Oh Freedom

by Rebecca Ratliff

EMAIL:  rmratliff@adelphia.net

DATE: April 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: Action/adventure

RATING: PG-13, language and violence


SPOILERS:  Minor spoilers up through late season seven.

SEASON/SEQUEL INFO:  Season Seven.  Gates of War series, follows They Also Serve.

SUMMARY: Anubis begins to consolidate his position by tying up loose ends, Seshat's folk among them.  This concludes the Seshat arc which began with Ashes.

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.  :)

FEEDBACK:  Much appreciated.

Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me, over me
And before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave…
I'll go home to my Lord and be free…

Oh, justice, oh justice, oh justice over me, over me
And before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave…
I'll go home to my Lord and be free…

--African-American traditional song

I die free.

--Rebel Jaffa battle cry

The first snow flurries of late autumn were silently falling to the recently harvested fields of Kalimar just before dawn when the first sirens sounded.  In every house, people leapt out of their beds, grabbed bags that had been packed for months and raced to their assigned shelters, thinking they would be taking refuge in the basements of schools and other public buildings.  Something much larger took place.

For months now the Alliance had been working to relocate Seshat's folk right under the nose of one of Anubis' spy satellites.  Meanwhile, they had been preparing for this battle.  As people fled to the shelters, secret tunnels were opened and they were taken into bunkers deep under the towns.

Sirikat pulled on her tunic and sword belt and ran for the command center.  Bra'tac was already there.  "My queen.  The listening post on the third moon has reported a ha'tak in system.  She launched a flight of alkesh as soon as she secured from hyperspace travel.  They will be in range of the outlying towns in less than ten minutes."

Seshat arrived, with her hair tied back carelessly, evidence that the alarm had found her still in bed as well.  "Ten minutes will be plenty of warning," the rebel Goa'uld replied.

Bra'tac said, "By your leave, my queen, I will take command of the units holding the chappa'ai."

"May the Lady defend you and the Lord guide your hand, Master Bra'tac," Sirikat replied.

The Jaffa always seemed to lose fifty years and a hawklike intensity came into his eyes as battle approached.  He saluted her and his cloak swept around him as he and all the Jaffa present except Sirikat's personal guard left for the tunnels leading to the stargate.

Serenshai and Malek went as well.  When the Alliance had fragmented, Malek had fallen out with the younger Tok'ra who had, in his and Jeryn's view, betrayed Selmac.  He and a handful of his friends had elected to remain with Bra'tac, and they had been here for the duration, mostly preparing the tunnels and bunkers.  Serenshai had also decided to stay rather than return to Daltregon, and watching the two of them together, Sirikat thought that Malek might have had more than a little to do with her decision.  

Seshat stepped into the station that Bra'tac had just vacated and scanned the view screens.  As the bunkers started to report in, a Tok'ra began to mark group positions on a light board, showing the progress as groups of people were moved into the tunnels to the stargate and toward safety on their new homeworld, P8X-327.  All was deceptively quiet except for comms traffic reporting that the bombing had commenced.

Bra'tac left the hidden tunnel near the chappa'ai and stepped out into a bitter wind.  The weather favored the defenders by creating adverse flying conditions for Anubis' alkesh and udajeet.  He chose to take that as a good omen.

Once-mighty Tollana's feared ion cannons were no longer any threat to Goa'uld capital ships outfitted with the new shields.  But the cannons that had been set up at strategic places in the valley of the chappa'ai turned it into the Tau'ri valley of death for the first wave of alkesh who attempted to bomb the gate's defenders, as one by one his Jaffa gunners brought the bombers down.  Six columns of black smoke marked their graves.

Ry'ac asked, "Will they try another bombing run, Master?"

"Most certainly, now that they have the ion cannons' location."  Louder, he shouted, "Open the chappa'ai!  Commence evacuation!"

That was as soon done as commanded.  A steady stream of evacuees poured from the tunnel exit, down the trail and through the gate--people carrying heavy bundles or pushing carts, people leading strings of goats, people carrying baskets full of squawking chickens.  One old lady pushed another one in a wheelchair, and the one in the chair was holding onto a wooden cage with a loudly protesting cat in it.  A couple of men carried the wheelchair up the steps and through the stargate, old lady, tomcat and all.  The motley parade was one of the most surreal scenes that Bra'tac had witnessed in his century and a half.

Surreal or not, they were moving people through the gate four or five abreast as fast as their legs could carry them.

Ry'ac's young ears picked up the distant scream of lifters a few seconds before Bra'tac.  "Incoming!"

Bra'tac bellowed, "Alkesh!  Clear the trail!"

The people nearest the gate dove through; everyone else scattered to cover in the boulders to either side of the trail.  Bra'tac and his apprentice took cover themselves when the pair of cannons at the mouth of the canyon opened up.

Cannon fire raked the alkesh bombers as they closed on their target.  Only two of the original six survived long enough to bomb the gate area, but one of the ion cannons had taken a direct hit, killing the four-man crew.  

Bra'tac's Jaffa opened fire on the pair low-flying craft with staff weapons.  Most of the small-arms fire was ineffective, but Ry'ac proved his father's son as a marksman and put a series of blasts through an already-shattered viewport.  No one ever knew if he killed the pilot or damaged something in the cockpit.  Either way, the craft slewed sideways, hit the ground, skipped and blew to pieces.

The wormhole flared, but held.  Bra'tac ordered, "Get them moving!  Hurry!"

The Jaffa quickly got the line moving again.  Now there was real fear in the desperate flight to the chappa'ai.  The people had seen for themselves that they were marked for death.

Bra'tac raised the pair of Tau'ri binoculars that Teal'c had given him and scanned the horizon.  Surely there were at least two more alkesh wings in reserve, but Bra'tac wondered if they would be sent into the teeth of the cannons in another attempt to destroy the stargate, or kept back to provide close cover for the inevitable ground assault.

As each town began to report its evacuation complete, Seshat ordered its escape tunnel sealed.  The last ones to be closed were the tunnels from the capital, down which she and Sirikat had evacuated earlier.  Now the last remaining exit to the surface was the one leading to the gate.

There were Jaffa on the surface putting their lives on the line to secure her people's freedom.  It was an enormous debt, one that could only be repaid by fighting side by side with them for the duration of this war.

On the surface, the sporadic snow flurries had intensified into a howling storm.  Still Bra'tac's warriors kept the crowd flowing to the chappa'ai.

Ry'ac scanned the leaden sky.  "I don't think they're going to make another pass.  They're coming in on the ground this time."

Bra'tac agreed.  "The remaining alkesh will return to the ha'tak for bombs that they hope will breach the bunkers."  He fervently hoped that the Tok'ra's calculations about the safe depth of the bunkers had been accurate.  He knew too well what carnage would result if a bomb exploded down there.

Not long after that, firing on the western perimeter signaled the beginning of the assault.

Sirikat listened to the radio traffic and said, "Bra'tac won't be able to hold the gate for long.  There are too many of them.  It's time I joined my people in the bunker, Seshat."

"We'll hold command and control here as long as we can, but we'll have to retreat to the deeper bunkers ourselves before too long.  I only hope the Asgard can hurry," Seshat replied.

Sirikat nodded and the two women gripped arms, then Sirikat called, "Jaffa, kree!"  Her guard surrounded her as they swept through the glowing crystal tunnels to the bunker where her warriors waited.  She checked that her sword was loose in its scabbard and that her quiver was resting properly so that her arrows would be exactly where they needed to be when she reached for them.

She realized that she was fidgeting and that her nervousness would spread to her warriors if she allowed it.  She remembered General Hammond's ice calm in the face of anything that threatened, and suddenly realized that he was probably just as frightened inside as she was.  So much she had learned from the Tau'ri.

Soon it would be time to find out if her lessons had been a success.

Back at the SGC, the routine of an ordinary morning was broken by the alarm of an unscheduled offworld activation.  Hammond got to the control room in time for Sgt. Davis to report that the wormhole had originated on Aravis.

SG-2 had accompanied the last supply shipment to the mining world.  Lou Feretti's voice was muffled by his survival gear as he spoke into the comms gear on the MALP.  "We had a brief transmission from Kalimar ordering us to evacuate the Aravis mines, sir.  Kalimar is under attack."

Hammond replied, "Acknowledged.  Start sending them through."

O'Neill came in, and when he saw the dozens of people in environmental suits flooding through the gate, he didn't have to ask what was going on.  The two men exchanged a glance, and neither of them had to say a word to share their concern for Sirikat and Ry'ac.

For now, though, they had to do something with the crowd of evacuees.  O'Neill organized the SFs to direct them to the stairs down to the unfinished 30th level, where cots and supplies were stored in case of just such an emergency--and had been since the Edora disaster several years ago.  Since then the SGC had dealt with several such refugee situations and they knew how to handle it.

Everyone was issued a cot and a sack for their environmental gear, and contained until they could be examined to make sure no Goa'uld had tried to sneak in during the confusion.  Daniel and Teal'c were recruited to translate, for the Cimmerians and Seshat's folk respectively.  The food service people set up two serving lines and started to dish up a hot meal, and the laundry brought down huge carts of towels and clean uniforms while Siler and his crew got the shower rooms opened up.

The busy pace kept Jack and Teal'c from worrying too much about Sirikat and Ry'ac, but after a frenetic three hours things settled and there was nothing more for them to do.  They weren't the only ones feeling scared and useless.  Many of the Cimmerians and all of Seshat's people had friends and family on Kalimar.  With Kalimar's stargate tied up by the evacuation, however, there was nothing they could do but wait and pray.

Bra'tac listened to a report from one of his commanders that his position was in danger of being overrun as soon as more of Anubis' troops arrived.    He ordered, "Fall back to the tunnel entrance.  Ry'ac, get as many more people through in the next few minutes as you can.  We cannot hold the chappa'ai for much longer."

The young man nodded a bow and headed for the gate, moving the people along as quickly as possible, but always with one eye on Bra'tac for the order to shut it down.  They could not risk an enemy warrior with a homing beacon getting through and betraying the location of P8X-327. People were now stampeding for the gate at a flat out run and hitting the wormhole without slowing down.  Ry'ac hoped no one fell on the other side, or there would be a pile-up and a lot of people hurt.

Bra'tac's retreating warriors took defensive positions in the rocks.  They held off Anubis' assault as long as they possibly could, but eventually there came a point when the people fleeing to the gate were coming under fire.  He signaled Ry'ac to shut down the gate and passed the order to the people in the tunnel to stay there and go back to the bunkers.

So that Anubis could not use the chappa'ai to bring more of his troops on-world, the Free Jaffa set off several explosive charges that toppled the gate and piled several large boulders into it to prevent a wormhole from forming.  They took several crystals from the DHD, ensuring that no one would be dialing out.  By the time the invaders raised the gate and repaired the DHD, they should be long gone.

Satisfied that he had done all he could, Bra'tac and the few men who had remained with him to set off the charges retreated to the tunnels.  They closed off the exit tunnel and headed deeper into the warren.

Sirikat reached the bunker where the Daltregonians and Cimmerians who had come to help with the evacuation waited to be airlifted out with the population of a small farming community.  There was a dice game in progress at the front of the bunker.  She gave her Jaffa leave to join in the fun and crossed to the guard point.  "What word from the chappa'ai?"

Makepeace replied, "Bra'tac reported they knocked out the gate and sealed the last tunnel.  Got a wait ahead of us, ma'am."

She nodded and waited with them, gladly accepting a cup of tea from one of the scouts.  There was a round of shouts and laughter from the game behind them as someone scooped up a pile of coins.  The scout who had given her the tea laughed roundly.  "Your axemen will be returning home with lighter pockets if the Asgard wait too long, my friend."

Makepeace grinned.  "The day's still young, Janaden."

The cavern shook violently from an explosion far above.  People screamed and mothers threw themselves over their children.  Warriors grabbed for their weapons and everyone looked around anxiously.

Makepeace's command voice boomed through the cavern.  "That was way above us!  We're OK, it's holding fine!"

After a moment, when the roof didn't fall, people went back to what they had been doing.  Sirikat asked, "How far above us was it?"

Makepeace grinned, "How the hell would I know?  Didn't break through, that's all that matters."

She nodded.  With a cavern full of panicky civilians depending on them, he was right--that was all that did matter.  "I hope that our small gray friends don't waste any time.  Anubis is no fool.  It won't take him long to figure out we're down too deep for his bombs to reach us."

Makepeace said, "Right.  There's two places they'll come through--either they'll blast their way down the exit tunnel by the gate and run into Bra'tac and his boys, or they'll come down this one.  It's the shallowest and most likely to be discovered by their scanners.  That's why we're here.  They don't get past us before Thor and his pals extract Seshat and her people."

Sirikat nodded.  If it came to that, all of them shared his resolve.

An hour later, another explosion sounded, this one accompanied by a pressure wave down the corridor.  Sirikat quelled an incipient pandemonium by using her crystal to make a loud bang and a flash of light.  When everyone looked at her, she yelled, "Everyone BE STILL!  Half of you go to the next bunker north, the rest head south, and tell them I said to MAKE room!  We will hold this position!"

One of the scouts shouted, "SIRIKAT HAI!" And any panic was drowned out by Jaffa, Cimmerian and Daltregonian battle cries.  The civilians made an orderly retreat in both directions from the threatened bunker.

They raced up the tunnel to the most forward defensive position, a bottleneck that fed into a wider tunnel which had been built with alcoves to provide cover for the defenders.  Sirikat strung her bow, took an arrow from her quiver and waited for a target.

The Jaffa had to come through the bottleneck one or two at a time and they were met by withering sniper fire.  They rolled a stun grenade in.  Makepeace grabbed Sirikat and roughly pulled her down behind cover with him, yelling a warning for everyone to cover their eyes.  Even behind the crystal barrier with her hands over her eyes, the young queen was dazzled briefly by the actinic white flash.

A few people who had been knocked out by the grenade were hauled to safety by their companions while the rest dealt with a flood of Jaffa who had rushed through the bottleneck following the explosion.  At least three of Sirikat's arrows found their marks while beside her, Makepeace's rifle barked over and over, each pull of the trigger ending a life.  Then a group of Jaffa came over the barricade and she dropped her bow in favor of her sword and zat.  Her eyes glowed briefly as Siri came to the fore, and the Jaffa hesitated a split second, confronted by a "goddess."  She didn't hesitate, though something in her screamed out in protest at this needless waste of life.  But there was little time to think about that, it was clearly kill or be killed for several insane moments.  The din of gunfire, zats, staff weapons and the deafening clang of steel on steel made communication all but impossible, and for the most part it was every man for himself in the melee anyway.

A silence followed the clamor, broken only by the cries of the wounded.

Sirikat stopped the bleeding from a shallow but annoying slice that had slit her pants leg from hip to knee.  Makepeace checked on her, but she assured him,  "This nothing!"

He saw that she had the bleeding stopped and turned to check on others.  "Fall back to the next position!"  He ordered, and carrying their severely wounded with them, they went.  He waited alone at the far end of the large tunnel for the next set of Jaffa to come through the bottleneck, and when they did, he set off a series of C4 charges that dropped tons of razor-sharp crystal fragments on their heads.  He didn't wait around to count the casualties as he hot-footed it after the others.

They weren't so quick after that to try any more bull rushes through the narrow bottlenecks.  The next time they tossed several explosive charges through first, and fired a rocket at the ceiling to bring it down before they entered, much more cautiously this time.

They realized too late that Makepeace had set his charges inside several phony "barriers" that time, and that none of the defenders had stopped to hold this particular position.

Anubis' First Prime had seen it proven yet again that in any defensive situation, the advantage is always with the defenders--especially since his lord had forbidden the use of poison gas inside the tunnels.  He wanted the shol'va Seshat taken alive.  The Jaffa commander cursed imaginatively and gave a series of sharp orders into his comm device.

Moments later, there were shouts of "Make way!"  A single, black-suited figure strode through the army of invading Jaffa.  The first prime ordered, "A rabble of mongrels stands between us and the rebels.  Clear the way!"

The robot-like warrior acknowledged him with a cold blank stare and strode off alone into the tunnel ahead of them.

Makepeace caught a glimpse of the thing behind him in the tunnel and took off like a bat.  "Sirikat, collapse the tunnel.  There's a super-soldier coming.  I'll hold it here long enough for the tunnel to close on it."

She got the Tok'ra tunneling crystal from the bag at her belt.  "So will we all!  We of Daltregon did not need the Tau'ri to tell us to leave no one behind!"

She affixed the crystal to the wall and activated it.  A wave of light raced up the tunnel, and distant screams told them the tunnel had started to close.

All hell broke loose as the super-soldier marched into the tunnel, heedless of the carnage behind him.  Sirikat knew their ranged weapons would be ineffective, and there was only one possible tactic to take against this thing besides retreat.  Only the warriors of Daltregon, being blended pairs themselves, could hope to take on the armored clone in hand-to-hand combat.  She drew her blade and charged, shouting at the top of her lungs, "DALTREGON!"

Whatever the super-soldier had been expecting, it wasn't that.  Her slender blade found its way into a less-well-protected shoulder joint and bit deep.  She wrenched her sword free and barely ducked a barrage of blaster fire from the wrist-mounted weapon on its other arm, as more warriors rushed to join the fray.  Sirikat pulled out the clear quartz that Hammond had given her, its full charge glowing like a beacon between her fingers.  She aimed a blast at a barely discernible seam where she knew its face plate fit into the helmet.  The faceplate was knocked askew.  She grabbed its slimy edge and pulled for all she was worth.

A huge Cimmerian axe whistled over her head and struck the clone full in the face, burying itself in the back of its helmet, killing both the host and the symbiote.  Sirikat looked up to see who had finished the job that her desperation shot had started, and she and Makepeace exchanged a quick grin as he freed his axe from the clone soldier's armor.  A roar of victory went up from the defenders as the super-soldier toppled.

The celebration was short-lived.  Fleeing the collapsing tunnel, Anubis' Jaffa flooded down the tunnel.  Grabbing her sword from where she had dropped it to use her crystal, she turned to meet the charge.

It seemed like forever that she was caught in the middle of a sea of flashing blades and discharging weapons.  There was nothing but dodge and thrust and parry.  But then two of her Jaffa got her clear of the melee. She climbed the uneven wall to a sheltered position where she began to snipe at the enemy Jaffa until she ran out of arrows.  Then she drew her zat and continued the fight.

She shouted a warning as she saw the tunnel closing.  "Fall back!  Fall back past the intersection!"  She leaped down, her sword in hand again, cutting her way clear of the kill zone.  Three quarters of the way there, she grabbed an injured Cimmerian three times her size and hauled him out of the collapsing tunnel.  The fighting moved with them as the now-desperate invaders fought for their only possible hope of survival.  She was trading blows with a Jaffa warrior not much older than herself when the white flash of an Asgardian transporter beam engulfed them both.

Rather than risk missing anyone, the Asgard snatched up every living thing in the tunnels.  The few of Anubis' Jaffa who had still been alive to fight were the only ones who had entered the tunnels to come back out again, albeit as prisoners of war.  Sirikat knew that, if things went according to history, most of them would join the rebellion as soon as they had a chance to see the truth for themselves.

She wiped blood from her sword before raising it in salute to the red-haired warrior with a hammer who stood before them.  She knew that to be only a hologram, for the benefit of the Cimmerians.  "Thor hai!  I thought you got lost or something!"

"It is certain that you have been staying with O'Neill," he replied, amused.

Sirikat laughed, still high on adrenaline from the pitched battle, and rushed to a viewport to see what was happening.  She was just in time to see a ha'tak with two Asgardian ships on its six make tracks into hyperspace.

By the time the shouting died down, the Asgard fleet was in orbit around Seshat's new homeworld.

Sirikat held still while Seshat used a healing device to finish healing her injured leg.  The victory celebration had gone on late into the night, especially after the miners came home and the Cimmerians brought in huge kegs of ale and mead and whole roasted goats and pigs.  A lot of spicy Jaffa food had found its way to the feast as well, as had the bounty of Kalimar's harvest.

The crowd had thinned quite a bit, but there were still a lot of people around.  Ry'ac pointed out the pair of old ladies who had escaped through the gate with their cat early on, they were still celebrating just as enthusiastically as many of the revelers half their age.  Their cat slept nearby, his belly round from all the treats he had stolen during the party.  The Asgard had returned to their own galaxy early on, but no one else had needed to be in any hurry to leave, so many of them hadn't.

A full moon hung over the hills.  As Sirikat watched, a cloud drifted over its silver face, forming patterns that she understood too well.  For her, the party had just ended.

Seshat saw apprehension shadow the young queen's eyes.  "What is it, my lady?"

"I have to go," she replied.  "Anubis is taking the fight to Earth, and my place is there now."

"May the Ancestors go with you, my queen.  If you need me and mine, you have but to call," Seshat vowed.

They gripped arms, then embraced warmly.  A firm friendship had grown between them, and now they parted knowing they might not meet again in this life.  Then Sirikat and her Jaffa returned to the stargate.

Bra'tac took his leave of them.  He and his warriors returned to their new homeworld and their continuing struggle against the slavery of their people.  Sirikat released her personal guard to return home as well.  

Ry'ac took her warning at face value, and was torn by conflicting duties.  He was Bra'tac's apprentice and his duty was to stay with him until released from service, but he also wanted to return to Earth with Sirikat and fight at his father's side.  Sirikat hugged him.  "Ry'ac, you know that Teal'c feels better about it when he knows that you and Bra'tac are watching out for one another.  So do I, honestly."

He nodded.  Ry'ac wouldn't have been surprised if Bra'tac could still teach him and his father together a few things, but it hadn't been so long ago that Bra'tac's life had hung by a thread, depending on Teal'c sharing his symbiote with him--and the symbiote's choice to sacrifice its life keeping them both alive.  Had it chosen to do otherwise, there would have been nothing they could have done to force its cooperation.  Though its name was known only to the ancestors, the symbiote known only as Junior would be honored by the Free Jaffa as a warrior fallen in the course of saving the lives of its comrades.  Ry'ac knew that incident had shaken his father very deeply, as perhaps for the first time he had accepted that Bra'tac was indeed mortal and much advanced in years.  Sirikat was right.  Teal'c was depending on them to keep one another safe.  "Give my love to my father, and tell him that Master Bra'tac and I are both well.  It would not go amiss to assure him that we were never in the thick of the battle, except for the bombing runs on the chappa'ai--and that their aim was no better than ever!"

Sirikat grinned, nodding understanding.  "I tell him all that," she smiled.

Malek, Serenshai and their Tok'ra friends had planned to remain for a while to create some tunnels under the new city, but now they offered to go to Earth with Sirikat.

She thought about it, very tempted.  She would have been glad for the company, but she didn't want to wager another queen in a precarious situation.  If she fell in a last-ditch defense of Earth, the last thing she wanted was to risk taking Serenshai with her.  They were better left with Seshat for the time being.

She saw a heated discussion among a group of Cimmerians.  At last Makepeace left them.  Although she didn't speak the language, clearly they were reluctant to let him go.

"What was all that about?"

"I'm going back to the SGC with you."

"Robert, you can't.  You're still under a death sentence there."

"You reminded me of something back there in the tunnels, Sirikat.  We don't leave our people behind.  I owed Thor and Lya and so I agreed to teach the Cimmerians.  But I've done that now.  I left my team in prison for life for following my orders.  I don't know if I can do anything, but I have to try."

"They will kill you if you return."

"Probably.  Been there, done that.  Sirikat, you and I just risked our lives for a bunch of people we don't even know, because it was the right thing to do.  My kids are in jail for following orders and serving their country.  The government threw them to the wolves to appease our allies, not because they did anything wrong.  I have to try to do something about that."

"I will speak for you and them, for what good that may do," she promised.  "And if your government wants a place to exile them, I will make room for them on Daltregon."

Most of the SFs in the gateroom didn't know Robert Makepeace, and the ones who had met him didn't recognize him in Cimmerian clothing and a warrior's braid.

Hammond ordered, "Take this man into custody.  Robert, why in hell did you have to come back here?"

Sirikat's hand on his arm stopped Makepeace from answering.  With her hands well clear of her weapons, she stepped between Makepeace and the SFs.

In the control room, O'Neill and Teal'c both tensed.

The young queen met Hammond's eyes as if no one else were present.  "General Hammond, please inform the president that the war chief of Daltregon requests an audience on behalf of Robert Makepeace.  I await his convenience, sir."  Her formal bow was letter perfect in the sudden silence.

Hammond said, "Turn your weapons over to the master at arms, clear medical, then get up here.  And I sure hope you two know what you're doing!"

So did Sirikat.  Her medical exam was much shorter, as she didn't have to take an MRI.  O'Neill grabbed her the second Warner released her.  "Sirikat, what the HELL are you doing?"

"What honor demands of me," she snapped back.  "That man in there fought at my side not twenty-four hours ago, and if it weren't for him I very likely wouldn't be here now.  Now he's putting his life at risk for the sake of his team.  I pay my debts, Jack, and so does Daltregon!  Now let go of my arm."

Instead he pulled her close and hugged her tight.  "You're making more enemies, Punkin, the ones I've tried to keep off your back."

"I know, and for all this time you have done that.  There comes a time to stand and be counted, though, and that time is now.  Paths do not cross by accident.  I am where the gods placed me, and this cause is just.  And, for the record, Jack--there are some enemies that I am proud to make--Robert Kinsey among them, or I miss my guess."

"No guesswork there."

"Now let me get a shower and I dearly hope I have something clean here that still fits--I won't go before your president covered with blood and battle smoke!"

O'Neill said, "That's exactly what you ought to do.  Washington is a hell of a long way from the front lines.  You let the President see what we're up against out there.  You look like a warrior, not a little girl--and that's exactly what he needs to see."

Sirikat nodded slowly.  For all that she was no longer a child, there was still so much she needed to learn about strategy and the political games in which she had no choice except to involve herself.

He released her and watched her go.  Teal'c caught up.  "They grow up before our eyes, do they not?"

O'Neill just shook his head.

An hour later, she and Makepeace sat before a conference screen showing the seal of the President of the United States.  When the President appeared on screen, everyone stood and the military personnel in the room snapped to attention.  So did Makepeace--you can take a man out of the Marine Corps, but you can't take the Corps out of the man.

Bartlet told them to be seated, then simply told Makepeace, "Explain."

Makepeace said, "I'm not here for myself, Mr. President, I'm here for my team.  I know you commuted their sentences, and I'm grateful for that.  But they shouldn't be in prison at all.  I was the only one who had any responsibility for what happened.  We believed we were doing our duty and following lawful orders.  Even the Nox and the Asgard came to see that, sir.  I'm asking you to let my kids go."

Bartlet started firing questions at him about every mission SG-3 had undertaken before their association with the rogue NID had been discovered.  Makepeace answered as fully and completely as he could, as much as seven years later and without the opportunity to review the reports that Bartlet had taken.

Then the President turned to the queen.  "Lady Sirikat, if I may ask, how did you get involved in this matter?"

His tone was courteous, but he clearly expected a good answer.  "As you know, Mr. President, when the Asgard and the Nox rescued Robert after his execution, they placed him on Cimmeria.  When the Cimmerians joined with the rest of the Alliance in relocating Seshat's people, he came with them and we have been together on Kalimar for the past several weeks.

When Anubis invaded yesterday, our forces were able to hold the stargate for only a short while and evacuate a limited number of people before we were forced to retreat to the tunnels and bunkers which we had prepared to wait for the Asgard.  Anubis' forces broke into the tunnels feeding into our bunker and it fell to us to defend.  We were doing that with all expected success until Anubis threw one of his super-soldiers into the mix.  Now I had the great good fortune of having seen the one which was dissected here, and I knew of a certain weakness--where its faceplate might be opened.  I did that, but as I stand here today I tell you I never would have lived to take advantage of it, had not Makepeace put his life at risk to kill it.  He has proven himself a warrior of true courage and honor in my sight.  I do not believe him to be the traitor he has been branded.

I understand political necessity, sir, but I ask you, where are the allies to whom these people were sacrificed?  The Tollan are gone, broken and scattered to the four winds by their own pride and unwillingness to accept lesser beings as allies.  

Who knows what has become of the Nox?  No one asks them to go against their beliefs and fight, but I do not see them healing the wounded or aiding the orphaned or doing anything to help in the struggle against an enemy who threatens us all.  Daltregon does not judge the Nox, but neither will we be judged by them.

Who remains besides the Asgard?  No one needs to explain honor to them, sir.  They have already forgiven my friend here and given him a new home.  They would do the same for those who once followed him into battle.

Now there is a new Alliance, made up of warriors of honor, be they of the Tau'ri, of Daltregon, of the Asgard, of Cimmeria, of the Free Jaffa, or of any other race or clan who gathers under this banner.  None of us who fight for the freedom of the galaxy now fail to understand why then-SG-3 did what they did.

I ask you something more.  Where may I pray at the graves of those who ordered Robert Makepeace to do as he did?  Where may I visit them in prison?  I cannot, for they have never been brought to justice.  How then is there justice in what has been done here?

This is my request to you, sir.  Is there not room for mercy under your laws just as under Daltregon's?  Please do not compound an injustice.  Set this matter to rights.  Let honor be restored and all debts be paid.  Release those young men and women while they still are young enough to make new lives."

Bartlet replied, "I'll take that under consideration."  She couldn't begin to guess what he was thinking, but she could tell he was considering it, every detail.  She knew him to be a man of honor--and of decisive action, when he chose to be.

"Thank you, Mr. President."

"I'll let you know when I've made a decision."

Once again everyone stood and came to attention.  The transmission came to an end and the presidential seal came up again.

Makepeace turned to Sirikat with a new respect.  He hadn't expected such a spirited defense, but he was truly grateful for it.  He wasn't the only one to have underestimated Sirikat.  "War chief?  You didn't tell me that part!"

"The gods put me where I need to be.  Let's just hope President Bartlet listened."

Hammond said, "You bet he listened, and so did the advisers closest to him, Sirikat.  Are you sure you aren't headed for law school?"

She only reddened and shook her head, sitting down before her knees gave out.  Makepeace said, "However it turns out, thanks."

"I think we call it even?  I never had a chance to thank you for getting that super-soldier til now," she replied.

Six hours later a bewildered group of young ex-Marines, two of them with wives and small children, were whisked into Cheyenne Mountain.  It wasn't an exile, they all had full pardons.  But neither were they safe on earth from reprisals by Makepeace' former superiors.  That was the reason Claire Tobias had also been pardoned with the rest of them, despite her involvement in the hijacking of the Prometheus.  Bartlet had chosen to draw a close to the entire episode rather than leave her in prison, alone and at the mercy of higher-level conspirators who were still at large.  The reunion was a joyful one and Hammond left them to it, giving them the use of the conference room to decide where they were going to go.

Dan Kerry put his arm around his wife and balanced his little girl on his hip.  Their release had been so sudden that, like the others, he was still wearing prison coveralls.  His wife Lisa hadn't hesitated to throw some clothes and the picture album into suitcases, grab little Heather and her kitten, and head off into the unknown on the promise that their family would be together.  Next to her, Tom McAdam's wife Leslie was a little more skeptical.  She kept her two boys close at hand, and she wanted to know a lot more about Cimmeria before she agreed to go there. Claire had never expected to see the outside of a prison for the rest of her life.  She was still too stunned to care where they were going.  The rest of the guys had a few questions, but they had no ties on Earth any more, so they were more than happy to embark on a new adventure anywhere away from prison food.

Not surprisingly, they decided to go to Cimmeria with Makepeace, and Hammond got them through the gate as soon as the decision was final.  He didn't want to take any chances on the kind of underhanded things that they all knew Kinsey and his people might do once word of this got out.

Sirikat told Hammond and O'Neill the long version of the fight in the tunnels.  She finished with her vision of Anubis' attack on Earth.  "I know that your people don't put a lot of credibility in this kind of thing, but it is going to happen, and soon."

Hammond and O'Neill looked at each other.  Hammond said firmly, "Well, if he decides to come looking for a fight, Sirikat, then one way or another, he's going to know he's been in one."

"I don't doubt it.  That why I came home."

O'Neill said, "As things stand, we can't beat him.  The General's right, he's going to know he's been in a fight.  But by all rights, he's going to win."

"Then we try again in our next life--and he still be stinging from the bite we give him in this one," she replied.  "I could go back to Daltregon, yes.  I could fight him there.  It all the same in the end.  This where I feel I am supposed to be now."

Jack said, "Well, if we're going to believe the part about him attacking Earth in the first place, then I guess we have to believe the part about you being here too."

Hammond's hand fell on her shoulder.  "You did good today, Sirikat.  Those kids deserved a second chance.  Colonel, I think it's time we called it a night."

"Yes, sir."


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