Daniel looked about at the blasted ruins that stretched for as far as the eye could see. There could be no doubt that the destruction had been caused by some kind of war or attack and that it happened a long time ago. Many of the collapsed buildings had been reclaimed by nature, covered over by vines and other plants. What used to be roads and paved courtyards were cracked and broken, grasses and other plants filling the spaces. Despite this, Daniel was able to identify the architecture as early Roman, perhaps sixth or seventh century B.C.
"Well, this place has definitely seen better days," Jack remarked.
"There is evidence that this damage was wrought by an aerial attack," Teal'c observed.
Failing to see more than a handful of intact buildings, Daniel remarked, "Well, whoever it was, they must have been pretty ticked off. They didn't leave much standing. I'm surprised that the gate and DHD still are."
The members of SG-1 slowly made their way through what was once quite a large city, Daniel searching for something that would identify who had lived here and why their city was turned into rubble. His attention was caught by a structure that was set apart from most of the others. It had been severely damaged in the attack, but enough was left standing that he could see that it had been quite large and very ornate, decorated with many reliefs. Beyond crumbling walls were the remains of what most likely used to be gardens. In front was a huge courtyard with toppled, blasted statuary and a very large fountain. The overall shape and size of it as well as the gardens and courtyard led to Daniel guessing what the building had been.
"I think that was the palace," he said.
He spied some writing on what remained of a nearby wall and went over to examine it, immediately recognizing the language as Goa'uld. It proved to be only the first such writing found as they continued through the city. That in itself was not unusual. It was common for the human populations of Goa'uld-controlled worlds to use that language. But the presence of that elaborate palace seemed to indicate that this had not just been a planet under the control of a Goa'uld; one had actually lived here.
There was a frown of thought on Daniel's face. "I wonder what Goa'uld lived here. This architecture is definitely Roman."
"It was not a System Lord," Teal'c said.
"Why do you say that?" Sam asked.
"The palace of a System Lord would not be within the city and would be more defensible in case of attack. The palace here belonged to an individual who had no great fear of an enemy attack."
"Well, judging by the condition of this place, I'd say they made just a wee bit of a mistake in thinking that," Jack observed dryly. "So what kind of Goa'uld wouldn't be afraid that some other snake was going to come and try to kick their ass?"
"Perhaps a minor Goa'uld in the service of a System Lord. If they were considered to be of no great importance, other Goa'uld would not bother attacking them."
"Um, Teal'c, isn't this city awfully big and that palace awfully ornate for a minor Goa'uld of no importance?" Daniel questioned.
The Jaffa nodded his head once in agreement. "Indeed."
After around an hour of winding their way through what was left of a city that Daniel guessed must have been home to hundreds of thousands of people, he spied a building that he immediately identified as a temple. He quickened his pace, hoping that it would provide them with the name of the mysterious Goa'uld.
When they got to the structure, Daniel was relieved to see that it was still partly intact. He started ascending the broad staircase.
"Daniel? Where are you going?" Jack asked.
Daniel looked over his shoulder at the colonel. "Inside."
"Are you sure that's wise? That thing could come toppling down at any minute."
"Jack, these ruins have been standing for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. I seriously doubt that the temple is suddenly going to choose this precise moment to collapse."
"All the same, I think we should stay out."
Daniel let out a sigh. "Jack, what am I?"
"A royal pain in the ass?"
Daniel rolled his eyes. "I'm an archeologist, Jack. Don't you think that I might just possibly be qualified to judge when it is and is not safe to enter a ruin?"
The look in Daniel's eyes told the colonel that he'd never hear the end of it if he didn't acquiesce.
"All right. Take Carter with you. Teal'c and I will stay out here so that, if the place topples down around your ears, we'll be able to dig you out."
Daniel and Sam headed up the stairs and into what was left of the temple.
"Don't let him get to you, Daniel," Sam said, seeing the faint look of irritation on her friend's face.
The archeologist glanced at her. "I sometimes think he forgets what I used to do for a living."
"He's just being cautious."
Deciding not to waste any more thought on Jack's attitude, Daniel turned his full attention to his surroundings. The back half of the temple had partially collapsed. Within the rubble, Daniel saw the remains of a large marble statue. As they drew closer to it, he saw that it was of a standing woman. Or at least it used to be standing. Now, it was lying on the ground, nearly broken in half, its head crushed by a fallen column.
Daniel covered the remaining distance, his eyes scanning the rubble. He knelt and began brushing away debris to uncover the low pedestal upon which the statue had stood. He was disappointed to find no writing, having hoped to discover the name of the Goa'uld who lived here.
After searching the place for a while longer, Daniel gave up hope of learning the Goa'uld's identity there.
Seeing his disappointment, Sam said, "Maybe you'll find something somewhere else."
They left the temple and joined their teammates.
"Any luck?" Jack asked in a voice with a note of boredom.
"No, although it appears that the Goa'uld was in a female host, if that statue in there was of her."
"Well, I think we've seen enough of this place. There's obviously nothing here that will be of any use against the Goa'uld, and I want to get back home in time to watch tonight's game on TV."
Daniel frowned. "Jack, we haven't even seen a fraction of the city. I'd like to go a little farther, and I'm still hoping that we'll find out what Goa'uld lived here."
"I, too, desire to learn the identity of the Goa'uld," Teal'c stated.
Jack let out a sigh. "Fine. I'll give you two more hours. Then we're heading back."
An hour later, SG-1 had reached the western edge of the city. They saw that they were in a valley. Daniel could picture the valley floor before them dotted with the homes, farms and livestock that would once have existed there. The paved road continued for as far as they could see, possibly all the way to the distant hills.
Daniel spied something hidden amidst a copse of trees. It appeared to be some more ruins, and it was fairly sizeable, by the looks of it. Hoping that its distance from the city spared it from attack, Daniel aimed for it, answering Jack's question about where he was going by pointing at the ruins.
As they drew closer, the archeologist could clearly see that these ruins were different.
"These aren't Roman," he said. His eyes scanned the structure. "I don't recognize the architecture at all. Do you, Teal'c?"
"I do not. I have never before seen a structure with such an appearance."
Daniel was happy to note that the ruins were in fairly good shape. As they reached the doorway, he didn't hesitate stepping inside, his teammates following more cautiously.
Daniel looked around, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dim light. He noticed some writing on one of the walls and went to it.
"This looks familiar," he said with a frown, trying to figure out where he'd seen it before. He'd been staring at for around ten seconds or so when it suddenly hit him.
"Guys, this is one of the languages that we found on Heliopolis, the one that belonged to the Furlings!"
Sam was immediately beside him. "One of the four races?" she asked excitedly.
Daniel nodded. "Along with the Nox, Asgard and Ancients. This is the first time we've found any other evidence of the Furlings. They're a complete mystery to us."
Sam smiled, her eyes bright. "We need to check out the rest of this place. If the Furlings were as technologically advanced as the others, who knows what we might find here."
"Wouldn't the Goa'uld have found anything that was here?" Jack asked.
"Not necessarily, sir. If a device was hidden well enough, it wouldn't have been found unless it was giving off an energy signature that was detected by a scanner."
Jack let out a sigh. "Why do I get the feeling that I'm not going to make it home in time for the game?"
With scanner in hand, Sam went off to start checking every inch of the place, accompanied by Teal'c. Jack stayed with Daniel as the archeologist did his own thing.
Suspecting that the four language panels on the planet they'd named Heliopolis all said more or less the same thing, Daniel used his knowledge of the Norse runes on one of the panels – the language of the Asgard – as a Rosetta Stone for the other three, which Ernest had faithfully recorded in his journal. The problem was that the writing sample was too small to be of much use in actually learning the Furling language, which meant that the chances of him translating more than a fraction of this was all but impossible. However, he was not prepared to give up without at least trying.
Daniel had been studying the text for around twenty minutes when his thought processes were interrupted by Jack.
"How much longer are you going to be at this?"
Daniel glanced at him. "A while."
"Well, staring at these four walls is even less interesting to me than one of your archeological reports, so I'm going to head back outside. Don't wander off too far."
Daniel returned his full attention to the translation as Jack left. He was reaching in his pocket for his field journal when he noticed something through the doorway on the far back wall. A small section of the roof of the room he was in had collapsed, a shaft of hazy sunlight coming in and aiming right through the doorway, brightening the room beyond. In its light, he could see what looked like a stone pedestal. Curious, Daniel entered the room.
Upon closer examination, Daniel saw that the pedestal was not made of stone, but, rather, a dull, dark grey metal. It was circular, with a dome top, like the cap of a mushroom, and stood around four feet high. Around the outer edge of the dome was more writing, individual symbols inside squares. The thing bore a resemblance to a DHD, except that the top was not set at an angle on the base.
Daniel slowly began working his way around the pedestal. When he got to the opposite side, he found a panel protruding from the pedestal with even more writing on it. Thinking that it might be some kind of plaque with an explanation for what the thing was, he focused his attention on it. He bent over to see it better, resting a hand on the edge of the dome. He was startled when something beneath his hand moved. Pulling his hand away, Daniel saw that one of the squares had sunken around half an inch.
"They're buttons," Daniel said aloud, thinking again of a DHD.
No sooner had those words passed his lips when a heavy door sealed the opening, plunging the room into complete darkness.
"Great," Daniel muttered. He fumbled blindly in one of his pockets and pulled out a flashlight. In the glow of its light, he went to the door. An experimental shove proved that he wasn't going to be able to force it open.
Figuring that he was never going to hear the end of this from Jack, Daniel got on the radio. "Jack, come in. This is Daniel." There was no answer. "Jack?" Still nothing. "Sam? Teal'c? Can anybody hear me?"
Realizing that something must be blocking his radio signal, Daniel wondered what he was going to do now. Sooner or later, his teammates would come looking for him. Had any of them noticed this room? If not, they could look right past the closed door and not even realize that there was something beyond.
Daniel shone his flashlight around the room. If it was airtight, how long would it take for him to run out of air?
Trying not to worry, Daniel returned to the pedestal. Obviously, the button he'd inadvertently pressed was what had closed the door. He just had to figure out which one would open it.
Carefully, Daniel studied each symbol. What little he had learned about the Furling language indicated that each character stood for both a letter and a word or phrase. He was unable to decipher the one that had shut the door, but he did spot a few that he recognized. The problem was that none of the ones he could read gave him a clue as to how to open the door.
Daniel knew that he could just start pressing buttons and hope for the best, but he had no idea what else might result from that. He didn't know what the full purpose of the pedestal was, although, if it was some kind of weapon, surely the Goa'uld would have removed it long ago. Actually, he was surprised that it was still here regardless. Why wouldn't the Goa'uld have removed any pieces of technology they'd found here? This was right out in the open, and anyone fooling around with it would have discovered that it was some kind of device.
The archeologist decided to turn his attention to the panel that he was now hoping contained instructions. He'd been studying it for several seconds when something jumped out at him, two symbols side-by-side that, combined, would mean 'portal' or 'doorway'. Getting excited, he looked at the dome and found both symbols on it. Returning his attention to the panel, he found the symbol that he was pretty sure meant 'access'. Might it also mean 'open'? When he looked for the symbol on the dome, however, he couldn't find it.
Looking more closely, Daniel noticed one symbol that was almost identical to the one he was seeking. An even closer examination revealed that it was the one he wanted. Damage to the button had distorted the symbol, making it look different.
The archeologist frowned down at the dome. Applying logic, he'd guess that pressing the two buttons that, together, stood for 'doorway' and the one that meant 'access' would open the door, but could he really be sure of anything? Should he just wait and hope that his teammates would find him? This room was not very big, so if it was airtight, it wouldn't be all that long before he'd run out of breathable air. If he waited too long in the hopes that his team would find him, he might not have enough time to figure out how to get out using the pedestal if his guess proved to be incorrect.
Daniel decided that his best course of action would be to try what he thought might work. He recalled the sentence structure of the Furling text on Heliopolis and decided that pressing the symbol for 'access' first, then the two for 'doorway' would be his best bet.
Taking a deep breath, Daniel pushed the first button. When nothing happened, he laid his fingers on the two that combined to mean 'doorway' and pushed them at the same time.
What happened next was not at all what he was expecting. The top of the dome abruptly slid open, revealing a large blue orb, which began to rise from the pedestal.
Thinking that the choice he'd made had most definitely been the wrong one, Daniel began backing up only to come up against something hard, unyielding . . . and invisible. He was trapped inside some kind of force field.
An ominous hum turned his gaze back to the orb. It had begun to glow, growing progressively brighter as the hum grew louder. It soon grew too bright to look at without squinting.
In the instant before the light flashed outward, engulfing Daniel, the thought went through his mind that it would have been nice to know what Goa'uld had lived in the place where he was about to die.
When Daniel didn't die, he breathed a sigh of relief, letting out another one when the door opened. He wasted no time exiting the room. He came to a dead stop when it dawned on him that the hole in the roof was gone, and the place was now in a whole lot better shape than it was before he entered that room. And then he heard something, voices coming from outside, some of which he could have sworn were children.
Cautiously, Daniel approached the doorway leading to the outside. When he got there, his mouth fell open. What had been an uninhabited valley was now populated with people dressed in clothing dating back to the Roman era. There were also houses, livestock and even a couple of dogs within sight. Rising in the distance was the great city through which he'd walked less than an hour ago, a city that was now whole and undamaged.
Thinking that he must be hallucinating or dreaming this, Daniel exited the ruins. Two children playing a few yards away saw him and ran away. A woman gathering wild grain began staring at him.
"Um . . . hello," he said. Receiving no reaction except a look of incomprehension, Daniel decided to try Goa'uld. His greeting was not returned, but he could tell that the woman had understood. She cautiously moved away from him, heading for the road, which now appeared to be in perfect condition.
Trying to ignore all the stares from the people who saw him, Daniel got onto the road and headed for the city, wondering if he should be doing this. He was still half-convinced that none of this was real. Perhaps a piece of the roof had hit him in the head, and this was all just a concussion-generated dream.
Regardless of whether or not this was the best thing to do, he could not resist the siren call of the city. He wanted to see what it looked like before the destruction, even if none of this was real.
Thinking that it might result in less curiosity, Daniel removed his glasses and took off his vest. It wasn't much, but at least it would make him look a little less foreign.
As he entered the city, his gaze took in everything, trying to absorb it all at once. Seeing the buildings in their undamaged state confirmed to Daniel that the architecture was pre-Republic, during the era of the Roman kings. Very little remained on Earth of that time in Rome's history, a time long before the great empire that came to dominate so much of the world. Seeing this pristine example of that time in history would be a dream come true for many archeologists.
Daniel's joy in the wonders about him abruptly vanished upon the appearance of three Jaffa. He changed direction and hurried his pace, hoping to get out of sight before they spied him. Seeing that the temple was close by, he aimed for it.
As he entered the undamaged structure, his eyes were riveted on the statue that dominated the temple. People were praying before it, others placing offerings of food and personal items upon an altar off to the right.
Daniel came to a stop before the statue. The beautiful features of the woman possessed an air of haughtiness yet also kindness as she gazed down at those who stood before her. Who was she? What Goa'uld had this city built, then chose to live in the midst of her human subjects?
Becoming aware that everyone in the temple was staring at him, Daniel decided that maybe he'd better leave. He was near the bottom of the steps when he was grabbed by two pairs of hands. His heart began to hammer in his chest when he saw that the hands were those of Jaffa. One of the Jaffa yanked Daniel's vest out of his hand.
"Where are you taking me? What did I do?" he asked as he was dragged off the steps, deciding that pretending to be a clueless stranger was the best tactic. His question got him a hard, backhanded slap across the cheek that would have knocked him to the ground if he wasn't being held in an iron grip.
"Silence!" commanded the Jaffa who had hit him. "You have committed a great insult to our queen by entering her temple without an offering."
Oh, crap. "I-I'm sorry! I didn't know. I'm not from here."
Daniel's explanation fell on deaf ears, and he was forced to accompany the Jaffa. As they passed the Stargate, he saw someone coming through it towing a small wagon behind him. Two other people carrying goods of some sort were apparently waiting to leave through the gate. What manner of Gou'uld would allow their human subjects free access to the Stargate? Daniel noticed the four Jaffa standing guard. Okay, so maybe not exactly free access. The travelers looked like merchants or traders. Did this world trade with others?
Soon, Daniel and his captors were approaching the palace, answering the archeologist's previous question about where he was being taken.
'Well, at least I'm going to find out what Goa'uld lives here,' he thought to himself as he was taken inside.
Under other circumstances, Daniel would be studying the palace decor, but he was too busy wondering what the punishment was for entering that temple without an offering. It could be relatively minor, like a flogging, or it could be something a whole lot more permanent and final.
As he was marched across the throne room, Daniel's eyes did not leave the woman sitting before him. Her long black hair was piled high upon her head in a classical Roman style. Her white dress flowed around her slender body, showing off every curve to perfection. The statue didn't do her justice.
The archeologist was forced to his knees before the throne. He kept his eyes low, adopting an attitude of humility. Unlike Jack, Daniel had enough sense to know when the last thing in the world that you should be conveying is a defiant attitude if you wanted to continue living.
"My Queen, this man entered your temple without an offering," one of the Jaffa told the woman. "He claims that he was ignorant of his wrongdoing."
The Goa'uld slowly and gracefully rose to her feet. She descended the dais and walked up to Daniel.
"Lift him to his feet," she commanded in the deep, echoing voice of a Goa'uld.
The Jaffa did as she commanded. She put a finger under Daniel's chin and lifted his head. The archeologist noted something flicker very briefly in her eyes when they met his.
"What is your name?" she asked.
The Goa'uld ran a fingertip over the area of his cheek where a bruise was already forming. "For such an insult I could have you put to death. All here know that to enter the temple without an offering is forbidden."
"I'm very sorry. I deeply apologize if I insulted you. I just arrived and have never been here before. I was unaware of your laws."
"So you say." She began studying his clothing, brushing her fingers over it. "I have never before seen such clothing. From where to you come?"
"From a planet very far from here," Daniel replied, figuring it was safe to do so. Obviously, this city saw a great deal of off-world travelers. He just hoped that she didn't ask the Jaffa on duty at the gate if they remembered seeing him come through.
"And for what purpose did you come here?"
"I am a traveler and explorer. I've been to many worlds all over the galaxy. I swear to you that I come in peace."
"Interesting." Her hand descended to the sidearm strapped to Daniel's side. His heart rate increased as she pulled it from its holster. He tried to recall if the safety was on.
"What is this?" she asked as she turned it around in her hands.
"It's . . . a weapon. I use it to protect myself from robbers and wild animals."
"How does it function?"
"It ejects a metal projectile at extreme velocity. Please be careful. I wouldn't want you or someone else to get hurt."
The Goa'uld glanced at him briefly. She turned away and ascended the dais to settle back upon the throne, where she studied Daniel some more, the gun now resting on the throne's arm.
"Will you beg for your life?" she asked in a cold voice.
Daniel's chin lifted, and he stared straight into her eyes. "No. I will not beg. I will only ask that you take into consideration that I did not knowingly insult you. It was a mistake caused by my ignorance. I meant no offense."
A faint smile curved the woman's face, a smile that appeared to be one of approval.
"Let it not be said that I do not extend mercy to those who are deserving of it," she said. "I believe you tell the truth that your actions were not meant to cause insult. However, I cannot let those actions go without punishment. Therefore, you will serve as one of my slaves for the length of one year. If, at the end of that time, it pleases me to do so, I will give you your freedom."
Daniel's heart sank. Slavery? Compared to some of the alternatives, being forced to serve as a slave for a year wasn't the worst that could be done to him, but the thought of being a Goa'uld's slave turned his stomach.
"May I humbly ask you to reconsider?" he asked. "I have people who will worry about me if I do not return."
The woman's expression hardened. "I have made my decision. You will accept it and be grateful for your life."
Knowing that doing otherwise might get him killed, Daniel nodded, bowing his head slightly.
"May I know the name of the one I will be serving?" he asked.
The woman's chin lifted haughtily. "I am Egeria."