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2. A Strange Encounter in the Forest

They had just turned a corner of the winding road through the forest, when they almost ran into a man that stood before them, wearing bright red, billowing robes. On his head was a tall black hat, and around his neck was a large necklace. He looked at them with a combination of disdain and arrogance.

"Watch where you walk, mortals!" he scoffed, and brushed off some imaginary dust from his robe.

"Mortals?" O'Neill repeated. "Is that a Goa'uld?"

"No, he is no Goa'uld," Martouf told him.

The man in the red robes scoffed again. "Goa'uld! Human! Tok'ra! Jaffa! Is that all you can think about?" He shook his head. "Such petty differences - why do you mortals always insist on focusing on the truly insignificant things?"

"So who are you?" Sam asked.

"Or what..." Daniel added.

"I am Q!" He smiled proudly.

"Queue? What a ridiculous name!" O'Neill snorted.

"Human - I am here on behalf of the Q continuum, to judge you ridiculous, savage child races." He let his gaze slide over them. "Humans, Jaffa, Tok'ra. What are you doing out here in the Galaxy? Clearly you are all much too young and inexperienced, and we have all seen where it leads. You are developing so slowly. Constantly quibbling about insignigicant matters. No more! Proceed with the mission - and we shall see!"

Suddenly, he was gone, with a flash.

"What on Earth was that!" O'Neill exclaimed.

"Most likely he was using some sort of technology to confuse us," Martouf suggested.

Sam nodded and spoke slowly. "Yes, I suppose... that much be the explanation."

"Or maybe he's a being like Oma Desala?" Daniel suggested.

"I concur with what Daniel Jackson said," Teal'c said.

"Do you think he's dangerous? He did talk about judging us - and he was dressed in clothing reminiscent of grand inquisitors," Daniel pointed out.

"I have no idea who or what he is. Let's get on with the mission, but keep an eye out for anything strange," O'Neill decided.

"What an interesting building style!" Daniel said, fascinated, as they reached the top of a hill just outside the forest and could see the nearby town.

"You can say that again!" Sam exclaimed, staring at the many brightly coloured half-spheres - large and small - that made up the town. Some of them were just a half-sphere, while others had smaller half-spheres on them, as small towers, perhaps.

"Indeed. It is not a building-style resembling any I have seen before. I wonder which culture this Goa'uld follows," Teal'c said.

O'Neill turned to Martouf. "Any ideas?"

He shook his head. "No, it is not a type of building or colouration I have ever seen before. Presumably it has nothing to do with the Goa'uld who has chosen this world as his base, but is how the local population has lived before."

O'Neill nodded. "Right. Okay - let's continue."

They had not walked far before they saw the first of the inhabitants of the planet.

"Um, Martouf?" O'Neill said. "Did the Tok'ra have any knowledge of this world. At all?"

"No. Fascinating. Most planets have human inhabitants. This species I have never even heard of," Martouf said, sounding puzzled.

"Nor have I," Teal'c told them.

The locals had clearly spotted them, and some of them were now walking towards them. While they were largely humanoid - or at least bipedal - it was clear they were not human. They had a luxurious fur that covered their entire bodies, and a face with a snout that more than anything made them look like hyenas. They stood about the same height as an average human. The smaller ones were a more turquoise blue, while the larger ones where a strong azure blue. There was no way to tell if it was a difference due to gender, or age.

"Greetings, visitors!" one of the azure-furred beings said, its speech halting, but the voice strangely melodic. It dipped its head quickly thrice. "We have not welcomed off-worlders since a moon back, and those left too soon. Tell us, what is your reason for visit?"

"Trading medicinal herbs," Martouf said, making a half-bow. "My name is Martouf."

"Welcome, Martouf. Such a trade is most agreeable. Most agreeable. Know, though, that we are no longer the same people. We now... belong to Lord Zorn." The being was clearly not pleased. It seemed to listen to something no one else could hear, then bowed. "This one has failed in her duties. You are honoured guests. May this one take you to our wisest ones?"

"I'm Colonel O'Neill. That's Major Carter, Daniel Jackson, and Teal'c. What's your name?"

"This one may be referred to as Grizzt." She bowed again. "Welcome to you all. Please, will you see our wisest ones?"

"Sure, by all means. Take us to 'the wisest ones'," O'Neill said.

Grizzt lead the way, with several others of the locals following. SG-1 and Martouf|Lantash made up the end of the procession.

"It's strange that no one is talking, don't you think?" Daniel whispered to the others as they walked through the city, passing many people - some stopping to look, but most just going about their life.

"Maybe they are concerned about our presence. After all, a Goa'uld has just conquered their world," Sam suggested.

"If there's a Goa'uld here. We haven't seen any indications of it," O'Neill reminded them.

"All of them are either blue or turquoise, with the blue ones being largest. The females, I think?" Daniel said. "The small ones, kids probably, have the same colourations. Well, except for that one." He nodded in the direction of a grey furred alien that looked at them from behind a building, its eyes wide. After a few moments it fled.

"Please, this way. In here," Grizzt said, indicating a clear-blue half-sphere structure, larger than any of the others.

They walked through silent, winding corridors, past several guards. The walls, floors, and ceiling were decorated with geometrical figures in muted colours - contrasting strongly with the bright colours on the outside of the buildings.

"You may wait in here," Grizzt said, indicating a room with deep blue walls, floor, and ceiling. "Soon you will be sent for. Until then... you are welcome to enjoy the... refreshments."

She left, together with the other Denebians who had followed her in there, and SG-1 and Martouf|Lantash were left alone in the waiting room.

The walls had an almost translucent feel, and light came from somewhere inside the walls and ceiling, but in a diffuse manner.

They all looked around at the sparsely furnished room. There were some mushroom-shaped chairs that looked to be made of white marble, and a low table of the same material. On the table were several bowls with various strange-looking fruits and berries, and some sort of baked goods were placed on trays. There was also a pitcher with a kind of coloured liquid and several glasses.

"Well, if we're waiting here for a while, we can just as well make ourselves comfortable." O'Neill grinned and walked over to the table. "And try out this stuff. I'm hungry."

"Are you sure that's safe to eat? It looks a bit, well, weird," Daniel said.

"I shall try it first. Lantash can neutralize any toxins that may be present in the food," Martouf suggested.

"I am probably immune to any poisons as well, though I cannot say if something is safe for others to eat or not," Teal'c added.

"Well, please, go ahead and try it." O'Neill eyed the nearest chair and sat down carefully, expecting it to be hard and uncomfortable, given the shape. "Wow!" He wriggled a little. "The top is soft!"

Sam pressed her hand down on the top of one of the chairs." Yes, it molds to you. Interesting material. It looks like stone, but it's not - or not all of it, at least."

"I have seen something similar on other worlds, but never in a place seemingly as... primitive as this one," Martouf said, picking up an blue fruit, shaped like a thick, very curved banana. He studied it for a few moments, then carefully peeled it. The fruit inside was a deep purple. He frowned at it, but took a small bite and chewed slowly.

"Well?" O'Neill asked. "How is it?"

"Surprisingly good. It has a fresh, not too sweet taste, somewhat resembling strawberries. Lantash says it is safe to eat for a non-blended human." He picked up one of the other fruits with greenish-yellow, slightly bumpy skin and took a bite from it. "This does not resemble anything I have tried before. It is somewhat tart, but good - as well as free of anything dangerous."

He slowly tested out the other fruits and berries, and since he found it all to be safe, the members of SG-1 decided to try it as well.

"Fruit juice?" Sam asked, pointing at the pitcher.

Martouf nodded affirmatively. "Yes, I believe a mixture of the blue curvy fruit and the small orange berries. It is safe."

"What about the cake?" O'Neill asked, picking up a piece of the baked goods from a tray.

Martouf shook his head. "It's not cake. It is some sort of ground meat, mixed with various spices. It's raw inside."

"Yikes!" O'Neill let go of it immediately.

"It is edible, but not to my taste either," Martouf agreed. He made a small smile. "Lantash wishes to add that he does not find it edible, though in truth it is not dangerous."

"Yeah, I think we'll leave it alone." O'Neill yawned and sat down again on one of the chairs. "I wonder how long we'll have to wait?"

"Um, there's something else. I realize this sounds weird, but..." Daniel began.

"What?" O'Neill asked.

"Has any of you, well, had the feeling that something was... touching your brain? Kind of a faint, almost-there sensation that someone is in your head with you?"

"Now you mention it, I've gotten that feeling too, but I just pushed it aside, thinking it was something to do with the strangeness of the place," Sam said.

"Do you think it could be that Q we met earlier?" Daniel wondered.

"No idea." O'Neill shrugged.

"Regardless, Lantash and I sense it as well," Martouf said.

"Indeed, you are correct!" a strong voice spoke from the doorway to the corridor. "This one, and her council of wisest, have been probing you to determine your trustworthiness."

"You have read our minds," Teal'c said, turning to look at a large, blue-furred Denebian.

"Yes. Apologies, but that is so. We would not have done this in the before-time, but after our new Lord arrived, we no longer know who can be trusted." She dipped her head quickly, three times, in what was apparently a greeting there. "I am called Rokhan."

"Then you know we're not Goa'uld. That we're not like them in any way," Daniel said.

"To us, there is very little difference in your minds. Yes, you are kinder. You do not want to rule us, but your minds look similar."

"You can't mean Goa'uld and humans have the same minds!" O'Neill exclaimed.

"I will try to explain." She hesitated, clearly looking for words, perhaps pulling them from the minds of her visitors. Then she spoke, a little haltingly, but almost flawlessly, "Minds, consciousnesses, to us are... like swirls of colour. Opening for us, talking to us. Among our own kind, it is easy, relaxing. There is harmony. Not so... with otherworlders. To us, your kind has simple, closed minds. Almost always one colour, with little depth." She looked at Martouf. "You have two minds, connected. Between you, harmony. So rare in otherworlders."

"But you know he's the same species as the Goa'uld?" O'Neill said.

"Yes. Perhaps so. To us, you all look similar. Your minds, also look similar. To each other. And to the Goa'uld." She looked at Teal'c. "You have a mind swirling near your own. The hatred from it is great. Like in the guards that came with the new Lord."

"It makes sense," Sam said. "The symbiotes have been in human hosts for so long. Many generations. It stands to reason their minds resemble those of a human a lot."

"Whatever. Listen, ma'am, you must believe me when I say that we're not like the Goa'uld. We're here to help you - nothing else."

"You are here to learn about us. Learn about the new Lord," Rokhan observed. "Not to help us. It does not matter. You are not here to do us harm. Martouf, we will accept your medicinal herbs with gratitude. They will help. So many suffer." She hung her head.

"I can bring more herbs if it will help."

"We cannot be helped." She straightened. "It is our fate. Now you must go. This world is not safe for anyone."

"We're not leaving yet. We came here to learn something about Zorn, the Goa'uld. We only know he's here," O'Neill said.

"What is there to know? He came here. It was our world. A peaceful world. Now it is his. We suffer."

"How do you suffer? What does he do?" Sam wondered. "Does he make you work for him?"

"Work? No. He takes our joy. Our harmony. So much worse."

"Has anyone been taken as slaves? Beaten?" Daniel asked.


"That is most unusual," Martouf said.

"I agree," Teal'c added. "Zorn does not behave like a normal Goa'uld."

"We suffer. What can he do to us that is worse?" Rokhan said.

"Well, if you don't have anything more to tell us, then we'll say thanks for the food and leave, ma'am," O'Neill said. "Come on, guys."

"Wait - one more question," Daniel said.

Rokhan turned to Daniel. "No, this being you think of, Q. He has not been here. We do not... know him."

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