The Problem With Kindness
Written at the request of Spazmeister (who wished to know what became of the Aschenn) on the Loose_Ends_Fic ficathon. Sorry its late.
Beta read by Captain Peregrine.
Summary: “When you ask for help, its generally considered bad form to wait ten years before complaining that you didn’t want so much help.”
One day after ‘2010,’ Sam learns what happened and what isn’t different.
Characters: Sam, Mollem.
Her maid had left breakfast on the table, piping hot and reassuringly fresh. Dressing post-meal was rote – habit – something Sam did without sparing a thought for it. It was not until after she’d dressed that she wondered what there was left for her. Not knowing what else to do, she’d gone to work. Sam suspected that everyone there knew what she’d done…yesterday? Was it yesterday, or had she been unconscious longer than a few hours? Afraid to look at a newspaper or ask someone on the street, she’d kept further questions to herself. Surely everyone knew by now, knew of her failure.
And worse than mere failure: her surviving it.
She’d woken up, a powdery taste on her tongue, chapped lips, and what at first blush looked like she was covered in talcum powder – dead skin, all of it. Took a minute before she could speak, and that was after the shock wore off – shock that she was still alive. “Why?” she asked.
“You are back,” Mollem observed, sounding neither surprised nor amused, not even offended. But was there a note of relief coloring his voice? Nonsense, she told herself. Mollem was Aschenn.
“That’s right,” she said, taking up her usual station in the workroom, still amazed that nobody had stopped her thus far, and amazed that the computer-run building security here had not refused her entry, even to this room.
“Shall we continue where we were?” calling up the menu for the projects related to the ignition of Jupiter.
A small frown – he was human, after all – “Of course.”
“Why?” Sam asked. The hospital personnel who’d kept her company in her home, making sure she felt alright after waking up – after her failure – had answered some of her questions. By no means all of the questions she’d put to them, and had resoundingly avoided answering the Why.
“Why what?” Mollem asked, glancing at her. “Why do we still trust you?” And there was that we again, the word that, in the Aschenn language, referred not to ethnicity or religious groupings, but spoke simply of a community of colleagues. A word which, when the SGC had first met them, spoke of the Aschenn and their allied worlds…and over the last ten years, had come more and more to encompass – to include – the people of Earth and the Jaffa as well.
“Well…yes,” to put it bluntly.
A bit of a smile. “You surprised us,” the Jupiter menu was now accompanied by a time log of the files she’d opened when Janet had been in this room. “It rarely happens,” with a note of – sadness? Melancholy? – and cleared the holographic screen with a flick of one finger. “There was no lasting damage, so why should we be angry?
Sam smiled to herself, not letting it show outwardly: an admittance that the Aschenn still knew what anger was. “Because of what we did, me and Jack and Daniel and Teal’c and Janet. Because we tried to send a warning back in time to stop ourselves from meeting you.” Before Mollem could speak, she added something else: “And we did that because we were,” put it simply, summarize your words, “angry at you.”
“At me?” Mollem asked. “At the Aschenn, you mean.”
Damn that he didn’t look surprised or startled. “Yeah, at all of you.”
“Because of the birthrate?”
“Yes.” Personally, yes! For the others, she wasn’t sure if they had been motivated by other grievances.
A small nod – Aschenn were not given to large movements; but they were still human, and they still moved. On the screen appeared that birthrate for the people of Earth. “You only saw part of the data,” and converted it to a graph. Earth’s population over the last century, spiking up and down as it started down from the top of an arc. In her mind, Sam now and Sam not long ago had extrapolated the downward fall in her mind – the plummeting of Earth’s population. “That is your population, yes,” Mollem said, and a second line joined the first. This one was a staid, flat line that was level for the entire century. “This is the Aschenn population.”
Zero population growth. Sam said as much. One birth for every death.
Was that a flicker of sadness on his face? “Mollem?” Sam asked.
“There have been no births amongst the Aschenn,” moving the graph from One Century to Five Centuries. Even with that, still the Aschenn numbers stayed level…except when there were tiny drops. One of them died, an irreplaceable member of the community leaving their number. From Five Centuries to a Thousand Years, and still the same. “You agreed to let us help your peoples’ health…and then you asked us to share our medicines with you. Medicines which have indeed kept us healthy in our long lives.”
At a cost, Sam could see it on his face. “Medicines which rendered your race infertile?” The Aschenn were as much of a race as the Jaffa were – a population of humanity which was as close to a genuine subspecies as mankind had ever had.
“No,” he said, “not infertile. Our immune systems are…” thinking of the right word, the proper word, “hyperactive. Nothing survives in us, save for specialized gut flora.” Stomach bacteria, without which, neither he nor she would be able to properly process food. Sam thought of Mark, her brother the zoologist, and how he’d done a talk once…
“Placentals have learned to trick their bodies with the placenta. A placenta and a weakened immune system. The marsupials have a strong immune system, and pay the price for that every time they get pregnant – the young are ejected from the body, whereupon they have to make the climb to the pouch. It’s a trade-off, being able to carry to term, and keeping yourself healthy…its always a trade-off, even with the placenta.”
The Aschenn hadn’t been able to strengthen their placenta…or to make some other trade-off. “And you didn’t tell us?” which she thought was a milder way of saying ‘why didn’t you warn us?’
“We attempted to,” Mollem said, his voice not rising or getting angry or irritated or anything, however much Sam figured he had a right to be. “You will recall that we utilized your bureaucracies and committees, insisting on deferring to the politics of your world.”
Sam nodded. They’d let the leaders and chairmen of Earth throw up the roadblocks, while the Aschenn stood back, keeping out of the way.
“But you asked us for assistance, and it is a habit of ours to provide assistance to those who ask. You asked for our help,” Mollem said; “and you did not protest how much help we provided, until yesterday.”
“Yeah…about yesterday…” figuring it was best to ask now. As opposed to when? she asked herself. Seeing Mollem waiting patiently, “What happened to General Hammond?”
Zooming in on one of the rare dips in Aschenn population, “He died of the same heart condition which we ourselves succumb to. There was nothing we could do to prevent it.”
I see. “And my friends? Jack, Daniel, Teal’c, and Janet?” still afraid to ask about Joe. Was he mad at her? Would he forgive her for this…this impetuous adventure, as the Aschenn might call it.
“They are classed as the same as you – to be allowed to continue with their lives as before, unabated.” Glancing down and then back to Sam, Mollem’s face had a rare look to it – like he was confessing something, “If anyone attempts to enact revenge on your friends for what happened yesterday, the Aschenn will not allow that revenge to take place.”
“You can’t be everywhere,” Sam said.
Mollem just looked at her. “True.”
But how many countries use Aschenn software and Aschenn security systems these days? The number was higher than just how many countries used the full range of Aschenn medicine.