odd conversation with the engineer in an instant, when I heard him say Hermiod’s name. The last ten hours, although filled with lots of work, had been far too long, and I missed him far too much to stay calm and wait any further minute.

‘May I go?’ I asked Dellingur nevertheless, not wanting to appear impolite.

‘Of course.’ He agreed. ‘I’m certain the remaining tasks can be accomplished by my team.’

Then he tilted his head, seemingly sending someone a message, and I was beamed away. 

--

Considering the fact that the Beliskner was a really huge ship compared to the Daedalus, I was really glad about the transporter, because otherwise I would have had to run hundreds of meters. To me the Asgard flagship seemed like a flying city. Of course, Atlantis was even larger (imagine my surprise when I found out the city was an actual spaceship!), but the Beliskner was definitely most impressive as well.

Now I found myself in the compartment of the infirmary where they kept the medical pod in which Hermiod was sleeping. Although I didn’t have to move an inch, I was breathless nevertheless, both from nervousness and inexplicable fear. It had been exactly ten hours since I had been here the last time, and now I was anticipating to see my beloved Hermiod again.

I was deeply worried, because I couldn’t even guess the amount of truth behind Eir’s former statement about him still being the same after the transfer.

‘I hope we didn’t interrupt you in any important work.’ Eir said, tilting her head questioningly.

‘No, we’ve already finished our job on the Daedalus and, to be honest, nothing is as important to me as Hermiod.’ I reassured her, smiling widely. ‘Also, I think Dellingur is doing pretty fine without me.’

I could hardly tell her that I was quite happy I got away from the weird conversation with the engineer.  

‘How’s Hermiod?’ I asked curiously and advanced towards the pod to look through the lid.

Obviously, the growth accelerators had done their job well, because now he didn’t look so incredibly young anymore. Now his appearance matched the mental image that was imprinted in my brain. Though, it was still quite difficult to get used to the thought that this was, so to speak, a newly created body into which Hermiod’s consciousness had been downloaded – in every meaning of the word.

Eir seemed to read my facial expression right.

‘The clone is healthy, and we encountered no problems while transferring Hermiod’s mind patterns.’ She told me reassuringly. ‘Though, I assume you have doubts?’

‘This whole… cloning business is totally new to me.’ I replied, biting my lower lip nervously. ‘I’m still trying to cope with the fact that Hermiod, well, actually died… and then he didn’t die. It’s just, you know, confusing. When a human body dies…’

‘We know that, Aegeti.’ Eir said softly. ‘It’s most likely a very unsettling and hard to comprehend process for you, but for a human you have a very flexible mind, so I assume that, as soon as you’ve talked to Hermiod, you will see there’s no need to worry. We’ve had about 30,000 years to perfect this technology.’

“The development of an incurable genetic disease is definitely nothing I’d file under the tag ‘perfect’” I thought grimly, but decided to keep silent about it. Just as I kept silent about the subliminal compliment she had made.

‘I trust you.’ I said instead. ‘So you’re going to wake him up now?’

‘That is our intention, indeed.’ Eir confirmed. ‘Would you like to be alone with him?’

‘I’d love to.’ I immediately approved. ‘But is that even possible? I mean, aren’t there any… monitors to be watched or something?’

I was deeply worried I could harm Hermiod by doing something wrong in all my glorious clumsiness

‘We’ve already checked all necessary data.’ She reassured me. ‘For him, it’s not very different from waking up after a long sleep.’

‘Alright…’ I said doubtfully. ‘But, just in case…’ I looked at her helplessly.

She glanced back at me approvingly. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll stay close.’

She pushed a stone across one of the control panels, threw one last glance at all the screens and left the room quietly, while I kept standing at the side of the pod, watching the lid opening and getting a first impression of Hermiod. He definitely looked exactly like he’d looked before, and therefore, I believed Eir’s statement that I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, hadn’t I known this was a new body.

I just couldn’t get rid of the impression that he looked much more fragile than before.

But then… all of my doubts and musings were forgotten in the moment when Hermiod opened his eyes, first looking around carefully, obviously disorientated.

‘Love.’ I whispered anxiously. ‘Good morning.’

He turned his face in my direction, nailing me to the spot with an intelligible expression. For a moment I feared he wouldn’t recognize me. My heart almost stopped beating.

‘Aegeti.’ He murmured after he had blinked several times, obviously wracking his brain to find out who I was and what this strange human was actually doing in an Asgard infirmary.

I didn’t even dare to breathe, because the situation seemed so surreal. There was an insane fear building up inside of me that something had gone wrong while they were transferring his mind patterns.

‘Do you… do you remember me?’ I asked fearfully, my voice shaking.

‘Of course, I do.’ He replied softly and reached out his hand, touching mine tenderly. ‘I’m glad you’re here.’

‘I’ve missed you terribly, Hermiod.’ I told him in a low voice and kissed his fingers. ‘It’s so relieving to see you again.’

‘What happened?’ He wanted to know, watching my actions curiously. ‘We’re not on the Daedalus anymore…’

‘No, love.’ I acknowledged. ‘Thor received our distress signal and came to pick us up.’

I took his hand in mine firmly, enjoying to see him wrapping his long fingers around it like he always used to do. The whole familiarity of the situation touched me deeply.

I squeezed his fingers tenderly, then let his hand go, watching each of his moves intently. I couldn’t get enough of just looking at him, at his alien beauty, at those searching almond shaped eyes. He first examined his body meticulously, then he looked around the room cautiously, recognizing the room and finally realizing what had happened to him.

‘My body died.’ He said matter-of-factly.

I nodded, swallowing hard, without knowing how to reply to him stating this obvious fact.

‘Apparently, they arrived right in time to still be able to retrieve your mind patterns.’ I told him after some seconds of struggling for words. ‘They said it was almost too late.’  

Hermiod sat up carefully, again reaching out for my hand. I reacted by following my heart and pulled him in a warm embrace, giving in to the relief and the tears. It was so indescribably wonderful to be with him again.

‘You kept me warm?’ He whispered, obviously struggling for words like I had done before.

‘All the time.’ I acknowledged. ‘It was all I could do.’

‘Thank you.’ His voice was so low that I could hardly hear him.

‘Hermiod, I… I thought I’d lose you.’ My voice, just like his, only a whisper. ‘I was ready to follow you…’

Hermiod raised his head and backed away a bit to look into my face. ‘I told you not to…’

‘Dying is easy, Hermiod.’ I objected quietly. ‘Living on without you… impossible.’

We remained silent for a very long time, Hermiod still sitting on the edge of the medical pod and me standing there holding him in a firm embrace as though I’d never let him go. There was so much I wanted to tell him but couldn’t as I lacked all the proper words. Right now I only wished to retreat to a tranquil place with him and take care nobody disturbed us until we were both healed, no matter how long it would take.

‘Did they tell you what happened to me?’ He asked after what felt like an eternity.

I nodded. ‘Yes, Eir has explained everything to me about your whole cloning business and stuff.’

‘Eir told you?’ Hermiod sounded genuinely surprised. ‘I wouldn’t have expected her to explain something so crucial to you. Last time you met…’

‘I know, she hasn’t been a big fan of mine back then, but a lot has happened while you were asleep, my love.’ I explained. ‘Though, I think it’s on Thor to give you further explanations, because he left me in total confusion that I still haven’t sorted out. Is he always that secretive?’

Hermiod’s wits were at high alert in an instant. ‘What did he tell you?’ He asked sharply, looking almost terrified.

‘Uhm, nothing I could make sense of, to be honest.’ I tried to calm him down and wriggle myself out of the situation, deeply regretting to have told him anything in the first place. I actually wanted to be confirmed he was well before I confronted him with any unpleasant facts. Having one’s mind patterns transferred into a new body was surely exhausting.  

‘Please tell me. I need to know.’ He demanded icily. Oh, crap…

‘Nothing in particular, really.’ I tried to appease him. ‘It surely doesn’t have that much of a meaning.’

‘Aegeti, please.’ His expression softened. He suddenly looked so fragile and defeated. I instantly knew I couldn’t lie to or keep any secrets from him. After all, Thor wasn’t only secretive about me but about Hermiod as well, and if there was anyone who could enlighten me, besides Thor himself, it was Hermiod.

‘Promise me you won’t be angry.’ I first needed to be reassured.

‘I could never be angry at you, Aegeti.’ Hermiod said earnestly. ‘You know that.’

‘I believe you.’ I reassured him. ‘But I’m not so sure that you wouldn’t be angry about Thor.’

Hermiod raised his brows and gave me the most intense look he was able to produce. I had no more chance to back out.

‘Just some muttering about me being worth to be part of the Asgard people and weird stuff like that.’ I told him the truth. ‘It’s all been quite confusing, actually.’

Hermiod appeared as though he wanted to visit Thor immediately to beat the living hell out of him. I hadn’t expected the matter to be of such severity. Thor had obviously started an avalanche that I definitely wasn’t able to stop.  

‘Love, what…’ I stammered helplessly.

Hermiod looked me in the eyes with the most heart breaking glance. ‘I wanted to tell you myself. I wanted to prepare you for it. I didn’t want Thor to just…‘ The rest of the sentence got lost in lots of annoyed Asgard muttering of which I could perfectly guess what it meant.

‘Would you mind giving me a clue about what’s going on?’ I demanded, growing more and more impatient about a situation that was completely out of my control.

‘I wanted to wait until we’re back on Othala.’ He whispered, seemingly desperate because of Thor having ruined his plans. ‘I wanted it to be… romantic.’

Being taken aback about the emotionality in his voice, I sank to my knees to be on eye-level with him, while he was still cowering on the medical pod, obviously devastated.

‘I’m sorry, love, I didn’t know…’ I whispered to him softly. ‘I should have told him to be honest to me, but I couldn’t and still can’t make sense of all of this.’

‘Why?’ Hermiod asked desperately. ‘Why did he have to tell you? I should have been the one to tell you. This whole matter is about me and you. It’s not his business.’  

‘It seemed to be important for Thor to throw some hints at me.’ I explained gloomily, being no less annoyed by the Supreme Commander. ‘I couldn’t make sense of anything. I think I simply don’t know enough about how the Asgard handle relationships. I can’t even figure out what exactly Thor was actually talking about.’

Hermiod looked at me for a long time without uttering a word. I didn’t dare to say anything either, just waited for him to come to a conclusion.

‘Of course, without Thor’s declaration of consent there would be no possibility to introduce you to our people.’ Hermiod said sadly. ‘But he could at least have waited for me to awake and tell me first instead of you. He must have known that you’re oblivious about his status concerning these matters.’

‘Believe me, I’d rather have remained oblivious of all those… complexities for the time being.’ I admitted. ‘Though, now that the cat is out of the bag already, you can just as well tell me.’

Hermiod slipped from the edge of the medical pod, trying whether his legs were able to carry his body. When he had to steady himself by getting hold of the pod, I realized that it had not only been my first impression that his new body appeared weaker than the last. I reached out my hands to support him.

‘I’m sorry, Hermiod.’ I muttered, holding him close. ‘I shouldn’t have insisted.’

‘No, it’s not that.’ He shook his head slightly. ‘It always takes a few hours to get used to a new clone, but it doesn’t matter…’

‘Can I help you?’ I asked worriedly.

‘Just… could you just be with me?’ He begged, holding on to me desperately.

‘Of course.’ I acknowledged. ‘Whatever you need, Hermiod. I’ve promised you once and I’ll promise you all over again. Do you remember what I said on the Daedalus? Without you there’s no me. So whatever you need, I’ll do my best to support you.’

‘I’m just afraid Thor involuntarily ruined everything for us.’ Hermiod muttered. ‘I don’t know what I would do if it were so.’

‘Oh, Hermiod.’ I’d never have thought he was so afraid and insecure. ‘I don’t care for Thor and all his damned secrecy. It’s you who counts. If his demands are a problem in any way, we’ll find a way to get around them. Just… you don’t need to be so shy, love. Just talk to me.’

Hermiod looked up at me, his big black eyes full of emotion, while he seemed to fight an inner struggle. I gave him time, didn’t utter a word, just waited for him to come to terms with whatever he had on his mind.

‘I’ve told you that in the modern Asgard society relationships aren’t necessary anymore due to our lack of the ability to reproduce naturally.’ He slowly began to explain, his voice low.

‘I know.’ I just acknowledged, encouraging him to speak further. ‘You’ve told me more than once already.’

‘You also know that, despite of what every other race believes, we’re not totally cold and deprived of emotions.’ He went on thoughtfully. ‘Although it’s become very rare, some of us still do engage in relationships.’ On more questioning glance.

‘Yes, you’ve told me that before, too.’ I attested. He tilted his head, his whole body language completely unreadable.

‘We can love, and when we love, we do it to the fullest. That is what happened to me, Aegeti.’ He confessed quietly. ‘I fell in love with you with all my heart, all my soul, my very being, and I want you to be a part of my life. Though, I don’t want this to be a secret. I want everyone to know about it, I want my people to approve of it.’

‘I understand.’ I said hoarsely, my eyes filling with tears again. ‘And I do agree with you, because I want the same.’

I squatted in front of him again, still holding him in a firm embrace, and looked up to him openly. I wished he could read my mind and see how serious I was about this confession.

‘I feel the same, Hermiod.’ I told him honestly, trying to put all my love in my voice.

He closed his eyes for a moment, obviously struggling for inner balance. ‘Please do not promise anything to me as long as you don’t know how our society works.’ He pleaded, almost desperately.

‘Hermiod, even if it meant I’d have to live in a dark cellar and never see the daylight again, I’d do it, because I love you. Nothing ever matters but the fact that I love you with all my heart.’

Now he opened his eyes again, those beautiful black almond shaped eyes I’ve come to like so much. He appeared like having a hard time to believe what I told him.

‘I mean it, Hermiod. I really do.’ I fortified my words.

‘Why me of all people, Aegeti?’ He finally voiced the question that seemed to move him the most. ‘You’re a beautiful human female who could easily find a human male. Why me? An Asgard?’

‘Do you really have to ask this question?’ I wondered. ‘Is it so unclear to you why I love you?’

When he just tilted his head, lost for words, I pulled him even closer to whisper my confession in his ear. ‘You’re bringing out the best of me, over and over again. You’re all that I can think of, you’re the light of my life. Love doesn’t care for where we come from, who we are. In the eyes of love, it doesn’t matter that I’m human and you’re Asgard. When two souls connect, nothing else matters.’

‘I think I understand now.’ He confirmed quietly, significant relief in his voice.

I released him from my embrace to look at him again. He raised his hand and tenderly wiped away the tears from my cheeks. Then he kissed me gently. It was the first time ever that he initiated a kiss.

We were both cowering on the floor now, lost in each other’s arms, not caring for our surroundings anymore. After a while of comfortable silence, Hermiod shifted to give me another scrutinizing glare.

‘Do you want to know what Thor is denying to tell you?’ He asked carefully.

‘I’m dying to know.’ I admitted.

‘Although his consent is mandatory, he’s not obliged to ask for your own consent.’ Hermiod told me secretively, making me raise my brows. ‘The only one who’s entitled to ask for your consent is me.’

‘Means?’ I couldn’t help but sound a bit impatient.

‘Would you agree to be my chosen one?’ He asked more seriously than ever before. ‘My Hjarta-kostir? My Sevendi?’

I just nodded, lost for words, and kissed him.

And right in this moment I was glad that Thor had at least told me the meaning behind the words ‘Hjarta-kostir’ and ‘Sevendi’, because now I didn’t have to ask any further questions. I just knew. Hermiod wanted me to become his wife, and that was the greatest gift of all.

Whenever anytime later someone asked me where the most romantic place for a proposal was, I would tell them it’s the infirmary of the Beliskner.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16 - Leaving

 

I can’t say anymore how much time had passed until Eir carefully peered into the room, entering it silently when she saw us sitting on the floor peacefully.

‘I’m afraid I have to part the two of you for a moment.’ She said, considerably sorry. ‘There are some examinations to be performed on Hermiod. Those are important.’

I nodded curtly, let go of Hermiod, scrambled to my feet and helped him getting up in the process.

‘Of course.’ I said, a little embarrassed by being caught in such an intimate moment. ‘I should’ve been more considerate.’

‘Important conversations should never be delayed, except for emergencies.’ Eir replied meekly. ‘Though, this is no emergency, of course, but it’s of importance nevertheless.’

Hermiod, having reacted faster than me, had already climbed back into the medical pod, ready to be examined by the horde of physicians Eir had brought along.

I stood by silently to not disturb them in their work, but I observed their doings thoroughly. I had learned enough about Asgard facial expressions and body language now to notice that Eir seemed a bit worried, but as they all were talking Asgard, I had no idea what was the reason for her worries. I also had no idea what the readings on the various monitors meant.

Note to self: Learn to read and speak the Asgard language and make this a top priority!

After a while, Eir seemed to have finished her examination and allowed Hermiod to get up. Although I was eager to have him back in my arms again, I couldn’t help but voice my own worries first.

‘Eir, may I ask a question?’ I dared.

She looked at me with honest concern. ‘Yes, of course.’

‘You’re worried about something.’ I voiced my own worries. ‘Do I want to know the reason why? Is everything alright with Hermiod?’

Eir looked at me for a long time, unblinking and obviously struggling for a decision. I waited patiently until she made up her mind.

‘His body is weak.’ She said softly. ‘Weaker than the last one, to be precise. It’s no reason to worry for now, because on Othala he can be under constant medical observation. It will be taken good care of him, so his condition will improve with time. It often occurs that the clones need some time to get accustomed to.’

Despite her hint that I shouldn’t worry, I now worried even more. I went over to Hermiod and put my arms around him firmly to hold and steady him. He didn’t appear all too weak, though, as he was able to stand on his own feet and look annoyed.

‘Is it because of your genetic disease?’ I wanted to know, ignoring Hermiod’s annoyed glare. He obviously wasn’t in the mood for discussing the disadvantages of cloning.  

‘Unfortunately, yes.’ Eir confirmed, lowering her head.

There were tons of questions popping up in my mind, and I really wanted to ask all of them, but Eir just put her hand on my arm carefully before I could even start. ‘On Othala you will learn everything about our research on our genetic degeneration.’

‘Your race is dying, right?’ I asked the most prominent question, the one that scared me the most, the one I already knew the answer of. My voice broke at the last word.

‘Not yet.’ Eir reassured me. ‘We still have time for further research. Hermiod and you still have enough time to be together.’

That statement was only semi-relieving, because between the lines I read “There’s not much time left, so spend your togetherness well.”

‘I’m not only worried about Hermiod.’ I told her softly. ‘I’m worried about all of you. You know, your people have a meaning to me. I don’t want you to die…’

‘Your care is most appreciated.’ Eir approved, her voice even softer. ‘But for now there’s no need for concern, yet.’

That sounded like one of those motivational posters I’ve seen hanging in offices now and then. The sort of ‘keep your head up high and think positive’ crap that I always considered pretty ridiculous.

‘If I can be of any help…’ I didn’t quite know how to phrase my offer. ‘I mean, I’m neither a physician nor a geneticist, but you know what I mean.’

Eir looked at me fondly. ‘Thank you.’ She just said.

‘May I interrupt?’ Hermiod threw in. ‘There’s a call from Colonel Caldwell. He wants to see you for some last checks on the Daedalus before we leave. Thor already informed me that the Beliskner’s hyperdrive will be repaired within the next two hours.’

I nodded. Hermiod was right, it was time to get back to work. Even more so since I had just found out that our time was limited. I instinctively knew that Eir was hiding something. Maybe I didn’t even want to know what.

--

When we were beamed aboard the Daedalus, Caldwell, Thor and Dellingur were already waiting for us. I could literally sense the spirit of departure hanging clearly in the air.

Caldwell looked concerned, but I would have looked just the same if I were confronted with the prospect of having to wait all alone for the Mjolnir to arrive. Even more so in a case where I couldn’t even know when that exact moment would be.

Dellingur was busy shoving stones around on the control panel of the Asgard computer, performing some last checks to ensure the functionality of the system.

Thor was just standing there, waiting patiently. Of course, I noticed the interested and fond expression on his face when he eyed Hermiod and me holding hands the moment we arrived at Engineering. For some unknown reason he was a really big fan of what I had with Hermiod.

‘You won’t encounter any further problems now.’ Dellingur said eventually, looking at Caldwell sternly. ‘All parameters are set correctly, and we’ve ensured there’s no more malicious code. When the Mjolnir arrives, they’ll be able to synchronize the hyperdrives and bring you to Lantea in no time.’

‘That sounds great.’ Caldwell approved. ‘I can’t wait to get back and kick all those traitors’ asses.’

‘Give them a good kick from me, too.’ I suggested grimly. ‘And tell them that if I ever again hear about them laying their filthy hands on anything Asgard, they’ll be wishing to never have been born.’

Caldwell cracked a smile, eyeing Hermiod and me interestedly. ‘May I have a word, Talvi?’ He asked. ‘In private?’

Wondering about his intentions, I just shrugged. ‘Yeah, sure.’

Thor and the other Asgards understood the hint without further explaining, but before they were beamed away, Thor gave me one of those communication stones that I had seen around on many places before.

‘Use this to signalize us that you want to be beamed out.’ He explained.

I took the stone in my hand carefully to examine it. It was a simple piece of an unfamiliar silvery-whitish material that looked like half an egg.

Hermiod gave me one more affectionate look. ‘I guess we’ll meet at Engineering?’

‘Yes, of course.’ I confirmed. ‘I’ll be there in a minute.’

After the Asgards had left, Caldwell began pacing pensively, his hands buried in his pockets, his expression unreadable.

‘So what is it that you want to talk about?’ I said after some minutes of silence, growing slightly impatient. I knew that Thor wanted to leave rather soon than later, and I didn’t want him to hang around at this miserable place any longer than necessary.

Caldwell cleared his throat. ‘So you’re serious about going to Othala and staying there for a while?’

I nodded. ‘Yes, of course. Did you change your mind about permitting it to me?’

‘Not at all.’ Caldwell reassured me. ‘I just need to know what to tell my superiors. Generals O’Neill and Landry surely want to know where my chief engineer got lost, and the Atlantis crew has to know as well. My question is as follows: Are you going to return to your duties anytime soon, or are you actually planning to stay with the Asgard and… I don’t know, raise a family?’

I couldn’t help but smile widely, now that I knew the reason for this awkward conversation. Of course, he had to tell his superiors, but I was sure there was also a lot of his own curiosity somewhere among his words.

‘To be honest, Colonel, I don’t know yet.’ I admitted. ‘Thor wants me to stay there for quite a while. He wants me to learn to know more about his people, language, culture, and the like, but I don’t know his full intentions, yet. Though, I’m definitely willing to spend time with Hermiod. You know, a time in peace without any danger lurking around every corner. But the Asgard don’t raise families, actually.’

Caldwell raised his brows. ‘I’ve heard a few things, actually. I mean, you know that everyone aboard the Beliskner is talking about Hermiod and you? Some of the Asgard were so fascinated that they told me. Seems someone has leaked quite delicate information.’

My smile grew even wider. ‘Nobody leaked anything, sir. The Asgard just don’t have such extreme privacy issues as humans have. Of course, they’re curious, because in the last few thousand years it didn’t happen often that an Asgard got into a serious relationship that’s based on love rather than on any scientific purpose.’

‘I didn’t even know they have things like love.’ Caldwell admitted. ‘But it’s not my business anyway. Listen, Talvi, I just want you to know that I'm worried about you. You’re a good engineer and I’ve learned to appreciate you as a person. I definitely haven’t forgotten that you wanted to save me when I was drifting into space.’

‘Uhm, thanks.’ I replied awkwardly.

Caldwell cleared his throat once more and bit his lip. He felt just as awkward as I did with this conversation.

‘OK, listen.’ He continued to speak. ‘Get happy there on Othala, will you?’

‘I will.’ I replied softly. ‘I’ve found a place to belong to, and believe me that I’m really sorry this place isn’t on the Daedalus anymore.’

‘You’ve really got a thing for those Asgards, don’t you?’ Caldwell asked.

‘I feel welcomed among them.’ I admitted. ‘Although they may seem cold and distanced, they’re actually very kind people. They’re arrogant and way too convinced about their intelligence and supremacy, but on the other hand, they have good reasons for having become that way. The Asgard are a very old civilisation with a very eventful history, but they’ve come to a point now where there seems nothing more for them to gain. Maybe that’s the reason why, after all those millennia, they’ve decided to get into an alliance again.’

Caldwell frowned. ‘If your words are true, then I wonder why Dellingur tells me Thor wants to deprive us of all the Asgard technology.’

‘I have a hard time believing that.’ I shook my head, shrugging. ‘Dellingur is just extremely pissed off by all that recent chaos. I think it’s rather his wishful thinking than Thor’s actual plans. He’s grown impatient, but he’s not a bad guy per se.’

‘May God hear your words.’ Caldwell replied doubtfully. ‘Don’t get me wrong, Talvi. I like those grey guys a lot, but I don’t think they’re as perfect as they want to make everyone believe.’

‘Who’s perfect anyway, sir?’ I asked half-jokingly.

We stood there in silence for a moment until Caldwell finally reached out his hand to me. ‘Have a good time on Othala, Talvi. I almost envy you for the shore-leave.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ I replied, shaking his hand. ‘I hope things will be sorted out when you arrive at Atlantis. Watch out for any Wraith worshippers and scum like that.’

‘I will.’ He said. ‘The Asgard are very interested in finding the culprits, too, so I suppose they’ll keep you updated.’

--

After I had said my farewell to Colonel Caldwell, I used the communication stone to contact the Beliskner. Only seconds later I got beamed out and found myself inside the huge engine room where there was a lot of bustling going on, as always.

The whole atmosphere hung heavy with the spirit of departure.

‘Ah, Aegeti.’ Thor said when he got aware of my presence. ‘Is Colonel Caldwell prepared for our departure?’

I nodded briskly. ‘Yeah, I think so. He’s not happy about hanging around here alone for an undefined period of time, though.’

‘He won’t have to wait long.’ Thor assured me. ‘We’ll be arriving at a transceiver station at the outer rim of the galaxy of Ida in about three hours, now that we have a well working hyperdrive again and enough energy to use it properly. From there we will call the Mjolnir immediately to ask them to pick him up. As soon as they’ve confirmed to us they’re on their way, we’ll depart for Othala.’

‘Sounds like a plan.’ I confirmed, looking around the room interestedly. ‘When are we going to leave?’

Thor looked across the room at Dellingur and his team of engineers who were just discussing obviously important matters, considering the wild gestures he was using in his explanations.

‘We’re about to get ready.’ He finally spoke in Thor’s direction. ‘We’ve checked and double-checked every system. We certainly won’t encounter any further problems.’

I decided to trust the Asgard engineers to be able to bring us to Othala in one piece, because the Beliskner, after all, had been designed for Asgard technology alone and wasn’t a complete patchwork of alien and Earth technology like the Daedalus.

‘Acknowledged.’ Thor replied, obviously pleased by his engineers’ progress. ‘I’ll be on the bridge then.’

He hadn’t even completed the sentence yet when he was beamed away. Again, I was wondering about how great the energy output of their three neutrino-ion-generators actually was, because that constant beaming to and fro certainly took insane amounts of energy.

Dellingur just nodded curtly at my and Hermiod’s approximate direction, then went back to his team to perform the last checks and preparations. He was obviously eager not to let anything slip their attention. Not for the first time did I notice the particular atmosphere that always occurs at the prospect of finally going home after a far too long journey.

Though, despite the hectic all around us, Hermiod and I stood quite lonely amidst the others with nothing much to do. I knew that Hermiod wasn’t part of the Beliskner’s engineering crew anymore since he had left for his duty on the Daedalus. His whole posture told a long story about how much he regretted his decisions at the moment. Just like me, he was an engineer through and through, hence he hated to have to stand by without having an actual task. It was time for me to distract him.

‘Hermiod, I don’t know how it’s about you, but I’m starving.’ I told him, giving in to the constant complaining of my rumbling stomach. ‘I feel like I haven’t eaten anything in ages!’

Hermiod broke away from his former co-workers to look at me, seemingly regretful. I just didn’t know what it was exactly that he regretted at that very moment – his decision not to work on the Beliskner anymore or the fact that he had totally forgotten about me while he was musing.

‘We only have Asgard food supplies.’ He said apologetically. ‘I don’t know…’

‘Shush.’ I interrupted him. ‘Anything is better than nothing at all. I don’t want to be half-dead from starving when we arrive at Othala.’

Hermiod eyed me thoughtfully, then took my hand and gently led me out of the engine room. We went down a long corridor without saying a word. I observed Hermiod from the corner of my eye, noticing that I had rarely seen him in this particular mood, somewhat thoughtful, somewhat sad, that’s why I stopped in my tracks mid-way and put my hand on his shoulder, making him stop as well.

‘Hermiod, love, what is it?’ I wanted to know earnestly. ‘What are you wracking your brain about?’

He didn’t look at me, just continued staring at anything but me. Then he made up his mind. ‘Not here.’ He said vaguely. ‘Let’s go to the mess hall for dinner. There I’ll tell you.’

‘All…right.’ I replied doubtfully, not really knowing how to react to his rejection. So I decided to follow him down that corridor and some more, until we finally arrived at a tall door that led into a bright and quite nice (by those decent Asgard standards) mess hall, where there were some tables and chairs but not one single Asgard.

‘Where is everyone?’ I asked curiously, not having expected the room being completely devoid of life like that.

‘Preparing for take-off.’ Hermiod told me brusquely. ‘They all have jobs to do.’

Being fully aware of Hermiod’s displeasure concerning the sad fact he couldn’t be with them, I decided not to object and instead sat down at the table he pointed me to. Those chairs looked so fragile that I took greatest care when sitting down on one of them.

I had always hated the fact of being so small and thin myself, even tiny for human standards, but now that I was about to live among Asgards, I had finally come to terms with it. Still, I was taller and heavier than all of them and therefore didn’t sit very comfortably on such a fragile chair.

Hermiod went through a door on the other side of the mess hall, just to come back a few minutes later with a tray filled with multi-coloured perfectly shaped Asgard food supplies. After setting the tray on the table, he took a seat right opposite to me, looking at me expectantly.

Now had come the time for me to be courageous enough to explore the only source of nourishment that I’d get to eat for a very long time from now on. I eyed those little spheres, cubes, pyramids and squares suspiciously, and finally decided for a yellow square. I carefully picked it from the tray between index finger and thump, and sniffed at it with raised eyebrows, fully aware of Hermiod, who was watching me intently.

‘They’re not poisonous and fully digestible by humans.’ Hermiod encouraged me, blinking at me, a tad mockingly to my dismay.

‘I know.’ I acknowledged. ‘But it’s not so easy to bite from something that smells so… peculiar.’

Hermiod just raised a brow as though he wanted to tell me not to be so picky (what wasn’t that easy, actually, because those little thingies had a very strange alien smell that my brain absolutely didn’t know what to do with).

Though, knowing that I wouldn’t get anything else to eat anytime soon, I bravely took a first tiny bite from the yellow square. It tasted as terrible as it smelled, but I swallowed it just as bravely, although it brought tears to my eyes.

‘So?’ Hermiod wanted to know, and I could have sworn there was an Asgard version of a smirk on his pretty face.  

‘It tastes…’ I was honestly ringing for words. ‘Special.’

‘You hate it.’ He summed up my reaction matter-of-factly.

‘I suppose it doesn’t matter whether I love or hate it.’ I noted, surrendering to my fate. ‘If I don’t want to die starving on Othala, I’ll have to get used to it.’

‘Apparently.’ Hermiod nodded affirmatively, now obviously amused at my inconvenience. But all the mocking aside, he was right and I had to behave a tad more mature, because if the taste of their food was the only disadvantage to a life on Othala, I’d surely find a way to come to terms with it rather soon than later.

That’s why I pushed the rest of the yellow square in my mouth, chewed it properly and managed to swallow it without throwing up. It felt like the first battle won in a quite difficult war.

‘Maybe you’d like one of those better?’ Hermiod suggested and presented me a blue ball the size of a marble. I glared at it suspiciously, then took it from his hand carefully, sniffed at it again and raised a surprised brow.

‘That smells way better, at least.’ I saw hope on the horizon and placed the tiny ball in my mouth. It tasted worse than the yellow square, therefore my hope faded as fast as it had arrived. Shuddering, I swallowed it and had a hard time not to choke. Holy crap!

‘Do your physicians know a method how to kill all of my taste buds and revive them as soon as I get the chance to eat human food again?’ I asked hopefully.

‘I don’t know of any.’ Hermiod destroyed my hopes, blinking. I didn’t like the mocking in those big black eyes. I didn’t like it at all.

‘May I have a glass of water?’ I broke the spell of his utter amusement, my voice hoarse from choking. ‘It’d make swallowing that stuff much easier.’

Hermiod, the gentleman that he was, got up and went back to the other room where he’d already brought the food from. He returned with an oddly shaped glass filled with wonderful clear water. I took it from his hand and drank gratefully.

‘So I suppose there won’t be any romantic dinners for us on Othala.’ Hermiod then told me, still disturbingly amused. ‘I assume that you’ll prefer to suffer in silence while eating.’

Now was the moment where I couldn’t contain myself any longer and therefore burst into laughter which, unfortunately, caused a very nasty hiccup. Hermiod looked at me in puzzlement, not understanding my assumedly sudden change of mood.

After succeeding in getting both laughter and hiccup under control, I breathed deeply, took another sip of water and looked at Hermiod fondly. ‘It all depends on the question where you’d prefer to go with me. If you want to go out on a fancy dinner, be sure I won’t say no.’  

‘Well, I’m certain I’ll be getting back to this at some occasion.’ He let me know, giving me an approving glance.

When I looked at him closer, I realized that he was only faking his mockery. There was something in his eyes that I couldn’t quite comprehend. I remembered what he had said on our way to the mess hall.

‘Hermiod, you wanted to tell me something.’ I reminded him, now completely serious again. ‘It’s about what happened in the engine room, isn’t it? You feel left out in some way. Did Dellingur say anything hurtful to you?’

Hermiod obviously didn’t know how to voice his thoughts and feelings, but I didn’t rush him. I knew, that if he wanted to tell me, he would, therefore I wouldn’t force him in any way to talk about something he maybe wasn’t ready to talk about yet.

‘I offered him my help, because I didn’t know what else to do while we were waiting for you to return from the Daedalus.’ He finally said quietly. ‘He told me very briskly that he didn’t need me. It’s very clear to me that he actually meant he doesn’t want me.’

‘Why?’ I asked in surprise, not able to imagine why someone would reject Hermiod’s expertise.

‘He’s my successor as the chief engineer on the Beliskner.’ He told me, his voice even lower. ‘He made me realize that this ship is not my place anymore. I’m no longer welcomed.’

‘Oh, Hermiod.’ I said, somehow lost for words. I hadn’t expected Dellingur being that rude. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘Why?’ He asked in wonderment. ‘It’s not your fault.’

‘It isn’t, indeed.’ I confirmed. ‘But I feel you. I’m no longer the chief engineer of the Daedalus either, after all. Seems we’re both unemployed now.’

Hermiod, having completely forgotten his dinner, now sat there like a complete picture of misery. I felt such compassion with him that I abandoned my dinner as well and went over to him, squatting in front of him to be on eye-level.

He wrung his long fingers awkwardly, obviously not knowing how to phrase his next sentence.

‘I’m sorry, Hermiod.’ I repeated. ‘You don’t deserve such treatment. Should we talk to Thor about it?’

Hermiod shook his head. ‘I don’t want to bother him with unimportant things like that.’

He appeared as though he wanted to start to cry, but then I remembered that Asgard can’t cry, and that even if they could, their pride wouldn’t allow it. Though, they obviously could feel miserable. Most likely not all of them, but Hermiod definitely.

‘OK, listen, love.’ I said softly, taking his hands into mine gently. ‘Thor wants to have us on Othala for a reason. Some inner voice is telling me that he has something up his sleeve, otherwise he wouldn’t insist on both of us staying there for a while. How about just allowing things to unfold and see where we’ll end up?’

He nodded hesitantly, staring at the floor instead of me. I waited patiently for him to make up his mind.

‘Alright.’ He finally forced himself to a decision. ‘Maybe you’re right and I’m just overthinking things too much.’

I smiled at him fondly. ‘And I thought unnecessary worrying is a human specialty.’

‘Obviously not.’ He replied, now looking a tad less sad.  

‘Hermiod, I want to make a promise.’ I told him, giving him my most serious glance, while I was still holding his hands in mine. ‘We’ll go through everything together, no matter what it is. I won’t let you down and we’ll find our way, come hell or high water.’

Now it was on him to look at me fondly. He just tilted his head and raised his brows, the Asgard version of a smile. ‘I return the promise.’ He said, just as seriously.

Our conversation was suddenly put on hold when the Beliskner slipped into hyperspace. The sound of the propulsion system changed as well as the sight from the mess hall’s large window. After all that chaos, all the fear of never being able to go home again, it was almost a revelation to suddenly see the universe coloured in blue again. I enjoyed seeing he colours of hyperspace, alongside with the odd feeling that always overcame me in the moment of the actual jump.

I instantly felt more at ease, and a lot of the recent stress fell off of me. We were finally leaving the dreadful void and the fear of death and loneliness behind. We also left the Daedalus behind, the place where I didn’t want to go back to anytime soon, because first I had to process all the memories from our all-too-long stay out there in the space between galaxies. I felt honestly sorry for Colonel Caldwell being left behind, though, but the Mjolnir would pick him up in a few hours, so he’d be fine as well.

I stood up from my chair and went over to the window, not being able to break away from the beautiful sight in front of it. For the first time I realized how the colours of the Beliskner’s interior were in beautiful and perfect contrast to the colour of hyperspace. It was purely aesthetical and showed me that a proud ship as the Beliskner was definitely not made for hanging around in a black space of depressing nothingness. It was built to fly, to cross long distances.

There was a good reason why the pagans translated the ship’s name, Beliskner, as Thor’s Chariot.

I felt Hermiod closing up to me, looking out of the window with less amazement than me, though. He seemed quite puzzled by me gaping at a view that I should have become used to long ago. Of course, he didn’t know all my inner struggles and doubts.

‘You look like you’ve never seen hyperspace before.’ His voice only half-mockingly this time.

‘I just feel a wave of relief wash over me.’ I confessed with a smile. ‘We’re finally getting out of this mess and have an actual destination in front of us.’

‘I’m sorry for all the suffering you had to go through because of me.’ Hermiod said quietly. ‘I should have found a way to spare you the pain of… losing me.’

‘I would have gone crazy out there, indeed.’ I admitted frankly. ‘But I also learned a very important lesson.’  

‘What lesson is that?’ He asked curiously.

‘That you mean the world to me, Hermiod. I’d rather die than live without you.’ I made another confession. ‘I was so afraid of losing you… I hope we’ll never have to go through that sort of horror ever again.’

Hermiod met my eyes with so much love in his, so much care and affection. He looked stunningly beautiful in the blue light of hyperspace. I smiled softly and kissed his forehead gently. He closed his eyes to enjoy the fleeting moment.  

‘In the future I’ll take better care of you, my love.’ I promised him quietly. ‘I’ll never risk your life again. Never.’

‘I know.’ He replied softly. ‘Neither will I risk yours.’

We stood there in silence for a long time, just enjoying the fact of being together, of being alive and safe and on our way. After a while, I sat down again on one of those low chairs and pointed Hermiod to sit beside me. I could see clearly that he was more tired than he would have admitted and blamed his new body for its insufficiency.

I didn’t need to convince Hermiod. He just came over to me and sat down, allowed me to wrap my arms around him and hold him close.

‘How do you feel?’ I softly whispered in his tiny ear. ‘Tired?’

‘It always takes time to get accustomed to a new body.’ He repeated Eir’s words from earlier this day. ‘It’s tiresome, to say the least, and I’ll need a lot of sleep as soon as we come home.’

Funnily enough, I had thought so much of Othala being the Asgard home world, but not about where we’d actually live there and what we were supposed to actually do there. I knew absolutely nothing about the planet besides the few glimpses I had seen when Hermiod had shared his memories with me a while ago.

Was it really only a short while ago? To me it felt like forever, because in the turn of those weeks, my whole world had shifted, turned upside down and got rearranged. Such major changes need their time to sink in, and I realized that I still hadn’t had enough time yet. Everything happened so fast, like a train rushing by at high speed.

I thought of the fateful day when the Daedalus had smacked into Hoth, the day that had made me realize that the constantly grumbling Asgard engineer meant something to me, meant more to me than just a co-worker. I was astonished by the chain-reaction that had followed and brought me here to this very place and moment.

I realized that all the decisions I had made so far, although they had happened spontaneously most of the time, despite the fact that they were huge and important, had been the right ones. Of course, I was wary towards the future, because I couldn’t even imagine what awaited me on Othala, but I knew that it would be worth it in one or another way.

It felt so natural, typical Aegeti, to fall in love with an alien and to be willing to give up my whole life for him, no matter the circumstance that we came from two entirely different worlds. I still had to find out how many differences there actually were.

‘Would you mind sharing your thoughts?’ Hermiod interrupted my musings softly, seemingly growing impatient or insecure because of my silence.

‘Oh, it’s just some general musing.’ I said with a tired smile. ‘About what happened and about what’s going to be. I admit, I’m a tad insecure concerning Othala. I mean, I’m going to be the only human among lots of Asgards. I’m literally an alien and I suppose it’ll be more than awkward.’

‘If you’re going to feel among my people the way I felt among yours at the beginning of my assignment to the Daedalus, it surely won’t be all too easy.’ Hermiod admitted. ‘But you have me to go through it, just as I had you.’

‘I didn’t do much, actually.’ I objected. ‘Except from telling people off who were mean to you.’ There had been admittedly more situations of that sort than I ever wanted to have to handle, but I had done it nevertheless. I hated it when people were treated badly, especially when it was about differences in species and stupid crap like that.

‘That was more already than I could have expected.’ He approved warmly. ‘I felt less… alone, whenever you were present at Engineering. Many among the Daedalus crew found it problematic to work with an alien, but you... you just accepted me the way I was.’

‘Open-mindedness is not really a widespread human quality.’ I admitted sadly. ‘I hope the Asgard are already beyond that level.’

Seeing a shadow fall over his delicate features made me realize that Hermiod was of a different opinion. He looked sad and quite uncomfortable as though telling me what he wanted to tell me wasn’t pleasant at all.

‘You must understand that most of the Asgards we’ll meet on Othala have never seen a human before, or any other off-worlder, for that matter.’ Hermiod admitted what I had already suspected from the look on his face. ‘They’ll be curious, most of them will accept you, but there’ll most likely also be people who are not very welcoming towards… aliens.’

It should have occurred to me long ago that the tables were about to turn. Up until now I had always lived among humans, and it was totally natural to me that all the other species, including the Asgard, were aliens. Now I was to become the alien on a planet where I didn’t belong to. I was facing to try and integrate into a society I knew nothing about than the few facts that Hermiod had told me.

Maybe the Asgard were more advanced than us humans, but xenophobia was not only a bad habit among humans, as it seemed. I realized that I was scared by the mere thought of being stared at suspiciously, of being examined and valuated by countless eyes. It clearly wasn’t going to be fun at all.

I could imagine very clearly how many Asgards would feel about being confronted with a human, with me, for the very first time. We were tall and hairy, had tiny eyes, ugly noses and far stronger bodies than them. I’m sure we looked extremely intimidating when being seen through the eyes of an Asgard, no matter how hard we tried not to. Hermiod must have felt terrible when he had started his assignment to the Daedalus.

It was the first time that I doubted Thor’s motives, because I absolutely couldn’t figure out what it was about me that got him interested in me to become a part of their society. What was his function on Othala besides being the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet, how (or even if) was he related to Hermiod? The questions that were swarming my brain for quite a while now suddenly multiplied.

And suddenly I was scared like hell and completely insecure.

‘Hermiod, don’t you think it’s too early for me to go to Othala?’ I asked worriedly, my voice shaking with anxiety.

‘I understand your worries.’ Hermiod replied honestly, looking at me with deep concern. ‘But it wasn’t me who made the decision to introduce you to Othala just yet. Thor has given you an invitation and even I can only guess his motives. You’ll be taken good care of and he surely won’t let anyone get through to you whose intentions are hostile in any way. Also, you have me.’

‘I know.’ I said quietly. ‘And I’ve accepted the invitation in my enthusiasm. Stupid me. Now I can’t chicken out anymore.’ Where’s the mouse hole to hide inside when it’s needed the most?

Hermiod got closer to me and held me in his arms with all his might, trying to comfort me with his strong presence. ‘I will take care of you the way you’ve taken care of me so often.’ He promised quietly. ‘I’m taking my responsibilities very serious.’

‘I know, love.’ I whispered softly, leaning into his embrace. ‘I know.’

The moment he shyly kissed me was, oddly enough, the same moment when we fell out of hyperspace. I startled heavily, let go of Hermiod instantly and jumped up from my chair.   When I returned to the view outside the window, I couldn’t help but cheer happily about what I saw.

Stars galore!

And a planet that the Beliskner began to orbit right now, a beautiful world of blue and green, surrounded by little clouds here and there.

‘Is this…’ I started a question, but Hermiod shook his head gently.

‘No, it’s not Othala yet.’ He informed me, tilting his head. ‘It’s a planet at the outer rim of Ida, where my people have installed a long range transceiver. Thor is most likely just about to contact Atlantis and inform them about our status and the current whereabouts of the Daedalus.’

‘So we’ve really arrived at the galaxy of Ida.’ I realized, feeling relief and happiness washing over me.

‘Indeed.’ Hermiod replied warmly. ‘Welcome home.’

My smile was caught by one more passionate kiss. One of the kind of kisses that let you forget all your worries and doubts.

We were on our way to Othala now, and while Hermiod kissed me, I could only anticipate our arrival.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 17 - Truth

 

A bit more than two hours later, Hermiod and I found ourselves on the bridge of the Beliskner, accompanied by Thor and some more Asgards who were busy preparing for our arrival at Othala.

After we had departed from the transceiver station, Hermiod and I had finally finished our dinner until we got beamed to the bridge by Thor (of course without further asking, as usual). Now we were ready for whatever was awaiting us. Well, at least Hermiod looked like he was ready. I was on the verge of going crazy, but suppressed it very well.

I watched Thor thoroughly from the corner of my eye. It was hard to read him, though, because his whole demeanour was professional and distanced. Still, I couldn’t overlook that he was looking forward to our arrival at Othala quite much. But the more anticipating he looked, the more worried I got. Of course, I trusted Thor, because by now he hadn’t done anything that would have caused mistrust. But I was wary anyway, because I still couldn’t figure out his intentions.  

When the Beliskner fell out of hyperspace, we had already passed the outskirts of the planetary system, heading straight towards a beautiful world of large blue oceans and continents of all shades of green. It was one of the most beautiful planets I’ve ever seen. A peaceful, lively world, surrounded by three moons and countless artificial satellites.

‘Welcome home.’ Hermiod whispered, deeply moved by the sight of his home world. ‘Welcome to Othala.’

I took his hand in mine, holding it close, trying to jump off the rollercoaster of emotions that was turning its rounds inside my head. I was shivering and had goose bumps all over. We had finally arrived at our most anticipated destination, but I wasn’t able to really feel relief. My whole body was tense from anxiety, and I had no idea what to do to hide it.

‘Hermiod.’ I said while watching the Beliskner moving into a synchronous orbit above a really large city. ‘Are you now going to tell me where we’re actually going to live down there?’

I was amazed by the sheer largeness of the city right below us. I’ve seen Tokyo, but compared to this it was nothing more than a village. The city seemed to cover half a continent. Also, there were a few buildings that were taller than anything I’ve ever seen on Earth or elsewhere. I wondered how many fascinating wonders this enormous city held when looked closer at.

‘You’re going to live in my house.’ I heard Thor speak, surprising me. ‘It is situated a few miles outside the center of Valaskjalf. Everything is already prepared for your arrival.’

“Of course their capital’s name has to be something like Valaskalf.” I mused, smiling inwardly, knowing that there were very strong connections between Norse mythology and the real Asgard people. In moments like these, I was more than grateful for having memorized all the stories my grandparents had told me in those years I had lived with them, stories about good-natured gods and strange places with even stranger names. This knowledge and heritage made me feel closer to the Asgard than most other humans, simply because I was of Icelandic origin. My native language, although I hadn’t spoken it most of my life, was derived of the Asgard language. Hence learning to speak it was only a matter of time. Maybe fate did exist after all, and had planned the course of my life all along.

Though, right now there were more important matters to talk about.

‘Your house?’ I therefore asked, dumbfounded, glaring at Thor. ‘I thought… I mean…’ Why the hell was I always lost for words whenever things went in a completely different direction than what I’ve expected!  

‘Since I’ve done duty on the Beliskner for a very long time, I haven’t been in need for an own place in many centuries.’ Hermiod explained matter-of-factly. ‘That’s why Supreme Commander Thor is kind enough to share his house with us for the time being.’

‘Woah.’ I uttered, feeling honoured. ‘Now, that’s something, indeed.’

In front of my inner eye I had a vision of an Asgard palace, because anything else wouldn’t have done a person in Thor’s position justice.

‘It is not as much of a big deal as you might think.’ Thor said coolly, undoubtedly reading my face correctly. ‘I don’t know how families are handling temporarily homeless family members on Earth, but on Othala we’re always of aid to those in need.’

It took a moment for me to realize what he’d just said.

‘Family member?’ I asked in confusion. ‘As in blood-line and stuff?’

‘Hermiod’s my son.’ Thor told me in a tone as though he just explained that the sky was blue, leaving me completely dumbfounded. ‘I could hardly send him and his future Hjarta-kostir from my door.’

It was so typically Asgard to throw such important information at me in passing as though it was nothing. By now I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of blood relationships among the Asgard, but it was only logical. They had, after all, spent many thousand years reproducing naturally.

‘He’s your son.’ I summed up the most important part of this revelation, pausing for a moment to let it sink in. ‘Why haven’t you told me? I mean…’

‘Aegeti.’ Thor said patiently. ‘We’ll have time for explanations as soon as we’re at home, but now I have to attend to more important matters.’

It was also typical Asgard to ditch people without further explanations.

So Thor turned away from us to talk to another Asgard who was most likely something like his first officer. The conversation was very serious, but as I didn’t understand that much of their language anyways, I lost interest and turned to Hermiod who was certainly my main source for answers right now.

‘He’s your father?’ I asked in bewilderment, still totally overwhelmed by the news. ‘Why haven’t you told me that? I mean, it actually answers a great deal of questions.’

This tiny and enormous fact explained in a completely logical way why Thor had that much of a say in Hermiod’s decisions, concerning his… family planning. Suddenly things made much more sense.

‘He’s my genetic predecessor.’ Hermiod explained, obviously a tad uncomfortable with the revelation. ‘That doesn’t mean you’re going to meet a …mother of mine.’

‘What?’ I asked, now all the more confused.

Hermiod squinted at me, huffing in annoyance. ‘It means that I’ve been cloned from his DNA.’

It took me a few seconds of gaping at Hermiod like a retard until the information sank in.

‘You mean, you’re an exact copy of him?’ I finally sorted out my thoughts.

‘Not entirely.’ Hermiod said, irritated. ‘I’m his son in every meaning of the word. I’m a person of my own.’

I rubbed my temples and pinched my nose to rid myself of an upcoming headache, caused by too much information to process. Of course, I realized that I had just offended him gravely in all my stupid Aegeti-ness. So I cowered in front of him to look up at him apologetically.

‘Of course you are, love.’ I reassured him softly. ‘I’m sorry. I’m just…’

‘Overwhelmed?’ He finished my sentence, a hint of sadness in his voice.

I nodded slightly, feeling honestly guilty for being that rude. ‘Yes, overwhelmed. I mean, I couldn’t even imagine he’s your father. Though, when I look at the both of you now… it’s unmistakable.’

‘Thor was one of the first Asgards who was born infertile.’ Hermiod revealed. ‘Though, as I’ve been told, his wish for an own child as well as his influence were strong enough to convince the geneticists to make an… experiment. But, Aegeti, please… let’s talk about this at a more private place. It’s a really delicate matter.’

‘Of course.’ I confirmed and got up from the floor. ‘But I definitely want to know all of this. No half-truths anymore.’

Hermiod glared at me in slight annoyance but didn’t utter a word. He perfectly knew that we had encountered a point of no return here. I was in too deep and now I wanted to know it all.

--

After Thor had ensured that everyone on the Beliskner knew their respective tasks, he gave an order to beam him, Hermiod and me down to the surface. I was wondering where we’d go to. I hoped I’d get a chance to do some sightseeing in Valaskjalf anytime soon.

I’d never have expected such a huge change in scenery, so I was overly fascinated when the interior of the Beliskner’s bridge was replaced by a lush wild garden that was a harsh contrast to the modern shiny house it surrounded.

‘Welcome to Valaskjalf.’ Thor said dryly and went over to a large door that opened automatically when we came closer, seemingly sensing his presence. I still had to find out how all this silent Asgard communication worked. Somehow it seemed as though they were controlling stuff by thought alone.

We entered a really breath-taking entrance hall. The walls were covered with the same shiny material that I already knew from the Beliskner. Tall doors led to other parts of the building while a really impressive staircase led upstairs. The sunlight came filtering through the ceiling that appeared like a mosaic of shattered glass. The whole room was designed in clear geometrical forms that were made from tiles of different light colours; blue, red and purple. There were no plants or other sorts of decoration whatsoever, hence the hall was completely empty except for the huge monitors at the walls that showed different parts of the planet’s countryside (assumingly). Thor, indeed, had a palace, and it was even more amazing than I would have dreamt.

‘Welcome to my house.’ Thor said humbly. ‘I hope it meets your expectations.’

Since when was the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet modest like that? He just introduced me to the most impressive building I’ve ever seen in my life and wondered about my approval. Seriously?

‘Expectations?’ I therefore muttered. ‘Actually, I didn’t have any expectations in the first place.’

‘According to my experience, humans are always expectant of what’s awaiting them.’ He told me bluntly.

‘Yeah, maybe…’ I mumbled uncertainly, making him smirk.

If the whole situation hadn’t been so awkward, I most likely would have laughed or made a sarcastic comment, but I totally wasn’t able to, being confronted with Thor, the guy who was supposed to become something similar to a father-in-law to me. My head was still spinning with all the new information that I hadn’t had enough time to digest yet. I had been quite casual around Thor lately, but since I knew in what kind of relationship he stood with Hermiod, I was somewhat insecure.

Thor, of course, sensed my insecurities and was able to assign them to my latest updates.

‘I am genuinely sorry, Aegeti, that you’ve received all the important information at the completely wrong place and time.’ He apologized quietly. ‘But it seems that we all have to deal with the truth now. Our society is a very complex system of relationships among all of us. As soon as you’ve become Hermiod’s Hjarta-kostir, you’ll be a member of one of the most influential families on Othala. The Asgard people look up to us. They follow and usually accept all of our decisions, which does also mean that they’ll follow yours too.’

‘Mine?’ I interrupted him, dumbfounded. ‘Wait… what?’

I was so taken aback that I didn’t know what to think anymore.

Thor just looked at me accusingly for my audacity to interrupt him just so. Of course, I should finally learn to respect him as the man he was.

I cleared my throat awkwardly. ‘So what are you?’ I wanted to know. ‘Some kind of royal family or something?’

Thor raised his brows in amusement. ‘We’re living in a democratic system.’ He lectured me as though I was a complete dumbass (which I definitely was, at least I felt like one at the moment). ‘We’re governed by a High Council of which I am a member.’

At least I had already known the part about the High Council, I just didn’t know any details yet.

While we were talking, Thor had led us through one of the tall doors and along a long and almost empty corridor to another door that, like all the others, was made of some icy looking glass. Leaving that door behind us, we entered an enormous greenhouse that was obviously used as some kind of winter garden. Exotic flowers filled the air with their heavy scent and added some friendly colourful spots to the overall green. Most of them were some kind of orchids growing on strong and obviously very old trees with branches that were forming giant treetops as well as very dense undergrowth. I felt as though I had just entered a rich jungle.

‘Woah.’ I just breathed, having completely forgotten about Thor and Hermiod for the moment, while I inhaled all the fragrances. The whole combination of colours and scents was astonishing.

After some minutes, Hermiod took my hand and led me to a small table in an arbour at the far end of the garden. Thor had already taken a seat, waiting for us. I sat down opposite to him, Hermiod next to me, and didn’t wonder anymore when a big plate filled with Asgard food supplies as well as a big water carafe were beamed onto the table. I slowly got used to the Asgards’ habit of beaming stuff to and fro.

‘According to human tradition, I decided to invite you to a mutual breakfast.’ Thor explained, making me realize that the sun had just risen. I had lost count on time long ago, since I had spent so many days on spaceships without my usual rhythm of meals and sleep.

‘Uhm, that’s a nice idea, actually.’ I approved awkwardly. ‘Thanks.’

I poured some water in one of those oddly shaped glasses I’ve already seen on the Beliskner, and took a big gulp from it, but I didn’t touch any food, because I wasn’t hungry enough yet to already be prepared to dare and eat some more of those oddly shaped thingies. I also admit that I really missed coffee. Thor eyed me interestedly while Hermiod looked away. I’d have given a million bucks for his thoughts.

‘So you’re a member of the High Council.’ I picked up the conversation from before. ‘Were you elected, or how does that work in your world?’

‘The leading Asgard families are supposed to have a permanent seat on the High Council.’ He explained. ‘We’re seven constant members, including the Chief Archon.’

‘I assume you’re not the Chief Archon?’ I wanted to know, taking another sip of water, still wondering why Hermiod was so totally disinterested in Thor’s lecturing. Of course, he already knew these things, but he seemed almost phlegmatic which made me worry.

‘No, I’m the Supreme Commander of our fleet already.’ Thor objected. ‘The Chief Archon is related to my family, though. His name is Odin.’

‘Of course, his name is Odin.’ I grumbled sarcastically, having a very vivid vision of the Norse All-Father. There are things in the world that are simply obliged to be, that are just following an expected pattern of logic.

Thor raised a brow.

‘He’s not, by coincidence, your father, and you don’t have, by coincidence, some kind of

 relative named Loki, who’s famous for all his mischievousness?’ I couldn’t prevent the sarcastic undertone while I wracked my brain about all the information about Norse mythology that I had learned from my grandmother.

‘How could you know about Loki?’ Hermiod asked, now suddenly highly interested in the conversation.

‘Wild guessing.’ I admitted, shrugging, but couldn’t resist grinning widely.  

Thor and Hermiod glared at me in a most unsettling way until Thor’s glare turned into a smirk. ‘We’ve had more influence on your people than you might have thought, am I right?’

‘I’ve already learned that you’ve established a lot of the Norse pantheon and mythology.’ I nodded in confirmation. ‘After all, every member of Stargate Command is encouraged to do their homework. I didn’t know, though, that some of the pagan legends hold actual truth about the real Asgard people. I mean, those humans back in the days literally worshiped you as their gods. That’s like the Goa’Uld, just in… nice.’

‘We’ve never treated people like the Goa’Uld do.’ Hermiod objected indignantly.

‘No! No, of course not.’ I raised my hands apologetically. ‘It’s more that I’m surprised about the fact you allowed them to. I mean, of course, with all your technology you must have seemed like supernatural beings to them… Of course, you’ve always been benevolent, at least I hope so, but that doesn’t change the fact they worshiped you.’

‘We didn’t tell them to.’ Thor objected icily.

I leaned back in my seat, running my hands through my hair. ‘I’ve never thought I’d once share a table with the mighty god of thunder and lightning.’ I smirked.

Thor narrowed his eyes and glared daggers at me. ‘Did you ever read about the SG1 mission to the planet of Cymeria?’ He challenged me, obviously wanting to teach me a lesson.

‘Actually, yes.’ I accepted the challenge. ‘Thor’s Hammer and the like. Killing Goa’Uld and Jaffa the moment they pass the Stargate’s event horizon. Pretty awesome. General O’Neill wrote in his report how much he admired the special effects.’

‘That is what we’re doing.’ Thor told me solemnly, not taking notice of the last part. ‘We’re protectors, we’re taking care of the weak. Many thousand years ago we’ve negotiated a Protected Planets Treaty with the Goa’Uld. Our advanced technology enables us to protect whole planets from a Goa’Uld invasion. We consider it our duty to protect those who can’t defend themselves. We’re friends to all humans. But unfortunately, we can’t keep people from being thankful towards us. There’s literally nothing in the universe that can prevent religion. It appears everywhere, especially when humans are involved.’

The intensity of both Thor’s speech and the way he glared at me made shivers run down my spine. I’ve known about Cymeria and the Treaty, of course. We all did, especially since planet Earth was also protected by said Treaty. I was deeply ashamed of my own offending words.

‘I’m sorry, Thor.’ I apologized earnestly. ‘It’s just that the thought of people worshiping aliens as gods… somehow weirds me out, to be honest.’

‘You’ve spent too much time being scared of the Goa’Uld.’ Thor told me matter-of-factly. ‘Of course, we’re no gods and we don’t force anyone to see something in us that we’re not, but it has never been against their benefit.’

‘Right.’ I conceded, taking one of those yellow squares from the plate in my hands, twisting it between my fingers thoughtlessly.

Hermiod broke the moment of awkward silence, when he took one of the green pyramids between his fingers and bit from it carefully. I was watching his tiny teeth and small lips fascinatedly.

‘Well.’ I got back to Thor after a while. ‘Is there more that you want to tell me? I mean, you’ve been Mr Secretive all the time, and I’m sure there’s much more up your sleeve.’

‘I suppose this is one more of your human idioms?’ Thor suspected, squinting at me in amusement. I just nodded, stifling a smile.

‘What else do you want to know?’ He challenged me, obviously expecting to take me off-guard, but he didn’t know me well enough yet.

‘You mentioned I’ll have… a say… in things, when I become Hermiod’s Hjarta-kostir.’ I related to a fact he’d told me in passing a while ago. ‘What exactly does that mean?’

Thor obviously regretted his decision to answer my questions in an instant, but now that I finally had him in a mood where he was willing to give me some information, I wouldn’t let him get out that easily. I knew that if I didn’t get my answers now, I’d never get them.

‘You’ll be my only son’s partner in life.’ He explained reluctantly. ‘Therefore, you’ll have to be heard in all family matters. Your vote will count as much as Hermiod’s or mine.’

That, actually, came totally unexpected, even more so as it didn’t even make sense to me in any way.

‘Why, Thor?’ I asked, dumbfounded. ‘Why do you even approve of Hermiod making me his partner in life? I’m a human. I shouldn’t have a say in anything important among your people. I can’t even imagine that all Asgards will approve of this.’

‘It is of no importance whether the Asgard will approve of this decision or not.’ Thor fired. ‘The decision has been made. Anything else is not of your concern.’

I was taken aback by this sudden change of moods, but Thor didn’t seem willing to give me any further information. He had made very clear that my musing about the matter wasn’t desired. Though, I couldn’t leave it alone just yet.

‘But what does the rest of your family say?’ I wanted to know. ‘If I understand you correctly, they’ll have to be heard, or am I mistaken?’

‘Odin has given me free reign in all matters concerning Hermiod.’ Thor said icily. ‘His life is my business alone.’

I looked from Thor to Hermiod in surprise. I didn’t get what it was about Hermiod that gave Thor the right to tell him what to do, besides the fact of being his father. Hermiod looked like he’d either wanted to run away crying or smash Thor’s face in. I’d preferably have helped him with the latter.

‘Why is that?’ I therefore wanted to know from Thor.

Thor remained silent for a long while, heavily cerebrating about how to answer this very substantial question. Then he glared at Hermiod with a look that made the younger Asgard stand up and leave. I was so surprised that I didn’t even know how to react, so I decided not to wait for Thor’s answer and instead follow Hermiod.

‘Stay.’ Thor ordered, and thus made me stop in my tracks immediately. ‘What I’m going to tell you now is not meant for Hermiod’s ears.’

Being confronted with an actual order coming from a person who was used to boss people around, I couldn’t decline, no matter how much it hurt to see Hermiod leaving the garden in silence, his head lowered. He looked so terribly lonely, and I didn’t want him to feel like that, especially not after what just had happened.  

‘What is it that he’s not allowed to hear?’ I asked, quite upset about the scene.

‘I’m sorry that I have to confront you with so much information all at once.’ Thor said calmly. ‘But as you keep asking questions in your oblivious human nature, I’m no longer able to keep you in the dark anymore. Rather soon than later you’ll hear the truth anyway, so there’s no use in denying it to you any longer.’

I felt anxiety crawl up my spine, blurring my thoughts. Suddenly I regretted all my questioning deeply, because I had a feeling of not even wanting to hear what I was going to find out. Like much too often recently, I had the impression of facing an avalanche that I wouldn’t be able to stop.

‘OK.’ I mouthed, not being able to put my discomfort in proper words. I couldn’t do anything else but listen to Thor anyway, now that he was finally willing to let me in.

‘I suppose Hermiod has already told you the story of how he came into existence?’ Thor asked, only half a question. I somehow hated how clinical it sounded, as though Hermiod was a mere experiment and not his child in the first place.

‘He told me he was cloned from your DNA.’ I replied without emotion. ‘Or something like that.’

Thor tilted his head, looking more serious than ever. ‘There was a good and credible reason for creating him.’ He told me in a way as though he had no relation to Hermiod at all. ‘The Asgard are a dying race, Aegeti. I already knew this fact when I decided to have a son. Back then, of course, we couldn’t have known our degeneration would proceed so quickly, but now that I know, I’ve realized that it was selfish to bring Hermiod into existence. He’s too young still to… face what’s awaiting him.’

‘Thor.’ I interrupted him softly. ‘People are having children all the time, no matter how crappy the circumstances might be. It wasn’t selfish. Maybe you just didn’t want to be alone any longer? Everyone wants to be loved, or am I mistaken?’

‘Love isn’t of importance to the Asgard.’ Thor objected meekly.

‘It is of importance to Hermiod.’ I said gravely, locking my eyes with his. ‘There’s a reason why Hermiod can love, isn’t it? I’ve already suspected that he’s a special case when it comes to emotions.’

Thor broke the eye contact when he couldn’t stand its intensity any longer. He got up slowly, taking a few steps down a small path that led deeper into the garden. I followed him silently.

‘He was an… experiment of sorts.’ Thor admitted, his voice so low that I had difficulties in understanding him. ‘We’ve tried to create a clone that possesses some of our former qualities. We were especially interested in giving him the ability to have stronger emotions than any of us has been able to produce in millennia.’

Those so quietly spoken words hit me like a truck at full speed. I knew that the Asgard were boss genetic engineers, but that they were experimenting on living beings was totally repulsive.

‘But…’ It took a lot of courage to keep talking about the subject, because I was so totally aghast that part of me just wanted to eradicate this whole conversation from my mind. But unfortunately, there was no chance to evade the truth.

Thor looked at me pensively, his eyes full of pain.

‘So…’ I swallowed hard, trying again to find words. ‘He’s actually you with some upgrades?’

‘In a manner of saying, yes.’ Thor confirmed, his voice broken like mine.

‘Does he know?’ I dreaded the answer, but I had to know the truth.

Thor just closed his eyes and lowered his head which was answer enough for me. I shoved my hands in my pockets and bit my lip. Inhaling deeply, I began pacing, no longer willing to look at Thor.

‘Will you tell him?’ He asked quietly.

‘No.’ I decided without further thinking. ‘He doesn’t have to know. It would devastate him.’

I was sure I didn’t need to tell Thor how devastated I was, because he could read it in my posture and expression. I knew that, after all his experience with humans, he was able to understand my body language.

‘Does it change anything for you?’ Thor wanted to know, sounding much more insecure than I’d ever have expected from him.

I shook my head vigorously. ‘I love Hermiod.’ I reassured him. ‘He’s his own person with his own life and experiences. Hermiod isn’t you.’

I sat down on a low trunk, crossed my arms and glared at Thor. At the moment I had no idea how to cope, even more so as it was indeed hard to distinguish Thor from Hermiod. It was so obvious, yet I hadn’t seen it from the start, because generally speaking all the Asgard seemed to look the same albeit a few small differences. Of course, as soon as you’ve met more of them, the differences got more obvious. But now, whenever I looked at Thor, I was reminded of the inconvenient truth that I had to cope with.

I was totally shocked by Thor’s revelation, and it was hard to comprehend what those Asgards had actually done. To know that Hermiod was the result of a more or less successful genetic experiment shook my foundations.

‘Who else does know about it?’ I wanted to know, hardly suppressing my upcoming anger.

‘Odin, Heimdall and Loki.’ Thor said honestly, obviously having come to the conclusion that there was no reason anymore for keeping secrets from me.

‘Who’s Heimdall?’ I asked automatically.

‘He’s our chief geneticist.’ Thor informed me. ‘If we weren’t able to rely on his genius, we’d maybe have died out long ago.’

I heard the resignation in Thor’s voice, which made a sudden wave of compassion wash over me. Of course, his people were dying, and they were desperately trying every possibility of saving themselves.

‘May I also know who’s Loki?’ I kept stressing, wanting to know the whole truth now.

‘He’s no longer a member of the Asgard science council.’ Thor said curtly. ‘He began experimenting on humans. We had to exclude him, although he’s just as much a genius as Heimdall is.’

‘Experiments on humans?’ I threw in, suddenly surprised. ‘As in abducting them and sending them back to Earth after erasing their memories more or less successfully?’

Thor just lowered his head which was answer enough for me. At least we had the Roswell conspiracy solved, too.

‘You’re either totally nuts or hopelessly desperate.’ I groaned. ‘I mean, I don’t know anything about Asgard moral codices and crap, but… you consider experimenting on humans wrong while experimenting on your own people is alright? Do I have to make sense of that?’

‘Heimdall has performed all experiments on my and his own DNA.’ Thor indicated. ‘I gave it willingly, hence no law was broken.’

‘So, how many clones of yours are actually out there?’ I fired, still not having come to terms with the sheer scale of the truth. Right now I just wanted to smash my head against the next tree.

‘None except Hermiod.’ Thor reassured me.

I buried my face in my hands and breathed heavily. Slowly but steadily the truth about Hermiod being a genetic experiment was sinking in and left me both breathless and speechless. I felt like getting lost in an ocean with no land in sight.

‘Will you still… love him despite the facts you’re aware of now?’ Thor asked carefully, no longer daring to look at me.

I lifted my head in his direction, not ashamed of my tears. ‘I will always love him, Thor, always.’ I confirmed, my voice shaking with emotion. ‘He’s not you. He’s just… him.’

I couldn’t continue to talk, losing my fight against the tears that were coming in heavy cascades now. After a life of almost never crying, those goddamn Asgards managed to make me cry way too often.

‘I have a question.’ I managed after a while, my voice hoarse from crying. ‘Have you ever been a …father to him, or was he always just…’

The glance he gave me was so full of pain that I regretted my offensive question right away. When he finally answered, his voice was low and heavy with sadness. ‘I’ve always respected him as and treated him like a son.’ He reassured me. ‘If there’s ever been a person of real importance to me, it’s him. He’s my flesh and blood, after all, and I care about him more than most Asgards would expect.’

‘That’s why you want him to be happy, right?’ I asked cautiously. ‘That’s the reason why you allow him to connect with me, an alien.’

Thor tilted his head in approval. ‘You are all he has.’ He confirmed. ‘I’d never take away from him what makes him feel… better. He’s always been much too serious. Then you came along and….’ His voice broke.

I only nodded, not able to phrase another sentence. I was so shaken by all those emotions and revelations, so overwhelmed. I couldn’t keep myself from crying again, because all of this was too much.

Thor came closer and put his hand on my shoulder, most likely in an attempt to comfort me.

‘What can I do?’ He asked softly. ‘How can I make it easier for you?’

‘You can’t.’ I told him off brusquely. ‘I’m going to deal with this myself.’

We remained silent for a much too long time, the unsaid words between us growing heavier by the minute. I noticed that Thor wanted to voice a question but didn’t dare. I pulled out a hanky from my pocket to dry my tears, then I got up briskly, pushing Thor aside in the process.

‘I’m sorry, Thor.’ I muttered. ‘I think I need to be alone for a while…’

He tilted his head, looking at me apologetically. ‘May I ask one last question?’ He finally dared.

I just nodded as I had nothing more to say.

‘Will you still be his Hjarta-kostir?’ He asked quietly, his voice only a whisper.

‘I will be everything for him that he wants me to be.’ I replied just as quietly, swallowing some more tears. 'Nothing can ever change that, not even your weird genetic engineering.’

‘We’re only trying…’ He started, but then closed his mouth and broke away.

‘…to save your race, I know.’ I finished his sentence.

When he turned away to finally correspond to my request for leaving me alone, suddenly a question popped up in my head. ‘Wait.’ I therefore shouted after him.

He turned back to me, eyeing me in surprise about my sudden change of mind.

‘If I asked you about your genetic degeneration, would I get an honest answer from you?’ I fired at him.

Thor looked at me pensively, his expression a complete question mark. ‘You certainly would.’ He finally decided, and it sounded like full and complete surrender.

‘How much time do your people still have?’ I fixated him with my eyes, recognizing every single move of his to detect a lie if necessary.

‘Hermiod’s current generation of clones will be the last.’ Thor admitted quietly, appearing completely defeated. ‘Eir has informed me that the clone is weak. He’ll most likely only have a few years. The disease has progressed too far. If we don’t discover a miracle within the next one or two years, there won’t be anyone who could help us.’

‘WHAT?’ I screamed at his face, completely and utterly in shock.

‘I’m sorry.’ He voiced, seemingly just as shaken as me. ‘I should have told you before…’

All my sadness and devastation were suddenly pushed aside by an anger of an intensity I had never experienced before. It was Thor’s good luck that I was too decent a person and therefore didn’t beat the hell out of him right there.

‘You mean, you should have told me before Hermiod asked me to be his Hjarta-kostir? You mean, you should have told me before I got too attached to your whole fucking race!?’ I yelled, no longer caring about controlling myself. ‘Do you really think I can remain calm after hearing all of this bullshit!?’

Thor backed away from me, obviously scared by my outburst. Only now did I realize how intimidating my rage must have been for him. I calmed down in an instant and began pacing, gesturing wildly.

‘Do you really think I’ll take this? Just so?’ I shouted, a tad calmer now.

‘There’s actually not much you can do, Aegeti.’ Thor replied sadly.

I glared daggers at him. Never before had I felt so angry, yet determined. Now that I knew that there were millions of lives at stake in just a few years from now, I couldn’t hate Thor any longer for all the questionable morality, secrets and lies. This was serious and it demanded a solution.

‘Did you already check all possibilities? Have you asked for any help from outsiders yet? Has all of the research about your genetic degeneration been done by you?’ I wanted to know, my voice even.

‘All of it.’ Thor admitted. ‘It is our people’s best kept secret. We can’t afford our enemies to know about our weakness.’

‘Thor!’ I shouted impatiently. ‘That’s not just a… weakness! What will become of this damned universe when you’re gone? Do you rather just fade away instead of asking for help?’

He just blinked at me, not uttering a word.

I shoved my hands in my pockets and began pacing once more, my brain working extra shifts. I’ve never been a person who just accepted facts the way they’re presented. I was too human for that, after all. Suddenly an idea popped up in my head.

‘Did you ever ask the Ancients?’

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 18 – Desperate Measures

 

Thor gave me one of those incredulous glances that he’d most likely only reserved for people who come up with really stupid suggestions. He looked at me as though he was about to say something like “Stupid human, do you really think we haven’t come up with the same thought already?”

I was all the more surprised by the reply he actually gave me.

‘The Ancients had left this plain of existence long before we discovered our genetic disease.’ He told me impatiently.

‘True.’ I acknowledged. ‘But they’ve left amazing amounts of information behind! The Atlantis databases are crammed with data about their medical research. Don’t you think as well that they were boss geneticists?’

I really had a hard time trying to believe the Asgard had never thought about dropping by at Atlantis for matters of research.

‘We don’t have access to the Atlantis databases.’ Thor told me matter-of-factly, which almost made me facepalm.

‘I’m sure they’d give you all access you want, if you just asked them.’ I retorted, being similarly impatient as him.

‘We’d have to reveal our secret.’ Thor exclaimed stubbornly. ‘It’s too much of a risk to take.’  

‘So you just want to wait for the extinction of your entire race, just because you’re too proud to ask for help?’ Actually, that was too weird for me to comprehend. ‘Are you serious?’

‘Aegeti.’ Thor said with suppressed annoyance. ‘We have the best genetic engineers you could imagine. If there was a cure, we’d already have found it.’

I shook my head vigorously. ‘I can’t believe that, Thor. I mean, you’re so overly sophisticated! What if the solution is right in front of your eyes and you just can’t see it because it’s too… simple for you? You know that this has happened before!’

‘You’re referring to the Replicator’s attempt to invade Othala?’ Thor asked, obviously getting the hint.

‘Indeed.’ I confirmed eagerly. ‘You came to Earth to seek a less sophisticated solution, because you found yourself unable to find one yourselves, right? You haven’t been too proud to ask for help then. So why can’t you just make another leap of faith? Even if you gained nothing, you wouldn’t lose anything either.’

Thor and I glared at each other for about half a minute or more, until he broke eye contact and turned away, not willing to continue this, in his eyes pointless, discussion.

‘We’re allies, Thor!’ I stressed when I noticed his doubtfulness. ‘The Asgard have saved our butts often enough. Don’t you agree that it’s about time to return the favour?’

I observed Thor agonizing thoroughly over my argumentation. I couldn’t help but wonder what the actual problem was. Were they really only too proud to seek help, or was there something deeper beneath the surface?

‘No.’ He finally managed. ‘I don’t think the Chief Archon would allow it. The High Council’s opinion regarding that matter is very clear. We’d either find a way to help ourselves or accept our inevitable fate.’

‘Thor.’ I said patiently. ‘Your whole race will vanish from this universe within the next few years, am I right?’

He nodded slightly, still not meeting my glance. I sensed the inner struggle he fought with himself.

‘What is worse, Thor? Revealing your secret to your allies or just going to die out?’ I asked him mercilessly. ‘Your people don’t deserve to just… fade away.’

My anger had slowly been replaced by the substantial fear of losing what I loved. I felt a strong ice-cold hand squeezing my heart in a way that hurt terribly. ‘I don’t want to lose Hermiod or any of you.’ I said, my voice shaking. ‘Let me help you, Thor. Please. I think even if there’s no solution in the Ancients’ databases, we’d at least can say we’ve tried. There’s no shame in trying everything possible, no matter how desperate and undignified it might seem at the moment. My people won’t let you down, if you seek their assistance in skimming the Ancient databases.’

‘Aegeti, this is much more complex than you can see from your point of view.’ Thor said quietly, the same pain in his eyes that I had already seen when he had been talking about Hermiod being a genetic experiment.

‘Maybe I’m just a stupid human.’ I said pensively, only hardly being able to suppress the anger boiling in my stomach. ‘But I’m certain this isn’t complex at all.’

‘No.’ Thor objected. ‘Please stop stressing.’

I exhaled in frustration, running my fingers through my hair. How to help people that don’t want to be helped at all? I could hardly force them to do the necessary.

‘You’re making a mistake, Thor.’ I told him frankly. ‘And you know that.’

Thor remained silent and turned his back on me, declaring the conversation to be over. Though, I wouldn’t allow him to just ditch me like that. I desperately threw my hands in the air in a very dramatic gesture, then started to literally tear my hair. What the hell was wrong with those people! Agonizing frantically, a new thought pushed itself to my attention.

‘Why did Loki experiment on humans?’ A sudden question, carried by a new ray of hope.

‘The human genome is not much dissimilar to the Asgard’s.’ Thor told me openly, turning his back to me, seemingly relieved about me dropping the former topic. ‘Your bodies are very similar, actually, to the form we had many thousand years ago. Loki hoped that he could find the key to decelerating the pace of our degeneration in your DNA.’

‘How likely is it?’ I asked, completely taken aback by the revelation.

‘He was forced to stop his research before he was able to get any results.’ Thor said, sounding almost disappointed.

‘OK.’ I nodded gravely. ‘Then how about going back to testing humans?’

‘We can’t.’ Thor reminded me. ‘We actually do have a moral codex that tells us not to experiment with aliens. We consider it unethical, and you know that.’

‘Oh, for crying out loud!’ I exclaimed. ‘To hell with your morals! Take me! Do whatever is necessary! You can have all sorts of samples that you need and experiment on me however you please, but just fucking DO IT!’

Thor took a step backwards, obviously intimidated by my yelling, but I didn’t let him off my hook, kept fixating him with my most determined glare of doom.

‘You would do this for us?’ He finally asked in wonderment.

I nodded vigorously to underline my statement and spoke through gritted teeth. ‘You can bet your life on it.’

I knew that I had caught Thor off-guard, because he absolutely hadn’t thought about the chance that had presented itself right in front of him. Sometimes those Asgards were really slow in noticing things.

‘I don’t think the Chief Archon would allow it.’ He said after a longer while of cerebrating heavily. ‘Our ethics tell us very clearly that we’re not allowed…’

‘Thor!’ I interrupted him, getting more furious by the second. ‘Your ethics tell you to not perform experiments on specimens that are not willing to be tested. I am willing. I’ve rarely been that willing about anything before. So you either take your chance or leave it!’

Thor looked at me with an open expression of amazement and thankfulness, something that I’d never thought I’d ever see on an Asgard’s face.

‘I’m still afraid the Chief Archon won’t allow it.’ He finally said, the pain returning to his features. ‘You don’t know what you’d engage yourself in. It’s dangerous and the outcome is uncertain.’

‘Better an uncertain outcome than none at all, right?’ I fired angrily. ‘I don’t care about the danger, goddammit, even if I got killed in the process, you’d at least have a future!’

I’d also never thought seeing an Asgard actually gape at me. Thor was completely and utterly dumbfounded by my offer.

‘You’d give up your life to save us?’ He asked incredulously. ‘Are you serious?’

‘Dead serious.’ I confirmed.

‘What would become of Hermiod if …something went wrong?’ Thor asked a completely unpredictable question. ‘He’d be devastated and he’d never forgive me.’

‘He’d survive, at least.’ I replied, biting my lip. I didn’t want to think about Hermiod all that much while I was fighting to convince Thor to being saved. ‘That’s all that counts. It’s not a question of being forgiven, it’s a matter of mere survival.’

The first time ever I saw myself confronted with an Asgard obviously lost for words. Thor looked at me, unblinking, wracking his enormous brain in an attempt to understand my gesture of selflessness. I suppose at that moment I didn’t even understand it myself, but I couldn’t care less. If this was what I was meant to be, then be it.

‘I’m going to consult the High Council.’ Thor made up his mind after what felt like thousand years. ‘We will see how they’re going to decide on the matter.’

Finally! I had already started to be afraid it wouldn’t happen anymore!

‘If they want to hear my offer in person, don’t hesitate to send me an invitation.’ I approved emphatically. ‘I’d be happy to explain my considerations.’

Thor was right about the fact that I had no idea what I planned to get engaged with, but I perfectly knew that if I didn’t give them this particular chance, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. As I had told Hermiod before, without him there was no me, so I had to do everything possible to keep him with me. Maybe my thought was selfish and selfless at the very same time, but it felt right, and as Hermiod once had told me, sometimes we just have to follow our hearts and roll the dice. It’s a human thing, after all, to do the necessary and give all we have in the process, so I didn’t wonder why Thor didn’t understand my motives. It didn’t matter anyways whether he understood or not. It didn’t even matter whether Odin understood. They’d just have to agree with my offer to become their lab rat. Things would fall into place right after.

‘I’m going to convene an extraordinary meeting of the High Council.’ Thor finally gave in. ‘We’re going to discuss your offer.’

‘At last!’ I grumbled, shoving my hands in my pockets. ‘Talking it over with them is the best idea you had today.’ I didn’t care about my impoliteness right now.

‘I’d like to ask you to take care of Hermiod while I’m away.’ Thor said quietly. ‘I’m certain he’s not at the best of moods right now, after I had send him away mid-conversation.’

‘You bet.’ I confirmed. ‘Where will I find him?’

My carefully suppressed worries about my beloved Hermiod returned to the surface in an instant, giving me the worst of consciousness. It was about time to get back to him and spend some private hours with him. Who knew how many chances for private meetings we’d still have as soon as the High Council accepted my offer. If it did, that is.

‘Whenever he had to think things through, he often went outside in the wild gardens around the house.’ Thor informed me. ‘That’s where you’ll find him.’

‘Alright.’ I nodded. ‘I’ll go for him as soon as you’re…’

I couldn’t finish the sentence anymore, because Thor already beamed away. Asgard beaming technology seems to have been invented only for most impolite entrances and departures.

--

I left the house through the front door, because looking for a different door to the gardens would only have challenged my never well-developed sense of orientation. Thor was absolutely right in describing the garden as ‘wild’, because it took me more than a quarter hour to make my way through the maze of old trees and strange plants until I finally found Hermiod. Unfortunately, he wasn’t alone.

There were two Asgards with him of whom I only knew one. They were talking quietly in their own language, making me completely unable to understand what was spoken. Though, Hermiod looked overly stressed and therefore ignited my worries about him once more.

The one Asgard that looked familiar was obviously Dellingur, the current chief engineer of the Beliskner. I wondered why he’d come here to talk to Hermiod as I remembered that their last meeting hadn’t gone well, and judging by their expressions, this meeting was no less unpleasant.

Although I knew that crashing a meeting was highly impolite, I did it nevertheless, because I couldn’t conceal my worries about Hermiod any longer. I couldn’t know what Dellingur was up to, after all.

Indeed. I couldn’t know.

I walked up closer to them and cleared my throat. All three Asgards turned in my direction, the expression on Dellingur’s face unreadable. Hermiod, though, looked scared as hell.

‘Hi guys.’ I greeted them jovially, trying to figure out why Hermiod was so scared. ‘What’s up?’

Instead of a friendly welcome I was suddenly presented with a gun that was resting in Dellingur’s hands. It was an elegant long weapon of a shiny material, and it was pointed directly at me.

‘What the…’ I tried to voice a question, but was interrupted.

‘Aegeti.’ Dellingur greeted me, his voice dangerously low. ‘How convenient.’

‘What’s going on here?’ I asked, irritated by the strange change of loyalties.

The direction where the barrel of the gun was pointed to, changed from me to Hermiod, the look on Dellingur’s face became even more hostile.

‘It’s been a very nice gesture of Thor’s to bring you right to Othala.’ He began to explain coolly. ‘At least we now don’t have to carry you through half a galaxy.’

‘How about being a bit more precise?’ I challenged him through gritted teeth.

The situation was unsettling indeed, even more so as I had no idea what this was all about. I’d never have expected my life being threatened on Othala of all places by a hostile looking Asgard.

‘Well, we’ve been waiting for a human specimen for a far too long time.’ He smirked mirthlessly. I’d also never have thought I’d see pure evil on the fine features of an Asgard face, and I hated it.

‘Specimen?’ I asked, all my senses on high alert.

Dellingur’s smirk grew a tad wider. ‘I’m sure Thor has told you about our special… problem already. He always seemed to me being a traitor to our interests in all the wrong moments.’

‘He’s no traitor.’ I objected, perfectly understanding where this friendly conversation was heading to eventually. ‘You know that he wants me to be part of his family. He knows he can trust me.’

‘Whatever.’ Dellingur acknowledged, shrugging me off. ‘At least we don’t have to explain to you how important you are. Unfortunately, Thor and his High Council don’t allow our scientists to do proper research. Luckily, not everyone considers themselves tied to their decisions.’

‘Actually.’ I interrupted him icily. ‘At this very moment Thor is consulting the High Council to include me in the Asgard Science Council’s research.’

Dellingur raised his brows in obvious surprise. ‘Does he?’

‘He does, and I have no reason to lie about that.’ I grumbled. ‘I’ve already told him I’m consent with testing me.’

Dellingur obviously hadn’t expected Thor taking such a leap, but it still didn’t seem enough for him, because his expression remained as hostile as before.

‘Unfortunately, that’s not enough.’ Dellingur told me, his gun still pointed at Hermiod who wasn’t far from panicking.

‘What else do you want?’ I asked carefully, having decided long ago to do everything necessary to save Hermiod’s life, no matter the cost.

‘Do you have an idea how long the Council normally takes to make a decision?’ Dellingur fired a counter-question at me, his voice dripping with loathing. When I shook my head, he went on. ‘Too long. It could be much too late already when they’ll finally end their endless debating.’

‘So what else do you expect of me?’ At that moment I was genuinely confused about what was going on. ‘And why the hell are you threatening Hermiod? This is not his business at all. Let him go!’

‘I’m just doing this to underline the urgency of our problem.’ Dellingur said, his voice laden with frost. ‘You must understand that our race has only a few months, maybe a year or two, before our genetic degeneration can’t be reversed anymore. That means the sooner we get to work the more prospect of success we have. According to said urgency, I’d like to ask you to follow us.’

‘Otherwise?’ I growled.

‘Otherwise our survival is going to be of less importance to you.’ His voice was so cold and dreadful at that very moment that I instantly knew this was no joke. ‘We will take you with us, no matter your decision, so don’t make it more difficult for all of us and just stop your useless resistance.’

‘I have no idea what you want to tell me about the importance of your race’s survival.’ I fired. ‘But I surely won’t allow any rogue scientists to perform any tests on me, especially not since Thor is trying to convince the High Council to take my offer into account.’

I would have lied, if I’d claimed I wasn’t scared. Up until now I had really liked Dellingur, I had learned to appreciate his capacities as an engineer and had already begun to consider him a friend, but now I was thrown into a situation that showed his true face. He was obviously willing to ignore all laws and ethics for what he surely considered the Greater Good.

‘Unfortunately, dear Aegeti, time is running out, which especially means we don’t have time for any further discussions.’ Dellingur said with annoyance, unlocking his still at Hermiod pointed weapon.

‘Don’t do anything they tell you.’ Hermiod told me quietly. ‘In contrast to the Science Council’s members, they won’t care whether you survive the tests or not.’

‘Shut up, Hermiod.’ Dellingur huffed. ‘Nobody asked your opinion.’

‘I’m sure we still have enough time to wait for the Council’s decision.’ I said hopefully. ‘I mean, it’d maybe be only a few more days.’

‘We actually don’t have any more time.’ Dellingur told me without mercy, shooting his gun.

‘NO!’ I shouted, leaping forward to catch Hermiod when he fell. I stumbled and went down in the process, pressing him to my chest, breathing heavily. It was one of these clichéd moments when things suddenly start to happen in slow-motion.

I didn’t accept what just happened. This was so wrong!

‘Ohmygosh, you bastard!’ I yelled at Dellingur in panic. ‘Have you gone crazy?’

I carefully put Hermiod down on the soft grass, but didn’t get the chance to examine him. Dellingur now pointed his gun at me, glaring at me coldly and gesturing me to stand up. The gun was argument enough for me to comply and scramble to my feet while my heart was breaking for Hermiod who was lying there without me being able to help him. I couldn’t even determine whether he was still alive.

‘Do you understand now how serious I am about this?’ Dellingur asked, his voice cold like frozen nitrogen. I just nodded, realizing that the game was over and I had lost.

‘So will you accompany us now?’ It sounded more like an order than a question.

‘I will.’ I replied quietly, seeing no chance for anything else. ‘But I want someone to take care of Hermiod.’

Dellingur smirked, still pointing his gun at me. ‘He’ll be taken care of, don’t worry.’

Once more, just like too often recently, the world around me went dark. 

--

When I regained consciousness, I found myself in a scenario that reminded me of a bad science-fiction movie more than anything else. I was weightless, floating in mid-air. The room was completely dark except for some white and green lights that were hovering all around me. Also, I could see a strangely shaped orange device at the ceiling that looked more alien to me than anything else I’d seen recently. I suspected it to be the source of the zero-g field that made my body float. To my utter dismay, I couldn’t move an inch and felt terribly cold.

‘What the hell!’ I couldn’t help but curse at the circumstances, feeling like being caught in a bad dream about alien abduction and crap like that.

‘Don’t panic, Dr Talvi.’ I heard an unfamiliar voice right beside my head. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to move, otherwise I’d surely beaten the hell out of the voice’s owner, of which I already knew was some malevolent Asgard scientist who, added up to the nightmare about alien abduction, scared the hell out of me.

‘You keep me in this… whatever it is… and demand of me not to panic?’ I yelled, definitely panicking. ‘Are you kidding me?’

I heard an impatient huff and some frantic Asgard talking, then I felt a strange change of sensation.

‘You can move now, Dr Talvi, but I ask you not to.’ The same voice spoke again. ‘We don’t mean no harm.’

‘Oh yeah, sure, you don’t mean no harm.’ I spat. ‘Shooting at people and kidnapping them is no harm at all, right? Up until now I always thought the Asgard have very high moral standards, but it seems I’ve been mistaken.’

There was no way for me to contain my anger. To be honest, I’ve never been that pissed off before, not even when the Wraith had treated me like crap. They had been the enemies, after all, and therefore they were expected to treat people badly, but those were Asgards! Allies!

Still floating and not really able to move, I tried to look to the side and got aware of two Asgards standing right beside me. One of them was Dellingur who didn’t look very comfortable with the situation, but I didn’t know the other one, obviously the one who had been talking to me.

‘Dellingur, you goddamn bastard!’ I spat at him. ‘Who do you think you are?’

‘I’m only trying to save my people.’ He told me nonchalantly. ‘Don’t tell me your people wouldn’t do the same.’

I wished I could just punch him in his complacent face until that mirthless smirk vanished, and I swore to myself that I’d do it as soon as I got the chance to.

‘We at least have the decency to ask first, before…’ I said angrily.

‘Oh, really?’ Now the yet nameless Asgard threw in sarcastically. ‘It’s refreshing to see a human with morality, for a change, and it definitely speaks for you, but not all representatives of your species have that decency, to be frank.’

‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ I hissed, glaring daggers at him.

‘I have been kidnapped by your people to perform tests on me in a moment I was seeking their help.’ He growled at me venomously, returning the glare. ‘You can’t even imagine what they’ve done to me.’

‘Who?’ I asked, trying to play nice, because playing nice was the only option I had right now. Maybe I was able to convince him that I was none of those despicable people he had obviously had contact with.  

‘Military forces, I suppose.’ He said without emotion. ‘They’ve been very interested in experimenting on an alien life form, and they couldn’t care less for the fact that I was still alive and able to feel pain!’ He had gotten louder and angrier with every word.

‘Loki, stop it.’ Dellingur demanded impatiently.

At least, now I knew the identity of the angry Asgard. I also got an idea what he was actually talking about. I had seen enough evidence for his accusations at Area 51 while I had been working there. Unfortunately, most of it was classified.

‘What happened to you, Loki?’ I asked, hoping to sound as compassionate as I felt despite the fact that he was about to turn tables in favour of doing to me what they had done to him. I was genuinely scared, but I understood his anger.

‘It’s none of your business.’ Dellingur fired before Loki was able to utter a word. ‘We have work to do!’

Eyeing him from the corner of my eye, I noticed that he was still holding his gun. That was reason enough for me to decide to stop asking questions for the moment. Except one, because there was something I had to be sure of.  

‘Where’s Hermiod?’ I wanted to know. ‘What have you done to him?’

The mere thought of the violence they might have treated my Hermiod with made me sick and even more furious.  

‘Why should I tell you?’ Dellingur challenged me.

‘Well, in exchange I’ll promise not to bite you in case you dare to touch me.’ I accepted the challenge, making a decision to fight back with all my might.

I heard Loki chuckle and wished even more to smash some faces in. There’s not much that I hate more than people making fun of me. Still, the chuckle didn’t sound hostile but amused. Maybe it’d really be possible to get the rogue scientist on my side, if I just played nice long enough.

Dellingur made a sound that showed me the whole scale of his annoyance. He gave me an incomprehensible glance, put the gun on a table nearby and left the room.

‘Where’s he going?’ I fired, suddenly not feeling that courageous anymore.  

‘Wait and see.’ Loki replied enigmatically, picking a very oddly shaped instrument from a table, twisting it in his hands, while he looked at me with utter amusement. This was really getting serious and I didn’t feel like joking at all anymore.

Though, before Loki could use said instrument to do whatever he had intended to, Dellingur returned through the door and dragged Hermiod behind him. My lovely favourite Asgard looked bad, to say the least, but he was furious nonetheless.

There were no words to describe my relief when I saw that he was well and alive. Those strange Asgard guns obviously weren’t only lethal but also had a setting for just stunning a person. However, there was no doubt about it having left its mark on Hermiod. He looked tired, his eyes sore.

‘Oh, my love.’ I whispered. ‘Are you alright?’

When Hermiod wanted to speak to me, he was silenced by a very unfriendly looking Dellingur. At least we now knew why the Asgard engineer had been acting so rudely around Hermiod back on the Beliskner. I saw plain loathing in his eyes when he looked at Hermiod.

‘Let him go.’ I hissed at Dellingur. ‘This is not his business.’

‘Oh, of course, I let him go.’ Dellingur replied, his voice dripping sarcasm. ‘Of course, I’d give him the chance to run to Thor and tell him about what’s happening here. I knew you humans are not the brightest, but I didn’t expect you being that stupid.’

‘You can shove your arrogance where the sun doesn’t shine.’ I spat at him hatefully. ‘Leave him alone!’

‘No, I don’t consider that a good idea, Aegeti.’ He replied venomously and pushed Hermiod to a chair in a corner where he forced him to sit down. ‘But don’t worry, he doesn’t have to watch the scenery. I’m merciful as that.’

‘What the hell does that mean now?’ I asked, now trying with all my might to get out of the zero-gravity field I was trapped in. Of course, all my struggles were in vain.

I saw Hermiod’s features distorted by fear. He looked so broken and scared, it almost broke my heart. There seemed to be something very personal going on between Hermiod and Dellingur. I didn’t even want to know the reasons. All I knew was that I had to find a way out of here and save him, no matter how.

‘It’ll be alright, love.’ I whispered in his direction, still struggling like crazy.

‘We won’t get anywhere with all those discussions.’ Now Loki interrupted. ‘We should really get to work.’ He came over to me with a strange instrument in his hand that had a needle of very unsettling length at one end.

‘What are you doing?’ I wanted to know, being even more scared, because I’ve always been afraid of needles.

‘I just need a blood sample.’ He explained calmly. ‘It’s for the gene sequencer. I promise I won’t hurt you, so you don’t have to be afraid.’

‘Don’t let him do this!’ I now heard Hermiod shout from his corner, his voice shaking with concern. ‘You have no idea what he’s able to do.’

‘Hermiod.’ Loki huffed impatiently. ‘It’s not that I want to create a clone of her or inject whatever sort of virus. I only want to examine her genome and find a way to match it with ours.’

‘Don’t believe a word!’ Hermiod disagreed desperately.

‘Would you just shut up already?’ Dellingur spat at him.

‘Never!’ Hermiod replied stubbornly. I admired him for standing up against Dellingur, no matter how much he feared him.

‘Well, if that’s so…’ Dellingur sighed, obviously irritated to the maximum, took the gun from the table and stunned Hermiod without any further arguing. I watched in terror how he fell from his chair unconsciously.

‘You bastard!’ I yelled at Dellingur. ‘You fucking bastard! If I ever get the chance to lay my hands on you, I’ll kill you! That’s no joke!’

‘Shut your mouth or I’ll stun you, too.’ Dellingur said coolly, completely ignoring my ire.

‘Dellingur, will you just leave it alone.’ Loki now interfered, being at least as annoyed and irritated as everyone else in this room. I still saw a chance of getting him on my side and against Dellingur, even more so as he seemingly wasn’t far from kicking Dellingur out of the room himself.

Now Dellingur glared at the both of us and his features softened somewhat. He had hopefully realized that he had gone too far. Though, it didn’t change anything about the fact that I hated him and that I had a nagging desire to take bloody revenge on him.

Of course, my hopes were all in vain. Dellingur came over to me to stare into my eyes. I saw only coldness in his eyes, while I tried to look at him as furiously as possible.

‘Well, Loki, if she’s not willing to cooperate and you’re too much a coward to act against her will, how about taking a sample from Hermiod first?’ He asked, still looking at me maliciously. ‘I know he’s something special for reasons that are a miracle to me, but maybe his DNA would be useful, too.’

Of course, I could imagine that Hermiod’s DNA might even have helped them a great deal. That’s why I was all the more glad that Dellingur didn’t know the whole truth about Hermiod being a clone of Thor’s with some very promising upgrades. Though, I remembered that Loki knew, so there was even more of a reason not to touch Hermiod. I hoped that Loki wasn’t willing to unveil the secret.

‘Don’t you even dare to touch him!’ I spat, emphasizing my opinion. ‘This is all not his business, so leave him out of the equation. I’ll give you all you want, if you just let him live and allow him to leave this hideous place.’

I was really desperate now, because the mere thought of them laying their hands on Hermiod almost made me lose my mind. I had to protect him by all means, even more so as I had promised it to him. Seeing him lying unconsciously on the floor hurt far too much.

‘Now, now, suddenly you’re cooperative.’ Dellingur said mockingly. ‘But well, I think I’ll keep your beloved Hermiod alive for now. Though, I can’t let him go, for obvious reasons. That’s the only promise I can make. Is that enough for a deal?’

I nodded curtly and gave him another glare of doom. I can’t remember whether I’ve ever hated anyone as much as I hated Dellingur at this very moment. I knew that he’d use Hermiod again and again to convince me to do whatever Loki required.

And I had thought I’d be save on Othala.

‘Well, then, Loki, do what you must.’ Dellingur commanded, put the no longer necessary gun back on the table, went over to the chair and sat down to observe Loki’s actions. He didn’t care about Hermiod, though, just ignored him lying there. Whenever I looked at him, my heart froze, but I didn’t have the slightest idea how to help him.

Loki approached me again, armed with his odd device to finally take the blood sample from me, but I couldn’t let this happen just yet.

‘I have a question.’ I therefore stopped him. ‘Even if you’ll find the key to your people’s survival somewhere in my DNA, I highly doubt the High Council would accept your results, considering the fact they were obtained by using illegal methods. Am I right?’

‘Indeed, you are.’ Loki confirmed.

‘So what does it bring?’ I wanted to know. ‘You’ll have the necessary treatment but won’t be allowed to apply it to anyone. This whole mess would be completely in vain.’

‘I’m sure that as soon as they’ll hear about my success, no more questions will be asked.’ Loki objected.

‘I highly doubt that, to be honest.’ I said matter-of-factly. ‘I know Thor’s opinion about your research. They’d rather die than allow using a treatment that’s based on your research. He’s told me that himself.’

‘It doesn’t matter.’ Loki objected stubbornly. ‘I’m certain there’ll be many Asgard who’ll be thankful for the cure. Not everyone is willing to accept the extinction of our race. Also, they don’t need to know the measures that have been taken to find the cure.’

‘It’s a shame.’ I mouthed. ‘It really is.’

Loki glared at me in annoyance, then poked the needle in one of my veins.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 19 - Emotions

 

I closed my eyes and exhaled, telling myself there was no needle at all, and that I was only having a weird nightmare. Of course, it didn’t work, and the sting from the needle really hurt. I bit my lip and tried not to shiver.

‘May I ask a scientific question, Loki?’ I dared to speak again after the scientist had removed the needle from my body.

‘Yes, of course.’ He replied, sounding interested.

‘What exactly are you planning?’ I wanted to know. ‘You said you want to find a way to match the Asgard and human genome. How exactly does that work?’

‘It’s a very complex process.’ He said evasively. ‘Though, as soon as I’ve found a compatibility, I will try to clone a hybrid.’

‘You promised you wouldn’t clone me.’ I remarked, suddenly feeling sick by the mere thought.

‘Well, in fact I won’t clone you.’ Loki objected. ‘There’ll be only parts of human DNA in the hybrid. It’ll look like an Asgard, but it won’t have the genetic defects the Asgard are suffering from.’

I can’t say this information was reassuring in any way, because I didn’t want to have any life form brought to existence artificially that bore parts of my DNA. I’ve even always found the idea of having children quite disconcerting, but I’d rather have children than some weird kind of cloning experiment.

‘How often have you already tried that?’ I asked cautiously.

‘Several times while I was doing research on Earth.’ Loki admitted. ‘Unfortunately, it didn’t work well.’

Of course, it didn’t work well, because if it did, we wouldn’t be here having this weird conversation. Honestly, I even didn’t want to hear any further descriptions of Loki’s cloning experiments, but as always, curiosity won over my common sense.

‘Means?’ I therefore asked.

‘All the clones died after about seven days.’ He told me, disappointment in his voice. ‘I’ve used the DNA of different humans from different races, but none was compatible enough to create a viable clone.’

That explained a lot, actually. I had read a report about a clone experiment involving General O’Neill that had gone terribly wrong. Loki might have been a boss scientist, but some things just didn’t seem to work. You obviously can’t just merge DNA and clone hybrids as you please. Nature doesn’t like to be cheated on.

‘But what makes you think it’ll work this time?’ I challenged him, slowly getting an idea what this was all about.

‘I don’t think it’ll work.’ Loki revealed. ‘But I have to try. It’s all I can do.’

The mere imagination of watching a clone die that carried parts of my DNA was unsettling. I assumed that seeing my sort-of-clone die would feel somehow like losing a child, and I definitely wasn’t ready to deal with such a situation.

‘I don’t approve of this, just so you know.’ I grumbled.

‘Your approval isn’t desired.’ I now heard Dellingur drawl from his corner where he was still watching us intently.

‘Your presence isn’t desired any longer either.’ Loki huffed in annoyance. ‘Would you just leave the room and let me do my work? Your constant unqualified remarks are really putting me on edge.’

I had a hard time stifling a giggle, because it was really amusing to see them argue like an old married couple. My chances of getting Loki on my side had just increased, obviously. We seemed to have at least one thing in common – neither of us wanted to have Dellingur around any longer.

Dellingur got up and strode over to us, glaring at me scornfully. ‘You’re throwing me out, Loki?’ He then asked the other Asgard incredulously.

‘Indeed.’ Loki just said matter-of-factly.

‘I thought we were partners.’ Dellingur complained in exasperation, obviously having expected things to run entirely different. I hadn’t known Asgards were actually able to pout, but he did exactly that. And still I wasn’t allowed to laugh.

‘I’m very thankful for your help in bringing the human to me.’ Loki told him, tilting his head in approval. ‘But now I really need some silence to work properly.’

‘She could try to overpower you and break out.’ Dellingur remarked coolly, eyeing me suspiciously.

I really liked that he didn’t trust me one bit and even suspected me to plan my escape, although I was completely and obviously out of options to do anything heroic or stupid.  

‘Oh, please.’ I therefore groaned in annoyance. ‘I’m in zero gravity behind a force field! Do I look dangerous to you?’

‘Humans are known for their insidiousness.’ Dellingur snapped. If looks could kill, I’d have died in an instant. Instead I just groaned again in even more annoyance.

Honestly, there was absolutely no way out of here, but my life would have been much more endurable if Dellingur, his gun and his annoyingly bad mood just disappeared. Also, he wouldn’t throw hostile glances at Hermiod anymore, who was still lying on the floor unconsciously.

Loki gave Dellingur a real glare of doom that seemed to finally convince him to make a decision.

‘Fine.’ Dellingur still sounded as though he was pouting like a dismissed teenager. ‘I’ll take Hermiod with me, though.’

‘Keep your filthy fingers off him!’ I shouted at him angrily, having a vivid vision of what could happen to Hermiod as soon as he was alone with Dellingur.

‘Leave him.’ Loki agreed with me to my utter surprise.

‘Are you teaming up with her now?’ Dellingur spat grumpily, glaring at Hermiod with so much hate and loathing that I was overly thankful to Loki for being on my side in this detail.

‘No.’ Loki objected. ‘I just want her to remain cooperative. She’ll become a real nuisance from the moment she doesn’t know anymore what’s happening to Hermiod. We’ll all have a much more pleasant working environment, if we start working on compromises.’

Considering the fact that Loki was meant to be the villain in this game, he acted surprisingly nice, and I couldn’t agree more on his assumption about me being more cooperative as long as I knew Hermiod was well.

Dellingur shouldered his weapon, glared at me one last time and strode towards the exit.

‘I’ll be waiting outside.’ He informed Loki, but only got a dismissive nod in return.

When Dellingur and his aura of hostility had left, I felt much more comfortable, despite the fact that I was still trapped behind a force field, hardly able to move.

‘I’m sorry for the bad treatment.’ Loki apologized. ‘He’s only…’

‘…trying to save his race, I know.’ I finished his sentence, sighing impatiently. ‘I’ve heard that much too often recently, to be honest. The ends don’t always justify the means, you know.’

‘I know that.’ Loki admitted softly. ‘I wish the human scientists sixty years of your time ago had known that, too.’

‘You’re really the Roswell alien, aren’t you?’ I asked sympathetically. ‘I’ve read reports, but most of them were classified, so I only know tiny bits of what they’ve actually done to you.’

‘I am.’ He acknowledged. ‘When my scout ship crashed in the middle of nowhere, I was hoping desperately someone would help me. I was badly injured, my life was at stake. First they helped me, indeed, but then…’ He left the sentence unfinished.

‘Would you believe me, if I apologized for my people and told you I’m genuinely sorry?’ I asked, honestly seeking his forgiveness. ‘What they did to you was wrong.’

Loki looked at me with an open expression that showed a great deal of his emotions. One of them was utter surprise. ‘It seems there are humans who have more morals than others.’

I gave him an honest smile. ‘Most of us are quite nice, actually, but there’s always an exception to everything. I, for example, wouldn’t have expected to meet an Asgard as false and dishonest as Dellingur.’

‘He’s not that bad.’ Loki disagreed. ‘He’s just scared by the prospect his life could end in just a few years from now.’

‘Everybody dies.’ I remarked dryly. ‘That’s no reason for treating others badly.’

‘I agree with you.’ Loki nodded approvingly.

I didn’t get the logic in this statement, actually, because it was completely contrary to what he was about to do to me, but I didn’t object, because I didn’t want to argue with him, now that we were finally heading in the right direction.

‘May I ask something?’ I wanted to know after a short but not uncomfortable moment of mutual silence.

‘Of course.’ He acknowledged, looking at me curiously.

‘Would you please check on Hermiod?’ I asked quietly. ‘I think he deserves better treatment than what he had to experience with Dellingur. I want to emphasize that I totally disapprove of all of this. I don’t care about how you’re dealing with me, but I don’t accept that he’s treated so violently. This whole mess isn’t his business, after all. If Thor finds out what happened to him, you can be assured he won’t be happy. You know of Hermiod’s importance, don’t you?’

If I played my cards considerably now, I’d have a real chance to turn things around.

‘Of course I do.’ Loki confirmed, kneeling beside Hermiod to check his vital signs. ‘I was involved in designing this special clone… Thor has briefed you, I suppose?’

‘Yes.’ I acknowledged. ‘He’s approved of me becoming Hermiod’s Hjarta-kostir. Therefore he has given me lots of information about both Hermiod and the actual status of your people. I’m in the game, Loki, no matter what you’re about to do.’

Loki looked up to me in surprise. ‘You’re supposed to establish a bond for life with Hermiod?’

I couldn’t quite comprehend the sudden rush of panic on his face. It seemed like I had pushed all the right buttons.

I nodded gravely. ‘That, indeed.’

Now Loki got up from the floor hectically, scurrying over to one of the consoles, where he shoved a few stones around frantically. I didn’t have to wonder about his actions very long, though, because first the force field I was trapped behind disappeared, then gravity returned and made me hit the floor both painfully and without dignity. I scrambled to my feet as soon as possible to regain my grace.

‘Dellingur didn’t tell me!’ Loki said, panic rising in his voice.

‘Why does that make a difference so suddenly?’ I wondered, checking my body on its physical integrity after that long time in zero gravity and the hard fall.

‘It’s bad enough already that Dellingur has kidnapped Hermiod.’ Loki uttered, obviously unsettled. ‘I had told him very clearly he should only bring you and leave Hermiod alone, but it seems he has some personal business with him that I’m unaware of. I should never have trusted him.’

I walked over to Loki, glaring at him cautiously. ‘Loki, what’s going on here?’ I stressed.

‘Dellingur had promised not to cause any problems that would involve Thor.’ Loki muttered. ‘But now that he has kidnapped not only one but even two members of the Chief Archon’s family, Thor will be furious. I doubt that any of us will leave this story untouched. He’ll find us.’

‘I actually can’t imagine Thor being furious.’ I objected. ‘He’s way too composed to even be credibly angry.’ Then again, I thought dryly, maybe people once worshiped him as the god of thunder and lightning for a reason.

While talking, I had moved over to Hermiod and kneeled beside him on the floor to check his pulse and breathing. I was more than glad to find out he was well, just unconscious. I felt so sorry for my beloved one that my heart ached. In this very moment I hoped we’d find a long time alone as soon as this horror was over, no matter the urgency of the Asgards’ most prominent problem.

‘I could put in a good word for you.’ I suggested to Loki. ‘At least if you agree to help Hermiod regain consciousness and then get us out of here.’

Loki was obviously struggling with doubts, so I gave him time to find a decision, while I took Hermiod in my arms, putting his head on my shoulder to steady him. I didn’t want him to lie on the floor any longer. There were no words to describe how furious I was concerning Dellingur for depriving my Hermiod of all his dignity. If I hadn’t known the malevolent Asgard was standing right outside holding a gun in his hands, I’d definitely have gone after him to beat the living hell out of him.

Though, Loki didn’t have to come to a decision anymore, because just a minute later we all got beamed away.

--

The new scenery was much more pleasant than the last, because now I found myself back on the bridge of the Beliskner, confronted not only with Thor (never before had I been that happy to see him!), but also with half a dozen not very friendly looking Asgard security guards that were obviously only there because of Loki and Dellingur.

Of course, Thor hadn’t only beamed up me and Hermiod, but also the other two Asgards, who looked understandably uncomfortable at the sight that presented itself in front of them. One of Thor’s security guards took the gun from Dellingur’s hands, while I put Hermiod down on the floor softly. I placed a kiss on his forehead and made a silent promise to be back in a second, then I jumped to my feet, leapt over to Dellingur and vigorously smashed a fist right in his face. I had promised it to him, after all, and I always kept my promises.

The punch made him stumble backwards and fall, because his frail Asgard body wasn’t made to withstand my human wrath. The guards didn’t show even the slightest of interest to help him up, so he remained there, staring at me in horror, while I began throwing my tantrum of the century.

‘You despicable piece of crap!’ I yelled at him, my whole demeanour pure ire and hate. ‘If you ever again dare to touch Hermiod, I’ll kill you! I swear! Don’t even dare to look at him ever again, or you’re gonna hope you’ve never been born in the first place as soon as I’m gonna find you!’

‘Aegeti.’ I noticed Thor speaking to me, but ignored him for the time being, because I wasn’t finished with Dellingur yet. He was lost for words anyways, just stared back at me in utter dismay.

‘And don’t ever again dare to come around with any excuses about saving your race! I don’t buy that crap from you anymore!’ I kept on yelling. ‘I’ve seen the hateful looks you threw at Hermiod! Whatever problem you have with him, from now on you’ll have to deal with me instead of him, because you’ll never ever get the chance to even get close to him! You worthless filthy bastard!’

‘Aegeti!’ I heard Thor again, sounding a tad more impatient.

I exhaled in frustration and turned around to the Supreme Commander, who was sitting on his captain’s chair casually, observing the scenery with interest. I could have sworn there was amusement on his features.

‘I’m sorry, Thor.’ I apologized, rubbing my temples to calm myself down. ‘I just had to get this out. It’s been on my mind way too long…’

‘I can understand your frustration and anger.’ He told me matter-of-factly. ‘I just want to assure you that Dellingur will be taken proper care of, according to the severity of his crime. But I am also of the opinion that at the moment Hermiod needs and deserves your attention much more than the culprit.’

At the mention of Hermiod’s name, I admittedly got a tad of a bad consciousness for leaving him alone while I was yelling at Dellingur. Nevertheless, the tantrum had been necessary to vent my displeasure with all the degradation that I had to deal with just minutes ago.

Now I dropped to the floor again to take care of Hermiod, who was just about to regain his consciousness. He seemed to be disoriented, looking around the room tiredly through small slits of his eyelids. Being stunned twice in such a short time had definitely taken its toll on him.

‘Aegeti?’ He asked, looking in no particular direction. My heart ached when I heard him call my name with a voice so broken.

‘Hermiod, love.’ I whispered tenderly, hugging him carefully. ‘I’m here. It’s all fine. We’re safe now. Thor has rescued us.’ By the way…

‘How did you even find us?’ I shot a question at Thor. ‘I’m sure we were hidden quite well, right?’

‘I always know my son’s whereabouts when he’s on Othala.’ Thor told me enigmatically, but seemingly didn’t intend to elaborate his statement any further. For the moment, it wasn’t important anyways, because Hermiod needed to be paid attention to.

It was more than just relieving that after Hermiod had looked at me closely for a while, he recognized me eventually. He looked so terribly hurt and broken that I didn’t know how to help him. Hence I pulled him in an even closer embrace, not caring any longer about the presence of all the Asgards around us. Hermiod, now obviously being sure about who I was, wrapped his long arms around me to desperately hold me in a firm embrace, mumbling Asgard words to me that I, to my greatest dismay, didn’t understand.

I looked up to Thor, seeking help, but at the moment he was busy ordering his guards to bring Dellingur and Loki away. I felt somewhat sorry for Loki, because I’d come to like him a bit, but I decided to talk to Thor about him at a later occasion. Right now I was only concerned about Hermiod, whose condition seemed to be more than serious.

‘Thor.’ I mouthed stressfully, still not able to understand what Hermiod was murmuring to me. ‘Please.’

Finally noticing my call, Thor just gave one of the guards a sign and then came over to Hermiod and me. In the corner of my eye, I saw the guards preparing for bringing Loki and Dellingur away, the latter still shaking from the well-deserved punch I had given him.

‘Can we please get him to the infirmary?’ I asked Thor. ‘I’m afraid he’s hurt badly. All I can get from him is in Asgard language. I have no idea what he’s saying.’

I didn’t have to ramble on, though, because without further hesitation, Thor beamed us to the infirmary, where we were surrounded by Eir and her team in an instant.

‘What happened?’ She wanted to know, her tone all professional as always.

‘He’s been stunned twice within, I dunno, an hour or so, and that’s only what I’ve seen. I don’t know what else happened to him.’ I explained frantically. ‘Please, help him. I…’ My voice broke. Seeing Hermiod like that, clinging to me like I was his last island of safety on a huge stormy ocean while he kept mumbling Asgard words to me, was so heart-breaking.

Eir looked worried, to say the least. She ordered two members of her team to put Hermiod in one of the medical pods, but unfortunately, Hermiod didn’t let go of me. Instead his grip around my body even fastened and his murmuring got even more frantically.

‘Hermiod, please…’ I whispered in his tiny ear. ‘Those people are going to help you.’

He just shook his head and held on to me, his frail body shaking all over. I looked up to Eir, completely desperate and unknowing what to do. I felt so totally helpless. All of me wanted her to help my injured beloved Hermiod, but the mere thought of forcing him out of my embrace broke my heart.

‘What else happened there?’ Now Thor interfered, his voice soft and full of concern. ‘Can you remember anything? What has Loki done to him?’

‘It wasn’t Loki.’ I disagreed. ‘Loki didn’t harm any of us. In fact, he even tried to keep him safe from Dellingur.’ I inhaled and called myself to order before I could continue to explain. ‘Dellingur seems to have whatever personal problems with Hermiod. I have no clue what it’s all about, but he treated Hermiod as though he’s worth nothing.’

I bit my lip to hold back my tears, but to no avail. Still, I had to keep talking. ‘I’ve been unconscious for a while. I have no clue how much time had passed until I woke up. Dellingur had been alone with Hermiod while…’ I swallowed hard. ‘I don’t know what happened.’

Eir put her hand on my shoulder in a surprisingly compassionate gesture. ‘He’ll be fine, Aegeti.’ She said softly. ‘We’ll take good care of him, but only if he allows us to help him.’

‘Don’t leave me alone.’ I now heard Hermiod whisper to me. I needed a few seconds to realize he’d been talking English again.

‘I won’t leave you alone, love. Not one single minute will I leave you alone, but you have to trust Eir now. She’s going to help you…’ I murmured frantically, trying to get to my feet and carry him over to the medical pod. Just like back on the Daedalus when I had carried him to the cafeteria, I was glad he was so frail and therefore not heavy. I put him in the pod carefully, but still he didn’t let go of me.

‘Hermiod, you have to let Eir help you now.’ I implored. ‘She can’t do anything for you as long as you keep clinging to me like that.’

Hermiod lay back into the pod very hesitantly, while I took care of never losing touch with him. I took his hand in mine tenderly and watched him wrap his long fingers around it, never losing eye contact with me.

I gave Eir an apologetic glance, but she just tilted her head approvingly. ‘It’s alright to hold his hand, Aegeti.’ She said. ‘He’s obviously looking back at some very unpleasant experiences, and he’s very fixated on you, so it’d be for his benefit, if you stayed as long as the examination takes.’

‘Whatever Dellingur has done to him, it must have been traumatic.’ I growled venomously, regretting that I had only given him a punch in the face.

‘You keep mentioning Dellingur, Aegeti.’ Eir said questioningly. ‘What else has he done?’

‘He’s kidnapped us in order to have Loki perform some experiments on me.’ I explained. ‘I’m not overly angry about the kidnapping itself, but I’ll never forgive him for whatever he’s done to Hermiod.’ I gritted my teeth and forbade myself to get into details, because if I did, I couldn’t ensure being able to keep myself from going after Dellingur and just smash his face in again and again.

I got aware of Thor standing nearby. Observing him carefully, I realized that he was really worried about his son. It hadn’t been only empty words when he had told me he cared for him. Without further thinking, I reached out my hand to him and gave him an encouraging nod. Thor came closer, looking at me in confusion.

‘I’ll make sure that Dellingur will never again be able to pose any danger to you or Hermiod.’ Thor told me sternly. ‘It was my mistake to have trusted him. I should never have done so.’

‘You couldn’t know.’ I objected. ‘I, too, thought he was nice.’

Thor seemed somewhat relieved that I didn’t reproach him. For reasons unknown my opinion was important to him. It made me wonder, but I knew this wasn’t the time to ask him why. There were matters much more urgent to talk about right now.

‘He never really liked Hermiod.’ Thor revealed after a moment of contemplation. ‘Unfortunately, he never told me why. I still can’t see any sense in it.’

‘Is jealousy a matter among Asgards?’ I wanted to know, having a very clear image of Dellingur’s motivations.

‘Jealousy is of no importance to the Asgard.’ Thor replied. ‘But, generally speaking, we’re not all the same, so I can’t be entirely sure. Some of us are quite competitive, actually. Why do you ask?’

‘I’m just trying to make sense of his motives.’ I explained. ‘I mean, it’s very clear to me he has some extremely personal issues concerning Hermiod, and I’ve been wondering whether jealousy might be one of them. Hermiod is your son, after all, therefore he’s privileged in your society.’

‘I suppose we’re going to find out anytime soon.’ Thor said enigmatically. ‘He’ll have to speak the truth.’

I had no idea how criminal proceedings worked on Othala, and for the moment I didn’t even want to know. I was sure Thor would deal with Dellingur the way he deserved, and I hoped I wouldn’t have to see him ever again, unless they’d maybe want to hear me as a witness.

‘Have you already spoken to the Chief Archon?’ I instead changed the topic to something more pleasant but no less interesting.

Thor tilted his head and looked at me pensively. ‘He wants to talk to you.’ He finally let me know. ‘I’ll arrange a meeting within the next few days, where you’ll get the chance to present all of your suggestions. He’s been surprisingly positive and interested in what you have to offer.’

‘He better is.’ I grumbled. ‘There’s a lot depending on his decisions, so…’

I hoped with all my heart that Odin would at least accept one of my two suggestions, because deep inside I felt I could contribute my part in helping the Asgard to survive. I saw myself being sent on a mission, and I didn’t want to fail. I couldn’t afford to fail, after all.

‘Are you still willing to help us?’ Thor interrupted my musings, eyeing me in wonderment.

I looked at him in surprise. ‘Of course. Why shouldn’t I?’

‘I’ve been afraid you’d change your mind after all the damage that was caused by Dellingur and Loki.’ Thor admitted his concerns, raising his brows apologetically.

‘Thor, I gave you my word to help you, if you want me to.’ I reminded him. ‘I’m not backing out because of one bad experience.’

There was really no reason at all for breaking my promise. Thor and Hermiod had given me so much already. They had taken me in to their world, made me a part of it. Now it was on me to pay my share.

‘You’re proving again and again that my decision was correct.’ Thor said, his voice low. ‘Hermiod indeed deserves you.’

‘Well, to be honest.’ I replied uncertainly. ‘Since Hermiod’s with me, he’s in trouble most of the time, so I don’t really think I’m a good influence on him…’

‘I’d like to disagree.’ Thor objected. ‘Hermiod, unlike every other Asgard, needs someone by his side. I’ve never realized it until you came along and took care of him. Even though love is a very complex matter that can’t be understood by all Asgards, it is the most important matter to him. I feel a great amount of guilt towards him, because it is my fault in the first place that he’s capable of emotions of such depth. I can assure you that he loves you with all his heart, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m entirely relieved and glad that you love him back, to be there and care for him despite all the hardship you had to face recently. The Asgards in general don’t see much potential in the human race, but you were able to teach us otherwise. It seems you’re an exception to the human race or at least to the experiences we made with humans so far. Even Odin believes so.’

I was blushing furiously because of Thor’s speech of appraisal and felt totally awkward. There was no way for me to deal with that amount of approval, because I wasn’t of the impression to deserve being called an exception to the human race.

‘I think you’re seeing more in me than I am.’ I therefore disagreed. ‘This is just what humans do when they love someone. I mean, if the love is true, we’re ready to give our lives, you know. I suppose you tend to underestimate what humans are actually capable of. We may not always be the brightest, but most of us have an incredibly big heart and the desire to help others.’

‘I believe you.’ Thor said vaguely. ‘Though, I’m still of the opinion you’re the best that could happen to Hermiod. He’s something special, and he, indeed, has a meaning to me. I want him to be… happy.’

I glanced at Hermiod, who had fallen asleep, while Thor and I had been talking. I suspected Eir to have applied a sedative to give him the chance of an overly necessary rest. The sort of rest that I needed, too. Urgently. I was so tired that I had a hard time keeping my eyes open.

‘I’ll do all I can to make him happy, Thor. That’s a promise, but may I ask you for something?’ I said, my eyes still focused on my Hermiod sleeping soundly. He looked so lovely and peaceful.

‘Of course.’ Thor confirmed.

‘I’d like to spend some time in private with Hermiod as soon as Eir lets him leave the infirmary.’ I explained carefully. ‘We both need a good cup of sleep and some peace, for a change. It’s been all too much lately and I just need… a break. All the more as I suspect the interesting times have only just begun, which means we won’t get all too much sleep in the near future.’

‘You can have my house all for yourselves.’ Thor reassured me. ‘The meeting with the Chief Archon can be postponed until you’ve both recovered. A few days more or less won’t be a problem.’

‘Are you sure?’ I asked in surprise. ‘Dellingur left the impression that it’s a question of weeks, not years, so I’m really concerned…’

‘Don’t be concerned.’ Thor reassured me. ‘There’s a great amount of work in progress already in order to save as much of our race as possible. Don’t believe what Dellingur told you. We still have time. A few days more or less won’t be a crucial factor.’

Thor’s words made me feel a little more at ease, to be honest. He sounded so eager as though there were important and helpful plans in the making. I had a feeling that not long from now we’d all be working together on something extraordinary.   

‘What will happen to Dellingur?’ I wondered, not really being happy about being back at the unpleasant subject, but I knew that I’d feel much more comfortable, if I knew more about his fate.

‘He’ll be punished for his deeds.’ Thor replied enigmatically, not seeming to be willing to elaborate, so I left it at that. It wasn’t my business anymore anyways. The Asgards would know how to handle this problem.

Now Eir’s face swam into sight again, looking like she had just been waiting for the right moment to interrupt our quiet discussion. ‘I don’t want to disturb your most likely very important conversation.’ She said softly. ‘But I’d like to tell you the results of my examination.’

Thor and I turned around interestedly to look at the physician who was leaning against one of her consoles, looking thoughtful and somehow concerned. I was on high alert in an instant, because her concern was, of course, caused by Hermiod’s condition.

‘I’ve already told you that his body is weak.’ She began to explain carefully. ‘To stun him twice was very unfortunate, indeed. A normal, healthy Asgard body would have been able to handle the stress without any side effects, but unfortunately, Dellingur didn’t take into account that Hermiod’s body is neither normal nor healthy. I suppose he simply didn’t know.’

‘Even if he’d known, he wouldn’t have cared.’ I threw in indignantly. ‘I suppose he wouldn’t even have cared, if he had accidentally killed him.’

Thor and Eir looked at me in shock. ‘Is that true?’ Thor wanted to know. I just nodded, not being able to put my anger into proper words. My hate towards Dellingur increased by the minute.

‘What can I do to make it easier for him?’ I instead asked the physician, because there was nothing more important now than Hermiod’s well-being.

‘He’ll need a few days of rest now.’ She said earnestly. ‘To be honest, he wouldn’t have survived a third stun, so your opinion concerning Dellingur is not far-fetched, indeed.’

Hearing those facts, I felt even more anger boiling up in my stomach in an instant. I looked from Eir to Thor to Hermiod and gritted my teeth to not just scream in frustration or run out to give Dellingur another punch, no matter where they’d brought him by now. But I didn’t utter a word and kept listening to the physician instead. I didn’t want to disturb the two Asgards with my inevitable human-ness.

‘I’ve also found evidence of physical mistreatment on Hermiod’s body.’ She went on explaining. ‘Dellingur, obviously, was very eager to inflict pain in great amounts.’

I gritted my teeth even more and held Hermiod’s hand in an even firmer grip to keep myself from throwing another tantrum. Thor seemed to sense my overwhelming emotions somehow, because he put a very reassuring hand on my forearm to calm me.

‘You came right in time to save Hermiod’s life, Commander.’ Eir continued in approval. ‘Also, I recommend you to take these facts into account when putting Dellingur to trial. I suppose, the Chief Archon would like to know, too. May I send him my report?’

‘Seems Dellingur has messed with the wrong family.’ I gloated, a malicious smile on my face.

Thor tilted his head, seemingly sharing my opinion.

‘You may send him all of your results, Eir.’ He then approved of her suggestion. ‘I’m, indeed, of the opinion that Odin would like to know every detail.’

I realized that there was some secret communication going on between the words they exchanged, but decided to not ask any further. I was really tired as hell and therefore not really able to process any more information anyways. All of these discussions could be postponed to a later time.

‘Eir, may I ask you when Hermiod will be allowed to leave the infirmary?’ I therefore wanted to know. ‘I mean, it’s really about time that both of us get some rest…’

‘You can leave anytime.’ She replied, giving me the Asgard version of an approving smile. ‘Just promise me to take good care of Hermiod.’

‘I will.’ I reassured her. ‘He’s in good hands with me, believe me. I won’t let anyone get close to him.’ Except myself, I added in silence, smiling slightly. Otherwise I was in the mood to kill everyone who just threw a malicious glance at him.

‘He’s weak.’ She reminded me. ‘Take care that he eats, drinks and sleeps enough. And…’ She hesitated, obviously not really knowing how to finish her sentence.

‘I’ll take care of all these things.’ I promised. ‘I’ll also take care that he gets enough love, don’t worry.’ I gave the physician a warm smile, noticing that I had told her exactly what she didn’t know how to phrase.

‘Othalian days have 28 hours.’ Thor now interfered. ‘I’ll be back home tomorrow at this very time to make sure you’re alright. Use those hours well.’

As always, I didn’t get any more time to object before I was beamed away.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 20 – Healing

 

Hermiod woke up because of the inconvenience the beaming process caused. He shifted in my arms and looked at me with sleepy eyes, seemingly disoriented for the moment. When his sight got a bit clearer, his eyes shot open wide, and he glared around the room frantically, almost panicking at the change of our surroundings.

‘Shh, love.’ I whispered softly. ‘We’re at home. Out of danger. All’s fine.’

‘Aegeti?’ He whispered, almost fearfully.

‘I’m here, Hermiod.’ I reassured him. ‘Don’t worry, I’m here.’

‘Dellingur?’ Hermiod wanted to know, obviously still afraid of the assumed friend that had suddenly turned out to be a villain.

It hurt me deeply to see how scared Hermiod was. Whatever Dellingur had done to him, I hoped he’d have to pay for it. I dreaded to find out the whole scale of Dellingur’s deeds, part of me didn’t even want to know. But what I knew perfectly well right now was that Hermiod would need some time to cope with what had happened, and that there was a chance of severe trauma that maybe couldn’t even heal.  

‘Thor’s security guards have taken care of him.’ I told Hermiod in an attempt to calm him. ‘I think we won’t see him again anytime soon. Thor was… angry.’

Though, I didn’t want to go into detail, because there would still be enough time to discuss matters with Hermiod after we’d both gotten some desperately needed rest.

‘He will hopefully be punished as he deserves.’ Hermiod mumbled tiredly. I just nodded, didn’t really want to contribute anything. I had no clue about how the Asgard dealt with criminals, but at this exact moment it didn’t even matter. All that mattered now was Hermiod and Hermiod alone.

I still held him in my arms tightly, didn’t dare to put him down on the floor, although he seemed to get heavier by the minute. Too afraid that he might not be able to stand on his own, I didn’t exactly know what to do. He had been bereft of his dignity far too often on this dreadful day, I didn’t want to add anything to this.

‘Love, where can we go to?’ I therefore asked. ‘Is there a bedroom that we can declare as our own?’

‘As far as I know Thor, he’s beamed us right in front of its door.’ Hermiod suggested. ‘He wouldn’t want you to waste time on finding it. After all, he knows how tired we are, doesn’t he?’

I had been so focused on Hermiod that I hadn’t really cared about my surroundings yet. That’s why only now I realized that I was standing in front of one of those doors of icy glass that was part of a long corridor with many similar doors. I hadn’t seen this part of Thor’s house before, but on the other hand, I hadn’t seen most of the house yet.

When it came down to it, I was more than thankful towards Thor for giving us the time necessary for our recovery. It wasn’t even because of my own exhaustion, but especially because of Hermiod. I could easily have dealt with staying up a while longer, but he looked terribly tired and exhausted, to say the least, and all I wanted now was to spend some hours in peace with him.

When I carefully pushed the door open (taking care Hermiod was still safe in my arms), I realized that Thor had already taken the necessary precautions. It wasn’t a luxurious room, but I hadn’t expected one in the first place. To be precise, the room was empty except for a bed and a small table, but it was more than enough. On the table there was a tray full of Asgard food supplies as well as a big carafe of water and two of those oddly shaped glasses.

Looking at the bed, I supposed that Thor must have asked someone about what humans preferred to sleep on. That would, at least, explain why there were soft pillows and some big and obviously warm blankets being scattered over the otherwise very functional looking Asgard bed.

I put Hermiod down as carefully as possible. Between all those pillows and blankets he looked even frailer than ever, his greyish, almost white skin being just a faint contrast to the bed covers. I didn’t quite know whether it was just some visual illusion caused by the largeness of the bed that made me see him that way. Maybe, and that was the option that I dreaded most, this particular clone of his was really too weak already to cope with all the injuries. I hoped that after some hours of peaceful and undisturbed sleep, he’d be much better in the morning.

I lay down beside Hermiod without further hesitation. He watched me intently while I got rid of my clothes, dropped them on the floor carelessly, and snuggled under the blanket. I also tugged the blanket around him in the process to ensure he felt warm and comfortable. His black almond eyes followed my every move, obviously enjoying the fact of being as close to me as possible now. I loved the way he looked at me. It was heart-warming to see all my love reflected in those beautiful eyes.

‘How do you feel, love?’ I asked him quietly, touching his cheek with tenderness.

‘I’m tired.’ He whispered softly, closing his eyes, breathing deeply.

I put my arms around him firmly to pull him even closer, trying to put all my care in this simple gesture. I loved feeling his soft skin on mine, savouring its peculiar alien smell that I had gotten used to so fast. Hermiod laid his hand on mine and wrapped his so alien looking fingers around it, holding on to it as though he feared I might be gone in the morning, if he didn’t cling to me like that.

‘Will you still be there when I wake up?’ He asked, almost fearfully.

‘Of course, I’ll be there.’ I replied softly. ‘What makes you think otherwise?’

I had seen the doubt and anxiety in his eyes before, the desperate fear of losing me. I hoped that one day I’d be able to make him trust in the fact that he’d never lose me. At least not as long as I had a say in it, and most likely not even then. If there had ever been anything in my life that I was absolutely sure about, it was the knowledge that not even death would be able to part us, simply because I’d be too stubborn to accept it. It came in handy that the Asgard were cloners who didn’t really die as long as there was still a viable clone to transfer their mind patterns to.

‘You’ve had such hard times because of me.’ He mumbled quietly. ‘I wouldn’t wonder if it got too much… I would never want you to stay with me just because you think you’d have to keep a promise…’

‘Hermiod.’ I admonished him meekly. ‘There’s a saying among humans that I want to teach you now, so you can understand me better. Look, when humans decide to stay with someone for a lifetime, to share their lives together, we usually make a promise to be there for each other in good and bad times, in health and sickness. I’m supposed to become your Hjarta-kostir not long from now, and I’m willing to give this exact promise to you. I’ll be with you, no matter how rough times might get, and I’ll do everything humanly possible to find a cure for your people. I don’t want to lose you. I’ll fight for you, no matter the cost.’

The affectionate look on his features warmed my heart. I noticed that he began to believe, and I hoped that I’d be able to make this promise official rather soon than later.

‘So you still want to be my Hjarta-kostir?’ He asked for reassurance, hope in his voice.

‘Yes, Hermiod.’ I approved. ‘I want to be everything that you need. I promise to be there for you, no matter what.’

I kissed his forehead tenderly, trying to put all my love and honesty in the gesture.

‘Thank you.’ He mouthed, his voice low. ‘Your promise means more to me than I can say.’

I pulled him in an even closer embrace, kissed his forehead once more, then his lips, noticing with a smile that he was almost asleep already.

‘Sleep well, my love.’ I whispered. ‘Let’s talk tomorrow.’

I had fallen asleep almost as quickly as Hermiod, feeling completely safe and content. I knew that Thor would take care that nobody would be able to disturb us. It’s a great thing, indeed, when you can rely on a person like him. I knew he’d never let any harm come upon us again.

--

I woke up at sunrise, feeling refreshed and at a quite good mood. The whole room was painted in countless shades of orange, caused by the Othalian sun that was shining through the large window of the bedroom. Everything looked warm and friendly as though the new day wanted to give us the promise of being a much better one than the last.

Hermiod was still sleeping soundly in my arms, his breath even and calm. He must have had a dreamless sleep, because he was still in the exact same position as he had been when he had fallen asleep. I supposed Eir’s sedatives had done a very good job. Of course, I also hoped that my presence had contributed to his peaceful sleep as well.

He looked so at peace that I didn’t dare to wake him up, because I didn’t want the harsh reality of what had happened the day before to get back at him too soon. I wanted him to be safe and free from disturbing memories. Still, he looked so frail, so fragile, but judging by his relaxed features, he at least wasn’t in pain any longer. I pondered the chance of it being just an effect of medication, while I hoped that my calming presence had made a difference as well.  

I shifted a little in order to free my arm that had become numb while Hermiod was resting on it the whole night. Although I moved as carefully as possible, I woke him up in the process.

Hermiod mumbled a few words in Asgard with a voice so low that I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish his words even if I had been able to understand them.

‘Good morning, sunshine.’ I greeted him like I had done back in Atlantis when he had awoken in my arms. That morning not so long ago we couldn’t have known all the turbulences yet that we’d be thrown in from that day on. I had loved him with all my heart already then, but my love had grown even stronger with all we’ve been through.

I felt a wave of great affection wash over me while I watched him waking a bit more.

He opened his eyes a bit, and when he recognized my face so close to his, his features softened even more, showing me the Asgard version of a smile.

‘Good morning.’ He mumbled, getting a bit closer again, obviously seeking the warmth of my body. I remembered how easily Asgards felt cold, so I pulled the blanket over the both of us again to not lose even an iota of warmth.  

‘How do you feel, love?’ I asked carefully, hoping that he was as much at peace on the inside as he looked on the outside.

‘Better.’ He whispered, now opening his eyes fully to watch me thoroughly. ‘How can I feel bad when waking up with you?’

Instead of an answer I gave him a long and tender kiss that he obviously enjoyed a lot, because now he put his long arms around me as an answer to the embrace I had been holding him in for quite a while now. I loved the touch of his skin on mine and didn’t want to move an inch. I only wanted to feel him and get lost in the moment of tenderness.

It was wonderful and fascinating at the same time to realize how much Hermiod craved for this tender touch, something that other Asgards would surely never do. Thor had been right when he had said Hermiod was special among his people, and I was more than thankful for this fact.

After a very long while of just feeling, not thinking, I broke away from the kiss to catch my breath. Hermiod watched me interestedly, an intelligible expression in his almond shaped eyes. He was still resting on his side, his right hand supporting his head, while his left hand traced the forms of my face and body. I shivered under his touch and there was no way to hide all the goose bumps he caused wherever his long fingers came in contact with my skin. I’d have expected to feel uncomfortable, but instead I simply enjoyed his tenderness and caressing. With Hermiod everything felt right that had felt so wrong all the time before I had found him.

‘I love you.’ I whispered to him. ‘Elskan min.’

There it was again, this humble Asgard smile that I’d never have recognized as such if I hadn’t known him so well already. He seemed to like my pronunciation of his language, but he also seemed to find it quite amusing. My Icelandic accent certainly sounded quite weird in his ears.

The hand, that had explored my body up until now, began playing with my hair the way he had done the night in Atlantis. Hermiod’s fascination with it seemed to be unbroken.

‘Thu erth fallig.’ He murmured. ‘You’re beautiful.’

I smiled, kissed his forehead. ‘So are you, my love.’ I reassured him.

‘Would you like to know the literal translation of ‘Min hjarta kostir’?’ He asked, obvious curiosity in his voice. I just nodded in surprise, not revealing that I already knew the exact meaning of the term.

‘My heart’s chosen.’ He told me softly. ‘I don’t think any other Asgard has used this phrase in centuries. It’s the most honest declaration of love in our language. Formerly, when relationships were still important in our society, it was part of the oath we pledged when we got… married.’

‘You know I’m going to pledge this oath to you anytime soon?’ I asked for reassurance.

‘Of course, I know.’ He replied. ‘And so will I. We will be the first ones in centuries to get into a connection like this.’

‘It saddens me, to be honest, that your people have lost something as wonderful as that.’ I admitted solicitously. ‘I mean, everyone deserves to love and to be loved. It’s one of the innermost cravings of the heart, but your species…’

‘Generally speaking, we’re not capable of love anymore.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘But I am, and for the two of us it’s all that matters.’

‘I know.’ I replied, smiling at him softly. ‘Fortunately, you’re a very special Asgard.’

Hearing my words, Hermiod suddenly looked very thoughtful, a shadow covering his features. He seemed to be struggling with what to say next. There was something on his heart that he wanted to put into words, just didn’t quite know how.

‘I think I know what Thor has told you about me after he had sent me away the other day in the garden.’ He finally began to speak. ‘I know that I’m not just a mere clone of his. They performed some genetic experiments with my body that made me capable of an emotional depth other Asgards don’t have. He’s never explained it to me, but I would be stupid, if I hadn’t realized it long ago. I’ve often tried to talk to him about what they’ve done, but he always evaded the topic. After a few centuries, I stopped pondering about it, to be honest, but now that my whole life has changed, now that everything is different, I suppose I should know. He considers himself my father, after all, so he owes me an explanation.’

‘He definitely does.’ I agreed with him. ‘But, to be honest, he hasn’t given me much information either, and I think it’d be for the best, if he told you everything in person. He owes it to you, indeed, after such a long time. Which reminds me of a question I wanted to ask you for a while now but never had the chance.’

Hermiod raised his brows in curiosity. ‘What question is that?’

‘How old are you, actually?’ I voiced my question carefully.

‘Counting in Asgard years, which are longer than years on your home world, I’m 1,427 years old.’ He revealed, making me gasp in surprise.

‘Wow.’ I just mouthed, lost for words. ‘Compared to the other Asgard…’

‘Before we began with cloning instead of reproducing naturally, our lifespan was about 150 years. Some individuals were even able to celebrate their 200th birthday.’ He explained pensively. ‘We matured very quickly, so an Asgard childhood was over at the age of about 12 years. Nowadays we use growth accelerators that make a clone mature in about 20 hours. While most of the other Asgards’ first bodies had the chance to grow up naturally, I came into existence as a grown-up man already.’

‘So you never had a childhood?’ I wondered, feeling compassion. ‘No reading of children’s books and playing football in the backyard with the other kids?’

Never having had the chance of being a child was something I could only hardly imagine. Of course, my own childhood had been a disaster, but at least I had one, at least I knew those happy carefree moments only children are able to have. There are no words to describe how sad I was about Hermiod having been deprived of these wonderful opportunities.

‘Indeed.’ Hermiod confirmed my thoughts. ‘Though, I’m absolutely consent with Thor’s decision regarding my maturing. I had the chance to become part of the Science Council and Board of Technology right away. Due to my superior intellect I was able to learn very fast and become a productive member of our society. I’ve never wasted time on the thought that I’ve actually been denied a childhood, because there haven’t been any children on Othala for thousands of years already anyway. I’m younger than the others, but I’m at the same level of knowledge and maturity.’

‘I’ve never thought I’d get together with a man so much older than me.’ I said half-jokingly. ‘But that’s OK, because I’m fascinated by your experience, knowledge and wisdom.’

‘Well, I would never have thought that I would get together with a woman so much younger than me.’ He replied humorously. ‘Or any woman at all, for that matter.’

‘I suppose that I couldn’t have found any better man.’ I mused quietly. ‘I admire your intellect, your alien beauty, everything about you. So, despite the weird circumstances that brought you into existence, I’m thankful that you’re here and that you’re exactly the way you are. Your geneticists created a masterpiece.’

Hermiod gave me one of those hardly recognizable Asgard smiles that I loved so much. ‘This is the very first time that I’m actually glad about what they’ve done to me.’ He admitted, tenderness in his low voice. ‘Maybe there’s really something like predestination.’

I nodded pensively. ‘Yes, maybe we’ve been destined for each other long before we knew it, long before I’ve been born.’

‘Unfortunately, I had to grow so old until I found what I was meant for all the time already.’ Hermiod whispered. ‘But better late than never, am I right?’

‘I’m glad you’ve waited that long.’ I approved, smiling. ‘Though, I’m still not happy with the fact that Thor has never told you the whole truth about what they’ve actually done to this particular clone of his. You should really ask him anytime soon, but not today. Today I want to live a peaceful day with you and without all the complex thoughts and matters we’ll have to deal with in the near future.’

Hermiod nodded, still in thought about our conversation. ‘You’re right.’ He finally broke away from the subject. ‘It’s not a topic for a morning like this. I suppose we’ll have enough time to discuss matters with Thor the next days. I’m sure he’s already busy preparing everything for the ceremony, and I have a feeling he wants to introduce you to the Chief Archon as soon as possible.’

‘That about the Chief Archon is true.’ I acknowledged, remembering Thor’s words. ‘I’m supposed to make some suggestions concerning the future of the Asgard people. Thor told me already that Odin is very interested in what I have to say. Though, I know nothing about any kind of ceremony.’

‘As I know you, you’ve already promised Thor to help us in every way possible.’ Hermiod assumed with raised brows. ‘And I’m sure your promises are not only about donating some DNA samples to our Science Council.’

I couldn’t help but smile at his words that showed me how well he already knew me. ‘I’ve suggested to try and find a solution for your genetic degeneration problem in the Ancient databases in Atlantis.’ I therefore revealed. ‘Also, I’ve agreed to let them take all samples from me that they need and perform all necessary experiments on me. I’ve told you I’d help you, no matter the cost.’

Hermiod looked as though he wasn’t sure whether to be worried about or proud of me. ‘You’re willing to take all those burdens to help a race that you’ve just learned to know?’

I nodded in approval. ‘Absolutely.’

‘Aren’t you fed up with us already after what Loki has done?’ Hermiod wondered, glaring at me intently. 

I couldn’t help but laugh softly. ‘I don’t reproach Loki for anything, to be honest.’ I made clear. ‘He didn’t really harm me. He was only taking blood samples, actually, but he didn’t even get the chance anymore to put them in his gene sequencer before Thor beamed us out. And although I definitely don’t like Loki’s lack of morality, I think that his general thinking isn’t that wrong at all. If the solution can be found in the human genome, I’m more than willing to contribute all I can. Also, it’s more than time to take a closer look at the Ancients’ genetic research.’

‘You sound so eager.’ Hermiod told me softly. ‘I’ve never known of anyone so determined to help a people survive that isn’t their own.’

‘Thor wants me to become part of your people, and as far as I’m informed, you want the same.’ I reminded him meekly.

‘That is true, indeed.’ Hermiod confirmed, seemingly happy about the prospect. ‘Still, your selflessness is nothing I would ever take for granted.’

‘Well, there’s also a selfish part in all that selflessness.’ I said with a wink. ‘I don’t want to lose you, min hjarta kostir.’

Instead of giving me an answer, Hermiod kissed me again, even more passionately than the last time, putting all his love and affection in this kiss. I wrapped my arms around him carefully and held him as close as I could without hurting him. He winced nevertheless, that’s why I let go of him in an instant.

‘Have I hurt you, love?’ I asked, startled and worried.

‘No, just…’ Hermiod looked down at his own body, and just now did I notice some bruises on his chest and belly. I hadn’t seen them before as they were only some darker shades on his grey skin and mostly hidden under the blanket. Of course, I was on high alert in an instant and also had a bad consciousness about not seeing those bruises earlier.

‘What has Dellingur done to you?’ I asked in a firm voice, now completely serious again, feeling anger boiling up in my stomach by the mere thought of the traitor. ‘Where do those bruises come from?’

‘I don’t remember.’ Hermiod told me honestly, his eyes suddenly wide with terror. ‘I’ve been unconscious for a while.’

I began examining his whole body tenderly, touching the bruises carefully to not hurt him again. There were no inner injuries, obviously, otherwise Eir would have found them, but a bruise is a bruise, and I could perfectly imagine where they came from. Again, I regretted to have punched Dellingur only once.

‘Why does Dellingur hate you so much?’ I couldn’t help but ask the question. ‘What has happened between the two of you to provoke all this unjustifiable aggression?’

Hermiod looked to the side, obviously fighting some inner struggles. ‘He’s never gotten over the fact that I was promoted to be the chief engineer on Thor’s flagship instead of him although I was so much younger.’ He finally told me. ‘Dellingur always thought Thor had favoured me only because I’m his son, no matter how often we tried to convince him otherwise. Thor has told me repeatedly that he’s chosen me because I’ve simply been the better engineer, but Dellingur never believed a word.’

‘But why did he assign you to the Daedalus mission, then?’ I wondered. ‘Wouldn’t it have been more logical to keep you on the Beliskner and send Dellingur to Atlantis instead?’

‘I’ve never really found out why, but I suppose it was mostly because Thor wanted to end this ongoing quarrel he had grown so tired of.’ Hermiod admitted, sadness in his low voice. ‘I’ve told you before that Thor told the High Council that he considered me some kind of last resort, but I can’t be completely sure about his true motives. He hadn’t planned to leave me there for more than a few years anyways. I was supposed to return to my post on the Beliskner as soon as my assignment to the Daedalus was over. Dellingur was only assigned as a replacement for the time I was away.’

‘But you came back earlier than expected, right?’ I assumed. ‘Hence Dellingur thought he’d lose his job on the Beliskner again after just about two years. He was angry that he’d be only second choice again. He was jealous, because you once more took from him what he thought was his.’

‘Obviously.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘He never got over the fact that Thor favoured me.’

‘So your people have the capability to be jealous?’ I wondered interestedly.

‘Jealousy may be illogical.’ Hermiod explained. ‘But we actually do run competitions, and some of us aren’t able to deal with not being chosen for a desired position.’

While we were talking, I had begun placing soft kisses on each of Hermiod’s bruises in order to soothe the pain, but only now did he pay attention to them and let go his gloomy musings. I was pleased to see him shiver under my tender touches just as I had shivered under his.

‘Seems your skin’s quite sensitive.’ I noticed, tasting his skin with my tongue. It was the same alien taste that I always experienced and had learned to appreciate whenever I kissed him. I definitely liked that taste a lot. Just as much as I loved looking in his big almond shaped eyes, seeing the wisdom, intelligence and experience of his so astoundingly long life in them.

‘Asgard skin is very sensitive, indeed.’ Hermiod said matter-of-factly. ‘That’s why we’re bruised so easily. It’s one of the many side effects of our cloning technology. Though, I’ve never felt such a …positive sensation before. It’s most pleasant, to be honest.’

I couldn’t help but smile, then dared to tenderly bite the very soft skin of his neck. Hermiod winced and gasped in surprise, making me repeat the process, just to provoke the exact same reaction.

‘Do you like that?’ I then asked, raising a brow, enjoying to watch him realize the sensation I’ve caused.

Hermiod looked at me incredulously as though he had just found out something he’d considered completely impossible. I had given him a little present in return for all the tender touches he had made me feel so at ease with.

‘I didn’t know…’ He tried to put his thoughts into words, but failed.

‘…that you can experience such sensuality?’ I helped him out. He just tilted his head approvingly, lost for words.

‘You’re a very special Asgard, my dear Hermiod.’ I told him earnestly, winking at him. ‘Seems the more I explore you the more I confirm this fact.’

I lay on my back again, observing Hermiod thoughtfully, while he was just sitting there, wondering about himself. I decided not to explore his sensuality any further today to give him the chance to come to his own conclusions. After a while he seemed to have made up his mind the same way. So he made himself comfortable beside me once more, snuggling up to me. Again, he sought the warmth of my body, and I, complying with his request, pulled him in a warm embrace. Just holding him like that made me the happiest person alive. I didn’t need more, only his presence and the love he emanated.

There’s indeed nothing better than having found the place where I belonged. I knew that now, and I was all the more astonished by the fact that I had had to travel to another galaxy to find said place. I loved the grey alien in my arms more than I could tell.

We spent a long time just enjoying each other’s company, remaining as close as possible, his skin on mine, goose bumps all over. It was all we needed, nothing else mattered.

Outside the bedroom’s window the sun had risen a long while ago, but we were far away from the city center of Valaskjalf, so there was silence all around and nothing that could disturb us, no matter the time of day. The alien sound of the birds in the garden was like silent background music to this wonderful morning, I could have stayed like this forever, but I knew there were problems to be dealt with, conversations to have held.

Not now, though, because this was our day alone. Thor had granted us this little island of tranquillity to recover from the past days. To know how much he approved of my relationship with Hermiod was reassuring. I hoped that as soon as we were able to find a solution for the Asgards’ most urgent problem, we’d have a long time to spend like this, in peace and contentment. But beforehand there was still a lot that had to be done.

Hermiod forced me out of my deep thoughts when he shifted in my embrace, seemingly worried about the serious and absent-minded expression on my face.

‘Aegeti?’ He asked worriedly. ‘Are you alright?’

I just smiled at him and kissed his forehead once more. ‘Of course, love.’ I assured him. ‘There are just too many thoughts whirling around in my head. I sometimes wish my brain would just stop thinking and leave me in peace for a while.’ My smile grew wider, more tenderly.

‘You worry too much.’ Hermiod remarked.

‘How couldn’t I worry, Hermiod?’ I asked, suddenly feeling as though a black cloud had covered the sun. ‘There’s still a possibility that I’ll lose you in a much too short time. My heart breaks at the mere thought.’

‘Be confident.’ Hermiod suggested quietly. ‘The last words haven’t been spoken yet. Don’t humans have a saying that hope dies last?’

‘Aren’t you afraid?’ I wondered. ‘I can’t believe you’re so level-headed to accept your fate as something inevitable.’

‘I appreciate what I have now.’ Hermiod explained softly. ‘I don’t think of the far future, only of this moment and of the life we can lead. I want to enjoy every single day with you. Of course, I know that we have a long journey in front of us, and I’m willing to go wherever you go. I’m thankful for everything you’re about to do for my people, but the most important part is that we’ll be together. That’s all I need to know.’

I kissed him again, getting lost in the moment for a while, until another thought came to my attention.

‘You’ve mentioned a ceremony.’ I murmured. ‘What kind of ceremony? What’s its purpose?’

‘The Chief Archon has to confirm our connection.’ Hermiod reminded me. ‘Without his approval you can’t be my Hjarta-kostir. I’m sure that Thor has everything planned already. A ceremony like this hasn’t been held on Othala for centuries, so it’ll surely be something… big. Even more so as my family is one of the most influential among the Asgard.’  

‘Odin will hold the ceremony himself?’ I asked in surprise, not having expected our connection to be something as important as that.  

‘Of course.’ Hermiod confirmed, surprised by my reaction. ‘Who else should do that?’

That was a good question, actually, even more so as I had no clue who was in charge of hosting such ceremonies in the Asgard society. I just couldn’t imagine that the Chief Archon had the time for such trivialities. Coming to think of that, I slowly but steadily realized that our connection was indeed a big matter, not only for Hermiod and me, but for the whole Asgard people.

‘I feel kinda uncomfortable with the thought that everyone will be interested in this.’ I admitted hesitatingly. ‘I’ve always imagined my wedding taking place on a secret place with a very small circle of guests.’

‘I’m sorry.’ Hermiod said quietly. ‘But I suppose the Chief Archon has other plans. Thor has other plans. I know him well enough. I know that he sees our connection as something like a bringer of hope for our people.’

I nodded slowly, beginning to understand Thor’s motives. Of course, he wanted to show that there actually was hope for his people, and I knew that it wasn’t the connection itself but me in person who was supposed to be the Asgards’ bringer of hope. Odin seemed to agree with Thor on the matter, which was the actual reason why he wanted to talk to me and take my suggestions into account. Maybe he’d understood a while ago already that the Asgard needed some help from outside, some fresh ideas they just weren’t able to come up with anymore.

‘I just hope that something of what I can contribute will be enough for your people.’ I replied pensively. ‘I’m not hero material, you know.’

We remained silent for another while, just holding on to each other in deep thought. I was torn between wanting to talk more about the ceremony and being too afraid of all that public interest. Then I decided to just ignore my anxiety until it was time for it. I was sure that I’d find out about the details of the ceremony soon enough.  

Also, I remembered that I had given both Eir and myself a promise, and I knew she’d be very unhappy if I broke it, so I decided to drop the matter of the ceremony for the time being.

‘Are you hungry, love?’ I therefore asked Hermiod, surprising him with my sudden change of mind.

‘I am, actually.’ He admitted, looking at me in wonderment.

‘I’ve made a promise.’ I explained enigmatically. ‘That means I’m going to take care that you eat, drink and sleep enough, my love, because I want you do be at good health as soon as possible. There won’t be any ceremony as long as you can’t stand on your own feet.’

While talking, I had leaned over to the table at the bedside and picked one of those oddly shaped forms, glaring at it in dismay. Although I felt really hungry, I somehow still wasn’t ready to give Asgard nourishment another try.

I chose one of those yellow squares that I totally hated and that Hermiod liked best.

I leaned back again, making myself comfortable, while I broke the square into four smaller pieces of which I carefully fed one to Hermiod. He opened his mouth in expectation, hence I put the little piece on his tongue tenderly, watching him enjoy the taste of it while he chewed it properly. He looked adorable, to say the least, which made it a much greater pleasure to feed him the remaining parts of the square in the same way.

Then Hermiod reached over to the table to take the tray in his hands and put it onto the bed to make it easier for us to pick the pieces from it. He glared at the tray for a moment, then chose a suspiciously pinkish cube, placed a kiss on it and presented it to me.

‘What’s the kiss for?’ I asked half-jokingly.

‘To make it taste better for you.’ He replied cheekily. He seemingly started to take my repulsion towards Asgard food with humour.

‘Well, let’s see…’ I said hesitantly. ‘I hope you were successful at that.’

Hermiod fed the little cube to me the way I had fed him before. I enclosed the strange form with my tongue but didn’t quite dare to chew, dreading the odd alien taste I had experienced before. Hermiod gave me an encouraging glance.

I exhaled in an attempt to brace myself and began chewing slowly, realizing in surprise that the pink cube tasted way better than the last few pieces I had tasted back on the Beliskner.

‘Seems I’ll be able to get used to that stuff at last.’ I murmured. ‘Maybe you should always serve it with a kiss.’ I gave Hermiod the warmest of smiles.

Without further talking he took another of the pinkish cubes, placed a kiss on it and put it in my mouth tenderly. The sensation was the same, making me realize how hungry I actually was.

We spent the next hour feeding each other with Asgard food supplies while we were cuddled up in our mass of blankets, watching the day go by. I felt so utterly perfect and complete in Hermiod’s presence that I was able to give myself the chance to forget the future for a while. I had never been able to live only for the moment before, too many worried thoughts had always been in my mind, but Hermiod managed to calm the whirling chaos and lock it away for the time being.

And, indeed, right now nothing else mattered.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21 - Negotiations

 

In the late afternoon, after we had declared our extensive brunch and cuddling as finished for the time being, we finally decided to get up. The sun still shone from an unclouded sky, so we decided to go outside into the wild garden that was surrounding the house. This time, we could be certain not to encounter any further bad surprises, because Thor had taken precautions that besides us nobody was able to enter the garden any longer.

We took a walk through the extensive gardens, holding hands like freshly in love teenagers, while we were enjoying the vast diversity of plants. There were trees and flowers that looked a bit familiar to those I knew from Earth, but there were also some Othalian specialties that looked totally alien, yet beautiful.

After a while, we reached a beautiful clearing that was surrounded by ancient trees. The sunlight came filtering through the high treetops and drew a beautiful pattern of spots of light on the long grass that covered the ground. I admired the all-around beauty of Thor’s gardens that clearly spoke of good taste and sensitiveness, features I wouldn’t have expected from an Asgard, hadn’t I learned to know so much about them the last few weeks.

I sat down on the trunk of a very oddly grown tree and gestured Hermiod to sit next to me. Then I put my arms around his shoulders and pulled him to my chest tenderly. I still could hardly believe that I was experiencing this moment of wonderment, this ideal of perfection provided by a small grey alien who was supposed to be my partner in life. I’d definitely never have been able to dream of something so strange, yet amazing.

Right now we couldn’t even imagine where our road would take us eventually, but we both had no doubt about being successful as long as we were together. Still, there was a heaviness on my heart that was hard to ignore.

‘I somehow wish we could stop the hands of time, at least for a while.’ I murmured, kissing Hermiod’s forehead, enjoying his beautiful alien features soften while he closed his eyes in silent consent.  

‘We can’t.’ He told me as expected, being all logical as always. ‘But we can enjoy this moment as long as you like. We’re in no hurry.’

I remained silent for a long while, not knowing how to put all my contradicting thoughts and emotions in proper words. I’ve always hated myself for not being able to find the right words when necessary. There was so much I wanted to tell Hermiod but didn’t dare, because I didn’t want to come across all too cheesy. So I just kept sitting there, holding him close and hoping he’d understand anyways.

‘I’m scared.’ I suddenly heard him say, and those two words unsettled me more than anything else I had heard from him that day. It was kind of heart-breaking to know that even he in all his level-headedness wasn’t free from fear. But how could he not be scared, faced with the extinction of his race?

‘I know.’ I therefore replied quietly, ‘We’ve been thrown into something that’s so much larger than us, but still we have to handle it one way or another. Whatever the High Council will decide, we’re facing… interesting times.’

I don’t remember ever having desired to live in interesting times, because that always only meant more trouble and hardship than I was ready handle. I wasn’t made to be a hero or something.   

‘What if the High Council doesn’t accept your suggestions?’ Hermiod asked with so much fear in his voice that I couldn’t help but bite my lip harshly to keep myself from voicing my own concerns.  

‘I suppose, I won’t accept their decision then.’ I remarked after I was sure to be able to control my voice, noticing that my heart had found the answers long ago already. ‘I mean, even if I have to team up with Loki or whatever, I’ll do everything humanly possible, no matter how hard it may be.’

There was no way I would let Hermiod down. If it had been a question of willpower alone, I would have provided all the willpower I was able to find in me.

‘Because of me?’ He asked. I suspected he knew the answer already.

I just bit my lip once more and remained silent. I would have lied, if I had told him my reasons were purely selfless and for the benefit of his whole people, but the truth was that I didn’t want to lose him. In the end it was all about that.

‘And if they accept?’ Hermiod wanted to know when he couldn’t bear my silence any longer.

‘Well, then we’ll be going on a journey.’ I assumed, and I was already expecting a journey that would take us not only to Atlantis but to places we couldn’t even imagine.

Hermiod nodded slightly and leaned even closer to my chest.

--

Of course, I should have expected that Thor wouldn’t give us any more time than the one day he had promised us, because after 28 Othalian hours exactly and in the middle of our conversation about the future, we were beamed away from the garden to be confronted with entirely different surroundings.

The room was unfamiliar to me, but Hermiod seemed to recognize exactly where we had been brought to, according to the slightly annoyed glances he threw around. The huge room looked like some kind of command center, crammed with monitors and consoles. One of the walls had been replaced with a huge window pane that allowed a perfect view over great parts of Valaskjalf. The sight was breath-taking, to say the least. I saw many more details than I had seen from the Beliskner’s viewing screen some days ago. There were obviously ancient buildings that formed what I suspected to be the city center, but there were also stunningly modern buildings of glass and shining metal surrounding it. Above a place that looked like a dockyard, there was a huge spaceship hovering that looked slightly familiar and then again not at all like the Beliskner. Though, right now I didn’t have the time to muse over latest Asgard ship design, because there were more important matters to be paid attention to.

I looked around the room to find out where we actually were and who had beamed us up. Of course, it was Thor. Who else had the audacity to beam people around as he pleased…. He was standing in the middle of the command center, but he wasn’t alone, as the place was crowded with other Asgards busily doing their jobs, whatever those jobs were. I was hardly able to stifle an annoyed groan about Thor having no respect for privacy once again.  

‘You’re right on time, Thor.’ I therefore said sarcastically. ’28 hours to the minute.’

Thor, as usually, completely ignored my sarcasm, either because he didn’t get it or because he just didn’t care.

‘I’m honestly sorry to have interrupted your conversation.’ Thor let me know, completely unimpressed, eyeing Hermiod and me curiously. ‘But, unfortunately, there are matters that can’t wait any longer.’

Somehow there were always matters more important than having a day of peace and recreation. The world didn’t care for such needs, it just carried on without further notice.

‘Why is that?’ I asked, more startled than I would have admitted, wondering what Thor would come up with now. I didn’t like the thought of some more bad surprises.

‘The High Council is ready to hear you.’ Thor informed me. ‘They’re of the opinion that no further time should be wasted.’

Hadn’t Thor told me just yesterday that there was still ample time before the Council would want to see me? The sudden urgency of the meeting set all my senses on high alert.

‘The recovery from a really bad day isn’t a waste of time, actually.’ I remarked dryly. ‘I don’t think Hermiod…’

‘It is of no importance, as unfortunate as it may sound.’ Thor interrupted me impatiently. ‘The Chief Archon’s orders have to be attended to in a short notice. I’m certain he’ll tell you the reasons for this fast turn of events soon enough.’

I tried to comprehend what Thor was actually trying to tell me. Obviously, Odin had come to the conclusion that he wanted to hear me rather now than later. I had been suspecting long ago that there was a lot more going on in the background than Hermiod and I knew. After all, the Asgard had not only known since yesterday that important decisions had to be made.

I put my arms around Hermiod protectively to show I wouldn’t go anywhere without him, but got a very disapproving look from Thor.

‘Am I right in my suspicion that Hermiod won’t accompany me?’ I asked in annoyance, not at all caring for Thor’s rejecting expression. I couldn’t leave Hermiod alone again, not so soon after his encounter with Dellingur.  

‘Hermiod has no business at the High Council, therefore his presence there is not desired.’ Thor told me matter-of-factly. ‘He has an appointment with Eir anyways that he can attend to while you’re away.’

I shook my head vigorously, not at all consent with Thor’s demand. Although I knew that Eir still had to perform lots of examinations on Hermiod to ensure his body was healthy and able to survive, and to find out what kind of damage Dellingur had actually caused, I didn’t want to let him go alone. I didn’t want him to go anywhere.

‘I’ve promised him to never leave him again.’ I therefore said stubbornly. ‘I’m not going to break this promise once more, I’ve broken it too often already.’

‘It’s alright, Aegeti.’ Hermiod mouthed quietly. ‘My appointment with Eir is very important, and I wouldn’t be of any help in front of the High Council anyways.’

I inhaled angrily and bit my tongue. It was totally obvious that Hermiod only complied because of his respect towards Thor. I disliked the way Thor misused his son’s respect to have his will. He didn’t have the right to.

So I glared daggers at Thor and then turned back to Hermiod, looked into his almond shaped eyes sternly. There was something he didn’t tell me, which put me to the edge even more.

‘Hermiod, you don’t have to follow anyone’s orders, you know that.’ I assured him. ‘Not even Thor’s.’ I conveniently ignored the fact that Thor was not only Hermiod’s father but also his boss. And that he was standing right next to us.

Hermiod just tilted his head, blinking at me. ‘I know.’ He confirmed softly. ‘But it’s really alright. This time I’ll be in good hands. There’s no danger awaiting me while I’m at Eir’s.’

I looked at him sceptically, still reluctant to let him go. If only I could get rid of the bad feeling that always occurred when Hermiod and I were apart. It seemed that we both got worse the further apart we were.

Following a spontaneous impulse, I embraced Hermiod firmly, whispering all my love in his tiny ear, promising him to be back as soon as possible. He returned the gesture, wrapping his arms around me, holding on to me as though there was no tomorrow. It was then that I realized he had the exact same thoughts about us being apart. It wasn’t healthy for either of us.  

‘We have to go now.’ Thor interrupted us, and once more it was one of those situations where his impoliteness really irked me. I was sure that the Chief Archon would be able to wait just a few minutes more, but you just didn’t defy Thor. Still…  

‘Wait a minute, Thor.’ I objected, only slowly coming to terms with the inevitable fact I had to leave Hermiod to his own devices for a while. ‘Don’t you want to brief me first? I mean, whom I’m going to meet and the like?’

Thor looked at me in a way parents look at an obtuse child. Once more did I realize that the Asgards definitely saw no point in any kind of redundant small talk. They were of the obvious opinion that things were always self-explanatory. But I wasn’t an Asgard, so I couldn’t understand their weird mannerisms.

‘Listen, Thor.’ I insisted after he didn’t seem like answering anytime soon. ‘I have no clue what’s awaiting me. I’m not an Asgard, I don’t know how to act in front of the most important Asgards of all. This is a tad overwhelming.’ 

‘For now you’ll only meet the Chief Archon and the six permanent members of the Council.’ Thor explained reluctantly. ‘Those are, besides me, Freyr, Penegal, Skjoldir, Balder and Kvasir. When Odin is talking, don’t interrupt him, no matter whether you agree or disagree with his statements.’

That wasn’t much but at least something to start with. Meeting just seven people was hopefully not as stressful and demanding as meeting the whole Asgard parliament (or whatever they called that), but on the other hand… Odin didn’t seem to be the most patient guy under the Othalian sun, according to Thor’s hint not to interrupt him at any cost.

‘And that’s all you can tell me?’ I asked incredulously. ‘No further details?’

‘I’m afraid so.’ Thor replied evenly. ‘The members of the High Council are willing to hear and evaluate your suggestions. They will not prejudge you. I’ve had a long meeting with them this morning already.’

I admittedly felt somehow uncomfortable with the prospect of meeting a great part of the Norse pantheon, to say the least. I had never spoken to such important people before, and never before had my words been of such significance. I swallowed hard and inhaled deeply to calm myself.

‘Alright.’ I then gave in, perfectly knowing I wouldn’t obtain any further information from Thor anyways. ‘Though, this is all going a bit too fast for my taste, just so you know. I didn’t even have the chance to prepare for the meeting.’

Honestly, how could I talk sense into people who I didn’t have the slightest knowledge of? The members of the High Council, that much I already knew, were the heads of Othala’s leading families, which was a strange contradiction to Thor’s former statement the Asgards were reigned by an elected government. Those people were surely age-old, even compared to Asgard standards. If they were just a bit like human elders, it surely wouldn’t be easy to change their opinions. On the other hand, Thor didn’t seem like a stubborn old man to me. At all. Most of the time. Well, at least sometimes.

‘I’m of the opinion it would be best, if you met the Council completely unbiased.’ Thor let me know.

‘Oh, crap.’ I grumbled to myself, perfectly knowing that once more I had to deal with what life threw at me. And, as usually, Thor didn’t give me any further chance to object. To hell with Asgard transporter technology!

--

The Great Hall of Valaskjalf, or Gladsheim in Asgard language, was most impressive indeed. It was a huge, albeit dark, room with a ceiling so high above the ground that the faint light couldn’t reach it. The first thing I noticed was the deep and overall silence.

I found myself standing amidst a circle on the stone floor that was lighted by a single spotlight only. All around, except a small part right in front of me, there were rows and rows of seats ascending to the far walls of the hall. There must have been many hundred seats in an oval arrangement, which created the impression of the Asgards being reigned by a parliament of many members. Though, at the moment the seats were all empty.

Right in front of me, approximately two meters above the ground, there were the seats of the permanent members of the Asgard High Council. They were arranged in a half circle which allowed the Councillors to look at each other while debating.

Seven pairs of black almond shaped eyes, including Thor’s, were watching me intently while I was completely lost for words, totally taken aback by the sheer vastness of the hall. It took me some minutes to accustom to the new surroundings. I can’t say exactly what I had expected, but it surely hadn’t been a place as clinical and sterile as this.

The Asgards in front of me looked so similar to each other that I needed a moment to distinguish Thor from the others in the dim light. They all wore necklaces of gold presenting precious Asgard stones that broke the light so oddly that their colours changed with every little movement. I was glad to at least have learned to read Asgard runes by now, so I could guess the names that were engraved in the desks in front of the Councillors.

Seeing Thor among them, by the way, awoke brand new respect in me towards him. It showed me more clearly than anything else before that he wasn’t just some mediocre Asgard among many but a person who was entitled to change the fate of a whole species.

The one with the most intense expression, though, wasn’t Thor, but the Asgard who sat on the seat in the middle that was also situated about half a meter higher than the others. Although he looked so similar to the other Councillors, there was an unmistakable aura of power emanating from him that left me almost breathless. I lowered my head in deep respect, perfectly aware of the situation’s severity and significance.

Odin seemed to evaluate every little detail of me. His silence was disturbing and most unsettling, but I didn’t dare to even breathe or move a finger. I had more respect towards Odin than I had ever had in front of anyone else. He was the almighty patriarch, just as he was described in Norse mythology. 

‘Good evening.’ He said calmly after the silence seemed to have lasted a life time. His voice was different from all the other Asgard voices I had heard before. A frail body as his shouldn’t be home of a voice so deep. I was speechless, totally caught up in surprise and admiration.

‘My name is Odin. I am the Chief Archon of the Asgard people.’ He introduced himself eventually, giving me a benevolent glance.

I cleared my throat nervously, while I didn’t even know how to stand correctly to show Odin due respect. Once more I was angry at Thor for not having prepared me for this encounter.

‘Greetings.’ I replied, my voice way too hoarse and shaking from nervousness. ‘I’m Aegeti Anne Talvi.’ I had no clue whether to tell Odin what my job was, but as I was sure Thor had briefed him thoroughly, it would most likely have been unnecessary information. And as I didn’t want to appear like a nervous chatterbox, I decided to leave it at that.

‘Welcome to Gladsheim, the center of our long-lasting culture.’ Odin said meekly. ‘I must admit that I’ve been mildly surprised when Thor had told me of your arrival on Othala. I’m uncertain if you know, but you’re the first human to ever have visited our home world.’

I cleared my throat once more, still unsettled by both his voice and gaze. ‘I didn’t know.’ I admitted. ‘But I’m honoured and thankful that I’m allowed to be your guest.’

Odin raised both his brows, still eyeing me thoroughly. I felt like shrinking under his intense glare. He was so much superior to me that I felt like a little fly on the wall. There are people who never have to show their authority because they simply emanate it. Odin was one of those few gifted with this talent.

‘I’ve heard you’re more than a guest.’ The Chief Archon remarked with an expression that came disturbingly close to a smirk. ‘It came to my attention that you will become a member of our eldest families soon. Otherwise, Thor wouldn’t have brought you to Othala and you wouldn’t even be allowed to speak in front of this Council.’

The severity of Odin’s statement took a few moments to creep into my brain and unfold. If Thor hadn’t agreed with me becoming Hermiod’s Hjarta-kostir, I’d never have gotten the chance to speak in front of the Chief Archon. The Asgards, obviously, were extremely private when it was about their home world, which was surprising, given the fact that they didn’t care for privacy otherwise. The realization that only members of the Councillor’s families were allowed to speak in front of Odin made me almost gasp for air. How many more secrets did Thor hide from Hermiod and me? Did he actually have a great masterplan that he was following to accomplish? It totally looked like that. But why all this secrecy? If he had wanted me to speak in front of the Council from the beginning, why had he made it so hard for me to convince him? I couldn’t make sense of any of this.

‘Thor has acknowledged me to become Hermiod’s partner in life, his Hjarta-kostir.’ I said quietly, my voice broken from the enormity of the revelation. I didn’t know what else to add.

Odin kept glaring at me in this unsettling way of his, until I broke eye contact and looked to the floor awkwardly. My brain worked frantically, still evaluating possibilities concerning Thor’s motives.

‘My congratulations.’ Odin said to my utter surprise. ‘It’s good to see a new face from time to time.’

My head shot up to meet his gaze again. I could only glare at him in astonishment when the discussion took a whole new turn.

‘Don’t worry, Dr Talvi.’ Odin approved meekly. ‘I wouldn’t have granted you permission to stand at this very place, if I wasn’t consent with Thor’s decision to take you in as his – how do you humans say… daughter-in-law.’

‘Thank you.’ I replied quietly, admittedly relieved by his statement. I was more than glad that at least one of the reasons why I was here had come to a positive outcome. I knew that he just as well could have disagreed with Thor’s decision, and Thor wouldn’t have been able to do anything against it.

When I looked up to Odin now, I tried to put all my thankfulness in the shy smile I gave him. He tilted his head approvingly, obviously understanding the gesture.

‘Supreme Commander Thor has informed me that you’re willing to talk about your suggestions as to how you might be of assistance in the task of finding a cure for the Asgard people.’ The Chief Archon then said without any further beating around the bush.

I liked the way he came to the point without any further small talk. Not that I had experienced our conversation as anything like small talk, of course. Being in the presence of him was fascinating, so I absorbed and savoured every word the first of the Asgard granted me.

‘Thor has informed you correctly.’ I said honestly, encouraged by the Chief Archon’s approving expression.

Odin was definitely totally different from politicians on Earth. He was a person who really cared for his people. He didn’t need to pretend for the sake of getting elected again.  

‘You know that the Asgard are trying for thousands of years already to find a cure themselves.’ One of the other Council members asked a more rhetorical question.

It was the first time any of the Councillors spoke up. I had already started to wonder whether they had to ask permission from Odin before they were allowed to speak, but obviously their silence was caused by due respect.

I nodded slowly. ‘Yes, but I’m of the opinion that you left out a very important factor.’

Honestly, I have no idea where I took all the courage from to just speak up to the High Council with so much determination. Maybe it was Thor’s open expression or the thought of Hermiod. I simply felt that I was at the exact right place and time to kick things in motion that nobody else had been able to kick in motion before.

‘What factor might that be?’ The same Asgard asked. According to the runes that were engraved on the desk right in front of him, his name was Freyr. He seemed to be the sceptic among the Councillors.

I cleared my throat and wrung my hands awkwardly, not really knowing how to put my reproach into proper words without offending those people who were so much older and wiser than me, who had gathered so much more experience already. But I had to say it, because this was my only chance. This was what I had come here for, after all.

‘You’ve always tried to find a solution all by yourself.’ I finally cast the die, risking everything. ‘Your superior intellect has made you get used to the fact that you’re able to solve all your problems yourselves, but sometimes intellect is not everything.’

Freyr looked over to Odin, surprise in his features, and then turned back to me. ‘Would you mind explaining this further?’ I liked how politely he brought his question forth. It showed me more than anything that he wasn’t offended, just sceptical.

‘I’m speaking of the compassion of other people.’ I replied respectfully. ‘Look, I am here to show you that you’re not the only ones who care about the Asgard people. I do, and so do many humans, as well as all those people on the planets that are protected by the Protected Planets Treaty. This universe simply doesn’t work without your people. It would fall apart in no time. The Goa’Uld would win and all alliances would cease to exist. In my eyes, it’s the Asgard who are holding this universe together. You’re so much more important than you see. To me it seems you’ve lost the capability of seeing beyond the horizon. Understand that you’re needed! Please understand that you have friends out there who would give everything to save you.’

My speech had become louder and more insisting with every sentence, but now I had to pause in an attempt to catch my breath and get my shaking body under control again. I felt tears in the corners of my eyes, but didn’t allow them to show. Never before had I felt that severely how important the Asgard were to me, not only Hermiod, but all of them.

‘Are you one of those?’ Now Odin asked, seemingly fascinated, and I could have sworn he was at least touched a bit by my words. ‘Would you, too, be willing to do everything to save us?’

I swallowed hard and nodded vigorously. ‘I’d give all I have and all I am.’ I admitted, now much calmer. ‘Take from me what you need. Take me to find a cure in my DNA. I’ve heard that it’s there, you just need to find it.’

Odin and the Councillors looked at me in astonishment, obviously completely taken aback by my frantic words. I’d never have placed a bet on seeing that sort of emotion on an Asgard’s face, but it seemed I had at least impressed them.

‘Your offer is very impressive.’ The Councillor named Penegal admitted, surprising warmth on her features. ‘The Science Council will surely approve of it.’

I exhaled in relief while I returned her warm glance. Here was the chance to legalize Loki’s research and I hoped with all my heart, Penegal would be able to convince the Science Council of my usefulness.

‘Still, our codices tell us to not let any outsider in on our difficulties.’ Skjoldir said, his face unreadable behind a wall of distrust that hadn’t been there moments ago. He had seemingly recovered from his shocked fascination earlier than the others. ‘What if the humans would only use our weakness for an attempt to destroy us? You’ve all seen in their history that they’re conquerors at heart.’

‘I agree.’ Balder acknowledged. ‘Especially because it’s common knowledge already that there are many Goa’Uld among their highest ranks of governments. I admittedly find this fact quite concerning.’

Of course it had been inevitable to come to talk about the Goa’Uld and the Trust at any point of the meeting. Nobody knew better than me how serious this problem actually was. After all, I had almost died because of their treachery. Twice.  

‘Those Goa’Uld aren’t there because we’ve invited them, actually.’ I therefore interrupted him, giving him a scowl. ‘They’re our mutual enemies.’

My vigorous statement caused a long silence that was used by Odin to glare at me with such intensity as though he was reading my mind to find out whether I was telling the truth and my intentions were honest. I glared back at him, unwavering.

‘Does anyone but you know that you’ve come here in an attempt to help us?’ He finally wanted to know. After everything I had been told earlier, I now knew why they were so worried about a human living among them on their home world. Othala was, obviously, sacred ground to them.

I shook my head. ‘I’ve only told Colonel Caldwell I’d go to Othala to become Hermiod’s Hjarta-kostir, and I’m sure he hasn’t pinned it to the black board on Atlantis.’ I explained pensively. ‘I haven’t told any of my people about the Asgards’ …situation. I know when and how to keep a secret.’

Never before had it been so important to me to show someone the honesty of my intentions. I wished nothing more than the Asgard would trust me, because their trust was the key to everything that would follow.

‘You seem to be trustworthy.’ Penegal admitted thoughtfully. ‘Even more so as you’re willing to become part of our society. A person without your determination wouldn’t take it on themselves to give up their whole life to become part of something entirely new.’

I considered the trust of one of the Councillors as a big victory already, because she could be able to convince the others, too.

‘Are your intentions regarding Hermiod honest?’ Balder wanted to know. That guy was beginning to become a very irking nuisance.

I scowled at him once more, getting slightly impatient with his hidden reproaches. ‘Of course they are!’ I growled. ‘I’ve fallen in love with him long before I even knew what the Asgard are facing. I have no hidden agenda. I’d never do anything that would harm him.’

I already got angry on the inside by the mere suspicion I might be dishonest in concerns of Hermiod. If there was anything I’ve ever been dead-serious about in my life, it was my unwavering love for him.

Balder initiated the staring contest and I took the challenge. He obviously didn’t know who he was dealing with. Though, he realized it soon enough and turned his head. It took me some strength not to smirk about my secret small victory.

‘I’m positive the Science Council will take your offer into account.’ Now Penegal said in a successful attempt to diffuse the tension. ‘I will talk to Heimdall as soon as this meeting is over.’

I spread my arms widely to show my relief. That was at least something to start with!

‘Thank you.’ I confirmed humbly. ‘I’m available for your scientists at any time they please.’

Penegal tilted her head approvingly and so did Freyr, who seemed to value her opinion highly. I was touched deeply by the fact that both of them put reason over pride, hence I dared to have hope again.

‘You’re a most peculiar human.’ Now Kvasir remarked, who hadn’t said a single word up until now. ‘I wouldn’t have expected a representative of your species to be that willing to help and save and alien race.’

‘It seems we’ve improved a lot since your last experience with us.’ I replied dryly. ‘We’re by far not as much of a hopeless case as your people often suspect. We have compassion.’

I glanced at all of them with an open expression. Some part of me wished they were able to read my thoughts in passing, because then I wouldn’t have to explain so much, then I wouldn’t have to justify myself so eagerly. Of course, I was aware that many humans corresponded exactly to the image many of the Asgards had of us, but I would’ve vouched for the majority to be trustworthy and compassionate. It was a trait that I considered what it meant to be human.

‘It seems we’ve underestimated you in some ways.’ Now Odin spoke, his voice laden with seriousness. ‘I appreciate your offer, indeed.’

‘Thank you very much, Chief Archon.’ I replied humbly, lowering my head in respect. ‘But I have one more suggestion to make, if I may.’

‘Speak.’ Odin said generously and gave me an encouraging nod, obviously still being of the opinion that listening to my suggestions was worthwhile. So I did what I considered a human trait as well. I cast the dice and rolled with it, playing all my cards.

 ‘You know about Atlantis, don’t you?’ I asked him carefully.

‘We would be more than ignorant if we didn’t know about the Ancient city. The Asgard you’re intending to become connected with is assigned to this mission, after all.’ Odin reminded me meekly.

Oh crap, sometimes I was really unforgivably stupid! Of course, they knew about Atlantis. How could I have forgotten that important fact? I blamed it on my nervousness. Though, I was glad that they knew about the city, because it spared me a lot of explaining.

‘We’ve found huge amounts of data there.’ I reported, covering up my faux-pas by putting a lot of confidence in my words. ‘The Ancients have done tremendous medical research, and we know they’ve been very advanced geneticists. Have you ever taken into account that they could have been more advanced than you? I mean, they’ve already done research when the Asgards were still a very young race that hadn’t even engaged in space travel yet. I’m of the opinion, if there’s a place where a cure for the Asgards’ genetic degeneration and genetic disease can be found, it’s in the Ancients’ research. I’d be more than glad to gather some capable scientists and read every single page they’ve written.’

‘Going to Atlantis for research would mean to reveal our secret to the humans.’ Balder threw in, his refusal still unwavering. ‘They would certainly ask inconvenient questions as humans always do.’

I had a hard time keeping myself from facepalming. Of course, I had enough understanding for a certain level of paranoia, but his was definitely a tad too much.

‘We’re actually able to keep secrets.’ I objected in growing annoyance.

‘Are you?’ Balder fired.

I decided to ignore him for the time being and concentrate on Odin’s very interested glance instead. ‘There are very trustworthy people on Atlantis who’d never betray you.’ I told him insistently. ‘Dr Beckett, for example, is one of the most capable physicians I know. He’s found a way to alter the human genome in a way that we’re able to use Ancient technology.’

‘Is that confirmed?’ Now Penegal interrupted my speech with utter interest.

I nodded in confirmation. ‘Indeed, and it works fine!’

‘Most impressive.’ She approved, giving me a friendly glance, and gestured me to speak further.

‘I’m also sure that the expedition leader, Dr Weir, as well as our leading scientists would be more than willing to be of assistance.’ I therefore kept on rambling. ‘There are also people who speak the Ancient language fluently, which would be of great help, too. We’re really capable of contributing our share.’

‘But you’re still dealing with the problem that the Goa’Uld have infiltrated your highest ranks.’ Now Skjoldir threw in, more worried than rejecting. ‘What if one of them has also infiltrated the Atlantis mission? It would be in the Goa’Uld’s greatest interest to destroy the Asgard.’

He definitely had a good point there, because the Asgard were often the only line of defence between the Goa’Uld and one of their acknowledged victims. Even after Anubis had almost succeeded in ruining the Treaty, they still had utter respect towards the Asgard and their superior technology.  

‘We’ve checked every member of both the Atlantis team and the Daedalus crew for any Goa’Uld parasites after the incident with Colonel Caldwell.’ I objected. ‘Whenever a new member joins us, Dr Beckett performs a very close examination of their bodies. If there was a Goa’Uld on Atlantis, we’d know it.’

Balder remained sceptical. ‘I’ve heard the fault in the Daedalus’s hyperdrive had been caused by a human, actually, not a Goa’Uld. How can you guarantee there are no more supporters on Atlantis? It’s a well-known fact that humans tend to worship what they deem superior, which applies on both the Wraith and the Goa’Uld. We cannot afford our secret to be revealed to either of them.’

Again, he had a point there, one that made it all the more harder to find counter-arguments against. I tried anyway. ‘There have been very thorough interrogations on Atlantis after those incidents.’ I kept glaring daggers at Balder. ‘Also, I’ve already told you we’d keep the information classified to only those who are important to our task. That would be only a handful of people and they’re all trustworthy.’

Skjoldir now nodded, obviously satisfied with my answer, but unfortunately not everyone shared his opinion.

‘I’m still not convinced your people are able to sort out the Goa’Uld supporters.’ Balder again. He really annoyed me to no end. Although I could partly understand his mistrust, I hated the fact that he mistrusted me as a person when all I’ve done so far had been for the benefit of the Asgard only.

‘As I’ve said before, I’m positive we can ensure that our highly classified task will remain a secret.’ I growled, hardly able to suppress my annoyance. ‘We wouldn’t have lasted a single day in the Pegasus galaxy or against the Goa’Uld, if we weren’t able to get our stuff together.’

‘A very valid argument, indeed.’ I now heard Thor say who had remained silent so far, most likely in order not to influence the others. He was obviously observing his fellow Council members with great interest, certainly evaluating every single word they said.

‘OK, look.’ I agreed with new courage. ‘How about us assembling a small team of Asgards to go to Atlantis. We’ll talk to Dr Weir and Dr Beckett and also assemble a team of capable humans. Together we can search the databases. I know, it’s a task that could take weeks or more, but isn’t a little chance much better than no chance at all?’

I put my hands on my hips, awaiting the Councillors’ reactions. I couldn’t make a more honest and insistent suggestion than that. It was all or nothing now.

‘I’d agree to that.’ Freyr now spoke. ‘In my opinion it would be worth the chance.’

I threw my hands in the air and exhaled in relief. Maybe now we were able to come to results. I shot a questioning glare in the direction of Balder who didn’t seem to be agreeing at all. Even among the Asgard there seemed to be people that had to be pushed to their luck. I hoped that Balder was responsible enough to put his personal opinion of me behind the opportunity I had given them.

‘I know that you’re aware of the full extent of our genetic disease.’ Odin said thoughtfully, when none of the others seemed to object to Freyr’s statement. ‘And I would be dishonest if I claimed I didn’t admire your determination to help us. I’ve looked at you closely, Aegeti Anne Talvi, hence I’ve noticed your intentions are true. I admit that I wasn’t in agreement with Thor before about telling you how severe our difficulties actually are, but now I’ve realized that his decision as well as his perception of your character were correct. You are trustworthy, even more so as you’re willing to give up your whole human existence to become the Hjarta-kostir of Hermiod. Still, it is very difficult for us to decide whether your people are worth to be trusted with a matter as delicate as this. The fate of our whole people is at stake.’

Of course, I understood his scepticism, but I was beginning to run out of arguments to show them that the people I had in mind were trustworthy and deserved the chance to contribute to the task, one of the most ambitious tasks there were.

‘Chief Archon, I know that.’ I reassured him. ‘I wouldn’t be so insistent, if I didn’t know that you’re running out of time. But look at it this way: What other chance to you have? What do you really have to lose, considering that you’re on the verge of extinction? Isn’t it time to get over your misgivings and paranoia, and instead start trusting a person who only means the best for you, who really cares for your people? You just really don’t have anything to lose, do you?’

Odin just raised a brow, so I kept on speaking. ‘You can either accept the extinction of your whole race in mere years or look beyond the horizon to trust an ally and survive. It wouldn’t change a thing for you, if a few trustworthy non-Asgards knew about what’s happening with you. It’s no shame to admit a weakness. It’s more the other way around. Admitting a weakness is a sign of strength among my people.’

Now Odin looked at me in utter surprise. ‘Would you mind explaining this statement further?’

Now it was on me to be surprised about the fact that he really didn’t seem to know.

‘We know that we’re not perfect.’ I therefore explained. ‘But it’s our imperfections that make us understand it’s no shame to ask for help when we realize we can’t make it on our own. We know we can succeed if we only let someone in at the time necessary. It’s as simple as that. Why just look at a problem from a certain point of view, while there’s a possibility that another point of view, another person’s point of view, could lead us to success?’

‘Does that mean you’d help us without expecting to have something in return?’ Skjoldir asked with a mixture of being impressed and doubtful.

‘That exactly.’ I agreed, nodding vigorously. ‘I’m not here to offer my help in an attempt to gain something for myself. I’m here because I want your people to survive. You deserve nothing less than that.’

To my utter dismay, the Councillors began talking to each other in Asgard language now. The discussion was very frantic and obviously controversial, but as they’ve shut me out, I had to stand there and wait in patience. Although I understood that there were matters which weren’t my business at all, I felt uncomfortable and also a little left out while I was watching them debate.

But despite the language gap, it was quite easy to determine the moods and tendencies of the Councillors. Odin mostly listened to the others, only offering a few words every once in a while. Thor didn’t speak much either, but he sometimes glared venomously at Balder, obviously annoyed by his arguments. Skjoldir spoke patiently but not in an unfriendly way, seemingly only trying to make his own thoughts clear. Penegal and Freyr spoke more agitatedly, maybe in an attempt to vote for my suggestions. Kvasir’s expression was completely impossible to read, and he didn’t speak much either, but he didn’t seem to be of a negative opinion. Balder, though, was a whole different matter altogether. Everything about him emanated scepticism, if not open hostility towards me. I would’ve paid for understanding their language instead of having to guess what was actually going on.

After half an eternity (at least it seemed like that), the debate seemed to come to an end, and they all turned back to me.

‘We have come to a decision.’ Odin told me sternly.

I looked at him curiously, bracing myself for whatever he would say, and already thinking about arguments to object to his presumed decision of turning me down.

‘We’ve come to the conclusion that your intentions are honest and that your suggestions are indeed reasonable and worth to be taken into account.’ Odin continued to speak. ‘I’m willing to allow you to take some of our scientists to Atlantis to do what you deem necessary. Thor has agreed to provide his ship for the journey. Heimdall will be told to accompany you, too, as he’s our leading geneticist. I will also allow Heimdall to take research on your body and DNA to the extend you’re willing to comply with.’

At first I didn’t believe my own ears, too unbelievable was the fact of Odin agreeing to my suggestions. They had apparently outvoted Balder who looked anything but consent with the decision. Though, his glare wasn’t that reluctant anymore. Maybe the others or Odin himself had talked some sense into him.

I was totally excited, to say the least, about the great opportunity that had just appeared right there. Odin not only complied to my suggestions, he also gave me plenty of rope to do the necessary, obviously trusting me to be able to do the right thing, obviously following my argument that I saw things from a different angle than the Asgard. To be trusted that much by a person like Odin was the greatest honour imaginable. My brain worked extra shifts to catch up with all the chances that Odin had offered, and I’d be damned, if I didn’t contribute the best I could.  

Then, following a sudden idea that had popped up in my head while I was tossing plans around, I couldn’t help but making another suggestion to Odin in my growing enthusiasm. ‘How about Loki coming along, too?’

Seven pairs of black almond eyes glared at me in utter surprise. I had obviously touched a spot they felt uncomfortable with.

‘Loki?’ Thor asked, exasperated. ‘How could he be of help?’

I should have known Thor would despise the mere idea, especially after what had happened to Hermiod and me not long ago. Even though Loki hadn’t harmed any of us, he was still responsible for the whole mess.

‘He’s one of your best geneticists, isn’t he?’ I challenged Thor, admittedly enjoying it. ‘I’m sure his unconventional ways of thinking could be of great help. Also, he’s already made some progress on working with the human genome.’

Thor gave me one of those glares of doom that told me clearly I was going too far.

‘We’re surely not sending an imprisoned criminal on a mission as crucial as this.’ Thor expectedly objected, an obvious tad of anger in his normally so even voice. I had really hit a weak spot.

‘Wouldn’t it be wise to play all your cards in an attempt to win the game?’ I asked provokingly.

‘I’d agree.’ I now heard Penegal say, glancing at me encouragingly. For reasons unknown she had become some kind of fan of mine by now.

‘I’m normally inclined to listen to Penegal’s advice.’ Odin told me. ‘She’s our Minister of Science, after all, but I’m admittedly more than surprised that you want to give Loki a chance as important as this. According to my information, your last encounter with him hadn’t been pleasant in any way. We also can’t ignore the fact that he tends to break the law whenever he considers it to be in the way of, as he tends to put it, proper research.’

I normally wouldn’t have given a rogue scientist a chance of such importance either, because performing experiments on living beings was more than despicable, and taking the results into account for further research was more than questionable, but on the other hand, all the humans Loki had been working with had survived without having taken any damage. Only the clones had died after seven days, but their creation was a whole different problem altogether, because creating life for the sole purpose of scientific research was wrong on every level. Of course, there was a lot of lack of morality to be complained about when it came to Loki’s work, and I surely wasn’t going to let him perform experiments on anyone else but me, and I certainly wouldn’t allow him to create any kind of clones, but I was also of the opinion that chances had to be taken when they appeared. Especially in a situation where so much was at stake. I also had a hunch that Loki would listen to reason. He didn’t appear to me like a man without a conscience.

‘My own experience with him isn’t of importance here.’ I therefore explained. ‘I just know that his experiments on humans were quite promising before he was deprived of all his rights as a scientist. He and Heimdall could continue their research while we’re in Atlantis.’

‘Although your arguments seem very reasonable, I have to decline.’ Thor now said, glaring at me as though I had lost my mind. ‘Loki is known for his irresponsibility, and our ethical standards don’t allow any tests on aliens, may they be humans or any other species. As far as I know, humans generally are of the same opinion.’

‘We are, and you know that I’d normally fully agree with you, but in this special case I can’t believe you’re missing a chance as crucial as that.’ I objected, unwavering to his glare of steel.

‘There’s a difference between taking chances and letting an irresponsible scientist run free.’ Thor snapped. I decided to no longer insist, because it’s never a good idea to disagree with your future father-in-law. I couldn’t do more than make suggestions, after all. It was on the Councillors to either agree or not.

Though, Odin himself seemed to be of a slightly different opinion than Thor. ‘I’d agree to Thor as well.’ He let me know. ‘But I also know about Loki’s competence as a geneticist.’

‘Me too, and as far as I’m informed, he did his research on humans as an act of despair and not to cause any damage.’ I remarked. ‘His intentions haven’t been destructive or hostile in the first place.’

‘He once told me that he saw the clones he created as specimens for his studies alone.’ Now Penegal added. ‘He wasn’t the first one to be of this opinion.’ She shot a very harsh glare at Thor that made me realize immediately what she was actually implying.

‘Hermiod had been a genetic experiment, too, hadn’t he?’ I therefore asked provokingly.

Thor didn’t like my statements at all, I could see it on his face clearly. I was also sure that he’d get back at me because of my audacity as soon as we were back home.

‘After I had realized that we’ve created a viable clone, I’ve decided to let him live and develop despite his obvious defects.’ He said icily. ‘I would never have allowed the clone to be destroyed, even though some members of the Science Council were merciless in their demands and opinions. Our morality concerning our cloning technology has often been questionable, but before Loki came along we had at least only experimented with our own species.’

I was so shocked by the revelation of some scientists having openly and literarily claimed to kill Hermiod, that for the moment I wasn’t able to follow the discussion between Thor and Penegal any longer. They had considered him nothing more than a strange lab accident, maybe because they were disgusted by his ability to experience stronger emotions than they did. The Asgard scientists’ lack of emotions was maybe the reason for a certain sort of lack of morality. It saddened me terribly to hear that some of those geneticists had seen Hermiod’s specialty as a defect. How could they even talk about a defect that coldly? As though he was just some inanimate object they could throw away after realizing it didn’t function the way they expected. The mere thought was disgusting.

I was forced back into reality by Odin who had obviously been perceptive of me drifting away into a realm of hurtful thoughts.

‘I’m sorry, Dr Talvi, that you had to become witness of such an unpleasant argument about questionable morality.’ He said, his voice low and with unexpected compassion. ‘The Asgard have unlearned many of the things humans consider important.’

I swallowed hard, didn’t know what to say, so I waited for Odin to continue.

‘Those enviable human traits, your compassion, your sense for right and wrong, are the reasons that made me come to the decision to give you the chance you deserve.’ He therefore spoke. ‘Your moral standards will keep our scientists’ exuberant enthusiasm at bay whenever necessary. I’m also of the opinion that it’s not on this Council to decide what actions to take concerning Loki’s part in this endeavour. As you said, he didn’t harm anyone, after all.’

Odin’s approval was both astonishing and breath-taking. I looked around the Councillors and realized that even Balder’s dismissive expression was wavering. Maybe he had finally realized that my intentions were good.

‘Thank you.’ I therefore said humbly. ‘I’ll do my very best to not fail you, sir.’

‘I’m expecting no less of you.’ Odin approved. ‘Though, theoretically speaking, if I entitled you to take with you whomever you want, would Loki be the only questionable exception?’

I couldn’t help but smile widely about his question, all the more as I could understand his concerns so well.

‘I normally wouldn’t take any criminals with me.’ I confirmed. ‘But I still do think that Loki’s general intentions are honest. He just has to work on his sense of morality, and I actually hope that I’m able to be a good example for him.’

I could have sworn I heard Freyr chuckle while he glanced over to Penegal who raised an amused brow. They seemingly were not as negative as Thor towards my suggestion concerning Loki. Sometimes democracy was really great.

Odin, completely ignoring the others, leaned back in his seat comfortably, not one second taking his eyes from me.

‘I must say, I’m most impressed with you, Dr Talvi.’ He told me with his remarkable voice. ‘Thor’s decision to take you in to his family was indeed right, and since I’ve heard your points of view, I’m even more of the opinion that Hermiod will be given in best hands. We might be oblivious of the meaning you have for each other, but he’s a very special case among our people, indeed. Maybe he’s lucky for having the ability to love. We’ve lost it long ago, unfortunately, and look where this loss has taken us. We sometimes don’t see what’s the best choice anymore. Perhaps we really need your admirable moral compass.’

Odin’s speech was heart-warming and slightly disconcerting at the same time, but as long as he was consent with me becoming Hermiod’s Hjarta-kostir, it wasn’t necessary that he understood the meaning of love and how deeply and profoundly it connects people.

‘Well, you know my thoughts about your genetic engineering.’ I slowly, thoughtfully, replied. ‘But I still think that Hermiod is a piece of art when it comes to this subject of science. I’m glad that he got the chance to live, because he’s a precious gem. His ability to love isn’t a defect, it’s a miracle, a gift.’

My intention was tell them clearly how much I disapproved of how they had spoken about my Hermiod earlier in our debate, but I tried to wrap it in approving words about him. Now especially Thor looked at me with so much fondness that I couldn’t help but smile. Maybe he considered my words some kind of absolution.

‘I consider his difference from you a chance. Not only for him, but perhaps for all of you!’ I concluded my words and exhaled, my whole body shivering from adrenaline.

Seven pairs of black almond shaped eyes looked at me intently. I didn’t know whether they wanted to hear more or were just impressed by the passion in my words, hence I just kept standing there, my hands on my hips, glaring back at them.

‘I’m admittedly most impressed by your emotionality.’ Odin finally remarked, his voice low, sounding almost affectionate. ‘I therefore confirm my decision to give you the chance that you deserve, in my opinion. We’re no longer able to help ourselves, so maybe your unwavering determination may be the key to the Asgard race’s future. None of us can predict the outcome of your endeavour, but you can be assured we will leave anything you need at your disposal, including a ship and crew as well as the best of our scientists.’

Completely taken aback by Odin’s words, I was speechless for the moment, trying to sort all of my strong emotions. There was a great deal of relief and thankfulness, but I also felt the severity of my new responsibility settling down on me. Odin put more trust in me than I’d ever have dreamt of.

‘I’m honoured, sir.’ I said in a raspy voice, after I had put my contemplating to a halt. ‘I assure you that I’ll do the best I can to not fail you.’

The Chief Archon looked at me meekly. ‘I wouldn’t have expected anything else.’

‘I’m still not convinced of this unsorted plan.’ I now heard Balder intervene. It took a lot of me to not clench my fists, but I relaxed immediately when he continued to speak. ‘But as it seems to be our last resort, we should, indeed, give this whole matter the chance to unfold.’

‘My words exactly.’ I fired at him, taking a little revenge on his annoying behaviour.

Now that all was said and done, I expected Thor to beam me away, but obviously, they weren’t done with me yet, because Odin still kept looking at me with high interest. If Asgards were able to frown, he’d most likely done it right now.

‘Thor will be the leader of your mission.’ Odin told me. ‘You will understand that I need to give an endeavour as important as this into Asgard hands in the first place, but I’m certain the two of you will find an arrangement.’

If that was his only condition, I could happily live with it, hence I nodded eagerly. ‘Yes, of course.’

‘There’s also another matter that must be settled before I can let you go on your way.’ Odin continued without taking further notice of my confirmation. ‘When did you actually plan to become Hermiod’s Hjarta-kostir?’

Admittedly, I was kind of surprised by this sudden change of subjects, even more so as I had thought Odin would have left the decision to us or at least to Thor who always seemed to have the last word on what was going to happen to his son. One of the unshakable universal laws seemed to be that parents never seem to be able to keep their noses (or whatever Asgards have instead) out of their offspring’s lives. The law, obviously, even applied on mere genetic predecessors.

‘Does your question imply that you want us to hold the ceremony before we’ll be leaving Othala?’ I asked cautiously with a low voice to not offend him right there.

‘Your perception is correct.’ Odin replied casually. ‘I want you to be part of Thor’s family rather now than later, and as far as I’m informed you want the same.’

‘Isn’t there a lot of planning to be done beforehand?’ I wondered, still completely oblivious what was awaiting me at the ceremony. I shouldn’t have dropped the topic so carelessly while talking to Hermiod earlier this day.

‘I have already taken care of the necessary precautions.’ Thor let me know matter-of-factly. ‘We can discuss the modalities tomorrow morning.’

I’ve never liked to be directed and ordered around by others. The paranoid control freak that was living inside me was highly uncomfortable with the mere thought of anyone but me planning one of the most important steps of my life. But on the other hand, I could count myself lucky someone took care of organizing an Asgard ceremony of which I didn’t have the tiniest bit of a clue.

‘Alright.’ I therefore just said uncertainly. ‘But I’d love to contribute my own suggestions, too, if you’re OK with it.’

‘Fine.’ Odin interrupted. ‘I’m glad you’re agreeing with me about the matter. Thor will inform me when the ceremony will take place and I’ll be honoured to seal your connection. With this, I think, we can end this meeting.’

Before I had the slightest chance of objecting, I was beamed away. I somehow was sure that I’d never ever get comfortable with or at least used to the Asgard habit of beaming people around as they pleased. I was willing to integrate in their society best I could, doing the first step in marrying Hermiod, but there were limits to everything. One of it was that this annoying beaming to and fro had to stop.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 22 – Lessons

 

I was quite surprised when I realized that I hadn’t been beamed back to Thor’s house, but to a big, yet scarce, room with a view over Valaskjalf. Though, it wasn’t the view from the control center I had been at earlier that day, but from a spaceship, presumably the Beliskner. I couldn’t help but wonder what Thor was about to do this time, because with him, you really never knew.

It was evening already, the sun had long set on the city which was illuminated by millions of bright lights now. It was by all means beautiful.

I looked at my surroundings curiously, but except for a huge desk and two chairs the room was empty. It looked like some kind of office, but I had no clue whose office it might be.  

I didn’t have to wait long for the answers, though, because Thor entered the room only a few momens after me. The pensive look on his features was more than alarming. Of course, I was fully aware of all the audacities I had taken liberty of during the meeting with the High Council, so I prepared myself for a thunderstorm. This was Thor, after all.

Being dumbfounded as that, I wasn’t able to phrase a proper sentence in order to talk myself out of the situation, hence I just glared at Thor awkwardly, waiting for him to address me.

‘We need to talk.’ He finally said, his voice low, sounding nothing like the reproachfulness I had expected.

Thor gestured me to sit down on a chair near the window. I had realized a while ago already that the Asgard felt somewhat intimidated by me as long I was towering over them, being taller than any Asgard I had met so far. Therefore, I decided to be polite and sat down, carefully observing Thor. I also knew that the Asgard themselves normally preferred to sit, as their frail bodies obviously weren’t able to keep up their weight for an all too long time. Still, Thor kept standing and looked at me as though he didn’t really know what to say.

‘Talk about what?’ I managed after a while, when I couldn’t stand the silence any longer.

Thor lowered his head, looking anywhere but at me. I couldn’t quite comprehend his behaviour, because there was so much insecurity in his demeanour that I’d never have guessed he was indeed the man he was, Supreme Commander and so on. I found it quite unsettling that he didn’t reproach me for opposing him at the meeting but instead looked like he was the one to have a bad consciousness. I was almost scared of the obviously important things he apparently wanted to tell me.

‘Hermiod.’ He spoke quietly, still not looking at me. ‘I think that you’re entitled to know the full truth about him. You’re going to become his hjarta-kostir in a few days and, therefore, you should know all the information about him there is.’

‘Wow.’ I just breathed. I wouldn’t have expected Thor to tell me more than what he had already revealed in his garden a few days ago.

‘First of all.’ Thor kept on speaking, not reacting to my interruption at all, not even looking at me. ‘This information is highly classified. Besides Odin, Heimdall and Loki only very few Asgard have access to what I’m going to tell you now. The delicacy of the matter is also the reason why I’ve brought you to the Beliskner, because here I can assure nobody will disturb us and that there are no secret eavesdroppers.’

‘Alright.’ I said uncertainly, bracing myself for all the worst cases. ‘I won’t tell anyone, don’t worry, Thor.’ I tried to put all my confidence and understanding in my voice. No need to say that my worries concerning Hermiod were just reaching brand new levels.

‘I’d have expected that.’ He assured me. ‘Although you’ve taken much liberty at the meeting with the Council, I know you’re good at heart and want only the best for me and my people, and especially for my son. I therefore fully trust you. I’m actually fascinated that Odin allowed you to talk so freely.’

‘I didn’t intend to appear rude.’ I said in defence. ‘Sometimes my enthusiasm is just… pushing me too far. This matter is more important to me than anything ever before. I apologize for not having known my limits.’

Thor gave me a benevolent glance. ‘I do not reproach you, Aegeti. To convince the Council of your suggestions, there was a lot of enthusiasm and determination necessary. You’ve stood your ground very well, even in front of those who opposed you.’

‘Balder.’ I threw in.

Thor tilted his head. ‘He’s not a bad man in general. He’s just…’

‘…worried.’ I finished his sentence. ‘I know, and I’d be worried, too. To him I must have appeared like some obnoxious alien who’s trying to interfere in affairs that are not her business.’

‘Odin likes you pretty much.’ Thor changed the topic, obviously not willing to talk about Balder any longer for reasons I didn’t know. ‘He’s utterly impressed.’

‘I’m impressed, too.’ I admitted. ‘It’s been a very fascinating and interesting encounter, and I’m glad he’s putting so much trust in me, that you all are putting so much trust in me.’

I was still having a hard time to come to terms with the fact how much freedom of action Odin had actually granted me.

‘As Balder said.’ Thor reminded me. ‘You’re our last resort. We’re not able to come up with a solution ourselves, therefore we have to rely on an outsider’s help. I’m not ashamed of this development of events. You carry a spirit in you that most of the Asgard have lost long ago.’

As I had no idea how to react on a compliment like this, I remained silent and looked out of the window. It hurt me to hear how much sadness and regret Thor had put in his last sentence, because it showed me clearly that he was by far not as distanced and level-headed as he often came across. He put hope in me, because there was nobody else he could put his hope in anymore.

‘What is it about Hermiod that you wanted to tell me?’ I ended the awkward silence after some moments, because I really didn’t know how to respond to his compliment without making the situation even more awkward than it already was.

‘As I said.’ Thor began slowly. ‘You’re entitled and deserve to know his complete story. I’ve seen how shocked and disgusted you were by the way Penegal and I were talking about him during the meeting, and I’d be a bad father, if I didn’t see your concern. Even though I’m very uncomfortable with letting anyone in on this very difficult time of my life, I think that here and now is the place and time to talk about it.’

‘I appreciate that.’ I told him honestly. ‘I really do.’

Thor glanced at me, thoughtfulness in those large eyes that made me feel somewhat sorry for him.

‘I’m going to tell you how Hermiod came into existence and how difficult the first years of his life were for both him and me.’ Thor said, watching me, unblinking.

‘OK.’ I confirmed, admittedly curious.

‘Both Loki and Heimdall approached me with a very… revolutionary idea about 1,500 years ago.’ Thor began to explain pensively. ‘At that time, I held the position Heimdall has succeeded me in a while later. I was head of the Science Council and therefore responsible for all kinds of research. The concept they brought forth was intriguing, to say the last, but also dangerous, because we couldn’t even guess the outcome. Loki’s initial idea was to… how to express it properly… enhance one of the next generation’s clones with some DNA patches that we had taken from one of our ancestors. Said ancestor had been held in cryostasis for an undisclosed period of time already. He had been found during excavations without any further information on another Asgard planet. The laboratory he had been found in had been destroyed long ago, the data storages were all empty, hence it was a… miracle that one of the cryopods and its inhabitant were still undamaged.’

‘You’ve never tried to find out who he was?’ I threw in, wondering. ‘Or even woke him up?’

‘Our scientists examined him, of course. That’s when we found out he was about 30,000 years old. Still, we could only guess about what kind of person he had been, how much of our genetic damage had already affected his generation. He would have died, if we had tried to awake him, because his body was weak and much closer to death than to life. The mere thought of experimenting with him was problematic, even more so as enhancing a living clone with ancient DNA is prohibited in our statutes. It was an endeavour of pure opportunity to clone a hybrid of his DNA and mine.’

‘Why yours?’ I wanted to know curiously. It was the question that I wanted to have an answer for since the day I had been told that Hermiod had been cloned from Thor’s DNA.

‘Genetic research of that kind was and is still forbidden by our science codices, as I’ve mentioned before.’ Thor explained. ‘The Chief Archon’s permission for us to proceed had been preceded by many arguments within both the Council of Science and the High Council. At last Loki had been successful to convince them of his strong opinion that the hybrid could be the key to our survival.’

‘Odin couldn’t find any good counter-arguments then, right?’ I remarked, raising a brow, somehow admiring Loki’s persistence.

‘Indeed.’ Thor confirmed. ‘We knew of the danger we were dealing with, because we couldn’t even guess the outcome. I decided that we would use my own DNA, because I didn’t want any further Asgard in on this delicate matter than those who already knew. I suppose I don’t have to tell you how uncomfortable I felt with the prospect of a second me.’

‘I can imagine.’ I acknowledged. ‘I wouldn’t feel well either, if there was another Aegeti with some unpredictable genetic alterations.’

Thor obviously appreciated my confirmation of his own feelings. He seemingly still hadn’t come to terms completely about the whole matter.

‘We decided for the clone to live longer than the seven days we normally granted our specimens.’ Thor went on explaining. ‘We knew he’d be entirely different form everything we had done before, so we needed ample time to study him. Loki sequenced the DNA for the clone very thoroughly and took many weeks to perfect it. He did not only want him to be able to produce more hormones and therefore give him the chance to actually feel, he also wanted his body to be stronger than the genetically degraded bodies we already had to live with.’

‘So Loki was still your boss geneticist back then?’ I threw in.

‘Yes.’ Thor confirmed. ‘He has undeniable talent on this field. Please believe me when I say that it’s been a very hard decision for me to remove him from all his responsibilities many years later, even more so as he really could be of help in finding a cure for us.’

‘So your actual opinion differs from what you’ve told the Council?’ I wondered.

‘Yes, indeed.’ Thor answered. ‘I didn’t want to appear as though I’ve changed my mind over the years. My decision to deprive him of his status back then was correct, but I still dislike disciplining members of my family.’

‘Family?’ I asked in surprise. ‘As in he’s related to you by blood?’

Thor just tilted his head. ‘He’s my brother, another son of Odin’s.’

On this fateful day the amount of surprises that were awaiting me seemed to be limitless. By now I hadn’t even been sure that Thor was really Odin’s son, but to also find out that Loki was his brother, was a big revelation indeed.

‘Real sons, I suppose?’ I wondered, seeking reassurance. ‘No cloning experiments.’

‘Indeed.’ Thor confirmed. ‘We’ve both been born at a time when the Asgard still reproduced naturally, hence we both have a father and a mother. Though, our mother died many thousand years ago already. Her name was Frigga.’

Her name sounded familiar, actually. I had read about Odin’s fabulous family in history books back at school.

‘Seems we have a part of Norse mythology here that’s actually true.’ I summarized.

‘Indeed.’ Thor confirmed. ‘The stories we’ve told the humans were not all made up. Many humans on many planets are looking up to the benevolent god Odin and his sons. Well, at least to one of his sons. Loki is the god of mischief in many legends on many planets.’

If the Asgard facial structures had been able to produce a genuine smile, I’m sure Thor would have smiled right now out of pride and confidence. Even if there were things in his life that he clearly regretted, his origin was definitely none of them.

‘So what happened?’ I wanted to get back to the initial subject again. ‘You’ve created a hybrid, but he didn’t turn out as expected, did he?’

Thor lowered his head and looked at the floor contemplatively for minutes, obviously lost in thoughts of events that were really hard for him to talk about.

‘We watched the body in the growth chamber thoroughly.’ He said quietly after a long while. ‘He looked like an average Asgard and nothing like the ancestor whom parts of his DNA were taken from. This was our first hint on our possible failure. Loki insisted on letting him grow anyways, simply because he wanted to find out what he had done wrong. He’s always been very ambitious about his scientific work.’

‘I would’ve been curious, too.’ I admitted. ‘He’s put a lot of energy and work in sequencing the clone’s DNA, after all.’

‘I wanted the clone to be destroyed and instead start another attempt after fixing the obvious problems. The clone’s body, after all, shouldn’t have appeared as frail as me.’ Thor went on speaking in a voice so low that I could hardly hear him. ‘Loki and Heimdall outvoted me, though, and ignored the fact that they were doing research on a clone of mine. When I had agreed to use a clone of mine, I had hoped that I’d at least have the last word in what would happen to it eventually. But the Asgard are famous for their stubbornness when it comes to scientific research… I eventually agreed to let the clone live, because I was afraid they’d otherwise continue their research without me.’

‘A good decision.’ I reassured him.

‘Another problem we’ve been arguing about very controversially was about the clone’s mind patterns.’ Thor went on, apparently not even taking notice of my interjection. ‘As I was completely uncomfortable with the prospect of downloading my whole identity into …something we didn’t even know what it was, I declined of doing so. After a very… emotional argument we finally came to the compromise to only download my knowledge into the clone, but not my consciousness.’

‘How’s that even possible?’ I honestly wondered. ‘Are you really able to distinguish what part of this mess of data in such a complex organism as a brain is only stored memory and what’s the actual mind, identity and consciousness?’

‘We left it to Heimdall to make the necessary selection of memory patterns.’ Thor informed me. ‘He’s very capable at this field of research. We’ve been practicing the transfer of mind patterns from one clone to another many thousand years already, after all. The technique has been developed by Heimdall and Halin, our leading computer specialist.’

I admit that I was highly fascinated by the Asgards’ ability to upload their whole mind patterns into a computer to download them into a living clone later. Asgard computers seemed to be extremely complex and not at all comparable with the pathetic excuse of computers humans still had to deal with. But although I was utterly mesmerized by the concept, this information wasn’t even the most intriguing one right now.

‘How can a clone without a consciousness even live?’ I couldn’t keep my utter fascination at bay anymore. ‘As I understand, your clones are just empty shells that can’t even walk or talk, so what was this clone good for, if you weren’t even able to communicate with him. He wouldn’t have been able to tell you whether those… enhancements actually worked, right?’

‘That’s very perceptive of you, Aegeti. At that time, indeed, we didn’t know, couldn’t know.’ Thor admitted. ‘Then Loki came up with a quite intriguing idea. Do you know how humans gain their consciousness?’

The question hit me by surprise, because I had actually never thought about it. Of course, humans didn’t have any consciousness they could download from diseased ancestors, so it had to come from somewhere else.

‘As far as I’m informed, both scientists and philosophers on Earth are still arguing controversially about that question.’ I therefore said evasively. ‘We have no clue, actually.’

‘Loki read a great amount of records from the time when the Asgard still had children.’ Thor informed me. ‘He realized that our children developed their own consciousness as they grew. It was a process that happened all by itself. We didn’t understand it, because the records were only rudimentary. Nobody seemed to have taken much time or effort on writing down any scientific work on these matters thoroughly all those millennia ago, and we couldn’t even remember anything of it anymore. All our knowledge, but we didn’t know how to create a consciousness. It was very frustrating.’

‘So you could either give him all of your mind patterns and create a second Thor, or just give it a go and see whether the clone was able to help himself.’ I mused, honestly intrigued.

‘Indeed.’ Thor acknowledged. ‘For me it was an easy decision, because I wasn’t willing to create an exact copy of myself. Due to our laws concerning cloning, it’s still considered a crime, so it was out of the question.’

Considering the creation of multiple copies of oneself a crime was very reasonable, in my opinion. I didn’t even want to imagine all the disasters that could emerge from an opportunity as tempting as that.

‘But as Loki and Heimdall were insisting to let the clone live for the sake of science, there was no choice other than waiting whether he’d develop his own consciousness or not.’ I concluded. ‘You had to deal with a situation none of the Asgard had been confronted with for countless millennia. You had to raise a child.’

‘A child in the body of a grown and fully developed Asgard.’ Thor confirmed, sounding somewhat defeated. ‘A child that possessed all my knowledge, but wasn’t able to use any of it.’

In my mind I had a vision of Hermiod, being thrown into the world totally clueless and helpless without being able to understand anything about what was happening to him. He had been given into the hands of three guys who had not the tiniest clue of how to handle him. The thought was heart-breaking.

‘What happened after he was released from the growth chamber?’ I asked anxiously, my voice shaking.

‘It was a very… disconcerting experience.’ Thor admitted. ‘He just sat there, looked around, his gaze empty, devoid of everything that defines a wake intellect. And…’

Thor’s voice broke as he turned away from me, obviously shaken by an emotion I didn’t even know he was able to have. His whole demeanour spoke of guilt, but there was also something else that I didn’t quite get.

‘He reached out to me…’ Thor continued to speak quietly, his back still turned on me. ‘As though he knew… as though he knew I was his father.’ His voice broke.

I felt a lump in my throat, created by the strong emotions that came along with the pictures my mind presented me of this very moment. ‘What did you do?’ I asked, my voice raspy from the suppressed tears.

‘I took his hand.’ Thor admitted. ‘What else could I do? I understood he needed me, he needed someone to be there for him, helpless as he was. I just… I knew I wasn’t the right person for this. I was overwhelmed by the mere prospect to have a fully grown clone of myself that was without the slightest clue of intellect… or anything.’

‘I suppose this happens to all parents.’ I mused. ‘I mean, being overwhelmed by the fact to have created a new life and not knowing how to handle it. It’s a great responsibility, after all. There’s so much that can go wrong while upbringing a child.’

‘At that very moment, I realized we had made a terrible mistake. This creature wasn’t meant to be.’ Thor added after he’d acknowledged my statement, his voice suddenly much firmer. ‘He was just sitting there, examining his own body, not uttering a word or, at least, making any sound at all. There was only wonderment in his eyes. I was convinced he wouldn’t be able to survive, hence I told Loki…’

Thor’s voice broke with the unfinished sentence of which I was happy I didn’t have to hear.

‘…you told him to destroy him, didn’t you?’ I asked him nevertheless, torn between anger and compassion. Thor just tilted his head and remained silent which was by far worse than the answer itself. His guilt was hanging in the room overwhelmingly.

I gave him time to recover from the revelation, biting my lip. I realized that this was the first time ever that Thor talked to someone about those events.

‘Why didn’t Loki comply?’ I wanted to know when I couldn’t stand his silence any longer.

‘Loki and Heimdall found him interesting. That’s why they wanted to study his development.’ Thor said, his voice less broken now. ‘For them, he was a very fascinating specimen, for me he was some kind of abomination.’

I can’t even describe the terrible amount of contradicting emotions when I heard Thor calling Hermiod an abomination. How could a helpless being that didn’t even know who he was be an abomination?

‘What made you change your mind?’ I asked carefully, suppressing my anger very successfully.

‘While I watched him trying to find out why and who he was, I began to develop compassion for him.’ Thor said quietly. ‘He was very affectionate towards me, sought my closeness whenever I was around. He was so strange, so unlike any other Asgard I’ve ever met. He needed to be fed and taken care of, because he couldn’t help himself. We’ve seen that on defective clones now and then. Those were normally destroyed and replaced by healthy ones that were able to carry the consciousness of a grown Asgard.’

‘But this was a special case.’ I threw in. ‘He showed a completely different behaviour than those defective clones you’ve mentioned. Am I right?’

‘You’re right, indeed.’ Thor confirmed. ‘Medical examinations had stated clearly that the clone was completely healthy and that his brain was well developed. His behaviour was only caused by the missing parts of my consciousness that I hadn’t been willing to give him.’

‘So he had to learn to become …himself, just like all children do.’ I assumed.

‘Yes.’ Thor admitted. ‘But none of us knew how to handle a situation like this. The information of how to raise a child was lost somewhere in our past. It took me a long time to understand that I wanted this clone to have a fair chance. But it’s been Loki again who took the initiative. He literally forced me to spend time with the clone and I complied eventually, ignoring the discomfort I felt at the mere thought of being around him.’

‘When did you give him a name?’ I asked curiously, following a sudden idea.

‘I didn’t.’ Thor disagreed, looking to the floor again, his bad consciousness being overly strong. ‘It’s been Loki, once more, who came up with the suggestion we shouldn’t call him ‘the clone’ all the time and instead give him a proper name in due respect.’

‘Why did he name him Hermiod?’ I wanted to know.

‘It’s the Asgard word for winter.’ Thor explained. ‘It was snowing terribly on that day.’

I found the thought of naming my Hermiod after my favourite season really beautiful. It suited him in so many ways.

I gave Thor some time for his own contemplations while I imagined Hermiod at that time of his life. My heart hurt with the thought of being so completely oblivious and helpless in a world where people didn’t understand that every child needs time to get aware of itself. It was sad and hard to comprehend that the Asgard had totally forgotten how to raise a child. I felt terribly sorry for both Thor and Hermiod.

‘Given the fact that you were absolutely clueless as to how you should handle him, how were you able to raise him anyways?’ I asked interestedly.

‘On one of those winter afternoons, while I was feeding Hermiod, Loki came up with the idea to bring him to Earth.’ Thor explained. ‘He was of the opinion that if there was a place where we could learn how to raise him, it’d be among the humans who knew how to attend to a child properly.’

‘Wait… ‘ I interrupted him. ‘You went to Earth to actually live there? The grey alien looking Asgards that you are?’

‘We didn’t live among those people.’ Thor objected. ‘But we studied them closely. Loki has always been very good in understanding ways of life and behaviour of alien species. We already had some reports about humans, because we’ve been travelling to Earth then and again. It was us who helped them to banish the Goa’Uld, after all.’

‘The Etins.’ I murmured quietly. ‘I remember having read about the Norse people calling the Goa’Uld the Etins. So this happened not only on Cymeria but on other planets as well, including Earth.’

‘Indeed.’ Thor confirmed. ‘And it is one of the numerous reasons why we’re considered benevolent gods by so many. People don’t forget those who free them from slavery.’

‘Fascinating.’ I mouthed. ‘But at that time, Earth had already been freed from the Goa’Uld and the people already had settled their belief system. For them, the Norse gods looked like themselves, not like the aliens you actually were. How could you study them without revealing your true nature? Did you use those fancy holograms that are described in some SG reports?’

‘Loki used some kind of cloaking device, actually, that made him appear like a human.’ Thor objected. ‘He lived in a small village for a week, pretending to be a traveller from another part of Midgard. There he watched the people thoroughly, collecting data and experience, while I stayed back on our science vessel to take care of Hermiod, who still wasn’t able to be left on his own. He was a real nuisance at that time, touching and trying out things that weren’t meant for him.’

‘Just like all children do.’ I informed him, smiling at the thought of Thor keeping Hermiod from doing something stupid, like firing a plasma beam weapon at the moon, completely destroying it in the process.

‘I had to look after him all the time. He barely gave me the chance to sleep or work on my own research, because he wanted to be attended to, no matter what I did.’ Thor told me, his former impatience still mirrored in his voice. ‘While Loki was away, I took the chance to teach Hermiod how to speak. He was a very fast learner, actually, but that’s hardly surprising, given the fact of his superior intellect. While he learned to speak, he also found out how to access the enormous amounts of knowledge in his brain, but he wasn’t able to get any of the wiser by all of this information. To be honest, it was rather disturbing for him.’

‘I can imagine that a lot of it scared the hell out of him.’ I said compassionately. ‘All the memories of yours about wars and the like.’

I tried to imagine how I would feel, being completely clueless of the world and then suddenly confronted by words and pictures I couldn’t assign to anything I knew. Hermiod must have been in a state of total confusion that would have made a less strong person simply lose his mind.

‘I’m still not entirely sure whether he has any of my memory or, if so, how much of it.’ Thor disagreed. ‘He’s never talked to me about it, which isn’t all too surprising after all I’ve done to him…’

‘But you said the information was disturbing for him.’ I insisted. ‘So there must have been something he wasn’t able to understand, young and unexperienced with life as he was. Did you try to explain certain things to him?’

‘I was completely unsure about what to tell him, because most of the things I said to him seemed to disturb him in one or another way.’ Thor admitted. ‘Imagine how glad I was when Loki finally came back from his mission on Earth. He was able to provide a lot of very useful information as how to prepare Hermiod for his life and, what was even more important, to make him find his own consciousness. By then he still had been… he didn’t know who he was. He often didn’t understand I was referring to him when I called him by his name, and, what confused me the most, he was terribly scared of his own image.’

‘How come?’ I wondered.

‘I remember a situation when he was standing at one of the spaceship’s windows.’ Thor told me pensively. ‘He looked at his own reflection, then back at me and at his reflection again. Something about it must have scared him to no end, because suddenly he scurried over to his sleeping place and hid under a blanket.’

‘He saw that his reflection and you looked absolutely identical.’ I mused. ‘He didn’t understand why suddenly there were two of you.’

‘Unfortunately.’ Thor confirmed. ‘It took days to convince him that I was alone and that there was no other Thor around. I took good care that he didn’t get near the window again. Though, I didn’t understand why he didn’t realize that the Asgard he saw in the reflection wasn’t me but actually himself.’

‘Children take some time to get aware of themselves.’ I remarked. ‘Consciousness has to be learned, it’s not just there from the beginning.’

‘This information matches Loki’s studies about human children.’ Thor approved. ‘Loki was able to provide me with many very interesting and useful observations, but unfortunately they didn’t make it much easier for us to attend to Hermiod’s needs properly. Loki understood that human children needed love and attention, but we could only provide attention, because love wasn’t part of the Asgard’s repertoire of emotions anymore. Therefore, all we did to give him affection… we could only do it wrong. Hermiod became more and more frustrated and angry about himself and us alike, but we didn’t know how to help him.’

‘Did you find a way eventually?’ I asked worriedly.

‘Loki came up with an almost ridiculous idea at some point.’ Thor explained. ‘He suggested to leave Hermiod at a human family for a while to find out how he could be taken care of properly. He was by far not ready to be educated by Asgards.’

‘Did you comply?’ I interrupted him in surprise. ‘I mean, he was still a small grey alien and all.’

‘Believe me when I say it wasn’t an easy decision.’ Thor replied quietly. ‘But it was our only chance to give Hermiod what he needed the most at that time. We had to take the risk of those people being completely disgusted and disturbed by him, but we couldn’t find any other solution. Hermiod was there, he existed, and we had to find a way. Hence Loki changed into the unknown traveller again and went to Earth with Hermiod. At a settlement far away from the main village where he had done his studies before, he found a family who took Hermiod in. The woman there was mother to seven children already. When she saw Hermiod, she didn’t react in shock and disgust for this odd being, but with deep compassion. Although Hermiod looked so strange, she didn’t send him away. She told Loki that whenever a person was in need, they must be attended to, no matter what.’

Thor’s tale made me smile widely, because the unknown woman had done exactly what could be expected of humans. She gave that odd being care and compassion, not giving a damn about him being an alien. She had a heart.

‘Did Loki tell her that Hermiod was an alien?’ I asked, completely fascinated.

‘Yes, because he didn’t want to lie to those people.’ Thor confirmed. ‘He told them he found the creature out in the woods and that he believed that caused by an unknown event he had lost all of his memories. Though, I don’t think she really believed him and instead saw Hermiod as something like a deformed child.’

To be honest, I would’ve reacted just like that. When it came down to it, it just didn’t matter whether this poor creature was a human child or an alien. It needed help, and that was all that mattered.

‘So Hermiod actually had a childhood on Earth?’ I summarized. ‘He’s never told me.’

‘He doesn’t know.’ Thor replied. ‘We took him away from there before the memory could be engraved in his mind. Loki just watched the woman how she handled Hermiod and his terrible fear and anger, how she showed him affection, no matter what he did. And he learned. Three months later he was back on our science vessel with Hermiod, being convinced that he had learned enough for us to raise Hermiod on our own.’

‘What exactly did she do to convince Loki?’ I wondered.

‘She showed him what he called maternal love.’ Thor replied uncertainly. ‘He was of the opinion that we had done most things right so far, but additionally we needed to just… embrace and hug him now and then, to comfort him when he was sad, and to patiently talk sense into him when he was angry. I admit that I failed him far too often, but Loki was a very patient parent to him. It was strange to watch him holding Hermiod in his arms, speaking words of reassurance to him. I’ve never been able to bring myself to do so…’

I admit that at this very moment I learned to have deep respect for Loki, because he had obviously been the most important person in Hermiod’s first months of life. I’d never have expected this after everything Hermiod had to go through in Loki’s laboratory a few days ago. But I didn’t reproach Thor for not being able to hold Hermiod close when he needed it, because it must have felt terribly strange to him to hold a person who looked exactly like him. I would’ve found it just as much difficult.

‘So you split your responsibilities in Hermiod’s upbringing?’ I asked interestedly. ‘Just like human parents often do?’

‘I’m still not entirely sure about what human parents tend to do.’ Thor disagreed. ‘But when it comes to Loki and me, well, I became Hermiod’s teacher while Loki became some kind of replacement of a mother for him. If it hadn’t been for Loki, my son wouldn’t have had a pleasant upbringing. I’ve always been too serious and distanced, because I’ve never been fully able to be a parent. Loki instead… He cared for Hermiod with such softness and understanding, qualities I’d never have expected in him. I’m quite certain that back then he felt something similar to parental love for Hermiod, some kind of deep affection, but for me it was hard to comprehend.’

‘What happened that made Loki estrange from you that much?’ I wondered. ‘I mean, after you’ve brought up Hermiod together, I would’ve expected a connection between the two of you that’s deeper than just being brothers.’

‘Many things happened in those last 1,500 years.’ Thor replied secretively. ‘But back then I was indeed thankful for him being there to help me with Hermiod. I was fighting many insecurities concerning my son, to be honest. I regretted for a very long time that I had allowed this clone of mine to live, and the more I watched him being angry and incredulous and unaware of himself, the more I realized we had made a major mistake. Though, at that time it had been much too late already anyway.’

‘At least you no longer wanted to kill him.’ I grumbled. ‘That says a lot about your qualities as a father, actually. You did feel something like compassion for Hermiod, didn’t you?’

‘My own feelings weren’t of any importance at that time.’ Thor objected, betraying the emotionality I saw on his features. ‘While Loki and I had been in Earth’s orbit to find out how to raise this strange being we had created, someone back on Othala must have leaked the information of me having created a clone of myself to the Council of Science. Odin had almost been removed from his position of being the Chief Archon, when they found out that he had authorized this special experiment despite the Council’s reservations. So we had to head back to Othala immediately to explain ourselves to the Council. We had to bring Hermiod to one of the Council’s meetings, where they wanted to evaluate and study him. Both Loki and I were of the opinion that we wouldn’t leave him to them, no matter what, because we didn’t even want to imagine what they’d do to him. Those hard-hearted scientists eyed him like a nasty lab accident rather than an Asgard with the same right to live that they proclaimed for themselves. The discussion went for hours and it got harder and harder for Hermiod to keep silent.’

‘It must have been horrible for him to be handled by them as though he was just a …thing, an experiment.’

‘He was extremely agitated, and if it wasn’t for Loki’s patient attempts to calm him down, there would have been no way to keep him from… how do you humans say… freaking out.’ Thor admitted. ‘It became harder for us, too, to stand our ground in front of the Science Council, because by then they had already lost themselves in debates about how to handle a clone that should never have come into existence.’

‘They wanted… they wanted to destroy him, right?’ I asked, completely exasperated. ‘Like some lab accident… they wanted to forget as soon as possible that he ever existed, and they didn’t want anything to remind them of what happened.’

‘Indeed.’ Thor replied quietly. ‘But at that very moment, when one of the Councillors said clearly that the… specimen had to be destroyed, Hermiod stood up and went over directly in front of their desks. While I had been trying to justify my own actions and also to keep my seat as head of the Council, while Loki had done everything possible to keep Hermiod calm… Hermiod had listened to every word spoken very attentively.’

‘What did he do?’ I asked, astonished. ‘What happened?’

‘A miracle.’ Thor said, his voice now shaking with unexpected emotion. ‘He stood there in front of the Council, his head raised to meet their gazes, and spoke just a few words that made everything change entirely.’

‘What did he say?’ I wanted to know, a tad impatient about having to almost tear the answers out of Thor. He seemed to be very moved by this special event.

‘You have no right to harm me.’ Thor quoted his son. ‘I’m an Asgard, just like you. My name is Hermiod, and I’m my own person.’

‘Wow.’ I breathed, suddenly shivering.

‘It was the first time we actually realized Hermiod was aware of himself.’ Thor said softly. ‘The debating stopped immediately, and they all stared at Hermiod in astonishment. They realized that we hadn’t created some kind of useless scientific experiment, but something that came as close to a child as possible, given the circumstances of his coming to existence. There he stood, a grown man, eager to live. Loki and I were indeed proud of him and ourselves alike.’

‘He was extraordinarily brave when he spoke up to the Council.’ I approved of Hermiod’s actions. ‘I can imagine that hearing them debate about him that rudely must have been very hurtful for him.’ Thor just nodded thoughtfully.

‘After some more debating, the Council decided to give Hermiod the status of a citizen of our people.’ He then explained. ‘He should be integrated fully into our society like every other Asgard. But at the same time they also forbade to repeat any experiment that would create another individual from the clone of any Asgard. It was their condition to allow us to take Hermiod with us instead of giving him to the scientists to take further research on him. I also had to resign as the head of the Council of Science, because after I had taken part in forbidden research, I was no longer acceptable there. ’

‘That’s why you took him in as your son to legalize his existence.’ I mused understandingly. ‘He was able to live a normal life now, but you weren’t allowed to use any information you had gained from this experiment. If you wanted to study him, it would be necessary to simply observe how he went on with his life.’

‘Exactly.’ Thor acknowledged. ‘Hermiod was sent to our university to become a productive member of our society, and I was promoted to be the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet. Odin made the five members of the Council of Science as well as Loki and me sign for keeping the information about Hermiod classified. Since then it’s a secret only eight people know about, Hermiod not included.’

‘Have you ever thought of disclosing it to him?’ I wanted to know. ‘I think he should know that it was him who convinced the Council to not destroy him. He had already fought for his life before he wasn’t even aware of. He was so brave.’ I couldn’t help but admire Hermiod for the courage he took at a time when he was still too young to even fully understand what was going on around him.

‘I’ve never told him.’ Thor admitted. ‘Hermiod and I, as you most likely have already realized, don’t speak to each other that much anymore. Loki has left us soon after the fateful meeting with the Council, only telling me he was going to do further research on another world. Hermiod moved to the university to become one of the brightest students the Asgard race has ever brought forth, and I was consumed by my task of commanding our fleet. Hermiod and I… we lost each other over the years.’

‘Does he at least know that Loki was the person he related to most closely in those so crucial months of his life?’ I wondered.

‘I’ve never told him.’ Thor repeated, tilting his head. ‘Loki and I haven’t spoken much in the last centuries either, and Hermiod never asked about him anyways.’

‘So you actually left him all alone to find out what distinguished him from the other Asgards?’ A more rhetorical but no less incredulous question. ‘You didn’t even take the effort to find out what parts of your ancestor’s DNA were enabled in him? You totally dismissed that chance? He was lost among all the other students, having to find out he had much deeper emotions than them, and never learned how to handle them?’

‘He’s never complained.’ Thor justified himself.

‘Of course he didn’t.’ I groaned. ‘He was deeply ashamed of being so totally different from the others. He didn’t even understand himself, so how could he ever have explained to anyone how he felt? You can’t tell me he’s never given you a hint, at least, that he didn’t understand why he was so different from his fellow students!’

The thought of Thor being that cold at heart was outrageous.

‘Aegeti, I don’t know how to be a father!’ Thor defended himself. ‘For me, after the Council’s decision, he was a full-worthy Asgard. He was matured enough to be aware of himself and to deepen all the knowledge I’ve taught him and that he already had inherited from me. I didn’t know what else to do.’

‘So you thought that at the moment you dropped him in front of the university’s door, your duties as a father had been done?’ I asked incredulously.

‘Indeed.’ Thor confirmed.

‘Geez…’ I groaned and rolled my eyes. ‘Thor, he needed you! You have absolutely no idea how much he needed your guidance. Knowledge or not, he wasn’t prepared for a life all by himself.’

‘I’ve done everything possible to send him to the best tutors we have.’ Thor kept defending his actions. ‘I’ve even given him the post as a chief engineer on the Beliskner when he was unsure about how to spend his life after he had finished university. What else could I have done? Loki, the person who had always known how to handle him, had left to an unknown place to continue his studies. There was no one I could have asked for advice.’

Thor had a point there, of course, because he really couldn’t have known what else he could have done for Hermiod. But to know that Hermiod had been all alone over all those centuries without anyone to guide him, to help him understand this extraordinary range of emotions he had to handle, was heart-breaking.

‘So his childhood lasted just a few months after he was brought into existence.’ I summed up all I’ve learned from Thor this day. ‘You realized that the moment he was aware of himself, he had automatically matured to adulthood. He became fully responsible for his own life more quickly than you or Loki would have expected. He went out into the world, a fully grown man, with hope and eagerness in his heart, taking his life in his own hands. He’s grown to be highly intelligent and capable of becoming one of your best engineers and also a man who’s able to understand deep emotions, even love. But sadly, he never got the chance to share it with someone. He’s a grown man now who’s never been taught how to handle emotions.’

‘Exactly.’ Thor confirmed. ‘I’m even convinced that he’s a wiser man than me or any of those who created him. He had stopped being a child on that fateful day at the Science Council and he showed everyone clearly that he was his own person, not a copy of mine.’

‘He’s an extraordinary man.’ I acknowledged. ‘I think all of us can learn a lot from him, and I’m more than glad he’ll be as much a leader in our attempt to find a cure for the Asgard as you and I are.’

‘Of course.’ Thor confirmed. ‘As I said, he’s most likely a wiser man than me.’

‘I don’t want to appear impolite now, but I’m of the opinion you’re right with your statement.’ I said with a smile. ‘Hermiod is indeed wiser than you.’

‘I’m thankful.’ Thor said after a while of mutual thoughtful silence.

‘What for?’ I wondered.

‘I’m thankful that you came along to care for Hermiod.’ Thor admitted. ‘I’m fully aware of the fact that I’ve failed him in any way possible. He grew up to be an extraordinary man, but I’ve never been able to help him understand himself. But you can. You share his incredible amount of emotions, and you’re able to give him the chance to experience love. You’re able to give him the guidance I failed to give him.’

‘Being a guide is a father’s job.’ I disagreed. ‘You have no idea how much it saddens me that Hermiod didn’t have a proper father, just like me. I will give him all the love that I can give him, but I can’t replace the parents he should have had when he was young. I’m going to be his wife, after all, and you’re going to be my father-in-law. Your responsibility for Hermiod isn’t over, yet, just because he’s getting married. He’ll always need you as a mentor. He deserves having a father who’s there for him. Just because you haven’t been there for him the last 1,400 or so years, doesn’t mean you can’t get another chance, Thor. For heaven’s sake, talk to him. I mean it. Tell him the truth, because he’s just as entitled to know it as I am, if not more.’

Thor looked at me in utter surprise. ‘Do you think Hermiod would even want me to catch up with all I’ve failed to do?’

‘Of course.’ I approved. ‘But you shouldn’t wait all too long, because as I’ve understood, time is running out.’

He kept looking at me with his surprised glance, but after a while his expression was clouded by something darker. ‘May I bring forth a request?’ He asked, making me wonder about why he suddenly appeared so entirely humble.

‘Yes, sure.’ I encouraged him.

‘In case we don’t find a cure for our people, will you take Hermiod with you?’ He pleaded, his large eyes full of warmth all of a sudden. ‘The Asgard people will not waste away into the night and allow our enemies to get hold on any kind of knowledge and technology we’ve invented and gathered over the millennia. We’re going to destroy ourselves rather than watching our race falling apart, but I don’t want Hermiod to face the same fate as the rest of the Asgard.’

‘What fate is that?’ I asked cautiously, suddenly feeling more than uncomfortable.

‘If we’re not able to find a cure for ourselves in the next twenty months, the High Council has decided to destroy the Asgard race in an act of mass suicide.’ Thor replied calmly, an undisclosed expression on his face.

‘What?’ I asked, needing a few moments to process what I had just heard. I must have misheard him, no doubt about that, because what he told me just couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be possible.

‘The decision has been made, Aegeti.’ Thor went on explaining. ‘I think you have the right to know, now that you’re entitled to lead us in an attempt to find a cure outside of the Asgard home worlds. It’s the reason why the High Council is so urgent about us leaving as soon as possible. We’ve bought twenty months of time, not a single day more.’

The mere thought of the Asgard being gone was more disconcerting, to say the least, than anything I could have imagined. Up until now I had always been told that there was still plenty of time, but now I was confronted with the fact that our time was much more limited than I had expected. My heart ached at the prospect of losing those wonderful people I had accustomed to so successfully at such a short notice. This just couldn’t happen. I didn’t allow it to happen.

‘So they have not only send me on a mission, they’ve also placed an ultimatum? Thank you for not putting any pressure on me.’ I growled sarcastically.

‘I’m sorry, Aegeti.’ Thor said quietly. ‘It’s for the better, believe me.’

Right now I was sure that absolutely nothing would be able to help a race that was willing to commit mass suicide just because they didn’t see any solution anymore. But they were worth to fight for. They were worth to give the very best of me, to give up myself for them.

‘I’d be damned, if I didn’t give my very best.’ I said, my voice hard and full of determination now. ‘We’ll find a cure before those twenty months are over. That’s a promise.’

‘I’m confident you’ll succeed, Aegeti.’ Thor approved. ‘As I said, you have the spirit in you to do something great, and even if you can’t find a way to cure all of our people, I know that you’ll find a chance to make at least Hermiod survive, at least as long as your own life lasts. He deserves it, because he’s the best Asgard we have.’

There was more emotion in Thor’s voice than he’d ever admit to even be able to have. I wondered if he even understood how much his trust meant to me, how much it moved me inside. I got up from my chair and went down on my knees in front of him, looking up at him eagerly.

‘I pledge an oath to you, Thor.’ I said honestly. ‘I will not fail you.’

Thor looked at me for a long while, his velvet black eyes locked with mine. I saw so much hope and confidence in them that made me understand all of a sudden that he put all his trust in me, the trust of the whole Asgard people.

‘I suppose it’s about time for you to return to Hermiod.’ Thor finally said, still not taking his eyes from me. ‘I recommend you to have a day of recreation tomorrow. The ceremony will take place the day after tomorrow at sunrise. I need you to be well prepared then. Hermiod will brief you further.’

‘Thank you, Thor.’ I replied, my voice low. ‘Thank you for everything. There are no words to describe the honour you’ve granted me.’

He put his hand on my shoulder, the first time ever that he dared to really touch me. ‘The honour’s all mine.’ He just said, then I was engulfed by the white light of an Asgard transporter beam once more.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 23 - Education

 

It had been late night already when I returned home from this so important and fateful meeting with Thor. I hadn’t even realized the lateness of the hour, consumed by the conversation as I was.

Hermiod had already been sleeping soundly by the moment I arrived, therefore I had decided to just go to sleep as well and postpone everything else, including the necessary conversation with him, until the next day. I had fallen asleep quickly, tired and drained as I was from the long meeting, and slept so deeply that no dream could disturb me.  

When I woke up to the new day, the sun hadn’t even risen yet, but I felt refreshed and full of thirst for action. Of course my eagerness to begin the day didn’t keep me from looking at my sleeping Hermiod thoroughly. After all that Thor had told me about him last night, I saw him in a brand new light. He was so unique and special among his whole species, he was both a gift and great responsibility. I had sworn to Thor to keep him safe, and that was going to be on top of my agenda now and forever.

Hermiod had himself curled up to a ball, one of my bedsheets wrapped around him as though he had missed me too much before he had fallen asleep. He looked so innocent, much too fragile, as he was lying there, and once again he stirred my protective instinct. The picture of loneliness right in front of me showed me once more how much it had been worth to fight and argue with the High Council.

I had primarily planned to get up early to start the day, but now that I saw Hermiod sleeping all curled up and lonely, I rearranged my priorities and decided to wake him up carefully and tenderly, so he wouldn’t have to be all alone again the moment he opened his eyes.  

I leaned over to him and kissed his forehead tenderly, wrapped him up in my arms to hold him close. His skin felt colder than it should have, given the fact he had slept covered by my bedsheet, hence I was on high alert in an instant. When he shifted, I calmed down again immediately.

‘Good morning, sunshine.’ I whispered in his tiny ear. ‘It’s morning already.’

Hermiod’s body tensed when he realized someone had him in a firm grip. He struggled, then opened his eyes just a bit, still sleepy and tired nevertheless. But when he recognized me, he relaxed in my arms and closed his eyes again, obviously enjoying the fact I held him so tenderly.

‘Kvedjar.’ He mumbled in Asgard, obviously wishing me a good morning, too. It was more than time for me to finally start to learn his language, no matter how hard it was to pronounce those so alien words.

‘Would you like to have breakfast with me?’ I asked quietly. ‘I mean, after I had a shower?’

Hermiod whispered some more unintelligible Asgard, hence I put him back down on the sheets again and prepared to get up. A long-fingered grey hand held me back immediately.

‘Don’t go.’ He now groaned in English. ‘You’ve been away too long last night already.’

‘Min hjarta, I have a long to-do list for today.’ I let him know, no longer able to ignore that certain thirst for action I had woken up with.

Hermiod completely ignored my objections and snuggled up to me again, wrapping his long arms around my upper body in the process. He seemed to be in an exceptional need of love this morning, so I decided to comply and took him back in my embrace. Though, his clinginess worried me a lot as well.

‘Hermiod, did anything happen yesterday that upset you?’ I therefore wanted to know. ‘Is it something Eir found out?’ Only now did I remember that he had attended to an appointment with the physician while I had been at the High Council’s.

He just buried his face at the crook of my neck and in my hair, which worried me even more, but I decided not to force him to give an answer. I knew that he would tell me as soon as he was ready. ‘It’s OK, love, you don’t have to talk about it…’

Hermiod didn’t utter a word for a while, fuelling my worries even more by the minute. Instead of talking, he curled up in my arms like a small ball of misery, and there was no way for me to help him as long as I was clueless regarding what he was mulling over.

‘Eir says that my body will die within the next twelve months.’ He whispered eventually. ‘If we can’t find a cure for our disease until then, I will… there won’t be any new body for me.’

I was shocked for a moment, could hardly catch my breath in a sudden fit of panic.

‘Oh, Hermiod.’ I just mouthed, holding him even closer in an attempt to make his words unspoken. ‘Can’t they just, I dunno, transfer your mind patterns into any other clone? One of Thor’s maybe?’

‘They could.’ Hermiod replied, sounding all hopeless. ‘But I’d lose all the advantages this body has given me. I’d be like all the Asgards then, deprived of my deep emotions.’

This couldn’t be true! I hoped with all my heart he was just kidding, but I knew perfectly that Hermiod never made jokes, especially not of something so serious.

One year.

The universe, as unfair as it usually was, just gave us one single year, maybe even less… And I had already thought those twenty months the High Council had given me weren’t enough to accomplish the almost impossible plan.  My determination to find a cure for those wonderful people grew even greater with this prospect. I had promised myself not to lose Hermiod at any cost, and I’d live up to this promise, no matter what.

‘Why is this current clone of yours so week?’ I asked, my brain working frantically. ‘Is it because of what Dellingur’s done?’

Hermiod didn’t reply, which was answer enough already. I’m normally a really peaceful person, hence the punch I had given Dellingur had been an exception to my normal way of dealing with problems, but right now I wished I could just kill this despicable piece of crap.

‘Will you tell me one day?’ I asked, suppressing my wrath with all my might.

‘Tell you what?’ He replied with a counter-question. I knew he knew, but he obviously wanted to hear it from me.

‘What Dellingur has done to you?’ I therefore asked. ‘What happened while you were alone with him, while I was unconscious?’

Hermiod shook his head lightly, a gesture he definitely had learned from me. I felt he was by far not ready for talking about what had happened to him, but I simply had to ask. When I looked in those tormented eyes now, I felt a cold hand twisting around my heart to hold it in an almost suffocating grip.

‘Min hjarta…’ I whispered and kissed him softly. ‘We’ll be on our way in just a few days from now. Odin has agreed to all my suggestions. We’re going to Atlantis and turn the Ancient databases upside down. We won’t rest until we’ve found a cure for the Asgard. For you…’

‘That’s good news indeed.’ Hermiod mumbled, his face now buried in my hair again, his voice definitely filled with much more hope. ‘Though, your debate was surely not an easy one.’

‘You bet.’ I replied, a bit more hopeful now as well. I decided that if he wouldn’t give up hope, I wouldn’t either.

‘Would you mind telling me about the meeting?’ Hermiod asked, now looking up to me again. I kissed his forehead, then started to tell him in great detail what I had discussed with the Chief Archon and the High Council. There was a lot to tell, and while I was speaking, the sun began to rise, painting the sky in beautiful reds and purples.

I told Hermiod everything, except Odin’s demand that he wanted my connection with Hermiod to be sealed before our departure to Atlantis. I couldn’t have declined, of course, but Odin’s pace was a tad too quick for my taste. I wasn’t really ready to get married just now without even having enough time to prepare for the ceremony. Of course, I had no doubt about marrying Hermiod, but I would have preferred that the decision of when it would happen would be ours, not Odin’s.

‘There’s something more you need to tell me, am I right?’ Hermiod had become a master in reading my face in a much too short notice. I’ve never had a poker face, but I had at least hoped it wasn’t that easy to read for an Asgard.

‘Unfortunately, yes.’ I replied. What else could I do?

Hermiod looked up to me with utter interest, and hadn’t I known better, I would have been sure his attentive black eyes were able to read all he wanted to know right on my forehead.

‘Odin attached his agreement to a condition.’ I said slowly. ‘He’s providing us with a ship and crew – in person Thor and the Beliskner – as well as the Asgards’ best scientists, but he’ll only give it to a member of his family.’

The Asgard in my arms took a few moments until the information sank in and unfolded. His expression changed from interest to surprise in an instant as soon as he understood.

‘He wants us to seal the bond before we leave?’ He asked, more rhetorically. ‘I should have expected him demanding this step. It’s much easier for him that way than to justify his decisions in front of the High Council and the parliament. As soon as you’re officially Thor’s daughter, there’s no reason not to provide a whole ship and crew to you. Let alone all the freedom he gives you in doing whatever you deem necessary. You’ve received the greatest honour an Asgard can receive, but he can’t grant it to you as long as you’re not an Asgard.’

‘Thor’s daughter?’ I interrupted him in surprise. ‘An Asgard?’ I was completely dumbstruck by his words.

Hermiod looked at me sternly, his eyes full of emotion. ‘It is Asgard tradition that you’ll become your father-in-law’s daughter the moment the bond is sealed. You won’t be an alien anymore from then on. You’ll be fully accepted in our society. In agreeing to these facts, Odin has done something incredibly brave and magnificent. His agreement to our connection will silence all the critics among our people. They can’t oppose to the decisions of one of the Asgard’s leading families like they opposed to putting our fate in a human’s hands.’

I swallowed hard, once more suppressing tears. I was touched so deeply by Hermiod’s passionate words that I was speechless for the time necessary to give my brain the chance to catch up with the latest information. Not far from now I would become an Asgard, even a member of one of Othala’s most influential families, a daughter of Thor’s. Not far from now I would have a family again!

A family that respected me, a place to belong to.

A family I wouldn’t have the chance to live with long, if I didn’t find a way to save all of their lives. Again, I felt the gravity of the burden I carried on my shoulders.

‘I’m beginning to understand the big picture now.’ I spoke eventually. ‘Why Thor wanted me to come to Othala so urgently, and why he’s agreed to our relationship from the beginning. I’ve always suspected he’s a great thinker, but he’s definitely plotted his greatest masterplan right there.’ I couldn’t help but smile widely, pushing all the disturbing thoughts of my burden in the background of my mind.

‘I just hope Odin didn’t overwhelm you completely with all his demands.’ Hermiod grumbled, seemingly unhappy with the hasty turn of events.

‘No, I just feel like being hit by a truck.’ I laughed. ‘Or a big spaceship, the Beliskner maybe.’

‘What do you think about what Odin wants?’ Hermiod asked shyly after I had become more serious again. ‘Is it even in your interest to become my kona already?’

I raised a surprised brow. ‘Kona?’

He gave me his adorable Asgard version of a smile. ‘It’s the Asgard word for wife. It’s also been used as a term of affection. Back then when we still had things like affection.’

I returned the smile, put all my love in it. ‘I’m going to be your wife anyway, so it doesn’t really matter whether the ceremony takes place the next days or in a month. We’re not given all too much time anyway, so I agree it should be done rather now than later.’ My expression had grown more serious with every word.

‘We’ll have forever, min hjarta.’ Hermiod whispered tenderly. ‘I’ve read that your people tend to say that love never dies.’

‘My people are a bunch of sentimental poets when it comes to the matter of love.’ I admitted half-jokingly. ‘But yes, it’s said that love can outmatch even death.’

‘I consider it a great consolation, to be honest.’ Hermiod admitted. ‘Though, until we realized there’s no chance of curing our disease, we thought we’d be able to outmatch death, too. We’ve been mistaken.’

‘Oh, my love.’ I mouthed tenderly. ‘You will not die, I promise you this. We’ll find a way to create a viable clone for you, a stronger one that’ll live for a normal lifespan.’

‘I appreciate your confidence.’ Hermiod declared. ‘But what is it based on?’

‘I’m simply confident that we’ll find the solution in the Ancient databases.’ I mused. ‘I’m also positive that Heimdall and Loki won’t fail.’

‘Loki?’ Hermiod uttered in surprise. ‘You didn’t convince Odin to let him come along, did you? After all that’s happened?’

‘I did.’ I admitted sheepishly. ‘I’m sure I’m able to convince him to work for your benefit. He owes you one, after all.’ Hermiod couldn’t know how much Loki actually owed him, but it wasn’t my turn to tell him.

Hermiod looked anything but happy, but I decided to not linger on this complicated subject any longer. The decisions had already been made anyway, so there was nothing left to discuss.

‘Hermiod, is there a chance for me to get some fancy clothes for the ceremony?’ I followed a sudden epiphany. Of course, I couldn’t go to my own wedding in my simple black pants and shirt that I normally wore, and I didn’t want to go in Asgard style either.

‘The Asgard don’t have clothing.’ Hermiod reminded me, sounding as though he told me the sky was blue. ‘But we have matter converters that can produce anything you like, no matter the colour or fabric.’

Sometimes I really loved Asgard technology and all its advantages. At least I wouldn’t have to go shopping, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to spend the whole day in our bedroom either, as I was still full of thirst for action. I remembered that Thor had recommended me a day of recreation with Hermiod. At some point, of course, I’d have to tell him that the ceremony would take place the next day already.

‘I’ve been musing about how we could spend the day.’ I therefore told Hermiod. ‘Would you like to show me a bit more of Othala? I’ve seen such beautiful places when you showed me your world telepathically. It would be awesome to see them in reality.’

Once more, Hermiod gave me his adorable smile. ‘I already thought you’d never ask.’

--

Hermiod granted me some privacy for a shower, grumbling something about that he had to see Thor. I was sure he wanted to hear his father’s version of yesterday’s meeting with the High Council and maybe also address a few other things that were important for him to know, most likely including the time and date for the ceremony and what Eir had told him.

I tried to ignore best I could what Hermiod got to know from the physician. On a beautiful day like this I wouldn’t allow myself to muse about anything dark. There would be plenty of time for all sorts of musings as soon as we’d be on our way to Atlantis.

I first stepped into the shower that was astoundingly spacious, given the fact that the Asgard were such small people. Enjoying the soft pearly water trickling down my skin, I closed my eyes and thought of Hermiod, about how much he was determined to make me a part of his family, how much he obviously loved me. I also remembered the High Council’s discussion about him and once more realized that they couldn’t have been more wrong with their words. I was glad Thor had told me the whole truth about his son last night. It helped me understand many things.

Hermiod was so much more than just a lab accident, and I was determined to make them see and understand some day.

The water was warm and soft, felt much more pleasant on my skin than any other water on any other planet I had ever been. For some minutes I regretted that Hermiod wasn’t with me, because I would have loved to see the pearling water run over his soft grey skin, too. But I was sure we were going to have time for this experience at some point. I hoped with all my heart we would have enough time for everything I wanted to see and experience at his side.

I felt refreshed and full of anticipation regarding what Hermiod would show me, which wonders of his home world I was going to witness. I promised myself once more not to get lost in gloomy thoughts today, and that I’d also keep Hermiod from doing so. This was our day of joy, hence I wouldn’t allow my forebodings of the future to cloud the sun.

Hermiod had given me one of those Asgard communication stones that I could use to contact him as soon as I had finished my shower and was ready to meet him. I gave myself time to get my mind into balance again, not only for my own sake but because I wanted to give him enough time to discuss with Thor. They surely had a lot to talk about, so I didn’t want to disturb them.

Though, after more than an hour I couldn’t stand being alone anymore, because I missed Hermiod too much. It was almost funny to find myself missing someone so much, all the more as I had always laughed about such people, not understanding how deep and full of desire true love actually was. So I activated the communication stone and was beamed away in an instant.

--

The change of surroundings couldn’t be more extreme. The scarce bedroom was replaced by a breath-taking view over the greater part of the city. It took a few moments for me to adjust, then I realized I was standing on the roof of Thor’s house. Up until now I hadn’t realized that the house and gardens were situated on a hill outside the city center, but now I got aware of the most luxurious view I’ve ever seen. Not even Atlantis was that breath-taking.

Valaskjalf was a lively megacity with several millions of inhabitants, but it didn’t look as crammed and dirty as megacities on Earth usually did. Thanks to their ever present beaming technology and some hover cars that specked the sky here and there, they had no need for roads and highways any longer. So all those streets had been replaced by lush gardens that were woven through the city like a green spider’s web, embracing buildings that proved stunningly elegant architectural skills. Everything looked bright and shiny.

It was almost impossible to break away from the spectacular sight, but I surely had been beamed to this exact place for a reason. That’s why I turned away from the city and looked around the roof. Hermiod was standing there next to one of those hover cars and watched me curiously.

‘I take it you’re enjoying the view?’ He asked with raised eyebrows, obviously entertained by my beaming face.

‘It especially shows me that I should spend more time outside instead of our bedroom.’ I said with a wink, slowly walking over to him. ‘I’ve never expected to find such an amazing view just by climbing the roof of your house.’

‘Thor is a wealthy man.’ Hermiod reminded me. ‘Therefore, his house is situated at a quite exquisite place.’

‘Even in your society, money seems to make the world go round.’ I said sarcastically, realizing that I still knew as much as nothing about the Asgards’ world. I had only come to know a handful of them and hadn’t seen anything of their home planet yet, so it was more than time I learned more about the people I had sworn to save.

‘How many people are living here?’ I therefore asked, deciding that now was the best moment to start a lesson.

‘Valaskjalf has about 90 million inhabitants.’ Hermiod enlightened me. ‘This planet is home to about 6 billion people. Valaskjalf is not only the capital of the Asgard federation but also its biggest city. Altogether, counting all the planets that are inhabited by our people, there are more than 100 billion citizens on about 150 planets throughout the galaxy of Ida.’

While listening to Hermiod’s words, my fascination had grown more and more. I had known that the Asgard called more than one planet their home, but the truth about how extensive their civilization actually was, was absolutely mind-blowing.

‘Is Othala the origin of the Asgard people?’ I asked, both curious and fascinated.

‘Indeed.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘Our written history started more than 100,000 years ago on Othala. We have archaeological finds that are dating back to this time. The first Asgard village had been built at a site that’s now enclosed by the Valaskjalf University. We’re quite proud of our history, actually.’

‘Compared to you, my people are just little children.’ I mused. ‘My people built their first villages about 8,000 years ago, and our years are even shorter than yours. Now I don’t wonder any longer why some Asgards are of the opinion we’re by far not ready to become one of the major players in the universe. Compared to you, we know nothing.’

‘Being a young race has advantages, too.’ Hermiod said meekly. ‘At least you’re less arrogant than us and much more curious about the universe. You still have so much to learn, which is kind of enviable, in my opinion.’

I just smiled about his kindness. Of course, I knew that Hermiod didn’t think like most of the other Asgards, but I had a tad of a feeling that he was just being polite. Even he, being one of the youngest Asgards, was so much more educated than me. A human lifespan was just too short to learn everything the Asgard already knew.

‘Well, if that’s so, I think it’s about time for me to start my lessons about the universe in general and the Asgard in particular, right?’ I said half-jokingly, perfectly knowing that Hermiod was eager to show me around.

Hermiod just smirked and pointed at the hover car. ‘As I suspect you want to see more than just the view from the roof, may I invite you to a joyride?’

I didn’t know a word like ‘joyride’ even existed in an Asgard’s vocabulary, but then again, Hermiod wasn’t the typical Asgard and he definitely had caught a lot of terms from the humans he had worked with. When it came to Hermiod, I had learned to expect surprises left and right.

‘So where are we going?’ I wanted to know eagerly, after I had taken a seat in the elegant hover car, which was surprisingly spacious, even for a human. Hermiod just smirked and pushed one of those white-ish control stones around on the console in front of him. Of course, as this was all Asgard design, there were no steering wheel or gearshifts, only the sort of control panel I was already used to from all the other Asgard technology I had seen so far. They had obviously set up a common standard for everything and rolled with it. It was an interesting thought that led me to musings about the Othalian economic system, but as Hermiod wanted to go for a ride, I supposed that for now he wasn’t in the mood for any further dust-dry explanations. So I just sat back comfortably, while the hover car ascended from the roof without making even the slightest of sound.

I instantly got a better grip on what my hands could find, because the car rose to the sky almost vertically at breakneck speed. Hermiod smirked once more in utter amusement about my shocked gasp.

‘Aren’t humans addicted to adrenaline?’ He teased me, increasing speed by the second and obviously enjoying it.

‘Some of us, for sure.’ I replied grumpily. ‘But I thought the Asgard don’t even have an adrenal gland.’

Hermiod just smirked and increased speed further, making me believe that the information about the Asgards’ adrenal gland wasn’t all that true.

‘Do you even have a driving license?’ I shot a dismayed question at Hermiod while my stomach slowly recovered from having been turned upside down once more.

‘Every Asgard has one.’ He informed me light-heartedly while we sped towards the other side of the city.

After I had accustomed to the speed and the forces of physics that tore at me, I began to enjoy the ride, let my hair flow with the wind, and watched the scenery around me attentively. There were some other hover cars around, but definitely not as many as I would have expected from a megacity like Valaskjalf.

‘You don’t seem to have any traffic problems.’ I mused. ‘Why is that? Where’s everyone?’

‘Valaskjalf citizens normally use transporters to reach their destination.’ Hermiod enlightened me. ‘There’s been a governmental decree some thousand years ago, when the skies had been so full of cars that people on the ground could hardly see the sun anymore. Now we’re only using this kind of transport for private purposes.’

‘Or for showing off.’ I summed up my impression of another car flying by that was much bigger than Hermiod’s. ‘I didn’t even know Asgards are boasters.’

‘We’re not.’ Hermiod objected, glaring daggers at the other car. ‘Generally.’

I snickered, my eyes continuously darting around to not miss the tiniest detail of my surroundings. We were now nearing the city center with its insanely tall skyscrapers that looked like needles, only there to poke the sky. When we closed up on them, I could distinguish the details of astounding Asgard design. Glass and chrome, colour patterns of red, blue and purple. The windows were huge and oddly formed. There was hardly ever a right angle to be seen. If the Emir of Dubai had seen these skyscrapers, he’d most likely fallen into a deep depression, because compared to them the Burj Khalifa was just a small pathetic tower.

‘You may close your mouth again.’ Hermiod told me, showing his adorable Asgard smile. ‘We’re being watched.’

Only now did I realize the many Asgards that were standing at the different windows, not only few of them watching us interestedly, while we were flying to and fro between the towers. Maybe they were curious about the odd alien that was obviously having too much spare time. I waved at them enthusiastically and some of them even waved back, albeit with confusion on their faces. I loved the Asgard.

‘What are they actually doing?’ I wanted to know. ‘I mean, they’re surely having jobs, don’t they?’

‘Of course they do.’ Hermiod acknowledged. ‘Most of those towers are used by the government, but there are also banks and other departments of public service.’

‘Your banks are public service?’ I wondered.

‘Yes, of course.’ Hermiod confirmed. ‘You can’t leave all the money to private companies. I’m even more convinced of how we’re handling our financial sector since I’ve seen the economic systems on Earth. They don’t work very well.’

He had a point there I could agree with whole-heartedly. Some humans seemed to be addicted to increasing their amounts of money without even caring about all those they were causing damage to in their greed.

‘Well, the reason why our economic systems don’t work well on Earth is simply that some bankers’ greed is unstoppable.’ I therefore agreed pensively. ‘I’ve already been guessing the Asgard are way beyond that. Seems you’re living up to my expectations there. ’

‘That’s true.’ Hermiod agreed. ‘We don’t know bad habits such as greed anymore, but that’s still no reason to change a system that’s already working well for thousands of years now.’

‘You’re absolutely right with that.’ I approved, still glancing all around. We were now flying across a huge park that was situated amidst the very center of the city, not far away from the tallest skyscrapers. The numerous fields of green were surrounded by buildings that looked significantly older than most of what I had seen of the city so far.

‘What’s this?’ I asked, admiring their architecture that strongly reminded me of the Norse people on Earth.

‘University of Valaskjalf.’ Hermiod informed me. ‘It’s the oldest and most reputational teaching facility on Othala.’

I remembered Thor speaking about Hermiod attending university, but as my mind had been so busy with everything else I had been told in that conversation, I hadn’t had the time to ask for details.

‘What do you still need universities for?’ I therefore wanted to catch up with knowledge. ‘I mean, you don’t have any children anymore that have to be educated, so who’s actually attending this facility?’

‘Just because we’ve all grown so old by now, doesn’t mean we’re not willing to enhance our knowledge anymore.’ Hermiod explained. ‘At some point of their long lives, some Asgards come to the decision to change their professions. When you’re living a life of thousands of years, you can’t do the same job forever.’

‘I understand.’ I confirmed. ‘I’m sure everything gets boring after a while, no matter how exciting it had been at the beginning.’

‘That’s the point.’ Hermiod approved.

I continued to admire the many buildings on the ground above which Hermiod was flying some circles to give me the chance to see everything properly.

‘That campus is huge.’ I spoke in admiration after some minutes. ‘How many students are there? You’ve once been one of them, weren’t you?’ Of course I knew, but Hermiod didn’t know I knew, and for Thor’s sake I didn’t want to change anything about it right now.  

‘There are about one million students at a time.’ Hermiod explained. ‘The university is also home of the Science Council and the Board of Technology. All our technological innovations are invented here. And yes, I’ve been a student there for many years.’

‘Woah.’ I breathed in astonishment. ‘One million students! Now that’s what I call mass education.’

‘Don’t forget how many we are.’ Hermiod reminded me. ‘The university has also branches on some of the other Asgard planets. Most fields of science are taught and researched here in Valaskjalf, but as not everyone is able or willing to travel to Othala and live here for so many years, and as we don’t have enough room for so many people either, they can also go to Orilla or Hala.’

‘So knowledge is your greatest good, isn’t it?’ A rhetoric question, because I already knew the answer.

‘That’s true.’ Hermiod confirmed as expected. ‘When you have nothing more to gain, knowledge is all there is.’

‘There’s so much about the Asgard that I still have to learn.’ I figured. ‘I know nothing about your people, and as I want to learn as much as possible, I should start being educated rather now than later.’

‘If you’re interested in Asgard history and the like, this would be the place to go.’ Hermiod told me, pointing at an ancient building on the ground, while he raised a brow as he perfectly realized how much I was interested.

‘I’d love to visit the library…’ I mused, speaking more to myself, but apparently Hermiod heard me, because he turned the car around in an instant and sped towards the ground.

‘Can’t you just give a warning?’ I shrieked while we were descending at an insane speed. Maybe humans in general were famous for being adrenaline junkies, but I was definitely none of them. My stomach complained heavily about such mistreatment.

Hermiod just chuckled, while the car touched down on the ground gently. We were in some kind of backyard now, not one single Asgard was to be seen. An odd feeling of the weight of centuries was suddenly dawning on me. This was a special place, no doubt about that.

We left the hover car behind and went through the back door of a building that seemed to be age-old. I followed Hermiod down a dusty corridor that looked like it hadn’t been used much in the last few centuries.

I followed Hermiod trustfully, not missing a single detail of the paintings on the walls. They showed Asgards in different situations of life, but something was odd about them. When I compared them to Hermiod, I immediately realized the difference.

‘Hermiod, how old are those paintings?’ I wanted to know. ‘I mean, those are your ancestors, aren’t they?’

‘The paintings are about 10,000 years old.’ Hermiod confirmed evenly as though it was totally normal to walk through such old buildings. ‘Though, the painters had already looked more like us than the persons they’ve painted. This is just art.’

‘Just art?’ I fired incredulously. ‘Hermiod, by now I didn’t even know the Asgard have art. I’d actually love to see more of it!’

‘How about doing your sightseeing of Valaskjalf step by step and not all at once?’ Hermiod suggested, seemingly a tad overwhelmed by his duties as a tourist guide.

My eyes lingered on the colourful paintings a while longer, then I broke away from those walls and looked down the long corridor had been following for minutes now.

‘Where are we?’ I wondered.  

‘There are many underground corridors that connect the several buildings of the campus.’ Hermiod explained. ‘I know a shortcut to the library. I often used it late at night when I didn’t want to disturb anyone.’

Of course, Hermiod was the kind of guy who stayed at the library until late, totally lost in books about stuff that I most likely wouldn’t even be able to pronounce, be it in Asgard language or anything else. My curiosity about this ancient library was growing by the minute, while I followed Hermiod down a real maze of corridors and hallways. Those buildings must have been thousands of years old, just like the corridor with the paintings, because they didn’t resemble anything of modern Asgard architecture. In one of those really vast halls there were huge columns, engraved with Asgard runes, in long rows. It looked like an ancient temple more than a university hall.

‘Hermiod, how old is this particular building, actually?’ I couldn’t keep myself from questioning any longer.

‘This particular part of the complex is about 50,000 years old.’ Hermiod replied, obvious pride in his voice. ‘It was built in a time when the Asgard were much taller people still, hence they built much more spacious rooms.’

‘How much taller?’ I wondered, astonished. ‘Like those guys on the paintings?’

‘Yes, indeed. The ancient Asgard were averagely two meters tall.’ Hermiod explained. ‘But our extensive cloning experiments have changed us tremendously. We weren’t much unlike humans, actually, just with bigger heads and larger eyes.’

The explanation Hermiod gave me in passing, made me stop in my tracks and gape at him when a sudden epiphany hit me.

‘That’s why Loki thinks the human genome could be helpful, right?’ I blurted out.

All the answers to my numerous questions about Loki’s actions fell into place all of a sudden.

Hermiod looked at me pensively, apparently kind of regretting to have given me this information, but as he couldn’t take it back, there was only one choice for him to make – to let me in.

‘It is true that your DNA and ours are compatible in many ways.’ He said reluctantly. ‘But still Asgards and humans are as different as can be. It might be possible to find a match, but it is very unlikely, in my opinion. I’m afraid that Loki is much too confident about the human genome.’

‘He’s a boss geneticist.’ I disagreed. ‘He wouldn’t believe in his research if there wasn’t a valuable reason behind it.’ That moment I really regretted to have promised Thor not to tell Hermiod about the most important role Loki had once played in his life.

Hermiod, fortunately, just shrugged my counter-argument off. ‘I don’t deem it necessary to discuss the opinions of a man whose actions are declared more than questionable by the High Council.’ He just said. ‘He will still have to prove his worth in our attempt to find a cure in Atlantis.’

I decided not to object, because I didn’t feel like arguing with him about Loki. After all, this was a subject Thor had to deal with. I wasn’t here for discussing genetics and the like anyways, I wanted to visit the library. Hence I kept my mouth shut and followed Hermiod down some more corridors until we finally arrived at a huge door that looked somewhat more modern than the hallways I had seen so far. The door was carpentered of a strange material that looked like a mixture of wood and metal. It was covered all over by engraved Asgard runes.

‘Woah.’ I just breathed. ‘What do those words mean?’

‘It’s ancient Asgard.’ Hermiod explained. ‘It’s an ode to wisdom, actually.’

‘Do you understand the ancient language?’ I wanted to know, still amazed.

Hermiod once more gave me his adorable version of a smile. ‘Of course I do.’ He informed me matter-of-factly as though he found it pretty ridiculous that I even asked.

‘So what do the engraved words mean?’ I challenged him.

Hermiod’s features changed to something very serious when he began to recite the ancient words, translating them into English as he went. ‘True wisdom is not when we judge or ridicule one another as none of us are better than one from the other. True wisdom is not all the facts that you think you know every time you open your mouth for the entire world to show. True wisdom is not your version and the opinions you convey but rather tolerance, acceptance and understanding is the way. True wisdom is usually conspicuous through silent interaction and shown by the deeds that you continually put into action.’ * 

‘That’s really wise, actually.’ I approved. ‘Seems the Asgard have always been pretty smart.’

‘I appreciate your approval.’ Hermiod said half-jokingly while he advanced to the door, opening it by putting his hand on a sensor field that I hadn’t seen before, while I was busily admiring the engravings on the door.

When the two parts of the door slid aside, I was presented with an overall view of the most enormous library I had ever seen. Though, I hadn’t expected rows and rows of holographic computer storages in the first place. Still, it was a breath-taking sight to see.

‘Amazing.’ I just breathed, lost for words.

 

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A/N: * The words about wisdom are a poem by Michael Sage that I found fitting.