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A Star to Steer By

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The enemy Jaffa were persistent, if not very efficient. Jack heard faint voices two more times, and once the General’s group had to hunker down behind a fallen tree and some tall bushes to avoid a search party, but the drenching rain was dampening the enemy’s effectiveness along with everything else.  A good thing, too – there must have been at least a dozen enemy Jaffa in the search party.  The General’s group was larger, but it wasn’t about being able to take them all down – if this group went missing it would tell the rest of the forces where to concentrate their search.

Jack might have been grateful for the rain, except it never stopped for more than an hour or two at a time. It wasn’t freezing, but it was cold enough to suck the heat right out of him, leaving him half-numb as well as exhausted and aching.  He couldn't make out helmet designs well enough to figure out what bright bulb observed that it must be a rainy season, though he plotted a bit of metaphorical revenge anyways.  It kept him warm, or at least able to pretend, and they kept marching on. 

By the end of their first 24 hours, Jack had reluctantly decided that whatever the hell these guys were, they weren't the usual Jaffa.  There was none of the subservience, the unthinking obedience that he was used to. He'd even tried pointing at some stripe of jackalope-squirrel-thing, which was several sizes too large for any kind of tree rat, and yelling "Kree!" He got stared at, then someone decided to look where he was pointing. There were some baffled mutters, but no shooting.

Even Teal'c still twitched, even if it was just around the eyes, when he heard that. The kicker was that there seemed to be a collective shrug, and he had to put up with the not-squirrel things being called "kree" after that.

The sna– The General didn't seem to expect any impossibilities, or special treatment. They all shared the same godawful granola bar things that tasted way too much like Daniel's favorite incense, and the General even slogged through mud with the same resigned look of any soldier Jack had seen on a forced march.

The host — sometimes when Jack caught a glimpse of his face, the eyes were brown, not blue — never claimed a helmet, and he and Spark swapped off who carried "17's face."

They all foraged as they marched, snagging twigs with berries that looked potentially edible.  Sleep was caught in snatches, cat naps when the drizzle let up long enough to pretend they could be drier and less mud coated.

Early on what was probably the third day, someone with the oh-so-fortunate name of 'Boil' even tagged something that wasn't quite a lizard, wasn't quite a deer, and was altogether too fucking large. Still, meat was meat, and the Jaffa seemed to do an ordinary amount of bitching about carrying notadeer parts.

 They didn’t have to complain long – hardly ten minutes later, as Jack trudged after the guy ahead of him, the light disappeared almost completely.  It took Jack’s exhausted mind a moment to realize they’d walked into a cave.  They’d found a decent tunnel system going into some of the rocky hillside they'd been following for a while. Jack trudged a few steps further in, following the trickle of water that collected into not a tiny stream, which was probably the reason the tunnel existed in the first place.

Kenobi, looking as bedraggled and un-goa'uld as possible, stood in the center of a semi-circle that formed almost naturally as the last few guys came in from the rain. "It's not the most comfortable spot in the world, but it's uninhabited, shouldn't flood, and the water's only coming in from the one direction. Someone set up a latrine area, keep the water clear for drinking, someone see to the meat, and everyone else, get some sleep. Grab ration bars from Brakes' supply if you need food. I've got the watch."

There was a quiet, relieved murmur, and Waxer stood up to pick the short straws for actual work. Someone plastered a few strips of some luminescent green glowy shit on low points in the cave, either as a warning sign of a low bridge, or for actual light. Several guys dumped some soaking wood down in a clearer area, while some kind of flares were unloaded from the hard backpacks a few soldiers wore. The flares didn't provide much light, but whatever the hell it was, it was warm, and Jack was glad enough to huddle close to it and the drying wood that would presumably replace it once that shit was dry. Nobody else seemed to be freezing, so either those black bodysuits were well insulated, or these guys came from some frozen wasteland of a planet.

Within half an hour, the only one vertical was Kenobi, seated on a rock near the entrance in a lotus position, eyes closed and face serene. If the snake’s own life hadn’t depended on it, Jack would have assumed the General was sleeping.  Jack was staring at that as he fell asleep, wondering yet again what the hell was with these guys.

Jack came awake hard, eyes snapping open even as his brain caught up with a fabulous collection of annoyed curses in more languages than he could keep track of. He discretely checked the watch near his face, and he blinked.

A good six hours. The only reason he was awake was because the soft murmur of voices was in the wrong languages. His hindbrain recognized fellow soldiers moving about, taking care of business, and generally trying to collect themselves after the really, really sucky part of an op.

Please don't be too evil. He sighed and sat up, stretching the kinks out of muscles that still thought they should be marching. There were still some fellas knocked out, which was reassuring. The rest, though, had efficiently made themselves at home. A bunch had stripped off armor, and had been hard at work clearing away mud, gun damage, and random crap that had collected on the buff white material. Several others were standing guard near the cave entrance, facing outwards and looking like they were actually pulling real sentry duty, not just being pretty bookends.

No matter what the state of anyone's armor, every last weapon he could see had already been meticulously cleaned.

No, really, please don't be evil. That would suck.

One of the guys walking by was down to the bodysuit, a high-necked footie-pajama setup that should've looked ridiculous, but the low mohawk and sideburns somehow managed to counterbalance it. He was carrying several of their 'ration bars,' and when he saw Jack he hesitated, shrugged a little, and held one out to him. "Here," the fella said quietly. "We're waiting on the meat for when everyone's reasonably conscious. If they're sleeping still, then they need the rest."

"Thanks." Jack took it with a polite tilt of the head, then sighed as he unwrapped the covering. "Don't suppose I could get one with less sandlewood?" At the blank look, he shook his head. "Never mind. Thanks." He tried to keep the salute as unmocking as possible, then started gnawing on the damn thing.

It gave him a good opportunity to scope out the goa'uld. The General had claimed what might laughably be called an alcove, and was seated with someone with a mostly shaved head who was holding some kinda oversized graphing calculator thing. There were three piles of foliage next to the goa'uld. Jack leaned a little to the side to get a better view, squinting in confusion.  A glimpse of red made him realize the foliage was the berries and other scavenged foodstuff.  He was a little surprised to find he was disappointed. He'd thought they'd be doing a more egalitarian approach to the foraged food, and finding the goa'uld was —

He blinked. The goa'uld was turning green, and spitting out some dull brown berries while vigorously shaking his head. Kinda-Shaved-Head made a face, and nudged a branch from one of the smaller piles towards the largest.

"The hell?" he muttered, taking an absentminded bite as he tried to figure out what was going on.

"Checking for poisons," a soft voice — the same damn soft voice, if he was going to be honest, which was still damn creepy — declared behind him.

Jack made the turn and raised brow look casual, not like he wanted to reach for the zat he hadn't been allowed to keep. "What?"

The guy behind him was mostly in armor, yellow trimmed. The helmet next to him had some kind of stylized Y shape over the left eye-slit, and the right side had what looked like a kill count of hashmarks over and around a light gray…design. It was either some kind of exotic dagger, or a two bladed crab spaceship thing. The guy had dark hair, just long enough to be tugged back into a tight, low pony tail, and a surprisingly patient expression. "A Jedi's not going to get poisoned the way we would. If a taste doesn't make him sick, he can also tell if there's likely to be long term effects."

"Jedi," Jack repeated, trying to wrap his head around the new vocabulary, since that was easier than trying to get his brain around the notion of a goa'uld playing taste-tester for his Jaffa.

"Yeah. General Kenobi."

"Wait, the goa'uld?"

The soldier blinked. "What's that when it's at home?"

"The — the brain snake." Jack rubbed the back of his neck, not sure how to communicate "evil mind controlling psychopath parasite with a god complex."

The man gaped at him like Jack had just insulted his sister, then he scrubbed a hand over his face. "Well that's a new one. I'm — ok, look, it's pretty clear you're not a fan, but war's over, I don't care if you're a Sep, a conscientious objector, or a gods damned pirate, so long as you keep in mind we're all in this mess together. How about we stick to "Jedi"? Or gould, if you insist?"

"Three syllables. Goa'uld, with an A in the middle. Sure. You're telling me he's making sure shit is edible?"

The man grinned. "You really don't have much experience with Jedi, do you."

Oh, killed a few. Ra, if that name means anything to you. Keep fighting them, kicked some serious snaky ass, nah, I'm clueless. Jack bit back what was probably not the smartest comment to make to a Jaffa and shrugged. "Apparently not. He do this sort of thing often?"

The man rolled his eyes. "More often than we really like. Barrel, by the way." He held out a hand, which Jack shook with more reluctance than he wanted to show. Fella looked a little surprised, then returned the gesture once before sliding his hand forward into a wrist clasp.


Barrel blinked and tilted his head. "Really? Just Jack?" he asked, sounding way too interested.

Not since I was ten, thanks. "No, but — Look, I already have one crazy Jaffa calling me "Jack O'Neil" all the time, so I try to keep it simple."

"Ah." Weirdly, the man didn't look disappointed. Instead he just nodded. "Ok, so what’s a Jaffa?"

"Hang on, why do you care what my name is? Do you want rank and serial number too?" Huh. If he was this defensive and cranky, he should've tried for more sleep. Not likely to happen, but it might've been nice.

Damned if Barrel didn't look intrigued again. "Sure. What militia?"

"…Congratulations, you've officially made this the weirdest conversation I've had all week, and with friends like mine, that's saying something." Jack gave him a casual half salute. "Colonel Jack O'Neil, United States Air Force, Earth. Did that actually tell you anything?"

Fella looked way too amused. "If you're using the term right, you outrank me."

Jack was still trying to process that when he saw Barrel's eyes flick up over his shoulder. Jack was already turning to find Mostly-Shaved-Head-Guy with the graphing calculator thing approaching them, eyes on him. Here we go. "Excuse me," the man declared, clearly not caring too much if he interrupted. "General would like to talk to you."

Jack grinned at Barrel, who didn't seem to think this was a big deal. "Wish me luck."

"K'oyacyi," the man declared, giving him a little nod.

"Well." Jack gave Mostly-Shaved-Head-Guy a look. "That was nice. I think."

The General was leaning back against the wall of his "alcove," looking greener than before and like a guy suffering his first major hangover. Jack decided protocol could take a leap, and he sat down on the outcrop that Mostly-Shaved-Head-Guy had been using as a seat. "Howdy."

The goa'uld didn't move or open his eyes. The voice was the more cultured, slightly higher pitched one, though. "How the blazes did you fake ignorance of Basic that well?"

"Basic what?"

The goa'uld cracked open an eye. "The language. That we're speaking right now. Galactic Basic."

He'd had enough time to work through weird brain shit that he had a pretty good idea where he'd picked up a different language, but… "You mean this isn't Ancient?"

The other eye opened, and Jack earned himself a look. "It's fairly old, yes, but I've a sneaking suspicion you mean something else."

Jack snorted. "Yeah. The language. That we're speaking right now. Ancient."

The goa'uld sighed and ran his hands over his face. "Fantastic. You don't even call it — Look, where are we, exactly?"

"Hell if I remember the name of it, and it's not like we ever found any locals. I dunno what they'd call the planet."

The General actually rolled his eyes at him. "No, not the name – I doubt that would do us much good anyway. I meant, where in the galaxy? I can tell from the stars we're not anywhere near the Core, but are we Mid-Rim? Outer-Rim?"

Jack couldn't keep his eyebrows from climbing pretty far up. Not only did the terms make no sense, he was pretty sure everyone there thought this was as common as "Jedi." "You guys get around, huh?"

The goa'uld gave him a flat look, then he sighed. "…You have no idea where we are, do you."

"Not Kansas, that's for sure. Look, we do 'gate travel. I can write down the ‘gate coordinates of where we are, if that helps." It wasn't like it could compromise things any further.

"Gate. The circle? You regularly travel by wormhole?"

Jack had no idea what the hell to think about a goa'uld sounding both skeptical and impressed by 'gate travel. He decided to toss in another breadcrumb and see what happened. "Hey, we're Tau'ri. Using a Stargate is a thing we do. Why, how do you get around?"

"Star cruiser, usually." Kenobi blinked and shook his head. "I thought hyperspace was considered the only reliable means —" He shook his head again, as if to clear the weirdness out. "Well. We'll have to talk more about that at some point. So you never did say how you were faking ignorance."

What. The hell. There hadn't been the faintest reaction to 'tau'ri.' That…made no sense. "I wasn't faking," he protested automatically, trying to figure out if he'd run across the universe's most ignorant goa'uld, or what. "I just…didn't remember it yet."

He couldn't help but feel that the look he got saw a lot more than he liked. The General finally grinned a little. "There's a very strange story behind that, isn't there."

"Oh, I wouldn't say strange. Kinda odd, maybe."

Damned if the goa'uld didn't laugh, and it wasn't even the usual creepy laugh that probably involved blood and/or torture. It sounded…human.

"We have got to trade stories sometime, then."

Fuck. Goa'uld didn't do senses of humor. Jack couldn't stop himself from staring. The host tilted his head and raised a brow. "What, do I have something in my teeth? I thought I got rid of all the foliage."

The stare graduated to boggling. "Yeah, a sense of humor."

The General snorted, and dry as Jack could be, he shook his head. "Force forfend. Quick, how do I get rid of that?"

Jack held up a hand. "…'scuse me, I need to reboot my brain."

A look of faint curiosity flashed across the man's face, then he grinned and pointed. "Latrine's over there. That should give you some privacy."

"Stop that!"

Fuckall if the grin didn't widen into a smile. "What?"

"Cracking jokes! That's just unnatural!"

This time, the eyeroll was exasperated. "Oh please. Don't tell me you're one of those people that think Jedi are perpetually serious types that wouldn't know a joke if it tripped them?" He paused, looking a little contemplative, then he shrugged. "Admittedly some of us aren't very good at making jokes, but that's what alcohol’s for."

Jack could not stop staring. Fuck, he hated that he wanted to like this snake. The weird Jaffa, well, that was no surprise, but a goa’uld? He pointed at the host. “You’re now the most fucked up conversation I’ve had.”

“Oh what is your problem?” One of the soldiers passing by had stopped, turning to glare at Jack. He was one of the boys in blue, helmetless and head shaved with some strange glyphs tattooed on his head.

Damn if the goa’uld didn’t sigh and hold up a hand. “It’s all right, Charger –”

“With all respect, Sir, it's not.” The man crossed his arms and glared challengingly at the snake. “We're stuck here because of him, and he's acting like you're some evil demon out of a youngling’s tale? There’s nothing right about that.” Several of the nearest soldiers had turned to listen in, their body language just as defensive, protective as the outspoken man’s.

Yet the snake just shrugged, expression stoic. “It happens, Charger. There are millions of beings who've never met a Jedi, and not all the stories about us are complimentary.” He grinned, expression turning wry. “We do tend to be a bit scary, sometimes.”

“A ‘bit scary’?” Jack knew it would be smarter to shut up and listen, but he could not let some goa’uld sit there and carp on, holier than anything. His big fat mouth earned him a raised brow and a challenging look, which ticked him off but was better than the blow he still more than half expected. “Ya-huh, sure, because enslaving entire planets is only ‘a bit scary.’ Whatcha do for encores?”

“What the – What are you talking about?” Charger sputtered, taking an aggressive step forward. More of the soldiers were shamelessly listening in, expressions ranging from incredulous to stoically blank.

“Okay, I don’t care what you call yourselves, but you are all the weirdest Jaffa I’ve ever run across.”

Charger’s eyes narrowed, and his hands clenched into fists. “You got a problem with clones or something? The hells does ‘Jaffa’ mean?”

“Minions!” Jack half roared, arms flailing a little. “You’re soldiers, competent soldiers, and you take orders from that fucker!” He jabbed a finger at Kenobi, who blinked and pulled back. If his eyes hadn’t been blue, Jack would’ve sworn the snake had retreated to leave his host to deal with shit. “How the hell did you miss the ‘planetary domination, crush rebellions beneath gold-plated boot-heels’ memo?”

There was a very awkward silence, broken by someone in yellow – Waxer? – muttering, “...I don’t even know where to start with that one.”

“There...may be a grain of truth,” Kenobi finally ventured. “There usually is, after all, but stories also tend to grow in the telling. Perhaps a diplomatic incident gone bad, a few generations ago...?”

A few –’ What the hell did I do to get the universe’s most ignorant goa’uld ever dumped in my lap? “...Who do you think was trying to kill us on that ship?”

The snake blinked and leaned forward, going from politely uncomfortable to hawk sharp in an instant. “...Are you trying to tell me...That was a Jedi’s – No. Not possible.”

Very possible,” Jack declared flatly, crossing his arms and trying to get his cool back.

Kenobi shook his head, looking baffled of all things. “No. There are some Jedi who went missing in action during the war, but I do not believe any of them could have fallen so far, so quickly.”

He snorted. “I know you guys look at time differently, but thousands of years ain’t quick to the rest of the universe.”

The General kept staring blankly, then he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Force, we are talking past each other.” He looked up and held Jack’s eyes. “Look. You are clearly a soldier. I understand there are certain things you won’t discuss, for security reasons. But please, if it’s not sensitive information, could you tell me everything you know about these Jedi you’ve run into?”

...A goa’uld just said ‘please’ to me, and sounded sincere. Seriously, what reality am I in right now? Some of it was the novelty, some of it was that doing a little reputation-shining for the Tau’ri could never hurt, and yes, some of it was that stupid little please. Jack started talking. He began with Ra, ancient Egypt and Abydos. He tried to keep calm about Sha’re, and Skarra, and Teal’c. He didn’t know what the hell to do as jaws dropped fast and hard, then clenched tight in rage he could almost understand. Some of the soldiers – clones? Really? – looked ready to charge right back and take the fight back through the ‘gate, and he could hear the word “abomination” tossed around in furious little mutters.

It both was, and very much was not reassuring. On the one hand, that was again not the usual Jaffa thing. On the other, this kind of loyalty was either earned under hard fire, or these Jaffa were so seriously brainwashed that the odds of clearing any of their minds up were slim to none. This wasn’t Teal’c’s fear for his family held hostage, suffering under generations of slavery. This was ‘I like my boss and someone is fucking with him so now they need to be stopped and hard.’ There would be no prying these guys away from their snaky overlords by dangling freedom and rebellion in front of them.

Most telling – and terrifying – of all, was Kenobi’s reaction. The goa’uld was the first to gape, the one looking the most disturbed and offended. He looked so damn human; horrified and outraged at atrocities that were all in a day’s routine for most goa’uld. He was finally sitting back, shaking his head in disgusted bewilderment with a hint of rage in those blue eyes.

“Let me get this straight. These ‘goa’uld’ have been...passing themselves off as gods? For thousands of years?”


The man looked away, shaking his head. “The Council’s going to have voorpaks.”

“Fuck voorpaks,” Waxer muttered. “It’s gonna be rancors.”

That got a faint snort of amusement from the snake, and a look. “I was going for understatement.”

“So was I!”

Kenobi gave another little snort, then shook his head and sobered with brutal swiftness. “Any communication officers here?”

A guy in blue raised his hand. “Ringo, Sir.”

Kenobi nodded to him. “Throw everything we’ve got into trying to get ahold of Anakin, the fleet, anyone Republic affiliated, and as quickly as possible. I don’t care if we have to send up smoke signals; the Council has got to get this information.” There was a quiet rumble of “Sir”s, then the General turned back to Jack. “Thank you for the discussion. We obviously have a lot to talk about, but right now, I need to confer with my men.”

It almost bothered Jack that it was easy to nod, give a casual salute, and go back to the warmer spot near the flare.

It really bothered him that it hadn’t bugged him a hell of a lot more.