Chapter 2: Girl Power
Military training or not, I'm almost too nervous to sit still as we wait for Thor to arrive. I think I'm right about this one... at least from where I'm standing the explanation does make sense, but at the same time I can't help but fear that it makes too much sense, that it is too obvious and the Asgard must certainly have considered this possibility. Still, I'd rather point their attention to it once more rather than dismiss it and run the risk that they haven't considered it at all.
The thing is that in the weeks since that whole mess with the colonel's clone went down, Janet and I have been working on this. Using the information I managed to pry out of Thor, we've been trying to come up with the means to screen for the elusive Ancients' gene he mentioned as being the key to the Asgard's survival. Unfortunately, while I was able to work with Janet when it came to doing the scientific research, I'm pretty much on my own for this particular meeting. Most of Thor's encounters with humans so far have involved SG-1 in one way or another and that means that I've become a sort of designated spokesperson for this encounter... whether I like it or not.
The problem is that this situation is anything but straightforward and that is something that worries me. This is about a lot more than just the science and I know it. If we are right about this one there are bound to be long term consequences for both humans and Asgard and those consequences could end up taking many different forms... now if only they could be predicted using a mathematical formula.
The truth is that on top of the scientific ramifications of this whole thing there are also other practical matters to consider if we happen to be right here, things I'm not entirely sure how to handle. Science I can understand, but politics? That's definitely not my field but unfortunately handling this can't be just about science, just as it can't be just about politics... and we don't know enough about how the Asgard are going to react to this to even try to come up with some sort of strategy beforehand. The Asgard are desperate --we know that much-- and that means that there are going to be other aspects to consider here... and to make matters worse I suspect that the way in which I'm going to have to handle this may well turn out to be the exact opposite of what General Hammond would want me to do.
In the end I am pulled out of my musings by a familiar flash of white light.
"You wished to speak to me?" asks Thor, blinking at the colonel.
"Not me, Carter," explains the colonel before adding. "It seems like she's had one of her dumb ideas."
"What is it?" asks Thor, turning to me, and I'm suddenly feeling even more nervous than before. I know how much is riding on this one. I know the Asgard's survival may well depend on this meeting but at the same time I have to be careful, otherwise I may end up putting us all in danger... and that means I'm going to need to get myself a few answers before I volunteer anything else.
"Thor, do you remember what you told us about the fact that Colonel O'Neill is a significant step forward in terms of human evolution but he still isn't advanced enough to solve your problems, that he still can't sustain an Asgard's intellect?"
"If you could actually find someone who is advanced enough, what would you do?" I ask, dreading his answer no matter what it is.
"There is no such person, Major Carter. Colonel O'Neill may be an important step forward but he is still a long way from what we need if we are to survive."
"I know, but if there were someone advanced enough here on earth, would that person be taken, as Loki took the colonel, or how would the situation be handled?" I insist, knowing that everything depends on Thor's answer to that particular question.
"No, that would not be an option. Ideally we would try to secure that individual's willing cooperation."
"And if that person were to refuse to cooperate?"
"I do not know. That has never been considered because there is no such person, however I can promise that that person would not be harmed no matter what."
"Would you be willing to provide Asgard technology in return for that cooperation if it were to come to that?" I push.
"Some technology, perhaps... and protection for your entire world for sure, however we would draw the line at granting you access to our weapons."
"That's great, believe me, Thor, this is one instance in which we definitely would be more than willing to go along with that," I say, letting out a relieved sigh, even though I know that that particular answer is not the one General Hammond and the higher ups were hoping for.
"Am I to understand that you believe you have found such a person, Major Carter?" he asks.
"Not exactly, though if my theory is correct that person may well exist here on earth," I explain.
"But we have been watching you for thousands of years and yet we have never found any evidence that would seem to suggest that your genetic structure has evolved anywhere near that far. In fact up until now Colonel O'Neill is the only example we have found of someone coming even close," he says.
"I know... but I suspect you may have been looking at this from the wrong angle. You see, based on the information you provided us with, Janet and I have managed to isolate the genetic sequence you are looking for and, as far as we can tell, it is part of the X chromosome."
"That is correct," says Thor and I can hardly keep the smile off my face as I realize that my suspicions in that regard were correct, that the Asgard haven't realized just how relevant that fact is.
"The thing is, Thor, that Colonel O'Neill is a man."
"I am aware of that fact, Major Carter."
"Thor, let me ask you something, would someone with two copies of that gene be what you are looking for? Would that lead to a full version of the sequence, to someone who can sustain an Asgard's intellect?"
"Almost certainly, but so far we have not seen any evidence of anything like that, in fact until we came across Colonel O'Neill we had never even expected to find someone who had come as far as he has," he explains.
"In other words, until you came across Colonel O'Neill you hadn't really been looking?"
"That is correct."
"So the sequence could have existed all along without you being aware of it?" I ask.
"Yes, that would be theoretically possible, though we have not really seen any evidence of such a leap forward... not here on earth and not on any of the protected planets," he insists.
"I know, Thor, but the point is that given how limited the gene pool of the protected planets is to begin with, the fact that a rare gene is not to be found on any of them is hardly surprising. If the gene wasn't included in the gene pool of the original population then it could never manifest itself in its descendants... at least not unless it came about as a spontaneous mutation."
"That would be correct."
"Good. Now, Colonel O'Neill is the only person you've found so far with a partial sequence, right?"
"The thing is that, if the gene is associated with the X chromosome and requires two copies of the mutation in question for it to fully manifest itself, then one basic principle would be that for someone to have that full sequence then that someone would first have to have two X chromosomes and that rules out half the human population, including Colonel O'Neill. Simply put, I think what you are looking for is a woman, not a man," I point out.
"But based on our own history that would be impossible," says Thor, sounding almost shocked. "In the old days, before cloning replaced biological reproduction among our people, the Asgard too were both male and female and there was no such limitation."
"Yes, but you have to remember that we are different species --even if there are some similarities between our current form and that of the Asgard many thousands of years ago-- not to mention that the human Y chromosome is only a fraction of the size of its X counterpart. The fact is that the Y chromosome has far fewer genes in it than the X chromosome and is apparently shrinking. In other words, it is not unthinkable that something that has been lost from the human Y chromosome could possibly have survived in the X chromosome. In fact something like that would be consistent with what you've found in Colonel O'Neill," I say before going on.
"That could also explain why he displays some of the traits you are looking for: if the Y counterpart for the X version of the gene has disappeared, then the result would be that in a man there would be no other chromosome in place to either enhance the Ancients' gene and bring it fully on-line or to drown it out, as the case might be. That would mean that a partial sequence would manifest itself in a man but not in a woman because in a woman a single copy of that gene would basically be drowned out by the one provided by the second X chromosome. In a woman a single copy of the Ancients' gene would simply be recessive."
"So you are saying that a man with a single copy of this gene would exhibit the ability to use the Ancients' technology but a woman would not, yet a woman with two copies of the gene would be a solution to our problems?" asks Thor and I can see that he is considering things.
"Sort of. I mean, I'm not sure this even makes sense but..." I trail off.
"It does. It is certainly different from the way in which our scientists have approached the problem but it does make sense. Please continue, Major Carter," he encourages me.
"Good, the thing is that the absence of the Ancients' gene from the Y chromosome may still be a bit of a problem when it comes to the Asgard's long term survival," I warn him.
"Because it would be impossible for us to develop a viable population with nothing but females?" he asks.
"Exactly," I agree. "Even if you were to have a man who carries one copy of the gene and a woman who has two as the basis for a new Asgard population, you would still have a situation in which every woman would have two copies of the gene and every man would have one. Unfortunately the leap to a man with two copies --a man with a full version of the gene-- would remain an impossibility."
"But if we could get a viable sample from which to create a new generation of bodies for ourselves, a generation that is free of the defects that have crept into the lines we have been using for thousands of years, then that would not really be a problem," says Thor. "We are well aware of the fact that our current technology could eventually lead to a situation similar to the one we are now facing and that should make it possible for us to take the necessary steps to prevent it, so the absence of males would not really be such a relevant issue. Besides our cloning technology may well come up with a solution long before the problem reappears... if it ever does. If we were to be granted a fresh start with new genetic material, even if we were unable to reproduce, that would not necessarily be the case," he explains before going on.
"Our current situation came about because we did not even realize we had a problem until it was too late. We did not realize that our cloning technology was having a negative impact on our genetic material until all our uncorrupted lines had been lost and we had no means to undo the damage that had already been done. That is not a mistake we would make again. You see, at first our attitude toward our original samples was very casual. That is where the problem stems from. We recklessly discarded the original material, confident that a new body could be developed just as effectively from the clone as from the original, now we know better. If we were to be granted a second chance we would treat the new samples like the precious treasure we now know them to be. Besides, as long as the genetic sequence we are looking for exists here in your world we should hopefully be able to renew that basic genetic material every thousand years or so if we see any signs at all that the problem is reemerging. Sexual reproduction was never our ultimate goal, not really."
"Of course, the problem now becomes one of finding someone with the appropriate mutation... and that probably won't be easy," I remind him.
"No, it will not be easy," he admits, "but at least it should be feasible. Thank you, Major Carter, you may well have just saved the Asgard... again."
Author's notes: I just thought I might mention that there's no "Atlantis" in this universe. Remember that this disregards the sixth season of the show and then goes entirely AU after "Fragile Balance" (in other words it goes AU toward the end of season five, picks up canon for a moment in early season seven and off it goes again). That is also one of the main reasons why I refer to the gene as 'the Ancients' gene' rather than the ATA gene.
Now for some good news, the science lesson is mostly OVER!