Spoilers to 8:14 'Full Alert'. Summary: SG1 discover an advanced people who want to be friends - until the Trust's rash actions turn them into implacable enemies. 10,250 words, PG.
Part Two: Countdown to Annihilation
“What did Yamamoto say after Pearl Harbor, at least according to the movies?” President Hayes mused. “Something like, ‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.’ We’re in the same position and it wasn’t even us who launched the sneak attack.”
“It’s a pretty apt analogy,” Jack agreed. “Ninmah’s Commonwealth is a massively industrialized civilization, just like we were compared to the Japanese in ’41. According to the Tok’ra they can launch a new mother-ship every four days.”
“It takes a regular System Lord about a year to build a ha’tak,” General Hammond remarked.
“Yeah, they do it the old-fashioned way, with slaves and manual labor,” Jack said. “Ninmah’s people do it the way we would if we had the resources. Prefabrication, multiple sites, automation.”
“So, even if somehow we beat off their first attack – and frankly I don’t see how we can,” General Maynard said, “they’d just come at us again.”
“That’s about it, sir,” Jack agreed. “How does the saying go? ‘There’s no stopping a man who knows he’s in the right and just keeps on coming.’ Ninmah knows she’s in the right – she’s just wrong about who’s in the… wrong.”
“Then all we have to do is convince her of the truth,” President Hayes said.
“That’s not going to be easy,” Jack said. “I’ll try, sure, but so far I haven’t even managed to get her to listen. She’s madder than hell.” He sucked in one cheek. “Actually, that probably saved my life. If she’d called up acting all friendly, and said she wanted to visit us, I’d have opened the iris. No question. And the first thing I’d have known about her being mad at us would have been when a nuclear missile hit me smack in the face.”
“We have to try,” the President said. “There has to be something we can do other than fighting a battle at six thousand to one odds against. Give me something I can work with.”
Jack sucked in the other cheek and released it. “I got nothing, Mr. President. Sorry.”
“It sticks in my craw to say it,” Hammond said, “but, unless the Atlantis expedition comes back with a dozen or so ZPMs, I think pretty much our only option is to surrender.”
“The American people would never stand for it,” the President said.
“It beats the hell out of being blown into a bazillion pieces,” said Jack. “Being in the Commonwealth wouldn’t be so bad even if the alternative wasn’t total annihilation. Hey, Ninmah would probably just keep our existing political structures in place,” he went on, warming to his theme. “The Brits would probably get all superior about it, what with it being a Commonwealth, with a Queen and a Parliament and everything. I can just picture Queen Elizabeth inviting Ninmah to tea at Buckingham Palace, and the English press trying to pair her up with Prince William. Or is it Harry who’s the elder one? I forget.”
“Jack,” General Hammond said, “forget about the Brits. How do you think the Islamic world will react to an alien Queen becoming ruler of the Earth?”
“Oh. Right. Instant jihad. Not good.”
“Or in America,” President Hayes said. “The people don’t know about the Stargate program. Hell, I didn’t know until I got to the White House. If the first they hear about it is that we’ve surrendered to an alien civilization, without even a fight, there’ll be riots like nothing we’ve ever seen.”
“Every conspiracy nut who thinks the United Nations is trying to take over the world will head for the hills with a rifle,” General Maynard said. “Fifty years of movies about alien invasions, that old TV series ‘V’, they’ll all be convinced we’ve sold them out and they’ll be trying to bag themselves an alien. And after a few of them succeed…”
“…then Ninmah will regard the surrender as just a ploy and incinerate us all anyway,” Jack completed the sentence for him. “I was right the first time. We’re screwed.”
“Unless we can hand the Trust people over to her, gift-wrapped, with proof that they’re the ones who attacked her world,” Hammond said.
“The ones who did the actual firing got away into hyperspace,” Jack said, “and they took the body of the one Teal’c killed with them. The guys who gave the orders are still here but we don’t know who they are.”
“I’ll get the FBI and the CIA on the case,” President Hayes said. “We know the Trust was behind a lot of Kinsey’s campaign funding. That gives us a starting point. How much time do you think we have?”
“Well, organizing a fleet of six thousand ships is going to take time,” Jack mused, “but Ninmah’s people are efficient. The hyperspace flight is going to be the main factor. A standard Goa’uld hyperdrive goes at thirty-two thousand times lightspeed. Shuruppak is fifty-something thousand light years away so at that speed it would be, uh, about a year and nine months before they get here.”
“That’s a relief,” the President said. “I was thinking along the lines of a battle fleet arriving a week on Tuesday. Maybe we can get through this after all.”
“The Daedalus will be completed by then,” General Maynard said, “although that just puts the odds at three thousand to one instead of six.”
“The trouble is,” Jack warned the others, “Ninmah’s ships aren’t standard. The Tok’ra intelligence is that they’re a big improvement on the usual Goa’uld design. Five, maybe six, times as fast. If that’s correct they’ll be here in four months.”
“Thanks for the information,” Jack said to Anise. “It might not save our asses but at least knowing what we’re up against gives us a starting point. That recording was a big help getting the President totally on side.”
“I am glad that I was able to help,” Anise said. “I have heard that those of the Tok’ra High Council now regret that we ever became involved with the Tau’ri. I do not share that opinion. Things have not always transpired as we would have wished but your intentions were always noble. As were mine on occasions in the past where the results were… unfortunate.”
“Like with those freakin’ bracelets. Yeah, well, we have a saying about good intentions,” Jack said. “By the way, don’t you think it might have been a good idea to have given us a heads-up about the Commonwealth before now? Twenty-seven worlds with a combined population bigger than the whole rest of the Goa’uld Empire put together, the most powerful military force in the Galaxy, and you never even told us they existed.”
“Our intelligence sources are our most valuable asset,” Anise said. “To give away freely what we gain at great effort, and too many times at the cost of deaths, is something that the High Council is reluctant to do. In this instance I believe that the policy was counter-productive.”
“Damn right,” Jack said. “The Trust used out-of-date information from our records to pick their targets. If we’d known about the Commonwealth earlier it would have been labeled ‘Extreme Danger! Don’t get them mad!’ and maybe they’d have let it alone. Or then again they might have been crazy enough to do it anyway.”
“We made a similar mistake ourselves two hundred years ago,” Anise admitted. “We incited a war between Ninmah and a System Lord named Lagash. Ninmah annihilated his forces and absorbed his worlds into what was, at that time, her Empire. Unfortunately she discovered the Tok’ra’s part in the conflict’s origins and we have been mistrusted in the Commonwealth ever since.”
“That’s going to be a problem if your people decide to move there,” Jack commented.
“It will not happen,” Anise replied. “I shall be recommending to the High Council that we should put aside all thoughts of seeking refuge in the Commonwealth in the event of disaster.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “I would have thought it was perfect for you. There isn’t that much difference between Ninmah’s way of doing things and the Tok’ra way. Is there?”
“To a large extent you are correct,” Anise said, “and in some things her ways are better. I had to adopt their ‘Host Day’ custom in order to pass unnoticed there and both I and Freya find it to be pleasant and convenient.”
“Is that why Freya hasn’t spoken for herself while you’ve been here?” Jack asked.
“Partly,” Anise said. She did not elaborate. “The mistrust still persists, and has flared up anew with the knowledge that it was the Tok’ra who first developed the symbiote poison, and the Commonwealth is unsafe for us now. That might not be an insuperable barrier. If we went there openly, and threw ourselves on Ninmah’s mercy, I believe that she would grant us asylum. We would, however, lose our identity. Our people would be submerged in an infinitely greater pool. Before long the Tok’ra as a culture would effectively no longer exist.”
“Still better than being massacred by Baal or whoever,” Jack said.
“Perhaps,” said Anise, “but the Commonwealth has flaws that make it perilous. Ninmah is an absolute ruler to an extent unmatched in Galactic history.”
Jack’s eyebrows ascended, although without dying first or receiving assistance from Oma Desala, and then descended again. “I thought she was a, what do they call it, constitutional monarch. There are all sorts of rules about what she can and can’t do. It’s supposed to be rule by consent.”
“No-one in her so-called Commonwealth has ever known anything else,” Anise pointed out. “The rules governing her are ones she introduced herself. I question how much freedom there really is.” She glanced at the Stargate and then returned her gaze to Jack. “The Parliament is freely elected, true – but is it really mere chance that the First Minister is the Goa’uld who has been Ninmah’s closest friend and ally for eight hundred years?”
Jack shrugged. “We’re not planning on joining up,” he said. “Earth has too many crazies like the ones who caused the problem in the first place and it would go horribly wrong. All we want is to persuade her not to kill us. I’m not going to start criticizing her politics. At least she’s not a psycho conqueror like the rest of the Goa’uld.”
“No, she is not, and her rule by manipulation is indeed much kinder and more benevolent than the rule by fear practiced by the others,” Anise agreed, “but will that always be so? Consider what will happen if she dies. There is no provision for a successor and there are countless possible heirs. I foresee a civil war on a scale that cannot be imagined.”
“Yeah, well, if she did die now they’d still wipe us out before they started thinking about anything else,” Jack said, “and, as for the other aspects, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now our priority is to not get exterminated.”
Sam rapped on Jack’s door. “Can I have a word, sir?” she asked.
“Sure, Carter, come on in,” Jack said. “Take a seat. Don’t start on at me about your double again.”
“Actually I was wondering if there is any word yet from the Prometheus,” Carter said. She sat down across from Jack but didn’t meet his gaze square on.
“Nope,” Jack said. “Don’t worry, I’ll let you know the second we hear anything.” He tossed the file he’d been glancing through down on his desk. “You know, I kind of wish we hadn’t sent the Atlantis expedition in the first place,” he said. “I can’t help thinking Prometheus would have been better used combing every inch of the solar system for that stolen al’kesh rather than whizzing off to another galaxy on what might be a wild goose chase.”
“A wild goose chase? The Ancient technology in Atlantis might be our only chance against Ninmah’s armada,” Sam protested.
“And there might be nothing there except alien cobwebs and dust,” Jack said. “Still, we didn’t know what was going to happen when the decision was made. Once the expedition had gone we couldn’t leave them stranded there. I just hope they come back soon, preferably bearing gifts. The big honking space-gun type of gifts.”
Sam nodded. “Me too.” She pursed her lips. “While I’m here… did you really have to do it?”
“Do what?” Jack met Sam’s eyes. “Oh. You mean why did I trick your evil robot twin into walking into a Gate with the iris closed at the other end? Well, it got rid of her – it, I mean – and I’d count that as a result.”
“She wanted to talk, sir. She could have had vital information,” Sam protested.
“Or disinformation,” Jack countered. “I just don’t believe in altruism from a Replicator. In the circumstances I couldn’t risk us being distracted or maybe letting the double get away with information about our defenses. It’s just a shame I couldn’t have pulled a Pied Piper and got all the other Replicators to walk in after her. It. Kill all the nasty little clockwork bugs with one… iris.”
A crease formed between Sam’s eyebrows. “Actually, sir, that’s not a bad idea,” she said. “A variation on when Thor lured them to the Halla system. Except we make it somewhere lethal to them instead of trying to trap them.” She gave a tight little smile. “The Asgard just aren’t ruthless enough. Sometimes nice guys finish last.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not going to make the same mistake,” Jack said. “I’ve got a whole raft of different mistakes I’m trying to work through.” He heaved a sigh. “For what it’s worth, Carter, I’d have let you run with it if we didn’t have a more urgent problem. Six thousand state-of-the-art battle cruisers due to arrive in about three weeks’ time ready to burn the Earth to a cinder. And Ninmah’s still not answering our calls.”
Jack raised his eyebrows at Daniel and the woman who accompanied him. “Daniel,” he said, “when you went off on the Prometheus I was hoping you’d come back with a big honking space gun. Or, as second prize, with Dr Weir, seeing as how she’s about the only person who might be able either to talk Ninmah down or pull a bluff about the Ancient weapon on her the way she did with the System Lords. Instead you bring me the girl who tried to steal our spaceship.” He leaned forward. “Why?”
“She can help us,” Daniel said. “Jack, meet Vala Mal Doran. She’s tough, resourceful, and very intelligent.”
“You forgot to mention ‘beautiful’,” Vala put in. Jack would have classed her as ‘attractive’ rather than ‘beautiful’. Her nose was perhaps a little too large, and her face had too much character, for the conventional ideas of beauty. She had a slim yet very curvaceous figure and appeared to be about thirty. “Especially when I’m naked,” she added, shooting a glance at Daniel from under thick dark lashes.
Daniel’s cheeks acquired a tinge of color. “That’s not important.”
“It is to me,” Vala said.
“What is important is the resourceful and intelligent part,” Daniel said, “and that Vala has a whole lot of contacts. Okay, they’re dubious ones, but she can reach people we can’t.”
Jack tore his gaze away from Vala and back to Daniel. “And this is important because?”
“We can’t talk to Ninmah because she simply won’t respond to our calls,” Daniel said. “We can’t go in person because she has her own version of the iris now and we’d just go ‘splat’.”
“While you were away I tried passing a message onto her through Baal,” Jack said, “but he wouldn’t play… ball.”
Daniel winced. “That was bad, Jack, even for you.”
“It wasn’t intentional,” Jack said. “You were saying?”
“I thought maybe Vala could get through where we can’t,” Daniel said. “If she can set up a meeting…”
“I guess it’s worth a shot,” Jack agreed.
“I expect to be well rewarded,” Vala said. “I accept weapons-grade naqahdah, gold, other precious metals, rare isotopes, saleable technology… actually almost anything as long as it’s transportable and sufficiently valuable.”
“I didn’t think you were a volunteer,” Jack said.
“I could have escaped, you know,” Vala claimed. “I let the opportunity pass because Daniel had told me about your planet’s predicament. I would be willing to help even without payment. Of course, if you have honor, you will shower me with gold and jewels if I help save your planet.” She batted her eyes at Daniel again. “Or at least shower with me.”
“I hope that last bit wasn’t directed at me,” Jack said.
“Of course not,” Vala said. She ran her gaze over him. “Not that you’re that bad, for an older man…”
“Hey! Who’re you calling old?” Jack protested.
“Old-er,” Vala said. “As I said, you’re not bad, but you’re not my Daniel.”
“Just ignore the innuendo, Jack,” Daniel advised. “I think she can help us and I think we should pay her for it.”
“That’s fair,” Jack said, “but the up-front part of the payment is going to be small. Just in case.”
“Not too small,” Vala said. “I’ll have expenses. But I don’t mind waiting for my…” she looked at Daniel again and licked her full lips, “…reward.”
Jack walked up the path to his house carrying two packs of beer and a sack of groceries. Life was going on, almost as normal, despite the impending destruction of Earth. Evacuation through the Stargate was under way but it was severely limited. In a couple of week’s time the grocery store clerk, and everyone else Jack knew outside the SGC, would probably be dead. Attempts to get through to Ninmah via Lord Yu had so far failed, Baal was undoubtedly laughing himself sick, the Asgard had regretfully said that they had insufficient remaining resources to win a war against Ninmah, and Daniel’s dubious acquaintance seemed to have simply disappeared into the galaxy with her advance payment. It wasn’t looking good for Earth.
Jack went up the steps onto his porch, reached for the door, and froze. It was open. He hastily put down the packages, snatched off his sunglasses, and drew his pistol. Cautiously he entered the house.
The last person he would have expected was standing by the fireplace. “Bad news,” said former Vice President Kinsey, “you’re out of Scotch.”
“If I’d known you were coming I’d have hidden the good stuff,” Jack said, “and laced the rest with rat poison.”
“Now that’s not friendly, Jack,” Kinsey said. “Anyone would think you’re not pleased to see me.”
“Oh, I’m delighted to see you,” Jack said. He picked up a phone and began to dial.
“Who are you calling?” Kinsey asked.
“A girl I met recently,” Jack said, “by the name of Kerry Johnson.” He showed his teeth as he smiled. “She’s with the CIA.”
“Walking into your house when the door wasn’t locked, and drinking your Scotch, isn’t exactly a Federal crime,” Kinsey said, “and, even if it was, the CIA doesn’t have any jurisdiction within the US of A.”
“Don’t worry, she’ll bring along plenty of friends from the other agencies,” Jack assured him.
“Damn it, Jack, I’ve come here with information,” Kinsey protested. “I can help you. You want to take down the Trust. I can make it happen.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll feel happier about that once we have you somewhere you can’t wriggle out,” Jack said. “With the end of the world due in about a week I’m really not in any mood to play games.”
Four days later Jack was in even less of a mood for games.
“We’re at Defcon One,” he said to Russian liaison Colonel Chekov, as they walked together through the corridors of the SGC. “We have birds in the air and missile subs at sea, radio chatter says your guys have the missile regiments ready for launch and the Blackjack regiment fuelled up and on the runways, and the Chinese are on full alert too. When Ninmah’s fleet gets here all she’ll have to do is plant a flag in the rubble and go home.”
Chekov grimaced. “The Kremlin is convinced that your administration has been compromised by the Goa’uld,” he said. “Our only hope is that I can persuade President Mikhailov otherwise.”
“I should have just shot Kinsey in the face when I caught him in my house,” Jack lamented. “Look, we’ve evacuated eight thousand Russians through the Stargate. I don’t get how your people can still think we’re the bad guys.”
“I would guess that they now believe that you simply sold our evacuees as slaves to the Goa’uld,” Chekov said, “and that the whole threat from Queen Ninmah is merely a fiction designed to frighten ourselves and the Chinese into…” he paused, probably searching for the right English word, “…acquiescence with American – Goa’uld, in their eyes – plans for the Stargate.”
“And it just gets better and better,” Jack moaned. “In a few days time there’ll be conclusive evidence, in the shape of thousands of ships bombarding the planet, and the only things around to see it will be cockroaches.”
“The Goa’uld infiltrators will be able to retrieve the Ancient weapon from the Antarctic base before Ninmah’s fleet arrives,” Chekov said, “and there will be no-one to stop them.”
The two officers reached the lab and went in. “Carter, please tell me you have something,” Jack said.
“Actually, sir, I think I do,” Sam said. She opened a file and started reading out information. Jack tuned out the details but latched onto the salient points; General Kiselev, the Russian Defense Minister who was primarily responsible for Russia’s heightened alert status, was probably a Goa’uld. Jack was skeptical about Carter’s assertion that Kiselev having discarded his glasses was proof but, if it would help convince the Russian President, he’d be happy to go along with it.
“Good work, Carter,” Jack said. “Chekov, if you can get through to Mikhailov…”
“I shall try, General,” Chekov assured him. Several minutes of frantic telephone conversations followed but, eventually, the Russian President was convinced. Kiselev’s attempt to launch without authority was prevented and both sides began to ramp down their alert levels.
Jack wiped his brow and took a call from the Prometheus. “Hey, Colonel Pendergast,” he said. “Did you get them?”
“We have two live prisoners, General,” Pendergast reported. “We took casualties doing it. Five dead, two injured, and we’ve taken damage.”
“That’s a shame, Colonel,” Jack said, cringing inwardly at the thought of writing letters to the relatives of the dead, the most dreaded task of any General, “but the prisoners might save the lives of everyone on Earth.”
“They’re Goa’uld, sir,” Pendergast pointed out.
“The Goa’uld knows what the host knows,” Jack countered. “If they can be made to talk we can put ourselves in the clear.”
“We might not have time,” Pendergast said. “The sensors picked up traces of other ships while we were searching for the al’kesh. We’re taking another look now.”
“Uh-oh,” Jack said. “Let’s hope it’s the Asgard.”
“I don’t think so, sir.” Pendergast was silent for a moment and then came back on. “Two hundred plus ships. They’re slightly outside the orbit of Jupiter and they’re not heading directly towards Earth.”
“Crap,” Jack said. “They’re early. Two hundred mother-ships could take us out by themselves but I bet it’s a recon force.”
“Our shields are down to forty per cent and we have engine damage,” Pendergast said. “Should we take a closer look?”
“No, get back to base,” Jack ordered. “We need those prisoners. I need Daniel back here. And get your damage repaired. If there’s a battle coming up you need to be in top shape.” Jack signed off and turned to Carter.
“Two hundred plus ships out there beyond Jupiter,” he said. “Best case scenario is that it’s the Replicators – and that’s something I never thought I’d say. If it’s Ninmah we’re out of time. Get everything we have scanning to learn more. I’m going to make one more try at getting her to speak to us. If that doesn’t work… all we can do is send Prometheus out on a suicide mission and speed up the evacuations.”
“The first group was two hundred and forty ships, ha’tak size or larger,” Sam told Jack. “Three more groups, also with two hundred and forty in each, have arrived to join them. They’ve taken up positions in the asteroid belt and seem to be moving in a search pattern.”
“The Sumerians and Akkadians based a lot of things on the number sixty,” Daniel said. “I’d guess that each group is four squadrons of sixty.”
“That tallies with what Anise told me,” Jack agreed. “What the hell can they be looking for in the asteroid belt?”
“Perhaps a weapon of the Ancients,” Teal’c suggested.
“Maybe,” said Jack, “but if there was one there how could they know about it and not us?”
“There could have been something in some text that was taken off-planet when Ninmah left Earth,” Daniel suggested.
“That was thousands of years ago,” Jack said. “Why would she wait until now?”
“I agree that it is not logical, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, “but I can think of no other reason.”
Sergeant Harriman tapped on the open office door. “Sir,” he said, as Jack looked up and nodded, “new reports on the unidentified fleet.”
“Thanks, Walter,” Jack said. “Come in. What’s the situation?”
Harriman opened a file folder. “The ships have clustered around one of the asteroids, sir.” He peered at a file. “It’s designated 704 Interamnia.”
“May I?” Sam asked, extending a hand for the files. Harriman handed over the folder and Sam scanned the report.
“Thanks, Walter, keep me posted,” Jack said. “If they were looking for something they found it pretty damn quick,” he remarked, as Harriman left.
“Impossibly quick,” Sam agreed. “They can’t have been looking for an artifact. It must be something about the asteroid itself.” She opened up her laptop and began searching for data.
“I guess it’s too much to hope for that they’ll all get hit by asteroids,” Jack said.
“Only in the movies, sir,” Sam said. “Most of the asteroid belt is empty space in real life. Anything big enough to be a threat to a shielded spaceship they’ll be able to detect thousands of miles away.”
“So much for the asteroid scene in The Empire Strikes Back, then,” Jack remarked.
“It’s pretty unrealistic,” Sam said. “When we flew through the Leonids we were only dealing with tiny debris fragments. Specks of cometary dust. No big rocky pieces could ever be that densely packed in reality. Hmm. 704 Interamnia. The fifth largest asteroid. Diameter about three hundred and fifty kilometers – two hundred and twenty miles – and mass 6.9 times 10 to the 19th kilograms. Composition dense and solid, materials unknown.”
“Don’t tell me,” Jack said, “they’re going to build a Death Star. I knew we shouldn’t have let them see Star Wars.”
Sam shook her head. “That would be a dumb plan,” she said. “An insane amount of work when they have a fleet that could destroy us all anyway. Maybe they’re using it as a staging post for their assault, or…” Her voice trailed off. Her cheeks paled. “Sir,” she said, “I think they’re going to use the asteroid as a missile.”
“Oh. Well, we’ve been through that one before,” Jack said. “We just need another big bomb, or a hyperspace field. Only, this time make sure the wire to cut really is red.”
“It’s not that simple, sir,” Sam replied. “The asteroid the Goa’uld fired at us three years ago was a pebble compared with Interamnia. We’re dealing with something at least sixteen times as massive. A bomb the size of the one we were going to use last time wouldn’t even come close to what we’d need to divert it. I don’t know if every nuclear device on Earth put together would be enough.”
“What about sending it into hyperspace?”
“We were operating right at the limits when we did that,” Sam said. “To expand a field enough to cover Interamnia – we’d need a whole new technology. I don’t think it’s even possible, sir.”
“You’ve done the impossible before,” Jack said.
“I’ll do my best,” Sam said, “but this is a whole new league of impossible. Especially with an invincible battle fleet there to protect it from anything we try.”
“It could be a stratagem,” Teal’c suggested, “to lure our ships out to where they must fight beyond the range of the Ancient weapon. Once they were destroyed Ninmah’s fleet would be able to make an attack upon Earth with only ground-based weapons with which to contend.”
“I don’t think she needs to bother with faking us out,” Jack said. “More like she just wants to kill all of us without her people taking any casualties in the process.” He turned back to Sam. “So, what happens if it hits? Total destruction of Earth?”
“Pretty much, sir,” Sam agreed. “It would make a crater the size of a continent. Bigger. The Chicxulub meteor was only six miles wide and it made a hole a hundred and ten miles across and wiped out the dinosaurs. I can’t even imagine what Interamnia would do. Firestorms across the globe, volcanic mega-eruptions and titanic earthquakes, and the amount of debris thrown up would block out the sun for millennia. I don’t even think the bacteria would survive. The ultimate extinction event.”
The Gate shut down, after a party of four hundred Chinese evacuees finished passing through, and Jack turned away. “I hope they all speak English,” he remarked to Teal’c. “The galaxy’s confusing enough already without it turning into Firefly.”
“There are no Jaffa in Firefly, O’Neill,” Teal’c pointed out. “I do not believe that the addition of a relatively small number of Chinese speakers will make any significant changes to galactic civilization.”
“Good,” Jack said, “because…” He broke off as an alarm sounded and the call of ‘Unauthorized Off-world Activation’ was made. “What now?”
“Receiving IDC transmission,” Harriman reported. “It’s the one we gave to that Vala Mal Doran person, sir.”
“About time,” Jack said. “Open the iris. And call Daniel.” He left the control room and made his way down to the Gate room, followed by Teal’c, and Daniel joined them a moment later.
The shimmering surface of the event horizon parted and a figure came through. It was indeed the slim brunette who had tried to steal the Prometheus. She wore drab and shapeless overalls, instead of the form-fitting black that was obviously her preference even on limited acquaintance, and there were blonde streaks in her previously all-black hair. Her arms were bound behind her back.
“Oh, crap,” Jack groaned. “She gave away the iris code. Close the iris!”
Vala turned around, spat out some colorful curses at the closing iris, and then resumed her progress down the ramp. She spotted Daniel and her eyes lit up. “My Daniel!” she cried. “Please, get me out of this unflattering clothing.”
“Uh, I’ll try to find you something else to wear,” Daniel said.
“That wasn’t what I said.” Vala shifted her gaze to Jack. “General! It’s time to present me with large quantities of valuables.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “It looks to me as if your mission was a total failure.”
“Oh, you mean this?” Vala turned her head and tried to look over her shoulder at her bonds. “I don’t think they trusted me. They took… precautions.”
“You tried to steal something,” Daniel said.
“No I did not,” Vala denied. “They never gave me the chance. Are you going to untie me now?”
“Miss Mal Doran,” Jack said, “what about your mission? Did you manage to get a message through to Queen Ninmah?”
“Of course,” Vala said. “She is willing to meet you and the leader of your government.”
“If that’s what he’s called,” Vala said. “Personally I find Kings and Queens much easier to understand. And they usually have more in the way of gold and jewels. Do you know how much you can get for a good quality crown?”
“You’d have been really disappointed with King Harry Maybourne’s crown,” Jack remarked. “The meeting. How soon, and where?”
“Twelve hours from now,” Vala said. “You have to go to the co-ordinates shown on the note in my back pocket.” She gestured with her bound hands. “Would you get it out, Daniel?”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack said, as Daniel hesitated. Jack produced a knife and sliced through the plastic ties that fastened Vala’s arms together. “Get it yourself.”
Vala reached into her pocket and pulled out a notepad. “Thanks,” she said. “Okay, these are the co-ordinates and instructions.” She held the pad out to Daniel but Jack seized it instead.
“That’s not Shuruppak,” Jack said at once. “Neutral ground?”
“They didn’t tell me all the details,” Vala admitted, “but I think it’s just a change-over point. You’ll be taken somewhere else from there.”
Jack read on. “No remote vehicle probe allowed. Only six people? One has to be me, one has to be the President, and no-one can take weapons? The Secret Service aren’t going to be happy about that.”
A new voice entered the discussion. “One of the delegates must be me.”
Jack turned his head. “Oh, hi, Colonel Chekov. I didn’t know you were here.”
“I was nearby. I hastened here as soon as I heard that your emissary had returned,” the Russian liaison said.
“Emissary,” Vala said, nodding. “That’s a nice title. And I love that accent.”
Jack ignored her. “You want to come along? With only six places I don’t know if that’s feasible.”
“It is necessary,” Colonel Chekov insisted. “Someone must represent the countries other than the United States. I heard ‘twelve hours’ mentioned as I was entering. Is that the time until the meeting?”
“That’s right,” Vala confirmed.
“Then it would be impossible to get President Mikhailov here in time,” Chekov said, “or any other official senior to myself who is already briefed on the Stargate program.”
“That’s a good point,” Jack conceded, “and, yeah, somebody speaking for the other countries would be a good thing, seeing as how we’re all going to be squashed flat by the asteroid together, but the Secret Service will have a cow. We have to take the prisoners along, they’re the only evidence we have, and that leaves just one free slot. Filling it with a Russian won’t go down well.”
“No doubt the PSB would take the same attitude were it our President who was to go,” Chekov agreed, “but I still insist that it is vital that you have representation from non-Americans. If not me, then it must be the Chinese. I do not believe you would want that.”
“It could be the British,” Jack said. “Although, I guess, out of the three options, I’d rather it was you. I’ll put it to the President and see what he says.”
President Hayes stood in front of the Gate and smiled. “I’m going to another planet. I’d never have believed it.”
“Sir, I strongly advise against this,” the head of the Presidential Protective Detail cautioned.
“I know, you’ve already said it, Brad,” the President replied, “about ten times. I don’t see that there’s any other way.”
“At least take me with you instead of one of the prisoners,” the Secret Service agent pleaded.
“Sorry, Brad, no can do,” President Hayes said. “It’s not like you could guarantee my protection anyway. If you carry a gun the deal’s off and they could have any number of people waiting at the other end of that thing.” He gestured towards the Stargate. “An armored brigade, even.”
The Head of Detail grimaced. “It’s your call, sir,” he said, obviously still unhappy, and he walked away to the side of the Gate room.
The President rubbed his hands together. “Okay, let’s go,” he said.
“Don’t step onto the ramp before the wormhole forms,” Jack warned him. “The ‘kawoosh’ when the event horizon forms disintegrates anything it touches.”
“I’ll be careful,” the President said. He grinned. “Is the dress uniform for my benefit, General O’Neill? I doubt if it’s what you usually wear when you go… ‘off-world’, if that’s the right terminology.”
“Actually, sir, I’m wearing it for Queen Ninmah,” Jack replied. “In this situation I guess that every little helps. And, yes, it will be the first time I’ve ever worn it off-world.” He turned to face the control room. “Okay, Walter, dial it up.”
The Stargate rotated and the chevrons, one after another, locked into place. The President stared in fascination as the last chevron locked and the swirl of energy shot out over the ramp. He had seen a Gate activation once before, when he’d visited the base shortly after Jack’s appointment as SGC commander, but observing from the control room wasn’t the same as standing there waiting to go through.
Colonel Chekov was in his dress uniform too, with the Russian cap with the exceedingly wide top that Jack always felt looked slightly ridiculous, and with an impressive array of medals on his chest. “I am ready, General O’Neill,” he said.
“Okay,” Jack said, “prisoners first.”
The three Trust prisoners, arms fastened behind their backs, were hustled up the ramp by burly S-Fs. Two of them were Goa’uld hosts, who had crewed the al’kesh that had once belonged to Osiris, and who had been captured by the Prometheus. One was still human, quite possibly the only senior member of the Trust who had not fallen victim to Goa’uld possession, tracked down by CIA agent Kerry Johnson shortly before Kinsey’s visit to Jack’s house had set in motion the events that had almost ended in nuclear war. The Goa’uld-possessed Kinsey had died attempting to escape from Prometheus; Jack had resisted the temptation to celebrate with a party.
Once the prisoners had been thrust through the event horizon Jack escorted the President to the Gate. Colonel Chekov brought up the rear.
“To boldly go where… you guys have been loads of times before,” President Hayes said.
“It’s best if you breathe in before you go through the event horizon, sir,” Jack advised him.
“Oh. Right.” The President took a deep breath, as suggested, and stepped through the shimmering blue circle. Jack went with him. Colonel Chekov followed a second later.
They emerged in a dry plain that seemed to be absolutely deserted, except for the three prisoners, as far as the eye could see. The Stargate, a DHD on a nearby plinth, and a few clumps of straggly dry grass were the only things that stood out from the sandy soil.
“Wow,” Hayes said. “That was incredible.”
Jack stared at the barren surroundings. “Where’s the welcoming committee?” he wondered. “I would have thought they’d have been here waiting for us. Probably with heavy weapons trained at the Gate.”
“It is strange,” Colonel Chekov agreed. “Perhaps they mistrust us so much that they are observing from orbit.”
Jack shook his head. “As a back-up, maybe, but there still should be something here.”
“Or the timescale was based on hours very different to our own,” Chekov suggested. Behind him the wormhole closed and the Gate became an empty ring.
“Shuruppak’s rotation was only a few minutes different to an Earth day,” Jack told him. “It would –” Jack’s words were cut off short as the Goa’uld prisoners suddenly sprang into action.
The one who had been known as Parker in human life leapt at the President, butted him in the face, and shouldered him to the ground. The other, who as the Trust agent Jennings had been one of those who had fired the poison missiles, wrenched at his cuffs with such force that he freed himself. He raised mangled hands, dripping blood from gouges made by the steel and with a dislocated thumb hanging limp, and struck out at Jack.
“Help us, Wilson,” Jennings called to the other prisoner. “We can escape.”
The still human Trust member hesitated. Colonel Chekov acted to remove the threat before Wilson could make up his mind. The Colonel drove a punch into Wilson’s stomach, grabbed the head of the bound man, and pulled it down to meet an upward knee-strike. Wilson collapsed and Chekov went to the aid of President Hayes.
Jack fought back against Jennings. The Trust agent had been an NID operative originally and was highly trained in hand-to-hand combat. The Goa’uld was using all that knowledge, together with his enhanced strength, and seemed to be impervious to pain. Jack held his own but no more.
A red dot appeared on the Goa’uld’s chest and wandered upwards, flickering out of existence briefly and then reappearing, and Jack immediately hurled himself to the ground. Jennings drew back a foot but the intended kick never landed.
The red dot steadied on Jenning’s shoulder and then vanished in a spray of blood. Jennings reeled back away from Jack. There was no sound of a shot; instead there was a whip-crack noise, not loud, that Jack recognized as coming from the passage through the air of a supersonic bullet. It was almost drowned out by Jennings’ scream.
Jack rolled and came to his knees. He saw soldiers seeming to erupt out of the ground all around. Covers were being thrown aside and clouds of sand and dust billowed up. They’d been lying in pits, under rigid plastic sheeting, with the native soil spread on top of the coverings to make the positions virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding terrain. These were not the traditional Jaffa in armor, sacrificing mobility for unreliable protection, but were clad in desert camouflage outfits not unlike those of the US Army. Guns, not staff weapons, were trained on the Earthmen.
Jack retrieved his uniform cap, which had fallen off during the struggle, and rose slowly to his feet. He brushed sand from his clothes. “Thanks,” he said to the approaching soldiers. “You okay, Mr. President?”
“Nothing hurt but my pride,” President Hayes answered. “Thanks for the help, Colonel Chekov.”
“My pleasure, Mr. President,” the Colonel replied.
The Goa’uld Parker snarled and seemed to be contemplating another charge at the President. A dozen red dots clustered in the center of his chest rapidly changed his mind.
“Nobody move!” one of the approaching soldiers ordered.
“That’s fine by me,” Jack said. He made a quick head count. Three squads of six closing in, with a double-size squad of twelve staying back at long range; drastic overkill in the circumstances, especially as the rear party seemed to have some sort of vertical launch rocket system in their weapons pit, probably with laser guided missiles. If they’d stayed in their original concealed positions, and assuming that the rifles had a rate of fire similar to that of a P-90, the platoon could have mowed down anything coming through the Gate in less than battalion strength.
“Help me,” the injured Jennings appealed. “I’m badly hurt.” The entrance wound was tiny; the exit wound was eight inches across and the way his arm flopped made it evident that bones were shattered.
“You’re Goa’uld, aren’t you? Heal yourself,” was the unsympathetic reply. “All of you! Strip off all your clothes.”
“You have to be kidding,” Jack said. “And after I got all dressed up, too.”
“Isn’t that a little… unusual for a meeting between Heads of State?” President Hayes asked.
The soldier shrugged. “You requested the meeting. The conditions are not negotiable. Fulfill them or go back through the Chapa’ai. Enjoy the asteroid impact.”
Jack scrutinized the speaker. An officer, presumably, as he was doing the talking. Mediterranean bronzed skin, black hair showing around the edges of a sand-colored combat helmet, and a moustache. On Earth Jack would have guessed him to be Turkish, probably Special Forces, but the rifle would have looked out of place. It had a bullpup configuration, with a short broad rear-mounted magazine that was more like an ammo pack than a conventional mag, and it had a remarkably narrow muzzle aperture; only about 2 or 3 millimeters. Taking into consideration the massive damage done to Jennings’ shoulder, caused by such a small caliber projectile, Jack guessed that the weapon fired hyper-velocity flechette rounds.
Jack would have liked to ask questions about the weapon but he doubted if he’d get any answers. Instead he sighed and began to unbutton his jacket. A soldier, a woman who shared the officer’s skin and hair color but lacked the moustache, handed him a plastic bag.
The prisoner Wilson had regained his feet after being felled by Chekov. “You’ll have to untie me,” he pointed out, “if you want me to undress.”
One of the soldiers drew a spear-pointed dagger. He tugged at Wilson’s clothing and used the knife to cut it away. Another followed the same course with Jennings, who had escaped from his cuffs but had one unusable arm and a damaged thumb on the other hand, and with Parker. Jack, President Hayes, and Colonel Chekov undressed in a more conventional fashion and deposited their clothes in the bags provided.
“Thank goodness I’ve been using the White House gym,” the President commented. “I’ve heard of putting the other side at a disadvantage in negotiations but, really, I think this is taking the idea a little too far.”
“You will be provided with clothes before you meet the Beloved Queen,” the Commonwealth officer informed him.
“That’s a relief,” Hayes said. “I won’t have to worry quite as much about the media finding out. I dread to think what Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show would have done with it – and the Conservatives would probably have called me ‘depraved’ and ignored the part where I had to strip off at gunpoint.”
Jack put his shorts into the plastic bag. “I’m just glad I remembered to put on clean underwear.”
After passing through the Gate they had to go through decontamination showers. Clothes, the tunic, pants, and jacket that Jack had seen many people wearing on his visit to Shuruppak, were provided after the shower. Another Gate trip followed.
On reaching the final destination the three Trust prisoners were hustled away under heavy guard. Jack, President Hayes, and Colonel Chekov were guarded just as heavily but treated with more courtesy. They were driven through a city, even more impressive than the one on Shuruppak, and taken to what could only be a palace. A white stone building, standing amidst landscaped lawns and groves of trees, with fountains and marble statues reached by gravel paths. Rather to Jack’s surprise they were not taken into the palace but were led along one of the paths to a little plaza by a fountain. Ninmah awaited them there.
Or so Jack thought. “Queen Ninmah,” he greeted her, “this is the leader of my country. President Henry Hayes. Also Colonel of Aviation Aleksei Chekov, of the Russian Federation, Earth’s other major nation. He’s the most senior Russian officer who could make it to the Stargate inside the time you specified and he’s fully authorized to speak for the Russians.”
“You speak not to Ninmah, Colonel O’Neill,” the dark-haired woman said, her accent much more foreign than that of Ninmah when speaking English. Her hair was tied back severely, rather than hanging loose as Ninmah’s had done when Jack had last met her, and she wore a plain dark green skirt and top. A Goa’uld ribbon device was on her left hand. “You speak to Shamhat.”
“Shamhat?” Hayes looked at Jack and raised an eyebrow.
“Ninmah’s host,” Jack explained. He raised an eyebrow at the human girl who provided the Queen with her body. “I take it that it’s Host Day? This isn’t important enough for her to ask you to put it off for a day?”
“You think I give her body only so I not work, just play on water?” Shamhat’s lip curled. “She choose me from adi šār to be her host. I have to write paper, give reasons, show… ummênūtu.”
Jack hoped that the woman wasn’t going to say anything important in Akkadian, as Daniel wasn’t there to translate, but he didn’t ask for clarification and let her continue without interrupting.
“I was rabi kiṣri – commander over two hundred forty, in army, on ha’tak,” Shamhat said. “I help Ninmah make plan to kill your planet.”
‘Just great,’ Jack thought. ‘A Captain of Space Marines. She’ll be about as soft and fluffy as Carter.’ It occurred to him that Shamhat was probably a close combat expert; with that training, and her enhanced Goa’uld strength, she hardly needed the ribbon device and the guard detail, a dozen armed men standing twenty yards away, was window dressing.
“If you’re the, uh, host,” President Hayes said, “what authority do you have? Can you call off the attack on Earth?”
“No,” Shamhat admitted. “You speak to me; if I like what you say, I call Queen Ninmah.”
The President frowned. “I suppose I don’t have a choice,” he said. “Very well. You’re going to destroy our planet because of something that we didn’t do.”
“Missiles came through Chapa’ai from Tau’ri world,” Shamhat said. “Poison made by Tok’ra, they give to you.” She folded her arms.
“I didn’t give the order, our military didn’t do it, it was criminal individuals,” Hayes went on. “They stole the Stargate, stole the missiles, and launched the attacks all on their own. We caught two of the ones who came up with the plan, and one of those who actually launched the missiles. One of the others was killed when we recaptured the Gate. The ones who escaped seem to have been fallen into the hands of the… Goa’uld,” he stumbled over the pronunciation. “They were implanted with, uh, symbiotes and sent back to Earth to try to start a nuclear war between my country and Colonel Chekov’s.”
“That is all true,” Chekov confirmed. “We were within moments of launching nuclear strikes that would have destroyed both our countries and killed most of the people on Earth.”
“And why they attack Shuruppak?” Shamhat asked.
“Ask them,” Jack suggested. “That’s why we brought them along. They claimed they were trying to protect Earth and they were mainly targeting Baal’s worlds. But what the hell they thought they were doing… As far as we can tell they killed about two hundred thousand Jaffa loyal to Baal, but who maybe could have been brought over to the rebel cause in the future; something like eighty thousand actual rebel Jaffa, including an army that had Baal’s loyalists pinned down and had pretty much seized control of a planet; a handful of Baal’s subordinate Goa’uld; and seven Tok’ra operatives, two of whom had worked their way up to planetary commanders and were providing the Tok’ra with intelligence on every move Baal made. And, of course, they hit your city.”
“Cities,” Shamhat corrected him. “Four biggest cities on Shuruppak.”
“Each with a population as big as a lot of whole planets,” Jack said. “Yes, it was a terrible crime. The Trust are thieves and mass murderers. We at Stargate Command have been fighting them for years. If you want to execute the ones we’ve caught, well, that’s fine by us. We’ll stand up and cheer. We’re tracking down the others and we’ll get them before long. But if you wipe out our whole planet for something done by a few renegades then you’re stepping down to their level.”
“There are six and a half billion people on Earth,” Colonel Chekov added. “Only three hundred million are in America. To slay the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, the Poles, and the people of a hundred other nations, for the sins of a small group of Americans who acted against the wishes of their own leader, would be a terrible injustice.”
“It was a dreadful thing,” President Hayes said. “We had an unprovoked terrorist attack on our own country that killed three thousand. We were devastated and we went to war against the countries that had sheltered the terrorists. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to have lost three million. But I didn’t order it, and neither did any other legitimate official of the American government, and the people who carried out the attack are criminals and murderers in our eyes just as much as in yours. We will catch those who remain, if you give us a little more time, and hand them over to you for whatever punishment you deem appropriate.”
“You claim this,” Shamhat said, “but how we know it is true? They could be… you put blame on them when it was not them, they take punishment to save you.”
“Scapegoats, you mean? No, these guys wouldn’t take punishment to save anybody,” Jack told her. “They’ll lie their asses off to save themselves but, if you question them enough, you’ll find out the truth.”
“There is easy way,” Shamhat said. She looked at each of the three Earth representatives in turn, staring into their eyes, her expression grim. “You take Goa’uld. They learn all your truth.”
Jack felt a chill going through him. For a moment he thought that his heart was going to stop. “No,” he said. “Not that.”
“We can’t accept it,” President Hayes said. “That would be handing over every military and political secret we have.”
Shamhat shrugged. “Then we make big rock hit your world,” she said. “Šeššet līmu ha’tak pull rock, make it go fast, strike in two arhu, kill all Tau’ri. You choose.”
“How long is an Ar-hoo?” Jack asked, hoping that it was a year. In two years they might be able to come up with something to stop the asteroid or, at the least, evacuate millions of people to add to the thirty-five thousand that they’d managed to send through the Gate so far.
“This many day,” Shamhat said. She held up her hands with fingers outspread, closed her fists, opened her fingers again, and repeated the gesture once more before lowering her hands. Thirty days. The asteroid would hit Earth in two months. “Again I say, take Goa’uld or your world die.”
“I accept,” Colonel Chekov said. “I would die for Mother Russia. To be enslaved by a Goa’uld might be worse – but better that than the death of everyone on Earth.”
“It not for long time,” Shamhat said. “You take Goa’uld, it read your thought, come out and go back to real host. One day only.”
“In that case,” President Hayes said, “I will agree.”
Jack hesitated. Shamhat fixed her gaze on him and her lips tightened. It was Jack’s biggest fear, the one thing that filled him with skin-crawling horror, a fate a thousand times worse than death in his eyes. Yet if he didn’t go through with it the others’ testimony was valueless. Only Jack could guarantee that Stargate Command hadn’t acted unilaterally, going behind the President’s back, launching the poison attack and blaming the Trust.
There was no point in relying on the Trust agents to tell the truth. The Goa’uld in Jennings and Parker would go to their deaths cheerfully if it meant that the Tau’ri would die along with them. They’d kill their hosts rather than leave the bodies to be occupied, and questioned, by Commonwealth symbiotes. Wilson might tell the truth, but he might not, and if he was tortured he’d tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Even if he was compelled to take a symbiote it might not be enough; he’d been involved in the planning, but not in the execution of the plan, and he couldn’t absolutely confirm that Stargate Command hadn’t been involved.
Jack was the only person who knew the full story and could unequivocally clear the Earth’s governments of responsibility. The fate of the world really did depend on him. “I… I’ll do it,” he forced out.
Shamhat nodded. Her eyes flashed gold. “Thank you,” she said, her accent suddenly gone. Queen Ninmah, now, not Shamhat; the difference was quite noticeable even when Ninmah was using the human version of her voice. “I assure you that the experience will not be unpleasant. I shall make the arrangements at once.”
“I am sorry that I had to put you through that, President Hayes,” Queen Ninmah said.
“It was… an interesting experience,” the President replied, “although perhaps not one that I’d want to repeat.”
“You may find some compensation in the shrinking of your enlarged prostate,” Ninmah said. “And, of course, in that your planet shall not, after all, be annihilated by an asteroid impact two months from now. I have already given orders that the fleet will disengage and return to the Commonwealth.”
“That’s a relief,” said the President. “Thank you.” He tilted his head to one side. “My prostate?”
“Indeed,” Ninmah said. “Your partner the First Lady may also benefit. We shall discuss your planet’s reparations to us later. Perhaps the assets controlled by this ‘Trust’ and also the Asgard hyperdrive?”
“That sounds reasonable,” President Hayes said. “We’ll work something out.”
Ninmah turned to Colonel Chekov. “You are a noble warrior, Colonel. Visitors from your country would be welcome in the Commonwealth.”
“Thank you, Queen Ninmah,” Colonel Chekov said. “I shall inform my Government.”
“And you, General Jack O’Neill,” Ninmah went on. “I am told that you have a particular horror of Goa’uld possession and have had bad experiences in the past.”
“You could say that,” Jack said. “Even when it was one of the Tok’ra… it didn’t go well.”
“It is good that you overcame your feelings and accepted my condition,” Ninmah said. “My people were full of wrath. I needed conclusive evidence of your people’s innocence in order to be able to spare them. Lord Yu had told me that you were honorable, although I could not rely upon his judgment in his present condition, and Baal also said that he did not believe that you were behind the attack. It was out of character, in his assessment, and also too badly executed to have been your doing. Their testimony was not enough.”
“Baal told you that? That was… decent of him, I guess,” Jack said. “It almost makes up for him torturing me to death a few times. Not quite, but almost.” He narrowed his eyes. “Were you really going to destroy Earth?”
“Oh, yes, certainly,” Ninmah told him. “I had no choice. The will of the people is paramount.”
“Even when it was just a blind cry for revenge?”
“Even then,” Ninmah said. “Try ruling thirty-two billion people some time. It isn’t easy.”
“Can I ask why you had Shamhat handle the meeting?” Jack asked.
“I took a liking to you when we first met,” Ninmah said. “After the attack that liking turned into bitter hatred at your ‘treachery’. I did not want to risk my decisions being affected in either direction by my feelings. Shamhat had less emotional involvement and could be trusted to be impartial.” She smiled. “It worked out well in the end, did it not?”
“I guess so,” Jack said, “apart from scaring the crap out of me for a moment.”
“I apologize,” Ninmah said. “As in the case of your President, the repairs to your body may serve as compensation.”
“My prostate was in fine shape,” Jack claimed.
“Your knee, I am told, was not,” Ninmah responded. “It is now.”
“Oh.” Jack bent down and put a hand on his knee. He straightened up, flexed the limb, and took a step forward and a step back. “Hey, that is better!” He gave a wide smile. “It hadn’t really registered on me, what with everything else on my mind, but it doesn’t hurt at all and there isn’t any of that grating sensation when I move it. Thanks. Thanks a lot, Queen Ninmah.”
“A small repayment,” she said, “for you have delivered unto me our true enemies.”
“Oh. Yes. So, what’s going to happen to them?”
“I promised my people that the ones responsible for the attack upon Shuruppak would burn,” Ninmah replied. “I keep my word. So shall it be. They shall die by fire.”
“We’re saved,” Jack announced, as he emerged from the Gate. “The destruction of Earth has been cancelled.”
“That’s right,” President Hayes confirmed. “We did it. The evacuations can stop.”
“Are you alright, sir?” the Head of the Presidential Protection Detail asked. He frowned at the Gateroom guards who had been pointing a formidable array of weaponry at the President of the United States.
“I’m fine, Brad,” the President assured him.
“We’ll have to be checked out in the infirmary,” Jack said. “It’s standard procedure. It won’t take long, sir, and then you can go back to running the country.” He resisted the temptation to add ‘and try out your new, improved, prostate.’
“It’s been quite an experience, General O’Neill,” President Hayes said.
“It has that, Mr. President. It has indeed.”
Vala Mal Doran intercepted them as they left the Gateroom. “It all worked out, then? This planet is safe? Are you going to shower me with gold and jewels now?”
“What do you think, Mr. President?” Jack asked.
“Her services played a significant part,” Hayes agreed. “I think a certain amount of showering would be in order. A million dollars in gold seems about right.”
“Oh, thank you,” Vala exclaimed. “That’s wonderful!” Her forehead creased. “What’s a dollar?”
“I’ll get Daniel to explain it to you,” Jack promised her, over his shoulder, as he headed for the infirmary. “As for me, I have something important to catch up on. Guys,” he called, addressing all SGC staff within earshot, “while I was away, did anyone tape The Simpsons?”