Content suitable for all audiences.
Big thanks to Channach for plot-editing this chapter and to Raven Clark for style-editing this chapter with me line by line.
Sorry for the long delay. Those of you who follow my Twitter and Facebook already know that I was struck down by a nasty virus. But now I’m back in the loop. :) Enjoy!
Two suns burned down from a cloudless sky onto the endless sandy surface of the planet. Sam shifted further into the shadow of the palm tree and scratched her arm. After almost two hours of walking, she’d have to be careful not to end up with a severe sunburn.
Sounds of water splashing drifted from behind her. Daniel worked close to the clear pond that marked the center of the oasis. A few old ruins with inscriptions lined the water’s edge. As usual he was completely immersed in his studies.
Sighing, she dropped the monitor onto her knees. Somehow, she just couldn’t get into the exploratory mindset today. There were no shifts in the magnetic field, no energy signatures. No unusual radiation signaling any kind of advanced technology on this planet. Of course, she hadn’t searched the entire oasis yet. She should probably do that.
She released another sigh and looked around. Jack came trudging towards her, his eyebrows perched up and a lopsided smirk pulling at his lips. “How’s the measurements going?”
“Oh they’re…” She looked down at the display. “…fascinating.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, why?”
“I never thought I’d hear myself utter these words. You look bored.” He dropped down to sit in the sand next to her. “And you’ve been taking measurements of the same rock for five minutes.”
She had? Sam swallowed and shifted. “I… It must be the heat, sir. Makes it difficult to focus.” Her fingers tapped a few buttons on the screen before she took another half-hearted measurement. This time she made sure to choose another target.
“Carter. What’s going on?” Jack studied her as he leaned back against the palm tree.
“Nothing.” The display blinked. No radiation, no abnormal energy residues. Nothing that indicated any form of life or technology on the planet. She put the tablet on her backpack in resignation. No more measurements. There was nothing on this damn planet anyway.
“Sam.” His gentle tone made her turn her head. “Normally you’d be right next to Daniel in that pond, confusing me with useless information about those inscriptions. Something’s wrong. Spill it.”
She released a long breath and looked at the line of palm trees marking the end of the oasis. “It’s not important.”
“Looks like it is.” Jack leaned forward. She lifted her eyes and their gazes met. Right… Having each other’s back.
“It’s just… I can’t forget about Minny.” She closed her eyes. Minny. Of all the people she’d known before she joined the resistance, Minny would’ve been the last person she’d expected to side with the Aschen. “I know, I haven’t seen her for over a year but she was like a mother to me. I’d have never thought she’d betray us.”
Jack pulled his sunglasses down, his face serious.
Sam pressed her lips together and ran her hand through her hair to brush some of the sand out. “I know I should just forget about it. It’s done and I can’t change what happened, but… If I couldn’t trust her, who can I trust?” She fidgeted, and then started packing up her stuff to shed her unease. “I mean, you said there were moles even in our cell before. Is it actually wise to trust anybody?” She gave a bitter laugh. “You’re gonna tell me I’m overthinking again, aren’t you?”
“I won’t.” Jack reached out and touched her arm.
She studied him. “Have you ever trusted the wrong person before?”
“You kidding me?” He smirked. “I once pillow-talked my identity out to a woman who pretended she wanted to join the resistance. She ratted me out to the next Aschen justice station, and the operation got compromised.”
Sam stared at him. Somehow the idea of him with another woman didn’t make her feel any better.
Apparently she’d failed to mask her feelings because he shifted and cleared his throat. “It was a long time ago during my first month doing solo missions.”
“Ah.” She nodded and relaxed.
“I think it happens to everybody at some point.”
“How did you deal with it?”
He sighed and leaned back, resting his P90 on the ground next to him. “Not very well. I didn’t trust anyone for months. That kinda attitude worked well on solo missions. Took some adjustment when I started working in a cell relying on teamwork again, though.”
Not trusting anyone… That seemed to fit the constant suspicion she’d felt since yesterday. She’d studied every one of the new recruits carefully, always wondering whether they might secretly report to the Aschen. Or if would betray them at some point in the future. Maybe even some of the regulars at camp would…
“I think I can relate to that. I misjudged Minny. If I can’t rely on my judgment, how do I know whom to trust?”
Jack’s face gentled. “You can trust me. And Daniel. Sheppard. Vala. Janet. All permanent members of Cell 4.”
She chewed her lower lip and sighed. “Do you know that for sure? I mean, with all the new recruits… You deal with them all the time. How did you develop a sense of who you can trust?”
He sat up straight. “Hunches. Comes with experience, I guess. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. We have security protocols to rely on. Whenever you take on someone new there’s always the danger they’ll betray you.”
She gave him a weak smile. “Did you think I’d betray you when you met me?”
His eyes gleamed. “I considered it.”
“And during training when I left camp without authorization?”
“I was damn close to throwing you out. But again, I had a hunch. Gave you a second chance. Worked out great.” His eyes twinkled.
She chuckled and leaned back to stretch her legs out. How did he always managed to make her smile at times like these? She gave his arm a gentle squeeze.
Jack drew her close, and dropped a warm kiss against her temple. “Sam, if we had a spy among the permanent members of Cell 4, the Aschen would already be aware of the Stargate program. They would’ve shut the whole thing down.”
Good point. Very reasonable and logical. She lifted her head. Everything always sounded so simple with him.
“Every single one of the permanent members of Cell 4 has my absolute, unconditional trust. That includes you.” He squeezed her shoulder. “You gotta be suspicious, but you also gotta know whom to trust.”
“I trust you.” She leaned back against the palm tree when a breeze tousled her hair. Warm wind, but it still cooled her overheated skin.
“Good.” Jack smiled at her. “What happened to Jacob was an isolated incident. It’s far from an everyday occurrence.”
“Yeah.” Some of the tightness in her chest abated as the veil of suspicion began to lift. “I know that.”
“The way I see it, for every person who betrays us, we have at least thirty behind us having our backs.” He ran his hand up and down her arm, his touch soothing.
Sam turned to face him. His eyes sparkled, almost coffee brown in the planet’s bright light. He smiled and the soft wrinkles lining his eyes deepened. The hair at his temples shimmered grey whenever a beam of sunlight made it through the swaying leaves of the palm trees.
Warmth spread through her. He was so used to all the darkness that came with resistance work, and yet, behind his tough, sarcastic façade, he’d somehow preserved a deeply rooted empathy.
She cupped his face with her hand and leaned in until her nose brushed his. “I lo—”
An outcry drifted over, then a loud splash followed by a curse. Sam snapped her head around while Jack sat up straight, his muscles tensing under her fingers. Daniel sat in the middle of the pond, wiping his palm across his face and pushing his hair out of his eyes. Papers floated on the water’s surface around him.
Jack smirked and his muscles relaxed under Sam’s hands. “Taking a bath, Danny-boy?”
Muttering something that Sam didn’t understand, Daniel started collecting his soaked papers.
“We should probably help him.”
“Yeah.” Sighing, Jack straightened. “Didn’t I tell him to stay away from those rocks earlier?”
Sam stifled a smile. The hint of a smirk on his face betrayed his amusement.
Daniel waded out of the pond and sat down on one of the larger rocks at its edge where he wrung out his shirt and pants. Then he reached for his backpack.
Jack put his sunglasses back on. “Alright, kids. As soon as Daniel’s changed into dry clothes, we’re gonna head back to the Stargate. During the past hours, I’ve seen nothing even remotely close to technology. Or Tok’ra. Or any kinda life.”
Sam released a breath. Thank God. She wasn’t usually keen on cutting missions short, but this time she had to agree with him. There was nothing on this planet. And as Daniel had said, even the inscriptions were of little value to them. Only curiosity had driven the archeologist to copy them.
In the spirit of good will, Jack had granted him a few hours of exploration time to satisfy his curiosity, since they’d just missed their Stargate window anyway. More important projects waited for her back at camp.
Jack gave Sam a smirk and turned. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Grinning, she followed him. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Little bit, yeah.”
His admission made her beam at him. She hurried over to pack up her things, and then shouldered her backpack. Another three hours and they’d be back home.
Sand. Sand. Sand wherever she looked. It stretched out ahead of them in an endless landscape of dunes and valleys. Crept into her shoes and clothes, and the wind even carried it into her hair. Sam shielded her eyes against the sun and sighed. The first thing she’d do when they were home was take a shower. Or even better, a swim in the lake. That’d be refreshing after the heat here.
“Alright, one more klick over that dune and we should be at the gate.” Jack pulled the cap off his head and scratched through his hair before putting it back on.
“I still don’t understand why we can’t take the jumper off-world.”
“Because, Daniel.” His tone indicated he wasn’t willing to discuss the subject.
“Great reasoning.” The archeologist gave him a sarcastic frown.
“For starters I don’t wanna put up with constant fights about which team gets to use the jumper on their mission.”
“That wouldn’t really be an issue though, would it?” Daniel stuck his hands in his pockets. “After all, only you and Sheppard can fly it.”
“That makes it worse.”
“But… just think of how much faster we’d get everywhere. We’d have so much more time for actual scientific study.”
Jack frowned at him, then gave him a sarcastic nod. “Yeah.”
Sam lowered her head and hid a smile. No doubt, part of him didn’t want to lengthen the time he’d spend being bored. At least walking around gave him something to do. As much as she’d love to have the jumper available off world, he had a point.
Once they started giving select SG teams an advantage over others, animosities might ensue. As long as she’d been at camp, he and Sheppard had always emphasized a feeling of equality. The same rules applied to everyone, regardless of rank. Whether it concerned food rations, shower time or mission reports, there were no exceptions. Not even for Sheppard or him, even though they were the ones making the rules. It was why people at camp respected them.
“Jack, even you have to admit that cutting travel time down to do actual work would be worth the—”
“And what if we lose the jumper?”
Uh oh. Sam flinched. Jack’s tone conveyed he was losing patience.
“The jumper’s our most valuable piece of technology. We need it on Earth. I don’t wanna risk losing it on an off-world mission for no other reason than convenience.”
Sam turned her head. “He’s right, Daniel. Besides, we haven’t even begun understanding the technology. I wouldn’t be comfortable having anybody fly the jumper on an off world mission when we don’t have full control over all its functions yet. The risks outweigh the benefits.”
“Thank you.” Jack released a sigh. “Can we please stop arguing about that now?”
Her scientific arguments seemed to convince Daniel, because he conceded with a deep sigh.
Jack stretched. “You know, I think I’ll assign the next coupla Tok’ra missions to SG-2. Let Sheppard deal with these damn, sandy, sunny—”
When he cut off in the middle of the sentence, Sam looked up. He’d stopped. Out of instinct, she stopped as well and followed Jack’s example as he crouched down.
“Jack?” Daniel’s whisper drifted over from her left.
“Shhh.” Jack motioned forward. Over the top of the dune, the Stargate rose in the distance. And close to the gate…
She took a sharp breath. Three men. If she didn’t know where to look, she’d have almost missed them. With their beige clothing, they almost disappeared into the sandy background.
She crouched closer to Jack. “Where did they come from?”
“Not sure. Seems like they’re heading for the gate.” Jack laid on his stomach in the sand, and checked his watch. Then he flinched.
Sam glanced down. Almost time for their Stargate window.
“We might have to take a little detour to the beta site.” Jack looked at Daniel.
Sam closed her eyes. Another six hours on the beta site? Well, at least this month they’d chosen a planet with hot springs close to the gate. She’d be able to take a warm bath and lose the sand. Her spirits lifted.
On the Stargate, the first chevrons began to light up.
“They’re not dialing the gate, sir.” Sam fumbled and pulled her field glass out from the side pocket of her mission pack. “It’s an incoming wormhole.”
“I see that.”
The event horizon splashed open, and seconds later somebody stepped through. Sam tensed. A Jaffa warrior. “Ugh, that’s not good, sir.” She handed her field glass over to him.
“What?” He lifted it to his eyes, then released a low grown. “Oh, swell.”
“What?” Daniel looked from Sam to Jack. “What’s going on?”
“A Jaffa,” Jack muttered.
“Just one?” Daniel raised his eyebrows.
“Looks like it.”
“That’s odd.” The archeologist scratched his head.
“Well, usually Jaffa warriors move in troops. Or are accompanied by the Goa’uld system lord they serve. That one’s by himself.”
Jack glowered at him. “What does it matter? They’re blocking the gate.”
Sam froze when she heard the all too familiar sound of a zat’nik’tel snapping open behind her.
“Hands up and turn around. Slowly.” The deep, resonant voice behind them sent goose bumps down Sam’s spine. A Goa’uld.
The three of them turned. Two men dressed in the same beige uniforms stood behind them, eyeing them with a dark expression. “Who are you?”
“I was just gonna ask you the same question.” Jack narrowed his eyes at them.
“Who we are is of no importance to this conversation.”
“Oh, I disagree.” Jack lowered his arms.
The two men stared at each other for a moment. Then one of them stepped forward. “What are you doing on our planet?”
Daniel cleared his throat. “We didn’t know this was your planet. See, we’ve been here for almost a day, studying some of the ruins at the oasis. If we’d known this planet was occupied, we wouldn’t have intruded like this.”
“I see.” Still no sign the men intended to lower the zat-guns.
Jack shifted. “We were just gonna return through the Stargate to our home world. But your friends there are kinda blocking our way.”
The two men exchanged glances. “Get up. You will come with us.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” Jack gave a sarcastic chuckle.
Sam swallowed hard. The men didn’t look they’d tolerate resistance. Nor did they look open to jokes. She mentally prepared herself for being shot with the zat’nik’tel at any moment, when Daniel lifted his hands.
“Maybe we should do what they want. For now.”
“Daniel, I won’t—”
“Jack, what good is it gonna do if they shoot us?” Daniel frowned at him, and for once Jack seemed to agree. Visibly reluctant, he raised his hands, then nodded at Sam to do the same.
They straightened, then walked in the direction the men indicated, towards the Stargate and the Jaffa warrior. A knot formed in Sam’s stomach. Hopefully this wasn’t another one of Ba’al’s planets.
When they reached the Stargate, the small group of men gathered there turned around.
The Jaffa’s face darkened. “What is the meaning of this?”
“We found them behind that dune over there, spying on you,” the man pushing Jack said.
Jack cleared his throat. “We weren’t spying on anybody. We took cover.”
The men exchanged glances, visibly concerned. Then an older man turned and clipped his zat’nik’tel to his belt. “We have no choice but to take them with us. At least until we’re done here.”
“Wait a minute.” Jack pulled his arm away when the man next to him wanted to grab him again. “Why don’t you tell us what’s going on here? All we want is to return home through the Stargate.”
“The Stargate?” The older man scrunched his brows.
Daniel pushed his glasses up on his nose. “The Chappa’ai?”
“Ah.” The man nodded. “First you will answer some of our questions. Don’t resist, or I’ll order my men to shoot you.”
“Well, that worked out great.” Jack dropped down on a stone bench set into the wall of their prison cell. So much for Daniel’s ingenious idea of surrendering. “Anybody got an idea how we’re gonna get outta here?”
Sighing, Carter sat down next to him and leaned back against the wall. “Not at the moment, sir.”
“Well, I think we should maybe ask what they want first.” Daniel pulled his hat off and rubbed his forehead.
Jack frowned at him. “They’re Goa’uld. What do you think they want?”
Carter tensed. “You think they want to turn us into hosts?”
“I’d say it’s a vague possibility.”
“I’m not so sure they’re Goa’uld.” Daniel leaned against the wall and looked around.
Jack sat up straight. “Didn’t you see the glowing eyes? Hear this whole voice thing they got going?” How much more obvious did they have to be?
“Yeah, but look around. This isn’t your typical Goa’uld mothership.” Daniel tapped the wall with his hand. “This is some kind of mineral stone or crystal. My bet is we’re underground.”
“So? But? Therefore? Ergo?” Jack pulled the cap off his head and scratched through his hair, ignoring when Daniel rolled his eyes.
Daniel released an exasperated sigh. “They have no slaves. They have different accommodations. Has it occurred to anyone these might be Tok’ra?”
“That’s a little far-fetched, don’t ya—”
“No, sir, he might be right.” Carter’s voice cut him off, and he turned his head with raised eyebrows. “Well, sir, these people match the description of the Tok’ra in the files we brought back through the quantum mirror.”
“They do? Didn’t it say in the files the Tok’ra didn’t use Jaffa? And that they weren’t hostile? We’re in a cell, so I’d call that pretty hostile.”
“Not necessarily.” Sam turned to face him. “If a stranger showed up at camp, we’d imprison them too to make sure they weren’t spies.”
“Yeah, well, that’s different.”
“Is it? If they’re the resistance against the Goa’uld, wouldn’t they likely also have security protocols?” She looked at him through those beautiful blue eyes.
Jack remained motionless for a moment. What she said did make sense. Except… “How do you explain the Jaffa?”
“Well…” Daniel pushed himself away from the wall. “So far we’ve seen only one.”
What was it with him and his fixation on numbers? “There might be more.”
“Sir, I think Daniel’s right. If there were more Jaffa, we’d have seen them.”
“Yeah, well, that still doesn’t help us solve the problem of getting outta here, does it?”
“Why don’t we try talking to them?” Daniel raised his eyebrows as though it were the most logical solution in the world.
“Sure, let’s talk to ‘em. Ask ‘em politely if they’ll let us go without turning us into hosts.”
Next to him, Carter lowered her head, undoubtedly to stifle a smile at his sarcasm, as she always did.
“Okay.” Daniel folded his arms with a frown. “We’ll use your method. Let’s shoot them all down with our P90s and the zat-gun. Oh, wait… That’s right, they took those from us.”
“So what? We’ll just—”
“Guys.” Carter straightened next to him, and Jack followed her gaze.
The Jaffa they’d seen earlier entered the room. He looked over them, eyes dark, with a dangerous sparkle in them. The corners of his mouth turned down.
Jack got up and cleared his throat as he took a step towards the Jaffa. “Hi. We were just talking about you. As a matter of fact, Daniel here suggested we’d—”
“What is your purpose here on this planet? Were you sent to spy on us?”
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud.” What was it with everybody thinking they were spies recently? “We’re not spying on anybody. We were looking at some of the ruins in the desert.”
The Jaffa’s expression didn’t change. Jack looked at Daniel, then waved at the Jaffa with a nod. “Try your luck.”As though talking this out would solve anything. At the moment they were out of options, though.
Daniel stepped forward. “We’re from an Aschen occupied planet, and we’re looking for allies in our fight against the Aschen—and the Goa’uld.”
Okay, not that much talking. “Daniel.”
“Jack, trust me on this.” Daniel looked at him and pushed his glasses further up on his nose. “I have a hunch.” Without waiting for Jack’s answer, Daniel turned back to the Jaffa. “We had intel we might find a group called the Tok’ra on this planet.”
At the word Tok’ra, the Jaffa’s face seemed to darken even further. Uh oh.
The Jaffa stepped closer. “From whom did you acquire such intel?”
Jack cleared his throat. “Funny story, actually. See, we found a device called a quantum mirror, which sent us to an alternate dimension and—”
“An alternate universe, sir,” Carter interrupted from his left.
Jack raised his eyebrows at her. “What’s the difference?”
“Well, sir, scientifically speaking, it’s a big difference. When you say alternate dimension, it implies that we somehow changed from our three-dimensional world into one of the other ones. We didn’t change dimensions, because otherwise we’d—“
“Carter.” He should know better by now than to ask her questions like that.
She had to have seen the annoyance on his face, because she swallowed visibly. “Sorry, sir.”
“Fine, alternate universe, then.” Jack turned back to the Jaffa. “The point is, we met other versions of us who told us that in their dimen—reality, there was a group called the Tok’ra. They gave us coordinates of about sixty planets the Tok’ra’d been on in their universe. We thought we’d give it a try.”
The Jaffa raised one of his eyebrows. Jack wasn’t sure whether he believed him. Maybe he just contemplated whether to shoot him with the zat-gun or the staff weapon. How could anybody have such an emotionless face?
“So you are working for the Aschen.”
“No we aren’t working for—did he hear what I just said?” Jack turned to Daniel and gave him a frustrated nod. Maybe Daniel’d be better at dealing with this. He himself apparently lacked the conversational skills needed.
The archeologist cleared his throat. “We’re not working for the Aschen—or with them. We’re from a resistance. A human resistance. We fight the Aschen, and we came here hoping to find allies among the Tok’ra resistance.”
“The Tok’ra are a myth from Jaffa legends. They do not exist.” The Jaffa frowned at Daniel, then his gaze wandered over to Jack again.
Jack clapped his hands together, and nodded. “All right then. How about giving back our guns and letting us go? Ya know, you never saw us, that kinda deal.”
“I cannot do that.”
“Yeah. I was afraid you’d say that.” Jack sighed. “Listen. We’d make bad hosts. Horrible ones.”
“I am not seeking for hosts.”
“Now that’s a bit hard to believe, given you arrested us, are holding us here, took our—“ Jack cut himself off, when a woman entered the room behind the Jaffa. Tall, with long chestnut hair and hazel eyes. Probably around Jacob’s age, but then again he’d never been good with estimating women’s ages.
“You are seeking an alliance with the Tok’ra?” She came to stand next to the Jaffa, first scanning Daniel, then Jack, then Sam. “Assuming the Tok’ra existed, what could you possibly offer them? Legends say they are enemies of the Goa’uld, not the Aschen.”
Jack shrugged. “Yeah, well, since we’re obviously at the wrong place—“
“Jack.” Daniel placed his hand on Jack’s arm and stepped forward, his gaze fixating on the woman. “Even though the Tok’ra wouldn’t be enemies of the Aschen, an alliance with a resistance against them could benefit both groups. We have contacts within the Aschen government. We could gain and place information if necessary. The Aschen and the Goa’uld are enemies. Playing them against each other would be a very reasonable way of weakening both, with minimal resources on our part.”
The woman stepped closer and studied him, her expression thoughtful. Then her eyes flared up. “We are Goa’uld.”
“Daniel.” Jack grabbed his arm to pull him back. The woman didn’t look exactly friendly anymore, and the glowing eyes thing worried him.
Daniel brushed his hand away, apparently unimpressed. “Now, see, I don’t think you are. I think you are the Tok’ra. This place, your behavior, and this whole conversation—it’s all very non-Goa’uld.”
“You seem to know a lot about Goa’uld.” The woman circled him.
“We had a few run-ins. Our most recent one was with Ba’al, who took us on his ship. So we have firsthand experience of what Goa’uld ships look like.”
The woman stopped and looked from Daniel to Jack, her eyes seeming to burn into his brain. “You are the humans who were caught by Ba’al and escaped?”
It sounded like a rhetorical question. “You’ve heard of us. Who’da thought.”
The woman faced the wall for a moment, before she turned and lifted her chin. “I am Selmak of the Tok’ra.”
Jack cleared his throat. Well, that was a surprise. “Jack O’Neill. That’s Sam Carter… and the guy who can’t seem to shut up is Daniel Jackson.” He narrowed his eyes. “Why the sudden change of heart?”
The Tok’ra woman straightened. “I revealed my identity because it was pointless to pretend to be Goa’uld any longer. My original argument still stands, though. The Tok’ra do not fight against the Aschen. Nor do we see how a human resistance could be of any value against the Goa’uld.” She strolled towards Sam and studied her. “We have fought against the Goa’uld for over two thousand years, and we rarely make alliances.”
“Well, maybe you should consider it. I mean, two thousand years? Doesn’t seem like you got much done in all that time.” When Selmak turned her head and frowned at him, Jack flinched. Okay, maybe not wise to insult them. “Just saying. Besides, I thought you weren’t like the Goa’uld.”
“We are not.”
“Okay.” Jack nodded and glanced at the Jaffa, now standing to the right behind the Tok’ra woman, as if to protect her if necessary. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you a Jaffa?”
“Indeed.” The Jaffa nodded with a slow bow of his head.
“Now, see, the Goa’uld use Jaffa. So do you apparently. How exactly—”
“He is not here as a Jaffa. This one joined our rebellion a while ago, and serves as our contact to several groups of rebel Jaffa.” Selmak folded her arms.
Daniel cleared his throat. “You’re telling us all that, and yet you’re not willing to form an alliance with us. That means you probably won’t let us go again, will you?”
Jack snapped his head around to Daniel, then stared at the Tok’ra woman. Selmak closed her eyes and lowered her head. When she looked back up, she was changed. He couldn’t pinpoint how, but a smile played around her mouth, her posture was different, and she seemed to become more open.
“You have to excuse my symbiont. I am Kenut. Selmak thought you might be a bit less intimidated talking to me.” She brushed a strand of her long hair behind her ear. “Please rest assured no harm will come to you. At the moment we are searching for a suitable new planet to form a permanent base. Security is a bit of an issue, so we have to be cautious.”
Jack stared at her. “Didn’t you say your name was Selmak?”
She smiled. “My symbiont’s name is Selmak. I am Kenut.”
“You lost me.” Jack placed his hand at his temple and looked at Daniel. “Does that make any sense to you?”
“Actually.” Daniel nodded. “According to the reports, biologically the Tok’ra are very similar to the Goa’uld. Both are parasitic lifeforms who need to take hosts to survive. But instead of forcing themselves onto their hosts like the Goa’uld do, the Tok’ra live in harmony with the human they choose.”
“Ah.” Jack nodded and turned back to the woman. To him snake was snake, but Daniel sounded serious enough in his explanation, so he was willing to give the woman the benefit of a doubt. “I can assure you we won’t compromise your security. We’re enemies of the Goa’uld, just as you are. We were hoping we might trade technology and intel.”
“The Tok’ra don’t share their technology, Jack O’Neill.” Kenut folded her arms again. “And we do not trust intel we haven’t obtained ourselves.”
Jack released a breath. Their reluctance to take them seriously was beginning to get on his nerves. And he’d always thought Earth’s resistance was the most paranoid one.
“Well.” Daniel straightened. “There has to be something you need that we can provide you with. Food, clothes—”
“We need hosts.” The change in tone back to deep and resonant made Jack look up. The snake-half of the woman was back.
“Yeah, well, that’s not gonna happen.” He frowned at Daniel. “Told you that’s what it’d come down to.”
Selmak cleared her throat. “We will not force you to become hosts.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “How comforting. You gotta excuse me for not taking your word for it.”
“I do not understand your hostility. You say you want to form an alliance, but how can we trust you when you obviously despise us so much?” Selmak’s voice carried a hint of anger. Or hurt. He wasn’t sure.
Jack held her gaze. “You say the whole snake in the head thing is voluntary for you. But it’s a bit hard for me to understand that anybody would volunteer to…” He cleared his throat, searching for an appropriate word, then waved at her. “…that.”
Daniel rolled his eyes at him, then glanced back at the Tok’ra. “Look, maybe if you could help us understand you better. Up to now, the Goa’uld we ran into tried to force us into becoming hosts. How are you different?”
Selmak nodded. “I see. Biologically, a Tok’ra symbiont offers its host the same benefits as a Goa’uld symbiont. We can more than double the host’s lifespan, cure a wide range of diseases and medical problems, and the host will gain more than a dozen lifespans of memories and knowledge. It can be an enlightening experience. In return, we only ask the human to share their body with us and commit their lives to the fight against the Goa’uld.”
“Okay, well…” Daniel scratched his head. “Hosts can’t be the only thing you need. What about weapons?”
“Most of the Tok’ra operate from within, so alien weapons would not be of much use to us.”
“What about a planet? You said you were looking for one.”
“We are. During the past months, the system lords Ba’al and Apophis have uncovered our hiding places repeatedly. We’re searching for a planet to rebuild basic operations.”
Daniel straightened. “What about Earth?”
“Whoa.” Jack stared at him. “Daniel.”
“Jack, think about it. They need a planet, we have more than enough space. They could rebuild their underground structure in Antarctica, and we could share the gate. We don’t use every Stargate window.”
“Daniel, we know nothing about these people. And I won’t compromise our base on Earth like that.” Jack glowered at him. “It’s out of the question.”
“But Jack, we could learn from them. They could help us with the Goa’uld artifacts we found. Maybe they could even provide us with zat-guns.”
“Zat guns?” Selmak’s face reflecting confusion.
“Zat’nik’tels.” Carter gave her a cautious smile.
Selmak’s face lit up. “Ah. Yes, we have more than enough of those. But an Aschen planet is of no value to us as a hiding place. We are not interested in an alliance with the Aschen.”
Daniel ignored Jack and turned back to the Tok’ra. “We’re not with the Aschen. See, there are two Stargates on our planet. One of them’s operated by the Aschen. Our group found the second one over one hundred and fifty years ago. The Aschen don’t know about it.”
“That is not possible.” Selmak stared at him for a moment. “There is only one Stargate on each planet.”
“Yeah, well… apparently our planet’s an exception.” Jack didn’t bother to mask the sarcasm in his voice. Offering their planet to these people? What the hell was Daniel thinking? Was he losing what was left of his mind?
Selmak studied him. “What is the name of your world?”
Before Jack could answer her question with a sarcastic refusal to disclose the name, Daniel blurted out, “Earth.”
What…? Jack rounded on him. They would have to have a serious talk about security procedures once they were back at camp.
“I have not heard of a world like that. But there is one world that, according to legend, has two Stargates. It is Tau’ri, the first planet where all humans originated.” Selmak studied Daniel, then Sam and Jack. “Is it possible that your ancestors stole the second Stargate from another world?”
Carter cleared her throat. “With all due respect, I don’t think so. When the Aschen arrived on our world, our race was still in its beginnings. We didn’t have knowledge of technology back then. The second Stargate was uncovered after the ice of our poles melted. It had to have been there for tens of thousands of years before our group found it.”
Selmak leaned against the wall, arms folded. “That is remarkable. Up to now, there’ve only been legends. We’ve always speculated that Tau’ri might be part of the Aschen Confederation now, but we had no idea which planet it might be.”
“Wait a minute.” Jack pressed his fingers against his temples. “What do you mean, all humans originate from Tau’ri?”
“Provided that your world is Tau’ri, all humans in this galaxy are originally from your planet. They were taken to other planets by the Goa’uld thousands of years ago. Even the Aschen.”
“The Aschen aren’t humans, they’re Aschen.” Carter stared at her.
Selmak shook her head. “Biologically, the Aschen are no different from other humans. However, we are aware they promote a policy of racial difference on the planets they rule. Undoubtedly a means to justify their reign.”
Jack rubbed his forehead. Did that mean the Aschen originated from Earth? That couldn’t be true. He turned to Carter. “Is that even possible?”
She swallowed visibly, then met his gaze. Apparently, she was just as surprised. “I’m not sure, sir. We’ve never gained access to the genetic files of the Aschen since they’re encrypted. I assume it’s theoretically possible. They look like us. They reproduce like us.”
“They’re Aschen. They’re stiff, they have no sense of humor—“
“Jack, that’s all the result of a different culture. It’s not related to biology,” Daniel said.
“Are you telling me they might be humans like us?”
Daniel nodded. “And Earth would be their home planet.” His face became blank. Then he paled visibly. “Do you realize how severely that would undermine our movement’s basic goals?” He took off his glasses and waved them around.
Jack raised his eyebrows at him. Suddenly the Jaffa and the snake-woman didn’t seem like their worst problems anymore.
Carter inhaled sharply. “If Earth was their home world… They have a right to be there.”
“Yeah.” Daniel flinched and released a tortured sigh. “Exactly what I just thought.”
Selmak cleared her throat. “The time when humans were taken from Earth is long past. It happened thousands of years ago. The Tok’ra evolved from the Goa’uld over two-thousand years ago. We originated from them, but we do not call their planets our home world anymore.”
“Selmak’s got a point.” Jack raised his brows. Had he just agreed with the damn snake? He turned to Carter. “They left thousands of years ago, then they came back to enslave us. Earth is no more their home world than Aschen is ours.”
“Sir.” Carter’s face reflected serious doubt. Jack frowned at her.
“No, Carter. I don’t care if ten thousand years ago we all originated from the same planet. They’re stealing our crops for cryin’ out loud. They treat us like slaves and broodmares. Do you honestly wanna tell me that you think they got a right to do that?”
She shifted awkwardly. “No, sir.”
“Let’s not lose perspective here, kids. They may have been humans from Earth once. But that was long ago. I don’t try to make friends with the monkeys in the jungle just because some million years ago we originated from a common ancestor.”
Carter seemed convinced by the argument. Which surprised him, because he had no idea if he’d even made sense.
Clearing her throat, Selmak pushed herself away from the wall. “Come with me, please.” She nodded at the Jaffa, who visibly relaxed.
As they followed the Tok’ra and the Jaffa along the wide, endless crystal corridors, Daniel caught up with him. “Jack, if she’s right, we can’t just ignore the political implications of that.”
“Daniel, I don’t care who the Aschen are, or where they came from. It doesn’t change the conditions of the present in any way.”
“Doesn’t it, sir?” Carter looked ahead with a thoughtful expression. “Our whole lives the Aschen told us we were genetically inferior. Their fixation with keeping the races apart is one of the key laws they use to oppress us. Everything’s based on those laws. And think about the rules against what they call ‘mixed-breeds’. All that has no grounds. And if you look at it from our perspective, it even validates us.” She glanced at him. “Granted, their vaccines and the breeding system have done major damage to the human gene pool, so there may be a genetic difference now. But they did this to us, and we might be able to use it against them.”
He’d been prepared for more doubts, but her arguments actually had merit. He hadn’t even thought of that yet. “We gotta look into that. See if we can confirm it’s true.” When Carter didn’t respond, Jack looked at the Jaffa. “So, you got a name?”
“Ah.” Definitely a weird fella. “You trust these people?”
“Indeed, I do.” The Jaffa stared straight ahead.
“You’re not a man of many words, are ya?” At least that prompted the Jaffa to raise an eyebrow at him.
They entered a larger room with a group of six Tok’ra. They all wore the same beige color. Only the cuts of their garments varied slightly. Selmak approached them, and for a few minutes, they whispered quietly.
Jack shifted. Something inside him wanted to trust Selmak. One of those hunches he’d mentioned to Carter earlier. But what if he was wrong?
Carter approached him and Jack leaned towards her. “What do you think they’re talking about?” Her voice was low.
“Hopefully not how to overpower us and force us to become hosts.” His joke didn’t have the desired effect—probably because that was still a very real possibility. Sam held his gaze, worry deepening in her eyes. He pressed her hand gently. “If they’d wanted to do that, they would’ve already.”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “Let’s hope.”
At last, Selmak returned to them. “The council agrees to your proposition.”
“Um. What proposition?” Jack raised his eyebrows.
“We will agree to an alliance if we can make a base for the Tok’ra on Tau’ri.”
“That was a proposition?” Jack frowned at Daniel. “I thought we were throwing ideas around. Before we got sidetracked, I was just in the process of saying it’s off the table.”
“Do you not agree to your companion’s plan?” Selmak straightened, her face darkening.
“Well, in general, it may—and I stress may—be worth considering. But you gotta understand, we’re an underground movement on an Aschen planet. We can’t take a group of—what, fifty?”
“Two-hundred and seventy-five Tok’ra are here at the moment. Several more are on covert missions.”
Jack coughed. “Three hundred?” Well, that was way more than expected.
“We have the technology to build caves underground. You would only have to grant us access to your Stargate. And provide us with food.”
“That’s a bit of a problem.” Jack pulled his cap off and brushed some sand out of his hair. “See, we got about thirty people at camp, and our food’s strictly rationed. What you’re proposing would require us to obtain ten times as much.”
“Would it help if we did our own trading through the Stargate?”
“Little problem with that, too. Our access to the gate is limited to four times a day. Once every six hours. So you can’t just come and go as you wish. And I have a feeling with three-hundred people constantly wanting to leave and return, it’s gonna turn into a major issue.”
“Hmm.” Selmak studied him, her face neutral.
“We could help you find another home world. We got a few Stargate addresses of worlds the Goa’uld haven’t been to.”
Selmak nodded with a friendly smile. “Wait here.” She turned and walked over to the group again.
Jack leaned in to Carter. “Do these people know how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?”
She lowered her head and tried to hide her smile, but he caught the glint in her eyes. At least she was loosening up.
After a few minutes, Selmak returned. “Would it be possible for you to take in about ten of us?”
Jack straightened. “Ten might be possible. What about the rest?”
“During the past months, we have had problems with hiding from the Goa’uld. One of our operatives betrayed us a few months ago, and gave the coordinates of all our planets to the system lord Ba’al, whose ships showed up at every one of them. This one is next.” Selmak’s brows scrunched. “The Tok’ra council members are the heart of our movement. We are also the ones who never use the Stargate, unless we have to move to another planet.”
“I see.” Jack nodded. “Keep the heart of the operation safe on a different world.”
“Exactly.” Selmak bowed her head. “Our operatives could then come and go through the gate on our new home world as needed. And once every few days, we would send a trusted liaison through the gate to be in constant contact with the rest of our group.”
Jack studied her for a while, contemplating her idea. The risks weren’t lost on him. On the other hand… these people were technologically a lot more advanced than they were. If they offered to share that technology… And supply them with zat-guns…
He scratched his head. “There’s the little issue with the leak you mentioned. Someone ratting you out to some Goa’uld?”
“He has been eliminated, and I assure you, there are no spies among the Tok’ra council. All liaisons will be carefully selected. The location of the council’s new base will only be disclosed to few select people.”
Jack released a long breath and looked first at Carter, then at Daniel. This wasn’t an easy choice, and neither of them could help. The security of camp solely rested on his shoulders. He’d like to hear what Sheppard and Mitchell thought before he made a finite decision. “Listen, I can’t just decide something like this on my own. We got something like a council, too.”
“I see.” Selmak’s face gentled. “In that case you may return to your world and consult with your council.”
“Great.” He nodded at Daniel, then at Sam, indicating them to follow him. “Would you—um—show us out?”
“Oh.” Selmak shook her head. “You alone. Your two companions will remain.”
Jack froze on the spot. “Oh, I don’t think so.”
“Jack.” Daniel shifted next him. “Maybe you should—”
“Daniel, I’m not gonna leave you behind. Who knows what they’re gonna do to you?”
Selmak lowered her head and closed her eyes. When she looked up again, she seemed once more strangely changed. “I understand your concerns. I can send one of us with you as insurance?” Kenut, the host.
“Tell you what. How about one of us stays, and one of you goes back to Earth with us.” Jack folded his arms, waiting for her answer.
She contemplated his proposition for a long moment. Then, finally. “That would be an acceptable solution.”
“Alright.” Jack nodded at Carter and Daniel. “You two go. I’ll stay. Inform Sheppard of what happened and tell him of the deal.”
“Jack,” Daniel protested at the same time as Sam said “Sir” next to him.
He raised his brows and looked first at Daniel, then at Carter. “That wasn’t a request. There’s no way I’ll leave either of you—”
“Jack, let me stay.” Daniel held his gaze, his face urgent. “I have a lot of questions about their culture. And besides, I think you should be there to explain the situation. Neither Sam nor I have the authority to make decisions.”
“Daniel.” Jack grabbed his arm and pulled him aside. “What if they turn you into a host?”
“What if they do it to you?” He released a sigh. “Jack, they’re Tok’ra. I told you before, they won’t.”
Maybe Daniel was uniquely qualified to stay behind. He’d had faith in these people from the start. Still, leaving one of his team behind when he wasn’t there?
Jack took a deep breath. “Fine.” He turned and frowned at Selmak. “I’ll hold you personally responsible for his safety. If anything happens to him, or he gets one of those snakes into his head, I’ll have your head on a platter.”
Selmak’s eyes glowed. Apparently, she didn’t like him refering to her as a snake. Yeah, well, tough luck. He wasn’t as willing to fully trust them yet. At least, not where the whole taking hosts things was concerned.
“I assure you, no harm will come to your friend. I will personally vouch for his safety.”
“You better.” Jack held her gaze for another long moment, then nodded at Carter. “Let’s go home.”