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Old 21st December 2003, 10:01 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Enter the Abyss (WIP,S7)-Updated

Notes: I've made some rather extensive edits to the whole story, so I decided to delete the old thread and repost. This is the most complete and up-to-date version of the story so far. It is still uncompleted.


Working Title: Enter The Abyss
Pairing: implied Sam/Jack UST
Spoilers: S7


Summary: What if the one price you swore you would never pay, was the only one that made sense?


************************************************

"Carter?"

A staff blast slammed into the rock above the cave entrance.

"We're pinned down, Sir. At least three, probably four Jaffa. I can't get a good..."

Her voice cut off abruptly and there was a sudden flurry of motion as another voice rang out. "Get down!"

He had a vague sense of two outstretched bodies diving for the floor. The warning sent his body spinning toward the half dozen Tok'ra huddled near the back of the cave. He was not even sure which Tok'ra he knocked over as he grabbed his own helmet with one hand while simultaneously wrapping the greater portion of his upper body across the host's shoulders and back of the neck. The Tok'ra grunted as they hit unyielding rock but did not struggle. It was heat and darkness and thunder as the world exploded. Before his mind had time to decide that he was permanently dead this time, an oppressive silence descended. Rock dust added a bitter edge to the air and the sporadic gunfire sound of rock on rock warned him that the sky was still falling.

He lifted his head to cough the dust from his lungs.

"Carter?"

The Tok'ra he had tackled was not moving. Considering that Jack had more or less dropped a full 185 pounds on his head without warning, he was betting he was unconscious. Ignoring his ribs, Jack staggered to his feet and spun in the direction of the cave entrance. Reflex sent his body stumbling for the last known position of his team members and his mind into familiar patterns of habit and training.

Keep moving.

Emotions lost themselves in a glittering spiral of action, his body tracing conditioned patter of habit and training.

They had been too close. The entrance to the cave was no longer there and a small mountain of rock rested where the floor used to be. Peripheral vision on his left showed movement and the part of his mind that remained active in the quiet center of the spiral noted that Ishta and most of her Jaffa were still alive. Too soon to tell whether the fallen were merely wounded or dead. It did not matter. They were not shooting or being shot. Ditto for the group of Tok'ra starting to move about behind him.

"Carter!"

He saw her a split second before he smelled the blood. Most of it probably came from the female Jaffa that Carter was lying over. The blood itself was secondary to the grey matter leaking from a fist-sized hole in the Jaffa's skull. Carter's helmet appeared intact and nothing he could do in the next five minutes would change whether she was breathing or not.

Low-end humming, the droning hypnotic sound he always associated with bees on a summer day slid through his mind, tracing the spiral. Before he even had time to notice the emotions on the uppers layers, they were swept into the depths. Away from the colors. Away from where they could distract him or betray him. Just...

Away.

"Ishta! Check on Carter. Al'syn...can you sense Teal'c anywhere in this mess?"

His body moved close to where he thought he had seen Teal'c go down and started hurling rocks out of the way. When no one seemed to react, he looked up to find all eight Tok'ra gathered around Carter, staring down at her with what appeared to be a comprehensive case of group shock.

"Damn it Al'syn. Move your ass. If they use any more grenades the other half of the cave could come down."

The Tok'ra male looked back at him blankly.

Two of Ishta's Jaffa pushed past him and went to Carter. The remaining seven fanned out, hesitant to add their weight to the unstable pile. From the corner of his eye Jack saw one of the Tok'ra pull a healing device from a pouch at her waist and kneel to run it slowly across Carter's body. The device lit and the Tok'ra woman's face tightened. Jack swallowed tightly, then turned resolutely back to the ton of rock entombing his missing friend.

"O'Neill..."

He whirled as Al'syn grabbed him by the shoulder. The Tok'ra swallowed, then gestured in Carter's direction.

"She will heal."

He allowed himself one more look. Just enough to tell him that the Tok'ra told the truth. He swayed as the spiral started to tremble and he turned back to the rock.

"O'Neill..."

Carter was not dead.

He ignored the sidelong looks and outright stares of the Tok'ra standing and watching him.
Carter was not dead and neither was Teal'c. Not until he saw bodies three days dead and no sarcophagus in sight. He paused in his digging to glare at the Tok'ra still standing next to him.

"Either make yourself useful or go away."

Al'syn did not move. His eyes were intent on Jack's face and he had the strangest sensation the Tok'ra was searching for ... something. The feeling jolted his snake alert. An instinct or alarm or whatever it was that seemed to go off every time he was around the Tok'ra lately. Four years lately. Violence shimmered beneath reflex that wanted to react to a physical threat that Jack knew was non-existent. More or less. Two years ago he had finally given up trying to explain it and simply told himself that he had an unequivocal aversion to all things snake.

He glared at the unhelpfully, immobile Tok'ra.

"O'Neill...please. Let Bira heal your hands. We will dig."

Al'syn - or the host - started to reach for Jack's hand, then stopped as the Tau'ri tensed. Immediately, Jack found himself the object of a pleading gaze that - for some reason - reminded him uncomfortably of Daniel. Bira stared at his hands while the rest stared at the dirt floor. The Jaffa watched curiously from the corners of their eyes as they shifted boulders the size of his computer monitor.

None of them understood.

"He is alive."

The Tok'ra - as a group - avoided his eyes.

"Al'syn..."

The young host shifted unhappily. "He no longer has a symbiote, O'Neill. Even if he is still..."

Jack grabbed the front of Al'syn's sand-colored tunic. Both men ignored the blood soaking into the fabric. "Get this through your head once and for all. Until I see a body, he's alive and he's waiting for me to dig him out. That's exactly what I'm going to do."

Green eyes flashed and Jack jumped, nearly losing his hold on Al'syn's tunic. Flushing, he realized the Tok'ra had not threatened him. In fact, he was hesitating as though uncertain what he -the snake - wanted to say. The symbiote's voice sent that alarm of his into overdrive, the hollow echo sounding low and awkward, emphasis in all the wrong places and flat. As if he were speaking words that had been memorized without understanding and rehearsed so many times the meaning had been lost. It got worse when he realized that the Tok'ra - all of them - were waiting for his reaction.

" No one gets left behind."

A shiver worked its way down his spine and lodged somewhere in his gut.

Al'syn's hands clenched in an involuntary reflex the symbiote could have controlled. Either Al'syn was deliberately letting him see it...or the host and snake were equally rattled together. Jack let his gaze sweep over the group of Jaffa watching curiously. They had continued digging, but Ishta was staring at the Tok'ra with an expression on her face he could not interpret. Deciding that whatever it was could wait, he unclenched one hand and patted Al'syn's shoulder approvingly.

"Right. Now we're getting somewhere."

As if that was some sort of signal, the Tok'ra headed en masse for the rock pile. They mingled cautiously with the Jaffa and Jack could feel eyes burrowing into his back as he gave in to common sense. Cursing every lost minute, he made his way over to the woman with the healing device. She glanced at him shyly as she concentrated on his torn flesh. Jack ignored the pain in his hands and focused all his attention on the group slowly moving rock.

"Samantha Carter will heal from her injuries. Other than a slight concussion, she suffered predominantly from extensive bruising and some minor tearing to several muscles and ligaments which we have repaired. She will need several days of rest, but the damage will heal on it's own."

Jack glanced at the still body of his 2IC. Ishta's Jaffa had removed the body of their fallen comrade and shifted Carter far enough from the rock pile to be safe, but otherwise had kept to the alcove. On brief reflection it was probably one of the safest places in the cave given the situation. He glanced down as the healing device stopped humming and flexed now healed fingers. He exchanged his blood-soaked gloves with a spare pair from his pocket.

"That's good. Thanks."

She looked a bit confused, and he felt her eyes following him as he stood and rejoined the searchers. He ignored the implications of her confusion and went back to work. Two hours later, the Tok'ra were still digging. They were both stronger and more sensitive to the presence of a Goa-uld symbiote than any Jaffa. Most of Ishta's warriors had been assigned to search the cave system for any exits - or entrances. For the moment, the radios were still working, and one of the search groups reported finding water, but no escape route. Jack kept digging.

There was not a single person other than himself who actually thought Teal'c was still alive. It should have worried him. Instead, it simply made him that much more determined to continue. When Carter finally stirred and made her way to his side, he allowed himself one searching glance to make sure she was okay and then moved sideways to give her some elbow room. Bira protested, but a single glare from Carter was surprisingly effective in silencing her. Comparing her easy acquiescence to Dr. Fraiser's pit-bull attitude, Jack found one more thing to worry about.

The two Tau'ri dug in silence and several hours faded into a haze of pain. Labored breathing. Screaming shoulders. Twice more, Bira demanded that she be allowed to heal their hands. The last time, she warned them not to get injured for another twelve hours while the new cells adjusted, because she would not be able to safely use the healing device on them for at least that long. Jack shrugged and went back to digging.

When the rock shifted beneath his feet, his reaction time was slow. One moment he was examining a huge boulder; the next, the ground was shaking and moaning and rocks were grinding under his boots. He heard Carter yell and then they were both scrambling upwards to stay on top of the pile as it slid out from under them. For one moment he actually thought they had made it to safety, then the ground simply vanished and he felt himself falling. He had a split second to wonder whether Bira was going to be ****ed, then everything went dark.
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:02 PM   #2 (permalink)
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"O'Neill! Major Carter!"

The panic in the symbe's voice was vaguely surprising. Jack groaned as Al'syn continued to shout. On the whole, he knew he was going to regret moving if and when he found the energy. On the upside, he felt more bruised than broken.

"Carter?"

For the second time that day he found himself holding his breath as he waited for her to respond. An answering groan just beside him had him turning his head. Or trying too.Fumbling for his flashlight he discovered that some of his bruising came from the fact she was sprawled on top of him. Had probably landed on him when they fell. Worried that any rocks that had fallen after them might have hit her, he craned his head around as far as he could without shifting her.

"Carter?"

"Unhh...Colonel?"

He relaxed as she finally answered. Her voice had seen better days, but she was not screaming in pain. She struggled to stand. He grunted as she placed a hand on his shoulder blade and accidentally brought her weight down square against him, mashing him into the sharp pointy rocks underneath him.

"Sorry, Sir. Bad footing."

"No problem. Nothing broken - I think."

" Major Carter!"

Yep, the symbiote was definitely panicked. Jack grimly wondered what he would have to do to find out why.

Carter tilted her head and called upwards,"We're alive."

"Are you injured, Major Carter?"

"Sir?" her voice was softer this time.

Jack took a quick internal assessment as he hauled himself to his feet awkwardly. "Bruises."

She gave a quick sigh of relief and turned back to answering the Tok'ra. "We're okay. We just..."

Jack spun around as her voice trailed off. Following the beam of her flashlight he squinted as a large lump was revealed at the end.

"Teal'c!"

Scrambling down the pile of rock they had landed on, Jack headed for the Jaffa as Carter started yelling instructions to those above. He ignored everything. The astonishment in their voices, the flurry of noise and light behind him. Everything except the impossibility of having his team back together again. In spite of his eagerness to make sure his friend was still alive, however, he remained cautious about the location. The fissure they had fallen through had likely existed prior to their explosive entry, but there was no sense in taking chances.

From the tracks on the ground, Teal'c had dragged himself away from the crack in the ceiling before collapsing. The large boulder Jack had been studying before he fell had probably saved Teal'c's life. It and others like it had obviously blocked the fissure during the initial cave-in, protecting Teal'c from being crushed beneath their smaller cousins. Luckily, he had had the presence of mind to haul himself away from his initial landing spot. Otherwise, he would have been killed when his teammates and a couple hundred rocks plunged through the ceiling after him. As it was, he was in bad shape.

Jack knelt cautiously and searched for a pulse. Finding a slow but strong beat, he sighed with relief and started looking for obvious injuries. Twice he found makeshift bandages that had saved the Jaffa from bleeding to death. Even so, Teal'c had only managed to slow the bleeding, not stop it. Added to the fact that he had no symbiote, was probably bleeding internally, and had at least two broken bones, Jack was extremely grateful for the Tok'ra healing device waiting somewhere above his head.

Or not.

He was unceremoniously pushed aside as Bira and Ishta scrambled to a halt beside him. Looking around he found four Tok'ra clustered around Carter as she prowled the edges of the cave Teal'c had discovered. It had the benefit of being both more easily defendable than the cave above, and had several likely looking crevices that could act as exits. Plus, Teal'c was already here.

"Ishta...recall your people. Leave a guard upstairs, but get them checking out where these cracks go. We'll set up here for the night."

She nodded agreement and disappeared.

Ignoring the physical exhaustion that hovered just beyond the physical pain he was feeling, Jack rounded up the Tok'ra and had them begin to bring down the supplies and equipment from above. Not that there was much. They were less than a day's hike from the Alpha site and no one had expected an overnight stay. The only equipment they carried was within the standard tactical vests SG1 was wearing, and the rock testing equipment Al'syn and the Tok'ra had brought. He considered the situation grimly. The only good news was that such a small number of attacking Jaffa had probably come through the gate with one of the groups sheparded by Teal'c or Bra'tac. Jack doubted that they represented a security breach.

He wondered which part of their multi-species group they had been trying to kill.

Considering his lack of diplomatic skills, he found it rather amazing that his team had the interspecies reputation that it did. Of course, the Jaffa were easy enough to understand. SG1 had an image and Jaffa respected success. Teal'c was the natural draw, but they possessed a large measure of respect for Carter, Daniel, and himself as well. Daniel, in fact, had been propositioned so many times, it was becoming a running joke among the Marines. If there had been any propositioning in Carter's or his own direction, he had missed it.

Teal'c refused to answer when he asked him about it.

Carter and Daniel were proving to be the most successful when dealing with Ishta and her group. The Amazons belonged to a warrior culture and Carter and Daniel had the right attitude to deal with them without pushing the buttons the Marines kept tripping. Ishta had not wanted to move to the Alpha site at all, but Carter had pointed out that the gate address to the Jaffa base was on the Abydos cartouche and, by space travel, not that far from several Goa'uld-controlled worlds . The children, at least, needed a safer place to grow up. So here they were, looking for a good spot for an Amazon village. The caves they were currently trapped in had been the whole reason they were scouting this site. Ishta had hoped they would be adequate for winter storage and defensive retreat.

The Marines were responsible for the name. After overhearing Daniel, they had taken to referring to Ishta's warriors as Amazons and inevitably the female Jaffa had heard the nickname. Luckily, Ishta and the others had been amused. As a result, their new village-to-be was now officially known as Amazonia - courtesy of Daniel.

Al'syn was more of a mystery. He had shown up with an entourage of a dozen Tok'ra two weeks ago. Jacob had taken one look and started cursing. That alone would have been enough to make Jack cautious, but the new Tok'ra had been exemplary guests. Hell, the old Tok'ra were being exemplary guests. After the mess with the Ash'rak, Malek had requested permission to build some tunnels a half day from the Stargate. Initially it had started out as temporary quarters for the displaced Tok'ra. Somehow, Jack found himself agreeing to extended stays and the addition of medical labs and facilities. One day he turned around and discovered the Tau'ri now had an unofficial Tok'ra base on their Alpha planet.

Annoying though he found them, they went out of their way to prove that they understood that the location of the planet was Top Secret. In spite of that, more of them kept stepping out of the Gate every day. Disconcertingly, they were remarkably cooperative about using Ishta's planet as a gateway and quietly allowed themselves to be sheparded through the gate by SGC personnel thus meeting Jack's one ironclad requirement - that the Alpha address remain classified. Nor, Jack discovered, did they mention going away anytime soon. After his hundredth grumble on the matter, Carter told him she thought they felt safe at the Alpha site.

He had his doubts, but stopped asking Malek when they planned to leave.

There were always a few under foot. Asking questions. Talking. Every time he turned around, it was beginning to seem. Insanely, Malek apparently decided that he liked Jack. The Council liked Daniel, Al'syn and his cronies had a crush on SG1, and they all seemed to like Carter. Jack figured that their Great Queen Egeria had been a scientist. Thus, all her little Tok'ra spawn were scientists. The Tok'ra, in fact, were just one big happy family of science geeks.

Carter was the queen of geeks.

He had also not meant for the Thracians to follow him en masse to the Alpha Site. Honestly. He had simply moved them there as a temporary measure. Just until the SGC could find them a new home to replace the one destroyed as massive earthquakes tore it apart. Okay, so they had resisted a little and he may have gotten a bit...pushy. In retrospect, he had all but booted their leaders through the Stargate at gunpoint. He was understandably confused when they declared him a hero and promptly refused to leave. SG-9 was politely informed that the Thracians were an agrarian society and since it was obvious that Jack, SG1, and the Alpha Site (in that order) knew nothing about growing healthy food, the Thracians would be happy to help them out. Now that Teal'c, some of the Jaffa, and SG-11 had gleefully started constructing a shipyard to build Tau'ri Death Gliders, Jack had suggested that Hammond let the Thracians stay.

Working Jaffa were hungry Jaffa.

Moving on to actual alien species, he had also discovered that he apparently now had Unas. They started shipping the naquadah straight to the Alpha site two months ago given that it was easier, cheaper, and more secure to build the 302s and 303s on the Alpha planet. Unfortunately, the Unas had gotten curious about the world on the other side of the Gate and had started visiting with the shipments. Jack's copy of the security video the first time they surprised their new clan members on Earth was a cherished possession.

Thank God they liked Daniel.

Earthling scientists had been pouring through the Gate at an ever expanding rate and Hammond had been less than heartbroken when SG1 was relieved of field duty due to Daniel and a badly broken right leg. He had immediately assigned SG1 to the Alpha Site as cultural liaisons and Jack as temporary base commander. Officially, they were there to keep the various groups from killing each other. Unofficially, Carter had taken off with a handful of crystals, 15 scientists, a few Tok'ra buddies, and started growing an underground research facility. The last time he checked, it was two levels deep and still growing. The Tok'ra assured him the shields would contain any explosions.

Daniel, had started a Library. Not a library, small letters. A Library. In the full meaning of the Greek. Wishing to make full use of his exile, Daniel had commandeered the now empty buildings erected for the Tok'ra refugees from Risa and requested that several crates of books and writings stored at the SGC be shipped to the Alpha Site. They started arriving three days later and kept...arriving. Personally, Jack thought Hammond wanted the space back.

Daniel had an ever-expanding Roladex of off-world scholars he kept in touch with regularly. When they discovered he was stationary for several months, Hammond started getting requests to visit. Geeks by twos and threes. They came. They saw.

They stayed.

They reacted with scholarly horror at the treasures piled unorganized and unprotected in not-so-climate-controlled shelters. At their prompting, Daniel asked if Jack would mind if they built a proper storage facility. Jack, being an idiot, forgot to ask just what kind of building Daniel meant and stipulated only that it had to be low profile from the air and it had to be cheap. When Daniel failed to ask for more than a nominal budget, Jack promptly forgot about it. Big mistake.

Now, just past the Jaffa tents and temporary military shelters, he had a monster of a building being erected by volunteers and several clans of Unas. The Jaffa, Jack could understand. There was only so much hand-to-hand training you could do before you went bonzo. That, and the women seemed to be congregating around Daniel. The Unas were a bit harder to understand. Jack suspected Daniel was paying them in language lessons and protein bars because nearly two hundred and fifty crates in seven flavors had come through the Gate the morning before, then promptly disappeared. Two members of SG-11 were giving unofficial lessons in basic engineering and from the intensity of the Unas attending the lessons, the home-world caves were never going to be the same. Considering what they had already achieved in less than three months, Jack was understandably concerned about what they planned to do with summer vacation.

He had to admit though, the building was cleverly designed. The use of natural stone augmented with Tok'ra tunnels, strategic greenery, and an ingenious use of stone carving rendered it hard to see from the ground and damn near invisible from the air. A significant achievement considering that Daniel's friends had run amok with the design. The monstrosity came complete with space for quarters, classrooms, libraries, and the first Off-World Tau'ri Museum of Interplanetary History. The Air Force was going to have a collective cow when it finally found out what Daniel's inexpensive not-so-little project actually looked like. Scholars and research assistants from two dozen worlds were camped out in newly completed sections while seven moderate-to-large clans of Unas had taken to the nearby hills.

Anise and several Tok'ra were busy installing force shields that would keep the buildings environmentally safe for delicate materials. The students, when they weren't getting distracted by the treasures they were discovering, or arguing about thesis topics, were shelving scrolls and books as fast as the Jaffa could build the storage cases. Two Tok'ra, a smaller than average Unas, a Jaffa priestess, and an off-world librarian had pried Carter from her dangerous materials long enough to build them a computer system and were now happily cataloging and organizing and...stuff.

Thank god for the Thracians or they all would have starved.

Still, now that he had what was essentially a campus, he figured he might as well take advantage of it. The chance to build his own training facility literally from the ground up was well nigh irresistible. So he didn't... resist. Carter had poked her head into his office several times the past few nights to find him drafting plans. She smiled as she looked over his shoulder, drank a cup of coffee as he explained his reasoning for any additions or alterations, then disappeared back into her lab to blow things up. It was not until Daniel commented that they would have no trouble building the additions with native materials, Tok'ra technology, and several crates of protein bars that Jack realized that he had subconsciously avoided any designs that needed materials or money from Earth. He then spent several hours contemplating a very disturbing fact. He was not going to ask permission to build the facility.

Not...exactly.

He knew Hammond would have been thrilled with the plans if he were actually to see them before the construction was completed. Luckily, Jack only had to ask permission if he needed funding approved. If anyone squawked about the size of the place, he could always blame miscommunication. Technically, he had a mandate to develop off-world resources for training SGC personnel. But man, was he was bending the hell out of those orders.

Jack discovered he did not care.

They needed these facilities. Not just for the SG teams and the X302 pilots from earth, but for all the pilots and aircrew they were going to need to recruit from off-world. The President was on his way out and Kinsey was standing next in line. However, Tau'ri explorations had opened more than just Stargates and looking out his office window at Daniel's work crew - people from dozens of worlds and all of them volunteers - Jack realized abruptly that they could not trust Kinsey to honor those implied obligations.

Jack had drawn a long, painful breath and very carefully refused to think about what he was doing as he found ways to stretch his standing orders to cover the construction of assets those orders had never been designed to defend. He refused to think about the fact that most of the rebel Jaffa followed Teal'c -and to a much lesser extent-SG1. He refused to think about the fact that the Unas had made their treaty with Daniel and the Tau'ri fighting the Goa'uld - not necessarily Earth. He very very carefully refused to think about the secrets locked in Carter's computer. Things like naquadah technology, iris defenses, and the plans for the X-302 and X303.

No special mission unit should ever have this much power. Jack very carefully refused to think about that fact along with everything else he was...not thinking about. If he thought about it, it would do more than just worry him.

It would terrify him.
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:05 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Jack sighed as Al'syn gingerly lowered himself next to Jack's rock. In spite of the fact that he knew the symbiote was probably several hundred years older than Jack himself, he couldn't help feeling like he was being stalked by an overeager junior officer with two left feet. The host was barely out of his teens, with light brown hair and green eyes. The rest was just...young. Worse, either deliberately or accidentally, the Tok'ra had placed himself in a position of lesser dominance and Jack always worried when people did that to him. It usually meant that they knew he was not going to like what they had to say.

"How did you know?"

Except for Jacob, most of the Tok'ra communicated using symbiote and host equally. When among SGC personnel, they seemed to have adopted the habit of using the symbiote unless the idea or opinion came directly from the host. Or if they figured Tau'ri patience with the Tok'ra was stretched to the snapping point. Oddly enough, that last habit never bothered Jack. It was so damn obvious they were trying to cater to what they saw as Tau'ri prejudice that it was painful. It lacked any practiced malice.

Al'syn and his gang always used the host's voice and for the first time, Jack realized it was starting to **** him off.

"What is your symbiote's name?"

Al'syn looked startled and two of the nearby Tok'ra turned to stare at him. Al'syn's eyes flashed and the symbiote studied him uncertainly.

"I have two. The one I use to identify myself among the Tok'ra and the one I chose at maturity which is private and only given to my host and close friends and family."

"What's your Tok'ra name then. The public one."

"Al'syn."

Jack shifted as a vague sense of -something- nagged at him. Not something wrong, just...off.

"I thought that was the host's name. Sorry."

Al'syn shrugged,"No apology necessary. You would not be aware of the custom. One of the host cultures that predominated the Tok'ra for centuries had a habit of choosing different names to reflect changes in their lives. A form of that custom evolved within the Tok'ra and many of us still follow it. When a Tok'ra symbiote takes a new host, he combines the first part of his birth name with some part of the name of his previous host. Thus, the previous host and his or her contribution to the new personality is recognized and honored."

Al'syn dropped his head slightly, control shifting momentarily to the host. " My name is Leelan."

Jack nodded, then waited as silence descended. Finally, the symbiote took back control and asked his question again.

" How did you know he was alive?"

Jack's mouth twisted," It wasn't ESP if that's what you're thinking."

"It is possible, O'Neill. The abilities of the Ancients reside in your genes."

"Nirrti certainly thought so."

"Her methods - immoral as they were - had some basis in reason. The Tau'ri carry much of the genetic code of the Ancients within their DNA."

Jack sighed. No one did subtle anymore. He eyed the group curiously as every single one of the Tok'ra stopped what they were doing to watch silently. Oh, he just knew he was not going to like where this was going. On the other hand, maybe he was finally about to get some answers.

"So I've been told." he said blandly.

Al'syn hesitated, then squared his shoulders. "We put it there."

Well, son-of-a...

Daniel was going to have kittens. From the corner of his eye he saw Carter quietly remove a mini-cassette recorder from a pocket and turn it on. Al'syn continued, the symbiote sounding almost sympathetic.

"Your world is an important symbol O'Neill. For many reasons. Ra was the last known System Lord to use an Unas as host. When he needed another, he did not chose your planet by accident. He was looking for what the Goa'uld have been searching for countless millenia - the power of the Ancients."
They were doing it again.
Jack waved his hand." We know all that. Go back to ' we put it there' "

Al'syn avoided Jack's eyes. " Goa'uld created you to be hosts."

Son-of-a-BITCH.

"Excuse me?"

"To save our people from extinction and to save the galaxy from what we had become." the symbiote whispered."We failed."

For the first time in seven years, Jack felt like he was finally beginning to see the larger picture. Like the other things he was carefully not thinking about, it turned over in his mind slowly, edges slowly coming together with a decisive snap. When he finally spoke, his voice held a deadly edge. Al'syn was going to fill in the blanks if he had to wring it out of the snake piece by piece. If that did not work, he would dig it out with a sharp pointy object.

"Explain. Now."

Al'syn swallowed carefully.

"The Unas were...savage. Much more so than they are today. Predatory, territorial, and ruled by primitive instincts that demand that the strong rule and the weak submit. Combined with our genetic memory - it was disaster. For generations we bred on the home world, the symbiotes of the alpha males passing along the desire for dominance and power to their children. Those of us who lacked the desire for alpha position passed that along as well. In time, two castes evolved: the Dominants and the Submissives. You have remarked on how the Goa'uld posture and boast of their power - this is why. It is the remnants of alpha challenge and instinct. Our...heritage."

The last words were said with a twist to the lips that Jack could not completely read.

"There was a third caste, the Near-Dominants, that eventually evolved from the Dominants. These were the Goa'uld who inherited the desire for leadership without the strength or ability to achieve this goal. In many cases, the minds of those denied what they perceived as their birthright became angry and twisted. This too, they passed to their children. This continued for generations until a group of travelers came through the Stargate and we suddenly had the freedom of the stars. Many Near-Dominants and minor Dominants fled through the Gate to establish control elsewhere in the galaxy. New species were discovered - knowledge stolen - and many of the Near-Dominants rose to power. Through it all, the Unas remained the host of choice. For a Goa'uld with a taste for power, there was nothing better."

Jack narrowed his eyes.

"We needed a better choice."

Al'syn paused, and Bira took over the explanation.

"The fact that we had evolved on the same planet as the Unas made our joinings with their species extremely successful, however, the Unas increase their numbers slowly. Due to their slow population growth and the Unas tendency to eat their enemies, we were facing stagnation, if not extinction. Many of our children were dying due to a better than 85% failure of joining when using other races as hosts. Competition for hosts became increasingly violent and many were destroyed in battle. The bloodshed became unspeakable as chaos ruled. Entire planets were destroyed, cultures eliminated. We could not defeat the Dominants so ...we found another solution."

" You keep saying ' we' "

"The Submissives, Sir." Carter said quietly.

Al'syn nodded," Our caste had become the primary source of scientists and intellectuals. Many times, we were the ones denied Unas hosts and thus found ourselves blending with other races. The rejection rates kept our numbers low, and we eventually became something other than what the Dominants had become."

"The good guys?" The sarcasm escaped before he could control it.

Shame flickered briefly, then pain crossed the Tok'ra's face. " No. Just more practical."

Bira looked up from her huddled position beside Teal'c," Five billion years ago, an asteroid struck the first Asgard home world, depositing genetic material which proceeded to evolve. During that cataclysm, pieces of the planet and asteroid were flung out of the solar system and eventually massed together to form a planet with four small moons. This rogue planet drifted through the universe for almost a billion years until it was captured by the gravity of a young star. In the process, it passed too close to two young sister planets, one of its moons colliding with the larger of the two sisters. The collision tore a huge chunk from the planet and sent matter crashing into the tiny sister planet, damaging the core rotation-essentially turning it into a lifeless moon. However, some of the genetic material survived - either deposited during the initial impact, or brought to the planet through later impacts with smaller pieces of the rogue planet and its moons. As on the Asgard home world, that material began to evolve."

Bira hesitated,"That planet was Earth."

Jack blinked as the Tok'ra waited for his response. " Cousin Thor. Cool."

Carter sighed.

Al'syn nodded. "More than you know. Billions of years later, the Asgard tracked the path of the rogue and located Earth. As far as we could determine, they were responsible for the creation of the Ancients."

Daniel going to be so ****ed he missed this.

"Literally the Children of the Gods, huh? "

"The Ancients were the children of the Asgard. The Tau'ri were created by the Goa'uld."

"Knew there was a catch."

"The Ancients were destroyed several million years ago after their civilization collapsed due to both plague and several devastating wars with external enemies."

Jack considered that revelation with interest."The replicators?"

"No. The replicators are a relatively new threat."

"So...who were they?"

"We don't know."

Jack sighed,"Great."

"It is possible these enemies no longer exist. Many of the records of the Ancients were lost by the time we found your planet."

Carter turned her head to look at Bira," Just why did you come to Earth? Technology?"

"And why is this the first we're hearing of this?" Jack added.

Al'syn fixed his gaze on Carter. " Approximately 350,000 years ago, a small cargo ship was found adrift in space. Four aliens of an unknown race were found in stasis pods and they were given to three Submissives and one Near-Dominant as hosts."

"Ancients?"

"Yes. They lacked specific knowledge of how to recreate their own technology, but they knew the Gate address of the Home world. Earth. They also possessed significant mental abilities that offset their physical inferiority to the Unas. We were...pleased."

"I'll bet." Jack said dryly.

"We did not know that their race was already extinct. When we Gated to Earth, we found nothing but a humanoid species of primitive primate evolution. While it was obvious that this was an evolved form of the rootstock used by the Asgard to create the Ancients, the species possessed none of the advanced abilities of the Ancients. "

"Did it occur to no one that we might want to know this? Anyone?" Jack look around to see if anyone was listening - and found every single one of the Tok'ra watching him. His skin started to crawl with the weight of their collective scrutiny.

Bira continued, "We managed to create a hybrid using the local primate species and DNA from the four host bodies. The results were of mixed success. While the species was capable of rapid reproduction, the new race did not express the mental abilities of the Ancients. The species was considered by most Goa'uld to be fit only for slave labor and inferior hosts. Approximately 45,000 years ago however, using the bodies of the original Ancient hosts kept in stasis, we discovered that the Ancients had been capable of synthesizing naquadah within their own cellular structure. It was what allowed them to interface with their technology. We knew very little about naquadah at that point, other than the fact it was a component of Gate construction, but the potential was obvious. Although our Tau'ri were never capable of synthesizing the element, they could survive its presence in the body. Additionally, we were able to insert the naquadah gene into our own DNA. While the host could not synthesize naquadah, the symbiote could."

Al'syn rejoined the explanation," With the potential to control Ancient technology, the Tau'ri suddenly became most desirable hosts."

Jack held up a hand."Forgive me for missing the point, but you did this deliberately? On purpose? Giving the Goa'uld access to more power was supposed to help with the problem, how?"

"Because that was only the first stage. The goal was to wean the Goa'uld away from the Unas. To do this, we had to give them a desirable alternative. Once done, it would be difficult to go back. A Goa'uld bred to blend with a human host would face extremely high rejection rates when attempting to blend with another species. Humans were less territorial and more cooperative as a species. We wished this trait to be passed along within the Goa'uld genetic memory. "

Carter glanced at Jack, eyeing his posture uneasily. "What happened?"

"It worked. Goa'uld were becoming more cooperative, less blood-thirsty. Given enough time we might have..." Al'syn shrugged," We ran out of time. A Near-Dominant discovered the sarcophagus technology. With it, he rose to power and populated the Goa'uld Empire with children as ruthless and vicious as himself. With Tau'ri cooperative instincts added to the existing society, the feudal structure of the System Lords evolved. Tau'ri were settled across the galaxy as each System Lord began breeding his own hosts. That's when we created the Jaffa."

Ishta's head shot up and Jack resisted the urge to scream with frustration. More history.

"They were to be a weapon against the System Lords. All of the first were Harsesis."

Harsesis.

"Are there any more little bomb shells I should be prepared for. Just so I can ...you know...be prepared?"

Bira met his eyes, shame warring with annoyance."Our ancestors created your ancestors to use as unwilling hosts. How precisely would you suggest we so advise those with whom we had only just formed an allegiance."

Jack smiled with fake cheer," "Oh I don't know. Before we signed the treaty might have been nice."

"Would this have affected Earth's decision to ally itself with the Tok'ra?"

Jack turned towards Carter, "That's a trick question, isn't it?"

She gave him a weak smile, then looked at Bira. "Does the genetic memory breed true?"

Trust Carter to go there.

Bira nodded. "The Jaffa were to make themselves invaluable. As far as the System Lords knew, their sole purpose was to increase the chances of a successful blending. As Harsesis, however, they themselves were committed from birth to the ideals of their Submissive parents. Each time their primta matured, the hosts they took would be one less for the System Lords and one more ally in our fight to change what we had become. "

"Something went wrong, did it?" Jack asked needlessly.

"We underestimated the danger of the sarcophagus. Many of our allies lost themselves to it. They hunted our Harsesis and slaughtered them. They were so successful, that even the original reason for the prohibition against Harsesis has been forgotten by most. Our methods for creating Jaffa were stolen and perverted. We watched as Goa'uld spread like a plague across the galaxy using the Jaffa and the Tau'ri to increase their numbers at an exponential rate. Inevitably,this unstable system began to fail. It was this internal weakness and resulting chaos which allowed the Tau'ri to drive Ra from Earth and bury the Stargate. By the time a Dominant strong enough to dispatch motherships to Earth rose to power, the Gate address had been lost."

"See, this is where you lose me." Jack wrinkled his nose in frustration." I thought you snakes never forgot anything."

Carter turned to him thoughtfully, "Only the Queens and the System Lords who acted as fathers would pass on their knowledge, Sir. With Hathor trapped on Earth, unless a Goa'uld who knew the address survived to pass the knowledge on to his or her children, it would be lost. Even with genetic memory, the storage capacity is finite. Eventually that limit would be reached and new information would begin to overwrite the old. Sort of like when you delete files you don't use anymore from your hard-drive."

Al'syn nodded, "Major Carter is essentially correct. Additionally, much information is stored in the mind of the host. If the host dies unexpectedly or if the sarcophagus is used too many times in quick succession, those memories can be lost or corrupted. Even when we do retain the memories, the older the memory, the less detail remains and the harder it is to recall. The original purpose of the memory device was to ensure that no Tok'ra ever forgot that which Egeria wished us to remember."

Another Tok'ra Jack did not know resumed the story," By the time Egeria was born, the Jaffa numbered in the hundreds of thousands, yet only a few hundred of Goa'uld remained. Many of the Queens had been killed or murdered during power struggles. This last fact threatens Goa'uld still. Without the Queens, there are no larvae. Without the larvae, there are no Jaffa. Without the Jaffa, the symbiotes might still survive Blending, but the Goa'uld would have no armies to maintain their power structure."
Al'syn looked at Jack, an earnest expression on his face."Egeria was the last queen descended from the Goa'uld who had taken one of the Ancients as host. The final host she took, was willing,Harsesis,and Jaffa - the last of her kind. Sickened by what our creation of the Tau'ri and Jaffa had made possible, Egeria broke completely from the ways of the Goa'uld. No more would we take unwilling hosts. No more would we use the Jaffa to fight our war, or accept Ra's excuse of biology for atrocity." Al'syn met Jack's eyes gravely,"On that day, we became Tok'ra."

An unfamiliar Tok'ra raised his head,"We are losing this war, O'Neill."

Jack thought this was the first time he had ever heard this particular Tok'ra speak. " And you are?"

The Tok'ra inclined his head." Bel'lor. My host is Tanner." His eyes flashed briefly.

In Jack's experience people explained the bad news when they were trying to convince everyone of the wisdom of the suicide mission they were about to propose. He stared at Bel'lor and Al'syn suspiciously. Ugly little dots starting lining up in a row.

"Those Jaffa up there are shooting at you."

The Tok'ra were silent.

"Son-of-a-BITCH!" How had they done it? If they had compromised the location of this planet, Jack was going snake hunting with his combat knife.

Bel'lor met Jack's eyes calmly. " We have less than 350 Tok'ra remaining. When Revanna was attacked, we lost all of the larva still in stasis - including Egeria's last queen."

Carter sucked in a breath and Jack blinked. The last Queen? Three hundred? There were only...

"350?"

Bel'lor shrugged. " We were never large in number and our commitment to using willing hosts has cost us. The power shifts of the past five years have focused the attention of the System Lords back on the Tok'ra. Ba'al has a particularly virulent hatred for us, and is now powerful enough to make our destruction a priority. We have also been forced to expose operatives elsewhere in the Empire, and we have taken casualties on the ships lost in battle."

The Tok'ra were taking a lot of those casualties due in no small part to the actions of the Tau'ri and SG1. No one present appeared to be assigning blame, which was good, because Jack would be damned if he was going to apologize. Everything they had done had been done to save Earth. Still...Earth's battle with the Goa'uld had taken a huge toll on people who were supposed to be their allies. The Tollan. The Tok'ra. The Goa'uld might be responsible, but...

Damn.

Carter leaned forward. "Malek said that was why you wanted Egeria. To save the Tok'ra from extinction."

His team thought he was tactless.

Bel'lor hesitated. " The cloning attempts were unsuccessful, however there...we have one potential queen. She is the sole survivor of an experiment that blended DNA retrieved from Egeria with larva still young enough to accept the genetic alterations. Because these changes were impressed upon her after birth, she is still maturing. Due to circumstances, she will also need a new host before she will be able to reproduce. It will be another two years before she is capable of spawning. Much could happen in that time frame. She could be killed, she could die in the separation from her current host, or she could die during a failed Blending with her new host."

Jack got a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach as he added up all of the sideways looks he had received over the years and the fact that the Tok'ra were still watching him for his reaction. Like they cared. Like his answer mattered.

"Just tell me it's not Anise. Please tell me that."

Carter was shaking her head slowly as she came to a different conclusion. Eyes wide, she was looking past his shoulder toward...

Jack turned and Al'syn smiled weakly.

"No...she would be me."
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:05 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Crack.

"I don't believe it."

Crack.

"No...I take that back. I do believe it. I knew they were up to something. Didn't I tell you they were up to something? Man...are they up to something."

Crack.

Carter flinched and ducked as the rock missed its intended target and ricocheted back towards them.

"It makes sense, Sir."

"Are you insane!" He turned and grabbed her by the shoulders,"They want you to be host to..to.."

"Al'syn."

She rocked on her heels as he shook her.

"They want you to...to..."

"Help them spawn a new generation of Tok'ra."

He glared at her,"Stop trying to help. I have news for you, Carter. It's not helping."

"Try looking at it from their point of view, Sir."

"I don't want to look at it from their point of view. I like mine just fine. I like yours the way it is. I can't believe they thought we would accept this."

"Sir...they know you don't trust them and face it...they need us now. From their point of view they are trying to give us a reason to trust the next generation of Tok'ra. Any spawn.."

"Do not use that word, Carter. I mean it."

"Any queen of an SGC host would pass all of our knowledge and commitment to her larvae. They would not be traditional Tok'ra, Sir. They would be a whole new breed that combined the best of both species."

He glared at her, fingers digging into her shoulders,"I can't believe you are falling for this. They're snakes, Carter!"

She sighed,"Sir, you said it yourself. The way they have been fighting isn't working. Even if Anubis were defeated tomorrow, we've made too many changes. If they don't adapt, they'll die. They need hosts and frankly, we need them."

"Why?" His lips were set mutinously.

Her eyes raised in disbelief,"Leaving the moral issue aside..."

"...yes, lets do that shall we."

"The Tok'ra may be our only chance to finally convince the Jaffa to come over to our side. The System Lords are holding power because they control the remaining queens and the larval Goa'uld that the Jaffa need to survive. I've read the reports, Sir. Ba'al and the others aren't just holding off attacking because they need time to build ships or because they don't think we're enough of a threat. They are holding off because they are waiting for more queens to mature. The System Lord with the most breeding Queens will control the largest army of Jaffa and they have the time to wait, Sir."

"The Tok'ra refuse to use Jaffa."

Carter met his eyes steadily,"They do."

Jack froze and his 2IC smiled grimly.

She held his gaze for another second, then continued softly," Our people are the best of the best, Sir. Military and scientist. Hosts who could meet the Tok'ra on equal footing. It's why they allied with us in the first place and -let's face it, we haven't exactly upheld our end of that bargain."

Some might consider it to Tok'ra credit that they had not pushed on that point. Frankly, Jack had been waiting for the shoe to drop. Oh look. Here it was.

Carter was still talking,"...but hell will freeze over before any of us agree because you said it yourself...we don't trust them."

"Hell can't freeze over, Carter, we blew it up. No, wait...the Tok'ra blew it up. While we were standing on it, I might add."

She groaned, "Sir..I know Kan'an hurt you..."

"For crying out loud, he didn't hurt me! Carter...he used me. There's a difference. He used her too, but at least she had some say in the matter. He never asked me. He was supposed to be better than that, but he wasn't. All the explanations and excuses can't change that fact. Your precious Tok'ra have a convenient way of forgetting the rules when they want something and as far as I'm concerned, that puts them pretty damn close to the Goa'uld."

The Tok'ra were supposed to have been better than that.

"I'd say convenient morals are a universal trait, Sir."

Her steady gaze reminded him of the "resettlement" the Tau'ri had almost imposed on two separate peoples. Failure had occurred only because one race had alien guardians and the other were...well, Unas with attitudes. He stared down at her, horrified that she might really be considering this...this...

This.

Damn it. He had always known that she was more sympathetic to the Tok'ra than he was - and let's face it, a hell of a lot more curious. Al'syn had just given her the best excuse possible, he had offered a chance to create a weapon against the Goa'uld. A weapon that would be loyal to Earth. Mother to an entire race of snakes. There was an image to blow a soldier's mind. A thousand Carters. Or would that be half-Carters? Maybe one quarter once you factored in the father. The mind boggled.

"Sir...you realize that any human child the host had by another Tok'ra would be Harsesis."

Yeah, he got that part. All the Tok'ra knowledge past and present and under SGC control. Who cared if the kid would have to live off-world just to keep the NID from slicing and dicing? The price was so damn small. Just the body and soul of a single soldier. Just the heart of the man and the team who would lose her.

Nothing they were not already prepared to pay.

Sneaky bastards.

"You know where this is going don't you, Carter?"

Her face went blank and he sighed. Yeah, she knew and he also knew she damn well would not ask him this time.

Guess he knew now why Anise kissed him.

"I hate being manipulated, Carter."

"Yes, Sir. It's just...we owe them to at least consider it."

"No we don't."

"Sir..."
He turned away from the expression on her face. The one that said she knew he knew she was right and was just being stubborn.

"There are other options, Carter."

He turned back to her when she stayed silent. Her expression was grave.

"There are other options." He said again, firmly. There were. "We could clone the symbiotes like they did in Steveston."

She shook her head slowly,"At best it would buy a little time. The process is incredibly slow and labor intensive. At worst...there was a lot of degradation in the genetic memory. It didn't matter to the Goa'uld, but..."

But.

The only thing separating the Tok'ra from the Goa'uld was their memory.

"Sir...Cathren comes of age in another year."

Jack looked at her blankly.

"Mala's cousin? Sir...six of Ishta's warrior have symbiotes that are about to mature."

"I know that, Carter. I do read SOME of the reports."

"Statistically, at least two of them will not be able to use Tretonin."

"So,we'll find them symbiotes."

Or the Tok'ra would. Jack's lips tightened as he unwillingly remembered that the last Tok'ra operative to die had done so trying to steal a stasis jar of symbiotes.

It had not been his assigned mission.

"And the Jaffa at the Alpha site? There are over 200 Jaffa, Sir."

"I know."

"On average, twenty-five symbiotes will mature every year. That's a minimum of six who will also need symbiotes."

He shifted angrily. "I know."

"There are also 185 families on Chulak whose warriors are acting as spies. That's almost two hundred adults and over four hundred children, Sir."

"Carter, I KNOW!"

He spun away from her again, not willing to see the truth in her eyes. She was going to do this.

"I can't order you not to do this."he admitted finally.

He could feel her watching him.

"I'm not even saying I'll do it, Colonel. I don't like the idea any more than you do."

"I hate the idea, Carter."

"Yes, Sir."

The majority of Jaffa were loyal to the Goa'uld because they had no choice. Even if they knew their Gods were false, there was no other option for them. Not for those with families. They would keep fighting and good soldiers would keep dying until one side went down for good. Jack was willing to give his life to prevent that side from being his own. He willingly led the most important people in his world into battle KNOWING that that their lives might be the price demanded. What the Tok'ra wanted should not seem like such a sacrifice. It was nothing they were not already prepared to pay. Jack felt his hands clench as every muscle in his body protested.

Just not like this.
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:10 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Ishta found them before they made it back to the central cave.

She studied Jack for a long moment, then turned to Carter. Without a word she pulled her knife and held it upright by the blade. She looked at it consideringly, then looked past it to meet Carter's eyes squarely.

"I have spoken with the others. When the time comes, we would pledge to your service."

Jack sighed. That was quick.

Ishta kept her eyes on Carter." We thank the Tau'ri for their assistance with Tretonin, but it is proving to be a temporary solution. We are still dependant on the Goa'uld and the science of others. My own warriors still fear becoming less than what we were are capable of being. This suggestion of the Tok'ra gives us hope and I thank you for the opportunity to hear that we were created to be a weapon against the Goa'uld and not their slaves. That...changes much. If the time comes, we will carry the children of your symbiote gladly, and die defending them."

Carter just stood there...probably trying to decide how to answer without getting herself court-marshalled. He nudged her in the ribs.

"Say thank-you."

"Er...yes. Thank-you."

Ishta inclined her head, then sheathed her knife and disappeared into the shadows. Carter turned on Jack with a glare. He shrugged, still angry with the Tok'ra, the Goa'uld, and Carter herself.

"You were the one who wanted to make changes."

**************************************************


Jaffa trickled in and out of the central cave as they reported their findings. So far, they had found nothing resembling an exit. Two of the Tok'ra attached themselves to Carter, another two shadowed Jack as close as he would allow, and the rest stayed with Al'syn. Jack would have preferred that they join the Jaffa patrols, but he recognized self-appointed bodyguards when he saw them. Truth be told, until he had a chance to feel out Jacob on this new development, a couple bodyguards on Carter was probably not a bad idea.

"You think the Unas would like these caves?"

"Sir?"

He made himself comfortable on a mid-sized rock, then gestured around the room,"These caves. You think the Unas would like them?"

"It's a bit of a hike back to the Alpha Site, Sir."

"Yeah, but they walk fast. Besides, Daniel said they were territorial." He considered options,"We could build a road."

"Yes, Sir."

Jack turned to find Bel'lor standing beside him, watching him. "What?"

The Tok'ra shook his head.

"No, really. What?"

Bel'lor looked past Jack's shoulder to fix his gaze at some vague point on the wall. " You value the Unas?"

Jack eyed him, then shrugged. "They have their moments. The naquadah thing sort of clinches it for me."

Bel'lor nodded," Do you understand them, the way you do the Jaffa?"

"Daniel likes them. "

"I see."

Jack squinted narrowly. "I don't."

Bel'lor was silent, then turned his head to look across the room at Al'syn. She was busy helping Bira shift Teal'c to a more comfortable position and was completely unaware of his scrutiny.

"Until you reopened your Stargate, the Tok'ra were the only hope for peoples enslaved by the Goa'uld and we stood alone. Without us, the System Lords would have re-taken Earth centuries ago. In the years since, many of our operatives have been injured or killed in your defense." Bel'lor glanced around the cave and his smile was bitter," Yet you would offer freely to those who give you rocks, that for which we had to beg - we who have given our lives."

Jack eyed Bel'lor thoughtfully,then glanced at Carter." Not a member of the O'Neill fan club?"
She looked at the floor. Jack studied her down-turned head with a sober expression before looking back at Bel'lor, eyes dark. The Tok'ra was still glaring at him, expression bitter.

"Was it not yourself who left a wounded Tok'ra operative behind when you were captured by Hathor? An operative who was critically injured saving you from being possessed by a Goa'uld. And did you not later leave Lantash behind so that your team might escape through the Gate."

"Hey! She told us to leave her behind. For all I knew, moving her would have killed her. As for Lantash, he was already dying and if you'll remember, we lost Elliot on that one. Another shining example of Tok'ra taking a host without permission I might add."

"Would you have accepted such a sacrifice from Major Carter or your Jaffa, Teal'c?"

Jack narrowed his eyes," I have."

Bel'lor paused, then shrugged. "Then you condemn us for the same actions you yourself are willing to take when required. The Tok'ra have never been your enemy, O'Neill."

Jack hopped to his feet and dusted off his trousers.

"Sir..."

"Carter. " Jack acknowledged her warning tone, then pulled himself to his full height and glared at the Tok'ra," You think I don't see the way your people keep eyeing my people? Like damn slabs of bacon, that's how. Expendable housing. I can't trust you at my back and I sure as hell don't trust you with my body. Kan'an proved that one quite nicely." He ignored the sudden;y speculative glance his 2IC threw him as his voice expressed more bitterness and betrayal than he had meant to reveal.

Bel'lor looked at him steadily, cold anger still burning. "It is true our operational policies place the good of the mission above all else. But you do us a grave injustice by judging us all by the actions of one individual."

"Carter?"

Unhappily, "Sir?"

"Are the Tok'ra or are they not essentially copies of the same person?"

"There are differences, Sir. Different life experiences, different hosts."

"But down where it counts...their ideals and general philosophy. That's the same?"

"For the most part, Sir" her voice was reluctant.

"So tell me, Bel'lor. If one of your most respected Tok'ra could break your highest law on a whim...why the hell should I trust any of you?"

Bel'lor clenched his hands with frustration."We have already given you this information, yet you deliberately ignore what you have been told when it is not what you wish to hear. In a handful of years you have upset a balance we have spent two thousand years carefully tending. There was value in the structure that existed. You run around the galaxy like heedless children and expect us to follow your lead without protest. You still do not have the capability to defend your own planet and yet you slice away at System Lords until only the strong survive."

"Every single one of the System Lords we took down were killed while we were defending our planet."

Bel'lor nodded,"And often, one of the weapons you used was information provided by the Tok'ra. But you refuse to accept what we feel we can give you, demanding the sort of information your own government keeps from its Earth allies in purely terrestrial matters and for the same reasons. Then you take our refusal to comply with your demands as proof of ill will on our part."

The Tok'ra paused as if waiting for Jack to protest. When he said nothing, Bel'lor's voice flattened even further." In less than four years Ba'al has become powerful enough to send a dozen motherships to your planet and in four more years the Queen larvae he has captured will begin to mature. With those larvae he will attract thousands of Jaffa to his service; Jaffa who will build the very ships he will then send against you. What will you do then?"

The likelihood of building enough X302s in four years to combat a dozen motherships was slim. Even with transphasic missiles, they had to get close enough to the mothership to hyper them through the shields. Now that the Goa'uld knew they had the capability, they would launch waves of gliders against anything that moved. That did not even address the issue of ballistic missile bombardment from space.

The Goa'uld could launch missiles from the far edges of the solar system, perhaps even piggybacking them from death gliders to give them more momentum. Without orbital platforms and a dense remote sensor net blanketing the inner system, Earth would never see them coming. If they could not see them, they could not shoot them. The kinetic energy from the inertia alone would blast massive impact craters into the surface of the planet with all the attendant collateral damage. Shockwaves. Windstorm. Fire. Not to mention throwing up enough dust to cause a nuclear winter.

That was before the payload exploded.

Maybe there had never been a way out. Maybe there was no right answer, just a lot of 20/20 hindsight. The only thing he knew, was that there was now no choice about going slowly. The Tok'ra could survive a stealthy campaign; Earth did not have the time.

If they were serious about this whole host/queen deal of Al'syn's, the only hope for the future of the Tok'ra race was putting her children side by side with a species that could very well be about to go down for good. There was no way any kid of Carter's would stand by and let Earth go quietly. So frankly, this whole idea made no sense to him. Far from being reassuring, it made him wonder what else they were not telling him.

Like when the other shoe was going to drop.
Bel'lor made a gesture of angry frustration."You claim that we are arrogant, yet what arrogance gives you the right to make decisions on scant information for the rest of the universe?"

Jack clenched his jaw,"How about the fact that no one else is getting it done."

Unexpected fury exploded across Bel'lor's face." Getting it done? Are you under the mistaken impression that your actions have made things better? Fah! And you call us arrogant. Make no mistake O'Neill, I admire your people's courage and what you have managed to do for your planet but you are terrifying in both your ignorance and your impetuosity."

"Then give us the information we need to make better decisions!" Jack yelled.

For the first time in his memory, a symbiote started yelling back,"Do you listen? We have told you what you need to know. Instead, you endanger the lives of our operatives on nothing more than your opinion that you know best. Did you even ask how many Tok'ra lost their lives as a result of the purges after your people attacked Ba'al's base?"

The force of the Tok'ra's fury momentarily rocked Jack onto his heels. He knew...KNEW the Tok'ra had a valid point. Damn it, the fact they had not truly understood the dangers they faced was one of the very reasons he had agreed with the Tok'ra plan to assassinate the System Lords in the first place. Unexpectedly, the rage simmering beneath his cutting remarks and snide comments burst free.

"Whose fault was it that I was there in the first place?"

"IF WE HAD KNOWN ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS FOR MAJOR CARTER IT WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED!"

The sudden silence was shocking.

Carter snapped her head around to stare at Bel'lor.

"Kan'an sacrificed his life to save yours. Had you been captured, your life would have been forfeit and Kan'an would have been compelled to reveal the names of more operatives within Ba'al's command. He died, Colonel O'Neill. Isn't that apology enough?"

Jack's face could have been carved from stone. "No."

The Tok'ra seemed to shrink. Even Carter looked slightly taken aback by his uncompromising tone and she had witnessed his reaction to Frank Cromwell. Bel'lor inclined his head slowly, staring at the floor for several long moments. When he raised his head, his face was the familiar Tok'ra mask.

"You don't understand." Bel'lor said finally, quietly.

Jack stretched his lips into something a sharp-edged smile. "What don't I understand? That Kan'an was afraid I'd think you tried to trick me by using his feelings for Shaelin in order to get me to agree to hosting her consort while she hosted Al'syn? Or maybe I don't understand that it was really all for my own good. That he was simply keeping me from ending up emotionally attached to two women I can't have. Is that what I don't understand?" The even tone only emphasized the biting intelligence behind the tactical appraisal. "Kan'an knew exactly what he was doing." Jack said flatly.

Bel'lor stared at him, non-plussed. "I see." he said finally. "We thought..." His voice trailed off.

Jack's tight smile grew fangs. " What? That he was protecting me? Oh, that's how he justified it. He ignored the little fact that I knew all about the fine print. Sam's reaction to Martouf was a bit of a clue dontcha think? I didn't need to be protected Bel'lor...I needed to be treated like an equal."

Bel'lor looked ill. "We thought with the fever he lost himself. It happens...sometimes."

Jack's eyes were cold."Only for the first couple of days. By the time he actually left, he knew who he was. For all your high sounding morals, when push came to shove, the host came second. He never asked. Never gave me a chance to say no. He needed my body and he needed my training and he took them. The irony is that I could have forgiven him asking and then doing what he did if I said no. Maybe. He'd be finding a new host right damn quick...but, I could have understood. He never asked. " Jack leaned forward until he was staring directly into Bel'lor's eyes. "He. Was. Wrong." Jack waited another moment, then straightened. "And every single one of you bastards just kept saying it was my fault."

Bel'lor closed his eyes, then shook his head mutely. Jack ignored the horrified look on Carter's face and his fixed gaze turned inward.

"Kan'an may have been prompted to rescue Shaelin because of me. It's what I do - everyone who knows me knows that. So I can accept that the why was because of me...but Kan'an chose the how."

"O'Neill...I...we..." Bel'lor's voice held a confused mixture of host and symbiote tones.

"I recall saying all this back when it happened. In fact, I distinctly recall reporting exactly what happened to both General Hammond and the Tok'ra Council. You know what happened then? I believe it went something along the lines of "It's your own fault, O'Neill." Not one of you bastards blamed Kan'an. So I guess that pretty much tells me all I need to know about you - doesn't it?"

When he finally looked at Carter, for the first time he saw understanding in her eyes. He would never - NEVER - forgive Kan'an. The symbiote had abused him - pure and simple.

But it was the rest of the Tok'ra who had betrayed him.
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:11 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Sam and Bel'lor watched as Jack stalked off, no doubt to sit guard over the still unconscious Teal'c. Sam waited for the Tok'ra to speak, then looked over to find him staring at nothing, face blank. She wondered if the symbiote was feeling half as guilty as she was currently.

Jack was right.

The one thing he was not, was xenophobic. He tended toward arrogance, demanding that people meet him on his terms, but once things were explained to him, he was willing to forgive the aliens for being aliens. He even delighted in some of those differences-except when it came to the Tok'ra. Years ago, the only thing she could conclude was that the Tok'ra scared him on some level he could not even articulate. Thus the potshots and snide remarks.

She had made an assumption about Kan'an based on that knowledge.

She had assumed that the Colonel's anger with the Tok'ra as a whole was nothing more than an unreasonable prejudice. They had been so busy trying to explain why it had happened, they had failed to realize that they were giving not credit to the Colonel's insistence on how it had happened. She suddenly recalled the careful questions and the way he had watched Malek after they had found Egeria. Both men had been so cautious around each other, emotions obviously carefully in check that she had assumed...

God, she was an idiot.

She had assumed he had reacted angrily because he was already angry. Which he had. But she had misread the reasons and ignored what she had already known about the Colonel. He would never have blamed Egeria for taking any escape offered her. He had also been dismayed by the death of Kel'ma. It was after Malek announced that Egeria had a new host that Jack had started simmering with contained rage. What had Malek said?

Her host belongs to Egeria, now.

Belongs.

"Kan'an cursed us when he realized what we had done in all ignorance. He had not told us about Shae'lin and he said O'Neill would never forgive us for what he would see as a deliberate trap. She was female and capable of being host to Al'syn. Worse, once the Blending was complete, O'Neill would love her. Kan'an feared O'Neill would see it as a ...honey trap?"

"Honeypot." Sam corrected reflexively.

In theory, it was no more than the Tok'ra were attempting by using Sam herself as part of the package. However, Sam herself would be part of the equation. SGC, SG-1, and soldier. Part of the weapon. Adding the scientific viewpoint the Colonel lacked.

Shaelan would simply have been bait.

"I...do you think Kan'an lied?" Bel'lor's voice was a near whisper.

Sam sighed,"No. I think he was...confused."

Bel'lor's face took on a lost expression.

Sam waited, the decided to change the subject when the Tok'ra said nothing. "Tell him. Everything."

Bel'lor looked at her with surprise,"Al'syn has told O'Neill of her plans."

Sam snorted. "Do you honestly think he doesn't know he's the real target. That he's always been a target? Why do you think he sees you as such a threat?"

Bel'lor met her eyes carefully. "Al'syn is sincere in her wish to Blend with you. Any Tok'ra would be honored if you agreed to become a host. It is true that O'Neill possesses skills and traits that you do not, yet you have trained with him for many years and as Jacob Carter's daughter, are more like him than you are different. You are very much a soldier Major Carter, more so than the Tok'ra. You are also Tau'ri."

"But I'm not Colonel O'Neill."

Bel'lor sighed,"You are not Colonel O'Neill." The Tok'ra turned his head to stare at the wall." In many ways, we do not understand him. There is no doubt, however, that as a direct result of his leadership, SG-1 is extraordinarily successful in the form of combat we will likely need to master in order to win against the Goa'uld. He possesses the admiration of your people as well as those of other cultures...including the Asgard and the Jaffa. If we are to find a future beyond those few hosts willing to Blend as a result of their losses to the Goa'uld, it must include the Tau'ri. Al'syn is convinced that the Tau'ri of the SGC are the hosts we have been looking for; the partners we dream about when we allow ourselves to dream of a life beyond this war with the Goa'uld."

"This will alter your whole race. Change it beyond recognition. Surely you see this."

Bel'lor cocked his head."That is the ultimate irony of the Goa'uld, Major Carter. Change is inevitable. Every time we take a new host we take on new personality traits, new skills. The Queens provide the continuity for our society, but they are also the impetus for change. Al'syn believes that by combining the best we have - Tok'ra, scientist, and soldier - that the result will be a symbiotic race that could be the key to winning this war. Her intention has always been to approach both of you, Major. The Tok'ra children resulting from a Blending of your two personalities would be ...formidable."
Sam stared at her boots for a moment, then tightened her lips with abrupt decision. "Tell him."

Bel'lor tilted his head.

Sam met his eyes, her own serious. "Have Al'syn tell him everything. Don't hide anything. "

"He will say no."

"The problem has always been misunderstanding Bel'lor. You don't want him as an enemy. Keep your agenda out in the open. Make sure that he knows that you know it's his choice. Even if he'd die before agreeing, he'll understand. He'll probably find it flattering on some level."

"But..."

"Bel'lor, you do *not* want him to see you as a threat."

"But we would never..."

Sam let out an exasperated breath,"It's not a matter of logic, okay? The Colonel reacts instinctively and he has a damned good idea about what you really want. Tactical assessment is part of the package, remember? Believe me, if you hide it, he'll wonder what else you are hiding. This is not just a threat to him...it's a threat to me and SG-1. He won't even listen under those circumstances. If he ever suspects you'll do something crazy to get us to agree, that you have become an active threat..."

Sam shook her head.

"...he'll kill you."

*******************************************


Jack focused his thinking on not thinking focused.

Almost an hour had passed since he had left Carter in the tunnels with Bel'lor, and Teal'c was not the most stimulating of company when he was unconscious. Once Bira had assured him the Jaffa was healing properly, he was left twiddling his thumbs. It was that or think about things he would rather not. Anything to do with Kan'an fell into that category.

He turned his attention to a more pressing problem. Like how in the hell four or more Jaffa assassins had gotten past the za'tarc detector. Assuming the Goa'uld had not come up with some sort of sophisticated work-around, he saw two possibilities. The Jaffa were earnest in their hatred of the Goa'uld and had simply allowed themselves to be bought. Or they were not Jaffa.

Then again, maybe all the Tok'ra had needed to do was whisper that Al'syn was turning Goa'uld and would eventually enslave the Tau'ri and Jaffa - even if it was a nominally benevolent rulership. That would be enough, Jack acknowledged. Since the mystery attackers had endangered Teal'c as well as SG-1, it was likely they had been implicated in this imaginary plot. Jack rubbed his eyes, willing the headache away.

The rest of Earth got cans of worms...he got snakes.

The sound of another patrol returning had him turning his head casually, only to snap it around when he saw Carter stagger in half carrying Bel'lor as he hopped along beside her. Jack was on his feet and heading for the pair before the rest of the group did more than turn around. Carter looked up as she saw him and grimaced.

"Crevice opened up. He fell when he pushed me out of the way."

Bel'lor flushed slightly and continued his determined hopping. From the way he was holding his leg and the jury-rigged splint immobilizing the knee, Jack figured the leg was broken. He slid his weapon out of the way and moved to support the shoulder opposite Carter. The two humans were close enough in height that the rest of the journey was made to a comfortable seat near Teal'c without much fuss. Bel'lor was sweating by the time Bira started working on him, but he assured Al'syn that the symbiote was controlling the pain.

Her face was eloquent of disbelief and Jack was inclined to agree. The Tok'ra was lying through his teeth and the look on Bira's face pretty much proved it. Still, his injuries were debilitating without being life-threatening. The rest of the Tok'ra drifted back to helping the Jaffa search for a way out of the caves while Al'syn fussed over Bel'lor long enough to annoy him. Bel'lor finally snapped and ordered her to leave him alone.

Bel'lor saw Jack watching him curiously as Al'syn walked away in a Daniel-esque huff and flushed again.

"Children." The Tok'ra said lightly.

Jack raised an eyebrow as he watched the way Bel'lor's eyes trailed after the retreating queen. "Right. Whatever you say."

Bel'lor glanced up at the tone. "I am serious. Except for the time she spent in the birthing tanks, Al'syn has spent the past 2000 years in stasis. She Blended only once before this...her first host died less than six months after Blending. She is barely more than a year old, as we mark time.

Jack's eyebrows shot up and Bel'lor looked broodingly after Al'syn then looked sideways at the SGC officer.

"The first host is extremely important to how the personality will develop. In many ways, the first host affects which aspects of the genetic memory will be pulled forward and emphasized. In Al'syn's case, her commitment is...unique. She has all of Egeria's confidence and commitment to fighting the Goa'uld, to defeating them - yet she does not have the usual hatred or fear of the Jaffa. She also claims not to suffer from what she calls our "institutional guilt."

It only took Jack a minute to get the point. "Son-of-a... her host was human."

Bel'lor's expression deepened to irony and Jack waved a hand."You know what I mean."

Bel'lor watched Jack for a moment, then nodded slowly. "We did not know." He hesitated, then glanced at Carter thoughtfully before turning back to Jack. "Approximately two months after Revanna, one of our operatives stumbled through the Gate on one of our remote science outposts. He was carrying an unconscious male and unfortunately both host and symbiote died before he could tell us the identity of the human with him. The unknown man had obviously spent much time in a sarcophagus and we were not certain he would survive the withdrawal symptoms."

Jack grimaced.

"When he revived, he had no memory of who he was and chose to remain with us after he recovered to the point where we could explain the situation. When we needed hosts for the ten larvae chosen to undergo the genetic manipulation, he volunteered." Bel'lor eyed Jack carefully,"He knew the risks. All of them."

Jack found his eyes narrowing at Bel'lor's emphasis of this point. "I hate surprises." He informed Bel'lor grimly. "I believe I have mentioned this fact on numerous occasions."

He was mildly surprised when the Tok'ra shot a disgusted look in Carter's direction before turning back to him. "We were not happy with this particular surprise ourselves. When the Blending was complete, Al'syn had access to her host's memories. The man was SGC. Lt. Elliot."

"SON-OF-A-BITCH!"

Carter jerked upright and spun in his direction. He waved her down as he glared at Bel'lor. " Give me one good reason not to shoot you right now."

Bel'lor's eyes went distant,"He asked us not to tell you."

Jack felt ice crystallizing in his stomach. He almost did not recognize the tone in his own voice as he asked quietly,"Why not?"

Bel'lor was silent.

"Bel'lor?" He knew his eyes had gone flat and his voice cold when Carter started easing her way to his side.

"He thought you would despise him, O'Neill."

Jack spun around to face the young man - woman - facing him with a quiet courage on her face that reminded him of Carter.

"What?"

Al'syn swallowed," Zipacna broke him. Lantash was dead beyond reviving - Elliot was not. Zipacna was ...displeased and he took great delight in torturing him. Eventually he broke him."

Jack's anger exploded,"He held out long enough for the Gate codes to change. That was all that mattered. He would have known that. Everyone breaks - eventually. He knew that, too."

Tears shimmered in the Tok'ra's eyes," I told him that. He did not believe me. His mind had retreated and when he remembered, he saw it as weakness. He remembered only that Ba'al did not break you."

Carter closed her eyes and Jack resisted the urge to start cursing. "I had something to protect" he heard himself say softly.

Someone to protect and the bone deep faith that Carter and Teal'c would find him. Not even his trust in Daniel had managed to take that away. Jack had known why Daniel had to try, but Daniel had never understood just what belief in his team had come to mean to him. Jack would rather die than lose that faith. And ultimately, he had not wanted to become something other than what he was. Not if it meant he had to watch his friends die and do nothing.

"He wanted very much to come home, Colonel O'Neill. His loyalty was always to the SGC. He wanted to make you proud of him. His shame, however, made it easier not to return."

Jack narrowed his eyes as Al'syn hesitated.

"What?"

She swallowed," He believed he could not return to the SGC while he was a ...a snakehead."

Jack opened his mouth to protest angrily, then paled slightly and said nothing.

"He knew you would not trust us and I believed him. Additionally, I was the only survivor of the experiment. Until I mature, my life is too important to risk as an active member of the SGC - even if you would have allowed us to serve which we did not believe was possible. There were also...political problems. Elliot said that I was SGC now and that you would shoot him yourself if he left me behind before I could protect myself. He... chose to stay. He chose me."

Al'syn's voice raised on the last word and she stared at Jack defiantly, as if daring him to disbelieve her. Jack just looked back, his face blank as his mind tried to grasp the implications of everything she had said. Elliot...and Lantash. Well, that might partly explain why Al'syn had fixated on Carter. Jack had never understood if it was Martouf or Lantash who had fallen for her, but Jack could believe that some of that admiration had been passed on to Elliot. The boy had had an exaggerated opinion of Jack as well. Mansfield had threatened to do something vague and unspecified if Jack's name came up once more in general conversation. Jack had not thought much of it. Hero-worship at that stage was normal. One mission at the mercy of Jack's temper and he would have gotten over it.

Look how quickly Carter had come around.

He looked again at Al'syn's face and recalled Bel'lor's explanation about her age. In the general scheme of things, not any older than Elliot. Two children out to save the universe. He looked at Bel'lor.

"Political problems?"

A single tear slipped down Al'syn's face as Bel'lor looked down.

"He died protecting me." she whispered softly. "He believed - we believed - that the Tok'ra have much to offer. That we could change the balance of power and defeat the Goa'uld. But it would require so many changes. Many thought it was only Kek So'tak."

Jack looked at Carter in confusion. She frowned as if the words rang a bell, but shrugged her ignorance. It was Bel'lor who offered a translation.

"It means confusion. Weakness arising from memory."

Jack waited, then sighed impatiently,"And? So? Therefore?"

Carter answered slowly,"I think it means they thought Elliot's memories were influencing her decisions. That she was being irrational...weak."

Al'syn tightened her lips," It was an excuse. They believe the Tau'ri are doomed to failure. They comprehend only the certainty of the old ways and do not see that if even we succeed, we will still be limited by our lack of hosts. What I propose is a risk...but the rewards..." she drifted off, then refocused on Jack with disconcerting swiftness." The Stargates open and the humans flung into the stars by the Goa'uld begin to step through them. They will follow the Tau'ri of the First World to success or death. If death...then at least we die fighting. But if we succeed ...if we succeed we would walk with the Tau'ri as partners. We would be accepted as friends, not just a price to be paid. We will have *earned* it." Bitterness drifted into to her words then and she looked into a future only she could see. "THAT is worth any risk."

Jack narrowed his eyes,"That doesn't answer my question."

"They tried to kill her."

Both Carter and Jack looked around to see Bira standing with several others.

Carter cocked her head,"Who? The Council? A few dissidents? What is the point of killing the only queen left to you even if she is ...confused."

Bira smiled bitterly,"They fear what you will do once you have Tok'ra knowledge and have no further need of the Tok'ra. They would rather kill Al'syn now and hope they can recreate the experiment than risk you cutting off access to the hosts you have promised by Treaty. Some fear the Tau'ri are doomed and will take the Tok'ra with them before we can destroy the Goa'uld Empire. A few fear what the children of such an alliance will become if they are no longer ruled by Egeria's imperatives. I suspect that one or two even fear that if you acquire enough power to defeat the Goa'uld, your next target will be the Tok'ra. Some are not...completely rational and they are by no means a majority. However most of us share some of their opinions in varying degrees so it not easy to know who believes strongly enough to kill. They have much fear and are willing to sacrifice much."

Jack's lips tightened as he read between the lines.

Fanatics.

"They killed Elliot?"

Bel'lor shook his head,"Elliot died because they were trying to kill Al'syn."

Carter was staring at the silent Tok'ra, suspicion suddenly lighting her face."What aren't you saying?"

Al'syn bent her head,"They told me to leave him - that his wounds were too severe and that I could not risk dying myself." her voice was a near-whisper." I could not. I could not...", she looked at Jack as if apologizing. In a way, he almost understood. She had taken an unacceptable risk when she placed the future of her people second to the life of her host.

"What happened?"

Her eyes flickered suddenly and when she spoke, it was her host who had control. "Elliot killed himself before she could stop him. A single shot to the heart. Killed himself instantly without permanently damaging the symbiote."

Jack's eyes widened in shock. No damage beyond feeling a bullet tearing through your body. Nothing beyond knowing in the last second what Elliot was doing and knowing she could not stop him. Holy ****. He wondered if she had even had time to say good-bye.

"I'm sorry."

Al'syn looked at him with surprise. Some of the other Tok'ra also looked astonished at his reaction. He looked at them, annoyed. The kid was obviously broken up about losing Elliot, what the hell did they think he would say?

"What?"
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:15 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Six hours later, Ishta and her Jaffa had returned to the central cave with enough wood for a small fire. The wood itself was detritus left behind by the seasonal floods in some of the lower tunnels. According to his watch, it was nighttime on the Alpha planet so he felt fairly secure in allowing the fire. The tunnels would scatter the smoke and even if anyone was around to smell it, no one was going to be able to track it in the dark. All it would tell anyone was that someone was still alive - and that was something their rescuers would need to know as well.

They had been missing for just over 24 hours. Daniel would contact General Hammond and start organizing search parties in another six hours. All he had to do was get the Unas into the cave system and Jack had no doubt the cave dwellers would find them in short order. Even if they could not find an exit, all they had to do was wait. Daniel knew where they were, the blocked entrance would tell him all he needed to know - and the chances of four Jaffa attacking the size and type of party Daniel would be bringing with him was ...not likely.

If they could not find an entrance, SG-11 would just blow a hole where the entrance used to be. Which meant that six hours from now, they were moving this party to a another location. Jack did not feel like dodging rocks once the C4 started going off.

Teal'c had not regained consciousness so Jack had spent his time watching Bira alternate between Bel'lor's busted leg and some internal injuries he neglected to tell them about. When Bira had exploded he had defended himself by pointing out that there was nothing she could do about them and they were not life-threatening anyway. Then Bel'lor had distracted himself by watching with barely concealed amusement as Tok'ra after Tok'ra found one reason or another to wander over and start a conversation. Jack could not decide if they were more terrified of Carter or himself.

Jack began to feel like the last virgin in a bar full of Marines. Carter was making a tolerable stab at hiding her unholy delight with his discomfort. When she finally lost it and began to snuffle as she tried to control her snickers, Jack turned on her as she held her canteen to her mouth.

"I don't know what you're so amused about, Carter. At least they want me for my brain." He ran his eyes significantly down her body.

She inhaled the water with a coughing snort and started sputtering. Bel'lor helpfully whacked her on the back, half knocking her to the floor.

Jack turned to Bel'lor with an irritated frown,"What did you do? Raid the day care?"

Bel'lor puzzled over the words for a moment, then replied hesitantly,"Al'syn wished to present you with a variety of personalities. She also wished to avoid the problems we encountered with Kan'an. The premiere requirement was that none of the symbiotes could have significant emotional ties."

Jack looked at him with disgust. What sort of partnership was that supposed to produce? "Bel'lor...these kids are scared to death of me. I'd go odds they'd all pass out the first time I started yelling. Forget any sort of constructive conversation."

When Bel'lor did not answer, Jack turned to find Carter watching him soberly. "I think that was the point, Sir." She said quietly.

Jack tilted his head,"I didn't realize my need for total domination was so universally known." he remarked almost idly.

Carter watched as he stretched casually, then looked at Bel'lor and smiled pleasantly.

"Not a chance in hell."

He walked away before he hit someone.

**************************************************


He heard her behind him a few seconds after he sensed that she was there.

She did not say anything, just seated herself on a nearby rock and studied her feet. He opened his mouth to ask her to leave him alone before he realized he did not really want her to leave. He dropped his hands from the wall he was leaning against and turned around to face her.

"Funny idea of partnership your friends have."

Nausea rolled through him again.It was not like he was planning to get up close and personal with any of the Tok'ra. It was the principal of the thing. Forget the mind-blowing boredom of sharing his head with a snake who had not lived long enough to understand half the things Jack had lost. Forget the fact that they were willing to inflict his scars on a child. Did they have any idea what living in his mind would do to a kid? Jack would fight for control out of reflex - the snake would never have a chance to grow up. It would never have a chance to develop as its own personality. The Tok'ra honestly thought this was something he would want?

Nausea threatened again.

"Bel'lor claims a handful of the Tollan have taken refuge with the Nox. Apparently Al'syn attempted to bargain for a detachment device, but when the Tollan found out who she wanted to give it to, they refused."

Jack sank into a crouch and placed his back against the cave wall. Leaning his head back he contemplated what Al'syn was willing to do.

"Those kids know that?"

Carter kept her tone even,"They all had to agree to it before she would accept them as...as a candidate."

Jack twisted his lips as he stared sightlessly across the room. ****. Guess the little buggers were serious about this whole thing. A shudder rippled through his body. To voluntarily submit to being locked within your mind forever. Jack had no illusions that was what they thought he would do with such a device. Hard to turn a symbiote off if the symbiote could sense what he was about to do and stop him. The only way such a device would work would be to turn it on and leave it on...forever. These kids were agreeing to a lifetime of potential slavery. In Jack's head.

"I'm think I'm going to be sick."

Carter grimaced. "It's important to them, Sir."

He lifted his head to look at her,"This is what they think I want?"

Carter tilted her head as she looked at him,"What would it take, Sir?"

Another shudder rippled through him." It's wrong, Carter. In oh so many ways. It's just...wrong."

She frowned as she tried to decipher that remark. He did not explain any further. That was the only answer he had. He looked at the Tok'ra and all he could think was the word "wrong". Carter was frowning now, her face pensive. When she looked away from him he felt a stab of alarm shoot through him.

"Carter...?"

"Would...would there still be a place for me at the SGC? On SG-1, Sir?"

If?

If what?

Panic shot through him. "You are not doing this, Major."

"You can't give that order, Sir."

"I sure as hell can."

No, her expression said. You can't. By Treaty he could not give that order. By the respect he had for her, he could not give that order. The longer he stared at her, the more solemn her expression grew. Finally she looked away.

"I see." she said softly.

*Don't do this. * He tried to call after her as she started back down the tunnel but the words got tangled in his tongue.

They were there, he just could not get them to line up in a row. Familiar reflexes kicked in and he felt himself fading, mind moving into a spiral. Everything he wanted to say simply vanished into the center.

*Don't do this.*

She hesitated just as she reached the edges of the light thrown by his mag-light. For one moment he actually thought he had managed to say that aloud. He waited for her to turn around. Then she set her shoulders and stepped into the shadows. He watched her go, everything he wanted to say trapped behind barriers of training and hell-born experience.

*Don't do this.*

*************************************************

He had known.

He had always known.

Someday, somewhere, they would offer too much for her to say no. In the beginning, it had not mattered. Her father might be Tok'ra, but SG-1 was her family. She had too much to lose to even consider...

To consider.

She was old enough to feel the cold in her bones. Not enough to slow her down, but enough to foreshadow his present for her future. Even now he knew she watched him, struggled to learn all she could before he was promoted out of the field or injured past repair. At best they had another year before he would either be placed on the list for promotion or forced by law into mandatory retirement. Thirty years of federally commissioned service and he would be damned if he knew where the time had gone.

He wanted those years back.

He had not wasted them. He had never taken his team or his life for granted. Never again. It had taken time, but while he lay dying on the ice in Antarctica he had finally accepted he wanted all the tomorrows he was given. That he still had something to offer. He wanted to be there as experience peeled back the layers to expose the officer Carter was becoming. Not the sort of officer anyone had probably thought she would become back at the Academy, but the sort of officer Earth needed if it was going to survive. He wanted to see Teal'c smile more - maybe he would even get him to laugh one of these days. He wanted to be there when Danny finally let go of Shau're and found someone. He wanted to see Cassie graduate, see her wearing her first formal ball gown and looking too grown up for the 12 year old he remembered.

He wanted it all back again.

He wanted the missions. The knowledge that each new day brought another adventure just beyond the gate. He wanted the certainty that it would all be waiting for him tomorrow if he survived. He wanted what he would never have again. It was only a matter of time now. Hammond had not said anything, but the hints were there. This time next year, the rules would change and what he had, would never be again.

Jack contemplated his knees thoughtfully.

"Colonel O'Neill."

He almost did not turn. When he looked down he tried to see a young man, a young woman. Hell, anything except the threat Al'syn had become. She stood too close, and she did not even seem to realize just how easy it would be for him to reach out and remove the threat she represented. Just a single...

He closed his eyes.

As if slow motion he saw Carter fall in love. He saw her married. Somewhere among the missions, the battles and the heartache he saw her give birth to a little girl with her mother's eyes and her father's smile. Ten years later she was a bit more battered, a bit more scarred, and she was commanding fleets, commanding bases churning out death gliders as fast as the Goa'uld shot them out of the sky. At fifteen years, the next generation of Jaffa came of age, the second wave of symbiote queens matured, and the real battle began. Somewhere around his 70th birthday and on the last years of her career - brilliant as it had no doubt been - they watched as children not yet born fought the battles they could no longer fight.

Seventy years and at the end of the line. Half-deaf, half-blind, hands and knees crippled with arthritis while Teal'c still had another fighting decade or two to go.

What could Carter do with two hundred years?

God help him, what could she do with four hundred?

"Colonel...we meant no insult."

Al'syn had no idea that she had won. Carter would say yes. Just like he had always known she would. If not Al'syn, someday, somewhere, a Tok'ra would be injured in the line of duty and Carter would do what he had trained her to do.

Make sure no one got left behind.

He was turning to the Tok'ra when there was a motion from the corner of his eye. Al'syn's mouth opened in a surprised "O" as he pushed her to the ground, turning as they fell. A burning pain lanced through his shoulder and then someone was screaming. He heard a staff blast....

...then he heard nothing.

*******************

Sam stared down at her hands, mind numb.

A slight noise behind her warned her of Ishta's approach. She did not turn and the comforting weight of the Jaffa's hand on her shoulder offered wordless support. Streaks of brown stained her hands, flaking and mixing with the dust.

Five of the twelve Tok'ra were dead. Three more were wounded, at least one critically. Of the nine Amazons, one had died saving Al'syn. Four were in Kel'No'Reem. All Sam could do was wait and hope their symbiotes could heal them. Thank god none of the warriors were on Tretonin. Teal'c had still not regained consciousness. Jack was unconscious. Her hands shook as she remembered fighting her way to his side, only to realize the wound in the Colonel's shoulder would not stop bleeding.

Bira was one of the dead.

She discovered that while all Tok'ra could use the hand devices, facility with the healing device was another matter. After the dust had cleared and the bodies counted, she ordered two Jaffa to guard the sole surviving assassin while she tried to heal the Colonel. Ishta had taken up a silent post at Sam's back while the Jaffa leader's 2IC studied the surviving Tok'ra and fingered her staff weapon.

Sam had watched in dismay as the fragile bonds of trust the Jaffa had forged with the Tok'ra shattered, yet she could not honestly say she blamed them. Three of the Tok'ra had been part of the plot to kill Al'syn. Where there were three, there might be four. Until she could get them all under a za'tarc detection device, except for Bel'lor and Al'syn, they were all under suspicion.

Al'syn for obvious reasons.

Bel'lor because he had taken the shot that would have killed Colonel O'Neill.

In spite of his broken leg, the Tok'ra had instantly headed for Al'syn when the shooting started. Sam was uncertain whether the assassins had originally planned to kill Colonel O'Neill, or had simply seen him as an obstacle. Half conscious and wounded, the Colonel had reflexively broken the neck of the Tok'ra who had knifed him even as he fell. One of the assassin's companions had turned his stolen staff weapon on O'Neill as he struggled to his knees and tried to sort out friend from foe. Bel'lor had - foolishly - tackled the Colonel without identifying himself first. If O'Neill had been one second faster, the Tok'ra would have joined the assassin at their feet. As it was, the staff blast hit Bel'lor, knocking both men to the ground.

Sam put six bullets into the assassin before she realized she had pulled the trigger.

None of the Jaffa had been part of the plot. The assassins had started with them in order to acquire their staff weapons - and possibly because they recognized that even if they survived the assassination attempt, Ishta would never let them leave the cave system alive. The third assassin had stayed low, making a kamikaze attempt at Al'syn while the rest of the stunned survivors tried to sort out who was alive and who was to be trusted. A Jaffa named Talia had wounded him, taking a mortal wound in the process. Her sacrifice had saved Al'syn, and had left them with a living conspirator. If he survived, Al'syn promised that she could extract anything Sam wanted to know.

Looking at that grim face of the Tok'ra queen kneeling by Bel'lor's side, Sam believed her.

She surprised herself when she realized that the thought of how Al'syn would obtain that information bothered her not at all. It should have. Torture was not part of the USAF authorized method of information extraction. Staring down at the dead, at Colonel O'Neill's blood drying on her hands, Sam did not give a damn.

She was not planning on joining the Ascended any time soon anyway.
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:16 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Ah, hell.

Stabbed again.

Jack surreptitiously flexed his shoulder as he realized someone must have used a healing device. Bruised, but usable. His hands and feet were untied as well, so odds were, the angels had won. Cautiously easing his eyelids open he relaxed as he caught sight of Carter sitting beside him, weapon steady in her hands. Her head whipped around as he shifted to ease the rock digging into his collarbone. His eyes followed her as a quick hand signal brought Ishta to her side, the Jaffa taking up watch as Carter knelt, bringing her face squarely into his field of vision.

"Al'syn?" he managed, as she carefully examined his shoulder and ran through the standard medical interrogation.

"Alive, Sir."

He nodded, then looked at her eyes. "How bad?"

Her lips tightened. "Bad. There were three assassins, all Tok'ra. We lost four friendlies -three Tok'ra and one Jaffa. Another Tok'ra is critically injured and Bira was one of the Tok'ra casualties. I was able to partially heal your shoulder with the healing device, but the rest will take time."

Jack absorbed what she did not say. Given how painful and how much a liability his injury was under these circumstances, she had healed it only far enough not to tire herself. That she had not trusted any of the Tok'ra to make the attempt was either lack of options, or lack of trust. Both were potentially lethal in this situation.

"The assassins...?" he rasped.

"You killed one, I got another. Talia wounded the third before he killed her- Ishta's got him under guard right now. We don't think there were any others but we won't know for sure until we can test everybody with the za'tarc detector."

Jack glanced around the room, noting the fact that only Carter and the Jaffa appeared to be carrying weapons. A slight movement on the other side of his body had him turning his head. His eyebrows shot up as he recognized Bel'lor lying beside him. For some reason, he had assumed the Tok'ra had been one of the casualties. Beyond Bel'lor, Al'syn was slowly dripping water into Teal'c's mouth. Jack shot a questioning look back at Carter.

"Teal'c is fine, Sir. Original injuries only. Bel'lor is..." her voice trailed off, then she shrugged. "He took a staff blast at short range. The healing device can't do anything."

She did not have the blank look of someone dealing with the fact that she might have been able to heal him if she could afford the exhaustion that would result. Nor did she have the angry self loathing he would have seen if the fault lay with her. The Tok'ra's injuries were simply too extensive to heal. Jack looked at the location of the blackened edges of clothing and grimaced. Every internal organ in his chest had to be half cooked. It was a miracle he was alive at all.

Jack had a vague recollection of someone knocking him to the ground and of reaching for a weapon even as he passed out. He moistened his lips carefully.

"My fault?" he asked quietly.

Carter shook her head,"One of the assassins."

She did not say anything else. Jack frowned as he realized Bel'lor must have taken the shot while he was knocking Jack out of the path of the blast. ****. His fault...in a way. Why wasn't she saying anything about that...

Oh.

****.

Al'syn finished what she was doing and walked away, barely glancing in his direction. Carter started giving him a run down on the rest of the situation. Tok'ra assassins, blah, blah, blah. Food supply, blah, blah, blah. Ishta's Jaffa, blah, blah, bl...

"I won't do it."

Her voice never even altered pitch as she switched topics."I know."

"I mean it, Carter. No."

"They know that, Sir."

"Good. Cause the answer is still no. As in 'not going to happen'. Nada. Nein. To quote Daniel - Nyet. Never."

She looked him straight in the eye, unblinking. "They KNOW that, Sir."

Jack looked suspiciously for any sign that she was disappointed or willing to argue. His adrenaline was spiking and he realized suddenly that he wanted to fight about it. Just to make sure that she understood his point. No. No way. Not in this lifetime. Never again. He was vaguely unsettled she just accepted his answer and turned back to her report. Unsettled. Aggravated. He glared at the Tok'ra lying six feet away from him, then sighed. The host did not look good. They had to find a way out of this place, and fast. Counting the snakes, there had already been seven casualties. Jack might have a philosophical problem with the Tok'ra as a whole, but he did not particularly want Bel'lor and Tanner to make that number nine.

One of the Jaffa came trotting up and Carter left to deal with whatever problem had arisen. Jack blinked as Ishta remained behind. He was certain there was some logic to that division of labor, but damned if he could see what it was. Worse, Carter had probably told him in that report of hers. He might space out during her scientific lectures, but damned if he would ever do it during a military one. He was more out of it that he thought he was.

"I suppose you think I should do it." he grumbled sourly.

Ishta just looked at him, expressionless. Finally, she shrugged slightly. " You and the Jaffa have much in common, O'Neill." She looked at her hands for a second, then looked up. "I could not do it."

Jack frowned,"Never said I couldn't do it. I just won't chose to do it. There is a difference."

Ishta hesitated as if searching that statement for truth. Finally she nodded slowly," Then I ...would...not chose to become Tok'ra."

"Yet you would swear allegiance to one."

Ishta glanced across the cave. "We would swear allegiance to Major Carter and her symbiote, yes."

Jack arched an eyebrow," Carter, huh?"

Ishta studied him for a long moment, then inclined her head.

Ah, damn.

Damn it to hell.

"Get her for me would you?'

*************************************************

It took her thirty minutes to finish whatever it was she was doing. He had assured Ishta that it was not a life-threatening timetable and was grateful for the extra time to think. Even so, he still was not certain what he was going to say to her. He was relieved when Ishta discretely moved to another protective position. It was figuratively out of earshot, if probably not literally. He waited until Carter took up a comfortable kneeling position by his side.

"Sir?"

"Major Carter."

He watched her absorb the emphasis on her rank. He waited until she nodded slightly, acknowledging that this was official, Colonel to Major. More, this was the nominal 2IC of the SGC and current base commander of the Alpha Site talking to the probable future CO of SG-1.

Hammond had already discussed tentative plans to pull her back to a staff position at the SGC after she had had a few years in field command. Assuming that she survived, the chances of a promotion out of the zone were high, and the next likely step was a tour as 2IC of the off-world training facility. That would satisfy both her staff requirement and her obligation as a front line officer to pass her knowledge onto the next generation of USAF officers. It would be three to five years before the Academy part of the off-world base was running at serious capacity, so the timing was nice.

Granted, there were no guarantees of any kind - least of that she would survive or that the Alpha Site would not get blown to bits. She was also not the only officer being considered for these positions. But she WAS being considered. She was on the fast track and no one had any doubts that she was being groomed for flag rank. That in and of itself said a lot for how the Air Force viewed one Major Samantha Carter. Personal ambition aside, the Air Force needed her in these positions.

"Is it worth it, Major?"

She did not bother to ask what he was talking about.

He met her eyes grimly, "Without Al'syn, you would probably get command of SG-1. Maybe. We've had to fight pretty damn hard to keep you in the field as it is. Our key point has been that while you are brilliant, you are not irreplaceable. There are other scientists who can do what you do in a lab. There aren't a whole hell of a lot of geeks, however who can do what you do in the field. So...probably. For a couple of years anyway. If you blend with Al'syn however, all bets are off. You will be unique, Carter. They won't want to risk you."

"That won't be a concern until I actually blend with her, Sir. I'm not the only choice, Sir. Surely I'll still have a year or two..."

Jack snorted. "You think it won't occur to anyone that YOU are the best candidate for this insanity. You think they are going to risk losing out on the opportunity to clone you? Think again, Carter. You even suggest you're willing to consider this, and you are off the field rotation. The fact that Ishta and the others are willing to swear an oath to you personally, not just any SGC host will just make their case for them. "

She studied her hands for a long moment, then gave a short laugh. When he raised an eyebrow she just shook her head and muttered something about the ironies of being female. He supposed it was a bit left of center. Instead of pulling her from the field because she could not hack it as a field officer, they would pull her from the field because she could. Because they desperately wanted her alive to pass that knowledge and ability to her Tok'ra children. Then they would wait on bended knee until she and her symbiote got pregnant.

"The Air Force of the future, hey Carter?"

"If you say so, Sir." she replied glumly.

Given that Al'syn planned to imprint the Tau'ri mentality on her offspring, he wondered if it would occur to anyone that with the combined life experiences of two heterosexual hosts, the symbiote would be about as gender neutral as they came. Or bisexual. He wondered what sort of effect that would have on the sexual orientation of the hosts. That would sort of blow the whole don't ask, don't tell philosophy out of the water. Hard to court-marshal someone for having a USAF-approved snake in their heads.

Oh yeah, the Air Force of the future.

Sam smiled half-heartedly, then let it fade. She met his gaze without flinching. " I know what this may cost me, Colonel. I know that there is a good chance I'll never go off-world again - at least , not with the SGC. But...this is important, Sir. We'll never get another chance like this again. "

Given the genetic memory thing, they also needed to do it right.

A mistake would haunt them for centuries.

She smiled again, a bitter twist of the lips,"We both know Kinsey will be in power next year. You honestly think I have a serious shot at staying in the field once he's President? He can't leave any of us there - not if he wants total control of the Gate. His first move will be to replace Hammond, then he'll dismantle SG-1. Frankly, Sir, whatever becoming a host to Al'syn costs me - I don't really have a choice." Her eyes darkened," We can't let him destroy Earth, Sir. We...just may not be able to fight from Earth."

"Jesus, Carter."

Her eyes were half terrified, half defiant. She knew what she was saying. He did not know whether to be proud of her or whack her over the head. Her father was going to kill him. ****. Give him a perfectly normal USAF officer for a few years and the next thing the Air Force knew, she was willing to hold the Gateroom at gunpoint to rescue her CO and commit to conspiracy to save the planet. Oh yeah - her father was going to kill him.
God, he was proud of her.
The tactician in him considered the fact that Tok'ra hosts were - by Treaty - automatically released from any military obligations if requested, no questions asked. Kinsey might control the Stargate, and the SGC program, but he could not control SGC Tok'ra. Given a situation where their skills were needed off-world, they could walk through the Stargate and never look back. Any off-world hosts would, through their symbiotes, instantly acquire SGC knowledge, skills, and training. They could rebuild an entire SGC program from the ground up in a matter of weeks.
Holding her eyes he gave her a steady salute. Her lips quivered for a moment as she returned the gesture, then headed off to finish whatever it was she was doing before he interrupted her. He gazed after her thoughtfully, eyes dark as he considered and rejected several plans of action. He eyed Ishta, then spent several minutes convincing her that he was more than capable of protecting himself. More to the point, he convinced her that he was expendable and that Carter needed her more than Jack. She left him a zat and went to find Carter.

Several hours later, Jack turned his head as Tanner's breath hitched softly. The Tok'ra's chest sank as he exhaled and did not rise again.

Jack reached for his knife.

*************************************************

Sam smiled tiredly as Maia and She'loc proudly reported that they had found something they believed would prove to be an exit. Both Amazons were healing well from their wounds and both wanted to continue tracing the route. Ishta was offering well deserved congratulations when a shattering scream echoed from the central cave. Everyone within earshot made it back to the cave in record time, weapons ready. Those same weapons fell to their sides as they found Al'syn near the body of Bel'lor.

Taking only enough time to realize that Al'syn's cry had brought Teal'c halfway to his feet, Sam reslung her assault rifle and walked slowly toward the grieving Tok'ra. Ishta grabbed Teal'c as he swayed, and fell back to his knees. Sam was about to offer her condolences when the smell hit her. Her rifle fell back into her hands as she stared at the ground and realized that the darkness beneath the body was blood.

Al'syn looked up, her face a mask of anger and horrified betrayal,"Why?" she cried.

Her hand lifted, covered in Tanner's blood.

Sam swallowed as she knelt beside Al'syn and studied Tanner's back. He had been rolled onto his stomach and his shirt sliced efficiently from the neck to his waist. A similar wound opened his neck from the base of the skull, eighteen inches down his back. She almost gagged as she realized whoever had done this had smashed the back of the skull with one quick blow and that part of the brain was missing. Brain stem and a good twelve inches of vertebrae. Al'syn grabbed her shoulder with one bloody hand.

"Why?" Al'syn whispered raggedly," Why would he do this? Bel'lor was no threat to him. We might have saved him. Symbiotes have occasionally survived up to eight hours in hibernation. We might have saved..." her voice broke off.

Sam was staring at her blankly. Him? Her eyes widened and she rocketed to her feet and spun around, eyes seeking. Nothing. No salt and pepper flyaway hair. No 6'2" frame she could identify at 50 yards on a moonless night. No reason at all to worry, right? Her eyes dropped again to a gory mess a combat knife was ideal for making. Al'syn was rocking slightly and her head was shaking a spastic negative.

Sam turned her head and found Ishta.

"Find Colonel O'Neill."
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:17 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Resolutely not thinking about what he was doing, Jack pried the symbiote's body from the vertebrae and tossed the now useless bones away with a grimace. The ganglia interfacing the symbiote with the spinal column had separated automatically when Bel'lor went into hibernation. Unfortunately, Jack had the feeling the snake was using the last of his energy to stimulate the brain cells his fangs were still clutching. Dreaming himself into oblivion. Jack suspected Carter would be shocked at how much he knew about the Blending process. It had nothing to do with Kan'an, however; Jack was simply a fan of knowing his enemy.

"Wakey, wakey."

He shook the symbiote gently. When nothing happened, he unscrewed the top of his canteen with one hand and dumped it over the snake's head. Blood and cerebral spinal fluid sluiced off the body, triggering reflex. Bel'lor convulsed and Jack suddenly found himself struggling not to do any damage as the symbiote lashed back and forth, a high pitched scream emitting from his mouth as the hunk of dead brain matter hit the ground with a hollow thump. Jack leaned his head back as the neck flanges flared open and beady eyes glowed red.

"Whoa."

He twitched instinctively as the snake's head whipped around and stared at him. Reminding himself sternly not to think about where those fangs had been, Jack peered into the snake's face.

"You in there?"

For a moment he thought he might have done permanent damage, then the symbiote collapsed over his hand, a mournful keening just audible on the low end of the scale. Jack shivered as the alien dirge scraped up and down his spine. When the last note ended, Bel'lor remained where he was, a boneless mass hanging listlessly from his hand. Jack eyed him uneasily.

"Okay, look. You win. " he glared as Bel'lor eyed him without moving."I bow to the inevitable. But there are a few ground rules. One, the Air Force owns my ass. No running off on secret Tok'ra missions and if you EVER do what Kan'an did, I'll have Carter throw me through the Gate to Cimmeria - at gunpoint if necessary. "

Jack ran his free hand over his mouth and met the snake's eyes grimly. "Two, Kinsey and the NID would kill to have this thing happen - but they won't ever agree to Carter being the host. Kinsey may be deaf, dumb, and blind when it comes to off-world politics, but he's into power. He'll never miss the implications."

Kinsey was scary precisely because he would place his own personal agenda before that of the planet. Worse, he would never even see the damage he was doing. Jack had never been able to decide if Kinsey was just that blind, or just that stupid.

"They'll kill her. They won't risk Al'syn, but Carter is too damn vulnerable once they dismantle SG-1. If anything will drive Kinsey over the edge, it would be the thought that the kids might have my personality." Jack grinned mirthlessly for a minute. "I think this idea of Al'syn's is as cracked as *anything* Carter ever came up with - which says something 'cause she's got the bar raised pretty high on insanity. However, I can see some advantages. I don't think you are going to get the reaction from the SGC that you think you will. Personally, I think they'll tell us to get stuffed, but hey. No harm in trying right? This should give us a chance to sound out the locals without risking Al'syn or Carter. "

Bel'lor's head had been lifting slowly throughout his speech and was now staring him straight in the face. Not thinking - seriously NOT THINKING - about what was going to come next, Jack wrinkled his nose. "So...you win. Do it." With that, he loosened his grip slightly and opened his mouth. His eyes closed tightly in reaction, but a morbid determination to see it coming had him popping one eye open.

Bel'lor was still staring at him.

Huh? Oh...

"Right." Jack said, kicking himself.

Snake can't fly, O'Neill. His jacket was lying on the ground where he had dropped it. Wriggling over next to it, he carefully placed Bel'lor on the fabric and lowered himself gingerly to the ground. I will not be sick. He told himself grimly. I will not...

"Better?" he asked as he stretched out. Getting a firm grip on his stomach he opened his mouth again and waited.

And waited.

Groaning, he dropped his head to the ground."For crying out loud, what now?"

Bel'lor lowered his head to rest on the jacket and gave a small cheep. O'Neill glared at him.

"What? I look like Daniel all of a sudden?"

The snake sighed.

Ignoring the unexpected thought that maybe the snake preferred death to Blending with him, Jack narrowed his eyes consideringly. Think, Jack. Don't screw this up. He considered the fact that maybe he just had not given the snake enough reasons yet to believe he was willing. Well, sort of willing.

****.

"Look, I know you care about Al'syn. Don't tell me you're willing to let her die because you don't particularly like me." Bel'lor's head shot off the jacket with an outraged shriek. Jack pointed a finger at him. "Ha! You do too - and she likes you back. Child, my ass. That just sucks, okay. That means Carter will miss you too, and frankly, she's lost enough people."

The snake looked unconvinced.

Jack glared at him, then at the ground. "Fine, you want the truth? This whole thing scares the hell out of me. Everything I am says this is the wrong thing to do - but that's training. You gotta understand, every instinct in my body is telling me that you are a threat. That's because you are. Sooner or later, it was going to come down to this and damn it ...they'll take my team. Do you understand? They'll take my team away from me."

His heart rate spiked in reflex and he felt his muscles tense just at the thought. Damn, he wanted to hit something.

"I make split second decisions that affect the lives of everyone under my command. The planet even. I have to know I can trust those decisions. My team has to know they can trust those decisions. It's a...a matter of honor and obligation. What happens if I'm in the middle of a fire fight and you get a flashback or something. That could be enough to kill us. Or worse, compromise the mission. You ARE a threat. You have been ever since you folks started eyeing SG-1 because something like this WAS INEVITABLE."

He did not realize he had yelled the words until Bel'lor twitched defensively. Considering that he might have been heard, he had just cut his window of opportunity down to a few minutes.

"What I want doesn't matter anymore. I'm off SG-1 within the year and Carter is going to go through with this. All in all, we've got a better chance of beating the Goa'uld with you in my skull. So what is it going to be?"

He glared at Bel'lor who simply stared back at him. He waited for any sign of what the snake wanted. Given what he knew about the Tok'ra - his own well publicized opinion of the Tok'ra to the contrary-instinct told him that Bel'lor was still stuck on the whole 'willing host' thing.

"Screw it." he said finally. He could apologize later. Yanking his knife from its sheathe he pressed the knife point into his wrist and laid his forearm open in one quick slash. Gasping as the pain hit, he dropped the knife and held the spurting wound closed. Bel'lor was shrieking again and Jack smiled weakly as blood loss quickly started to darken his vision, " I figure you have maybe three minutes to decide." If Bel'lor really hated him, he could find another host after they both made it back to the Alpha Site alive.

Oh god, that hurt.

Jack tightened his fingers reflexively on his wrist as liquid fire lanced through his arm. Ah ****. Bad idea. Really bad idea. He had to stop doing stuff like this. He had a split second to wonder if this particular idea was going to be the death of him when he felt something slide across his chest. He had just enough time to realize what was about to happen when something forced its way down his throat. His body heaved as he gagged reflexively and panicked. Both hands flew to his throat and the sudden loss of blood pressure as he lost his grip on the wound in his arm sent him spiraling into the darkness. He almost missed the brain splitting pain as the symbiote tore the back of his throat open and forced itself past damaged tissues and into his body. Almost. One last thought accompanied him into unconsciousness.

Bad idea.

**************************************************


"Major Carter, we have found him."

The relief she should have been feeling as a four hour search came to an end evaporated as she registered Teal'c's tone. Following his directions she and Ishta made quick time to a remote cave half hidden within the maze of like tunnels located in exactly the opposite direction from where they have been searching for an exit. Whatever Colonel O'Neill had planned, he had not wanted to be found while he did it. Given the facts, it looked like he had planned to offer himself as a host. That made no sense at all considering how many times he had said he would die first, but there it was.

The Tok'ra had cautiously allowed that if one was trying to remove a hibernating symbiote without actually knowing the procedure, the Colonel had done a messy but effective job. If Colonel O'Neill had not murdered the symbiote after the fact, Bel'lor was probably still alive. Going into hiding was pure Jack O'Neill as far as Sam was concerned. No only did he not have to deal with objections and explanations, he avoided having anyone else present for the procedure. The Tok'ra would have demanded to be present for the Blending, and this kept a potential enemy from killing him during the process - at the same time protecting Al'syn and the others. Sam ignored the nagging thought that it also kept her from offering to act as a temporary host in order to keep Bel'lor alive.

Bel'lor had saved the Colonel's life.

If they had not found the way out, she would have volunteered.

The reason for Teal'c's uneasiness was instantly apparent the minute she stepped into the cave. The Colonel's shirt was soaked in blood and the jagged wound in his lower arm was the obvious reason. The hilt of his abandoned knife was resting just beyond his fingers and the knife was coated in dried blood. The wound in his arm was closed, but still raw and unstable. All factors that suggested that whatever had happened had happened several hours earlier.

"It would appear that O'Neill was attempting to kill himself, Major Carter."

Sam stared down at the potential crime scene, noting the vertebrae tossed against the far wall and a jacket twisted into a tiny nest just the right size and shape for a symbiote.

"So it might appear." She said finally. She turned toward Al'syn who had attached herself to her side the moment the search had started.

"Can we move him?"

Al'syn knelt cautiously and touched her fingers lightly to the Colonel's face. His eyes opened briefly, flashing once, then closing again. Al'syn nodded.

"The Blending is complete. This much blood loss will leave them both extremely weak. It would be best if he does not attempt to walk."

Sam glanced at Ishta."What are the tunnels like?"

The Amazon leader considered briefly, then shrugged. "It will not be easy, but we can carry him."

Sam bent and retrieved the SGC jacket from the ground. She handed Teal'c her P-90 while she shrugged out of hers and then waited as Teal'c added his own to the pile. She handed the jackets to Ishta.

"You know how to make a stretcher from these?"

Ishta took the jackets, then nodded her head in something Sam took to be an affirmative.

"Teal'c, Al'syn, and I will stay with the Colonel. Have everyone ready to move out in fifteen."

Ishta nodded again and disappeared back into the tunnels. Sam turned to find Teal'c studying her, his face expressionless. She tilted her head in query and he looked at the empty entrance thoughtfully before looking back at her. She returned his weapon and moved back as she and Teal'c took up flanking positions on opposite sides of the cave entrance. The Colonel was already out of a direct line of sight and she motioned Al'syn to stay with him. She looked at Teal'c.

"What do you know?"

Teal'c glanced at Al'syn. "Only that the Tok'ra wish you to host this one."

Surprisingly, Sam thought she heard a note of disapproval in his voice.

"Also that Tok'ra assassins are responsible for both the wounding of O'Neill and the death of Jaffa."

Al'syn bridled,"One Jaffa and four Tok'ra."

Teal'c stared at her for a long moment, then inclined his head shallowly," I am corrected."

The Tok'ra narrowed her eyes at the large warrior,"You disapprove."

Sam eyed Teal'c assessingly as he met Al'syn's challenging eyes. He had never appeared to have any problems with the Tok'ra prior to this. Indeed, his reactions had been singularly placid next to the Colonel's temper tantrums. She wondered now, if O'Neill had been speaking for both of them.

Teal'c moved his gaze to the body on the floor, then back to the young Tok'ra.

"O'Neill's sense of honor and his loyalty to his people are not unknown to the Tok'ra. I believe you used both against him."

Oh yeah, that had been disapproval all right. Then again, he was not wrong. The proof was lying on the ground.

"Did Ishta tell you that Al'syn is the Tok'ra's only surviving queen?" she asked quietly.

She had often seen Teal'c chose not to speak. She had never seen him rendered speechless. For a moment, fear swept through his eyes, then anger. She did not have to wonder what future he was seeing. Slavery - even for the best of reasons - was still slavery. For the whole time she had known him, Teal'c had watched her with a mixture of surprise, friendship, and pride. She had never doubted his loyalty was to O'Neill first and foremost, but she had also never doubted his loyalty to her. Now, watching an assessing look creep into his gaze as he met her eyes with his own, she wondered what he saw.

She did not get a chance to find out.

A click on the radio warned her that Ishta was returning. Between the stretcher, the need to guard the Tok'ra assassin, and the fact they could not trust any of the remaining Tok'ra, the bodies would need to be left behind and retrieved later. Talia's symbiote had died when she did, so that was not a concern.

Unfortunately.

As she had told the Colonel, there were pre-teens in Ishta's group coming into puberty, with more in the group of rebel Jaffa. Many of the Jaffa had symbiotes near the age of maturity and the odds were good that several of them would be unable to survive on Tretonin. Worse, more Jaffa and their families came through the Gate every day. She had thought the whole spawning thing would turn her off. Thinking about the Jaffa and their children, she discovered she was only impatient for the process to get started.

Two years.

A lot of people could die in two years.
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:19 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Don't think.

Don't...do not. No. Nein. Nyet. Not going there. Going where? Where have all the children gone? Children...

No!

Don't think.

*O'Neill*

Spinning. Spinning. Keep spinning. Keep moving. Move your ass soldier.

No one gets left behind.

*O'Neill. Please. You are killing us both.*

Don't think. Can't think. Don't you understand yet? Can't speak. Can't. Can't. Can't.

Tell Carter.

*Tell her what O'Neill?*

Tell Carter.



"He's crashing again!"

"The symbiote is still in control?"

"You tell me. Now get out of my way."


Don't think.

Spinning. Keep spinning. Spin a web. Web of lies. Said the spider to the fly. Fly. Fly in the ointment. Snake in the ...

No!

Don't think.

*O'Neill. Please. Listen to me.*

Don't ask. Don't tell. Don't listen.

Don't speak.

*O'Neill!*

Tell Carter.

*Tell her what, O'Neill?"

Tell Carter.

*I will tell her, but you have to tell me what to say. Please...*

Tell her...can't speak. Can't speak.

*O'Neill!*

16-35-768. 19-27-341. 241760.

Tell Carter.

16-35-768. 19-27-341. 241760.



"Damn it! What the hell is going on?"

"Janet?"

"He's crashing again. I can't...I don't...This should not be happening!"

"Do we know yet what Bel'lor is saying, Major Carter?"

"Daniel is working on it. Malek thinks its a dialect that was spoken on the homeworld of Bel'lor's first host."

"Can we not simply Gate there and ask them to translate."

"The Goa'uld destroyed the planet fifty years ago."

"Damn it, out of my way!"


Don't think.

*O'Neill, I cannot leave while you do this. Do you understand? I will leave...but you must stop.*

Tell Carter.

*She does not understand, O'Neill*

Tell Carter.

*Tell her what?*

16-35-768. 19-27-341. 241760.




"...so as you can see, it's mostly the same phrases over and over again. I've isolated a few that appear to be translations of earth cliches, lines from movies...that sort of thing. All of them are linked together in what appears to be free association based on the english translation."

"So the thoughts are coming from Colonel O'Neill."

"Yes, I would say that's accurate. However there are also several other phrases: 'Don't think.', 'Can't speak', 'Tell Carter' ."

"Me? Tell me what?"

"A series of numbers I think. 16-35-768, 19-27-341, and 241760."

"Do these numbers mean anything to you Major?"

"No Sir."

"Well, do what you can with them. In the meantime, Dr. Fraiser thinks she had isolated the problem."

"Part of it anyway. According to the tests run by the Tok'ra, Bel'lor is having difficulty maintaining control of the Blending. The neural pathways that the Goa'uld and the Tok'ra override when they take control of the body should allow the symbiote complete control of the host body. However, when Bel'lor attempts to use these pathways, the Colonel goes into cardiac arrest. As far as I can tell, the symbiote is completely occupied with simply keeping Colonel O'Neill alive."

"Why then does the symbiote not leave him, Doctor Fraiser?" Teal'c asked suspiciously.

"Apparently, he can't. In order to disconnect as it were, he needs to use the same pathways. As far as we can determine, Bel'lor has tried to leave on at least four occasions. Each time, the Colonel went into complete systematic shut-down. Every major organ just...stopped."

"Janet...could he be doing this to himself?"

"Major...?"

"General Hammond, Sir. When Colonel O'Neill had all of the knowledge of the Ancients downloaded into his brain, he was able to use it. That Asgard specifically said that this was a physiological change in our neural make-up. The fact he was able to use this knowledge implies that his brain may have slightly altered or additional neural pathways. That's the only thing I can see that would allow him to use the knowledge in the Ancient database."

"I'm afraid that I don't see your point, Major."

"What if the Colonel has-or has developed- conscious control over neural pathways that the symbiote cannot access, but which allow him limited control over autonomic functions?"

"Are you telling me that Colonel O'Neill is capable of resisting the Goa'uld, Major?"

"Possibly, Sir. I'll need Janet and Malek to run a few tests..."

"Do it. Whatever you need. And I want a report on my desk specifically dealing with whether or not this is something we can use against the Goa'uld."

"I must warn you, General Hammond. The Goa'uld have already destroyed the people of Aris Boch when it was discovered that they could not control them." Teal'c said grimly.

"I doubt this is something inherent in the general population, Teal'c. However, every time one of our teams steps off-world, we are risking the security of those iris codes. If this could be trained into our people, I know I'd sleep a lot better at night."

"Indeed."

"Dismissed people."


Tell Carter.

*I have told her, O'Neill.*

Tell Carter.

*I will tell her.*

Tell Carter.



"Bel'lor, I don't know if you can hear me or not, but we think we know what is wrong. We have figured out that he is using neural pathways you cannot access to affect his autonomic nervous system. The problem is, that while he might have the biological ability to do this consciously, we think the Colonel himself may not be able to control his own emotional reactions to you."

"Sam? Wouldn't Bel'lor know all this?"

"Maybe not, Daniel. Many of the pathways triggering cardiac arrest are ones leading into areas of the brain thought to deal with memory. It's possible that Bel'lor is only communicating what the Colonel is telling him."

"But now that you know what the problem is, you can fix it, right? Sam?"

"Bel'lor...those numbers the Colonel gave you were serial numbers for Special Forces soldiers with whom the Colonel took a very specialized form of Interrogation training. As long as the training holds, he literally can't think or talk about whatever it is he needs to keep secret. It was designed to keep him from babbling during periods of hallucination or under the influence of drugs. The problem is, that every time you attempt to use your normal pathways, he thinks he's under attack, and he's retreating into those alternate pathways of his. At a guess, he's probably always had the ability, but combined with his recent experiences with Ba'al, he's conditioned himself to react with a suicide reflex."

"I still think this is a little out there, even for Jack."

"Bel'lor...you need to break through the training. Colonel O'Neill has no conscious control over how he is reacting to you. He's not doing this on purpose - although the fact he gave me those numbers suggests he's aware of the problem. He would not have done this if he did not plan to help you. Do you understand? He's giving you permission to do what needs to be done. He's still willing, Bel'lor."

"Sam?"

"Bel'lor...you have to find the spiral. It'll be the thing that is spinning. Colonel O'Neill is inside it. In order to complete the Blending, you're going to have to smash it."

"Sam!"

"Daniel...please. Just put it down to a military thing. I know this is what the Colonel wants. Bel'lor - you're going to get hit with everything at once so don't worry about the body - Janet can take care of that. Just do what you need to do."

"Nothing's happening, Sam. Do you think he understood?"

"I don't...****. Janet!"

"He's crashing."
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:21 PM   #11 (permalink)
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He could not move.

Immediately, a whisper of an apology slid through his mind. Jack shivered at the unexpected sensation.

*O'Neill...*

It was odd. Almost like hearing his own voice in his head, but...not.

*I feared we would damage your body.*

More information, scattered images of his own body heaving in convulsions, his own voice screaming as Bel'lor was overwhelmed by the emotions of a lifetime. Doctor Fraiser and the Alpha Site infirmary. Carter. Teal'c. Daniel. His team members taking the bruises as Tok'ra strength snapped restraints and instinct turned on everyone except SG-1. At least he had that much reassurance. Even in delirium, he had recognized them. The bruises were mostly a result of their attempts to keep his convulsions from hurting himself.

*Are they okay* He asked.

Guilt flared briefly and in spite of the fact it felt like his own emotion, he knew it was not. There was just a hint of another. Just enough.

*They were tired. Dr. Fraiser ordered them to get some sleep several hours ago. * There was another series of images including one of Daniel as he told Dr. Fraiser he had some work to do in Jack's office. Then, an image of the archaeologist grabbing Sam's arm and frantically whispering something that even Tok'ra hearing could not pick up.

*Would you quit calling us Tok'ra. I'm not Tok'ra. Ra is dead. If anything, we're Tok'Goa'uld.*

He was unprepared for the amusement that splashed across the back of his brain.

*Tok'Goa'uld?*

Jack sighed internally as the knowledge that technically the snake in his head was a Goa'uld slithered through to his forebrain. *Tok'System Lord is a bit of a mouthful doncha think?*

More laughter at his disgruntled tone, accompanied by a series of images of Jack attempting to use that awkward and unbeautiful mouthful in conversation. *In Goa'uld, the phrase would be Tok'en'lil*

*Hey! I ain't nobody's token, 'lil or otherwise.*

Amused acknowledgment of the joke mixed with exasperation for the massacre of a perfectly good translation had Jack shooting his eyes open in horror. Well...in his own mind, anyway. Bel'lor and some really good drugs still seemed to have control of his body although he could feel that relaxing as the snake cautiously tested one neural pathway after another.

*Oh my god, you're a Daniel. *

There was a brief hesitation as the snake was thrown by his very real moment of emotional horror. Jack felt a quick testing as Bel'lor reached for the emotion, then he felt Bel'lor's relief as the images of all-night translation sessions poured through his brain. He hid it well, but Jack suspected there was a certain amount of sheer glee in the snake's mental image as he relayed a picture of his quarters back at the Tok'ra base. Real books and data crystals littered the tiny room in a terrifyingly familiar pattern. Jack was experiencing a moment of sheer terror when a pulse of laughter escaped from the snake and a faint wisp of memory shimmered. Jack grabbed it and realized that the books belonged to Tanner.

*That's just evil.*

*The System Lords are evil. I am merely perverse.* Bel'lor told him. Abruptly there was a feeling, almost like a mental gasp, then a split second of hesitation before Bel'lor vanished so completely from Jack's mind that he gasped at the almost pain of it. Traces of anger and pain left ghostly after images in his head and Jack had a pretty good idea what had happened and why the snake had felt he could not burden his host. Grimly, he chased his symbiote down mental hallways.

*Bel'lor...get your snakey butt back here.*

*Go away.*

Jack reached out a hesitant mental hand.*Tanner?*

The gentle tone seemed to break Bel'lor and Jack was suddenly swamped with a mass of emotions. Loss and grief, and anger. The remembered helplessness as Bel'lor realized he could not save his host, the fear as Tanner's mind slipped from his. The knowledge that as much as he had loved Tanner, his host had always known that Belanus missed his first host with a passion time had barely scratched.

*I am no longer Bel'lor. I have lost even that.*

Feeling a bit silly, and completely lost, Jack gave the snake a hesitant mental pat on the shoulder. Then he waited patiently as Bel'lor grieved. The pain eased slowly, and Jack suddenly had the oddest impression of being watched by his symbiote.

*Florian would have liked you, O'Neill.* Bel'lor finally said quietly, *You had much in common.*

Suspecting that he had just been paid a high compliment, Jack quirked a mental eyebrow. *Career soldier, huh?*

Bel'lor seemed amused by that thought. *He was a poet.*

The absurdity of himself in that role momentarily kept Jack from seeing what else the snake had just revealed.

*Wait a minute. First host? Just how old are you anyway?*

*Florian and I fought the Goa'uld for thirty-seven of your years until he died while we scouted potential new bases after Revanna.*

A hint of memory that Jack did not feel he had the right to explore suggested that their fight against the Goa'uld had been a particularly bitter and bloody one. He focused instead on the youth of his symbiote. He was beginning to get the feeling that Al'syn had scampered off with the children of the group. Bel'lor smiled sadly.

*While it is true that Al'syn's plan appeal most to those of us less burdened by time, it is simply the fact that the youngest of us are less effective as undercover operatives and are most often the ones assigned to the bases to assist the scientists or guard the larvae.*

*So you lost not only the larvae, but most of the younger Tok'ra at Revanna.*

*Yes.*

Jack mulled over the tactical and -God help him - the political implications of that revelation. He was about to ask a few questions of his symbiote when the sound of the infirmary door opening caught his attention. He tried to turn his head and Bel'lor apologized again and assured him that the paralysis was temporary. It was simply the result of a Tok'ra drug that Dr. Fraiser had finally agreed to use. Reminding himself to have a few words with the doctor, Jack set himself to figuring out whether his visitor was friend or foe.

*Can you move us at all?* he asked Bel'lor.

*With great pain.*

*If he looks like he's about to zap us with anything, ignore the pain.*

A pulse of agreement and then Malek was stepping into his field of vision. Instantly, a wave of relief and trust came from Bel'lor. Not particularly reassured, Jack watched suspiciously as the Tok'ra scanned several monitors Jack did not recall the Alpha Site infirmary possessing before this. They looked alien in design. As Malek stood looking down at him, Jack would have said the Tok'ra was possibly a little disturbed, but a weird feeling of double-vision settled over his senses and he realized on second glance that the Tok'ra was, in fact, highly agitated.

"I pray you have not doomed us all, Bel'lor." Malek's said finally.

Jack was about to get testy on his snake's behalf when the sound of the door opening again distracted him.

Malek bent his head. " He is healing. You have done well."

A woman Jack recognized only vaguely stepped up to Malek's side and ran her eyes over the monitors. Just when Jack was beginning to get annoyed with being the entertainment of the day, she turned her head to Malek.

"What are we coming to that one of own would do this?"

Malek hesitated,"Major Carter feels that Colonel O'Neill may have offered himself willingly as a host."

Even to Jack's ears, he did not sound very convinced.

"Does this look like he was willing?" She was as angry as Jack had ever seen a Tok'ra get. "I wish I could believe that that is what happened, but we must face facts. I would have sworn on my life that Kan'an would never do what he did and yet look at what he has brought to us." The woman stared down at Jack, pain on her face. "Perhaps it is best that we die out with the Goa'uld while there is still some vestige of honor left to us."

Real shock echoed through Jack, his own and Bel'lor's. It was true, that their politics were never going to be something he agreed with, but he could admit-reluctantly - that the politics of his own government were not much different. As a soldier, he had never had to deal so directly with the decision makers before. It struck him that he had never been one of those decision makers before, and yet the moment he stepped through that Stargate, that is what he had become.

Never leave a man behind.

He had built his entire personality, his entire sense of worth around that Special Forces motto and held those around him to it ruthlessly. It made him a good soldier and a bad politician. It occurred to him that maybe what he had seen in the Tok'ra, was himself. The thought was instantly dismissed, but it fluttered around at the back of his head...and Bel'lor was being extremely quiet. If he was no longer Jack O'Neill, if he could no longer trust himself not to make a decision that would violate everything he was, then who the hell was he?

His mind sheered automatically from the thought and he would have smiled sourly at the reflex if he could. Anything that was a threat to his team was to be avoided...or dealt with permanently. How did he deal with the fact that the threat might be himself?

The woman - Nya, Bel'lor supplied - turned to face Malek.

"The Council wishes to know which of the planets to prepare."

Malek's voice was remote,"The Council presumes much."

Nya looked at him, astonished,"You can't believe he will let us stay. If he disliked us before, he will despise us for this."

Malek smiled bitterly,"The Council was not happy with my decision to stay with the Tau'ri in the first place. I will not heel to their commands until the Tau'ri themselves demand that we leave."

Nya was silent. Then she leaned into Malek, resting her head against his shoulder. " Shae purchased a carpet from one of the Thracian weavers the other day. "

Malek rested his cheek against her head,"I saw it. You are wise to leave the decorating to your host. Her taste is exquisite."

The Tok'ra's tone was mild and it took a second for what he had said to actually sink in. Jack, with the trained reflexes of a married man, considered telling him to run. Nya smiled slightly, her expression forlorn.

"If we must leave, we will remember to take it with us." Malek said softly.

Before Jack could ask, knowledge of the Tok'ra lifestyle - and the reasons for it - slipped into memory. So many times they must leave - only occasionally with any warning at all. Equipment and essential technology had priority and what personal belongings they carried tended to be small and of great emotional value. Most were mementos of the dead. There were no resources to waste on furnishings that must be abandoned, no time to make the tunnels into a home. No time, and it hurt less when it was only empty space left behind. There was even, Bel'lor admitted, a hint of atonement in denying themselves the bright colors and luxurious fabrics which fascinated them as much as any System Lord.

Jack heaved a mental sigh.

There had actually been a time in his life when a rug was just a rug.

************************************************** ***********************

The darkness of the infirmary was soothing. His eyes were still mildly light sensitive although Bel'lor had assured him that this also was temporary. His wayward team members had drifted in an out of the infirmary only to be chased out by Doctor Fraiser who informed them - incorrectly - that he was sleeping. Once he was able to turn his head, Jack discovered that two SFs had been stationed outside the door. Bel'lor informed him that two of the Amazons were also stationed nearby.

That explained the lack of visitors.

The door opened softly and Jack was struggling to sit up when a hand slammed into his chest and pinned him brutally to the table. Light flared, and Jack found himself staring into the murderous face of Jacob Carter. No...not Jacob, he realized. Selmak.

"YOU MISREMEMBERED SPAWN OF SOKAR. HAVE YOU ANY IDEA WHAT YOU HAVE DONE?"

The weird double vision came back, and Jack swallowed nervously as he suddenly found himself seeing Selmak through Bel'lor's eyes. Age, and the brutal weight of a thousand years of fighting the Goa'uld, a thousand years of hatred for them, burned in Jacob's eyes. Gods. A thousand years. Jack smiled weakly as several rather...unwise...comments comparing the Tok'ra to the Goa'uld came back to him. Oops.

"WE WILL SEE YOU DEAD FOR THIS GOA'ULD"

Jack froze, wide-eyed as he stared into merciless eyes. Bel'lor was torn between gibbering certainty that Selmak meant every word and an outright reflexive fury at the accusation. Given the reactions of both symbiotes Jack was belatedly wondering just how close he had come to getting clocked one of the many, many - many, many, MANY - occasions he had opened his mouth and compared the Tok'ra to the Goa'uld. Still, oldest and wisest or not, Selmak had just tried and convicted Bel'lor without even asking Jack what had happened.

"SELMAK..."

"DID I GIVE YOU LEAVE TO SPEAK?"

Bel'lor lifted his head with a defiance that Daniel would have admired.

"THE HOST WAS WILLING." Bel'lor stated firmly.

Unfortunately true, but now was probably not the best time for Bel'lor to try defending himself. Interrupting angry Generals was a bad idea. Very bad. EXTREMELY bad. Selmak grabbed the back of a nearby chair and Jack watched uneasily as the metal started to bend under the force applied. He was considering the wisdom of having Bel'lor call for the SFs when Selmak leaned forward.

"WHAT LIES DID YOU TELL TO MANIPULATE SUCH A RESPONSE?"

Okay, that was going too far. Jack winced as Bel'lor shrunk guiltily inside his skull. Too far, and...ugg. Too painful. An acid complaint received a wordless apology and an attempt at keeping motionless. Jack sighed as unhappy images shifted and shattered. Of course the kids had been manipulative. Passionate, earnest, and manipulative as hell... but no more than Danny on a good day. No more than any of the times the military had pulled the whole "we need you to save the world again" string. He was career military. Being emotionally manipulated was in the job description.

"For crying out loud Selmak, will you go terrorize someone else's snake?"

The chair dropped to the floor with a clatter. Outright astonishment crossed Selmak's face. "COLONEL O'NEILL? YOU ARE WELL?"

"I will be once Bel'lor stops having hysterics. Could you maybe back off...just a little bit. Thank-you."

He grabbed Jacob's shoulder and hauled himself upright. He had managed to swing his legs over the edge of the table and was contemplating whether or not he truly wanted to risk standing when the quality of Selmak's silence hit him. He jerked his head up to find the Tok'ra staring at him.

Jack smiled cheerfully just to be perverse. "You can't have him back. He's mine. I'm keeping him. Thank-you for stopping by. Do you know where my clothes went?"

Jacob's mouth opened and closed, then his head dropped. When he reopened his eyes, he was regarding Jack with a completely bewildered expression. "Jack...?"

"Hey Jake. You don't see my clothes anywhere do you?"

"Look, Jack...whatever they told you to get you to agree, there's stuff you don't know."

"Al'syn? Last queen? Elliot? Assassins? That about hit the highlights?"

Jacob's face slid through a mish mash of emotions, starting with surprise and ending with impatience,"You have no idea what you are getting yourself into."

Jack stretched, then smiled grimly," Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea."

"Come on...let's face it, Jack.You don't pay much attention where the Tok'ra are concerned and politics aren't exactly your strong suit."

"I don't know,"Jack met Jacob's eyes, all amusement gone,"I'm real good at carrying out the orders that are the result."

He watched as Jacob pulled himself up sharply, "This isn't some covert mission to Kuwait, Jack. You can't solve this one with a staff weapon and a couple of zats. This is serious."

Jack sighed,"I only look stupid standing next to your daughter, Jacob. " then, because he could not resist,"We're going to need a TON of zats."

Before Jacob could explode, Carter walked into the infirmary in full combat kit. Jack looked at the slung weapon, assumed correctly that she had been notified by Security, and tilted his head.

"Expecting trouble are we?"

She shrugged, then handed him a set of BDUs. "We found the bodies of four Jaffa outside the camp perimeter this morning. The wounds appear self-inflicted. According to the records, they came through with a group of rebel Jaffa we brought through just after the Ash'rak incident. Malek checked out and is overseeing the retesting of the remaining Tok'ra. So far, no more assassins. All of the Amazons have tested clean as well. Bra'tac and Teal'c thought they might have some problems with the other Jaffa, but apparently the fact that four of their own tried to kill us is making it fairly easy. A few grumbles but nothing serious. The testing should be complete in another couple of days. I've also updated the questionnaire we've been using on any new arrivals."

Jack nodded,"Good work, Major. Has Anise checked out yet?"

Jacob started to frown, but said nothing as his daughter simply nodded.

"Tell Anise, SG-5, and ..." Jack paused to consult briefly with Bel'lor,"...Tavra that we'll meet in my office in twenty minutes. Have Daniel bring the stuff he removed and tell him thank-you."

She nodded crisply and headed for the door. Jack was aware of Jacob studying him with annoyance and a hint of caution. Jack started pulling on his BDUs.

"Jack...what are you doing? You can't just start ordering the Tok'ra around."

Jack pulled his collar straight. "Actually, I can."

A flash of fear slipped into Jacob's eyes. "Jack...you don't understand."

"You keep saying that."

Jacob grabbed him by the arm as he started to pass,"You're about to trigger something we can't afford right now. "

"Like a civil war?" Jack yanked his arm free as Jacob stared at him in shock,"I've got news for you, Jacob. It's already started. Those Jaffa weren't trying to kill me...they were trying to kill Al'syn."

"Damn it Jack...stop thinking with your instincts for once. We can handle a couple of assassins. Yes, we screwed up...but you can't challenge the Council right now. You'll split the Tok'ra right down the middle."

Jack turned on the older man with a dark glare," Stop letting Selmak do your thinking for you, Jacob. We don't have time for generational policies right now."

Jacob ran his hands over his face, eyes wild,"Please Jack...just hear us out. Okay? Please?"

When Jack did not respond, Jacob's head dropped and Selmak took over." Colonel O'Neill, please understand that while this may appear to be a simple power struggle, what Bel'lor may not fully understand is that it is unique in the history of the Tok'ra. We have not had a reigning queen since Egeria and for over two thousand years, the Council has ruled in her stead. In fact, Egeria was the only queen the Tok'ra have ever had. There are many who argue that the time has come for us to formally recognize the Council as our official ruling body, not merely Regent."

Jack reached down and righted the fallen chair and settled into it. The drugs were not completely out of his system and his legs were shaky. Bel'lor was also silently pulling memories forward to support Selmak as he spoke and it was getting hard to focus on standing upright while concentrating on filtering out the emotional overtones of what he was seeing to get to the information within.

Selmak sighed," Even the traditionalists are made uneasy by the suggestion of a return to a form of government used by the Goa'uld."

Jack already knew this; Bel'lor was no fool. However, neither Jacob nor Selmak would be satisfied until they explained it to him. Having been kept in stasis for most of the past two millenia, Bel'lor's cultural and scientific knowledge were sadly out of date. Worse, by Selmak's standards, Bel'lor was almost as young as the Tok'ra considered the Tau'ri. It also appeared that Jacob had bought Jack's ignorant soldier routine. Jack filed that surprising conclusion away for further examination at a later date.

Jack figured he still had fifteen minutes before he had to be in his office. He wondered if he was going to have to push Selmak to move it along. As if sensing his impatience, the symbiote began speaking slightly faster.

"Many are arguing that due to the circumstances of her creation, Al'syn is not a true queen. As you are aware, the knowledge imparted to her young is done voluntarily by the Queen. It is to be assumed that a Queen would pass different impressions to a larvae intended to be a scientist than she would to a larvae intended to be a Queen. While Al'syn has the biological potential to reproduce, her opponents are claiming she does not possess the memory to be a true Tok'ra queen. This conviction that we need to pass your combat skills on to our young is being seen as just one example of that inborn lack of judgment. If she continues on this path, some - perhaps many - will never accept her."

"Jacob...you've missed the point." Jack said finally." Al'syn has no interest in ruling the existing Tok'ra."

He grinned mirthlessly.

"She's much more ambitious."
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:30 PM   #12 (permalink)
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"My dad was quiet."

Jack glanced over to find Carter eyeing him with firmly suppressed anxiety just visible in her eyes.

"I think he and Selmak are still in shock."

It had never occurred to either of them that Al'syn might be willing to leave the Tok'ra; to start her own dynasty as it were. Such a move would be typical for the average Goa'uld, but Jack was fairly certain this one could be blamed on Elliot. The Tok'ra were just going to have to learn to cope with the fact they had allied themselves with a race not automatically wowed by their superior technology and intellect. Intimidated upon occasion - and definitely envious - but not wowed.

Carter nodded slowly, but Jack knew her real concern was still unanswered. What had her father thought about the fact that his daughter had all but agreed to become Al'syn's next host? Honestly, Jack had no idea. Selmak had taken over the conversation after Jack had dropped the pin on that one and either Jacob was too incoherent to speak, or he was hiding.

Selmak had volunteered to act as a go-between for Al'syn and the Council. After Jack, Sam, and Bel'lor had all agreed with the idea, Al'syn had reluctantly agreed to draft what amounted to a letter of intent regarding her plans for the Tok'ra and the Tau'ri. She had also issued an invitation to the Council to sit down and discuss the future role of the Tok'ra queen and the existing political structure. Selmak had warned them that part of the agreement might include promising that one of the first Queen larvae be given to the Tok'ra.

Jack had nearly gone for Jacob's throat.

*You are still angry.*

Jack throttled his temper and stomped on it...hard. *Be damned if any daughter of mine gets handed over like some payment. They're kids damn it, not property.*

*Your daughter?"*

Jack scowled. *Just as much my daughter as yours.* he stated belligerently.

*If you say so. However, may I point out that she is not yet born. Perhaps we may delay declaring a war over her just yet.*

*How come I got the smart-ass snake?*

Symbiote amusement trickled through him.

Al'syn had flatly refused to go offworld for the negotiations, and Jack had felt that Earth was not a good alternative. Malek had volunteered the use of the Tok'ra base as long as that met with SGC approval.

Hammond agreed.

Jack had also been relieved of command until the Air Force and the SGC were satisfied he was still in his right mind. In deliberate support, Hammond refused to assign another base commander, and instead, Teal'c was temporarily assigned to SG-5 who were now responsible for any cultural liasoning that might be required. Given some of the plans he was about to spring on his CO, Jack thought it might be prudent to invite Hammond to take a little visit to the Alpha Site. Especially since SG-5 was now aware of certain built-in features of the base that Jack had...neglected to emphasize in his reports.

Hammond was waiting for them when they came through from the Alpha Site. He waved the guns down as Jack, Carter, and Daniel came to a halt. The Marines were staring at Jack with undisguised curiosity and Hammond had an uncertain look on his face that caused something in Jack's chest to ache. It would appear that maybe his CO had not been completely certain Jack would return as ordered. He plastered a careless grin on his face and gave a crisp salute.

"Morning Sir. We're back. Hope you have lots of coffee."

Hammond forced a smile, his eyes fixed on his 2IC. "Welcome back, SG-1. Debriefing is in one hour. "he hesitated, then continued firmly," Colonel O'Neill...will you introduce me to your symbiote?"

Jack grinned again, this time a bit more mischievously. "Sir...Bel'lor. Bel'lor...General Hammond."

Behind him he heard Daniel and Carter sigh. From the shock on Hammond's face, Jack knew his eyes had just flashed - without the warning bob of the head the Tok'ra used. Bel'lor scolded him for being rude but Jack informed him that the SGC better get used to the idea. He was not going to get shot the first time some trigger-happy Marine saw his eyes from peripheral vision.

Bel'lor inclined his head toward Hammond,"General Hammond, I am honored to meet you. Al'syn sends her greetings and hopes that she might have the pleasure of greeting you herself sometime in the future."

Hammond smiled politely,"I look forward to it." he hesitated,"Colonel...?"

Jack looked up,"Sir?"

Hammond's smile flickered.

Carter looked over at him,"Sir. Your voice..."

"Huh? Oh right." Jack coughed," Back to normal?"

She nodded. Hammond looked ready to explode.

"Colonel?"

"Sorry Sir, that was me talking. It's easier to control the switch if Bel'lor doesn't release total control of the body, but then I end up sounding ...well, like that."

Jack winced as Hammond's temper ignited.

"I see. I'm sure the explanation will be fascinating."

Jack winced again,"Yes, Sir."

**************************************************


"...so that's about it, Sir. The Council can't afford to get into a ****ing contest with Al'syn right now, in case they lose. Selmak thinks they'll negotiate. There's nothing they can do to Al'syn anyway. Officially. "

"Which isn't to say that they won't attempt to get the Pentagon to pressure Major Carter into refusing, Colonel."

Jack nodded,"Yes, Sir. And frankly, I would not put it past the NID to arrange a little accident. They'd want someone they could control and Carter ain't it. She's too vulnerable here on Earth. As a result, I'd like to recommend that you ask the President and the Joint Chiefs to reassign SG-1 to a three-year staff tour at the Alpha Site."

Daniel's head shot up,"Jack?"

Major Davis chewed his lower lip thoughtfully."A concurrent staff tour for an entire team? That's an extremely unusual request, Colonel, especially given the critical point Major Carter is at regarding her career."

Jack kept his eyes on Hammond." Given the situation, risking Carter in the field right now would be foolish. Once Al'syn has ...spawned, the situation can be re-evaluated. Also, I think it's safe to say that at this point, the Air Force has shifted focus from searching for new technologies, to developing the ones that we currently possess. We need pilots and shipyards. The Alpha Site can provide both."

"I'm assuming you want base command, Colonel." Hammond said.

Jack smiled a bit wryly," We both know I was headed there anyway. This just accelerates things. We need to start working on how we are going to integrate the Jaffa and SGC assets in the field. If Al'syn and Bel'lor are right, we're going to get a lot more recruits in the next couple of years and they'll be under our command - not just allied. We're going to need to figure out what we want to do with them."

General Hammond was still studying Jack carefully when Major Davis looked up from his notes.

"Colonel, I'll have no problem selling the concept of you and Teal'c working off-world. That's pretty much what the Joint Chiefs had in mind anyway. But I'm not sure I can convince them that Major Carter is better off at the Alpha Site. I can't tell them it's because of the NID."

Jack shrugged,"Al'syn is going to make it an official request from the Tok'ra anyway. But if you need something official, how about a proposal for Carter to develop an Off-World Air Force Academy?"

Davis's pencil dropped from his fingers and he darted a wide-eyed look at the General. "Colonel...there's no way we would ever get the budget approved for something like that. Not to mention that she doesn't have the administrative or academic background for that sort of thing."

Daniel raised his hand,"Ah...I do."

Bel'lor spoke carefully, "Malek has agreed to provide anything Colonel O'Neill might wish in terms of our base construction technology. Several of our scientists are also prepared to work with Major Carter in order to adapt Goa'uld technologies to new military applications. This will be new for the Tok'ra - our research has generally been limited to what technology can be used to assist our undercover operatives. In truth, our resources were always too limited to consider this research path. We are confident however, that through a partnership, we may be able to boost the range and effectiveness of the 302s as well as designing orbital tracking and defensive platforms to protect the Alpha planet. We will also be able to assist with making your shipyards as difficult to locate as possible."

Everyone in the room stayed silent as they absorbed this unprecedented offer. General Hammond frowned, "That is generous, Bel'lor, but the President and Joint Chiefs are going to want to know why this is the first time such an offer has been made."

Bel'lor tilted his head slightly,"It is a large commitment of resources and not one that the Council could justify given their current view of the war - especially in view of our recent losses. Al'syn, however, is not bound by their priorities. This is a gesture of support by Tok'ra Base Commander, Malek, to Major Samantha Carter, the chosen host of his acknowledged queen."

Also to Al'syn's Consort-Elect, although Jack really wanted to leave that part out.

"I see." Hammond lowered his brows, then looked at Major Davis,"Major?"

Davis grimaced,"Hot potato, General. Big one. Our Treaty is with the Tok'ra Council - and from what I understand, the Council is legally the Queen's representative. The wording is pretty clear on that. Unfortunately, a case could be made that Al'syn is not legally the Queen until she matures. That...puts us in an awkward situation. I'm not certain that the Joint Chiefs would be willing to back Al'syn over the Council."

"It's all a null issue anyway."Jack said,"Al'syn is prepared to deal with us directly as an independent ally. By Treaty, we're not allowed to deny anyone the right to take a symbiote -even military personnel."

"Colonel,"Hammond said,"That was intended to prevent problems when working in the field under combat situations. This is a slightly different issue. The last thing we need right now is to start splitting our allies into factions."

"But it may give us an out, Sir." Davis said."The Council can't officially ask us to break our own Treaty with them and frankly, unofficially, what can they threaten us with? We'll have Al'syn and her supporters. The Tok'ra are hardly going to launch an attack on the Alpha Site to get her back." his expression altered and he snapped his head toward Jack."Are they?"

Jack shook his head, then sighed. "But it gets better." he mumbled.

Hammond's face tightened."Colonel?"

Jack drew a long breath then said,"TechnicallyI'mtheConsort-Elect." he spit out rapidly.

"What?" Carter asked, eyes shocked.

Jack closed his eyes briefly, thinking this was worse that trying to explain that he had seen Daniel's ghost. Carter's eyes were narrowing and Daniel's were widening. Hammond and Davis just looked confused.

"I said," he stressed each word precisely," that technically, I'm Al'syn's Consort-Elect."

"Bel'lor is engaged to her?" Davis asked.

Jack sighed. "No. I am... sort of. I guess. As long as I'm Blended with a symbiote. It's...a bit unusual - but it's all tied up in this 'passing on the SGC combat training' thing Al'syn is working on. You know, this is really Daniel's department."

Daniel's eyes got wider and he shook his head mutely as everyone turned to look at him. Jack groaned and told Bel'lor to explain. The snake cleared his throat carefully.

" Goa'uld are a biological matriarchy. As a race, we are drawn to our Queens both physically and emotionally, with the ties between a Queen and her own children being the strongest. The strength of the tie between a Queen and her offspring may be weakened as the symbiote ages, but it is never truly broken. This is one of the reasons the Council hesitates to declare openly against Al'syn. Many will be drawn to her simply due to the possibility that she represents. Her very existence fills an emotional void that has existed for over 2000 years. "

Bel'lor paused, searching for the right words to explain the next part.

"Blending with the Unas created an unusual dichotomy. Because of our racial memories, we are also emotionally inclined to follow a male dominated power structure - something that is purely emotional as the symbiote itself is genderless both culturally and biologically. Queens are technically hermaphrodites, not female. Culturally however, the symbiote will absorb many of the gender-based traits of the host. The result was a nominally male dominated feudal structure, with the Queen holding power by right and sharing that authority with her Consort-Elect."

"Jack's a System Lord?" Daniel blurted out, astonished.

The others looked shocked.

Jack grimaced,"Not exactly." he said.

Bel'lor continued, "The current system is a bastardized version that evolved after most of the Queens were killed in uprisings and battle. Ra actually came to power and held it in spite of his lack of Jaffa because he had most of the Queens secreted away on a heavily fortified and unknown planet. He allowed members of his own family - like Apophis - to breed with some of them. The larvae that resulted were gifted to his loyal cadre. It allowed them to build their armies of Jaffa - and kept them under his control."

"Once they built a power base that relied on Jaffa , they had to continue supplying them with larvae. And Ra had the only source." Daniel said, apparantly delighted by this new information to add to his collection.

Bel'lor nodded. " Ra learned his lesson after the uprising on earth. He guarded the Queens well. Without them being physically present, many Goa'uld forgot what it actually meant to serve a Queen. And to be honest, many of the Queens were not pleasant to serve. The Council of System Lords originally consisted of Consort-Elects from across the Empire, each representing his Queen. The Queens themselves rarely came to Court, although there are dim memories that suggest that they used to convene a Queen's Council before their numbers were so reduced."

"But some of the System Lords today are female." Major Davis pointed out.

Bel'lor shrugged," With the removal of the Queens from the power structure, there was no longer a need for the Consort to be physically male."

General Hammond moved his gaze between the two military members of SG-1."So what does this mean for us?" He finally asked.

"We have something to offer the Jaffa." Daniel looked stunned, even as he said the words. "They don't have to rebel, they don't have to break their loyalty oaths." He looked at Jack with shock in his eyes. "All they have to do is swear allegiance to Bel'lor."

Hammond looked at Daniel in disbelief,"Are you telling me that Colonel O'Neill is now a Goa'uld head-of-state?"

Jack winced as his CO's voice shot up in volume.

Daniel's hands fluttered as his mind raced to encompass the implications."The two biggest problems of the Jaffa rebellion have been the lack of symbiotes and the fact that by joining the rebellion they essentially are turning rogue. "

"The Jaffa pride themselves on loyalty, Sir." Jack said quietly.

Daniel nodded excited,"Don't you see - this isn't a rebellion. It's using the Goa'uld's own power structure against them. Just the larvae alone would have brought many of them over to our side, but this gives them a cultural reason. Permission, even. Instead of it being this huge break from everything they have ever been taught, now it's just one Goa'uld against another. "

"Something the Jaffa understand." Davis mused.

"I'm not setting myself up as a god, Daniel."

"I know that, Jack. You don't have to. The Jaffa are coming around to that conclusion themselves. But you can't expect them to throw away a lifetime of beliefs just because we say so. But once Bel'lor..."

"Bel'tan." Jack corrected, unthinking.

"What?" Daniel asked.

Jack shrugged,"It's a cultural thing. Bel'lor changed his name when he took a new host. He wanted SG-1 to be the first to know. His new name is Bel'tan."

Carter and Teal'c both bowed their heads briefly, recognizing the homage to Bel'tan's former host, Tanner. Daniel just gaped. He shook his head like he was emerging from deep water.

"You're joking, right?"

Jack glared as Bel'tan flinched. " A little sensitivity might be nice, Daniel."

Daniel's mouth worked slowly, as he blinked rapidly." Sensitivity? Gods, Jack...sometimes..."

Davis leaned back warily as Daniel's hands took on a frustrated life of their own.

Daniel leaned forward and pinned Jack with a glare,"Bel'tan. Come on, Jack... Bel'tan. Beltane? As in Bel's fire. May Eve? Jack-in-the-Green?"

Jack froze as everyone looked down at his fatigues. He eyed the green material warily. "The blue ones were dirty."

Daniel groaned," I thought you were Irish."

"My grandparents were Irish. I was born in Chicago."Jack said succinctly.

"So this is all coincidence?" Daniel asked, plainly sceptical.

"So all WHAT is coincidence? I have no idea what you are talking about!"

Daniel crossed his arms, "Beltane represents fertility, Jack. The word literally means 'lucky fire' and people would jump between two fires kindled on May Eve to receive protection from disease and to be granted a long and healthy life."

Davis's jaw dropped as the obvious parallel struck them all.

Daniel continued in a flat tone before anyone could say anything. "The sacred rites of May Eve represent the Great Marriage, or union of male and female. One of the deities who presides over the event is a male fertility god called Jack-in-the-Green. The female goddess he pursues represents the evolution of woman from Maiden to Mother and the union of the two results in pregnancy."

Jack gritted his teeth as Carter's face slowly turned bright red.
Like the Energizer Bunny, Daniel just kept on going.

And going.

"One of the female goddesses associated with the event is Danu, otherwise known as the mother and founder of the Tuatha De Danann. Danu, who was pale of face, with bright blue eyes and long fair hair."

Everyone turned to stare at Carter.

Daniel's voice lowered. "The Tuatha De Danann, otherwise known as the Aes Sidhe, a race of Celtic immortals who - in honorable battle - fought beside mortal men armed with shields of pure white and lances of blue flame."

The room fell into stunned silence.

"Oh.My.God." Davis finally breathed.

Daniel smiled tightly. "Exactly. I mean, my god...they were even a matriarchal society with female warriors and everything."

Davis looked at Hammond, panic crossing his face. "The Pentagon will not react...well, Sir."

"Not even to gain potential access to a Harsesis child?"

The room was shocked back into silence at Sam's casual question. Davis flushed, then looked down at his notes.

"The Pentagon understands power, Major. No one is going to miss the implications of having several hundred thousand Jaffa swearing personal loyalty to two military officers. Especially backed by something so culturally appropriate to their training and mentality. Not to mention what's going to happen when all those symbiotes need hosts. Politically, it's...well, frankly, it's a mess. " His face went grim, then he uttered the next sentence directly to Hammond, slowly articulating each word carefully. "I recommend the immediate assignment of SG-1 to the Alpha Site, Sir. And I recommend that we take this to the President as soon as possible. Privately."

Finally, Hammond looked at Sam, concern in his eyes. "Major, do you have problems with any part of this?"

Sam hesitated, then shook her head,"I think the Colonel is right, Sir. We need to start maximizing what we have now. The Goa'uld are eventually going to call the Asgard's bluff. Or worse, the next alien race we meet, may be just as technologically advanced and also hostile."

"That wasn't quite what I meant, but I'll take it. Dr. Jackson?"

"Hmm?"

Hammond sighed,"Do you have anything else to add?"

Daniel tapped his fingers on the tabletop briefly,"Well, I think we'll need to look at a common language. Most of the Jaffa speak Goa'uld and that would be handy to have in the field so I think that would be the best choice."

Davis hid a smile and Hammond paused, not quite certain it wasn't a joke.

Jack looked at Hammond,"He doesn't have any problem being transferred to the Alpha Site, Sir."

Daniel blinked,"Ah...right. Sorry. I'll go wherever you send SG-1."

Hammond nodded firmly."Right, then. Davis, contact the President. Set up a meeting. Major Carter, please have a proposal and tentative budget for this Academy on my desk ASAP. Jack, I want an Eyes Only tactical assessment of this whole situation. Dr. Jackson, please provide a similar analysis of the cultural implications of all of this on the Jaffa and the Goa'uld. Major Davis - I want you to take whatever they give you and dress it up. You're making the presentation."

Hammond looked down at the tabletop, then added,"I'd like to assume that this information is secure, but I think we all know better. Six hours from now, all members of SG-1 will consider themselves confined to base and starting now, will be accompanied by two SFs at all times. Go home and make a list of whatever arrangements need to be made and what needs to be packed and forwarded to the Alpha Site. We'll have a couple SG teams handle the actual packing later. Just grab what you need and get back here ASAP. "

Hammond drew a deep breath and looked around the table, eyes darkening as he watched them absorb the news.

"Assume that you will be offworld for the foreseeable future."
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Old 21st December 2003, 10:39 PM   #13 (permalink)
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She had always assumed she would be dead.

The idea that someone else might need to come into her house and pack up in order to send stuff to her offworld had never occurred to her. Either she was coming home herself or she was dead. The only arrangements she had had to make had been for her mail to be picked up, her plants watered, and her yard maintained. The same company that did the plants also dusted and vacumned once a week.

Almost all of her personal papers were stored in her safe deposit box at the bank. The rest were in a fireproof safe under the bed. The deed to her house, her financial records, even her tax records for the last seven years. Those were easy. She dug out the safe and handed to the airmen hovering at her shoulder. The SFs watched as he left the room, heading for one of the two black Broncos parked in her driveway.

What did she take, and what did she leave behind?

As she stared around the room blankly, she tried to figure out what, if any of this stuff, actually held meaning for her. She was not a person for knick knacks and her years in the military had only emphasized this trait. Orlin's emerald and her mother's jewelery box were at the bank. She made a mental note to tell the SFs to stop there on their way back to the base.

It took her all of ten minutes to stuff her collection of civilian summer clothes plus shoes into a large green duffel - and she had room to spare. Her winter clothes were still packed away in two neatly labeled boxes in the closet. It took another five minutes to help the Airman dig those out and she threw her grandmother's quilt on top as he carried them away.

Fifteen minutes - gods, there had to be more to her life than that.

She dumped the spare linens from the plastic tote box they lived in and headed for the bedroom. Ten minutes later, she stared into a box that held eleven items. Two photo albums, six framed photos - including the most recent one from San Francisco, a small jewelery box, a painting she had paid far too much for the day Daniel had dragged the entire team to an art exhibit in Denver, and an old-fashioned teddy bear that had belonged to her mother.

That was it. The sum total of the things that mattered. The rest of it could be packed up by other hands at leisure. She reached into the box and pulled out one of the framed photos. It was the only photo of her team she allowed herself. She had plenty of photos back in her lab, tucked in around the odd offworld souvenirs, but this one was safe to leave in the house. It had been taken here on Earth, and except for the fact they all had short hair, there was nothing remotely military about them.

Unless you knew what to look for.

She studied the picture for a long moment, smiling involuntarily at the mischievous glint in the Colonel's eyes and the long-suffering expression on Teal'c's face. Her smile widened as she remembered the evil grin Daniel had shot her and she touched her fingers to the glass softly. Then she placed the photo carefully back in the box and turned her back on the room.

The books would be useful in teaching the Jaffa children to read. The kitchen stuff might come in handy if she ever had a kitchen again and Siler could be trusted to make sure her bike arrived in pristine condition. It would all arrive safely at the Alpha Site, or it would not.

Then she thought about the men and women who had been ordered to evacuate to the Alpha Site during the incident with the asteroid. SG-1 had almost died more times than she could count on that mission, but at least they had been together. Every single one of the evacuees had stood before that Gate, knowing they did not have the option to stay, knowing they could not bring their families with them, and knowing those families were doomed, and knowing they could not tell them. They could not even say good-bye.

Something inside her seemed to settle, to click into place with a snap. She thought about the two men who would be waiting for her back at the base and the third waiting on the other side of the Gate. She could wait for her stuff to arrive...and if it did not, it did not really matter.

Everything of importance was going with her.

**************************************************
Jack made it back to the mountain with barely seven minutes to spare.

He had not bothered to call Sara. He had thought about it, then realized they had said their good-byes years ago. His parents were dead, most of his friends had drifted away after Charlie, after the divorce. Jack had been gone too often to maintain the ties, and that had really been Sara's department, anyway.

He had called the management company in Minnesota that looked after his cabin and arranged to have them crate up everything that might not survive two or three years unattended. It would be stored in the loft with plenty of moth balls. The company would send someone out regularly to check the windows and make sure that the generator was serviced, but for the most part, the small stuff had already been handled when he had chosen to close the cabin completely for the winter. It was the first winter he had done that, but there had been so much going on, and he had gotten to the cabin so rarely, he had reluctantly decided to close it up.

He could have the military ship everything to the Alpha Site, but the cabin had been his oasis from that world. He found it reassuring to know that the cabin was still here, waiting for him.

The house was different. He liked it, it was a nice house. It had seen him through a rough time, and it even had some good memories attached to it. But it was just a house, and the first thing the military taught you was not to get attached to geography. The extra landscaping he had done in the year after Abydos had added a good twenty-thousand in equity and he had already had several offers. He doubted it would take long to sell.

He scooped up his medals and photos off the fireplace and dumped them in a box. He ducked into the bedroom and quickly shoved his entire wardrobe into two duffles and a suitcase. More photos, a couple of Charlie's things, and his grandfather's shaving kit went into the box. His father's watch and his mother's jewelery were at the bank along with his financial records. The rest could be packed up by whichever SG team drew the short straw.

Throwing everything into the back of the truck, he had used his cell phone to call Cassie's school and then headed for the local pizza parlor to place an extremely large order.

He had had some good-byes to make.

Five and a half hours later he was dodging Airmen and a host of Marines as they invaded the Embarkation Room carrying what looked like half of Carter's lab. He peered into one of the boxes curiously, then sighed as he corrected himself. They were carrying her entire lab. Everything that was not nailed down seemed to be heading for the Alpha Site. He wandered over to where Carter was marking off items on a checklist.

"Carter...this all doesn't have to go today."

She glanced at him skeptically, then hurriedly directed three boxes of what looked like CDs and magnetic tape boxes to go through next. As several boxes of technical manuals followed, he recognized copies of engineering specs on everything they had sent to Area 51 over the years. There were also hard copies of everything from Felger's last report on his laser device to blueprints and field reports for several combat UAV.

She was getting out everything she would need if the SGC suddenly cut off access to her lab here on Earth.

"Carter...do you know something I don't?"

She glanced up, expression only slightly harried. "The NID just put someone on a plane to Washington and Senator Kinsey is on his way here."

Jack's blood chilled and he felt a shaft of fear from Bel'tan as the symbiote picked up on the thoughts racing through his head. "Where's Hammond?"

She handed him an envelope. "He asked me to give this to you and to tell you that he doesn't wish to be disturbed for anything less than the end of the world for the next two hours. Janet is giving him his yearly physical."

Jack froze.

"I see,"he said slowly."Carry on then, Major."

He gestured for the airmen to throw his duffles through the Gate and added his box of mementos to the pile of breakable equipment going through next. Heading for his office he found Daniel in a frenzy of packing. A steady stream of book and artifact-laden Marines headed for the Gateroom.

"You actually have stuff left in here?"

Daniel's head shot up. "Hi...yes. Luckily almost everything from my condo was still in boxes from when I was Ascended so it was shipped through to the Alpha Site weeks ago. This is just..."

"...stuff."Jack finished for him.

Daniel sighed and ran his fingers through his hair as he tried to decide what to take next. "Oh, yeah. Sam told me to tell you that the next time you see General Hammond, you need to tell him that Senator Kinsey called. He's on his way here to talk to him about something."

"Really?" Jack asked politely. "What about?"

"She didn't say." Daniel said, with just the right touch of uninterested ignorance.

Jack grinned,"Nice delivery."

"I thought so. So what are...NO! Just...just take the whole thing."

There was a crash as a startled airman lost his grip on...something.

Jack hurriedly escaped to his own office. The filing cabinets were empty and he could only assume that Carter had ordered the contents packed off to the Alpha Site. Several SFs were carefully packing his photos and his PlayStation. Only his desk appeared untouched. He appreciated the consideration, but there was nothing in there that needed to be kept secret. He ordered the packers to include the contents of the desk in the next box out and ripped open the envelope Hammond had left for him.

It was a direct order from Hammond for one Colonel Jack O'Neill to relocate to the Alpha Site as soon as humanely possible in order for the Tok'ra to assess his health and mental well-being as a result of Blending with the symbiote, Bel'tan. Additionally, by request of the Tok'ra Queen Al'syn, Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter should anticipate a protracted stay at the Alpha Site and prepare accordingly. The order was signed and time-stamped five minutes after SG-1 had left the briefing room six hours earlier.

Unless or until General Hammond was ordered to take Colonel O'Neill into custody, Jack was free to walk through the Gate. And General Hammond was conveniently unavailable to return the Senator's phone call. Jack wrote a quick note to Hammond acknowledging the orders and attached it to a photocopy of the orders. He dropped both into Hammond's inbox and headed for the locker room.

**************************************************
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Old 22nd December 2003, 01:16 PM   #14 (permalink)
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this is good

Hi that was good let me know if you write some more really enjoying it



see ya later chritmas bye

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Old 18th January 2004, 02:55 AM   #15 (permalink)
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I reworked the last several scenes quite heavily, so I deleted them from the post above and am pasting the newer version here.

"Time to go, kids."

Carter looked up from her checklist. Jack frowned. She had been glancing at her watch every five minutes, an increasingly worried expression on her face. Considering that the last of her lab had gone through ten minutes ago, Jack wondered what she was waiting for. Daniel had arrived at last, several forklift pallets of protein bars preceding him. Considering the number of pallets, Jack had a sneaky suspician he had just blown the rest of the budget Jack had given him. Not to mention clearing out every protein bar within 100 km of Colorado Springs.

Just as he was about to ask Carter what was bugging her, an SF rushed in.

"The truck arrived, Major. They are loading the pallets now." he announced.

Carter's face cleared and Jack wondered just what she was planning. He decided he probably did not want to know. Ten minutes later, several forklifts trundled into the gateroom and started sending crates through to the Alpha Site. The crates had SGC markings, so Jack had no clue as to the possible contents. Glancing at the clock, he decided he could ask later.

"Sir, there's a phone call for General Hammond. It's Senator Kinsey."

"Time's up, gang." Jack said quietly. "Go, now."

He spun around and smiled at the junior officer holding up the phone in the control room. "Hammond's in the infirmary. Patch the Senator through."

He dodged Carter's last forklift and ran through the Gate.

*********************************************

"Don't think I don't know what you're up to, General. I've been at this game a long time."

"Unlike you, Senator, I don't play games."

Kinsey glared,"Don't you take that tone with me - you and that insolent screwup you are pleased to call your 2IC have just handed over everything Jack O'Neill knows to an alien race and have all but made a war with the Goa'uld a certainty."

"We're already at war with the Goa'uld. And I shouldn't have to remind you that the Tok'ra are allies." Hammond let his impatience leak into his voice.

"With an unknown agenda about which O'Neill himself has repeatedly and vocally expressed doubts. How can you even be certain he's not under alien control as we speak?"

"Dr. Fraiser will be making a trip to the Alpha Site to determine exactly if or how Colonel O'Neill's Blending with Bel'tan has affected him."

Kinsey sneered,"You and the rest of the Air Force are so blinded by the possibility of gaining alien knowledge that you aren't even prepared to acknowledge the dangers - are you? In the meantime, I have some serious concerns regarding the nature of the relationship between Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter. I'm especially concerned that no one here seems at all cognizant of the fact that two of your senior officers have all but admitted that they are either involved currently or intend to become involved. "

Hammond folded his hands on his desk and looked at the senator blandly,"Having had all the facts of the situation at my disposal for a lot longer than you, I am completely satisfied that my officers have acted at all times professionally and within the parameters set by the US Military Code of Justice in so far as it is possible given the unusual circumstances."

"Yes, well..." Kinsey brushed an imaginary piece of lint from his forearm, then looked at Hammond with a tight smile appearing on his face."We'll have to see about that, won't we."

Hammond straightened slowly, refusing to give in to the jab. Kinsey continued to smile, a predatory gleam in his eyes. Then he turned around and headed for the door. Halfway through he paused.

"I suggest you prepare to bring Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter back to Earth as soon as possible. We wouldn't want them to miss their own courts-martial - now would we?"
************************************************** **

"...that two-faced, lying, opportunistic, misremembered son-of-a..."Jack lapsed into a form of idomatic Gou'uld that left Teal'c's eyes gleaming with appreciation and Daniel sputtering into his coffee. There was no one else besides SG-1 in the Alpha Site cafeteria to hear the less than polite commentary.

Jack glared at the table top, then dug a violent spoon into his blue jello."Whoever let that man take control of Intelligence Oversight is a blithering idiot."

"What now?" Daniel asked.

Jack started to respond, then sighed."We wait and see if Davis can talk the President into signing an Executive Order recognizing that I'm not a threat to the planet."

Sam sighed, unintentionally imitating her CO." Unfortunately, our Treaty with the Tok'ra could be considered technically unconstitutional, so we can't use it as any sort of justificication."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow in question.

"The President is supposed to have Senatorial approval to sign a Treaty." Jack told him.

Daniel grimanced. "Which he can't get because of the National Security implications."

"Yeah. Basing any Executive orders on the Treaty would be a house of cards that Kinsey would just LOVE to kick over. Hammond will have to prove leaving me in charge of the Alpha Site is in the best interests of the country. It's still a Constitutional issue, but one he has a bit more authority for as Commander-in-Chief of the military. There's also the whole undeclared war thing."

Daniel looked thoughtful,"Major Davis seemed to think the President would be willing to help."

"Davis doesn't think the President has a choice. The President could disagree." Jack eyed Daniel sidelong."You don't think all that **** last year was just Kinsey trying to get control of the Stargate do you?"

Daniel frowned and squinted,"Well, control of a classified project doesn't exactly win votes. I was a bit surprised he was willing to transfer from Appropriations to Intelligence oversight right before an election."

"I think he was looking for grounds to get the President impeached." Jack stated calmly. He looked around as the rest of his team looked surprised, then thoughtful, in turn.

"He has friends, but without these periodic PR stunts he pulls, he's never had enough public support to assure an election. He's always seen the Stargate as his ticket to the White House. If he can get any evidence that the President has been endangering the country through bad decisions - especially if the other major world powers agree with his assessment- he can risk trying to get Congress to go for an impeachment. That would force the President to go public to defend himself or risk the Stargate falling into the hands of whoever takes over. Talk about a PR event. Kinsey probably figures he can scare people enough that they'll all look to him as the great savior."

Sam narrowed her eyes."Congress would never go for it."

"Hell yes, they would. You know how ****ed everyone is going to be that something like this was kept a secret from them. And half of them will do it just to take a kick at the War Powers Act." Jack looked over to find Daniel staring at him wide-eyed."What?"
Daniel shook his head mutely.

Jack shrugged,"When Thor cut Kinsey off at the knees, he did more than keep the Stargate in SGC hands."

"This is revenge." Teal'c concluded.

Jack tilted his head thoughtfully,"You know - I don't think it's that personal to him. But with the Tok'ra, Asgard, and Jaffa all backing me - and by extension, the SGC - Kinsey loses his best weapon against the President and thus his shot at coming out a hero during a Presidential scandal. He has to discredit me - he doesn't have a choice. "

Daniel scuffed his foot once or twice thoughtfully, then looked up. "That's a hell of a theory, Jack."

Jack stabbed his jello again. "Just good tactics to know your enemy."

"What are the chances that this plan could succeed?" Teal'c asked.

Daniel sighed."If his only goal is misdirection - very possible. If he can get Jack and Sam court-martialled - or even just charged - then anything and everything they have ever done is tainted by that. It's the same philosophy behind charging the victim of a crime with another crime in order to make the perpetrator look less bad by comparison. Everything the victim says becomes less credible at that point."

"I see." Teal'c said.

Daniel waved a hand toward Jack."If Jack and Sam are convicted, Kinsey can use that as grounds to question all their other actions in light of those charges. He's always tried to paint Jack as some sort of loose cannon - with a court-marshal conviction he might be able to convince people he's right."

"And the President was directly responsible for keeping all of us in the field together - so obviously he was either incompetant or he aided and abetted several possible gross violations of military law." Jack added.

Sam grimanced. "Which could be considered negligance since it is his direct responsibility under at least two seperate Constitutionally dictated duties to make sure those laws are upheld."

"Same old Senator Kinsey." Jack said."You at least gotta admire the consistency of the man."

Sam sighed,"If you say so, Sir."

There was a long silence, then Jack's eyes flashed and Bel'tan spoke hesitantly,"Could this not be turned to an advantage?"
All three members of SG-1 turned to look sceptically in his direction. Sam's eyes dropped curiously to where Bel'tan's left hand was tapping a staccato pattern against his knee. At the look on her face, Daniel raised an eyebrow at her in question, but she just shook her head. Bel'tan ignored the interplay, staring blindly toward the door for several seconds. Finally he blinked, and met their curious gazes.

"Senator Kinsey may be engaging in what O'Neill calls a 'fishing expedition'. It is possible that he merely hopes the investigation will reveal something of which he currently has no evidence. If this is true, many of his facts may be poorly supported and it would be to our advantage to deny him time to further research his case."

Sam tightened her lips,"The investigation alone might have been enough to damage our careers, but not anymore than becoming Tok'ra will. Unless we are actually charged and convicted, I don't see how he can use it against the President. Not when all the records will be sealed."

"Given the possible reaction of the NID, perhaps it would be wise to hold the trial here." Teal'c said.

Daniel's face took on a sceptical expression while Jack and Sam looked thoughtful.

Finally, Jack nodded his head slowly,"It's an idea. It definately keeps our - options - open."

"You know that's exactly why Kinsey won't go for it." Sam pointed out.

"Why wouldn't he?"Jack demanded."From his point of view, if a guilty verdict comes down and we skip the planet, he gets the best of both worlds. A guilty verdict and us out of the way."

"He would also acheive the indirect benefit of your continued participation in the fight against the Goa'uld."Teal'c added.

Jack snorted,"Assuming he isn't deluding himself that if we stop poking them, the Goa'uld will just go away."

"Jack...is that really a good idea?" Daniel's cautious gaze took in the cafeteria around them.

Jack followed the direction his eyes were taking, seeing again the gleaming Tok'ra crystal that made up the walls, considered the weight of the Monstrosity above them, then weighed the pros and cons of secrecy versus the 'wow' factor.

"I'll suggest it to Hammond." he said.
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