Big thanks to Channach for plot-editing this chapter and to Raven Clark for style-editing this chapter with me.
“Over my dead body.” Jack folded his arms.
“Sir.” Next to him, Carter shifted.
He turned to her. “Carter. Need I remind you what happened last time we ran into this slimy, arrogant son of a—”
“What exactly did happen?” Jacob asked from his other side.
Carter’s eyes widened. Right. No need to tell Jacob the details. He cleared his throat and turned. “Let’s just say our last run-in with him wasn’t exactly pleasant.”
“Sir.” Carter held his gaze. “If he knows enough about the gate to help us make this happen—“”
“You can’t be serious. I won’t let that damn snaky overlord anywhere near you—us—again. I don’t care if he could save us from the Aschen.”
“Colonel,” Rodney said.
Jack scowled at him. “Let’s not forget the Goa’uld are our enemies. Has it occurred to anyone that they’d take right over as soon as the Aschen are gone?”
“Actually, sir, as far as we know every Aschen planet is equipped with defense systems capable of destroying an entire fleet of attacking Goa’uld motherships. So none of the planets would be defenseless,” Carter said.
“She’s right,” Jacob said. “The Aschen colonies are far from helpless even if the Aschen are gone.”
Him too? Jack stared at Jacob. “Shouldn’t you of all people be against this?”
“The Tok’ra have made temporary alliances against other system lords with the Goa’uld in the past.”
Jack cocked up his eyebrows. “Oh?”
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Temporarily at least,” Jacob said.
“Oh for cryin’ out loud.” Jack rolled his eyes.
Carter cleared her throat. “Sir, it’d be huge if we managed to write the program with Ba’al’s help. We would free Earth of the Aschen.”
“And replace them with a damn snaky system lord?” She couldn’t be serious. “Need I remind you, those Goa’uld don’t really help people out of the kindness of their heart. If he agreed to help us, he’d probably make demands in return. Especially once he learns of this whole Tau’ri deal.”
“We wouldn’t tell him everything. Defeating the Aschen would actually be useful to him. Tok’ra intelligence just got word that he lost one of his ships in an attempt to conquer one of their worlds,” Jacob said. “I’m sure he’d be willing to negotiate the finer details of an agreement.”
Carter held his gaze, her blue eyes pleading. McKay looked at him expectantly. God, he had to be crazy to even consider this. “Let’s assume for a moment I said yes. How would we contact him?”
Jacob rubbed his forehead. “The Tok’ra have a few operatives in the higher ranks of Ba’al’s Jaffa. We could arrange for a meeting on a neutral world.”
“We could even work there.” Sam turned and looked around at the devices in the tent. “We could easily pack up the equipment we need. Ba’al wouldn’t have to set foot on Earth. He’d never learn where we’re from, and the location as well as Earth’s gate address would remain a secret.”
Jack released another sigh and glanced from Carter, to McKay, to Jacob. Alright, neutral world. Maybe even gate there with two or three stations in between. Apparently everyone had made up their mind and decided it’d be worth the risk.
“Sir. If we succeed in compiling a working virus, we’d have a real chance against the Aschen. For the first time since the resistance existed.”
He held his breath and finally let out a low groan. “Fine, I’ll consider it. Secret location. Of our choosing. Limited personnel. Absolute confidentiality.” He frowned at Jacob. “This is far from a done deal. I don’t wanna risk a single one of my men—or women—in this operation.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged. I’ll propose it to the Tok’ra council, and we’ll see if we can work together and contact Ba’al.”
“Carter.” Jack turned. “I want you and McKay to review the files of our missions and find suitable, uninhabited planets that could be used as transfer points.”
“Yes, sir.” She beamed at him. His heart skipped a beat, and his mouth tugged into a smile as warmth flooded him.
Had he gone nuts to even consider this?
Sand. Nothing but sand. Why the hell were half the planets in the galaxy covered in sand? Surely Carter’d have an explanation. If she was here.
He’d insisted that she not be with them. Not until they’d cleared the deal. Jack sat up straight and watched Daniel pace up and down a few meters away.
“So when’s this guy supposed to show up?” He glanced at Jacob.
“An hour ago.”
“Swell.” Didn’t that say something about how important Ba’al thought the agreement was?
“Be patient, Jack. He’s trying to assert his importance. It’s a classic Goa’uld method.”
“Reminds me of a god taking pity on lowly subjects by finally listening to their pleas.”
“Something like that,” Jacob said.
“I’m not gonna kowtow to him if that’s what you want. Not after he… not after what happened last time.” Jaw clenched, Jack stood up.
“Care to elaborate on that? You and Sam were weird about that before.”
“He targeted her. Let’s leave it at that. I promised her, next time I saw him I’d shoot the guy. And now we gotta strike a deal with him. I’m telling you, that snake makes one wrong move, and I’m gonna…”
He trailed off when suddenly, out of nowhere, rings appeared from the ground in front of the gate. Great, so the Goa’uld was here with his ship.
Jack grabbed his P90. Four Jaffa warriors appeared in a bright light, Ba’al in their midst, chin raised and arms folded. His eyes glowed when he spotted Jacob first, then Jack and Daniel.
Jack’s clenched his teeth. They should’ve brought an army.
“Ah.” Jack pointed his P90 at him. “No Jaffa kree.”
“Jack,” Daniel said next to him.
“Kree is just a general call to attention.”
He glanced at the archeologist who pushed his glasses up on his nose. Anger welled up inside him. Oh for cryin’ out loud, why had he ever agreed to this crazy plan? Reluctantly, he dropped his P90.
Ba’al walked down the stone steps. “I have received your message, Tok’ra.” His eyes narrowed as he studied Jack. Then his eyes glowed. “You.”
Jack snapped up the weapon again and aimed right at his chest. “Make one wrong move and you’ll regret the day you were born.”
“Jack,” Jacob said.
As Jack turned his head, the older man studied him, a demanding expression on his face. Oh, for crying out loud. He let the P90 sink back down to his hip.
Ba’al gave an arrogant smirk as he stepped up in front of them. His gaze lingered on Jack for an instant, then he turned to Jacob. “Have you called me here to give me those insolent humans as a gift, Tok’ra?”
“No.” Jacob’s face remained hard, but he straightened. “We have asked you here to propose a temporary alliance.”
Ba’al studied him and then broke out into resounding laughter.
Jack growled. “Oh, knock it off.”
Daniel stepped forward and lifted his hand. “We know you’re at war with the Aschen. We might have a way of defeating them, but we can’t do it alone. Since we have mutual goals, a cooperation would benefit both you and us.”
Ba’al folded his arms behind his back, another smirk pulling at his mouth. “I am not interested in your pitiful plan.”
Jack took a breath to say something, but Daniel lifted his hand again, making him falter.
“Now, hold on,” Daniel said. “We wish to disable the Aschen Stargate by writing a virus into the core code. Our experts have worked on the code for weeks, with the help of the Tok’ra. But so far, we’ve failed. We thought you might be able to help.”
“What would I get out of it?”
“Excuse me?” Jack put his fingers to his temple. “I thought he just explained that. The Aschen are your enemy. We will disable their Stargate. Ever heard of the saying the enemy of my enemy is my friend? Cliché, I know, but—”
“Rewriting the Stargate code is a lot of work. It would require several weeks,” Ba’al said.
Daniel nodded. “Yes, we figured. We propose setting up a temporary workshop on a neutral world where we could work.”
“Dakara.” Ba’al looked from Daniel to Jacob.
Jacob folded his arms. “No. Under no circumstances. Dakara is in your territory. It is not a neutral world.”
“Then you will have to find somebody else to write your virus.”
“Obviously, you have not understood how this works. See, we are looking for an ally. Said ally would be the first to know of the Aschen’s weakness. But you are not the only Goa’uld system lord with advanced knowledge of the Stargate system. Maybe we should talk to Nirrti instead.” Jacob turned away from him.
“Wait.” Ba’al’s deep voice echoed deep in his throat. “You say you want a temporary alliance. Dakara has many ancient technologies that might be of help in understanding the Stargate code. It is an uninhabited world, and it possesses a Stargate. I give you my word, no harm will come to you on Dakara. Of course I cannot vouch for your safety on a world outside my territory.”
Jack scrunched his eyebrows. Vouching for their safety?
Jacob cleared his throat. “What assurance can you give us that you will not betray us?”
“I will allow two of you on my world. Unarmed. Equally, four Jaffa will also remain to serve me. Along with two of my Lo’taur. You will not be harmed. I will help you program a virus. Under the condition that you notify me of once you distribute it on the Aschen homeworld, so I can ready my fleet.”
Jacob nodded. “Those are acceptable conditions.”
They were? Jack raised his eyebrows at him. Then he turned to Ba’al. “Listen, all hard feelings between us aside, I will not let my people be unarmed around you.”
“Daniel. I won’t let anybody near this guy without proper defense.”
Ba’al’s eyes glowed. “Rest assured, human, if I wanted to kill you, your weapons would not present a challenge to me.”
“See, it’s not the killing I’m concerned about. It’s more the whole snake-in-the-head-kinda-deal.” Jack tensed. “My words stand. Either we’re allowed weapons on your planet, or the deal’s off.”
The system lord studied him, and then finally conceded with a gracious hand gesture. “Fine. As you wish. Rest assured, my Jaffa are still a match for your weapons.”
“Yes, well…” Jack shrugged. “If you do something to us, you’ll have to get the virus to the Aschen Stargate yourself. I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem for you. Oh, wait. That’s right. The Aschen have defense systems in place that recognize Goa’uld presence as soon as you enter the vicinity of the gate.”
Ba’al’s face darkened. “Insolence.”
Jack decided to ignore him. “Here’s how we’ll do it. We’ll work in shifts. Ten hours each day. We’ll arrive in the morning and leave at sunset. You’ll allow four of us on the planet, two humans, two Tok’ra. You know, just for security.”
The Goa’uld looked increasingly uncooperative. Apparently, he didn’t like being bossed around. Jack had to hide a smirk. Yeah, well, bad luck. Neither did he.
“The Tok’ra are enemies of mine,” Ba’al said.
“Well, at least at the moment, they’re allies of us. So, what’s more important to you? Attacking the Aschen? Or clinging to your pride?”
“I agree to your conditions.” The Goa’uld folded his arms. “When do you wish to begin working?”
Jack glanced at Jacob and Daniel. That has almost been too easy. Were they willing to trust the system lord just like that? No way Ba’al wouldn’t try double-crossing them.
He’d have to prepare a coupla surprises.
Dakara. A red, rocky desert with a single temple at its center. Sam looked up at the heavy wooden door that led into the inner sanctum. She took a deep breath. Why had she agreed so willingly to go on this mission? McKay’d been smart. He’d immediately stepped back, saying he had too much work at camp as it was. Such a coward.
“Hey.” Jack gave her shoulder a soft squeeze. “You don’t have to do this. We can still abort this if you don’t—”
“No.” Hopefully her voice didn’t tremble as much as she thought. Jack had wanted McKay on this mission. Not because of skills, but because he didn’t want her anywhere near Ba’al, that much he’d told her a couple of nights ago. She straightened and fixated the door with her eyes. “I want to do this.”
“All right.” A tender smile played around his lips. “Either Jacob, Martouf, or I will always be with you. No need to be nervous.” He leaned in and rested his forehead against hers. “I’ll have your back.”
“I know.” She lifted her chin. For the first time since they’d been captured by Ba’al, she’d stand face to face with him. The man who’d almost raped her, who’d humiliated her in the most degrading way. She closed her eyes. She had to leave those feelings behind. For the sake of their program. For Earth. She swallowed hard, then nodded. “Let’s go.”
His hand grazed hers. He didn’t openly hold her hand, and yet the occasional butterfly touch provided an odd comfort. There was no need to be nervous. Jack would have her back in this.
As they stepped through the large doorway, the light grew dimmer. Moisture permeated the air. Two Jaffa warriors waited at the end of the long corridor. Sam shivered against the sudden drop in temperature.
The Jaffa led them through another corridor to a larger room with a large stone table in the middle. A dialing device stood next to it.
She jumped when the heavy stone door slammed shut behind them. Her gaze raced over to her father and Martouf, who took positions left and right of the door. She’d been more comfortable with Jolinar being there. Over the past weeks that they’d worked together, she’d gotten to know the female Tok’ra rather well. But according to the Tok’ra council, Jolinar wasn’t available for this mission.
Sam walked to the stone table and placed her laptop and some smaller devices on it. Then she turned to Jack, who hadn’t left her side.
“This place isn’t very comfortable.”
“Yeah, well… those snakes don’t seem to know how to live in style.” He gave her a ghost of a smirk, and she released a soft laugh.
Both turned when the door at the far end of the room opened. Ba’al entered, followed by a tall young woman. Her short, blonde hair was styled in a similar fashion to Sam’s. The woman didn’t lift her eyes as she followed the system lord to the middle of the room.
Sam’s blood ran cold. Oh God. She was a slave. The kind of slave he’d wanted to make her. Her stomach turned. Jack’s warm palm on the small of her back made her catch herself.
Jaw clenched, she finally met Ba’al’s gaze. His eyes gleamed, cold and relentless, and yet a smile played around his mouth. “I had hoped to see you again.”
“Why don’t we stick to why we’re here?” Jack said. “Carter’s our lead scientist when it comes to Stargate matters. The virus was her idea.”
“I am impressed.” The Goa’uld raised his eyebrows. “Although I am not surprised you did not manage to figure it out. Your inferior human brains are hardly designed to—“
“Oh cut the crap, will ya?” Jack placed his hands on the table and leaned forward. “We got a deal. You help us, we help you. Once the virus is complete, we’re outta here.”
He locked gazes with Ba’al, and for a moment the Goa’uld looked as though he wanted to challenge him. Then he nodded his head in a gracious gesture and half-turned to point at the woman behind him. “This is my Lo’taur, Shallan. She will provide us with everything we need while we are here.” He studied Sam, an unreadable expression on his face.
She lifted her chin. She would not back down from him anymore. Even though he claimed to be a God, he was just another man with a superiority complex. And she’d learned to defend herself against his type. He wasn’t any different from Tim Hanson, or Reddington’s weapon smugglers; he just came with a larger ego.
She opened her laptop and unpacked the chords to connect her system with the dialing device. “I assume your dialing device is connected to your Stargate.”
“That is correct.”
His gaze lingered on her as she plugged the chords into her laptop. “On our homeworld, we interfaced with the dialing device to gain access to the gate’s machine code. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to do the same here.”
She kneeled down and opened the main panel of the device. Slowly, her tension dissipated. This was her element, and the work gave her a chance to take her mind of what might happen. Besides, Jack, Martouf and her dad were always in the room with her.
She blew out a short breath and walked back to the table. Then she switched on her laptop. The screen flickered, and after a few seconds, tens of thousands of lines, all zeroes and ones, appeared. Machine code in its barest form.
Ba’al strolled around the table and came to a halt next to her. Immediately, his sweet scent reached her nostrils. Still the same scent as he’d worn when he’d held her captive in his quarters. Her stomach turned, and she swallowed hard.
“Show me what you have done so far, human.”
“Hey,” Jack said from her other side. “She’s got a name, you know.”
Ba’al eyed him with obvious amusement. He’d obviously meant to rub him the wrong way. Sam narrowed her eyes. So he wanted to push their buttons, did he? She turned to Jack. “It’s all right, sir. It’s just superficial pleasantries. Why don’t we get to work?”
Oh, Jack looked so ready to shoot the Goa’uld. Ba’al seemed to want to provoke him. Probably so that he’d have a reason to break his end of the deal. Better to stick to the problem at hand.
She turned back to the screen. “We’ve been able to decipher the header of the program so far, but most of the other stuff is a mystery to us. This code doesn’t seem to define any functions or variables in the header. We couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”
Ba’al scoffed. “Well, that’s hardly surprising.” He urged her aside and leaned forward to study the screen. “I know you humans think you’re smart, but you really haven’t a clue about what you’re dealing with.”
“Which is why we made the deal with you.” She made sure to put a sharp edge into her voice. “Though frankly, you don’t seem to be the brightest light in the room either. After all, you claim to have the necessary knowledge, yet in all these decades it never occurred to you to target the Aschen Stargate with a virus.”
From the corner of her eye she could see Jack smirk. Ba’al straightened. His eyes glowed as he glared at her.
Sam gave him a sardonic smile. “So why don’t we stop accusing each other of our shortcomings and focus on the task at hand?”
Ba’al’s gaze wandered to Jack. “Do you not have any control over your women on your world?”
“Actually, we don’t need to ascertain our power by making our women weak.”
A lie. Most of their culture wasn’t really welcoming towards female knowledge, thanks to the Aschen laws. But Ba’al didn’t have to know that.
Ba’al took a deep breath and then bent forward to study the code again. “This may take a while.”
“We expected that,” Sam said.
“I will arrange for quarters for you and your friends.”
“Oh, don’t kid yourself, Ba’al.” Jack waved around with his P90. “There’s no way we’re gonna make camp on this planet.”
“As you wish. But you might have to travel back and forth for several weeks.”
“Not a problem.”
One week later
He had never been so bored in his life. For the millionth time, Jack sighed and pulled his cap off. This damn stone bench could use some cushions. Overall, a makeover of the room wouldn’t be a bad idea. A little paint. Some drapes. Maybe some more furniture.
In the middle of the room, Sam leaned on the stone table, head on her hands, and studied a screen. Ba’al stood at the opposite end and did the same. During the past week, they’d made slow progress. The Goa’uld still made occasional stabs at him, but overall he’d apparently chosen to forget their hostilities for now.
Still, he knew better than to trust that snake. As soon as they’d succeeded, Ba’al would probably try to backstab them.
The door opened. Martouf strolled inside, looked around, and then his face lit up when he spotted Jack. Jack rolled into a sitting position and put his cap back on his head.
“Marty. How’s things outside?”
“We did not run into any trouble.” Lantash, Martouf’s host. Maybe it was a bad sign, but Jack got used to the deep, reverberating voice and the personality changes. “Selmak sent me with a message. He will have to go back to clear some things with the Tok’ra council. He will be back by tomorrow.”
“Ah.” Jack nodded. “Problems I should know about?”
“Internal Tok’ra matters.”
He studied Martouf—or Lantash—with narrowed eyes. When the Tok’ra used the word internal, it didn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t affect camp, or Earth. Those people didn’t seem to understand the concept of teamwork. Or an alliance. But Martouf wouldn’t tell him anything, and at this distance he couldn’t really keep an eye on matters at camp.
Sheppard would take care of any problems. He glanced at his watch and sighed. “Another two hours and we’ll be done for today.”
“Maybe it would be simpler if we took Ba’al up on his offer and slept here on Dakara.”
Jack pierced him with his gaze. “If you wanna stay, be my guest. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t trust these people farther than I can throw them. And I’d hate to wake up with one of those snakes in my head. No offense.”
The Tok’ra smiled. “None taken.”
Jack smirked. Apparently Martouf’d gotten used to his sense of humor.
“I’ll meet you at the gate once we’re done here,” Martouf said. Then he turned and strolled out of the room, apparently not uncomfortable at all anymore.
Of course, he didn’t have to be afraid of having a damn snake put in his head. Seeing that he already had one. Besides, as long as the program wasn’t finished, Ba’al sorta needed them. Unfortunately, they needed him as well.
“No, no, no, this is incorrect. Woman, did I not just tell you that this is the line of code you need to work on?”
“I think this one will allow us to work around this entire subroutine.”
Brows raised, Jack turned to the center of the room. Ba’al and Carter debated heatedly. Every muscle in his body tensed. He rested his fingers near the handgun at his belt. Just to be safe. Not that those discussions were a rarity.
“I know where you come from you are considered relatively smart, but up until a week ago you couldn’t even decipher this code. Why don’t you stick to doing what you are told?”
Carter slammed her hands down on the table and glared at the Goa’uld. “Are you just this condescending because I’m a human? Or is it because I’m a woman?”
Jack rose from the bench and gripped his P90. He wouldn’t take any chances with that guy. Not after their experiences with him.
“Both, if you must know. If you wish to do everything your way, you do not need my help anymore, do you?” He straightened and glowered at her.
Carter put her hands on her hips. “We had a deal.”
“You are insolent and obnoxious. I should make you my slave and put you in your place.”
Okay, that was enough. He was about to intervene when Carter lunged forward and punched Ba’al so hard he stumbled backwards and landed on his ass.
So that was that then. Jack relaxed with a grin. Served the guy right.
“If you’re not gonna help, then you’re really not of much use. And if you’re of no use, I might as well kill you.” Sam pulled the handgun she wore at her belt and pointed it at him. “Now you have two choices. You can concentrate on the job without those derogatory comments, or I’ll shoot you right here and now.”
Hands in his pockets, Jack strolled towards the table. “Problems?”
Ba’al’s head snapped around to him. “What kind of stupid question is that? Get your woman under control.”
“You know, I’ve voted for shooting you from the start.” Jack walked over to the laptop and studied the screen. “She voted against it because she said we still need you. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care if she shoots you, tortures you, or cuts off your man parts. No, that’s not exactly right. I do care. I’m all for it.”
“You cannot be serious.”
“I can. I just choose not to be. Most of the time.” Jack straightened and looked down at him.
Ba’al’s face darkened. “If I yell for my Jaffa, you will be surrounded within seconds.”
“True. They’d start shooting. We’d be forced to defend ourselves. People’d get hurt, possibly killed. There’d be hard feelings. Oh, and you wouldn’t get rid of the Aschen for a long, long time. So, correct me if I’m wrong but you need us as much as we need you.”
Ba’al closed his eyes and released a long, deep breath. “Very well.” He smiled at Sam. “I’d be delighted to give your plan a try.”
“Glad to hear it.” She holstered the gun at her side and turned back to the table. Grumbling, Ba’al got up from the ground and brushed some dust off his pants.
Smirking, Jack leaned in to her. “Seems like you don’t need me here anymore?”
“Don’t you dare leave me alone with him.” She glanced at him and relief flashed across her face when she recognized he was joking.
“How are things progressing?”
“Slowly.” She looked at the screen. “But we’re making progress, sir. Another couple of weeks and we should have a working virus.”
“A couple of weeks?” He stared at her. Great… two more weeks of boredom. With nothing to do but stare at those plain rocky walls. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Well, sir, we’ll need to reprogram a few subroutines in the original gate code to randomize the sequence of coordinates every time an address is dialed.”
“So, no?” He raised his brows at her.
She let out a soft giggle. “No, sir, sorry.”
Damn. He couldn’t really bring any reports here either. Not without giving up vital information about Earth, or Earth’s location. “That’s fine… I’ll find something to do.”
Or maybe he’d just go nuts.
10 days later
“You can’t do that.” Jack looked up from the chessboard.
Martouf raised his eyebrows. “Why not?”
“Because you can’t move the knight that way.”
“Oh for cryin’ out loud. Because it’s the rules of the game.” Jack slapped his palms against his face. Why had he ever thought that playing chess against Martouf would be a good idea?
“Fine, how about I move the tower there.”
“Technically, yes. But that’s not the tower, that’s the bishop.”
“Well, where are my towers?”
“You lost ‘em.” He missed playing this game with Carter. At least she presented a challenge. Sighing he looked to the center of the room. Both Carter and Ba’al sat bent over a screen. Still working. As they had been the past weeks.
The door opened and Jacob entered.
“Jake.” Jack jumped up, and the board tumbled to the ground.
Shaking his head, Martouf bent down and collected all the playing pieces. “This game is most trivial. I do not see the purpose.”
“The purpose is winning by using logic and correctly assessing your opponent’s next move.” Jack grinned at him. “I thought the Tok’ra were good in using logic.”
“Logic, yes. Limiting our measures by putting restrictions on what playing piece is allowed to move where, no.”
Jacob raised his brows. “Chess?”
“Yeah. I tried giving Marty here a lesson, but apparently he thinks the game’s a waste of time.” Jack smirked and stuck his hands in his pockets. “So what’s up?”
“The Tok’ra just wanted to discuss a few issues.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“Nothing interesting, just internal matters.”
“Right.” Jack shifted. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, just like they had the past coupla days when Jacob had mentioned the council meetings he suddenly had to attend. Something was going on. He had a bad feeling, and usually those intuitions weren’t wrong. “Care for a game?”
“Actually I was hoping to have dinner first.”
Dinner. That sounded great. Had to give it to those damn Goa’uld, they knew how to dine in style. With food, for which they’d undoubtedly exploited their human slaves. Not their fight though. At least not at the moment.
He turned his head. “Carter, why don’t you call it a day.”
“A few more minutes, sir.” She didn’t even look up.
He sighed. Her idea of a few minutes was entirely different from his. He glanced at his watch. 7.38 Antarctica time. Definitely dinner time. Fine, he’d give her a coupla minutes.
“Everything’s running smooth as always.” Jacob folded his hands behind his back. “Sheppard’s doing a good job as your replacement.”
“Good to hear.” He missed camp. They hadn’t been there for weeks. The risk was too high that they’d expose Earth on their way back. Even though he’d agreed to let Carter work with Ba’al, he didn’t trust him a bit. Nor his minions.
“We’re done.” Carter straightened.
Jack raised his brows. Wow. That had only been a coupla minutes. Odd. “Great. So, dinner?”
“Sir, you don’t understand.” She turned and beamed at him. “We’re done.”
Ba’al rolled his eyes. “We have completed the program.”
“Wow…” He stared at Carter. “You serious? I didn’t know you were so far along.”
“Well, sir, I wasn’t sure if we were, so I didn’t wanna raise false hopes. The last three simulations came back successful, and we just went over the code one last time.”
“Are you telling me we have a functional virus now? As in, we can disable the Aschen Stargate?”
Another beaming smile. His stomach flip-flopped. “Yes, sir.”
“Well done.” He’d be damned. She’d actually managed to make this happen. He glanced at the screen. The zeroes and ones didn’t make any sense to him, but if she said it worked…
“When do you plan on distributing the virus and disabling the Aschen Stargate?” Impatience layered Ba’al’s voice.
Jack glanced at him. “Once we’ve figured out a safe plan to get to their homeworld.”
“You have not done that yet?”
“To be honest, we weren’t sure whether you’d succeed. No offense. But you seem the big talk no action kinda guy.”
Ba’al’s eyes blazed. Oh, if only he could shoot him. Wouldn’t that be swell…
“So… what now?” Jack asked.
“We can return to our base, sir. I have all necessary information on my computer. I’ll create a portable disk version of the virus when we’re home.”
He clapped his hands together. “Okay, home it is. Marty, Jacob, pack up.” He turned to Ba’al. “Great working with ya. We’ll let you know how it turns out.”
The Goa’uld frowned at him. As though he’d love to kill him. The feeling was mutual.
Carter packed up her computer and some smaller gadgets and chords. A few minutes later, they left the temple and crossed the rocky courtyard.
Jack nudged her with his shoulder. “Good job.”
“Thank you, sir.” She glowed with pride. “To be honest, I had doubts myself.”
They approached the Stargate and waited. Waited some more. The gate remained dead.
Jack turned around. Ba’al and his Jaffa had taken position behind them. Uh oh. Just as he’d thought. The bastard was gonna make trouble. “Care to dial the gate?”
The Goa’uld gave a sardonic smile. “There was a change of plan. You will hand over the virus, and all your computers and devices.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” Jack took a step towards him, his finger on the trigger of his P90.
“I have decided I do not need you to carry out the plan. Jaffa, kree!” The two Jaffas at his sides pointed their staff weapons at them.
“Oh for cryin’ out loud.” Jack released a sigh. “You know, I wanna say I’m surprised by this, but I’m really not.”
Ba’al folded his arms. “The devices.”
“Not gonna happen.”
Ba’al’s eyes glowed as he turned to his Jaffa. “Kill them. But spare the woman. I want her for myself.”
“Hold on.” Next to Jack, Jacob stepped forward, his voice deep and reverberating. “I would not advise you to do that.”
Jack glowered at Jacob. He didn’t appreciate the interruption when he’d been just about to tell Ba’al to suck it.
“Why not, Tok’ra?” Ba’al scowled at Jacob.
“Because you will be dead the moment either you or your Jaffa fire one shot.”
Wait, what? Jack turned to stare at him. What the hell did that mean?
Carter’s sharp intake of breath made him turn. He followed her gaze up towards the sky. About ten meters in the air, the puddle jumper had uncloaked, its weapons aimed at Ba’al and his Jaffa. Who the hell had ordered that?
“You heard him, Ba’al.” Jack folded his arms. “If we die, you die with us. Nobody gets the virus, cause it’ll be blown up with the rest of our equipment. So you got two options. You stick to the original deal, or you ruin everything you’ve worked for. Oh, and you’ll die. Your choice.”
Ba’al’s eyes flamed. If Jack had ever seen a human metaphorically steaming, the Goa’uld was the epitome of it. After a long moment, Ba’al turned to his Jaffa and waved his hand. They lowered their staff weapons.
The gate dialed, though Jack was sure it hadn’t been on Ba’al’s orders. Probably whoever was in the jumper had decided to intervene. The event horizon opened behind them.
“We will meet again, humans. And next time I will not be so forthcoming.”
“Yeah, well, guess what, neither will we.” He gave Carter a little pat on the shoulder, indicating for her to walk through the gate. Martouf and Jacob followed. Jack kept his P90 pointed at Ba’al and took a few steps backwards.
Only a few well-aimed shots… He narrowed his eyes. The bastard had tried to double-cross them. So as far as he was concerned, their deal was null and void.
He glanced up at the jumper. If he killed Ba’al, he’d endanger whoever was piloting it. Too bad. Well, as Ba’al’d said, they’d meet again.
He took a last step back, and then Dakara vanished into a blue chaos of nothingness.
“I don’t care if it saved our asses. I wouldn’t care if it’d saved the entire galaxy.”
“Jack, the decision wasn’t mine. And there wasn’t exactly time to talk about it.”
“Weeks! We had weeks on that damned planet. You telling me you didn’t have one minute to inform me you had detailed intel that Ba’al planned on deceiving us from the start?”
Sam shifted in her crouched position next to the thin tent wall and steadied herself against Vala’s back.
“Wow, he’s mad,” Vala whispered.
Sam flinched. She couldn’t really blame Jack. He valued honesty and loyalty above all.
“Damn it, Jacob, I’m commander of this camp. We were the ones stuck in that room with Ba’al. It’s stuff like this I don’t tolerate from my own people. And I sure as hell won’t tolerate it from the Tok’ra. I don’t like to be a pawn in your little games.”
“I don’t understand your outrage. We have the virus. The mission went well.”
“You deliberately withheld information and allowed us to run into a trap. Blind. You know I hate surprises on missions.” Jack came close to yelling. “How the hell am I supposed to guarantee the safety of my team when our so-called allies don’t bother to give us details?”
“What the hell are you two doing here?” Daniel’s voice drifted from behind them. Sam and Vala drew in sharp breaths.
“Shhh.” Vala placed her index finger against her lips and then waved at him to crouch down next to them.
Daniel did. “What’s going on?” His voice was lowered to a whisper.
“The Tok’ra had intel about Ba’al’s intent on betraying us. They withheld the information from Jack, and relayed wrong orders to Sheppard,” Sam said quietly.
Daniel winced. “Ouch. So they played Sheppard and Jack against each other? Jack must be furious.” As if to affirm his statement, the yelling continued inside the tent.
“I wonder if he’s gonna throw them out?” Vala half-turned.
Sam’s stomach clenched. She shook her head. “That wouldn’t be wise. The Tok’ra are still a big help to us.”
“Well… Jack’s not exactly known for his conflict-solving strategies,” Daniel said. They grew quiet again.
“Dammit, Jacob, I don’t have to tell you how important loyalty is. How am I supposed to work with people if I can’t trust them to tell me the truth? All of it.”
“For what it’s worth, Selmak voted against it. But the council has the last word and—”
“I don’t care for the damn council. You tell them, if they pull that crap again, I’ll kick their asses through the gate back to their own world. If they wanna work as a team, they’ll share every piece of intel that’s vital to our mission, or they can shove their alliance up their asses.”
Footsteps scuffled from inside. Vala, Sam and Daniel hurried away from the tent. Jack marched off in the direction of the food tent.
“Wow… I haven’t seen him so mad in a long time.” Daniel pushed his glasses further up on his nose. “What exactly happened?”
Sam winced. “The Tok’ra knew that Ba’al never intended to let us go back. He wanted to keep our program for himself, along with the information on our computers. They lied to Sheppard, saying that Jack had ordered him to take the cloaked jumper through the gate to Dakara. Apparently, Sheppard’s been hiding on Dakara for the past few days, then returned every night.”
“That’s… bold.” Daniel scratched his head. “I’m surprised Jack’s giving them a second chance. If any of our people had pulled something like that, they’d be out.”
“Yeah.” She sighed. “You know, it’s too bad. He’d just started trusting them after spending some time with my dad and Martouf.”
“Samantha?” All three turned. Martouf and Jolinar strolled towards them. They glanced from Sam to Daniel, then back to Sam. Martouf smiled at her. “We wanted to apologize personally. I assure you, I had no knowledge of the intel, and I do not approve of how the council handled the matter.”
Jolinar flinched. “You have to understand that we have worked on our own for thousands of years. The Tok’ra may be old, but they have to learn a few things about alliances.” She sighed and took a step towards them. “I really enjoyed working with you. And I hope we can still remain friends.”
Sam nodded. “I’d like that.”
Daniel gave his usual diplomatic smile. “We could all have dinner together at the food tent.”
“That sounds good,” Martouf said.
Sam took a deep breath as they walked towards the food tent. As angry as Jack had been, she hoped he wouldn’t throw the Tok’ra out. What would happen to them if this alliance didn’t work out? And what would happen to her father?
Jack looked up when a gust of fresh air rustled some of the papers on his desk. Carter entered the tent. Immediately his mood improved.
“Hi… do you have a minute?”
“Yeah. Sure.” A knot settled in his stomach. She sounded serious. “What’s up?”
“It’s about my dad.” She swallowed visibly as she came to a halt in front of his desk. “I overheard part of your discussion with him earlier.”
Jack grimaced. “Yeah… I think half the camp did. Guess we weren’t very discreet.”
She gave him one of those ice-melting smiles. “No, sir.”
Damn, she was beautiful. Still, concern shadowed her eyes. He put his pen down and leaned back. “Carter, Jacob and I’ve been friends for many years. I’m not mad at him. Part of me even understands his reasoning. But this is about trust. We can’t trust the Tok’ra if they don’t trust us.”
“I know. My dad’s with them now. Sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s not just my dad anymore, but also Selmak. If the Tok’ra leave Earth… He’d have to go with them.”
“Who said anything about them leaving?” Jack leaned forward.
“Nobody… I just thought…you know…you were so angry and…”
“Carter.” He sighed and pressed his palms against his eyes. “I was angry. Jacob was angry. Neither of us is exactly diplomatic in our discussions. I may have overreacted threatening to throw them out. After all, they did take care of the backup.”
Sighing, she sat down on one of the boxes. “They did, didn’t they?”
“I guess we all gotta learn to trust.”
“Oh?” She looked confused.
He smirked. “Daniel was here earlier and gave me a speech about trust, alliances, teamwork… all that stuff.”
“Oh.” A smile played around her mouth. “Well, sir, for what it’s worth, I think you had a point.”
“So do I.” He grinned. “But I see his point. I don’t expect Sheppard to clear every one of his steps with me when I’m not at camp. I guess I should pay the Tok’ra the same courtesy.” He looked at the tent entrance for a moment. Somehow, life had become a lot more complicated ever since the Tok’ra’d joined them.
“I know the Tok’ra are different from us,” Carter said, drawing his gaze back to her. “I think we can trust them though. At least some of them. Martouf, Jolinar, my dad… they’d never betray us.”
“You didn’t mention Anise.” He had to hide another grin.
“I’m not sure about her, yet.” Her eyes sparkled. “Any woman who jumps a man she barely knows should be mistrusted.”
Her jaw clenched ever so slightly. Did her words carry a hint of jealousy? His insides warmed. He got up and rounded the desk.
Confusion flickered on her face as she lifted from the box and stared at him with those big beautiful eyes. Without a word, he pulled her into his arms. Her breath hitched, then a sigh escaped her as he took her lips in a deep kiss. God, he loved her. What would he do if he ever lost her?