As with all my Stargate stories, I love playing with mythology, and this story was a perfect follow up to the Season 3 episode, Crystal Skull. Here I’ve used aspects of Mayan and Aztec mythology from the original codices written by the Aztecs and those interpreted by Spanish priests that slot into the Stargate mythos. The Aztecs pinched most things from the Mayans, and never met a deity they didn’t like to adopt into their pantheon. This doubtless caused no end of confusion amongst their hapless worshippers – check out Godchecker.
More so than the Egyptian pyramids, remarkably little is known about the builders of Teotihuacán. Under the baleful glare of my (then) six-year old daughter – I bribed her with cake – in 1992 we walked the entire Avenue of the Dead, and climbed the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán. It was a remarkable and somewhat chilling revelation to see how the city skyline follows that of the landscape. Exploring the nearby caves and lava tunnels was also a little chilling. I defy anyone who spends time at Teotihuacán not to leave awed by this extraordinary feat of urban planning and engineering. Thanks to that trip, I am the proud owner of a beautifully knapped obsidian Aztec sacrificial knife, and a fine reproduction of the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull.
As to the volcanoes featured in the story, the ‘frying pan lake’ that Jack described is based on Waimangu, New Zealand, while everything else is largely based on the time I spent photographing Vanuatu’s volcanoes. Like everything else about this story, many aspects are entirely fanciful.
Based on the hit television series, City of the Gods is set near the end of Season 5, and takes up events first seen in the Season 3 episode Crystal Skull.
My enemy’s enemy…
When a crystal skull is discovered beneath the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico, it ignites a cataclysmic chain of events that maroons SG-1 on a dying world.
Xálotcan is a brutal society, steeped in death and sacrifice, where the bloody gods of the Aztecs demand tribute from a fearful and superstitious population. But that’s the least of Colonel Jack O’Neill’s problems. With Xálotcan on the brink of catastrophe, Dr Daniel Jackson insists that O’Neill must fulfill an ancient prophecy and lead the planet’s people to salvation. But with the world tearing itself apart, can anyone survive?
As fear and despair drive Xálotcan into chaos, SG-1 find themselves with ringside seats at the end of the world…
“Jack! What are you doing, why aren’t you…” Daniel stopped in his tracks and stared at him. His low voice was filled with apprehension. “Why is it so hot up here?”
Dabruzzi ran past them without pausing. Jack coughed, then coughed again, clinging to the pain searing his throat, an anchor against a different pain, one he could never articulate.
Something wriggled inside his cape. He glanced down at the miniature dog, Spiffy. They hadn’t been able to find the tunnel to the surface until it had jumped out of the cape and scampered up behind a rock fall. The animal had saved them, but it might have only delayed the inevitable. Jack reached in, unconsciously reassuring it with a gentle pat, feeling its warm life against his hand. “Our friendly neighborhood volcano decided to erupt all over the Stargate.” He swallowed the grit in his mouth and stood.
Daniel’s eyes opened wide in disbelief. “What about Sam and the other kids?”
“They’re dead.” Jack’s voice was as cracked and brittle as the cinders that covered the ground. “They’re all dead.”
Of such great powers or beings there may be conceivably a survival… a survival of a hugely remote period when… consciousness was manifested, perhaps, in shapes and forms long since withdrawn before the tide of advancing humanity… forms of which poetry and legend alone have caught a flying memory and called them Gods…
—HP Lovecraft: At the Mountains of Madness
Sheer stockings and a crisp blue uniform wrapped her in formality. Neither afforded protection against the cold but after the bitter nights in the lava tunnel on M4D-376, Major Samantha Carter was used to it.
Her short-heeled regulation shoes tapped across the tiled floor of the Washington DC building. The sound merged with the crowds: briefcase-carrying five hundred dollar suits, assorted federal types, and military uniforms Other sounds—felt more than heard—heating ducts, elevators, murmured conversation and shuffling papers; the white noise of civilization.
While Sam waited for the guard to process the man ahead, she glanced outside. In the distance a snow-speckled rainbow serpent of umbrellas undulated along the sidewalk. She began to remove her overcoat then decided against it. Ineffectual against the DC winter, it provided her with subliminal protection against the surrealism of the ordinary.
The image on the television screen above the guard’s head switched from the charred and smoking remains of a school bus to two bloody faced children, the only survivors of the latest suicide bombing. Israeli soldiers darted around the site with tiny colored flags, the types used to mark body parts, in an all too familiar ritual. Close captioning informed her that tanks were already rolling into the Gaza Strip. Retribution would be swift. She clenched her jaw. In the heavens beyond, the ‘gods’ waged war across time and space and dimensions incomprehensible to mortal man, while below, on an inconspicuous and until recently forgotten planet, the inhabitants squabbled like children.
The guard took in to her singed eyebrows and burned cheek. His normally dour expression fractured into a smile. “Long time no see, Major Carter. Racking up the frequent flyer points?” It was a polite way of asking if she’d been in the Gulf.
“I logged over one hundred hours in enemy airspace during the Gulf War. Is that tough enough for you? Or are we going to have to arm wrestle?”
His bemused look met Kawalski’s, but he said nothing, the first of many nothings in the years ahead. Naively assuming that all she needed was to earn his respect, she had no idea that he had been intimidated by her mind.
“Something like that,” she replied, her lips curling into a tired, socially polite smile.
The scanner declared her harmless. No, no weapons, just a trace of naquadah, a little-known protein marker and a unique collection of antibodies in her blood. Oh, and attitude reborn.
Returning her orders, the guard waved her through. She knew the way but felt displaced, lost amid the familiarity. It would take time to readjust. No big deal, she’d had to readjust her worldview on a weekly basis for the last five and a half years. Kind of hard not to when you were on a different planet every week.
The thought made her wince. Despite his claimed aversion, clichés had been Colonel Jack O’Neill’s forte.
The elevator doors opened and a cluster of tissue-wielding secretaries dabbing their drippy, pink noses piled in. Yet another flu was making the rounds through the poorly ventilated building. Sam stood back; she’d catch the next car.
“…and the Setesh guard’s nose…dripped!”
Despite herself, she smiled. Not at the joke, although she now understood its humor, but at the memory of Teal’c’s rare, full-bodied laughter. Complex, and driven by a need only generations of slavery could inspire, Teal’c had viewed the world without the clutter of ambiguity.
Her life was one long ambiguity. Perverse, really, for as a young woman she had taken refuge in things that defined order: mathematics and the military. Then she’d proceeded to burst through the envelope of everything mankind held sacred, from physics to religion.
Tightening her grip on her briefcase, Sam stepped smartly into the next elevator. She pressed the button with a still-bandaged hand; a few minor burns, nothing to get excited about. All things considered.
An Air Force colonel deftly slipped between the closing doors. He glanced at the floor indicator then pulled off his heavy overcoat, scattering flecks of powdery snow around. “Well,” he said, returning her nod, “at least we had a white Christmas.”
But no peace, and an inept and tragically failed goodwill. Sam noticed his gold wings and designator. Great, a fighter jock, Special Ops trained and all.
The colonel did a double take. “Carter? Sam Carter?” He pushed back his cap to reveal friendly green eyes. More white flakes slid from the cap’s plastic cover and joined their companions puddling on the floor.
Her polite smile turned into a grimace when she shook his outstretched hand; the damned burns hurt. “‘Cobra Burnett?” She’d RIO’d for the ‘Cobra’—then Captain Burnett—during the Gulf War. He’d never done her the disservice of treating her like a woman. Or a scientist.
“I like women, Captain; it’s just scientists I have a problem with.”
“You know, you really will like me when you get to know me.”
“Oh, I adore you already.”
She banished the memory, consigning it to the place where all exiled emotions resided, and focused on Colonel James Burnett. Ruggedly good looking and square-jawed, his military rigor camouflaged an underlying core of genuine compassion. Burnett was the sort of man who never hesitated to kill an enemy soldier but would rescue a spider stranded in a bathtub.
O’Neill had been like that. They all had. Part of it was their innate humanity; something Daniel Jackson had never let them forget.
“Still test flying, sir?” she said.
“Best job in the world. What about you?”
Her smile slid to the floor, melting with the fallen snow. She had touched the faces of gods and found them wanting, journeyed to Hell and back, seen worlds destroyed and the heavens in flames, and stood impotently by while men and women—indeed, entire races—died. “This and that,” she replied softly.