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A Star to Steer By

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Oh-dark-oh-screw-it-hundred never really changed, no matter the planet or the unit. There was the quiet murmur of soldiers prepping themselves, the mechanical sounds of armor and weapons being checked over and cleaned one last time. Roasting kindafish and campfire smoke managed to beat back the background tang of mold and damp, while the light from the two small fires and the glowstrips gave things a surreal air that was almost nice.

The fires were totally inadequate to heat the cave, but Jack’s loaner footie PJs worked well enough that he’d already decided that he’d be bugging whoever he had to in order to make those the first item of cultural exchange. They might look stupid, and they’d probably look even stupider in camo, but damn if they weren’t effective.

Thanks to them – and Kix was not getting them back, dammit, uncomfortable fit or not – he wasn’t cold, and the dried-out layer of foliage he’d slept into submission was at least better than the mossy rocks from those first two nights.

So Jack was sorta comfortable and warm when he woke up, which he enjoyed for a luxurious moment. When he sat up and stretched out the inevitable kinks, Ion passed him some kindafish. “Eat up; it’s not gonna keep and nothing else is guaranteed until we’re on the other side of your gate.”

And it’s not like that’s guaranteed either. Jack hoisted the kinda food at him and nodded. “My compliments to the chef, then.”

Ion snickered and shook his head. “Compliment him yourself.” He sat down near Jack and grinned. “You just don’t stop, do you?”

“Sass and charm, that’s me.”

Thunder growled soft and low outside, the patter of rain shushing over the white noise of conversation among the clones as more of them prepped for a march. Jack could see at the back of the alcove, Rex was holding Kenobi while Kix scowled down at both of them. Jack wondered what the hell was going on. He also boggled at the fact that there was a goa'ould right there out in the open, and here he sat, not freaking out or yelling like he should be. When Ion saw him staring, he raised a brow, and Jack just nodded towards the ire of Medical being wrought upon a Jedi.

The clone grinned at him. “Kix is just making sure the General’s still okay. Caught him before he could retreat into Rex again.”

Jack shook his head, biting back the genuine, if crazy, impulse to joke about his complete lack of surprise at a commanding officer trying to weasel out of a medical checkup. He...didn’t exactly want for this to be normal, but he didn’t not want it either, and that still messed with him.

Barrel and Spark wandered over, geared up and helmets tucked under the arm. It was a quiet little group sitting around their fire until Barrel made a face. “I hate the swamp worlds.” There was a faint murmur of agreement, and he glanced over at Jack. “Where are we headed?”

Jack set the last inedible scraps of kindafish aside. “There’s a few options. I want the most hospitable place for us that may try to blow up incoming goa’uld, but I don’t want to piss off any locals.”

Spark gave him a look. “Like the tok’ra you mentioned?”

“Ehh, not so much.” Jack shook his head, trying not to grimace too much. “They're kinda flaky, when it comes to backup. Plus they’re too busy running underground resistance cells. Heckuva time finding where the friendly ones are today, and they don’t trust easy.”

“Sounds like fun.” Ion sighed. “They shapeshifters or something?”

Jack couldn’t quite restrain a shudder. He really hoped that wasn’t a thing these guys ran into a lot. “Nah. Like Kenobi, but way more annoying and less ethical. I think.” He felt kind of bad about comparing the Jedi to the tok’ra asshats. Or maybe he just wasn't looking forward to running into them again.

“Goa’uld?” Spark growled, snapping Jack’s attention back to the men he was sitting with.

They were all staring at him intently, and they’d gone from amiable war buddies to focused soldiers. “...Kinda? They were, but they tried to stop being evil.”

“Details, please,” Barrel demanded, using the tone of “please” that reminded Jack the man was an officer.

Within three minutes, Jack was being dragged over to Kix, Rex, and a somehow disgruntled-looking brain-snake. Soon as Kenobi noticed them, he was slithering over to Rex.

Man, I wish they’d stop being so blatant about that. It was still Rex who gave them the look to spill the beans.

“Sith, sir. They’ve also run into quasi-reformed Sith.”

“Whoa whoa whoa, if we’re doing information exchange, what the hell’s Sith?”

Rex’s eyes flashed over to blue. Obi-Wan hesitated, sighed. "I believe you would call them goa’uld. We call them evil.”

“Wait, but you’re –” He held up a hand for a moment, then pointed at Kenobi. “What’s the difference?

Obi-Wan held up several fingers. “Unwilling hosts. Inappropriate use of the Force. Violation of basic laws and sentient rights.”

Jack gaped. How the hell had the man kept this in his pocket? “Wait. You’re saying that the goa’uld I know –”

“Are criminals by our standards, yes.” He scowled at the wall for a moment. "Horrific criminals.  The Council – leaders of the Jedi – must hear about this, because if we need to muster the entire Order to take care of a whole damned Sith civilization rotting I wish to the gods I knew where, then the sooner the better.” Kenobi took a moment to regain his composure before continuing.

“These ‘goa’uld’ at least seem to have lost some of their ability with the Force, although if they suppress their hosts as thoroughly as they’ve told you, I have a horrible suspicion that they’ve simply redirected it.”

Jack bristled, not quite able to let go enough to address the important stuff about allies. “It’s wasn’t just being told.” While discussing Hathor, he might have left out some of the more annoying details.

Obi-Wan stared at him for a moment, and there was no faking the sympathetic horror. Then he muttered something in a language Jack wasn’t familiar with. "Gods. I had no idea. I swear, we do not take unwilling hosts.”

He crossed his arms and gave Kenobi a flat look. "Never?" It was more sharp than sarcastic, the unspoken ‘well what about extreme circumstances?’ coming through loud and clear.

Kenobi started to answer, paused. The glance off to one side was filled with guilt and shame.  “It…is not completely unknown.”

Damn, Jack thought, stomach sinking. I knew it was too good to be true.

Kenobi looked at Jack again, determination and pain on his face.  “If a Jedi commits this…abominable act…  The sentence is death.”

“Except if there’s a really good reason, naturally.” Jack said, heavy on the sarcasm.

“No. The sentence is death.”

“And if there really is a good reason?” Jack asked, playing devil’s advocate in spite of himself.

“Then it had better be important enough to die for.”

Jack was a little surprised the clones weren’t chiming in, even though there was the hush of quiet attention.  Kenobi’s gaze stayed locked with his, steady now. “I know of only one instance of a Jedi committing such an act in the past three centuries. Death is a risk we take, being in the field. All of us.  Jedi and troopers alike. We can take that risk and do good, or cower in safety, rotting from within.”

It was refreshing to hear, and Jack was glad all over again that they weren’t facing these people as enemies.  “Well. Okay, then,” he somehow managed, and damned if he didn’t want to believe the man. Snake. Jedi.

“So.” Kenobi’s voice was level, but cold, for all that the measured distance didn’t seem to be directed at Jack. “These tok’ra, how ‘reformed’ are they?”

“Well, they’re assholes, but they seem to be on the level about working with their hosts.” He hoped. He always hoped. He still wasn’t 100% sure, but it was good enough for a tentative alliance.

“Hm. Well. I do hope you can introduce me to some when matters have calmed down.”

Jack’s grin might have been a little feral, but the notion of Kenobi and some tok’ra in a small room left him feeling pretty damn warm inside.

The march back to the stargate started before it was properly dawn, and was only slightly more fun than the hustle away. Within twenty minutes, Jack was missing the damn cave. The weather wasn’t quite cold – though Kenobi had made a good point; it was cooler than their first trek through the woods, which didn’t bode well – but the cave had been warmer, and dry. It was nice, though, being with professionals who knew just the right volume for almost inaudible bitching and had some fun new vocabulary for him.

It only made him miss SG-1 more, but at least it was decent company.

By nightfall, everyone was tired and hungry.  They huddled up under trees speckled with phosphorescence for a rest without any bitching. The rain had barely let up at all while the temperature remained cool. At least they'd turned up a few sock-nuts during the day, now that they all knew what the plant looked like, and that took the edge off empty stomachs. Jack missed the kindafish, but he had a sneaking suspicion there couldn't have been that many more of the things left, after a week and a half of Kenobi clearing them out.

The second day and night were much the same, except with more dodging around Jaffa patrols. Those got larger and more common the closer they got to the gate, but attracted only professional disdain from the clones. Jack started a mental drinking game for the disgusted comments about how this was not running a search pattern, and the amount of things it couldn’t find, but he gave up when he realized he’d mentally gotten alcohol poisoning.

It was oh-dark-fuckit again when they charged the gate. The white armor didn’t allow for much sneaking through the trees, but the sentries at the treeline weren’t too alert, and the clones apparently liked being vicious when it came to hand-to-hand. That meant it was only about forty guards on site, most of them huddled asleep under lean-tos. There were still a dozen standing around the gate and DHD, looking wet and pissed and ready to take on any comers.

They went down first, not one shot in the initial volley missing. Kenobi led the charge, lightsaber dazzling in the murky darkness.  Jack went pounding over towards the DHD, Barrel and Ion on his flanks, and he tried to not flinch as the clones again showed a level of skill and professionalism that was just this side of terrifying. He took a few shots with the zat, but taking out the enemy wasn’t his job. He nearly ran into the DHD, flicking on the little flashlight Kix had loaned him to ID the chevrons, and started to pound out symbols fast as he could. Things got interesting real fast, since the Jaffa knew the importance of the DHD. Jack was only a third of the way through when a staff blast hit Ion. Jack didn’t have time to do more than wince, then curse as Barrel stepped between Jack and everything else, half-crouching to snag Ion’s rifle and do a way better job shooting in different directions than any sane person should.

Two more chevrons in, Ion had struggled upright enough to be cursing and firing away with a smaller handgun. Jack could see a disturbing amount of red on the man’s armor, but from the sounds he was doing ok for the moment.

Jack was shouting for everyone to move even as he hit the activation button. The center dais was now mostly surrounded by white armor, with several more guys backing Barrel and Ion. The event horizon swooshed into existence, and Kix and Waxer moved in front of Rex, who crouched down and was letting Kenobi out. Jack grabbed Ion’s arm, Barrel snagging the back of the man’s chest armor and hauling him upright. They ran towards the gate, trailing several others who were carrying bodies that Jack hoped were just knocked out.

Since Jack could see bones instead of parts of Longshot’s armor as Grease carried him through the gate, he wasn’t going to place any bets.

Kix and Rex, with Kenobi wound around his forearm, passed through right before Jack and Barrel hauled Ion up the last step, and they crossed over the shimmering event horizon to the explosions of staff blasts and blaster fire ringing behind them.