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Favorite Stargate Scene

A reader asked me which scenes I was proudest of in each book. That's a hard question! There are so many scenes I'm proud of for various reasons. However, out of all the Stargate books, there is one scene that I am absolutely proudest of, the one that I think is some of my best writing ever: Osprey's tale from Secrets.

Here it is. And if you're not a Stargate reader, take a look anyway. This is a scene I can say is truly among my best work.



Once, she had a name. She walked in springtime beneath the cool blue sky of Athos, leaves budding on the trees in the uplands, though the valleys were already green with spring. She had a name, though it was gone from her now. So much was gone. There had been a man with a beard who pulled the cart she rode in, a red beard and a wide smile, but she could not remember his name. There had been a boy older than she. He walked beside the cart, ranging back and forth, filled with energy. He had dark hair and a square face. And she did not remember his name.

No one named her here, not even Kairos, the assistant who bent over her, only human as she was, his homely face a study in concern. She could feel his concern, feel it touch her like water falling from the sky.

She remembered rain. It had rained on the morning that marked her seventeenth year, and she remembered no mornings after.

"Vital signs are stable," someone said. One of the Ancestors. One of the gods. She must have been badly injured somehow, she thought. So badly that they had petitioned the Ancestors to save her. She did not remember it. But there had been people who would have done so. The red bearded man. The boy. Even Kairos. Perhaps that was how she knew his name. He had brought her here to save her.

She closed her eyes against the brightness, the lamps that never flickered and never died, the lights of the Ancestors. She closed her eyes and dreamed. She dreamed of home and springtime, of the lake with its still water and a soft mist rising, a white waterbird taking flight.


"That is the ninety-first of the females," one of the Ancestors said, and he did not even draw the sheet over her still face, distorted by purpling blotches beneath the skin.

"The other nine are stable," another said.

Indifference. No sense of loss. What terrible thing had happened that so many died? She turned her head, but there was only the quiet of the room, white draped beds with patients, the two Ancestors standing by the bed at the end of the room. Too far away for her to have heard. She had thought they stood close at hand.

One of them shrugged. "We've only lost one of the males. The Y chromosome is acting as some protection against the most radical changes brought about by the retrovirus. Perhaps…."

A surge of anger. She felt it as though it were within her, but it was not. Kairos stood nearby, and his hands closed at his sides. It was him. The anger came from him, brought forth by their words that she did not understand. But he did. And it filled him with despairing rage.

"Kairos," she tried to whisper, but nothing came out. Not a sound escaped her.

And yet he turned unerringly, his eyes filled with tears. "I am so sorry," he said.


"Little one." The voice was a whisper in her mind. No words were spoken, but she heard them anyway. A woman's voice, older, softer.

"Yes?"

"Can you hear me?" Soft, urgent.

"Yes." She waited in darkness. She had woken in darkness. Only the fitful lights of a few machines winked here and there, like the stars she half remembered. "Who are you?"

A momentary picture in her mind, a woman's distorted reflection in a mirror. Forty, perhaps. Black haired, with olive skin, a round face and brown eyes, tall and full breasted, a white cloth holding back her pinned up hair. And then, sadly, "I don't remember."

Her voice was like the comforting dark itself, like waking from a bad dream to find that your mother is waiting, that she is safe and so are you….

…like tucking your child safe in her blankets, whispering her back to sleep…. An answering picture of starlight, of night through a window, a sleeping child.

"You are Night," she said. "I will call you Night, and we will be together in the dark."

A hesitation, as though there were something she were keeping back, as from a child who has been very ill. "Do not let them know you can hear me," she said. "Little one, please be safe. If they know we can speak like this they will kill us."


"It is only a blood draw," Kairos said. "I will be quick and try not to hurt you." His hands were gentle on her arm. It was not because of him that she screamed.

When he lifted her arm into the light she saw it rightly for the first time, mottled green skin like something long dead, dark emerald veins twining around the back of her wrist, the back of her hand. Her palm was opened, turned up, purpled tormented flesh surrounding a long gash across her hand, lips open and straining like a second mouth.

She screamed. She screamed until the second needle slid into her flesh, returning her to oblivion.


The sky was blue above the ice. When she was well enough they moved her to another room, one with a window that looked out on the sea. Storm clouds blew across and left thick snow behind them, glittering crystal in the morning.

She sat in a chair beside the window wearing nothing but the white shift they had given her. It was they who were offended by her nakedness, even though she was not made in their image anymore. Her body was as hairless as a child's, shaded from palest green to the dark emerald tint of her nipples. Her black hair had gone shocking white, like a grandmother of eighty summers. And yet it still fell all the way down her back, just as she had brushed it before…. Before things she could not remember.

"Are you warm enough?" Kairos asked.

Of course she was. There were no drafts, and inside was the same temperature all the time, even beside the windows onto snow. Everything was perfect.

*Little one.* This time when she heard the voice in her mind she was not surprised, only turned to see who had spoken.

She did not look like the image of the woman in the night, but the voice was the same. Tall, yes. Full breasted. Black haired still. But her skin was green as a lizard's, her yellow eyes slitted like a cat's.

*Night.*

She wore the same white shift, sat in one of the gravity chairs used by the very sick. It slid across the floor so that she might sit beside the window, looking out on the sea. *I am glad you are not dead,* she said.

*So am I,* she replied.

*There are seven besides us,* she said. *The rest are dead.*

*I don't understand.*

She turned her head, yellow eyes hard though her voice was sad. *Little one, I wish that you did not have to.*


One day, Kairos was gone.

She asked one of the other attendants. Her voice worked now, though it was low as a man's.

"He volunteered for the second trial," the attendant said, and did not meet her eyes before he hurried away.


The gods jested. Sometimes they laughed. When she washed, standing in the basin with the spray in her hand the guards made rude remarks about her, talked about her in ways that no one ever had in her hearing, the way that no man of her people would have permitted. She said nothing, eyes cast down. Perhaps the retrovirus had affected her mind and she did not understand.


*They are not gods,* she whispered in the darkness, in her bunk in the bare room with three other women.

*No,* another said. She was plump and young, shorter by a head, her red hair scarlet as fresh blood over ashen skin. Cloud, like a mountain of clouds seen from the sea, billowing and distant, with the sun rising behind them. Red sky at morning.

They did not speak with words, except to say excuse me, or to move something. There were microphones and cameras. They were observed by the medical staff night and day. They did not seem to need to eat or excrete normally, though they drank water. It was fascinating.

*I do not understand.*

*They are not gods,* Night said. *Now speak of what you remember. We must remember together. We are not witless.* Her voice was soft but resolute. *We must use our minds if we are to go home.*

*Home,* Cloud said, and spun the picture of a city for them, of white towers against the sea. *I dwelled in the City of the Ancestors, where I served the gods as my parents and grandparents did. I served in their crèche. I cared for their children.* Her voice was wondering. A picture then, a plump, blonde young woman, blue eyes too wide apart for beauty. *I dwelled in the City of the Ancestors. Once."

Expelled from paradise to the nether regions, she thought. There was some story about that, about those banished by the gods, but she did not remember.

*What has happened to us?* Cloud asked.

*I do not know,* said Night.

*Kairos knew,* she thought. *Kairos knew.*


It was eight days before she saw him, and she hardly recognized him. His flat, homely face was transformed, grooves beside his nose making his face seem narrower, his hair gone white and his skin pale instead of the rich brown it had always been, just as hers had.

*Kairos?* She spoke his name to his mind and he did not know it, only cringed and put his hands over his eyes. There was nothing but confusion there, huddled in the corner of one of the common areas wearing naught but a white shift. He did not know his name anymore.

She went to him and sat beside him, and at last he let her take his hand. *You wanted to know,* she said. *You wanted to know everything the Ancestors had to teach.* She remembered that much. He had gone to the City of the Ancestors to learn. He had become a healer. They were proud of him. Now the taste of his mind was like ashes in her mouth, bitter and tainted, like scraps of burned bark turning on the wind.

*Who am I?* he whispered.

*You are Ashes,* she said.


The day after they were locked away, each in her own place, each by herself. Alarms blared and yet she did nothing, only sat with her back to the wall, her arms around her knees.

*What has happened?* she said.

Gryphon answered. Her mind voice was very soft, even when they were not separated by stone and glass. *One of the men has killed someone.*

*Who?*

*A god.* Gryphon's voice was quiet. *They are saying that he killed a god and drank his blood.*


It was a small thing. She did not like that guard. She did not like the way he looked at her. And so when he came past she willed that he would not see her.

He didn't. He blinked, examined the bars and the locking panel, and then he sounded the alarm.

The other guards laughed at him. "She's right there," they said as she sat against the wall. "Right in front of your nose. Been hitting the off duty fun early?" And the guard, the one she hated, looked silly and shook his head. Of course she was right there. She'd been there all along. The camera logs showed that. She hadn't moved the entire time he'd been searching for her, not though he came within arm's length of her.

Somehow he had not seen her.


*I can touch their minds,* she said. *I can make them see what I wish.*

*Test it,* Night said. *See what you can do.*


"I hate this damned base," one of the attendants said. "The weather's always terrible."

The other one frowned, glancing at the window beyond the laboratory where she sat, patient and mute. "What are you talking about? It's fine."

"You don't see those clouds rolling in?"

"You're crazy. It's clear."

Clouds and mist, rising up like memory, a thick fog hiding the sea and snow….

"Oh," the second attendant said, perplexed. "Boy, that fog rolled in fast."


*Gryphon?*

*I burn,* Gryphon said. *My legs are weak and my hand throbs all the time. I eat and I eat, but it comes right back up. They have put the nutrients into my veins but it does no good.*

*Where are you?* Cloud asked.

*In the laboratory,* Gryphon said. Her mind voice was thready. *They think I will die. And then they will cut me open and see what failed.*

*We will not let that happen,* she said.

*And how will you prevent it?* Gryphon said. *Little One, you are powerless.*

*Not so much as they think,* she said.


*I am Wind,* he said, and his voice was strong.

*I did not know the men could speak.*

*Some of us,* he said, and he showed her a picture. A red sailed ship leaped over the sea and he stood at its tiller, a golden skinned man with long black hair, glorying in the play of air. It moved the ship, lifted it, and he sang with it, one with the joy of the sail. *I was a ship's master,* he said. *And a soldier.* A naked sword in his hand, the sweet curve of its blade like silver as they prepared to repel boarders….

*Blade,* she said, seeing it in his mind. *Soldier of the queen.*

*Who are you?* His mind voice was curious, and so she showed him what she remembered, a slender girl just out of childhood, honey skin and dancing brown eyes, a girl who loved music and the green places. The lake came back suddenly in memory -- morning, and a fog rising from the lake beside the Ring of the Ancestors, a white bird lifting from the water.

"I am Osprey," she said.


*She is dying,* Cloud said, soft so that none besides Osprey might hear. *Gryphon is dying. They say three men are too. It is not only that we do not take sustenance. It is that we cannot. We cannot metabolize food. And so in time we will all starve.*

*You know this?*

*I took it from the mind of one of the doctors,* Cloud said, and her mind voice was tinged with embarrassment.

*You can read the minds of the gods?* Osprey let her astonishment creep into her tone.

*Yes. Some.* She stopped, then began again. *But I cannot make them see things as you can. I've tried.*

*How long?* Osprey asked. *How long do we have?*

*I don't know,* Cloud said regretfully. *They do not know. Weeks? But I do not think Gryphon and the men who are already ill have so long.*

We will starve. Already she could feel it when her mind touched Gryphon's, a long burn like a pain in the bones. And Gryphon was not the only one. It rested on some of the others, even Wind….

*If I go I will take some of them with me,* he said, and there was steel in his voice. *They can only kill me sooner, and better weapons than starvation. I'll take some of the bastards down to the shades with me.*

*We all will,* Night said. Her voice was even and steady. *Better to die together if we must die.*

Osprey's voice was quiet. *Better not to die at all. What would it take to get to the Ring?*

*And go where?* Cloud demanded.

*Anywhere,* Wind said. *Anywhere is better than here.*


Midnight and snow. Outside, the winds kicked the snow to a whiteout. Inside it was warm and nice.

Cloud waited, her red hair falling free around her face, lips as red as cherries. She lounged against the bars, waiting, her mind open to her sisters'.

The guard stopped on his way downstairs. There was no reason to. Except that she was strangely beautiful. "What do you want?" he asked.

"You," Cloud said, and smiled. "I want you."

He stepped nearer, his eyes on hers, unblinking.

"I want you to open the door so that I can touch you," she said. "Open the door, beautiful man."

He ran his hand over the lockplate, one that only the gods could open, and the bars sprang apart.

"Thank you," Cloud said, raising one long finger to brush along his cheek. "Now come with me back to the control room and turn off the cameras."

"Why?" he whispered, though his eyes never left hers.

She giggled. "Do you really want people to see what we're about to do?"


Osprey's door slid open, the third one after Cloud and Night. *What is happening?* she demanded.

*We must go,* Night said. *There is no time. Soon their automated systems will alert them that something is wrong.*

*Not without Wind and the others,* Osprey said, and her bare feet were cold on the stone floor.

Cloud's face was strained, the guard standing beside her with blank eyes. *I can't hold more than one at a time! We have to go now!*

*Not without the others!* Osprey whirled around. *I can distract them. I can keep them busy. You go ahead and open the other doors.* They hesitated. *Trust me!* she said.

And then she closed her eyes.

Fire. She remembered fire. She remembered dancing around the flames, bright pipes lifting and playing, soaring like the sparks. Smoke drifted in great clouds, choking and billowing. Smoke was filling the rooms, cutting off breath. Smoke. There was smoke everywhere. It seeped from the ventilation ducts, crawled under doors. The halls were filling with smoke, and everywhere could be heard the lapping of flames, devouring oxygen and life….

She was smoke. She passed like a ghost, and they started around, leaping to their feet, scientists and doctors, rushing for water to drench cloths for their faces. They did not see her, and above it all was the high scream of the alarms, turned on manually. The halls were filled with running guards, but they did not see her. She was smoke. They retched, turning away from vents, trying to close them by hand.

The laboratory. Gryphon was not fooled. She turned her head on the white pillow. She was alone. The doctors had fled.

*Gryphon.*

*I can't walk,* she said. Her face was pinched, her skin stretched tight over her bones. *Osprey….* She raised her shaking hand. Her fingers trembled, the slit in her palm opened. Her hand spasmed. "Osprey…."

She only meant to take her hand. She only meant to help her up, to put her arm about Gryphon's waist and get her to her feet. But the hand rose inexorably, shaking. And then Gryphon's nails dug into her chest, tearing through shift and skin, biting like fire into her flesh.

Dragging at her soul. Life pouring from her, strength pouring from her into Gryphon. Mind to mind and soul to soul, her heart and Gryphon's beating in unison.

*Take my strength,* Osprey whispered. *Take my strength. Take it, sister.*

And it was life. It was rich, dark and sweet as all the food they could not digest, life and life and life. To lose it was pain, sweet ecstasy to drink. Minds entwined it was both. Life and death, death and life, swirling together like fireflies above the lake….

And it stopped.

Gryphon sat before her whole, her face full and round again, her blooded hand lifted. *Osprey….* Her mouth worked as though she resisted with her full strength. *No more. No more, or you will die in my stead.*

Osprey breathed. It came in her mouth and parched her tongue. And yet she lived. The claw marks on her skin faded, punctures healing. She was dizzy, reeling, and yet she lived.

*Life shared,* she whispered.

Gryphon hauled her to her feet. *Come,* she said. *We must go.*


*Ashes!*

He was there in the corridor, where soldiers ran blindly past them, fire equipment in hand. His eyes were wide, but they knew her. *Osprey, you must help me!*

*We will help you,* Gryphon said. *We are going to the Ring. Come with us.*

*No!* He dragged at her arm, his eyes on Osprey's face. *We must do something first.*

There was a sudden rattle at the end of the corridor, and then one of the guards was borne backwards, thrown against the wall where he fell like a broken doll. Wind came around the corner, two other men behind him, his white hair streaming like a banner, one of the Ancestors' weapons in his hand. *They have fallen back to the control room,* he said. *The one beside the hangar. There are ten men or so in good order, but the rest are panicked by the smoke.* He smiled grimly. *Your doing, Osprey?*

*Yes,* she said.

Ashes dragged at her arm again. *Osprey, help me!*

Wind's expression shifted. *Come, good fellow,* he said. *We'll do our best to get you away.*

*There is a weapon!* Ashes straightened up. *I am trying to tell you. They have created a weapon that kills only us, that reacts somehow with the new chemistry of our brains. Hyperion, the Chief Scientist, created it. It was supposed to work on something else all together. I don't understand. I don't understand any of this. But we can't leave it. If we do they'll come after us with it.*

*Cannot Hyperion just build another?* Gryphon asked.

*Hyperion is dead,* Wind said. He flexed his hand, and Osprey saw the blood on his nails, crusted between his fingers.

Her eyes widened. *You….*

*I drank his blood,* Wind said, raising his chin. *It seemed a waste to only shoot him.*

*We have to take it with us,* Ashes said.

There was a sudden alarm, and from ducts along the ceiling fire suppression foam began to spray.

*They have found the overrides,* Wind said. *They believe that the fire suppression equipment has malfunctioned and they have turned it on manually.*

*Go!* Osprey said, shoving Gryphon in the direction of the men with Wind. *Go to the Ring with them. I will help Ashes bring this thing.*

Gryphon hesitated.

*I'll go with them,* Wind said. *Go on. Dial out if you can, and don't wait for us.* He shifted his weapon to his off hand. *Let's get this thing.*


The lab was silent except for the distant alarms. Wind fell back to cover the door.

*Here,* Ashes said, and he seized a buffed steel box from one of the work tables, flipping it open. Within, a scepter surrounded by crystals glowed faintly. *This is it.*

*Bring it then,* Osprey said. There was a pedestal at the center of the room, lights shining on terminals around it. A thought came to her. *Would it not be a good idea to disable this somehow?*

Ashes had pulled out one of the drawers from the workstation and was grinding crystals beneath his heel, smashing months of work. *I have a better idea.* He entered a series of commands on the terminal, and from the pedestal rose a long red cylinder, faceted like stained glass, glowing brightly. The glow faded as Ashes pulled it from its holder. *Take the power source.* He shoved it into her hands.

The lights died. The alarms ceased. Here and there an emergency light flickered to life, but for the most part the underground corridors were plunged into night.

*Can we get out of here now?* Wind demanded. *The smoke isn't going to fool them forever.*

*Yes,* Osprey said, dragging Ashes away from the console. Wind fired into it, sparks flying.

She tucked the power source under her arm and manhandled Ashes along with him still clutching the case. The corridors were pitch black, slick with fire suppression foam. Here and there they came upon bodies, many of them withered and dry, like corpses buried for months in deep caves, chests caved in around the puncture holes.

Life for death and death for life.

Gryphon was waiting at the hangar doors, five men with her. *Two groups have already dialed out,* she said. Beyond her, the bay doors were open to the night, swirling snow obscuring anything beyond them, even the Ring of the Ancestors and the podium before it. *You are the only ones left. We waited for you.*

Wind shifted his weapon. *They have a clear field of fire,* he said. There were guards in the docking control room. The glass windows had been blown out, and they covered the wide expanse of the bay to the open doors, a long distance of nothing but concrete. Osprey could see the barrels of their weapons, one, two, three…. There was nothing to hide behind at all. *Can you distract them?* Wind asked.

*Maybe?* She was so tired. Her feet were leaden. She had held the illusion of smoke for so long, and Gryphon had fed so deep. *I will try,* she said. *It may only last a moment. So we must run.*

Smoke wreathing around them. Smoke filling the bay, obscuring their shots, clouding their sight. The entire bay was filled with smoke….

*Run!*

Gryphon in her white shift and bare feet, Ashes clutching the silver case, the dialing symbols burning in his mind….

*Run!*

The men sprinted into the fog ahead of her, smoke curling….

And the weapons opened up. Someone in the control room had sense. They could not see their targets, but they could shoot in the right direction.

Osprey ran, Wind at her heels, the power source clutched to her chest. Across the endless space of the landing bay, toward the snow.

Shots touched her, once, twice, but miraculously she was still running, still running through the pain, and outside the whirling whiteness lit with unbearable blue light. The Ring kindled to life under Ashes' hands.

She heard Wind grunt, felt him stagger, but he was still running too, at her back.

Snow surrounded her, the cold wind hitting her like a blow, snow beneath her bare feet. Gryphon was through, and Ashes. One of the men disappeared into the pool of light.

Another shot, and she stumbled on the shallow steps. And then the light enveloped her.

Night again, but warm and still, the soft chirping of insects in the grain. Wind almost plowed into her from behind as the Ring deactivated.

*Dial out!* he shouted, pushing her away from the Ring. *Dial out so that they cannot follow!*

The stars above were the stars of home.

Osprey stood before the Ring gasping, the power source in her arms.

Beneath the stars of Athos.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
tielan
Jan. 29th, 2015 12:28 am (UTC)
I've always loved this sequence from the first time I read it. Simple and terrible and poignant, but filled with such emotion in the telling.
jo_graham
Feb. 2nd, 2015 12:22 am (UTC)
Thank you! I loved writing this one so much!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )