Mathématique: The Lotus and the Snake
Let me come always in supplication, Vala thinks, praying for luck to the dead false god who had stolen her life and lived in her spine.
Revised Author’s Notes: This is a piece of fan fiction. It’s a trope-twisting, epic-length, crossover AU that spans all three series of Stargate. There’s a lot of science. A lot of plot. A lot of emotions. Timelines have been slightly altered so that season 4 of Stargate Atlantis (without Carter in command) occurs contemporaneously to season 10 of SG-1, which occurs in the year prior to season 1 of SGU.
Disclaimer: I’m not making money from this; please don’t repost to other sites.
Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Injury.
The Lotus and the Snake
Vala opens her eyes to gold—familiar and unfocused. She cannot keep them open.
“—and tomorrow,” her mother whispers, the coarsely bristled brush running through Vala’s dark hair. “Tell me what you will do.”
Vala looks into the fire. “I will follow the stream down to the water,” she whispers, staring at the flames, feeling the drag and pull of her hair. “Out of the village and to the base of the hill.”
“And there,” her mother whispers, unseen, sitting behind her. “What will you look for?”
“I will look for the place where the leaves form a curtain and the water becomes still,” Vala whispers.
“And what else?” her mother asks.
“I will look for the flowers. The white flowers, tipped with rose, floating on the water.”
“The cups of Q’tesh.”
A coldness runs in a curving line across the back of her hand and she knows this is not right.
“Yes,” Vala whispers, her arms encircling her knees as she resists the long pulls of the brush through her hair.
“And what will you do when you see them?”
“I will step into the water. I will enter the sacred pool,” Vala says. “I will kneel before the statue of the goddess and I will ask for permission to marry.”
“You have forgotten something,” her mother says, voice a lilting warning, as she begins to braid small white shells into Vala’s hair for what may be the last time. “Try to think what it is.”
She opens her eyes and she looks down at her hand. There’s a needle in it. There’s a tube connected to the needle, through which a cold liquid runs, linear and dangerous. She twists her wrist, grabs the line, and pinches the tubing shut. For the moment, it is all she is capable of. Where she is and how she got here—
These questions are roads to confused places in her thoughts.
“The prayer,” she says, abashed. “I won’ forget it tomorrow.”
“When you see the image of the goddess,” her mother whispers, “you will kneel in the water. And you will say—”
She opens her eyes.
She shuts them.
She opens them again.
“Mistress of the unwearying stars, Anat, Astarte, most vaunted Q’tesh, my mouth has been given to me that I may speak with it in the presence of the beloved of Ptah. My soul is a dark river that yearns ever for the boundless astral sea, where the pool of your stars marks the central stillness in the sky. Let me rest with the lotus. Let me come always in supplication. Let me be guided by love. Let me be deserving of peace. Let me arrive at the lake of still fire, and know the invariant flame.”
She flexes her hands, subtly, subtly. She tries to remember, but it’s hard. The fire from the last day of her childhood is so close, and Daniel is so far. Daniel. Daniel Jackson. Her eyes open and they stay open.
“Yes,” her mother says, pleased, still audible out of a distant memory. But her voice slips away as Vala tries to hold it, simultaneously too close and too far.
She realizes her mistake as soon as she lifts her shoulders. She’s been taken and she cannot, she should not give away her consciousness, her insight, nor her kinking of the tubing that is delivering something unwanted into the back of her hand.
But when she surveys the room, she finds herself alone and unwatched.
Someone is beside her, close but unmoving, lying on a hard pallet identical to her own.
Vala grasps for his name, and finds it.
She perches next to him, precarious and effortless on a narrow sliver of couch, holding herself there with a graceful coil of opposing, contracted muscle. He opens his eyes, his hair damp and disarrayed, the latest, interesting addition to the collection of people Daniel cares too much about. “Hello gorgeous,” she says, giving him a wink as she twists the top off a bottle of green Gatorade. “I hear this stuff cures nearly every terrestrial illness.”
She holds up the bottle. He looks at her with a disoriented skepticism. “Vala,” she says, extending a hand. “Vala Mal Doran.”
“Nicholas Rush,” he replies, as their palms meet.
She grasps at the memory vainly as it leaves her and does not return, but she remembers still that he’s important, remembers that Daniel cares about him, and realizes she should avoid thinking in specificities, because as soon as they come—they go. And so. She will help him. She will help him and she will help herself.
She releases a shuddery breath, propping herself on her elbows, holding the tubing pinched shut in a tight ‘v’ as she tries to remember how she got here, why she is surrounded by the hated, useful, ostentation of the Goa’uld, and why it is that she is here with this man and not with Daniel because—
Because when she looks down she is dressed in blue, and she had been with him, she had been with Daniel, she knows she had. She remembers the blue shirt. She remembers that they all had agreed that this shirt was best.
She twists to take in the entire room. They are alone. But. Surveillance remains a possibility. They are in the rear compartment of a tel’tak, their only restraints pharmacological.
She realizes she is gasping for air, fast and shallow. She can feel her heart against her ribs.
She cannot remember the last time she was so afraid.
When Baal had buried her alive and left her to die alone and in darkness.
When she had first seen Q’tesh, the lotus petals brushing her shins.
When she had seen her daughter, unnaturally aging, unnaturally composed, unnaturally twisted by something she could neither perceive nor explain.
This makes sense to her. Fear comes with possession. With the acquisition of resources. In possession of nothing, nothing can be lost. She possesses a great deal now. Or, she believes she does. She must fight to keep it.
Her eyes rake the walls—at it is only on a second perusal that she sees it—the black defacement of golden etchings, the blaspheming of Hathor that covers the wall at irregular intervals. This is not a Goa’uld ship.
This ship belongs to the Lucian Alliance.
Vala rips the needle out of her hand, lurches to her feet, takes a graceless step, and nearly falls against the hard metal of the other man’s pallet before she rips him free of whatever fluid is entering his veins.
“Gorgeous,” she whispers, the word coming as a surprise. “Gorgeous, our evening—“ She hopes it’s still evening, “—has taken an unexpected turn,” she finishes.
He doesn’t respond. At all. His right forearm is raw from a high-friction slide along an unforgiving surface. His shirt is torn, and the dark denim of his jeans is abraded. “Gorgeous,” she whispers again, shaking him, but this time the word feels foreign to her. Gorgeous. Is this what she had called him? She cannot remember. And he doesn’t respond.
She creeps to the doorway that connects the cargo hold to the rest of the ship. They will have posted a guard just beyond it. She knows three tricks that might open the door. One is a universal override code, built into most of their technology for use by system lords. It is an approximation of phi—the golden ratio—and one of many things she wishes she’d thought to share with Daniel before today. Two is the bridging of a circuit, which will short out the door control mechanism on older Tel’taks. Three is firing a zat repetitively at the locking mechanism.
Alas, she doesn’t seem to have a zat.
She glances back at the man on the pallet, then spreads her fingers and runs her hands over the black denim of her thighs. She removes her belt, twining each end over her palms.
If there are two guards, this attempt will be finished. If there is one guard—
If there is one guard, they have a chance.
She flips open the panel and keys in an approximation of the Golden Ratio. 1-6-1-8-0-3-4. The door hisses open. She looks left. There is a man standing there, startled and leather clad and, so far, silent.
Her knee comes up and he bends forward with a forced exhalation and a grimace. Before he can take a breath, her hands, connected by their makeshift garrote, come down and around.
It is over quickly. And quietly. When she is certain that he is dead, she drags him back inside the room, then edges forward, along the quiet hallway.
“And then,” her mother whispers, her voice a drape over what is to come, “then what will you do?”
“I will ask for permission,” she says. “I will ask for permission from Q’tesh—I will ask that I might choose my beloved.”
She can hear voices from the bridge. A woman and two men, one of whom sounds familiar. She cannot yet place his pitch and cadence. They are arguing.
“If you hadn’t blown your cover,” the woman’s voice says, her English faintly accented with a touch of native Goa’uld, “we would have had time to prepare.”
“If I hadn’t taken the opportunity that presented itself, you might have never gotten him.”
“We’re due to deliver Mal Doran to Athena in less than six hours. I don’t want them knowing that we have Rush as well.”
Athena. Silver hair and pitiless eyes and one hand perennially gloved in linear gold, as hers had been. As Q’tesh’s had been. Vala presses one hand to her chest, breathless and pained, an echo of satisfaction at a remembered betrayal bursting and fading in her mind, its threads dissolving away with alarming rapidity.
What had they given her? What had been in the fluid that was making its way into her veins?
What was it taking? And why?
“I thought we didn’t do deals with the Goa’uld,” the familiar voice hisses. “I thought that was anathema.”
The crack of a slap echoes off the metal walls of the ship.
Vala shuts her eyes, one hand pressed to her mouth.
“The Trust is of the Tau’ri,” the woman snaps, cold and commanding, as if saying it, she made it so.
“The Trust is of the system lords,” the familiar man hisses back and she can almost see him—dark hair, darker eyes, tall. “Let Mal Doran go.”
She presses her hands into the metal. She is— She is Mal Doran. Vala Mal Doran. Isn’t she? What have they given her? And what have they taken away? She doesn’t know.
They are always experimenting with cognition, the Alliance. Always and forever searching for a way around the chemical enslavement of an embedded symbiote. That search for liberation had blended with subterfuge and sabotage, twisting over centuries over millennia to make them what they are now—wronged and vengeful and—
What—what had she been thinking of? She is— She was— She’s on a ship. She is on a ship and she must get off it.
“I just—“ Daniel says, looking out his window in the light of early morning, an Osiris of the Tau’ri, though he doesn’t and will never know it. “I just don’t trust him.”
“Darling,” Vala whispers, made serious by the ominous gold cast of his hair, “you shouldn’t trust anyone.”
“You can’t mean that,” Daniel says, turning to look at her, his smile uneven. “No one can live that way.”
“Some people do,” she replies. “Some people always have.”
“But it’s not really living,” he says, looking back at the sun, low over the distant mountains.
Her eyes burn, hot and wet.
She must get back to Daniel.
What is she doing?
They are arguing, whomever they are, half obscured behind the narrow door that leads to the flight controls. They expect her to be unconscious, held in a chemical oblivion. Was it the naquadah in her blood that had freed her? That had woken her early? Because she remembers the naquadah. It had come with Q’tesh.
She creeps backward. There is something she needs in the room that she came from. She’s not sure what it is, but she knows that she needs it.
She slips off her—
“Oh,” Sam says. “Oh gosh. Vala. Vala, look at these.”
Vala turns and Sam is holding up a single shoe, sling-backed, peep-toed.
“I don’t know,” Vala says. “They look a bit retro to me, beautiful.”
She slips off her shoes, holding them in one hand. Silently, she runs along the hall, and in a few steps she’s back in the cargo bay. She remembers him as soon as she sees him. Not his name. Not anything about him. Only that he’d been the reason she’d come back to this room.
What have they given her?
What are they taking away?
Kneeling in the back of the bookstore, she clenches her hands into fists, flexes them, pulls back, then opens them again before reaching for a book that says ‘Algebra,’ on the cover. From a dark place in her mind she can feel Q’tesh scream, a dead echo of warning, because this is not for her. Again she pulls back. And she pulls out her phone.
“Hey,” she whispers, shaking him. “Come on.”
There’s no response. None. She runs her fingers over the devices he’s wearing over his temples and considers taking them off. But she pulls her hands back.
“I can’t carry you out of here,” she hisses right into the ear of this man that she’s certain she must know. “Wake. Up.” She fists her hand and leans her knuckles into his sternum with her full weight behind them, sliding up and down. Nothing.
She considers leaving him.
“Ver dashing, gorgeous,” Vala says into his ear as he steps forward, carrying her away from Young. “Very well executed. If I ever have to make a break off this planet, remind me to take you with me.”
He raises his eyebrows at her. “Was there a point to this?” he asks, pitching his voice low. “Or are you just amusing yourself?”
Whoever he is, they can’t have him. She won’t let them. But. If she doesn’t leave him, it’s likely that neither of them will make it off this ship.
She’ll come back for him.
But—will she? Because even now, her memories of who he is, of why he’s important, are fading as they pass through her mind. When she’d left the room, when he’d been out of her sight, she hadn’t been able to hold him in her mind.
What have they given her?
What have they given him?
She gives him a hard shake. No response.
She stands. She backs up. She turns away.
There’s something important behind her, but she doesn’t know what.
She turns back.
“But still,” she whispers, her eyes stinging and closed, his wall at her back. “There are mathematicians.”
They wouldn’t leave him. SG-1. None of them would. And she— She wants to be like them, these people who are already fading from her thoughts in blurs of yellow and blue and gold and green and black, but even more than that, she wants to be with them because if she is not with them, then she is with no one—she will wander until Adria finds her and then, and then—
“Mother,” Adria says. “Mother, I will keep you safe.”
And then she will do nothing but watch. She has left so many, though she cannot recall their names. She won’t leave him. Not this one. Not this one in a rumpled white shirt with cortical suppressants on his head. She cannot leave this one.
Her hands come up, dynamic and symmetrical and she yanks him up by his shoulders and by his shirt, bends one knee, and staggers into the lift of the fallen she had learned from her father. The fireman’s carry. That’s what the Tau’ri call it. And she is Tau’ri now. She wears their clothes, she speaks their language. She has chosen them and chosen this.
She nearly falls, but she widens her stance and shifts her head to free a portion of her trapped hair.
She turns back to the open door. Her bare feet are silent, but she can’t move quickly.
Let me come always in supplication, she thinks, praying for luck to the dead false god who had stolen her life and lived in her spine. Let me come always in supplication.
She passes through the open doorway into the hall, and she can hear them again.
“Athena offers resources,” the woman says.
“Athena is a Goa’uld,” the third man says, unfamiliar and cautious.
“She offers access to the infrastructure of the Tau’ri, because she is now of the Tau’ri.”
“So do I,” the familiar voice replies. “I offer that access.”
She is too afraid to draw a deep breath.
She is too afraid to draw a deep breath when she steps into the pool, but she learns that her fear is the fear of a child when she draws back the hanging branches to reveal not a statue, but a living woman with glowing yellow eyes standing amongst the flowers that float on the surface of the water. Now her fear rises like the river in a storm, deep and wide and powerful. Nothing about it is childish. This is the fear that uproots the mind and tears down the false solidity of everything that’s come before it. She trembles, fighting the urge to run.
She has nearly made it to the room that her vision has been fixed on. She tries to think what is in that room, and why she must go there, and why she must be so, so quiet, but she can’t. She cannot remember. But she is quiet.
She kneels in the water, the shells in her hair clicking. She feels the petals of the flowers on her bare arms. She does not look at the goddess.
She reaches the door, and this one is not locked. But they—they may hear its opening. And she doesn’t want them to. The man she carries is heavy.
“Not. Anymore.” A woman’s voice echoes through the ship with the weight of blocks falling into place. The building of a temple.
“I’m still useful to you,” the familiar voice says.
Vala opens the door, a nearly silent hiss.
“What was that?” a third voice says.
“Simeon,” the woman calls, as Vala steps through the open doorframe and then whirls awkwardly, her arms and shoulders burning.
“Daniel talked to Landry for you,” Mitchell says.
She says nothing because she doesn’t know what to say, it’s all she can do to keep the surprise from her face.
“Don’t let him down.” His voice is hard, his eyes are clear and ice blue.
She will, she knows she will, she always does, but for a while, for just a little while, she can— She can pretend. She can pretend that this will be her life. She can pretend that Daniel will be her friend. That they all, all of them, will be her friends. That they will come for her when she is in trouble. That she will do the same for them. That the reason that she won’t show her grief to them is because it would hurt them, and not because they would hurt her with it.
“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says, with as much haughtiness as she can pull past the longing in her throat.
Vala closes the door and bridges a circuit. She has no time. She knows it from the way her heart is beating, frantic in her chest, from the way confusion threatens at the borders of her thoughts. On the other side of the wall, she hears the woman call again. “Simeon. Respond. Respond.”
She lays the man she carries down in the center of the rings and goes to the nearest console. She hears the quiet chirp of the door denying entry to someone on the other side. Her hands are shaking.
She can use the rings and hope that the nearest platform isn’t controlled by the Trust or the Alliance, hope for the luck and the wit to get herself and her—friend? Her—charge? This man? To some kind of safe harbor. But—she cannot come always in supplication. She looks for another option. For the beaming technology she knows they’ve stolen because that is what they do.
They steal things. The Alliance. They’ve stolen her.
They’ve stolen the man in the white shirt. They have stolen more than just their bodies. Because—she cannot remember his name.
"Gorgeous,” she whispers, “even if they take you, which is not a given, despite the tactless machinating of the American political establishment, we would never leave you with them.”
“We would never leave you,” she echoes in an experimental whisper, trying to remember who the ‘we,’ is in her thoughts other than Daniel, Daniel, Daniel, whom she’ll hold to, whom she will not forget, whom she will never never never let go until the hour of her death.
Her fingers pass over screens with the speed of memories that are and are not her own.
“Mistress of the unwearying stars,” she gasps, before she forgets the rest of the words in her fear. She has never heard of this happening. She has never known anyone to look upon the goddess and live, not even in stories.
“You are a beautiful one,” the woman says, her hair like no hair Vala has ever seen, her eyes green, like the shallow sea in summer. “What would you ask of Q’tesh, daughter?”
“For your leave,” Vala whispers, head bowed, hands shaking, “to marry.”
“Tell me of your betrothed,” Q’tesh says, walking slowly, silently through the sacred pool.
“He is a weaver,” Vala says, not looking up, watching the ripples in the water made by the passage of the goddess grow larger, and more closely spaced. “His name—“ she swallows, “is Jaquyn.”
A hand comes passes into her field of vision, and Vala takes it.
Q’tesh pulls her to her feet.
“I do not grant you leave,” the goddess says, and draws her deeper into the pool. Vala allows herself to be led, the water rising to soak and lift her gown around her as she continues.
She is trembling. Because she knows what this must mean.
A glaring swath of Tau’ri characters amongst the Goa’uld—this is what she has been seeking. The door chirps again.The silence on the other side frightens her more than any sound of violence. She must act quickly. She must select coordinates. She must select coordinates that they will not suspect, and she must destroy the evidence of his passage.
After they have killed her, or traded her to someone who will, they must not be able to find him. It is what they would do. The ones that are her ‘we’. The brilliant woman with the yellow hair. The stoic Jaffa statesman. The brown haired man who snaps between kindness and hardness.
What Daniel would do—remains unknown. The ways that are open to Daniel are not open to others.
“I offer you my life,” Vala whispers, as the sound of dissipating zat fire begins to impact the door.
“I offer you my life,” Vala whispers, “by ritual and by rote. I ask for your blessing for all those whom I love.”
“But I ask for your blessing for all those whom I love.”
“That they may find the happiness that I find,” she says, her voice wavering. “In the service of my goddess.”
“That they may find the happiness that I find,” she whispers, selecting a city on the coast of the continent below her, searching for a river, narrowing the coordinates as she looks for somewhere to send him. “In the service—” Her voice fades to nothing.
“Q’tesh has heard your prayer, child,” the goddess says. “And will release you from the fate that awaits the wife of a weaver.”
Vala nods, beginning to cry as Q’tesh steps closer.
“Good luck,” Vala says, and slams her hand down on the console.
The man she has saved vanishes in a blaze of blue light. He will wake alone beside a river. There are worse fates.
Q’tesh wraps one arm around her waist. One hand is tangles in her hair. Little shells click against one another.
Vala erases the coordinates.
She waits, looking into yellow-green eyes, her breath burning in her throat.
She waits, looking at the door, her breath burning in her throat.
Q’tesh dips her beneath the water, the movement smooth and sure and without violence. Vala struggles, her blood roaring in her ears, unsure how a drowning can suit the wishes of the goddess unless—
It bursts open and they enter, a leather-clad triad with death in their eyes.
“Telford,” Vala whispers, the name and face surfacing with the shock of it as her hands hover above the console.
Something alien passes her lips, invasive and thick and long and painful and she tries to scream but cannot, struggling there in the water beneath the cover of the floating flowers as it cuts into the back of her throat and then—
Her limbs are no longer her own. Her struggles cease despite the panic in her thoughts. She stands, rising out of the pool as the water sluices from her in a glittering rain. Vala screams inside her own mind. Q’tesh smiles.
“You will not find him,” she says in Goa’uld, claiming what may be the last victory of Vala Mal Doran in the style of Q’tesh.
Q’tesh the snake in her head.
Q’tesh the dead god.
Q’tesh the dead false god.
Q’tesh who would haunt her.
All the days of her life.
Their expressions do not change, but their eyes are murderous.
Daniel, she thinks. Daniel, I could have told you—
The woman brings her weapon up and fires.