Planet P4A-991 - Prokopios's Palace, Alexandria :
The room in which Sam was to dine was much smaller than the magnificent banqueting hall she had seen through its main entrance.
~ so nothing different here then - the women still get second best ~
It was, nevertheless, a pleasant place in which to eat. The walls were adorned with swathes of silky material in pale shades of green, pink and gold, held up by plaster cherubs. Immense flower displays rose from the floor and the tables also had floral decorations along their length. A heady perfume scented the air, though that could just as well be the perfume of the guests. And the food was to die for!
Whoever had done the catering had certainly pulled out all the stops. Contrary to Daniel's conjecture, the Alexandrians were not vegetarians. There were meat dishes of many tastes and textures, elegantly decorated with vegetables and served with succulent sauces, and the sweet confections were heavenly. Many of the flavours were entirely new to Sam. There was wine, too, which had not been served before, and musicians - female - played enchanting melodies with hypnotic rhythms.
Sam was seated between Philomena and Kalandra who made a point of ensuring that she lacked for nothing, including entertaining conversation. She held back on the wine as much as possible as she felt that Colonel O'Neill would expect her to keep a clear head. As an outright refusal might offend her hostesses, she accepted a goblet of a pale golden wine which didn't look too strong, and determined to spin it out over the course of the evening. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when she realized that the wine in her goblet was red. She didn't remember accepting a refill, and it seemed pretty strong stuff - at least 15% she estimated. Oh well, she'd just have to make this one last.
She sat back and took in the scene. Everyone was chatting animatedly. That was understandable; she was feeling a little light-headed herself - an unusual experience. And they were not just chatting. Some of them were giggling excitedly too, as if in eager anticipation of something more to come. Her abstracted gaze fell upon one of the chubby little cherubs. Cute little thing. She smiled.
Then it hit her. That missing thing that Colonel O'Neill hadn't been able to put his finger on.
~ Oh, my God...! ~
Jack, Daniel and Teal'c, on the top table with Prokopios, were likewise enjoying a companionable meal, and likewise were holding back on the wine. It seemed an innocuous vintage - very little stronger than root beer in fact, Jack thought disdainfully, though that was probably all to the good. It seemed to be having quite an intoxicating effect on the Alexandrians, though. Some of them were becoming quite boisterous and their conversation distinctly bawdy. Obviously couldn't hold their liquor particularly well...
His mood lightened quite considerably when he moved on to the sweetmeats, which were much more exotic than anything they'd been offered previously, and very more-ish. Daniel giggled. Jack gave him an old-fashioned look.
"Y'know what these remind me of, Jack?" he chuckled.
Jack looked blank.
"Fairy cakes, Jack."
"Yeah, Jack. In my student days, I knew this nice girl. That's what she used to call them - used to make them, too, you know - added a secret ingredient..." he said with a knowing look.
"Cannabis. Yeah - space cadet to space monkey, Jack," he said and began laughing to himself as if he'd just told the joke of the century. And Jack thought maybe it was quite funny at that. Teal'c gave them both a puzzled smile.
"Colonel O'Neill, may I suggest that we do not eat any more of these 'fairy cakes'?" he said.
"Wha'? Oh yeah, perhaps you're right, Teal'c" Jack agreed amiably, "let's try one of these instead... Oh yes, now this is really something. Have one, Daniel - you, too, Teal'c."
They were certainly different from the fairy cakes.
"Whoa, these are weird," Jack laughed a little self-consciously. "Ya know, I don't think I've felt this - frisky - since I was in my teens..."
"I am pleased to see you are enjoying our traditional cuisine," said Prokopios, their generous and congenial host.
Jack wondered how he could ever have entertained any suspicious thoughts about him. An idea came to mind.
"Say, Proky, what's this Anna-nanna-thingummy all about? I figure we owe you one for this little shindig. What is it exactly that you want?"
"Your seed, my lords."
"Yes, my lord. Since the curse fell upon us"
"Oh, not another mummy's curse! Daniel, you take over. Curses are definitely your department."
"Ah... right, Jack. I think we'd all like to know more about this curse, Sir."
"You don't know?" Prokopios said in surprise.
"Well, let's assume 'No'," Daniel continued. "Please go on."
"After our Sovereign Lord, Alexander, defeated the Evil One and her Jaffa, she returned in secret to this very room. She summoned my father, who was then the Patriarch, and all the noble lords. I, too, was there. She laid a curse upon us and upon all the males of our planet that we would henceforth be infertile and impotent..."
"But you have children"
"Alas, Philomena was still in her mother's womb. She was the last child to be born here. That is why we need you so much."
Silence fell over the hall as he stood up.
"And now, let the Ananeosy begin!"
With that, the brightest and best of Alexandria's ladies flowed into the hall. Judging by their prompt appearance, they had been waiting close by in ardent anticipation. Sam was with them, looking rather po-faced. Prokopios's three radiant daughters made a bee-line for that particular member of S.G.-1 upon whom they had been dancing attendance since their arrival.
"Come, my lord Jack," Roxana said, offering her hand to Jack. He looked distinctly ill-at-ease, as did most of S.G.-1.
"Do you mind," he said awkwardly,"I have this honking great"
"Jack! Ladies present..."
"I know that, Daniel! That's the problem - that and those damned 'fairy cakes'!" he hissed, trying to quell his unruly flesh with his hands, and failing.
"O.K. guys, let's get this over with," he muttered finally, bundling his robes in front of him and allowing himself to be led off by Roxana. Lewd and lusty cheers from the Alexandrian lords accompanied their departure. Teal'c and Philomena followed. Daniel stayed put, resisting Melantha's pulling on his arm.
"I'm sorry, Melantha," he said, "this is nothing personal, but I can't do this."
"You are impotent, Lord Daniel?" she asked sorrowfully.
"No! I have a wife..."
"But Lady Sam said she is not married to any of you."
"No, she isn't. Actually, my wife's... dead. But I couldn't do this to her memory, that's all. I'm sorry, really sorry."
"S-sorry, Sam," he mumbled into the crook of his arm, "I didn't want anyone to see me like this Bad trip."
~ 'Bad trip'? The wine's pretty strong here, but... 'Bad trip'? ~
"It's O.K., Daniel - I mean - it's not O.K. obviously - but, well... just take your time with this. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. It's you that's important right now."
"No, it's all right, Sam. I told Melantha I wouldn't take part in the renewal thing, because of Well, she was fine about it - went away and left me alone. Then... Sha're appeared and I was - well, I don't know what I was... shocked... happy - at first - till I realized it wasn't real, then Oh Sam, I still miss her like crazy!"
He put his arms round her tight, and buried his head in his shoulder. Sam scowled into the middle distance.
"It was Melantha, Daniel. I watched her. After she left you, she just went off and changed her dress, then came straight back. Something or someone's been messing with your mind."
~ and I, for one, will never forgive them ~
It was suffering all round come morning. Sam and Daniel were feeling distinctly hung over and Teal'c was subdued. Jack, especially, looked thoroughly wrecked. It was almost midday before he shambled through into the reception chamber and collapsed on to a couch.
"Eurgh," he groaned, "did anybody see the train that just hit me? And did I really do what I thought I did? Tell me I didn't."
"You did, Sir." said Sam with a smile that had Schadenfreude written all over it.
"Never again!" he promised.
"No?" asked Sam with an ironic look. "What about the rest?"
"What 'rest', Carter?"
"You and Teal'c managed to mount all sixty three of them?" she asked in mock admiration.
Jack goggled at her, mouth agape.
"No! No, of course not," he responded as if she'd asked him if he ate small children for breakfast.
"So how many you got lined up for tonight? Sir."
"And of course, when you've worked your way through the nobility, you'll move on to the rest of the women. I'd say about, ooh, another five thousand?"
"That's not funny, Sam," Jack said, holding his head in his hands.
"Oh, I don't know... Don't worry though, I could have over-estimated. Might only be four thousand five hundred..."
Daniel gave a pained chuckle. "I guess that's why they were laughing when we were talking about leaving 'soon'. How does it feel to be a super stud, Jack?"
"I feel used."
"As do I, O'Neill," said Teal'c sombrely.
"Yes, well that's because you have been," Sam said brightly. "Must make quite a change for the boot to be on the other foot As it were."
"Yes, well can we just drop this subject please. It's a bit of a sore point with me right now What? What'd I say...?" he asked as Sam doubled up, choking with laughter, at the same time holding her head. "And that's another thing, Danny. You didn't exactly keep your end up!"
"Er, no, Jack - no I didn't." he said quietly, suddenly looking as if Jack had punched him in solar plexus.
O'Neill felt he'd somehow been wrong-footed again as Sam stopped laughing and gave him a very frosty look indeed. He glanced round at his team mates, completely baffled.
"I suspect, O'Neill, that something happened while you and I were otherwise occupied," Teal'c said taking in the facial expressions of the other two.
"Yes, Teal'c." Sam said stonily. "It did. Daniel and I were talking about it before you two came in just now. At last night's banquet, the wine we had was way stronger than what you had. It was very... relaxing. Just the thing to get the women loosened up. From what Daniel says, the wine that you were served wouldn't have knocked out a gnat - but - the food must have been laced with drugs of some kind to make you - um... "
"I was going to say libidinous, Sir, but yes, and also to increase your stamina."
Jack winced at the memory.
"But that's not all. Daniel said some of the drugs had a cannabis-like effect, but I'm not sure a mild hallucinogen like that would have had the effect on Daniel that it did allow one woman take on the appearance of another person she'd never met. Thing is, Colonel, I was watching her..."
"Her who, Carter?"
"Melantha, Sir. She looked into Daniel's eyes like she was reading his mind. Then she left the hall, came back a while later in a different dress and, well, Daniel saw her as Sha're - sorry Daniel. I'm sure something's going on here - someone's playing mind games."
The team had a very late lunch of the usual daily fare, which all except Daniel picked over very cautiously. After last night, he was still feeling a bit spaced out and not in the least bit hungry. Instead, he went out into the cool courtyard to clear his head.
He sat down on a stone bench beside one of the palace's wells, pulled up the bucket and filled his goblet. As he sipped its pleasant coolness, he stared down into the well, just letting his mind drift over the calm surface of its sweet water. He hadn't thought he was 'over' the loss of Sha're - he knew he never would be, not as long as he lived - but he had believed he'd come to terms with it, worked it into his life at last. The previous night had shown that he was wrong, completely wrong.
Once the initial devastation of his loss had passed into a gnawing, aching emptiness, he had built around himself a carefully crafted edifice of belief that he was coping. Now it had crumbled to dust like the illusion it was and he felt he was back to square one. He would have to rebuild his belief system... belief... "believe"...
Strangely, his gaze had fixed itself on the very word written on the inside wall of the well, just below the coping stone. It was in demotic script. Listlessly, he let his eye run over the rest of the inscription: "As you believe, so it is."
He had an uncanny feeling that maybe it was important, but right now he couldn't have cared less. He continued to let his mind drift... To Egypt and his triumph in translating the writings on the Cartouche that covered the Stargate ring... To Abydos where he'd helped to free his companions from Ra's bodyguards... To the gift of his wife, Sha're
No, stop there. Don't go on. Stay there. Believe she is still alive
"Danyel? Are you all right, Danyel?"
His heart seemed to rise into his throat, beating rapidly, his breathing fast and shallow. Not again... No, not again!
He turned his head slowly, fearfully. Sha're stood before him looking concerned. But it wasn't her. A part of his mind knew it wasn't. It was that someone messing with his head again. Well, he'd finish it this time. He'd not give her another chance.
With a roar of fury, he flung himself at the phantasm - found flesh, real flesh, wrapped his hands around her throat. He'd throttle this harpy. She'd never mess with anyone ever again!
In the distance someone seemed to be calling his name, someone angry, someone who wanted him to stop. But he wouldn't stop, not until she was dead. Then something like a sledgehammer hit on the side of the head and a merciful blackness descended.
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