The Stargate reintegrated SG-1 on the edge of a small pond surrounded by smooth sand dunes and shadowing palm trees. The air was hot, but the shade from the trees provided them with welcome coolness. A pathway tiled with red octahedral bricks ran in an arch around the pond and meandered its way towards a group of clay buildings. It was an idyllic scene that immediately put the team at ease.
While they were still taking in the tranquil sight a figure appeared from between the buildings and began walking the path towards them, slowly becoming clearer out of the heat-quavering air. Jack strained his eyes to see.
“Carter? Am I seeing wrong or does that woman not have any legs?”
Sam squinted through the haze. The woman drawing nearer seemed to be floating a few feet above the ground. Her body was cut off at the waist, and the area where her legs should have been was enveloped in a cloud of pink smoke that twisted around itself like a tiny tornado. When she reached the Stargate-platform she halted and greeted them with a wide smile. Jack tried to gather his dumbfounded wits to address her.
“Ehm…Hi!” Daniel is so much better at this than me.
“Welcome travelers of Earth.” Her voice was soft, with an oriental melody to her words. The orientality resounded in her appearance, her black hair flowing in large locks around her round face. Her eyes were dark and framed by extraordinary long eyelashes that fluttered like butterflies on her olive-skinned cheeks. She was beautiful, Jack reflected, even though her lack of a lower body was a bit disturbing. He stubbornly tried to avoid the path his mind attempted to go but he couldn’t help noticing that her entire form had a striking similarity to a genie.
“Thanks,” he finally managed but had nothing more. He glanced towards Sam to save him from attempting, and failing, to impersonate Daniel. With an understanding nod she stepped forward to take over.
“Hello. My name is Samantha Carter. We are peaceful explorers.” The woman smiled graciously, and knowingly, but let Sam go on. “Our Stargate was dialed from this location with a signal bouncing off our iris. We interpreted it as an invitation, so we came to meet whoever sent it. Are you, or your people, the ones we’re looking for?”
Jack nodded approvingly. Not as good as Daniel, but still better than me. The woman seemed pleased enough when she spoke again.
“We are the ones you seek. Come. We have much to speak about and we may do so in the meeting house.”
With an inviting gesture she turned and began walking back along the path toward the collection of buildings. Out of the protecting shade of the palm-trees the baking sun was broiling hot, reminding the three visitors of their last trip off-world. Fortunately the meeting house was the very first of the buildings in the village and held a welcome coolness.
The meeting house held a single room furnished with a ring of five low divans. On the floor lay layers of multicolored carpets, again leading Jack’s mind to the orient. The clay walls at first seemed undecorated but as their eyes adapted to the gloomier light inside the members of SG-1 realized there were in fact images on them, drawn in the clay when it was still wet. The images were elegant and incredibly detailed, and Jack couldn’t even begin to grasp what they may be depicting. Daniel would have loved this, he thought and added out loud:
“Carter, make sure we get some pictures of this for Daniel.”
The woman – genie – descended on one of the divans with a gesture for them to do the same. Jack sat down on the edge of the divan opposite her, Sam and Teal'c taking seats on either side of him.
“You have questions,” she began when they were all seated. “My form is startling to you and this is understandable. This is a new circumstance for us as well.”
“You don’t get a lot of visitors?” Sam asked. The woman made a strange combination of a shake and a nod with her head.
“We do, but your path here is not the path of most.”
“How so?” This time it was Jack who asked.
“You come at this point in time because we called for you, but this is not usually our way. The heavens have decreed that you must come to us at this junction of events and thus we have altered our way to follow their lead.”
“How do people find you otherwise?” Sam retook the conversation.
“The objects you received in the ceremony of Gifts would eventually have led you here. If you had followed that slower path you would have understood many things that you do not know now. All is put forth in our gifts, particularly the one you refer to as the data base.”
The ceremony of Gifts? The data base? Sam quickly joined the dots.
“You’re the people from PQX-830! But why would you leave those things on a whole different planet? Anyone could find it there, and find you.”
“There’s a whole bunch of bad people in this galaxy, you know,” Jack added but their host shook her head at their warnings.
“The planet where you performed the ceremony of Gifts was once our home, but as water became scarce we decided to leave it and find a new home. We came here, but left a path for our visitors to follow after us. Be not deceived however by our openness. Looks can be deceiving as you well know.” Her eyes locked into Jack’s, and all of a sudden his thoughts went to a seemingly naïve race called the Nox, with whom his own good but completely misplaced intentions had almost had disastrous consequences. He nodded as the woman continued. “We have ways of defense and the very path we constructed for our visitors to follow is built to weed out the ill-minded. The one without a pure heart cannot find us no matter how he searches.”
“Defenses? Is that why the MALP was unable to give us any readings and then come back to Earth through the outgoing wormhole?” Sam asked.
“The MALP?” The woman appeared confused for a moment, but then realization dawned on her face. “Yes, your metal precursor. It was unknown and thus we returned it to whence it came. We are glad you decided to come anyway. Your arrival is important.”
“Why is it important? Why did you call for us if it isn’t the way you usually do things?”
“The condition of the galaxy now and in the future demanded swift action when your message reached us. Reading the signs we have impatiently awaited the rise of Earth in the galactic dance. Your planet, and the four of you in particular, hold a singularly unique place in this dance, a fate to determine the fate of the galaxy.”
Jack looked around the room and cleared his throat.
“Actually there are only three of us.”
His words made their host look around as well. She seemed confused, as if she for the first time noticed there were indeed only three visitors.
“We have seen four,” she said. “Where is the one called Daniel Jackson?”
“He couldn't come.” Jack’s response was short and full of things held back, but he stubbornly met the dark knowing eyes that seemed to drill in through his skull. Finally she released his gaze and rose, or rather floated from her laidback position to upright.
“His injury is unfortunate, but he has yet a crucial part to play. He must join us before we may speak further. Then we may also speak in my mother tongue, or at least one of our daughter tongues, as we prefer.”
“Wait!” Jack jumped to his feet as well. “That's it?”
“Retrieve your friend, Jack O'Neill. Then we will continue. Rest, refresh, and be on your way.”
And with that and a puff of pink smoke, she was gone, disappearing into thin air like a cheap magic trick. In the same instant a table appeared in the centre of the room, laden with every thinkable food. All the favorites of each team member were there, including a huge bowl of blue jell-o, deep fried chicken wings and a pile of perfectly medium rare steaks.
“Well, that was…odd,” Jack commented while hesitantly approaching the table. “Looks like they know how to spoil their guests, though.”
He picked up a chicken wing and studied it intensely before he stuck it in his mouth with an apprehensive expression. After chewing and swallowing he affirmed:
“Yup, definitely know how to spoil their guests. Come get some.” He waved for Sam and Teal’c to join him as he shoveled a pile of food onto a silver plate and brought it back to his divan.
After they had eaten their fill – and debated their host’s words, appearance and means of transportation – the smorgasbord of delights disappeared. Since there was nothing else to do without abusing the natives’ hospitality, SG-1 decided to do as they were asked and head back home. Whether they would be bringing Daniel as the woman had asked would be for General Hammond and Dr. Fraiser to decide.