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Problems and Solutions (All Things in Time)

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The Americans debriefed her in a terribly kind fashion. Susan could see the sympathetic horror in their eyes when they contemplated sixty years of slavery inside one's own mind and body. She cradled the cup of slightly stale tea (made from a bag, no doubt, with water from a stainless steel coffee maker instead of a proper kettle) and refused to give them the response they seemed to expect.

"I encountered Therem while sorting and packing the belongings of a family friend," she said. "Digory Kirke was a professor of archaeology at Oxford. He could have acquired the urn in any number of ways. Therem never asked, for obvious reasons," she added before Dr Jackson could break in with yet another ancillary question.

Colonel Carter made a note on her laptop. "You were how old at the time?" she asked.

"Seventeen," Susan said, and took a sip of tea to cover the blankness of her expression. Jackson winced. Carter was more successful at covering her pity, but not by much. Susan wondered how they could be so open after nearly a decade of fighting the Goa'uld. She didn't remember war being so light a burden.

"It hurt quite a lot," she added. "I believe I spent the first several weeks screaming -- not that anyone either heard or cared. By the time I realized there was no way to fight Therem's control, he'd begun to isolate me from my family in preparation for infiltrating the outer circles of power. He believed a beautiful woman could get him into contact with a figure of significant political standing faster than any of my siblings."

Carter's mouth twitched in weary disgust. "They never change."

"I hesitate to generalize from one individual to an entire species, but if Therem is typical, I have to agree," Susan said. "He never did learn to see the larger picture or think strategically rather than tactically."

"But why didn't he leave you for another host?" Jackson asked, leaning forward. He was a tall man, muscled like Peter had been in his prime, but he projected an air of boyish curiosity rather than restrained strength. Edmund could be like that in his lighter moments, Susan recalled with a pang muted by time.

"I convinced him I was too useful to abandon," Susan said with a shrug. "He was terribly confused by the twentieth century -- scientific rationalism was completely alien to his worldview. He was also terribly impractical. I became his secretary, you might say. How else do you think he came so close to escaping through your Gate? He certainly didn't have the sense to try a covert approach on his own."

Therem's plan, when he and Susan had learned that the Americans had dug up and opened the Gate, had boiled down to strapping on the ribbon device they'd constructed, buying a troop of mercenaries, and staging a head-on attack. Susan had half-seriously thought about letting him try, but she decided the chance that they would be killed in the attempt wasn't high enough to rely on. And if the Americans had been using the Gate for years without Earth falling to the Goa'uld, perhaps there was a chance they could dispose of Therem without disposing of her in the bargain.

So she had talked her parasite into creating a new identity as a linguist and sociologist, and slowly and patiently worked her way into getting hired as a civilian expert by the American military. If she was very lucky, the Americans would have a method to spot Therem and save her. If she was less lucky, she would still get him away from Earth. (She had done her best not to think about either outcome.)

In the event, Therem had smuggled the ribbon device into Cheyenne Mountain and tried a direct attack as soon as he and Susan were taken down to see the room in which the Gate was kept. That had gone as poorly as Susan had expected -- the Americans had zats and long experience in avoiding Goa'uld weapons.

And now he was dead and Susan was free.

The inside of her head felt cavernous without him, as if her thoughts were shouted into an endless chasm of echoes rather than whispered to an intimate companion. She had hated Therem for so long she had worn the emotion out. All that was left was a sense of lifted weight.

"What were your intentions in aiding and abetting an enemy of Earth, Ms Pevensie?" Carter asked, suddenly serious.

Susan met Carter's eyes, projecting honesty as best she could. "I wanted him dead and I believed soldiers who knew about the Gate and his species had the best chance to accomplish that. Failing that, I wanted him off my world." She was not a queen of Earth the way she had been queen in Narnia, but that didn't lessen the responsibility she felt toward her home and her people.

"And he didn't see that plan in your thoughts?" Carter asked sceptically.

"Sam--" Jackson said, laying a hand on her shoulder.

"It's a fair question," Susan said. "Therem could read all my secrets if he wanted. But you see, my plan truly was the best way for him to escape from Earth. He was willing to take the risk of dying if he failed just as I was willing to take the risk of living if he succeeded. That's how we worked. I only made plans for him if I could live with the results, and he listened to my advice because he knew I couldn't lie to him."

He had also followed her plans because she had been a ruling queen, which gave her more practical experience with the exercise of power than he had ever had himself, but that truth burned in his thoughts like poison and Susan had tried very hard to avoid reminding him of Narnia. She had never been sure that he might not try to find the rings and descend upon her long-lost country like a tyrant worse than Jadis. Lucy would never have forgiven her for that. Susan would never have forgiven herself.

"That sounds like a very cold way to live," Jackson said. "I'm sorry you had to endure it."

"I survived," Susan said dryly. "I wouldn't have chosen to outlive my entire family and I certainly wouldn't have chosen slavery to an alien parasite, but I can't say I'm sorry to be alive."

She looked down at her tea. "I once knew a girl who told me that when she was caught in a terrible situation and couldn't see any way out but death, a friend convinced her to keep going. 'If you live, you may yet have good fortune,' her friend told her, 'but all the dead are dead alike.' I often remembered that while Therem had me. And here I am -- fortunate at last."

She still missed Lucy, Peter, Edmund, and all her friends and family now sixty years dead or fallen away as Therem had manipulated his way into the British government and intelligence services. Their loss was like a wound, scarred over but never forgotten. But she had no intention of joining them in Aslan's country yet. Death was a journey for which it was impossible to be too late, and she knew the sight of her sibling's faces would be as sweet fifty years onward as it would be now -- perhaps more so, since she would once again have joy to share instead of only pain and grief and duty.

Reunions could wait for later.

Right now, Susan was alive. And she intended to live.