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Upon a Fiery Steed

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One shot causes great pain. Two may kill, Daniel Jackson reminded himself through a sickening haze. He blinked, trying to focus past the armor plate and silver-gray mesh that was all he could see, slung over his captor's shoulder like a sack of potatoes. His bound hands twitched convulsively against the Jaffa's polished armor, visible sign of the full-body trembling induced by two separate - but not separate enough - zat blasts. You're pushing it already. Don't make them try for three. Disintegration kind of ruins your whole day...

Great. His subconscious was channeling Jack.

I don't need a subconscious, Daniel thought dazedly, fighting not to throw up as the Jaffa lugged him around yet another corner, two scowling escorts with charged staff weapons right behind. I need a Jack. One armed, snarky, thoroughly ticked-off Black Ops Colonel. Was that too much to ask of the universe?

Focus, Danny. Where are you, and how can you get out?

Where he was... that was a little fuzzy. Last time the archaeologist had been sure of where he was, he was in the middle of invading dog-helmeted Jaffa, collapsing blue crystal tunnels, and a retreating swarm of Tok'ra spies.

"Safe" planet, Daniel thought grimly. "Safe" hideout. Yeah sure you betcha. So safe, some System Lord nobody even knew was in the Gault planetary system plunks a pyramid ship down almost on top of the base. So much for Tok'ra security...

Then again, there was such a thing as pure, dumb luck. Given that a System Lord had landed on Gault in the first place, they'd pick a spot near a Stargate if possible. Just like the Tok'ra did.

Two moralities, but just one species after all.

Goa'uld were arrogant, not dumb. Even before landing, whoever it was would have sent out search parties to secure the area. Apparently, one of those search parties had snagged some Tok'ra sentries. And apparently, said System Lord's Jaffa had just happened to do the smart thing and taken the sentries silently, so they could find the base and blast its rebel inhabitants into itty-bitty pieces.

Simple, straightforward, and fast. Like they knew the ceiling was about to come down on top of them.

Maybe they did. The Tok'ra had been a thorn in System Lord sides for over two thousand years; odds were they'd pulled the collapsing-base trick at least once before SG-1 had come along.

Wish they'd give us a floorplan of just how the collapse works, so we wouldn't end up in the middle of it...Daniel thought blearily, trying to add up corridors and half-remembered sensations to get a better sense of where he was now. Wish they'd leave the locals out of the mess when they set up a base. I know they need local human support to attack the Goa'uld - but do they have to drag the kids in?

At least he'd pulled the little Gaultish girl out of the tunnel before it caved in, shoving her toward her frantic villager-turned-rebel-abettor cousin before they all ran like hell.

And a zat had trilled, and the ground had smashed air from his lungs.

Cold... light...that was transport rings, Daniel calculated muzzily; somewhere in the middle of this mess he'd tried to make a break for it, and the resulting zat blast had left everything dark for a long, long time. Aching cold, the light of a thousand stars... oh gods, we must have gone through another 'Gate.

Which meant he wasn't just off the surface, he wasn't even on the same planet.

Jack's got to be tearing his hair out right now... stop thinking about it, Dr. Jackson. Jack's freaking out, but Colonel O'Neill's got to think about the whole planet. If he can't find you, he's going to assume the Goa'uld got you. And your GDO. Which means when you get out of here, you'd better pick a planet that doesn't have an iris, because Jack is going to lock your code out as soon as he hits the SGC-

"...Lady, you even give snakes a bad name!"

Daniel blinked, automatically pricking his ears at the sound of Goa'uld spoken with an accent. That's not a Tok'ra. And it definitely isn't anybody from Gault. The locals were of Mongol origin; their language didn't even have some of the Goa'uld consonants...

Fingers cracked against flesh as his captors tromped into the room; a tall Jaffa in First Prime armor snarled at a slim form bound into what looked like the System Lord version of a mad dentist's chair. "Be silent before your goddess!"

"Shyeah, right. As if." Strapped down too tight to even wriggle, a black-clad teenager puffed brown bangs out of his face. Large violet eyes fixed on the Prime with a mocking glint, ignoring the red fingerprints on one cheek and the thigh-length chestnut braid uncomfortably squashed by his neck. "Bet those doggie helmets rattle all the brains out of your head. That's why your death gliders can't come out of a Gundam fight in one piece unless they run like scalded puppies. Listen, dimwit, your lady snake over there doesn't even rate a two out of ten on the demon scale-"

The Prime was turning a rather alarming shade of crimson. Daniel half expected steam to shoot out of the beleaguered Jaffa's ears. Strapped down, disarmed, outnumbered ten to one - and this kid's about to make a Jaffa keel over in sheer frustration.

He couldn't help it. He snickered.



Oooh, bad move, guy, Duo Maxwell thought, hiding a wince as Dimme's enraged First Prime slammed the tall blond into matching restraints. Combat boots, dark green pants covered with pockets that had all been stripped open, a sweaty black t-shirt that could have come out of Heero's semi-formal closet... looked like he wasn't the only one who'd been caught raiding a Goa'uld cookie jar. Man, I was hoping you'd stay quiet until they threw us into a cell. System Lords take time to think up just what they want to do for torture, we'd have had a good window to get the hell out of here.

Then again, if the legends were right... this System Lord probably knew exactly what she wanted to do to Duo. Or anybody else from Sanq.

Almost against his will, he glanced toward the gold-eyed woman whose body housed a Goa'uld Queen. Tall and fair, midnight tresses draped in a crown of silver-laced braids that cascaded over her shoulders to mingle with her emerald robes, ribbon device glinting death from her right hand. Maybe I'll get lucky and she'll try an implantation. Shi no Yami versus snake - that'll be short.

At least, that's what the records said.

Then again, Dimme might have some of those records. In which case - whatever she had in mind might be worse than a larva.

One way or another, we're in a System Lord's lab. This is generally Not Good.

The Jaffa who'd been carrying the blond dropped to one knee. "The... human, my Lady Dimme."

Whoa, whoa. "Human"? Duo thought, studying his fellow prisoner out of the corner of his eye. Not Sanqian, or Hualiesh, or anything that sounded like a planetary name. Just human?

"Dimme," the blond muttered, wrinkling his nose to try and shove his glasses back into place. "Sumerian version of Lamashtu, daughter of Anu. The demoness who chose the darkness that she might kill through plagues..."

English?! Duo kept his mouth closed with an effort. Bless Heero's paranoid little mind for making every pilot in the Wing learn the language they'd snatched off Goa'uld databases. Too bad it's not him here. I get most of what he's saying, but if Blondie speeds up I'm going to be in trouble. He surreptitiously tugged at the straps, and rolled his eyes. Okay, more trouble.

English. Holy frickin' hell. Not human. Tau'ri.

"You will not sully my lost sister's name, mortal." Dimme flexed her ribbon-bearing hand, obviously tempted. Then lowered her hand, and smiled.

Oh shit.

"Indeed," her glowing gaze flicked at two Jaffa, who hustled toward a sealed door toward the back of the lab, "You will serve it."

Something screeched.

Staffs charged, the Jaffa prodded a lithe, mottled-gray and olive humanoid toward them. Its six-fingered hands bore inch-long talons, a pair of four-foot tentacles sprouted from either side of its bony spine, and it bent under Dimme's caress with an insect's quick grace.

Then it looked at him, one eye slit gold, one still human blue, and Duo felt his heart clench. No. Bones were reforming even as he watched, shifting farther and farther from anything familiar... but he knew that gaze. "Page," he whispered. "Ran Page. No..." I thought he went down in the ambush - oh angels, I was hoping he had! "You inbred parasitic excuse for a-"

Duo managed to roll with the punch, just enough that the Prime didn't break his jaw. He swallowed the coppery taste, unable to look away from this... this travesty of what had been a Preventer. Blue was gone now, swallowed up in gold, and there was nothing human left in that sinuous form rubbing against Dimme's knee. Beside him Duo could hear Blondie gagging. Guess he never met Lamashtu's work up close and personal before. Poor guy.

"I see you approve of my Reaver." Dimme's lips curled.

"I see you're just like your sister," Duo gritted out. "Mess with life-codes like they're your own personal toy boxes." Ran. I'm so sorry. Darkness rustled in the corners of his mind, Shinigami surfacing with his cold rage. "Let me clue you in, Dimme. Mother Nature bites back."

"Ah, yes. The Guardian charge." Dimme scraped her nails down Duo's cheek, along his neck, just short of breaking his skin. "Protectors of your pitiful planet. Warriors against the System Lords." A cruel, cruel smirk bent her lips, as she gestured the thing that had been Ran toward him. "Aberrations. Sports, to be rogued out of the gene pool of my sister's perfect pets."

Blondie swallowed. "And you think that creature's going to do it."

Guy speaks Goa'uld, Duo thought, Shinigami's dark wings beating in the back of his mind. Well, duh, 'course she does; she wouldn't have it here if she didn't. But keep her talking. He dipped into the shadows in his mind, reached out with that dark power to the physical shadows under his restraints. Odds in here were not good, but given the choice between taking on five Jaffa, a System Lord, and that thing, or waiting for Dimme to try her bio-engineering on him-

And her hand slammed down on his shoulder, paralyzing heat jabbing into his flesh.

Can't - breathe. Can't - move-

His hold on the shadows shattered. Fire blazed in his shoulder; acid, venomous fire, snaking along muscle and nerves to whisper submit, bow, yield to the mistress...

No. Way. In hell.

Shinigami snarled, bending mind and self to the fight. My body. My mind!

Block the blood vessels carrying the Reaver venom into his body. Loose Shi no Yami's modified antibodies about the site, biochemical shield and sword against the invader. Wrap his mind about the very smallest of shadows, use them to slash and burn and pry at the intruding cells...

Duo panted for breath, blinking sweat out of his eyes before he let them slide almost closed. Stopped it. I think. He felt the first shivers of fever, his body rousing more conventional defenses against the invader still writhing in his flesh. Play dead, kid. Shinigami's got it pinned, but if you're getting a fever, it's not down yet. If she zats you now, you are toast.

"It will take longer to transform a Guardian than a mere Preventer." Dimme stepped back, satisfied. "But you will bend, and warp, and break... and I will see it all." She giggled, an evil child plucking the wings off butterflies. "And the worst of it is, you will feel your mind bend to mine. You will know my will as your own, and you yourself will seek out my enemies in human guise." She licked her lips, eyes alit with hungry glee. "As will you, little Tau'ri. And I shall strike a blow at your rebellious planet such as no System Lord has ever dreamed!"

"Earth's under the Protected Planets Treaty!" Now Blondie was yanking against his restraints, muscles quivering as he realized the damn bonds were just too strong. "You can't bring ships into the system, Dimme; the Asgaard will slag you into space junk. And you'll never get one of those things through the 'Gate!"

Asgaard? Protected Planets Treaty? Duo fought down his curiosity. Play dead, play dead... man, I've got to sit this guy down and pester him until he talks. For about a week.

If he got out of here. If he could get out of here, before Dimme realized her shot wasn't working and hit him with another dose or three. Hit it hard enough and even a Shinigami's immune system could crash. He was still shaking from the fever, hot and cold and terrified...

Wait. Terror? Shinigami didn't feel fear. What-

Fear. Determination. Friendship. Fear... Distinct pulses of emotion, familiar as his own skin. Shivering over him like a fall of snowflakes, pure and delicate and beautiful.

Quatre!

"Ah. But you won't look like that, my pet-to-be. Not when I will it." Dimme's tone sharpened. "Ran."

Mottled flesh squirmed, paled, collapsed-

And a naked man dropped to one knee, eyes blue and empty. "My Lady."

"Ran," Duo whispered, heart aching. "Angels, tell me you're still in there." Quatre. Look. See. He spared a shred of strength to embrace that familiar presence, hoping the empath's spaceheart would pick up enough image and feeling to warn the Wing. If he didn't make it out of here-

Exasperation. Friendship. Determination.

All right, all right, lil' Cat. I get the point, Duo thought, hiding a smile. The burning in his shoulder was starting to fade; Shinigami was winning. No dying while you're on the job.

Amusement. Warning!

Gotcha.

"Duo." The teeth in Ran's grin were just a shade too sharp to be human. "You'll like living for the goddess."

I don't think so. "You were a good friend, Ran," Duo said softly. "I swear I'll kill you."

"Duo?" Dimme's dark brows rose, intrigued. "Should I know that name, my pet?"

"Preventer Agent Duo Maxwell," the Reaver said, voice empty of emotion. "Pilot 02. Gundam Deathscythe-"

"A Gundam pilot?"

The pyramid ship rocked. Lights flickered. Alarms began a mournful wail.

"Goddess! We are under attack!"

And cue the confusion, Duo thought gleefully, watching Jaffa stampede their queen out of the lab as the shaking went on, the Prime breaking off from the main group to head up toward the main controls. That's right, get her out of here, forget about us measly tied-down humans...

Damn. One Jaffa planted his staff weapon against the floor, zat in his belt, standing staunch, helmeted guard in the corner.

And Ran was still staring at him. Smiling.

Last time I saw that many teeth, 'Fei was making crocodylian soup. Duo let out a soundless breath. Okay. Focus. One guard, one... thing, and- Eyes still mostly closed, he slid a stealthy glance Blondie's way.

Alert blue met his gaze. Flicked a glance toward his shoulder. Grimaced. Slid another glance toward the Jaffa. Blinked deliberately. Looked at the Reaver, and crooked a blond brow up.

Duo hid a grin. Thank you, thank you, I got a bright one. "Ran..." he groaned, eyelids fluttering almost in time with the flickering lights. "It hurts..."

Ran glided closer. "Give into the pain, Duo. It'll be over, so soon."

"So, does your queen engineer plagues often?" Blondie asked brightly, sitting up the fraction of an inch the straps allowed, fixing an innocent, inquisitive look on the startled Jaffa. "It would explain why the Akkadians and Sumerians had a couple hundred different charms against her. Although Dimme's not as well known as Lamashtu. Any idea why that would be? Or maybe it was just the local press. Hard to beat somebody like her sister for pure bad publicity. 'She is fury, she is rage, she is dreadful sorcery...'"

"It's like fire, Ran. Please." It was; though a dying fire, now, beaten back by the hope rising with every shake of the ship. Concentrate. Shift the shadows; there, there, and there. You're only going to get one chance at this.

"'She slays the old, the young, the baby in the womb...'"

"Let go, Duo. Stop fighting. You'll be one of us now." Ran's eyes were empty as a shark's as he sniffed near the wound. "I can smell-" Confusion clouded his gaze. "What is that smell?"

"What smell?" Come on, just one more second!

"'Her name is fever, fire, death-'"

Snap!

Shinigami twisted out of shadow-severed straps, slipped hands into his boots as he rolled, came up with darkened steel. And threw.

The Reaver touched the slim blade embedded in what should have been his heart, ignoring the crimson trickle of blood. "You slew my kin!"

"Surprise," Duo gasped. Okay, heart-shot didn't work... One hand had already dipped into his braid, pulling out the hilt of a thermal knife. He thumbed it on, its steady hum punctuated by surprised grunts from the Jaffa as Blondie kicked and sliced his way free with Duo's second throwing knife.

Shinigami ignored the Tau'ri's fight. Here was the enemy, writhing out of human guise. Here was the creature that had tried to take mind, heart, and soul.

Time to die.

Shadows stretched into black wings, lifted him in a swift leap above striking talons. He slashed deep into the Reaver's shoulder, used the blade's leverage to twist him past a slicing tentacle, and yanked green energy down toward the spine. The scent of seared flesh choked his nostrils, carrying a dark tang of swamp and illness.

A zat trilled. Once. Twice.

Olive-gray flesh collapsed as Shinigami pulled his blade free. "That's for Ran, hebi!"

"Um..." Blue eyes were wide as Blondie gestured toward dark wings, zatted Jaffa limp on the floor behind him.

"Neat trick, huh?" Duo let Shinigami's wings dissolve back into shadows, pushed his darker self back as he grinned at the Tau'ri. "Duo Maxwell. I run, I hide, but I never lie."

"Daniel," the Tau'ri said after a moment. "Ah... you're not...?" He waved a finger toward the fallen creature.

"Nasty immune system," Duo shrugged, bouncing toward the wall. "Tends to eat things. Sally says she hasn't seen anything it can't munch, given a good shot. Speaking of which, Sally's going to want to see this one." He thumped on a few consoles, found the subtle pads to press. "They usually keep some medical supplies in the labs, in case they do something semi-fatal to a guy and don't want to stick him in the nasty little gold box. Gotcha!" He yanked out the Goa'uld equivalent of biohazard bags, snatching a few first-aid supplies he recognized for good measure.

"Gauze and tape are universal constants," Daniel muttered, steadying himself against the wall as the lights dimmed and rose. A trembling went through the hull, as if the ship itself shuddered in pain. "Friends of yours?"

"Oh yeah. Dimme's going to have a very bad day." Duo wiped oozing darkness out of his shoulder wound until blood trickled out clear and red, and dropped the stained pad into one bag. Never thought I'd be glad to be bleeding. Now to get his Reaver-stained throwing knife for a "clean" sample. Dr. Sally Po had all kinds of bad words for Shi no Yami-eaten bugs-

"Uh-oh."

Duo's gut curdled. "Please tell me you did not say 'uh-oh'."

"Um." Daniel pointed past him. "Wasn't Ran right there?"

Bloodstained floor. Empty floor. Oh hell-

Hide-clad muscle throttled Duo's throat, lifting him into the air with a vicious hiss. Spine shot didn't work either. Son of a-

And the world was a blur of thermal blade, teeth, and talons. He caught a flash of Daniel hurled sideways, a shriek as green energy seared off a tentacle and clawed hand together, the wheeze of his own breath as one of the Reaver's remaining tentacles snagged his throat again.

Orange thunder.

Staff weapon, Duo realized as the Reaver slipped limply off him, a smoking hole centered in its torso. He tore the tentacle off his neck, stumbled toward Daniel. "'Scuse me." Making sure his hands were in plain view - the way Daniel gripped that staff weapon, he sure as hell knew how to use it - Duo plucked the zat from the Tau'ri's belt. Hell with samples.

Once. Twice. Three times.

"That's not supposed to happen." Chalk-pale, Daniel stared at the charred, smoking - but still present - body.

"You're telling me." Swallowing dryly, Duo fired a fourth time. Blue sparks flared over the corpse, and it vanished.

"Problem," Daniel said numbly.

"Oh yeah. Definite problem," Duo muttered. Us. Ran said us. Which means there's more than one of these things. Hell.

"Um... no. Problem," Daniel said tightly.

Duo glanced toward the shaking Tau'ri, ready to try and dispense some of Quatre's soothing words about life or death, had to do it, Ran would have wanted it this way-

And stared at the black stain of a talon-wound in Daniel's left forearm. The visibly spreading stain. The Reaver's infection, spreading through a body that didn't have even a Preventer's augmented immune system. "Te me..."

Hope this works. He's cute.

Dragging the stunned Tau'ri down blue eye to violet, Duo gave him a bloody, wet, thorough kiss.



Er - ah - um?

For a long, frozen moment Daniel forgot to breathe, locked into the gentle and demanding touch of lips and tongue. Duo was a soldier, and soldiers weren't supposed to - well, then again, that depended on the culture, and if Duo's was mixed up with Lamashtu, the Sumerians sometimes let that kind of thing slide. But damn it, this was a teenager! He had no right-

But the wiry teenager's fingers were locked in blond hair, the tip of his braid tickling past Daniel's neck as he tilted the archaeologist's head back to deepen the kiss, and he tasted like spice and blood and some odd, alien sweetness...

Boom!

That one did damage, Daniel realized, listening to alarms change pitch and stridency. Goa'uld attack vessels have defense shields capable of taking megaton warheads. What the heck is out there?

"Damn, guys, just when it was getting good." Duo let go with a wry smile, grabbing Daniel's wounded arm. "You can kill me for this later." Spitting into one hand, he rubbed bloody saliva into the infected gash.

It stung, but Daniel held still. Oh. Oh. "You think that will...?"

"No clue," Duo said briskly. "Figure it's the best we can do 'til we get to Sally. Hand me that wrap."

Pressure bandage, Daniel realized as Duo cinched the wrap around his arm. Right. "Like a snakebite-" Wait. Get to Sally? "The Stargate's going to be in the most guarded part of the ship!"

"Who said we need a Stargate?" Duo checked the zat'nik'tel over with a professional's touch, tossed him the staff weapon. "Come on!"

So we're not going by 'Gate. Trying to ignore the crawling, fiery sensation under his bandage, Daniel followed in the braided teen's wake, picking off Jaffa farther back as Duo mowed through guard patrols like a vorpal bunny on speed. How are we getting off-

Oh, no. He knew what direction they were heading. "I can't fly!"

"Lucky you. I can!" Grinning like shadows and starlight, Duo yanked him to a halt by the launch bay doors, juggling shock grenades he'd taken from a knifed patrol leader. Counted off silently, hit the panel to open the door, and threw-

Forewarned, Daniel looked away from the flashes, trying not to hear screams. Unconscious, not dead, he repeated to himself, blinking away the fuzzy feeling in his head as they wove through fallen Jaffa. If we couldn't use shock grenades, we'd have to kill them... I don't want to kill anybody else today...

Though from the look of things, that - Preventer? Weird term, and definitely not Goa'uld - Ran, had already been as good as dead. Daniel shuddered. I don't want to go like that. Even a host would be better than that. You've got a chance at Thor's Hammer; I don't know if the Asgaard would know what to do with screwed up DNA... oh, damn. Sourness rose in his throat. The world tilted.

"Here!" Duo dragged a limp Jaffa out of an open death glider cockpit. "He already did most of the pre-flight - Daniel?"

"Ugh." There went lunch. And breakfast. And last night's dinner, from the feel of it.

"Oh, ouch." A cool hand patted his forehead, dropped to hold Daniel's shoulder as he heaved again. "Daijobu yo. Maa, maa... just hang in there. This is a good sign." The teen's voice dropped, almost lost in another distant explosion. "I think."

It's okay, easy there, the linguist's fevered brain translated. Ancient Japanese? Lamashtu wasn't Japanese...

"Come on, we're running out of time. I could use your help." Duo tugged at him.

Shaky, Daniel wobbled into the cockpit after him. "Ridden in these once. Never flown one."

"It's a start," Duo shrugged. "Here, look. We need to strip this panel, and twist this solenoid - careful, it'll stick..."

Feverish, chilled, and scared half to death, Daniel still found himself utterly fascinated. Duo's touch with equipment might have a little more of Jack's bang-it-'til-it-works style than Sam's delicate grace, but the teenager obviously knew his way around Goa'uld circuitry. We're hotwiring a death glider. This is way cool...

Zats trilled against the hull, the thunder of staff weapons opening up. "Guess they noticed," Duo muttered. And tensed. "Oh no. Quatre, tell me you guys aren't gonna-"

Yellow lightning tore through the pyramid ship's hull, opening the launch bay to star-studded blackness. A white ship marked with red and blue slashed past; about the size of death glider, but longer and slimmer, with wings even Daniel could see had variable angles built in. Atmosphere and space capable? Wow. Um, wait, air!

"Heero. Great guy. I love him. And when I get out of here, I'm going to kill him. Subtle, he's not." Duo slammed a connection home. The glider's engines shrilled to life; a falcon's scream, dimming to mere vibration as the cockpit closed out howling vacuum. "Take the weapons!"

"And do what?" Daniel managed.

"Shoot anybody but those guys!"

Their craft leapt up, dodging debris and sliding death gliders to arrow out into the black. And into chaos.

Holy...

Coppery hulls were everywhere, a whole flight of death gliders weaving and soaring and firing at four lone, sleek ships.

And dying.

"Hang on!" Duo snapped them over and down, twisting through a knot of gliders pestering a ship marked with red, blue and gold. "Hiya, Wufei!"

Red energy lanced through the darkness, smashing death gliders around them like cardboard.

Daniel blinked spots out of his eyes, finger just above what he'd finally figured out had to be the guns. "He shot at us!"

"Guy holds a grudge forever," Duo sighed. "Though most of the time he doesn't shoot that close... Damn! Knew I was forgetting something!" Snapping his fingers, he dove back under the console.

Nausea was swamped by sheer terror. "Duo!"

A hand popped into view, waved at him. "Just hold the stick! And point us toward that pretty blue planet to your left. I gotta hack the comm."

For a breathless second, Daniel could only stare. He - I - you've got to be kidding!

A slim fist shook at him, brandishing colored circuits. "The stick, Daniel!"

Why that little- Daniel grabbed the backseat control and tugged it left, using a few choice expletives he'd heard from Skaara and Kasuf when they'd found sandspitters - venomous legless lizards, Abydos' equivalent of spitting cobras - nesting in the village granary. Followed it up with some speculation on Dimme's parentage and likely bed preferences, a couple of fillips on Lamashtu and her eternal rival Pazuzu for good measure-

"Oooh, good one," Duo snickered, past the click and clatter of rerouted circuitry. "I gotta write that down for Howie."

Corrupting a minor. Great job, Dr. Jackson... wait a minute. Daniel slid them in a ragged turn around tumbling debris, risked a glance back toward the pyramid ship. How come nobody's firing at us?

Maybe because they were too busy trying to break through a defensive wall of white ships. "Duo! I think one of your people was hit."

"Say what!" The braided head popped up, bits of wire and crystal tangled in his hands.

"Wufei." Daniel craned his head back toward the battle, where three white ships were flying furious defense around a fourth. "He's just sitting there. If there's something we could do to help-"

"Chang doesn't need help." Violet eyes held a darkness deeper than space. "And Dimme's about to find out why nobody messes with Sanq."

Chang, Heero, Maxwell, Quatre, Daniel added up, watching the desperate defense drag on. The sleek ships were here, there, everywhere, peregrines to the Jaffa buzzards. Chinese, Japanese, Celt, and the way Duo pronounced that last one - Arabic? The Goa'uld don't usually mix that many ethnic groups on their slave planets. Which kind of implies Sanq never was a slave planet. So what was it? And what is it now? Outside of someplace that gives Goa'uld Queens fits-

The pyramid ship shuddered.

Shoving crystals back into the console, Duo lunged for the stick. "Cover your eyes!"

Daniel flung a hand up just as the cockpit went white.

"What-" the archaeologist cleared his throat as the light swelled and died behind them. Risked a glance back, to see white ships screaming away from the sphere of hurtling debris. Death gliders, not so fast to maneuver, were tumbling into fiery embers. "You blew the ship. How?"

"Can't tell you. Sorry." Duo shot him a wry smile. His fingers danced on the communications console, voices crackling to life in a weird blend of languages tinged with Goa'uld. "Maybe after Sally clears you."

Made sense. Besides, the way the stars were spinning, he probably wouldn't remember the explanation when he woke up...

"Hey. Hey! Dammit... Water, come in!"

"Deathscythe?" A woman's voice, quick and worried.

"I'm bringing you one hell of a biohazard, Water. I'm gonna brief Wing in a sec, but I need you to have your crew prepped and ready."

"We'll be there."

"Yeah, if I can make it there without a Reaver popping up in the back seat... sleeping beauty!" A flung braid thwacked his cheek. "Daniel! Stay with me, okay?"

"'Kay..." Whoa. Is that-? Daniel blinked, trying to focus through the fever. That blue and white sphere swelling in front of them shouted "livable planet". But around it... glittering white and mirrored structures, whirling between planet and rocky moon in an endless, invisible dance with gravity.

Oh. My. Gods. "Space colonies," Daniel breathed, almost forgetting the sickening wriggle of alien flesh in his. "But... the Goa'uld would never let humans..."

"They built 'em," Duo said grimly, adjusting their course for that welcoming curve of atmosphere. "Though we rebuilt 'em, later... long story. Bet you want to hear all of it, right? History isn't exactly my thing, but let me fill Wing in, and I'll see if I can hit the high points."

"Sounds nice..."

"Daniel!"

The world slid into fire.



Diplomatic, Colonel Jack O'Neill, leader of SG-1 and 2IC of Stargate Command told himself, staring eye to eye with Jacob Carter across the polished briefing room table. You are going to be diplomatic. No matter how much you want to reach into Jacob's skull and rip Selmac out for a doggie chew-toy. "What do you mean, you've got more important things to do than help us find Daniel?"

The Tok'ra never flinched. "Until we know how our Gault base was compromised, the whole network could be at risk. Fortunately, we lost no operatives in the tunnel collapse; we can wipe the coordinates from our databases and set up a new base on another world with minimal loss of time-"

"Hold on. Back up," Jack bit out. "You're abandoning Gault?" He planted his hands on the table, leaned forward. "They put their necks on the line for you. They supplied you. They helped you get in and out of the transport ring system to Heru'ur's storehouses, so you can leave nasty surprises for our old buddy Apophis. And you're going to leave them twisting in the wind?"

"They knew the risks, Colonel." Jacob's gaze didn't give an inch. "The same risks any of us take to fight the System Lords."

"Oh, so you're going to evacuate them, too," Jack said with exaggerated politeness. "Move - what was it, Jacob, eight villages near the Gault base? - and their crops, and their horse herds, and their eagle nests?" He lifted a gray-peppered brow. "This I've got to see."

"Don't be ridiculous, Colonel." Selmac now, arms loosely folded as if the Tok'ra were patiently admonishing an erring child. "This is war. Losses happen."

"This loss doesn't have to happen!" Innocents. Civilians. Kids, like little Talira, who'd given them their first clue about where his archaeologist had vanished to in her tear-choked story of the sun-haired man who'd fought the hound-demons for her. And the Tok'ra were willing to throw them away like last week's newspaper.

Selmac frowned. "We have neither the time nor the resources to devote to slaves under Goa'uld control."

"Then I suggest you reexamine your schedule and your supply roster, Selmac," General Hammond said civilly. "And determine how we might continue to insert people and supplies to assist the free people of Gault without traversing the 'Gate now potentially under System Lord control." Hammond's gaze was calm, but about as yielding as the iris. "I don't think the loan of a tel'tac would be out of line, considering the circumstances."

"You'd risk us all for one world, General?" Selmac shook his head. "I understand your sentiment, but we cannot risk it. The Tok'ra have been fighting the System Lords for millennia-"

"Oh, and you think they're going to run away tomorrow?" Jack couldn't help but throw in. "Come on! You guys have got centuries to pull this off. Gault doesn't."

Selmac's gaze never faltered. "I understand your sentiment, Colonel. But it's only one planet."

"No, I don't think you do understand, Selmac," Hammond said bluntly, tone dragging the Tok'ra's attention back by main force. "Remind Jacob to tell you the story of the boy throwing starfish."

Throwing starfish? Jack thought. What the heck does that - oh. Yeah. Now he remembered; a story Daniel had told him, one gloomy night when they'd been mourning another SGC airman lost in action. "The storm has washed so many ashore, little boy; what difference can you make?"

Splash. "I sure made a difference to that one."

Selmac looked down. Jacob looked back up, and sighed. "I'll present it to the Council, George. There is another Stargate within tel'tac range of Gault. There is a lot of space junk in the system. We could set up infiltration routes to the planet that should let us get on the surface without getting picked up on sensors. Maybe. But I can't promise anything."

"You're supposed to be the ambassador to Earth. Ambass," Jack shrugged. "Jacob, right now these people are our best shot at finding Danny. And one way or another, we've got to know where he is." And knowing that's the only thing keeping me from clearing this table in one bound and ripping out your obstructionist little-

"Colonel." Hammond's voice was level, but that slight arch of a faded red brow told him the general knew just where he wanted to wrap his fingers and squeeze. "Jacob and I can finish up here. I believe Major Carter wanted your input on her sample analysis." Hammond checked his watch. "She did say the preliminary work would be done by now, correct?"

"Yes, sir." If you say so, sir. But if the general wanted him out of here, Jack had no complaints. Strangling Jacob wouldn't win any points with the Council. Darn it. "We'll see what we can squeeze out of the junk." Saluting, Jack took his leave.

Hang on, Daniel. Wherever you are. We're coming.

Just as soon as we figure out where.

Corridors and elevators passed in a haze; he knocked on Sam's lab door - bad idea to startle the lady with high-explosive physics experiments - and sauntered in. "Carter. Teal'c. Any luck?"

"Mmph," Sam mumbled, stray blonde strands drifting into face and mouth as she bent over a charred, half-disassembled Jaffa helmet.

"We find ourselves in possession of information, O'Neill," Teal'c noted, standing near the lab table like an obsidian monolith. "Not luck."

"Lay it on me. Not-" Jack waved the Jaffa off as Teal'c arched a shaved brow and bent to pick up a piece of armor plate. "I like that right where it is, Teal'c, thanks. Back. Down." Damn Jaffa sense of humor. "So - why do we have the helmet in pieces, again?"

"Major Carter believed disassembling the armor might evoke a sense of familiarity."

Oh, she did, huh? He thought he'd recognized that pinched frown of concentration. Ah, Sam. Wish I knew how to make this easier. "Jolinar met these guys before?"

"I think so." Sam brushed hair out of her face, eyes unfocused. "But they're - I don't remember guys, sir. Just women. Two women." She frowned, hunting for the shards of a dead Tok'ra's memory. "One dark, like the folk of Assyria, her robes scarlet as plague blood, black as death. The other tall and fair, emerald-clad, her hair a crown of silver midnight. The lioness with wings, whose name is fever, fire, death; and the corpse-hound who is her Queen..." Sam rubbed her forehead.

"Don't push it, Carter. It'll come if it comes." Great. Another Queen might have Danny. This definitely fell in the bad things category. "Teal'c? Any of that sound familiar to you? Plague could be Nirrti-"

"Nirrti will not wear scarlet."

Jack blinked. A Goa'uld with color preferences? Outside of the gaudier the better? "You're sure?"

Teal'c nodded. "Nor has the goddess of darkness ever been associated with a lioness." He inclined his head. "Major Carter. I require the use of a computer capable of accessing SGC search programs."

Sam jerked a thumb toward a monitor across the lab, already back into depths of charred mechanisms.

"So what are we looking at?" Jack asked, leaning against the wall as Teal'c got the infernal device up and running. "Google for Goa'ulds?"

"Daniel Jackson has been attempting to compile a database of Earth legends, cross-referenced with current information on System Lords and their underlings, so that we might have greater success in identifying our opponents in other ways than direct conflict," Teal'c nodded. "Major Carter assisted the computer department in designing the search protocols."

Jack kept himself from gaping. Every time he thought he knew what Danny was up to, the man surprised him all over again. "You're kidding."

"I do not kid, O'Neill." Dark fingers moved carefully over the keys; Teal'c knew Goa'uld controls, but the keyboards here were pure American. "Daniel Jackson believed it would be advantageous to identify who might be responsible for a culture or artifact, so we might avoid... complications... such as Ma'chello's devices."

Yeah. The kind of complications that drove you crazy. Literally. "Good thought. Does it work?"

"We shall see." Teal'c typed in Assyria, lion.

A list scrolled down half the screen. "Gee, that helps," Jack muttered. "Lions must've been real common back in... where the heck was Assyria, anyway?"

"An ancient empire in the region of the Tigris River," Teal'c read off thoughtfully, pointing to the map the search had called up.

"Iraq. Lovely." Jack whistled. "They had lions there?"

"So it would seem." Teal'c considered the screen, typed in a few new terms.

Jack arched a brow. "Mesopotamia?"

"Assyrian dates appear to match the times the Tok'ra used Earth for refuge, but not the eras a System Lord would have been known on this planet," Teal'c explained. "Daniel Jackson once informed me that the area archaeologists term 'Mesopotamia' is more general, and older."

"Okay, that fits... so we're looking for the ladies with lions, and maybe one with a dog," Jack said thoughtfully. "Anybody named Fever, Fire or Death - son of a bitch!"

"Daughter," Teal'c said levelly.

Jack swallowed dryly, wishing Daniel hadn't let Tech Services set up his search program to drag up artistic representations as well as text. He'd seen a lot of weird things in Daniel's research notes, but this one took the cake. Lion's head, eagle talons instead of hands, a woman's shapely body encrusted with filth and blood. Blood poured past her clawed feet, and widespread wings dripped the poison that should have come from the serpent coiled about her thighs. Even stylized and animalistic, he could feel the fury breathing from that inhuman figure.

Great is the daughter of Heaven who tortures babies
Her hand is a net, her embrace is death...

"Lamashtu." Wide-eyed and pale, Sam peeked past his shoulder. "It's Lamashtu." She blinked, gaze vague. "Her touch destroys the old man, the youth, the unborn; her touch slays the boy, the girl, brings death and disease to all she sees..." His second in command shuddered. "It's her, sir."

"Jolinar met her." And not in a good way.

"Not - directly. But I can still smell the blood, the death..." Sam shivered. "The dog helmets, taking any who lived... those were Dimme's Jaffa, sir."

"Dimme and Lamashtu," Teal'c noted. "A formidable pair."

"Formidable?" Jack said warily. Not a word the former First Prime of Apophis tossed around lightly.

"It is said Nirrti once loosed a plague on one of Lamashtu's worlds that slew one in every three humans born there," Teal'c said levelly. "Lamashtu's retribution came in a fall of blood rain on the world known as Caol. All but one in twenty of the humans died, and no Jaffa without prim'ta survived."

"I - she was there, sir," Sam whispered. "Jolinar saw it all." Her arms moved convulsively, as if to cradle something small. "So many children. So many bodies..."

"Stop thinking about it, Major. That's an order." Jack's gaze met Teal'c's; look after her. He stalked to the phone, stabbed an in-house number.

"Fraiser," came the absent answer.

"Doc, we have reason to believe whoever raided Gault likes bio-weapons. Lock us down now."

"On it." If there was fear in Janet's voice, it was covered by professionalism. "Any symptoms?"

"Like I'm the guy to ask?" Teal'c was immune to damn near everything, and as for himself and Sam - between Jolinar, Hathor's little buddy, and all the alien poisons, drugs, tortures, and just general weirdness, neither of them had baseline normal immune responses anymore. If Janet wanted a "normal" reaction to something from SG-1, she generally looked at Daniel.

Who wasn't here.

Who was probably suffering through whatever one plague-happy System Lord had come up with to torment Tau'ri, right now.

"Point." From Janet's sober tone, her thoughts matched his. "I'll check the refugees first."

"You do that." Pressing the receiver down, Jack dialed the 'Gateroom. "Davis. Is General Carter up there?"

"No sir, but we're expecting him momentarily," the technician reported.

"Okay. Don't let him leave. That's an order. We still don't know if Tok'ra can carry bugs, and I don't want to find out the hard way."

"Bugs, sir?"

The containment alarm went off, echoing from both ends of the phone line. Thank you, Janet.

"...Oh."



"This is insane!" Jacob sputtered, stalking the SGC infirmary. "Dimme's never used bio-weapons without Lamashtu's backing. And I'm a Tok'ra! There's no way any of us could be carriers-"

"Smallpox blankets," Janet said bluntly, hands still half in Sam's mouth. Jack was fidgeting - quietly, but fidgeting - against her favorite wall, and Teal'c was a silent, somber guard near the door. Hammond's face was calm and controlled as he stood by her examining table, but his primary doctor could see the frustration on her commanding officer's face. Scuttlebutt had it that the High Council had not been happy to hear that they were hanging onto Selmac a while longer. Thank god I'm not in the general's shoes.

"What?"

"Nasty part of British and American history. Traders would bring clothes and blankets from smallpox victims to the Indians," Janet informed Jacob, checking for any suspicious lesions, marks, or other havoc in Sam's sensitive mucous membranes. No, no, and no, and her tonsils look fine. So far, so good. "No way of knowing if it ever worked, but the virus lasts a very long time in the scabs. And since I just had lunch half an hour ago, I'd rather not remember my rare and exotic disease history courses on just what the Nazis and Japanese tried in WWII." She stripped off her gloves, dropped them into the biohazard bin. "Until and unless we can give the SGC an all-clear, I have to consider you just as much an infection risk as the rest of us."

"And why do you think Dimwit did it without Lamaze backing her, anyway?" Jack leaned against a handy wall, flashing Sam an encouraging smile as his 2IC got off the table.

Jacob flung up his hands. "Because she's been dead for at least thirty years, that's why!"

"Indeed?" Teal'c looked intrigued.

"Dead?" Sam brushed down her arms, as if she were chilled without the uniform jacket over her shirt. "Are you sure?"

"We just confirmed it a few months ago," Jacob sighed. "Dimme's been doing a good job of covering it, but Lamashtu hasn't been seen alive for at least three decades. Maybe longer."

"A System Lord drops out of the loop, and no one notices?" Hammond frowned at his old friend.

"It's not the first time," Jacob shrugged. "They're a feudal group, George, you know that. I could name you half a dozen who've vanished over the past twenty years alone. Susanowo, Stheno Coatlicue, Badb, Nemain, Macha... weird as it sounds, every once in a while a Goa'uld does have a fatal accident."

"Six in twenty years." Jack arched a skeptical brow. Traded a significant glance with Sam and Teal'c.

Some accident, Janet nodded in silent agreement. They'd have to look into that later. No point in badgering the Tok'ra; if the Council had decided they were accidents, Selmac wasn't likely to look any deeper. Even if Daniel's finding Seth had proved that sometimes humans could spot patterns the Tok'ra couldn't...

Oh, Daniel. Janet swallowed a sudden lump in her throat. Please be okay. You're a survivor. You always have been. Survive this. Whatever it takes - just live, damn you! Live and come back to us.

I don't want to tell Cassie her Uncle Daniel isn't coming back...

Jacob's voice jarred on her ear. "...Lost two days already, now you're planning to make it four-"

"Oh, at least," Jack nodded, mischief in dark eyes despite the serious situation. "Relax, Jacob. Think of it as R&R. And practice in long-distance diplomacy. It's not like we won't dial up Vorash to talk."

"It's a waste of time! Trying to rely on Earth technology, when you know it won't even catch native diseases you've never seen before... why haven't you just had Sam check for infectious organisms?"

"Check?" Sam paused, halfway through buttoning her shirt. "Check how?"

"With the healing device." Jacob rolled his eyes. "That is one of its functions. Jolinar was pretty good at that, if I remember right. Especially after Caol."

"Oh." Sam swallowed. "I don't remember."

Jacob started to say something, stopped. "Oh."

"Okay, so we have a plan," Jack broke the awkward silence. "Carter, healing device. Carter," he nodded toward Jacob, "Refresher course. The rest of us will pull together everywhere bugs could've gotten to, right, Doc?"

Jacob glanced up at the ceiling, obviously picturing the vast, mountain-carved bulk of the SGC. "It'll still take a while. I keep forgetting how big this place is."

"We can't help that, Jacob," General Hammond said bluntly. "I want the SGC up and running as much as you do." If not more, his determined look spoke plainly. "But I cannot risk our planet, or others, by ignoring a potential threat of this magnitude."

Not even for Daniel, Janet finished silently.

He'd forgive them for that, of course. Earth meant more to Dr. Jackson than his own life.

She wondered if she could forgive herself.

Chapter Text

Heavy armament at hand, Heero Yuy watched Sally and her team work through thick glass, not even glancing toward the door as it opened. Let the other Preventers in the room handle it. The stranger was strapped down and sedated under the strictest biohazard containment they could throw together this quickly, but none of that might make a difference if the Reaver took him over again. "Quatre."

"Everybody's home. Everyone's safe," the empath reported. Tilted his head, sensing at the bloody drama below. "And I think we're beating it. Shi no Yami's growing in him again; I can hardly feel the Reaver at all."

Heero nodded. "Good plan."

The small blond smiled. "Well, you know Duo."

Yes. Even captured, their Shinigami made it easy to find him. All you had to do was look for the largest source of chaos. "Why here? Why not a main Alliance hospital?"

Quatre paused, then grinned, nodding toward the hall. "Why don't you ask him yourself?"

"Get away from me with that needle, sister!"

Heero stalked into the hall, not at all surprised to see a scantily-clad Maxwell facing off with a sour-faced Nurse Leiko. Apparently Duo had already taken her two falls out of three; his hospital gown was dusty and askew, and if it weren't for the loose hair falling around him like a chestnut river, he'd have a serious modesty problem.

Not that Duo ever had a modesty problem. But Leiko was about to have a broken bones problem, if that glint in violet eyes was any indication. "Duo."

"No more poking!" Duo jabbed a finger the nurse's way. "You say I test clean. You got your samples. You got my clothes. You washed my hair, with your friggin' killer soap, went through it with a fine-toothed comb - and that hurt, damn it! No. More. Needles!"

Leiko stood her ground. "Standard protocol requires-"

"Review your standard protocol on Shinigami," Heero said levelly. "If he's free of contamination now, it's dead. And you have other patients to attend."

"I-" Leiko met his gaze, swallowed her words. "Of course."

Duo let out a relieved breath as Leiko vanished down the hall, rubbing his beloved hair between his fingers. "Thank you, Hee-chan. That lady just won't take 'that hurts' for an answer-"

Heero narrowed his eyes; though he knew it'd have little effect. Duo Maxwell, Pilot 02, was one of the few people who could meet his gaze and never flinch. "You risked contaminating this base. Why?"

Duo glanced at Quatre. Raised a brow. Clear?

"No one's listening," Heero said flatly, even as the empath nodded. "Why?"

"Had to," Duo said frankly. "Can you imagine what kind of tangles the Alliance Council would knot themselves up in if word got out we had a Tau'ri in custody?"

Heero blinked. Wondered if his senses had finally, inexplicably decided to scramble their input. Reran the past few seconds of his photographic memory, and glared at Duo.

Duo grinned.

"He... you... Duo, are you sure?" Quatre managed.

"Spoke English, knew how to handle a knife, zat, and a staff weapon when he's sure as hell not a Jaffa, and went off on some long, involved tangent about Dimme and Lamashtu being demon daughters of Anu when he was distracting the guard," Duo ticked off on his fingers. "And Dimme said he was, and she was going to make him into a Reaver to get at Earth."

Earth. Place of myth, of legend, of System Lord curses. Homeworld of humanity. The one planet that had ever thrown off Ra's yoke and lived to tell of it.

The planet that, just a few short years past, had reopened its Stargate and cast down System Lord after System Lord to screaming destruction.

Earth. After so long. Stheno's own luck. "Only you," Heero sighed, brushing his fingers gently over that chestnut waterfall. He could still feel traces of harsh disinfectants lingering in Duo's hair; no wonder the pilot had wanted to maim Leiko.

Quatre's eyes were wide. "But I can feel... and Shi no Yami's not on Earth, it'd be in the databases..." He searched Duo's face. "You?"

"Had to." Duo winced. "Didn't have time to ask, didn't have time to explain - I couldn't let him decide to die, Quatre. I just couldn't."

Thumping doors cut off any response; a disheveled Sally Po trudged toward them, eyes aglitter with medical triumph. "We got it."

Heero nodded. He'd expected no less. "Is Daniel stable?"

"Stable as he'll get, for now," Sally said judiciously. "Yuy. You are going to tell me why you had no medical records on this man. I had to run allergy checks in the middle of a medical emergency. Two of our immune boosters would have given him fits, and that's not even counting Shinigami sensitivities. Your people throw me some loops, Duo, but I have never seen someone allergic to Jakareth before. Where on Sanq is he from?"

"Well," Duo shrugged, hair shifting over cotton. "That's the tricky part..."



Ow... Daniel Jackson winced, letting his body report in before he tried anything as daring as opening his eyes. Fever, aches, one deep ache in his left arm, nausea... Knew I should have gotten that flu shot.

Wait a minute. He had gotten the shot. Janet had played porcupine herself, wicked smile on her face throughout. Though maybe that had been at the prospect of impaling Jack next.

Not the flu. Daniel drew in a slightly deeper breath; yep, dry, sore throat. And... flowers? Jasmine, and a citrus tang that didn't quite smell like anything he remembered. And not the infirmary... wait a second. Is that snoring?

Curious, Daniel opened his eyes.

Duo was draped over a reclining chair, a gold-and-tan blanket with blurry Celtic knotwork patterns of scarlet and emerald tugged up around his shoulders. His mouth was open, his braid was dangling off the chair like a slumbering cat's tail, and he was definitely snoring.

Teenager, Daniel thought, almost chuckling. Nobody past college can sleep like that... wait. Under the snoring, a whisper of sound - a footstep?

A woman cleared her throat. "Daniel? Are you awake now?"

Daniel stared toward the blur moving toward his bed. Blonde, shorter than he was, definitely taller than Janet. Wearing a white jacket over what looked like army greens, side pockets full of unidentifiable instruments. "You speak English?" With an accent, definitely, but it was English. How? "Duo didn't speak English-"

"Duo was in the middle of a firefight and didn't want to take chances on getting a word wrong." Her voice was serious as she stepped into view, but she was smiling. "I'm Dr. Sally Po. I've been looking after you for the past few days." She held out a familiar shape of wire and glass.

"Days?" Daniel slipped on his glasses, took a look around. Comfortable, white-walled room, some hanging nature scenes on the walls, a few bleeping machines in the corner. Yep, infirmary. "I was out for days?" And you speak English? Where'd you learn English? She could be Goa'uld. The System Lords spoke English, after Apophis had apparently extracted it from a few kidnapped SGC personnel.

But System Lords didn't have an accent. And Sally did.

Like Duo's language, Daniel recalled, vaguely remembering a lot of swearing as the death glider hit atmosphere. Japanese, some Celtic roots, Chinese, something that could've been Toltec - and Akkadian? What a mess.

"You were very sick," Sally said bluntly. "At first, we weren't sure you were going to make it." She gestured toward a fold-around tray bearing a trio of mugs; one looked like water, one of something hot and chocolaty, and one full of what looked and smelled like the local variant of chicken soup. "Here. Let me help you sit up."

It took Sally's help to lean back against the head of the bed; every muscle in his body seemed to have gone on strike. Ow, ow, ow - uh-oh. That still blur he'd thought was a shadow - wasn't.

Dark, unruly hair falling into storm-blue eyes. Another teenager, though this one was few inches taller and much, much more Japanese than Duo. And much more heavily armed.

Japanese with a little mix of something else, Daniel thought, opting to ignore the zat at the kid's belt and the other gun-shaped objects scattered around his tank top and shorts that weren't so obvious. Janet had guards in the SGC infirmary when a stranger dropped in, he couldn't blame Sally for having one in hers. Sally looks... hmm. Partly Chinese, mostly a mix. And I could probably drop Duo in any American city and lose him in five minutes flat.

Interesting information. Which means what, Dr. Jackson?

Which means we don't just have mixed languages, we definitely have mixed ethnic groups. But they're not blended ethnic groups. So... mingled, partly separate cultures? If they've got colonies, those could act a lot like islands - they've got space travel, but it's not like taking the bus...

"Daniel?" Sally was frowning.

"Sorry. Thinking."

Dr. Po moved the tray around, locked it into place so he could reach everything with minimal effort. "Think with some water."

Daniel nodded, sipping the cool drink before his shaking muscles demanded he set the mug back down. Slid a glance to the thick white wrap around his sore left arm. "How bad is it?"

"Your arm? Healing," Sally said briskly. "The Reaver infected you all the way down to the bone; we had to cut a section out and put in..." She searched for the right English word, shook her head. "Supports, to hold the healing ends in alignment. They'll dissolve as your body re-deposits bone in place." She took a small gray cylinder out of her pocket, switched on a slim beam of light. "Right now I'm still worried about your head."

Oh no. The Penlight of Doom. "Nobody hit me in the head-"

The guard snorted softly.

"You probably don't remember it," Sally allowed, aiming the tortuous beam into one eye, then the other. "Just before the two of you landed, the Reaver got enough influence to make you attack Duo. He - ah - had to bang your skull off a few things."

Daniel shivered. "Is he all right?" Maxwell looked all right, lying there peaceful as an exhausted kitten, but this was an infirmary.

A sound that might have been a soft snicker whispered from the grim teen.

Sally looked surprised. "Right... I forgot. You've never heard of Shinigami." A true smile crossed her face. "It'd take a lot more than you to hurt Duo. Trust me."

"Not that you weren't trying," a sleepy voice mumbled. Violet eyes blinked at him. "Morning." Duo glanced toward Sally. "It is morning, right?"

"More or less," Sally said judiciously. "Looks like you'll live... what?"

Daniel swallowed. "There's something in your hair." He'd thought it was just a flash of blue ribbon, but- "It's moving." And there was more than one. Erk.

Sally stiffened, then slipped into a mask of professional concern and stepped away from his bed. "I'll leave you to your breakfast. The Wing will want to ask you some questions, later-"

"Sally. Sally, don't." Duo scrambled out from under his blanket, caught her arm before she reached the door. "He's not one of those Purist creeps. He just doesn't know." Still holding on, he turned back. "Daniel. This is Sally Po. Our doctor, and one of my best friends."

Purists? Daniel thought, seeing the plea for understanding in Duo's eyes. And Dimme said something about... sports in the gene pool. She's a mutation?

And the silent teen was watching him very carefully.

Diplomacy time, Daniel. Not to mention she probably saved your life. And if she left now, the curiosity would eat him alive. "Can I see?"

Sally sighed. "Scream, and I sedate you." She raised a hand to her hair, massaged her scalp-

And pale, electric-blue spotted tendrils rose out of blonde hair.

Like octopus arms, Daniel thought, stunned. Or anemone tendrils... didn't Sam say something about in bright blue in vertebrates, the time you tried to touch that little salamander on PX-537? "Are you poisonous? No, wait, Sam said the right word was venomous, right - ah, I didn't mean that the way it sounded-"

"Yes, I am," Sally said simply. "And relax. I'm not going to sting you just for staring. My father came from the L5 group, originally; most of his clan had never seen a medusa before he brought my mother home for the wedding."

"And since then, they love you to pieces every time you visit. Just like Wufei." Duo bounced back over to Daniel's bed, braid twitching. "Guess that really works with the whole honorable warrior gig. Stick your hand where a lady doesn't like it, and you're out for hours-"

"Duo!"

"Aw, c'mon, Sally. Can't you just shoot him somewhere non-fatal so 'Fei can think he's dying and confess his eternal love for you, or something? 'Cause I gotta tell you, he sits in the hangar and broods, and then he checks over Shenlong, and then he broods some more, and then he sharpens that sword of his with a lot of 'injustice' and 'not worthy' scattered in there, and-"

Daniel stared in pure fascination. Duo was grinning. Sally had one hand clapped to her forehead, tendrils settling back into blonde hair, cheeks a mortified pink. And the guard cleared his throat.

Not a guard after all, Daniel realized, sensing the automatic shift of attention from the other two. This guy is in charge.

"Heero Yuy," the grim teen said simply. "You're in a Wing safehouse, on the free planet of Sanq. The Reaver is dead. Dimme's ha'tak is destroyed. The Sweepers found a Stargate in the wreckage; we assume Dimme survived. She has no other ships near our system. It will take her some time to regroup and attack again. Questions?"

Loads. Why do you speak English? How'd you blow up a ha'tak? What's a Sweeper? "Why did you blow a hole in the hangar?" Daniel blurted out.

Heero's expression was still as the sea over a gaping abyss. "It distracted your opponents."

"Like I said, subtle he's not," Duo shrugged. "Problem?"

"Oh no," Daniel muttered. "I love staring at hard vacuum."

"Great!" Duo clapped him on the shoulder. "You'll fit right in with the rest of us maniacs."

Fit in? Well, that's better than... no. Wait. "I need to contact my people. I need to warn them-"

"We're assembling everything we have on the Reaver samples Duo brought back," Sally nodded. "If you can give us an address where they'll find it, we'll send it through."

Just like that? Wait, wait... "I'd rather bring it to them. If you don't mind."

Heero didn't blink. "Not possible."

I'll give you not possible, damn it-

Duo cleared his throat. "What Heero means is, right now Trowa's kitten could take you with one fuzzy-wuzzy little paw behind its back. You're in no shape to go through a 'Gate. Period."

Daniel put one foot on the floor. Dizzy. But you can stand. Probably. "I've been worse."

Sally frowned, her scowl so like Janet when he did something stupid that Daniel slipped his foot back under the covers. "Not with Shi no Yami in your system, you haven't."

Daniel rolled the term around in his mind. "Shadow Death?"

Duo glanced away. "Ah, yeah. That would be my fault."

And the day, as Jack would put it, just kept getting better. "You're contagious?"

"Not usually." Sally folded her arms and mock-glared at Duo. "Unless somebody gets really creative."

"Hey!" The braided teen held up defensive hands. "I haven't heard any of your lab techs coming up with anything else that could've stopped that thing!"

"Not without full medical support within fifteen minutes of initial exposure," the doctor sighed. "And even that would be tricky."

"I'm... infected?" Daniel whispered. Shinigami. Little God of Death. It was right in front of my face, and I didn't see it...

"You two, out," Sally ordered.

Heero straightened.

"No," Sally said bluntly. "No questions, no orders, no demands. Give him some time. Give him some room. Out."

The door closed. Sally scraped the folding chair across the floor, sat down by his side. "Soup," she instructed. "Your blood sugar's probably in the basement."

No kidding. Daniel sipped carefully. Hmm... not chicken. Kind of tastes like crocodile. He didn't feel like eating. But Jack had drummed it into his head; if you want to escape, keep your strength up. Any way you can.

Sally supported his arm when it shook, helping until he'd finished that mug and started on the chocolate. "Duo was trying to save your life, Daniel. And he did. Without Shi no Yami attacking the Reaver, we never could have gotten it all in time."

"I believe you." Strange as it sounded. Every move Duo had made on Dimme's ship had been attack, run, escape. The moves of a young man bent on life, not death. "But... what's in me?"

Sally brought out a small gray-and-blue box, flipped it open to reveal a lighted screen. Small amoeboid forms the size of white blood cells moved across the image of a network of veins and arteries, pulsing through blood vessels, squirming into cells, occasionally coalescing into a larger, silver-gray lump to seal a tear in the artery wall. "Shi no Yami."

"A slime mold?" Daniel shuddered at the thought of creatures like that swarming through his blood, feeding, breeding... That settles it. I've been watching way too many nature specials with Sam.

"I don't know what that is," Sally shrugged. "Shi no Yami is a symbiotic, slightly empathic, mostly unicellular creature that can coalesce and act as a multi-cellular unit under stress. It lives in the circulatory and nervous systems, and it tends to get really, really annoyed if something else tries to take over its territory." She looked him full in the eye. "Once Duo established both types of spores in your system, you were its territory."

"Spores?"

Sally held up paired fingers. "One type in the blood, one in the saliva. Both have to recombine in your system to start it breeding. Otherwise, the spores die."

Hence the deep kiss. Daniel felt his face redden. "Um..."

"Duo gave me a full report." Amusement glinted in blue eyes. "So is he as good a kisser as Hilde says?"

Oh, I so don't want to go into that. "How'd you come up with this stuff?"

The humor drained out of Sally's face. "We didn't. Nemain did. It used to be a bio-weapon. Airborne. Fatal. And a very ugly way to die." The doctor smiled, without humor. "Only one batch had a genetic hiccup. And we got Shinigami."

"Nemain. One of the Morrigu?" Badb, Nemain, and Macha; Celtic goddesses of war, death and fertility. Goa'uld. "But - Dimme said you were rebelling against her?"

"We did. And we are. It's a long story." Sally pointed toward a pair of slippers by the bed. "Feel up to a short walk?"



"Sweeps of the Goa'uld moon base are clear; Dimme lifted off once she'd confirmed a Sanq strike team on board. Noin reports the three surviving Jaffa taken from the base are on suicide watch. No indication of biological or other devices of mass destruction. Continuing negative reports from the outer net," Heero concluded, sweeping a finger through the hologram of the Sanq system to zoom out to the farthest edges of their sensor nets. Maps, reports, various notepad computers, and a host of snacks were scattered over the polished bronzewood of a Winner family informal dining table. Wufei was consulting the latest data heist at one end, katana slung over the back of his chair; Heero was pacing around the other. Across the table, Quatre and Trowa had simply dragged a couch into comfortable reach of the goodies. "Unless she's employing an unknown cloaking device, Dimme has no presence in-system."

And me in the middle. Reluctantly setting down his mug of mocha by a notepad, Duo shook his head. "I didn't get a good look through all the data we grabbed-"

"Before she grabbed you?" Wry humor glinted in Trowa's visible green eye as the Beastmaster stroked the young esmeril curled on the couch beside him. The fur-winged cat yawned, exposing saber teeth, and settled her head on his lap.

"Go ahead. Rub it in. Since when do Goa'uld put sensors in the air vents?" I notified Ran's family yesterday...

"Since you." Quatre reached over Trowa's lap to rub behind silver-furred ears, sympathy in his smile. "She survived Lamashtu, Duo. We knew Dimme wouldn't be an easy target."

Yeah. He knew it. Ran's team had known it. And sometimes even the best thief on L2 met a system he couldn't crack. At least, not the first time, Duo vowed. "Anyway. It didn't look like Dimme'd gotten in touch with anybody who messes with cloaks."

"Unlikely," Wufei agreed, tapping his screen. "These files mention the personal invisibility device employed by Nirrti, and a few investigations into other reports of 'invisible' places or creatures, but nothing more concrete."

"Hn."

The, "I'd like to be more paranoid but right now it's a waste of mission time" grunt, Duo translated mentally, burying his nose in his cup as Heero tapped his fingers once on the table. Let me guess, the next order of business is going to be-

"Daniel." Heero's gaze rested on Quatre. "Trustworthy?"

"He wants to trust us," the blond nodded. "But he's very worried about his people. As long as we hold him, even if he knows he's not well enough to travel, he's not going to trust us completely."

"He should heal quickly enough," Wufei noted. "Perhaps too quickly?"

Duo held up halting hands before their Dragon could follow that thought any further. "Whoa, 'Fei. I saw his eyes. It'll be a few weeks before he's ready to head into hostile territory again. At least a few days before he should 'Gate anywhere, even to someplace friendly."

"Still too soon. The Council will need time to deliberate over the appropriate formation of a diplomatic team." Wufei scowled. "Probably months."

"Possibly." A slight smile touched Heero's face.

Duo rested his chin in his hands, blinked innocently. "Do I spy a man with a plan?"

"Noin and Zechs are speaking with Relena."

"And the world trembles in terror," Duo said solemnly. "Or maybe that's shaking with laughter... you do know those three are a bad mix, right?"

"In combat situations."

Uh-huh. Kind of like nitro and glycerin. Stable if you were careful, but one little jar, and - boom! "Your call, Heero. I'll bring the ear protectors."

"I think it might work." Quatre looked hopeful. "We'd need to talk to Daniel's people first anyway before Command could bring any proposals to the Council. And she's a Peacecraft. People will respect her opinions."

"She's a pain," Duo grumbled. "How anybody could even sit down and listen to the Purists-"

"They are idiots," Wufei observed. "Unfortunately, they are our idiots." The dark-haired teen looked thoughtful. "And few of them will offer an honorable challenge."

"Duels aren't the most civilized way to solve personal problems, Wufei," Quatre said calmly.

"They are entirely civilized. A fallen enemy causes no further dissent."

"Wufei-" Blue eyes lost focus. "Sally's bringing him." Quatre looked across the table. "He's not angry with you, Duo. Not really."

"No offense, lil' Cat, but I'm going to wait on that," Duo said practically, listening to footsteps at the edge of hearing. "Could take a while for it to sink in." He'd known he was different for years before Father and Sister Helen had taken in a violet-eyed street waif and explained Maxwell and Shinigami.

Angel of Death. I can live with that. Question is, can he?

And the man himself walked through the door on Sally's arm, still-blue eyes brightening behind his glasses as he sniffed the air. "You have coffee!"



Mmm. Coffee. Almost a coca mocha, sweet and rich and chocolaty - but never mind, it was coffee.

Oh yeah. We have found civilized people.

Daniel lifted his head from dark nectar, suddenly aware that something was a little off. "Um... usually Janet won't let me have coffee after an injury," he explained, holding the mug out with regret.

Sally shook her head, waving the cup back. "I wouldn't keep a medusa off citrus. I wouldn't isolate an empath. Believe me, I know better than to get between a Shinigami and caffeine."

Duo waved his own mug, grinning.

Shinigami need coffee? Daniel thought, finding his way to an empty chair between Duo and the Chinese teen with the tight black ponytail. I wish Janet were here...what the heck is that?

Silver fur. Mottled snow-gray batwings. And teeth. "Nice kitty..." A sudden, dark suspicion struck. Daniel looked at the faintly smiling teen in jeans and dark blue turtleneck stroking the not-quite-a-cat, features a mix of Eastern Europe and Latin America, brunet bangs obscuring all but one green eye. "Trowa?"

A slight nod.

Daniel shot a pointed look Duo's way. "Trowa's kitten?"

Duo just shrugged, still grinning. Dark sleeves were rolled up into white cuffs just above his elbows, and a small gold sun-cross glinted out of his collar. Daniel blinked, trying to shake the image of a Celtic angel who'd skipped out of Heaven to join up with the banshees. "Cute, huh?"

"That thing could take on a squad of Marines!"

"Not," Trowa said quietly, "Without help."

"Quatre Rebarba Winner." A small blond rose off the couch by Trowa, hands pressed together as he bowed, never mussing the neat lines of his embroidered violet vest and pink shirt. "Please, be welcome in my house."

Daniel scraped his chair back and returned the bow, fighting a swirl of dizziness. Manners now. Pass out later. "Daniel Jackson. I am honored." His house. Heero's in charge, but the house is Quatre's. Which was... not that bad a setup, come to think. As a representative of Earth, he might have to be rude to Heero. This way, he could defend the SGC and still be courteous and respectful to the master of the household.

It was polite. Considerate. Thoughtful.

I'm not going to cry, I'm not...

"Daijobu yo." Duo's hand found his arm, guided him back into his chair. "Take it easy, Daniel. Nobody's court-formal here. 'Specially not when we just came off the casualty lists. Okay?"

Daniel took a steadying breath. Nodded. Court-formal. He filed the term for later consideration. Implies they've got certain strict social settings and rules in them, which fits with the Japanese overtones... And violet eyes were still waiting for an answer. "Okay."

"Trowa Barton." Trowa nodded slightly.

The black-haired teen stood in a whisper of white, bow rigidly correct. "Chang. Wufei. Dragon clan."

"We've met," Heero said simply.

"And this is Hrere." Quatre let the winged cat sniff his fingers. "She's an esmeril."

"Originally one of Susanowo's creations," Heero stated. "He loosed them on Sanq approximately a thousand years ago. They've adapted well."

Susanowo. The Japanese storm god? Nemain, Lamashtu, Dimme... oh. My. Daniel looked around the room again, seeing with fresh eyes. Five main cultural groups, and a sixth which is a mix of all of them. All here, working together. And-

Bright colors caught his eye. Daniel rose from the table, crossed the room to stand by a swath of gem-toned canvas set in pride of place in the center wall. "What is this?"

"It's a painting," Quatre said, puzzled. "By Rhoslin Oran. Some people think she's too naturalistic, but I like her work better than the Mechanistic school..."

Daniel shook his head. I can't believe I'm seeing this. A dawn scene, beautiful in itself; the artist had caught that faint, frail green sky of day almost breaking, framed between blue shading into darkness and the thin rim of gold that promised the sun. But the subject... "No, I mean - does it have a name?"

Heero stepped up beside him. "Stheno Coatlicue Defeats Lamashtu."

Oh gods.

Fighters shot through the dawn sky, obviously less advanced versions of the Gundams, pursuing death gliders with bolts of light. In the background human forces harried lion-helmed Jaffa toward a burning ha'tak; blood spilled over the grass, and one form was caught in that fleeting glow which was a third zat blast. And in the foreground...

A ha'tak stood open to form a courtyard at its peak, as he'd seen Ra's ship split apart on Abydos. Atop it more Jaffa, one obviously Lamashtu's First Prime, were losing to a motley group of humans and creatures. Medusa on the far right, Daniel identified the twisting tendrils. The others... all six peoples. They're all here. And - is that a Jaffa fighting with them?

And in the very center, drawing the eye like a magnet-

Lamashtu's lion-mask was half-retracted, eyes already glazing in death. Above her stood a braid-crowned woman of Trowa's people in serpent-patterned skirts, chest bloody, ribbon device aglow, face fierce and set as an avenging angel. "She's Tok'ra?"

"No. She was a System Lord." Heero's voice was level. "But she believed in freedom."

Daniel swallowed. "When did this happen?"

"About forty Tau'ri years ago, I think," Sally said after a second's thought. "The databases we have aren't that clear on how much longer Sanq's year is than yours."

Quatre smiled. "We've been free for over two generations."

"And fighting for all of it," Wufei stated coolly. "It is to our fortune that most System Lords who did not use this system have no idea of its location."

Used it? For what? Daniel's gaze fell on Sally, and then Duo, and he resisted the urge to smack himself in the head, Jack-style. "Bio-weapons. They were creating bio-weapons. To use against humans."

"Worse. Against Nirrti. And the Tok'ra. Which, you know, falls under the category of bad idea," Duo shook his head. "At least for them."

Them? "How many System Lords used Sanq?"

"Eight." Heero's gaze was matter-of-fact. "Lamashtu. Dimme. Babd, Nemain, and Macha. Susanowo. Yu Huang Shang-Ti." He paused. "And Stheno Coatlicue."

"We've met Yu," Daniel said absently.

"Hm."

"But I haven't heard about the others..." Daniel paused at the very, very faint hint of smile on Heero's face. "You've got to be kidding."

"Oh no." Duo waggled his eyebrows. "Heero does not kid about taking down System Lords."

Daniel stood there a moment, thoughts a blur. "I need to sit down."

Chair. Solid. Good. At least they have chairs. I don't think I could handle sitting on mats right now. "You know I'm Tau'ri."

"The Preventers have been searching seized databases for other rebels for years," Wufei nodded.

Quatre's blue-green eyes were alight with mischief. "Although the last hologram we had of you had much longer hair, Dr. Jackson."

They know who you are, and you're not locked in a cell, tortured, or being turned over to a System Lord. This... might just be legit.

"Is there an address we can contact your people at?" Heero asked. "A neutral address. One that would not threaten your people, or ours."

Daniel licked his lips. This could be real. It really could be. But I don't know. I'm alone, and - I'm scared. Jack, I want you here... "There is one."

After all, if Vikings backed by the Asgaard can't handle these people, no one can.



Dark, cold, the light of a thousand stars-

Quatre stepped out of the Stargate onto the gray stone platform, inhaling scent of grass and pine trees. Rashid and a handful of Maguanacs had already fanned out, Trowa and Wufei in their center, scanning the clearing for danger. "So here we are."

"Cimmeria." Trowa ruffled Petky's green-gold feathers, whistling softly to the hawk riding his shoulder. Hrere was too untrained to take near these strangers, but no Beastmaster would walk through a 'Gate alone.

"The transport device to the Hammer," Wufei nodded at the granite obelisk carved with the Asgaard's mark. "As Heero warned us."

"I wish Daniel had trusted us enough to tell us more than just 'it's protected by the Asgaard'," Quatre sighed, stepping down to the grass. A breeze struck him, and he shivered despite his heavy coat. Cold! L4 wasn't cold. Sanq wasn't cold. At least, not the places most sane people lived. Although Trowa kept telling him he really could get to like that weird chill fluff called snow. "If Heero hadn't remembered the address..."

"We would have found the same information in our databases in time to prevent complications. Only a weak warrior gives away his allies' protections." Sword at his side, Wufei strode to the rearguard position just as Petky chirped warning. "We're about to meet our hosts."

Belatedly, Quatre extended his spaceheart. Usually he had a little more time after a tumble across the universe to reorient his empathy. Right now, all he could feel were pinpricks of wariness, alarm, curiosity-

"You're much too short to be gods."

Quatre smiled up at the tall, leather and wool-clad woman with red-brown hair, taking in the height and solid frame that spoke of a life spent on-world. Oh, angels. They're all going to be taller than we are. Not taller than the Magaunacs; the space-going mercenaries had had access to more intense grav training than even the wealthiest colony-born got on a general basis. But the shortest of the hammer-armed men he sensed around the clearing had a good hand's width of height on Wufei.

Oh well. It's not like we're not used to it. Half the Preventers were Sanq-born, after all; though even they weren't quite this solid. "Hello. My name is Quatre Rebarba Winner," the empath said in careful Goa'uld; the woman's accent was unlike anything he'd ever heard before. "I'm looking for Lady Gairwyn?" He rested his hand on the side of the soft duffel slung over his shoulder. "I've brought a message from Daniel Jackson."

"A message from Daniel?" That drew attention; flashes of leather and steel appeared at the edge of the clearing, even as Gairwyn strode within easy reach. "How? Why? Is he not with you?"

"Daniel was wounded in battle with the ettin Dimme, fighting alongside one of my people, and lost his way home," Quatre said with a respectful nod, trying to match her odd manner of speech. "So we brought him to our world, where he might find rest and healing. He asked us to bring word of him to you, who he counts as friends, so you might in turn speak of his escape to his home on Earth, where we cannot yet go."

That drew wariness, though her smile barely slipped. "And why can you not go there yourselves, young ones?" Her gaze fell on ominous granite. "You have passed the Hammer. You are not of the ettins."

"But nor are we known to the warriors of Earth," Quatre shrugged. Harmless, he projected. I'm harmless. See? No need for the heavy iron, we're just passing through. "The wards will not pass us, and this message must reach his people."

He sensed Gairwyn relax. But she held out her hand, firm as any Council diplomat. "I will look at this message, then."

"Of course, Lady." 'Fei was right, Quatre thought, feeling the Dragon's subtle smirk as he unzipped the duffel. They may not be suspicious, but they won't trust blindly. Thank goodness all Sally's delicate samples had been packed in tamper-proof containers. "It's kind of a lot of message, though."

"Daniel has been scribbling again." But Gairwyn's face eased into a true smile as she leafed through the pile of ink-lined pages. "It is his hand." She touched one of the metal containers. "And these?"

"Some of the venom that wounded Daniel, for his healer Janet to see," Wufei put in quietly. "It might be dangerous unleashed. So we have caged it."

"You do have a tongue, then, strange one." Gairwyn smirked. "I'd wondered."

Strange one? Quatre thought, trading a bewildered glance with Trowa. What made Wufei any stranger than the rest of them?

Gairwyn's gaze fell on Rashid. "And you?"

"Quatre speaks for us here, Lady Gairwyn," the tall mercenary leader said evenly. "We don't wish to offend."

Thanks, Rashid, Quatre thought gratefully. I know it was hard to leave off the honorifics... but we don't know these people, we don't know what kind of trouble we could stir up if they thought some of us had power over the others.

"So Daniel fought an ettin, and yet lives, once again." Gairwyn shook her head. "For one who claims to be a simple student of runes, he has more battle-luck than half the warriors in Valhalla."

And I didn't understand half of that. Oh boy. "It's kind of a long story," Quatre admitted.

"The day is young." Gairwyn waved toward a path leading into the woods away from the clearing, where a number of tall... very tall... blond warriors were grinning their way into view. "Come! We shall prepare to send your message. You will tell us of our rune-wielder's valiant deeds, and the skalds will make a song of it that will set Thor's heart ablaze!"

Trowa's visible brow arched. Wufei made a slight choking noise. "A song?" Rashid muttered under his breath.

"Sure," Quatre said brightly. "Hold the 'Gate?"

"Hmm." I hope you know what you're doing, Master Quatre, that glower meant.

I hope so too, Quatre thought, sensing Wufei fall in on their rearguard as Trowa sent Petky into the alien sky and covered his left. But they feel friendly. Daniel says they are friendly. And they're doing us a favor. We should at least be polite and talk to them, right?

Right. They were just going to talk.

What could possibly go wrong?



I never would have dreamed the SGC has this many hideaways, Sam Carter thought tiredly. But even in the depths of this out of the way janitor's closet, the healing device still gave back that low thrum Selmac said meant clear. Which meant they were finally, nerve-wrackingly, done.

Climbing out of the cleaning supplies, Sam made her way to the nearest phone. "Janet? We're clean."

A soft sigh of relief came down the line. "I'll tell the general."

Hanging up, Sam pushed stray blonde stands out of her face with a dusty hand. "You're awful quiet, Dad. Worried about the High Council?"

Jacob waved it off, still frowning. "They still think you were being overcautious, but I hit 'em with a few of Janet's horror stories. And there have been some... weird rumors coming off Gault." The ex-general gave her a rueful smile. "Garshaw finally convinced the others that a few days wouldn't hurt anyone. Though Anise still says it's a ploy to get me some time with my daughter."

"Oh, for crying out loud..." The major took the bronze-hued healing device off her hand, gingerly flexing her fingers. Her hands were itchy with dust, her nose was running, and her head felt like a heavy-metal band was doing warm-ups in the back. Bleah. "What kind of rumors?"

"Things in the night," Jacob said succinctly. "People disappearing. And when they're seen later, if they're seen, they're different."

Sam added one and one, and got three. "And you don't think it's just people being taken as hosts."

"The Council does." Jacob frowned. "But something about the way they're reported to act just seems - off. Off enough that Selmac's considering letting us borrow a tel'tac without going through Garshaw, just so your team can check it out."

Our team minus one, Sam thought. No. Stop that. We'll find Daniel. We will. "We'd really appreciate that."

"Yeah, well..." Jacob crossed his arms. "Dimme's been out of the main System Lord intrigues for a while. And when Lamashtu's former Queen turns up... I don't like it."

Makes two of us. "Dad. What's really wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong." The Tok'ra's ambassador to Earth shrugged, glance sliding aside. "You've got some great people working here, Sammie. Really professional. I don't think I've seen this many friendly faces since the last time I was passing as a native." Holding out a damp paper towel, he forced a smile. "Selmac says you can drop the act, though. At least for us."

"Act?" Sam said blankly, wiping off grime that probably hadn't been disturbed since the first time SG-1 had set foot in Cheyenne Mountain... in 1969. Weird, weird, weird... I never want to time-travel again. Ever.

Her father's smile turned rueful. "Come on, Sam. No bunch of rebels is that happy to see a Tok'ra. Selmac knows that."

Since when is the SGC just a bunch of rebels? Oh yeah. Since the X-301 decided to get a mind of its own near Jupiter, and her own father had told her she shouldn't have messed with death-glider technology. Too advanced for "infantile" Tau'ri, Sam recalled, locking down a sudden spurt of anger. What the hell do you people expect? We're trying to save our planet here! "Dad. Come on. Do you really think the colonel could act like he was happy to see you?"

Her father shrugged wryly. "Can I get back to you on that?"

Sam shook her head. This has got to stop. "Maybe we don't like all Tok'ra, Dad, but you are our allies. And this is your home-"

"Off-world activation," the alarm rang through the halls, even in this out-of-the-way corner. "Incoming traveler-"

Sam's feet flew toward the elevator, Jacob on her heels. There weren't any teams off-world, and the Tok'ra High Council preferred calling via the Tollan device.

Unless they came to take Dad back personally...

It could be a Goa'uld assault; though they hadn't tried that much since Sokar went down the river, as Daniel put it. It could be some other planet they'd contacted. Or even Master Bra'tac, Sam thought, willing the floors to move past faster. Teal'c had been told the elderly Jaffa master had been tortured to death by Heru'ur's sick servant, but they still had no proof. And that's one guy I'm not going to write off without a body, Sam swore. He's tough.

They made it to the 'Gateroom in time to hear Jack's disbelieving, "Cimmeria?"

"Indeed." Teal'c watched the 'Gate's shimmering surface. "I had thought the Asgaard disliked travel by Stargate."

"Aaah!" A familiar, pack-wearing, all too human form tumbled through the wormhole, thumping onto the ramp.

"Looks like they still do." Jack waved the waiting Special Forces back as the 'Gate evaporated, leaving the stone ring silent and empty. His boots rang on the ramp as he walked up and offered a hand. "Gairwyn?"

"Like riding the lightnings..." The Cimmerian woman breathed, locking wrists with Jack to wobble to her feet. Her gaze searched the steel and glass room, wide with the awe Sam had seen in the Hall of Thor's Might. "O'Neill? Teal'c? Is this truly your world?"

"A kind of fortified part of it, but yeah." Jack smiled, leading her down the ramp. "You okay? What's going on? Last time you guys just sent a box..."

Jacob stepped near Sam's shoulder, whisper drowning out Jack's earnest conversation. "She's a Cimmerian? She looks so-" He shook his head, searching for words. "Ordinary."

"They pretty much are," Sam admitted. "They live under the Protected Planets Treaty, like Earth. Only the Goa'uld know there's a Hammer on Cimmeria. So they don't bother it."

"Huh. Have you thought about asking for one?"

"We thought about it," Sam admitted. "But they haven't offered... and it might keep the Tok'ra off Earth, too." We can't fight a war if our own allies can't come here for refuge. Besides, as long as the SGC kept stirring up trouble off-world, the Treaty was just a formality. They knew it, the System Lords knew it, the Asgaard knew it. It would be wrong to ask for a protection granted to innocent worlds.

And they don't want us getting our hands on advanced technology, either.

"Daniel?" Jack had Gairwyn by the shoulders, face deadly serious. "You've seen Daniel?"

Cimmeria. Sam's heart clenched. Of course. If he got away - Daniel would know his GDO wouldn't work. And Cimmeria's one of the few places that can contact us. Of course!

"No." The Cimmerian wrapped her hand around one of his wrists, pointedly prying off O'Neill's white-knuckled grip. "But I have his message, for you and healer Janet." She patted the odd navy-blue duffel she'd brought with her.

It has a zipper, Sam realized. Cimmerians don't have zippers!

"This," Gairwyn said, thrusting the duffel into Jack's startled grip, "Was brought to us by some very strange people."



And twist, and connect. Holding his breath, Daniel slipped the solenoid back into place.

The death glider's engines thrummed to life.

"Yeah!" Duo pounded him on the shoulder, grinning ear to ear. "You got it!"

"In half an hour." Daniel smiled half-heartedly, leaning back in the pilot's seat of their captured craft. Wow. I wonder if Teal'c knows how to do this. Duo certainly seemed to have it down pat.

Daniel let his eyes roam Quatre's hangar, taking in the neat, well-used racks of tools, the subtle shafts of sunlight coming through concealed skylights, the parts and equipment his hosts could likely use to strip this death glider down and rebuild it from the ground up.

And of course, the tall, quiet, subtly armed Maguanacs working on various small projects around the hangar.

Right. I'm a guest. Sort of.

Though he couldn't blame them for being cautious. This hangar hadn't been built for gliders.

So these are Gundams.

Deadly gray-and-sand hued crafts perched like hawks, watching for prey. Five stood out among the rest; lines sleeker, armament heavier, poised and ready to strike.

White, blue, gold and red - Heero, Daniel identified the Gundam he'd last seen through vacuum. Same colors, but more red - Wufei. One white, black and gold; another white, orange and red. Quatre and Trowa?

And one more, not far from this glider. Black as night, bare hints of gold; so obviously worked for stealth it made Daniel nervous just to be in the same room.

Hey, Deathscythe, Duo had murmured when they came in, stroking that light-drinking black. Miss me?

"Ah, you'll get faster," the braided teen waved Daniel's self-depreciation off now, pulling together the stack of notes scattered over the console. "Thing is, you did it. You've got the knack."

"A knack for stealing death gliders." Daniel tried not to roll his eyes too obviously. "Great."

"Don't knock it," Duo said lightly. "Nothing like shoving a Goa'uld's own tricks in his face when you're in a tight spot. They hate that."

"Yeah." Daniel shivered, remembering Jack and Teal'c's desperate rescue in the outer reaches of the solar system. "Hate it enough to program every glider for a suicide run to get one guy..."

"The old trapped auto-pilot trick?" Duo whistled, digging around in his toolkit. "Nasty. That's why it's a good idea to have one of these." He flourished a palm-sized device.

Another notepad computer, Daniel realized. These guys do love their tech. "And this does?"

Duo's teeth flashed. "Oh, nothing much. Just hacks the auto-pilot. And the comm. And a couple of other nifty little things..."

"I get the idea." Daniel looked at him askance. "And I think I'd have remembered if you had one."

"I didn't," Duo shrugged. "But I can hack 'em without it."

Daniel regarded the teen steadily.

Duo eyed him back, uncertain. "What?"

"Just how smart are you?" Daniel asked quietly.

"What, educated? Nah, not much," Duo shrugged. "Grew up on one of the older colonies at L2, y'know? Putting stuff together and - um - scrounging-"

Read, getting your hands on what you need to stay alive, whether it belongs to you or not, Daniel thought. He'd seen eyes like that before, in Cairo and half a dozen other cities across the globe. Not desperate, not anymore; wherever he'd come from, Duo had gotten out.

But some lessons stuck. Forever.

"Anyway." Duo scratched at his bangs, shrugged. "You want to talk school, you should see one of the other guys. Quatre'd be good for that. Or Heero, maybe, if you can get him to talk..."

Daniel folded his arms. And waited.

Duo let out a slow breath. "I'm a pilot." He shoved the notes toward Daniel's side of the cockpit. "C'mon. Read."

A Gundam pilot? Dimme's shocked voice echoed in Daniel's memory as he leafed through the start sequence again. As if it wasn't the weapon that scared her, but the person who could fly it...

"I'm not going back there!"

Startled out of his study of Goa'uld circuitry, Daniel jerked his head up - and saw stars. Figures, he thought, reeling out of the cockpit. Alloy's even harder than Jack's head.

Duo wiggled out in a more controlled fashion, braid flicking past his shoulder, notes on How to Steal a Death Glider in Under Three Minutes still clutched in his grip. "Quatre! What happened?"

"What didn't?" Quatre practically vibrated into the Wing's hidden hangar, heavy jacket open, a bit of soot in blond hair, shafts of sunlight showing the red bloom on flustered cheeks. "Those - they - ergh!"

Daniel scanned the ship-filled hangar as Quatre collected himself, wondering which shadow Heero was going to pop out of this time. Not that Heero was trying to sneak up on him; the young man just didn't seem to know how to walk normally. Like Jack, the archaeologist thought, absently scanning the mutated kanji on Wufei's Gundam. It looked like ancient Japanese, but there was a definite hieroglyphic twist in there. Almost as if they'd taken the consonantal system of Egypt and melded it with the appropriate strokes to evoke the esthetic of the sound... Heero's been on recon so many times, he has to think about making noise-

And black symbols suddenly slid into place. Shenlong.

Yes! Daniel stifled the urge to cheer, looking down at Duo's notes instead. One word would lead to others; a few seconds of study and he made out what he thought were no, twist left, and dumb way to wire this.

Duo, the linguist noted, had lousy handwriting. Bet anything he didn't learn to read until someone took him in, Daniel thought, absently keeping track of the shifting light of one of the human-sized hangar doors as Trowa and a fuming Wufei stalked into view. Somebody did take him in, though; Duo's tense, but he's not feral - ack!

"Report," Heero said, appearing out of the shadows.

Bad nervous system. No adrenaline. Daniel tried to take soundless, calming breaths, tensing up all over again as Trowa's silent attention fixed balefully on him. What? What happened?

"The people you sent us to," Wufei shot Daniel a pointed look, "Are madmen."



"Biohazard," Janet was muttering in a corner of the SGC infirmary, sample containers caged inside an isolation box built to handle Ma'chello's sabotaged page-turners as she read the stack of notes someone had sent along. "Attacks and infects, primarily aims for the nervous system, evidence of mental control - shit!"

Thank god Gairwyn doesn't speak English, Jack thought in passing, holding up a hand to stop the flow of the Cimmerian's story. "Problem?"

Janet tapped a few keys on her computer, let out a breath of relief. "Good. We've still got a good stock of experimental RNA inhibitors." Her face was set as she pointed toward the box. "Metamorphizing venom."

"As in, BP6-3Q1?" Sam paled.

"Who where?" Jack demanded. Names, why couldn't they give these places names?

"Bugs," Sam said flatly. "Big, honkin' bugs. Sir."

Oh yeah. That address he remembered, as in places to never dial up again. "Danny sends us the nicest things," Jack quipped, trying to ignore Teal'c's sudden stillness. The image of the Jaffa almost remade into ten man-killing insects was a hard one to shake. "And he dropped this on Cimmeria?"

"The notes say they autoclaved it under high heat and about twenty atmospheres of pressure. That should have cracked any DNA, RNA, or protein structure left in it," Janet said judiciously. "Still..." She slapped an extra skull-and-crossbones sticker on the box. "No touchie."

"The insects' venom did not control minds," Teal'c pointed out.

"This isn't the same thing, Teal'c." Janet lifted a sheaf of paper. "If these notes are accurate, this thing changes the body and leaves the mind intact. Just... not human anymore."

Eyyugh. There was something sicker than giant insects. "You be careful." Jack turned back to Gairwyn, switching languages like rusty gears. "Okay. So they sat down for a drink. With a bird?"

"A hawk," Gairwyn nodded. "Only I have never seen one green and gold as sun on maple leaves. And Trowa bore it on his shoulder as if it were one of Odin's ravens, trusted and a friend."

Jack raised inquiring brows. "I'm guessing you can't usually do that with hawks?"

"No! Even the gentlest to the hand will tear your eyes, if they feel fear." Gairwyn shook her head. "It is not natural. Though we knew that from the first, when we saw the strange one's eyes." She used a finger to pull one eyelid aslant, giving a distinctly Asian impression. "Have you ever seen such eyes? Black as coal!"

"Actually, yeah." Jack waved her on. Don't think we've ever sent anybody who looked Asian through to Cimmeria, come to think. Man, that must have been a shock. "I'm sure you were polite."

"We tried," Gairwyn sighed. "Especially for the little one's sake. Catri, I think she said her name was? Odd to hear one of our own names when she did not look like us either. She was a lovely lass, though. I can see why Trowa paid her court. Though such a shame, to cut hair the gold of noon!"

"Catri?" Sam said carefully, leafing through some of Daniel's hasty notes. Her finger paused on a line of script; frowning at it, she sounded out the linguist's written pronunciation. "Quatre Rebarba Winner?"

"Yes!" Gairwyn sat up. "Daniel wrote of her? Of course, she must have caught even his eye, though he has far more manners than Beornegar." The Cimmerian shook her head. "That lout thought she'd cut her hair in mourning for a husband, as some of our folk do to the south, and so might be open to courting. She was wearing no amber, after all. It wasn't as if Trowa had made his claim on her clear."

"Daniel... did write about Quatre," Sam said slowly. "Sir, I think I see the problem."

"Problem?" Jack was starting to get a nasty sinking feeling. Oh no. Oh hell. "Ah, are you saying Beornegar approached Quatre?"

"Oh, yes," Gairwyn sighed. "A good roast, a few mugs of mead to loosen the tongue... he laid hand on her shoulder and asked if one so lovely wished to make a toast to Freya who had blessed her." Her brows knit, puzzled. "And then Catri screamed."



"He stuck his tongue in my ear!" Quatre said, disbelieving. He could still feel the Cimmerian's drunken emotions, the sudden lurch of decision and lust, far clearer than the physical invasion of the lick.

Heero looked at Trowa.

The Beastmaster looked back, ever so slightly ruffled. Quatre felt his lover's quiet anger like a deep river, calm and swift over deadly rocks. "No."

"A nerve pinch was too easy a fate for such a coward," Wufei growled. "It is not justice."



"And Trowa touched him, just touched him, and Beornegar - fell over." Gairwyn shook her head. "It wasn't your weapons, it wasn't the ettins' - what else could it be but witchcraft? We saw how the flames followed the slant-eyed one, everyone saw..."

"Flames?" Teal'c looked interested.

"Fire danced to his will, I swear," Gairwyn said fervently. "I've never seen such a thing! He curled his fingers, and the flames rose up..." She sighed. "And that is when Hjalmar and Ottar called revenge for their fallen brother."

"And?" Oh hell, Jack winced.

"The battle was brief." Gairwyn dug into her pack, and came out with two halves of a warhammer. "Teal'c, have you ever seen a sword that could do this?"

Teal'c examined sheared steel. "A sword, Gairwyn? Not an energy weapon?"

"A sword," Gairwyn said firmly. "Though oddly shaped. It curved, like this." She sketched a gentle arc in mid-air.

Curved sword, Asian, cuts through wrought iron like butter, Jack thought. Bingo. "A katana. Daniel's got a few on his wall," Jack added at Teal'c's look. "You know, the really nice ones you wanted to walk off with?"

"Most excellent weapons," Teal'c agreed. "Yet you do not say blood was spilled."

"None was," Gairwyn said, surprised. "Trowa and Quatre struck down a few who came at them; they used blows very like your manner of fighting, O'Neill, it surprised me. Then the strange one - Wufei - held fire before them, so none dared approach. And they left."



"We ran like cowards..." Wufei growled.

"It was a tactical retreat. And it wouldn't have been honorable to fight them, Wufei," Quatre insisted. "They just made a mistake." He turned a bewildered gaze on Daniel. "Why did they make a mistake?"

The Tau'ri was rubbing his head, as if it ached more than the bump let on. "Oh, boy..."



"Gairwyn." Sam held out a page filled with colors. "Is this Quatre?"

"Yes," the Cimmerian said, unhesitating. Paused, eyes widening. "But she's dressed like a man!"

Jack groaned, hearing the echo of one of Daniel's long-ago lectures. "...So-called 'primitive' cultures tend to code your status by the way you dress," Daniel had said on some pine tree laden planet, while Sam and Teal'c were scouting for water. "One of the reasons Sam runs into as few problems as she does is she's dressed just like the rest of us. Since she's dressed like a man, she has the status of a man."

"But Sam's-" Jack had made an abortive move toward his chest.

"A lot of the time people won't even look past the clothes, Jack. They'll just assume Sam is a 'he' unless we prove otherwise."

"Okay, that's weird."

"That's human, Jack. What's the first thing you think when you see someone in a skirt?"

Dr. Jackson shoots, he scores, Jack thought now, shaking off the memory. "I take it Daniel writes that Quatre is actually a guy."

"Yep," Sam said wryly, handing over the photo.

Some kind of photo, anyway, Jack thought, taking the printed paper. There were pages attached behind it by some variant of a staple; their white material felt a little heavier than what came out of the SGC printers. The scene in color, though...

Quatre was on the far left, a delicate sea-eyed blond in pink shirt, purple vest and tan pants. His hand was reaching out, almost touching the long, swinging chestnut braid of a violet-eyed teen in black, who was in turn grabbing for a fruit-topped cake. Said cake was currently being held out of reach by a scowling blue-eyed Japanese in a shorts and a green tank-top. Only Scowly hadn't lifted it fast enough, if the finger-full of frosting the vaguely European brunet in jeans and navy turtleneck to his right was tasting was any indication. And from the gleam of a short knife a grim-faced Chinese in white all the way at the right was unsheathing, the cake wasn't about to last much longer anyway.

Left to right, we've got Quatre Rebarba Winner, Daniel's handwriting read on the first attached page. Duo Maxwell, Heero Yuy, Trowa Barton, and Wufei Chang - or as he puts it, Chang. Wufei. Dragon clan.

I know what you're thinking, Jack, so stop glaring at the picture. There is NO evidence these people had any contact with Earth past the time when Ra left. "Barton" is from Old Germanic, and it's been around at least two thousand years. "Maxwell" is ancient Celtic - comes from Maccus - and it could be even older. I grant you "Sally" threw me for a loop, but listening I think they got it from Sarai, out of the Akkadian side, and just mutated it through the Japanese.

Right. Dr. Sally Po. I'd put in a picture of her for you, but the Wing nixed that on grounds of security. I have to agree with them on that; one look, and any Goa'uld who somehow got their hands on this message would have way too much information. Picture Janet half a foot taller, blonde, blue-eyed, and part Chinese. Same attitude, though.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Janet grumbled, reading past Jack's shoulder.

"That you are a competent, professional healer, who brooks no interference by those lacking knowledge," Teal'c said matter-of-factly.

Penlights of Doom are a universal constant.

"Or not," Jack mumbled.

Yes, they are teenagers. Far as I can determine, legal age on Sanq is sixteen; these five have been professional soldiers in the Wing and the Preventers for at least two years. Maybe longer, they're still trying to get a handle on how the info on Earth the Goa'uld stole from us translates into Sanq equivalents. And they're good, Jack. They're very, very good. Duo's the only one I've seen fight close-quarters so far... but I haven't seen Jaffa patrols go down so fast since the last time you and Teal'c cut loose.

"Note to self, keep an eye on the cute kid with the braid," Jack muttered. And how many of those patrols did you take down, Daniel? No way would Danny stand by while someone else killed for him.

The Preventers seem to be their equivalent of the military, with espionage included; the Wing is the air and space division.

"Say what?" Sam peeked over Jack's shoulder. "Air and space?"

Duo broke us out by hot-wiring a death glider.

"Can you hot-wire a death glider?" Jack asked their resident expert.

"Tek'mateh Bra'tac once said it could be done." Teal'c looked slightly shaken. "I have never had the opportunity to attempt it."

I don't remember that much of the ride down to Sanq, the Reaver was pulling me under, but Duo has a pretty colorful vocabulary...

Right. The Reaver. Sally says she's sorry if Janet can't get much info out of what she sent. But given what they went through to get the infection out of me, and Duo's report on what Dimme's little creation did to another Preventer agent, Ran Page, they figured it was better to kill the damn thing than keep ANY live samples around.

Stop strangling the paper, Jack. I feel lousy. My left arm hurts like heck - Sally says they had to slice out some bone to get the whole infection. And I really want Janet to look me over. But I'm okay.

"I was not strangling the paper," Jack groused. Damn it, couldn't Daniel stay in one piece anywhere?

Sam's lips twitched. "Right, sir."

Dimme's a Queen; apparently she was Lamashtu's Queen, before Sanq swatted Lamashtu but good. It looks like she created the Reaver to get inside agents against Sanq. And Earth, so keep an eye out for anything that looks human and then turns into something gray-green with claws and tentacles. They're very, very fast, and they can infect you with just a scratch. And the one I saw was completely obedient to Dimme, to the point of voluntarily giving up classified information, even though it had been a Preventer agent. We... had to kill it to get away. I think Duo's pretty shook up about that.

"Ouch," Sam winced. "Well, this might explain Dad's rumors about Gault."

"We'll tell him later," Jack nodded. No offense to the Tok'ra, but Jack was just as glad procedure had Jacob cooling his heels in the VIP quarters while they talked to Gairwyn. He wanted a good look over all of Daniel's present before he leaked any info to their allies.

Jacob had said Lamashtu was MIA. Daniel claimed Sanq had taken her out. If so... hoo boy.

The cultural situation's a little complicated here; mostly Japanese, but mixed with large helpings of Akkadian, Toltec, Old European, Chinese, and Celtic. Apparently Sanq was a sort of... cooperative venture, between Lamashtu and a bunch of other System Lords. I'll fill you in on the details when I get back. Suffice to say, it bit them.

They're taking a risk and letting me send you their address. Heero says it's not in the main Goa'uld database; that the only two System Lords who would have it would be Dimme and Lord Yu.

The Wing, in the person of Heero Yuy, hereby extends an informal invitation for the Tau'ri explorers of the SGC to meet and speak on matters of mutual concern and curiosity.

P.S. Check out the poster. Quatre's got the original on his wall.

"Chel nak," Teal'c breathed.

"Very cool," Jack agreed, staring at the image of a motley crew taking down Goa'uld power and might. Fighters. They've got fighters?

"So they are enemies of the ettins." Gairwyn studied the poster. "I had begun to wonder. But I suppose even witches must fear the Goa'uld."

"Gairwyn, I'm sure there's an explanation for what you saw-" Sam started.

Gairwyn held up a hand, face stern. "Trowa is a man, and you say Quatre is as well. And Trowa courted Quatre, and Quatre did not dissuade him. They are witches." She rose, gathering dignity around her like a cloak. "I must return. Beornegar must be warned, so he may guard his spirit from their vengeance. May Thor grant you find Daniel soon."



"And you couldn't convince her otherwise." General Hammond rested his hand on the reports before him at the briefing room table, resisting the urge to rub at a gnawing headache.

"Gairwyn seemed willing to believe that everything else had an explanation," Major Carter reported, hands wrapped around each other. "The hawk, the fire, the sword... she's seen us and Thor, she knows high tech can pull off what looks like 'magic'."

"Only Trowa making eyes at another guy, or whatever the heck 'paying court' means, seems to put them all on the Cimmerian blacklist," Colonel O'Neill groused. "Talk about don't ask, don't tell."

"It is a common attitude on heavily culled planets," Teal'c observed. "Where the Goa'uld wish more slaves to be born, they proclaim such unions against the will of the gods. I did not expect it on Cimmeria."

"Yeah, well," Jack frowned, glancing aside in thought, "Daniel said something once, about the linguistic drift... didn't get all of it, but I think he thought the Asgaard grabbed a pretty small group of people to start with. That's one of the reasons he thought the Cimmerians let Kendra stay, even though she didn't look like them; they were hoping she'd settle down and give 'em a few kids who weren't related to half the village." He shrugged. "Which I guess means they'd have been really ticked if she settled down with another woman."

"Ah."

"That's... kind of cold, sir," Sam noted.

"You call 'em as you see 'em when it comes to black holes, Carter. Danny does it for people." Jack spread an empty hand. "He just usually does it in reports."

"We'll mend diplomatic fences with Cimmeria later," Hammond said briskly. "Sanq and this Reaver, people. What do we know?" He glanced across the table. "Dr. Fraiser?"

"The samples are pretty much fried," Janet said briskly. "Just as well. From the proteins left in them, it's highly likely the venom is similar to that of the metamorphizing insects. A mix of infectious RNA and various other nasty toxins to knock out the immune system while it tears you apart. Our inhibitors ought to work on it; I'm advising we add them to the SGC field medkits immediately. A Jaffa might bounce back from having this poison in him, but when it comes to humans, we'd better start medical treatment on the spot." The doctor was far too professional to shudder, but there were suspicious tight lines around her eyes. "If they got this out of Daniel, sir, he got very, very lucky."

"So it would seem," Hammond noted. "And the rest of Dr. Jackson's report?"

"Now, that's kind of interesting for what it doesn't say, sir." Jack's smile had a dark edge. "Carter?"

"I ran the address through the dialing computer, sir," Sam nodded. "It's red."

A world from the Ancients' database, then, and not the Abydonian cartouche. Voluntarily given to a world Sanq knew was under threat of attack by the Goa'uld. "So you'd say they really want to talk to us."

"And now we get to the good part." Jack tapped the picture of the Wing. "Background info tells you they've got paint, glass, and steel. No uniforms. No visible weapons - though if you look close, you can pick out what might be a couple of knives here and there. Nothing, in fact, that even breathes any higher tech than, oh, say, Earth, late 1800's." He turned to the poster. "Now, this definitely says high-tech. But it's art. And there's nothing to tie it to the picture except what Daniel wrote. And you'll note, when it comes to tech, he doesn't say much."

"Paranoid?" Hammond asked, faded red brow climbing.

"Oh yeah," the former Black Ops colonel nodded. Worry for Daniel battled with hard-won good sense in his face. "Sir, I say we go. But carefully."

"It would be wise," Teal'c noted. "Since it would seem, from Gairwyn's tale, that Chang is in fact a Dragon."

"A Dragon?" Sam asked warily.

"It is a myth."

"Oh no, here we go again..." Jack groaned. "Teal'c, your last myth took 9-mm bullets without slowing down."

"Of that I am aware, O'Neill," Teal'c noted. "Though bullets should, indeed, slow this myth down."

"Well, that makes me feel so much better... not. Teal'c. Details," Jack demanded.

"Legend states that Lord Yu once used unusual weapons in a battle against Nirrti," Teal'c recounted, frowning at the Wing's picture. "Human weapons." He inclined a brow. "Weapons that could summon flame, or dismiss it, where they willed."

Jack gaped. Worked his jaw. Blinked. "You're saying the kid's a firestarter?"

Teal'c looked a question at Sam. "Pyrokinesis," Major Carter filled in the blank. "Mental control of, or ability to ignite, fires. We only have anecdotal evidence of it on Earth. Nothing solid."

The Jaffa nodded. "I do not know if Lord Yu still possesses the Dragons. Yet Apophis has not troubled him for many centuries."

Jack mulled that over. Turned to the head of the table. "General?"

"Send a MALP," Hammond ordered.

Now what do I tell Jacob?

     

Chapter Text

"Chevron six encoding…" Preventer Maeldun's voice came over Trowa's ear-piece as the naquadda ring rotated. "Chevron six locked."

"05?" Heero's voice on the line was short and clipped.

"Ready," Wufei answered from his place of concealment near the Stargate. In the background Trowa could hear the quietest of rustles; other Preventers armed and waiting with Wufei, willing and able to hold the 'Gate against all possible assaults.

"04?"

"I'm set." Quatre's voice barely quavered, but Trowa felt his love's nerves quake down their bond. For a moment Trowa wished he'd done something a little more permanent to that idiot Cimmerian. A headache that would last half the day seemed less than fair recompense for the nightmares he knew the empath would have later.

"03?"

"Yes," Trowa said simply, hidden behind his constructed blind, left hand laced into Hrere's collar. Watch. Scent, he willed the esmeril.

Hrere rumbled a quiet assent, projecting eagerness to seek and strike. If there were Goa'uld, the hot tide of her emotions told the Beastmaster, she would find them. Find and kill.

Let us strike first, Hrere. Weapons reach longer than claws.

Assent touched him. Her silvery tail lashed.

"Chevron seven-"

Blue-silver burst from the circle, a fountain of warped space. The wormhole peaked and snapped back, as he'd seen on countless missions, a shimmering silver promise of war and escape. The stuff of dreams. And nightmares.

Wait. Wait….

Shaped metal trundled through the 'Gate on rubbery tracks, half the height of a man and covered with gadgets of every shape and size. Sensors swung and swiveled, obviously scanning the area.

And the 'Gate's still open, Trowa observed. Which means it must be sending energy back… communications? Some sort of report? The Preventers' scan countermeasures worked against Goa'uld sensors, fooling them into reporting a lifeless planet, but Tau'ri sensors might be another matter entirely.

One of the lensed devices halted, and Trowa stifled a snicker. Somebody was getting all too good a look at the twisted metal symbol that falsely declared Sanq tal mak - a world that had once supported life, yet was now extinct.

Now which will you believe? Your eyes? Or your heart?

Long minutes passed. Trowa felt Quatre's tension skitter down his spine. He made an effort to calm himself, for all their sakes, resting against Hrere's steady, predatory fascination with the watery light of the 'Gate.

Gratitude touched him, tinged with Quatre's shy embarrassment; as if the blond had laid a hand over his. Sorry, Trowa.

Nothing to forgive, Quat. Stay with me. We're together.

And three figures walked through, armed and wary in green and black. "Ally, ally, oxen-free," the pepper-haired one in the lead sang out.

Huh?

"Sir," the blonde just behind him sighed.

"So what should I say, Carter? We come in peace?" The older man scanned the dusty area around the 'Gate, dark eyes appearing to skip across various undulations of dead ground that concealed sensor-jamming devices, Preventer agents, and other, less subtle defenses.

Only appearing, Trowa knew, seeing dark eyes tense even before he felt the prickle of wariness Quatre picked off the man. He knows. This man is a soldier. A covert operator who has fought and vanished in the night, as we do. He knows all is not as it seems.

"At least it wasn't 'Klaato barada niktu'," Carter mumbled. She too scanned the area; with reasonable skill, but without that seared-into-bone awareness of just how easy it was to hide lethal intent. "So where are they?"

The Jaffa bringing up the rear didn't even pretend to miss Wufei's blind. "They are here, Major Carter."

"Now," Heero's low murmur vibrated down the line.

Preventers ghosted out of hiding, half-ringing the still-live 'Gate.

"I hate it when that happens," the Tau'ri leader sighed.

Heero stalked into view, his usual shorts and tank-top discarded for a regular camouflage uniform. "I am Heero Yuy," he said quietly, stepping fearlessly to the forefront. "And you are-" Scanning the Tau'ri group, his eyes locked with Carter's.

Recognition. Knowing. An explosion of hate-

"Goa'uld!"

Guns appeared like mushrooms after rain; Heero leapt back into the Preventers' ranks, teeth bared, weapon lifting to fire-

"No!" Quatre reached out with hand and empathy, spaceheart shivering with panic.

"No," Trowa said more firmly, Hrere padding by his side as they walked out of their blind. Calm, he whispered through their bond, holding the discipline that balked falcons from the kill against Quatre's fear. Calm. Easy, beloved. I trust you. No one has to die. "Wait."

"Carter?" the graying Tau'ri demanded, gun aimed just as surely at Heero as Yuy's was at him.

"Naquadah in his system, sir. And I feel something-" Blue eyes widened as she looked at Trowa and his furred companion. "Someone doesn't want us to shoot?"

Trowa didn't smile. It wasn't the first time someone had traced Quatre's projective empathy to him instead. "You are, or were, a host."

Carter swallowed, determination hardening her face. "Was."

Trowa nodded slightly. "We'll see."

"Mind telling me how, Trowa?" the leader drawled.

So. He'd matched names to faces from Daniel's message. As expected. So Daniel's Jack O'Neill is a night warrior. Interesting. "Hrere knows the scent of hosts." Sniff, Trowa gestured at the esmeril.

"As opposed to used-to-be hosts," O'Neill said dryly, gaze never leaving Heero, even as Hrere snuffled Carter's uniform.

"There is a difference." Trowa lowered his gaze, trusting the other Preventers to watch for danger as he immersed himself in Hrere's senses.

Concrete. Steel. A breath of enclosed, recycled air, still lingering in cuffs and sweat and sulfur-scented weapons. The musk of a lead male human, the not-quite-human scent of male Jaffa, the fang-baring snarl of the larva he carried.

And between, a subtler scent that was neither enemy nor strictly human. Female, tinged with sorrow and alien death. Hurt in a way he'd seen few others hurt; the violation that drove some of Sanq to suicide, despite all their best efforts to convince those so wounded that it was not their fault….

Trowa focused on the feel of fur at his fingertips, letting its softness and Quatre's warmth lead him back to himself. "It's all right." He tugged Hrere gently back from the nervous woman. "She's not a host."

Heero's shoulders relaxed. Deliberately he clicked the safety on his weapon, and holstered it.

"You'll have to forgive us," Quatre put in. "Daniel didn't say you'd be bringing another Survivor with you."

And the dance begins again. Trowa felt a wry smile tug at his mouth. There was a reason Duo wasn't here… besides the need to leave Daniel in safe hands.

"You survived a Goa'uld?" Carter looked taken aback.

"Yes," Heero said shortly.

In a manner of speaking, Trowa thought, inwardly amused despite the situation. If Dr. J were here, the elderly mad scientist would undoubtedly be tearing his hair out. "Perfect" experiments weren't supposed to have unexpected drawbacks.

Thank the kami, Heero's not perfect.

"Okay." O'Neill put away his own gun. "Jack O'Neill. Major Carter. Teal'c. You the guys that left the message about a lost archaeologist? Blond, blue eyes, about yeah high, sneezes a lot…."



"I'm telling you, this is a bad idea!" Bouncing in his aisle seat, Duo tugged at the neck of his black kimono as if dark silk were strangling him. "Formal, Daniel. With Relena Peacecraft. Do you know what that means? She gets to gaze at you with these starry eyes and talk about peace and understanding, and you feel your brain start to melt…."

Walking back through the shuttle, Sally caught Duo just long enough to smooth dark cloth back into place under his cross. Sky-blue silk patterned with cherry blossoms fell over her hands as she gave him a sidelong look. "She's not that bad, Duo." Sally glanced at the window seat's occupant. "Any dizziness? Nausea?"

Daniel shook his head, trying not to stare too obviously at what his hosts considered formal wear. Kimonos and swords. I should have known. And if that elegant fan stuck through Sally's sash wasn't a shukusen - a lady's fan whose steel ribs could cut a pike in half - he'd retake Japanese Culture 101. Formal on Sanq equals armed. Oh, Jack's going to love this. "They're here?"

"We should be on the ground in a few minutes." Heading back to her seat, the doctor gave Daniel a wry grin. "Duo's just jumpy because the shuttle pilots won't let him near the cockpit." Her grin spread. "For some reason, they seem to think shuttles ought to fly right side up."

Duo stuck out his tongue.

Daniel couldn't help but smile. You're not good with etiquette any more than Jack is, and you know it. But I've seen Heero and Quatre; they wouldn't have you in this if they didn't think you could do it. Of course, it might help if you weren't thinking so hard about all the ways you could mess up…. "So is there a cultural symbolism to your kimonos? Do they mean something in particular," he elaborated, as Duo gave him a wary look. "I notice Sally has cherry blossoms, which on certain parts of Earth would imply long life… and, sometimes, an association with the supernatural." He gestured at black-on-black embroidery. "And you're wearing ravens?"

"Death's wings. Yeah." Duo shrugged. "We're not just going in to meet your guys as colony representatives, we're going in as Guardians. Peacecraft wants us to go traditional. Give me Preventer jackets any day. At least you stand a snowball's chance of blending into a crowd…."

Five colony clusters. Five Guardian traits. Four of which are in Heero's Wing, all five if you count Sally… only there's something they're not telling me about Heero. "Cherry blossoms for medusas, ravens for Shinigami?"

"Hawks for Beastmasters, desert cats for empaths, and dragons for Dragons," Duo nodded. Cast a glance past him at the approaching ground. "Daniel. Don't tell Relena you're Shinigami."

You want me to lie to your negotiator? Alarm bells went off in Daniel's mind. "Why?"

"Relena's pretty into the Purist view. The moderate part of it, anyway," Duo said tightly.

Not good. "And Purists are…?"

"Purists think Guardians are weapons. Like zats, or death gliders. Only worse, 'cause we can choose when to go off." Duo wrapped his arms around himself, eyes unfocussed. "Hell, we are weapons. The Goa'uld made us that way."

Oh. That loathing in Duo's tone…. "And Purists hate the Goa'uld."

"Lamashtu used empaths to drive people insane. Nemain would set Shi no Yami loose in a colony and laugh. Yu had Dragons burn kids alive…. We were made to be nightmares, Daniel. People remember that. And it doesn't matter that we fight the Goa'uld, it doesn't matter that we love Sanq…." Duo let a breath hiss between clenched teeth. "Long story very short. Mostly the Purists think all they have to do is encourage regular people not to breed with Guardians. They keep it up long enough, we die out, and the idiots think they can live happily ever after without 'tainting' themselves using Goa'uld weapons."

Cheyenne, we have a problem. "Only Shinigami-"

"Don't have to have kids to spread. Yeah."

Pain. So much pain, in so young a face. "Duo. What happened?"

Violet eyes dodged his. "Once you guys get the polite stuff out of the way, ask Relena about the Maxwell Shrine Massacre." A bitter smile quirked Duo's mouth. "I kind of wonder what she'll tell you."

Daniel wet his lips. "What can you tell me?"

Shoulders tensed under dark silk. "Maxwell's a Shinigami name," Duo said, almost too quiet to hear. "Has been as long as there's been Shinigami. Used to be a couple hundred of them on the L2 colony I grew up in." A shift of muscle flexed embroidered feathers, as if the ravens would take desperate flight. "I'm the last one left."

I'm the last one. Daniel watched Duo close his eyes and shut away the pain, glad the seatbelt warning over the shuttle intercom gave him an excuse not to speak. Oh gods.

I can't leave him like this.

"I lost my family," Daniel said quietly as the shuttle slowed to hover. "I'm an archaeologist. I uncovered the 'Gate on Abydos. I was trying to figure out how it worked, it's what I do... and Apophis came through." He rested a tentative hand on the silk-covered shoulder. "So they died because of what I am, too."

Slender fingers covered his. Duo leaned into him without a sound, chestnut hair nestled into his shoulder like a tired kitten. Like Skaara, those rare times the Abydonian youth craved the comfort of his brother-in-law's older arms more than his own proud adult status. Like Sam, on those dark off-world nights Major Carter slipped from her grasp, and she was just a hurt soul who wished she'd never met Jolinar.

He followed me home, Jack. Can we keep him?

Daniel shook off the stray thought as they touched down, watching eager curiosity shove dark memories back as Duo snatched up his katana and bounced out the door toward the 'Gate. Right. As if Heero would let you have him. Yuy's no dummy. Anybody who can keep it together with that in his past has got to be the rock his team is based on.

"Daniel!"

Speaking of rocks. Daniel took the steps one at a time, grateful for Sally's steady presence behind him. He wasn't dizzy, exactly, but sometimes the ground wasn't quite where it ought to be. "Jack." And he was braced between a Jaffa and an astrophysicist major, while one seriously annoyed ex-Black Ops colonel gave him a full-body check. "Jack!"

Jack had yanked back the loose sleeve of his loaned black gi, glaring at the bandage. "How bad?"

"It hurts, but I can 'Gate-" Daniel felt his friend stiffen. "Um, Jack? That's Sally."

"Uh huh." Jack's tone was perfectly level as he looked past Daniel's shoulder. "Sally has tentacles, Daniel."

"Ooh, he's quick," Duo smirked, heading for the cargo compartment with Wufei.

"Knows how to sabotage a ha'tak, too," Daniel quipped back, noting the variations in dress that had appeared among the Wing pilots. Wufei had stuck to his loose white trousers, gold and red dragon rampant on his sleeveless gray top. Quatre was in a more formal version of his usual vest, shirt, and pants, a desert cat's silhouette embroidered on his left breast in silver just a shade lighter than his gray vest. And Trowa and Heero were in hakama and gi; Heero's plain, midnight blue, Trowa's forest green with a colorful hawk just below the shoulder. Guardian and colonial origin, all in one neat package. These people love their symbolism as much as their tech. "It's hereditary, Jack. Dr. Po is a medusa."

"As in the Greek myth?" Sam stared in pure fascination. "Or the jellyfish?"

"This is going to take some getting used to." Sally crossed her arms, gave Sam a challenging look back. "Didn't the Goa'uld manipulate any groups on your planet?"

Sam snapped out of her scientific trance. "We don't think so-"

"O'Neill." Teal'c's firm tone cut off her reply. "Another shuttle approaches."

Jack looked. Scrubbed his eyes. Looked again. "Is that thing pink?"

Duo groaned. Quatre drew near Trowa. Wufei scowled. And Heero-

Jack glanced a question Daniel's way. Did cool, calm, and collected just wince? That crook of graying brow asked.

Yep. He winced, Daniel nodded back subtly. "Lady Peacecraft?"

"Yes." And the flinch was gone as if it had never been, subsumed in cool professionalism. "We should be prepared to accompany you shortly." Heero moved toward the landing shuttle with easy grace, hand near his katana.

"We?" Jack asked pointedly.

Daniel smiled wryly. "Lady Relena Peacecraft. She's one of the most respected diplomats on Sanq or the colonies. Heero's Wing, Wing Zero, is coming as her guard and military advisors; Dr. Po's coming to trade diagnoses with Janet. This is the diplomatic party, Jack."

Jack looked at him. Looked back at the pink shuttle. Swept a dangerous gaze over the hapless onlookers. And grabbed the collar of Daniel's gi. "Would you excuse us a minute?"

"Jack!" Daniel hissed as his friend and occasional terror of unsuspecting extraterrestrials and archaeologists half-dragged him out of casual earshot along the Wing's shuttle hull.

"Daniel!" Jack jerked his head toward Relena's shuttle, where various people in formal uniforms carrying luggage had just run into the uncompromising wall that was one Heero Yuy. Then past that, toward an interesting glassy depression in the bare sandy ground about a quarter-mile from the 'Gate; one of several Daniel had seen on the flight from the safehouse. "We've been yanking info out of the Tok'ra trying to find you, chasing down plague rumors, trying to talk down Cimmerians - Chang freaked them out but good with his little flame trick, and you have no idea what Gairwyn thinks about Trowa and Quatre. And here we find you making nice with the natives. Which is a good thing. What I expected. Linguist. Diplomat. You all over. But just what does that look like to you?"

"Goa'uld orbital bombardment," Daniel said flatly. And I wish I didn't know what that looked like. "Maybe from Lamashtu. Maybe fresher; I'm still trying to put the pieces together, but I think they had a really close call with Macha about the time Wing Zero was formed."

"Might explain how Heero got jumped," Jack muttered.

"Heero-?" Oh. Uh-oh. If he - and Sam - but everyone's still in one piece. Thank goodness for Quatre. "So that's why he didn't want to go to Cimmeria… Jack, what's wrong? I'm okay. Well, sort of okay," honesty compelled Daniel to add. Just leave out the details until you get to Janet.

"It's the sort of that gets to me, Danny." But some of the hardness left dark eyes. "Look. I don't know what you told these people, or what they think is going on. We're not making any deals until we get you home and checked out."

"They know that, Jack."

Jack chewed that over a moment. Flicked an apparently casual glance over the Wing's preparations by the 'Gate. "They do, huh?"

"Dimme got away," Daniel said quietly. "She's going to be back, in force. Her Reavers can take over Preventers. Her death gliders aren't anywhere near as good as Gundams, but they outnumber them." The archaeologist nodded toward the quiescent 'Gate. "And we're the first help they've seen in forty years, Jack."

Jack let go. Took a good look around. "They did this on their own."

"With a lot of help from Stheno, before Susanowo got an Ashrak to her," Daniel nodded. "But they're here, Jack. They're still alive."

"Damn." But Jack looked slightly happier about the situation. "Okay, let's call the General and get him to set a few extra places in the cafeteria-" He tensed. Leaned in close. "Daniel. Look at me."

I didn't want him to see. Not now, not yet…. Swallowing dryly, Daniel looked up. Stayed still, even as Jack lifted away his glasses for a better look. At least there's no mirror for him to throw things at.

"Last time I checked," Jack said finally, "Your eyes were blue."

"I know."

"As in kind of sky-colored. Like Carter's. Not that I spend a lot of time looking, you understand. Or like the General's-"

Daniel snickered.

"Okay, not going there. Anyway," Jack went on doggedly, "While Cassie might stick orchid in the 'blue' section of the crayon box, last time I checked, it was not blue."

"Orchid?" Daniel arched a brow. "You've been walking off with color strips from the paint store again, haven't you?"

"So? Daniel."

"Dr. Po says they ought to be purple within a week," Daniel stated, trying to keep his voice matter-of-fact.

"Like Duo's?" Jack's tone was dangerously even. "Tell me it's a long story and Teal'c is going to carry you through that 'Gate."

Not sure I'd mind. He could walk; the sudden splice in what should have been the normal gap between thought and reaction hadn't thrown that off. Much. But it felt weird. "Duo's a carrier of an organism that makes him immune to the Reaver," Daniel said simply. "It made him sick, but it couldn't take him over. When what used to be Page scratched me…." He touched the bandage, and shuddered. "You could see it spreading, Jack. We didn't have any time-" He saw a white blur step past Heero, and snatched back his glasses. "Jack! VIP, twelve o'clock!"

"Wha-" Jack wriggled suddenly empty fingers, pasted on a professional smile to meet the young blonde in white silk. "Lady Peacecraft, I presume."

"Colonel O'Neill. On behalf of my planet, I hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful working relationship between our peoples. For myself - let's just say, I'm honored to meet someone who's given the Goa'uld a permanent headache." Relena smiled back, simple gold earrings gleaming bright as her pulled-back braids. "Now that Heero's shaken down my luggage to the bare minimum, shall we go?"

"That's the bare minimum?" Sam said under her breath as the group assembled, eyeing the pile of pink-and-white bags and boxes set out of range of the 'Gate-splash.

"Women," Wufei agreed darkly.

Sam looked down at the Dragon. "Excuse me?"

Sally thumped Chang lightly on the shoulder. "Does Major Carter look like a civilian to you?"

"Not her. The Peacecraft onna."

"Oh, this is going to be fun," Jack muttered. "Yuy, if you don't mind, Carter will dial us home."

"Hn." Heero nodded, and Preventers cleared away from the DHD.

"Take it that's a yes… why is the cat still here?"

"Hrere comes with me," Trowa said simply.

"Anything else?" Jack said dryly, looking over the formally dressed - and armed - Wing. "Grenade launcher? Anti-tank gun? High explosives?"

"I do not believe they are carrying a grenade launcher, O'Neill," Teal'c noted.

"And what's an anti-tank gun?" Quatre asked.

Right. No tanks, no anti-tank guns. Which leaves - oh, you wouldn't. Daniel looked at Duo.

Duo grinned.

Jack sighed. "Never mind."



That, Wufei thought, finding his feet on a steely ramp as the Stargate's chill left him, is one very annoying alarm.

Setting his pack and one of Relena's down, Shenlong's pilot scanned the large room as the rest of his Wing made their way through the wormhole. Uniformed Tau'ri with guns ringed the walls of a manmade cavern of concrete and painted steel, gray ceiling lost in shadows that almost concealed a large, circular hatch. Likely how they got the 'Gate in here to begin with, the scholar in him noted. No DHD in view… hmm. That looks like a control room of some sort. Shut behind what was likely bulletproof glass, with metal shutters poised to fall at need. Filled with folk on recognizable headsets and what might be Tau'ri computers… and one blue-uniformed, balding man whose gaze held enough steel to make Zechs Merquise think twice before offering challenge.

"Colonel O'Neill!" The loudspeaker might cloud the voice's origin, but that controlled annoyance could only come from the man in charge. "Would you mind explaining?"

O'Neill watched the Wing arrange themselves before the shimmering surface, and grinned. "Incoming diplomat, sir. Right about…."

"Eeiiah!" Relena tumbled through the 'Gate into Heero's ready arms. "Itai…."

Sally stumbled through next, followed by the last of their supplies. She made it a shaky step away from the silver horizon, eyes half-crossed-

Wufei slid his shoulder under her arm before she could misstep. "Wait," he commanded.

"Ugh," Dr. Po agreed, swaying in place as the wormhole evaporated. "That gets me every time. Records swear people get used to it; you guys did…."

"That takes at least six missions." Wufei tried to ignore the sound of Peacecraft's harsh panting behind them. Let Heero handle that. They'd seen soldiers leave the 'Gate in far worse shape. At least the onna wasn't throwing up.

His gaze fell on Major Sam Carter. She'd taken the 'Gate as smoothly as anyone in the Wing; not unexpected, from a Survivor. But reassuring all the same. So. They have courage among the Tau'ri, as well.

At the moment Carter was matching Daniel step for step down the ramp, ready to catch him if he fell. A worried redhead no taller than Duo was waiting with a stretcher, toes all but tapping the ground as the pair approached. "That must be your colleague Janet Fraiser," Wufei stated.

"Really?" Sally took some of her weight off him, breathing deep of recycled air. Air that must at some point mix with a planet's atmosphere to refresh itself; colony air was more balanced, full of the green growth that kept its inhabitants alive. "How can you tell?"

Wufei snorted. "After so many times ending up in your hands, Po? You can sense when someone wants to sedate you and sample all your blood."

Daniel choked back a snicker.

Linguist, Wufei reminded himself as he picked his pack back up, making a note to stick to English while they were among the Tau'ri. We've been speaking mostly English or Goa'uld around him, but Duo did say he picked up words quickly.

But the archaeologist let his comment slide, waving off the stretcher. "It's all right, Janet, I can walk."

"Well," O'Neill said briskly, turning a practiced smile on the assembled group. He swept a hand toward the opening doors. "Gentlemen, ladies… cat… right this way. That's it, leave the luggage, we'll get it. Dr. Fraiser's got an MRI with your names on it."

"Ultrasound," Janet said over Daniel's shoulder, hand still firmly clamped on the arm Sam wasn't holding.

"Doc?" O'Neill's tone was still friendly, but cautious.

"It's hard enough for a human to stay still for a magnetic resonance image, Colonel. I am not risking the chamber on a - whatever that is."

"Esmeril," Trowa said quietly, stroking Hrere's silver ears. Behind brown bangs, he glanced a question Heero's way.

How deeply do we trust them? Wufei wondered himself, pack still in his grip. Enough to walk into armed hands, with nothing save our own selves if the situation sours?

They'd fought their way out of enemy hands with less. But he didn't have to like it.

Relena set her case down, eyes fixed on Heero. "It's a reasonable request. We are guests."

Pity the onna said that, Wufei thought unsympathetically. We were Macha's guests once or twice… ah. Maxwell looks amused. He must have just calculated how to bring the ceiling down.

"Colonel." Heero's tone was even as he set down his pack. "If you want to open something that's locked, ask first."

"And please, don't drop anything," Quatre sighed. "Some of the equipment is delicate."

"Delicate?" Teal'c rumbled as they headed out foot-thick doors into a suspiciously empty gray corridor.

"Well… we brought a tea set." Quatre gave them a bright smile. "For the formalities."

Wufei stifled a most unwarriorlike urge to snicker. The look on O'Neill's face, as he tried to stare down Quatre's blithe innocence….

Sally choked back a chortle. Duo was whistling. Trowa and Heero shared a faint, amused curve of lips.

And Relena's glare could have stripped the paint off a death glider. Baka onna. Does she think we're lying?

"Tea set," O'Neill said at last. "Gotcha." The colonel's voice dropped to a low grumble. "I could've stayed retired, but no…."

"You're the one who hates being bored, sir," Carter pointed out, pressing an arrow-marked button beside paired doors. "Daniel?" she murmured.

"Oh, I'm sure there's a tea set in there somewhere," Daniel murmured back wryly. "I think they can hear you, Sam."

"No kidding," Duo mouthed Quatre's way as the doors opened. "What do they think we are, deaf?"

Arrow points up, sliding doors - an elevator? Wufei wondered, taking a quick look inside before O'Neill split the group; his smile and wave ushering Quatre, Trowa, and Hrere along with Daniel and the women, while the colonel and Teal'c remained with himself, Duo, Heero, and the Peacecraft. Skilled in reading people, Wufei observed, trying not to eye O'Neill too obviously as light moved across a panel of buttons by the elevator, from one marked 28 through decreasing numbers to one labeled 21. Splitting Quatre from Trowa is unwise at best.

And the light was moving back to them again, doors opening after it burned in 28 once more. So we're on 28. Which appears to be the bottom of this complex. And the infirmary is on 21? That must be awkward in emergencies… what did they originally design this place for? It wasn't meant to hold a Stargate.

More importantly, that meant there were at least 21 levels between them and open air. And from the flicker of unease on Duo's face, the braided baka had figured that out as well. Maxwell is not going to be happy.

"Teal'c?" O'Neill motioned the rest of the Sanq party in, stepped into the elevator himself. "Mind giving Sergeant Siler a hand?"

"I shall." The Jaffa nodded at O'Neill as the doors closed, shutting them into a metal box.

Teal'c is trusted here, Wufei concluded, noting how Heero hadn't bothered to hide his observation of that exchange. Interesting. I suppose it's just as well to know who will be searching our supplies.

"So your ultrasound is a way of detecting Goa'uld?" Relena asked pleasantly, adjusting her dress as the elevator lifted.

"Yeah. High-frequency sound, makes a picture of the insides you aim it at. Perfect for picking out hitchhikers on the brain stem. You mind?" O'Neill's smile seemed honest. The man has dealt with bleeding hearts too often, or not enough, Wufei thought sourly.

"I'd mind if you didn't check, Colonel." Relena stood straight, gaze challenging the soldier's nonchalance. "Both our worlds have enough problems without a potential spy getting through."

Wufei caught a sudden stillness in O'Neill's movements. "You've had spies on Sanq."

"The Goa'uld we've found most recently were more leftovers from Macha's invasion than deliberate infiltrators, but yes, we have," Relena nodded. "That's one reason the identities of Wing pilots aren't released to the public at large." She frowned at Maxwell. "But you say Dimme knows you're Pilot 02 now."

"Well, sorry! It's not like I could guess she'd pull mind control out of a hat-"

Heero wrapped a hand around Duo's braid; just enough of a tug to feel. "We've already inserted false records into the less sensitive databases, Relena. Dimme can chase a ghost all she likes."

"And if she turns a high-level agent?" No trace of the bubbly onna now. This was the young diplomat who had Wufei's grudging respect. Even if she did sit down with Purists instead of challenging them to proper duels.

"We're hard to kill, Peacecraft," Wufei said flatly. "Out of all those weaklings who call themselves politicians, you should know that."

"I do. And I know you don't believe it, Chang, but I'm sorry." Relena bit her lip. "But this isn't Operation Meteor, Heero. You're Wing Zero now, you're not expendable-"

"Relena." Heero met her gaze, blue eyes cool and uncompromising.

"Operation Meteor?" O'Neill stuck into the silence.

"Ooh, long story." Duo shook his head as elevator doors opened onto a hall bustling with white-coated folk, wincing when Heero didn't let go. "Hey!"

"Stay close." Heero let braided chestnut slip through his fingers almost to the black-bound tip, closed his grip, and stalked toward the Tau'ri infirmary.

"Yeah, yeah, like you ever give a guy a choice in the matter…."

O'Neill cocked an eyebrow Wufei's way. "They always like this?"

"Enjoy the peace while it lasts," Wufei answered dryly. A familiar nervousness prickled his spine, laced with the steadiness of rock and tree. Chang let out a relieved breath. Quatre is here.

Odd how time changed things. If Master O had told him four years ago he'd be relieved to feel one of Lamashtu's deadly Winner empaths so much as touch his chi, he'd have laughed in the man's face.

And now the little one is part of us all. Wufei walked into the clinic to see Trowa scrubbing a translucent gel off the back of his neck under Quatre's watchful eye. We can still fight alone; we have, many times. But we are stronger together.

Janet held an odd gray contraption in gloved hands as she stood behind a seated Sally, evidently hesitant to approach the medusa's neck. "Can you hold your… hair out of the way?"

"As long as your hands don't smell like Goa'uld." Sally pulled hair and tendrils aside in one blonde-and-blue mass. "Most of the time stinging is a voluntary response. But there are - I don't know the word in your language. Medusa tendrils can sense the scent of a Goa'uld outside a host, and they'll sting no matter what we want."

Janet applied the gel, watching shades of gray that traced a spine on her screen as she ran the ultrasound along the nape of Sally's neck. "And a System Lord designed this?"

"Stheno concealed the medusa project as a weapon against Tok'ra," Heero said flatly, releasing Duo to scan the room. "The medusas she gave to the rest of the Eight were trained as deep-cover agents, believing in their 'gods', while stating they wished to fight against Ra as Tok'ra hosts. Our records state the ruse was successful on at least thirty-one occasions."

"At least until the Tok'ra switched to going in by mouth," Sally added as Janet lifted the ultrasound away. "You can arrange your hair over your face to sting, but it's a lot harder to do that and hide the tendrils. Is that it?"

"That's it," Janet said faintly. "You're clean."

"Hold on. Back up, lady." Jack waved his hands. "You're telling us you were made to be a Trojan Horse?" He shot a glance Daniel's way. "Thought the Tok'ra said they went by mouth 'cause they weren't afraid of mirrors."

Seated on an examining table, bandage in plain view, the archaeologist shrugged. "That's what they said."

A man with Heero's own opinion of the Tok'ra, Wufei thought. This should be interesting.

"And it wasn't Sally specifically," Daniel went on. "It was her bloodline. About a thousand years ago?"

"Closer to fifteen hundred, at least," Sally nodded.

"Medusas are one of our oldest Guardian lines," Relena put in. "Though as far as we can tell, empaths were designed first. Can I see how your ultrasound works?"

Janet glanced at O'Neill. Who shrugged. "No reason why not, I guess…."

"So, Maxwell," Wufei mouthed at Duo as they waited their turn to be declared free of infestation. Lip-reading was very useful. "Rubber spiders or exploding ink?"

"'Fei!" Violet eyes gleamed; just a hint of Shinigami's maniacal glee. "Would I do that to the poor, unsuspecting guys who had to search our luggage?"

In a heartbeat. But Duo never lied. "You found something worse?"



"Eyaagh!"

Zat in hand, Teal'c whirled toward Siler's shout. The sergeant had just opened the pack belonging to Duo Maxwell, something long and snakelike had burst out-

"Aaah. Ah. Oh, god." Sgt. Siler advanced on the still-quivering shape, prodding it with a steel-toed boot. "Son of a bitch is made out of elastic!"

Around the room, the rest of the MPs searching the Sanq supplies lowered their weapons. "A rubber… Goa'uld?" one airman asked in pure disbelief.

Teal'c raised a brow, bent to scoop up the offending object. "It is," he noted, "Quite realistic." The Jaffa paused. "Save for the pink polka dots."

"Heard of cans of snakes, but canned Goa'uld?" Siler shuddered, glaring at rubbery fangs. "Wait 'til I get my hands on this kid…."

"We should proceed," Teal'c stated. "They are aware we are examining their supplies, but it would be more courteous if we could return them once Dr. Fraiser has completed her examinations."

"Polite. Right." Siler drew a deep breath. Shook out his arms. "Shyeah!"

"Daniel Jackson would say a sense of humor is evidence of humanity," Teal'c said, deadpan.

"Huh. And here I thought it was the book quotient in your pack. Would you look at all this?" Siler gestured at the items spread over several tables; one swath of counter-space per pack, so all could be returned to its proper place. "They've got almost as much paper as tight-situation stuff. And for a diplomatic party, they've got way more of that than outfits."

"They are cautious," Teal'c noted. "It is a promising sign."

Siler paused in mid-search. "Run that by me again?"

Teal'c nodded once. "I have noted that those who wished alliance with the SGC and were not cautious, wished more of us than we were willing to give."

"Euronda?" Siler asked warily.

Teal'c noted the sudden quiet of the MPs. While the bulk of the SGC might not be aware of all that had happened on that planet torn with civil war, they knew well enough that it had created a rift in SG-1; a rift Teal'c was even now not certain had fully healed. "Or the Tok'ra Anise," he offered.

Ah. The room was breathing again.

"Okay," Siler said in an undertone, shuffling pages from Duo's pack. "Outside of heart attacks waiting to happen, what have we got here?"

"Music," Teal'c noted, hefting ring-bound pages he'd found in Quatre's luggage.

"Music?" Siler repeated blankly. Rustled similar bound sheets that had come out of Trowa's pack. "This is music?"

Teal'c studied the inked cuneiform neatly arranged across the white page. He would not consider himself fluent, but he had gained more familiarity with the wedge-shaped writing since Daniel Jackson's unfortunate encounter with Nem. "For a flute. Quatre's would seem to be for a stringed instrument." He hummed a phrase of it, recalling the seven-note scale Daniel Jackson had showed him for Akkadian music on Earth.

"Catchy." Siler shoved pink dots out of sight and waved a stack of diagrams. "Maxwell likes gadgets. Yuy's got a couple of booklets that have to be Sanq's version of a wilderness survival manual. Wufei - I'm not an expert, but I'm thinking this looks like some kind of translation dictionary?"

Teal'c took the compact tome from Wufei's pack, flipping from back to front; even when printed in Goa'uld, Sanq works appeared to read the opposite direction from Tau'ri. "It discusses grammar, both of Goa'uld and Jaffa." Curious. He would not have placed Chang as the scholar of the group.

Siler nodded. "And everybody's gear, including Relena's, has at least one gun in it. Put that together and what do you get?"

It seemed obvious. "An SGC first contact team."

"And…?" Siler asked.

Teal'c frowned. "I am uncertain what else there may be, Sergeant Siler."

"I kind of figured. Let's get this stuff back together." Sorting Duo's pack back into order, Siler nodded at the scattered gear. "Thing is, Teal'c, you don't get to meet much of our military outside the SGC."

"That is accurate," Teal'c allowed.

"So you don't know how special the kind of people we have here really are."

"I am aware that Daniel Jackson is not typical of your military, nor even of civilians," Teal'c objected.

"Daniel's not typical of anywhere," Siler agreed with a chuckle. "But Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, all the rest of the SG teams - they think on their feet, they know who to shoot and when, and they know when not to follow orders. They're not regular people, Teal'c. Not by a long shot."

"You imply that such persons would be rare," Teal'c concluded. "Even on such a world as Sanq."

"Very rare, and very dangerous," Siler agreed. "Believe me, Teal'c. They may be Ms. Peacecraft's escort, but these kids are not bodyguards."



"All right, Dr. Po." General Hammond glanced at Daniel, then skewered Sally with a measured look. "In terms this old soldier can understand, please explain what's happened to Dr. Jackson."

Old soldier my foot. Mature, maybe, but I'd bet you could give Treize a run for his money. Sally composed herself in the infirmary chair, acutely aware of Daniel's subtle trembling as he sat on Janet's examining table and Jack's dark look as he held the younger man's shoulder. At least Major Carter was escorting Relena and the rest of the Wing to the SGC's VIP quarters. She didn't think she could take more than two angry glares without spontaneously combusting. "Duo's a Shinigami. Someone who carries the Shi no Yami organism in their system and-" she hesitated, looking to Daniel as she voiced the Goa'uld word. "Life codes?"

"DNA," the linguist supplied, trying not to shake. "Apparently once you get infected, it writes itself into your genes. Gets your immune system to think it's just another kind of cell roaming around."

"Are you okay, son?" Hammond asked gently.

Daniel swallowed. "No, sir."

"And Maxwell did this on purpose." O'Neill's tone was level and dangerous as Heero Yuy in a bad mood.

"It's an acceptable emergency treatment on Sanq, Colonel," Sally defended the absent Shinigami. "Wing Zero has their permission to infect on record. Most Preventers do. We try other things first, if we can, but when it comes down to it… you have no idea what kind of diseases Lamashtu left behind." She folded her arms. "Duo had three options. Leave a Reaver-infected Tau'ri in Dimme's hands, when he knew you'd be spilling classified information just as readily as Page was. Kill you. Or infect you, and hope you'd be one of the two out of three who make it."

"You're saying this organism is still lethal." Janet looked up from her microscope slide of Daniel's blood, visibly disturbed.

"Not as lethal as it used to be. But about a third of those infected die, even with medical assistance," Sally said frankly. "We still haven't nailed down why."

"And these… creatures… are living in Dr. Jackson's bloodstream?" Hammond asked.

"And just about anywhere in the pulmonary or nervous system they can creep through to. Shi no Yami's a born opportunist," Sally nodded, dragging her eyes away from medical instruments she'd never seen the like of on Sanq. I could study this place for weeks. Wonder if I'll get the chance? "By this time it's crossed the blood-brain barrier. That's why your reaction time is off," she told her former patient. "I'd wait at least three more days before you head back to the practice range. By then it should be finished infiltrating the nerves, and all of your reflexes will have caught up with each other."

Stiff under Jack's hand, Daniel bit his lip.

"Infiltrating." Giving the linguist's shoulder a gentle squeeze, Jack shot her a very dark look. "How do we kill it?"

Here we go again. Sally held back a sigh. "Nemain didn't design it to be killable, Colonel. Not without killing the host along with it. Believe me, after she found out about Shinigami, she tried everything."

"Uh huh." That dark expression never wavered. "So what have you tried?"

Might as well give it to them straight. "Radiation. Toxins. Any and every immune booster we have - some they're allergic to, but since Shi no Yami makes itself part of the immune system, all you get is more symbiote in the blood. Complete blood replacement; that doesn't work, a Shinigami's bone marrow produces more Shi no Yami along with new blood cells. Though it would make him sick, since the symbiote would be busy killing off any white blood cells it finds with a foreign life code… DNA, as you put it."

Janet frowned. "We can transplant bone marrow."

"You can?" Sally leaned forward, alert to new medical knowledge. "Transplanting organs that aren't cloned? That's…." She saw the sudden hope light O'Neill's gaze, the way Daniel curled in on himself in bleak despair. Damn. "Not going to work on a Shinigami," Sally finished reluctantly. "The symbiote will kill anything that doesn't have his life code markers. Period."

"So you're saying if we tried that, we'd kill him," Jack said somberly.

"Probably not, Colonel," Janet said absently, looking at one of her computer readouts. "I'd need more time to be sure, but with the amount of stem cells this organism's stimulating in Daniel's system, I'd say there's a very good chance the marrow would grow back."

"I've treated Duo for more injuries than I like to recall," Sally agreed. "And some of the other Shinigami in the Preventers. As long as they survive, injured tissue will regenerate." She smiled at Daniel. "Remember that about the best emergency treatment you can give a Shinigami is making sure they've got enough sugar in their system."

"Coffee?" Daniel asked.

"It's one way to keep your blood sugar up," Sally acknowledged. "And Shi no Yami seems to need caffeine and theobromine metabolites. It'll build them in your system from scratch if it has to, but that costs energy. And it will make you very, very cranky, Dr. Jackson."

"We can do cranky," Jack shrugged. "Bent paperclips, snarling at file clerks…."

"Lifting shaped charges to blow open locked coffee cabinets," Sally said bluntly.

Silence.

"Of course, Duo was blowing up the rest of the base at the time," Sally shrugged.

More silence.

Sally sighed. Not Purists, maybe, but this pure ignorance is almost scarier. "You are not dangerous," she said flatly. "Not any more than any other Guardian. You need to take care of yourself, and you need to be a little more careful than the average person. I take ascorbic acid on a regular basis, I try not to get too close to people when I'm tired, and I don't let people I don't trust brush my hair. Chang spends time every day meditating. Quatre makes sure he's near friendly people. And so on. You learn to live with it. As long as you eat and get fresh air regularly, you'll be fine." She raised a thoughtful finger. "Speaking of… General, as Wing Zero's doctor I need to make a medical request. Please let me know within the next twenty-four hours whether or not you'll let any of us onto the surface. Somewhere we can feel a breeze. Maxwell can take closed spaces if he has to but this much rock is going to be pushing it. If I'm going to have to sedate him so he can meditate I'd like to prepare my doses in advance."

"Sedate him?" Hammond asked sharply.

"It's that or Heero threatens to shoot his kneecaps," Sally shrugged. "Don't know if you've noticed, but Duo hates sitting still."

"Terrific," Jack grumbled. He eyed her narrowly. "Breeze, huh? You say this stuff used to be airborne?"

"Used to be," Sally stated firmly. "It's not anymore." She spread empty hands. "But Shi no Yami's instincts still say 'airborne', and they do affect its hosts. Shinigami who can't feel the wind start to get... twitchy. Irrational. Paranoia takes a week or so to kick in, but there's no sense pushing it."

"Paranoia?" Daniel said faintly.

"Thought this Shi no Yami got started on a space colony," Jack pointed out.

"It did." Sally nodded. "The colonies are big enough to have their own weather, Colonel. Wind included."

Daniel wove his fingers together and looked up, eyes alert. "Duo didn't mention any of this."

"Duo's been Shinigami since he was at least eight, Daniel," Sally replied. "For all we know, he may have been born Shinigami. He doesn't think about finding the wind any more than I think about picking up oranges."

"You're his doctor," Janet pointed out. "How can you not know?"

Sally sighed. "You're going to hear about this sooner or later… About AC 180, the Purist movement got started. Lamashtu, Susanowo, Babd and Nemain had been dead for years, Dimme and Macha were MIA, and we knew Lord Yu wasn't anywhere near Sanq space. Some people started to think we didn't need Guardians anymore, much less Gundams. Things got… hectic. We lost a lot of records." She stared into the distance, memories of fire and destruction scratching at the walls of her mind. "And in AC 190 Macha blazed in, and we lost a lot more than records."

"AC?" Jack asked in an undertone.

"Sanq records their dates from when Stheno started the underground movement," Daniel filled him in. "She didn't move on Lamashtu until AC 160."

"A century and a half?" Hammond frowned.

"Schools. Military training. Medical facilities. Industrial infrastructure to build the Gundams. A working culture to take over when the other System Lords got what was coming to them. And all of it had to be hidden." Daniel shrugged. "She made it work, General."

"Anyway," Sally said briskly, shoving images of the past back into the darkness where they belonged, "The first official record I've got of Duo is AC 188, and it's… sketchy." Incarceration records aren't big on details. "Name, height, weight-" Underweight, even for an eight-year-old. Damn them. "Blood type, war orphan, no known relations, Shinigami."

"The Maxwell Shrine massacre?" Daniel asked.

How did you-? Sally closed her jaw, determined not to gape. Duo must have told him. He must be really worried about Relena; Duo never talks about that. "The first time I saw Maxwell medically was AC 195." Sort of medically, he was busy blowing a hole in my hospital… never mind. "He joined the Preventers in late 196. I ended up as Wing Zero's doctor a few days later." Because Commanders Treize and Une insisted they get a regular Preventers' physical - as Treize put it, "If I have to get poked, so does everyone else" - and some damn bureaucratic idiot decided to come after them with needles without warning them first. I've never seen a whole hospital ward too terrified to move before.

"Which is when you guys kicked Macha off the planet," Jack put in.

"Pretty hectic times," Sally admitted. And your timing's off, but that's the Peacecraft's business. If she decides to tell you.

…"The Peacecraft." Damn. I have been spending too much time around Chang. Get a hold of yourself, Po, she's not that bad. A little naïve, maybe. But she does good work for a politician. You have to work with the onna….

Damn it.

This is all your fault, Chang. I never would have called anyone onna before I met you.

"I'm beginning to get the impression that this will be a complicated story, Dr. Po," General Hammond said gravely. "Would you inform Lady Peacecraft that I intend to open our conversation in about two hours? I need to speak with SG-1 in confidence."



"She's gone."

Jack felt Daniel sag against him, still trembling. "Jack…."

"Hey. I gotcha." Jack patted the archaeologist's back, trading a meaningful look with Janet. "You're home, Danny. You're okay."

"Okay?" Daniel choked in disbelief.

"Daniel." Jack tapped the younger man's jaw, turning odd eyes toward him. Orchid and heading purple-wise. That's going to take some getting used to. "You trust these guys?"

"I- y-yes," Daniel admitted. "They feel - real. When they knew who I was… gods, Jack they were trying to hide it. But there was so much hope in their faces. They wanted to find Earth. They want this to work."

"And you believe that, Dr. Jackson," Hammond said gravely. "Even after that fiasco with the Cimmerians."

"Actually, General, especially after that," Daniel said wryly. "They've never dealt with other cultures before. Not even as much as we had, before we first opened the 'Gate; there's shuttle travel between the colonies so no one ethnic group is totally isolated from the others. They walked into a situation they had no experience with, made a mistake, and managed to get out of it without anyone getting hurt. I'd call that a pretty good start. Especially when you think about what could have happened. I thought Quatre was going to faint when I told him how close he came to being taken for a seidr-kona… and now you say Gairwyn's sure he is one. Ouch. Glad I told them not to go back there."

Hammond scowled. "Dr. Jackson, are you saying you instructed these people not to apologize to the Cimmerians?"

Daniel managed a wry smile. "I didn't want to get anyone killed."

"Danny?" Jack asked, brow raised. "Seder-what?"

Daniel raised a finger, paused. "Okay… let me start from the top. Jack? Did you ever wonder why Kendra never got married?"

"She didn't want to?" Jack ventured. Granted most of the Cimmerians were married, even Gairwyn before Heru'ur slashed his way through. But Kendra was their healer. He'd thought she was just too busy for a family.

Daniel chuckled. "That, too. But even after a dozen centuries on a whole other planet, Jack, the Cimmerians are still pretty much Iron Age Vikings. I looked that culture up after the first time we visited because I was wondering about Kendra. And I was right. People usually get married, whether they want to or not; they've got a few nasty terms for people who stay single… anyway. The reason nobody wanted to risk making a move on Kendra is because she was a seidr-kona."

"What the Cimmerians call a witch," Janet said dryly.

"More or less…" Daniel waggled a hand. "The thing is, there are lots of different types of magic in Norse myths. The main two we're worried about are runic and seidr."

"Runic, as in runes, as in Hall of Thor's Might stuff?" Jack put in. No way had their Sanq visitors messed with that. The only writing Gairwyn had mentioned was Daniel's.

"Runic magic comes from the Aesir gods," Daniel nodded. "As in, the Asgaard. Seidr, though - seidr is a lot murkier. You can use it for good, but it's often thought of as being right on the edge of gray magic, if not straight black. Which makes sense, because in the myths we still have here, seidr comes from the Vanir. The second set of Norse gods." He shot Jack a speaking look. "Who are also sometimes called ettins."

Goa'uld. Okay. Headache time. "So just how does Quatre dressing up in a long coat and letting Trowa make eyes at him rank up there with Kendra throwing around force blasts with a ribbon device?" Jack asked carefully.

"Because dressing like a woman, or acting like one with another man, is exactly what a man who knows seidr does," Daniel stated, gaze level. "And Quatre can't even tell them they're wrong, because in a way, they're not. One of the main things seidr is used for is to affect people's minds."

"And he's an empath." Damn. "You still haven't gotten to the getting killed part."

"Well, if Beornegar managed to kill Quatre, he'd wipe out the stain on his honor," Daniel said matter-of-factly. "And Gairwyn's people would say he acted legally; he's got the right to avenge a mortal insult by combat. You know we've still got records of Icelandic law codes? Some pretty hair-raising reading."

"Mortal insult?" Janet fumed. "Even Gairwyn said he kissed Quatre!"

"And Quatre's a seidr-worker," Daniel shrugged. "Typically suspect. Which means the Cimmerians will think he made Beornegar do it, so he could dishonor Beornegar by implying he's a homosexual. I don't think you get the level of insult here, Janet. You'd have a better chance getting out in one piece if you walked into a biker bar and told the head Hell's Angel you'd just painted his ride rainbow colors, so he'd blend right in when rode in tomorrow's Gay Pride parade."

Hammond choked.

Erk. Jack took a deep breath. "Them's fightin' words, huh?"

Daniel looked down. "And it's my fault," he said softly. "The Wing didn't know enough to ask if there would be a problem, and I," he shoved his fingers into short hair, "I just didn't think. I was tired, and worried about you guys, and…."

"Nobody's dead," Jack pointed out. "We'll find a way to fix this."

"Yeah." Daniel licked his lips. Glanced toward Janet's microscope, where odd organisms were slowly dying outside of their host body. "But-"

Jack squeezed his shoulder gently. "We'll deal with it."

"Jack-"

"It sounds like the Wing did the best they could with what they had," Jack said plainly. "And Maxwell seems to do okay. You're alive, Daniel. We'll hash out the details later."

"Okay," Daniel said quietly. Took a deep breath, and straightened. "Let me tell you what I know about Sanq so far…."

Chapter Text

"...And this is level 25, VIP quarters," Major Sam Carter informed their guests, leading the way toward the rooms the general had ordered set up. Hope they like blue and white. With the Goa'uld it was easy, the gaudier the better. These people... well, Daniel said there's a lot of Japanese in their background. Simple ought to go over well. "The General's briefing room is two floors down; that's where we'll talk later."

"Teal'c also lives on this level," Trowa observed, Hrere padding alongside him.

Sam almost missed a step. "Yes. How did you...?"

"Hrere can scent him."

I didn't see Hrere signal him, and Trowa didn't ask her to check for scents, Sam realized, eyeing the slit-eyed esmeril. So how did he - wait. If Quatre's an empath... something tells me "Beastmaster" means a lot more than just animal trainer. "Is that a problem?"

"Of course not," Relena smiled. "Some of Stheno's Jaffa were members of the first Preventers. We'd be honored to take quarters near another who's chosen to stand against the System Lords."

Politician to the bone, Sam thought, contrasting Lady Peacecraft's sparklingly sincere expression with the Wing's more neutral acceptance. Washington will never know what hit them.

Which could be kind of funny if she got the chance to see it. Between the Asgaard coming to Earth for "stupid ideas" and the Tok'ra attitude of "infantile allies of convenience"... well, it might just be worth sitting through the speeches to see some good old-fashioned human politicking wrestled out.

Daniel said those fans Sally and Relena are carrying can stab through thin armor. And ladies use them to make a point. Sam tried not to giggle at the thought of delicate, blonde Peacecraft jabbing her fan through a briefing folder. Beats pounding a desk with a shoe.

"Look." A familiar voice echoed down the corridor, annoyed and patient at once. "You said yourself they've got the 'Gateroom clear. I don't see why I can't just head down to communications and talk to my people. The sooner they know Dr. Jackson's been found, the sooner they can stop poking into dangerous places looking for him."

Dad, Sam thought with a rush of relief, not hearing the reply as they came into view of the plain-uniformed Tok'ra and his MP escort. He's never going to believe what we dragged home this time.

Subtle movements caught Sam's eye, just at the corner of her vision. Heero had taken a swift double step, ghosting forward and around to take the lead from Relena. Duo skipped up on the diplomat's other side, bouncing along with a grin and fingers tucked into his sleeve. Falling into step just behind and to the right of Relena, Quatre had a hand pressed near his heart. Trowa and Hrere had her left, and Wufei was definite rearguard.

Diamond formation, Sam realized. Defensive. Why - wait a minute. If Hrere's checking out the scents on this level, and Trowa knows what she's smelling-

Oh, no!

"Stop." Sam held up a hand as she halted, relieved to see the Wing come to a halt with her two MPs. Three of us - four with Dad's escort - six of them. Though I doubt Relena will start anything... but Hrere will, she realized, watching a silver tail lash. Okay, still six then. Not good odds. "Before anybody jumps to conclusions, we do have another guest on this level."

"Sam?" Her father looked over the Wing, frowning. Stepped forward, apparently not impressed by the swords ready to hand. "These the people you brought home with Daniel?"

No. Bad idea. I don't care how low-tech a sword is compared to a ribbon device. You're just as dead if they kill you with a pointy stick. "Dad, stay there," Sam said firmly.

"Your father?" Relena said guilelessly.

My father, who your bodyguards are ready to kill. Sam walked forward, offering Jacob a wary smile. Glanced back at Heero's ready stillness, and stifled a shiver. Damn. Daniel was right. They may be teenagers, but they're not kids. "Dad, this is the diplomatic party from Sanq. The people who rescued Daniel." She turned. "Lady Relena Peacecraft, I'd like to introduce Jacob Carter, the Tok'ra ambassador to Earth."

Relena's lips pressed into a taut line, parted in a smile that had less dazzle and more diplomatic politeness. "I see." She dipped her head genteelly, ceiling lights casting gold gleams across her crown of braids. "It's a pleasure to meet you under these circumstances, Ambassador Carter."

Standing in a hallway, as opposed to shooting at each other, Sam thought wryly. Heero's chill drew the eye, no question, but when she looked past that to Duo's grin... Um. He's eighteen. He can't be more than five-foot-three, with about as much muscle as your average alley-cat. And he's smiling.

...Why do I want to run?

"Likewise, Lady Peacecraft," Jacob returned her nod. Frowned slightly when they made no move to step closer. "Sanq?"

"It's a very quiet place," Quatre spoke up. His hand lowered to his side; blue-green eyes were friendly, but watchful. "I'd be surprised if it ever came to your people's attention."

That was a jab. Sam stepped to the side, ready to jump back between the two groups if someone twitched wrong. Funny. Heero's the Survivor here; I thought if anyone would try antagonizing Selmac, he would. "Janet's already cleared them."

"Cleared them? Why-" Jacob took another step forward, and tensed. "I see."

Cheyenne, we just hit the sensing radius, Sam noted. "So since you're going to be quartered near each other, I thought it'd be a good idea for you all to meet before you and Preventer Yuy walked into the same room and surprised each other." Make that shot each other. And I thought Teal'c and Cronus on the same level was a bad idea.

"Good idea," Jacob said dryly. "Who was he, Yuy?"

Heero's eyes were pure ice.

"It might be important, Heero," Relena put in gently. "Forgive us, Ambassador. We've heard that the Tok'ra form partnerships with their hosts, but when all you've encountered is Goa'uld possession, it's hard to believe." She shrugged, demure and unyielding.

"It never gave me a name." Heero looked down the hall. "We should review our quarters now."

No name? Sam took her father's arm and tugged him aside as the Wing walked by, eyes on the growling esmeril. Trowa had one hand on the creature's collar, soothing the alien cat's wings back down, but silver-gray fur was standing up the length of Hrere's spine. Then again, the one that took Jack didn't have time for one either. Hathor's offspring hadn't been in Jack long enough to leave a protein factor behind, much less naquadah.

Yet Heero's evidently had. And it hadn't bragged about its name?

Trade war stories later, Sam decided. "What is it, Dad?"

"Sanq," Jacob muttered, staring down the hall as the diplomatic party disappeared into their rooms. "Hoo boy." He tapped fingers on his thigh. "Course, I could be wrong. You were there, you would've noticed. Unless they were hiding. Still, it's not like we were ever sure we got the right information out of them..."

"Them?" Sam frowned.

Jacob shot a glance toward the elevator. "Let's take a walk."

"Okay," Sam said as the steel doors closed behind them. "Them who?"

"Looked up your Greek myths lately?"

I'm not going to like this. "Which ones?"

"The Gorgons. In the myth, sisters with snakes for hair, so horrible that looking on them any way but by a mirror turned you to stone. Two immortal, one flesh and blood and killable. Stheno, Euryale... and Medusa." Her father sighed. "The truth is a lot uglier."

"Stheno," Sam put in. "Isn't she one of the System Lords you said went missing?" I hate not telling you the truth, Dad. But we've got to know what you know. The Tok'ra have a bad habit of leaving out details; and damn it, General Hammond's not the only one who's tired of it.

"Stheno Coatlicue. Stheno of the serpent skirts. Pretty puny as far as System Lords go; I don't think she ever had more than two or three planets. And she had problems with a lot of the royal house. Hathor, for instance. You couldn't get those two within ten light-years of each other without shots being fired." Jacob smiled wryly. "Hated Heru'ur's guts, too. Called him a crude, small-stoned, incompetent attempt at a pain in the mikta... well, you get the idea."

"And Ra put up with that?" Sam arched a skeptical brow.

"Had to. Stheno kept herself alive by providing something that Ra wanted. Something he couldn't get anywhere else." Jacob grimaced. "A weapon against the Tok'ra."

Bingo. "Worse than an Ashrak?"

"An Ashrak's a Goa'uld. A scary Goa'uld, but a Goa'uld all the same. You can sense them coming." Jacob shook his head. "Uh-uh. These were things specifically designed to get to us... and she knew exactly how to get to us," he said bleakly. "She was Egeria's brood sister."

For a long moment, Sam was speechless. That explains a lot. "Ouch."

"We caught and interrogated a few of the things before they managed to destroy themselves," Jacob said matter-of-factly, "But they were pretty well programmed. All we could get out of them was a few bits about their 'mother' Stheno and someplace called Sanq." He snorted. "Heck, we're not even sure their Sanq was a planet. Some of their memory fragments seemed like they came straight from space!"

Or a space colony. Sam swallowed. "Things?"

"Medusas," Jacob shrugged. "Genetically engineered creatures. They could almost pass for human. Designed to be pretty, too. Always upset any human allies we had when we had to vivisect them." He shuddered. "For somebody Egeria tried to talk over to our side, Stheno turned out to be one sick puppy. Can you imagine making things that would turn on your own relatives?"

Save your relatives, or save your planet, Sam thought. Watching the lights climb toward twenty-one so she didn't have to look her father in the eye. God. What a choice. "You... took them apart... alive."

"They were monsters, Sam. Born and bred to kill us. And their venom was pretty short-lived," Jacob said flatly. "We had to get out as much as we could to create antitoxins. Stheno kept changing the chemical composition; anti-venom for one generation of medusas wouldn't work on the next. Thank god she's the only one who knew how to breed them. We haven't seen any in decades-"

The elevator doors opened.

"Dr. Po," Sam said steadily, looking into Sally's face as she stepped out into the hall. Imagining all too clearly that same face strapped down while a Tok'ra like Anise went to work. I'm not going to throw up. I'm not.

"Major!" Sally swept her with a look, moved past the airman with his elevator cardkey to take her pulse. "What happened?"

"We were discussing Goa'uld tactics, what else?" Jacob said sharply, taking in fan, kimono, and accent. "Who are you? I thought the Sanq party was downstairs."

"Dad, Dr. Sally Po," Sam said. All she saw was blonde hair; if the universe was kind, that would be all Jacob saw. Hold it together. You've walked out of cannibal camps. You can do this. "Doctor, did you finish your consultation with Janet?"

"For now-"

"Good," Sam cut in. "If you could just go with your escort... I really need to talk to my father." Clamping a hand on his arm, she headed for the next elevator over.

Steel closed behind them again, and Jacob watched her punch the button for 19. "Sam, what's wrong?"

Sam steeled herself. I can't. I just can't. Not if this is my dad. "Selmac? What made you think they weren't human?"

Jacob dipped his head; Selmac gave her a measuring look. "They were designed to destroy us, Samantha, by the one Goa'uld Egeria once trusted the most. Our mother spoke with Stheno about her plans before ever the Tok'ra began, hoping to sway her sister to our side. But Stheno reviled us. She claimed Egeria's plan to be flawed. Insufficient. Incapable of defeating Ra."

And guess what, Selmac? A sardonic part of Sam's mind pointed out. Two thousand years later, she's still right.

Selmac stalked the elevator, eyes flashing gold. "Stheno knew we meant to take hosts of their own will, gently, without force. And it was she who created creatures who could take advantage of that kindness, and slay a Tok'ra even as we thought a new life, a new blending, was about to begin. She desecrated our hopes. Made a mockery of our cause!" Cold loathing dripped from the reverberating voice. "I only pray she is truly dead."

"So you think they're monsters because you think she was a monster," Sam said quietly.

"We trusted her. Our own blood. And she turned on us," Selmac snarled. "As you say on this planet, Samantha, evil begets evil."

And the System Lords trusted Egeria, didn't they, Sam thought bleakly. At least, before she started trying to overthrow them... but then, they try to take each other over all the time, don't they? Not the same thing at all. From a Goa'uld point of view. "You got your wish, Selmac. Stheno's dead."

Selmac smiled grimly. "So you have found Sanq. Has your team searched for records yet? We must secure any information that might remain on the medusas."

"We'll have to ask Lady Peacecraft about that," Sam said levelly. "If her government's willing to exchange that information. They may not be."

"If they are willing?" Selmac's gaze bored into hers. "Persuade them. Where is Sanq? If such creations were to reappear in System Lord hands..."

"I don't think you need to worry about that." The doors opened, and Sam headed past absent scientific salutes to her lab. Jack. I've got to call Jack, and some MPs... Sgt. Siler. He'll know where we can set up some temporary rooms for Selmac. On any level but 25.

"The hell I'm not going to worry about things that kill Tok'ra!" Her father's voice now as Jacob stepped around an airman wheeling a cart full of glassware toward the hazmat labs. "Sam. What's wrong?"

Hand on her doorknob, Sam stopped. Pressed her lips together. "Get inside." I'm not having this conversation in the hall.

Jacob rolled his eyes, but waited while she shut the door behind him and checked for any stray scientists under the lab benches. "All right, Sam," he sighed. "What'd I say this time?"

Sam gripped a lab counter, watching her knuckles turn white. "Stheno died saving Sanq from Susanowo, Dad. Your monster laid her life on the line, and she lost it. For humans." Sam shook her head slowly, feeling anger prickle tears in her eyes. "You, Selmac, the whole Tok'ra High Council - you can call her whatever you like in private. On Sanq she died a hero. And you are not going to mess up our negotiations with people who risked their own lives to save Daniel!"



Three, two, one. Relena Peacecraft let her negotiating mask settle into place as she and General Hammond were seated. Wing Zero and SG-1 arranged themselves around the general's briefing table, and Tau'ri guards took up position in discreet corners of the room. And the duel begins... strike!

"First of all, General Hammond, I would like to commend Major Carter on her quick thinking on behalf of Preventer Po," Relena dipped her head graciously, thinking of the Wing's doctor, currently safely hidden in the SGC infirmary while she traded medical notes with Dr. Fraiser. "The information we have indicates Tok'ra handle medusas badly. I assure you we have no intention of causing dissent between your planet and its allies."

"We hadn't known there might be a problem, or I assure you we would have taken measures to avoid such an encounter," Hammond said levelly. "Not to offend, Lady Peacecraft, but we'd like to know exactly what authority to negotiate on behalf of your planet you have."

Nicely parried. And a fair question. "I'm a member and diplomat-at-large of the Sanq Alliance Council, General," Relena replied. "I can't make permanent binding agreements on my own. What I can do is investigate the situation, negotiate a potential treaty, and bring that document back to my government for discussion. It will be up to the Council to decide final terms." She turned a hand palm-up. "In the meantime, I do have the authority to request certain Preventer personnel and units to take on voluntary missions. So long as Sanq's security does not take precedence. And you, General?"

"As commander of the SGC, I have the authority to open negotiations with off-world organizations, and accept and offer aid to potential allies," Hammond nodded. "A final treaty would require the involvement of higher administration officials. Whom I plan to contact as soon as we both have a better idea of what we'd expect out of an alliance." He raised a faded red brow. "I already know Dr. Fraiser would like to continue her current information exchange with Dr. Po. I'll be frank. Medical advances may be tempting, but I'm most interested in the possibility of expelling a Goa'uld from a host without resorting to alien technology."

"It's risky," Quatre put in. "You have to keep the Goa'uld sedated while you reactivate the host's immune system, or it will poison the host before you can kill it."

"Take it you have personal experience of that," Colonel O'Neill said nonchalantly, looking Heero's way.

Wing's pilot didn't flinch. "I survived."

But not unscathed, Relena thought sadly. I wish your Wing would tell me what happened. I wish you'd tell me what happened. All Survivors have problems, but as long as I've known you, Heero... it's like part of you doesn't even know how to be human anymore. "In return, we'd like samples of your RNA inhibitors. Dimme's used these Reavers once. She'll use them again. If we could save people who've been exposed, if we had the chance to try and cure someone who's been transformed... I'm sorry, Maxwell."

The Shinigami shrugged, turning a pencil over in his hands, his usual smile dimmed and sad. "He was a Preventer, lady. We know the risks." Duo traced the pencil over a notepad, eyes on the thin gray trail of graphite. "Ran wouldn't have wanted us to let Dimme use him."

"A possible cure for Reavers for a cure for Goa'uld," Hammond noted. "I'm afraid we'll be testing how well our inhibitors work all too soon. We have reason to believe Dimme is currently using Reavers on Gault. The planet Dr. Jackson was kidnapped from," he elaborated.

"Are the villagers all right, sir?" Daniel asked. "If Dimme took over the Stargate..."

"Some of them made it out with us," Sam said. "They know they can't go back yet, but-" She glanced at the general.

"We plan to assist Gault, once we obtain sufficient reliable intelligence on the situation," Hammond said frankly. "We're not sure what we can do with ha'taks on the ground, but while we can't match the Goa'uld force for force, we refuse to abandon our allies." His polite smile held a trace of grimace. "We are relying on the Tok'ra for a great deal of that information, Lady Peacecraft."

"Then we'll do our best not to compromise your intelligence nets." Relena looked at the Wing, all of whom were studiously not looking her way. "No."

"What?" Duo looked back at her guilelessly.

"I said no."

Wufei snorted. "Be more specific."

"You don't have enough information."

"Yet," Trowa noted, slipping Hrere dried beef from his sleeve. The esmeril munched her treat, purring loudly.

"You wouldn't," Relena said, narrowing her eyes at Heero.

Heero looked back.

Duo snickered.

Jack glanced at them all, shook his head. "Anybody else get the feeling we're missing something here?"

"I believe they regard grounded ha'taks as a challenge, O'Neill," Teal'c put in.

"A challenge?" Sam said dryly.

"We would need more information," Quatre admitted.

"Against ha'taks." The colonel looked the Wing over. "You guys crazy, or just really that good?"

"Colonel," Hammond said warningly.

"No, it's all right, General," Relena smiled honestly. "Even those in my government who have access to the full classified records sometimes have trouble believing what a Wing can do." Especially Wing Zero. Rebels. Terrorists. The Scourge of Macha. We didn't know whether to honor them or lock them up and throw away the key... "Let's just say, given the right situation, good tactics, and a little luck, you can take a ha'tak on the ground."

Jack and Daniel traded a look. "You wouldn't happen to have a ha'tak, would you?" the linguist asked.

"I don't, no." Relena let the pause drag out. "My government, however, does."

"No drooling," Jack murmured to Sam.

"Sir!" she muttered back, red flushing her cheeks.

"Ronan One isn't in the best of shape, but it is space-worthy," Relena went on. "We mostly use it for colony maintenance."

"And training operatives?" Jack crooked up a peppered brow. "Daniel says Dimme caught Duo inside her ha'tak."

"As we have also done, O'Neill," Teal'c noted.

"That we did, big guy. And just thinking about it turns my hair gray." Jack eyed Heero, waiting.

"Basic ha'tak schematics have not changed in at least a century," Heero noted. "Individual System Lords may make minor alterations, but the ship remains a valuable training tool."

"It would indeed," Hammond said seriously. "I imagine your government would want something specific in return for access to such information?"

"Not something physical," Relena said softly. "We want to know who we are. Where we came from." She smiled at Quatre. "We want to know how we misunderstood the Cimmerians so badly."

"Missions to destroy System Lord bases would be more effective if we had cultural information on the human inhabitants," Heero stated flatly. "Under the current conditions Preventers are at risk of exposure whenever they come into contact with off-worlders."

"Of course," Relena sighed.

"You raid off-world." O'Neill studied her carefully.

"When we have enough information to breach a 'Gate." Relena nodded. "This isn't the first time Dimme's attacked Sanq, Colonel. Though it is the first time she's risked venturing so far into our system. And frankly, that worries me."

"I see." Hammond nodded slowly. "I believe both our worlds could benefit from cooperation, Lady Peacecraft. Yet we've learned, by painful experience, to ask certain questions when looking for allies." He laid his hands flat on the table. "Who are the Purists?"

Relena winced. The past never dies. She looked about at her still-faced guardians. A stranger might have thought their faces calm, impassive. Relena saw worry, pain, anger...

Shinigami's burning rage.

Kami help me. Intellectually she knew Maxwell would never hurt her. Wing Zero had chosen to join the Preventers. Duo was in the Wing of his own will, and when Heero Yuy said protect her, there'd be blood on the floor before one hair on her head was singed. And... it wasn't as if it were her fault. She'd only been a child.

And so were they.

"My name is Relena Peacecraft," Relena began. "I was born in AC 179. Just months before my father founded the philosophy of genetic reconsideration. Or - as the extremists put it today - the Purists."

Quiet. The room was so quiet.

"The Goa'uld did terrible things to create the Guardians, General." Relena looked into the distance, seeing holograms salvaged from Stheno's own records; bodies warped and twisted, horrors that once had been human. "They... experimented on their slaves. Our ancestors. Played with flesh and life-codes like a toddler with clay marbles, bred us like hounds, unleashed plagues for sport. Anything to get what they wanted. And they never cared how many they broke in the process."

"Even Stheno?" Daniel asked quietly.

"Especially Stheno." Relena sipped her water, set the glass down before her hands could betray her by shaking. "She created the medusas, after all. And the Beastmasters, to handle Susanowo's creations." She met Daniel's gaze squarely, wishing the dark lenses he'd donned against the briefing room lights didn't obscure his eyes. "She was a hero, Dr. Jackson. She saved us all. But she was a System Lord first... and as a System Lord, as a Goa'uld, she did horrible, horrible things."

Keep going. Try to think of it as if it happened to someone else.

"My father believed - I still believe - we should reconsider Stheno's legacy," Relena said bluntly. "Abandon genetic manipulation. Reexamine everything we've seized from the Goa'uld, and destroy any weapon created from human pain and suffering. We had a free planet. The System Lords didn't know where we were. Why should we continue to use weapons that stained the soul?"

"Including the Guardians." Daniel's tone was quiet. Even.

It cut like a knife.

"Some extremists started to call for that," Relena admitted. "At first my father didn't take them seriously. Guardians may have abilities the rest of us don't, but they are human. I'm told my mother tried to warn him, but-" She sipped more water. Hold on. Just a little farther. "When he did realize they were serious, and tried to rein them in... they killed my parents." Her throat closed.

"Wufei," Heero said, tone flat.

Chang nodded. "That was AC 182, General. The surviving Peacecraft heirs were separated and sent into hiding with trusted family retainers. A necessary precaution, given that the Purists had achieved significant power in the Alliance government. Power they proceeded to use to attack various Guardian clans and individuals; sometimes politically, other times more directly." A grim smile played over the Dragon's face. "They were not always successful."

"Some of the L5 colonies are now Dragon forts in all but name," Relena reclaimed her voice. "The Winners have been very successful in our economy, their resources were enough to protect most of them. Though empaths caught off L4 weren't always so lucky. The Preventers closed ranks to protect their own; some units ended up working with Winner family agents to rescue people caught in bad situations, orders or no orders. We're still finding Beastmasters who vanished into Sanq's wilderness or L3 hydroponics areas when things became difficult. Medusas... well, the Purists recognize them more as victims than weapons, given how Stheno used them. Though there were some ugly incidents."

The general nodded. "I notice you're missing one."

"The Shinigami." Relena laced her fingers together. "The L2 colonies have never been the most civilized of places. They're in the dark of our moon, where the three Morrigu held sway. Plagues still surface there, leftovers from them and Lamashtu. When the Purists erupted in 188... it became very ugly." She looked up. "But the tragedy saved us from ourselves. People saw the truth, and the extremists were removed from power." A hint of bitterness touched her smile. "And then Macha invaded, and the hard-line Purists suddenly found themselves too busy for political maneuvers. Now they're a minority. A vocal minority, but no one wants what happened on L2 to happen again. Ever."

Hammond regarded her gravely. "And just what did happen, Lady Peacecraft?"

Relena steeled herself, feeling violet eyes burning just out of view. "The Maxwell Shrine was a Shinigami sanctuary for decades. A home for the lost and the orphaned, a place of peace for any who wanted it. A rebel group fighting against the Purists took refuge there, counting on the fact that it was a shrine, and no sane human would attack a house of the kami." She glanced aside. "Some records state the priest and sisters were still ministering to the wounded when the building was... obliterated."

"My god," Sam whispered.

"After that, a lot of Shinigami ducked out of the system entirely," Relena said simply. "Colored lenses to cloak the violet, stay out of tight spaces... and a lot of ordinary people are caffeine addicts," she waved a hand at Daniel's mug. "It's only now, with Maxwell and other Shinigami openly in the Preventers, that we've started to see some of them come into the open."

"Our government," Heero said matter-of-factly, "Is not perfect, General. But we are a free people. We will not allow the Goa'uld to destroy us. And we refuse to allow what the Goa'uld have done to make us destroy ourselves."

Hammond nodded, considering. "Then I believe we do have a basis for an understanding, Lady Peacecraft." He picked up a pen. "Where should we start?"

"With who you are, General," Relena returned. "And what you are to Earth. You're military. You have the Stargate hidden away in a place I doubt was ever meant to hold it. I may not have Preventer training, but even I can tell there can't be as many personnel in this facility as we have assigned to the one on Sanq." She folded graceful hands. "We've laid a painful truth open to your view. Allow us to see as clearly."

Hammond glanced toward SG-1. "Dr. Jackson?"

The archaeologist cleared his throat. "In 1928, about seventy-five of our years ago, an archaeological dig uncovered an artifact on the Giza plateau..."



Okay, Daniel ticked off mentally as Hammond and Relena smiled at each other tiredly. They'd drained a pot of coffee. Quatre's tea set had made the rounds half a dozen times. And remnants of sandwiches littered the table like discarded ammo casings. But slowly and surely, an agreement had been hammered out. We've got military assistance down. Medical information and techniques. Cultural exchange within limits; Lady Peacecraft says no proselytizing, and I hope we can make that one stick. Sanq's got enough problems without introducing new religions.

Though the anthropologist in him was itching to study Sanq's kami-based faith. They don't believe in gods, but they honor nature spirits - even in space colonies. Wow. I wonder if I could ask Duo for some pointers. Street rat taken in by a kami shrine; I never would have thought. But then again, it makes sense. I've never seen him without that sun-cross-

A soft sigh caught his attention, and Daniel blinked.

Duo was fast asleep in his chair.

No way. Daniel stared at Duo's empty coffee mug on the table; he'd seen the Shinigami down two full-strength cups as the negotiating went on. Duo was part of Relena's personal bodyguard, and prankster or not, Daniel knew the pilot took his responsibilities seriously. More to the point, he'd sat in these very same chairs for hours himself, convinced they'd been specifically designed as instruments of torture to keep poor, non-military-minded archaeologists awake despite every droning paragraph of quartermaster minutia.

And none of that stood up against the fact that Duo was definitely, against all odds, out like a light.

And Jack was trying very hard not to laugh.

Heero's going to kill him. Daniel slipped a surreptitious glance Yuy's way as Relena and the general paused to breathe. Or - not?

Heero had barely glanced Duo's way, eyes flicking on to a corner by the wall before returning to his charge with the same quiet patience he'd shown since the beginning of negotiations. Daniel recognized that quick check; he'd seen Jack do it too many times to remember. There you are. Situation normal. Moving on.

Situation normal apparently included Trowa and Hrere in one snoozing silver-furred ball in the corner, Daniel observed. He remembered seeing them get up an hour or so ago; he hadn't realized they'd just never come back to the table. Two out of five asleep. No way that's a coincidence. He glanced Jack's way, brow raised.

"Ten to one, those two are taking midwatch," Jack murmured.

Oh. Right. Wake up, Dr. Jackson, Daniel told himself dryly, reaching for more coffee. Just because they want to trust you doesn't mean they can risk Lady Peacecraft by not keeping watch.

"Well." General Hammond wove his fingers together, stretched his arms. "I believe this is a good point for us to break for dinner. I look forward to continuing this tomorrow, after we converse with our respective advisers, Lady-"

Incoming travelers, blared the alarm. "Sorry to disturb you, sir," Davis' voice came over the intercom. "It's the Tok'ra. Two of them."

Oh, damn, Daniel thought.

Hammond looked caught between a polite grimace and a desire to pound someone's head through a wall. "Sergeant. Did Selmac happen to mention why more of his people have dropped in?"

The 'Gate technician kept his cool. "Something about requesting critical information, sir? Ambassador Carter didn't go into details." A pause. "But one of them's Anise. Sir."

"Oh no," Sam breathed. "General. What I mentioned before. Selmac was very insistent."

"Chang," Relena said sharply. Turned swiftly back to the general. "With your permission, General Hammond. Preventer Po can handle herself in most situations, but-"

"Granted," Hammond nodded at them both. "Go."

Wufei sketched a swift bow, snagged his katana, and hit the door running.

"We didn't need this," Daniel muttered under his breath, noting that the slumbering Wing pilots were now up, awake, and apparently aware of the seriousness of the situation, if those calculated glances were any indication.

"Do we ever?" Jack nodded at Teal'c. "You mind backing him up? Not that I'd mind seeing Anise-cutlets all over the floor, but it'd be a heck of a mess."

"Indeed." Teal'c left with a haste usually reserved for outrunning death gliders.

"Anise." Heero's eyes were distant; with a shock, Daniel recognized the same expression he'd seen on Sam when bits of Jolinar bubbled up. "One of the Tok'ra's specialists in dissection."

"She said she was an archaeologist," Sam put in, eyes wide.

"Our information indicates Anise prefers dead bodies," Heero said bluntly. "She is somewhat less competent in dealing with live ones." He turned to Relena. "I advise avoidance."

"No," Relena said after a long pause. "We will be polite, Preventer Yuy."

Heero's expression chilled. "Lady Peacecraft-"

"We will be polite. We're guests." She smiled at the General, politician turned pure minx. "Of course, a guest has the right to ask her host to be circumspect when speaking of her to other guests, does she not? Especially at dinner."

Chapter Text

We're doomed, Quatre thought, watching the havoc that was Duo Maxwell disrupt the SGC cafeteria line. Cups rolled. Bowls clattered. Shredded cabbage flew through the air, decking a few slow-moving airmen in green and purple strips.

"Maxwell!" Colonel O'Neill had his hands planted on his hips, as if only the firm touch of his uniform kept him from reaching for a certain throat. "Put the knife down!"

"It was twitching!" Duo defended himself, still aiming serrated plastic at the wobbling mass of crimson.

"It's Jello," Jack said dryly. "It's supposed to twitch."

"It is?" A gleam lit violet eyes.

I knew it. Quatre sighed. We're doomed.

But Relena was a bright spark of suppressed laughter behind him, welcome contrast to the gray wariness that had swamped her since they'd heard Anise was here. Trowa and Wufei had relaxed slightly, loading their dishes with more recognizable food. Even Heero had let a glimmer of amusement through the mental wall Wing Zero's leader kept between himself and his emotions.

Only Sally was still wound tight in worry, vibrating like a Gundam about to launch every time her glance passed the door, as if she expected the Tok'ra to appear and pounce, scalpels in hand. "It'll be okay," Quatre said softly. Nodded toward Duo's black cap jammed over her hair, and touched his heart lightly. "They'll never see you."

"There's a limit to how long you can project," Sally murmured back.

"Ignore her, she's harmless?" Quatre shrugged. Touched her hand, and smiled. "Unless dinner lasts a few hours, we'll be fine." Alien arrogance brushed the edge of his spaceheart; he glanced at Heero. "Here they come."

"Understood." Heero headed straight as a guided missile to one of the empty tables with the best view of the exits. Set his tray down without a sound, but with a rock-solid stance that said sit here and die.

The table they left for us, Quatre thought, letting his gaze pass over Daniel and Teal'c at the next table as the rest of the Wing headed that way and Jack disentangled Duo from quivering, cherry-scented crimson. Nice of them.

"Hey Heero! Want to try some?" Grinning, Duo balanced a trembling red slice on the flat of his knife.

Heero eyed the gel. Eyed Duo. Turned a look of subtle exasperation on Jack.

"He does this a lot?" Jack interpreted.

"Kitchens fear him." Wufei lifted a pickle in his chopsticks, munched with careful deliberation.

Trowa shifted in his chair, uncomfortable without Hrere's warm presence nearby. "I wish she were here, too," Quatre said softly.

"Yeah, well. Given the circumstances," Jack's eyes strayed toward the door, where Sam had appeared with Jacob and two unfamiliar faces, "I have to say thanks for leaving the cat in your quarters."

"She wouldn't like the crowd." Trowa's bangs obscured his gaze, but Quatre could feel his attention focussed on the nearing Tok'ra. As all of theirs was; even Duo's, as he played with his food.

"You sure you'll be okay, Lady Peacecraft?" Jack persisted. "They're annoying, but they've got their good points." He paused. "Once in a while."

"We'll be fine." Relena waved off his concern. "Your team's waiting for you, Colonel. Go. Take a break from diplomacy." She smiled. "I am."

"Why do I get this sinking feeling when you say that?" Shaking his head, Jack abandoned them.

"You confuse him, Relena," Quatre confided in their native tongue. "He wants to protect you, even if he knows you don't need it. I think you remind him of another girl. One who isn't an adult yet."

"But you say we are their country's legal age?" Relena arched a brow. "If this is going to be a problem, we may need to call in older negotiators."

"Don't yield the tactical advantage," Heero said bluntly.

"He's got a point," Duo nodded. "Far as I got out of Daniel, we're legal. Well, you are, and Sally definitely is," he admitted. "We may be skimming the edges."

Trowa glanced up. "Incoming."

"Damn," Sally muttered.

"Hmm." Relena bent her attention back to her meal as Ambassador Carter, a male Tok'ra in desert hues, and a female in a… garment of leather, stalked up behind her. "So. Wufei. What did you think of that very abbreviated SGC history? Dr. Jackson was trying to play down his role, but I can see why there's such a price on his head…."

Let's play a little game called patience. Quatre hid a smile. Just as well he was trying not to pay attention to the blonde Tok'ra. The last time he'd seen anyone, male or female, dressed with such indecent taste, he'd been in a Preventer raid on an illegal red-lantern house. So that's Anise? I thought Tok'ra weren't in the habit of flaunting their hosts' bodies.

"Goa'uld bounties! Placed by creatures that don't know the justice of a fatal duel," Wufei snorted. Waved his chopsticks, apparently oblivious to the woman who had to be grating on every nerve a properly raised Chang had. "They slaughter humans by the millions and only imprison their enemy System Lords. A coward's way."

Jacob cleared his throat.

Relena didn't even twitch. "True."

"We should be cautious here, as well," Wufei noted. "If the SGC allowed duels, I doubt they would have so many difficulties with their rogue NID counterparts…."

Relena listened, nodding here and there. Sally countered with the advantages of first-blood to fatal duels, especially when you were trying to prove a point. Trowa and Duo were experimenting with the aerodynamic properties of the peppershaker. Heero watched it all, inserting a word or two when various voices raised. Quatre focused on his supper - this sukiyaki wasn't bad, even if the combination of flavors and meats was nothing like home - and wove a subtle shield of innocent distraction around Sally.

And the Tok'ra fidgeted.

"That might be a legal sticking point," Relena pointed out.

"Hai," Wufei nodded. "If we are to have a lasting alliance, we must exchange copies of our respective laws. And we will have to determine what laws hold, and where, for Sanq and Earth fighters."

"And civilians," Sally added. "They'll be here too, if this works."

"Yes." Relena sipped her iced tea. Eyed the sweetened drink with surprise, shrugged, and sipped again. "If two of our people have a duel here, I want to know what the consequences will be. And if two of their people duel on our world - we should agree with General Hammond in advance on how it should be handled."

Pepper discarded, Trowa and Duo were sketching out something complicated on a napkin. Quatre eyed a chemical structure that looked a little too much like a compound found in the middle of Duo's more impressive explosions, and murmured a brief prayer to the kami.

"Excuse me," Jacob said finally.

Relena turned, all bright attention. "Ambassador Carter!" she said in English. "Good evening. That is the right phrase, isn't it? How are you enjoying dinner? I think it could take some time to get used to the idea of this 'Jello' creation; it's very different from the jellies we have on Sanq. But it does have a certain aesthetic appeal, don't you think? The translucence, the element of motion in a motionless creation, the refraction…."

"We did not come here for art." Anise stepped forward. "You have information we require."

The room vibrated like a struck tuning fork to the sound of a Goa'uld voice; tension, fear, outrage. Quatre braced himself against the Wing's readiness, wincing at the spike of unconscious loathing and self-hate from Daniel. A Goa'uld must have hurt him, Quatre realized. Intimately. Even Sam doesn't hate them like Daniel does.

"Really," Relena said softly. "Humans. Holding information such advanced creatures as your race can't discover for themselves." She shrugged. "I can't imagine what that could possibly be."

"Don't play games, young lady," Jacob said warningly. "Your medusas killed a lot of good people. Maybe they're hiding. Maybe you don't know how dangerous they are. Maybe that Ashrak got Stheno's records, maybe he didn't - either way, you're going to tell us what you know." His gaze raked the table. "All of you."

Quatre suppressed a snort, catching the flickers of dark amusement from his fellow pilots. Not if you had us stripped naked, chained to a wall, and wired with memory devices. Macha couldn't get information we didn't want her to have.

"Dad," Sam stuck in.

"Jacob." Jack's voice held its own warning.

"Colonel. Major." Relena raised a calming hand. "If such information existed, Ambassador, I'm certain it would be… what was that word, Heero?"

"Classified," Heero said flatly.

"An excellent word," Relena said warmly. "But not the kind we should toss around during dinner. Especially if we wish the cook to be so obliging a second time!"

Anise's gaze didn't waver. "Then you will leave this 'dinner'."

"But that would be rude! Although-" Relena's gaze brushed Anise's outfit. Or lack of same. "I can see our definitions of rudeness differ. Still, I'm certain neither of us wishes to insult our hosts-"

"Maybe you don't understand, Miss," Jacob cut in sharply. "The fate of our people is at stake."

"No," Relena said softly, leaning her chin on her hand. "No, I don't think it is. After all, I've heard you're such advanced, intelligent people, with great respect for your allies against the Goa'uld. If there truly were such a threat, Ambassador, I'd imagine you'd be very polite. And considerate." She smiled, demure and dangerous as a sheathed blade. "And certainly not so rude as to barge in on a friendly meal."

Anise's eyes glittered. Jacob's jaw worked. The unnamed Tok'ra edged back, all too aware of the clash of wills.

Clatter. Pouff.

And an otherwise-innocent peppershaker had touched down in the middle of Wufei's now-empty soup bowl, dusting the Dragon with gritty black.

"Die, Maxwell!"

Forewarned, the rest of the Wing had their cups safely in hand when Wufei tore away from the table, chasing a laughing Shinigami through the cafeteria. "It's all right," Quatre called to SG-1. Sneezed at the drifting cloud of pepper. "They do this a lot."

"Injustice!"

The lone Tok'ra in desert clothes didn't move in time as the mad pair tore back through, eyes wide as Duo dodged around him. "What is the meaning of this behavior?"

"Teenagers, Caton," Jacob sighed as Duo skipped around SG-1's table, using a startled Teal'c as a temporary shield from Wufei's hooked fingers. "Just - teenagers."

"Intolerable!" Anise stalked forward, snatched at a slender wrist. "You will cease this-"

Blood flew.

Quatre found himself shoulder to shoulder with Sally behind the table he and Trowa had upended with one swift heave, miniature dart gun in hand, no killing a firm clamp on pilot's reflexes. Heero had yanked Relena behind their cover even as they moved, ignoring the crimson spattering from her fan. And two sharp points of ferocity made it clear that Wufei and Duo had dropped their mock-chase, ready to catch the Tok'ra in a lethal crossfire.

"Everybody stop!"



Sanity, Daniel implored the universe, stepping between the hostile groups. Very hostile; Caton and Anise hadn't ducked quickly enough when Quatre and Trowa had flung the table over, and both were wearing what was left of the Wing's dinner. Anise, in particular, had slick red gel dripping down her… um. No. Not looking. Daniel yanked his gaze up to gold-glowing eyes, and felt his heart quicken; the room seemed to shiver with dark clarity. Just give us a few minutes of sanity, here.

And maybe the universe was listening. The Wing was aiming, yes - but only aiming. Waiting.

They set that chase up on purpose, Daniel realized, noting Duo and Wufei's positions, safely out of reach of any fast grab by SGC personnel. Jack, I hope you noticed… yep, you did. Security had just appeared at the cafeteria door, making their way in without fanfare.

"Dammit, Anise!" Jacob dragged the bleeding Tok'ra back by main force. "You're a scientist. Count!"

"Everyone, just calm down," Daniel said levelly. "Lady Peacecraft?"

A harsh whisper came from behind the table.

"It's all right, Heero." Relena's voice was shaken, but undaunted. Daniel caught a glimmer of blonde hair, before someone yanked the diplomat back down. "I'm all right."

Another whisper. Almost a snarl.

"I said stand down, Preventer Yuy."

Reluctantly, those behind the table stood, weapons no longer in view. Relena brushed stray specks off her dress, accepted a paper napkin from Quatre to wipe down her fan. "Thank you, gentlemen. I'm fine."

Smiling up into Teal'c's level glare, Duo slipped his gun back into his sleeves. "Fun party, huh?"

"Okay, people." Holding back security with a look, Jack swept a glare over both groups impartially. "Either you play nice, or I start sending people to separate corners. What the hell just went wrong here?"

"Good question," Daniel said judiciously. Weird; he didn't feel nearly as worried as he knew he should be with a fight about to break out. The fear was there, but it was… detached. Shadowed. Must be stress. "Preventer Yuy. What did you just see happen?"

"What did he see? What sort of inane question-" Anise growled.

Jacob wrapped a steely hand around her shoulder. "Let Freya take over. Now."

"A symbiote attempted to restrain a high government official of Sanq. Purpose unknown," Heero said flatly. "Preventers are trained to survive a hand-to-hand conflict with a Goa'uld's superior strength and kill it before it can take them as hosts. Civilian officials are trained to resist and escape." He nodded at Relena. "Well executed."

Relena blushed.

Brushing off lettuce, Caton's anger diffused into confusion. "But we're Tok'ra! We wouldn't have-"

"A Goa'uld," Wufei said precisely, weapon hidden once more, "Would seize an official of Sanq for two reasons, and two reasons only. Possession. Or torture." The black gaze smoldered. "Occasionally both."

"And her symbiote likes blondes," Quatre said softly, blue-green eyes fixed on Freya.

Daniel swallowed dryly. I could've gone a long time without knowing that. "Freya? Would you mind telling us what Anise had in mind?"

Hand wrapped around her bloodied wrist, Freya drew herself up, nostrils flared. "Do you allow your own allies to be so mishandled, O'Neill?"

"When they get grabby? Yeah," Jack said dryly. "Answer the question."

Freya sniffed. "The High Council will hear of this."

"Oh, you bet they will." Jacob let go of her, face sour. "Come on, Freya. It was a mistake. Let's start over here."

"There's really no need, Jacob." Caton reassured him. "We would have liked to speak with those of Sanq, but their attitude toward our kind is… much as we expected, given they are the source of medusas. Perhaps such communications might better go through General Hammond." He smiled pleasantly. "The Council was relieved to learn you had been retrieved, Dr. Jackson. I'm reassured we won't have to compromise our networks by indiscriminately releasing information on Gault."

Daniel heard the blood pounding in his ears. Why you low-life manipulative little-

If I moved right now, who'd back me? Sam's too close to Jacob. Heero's guarding Relena. Teal'c's blocking Wufei and Duo… he could only grab one of them, but that takes them both out, since somebody's got to be backup. Jack would probably try to grab me. But Sally's a Preventer. She can look after herself. So Quatre and Trowa are clear….

Yes. Clear and ready and brightly there, a flame of presence amongst the shadows graying the rest of the room. One move, just one, and-

Wait a minute. What am I thinking?

Blue-green eyes regarded him, suddenly wary. Quatre glanced toward Duo, touched a hand to his heart.

And calm poured over Daniel like spring water.

Calm. Warmth. Safe. Enemy at bay. Safe….

Quatre? Daniel backed up against a table, suddenly unsteady. These were Tok'ra, not Goa'uld. Not the enemy. Exactly. Even if one of them was Anise, who had-

Hurt Jack, a cool, angry part of his mind pointed out. Hurt Sam. Hurt Teal'c.

And there were allies right here, allies who surely wouldn't mind if he borrowed a handy weapon-

Warmth redoubled, pinning his anger firm as one of Jack's come-along holds. Calm….

"…If you'll excuse us, Colonel," Jacob's tight voice pricked through that blanket of peace, "I need to speak with my associates about an update on those reports I requested."

"You do that." Jack's smile was friendly. Polite. Full of the promise of mayhem if people decided to stop being polite.

Jacob nodded. "Lady Peacecraft-"

Relena turned her hand palm-up, displaying the bloodied napkin.

And then not, as crimson-stained paper burst into white flame.

Relena turned her hand over, letting filmy gray ash drift away from unmarked skin. "I think we've all had enough diplomacy for one day, Ambassador."

The Tok'ra flinched. Narrowed his eyes. "We'll talk later."

Leaving. Daniel all but fell into a chair, cradling his head in his hands as the doors thudded behind the Tok'ra. Thank gods.

"Itai…." A second chair squeaked as Quatre slumped against the Wing's table. "Um. Right there."

Daniel looked up enough to see Trowa kneading the nape of his partner's neck. "Are you all right?" Sam asked.

"A lot of hate," Quatre said faintly.

Teal'c moved in, regarding the empath with troubled confusion. "Such sensitivity would seem to make it difficult to engage in battle."

"They're trained for it," Sally shot back. "Lady Peacecraft-"

"Relena." Some of the starch went out of the diplomat's stance. "As I said. I think we've all had enough for one day."

Jack checked his watch. "They should be off this level by now," he said frankly. "Mind if we walk you home?"

Relena smiled tiredly. "I would appreciate it, Colonel." Taking Heero's arm, she started chattering away in Sanq's Universal, sounding for all the world like a bubbly teenager unwinding after a long day.

Uh-huh. Teenager. Right. Concentrating on putting one tired foot in front of the other as they walked to the elevator, Daniel listened.

"It seems the Tok'ra have difficulty with the word 'no'." Relena swept her gaze over the Wing as they walked. "Gentlemen. You have my permission to do whatever is necessary."

Duo bounced along, grinning. "Can we short-sheet their beds?"

"Include explosives."

Heero's lips bent, the very faintest hint of a smile. "Ninmu ryoukai."



"Your kitty okay back there, Trowa?" Jack finished punching in the access code to the surface hatch. The green scents of the forest night swept in as steel opened. Jack swung himself out, offered Daniel a hand up. Taking a winged cat up a ladder. Not my idea of a good time, the colonel thought, noting how Heero was still a precise distance behind his archaeologist. But there's no way we could get her past the elevator guys at NORAD. Teal'c can walk through with a hat - we'd have to take her up in a crate, and after all the Wildfire alerts, there's no way they wouldn't ask why our package was growling.

"Fine."

"Ah, don't worry about Hrere-kitty," Duo's voice floated up the shaft. "Catherine was teaching her about ladders before she was old enough to leave the nest, and Tro took over once Hrere came from the circus to live with us. He kind of draws the line at taking her across tightropes, though. Hrere's got a better knack for security work than performances…."

"Daniel." Jack rolled his eyes at the shaft, watching the archaeologist step into the deepening twilight. "Does that kid ever stop talking?"

"Only when something's trying to kill him," Daniel quipped.

"Inaccurate." Heero scanned the small clearing around the hatch, steps silent in the greenery.

Jack raised a curious brow. For someone who'd supposedly grown up on a space colony, Yuy moved like a trained wilderness fighter. "Tries to talk 'em out of it, huh?"

"Sometimes it works." Duo was up and out of the hatch in one smooth move, braid twitching as he tried to look everywhere at once. "Cool!"

"Hn."

"Okay, I gotta admit. You two don't exactly seem like the most likely partners." Jack kept an eye on the hatch edge, ready to bolt if the esmeril decided Earth wasn't friendly.

Duo looked pointedly between the two of them. "And you do?"

Point, Jack thought. Suicidal Black Ops colonel meets sneezing archaeologist geek. Goes with said geek to another planet. Watches him throw himself in the way of a staff blast. Finds him alive. Helps him start a rebellion. Blows up a System Lord. And somewhere in there realizes this guy might be the best thing that ever happened to him. If anybody else had met under that weird of circumstances, he hadn't run into them yet. Yeah. Like anybody else could meet up that badly and live through it. The universe isn't that weird.

"It's a long story," Daniel admitted. "So how did you pair up? Assigned partners, some preexisting clan relationship…."

"Oh, I shot him," Duo said cheerfully. "But he got over it-"

"Omae o korosu!"

"Mostly," Duo shrugged.

Okay. The universe has a sick sense of humor, Jack decided, as silver fur flowed over the shaft edge to pad onto the ground. "Ommy o what?"

"Loosely?" Daniel murmured. "I will kill you."

Erk.

"Don't worry." Trowa flipped up and over, executing a neat double somersault before touching down. "Heero doesn't usually warn people he plans to shoot."

Oh. Joy. "You're an acrobat?" Jack looked at Trowa askance.

"Big cats, tightropes, circuses… what do you guys have in your circuses?" Duo bounced over to a wildflower, touching a finger to closed blue petals.

"Not usually fighter pilots," Daniel observed. Stiffened as a breeze wandered through. "Jack…."

"Better sit him down." Duo skipped back over to them. "Take it easy. You're okay."

"I'm not sure about that." Daniel wobbled down, leaning on Jack's arm. "That's… different."

Jack crouched down by him, not worrying about his knees. What was a little leaf mold between friends? "Daniel?"

The archaeologist took a deep breath, lines of strain easing around his eyes. "Better. It was so still down there, Jack. I didn't realize… it just feels…." Daniel bit his lip. "Nice," he admitted, almost inaudible.

"Like having a big mug of hot chocolate all to yourself," Duo nodded. "Oh yeah. Wind's good."

"Cozy," Daniel murmured fuzzily, resting his head on Jack's shoulder. "'S nice."

"Daniel?" Jack repeated warily.

"Hmm?" Daniel's eyes were closed, the blond head nestling into the crook of his neck.

No way, Jack thought, exasperated, trying to get his legs under himself as six-feet-plus of archaeologist sagged onto him. Daniel, you know we're supposed to be watching our guests, you are not going to sleep on me-

Heero raised a finger to his lips, a faint warmth in storm-blue eyes. "It's all right, Colonel," he said quietly. "We don't plan to leave this vicinity without your authorization."

Damn well better not, Jack thought, accepting Duo's help to lean his friend up against the shaft wall. Daniel was well and truly out, and how on earth was he going to explain this to the general? "You knew this was going to happen."

"I reviewed Sally's files on Shinigami in transition. The nervous system alterations require considerable dreaming periods to integrate." Yuy glanced at Duo. "And Duo prefers sleeping in moving air. He's capable of remaining unconscious through full-force bansidhes."

"Banshees?" Jack asked.

"Windstorms," Duo filled in. "Really, really big windstorms. And Hee-chan? Hate to be the one to clue you in, but if the weather's that bad, nobody but nuts and Gundam pilots are out in it." The braided teen craned his head upward, watching clouds chase through the starlit black of mountain skies. "Air's thinner here than Sanq… is it like that all over Earth? The gravity feels about like home. Are we just high up?"

Daniel's right. These kids are quick. "About a mile above sea level, yeah," Jack said. Ran a few quick calculations in his head. "Something like fifteen times the height from the 'Gateroom to here." Gray-furred membranes spread wide as Trowa stroked Hrere's neck, sleek fur gleaming silver in the starlight. "Quatre going to be okay without you?"

"Distance doesn't matter." Trailing a cord for Hrere to paw, Trowa touched his heart. "He's always here."

Okaaaay. Every time I think this job can't get weirder…. "Okay, Yuy. What'd you want to talk about that you didn't want the general hearing?"

Heero regarded him, face still.

"Look," Jack said patiently, slipping down to sit by his slumbering archaeologist. Heero had given his word. Might as well take him at it. "You say Chang's got the better legal knowledge. Fine. I believe that, even if he does look like a refugee from Kung Fu Theater. And I can see why you left Quatre down there; kid's got a headache that could use a whole bottle of aspirin. But. You are the guy in charge of Lady Peacecraft's security, while she's on a planet you don't know, and she wouldn't send you up here just to keep Hrere from chasing rabbits. Not even to make sure Duo got calmed down… she doesn't know you made it out of the shrine, does she?"

"Most people don't." Duo's smile slipped a little. "And… I didn't."

Part of you didn't. That's for sure. Jack watched him closely. Eight years old and your whole family got wiped out in front of you. He didn't need to ask what that did to a kid. The answer was sleeping on his shoulder. "So," he shot at Heero, "Give. What did you want to talk about?" Better not have anything to do with those explosives Danny said Relena mentioned, Jack thought.

Heero nodded once. "We've been assigned a mission of moderate difficulty."

Okay, it does.

"Non-combat. Reconnaissance, infiltration, and extraction." Heero hesitated. "An opportunity to determine how our personnel might interact, under moderate but non-lethal stress," he offered.

Then again, maybe it doesn't. "No offense, but you're not infiltrating anything on this base."

"Not within current mission parameters."

Jack raised a skeptical brow. "Or Earth."

"Cold, and getting colder," Duo observed, stretching like a cat.

"Wing Zero is capable of accomplishing it alone." Heero weighed Jack in his gaze. "But SG-1's assistance, if provided, would significantly increase chances of mission success and reduce potential casualties."

Jack raised the other brow. "You know, guys, hints are good," he observed.

Hands buried in silver fur, Trowa smiled. "We know a way to activate transport rings without their usual controller."

"You know a way to-" Jack stopped. Poked at that idea in his head. Turned it over, and added it to what Daniel had overheard. No way. They wouldn't. "And just how does that fall under the category of not stirring up trouble with Earth's allies?"

Duo hmphed, striking a proud pose. "They started it." And lost it in one quick bounce, clasping his hands together in a bright-eyed, devil-may-care grin. "Please? Quatre said you'd have great ideas! And we gotta look in your supply stores. I brought the glitter, but I don't know if I've got enough glue!"

Chapter Text

Rubbing tired eyes, Jacob paced across the small suite to refill his coffee mug; more to buy a moment's peace than for the stimulant. There was a limit to how much caffeine could affect a host. At least it smells good, he thought dryly. "Look. We haven't seen medusas since Stheno dropped out of sight. As far as we know the System Lords can't get to them without her, not in a hurry, anyway. And now that we've mentioned them, you know SG-1 won't sit still until they find out what Sanq knows. We've got an agreement with the SGC to exchange information. They'll hold to it." He eyed Freya, who'd been sulking over her healing wrist throughout these hours of fruitless argument. "All I'm saying is, we could afford to wait."

"Has Selmac forgotten how many of us died in their clutches?" The blonde turned away with a sniff. "Any planet which reared such creatures is suspect. As is any information they freely give."

Caton's head dipped. "I must agree with Freya and Anise," Houerv spoke. "Compassion does not suit one who has never been promised the sanctuary of a new host, only to see those deadly tendrils move to strike." He shuddered. "Had Caton not been there to slay the beast and take me in, I too would have perished. And the Council would know only that I had vanished, as so many of us did who spied on Ra."

Yeah. The shock had driven a normally garrulous Tok'ra into uncharacteristic silence for years; only in the past decade or so had Houerv begun to act like his old self. Jacob grimaced. They're not listening, damn it...

*Allow me.*

Go for it.

He retreated, feeling Selmac take hold. "You underestimate human curiosity," his symbiote shrugged. "We are their allies. They will wish to know what threatens us, and they will not rest until they know the whole of what Sanq has to tell."

"You overestimate Tau'ri maturity," Anise shot back. "They will take any allies to defend their world. Even other humans who have taken a System Lord's place!"

"Had they taken Stheno's place, her planets would not have been without rule these past few decades," Selmac said sternly. "We have gone centuries without knowing the whole truth of Stheno's treachery. We can wait a little longer."

"Why should we?" Anise pounced. "Some human concept of manners? Find the address, and let us take what we need."

"If Sanq's address were so easy to determine, Ra would have slaughtered Stheno long ago," Selmac pointed out. "They guard their Stargate, Anise. Perhaps with medusas, and likely with Dragons. Taking might not be so easy as you believe."

"Nor so difficult as you seem to think, Selmac," Houerv mused. "Yu's Dragons are dangerous humans, but human nonetheless. You really should come back to the Council. We shouldn't risk your goodwill with the Tau'ri when we do what is necessary."

What is necessary? Selmac...

*Jacob.*

Yeah?

*I believe I now have a reference for your people's 'bad feeling'.* "Explain," Selmac said shortly.

"Isn't it obvious?" Houerv blinked. "Dimme's forces are on Gault. Given that the Queen took Daniel Jackson, and had him taken in turn..."

"She knows not only Sanq's address, but its location." Anise smiled. "If we infiltrate an operative... we will have them."

WHAT? Jacob's fury beat at Selmac's brain. Son of a - that's why they don't want to turn over the Gault info - Selmac, you can't let them do this!

*If the Council has spoken... there are limits to what I can do.* "Do not take this path," Selmac advised. "You risk not only future relations with Sanq, but with Earth as well, one of the few worlds willing and capable of providing us with hosts swiftly in an emergency." He shook his head. "Patience, Anise. We need allies more than revenge-"

Someone drummed on the door. "Hey, Jacob!" Jack's voice called through painted steel. "Can we talk a minute?"

Selmac retreated. "You hold that thought," Jacob warned, stalking to the door. "I'm not finished."

Jack canted a brow toward his steaming mug as Jacob stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him. "I'm guessing the talks aren't going so good."

"What was your first clue?" Jacob said flatly, trudging down the hall alongside the fidgeting colonel. Something's got him worried... Selmac, we've got to tell them.

*We cannot go against a Council decree, Jacob.*

Council decree, hell. This is stupid, Selmac! I know you people are willing to die for your beliefs. I respect that. George respects that; why do you think he's put up with us so far, even after Anise just about set SG-1 up for a suicide run? But one more screw-up - and this is going to be one fubar of a screw-up - and even George is going to have to do something drastic. And hell if I'm going to watch good people like Garshaw and Yosuuf suffer because the High Council's got their brains wrapped around their ankles!

*...Be discreet.*

"Jack?" Jacob sighed, leaning against the wall. "What would you do if I told you I thought the High Council was going to do something really stupid?"

Jack matched his pose, nodding a friendly we're okay to the guard just out of casual earshot. "You want the sarcastic answer or the honest one?"

"Oh, I'm sure you can pull them both off," Jacob replied.

Jack grinned. "In that case, I think I'd ask what kind of stupid."

Discreet. Fun. "Give me a minute." Jacob studied the other man. "You didn't come looking for me just to ask about Gault, did you?"

"Well, kinda," Jack shrugged. "Any luck with that?"

"Not so far," Jacob admitted. "I'm sorry, Colonel. I know I promised. And Selmac still thinks you should have it. But that information's on Vorash. Unless I can talk Freya and Caton around, I'm not going to have much luck getting it out of the Council. If I show up on my own to get it they'll probably have a mission ready and waiting."

"You need a vacation," Jack said firmly. Studied his watch. "You know, maybe you guys should just turn in for the night. Things could look better in the morning."

"How?" Jacob asked bitterly. Caught himself, and shook his head. "Sorry. I feel like that bright light at the end of the tunnel has a train whistle attached."

"So... if you could get to Vorash without getting sidetracked, you'd hand it over." Jack gaze was sober, stark contrast to his light tone.

"Then and there," Jacob said flatly. "Heck, I'd hand it right to Sam; she probably remembers enough of Jolinar's codes to decrypt the reports without my help. We promised. Selmac keeps his word. And I don't like what the Council has in mind for Gault." He buried his fists in his Air Force jacket pockets, grateful to be back in Tau'ri clothes. "They see an opportunity, and they're heading for it. Never mind that it could take them right over a cliff. If I could just get them to slow down and think..."

"So you need 'em distracted." Was that a chuckle in Jack's voice? "Get some sleep, Jacob."

"Yeah, I-" Jacob paused as Jack stood. "Colonel?"

"Friend to friend, Jacob? Trust me." With a wink, SG-1's leader headed out of sight.

*And he expects us to sleep after that?* Selmac commented.

Yes, he does. Jacob felt a grin spread over his face as he headed back to the Tok'ra's quarters. After all, we need an alibi.



Thuck.

A desert-garbed Tok'ra guard slapped at the prick, face twisted in the universal annoyance of night sentries faced with the variety of biting bugs across the galaxy.

Annoyance that turned to surprise at the feel of fletched steel, and then a blank limpness.

Thuck. Thuck.

Three shots, three down, Heero Yuy thought coolly, keeping his breath shallow in the heat drifting off still-warm sand. The rest of SG-1 and the Wing hung back as Duo, Quatre, and Teal'c ghosted in to remove the tranquilizing darts and ensure the sentries were truly unconscious. For such a large man, the Jaffa was surprisingly stealthy.

Though not nearly as quiet as the braided pilot giving the all-clear. Shinigami's out to play, Heero knew, a trace of fondness whispering through mission-cool. That grace was unmistakable; a gliding ease that went beyond pilot reflexes, moves precise and fluid as a great cat on the prowl.

He had his own share of that grace, of course; Gundam pilots were altered to have it, Wing Zero more than most. But not like Duo.

Death is here, and no one knows it but us...

Yet Death only meant to taunt and tease, laughing into the night. Shinigami's grin didn't herald explosions. This time.

Others? Heero's hands flickered at Trowa and Quatre. The empath shook his head.

Trowa held up a hand. Wait.

"What's he up to?" Jack murmured close by, watching for any danger to their black-clad teams.

"Coaxing out an information source."

Jack eyed him suspiciously. "What source-"

Sand shifted in front of Trowa's feet, sliding off the knobby scales of a foot-long black-and-tan lizard.

Jack stared.

Trowa knelt, touching a gentle finger to the scaled skull just above bright eyes. Held it there a few heartbeats. Nodded, and dropped a bit of jerky. The lizard snatched its payment and squiggled into the sand. "The guards keep a regular schedule," the Beastmaster reported. "Our friend knows the two-legs won't come this way again until mid-dark."

Sam watched settling sand, her own eyes bright with interest. "Can you do that with any animal?"

Steady emerald looked back. "The brighter ones."

"Rings," Daniel called quietly. Wufei was already at the subtle depression in the sands, notepad computer and equipment ready. Duo whispered up beside him, offering the frequencies he'd read off the sentry holding ring controls.

Heero eyed the archaeologist carefully as they gathered near the ring edges, glancing a question at Quatre.

Still calm, the empath's fingers reported.

Good. The last thing they needed was a new Shinigami getting swamped by the dark wave. Shi no Yami shouldn't be seizing hold so fast...

But from Sally's account of what she had and hadn't found in the SGC infirmary, Tau'ri simply weren't as resistant to the organism as the average Preventer. And from the depths of pain Quatre had sensed in the man, pain that twisted and tore a heart that truly wanted peace... Duo needs to talk to him. Soon.

Set, Wufei's hands flashed, dropping the gas grenade into the center of depression. He stepped back, tapping the computer screen. Naquadah rings snapped up and flared, inserting drugged slumber into unsuspecting tunnels.

"And you say it'll dissipate in a few minutes?" Sam murmured. "That's some sedative."

"Now, why do I think anything that strong can't be good for humans?" Jack raised a brow.

"It would be a hazard." Heero felt time tick off in his mind. "But as you say, the Tok'ra will have no humans in the vicinity." Now.

Naquadah rings surrounded them, and light flashed them into the twilight of blue crystal tunnels.

"And you'll hide in places like this." A voice he'd never heard from living lips echoed through Heero's mind, a System Lord's usual contempt softened into irritated incomprehension. "Do you truly think Ra won't find you? You, and every child you spawn? Sister, rethink this madness!"

"It will work!" A lovely Etruscan woman stalked crystal halls, arms flung wide to indicate the environmental controls, the computer banks, the stores of food and weapons. All that a small, hidden group could want to work against the will of Ra.

Save that it was not enough.

"Come with me, sister. Add your forces to mine. Leave that one who bears you against her will; find one willing to hold you!"

"To be hunted and harried across the galaxy, bringing death to any that would dare to aid me? A useless death, Egeria. Follow this course, and you will have no Jaffa, no death gliders, no ha'taks, no heavy weapons save those you manage to steal. And no equipment and personnel to maintain what you do acquire." Her head shook, crown of braids a reassuring weight. "He will course you like pharaoh in his chariot, his petty children on your heels as hounds on a wounded lion. You may tear half the pack, but soon or late, they will bring you down. And blood and death shall follow you all. Find another way, sister. I beg you."

"There is no other way! Ra must fall." Egeria punched a fist into her palm, whirled on the serpent-patterned skirts dogging her steps. "You have always stood by my side. Sister to sister, brood to brood, two against them all. For the love you bear me-"

"You ask me to aid in your destruction, sister. For the love I bear you... I will not."

"Stheno-!"

"Heero." Duo's voice. Duo's braid, tip gently tickling his palm. "Come on, buddy, snap out of it..."

Heero drew in a deep breath, aware of SG-1's gaze on him. "Status."

"Tok'ra go beddy-bye," Deathscythe's pilot obliged, pointing down and left. "Try not to step on them."

One man and two women sprawled around the rings' edge, zats and ribbon devices in lax fingers. So they had elementary security, Heero noted. Good. Two thousand years must have taught them some lessons in survival.

Stheno would have thought that was good. Kami knew, she'd tried to point out every hole in her sister's plans she could, before and after they'd parted ways...

Training clamped down. Use the memory. Don't let it use you. You are not Stheno. The Goa'uld was dead, decades dead; a ghost given an echo of life in bio-engineered neurons. You are pilot 01. The colonies' weapon-

No. Operation Meteor was over.

I am... Preventer Yuy.

Teal'c lifted the dark-haired man's limp hand, brow raised. "Aldwin."

"Now, why am I not broken up about that?" Jack muttered, taking the Tok'ra's pulse. Set the arm back down with a satisfied nod. "Okay, we're in. Twelve minutes if we can; fifteen and I want us out. Daniel, Teal'c - with them. Keep it to a dull roar. And keep an eye out. Carter, with me. Environmental controls are this way."

"Flashback?" the colonel asked, seemingly casual, as they and Wufei traced their way through quiet corridors. Chang kept a loose rearguard, stepping away for a moment or two to plant some of the more... interesting items Duo had assembled.

"They happen," Heero noted, listening ahead. As Wufei was doing behind them; Tau'ri weren't deaf, but he'd seen enough to determine their hearing was no better than the average Preventer. The others had better remember that. We don't need casualties because we ducked and they didn't.

"Carter's aren't usually that bad," Jack observed, leading them left through a more open cavern dotted with tables, equipment, and a few slumbering bodies. "Chang, Yuy - don't touch anything you don't recognize. And I mean anything. Tok'ra dig up some weird stuff sometimes. And coming from somebody who's dealt with Daniel's rocks..."

"Daniel reads his artifacts before he messes with them," Sam quipped. "And Netu was that bad, sir. Yuy's symbiote would have considered this enemy territory. Right?"

"Hostile associations bring clearer memories than any others," Heero acknowledged, all but seeing Wufei's impressed smile. Her Tok'ra attacker had been on Sokar's hell of a prison planet? And then escaped? Incredible. And you survived such a creature. Count yourself fortunate, Carter; you've just been added to the list of those Chang will never call onna.

"And here we get to the tricky part." Jack halted outside a room full of alien greenery. "Environmental. But I've never seen computers around here. Matter of fact, I don't think I've seen computers around the base anywhere," the colonel said thoughtfully. "Which is kind of weird for cloak-and-dagger guys. They get mission reports, they've got to have databanks somewhere. Though how the heck they secure them in a place with no doors..."

"They have one door." Heero studied the corridor wall, searching traces of memory. "Do you see it?"

Sam stepped up to the wall, eyes unfocussed. Uncertain fingers traced over crystal; tentative at first, then sweeping in a tighter and tighter area until they dug into hidden depressions. Fingers clenched, knuckles whitening-

"It won't open." Her free fist pounded the wall. "It won't open, it's supposed to open-"

"Carter. Sam!" Jack grabbed her wrist. "Relax. Easy." He shot a glance Heero's way. "Yuy?"

"Tok'ra security." Heero stepped in, placing his fingers precisely in the shallow wells Sam had found. "The pressure lock is set not to respond to human strength."

One breath. And grip.

A soft glow spread from each fingerprint, melting and merging together to form a perfect circle on the wall. Vertical cracks appeared in blue crystal just to the right of the hidden lock.

Hold position. Just a little longer-

The door slid aside.

Heero lifted his hand clear. Flexed slightly sore fingers. Turned, deliberately, to meet a pair of stunned gazes.

Jack snapped his jaw shut first. "I'm going out on a limb here and guessing you weren't kidding about Preventers taking on Goa'uld hand-to-hand."

Heero raised a surprised brow. They'd thought that was a joke?

"Can all of you do that?" Sam whispered.

Wufei snorted. "No."

"Uh-huh." Jack glanced back at Heero. "And you can, because...?"

"Classified."

"You and me are going to talk about that, Yuy."

That didn't require a reply. Heero simply stepped into the room, gliding past a lone Tok'ra half-sprawled across a table full of data tablets. It should be... here.

"Oh yeah," Sam breathed, eyeing the bronze-and-gold towers that were a Tok'ra mainframe, shaking out her fingers with a devilish grin. "Sir, permission to hack this thing."

"Go for it." Jack slanted a glance Heero's way. "Just the stuff on Gault."

"And their information on medusas," Wufei stated from beside the door, as Heero took his laptop out of his pack.

"Chang-"

"Preventer Po is at risk," Heero said levelly, connecting wire-thin cables. "Even with Hrere to guard her. And we do not know the full extent of the danger." He met O'Neill's gaze. "This situation is unacceptable."

The colonel sighed. "Don't get caught."



Teal'c stepped back from the bathing room wall he had decorated with streaks of blue, overlapping and intersecting Trowa's violent orange. Interesting. Somewhat similar to the gang-glyphs he'd seen scribbled by packs of young Jaffa in the worse parts of Chulak. Though why both O'Neill and Yuy thought this would affect the Tok'ra, who claimed to be ruled by reason, he had no idea. "I am unfamiliar with this type of warfare, Daniel Jackson."

"I think Jack would call it psyching them out," Daniel reported, squirting something into a container of hair cleanser and mixing it with a vigorous shake. "You do it to people all the time. You just usually do it with that 'I will dismember you' look."

"Indeed." Teal'c turned at a whisper-soft click; Duo had just closed the door of one of the three cabinets in this steamy room, and now had glitter and glue in hand as he skipped over to work on one of the still-dripping forms they'd hauled out of hot water.

Teal'c raised a brow as swift fingers created a very... striking effect on wet skin and hair, but did not interfere. O'Neill believed there was some advantage to be gained from infuriating the Tok'ra. And if he were honest, the opportunity to take some small measure of revenge on their often-unhelpful allies was doing wonders for SG-1's morale.

Perhaps too much, the Jaffa thought, gaze carefully not on the blond empath standing guard by the door. I do not believe Quatre is influencing us, and yet... Daniel Jackson seems too at ease.

Particularly for a man who had almost attacked the Tok'ra only a few hours before.

Stress, perhaps, Teal'c considered, picturing that near-miss in the cafeteria; a moment of pure fury, there and gone so fast Daniel Jackson himself seemed to have missed it. He is still injured, though Janet Frasier states the bone is almost healed.

And yet... something was not quite right. Mission upon mission had taught him Daniel Jackson's habits in enemy territory. For all SG-1's training, Daniel would always prefer to speak rather than shoot. The archaeologist could use stealth as well as anyone, but only while battling the impulse to step forward and talk to their enemies. An impulse that usually manifested in nervous fidgeting, sideways glances, a hesitant nip of teeth on lip.

None of which Teal'c saw now.

Those he would speak to are unconscious, Teal'c allowed, checking the time as they left the baths and headed back toward the transport rings, Duo and Trowa patting the walls or tucking small things into concealment as they went. Heero had provided Janet Frasier with samples of the sedatives they meant to use before O'Neill had allowed the mission; the doctor had agreed with Heero's estimate of a fifteen-to-twenty minute window. Still, Daniel Jackson is too calm. As if he finds this opportunity to walk among helpless enemies... pleasant.

Which was a reaction he might have expected from O'Neill, or perhaps even Major Carter. But not Daniel Jackson.

Behind glass, blue-violet glanced at him. "Did I get something in my hair?"

"You appear... composed," Teal'c noted. Particularly in comparison to the restless movement of the violet-eyed teen currently gluing a hapless Tok'ra they'd passed to the floor. Grinning like a maniac, the Shinigami simply could not seem to stay still-

He is enjoying this, Teal'c realized, unsettled. As Daniel is.

"Time, people!" came O'Neill's low bark. "Maxwell, put down the microwave popcorn and get over here!"

"Aww..."

"Popcorn?" Heero's brow tipped up in silent query as they gathered inside the rings.

Duo jabbed a thumb toward the innocuous blue-and-white bag lying between the slumbering women. "Just tipped in a little Maxwell's Special Number 7."

"Maxwell's what?" Sam asked.

"Wet fuse," Trowa stated. "Low temp. Ignites on drying."

"And it ought to be dry in juuust another minute," Duo snickered.

Teal'c traded a look with O'Neill, imagining the chaos of exploding popcorn among waking Tok'ra. "You must've been the principal's worst nightmare," O'Neill said wryly.

"Several principals' nightmares," Heero muttered. "Lunatic."

"I knew it!" Duo bounded into Heero's arms just as the rings shot up. "You love me."

"Get-"

Vroosh.

"-Off me, you baka!"



Black, black, and more black, Sgt. Siler noted, watching SG-1 yawn their way out of the locker rooms at oh-dark-hundred. The five Preventers had already headed back to level 25 in rumpled formal clothes, lumpy packs he would have bet were full of yet more black over their shoulders. Somebody's been sneaking. Sneaking through the Stargate, at that, which meant they had the General's permission to be up to... well, whatever they'd been up to. I asked Davis, and he said don't ask. This has got to be good. "Everything go all right, sir?"

"So far, so good," Colonel O'Neill said judiciously, supporting a blinking archaeologist as Sam and Teal'c headed out. "Oh, and Sergeant? If anybody asks about the Preventers..."

I knew it. I knew it! "They've been guarding Lady Peacecraft?"

"Good man."

"Sir... was this part of the negotiations?" Siler asked, suddenly wary.

"Interplanetary cooperation takes many forms," Daniel murmured.

"Oh yeah." Jack grinned suddenly. "Maybe now the Tok'ra will listen when we tell them to beef up security."

Siler blinked. "Sir?"

"I think you'll hear about it in the morning, Sergeant," O'Neill said wryly. "In very excruciating detail."

"Popcorn," Daniel snickered.

"Bed," Jack said firmly, exchanging salutes before hauling his archaeologist off toward their on-base quarters.

Popcorn and the Tok'ra. And the quartermaster says they walked off with glue and tinsel, too. That, combined with Jack O'Neill, was scary to contemplate. The ex-Black Ops officer had a reputation as one of the most determined and inventive pranksters that had ever survived becoming an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

Still chuckling, the sergeant opened his locker-

Polka-dotted fangs flew at him.

"Eyaagh!"



Oh god, it's too early for this. Jacob staggered toward the insistent knocking, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. Selmac, could you-?

Incoherent grumbling filtered through his mind. *Too early... damn Anise... could sleep through a B-52 bombing run...*

"Yeah?" Jacob managed, opening the door onto a pair of graveyard-shift security. Funny. They didn't look nearly as sour as usual.

"Sir?" Splitting the fine points of formality, the lieutenant gave him a respectful nod rather than a salute. "You've got a call. From Vorash."

"Right. Give me a few to get set..." Shutting the door, Jacob frowned. Was that... a snicker?

Early even for Vorash. What the heck's the problem?

One quick shave, splash of cold water, and hastily-grabbed snack of cherry turnovers later, Jacob stared at the image on the Tollan communicator. "Aldwin?"

"Jacob!" The younger Tok'ra was obviously at wit's end. "It's horrible. Horrible! There's no telling the level of compromise. We may have to destroy everything and start over - but there's no way of knowing what we can take, every time we think we've discovered the depths of the depravity we find something else-"

"Aldwin! Breathe."

Grumpily awake, Selmac finally focussed on the image in front of them. *Is that... popcorn?*

Jacob blinked. "Why is there popcorn in your hair?"

Aldwin swatted at his white-dotted hair, stared aghast at the fluffy bits lodged in his fingers. And whimpered. "We've been raided!"

Jacob raised a tired brow.

"By the SGC!"

Jacob raised the other brow. "Aldwin. This is no time to be overreacting-"

"Overreacting?" The Tok'ra's cheeks flushed mordant red. "Our sentries at the 'Gate were ambushed. The ring controls were overridden. The entire base was rendered unconscious." He stopped for a few, furious breaths. "And in the central bathing pools, someone decked one of our agents in obscene glitter, mixed depilatory and neon-blue dye with the hair rinses, and scrawled Kilroy was here!"

"Oh," Jacob said numbly. Yep. That was O'Neill, all right. "Is that all?"

"Is that all?" Aldwin reached out as if he wanted to strangle Jacob's image. And began listing, chapter and verse, exactly what someone had done to the Vorash base with tinsel, glue, firecrackers, popcorn, fifteen unopposed minutes, and a liberal use of imagination.

Jacob listened. And nodded. And kept a straight face.

For all of thirty seconds.

A mental snicker. *Oh, stars. Oh, my...*

"...'For a good time call Anise; she'll light your masochistic fire! Whips and chains optional.' All over Freya's walls! And then when Garshaw opened the storage cabinet for a towel, it set off a mousetrap which flung a marble which dropped into a vial which splashed onto the tinsel which hid a fuse which set off sparklers over the whole chamber! And Lyde! He was glued to the floor of the main hall, we had to cut him out of his clothes with a laser and - Jacob! This isn't funny!"

Chapter Text

Tap. Tap, tap, click, tap...

Relena opened her eyes to the dim light of Sally's laptop, watching the doctor finish up a sentence and rub at the back of her neck in thought. "I thought only Heero worked on his computer this early."

Sally's lips bent in a smile. "Preventer habit." She nodded toward the bedside table. "He left a note."

Relena picked up the small square of paper, checking that it wasn't a flash-and-burn page. Heero sometimes forgot he wasn't in the field.

No. Regular white paper, with two neat words inked on. Ninmu kanryou.

Mission accomplished, Relena thought, gratified. Short, to the point, nothing that would breach security, yet thoughtful. Oh, Heero.

He'd always been thoughtful. Even when he'd almost shot her. She'd taken his space helmet, seen his face; she could definitively link him to Operation Meteor. Her name and position didn't matter; she was the one person who could betray him to the Goa'uld, so she had to be eliminated.

In a way, she'd loved Heero for that.

If only you weren't what you are...

But she was a Peacecraft, and he was a Gundam pilot. Genetically altered in ways the philosophy of genetic reconsideration considered dubious at best.

Like Milliardo.

Milliardo, her gentle brother, who had abandoned the Peacecraft name to become Zechs Merquise. And not only to hide, as her foster parents had hidden her. He had abandoned their parents' way, turning onto the bloody path of revenge, flying and fighting as only a Gundam pilot could.

And even now that the war with Macha was over, Milliardo wasn't coming back.

"You need us, little sister," Zechs had told her that heart-breaking night, after the screaming fight was over. "Sanq needs us. Not as Preventers. Not even as Guardians. You need Gundam pilots.

"No genetic surgery, Relena. Not for me. Not for any of us." He gave her a bitter smile. "You know it doesn't work on us anyway."

"I spoke to the doctors. With the information the Preventers seized from the Mad Five, there's a chance-"

"Relena, are you even listening to yourself? Those five designed Wing Zero to face Macha. They never intended their work to be undone. At best, it's the chance to have our life codes savaged, so we can live crippled. Almost normal." Pale blond hair shook. "No."

She'd choked back tears, fists clenched and white. "And you're all agreed on this? Even-"

"Heero would kill the next doctor who got near him with life code alterants. If our Wings didn't beat him to it." Zechs had held her then, letting her weep out her broken dreams on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Relena. I wish you knew what it was like to fly Tallgeese that first time. I wish you could hear the sky calling..."

"I can't," she'd whispered. "And I won't."

She was a Peacecraft, after all. Someone had to be.

And she had a hard enough time working out issues with the still-vocal minority as it was. Any hint of a relationship with a Gundam pilot, and her carefully built political compromises with the Purists would crumble like sand.

And we're both too professional to let that happen, Relena thought wistfully. Even if you loved me. "So they're up planning the mission right now?"

Sally shook her head. "We're going to be attacking ha'taks. Not even Wing Zero wants to start planning that without a solid night's sleep." The doctor set aside her computer. "I'm going to need to discuss a few more medical details with Daniel and Janet at some point today..."

"About being Shinigami?"

Sally's expression didn't change. "Relena?"

"I saw Dr. Jackson move in the cafeteria." Relena sighed, heading for her luggage to pick out the day's formal outfit. Seen and sensed that moment of angry grace, the fluid motion she'd only seen in Gundam pilots... or Shinigami. "And I read your reports on the Reaver." She shook her head. "Why didn't you trust me?"

Sally wet her lips. "With all due respect, Lady Peacecraft, your public agreement with the Purist moderates on Shinigami is well known throughout the Preventers."

"Signed consent or not, allowing so-called emergency infections to go unchallenged without a thorough investigation is unconscionable!" Relena said hotly. "I know you have information on new techniques. We should at least attempt to ameliorate some of the damage."

"Even if those affected agreed there was damage," Dr. Po said evenly, "You know genetic surgery doesn't work on Shinigami."

"Maxwell's living proof it does, and you know it." Relena glared. "Sooner or later someone's going to dig that out of Preventer files. And then where will you be?"

"Running like hell with the rest of Wing Zero," Sally said flatly. "It won't work, Relena. I've studied those techniques. They're specifically targeted, difficult to implement, and risky as hell. And they were never meant to kill Shi no Yami. Just to work around it. Releasing any of that information would get innocent people killed." Blue glared back at stubborn blue. "They don't deserve that, Relena. You know that."

"And would Daniel agree with that?" Relena stated bluntly.

Sally's lips pressed into a thin line. "I admire and respect Dr. Jackson, Lady Peacecraft," she said softly. "But don't make me choose between our alliance with the SGC and Wing Zero's safety."

"So you'll face him, and tell him he's a killer, and there's nothing you can do about it." Relena matched her stare for stare. "How do you live with that lie?"

Sally held up spread fingers, clenched them into a fist. "Ask Catherine. Hilde. Iria. Noin. They're family." She lowered her fist. "And it's not a lie. High risk, Relena. I've studied the details of what G did. If Duo weren't Shinigami he'd be dead."

Relena looked away. "We won't be able to hide Dr. Jackson's status forever."

"He's working with Preventers," Sally shrugged. "I'm sure the extremists will draw their own conclusions."

Relena closed her eyes, reliving a toddler's blurry memory of a gentle brother offering her the sweet, faint perfume of sky-blue tulips. Perfume that faded and died, drowned by the scent of cordite always lingering about the pilot he'd become. "They always do."



"-Kilroy was here!"

Just about to unlock his office door, Dr. MacKenzie paused... to be sure he had the right key. Never let it be said the base psychiatrist was listening to gossip.

Even if those snickering whispers pertained to his most difficult patients.

Standing on a ladder to get at the corridor lights' wiring, one of the base electricians brandished a screwdriver. "Man, you could hear Freya screeching two halls down!"

Holding the ladder, an airman with a dark crewcut whistled. "I can't believe the colonel did that."

"Hey, did anyone say the colonel did it?" His partner nudged him, winking. "Ever hear of inside jobs? Way I heard it, Jacob only stopped laughing to give the Council hell about attacking another planet's ambassador."

"Heh. For a Tok'ra, he's not half bad." The electrician popped off the translucent plastic covering the bank of lights.

"Maybe," His partner didn't seem convinced. "Hard to see Dr. Jackson as a tagger, though."

The screwdriver tapped at the light mount. "Still waters, man. Believe you me, nobody survives around O'Neill this long without a sense of humor..."

MacKenzie stepped into his office, frowning. So Dr. Jackson had been involved in an off-world mission of dubious legality, mere hours after returning from yet another escapade of kidnap by a Goa'uld Queen, serious injury, and being held at the mercy of an alien society.

All in all, not promising indications of his current mental condition.

Perhaps I'll be able to fulfill my orders and leave this madhouse of a base once and for all.

MacKenzie squelched an unprofessional glee at the thought. He was a doctor. Not a barbarian. Still, the prospect of leaving a posting that flatly refused to conform to proper military procedure and decorum, that was regularly infested by humanoid aliens - they couldn't possibly be humans, no matter what General Hammond thought - mind-altering diseases, obvious aliens, and occasional breakdowns in the very laws of physics...

God, get me out of here!

He'd joined the SGC to help, no matter the NID's intent. But after hearing what Jolinar had done to Major Carter - how she'd been a prisoner in her own body, unable to move or speak or even feel without an alien mind overriding her own-

It's not going to happen to me. MacKenzie squelched the blind panic of the thought, a fear that no decent human being should ever have to face. I won't allow it.

Yet as long as he remained in the SGC, possession remained a risk. And he didn't dare request a transfer. Not until he'd carried out his orders and found a viable reason to get Dr. Jackson off SG-1.

It shouldn't have been that hard. The man had been traumatized by Goa'uld. Anyone who truly took the time to look at Jackson's medical records could determine that. How O'Neill and the general could expect any sane human being to endure what Daniel Jackson had and still maintain a firm mental footing was beyond MacKenzie's irritated comprehension.

Well, between his family history and record of exposure to various alien mind-altering devices, Jackson likely wasn't quite sane. All the more reason to keep him away from high-stress situations. Such a fine - if fractured - mind should not be at risk on the front lines. More to the point, he should not be in a position to put others at risk-

A familiar throat cleared. "I don't suppose we could get this over with quickly? Maybe if you just had a written questionnaire I could fill out, so you could make your diagnosis, take it to Janet, ask for a prescription, and she could tell you no."

MacKenzie controlled his start, gesturing the archaeologist to the patient's chair. Damn. The man's too quiet. Odd body language, though. Foot tapping... definite agitation. Very odd, in a man whose usual behavior in his hands was closed and defensive as a curled porcupine. "I've heard you had a very bad week, Dr. Jackson."

A snort. "Had its ups and downs."

"Attacked by a creature like that which nearly consumed Teal'c. Held hostage in an alien society." MacKenzie paused. "Captured and imprisoned by a Goa'uld Queen."

Tightness around Daniel's eyes. "I wasn't held hostage. I was detained. There's a difference. The Preventers held me until they were sure I was whom I said I was, and that I wouldn't run into trouble trying to get home. They were very up-front about that."

Defensive about the Sanquians, MacKenzie noted. Possible Stockholm Syndrome? He'd get to it later. Right now, it was time to dig at that avoided area. "Dr. Jackson. We need to talk about Dimme."

An odd light seemed to come into Daniel's eyes as he looked... to see if the door were locked? Why? "No, I don't think we do."

"Daniel. You've lost a great deal to the Goa'uld. Everyone knows that. Your friend, Jack, was assaulted by one of Hathor's spawn. Sam was taken over by a Tok'ra, losing control of her mind and body. Teal'c's very life depends on one of the creatures you despise, and he was forced to kill your wife to save you from Amaunet. And you yourself, with Hathor..."

"I thought we went over this already." Eyes narrowed behind glass. "Hathor's dead."

"Dimme is not," Mackenzie noted.

"And your point would be?"

MacKenzie kept his voice calm, soothing. The man was obviously trying to ignore the truth. "Very often someone who's been... abused once, has a difficult time admitting a second occurrence-"

"Dimme didn't rape me. She didn't have the chance. Too busy gloating over what her Reavers were going to do to us." Daniel drew in a soft breath. "And I really don't think I want to talk about this anymore."

"You don't have a choice in the matter. I may not be able to prescribe you effective medications, but I can and will state my objections to your active duty to General Hammond." Odd eyes, MacKenzie realized. Almost purple. When did that happen?

"No," Daniel said softly, "You won't."

Too late, the psychiatrist recognized that bright gleam for what it was. A light that wasn't - quite - insanity. A calculating, inhuman gaze that knew the corridor was empty, the room was full of potential weapons... and it was between him and the door.

"Dr. Jackson, what are you doing with that pencil?!"



Gotta teach these guys how to make a decent mocha. Duo tipped back his mug, slurping at the last bits of chocolate melting in SGC coffee. And how to get up late, they like early about as much as Heero. Though at least Relena said we could drop the formal gear if we wanted.

Heero hadn't wanted. Or wasn't about to admit he wanted. Damn stubborn guy was still in gi and hakama, probably still standing formal guard by Relena in a crowded corner of the infirmary as the Alliance citizens shared medicine, death glider tech, and a late breakfast with Teal'c and Dr. Fraiser.

Not for this little Shinigami. No way, no how. Damn death's wings - might as well have "shoot me now" written all over your face. Duo tugged up the zipper on his black leather jacket, feeling the reassuring warm weight of his sun-cross under his red turtleneck. Traded a glance with Quatre, and skipped once as they walked down the hall; he knew it made their escort nervous, but it was so good to get out of that blasted kimono.

"And old habits are so hard to break," Quatre murmured.

Duo shot him a grin. "Yeah." Hard to hide Shinigami's grace, much less a Gundam pilot's, when you were walking like regular people. Bounce, though - nobody looked too close at a hyper maniac. "Sure you don't want to be sketching out plans?"

"I put together some ideas while you were stealing Heero's bacon," Wing Zero's tactician admitted. "But we can't do anything final until we get more information on how distracted the Tok'ra are. Getting shot at going through that second 'Gate in the Gault system would put a serious crimp in our tactics." Quatre smiled as they caught sight of the uniformed guards outside their destination. "And right now, this is more important."

General's office. O'Neill should be in here. Duo met Quatre's sympathetic gaze as their escort knocked on the door. And sighed. Enough stalling, Maxwell. Time to talk to the man.

Setting aside some paperwork, O'Neill let out a low whistle as they entered. "I see what Danny was talking about."

"I'd have to agree with you, Colonel." Hammond regarded them both, evidently unsettled.

"What'd he say?" Duo asked, glancing between them. "Where is Daniel? The guards said he'd be with you."

"Daniel had to go annoy somebody," Jack shrugged. "Still think it'd be a good idea to get you civvies if you end up heading into town, but you guys really could blend in. Wouldn't even have to tell people you're from Toronto." He paused, thinking it over. "L.A., maybe."

Wherever that is, Duo thought, trading a wary look with Quatre. Maybe we can get them to give us a map. Hate to have to hack their mainframe. Sam's good. "Um..." Oh boy. How do I say this? "Help?" his fingers flickered at Quatre.

The empath quirked a blond brow up. Amusement flicked him, tempered by rueful concern.

"Your mess, you handle it." Great. Just great. Duo flipped his braid back over his shoulder, took a breath. Okay. You're Shinigami. You can deal. "Daniel annoying somebody could be a really bad idea."

"And this would be why...?" Jack drawled.

Not Heero's death-glare, but he's working on it, Duo thought. "Well, we really need to talk to you, and him, and we were gonna get Sally in on it too," he said in a rush. "Right now, we'd better just go find him, okay?"

"You two, and Po." O'Neill's eyes hardened. "Why do I think I'm not going to like this?"

Duo gave him a wide grin. "Lucky guess?"

"Preventer Maxwell." Hammond looked stern. "Exactly what haven't you told us about Dr. Jackson's current medical status?"

"Ah," Duo glanced at the guards in their silent corners. "It's kind of - complicated."

Jack leaned back in his chair. "Use little words."

"Yeah," Duo said slowly, "I would, but-"

"Duo!" Quatre's head snapped toward the ceiling, one hand flashing out Shinigami.

"-We really have to go find him right now," Duo finished, latching onto Jack's arm. "Please?"

"I'll expect a full report," Hammond ordered. "Go."

And they were off, Quatre making a beeline for the elevator, Duo barely aware of the colonel keeping up as he woke Shinigami enough to listen for that trembling echo of shadow. Time, time - how far away is he? How mad is he?

Has he got what it takes to fight the wave?

Steel doors closed. "What the hell are you worried about, Maxwell?"

Stall, stall... "Well-"

An alarm screeched.

"That," Duo admitted.

Jack stared at them. "That would be the fire alarm, Maxwell!"

"Kind of figured." Duo drummed fingers on black leather, willing the floors to go by faster. "Quatre?"

"I can't get a good grip," the empath said breathlessly. "He's pretty deep in. But I think he's just... playing."

"Deep in what?" Jack bit out.

"Shinigami," Duo said bluntly, feeling shadow brush against his nerves. His own darkness rose to meet it, washing away doubt in crystalline clarity. Aches faded. Breath came quicker. Lights shone brighter. The world sang, Quatre burning bright with intent, Jack a shadowy flame of worry.

Worry that turned to jagged alarm, as the colonel took a swift step back from unsheathed darkness.

Shinigami grinned, flexing fingers for the fight to come. "Better hope your annoying guy doesn't have a weak heart."

And smoke curled in through opening doors, alarms and shouts hard on its heels. Deathscythe's pilot dashed toward the source of the confusion, following that echo of shadow, that predatory glee that had its prey cornered for the kill...

Daniel Jackson leaned against a corridor wall out of the way of the yelling firefighters, whistling under his breath as a small mountain of papers flamed in a wastebasket and burned a drift of ashes across a polished desk. One hand rested on the back of an occupied swivel chair, absently tugging it left, right, left. "Oh. Hi, Duo."

"Nice." Duo gently pushed his shadows back a hair, studying the fire-struck office with a demolition expert's eye. "Kind of subdued, but nice." He turned toward the chair full of quivering prey. Human, white coat over his Air Force uniform, limbs and lips expertly secured with duct tape, every inch of exposed skin covered with pencil-scribbled hieroglyphs. Hello, my name is MacKenzie and I'm a congenital idiot, inscribed the sweating forehead.

"Aw." Duo tousled the gagged man's hair, grinning into fear-struck eyes. "All tied up and no place to go."

"Son of a - Daniel!" Jack was staring aghast, brushing off Quatre when the empath tried to pull him back. "What the hell did you do to MacKenzie?"

"Colonel, don't!" Quatre said sharply. "We don't know if he knows you yet!"

"Knows-" Jack halted. Lowered his voice. "Daniel? You in there?"

Smart guy, Duo thought, relieved, carefully moving in to lay his hand over Daniel's wrist. He could feel the pulse drumming in Daniel's veins, full of Shi no Yami's dark fire. Keep it calm. He may be swamped right now, but he hasn't been Shinigami that long. The wave's got to ebb soon. "So... you done with this guy yet?"

"Hmm." The archaeologist twisted a well-used pencil between his fingers. Watched white fog smother flames while MacKenzie whimpered behind silvery tape. "I don't know."

"Careful," Quatre said under his breath, moving in a half-step behind Jack. "We're trying to take a mouse from a very happy cat."

Jack's lips thinned. "Gotcha." He walked forward, unhurried, and gingerly laid his hand on the archaeologist's green-jacketed shoulder. "Daniel?"

Daniel shuddered at his touch. Blinked. "Jack?"

The colonel let out a breath at the confused whisper. "It's okay, Danny." His tone was gentle as he moved in closer. "Just let go of the chair, okay?"

Daniel frowned at the quivering psychiatrist. Fingers dug into the chair cushion, knuckles turning white. "You want me to let him go?"

"Yeah." Jack kept his tone even, outwardly untouched by the disappointment in Daniel's voice. "That'd be good."

"I'm... not sure I can..."

Shaking already. Ouch. Wave's ebbing fast. Which made these next few minutes even more dangerous. "You can." Duo wrapped his hand around Daniel's wrist; just holding, not forcing. "I know what this feels like. One-way reentry, you're out of ammo, your thrusters are shot, and all your guidance systems are blown to hell. All the juice you got left's showing you this big red X on the map where you're going to auger in. Black hole in the landscape, with little MacKenzie-fragments all over it." Duo lowered his voice. "But that's not all you've got left, Daniel. Trust me. Don't fight the wave. Just - nudge it. Just a little."

Daniel blinked, uncertain where to look. "Jack?"

Jack stepped in, shoulder to shoulder, supporting him as he swayed. "I'm right here. Promise."

With a sobbing breath, Daniel let go.

Out of the corner of his eye Duo saw Quatre scoot chair and MacKenzie out of reach, snagging one of the stunned airmen with spent extinguishers. Cat'll tell him something, Duo thought practically. "It's okay," he said softly, nestling under the taller man's arm. "It's not your fault." He looked up at Jack. "We could take him to Janet," Duo offered.

"Does he need a doc?" Anger roiled in the colonel's gaze as Daniel shivered against him.

Duo sighed. "I wish."

"Fine. Winner!" Jack's unoccupied hand snapped shut, a summons that refused to be ignored. "You're coming with us."



"-That the SGC would inflict such acts on an ally is completely incomprehensible!" Eyes narrowed, Garshaw glared out of the view-screen. "And intolerable!"

"Are you finished?" Sam said evenly.

"Major Carter-"

"Councilor Garshaw. Allow me to fill in a few details." She was not going to back down. Not in front of the dark-haired Tok'ra leader, not in front of her father standing like an amused bear off to the side, not in front of anyone. The general was counting on her to make a point. But why me, sir?

Deep breath, Sam; you know why you. You were Jolinar's host; they'll listen to you when they won't to Jack. And you're third in line of command, at least as far as the Tok'ra consider it. They don't get to go all the way to the top. Not on this one.

"This is our internal report on Anise's assault on the Alliance ambassador," Sam waved a thin sheaf of paper. "I'll be sending you a hardcopy along with General Hammond's formal request that the Tok'ra Anise, and/or her host Freya, not be allowed to come into further contact with either SGC or Alliance personnel." She schooled her expression to casual interest. "It also includes a sworn statement from Lady Peacecraft that she is satisfied with the SGC's efforts to count coup on her behalf, and relinquishes her right to a duel to settle the matter."

"What?"

Sam watched Garshaw's anger slide into the first glimmers of confusion, and tried to quiet the butterflies doing strafing runs in her stomach. Laying down the law to people who say they're our allies, on behalf of people who might be our allies. I'm going to laugh. Or throw up. "Assault is a crime, Councilor."

Garshaw's expression shifted into cold tolerance. "Surely you don't expect us to be held to their laws."

"Why not? You expect us to be held to yours." Oh, damn it - I knew I should have skipped the coffee this morning. Hell with it. "Garshaw, Sanq knows what happened to the medusas Stheno took off the planet. And they know who killed them. We've been doing some very fast talking to try to convince them the Tok'ra aren't just as unethical as the Goa'uld. And they were willing to listen - until your people crossed the line." Sam summoned up her own cold glare, honed and polished under a certain colonel's watchful eye. "You might want to tell Caton and Hoerv that trying to use one group of rebels as leverage against another tends to get you stomped by both sides."

"Selmac-"

"I, too, find the Council's decision less than principled, Garshaw." The Tok'ra ambassador crossed his arms. "Are we not those who forsook the ways of Ra, to abandon tyranny and live in harmony with our hosts?" He gave Garshaw a narrow look. "Or does our pride still so rule us that we would injure those who might aid, simply because we lacked patience?"

Garshaw shook her head. "You have never faced a medusa."

"I have not." Selmac gestured to the laptop by Sam's side. "Yet it appears diplomacy arms us better to face them than demands."

Sam tapped the computer. "Medical information voluntarily given by the Alliance ambassador to Dr. Fraiser, given that we plan to have our forces working together. By the terms of Earth's agreement with the Tok'ra for mutual aid, assistance, and information exchange, the SGC is now transferring this data to you." And I hope Sanq doesn't end up regretting it.

Breathe, Sam. Peacecraft and Yuy knew you'd be handing it over. And they're okay with that. Which means they probably took out anything really dangerous first.

Selmac nodded; but it was Jacob who picked up the laptop. "Now, Yosuuf," he said matter-of-factly, "About those reports on Gault..."



Some kind of storeroom-turned-gym, Duo thought. Mats to fall on, lockers, weights... benches. Good. He helped Jack sit the seriously-shaking archaeologist down, moving away a few polite inches when the colonel cradled Daniel against his shoulder.

Quatre closed the door carefully, thumbing the inside locks shut. "We're clear."

No listeners. No innocent bystanders. Just you, Quatre, a seriously ticked-off colonel, and one scared to death new Shinigami. Okay, Maxwell, you're on.

Duo opened his mouth. Or tried to.

Great. If Heero wanted quiet to work on his laptop, he could talk a mile a minute, death glares notwithstanding. But the one time he had to talk, and words didn't want to come.

"S-start at the beginning," Daniel shivered.

Okay. Yeah, he could do that.

"I was seven, maybe eight," Duo shrugged. "Father and Sister Helen put eight on the school papers, I guess it was close enough. First time I'd ever been in school. Didn't like it much. But they wanted me to go, so I went." He tipped his head back, studying the bare girders of the ceiling. "Bunch of regular kids, a lot of military kids, and one threadbare war orphan from a kami shrine."

"I'm guessing fights," Jack said evenly.

"Like clockwork," Duo nodded. Aware of Quatre's focused attention across the room; the empath had heard fragments of this before, but never the whole story. "Only one time, they said something that... that would've made Sister cry." He shrugged, looking away. "And that's when I put five of 'em in the hospital."

Silence. He could hear the whisper of fabric as Jack clutched Daniel tighter.

"When Father Maxwell got back from apologizing for me... well, he'd thought Sister Helen had talked to me when they took me in, she'd thought he had-" Duo spread an empty hand. "So they sat me down, and we had the talk. Which I'm going to tell you." He frowned. "Though I think I'm going to leave out the bit about the fuzzy cabbits, you're not eight..."

"Duo." Jack's tone was light, but firm as steel.

"Llethuag a ton dubh," Duo said softly. "That's what just happened to you."

"Overwhelmed by the... dark wave?" Daniel straightened in Jack's grasp. "You don't - that's not Universal..."

"Most Shinigami are still from the L2 area," Duo shrugged. "And if you're not Shinigami, it's hard to understand how it works from the inside." He rested his hand on his knee, remembering that long-ago talk. "When we get mad, when we get scared... when somebody we care about is in real trouble... Shi no Yami feels it. Here. And here." He tapped his heart, then the side of his temples. "And it tries to help. 'Cause if you die, it dies, and it's not real interested in dying."

"Everything was dark," Daniel said hesitantly. "And - clear. And..." He looked down at his hands.

"Things were glowing?" Duo raised a chestnut brow. "Yep. We're still not sure how that works, though man, does it ever come in handy when the lights go out... empaths feel other people. Shinigami see them. Who's mad. Who's scared. Who's been touched by a Goa'uld. Who's going to move with you if you start taking the place apart. And if Shinigami comes forward when you didn't call it, it's 'cause you want to take something apart." He saw Daniel lift a finger to object. Oh no you don't. "And don't you dare say you won't call it. It's there. It's part of you. And even if you stopped fighting right now, even if you ran off someplace with no people, no weapons, no war - it'd still be there. And if you don't learn how to call it, how to ride the wave without letting it pull you under, you will kill someone." He took a breath. "Maybe a lot of someones."

"But you were raised in a shrine." Daniel swallowed. "You didn't...?"

"Father was a pacifist, not an idiot," Duo said bluntly. "He and Sister never raised a hand to anybody. Ever. But they were Shinigami and they knew it. And they taught me." He glanced at Jack. "Let him go."

"Nobody's getting hurt here," Jack warned, loosening his grasp.

"That's the point." Duo smiled wryly. "Nobody's hurt. Nobody's mad. He's still pretty wrung out from the last wave; another won't last long. This is about as safe as we can get." He held out a hand. "Trust me?"

"Coming from you, those are scary words." Hot fingers closed around his.

"Okay," Duo said softly, looking Daniel in the eye. "This is something else you're gonna have to watch out for, especially if you end up fighting with a bunch of Preventers. Shinigami can pull each other under-"

And he let the shadows flow forward.

Daniel's hand clenched around his, hard enough to leave bruises on an ordinary human's flesh.

"Shhh," Duo said gently, guiding Shinigami with the lightest of touches. "I'm here. Just listen. Just look. There's nothing to be afraid of..."

Daniel blinked. Stared at their linked hands, ablaze with Shi no Yami's dark fire. Looked back at him, helpless confusion spread over his face.

"Hard to recognize people at first. Everything looks different. Bet you're not even sure who I am right now." Duo kept his tone even, light, as Quatre moved in to murmur soothing words to a twitchy colonel. Jack probably wouldn't appreciate it if he broke out laughing. For some strange reason, laughing Shinigami tended to send most people scrambling for the ammo boxes.

"Duo?" Daniel ventured.

"Yeah." Moving slow and easy, Duo stepped into the circle of his arms. "Just duck your head a little, that's right..."

Daniel's breath was warm on the nape of his neck, drifting a hint of coffee in its wake as the archaeologist breathed in his scent. Almost, almost... got it, Duo knew, feeling the grip on his hand ease.

Daniel's free hand found his bangs, brushed through them gentle as a kitten with its first paper butterfly. "What am I doing?"

"Sally calls it a sensory check." Duo didn't move as warm fingers ghosted down his cheek to brush the tight weave of hair that was the start of his braid. Daniel needed to know there was one safe person in the world. Someone who wouldn't be afraid of him, no matter what. "Regular people use their eyes. Shi no Yami wakes up the part of you that doesn't have eyes. We need to feed it info it can handle. Touch. Scent. Warm feelings." He beckoned Quatre forward.

The empath slipped in to be scented, projecting calm, safe, friend. "We do this with Duo every month or so," he reassured the archaeologist, pushing forward into reach when Daniel's fingers hesitated near blond hair. "It's all right."

"And here I thought you were just a people kind of guy." Jack raised a skeptical brow as his friend's hand ruffled golden strands. "So when you're hugging Yuy..."

"I happen to like hugging Heero," Duo said archly. "It took a lot of work to get to the point where he wasn't trying to strangle me or throw me across the room, and I'm not gonna let it go to waste now. But yeah. We work together a lot. And that's a heck of a lot easier if I know Shinigami's not going to bite my partner." He lifted a challenging eyebrow. You up for this?

Jack gave him a glare. Walked casually into range. "Daniel?"

Duo watched the careful caution as the two touched, lingering confusion on Daniel's part, natural wariness on Jack's. Cautious, but not scared. Duo let out a silent breath of relief. This is going to work.

Someone knocked on the door.

Skulls knocked together as Daniel started; Jack cursed under his breath, keeping a good grip on the archaeologist.

"It's all right," Quatre reassured them, moving toward the door. "It's Sally. I called her as soon as I knew where we were," he explained at Jack's skeptical look, touching the transmitter clipped inside his shirt collar.

Carrying a two-by-four through the doorway, Dr. Po scanned the room. "Everything all right?"

"I've had better days." Daniel made his way back to the bench. Sat down hard.

"Details, Doc," Jack said bluntly. "What's in Daniel?" He hesitated. "And what's with the wood?"

"Demonstration. Later." Sally pulled up a stray folding stool, waited until Duo and Quatre had flanked the two SGC members on the bench. "I told you, Dr. Jackson. Shi no Yami's a killer."

"It was airborne. And lethal," Daniel said quietly. "You said that."

"Not was," Sally said bluntly. "Is."

Jack stiffened. "Po-"

"Hear me out." She sighed. "I told you it killed, Dr. Jackson. What I didn't tell you is how it killed. Duo? You know more about L2 history..."

Duo leaned over interlaced fingers, eyes on the floor. "Nemain would mist Shi No Yami into a city block, and nine out of ten people would drop in their tracks. Eaten alive from the bloodstream. Choked to death from the lungs. Hell, you made it through that, and you'd end up with metastatic cancer. Nasty, nasty bug." Duo hugged his knees. "But that wasn't what scared people."

"One in ten?" Jack asked grimly.

"Carriers," Quatre put in. "Shi no Yami used them to spread."

"You mean, spread from them," Daniel corrected.

"No," Sally said flatly.

"Oh gods." Daniel paled. "Shinigami?"

"They were called that," Quatre admitted. "But they weren't. Not really. Not like you. Not like Duo."

"As near as we can determine from the remaining medical records, Nemain found the ancestor of Shi no Yami living in some kind of egg-laying mammal on one of her worlds," Sally explained. "She tampered with it until she had what she wanted; something lethal, that would get inside the heads of people who didn't die and-" The medusa swallowed dryly. "Carriers looked normal. They acted normal. Sometimes no one even knew they were infected until something set them off... and then they'd start cutting themselves. And killing."

Daniel gulped.

"But we got lucky." Duo sat up. "Somehow - luck, bad gene mix, slow day in the mad scientist lab, who knows - one of her batches reverted close to wild type. And wild type Shi no Yami doesn't kill what it lives in, it doesn't spread by air... and most important, it doesn't drive you crazy."

"But I... MacKenzie..."

"What it does, is take the safeties off," Sally said flatly.

"Um?" Daniel looked the question at Jack.

"Think I know what she's getting at." The colonel studied the braided Shinigami. "You said it gets at the nerves, Po. If that includes the brain... Shi no Yami's hosts. The original ones. They're like cats?"

"Pure carnivores," Sally nodded.

"Do I look like I'm purring?" Daniel said, exasperated.

"Want me to pet you?" Duo grinned.

Jack blinked. "Would that work?"

"Jack!" Daniel sat up, indignant.

"Yes, it would," Quatre chuckled. "Hairbrush, a little patience... trust me, he'll melt."

"Quatre!"

"So, biochemistry," Duo went on, ignoring the bright spots in the archaeologist's cheeks. Poor guy. I ought to brush his hair one time, just so he doesn't freak out the first time he finds a nice partner. "Did Janet know what you were talking about when you asked?"

"Enough that she'll have some very pointed questions for all of us," Sally nodded. "The human brain makes two chemicals to deal with aggression, Daniel. One of them is what you call adrenaline. It triggers the fight or flight response."

"You know, 'oh angels, I'm gonna die, I gotta do something'," Duo stuck in. "Good stuff for emergencies, but hell on rational thinking in a firefight. The other one, don't know what you call it..."

"According to Janet, that would be nor-adrenaline," Sally said. "Cats have a lot of it."

"And people usually don't," Jack countered. "Which is a good thing. Fighter pilots and snipers aside, having calm, rational, happy killers around is kind of hard on the nerves... oh, hell."

"Shinigami in a nutshell." Duo shrugged.

Daniel went white.

"Don't!" Quatre blurted, hand on the archaeologist's shoulder. "It's not like that, Daniel. You're not guilty. You're not a murderer!"

"But Shi no Yami's instincts still say it's airborne, and they still tell it to kill." Sally caught his frightened gaze. "That's why you need the wind. That's why a lot of Shinigami are fighter pilots." She leaned forward. "But instinct isn't who you are, Daniel. You never have to kill."

Daniel licked his lips. "But I wanted to."

"Oh, please." Duo rolled his eyes. "If you'd wanted that guy dead, he'd be dead." Jumping to his feet, he stalked a careful distance away from the bench. "Y'see, there's one last trick Shi no Yami pulls. Wears you out quick... but when everything hits the fan, it's a lifesaver." He dipped into the shadows of his mind. "We call it the sgean dubh."

"The black knife?" Daniel translated hesitantly. "What's-"

Board in hand, Sally swung.

Now!

Darkness slashed wood into ragged pieces.

Chapter Text

"We have taken the villages surrounding the Stargate, Goddess, and we will soon search out the remaining settlements," Dimme's First Prime reported. "It is only a matter of time."

Time, Dimme thought with a snarl, pacing the bridge of her second ha'tak in a swirl of emerald robes. She looked over the hologram of Gault's solar system, willing sensors to sound the tone that would mean the second 'Gate was found. It had to be there. The Tok'ra did not box themselves into systems with only one Stargate in easy flight distance. Time may be the one thing I do not have. "The Tok'ra spies?"

"Allowed to believe they have escaped notice, hidden among those of Gault you ordered left untouched by the Reavers."

"Good." Dimme smiled cruelly, thinking of those living traps set and waiting for her enemies. "The Tau'ri share one weakness with my sister's rogue pets, Hursag. They are both loath to attack innocents."

Her First Prime snorted at that blatant idiocy. Humans were either hosts or slaves; they existed only at the gods' pleasure. There were no innocents. "You are certain the rogues will come here, my Queen? They have no reason to ally with the Tau'ri."

"We must prepare for the worst." Dimme called up the System Lords' file on the Tau'ri she had taken captive. "This Jackson has been thought dead more than once, to Apophis' and Heru'ur's great displeasure. And as for pilot 02..."

"Surely your creation took him, Goddess."

"One of the Scourge of Macha? If any might survive my Reaver, it would be those... creatures." Dimme snarled. "You have read the data we received from Macha before her death, Hursag. You know what Deathscythe's pilot claimed to be."

Call me Shinigami. The chilling laughter was the last thing recorded by too many death gliders to count. Everyone who sees me dies!

"Nemain should have obliterated that L2 colony the moment her experiment left its bounds." Dimme waved a dismissive hand; the past was past. And Nemain's fate upon trying to possess one of her own accidental creations was... unsettling to contemplate. "We have seen how Sanq fights."

"They will attempt to ambush us, overwhelm us with surprise and their Gundams." Hursag refrained from spitting the last word. "If they close a Dragon to minimum distance, they will strike at our main reactors." He drew himself up proudly. "It will not happen, my Queen."

"See that it does not."

A stiff bow. "Yet, the Tau'ri..."

She would not strike him for his daring. Not now. "You have what we know from our fellow Lords," Dimme shrugged.

"Which is enough to know that those of Earth are unconventional and unpredictable, Great One," Hursag said humbly. "Their weapons may be less advanced than ours, or even those of deadly Lamashtu's pets, but they make use of them in manners that echo Preventer raids."

"Whose dangers we know," Dimme said levelly. "Ease your mind, my Prime. Our enemies are not as careful as they would believe. Soon they shall feel the sting of our creations in their own heart." She laughed, bright and chill as glacial streams. "And the gods have ways of knowing the plans of their enemy. We will not send you against Tau'ri, or Gundams, unwarned."

Gundams. Dimme repressed a snarl as Hursag bowed and left her. The rebel fighters were nightmares made reality; agile and tough beyond belief, capable of maneuvers that would drive the finest Jaffa pilots unconscious trying to follow them. Fortune was with her in that Sanq had never made many of them.

Fighter pilots they have aplenty, but Gundam pilots are far, far rarer, the System Lord thought darkly. Difficult to find. Difficult to create.

And that was perhaps the gravest insult of all. Sanq had taken the tools she and her fellow Lords had used on its people; wrested genetic manipulation to its own ends, to shape a rare few from fierce and brilliant pilots into something... perilous.

One year. One year was all they needed to destroy Macha utterly...

It should not have been possible. Five pilots, no matter how well backed, no matter how lucky, should never have been able to face down Macha's forces. Macha had the planet. Her offspring had taken as hosts major government figures, colony leaders, even unsuspected Preventers. Why, as hosts, Lady Une and Treize Kushrenada had managed to infiltrate information into the Preventer network that had led to the Gundams destroying the most influential leaders of the Resistance!

What clever, delightful little children. Dimme's lip curled at the irony. Yet Noventa's death did not crush them.

Nothing had. Not raids on unsuspecting civilians, not threatening the colonies' destruction, not the savage fury of battle after battle. Killing a Gundam pilot was like trying to kill a... what was that Tau'ri word? Cockroach?

Insects all, Dimme thought, stalking toward the quiet ring of a secure communicator. Not for her Jaffa or lesser Goa'uld to answer, no; this she would attend herself. And like the crawling vermin they are, they shall be destroyed.

Dimme looked upon the face of a Tok'ra, and smiled. "Report."


 

Perched backwards on an infirmary chair, Jack drew a finger along slashed wood, feeling the sharp, splintery edge of the grain. Like somebody hacked it with the Machete from Hell.

"Ow!" Daniel's voice complained behind him.

Janet sighed. "It wouldn't hurt so much if you didn't watch."

"Says the lady waving needles near my veins?"

Though the fact that Duo could slice through Sally's two-by-four without lifting a finger wasn't what had set off Jack's weird-o-meter. No; what had raised all the hairs on the back of his neck was the way Deathscythe's pilot had just grinned at him after that flex of will and shadow.

I could take him, Jack told himself bluntly, wrinkling his nose as a stray breeze from the ventilation wafted the scent of charred paper over him. Duo hadn't been kidding about the black knife taking it out of him. The kid had been sweating. Breathing hard.

But that light in violet eyes...

I could take him. If he's telling the truth about the black knife not working on living things. But I'd damn well better get it right the first time.

"Just pick up your reports and read, Daniel."

"First time you've told me to try and get some work done here - ow! Ow, ow, ow... did you take up vampirism in your spare time and forget to tell us?"

"Hah." Janet stored her last blood sample. "General, I'm not sure how much you want me to put into his official file, but as of now, Dr. Jackson is off the blood donor list. Permanently."

"I was under the impression the organism doesn't spread by simple blood contact," Hammond said darkly.

"It doesn't. But it's still in the blood, and it still tries to kill anything that doesn't have its host's DNA. Meaning it'd start with the patient's other white blood cells and destroy tissues outward from there." Janet shrugged. "Any vampire that bit you, Daniel, would be making the last mistake of its life."

Daniel winced. "That's... a really great image, Janet. Thanks."

The general hmphed. "And you believe this 'black knife' is how Preventer Maxwell broke loose on Dimme's ship?"

"Yes, sir," Daniel nodded, holding a ball of cotton in the crook of his elbow as he perched on the examining table. "I didn't see everything - but it seemed like all the restraints snapped at once." He frowned. "I'm still not sure how he pulled off the wings..."

"Knives are airfoils," Jack said matter-of-factly, turning sharp wood over in his hands. "Ask Carter. All you'd have to do is shape them right. And anybody who's put that much effort into training a guerilla isn't going to leave the psychokinetic stuff out."

"He's what?" Daniel sputtered. "Jack, he's a teenager!"

"You're sure, Colonel?" Hammond's frown deepened.

"I'm sure, sir." Jack nodded. "Guerillas. Night warriors. Special ops the hard and dirty way. They're too twitchy to be anything else. Too good." He thought a second. "Except Lady Peacecraft. Though she's had enough training to know when to duck."

"Very expensive." Hammond looked grim.

"For us, yeah," Jack acknowledged. "For Sanq's Alliance? They may not have had a choice."

"Um... expensive?" Sliding off the table, Daniel looked the question at him.

"Doctors and fighter pilots cost a lot to train," Jack explained. "You pour that much money into a person, you do not want to lose them in the middle of some black operation Congress won't admit happened. We don't take them into Special Ops. Period." He tapped the wooden point in his palm. "Then again, we haven't had to fight a running war to kick an entrenched Goa'uld off our planet. Not for, say, four or five thousand years?"

Daniel licked his lips. "So you're saying the most valuable weapon the Alliance has... is making battle plans in our VIP quarters."

"Yep." Jack tried to smother a grin.

Daniel eyed him. "What's so funny?"

"Oh, just thinking about how long it's going to take the Tok'ra to figure out they can't just walk off with this technology," Jack said blithely. "Right, Doc?"

"It's likely they can't even touch it. Even if a Guardian consented to be a host." Janet's smile had a hard edge. "Cancer's just another genetic alteration, after all. Talk about symbiote healing abilities being a disadvantage."

"Intriguing as that thought may be, Doctor, I doubt that's why you called me here," Hammond pointed out.

"Well, sir..." Janet glanced at Jack.

"Go ahead, Doc," the colonel shrugged.

"I think your problem's more important," Janet argued.

"My problem can't call a JAG lawyer."

"Actually, I don't think hers will either," Daniel pointed out. "Not until the sedation wears off."

Jack put on a hurt expression. "Daniel. This isn't just some measly interplanetary war we're talking about. This is base morale."

Hammond glared at them all impartially. "Someone start talking. Now."

"Well," Daniel nudged up his glasses. "I didn't - exactly - oh gods, I still can't believe I did that..."

Janet took pity on him. "Despite appearances, General, Dr. Jackson didn't incinerate paperwork at random." She moved to a table, where a box held singed files and one slightly worse for wear laptop. "As the ranking medical officer, I have charge of these files until a court of inquiry can be convened. I'd like to request we have a forensic computer specialist examine this disk drive, although the hardcopy's damning enough. I do not want this... person... wriggling out of charges."

Hammond took the sooty pages she held out, skimming MacKenzie's text and Janet's page of notes on the side. His eyes narrowed as he read. "You're certain?"

"I did considerable research after Dr. Jackson was misdiagnosed, sir." Janet didn't flinch. "When it comes to our civilian members, Dr. MacKenzie exhibits a consistent pattern of prescribing drugs where experts in the field say therapy is advised, and over-prescribing when medication is advised. He might be able to skate out of that on the basis of our unusual circumstances, but those little crib notes in Colonel Makepeace's file, before the colonel went rogue for the NID-" Her fists clenched.

"Remind subject Rosalie Makepeace remains under care courtesy Sen. Kin." Hammond looked up. "Senator Kinsey?"

"I haven't found anything to prove that just yet, sir," Janet cautioned.

"I knew the Colonel had a sister, but he never mentioned that she had difficulties." The general looked as if he'd bitten into something foul. "Lock and key, Doctor."

"Yes, sir. Permission to hope you throw him out so hard he bounces?"

"I don't think I heard that, Major Fraiser." Hammond met her gaze squarely. "You will, of course, treat Dr. MacKenzie with all due military courtesy expected of a medical professional caring for a confined prisoner."

Janet stood at attention. "Of course, sir."

The general nodded, satisfied. "Now, Colonel. If we could turn our attention to the minor matter..."

"The reports don't match," Daniel said hastily. "The Tok'ra's."

Yeah. That, Jack thought darkly. "Between what Carter and Yuy got out of their computers and what Jacob turned over, we've got some serious holes, sir." He held up four fingers. "They didn't tell us they've still got spies on the planet and in Dimme's command. They didn't tell us Dimme's been negotiating with Apophis to move into that section of Heru'ur's territory for the past three months. They didn't tell us their agents instigated those talks, or that the big selling point was Dimme promising Apophis 'weapons of old against the Tok'ra'. And they didn't tell us just what Heru'ur had in his Gault warehouses that got the High Council to set up this whole mess in the first place."

"That's five, Jack," Daniel muttered.

"Whatever." Jack drew a breath, willing his hands still. Going to wring Jacob's scrawny... hold it right there, O'Neill. He and Selmac got played on this one, too. "Apparently, our friends got a lot of weapons out of those storehouses before Dimme crashed the party. But some of them they left, with a little added C-4 to make things interesting, and one of them - one falcon-brains meant to use on dear old Mom - they just moved. Right into Dimme's ship, while she was distracted chasing us."

"They've got enough bombs on remote trigger to incinerate everything within fifty miles of the Stargate," Daniel picked up the thread. "And their agents in Dimme's command now have access to Heru'ur's weapon against Hathor. A drug specifically designed to sedate Queens."

"They're going to snatch her, blow the place, and make it look like we did it," Jack summed up. "And the only thing stopping them is Dimme's computer firewalls sealing off just where Sanq is. They want that info, sir. Bad."

"The last report projected they'd need another week to breach Dimme's security," Daniel said quietly. "That was yesterday."

Hammond blew out a slow breath. "How much does the Alliance know?"

"Wing Zero? Everything but Jacob's report," Jack said bluntly. "Sir, I'd request that we consider turning that over at some point. Let the Alliance know not all the Tok'ra are trying to screw them."

Hammond frowned. "I take it they're upset."

"Upset?" Janet's knuckles clenched white on her notebook. "Colonel, are you saying the Tok'ra are planning to frame Earth for wiping out innocent civilians?"

"Looks that way, Doc." Jack shrugged. "Treaty or no Treaty, General, if this goes down - Dimme's a Queen. The Goa'uld are short on those. Mix that with a massive loss of life they can trace back to our doorstep... the System Lords will have an 'oops' near Earth and deal with the Asgaard later. And Sanq isn't even in the Treaty. They'll be toast." He folded his arms. "I think we're all way past upset, sir."

"Lady Peacecraft said something about looking well in the blood of her enemies," Daniel noted.

"I'm beginning to like that lady," Janet said dryly.

Hammond's mouth pressed into a grim line. "Less than six days."

"And ha'taks on the other side," Jack muttered. "I know, sir." Dammit, the SGC wasn't built for major military assaults-

Fingers drummed softly on paper. "We need to talk to Commander Une."

"Dr. Jackson?" Hammond glanced toward the distracted archaeologist.

Daniel froze, hand poised above damning pages. "Ah... Anne Une. She's the head of the Preventers. Lady Peacecraft can request Wing Zero's assistance, but if we're going to have our demolitions people working with Preventer strike teams - and we're going to have to if the Tok'ra set it up to look like our explosives, the Wings have stuff like C-4 but I know detonation switches are pretty tricky from one culture to another, so we really need to talk to her so she can get the Alliance Council rolling... what?"

The general blinked. "Colonel. Your honest opinion."

We're not alone. We might not have to do this alone. Hot damn! "Call the Commander and start talking. Fast," Jack added. "And get ready for casualties, Janet. Even if this works, throwing together two different forces is gonna be messy as hell-"

Incoming traveler blared over the alarm system. "General, we've got an ID code," Sergeant Davis' voice came over the intercom, "It's Sanq!"


 

"Chevron five is coding... chevron five is locked in place..."

"Ground those news hovers!" Preventer Lucrezia Noin ordered, one hand woven into short blue hair, securing the ear-piece warning her of L3 Main's imminent invasion. Hover whine died away, leaving the medical alert siren a distant blare through the emptying streets below. Noin flicked a glance across the gray expanse of the Angels Hospital roof, checking positions of the 'Gate guards. Every year we hash it all out and decide to keep the L3 Stargate here... and every time we open it, I think it's a bad idea all over again. Damn you, Zechs - you'd better not get yourself killed hunting Reavers while I'm handling guests! "Dai, where's Doctor-"

"I have what you asked for, Preventer Noin." Pale and grim, Dr. Sabin Ellary hustled through the Preventers' cordon, medical kit in hand and half-grown raven clinging to his shoulder. He tossed his head, absentmindedly trying to flip back the brunet ponytail currently pinned up from yet another stint in the secure ward. "A dozen L3 immunization kits... shouldn't your Preventers have their shots?"

"We're getting outside help." Please, let them be able to help, Noin willed the universe. Please let Sally be right...

Ellary sucked in a breath, his eyes almost as bright as his black-feathered companion's. "Then - there's hope? I asked Dr. Pailm to stand by, but at least two of the children - we can't find their parents. If it comes down to euthanize or infect-"

Noin watched the last chevron lock. "I'd keep that option in reserve."

And silver-blue blazed outward.

Wormhole stabilized. Noin let out a breath as silver settled into the shimmering circle of the 'Gate. And now we see if the Goa'uld sneaked in this time...

But the figure stepping out of the silvery curtain was almost as familiar as her life partner; you tended to remember the people who'd shot at you, then shot with you. "Heero!"

"Noin." The leader of Wing Zero nodded once as a graying man in green and blue stepped through the 'Gate after him, followed by more familiar and unfamiliar faces dragging a pull-cart of boxes with alien labels. The pilot's hands flicked out, Safe. Not under threat. More to follow. "We brought what you asked."

"Ooof!"

I didn't ask for a Council member in the middle of a medical emergency! Noin bit back the words as Relena dusted herself off. It wasn't as if their ambassador could have stayed behind with all her bodyguards desperately needed here.

"Lady Peacecraft!" one of her junior Preventers blurted.

"Just get me to Colony Hall," Relena said unsteadily, leaning against Hrere's fur as she fought 'Gate nausea. "I need a secure link to Commander Une..."

Sally touched wormhole-frost on the boxes, traded a speaking glance with short redhead in white over green beside her. "Who's the medic in charge?"

"Dr. Po, Dr. Ellary," Noin said swiftly, almost dragging the man with her as she waved in orderlies to help Wing Zero and the strangers. Most of the faces were familiar, caught off the video from Earth's first visit, but the redhead and the balding man in an unlabeled green uniform were new. Tau'ri doctors? "Where do these go?"

The redhead said something fast and alien; Reaver was about all Noin made out before the woman turned completely around-

And stared, open-mouthed.


 

Oh. My. God.

For a moment Janet forgot the nauseating jolt of the wormhole, the nagging sirens, the deadly emergency at hand. Forgot, almost, to breathe.

You can see the world curve.

Skyscrapers and parks and streets stretched out below their rooftop, arcing up in the distance where earth-born eyes expected a horizon. Janet tilted her head back, following that impossible, green-and-steel curve up into the clouds...

Clouds. I'm on a space colony - a rotating ring! - and there are clouds, and trees, and fields, and a city spread over miles-

"Careful." Trowa caught her just before she began to tip. "Planet-born perspective fools you. Keep your eyes closed until you get used to it."

"You get used to - hey!" Janet slapped at the needle Trowa had slipped into her arm. Too late.

"L3 emergency inoculations," Sally said briskly as she pulled her needle out of a grumbling Jack. "You're going to be near or working in Angels Hospital's emergency secure ward. I am not interested in shipping a case of Nervefire or Creeping Yellow back to Earth."

"I don't need this," Jacob growled as Wufei latched onto him.

"Take it anyway," Jack said, edge in his voice as the rest of his team submitted to Duo and Quatre. "Unless you want the nice docs to wonder about you."

"And be glad it's not L2 or L4." Quatre rubbed an arm as if in memory. "Those hurt."

"If this were L2 or L4, I wouldn't let any of you come, Colonel," Sally said flatly. "Get to me tomorrow and I'll start you on preliminary immunizations for those colonies. You want to give your immune system a week before you take chances with those bugs." She hesitated. "Colonel, I don't know how many mass medical emergencies you've seen-"

"Madhouse," Jack said shortly as Wing Zero scrambled into the light armor the other Preventers had brought. "Yeah. Daniel? Translate for the nice ladies."

"You haven't seen these things move, Jack!"

"Fast, deadly, nasty as hell - I think we get the picture." Jack fixed the archaeologist with his gaze. "Point is to stop them before Janet runs out of drugs. Right?"

"Right." Daniel swallowed. "Be careful."

"Be sure that you are as well, Daniel Jackson." Teal'c hefted his staff weapon as he headed across the roof with the rest of the Preventers. "I have not yet been able to determine from Chang the proper behavior at Alliance weddings."

"Oh, very funny..."

The elevator ride down was fast and odd, doors sealing with a hiss before they dropped. "Vacuum-proof," Sally said at their startled glance toward the noise. The orderlies hadn't even noticed, busy studying the to-them alien boxes of supplies. "I know, it took me a while to get used to the idea, too. Just about every door on a colony can seal airtight. It's very bad manners to leave doors open."

Janet shivered. We're in space. Not on Earth. Not even on another planet. Hard vacuum. Suddenly the steel around them felt incredibly fragile. "Are atmosphere losses common?"

"No, thank the kami. Maintenance catches most of them. But colonists train their kids early what to do if there are. It saves lives."

"Crrr-awk?" Bright black eyes peered at Janet; the brunet doctor smiled weakly, ruffling glossy feathers. He looked between them, asking a quick question.

"Dr. Janet Fraiser, Daniel, Dr. Sabin Ellary and Sawagi," Sally introduced them. She dropped into Sanq's Universal, speaking swiftly.

"She's telling him you're the doctor, I'm just the translator in case things get out of hand," Daniel said in an undertone. "He's saying things are heading that way fast; they've got... gods, thirty-two patients, dosed up on everything they've got, and they're already starting to lose the children. Less mass to convert." He listened, paling. "They've had to restrain the three - companions? - in the veterinary wing, they want to stay with their people, but they're panicking at the Reaver scent. Janet, those three are Beastmasters!"

"Lucky for L3." Sally switched back to English with a grimace. "The first Reaver that got near a group of people already found them running like hell. The animals didn't know what that scent was, but they knew it was wrong."

"Where'd it come from?" Janet shot at Ellary as the doors hissed open.

"Nobody knows yet," Sally said grimly, following the raven-carrying doctor down the pale blue hall. "Right now the whole colony's in epidemic lockdown. No ships in or out, no suits in or out, stick to your shelter or go on the streets at your own risk. Preventers are good shots, but anyone can miss."

"You have an organized plan for this?" Janet suppressed another shiver, thinking of the mass chaos if even one Reaver were let loose on Earth. In a big city. Or even a small city. Like the one around Cassie's school... It'd be a slaughter.

"Centuries of System Lord bio-weapons." Sally stopped in front of the secure ward's guarded doors, snatching a translucent face-shield and strap-on arm and shin greaves from the supplies stacked outside. "Armor up. We've got no idea how soon victims become infectious. And-"

Foot-thick doors opened on piercing shrieks.

"-They're already delirious."

It's going to be ugly, Janet told herself, fumbling on her own armor. Kids, and something that...eats you, like it did Teal'c. It's going to be ugly. Know it and move on.

She stalked in on Ellary's heels, head high, refusing to falter. Not at the sight of two dozen adults and half as many kids manacled to their treatment beds. Not at the pair of cursing orderlies holding down a gray-green tendril while a third sprayed hardening blue foam to lock it down. Not at the tears running down an exhausted nurse's face as she played the amber glow of a healing device across the darkness spreading through a little girl's veins.

"'Kaa-chan!" Dark hair was soaked with sweat, snarling as the small head twisted feverishly on the pillow. "'Kaa-chan..."

Daniel winced. "She's-"

"I know," Janet bit out, heart constricting. Language didn't matter. You could always hear when a child was calling for Mommy.

The mother in her wanted to scream. Wreak havoc. Kill something, slow and painfully. Preferably Dimme.

Later. Kill her later, the doctor thought coldly. "All right, people! I need IV lines in and body weights of each patient. Glucose and metabolic supplements now, these people need to live long enough for the RNA blockers to work. Let's move!"

Chapter Text

Rumbling wolfhound by his side, Officer Dexter Keir leaned near the Preventer in charge of this operation, voice barely ruffling the pilot's white-blond hair. "No offense, sir, but couldn't we just hover over and firebomb the area?"

 Zechs Merquise grimaced at the warren of alleyways ahead, listening to his comm with half an ear as his cordon of Preventers checked in. North… south… spinward… good. After a fashion, anyway. Confining a known infectious, intelligent hazard near the corridor to one of the colony's docking hangars didn't quite qualify as good on the worst of days.

All the colonies in the Alliance, and this thing had to pick the one Noin and I thought would be a good vacation spot. Some days it just doesn't pay to shuttle off the planet. "Stay in pairs. Move in slowly. Report if you see anything, do not pursue," he ordered. "This is a plague, and we will contain it as such." He nudged his mike off. "Officer Keir. Your own people can't confirm that we've cleared all the civilians from the area. And unless I'm mistaken, one of your colony's breeding Horus falcon nests is on an arch two streets in." He damn well wasn't mistaken. Noin had been so enthused about seeing the sky-hunters of Earth's Two Lands in their adopted environment she'd all but force-fed him the nest maps for three days.

Overkill, Zechs thought wryly. But familiar overkill; Treize was just as bad when it came to his roses and songbirds.

We're Gundam pilots. There's no such thing as overkill.

"I know that!" the police officer snapped. "But given the circumstances-"

"Those circumstances make it imperative that we confirm any kills visually," Zechs said coldly, sidearm drawn and ready as he approached the first suspicious alley. "Given the extent of the injuries one of these creatures has survived, we can't just incinerate the area and pray we destroyed it."

"Like hunting a damn Shinigami," Keir grumbled under his breath.

A small smile tugged at Zechs' mouth. "I've done that, Keir. This is nothing like a Shinigami." He paused, measuring the man in a cool blue gaze. "Or even an insane Shi no Yami carrier."

"Right," the officer said at last.

Not convinced. Oh well. Signaling wait, Zechs spun low around the corner-

Nothing. No people, no hovers, no wheeled go-carts in the street. A street-hawker's wok lay abandoned on a sidewalk stove, charred remnants of what had been hot-pepper pancakes sending up wisps of smoke. A balcony door stood ajar five floors overhead, hinting no one live or sane remained in that apartment. And a light tan page of last week's Checking Spin drifted diagonally across the street, crinkling in the breeze.

Worse than nothing, Zechs thought grimly. Where are the pigeons?

A hover whine snagged his ear. If that's another news crew trying to breach the cordon, I swear I'll zat first and ask questions later-

"Wind," came a cool, familiar voice over his comm.

"Wing," Zechs returned, not turning from the street as the hover settled behind Keir to discharge its passengers. "Make yourself useful, Yuy."

"Hn."

Wing Zero, SG team members - wait, no name? Zechs risked a quick glance toward the balding man in the unlabeled variant of SG-1's uniform.

He was armed like the rest, though, and he knew enough to keep his voice down. Even if the tone of his English said he wanted to drop someone off a cliff. "You'd better have a damn good explanation for dragging me out here, Colonel!"

"Trust me, Jacob. It's a doozy." O'Neill's smile was wry.

"Who are you?" Keir demanded in Universal, gun not - quite - aimed at the unfamiliar uniforms.

"They've come to help." Quatre intercepted the officer with a warm smile. "They'll be working with us."

Keir and his hound looked them over, both sparing a long glance at the golden mark of a First Prime on Teal'c's brow, and a longer one at Jacob. "If you say so, Preventer Winner."

"Who's he?" Jacob grumbled, eyeing the growling wolfhound in turn.

"Oh, he's a cop," Duo said cheerfully. "And a Beastmaster. So that cover you thought Selmac had? Pretty much blown."

They brought the Tok'ra? Zechs frowned. Then again, it wasn't as if they could have left him back at Angels'. A few of the civilian staff were Survivors, and they did zat first and ask later.

Jacob glared at the braided pilot. "You kiss your mother with that mouth, kid?"

Hmm. Zechs' lips twitched into a thin smile. Maybe Sthenno was right; Tok'ra do have a death wish.

The growl he heard was pure human. "Our mothers died with honor," Wufei said flatly. "You will not speak of them."

Jacob dodged the black gaze. "I didn't know."

"No," O'Neill stated bluntly. "There's a lot you don't know, Jacob. Try and stay in one piece long enough for us to fill you in."

"Status?" Heero inquired, moving up to cover Zechs.

"Noin briefed you?"

"Aa."

One less worry. "The infection moves fast enough to leave a perceptible scent on any of those affected," Zechs said swiftly. "We're fairly certain no one's gotten past the cordon, and the number of evacuees roughly tallies with the usual population of this area-"

"Roughly?" O'Neill demanded.

"This isn't the best part of town." One hand tangled in Hrere's fur, Trowa scanned the suspiciously vacant rooftops. "Usual for plagues."

"Which is what worries me, sir. This is an intelligent plague." Sam flanked her commander, nervous blue eyes flicking over empty porch stoops. "What does it want?"

A scream pierced the wind.


 

-Hunt/scent/kill-

Blood dripped off the Reaver's tendrils, already cooling. Cloth and flesh fell heavily aside.

Through slit eyes it regarded the whimpering bundle beside the corpse.

-Easy prey-

Too easy. It left the small creature undamaged. The young thing's cry would add the perfect touch.

-Bait set-

It skittered up and out of sight, considering its orders. Its goddess had been explicit in those last moments before the life-pod was fired free from her ha'tak. Hide its nature until it reached the colony. Wreak bloody, public chaos - then escape, going to ground in the tightest, most vile warren it could find. Snare its decoys. And wait for the trap to close.

For this trap was hers.

As Sanq knew Dimme, the goddess knew Sanq. Cops would anchor the lines, but it would be Preventers who did the hunting. And mixed in with the Preventers, called to hunt such a glorious, deadly creation as a Reaver… would be pilots.

-Preventers/camouflage/kill. Wing/hidden/destroy-

And now the waiting was over, and it was free to kill as many Preventers as possible.

-Prey comes.-


 

"Not how I planned to spend my day off…."

"Jacob Carter." Teal'c kept his voice low, barely above the background rustle of stray papers in the breeze. SG-1's throat mikes would transmit it, and he suspected the Preventer communicator clipped to his collar would as well. "We have no reason to believe the transformation renders the Reaver deaf."

From the Tok'ra's scowl, that aborted hand movement was not meant to be one of O'Neill's combat signals.

From the way black eyes narrowed, Chang Wufei knew precisely what it was supposed to be.

Perhaps this was not the best way to arrange our forces, Teal'c thought, checking on Zechs and Keir in their center; O'Neill and Major Carter were quite capable of handling point. But the beast climbs. And SG-1 is not capable of that.

That was a whisper-tread on steel drawing Teal'c's gaze upward, where Duo and Heero had just leapt from one tenth-floor balcony to the next. Across the street Quatre and Trowa were covering them from the same level, while Hrere perched on a railing, ears pricked forward, wings and whiskers spread into the wind.

The gravity here is less than Sanq, Teal'c knew, feeling a perceptible lightness of limb. Yet not that much less. They train for agility, rather than strength…. I must ask Janet Fraiser to examine our guests closely, the next time she has the opportunity.

Keir's hound growled. "Blood," the Alliance cop reported tersely.

Chang frowned, listening to his communicator. "They see it. Around the right corner, in a second-floor studio, by a broken window. One body. At least it has the right number of limbs to be one." The Preventer tensed. "And a child. Quatre says he's alive, and frightened. The wind's not right for Hrere to scent if he's infected."

"Can anybody say 'trap'?" O'Neill's voice grumbled over Teal'c's ear-piece. "If Cat can find the kid, why can't he pull this bug out of a hat?"

"Empaths sense human emotion, O'Neill," Zechs said into his borrowed radio. "The Reaver's not human anymore."

"You don't know that."

"The empaths on Angels' staff were clear," Zechs said bluntly. "And terrified, from Noin's report. As soon as the infection hits the brain, the victim starts sliding away from human."

"Okay… so if it's an animal, your Beastmasters ought to be able to lock down where it is, right?"

"It's not an animal," Keir bit out, listening to Chang's quiet translation. "We lost five cops and a companion when Officer Marui tried to influence the damn thing. She couldn't… and it didn't bother infecting them. It just killed them."

"Dimme knows what we are, O'Neill," Wufei added levelly. "She knows better than to make it that easy."

"We're not leaving the kid there, Colonel," Jacob said shortly.

"All due respect, sir - that's what this damn thing is counting on." O'Neill sighed. "Yuy?"

"Move in."


 

-Three directions-

Shards of mirror glass, strategically placed, accented the scents brought by the wind with flickers of movement. Left and right from above, shadowing a single, cautious trickle of bodies on street level.

Good. They feared it.

But not enough.

-Spread out/weak-

Time to weaken them further.


 

Following Heero across the last balcony before their target window, shadows rendering his comrades in glowing hues of worry and controlled rage, Duo bit back a grimace. Does anybody else think this is a bad idea?

Dumb question. Nobody wanted to be here.

No. Someone was enjoying themselves. Way too much, if that pale flicker at the edge of his sight was any indication.

Too much and not enough. He knew that hue; predatory anticipation, sure as any Shinigami with prey in sight. But it was fractured. Faint. So faint.

Wait a second…. "I think I See it."

Heero stopped. "Where?" Jack demanded.

"I don't see it, Jack, I See it. Gweled, not canfod, damn it-" English didn't have the right words! "I don't have a target! It's behind a wall. Somewhere in there. And it's faint."

"Sōzōryoku, not shikaku," Heero clarified, scanning the building before them. "It's not projecting human emotion, but it is projecting." Silence asked the question.

"It knows we're here," Duo obliged. "I think it's somewhere it can scent us."

"Scent us?" Sam asked.

"Yeah." Duo swallowed, stomach queasy as he traced that gray swirl of anticipation. "It's hungry."

The comm went quiet.

"Cannibalistic, or just carnivorous?" Trowa asked levelly.

In the background Duo heard the familiar snick of the acrobat's grapnel gun, the leathery beat of Hrere taking off for their target's roof. It made his gut clench. "How the hell should I - k'so!"

Heero had taken one more step forward. Anticipation flared, nova-bright. Metal clicked.

Duo leapt on his partner, burying them both in shadows as the world came apart.

Goa'uld energy cells, rigged to explode, Teal'c realized, flattening Major Carter as the balconies shrieked and twisted apart. Beside him Jacob Carter and O'Neill hit the ground as one, latching onto a howling Chang before he could run to the plummeting steel that had been Heero's position. Zechs and Keir dropped into a crouch, opening fire on the Reaver's lair, trying to provide cover for the falling Wing. Surely a futile effort-

Dust swirled about a swoop of line, and two bodies slammed into vibrating glass.

"Son of a bitch, they're alive," O'Neill breathed, weapon raised and watching for the Reaver as Hrere screamed challenge from the roof. Five floors above them Trowa winced and shook his head, gloved hands wrapped around the line that had carried the Beastmaster to the shuddering window. About ten feet below Quatre hung limp and pale, one side of his face already red as the blond blinked, dazed, at the window-frame that had appeared in front of him.

"Stay put, dammit!" Jacob gripped Chang hard enough to bruise when the pilot lunged for settling steel. "Ever hear of secondary bombs? It's trying to catch rescue personnel. This whole damn place could be mined!"

"So it could." Black eyes hot with rage, Wufei lifted an empty hand. Swept it across-

Heat shimmered away from the Dragon, striking street and wreckage like the hammer of the sun.


 

-White fire-

Three columns of flame shot into the sky. The Reaver flinched back, snarled.

Three fires. Three ignition switches, disabled before they could set off their charges.

-Dragon-

The first part of its trap was shattered. Useless.

The second….

-Now!-


 

"01, status!"

"Acceptable, 05." Heero squinted at shifting shadows, wincing at the scrape of steel and concrete against his arms. The wreck of the balcony pressed close around him. Creaks and shudders played an ominous duet; sharp as his ears were, they couldn't pick out which were settling wreckage and which might be an ongoing firefight.

Despite Maxwell's occasional jokes, he was not made of Gundanium. Collapsing steel should have flattened him….

Ah. Ragged breathing against his neck told why it had not.

"02?" Wufei's voice demanded.

Nestled in his shoulder, long braid a silken rope trailing down his arm. "Unconscious." Even without light, Heero could picture every line of that stubborn, protective Shinigami. Duo's form was as familiar as his Gundam, and just as dedicated to his survival.

It took strength and will to summon the black knife, instants of destructive telekinesis almost too brief for instruments to record. Shaping it into a shield that would hold the seconds of their fall took training, determination… and not a little insanity.

Heero pressed an ear near Duo's throat. Listened to the reassuring drum of a weary heart. Stifled a sigh, and started inching his hand toward a vest pocket he hated to open. He could already feel the ghost of metal winding around his hand, malign mark of what all but a few thought he was. "02 is out, 05. Status?"

A pause. "Wait one."

Gunfire rattled outside of Heero's impromptu prison. An inhuman shriek vibrated down twisted steel, shaking loose concrete dust. One of the rods poking him trembled, hinting at a dangerous shift in the debris overhead.

Wait one, hell!


Yep, this qualifies as a lousy day. Jack backed up against Zechs as they fired at insectoid shadows, grateful for the tall blond's height; good as the Wing was, he'd probably have stepped on them in the middle of this mess. Teal'c's staff weapon cracked thunder through the air, bass counterpoint to Jacob and Wufei's fire. One, two, three at least - our monster's been busy.

And the damn things were fast.

Daniel took one of these down? Jack ducked a claw swipe, shutting the shrieking terror of infection away. Survive first. Doc later. Space monkey must have been getting in target practice when I wasn't looking-

Standing over his whimpering, bloodied hound, Keir was yelling something into his comm. Zechs snapped out a reply that had to be Countermand that!

Oh, I hate multilingual ops….

A tendril yanked his feet out from under him, claws wet with the Reaver's own blood shredding his vest. Dammit, just once wouldn't something stay down when it was shot?

Thuck.

Orange bloomed on the neck of the Reaver reaching for his throat. The creature blinked, snarled-

Jack emptied a magazine into it. Dislodged the spent clip as it teetered, surprised. Slammed in another.

Thuck. Thuck thuck thuck-

The Reaver drooped, sliding to seared ground like softened jelly. Fist-sized bullet holes tricked red-black fluids onto the pavement. Five darts stood out of its skin, clustered in a tight group on neck and shoulder.

I love a guy who takes the high ground. Jack risked a glance up to the window-ledge, where Trowa was already picking his next target. Hrere vibrated along the sixth-floor ledge above him, wings and paws working as she watched for any sign of ambush while her human concentrated on the fight below.

Wait a second.

Trowa was there. Quatre wasn't.

Oh hell, tell me he didn't….

Light gleamed off a broken window on the third floor. And there was one gun conspicuously missing from those playing the anvil chorus in this wreck of an alley.

Where the hell is Sam?


 

-Trap sprung-

The younger ones had their targets.

-Bait breathing - shift?-

A hitch in the young thing's sobs. The Reaver listened from its ceiling perch, catching the near-soundless creak of prefab flooring as cautious steps neared the luring carnage.

"Shh…."

Claws flexed.

-Closer-

"I'm a Preventer. I've come to get you out."

-Closer!-

"He doesn't look hurt... hurry!" A catch of breath. "The remains - it was feeding-"

And the little blond would be easy meat.


 

Thank the kami for Une's obstacle courses-

Muscle and bone dropped at the flicker of shadow, sending Quatre in a roll across the bloody floor as insect-quick talons struck for his throat.

His hands were empty. Quatre snatched one of Trowa's knives from his boot, threw, and rose, already reaching for another-

A squeal, and the boy he'd come to rescue barreled into his arms, shaking like a leaf. No-!

Blade quivering in its heart, the Reaver hissed. Twisted his lost gun between its talons, shattering steel and plastic. Bullets spilled to the floor in a cymbal-clash of tungsten.

Gold eyes gleaming, it bared its fangs.

"Quatre, I'm on you-"

Sam's voice. Sam's glint of blonde hair, at the doorway edge. But it was already leaping-

Blue-green eyes met the Reaver's, determined and afraid. Young in its arms, the human spread an empty hand, as if to bar it from its prey with mere flesh and bone-

Fury/fear/hatred/will to live!


The Reaver curled on itself, too late realizing reflex had betrayed it.

Quick limbs smashed against the floor, the little prey's cry lost in the crack of its own bones. It reeled back, claws sinking into its skin to tear out the alien thrust of emotion. Physical pain it could endure. Mental torment it would laugh at; it served a goddess, what were human considerations of love or conscience to Her will? But this-

Black. Breathless. The abyss of space….

Cold, suffocating death. Even to a creature the goddess had reshaped with her own hands.

-No! Illusion!-

It fought to see the colony around it, the warmth and light and air - anything but the gaze locked on its, fierce and unyielding as the sea under a banshee's whip.

Die!


God! Sam gripped her P-90 tight against that conflagration of emotion, using the familiar feel of metal and plastic to keep her hands from clawing her own flesh. Killing rage swept over her, pushed and pummeled her, dragging her down like a riptide.

Shoot. One finger on the trigger. So easy….

The Reaver shrieked, writhing away from Quatre.

Sam shook herself, trying to hold back the firestorm in her mind. No! I won't. I won't kill it this way! That's still a person, whatever Dimme did to it-

Still a creature trying to kill them all.

"Quatre! Move!"

Gray-green slashed toward her.

Here's where Rambo would shoot off the tentacles-

Sam ducked, firing at the Reaver's center of mass. A tendril scraped over the back of her vest, catching in kevlar to yank her off balance. Claws snatched for her face.

The empath dove and rolled aside, dropping the shrieking child to come up with a smaller holdout gun. Teeth bared, Quatre opened fire.


 

No!

Jacob shook his head, trying to dislodge Selmac's panicked scream. Adrenaline was a hot rush in his system, burning away thoughts of Council plots and counter-plots in one pure blaze of now.

Get it away!

Duck and aim and fire-

I'm dying….

The hell you are! Jacob thought, exasperated. A little adrenaline's not going to-

Rational thought went dark.


 

Taking aim at the chaos below, Trowa laughed. That's right, my love. Fight!

It was lightning. Fireworks. Breathing with Petky in a stoop, talons fisted to kill.

It was Quatre's pure fury, sweeping out to encompass them all.

Trowa caught the edge of it and held on, riding the wave of rage as he would a favorable wind. Bright sparks of love and fear flickered back to him; the others, accepting Quatre's deadly gift in their own way. Wufei, a quick flash of tigerish fury. Heero, the cold, implacable anger of the crocodile at bay. Duo, the joyous blend of love and death, bright and dark as a raven in flight-

Jacob fell.

And from the way that dark face had grayed, Teal'c was a heartbeat from following.

But - Selmac is Goa'uld! Trowa thought, stunned. They're not vulnerable to empathy; they never have been! The sarcophagus shuts down that part of the host's mind….


 

Lamashtu used Winner empaths to drive people insane.

Heartbeat drumming in his ears, Jack focused on the dying firefight, forcing back the impulse to empty lead into the creatures Wufei and Zechs were spray-gluing to the street. Despite staff scorches, a multitude of bullet rounds in inhuman hide, darts filled with a mix of tranqs and RNA inhibitors, and a zat blast apiece, they still writhed and snapped weakly as the Preventers' glue-bonds took hold.

Tough little monsters. But looks like it's over. At least down here. The colonel anchored himself against waves of alien fury with the scent of smoke, a wolfhound's growl as Keir cleaned its wounds, the sporadic gunfire still coming from the building lair. Sam? "Carter, report!"

"We got the kid," his 2IC said, breathless. "Just got back to the stairs. The Reaver went up through the ceiling. It may be the original source. It's the most… completely transformed one I've seen." She gulped a breath. "Sir, it's wounded. Not just physically."

Zechs' dark chuckle tickled the air as he dropped an empty spray can and took out another to anchor down a seared tendril. "Still playing, Quatre?"

"It can't decide if it's a cat or a mouse." The empath's voice was light and grim. "Heading north and up."

"Hrere and I have the roof," Trowa said evenly.

"Thanks, koibito." Quatre laughed softly. "We'll catch it before it gets there."

"Watch your back." A small smile touched Zechs' face. "But you might want to tone it down. Our guests aren't having nearly as much fun."

Fun. He's not kidding. Jack stepped and skidded around the balcony debris to where Jacob was slumped on the ground. The alien rage ebbed out like the tide, left his muscles limp with one of the worst adrenaline drop-offs he'd ever felt, short of that chilly, heart-stopping moment the cryo had killed Hathor's offspring inside him just as the snake had almost won control of his body. Zechs, the Wing - they're not even shaking. Wish SG-3 could see this. "Teal'c?"

"I am here, O'Neill." Paler than usual, Teal'c leaned on his staff weapon.

Yeah, I just bet. Thanks to Ma'chello's little body switcheroo, Jack had firsthand experience of how a Jaffa had to maintain emotional equilibrium for his prim'ta and himself. Teal'c had to be hurting.

For the cool, logical, we-are-so-much-more-mature Tok'ra, it must have been like taking a sledgehammer to the face.

"Jacob." Jack patted the slack cheek. "Hey. Rise and shine, we got work to do."

Closed eyes squinched. "Ugh."

"You're so eloquent in the morning. Really. Now I know why Carter's willing to fight Daniel for the coffee. Self-preservation."

"Ack."

"Yeah, we covered that. Come on. We got pilots to dig out."

"Urgh…?"

"Got me. I don't know how-" Jack yanked a thumb toward the wreckage, "But they're under that pile. And in one piece, if Heero's telling the truth."

"Hn," came over the communicator.

"Hey, it's got to be dark in there," Jack pointed out. "How would you know?"

Jacob blinked at the colonel. And cringed. "Anybody get the number off that freight train…?"

"04, if I've got everybody else's straight." Jack held out a hand. "Come on…."

Tattered green cotton fluttered back, exposing an inch-long gash in his forearm.

I didn't even feel it. He felt it now, a fiery burn that chilled him to the bone. "Teal'c-"

The Jaffa might as well have teleported to his side, open med-kit in hand. "Remain still, O'Neill."

"Sleeves," Jack bit out, fingering shredded kevlar, trying not to watch that alien black slide under raw skin. "We need sleeves on these things."

"Indeed." Teal'c slid the needle home.

Janet says it'll work. Trust Janet. "Anybody else hit? Sing out." Jack pitched his voice Zechs' way, where Keir was still fussing over whining black fur. "What about Cujo over there?"

The blond Preventer kept his gaze and weapon trained on the Reaver's lair. "If you're referring to Sugu, I believe the ryōken - the… iew?"

"Dog," Teal'c said firmly.

"The dog will be fine." Zechs listened to another channel on his communicator, gave a quiet order. "We'll evacuate him to the veterinary wing with us, but he shows no signs of infection."

"History states Dimme always was more skilled at targeting her presents to human life-codes than the rest of the Eight," Wufei observed. Black eyes narrowed with interest, as if the Dragon saw the key piece to a puzzle in Jacob's shaky form. "So Sthenno's notes were accurate. The Tok'ra did give up the sarcophagus."

"It steals the soul," Jacob shot at him.

"Our information states it suppresses the host," Wufei returned, unflinching. "Primarily by blocking the action of those parts of the brain concerned with human empathy. It blunts emotion. Without that, the Tok'ra must have found other ways to avoid what they cannot endure." The dark head tilted slightly. "When was the last time your symbiote allowed you to feel human rage?"

Jacob's jaw clenched.

"Yuy," Jack broke into the staring match. "Maxwell can see these things. Can he tell if we got them all?"

"Duo's not conscious." Heero's tone was even, just a hint of unease under the level calm. Something creaked and grumbled in the background of his transmission. "Zechs?"

"There's a Shinigami on Angels' staff," the blond obliged, glancing toward the unsteady pile of debris. "We'll ask her in once we have the last one here contained. Heero-"

"Contain the Reaver."

"Your little problem's not stable, you baka," Wufei objected. "We need to get you out."

"Status acceptable," came the cool reply. "Continue the mission."

"If you say so." Jack blew out a breath, eyeing his wound. The sickly black seemed to be stopped. For now. "Everybody gets a strip-down and a once-over when we get back to Janet. No excuses-"

Glass shattered.


 

-Dying-

The empath's fury bled strength from it, aching fierce as the loss of blood and bone. The two humans it had marked as prey hunted and harried it, never pausing, never yielding to their own, weaker bodies' demands for rest.

It was slowing.

-Serve the Goddess-

The window was a fragile barrier. The fall, even less so.

-Buried human scent/high trap/caught agile/caught Wing pilots-

Metal and concrete flew.


 

Heero stiffened at the bone-rattling thump. Tried to drag Duo tighter into his arms as steel and rubble shifted, impromptu spears creaking closer to imprisoned flesh. One shuddered above their lungs; he couldn't see it, but the ring of ragged metal was clear as a space-borne dawn.

"Heero," Wufei's voice came with a rattle of gunfire. "It's digging in! We can't get a clear shot!"

"Acknowledged." And there was no more time to be subtle.

Sinking into himself, Heero spread a gold-wrapped hand out and up.


 

Teal'c ducked a pack-sized chunk of rubble, wishing for one of the Tau'ri helmets as concrete ricocheted off his skull. Aim thrown off, his staff blast seared past the creature, barely singing a tendril.

It moves like a flame, the Jaffa thought dizzily. If the System Lords can create such beasts at will….

Jacob Carter crouched by him, bleeding; a stray javelin of railing had whipped into the Tok'ra's vest, twisted end smashing into his ear as the point sank into his shoulder. O'Neill sprawled feverish and cursing on his opposite side, prying a slab off his foot. Zechs knelt behind them, trying to breathe past cracked ribs from a slung molding. Chang lay limp on the edge of the rubble nearest Heero, blood streaking black hair, pale throat in easy reach of stretching talons. Keir-

Sugu howled.

Hrere screamed and dove, a silver-gray blur in the dust. The Reaver dodged claws, hissing-

Shh-whoom!

Rubble erupted under the Reaver's feet, flung up by the familiar force of a Goa'uld ribbon device.

The Reaver slipped.

Fire hit it from all sides.


 

Crouched by the window their target had leaped through, Sam watched the inhuman body fall. She took her finger off the trigger, hands trembling. Shock and fury sang through her nerves like plucked notes on tangled strings.

It's Quatre. Isn't it? I can't - I can't tell anymore-

"Trowa." A whisper of pain, longing, dimming anger. The empath leaned against the wall by the window-frame, a careful distance away from the shivering child they'd dragged along with them.

"Soon." The Beastmaster's regret ached over the comm, a taste of tears on her lips. "Can you reach Duo?"

Sam forced herself to breathe. Muscles burned when she moved, exacting killer interest for those long minutes Quatre had pushed them all past their limits. "I thought he was unconscious."

"He is." Quatre let himself slide to the floor. "But if there's another Reaver, he might still sense it…."

Adrenaline crash. Whatever Quatre did to us, he did to himself, too… he's about two minutes from out cold. Sam swallowed. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Iie… maybe." He held out a shaking hand. "Anchor me."

His touch was heat, and grief, and a sparkle of weary, exultant survival.


 

Question.

Drift of concrete dust in his nose. Vibration of bone and heart and steel. Darkness.

Question.

Aching weariness. Creak of shifting metal. Familiar, worrying sh-thump of a ribbon device in close quarters.

Question! Not the previous gentle tap, but a full-fledged shake of impatient need. Friend/needed/Wing in peril/Heero in danger!

Heero.

Flickers. Look for the flickers.

Three, pinned and weakly radiating fury. One more, fading into the shadows of death somewhere above.

Relief. Question?

'S'all of 'em, Quatre… lemme sleep… Heero? Gotta get Heero….

Tired relief. Comfort.

No! Duo fought the wave of sleepiness. Wake me up, Quatre, I gotta get Heero out-

Comfort. Friend. Reassurance.

Darkness reclaimed him.


 

"…Reaver keeled over with about two zillion holes in it, Teal'c zatted the heavy stuff off the pile, and Heero blasted his way out. And a good time was had by all," Jack summed up as the hover ambulance crew unceremoniously dumped a half-conscious Quatre onto the last free bed in this ward. Duo was curled in the cot next to his, snoring softly. "Ow!"

Janet taped Jack's IV down with an exasperated sigh. "Stay put."

"He will," Daniel reassured the doctor, giving his friend's free hand a squeeze. "Trust me, Jack. You don't want that-" he shot a dark look at the ragged black wound, "-getting any worse than it is."

The colonel rolled his eyes, settled back against the raised bed. "Itches like crazy."

"Good." Janet's smile had a vicious edge as she bustled over to check Teal'c's bruised head. "Don't scratch."

"You okay, Sammie?" Shadows under his eyes, Jacob squeezed his daughter's hand.

"Just shaky." Sam glanced at the small blond surrendering to sleep. Deliberately looked away. "If you're here, Janet, your patients…?"

"So far, so good." Janet's voice held cautious hope as she cleaned Teal'c's healing wound. "They're not out of the woods yet. But Dr. Ellary has them in hand, and I'm the only expert on Tau'ri physiology here."

Daniel smiled, recalling how both doctor and raven's attitudes had shifted from controlled panic to hope and cautious interest. "He told us all to take a break. Or at least go see our own patients. Something about with his luck, Tau'ri would be just as bad as a few Preventers he's met, and there's a limit to the hospital budget for replacement windows." The archaeologist winked at Janet. "I think he likes your eyes."

"Concussion," Sally declared across the room, snapping off the Penlight of Doom.

"I do not," Wufei declared, dark eyes stubborn. Fingers clenched on his chair arms, knuckles white.

"Chang," Heero said, warning.

"A glancing blow," the Dragon said sharply. "I've had them before. We all have. I will not be confined here while we have yet to track the Reaver to its source-"

"Wufei." Trowa's voice was quiet as he sat on Quatre's bed, Hrere purring by his side. "If you were piloting Shenlong between L4's secondary port and the main Moon Base, eluding a tel'tac equipped with Macha's advanced stealth detection, power down to seventy-five percent, life support at fifty, and a flutter in your secondary reactor couplings, what would be your trajectory?"

"Ah." Dark eyes lost focus. "A moment…."

"Concussion," the conscious half of Wing Zero concluded.

"Rest," Heero added bluntly, seating himself by Duo's cot. "We'll need you to fly in a few days."

"Fly?" Jacob said sharply. "I thought you guys were Special Ops."

"And therein lies a tale," Jack said wryly.

"You said that before." Jacob frowned. "It'd better be a good one. When the High Council figures out you shuffled me off the planet without Freya and Caton-"

"Oh, they know by this time," Jack said matter-of-factly. "The general should have kicked them back to your base right after we left. With a note and everything."

"What?"

A tall blond in Preventer's blue and green limped into the doorway. "Is he always this loud?"

Daniel took in the familiar cast of features, the sardonic twist of lips when Sally snatched his arm and sat him down, her blue tendrils twitching among blonde strands in pure irritation. "Are you - Relena-"

A wry smile. "My sister."

Your sister's a Peacecraft, and you're a Preventer. Daniel bit his lip. That's got to be awkward.

"Zechs." Heero nodded, attempting to rise. Lurched, one arm unexpectedly encumbered.

Still snoring, Duo snuggled into his shoulder. One hand was locked on Heero's elbow, his braid had somehow twined around Heero's arm, and a sleepy smile softened his lips.

Heero sighed. Sat back down. "Keir?"

"Still in surgery." Zechs eased out of jacket, armor, and shirt with a series of winces. Sally piled them all aside and ran careful fingers over the reddening bruise along his ribcage, mumbling diagnoses as she went. "But Sugu's recovering, which means Keir stands a chance."

"Recovering?" Sam sat up. "The Reaver doesn't affect animals?"

"As far as the medics can tell, no." Pale brows drew down. "Noin had to condense some of the reports for me, but it seems to be specifically looking for human proteins to latch onto."

Sam breathed a sigh of relief.

"This is a good thing?" Daniel said skeptically.

"That's a whole ecosystem out there," Sam pointed out. "Just like Gault. Think of what would happen if the Reaver could be spread by, say, birds?"

Daniel swallowed dryly.

"A very good thing," Jack concluded.

"All told," Zechs hissed as Sally poked a shade too hard, "The sector seems clear. When do we fly?"

"That has yet to be discussed." Heero looked at Jack.

Jack's expression stayed blandly civil. Just a flicker of a glance slid toward Daniel. It's a risk, that flicker of eyes said. I think we're on the right track. You?

Daniel squeezed his hand. Go for it.

"Grab a cup of coffee, Jacob," Jack said bluntly. "This is going to be a long story."

Chapter Text

"Of all the hypocritical, spineless, criminally negligent - I'm not finished, Selmac-"

Seated backward on his chair, Duo glanced at his watch as Jacob continued pacing the Colony Hall meeting room. Wow. He's almost broken the Chang justice rant record.

"I told you," Heero muttered under his breath in Goa'uld. He sat stiff as a statue, hands laid out along his chair arms like a pharaoh's portrait. "But would you listen? I told you what would become of you, the depths you would stoop to..."

Uh-oh. "Heero." Duo sent Quatre a warning glance, moved in close to the memory-lost pilot. "Come on back here, buddy." Damn it, he shouldn't be slipping this easy. He's faced the Goa'uld hundreds of times, used shards of Stheno's memories more times than I can count. He's never lost himself like this.

But then, J had never planned for his Perfect Soldier to be in close contact with a Tok'ra.

Damn psycho gene-twister.

To the mad scientist's credit, Heero's altered life code seemed to hum along just fine most of the time. And as far as Duo had pieced together from Sally's reports and Heero's grudging admissions, the lab-grown neural tendrils J had implanted worked up to spec when it came to simple information access. Combat made things shakier, human adrenaline being the nastiness to Goa'uld nerves it was, but heck, Stheno had hated the System Lords almost as much as Quatre did. If there was a little confusion about who was running Heero's body, the death gliders Wing sliced to bits never knew it.

Though the psychotic laugh is kind of a clue.

"He okay?" Jack asked in an undertone.

Damn. Quatre and the others had managed to screen their little problem from the rest of SG-1, but O'Neill was just too intent on his Wing counterpart. Duo trailed his braid over Heero's unresponsive hand, worry creeping up his spine with toes of ice. "We can handle it." Don't make me a liar, buddy-

A steel grip clamped on his hair.

Ow. Ow. "Don't think you missed much," Duo said cheerfully. "Jacob's just hitting the High Council's good points in alphabetical order."

Heero relaxed minutely. But he didn't let go of the braid.

"Funny. Wouldn't have thought a symbiote had a history with the Tok'ra. Besides just killing them," Jack elaborated at Heero's narrow glance. "Carter says memories of stuff Jolinar hated are bad, but the ones she felt... other things for are a lot harder to break out of."

A slight pink tint infused Heero's cheeks.

Damn, damn, head this off- "Ah, he probably just got tangled up in a memory-knot trying to sort Jacob's rant out from the last Alliance Council we had to show up at," Duo said easily, dragging his chair over so he could drape himself against Heero's shoulder. "You know, the one where Count Telosa got on his high horse about dragging wild Beastmasters out of the shrubbery at the Mayoko vineyards? You'd think the guy planted those grapes with his own two hands, he was so upset. And Relena finally had to make the eyes at him-" Hand pressed dramatically to his chest, Duo fluttered his eyelashes up at Wing's pilot. "Oh, Count, you're so heroic, taking in those poor, confused people..."

Jacob made a strangled noise.

Duo looked up. "What?"

The Tok'ra was looking at the two of them as if he'd bitten something sour. "You two are...?"

"We're what?" Heero said coolly.

"George knows?" Jacob shot at Jack.

"Different culture." Daniel glanced toward Quatre and Trowa. "Not like they've tried to hide it."

Jacob shook his head. "No skin off my nose, Colonel, but the Joint Chiefs are going to raise hell."

"Gee, let me think. Help against the Goa'uld, versus culture that thinks 'don't ask, don't tell' is completely insane," Jack said dryly. "Oh yeah. Major dilemma. I can see them wrestling with it for all of about, say, five seconds?"

"It won't be that easy," Jacob warned.

"Humans," Teal'c said levelly, "Will adapt. Defending a planet requires strategies unlike those used at a temporary base." He raised a brow. "Certainly distinct from those employed to lure opponents and allies into a trap."

Jacob winced. "I didn't know," he said defensively.

"That doesn't change what the Council did, Dad." Sam had her hands pressed on a folder, as if the forced stillness was all that kept them from finding a neck. "Or what they're planning to do."

"I'll talk to Garshaw-"

"All due respect, Jacob - no, you won't," Jack said flatly. "We've got less than five days to throw a monkey wrench in their plan, and the first thing your Council is going to do is stall."

"Can you honestly say they'd stop, five days from getting their hands on a Queen?" Daniel pointed out. "Could you believe Garshaw if she said she would?"

Jacob's hands clenched at his sides. "So why the hell am I here?"

"Frankly, Ambassador?" a new voice broke in. "To keep you out of the way."

Duo unwrapped himself from Heero as Une's partner stalked in, a few staffers bringing notes and mocha in his wake. The tall ginger-blond wore a Preventer's formal jacket and slacks with as much cool aplomb as Macha's offspring had System Lord's gold, and he set down a chunk of a life-pod's recorder on the table between SG-1 and the Wing with casual ease.

Yep, Treize knows how to make an entrance.

"Gentlemen and ladies," Treize said with a lazy wave of hand, "The last piece of Dimme's bait."

"Ambassador Carter, Colonel - Treize Kushrenada, the Preventers' second in command," Heero said evenly.

"Second?" Jacob asked pointedly.

"While I hear Colonel O'Neill has recovered nicely, and our medical staff has the deepest respect for Dr. Fraiser's continuing work, Commander Une is not setting foot on this colony until Dr. Po can state without a doubt all of her patients are in the clear." Treize's smile had a diamond edge. "I'm sure you understand."

"Good idea," Jack put in, rubbing a still sore arm. "Bait?"

"Mmm." Treize took the empty seat by Heero, lips bent in a lazy cat's smile at metal and circuits. "Nicely done. Quite subtle. But bait nonetheless. Still, there's no need to take my word for it." He spread a hand palm-up in invitation.

Wufei and Sam moved for the input ports as one; almost collided, hesitated in unison.

"Zechs' team and the colony authorities back-trailed our uninvited guest via local holographic recordings and a great deal of trundling about docking ports," Treize informed them, affecting not to notice the silent struggle of wills and glares over bronzed metal. "We narrowed the possible means of entry to three ships... I'm sad to say that became far easier once we cracked the hatch on the Sweeper's New Broom." Treize met Duo's gaze. "We've gathered the remains of the three Sweepers who were standing watch. I've called Howard. I have their names."

"Later." Duo shut away the slow burn of anger, the wash of crystal clarity that was Shinigami wanting to play. Later.

"Dimme hid the pod in the ha'tak wreckage." Trowa's voice was colorless.

"So it seems," Treize nodded.

"Pod?" Jack stuck in.

"This a life-pod's flight recorder," Sam informed him, having temporarily won control of the ports. She hooked up her laptop, scanning through what was left of the recorder's memory. "They're like descent pods, only they're designed to float in space for a while if they have to."

"Which means they take star-fixes as they go, in case you have to trace a pod back looking for more survivors." Jacob read over her shoulder. "Looks like this one's been blanked."

"No... not quite." Sam frowned. "I think I've found a memory buffer." Her hands paused over the keyboard. "I can tell where it is, but I don't see how you access it."

"It routes through background circuits," Wufei informed her. "Try inquiring for a baseline light intensity check."

"Bingo," Sam breathed, as numbers scrolled up her screen. "Bits and pieces, mostly, looks like someone tried to blank this too... wait. I think I have something." She tapped a few keys. "Looks like a background fix on the stars marking a previous inhabitable system."

"One that our records say was Heru'ur's, but whose identifying symbols in that data now claim that system to be controlled by Dimme." Treize's eyes glittered. "I believe you call that planet Gault."

"Trap," Quatre agreed.

Jack whistled. "She thinks you're that good?"

"Oh, she knows we're that good," Duo grinned darkly.

"Um. You lost me," Daniel admitted.

"They believe Dimme expected them to discover this location, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c stated. "And that she is aware the Preventers and SG-1 are in contact."

"Macha knew Dimme still had control of some of Lamashtu's spies among the Goa'uld," Treize said distantly. "At least one of those spies is impersonating a Tok'ra." He blinked, refocusing on the room. "I'm not certain of the details, but I know Lamashtu inserted her child in position by sacrificing a medusa. Macha was very - impressed."

"But we know it's not you," Quatre put in as Jacob paled. "We've been watching you, especially when you came through the 'Gate. You were surprised; both of you were. You'd never seen anything like it." He smiled gently. "And there's no way one of Dimme's offspring could not recognize a space colony."

"You are sneaky, paranoid bastards," Jack said admiringly.

"We are," Heero said dryly, "Alive."

Sam drew closer to her father. "Were you...?"

"Macha?" Treize laughed. "No, Major. Though Redg was one of Macha's most trusted offspring. He had to be, given the position I held at the time... well. That's over, kami be thanked." He traded a speaking glance with Wufei. "Well over."

Breaking the awkward silence, Daniel pointed toward the recorder. "So how is this a trap?"

"Like we said, Dimme knows us," Duo shrugged. "And she knows how to get us mad."

"It's really simple," Quatre said levelly. "The Alliance has a reflex response to a new infection. Hunt it down and kill it." He activated a holographic projector to show a cutaway of the L3 colony with the Reaver's trail marked, zoomed out to show the projected path of the New Broom back to the wreck of Dimme's ha'tak. "Dimme knows Duo is a pilot. She expected him to survive and make it back to Sanq. So we'd know exactly who to blame, and why, when another Reaver appeared. This recorder is supposed to tell us where to come charging in so she can wipe us out." He met Jacob's gaze squarely. "And since she knows we're talking to the SGC, who are talking to the Tok'ra... she expects us to come using your back door."

"So what are you going to do?" Jacob growled. "You can't go in by the back 'Gate. You sure as heck can't come through the one on Gault; it's right under her ha'tak. There's not enough time to get from here to Gault before my people start the fireworks, even if you kidnapped a pyramid ship of your own. Any ideas?"

"Some," Jack said judiciously. "Jacob, clue me in. Why try to pull off something this nasty in the first place? Why do your guys want a Queen so badly?"

"That's-"

"If you say it doesn't matter now, it's none of our business, or that we're too immature to understand, I will personally help Teal'c wrap your ears around your head."

Jacob paused. "I'm on your side, Colonel."

Jack raised a skeptical brow. "So?"

Jacob hesitated. "This... isn't easy to talk about." He took a breath. "It has to do with instinct..."

"Goa'uld center their lives around Queens," Heero said emotionlessly.

"The queens serve the pharaohs," Daniel objected.

"But the System Lords have to have them, to supply larvae for their Jaffa," Sam put in. "They don't have to like them, but they have to work around them. Every plan has to take them into account, every strategy to take on their enemies, or expand their forces..." She stared at her father in dawning realization. "That's why, isn't it?"

"We need access to the information the Goa'uld have developed since Egeria broke with the System Lords," Jacob argued. "We need more Tok'ra."

"You need a center." Sam shook her head. "Without Egeria, the High Council's always been fragmented. Going through the motions. Jolinar knew that; that's why she was captured and sent to Netu in the first place..."

"Sam?" Daniel asked as the major rubbed her head.

"I - it's gone."

"Easy, Carter. I think we got the picture." Jack gave Jacob a hard look. "She's right, isn't she."

The Tok'ra sighed, deflated. "The Council didn't think you'd understand."

"Oh, I think we do." Jack cracked his knuckles. "A drowning guy will pull you under, trying to get air."

"It's not like that!"

"Oh yeah?"

"Amusing as this might be from a distance," Treize broke in, "It doesn't solve our problem." An elegant hand gestured toward himself. "Lady Peacecraft is currently presenting General Hammond's proposed treaty to the Alliance Council, along with records of SG-1's and Dr. Fraiser's actions against the Reaver. The votes haven't been taken yet, but the debate seems favorable so far. We need that alliance." He gestured toward Jack. "From Preventer Yuy's report, you need it as well. Badly."

"And we both need your guys to stop playing us," Jack said, not taking his eyes off Jacob. "Or else the whole Tok'ra-Earth alliance is off."

Jacob's eyes narrowed. "Colonel, I don't think you have that authority."

"Try me." Jack's words were light; his face, grim as stone. "Word straight from Hammond, Jacob. We went after the System Lords before we knew your guys were out there. We can do it again."

"So I guess there's only one thing we can do," Daniel mused. He raised an inquisitive brow toward Wufei.

"Difficult, but possible," the Dragon allowed. Flicked a glance toward Duo and Trowa.

Trowa smiled slightly.

"Oooh, fun," Duo rubbed his hands together in gleeful anticipation. Infiltration, I love it.

"Train the team. We need you in the air," Heero ordered.

"Aww..."

"He's right," Quatre shrugged. "If this is going to work, it'll need all of us."

"What team?" Jack asked pointedly.

"The team that's going to infiltrate Dimme's ha'tak, locate her larvae tanks, and acquire at least one of Dimme's infant queens," Quatre stated.

Jacob gaped.

"Of course, you will need to wait seven years before she can produce offspring," Chang picked up the thread matter-of-factly. Duo smothered a snicker; you didn't have to be 'Cat to feel the Wing enjoying every second of slack-jawed surprise. "But given you have already spent over two millennia in pursuit of Ra-" Wufei shrugged.

"And you get to pick a volunteer to host her." Daniel's smile had a tight edge.

If you can find one, Duo tacked onto that.

"You can't take a ha'tak on the ground," Jacob finally objected.

Duo gave him a Shinigami grin. "Wanna bet?"


 

"I want," Garshaw of Belote said coolly, "An explanation."

General Hammond's face looked out of the Tollan transmitter, smile twitching at the corners of the human's mouth. "I believe the papers I sent back with Freya and Caton were clear, Councilor."

Damn short-lived human. There's nothing to smile about! "You cannot cut us off from our ambassador to Earth!"

"I find that a rather odd position for you to take, Councilor. Given that the Tok'ra in the past have made it quite obvious that we may be cut off from our ambassador to them for months at a time." The general's smile didn't change. "As one leader to another, Garshaw, might I suggest you have Jacob come home more often? Being away from your family for unpredictable lengths of time is bad for morale."

Morale? The man had to be joking. Jacob is Tok'ra now. This is his home. We are his family. Not you. Never you.

Well, perhaps Samantha. If she ever saw sense and rejoined the Tok'ra, bringing Jolinar's memories home. "We must speak with Jacob. Tell us how to contact Sanq."

"Last I heard, the Alliance's governing body was still debating whether or not to open formal negotiations with Earth," Hammond said matter-of-factly. "Lady Peacecraft was quite clear that they don't want any distractions until after they've made up their minds." He spread open hands, one leader to another. "The talks have been delicate enough as it is."

Delicate, but still intact, Garshaw cursed mentally. This did not bode well for her people. The Tau'ri were reckless enough as it was; if they made alliance with a planet as violent, technologically advanced, and ready to slay System Lords as Anise and Houerv's report indicated Sanq was... "Then let us send Freya and Caton back to you, so you can pass on their messages to Selmac. Diplomatically."

Hammond's tone cooled. "As my message to you indicated, Councilor, Freya and Anise are persona non grata on Earth and in the Alliance. And given Caton's role in the assault on Ambassador Peacecraft, I don't think it would be wise to have him directly involved in Earth-Sanq communications." The general studied her. "Why don't you send Aldwin? Although I believe Teal'c did say something about disemboweling him once, for his attempt to blow up Netu with SG-1 still on it... he's probably gotten over that by now."

Why, of all the-

Garshaw? Her host frowned within her mind. He's hiding something.

I believe you're right, Yosuuf. "You have never been one to allow your people to go unaccounted for, General. When do you believe Jacob will be available?"

"Lady Peacecraft said they should have a decision within the next three weeks," Hammond said briskly. "Of course, Dr. Jackson is doing everything in his power to ensure the negotiations go as smoothly and swiftly as possible."

Three weeks.

More than enough time to nip Tau'ri irresponsibility in the bud, Garshaw agreed. "Very well. Contact us if there is news." With a regal nod, she cut communications, and went in search of her two agents.

She found Caton in the quiet of one of Vorash's less-used tunnels, scribbling away on a tablet. "I thought you would be with the others, near the main hall."

"I was looking for Freya," Caton said, not looking up as he blanked his tablet. "She's still furious over that incident with the Peacecraft, and the way she's been vanishing at odd hours lately... oh, I'm probably getting concerned over nothing. Just another of her experiments she hasn't told us about yet." He shrugged. "Anyway, I didn't see her the first time I looked, and it was so quiet here, I just thought I'd write up addenda to my report."

Yes; Freya had been acting impulsively lately. Not that it was a far cry from her usual behavior. Garshaw frowned. Impulsive behavior, disappearing, secretive...

She can't be a spy! Yosuuf thought, aghast. She's Tok'ra!

And we thought Cordesh was as well. Garshaw kept her face calm. It's only a thought, my own. Anise is as she has always been. Jacob's abduction has simply left us unsettled. "The Tau'ri say Jacob may be gone three of their weeks."

"The longer, the better," Caton said plainly, tucking his tablet into his sand-hued robes. "We should have Sanq's location in less than one. And then-"

"We offer long life, and vengeance against the Goa'uld," Garshaw agreed. "It should not be so difficult to persuade some of their leaders to join us."

"And then we can disarm them," Caton sighed with relief. "For their own safety, of course," he put in at Garshaw's sudden frown. "You know humans aren't mature enough to handle our technology. Much less that of a... monster like Stheno's."

"She was our kin," Garshaw pointed out.

"She was genetically related to us. So were Ra and Hathor. Would you claim them?" Caton shook his head. "No. Egeria spoke the truth; any who chose to remain in Ra's favor are no kin of ours." He brightened. "So our people on Gault are ready to move?"

"As soon as the final password is broken..." Garshaw frowned. "It's a pity we have found no way to spare more lives."

"Perhaps it's for the best," Caton suggested. "From what we've already found in Dimme's files, the villages are likely infested with these Reavers. And there is no way to separate the infected from the rest."

If we are to take our vengeance against Ra, we cannot quail simply because a few innocents will die with our enemies, Yosuuf said grimly. Even the Tau'ri could not fault us for destroying such a danger to humanity. You remember that movie of Jacob's. "I say we take off and nuke the place from orbit."

Garshaw nodded. "It's the only way to be sure."


 

Supply lists. Equipment requests. A running total of small casualties as two very disparate groups of military personnel tried to smooth out the worst bumps in interplanetary cooperation. And a series of email, formal stationary, and rushed faxes from the Joint Chiefs, as the ripples of Lady Peacecraft's proposal of alliance percolated up and down various classified grapevines. Some of the main points apparently left a sour taste in various politicos' mouths. No religious proselytizing under any circumstances had stuck in more than a few craws. Kinsey's in particular.

"A pity we can't dump all this paperwork on the Goa'uld," Hammond muttered as he marched down the hall. "The weight alone could crush a pyramid ship."

"Goa'uld... pyramid ships... alien alliances..." Briefcase clutched in his hand, Colonel Longstreet let out a low whistle, breaking the stunned silence that had held him since he'd seen the 'Gate open. "Sir, I request permission to have some time to take all this in. For my client's sake. This is way beyond anything they covered at JAG."

"And I'll grant you that time," Hammond said plainly. "Just as soon as I'm certain we've covered the major leaks endangering my command." He granted the military lawyer a professional smile. "Don't worry, Colonel. We all had to jump in and swim when the Stargate first opened. You'll catch up."

"No offense, sir," Dr. Warner said plainly, keeping pace as they headed to the cells, MPs in their wake, "But you need a break."

Hammond smiled thinly. "This is my break."

"To each their own, sir." The surgeon switched his gaze to the pacing man in the cell ahead. "Oh boy."

"How long am I going to be held here, General?" Dr. MacKenzie burst out. Penciled bruises still marked his face and arms, and his eyes held a hunted look as he stood near the bars. "This is outrageous. Dr. Jackson is clearly suffering from a psychotic break, he should be under proper supervision-"

"Yes, that was a very unfortunate allergic reaction," General Hammond cut in.

Dr. MacKenzie stopped mid-rant. "Allergic reaction-?"

"Dr. Fraiser's sent us a full report," Dr. Warner said plainly. "Apparently Dr. Jackson's allergic to a whole handful of Alliance medicines. Dr. Po thought they'd caught all the really nasty allergies before they treated him for the Reaver infection, but it looks like they missed one."

"Allergic reaction?" MacKenzie repeated weakly.

"Oh, yeah," Warner nodded. "You wouldn't believe some of the weird things that can happen. I was working in a clinic when an officer's wife was brought in for DUI; she was so out of it they thought she needed immediate treatment. Would you believe there wasn't a drop of alcohol in her? Turned out she had a milk allergy, and some idiot thought it'd be fun to slip her a piece of cake they told her didn't have dairy products in it-"

"Allergic reaction?!"

"Which marks the whole situation as Dr. Fraiser's responsibility. Not yours," Hammond said evenly. He couldn't prevent a small smile from creeping out. "Although to be honest, Doctor, nothing in this base is your responsibility anymore."

A shudder swept the psychiatrist. "You're transferring me?"

"Hopefully into the nearest black hole. But depending on your cooperation, Colonel Longstreet tells me it may only be to Leavenworth." Hammond's smile turned grim. "Tell me, Doctor. How long have you been working for the NID?"


 

"The mines are set?"

"Yes, my Queen," Hursag bowed. "The Tok'ra's Stargate is now a killing ground even Apophis' forces could not penetrate."

"The Reavers have fed, and continue their charade among the villagers."

"As you willed it," the First Prime nodded.

"The Tok'ra explosives are disarmed."

"Those near enough to your vessel to damage it, yes." Hursag risked a slight glance up. "If I may, Goddess, we know the rogues of Sanq well. And tales of the SGC seem to cut them from the same rebel cloth. They are impetuous, daring; they may strike even before the Tok'ra. I would pull back my Jaffa from those positions still in peril from the charges, so that your forces are not needlessly diminished-"

"No."

He fell to one knee. "As you will, great Dimme."

Silken footsteps crossed the open chamber. Emerald skirts swished into the edge of his vision. Gold fingerstalls tipped up his chin, delicate as the tips of cat claws.

Hursag looked into the face of divinity, and quailed.

"We are not unmerciful," Dimme said coolly, eyes aglow. "The Tok'ra must believe their deceptions hold, else even those fools might show sense enough to warn their allies in the SGC. Our Jaffa must remain in position until the Tok'ra have committed their forces. But you will now issue concealed transmitters to each troop leader. Once the attack has begun, they may evacuate."

It would give them mere minutes, at best. But it was a mercy.

"The bait is set." Dimme smiled, chill as spring thaw. "Now, we wait."

Chapter Text

"What do we do?"

"What can we do, Ambrin? Caiu's strangers were his death. And now they have fled, and brought destruction on us all. One of the new demons could be among us, even now!" Dark Basi scowled as the small group of Gaultish villagers gathered around this spring glanced at each other, fearful as children fleeing night-terrors. When the true terror, Ambrin knew, was a creation of daylight; a gleaming pyramid perched over the chaapa'ai, as Heru'ur's had so many years past.

"Better to wait until this new goddess tires of us," Basi grumbled on. "They all do, tales say; our world is not worthy of hosting them for year upon year."

"This one is different."

"Riyani?"

The graying falconer stepped out of the forest, loaded blowpipe in one hand, dark eyes watchful as he carried his eagle on his glove. There were a few new tears in the leaf-dyed leather of his jacket, stains that told of close acquaintance with rock and soil. "This one," he said deliberately, watching them all, "Wants something we do not have."

"Riyani!" Ambrin spread arms as if to hug the smaller man, halted at the eagle's hiss. Climbs High was a well-behaved bird, but he had never favored some of the villagers. "Where have you been? We haven't seen any of your clan for days..."

"Hiding," the old falconer said tartly.

"From the demons?"

"And from your kind, Ambrin. If that is your name." Riyani turned cold eyes away from him. "Basi. You always were a horse-stealing bastard. I never thought I'd feel sorry for you." Blowpipe at his lips, he blew.

A dart laden with the deadly toxin of the silk snake struck home in a blurring throat. Basi jerked. Snarled. Lunged-

Dark feathers slashed talons across his vision, screeching.

Basi fell, a twisting mass of grayish flesh.

"Back off!" Riyani growled as the others gasped and started forward. Deft fingers reloaded his blowpipe. Climbs High wheeled up into the sky, calling alarm. "It takes more than one of these to kill, and if that thing rises we're all dead." He blew again. "Get these people out of here, Ambrin. You owe them that. You and all of yours."

Three more darts. The demon thrashed once. Stilled.

"Mine? Riyani, you know me-"

"I knew Ambrin," the falconer said sharply, loading another deadly dart. "It took me three turns of the seasons to figure out what the birds were trying to tell me, but I haven't known you for a long time."

Now the others were looking on them both fearfully. Ambrin's fists clenched. "The demon. How did you know?"

Riyani raised his fist, whistled. Climbs High stooped, back-winged. Ruffled his feathers as he gripped Riyani's glove. "You can fool us, Ambrin. Maybe you can even fool the gods. But you can't fool eagle eyes." The falconer looked down on a breathless body, caught between man and monster. "And neither can they."

"Your clan must have found safe haven," Ambrin tried. "How can we find you?"

Riyani snorted, fading into the trees. "If we're lucky... you won't."


 

"...So that about covers it," Duo concluded, tapping a finger into the holographic diagram of various usual, unusual, and downright destructive methods of gaining entry to a ha'tak. "Dimme's going to be in atmosphere, so she won't be able to set the air vent sensors as sensitive as she did on the moon base. I think I could've foxed 'em if I'd had just one more minute, but-" The braided teen shrugged. "If you end up heading that way, you'll know they're there. That gives you a leg up."

"If?" Sam asked, peering over the ship plans.

"Your approach may depend on how she has dispersed her forces," Trowa said calmly, bangs shading his gaze more than usual. His hand moved as if he missed Hrere's presence at his side; the esmeril was probably clinging close to Quatre a few corridors away as the other three Wing pilots worked out shoot-don't shoot conditions with those SGC members who would be carrying shoulder-mounted missiles. "The situation will be in flux."

Shorthand for messy as hell, Jack thought, looking over his team. They'd pretty much taken over this set of rooms in the Preventer L3 facility, gathering equipment and serving as a kind of central organizing spot as the various Earth-native and Preventer teams tried to shake their various operational protocols into a workable whole. An effort that had involved a lot of compromises, flowcharts, dictionaries, two or three duels, and innumerable hair-sizzling curses on various hapless people's ancestries.

Thank god Alliance types have a sense of humor.

A little weird, by Earth standards. Then again, the Preventers were still looking cross-eyed at the bizarre things called forks in the SGC mess kits.

If that's the worst of our problems, we'll be luckier than we deserve, Jack thought darkly. We're good. And they're good. And hurray for us, we're all going to be shooting at guys in the same uniform. But to get two groups of people with different military training to work as a unit and not shoot each other - we'd need months.

They didn't have months. By now, they didn't even have forty-eight hours.

So, with a secure link to Commander Une and a few 'Gate-carried consults with General Hammond, Jack and Treize had hammered out a broad outline of what had to be done, then assigned teams based on who knew what. And crossed their fingers.

Defuse the bombs, Earth-specific, our job, Jack thought, mentally reviewing just a few of the highlights. EOD guys still aren't happy about letting Preventers guard them while they do it. But damn it, we had to yank most of them into the SGC in a hurry, they need people with off-world experience keeping an eye out - and with those Reavers around we're going to need SG-3 on the assault.

Take out the death gliders, Wing-specific, their job. Heero says they're willing to take their chances with our missile launchers. Sheesh. Better him than me.

Grab a Queen for the Tok'ra...

Well, that was going to be SG-1's job, specifically.

And I do not like it, not one little bit.

Daniel was nibbling his lip, covering a yellow pad with notes in a weird combination of English and hieroglyphs. Sam had been focused as a laser, quizzing the two Wing infiltrators on every last detail of How To Get Where System Lords Really Don't Want You To Go. More than once a flash of illumination had crossed her face, and her questions had ground to a halt as she scribbled down a fragment of Jolinar's memory of whatever diagram or nasty tactic had been under discussion. Teal'c looked simply bemused. Apparently Apophis had never trusted his Jaffa with knowledge of all a ha'tak's weak spots.

Worried, but not quivering masses of nerves, Jack concluded, walking away for a moment to stretch his legs. Good.

"They will be fine, O'Neill."

Ah. He had a Jaffa-shadow. "Helps to have good teachers," Jack said in the same low tone.

"Those with experience are the best instructors," Teal'c agreed.

"Experience, huh?" Jack raised a brow at him. "You know, Teal'c, if you're thinking what I'm thinking-"

"It is likely."

"-Then I'm thinking," Jack glanced at the two pilots, "Somebody's got a lot of 'splaining to do."

"Jack?" Daniel asked worriedly.

Shinigami do have good ears, Jack thought, not surprised. "They've done this before, Daniel. Not just with Dimme."

"I know."

"You see, you- what?"

"I know, Jack." The archaeologist smiled wryly. "Did you notice Colony Hall has a historical library?"

Trowa looked slightly surprised. "You were able to search the index for military references?"

"Daniel. Books. Like iron filings and magnet," Jack explained. "Only I'm guessing he didn't go through whatever you've got for a military index. Which you guys probably put a lock on anyway for us foreign SGC types?"

They didn't react. Which, knowing guerilla types, was almost as good as a taped confession.

"Relax. I would've done the same thing," Jack admitted. "Maybe we've got a common enemy right now, but humans are famous for screwing up a perfectly good working relationship. Give it a few years and we'll see if this one works out." He glanced at Daniel. "So what'd you find?"

Mischief gleamed in Daniel's smile. "Commemorative calendar."

Trowa's brows went up.

"And how does a calendar lead to them needing to explain something?" Sam asked warily.

"Well, kind of a calendar. You know, one of those books that goes through the year day by day, listing important historical events? Alliance Day was marked in red. So was Shigatsu 7th." Daniel met Duo's gaze.

Duo winced. "Aw, man..."

"What," Trowa asked bluntly, "Did you find?"

"AC 195. Operation Meteor," Daniel said in the rhythmic tone Jack knew meant he was quoting from memory. "In a move to counter Macha's tyranny, rebel colony citizens planned to bring new weapons to Sanq, disguising them as shooting stars. However, the System Lord's agents had caught on to this operation..." He nudged up his glasses. "Once I had some names and places, well - references to the Gundams show up plenty of times in strictly civilian contexts."

"So they dropped in the Gundams in 195." Sam frowned.

"They sent in the most valuable weapons they had." Daniel's tone was suspiciously neutral.

Yep. He sees it, Jack thought.

By the way Sam's eyes widened, she suddenly got it. "But... I thought Dr. Po said they attacked Macha in 196."

"What Sally said," Jack picked his words carefully, "Was that Maxwell over there joined the Preventers in 196."

"Which puts that very interesting career shift after Alliance Day, and therefore after Macha got herself rather messily smeared in orbit. No matter how you read the calendar," Daniel shrugged. "So exactly how old are you again?"

The two pilots didn't even glance at each other. "Does it matter?" Trowa said levelly.

"Alliance age of majority's sixteen. Assuming those other dates Relena gave us check out, you guys were blasting death gliders out of the sky at fifteen or less," Jack bit out. "You broke your own laws. Damn straight it matters!"

"Heh." Duo's smile had a sardonic edge as he perched on the far end of the table. "Heero said you'd figure it out."

"And Quatre," Trowa measured his words with micrometer precision, "Said you might be trusted."

"Might be trusted?" Sam eyed them dangerously. "We're about to undertake a major military operation together and you think we might be trusted?"

"The Scourge of Macha," Daniel put in, "Probably aren't used to trusting anybody."

Teal'c raised both brows. "An ambitious title."

"Not our idea, trust me." Violet eyes were bright and dangerous. "So what'd you find?"

"Death. Destruction," the archaeologist said quietly. "Chaos, panic, disorder. Death gliders raining from the sky. Columns of Jaffa disappearing without a trace. Bases blown. Commanders assassinated. Whole barracks found with their throats slit and their larvae beheaded. You name it, the Scourge of Macha did it."

"Those who see a Gundam will not live to tell of it." Trowa's green gaze was deep and merciless as the sea. "Those were our orders."

Damn. Jack fought the urge to step back. He'd known the Wing was seriously bad news. Bad news, hell. This qualifies for apocalypse! "Who the hell gives orders like that to kids?"

"Desperate people," Duo said bluntly. "The Alliance was dying, Jack. Macha ordered her Jaffa to kill off anyone over eighty and work their way down. She figured once she got through the people in their twenties she'd have munched through most of the Preventers and the civilian Resistance."

"With the benefit of destroying the most critical component of resistance." Trowa's voice was like wind in twisted pines on the shore, warning of storm. "Human memory."

"The Mad Five, the guys who built our Gundams - well, they were already in hot water with the Alliance before Macha blew in, and they knew they were on Macha's hit-list after." Duo shrugged. "They gave each of us every advantage they could scrounge up, a list of targets, and one set of orders. Forget the colonies. Get Macha before she gets you."

"None of us knew there were other pilots with the same orders until we encountered them." Emerald softened slightly. "Quatre and the Maguanacs could have destroyed me. He surrendered instead."

Jack cocked his head at Duo. "You really did shoot Yuy, didn't you?"

"Hey! This wild-looking kid was about to take out an unarmed blonde in a party dress. Who happened to be Relena, and how she thought I was the bad guy after that I still haven't figured out." Duo spread empty hands. "I didn't know he was a Gundam pilot until he dropped a torpedo on top of 'Scythe. Then I had to go break the idiot out of Sally's hospital ward..."

"Why teenagers?" Jack interrupted. Fifteen or less. They couldn't have been much older than Charlie when someone had decided to make them killers. Whoever those Mad Five bastards are, I want to hunt them down and hurt them. A lot.

"Oooh, let me draw you a picture." Duo waved a hand, painting the air. "You're the Jaffa commander at one of Macha's bases. You've heard about the human Resistance. Heck, you've probably strung up a few suspects in the town square and killed them with a torture stick to make your point. The uglier ones, anyway; any lookers get tossed into the holding cells in case Macha wants to Choose them for hosts.

"So. You've got the base. You've got the town. And in the middle of what used to be a quiet night, all hell breaks loose.

"And when the dust finally settles in the morning - assuming you're still alive in the morning - you start shaking down the area looking for whoever tried to punch your ticket for Duat. And you can't find them. Pfft. Zip. Zilch. No new adults in the area, no one's missing, and your informers say nobody they know went near your base. So you figure whoever it was flew in, and they flew out, and you might as well be looking for ghosts."

"And no one," Trowa summed up, "Notices when a transfer student in school - or two, or three - withdraws from classes to visit an ill relative. And fails to come back."

"That's-" Sam swallowed dryly. "Vicious."

"Worked, though," Duo said brightly. "Which is kind of funny. Sort of."

Teal'c nodded, understanding. "You were not expected to survive."

Trowa shook his head.

"Should've seen those Resistance blowhards' faces when they realized Macha was flaming bits of debris and they still had us to deal with." Duo's chuckle was bitter. "Heck, Treize and Une were easy to handle; they killed thousands of people, sure, but they were hosts. Nobody blamed them. Well - Treize still blames himself, some. That's why he wouldn't take Commander when they offered it to him. Figured it'd be too easy to fall into Redg's bad habits. But us..."

"Prior to Lady Peacecraft's argument on our behalf, the majority vote was for execution," Trowa reported.

"Relena managed to cut us a better deal." Duo crossed his arms. "We stay in the Preventers. We stay quiet. And the Scourge of Macha ends up as just another page in the history books."

"Is that why Wufei still wears white?" Daniel's hands clenched on each other. "Because your people killed the truth?"

A hint of a smile warmed Trowa's face. "Dr. Jackson, you, of all people, should know death can be a temporary condition."

Bingo. Jack nodded. "Let it go, Daniel."

"But Jack-"

"One of these days you and I should sit down and look at what the French did to some of the French Resistance fighters who were working undercover in WWII. After the Germans were kicked out." Jack grimaced. "Trust me, you do not want to have lunch first."

"...Oh."

Yeah, oh. Especially when it came to the records of what happened to some of the women. Spend a couple years worming your way into German beds so you can distract them from poking in somewhere before refugees get evacuated, so your field agents can get the right IDs and travel passes, or maybe just so your kids can eat, Jack thought bleakly. Then the war's finally over, and you can think about not hating yourself anymore-

-And your fellow "honest French countrymen" show up, strip you naked, shave you bald, and starve you in a prison for collaborators. If they don't rape and torture you to death first.

And nobody stops them. 'Cause they want blood, and you're there, and you did everything they didn't have the guts to do themselves.

Oh yeah. Jack knew why Jolinar hadn't ever told her fellow Tok'ra how she got off Netu.

From the bleak look in Sam's eyes, she knew it too.

"So. Refresh a tired colonel's memory." Jack gave the pilots one of his best poker grins. "What's Chang's hobby again?"

"'Fei?" Duo grinned back. "He's a historian."

Jack nodded. "See, Daniel? Play nice, and Chang might let you poke around in his library. I bet it's full of all kinds of dusty, musty, sneeze-worthy old records. You know, the kind nobody else wants anymore?"

Daniel raised a finger, stopped to think. "Right."

That settled, Jack picked up his own notepad. "So, kids... let's just see if there's anything else we can nail down to make sure we're not history."


 

Orbiting a planet within tel'tac range of Gault, rough dice rattled over a death glider's open communications line. "Ha!"

"No way."

"Read 'em and weep, Ishpi. The astragali just love me tonight!"

"Third seven in a row, Genu? Let me see those bones..."

From a modified tel'tac camouflaged to look like just another piece of orbital debris, a thumb clicked on a speaker. "You boys wouldn't be gambling on watch, would you?"

"No sir!"

"Uh-uh!"

"That's what I thought."

Silence. A metallic rattle came over the line, suspiciously like coins being scraped off a pilot's console.

"Do you really think they're coming, Apuki?"

"Yes, Genu," the older voice sighed in exasperation. "We wouldn't be watching over the minefield down there if we didn't think they were coming."

"Oh. Right." Linen rustled against a death glider's seat. "Do you think they're coming soon?"

"Ishpi?" Apuki's voice sounded slightly muffled, as if the older Jaffa were kneading a stressed forehead.

Thwack.

"Ow!"

"Other System Lords' fleets," Apuki said dryly, as if he didn't hear Genu's muttered curses mingled with Ishpi's snickers, "Might show up on schedule. The Sanq rogues don't. And as far as we can tell, neither do the Tau'ri. Even if they are allied with the Tok'ra."

"Scum-sucking blaspheming traitors," Ishpi grumbled.

"Yeah!"

"Why can't we be on Gault taking care of them?" Ishpi's fist smacked his palm to emphasize the point.

"Because First Prime Hursag picked the troops that know how to be subtle," Apuki stated. "As in, not throttling the spies before he gives the order. No matter how much they deserve it."

"Well..."

"And just like the rest of this sorry crew of mine, you two wouldn't know subtle if it bit you in the mikta."

"Oh." Genu sounded disappointed.

Quiet reigned.

"So, did you hear the one about the priestess, the scribe, and the Horus Guard?"

"Oh goddess, Genu, not that one again..."

"The priestess walks into the tavern and orders a beer-"

"Ra have mercy on us all," Apuki muttered.

"And the scribe says - hey! We got a signal!"

"Back up here, boys," Apuki ordered.

"We're not waiting for them?"

"Three chevrons, four... we let the mines take them first. Then we pick off the stragglers." Apuki's voice was calm and grim. "Don't worry. If that's Sanq... there will be plenty for all of us."


 

Timing is everything.

Suspended from the Gateroom ceiling, two missiles pointed like white daggers at the watery surface of the wormhole. "UAV's away, sir!" Davis reported. "Hoo, boy..."

Hammond ignored the slip into informality. Beside them, UAV tech Waters was chewing a dead lollipop stick with frantic speed, skating his craft around an endless supply of Goa'uld surface and air mines with all the determined ferocity of a champion pinball player on his very last ball. So the Preventers' predictions are right so far, the general thought, eyeing the monitor where other techs were analyzing the UAV data to map the minefield on this dusty backwater planet in Dimme's backyard. I don't know if I should be encouraged or gnawing my fingernails off.

On the one hand, it was good to know how deep an insight the Alliance had into its enemy. On the other...

Monitors went to static. Waters muttered one of Daniel's more colorful Abydonian curses.

"It's all right, son," Hammond said firmly. "We have enough."

"T minus five," Davis read off, "Four, three..."

"Fire!" Hammond ordered. The first missile lit, disappearing into the event horizon. In his mind the general could hear screams of some as-yet-unsuspecting paper-pusher in the Pentagon when this ordinance expenditure crossed his desk. You fired at an alien planet and didn't even have an operating UAV to paint the target?

With a minefield like that, it's not as if we're going to miss. Hammond crossed his fingers as the second missile flew. "Good luck, Colonel."


 

Sanq's sky dissolved into dark and streaking starlight.

If we run right into a zat blast, I'm going to be so ticked-

Colonel O'Neill ran out of the Gault Stargate to the sound of gunfire and staff weapons. Good and fast, he thought, leading his team in a swift scurry down blood-smeared steps as Preventers and SG-3 mopped up the last of the 'Gate guards.

Of course, it helped to know there weren't any friendlies on the other side when you threw the grenades through...

Sand and olive among Preventers' green and blue; Rashid. The tall Maguanac had just finished setting up a tripod while three of his fellows kept guard-

Something dark streaked toward Jack's face. Snake!

Alien jaws snapped just shy of his throat, squealing in impotent rage.

Jack let out a breath of relief. "Nice catch, T-"

The fingers around the near-grown larva were pale.

Not my day, the colonel thought, seeing Sam's alarm and Teal'c's wary step back. "Um. Daniel?"

"Hmm?" A faint, distant smile played over the archaeologist's face.

Damn it all, Jack swore silently.

Duo had warned him. Had taken him aside not an hour before and told him straight out, "The second Daniel's in a real fight, he's going right under the wave. Nothing you can do about it. Just get set to handle the fallout."

"We've had him on the firing range," Jack had objected.

"Not a real fight," the Shinigami shrugged. "Not you," he poked the taller man in the arm, "In real trouble."

"Like I have anything to do with it-" Jack started.

And then he'd seen the rare gravity in violet eyes, and shut up.

"You have everything to do with it, Jack," Duo said seriously. "Humans are pack animals. Ask Trowa. If the pack dies, you die. And Shi no Yami does not. Want. To die.

"If Heero's in trouble, Shinigami takes over. I don't fight it. I don't want to. Daniel's got the guts to fight it - most people who survive Shi no Yami do - but he doesn't have the training. And we just flat out don't have the time.

"If we had any other option, I'd ask Sally to sneak up on him with a sedative. And keep him out, until the mission was over." The pilot held up a hand before Jack could protest. "I know. I know you need him. You're going to be right in the middle of a ha'tak and he's the best Goa'uld translator you've got. It makes sense.

"But you better make sure he's got a shoulder to cry on after this is over. And a shower. He's going to be chimamire, and-" Duo cut himself off. "Never mind. Just remember, he is sane, he is thinking, he is on your side. He's just going to be a little... weird."

Cat with mouse. Remember cat with mouse, Jack reminded himself now. "Whatcha gonna do with that?"

A red light shone from both ends of Rashid's sight; one toward the 'Gate, the other aimed out the pyramid's grenade-blasted corridors to open sky.

Daniel shrugged. Tossed the squirming larva toward the event horizon.

Just as blue, red, and gold-marked white soared through.

Splat.

SG-1 hit the ground as the Gundam Wing roared for open sky. "Yuy's going to kill you!" Jack groaned.

Daniel snickered. "He's got to catch me first."


 

Here we go!

Duo flew Deathscythe through the burst of stars, through blackened stone, holding to that one, tight course Rashid had marked-

And the two of them punched into Gault's sky, screaming up past startled death gliders. Yep, Quatre called that one, Duo thought, sliding aside as Heero did, moments before the other three Gundams streaked through their airspace. Dimme planned to squash the Tok'ra from two sides, air and ground. Overkill.

Shinigami's grin spread across his face.

Not enough kill.

Nimble fingers played across his comm console, calling up the local Jaffa frequency.

"-orders-"

"-hold position-"

"-It's a GUNDAM!"

Aw. They noticed. Makes you feel warm and fuzzy all over. "And there's music, sweet music, music everywhere..." Shinigami laughed. "Welcome to hell, hebi!"

Deathscythe sliced through the sky.


 

Cold and light and- Janet swallowed, dragging a pull-cart of medical supplies as she stumbled down into the copper stench of blood. "Ugh."

"Ergh," Sally agreed, swaying, leaning on her own bundle. "Your guys are just as messy as my guys, huh?"

"Janet, look out!"

Caught in the blue burst of Sam's zat, a larva writhed, falling out of the air a foot away from the SGC doctor.

Sally pinned it under her boot, flipped a knife out of her sleeve, and stabbed the squirming creature through the brain. "I hate fighting Jaffa."

About to punch in the last command on a Wing transport ring code-breaker, Jack halted. "You guys going to be-"

"We're fine, Colonel," Janet snapped, belatedly drawing her own firearm as a few more medics tumbled through and the room finally stopped spinning. "Go!"

Stone circles slammed down, and SG-1 vanished in a wash of blue-white light.

And a band of very pissed-off Jaffa appeared in their place.

Janet added her own fire to the storm of bullets heading for bronze armor. Some bounced off rising stone rings - she heard a scream, catalogued ricochet, serious, one - but she could see the flash of rounds hitting home. Now we see how the armor-piercing rounds do.

From the spray of blood, reasonably well, as long as you got them in the throat.

Two Jaffa dove and rolled, bringing staff weapons to bear. Janet saw a head open, orange lighting crackling over its face-

Ugh. Oh. That. Hurts.

On her side on cold stone, Janet coughed, feeling as if she'd been kicked by half a herd of horses. Her nose caught the scent of smoldering cloth, tracked it to the seared hole in the padded blue vest over her greens. Thank god for Preventer body armor.

A shriek choked off as she staggered to her feet. Janet blinked, marked Jaffa, down, not moving, and the red smear along the knife of a panting Marine. Beside him a young brunette Preventer with glinting violet eyes was busily crushing their opponent's larva.

"I thought they could only jump people when they were nearly grown," Janet bit out, carting off the medical supplies to the side as EOD personnel and Preventers fell through the 'Gate.

"Dimme's a Queen. Her Jaffa's larvae will be all ages. Better safe than sorry." Sally wiped blue blood on a rag at her belt, glanced around the room for any more friendly casualties, and grabbed the swearing, bleeding SG-3 Marine by the collar. "Okay, Lieutenant, we're going-"

"This way," Janet directed. Goa'uld really didn't have much in the way of imagination; this pyramid's floor-plan was almost exactly like the one on Abydos. To the inch.

Which leaves a nice side room over here... what did Daniel say it was used for again?

She almost tripped over an outstretched arm. There wasn't much left attached to it.

Oh. Right. Ceremonial guards.

The tanned hand was covered in a metal claw gauntlet; Janet almost bent to touch its odd, lethal beauty. If I measured this, would it match the scars on Jack's back?

Focus, Doctor. "All right, people," Major Fraiser said clinically. "Let's make this place halfway decent. If you see anything you don't recognize, especially tech, toss it outside; otherwise, zat the big pieces. Let's go!"

Sally finished her own swift briefing in Universal as she snapped on latex and tore the Marine's sleeve open to expose the crimson gash. "Huh. Messy, but you'll live, soldier. Chihoumasui-Tau'ri. Hayaku!"

Oh, this is messy... focus. Treat it like an amputation. Oddly, the whine of death gliders and rumble of explosions helped. Yeah. Think more about the carnage that is coming, not the one that already happened. "Almost makes me want to set this up outside."

"Right," Sally said wryly, leaving Janet to clean Lieutenant Ericsson's wound as she started clearing out a suspicious corner. "An operating tent out in the wind? With Dimme loose?"

"I know, I know," Janet muttered, setting stitches in the Marine's arm as Ericsson tried not to look. Circulating air plus a bio-weapons-happy Goa'uld was a bad combination. "I just wish I had a real emergency room."

"I worked without one for years before the Resistance got me into a major hospital undercover," Sally said briskly, sorting out suspect pieces with swift efficiency while her assistants disposed of the rest of the remains. "Then... well, things got complicated for a while, and I ended up back in the field until after we got Macha." She shot Janet a swift look. "We do the best we can. We get them stable so they can get back through the 'Gate."

"Rebels, die-" someone shouted in Goa'uld from outside the pyramid.

P-90 fire cut them off.

"And we stay alive," Janet finished.

Chapter Text

They will die. Slowly and painfully.

For one fleeting moment, Hursag allowed himself the glorious vision of a field of crosses, Preventers nailed to each one, slowly suffocating as their bodies failed. The wind would carry the scent of death as it plucked at papyrus inked with the red hieroglyphs of a Queen's execution, carried out by her First Prime's orders and hand. And there would be no merciful executioner to break their legs and hasten their demise. He would see to that.

They will die.

"Activating emergency bulkheads..."

"Fire in the generators!"

"Contained. Psychic shield up and holding. Lift in possibly twenty minutes, if we can keep the damn Dragons out of range..."

Hursag let the engineering crew's reports wash past him. The Gault Stargate was in enemy hands. There was a gaping hole in his Goddess' ha'tak where the Gundams had struck on their way past. The minefield trap on the second planet was still mostly intact, along with the fighters ranged around it, yet if Apuki's report was accurate, the Tau'ri had simply used the second 'Gate as a distraction.

Apuki's report likely was accurate, curse it. The old curmudgeon might be a cynic and a hell-raiser and teetering on the edge of heresy with every other breath, but the elderly Jaffa knew how to fight.

Too far away for them to reinforce us, Hursag thought coldly. But they can hold the 'Gate if we retreat.

Retreat was still an option. Critical systems were intact. They had a screen of death gliders in the air; enough to keep even Gundams busy for the time it would take to seal the ship. A few minutes, and they could lift.

With traitors on board.

"Unleash the Reavers," Hursag ordered. "Send shock grenades through the rings to the Stargate chamber. Double our Queen's guard on the nursery, Jaffa only; she herself comes to guard the gods' children. We will strike, and we will not fail. Remember, your enemies serve only themselves; you honor a goddess!"

The First Prime took more intelligence reports, and smiled. He would tend to the pitiful human rebels.

The Tok'ra were Dimme's prey.


 

The attack was swift, as she had known it would be.

Emerald robes billowing behind her, Dimme stalked the halls toward her children, confident that Hursag would handle her enemies.

At least, those outside these walls.

If I were those cowards of Tok'ra, and meant to take me unaware, I would strike-

Gas billowed up - but a flash of thought had already closed the hound helm over her face. And this poison did not work through skin.

"Fools!"

A goddess leapt into the concealing alcove, hands spread and glinting as she seized those who had posed as the most devoted of her nursery attendants. Claws sliced shrieking lips.

"Has it been so long since you faced the true gods-"

Metal gauntlets seized a neck. Twisted. Broke.

"-You have forgotten we can fight?"

Dimme stood over the dead and the dying, claws spread, blood streaking crimson down emerald sleeves. The helmet's eyes glowed blue; lips curled in a sneer under alien metal. "You have cowered in the shadows too long."

"My Queen?" a Jaffa called down the hall.

"Hold your positions," Dimme ordered, breast still heaving from the glorious joy of killing. Good, good; they had remained at their posts, though it was certain they had heard the fight. She would not need to execute them for disobedience... or treachery.

Her spy claimed the Tok'ra did not trust Jaffa, and had no agents among that race on her ship. But she had not survived so long by trusting one source of intelligence.

"We will... defeat you..."

"How?" Dimme crushed the gas dispenser in one slender fist. "With petty toys like these?" The hound helm tilted, amused. "Did you think I would claim a planet whose arsenal I did not know?"

One whole eye still glared at her out of a clawed ruin of a face. The Tok'ra's hand moved-

Too easy.

Dimme struck with all the speed and skill she'd trained into this body, slicing across and down. Bits of fingers scattered over the floor. Blood flew, the Tok'ra convulsed-

Went limp.

Chuckling, Dimme reached into the corpse's robes to remove what he'd been reaching for. Ah. A detonation trigger. He must have died so terribly disappointed.

Of course, his fellow traitors among the villagers would have backup triggers.

But that was no concern of hers.


 

The few, the proud, the completely insane...

Major Hopkins, Air Force Explosive Ordinance Detachment, recently detailed to a command he never in his wildest nightmares would have imagined existed, ducked as one of the bronze things his more experienced Marine escort called death gliders screamed overhead. A jet-black aircraft swooped after it, yanking up and sideways in a turn that had Hopkins' gut cringing in sympathy at the Gs that pilot had to be pulling. Green lashed out from the black bird, striking bronze dead-on-

"Move, move, move!"

Hopkins double-timed it with the rest of his team along the ridge leading away from the primitive village, keeping pace with the odd, hard-faced guys and gals in blue and green jackets that had point and rearguard. Preventers, his quick briefing had called them. An allied human fighting force... that just hadn't been born on Earth.

They've got to be kidding.

Granted, whatever language they spoke didn't sound like anything Hopkins had ever heard. And granted, that blue star in olive circle patch on their right shoulders didn't look like any unit he'd ever heard of. Not to mention that ripped-from-a-sci-fi-movie way they'd all gotten here...

Heck, NATO has a hard enough time pulling joint exercises! And they expect us to believe alien humans just up and decided they wanted to fight with us?

A flurry of swift hand signals, and the group surged sharply right around a rough wooden corral, avoiding flaming debris clattering out of the sky. Hopkins growled. "We're all going to be blue on blue if they keep this up!"

"Blue - on blue?" the Chinese-looking Preventer who'd spoken most with Marine Sergeant Deaver asked. Pretty little thing, she was; black hair and eyes, barely five-two, and loaded down with enough ammo to start a small land war. Don't these guys have a minimum height requirement? Hopkins wondered.

"Friendly fire," Deaver explained. "Getting hit by accident."

"Ii." She shrugged. "Deathscythe will mourn us if we fall. Do not be struck."

Don't get hit. Great. Hopkins throttled down his temper before he strangled someone. "So where's this depot you guys say is rigged to blow - holy-"

Giant domes, like black concrete bunkers gone wild, dotted the river plain below. Hopkins counted ten just in line of sight.

"Sir..." One of his ordinance techs shook his head, eyes wide.

"I know, Carlson. I know." Hopkins turned on Deaver. "Those maps you guys came up with better be damn accurate. How much time did you say we have?"

Deaver looked grim. "No clue."

Shit. This isn't defusing - this is suicide!

The Preventer touched his arm. "I will - em sau-ek? Sehtu-i en set'ebet teka."

Hopkins felt his hackles rise. "English, dammit-"

"Akako said she'll protect us," Deaver stated, waving them to keep going toward the jet-black domes. "She's a Guardian Ryuu, Major - a Dragon. That's why she's with us. Show her how the bombs are set up, and she can burn the C-4 out from under them."

Hopkins snorted. Pyrokinesis. Yeah, right. "So if you've got that, why the heck do you need all of-"

From the direction of the village, something screeched.

"Reavers!"


 

Up left jink lock fire-

Quatre wove through the cloud of death gliders on Trowa's wing, half his mind attending to the bronze ships crumbling out of the sky like fiery rain, the rest focused on the pulse of the battle below. No plan survived contact with the enemy, but so far the SG teams had been as stubborn and flexible as he'd hoped. There was the demolitions team, there the anchor teams holding a corridor back to the 'Gate, and there the aid station taking in their first casualties...

Fear/loathing/kill-

"Reavers at point Delta," Major Wade's voice was interspersed with weapons fire and zat trills; SG-3 and the Preventer teams had orders to shoot first and worry about trying to salvage Reavers later, if any survived. "Damn, these things are fast! We need help here-"

Trowa?

Yes, love.

Like a pair of falcons, they stooped. Quatre brushed Sandrock's controls as death gliders reacted to their fall; no point wasting an inadvertent diversion-

Targets acquired. Sandrock's computers scrolled up the numbers, backtracking radio transmissions and echoes of weapons fire to give him the Gundam's best guess at where and when his allies were. The screen split, a second set of numbers shooting past as Trowa's Heavyarms sent its firing solutions. And then a third, thin stream of data from Deathscythe; see you, 05 and 01 in air, will cover.

03 go/no go? The empath asked.

Trust reflected back.

They screamed down and across the rough cover, fifty feet overhead, cannon blasts shaking them with near misses, stray bullets rattling off Gundanium hulls like bits of hail. Opening his mind to Trowa, Quatre reached out to the fear and anger of the battlefield. That moving patch of heat was human, and that one, and that was animal...

And far too many were neither.

Fire, fire, hold, fire, hold, hold, fire-

And they were up and slicing through the airborne fray again. A thinner fray, this time; much dominated by death gliders trying to be anywhere but in front of a Gundam's guns.

Deathscythe shot by, glittering with hunt-and-kill, and Quatre grinned. If he tapped into 02's cockpit frequency right now, he'd get an earful of the latest back-beat music Duo had wheedled out of SGC personnel. Something called rock-and-roll, if he remembered right. Nice stuff.

And utterly terrifying when sung at high volume by the person trying to blow you out of the sky.

Two gliders wobbled; Wing and Shenlong pounced.

A wry smile touched Quatre's face as gliders scattered ahead of Deathscythe's graceful dance. Looks like Duo hacked their coms again...


 

"One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
"Not much between despair and ecstasy.
"One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble;
"Can't be too careful with your company.
"I can feel the devil walking next to me..."

"Shut that cursed noise off!" Hursag roared.


 

"And our doggie friends now have their communications shot to hell." Jack zatted the last hound-helmed Jaffa in the ring control room a third time, tilting his head as the rock-and-roll beat continued to rattle the ship's intercom system. "Nice work."

Watching by the door with Teal'c as Sam did something techno-nasty to the various control panels, Daniel drew a deep breath. When this is all over, I'm going to be sick.

It was a distant horror, detached. Abstract as the knowledge that he should feel fear, or grief, or guilt...

Not calm. Not anticipation. And definitely not a dark, vicious glee that meant to quench its thirst in the blood of his enemies.

Just stay in one piece, Duo had warned him before they left. Get through the mission. Worry about everything else later.

"Done!" Sam scurried to join them, waiting one breath more for Jack to take point before they all moved.

"Bulkhead, bulkhead, funny light, bulkhead - gotcha." Jack slapped a shaped charge on one section of wall, waved them back before pressing the trigger.

Sparks flew, outlining a removable panel.

Gloves on, Jack yanked it clear of the dark opening, waving them in. "After you, ladies and gents..."

Right behind Sam, Daniel hesitated. "Listen."

"To what?" Jack kept his voice low.

"Reinforcements, O'Neill," Teal'c noted in an undertone, ear cocked to the metallic tramp of feet corridors over. "Most likely carrying a dispersal load of shock grenades to reclaim the Stargate chamber."

"Good luck," Sam snorted, tucking a glow-stick into her wristband to brave the darkness of the ventilation system. "Those rings aren't working until I say they are."


 

::The High Council didn't warn us about this!::

Remind me to send them a nasty note, Rede, Ambrin thought, cinching one last strap before slapping the mare toward the tentative safety of the hills. "Ride!"

The small buckskin bolted toward the rest of her fleeing herd, carrying his grim-faced sister Nika, white-faced little Tasia clinging to her belt and the newest babe slung over her back. There'd been no time to look for eight-year-old Amek.

And his brother-in-law Svan was... gone. Worse than gone.

::You've been listening to Jacob's reports again... and when are we getting out of here?::

Ambrin hit the dirt as flaming metal fell out of the sky, skidding through the just-emptied corral before setting the very dirt about it afire. After I find my nephew.

::Aien will be setting off the charges any minute!::

Not if she and Salara are thinking straight.

::It's the Council's plan!::

Ambrin shaded his eyes to peer up, where bronze was trying to mob blinding white. Do they look like they care-

No warning. Just a flicker of shadow that shouldn't have been there. A gust of what might have been wind.

A razor-edge searing through his shoulder.

Ambrin pressed his hand to the trickling wound, fighting off a drowning wave of panic from his symbiote. Twisting gray hissed at him, herding him back with a slash of claws. Paused, tendrils waving, to deliberately lick his blood off its talons.

Horror shuddered through him; his own, and Rede's, mingling and echoing like voices in mist. ::How could Dimme... how could anyone create something like that?::

He didn't know. Even with all Rede's history to draw on, all the memories Egeria had chosen to pass down of Ra's evil and her own decision to fight - he didn't know. All he knew was a sick, roiling terror in his gut, the blind impulse to flee...

And one brief prayer. Spirits, let this not be Svan!

"Uncle Ambrin!"

And running was no longer an option.

::This way!:: Rede seized partial control, drawing on almost two millennia of infiltrators' knowledge for one specific set of knife skills.

Black-edged dagger in hand, Ambrin leaped. Please let this work!

Cloth and skin shredding. Burning pain in arms, ribs, neck as he whirled inside the circle of talons and stabbed. A high, glass-sharp shriek-

Gunfire.

::Stay with me.:: Rede disentangled them from the convulsing Reaver, pressing one hand to the blood trickling from Ambrin's neck. ::Stay awake!::

That was...

::Killing.:: Rede kept the pressure on, holding the wound as it started to seal. A human would have been unconscious and dying. ::It gets easier. I wish it didn't.::

"Uncle Amb- let me go!"

"Easy, kid! Stay back 'til we know it's dead!" Swift footsteps held the struggling child. "Ambrin?"

English. Ambrin forced his eyes open, taking in the two distinct sets of uniforms in front of them. There was the Tau'ri patch of the SGC on the heavyset man holding a squirming armful of young boy, and a strange blue star in olive circle on the jacket of a woman with blue-spotted tendrils twitching out of oak-brown hair...

::A medusa!::

Ambrin winced at the shriek in his head. Unless you're planning to go somewhere, that's not really a problem, is it?

::...::

"Sir? Can you hear us?"

"Yes," he coughed.

Some of the stiffness went out of the medusa's shoulders. "Jacob sent us for you."

::Jacob?::

"Jacob is here?"

The Marine looked at his watch. "Not yet." He set Amek's feet on the ground. "Sir, we have orders to tell you to cease and desist any and all plans to destroy the planetary armory and the local villages."

::Destroy the armory?::

Destroy the villages?! Ambrin shook his head. "You must be mistaken," he said, dazed. "It was Salara's task to set the charges, not mine... they're only set to explode the farthest warehouse, to distract the Queen..."

"No, sir. They're not."

Ambrin felt the blood drain from his face. "The only agents with seniority to order that halted would be - elsewhere."

"If you mean in Dimme's ship, sir... we haven't been able to raise them."


 

Wufei dove and spun, vision gray as he pushed Shenlong's inertial dampeners to their limits. Breathe, and scissors-twist, and now-

A last shot, and the final death glider crumpled from the sky.

Soaring up and clear, Chang drew in deep gulps of air, finally registering the wailing alarms of damaged systems. Half his boards were amber, dotted with red, and the main guidance system was scrawling some of Howard's worst insults across his screen. I should never have let one of Duo's allies touch my Nataku!

It didn't matter. He could still fly. And while he could fly, he could fight.

Save that there seemed to be little left to fight. What few death gliders remained intact were streaking for space and the neighboring planet, evidently running for the sanctuary of their fellows about Dimme's now useless minefield. "04-"

"Noted, 05." Quatre's breath was almost as battle-ragged as his own, though Sandrock was barely scarred. "I've contacted the Jaffa commander and negotiated terms. He'll stand his forces down... unless Dimme clears atmosphere."

Wufei's hands moved of their own will, rerouting circuits to restore the most critical systems he could in the air. "And he agreed?"

The empath's voice had a fine, cold edge. "I gave Tek'mateh Apuki my word as a Gundam pilot that if they did anything else, none of them would see the next sunrise."

"Land or die," Trowa added bluntly. "Status?"

"Acceptable." Wufei blinked away sweat and a few black strands that had somehow worked their way free of his tight ponytail. Communications were altogether too quiet. "01?"

Far too quiet.

"02?"

Static.


 

"Come on, baby, hold it together," Duo pleaded with his crippled craft. Never failed; with all Deathscythe's stealth and ECM, he took more damage from panicked Jaffa firing blind than from any who were trying to aim. "Come on, 'Scythe, be my lovely lady and let's just get down to the ground..."

Blue and red-marked white swooped past.

"Oh great, that's just great, you baka!" Duo grabbed the stick tight as Deathscythe rattled in Wing's vortex. "Bakayarou! Kisama! Just wait 'til I get down there, you - khebs-ta-i em senf-ek!"

Wing soared over the upper third of Dimme's ha'tak. Hovered. Lashed out with blue-white blasts.

"Huh?" Duo nursed 'Scythe nearer, working to bring up an enhanced view. Just in time to catch Wing lowering a crucial foot more as the canopy slid open. "Oh man, tell me he's not gonna..."

Katana in his arms, Heero leapt into the still-smoking hole.

"Why me, huh?" Duo implored any kami who might be listening, pounding desperately on his keyboard as he tried to match Deathscythe's crippled capabilities to what he now had to do. "That's all I want to know, okay? Why me?"

Course set and locked, Duo grabbed his infiltration pack. Touched his sun-cross. Let Shinigami swirl forward as wind caught his braid.

And leaped.


 

A damned Survivor!

Engineer Dagy fell back from the ragged opening with what was left of his Jaffa repair crew as a ribbon device slammed bodies through the air. They'd just rushed up here to repair the secondary generators, ready and willing to snare the rebels' infiltration team if their goddess' Reavers hadn't eaten them-

And the hull had blown in from outside, scattering Jaffa and Reavers like dropped astragali.

But the bulkheads were already sealing, and Survivor or not, their foe was one man. Massed fire would cut him down like a leaf-

Black wings swooped down.


 

::How could the Tau'ri have betrayed us so!::

Salara shrugged, perched in the cliff-side burrow she'd carved with a few crystals weeks ago; a quiet, cozy place, with the amenities she'd loved on her own world, and none of the primitive furnishings this planet's inhabitants took for granted. Who knew. Who cared? It was enough to know they had been betrayed... and all that mattered now was the Council's plan.

::If Rede's not clear - he doesn't know-::

He has his orders, Aien, Salara thought. Just as we do. It's only his own fault if he lets Ambrin's attachment to the people of this world sway him.

Casually, her thumb pressed the detonator.


 

Inside the massive black dome, the Tau'ri known as Carlson whistled. "Oh, man..."

Striding into the dim-lit expanse, Preventer Li Akako frowned as the Earth-born humans stared at the block-long stores of Goa'uld missiles, cannons, and ha'tak parts with wide eyes. It was a System Lord's armory. What had they expected? "The sebau-ib? The-" she sought for the English word.

"Bomb," Marine Deaver filled in. "Yeah. Come on. Hopkins?"

The tall Air Force officer was already searching, eyes and careful fingers moving over those weapons most likely to be trapped. "Map says over here... okay. Oh, son of a-" He clamped his lips together. "Okay, little lady. Come watch this."

Toolkits were opened and scattered on a dropped tarp. Hopkins' hands worked with delicate care, reaching out for one tool after another, each slapped into his palm by his barely-breathing fellows. A red-numbered display was moved carefully aside, colored wires traced...

"Looks like they didn't try to make it tricky," Hopkins muttered, taking hold of one white wire that led into a green-gray block of clayey material. "Anybody wants to duck, do it now."

No one moved.

"Great. We're all idiots." Jaw set, Hopkins yanked out the wire.

Silence.

Hopkins let a breath sigh out. "Right." He beckoned her close. "You see this? C-4. You can burn it just like charcoal, but one spark and it goes boom. Got that?"

"Aa." Reaching out, Akako touched her fingertips to the greasy surface. This would not be simple. She could not simply set and burn; she had to find the wires and work outward, so heat would not set off a spark in and of itself...

"Holy-!"

A sizzle of blue flame touched the wire he'd laid aside, searing off the trace of explosive left behind. More glowed from the block under her fingers, slow fire burning out the hole where the wire had been.

Akako lifted her hand away. "It is well?"

Gaping at the hollowed block, Hopkins shook his head. "I'm not seeing this. I'm just not."

"I think he means, go for it," Deaver said in an undertone, as the rest of the team stared at her with the eyes of colony-born children getting their first terrifying glimpse of an unwalled sky.

Drawing a slow breath, Akako placed her hands together, palm to sweating palm. She did not have the raw power of a Chang, but what she did have could be more finely aimed. This was the substance, this the form of her target...

Eyes closed, Preventer Li reached out with fingers of flame.

This pattern of sparks. And this. And this...

One after another, dull red flared to crimson in Akako's mind's eye, burning bright as unshielded sunlight. Strategic bits of C-4 heated and burned away from metal contacts, leaving the rest of the explosive inert.

And here. And- kami! "Down!"

Crimson already flaring - so close-

Back-burn it!

No time to duck or flee. Only an instant to meet explosion with desperate fire, concentrating all her will on the dragon within her soul, the bright blaze of justice that would not allow those in her protection to suffer-

Thunder filled the world.


 

Comm difficulties! Hursag seethed, racing for the nursery and his Goddess. The lake of fire, he has comm difficulties! I'll throttle Apuki with my own hands...

He would, indeed - if Dimme did not claim that honor for herself. The elderly Jaffa had drawn one heretic breath too many.

Later. For now, his Queen and her precious children must escape.


 

"For crying out loud!" Jack hung onto the shaft wall as the last vibrations from that strike died away. Military explosives might be some of the safest in the world, but he was just as glad they'd dumped most of theirs blowing the secondary generators. Gundam or death glider, had to be. Death glider probably wouldn't shoot a ha'tak, so - Gundam. "Don't those idiots know we're in here?"

"They do," Daniel pointed out lightly. "They also know Dimme's in here."

"Point." Jack kept moving, halted when he noticed his 2IC wasn't moving. "Carter?"

Sam's teeth gleamed glow-stick green as she stripped connections on the shaft wall, preparing to open a hatch the hard way. "We're here."

Okay. "Gotcha. Open a hole, people, let's poke in a camera before we charge in like the Light Brigade... Teal'c, why do I not like that look you're giving me?"

Almost shamefaced, the Jaffa handed over the zat-seared wreck that had been a fiber-optic camera.

"Gnrgh..." Right. Back to the basics it was. "Hear anything in there?"

"This whole network is pretty soundproofed," Daniel grumbled. "It's like being wrapped in cotton."

"There are opponents moving on the other side of the wall," Teal'c reported, ear pressed to the thinnest panel. "Perhaps a dozen. None are directly beside our entrance."

Twelve-odd guys. None of them friendly. Lousy site intel, but better than nothing. Get in, shoot anything that moves, grab the Princess, and vamoose. Jack wiped sweaty hands on his fatigues. "Showtime."

Sam worked her magic, and Jack hurled himself through the sudden opening into the larvae nursery-

Face to face with a hound-helmed System Lady whose claws still dripped blood.

And the day just keeps getting better.

Quick shots impacted Dimme's personal force shield, driving the Goa'uld back with a snarl. Even hurled off-balance, her ribbon device's blast threw him into the wall.

Damn, she knows how to fight!

A grinning Jaffa with the gold brand of a First Prime leveled a staff weapon at his face. "Die, Tau'ri-"

Gunshots and the thunder of Teal'c's staff weapon took him down in a crash of armor. Three cheers for the cavalry, Jack thought, rolling aside. Larvae tank, Jaffa, Reavers, pissed-off Goa'uld, more Jaffa, more Reavers...

Way more than a dozen.

Hell. We forgot how quiet those things were.

And the world was shooting and moving and knowing how very, very badly they were screwed-

"Aan khenaa-ten ba-aa, aan saa-ten khaibit-aa, un uat en ba-aa en khaibit-aa!"

Green fire sliced through the paired doors at the far end of the room. Golden hieroglyphs melted and shattered, screeching apart as two matched kicks broke open the slashed panels.

"Nuk Shinigami!"

And Daniel laughed.

"You!" Dimme snarled, as one braided, blood-covered pilot bounced through the smoke.

"Actually, him." Thermal scythe whirling up to rest against his spattered shoulder, Duo jerked a thumb toward blazing blue eyes, apparently oblivious to the Reaver howls swiftly approaching from the corridor behind them. "Me, I'd rather haul off and drop a couple detonators down the back of your helmet, but no...."

"Ii, merer-ek saat," Heero spat, holstering his gun. Metal sang against metal, sheath cast aside to unveil the silvery curve of a katana.

"You dare?" Glinting claws spread, ignoring SG-1's weapons as they ricocheted off her shield. The hound helm folded in on itself, revealing a crown of dark braids over sheer fury. "You dare challenge me, human?"

Lip curled, Heero crooked a beckoning finger.

"Hrarr!"

Claws met sword in a shriek of metal on metal. Locked together, all but nose to nose, glowing gold met arctic blue. Eyes narrowed. Seared.

Metal shrieked as the two tore apart, landing on opposite sides of the cleared circle. "I knew it," Dimme snarled, breast heaving. "I knew it! No mere human could defeat the gods..." Teeth bared as she splayed talons toward her opponent. "I know you, Stheno!"

"Not Stheno," Heero said coldly. "Only her memory." His katana swirled air as he settled back into stance. "Come and die."


 

"Mwah-ha-hah... oh you did not try to shoot my hair!"

Thermal scythe a glowing blur of green, Duo threw himself at the Reavers, ignoring the idiot Jaffa who hadn't screamed and run the other way. And a one, two, three - slice!

Skip over a tendril. Duck a claw. Weave and sidestep in a swift, deadly dance; Shinigami might be able to fight the mutating venom, but the Reavers only had to get in one good hold to simply shred him limb from limb.

The scythe whirled. Emerald light sliced up across a gray torso, cutting through an arm almost at the shoulder as the Reaver fell in convulsing pieces.

And the hissing horde swarmed him.


 

Not Stheno. Only her memory.

Any other time, Sam would have been delighted to have her dawning suspicions confirmed. Would have stopped and pestered the entire Wing for questions; how much of Stheno Coatlicue had survived Susanowo's ashrak, how had her memories ended up in Heero, why had the Wing let everyone believe Heero had been taken as host by a Goa'uld?

Any other time.

Right now, she was too busy shooting.

Aim, fire, duck, move-

Daniel covered her as Sam scooted to the far side of the larvae tank, leapt to join her as Teal'c opened up with staff blasts. Jack and Teal'c stayed in place, shooting at any unwary Jaffa who poked a head out from the niches around the room, making no attempt to join them in their meager cover.

Though it is cover. None of us want to hit the larvae. So we've got a crossfire, but we have to be careful on angles...

The small part of Sam's brain that wasn't either shooting or overflowing with questions was currently... well, gibbering was probably the kindest description.

Blood - claws - flying pieces - eeek!

Which was to say that the Gordian knot of Reavers around Duo looked like it'd been hit by Alexander's own razor-steel solution in the form of a fiery green thermal scythe, and the resulting carnage was starting to paint walls and floor slippery crimson.


 

My enemy. At last.

A part of Heero knew this was alien memory. Knew this bone-deep hate was the ghost of Stheno, bent on destroying her murderers at any cost. Including the life of the human she haunted.

It was what J had created him for, after all. Forget the sniping Jaffa. Forget twisted creations of science and loathing, striking for his heart. Kill the Goa'uld.

"Watch the hands! Betenu er thesemu, khakht er shewet... sheesh, you guys shoot like day-old ducklings!"

Thank the kami J had never factored in Duo.

"Rharr!"

Dimme's claws broke through his defenses, tearing his right arm to the bone. Talons raked down to his wrist and gripped, slamming him down-

Heero twisted, bones grinding against metal, landing a kick to her ribs that would have dropped a human dead in his tracks.

Claw, claw, hilt-strike, punch-

Curling in midair, Heero landed in a crouch. Wobbled there, bleeding, gasping for breath. He might have a Goa'uld's unnatural strength, but the body supporting it was still human.

Dimme spat blood. Looked at his wound, and his blade, and raised her ribbon device.

"Yuy!"

Ignore Jack's call. Switch the blade to his left hand. Hold it low and angled, waiting. A ribbon device took concentration as well as rage; he still had one brief moment. Duo would know how to goad her...

"Oh, come on," Daniel's voice reached through the screams and gunfire, perfect, taunting Goa'uld. "You're not going to let some human who should still be wearing the sidelock of youth beat a Queen, are you?"

Eyes flared gold, and Dimme moved-

Strike!


 

Jack went for the shattered doors as Reavers went berserk, trying to ignore that wet sound of steel through flesh as a crimson blade pierced through the back of emerald robes. She was Goa'uld. She was the enemy.

But the gold faded from her eyes, leaving only the host's stunned shock behind...

They're down!

Most of the Jaffa weren't any better off, curled in various corners or lying like grain-sacks on the crimson-spattered floor. Duo was keening like a banshee, scythe whirling as the Shinigami cut everything that came near Yuy's crumpled form to bloody shreds. His team was covering them both, sniping at anything that looked like it would break through that desperate defense.

But alarms were yelping to any Jaffa that the threat to their Queen was here, and writhing gray was swarming down the corridor.

I don't think we've got enough bullets... aha! Searching fingers pried open the hidden panel, punched in an override.

Secondary bulkheads slammed down where the doors had been, slicing through a writhing tendril.

Yeugh! Jack leapt back from the coiling menace, drawing his zat to fire five fast, stunning shots into the morass between Duo and his team.

Silence fell over the chamber, rasped by heavy breathing.

My god. We got 'em? "Carter! Get the frickin' larva. Teal'c! Grab Yuy."

Carter dropped her pack, dug out the portable tank R&D had rigged up. Bit her lip. Swallowed, and advanced on the bubbling tank.

Teal'c started forward, jerked to a halt. "I am uncertain that is wise, O'Neill."

Huh? What? Oh.

Duo was still standing over his bleeding partner, chest heaving, scythe-blade glowing deadly green, eyes a merry, mad violet.

"Duo." Shaking a bit, Daniel advanced on the younger Shinigami. "I kher-ek, ib-i kher ma'at. You're safe. It's over. We need to get Heero out of here."

Duo looked down. Took a breath. Wiped some of the blood off his face. "Got it. I got it. Just... pick him up easy, okay?"


 

Oh, I really, really don't want to do this. Sam braced herself, and yanked the cover off the tank. Slick white bodies whipped through green-tinted water, ducking away from the shadow like so many minnows.

Right. Like grabbing goldfish out of a pet store tank. Simple, right?

As if, Cassie's teenage voice echoed from her memory.

Okay. Carry tank open. Sam dipped it into the roiling surface, letting hardened plastic suck in a measure of the supporting liquid. And here comes the icky part.

Stripping tape from the carry tank's handle, Sam pulled free a small vial of amber-flecked blue. Snapped it open, smearing the gluey contents over her left palm and fingers, nose wrinkling at the waft of molasses and lime.

Gritting her teeth, she stuck her smeared hand into the water, wriggling her fingers near the carry tank opening. If Janet and the Preventer scientists were right, this mix and her own altered physiology should now make her smell like a Queen seeking one of her own fertile offspring. Here, fishie, fishie...

White bodies swished near the luring gel, wriggled away. Some fled to far corners of the tank. Others circled back, as if testing the taste.

Wait for it. Wait.

Finally, one thin larva bumped her fingers. Nuzzled against the gel.

Gotcha!

Sam scooped the larva into the carry tank, snatching a couple others nearby for good measure. Sealed the lid, and wiped her hand on a shred of cloth. "Got it!"

"Okay, campers, we're out of here." Blood-smeared emerald over his shoulders, Jack headed for the ventilation system. "Maxwell? You're shaking."

Yuy's sheath tied to his pack, Duo pressed something on his scythe's handle. Green faded, leaving dark metal to lean on as the Shinigami put one foot in front of the other toward their exit. "Yeah."

"We gonna have to carry you, kid?"

"Not yet."

Yuy in his arms, Teal'c arched a brow. Taking up the rear, Daniel rolled his eyes.

Tell me about it. Sam slipped into the vent, waiting for Daniel to close the panel behind them before uncovering her glow-stick and moving forward. She'd heard that tone before, when an RPG-torn A-10A's pilot had asked if there was a runway clear... or at the least, if ATC didn't mind, some kind of flat spot?

"Hog Three, do you have a problem?" the ATC had demanded.

"Not yet...."

"Not that I mind the help, but I thought you guys were handling our upstairs problems," Jack said lightly. "Want to tell me just what you two thought you were doing?"

"Heero... didn't have much choice in the matter." Duo's voice was gray around the edges, mad laughter all but faded. "Once we cleared the skies, and he knew Dimme was in reach... saw the same thing when he went after Macha. Knew the idiot wouldn't have time to call us for backup. Damn J..." He took a breath. "Better call Quatre, when you can. My comm was out. By this time the guys have found Deathscythe touched down - least I hope she's touched down, not scattered all over the landscape, guidance wasn't looking too hot either - anyway, lil' Cat can feel I'm not in it, but he's probably biting his nails for a tactical update. And Trowa just hates that. Which I get, really. You ever tried to nuzzle somebody who bites his nails? They're all scratchy. You end up looking like the rag rug after Hrere's done playing with it..."

"Duo," Jack tried.

"...Never seen Heero bite his nails..."

"Maxwell! Who the hell is J?"

"Dead guy. I hope. Dead if I catch him. Dead and in pieces if Quatre does. G may not have been the best excuse for a human, but J is just one nasty piece of work." Duo blinked, wavered; set his scythe down a little harder, and kept walking. "It's - look, it's not my story. Okay? Ask Heero. When he wakes up."

"Sally knows, doesn't she?" Daniel spoke out of the darkness behind them. "What if she can't treat him? What does Janet need to know?"

Duo walked a few more steps, silent. "Treat him like a Survivor. He is. Mostly. Only you have to go light on the healing device. Especially on the head. Too much gives him fits. Bad." A wry smile curved his lips. "Too tough for his own good."

Jack nodded, rearranging Dimme's limp arm over his shoulder. "Not like you, huh?"

"Heh." Duo shrugged. "I'm Shinigami, Colonel. I'm not going to fall over 'til we're safe."

Chapter Text

Pain.

Irrelevant, except as it indicated potential damage he might have to calculate his actions around.

Tight cloth around pain.

More relevant; it indicated the presence of a potential ally, willing and able to treat his wounds. Heero added that factor to the multifaceted matrix of tactical calculations in his mind. Calculations that seemed oddly dim and bare, now that the driving compulsion to seek out Dimme was gone...

Arms holding. Moving air. Blood-scent.

Someone was carrying him. Jaffa or Goa'uld; no one else could manage the strength to manhandle his form through a ha'tak's ventilation system in such an awkward position. Yet... Heero felt rough cotton under his cheek. Not a Jaffa's armor, and not a Goa'uld's silken robes.

Cotton. He should know who was wearing cotton.

A low voice vibrated through the shoulder bearing him. "I believe Heero Yuy may be conscious, O'Neill."

"Damn." Up ahead the colonel's words echoed off bodies and shaft walls, painting a grainy audio image of planet-tall, armed forms and one smaller, staff-carrying shape. "You are one tough cookie, Yuy."

"That's my Heero." A tired smirk rang through that familiar voice. "Status, 01?"

"Acceptable," Heero whispered. "02?"

"Jus' need a cup a' coffee. Or three."

Translated from Maxwell-speak, Duo was running near the edge of even a Shinigami's considerable limits. It would be prudent to seek shelter, rest, and refuel. He should say so. If he could only open his eyes. "Duo..."

"Hey, I'm the one in one piece, Hee-chan. Lean back and enjoy the ride."

"Don't... call me Hee-chan..." He was going to extricate himself from Teal'c's hold, leap the width of this shaft, and strangle the baka with his own braid.

Any minute now.

Just as soon as...

He could open...


 

"He is resilient," Teal'c noted, manhandling the semiconscious pilot out of the ventilation shaft.

"Less talk, more run!" Jack snapped off zat shots as they raced down the hall, flesh crawling at the unearthly screams behind them. He'd give almost anything to be able to drop the bleeding burden on his shoulders. But let Dimme's Jaffa grab her and haul her to her sarcophagus, and this whole wretched mess would start all over again. "Carter!"

Bent on undoing her sabotage of the ring system, Sam just nodded. Shifted something. Frowned.

Still no rings. Jack hit the door controls, closing off the corridor before Reavers could catch sight of them. "Any minute now, Major!"

The astrophysicist glared at stubborn machinery. "Stupid snaggle-frazzle-"

Daniel pointed a finger at an orange light to the side of Sam's fiddling. "Um, is that supposed to say 'loading'?"

"A-ha!"

Golden metal bent. Bulged. Jack backed slowly up by Teal'c, unwilling to risk firing through the door while it still stood. "Carter, now would be good!"

Sam twirled a fine tool in her fingers, shrugged, and pounded a fist next to the light. Which bleeped. "Clear!"

Duo had his eyes half-closed as they gathered in the ring's circumference, swaying slightly as he leaned on his scythe one-handed. The other fiddled inside his braid, drawing out a thin, silvery cylinder.

Jack blinked, drawing on a memory of one of those many Preventer tech briefings. Wait a sec. That looks like-

Violet eyes were bare slits as Duo thumbed and twisted the cylinder in a smooth, intricate motion. Grinned.

And tossed it through the descending transport rings, just as the doors finally gave and blue-white light took them away from the screams.

A Preventer detonator?!

Light faded, and they were in the 'Gateroom, ceiling shuddering overhead. "You carry explosives in your hair?" Jack swore.


 

"Freeze!" Echoed down stone corridors to Janet's busy ears, a Preventer's "Yamero!" fast on its heels.

"Lucy, we're home..."

"You are not Lucy."

"They know that, Teal'c."

Fast footsteps brought a fresh rush of bodies through her crowded door; Janet braced herself and turned, ready to triage SG-1 and give one Colonel O'Neill a piece of her mind for scaring another six years off her life-

Froze, gaping at the sight of two carried bodies... and one limping, staff-wielding, kid. Good. Lord.

Rust-red stained black, head to toe. White under-sleeves showed crimson spatters, in amongst the bits and pieces of seared flesh flung back by the swing of some devilish weapon. Even the tip of his braid dripped blood.

"'S not mine," Duo slurred, staggering toward a far corner away from the injured. "'S Reavers. 'N some Jaffa. Maybe ten, twenty..."

Or more, Janet thought, shaking herself into motion to help Jack slide his bloody, emerald-robed burden onto a cot. No pulse, but- Janet leaned one hand against the pale throat, sensing that flutter of air through battered flesh. "She's breathing!"

"Two steps right, along the wall," Sally ordered. "Corpsman! Rinse him off, don't touch him. Maxwell! Stay awake until I can check you."

"Tryin'..."

"Don't try. Do." Sally felt along the back of Dimme's neck with gloved hands. "Ah. Got you, you bitch!"

One lump of Goa'uld, wrapped along the spinal cord. Shifting now, as the parasite realized its host was beyond conventional repair and it was in the hands of its enemies. Readying itself to flee a broken body and strike out through the mouth, trying to take one of them down with it-

Only to squirm in place, balked by Sally's iron grip. "T'at'at aa'aat amu pet ta Neter-khert, an-na-ten au-s kher sekheru amen," the Preventer doctor proclaimed, stating for the record the sentence Sanq's Alliance had passed decades ago. "Au-i kher sap en nerutet, senet'eret-i Sebau her qab-ef. Ar sapt menti-sen!"

Please let this work.

Plucking out a pre-loaded hypodermic, Janet rammed her needle home in alien flesh.

And held on for dear life.


 

I will not die here!

Hard hands gripped the flesh casing her, balking Dimme as she tried to tear free with fangs and spines. She'd abandoned trying to move this sword-torn body; what few flickers of life still burned in it were being hoarded by the slave within, as the human clung to one breath more, and one more...

"O divine chiefs, mighty in heaven, earth, and the Netherworld, I have brought to you she who possesses hidden schemes."

I cannot die here!

"I hold an inquisition of the Terrible One, I fetter the fiend at her corner."

Fiend? I am a Queen! You dare to even think of passing sentence on a goddess? You will pay, and pay dearly! Tau'ri, Guardian, Preventer rabble - I will make the skies rain your tainted blood!

"Now the judgment of those who are annihilated!"

You dare not-!

And hellfire seared away the world.


 

Out of the corner of her eye Janet saw Daniel jump in to grab one flailing arm. Jack and Teal'c pinned thrashing legs and body. Blood-specked arms reached past her, bearing the orange hum of a healing device, as Sam set her teeth and will and reached with alien technology to heal and restart a slashed heart.

Thrashing stilled.

"Turn her on her side," Janet instructed, feeling flesh suddenly squish under her hands as the Preventer's cocktail of symbiote-poison, immune boosters, and neural rehabilitators turned what was left of a Queen to dissolving mush. She flexed her fingers out of their death-grip on bloody robes. "Healing device or not, she's probably going to need to cough blood out of that lung."

"Oxygen deprivation," Sam said breathlessly. "We got here as fast as we could-"

Sally shook a scolding finger, readying herself to jump back into her own battle as more teams radioed back casualty reports. "We've done this before, Major. The Goa'uld shares oxygen with the neurons as long as possible." She glanced at her watch. "It's going to be touch and go, but-"

"Dr. Fraiser!" A shaken Nurse Clark nodded toward the radio. "Maguanacs are bringing some of EOD in. Burn victims!"

"Take care of your team," Janet ordered O'Neill. "That's the best thing you can do for us right now."

Your battle's over, Colonel. Mine's just started.


 

It's not fair. Numb, Major Hopkins followed Sergeant Deaver back from the smoking wreckage of the armory, taking a moment to look over the ominous domes.

Most stood intact. Three or four, including the one they'd stumbled out of, bore cracks and sear marks. Only one, the farthest from the village, had shattered. Flames still rose from it, smoke dark and black as a gasoline fire.

Ow!

Note to self: do not walk backwards, Hopkins thought, disentangling himself from an emerald-and-red-spotted vine trailing down onto the rough woods path. Apparently Gault thorns could poke straight through standard issue.

Absently Hopkins registered the grinding pain in his arm, where the rest of his shaken team had roughly wrapped bones into place for the long walk back to the 'Gate and Dr. Fraiser's medics. Wing Trowa's orange and white craft had landed and gone, ignoring walking wounded like him to snatch away the two barely breathing; Carlson, whose blast-shattered femur had nicked the artery...

And the small, brave shell of a woman who'd held fire in her hands to save them all.

It's just not fair.

"Hang in there, sir," the Marine said roughly, dodging another tangle of armored vine. "You're SGC now. And she's not dead yet."

Hopkins shook his head. "Deaver, you saw-"

"I've seen healing devices work, sir. Don't give up on Preventer Li. Not yet." He held up a fist to stop the march. "Hold up."

Right. Not out of the woods yet...

Listening to his radio, Deaver nodded. "Hold position, we'll join you." He grinned. "Rendezvous time."

They look about as bad as we do, Hopkins thought as his smoke-stained band rounded a fallen tree to meet up with a mixed bunch of Marines, Preventers, and a couple local civilians. A kid?

Yep, a kid. Dirty brown hair, maybe eight from the look of him, clinging to a tired guy who looked like family and was carrying one nasty black and bloodstained knife.

The brunette has snakes in her hair, and I'm not even twitching, Hopkins registered absently. When did my life slide into the Twilight Zone?

"Major Hopkins." The heavyset Marine in charge nodded. "Sergeant. Mission accomplished?"

"Colonel... Fenton," Hopkins said tiredly, glad their unconventional battlefield negated the need for salutes. "Yeah. We're done." Done in, too.

"Still some patrols and a few Reavers loose," the colonel informed them. "And the local civilians might not be too happy with us either. Any of them that are still here, rather than running for the hills. Keep your eyes open."

"And Salara is out there yet," the civilian stated. "I still can't believe..." He walked past them, staring toward the rising black smoke. "How could she have done this? How?"

"Major, Tok'ra agent Ambrin," Colonel Fenton said in an undertone. "He's one of those who set the charges. Only he says as far as he knew, the plan was only to blow the stores away from the village."

Hopkins studied Ambrin's dazed expression, the way he clutched the kid close, as if reassuring himself flesh and blood still had a pulse. No way was this guy on a suicide brigade. "I believe him."

"No offense, Major, but the Tok'ra are sometimes a little-" Deaver waggled one hand.

"I've met a bunch of bombers, Sergeant." Hopkins turned to the colonel. "Sir, I don't think he's faking it."

"Two votes for truth," Fenton said practically. "Unless Preventer Sumire plans to change hers..." He hesitated, choosing his words with stumbling care. "Setebh-i, Sumire. Taa-i ma'at?"

The medusa shook her head. "Aabla, ib-seshat, qemhut aa'aret ib-ek. An sent-i Ambrin se-sek iiu em nehepu qait."

"I think Sumire's saying she's got an empath reading him," Deaver told Hopkins in an undertone. "Aabla. The blonde Preventer over there, I'm guessing. She's not worried."

"Welcome to the United Nations," Hopkins muttered. Oh well. At least Ancient Egyptian didn't grate on his ears like French. Wonder how hard it is to pick up?

"Well. One way to find out." The colonel raised his voice a notch. "Ambrin. Assuming Salara went to ground before she blew the place, where would she be?"

"I... don't know." Ambrin blinked, bringing himself back to the present with an effort of will. "We were... to find separate places of concealment, so that if one were captured, not all would be. It's customary..."

Fenton's eyes narrowed.

"Hang on a sec, sir." Hopkins walked over to the Tok'ra. "Hey, kid. How you doing?"

The boy stared at him wide-eyed, then buried his face in Ambrin's neck.

Ambrin spoke softly to the child, rubbing a thin shoulder. "Forgive Amek, Major. It has been - a very frightening day."

"Second that," Hopkins muttered. "Nice kid. Yours?"

"My sister's son. She will be so worried." Ambrin looked at him. "I should search for them. I truly do not know where Salara is, and if my kin stumble on her, after this..."

Torn two ways and you don't know which way you'll jump. Hopkins almost felt sorry for the guy.

Akako, dark hair half burned away, bleeding from ears and eyes...

Almost.

"Look," Hopkins said matter-of-factly. "I don't know what Salara's story is, but I can tell right now you're in no shape to handle her. And you got the little guy here to look after." He nodded toward the smoldering pyramid ship. "Dr. Fraiser's got an aid station set up by the 'Gate. I bet the Colonel can get you two passed along the line up there."

"My sister-"

"Best thing you can do for her right now is stay in one place." You might be the only family that kid has left, Ambrin. Did you think of that? "But before you head that way... where do you think Salara wouldn't be?"

Ambrin started.


 

"Nice work, Major," Colonel Fenton said a few minutes later, after Ambrin was safely on his way. "Thinking of staying on with us?"

"Ask me again after we get home, sir."

Sumire made a low, laughing comment; Deaver muttered something back, and shrugged.

"What was that, Sergeant?" Fenton asked, glancing at his motley crew as they fell into line to circle what was left of the village and head for Salara's most likely hiding place.

"Personal observation, sir. Nothing important."

"Oh yeah?" Hopkins asked in an undertone as they skirted the bloody wreck of a Reaver near a corral.

"She thinks you're staying." Deaver had a wry smile. "Says you've got the stars in your eyes. Preventers get like that."

He gave the sergeant a hard look.

"Hey, you asked, sir..."

Trees, trees, more trees; some not that different from forests near Vancouver, a few towering trunks that reminded Hopkins of dinosaur-age dioramas of tree ferns. Though computer graphics never seemed to include straggly chartreuse moss on the shady side of trunks, or trails of scurrying orange ants. They definitely didn't include insect buzzes and clicks, and the distant rattle of gunfire.

Gradually they worked their way upward into higher, rockier ground. Hope Fenton knows what we're looking for, Hopkins thought tiredly, glancing at a glimmer of black-gold feathers as something that looked like an eagle settled on a branch not far from their line of march near a rising cliff. I sure don't-

Wait a second. Was that brown leather wrapping yellow-scaled legs?

Colonel Fenton held up a fist; stop. Flashed a few hand signals for wait and watch. Spoke a few halting words that didn't sound like either of the languages the Preventers used.

Gaultish, Hopkins realized, trying to remember that part of their hasty briefing. "We come to fight." Or something like that.

A gray-leather shadow detached itself from the brush, holding up a gloved hand for the eagle. Suspicious eyes glared at them out of a lifetime's worth of wrinkles.

Hopkins tried not to breathe too hard. The forest was quieter than it had been. Which meant company. Armed company, if his tired brain was flinging up the right details on the natives.

Swiveling its head, the eagle looked them over. Chirped.

The elderly local nodded once at Fenton, and withdrew back into the brush.

"I think we just got passed, people," the colonel said in low tones. "Don't startle them."

Preventer Aabla stared toward the leaves closing around where the older man had been, surprised. Said something short and liquid, one brow flying up in pure curiosity.

Deaver pursed lips in a soundless whistle. "A Beastmaster? Here?"

"Later," Fenton warned. "Locals are keeping an eye on here, people. We may be in the right spot after all. Start looking."

Looking seemed to involve a weird gray contraption half the size of a pack that emitted a low hum when it was switched on. "The heck?" Hopkins breathed.

"Some kind of ultrasound Major Carter cobbled together," Deaver informed him as they moved into rearguard position. "Tok'ra like to burrow."

"Burrow?" Hopkins said, disbelieving. As in underground? Didn't sound like spies. Wouldn't that have drawn the attention of every local within three miles?

"Long story, sir. They've got the tech to do it right under Goa'uld noses."

The hum altered in pitch as one of Fenton's people brought it near the cliff wall. The colonel looked grimly pleased. Motioned the device back, and laid down a shaped line of gray puttylike substance Hopkins was all too familiar with.

Knock, knock, the EOD officer thought wryly as everyone took cover. Hello, it's us!

Rock crumbled in dull thuds.

"Go, go, go!"

And there was thumping and yelling and the electrical trill of a zat and at least one disbelieving shriek-

And some very bruised Marines marched out of the raw rock opening a minute later, one bound, gagged, and furious woman slung over the tallest man's shoulders like a flour bag.

"Ah. Agent Salara," Colonel Fenton said dryly.

"Mmph!"

"Jacob sent us to collect you."

"Mmph?"

"Ordinarily we'd let an agent have a little time to clear out sensitive materials. But given that the combined forces of the SGC and Preventers have removed the local System Lord and are currently working on what few of her forces survive, not to mention the havoc you've already caused when left to your own devices..." Fenton grinned, white and uncaring as a shark.

"Mmph! Mph mmph mfft!"

"Oh, and by the way? Ambrin knows what you tried to do to him. And his family." Fenton bent a little closer to the wide-eyed spy, smile thinning. "If it were up to me, I'd drop you in his lap. He seems to be very good with a knife. Unfortunately, my orders are to bring you back." With a nod, he formed the group up for the trek back to the 'Gate.

"Somebody's been taking O'Neill lessons," Deaver said in a wry undertone.

Hopkins' eyes bugged. "You mean there's more than one of them?"


 

I hurt. Huddled in the small, out of the way corner SG-1 had claimed for its own, Daniel hugged himself tightly. Everywhere.

Not physically. Oh, he'd picked up a few nicks and scratches, some of which burned with Shi no Yami's angry fire as it consumed Reaver DNA and spat out blackened slime. It was a rare casualty who hadn't come in without at least one Reaver scratch. Janet and Sally had their corpsmen giving everyone who came through the doors a first round of preventive shots, Shinigami included. The more serious cases got IVs, and told to sit down and stay quiet until Quatre, Jack, and all the various commanding officers could sort out enough of the chaos to arrange a 'Gate trip back to a hospital.

No. He was tired, and sore, and wanted to sleep for a week, but he wasn't really hurt. Not in body.

We won. Why can't I be happy?

"Daniel?" Sam said softly, sliding down the wall to sit next to him. "You okay?"

"I'm-" He couldn't manage fine. He just couldn't. "How's the little Princess?"

Sam shook her head at Jack's nickname, tossed a glance toward where Teal'c sat cross-legged by the portable tank. "Teal'c's looking after them."

Yes, he was. Eye to glaring eyespot with the tanked larvae. Although the little wrigglers seemed more confused than angry.

"I think we were all scared." Sam didn't raise her voice, just leaned close enough that he could feel the warmth of her shoulder near his arm. "Duo warned us... but I don't think we believed it. I don't think we could have believed it. Not before we saw it."

"It was fun, Sam." Gods, he felt sick. "While I was... riding the wave. It was fun." Scurrying little prey of Jaffa, slow and stupid and all but baring their throats to be killed. Skittering, vicious prey of Reavers, their very scent rousing a snarl of hate in his throat, the urge to seek and hunt and kill those who threatened what were his.

I never want to do that again, he wanted to say. I'll never kill like that again.

But... that would be lying.

"Cats are like that." Sam's tone was matter-of-fact. "They're cuddly, and they love you, and they'd never hurt you on purpose. But they're hunters." She touched his shoulder. "It doesn't make you a bad person, Daniel. It just means you have to be careful. Just like the colonel has to be, sometimes."

Careful. Gods.

Jack had to be careful?

Clink. Clatter. Clink.

"Damn." Tapping the IV full of Janet's RNA-busting cocktail attached to his arm, Jack sounded truly impressed. "A third of that rope isn't hair at all, is it?"

"Iie." Heero stopped for a moment, fingers tangled in the lower half of Duo's unraveled braid, obviously catching his breath. Half a very odd assortment of tools, explosives, and miniature weapons were carefully set on the side of Duo's cot, in contact with the sleeping pilot's skin. Dipping his hand into an aluminum basin, Heero scooped up water and poured it over chestnut strands, washing away drying rust-red.

Jack nodded at the efficient motion, not commenting on the bandages wrapping the pilot's arm and other injuries or on the way even Heero's uninjured hand shook. "You've had to do this before, huh?"

"Aa."

"Safe for us to help?"

"Iie."

"He looks pretty out."

Silence.

"You ought to be out."

"Hn."

Jack rolled his eyes. "Daniel?" Translation, please?

"He'll sleep when it's safe," Daniel shrugged. Just like you would.

"Huh." Jack regarded Heero, giving Maxwell's limp form one thoughtful glance.

Heero focussed on bloodied hair. "Duo can push himself farther than most Shinigami. He prefers not to; it brings greater vulnerability when the wave falters." His voice fell, near soundless. "But he will do it. For us."

"You care about him," Daniel said quietly.

"We fly together. He makes our missions more efficient. More effective. And - odder. The Goa'uld seem to have difficulty dealing with the oddness." As if disconnected from his will, Heero's hand stroked wet hair. "Perhaps that is why he can aggravate me like no one else."

"Oh yeah?" Jack said carefully.

Heero's shoulders stiffened. "There is a limit to what Sally can discern without potentially destructive examination. But we believe J's manipulations were too thorough. While my insight into Goa'uld tactics is invaluable, my ability to comprehend standard human social bonding is... limited." Muscles tensed, as if he thought of shrugging and set the thought aside. "Duo insists that this is not a failing, but simply a fact to take under tactical consideration."

Jack pursed his lips in a silent whistle. Tossed Daniel a raised-brow glance.

Daniel gave him a slow nod. For someone as outgoing and demonstrative as Duo to go to those lengths to reassure someone who knew he wasn't normal... Yep, those two have it bad.

Just what they had, Daniel still wasn't sure yet. Heck, from the look on Heero's face, he didn't know. It wasn't anything as simple and straightforward as Trowa and Quatre's relationship.

But there was trust in it, and kindness, and friendship tested in fire.

Kindness. Daniel tested the thought against the water running crimson down the drains, the mad glee in violet eyes as Shinigami killed anything that challenged him.

But only those that challenged him. If they'd fled - if they'd posed no threat to himself or the others-

The killer had let them go.

If Duo could face that in his soul, and still be kind...

Maybe I can live like this after all.


 

Scent was first to return. Cold granite, a breath of growing things, all overlaid with the sickening taste of blood and bile and charred flesh.

She has struck out once more. Another nightmare made flesh, another horror I could not stop...

Touch filtered back next; an agony in neck and chest and throat, overpowering the dimmer ache in muscle and bone that meant the Queen had once more used her form to slay her enemies. Almost enough agony to block a feather-light touch on one arm; warm, gentle fingers that somehow eased away fear.

"It's all right. You're safe now." A young man's voice, soft and oddly familiar past the low curses and sobbing of the wounded. "What's your name?"

Name? I... had a name once... Before the demon. Before the nightmare...

Would it hurt to speak it, one last time?

Yes.

But... she did not feel the demon. Did not feel the lash of soul-shredding pain, or worse, the helpless haze of knowing her body was not her own. She hurt, hurt to the core, but...

I am... awake?

Awake. Awake and aware, if only for this brief instant.

"A-Mushen," she whispered. "I am... I was..."

"You are." The young man's voice was firm, with a fiery joy she could feel burning away the slime of endless nightmare. "You are A-Mushen. Now, and forever."

She had to know. She had to see.

With an effort of will, A-Mushen opened her eyes.

Blond hair. Sea-blue eyes. A Preventer's jacket. And a smile that could light the darkest pits of memory.

"I'm Quatre Rebarba Winner." Hand still clasping her wrist, the Gundam pilot bowed to her. "Welcome home, A-Mushen."

Chapter Text

"All told, sir, we lost a lot fewer people than I thought we would," Colonel O'Neill concluded tiredly the next day. His hand twitched toward his left arm; deliberately did not rub the bandage left when Janet had plucked out his IV a few hours before. "Remind me to put Tek'mateh Bra'tac up for a commendation."

Seated in SG-1's favorite infirmary chair, Hammond frowned. "Master Bra'tac wasn't even there, Jack."

"No, sir. But his reputation was." Jack gave him a tired grin. "And Teal'c, Quatre, and Tek'mateh Apuki milked it for everything it was worth to get Dimme's Jaffa to stand down. That guy is respected, sir. We've got to find him."

"It's high on our list of priorities," Hammond assured his second in command. "Dimme's pyramid ship?"

"It's a wreck," Jack admitted. "Might be a salvageable one, though. The Sweepers say it'll take a few days to clear out enough of the debris to be sure. Carter seems to agree with them."

They almost hadn't had that much, Hammond knew. Unlike the malcontents left at the minefield, most of the troops within the ship were all too faithful to the Goa'uld who had ruled them so long. Once they'd realized Dimme had fallen, it'd been a race between Preventers, SGC teams, and desperate Jaffa to see who could gain control of the main reactors first; the allied forces, trying to shut them safely down... or the Jaffa, who wanted to destroy them and every living thing on that continent.

His people had won. Barely.

"Even a wreck may give us enough leverage," Hammond said thoughtfully.

"Sir?" Colonel O'Neill's eyes were shadowed with memories of the fight, and all the letters it would be his responsibility to write now, as commander of those who hadn't been so lucky.

"You do recall that one of the points Lady Peacecraft was firm on was that the Alliance Council did not want to be dealing with a faction group?"

"Yeah..." Dark eyes widened. "Oh, no. You're not serious."

"Commander Une was even more blunt," Hammond stated. "The Wing and the Preventers may lie to civilians about who they are, and where they are, but they do not lie about why they're fighting."

Jack leaned back against the head of his cot, thinking furiously. "They want us to go public?"

"Yes." Hammond folded his hands. "I've spoken with the President. While he would not commit to anything at this particular moment, he did assure me that we now seem to have enough evidence to present our case to the U.N. Security Council."

"Oh, boy..." Jack blinked. Squinted thoughtfully. Glanced over toward gold hair half-buried under a pillow in the cot on his left, the faintest traces of a smirk bending his mouth. "Does this mean we get to declassify certain evidence indicating the pyramids really were built about ten thousand years ago?"

Hammond blinked. Looked at one snoozing archaeologist. Felt the same devil's grin tug at his own lips. "I don't see why not."

"Yes!" Jack pumped a fist in the air. "Score one for the good guys!" Winced a little, and settled back down. "Wait 'til you wake up, Danny. We're going to plan this one right and make those Egyptian pencil-pushers eat their words..."

"How long is he going to sleep?" Hammond asked, concerned. The archaeologist had been dropping off at odd moments ever since he'd come back through the 'Gate. Janet had grounded him in the infirmary until he could stay awake for more than an hour.

"Could be a few more hours, could be longer," Jack shrugged. "Dr. Po says his system still needs a few weeks to catch up with Shi no Yami. She also says Shinigami tend to sleep whenever, wherever, and however in chunks, instead of the eight-hour lumps the rest of us like." He grinned. "You should see some of her holograms of Duo conked out on top of Deathscythe's wing."

"I look forward to it," Hammond assured him. He very much looked forward to learning a great deal about those remarkable young men, and the world that had created them. Created, indeed. Would we have come to that, in our war with the Goa'uld? Would we have dared?

And how much of ourselves would we have lost if we had?

Jack sobered. "Now, about the rest of my team, sir?"


 

Wish you were here, sir. Heck, I wish Heero were here. Standing behind her father just outside the Council chamber, carrying tank in hand, Sam checked one more time that Teal'c and Trowa had a bound and silently fuming Salara in hand, while Wufei, Quatre, and Duo backed them all. If only we'd had a little more time...

But they were cutting it close as it was. Jacob had arrived on Gault with the second wave through the 'Gate, staying with the combined forces just long enough to confirm the Tok'ra strike team tasked to capture Dimme had had their ambush... well, ambushed.

Ambushed into little pieces, Sam thought, swallowing a hysterical laugh. The scene hadn't been quite as bad as what Duo had left of various Jaffa all over the ship, but the Goa'uld Queen had definitely made sure that the Tok'ra symbiotes didn't survive long enough to take another host. Oh, god... I definitely have to talk to Janet when this is all over.

And it wasn't over. Not quite yet. Jacob had left Ambrin in charge of finding the last few surviving Gault Tok'ra operatives and coordinating with allied forces and the villagers. Preventer empaths and Beastmasters had taken up guard with the Marines and Air Force Security Forces around the 'Gate encampment, watching for stray Reavers. Most of Dimme's creations had already fallen prey to gunfire or poison darts; a few luckier ones had been drugged up and might survive the transition back to human. Salara and Aien were now in Jacob's furious custody. And all the combined casualties had by now been 'Gated back to Earth or Sanq, depending on the nature of their injuries.

Or - as with Heero and Jack - depending on whose doctors had the best chance of surviving the patient's inevitable bad temper.

But there was one last critical loose end to tie up.

Sam took a deep breath, and stepped forward into the Vorash Council chamber. Here we go.

Tok'ra whispers died to silence, as the resistance fighters took in exactly what was in her tank. The hush swept the room, igniting fiercer whispers in its wake. In one quick glance Sam took in disbelief, amazement, tears-

Tears?

Beyond doubt. No one sobbed openly, but eyes were bright everywhere. And the look on Garshaw's face...

The Grand Councilor was taut and pale, one fist pressed to her lips as if she'd seen her dearest friend sent to the gallows - and the rope inexplicably give way.

Why didn't you tell us a queen was that important? Sam thought desperately. Why?

Because it would have shown a weakness. Because it would have proven the Tok'ra weren't perfect; that they needed something only the help of a younger, lesser race could grant them. Because Goa'uld didn't ask, they took.

And underneath it all you are still Goa'uld, Sam realized bleakly. Like Stheno.

"Selmac." Garshaw took her gaze from the tank with an effort. "Where are Rede and the others? You did not list them among the dead."

"Taking some time to think," Jacob said tartly, stalking up to the table. "Friendly fire tends to do that to you."

"I followed the Council's will," Salara bit out.

"So I'm told." Jacob didn't look away from Garshaw. "If I were you I wouldn't push them. You might get a few of them back. Think you've lost Ambrin and Rede for good, though. His sister lost her husband and every other adult male relative she had to Dimme's Reavers, and there's no way he's going to let her kids grow up without an uncle. Especially not when the alternative is working for the people who arranged for Dimme to take over the planet in the first place." Jacob's fist crashed down on the table. "God damn it! What were you thinking?"

"For the greater good," another Councilor began.

"Don't, Undine," Jacob growled. "Just don't." He took a breath. "Major Carter?"

Major Carter, not Sammie. They were pulling out all the formal stops today. Sam stepped forward, set the tank on the table before Garshaw. "Yosuuf, Grand Councilor Garshaw," Sam said with military dignity, "In honor of the treaty which exists between the Tok'ra and the people of Earth, and in accordance with the goodwill that the people of Earth continue to extend to our allies against the Goa'uld, we grant you custody of this child of Dimme."

"It is a noble gesture," Garshaw began.

"With the provision," Sam ground over her words, "That Preventer empaths of Sanq's Alliance, who are also Earth's allies, be granted regular visits in order to ensure the larva's continued health and mental stability."

Hand already reaching for the tank, Garshaw jerked her gaze up as if she'd been burned. "What?"

"The child is not accountable for her mother's crimes," Quatre said in even, formal Goa'uld, overriding the sudden buzz of anger in the chamber. "We killed her mother and tore her from all that she knew. It would be inhuman to compound those offenses by leaving her in uncaring hands."

"You think we would not care for our own child?" Anise stood straight, eyes flashing fire.

Wufei gave her a cold, dismissive look. "Your actions caused the deaths of many children of Gault," he said in wry, chill English. "The data you planned to steal on Sanq would have led to the deaths of many Alliance children. Why should we believe you would care any better for a Goa'uld?"

Two out of four, Trowa doesn't talk when he doesn't have to... why do I feel like we're missing someone? Sam stifled the sudden urge to look for a braided chatterbox. Though she did trade a quick glance with Teal'c. Who seemed cool and composed as Mt. Fuji on a slow day.

Of course, Teal'c would probably look like that if the roof fell in on him.

"This isn't a negotiation, Garshaw," Jacob said flatly. "Those are the terms. Take it or leave it." He studied the Councilor with cold eyes. "And if you decide to cut me out of the loop on this one, just remember how easily SG-1 got in here last time."

"Those breaches in security have been filled," Aldwin growled.

Off to Sam's right, Trowa snorted.

"We did not decide to follow this course of action lightly, Jacob," Garshaw began regally. "If you will allow Selmac's wisdom to guide you, you will understand-"

Jacob's head dipped. "As my host would say," Selmac stated wryly, "Save it for someone who cares, Garshaw."


 

A queen, Caton thought, feeling his host body sweat as Selmac and Garshaw played their petty Tok'ra games of power. They've brought a queen.

Which explained why he'd heard no word from his queen and mother. Dimme would let her most precious children part from her only on her death.

My Queen... you shall be avenged.

That, he was certain of; as sure as that larva swam in the tank. Any child of Dimme would bear enough of her memories of Egeria to despise all her children. And enough of the fragments they had stolen from Stheno to loathe the weakling Tok'ra all the more. A pity it had been Egeria who was Queen. Had it been Stheno, who had the intelligence and drive to be a proper System Lord...

Incorporating her lifecode experiments was risky, but worth it. Our larvae prospered, while Hathor's line bore fewer and fewer queens. Had Stheno herself born children - and allied with us! - not even Ra could have kept us from power.

Power that still might be theirs, if this little one of Dimme's survived. But she would need allies. Surviving spies, to aid her once the Tok'ra were fools enough to grant her a body. Spies who had found their way into the very heart of Apophis' power, so they might wrest part of it to her service at the most opportune moment.

As he might, if he escaped now.

His duty to his Queen had not ended when he took Houerv's place among these Tok'ra, decades ago, with nothing but the brief moments of her voice and face to stand between him and eternal loneliness amongst his enemies. It would not end with her death.

I am your blade, my Queen. I will not fail you.


 

Sneaking through a hundred-odd Tok'ra is both easier and harder than it looks, Duo thought, ghosting through the crowd. Easier, 'cause they're used to depending on that prickle of naquadah to tell them someone's close, and if you're not a Survivor, even if they see you, they can't sense you. Harder, 'cause...

If they see you, they can't sense you. And that can be enough to tip off the smart ones something's wrong.

From the way his target was sneaking out the chamber's far entry, Caton already had a clue something was wrong.

Stepping away from Garshaw, Selmac scanned the chamber. "Where is Caton?"

"Why should that matter?" Anise shrugged.

"Alphabetically, or in order by incident?" Quatre murmured.

Duo grinned. Good one, Cat. Just a little farther...

"Explain," Garshaw ordered.

"Oh, I think these," Sam set down the rest of her burden; papers, disks, and compiled data on Goa'uld tablets, "Will explain everything." She stepped back a pace. "They're from Dimme's logs. About one particular medusa she used to infiltrate her own agent-"

He was almost in grabbing range...

"Zatarc!" Caton howled.

K'so! Blue flashed even as Duo grabbed his prey. What a day for the damn idiots to shoot straight-

Caton let Duo's limp form drag him down with him.

Wha-? He didn't get that much of the zat backwash-

The spy's mouth clamped on his, host body twitching with the subtle tremors of a symbiote's released poison, and Duo felt a cold shock of fear.

Take a new host and a hostage all at once, and get out in the confusion. Not bad for a half-baked plan. You sly, sneaky son of a snake...

Inside, Shinigami was laughing.


 

Damn it! Flashed across Selmac's mind as zats jumped into Tok'ra hands, Duo went down, and the man he'd thought held his friend Houerv fell with him, twitching on the floor. Caton didn't survive as Dimme's spy this long by being dumb!

"You brought a zatarc here-" Anise lunged.

Teal'c put her down with a right cross.

::Nice shot,:: Jacob commented as they ran for the writhing Wing pilot. Who rolled to his feet suddenly, and bolted for the exit, leaving a sprawled body behind.

"He's switched hosts!" Selmac snarled. "Take him-"

"No!" Icy rage swept out from Sandrock's pilot, alien and threatening. "No zats!"

Alien weapons turned toward the small blond, Tok'ra hands behind them shaking. Chang's eyes narrowed.

::Is it me, or is it hot in here?:: Jacob quipped.

"No zats. Trust me," Quatre said grimly. "He won't get far."


 

Make it to the surface, dial out, find a bolthole, Caton told himself, dodging down the next set of blue crystal tunnels as he ran for the nearest transport rings. The body he was in now was young, but lithe, trained, and well armed. He should have no trouble taking out any of his enemies who pursued. Even the Sanq Preventers.

At the edge of his mind, something giggled.

Frowning, Caton dug into his host's mind for more information on just who was pursuing him. There should be facts, memories, fears-

The image of a tongue sticking out met his probe. :Nyah. Macha's kid couldn't get anything out of me; what makes you think you can?:

You've been a host before? Caton slashed the demand at his host. Macha had captured members of Wing Zero more than once; of course she would have tried to have her children possess them.

::Yep,:: Duo agreed all too cheerfully. ::For about, oh, say three minutes?::

Damn Preventer countermeasures. That hosts had dared create toxins to slay those who should rule them... how dared they shape such a perversion of nature!

::Heh. Not exactly. Two minutes forty-five seconds, forty-six...::

Caton seized one of the rare ladders in the lower tunnels and started to climb. Counting won't save you, fool of a human!

::There you go, making assumptions again... you Goa'uld are good at that, aren't you? Matter of fact, counting helps a lot. Keeps me focused, which keeps you mostly out of my head, which means you spend all your effort trying to get into my head - and not a drop looking at what's going on at the biochemical level. And by the way, Caton?::

And his hands fell limp off the ladder, helpless to grip, helpless to move, as the tunnel floor smashed air from his lungs. The world was fire, and acid, and something was eating him-

::Welcome to hell,:: Shinigami snarled.

Chapter Text

"It's a trap!" Aldwin hissed.

It certainly looked that way. From her position down the corridor just behind Aldwin and Teal'c, Garshaw looked past the length of braid to the fallen young man's face, searching for any sign the one they'd called Houerv had vacated his hostage. None. The floor beneath him was clean.

"It was indeed a trap," the Jaffa said darkly. "Yet not in the manner you believe."

"Most of Macha's spies tried to bluff their way out rather than take a hostage," Chang noted, dark eyes on the twitching body. Trowa and Quatre had remained behind with Jacob and Samantha, calming Garshaw's stirred Council, but the dark-haired Preventer looked as confident as if he had an entire squad of SG Marines behind him. "But then, those spies had heard what happened to the Goa'uld who tried to take certain Preventers as hosts."

"What-" Garshaw started.

Duo's body heaved, something long and glistening black writhing from between his lips.

That - that was a symbiote, Garshaw thought, shocked.

Black rippled as the worm-like form twitched on the floor, squirming like an uprooted earthworm. Bone appeared where the tip of a tail should have been. The white surface crumbled and collapsed into black, which fell back to expose more bone, then more black….

"Stay back!" Chang's hand closed on Garshaw's wrist, halting her involuntary step forward. "Shi no Yami is deadly in this form!"

"Shi no-?" Aldwin's eyes were wide and white as he searched his elder's face for answers.

No. Garshaw held back Yosuuf's shiver. "Nemain destroyed them…."

Chang smirked at her. "She missed."

Gurgling, the last of the infiltrator collapsed into black slime.

Teal'c regarded it with the same wary disdain he gave one of Anise's medical experiments. "Duo Maxwell?"

Slowly, the still form sat up. Rubbed his temples. "Man… that always gives me a headache…."

"You're alive?" Aldwin squeaked.

"Yep." Violet blinked at them. Gave them a dark, vicious grin. "But keep coming closer, and you won't be. 'Fei? You mind?"

Chang waved his hand, and dark slime sizzled. "This will take a few minutes to be certain."

"As you may see, Councilor," Teal'c said gravely, "It would be unwise for Sanq's Alliance to provide the Tok'ra with hosts."

For the first time in untold centuries of life, Garshaw found herself with nothing to say.


 

"Jesus H. Cluny Frog…." Major Hopkins craned his head back farther, and farther, trying to take in the sweep of buildings arching up the L3 colony's artificial horizon.

Dr. Fraiser steadied him before he fell over. "Something else, huh?" The SGC doctor looked around the Angels Hospital roof, eyes following the dart of white and blue news hovers outside the edge of the Preventer perimeter. "Believe it or not, this place is a lot quieter than the last time we were here-"

"Dr. Fraiser!" A tall woman with short blue hair and a Preventer's formal uniform hurried toward them, an elegant blond man in the informal jacket following her. Her English carried the same accent as Preventer Akako's, but the harried look on her face was common to mid-level officers caught in the middle of a press opportunity everywhere. "Good, you're here. Come on, we need you. The Council's in such a hurry to wrangle over this, Lady Peacecraft's speech started ahead of schedule…."

"But-"

"I'll look after them." The blond smiled wryly. "By this time, I would say I know the Angels critical ward quite well."

"Preventer Zechs Merquise," their new guide introduced himself, long blond hair brushing his jacket as he gave the two EOD specialists a half-bow. He waved a hand toward the retreating women. "My life partner - wife? - Preventer Lucrezia Noin. She prefers Noin. And you are Major Hopkins and Sergeant Carlson?"

"Yeah." With an effort, Hopkins tore his eyes away from his surroundings, focussing on their new minder. Who, like this colony, gave him that overwhelming sense of difference he hadn't felt since the first time he stepped into one of Japan's old Shinto shrines.

This isn't home. These people aren't Americans.

But they were still human. After facing down Reavers, that meant a lot. "Preventer Li?"

"She's been asking after you." With a nod, Zechs led them in toward the elevators. "Apparently you kept a very cool head under hostile conditions. Dragons notice that."

"They do?" Oh, lame, Hopkins groaned mentally. Almost as lame as the small get-well package stuffed in the kit bag over his shoulder; a package whose contents he'd had to clear with a very surprised Dr. Jackson, to make sure there wasn't anything in it to offend a very different culture.

At least, they hoped none of it was offensive. Only one way to find out.

Zechs' eyes danced, quietly laughing. "When your children are likely to start setting things on fire by will after the age of seven… yes, Major. They notice."

Oh, great, everybody thinks this is funny… did he say, set things on fire?

"Space," Carlson said numbly, leaning on his crutches as steel doors sealed them in. Surgery and some work with healing devices had left him fit to limp, but after some consultation with Dr. Po, Janet had declared that a certain amount of healing ought to happen the old-fashioned way. "Major, we're in space."

"I noticed." Hopkins whistled quietly. "Wonder how long it'll be until we have places like this?"

"Likely a few decades." Punching buttons that started the elevator moving down. Zechs studied them openly. "If your world's government likes to argue as much as the Alliance Council."

Honest. Colonel O'Neill said don't volunteer info, but be honest. "Um, we… don't have a world government," Hopkins said reluctantly.

Zechs paused, hand poised over the console. Looked them over, obviously gauging their sincerity. "That's going to make things interesting." A smile crept into the corners of his lips.

"What?"

"I was just thinking that my sister's been complaining about Council being the same old boring diplomatic wrangle lately. Dull. Predictable. Anything but interesting." The smile broadened. "I think this could qualify as interesting."

"You have a sister?" Carlson perked up.

Hopkins tried not to sigh. If Zechs' sister was on this Council, she was not only a politician - bad news for any soldier - but a very high-level muckety-muck indeed. Oh well, he thought as the doors opened onto a quiet, cream-painted corridor lined with subtle flower arrangements. Let the guy dream. "This is a critical ward?"

"Critical recovery," Zechs nodded, stopping by a spray of something that looked like red and flame-streaked orchids to let a white-suited nurse push a cart by. "Po says it has to do with peace and quiet being necessary components of the healing process. I have to take her word for it; whenever I break something, I'm used to gunfire in the background…." Blue eyes checked the symbols on the door. "Here." He knocked.

"Sen-ef!"

Hopkins let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Special delivery," he said, trying to keep his tone light as he walked in on the woman sitting up in bed swathed in bandages and a light, blue-iris-patterned kimono.

Dark hair cropped short near the bandages along the right side of her face, Preventer Li blinked at him. "Nani?"

"Um, Earth joke, I guess. Ah - here." Glancing aside, Hopkins held out his pair of gifts; one envelope, and one tight-wrapped rectangular package. "Where we come from, there's this custom… a get-well gift? It's from everybody in my unit, you know, the guys who would've been all over the walls if you hadn't-" Lame, lame, lame… oh, man. "Anyway. Dr. Jackson asked some of your guys, they said this would be okay. You open the card first," he added in a rush.

Visible brow scrunched down in a black line of concentration, Li Akako filched a short metal handle out from under her pillow. Flicked it, and carefully slit the side of the envelope with her revealed switchblade.

A hospital where they let you have knives. That's different….

Carlson leaned close in anticipation as Akako studied the handmade card. First there was the picture on the outside; everybody in the SGC's new EOD unit, frozen mid-wave, with Hopkins just beginning to cut into a vanilla cake decked with white candles around the rim and one tall red candle in the middle. When we got this job, we couldn't help but think of you, the scribbled text at the bottom read.

Then came the inside picture; candles burned out, one piece missing out of the yellow cake now frosted with black chocolate icing, and the whole group smeared with black face-paint.

Another near miss! Get well soon!

Akako made a choking noise.

"Um - sorry - that was supposed to be funny-" Hopkins looked frantically around the room. "There's got to be some water here somewhere-"

It took him a moment to realize she was laughing.

But her grip on her knife was firm as she slit the rest of the wrapping, unveiling one plain-bound book and a binder full of assorted pages. Akako traced her finger across the block script of the title, sounding out the words. "Air Force… Explosives Ordinance Detachment… Training Manual?"

"That's us!" Carlson grinned.

Oh. Ouch. "Sorry, I didn't think - I mean, you spoke English, didn't occur to me you might not read it," Hopkins stammered.

"We focussed on the spoken language," Zechs commented from his corner. "Our writing system borrows heavily from Goa'uld, and it's very different from your letters."

"But I know - a small of it," Akako said after a moment to think. "It will help me - try?"

"Practice," Hopkins confirmed. "The rest - well, it's mostly pictures anyway, in case you get interested in visiting…."

Wondering fingers skipped past brochures on Colorado to unfold a poster, pausing on the globe of blue and white suspended in the black of space. "Per-Tau'ri?"

"Earth," Hopkins nodded, feeling the sudden laser intensity of Zechs' attention. "That's home." Funny, thinking of a whole planet as home.

"I hadn't realized it would look so much like Sanq," the blond Preventer said softly.

"Our ancestors' home." Li's eyes softened. She looked up. "My given name is Akako. What is yours?"

Staring into deep black eyes, Hopkins' brain blanked. Given name? Er- ah-

"I'm Paul. Paul Carlson," Carlson stated. Lifted a crutch, and thumped his superior officer lightly on the head with the handle. "And rumor has it the guy trying not to trip over his own tongue here goes by the name of Jason Hopkins."

Funny, how the floor never opened up and swallowed you when you wanted it to. "Hi," Hopkins managed. "So - how's the weather around here lately?" Oh, for crying out loud, Hopkins, you're on a space station!

Dark brows wrinkled in thought. "I am not native to this colony, but - I think they plan for it to rain this evening?"

And the space station has rain. Hoo boy.

Sound burst suddenly from Zechs' corner; the Preventer stepped back with a look of anticipation, as colored light swirled over a gray, box-like device to form a holographic image of crowds gathered around an occupied stage. "I believe you may wish to see this."


 

I'm not going to faint, Major Janet Fraiser, M.D., repeated silently, trying not to stare too hard at the foreign crowd murmuring and filming every detail of the alien uniforms standing at attention on the Colony Hall stage. I am not going to faint….

"In recognition of her bravery and correct actions in the face of a previously-unknown Plague of the Eight, knowingly risking her own life to save innocent civilians and prevent further spread of the infection, we hereby award Dr. Janet Fraiser of Earth's SGC the Knot of Gorgon!"

Like our Medal of Honor, Janet thought as she walked toward Lady Relena Peacecraft's warm, politically savvy smile. For gallantry at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.

Solemnly, Relena pinned the light, silvery medal to her uniform; three diamond-patterned vipers whose bodies entwined in a Celtic endless knot, fangs striking out to left, right, and ahead at their enemies.

Janet saluted as Relena bowed, holding it until the ambassador rose again, executing a sharp left turn and parade-marching back towards the rest of the SGC personnel who'd gotten shanghaied into this whole ceremony. Deep breaths, she told herself. Slowly, slowly, passing out from hyperventilation is not the way to make a good impression here….

Especially given that Lady Peacecraft had now launched into the body of her speech announcing the Council-verified death of Dimme to a roar of savage approval that literally shook the stage.

"Your patience, gentle-ladies and gentle-sirs, please!" The subtle transceiver tucked behind Janet's ear murmured the rough translation of Relena's amplified voice. "Allow us to finish; we've scheduled plenty of time for questions. Indeed, we must have them; for while the Council has taken action thus far, we now must hear our people's voices on this meeting with our ancient kin, the Tau'ri of Earth, before we move further…."

"Got 'em eating out of her hand," Jack murmured as Janet reached them. "Ten gets you two they clear the treaty by a landslide." He eyed the Gorgon's Knot. "Looks good on you."

"Looks kind of jarring," Janet muttered back. "Sir, what am I going to do with this? I can't wear it in public-"

"Not yet," Colonel O'Neill said firmly. "General's got meetings scheduled with the Joint Chiefs, the congressional committee on intelligence oversight, the representatives of the UN Security Council… and a couple of guys in the Freedom of Information Office who're holding down some interesting info on a bunch of really old Egyptian artifacts."

Janet held back a whistle. We're really going to do this. "It still feels weird."

"Relax, Major. Soon as her docs give her the clear, maybe a week or two, we get to turn the tables." Jack waggled his eyebrows. "I want to see Preventer Li's face when she gets the Silver Star."


 

"I can only say, it seemed like a good idea at the time, Riyani," Ambrin said humbly.

Eagle perched in a nearby tree, the elderly Gault falconer eyed the young Tok'ra operative, and shook his head. "You came back for your clan and kin, Ambrin. Anything else, we can mend." He turned to Jacob Carter with a growling sigh. "And having disagreed with your clan leaders over many things, including what they wished for our world, you now wish to start a new clan of your kind, here."

::And having defied a Council whose members are over two millennia old, we now have to rely on the approval of a youngster….::

He's not that young, Selmac, Jacob thought. "From what I've seen, we might all benefit from that, Elder Riyani," he said respectfully. "This place has been peaceful before, and will be again; a good place to raise a child of ours." Bless your practical, acquisitive heart, Sammie; you managed to grab two queens out of that larva-pile. "And we're pretty sure we've caught all the Reavers, but 'pretty sure' isn't sure. If one crops up, my people are immune. They can hold and bind it and its victims until a healer can come to treat the plague."

Riyani waited.

"The Tok'ra," Jacob said carefully, "Are scared to death of some Alliance citizens."

"The women with snake hair," Riyani noted dryly. "I might think them demons myself, had I not seen their kindness, and bravery." He tipped a gaze up to eagle eyes. "And Climbs High senses no evil in them."

Which is something I really want to talk to the Preventers about, Jacob thought. The information we had on Beastmasters says they can connect with animals - it doesn't say how. And this was one of Heru'ur's worlds. How in the galaxy did that mutation end up here?

::We thought it was simply another of Stheno's manipulations,:: Selmac agreed. ::Yet she claimed it was not her creation. That like Lamashtu's empaths, she merely brought to the forefront a gift that already existed in humankind, faceting it as a jeweler would an emerald found on the strand. If that is true….::

Then maybe the Tok'ra didn't know as much about humans as they thought.

"So you wish a presence here, that both you and the Alliance clans may be bound by treaty-peace when you meet," Riyani declared.

"Yes."

"A wise thought." Riyani whistled; dark gold feathers fluttered to his gloved hand. "Come. Let us address those elders who survived."

Ambrin winced again, falling in beside Jacob as they followed the falconer. "The High Council's not happy I'm here, are they?" he murmured.

"Fuming," Jacob acknowledged. "Though I think you and Rede got lucky; you just got lost in the shuffle."

Ambrin's head dipped. "There truly was a spy?" Rede asked. "And you did tell the Council you were taking any who wished to work within your operations, and joining your efforts with the SGC directly, and they could - jump off a cliff?"

"Something like that…."


 

"It's still cold here," Quatre murmured, hands clenching as if he wanted to chafe his arms through his thick jacket.

And not simply in the physical sense, Trowa thought, looking about the Cimmerian's high hall as wary warriors listened to Daniel Jackson's flowing explanation in their own language of just what had - and hadn't - happened, the last time Preventers had come to Cimmeria. Hrere rubbed against his side with a low purr; Daniel had advised they bring the esmeril this time, despite her lack of training with outsiders. Something about how an association with a cat would make clear their alliance with powers like Freya, and so be an honest declaration of their feelings toward each other, clear as the amber pendant that now hung in plain view over Quatre's leather jacket.

A faint smile touched Trowa's face as he glanced over the flowing lines of a Beastmaster's hawk carved in translucent gold. If nothing else, this fiasco had offered him the chance to give his love a gift.

And possibly more than one, the Beastmaster thought in sudden humor, watching Quatre's would-be seducer stare gape-mouthed at the braid-crowned blonde vision in a Preventer's jacket with medic flashes that had accompanied their party.

"That's Beornegar?" Jazira Winner stifled a giggle, leaning near her younger brother.

Quatre rolled his eyes. "The one with the tongue. Yes."

"Hmm…."

Trowa let out a quiet breath as Daniel's formal thanks to Gairwyn for her message to the SGC ended, and the two groups started cautiously mingling. And here comes the real test.

"One of the flying cats, like those who draw Freya's own chariot through the skies." Gairwyn looked them over, careful not to approach Hrere too closely as the esmeril fanned whiskers in her direction. "Bound to a child of the Mother of Witches herself… so Daniel spoke only the truth. It is your wyrd to be one who follows the way of seidr."

Wyrd, Trowa recalled Daniel's explanation of that particular belief in Cimmerian culture. Fate. The unalterable will even the gods must bow to.

"It is the thread the Norns have spun for me," Quatre said steadily. "Perhaps they were confused; I was the last child of my parents, their only son, and lived by the slimmest of chances. It would not be so difficult, I think, to spin out a thread for yet another daughter and discover the mistake too late."

"A hard fate for a warrior to carry." Gairwyn frowned, troubled.

"We live not as we would, but as we must," Trowa said quietly. "On our world, Quatre is accounted one with great honor, and a pure heart. I assure you, we intended no insult."

"As if you ever would!" Jazira laughed softly. "Gairwyn, my brother may be strange to you, but I promise you, I could not ask for a finer kinsman." She stood on tiptoe to look through the crowd, smile turning wry with mischief. "Though I think I'd like to meet a few of yours…."

Sashaying through the crowd, Jazira headed straight for Dr. Jackson, her swift grab of his wrist eliciting his aid in a formal introduction to Beornegar, Hjalmar, Ottar, and the rest of the hulking warrior clan. Trowa grinned. "One down, twenty-two left to go."

"Trowa!"

"What kind of partner would I be if I didn't see your sisters settled with the mate of their choice?" Trowa said reasonably. "You look after Catherine when she's testing the waters with a new man."

"That's different!"

"Yes. One sister is a lot easier than twenty-nine." He cast his partner a sidelong look. "Did your parents ever sleep?"


 

"Congress," Major Paul Davis, SGC liaison to the Pentagon and other various higher-ups said bluntly as he, General Hammond, and Colonel O'Neill approached the SGC cafeteria, "Is throwing three kinds of fits. The President's staff is scrambling six ways from Sunday trying to figure out just what we agreed to and how to present it to the American people without causing a mass panic. Last I heard, somebody got the bright idea to call in Hollywood and make a couple movies about it. And the UN Security Council's reaction might best be summed up as ack."

"Ack?" Jack smirked.

"Russia's kind of huh, Britain and France are still blinking over the whole aliens-are-out-there bit, and… you don't want to know what China said. Trust me."

"I suppose they might find the L1 component of Sanq's population unsettling," Hammond observed as they walked into a room crowded with SG teams, off-duty staff, and a few visiting Preventers. "But no matter what their appearance, they're over two thousand years from Japan, Major."

"Old hates die hard, sir…."

Heading for a table full of familiar faces, Jack left the brass to their discussion; he'd banged his head against this particular diplomatic wall for days, from the Earth and Sanq sides of the equation, and darned if he wasn't going to take the afternoon off. "Hey."

"They let you loose?" Daniel quipped.

"Nah," Jack waggled his eyebrows. "I broke out with a paperclip and a quarter."

"Not to mention a bribe to the secretarial staff of three reams of paper and a case of whiteout," Sam put in.

"I had heard that profane threats to a copier were a deciding factor," Teal'c noted thoughtfully.

"So I don't like paperwork. Who does? And I don't mean the fun kind of scribbling equations on Sanq fusion reactors type paperwork," Jack added as Sam's expression took on a distant, eager edge. "Sheesh. All these computers in the place, you'd think they could figure some way we don't have to file everything in triplicate."

"Unlikely." Heero set his tray down on their table; outwardly as fluid as ever, but Jack's gaze caught a lingering hint of stiffness. "Lacking adequate security protocols in place to eliminate tampering, computerized records without hardcopy backup are an invitation to disaster."

"And you're talking to a guy who knows." Duo balanced a ruby cube of cherry Jello on his spoon, zipping it this way and that through air before tossing it up and catching it in a snap of jaws. "Trust me. Came to Heero, no file was safe."

"Sally still hasn't cleared you for the flight line, huh?" Jack asked, sympathetic.

"She believes I need time to adjust to the fact of the demise of the last System Lord currently mounting attacks on Sanq." Heero didn't - quite - scowl as he sat. "And it is wise to allow A-Mushen a certain length of time to adjust to life within the Alliance. Without the sight of those who came to kill her while Dimme held her mind and body captive."

"I'm sure she knows you were trying to help her," Daniel pointed out.

"She knows we came to kill Dimme," Duo said matter-of-factly. "Saving her was a plus. I were her, I'd be ticked as hell at us." He shrugged. "Far as we can tell, Dimme had her as a host for somewhere over four hundred years. Lady's got a right to be ticked at somebody. And she's probably going to be over half of Preventer headquarters on Sanq while people debrief her. If staying clear of her for a few weeks helps her get her head on straight, hey, I could use a break." The braid rustled over his jacket as he glanced Teal'c's way. "So how's Apuki's crew doing?"

Teal'c hesitated. "They are… less than the most skilled of troops. Although I do not believe it is for lack of effort on Master Apuki's part."

"Mesha' new aped-ib?" Duo asked wryly.

"Indeed."

Jack raised a questioning eyebrow.

"An army of klutzes," Daniel filled in.

Ah. Explained why Dimme had them in range of a minefield. "At least they were smart enough to back down klutzes," Jack shrugged, habit drawing some of his gaze toward the guys just coming into the cafeteria. There was Simmons from the 'Gateroom, and Siler, with Dr. Warner just a step behind… infirmary must be under control, then. Good. "We got 'em on one of the planets we use for training missions while we sort out the ones who want to join up from the hardcore loyalists and the guys who just want out."

"Your people are really willing to take in the Jaffa who just want to quit." Sam pursed her lips in a silent whistle. "I'm not sure we'd be able to do that here."

"It would be difficult," Heero agreed. "You do not have a society that bears some small resemblance to the one they are familiar with, nor the legal and police forces familiar with the various dangers possible from Jaffa still bearing prim'ta."

"I was thinking more about the fact that people tend not to like other groups of people who've been shooting at them," Sam said after a moment.

Heero blinked at her. "Dimme may not have been an honorable foe, but Tek'mateh Apuki acted with courage and due care for his command. His people will be well regarded."

"Mostly, anyway," Duo added under his breath.

And the kid's still not sitting down, Jack noted, suddenly suspicious. What the heck is-

Still snickering at one of Simmons' hand-waving stories, Sergeant Siler reached into the tray of Jello bowls.

Polka-dotted fangs flew at him.

"Eyaagh!"

"Yes!" Duo clenched a subtle, triumphant fist.

Not subtle enough. Siler scrambled off the floor. Scanned the room. Snarled. "Die, Maxwell!"

Chortling, the Preventer bolted, braid bare inches from Siler's claw-fingered grip before Duo poured on the speed and raced for the corridor.

Expressionless, Heero sipped his coffee. "Duo prefers an irregular exercise program."


 

Ah. Daniel lounged back against a boulder, eyes closed against the early-morning sun on the top of the mountain. Fresh air. Quiet….

And a sudden chill, as someone stepped between him and the sun. "You okay?"

"I was, before someone turned off the heat," the archaeologist muttered.

Duo stepped clear of the sunlight; eyes still closed, Daniel tracked the younger man's quiet footsteps as the pilot circled near him. "So… Janet says she's pretty sure you've leveled out," Duo ventured.

"If by level you mean nor-adrenaline concentrations that make Warner look at me like I'm a bomb that hasn't decided to go off yet," Daniel muttered.

"He'll deal," Duo said firmly. "He's tougher than he thinks." A moment's pause. "So are you."

So you think. "It's not that I'm not glad to be alive," Daniel said quietly. "It's just… if I'd known…."

Duo's toe scuffed rocky dirt. "If it helps - you were the first Tau'ri we'd ever seen. The first real shot we'd had at getting allies against the Goa'uld. I couldn't let you die."

"That's what Jack said." My whole planet at stake? You bet I'd've made the same call, Jack had said bluntly.

Well. Done was done. Daniel let out a breath. "I guess it's just as well they are still keeping an eye on me. This way, Catherine Langford gets to be the front-runner on presenting the archaeological evidence around the Stargate program. And her reputation's a lot… saner… than mine."

"Yeah?" Duo sounded warily interested.

"Yeah." Daniel rubbed at the back of his neck. "Jack wanted it to be me. Which I really appreciate, it's going to be nice to be thought of as a legitimate scholar again, but - I don't think he quite gets what it means in the academic community, when people walk out on you in the middle of your last public lecture…."

Duo scuffed the ground. "I'm going to take a flying leap here and guess it's kind of like planting a charge under the bad guys' ammo dump and hearing it go fizz."

Daniel smiled wryly. "Something like that."

Light and shadow moved as Duo nodded. "So you're going to let this lady Catherine fly point on the whole ancient-Egypt-influenced-by-aliens theme, then sweep in her opening when they're not looking and solidify your forces before they can counterattack."

"Well… yeah, I guess so." Academia as seen by a Gundam pilot, Daniel thought, amazed. I've got to get Catherine to meet you.

"Good." Duo drank in the wind. "Now that we've got that straightened out… where's my snake?"

Hiding a grin, Daniel cracked an eye open to meet impatient violet. "You mean Jack's snake."

"Hey!" Duo looked at him askance. "My snake!"

"We have a saying here on Earth," Daniel observed, making himself comfortable on granite. "Possession is nine-tenths of the law. You left it - probably the wisest thing to do, Siler looked pretty serious about throttling you - Jack grabbed it. You want it, ask him."

"I did. He smirked at me." Duo perched on a nearby rock, aggrieved. "And then he slipped this under my door."

Curious, Daniel took the color printout. What the….

Carefully coiled, the rubber Goa'uld posed in all its polka-dotted glory in front of this morning's paper, a combat knife poised just behind its dorsal fin. Some wit had used a photo-manipulation program to add a speech balloon of "Help! Save me!"

Daniel choked. Worked his jaw. Tried not to snicker.

"Oh yeah, laugh it up." Duo tapped his fingers on rock. "Nobody out-pranks Duo Maxwell."

Of course you know, this means war, a snickering corner of Daniel's mind spoke up. "I - ah - really don't know where it is," the archaeologist said honestly. "You could try the locker room-"

"Checked that."

"The infirmary-"

"Nope."

"Jack's office…?"

"Not there, either."

Daniel blinked. "You got into Jack's office? I have got to talk to Security."

"I'm a Gundam pilot," Duo said wryly. "Talk to Security all you want." He leaned back against dew-chilled stone. "'Kay, Daniel. Fair warning. Somebody is holding my snake in an undisclosed location. I'm going to get it back."

"Oh yeah?" Daniel raised skeptical eyebrows. "How?"

Shinigami grinned.