“Are you saying that you can’t cure me?” Rila stared up at the health officer.
He looked away, clearing the screen of the data from her health implant.
She got up and walked away, without saying anything further. She knew it was rude, but expected that he wouldn’t take offence, after all this was a very unusual situation - and she was sure that he would have done a full psychological profile on her before giving her the news. She was due back at work at once, but there didn’t seem to be much point in it, so she returned home instead. The thoughts raced around her head - how could it be their medicine could cure anything, except apparently this which they couldn’t or wouldn’t even give it a name.
Her door opened automatically for her.
“Voice responses off,” she ordered quickly and waited for the door to close, before crossing to the screen and starting to manually enter data looking for alternate cures. Data scrolled past her on the screen, showing various illnesses with similar symptoms to her and the different ways that the health officers had tried to cure them in the past, but it all seemed to be references to things that had been thoroughly debunked, until her eyes caught a reference that appeared not to be explained there - Tok’ra.
She set out a search for that reference, and ordered herself a drink, getting up to retrieve it from the output slot - the mixture was supposed to be soothing according to all the medical theories, but to her it only seemed to taste pleasant. She settled down to look through the information, going backwards in chronological order - meetings, requests for help, trade deals, help settling their world, and so forth. She had saved separately all medical references, wanting to understand the background before finding out whether they might be able to help her.
She read for hours, trying to become certain, but there wasn’t enough to information for her to even make an informed guess, but there was enough to give her hope. Finally she finished all the available information. She cleared the screen, and got up, stretching slowly, thinking that she should get food and sleep, but she realised that she had not apologised for missing work. As she turned back to the screen to do so - it was much easier to seem calm if she did it in writing - the door screen flickered into action showing two strangers outside. She commanded the door to open, realising at once that one of them was one of the Curia. S he recognised his image, but wondered why ever he would want to talk to someone as undistinguished as her.
“Councillor,” she hesitated as she couldn't remember his name, “May I welcome you to my home?”
“Certainly. A recent records search that you have conducted and your personal data suggested that I should talk to you.”
They came in and sat down, “You seem to be considering becoming a host for the Tok’ra?”
“Yes.” She clamped down on the urge to explain, waiting to see what he was going to say.
“Given your background, we are prepared to let you do this, although we urge you to consider it carefully first. The lifestyle of the Tok’ra is harsh and very dangerous. They will tell you about the long life span and health benefits to being a host but they don’t tell you how many of them, and especially the hosts, die young and horribly at the hands of the Goa’uld.”
“I understand the risks. Will you put me into contact with them?” Rila said, trying to keep her voice as level as she could, although she was wondering why he was trying to dissuade her - after all he wasn’t facing a life of pain without this chance.
“Yes.” He rose, “We are expecting a trade delegation in a few days; I will arrange for you to meet them, and I’ve arranged with your work to have you replaced - you will need the time to sort yourself out and prepare.”
“Thank you!” She showed them out, then sat down again, shaking slightly at the effort.
Two days later, Rila was busy sorting through her files, as she wanted everything in order if she was to leave, when the communication system beeped. She jumped up as the screen turned on.
“Who is it?” she asked, as she didn’t recognise the man personally, but he wore the uniform for security. She was frantically thinking of what she might have done wrong to attract their attention.
“You are requested to come to the secondary diplomatic suit to meet with the representatives of the Tok’ra.” He signed off without waiting for her reply.
She swallowed, then went through to the bathroom, quickly checking how she looked; she knew there were no outward signs of her illness, but she wanted to make a good impression.
She hesitated outside the room, before pulling herself together to face what she hoped was her future. She knocked and entered, not waiting for a reply as she was expected. She looked around the room, taking in the two figures standing by the window, who turned to face her at once.
“Hello. I am Rila. You are the representatives of the Tok’ra?”
“Yes, I am Jalen, and this is Delek.” the woman said, smiling at her.
“You are the one who has volunteered to be a host?” He said abruptly, “What is wrong with you?”
Rila noticed their voices were distorted as the records indicated they would be when the symbiotes were talking.
“I did volunteer,” she hesitated, uncertain of how to answer his question.
“Don’t scare her, Delek.” Jalen moved away from the window towards the chairs, “Please sit down. Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please.” Rila sat down opposite her, and waited as Jalen poured out the tea. Jalen handed her a cup, and Rila took a sip.
“Delek asked that because your people very rarely volunteer to be hosts, and then only if they are dying.”
“I’m not dieing, or at least not as far as our health officers can tell. However, I am ill.” She looked down, suddenly aware that she was being selfish by expecting them to care or help her. “I didn’t mean to be selfish, but I only found out while looking for alternatives after our current medical science had failed me.” She blinked and tried not to cry, feeling that her last hope was slipping away from her.
“It is not necessarily selfish. Do you understand what it is to be Tok’ra?”
“A little, I think. I’ve read everything about you that I can find - you know that all documents are open here - but there wasn’t a lot. However, I did find enough that I feel that I can consent to it.”
“Perhaps you do. However, we would expect you to come about stay in our tunnels for a while first, and learn more than I believe your records would tell you. It will also give us a chance to get to know you and work out what your personality is and who would do well blending with you. There isn’t anyone urgently needing a new host at the moment and outside of emergencies we try to match the hosts and symbiotes so that their personalities and interests work well together.”
“Do you know about the Goa’uld?” Delek’s voice cut across their conversation.
“A little - I know that they are the main enemy that our ion cannons are to protect us against, and what I have learnt from my reading. They are the same species as you?”
“Yes.” He sat opposite Rila. “How are you ill?”
“The health officers can’t tell - just that there appear to be malfunctions in my brain chemistry causing problems with pain and coordination. From my research there is no reason why a symbiote wouldn’t be able to cure that.”
“And you are prepared to remain a host after this has happened? We aren’t a service for healing people.”
Rila wondered why he seemed so angry.
“Yes.” She took a deep breath, “I know that I will be giving up on my life here, but really there isn’t much to it - I do a make-work job, have a few friends, most of whom have floated away while I’ve been ill. People just can’t cope with it - it is so unusual now. I understand that what you do is dangerous and complicated, but it also seems that it is part of what has kept my people safe for so long. I am volunteering, will you accept me?”
The two Tok’ra looked at each other, then nodded.
“Yes, we accept. We are here to trade for a day or so, depending on how long it takes to negotiate the agreement. Then we’ll set out. Can you be ready by then? We generally try to avoid accumulating too many personal belongings because we need to be ready to destroy our bases and move on at any time. You may bring the amount of belongings that you can carry. We will provide you with uniforms and the requirements for life - you need only bring items of sentimental value.”
“Yes. I’ll be ready.” Rila got up, “When I am there I will be told more?”
“Of course. When we have people preparing to be hosts we teach them about our life - in order that they can have a better understanding of what is going to happen. Then you will gain all the knowledge of the symbiote you blend with.”
She nodded, eagerly. “It sounds like an interesting experience.”
Two days later she met them at the Chappa'ai, carrying two bags - she had adjusted her packing given their information, but had brought some of her clothes and gadgets in order to have things feel like home. It would be her first trip through the Chappa'ai but she was trying not to show her apprehension, although she expected that it showed through.
As they dialed the Chappa'ai she took one last look around at her planet, trying to memorise the details. After the gate opened they stepped through it.
They emerged on a hot dry planet, not quite barren enough to be called a desert, but Rila couldn’t think of the right word for it. She stumbled as she arrived; Jalen reached out and balanced her. Delek walked on ahead seemingly ignoring them.
“You’ll get used to it in time,” she said with a smile, “at least you understand the principles of it - many of our hosts come from planets that are so backward that they take a lot of convincing that it isn’t magic.”
She bowed her head and spoke with an undistorted voice,
“I remember my first trip - I thought it must be the portal to heaven, no matter how much Jalen tried to convince me otherwise.”
Rila smiled back.
“You are Jalen’s host?” She asked even though she knew the answer - it seemed more polite to ask that than to ask her name.
“Yes, I am Kyria. Unlike you I came from a very backward planet - Cronos has ruled it for centuries and ensured that we stayed in the early stages of development, the better to worship him.”
“Cronos is a Goa’uld?”
“Yes. You will soon learn a lot about him, and the other System Lords, but for now, it is time for you to see our base.”
Kyria pulled her forward, so that the three of them were standing close together. Rila assumed that it must be for one of the systems of matter transport, but wondered how they knew where to stand, as she couldn’t see any markers - or for that matter any way of operating the rings that came up around them.
As soon as they arrived, she looked around in fascination. They appeared to be underground, presumably in the grown tunnels that she had read about. The blue colour was amazing, and the symmetry was greater than in any natural tunnels that she had seen.
“Come on, I’ll take you to our infirmary to get you check out. We will see if we can heal you without a symbiote and see if there is anyone in need of a host.” Jalen seemed to be back in control, as indicated by the change in her voice.
Rila followed her, slowly, through the twisting corridors - thinking that it would take a long time before she knew her way around the base, and whether the Tok’ra made the new bases in the same design as the old to aid memory, or whether having a symbiote enhanced their memory.
“Here we are.” Kyria pulled her into the room, Rila looked around, there was nothing to make it an infirmary in her eyes - only a few beds, but no sign of any medical equipment. “No one here - that’s good news. Lie down on this bed.”
As Rila lay down, Kyria crossed the room and picked up a hand sized metal and crystal item. She returned and activating it so that the crystal glowed ran it along the length of Rila’s body without touching her.
“Your left knee and shoulders are hurting the worst at the moment, and you have some reduced motion in many of your muscles. Let me see if this will heal it for now.”
Rila could feel the immediate effect.
“It is definitely helping, but you think that this is temporary?”
“Yes, given that you will probably be blended soon, it is better to do this for now - I don’t have the skill to heal it, and while others might, they may be needed for other things.”
“That makes sense.” Rila sat up and stretched, “Well, thank you very much for this. It is already much better than my people could do.”
“Right, let’s see if we can get you settled for now - I don’t know if there are many other potential hosts here at the moment. Over the next few days, we’ll be evaluating your personality to try and ensure a good match if possible - we don’t always have the choice, but we find that the best blending are where the two personalities balance each other and have at least some of the same interests, especially regarding work.”
“That makes a lot of sense - sort of like a marriage, but even closer, given that you probably have practically no privacy.”
“Yes, there is very little privacy when sharing a mind - although we generally try not to pry into details of the past of the other. However, among the Tok’ra in general we aren’t that much for privacy, as you might have noticed by the lack of doors. Hopefully you’ll get used to it in time. We have curtains to put on the entrances to the guest quarters, so you can have some privacy while you learn to adjust to our ways. I know how scary all the changes can be.”
Rila got up and followed Kyria out of the infirmary, aware that she was being swept along and hardly feeling in any control, but relieved not to think about everything. They wound through corridors; Rila got the impression that they were going in the opposite way to the entrance.
After a few twists and turns they came to a relatively large room. It was the first room that Rila had seen that had personal belongings scattered around it. Three young men were sitting in a group in the centre. As Kyria and Rila entered they got up, turning towards them as if expecting news. Rila had a moment to look at them as Jalen introduced her. She knew her standards were probably out but two of them looked older than her, and the other about a decade younger - and none of them had anything immediately physically wrong with them, except the evidence of having lived without proper health care .
“You are the prospective hosts?” Jalen asked; Rila could tell that it was hardly a question. “This is Rila. She is to join your number. Please make her welcome here.”
They looked at her for a moment, before asking, “Where are you from? Your clothes look strange.” It was the oldest looking of them who asked, who was more dark skinned than anyone Rila had seen before.
“I am Tollan,” she replied.
“Let me show you around,” one of the others offered, smiling at her in a way that she didn’t really like. “This area is designated for the humans preparing to be hosts. The three of us have taken the areas, well, rooms I suppose, along that side, so you have a choice of the others. Each room has a sleeping and bathing area of its own, as the Tok’ra accept that we might want privacy. If you look inside the doors there are curtains to pull across to have some privacy, but sound does carry out here, so it isn’t worth much. However, it is accepted protocol not to disturb someone with the curtain closed unless they are needed for something important.” He paused for a second.
Rila quickly cut in, “How long have you all been here?”
She noticed while they were talking that Jalen/Kyria had left.
“I have been here three months now.”
“Several days,” said the third one softly. Rila smiled at him, wondering if he felt overpowered by the others as they seemed much more ebullient.
“Anyway, the Tok’ra come by every so often to ensure that we are learning and to check on us - there have been several other hosts taken in the time that I’ve been here.”
As he was talking, Rila walked over to the doorway on the opposite side to where the others had their rooms and went in, putting her bags down on the floor. She looked around the room, which contained a sleeping shelf and a few other shelves. She crossed to the inner door and looked in at the bathing facilities - it was a lot more basic that what she was used to, however, it seemed adequate - at least there was running hot water! It didn’t seem worth unpacking her bags for now. She glanced back at the doorway and saw the others watching her.
“You probably won’t be here long. There have not been any women here in the time that we have been here - and there seem to be a lot of the Tok’ra who have female hosts, so you will probably be the first choice to replace one of those.”
Rila nodded, then she reached across to the curtain.
“Look, it is good to meet you and I look forward to getting to know you better, but I’m tired and I would like to rest now.”
“But it is afternoon here.”
“Would you like to be woken up when it is dinner time?” the quiet one asked.
“Yes, please,” she said and firmly pulled the curtain across, blocking out their protests.
She lay down on the sleeping platform, surprised by how cold it was, but before she had time of anything to do about it she fell asleep.
She jerked awake at the unfamiliar voice, and wondered where she was, why it was so cold and why she wasn’t stiff all over. She got up and adjusted her clothing. It felt like she had hardly slept at all. Stretching she went through into the washroom and splashed water on her face and eyes. She opened the curtain and stepped out into the main room. The three of them were sitting around a table covered in food. She walked over and sat down in an empty space at the end of the table and looked at the food - it didn’t look like any meal that she had seem - there were dishes in the middle full of food, seemingly for them to help themselves from, as the others seemed to be doing. The food seemed to be a kind of stew, bread and fruit. She wondered how she was supposed to know the right amounts of each to eat to get the right nutrients.
“Here - help yourself - there is plenty to go round. By the way, my name is Therin.”
“Rila. Although I think Jalen told you that already.”
“She did. Help yourself to food - it is really quite good, although it does get dull after a while. There is plenty to go around.”
“Thank you. How do you tell the right amount and proportions to eat to ensure correct nutrition?”
They stared at her for a moment, seemingly completely bemused by this.
“Well, I don’t know what your people do, but generally one just eats what you want and knows approximately the right amount to eat to make you not hungry.”
“That seems very inefficient,” she said as she took one of the dishes and helped herself to a small amount of the food.
“You want more than that,” Therin reached across and put about the same amount of stew again into her dish. “That is a better portion. Have some bread as well.” He put two slices on a plate and passed it over to her. She took it automatically. Watching the others, she used the bread to soak up the liquid of the stew and a spoon to eat the rest without formality. She poured herself water from the jug at the table, hoping that it had been tested to ensure that it was safe to drink.
“Where does the food come from?”
“We bring it up from the kitchen to eat here; then take the dishes back after dinner and help clean up. We are supposed to help with the cooking, but we’ve been exempted from that because we kept screwing up, well, except for Ivarr - he helps with the cooking, and the rest of us help with the cleaning. I suppose at some point they’ll decide what you are going to do. But for today, if you are up to it, it would be polite for you to help with the clearing as you are eating the food.”
She nodded. Then picked a piece of fruit and bit into it cautiously - it had purple flesh and lighter skin, and was quite tart, but was good at clearing her mouth from the weight of the stew.
As they were finishing eating, Jalen/Kyria returned, as she entered Rila thought that Jalen was in control and that turned out to be the case when she spoke.
“Rila, enjoying your meal?”
“It was certainly educational,” she said, “but the food was pleasant.”
“Will you come with me so that I can start your testing?”
“Certainly.” Rila got to her feet.
“See, you’ll probably be out of here before any of us,” Therin said, as they were leaving.
“I was wondering if gender an important aspect of matching? It seems from what the others were saying that it is.”
“Well, it matters. For those of us symbiotes who identify as male or female it is jarring to be in a host that doesn’t match that, but for a lot of symbiotes it doesn’t matter. They haven’t a strong sense of their gender so pick hosts on other factors. Unless it is an extreme emergency you will get to talk to the symbiote before and both of you will have a choice of whether to blend or not. Part of the point of taking willing hosts is to get a friend, so the host and symbiote have to feel that they will get along well and work together. Remember a blending can last hundreds of years.”
“Is that why Therin has been there the longest?”
Jalen bowed her head and Kyria looked up and said,
“Well, really would you want to share your mind with him? Although I think there are some of the council that he would get along well with, but as they are the ones that stay out of danger, theydon’t need to change hosts so often.”
Rila laughed at that. Kyria guided her into a small room.
“Now I know you are better with technology than most of our prospective hosts, so I’ll start you off on our computer - the question is whether you can use our systems.” She gestured to the screens.
“I might be, but my grasp of your language isn’t very good yet.”
Kyria blinked, “I didn’t notice that we had switched - although we must have as you were talking to the others in a language that they understand. How did you learn?”
“My people have files on it, which include some details of your society, but given the source I don’t know how much it can be relied on. However, the language files are fairly good because of the necessity of understanding the Goa’uld languages - my people wanted to be sure that they could understand any intercepted communications.”
Rila paused to look at the screen, reading through the text, then looking at the console to find the right sequence to put in. It was asking questions regarding various skills and personality traits. She went through the questions slowly, aware of Jalen watching her, but after a while she turned away and started working on something. The questions started with simple practical skills and their impacts on personality, before going into psychological depth, then coming back out of that into science and technology. After the first few of these questions she stopped, and said,
“These questions are wrong.”
Jalen glanced up and looked slightly confused. “Which questions?”
“I’ve got onto the science ones - look, this one relies on the Experiential Theory of Super-Strings to be true and that was proven incorrect by Zatrol over one hundred years ago.”
Jalen stared at her. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I remember it from school - one of the classes I took was about the progress of scientific theories and the history of scientific thought - basically a science class for non-scientists. I don’t remember a lot from it, but I’m sure I got that right - I had a sheet of theories and when and by whom they were dis-proven for the oral exam, so I learnt those very well.”
“Tomorrow, I’ll have some of our scientists here to talk to you. It is far too late at night to get into all of this now. Let me show you back - unless you think you can find your own way?”
“I doubt it - I’m not used to this tunnels yet.”
When she got back the room, the others were apparently asleep.
“Goodnight,” she said to Kyria/Jalen as they turned away.
She watched them leave before crossing to her room and pulling the curtain closed. She dug into her bag and got out her hygiene kit. She went through to the washroom, cleaned and bathed thoroughly, before digging out a nightgown and her winter coat. She put on the nightgown, lay down on the bed and draped the coat over her, realising that she should have asked Kyria if it was possible to get a cover of some sort - she wished for the controlled conditions at home where this would not be necessary.
When Rila woke up, it felt like it should be morning. She reached out to where she had put her timepiece the night before. Activating the display, she saw that it was still early by that, although she wasn’t sure how well it would have adjusted to being on another planet - it was supposed to be able to sync to surrounding timepieces and update itself.
However, as she no longer felt tired, she got up and got ready for the day. After that, she opened her curtain and stepped out into the main room. She saw Ivarr sitting in one of the chairs looking at a device of some sort. He looked up as she entered.
“Good morning, Rila. It is still early. You do not have to be up this early, unless Jalen has assigned you to help with breakfast.”
“Good morning. She hasn’t, but as I’m up I can help if you show me how,” she replied, realising that she would have no idea what to do - after all food preparation was automated back home, and the work of developing new dishes was very specialised.
He smiled at her as he put the device down.
“Well, come with me. The work is simple, and I am sure that you, unlike the others, can pay attention to what you are told and follow simple instructions.”
She smiled at that and hoped that she lived up to this - she shivered slightly at the thought of how low tech some things seemed to be here. It was like living in much earlier times, although for most Tok’ra given the control the symbiote seemed to have over all the automatic systems of the body there was probably much less danger of health problems - for them at least.
He got up and walked towards the door, “I’ll show you the way, this base can be very confusing - there was nothing like it on my world.”
“What is your world like?” she asked as she walked with him from the room.
“From what I can tell, mostly average. Agricultural, with not much technology, my parents were farmers on the sea coast, working on ways to farm fish to save the effort of fishing as fish were becoming rarer. It is a beautiful planet, and the people often trade with the Tok’ra. Since coming here I have learned that it is protected from the Goa’uld by the Asgard.”
“Who are they?”
“The Asgard? Another race of aliens - they protect some of the planets in this galaxy and provide some technology and help in forms hidden from the inhabitants - look, I know that they are posing as gods, but not in the same way as the Goa’uld as they are there to help and don’t harm any of the people who live there.”
Rila blinked. As far as she could tell she hadn’t said anything to provoke that, but presumably other people had, it sounded like a response to an expected reaction.
“That makes sense to me.”
“Here we are - you can set up the urns over there to heat up. Once they are hot the first two should be transferred to the eating room once the teas have been added.” He turned away and started getting food out.
Rila walked across and identified the switches to turn the urns on and did so.
“Where is the tea?”
“In caddies built in under the urns - open the lower doors, take a scoop full of each and add it to the upper door.”
“I wonder why this process is not automated?”
“Probably because the Goa’uld have plenty of slaves and so it doesn’t matter that they have to work, and the Tok’ra have higher priorities. These are relatively standard equipment, except that it doesn’t have the coatings to make it appear magic to the users.”
“Are some of the Goa’uld food designers then?” she asked as she followed the instructions.
“Many powerful Goa’uld have lesser Goa’uld in their service and certainly some of those are responsible for developing new dishes for their banquets as well as overseeing the running of their courts.”
“I had never thought of that. Now how are the urns transferred?” Rila wondered at that - it did not seem to fit the simple picture that her people gave of the Goa’uld as all bloodthirsty conquerors.
“There is a button on the left it turns them through into the next room. Now if you’ll get that bread from the racks and slice it - there are knives over there.”
She looked at the array of knives.
“Which one should I use?”
“A bread knife.” He glanced across, seeming to notice her confusion, “The third one on the left.”
She picked it up cautiously.
“Cut the slices about this thick.”
He held up his hand with the first finger and thumb separated for the measure. She realised that it was about the thickness that the slices had been the previous night. Rila started slicing the bread, slowly, being careful not to cut her fingers. Once she felt that she knew what she was doing well enough for it not to require her entire concentration, she asked, “Do all of the Tok’ra eat here?”
“All of those that are stationed on this base do, or at least retrieve the food from here. We, as prospective hosts, do not, because they think that we should not know all of their secrets, or something.” He shook his head slightly, “Anyway, they are rather intimidating. Perhaps when I get to know them better as individuals I will find it less so.”
“I can imagine - when I first went to talk to them it was the hardest thing that I had done in my life - although Jalen was friendly from the first, Delek seemed not to trust me at all.”
“He is one of the councillors?”
“Yes, and was there for trade negotiations with my people.”
“And you didn’t know of the Tok’ra before? My people knew of them as traders and aliens (well, elves is what they called them).”
“I only found out when I was looking for a cure for my illness.”
He looked sharply across at her.
“You don’t look ill. Have they treated you for it?”
“Yes, but only temporarily. My people could measure the pain, but not do much to treat it.”
“I’m not sure that I am. This seems interesting and I wonder if I would be doing more by being here than I would at home.” She thought of mentioning her conversation about science, but suspected that it would be over his head, but wished that she had someone to confide in.
“Anyway, all that bread done?”
“Yes, put it onto the server there on the plates, it will transfer them as needed.”
“Very clever,” she said with a smile.
“It is a good system - the area is protected to keep food fresh and its original temperature; it only brings the food through are required - it allows for much less waste.”
“I had never thought about that. Food came from dispensers at home, and I must admit that I had never thought much about the process.”
“Put the knife over there.” He gestured to where the implements he had used were. “As you have helped with this, don’t let the others tell you that you should help them clear up.”
“Who does this when there are no waiting hosts?”
“I don’t know - mostly they try to have a few around from what I’ve been told. So you decided to become a host because of your illness?”
“Yes - there is no cure there but a symbiote may well have no problem with it, at least I hope so. What about you?”
“I always wanted to travel, but I started developing allergies to something at home - it started mildly, but got worse and worse. When my parents met with the Tok’ra they begged him to heal me - he tried to, using a hand device. While it eased the symptoms, he explained that the only way to heal me was to remove the allergen, but there was no way to find it, so after that he explained that getting away from the planet might help and that I could do so by becoming a host or that he could try to re-home me on a different planet. I chose this because it seemed more exciting than farming, but I know it isn’t a game - I’ve seen small scale raids and battles before.”
“Your people still fight each other?” she asked, then silently swore at herself - it sounded so condescending.
“Yes, although when you consider the Goa’uld doing so, you can hardly argue that it is our level of technology.”
“Anyway, we should take food for our breakfasts, the others will be waiting for us.” He gestured to some of the fruit, bread, and some sort of cooked grain that he had put to one side. He picked up two trays and put the food and dishes onto them, then handed one to her. They started walking back.
“It is hard to understand - I had been brought up to believe that fighting was something uncivilised. My people felt that having a set of defensive weapons was enough and that aggression was something that should be discouraged as much as possible.”
“The Goa’uld have just left them alone to develop this technology?”
“Apparently so, they have tried to attack a few times since our first defences when active and have been beaten back each time - now they generally do not try as our ion cannons are strong enough to defeat a Ha’tak with one shot.”
“That does not seem much like the Goa’uld - is your Chappa'ai protected from them?”
“We have energy weapons around it, anyone coming through with hostile intent would not survive the experience, but those defences are only about fifty years old, before that the gate was less well defended.”
“Perhaps they didn’t know the address?”
“That is possible, but I am beginning to wonder if the Tok’ra have protected us from them.”
“That would make sense, but why? I mean, why your world, they don’t protect everyone against the Goa’uld?”
“I don’t know. I feel like there is something to this, but I suppose I’ll work it out or find out in time.”
They turned back into the room where the others were now waiting, looking half awake. They set the food down on the table and everyone sat down around it. Rila was glad that neither of the others were awake enough to make conversation and Ivarr didn’t seem to want to continue their last one in front of the others.
Following breakfast Rila was taken away by Jalen to talk to several of the Tok’ra scientists. Rila returned for lunch, very glad that they seemed to have realised that they had got to the end of her conscious knowledge. The others were already sitting around the table when she returned and she sank into her usual seat. She helped herself to food and started eating.
“Have they been having you do their tests this morning?” Therin asked.
“In a way,” she replied.
“It seems that these tests take a random amount of time dependent on the person. Mine were done in a single afternoon, whereas it sounds like you do not think that they have finished with you. Possibly it depends more on the tester than the subject as I have observed that the tests appear to be carried out by whichever Tok’ra recruits you. I suspect that the tests are therefore not standard and thus that the results are biased. This would explain why some people get chosen as hosts so quickly while others of us are left here for so long.”
Rila interrupted, “Why did you volunteer to be a host?”
“I was the village headsman on an insignificant planted at the edge of Bastet’s domains, then the planet was conquered by Ba’al. His ships arrived and the Jaffa started rounding up people to be slaves, one of them seized my wife. I attacked him with my rake, I had been about to rake the vegetables when they arrived. They were not expecting any resistance, there were only three of them in the village at that time, and when my friends saw me attacking him they all joined in - we managed to killed two of the but the third escaped. We feared that he would return with more and so ran away into the woods. They chased us there and bombed the land from above, within a few days I was the only one left alive. I was found by the Tok’ra about a month later, and they offered me the chance to come here, saying that I would not be safe to remain there, as my face would be known - I believed them as I had thought already that there might be a bounty out on my head and so I had not approached any of the other villages, even though they had only been touched lightly.”
The others had continued eating while he was talking, so Rila assumed that they had heard the story before, but she stopped as she was starting to feel guilty for reacting so badly to him when he had come here by a much harder way than hers.
She blinked at her name, realising that she had stopped listening.
“Are you all right? Do you need help?”
“No, nothing is wrong - I just lost track of the conversation. I’m tired because of all the testing this morning.”
“You should rest, they will probably be back for you soon.” Ivarr said quickly.
She nodded as she got up slowly and stretched.
“What else of the base have you seen?” she asked as she sat down on a bench and leant against the wall.
“This area, testing rooms, kitchen, infirmary, training rooms and a lot of corridors. It all looks the same, I don’t know what else there is.”
“For physical exercise. They encourage us to exercise a bit, although they don’t seem to be teaching us fighting skills, at least not yet. If you are not needed and want to, you can come with us this afternoon.”
The days fell into that sort of pattern, tests and questions in the morning, helping with meals, exercising and sleeping. It felt as if her life was on hold, waiting for something to happen, and as it was waiting for someone to die it felt very odd.
On the fourth day, just as they were finishing up breakfast, Delek arrived abruptly.
“All of you to the infirmary now!”
They jumped up and quickly followed him.
“One of our operatives just got back, very badly injured. He has been a prisoner of Cronos and was tortured but escaped. His host is dying and Zarin needs a new host urgently.”
“How long does he have?”
“They were trying to stabilise him. If they succeed we might have about half of the day, if not it will be very quick. In the worst case he will not be able to choose and we will have to make a choice for him.”
Rila wondered if she was the only one who saw his eyes cross to Maric. She wondered why she had been brought along, it sounded like they were looking for a male host. They entered the infirmary, where there were two Tok’ra leaning over a figure on one of the beds.
“Is he conscious?”
“Yes, and stable for now. He will probably have most of the day - given that all of you are basically healthy.”
“Zarin, here are the prospective hosts - we have given you their details, here they are.” He moved aside and let them approach the bed. The man lying there was clearly injured, but looked up at them. To Rila’s eyes he looked in his mid forties, fairly young but definitely fully grown up and he had dark hair and light grey eyes all of which she noticed absently as the others pushed forward to introduce themselves. She hung back, assuming that he would prefer his new host to be male. She watched them, not listening to all the information that they were trying to tell him, and found herself looking at Zarin who seemed to be amused by it, despite his pain.
“I hear you are Tollan, and have been helping our scientists. That is good for a change, most of your people are very secretive,” he said to her.
The others turned to look at her at that comment.
“I’ve been trying, but I’m not a scientist,” she hesitated. “In fact if I was I doubt that my government would have let me come.”
“Why do you think that?” Delek said harshly.
“Well, from various things that had happened here I had been thinking about how they don’t seem to be sharing knowledge with you and I remembered something that the councillor said when he visited me to discuss becoming a host. He something along the lines that they would let me go because of my job. At the time I thought that it meant only that I wasn’t important enough for them to worry about losing my skills.”
“That would be against our treaties with them. They agreed to allow any citizens to become hosts if they wished to and to inform people of the choice in appropriate situations. As well as to share technological advances.”
Rila gasped, shocked at that. “I find it very hard to believe, openness in the key to our government. I can hardly believe that they would lie to us so much. The information about the Tok’ra is there in the database if you look for it, but no one told me anything. Indeed it appears that they had a mark on it to see what had happened when anyone accessed it.”
“How much do you know about the origins of your people?” o ne of the other Tok’ra asked.
“We settled on an isolated world to ensure our safety by cutting ourselves off from the rest of the galaxy.”
“Yet your people did not bury their Chappa’ai.”
“The Tok’ra settled your people there to protect them from the Goa’uld and gave them technology in the hope that they would come to be allied in the war against the Goa’uld.”
Rila sat down on the nearby bed and tried to calm herself. It seemed to make sense from the Tok’ra perspective and they would have no reason to lie to her, but that implied that the central basis for their government was totally misleading.
“Do you believe us?” Zarin asked.
“Yes, but I am very shocked at what it implies about the government that I have believed in all my life.”
“I’m sorry that we have to disillusion you too. There are many things that are false and most of our hosts have to come to terms with the problems of their worlds. It is just a surprise to us as well, to learn that we have been betrayed by our allies.”
“Thank you. I would rather know the truth and perhaps in time I can help my people come to believe it.”
“It might be hard to get the council to allow you to if they really are concealing this.”
After a moment, Zarin said, “There was nothing on your file about your attitude to undercover missions. Have you been asked if you would be willing to go on long term undercover missions?”
“I hadn’t been asked. I think the testing got left to a side with the interest in my scientific knowledge. I suppose it would mean long stretches of time when I could not be in control, more danger, and having to live like a Goa’uld.” She paused. “I think I would be accept such an assignment. It is hard to say never having been in a comparable situation, but really it is more suited to my skills than being a scientist. I am good with details, and I would have thought that it would help with intelligence gathering.”
Zarin smiled at her and the others started looking between then, Rila suddenly realised what seemed to be about to happen.
“Rila, will you consent to being my host?”
“Yes,” she said quickly, realising that although she knew a lot less about Zarin than she had expected she felt that they would be suited.
“We should blend now then, Juris is dying - I’ve been holding him to life, but it is time for me to let him go. Come here.”
She remembered the instructions that she had been given, and came and lay down next to him, and slowly moved in to kiss him, feeling really awkward, especially with so many witnesses. She felt something moving in her mouth, then a very sharp pain in her throat. She gasped, but the pain vanished. She felt something in her head, then heard her own voice saying, “It has worked. I must rest now.”
*Rila, are you okay?* A voice in her head - she was surprised that it appeared to have the distorted effect that she associated with symbiotes.
*I think so. It feels strange, but I expect it will get better as I become used to it.* The thought carefully forming the words, but without speaking aloud.
*We should both rest, I can send you to sleep. I can see the reasons for your sickness, but I am too tired from keeping Juris alive to heal it at the moment.*
*You will be able to later?*
*Yes. Now sleep.*
Her sight cut out as he closed her eyes, and with that she fell asleep.
Rila woke suddenly several hours later. She lay there for a moment before trying to move, unsure whether it had been a dream or if she was really blended. She tried reaching into her mind and became vaguely aware of Zarin’s dreams. She couldn’t see what they were but it seemed that he was still deeply asleep. She tried opening her eyes and it worked. She was still in the infirmary, but lying flat on a different bed. Juris’s body lay covered on one of the other beds. Rila gasped as a wave of sadness flowed over her, full of memories of his life. She started crying, moved by his sacrifices for the Tok’ra and mourning his sharp wits. She sat up and looked around for something to dry her eyes. However, she couldn’t see anything, so she used the sleeve of her dress. She realised that she was alone. She glanced at the door and wondered what would happen if she just got up and walked out the door. She suddenly knew the whole layout of the base. She got up, slowly, thinking that sudden movements were more likely to wake Zarin, and aware that he still needed rest. She wondered what she should do. She walked away, towards her quarters, hoping that the others wouldn’t be awake to talk to her. Thankfully they weren’t. She realised that it must be very late at night - living in the tunnels it was easy to get cut off from the idea of days and nights as more than purely abstract concepts. She went into her room and closed the curtain, then looked around. She wondered if she should sleep more, but didn’t feel tired. She started gathering up her stuff, first washing and putting on fresh clothes, although she expected that when Zarin woke up he would want her to wear the Tok’ra uniform. She started packing up the pictures and ornaments from the shelves around the bed.
*Zarin! You’re awake!* She felt a surge of worry. Had she done something wrong by getting up? Would Zarin not appreciate the blending now?
*There is no reason to worry.*
She felt a surge of comfort, not only mental but in some way physical, like a hug or being wrapped in a warm blanket.
*I am glad I chose you as my host. I think we will suit each other very well.*
*You know that from a few minutes conversation?*
*As we blended and while I slept I saw a portion of your memories, just like you have probably been aware of mine since you woke up.*
*I see. I noticed that I had gained some of your knowledge already.*
*What you have gained was triggered by your thoughts.*
*Is that how it is going to work now?*
*Only when one of us is asleep or unconscious. When we are both conscious we will share memories and knowledge in a more controlled fashion.*
*So what are we supposed to be doing now?*
*Barring emergencies we will not be assigned a mission for at least a month, and no long term mission for at least six months.*
*But there are always emergencies.*
Rila felt another rush of warmth like a hug.
*How do you do that?*
*In how much detail?* Zarin sounded like he was teasing her.
*Stimulate your nervous system with touch receptors and hormones.*
*So how do I hug you back?*
*Anyway you want.*
Rila smiled at that.
*Would you like to be in control?*
*Yes - if you don’t mind.*
Rila relaxed and tried to remain calm as she felt control slipping away. She could still see and hear clearly.
*Would you try touching something?*
Zarin reached out and touched the wall; Rila could feel the stone under her hand, but the sensation was muffled, like wearing gloves, but totally different.
*Generally touch, smell and taste aren’t the same, but sight and hearing are, except for being able to direct them.*
*Sorry to be predictable. How many times have you gone through this before?*
*I’ve had three previous hosts.*
Rila could feel her sadness at their loss, and see the memories coming out, two male hosts and a female: the first specially selected for her by Egeria, as one of the tests of the first batch of Tok’ra symbiotes; the second encountered as she was dying on a planet ruled by the Goa’uld, who thought that she was a god and that she would be enveloped into becoming an aspect of her; and the third who had offered when he had returned badly injured from a mission - scarred and angry at the Goa’uld for letting his people die in a famine while demanding a tithe of the crops.
*Stop,* she whispered.
The flow of memories slowed, then stopped.
*Are you all right?*
*Yes. Just a lot to take in at one time. Give me time to get use to it. Do you wish to go back to the infirmary to see to Juris’s body?*
*In time. The funeral will be tomorrow, barring emergencies, so there will be time for that later.*
*So what now?*
*Moving your belongings to my quarters and settling in. Sharing knowledge and memories in a controlled way; allowing you to meet those of my friends who are around; sorting out temporary duties here.*
*If you give me back control, I’ll pack up my belongings, and you can show me memories while I do that?*
Rila felt herself fall forwards mentally as Zarin relaxed her control. She gasped, and was surprised to hear the sound come out of her mouth. She stretched out, and started to finish up the packing.
*Which memories would you like to start with?*
*I don’t know, something happy I suppose.* Rila said softly, aware of Zarin’s, and her, deep grief at the death of his? last host. *Wait a moment, which gender would you prefer me to refer to you as?*
*It makes most sense for it to be female to match the body I’m in.*
*It won’t confuse people that you’ve changed?*
*Not really, it is fairly normal around here.*
*I suppose it would be.* Rila smiled at the thought. *There will be a lot for me to get used to. You’ll prompt me on everything when I’m talking to other Tok’ra?*
*Of course. But everyone expects some mistakes of that sort. Anyway memories.*
The first memory Zarin showed her was of a tank of water with several other symbiotes swimming around in it. Ria could see them and knew that they were her family. The tank jolted and moved, Zarin wondered what was going on and hoped that it would be interesting, more than all the tests and being told to access all of the genetic memories. The air moved strangely with echoing noises around them. Then it smelt different and the air was hot and dry, beating against the water of the tank. She swam to the bottom to hide from it. Suddenly the sensations vanished, then the air was different again, cool wet, smelling of different things. She tried to work out what they were, but suddenly the tank tipped up, pouring them into a larger body of water. The symbiotes swam off in all different directions, the pool seemed as large as a whole world and there were plants handing over it and growing in it. Zarin swam around mapping out the edges of the pool. Her memories told her the scale of it, and identified the trees and several types of flowers and ferns. As the other symbiotes swam closer they each exchanged information about what they had found. For the first time there were things to do and places to go. They swam around dancing in the sunbeams, then hid in the dark and surprised each other.
*Amazing! I had never thought that you would remember events before you had a host.*
*Well, if not how would our species have evolved enough to take hosts in the first place?*
*True. Do you have a name for your species, most texts on my world call it Goa’uld, but I suspect that you wouldn’t?*
*Certainly not!* Zarin’s mental voice vibrated with disgust. *We don’t have a separate name for the species. It would be sensible to have one, but I suppose we never thought of that, just used Goa’uld or Tok’ra as appropriate, or symbiote for general.*
*Symbiote works as a general term until you find another symbiotic race.*
*Well, I know of several others, but none of them are sentient.*
*So back to the original point. You could do with a proper species name. Anyway, it is fascinating to see you as a young symbiote - is that how all Tok’ra were brought up?*
*No - after my batch worked out, the young symbiotes all grew up in open pools like that from the start, rather than spending time in tanks being tested, but Egeria was so worried about whether we would turn out all right as she wasn’t sure that passing on her memories and emotions would be enough to prevent us from being Goa’uld.*
*What was it like that early on? Everything must have been very different.* Rila’s mind picked up on that, trying not to think about the fact that Zarin must be over one thousand five hundred years old.
*It was! When I was born Egeria was still one of Ra’s queens, a secret rebel. She ruled a small domain under him and had to hide the fact the she was spawning and so didn’t dare to use any of the Jaffa as incubators as they might be loyal to Ra. She built up loyalty among her human followers and got volunteer hosts for the first batch of symbiotes. Let me show you.*
The memory flooded Rila’s mind as she put her coat into the bag, she sat down on the bench.
A tall women, very beautiful in the dark Egyptian style, but relatively simply dressed, leant over the pool. All the symbiotes swam closer, swam towards their mother, knowing that she was there to see them. She reached over and picked up one of the others, gently talking to him. Zarin could see all their minders standing back, nervously. She wondered what was wrong, and why all the others just seemed excited.
After a few moments, they went away, without returning the symbiote. The rest of them swam around and around, speculating what had happened - they knew that he had probably been given a host, but no idea whether it had been successful or not. After a while, they turned back to their normal activities.
As it was starting to get dark, a young man came down to the side of the pool. Zarin swam over to see who it was, as she got close she realised that he was the symbiote who had been taken away.
“Hello sister, coming to see me.” He said as he put his hand down into the water the way their minders had.
She swam up and nibbled his fingers.
“I now have a name - I am Per’sus, and my host is Garius.”
Zarin swam around his hand.
“Would you like to be next?”
Zarin thought about it for a moment, knowing that it would be a big change and for a moment she was terrified, but then excited.
“Yes.” She squeaked.
He reached into the water and picked her out. He carried her into a large room, Zarin could see Egeria sitting at the end with several others surrounding her.
“Egeria, I have returned - my sister is brave and wants to be the next to have a host.”
The three talking turned to face him.
“I said we would try another tomorrow if it worked. I did not say that you should go and fetch a symbiote now.” Egeria said, frowning slightly. She reached out and took Zarin from him, and looked closely at her. “However, she seems to be unharmed. Very well, we will do this now. Selmak, Jolinar, I will return to this later.”
She got up and carried Zarin into a nearby room. A young woman sat on the bed there combing her hair. She was dark haired and pale skinned, beautiful as most Goa’uld personal slaves were.
“Daughter, this is Camilla. She has offered to be a host to one of my daughters. As my lotar she travels with me, but I can mask the signal from her symbiote so long as she remains near me. It would be a job where you have to remain hidden a lot of the time, but where you would be there to protect me should anything go wrong. I would need you to learn combat skills and to be ready to use them.” She paused. “I don’t want to use my daughter like this, but Jolinar insists that I need a bodyguard whenever I’m going into Gao’uld circles.”
Camilla had stood up and looked at Zarin as Zarin looked about at her, Camila raised her head to face Egeria.
“I am ready. You have told me of all the dangers and I am prepared to do this.” She licked her lips slightly and her voice quavered.
Zarin squeaked acceptance. Egeria sighed and held her out towards Camila.
“Will she be able to heal the entrance scar? Otherwise it would be easy for them to notice that I have a symbiote.”
“I don’t believe it would be possible, otherwise the Goa’uld would have given their demands for perfect hosts.”
“Could she enter through my mouth? Then any scar would be hidden on my throat.”
“Possibly. I see no reason why not, but it might not work in practice. Lie down.”
Camila lay down on the bed and Egeria put Zarin down next to her. Camila opened her mouth wide, Zarin wriggled forward into it. She could tell where she had to get to - the back of the neck and brain binding in to the nerves and brain functions. She dived through the back of the throat and quickly found it. She tapped into the functions and felt pain from the entrance wound in her throat. Quickly she numbed the nerves and worked on repairing the tissues. Only after this did she move toward the mind of Camila. She reached out slowly.
*Hello, is that you, symbiote? Do you have a name?*
*Yes, it is me, and I don’t think I have a name.*
*Your mother should give you one.*
*Yes. May I talk to her?*
Zarin hesitated, not sure how to take control gently.
*Go on!* Camila seemed to draw her mind back, Zarin could see where she needed to be and pushed forward.
*Ow. That was quite rough.*
*I’m so sorry. Do you want control back?*
*No. Ask your question.*
She felt Camila smile at her encouragingly.
“Mother, Camila says that you should give me a name.”
“Yes, you should, daughter. I had thought to call my first daughter Zarin. Would you like that name?”
Zarin nodded and smiled.
*See, now I have a name. Now you should talk to mother - prove that I’m not Goa’uld.* She moved back, pushing Camila forward, trying to be as gentle as possible.
“My lady, the blending has worked.” Camila tried to sit up, but her co-ordination was off.
Egeria pushed her back.
“Wonderful. Now rest. After blending it is hard for ether of you to control the body properly at first. Let yourselves blend and then it should work.”
Camila obediently lay back.
“Zarin. See if you can make both of you sleep for now.”
Zarin remembering how this was done did so, whispering.
*Goodnight Zarin* came the soft reply as she fell asleep.
*Amazing,* Rila said softly as she surfaced from the memory.
Zarin smiled at her.
*It was, and there is so much more for you to see, but for now let us get this to my quarters. Then perhaps a nap before breakfast.*
*Sounds like a good plan. You can have control for this as you know where you are going.*
*Thank you.* Zarin said as she took control. *I am so glad you become my host. It feels like we are just beginning and there is so much ahead for both of us to learn and do.*