The Lotus Pool

"Colonel." MacKenzie looked as though he was trying to smooth over nervous irritation with professional calm. Calm was winning, but O'Neill reckoned it was a close call. He'd have prefered it if this was just between him and Daniel. Sharing his mind with Kantele worked only because they respected each other's privacy. What he was being asked to do now, was to to pry into Kantele's mind and hold the contents up for the inspection of a stranger. That struck him as obscene.

      "Watch the screen," MacKenzie said. "As your mind relaxes, I'm going to talk you back to the point at which you joined with Kantele. Then we're going to try and access Kantele's memory of the same moment and use that as a starting point to work back through his memories."

      No way. That memory was personal to him and to Kantele. They'd barely come through the experience alive and sane.

      "Jack," Daniel said. "Forget it. You don't have to do this."

      "There isn't any alternative." MacKenzie was emphatic.

      "He can resign."

      Resign. He tasted the word for flavour, didn't like it. Besides, Hammond couldn't afford to let him walk free, not with the unknown security risk he presented in his current state.

      "He has to access the symbiote," MacKenzie said, "and there's no other way to do it."

      But there was...

      "Candles."

      "What?"

      "I need some candles. A dozen at least. Big fat honking white ones. Borrow them off Teal'c."

      Daniel's eyes were alive. "Kelno'reem? Do you think you can you do it?"

      "I think so." He corrected himself. "I hope so."

      

      O'Neill stared at the flame, willing himself once more towards emptiness. This hadn't been easy the only other time he'd done it, and it wasn't any easier now. When he and Teal'c had swopped minds, at least he'd been in a body that was used to this kind of thing. Sitting cross-legged on the floor might be natural to Teal'c, but his own body wasn't used to the contortions.

      What was it Teal'c had told him...

      You must focus on the centre of your mind and ignore all other distractions. When you reach the state of being in a waking dream, then your dream will be in harmony with the symbiote and it will be able to heal you.

      Except that he didn't need healing. Kantele was normally a conscious presence in his mind, didn't need any ritual to be aware of him. And why did meditation have to be done in this silly position? It was hell on the knees. Except that his bad knee wasn't bothering him, and come to think of it, hadn't bothered him for several days. So when did Kantele fix that particular problem?

      Stop the side issues. Concentrate.

      He cast his mind back, tried to recall Teal'c's exact instructions.

      You must empty your mind. When your mind is empty of all distractions, then you will be able to achieve oneness.

      Or was that a line from some old TV show?

      He stared again at the candle, trying to block out thoughts of last night's hockey game, but the harder he tried not to think of it, the more it came to mind.

      "You must concentrate on your breathing, O'Neill. On that and on the candle flame."

      The voice was quiet, but recognisably Teal'c's. Something inside him relaxed, and the gently-voiced instructions continued, almost hypnotically, until there was nothing at all, nothing except a vast expanse of emptiness.

      

      The emptiness coalesced into the form of a flower. Floating on the surface of the water was a lotus blossom, each petal perfect in form and colour. Gently iridescent in the bright sunlight, the bloom of each petal had the magic of a dragonfly's wing. There was the suggestion of the rainbow in the depths of its white purity. Symmetry eluded the eye. The flower was self-evidently perfect and yet the exact arrangement of the petals followed no simple rule but some deeper mathematical law that was beyond his understanding. It was alive, and he was a part of that life along with every thing in the entire universe.

      For an unknown length of time he sat in silent concentration, perfectly focused and perfectly at ease. The flower was nothing and it was everything. He wanted nothing, needed nothing. Life flowed around him and he allowed it to carry him along its course.

      

      The tao that can be described

      is not the eternal Tao.

      The name that can be spoken

      is not the eternal Name.

      The nameless is the boundary of Heaven and Earth.

      The named is the mother of creation.

      

      Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.

      By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.

      

      Yet mystery and reality

      emerge from the same source.

      This source is called darkness.

      

      Darkness born from darkness.

      The beginning of all understanding.

      

      For an instant, it all made perfect sense, and then, as he tried to grasp it, the meaning was gone and there was just a jumble of ideas.

      All right, he asked of no one in particular. What was that about?

      "Beats me," Kantele said cheerfully.

      The vision of the lotus wavered and vanished and O'Neill found himself sitting, still cross-legged on a rush mat in a small open-fronted building that looked as though it belonged in a Japanese garden. Through the open wall, he could see a lotus pond, a formal elegant rectangle surrounded by worn stone flags. Green leaves lay flat and overlapping on the surface, with half-a-dozen white flowers floating beside them in perfect harmony of colour. From below the surface came the occasional flash of gold on scales as a fish swam leisurely by.

      Opposite him, also cross-legged, sat a young man dressed in the simple robe of an oriental monk.

      "So?" O'Neill asked.

      "So," Kantele said, "you're the first host ever to find this place."

      "It wasn't easy." He could hear the anger in his voice. "What the hell were you playing at?"

      "It was necessary.

      "The location makes the dwelling good.

      Depth of understanding makes the mind good.

      A kind heart makes the giving good.

      Integrity makes the government good.

      Accomplishment makes your labors good.

      Proper timing makes a decision good."

      "Okay, you can stop spouting that Buddhist crap. Why did you bail out on me?"

      "Because I was tempted. For the first time in nearly three hundred years. And if I was tempted, then you were going to have it in spades. And it's not Buddhist, it's the 'Tao-te Ching', although Taoism and Buddhism have a lot in common. YŁ Huang Shang Ti is worshipped by followers of both."

      "I just knew this was going to come back to the old snakehead."

      Kantele gestured towards the pool, and beyond, towards the mountains that rose like grey smoke on the horizon. "This place was his gift to me. Here, he left me five things: the analects of K'ung-fu-tzu; the 'Tao-te Ching' of Lao-tzu; the laws of Shang Yang; the 'Art of War' of Sun tzŁ; and the 'I Ching'."

      "Okay, the first one sounds like a martial art, most of the others sound like the menu of a Chinese restaurant, but I recognise Sun tzŁ. I've read him; guy had his head screwed on. Did you know the Chinese Communists based all their tactics on that book? They won." He held up a hand. "Don't tell me about the rest; you've got that look in your eye that Daniel has when he's about to give me a lecture on piece of broken pottery. Tell me where Lord Yu fits into this."

      "He's my father."

      So, he'd seen it coming; didn't mean he'd wanted to have it confirmed.

      "And you were going to tell me, when?"

      "Never, if possible."

      "I thought this was supposed to be an equal partnership?"

      Kantele sighed. "Jack, have I ever asked you about your divorce?"

      "Okay, point taken; but if you have Yu's memories, then we can use them. We need that knowledge of Goa'uld technology. He's a System Lord, he's got to have the lot - probably stuff there that even the Tok'ra don't know."

      "Those whose desires are few get them,

      those whose desires are great go astray."

      "Will you stop that? It makes my head ache."

      "You asked why I came here. I came, because I knew you would want that knowledge. I came, because it's too dangerous to access that knowledge.

      "Yu gave me a gift that may be unique among the Goa'uld. He gave me a choice. He understood both the desire for power and the possibility of not desiring power. As Ch'in Shih huang-ti, he finally united the whole of China under one rulership to become the first true Emperor. To understand the immensity of that achievement, you'd need to know more Chinese history than you'd get bored with. Just accept that he ruled an Empire that could put a million troops into the field. Yu feared the Empire would not survive Shih huang-ti's death - his sons were incompetent and unpopular; Yu foresaw a revolution even if he took one of them as host. At that time, he had no sarcophagus. He became obsessed with extending his life in order to hang onto his Empire, fell prey to superstition of every kind. He was completely insane. As if having achieved what he'd sought to do for one and a half a thousand years, he'd found that it hadn't given him what he wanted, but still had to fight at all costs to hold onto it simply because he didn't know any other path to follow. He became obsessed with the legend of the Yellow Emperor, of whom it was said that he had ascended to become a Taoist immortal.

      "In spite of his efforts, Shih huang-ti died. Yu changed direction. For the first time, he abandoned trying to rule the country and took a monk as host. Saved his sanity, if you ask me. He was still obsessed with the idea of ascension, but in following the Tao, he came to understand the freedom that comes with lack of desire. When the System Lords decided to leave Earth-"

      "Had their butts kicked, you mean."

      "When they chose. Did you really believe that one puny slave rebellion in Egypt could remove all Goa'uld from Earth? They had the technology to pulverise the entire planet."

      "Okay; this is going to be good, isn't it?" O'Neill laced the words with a liberal dose of sarcasm. "I can tell."

      "An Ancient came through the Gate."

      "An Ancient? You've met an Ancient?"

      "Ra did," Kantele responded. "She told Ra that her children were starting to reach adulthood, that the Goa'uld should leave Earth."

      "And they decided to leave, just like that?"

      "No. They attacked her with everything up to and including the Goa'uld equivalent of a tactical nuke. When that failed, the System Lords met in council for the first time in centuries. Only Yu understood what she truly was, and he kept quiet. He'd never seen it happen himself, but he'd heard stories from people he believed. A man learned in the Way would die and all that would be left was his robes as his body dissolved into light. She was an ascended being and that was the key to understanding her."

      "Whoa! You're saying those squiggly-light beings are the Ancients?"

      "Didn't you know?"

      "Forget it. Go on with the story."

      "Yu handled the negotiations himself. The Goa'uld would withdraw from Earth and leave its people free to develop their own religions without Goa'uld interference. Oma Desala agreed not to interfere with other Goa'uld-controlled worlds. Her world of Kheb was agreed to be a planet of refuge and to be off-limits to all Goa'uld."

      "Been there. Met her. She's got a nice line in killing Jaffa. I can see why she might make the System Lords nervous."

      "It might not have worked even then, if the System Lords hadn't been spending less and less time on Earth anyway. They all had their own colonies of human slaves established on other worlds. They had their faithful worshippers and their Jaffa. They were also starting to tread on one another's toes; disputes between them were becoming more and more common as their numbers increased. None of them had been willing to depart and leave Earth to the others, but if they all left..."

      "I'm surprised they didn't threaten to kill humans in retaliation."

      "It was seriously considered. The vote was a close one."

      "And?"

      "They left. Yu cut a private deal with Oma Desala. He could return via the Antarctic Gate as long as he took no slaves, no hosts and didn't interfere in religious matters. On one of his trips was about a thousand years ago, he re-encountered Taoism. What had originally been a 'religion' with no gods, had spawned numerous offshoots, one of which was the worship of a celestial court ruled over by the Jade Emperor: YŁ Huang Shang Ti. That tickled his sense of irony and he adopted the title himself.

      "Most of the Goa'uld took little notice. Lord Yu he had been, and Lord Yu he remained. One of Ra's daughters was curious enough to seduce him. She was suspicious of certain beliefs that were spreading among the Jaffa and suspected that Yu was in some way involved. Her logic was simple. If she could not gain the information from Yu directly, then she could gain it indirectly through his children. Yu gambled. He chose to have a son. He spent two weeks in meditation and created this place in his mind. If I think of my parents, this is where I come first. Here, I can find the stillness of mind to avoid desire. I have a choice. I can accept my parent's memories and desires and become like them, or I can choose not to desire power.

      "When I joined with Tuevo, I made my choice. I chose to be an equal partner."

      O'Neill sat still and stared out at the pool. Tranquility could carry its own dangers, but this place carried a feel of age and peace that he'd felt in very few places in his life. Maybe he'd visit again someday. Maybe.

      "So, Yu's a good guy?"

      "No. He's merely an improvement on most of the rest. Think of him as being a bit like Maybourne. You might work with him in a pinch, but you'd better watch your back carefully. Yu's thousands of years old. He's wily, he's devious and he's no longer afraid of death. He's not capable of ascension, but he has still grown past his fear and that makes him capable of greater understanding than the other System Lords. Never underestimate him."

      "And your mother?"

      "I was hoping you wouldn't mention her..."

      "Because?"

      "Because she was Bastet."

      


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