"Hey, Carter. How come the sun is so red?"
Major Carter glanced at him, squinted at the near-cloudless sky, and shrugged, going back to her handheld atmospheric evaluator. "It's an old star, sir. Billions of years older than our sun."
"It looks huge. Shouldn't it be hotter here?" The temperature was mild and breezy, with the ubiquitous Earth-like trees all around, and all it needed was a lake stocked with trout to be perfect.
"Suns this old are cooler than our sun," Carter told him, distracted. "And this planet is probably farther from that sun than Earth is from ours."
Jack nodded. "I knew that," he muttered. Carter smiled a little and didn't reply.
Daniel lowered his binoculars and joined the conversation. "So does the age of the sun mean any civilization we might find here may be vastly older than those we usually come across?" Daniel looked interested for the first time since they'd come through the gate. There were no signs of inhabitancy for him to play with, and no danger to run from, so the archaeologist had little to do.
"There is that possibility, but it's by no means certain," Carter replied. She put the device away and nodded to Jack. "There's a higher CO2-to-oxygen ratio here than on earth, sir, but I think we'll be fine as long as we don't have to exert ourselves too much."
"Ah. So, no running for our lives, then?"
She grinned. "Let's try not to."
"Colonel O'Neill!" Teal'c called from the edge of the woods, about a hundred yards from the gate. It wasn't the Jaffa's alarmed voice - which was slightly louder than his "come- look-at-this" voice - so Jack jogged over calmly, the other two right behind him.
"What?" asked Daniel when they got close enough to see whatever it was Teal'c was looking at.
Teal'c was an expert tracker, and it took even Jack a moment to see what had drawn his eye. "It appears to be a path," said Teal'c. Daniel frowned at the tangle of greenery, and Teal'c helpfully pointed out the packed-down undergrowth and signs of branches trimmed with a sharp implement.
"That's a path, huh," Daniel murmured. "Well, shall we see where it leads?"
"Sounds like a plan," Jack said cheerfully. The others fell in behind him, pushing between the bushes onto the narrow path, Carter, then Daniel, and Teal'c at the rear. If it hadn't been for the clearly recent cut marks on the branches, Jack would have guessed the path was abandoned and overgrown. It was barely wide enough for one person to walk, and it was impossible to avoid getting slapped by the thin branches of the local flora.
"Who would cut a path this narrow?" Carter grumbled, kicking her foot free of a twining root.
Daniel rose to the rhetorical question. "Maybe people who want to cause the least disturbance to the plants they can," he offered, "like Buddhists." He swatted at a swarm of gnats that rose up indignantly from a low bush covered with dripping blue berries. Glancing back, Jack noticed that Daniel's pants leg was stained blue from brushing into the plant.
"Or perhaps, people who do not wish their presence here to be obvious," said Teal'c.
Jack stopped. "I'd say it's pretty obvious," he said. He didn't move out of the shelter of the treeline, so the other three pressed forward through the crackling bushes to see around and over him.
"Wow," Daniel said happily.
Jack glanced back at him. "'Wow'? What about 'it's an example of Minoan architecture with some incongrous Gothic elements' or something like that?"
Daniel blinked at him in that annoying slow way he had that made you wonder whether he was playing at being an idiot or he thought you were one. "Well, no, it isn't that."
"So what is it?" Jack asked, impatiently.
"I'd say it's a monastery," said Carter, "just going by the robed and cowled monks toiling in the garden over there. Sir."
"Yeah," said Daniel, nodding. "Monastery. Kinda Gothic." He described the massive boxy structure with his hands. "Big towers, little pointy windows, rough-hewn stone, lots of stained glass. European, medieval. Yeah." Jack glared at him. Daniel shrugged. "Not exactly my area of expertise, Jack. A few millennia late."
"I see no crosses or other religious icons normally associated with monasteries on your world," announced Teal'c.
"Well, there's that," Daniel said, pointing up to the bell tower. On the side, set into the heavy stones near the top, was a circular figure containing three curved lines, like a wheel with broken spokes. "That's similar to the triskele. It's an ancient symbol, found in Celtic and Viking and, strangely enough, Japanese cultures."
"It looks kinda like the yin-yang symbol, only with three divisions instead of two. What's it mean?" asked Carter.
"Don't know," Daniel replied. "No one's really sure. Eternity, maybe, or a symbol of the three-faced goddess, the Celtic moon goddess. As a Celtic symbol, it predates written history."
One monk stopped his work, straightened and turned towards them. As if connected by an invisible string, all the other monks did the same. "Whoops," said Jack. "We've been spotted."
"Were we hiding?" asked Daniel. He slipped around Jack, to move toward the monks with hands slightly outspread, in a gesture of peaceful intentions. He raised his voice slightly to address the brown-robed group. "We are peaceful travelers," he intoned soothingly. "We've come to talk with you."
There was a moment of stillness, in which no one moved or spoke, then the first monk came toward them, still carrying his hoe. He walked slowly, his eyes never leaving them, but he didn't seem alarmed. When he was about ten feet from Daniel, he stopped. "From whence have you come?" he asked, in startlingly perfect English. He was shorter than Daniel, and thin under the rough material of his robe, with a heavy, neatly trimmed beard.
"We, uh, we came through the stone circle," Daniel replied. That was the stickler question, every time. They never knew what the reaction to that statement would be. Sometimes the locals fell to their knees, which was acutely embarrassing for Daniel and annoyed the crap out of Jack, sometimes they ran or, worse, tried to kill them, and sometimes they just didn't understand. Given that it was nearly impossible to predict and equally impossible to know what kind of story to make up, it had been decided that SOP would be to simply tell the truth and deal with the response.
The monk nodded gravely. "You have come from another world," he said.
Remarkably calm, Jack mused. "Yes," said Daniel, managing not to sound surprised. "You, um, you know what the stargate is?"
In the garden, the other monks silently returned to their work. 'Their' monk answered the question with a completely apropos statement. "There are four of you."
"Uh, yes. There are. Four of us. No one else is coming, if that's what you, uh, are concerned about," said Daniel, groping to make sense of the weird guy. "I'm Daniel. My name is Daniel Jackson," he clarified. "This is Colonel O'Neill, and Major Carter, and Teal'c." Daniel waved to each member of the team as he made the introductions. "We are peaceful explorers," he repeated; that was a point that just couldn't be stressed enough, sometimes.
"I am called Trast," said the monk. He came closer, clearly trying to get a good look at Teal'c. This was often the next sticking point in the introductions. Locals, if they happened to recognize the Jaffa for what he was, would often respond by, again, either trying to worship or trying to dismember them.
Teal'c never bothered trying to hide. He stepped from behind Carter and allowed the monk to look him over, from the golden mark of Apophis on his forehead to the Go'a'uld staff weapon in his fist. The monk's reaction was once more a surprise. "You are not of the same world of origin as your companions."
"No, I am not," said Teal'c simply, volunteering no other information.
Trast nodded, as if this answered every question he could possibly have wanted to ask them. "You are welcome, all of you. Do as you will." He turned abruptly and went back to the garden, and bent to continue hoeing as if nothing had happened.
The SG team stood blankly for a moment in communal bewilderment. "What the hell was that all about?" wondered Jack.
"At least when they try to kill us, it makes sense," said Carter.
"What do we do now?" asked Daniel, turning back to his companions. "They're clearly not interested in talking to us, but monasteries are often repositories of a great deal of knowledge. We might be able to learn a lot here."
"Let's take a look around," said Jack. "There's got to be a village, some other people, around here somewhere."
They spent the day looking, following a nearby river up and downstream, but there was no village. There was no sign of any habitation at all, past or present. There was only the monastery and its surrounding gardens, all tended in silence by the monks. Further attempts to engage them in conversation resulted in nothing. The men would simply bow politely and walk away.
"This makes no sense at all," Daniel complained, trudging back to join the others at the forest edge after a final failed attempt to communicate. "No other people around, no women here unless they're cloistered inside. Surely this can't be a permanent settlement, but that monastery is not the sort of thing you'd build for temporary housing. Where did they come from? How do they know so much about the stargate?" Daniel flapped his arms in frustration. "What the heck are they doing here?"
"Gardening," said Jack. "Maybe the soil's really good here." He gestured to the massive building. "Think the answers are inside?"
"If there are any answers, I don't see where else they could be," replied Daniel wearily. Aggravation and long hikes made the archaeologist cranky.
At Jack's direction, they set up camp at sunset in a small clearing in the woods, closer to the monastery than the stargate, but hidden from view. The huge red sun as it neared the horizon became an awesome spectacle, seeming to take up half the sky with its softly radiant bulk. The team munched rations, watching it descend and the sky darken, alien constellations appearing.
"Think they took a vow of silence?" asked Carter, who was peering through the foliage at the dark and silent monastery. "That would explain why they won't talk to us."
"It would," said Daniel, "but then why did Trast talk to us?"
"Perhaps it is his duty to interact with those who come through the stargate. Perhaps they have been conditioned not to interfere or interact with such travelers," mused Teal'c.
"They didn't seem afraid," Daniel said thoughtfully. "That's what's so weird; they don't even seem interested. But if traffic through the gate is common enough for them to consider it normal, why aren't there more amenities for travelers? At least, a wider path?"
"And if there are other travelers, what the heck are they coming here for?" continued Carter.
"The only chance we have to find out any of this is if we get inside the building and take a look around," said Jack. "Who knows what they might be keeping in there?"
"We could try sneaking in tonight," suggested Carter. She turned from her self-appointed lookout post and scrunched, still crouching, through the leaves back to the campfire. "There don't seem to be any lights on in there; we'd have a perfect cover."
"Daniel?" Jack encouraged.
"That might be taken as a hostile move. So far they haven't bothered us or acted as if they considered us a threat; it might be wiser not to act like one."
"Your suggestion, then? I know you want to see what's in there," Jack urged.
"I think we should wait until morning, and just walk in."
"Huh?" said Jack. "Just - walk in."
"What makes you think they'll let us do that, Daniel?" asked Carter.
"Trast said we were welcome. He told us to do as we pleased. That sounds like a clear invitation to me."
Jack mulled it over as the others watched him. "Sounds too simple."
"Why does everything have to be a covert operation?" Daniel asked him. "Maybe these monks don't have any idea that we might try to do them harm. Maybe they don't have a concept of private space. Maybe they really did welcome us to come look around."
"Maybe, maybe," Jack conceded. "Okay, tomorrow morning we wait until the monks are up and about, and we try just walking in."
~~to be continued... I hope
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