"What is it you've found?" Sam asked.
"You know those tunnels that have collapsed? In one of them, there's a room just where the roof has caved in, which is full of pottery and tablets..." Daniel said.
"Yeah, I know. You've showed me. All of us, I guess, several times."
"Well, I've salvaged as much as I can from the room, and with the help of Teal'c, Martouf, and Lantash, I have translated most of the contents of the tablets, which is written in a very old dialect of Goa'uld. It seems to be the history of the Goa'uld from not long after they had come to Earth for the first time!"
"I'm sure it's interesting, and Anise will be ecstatic when you bring it back." Sam rolled her eyes a little at him.
"But some of it is missing! And I just know there are more at the back of the room. I can see parts of some shelves peeking out from under the rubble! Anyway, you know we found some of those old tunnel crystals in one of the storage rooms?"
"Yes?" Sam sounded a little apprehensive. "Martouf said they were of the old type and not completely reliable..."
"Um...well, that's maybe true..."
"But you used them anyway." Sam sighed. "Okay, what happened?"
"I tried one of those that should only make a short piece of tunnel...just to see if I could use it to dig out the rubble in the storage room with the tablets."
"Daniel! Using a crystal you're not sure is reliable, on a piece of already unstable tunnel could have caused the whole part to collapse!"
"Well, it didn't, okay? It also didn't really clear the rubble, more like, um, embedded parts of the room in the walls, but I think I can get to some of the tablets now...and the back of the room is clear."
Sam rolled her eyes. "Just make sure you're not alone in there, if you try to pry something out of the walls - you don't want to be crushed under the rubble if something isn't stable!"
"I already talked to Teal'c, and he's promised to help. Anyway, the first crystal I used made a tunnel partially through the rubble to another part of the complex - and partially down into what I think is an underground lake. That's what I wanted to show you. It looks really beautiful, and there's a cave full of crystal formations, which I think are natural."
They had walked to the part of the tunnel where Daniel had used the crystals, and Sam saw the corridor that sloped down further into the ground.
"Sounds cool!" Sam agreed. "Let's have a look."
"Wow! You weren't kidding when you said it was beautiful!" Sam looked about the place. "It's huge! I mean, it's gotta be at least three or four acres! This is definitely the reason why they put the tunnels here. Martouf told me that they usually place the tunnels near larger underground water reserves, so it's easy to get water. Look - there's even something that looks like an underground river flowing out into the lake over there. I wonder where it exits? Since the lake doesn't overflow, it must have an outlet somewhere."
"Some rubble and various debris from the tunnels and rooms above has fallen over there, probably during the earthquake." Daniel pointed.
"Yes, we better make sure the roof is stable before we examine that area any further," Sam agreed. "I really hope it is - with the bluish light from the tunnels, it is otherworldly beautiful in here. The light reflects in all those crystal formations, and then the water glitters with the reflected light...really cool!" Sam walked closer to the lake and stuck a hand in the water. "It's almost tepid!"
"Something must be heating it?" Daniel said.
"Obviously. Some underground heat source, perhaps? I wonder if that's why they put the tunnels here - to heat them with geothermal energy - or if the quake has caused magma to come closer to the surface?"
"Swimming in the underground lake does sound appealing, and since we have determined there are no risks for further cave-ins, and the water is clean, then why not?" Lantash said.
"Great." She kissed him. "Since no one else wanted to come, we can even bathe naked..." She winked at him.
"Tok'ra always bathe naked - but I know Tau'ri see such things differently." He pulled her to him and gave her another kiss, then sighed. "I promised to help Daniel translate some Goa'uld words that were giving him problems. I had better go and do that first, or he will come pestering us when we would prefer to be alone...it should not take long, my Samantha. You go ahead, and I shall join you very soon."
"Okay, see that you do!" She swatted him playfully with the towel she was carrying.
"Or what?" He asked, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Oh, you don't want to know - so you better be there!" Sam gave him a quick kiss before she hurried off in the direction of the lake, grinning widely.
The lake was really surprisingly large, but quite shallow, and Sam could stand on the bottom almost everywhere. The bottom was made of a fine, soft dark sand, scattered with a few rocks here and there. There was almost no vegetation, presumably due to the lack of sunlight and nutrients in the water.
She had spotted schools of small fish whenever there was a little vegetation - mostly near where the river spilled into the lake, so it was probably carrying nutrients and small particles and organisms the fish could eat. Sam had swam almost to the middle of the lake, when she noticed an undercurrent. It was not very strong, and the water was still shallow, so she followed it until she saw where there was a low opening in the rock side. The water flew out there, and presumably eventually to the outside.
Sam looked towards shore - she was a fairly long way from it, so she decided to start swimming back. She had only just turned around, when she spotted Martouf on the shore. She waved at him and shouted, "Come on! The water is nice!"
"I'm on my way, Samantha!" He called back, and quickly began removing his clothing.
That was when Sam suddenly felt an energy signature. Parts of the tunnels were above her, and there was of course naquadah-based technology there, but she had not noticed it before - and this felt different, like the energy signature of a symbiote. She froze. Martouf was still much much too far away for her to be able to sense Lantash, so who was she detecting?
Nervously, she turned around, and noticed something moving just under the surface. The symbiote stopped near her and stuck its head out of the water and squealed at her.
Sam made a yelp and began swimming, as fast as she could, away from the symbiote. It followed her, now and then making squealing sounds.
"There's a symbiote out here!" She shouted. "It's following me!"
Martouf threw the last piece of clothing over his shoulder and ran into the water, beginning to swim as soon as the water was deep enough. "I'm coming!"
Sam noticed the symbiote swimming past her, easily overtaking her and stopping somewhere ahead of her. It stayed there, watching her and making a lot of noises that sounded decidedly offended.
Realizing the symbiote was not coming any closer, Sam stopped and put her feet down on the bottom. The water reached to just under her arms here. She looked at the symbiote. It made no moves towards her, but it still seemed as if it was angry over something. She noticed something else - it had those strange appendages or whatever it was, on the sides of the head. Appendages which marked it...her, as a queen!
"Martouf...the symbiote...it's not trying to take me," Sam said, realizing to her surprise that was the case. She looked at the symbiote which was again saying something that sounded offended, then looked to Martouf, who had reached them by now. The symbiote suddenly turned abruptly towards Martouf, and made a number of squealing sounds at him.
"It is alright. I am Tok'ra," Martouf said, then bowed his head, giving Lantash control.
"I am Lantash of the Tok'ra." He looked at Sam. "She is angry because you thought she would take you against your will. She claims to be Tok'ra." He looked almost dazed. "She...is a queen."
"Do you think she's speaking the truth?"
"I do not know. Possibly. She didn't try to take you as a host without asking for consent first. That makes me inclined to believe her. Her name is Merit, I believe." He looked apologetic. "Names are one thing which translates badly from Alu'anu - the spoken language of our kind, before we take hosts."
"But...where did she even come from? Has she been hanging around here since Egeria?"
The symbiote obviously understood Sam, because she began telling Lantash something.
He listened for a little while, then turned to Sam. "She says she was in a stasis jar, placed here by Egeria, until about 3 years ago, when she suddenly found herself awake and out of her jar, lying on dry ground. Fortunately, this lake was not far away, and she managed to reach it. She has been living in it ever since, alone, eating the fish in the lake and the river. She is very happy to see us."
"I can imagine!" Sam said. "Um, can she prove any of that? I mean, the time frame coincides with the quakes, but that's hardly proof she's Tok'ra. No offense."
The symbiote said something more, which Lantash translated.
"She - Merit - understands our reluctance to trust her, but finds it frustrating. The remnants of her jar should still lie among the rubble near the entrance. She will show us where."
The symbiote took off in the direction of the debris, and Sam and Lantash followed at a slower speed, not being able to swim as fast as the symbiote.
Merit stopped just at the edge of the lake, squealing and pointing with a fin to the approximate point in the rubble where her stasis jar had fallen. Sam and Lantash both stepped out of the water and walked the short distance.
"I believe I have found it," Lantash said, after he had searched the area for a few minutes. He picked up the broken jar and looked at it. "The whole top is missing - which includes any writing there may have been on it." He continued searching for a few moments more, then spotted the top, including the lid which had fallen off just beside the rest of the top. "Here!" He walked to the lake and cleaned away some dust, then looked at the writing on it.
"What does it say?" Sam wondered.
"Merit of the Tok'ra, daughter of Egeria of the Tok'ra." He read. "There is also a marking which I know Egeria used as her secret code, to prove it is indeed her who has written something." He sounded awed.
"I recognize it - from Jolinar's memories," Sam said. "That means we believe her? I mean, the symbiote."
Lantash nodded slowly. "Yes, it is highly improbable that this is either a trap or that she is someone else, also stranded here. I am convinced she is who she says she is. Tok'ra."
"Well...that's great!" Sam gave the symbiote another look. "That means the Tok'ra have a queen again."
"It does, yes." Lantash agreed. "Samantha...we have no good way of transporting her back to the Tok'ra, short of carrying her for miles in a bucket or something similar - when the Ori warriors hopefully have left. That is highly dangerous, obviously, as many things could happen during such a trip. The other option is leaving her here and hoping nothing unfortunate happens to her until we return with something to transport her in - or a host. I know she has survived here alone for three years, but we are most fortunate no large predator, like a large fish, found her. She needs a host, that is the safest option."
"Ah...yes...I suppose it is."
"Since she is a queen, that host needs to be female. Samantha...you told me you would probably blend one day. Would you...consider becoming Merit's host?" Lantash asked, an imploring expression on his face. "Finding Merit is almost a miracle to us, Samantha. The Tok'ra is no longer a dying race. We again have a future..."
"Yes! I know what's a stake!" Sam exclaimed. "Just...please give me a few moments to think about it, okay?"
"Of course, Samantha." Lantash looked ashamed. "I did not mean to push you in any way. It was my excitement at learning the Tok'ra is again a viable race, which made me forget myself. I apologize."
"No problem, Lantash. I do understand how important this is." She smiled at him, a little bleakly. She grabbed her clothes and dressed quickly, before going to sit on a large rock some distance away. She needed to think.
Could she do this? Become host to this Tok'ra queen symbiote?
Yes, she had more or less convinced herself she wanted to blend one day...soon, even...but this was not just soon, it was now! She would have no time to prepare - either for sharing her body and mind, or for the big changes it would cause in her life. She had only just returned to active duty, and going on missions was one of the things she valued highly. Of course, she might normally have continued doing that after becoming a host. She thought SGC would agree to it, and the Tok'ra as well, but since Merit was a queen symbiote - the Tok'ra's only queen - then it would not be so simple.
The Tok'ra had become very few, and Sam doubted they would agree to let their queen risk her life on a daily basis - at least not until she had spawned several batches, and preferably another queen. To be honest, Sam would not want to risk the continued existence of an entire species, just for her own pleasure. No individual had that right. No, if she became host to Merit, then she would have to stop going on missions, at least for the immediate future. Could she do that?
The only other possible host for Merit, here, was Vala. She would never agree to become a host again, and Sam could not blame her. Not after she had been host to Qetesh. Sam shuddered. Qetesh had been one of the more unpleasant Goa'uld, even compared with how bad they usually were. No, there was no way they could ask Vala to become a host again.
Sam looked towards where Martouf and Lantash were sitting at the edge of the lake, talking with Merit. She knew what the morally right thing to do was - and to be honest, it might also be the right thing for her, personally. She still missed Jolinar now and then, even if she had only been a host to her for so short a period of time. It might be nice having someone to talk to again, and Merit would at least not have any bad memories and experiences of her own, only the genetic memory from Egeria, which all the Tok'ra had. Perhaps Merit could also help Sam get Jolinar's memories sorted out. They were still a cause of confusion, even if memory flashes were rarer now than they had been. She took a deep breath and made the decision.
She would blend. With Merit.
Having made the decision she felt at peace with herself and the choice. She knew it was the right one. Getting up, she called out for her mates, "Lantash...Martouf!"
"Yes?" Lantash got up and walked towards her.
Despite the situation, Sam could not stop herself from spending a few moments looking at him. He had not dressed again yet, and he looked as hot as always. She shook herself, focusing on what she was going to say. "I've thought it through, and I've decided...that I would like to become Merit's host."
"Martouf and I are very pleased to hear that, Samantha." Lantash smiled, looking relieved.
Sam heard Merit make happy-sounding squeals behind him, so the symbiote had obviously heard her.
"I think we should tell the others first, though, but I think I would prefer to only have you and Martouf here during the...the blending."
Lantash nodded. "It is normal for the blending to be a private event, involving only relatives and close friends...which of course all of SG-1 is. Nevertheless, it is better to not have too many there. I do agree we should tell them first, though."
"I think most of them would rather not be present anyway, and Daniel and Vala might freak out, given their experiences."
"Possibly," He agreed, turning to Merit. "We shall return shortly."