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A Star to Steer By

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Doctor Jackson was at it again.

All intelligent base personnel cleared out of Janet’s way as she stalked down the corridor, hunting for a wayward archaeologist. She’d had hopes that not finding him in his office meant that the man had gone home to get some sleep, rather than the battered couch he’d claimed, but a quick call down to the front gates meant instead someone was on walkabout.

This had to stop. It had been days now, and when Daniel wasn’t trying to overdose on mess hall coffee he could be found curled up on his couch. At least General Hammond had been able to send Major Carter offworld to see if she could badger the Tok’ra into assisting, and with Teal’c doing the same with the Jaffa rebels.

Which was good, because one member of SG-1 being an idiot whose notion of self-care was “don’t fall unconscious on others” was more than enough.

Since he wasn’t getting food – that self-care thing – and the gate wasn’t currently in use, she tried the third most logical place. General Hammond shot her a look when she peeked in his door, and if the man weren’t a two star General, she would have called it a plea for help.

Daniel was pacing in front of the General’s desk, haggard but enthusiastic enough that she hoped for a moment that he’d once again stumbled upon something brilliant.

“Look, we know what we’re going into, and they can’t have many Jaffa left on site to defend the gate! If we could just take several teams across, move past the Jaffa –”

Damn. No, it was just more desperation. “Doctor Jackson,” she declared, aiming for frustrated yet stern, but not quite ready to kick his ass and sedate him in the infirmary. The man flinched and whirled around, reaction exaggerated and delayed enough that she was already reconsidering that stance. “I understand your position, but my position regarding your sleep habits hasn’t changed. When’s the last time you got any rest?”

He got the mulish expression that meant he was about to lie through his teeth. Before he could open his mouth, the General cleared his throat. “Doctor Jackson, I understand your concern. But it’s been two weeks, and the odds of Colonel O’Neill being held captive at the same location are pretty low.”

Oh shit. The mulish expression turned glacial, and Daniel pulled himself upright. It wasn’t the offended dignity of a civilian being ignored in favor of reality; this was someone with a genuine grievance. “I’m so very glad everyone understands, but understanding isn’t leading to any acting. It would be nice if we could do something about this!”

Internally, Janet winced as she saw the General’s temper crack. Externally, she came at bit more to attention, hands going behind her back at parade rest. “Dammit, Jackson, we can’t be reckless right now! We’ve –” He paused enough to give Janet an exasperated glare, meaning there might be something going on she was cleared for, but wasn’t public yet. Fantastic. “We have enough problems without taking massive risks, particularly not with regards to the lives of our people! If I didn’t have as many constraints right now, I would be all for mounting as large a rescue operation as possible. Hell, I would’ve done it a week ago!”

She struggled to conceal a wince. The NID, then. Dammit. Maybourne had started flexing his muscles not two days after the messy op that left O’Neill MIA, last seen being taken captive, which might or might not be preferable to being dead, knowing the goa’uld. Phrases such as “reckless,” “endangerment,” and “threat” had started whispering around the grapevine within hours of Maybourne’s arrival. The leader of the flagship team, taken like some rookie. How professional was this organization, again? Their efforts to regain the missing soldier had been futile so far, had already cost the life of a US marine, and how was this to inspire confidence in anyone?

Weren’t they supposed to be good at their job?

Janet limited herself to a slightly disapproving look and a glare when she ran into that kind of talk or Maybourne himself, because Maybourne was a slug.

A klaxon blared, followed by an announcement over the PA. “Unscheduled offworld activation. Repeat, unscheduled offworld activation.” Even the voice on the PA held a note of subdued excitement.  Maybourne could take his lack of confidence and shove it up his ass. By the time the announcement was being repeated, Hammond, Janet, and Daniel were out of the office and hustling down the hall.

“Where’s it from?” the General demanded the instant they were in the control room.

“P6X-388. Small planet, known midway point. There are some Jaffa rebels there, and it’s their GDO signal.”

Janet could hear Daniel growling almost inaudibly next to her. “Come on. Come on!”

The gate stayed open, the assembled soldiers ready and waiting for trouble. After an interminable few minutes, the gate rippled and spat out something that was absolutely not a person.

Yes!” Danny punched the air and raced out of the control room, darting down to the gate room proper. By the time the General was letting out a relieved sigh and cancelling the alarms, Janet could make out the object as well. A stick, definitely not from earth, with a pouch of tissues waving off the end like a flag. She was grinning too as she hustled down to the main floor. All of SG-1 had discreetly started making multiple packs mandatory gear ages ago, and to send a white flag like that...

By the time she reached the gate room, next to a coffee-fueled, pacing archeologist, she was braced. Whatever it was that O’Neill was bringing home, it wasn’t going to be pretty.

One quick call to prep Medical, and seven minutes on the dot later, the event horizon rippled. Colonel O’Neill was the first one through, hands up and looking less beat up than she’d expected. He was hollering something she didn’t understand, and it sounded like a whole new language.

That...could not be good.

The gate rippled again, and three men came through, wearing some kind of strange tac gear. White plates that looked almost like battered plastic. Yellow and blue markings, though those didn’t seem to be standardized. Black trim, no, underlining, and full head helmets. The man on the left, in yellow marked armor, was missing the plates on one arm, and the black sleeve of his underlining looked wet. From the red slowly dripping onto the metal ramp, she realized his arm was soaked in blood. The man next to the injured one helped him off the ramp, easing him down on cold cement before stepping back into formation behind Jack, who stood at the foot of the ramp, facing the control room. The third man had shrugged off a backpack of some sort, almost gingerly laying it at the opposite end – very far away from the wounded – then taken his place behind Jack as well.

Both of them stood with their hands on their heads, as the gate disgorged three more armored figures, one of them limping.

“Oh, Jack, what’d you bring home this time?” Dr. Jackson muttered, shaking his head.

A very competent military force, Janet grumbled mentally, as three more figures stepped through the event horizon.  She scanned the wounded and – she winced. One of the three newest arrivals was limp, armor burned away on one side in a way that was clearly fatal. The man carrying him settled the body down next to the wounded, between them and the growing collection of not just packs but weapons. The teams of three were neatly organized – one man carrying someone injured or dead, the third man carrying the packs or bundles of guns that were organized so as to be portable, but not quickly accessible. The two non-wounded deposited their burdens, then joined the ranks growing behind Jack on one side of the ramp.

Neat, organized, and with a military precision that Janet had to admire.

These weren’t the typical visitors to SGC.

After there were five ranks arranged neatly, the gate spat out a new surprise. A man without one of those ridiculous helmets came through, arm curled close to his stomach. Janet was already leaning to the side to see what sort of wound that was, when a yelp came from one of the airmen surrounding the gate.

“Goa’uld!” The tension in the room skyrocketed, and the rattle of rifles being prepared to fire sounded loud and harsh in the room. Janet could see the armored newcomers tense, but her attention was on the blond man. He had a goa’uld wrapped around his arm. It was damn large, mature probably. The only blessing was that something was obviously wrong with it. Instead of the sinuous writhing and spine-crawling noises they all had come to expect, this snake was rigid.

Seizing, a part of her noted, not able to look away even in light of the wounded in front of her. The snake jerked hard, body arching sharply to one side, then spasming helplessly, jaws opening and snapping shut convulsively. She could hear the plastic armor on the man’s arm creak, and the faint pop as it gave way snapped through the room like breaking bone.

Colonel O’Neill said something, still speaking gibberish but obviously aiming for getting everyone to calm down, hands upraised as he stood between the tense airmen and his new friends.

Another wave came through, from their body language glaring around as they walked down the ramp to deposit a limp body and a small stack of weapons. They took their place in the ranks, and Jack kept talking.

“General?” Janet called, wondering when the hell she’d grabbed Daniel’s shoulder to keep him in place. Daniel was staring at Jack with an expression half-bemused, half-horrified, which was never a good sign, but it was better than the revulsion-filled glare he’d been giving the goa’uld. That little horror show had subsided into shivering tremors that traveled through its whole length, and she could only imagine what had happened. Zat blast? Blow to the head? Poison?

“Colonel O’Neill, what the hell followed you home today?” Hammond had a special knack for sounding exasperated and pissed as hell over an intercom. The Colonel looked up at control room window, a frustrated smile plastered on as he shrugged and babbled something.

“Friends,” Daniel declared, and Jack’s head whipped around and he enthusiastically pointed at SG-1’s linguist. “‘Allies,’ to be more precise. Jack, why the hell are you speaking Ancient?”

The eye-roll was pure O’Neill gold. It was amazing that any one human being could convey “That’s the question you ask?” with just one expression.

“More importantly, how did you capture a goa’uld?”

Jack winced a little at General Hammond’s question. He looked directly at his CO, then shook his head and repeated the word he’d just said.


Jack O’Neill had been home for less than ten minutes, and Janet already had a headache the size of the whole damn mountain.

She waited long enough to pick out Hammond’s concession to see to the wounded before totally tuning out his ire at O’Neill’s latest shenanigans. She was the first to the wounded, kneeling down next to a man with serious burns along the upper leg and hip. He nodded politely enough to her, then glanced away as a soldier in yellow called out something. It sounded official, touching at her hindbrain where boot camp had instilled powerful habits. The wounded settled themselves a little, then reached up and removed their helmets.

Silence crashed back over the gateroom. A near repetition of the phrase, and the first row of soldiers moved their hands from their heads long enough to tug off helmets and somehow secure them to utility belts.

Row after row, the soldiers took off their headgear. Janet blinked a few times, then did a double-take over at the blond that was still cuddling the goa’uld like it was his favorite teddy-bear. Different hair color, and her new patient had some vicious scarring on one cheek with an elaborate tattoo on the other, but the two men looked the same.

As did the first casualty, grimacing as his arm was being looked over. As did the man next to him, shaking his head and giving one of her nurses a shy smile; the man standing behind him, helmet hooked to his belt while his hands were settling on top of a low ponytail; and on down the line, marked differently with scars and tattoos and –

Her mind did not want to spit out the obvious. This was – They’d run across some damn strange things but – The sheer logistics of –

Cloning people. Jack had brought home almost twenty clones.

What the hell did you run into? Even for Colonel O’Neill, this was a new one.

“Visk?” Janet blinked at a light touch to her arm, then she looked down. The injured man was giving her a patient look, holding a small jar of some red jelly like substance. He looked like he was after permission to use it.

For all she knew, this was some kind of ritual suicide drug. Or some kind of explosive. Or – oh hell with it. “O’Neill! I need to know if this is medicinal and how much trouble it’s going to cause us later!”

The Colonel turned towards her. As soon as he saw the jar, he nodded and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up before turning back to mutter at the bellowing man in yellow and the blond next to him.

“Holy –” She went from frowning absently at the damage while prepping the man for one of the – too few, of course – stretchers to gaping at his leg. He’d calmly slathered the jelly onto the staff-blast injury, capping the jar and leaning back. The jelly had an absolutely horrific pong, something grossly sweet that clung to the tongue, and the man looked resigned to it. Over the course of a minute, though, as the two corpses were carried away, the edges of his burn had started to heal. It was a slow, creeping regeneration, moving inwards towards the center of the burn – the location of the worst damage – but the man was healing at an impossible rate.

Please let these people be allies, and please let my budget allow a tanker of this. Also, please let it work for normal humans.

The man saw her look, and immediately straightened. “Visk?” he repeated, this time more cautiously.

“If that’s anything like ‘kree,’ no.” She shook her head, then went back to checking him over. He looked very confused at that. She’d have to ask later on.

A burst of startled laughter, immediately followed by what was probably cursing, whipped her head around. The man with the injured arm was clutching the limb while giggling at one of her nurses, who’d rocked back on his heels. The man he’d been checking for a concussion – as if the signs weren’t clear from ten feet away – just shrugged and muttered something before flinching away from renewed investigation.

Trust O’Neill to bring home clones who already knew to fear the penlight.

The mutters of triage quieted as a small squad of airmen came pelting into the room, escorting what looked to be an overgrown fishtank on a cart.

Janet wrinkled her nose. Sam had showed her the experimental tank once, meant as a livable habitat container for goa’uld – presumably tok’ra that might need assistance, or the unlikely scenario of taking a genuine POW of one of the snakes themselves. Good thing, she mentally grumbled, motioning for orderlies to take her patient off to the infirmary. She stood, watching as the blond soldier conferred with O’Neill, then settled the goa’uld into the tank. It floated listlessly there, tiny spastic movements of the fins the only sign of life she could make out. As the airmen snapped the lid into place, securing the tank, one of the other soldiers stepped forward. His bearing had either the absolute arrogance of a multi-star general, or the single-mindedness of a fellow medic. Given the elaborate haircut, she was inclined to think the former, but the red icon on his shoulder armor had her wondering about the second.

The airman who was in charge of the squad snapped out orders to halt, and the soldier glared, chin lifted up and a stubborn expression twisting his face. Medic, she decided, given the implacability to the stance, but the lack of superiority of a command officer.

The clone snarled something, pointing emphatically at the goa’uld. The blond and Jack were calling out something at the same time, their incomprehensible syllables tumbling over each other, and the airman took another threatening step forward, bellowing for the soldier to step back, stand down.

Janet was fairly certain she was learning what had to be Ancient for “fuck you, I’m his medic.” The airman lost patience, though thankfully not in the worst possible way. He took a swing with his rifle, the butt of the gun connecting with the tattoo on the side of the man’s head.

There wasn’t the gut-wrenching tunk she expected to hear. Instead the medic rolled with the blow before it could connect solidly, moving smooth and professional as a trainer demonstrating a technique. He came up in a crouch, hand behind in what looked like an automatic grab for a weapon. His fingers twitched around empty air and he snarled up, looking like he’d be just as eager to go hand to hand a few rounds.

Janet had seen some combat medics in her time, but there was a ferocity here that she hadn’t encountered often. She was keenly aware of the tense at-ready postures of the rest of the soldiers O’Neill had brought home, and she had to wonder what their odds were.

Jack stepped forward again, hands still upraised as he called out to the medic. The man glared over at him for a moment, jaw muscles clenching tight. The blond added in a command, and the medic slowly moved his hands wide, holding them out while glaring at the now pale airman. The medic stood up and moved back to the others, back still stiff with anger.

Oh good. No showdown at the Gateroom Corral today. Janet glared around as the nervous squad rolled the fishbowl out. “We have a bunch of people to check over for more goa’uld, what are you all doing standing around like that? We need to get these folks to Medical, now.”



Daniel didn’t quite know what to think, as he trailed behind the last of the gateroom guards, the new...soldiers marching is disconcerting lockstep ahead of them. A part of him wanted to insist that the Jack who’d come through the gate wasn’t theirs. They had after all run across some really, really strange things. Alternate universes, mockups of SGC, robotic doubles – who the hell knew what this could be? Jack had been gone for two weeks. That was a lot of time as the SGC measured it, more than enough for things to have gone strange. There was no definitive evidence that this was Jack.

This man was supporting a goa’uld. He’d said nothing about the Tok’ra, and as much as all of them disliked their allies, Jack would have mentioned them, wouldn’t he?

If nothing else, that would have made matters much, much easier.

By the time they got to Medical, Daniel had decided he’d try to treat these men as standard Jaffa, and table the Imposter Jack and Potential Tok’ra issues. He shook off the concerns as he stepped into the main examination room. The Jaffa were divided up into groups now, standing in lines as the docs tried to run them through the most efficient and thorough scans possible.

Jack was bouncing impatiently over at the main Ultrasound station, but the one buzzcut blond caught Danny’s attention. He was standing to the side of his assigned line, angled away from most of the room. Danny recognized his look. Loss, uncertainty, a touch of worry. It was all tiny signals, but Danny had been stuck in warrior cultures long enough to crack that particular code. The US army had only honed his skills.

The Jaffa was already looking at him when Danny stepped up, his chin jerking up a little as his expression smoothed into the neutrality of name, rank, and serial number. Danny could not leave the person who’d had to carry that goa’uld without some reassurance. There were a lot of things he wanted to say, ranging from expressions of sympathy and reassurance, to asking who the man had lost to the false gods, even if that was beyond the pale and too close to home, all at the same time.

“Safe,” he settled on, watching his pronunciation of the Ancient. “You are safe.”

The man studied him for a moment, then his eyes flicked towards the door. “He’s not,” the Jaffa declared, then pulled his shoulders back and glared off into the distance, effectively dismissing Daniel. The archaeologist stared at him for a long moment, then turned and walked over to Jack.

There was a shiver creeping down his spine, and he had no idea how to define it. That look.... That had been worry and fear for the goa’uld, not of it.

What had Jack gotten them into?

General Hammond and Dr. Fraiser were already clustered around Jack when Daniel arrived. Hammond was giving Jack quite the look, hands on hips and shaking his head. “You seem to be out of regulation dress, Colonel.”

Jack gave the General a frustrated “I’m being sassed, why me?” expression, as if he had any right to complain. He brightened a moment later when he saw Daniel, pointing at him and making hand puppet motions for talking. He was speaking Ancient, fast and accented, but Daniel could pick out “talk” in there.

“Stop that!” Janet snapped, glaring even as she gooped up the ultrasound device. “You’re not helping this go any faster!”

Of all the damn things, that subdued Jack.

Things were very, very off here.

General Hammond turned to Danny. “Why is he speaking Ancient?”

“Did you get more junk downloaded into your brain?” Janet snapped, looking like she might be ready to toss her hands up in despair, or take a few days off and charge her potential bender to O’Neill. Thankfully the man gave her a dirty look and shook his head.

“He seems to understand us just fine –” Hammond broke off as Jack nodded, rolling his eyes in an exaggerated “yes, we get the point already!” manner, vehemently pointing at Danny again and snapping several words. “Talk,” he enunciated carefully. “Lots.”

Great. Now he was being quizzed on Ancient. Just how he wanted his day to go. “Uh...Well, Sam is –”

“No no no!” Jack shook his head, looking more than a little wild eyed even as Janet was starting to check his neck. “English!” He paused and grimaced. “Sounded wrong and I said it.”

Interesting. Daniel took a moment, reorienting for English. “Well, we didn’t see what system lord grabbed you, though it was pretty clear they recognized we’re Tau’ri. We mounted two rescue attempts, which...didn’t really work. They’ve fortified their end of the gate pretty well. Sam’s seeing if she can shake any information out of the Tok’ra, and Teal’c’s off with the Jaffa resistance. Maybourne’s been –”

General Hammond cleared his throat, giving Danny a look that any idiot could see meant ‘shut up, not the time for more internal political strife.’

As if the NID made for anything else.

Danny rolled his eyes, wondering why the hell Jack seemed to be leaning in quite so much, listening so very intently to what he had to say. “Things have been a little busy, but the usual SG team assignments have been going on, and Janet keeps telling me I need to go home sometimes which is pretty stupid. Uh, anyway, other than that we've been sitting tight hoping you'd find your way back to us, which, uh, you have, so that's good, but you've definitely outdone yourself this ti–”

Jack’s eyes went wide and a hand went up to his head. “Ow.” He made a face. “Man, that stings!” he grumbled in English. “I think that got lost in the zat hangover last time.” Then he blinked and grabbed Hammond’s arm. “Fuck! Don’t let the NID take Kenobi!”

“Who’s Kenobi?” The General looked a little startled, but not horribly shocked. He was glancing around medical, where every last one of the new soldiers had twitched a little at the strange name.

“The snake! He’s a friendly!”

Danny couldn’t keep his skepticism quiet. “He’s a Tok’ra?”

Hammond’s eyebrow rise of ‘You are crazy but I’m listening’ lowered as Jack squirmed a little.

“No, he’s...something else.” The sheepish falter to his voice, along with the head bobble, was all Jack. “But he’s part of a group of planets that is the best damn potential allies I’ve run into, bar none.”

Now it was everyone else in the infirmary who was staring, because that was...improbable news.

Hammond cleared his throat. “Colonel...I’d like to believe you. We all would.” The eavesdroppers took the cue and quickly went back to what they’d been doing, or at least pretended to. “But you have been away for almost two weeks. We can’t discount the possibility –”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Brainwashing, blah blah blah, yeah I know, whatever, look, just keep that asshole Maybourne from walking off with Kenobi.”

The General hesitated for a moment, exchanging glances with Janet. She shrugged and put the last of her equipment away, passing a towel to Jack. “Physically, he’s a bit worn down. He could do with a few meals, certainly. Otherwise he’s fine. Mentally, he seems okay. At least as much as usual.”

Jack gave her an insincere grin. “I missed you too.”

“In the meantime, Colonel?” Jack looked back at Hammond. “What are we to do with the fact that your ‘friendly’ has an entire gaggle of cloned Jaffa running around after it?”

Jack raised a hand, finger in the air even as an awkward grin flashed across his face. “There's a really damn weird explanation for that, but it exists.” He lowered his hand, grimacing and swiping the last of the ultrasound goo off his neck. “General. You want answers, I’m more than happy to give them to you, but if that snake ‘disappears’ into Area 51, I promise you that none of those soldiers will help us. I know this is out of left field, but I am telling you, in all seriousness, we have a good shot at an alliance, with good people. Isn't this what this entire dog and pony show has been about?”

General Hammond heaved a sigh, glaring away. He was looking right at the Jaffa medic, who was in the process of giving the ultrasound machine a skeptical but intrigued once-over. Hammond made a face. “...I’ll do what I can.”



“So let me get this straight.” Maybourne was prowling around Jack like some cheap TV detective, which wasn’t helped by Jack’s absolute disdain for the process – and the Colonel circling him. “The leader of one group of soldiers was a host, and then he got wounded, so badly that the goa’uld had to take a new host, which just happened to be the leader of the other faction around? You think that’s a coincidence?”

Jack rolled his eyes. “They were already allied with each other, and the almost-dead host was almost dead before we showed up. They had pretty much no way of knowing Commander Rex was coming in.”

“You said they have wrist communicators? And they were using them? So why wouldn’t they have known their rescue mission was successful?”

This time, it was the more dangerous flat look Maybourne received. “Well, I’m sure they could distinguish his voice over the communicator he wasn’t using. Given how they don’t sound anything alike to each other, and all.”

General Hammond was struggling to not show the increasing headache he had. Debriefing and negotiations were...not going well. Maybourne was determined to claw any bit of advantage he could out of the Stargate program, and Hammond had already called in most of his chips for previous emergencies. Maybourne wanted the goa’uld, he wanted the Jaffa, and he wanted Jack tripping over his ass and handing all that over on a silver platter.

Maybourne pointedly brought up that Area 51 was better equipped to contain and study the ‘specimen’ and its troops, appealing to the interest of national security and listing all the times Stargate Command had failed to contain this or that ‘threat.’  Another look from Jack urged Hammond to keep going toe-to-toe, but even O’Neill had to see that it was Hammond on the ropes, not the NID.

He shot a look back at Jack, hoping a glare could convey that he only had so many miracles up his sleeve, and SG-1 regularly tested those limits., hell, this was probably beyond his pay-grade. Given the buck stopped with him, it was time to start praying.

Praying, committing treason, or assassinating Maybourne, but really only the first was practical.

Well. If nothing else, he could delay, for at least a little while. A few hours, if we’re lucky, he thought sourly. “Gentlemen, I think we could do well with a break. We’re going to need to have a talk with the Jaffa in any case, so perhaps you could prepare some notes, Colonel Maybourne, so I know what angle you’re going to take? I’m sure it would help Dr. Jackson to know what he’s going to need to translate.”

Maybourne ignored him, since dammit, he had just given the man an opening to his second favorite angle. “I do want to know how you managed to speak perfect Ancient – and only Ancient – and then none at all? It’s got to be the second flimsiest thing I’ve heard lately.”

“Well I dunno, maybe you should–”

Colonel.” Both men took Hammond’s growl for the warning it was. He stood up and glared at Maybourne. “Dismissed.”

Dammit. Maybourne took the time to hold his glare, only turning away when he’d made the point that Hammond was out of leverage. For a moment, it was just George, Jack, and the guards at the door. He sighed and ran a hand over his head. “I’m out of credit, Jack. I’m sorry. We’ve just given him too many holes lately.”

Jack stared down at the conference table for a long moment. Then he sighed. “I get it, George. I just – Look, if there’s anything you can do –”

He was already nodding wearily. “I’ll see if I can’t pull any more miracles out of thin air, but...” He shook his head, then patted Jack on the shoulder. “In the meantime, you’ll have the comfiest cell downstairs.”

“Aw, you’re too good to me.”

Hammond chuckled, but there was no real humor to either of them.



Jack made the MP wait a few before standing. Sure, they were going to stick him a cell, but it wasn’t like anyone considered him a flight risk. Weird side effect of spending so much time advocating for the snake. Jedi. Dammit. It meant that everyone figured even if he was some kind of brainwashed minion, it was the stupidly loyal kind that wasn’t going to pull a runner. Or pull any other kind of shit, not with Kenobi in such a bind.

He sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair, gratified that the MP wasn’t twitchy at that, instead giving him a sympathetic grin. Good to know not everyone was an NID twerp.

Why the hell did that make him feel guilty? He frowned and dawdled a little, examining the sensation. Probably some kind of intuition –

Aww, hell. A part of his mind had settled on crazy shit already. Things were still in flux, nothing pinned down in the tug-of-war over the snake. Everyone was still off-balance from the sudden changes, so all he had to do was find himself a snake and –

Jack felt a kind of resigned, conflicted satisfaction as he and his escorting marine wandered into one of the blind stretches on the security grid. It just wasn’t possible to have security cameras everywhere, just most places, and this wasn’t one of them. Jack stumbled, bracing himself against the wall. It was sad, but beautiful for all that, the way the MP stepped forward, all concerned and naive. One quick tussle later, and Jack had a brand new zat, and some poor kid was KO’ed in the corridor.

The first likely location Jack snooped out didn’t have anything interesting going on, beyond normal activity, so he tried some of the more obscure lab areas. One of the doors had two guards in front, which was neither normal, nor uninteresting. He took a deep breath, careful aim, and braced himself for alarms.



Obi-Wan coiled a little tighter in his ridiculous prison, striving for some sense of calm or meditation. It had been a long time since he’d had to meditate without a host, and it was disconcerting to not have that comfortable background hum of 17’s mind gnawing away at whatever today’s target was. Or for that matter, the quieter murmur of Rex going through the exercises taught to the clones so as to not fight a Jedi that they might be called on to host. It was strange, to have a new host.  Rex was willing to accommodate him, but there was still that newness of learning, of caution, of holding himself back so as to not interfere with whatever Obi-Wan might do.

17 had been many things, but cautious had rarely been one of them.

Obi-Wan huffed a near growl, not trusting the feel of the electric field around him. He didn’t understand this culture or their technology well enough to tell if they were recording him – though they’d be fools to not – and he didn’t want to give them any wrong ideas about his intentions.

Even if he did want to flare his fins and fangs to full extension out of concern and frustration. He liked being able to pace, to move limbs in deliberate motions as an expression of his emotions. Even if he was ‘out wandering’ (17 had always had a brittle edge when he’d glared at Obi-Wan about that, unmitigated mother hen that he pretended to never be), he could move as he willed, and to be so closely confined…

It galled him, rubbing emotional wounds much as the minerals in this pisspot of a tank prickled at his skin. Oh, sure, it was better than the muddy little lake where he’d gone fishing, but the emotional mire around him –

The Force was distant, as always difficult to get a strong grip on without a host. He was a powerful Jedi, so he could at least pick up more than just the empty room he was in. Not that it was any picnic – all those shivers of suspicion, fear, anger, hope. It wasn’t Dark, but it was very on-edge.

He was trying very hard to stay distanced from the problem, but it was difficult, being stuck in a tank without a host, after being slammed with two trips through those wormholes. He’d made the decision to trust Jack and his people, now they all had to live with it.

Klaxons blared, the light levels in his tank fluctuating rapidly. No no no, so help me Rex if you’ve gone and done something stupid– ! He twisted through a complicated knot, trying not to squirm too much. It was entirely possible that the locals, being a different culture and world, considered hoots and whoops with blinking lights music, but he’d never run across something that absurd. Someone’s done something stupid. Fantastic.

There was movement in his room, though he couldn’t make out more than emotional dissonance – determination, a lot of fear, protectiveness, a great deal of urgency.

Probably not his host, then? The emotional combination didn’t seem like Rex.

His fangs spread a little in sheer frustration as he reminded himself yet again that it wasn’t official yet. Rex was only his temporary host, Anakin was going to kill Obi-Wan for sneaking away with his top soldier and friend, and in the meantime Obi-Wan hoped rather more than he should that Rex did indeed want the position anyways.

After all, Obi-Wan’s life clearly wasn’t complicated enough.

The person in the room finally came close enough to his tank that he could make out who it was through the distortion of the water. Well. Jack, not Rex. Good. But what the hell?

The human hurried over to the tank, talking the whole way. He sounded frustrated, earnest, and utterly incomprehensible. Whatever it was he was speaking, it wasn’t Basic.

His intent, however, was crystal clear as he flipped the catches on the tank’s lid, shoving the heavy piece of plastic off the tank.  Obi-Wan lost no time hiking himself up onto the rim, keeping on the side opposite Jack.  The human stuck his hand out, wiggling his fingers like he was trying to catch the attention of some idiotic pet. Obi-Wan stared at him, wondering just what the hell had gone so horribly wrong that this man would be offering the kind of sanctuary that Jack both hated and was terrified of.

Obi-Wan pulled back a little, gratified that there was a frustrated eye-roll instead of a wince. Jack gabbled something else, moving his hand closer and glancing over his shoulder at the door, where someone had started banging and yelling. Trouble, and Jack was getting into further trouble, and those alarms had to be about this mess.

How bad is this? There was more frustration and the demanding emotional mess of “get on with this already!” from Jack, but there was still that strong undercurrent of fear, an emotional knee-jerk repugnance. What the man was offering verged on an unwilling host. Resignation to a bad situation was not acceptance, and Obi-Wan had made it clear already that he would take his chances with Jack’s people. This sort of reversal–

Jack closed his eyes and took a deliberate breath.  His emotions settled a little bit, and when he spoke again, it was measured and deliberate.  Obi-Wan might not have been able to make out the language, but he could clearly pick out Rex’s name, and Waxer’s and Kix’s, accompanied by a pointed look. 

Fuck. You absolute bastard. He flared his fins a little, squirming in place. Jack was an emotional mess, verging on unwilling. However, he wasn’t being duplicitous, no matter how much he might play dirty. This wasn’t some form of entrapment – Jack wouldn’t do this unless it was important. Obi-Wan had a responsibility to his men, they all needed to get the information about the Sith to the Council.

The irony was not lost on him that if he was wrong, then the last two Jedi to take unwilling hosts would be in his age group. Like Siri, he would go before the Council without hesitation, if necessary.

Outside the room, weapons sounded, impacting the door. Obi-Wan swayed towards Jack’s outstretched hand. The instant he was within grabbing range, the human’s hand closed on him. It was more than a little too tight, but he fought to keep fangs closed together. There was enough fear and reluctance in the air as it was. He would not contribute to that if he could avoid it.

The room was an indistinct blur as the human brought him close, so all Obi-Wan could clearly see was the expression – distaste, fear, and that sardonic disbelief that rang through the Force like the alarms still clanging through the area. He’d made his decision; there was no hesitation as he moved to connect with the human.

Jack’s mind was an incredible jumble, overwhelming in its chaos. It took all Obi-Wan had just to understand what the human was sensing as the door finally broke and soldiers poured into the room. How the hells did the Jedi who preferred non-clone hosts do it? Clones made sense. Their minds weren’t chaotic and messy and all over the place like this!

Jack raised their hands in the air as weapons were leveled at them, and thank the Force the language finally made sense. “Hi guys! How much trouble do you think I’m in?”