Stargate Command is a barren collection of grey-brown walls, which John has on occasion described as concrete. Teyla would step down the ramp leading away from the Stargate and run her hands over it, to see if it is as cold-feeling as it is looking, but there are ten armed men with guns pointed at her, so she doesn't move at all.
"Stand down," says a voice. A man, slightly shorter than she had envisioned, is standing off to the side, with short brown fluffy hair and a well-decorated suit in the style that she's seen some of the Earth operatives use on auspicious occasions. Next to him is a pale bald man with large ears who has something of a sneer on his face that he is desperately trying, and failing, to hide. He stares openly at her belly. He is discomfited by her pregnancy for some unknown reason; from what Teyla knows, Earth women give birth in exactly the same manner as Athosian women. This cannot possibly be so foreign to him. "You must be Teyla Emmagan," says the first man, and he climbs up the ramp to greet her. "Major General Landry," he introduces himself, extending his hand.
Teyla gives him the courtesy Earth handshake he clearly expects. "Greetings from the Pegasus Galaxy," she says, and bows.
They make bland small talk as Landry escorts her through the SGC. Concrete is as cool as she imagined; it is likely the same construction the Genii uses. Icier still is the pale balding man, who is introduced to her as James Coolidge of the International Oversight Advisory. During her brief tour, she sees mostly armed men, some people in lab coats (the doctors and other scientists, she recognises) and a few people in plainsclothes who may be assistant personnel of a kind, anthropologists or linguists or other non-military operatives.
One person wears clothing that is very different. He is wrapped in draping grey robes and carries a long staff with a bulbous end. He is tall and broad and, quite frankly, beautiful, with a wide smile and sparkling, friendly dark eyes. Teyla likes him immediately, and not only for his demeanour, but for the strange gold sigil he wears on his forehead.
"Teal'c of Chulak," he says. He bows once, inclining his forehead to her, and his hair - glossy and black, falling to his ears and jaw in curly waves - swings forward before he rights himself.
Of Chulak. Not from Earth, she realises, and a kinship grows.
Her first meeting with the IOA is an official welcoming greeting which takes place in a small room dominated by a large table. There are refreshments on the table. Teyla doesn't touch them, nor does anyone else. There are no windows, but on the walls are portraits of decorated men looking stoic. Only one woman, she notes - Colonel Carter. One of the pictured men is bald and has a scrutinising glare through small blue eyes. Hammond, Teyla reads, engraved on a small gold square placed on the picture frame. She recognises Colonel Ellis from the moustache. It's almost too bad he isn't here himself - she did not dislike him in the end - but the Apollo is presently somewhere in space. He has work to do. As does Teyla herself, but the IOA has insisted on conducting interviews with its alien members of the Stargate Program.
Mister Woolsey arrives and re-introduces Coolidge and Landry, as well as presenting a French representative Jean LaPierre, a Chinese representative Shen Xiaoyi, and a British representative Russel Chapman. "Your interview will take place later today at nineteen hundred hours," Coolidge says. "That's seven o'clock."
"I am familiar with your twenty-four hour standard," says Teyla, "having served over three years in a military capacity with people who often employ the same terminology."
Coolidge looks ruffled. "Just so you aren't late," he says. "Punctuality makes a good first impression. And for the record, honey, interruptions don't."
The Chinese representative is most familiar to Teyla. She stands stiffly, straight-backed, with a domineering look in her eyes. Teyla, who has always admired strong, leaderly women, feels comforted in her presence and recognises an equal. The British representative looks like a bread roll. The French representative is busy on a handheld tablet device and hardly looks up.
This meeting is not long, and after that Teyla is released to the guards who will escort her to her room.
Teal'c catches up to them quickly. "Teyla Emmagan," he greets. "I hope your introductory meeting with the IOA was satisfactory."
"It certainly did take place," Teyla says. Their group turns the corner down another hallway. The hallways all look the same.
"It is a shame you could not meet General Hammond," Teal'c says. "He was very good at being welcoming, especially to those not of Earth."
"He is currently away?"
"He has passed." Teal'c blinks, stoic. "They shall name a ship after him. There is no greater honour." They turn another corner. "I will be staying on base for the duration of your interview with the IOA," he adds.
"You do not normally stay here?"
"I have a home in the city," he says. "But this is closer."
Teyla frowns. "I am surprised they permit such a thing," she says. "On their world. In their city." She has come to realise that the humans of Earth get possessive over things readily. Many times, they claim the city of the Ancestors as theirs, and they did not even have a hand in its building.
"I have rendered many services to the SGC. In light of my contributions, General Hammond himself sanctioned it." They stop in front of a door that looks like any other. "I have reason to believe that if he had not, it would never have happened under the current administration," Teal'c says. The guards find elsewhere to look.
"Is that so," Teyla murmurs.
Teal'c, instead of answering, smiles tightly and gives a shallow bow. "If you have need of anything, I will be three hallways down, on this level, in the second room past the turn. My name is written on the door. Even if it were not, I am sure you could find it capably."
"For what purpose are you staying on the base, if you have a home of your own in the city?"
"In General Hammond's stead, it is my honour to be welcoming." He watches Teyla's wary glance at the armed guards who accompany them, one of whom is opening her door with his keyring. "As welcoming as we may be," he corrects himself.
"Thank you," says Teyla. Teal'c gives another bow and departs.
It is worthwhile noting, she thinks, that while he remains an alien to these people, he still says 'we'.
An hour passes before Teyla finds she is bored. There is nothing to do. There is the television, which is similar in nature to the tablets they use on Atlantis, but can be interacted with only through a small remote device, with limited functions. John has on occasion called the television the idiot box. After a few channels Teyla begins to understand why.
There is not enough room to practice sparring in here. She does a few moves of balancing and stretching and knocks into a chair. This is pointless.
She sits on the provided bed and attempts meditation. She achieves about an hour of this before she gets the feeling she is not alone. The Wraithkin ability presents itself in strange ways. If she stretches forward her perception and awareness - bit by bit - seeking - she can sense a new echo, a voice bouncing back. It is similar to how she perceives the Wraith. But there are no Wraith in this entire galaxy.
Teyla brings herself out of the trance and opens her door. Outside, the two guards standing by are jolted to attention; one of them grips his sidearm. "Miss Emmagan," says the other, "can we help you?"
"I would go and see Teal'c," she says.
"That's," says the guard, "that's not -"
"He offered, if you recall."
The other guard stands down, releasing his touch on his weapon. "Guess so," he says.
They follow her down the three halls to the second door where she knocks. "Enter," says Teal'c.
Inside is a dark room, lit by warm candlelight. Teal'c sits in the centre of the candles, golden and immobile. He opens his eyes. "Teyla Emmagan," he says.
She shuts the door behind her.
"You are the one who is meditating," she says. "I thought it was you."
"You could sense it?"
"I have - gifts," she explains.
Teal'c narrows his eyes. "You may wish to keep demonstrations of such gifts to yourself during your interview," he replies.
Teyla takes a seat across from him, in the candles, rearranging her blouse out of the flames. She is not accustomed to long, flowy garments but for ceremonial purposes, but her usual garments do not fit her for the moment. "Did they make you interview as well?"
He nods. "They did."
"You have been here ten years at Stargate Command."
"Longer, by my count. The IOA felt it necessary." He draws a deep breath and exhales it slowly, then removes himself fully from his trance.
She shakes her head, disbelieving. "What could they possibly ask you, that after ten years they do not already know?"
"The IOA places great importance on these bookkeeping matters. Sometimes it is easier to let them do so. For example, they want to know of our loyalties. That we may have strong bonds of loyalty to them, comparable in strength to the bonds we have to our own people. If possible, stronger still."
"And our actions are not enough for them in that?"
"They think hearing the words is more important than keeping track of actions," Teal'c says. "Keeping track of actions and history requires skill and attention. Attention placed on people they do not value. It is easier to place check-marks on boxes with the right answers given once instead of maintaining studious awareness over a protracted period."
She begins to understand. "They do not value us because we are aliens." Something she has seen in the Atlantis expedition from time to time, but not for some time.
"They do not value anyone who fights the kinds of battles we do, because they have never fought them themselves." Teal'c thinks. "If they did, perhaps that would change things. In the end, warriors may need to be expendable. A fact I do not deny. Those who cannot force themselves to consider their own expendability do not have the temerity to become warriors."
Teyla is inclined to agree. "What else do they want to know?"
"That we are focused in our fight against our common enemies," he says.
"We have been fighting our common enemies longer than they," says Teyla, indignant.
"As my people fought the Goa'uld for centuries before the Tau'ri took up our fight. As my people fought, and failed, and were brought low. Before the Tau'ri came, there was no hope." Teal'c squares his shoulders. "It is no shame to admit that their methods, their ways, and their tools have been invaluable. With them, the fight can be won. Without them ..." he trails off.
"Agreed," says Teyla. "Tell me about what you have been doing."
"This, we call kelno'reem," explains Teal'c. "Serving Jaffa were not merely warriors in the service of a Goa'uld, but also incubators for their larvae. I received my first prim'ta at a young age." He peels up the hem of his shirt - a loose, black tank. Teyla sucks in a quick breath in a hiss. A gaping cross of a wound remains there, thick waxy scar tissue. It looks like it was very painful to create. "This was once the pouch where I carried it," he says. "In exchange for its carrying, it granted me strength, healing powers, and longevity far beyond that of ordinary humans."
"At a cost," Teyla infers.
Teal'c smiles wanly, and nods once. "Yet one more dependence on the Goa'uld," he says. "We used the kelno'reem ritual to allow the symbiote to repair health ailments."
Teyla has a suspicion. "Could you talk to it?" she asks.
"You have been assiduously reading your Stargate reports," observes Teal'c. She neither confirms nor denies it. "You are correct," he says. "Once before, I was able to perform kelno'reem so deeply that I could stop my heartrate. In such a state, I was able to communicate with the symbiote." He looks at her, with a sober expression. "It was not something I did for amusement," he confesses. "The beast sent me images, telepathically, of its cruelty. Visions of the most painful parts of my past. It did this to taunt me, in an attempt to remind me that it placed itself always above me in rank." He smirks. "Now the pouch is mostly sealed closed, after years of taking a chemical substitute. It will never again have hold over me."
"Then you do not need to perform this ritual anymore," says Teyla. "Yet you still do."
"We have found that it has many uses," says Teal'c. "I taught Dr Jackson to access memories he made while Ascended. I taught Colonel Carter on the Odyssey to help her relax, and she used it to expand her mind both for her own benefit and to dream a solution that enabled us to return home. I have tried to teach Colonel Mitchell." Teal'c shakes his head. "I do not think he can be taught."
"I too meditate," she says. "I do not always do it for amusement either. Through my abilities and gifts, I can use it to contact the Wraith."
"Indeed?" says Teal'c, intrigued. "Then it is very like the method I used to once contact my prim'ta."
"Like it, yes. But not the same. Will you show me how you once did it?" asks Teyla. "The more I know, the stronger I become. I may have to contact the Wraith once again. On that day, I do not want solely to see through their eyes." An old rage simmers. "I want to control them." As they have exerted their control and their might over her people for centuries. She has done it once before, with the help of her child. Two against one is almost unfair. What a triumph it would be to take a queen on alone.
They sit and focus, and concentrate, and before too long Teyla can walk in Teal'c's mind, freely and openly. He does not have safeguards and walls - the kind that Wraith have to block others should they want - so Teyla practices building them in the way that she knows how. He then shows her, in ways that words can't easily describe, how kelno'reem with a symbiote would have enabled the symbiote to break the walls and gain control; how control could be taken back through the reverse reaction. It takes some time to do it with skill.
In the end Teyla is building walls, then throwing her consciousness through them to Teal'c's memories. She stops before she goes too far - she hardly knows Teal'c enough for him to expose his memories to her - but before she does she sees a woman who feels familiar.
Teyla nearly apologises for the intrusion, but something stops her. This woman has glossy dark hair and deep, dark, soulful eyes. She is pale - she does not leave the temple often. On her pale brow there is a golden tattoo exactly like Teal'c's. Shan'auc of the Red Hills, Teyla hears. She is strong. Not physically, but mentally. This is who Teal'c has learned it from, because Teyla can sense her touch along the same pathways. Teal'c shows Teyla what Shan'auc showed him, and there is as much an art as a science to her gift in communicating with her symbiote.
Don't let yourself be misled, Teyla hears - both Shan'auc's and Teal'c's voices. You will want badly to wrest control. You must know that you have it before you act. This was my mistake. Wanting so badly that I thought it real.
An hour passes in this practice. Her head aches; Teal'c's must be even worse.
"You wish to gain access to your enemies' minds for control. I believe you will be wilful enough for this, Teyla Emmagan," says Teal'c.
The interview takes four hours before Coolidge is satisfied. Shen, Chapman, and LaPierre say little.
Recorders are activated at the beginning. "You don't mind if we record this session?" asks Coolidge.
"Is there an option not to?" Teyla asks.
"Not really," Coolidge replies.
"Then no," she says, "I do not mind."
They give her a form to sign off on the consent of using her voice.
"So! Ah, let us begin with - could you tell us a little about yourself?" asks LaPierre. He has a pen out, ready to take notes. Beside him, Chapman has a pen as well, with a pre-printed form containing checkboxes and lines.
She gives them her name, her home planet. She thinks they probably do not care about her family or the fact that she is a leader of her people. They probably would not want to hear something that could be conceived of as potential for usurpment, even if Teyla has no intention of becoming leader of Atlantis. To assume the leadership of the city of the Ancestors is presumptuous, and she cannot say that either, because their people have already done so on two occasions. She tells them instead of how the Wraith have plagued their people for years and gives specific examples of the Cullings she has witnessed, the people with whom she has traded (and their Cullings), and her contacts in the Pegasus galaxy.
"Can you give me an example of a time when you had a challenge or conflict, and how you faced it," asks Chapman, clearly reading from his pre-printed form.
I have just done so, thinks Teyla, but she reiterates the stories of her people's Cullings, and how they rebuilt after.
"What are the professional strengths you bring to the team as an alien," Chapman reads.
"Oh for god's - look," says Coolidge, interrupting. "Let's get to the bottom of it, alright? You're on the team where a human could be on the team instead. What makes you so special?"
"I have years in defensive training," begins Teyla.
"With sticks? Honey, please. What else?" Coolidge snaps his fingers.
"Your people are not, and will never be, as familiar with our flora and fauna," says Teyla. "As a native of Pegasus, that is valuable knowledge -"
"Plants? Okay, great. So you can gather roots and berries. You probably make a great pie. What else?"
"Those roots and berries were invaluable when your entire expedition fell victim to the Kirsan fever earlier this year," points out Teyla. "A fever to which I have immunity, as a native of Pegasus. If we had not been there, your people would have had no treatment, and they would have all died before anyone could manage to identify the cause. An excellent welcome gift from the new planet for the City of the Ancestors."
"That is true," notes Shen.
"Lucky," says Coolidge, flippant. "Okay. So those are your strengths. How about your weaknesses?" Teyla glares. "Oh come on, sweetheart, everyone's got 'em. Probably you miss the folks back home. Don't know what you plan to do once you're no longer in your condition," he gestures, uncomfortably, at her belly.
"My allegiance remains to the people of Atlantis and the expedition," says Teyla. "I serve my people thus. Our goals in the war against the Wraith are common. By fighting with the Atlantis expedition, I have the best chance to secure my people a future."
"Oh, so that's why you got knocked up," says Coolidge.
"All of my people," says Teyla, trying to put an end to this line of questioning. She has already had this conversation with John. She has already had her own doubts.
"Perhaps we could return to the topic at hand," says Shen coldly. "Tell us about the times you have exercised leadership in your capacity."
"Or about the times you disagreed with the decisions made by our people," Coolidge adds. "Like that time you defied Dr Weir on the underwater drilling station and tried to punch above your weight with a Wraith queen, using your Wraith DNA abilities."
"It was not 'above my weight'," says Teyla. "I have controlled a Wraith queen once before. I will do it again. None of your people can dream of such a thing, and that is plain fact."
The interview goes on and on in this fashion for hours. Coolidge monopolises the discussion. Shen asks one, perhaps two further questions, mostly to keep Coolidge in line. Chapman asks no more, checking them off his list as Coolidge barrels through whatever he wants. LaPierre has returned to his tablet device.
Coolidge is dismissive of all her answers. He does not seem to think she is worthy of the position she holds on John's team in Atlantis. Part of her wants to crush him. She could do it in two swings of anything that looks remotely like a Bantos rod. The child she bears wouldn't even slow her down. To envision his punishment helps to calm her. This is a maggot of a man, and he is not worth losing temper over, though he certainly is trying to pick a fight.
Or, she soon realises, as he openly doubts that she will return to active duty, perhaps he simply doesn't see her as a threat at all.
"Well, it's not like it really matters," says Coolidge at the conclusion of the interview.
"What do you mean?" asks Teyla.
"After your baby is born, you'll be too busy taking care of it to go on any of the reconnaissance teams."
Chapman pauses in his scrawling. "That's a choice," he remarks.
"We're not spending the energy and money to send baby formula to another galaxy," snaps Coolidge.
"It is indeed a choice," says Teyla. "Mine."
"Honey," says Coolidge, "you wouldn't be the first woman to stay at home."
"I fail to see what bearing this has on the benefit of having Ms Emmagan, as an alien, on the reconnaissance team," says Shen. "Which is the goal of our interview here."
Coolidge finally shuts up.
Teal'c appears at her side once more to accompany her to the Stargate the following morning, after she has received the results of her interview (she is permitted to remain on the team). "May I ask something?" she says.
"You may always ask," Teal'c replies. "I may not answer."
Teyla thinks about her own child. "Do you have a family? On another planet? While you serve here, in the SGC?"
"I took a wife," he admits.
"Shan'auc of the Red Hills," she guesses.
Teal'c shakes his head. "No. Her name was Drey'auc of the Cord'ai Plains, We had a son, Rya'c."
"Had," says Teyla.
"Rya'c is grown now, and lives among other Free Jaffa." Teal'c smiles.
"You speak only of Rya'c," says Teyla, gently.
Teal'c takes a deep breath and exhales it slowly. "Drey'auc died, free of her symbiote," he says, "when another could not be provided in time to save her." And Teyla understands not because she understands the intricate biology behind it (scientists have written papers and theses about these matters), but because she understands the Goa'uld threat as the same as the threat of the Wraith among her people: a choking, terrifying hold of power and fear.
Teyla's eyes narrow. "You regret it," she says, reading his face.
"She died free," says Teal'c. "I regret that I could not have been there when she passed. The last time I had seen her was a year before."
"She didn't live here with you."
"Nor did Rya'c." Teal'c reflects. "I would not have wanted them to. This place -"
"Cold, barren," says Teyla. Hostile to aliens, she doesn't say, but she doesn't have to.
"It is better to have constant and free access to the Chappa'ai, to have sky above you, earth beneath you. Even when it comes with the danger of the Goa'uld, or the danger of the Ori, or the danger of Jaffa who have fallen to either. That was my sacrifice," says Teal'c.
"Do you regret that?" she asks.
"My son knows peace and freedom for the actions I have taken. My wife knows peace and freedom. After a fashion. Everyone I have loved - and I have loved many - knows peace and freedom. That is a price I would pay over and over again." He stops at the threshold of the gate room. "But it was a battle, Teyla Emmagan."
"You give me much to think on," she says.
"Your own child," he replies.
"You are clever and brave and wilful," he says. "And I have only known you a single day. You will find a way to grasp control of your enemies through the means you possess. You will find peace and freedom for your people. But you have already found a place for yourself."
Teyla bows to him, intending to show him how the greetings and partings among her people are done, as she has already shown John. But Teal'c already appears to know, and meets her halfway, his gold sigil warm against her forehead.