Vala gasped as she was suddenly thrust into control, when her symbiote pulled back and locked herself off from everything, as much as it was possible. For a short moment, Vala felt surprise - elation, even. It had been many, long years since she had last had control.
Seconds later, the painstick was again pressed against her neck, and she cried out as the pain coursed through her body. Somehow, the agony seemed even more intense than when Qetesh had been in control. It was not because the symbiote had spared her host any of the pain - no, she had merely blocked as much as possible of it, solely to spare herself. Vala had just happen to benefit as well.
Goa’uld loved control more than anything, and almost nothing could make them give it up. Qetesh had kept control through hours of torture, before finally deciding it was not worth it. Keeping only the minimal connections needed to survive, the symbiote hid in her host, waiting for better times.
And so, Vala found herself in control again, after having longed for it during many long years. Alas, captured and bound, all she could do was scream, as Qetesh’s former subjects took out their anger and rage on her host.
She slowly woke up, careful as always, to avoid Qetesh noticing. Usually, the symbiote ignored her host, as long as Vala did not challenge her in any way - or Qetesh did not feel bored.
When nothing happened, Vala surreptitiously sent out a feeler, wanting to check if the symbiote was awake. She searched... but found nothing. Nothing at all! Strange. She could not sense Qetesh anywhere!
Had the symbiote again withdrawn - and now so much that Vala could not even sense her? Not that she missed her, but Qetesh’s absence might indicate something more nefarious.
During these days of beatings and torture, Qetesh had only returned when their tormentors had left, returned to yell at her poor host, and complain about the pain and all the healing she had to do.
Too weak to do much of anything else, Vala had ignored her symbiote’s whinings - though she had secretly enjoyed the pain Qetesh was suffering every time she returned to heal the body. Part of Vala was grateful when the agony gradually lessened, part of her just wished it was all over. Their tormentors never left them alone long enough to heal completely - then Qetesh would withdraw again, and Vala would find herself back in control, to endure the pain and humiliation alone.
However, now there was no one here, so Vala would have expected Qetesh to be in control and complaining. She noted that the pain was almost gone. Perhaps the symbiote was exhausted from healing?
Daring - or foolhardy - Vala ‘reached’ for control, fully expecting Qetesh to grab it before she could do anything. Grab it and punish her, as had happened uncountably many times before, especially when Vala had just become a host. Qetesh had chosen her partially for her spirit, as she had said, looking forward to the challenge of breaking her - something she had never truly managed. Vala was too strong for that.
There was still no reaction from the symbiote, and Vala became bolder. She moved her fingers, raised her arm, and opened her eyes to stare at it, surprised, disbelieving, that it had obeyed her command.
Still expecting Qetesh to return and snatch away her freedom at any moment, Vala slowly sat up. Her body was sore, but it was far from the hurting, bleeding mess it had been last she was in control.
She looked around. The place was unfamiliar, with blue-grey crystals everywhere. She did not recognize the style, but she could sense naquadah everywhere around her... Goa’uld technology, obviously. Had someone come to capture Qetesh? It was hardly to free her - even her allies would be more likely to celebrate her demise and split her territory, than come to her rescue.
So most likely someone had decided Qetesh was a valuable prisoner. That meant their situation might actually be worse, instead of better. Vala sighed. Why were there no guards?
She froze as she suddenly sensed the energy signature of a symbiote, and moments later a woman entered through the doorway. Why had she not sensed her earlier?
That was a question for later. The woman who had entered was clearly no Jaffa, despite the odd, un-glamorous clothing she wore. That meant it was probably the underling of whatever System Lord held Qetesh. Damn!
Which Lord held them? Why did Qetesh not react? More importantly, what was she, Vala, to do? Could she fake it? Obviously not - Qetesh would never speak without the distortion. So... would it be better or worse, if... when the Goa’uld realized it was the host that was in control?
Vala opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She had never had problems coming up with something to say, but right now she had no idea what to say. She did not not whether it was because she was out of habit, or if it was the strangeness of the situation.
The Goa’uld shook her head, and smiled at her.
“Do not worry. Qetesh is gone, and I am not a Goa’uld. You are safe.” She stopped a few feet away. “My name is Jalen. What is your name?”
Vala looked at her with an extremely sceptical expression. What did this Goa’uld take her for? She sensed the symbiote, albeit not as strongly as she normally did, and this Jalen spoke with the usual flanged voice of the Goa’uld. “I may only be Qetesh’s host, but I am not a fool!” She hesitated, suddenly worried she had overstepped herself, and added, ”My Lord.”
Jalen sighed, and bowed her head. A short moment later, she looked up again. When she now spoke, there was no distortion to her voice.
“Forgive us. I should have spoken instead of Jalen. I am Nefri, her host.”
Vala scoffed. “You do take me for a fool!”
“No, though your confusion is understandable. Tell me, do you sense Qetesh within you?”
After a few moments hesitation, Vala answered, wary. “No... she is... asleep, I think. Exhausted from healing, maybe.”
Nefri shook her head. “She is not. She had been removed. Our healers did most of the repairs to your body, though I believe she was exhausted from repeated healing. Regardless, would she ever remain asleep for this long, without assuring her host could not take control? Would she not awaken, and take back control, if her host should manage to assume it? Has this ever happened before?”
“No, but this is hardly normal circumstances! We were prisoners, you see...”
“Korra explained all that had transpired, when he brought you here. We are the Tok’ra. Surely, Qetesh knew of them?”
Vala almost gasped, and was quiet for some time. “Yes, Qetesh did know of the Tok’ra.”
Heretics, Qetesh had called them, when she had thought of them. Traitors. Perverts. Weaklings. That was just some of the nicer words the Goa’uld used to describe the Tok’ra, the hated Goa’uld resistance. They were rumoured to not only insist on willing hosts and talk to them, but it was said they even shared control with them! Not that Qetesh had believed that last part - it was simply unthinkable to any Goa’uld.
Vala remembered the one time when Qetesh had captured a Tok’ra. How she had tortured him. He had not spoken, even after being revived in the sarcophagus many, many times. Vala quickly suppressed the thought. It was not a pleasant one.
“Then you also know we are despised by the Goa’uld... and that among the Tok’ra, host and symbiote share control, and live in a truly symbiotic relationship.” Nefri saw Vala’s scepsis, and added, “It is true.”
“What did you do to Qetesh?”
“We removed her. She is gone. Forever.” Nefri looked at her kindly. “What is your name?”
“She is truly gone?” Vala asked, not daring to believe this... Tok’ra.
Nefri nodded. “She is. You are free.”
“You are really a willing host?” Vala wondered, finding it impossible to believe anyone would agree to that.
“I am.” Nefri merely answered, smiling a little. “Is it so hard to believe?”
“Yes!” Vala studied her for a moment, deciding she did believe her. Believed all of it, however fantastic it sounded. She had always prided herself on being a good judge of character. Besides, what Goa’uld would insist they were the hated Tok’ra, unless they really were? “Vala Mal Doran. That is my name.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Vala Mal Doran,” Nefri said, making a small half-bow, her hands overlapping before her breast.
“I am free? Can I leave?” Vala stood, almost falling as she did so. She grabbed hold of the edge of the bed, and stabilized herself. Now when she had convinced herself Nefri was speaking the truth, she was no longer afraid of her.
“When you are well enough to do so, yes. The healers would like you to remain for at least another few weeks, preferably longer.”
“Weeks! I do not need to stay that long,” Vala said, quickly. “Not that I am ungrateful, or anything, but I am feeling fine and I would like to... get back to my life - if that is even possible.” The last part she said in a low voice. She was not at all sure of it, but she was suddenly feeling the need to get away from this place, where everything gave off a naquadah signature. Where everything reminded her that she had been host to Qetesh.
Nefri smiled, a little sadly. “Jalen and I do understand your wish to get away from... everything that would remind you of your time as a host. I shall inquire if you can be allowed to leave earlier. I will tell the healers you are awake. As I said, they will want to examine you again... and... evaluate you.” She sighed, seeing Vala’s reaction. “Please understand, Vala... returning you to health, physically, is easy, but there may be other - more long term - psychological effects from being host to a Goa’uld.”
Vala laughed, a little nervously. “Oh, I do understand that. I just want to... need to be alone. I have not been able to do anything I wanted for years - and I have not been alone for years! There was always someone... right there in my head! Do you understand how that is?” She looked at the Tok’ra, shaking her head. “I guess you do, but you are probably going to say you like it that way.”
The Tok’ra nodded, then shook her head. “No, you are correct. I do not understand, I do not think anyone can understand how terrible it must have been to be host to a Goa’uld... Jalen and I share everything. She is my best and closest friend, and I would rather die than lose her.”
“How nice for you!” Vala said, a little sharper than she had intended. She did neither want nor need to hear about the Tok’ra and their symbiotic relationship. Not right now. “Sorry, I just want to be alone.”
Nefri seemed to understand. “I apologize. My words were ill thought through. I shall go now. Later today, Korra wishes to see you, if you are feeling well enough for a visit. He is the Tok’ra who rescued you.” She got a very serious expression. “One more thing before I leave... do you have anywhere to go?”
Vala considered it for a moment, considered lying, then answered, honestly. “No, but I do have some... old connections and ‘friends’ that I am going to search out.”
Nefri nodded. “As long as you are certain this is what you want. I will leave you alone now. One of the healers will probably come to see you shortly, but will not stay long. Are you hungry? I can come back and accompany you to the dining area.”
Vala discovered to her surprise that she was hungry. “Yes... but... there will be many Tok’ra in the dining area, will there not?”
“Yes, there will. If you prefer it, I can have food brought here instead.”
“I would prefer that.” Vala gave her a slightly embarrassed grin. She did not feel like facing a whole room full of people with symbiotes. They may be good Goa’uld, but they were still hosts - and that was not something she wanted to be confronted with right now.
Nefri bowed her head briefly, acknowledging Vala’s wish, then left the room. Vala was alone again. Completely alone, for the first time in a very long time. She lay back on the bed and took a deep breath. There was much she needed to consider. She had her future to plan - something she would not have thought would ever happen.
Maybe the Tok’ra were right, and they were different. It seemed that way. Maybe they were right, and she would have a long way to go, before she was back to herself again, after Qetesh. If she could ever truly be that same person again. Right now she did not care.
She just enjoyed the silence.