by Rebecca Ratliff
DATE: September 2003
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll
say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
RATING: PG-13, language, violence
WARNING: Minor character death.
SPOILERS: Birthright, the Sirikat arc in this series.
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season 7 before Evolution pt. 1. Other stories
in this series, as well as a stand-alone or two, may be found at
SUMMARY: Earth, Daltregon and their allies go on the offensive.
All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1
Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc.,
Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks
Inc.This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money
exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. Anybody that
you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please
send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by
FEEDBACK: Much appreciated.
Jack O'Neill was in the briefing room before everyone else, to General George Hammond's amusement but not his surprise. For seven years they been running through the gates with enemy Jaffa on their heels, acquiring intel and new technology wherever they could, playing diplomatic games to keep the fight off Earth's doorstep--and building an alliance of like-minded cultures. Now, they were getting ready to take the fight back to the enemy. Both Hammond and O'Neill were ready to get that bird in the air. Hammond was more than a little jealous that his place was here at the SGC while his 2iC was still out in the thick of things.
Sirikat complicated things immensely. While the general's conservative Methodist upbringing hadn't prepared him for Sirikat's claim that Siri was O'Neill's son reborn, there was no denying the father/daughter relationship that existed now. Even more compellingly, the young queen had demonstrated knowledge of details from Charlie's life for which Hammond could find no other explanation besides reincarnation. Having found himself guilty for Charlie's death, O'Neill would put up the devil's own fight to keep Sirikat safe now.
There was nothing Hammond could say about that. Instead he commented, "Your knees seem to be doing better."
Jack gave a guilty little start. He hadn't realized he'd let on how much they hurt before. But then, Hammond never missed a thing. "Yeah, Janet sent me to this arthritis guy at Academy General, and he gave me some kind of shots."
"Cortisone? I had that once when I got thrown off a horse and landed on my shoulder."
"No, it's something else, honkin' huge needle, syn-something--they put it in there to keep the bones from touching. Kinda like silicone, I guess. Doc said it'll buy me a few more months before replacements if I don't do anything stupid. Yeah, right, I'll be sure to advise the enemy of that."
Both of them laughed.
The rest of SG-1 got there, with Daniel rushing in at the last minute. O'Neill said dryly, "Glad you could grace us with your presence, Dr. Jackson."
"Alarm didn't go off," he excused. His hair was a mess and the coffee and jelly donut he grabbed from the side table were obviously breakfast.
Jack looked at him sharply. He could always tell when his archaeologist was hedging--though usually there was blood and an "I'm fine" involved.
Hammond got the briefing started. Their official mission was to evaluate the progress of training of the Daltregon freedom fighters. The real mission, the one not committed to paper anywhere, was a raid on one of Osiris' arms factories, to loot the place and destroy it.
At last their alliance was going to be more than just talk. In one sense they were going out a-Viking, respecting the time honored custom of stealing the enemy's valuables and then trashing the place. But in another sense, the first shot heard at the arms factory would be the shot heard round the galaxy.
The war for the liberation of the Goa'uld Empire was about to begin.
They stepped through the stargate into late summer on Daltregon. O'Neill looked around the gate area. It had been well-fortified since he'd been here last, including a large concrete and steel pylon that would be a very nasty surprise for anybody trying to thread the needle in a death glider.
A garrison of Jaffa and warriors from several tribes guarded the gate against Goa'uld raiding parties. Teal'c greeted several friends, including Neith, one of the female Jaffa who had rebelled against the Goa'uld Moloch.
"Tek ma tay, Master Teal'c! Ishta is in the command tent with Rak'nor and Master Bra'tac," she informed him with a wide grin.
Sam and Daniel were each driving a FRED loaded with extra gear and supplies. They parked them outside the command tent where the Jaffa on guard duty could see them.
Sam was surprised to see Jacob. He hugged her hello and grinned, "A few of us talked Garshaw into letting us come along," he said. "Anise wanted to see if Osiris' R&D people have stolen anything interesting lately, and the rest of us didn't want to let you kids have all the fun."
Sam returned the embrace and assured him, "There'll be plenty of fun to go around."
Ry'ac and Teal'c gripped arms and embraced, then the young man stepped back to let Ishta say hello.
"Teal'c, I have missed you."
"And I you." It had been a few weeks since she had gone back to her people from the SGC. Teal'c was glad to see that Ishta and her women warriors were becoming integrated into the new Free Jaffa society, but he was surprised at how much he had missed her.
Bra'tac had never looked better. It hadn't been that long since he and Ry'ac had been rescued from a death camp. Jack remembered his own similar experience in Iraq, and he was glad to see that their friends had come through it so well.
Jacob greeted Daniel with a huge bear hug.
"Jacob. How have you been? And Selmac?"
"We're a damn sight better for seeing you, Daniel! I knew you were back, but I wasn't sure I believed it until now!" Jacob stepped back, still grinning like the Cheshire cat.
"I'm back where I belong," Daniel affirmed with an answering grin.
"We are ready to move when you are," Bra'tac announced once the noisy reunion had settled down.
"Then let's get this show on the road," Jack replied. "We've still got a lot of traveling time before it gets dark."
They left the tent and one of the Jaffa sounded a call on a ram's horn to assemble the troops. O'Neill was impressed at the number of Jaffa who had shown up. "I wasn't expecting you to risk so many after what happened at the summit last year."
Bra'tac said, "You see the brothers and fathers and sons of our dead, O'Neill. You understand our customs surrounding avenging our fallen."
"Yes, that I do," O'Neill replied. Daltregon, the Free Jaffa, the Cimmerians, the Tau'ri, the Tok'ra and the Asgard. Anubis faced more- -and more determined--opposition than he realized, but they were still too few for an all-out war.
Bra'tac seemed to follow his train of thought. "We will prevail."
Jacob said, "I wish I were as sure of that."
"Our foe has yet to discover the cost of Jaffa lives," Bra'tac said. "Trust in me, my friend, he will find it much too expensive for his liking."
"Never another Abydos," Jacob agreed.
Bra'tac asked, "You speak for the Tok'ra Council in this?"
"I speak for Selmac and myself. But I don't think we'll be alone. Malek here leads a group that always has pushed for a more active part in the rebellion. And Freya won't let Anise sit it out while Cimmeria goes to war. She strongly influences another group. Even a lot of the old hard-liners like Garshaw are starting to see that we can't go on as we have been. We lost too many at Ravanna. It's now or never."
They left the gate meadow for the shelter of the forest. O'Neill got sick of looking at trees, but even he had to admit that these mighty redwoods were impressive. Sirikat had told him of tribes who concealed themselves from Goa'uld hunters in villages that were hollowed out of living trees.
It was an easy hike, their pace limited by the slow-moving FREDs. Occasionally they had to stop and clear a trail for the vehicles, but many hands made light work.
It was three days' travel to the training camp, which stretched out for some distance along a wide river valley.
Several hunting parties had broken off from the main group of Jaffa, and by evening they caught up, laden with game.
"Bra'tac hai!" One of the camp sentries shouted. "Our Jaffa brothers have come!"
That started a commotion throughout the camp, as a shouting and cheering crowd gathered to welcome them.
O'Neill scanned the sea of faces for one in particular. Finally he saw several tall Jaffa making their way through the crowd of much shorter Daltregonians.
Sirikat was surrounded by Jaffa hand-picked by Bra'tac to be her personal guard. Although all she really wanted to do was cross the camp at an all-out run and throw herself into Jack's arms, she was aware that the Jaffa hailed her as their queen, and hope of life for the sizeable minority who would not be able to benefit from Tretonin. Although her first smile was for Jack, she greeted Bra'tac first, with all the honor due her de facto First Prime, and welcomed the warriors who had accompanied him. Only then did she let herself turn to Jack.
"I missed you so much! As soon as things settle down, I want to hear everything that happened while I was gone. And did you bring pictures of Jamie?"
"Of course I did," he told her. "You look so grown-up. And I think you shot up another inch over the summer."
She laughed. "I don't know, I still can't see over your shoulder."
Sirikat was also accompanied by Daitar, one of her queen Vanira's consorts. Daltregonian culture was matriarchial, and O'Neill wasn't sure exactly what status he had in her family. But their relationship was clearly a warm and affectionate one.
Sirikat's friend Rialla was also there. She too had shot up a couple of inches since the last time O'Neill had seen her. They both looked much more like young women than the adolescents they had been.
Jack thought of something as they made their way through the camp. "Hey, Jake, explain something to me."
"Sure, if I can."
"These people are all blended pairs, right? So doesn't that make all their kids harcesis?"
Jacob took a moment to answer, clearly he had referred the question to Selmac. He handed off to his symbiote.
"That's a perceptive question, Jack. In simplest terms, yes. The human children here are born with the racial memories of both their parents' symbiotes. That's the essence of the culture here."
"Do the Tok'ra have laws against it?"
"Not exactly. But we hesitate to bring children into this life that we live--especially a child who would be so hated and hunted by the Goa'uld. This is one of the reasons the Goa'uld use to justify their prejudice against the people of Daltregon, that and their supposedly primitive culture."
Jack looked around. "I think they're about to find out from primitive."
Selmac's voice held that same tone of satisfaction. "I think you are right, my friend."
Bra'tac joined them as Selmac handed off to Jacob.
O'Neill wasn't surprised when people brought out drums and flutes. He remembered the bonfire celebration when they had brought Sirikat back home to her people. This went on for several hours, as the Daltregonians served up a feast to welcome the Jaffa. The bounty that the Jaffa hunters had brought in was the centerpiece of the celebration.
The bonfire dance that O'Neill had attended been a celebration of thanksgiving. This was different. This was a war dance, with the young people trying to outdo each other and proving their valor by jumping through the flames.
One queen displayed her magical prowess and the power of her goddess to protect them by walking through the bonfire barefoot, kept safe by a field of rainbow light showering from a crystal atop a wooden staff. Sirikat raised a clenched fist and shouted, "Ankyla hai! Daltregon!"
The raven-haired witch raised her staff and yelled in reply, "Sirikat hai! DALTREGON!"
Hundreds of voices took up the shout, to wild drumming that echoed off the hills. Sirikat was in the middle of the dance, but she was never left unguarded for a moment. Ry'ac and a couple of her own Jaffa, as well as Sam and Jonas, never left her side. O'Neill also picked out Rialla and several other young people from her own village.
Not to be outdone, some of the Rangers who had been here teaching the Daltregonian warriors Tau'ri weapons and tactics leapt through the bonfire. That earned them a lot of respect from the locals when they realized the Tau'ri had no symbiotes to heal them if they got singed.
Thoran said, "Look at them. You'd think they hadn't a care in the universe."
Selmac replied, "We were that young once, old friend."
Bra'tac grinned like an old gray wolf. "They know that we face an enemy that outnumbers us by the tens of thousands, yet they shout their name to thunder the mountains down. I tell you, I have lived so long to see this fight!"
Jacob agreed with a great deal of satisfaction, "Payback's a bitch."
The noisy celebration went on far into the night. When it started to settle down, O'Neill and Teal'c took a walk around the perimeter. Few of the locals bothered with tents.
Sirikat was in the queens' camp talking to Ankyla, the flamboyant witch who had done the fire-walking stunt earlier, and two other queens. They were small and blonde with blue eyes like Sirikat, but a few years older. One was sitting in the lap of a consort, laughing as they alternated bites from the same piece of fruit. The other was strikingly different. She had cut off her braid, and her arms were covered with scars, a latticework of them. Sirikat bore three such marks, one for each of her consorts.
Teal'c said, "That would be Serenshai. Sirikat told me about her a little while ago. Her queen was the founder of a new village. Serenshai was visiting family in their ancestral village when the Goa'uld came. She returned home to find everyone dead. She no longer speaks."
As they watched, Daitar threw a baseball-sized fruit into the air and sliced it in half with his dagger. He neatly caught both halves and presented one to the silent queen. His antics brought a smile to lips that Jack suspected smiled too rarely.
Thanks to the late evening, no one really started stirring until noon. That day was spend mostly constructing the training field that Bra'tac wanted, while hundreds more warriors arrived.
These were warriors from far-flung tribes who had traveled for weeks to get here. They would fight beside their brothers and sisters, but with their own weapons.
There were the wraithlike ice people from the far north, with their white skin and silver-gray eyes and hair so pale blonde it was almost silver. Most wore long white cloaks trimmed with the fur of the ice bears that they hunted. Each carried a long dagger carved from some kind of bone or ivory and set with clear crystals that glittered like snowflakes.
Also arriving were the tall, dark people of the southern islands, who fought with spears and magic and wore little besides jewelry made of beaten gold.
Sirikat counted. "We thought there would be some two thousand warriors. There are already twice that, and the mountain people are not even here yet!"
"How many of them?"
"At least another three hundred. I wouldn't be surprised to see another thousand. They love a good fight."
Teal'c said, "With your permission, O'Neill, Ry'ac and I will return to the chappa'ai and inform GeneralHammond of the situation."
"Yeah, that's good," O'Neill agreed. "Radio check every four hours."
The two Jaffa broke into an easy run, that more than doubled the pace of the previous day. Their casual manner made their staff weapons look lightweight. O'Neill knew they were anything but. He wasn't surprised to see Ishta join them.
A round of laughter attracted their attention. "What's up?"
Sirikat grinned, "Ciarevit did something. Things never quiet around her. Let's see what she's done now!"
Ciarevit turned out to be the third queen from last night. She was sitting in a mud puddle, laughing louder than anyone else. Bra'tac was standing there looking deceptively relaxed, leaning on his staff. She stood gracefully.
"Master Bra'tac, you have yet to convince me that you are truly not a demon! Nothing mortal fights like that."
"Now show me what you really have, my lady."
"The loan of your quarterstaff, if I may, Keridian?"
The warrior, apparently another of her consorts, brought the weapon to her. "Just keep it out of the mud!"
Ciarevit's eyes never left Bra'tac's from the time her hand closed on the staff. She was good enough to give him a workout, but not in his league. She was willing to learn, and a good sport about taking a few solid hits as the price for the lesson. Keridian traded her a canteen for his staff.
Bra'tac joined O'Neill and Sirikat. "That one has promise," he said- -quite a compliment coming from him.
After he had the chance to rest a while, there was a commotion in the crowd that had gathered to watch Ciarevit get knocked on her butt. Serenshai chose two of a selection of practice swords, and tested their weight and balance.
Jack quickly brought Bra'tac up to speed about her history. Obviously no one had expected her to fight. Bra'tac thought otherwise. He threw his cloak over a log that served as a bench, and took a few steps out onto the practice field, waiting.
Serenshai walked deliberately to join him and bowed, with her swords crossed in front of her. Bra'tac returned her salute and beckoned for her to attack.
This was no Ciarevit, content to play the clown to learn a few things about fighting with a staff and keep people entertained. Serenshai was deadly serious about learning to kill the devils who had murdered her whole family.
They moved with the grace and power and assurance of dancers. Serenshai blocked one of Bra'tac's attacks with crossed swords and fearlessly came in under his weapon. He fell back and rolled under her attack, counter-attacking with a kick that knocked her flying. She landed on her feet and in the same motion leapt over a staff blast. O'Neill was glad to see that the Jaffa master was using an intarc, a training weapon. If either of them was holding back, he couldn't see it.
Bra'tac reversed his staff and brought the heavy butt end around in a forceful arc. At the last second, she leapt, actually balancing momentarily on the staff itself, spinning in mid-air to threaten with a kick and both sword blades. Bra'tac merely sidestepped into another reverse, and fired a staff blast that took her leg out from under her.
Without a moment's hesitation, she was back up, her weight on her good leg. She pressed a series of attacks, now desperately trying to keep the Jaffa master from launching another devastating attack. Luck favored her, she struck a solid blow on his wrist guard that caused him to lose his right hand's grip on his staff. He shifted fluidly to a one-handed grip that O'Neill had never seen before. For a moment they seemed frozen in place as they caught their breath. Neither of them had any attention to spare the crowd that had swelled three deep around the practice ground. Bra'tac broke the impasse with a flurry of one-handed attacks that Serenshai barely avoided.
Nobody there had ever seen anything like the last thirty seconds of that match. Serenshai's acrobatic leaps looked more like flight, as her lightning slashes swept in from impossible angles. Bra'tac's parries and counterattacks were so precise that O'Neill thought he must have known in advance what was going to happen.
The bout ended suddenly, with their weapons at each other's throats. A second later, they each stepped back a pace and bowed. Respectful of the queen's silence, Bra'tac dropped a hand to her shoulder and guided her to sit with him in the shade of a tree and watch the afternoon's practice session.
Sirikat let out a breath in a low whistle. O'Neill said, "OK. Just call them Morpheus and Trinity and be done with it."
Sirikat grinned, "That must make you Neo."
"Like hell. You're 'the one,' aren't you?"
She laughed and replied, "Lord and Lady help me. But I have been told that I look good in black."
The practice field was soon filled with people, working alone or in twos and threes, often in mixed pairs inspired by the bout that they had just seen to learn to counter each other's styles. Jack spent most of the afternoon working with Sirikat and Rialla on their hand to hand skills.
Yelling and booming laughter and the rumble of heavy wagons announced the arrival of the mountain tribes late that evening. Sirikat's guess had been on the money. While most of the Daltregonians here so far were young, here for all the reasons that young men and women volunteer to go to war, the mountain folk lived and fought as clans. Only the children and pregnant women had remained at home with those too old to fight. They were all business, big, heavy-set, hardy people who fought with crossbows and pole axes. Jack didn't know how many pounds' draw those crossbows were, but he would bet against Jaffa armor stopping one of those heavy bolts.
They all had intricate designs tattooed on their hands and faces. As Sirikat had predicted, there were nearly a thousand of them. They set about the business of making camp and tending their oxen.
O'Neill had been thinking of the Daltregonians as light skirmishers who would fit into the Allied forces as scouts and rangers. The mountain people, however, were heavy infantry who would be best deployed with the Jaffa.
Their queens, two women Vanira's age, presented themselves to Sirikat, and she greeted them as respected elders. They soon went back to their camp.
That gave O'Neill and Sirikat a chance to sit in his tent and talk for a couple of hours. "So tell me about Jamie!" She demanded eagerly.
He reached in his pocket and fished out his handheld, and a secure digital card full of pictures and a short home video of Jamie playing with his puppy. "That's Brownie."
"What kind of dog is he? We only have wolves and foxes here. Sometimes people do keep them as pets, but you have so many different kinds on Earth."
"He's a cocker spaniel. He probably won't get very big."
She laughed as Jamie rolled off the couch and Brownie took off with his sneaker. "How is he settling in?"
"Pretty well. He misses his mom a lot, but he has everyone from General Hammond on down spoiling him rotten."
She clicked to the next image. "Who is this brown haired boy pushing him on the swing set?"
"That's Jonathan. He's my...twin brother, I guess you'd have to say."
"I do not understand."
Jack said, "Makes two of us. There was this Asgard named Loki who kidnapped me and made a clone of me."
She knew what a clone was, from science fiction movies that she'd watched with Teal'c. "Kidnapped you? An Asgard? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, he didn't hurt me. Jonathan got the worst end of it, but he's OK now."
"I can't wait to meet them."
"It'll be good to have you home. Have you had the chance to see your family here?"
"For two whole days," she said. "Everyone's doing well. My queen hates it that Daitar is going without her."
O'Neill had watched Carter going off without him often enough to understand that.
They got caught up on everything. Sirikat had a more mature perspective on what she was doing, and it weighed on her. People were going to war on her account. Many of them would not return.
O'Neill told her, "They all volunteered because they believe in what we're fighting for. The Goa'uld Empire has been terrorizing the whole galaxy for thousands of years, and they're going to keep right on doing it until someone makes them stop. We're that someone, Punkin."
"But a few zats and staff weapons won't make that much difference, will they?"
"Not by themselves, no. But when word spreads that Anubis and his outfit are vulnerable right now, that will encourage more planets to join the revolution. That's really what we're trying to accomplish."
"Haven't we always had to worry about him coming in ships? How has that changed?"
"Lord Yu's fleet, and the Asgard," he replied. "Also, Anubis can't be sure which way Ba'al will jump. He's always looking out for his own interests, and that usually puts him at odds with Anubis."
Sirikat nodded. "Have you heard from Jonas?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact he sent some letters through a few weeks ago. He's doing okay. Working out a new government has been like trying to herd cats, but they're making progress."
It was late before she called for her guards to escort her back to the queens' camp.
O'Neill woke sometime in the early morning. For a lot of years now, he was accustomed to taking second watch when they were off-world, and he still often woke up out of habit on occasions when he didn't need to stand guard.
Usually he could go right back to sleep, but this time something felt off, somehow. He crawled out of his sleeping bag and pulled his tee shirt and boots on.
He left the tent and looked around. There were several people still up and about, tending campfires and so forth, but for the most part the encampment slept. O'Neill didn't know what had wakened him, but he had a chill up his back as if a goose had just walked across his grave. He walked through the camp, another shadow on a moonless night.
The queens' camp was quiet. Serenshai and Rialla were playing some kind of domino-like game in the firelight. The rest were sleeping. One of Sirikat's Jaffa stood guard. Nothing seemed out of place.
Memory flickered like a series of still images.
The bags of his blood, in which he had first sensed the presence of naquada.
The Jaffa's symbiote, exactly what and where he expected it to be.
The very faint naquada signatures from the Daltregonians.
More signatures that he could sense clearly, where there was nothing to see.
"Ashrak!" He yelled.
All hell broke loose as the whole camp erupted. Serenshai drew her swords as she leapt to her feet, a whirlwind of flying blades. Blood sprayed as she connected with one of them, whether by luck or skill O'Neill would never know. That Ashrak and his head came to rest in two separate places and came visible.
Rialla cried out as she was stabbed in the back. O'Neill's zat blast sparked harmlessly off the assassin's personal shield, but outlined him for the few seconds Sirikat needed to put an arrow in his throat.
Ankyla got the idea and raised her staff. A spray of sparks rained down over the campsite, continuing to glow as they stuck to everything--including the Ashrak aiming for her throat. She kicked out at him, forcing him back and off balance. O'Neill threw his knife and hit him in the back of the neck. The Jaffa dispatched a third with a staff blow to the head.
Bra'tac and the rest of the Jaffa came running. They tried to take the last one alive but he swallowed poison.
Jack got pressure on Rialla's injury until Sirikat and Ciarevit got to her.
Serenshai wiped her swords on a dead Ashrak's shirt and closed her eyes momentarily, the better to concentrate on naquada signatures.
Bra'tac told the Jaffa, "Take anything useful from these ha'shak, and put them under the tree for now."
By now the whole encampment was in an uproar. Serenshai and Ankyla joined their two sister-queens in healing Rialla.
Weary beyond expression, Sirikat stood. "Master Bra'tac, if you would fire into the air to get everyone's attention."
He did so. Sirikat jumped up onto a low tree branch to see and be seen, and shouted brief orders to the crowd.
Bra'tac translated, "She says that the attack is over and that the assassins are all dead. She's telling everyone to go back to their camps, but to set watches from now on."
Sirikat jumped down. Ciarevit asked, "What shall we do with them? Take them out and let the wolves have them?"
"You tempt me. Yes, take them outside the camp, but don't just leave them for the animals. Zat them. Let their own gods worry about them."
That was as soon ordered as done. Sirikat started to speak to Jack in Daltregonian, swore, and started over in English. "You probably just saved all our lives! How did you know they were here?"
"You tell me and we'll both know. Once I was up here, I could sense the naquada. Bra'tac and I've been up against an ashrak before, so it didn't take much to put two and two together. But as for what made me think something was wrong in the first place--not a clue, Punkin."
Rialla said, "I care not which god warned you, I just thank all of them that you listened!"
So did O'Neill.
Daitar threw Rialla's blood-soaked mat on the fire. Her blanket looked salvageable. Serenshai found clean bedding and got Rialla settled for the rest of the night.
One of the Jaffa returned O'Neill's knife.
Just as he was about to go looking for them, Sam and Daniel arrived, anxious to assure themselves that he and Sirikat were unharmed.
Bra'tac said, "O'Neill, one of us should be at Sirikat's side. Whoever was behind this will certainly try again, if there are more of them on-world. You and I will know when we sense them."
"So this is how you knew that ashrak at the Alpha Site was about to jump out of that tree on you and Malek," O'Neill replied.
"Yes. Malek hears, but he does not always listen." Bra'tac looked out into the night, as if daring it to produce more assassins. That, O'Neill thought, was not a dare he would have taken.
Now that the whole queens' camp knew what an ashrak's naquada signature felt like, their cloaking devices would be much less of an advantage. Most likely either Serenshai, Bra'tac or himself would make short work of the next one. But, still, Jack knew how easy it would be for one of them to get lucky once in this crowd.
He had to fight down an unreasoning paternal instinct to sweep Sirikat back through the stargate. She wasn't a child in her people's eyes, and in any case she wasn't his. He would gladly kill anyone or anything that threatened her, and so would Bra'tac, and everyone else in the queens' camp. That wasn't enough to keep her safe, not when she had set herself up as the living symbol of Daltregon.
He understood that. Like Joan of Arc before her, as a hero or as a martyr, either way the tribes would rally behind her, just as the Free Jaffa had done. The Goa'uld Empire was going to have hell to pay when these people presented the bill. But all O'Neill could bring himself to care about was getting her through it safely.
Sirikat assured herself that Rialla was resting comfortably, then moved her bedroll next to her friend's and laid her unsheathed sword at hand before she settled down to catnap the rest of the night.
O'Neill got a few hours more sleep and relieved Bra'tac at first light. Serenshai offered both of them some of the fruit they had been eating last night. It had a core full of seeds like an apple, but tasted more like a pear. The local caffeine-containing beverage was a strong, spicy tea sweetened with honey.
Sirikat said, "Now we know what that last vision was about."
"Wish I knew who," O'Neill replied.
Bra'tac set a basket containing the things that the Jaffa had taken from the assassins' corpses down in front of them. "Maybe something in this will point us in the right direction."
There were four ashrak combat knives, four ribbon devices, four cloaking devices and personal shields, a couple handsful of Goa'uld money, a zatnikatel, and a small communications orb. O'Neill pocketed that to give to Carter. He hoped she could download something useful from it.
Sirikat rested back on her heels. "Well, I wouldn't have anyone saying I only rate cheap thugs, so I'll say we did well for ourselves last night."
Everyone laughed, even Bra'tac. "Don't let the relative ease with which we dispatched the ashrak last night give you a false sense of security, my queen. We were extremely lucky for O'Neill's warning. A few seconds longer and things would have gone differently."
Jacob and Sam came over. Sam had told her father about the attack last night.
Bra'tac said, "I would truly like to know if they came through the chappa'ai, or if they have a ship hidden around here somewhere."
Jacob scowled. "I don't see how they could've come through the gate, Bra'tac, not without at least one of your boys getting a radio call off. Unless they've been onworld since before you started guarding it."
Bra'tac nodded agreement. Invisible or not, they would have been noticed coming through the chappa'ai. "It is unlikely that they would have been here for so long. They never like to stay in one place long enough to invite discovery. Their usual pattern is a series of hit and run attacks. A ship, then, and probably not too far off."
Ankyla had Sirikat translate, "Unless they can grow wings and fly, they must have left a trail. I think that I'd like to go hunting today."
Bra'tac nodded. "I, too, Lady Ankyla."
Serenshai raised her hand to signal her intent to accompany them.
Carter said, "Colonel, I'd like permission to go with them, if you won't be needing me here."
O'Neill didn't like that idea, but if the ashrak had booby-trapped their ship, she would come in handy. "Granted," he replied.
That was the start of a busy day. Rifle fire was a constant echo off the surrounding hills. O'Neill stayed close to Sirikat, paying much more attention to what was going on around her than to Sirikat herself. In this crowd of blended pairs, it took a lot of concentration to make sure every naquada signature matched up with someone that he could see, and he still was extremely uncomfortable with the ability in the first place. It would have been impossible if the Daltregonians hadn't had such a faint signature, very distinct from the Goa'uld ashrak.
Sirikat had caught on to firing a P-90 as if she'd been born with one in her hands. Today, however, Colonel Parker was showing Ciarevit and Sirikat how to fire a Beretta, explaining to the queens that they might well find themselves in situations where they would need a sidearm.
Ciarevit was a quick learner. The class clown she might be, junior of six queens in her large village and years away from any real responsibility, but she took a deadly weapon seriously. As Bra'tac had commented about her skill with a quarterstaff, she showed a lot of promise.
Sirikat took her turn, thinking nothing of it until she picked up the weapon.
It hit her and O'Neill at the same time. He closed the distance between them in two long strides before he even realized that he was moving. Sirikat turned white as a sheet and gasped a breath, her hand at her throat. Ciarevit said something, very concerned. Kat answered, then said in English, "I'm sorry, I'm fine."
Very deliberately she held the Beretta exactly as Parker had just shown them, and squeezed off five shots in a neat pattern that she could have covered with the palm of her hand.
Then she let Ciarevit have another go and stepped back from the firing line, as Siri stopped hiding behind Kat and the two once again settled into their usual duet.
"You never actually remembered the accident happening before, have you?" Jack asked quietly.
She shook her head. "Lord and Lady. No. So fast--it didn't even hurt. But, gods help me, the look on your and Mom's faces--I don't think I ever be able to forgive myself for that, no matter how often you try to take the blame or tell me I too young to be at fault."
"We have a saying, forgive and forget. I've never been able to forgive my part in what happened. That isn't meant to be easy. We both had a part in hurting Sara. But more and more, I can forget. At the end of the day, that's what we have to do. Move on."
Sirikat wiped her eyes. "I hope I inherited your strength because I'm going to need all I can get before this is over. Gods, oh gods, all of these people are expecting me to lead them. Me! The idiot who shot herself! I have no idea what I'm doing, and the best of Daltregon have trusted me with their lives."
"No one expects you to be a grown woman. You have advisors to help you. Daitar for one, Bra'tac, Thoran, and Jacob. Your mothers and Karumai."
"And me," he affirmed. Jack gathered all his strength in both hands, because if he had his way about it, Sirikat would never lay hands on another firearm again, ever. What mattered was Sirikat's need to overcome her fear. "There's something else we say on Earth. If a horse throws you, get up, dust yourself off, and get right back on him. Otherwise you'll never ride him again."
She nodded and resolutely walked back to the firing line to get back on the horse.
Teal'c, Ry'ac and Ishta got back early in the afternoon. They were infuriated when they heard about the attack on the queens' camp. Teal'c stayed with O'Neill near Sirikat, while Ry'ac was pressed into service as an instructor as soon as Parker found out he was familiar with Tau'ri weapons. Ishta roamed the large encampment, on the alert for anything suspicious.
Working their way around the perimeter of the training camp, it didn't take an expert tracker like Bra'tac long to pick up the ashraks' trail. "Tread carefully, friends. Ashrak commonly set traps as they go, in case they are pursued as they return from a kill."
Sam kept her eyes on the trail. Even so, she and Bra'tak both missed a trap buried in the middle of the trail. Serenshai stepped on it and jumped straight up in the air to grab a tree limb. A wicked looking spike shot up to mid-chest height, right beneath her dangling feet, and dozens of sharp blades thrust out of it like a bottle brush.
Serenshai gulped and swung effortlessly to the safety of an overhanging branch and stared down at the evil device. Obviously, it would first impale its victim, then the other blades would cut the unfortunate target to ribbons from the inside out. Bra'tac swept it off the path with the end of his staff.
After that, he and Ankyla led the way, testing the ground ahead of them with their staves, and watching for tripwires at all heights. They safely located and disarmed several more traps without setting them off unexpectedly. Serenshai, Daniel and Sam followed a little ways back, also keeping their eyes open for trouble.
Bra'tac signalled a halt. A square of crushed plants in a clearing gave away the location of a small cloaked tel'tac. After several minutes of observation showed no sign of anyone home, Bra'tac chucked a rock at it to see if there were guns on automatic set to fire if something breached the perimeter. Instead the stone hit a force field.
Sam took a couple of gadgets out of various pockets on her utility vest. It was a standard Goa'uld force field, which meant that she could counter it, with a little effort to find the right frequency. The rest of them kept watch while she fiddled with her gadgets.
Once she succeeded in disrupting the force field, Bra'tac pitched another rock. This time they heard it hit the invisible spacecraft. When they didn't hear the hatch open and nobody came out to see who was throwing things, they advanced carefully, prepared to sense the naquada signature of an invisible assassin.
No one challenged them. There was another wait while Carter got the hatch open. There was no one inside the craft's single main cabin. She and Serenshai cleared the small cargo bays along the sides and overhead. Daniel checked out the pel'tac--the ship's helm--as he was most familiar with flying this class of ship. Bra'tac and Ankyla pulled up a hatch in the deck and made sure no one was hiding in the engine room.
Daniel managed to decode the ship's manifests and logs. "They came from Kortella. According to this, they were in port a couple of days."
Bra'tac said, "Kortella is a minor planet in Osiris' domain. It is a trade world, however, with ships from all across the Goa'uld Empire docking there. The ashrak's employer could have been anyone."
Carter and Serenshai had found only four sets of personal effects. Apparently they had killed all the assassins.
While Carter looked for time bombs in the ship's programming, Bra'tac radioed back what they had found. He then returned to help search for booby traps.
When they were sure it was safe, he flew the ship closer to camp, then gave Thoran a lift back to the stargate. The Tok'ra went through to the Alpha Site to see what information they had about Kortella.
Meanwhile, Carter made use of the tel'tac's computer to download the memory from the communications device which had been taken from the ash'rak.
The next morning, they put together an account of the ash'raks' last mission. They had been hired by a minor Goa'uld named Durket, whom Selmac recognized as one of Osiris' minions.
Jack connected the dots from Sirikat to the ash'rak to Durket to Osiris, and exchanged a dark look with Teal'c. Neither had to say a word to agree that their universe would be a much better place for taking that snake out of it.
Sirikat said slowly, "They must be truly afraid of Daltregon to have done this. And foolish. Now, my people follow one insignificant girl and a promise of freedom. If I die, they will follow a martyr and fight to the death to avenge me."
Bra'tac said, "Ah, but, my queen, we see that in hindsight knowing that ash'rak were responsible. Had the attack been successful, I suspect that they would have made it look as though one of us did it. It would have set us all against each other. That same tactic was all too nearly successful before."
Sirikat nodded. "True."
Thoran said, "This may indicate that Osiris knows about the raid. We could be walking into a trap."
Bra'tac replied, "It's just as likely that they know only that we are up to something."
Training and plans for the raid on the arms factory went on for another two weeks, most of which time O'Neill was busy between Earth, Daltregon and the Alpha site, and Bra'tac, Daitar and Thoran were also involved in that. Between juggling duties on two planets and still spending time with Jamie when he could steal an hour or two, the time passed before Jack knew it.
The night before the planned raid, representatives of all factions of the coalition met at SGC headquarters to make final plans. Thor, Bra'tac, Hammond and O'Neill, Garshaw and Selmac, Sirikat and Daitar surrounded the conference table. It was Sirikat's first meeting with Thor and Garshaw, and both of them clearly had their reservations about the ability of a girl her age to lead her people into battle.
Sirikat replied, "If I had to rely upon myself alone, I would share your doubts, my Lady Garshaw, Supreme Commander. But do not doubt the gods who have brought me so far so quickly. Do not doubt my advisors, whose wisdom has never yet led me astray. I hope to number you among them, just as I hope you will allow me to advise you concerning my people and our ways. Most importantly, do not doubt the resolve of the tribes of Daltregon, because I swear to you by the blood of my consorts, the Empire will soon have no cause to doubt us!"
Garshaw nodded and offered her hand. "So be it, my queen."
Thor asked, "What is it, Lady Sirikat?"
"I...do not know, but there is this which my grandmother saw in the fire. Now that I have met you, I feel that the Goddess meant it for your ears. Perhaps it will mean more to you than to me. If you would seek life instead of living death, do not look for it in places and means that have already failed. You stand on a razor's edge. Consider well the path that you would walk, and know that the way back to life leads through the cauldron. The other way that seems more ordered and secure leads to a final ending. The key to your heart's desire is within this mystery."
Thor gave her a long look. "My Lady, what do you know of the Asgard?"
"Little, I have to admit, and Karumai nothing at all, if I had to guess. But the flames reveal much to her. She saw the battle of Abydos and Daniel Jackson's return. Does this vision have a meaning for you?"
"It does, and I thank your goddess for the assurance that a path still remains open for the Asgard, even if we have not yet discovered it," Thor replied.
As they took their places, Thor gave O'Neill a quizzical look. Jack merely shrugged. He had long since stopped trying to understand the witch-queens of Daltregon when they went off on some New Age tangent-- he just had learned sense enough to take their advice seriously.
The meeting came to order, and they got down to the last details of planning based on the latest information from Tok'ra operatives.
Hammond aimed a laser pointer at a large wall map of the area around the stargate on Osiris' factory world. "SG-1, SG-2, SG-3, a group of Daltregonian scouts led by Daitar, and some of Bra'tac's best skirmishers led by Raknor will take the Stargate and leave SG-3 to hold it. Their next objectives will be two ring platforms, here and here, normally used to transport arms shipments from the arms factory to the stargate. Once these are secure, SG-1 and the Jaffa will ring into the factory and take the two ring platforms inside." Moving to the factory floor plan, he pointed out the rings there.
"Then, groups of warriors will move through the gate and start to ring inside. At the same time, Thor will beam groups of Daltregonian mountain people and Jaffa assault troops into the most heavily defended areas of the complex. Once these areas are taken, they will position explosives to breach the walls, allowing troops to pour into the complex both through the stargate and from a number of cloaked Tok'ra and smaller Asgard vessels. With this surprise assault from so many insertion zones, our forces should be able to quickly overcome the resistance from the 200 Jaffa inside--and I can guarantee you they'll put up a hell of a fight. They're more afraid of Anubis than they are of us. Garshaw, Bra'tac, Sirikat, you will remain aboard Beliskner III until the factory is securely under allied control. The entire operation from event horizon to control of the complex should take less than ten minutes. Does anyone have anything to add?"
As he looked around the table, no one spoke up.
Hammond declared, "In that case, folks, we've got ourselves a battle plan."
The camp on Daltregon that night was the scene of yet another raucous war dance, but this time the ale kegs stayed untapped and there was a lot of sword dancing going on. That first night had been "We're Daltregon, we're here." This time it was "We're coming for you."
O'Neill and Teal'c watched the dance from outside the circle. Sam and Daniel were down there with Sirikat, just as the last time.
Teal'c saw Ishta standing with some of her warriors. She encouraged the younger ones to join in the dance.
Jack grinned, "What are you waiting for, T? 0600h is gonna come around quick."
Teal'c nodded. "So it will." He joined Ishta and the two of them left together.
Jack stayed where he was until the dancing ended, then made his way back towards SG-1's tents. Agrav engines roared overhead as tel'tacs and an alkesh or two waited their turn to land and take on passengers. People who were going aboard these Tok'ra vessels were boarding. Time on target required allowing them more travel time that the Asgard ships. There was an electrical feel about any airstrip when the eagles started flying, anticipation that was at once dread and excitement. Teal'c wouldn't be back until morning, so Jack wasn't really in any hurry. He never slept much the night before a battle.
Sam was sitting outside the tent she shared with Daniel, also watching the planes land and take off. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down.
"Doesn't this bring back memories?"
"Oh, yeah," she grinned. "Have to say the weather here has Saudi all beat to hell."
He laughed, remembering the heat and blowing sand. "Is Daniel asleep?"
"Yes, sir." She shook her head. There were a lot of ways to spend the night before a battle, but sleeping like a baby wasn't usually one of them.
Jack told her, "Ought to try to get some rest yourself."
She nodded. "Is Teal'c with Ishta?"
Jack grinned. "Sure is."
Her answering smile was radiant. "It's about time things started breaking his way!"
Their happiness for their friend was in no way lessened by their envy of the freedom he and Ishta had to pursue their relationship unbound by the regulations that circumscribed their own lives. Even had Teal'c and Ishta been serving together in the same unit, the Jaffa had no concept of fraternization. Fathers and sons and brothers commonly served together, under the firm Spartan-like belief that a warrior never fought harder than on behalf of loved ones. It was a natural progression to include mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers and wives.
Sam slipped into her tent and got into her sleeping bag silently, to avoid waking Daniel. Jack kept watch through the long hours of the night.
Teal'c got back to camp at exactly 0600. Everyone chowed down, then pulled on assault gear. After the first few missions they had stopped wearing kevlar vests and helmets on routine missions. This time they were on the offensive, and even Daniel was ready to gear up and go.
Jack had no trouble at all understanding that. This was the first installment of payback for Abydos. He just wished to God that it hadn't been necessary for his friend the peaceful explorer to take that final step and become a warrior. There was no going back.
He dreaded the time to come when Daniel inevitably realized that no amount of blood could balance the scales--that there was no way to "get even." Abydos and its people would still be gone, no matter how many Goa'uld they killed. Thor transported everyone who was going through the stargate aboard his ship then back to the gate meadow. Jack and Sirikat had time for a quick hug. She kept a brave face and said, "Give 'em hell."
Jack answered her with a grin and yanked her braid a second before they were away.
Sirikat's heart ached to send her friends and loved ones into harm's way while she remained behind, safe on Beliskner. This was no simple raid, arising out of tribal pride and a desire to put one over on the next town, rather than to kill people. It had been a long time since anyone on Daltregon had really gone to war.
Of the queens, only Serenshai risked herself in the first wave. The mountain queens would command the large groups of their clans who would pour into the complex once the walls had been blown. Ciarevit and Ankyla stayed in reserve, ready to support any unit that needed it with their crystals, protected by a heavy guard. Sirikat knew it would be years yet before she could command that kind of power. She knew she belonged here. But it still didn't feel right.
Bra'tac said, "The Tau'ri have a saying. They also serve who only stand and wait. This is no easy duty for a warrior, my queen, but a necessary one all the same."
"Yes, Master Bra'tac."
There was no phase-shift as they would have expected from a ha'tak when Beliskner entered hyperspace. Less than five minutes later, they were in place over the arms factory. Thor's small hands moved control stones on several boards around his command station, getting visuals of the gate area and transmitting them back to Daltregon so the initial assault force would know what awaited them through the gate.
Carter started getting telemetry. "Sir, I have the visuals from HIGH FLYER."
O'Neill looked over her shoulder at the small 3D holo display, and ordered, "Daniel, dial us up, then as soon as the gate engages, put something in the event horizon to keep the wormhole open. Teal'c, frag grenades left, right, and center, then lay in smoke."
He watched the display as the two obeyed their orders. The grenades took out several of the Jaffa on guard duty, and then the smoke obscured the immediate area of the gate. "Go, go, go!"
They charged through the gate, the first rank hosing the area in front of them with suppression fire. O'Neill cleared the smoke and started firing for effect, dropping three Jaffa. A staff blast went between him and Carter to hit someone behind him. Carter shot the Jaffa who had fired.
All hell was breaking loose on the left flank. Serenshai had leapt over a low concrete wall that served as cover for the defending Jaffa, and they were shooting one another in their attempts to hit her--as all the while, her swords were reaping a bloody harvest. Daitar and his scouts picked off the ones furthest away from Serenshai at their leisure.
Opposite all that, on the right side of the gate, SG-2 and 3 were engaged in fierce fighting to take out a cannon emplacement. O'Neill signalled Teal'c, who was armed with the heavy staff blaster that he had taken off a downed death glider. This massive weapon easily punched through the cannon's armor and detonated its power supply. It reminded O'Neill of a .50 caliber machine gun, and only a man of Teal'c's size and mass could carry and control it.
O'Neill looked for a target and found no more opposition. One of Rak'nor's warriors had been hit by the staff blast that had just missed him and Carter. SG-3's medic shook his head.
This was no time to mourn the dead. Leaving the Marines to secure the stargate, the rest of them split up to take the ring portals. SG- 1 and the Daltregonians were together.
The guards on the ring portal had been alerted by the fighting in front of the gate and had taken cover behind their fortifications. Jack threw a grenade over a barrier and almost got his head shot off for his trouble. Immediately after the grenade went off, they raced across the open ground to the enemy fortifications, shooting anyone who stuck his head up over the wall. Teal'c and the Daltregonians simply vaulted over the barrier. Few Jaffa had the skill it took to fend off an opponent hand to hand and still fire at range, as he and Bra'tac commonly did. Their assault gave the rest of SG-1 time to get around the barrier.
Two of the Daltregonians were down when the firing ended. One would keep; Serenshai was working on the other one.
Carter checked out the ring controls. "We can ring inside on your order, Colonel!"
O'Neill acknowledged that with a nod. "HIGH FLYER, this is SG-1- niner. The north ring portal is secure. Request telemetry from the target north portal."
Thor replied, "Understood, SG-1-9, stand by for telemetry feed."
There were four more Jaffa inside the ring room. O'Neill assigned targets then ordered Sam to ring them in.
A blast grazed O'Neill's helmet, and the bright light so close to his eyes dazzled him for a few seconds like a camera flash going off. Carter dispatched her assigned target then turned to cover him, firing two more shots. They moved to cover the corridor. O'Neill shook his head to clear it and reported the ring room secure.
As soon as Rak'nor reported similar success, the second wave started pouring through. The next five minutes were a living hell of staff and small arms fire, of people yelling and screaming, of blaring alarms and the stench of gunpowder and carnage.
As green troops poured through the gate, they took over the job of guarding it and the ring portals, freeing up SG-2, SG-3 and Daitar's crowd to move in. Simultaneously, the units who transported in from Beliskner established a number of other beach heads throughout the factory.
O'Neill was then occupied with coordinating the battle and setting C- 4 charges to breach the fortress walls.
Shortly after that, they held control of the complex, and the systematic looting began, as fast as they could ring their booty out.
SG-1 and the Tok'ra hit the R&D labs. They had grabbed a number of interesting looking things, when O'Neill heard a noise in the ceiling and fired up there. A dead Jaffa fell through the gold-leafed ceiling panel, to be followed immediately by a number of live ones.
Sam yelped as a staff blow shattered her arm. Jack and Jacob both opened up on her assailant, then shielded her with covering fire. Not to be outdone, she fired her Beretta left handed and shot down another one.
Malek was covering Anise while she stuffed a sack with gadgetry from a work bench. She let out a sudden shriek as something she touched emitted a blue flash and then exploded right in front of her. She was hurt but still on her feet, leaning on Malek.
Thor picked up on reinforcements on the way and warned O'Neill.
He replied, "That's our cue. People, let's get the hell outta Dodge!"
Thor beamed up the wounded and the people nearest them, while everyone else retreated through the ring portals. When the complex was clear, the Asgard leveled it.
O'Neill looked around for Sirikat, meaning to get her to heal Carter's arm. But she was already on her knees beside another person.
She let out a loud, keening wail, which was taken up by the other Daltregonians. It was without a doubt one of the most hair-raising sounds O'Neill had ever heard in his life.
As soon as SG-3's medic began tending Sam's arm, he went to Sirikat, and for the first time identified the fallen warrior whom she mourned. It was Daitar.
She made another cut across her arm, then let O'Neill gather her up.
Sirikat kept her grief private, for her people were celebrating their victory. Rialla went home with their wounded and Daitar's body, leaving Sirikat to say formal farewells as her army scattered for now.
She ached for Vanira. Daitar had been one of her first three consorts and they had been together for over a century. Merroll would do his best to comfort her, Sirikat knew, but still she wanted to be at her queen's side.
Her personal grief aside, their casualties had been many fewer than there could have been. That had been a result of good planning, effective teamwork, and above all that they had taken the enemy by complete surprise. They would not be so fortunate again, but today she took what she could get.
The SG teams went home to debrief, but then they got some down time thanks to Sam's broken arm, and Thor took them to Daltregon.
Jack was startled and for once caught completely flat-footed when Jamie and his little knapsack beamed up seconds after they did. "Thor, what the hell--?"
"At such a time as this, families should be together, should they not?"
"Well, yeah, but you can't just beam him up like that--Gloria Murphy's liable to mistake you for Loki. They're probably having kittens right now!"
"I explained things to Mrs. Murphy. Under no circumstances would I want to be accused of kidnapping any Tau'ri child, much less a child of the SGC," Thor assured him.
Sam and Daniel laughed while Teal'c merely raised an eyebrow.
Earth was further out in the galactic arm than most of the worlds in the gate network. This was a longer trip than the hop from Daltregon to the arms factory. Sam took one of the pills Janet had given her and passed out. Daniel and Teal'c had crashed too. Jack couldn't let it go yet. But he was more grateful to Thor for bringing Jamie along than he could express.
Jamie took a lot of watching because as far as he was concerned Beliskner was a giant playground. He was presently fascinated with the viewport. Jack sat nearby, watching him.
Thor came in, and soon got just as interested in kid-watching as his Tau'ri companion. "This is the reason," he finally said.
O'Neill understood him perfectly. Everything they did was to make it possible for Jamie and children like him everywhere to live free from fear of the Goa'uld. That alone made all that they had been through worthwhile. He nodded. "Wonder what they'll do to retaliate?"
Thor looked out at the stars for a long moment. "That will depend on whether any witnesses escaped. They may well be uncertain who was responsible. It may be that Osiris will blame the other system lords, at least for a while."
"True," Jack said, in thoughtful agreement.
"O'Neill, whatever they do, for now we must simply prepare as best we can, and cope with it until we find a chance to strike again. Anubis will think twice about bringing his fleet against us. His losses would be devastating, now that his flagship is destroyed. I just do not expect direct retaliation at this time."
O'Neill nodded. "I hope you're right."
Jamie came over and climbed up on Jack's lap, staring sleepily at Thor from the safety of his father's arms.
Jack said, "I think someone's ready to hit the sack. Do the cabin hatches lock?"
Thor explained where to find the hatch controls. Having a three- year-old on the loose and wreaking havoc onboard his ship certainly didn't sound like a good idea.
Jack rolled out their sleeping bags on the deck. Jamie said, "Gloria always gives me a cookie when I go to bed."
"She does? She didn't give me a cookie the last time I stayed all night over there," Jack said.
"That's cause you and Teal'c always stay up all night watching TV. You don't get a cookie if you stay up past your bedtime," Jamie said, very seriously.
"Ahhh. I see." He fished in his pack. "Well, I don't have a cookie, but you can have half a ration bar." Jack divided it. Jamie took a bite, decided he liked it, and chowed down. Once he finished that and had a drink of water, he crawled into his sleeping bag.
Five minutes after Jack lay down, Jamie cried, "I can't find Bear!"
"Bear! I always put him in my sleeping bag before I roll it up, but he's gone!"
Jack reached over to pat the foot of the sleeping bag. No teddybear. "You probably just left him at Gloria's house. He'll be okay 'til you go over there again."
Jamie started crying.
Jack got up and went through Jamie's backpack. Rolled up in a tiny pair of jeans was a teddybear.
"Here. All's right with the world. Go to sleep!"
Jamie settled down.
Jack had just drifted off to sleep when....
"Daddy, I have to pee!"
"Oh, for cryin' out loud, Jamie, why didn't you do that when we were looking for your teddy?"
"I didn't have to pee then!"
Jack rolled his eyes and dragged himself out of his sleeping bag for the second time. Once Jamie had taken care of business and got back into his sleeping bag, Jack made sure he had Bear and turned off the light. Ten minutes later the engine made a noise and Jamie wiggled his sleeping bag closer until he was curled up against Jack's back, and both of them finally went to sleep.
A few hours later, Daniel woke them knocking on the hatch. "Jack! Half an hour!"
Getting Jamie to quit playing with the sonic shower instead of actually getting in it took half that time. Jack got them both clean and dressed with minutes to spare.
A few hours later, they stood in a forest clearing about a mile from Sirikat's village. Daitar lay surrounded by autumn flowers.
Jack had never expected to see Vanira look fragile, but it looked like she and her remaining consort, Merroll, were holding one another up. The queen drew her sword and cut off her braid, then coiled it on her first beloved's chest. She had cut the ritual scar so deeply into her arm that it had yet to heal completely.
Sirikat stood holding a lighted torch, and waited patiently while her queen said her last goodbyes to her companion of over a century. Then the young woman stepped forward, singing a prayer without missing a note while tears streamed down her face. She lighted the pyre in several places.
When the flames leapt high, Vanira screamed and would have thrown herself onto the pyre if Merroll and Shaneska hadn't physically restrained her. Finally she collapsed in Merroll's arms.
Jamie clung to Jack, who picked him up and held him tightly. The rest of the village women began to keen, a traditional wailing lament for the dead Jack remembered from the very Irish funeral of an elderly relative when he had been only a little older than Jamie was now.
There were more prayers and farewells, then with the exception of a few people who remained behind to make sure the fire didn't get out of hand, the tribe made a slow procession back to the village, where a feast had been prepared. As they mourned his death, they celebrated Daitar's life, and looked forward to the new life upon which they had faith he would soon embark.
Sirikat finally had a chance to talk to them after that. Vanira and Merroll had retreated to the privacy of Karumai's quarters. Sirikat smiled for the first time in days when Jack introduced her to Jamie.
Jack never knew how Jamie would react when he met a stranger for the first time. Sometimes he got shy and didn't want anything to do with them, and sometimes he acted like he'd known them all his life. He climbed right into Sirikat's lap, and immediately started playing with her braid. She said, "You're just as sweet as your picture! Did you say he was three? He's tall for that!"
"Thereabouts--the Edoran year is a little shorter than Earth's. He won't turn three in Earth years until December."
Rialla came in and put a tray of extra food down in the center of the group. Jamie reached for a green fruit that was full of seeds. Sirikat peeled it and cut the seeds out for him. "How is Mother?"
Rialla gave a heavy sigh. "Sleeping. Karumai gave her something."
"It's like it just hit her all at once. I don't think she really believed it was real until I lit the pyre."
Rialla said, "Gods, she scared me to death."
"Did she really try to jump? I didn't see it, everything happened so fast. I just heard her scream."
Rialla nodded, wide eyed. "Merroll just did grab her in time. She didn't know what she was doing, Sirikat."
"I know that! Should I go sit with her?"
"No sense. Karumai gave her a good dose. She won't wake up until tomorrow. Karumai and Merroll won't take their eyes off her," Rialla assured her. "Do you need anything else?"
"Gods, I'm useless. I didn't even check if there were ale and tea."
"Sit still, I'll do it." Rialla checked the teapot hanging over the braizer. "This is full. I'll have them send a keg of ale up, when I take some out to Lyradas and the rest of them."
"Make sure they're keeping an eye out. Daitar will haunt them and me too if the fire gets away from them." She sounded matter-of-fact and perfectly serious about that.
Rialla didn't seem to doubt it a bit. Still, she soothed, "Don't worry, they're careful."
After that, they stayed up talking late into the night. It was still early in SG-1's "day" and Sirikat was too keyed up to sleep. Rialla came in well after dark with her hair still loose and wet from the bath house. She smelled of homemade lye soap.
Jack knew it would take a while to cremate a body in such an open fire, and he didn't envy those doing that job. No wonder Rialla had taken ale to them. Apparently she had stayed long enough for the smell to cling to her.
Sirikat and Rialla told stories about Daitar that made Sirikat laugh and cry, often both at once, and Jack and Rialla were always there to comfort her. They speculated about what the Goa'uld might do next, and what their own next move might be. Sirikat didn't dwell on it, but she had a very Jaffa-like attitude about revenge and Jack knew he hadn't heard the last of that--he remembered how she'd gone after Garan. But tonight she mostly just wanted to be with her friends and loved ones.
She wanted to hear all Jack's stories about Jamie, who slept on anyone's lap when he wasn't playing with his teddybear or a toy boat that Rialla gave him. Other than keeping him from crawling under the hanging and potentially getting outside, Rialla and Sirikat didn't seem to worry what he did. He already knew fire burnt curious fingers, and stayed away from the brazier that warmed the room.
Sirikat worked on Carter's broken arm a couple of times, giving them both time to rest between sessions. "It should finish healing in a few days. You need to keep the cast on and be careful while it finishes setting, or you'll break it again."
When the ale and the warm room finally started working on them, Sirikat got out mats and blankets for herself and Rialla while the rest of them put out their sleeping bags. Jack ended up between Sam and Jamie.
The next day, they woke up late, to find that Rialla had already got up for the day. Shaneska heard them moving around and brought breakfast, a fresh pot of tea and a tray of hot buns full of nuts and raisins, chunks of salty ham cut to a convenient size to spear with their knives and heat over the brazier, and more fruit.
"Is Vanira awake?"
"She's in the temple. She wanted to be alone for a little while. Karumai is watching her."
Sirikat nodded. She and Jack took turns cooking bites of ham for Jamie and making sure he didn't get them until they had cooled.
Vanira was still pale and shaky, but in her right mind again. She sat down with them and put her arm around Sirikat. "I'm sorry, my little one. I've made this so hard for you."
"No blame from me, Mother. I know your loss too well." They hugged.
"Sirikat, I want you to go to Earth for a while," Vanira said.
"I can't leave you now!"
"You just spit in Osiris' eye. They knew enough to send sellswords into the queens' camp. They may very well know to look for you here."
"Let them, then! By all the gods, I won't hide from any more battles that I've sent warriors sworn to me to fight!"
Vanira grabbed her hand. "Goddess, Sirikat, is that what you think happened to Daitar?"
"Wasn't it? He and all those people went in on my order!"
Vanira said, "I can't make the burden of leadership that the gods have laid upon you any lighter, but I can say this. Whatever lives you have on your conscience, Daitar wasn't one of them. Stay with Sirikat, I told that damned fool, make sure nothing happens to her, and you'll have done your duty. But where was he when they killed him? In the middle of it! He knew you were well guarded so he thought he'd get his share of revenge for everything the Goa'uld have done to us for thousands of years. Tell me I'm wrong, Rialla, you were with him!"
The dark haired girl nodded. "He did."
"Well, that's what revenge gets you," she said harshly. "This war might take every last one of us before it's over, and if that's the cost of freedom, so be it. I'd make a damned poor slave. But you hear me now, all of you, if you go off and get yourselves killed for no better reason than revenge, I won't shed a tear for you, I swear it. There are too many chances to die doing what you have to do, without looking for more. Daitar is mine to avenge, not yours."
Vanira came into her daughter's arms. Sirikat stroked her short hair. It would grow back a long time before Vanira healed from this loss. "Mother, I swear to you, I won't do anything stupid. But you swear to me--!"
Vanira kissed her cheek. "I went crazy yesterday. It was a cowardly thing. I'd have been deserting Merroll and you and Mother-- and everyone who is depending on me. I swear I won't try anything like that again. He will be with us again in the gods' own time."
"Look at what happened to me, Mother. I'd have had a hard time finding a more stupid thing to do, but the gods set things right in spite of me. They may send Daitar back to us sooner than we think. Stop calling him a damned fool, and maybe he'll come to you and tell you what his next life will be. You haven't lost him forever and you won't. You know that."
Vanira smiled and kissed her daughter's forehead. "I know. I'll remember."
"If you really want me to go, I will. At least until things have had a chance to shake themselves out."
Jack told her, "I could always use the help with Jamie here, y'know."
Vanira said, "Please. I just need to know that you're safe."
"All right. Until we know more."
They stayed two more days, until Carter was up to the hike back to the Stargate. The walk never got any shorter, and O'Neill soon learned that Synvisc injections weren't a miracle cure for arthritis. Jamie turned out to be a little outdoorsman, though, and watching him left O'Neill with little time to think about his knees. And helping him keep Jamie in line gave Carter a natural excuse to stay close.
Sirikat still grieved, but Vanira had convinced her that she had not been responsible for Daitar's death. Without that overwhelming sense of guilt, she could begin the long process of remembering the good times and moving on.
It was late evening Colorado time when they reached the stargate. Ferretti was there; General Hammond had already gone home for the night. Post-gate exams were routine.
Sirikat was going to carry a tired, cranky Jamie to the truck, but he decided he wanted Teal'c to carry him. The Jaffa took him and stepped back into the locker room to get a hat.
Sirikat put their bags in the back and climbed into the middle of the cab while Jack buckled Jamie into the child seat.
Teal'c said, "There is a routine shipment of supplies to the Alpha site at 0600 tomorrow. I would prefer to spend the remainder of my leave there, if you do not require my presence here."
"Fine with me," O'Neill said. "Say hello to everyone for us."
"I will do so, O'Neill."
"Sirikat, I put Jamie in your room because I wanted him where I could keep an eye on him."
"I don't mind. The downstairs bedroom is fine." She dropped her things on the bed in there.
Jack put Jamie to bed. As they had just showered on base, all he had to do was put Jamie in pajamas. The little fellow was too tired even for his bedtime story. Jack made sure he had Bear, then shut the gate behind him on his way downstairs.
Sirikat had changed into jeans and a sweatshirt. She was in the kitchen, where she had fixed herself a cup of tea. "I think something may be living in the refrigerator," she joked.
Jack opened it to get a beer, and wrinkled his nose at the smell. "More likely, that something crawled in there and died. We can clean house and get groceries tomorrow."
She sipped her tea. "In a way it feels like I never left, but in another...everything...different. I can't believe Daitar is gone."
Jack reached across the table to take her hand. "Sirikat, I'm sorry."
"I thought...we could make it right somehow."
Jack nodded. "War is the last alternative, after diplomacy and everything else fails, and nobody hates it worse than soldiers. There's never a real winner. There's just something that has to stop, no matter what it costs, because Punkin, freedom isn't free. We can't change anything that's already happened, for thousands of years all over the whole galaxy. Before this is over a lot more...god-awful things are gonna happen. But in the end, we're going to win, and then we'll do our damnedest to rebuild something that's worth the price we've paid for it. It won't ever be completely right for us, for the people who have to live through it. But just maybe, for the generations who follow us, who'll only know about the Goa'uld from history books...for them, it can be."
Sirikat smiled. "But that is us. Our future lives."
"Then I guess we'd better set things up the way we want it to be when we give it another try," O'Neill said. "The whole idea gives me a headache."
Sirikat smiled. "I think that...why Karumai says live this life."
"Smart lady, your grandmother."
Jack put his beer bottle in the trash and her teacup in the dishwasher. Sirikat excused herself, but he stayed up for a while to catch up on the box scores before he went upstairs.
When he passed her room, he could smell the faint perfume of her incense. Upstairs, Jamie was sleeping like a little angel, with his arm around Bear.
He plugged in his cell phone to charge the battery, and dialed.
"Hey, Carter. Just checkin' to make sure you got home OK."
"Yes, sir. Did you get the kids settled?"
"Yeah." He heard computer noises. "Carter, are you working?"
"Not really, just checking a few things."
"Well, check 'em and go to bed. It's almost 0100, for cryin' out loud."
She giggled. "Colonel, you knew I'd be awake or you wouldn't have called this late."
"Going to bed now, sir," she said.
He bit his tongue before he could ask her what she was wearing. Not only would that be over the line they'd set for themselves...it was bad enough trying to get to sleep wondering what she was wearing. If she actually told him, he'd be awake all night thinking about it.
"Good night, Major."
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