AUTHOR: Original scripts by: Reckoning pt 1 -- Damien Kindler, Reckoning pt 2 -- Robert C. Cooper and Damien Kindler, Threads -- Damien Kindler and Robert C. Cooper. This novelization by Becky Ratliff.
DATE: January 2006
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
CATEGORY: Romance, drama
RATING: Suitable for ages 13+.
WARNING: Language, religious discussion
SPOILERS: Anything through the end of season 8 and speculation for season 9. Major spoilers for Reckoning Parts 1 and 2, and Threads.
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season Eight, concurrent with Reckoning and Threads. Gates of War series, direct sequel to The Secret Way. Previous stories in this series are archived at http://buckeyebelle.tripod.com/sg1/sg1index.html
SUMMARY: The wars with the Goa'uld and the replicators come down to a final battle. Please read the Author's Note for more information.
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.
The character Relana and the Sekhmet race are the creations and property of Alderac Entertainment Group, Inc.
Some scenes are nearly lifted verbatim from the Reckoning script, by Damien Kindler, and from the Threads script, by Robert C. Cooper. Also, many, many thanks to Callie Sullivan for her transcripts. Most of the non-dialog text from these scenes is essentially hers with only minor changes and additions by yours truly.
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 for beta-reading this story.
The Queens of Daltregon is about how the events of Reckoning and Threads play out in the Gates of War Universe. As Pete played only a minor role in my AU, and the rest of Threads picks up directly from the events of Reckoning, it made sense to combine it all into one story. It is actually a series of vignettes which will leave a lot of unanswered questions for readers who have not seen the episodes in question. Those who don't mind being spoiled and choose to read anyway may find the episode transcripts at www.gateworld.net very helpful. Likewise, this story is part of an arc beginning with "The Secret Way." That story should be read first.
+ + = conversation between symbiote and host.
Jack O'Neill looked around the briefing table. Daniel Jackson sat at his left, working on a few pages of a translation while they waited for Bra'tac to clear medical. To his right, Samantha Carter sipped hot coffee. Their eyes met over the rim of her steaming mug. Less than a week ago, his longtime 2iC and now team leader of SG-1 in her own right, had become his wife. There had definitely been no time for a honeymoon. As soon as they had returned from Daltregon, they had been buried under an avalanche of paperwork that had accumulated in their absence. And now they faced the greatest test of their fledgling marriage. He was about to send her and her team into harm's way while he remained safely here at the SGC.
He had never been so scared in his life.
As usual, he covered it with his antics, turned a yellow sticky note into a paper wad and launched it at Daniel. It beaned him and stuck to his short hair, startling him out of his studious trance. Sam nearly snorted coffee as he slapped comically at the paper missile.
Bra'tac shook his head as he entered the briefing room with Teal'c. It had taken him a while to realize that O'Neill's clownish behavior was only one facet of the lethal warrior that he had come to love as a son. The old Jaffa was usually a pretty good judge of character, and he saw right through the act this time. It was also obvious to him that the last thing O'Neill wanted to do was to burden Carter with his anxiety for her.
Teal'c offered him a cup of the Tau'ri coffee. While the younger man had never really developed a taste for the stuff, Bra'tac had. He accepted it with a nod of thanks and the two of them sat down. Daniel closed his folder of translations.
O'Neill said, "Go ahead, Bra'tac. What brings you here so early on a Monday morning?"
Bra'tac had the answer O'Neill was hoping for. "As the Air Force would put it, Operation Quick Strike is go." The Jaffa master didn't need to go into the details, as O'Neill had helped to plan the operation. Several SG teams including SG-1 were going to be assisting their Jaffa allies in a bold move. They had targeted several crucial Goa'uld resources, including capital ships, supply depots, and even a few system lords for a number of simultaneous attacks, intending to greatly degrade the enemy's ability to make war. The Goa'uld would not be expecting such a far-reaching attack, but it would necessarily spread allied forces very thin across the galaxy. They could not afford a failure, but the rewards were well worth the gamble.
Five years ago such a thing would have been unthinkable, but most of the system lords who had inherited the galaxy from Ra had been eliminated, either by the Alliance or as a result of their own infighting. Today, many of those "lords" had not been in their positions long enough to consolidate their hold on their lands and people. They would not be able to mount a unified response to simultaneous attacks. Now everything was in position for the Alliance to strike. "Our target is Amaterasu's flagship and carrier group, and if fortune be with us, Amaterasu herself."
Teal'c said, "If this operation is a complete success, the power of the system lords may soon be broken once and for all."
On Daltregon, a peaceful snowy night was suddenly disturbed by something immensely powerful yet invisible. Not quite a deep rumbling sound, and not quite a strong vibration carried through the weathered planks of the longhouse floor, nevertheless Sirikat was startled from a deep sleep as if a huge bell had rung nearby.
She sat bolt upright on her pallet and threw her blanket aside, waking Dylantar who was sleeping next to her. Jalen had been reading in the corner where the dim light of a glowing crystal wouldn't keep them awake. Neither of her consorts had sensed anything, and now they were both giving her puzzled looks. Jalen asked, "What's the matter?"
"I don't know. I thought there was -- I must have been dreaming." Still, she looked around without lying back down quite yet.
The disturbance came again, more intense this time. Now that she was awake, she recognized it as something magical.
Next door, Kimara yelped, and overhead Sirikat heard the heavy thump of Karumai's staff hitting the floor. She threw on a long shirt and buckled her sword belt as she ran for the railing. She jumped lightly to the main hall a floor below. Dylantar and Jalen were right behind her as she hurried to check on her babies.
Al'dor, the third of her consorts, and her mother's consort Merroll, were guarding the spawning pool, and they hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary until they'd heard the commotion from the longhouse. The little ones were peacefully sleeping at the bottom of the pool.
Al'dor asked, "What is wrong?"
"Something woke me, a magical echo of some great working. I suppose I panicked. My first thought was for the babies."
"As it should be, my queen," her tall Jaffa consort reassured her. "Your little ones are safe within the queens' strongest wards, and nothing has passed Merroll and me -- or will."
Dylantar said, "We should ask Karumai."
By the time they got back to the longhouse, the other queens were on the balcony. Dylantar and Jalen saw her safely there, and then went back out to join in a patrol of the village to make sure nothing was amiss. Vanira asked, "The little ones?"
"Are fine. They slept through it. What was that?"
Vanira had no idea either. All of them looked to Karumai.
The old woman gratefully accepted a shawl from her daughter and wrapped it around her thin shoulders. Like all of them, she had grabbed a weapon and rushed out in her nightshirt. Now that the excitement was over, the autumn chill had started to settle into her bones, reminding her that she was well past her youth. "Something...awakened," she said, with a thoughtful scowl.
Bastet and Relana came inside. Sirikat's instinct had been to check on her clutch. While she had rushed to the spawning pool, at the first hint of trouble, they had done a perimeter sweep. Bastet stamped the snow off her boots and climbed the stairs to the queens' balcony. "There's no one around who shouldn't be. Still, whatever awakened all of you has also frightened the forest creatures, as well as your herds and flocks."
Kimara indicated her pet bobcat, who was hiding behind a large wooden chest with his ears laid back. "He was sleeping on me, and he really scratched me when he jumped up."
Sirikat laughed. "I was wondering why you screamed!" Thirty pounds of cat suddenly launching himself off you would startle anyone, she thought, the magickal echo aside.
Karumai said, "It seemed to be coming from somewhere south of us. I wonder if the stargate could have done something...?"
Relana shook her head. "I spoke to the garrison commander once we were sure the village perimeter was secure. No one there noticed anything strange."
Vanira said, "I'll radio the queens in the neighboring villages and see if we can't narrow down where it came from." The communications system that Daltregon had gotten from the Asgard now made it possible to speak directly to villages halfway around the world, where once it had taken months for brief messages to travel that distance by runners and drum signals over land, and by sailing ships across the ocean. If a Goa'uld hunting party had been so foolish as to land on Daltregon now, within minutes of them being spotted the whole planet would have known about it -- and that was given that the Free Jaffa ha'tak with its squadrons of fighters and the two Asgard-built drakkars patrolling in the system hadn't blown them to so much space dust before they ever made landfall.
Now the comms system was buzzing with questions about the emanation of magical energy. Vanira soon discovered that it had been felt by every adept on the planet. When the witches from different villages began to compare their observations, its location was soon estimated to be somewhere near the river about halfway to the stargate.
When Vanira ended a conversation with Ankyla, Sirikat said, "Mother, that sounds like it was really close to those old Goa'uld tunnels where Jack and I were trapped after the landslide."
Karumai said, "I think I should see those tunnels for myself."
Sirikat replied, "You should be able to manage -- at least any of it that I've seen. There were stairs in the steep places."
People went back to their quarters to get properly dressed, then the queens got together again to discuss what might have created such a thing, while a scouting team mustered.
Near the center of what had once been Ra's great empire, he had built a space station to serve as neutral ground for his constantly warring underlords. After Ra's death, the system lords had maintained the station. Now few of their number remained, and of those, most were minor Goa'uld who had gained the title of System Lord only by stepping into dead men's boots. Only Lord Yu remained of the old order. He had no trust for Phastos and Eberion, so instead of his lo'taur, he had brought along Oshu, his trusted First Prime.
Ba'al had sent one of his underlords to address them. Her words were as arrogant as her master's was. "The System Lords are no longer. You have become a meaningless coalition that cannot resist the power of my master, Lord Ba'al."
Yu whispered to Oshu, who told the emissary, "Your master has no honor. The System Lords have not weakened in their resolve."
"The Jaffa are weak-willed and fallible. Is it any wonder they've begun to doubt their faith in the gods? So many Goa'uld have fallen."
Oshu bridled at that insult. "Ba'al was wise to send a representative."
Lord Yu said, "I would have killed him with my own hands!"
"Despite your ill will, Lord Ba'al wishes to extend a most generous offer. In exchange for your surrender, Ba'al will allow you to keep your armies and continue to administrate your territories under his authority. You will be permitted to live, so long as you bow before him as the supreme commander of the entire Goa'uld domain."
Yu's expression darkened at this offer, but he kept his silence. She continued, "Refusal to accept the terms of this offer will result in the resumption of hostilities, and ultimately your death."
Her demands were interrupted by the entrance of a Jaffa, who stood waiting until she leaned toward him to hear his whispered message. She ordered, "Bring her!"
Yu demanded, "What is the meaning of this?"
The ambassador replied, "I should ask you the same thing."
A pair of Kull Warriors escorted Sam Carter into the room. She was wearing a jacket - rather more ornate than the usual Air Force jackets - with SGC patches on the sleeves. Ba'al's emissary said, "Major Samantha Carter."
The Tau'ri said conversationally, "Actually, I'm a colonel now."
The Kull Warriors pushed her to her knees.
The emissary informed the system lords, "Her cargo ship was intercepted by my sentries when it violated the proximity zone around this station." She glared at Yu. "I am well aware of your past relationship with SG-1 and the Tau'ri. Would you have me believe that her sudden appearance here is nothing more than mere coincidence?"
Yu got to his feet and approached Sam. "What are you doing here?"
With no warning, Sam plunged a sword through Yu's chest. As he collapsed to the ground, the others stared in disbelief. Sam got to her feet and they saw that the sword was growing straight out of her arm. This was not Carter, but her replicator double. Yu's blood covered the sword. She walked towards the female Goa'uld, who tried unsuccessfully to activate her personal shield in time to save herself. The Kull Warriors were swarmed by replicator bugs, and the same fate befell Eberion when he tried to flee down the already-infested side corridor that led to the station's stargate.
Oshu drew his sword, prepared to die at his lord's side and take as many of the little mechanical devils with him as fortune allowed.
Phastos said, "Oshu! Would you rather die here or live to avenge your lord?"
"I would rather stand and fight than die running."
"I was Lord Zeus' weaponsmith. I have a few surprises that these vermin haven't yet seen, but I am no pilot."
Oshu nodded, knowing that Yu would never have approved of wasting his life in a hopeless battle while a chance to escape and fight again remained. Phastos pulled a button from his shirt and threw it into the middle of the swarming replicators, then he and Oshu ducked out the only escape route still open to them, a service corridor. A moment later the tail end of an explosion rocked the stairs. As they ran, Phastos pulled what looked like two harmless, decorative pins from his belt and screwed them together, just in time to use the weapon on another group of bugs. Bolts of red energy blew them to their component blocks.
There was a replicator sitting on the ring controls. Oshu took a spray of acid on his chain-mail clad arm rather than right in the face, and sliced the bug in half. He knew that the replicator could easily reconstitute itself, or even decide to regenerate both halves into smaller versions of the original. He had no intention to stay around long enough to find out which it would do.
They ringed to the hangar deck and fought their way through several more, but the protections on Lord Yu's ship had held. By the time they got inside, the replicator's acid had burned through Oshu's armor and into the padding beneath. He stripped it off and dived into the pilot's seat, bringing ships' systems online as fast as he could. He blasted his way out of the doomed station and they escaped into hyperspace.
Oshu had been prepared for his lord's death from old age, that was inevitable. But he had not been prepared for murder. This insult must be avenged so that his lord could return to the wheel of life in peace. Only then could he take the time to mourn the extraordinary man who had somehow become a second father to him.
In Bubastis, Bastet's daughter Kezira was nearly overwhelmed by the chaos following the battle of Vadrak. Her mother's Pyrrhic victory had left thousands of Jaffa families in mourning, and on top of that, Bastet's loss had dealt her people a crippling blow. With their goddess dead, many were losing hope, and Kezira had not found it easy to step into her mother's place. Only two hundred years old, she was popular with the people but she had not yet earned their trust as Bastet had. Where their mighty queen had fallen, they justifiably had little confidence that their young and untried princess could stand.
Kezira settled a couple of minor underlords who were each passionately arguing that her province should be allotted more Jaffa. She had placated both by sending more retired Jaffa to both provinces to help with training the new levies drawn from the common folk -- green troops who needed as much inspiration as combat training.
Kezira had faith in the Jaffa to rally them to defend their homes and avenge their goddess, but where Bastet had defended the peasantry with her dying breath, Kezira was readying them to march to war. Despite her sense of guilt for that, there was no help for it. Too many Jaffa had been lost over Vadrak. If the people of Memphis wished to avoid enslavement to Anubis, they would have to fight for their own freedom.
Kezira's lo'taur poured a goblet of cold, sweet wine. The Goa'uld sipped it slowly as she watched the sun set over Bubastis. She wondered how many more sunsets before Anubis found his way here, and if she would be able to hold even with the levies bolstering the Jaffa ranks. It was a struggle she was determined to win. Bastet's sacrifice must not have been in vain.
The lo'taur, a slim, bookish and extremely capable middle-aged man named Hamida, bowed an apology for the interruption. "Lady Kezira, there is a Jaffa here who insists on seeing you. She says that she has vital information for your ears only, and vows that she will not be removed without force of arms."
Kezira passed her left hand over the kara-kesh on her right, making certain that it was properly in place. In these times, one could not be too careful. "Bring her."
"Yes, my lady."
The Jaffa was wearing a hooded robe. When Hamida withdrew and closed the door behind him, she lowered the hood and knelt.
Kezira gasped and ran down three steps to her. "Rise -- Tarina -- it truly is you! I thought you dead over Vadrak!"
"Four of us escaped, besides myself the First Prime, and my co-pilot -- and your Lady Mother!"
Kezira gave a glad cry and stammered, "But -- how -- where is she?"
"Safe, my lady. She was killed when she rammed Zipacna's ship with her own, but Relana found her and ringed to Vadrak. I made an emergency landing there and we took Lady Bastet to the city of the Elder Sisters, where there was a sarcophagus. Vadrak was evacuated before Anubis could reach there. Lady Bastet went to Daltregon to confer with the Alliance, and remains there with Sirikat. The Elder Sisters will colonize New Tollana. Lady Bastet wishes for Anubis to believe her dead, so that he will turn aside from Memphis to deal with the Jaffa rebellion."
Kezira nodded. Suddenly Memphis' situation seemed far less desperate than it had a few moments ago.
She called for Hamida, and sent for the captain of one of the smaller ha'taks which was currently on patrol above Memphis. Small she might be, but the Huntress was fast, agile, very well cloaked, and equipped with a chappa'ai. She would serve Bastet well both as transportation and a hidden base of operations.
When the captain arrived, Kezira sent her with orders to report in person to Sirikat on Daltregon. Only then would she learn that Bastet lived.
The Huntress' arrival at Daltregon gave Bastet more options -- once she had calmed down the ship's thunderstruck captain, a battle-hardened veteran who had almost keeled over when suddenly confronted by the liege lady whom she had mourned as dead. After the explanations and celebrations, Bastet, Relana and the ship's senior officers had gathered around the brazier in the warm, comfortable room where Vanira had settled them. One of the young women -- Rialla, her host reminded Bastet -- brought them a large pot of some hot, sweet spicy tea, which was very welcome against the cold of an approaching Daltregonian winter. The session soon turned to strategic planning, taking Bra'tac's bid for Dakara into account. Bastet looked around the circle of her Jaffa, eager to join their brothers and sisters in their bid for freedom, and knew that the time had come to let go. "Relana?"
Her First Prime said, "I will not claim that I would avoid this fight in any case. I am Jaffa. But I am sworn to defend you, my queen, and the people of Memphis. That is an oath that I will honor. I believe that winning a decisive victory now is the best way for us to do that. Bra'tac's forces are outnumbered. If he loses at Dakara, we will only have to face Ba'al at New Tollana or Memphis. I would rather kill him at Dakara. And I would have a voice on whatever council of the Jaffa Nation follows the victory."
Bastet agreed wholeheartedly. "Take Huntress and go to Dakara with my blessing. You best serve the whole galaxy by taking Ba'al out of it."
"What of you, my lady? Will you remain here alone?"
Bastet smiled. "I remain, but not alone. Never alone. This is how it must be. Do you not see? If I were anywhere near Dakara, the enemy would make much of little."
Relana agreed, reluctantly, after a moment. "They would call it Bastet's victory."
"You must now think as a head of state, not as a First Prime. My fight is here, but this -- this is the Jaffa people's finest hour. Your destiny awaits you at Dakara -- go and claim it, and may the Eternal go with you. Come back to me never again as a slave, but as my beloved friend." The two women embraced fiercely, then Relana and her warriors swept out of the room while Bastet watched in proud tears. After a while she went down to the queens' balcony.
Karumai saw that it was not easy for Bastet to stand aside. She put her hand on her shoulder and spoke to her in heavily accented Goa'uld. "You have laid aside a heavy weight of karma this day, Bastet."
Bastet gave her a long look. "I do not think I have yet begun to pay that debt."
"The gods forgive much, for they have asked much of us. Forgiving ourselves, now -- there's the door we find it so hard to open. The Great Mother will show you how to pay your debts. You will find your way, and so will the Jaffa."
Cheyenne Mountain seemed very empty these days. O'Neill finished listening to Carter's progress report about the Ancient weapon on Dakara. The conversation was all business -- when they were on the job they were strictly General and Colonel. All the same, hearing her voice was the highlight of his workday. Teal'c was on Dakara, and Daniel -- he could only say a little prayer for Daniel and hope for the best.
Walter brought him a cup of coffee and a clipboard of papers to sign. O'Neill scribbled his name in the proper spaces and returned to his office. Getting old sucked. He should be out there. The only good he was doing was parking his ass in this chair to keep some idiot like Bauer from sitting in it. His wife and his best friends were out there and he had no idea if he would ever see any of them again in this world.
O'Neill gave himself a mental kick in the ass. They were out there getting the job done and he was sitting here feeling sorry for himself. That was unacceptable. He reached for a stack of mission reports and started reading.
It was three days' walk from the meadow where Daltregon's stargate was located up to Sirikat's village. Most of the way, the path led along a swiftly-flowing river. At one time, it had passed through a gorge on a narrow ledge high up on a cliff. A rockslide there two years ago had nearly killed Jack and Sirikat, and in taking shelter in an opening in the rocks, they had discovered a cave system. Once, it had been used by the Goa'uld, who had come here to hunt the "primitive, savage" people of Daltregon. That danger had passed with the fall of the System Lords. After a thorough exploration of the parts of the cave that the Goa'uld had used, the cavern had been abandoned. With so many away fighting with the Alliance, nobody had time to explore the far reaches of a cave. Vanira had sealed it against overly-curious young people and left it at that.
Now, with the al'kesh, it was only an hour's flight, and that included picking up Ankyla and Ciarevit as well as some of the other queens from their villages. Karumai was glad of that, even if the ship was crowded. She had enough hiking ahead of her as it was. The nearest landing place for the small pyramid ship was a meadow low on the slope. The hidden door by which Jack and Sirikat had escaped the cave was high above.
With snow on the ground, the steep climb up through the trees was a difficult one for Karumai. She hadn't complained, but when they reached their destination, she dropped her small pack and sat on a rock to take a deep drink of water. Sirikat was carrying most of Karumai's things as well as her own pack. Karumai had kept only her staff and crystals and a small sack containing a few essentials in case she somehow became separated from the rest of the group. Even so, the journey had left her tired and aching.
The younger queens who accompanied her were too polite to comment when she stopped for frequent rests. Ciarevit took advantage of the opportunity to take a load off at every chance she got, and dipped into her belt bag for a snack of dried berries. Ankyla filled a pot with snow and cast a spell to heat the metal pot, melting snow for tea, while Vanira removed her ward from the door.
No one had liked the idea of the queens coming here alone, but Karumai had insisted that the warriors remain in their villages. She had a sense of unease that she couldn't pin down. There had been no visions in the firelight to explain, but she had a strong sense that the villages needed protection more than their queens did. It was a mark of the trust people had in the ancient witch that even the consorts had stayed behind as she wished, even though the queens' expedition was potentially a dangerous one. Kimara had argued strenuously when they had left her in the village, but Vanira had been adamant. She was too young, but there was more to it than that. If something went wrong on this expedition, all the hopes of their village would rest on her.
After a time, the witches entered the caverns. After descending the long stairway, they ventured deeper into the tunnels than before. They left all sign of Goa'uld inhabitation behind them and entered a world of eerie beauty. Only the presence of a worn pathway through the rough footing of the cave floors testified to the passing of human beings down here, in some long-ago time lost to the symbiotes' genetic racial memory. Under other circumstances, Karumai would have spent a great deal of time studying the cave formations, but a sense of urgency drew her forward.
Eventually the tunnel opened into a vast underground cathedral full of beautiful white formations. They were very very near the source of the wave of magical energy that they had felt earlier. All of them could clearly sense it now. The queens had little time to search for it, however. There was an ominous skittering noise behind them.
Ankyla asked, "What is that?"
Sirikat had never seen any, but she had spoken to enough people who had fought them before to figure out what made that sound. "Replicators!"
Malek crawled the last few feet to the top of a ridge and surveyed the ships below. Serenshai came up beside him. There were only four tel'tacs on the landing field, far fewer than they would have expected, and there were very few guards around them. Malek began to think that those of Kali's Jaffa who had defected to the Free Jaffa probably had genuinely switched their allegiance. If Kali had engineered a ruse, it was unlikely that she would have left herself so critically understaffed that she couldn't set a proper guard around her own ha'tak's supply ships.
During their patient wait for sunset, they observed the Jaffa guarding the ships to determine how long it took him to make his rounds. He was vigilant, but he had been tasked with securing three tel'tacs, and there was no way he could be everywhere at once. When the sun began to set behind them, he and Serenshai began the long slow crawl down the hillside. Their tan and brown clothing gave them good camouflage in the tall weeds. When the guard was a safe distance away, they darted inside one of the ships and quickly concealed themselves inside a cargo bay.
Malek reached for Serenshai's hand. She was tense with anticipation. After years of waiting and preparation, her moment was at hand and she knew it. But she smiled at him in the darkness and returned his grip. There was a whole galaxy waiting for them once her duty was done.
Only a few moments later, there was noise in the main bay as people brought more supplies on board. Someone even opened their hiding place to shove in more boxes. Malek thought they were cooked and reached for his knives to put up a hell of a fight before they took him, but Serenshai only held up a restraining hand and concentrated on one of her crystals. The workers took no interest in the back of the bay. They merely shoved in a couple more bags of something -- turnips? -- then shut the hatch. Shortly the lifters fired up and they raised ship.
It was a short flight out to Kali's ha'tak. They waited impatiently while the ship landed. Most Goa'uld expected anyone coming onto their flagship to present themselves and give homage right away, then go about whatever business they had. They were counting on Kali's pride to be her downfall. Failing that, they were fully prepared to fight their way through to her.
Serenshai's spell -- to make the shadows they were hiding in supremely uninteresting to anyone passing by -- got them through a couple of tense spots when guards passed near enough for them to touch. But all in all the ship was barely occupied.
The moment they left a dark companionway for the garishly-lit and decorated corridors of the command deck, Serenshai knew her quarry was nearby. Two lengths of cold blue steel whispered from their sheaths and the crystals in their hilts blazed like two miniature suns.
Malek worked at the controls to the pel'tac doors for a moment. As soon as the lock disengaged, he handed off to Jeryn. Malek was a scientist. His host had been a bounty hunter before their blending. When there was fighting to be done, Malek supported Jeryn and stayed out of his way.
Kali was in there with her First Prime, a slave and two others. The three Jaffa tried to bar her way, but Serenshai leapt two staff blasts and slashed the First Prime's throat in passing. Jeryn zatted the other two.
"Kali," he said, "You should have had better sense than to go hunting witches -- and you certainly ought not to have missed one. Serenshai has sworn not to speak until her people are avenged. Your survivors will be hearing her voice soon enough."
Kali drew her blades. It wasn't idly that Serenshai had mastered the art of fighting with two swords: She had learned to counter Kali's own style.
Bra'tac had given her an edge that he hoped would help make up for Kali's centuries of experience. The crystals set into the hilts of Serenshai's weapons were actually kara-kesh. A personal shield wasn't proof against a blade weapon, but it did slow one down. Given Serenshai's skill they could be enough to turn a poor hit into a near miss.
Kali took note of none of that. Her overconfidence was supreme. It was only when one of Serenshai's blades danced under a parry to draw a bloody line across her ribs that the system lord comprehended just what a threat she faced.
There was no fear in the witch-queen's eyes. For the first time in centuries, Kali had to fight defensively.
Serenshai noticed a tiny droplet of liquid fly off the tip of one of Kali's kris blades. She wasn't the only one who had tried to load the dice. Counter-move -- if she were hit, she-who-was-Shai would continue the fight while she-who-was-Seren dealt with the venom. Kali had no such advantage, having never truly blended with her host. She fought two battles at once, one with the enemy before her and the other to control a mutinous host who was happy to die and take the Goa'uld into the darkness with her.
Serenshai fought with a reckless single-minded will to see Kali dead at her feet. That was the only real advantage that Kali did have. She lured the witch-queen into an all-out attack, which Kali sidestepped at the final second, managing a low thrust that scratched Serenshai just above the knee.
The poison started to burn immediately. Shai recalled having been bitten by a snake as a child, it was the same. Seren damped the pain and turned her attention to the venom. Kali's assumption of victory evaporated as she saw Serenshai's eyes flash, and the host came to the fore, the transition so smooth that her blades never wavered.
Serenshai leapt, spinning in midair, feinting a kick with her wounded leg. Kali realized too late that she should have sidestepped rather than trying to block the attack. She had very little time to regret the error before Serenshai's thrust struck home.
Kali collapsed. The symbiote released its poison before it died. The host smiled with blood on her lips and whispered, "Dal shakka mel."
In a voice rough with long disuse, Serenshai said, "May your next life be long, blessed and free."
The two Jaffa recovered from Jeryn's zat blasts in time to see her rise, with their goddess at her feet. Slowly, terrified, the two warriors and the slave woman knelt to her. Serenshai shook her head. "Stand up; there is no need for you to bow before me. Kali is no more! You are no longer slaves to a false god! You are free now."
Serenshai waited to see if the Jaffa would use their newfound freedom to avenge their former mistress and their First Prime. She hoped they would do no such thing. She had no desire to kill them.
The warriors were stunned. In their experience, when one Goa'uld slew another, the loser's personal guard was always killed. Not only were they to live, they were set free.
The serving woman caught on faster that she was no longer a slave. She let out a loud joyful scream in some language that neither Malek nor Serenshai knew. She gave Kali's body a good swift kick, and then ran out of the room, still shouting.
Jeryn came to Serenshai's side and put his arm around her.
One of the Jaffa spoke up. "The defectors were right. Kali was no goddess. What fools we have been."
"The time for foolishness is past," the other replied. "What is to become of us now, my lady?"
"That is yours to decide, but the Jaffa nation soon faces that other false god, Ba'al, at Dakara. Myself, I would wish to fight for my freedom at the side of my brothers and sisters. In any case, you need to organize yourselves and determine who among you will lead through these perilous times."
Within moments, news of Kali's death spread through out the ship, the fleet, and out across Kali's lands. As the people rejoiced, her remaining Jaffa decided what they were going to do next. The leaders of the Jaffa clans saw the wisdom in a strong leadership now and formed a council. Not all of them chose to fight, but most did, enough that soon a small fleet of two ha'taks and their attending vessels set course for Dakara.
In a quiet alcove, Serenshai made of a viewport an altar with all the stars for candles. Malek felt the burden of the grief she had carried for so long as she sang a lament for her dead, so many. Faces and names returned to him as well, Aldwin, Martouf, Egeria, Kel'maa, so many more. By the time Serenshai finished they were weeping together, and those tears were the beginning of healing.
When they fought again, it would not be to avenge the dead. They would be fighting for freedom, for their future.
The skies over Daltregon were filled with fire as a Free Jaffa ha'tak and two Cimmerian drakkars tried to defend against a flood of replicators. It soon became obvious that there was nothing they could do. The replicators didn't even stop to engage the sentry ships whose weapons were useless against them. They just came pouring down through the atmosphere at such a mad velocity that outer layers of replicator blocks were burned off by the fierce heat of reentry. All the would-be defenders could do was warn the people below and watch helplessly.
The warning came in time for the people of Daltregon to turn out in defense of their villages. For now, they held -- the replicators had never encountered anything that used the raw elemental power of nature as a weapon. Soulless machines could barely comprehend magic, much less adapt to it in time to do them any good.
Vast areas of the planet, however, were all but untouched wilderness. Here the replicators had free reign. They homed in on the source of power that had sung out to them across the immense distances of interstellar space, and began to pour into the caves like white water.
Far below, Sirikat blasted another wave of replicators. "There are too many of them!"
Ankyla shouted defiantly, "Come then, demons, let the daughters of Daltregon show you how warriors die!"
Karumai rebelled against throwing her life away uselessly, but there was another way. She turned back the way they had come, toward the bottleneck in the access tunnel, toward the seething mass of replicators.
Sirikat realized what she was going to do and reached out to stop her. Karumai only smiled at her with the eyes of a much younger woman -- the eyes of a warrior. Sirikat realized Karumai was their only hope. She said, "May the Lady guard your path and the Lord guide your hand!" honoring her grandmother -- her voice did not falter in the ancient battle blessing, although her eyes burned with tears.
Karumai turned and cast a spell that surrounded her with a field of glowing sparks that swarmed around her like bees. Replicator after replicator leapt at her and disintegrated in a flash of light. They ignored her in their single-minded rush deeper into the caves. The swarm seemed not to care how many of their number annihilated themselves against her shields. Soon there was nothing but light, but still they came, and she had another fifty paces to go, straight through the main group of them. She poured energy into the spell -- she had to win through. Once there she would draw upon the energy of the planet itself, but she had to get into position first.
It didn't look like she would be able to do that. She almost despaired -- if her gambit failed, the replicators would quickly overrun the cavern despite the witches' best efforts.
Then something miraculous occurred. The replicators froze in place. Karumai didn't question her good fortune, just waded through them as fast as her shielding spell cleared a path for her.
They wakened from their paralysis and turned on her like an ocean wave, but Karumai paid them no mind. She had found the right place to cast her final spell -- a section of the tunnel roof where a natural imperfection could be exploited. She reached deep and tapped into the living energy of Daltregon, letting it flow through her full-out. For a moment, heat and light spilled out of the tunnel as if it were a blast furnace, incinerating hundreds of replicators. More importantly, it brought down the tunnel, stemming the tide of advancing bugs. It would take quite a while for them to devour their way through that.
Sirikat screamed, "KARUMAI HAI! DALTREGON!" She poured all her grief and rage into her spells, eradicating as many of the mechanical spiders as she could find. The rest of the queens took up her battle cry and turned on the replicators with unparalleled fury. Soon the cavern was clear. Those not tending the wounded spread out to search it carefully.
No one made any mention of the fact that they were trapped in here. If they didn't stop the bugs, it wouldn't matter whether or not they got out of the cavern.
Ankyla shouted, "There's something here!"
Sirikat joined her in front of a rock face that looked no different from the rest of the cavern -- to ordinary sight. But to magical senses, the outline of a door was clear. She raised her hand and found that it sank into the stone as if nothing was there -- while a solid barrier blocked Ankyla's passage.
"It seems that the invitation only extends to you," Ankyla said, with a skeptical raised eyebrow.
No less suspicious, Sirikat drew her sword and cast a shielding spell before she stepped forward. There was a sensation like pushing through molasses, then she was through and inside a smaller chamber lit by hundreds of small glowing crystals. In the center of the room was a large, ornately-carved and -jeweled stone bier that took up much of the floor space.
Sirikat had not seen many tombs, given the Daltregonian custom of cremation. She approached carefully. Atop the bier lay a skeleton clothed in the dusty remains of a long gown. In its hands was clasped the largest crystal that Sirikat had ever seen. Patterns of light swirled within the stone, gold and pink and pale blue.
"Daughter, name yourself."
Sirikat wasn't even sure that she had heard the voice aloud. She took another step forward and said, "I am Sirikat, daughter of Vanira, daughter of Karumai. I am the War-Chief of Daltregon. Who summons me here?"
The spectral form of a woman sat up from the bier and stood to face her. "I am Danire, mother of Daltregon," she replied. "I have called you to fulfill your destiny."
Sirikat recalled the legends of her childhood. Danire was the first and the greatest of the witch-queens, who had deserted the Goa'uld shortly after they began taking human hosts. "What destiny?"
"I saw a vision in the flames foretelling your birth, and the coming of the Replicators. The gods revealed to me that there would be a great battle and that the mechanical demons would threaten to overrun the galaxy, overwhelming its defenders by sheer force of numbers, unless their forces were somehow divided at this critical point. I spent the last century of my mortal life constructing this chamber, and finally the Heartstone, and at last I imbued it with my spirit. Then I slept for these many long centuries. When the time came, I awakened -- or, I should say, the Heartstone awakened. It is both bait for the replicators, and a weapon against them -- for I would not have their last act be the destruction of Daltregon. Now, it is up to you to use the Heartstone to focus the power of all the witches into a spell that will destroy the replicators here."
"But how will they know to raise energy for me?"
Danire said, "The crystal will show you. Take it now and attune it to yourself. It is time for me to rest."
Sirikat stepped forward and took the crystal from her long-ago ancestor's hands. As she reached out to attune it to herself, Danire let go. Sirikat felt her many-times-great-grandmother's spirit brush against her in passing, conveying her pride and confidence without any need for words.
Sirikat had never touched such power. She had never been good at the mental talents of farseeing or telepathy, but with the crystal in her hands, she didn't have to be good at it. The crystal showed her far-away Dakara and the weapon there which promised to rid the galaxy of replicators, but Sirikat understood that salvation would come too late for Daltregon if they waited for the Dakara weapon to destroy the bugs that were already here. It was up to her to stem the tide on her homeworld.
She reached out and felt the presence of Vanira, Ankyla, Ciarevit and the others in the chamber outside, and then so many others -- the witches of the Forest People, the Ice People, the Islanders, the Mountain People, the nomads of the Great Western Desert, the Riders of the plains who followed the herds. All of them heeded her call. They left battling the replicators to their warriors and began to raise power, the greatest working that Daltregon had ever seen.
Sirikat would have died as Karumai had, if she had tried to focus so much energy unaided. But for this, Danire had sacrificed herself to the crystal. It began to glow until Sirikat could see nothing but the Light. When the crystal was ready, she willed the energy forth, visualizing it sweeping across Daltregon and throughout her star system. The replicators that menaced every village on the planet were swept away by the great wave, leaving only scatterings of inert silvery dust to testify that they had ever been there. And then it was over. Spent, Sirikat carried it to the pedestal that Danire had prepared for it, and then collapsed.
Sirikat was stunned and disoriented that it had all happened so quickly. The weight of the destiny that had guided her steps for so long had passed from her, leaving her feeling as if she were as light as a feather, and just as ephemeral. She did not know if she would live or die, and at that moment, she had no strength left to care. Her world, her village, her family, were safe. That was all that mattered.
On Dakara, Jacob stumbled and caught himself against the control console as the Ancients' weapon activated, and its power began to spread through the stargate network. Gate after gate activated and spilled forth a tide of cleansing energy, eradicating the replicator threat from the entire galaxy. Jacob wasn't sure but he thought it might have extended everywhere there were stargates -- the Milky Way, the Asgard galaxy, Pegasus, and who knew how many other places the Ancients had roamed.
All of that was very distant to him just then. Selmac could hold onto consciousness no longer. With a last wordless expression of love, she slipped into a darkness from which she would never waken without the intervention of a sarcophagus.
Jacob gasped. He had not felt so alone, so torn in half, since his wife died. "Sam!"
"Dad, what's wrong?" She knew immediately that something awful had happened. It wasn't like him to turn to her, to cry out for her, and there was such loss in his voice that it terrified her.
"Sel -- she's -- she's gone into a coma, Sam." He could feel the cold numbness of the poison flowing through him. "Sorry...we gambled that we had more time. We needed Selmac to figure this out first. Garshaw knows. We decided to use Bastet's sarcophagus. But from here -- I don't know if you can get us to it in time. If you can't -- this was worth our lives. Never doubt that."
"We'll get you there in time," Sam promised. "You've got to hold on."
The Jaffa army began to celebrate as word spread of Ba'al's retreat. Sam paid little attention to it, out of concern for her father. But when she heard several ships landing, she went to the door to see what was happening in case it was something that would impede getting her father to the stargate.
Except for Bra'tac's ship, all the al'kesh and glider squadrons bore Bastet and Yu's markings. Along with Bra'tac, Relana and Oshu approached Teal'c and Tolok. As she watched, Tolok clasped arms with first Relana, then Oshu.
The crowd was shouting for Bra'tac, and when he raised his staff to claim victory, there was a thunderous cheer from the battle-weary warriors.
Sam went back to Jacob. "It's over. We won. Bra'tac's out there in the courtyard, and he brought Oshu and Relana with him."
"Did they get Ba'al?"
"I don't know, I wasn't close enough to hear what they were saying, but whatever happened, Bra'tac didn't look too unhappy about it. That doesn't sound good for Ba'al." Jacob saw a deep satisfaction in his daughter's eyes as she made that observation. He knew Sam, and for all her professionalism working with Ba'al to get the weapon working earlier, he knew the only thing better than hearing about the System Lord's defeat would have been for Sam to be there to see it for herself.
Sam said, "You rest. I'll talk to Relana about getting you to a sarcophagus." She saw Neith of the Hak'tyl -- Ishta's people -- and called her over. "Can you stay with my father for a little while?"
The Jaffa said, "Of course, what is wrong?"
Jacob said, "I've taken ill. Sam's going to get some help."
Neith helped him to a nearby bench and gave him her canteen, while Sam sprinted over to talk to Bastet's First Prime.
Upon hearing of Selmac's illness, Relana immediately contacted Bastet, who told the Carters to meet her in Bubastis. When Sam returned for Jacob, however, the ancient temple was in an uproar. Jacob was nowhere to be seen. "Neith? What happened, where's Dad?"
Neith said, "I do not know, SamanthaCarter! One moment, your father was fine. The next, he fell very suddenly unconscious, and then -- he began to glow! He turned into a ball of light, so bright I could not look upon him, and when my vision cleared, nothing remained but the clothing he was wearing!"
Sam gasped, "Oh, God, Dad!" She grabbed ineffectually at the pile of clothing. "He ascended? But why would he do that?" There was no sign of Selmac, either. They must both have ascended together. At least Sam didn't think they had been separated. But why would they change their minds and choose to ascend when they had already decided to use the sarcophagus to heal themselves? Had they even had a choice? Oma had given Daniel a choice, and Jack had decided against it in Ba'al's dungeon. But she wondered if the people of Abydos had ascended of their own free will. Almost immediately she dismissed that. Compelling them would have gone against everything she knew of Oma Desala.
Teal'c came running to investigate the in the temple, and held Sam as she started to cry. He had no more answers than anyone else did.
Sirikat wasn't sure how long she lay on the cold stone floor of the tomb before she gathered the strength to stand. She paused for a moment to pay homage to Danire.
Then she was struck by an awful thought -- what if the enchantment which had allowed her to pass through the stone had been dispelled by Danire's ghost's crossing over from the world? Strengthened by a surge of adrenaline, she grabbed her sword, more out of obedience to her training never to lose her weapons than with any thought of using it. She stumbled the few steps across the small room to run her hands over the wall with desperate speed. She wasn't sure now where the doorway had been. She nearly lost her balance as one hand plunged wrist-deep into the wall. She gasped a prayer of thanks and lurched through, straight into Vanira's arms.
After she caught her breath, she explained what had happened. "Replicators can't get anywhere near Daltregon any more. Not that it matters. I don't believe there are any more replicators, after whatever it was that I felt come through the stargate."
Vanira said, "But if we'd had to wait for that, it would have been too late. Danire foresaw all of this, thousands of years ago?"
"Yes, she sacrificed herself to save us all...just like Karumai."
Ankyla said, "Your destiny is fulfilled, Sirikat, and now you are free of it. What will you do?"
"I'm going home," she said, smiling at her mother. "I'm going home."
Ankyla nodded, and gathered a few others to begin the job of getting themselves out of the cavern. It was large enough that they were in no immediate danger of suffocating, but like all the others, she was afraid for her loved ones and anxious to see how her village had fared against the replicators.
On the pel'tak of Varga, Ba'al's mothership, the Jaffa at the control console reported to Ba'al sitting on the throne behind him. "All replicator-controlled ships are dormant."
Ba'al ordered, "Prepare enough squads to board them and reclaim them in the name of their god."
"Yes, my lord." His console beeped. "We are being hailed."
Teal'c appeared on the viewscreen.
The Free Jaffa leader offered, "Surrender now, and you will be granted mercy."
Ba'al smiled. "You are hardly in any position to be making such ridiculous demands. You are surrounded."
"You are incorrect. It is, in fact, you that is surrounded by free Jaffa."
From the side of the pel'tak, a Telchak beam took down one of the super-soldiers flanking Ba'al. As the other super-soldier turned towards the source, a second beam struck it down. Bra'tac ran onto the pel'tak, a Telchak rifle in his hands. He was followed by other Jaffa who quickly disarmed Ba'al's crew.
Bra'tac told them, "Behold - your false god."
Ba'al looked at Bra'tac for a moment. He grinned, and then started to laugh. He reached for a device on his wrist. Bra'tac and the free Jaffa opened fire but Ba'al was beamed away. Bra'tac turned to the viewscreen and shook his head at Teal'c in disappointment.
Back at the SGC, Jack and Sam were making their way up the stairs from the Control Room to the Briefing Room. O'Neill asked, "Any more word from Teal'c?"
"Yes, sir. Although Ba'al got away, the fact that he turned tail and ran made the rebel victory every bit the turning point Teal'c and Bra'tac were hoping for. Jaffa from all over the galaxy are joining with them."
"Well, vive la revolution!"
"Got a significant size fleet securing Dakara, including Yu's fleet under Oshu's command. Relana took the Claws of Bastet back to help settle the Sekhmet on New Tollana, but they've signed a mutual defense treaty with the Free Jaffa Nation. Hopefully with the weapons we've provided, they'll be able to turn the tide against Anubis' super-soldiers." She and Jack walked into his office. He sat down. "It looks like the Jaffa might finally win their freedom."
"It's about time!"
"Yes, sir. Oh! I heard from Thor."
"How's he doin'?"
"Great! He sends us all his congratulations and says that he will drop by for a visit as soon as his consciousness has been downloaded from the ship's computer into a new body."
"That just never gets old, does it?"
They smiled at each other for a moment, then Jack remembered something. "Carter, did you notice if the Replicators where you were happened to ... stop in the middle of everything?"
"Yeah, it was really strange. They just ..."
They finished the sentence together, "... froze."
Sam said, "It actually bought us the time we needed to calibrate the weapon."
"Any idea why that happened?"
"D'you think Daniel had something to do with it?"
"I don't know."
"Sir, if he was on board that Replicator ship when ..."
O'Neill interrupted, "Carter - we don't know anything."
Carter said, "I know Dad and Selmac ascended, and that wasn't plan A."
"True. But whatever happened, we don't have the answers right now, and there's nothing we can do but wait it out. Anything else?"
His calm, business-as-usual attitude was contagious. They didn't know anything yet, and Daniel was as good as the rest of them at extricating himself from impossible situations. "No, sir."
Jack nodded and started doing some paperwork. Sam waited for a moment, then wandered out of the room. Jack wrote for a moment longer, then lifted his head and gazed off into the distance, wondering.
Oma squared off with Anubis. There was a determination in her manner that suddenly scared Daniel. He realized what she was going to do. She could not destroy Anubis, but she could counter him. She could imprison herself in a deadlock with him, blocking his every move from now throughout eternity. Daniel cast about desperately for a way, any way, to spare her that fate. He saw no alternative.
But then the front door burst open, slamming against the wall with a loud bang. Daniel's own father-in-law, Kasuf, barged in. He was closely followed by Jacob Carter and a young blonde woman dressed in Tok'ra brown. Behind them were Karumai, and a regal Jaffa warrior bearing the golden glyph of Thoth upon his forehead, then finally Orlin and Skaara. Anubis turned to keep both Oma and the new arrivals in view.
Kasuf stared Anubis in the eye. "Enough! Oma Desala alone can counter every move you make through all eternity. But she is not alone. Together we will destroy you."
One of the Others threatened, "We will permit no interference from you upstarts. If you interfere, you will be banished."
Kasuf was not about to take his attention off Anubis. He didn't have to. The Jaffa's staff swept out in a graceful, effortless arc.
Where a human opponent's legs would have been knocked out from under him, the Ascended One seemed to fold in on himself for a moment like crumpled paper. The Jaffa's fury was a truly frightening thing. "You may banish all you like, for all the good it will do you. We are going nowhere! Dishonorable, arrogant ha'shak, all of you!" He thundered. "Who are you to presume to sit in judgment of anyone? You have done no good with the gifts that the Universe has granted. You cast Anubis from your midst then let him do as he pleased, and for what? To teach Oma Desala a lesson? You had no right to stand in the way of stopping him. His depredations since are on your heads! You had no right to commit genocide upon Orlin's folk when you simply could have taken their doomsday weapon and tasked Orlin with preventing them from ever again misusing the technology that he had granted them. The Goa'uld are false gods -- you are no better! Your days of using the lives of the innocent as playthings and bargaining chips end here and now. I do not know what reckoning the universe will demand of you for the murders you have done, but this I know: Henceforth you shall do no more harm."
Daniel put his hand firmly on the shoulder of the Ancient nearest him. "You really don't want to get involved with this."
Jacob and his Tok'ra companion flanked another one who looked like he was about to do something. "I wouldn't if I were you," the Tau'ri general advised.
A rock shattered the diner's front window. The occupants of the booth there jumped back, startled, then looked to see who had thrown it. The street outside was crowded with an angry mob of predominantly Abydosian and Jaffa warriors.
Karumai let magical energy play around her hands. Ascension had taught her little that she hadn't already known -- so much for the Other's claims that they possessed all the knowledge of the universe. It had given her access to virtually unlimited reserves of power. "I believe you lot are late to be somewhere else."
The Others looked around at each other, then one by one they stood and headed for the door.
Oma Desala faced Anubis. "You have run out of all options but two. You may attempt to fight us all and face certain destruction, or return again to the mortal plane and be reborn."
Anubis lashed out in a rage as he realized his old teacher was right. But he had another option. He ripped open a passage into another realm, a place of darkness utterly devoid of life. That which any other being would have seen as a fate worse than damnation, Anubis embraced.
Oma sealed the passage behind him. Her erstwhile apprentice had gotten his wish. His universe was a blank slate, for him to create in his own image. He had better do so wisely, for he would be imprisoned there for a very long time, even as the Ascended measured time.
The diner fell silent. Oma turned to her army of followers. "You have saved me from a destiny that I deserved," she said. "As the Tau'ri say, I made my bed. It would have been only fair if I had been left to sleep in it."
Orlin said, "Doesn't everyone have free will? Anubis chose to use his powers for evil. He deserved his fate for his actions. You aren't guilty of the things that he did."
The Jaffa master said, "Orlin speaks truth, OmaDesala."
Daniel asked, "What do we do now?"
Oma smiled. "That, my friends, is up to you. But, Daniel, if you return to the mortal realm, you will die."
"I ascended and then returned to life once before. Is there any reason why I can't just do that again?"
She stopped as she truly realized that the hold the Others had always had over them was now broken. They were free, at long last. "Why -- there's no reason at all why you can't do that now, if that is your decision."
Hesitantly, he said, "But if I die, Sha're and I will be together."
Oma said, "You and Sha're will always be together."
"She deserves more than she has right now. She's a ghost back on earth. Most people aren't even aware that she exists. She and I can only really be together in our dreams."
"She died with much left undone. She is where she needs to be on her path right now. Nothing will part the two of you. Sha're is not the only one who needs you. The choice is yours, though, my son. Only you know where your path lies."
Daniel nodded. The threat that Anubis had posed to the galaxy was ended, but he was not the only threat. Daniel knew what he had to do.
Jacob asked, "How about it, Sel, what do you want to do?"
Daniel suddenly recognized the female Tok'ra as a young version of Sarouche, Selmac's host before Jacob. She said, "We still have a lot of work to do, Jacob."
Jacob asked, "Well, Oma? Can we go back to the way we were?"
"As symbiote and host? Yes, of course, if that is what you both desire."
Jacob and Selmac shared a long look, then the two of them nodded agreement without saying a word. "That's where we belong," Jacob told Oma. He and Selmac both disappeared.
The Jaffa turned to Daniel. "I am Marnac of Aravis. DanielJackson, I do not know how much you remember of the time you spent with us before, but know that you and your lady will always be welcome in our midst. For too many years, we accepted that things should be as they always had been. You showed us another way. You showed us that we had not risen above the demands of honor and duty. That the universe's gifts come with responsibility not only to use them to better ourselves, but also to defend and teach those whom we have left behind. We had forgotten the difference between intervention and interference. We still have much to learn from you."
Daniel replied, "Kasuf is very wise. He can teach you everything that I could. I still have so much to learn myself -- things that I can't learn here. But if you ever need me, you know you only have to call me."
Marnac inclined his head. "It is right that you follow your path. Give my regards to the Lady Seshat when next you see her."
Daniel said, "I'd be glad to, but why don't you come back and tell her yourself?"
Marnac said, "My place is here. The Others will eventually salve their wounded pride. They may well be angry enough to return in force to restore the old order. I will be here to meet them if they do."
Karumai nodded. "I choose that path as well. Daniel, give my family my love. Tell them that it was time for my life as Karumai to end, but already I hear Daltregon calling me home. When I am no longer needed here, tell them to expect to see me in the eyes of a child, and that day cannot come too soon."
Kasuf and Skaara hugged Daniel. Kasuf said, "Good son, again we must part, but this time in joy rather than in sorrow. Speak of us to Sha're."
Daniel promised to do that.
Orlin hesitated. "The only reason I had to leave...is happy with someone else. I'll be staying too."
He and Daniel shook hands, and then Daniel turned to Oma. "Thank you for saving me, and Jacob and Selmac. And thank you for what you were ready to do to save the whole galaxy."
"Daniel, when you return this time, you will remember. That means you will always have to be very careful not to overreach yourself. You will know how to do things that would kill you, the same way that Karumai died, before whatever you were trying to do could succeed, if you try to use your own energy. And what's more, if you do that too soon or too often, you will not be able to return to mortal life for a very long time. Every time that you make the transition leaves its mark. You would have to wait for your spirit to heal and that can take decades as mortals measure time."
Karumai underscored that. "I knew what I was doing, Daniel, but there was still a chance I could have miscalculated. If I had not focused the power in exactly the right place, the tunnel may not have collapsed, and I would have thrown my life away for nothing. If you ever find yourself in that position, whatever you plan needs to be instantaneous, because the spell will fail if you die before it is completed. We all return to the Goddess, my young friend -- but She is in no great hurry to have us back!"
Daniel nodded his understanding, and said, "I'll be careful, I promise." He turned to Oma, and they embraced. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye, my son."
He visualized Jack's office, and willed himself there. A moment later he felt the rough carpet under his bare feet and the cold air blowing from the ventilation system.
He was home.
Standing beside Jack's desk.
In front of the glass star map between the office and the briefing room.
Naked as a jaybird.
He ducked behind the desk as people began to file into the briefing room. Bra'tac was reporting to Jack, Sam and Teal'c.
"The Kull warriors became ... disorganized, confused, as though they no longer knew what to do," he was saying.
Teal'c said, "They no longer had a master to serve."
Bra'tac agreed. "After that, they were easily defeated."
Teal'c told O'Neill and Carter, "Many Jaffa lost their lives at Dakara. Those that survived are united as never before, and we are in agreement -- the weapon must be destroyed."
O'Neill said, "Well, that's good."
Bra'tac added, "A new memorial will be erected in its place so that our triumph over the Goa'uld will never be forgotten."
Carter said, "I still don't quite understand what happened. One minute Anubis is about to push the button that ends all life in the galaxy, and the next minute he's just ... gone."
Teal'c shared her puzzlement. "Indeed. It is a great mystery."
Bra'tac speculated, "One can only assume he was vanquished by some beings. If not, why would he forfeit the weapon and his army?"
Sam and Jack shared a significant look as two and two clicked to make four.
Carter said, "You think?"
O'Neill replied, "I do."
Hope lit Carter's eyes. "It's the only thing that would explain the self destruct not going off."
Bra'tac asked, "Of what do you speak?"
Teal'c explained, "O'Neill believes that Daniel Jackson was somehow responsible."
Daniel piped up, "No! It wasn't me."
His friends all looked startled.
O'Neill demanded, "Anybody else hear that?"
Sam only nodded.
Daniel called, "I'm in here!"
Everyone turned towards Jack's office.
"That's Daniel!" O'Neill got up and walked to the door of his office.
Daniel ducked further behind the desk. "No! Don't come in!"
Jack recoiled as he realized what was the matter with Daniel. "Ho! Hey there!" He backed out of the room again.
Daniel looked around, there wasn't a stitch within reach. "Can you get me ... something?"
Jack looked around the Briefing Room and spotted the S.G.C. flag on its pole at the side of his door. He pulled it off the pole and handed it to Daniel. A moment later, Daniel came out of the office, wrapping the flag around his waist. He was bare-chested. Jack fiddled awkwardly with the flagpole. Sam's jaw dropped, and then she looked away. Bra'tac gazed at Daniel, grinning widely.
Red-faced, Daniel said, "It's, uh, a long story."
Sam glanced at him and smiled, just as embarrassed. Behind Daniel, Jack turned to look at him. Daniel glanced round at him and Jack looked away again.
Teal'c said, "If you did not stop the self-destruct, DanielJackson, then who did?"
Daniel said, "It had to be Jacob. He and Selmac were coming back too."
Sam whooped and ran to the stairs to the control room, taking them two or three at a time with everyone else clattering right behind her.
Jacob walked out of the storeroom, wearing the spare coverall that he knew Siler kept there. It was way too big for him but it beat what Daniel was wearing.
Sam almost knocked her father over as she ran up to hug him. Laughing, he wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug and kissed her forehead. Jack slapped him on the back. "Welcome home, Dad."
Quiet laughter floated on the summer air along a Minnesota lakeshore. Jack and Sam sat side by side on his dock, fishing.
Carter said, "This is great."
O'Neill replied, somewhat smugly, "I told ya!"
"I can't believe we didn't do this years ago."
"Yes, well, let's not dwell."
"There are no fish in this pond, are there?"
Sam giggled as she looked at him. Behind them, Daniel and Teal'c arrived, carrying a cooler box between them and each holding a folding chair in his free hand. Jack launched his line out into the water again.
Daniel and Teal'c unfolded their chairs. Teal'c sat down, and Daniel walked onto the pier to join the other two. "Sam, we ran into your family at the airport. They were on their way to the RV rental place, and they said they'd be here sometime this evening. Are Jonathan and the kids going to be able to make it?"
"No, Alvin and Lydia are doing something with the high school band and Jonathan and Nancy already had plans to go to that. It's kind of a big deal, the seniors' last performance with the band."
"Hey, they'll be doing some orientation stuff at the Air Force Academy pretty soon, too, won't they?"
"Yeah, Daniel, orientation like in basic training," Jack told him. He knew Jonathan wouldn't have any trouble with it. Nancy obviously knew the score, with Jonathan and her step-dad to answer all her questions, but she was more excited than worried. She'd already got her hair cut short. He almost hadn't recognized her the last time he'd seen her. She'd seemingly grown up overnight.
Jacob had gotten clearance to let Mark and his wife in on Jack and Sam's marriage, after swearing them to secrecy. He and Selmac hoped that their family would be seeing a lot more of one another now that the war with the Goa'uld was virtually over.
With a sense of wonder, Sam realized that what she was feeling went way beyond contentment. It was real happiness, something she hadn't truly known since her mother passed away. Soon her whole family would be together. A long time ago she had told Sirikat that she and Jack hadn't given up on having it all right here on Earth -- and now they did.
Their lives were going to go in different directions now that the Goa'uld and the replicators had been defeated. Teal'c's destiny lay with the Free Jaffa, and his home was now Dakara as much as Colorado Springs. He would be needed to help form a new government. His son and daughter-in-law were there. Judging from the way Ry'ac and Kar'yn had been looking at each other after the fighting ended, Sam didn't think it would be too long before they made Teal'c a grandfather.
Daniel had time now for his studies, and any number of offworld archaeological sites beckoned, Atlantis foremost among them. Now that there was peace in the galaxy, he had time to figure out who and what he had become, as an Ascended in human form. The Ancients' citadel seemed a likely place to start.
Jack hadn't told anyone else besides Sam yet, but George Hammond was stepping down as head of Homeworld Security, finally retiring for good and coming home to help his daughter with the girls, now that Alvin was starting college, and Jack was going to be taking the job. Sam would be in Washington with him for a while, working out of the Pentagon, then she would be transferring to Nevada to head up R&D at Area 51 while the scale of operations there ramped up. A lot of the alien technology that they had acquired over the years would be slowly released, hopefully to improve the standard of living for people all over the world. One day the Stargate would become public knowledge and the Tau'ri would take their rightful place among the stars. Sam could best contribute to that in the lab for the time being. She knew she would miss being in the field every bit as much as Jack had, but it was her duty to go where Uncle Sam needed her. She found herself eager to take on the challenges of a bright new universe finally free of Goa'uld oppression.
She smiled fondly at Jack. They couldn't be together every night just yet, but planes flew between Nevada and Washington all the time. They were both going to be working nine-to-five jobs, and their duties would call for them to visit back and forth frequently anyway. Jet lag aside, things were slotting right into place for the newlyweds. They certainly weren't the only Air Force couple whose duties separated them -- and many of the others had one or both partners in harm's way in the Mideast. They knew how fortunate they were, all things taken into consideration. It was also going to give Sam some time with Cassie, who was still having a hard time dealing with Janet's death. Sam was the nearest thing to a mother that Cassie had now. She felt that a change from Colorado Springs, away from all the memories there, would be a good thing for Cassie.
After a circumspect time had passed -- to keep tongues from wagging too much -- she and Jack could make their relationship public and live together openly. For now, it was just as well for them to work through it slowly, one step at a time, as they figured out what their new life was going to be. At their age, they were both set in their ways, so there would be some major adjustments for them both. But this, too, promised to be an exciting new journey.
Daniel got into the cooler and passed bottles of beer around. He raised his bottle. "To SG-1!"
She raised her bottle and repeated with the others, "SG-1!"
No matter what the future brought, the four of them would always be SG-1. The family that they had created together through so many years of war would last forever through the peace, and so in its way would this perfect afternoon. Wherever they were, Minnesota, Colorado Springs, Washington, the Nevada desert, or somewhere out among the stars, now they knew that home was a state of mind where the four of them were always together.
And that was enough for them all.
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