by Becky Ratliff.

EMAIL:  rmratliff@adelphia.net

DATE: July 2006

ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask.  (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)

PAIRINGS: Jack/Sam, Daniel/Share, Teal'c/Ishta

CATEGORY: Romance, drama, alternate universe

RATING: Suitable for ages 13+.

WARNING: Language, religious discussion

SPOILERS:  Anything through the end of season 8 and into season 9, though this series centers on Jack O'Neill and therefore will often center on Washington DC rather than the SGC.

SEASON/SEQUEL INFO:  Alternate Season Nine.  This story, as well as the rest of The Sword and the Chalice series, will be archived at http://buckeyebelle.tripod.com/sg1/sg1index.html .

SUMMARY: The Orii arrive in our galaxy.  The fledgeling Alliance, still not recovered from the rebellion against the Goa'uld and the depredations of the Replicators, must deal with this new threat, which also places the Ascended in harm's way.  The SGC embarks upon a quest for Ancient relics of Merlin which offer hope of a way to combat the Orii.

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.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  Many thanks to Rodlox and Mamabeast for beta-reading this story.

Washington DC in summer was notorious for miserably hot humid weather.  The city must have made a special effort to live up to its reputation.  Sam Carter fed coins into a soft-drink machine and collected two ice cold bottles of spring water.  They immediately began to bead up with condensation.  She held a cold bottle on her forehead to try to cool off a little.

Jack O'Neill finished filling the rental car's tank and complained to no one in particular about the price of gas as he inserted his credit card into the pump.

Sam sighed as they got back into the car,  "Oh, yes.  Air conditioning."

Jack grinned.  "Going soft in your old age, Carter?"

She said, "One of these was for you."

"I take it back."  She handed the bottle over with a cheeky grin.  He asked, "OK, now where is this place?"

"A couple of blocks this way, then turn right and watch for the realtor's sign on the right."

"I hope the house is as good as the real estate agent made it sound.  I'm really getting tired of the hotel," Jack complained.

"Me too!  Thank God for Cassie offering to help us out with Jamie.  He would have been miserable if we'd had to drag him out in this heat."  Cassie had renters in what had been Janet's house, and she hadn't been able to face spending three months alone in a strange apartment.  She had spent the summer with Sam and Jack.

O'Neill replied, "Yeah, and he's been good for her too.  She's had to be a lot stronger than a kid her age should ever need to be...since we lost Janet."

Sam nodded.  She would never stop missing her best friend.  How much worse it had to be for Cassie, who had buried two mothers.

Jack pulled out into traffic.  "You know, I've been thinking about trading my truck in on a new one, but after driving in this town, I'm not so sure about that.  We're going to need something better for driving in traffic.  Like an APC."

Sam smirked--hoping he wasn't serious.  "Jamie doesn't need a car seat any more.  Something with a big back seat, maybe."

He laughed, "Yeah.  I guess an APC would use an ungodly amount of gas in this traffic.  But still we could get a Hummer...."

Sam smiled as she fiddled with the vent to increase the flow of cool air.  Jack did like his toys.  "Actually, I've been looking at some of those new hybrids.  Are you sure you want to sell your house in Colorado Springs?"

"Yeah, it doesn't make any sense to keep it.  In either one of our houses, there isn't a lot of room for you, me, Jamie, the cat and the dog.  When Sirikat and her harem come to visit, we'll have people camping out in the bathtub!  There's no sense in keeping two houses that are both too small when we really only need a place to roost when we're at the SGC.  It makes more sense to keep your place, the expenses are so much less.  If we ever move back, we'll need a bigger place anyway."

Sam giggled at the mental image of Sirikat's manly-men consorts in harem costumes.  "This is our street."

Jack signalled and changed lanes to make the turn.  "What are you going to do in Nevada?"

Sam thought about it.  "I don't like it there, I don't want to live there permanently.  It's the same thing, we just need a place to roost while I'm stationed there.  My quarters there are fine with me if you don't mind."

"Yeah, that's fine with me.  I'll only be there to visit a couple weekends a month and when I'm there on business."

"If you're selling your truck, you can sell my bike, too."

"You're selling the Indian?!  You love that bike!"

She smiled.  "I loved restoring it, but there really isn't much more I can do with it.  Several collectors have made offers.  I'm not going to have anywhere to work on a bike while I'm at Nellis, or even a good place to keep one there, for that matter.  I'll look for another vintage motorcycle to restore whenever I get settled somewhere.  Maybe a Harley this time.  In the meanwhile, we can rent a couple of bikes whenever we want to ride."

Jack nodded.  There was no telling when they would have time for that again.  "Jonathan wants to build another cabin up at the lake.  He and Nancy have their eye on that little meadow on the other side of the creek, close to where the original cabin was."

"That would be great, if they still want to do it when they graduate from the academy we could surprise them by clearing the land and getting everything ready for them to start building.  You know, speaking of the lake, I've been thinking.  Whenever Dad brings Mark and Rose and the kids, they'll rent an RV if Mark doesn't talk Rose into just buying one.  With a bigger generator, we could put in an electric hookup for them."

"Good idea," Jack smiled, remembering Jamie and his step-cousins---Mark's kids--running wild when they'd all been there last month.  It was a bittersweet smile at first, because he remembered times spent there with Charlie.  But then he thought about Sirikat and how much she loved the lake, just as much now as then.  He was sure it wouldn't be long till she got her family up there too.  Jack already knew the young Jaffa Al'dor was an avid hunter, and the Tok'ra Jalen also loved the outdoors.  He didn't know Dylantar as well, having only met him at the handfasting, but any Daltregonian was an outdoorsman.

"What's the grin for?"

Jack smiled at his wife.  (Carter was really his wife now.  Yeah!)  "Just thinking Sirikat's guys are gonna love the lake too."  For a man who had once resigned himself to living out his life alone, he had a large family now.

"I've just about got Teal'c and Ishta talked into bringing Ry'ac and Kar'yn before it gets too cold," Sam said.  "Teal'c said something about buying a tent and keeping it there.  He's got a better opinion of the place now that he's been there later in the summer, when the bugs aren't so bad."

Jack complained, "The mosquitos all fly here to DC for the summer!  I went down to the corner for a six-pack while you were over at Andrews yesterday, and they just about ate me alive."

"Don't let me forget to buy bug spray.  We don't need anybody getting West Nile, especially Jamie--oh, there it is, there it is!"

Jack pulled into the drive.  The house they were considering was a big red brick home with a large lawn surrounded by a neat hedge.  Two huge old trees shaded the front of the building and it looked like there were more in the back yard.  There were gates across the driveway and front walk.  He tapped the horn and the real estate lady let them in.

Sam looked around.  "Wow, it sure is big enough."

They looked at each other.  Neither of them had ever expected to be in a financial situation to own a home like this.  Jack's promotion to Major General had been completely unexpected, after only a year in grade as a Brigadier.  That just wasn't done, and Jack himself wasn't sure what acts of Congress and acts of God Bartlet had orchestrated to accomplish it.

The realtor said, "The back yard is even larger.  I understand that you have a small child?"

"Yeah, my son is four."  They had already decided that their new home had to have a back yard.  Jamie was too used to being able to run around outside.  He'd be bouncing off the walls if they moved him into a place where he had to be cooped up indoors a lot of the time.

"The school here is outstanding," the realtor assured them.  "Would you like to go inside now?"

The empty house echoed with their footsteps as they admired the hardwood floors.  Jack could smell pine cleaner and room deodorant, and the faint dusty smell of a place that had been closed up for a while.  What he could see looked like it was in fairly good shape.  "How old is this house?"

"This is the oldest area of the house, four rooms up and four down.  It was built in the early 1850's.  The carriage house out back dates from that period as well.  It has a garage downstairs and a small studio apartment above.  There was a major renovation in the 60's when the present day kitchen and master suite were built.  The deck, pool and pool building are recent, all that was done in the late 90's."

Jack said, "Considering property values, the asking price is very reasonable for a place this size."

The realtor said, "The owner passed on, and his heirs want to settle the estate as soon as possible."

Jack teased, "Isn't haunted, is it?"

She laughed.  "I haven't seen any spooks, but I'm sure in a building this old, there could be one if you want one.  The first owner was killed in the Civil War, and I understand that the gentleman who lived here in the roaring 20's took his own life when he lost everything in the stock market crash.  His widow supported herself by turning the place into a boarding house during the Great Depression."

Sam said, "The place has quite a history, then."

"Yes, ma'am.  Now through the French doors here is the dining room.  As you can see, the back of this room was the original kitchen and the fireplace has been preserved."

Jack asked, "Where does that door go?"

"That's the basement.  It's completely finished, there's a wonderful big family room down there.  Only the wine cellar still looks the same as it did when the house was built."

They continued the tour of the house.  Both of them were pleased with it even before they saw the pool and the spacious back yard.  There was plenty of space for entertaining, something Jack was going to have to do much more frequently than he had as the commanding officer of the SGC.  He didn't like Washington parties but it went with the job.  More importantly to him, there was a lot of room for family.

Sam examined the security system, and passed approval on that.  She would want to upgrade it to the same kind of system she had at her house in Colorado Springs the first chance she got, but it would do in the meanwhile.

Once they got back in the car, Jack asked, "What do you think, Sam?"

"I like it," she said.

"We'll probably end up retiring here if we buy the place," Jack said.  He was seesawing both ways about that.  For one thing, he had never liked Washington.  But on the other hand, he realized that he was never going to be able to "retire."  The best he could hope for was to step back and reduce his schedule.  He was always going to be on the short list of people the President, the SecDef and the Joint Chiefs called for advice, especially about the Asgard and the Ancient weapon in Antarctica.  Logically, he could squeak out the most time with his family by cutting down on travel time.  This house would be ideal for balancing his responsibilities to family and country.

"Let's check out the schools and the neighborhood, and see what the inspector says about the house," Sam suggested.

"I'll see if I can get someone to take a look at it on Monday," he said.

They drove around the quiet streets for a while.  On Saturday afternoon, there were a lot of people out, a cosmopolitan mix of cultures and races.  They drove past a park where some little kids were playing T-ball.  The park looked like a good place to run.

"I hope the inspectors don't find anything wrong with the house, because I think this one is it," Sam said.

Jack took her hand.  "I think so too.  I think I can take half a day on Tuesday so we can look into the schools.  I want to ask around on Monday and see where other people are sending their kids."

"I've heard a lot about drugs and violence in the public schools here," Carter scowled.

Jack nodded.  "Yeah, but I wonder how much of that is racism, and how much is just to be expected from a large school?  I mean, the more people you get in one place, the more it stands to reason you're gonna get a bad apple or two.  I don't want to treat Jamie like a china doll and have him grow up just knowing a bunch of spoiled rich kids, any more than I want to send him to some hellhole where people get killed for wearing the wrong color tee shirt."

Sam nodded.  "At least my parents didn't have to worry as much about violence in the schools when Dad got transferred."  She scowled.  "Did I just say something about how it was better back in the good ol' days when I was a kid?"

"Yeah, Carter, I think you just did," he grinned.

One of her megawatt smiles lit up her eyes.  "Carter-O'Neill," she happily corrected--because she could, and she loved the sound of it.  Almost as much as Jack loved hearing her say it.  Professionally, she still went by Carter, because that was the name everyone knew, both on base and in the scientific community.  But as soon as she went off duty, she became Mrs. Carter-O'Neill.

While they waited for the light to change, he leaned over to kiss her.

Both their cell phones went off at once.  That was never a good sign.

An hour later they were back at the Pentagon, in an E-ring briefing room near Jack's office.  Also present were his aide, Col. Ben Stafford, as well as Major Hanigan from data analysis.  Hanigan was a former Navy SEAL, a short, muscular guy whose bright blue eyes and red buzz cut would have given away his Irish ancestry if his name hadn't already. Jack had the suspicion that he, Carter and Hanigan in the same room scared the crap out of Stafford, who looked more like an accountant in his perfectly pressed uniform, shiny shoes and general issue black-framed glasses.  It had been enough of a shock for a confirmed desk jockey like Stafford to deal with Stargates and aliens.  Working with three people who could kill somebody fifty-seven different ways with nothing more than the miscellaneous objects scattered on the briefing room table was way out of his comfort zone.  He was the perfect aide for a general like O'Neill, who was much more comfortable leading from the front than dealing with everything associated with an office job.  He kept things running smoothly on a day-to-day basis, and O'Neill was perfectly content to let him.

"Sorry to interrupt your day off, sir, but we've received a communication from the Asgard.  They picked up an energy signature originating in the Barnard's Star system.  Due to the proximity of that system to Earth, they notified us immediately.  Heimdall is on his way to investigate.  Colonel Carter, Major Hanigan, they've provided us with their scanner data.  It's 72 hours old."

Hanigan said, "Beats 5.9 years, which is how long it would have taken us to detect it."

Carter nodded.  "If it's even a form of energy that Hubble or one of our other listening posts detects."

O'Neill said, "The Asgard wouldn't be raising the defcon level over some interesting astronomical phenomenon."

Stafford pushed his glasses up.  "No, sir.  They suspect that the energy signature was caused by a wormhole, much larger than those created by the stargates, and probably originating in an unknown galaxy since they didn't detect a matching wormhole either here or in their own galaxy."

Carter said, "Pegasus, possibly?  If the Wraith found a way to break through--"

She and O'Neill looked at each other.  O'Neill asked, "When do we expect Heimdall to report?"

"Three hours, General."

"OK, notify me as soon as we hear something.  Sam, Mike, take a look at that data and translate it into English for me.  Ben, get me the Prometheus."

The three of them scattered to obey his orders.  O'Neill went to his office, where he had a window to look out while he waited for more information.  Presently, Stafford knocked on the door frame and poked his head in.  "General, I have Col. Pendergast for you on the vid."

O'Neill held back on sending Prometheus to Barnard's Star just yet.  If it turned out to be nothing, or possibly even a planned diversion, then he didn't want to send the carrier out of Earth's orbit on a wild goose chase.  Pendergast informed him that Prometheus was prepared to deploy immediately and could reach Barnard's Star in a little less than two hours.  Given that, he contacted Heimdall and asked the Asgard to call in a sitrep when he was two hours out, so that if the situation warranted they could coordinate time-on-target.

It then occurred to him to call Cassie and let her know that he and Sam might be held over a little late at the office.

Cassie was military brat enough to know what that meant.  She also knew that her cell phone was in no way a secure line, so she kept it light.  "OK, I guess I can cancel my big date with Viggo Mortensen.  Don't worry, Uncle Jack, I've got everything under control here.  I might just take Jamie over to Blockbuster and get us a couple of DVDs, would you mind?"

"Knock yourself out.  There's a little money in my middle desk drawer if you need it for the movies or anything.  How's everything going?"

"Fine.  We splashed in the pool for a while until it just got too hot out there, and then Jamie went down for his nap.  How was the house?"

"It's great, Cassie, we've pretty much decided to take it unless the inspector raises a red flag.  Wait'll you see this place, it's humongous.  The back yard has plenty of room for throwing a barbecue, and it has a pool."

Cassie laughed, no one would miss the apartment complex's concrete-surrounded, over-crowded swimming pool.  "See you when you get here, Uncle Jack."

"Thanks again for babysitting, Cass."

"No problem."

Jack had no more hung up the phone than it rang, Sam this time.  "Sir, you need to see this."

"I always need to see this, Carter."

"You really do need to see this, General."

"On my way."

Hanigan's office wasn't anywhere nearly as well equipped as Sam's labs at Area 51 or the SGC, but it was more than adequate for data interpretation.  Neither officer looked pleased with their conclusions.  O'Neill asked, "What have you got?"

Carter indicated a view screen displaying an image from Heimdall's long-range scanners.  "I had my people at Area 51 run this through the Tollan image enhancers.  Clearly this is a wormhole, but look here."  She clicked the mouse a couple of times and a shadow over the wormhole became progressively clearer, taking on the definite outline of a ship.

"So are you telling me--instead of going through hyperspace--that this ship created a wormhole without a stargate?"

"Morgan and Wong up at MIT have been doing some work in this area, they call it space-folding.  Essentially, think of space as a sheet of paper.  Now, if you create a wormhole from point A to point B, it's as if you folded the sheet of paper so that the two points are touching, and you can travel between them almost instantaneously.  That's what we do with the Stargates, of course, but their work was nearly finished independently before we found out about it and brought them onboard.  Their wormhole is transient, it only persists long enough for the originating ship to pass through.  A ship equipped with this technology could theoretically gate to any known coordinates, whether or not a stargate is present on the other end, and very large spacecraft can be gated through."

"How large?"

"Well, sir, the Ronald Reagan is 317m long.  She carries a crew of about six thousand people and about 70 fighters as well as a handful of helicopters.  This craft is almost a kilometer in length, so we could potentially be talking about at least nine times that kind of crew complement."

"Get ready to beam up to the Prometheus.  I'm so not assuming Heimdall can take care of himself if this goes south, and we need intel."

Carter nodded.  She liked the Asgard scientist, but wouldn't have wanted him watching her back in a firefight.  "I can be ready in about ten minutes.  I'll send a list of things I need to Area 51 and have my assistant put it together, could you have Col. Pendergast beam that up as well?"

"Will do.  And, Carter?"


"Be careful out there."

"Yes, sir."

"So these guys up at MIT, they were like, this close to inventing Stargate technology on their own?  With no help from the Ancients or the Asgard or anyone?"

"Yes, sir.  They were at the stage of--well, Leonardo da Vinci inventing the helicopter.  Their basic foundation was sound, but there was no practical way for them to conduct experiments with wormhole travel.  If Leonardo had been able to actually test his helicopter, he would have realized it would have rotated.  I doubt it would have taken him long to add a tail rotor.  Likewise, had someone built Morgan and Wong's original space-fold drive, there would have been some uncertainty about exactly where the spacecraft would have re-emerged into normal space.  It couldn't have been used too near a gravity well for risk of being drawn in.  The Ancients had already solved most of those problems with the Stargate system, but with experimentation we would probably have come to some of those same conclusions.  Now they have the benefit of what we've found out about wormholes and hyperspace-window technology, as well as a much bigger budget than they had before."

O'Neill looked inordinately pleased with that.  It always made his day when some supposedly primitive Tau'ri did something to prove to the so-called more advanced races that the Tau'ri weren't so primitive after all.  "Cool!"

Hanigan said, "General O'Neill, if I may suggest, since the MIT team has already been brought on board with the Stargate program, we should co-ordinate with them.  They might be able to save us a lot of time if questions come up about the space-fold drive on this alien ship."

"Right, take care of it.  Find out if they can do secure telepresence from Cambridge, and if they can't, get them down here."

"Aye, aye, sir."

In Minnesota, Jonathan O'Neill lay on the dock, baking in the summer sun after a swim in the lake.  He and his girlfriend, Nancy Spencer, were making the most of their mandatory two weeks' leave before returning to the Air Force Academy for the beginning of their sophomore year.  Nancy had thrived in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the academy.  For the first time her classwork had challenged her as high school never had.  For the first time Jonathan didn't have to hold himself back out of fairness to his classmates, so he finally had the chance to push himself to his limits.  No one much cared that his brother was a two-star general, either, because he wasn't the only cadet there with high-ranking relatives by a long stretch.  He and Nancy competed for head of the class with a group of other young people who had just as much talent and potential.

Their friends Lydia Trimble and Alvin Connell were finishing up their summer vacation as well, but unlike the two cadets, they had the whole summer off.  They had spent their summer as volunteer counselors at an intervention camp for inner-city kids who had minor brushes with the law.

Lydia had decided on a career in archaeology because that was what the SGC needed.  But her empathic abilities had made her such a natural counselor that the camp psychologist was trying to get her to major in psychology.  Thinking about the damage Dr. MacKenzie had done, Jonathan had been all for that, and Lydia had decided it wouldn't hurt anything to take a few courses and see where things went.  There was a synergy between understanding the cultural roots of the people they would be encountering as well as individual psychology from a Tau'ri, Western perspective.

Alvin Connell had put his troubled childhood behind him and come into his own in college.  He had quickly tracked into an honors science program and had been taking 400-level courses second semester.  It helped that he had shot up a couple of inches, he was never going to be tall but he didn't look like a kid any more either.  He had overcome his terror of being outed now that his father was dead--Jonathan could only imagine living in fear of your life in your own home if your father found out the truth about you.  But as much as he despised Neitzche, Jonathan had to admit there was truth in the idea that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  Alvin's time as George Hammond's ward had been the best thing that ever could have happened to him.  Alvin had progressed from victim through survivor to conqueror as the months had passed.  He was now quietly but confidently openly gay, and had begun to associate with other gay students on campus, to the extent of going on a few real dates.

With the Replicators destroyed and the war with the Goa'uld virtually over, everyone looked forward to a future of exploration and interstellar trade.  But Jonathan saw Lydia put down the book she had been reading and stare up into a cloudless Colorado sky, with a troubled expression on her face.  It hit him like a gut punch that the sky had been a brilliant, beautiful clear blue on the morning of September 11, perfect flying weather.  He swallowed hard, and felt a chill go through him in spite of the hot late-summer sun, and somehow he knew.  Jack's wars were over.  His had yet to begin.

Two hours and twenty minutes after leaving Earth orbit, the Prometheus came out of hyperspace in the area of Barnard's Star.  Carter regarded it from the bridge, with Daniel Jackson and Teal'c beside her, the two men having been picked up from the SGC on very short notice.  The star was a dim red dwarf, orbited by a Neptune-like gas giant, a small barren rockball, and a scattering of assorted debris.  It had been briefly visited a couple of times before simply because it was one of Earth's nearest neighbors.  Like the Centauri system, there had been nothing found to justify a more detailed study in wartime when Earth's fledgeling space fleet was much more urgently needed elsewhere.  Now, the nearby systems were routinely scanned for evidence of anyone attempting to use them as a staging area for an attack on Earth, but little other study had been done.

The Asgard research vessel's hyperspace window opened a kilometer off Prometheus' starboard bow.  Both Allied vessels stood several kilometers off a large, black, wedge-shaped craft.  Running without lights, it was very hard to see on the visual monitors, except as an area of starless void.  It dwarfed the Allied ships.

Pendergast asked, "What are the sensors showing?"

Lt. Flint, a young intelligence analyst who had cut his teeth in Iraq, reported, "She's powered up, sir, and pressurized with an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere.  There are no active shields that I can detect at this time.  There is an ion trail indicating similar propulsion to Ancient starcraft.  She is not broadcasting on any frequency that I can detect.  Our sensors have also detected no active scanning technology in use since we arrived...."  The intel officer paused for new information.  "Sir, I'm receiving telemetry from Heimdall....indicating that there are two life forms aboard, both of them human.  The atmosphere is breatheable and contains no detected harmful substances.  Artificial gravity is 0.9 Earth normal."

"Lt. Abernathy, prepare to hail."

"Yes, sir...you may transmit when ready."  Abernathy's voice was calm and steady through anything.  He was a twenty-year veteran of the strategic bomber fleet.

"Unidentified craft, this is the Prometheus, please identify yourself."

The bridge fell silent as everyone waited for a reply.  For several minutes there was nothing.  Then abruptly a bright beam emitted from the prow of the newcomer and swept across both Allied ships.

Pendergast ordered, "Sensors, report!"

"We've detected a number of scans, sir, essentially the same battery of sensor readings that we took ourselves."

Pendergast's 2iC reported, "No reports of damage, sir."

Abernathy said, "Heimdall confirms no damage, Colonel."

Carter scowled.  "A ship that size with only two passengers?  Col. Pendergast, suggest that you confirm with Heimdall that there are no replicators aboard."

Pendergast nodded to the sensors operator and that was quickly ruled out.

Further attempts by both Pendergast and Heimdall to hail the ship had no result.  After a moment, Heimdall beamed a probe over to the other ship.  Pendergast winced, because he was pretty sure the aliens might view that as a hostile act--and that any defensive actions that he took, like raising the shields, would confirm their suspicions.  There seemed to be no immediate objection, however, and Heimdall relayed the telemetry he was receiving from the probe.

For quite a while it floated through catacomb-like corridors with dark metal replacing stone.  Light came from ornate stained glass fixtures that looked like they belonged in a cathedral.  Daniel leaned forward for a better view of the nearest monitor.  "I don't see anything that appears to be written language anywhere."

Carter nodded.  That really did seem odd.  "I wonder if some of that stained glass could actually be monitors of some sort?  The Atlantean technology we've found looks ornamental until it activates."

Daniel nodded.  "That's a possibility."

Pendergast observed, "Looks like the lights are on."

The probe approached an archway, the room beyond was brightly lit.

A humanoid in a long tan tunic stood with his back to them, in front of what looked like a small altar.  He was  carrying a staff a foot longer than he was tall, set with a large egg-shaped crystal.  At first he seemed unaware of the probe.  After a few minutes he turned to face it.  His eyes were white, as if he had cataracts, and his unnaturally pale face was marked with long-healed burn scars.  The curiosity with which he regarded the probe seemed to deny blindness, however.  After a few moments, though, he gestured with the staff, and the probe abruptly stopped transmitting.

A moment later, the alien ship turned its stern to them and a blue glow surrounded it.  Seconds later a wormhole formed and the ship disappeared through it.

Heimdall apparently had the idea to follow it, but before he could carry through on that foolhardy intent, the wormhole disappeared.

Only then, they realized Daniel had gone white.  Carter asked, "Daniel?  What's wrong?"

"They've come," he said.

Pendergast asked, "Dr. Jackson?  Who's come?"

Daniel looked up with haunted eyes.  "The Orii.  The Ancients fled to this galaxy millenia ago to escape them."

A few hours later, SG-1, Pendergast and Heimdall met in the SGC briefing room with General Hank Landry, who had become commander of the facility upon O'Neill's promotion.  The trip back from Barnard's Star had given Daniel time to compose himself.  They had faced threats before.

Landry had to draw on a lot of military composure himself when the SGC's resident ghost suddenly appeared in the chair next to Jackson.  Sha're's smile was both amused and apologetic.  Landry dismissed the incident with a little grin.

Jackson didn't notice the by-play.  Landry brought the meeting to order.  "What've we got, people?"

Pendergast succinctly reported their brief encounter with the alien ship, then said, "Dr. Jackson recognized the being aboard the ship."

Daniel said, "Not him, specifically, but I know what he is.  He's a Prior, a representative of a group of ascended beings known as the Orii.  The Others were once the same race as the Orii, but they disagreed with them on several fundamental issues and split off from them.  The Orii weren't going to allow dissent.  The Others--that's where they got the name, by the way--were outnumbered, so they fled and hid in this galaxy.  They've done what they could to conceal themselves, as well as the existence of sentient races here, from the Orii."

"But now they've found us."

"Or someone betrayed us, one or the other," Daniel replied.  "There are greater powers than the Ascended who prevent them from direct interference on any kind of large scale.  So the Orii invented a religion, tricked their followers into thinking they knew the one true way to Ascension, and ruled through the Priors.  Their followers are fanatics who kill anyone who refuses to convert to the Way of Origin, the Orii's religion.  Now that they know we're here, their objective will be to convert us all to the Way of Origin, or to eliminate us."

Pendergast asked, "How many of those ships do they have?"

Jackson shook his head.  "No idea.  They didn't have them when the Others broke away.  That's why they were able to escape.  The Orii didn't have anything that could keep up with them, or track them."

Teal'c looked up.  "DanielJackson, how did the Others escape?  Did they possess technology of which the Orii were unaware?"

"Yes.  While the Orii were focused on Ascension, at that time the Others were secretly developing city-ships, the forerunners of Atlantis.  Their escape took the Orii by surprise.  By the time they realized what was going on, the Others had already disappeared."

Landry asked, "Dr. Jackson, can you contact Oma Desala or someone and find out if the Ascended have any more information than we do about this?  They may have somehow sensed the Orii ship's appearance in this galaxy."

"Yes, I should be able to."

Teal'c said, "The Jaffa Nation must be warned of this threat."

Landry said, "Go, Jaffa patrols may have seen other signs of the Orii.  It would probably be best if we both try to contact the Tok'ra.  They've been hard to find while they've been planning for their lives after the Goa'uld War.  Col. Carter, Col. Pendergast will transport you to Washington so that you can brief General O'Neill in person.  I'll also contact the Daedalus, since the Orii may have found the Pegasus galaxy as well."

Pendergast said, "It would be a good thing if they did, sir, they can get tied up with the Wraith for a while.  Whoever wins that one, we win."

Landry nodded, but said, "Only if they decide to duke it out and we only have to deal with the winner.  The Orii could use the Wraith as a WMD just by telling them where to find us."

Not long afterwards, Carter materialized in O'Neill's office.  Over eight years in the field together, they had learned to read each other like books.  He took in the look in her eyes and asked, "We're in it again, aren't we?"

Carter nodded.  "Looks like."  She went on to report their findings, and shortly after that, she repeated it all again for the Joint Chiefs and the SecDef.  After all that, though, there was nothing they could do but wait for the Orii to make the next move.

It was 2300h before Carter and O'Neill got back to their apartment.  Cassie saw that they were both OK, and she knew they couldn't tell her what was wrong.  She had always known her generation would have their own challenges to face.  She would find out what they were all in good time.  "Jamie ran off a lot of energy chasing his Hummer up and down the hall.  He went to sleep watching a movie.  I don't think he even knew I put him to bed."

Jack grinned.  Jamie had a radio controlled Hummer that he loved to play with.  The thing ate batteries but it was worth it to watch him.  He didn't just stand in one place to race it around, he chased along behind it--and it could go as fast as his little legs could carry him.  That was always a good way to let him blow off steam so he'd be ready for bed time.  All was well and good as long as the hotel hallway was empty, which it usually was.  It had taken a couple of days to remember not to yell in the hall so he wouldn't bother the other guests, he wasn't used to having the neighbors that close.  But he was a considerate kid and he usually kept pretty quiet.  All the same, Jack wanted to get him moved into a place of their own ASAP.  Kids needed to be able to run around and yell sometimes, it was just what kids did.

Cassie went on up to bed.  The two of them sat on the couch to watch the news while they did away with the leftover pizza.  The headlines were all about more roadside bombs in Baghdad and the kidnapping of some western oil workers.

Jack closed his eyes.  "They've been fighting over there for thousands of years.  Sometimes I think it would be better if the program did get outed.  Then people would know we have more important things to worry about than each other's religion!"

Sam punched the "off" button.  "I know," she said.  "We've got our war to fight.  Somebody else is assigned to that one."

"Sam, we're stretched thin the way it is.  Nobody can get enough manpower or equipment, they can't in the Gulf and I know I can't."

"I know," she repeated.  "But we've managed this far by doing the best we can!  Let's go to bed.  Who knows when we'll get the chance for a good night's sleep with all this going on."

Jack pushed dark thoughts of Iraq out of his mind.  "Sleep?  Who said anything about sleep?"

Sam gave him a sultry look.  "I like the way you think, flyboy.  I know you'd rather be in BDUs but as far as I'm concerned you can wear your dress uniform any day of the week.  It's just a shame I can't be here more often to benefit."

"Well, you're here tonight.  How about if you get me out of it?"

"I think that can be arranged."

In Colorado Springs, Daniel and Sha're Jackson sat on a tatami mat in a room lit only by a single meditation candle, a gift from Teal'c.  After a short while, the artifact-filled room faded, and the timeless misty expanse of the higher planes came into focus.  After a few moments, other figures appeared out of the mist to sit with him, forming a circle.  First was Sha're's brother, Skaara.  Then came Orlin, and their mentor Oma Desala.  Finally the Daltregonian witch-queen Karumai and the Jaffa master Marnac arrived.

The Jaffa bowed his head to them.  "DanielJackson.  Sha're of Nagada.  Why have you summoned us?"

"I have bad news.  The Orii have found the Milky Way.  They now have ships capable of creating wormholes without a stargate."

Oma said, "Many of us have had dark premonitions but until now we couldn't put a name to them.  They must be concealing themselves from us.  You are sure?  You have seen this?"

"One of them was in the Barnard's Star system, which is very near Earth.  I don't think they were there long before the Asgard detected them.  There was a prior aboard, as well as one other life form that we didn't get the chance to identify."

Karumai said, "One struggle gives birth to another."

"So it would seem."

Oma said, "I will tell the Others.  Perhaps concern for their own welfare will motivate them, if nothing else will.  But I fear that they will do as we did before, and flee before these invaders rather than raise their hands against them."

Skaara said, "Let the cowards scurry like rats.  Abydos will stand against the Orii, of that I have no doubt.  We've already paid the price of our liberty in more than our fair measure, nobody will steal it from us now!"

Marnac said, "Likewise the Jaffa, both here and in the mortal realm.  If the Others choose a path of inaction, the Orii will still not find this galaxy undefended."

Karumai nodded.  "Daltregon will fight for the cause of freedom.  Nobody is going to come into our longhouses and tell to worship their gods--we already have our own!"

Oma said,  "So be it.  We who allied ourselves against Anubis will raise our swords together against the Orii."

"We need to find out the extent of this threat," Orlin said.  "If the Priors are acting in the material world, the Orii will surely be preparing to act here as well."

"Orlin speaks wisdom," Marnac agreed.  "We have the greater numbers, but not the experience, save for you, OmaDesala."

That was true, but Oma wondered what good her experience would be now.  "Long ago, we hoped to avoid violence by seeking refuge in this galaxy.  In so doing, we abandoned the mortals of our home galaxy to become the slaves of the Orii.  I still do not see what else we could have done.  Staying to fight then would have been suicidal.  But there was still karma.  The consequences of our retreat have now returned to us, for the Orii have bred those abandoned mortals into fanatical Janissaries who now pose a terrible threat to the mortals here.  If the Ascended choose the path of peace now, the same thing will happen here, and the Orii will become even stronger.  It will only be a matter of time before the entire universe falls to them -- perhaps even the multiverse.  Someone has to make a stand, here, now, or else we will see the light of freedom extinguished forever.  But I am still too much of the old order, still too caught up in the immediate suffering to focus on the long-term goal.  I must step aside from leadership, in favor of one with the resolve to make the sacrifices necessary to defeat this threat or die in the attempt.  Marnac, you will lead our people to victory if it comes to Ascended against Ascended."

The Jaffa replied with a bow.  "I will need to learn all that you can tell me of the Orii's methods of warfare."

"I will do what I can.  Even so, I cannot help but think this war will not be won without a dreadful cost, and for the most part, it will be the mortals who pay it."

Daniel replied, "At the very worst, Oma, if we're defeated, we will weaken the Orii and deny them any more new recruits here.  That will give the next galaxy threatened by the Orii a better chance to stop them.  There will be great suffering, this is true.  That's nothing new to us.  We know that freedom is worth any price."

Oma looked around the circle and saw complete agreement, and she left fear behind her as the song of destiny rang out like the pure and clear note of a single trumpet sounding the call to arms.  History was full of lost causes and heroic last stands.  If this was to be another, it would be remembered among the greatest of them as the time when Ascended and mortal alike rose up against the dark to tell slavery and oppression, here we stand, this much and no more.  Dal shakka mel would become the battle cry of not just one people, but of a galaxy.  But Oma was not prepared to accept that all they could do was sell their lives dearly.  In the determination of her companions she saw the seed of their eventual triumph.  It was time to leave the path of peace and take up the sword of the Goddess to defend their own, and there the Powers would stand with them.

Sam Carter hadn't ever thought to return permanently to the SGC, or to reform SG-1, but now here she was, moving into Jack's old office from when he had been their commanding officer.  He had almost never used the space, but Carter found it useful to underline the difference between her role as a scientist and that of team leader.  In the hurried decision-making that had sent her back to Colorado Springs, Sam had asked for a fourth team member.  She had two reasons for that.  First, there was no way of knowing who was going to get called away to other responsibilities halfway across the galaxy.  A three-person team had a hard time functioning one man short.  Sha're was a great scout and assistant to Daniel, but when everything hit the fan, Carter still wanted another gun as well as someone who could walk through walls and come back and tell you what was on the other side.

The other reason was one she hadn't said aloud, because it wasn't something she wanted Jack thinking about.  But SG-1 had held together while he was in Antarctica because he had trained her to take his place.  Now she was no longer the young eager captain who had first joined the Stargate Project.  She would be leaving the field for a desk job full time herself before too much longer, and there were no guarantees that she would live that long.  It was her duty to train someone to take her place, and she saw in Cameron Mitchell an officer who had the potential to do that.

Now, her new 2iC stood in the doorway.  "Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell reporting for duty, ma'am."

"At ease, Mitchell.  Welcome to the SGC.  Have a seat."  She had known Cam Mitchell for a few years now, having met him during one of her teaching stints at the Academy while he had been a cadet there, and then later worked with him while the F-303 wing was forming up.  He had won the Medal of Honor for his actions over Antarctica, leading his squadron to keep Anubis' death gliders off the Antarctic Base at all costs until O'Neill had brought the Ancient weapon on-line.  The cost had very nearly been his life, he had barely survived a crash that had killed his co-pilot.  He had spent the next year in rehab, on O'Neill's promise that if he could get himself certified fit for duty once again, he could choose his next duty station.  His choice, hands down, had been assignment to SG-1.

There had been a few arguments that he was a zoomie, not a ground pounder, and he knew nothing about small-unit special ops.  Sam had countered that had described her as well, when she had first joined the team.  She saw in Mitchell that undefined quality that made her think he would be a good 2iC and an asset to the team, an officer who could step up and lead in her absence.  She also felt that he would be a fast learner.  The fact that she was only senior to him by a few months didn't make a lot of difference to her, they were all professionals here.

"Thank you, ma'am."

"I've been looking over your file jacket, and it looks like you've passed all your physical requirements to be reinstated to full duty."

"Yes, ma'am, I jumped through the last hoops last week."

"Good.  Let's head for the ready room and introduce you to the rest of the team."

After a short elevator ride they stepped out into a hallway full of techs who were busily readying equipment for a science team's mission to prospect for naquadah.  Sam expertly sidestepped a guy who couldn't see around the box of equipment he was carrying.  It was like she'd never been gone.

Daniel, Sha're and Teal'c were already there, going over a translation.  "Hey, guys, this is our new teammate, Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell.  Colonel Mitchell, I think you know who Daniel Jackson and Teal'c are."

Mitchell returned Teal'c's bow properly, and nodded respectfully to Daniel as well.  "I sure do.  It's a privilege to be here.  Ma'am, I haven't had the honor, but you must be Dr. Jackson's wife."

Sha're shared a little smile with Sam before replying, "I am indeed Sha're of Nagada.  Your reputation precedes you as well, Colonel Mitchell."

"Call me Cameron, ma'am, you have me thinkin' my daddy's standing behind me."

"As you wish.  Please, join us."

Mitchell sat down beside Teal'c.  Sam took her place at the head of the table and passed a stack of mission briefings down the table.  "Mitchell, have you had a chance to get caught up on the Orii problem since you got here?"

"I've heard of them.  I'm pretty familiar with Dr. Jackson's--"


"Daniel's reports on the Ascended."

"Well, we have a report that there's been a Prior on one of the Free Jaffa worlds, stirring up trouble.  They want Daniel to make a positive ID, and if it is a Prior, help figure out a way to send him back where he came from."

Daniel said, "That won't be easy.  The Orii give the Priors as much power as an unascended person can handle.  Individually they're not as powerful as Anubis, but they're right up there.  They're also fanatical enough to burn themselves out using all their power in one go, a lot like a suicide bomber, if that's what it takes to accomplish their mission.  It also wouldn't surprise me if they decided to go out in a blaze of glory if they were about to lose."

Cameron asked, "Anybody been to this PSX-335 before?"

Sam nodded.  "We recommended that planet to the Jaffa Resistance as a safe planet that the Goa'uld didn't know about, three years ago.  They're building a mostly agricultural society, but they've recently found significant deposits of trinium.  There are three settlements, two fairly established farming towns and a newly built mining camp.  The people are nearly all Jaffa, and many of them are the widows and orphans of Jaffa warriors who died in the early days of the rebellion.  There are also a few other small groups of refugees from various places, but they've all chosen to assimilate into the Jaffa population."

The briefing went on in a little greater detail than usual because they were showing Mitchell the ropes, but he caught on fast.  Mitchell's only request was to carry an M4/M203 carbine rather than a P-90, as he hadn't yet had the opportunity to qualify with a P-90.  Sam didn't mind at all having the combination assault rifle and grenade launcher along.  "Teal'c, can you get Mitchell geared up?"

"I can."

"OK, get your pre-mission physicals and hit the cafeteria, we've got a 15-K hike to the settlement where they met the Prior.  Gate time's in an hour and a half."

Carter took the time to send a short email to O'Neill before she got ready to go.  SG-1 met in the gate room, and as usual, Daniel and Sha're straggled in last.

Sam looked up at the control room window and saluted General Landry.  She still missed seeing Jack up there, but her impression of Landry was good.  When he returned her salute, she ordered the others to move out, and followed them through the gate.