Debt Of Blood
Epilogue: The restaurant at the end of the universe
“What the Hell am I supposed to do with her?” Jack asked. He was wondering aloud, not expecting an answer, but he received one anyway.
“Marry her,” Cierre advised. “She is quite beautiful, by the standards of humans, and her duties for Ba’al have no doubt required her to become exceptionally proficient in the arts of the bedchamber. She regards you as attractive, and recognizes your heroism, and would be willing to become your bride. Air Force regulations prohibit you from acting upon the mutual attraction between yourself and Major Carter. Shallan would make an ideal substitute.”
Jack wished, fervently, for the ground to open up and swallow him. Or at least to swallow Cierre. To judge by the color flaming in her cheeks Sam was wishing pretty much the same thing.
“Indeed there is logic behind her suggestion, O’Neill,” Teal’c chimed in, “although it may not be in accordance with the social customs of the Tau’ri.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack said, “I’m not marrying her. That’s that. Can you be serious for a moment?”
“My advice was not given in jest, Colonel,” Cierre said. “I believe that you would find marriage to her to be pleasurable. ‘The best magic item is a lover’, as my people say.”
Jack glared at her. “No. And that’s final.”
“I’m sure the Tok’ra would offer her a place with them,” Sam said. “She was important enough to Kanan for him to risk his life – and yours – for her, and they’ll respect that.”
Jack shook his head. “Yeah, but I bet they’d keep pestering her to become a host,” he said, “and I’m not a big fan of that idea.”
“She is too young to do such a thing,” Cierre said. “I would not do it, ever, but I can see that one who is old and ill might find it acceptable. Not a female in her prime.”
“Maybe,” Sam said, “but what’s the alternative? She’d have to do a lot of acclimatization before she’d fit in on Earth. I think she’d be a fish out of water on Cimmeria, or the Land of Light …”
“But not Faerûn,” Cierre put in. “If you will not marry her, Jack, then I think she would do well at the Moonstone Mask.”
Jack glared at her. “I can’t refuse to marry her and then offer her a job in a brothel as consolation prize. That’s just… nasty.”
Cierre raised her eyebrows. “If you say so. My understanding is that the girls of the Moonstone Mask are highly regarded in Neverwinter, and that they engage mainly in conversation and rarely grant sexual favors to the clientele, but I know only what I have been told by Sharwyn and could be in error. Regardless, it should be her decision.”
“Yeah, well, you can be the one to suggest it to her,” Jack said. “No way am I going to say a word on the subject.” He sought for a distraction. “I’ve been out of the loop for a while. Any missions coming up?”
“We’re going to get that radio link with Neverwinter established,” Sam said. “If it had been set up we could have avoided having to send you to the Tok’ra. It’s top priority now.”
“Good,” Jack said. “I’m all for that. Anything else?”
“The Tok’ra have asked that we make contact with their agent Khonsu, who is posing as a commander in the legions of Anubis,” Teal’c said. “To do this we must allow ourselves to be captured.”
“And won’t that be a lot of fun,” Jack muttered. “Still, probably better than getting married.”
The Gate room was decorated for a presentation. Blue drapes hung in front of the stark grey walls, a red carpet had been laid on the Gate ramp, and a podium stood in front of the Stargate. General Hammond, Colonel O’Neill, and Major Carter, all in their dress uniforms, stood there to greet those being honored.
Civilian scientists Simon Coombs and Jay Felger, looking ill-at-ease in their smartest suits, made their way up the ramp. A crowd of base personnel looked on.
“For bravery in the face of grave danger,” General Hammond announced, “I hereby award Simon Coombs and Jay Felger, each, the Air Force Civilian Award for Valor.”
Jack lifted a box from the top of the podium, opened it, and removed two medals. He turned to face Coombs first.
“Despite the fact that you gentlemen disobeyed my orders,” he said, “which, in my little world, constitutes screwing up… twice… the truth is, we wouldn't be here without you. You are true heroes.” He pinned the medals on the scientists’ chests and shook their hands.
Sam went to Coombs, shook his hand, and then gave him a brief peck on the cheek. He blushed. She repeated the procedure with Felger, who blushed even deeper, and told them “Thank you.”
The crowd applauded. Cierre, who was at the front of the crowd beside Teal’c, stared at the two being honored. “Coombs is pudgy and unattractive,” she remarked, “but Felger is passable and reminds me, in some ways, of Rodney. Would Air Force regulations prohibit me from thanking him by granting him carnal gratification?”
Jay Felger fainted.
Cierre danced solo across the dusty ground of the Alpha Site. Her swords flashed and twirled. It looked as if she was engaged in a training exercise, running through whatever was the swordplay equivalent of katas, but it was in deadly earnest.
Jack watched through the optical sight of his P-90, aiming at the earth in front of her, alert for any sign of dust being kicked up by feet other than Cierre’s. He’d been through an intensive course of Fighting Invisible Opponents 101 in Toril and the lessons had stuck. All he needed was one clear shot, or for Cierre to get in one good blow…
A spray of blood erupted from Cierre’s face. The Ashrak’s dagger stroke had probably been aimed at her throat, or her eyes, but her fast movements had thrown off the Goa’uld assassin’s aim. Instead it ripped through her cheek.
A chorus of cries of dismay sounded from the throats of the watching Tok’ra and Jaffa. Not from Jack. He guessed what was coming.
Cierre’s left-hand sword lashed upward. The dagger wound had given away where the Ashrak’s arm had to be, and she retaliated, with the stroke that Jack had seen take off a man’s arm at the shoulder on a previous occasion. This time the result wasn’t as devastating, the Ashrak’s reactions were much faster than those of the assassin in the Hosttower, but her glowing green blade sheared through flesh and bone and a hand suddenly appeared in mid-air. The severed extremity, and the dagger it had been holding, dropped to the ground.
The Ashrak howled. Cierre brought her flaming right-hand sword across but hit nothing. Jack saw what he had been waiting for; dust flying up as the Ashrak landed from a frantic leap backward. He aimed quickly and pulled the P-90’s trigger. Droplets of blood spattered onto the dusty ground.
Cierre backed away, her twin swords whirling in a defensive box, leaving Jack and the others a clear field of fire. Teal’c unleashed a blast from his staff weapon and sparks shot up from the empty air as he scored a hit. Taking their cue from him the Rebel Jaffa warriors began to fire at where the blood trail gave away the Ashrak’s position. The zats of the Tok’ra spat their electrical bolts at the same target. A member of SG-15 opened up with a M240B machine gun.
Jack saw a stack of supply crates shift slightly. He deduced that the Ashrak had leapt onto them, sprayed the air above them with bullets, and was rewarded with another cry of pain and more blood.
The air near the crates shimmered and an indistinct, fast-moving, bluish shape appeared. Sam, and the Tok’ra scientist Malek, had completed their jury-rigged conversion of a naquadah generator into a TER. The Ashrak was visible and was, obviously, running for his life. He swerved, dodged, and sought cover.
“Keep him away from the Gate,” Jack shouted, as bullets and staff blasts kicked up the earth around the feet of the fleeing Ashrak, “and be careful what you’re shooting.”
The danger posed by the Goa’uld assassin was almost over now. Wounded, and disarmed in both senses of the word, he could never hope to escape Cierre for long. If he fled into the woods she would track him down and kill him. Only if he made it through the Gate, and told Anubis of the location of the Alpha Site, could he do any further harm. Jack was more concerned at the possibility of another Friendly Fire incident like the one that had already cost a Tok’ra his life.
Cierre, blood still pouring from her face and soaking her BDUs, sheathed her swords and switched over to her P-90. Teal’c marshaled the Jaffa into a firing line protecting the Gate. Jacob Carter/Selmak gathered the Tok’ra into a similar group covering Sam, Malek, and the naquadah generator. Both groups, and the surviving members of SG-12 and SG-15, fired at the Ashrak whenever he gave them a clear shot.
Something hit the Ashrak and sent him sprawling in the dirt. Two staff blasts passed over his prone body and then he scrambled up again, changed direction, and raced for a gap between two tents.
He ran straight into a staff blast that hit him in the centre of the chest and blew him backward. Sparks of electricity crackled over his body, the shimmering blue faded, and the Ashrak lay plainly visible on the ground. There was a charred hole the size of a football in the centre of his chest.
“Everybody cease fire,” Jack ordered. “Stand down. We got him.”
Master Bra’tac, visibly battered and bruised, limped into view from beyond the tents. He was using his staff weapon as a walking aid.
“Hey, good to see you, Bra’tac,” Jack greeted the old Jaffa warrior. “We thought you were dead.”
Bra’tac nodded to Jack. “The Ashrak thought the same thing,” he said. “I was unable to move, and I do not know how long I was unconscious. My symbiote sustained me and I returned as soon as I could.”
“Just in time to kill the bastard,” Jack said. “Nice timing.”
Cierre made her way to the Ashrak’s body, used her hand-axe to cut off its head, and retrieved from its remaining hand the GDO that it had stolen earlier.
“You are a remarkable warrior, Cierre of Luruar,” Bra’tac praised her.
“As are you, Master Bra’tac,” Cierre responded.
Others were approaching now. Teal’c, and Rak’nor of the Jaffa, went to see if Master Bra’tac needed any aid. Janet Fraiser hastened to Cierre’s side.
“That’s a nasty wound,” Janet said. “Bend down and let me take a look at it.” Cierre was at least seven or eight inches taller than the diminutive doctor.
“There is no need,” Cierre said. She touched her cheek with her finger-tips. “Flesh knit, bleeding stop, skin mend,” she chanted. “All fixed now, Janet. Do you have a cloth with which I may wipe away the blood?”
“If everyone could do that I’d be out of a job,” Janet said. She handed Cierre a piece of cloth, took the GDO in exchange, and passed it over to Jack. Cierre began to clean the blood from her face.
Malek of the Tok’ra approached Bra’tac. “I owe you my life,” he said, “and I am ashamed that I did not do more to help you. I only hope one day I am given the chance to repay that debt. Forgive me.” He extended his arm to Bra’tac, who clasped it Jaffa-fashion, and bowed his head slightly. Malek released his grip and turned to Cierre. “On behalf of all the Tok’ra I thank you for what you have done,” he said. “You are a true hero.”
Cierre’s hand stopped mid-wipe. “No,” she said, “I’m really not. I am merely good at killing. Better than that… thing. That is all.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack said, “stop putting yourself down, Cierre. You’re a hero in my book.”
“And in mine,” said Martek. “You have undoubtedly saved many lives today, Tok’ra and Jaffa and Tau’ri, and I thank you on behalf of them all.”
Cierre looked down at her feet. “Thank you,” she mumbled. She really was much better at killing things, Jack thought, than at accepting thanks.
Bra’tac, with some assistance from Rak’nor, went over to the place where Cierre had dueled with the Ashrak and retrieved the fallen dagger from the blood-splattered ground. Then, as if struck by a sudden afterthought, he bent once more and picked up the severed hand.
He passed his staff weapon to Rak’nor and then held the dagger aloft. “This single blade,” he called out to the ranks of Jaffa and Tok’ra, “has done what we could not. It has brought us together. This blade has spilled the blood of the Jaffa, of the Tok’ra, of the Tau’ri, and of the Drow. By the hand,” he held up the body part in question, “of our common enemy, it has made us brothers. Together we have ensured that it will never spill our blood again.” He tossed the Ashrak’s hand aside and threw the dagger down into the dirt.
All over the base Tok’ra and Jaffa approached each other, holding out their arms, and clasped their hands in token of friendship. The Tau’ri joined in.
“I do love a happy ending,” Jack murmured.
One of the Jaffa who went to clasp arms with Cierre was slow to release his grip. “You are truly a great warrior,” he said, “and yet you are also a pretty woman.”
Cierre shrugged her shoulders. “Among my people it is no unusual thing for a woman to be a warrior,” she said. She lowered her eyes. “It is, however, unusual for anyone to call me ‘pretty’.”
Jack wasn’t deliberately listening in but he overheard anyway. Cierre was right, he had to admit, she didn’t often get called ‘pretty’. Her broad face, and slightly slanted eyes, gave her a somewhat Oriental appearance that didn’t fit American standards of attractiveness. In motion, especially when fighting with swords, it was a different story. The grace of her movements made her truly a thing of beauty.
And that Jaffa seemed to have noticed. He was big, even by the standards of that warrior race, a good six foot four and probably around two hundred and forty pounds of muscle and bone. His forehead bore a black tattoo, the winged emblem of Heru’ur, and he had a close-cropped beard and mustache.
“I would like to know more of your people,” the Jaffa said, smiling at Cierre. “Will you share food with me, and tell me of them, and of yourself?”
“With pleasure,” Cierre said. She smiled at him. “And you can tell me of the Jaffa. What is your name?”
The Jaffa returned her smile. “I am called M’zel.”
The planet was called Pangar. It was technologically about as advanced as Earth in the 1930s except for one particular medical development. Tretonin. A drug that gave its recipients benefits equivalent to the healing powers of a Jaffa’s symbiote.
Of course there was a catch. Two, in fact. It was a one-way trip; once you’d taken the drug your original immune system was permanently disabled and you had to stay on the drug for life. Also, it was manufactured from Goa’uld symbiotes, the queen Goa’uld they were using to breed the symbiotes was aging prematurely from the intensive breeding and seemed to be dying, and the crazy fools thought they could go out into the galaxy and capture new queens to replace her.
Jack was steadily losing his enthusiasm for the whole affair. Yeah, if they got the bugs out of the drug it would probably be pretty neat, but it didn’t offer anything the healing potions from Toril couldn’t provide. And the idea of these guys wandering around trying to catch themselves a queen was… scary. They’d be like sheep trying to go hunting wolves.
Unfortunately they just didn’t see it that way and kept moaning and complaining about everything. They moaned about the Tok’ra, who had been brought in to help fix the problems with the drug, not having been able to pull a miracle out of their ass and do in a couple of days what the Pangarans hadn’t been able to do in thirty years. They whined about Jack not being willing to let them have the addresses of any Goa’uld worlds. They just wouldn’t accept that they would be way, way, out of their depth.
“Look, there is no tactical advantage when you’re dealing with the Goa’uld,” Jack told their negotiators. “We’ve stayed ahead of them only because we don’t bite off more than we can chew… usually. We’ve had some luck, and gained some allies, and had some success. But we’ve never captured a queen – Hell, Hathor captured us, twice – and, with respect, your military technology isn’t up to the job. You’ll just end up getting the System Lords pissed at you and next thing you know there’ll be a couple of their mother-ships in orbit over Pangara. And they’ll blow you back to the Stone Age.”
“If you provided us with weapons to match theirs, then we could supply enough Tretonin for both our planets,” the Pangaran military representative, Commander Tegar, suggested.
“We don’t have weapons to match theirs,” Jack pointed out. “We can beat them on the ground, sure, but out in space it’s a whole different story. If they sent a fleet here there wouldn’t be a thing we could do to help. Let me give you a little hint. Don’t get them mad at you in the first place.”
“Our need is great,” the civilian negotiator, Dollen, said. “We are prepared to take that risk.”
Jack sighed. He rested his elbows on the conference table and leaned forward. “And we’re not.”
“I don’t think you understand our position,” Dollen said.
“With respect,” Sam began, which probably meant that she was going to point out some uncomfortable truth, but she was interrupted.
Teal’c and Cierre, who had little interest in the negotiations and who seemed to make the Pangarans slightly uncomfortable, had been investigating the ancient temple in which the Pangarans had originally found their Goa’uld queen. Now they turned up at the door of the conference chamber.
They didn’t look happy. The glare Cierre turned upon the guards at the door looked intense enough to kill.
Jack turned to face them. “Teal’c, Cierre, I’m guessing you have a problem?”
“I bring grave news, O’Neill,” Teal’c said.
That wasn’t good.
“Egeria,” Cierre said. “Their captive queen is no Goa’uld. She is Egeria.”
“Egeria? Are you sure?” Sam asked.
“The writings in the chamber are extremely clear,” Teal’c said, “and our translators enable us to interpret them without error. There can be no doubt.”
“Oh, crap,” Jack said. “Have you told the Tok’ra yet?”
“We have,” Teal’c said. “They are… displeased.”
“And there is another who must be told,” Cierre said. She turned back to the door guards. “Turn out the lights. This message must be delivered in darkness.”
“I don’t understand,” Dollen said.
“Your people have enslaved the Queen of the Tok’ra,” Teal’c explained. “She was imprisoned here by Ra because she fought to free humans from the rule of the Goa’uld.”
“The Tok’ra will be seriously pissed,” Jack said, “and that’s putting it mildly.”
“We could not have known,” Dollen said.
“I guess not,” Jack said, “but it isn’t us you have to convince.”
“Why do you ask for the lights to be extinguished?” Tegar asked Cierre.
“We must tell Egeria that we have found Egeria,” Cierre replied. The Pangarans looked at her, looked at each other, and looked at Jack. It was obvious that they were totally confused.
“That’s… a different Egeria,” Jack explained. “Look, it would take too long to explain, just switch off the lights.”
Dollen, his eyebrows climbing to heights that would have put the planet’s dirigible airships to shame, signaled to the guards to do as requested.
“Okay, Cierre, call her,” Jack said, once the lights were off. They weren’t plunged into total darkness, as light filtered through the Japanese-style paper walls of the chamber, but Jack was sure it would be dark enough.
“It was you, Colonel, to whom she spoke,” Cierre said.
“Oh? I thought she was speaking to Daniel,” Jack said. “Okay, I’ll do it, as long as I don’t have to sing.” He cleared his throat. “Lady Egeria, we’ve found the… other Egeria, and you told us to give you a call. Are you going to come here? Do you need the Gate address? Uh, over.”
“To whom are you talking?” Dollen asked, his eyebrows climbing even higher. “I see no communication device.”
“To me,” a female voice said from behind Jack.
Jack saw the Pangarans’ jaws drop. The last time he’d seen mouths open that wide had been when the team had taken Cassie to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and they’d paused at the hippo enclosure.
“Hello, Lady Egeria,” Jack said, and only then did he turn around.
“Greetings, Colonel O’Neill, Major Carter, Teal’c, and Cierre,” the angel Egeria replied. She looked just the way Jack remembered her. Well, not as he’d last seen her, when she’d been wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around her hair, but when they’d first met. Black leather, dangling chains, tight purple top, and twin swords at her hips. And, of course, those wings.
“She… she… she has wings,” Commander Tegar stammered.
“He has eyes,” Egeria responded. Her tone sharpened. “Take me to my namesake. Now.”
“This is Lady Egeria from the planet Toril,” Jack introduced her. “I’d do as she says if I were you.”
The Pangarans, still spluttering incoherent comments about Egeria’s wings, and even more stunned when they realized that she stood something like seven feet tall, obeyed and led the angel, and SG-1, to the medical facility in which the Tok’ra queen was held captive. In their wake they left a trail of locals standing in stunned, staring, amazement.
At the facility they found Malek and Kelmaa of the Tok’ra engaged in berating the staff. The Pangaran archaeologist Zenna, who had led Teal’c and Cierre to the fresco recording the imprisonment of Egeria the Tok’ra, looked on from nearby with an unhappy expression on her face.
“She must be freed immediately,” Malek was demanding. “Every moment she is kept in this condition is an affront to the Tok’ra.”
“Impossible,” the facility director replied. “It would condemn thousands of people… to…” He broke off and gawped at the angel.
Even the Tok’ra, who had seen innumerable strange things on hundreds of planets, were dumbstruck at the sight of the winged being. Jack performed a hasty introduction and then they were admitted to the facility and conducted to the other Egeria’s holding tank.
Lady Egeria winced at the sight of the bloated symbiote. “You know,” she said, fixing Dollen and Tegar with a cold gaze, “I’m really tempted to bestow some appropriate punishment upon your people. You have inflicted dreadful suffering on an innocent for your own selfish gain. Perhaps an earthquake in your capital city?”
“We had no idea,” Dollen protested. “We thought she was a Goa’uld, a member of a race that conquered and enslaved without mercy, and that we were just doing to her what she would have done to us.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Lady Egeria said. “Be thankful that I am more merciful than you. Luckily she is not too far gone.”
“You can help her?” Kelmaa asked, her eyes wide. “We thought her too damaged to save, except perhaps by immediately placing her within a host.”
The angel snapped her fingers. A vial of dark green liquid appeared in her hand. “I believe so,” she said. She poured the liquid into the tank. “Remove that electrode from her,” she commanded, “and then put out the lights.” The facility director obeyed.
Lady Egeria touched her hands to the surface of the water. “Greater Restoration,” she intoned. “Heal.”
Jack’s eyes widened. He saw the symbiote shrinking, firming up, becoming… younger. When the changes were finished the Tok’ra queen looked not unlike the symbiote, fresh from the Jaffa’s pouch, which Hathor had tried to implant in him. Paler, and a little bulkier about the middle, but pretty much as healthy in appearance.
“Amazing!” Malek exclaimed. He dropped to one knee and bowed his head to Lady Egeria. “You have saved our people.”
“You have saved our people,” Dollen said. “She will be able to produce many more broods of…” He faltered, and his voice trailed away, as he quailed before the angel’s hostile gaze.
“The earthquake was no idle threat,” Lady Egeria told him. “Must I prove it? I could send the whole city sliding into the sea with but a word.”
“Hey,” Jack said, “that’s… harsh. There’s no need for an earthquake.”
“No,” said Malek, “do not smite them. We will be able to produce an antidote to remove their dependence on Tretonin, I am sure, and with Queen Egeria restored to us we will devote all our resources to that task.”
“In that case,” Dollen said, “I suppose we can release the symbiote… that is, your Queen.”
“We must find her a host,” Kelmaa said. “I believe I know of someone who may be interested.”
Lady Egeria stayed on Pangara, rather to Jack’s surprise, while they waited for the volunteer host. She spent some of the time talking to Cierre, giving her updates on how things had been going on Toril while Cierre was away, and also talked to the Tok’ra about Shar. Jack doubted if she’d actually win any converts, the Tok’ra just weren’t religiously inclined, but then again the miracle had been pretty convincing. She treated the Pangarans, other than Zenna, with cool disdain but was willing to answer some of the archaeologist’s questions in a reasonably friendly fashion. When she tired of that Lady Egeria started questioning Jack about the life and career of Jimi Hendrix.
After a couple of hours the Gate activated and four of the Tok’ra, plus one human woman, came through. Jack had seen the Tok’ra before, at the Alpha Site, but he was somewhat surprised when he recognized the human.
“Hey, are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Jack asked her.
“I do,” Shallan confirmed. “I knew, when I served Ba’al, that I might be called upon to become a Goa’uld host and I regarded it as an honor. I now know that I would merely have been a slave but this is different. The Tok’ra are good people and by this act I can help them and also repay Kanan for giving his life attempting to save me.”
Jack, who looked upon the whole episode with Kanan in a rather different light, stayed diplomatically silent.
“Also,” Shallan went on, “what woman would not want to be a queen, even if only part-time? Of course,” she added, “I might change my mind if you have rethought your decision not to marry me…”
“Uh, ah,” Jack spluttered, wishing he could turn to Carter for help, “I, uh, still think it would be a bad idea.”
“Then there is nothing to turn me back from my decision,” Shallan said. Ten minutes later she was lying on an examination table in the medical facility ready to receive the Tok’ra symbiote. Jack made sure he was nowhere near at the time. It was something he really didn’t want to see. He went back inside only when it was all over and Shallan/Egeria was sitting up and talking.
“I sabotaged my young,” Egeria explained to the Pangarans. “I deliberately passed on a flawed gene. That is why the drug did not work as you had expected, and why you were unable to construct an antidote. I hoped to force you to abandon your research and stop killing my children. Instead you just kept on making it in ever-increasing quantities. The worst of all worlds.”
“We didn’t understand,” Dollen told her. “I humbly apologize.”
“Apology accepted,” Egeria said. “I am restored to health, and restored to my people, and I can bear you no grudge. I will inform Malek of the procedure necessary to develop an antidote. It is not complicated and will not take long.”
“I thank you,” Dollen said. “This is a better result than we could have hoped for.”
“He ended a sentence with a preposition,” Jack muttered under his breath. “An earthquake would be too good for him.”
The Tok’ra Egeria turned her attention to the angel Egeria. “I do not know how to thank you,” she said. “I was dying, without hope, and now… I am healthy, free, and sharing the body of a host both worthy and beautiful. It is beyond anything of which I could have dreamed.”
“I was glad to help,” the Egeria with wings said. “We share a name and, it seems, also share a sense of honor. If you wish to thank me, do so by remaining allied with the people of Earth, who you term the Tau’ri, who brought rock’n’roll to my world and thus brought joy to the heart of my mistress Shar.”
“I shall,” Queen Egeria said. She turned to Malek. “Shallan tells me that you do not freely share your technology with the Tau’ri.”
“They are too rash to be trusted with everything,” Malek said. “They would bring catastrophe down upon themselves, and upon us.”
“If we were that rash we’d have blown ourselves up with nuclear bombs,” Jack said. “We’ve had more than enough of them to blow up Earth for fifty years.”
“Agreed,” Queen Egeria said. “From now on, Malek, we share everything. The Tau’ri are to be equal partners. No restrictions.”
“Very well, my Queen,” Malek agreed, reluctant acquiescence evident in his voice and his body language. “Your wish is my command.”
“My work here is done,” the other Egeria said. “Farewell, my namesake. Farewell, Major Carter, Teal’c, and Cierre. Farewell, Colonel O’Neill.”
Within seconds of them replying the angel was airborne, disappearing upward, at a speed that would have done credit to a fighter jet on afterburners.
“I wonder,” Jack mused, “how she gets that leather jacket on and off with those wings?”
The diner was taken from Daniel’s memories. His grandfather had taken him there after his parents’ funeral. Well, not exactly to this place, but to one that had been the original from which this exact copy had been drawn. Daniel sipped at the coffee Oma Desala had served him, picked at his waffles in a desultory fashion, and tried to understand the rationale behind the whole affair. Oh, and tried to ignore the obnoxious fat man, Jim, who was the only one of the other customers who had spoken to him.
Daniel heard an odd series of clicks and whirrs, obviously mechanical in origin, and looked around for the source of the noise. There. A juke-box, gaudy and brightly-lit, standing against the wall. It was in keeping with the theme but still out of place; there had been no such juke-box in the diner of his memories. A record swung into place, revolved, and began to play.
Drums rolled and power chords blasted out. The diner door swung open, the ‘ding’ of its bell drowned out by the music, and a female figure strode in. Her skin was parchment white, her hair was as black as pitch, and she was clad from head to foot in black leather. Her head brushed the lintel as she entered; she must have been seven feet tall.
Oma Desala dropped her coffee-pot.
“Saw him dancing there by the record machine,” the juke-box boomed, as the woman leaned against the door-frame and pulled off her leather gauntlets. Her gaze swept the diner and Daniel met her eyes for a moment; they were an intense shade of purple.
“I knew he must’a been about seventeen,
The beat was going strong
Playing my favorite song
And I could tell it wouldn’t be long
‘Til he was with me, yeah me
And I could tell it wouldn’t be long
‘Til he was with me, yeah, me, singing
I love rock’n’roll
So put another dime in the juke-box baby
I love rock’n’roll
So come on take your time and dance with me…”
The woman advanced into the diner, her hips swaying and her feet moving in time to the beat, and Daniel’s eyes followed her. A man was ‘dancing there by the record machine’, as the song said, and he was even more exotic than the woman. He wore jeans and a leather jacket, as appropriate to the diner setting as if he’d stepped off the set of Brando’s ‘The Wild One’, but his jet black skin and pure white hair were from somewhere else entirely. The sword at his belt, and the gun-metal domino mask on his face, were likewise out of place. And, like the woman, he was seven feet tall.
“A Drow!” Daniel gasped, and then felt a sudden heat and wetness on his legs and realized that, in his astonishment, he had allowed his coffee cup to tilt too far. Hastily he set it down, pulled out a handkerchief, and dabbed at his pants. He saw Oma engaged in a similar task, cleaning up the wreckage of the coffee-pot from the floor, using dustpan, brush, and mop rather than resorting to the powers of the Ancients. Daniel wasn’t sure what rules governed this strange place but the denizens seemed determined to stick to them; even when something happened that surely couldn’t have been in the script.
The woman joined the man and they danced together in front of the juke-box. Daniel gave up his attempt to dry his legs and watched them. They had to be from Toril; were they the same type of being as Egeria, except without the wings?
“I love rock’n’roll
So put another dime in the juke-box baby
I love rock’n’roll
So come on take your time and dance with me!”
One of the customers rose to his feet as Joan Jett’s voice shouted out the final ‘dance with me’. He had shown no flicker of interest in Daniel but could hardly ignore the pair of giant dancers and their loud music. “What are you doing here?” he asked, his tone cold.
The woman spun on her heel and faced him. The music had ended but she continued to sway her hips as if dancing still. “We merely visit,” she said. “We are on our honeymoon.”
“You do not belong,” the customer said. “You are not welcome.”
“Oh?” The woman arched a jet-black eyebrow. “And yet you tolerate the present of that… unclean thing.” She raised an arm and pointed at Jim.
“Hey!” the fat man protested. He descended from his stool and took a couple of steps toward the woman. “Who’re you calling an unclean thing, doll? Think you’re better than me, huh?”
Daniel didn’t even see the drow move. One moment he was beside the juke-box; the next instant he was by the counter with his right hand gripping Jim’s throat. The giant drow lifted Jim into the air and held him up with his feet dangling a foot above the floor.
“Speak to my wife with respect, evil one,” the drow commanded, “or I will crush you like the snake you are.”
“Snake?” Daniel sat bolt upright as realization dawned. “Anubis!”
“You are slower of mind than I would have thought, Daniel Jackson,” the woman said, “not to have recognized the creature before now. He is not the real Anubis, of course, but amongst the Goa’uld he uses that stolen name.” The corners of her mouth turned up slightly in a hint of a smile. “I suspect that you don’t even recognize us.”
Daniel’s forehead furrowed. “The Masked Lord,” he said, looking at the drow. “Vhaeraun. Then,” he went on, slowly, turning his gaze back to the woman, “you must be… Shar.”
Shar’s smile grew broader. “At last you open your eyes, Daniel Jackson,” she said. She turned to Vhaeraun. “Put the Intellect Devourer down, my love,” she said. “You can hardly sit down and drink coffee whilst waving the ugly creature about like a flag.”
Vhaeraun obeyed by hurling Anubis to the ground like a WWE wrestler performing a choke-slam. Tables all over the room shook with the impact and coffee slopped over the edges of cups. Anubis lay still, stunned, and Vhaeraun and Shar took seats at Daniel’s booth.
Shar held up a hand. “Two coffees,” she called. “No, make that three, for Daniel Jackson has spilled his, and serve us food also. Waffles, and bacon, and… apple pie, for is that not the national dish of the land in which stands the original of this tavern?”
“Uh, yes, it is,” Daniel confirmed. He realized that his mouth was hanging open and made himself close it.
“Three coffees,” Oma Desala said, “waffles with bacon, and apple pie – is that for two or for three?”
Shar and Vhaeraun both looked at Daniel. “Uh, for two,” he answered. Oma nodded and turned away.
Vhaeraun stretched out a long arm, snatched up a newspaper, and scanned the front page briefly. He showed something to Shar and then dropped the paper on the table. Daniel saw that the page had changed since he had read it previously. He picked it up, turned it around, and read the new headlines.
‘Shar and Vhaeraun visit Astral Diner’. ‘Anubis floored in altercation’. ‘Daniel Jackson dines with visiting dignitaries’. The previous lead stories, still including the ominous ‘Anubis plans to retake Dakara’, had been moved to lower down the page.
Anubis scrambled to his feet. “Hey!” he protested. “Where’d you get off molesting me like that? That was assault. I should have you arrested, you bum.”
Vhaeraun spoke without even turning his head. “Diplomatic immunity.”
“I should have you killed,” Shar told Anubis. “I would prefer not to do it myself, lest your evil contaminate me, but I might ask Kiaransalee to do it. She’ll be only too happy to oblige.”
“You can’t do that,” Anubis said. “There are Rules.”
“Oh?” Shar turned in her seat and stared at him. “Rules that you have broken. You cannot, now, claim their protection. I play by my rules, and the obligations laid upon me by Lord Ao, and I will protect my worshippers. Proceed with your plan and you die.”
The customer who had objected to Shar’s entry stood up again and moved closer. “That is interference,” he said. “It is not permitted.”
“Uh, just why isn’t it permitted?” Daniel asked. “Anubis is Ascended, right? So how come you’ll stand by and let him try to wipe out all life in the galaxy, and you reckon that’s fine, but when someone else Ascended wants to stop him you say it’s interference? That’s… garbage. Insane logic.”
The customer glared at him, deigning for the first time to acknowledge Daniel’s existence, and replied. “Anubis uses only the powers and knowledge available to mortals. He sticks to the letter of the Rules and thus we cannot interfere.”
“Yeah,” said Anubis. “It wasn’t me who reactivated the Dakara super-weapon. It wasn’t me who worked out how to rig the Gates to dial them all at once. It was Samantha Carter, and Selmak, and Ba’al. I’m just taking advantage.”
“I do not accept that you use only mortal knowledge, creature,” Shar said, “and anyway you use Ascended powers all the time. You inhabited a corpse. Can a normal Goa’uld do that? And only your invulnerability allows you to force mortals to obey your commands.”
“Yeah? Well, I can’t help being invulnerable. It goes with the territory, babe.”
“It ends now,” Shar said. “I shall give Ba’al a weapon with which he may slay you.”
“What?” Anubis spluttered. “You can’t do that! Crazy bitch!”
Vhaeraun half-turned and his arm blurred. Anubis reeled back clutching his nose. Blood oozed out between his fingers.
“I warned you, creature,” Vhaeraun growled. “You will address the Lady Shar with respect. Nay, you will address her only from a position groveling on your belly before her, like the serpent that you are, and you will not raise your eyes above her divine feet.”
Another of the customers rose to his feet and approached the group. He moved slowly and stopped well outside of the reach of Vhaeraun’s arm. “You are giving a weapon that can kill the Ascended to a mere mortal? And a Goa’uld at that?”
“I am,” Shar said. “You object? I care not. Return to your seat, and to your pointless meditations on the whichness of the whatever, and I will take action as I see fit.” She turned away from the intruder. “Ah, our food is here,” she remarked. “Thank you, Oma Desala.”
Vhaeraun proffered a gold coin. “This would be forty-eight dollars American, I believe,” he said. “Keep the change.”
“It’s on the house,” Oma said. She set down the plates and poured out the coffee.
“You belong here no more than we do,” Shar said. “How can you stand it? Trapped among these…” she swept her hand to indicate the customers and other staff of the diner, “…smug and self-satisfied fools. Forbidden to act when you could make a real difference.”
“It was my attempts to make a difference that created… him,” Oma said, pointing a coffee-pot in the direction of Anubis.
“So you made a mistake,” Shar said. “I too have made mistakes. Some I have put right, some I still regret, but I do not let the fear of future mistakes rule my life. As a wise man once said, ‘All that is necessary for Evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’ You try, unlike those fools, and that is why you have my respect and they… do not.”
“Thank you,” Oma said.
To Daniel she sounded uneasy, wary perhaps, and he guessed that it was not Shar who was the cause of her unease; it was her fellow members of the Ascended. He was on the verge of exclaiming ‘Fascinating’ but caught himself before he let the word slip out aloud.
Oma moved away and Shar turned her attention to Daniel. “They offer you a chance of Ascension, or at least their version of it, do they not?”
“Uh, they haven’t exactly come out and said so,” Daniel said, “but I think that’s the general idea.”
“Don’t do it,” Shar advised. “It is a trap.”
“For a man like you,” Vhaeraun said, “who lives to help others, to be fettered by their absurd rules... you might as well be in a prison.” He jerked his head in Oma Desala’s direction. “Like the one in which she lives.”
“Is that why I was cast out the first time I was Ascended?” Daniel wondered aloud.
“They took away your memories of that time, then?” A smile spread across Shar’s face. “Hah! Memory is one of my Domains. To return them would be simple.”
“No!” shouted the customer who had spoken up earlier. “You must not do that!”
“Please don’t,” Oma pleaded. “It would only bring him pain.”
“I want…” Daniel began, and then stopped. Did he really want the memories back? From what he had been told by Jack, and had pieced together from other sources, he had indeed been trapped in a gilded cage. Tricked by Anubis, frustrated at every turn by the other Ascended, probably manipulated and eventually expelled… and had his attempt to persuade Jack to ascend, during his brief captivity in the hands of Ba’al, really been altruistic or an attempt to get his friend to join him in a different prison? Misery loves company… It was, however, the conviction in Oma Desala’s voice that really swayed him.
“No,” Daniel said. “I’m better off without them. Leave me as I am.”
“As you wish,” Shar said. “I trust you are not going to Ascend again.”
“It seems pretty pointless,” Daniel said. “To watch suffering and not to be able to help… I don’t think I could stand it.”
“I would invite you to join my staff,” Shar said, “for I could use a scholar such as yourself, and your desire to aid those in despair would not be an issue. Quite the opposite. It is plain, though, that your heart belongs with your comrades at Stargate Command.”
“That’s right,” Daniel replied, and then decided that he was being a little too casual in his conversation considering that he was speaking to a genuine goddess. An honorific would probably be appropriate. “Uh, my Lady.”
“Your mortal body, however, lies bleeding to death in a disintegrating skyship,” Shar went on. “I shall heal you and send you home.”
“I have a few questions first,” Daniel said, “if that’s okay, my Lady.”
“Not too many,” Shar said. “I am the goddess of unrevealed secrets, after all.”
“Uh, thanks,” Daniel said. He paused and took a sip of his coffee while considering what to ask first.
“What the Hell!” A cry from Jim aka Anubis, who had been sitting at the counter applying napkins to his smashed nose, distracted Daniel. “Ba’al has turned on me. His ships have opened fire on mine.” He directed a venomous glare at Shar. “This is your fault.” Suddenly there was a long dagger in Vhaeraun’s hand, poised for a throw, and Anubis gulped. “Your Majesty,” he added hastily.
Vhaeraun lowered the dagger slightly but kept his gaze fixed on the fat man.
“Well, yes, of course it is,” Shar said. “I dispatched Egeria to deliver the weapon to Ba’al upon the instant of making the decision. Now she is merrily dismembering your Kull Warriors.” She grinned widely. “The coincidence of names must be rather confusing for the Jaffa. Perhaps they will thank the Tok’ra for their deliverance.”
“You–” Anubis started to spit out what would undoubtedly have been an insult but chopped himself off short. He got down from his stool and made for the diner’s door. Just before he reached it he turned back to Shar. “This isn’t over,” he growled.
“No,” Shar agreed, “it isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” She pointed a finger at Anubis. “That, that, dude looks like a lady” she sang and his clothing transformed.
Instantaneously Jim was wearing a dress, a wig of blonde ringlets, and fishnet stockings. His cheeks were powdered and spotted with circles of rouge and his lips were caked with red lipstick. He snarled in fury and rushed out of the door.
“How… how do you do that?” Daniel asked.
“That shall remain an unrevealed secret,” Shar replied. “I think we have time for another coffee, now. Would you like to see our wedding pictures?”
Teal’c, Cierre, and Bra’tac came through the Gate into the SGC. Jack met them at the foot of the ramp. “Good to see you,” he said. “We were… worried for a while there. I wasn’t far off setting the self-destruct.”
“Indeed the situation appeared grave, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, “but things are now under control.”
“From victory to the briefing room, General?” Cierre suggested.
“Yeah, probably better than standing around here,” Jack agreed. “Okay, if the next thing through the Gate isn’t going to be the blast from the Dakara super-weapon, I can wait for a full briefing. I’ll collect Carter and meet you there.”
“It was quite remarkable,” Bra’tac related, once all were seated around the briefing table. “Our position seemed hopeless. The rebel fleet in orbit was being defeated. Our ground forces were outmatched by the Kull Warriors. Cierre of Luruar led a group that achieved some successes but then became surrounded and trapped.”
“To fall back would have been tactically correct,” Cierre said, “but it would have left the way to the weapon open. I could not allow that.”
Jack nodded. It was what he would have expected from the drow girl. She had, in her career with the SGC, repeatedly displayed the same dogged tenacity that had impressed him on Toril. And since M’zel’s death she’d been even more careless of her own life…
“Then, when all seemed lost,” Bra’tac went on, “a large contingent of the enemy fleet suddenly shifted targets and began to fire upon the other ships on the same side. They communicated with our fleet and declared that Ba’al had no quarrel with the Free Jaffa and had been forced by Anubis to join the attack. He proposed a temporary alliance.”
Jack opened his eyes very wide. “Ba’al said that? What game was he playing?”
“When his fleet first attacked Dakara, at the command of Anubis, he advanced as slowly as he could,” Bra’tac pointed out. “He was no willing ally of that creature.”
“And he did help us destroy the Replicators, sir,” Sam added.
“I am not foolish enough to believe that Ba’al can be trusted in the long term,” Bra’tac said, “but in this battle, at least, he kept his word. He even carried out rescue operations to save the crew of a stricken rebel ship powerless in a decaying orbit.”
“No doubt Ba’al recognizes that the power of the united Free Jaffa is too great for him to overcome, with his own forces depleted,” Teal’c said. “His reign is doomed, now, but he must hope that he can preserve at least part of his realm intact. Staving off open war with the Jaffa for as long as possible is sound strategy.”
“Ba’al’s a snake,” Jack said, “but I’ll concede that he’s pretty smart for a snake. Okay, so he switched sides. I guess that made the difference in the fight?”
“That was the case in the space battle,” Bra’tac confirmed, “but on Dakara there was one further development. A most remarkable being appeared from out of nowhere. A woman with wings. Taller than any Jaffa and stronger than a Goa’uld. She wielded two swords that could cut through a Kull Warrior’s armor more easily even than Cierre of Luruar’s flaming sword. She turned the tide of the battle on the ground.”
Jack’s eyebrows soared. “Egeria? On Dakara?”
“Indeed,” Teal’c and Cierre confirmed, in chorus.
“How come?” Jack stared at Cierre. “I thought you couldn’t do that thing Sharwyn could do.”
“I can’t,” Cierre said. “It was nothing to do with me, General. I can summon only animals native to climes of snow and ice, such as snow leopards and winter wolves, and I am no worshipper of Shar. Egeria would not have come at my call.”
“Then…” Jack began. He looked at Carter. She looked at him. “You think?” Jack asked.
“It has to be,” Sam replied. “I can’t imagine how… but it couldn’t have been anyone else.”
“Of what do you speak?” Bra’tac asked.
“They believe that Daniel Jackson is responsible,” Teal’c said.
“Me? Uh, not really.”
The muffled voice was unmistakable but also impossible. Jack saw the shocked expression on Sam’s face and guessed that his own expression would be a mirror image. “Anyone else hear that?”
“Daniel!” Cierre exclaimed. She jumped to her feet. “He is in your office, General.”
Jack stood up and turned around. Before he could reach the office door it opened and Daniel walked out. The last time Jack had seen him, before he’d been abducted by the Replicators, Daniel had been dressed entirely in black. Now he wore a green shirt with rolled-up sleeves and grey chinos.
“Hey, Daniel,” Jack greeted his friend. “How’ve you been? Dead? Ascended? You didn’t call, you didn’t write…”
“Welcome back, Daniel Jackson,” said Teal’c.
Sam uttered a soft, but obviously heartfelt, “Daniel!” that was barely more than a breath of sound.
It was almost drowned out by Cierre’s uncharacteristically exuberant “Well met, Daniel!”
“It is good to see you once more, Daniel Jackson,” Master Bra’tac said. “I feared that you were dead.”
“Uh, thanks,” Daniel said. “I was only mostly dead. I think. Then, after that, I was sort of… mostly Ascended.”
“No memory loss? And didn’t they send you back naked last time, Daniel?” Jack raised his eyebrows. “I guess they provided a stop-off at a clothing store on the way.”
“This was… different,” Daniel said. “Oma Desala snatched me up, after I was stabbed by RepliCarter, but she didn’t send me back here. That was Shar.”
“Shar? How come?” Jack wasn’t as startled as he might have been, if he hadn’t been told about Egeria appearing on Dakara, but it was still something of a surprise. The surprise grew as Daniel related his experiences in the Astral Diner.
“So V…” Jack balked at trying the pronunciation and found an alternative, “…the Drow god smacked Anubis around and then Shar made him look like a fool.” A grin came to his face. “Sweet.”
“Who are those beings?” Bra’tac asked.
Jack left it to Daniel and Cierre to explain.
“Then they are not false gods like the Goa’uld?” Bra’tac asked, after listening for a minute.
“They are not,” Teal’c confirmed.
For a moment Jack contemplated the implications of some Jaffa converting to the worship of the gods of Toril. It had to be a step up from thinking of the Goa’uld as gods, certainly, and might act as a stabilizing influence on the Jaffa. But if he heard of any Jaffa taking up the worship of Loviatar he’d personally go and shoot them in the face.
“Daniel, you said Shar sent Ba’al a weapon that could kill Anubis, right?” Jack turned to Bra’tac and Teal’c. “You didn’t finish telling me about the battle before Daniel turned up. Please tell me Anubis is dead.”
“Alas,” Bra’tac began, and Jack felt his heart sink, “we were not able to confirm his death. Two enemy ships, one ha’tak and one tel’tak, fled the battle immediately following Ba’al’s defection. I suspect that Anubis was aboard one of those ships.”
“Aw, crap!” Jack gritted his teeth. “I was hoping we’d seen the last of him.”
“No such luck,” Sam said, “but at least he’s been severely weakened. He doesn’t have a Goa’uld queen now, and he’s lost the facility on Tartarus, so he can’t make any more Kull Warriors. He can’t do too much damage with only two ships.”
Jack groaned. “I hope you haven’t jinxed us, Carter,” he said.
“I’m not saying he isn’t still a threat, sir,” Sam said, “but we should be able to cope, as long as we watch out for him making another attempt to seize the Dakara super-weapon.”
“It will not be possible for him to gain control of the weapon,” Bra’tac said. “Many Jaffa lost their lives at Dakara. After that we were in agreement. It must be destroyed.”
“Good,” said Jack. “It came in handy against the Replicators but, with them gone, something that could wipe out everyone in the galaxy is just too damn dangerous to keep around.”
“Indeed, O’Neill of Minnesota,” Bra’tac said, “that was our conclusion.”
“Well, with that out of the way, Carter’s probably right about Anubis not being too much for us to handle,” Jack said.
“And he has a couple of really bad enemies now,” Daniel added.
“Yeah,” said Jack, and grinned. “I wish I could have seen…” he concentrated, “…Vhaeraun giving Anubis that poke in the snoot.”
“It was almost worth getting stabbed for,” Daniel said, “but not quite.”
“Will not Anubis seek to gain revenge?” Bra’tac asked.
“Probably,” Daniel said, “but I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s only half-Ascended. Shar and Vhaeraun are the real deal. I can’t see what he could do to harm them.”
“Unauthorized Gate activation!”
Major-General Landry made his way to the Gateroom as the alarm sounded.
“Receiving IDC, sir,” a technician reported. “It’s…” he paused. “Sharwyn? I don’t recognize the name.”
“Toril, sir,” Walter Harriman put in. “She was with SG-1 in Neverwinter. They said they’d given her an IDC.”
“Open the iris,” Landry ordered. “Have SG-1 called to the Gateroom.” He didn’t dismiss the guard detail; they stayed in position with their weapons trained on the Gate.
The event horizon parted and a figure stepped through. A beautiful woman, dressed in a black shirt and pants, with long red hair held back by a golden band. In one hand she held a staff, tipped with sword blades at each end, and the other held the neck of a guitar. Landry nodded to himself. She certainly fit the descriptions of Sharwyn that he’d read in the old SG-1 mission reports.
The woman glanced around her surroundings and smiled. “I’m on another planet with you,” she sang, and then focused her gaze on the guards. “Lower your guns, I am not here to do you harm,” she said. “I am Lady Sharwyn Laummyr and I wish to see Colonel Jack O’Neill, or his leader General Hammond.”
The men didn’t relax. Hathor had been a beautiful redhead too. Landry stepped forward.
“Welcome to Earth,” he greeted her. “I’m afraid General O’Neill and General Hammond are no longer here. I’m Major General Landry and I’m in charge of the SGC now.”
“Jack’s been promoted? That’s great,” Sharwyn said, with a beaming smile on her face. “Well, not great from my point of view, of course, but great for him. Please send him my congratulations.”
“I will,” Landry agreed. Before he could say anything more the members of SG-1 arrived in the Gate room.
“Sharwyn!” Cierre exclaimed, almost in a squeal. Her normally impassive face lit up with a smile.
“Stand down,” Landry ordered the guards. They lowered their guns and, now assured that the new arrival was a friend, trained frankly appreciative gazes at her instead.
“Well met, Cierre,” Sharwyn said. “Well met, Daniel Jackson. Teal’c! You have hair. So, then, your people are free?”
“They are,” Teal’c confirmed. “It is good to see you, Sharwyn of Neverwinter.”
“Well met, Samantha Carter,” Sharwyn continued. She directed her attention toward a dark-haired woman, unfamiliar to her, who occupied the position beside Daniel. “And who is this who stands with you in Jack’s place?”
“Actually I’ve taken General O’Neill’s place,” Sam told her. “I’m a Lieutenant-Colonel now and I’m in command of SG-1.”
“Then you too have my congratulations, Samantha,” Sharwyn said.
“This is Vala Mal Doran,” Sam introduced the final member of the team. “She’s not really an official member of SG-1. She’s sort of… attached herself to us.”
“Literally, for a while,” Daniel muttered.
Vala gazed at Sharwyn. The set of her brows indicated suspicion and slight hostility. “I hope you’re not here after my Daniel,” she said.
“I am not your Daniel,” Daniel protested. “And Sharwyn’s just a friend.”
“Oh. In that case, hello,” Vala said.
“She’s quite a fighter,” Sam said to Sharwyn, “and she’s sneaky. She’s… the thief in our party. Like our version of Tomi.”
“Ah.” Sharwyn smiled. “Of course.” Her smile disappeared. “I could wish that this meeting had come in better circumstances.”
“Trouble?” Sam asked.
“Indeed so,” Sharwyn said. “I am here to ask for help.”
“I’ll be happy to assist, if it’s in our power,” General Landry said. “The medicines from your planet have saved a lot of lives. I’ll need to know more specifics, of course, and this isn’t the best place for a discussion. Please come with us to the briefing room.”
“Of course, General,” Sharwyn said. She shrank her staff down to flashlight size, pocketed it, and stepped from the ramp.
Cierre moved to position herself at Sharwyn’s side. “It is so good to see you again, trusted friend,” she said, as they followed the General up the stairs to the briefing room. “I have much to tell you.”
“And I have much to tell you, Cierre,” Sharwyn replied. A hint of a smile returned to her lips. “I see that you are bedecked with weapons as always. If I did not know of your strength I would be amazed that you can even stand up.”
Cierre still wore two swords at her back and her hand-axe slung at one hip. At the other hip rode a pistol; not a standard issue M9, but an FN Five-seveN firing the same armor-piercing ammunition as the P-90 that hung from a sling at her shoulder. “One can never have too many weapons,” she said. “We were due to go on a mission soon. I like to be ready well in advance.”
“I know,” Sharwyn said. “I remember from when we adventured together.”
They reached the room and General Landry invited Sharwyn to take a seat. “So, young lady,” he said, “how can we help you?”
“The Goa’uld have discovered Toril,” Sharwyn told him.
“Uh-oh,” Daniel said. “That doesn’t sound good. And now I’m channeling Jack.”
“They are invading by stealth,” Sharwyn went on. “Their leader uses the name Zehir but my divine mistress tells me you know him as Anubis. He is a demi-god.”
“Uh-oh,” Daniel said again. “I thought we’d seen the last of him. But she’s going to kill him, right? She said she would.”
Sharwyn shook her head. “She is barred from so doing,” she said. “He uses only the powers of a mortal of his kind. For her to attack him directly, while he sticks to that rule, would provoke conflict with the gods of other worlds and would thus incur the wrath of Lord Ao. She cannot risk that, not at this time, when so much is at stake.”
“So much at stake?” Daniel’s brow furrowed deeply. “More than letting your world be overrun by the Goa’uld?”
“Yes,” Sharwyn said. “I can say no more at this time.”
“I take it that the help you want is military?” said Landry.
“Indeed,” Sharwyn answered. “It can be summed up by something I said to SG-1 shortly after I met them for the first time.” She directed her gaze at Sam. “Load up on guns and bring your friends.”