by Rebecca Ratliff
DATE: February 2004
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
CATEGORY: AU Jack/Sam romance
WARNING: none I can think of
SPOILERS: Any up through mid-late season 7.
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season 7. Gates of War series, follows "We Got Him."
SUMMARY: SG-1 finds survivors on a post-apocalyptic planet.
DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc.This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. Anybody that you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by midnight. :)
AUTHOR'S NOTES: The idea for the laskarat pelts belongs to Mamabeast and is used with her permission.
O'Neill shouted to be heard over the wind, "Carter! What's the verdict?"
She checked the sensors. "There are dangerous levels of volcanic gasses in the atmosphere, sir. It's well within the tolerances of our protective equipment, but anyone caught out here without an air supply wouldn't last more than a few hours."
What little light made it through the heavy ash clouds dyed everything a sickly yellow color. Visibility was at best twenty or thirty meters. "And you say the asteroid hit a thousand years ago?"
"Yes, sir, it was bigger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs."
"That was one big rock."
Carter grinned, without looking up from her instruments. "Yes, sir."
He checked on their FRED, loaded down with a heavy portable shelter that would allow them to get out of their environmental gear and provide them with warmth during the planet's bitterly cold nights.
Daniel was examining the stargate. "Look at this! I've never seen this kind of environmental damage to a stargate before, have you?"
Sam observed, "It was facing head-on to the blast wave! I don't know how it stayed standing!"
"Still, over the length of time that the gates have been in existence, most of them should have been subjected to asteroid impacts," Daniel scowled. "It just doesn't make sense that this gate is the only one to have been damaged."
Sam considered. "Maybe this is what happens when a stargate almost detonates."
O'Neill almost ran his hand over the crackled, pitted surface of the outer ring. Then he thought better of maybe cutting a hole in his glove on a sharp surface. "Carter, double check the homing beacons."
She did so. Local anomalies made it impossible to rely on a compass for navigation, and with this much pollution in the air there would have been no way to see landmarks if any did exist. The range of their radios would be sharply curtailed as well.
A joke that O'Neill had made about dropping bread crumbs had given her an idea, though. She had encased a piece of naquada the size of a marble in the top of a long spike. Jack could sense them at around two hundred yards, Sam about half again that distance, and Daniel and Teal'c were carrying sensors that were even more sensitive than that.
It was an expensive trail of bread crumbs, but the MALP had detected traces of trinium in the soil that hinted at a massive deposit within a reasonable distance of the stargate. Trinium was necessary for building interstellar craft such as the Prometheus. As the location of their primary source at the moment was a gate address known to the Goa'uld, it might well be discovered at any time. The location of alternate sources, even in such a hellishly hostile environment as this, was vital military information and worth the risk to check out.
O'Neill had agreed with the necessity of the mission, but he still didn't like it. They were way out on a limb, and if the limb broke there might very well be no way a rescue expedition could find them without running into the same trouble themselves.
They were moving in what the geologists considered the most likely direction. It wasn't easy going. A thick layer of powdery volcanic ash covered everything three feet deep, and there was nothing to be done but wade through it.
O'Neill took his turn on point. Within a hundred yards his knees were killing him, and that was before a hurricane-force gust of wind knocked him off his feet. His loud curse was lost in the wind. He hunkered down where he was, with his back to the wind, until it let up. After that they quickly regrouped, and roped themselves together against any more such missteps.
Carter placed their beacons on the lee side of rock formations whenever possible, to minimize the chance it would get blown out of position. She was the next one to get swept off her feet by the wind, picked up several feet above the ground and slammed against a box car sized boulder with enough force to knock all the breath out of her.
She was otherwise unharmed, but it was getting near dark and the other side of the huge boulder would get them out of the wind.
Working quickly, they unpacked the shelter components and assembled them. The FRED itself made up one end of the shelter, and as soon as they had the rest of it sealed in place, Carter started up the filter unit. They waited about half an hour for the air inside the shelter to clear.
When the light turned green, they gratefully removed their helmets, masks, and gloves. There was still an overpowering rotten egg smell. Daniel coughed, "Damn! Jack, did you take your boots off?"
O'Neill wisecracked, "Wasn't me--Teal'c was the one eating reuben sandwiches for lunch."
Carter wrinkled her nose and decided to log the results from the instruments on the FRED before she ate. She hoped by the time she finished, the air in the shelter would be cleaner, or at least that she would be more accustomed to the offensive odor by then. She certainly wasn't going to try eating anything as long as she was about to gag on the stench.
Daniel asked, "Are we close to a volcano here?"
"There are active volcanoes everywhere. The asteroid impact would have set them planet-wide, and eruptions are still much more frequent than on Earth," Carter said. "That's why it's so cold--we're still in a nuclear winter."
Jack asked, "Do you think anything survived? I mean, the dinosaurs became extinct but other things came back."
"Yes, sir. Everything on Earth--that wasn't brought in by the Goa'uld, of course--evolved from organisms that survived the impact. As for how that relates to things here...who knows? Conditions could be very different in other areas of the planet."
"But the stargate, and our mother lode of trinium, are here at ground zero in this amazingly wonderful smell. Why does that not surprise me?" Having been in some very malodorous places in his time, O'Neill decided he was hungry enough to ignore the stink and unwrapped an energy bar. Eventually everyone else came to the same conclusion, but nobody even suggested heating up MRE's.
He assigned watches. Nothing was likely to be out there to sneak up on them, but if a windblown rock made a hole in the shelter and no one was awake to sound an alarm, they might very well never wake up.
It was a good thing they were all such good friends, because there was very little room and less privacy inside their little plastic bubble. Carter took first watch, figuring if any trouble was going to manifest itself on the life support unit's maiden voyage it would probably be sooner rather than later. If she caught any small problems early, they might not get the chance to start a cascading failure that would force them to scrub the mission.
The next day was lots more of the same. Daniel switched off to take his turn breaking the trail. That was the hardest going, so they traded places frequently to keep from getting too fatigued.
Daniel was going along normally when he took a step and his foot just kept going. With a yell of surprise he tumbled over a drop-off hidden under the ash.
Jack tried to brace himself and stop Daniel 's fall. Unable to get any traction in the ash, he slid over as well. He couldn't see Daniel at all, and he too was rapidly sinking into the powdery dust.
Teal'c anchored them by grabbing the heavy FRED. Carter frantically helped O'Neill dig himself out, and then together they pulled and dug Daniel out.
He was unhurt, but his left boot had unsealed and a lot of dust had got in. It sealed back up and, in the process of getting the FRED around the hole and setting some spikes to mark the safe way around it, he didn't think any more about it and chalked the irritation he felt up to having the gritty ash in his boot.
Sam's tests showed increasing levels of trinium, and a couple of hours before sunset the readings spiked.
During a brief lull in the wind, Jack saw the vague hulking shape of something that looked manmade. He yelled, "There's something up there! Looks like a building of some kind!"
They approached carefully, and a cube about twenty feet on a side emerged from the drifting ash. One side had a hatch.
Jack studied a featureless black wall. "This doesn't look like your average Goa'uld building to me!"
Carter said, "I'd almost say it was made out of fiberglass, but whatever it is, it sure is tough to be this resistant to the environment!"
"Think you can get us in there?"
"Won't know till I try, sir!" Carter had a look at the hatch. It wasn't locked at all--a panel slid to reveal a large wheel. She couldn't budge it. Teal'c braced himself and hauled for all he was worth, and the hatch slowly cranked open.
O'Neill swept the small room inside with his P-90. "Looks like an airlock to me!"
Carter said, "In that case, there's probably a mechanism to prevent both doors from being open at the same time."
Daniel said excitedly, "That means there are survivors! Or at least there were!"
Carter said, "They know what trinium is. It's one of the major components of this building material."
OK, this had just turned into a meet and greet, O'Neill thought. "All right, everyone in," he decided.
Daniel studied the ceiling. A translucent panel was probably a light fixture. "Doesn't look like the lights are on."
Carter said, "There might not be anyone left here after all this time. What about the FRED, sir?"
"Bring it. We don't know if we can breathe the air inside."
Teal'c closed the outer door, then squeezed past the FRED to open the inner one, with Carter right there ready to cover the opening in case there was trouble waiting on the other side.
That turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. They came out into what was obviously a mine. Six-wheeled ore carts stood in a line along the back wall, along with a selection of tools that were recognizable as picks and shovels. In the center of the room was a shaft, where a lift large enough for a couple of the carts hung. It looked like the carts were just short enough to fit into the air lock one by one.
Jack looked down the shaft. Far below, there was a dim light. "Looks like somebody's home!"
Sam reported, "We can breathe the air in here."
They got out of their environmental suits. The air was remarkably clear of the foul sulfur odor. Sam speculated that indicated sophisticated life support technology.
Daniel swore as he discovered that what he had thought was a minor abrasion from the grit he had got in his boot, was actually a chemical burn. "What the hell?!"
Sam said, "A lot of volcanic compounds are acidic." She tore the wrapper from a cleansing towelette.
"Ow!" Daniel jerked reflexively as she dabbed the wound.
"No, that's okay, go ahead."
The injury was as big as the palm of Sam's hand, but only the center third of it was raw and weeping. Daniel sat still and clenched his jaw until she finished and applied a soothing first aid cream. He held a dressing in place while she taped it, then he upended his boot and knocked all the ash out before putting it back on.
Jack nudged the lift platform with his toe. It swayed gently on creaking cables as thick as his wrist that disappeared into a large piece of equipment that was apparently the lift mechanism. "Someone is definitely living here. Whoever's been greasing these cables."
A lever on the lift platform controlled the lift's movement. They loaded the FRED onto the lift and descended, weapons ready.
The journey down the shaft took a good fifteen minutes, with the cables creaking and the mechanism groaning loudly all the way. When they reached the tunnel at the bottom of the shaft, the welcoming committee was waiting. A score of men and women stood armed with picks and hammers, with a good scattering of crossbows in the mix. Front and center was a tall, very dark-skinned woman, clearly a host to Jack and Sam's senses. She had the only zat in evidence, and the khopesh sword at her belt had seen its share of use. In the narrow tunnel, her personal shield offered a good deal of protection to the people behind her. Her eyes flashed as she recognized Teal'c's tattoo. She addressed him in Goa'uld, and while Jack caught maybe every other word, it sounded like she said that Apophis and his minions weren't welcome here.
Teal'c replied that he no longer served Apophis.
Seshat asked, "You three are Tau'ri? I speak English. Which one of you is in charge?"
Jack said, "I am. Colonel Jack O'Neill, United States Air Force. Major Samantha Carter, Dr. Daniel Jackson, and Teal'c."
"Apophis' First Prime--oh, excuse me, former First Prime."
"What is your purpose here?"
Daniel said, "We're peaceful explorers, prospecting for trinium. We didn't expect the planet to be inhabited, but since you're here and you obviously have no love for the System Lords, would you be willing to consider a trade agreement?"
"I would if I believed one word of that crazy story!" Seshat replied, giving them a very skeptical look.
O'Neill asked, "Well, is it any crazier than expecting us to believe that you're any different than all the other Goa'uld out there?"
"I believe that Apophis thinks he can gain influence by turning me over to Ra."
"There's a couple of little problems with that idea. Ra is dead, and so is Apophis," O'Neill said.
"And I suppose you killed them."
"Well, as a matter of fact--" Daniel started.
"Put your weapons down and come with me. I'm going to investigate your claims. And if I find out you're lying, I'm warning you, we can't afford to coddle terrorists and spies!"
Daniel said, "By all means, check out our claims. We don't expect you to just take our word for it. You'll find that Ra and Apophis aren't the only System Lords who have been killed. Hathor, Kronus, and Seth are dead, too."
Jack added, "Don't forget Nirrti."
Seshat took everything but their underwear and ordered them locked up in a hastily cleared out storeroom. After their clothing had been searched, she had their tee-shirts and BDU's returned, and they were brought food, water and blankets.
O'Neill asked, "Hey, where are our boots?"
"We'll be hanging onto them while the Lady checks you out," one of the miners replied.
Jack said, "Yeah, you people are real friendly folks, aren't ya?"
"Hey, it's the Lady keeping you around, not me. I'd have taken your stuff and kicked you outside naked, before you did it to us." He slammed the door and dropped a heavy bar in place.
O'Neill gave their cell the once-over. The storage area for tools had two walls of stone and two of rough timbers paneled over on the outside with planks.
Daniel said, "Well, he's honest anyway."
"Yeah, do you think maybe they don't get a whole lot of visitors around here?" Jack sat down, thankful at least to have the heavy felt blanket between him and the cold stone floor.
Carter observed, "So far she hasn't treated us too badly--for a Goa'uld."
Teal'c said, "Indeed. She can hardly be faulted for suspicion where Apophis is concerned, if she has been out of contact with the Goa'uld Empire for some time."
"I was wondering why no Jaffa with pain sticks," Daniel said.
O'Neill figured they'd been captured once too often when even Daniel's reaction to the prospect of being interrogated yet again was a casual wisecrack. But come to think of it, he hadn't noticed any Jaffa at all. He said, "Why no Jaffa, period. Who is she?"
Daniel replied, "In Egyptian mythology, Seshat was known as the Lady of the Library. She was the goddess of reading, writing, mathematics and architecture. She was the wife of Thoth, who was also considered a god of wisdom and learning."
Teal'c said, "Thoth was killed in battle with Kronus approximately one thousand years ago. Seshat was also believed to have died, but apparently she and a band of loyal subjects escaped to found this colony."
Daniel said, "Something doesn't add up. If it's a colony, where are the children and the old people?"
Carter guessed, "I don't think they live here permanently. They just come here to mine trinium."
Teal'c observed, "Seshat clearly trusts her subjects. No other Goa'uld would dare walk openly among the citizenry, or trust them with primitive weapons, against which her personal shield is useless."
Jack had to agree with that. Among the system lords, only Lord Yu armed his Jaffa with a blade longer than a dagger. They were bound not by fear of their god but by a sense of duty to their country and society that, to all indications, Lord Yu reciprocated.
Jack settled himself more comfortably on the stone floor and once again looked for a way out. The storage bin itself wasn't a challenge. Teal'c would have no trouble kicking a couple of those planks out of the way. The real problem with any escape plan was getting their envirosuits back--they wouldn't get far in their shirt sleeves and bare feet.
Thinking about Lord Yu made him sad, and that reaction both confused and annoyed him. Why was he wasting good sympathy on a damn snake?
Then he remembered something he'd said to Sirikat about "damn snakes" and how she had caused him to confront his prejudice towards them. He certainly was not going to trust the Old Dragon, but O'Neill didn't hate him like Apophis or Anubis--in fact, he had a lot of respect for the Goa'uld. Lord Yu should have had the chance to fall in battle, not to have to have to watch himself decline into senility. Never to have to see pity in the eyes of his enemies, or worse yet his young first prime and the other retainers closest to him.
Instead of tarring Seshat with the same brush as all the other Goa'uld, he found himself judging her objectively on the basis of what he had actually observed. While, again, it would have been foolish to trust her, and he certainly wasn't prepared to go that far, he did respect the loyalty her people showed.
"We don't know how long it's gonna take Her Snakiness to check out our story. Better get some rest while you can. I'll take first watch."
Jack leaned back against the stone wall in the corner, where the wooden wall divided off the tool bin from the rest of the room. One of the planks had a knothole in it. He watched the miners tidy up after supper. Several of them got up a dice game at the table. Others were working on various handcraft projects. One tuned up a funny looking harp thing and played quietly. Another read a letter and got paper and ink to reply.
These people weren't acting like any prisoners or slaves that he had ever seen. They were just regular people on the job a long way from home.
O'Neill didn't see any sign of their missing gear. When the miners rolled out their pallets for the night a few hours later, O'Neill traded off watches with Teal'c and lay down to try to sleep.
Instead of letting himself dwell on the usual consequences of getting captured by the Goa'uld, he thought about home and Jamie and Sirikat. They would deal with tomorrow when it arrived.
A commotion woke them a few hours later. O'Neill found a crack between two planks in time to see Seshat getting out of a set of heavy armor decorated with gold and turquoise. She gratefully accepted a tankard and drained it, then opened the door and let them out, and ordered that their belongings be returned to them.
"It seems that you were telling the truth," she replied. "I apologize for locking you up, but I hope you understand why I have to be careful."
Daniel said, "Absolutely, we have to be just as careful."
"You said something about a trade agreement. If you're still interested we can talk about that. But first, let me offer you what hospitality we have here."
That consisted of hot baths and a chance to change into clean clothes. Carter shared the communal bath with Seshat and a couple of women who had accompanied her on her fact-finding mission.
The hot water felt wonderful. Sam asked, "Geothermal energy source?"
"Yes, the hot water is a by-product of our generator. We pipe it all through the place, it's still chilly in here but you get used to it. Too bad we don't have a ready source of naquada. We can produce enough electricity for basic needs like air filtration, but the mining operation is all hand labor," Seshat explained.
"You've got plenty of wind topside, but it would be tough to design a windmill that wouldn't be susceptible to all that grit flying around."
"Spoken like an engineer."
"Yes, more electrical than mechanical, though."
Sam got a look at the thin suede shirt that Seshat had been wearing. "What kind of leather is--Holy Hannah! That thing's alive!" She jerked her hand back as Seshat and the miners burst out laughing.
Seshat explained, "It's a colony creature native to this world. Naturally, it lives in symbiosis with a small animal called a laskarat. They're really quite intelligent and once they bond with a host they're very possessive. They tend to react strongly if they think they're being stolen."
"Then how do you get it away from the laskarat?"
"We dump our kitchen garbage for the laskarats. They're as dumb as a box of hammers, but they do remember where to find a steady source of food. They'll eat anything, including you, if you stand still long enough. When a laskarat dies of old age, we take the pelt. They usually take right to us because they're very curious and we're a new experience for them. As you saw, they're mildly telepathic. That one is bonded with Talira, my host, and it only tolerates me because she's convinced it that I'm not in competition with it. They're very warm, much more protective against the dangerous chemicals in the atmosphere than you'd think, and once you learn to communicate with them you can tell them to change colors and shapes."
"That's amazing. I've never run across anything like that before." Carter noticed that Seshat referred to her host by name, and didn't contest Talira's ownership of the skin.
"I'm not surprised. The ecosystem here is probably unique in the galaxy. Aside from the laskarats, only the most basic of organisms survived the impact," Seshat replied.
Sam asked, "How did an engineer get to where you are now?"
"By marrying a system lord," she replied. "I never expected to gain any kind of high rank. But while I was designing some new administrative buildings, we fell in love. It was an unlikely match. Thoth was much older than I, and I brought nothing to the altar besides myself. The years we had were happy ones. But then that bastard Kronus decided to expand his territory at our expense. We were outnumbered and our allies deserted us. My husband and our palace guard fell defending the chappa'ai, but they bought enough time for several hundred people to escape. Then the asteroid hit, and I was lucky to get out. No one knew there were any survivors, and that was all that saved us. I still swear that the impact was no accident."
It wasn't lost on Sam that Seshat had been the last through the gate. Maybe this was one Goa'uld they could work with. "They tried that with my homeworld. An amateur astronomer just happened to discover the incoming asteroid in time."
Seshat nodded. "The system lords are crazy bastards, the lot of them. This was a beautiful world once. And we were all but beaten. There was no need for this."
"Why did you and Thoth break with them?"
"Because they're cannibals!" She exclaimed. "They eat our own kind to increase their own naquada level! We were foolish enough to hope we could live apart from them, that their need for our knowledge would guarantee our safety. But as it turned out, we were nothing of value to them. The only things dear to them are their own lives and their lust for power and gold. Marnac warned us they would never tolerate us--if only we had listened before it was too late."
"Our First Prime. Some say he was the greatest master of the staff who ever lived. He was one of the last to fall holding the chappa'ai."
After a millennium there was still a deep sadness in Seshat's eyes. Was she what she claimed to be? Carter hoped so.
"You and the gray-haired one have both been hosts. What happened?"
"Maybe soon I'll be allowed to answer that question, but for now, I'm sorry." Carter replied. The Tok'ra weren't a subject for discussion with a Goa'uld, even a well-behaved one.
Seshat nodded. "Fair enough. We'd better let the men have their turn before too long, or they'll flood us out with cold water!" She grinned.
That day Seshat more or less let them have the run of the place. They were allowed to look all around the mine. They were always under the watchful eyes of the miners, but no one stopped them from exploring.
Daniel asked Seshat, "How much trinium can you trade?"
"We're only taking what we need for our own use now. If we had more miners, we could produce more. What can you offer in trade?"
"Medicine, food, textiles, plastic goods. What would interest you?"
"All of the above. Naquada. Right now our only real defense against the System Lords is secrecy."
Daniel said, "That's probably up for discussion. When we return we can send back a diplomatic team to iron out a trade agreement."
Seshat nodded. "You can take ore samples back with you for your geologists to analyze."
As a show of good faith, she told them about a ring portal between a hidden room near the entrance and a small building half a klick from the Stargate. Their return trip was a lot shorter and much less hazardous.
Daniel Jackson poured himself a cup of coffee and took his chair at the briefing table. "Jack, what do you think about Seshat?"
O'Neill leaned back in his chair. It looked precarious, but he'd only gone over backwards with it once. As that had been in the middle of one of Dr. Lee's notoriously stultifying presentations, Daniel suspected that Jack had tipped the chair over on purpose.
"You know what I'm going to tell you about trusting a Goa'uld--any Goa'uld," O'Neill replied. "But she isn't like the rest of them. Maybe we can work with her even if we do have to count the silverware when she leaves."
Daniel nodded. For once they were in total agreement.
Hammond wrapped up a phone call and entered, snagging his own coffee and donut on his way to the table. He opened, "You found people living in that hellhole?"
Jack sipped his coffee and replied, "Yes, sir, a mining outpost under the control of a renegade Goa'uld named Seshat. To hear her tell it, she doesn't like the system lords any more than we do, and she's open to the possibility of a trade deal."
Daniel explained who Seshat was. "I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt up to a point, General. Her people displayed no fear of her, rather a great deal of loyalty and affection. She lives and works side by side with them."
Jack added, "I have to agree with that assessment, sir. When they first made contact with us, Seshat was right up front where her people got the benefit of her personal shield. Never seen a Goa'uld do that before."
Teal'c said, "I concur. This was a sound tactic designed to defend the mine's narrow passageways against invading Jaffa. Those of her people who were armed with crossbows could have fired directly through the shield while never leaving its protection. As ColonelO'Neill and DanielJackson have indicated, however, this is the mindset of a commander who has complete trust in her warriors. All were armed with simple weapons against which a personal shield would have been useless. But with such a confined space limiting the number of attackers who could engage her at once, if her warriors kept their nerve with staff fire impacting Seshat's shield as she held the enemy at bay, they could have defeated quite a respectable force of Jaffa."
Hammond nodded, thinking about a phalanx of ancient Greeks fighting from behind a shield wall. Sometimes the oldest and simplest tactics were still the most effective.
O'Neill went on. "She treated us pretty well, sir, without taking any chances. She locked us up till she made sure we were telling the truth. But we were kept under good conditions, and she let us out when she was sure we weren't spying for the system lords."
Hammond would have done exactly the same thing in her position. "Major, what did Jolinar think of her?"
Carter answered, "She respected Thoth for his scholarship and considered him very enlightened for a system lord. Jolinar didn't consider Seshat to be very important, as she was a lesser Goa'uld who married him for love, not political reasons, but she had no reason to believe that Seshat didn't share Thoth's politics."
"What were your observations?"
"She talked about her host like she was a person, not a possession. And she really did seem horrified by the system lords' cannibalism."
"H'mmm," the General said thoughtfully. "Unless the Tok'ra know something about her that we don't, I'll have the diplomatic team follow up."
Carter said, "I'll get right on an assay of the mineral samples that we gathered."
O'Neill sighed in resignation and dug into the mountain of paperwork that had accumulated in his in-box while he had been on the mission. This was the most boring part of his job as Hammond's 2iC, but one of the most important--taking care of trivia so that the general could do his job. Most of it required nothing more than a read-through and a signature, but it all took time.
Daniel tapped on the door frame. "Jacob's here."
"About Seshat or--?"
"That, and visiting with Sam, of course."
Jack gladly put the paperwork aside and accompanied Daniel to the briefing room. Jacob and Sam were talking a mile a minute to catch up on the last couple of months.
Malek was there too. He and Jack got started on fish stories. Malek's host Jeryn was carrying on about the stupendous size of bass on a planet that he had just visited. That was probably the longest conversation that anyone had ever had with Jeryn in years. Until Hammond's arrival brought the meeting to order, Malek surfaced only to corroborate Jeryn's claims concerning the size of the fish that he had nearly caught. "Oh, by the way, I nearly forgot. I have a letter here from Serenshai to Sirikat."
"I'll make sure she gets it. Is Serenshai at the Alpha Site now?"
"Yes, Bra'tac is teaching her."
They gathered around the table. Hammond asked, "Jacob, do you and Selmac have something for us about Seshat?"
Jacob said, "Yes, we do, and this is some information that Sam couldn't have known from Jolinar. I'll let Selmac explain."
He bowed his head for a moment as he handed off to his symbiote. She explained, "Thoth was in negotiations with the Tok'ra up until the time of the massacre. He had always been one of the most enlightened of the System Lords, but something had occurred that finally turned him against them. I am personally not surprised in the slightest that their cannibalistic rituals were the last straw. The taboo against that is just as strong among the Tok'ra and mainstream Goa'uld as Jacob shows me that it is among most Tau'ri societies. If we could only prove it, that information would be a propaganda coup. But without damning evidence, the people aren't going to believe anyone's claims of such depravity. In any case, Thoth was ready to openly break with the System Lords." Selmac paused a moment. "Like everyone else, we had no idea that Seshat had escaped with a remnant of her people. I don't know if Thoth told Seshat about his talks with us. Among the Tok'ra, only Adimoc, who was then head of the council, Garshaw, myself, and our hosts at the time, were aware of it."
Jacob took up the narrative. "In the aftermath of the massacre, there were a lot of nasty allegations about where Kronus got his information. Everyone involved insisted on lie detector tests because the whole thing was turning into a witch hunt. Adimoc resigned from the council. It was a mess, but nothing was ever really resolved. You can't prove a negative. It created rifts among the Tok'ra that still haven't completely healed."
Selmac got herself under control and spoke up again. "We never found any evidence that Kronus even knew about Thoth's dealings with the Tok'ra. He may have been motivated solely by greed for the resource-rich worlds which he in fact occupied after the massacre. My concern is that Seshat may hold the Tok'ra responsible for the destruction of her home world."
Hammond nodded. "Hopefully she'll realize that joining the coalition and working to overthrow the Empire is the best hope her people have for a better life."
Selmac agreed. "Adimoc has been dead for two hundred years, but Garshaw and I would both be more than willing to answer any charges that Seshat might have concerning our involvement under a zatarc detector, if that would help to put her mind at ease."
Hammond said, "I'm sure that generous offer will help move things forward. If no one else has anything to add, I won't keep you. Major, let me know when you have the results of that mineral assay."
Carter met her father at home that evening. He had come by the house earlier to change clothes then taken care of some paperwork at the office of the attorney who managed his affairs while he was offworld. She fixed supper while he gave Mark, Rose and the grandkids a call. Sam interrupted cutting up a salad to receive a lot of pictures that Rose emailed, burned them to a picture CD, and then they all chatted over the speaker phone in the living room while Jacob flipped through them.
When they finished the call with Jacob's promise to come in for Christmas if he could, he followed Sam into the kitchen to help finish the neglected salad. Selmac volunteered to fix her chicken-vegetable soup, since Sam hadn't known to expect company and only had a couple of chicken breasts in the refrigerator. Except for getting a little confused about some of the frozen veggies from the freezer, she managed fine in a Tau'ri kitchen, with a little help from Jacob's memory of how the appliances worked. "I'd nearly forgotten what it feels like to have a home, to do the little things like this. It's too easy, I think, to fight so long from hiding and forget what it is that we're fighting for."
Sam nodded. "I know what you mean. You probably didn't have any trouble figuring out that I don't really spend a lot of time here."
"Are you seeing someone?"
Sam teased, "Did Dad put you up to asking that?"
Selmac's guilty start was answer enough. Sam hid the pain behind a little grin and said, "I thought so! No, there's no one. After a couple of dates, it's just too complicated to see someone who doesn't have clearance."
Selmac handed off to Jacob. "Yeah, Sam, I can see that. But, honey, is there something else? Did I put my foot in something?"
Sam said, "Let's walk through the park while the soup simmers."
Once they were in the park, Sam said, "Dad, Selmac, if either of you repeats this I'll deny it."
"Not a word, Sam, that's a promise from both of us. Are you worried about your place being bugged?"
"It could be."
Jacob only nodded. SG-1 had as many enemies onworld as off.
"You know how the Colonel and I feel about each other. You've always known me too well, we're too much alike to lie to one another. But you also understand better than anyone why we've had to put all that aside."
"I know, but I thought--you and Martouf--I thought you were trying to move on."
"There is no moving on. Otherwise, all those years in a nine-to-five Pentagon job, you could have dated again after Mom passed."
He sighed heavily. "I guess I did know that."
"The Colonel was going to retire in a few months and then we were going to...rethink our relationship. But that goddamned fool Hoynes--! The President needed for Colonel O'Neill to stay where he is for a while. Now we just don't know where anything is going."
Selmac said, +Jacob, surely Jack won't be fit for his current duty much longer. His arthritis is going to get him killed!+
+I hope Kanan rots in hell. If that had worked out, they would have had all the time in the world. But, hell, no, Kanan couldn't trust somebody who's been in special ops all his life to get Shaelin out of there--! Sel, if the President asked him to stay, Jack had no choice,+ Jacob replied. +When you've got someone doing his job in spite of MS, for God's sake, you can't really complain about a bum knee.+
Selmac replied with a wordless unhappiness about the whole thing.
"Just trying to explain to Sel. I believe one thing, honey. What's meant to be will find a way. You and Jack did something very wise in deciding to put your personal feelings aside and do the honorable thing. Most people don't understand that anymore. They'd have gone for the easy thing. You and Jack would never get caught, so I'm not even taking the possibility of a court-martial into account. But the sneaking around and the lies would have poisoned your relationship eventually. You made the right decision. I'm proud of you. Of both of you. And if he's half as much to you as your mother was to me, it's worth the wait."
Sam hugged him under a lead gray sky. They were going to have a real snow by morning. She hoped the plows would run before she had to go in tomorrow.
"I was afraid you'd be mad."
"I might have objected to the age difference before, but I found a new life with a 3,000-year-old symbiote," he replied. "That puts, what, ten or fifteen years into a whole new perspective. Jack drives me crazy sometimes, but he's a good man. Sel and I both care a lot about him. But, Sammie, I swear to God if he ever hurts you, I'll get him re-assed to a shithouse in Afghanistan so fast his head'll spin."
Carter laughed, but she knew that flinty look in her dad's eyes. He meant every word. Here was the father she'd needed all her life--in town on a forty-eight hour pass. "He wouldn't, Dad."
They went back to the house and Selmac decided her soup was done. Sam opened a bottle of wine and they shared the meal, closer than they had been since her mother died.
Jack O'Neill watched from the deck as Jamie romped in the snowy back yard with the dog. Both of them were hyper from being cooped up all day. He threw a couple of snowballs for Brownie to chase, but mostly he just watched, and watched over, his young son. The screen door opened and closed quietly. Sirikat announced, "Dinner's nearly ready."
Jack nodded, but said, "He can play a while longer, Sirikat. It'll be dark after dinner, too cold for him to come back outside."
She smiled and watched the little boy that she had come to love as a baby brother chasing Brownie around the back yard. Jack was absolutely right. Dinner could always wait for a few more snowballs.
The next morning Carter checked the results of the experiments that she had left running overnight. General Hammond would be pleased. The trinium ore that Seshat's people were mining was very high quality.
O'Neill commented from his perch on the corner of her desk, "Looks good, doesn't it?"
"Yes, sir, I just wish I knew whether that's good or bad. Trusting Seshat could turn out to be the mistake of the century," she replied.
O'Neill nodded, no happier with the situation than she was. Seshat clearly was made of better stuff than the system lords, but that didn't mean they could trust her. "You got to spend more time with her than I did, Carter. What's your take?"
"I think she's exactly what she claims to be," Sam replied. "And that's a Goa'uld who has a lot of problems with the System Lords. I don't think we're going to have a choice about trading with her, we need the trinium. But against them doesn't necessarily translate to with us."
Jack said, "Sometimes you just have to roll the dice. Let's drag Daniel away from his translations and get a cup of coffee."
"Yes, sir, I just need to get these results to the General first."
"I'll get Daniel and meet you in the commissary."
Jack found Daniel's office door closed, not strange since he'd descended. He said the noise in the hall was too much of a distraction while he was trying to concentrate on his work. Jack didn't quite get that because when Daniel was working in the field he could ignore a Jaffa parade. It was never locked, he just walked in.
The desk was cluttered with books and papers. Jack didn't see Daniel at first, and he could have sworn he heard a woman's voice.
"Back here." Daniel came out from behind several tall bookcases that turned the back of the room into a mini library. "I knew Jonas told me he'd found a copy of this book, but I thought I was going to have to put a note in the next mail bag to Kelowna and ask him where the hell he put it."
"Is there someone in here?"
"Besides me?" Daniel gave him that wide-eyed "search me" look. "The place is haunted, y'know. Did you want something, Jack?"
"Oh, ah, yeah, you want to get a cup of coffee with Carter and me?"
"Sure." Bringing the book along, Daniel walked with him to the commissary.
The President and the UN Security Council came to the same conclusion as Jack and Sam had. Jacob and Malek accompanied the diplomatic team and SG-1 back to Seshat's mining world.
Selmac's fears turned out to be unfounded. Seshat heard him out and replied, "It wasn't the fault of the Tok'ra, Selmac. The traitor wasn't one of yours. What little warning we had that an attack was imminent came when one of my Jaffa found a communications orb in a closet. I recovered the last recording. It was a message from Kronus' First Prime telling the spy where to meet his extraction team. We were too busy getting as many people as we could through the chappa'ai to worry about identifying him, but he missed his message. There was nothing in it about the asteroid, so I've always believed he hid out to wait for the fighting to stop and died along with everyone else. The only other Goa'uld who escaped with me were the two larvae that my handmaidens were carrying--my brother and sister. I'm sorry that Adimoc got caught up in it all. He was a very wise and compassionate leader, as well as a personal inspiration to me in the years after the cataclysm. Our situations were not so different, a small group living in hiding, and what I learned from him probably saved us all several times over. I profoundly regret that unfounded suspicions cost him his position and created dissension among the Tok'ra."
Selmac shook his head in long-remembered regret. "I suppose when things go so terribly wrong it's just the nature of people to look for someone to blame."
"We knew we were taking a huge chance, then...and now," Seshat said, turning the conversation away from old sorrows to the present situation--at least there was still a chance of setting that right, unlike old stone that had already been carved so long ago. "If my sources are to be believed, the universe has gone to straight to Netu on a royal barge! Has Anubis truly been allowed to return?"
Selmac said, "Unfortunately true. The Council of System Lords at first allowed him to rejoin, but it wasn't long at all before he was at war with most of them. Right now little besides Ba'al's fleet stands between him and the Imperial throne. Lord Yu and Lady Bast are against Anubis and I dare say with us, but Ba'al holds much of the power in the Empire now."
Seshat almost spluttered. "Ba'al?! We owe our safety to that--?"
O'Neill said wryly, "That being one reason we're interested in trinium."
"Well, we can make this trade agreement thing as long or as short as you wish. My people survive without much in the way of advanced technology because we daren't trade openly and risk the System Lords learning of our new homeworld. But we can take as much ore out of that mine as you can send me experienced hard-rock miners to do the extra digging. I'm not giving you or anyone else the gate coordinates to anywhere but Aravis, we'll conduct all trade here. In return we need whatever you can give us to defend ourselves, because as soon as one of your ships goes down and someone does an analysis, they'll know where that trinium came from."
At that they got right down to business. O'Neill said, "The best defense any of us will have is to get a fleet in the sky. How many additional miners can your life support handle?"
Seshat thought about it. "Air and water for another ten score, if you'll be feeding and equipping them. I can have another couple of scrubber units on the line in a couple of months, that will double our current life support capacity. But what we really need to start moving a lot of trinium ore out of that mine is heavy equipment and electricity."
Paul Davis, who had been sent along as the Pentagon's representative on the diplomatic team, said, "We can manage that. Looks like the Corps of Engineers is going to be busy."
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