By Rebecca Ratliff


WARNINGS: language

CATEGORY: Action/Adventure, Angst, Series


SPOILERS: 606 Abyss and previous

TIME FRAME: Season 6, sequel to my novelization of "Abyss"

SUMMARY: SG-1 comes to the rescue of a potential Tok'ra recruit, a young girl and her queen symbiote.

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. No infringement of those rights is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted without the consent of the author. This disclaimer was shamelessly copied from the 'Heliopolis' site.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: If you have seen the episode Abyss, it is not necessary to have read my novelization to understand this story.

"Hello, Sam."

Major Samantha Carter looked up from her study of an artifact that they had brought back from the planet that they had nicknamed Santorini. "Dad!" She stood and embraced her father, General Jacob Carter, USAF retired, now host to the Tok'ra symbiote Selmac.

"What have you got there?" Jacob examined the artifact curiously.

"It's a laser weapon."

"Where'd you get that? Sel hasn't seen one like this either."

"Santorini," the younger Carter replied. She was slowly getting used to her father's casual references to Selmac, and to whichever one of them happened to be in charge passing along the other's comments about whatever they were doing at the time. She had her father right there and healthy and full of life. She owed that to Selmac and it was a debt she would never, ever be able to repay.

About forty Earth years ago, a supervolcano on this gadget's planet of origin had erupted, resulting in a volcanic winter and a mass extinction, hence the name Santorini, after the Mediterranean island whose explosion might have given rise to the legend of Atlantis. The survivors of the planet's sentient race had escaped through the stargate to the system's other habitable planet. Now the climate on Santorini had improved enough that the next generation of survivors were able to return to mine the wealth of technology in their ruined cities. They had come to a mutually beneficial arrangement with SGC. They went on joint expeditions in which the Marine SG teams protected the Santorines from scavengers in return for the opportunity to study their technology. Previous to the calamity they had been ahead of Earth in laser technology.

"All those milk runs the jarheads put in on that dust bowl have finally started to pay off, have they?"

"The operative word is started. It's a working laser weapon all right, but it's heavy, bulky, and it takes it about 45 seconds to charge the capacitors before firing. Still, it might be a good squad level weapon for some applications if we can get its power consumption down to some reasonable level. I'm about ready to pack this up and send it off to the labs for further research." She logged off her computer. "Can you stay for a few days?"

"I wish I could, honey, but this isn't a pleasure trip."

Carter went serious. "What's the crisis du jour?"

"No crisis this time. It's something of an opportunity. I'll let Thoran tell it. They're waiting for us in the conference room."

Carter joined the rest of SG-1 at the conference table. Her father sat across from her, next to Thoran. A moment later, General Hammond arrived and greeted the Tok'ra councillor with more formality than warmth, although he had a nod for his old friend Jacob. If the General had forgiven whatever role Tok'ra recalcitrance had taken in delaying Col. O'Neill's rescue from the System Lord Ba'al a few weeks ago, he certainly hadn't forgotten it. That, Carter thought, explained her father's presence. Jacob and Selmac were here as mediators because they could see both sides, something that was clearly needed if relations between the Tok'ra and the Tau'ri were to be mended.

Carter glanced down the table. Col. O'Neill was all military reserve, both he and Teal'c could have been carved from stone. Quinn had been brought up in an aristocratic household and knew how to be impeccably civilized in the company of people with whom he wouldn't have chosen to share a table. If there were sides to be taken, however, he had clearly chosen his. Sam figured peacemaking was probably as much her responsibility as her father's, but she knew her dad would understand perfectly that her loyalty had to be to her commanding officer now if ever before.

Thoran surprised everyone, most likely himself more than anybody else. "Colonel O'Neill, before we move along to today's business, I owe you an apology. I hope my actions did not make things worse, and if I did, I'm very sorry."

O'Neill said, "Apology accepted, Councillor. What can we do for you today?"

Jacob shot Sam a look of concern across the table. That icy reserve wasn't O'Neill. Sam interpreted it to mean if Jack couldn't knock Thoran ass over teakettle, he'd might as well be nice. At least it was a start.

Thoran explained, "You know we've lost a lot of people in a short time. It will take us years to recover, if we ever do. A situation has recently come up that could prove to be the salvation, not only of the Tok'ra, but much more critically of the Free Jaffa as well."

Hammond asked, "What do you mean?"

"You know there are a few technologically primitive worlds where queens still spawn in natural bodies of water and the larvae spend their youth there, rather than being reared by Jaffa. There is a world called Daltregon where the symbiotes and human tribes have been living in harmony for thousands of years. Their technology is equivalent to your iron age. The tribes are farmers, hunters and fishers. They are not Tok'ra, but neither are they Goa'uld. Our anthropologists have been studying Daltregon for many years now. It's a fascinating culture. Where we and our symbiotes retain our individuality, and the Goa'uld are slavers, the Daltregon symbiotes and hosts consider themselves one entity. Their whole society is built around ideas of unity with one another and with nature."

O'Neill commented, "So everything is peace and light and harmony on Daltregon. Sounds like a new-ager's paradise."

"Not exactly. The Goa'uld sometimes come through the stargate to hunt the natives for sport. There are stories of whole villages having been massacred. The only reason that they haven't been wiped out generations ago is that there is very little naquadah on Daltregon and the symbiotes have much less of it in their bodies. We can't detect them unless we're right on top of them."

Hammond said, "This is all very interesting, but I fail to see where we come in."

"I realize this is somewhat involved, General. You know that symbiote queens are rare. Only two or three are likely to be born to a local population in a generation, and our generations can be very long. Another reason for the Goa'uld hunts on Daltregon is to capture queens while they are young and impressionable and lure them into Goa'uld society. One of our spies reported that Garan, a vassal of Anubis, captured such a young queen, Sirikat. Our spy was able to help her escape onto a planet called Sulidar. We need to find her before the Goa'uld do and persuade her to come back with us. She's had nearly a month to disappear and we do not believe she would have stayed near the stargate. We need everyone we can find to help in the search."

Hammond glanced at Teal'c. They could count. His symbiote larva would mature soon and they didn't have another. Jaffa very quickly died without a larva to provide them with an immune system. That had already been the fate of a few of Bra'tac's people, including Teal'c's ex-wife, and the situation was only becoming more critical as time went by. Hammond nodded. "What intel do you have on Sulidar?"

Thoran produced a CD-rom and put a map of the area on the large screen. "Sulidar is a minor planet controlled by Garan, a vassal of Anubis. The stargate is located in the southern temperate zone. The Goa'uld have a small outpost there, little more than a camp actually. There is a seasonal harvest of medicinals, otherwise the outpost is usually deserted. The environment is very similar to Daltregon, in fact many Daltregon species have been naturalized there. Our spy knew that Sirikat would be able to outfit herself with supplies from the outpost and survive very well in the wilderness until a rescue could be organized."

Jacob said, "Bra'tac and some of his people have their feet on the ground. He'll be here in a couple of hours to brief us on actual conditions. In the meanwhile, we have maps and some other information."

Hammond said, "OK, work out a search grid and all that. We'll reconvene when Bra'tac gets here."

The stargate deposited them into a clear autumn afternoon on Sulidar. Fallen leaves made a red and gold carpet all around, except where they had been swept clear by recent traffic through the stargate. About a dozen Tok'ra had taken cover in and around the cabins surrounding the gate. As was common practise SG-1 made no sudden moves until they were sure the guards knew who they were.

Thoran's description of the Goa'uld camp was accurate. There were three cabins set up for the comfort of workers sent here to collect medicinal plants. They were rough accommodations, with dirt floors and firepits. One of the cabins had a broken window. Some equipment had been stored here and the young girl had helped herself to outdoor clothing and provisions before heading for parts unknown. The long ornate gown that she had worn on Garan's ship lay thrown across a chair. She had left a few small dried mud footprints on the porch and inside the cabin, but a month of weather had eradicated whatever trail she had left beyond that.

Ti/Mira greeted them. "General Bra'tac has already set up a field headquarters not too far from here, I'll show you." Shae'lin wasn't far behind.

Seeing them again brought a lot of mixed emotions. Jack was honestly glad to see Shae'lin settling into her new life with the Tok'ra, and it was good that Ti/Mira was showing her the ropes. But Ti had been Kan'an's sister and Shae'lin his lover. Both of them were all tangled up with memories of Kan'an's betrayal and Jack's resulting captivity in Ba'al's outpost, especially his desperate fight to keep Shae'lin's relationship with Kan'en under wraps when Jack had finally figured out what was going on. Sometimes it seemed like he had put the episode in the past. Five minutes later it was the only thing he could think about. The shrink had told him that was normal and to be expected. Hell, he knew that already from the time he had been a POW in Iraq just previous to the Gulf War. Still he wasn't ready to deal with Ti/Mira and Shae'lin right now. Apparently the women sensed that and gave him some room, leading the way and leaving him to drop back with Carter and Jonas. Behind them, Thoran and Selmac were having a quiet conversation in their own language. Teal'c quite naturally brought up the rear. Although no one was supposed to be here but friendlies, Jack felt a lot better with the Jaffa watching their back trail.

Bra'tac was still in the process of setting up a command post, which consisted of a radio shack and a few tents. SG-3 had been tasked with securing the camp. Ferretti greeted Jack, "Good afternoon, sir." Ferretti was one of Jack's oldest friends and they had served together off and on for years. Both of them had been with the Stargate Program from the beginning.

"Nice place you got here," Jack commented.

Ferretti held his rifle in a deceptively relaxed grip. "It sure is, sir. Beats the hell out of Santorini."

"Where's Bra'tac?"

Feretti indicated the command tent. Ti/Mira and Shae'lin went off to find the rest of their team, who were supposed to be around here somewhere, while the rest of them crossed the center of the camp to check in.

Bra'tac had put up a large map of the search area and they familiarized themselves with it. Where ever Sirikat had disappeared to, she would need water, so they were concentrating their search along several streams that flowed through the area. The working theory was that she could sense the stargate's presence and probably wouldn't feel comfortable within a few miles of it, but at the same time she wouldn't stray too far from such an easy source of supplies. The terrain was rolling hills covered by dense virgin forest, exactly the kind of terrain where Sirikat was most at home. This could be an easy assignment if the young queen was tired of being by herself, but if she didn't want to be found, locating her would be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

"So, this could solve the problem with Junior, Teal'c?" O'Neill easily kept pace with the others. They had stopped looking at him every five minutes to make sure they weren't going too fast. That was a relief, he hadn't been off duty long enough to get out of shape and he hated being babied. Their pace covered a lot of ground quickly. So far they had seen a lot of forest and more forest. They were traveling with four of Bra'tac's young Jaffa and this morning it was the boys' turn to take point. After lunch, they would switch off.

They had been moving three days and still had a couple more to reach their search quadrants.

Teal'c replied, "Not for me, O'Neill. It will be another three or four years before the young queen is ready to brood. My symbiote will mature long before that. But for these others, yes."

"Oh." O'Neill wondered if Hammond would have gone along with Thoran if he had known that.

"I will have to find another symbiote elsewhere."

"We can do that."

"I know, O'Neill."

The radio crackled, O'Neill recognized Ti/Mira's voice reporting that she and her Tok'ra party had reached their area and were starting their search. Bra'tak acknowledged her transmission.

SG-1 split off from the four Jaffa boys at a fork in the stream. The tributary they were following was swift-flowing, carrying ice cold water from far up in the hills. Even with the taste of water purification tabs, it was better than expensive yuppie water back home. Jack realized he was taking time to notice little things like that. For all the shit that happened, life was mostly good. Had it really taken everything that had happened six weeks ago for him to just suddenly up and remember that?

He put the lid on his canteen and looked around. Right where the gravel bar he was standing on gave way to a grassy stream bank, something caught his eye. "Hey, Teal'c, come take a look at something."

The Jaffa knelt for a good look. "A fortunate find, O'Neill. Unless there is more than one teenage girl on this world, this track must be Sirikat's. It is quite fresh, also, certainly no more than a few hours old."

Jack called that in. The search grid now had a new origin, and the other teams would be redistributed appropriately. "OK, let's spread out. People, keep your eyes open."

They came upon Sirikat's camp, but she wasn't there. She had constructed a lean-to shelter and had a small firepit back against the hillside. The ashes were cold. She probably didn't build a fire except to cook her food. They spread out again, as usual each of them in sight of the next, and searched a wider and wider area.

Teal'c spoke respectfully of the girl's skills. She had left very few tracks for him to follow, and almost none so near her campsite.

Jonas went downhill to search the ring of saplings and brush around the edge of a forest clearing. A flash of movement seen out of the corner of his eye was all that registered before ninety pounds of wildcat hit him in the chest. He hit the ground hard and focused his eyes on a sword. The point was resting lightly on his adam's apple. He could feel a trickle of blood running down his neck. Beyond the shiny and very sharp blade, a small person dressed in tan and green had her little pointy knee on his chest. Glowing golden eyes were fixed on his. He remembered everything he had ever heard about how much stronger and faster a blended pair were when the symbiote was running the show. "I give! Uncle!" He tried Goa'uld and was thankful that he still spoke it with an atrocious accent. "I surrender!"

O'Neill and the others got there, but stopped a respectful distance away. O'Neill considered stunning her, but if she so much as fell forward she would cut Jonas' throat.

Really nervously, Jonas said, "I found her." He never took his eyes off hers.

O'Neill asked calmly, "OK, you've got him. Are you going to eat him here or save him for later?"

Jonas said, "No English. I think she understands Goa'uld -- maybe."

Quinn's eyes were as big as fifty-cent pieces and they were locked on the girl's. He was scared. So was the kid, symbiote or not. Very bad combination. Jack kept his voice down. "Jonas, tell her we're not going to hurt her. We're here to rescue her."

He translated. The girl looked uncertainly between O'Neill and Jonas. She replied, "If you are here from Garan, I will send you back to him in pieces."

Quinn said, "No, no, we're not working for Garan! Remember the guy who got you off Garan's ship? He's with a group called the Tok'ra, we're working with them. They want to help you."

She looked at Teal'c. "I was a prisoner of Garan long enough to know one of their Jaffa warriors when I see one!"

Teal'c took off the watch cap he was wearing so that the girl could see his tattoo. "Lady Sirikat, your senses do not deceive you. I am indeed Jaffa. But I am not of Garan's Jaffa. I was once First Prime of Apophis. I fight against the Goa'uld now. Only your enemies need fear me."

Sirikat's eyes narrowed. "I fear no one."

Jonas said, "We mean no offense, Lady. If you'll just let me up we'll try to explain."

She thought about it briefly, then rolled gracefully to her feet and took a step back. She still held her sword at the ready, but made no move to attack.

O'Neill said, "Tell her the Goa'uld know about the stargate here. If she stays here alone, eventually they're going to find her. We did."

Jonas got up warily and translated, listened to her reply. "She says we don't look or act like demons, but she still doesn't trust us."

"Smart kid," O'Neill observed.

Sirikat said, "Do not call me 'Lady.' That is their word. My name is Sirikat." She sheathed her sword and led the way back to her camp. Jack shrugged and followed. He heard Sam asking Jonas if he was all right, and Jonas' affirmative reply.

Sirikat gathered up the few things from her camp that she wanted to take with her, just her sleeping bag, mess kit and canteen, and a bag of dried fish that served as rations. She had a bow and quiver of arrows that Jack suspected she had made herself. She left a long fishing spear, it would be easier for her to make a new one than carry it.

O'Neill reported their success. The other teams were called in, with the Jaffa team from the next search grid over and Ti/Mira's team to join up with SG-1 on their way back to the command post.

Once Jonas was sure Sirikat wasn't going to kill him and eat him--he said a silent thanks to O'Neill for that mental image--Jonas had infinite patience for her endless stream of questions about who they were and why they wanted to help her. He was surprised to learn that she picked up English words as easily as he did Daltregon. She was soon more comfortable speaking broken English than the tongue of her hated captors, meaning her vocabulary increased even faster as she was immersed in O'Neill and Carter's English conversation.

The first night, Sirikat went a few yards away from the rest of them and raised her arms to the waxing moon, chanting softly. Jonas said in a hushed voice, "It's a prayer to the Great Goddess. It's almost familiar. There are religions similar to that in Kelowna."

Carter said, "On Earth, also."

"I've read about that, Wiccans and other neo-pagans are very similar to our nature-based religions."

"Our modern paganism has distant roots in the religions of the ancient European Celtic peoples. I wouldn't be surprised if that's where her people came from, possibly yours as well. Daniel would have--" She cleared her throat. "Would have been able to tell us if the pattern she has painted on her belt is derived from Celtic designs."

Jonas shook his head. "I can say they're similar to pictures I've seen, but as for interpreting what that means..."

Carter nodded.

O'Neill pretended not to have heard the exchange and started setting up camp for the night. The others followed his example. Sirikat returned to join them and unrolled her sleeping bag near Sam's.

The next morning made it quite clear that Sulidar's winter was rapidly approaching. Frost touched by the first rays of the dawn sun covered everything in glitter. They shivered and gathered near the fire to put their boots on and warm themselves with a cup of coffee. Jonas gave Sirikat a cupful, warning her that it was very hot. She sipped and made a face at the taste, but it was good to have something hot to drink on a cold morning. Sam introduced her to sugar and Cremora, to Sirikat's pleasant surprise. Jack and Jonas drank theirs black and Teal'c had never really developed a taste for coffee. He agreed with Sirikat about something hot to drink in cold weather, but that was as far as his enjoyment of the stuff ever went. Jack gave her a sausage biscuit, which she ate politely and then she got into her stash of dried fish. She courteously offered it around, and Teal'c accepted a small piece.

It was great hiking weather, not too hot. They covered a lot of ground that day. Sirikat led them along the border of a marshy stream bank, picking some orange berries that grew there and popping them into her mouth as they trekked along. They took a brief lunch break and pulled out MREs. Sirikat had her doubts about that, thanks to the biscuit. She hurried up to start eating more fish, before anyone could offer her something that she would have to eat to be polite.

That afternoon they had an interesting experience with a big, slowflying predatory bird that swooped down at them three or four times, displaying a set of razor sharp talons. O'Neill was about to shoot the damn thing before it slashed someone, when Sirikat threw a rock at it and yelled. It screeched and flapped away. She explained, "Not easy meal. It --" She supplied a couple words of Goa'uld.

Jonas laughed and translated, "Lazy bird."

"Best kind," O'Neill said as he let his rifle drop to his side.

She said something else to Jonas and he taught her to ask, "Are we there yet?"

"Stop that, Jonas. Sirikat, we're headed for our command post, it's about a half-hour's easy walk from the stargate. Chappa'ai."

She nodded. Once again, there was something a little short of trust in her expression. O'Neill could respect that. In her situation he would have three or four escape routes ready just in case things went sour. In time they would earn her trust. They moved out again.

A little after sunset, O'Neill looked around their camp that night. "Where's Jonas? He went for firewood over half an hour ago."

Carter hadn't noticed anything untoward, but better safe than sorry. "Do you want me to have a look around for him, sir?"

"No, I'll go. You stay here with Her Highness."

Sirikat stuck her tongue out at him.

"OK, who taught her to do that?"

Sam put on her best innocent look, and Sirikat giggled.

Jack observed, "You're learning a lot of English."

"Not much so good. Easier to listen. Remember words. Hard to think of right ones to say, though."

"You and Jonas seem to have hit it off. You've both got that whole photographic memory thing going on there."

"What means pho- photo--"

"You hear it once, you've got it."

Carter got Sirikat settled for the night as Jack struck off through the woods in the direction he'd last seen Jonas heading.

Ten minutes later he spotted Jonas' flashlight beam through the trees and homed in. He found his young teammate intently watching a bug. It was all too easy to sneak up and smack him on the back of the head. "Bang! You're dead."

"Hey!" Jonas protested, rubbing his head. "Was that supposed to be funny or something?"

"There's nothing funny about carelessness out here. It'll kill you faster than the Goa'uld. I seem to remember something about fire wood."

"There's plenty." Jonas picked up a big armload of dry branches from a fallen tree.

O'Neill collected a load of wood and they climbed back up the hill to camp. Jonas complained, "What, are you supposed to be my father all of a sudden?"

"I'm your CO. You've had months now to fit into this team, but you're still treating every mission like a damn field trip. The rest of us need to know you have our backs and I don't know that."

They piled the wood near the campfire. "You're never going to know that about me or anybody else, because I'm not Daniel Jackson." "That's for damn sure."

"Nobody else is, either. You have to let him go."

The next thing Quinn knew, he was sitting on the ground seeing stars. He rolled to his feet. "You want to try that again?" He demanded hotly.

"Hey!" Carter interjected. "You two have an audience for this shining example of Tau'ri professionalism!"

Sirikat was sitting up in her sleeping bag, watching the fight with great interest.

Grumbling under his breath, Jack gathered up the canteens and took off for the stream.

Quinn spat blood in the fire and taught Sirikat a couple of very interesting new words. Then he sat on his bedroll to yank his boots off and settled down for the night. Five minutes later he fished a sharp rock out from under his sleeping bag and threw it into the trees as hard as he could.

Jack was still in a foul mood when he woke Carter up to take her turn on guard duty. As long as Jack and Jonas weren't actively trying to beat one another senseless, she wasn't about to get involved. Least said, soonest mended.

The next morning, the two men spoke to each other only when they had to, and then only in coldly formal terms.

Teal'c asked Carter, "What has happened?"

"They had some kind of difference of opinion on the way back to camp last night and the colonel knocked Jonas right on his ass."

Teal'c raised his eyebrows. "That is most unlike O'Neill. Perhaps I should speak to him?"

"Wait and see if it blows over," Carter advised.

"I was concerned that O'Neill returned to duty too quickly."

Carter said nothing. Everyone handled things differently. She and Teal'c had both been in similar situations, though certainly never to such an extent. Teal'c found peace in the void through kel-no-reem. Carter did well enough with the physical aspect of martial arts, but the spiritual side had never called to her. The last time Carter had got herself into a similar mess, she and Janet Fraiser had tied one on in Janet's quarters and the next morning she had allowed herself the luxury of a good long cry in the shower. They were both so different from O'Neill, though, that Carter wasn't comfortable generalizing their experiences to him. He kept so much inside, and all they could do was respect his silence. Carter said a little prayer that O'Neill knew he was never alone.

Late that afternoon they came to some rough climbing over rocks where the stream they had been following cut close to a steep hillside. They were all watching where they put their feet--that water was cold and nobody particularly wanted to go for a swim.

Jonas was nearest the top of the hill. He turned to help Sirikat onto a rock that was almost as tall as she was. Just that fast they were in the middle of a firefight. A Jaffa seemed to materialize out of nowhere ten feet away from them. Jonas threw Sirikat down, shielding her with his body. He yelped as a staff blast hit him in the back.

Sirikat squirmed out from under him and drew her sword and struck in one smooth motion. That Jaffa went down. Jonas shot another and passed out from the effort of raising his sidearm. By then, the others had reached them and returned fire. The Jaffa who had ambushed them fought to the death, which caused O'Neill to wonder what was inspiring that kind of devotion. He got his answer when Sirikat screamed a battle cry and rushed somebody who had taken cover behind a boulder. O'Neill yelled at her to get to cover and fired a burst at the Goa'uld who was her target. The bullets ricocheted off his personal shield, but distracted him long enough for Sirikat to close the distance between them.

Goa'uld shields worked well against firearms and beam weapons, but they weren't designed for primitive weapons like a relatively slowmoving sword. Garan shot her point blank with a zat, but her momentum carried her forward and her sword went through his eye socket into his skull. Both host and symbiote were killed instantly.

She recovered quickly from the zat blast and stood on shaky legs, poking at Garan's corpse with the tip of her blade. The Goa'uld was no more a demon than she was. He lay dead at her own mortal hands-- they could be slain.

The whole thing had taken less than a minute.

Jack reached Jonas and checked to see how badly he was hurt. He regained consciousness. Jack didn't have to be a doctor to know this was very bad. Jonas clenched his jaw to stifle a cry just from the lightest touch. There was the sickening roasted meat smell of a severe burn, but Jack knew from personal experience that the third degree burns you could see were just the tip of the iceberg. It was the internal damage that killed. Jonas had been moving, and that was the only reason the injury hadn't been immediately fatal--some of the blast had missed him.

Had they planned on being here longer, a helo would have been brought through the gate in pieces and reassembled on this side. Medevac would have been available. But as things stood they were at least two days away from medical help. There was almost nothing they could do for an injury like that in the field. Already Jonas had turned white and started shaking uncontrollably. Shock could kill faster than the injury itself. Jack gripped his hand. "Hang on, Jonas. You've got to put up a fight now."

Jonas nodded, but then his expression twisted into a grimace of pain and his breath came hard through clenched teeth. His hand gripped O'Neill's like a vice.

Sirikat came scrambling back to them and fell to her knees, oblivious to the rough stone. She gasped when she saw the injury and started to chant, too quickly at first, but then more slowly and with more confidence. After a moment her hands started to glow. She touched her fingertips lightly on either side of the injury. Jonas relaxed immediately and his breathing slowed and deepened. The spell was working, but Jack realized that Sirikat didn't get to do this for free. Her hands were trembling and sweat plastered her hair to her forehead. Still, she continued to chant, eyes closed. Golden light glowed through her lashes, both queen and young girl were pouring all their combined strength into the healing. The blast wound started to heal before Jack's eyes. He had seen symbiotes and even their former hosts such as Carter do this before, but always with a healing device, not by chanting spells.

Fifteen minutes later, with the injury almost completely healed, Sirikat collapsed. Teal'c caught her before she could fall and checked her pulse and breathing.

Jonas asked, "Is she OK?" The words came with difficulty, now that Sirikat was no longer blocking the pain, but it was nowhere nearly as bad as it had been a while ago.

Teal'c nodded. "She is exhausted. She must rest."

Carter looked around, her rifle ready. "I wish we could be sure we got all of them. If just one of them got away and comes back with reinforcements, we're hurting."

O'Neill nodded. "Carter, check out the rocks up there, it looks like a more defensible position. Jonas, how are you?"

"I'll live, thanks to Sirikat."

Teal'c said, "She was repaying her debt to you."

"If I'd had my eyes open, nobody would have had to protect her, and I wouldn't have got shot in the first place." Jonas said. "I'm sorry, Col. O'Neill. You were right."

Jack acknowledged that with a nod, but said, "It was an ambush, Jonas. If you hadn't noticed something that looked off, they'd have shot us all like fish in a barrel."

Jonas lay back on the rock, taking a few deep breaths. "Damn lucky we decided to go back the way we came. I don't remember seeing that guy. I don't even know what was different, but I must have remembered something from when we were here before. If this had happened somewhere I wasn't already familiar with--" He looked as shaken as Jack had ever seen him. It wasn't lost on him just how close he had come to getting killed--permanently.

Carter called, "It looks good up here, sir!"

"Jonas, can you climb?"

"I don't know yet, help me up." Teal'c carried Sirikat up to the hilltop, where Carter had found a little nest in the rocks. It wasn't fun getting Jonas up there. He dropped to the ground and leaned back against a rock, eyes shut and breathing hard. Jack set his rucksack down beside him. Carter coaxed Jonas' hand away from his injury and got him to roll over on his stomach so she could apply a dressing. She reported, "There's still enough of a burn to hurt, but that's it."

O'Neill got on the radio to report what had happened. Bra'tac immediately gave orders to double security on the gate and sent a patrol to meet them, but they were still on their own until help could reach them. O'Neill signed off. "We have GOT to get some kind of transportation we can take through the gate with us. How's she doing, Teal'c?"

"She is coming around. Move back, MajorCarter, she could hurt you if she comes up fighting."

Carter obeyed. If Siri came to first and didn't realize where she was, symbiote panic strength was nothing to mess around with.

The precaution was unnecessary. She looked around, rubbed her eyes to get them to focus, and said something in her own language. Jonas raised his head up and answered her. She looked around, and said, "All alive!"

O'Neill agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment. An ambush like that should have taken out half the team in the first ten seconds. They had the devil's own luck on their side today.

"Jonas OK?"

"Yeah, Sirikat, I'm fine. Just a little singed. You passed out."

"Mostly OK. Tired. My stomach hurts."

Teal'c reassured her, "You have just overreached yourself. I have seen this before. You should rest and then eat something."

She nodded and let Carter get her into her sleeping bag. Jonas didn't want to wriggle into his bag, he just unzipped it and laid it over himself like a blanket. Teal'c went back down the hill for Jack and Sam's rucksacks, and left them with his own and took up his staff. "I will scout the area and try to determine if any of Garan's Jaffa escaped."

O'Neill looked around critically. One person could hold this position for a good long time. On the other hand, one man on a scouting expedition was in serious trouble if he ran into opposition. "I'll go with you. They've got to have a ship around here, they sure as hell didn't sneak in through the gate with Bra'tac watching it."

"Unless they were already onworld before we arrived," Teal'c replied.

They collected the dead Jaffa's weapons. Jack pocketed an extra zat gun for Sirikat, intending to teach her how to use it so she would have a better understanding of what guns were and why she needed to keep her head down. Rushing Garan with a sword like that hadn't been the brightest move anybody had ever made, but he had to admit it would have done a samurai proud.

They found no sign of anyone leaving, and a search of the area turned up nothing. This was unexplored wilderness, so that wasn't a guarantee, but O'Neill trusted Teal'c's ability to follow a trail enough to be fairly sure there was no one else around. On the way back, he found some of the berries Sirikat liked, and brought her a couple handfuls. Teal'c had tried them and said they were edible, but none of the rest of them had taken a chance on alien food. The symbiote healing factor could deal easily with mild poisons but Jack didn't want a case of food poisoning or anything like that two days away from the nearest indoor plumbing.

Around 0300, Jack was on watch when Sirikat woke up and padded over to join him. She didn't make a sound but he knew she was there. Like a lot of veterans he had a good feel for his surroundings and it wasn't something he could stop being aware of even if he had wanted to. She squatted in the rocks where she didn't present a target and looked around.

"We kill demons," she said finally.

"They're not demons. They never were. They're just really bad people."

"Not be afraid any more of bad people." Her fierce look promised retribution to come.

"You saved Jonas' life. Thank you, Sirikat."

"Should have been me. I thank Jonas. Very brave warrior. I not think he was warrior at first. But -- I wrong. Jonas has spirit of warrior."

"That he does," Jack said.

"I not understand why you and Jonas fight?"

Jack's first instinct was to tell her it was none of her business, but he reminded himself that she was part of a different culture where privacy was much less of an issue. "It's complicated, Sirikat."

"When I was healing him, I see darkness around you. Something bad happen."

"Yeah, something real bad," he confirmed quietly.

"The demons? Bad people?"

"That's right."

"Leave the darkness with bad people. Come out into the light."

He smiled at her earnest, youthful faith. "I'm trying, Sirikat. It just doesn't happen overnight."

"But it will," she promised.

Jack thought that if anyone should know about the dark times, Sirikat had been through enough in her young life to be an expert by now. "I know."

She put a shy little hand on his arm. He covered it with his own, older and battle scarred, then gave her a rough hug and pulled her ponytail to make her giggle. Somehow or another in the last couple of days, it appeared that he had acquired another honorary niece. He wondered how Sirikat and Cassie would hit it off. He wasn't sure he was ready to have two precocious teenage girls ganging up on him. "Go back to sleep, kid. Everything's going to be okay."

It was a mark of how young she really was, he thought, that she believed him without question.

They got an early start the next morning. Jonas woke up from a nightmare with a start and jumped up before he knew where he was. Unfortunately his back had stiffened overnight and it spasmed mercilessly when the cold air hit. He clenched his jaw against an outcry and fetched up against a boulder, then gingerly lowered himself to a seat on a rock.

Carter asked, "Are you OK, Jonas?"

"Define--ouch!--OK. Could you hand me my boots, please?"

"Here you go. Can you manage?"

"I think so." Peel off dirty socks. Put on clean socks. Put on boots. Jonas reflected that you don't think about a sequence of actions like that until it hurts like hell to do it. But he did it. Chalk up one little victory.

If they had thought getting up the hill had been hard, getting back down again was a real education. With Jack and Teal'c's help, he made it, and then had to sit down for a while. Sirikat did her healing spell again, and that helped a lot. Still, they moved along relatively slowly. The other closest teams caught up with them, the Jaffa at midmorning and Ti/Mira's crowd just before noon. Jack decided he wasn't a bit upset about having the ladies around, reminders or no reminders. They and their friends were five more guns and he and Teal'c couldn't be certain that Garan's people were all accounted for. Jonas displayed a lot of pride, grit and guts that day. In spite of himself, Jack learned a new respect for the young man. He was right, he wasn't Daniel. If Jack had been consciously or subconsciously expecting him to fill Dr. Jackson's shoes, that stopped right here. Jonas would stand or fall on his own merits from now on, and those merits were considerable.

They made camp early, it was still light but they had found a place with good cover. The other teams took care of camp details and guard duties. Jonas went to sleep as soon as they stopped. In his exhaustion, he was undisturbed by the activity of building a campfire and so forth. He woke up about midnight and felt the need of the latrine.

On the way back to camp, he heard Sirikat's clear soprano as she chanted her nightly prayers. He followed the sound. The song was hauntingly beautiful. He didn't want to intrude, but she had never seemed to mind an audience. Today her song was much longer and involved a ritual dance. She started another song, directly to the full harvest moon hanging overhead seemingly near enough for her upraised hands to touch.

Abruptly, she let out a long keening wail and fell to her knees. To Jonas' sudden horror, she drew her sword and made three deliberate slashes across her forearm. He ran to her and grabbed her sword arm. "Stop it, Sirikat!"

"What -- oh. You do not understand, Jonas. You do not understand."

"Then make me understand why you cut yourself!"

"It is our custom. A sign of grief. This is--nothing, it will heal. My heart will never heal." She wiped blood from the blade and sheathed it. Already the bleeding had stopped.

Jonas put his hands on her shoulders. "Tell me."

"When we were blended and it was found that I-who-was-Siri am a queen, there was great rejoicing. The girls always go first into the sacred pool in case a queen is there. When I became one soul, it was custom for me to choose my first three consorts. I chose Ansul, and Mar, and Eldai. They were my age and we had played together when we were children. We were happy, Jonas. In a few years, it would have been time for me to brood, then they would have gone into the pool to find the other halves of their souls. One day we should have watched our children have children! Over the years I would have taken other consorts, but Ansul and Mar and Eldai and I should have been a family for all our lives. And then one day when we were hunting, Garan and his Jaffa came upon us. All three of them fell before me trying to protect me from the demons. They were too many and you have seen their weapons. Ever since that day I have prayed every night to send Garan to face their vengeance. I didn't know if I could destroy a demon, if they even could die. I only thought if he was dead, it would hurt less. But they are still gone and my heart is still as empty this night, this night of all nights. You see, one of my consorts would have joined me in ritual tonight as I became one with the Goddess. Tell me what She could have been thinking for them to die and for me to remain behind alone! Tell me what She could ever have been thinking! I am dead inside, Jonas, and you almost died to save a walking corpse!" Her shudders turned to wracking sobs, and he held her tightly, rocking her against him as if she were a much younger child.

"Sirikat, don't look for me to tell you what the gods are thinking. I have more trouble than I can handle right here in this world. But I will say this. You aren't really dead inside. It feels like it, yes. It hurts, it hurts like hell to lose loved ones, but you're alive and you have your whole life ahead of you. Cry all you need to, and I promise you, maybe not tomorrow but one day soon you'll be glad to be alive, and your memories of your consorts will be happy ones."

O'Neill had come running when he heard Sirikat scream, with Carter and Teal'c right behind him. They couldn't understand the Daltregon conversation, but some things don't need words to be understandable. O'Neill and Carter filled in the rest of a circle around her, while Teal'c stood a silent guard over them all. She told them the whole story of her capture, the murder of her consorts, two months of captivity on Garan's ship, the long lonely weeks here on Sulidar not knowing if she would ever see another living soul for the rest of her life. Sometimes she spoke in her hesitant English, sometimes in Daltregon which Jonas translated. O'Neill had reached out to grip her shoulder when she told about her captivity, saying nothing, only listening, but in his silence offering her all the strength she needed. After she cried herself to sleep, Jonas carried her to her bedroll and put her down gently so he wouldn't wake her.

While Carter got her settled in, Jonas walked off a little ways, trying somehow to deal with the anger her story had awakened in him. He stood stock still, every muscle clenched in white hot fury.

O'Neill had seen that look plenty of times before and it usually meant somebody was about to get killed in some real messy way. "Jonas?"

"Colonel, you know the word we'd translate as blending? If you translate their word for it literally, it means finding the other half of your soul. How the hell is she supposed to live in a world where the Goa'uld pervert everything she holds sacred, and the Tok'ra treat it like a business arrangement?"

Jack remembered Sirikat's explanation of her name. Left hand, little wiggly snake motion. That was Siri. Right hand, two fingers walking. That was Kat. Both hands joined. Sirikat. She'd laughed like the little girl she was that a bunch of grown-ups couldn't understand something so simple and natural.

Jack knew there was no way he would ever be able to explain to Sirikat about Kan'en, that blending had been an extreme last resort to save his life, and that he wouldn't have agreed to it even then if other lives hadn't depended on Kan'en's last mission report. Thanks to the Goa'uld, to most races in the galaxy, blending was rape and murder all rolled into one. Jack realized that Sirikat was the first blended pair that he hadn't viewed with suspicion and revulsion. He might have come by that prejudice honestly, but it was prejudice all the same. He didn't know if he would ever be able to look at glowing eyes and not see a potentially lethal threat. The Tok'ra were affected by that same poison. They put their lives on the line on a daily basis proving to everyone and his brother and maybe to themselves as well that they were *nothing* like the Goa'uld. And the Free Jaffa lived on borrowed time, trading long lives for drastically shortened ones because it was better to die free than live as a slave. None of that existed in Sirikat's world.

"Tell you what, Jonas, if she can spread that attitude around, maybe our kids won't still be fighting this fuckin' war."

"Maybe." Jonas had changed in the last few hours with Sirikat crying in his arms. Maybe it would be more precise to say that he had grown up quite a bit. He hadn't lost his sense of wonder at everything new in the universe and he hoped he never would. But life wasn't one big joyride anymore. He was a soldier in this war and he was fighting for a universe where every blending could be something holy, the union of two halves of the same soul.

Sirikat didn't realize as she slept an exhausted sleep next to Sam, that she had two guardians watching over her who would have taken on anything the universe could have thrown at them to protect her from any further harm. They sat down near the fire and Jonas poured the last of the coffee. Perversely, he welcomed the bitter coffeegrounds taste. He made more, the rest would want some when they came on watch.

Jack idly poked at the campfire. "Jonas, I'm sorry about the other night."

"There's no reason to apologize. You were right, Colonel. I had my head up my butt. I was acting like I was in my own back yard, not offworld where we don't know what could be living here. I didn't have any business endangering myself, much less everybody else."

"That did not give me the right to hit you. No officer has the right to strike a subordinate."

"Maybe not, but I never should have made that crack about Dr. Jackson that set you off."

They were silent a moment, putting the whole incident behind them. Then Jack said, "I've been thinking maybe I've been at this too long."

Jonas wasn't sure what to say. "You're not old if that's what you're thinking. But what happened with Ba'al would make anybody feel old. If you need to take some time, then I'm sure the Stargate program owes you that much at least, don't they?"

Jack knew that was so, if he asked to take some leave Hammond would make it happen. Reluctantly he had to admit Jonas might have a point about that. He sure couldn't let himself slip badly enough that he started punching his subordinates.

But that wasn't the main issue. He had lost the sense that he could take care of his people. What had happened to him could just as well have happened to anybody under his command and any one of them strung up on Ba'al's gravity web was just not something that bore thinking about. God knew that over the years people in his outfits had lost their lives, and he had written his share of letters to next of kin. That having been said, he just could not see facing Teal'c's son or Jacob Carter and giving them the "we deeply regret to inform you" speech. And SG-1 was Jonas' next of kin. Another parallel with Daniel...

...Who would kick his ass, figuratively of course, for sitting around feeling sorry for himself. One more time Jack told himself that all his people knew what they were doing and what they were fighting for, and that they had all volunteered for this job, just as he had, with their eyes wide open, fully aware that any mission could be their last.

Maybe what he had resented so much about Jonas was that the younger man did still enjoy the sheer adventure of what they were doing. Jack wasn't sure where he had started to lose that, but it had been a while before Ba'al's dungeon. Maybe even a while before Daniel had gone. There had just been too many good people killed along the way.

Come out into the light, Sirikat had said. Out of the mouths of babes. It was time he tried a little harder to do that.

Jonas' wound was still tender enough to slow him down the next morning, but with some of the contents of his rucksack redistributed among the rest of them he didn't need any more rest breaks than everyone else normally took. They allowed an extra day to get back to the command post. If there were any more Goa'uld forces on Sulidar, they apparently had decided that it wasn't going to be feasible to attack the combined force of Tau'ri, Jaffa and Tok'ra now guarding Sirikat. All that time, Jonas and Sirikat were talking nonstop. Sirikat's English and Jonas' Daltregonian vocabularies improved dramatically.

They pushed on a couple of hours after dark to reach the base camp, where a hot meal waited and Sirikat was introduced to Thoran and Bra'tac. Dr. Fraiser checked Jonas' wound and pronounced that he appeared to be nearly completely healed. Even though the gate was only a few klicks away, everyone was tired after the march back here. Jack decided to report in by radio and head out in the morning.

Dawn came cold and damp with a blanket of fog that would soon burn off in the morning sun. Sirikat was pleased to learn about bacon and eggs and real biscuits, but Jack didn't overlook the way her longing glance kept turning towards the stargate. It was still out of sight, but it called to the naquadah in her blood.

Jacob Carter stayed behind with the detail who were striking tents and gathering up equipment, so that Thoran and Bra'tac could go ahead with SG-1 and Sirikat.

It was nice to walk back through the gate after a resoundingly successful mission, rather than to hightail it through with enemy fire nipping at their heels. Hammond came down to the gate room and Jack gave him an abbreviated mission report prior to the longer written one he would be turning in later. Hammond was thinking that uninhabited Sulidar might be a viable emergency alpha site, and Jack concurred, although as it was known to the Goa'uld it wouldn't be a good place to consider for permanent settlement.

Meanwhile, Thoran was talking to Sirikat, telling her all the wonderful things she would be able to learn and see and do with the Tok'ra. She pulled away from him and went to Sam and Jonas. Thoran started to follow. Jack scowled and excused himself to General Hammond.

He stepped between Sirikat and the Tok'ra councillor. "Don't you get it, Thoran? Sirikat was kidnapped. All three of her husbands, who were just kids like her, died defending her from Garan, and she has never had a decent chance to mourn. She was held prisoner for two months until someone shoved her through a stargate onto a planet where she was totally alone for another month. Then we hunted her down and captured her again. Getting back here wasn't exactly a stroll through the park, either. Enough! You're taking her anywhere she doesn't want to go over my dead body!"

Thoran nodded and looked down, ashamed of himself. "You...are right, O'Neill. I was so caught up in our needs that I forgot about hers. I'm trying to remember exactly when I turned into the kind of person who would use a child against her will."

Bra'tac gripped Thoran's arm. "I, too, was caught up in the needs of my people. In the daily struggle of what must be, it is all too easy to lose track of what should be. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our duty. It's time we found out what Sirikat wants." They turned to her. General Hammond was standing with Jonas and Carter, silently backing them up. Bra'tac asked gently, "Child, where do you want us to take you?"

"I want to go home," she replied. "Bra'tac, I know your people need our help and I don't want anyone else to die. I'm sure the other queens would be honored to have you foster their children, I know that I would. And, Thoran, we are a warrior people. Now that I know the Goa'uld are flesh and blood as we are, and not demons, I will tell my people that we can go and kill them. Come with me, and we will speak to the Elders. But I want to go home."

Thoran nodded and Bra'tac said, "Then home you shall go. General Hammond?"

"Right away, Sirikat. As soon as SG-1 can resupply. How far will you have to go to get home?"

Sirikat replied, "Oh, not far, only a few days' walk."

Jack asked, "Well, Councillor, did you pack your hiking boots?"

Thoran said ruefully, "I'm afraid not."

Hammond grinned. "I'm sure we can get you outfitted."

Three days later they topped a ridge and looked down on a village of longhouses. People were finishing the day's labor and preparing for the evening meal. Sirikat looked around uncertainly, as if she wasn't sure she really was home. An older woman was digging in a vegetable garden. Abruptly Sirikat cried out and took off down the hillside at a run, her long braid flying behind her. The village woman looked up in disbelief, then jumped the garden fence and raced up the hill, screaming for joy. She wrapped her arms around Sirikat and swung her around, then held her close. Both of them were talking a mile a minute. Other villagers came out to see what all the yelling was about and then crowded around.

Jonas said, "It's her mother."

Jack said, "I think we figured that out."

But was the woman Kat's mother or Siri's queen? Abruptly Jack realized that it didn't matter. His prejudice aside, what mattered was that Sirikat was home. They walked down the hill toward the village to introduce themselves.

The prodigal had returned and that was all the excuse the villagers needed for a party. A bonfire was started and a feast laid out on big wooden trestle tables.

With Jonas translating, they had a long talk with the village elders, including an ancient queen who questioned Bra'tac and Teal'c sharply about who they were and what the prim'ta process involved. She was open to the idea, justifiably cautious about any kind of experiments involving juveniles, but very sympathetic when she understood that brave warriors had died and more were in imminent danger.

Once the tribe heard Sirikat's account of how she had killed Garan, there was no question that the Tok'ra had gained some new allies. In time, as they defined and crossed cultural boundaries, there would be a natural process of exchange between the two groups. It wasn't the relatively quick fix the Tok'ra council had wanted, but it was a more solid foundation for the future. Jack was assured listening to the elders that culture shock wouldn't destroy the lives these people lived here.

A circle of people was forming for a dance around the bonfire. Sirikat, dressed in clean clothes and wearing flowers in her hair, came running up to Jack and grabbed his hands, intending to pull him into the dance. At first he protested, laughing that he had two left feet. Carter put her hand on his back and gave him a forceful shove. He was going to get her for that, but there was no graceful way to back out now. Still laughing, they cut in between a teenage boy and a tall brunette woman who looked like an Amazon. The sparks leapt high in time to drums and wooden flutes. There was no room in this circle for anything but joy.

Come out into the light, huh, Sirikat? OK. I can do that.


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Created on ... September 01, 2003