He couldn’t sleep.
This was ridiculous. Jack flopped from his side onto his back, arm behind his head and glaring at the ceiling. “This is ridiculous,” he grumbled out loud, the sound echoing back from the cement walls and confirming that he was, indeed, alone in his room. Normally he didn’t mind. It was nice to close the door and bunk down with only the occasional sound of people wandering by, but the pair of guards on his door – just in case – were chasing any potential tour groups away.
His ears were still ringing from General Hammond’s chewing out – even if it had ended well, with a grumpy acknowledgement that it was good he was back, and to get ready to diplomat the hell out of the situation as their new ‘Jedi’ liaison, and get some damn sleep.
Like George was one to talk. Man looked half an espresso short of tripping over his own shoes.
Jack rolled onto his other side, grabbing his pillow and pulling it partway over his head.
It was not too quiet. Not, not, not. Nope.
He couldn’t fight back the full body shiver as he slipped a hand over the snake entry wound on his neck. The scar there wasn’t even from Kenobi, it was from Hathor’s squealing little minion. It was stupid, but he let his hand slide back to his spine, feeling along each vertebra even though he knew he wouldn’t have been able to feel Kenobi before.
He still checked all the way up and down his neck.
Another full-body shudder of the heebie-jeebies passed through him, and he let it, no longer having to keep his revulsion buried down where Kenobi wouldn’t find it – the damn Jedi would probably have jumped ship if he’d stumbled over that. Jack shifted until his face was more smooshed into the pillow. This was beyond stupid.
It hadn’t been horrible. There was something seriously wrong when one of the worst possible things in the world was...just sorta there. And he knew from horrible. Charlie getting his hands on Jack’s gun, for instance.
Jack had had to put his little boy into the ground. That had met expectations. It’d been many crappy flavors of hellish.
This...this hadn’t been too bad. Weird as all get out, but not bad. What the hell was wrong with him?
Two weeks, stupid, that’s what. Two weeks of being stuck in a cave with a bunch of clones, living out of each others’ pockets. Then a brain snake.
Way to go, Colonel. Great job of rescuing everyone, when you get lonely for the roommate in your BRAIN.
He lifted his face out of the pillow enough to glare at the clock. He’d been at it for almost two of the four and a half hours allocated for a break.
He kept glaring at the clock.
The eight flipped over to a nine.
“ARGH.” He faceplanted into the pillow again. This was doing absolutely squat. He was on his feet and pacing before he really thought it through, and while the exertion was good, it wasn’t enough. Not to mention that if he went and boxed the empty space in his brain out in the gym, he’d been too bushed to be useful for anything but drooling at the tac meeting.
He tried not to think too hard about what he was doing as he pulled on his boots and regulation black shirt. Man, I miss the longjohns. Gotta remember those. Undersuits as major trade deal. Absolute positive thing. Hope I get mine back after Sam’s been at it.
He opened his door, slow and obvious, giving the guys on guard enough time to realize what he was doing. He appreciated not having any weapons pointed at him as he got the door fully open, and he gave them an overly bright smile. “Fellas. I’m gonna go visit the former roommate. Figure you’d wanna tag along.” The guy on the right was eyeing Jack way too much. He paused on his march out the door to meet the guy’s stare. “You got a problem, just shoot me. At least that way we all get a nice break.”
It got the guy off his back, at least.
They were keeping Rex and Kenobi in Jack’s old cell on Kenobi’s recommendation, just like they were keeping a close eye on the clones who were still in lockup. Hammond had balked a little at the implications of tossing their potential new bestest buddies in the clink before the peace papers were written, let alone signed, but Kenobi had given him the stink eye. “It allows peace of mind for any of your people who have concerns about me, it sees to my safety, my men are quite comfortable, if restless, and so long as someone takes word to them about the new state of affairs, then I don’t see how it could be a problem.”
Jack suspected that Kenobi just wanted the least amount of fuss and the quickest results, and this was a good way to earn brownie points. Not to mention it kept the NID from having anything to whine about.
Rex was on the bunk, cross-legged, eyes closed, and hands on his knees. Just the undersuit on him still looked a little weird, but the guy looked relaxed and surprisingly comfortable.
“How much meditating have you been doing?” Jack grumped, crossing his arms.
Kenobi didn’t open his eyes. “About an hour and a half, I think. I’m still getting a handle on your units of time.”
“So basically after you got done getting yelled at.”
Kenobi opened his eyes, and it was that damned droll smile on his face. “Your General has gone from wanting my head on a stick to wanting an alliance. I’m afraid you probably got all the yelling he couldn’t throw at me.” The smile slipped away, and Kenobi frowned a little. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s...wrong, wrong, just – look, d’you come with side effects?”
The single raised brow still could’ve done Spock one hell of a tribute. “Side effects?”
Jack tried to ignore the guards standing by the door. “Yeah. Y’know, swelling, irritability, rashes, insomnia?”
Kenobi eyed him, but at least there wasn’t something stupid like pity there. “I might not be the one to ask.”
His eyes flickered to brown, and Rex looked at him. His expression was grave, something sympathetic lurking around the edges. “That last one you listed, yes.”
Jack gave a jerky nod. “Y’know, somehow I’m not surprised. Got any tips?”
Rex leaned back, looking awkward in the crosslegged pose in a way Kenobi hadn’t. “Company. Being in lockdown both helped and hurt, but at least Trey’s a great distraction.”
“Yeah, still an only child.”
Rex gave him a bit of a smirk. =Well, turns out there’s only so many ways out of your facility’s holding cells, so we all have our burdens.=
Jack gave him a scolding look as the guys at the door did a nervous little shuffle. “Oh come on, that’s not fair! There’s only like a dozen of them!”
Rex snorted and crossed his arms. “Fourteen, but we had time and a few of the men can be creative when they’re bored.”
He grinned. “Got two or three times more if you just had some duct tape and pencils?”
They shared a wry smirk, then Jack crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. He sighed, not quite able to keep it down. “It shouldn’t feel this weird,” he grumbled, trying to keep from whining.
Rex let out a small huff, leaning back to slump against the wall. “No kidding.” He kept looking at the ceiling for a while, then shook his head. “I didn’t expect it, either. It’s...different, when he’s just taking a break. This...” He sighed. “It was lonely.” Rex glanced over at the door, and his eyes narrowed. =Yes, it’s good to get some time when I know my thoughts are just mine, but… = His hands curled up into fists. =That’s not what I signed up for.= Rex’s eyes closed, and a few beats later his hands loosened. He inhaled slowly, posture relaxing as he sat up.
Jack wasn’t surprised that when the clone opened his eyes, they were blue. “I’m sorry,” Kenobi said quietly. “There’s usually some mind healers available when a transition occurs.”
“You and your people are unreal.” Jack shook his head. “You really have this down to a science, don’t you.”
Kenobi chuckled, expression between rueful and sad. “We’re not perfect, but we try very hard to make sure our people are taken care of.”
Jack rubbed the back of his neck. “For a change I actually believe that.” He ambled over to make sure the guys at the door could see him, then he slid down the wall. It was pathetic, how much easier it was to relax with people around – sitting on the floor against the wall instead of sprawled out on his bunk.
Despite the guards, despite all the weirdness, the quiet settled back comfortably. Kenobi went back to his meditation, and Jack squirmed until he felt almost comfortable against the wall.
Footsteps he didn’t quite recognize pulled Jack awake before a cautious hand landed on his shoulder. “Colonel? There’s about twenty until the meeting starts.”
Sam hoped that a few hours of rest would be enough to keep everyone coherent and working towards peace negotiations. Or whatever it was that they were doing. She was possibly the best rested person in the whole base, having insisted on getting minimum requisite hours of sleep while trying to wring information out of the Tok’ra. Besides which, the opportunity to poke new tech always energized her. She had put her rested state to good use by pawing over the confiscated weapons and gear while everyone else was catching some sleep.
She and half the techs were itching to tackle the basic operation of installing the ammo in the guns and seeing how they performed. Not to mention taking it all apart and figuring out how it worked. They looked like actual laser rifles and handguns, with a completely different energy storage and dispersal system than the zats or staff weapons the Jaffa favored.
Friendlies, she reminded herself. She wouldn’t appreciate someone field stripping her gear and then offering to make nice. Still. The basic design was solid, and interesting, and the materials were some kind of non-metallic polymer that she couldn’t identify without samples to test.
Teal’c was the first to arrive in the meeting room, looking a lot more rested than when he’s arrived back on planet. They shared a nod, and he came to a polite halt next to her at the conference table, both of them too wound up to sit just yet. “The others are still preparing?”
“Probably chugging as much coffee as possible.”
He did the single brow raise and head tilt to dryly acknowledge a point. “I was briefed at length about our new alliance.”
“Jack’s persuasive, and persistent. Selmak and Dad are sold, and if Janet agrees with them?” She shrugged. “You said you believe the Jaffa, too.”
“They seem to believe the goa’uld is trustworthy, and an honorable leader.”
The tone was too neutral, a touch too bland to be taken at face value. “Wait, you don’t?” Teal’c usually made good calls regarding new allies, and if he was on the fence or against, then she had to wonder which way the wind was blowing, and why.
“I do,” Teal’c allowed, “yet that does not change the nature of this General Kenobi. He is still a goa’uld, and I do not think I will ever be truly comfortable in an alliance with them.”
Sam crossed her arms, biting down her kneejerk reactions. The first was to agree, the second to defend her father and Selmak. “You don’t mind the Tok’ra,” she said, neutral as possible.
“The Tok’ra have a long history of rebelling against the System Lords. I knew of them, enough to grasp what they might do. These Jedi are unknown to me.”
“It’s more than that, though.”
Teal’c tilted his head into the tiniest of nods. “There is a difference between being willing to accept the help of an ally, and being happy with the situation. If you can accept your father’s position as a host with grace and even appreciation, then my discomfort with a new, similar ally is but a small thing.” He leaned back, face rearranging into a more stoic look. “These clones seem to be both loyal, and of sound mind. It is difficult to masquerade such devotion as they show, and the System Lords do not bother to earn such.”
Sam nodded slowly, chewing over the angles. She could see that. “Jack also seems to be himself, and he’s still saying the same things now that he’s free. So that’s another good sign. He’s not talking like he’s brainwashed.”
“The goa’uld did indeed leave by its own choice?” At her nod, he let out a soft hum of consideration. “Colonel O’Neill is a much more valuable hostage than one of the clones. The goa’uld’s actions are consistent with its claims, which bodes well.”
“That’s enough to get you to believe?”
“I think it is possible we have found a new ally. What secrets they might hold is another matter.”
Sam had to duck her head, biting back a wry grin as her dad entered, looking more than a little awkward at his poor timing, or possibly a little sheepish about the Tok’ra’s tendency to play all their cards close to the vest. She couldn’t quite tell if he’d actually overheard the conversation or not. The moment she had her expression under control, she looked up. “A few hours’ sleep seems to have done you some good.”
It was Selmak who made a face. “Less than you’d think. We’re faking it right now. The Tok’ra council is in a bit of an uproar over this newest variable, and the fact that he doesn’t need a ribbon device –” Selmak shook his head. “They want answers to everything, now, rest and civilities be damned.”
“Tell me about it,” a voice groused from the doorway. Sam stood a little more at attention as Colonel Ferretti strolled in, clutching a steaming, oversized mug of coffee. He nodded at her, and she went more at ease, trying to check SGC’s third in command over discreetly as possible. Louis Ferretti had been on the very first mission through the stargate, and one of the few survivors still around. He headed SG2, and his nominal role as third in the overall chain of command didn’t come up often. She was pretty sure he was happy with that. He’d been sitting in with General Hammond during Jack’s absence, and it looked like the general was trying to get enough sleep to face the big wigs without being propped up by a gallon of coffee and Janet’s impending wrath. “So Jack’s getting prepped, anyone know what the newest snake in the neighborhood is up to?”
Selmak had a bit of a look for him, which Ferretti ignored. “I stopped by his cell on the way here, and they appeared to be meditating.”
Daniel wandered in, looking a tiny bit more rested, and a few minutes later Jack got escorted to the door. He made an immediate beeline to where SG1 had inadvertently gathered. “Hey kids. Ready to believe I’m me again?”
“I sure hope you are,” Sam grumbled, earning the disgruntled look she’d hoped for. She hid her grin again, only to be diverted from further chatter by the arrival of the Jedi. Kenobi’s guards remained at the door, and he stopped short after a quick scan of the room. He was a strange sight. Blue-eyed for the moment, military short blond hair. Everything from the scars to the way he held himself screamed “military” to her, though the black jumpsuit with a gray gear design on front still struck her as odd.
Also, the way he was looking at SG1 was not reassuring in the least.
“Ah...” His eyes flicked from Jack to Teal’c, then back. “Before I commit a huge social blunder: Jack, you are aware that Teal’c has a goa’uld within him, correct?”
Sam took a step to the side – not away from Teal’c, but to give her a clearer field of view of both Teal’c, on the very slim odds that this was a legitimate concern, and Kenobi, because that could have been a fantastic new version of ‘look! A distraction!’
Kenobi tensed, his brows going up in astonishment.
Teal’c, of course, hadn’t moved a muscle. “You sense the prim’ta I carry within me.” He tilted his head. “How is this possible? I was under the impression that your kind could not sense naquadah.”
Jack had already relaxed with a small ‘oooh.’ He flapped a hand vaguely at Kenobi. “It’s not the naquadah he’s picking up on. It’s the weird new-age-y thing with the mental vibes.”
“The Force, yes,” Kenobi said, still tense and wary, making no moves towards the meeting table and chairs. “None of you are concerned that your friend has a goa’uld?”
Teal’c raised his chin a fraction in defiance, his expression cool. “It is immature, and poses no danger.”
“It can’t be that immature if it has taken a host.”
“I am not its host. It is my prim’ta.”
Sam wondered how Kenobi was going to take the revelation of how the system lords kept their fighting forces enslaved. Sure, a Jaffa getting a larval goa’uld shoved into an abdominal pouch made them super strong and let them heal really quickly. It also meant that if said snake got removed, the Jaffa’s entire autonomic nervous system crashed and burned, too compromised by years of goa’uld fine control, and utterly dependent on it.
Kenobi gave Teal’c a cautious, questioning look. “I’m not familiar with that term?”
Daniel finally spoke up from the other side of Teal’c. “Ah, it means a larval goa’uld. One that isn’t able to take a host yet.”
Oh. Right. Basic language difficulties. This was why she was more on the tech side than the language side of the team.
“A larval...” Kenobi frowned. “An immature stage, not yet having reached its final form?”
“I’m...sorry, I’m confused. How can you have a symbiote if it isn’t old enough to take a host?”
Sam braced herself as Jack jumped in again. “Guess that never came up. Teal’c, buddy, you want to handle this?”
Teal’c inclined his head, expression still cool and never breaking eye contact with the Jedi. “As a Jaffa, I require a prim’ta to survive. At a young age, a Jaffa’s immune system fails, and a prim’ta is placed within an abdominal cavity to sustain us.”
Kenobi stared, blank confusion sapping the wariness from his posture. “...I’m sorry. What?”
Jack made a grossed out, sympathetic face. “Yeah, it’s...pretty gross.”
“I was under the impression that there were many more Jaffa than goa’uld?”
Sam was a little surprised. She didn’t often feel sympathy for goa’uld, but the poor guy looked honestly dumbstruck. “Yes, that’s right.”
“Oodles more,” Jack chirped.
“But...” Kenobi ran a hand over his hair, looking more and more confused, distressed. “That is an impossible growth rate. You would be overrun by goa’uld in short order, as the younglings mature.”
Sam blinked. She and Jack shared a look, the colonel looking as baffled as she was. “Y’know,” Jack drawled, “that’s a really good point.”
"Have you – do you honestly mean to tell me that none of you have ever given a single thought as to what is happening to all these younglings?"
“Prim’ta, not children,” Teal’c corrected frostily.
Daniel scowled. “And we’re not the ones sticking them into Jaffa. The System Lords don’t care what happens to the larvae, why should we?”
Sam hadn’t thought that Kenobi could deliver such an icy look. It was completely at odds with the cooperative being hosted in Jack earlier. “Oh, so if one person mistreats a youngling, it’s all right to go on doing it, is that it?”
“They are not children.” Teal’c was sharper as he repeated it. “They are little more than animals.”
Sam blinked and pulled back a little. That was harsh, even for Teal’c.
“Excuse me?” Kenobi snarled, even as Jack was stepping between the two.
“Whoa, hold it! Okay, before anyone says anything else that they might eventually regret, hold up. Kenobi, we’re not used to thinking of prim’ta as people, never mind kids. We’re gonna have to...uh...adjust some lines of thought.” The colonel looked stressed, which Sam could only guess was the whole thing about kids. Jack...never did well around kids at risk. Even though thinking of goa’uld larvae in that light was just ridiculous.
“They’re goa’uld!” Daniel snapped, voicing her thought for her, but with enough venom that, once again, she had to wonder about his rationality regarding the System Lords.
Jack turned his ‘nooo, really?’ look on Daniel. “Uh, yeah. And who are we trying to do the diplomatic dance with again?” The two had an ugly glaring contest for a moment, then Kenobi took a single, deliberate step forward.
“What does happen once these prim’ta become old enough to take a host?” he asked.
“They are collected by the priests,” Teal’c declared, voice steady, “who bring new prim’ta to replace those grown too old. There is no further mention of the old prim’ta – no ceremonies or rites. I assume they are killed.”
Sam blanched, not quite able to believe even goa’uld– Goddamn, every single time they found out some new horror, there was that same, delayed reaction. No, they couldn’t! Yes, of course they do.
“They are.” Selmak’s voice cut through the thickening silence. “It is a swift, efficient process.”
Kenobi’s face went blank as he looked over at Jack. “How many Jaffa are there?” His voice was harsh, sharp.
“Lots,” Jack said grimly.
Sam decided to add in her two cents, because freeing the Jaffa was important and they kept getting off track. “We’ve never had a firm count on their numbers, but our best estimates are several hundreds of thousands, if not more.”
For a moment, that cold blue gaze locked on her, muscles twitching around his eyes. Then Kenobi swapped the glacial look to Selmak. “You can’t possibly mean to tell me that– I mean, I know these are Sith – goa’uld, whatever you call them – but you cannot–! Even Sith would not– Not their own younglings!”
Selmak didn’t flinch from the glare. “The System Lords care for nothing and no one. The prim’ta are not considered offspring, they are a commodity to be bartered and sold. The best of the best are given in care to the holy caste. The rest...” Selmak made a face. “After they have served their purpose as prim’ta, they are of no further consequence to the System Lords. At that stage, they are waste to be disposed of.”
Kenobi stared blankly at the Tok’ra. “Hundreds of thousands.” Everyone was watching him closely, because anyone sounding that steady, that calm, was either discussing bookkeeping or having a near psychotic break.
“Hundreds. Of thousands. Of younglings. Are WASTE?” Kenobi’s roar was echoed by the sharp snap as the bullet-proofed, reinforced window overlooking the stargate cracked, a flaw-line blossoming down the center.
Everyone in the room jumped, and it took Sam a second to tear her eyes away from the sign of their supposed ally’s anger. If Jack hadn’t been vouching for Kenobi so loudly, Sam wondered if Hammond would have been quite so willing to go along with this – given his abilities, Kenobi was inherently more dangerous than any individual System Lord.
Kenobi’s face had a pinched look. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, they were brown. The host drew himself up, posture military straight, shoulders back and professional blankness on his face. Fury battened down to a grim determination, the clone took a steadying breath. “I’m aware of the time constraints, and how much work there is to do before the official delegations arrive, but I think these preliminary talks would benefit from a quick break to compose ourselves.”
“Agreed.” Ferretti said. He had one eye on the new seam in the window, the other on their volatile guest. “There’s another small meeting room down the hall, three doors that way.”
Kenobi – Commander Rex – gave them a brusque nod and swung around, stalking out the door, followed by his wary guards
After a long moment, Colonel Ferretti slumped, running a hand through his hair. “Jesus, that is not a conversation I ever thought I’d see.”
Sam expected some wry comment from Jack. When there was only silence she looked over to find him holding onto the back of a chair with a white-knuckled grip, looking like he’d been punched in the gut. He met her eyes after a long moment, and shook his head. “They’re...kids?” he said, sounding bewildered, like he didn’t believe it but he could and– well. Jack had one hell of a soft spot for kids.
She just...couldn’t make that last leap. The prim’ta weren’t– not like that. Juvenile versions of the goa’uld, sure, but children?
She’d had Jolinar in her head, and the Tok’ra had been anything but human. Yes, she’d had thoughts and emotions that Sam could understand, but there’d been nothing understandable of childhood, or any relatable situations outside various hosts.
There was nonetheless the unsettling sensation of doubt, the memory of the horrible mission to fetch Junior – the prim’ta Teal’c currently had, a replacement for the one he’d given to his son when the boy’s system had started to fail. She and Daniel had been the ones to sneak Junior out of a holding tank of countless thrashing, screeching snakes. Dear God, that had been no child she’d pulled out, but a screaming monster!
Sam had succeeded in grabbing the squirming little horror. They’d been walking away, almost clear, when Daniel had turned, and destroyed the tank. He’d shot it, shattering the glass and leaving who knew how many terrifying, horrible forms writhing on the ground, to asphyxiate and die.
Children. She couldn’t– they weren’t–
“You buy into all this?” Ferretti asked, voice neutral.
Jack looked up. It took two attempts for him to actually get words out. “Yeah.” He glanced over at the cracked window. “Kinda wish I could have that kind of temper tantrum right now.”
Teal’c studied the break in the glass, blank-faced. “It seems to speak well of Kenobi that his distress and outrage can produce such a result, yet numerous threats against his own safety did not induce similar responses.”
Five minutes later, Kenobi returned, still pale, but composed. He looked at the window and pulled a face before deliberately ignoring it, going over to the table and standing behind a chair. Everyone seated themselves, watching the Jedi who still looked grim but not about to bring the mountain down around their ears.
“All right,” Ferretti declared. “We’ve had some speedbumps, but hopefully we can get this show on the road. We all want to take down the goa’uld – the System Lords – for a lot of atrocities. They’ve been doing that shit for millennia. We need to concentrate on the now, and how in the next nineteen odd hours we can convince some brass that working together is a good idea. We need to keep this clean, direct, and rude – what we all can do for each other, without the fancy dancing around to sound nice. General Kenobi, in the meantime if there’s anything else we can tell you about the System Lords, feel free to ask and we’ll see what we can dig up. SG-1 is the top team we’ve got, and between myself and Selmak, we can probably cover major bullet points.”
Kenobi nodded gracefully, then immediately took the informal meeting right off into the weeds. “I know only a tiny bit of your culture, and I do realize that you have suffered at the hands of these Sith, but I find it extremely distressing that the mass murder of younglings has been so grievously overlooked.”
Of all people, Daniel was the one who broke the silence, crossing his arms and glaring back at Kenobi. “I think it’s just one more tragedy.” His tone was a cold, as biting as the Jedi’s. “Just one more travesty that’s really just another Thursday for the goa’uld. I think that the universe would be a better place with a lot less of them in it. I think they inherit a racial memory of cruelty, abuse, torture, domination, and rape. I think they’ve been enslaving my people every chance they get, and they have to be stopped!”
Kenobi held Daniel’s challenging look. “They enslave your people and treat them as cattle, yes. They take their own younglings, and place them within their slaves, where they steep in fear and pain until the only thing they know is Darkness. It’s a system engineered by Sith. Of course it’s made of horror down to its smallest component parts.” He took a long, shaking breath. “I agree, that system needs to be burned down to the core. I do not place blame on you or the Jaffa for surviving, not at all. But from my point of view, even if the younglings are evil, they are still younglings, and they are being horribly abused. You do not blame the Jaffa for the evils they commit to survive. Why do you blame these younglings?”
Daniel stabbed a finger down onto the table. “Because they grow up to be monsters. The only good I’ve seen any but the Tok’ra do is only in self-interest.”
Sam glanced around, but no one was willing to get between those two. Sam desperately wanted their usual group dynamic back. Jack was usually the up-front-and-center source of skepticism and anger, with Daniel trying to get him to not blow up the planet. Somehow the roles had gone topsy-turvey, and seeing Daniel’s anger out in the open like this was unusual, even disturbing.
“An adult has committed an abominable act upon your wife, Dr. Jackson.” Everyone, especially a chalk-pale Daniel, went still. “By the laws of my Order and our government, that is a death sentence, to be executed without hesitation or mercy. You? You have killed children. Mad, abused, twisted children, and it was perhaps better to grant them that mercy.” Sam wanted to protest, because how the hell did he know about Daniel shooting the tank? Then again, did he need to? Every Jaffa they killed had a prim’ta die with them, after all.
“Yet we cannot know that, for they are still dead.” Kenobi maintained the level glare at Daniel. “How do you judge yourself, Dr. Jackson?”
“This is not a trial!” Colonel Ferretti snapped, finally daring to cut in.
“Not of any of you, no.” Kenobi sounded weary, grieving. Accepting. He shook his head. “I apologize, but you would not jump immediately into talks of alliance with someone you suspected of arbitrarily slaughtering prisoners of war, for instance.” Turning to Selmak, Kenobi frowned. “And what about you, Selmak of the Tok’ra? You’ve been very quiet during this discussion. Where do the Tok’ra stand on the torture of younglings?”
Selmak hesitated, a little too obvious in organizing his thoughts. It was intriguing to see Selmak settle himself for verbal combat, shoulders squared and chin lifted high.
“You have not fought in this war. You do not know our situation or our constraints. If we stopped for every doomed prim’ta, we would have been defeated before we even started. We are few in number as it is.”
“Few in– ! There are thousands of easily kidnap-able beings, who in a more positive environment– ”
“Which we could never provide,” Selmak continued doggedly. “We have few solid holdings, little maintainable ground. We are guerrilla fighters– ”
“Who could add to your ranks with each set of lives you save!”
“We have tried and failed!” Selmak said, voice raised. They glared at each other for a moment, until Selmak spoke again. “All the Jaffa’s prim’ta are feral. They’re almost incapable of reason, and higher understanding is virtually –”
“Are you mad or willfully blind? Of course they’re feral! They are younglings, they have gods know what memories they can’t sort through, an environment where they must work constantly in fear and pain and repeated battle surrounded by even more fear and hate, and you think anyone would come out of that sane?!”
Selmak straightened into a precise posture, meeting anger with calm aloofness. “They at least have that kindness. They are taught nothing.”
Kenobi looked as if he’d been gut punched. Muscles flexed in his jaw, then his eyes shot virtual daggers at Selmak. “Being an ignorant prisoner, unable to figure out what is happening, why, or why your very existence is loathed but retained – how the hell is that a kindness?” he hissed. “Ignorance is only another way to keep everyone enslaved. They don’t even know they’re slaves. They can’t do anything to stop or improve their conditions. And that doesn’t even touch what’s going on with the Jaffa themselves!”
Silence claimed the room.
Teal’c broke it. “And why is this a personal matter for you?”
“Because there are younglings being condemned into slavery, tortured, and killed on a daily basis and nobody seems to find this objectionable!” Kenobi said, fury lighting his eyes.
Teal’c bowed his head a little, acknowledgement without submission.
Kenobi turned his ire upon Selmak, fury subsiding but not gone. “And how do you treat your own children?”
It took more effort to bite back her anger than Selmak quite expected. How dare this outsider come in and tell the Tok’ra how to do their job? The Tok’ra had been fighting this horrific war for hundreds of years – where had this Jedi’s precious Republic been then?
Then to imply that the Tok’ra would be like the goa’uld in throwing away the most precious resource they had – fellow Tok’ra– It was both insulting and degrading. The Tok’ra did what needed to be done. They couldn’t stop for every prim’ta, and it wouldn’t have helped if they did.
#Making friends,# Jacob reminded her softly.
She lifted her head and met Kenobi’s eyes levelly. “With joy, appreciation, and relief.”
Kenobi’s look soured even more. He shook his head. “Do not lie to me. It does not improve your position.”
She returned glare for glare, professionally shoving squirming concern down underneath righteous anger. “You seem to forget where you are.”
“Stranded on a potentially hostile planet, in no position to make demands, yes, I realize that. But I will not ally with those who torture and abuse younglings for selfish gain.”
Selmak continued to glare, and everyone else held their peace. Oh, there was squirming, but not one of them spoke up. We are in so much trouble, she thought, hopefully hiding it away from Jacob. She – all the Tok’ra – were in trouble. The tau’ri weren’t coming to the Tok’ra’s defense, not even Sam. She would not have expected them to jump to her aid, but to be left to fend for herself like this? She wasn’t called one of the oldest and the wisest of the Tok’ra for no reason.
This was bad.
If Kenobi could indeed back up his claims, the tau’ri would have less than no need for the Tok’ra’s help. Worse, by Jedi standards, Tok’ra were almost as bad as goa’uld – it took no genius to see that.
She pushed her speculation as fast as she could, stalling for precious seconds with a disdainful look and crossed arms.
Would it be better to stand firm, hide behind Tok’ra party lines and speeches? Or should she bend, and even if the bending shamed, would that maybe lead to a stronger position down the road? Better reluctant allies than standing proud only to have these Jedi turn their gaze to the Tok’ra after the goa’uld have been dealt with. She knew the precariousness of the Tok’ra position, how it had been supported on a thinner and thinner thread as the years passed. Yes, the Tok’ra were allies of the tau’ri, but if that lapsed, there was no telling how long the memory of alliance would buy them goodwill with the tau’ri. Better by far to keep the tau’ri as active allies, which to some extent would force the Jedi to tolerate the Tok’ra in turn.
She could feel the power shifting as the silence grew. No, now was not the time to cling to pride. Now was the time to read the currents of how this was going and be very, very careful in navigating them.
#They’re soldiers, good soldiers. If he can admit to mistakes, then they can understand extenuating circumstances. Go for it, Creakiest and Sneakiest.#
It was a wise gamble. Given Kenobi’s reaction, it was likely he’d come down on her side. Moreover, the Tok’ra delegation would be there by the next opportunity to speak with them, and even if she could somehow squirm out of answering right now, the lie would be worse.
Once the other Tok’ra did arrive, it would never come out. People would be tackling others across the room, using zats to keep the silence, if necessary, and Kenobi showed no patience for anything less than the truth
Not to mention the political clout it could give her among the Tok’ra, if she could take credit for neutralizing this mad new faction with their insane, strident philosophies. If she managed to turn them into actual allies, they could provide so much for the beleaguered Tok’ra guerrillas. #“They’d provide us with new technology. Hosts. Who knows, maybe even a queen, so long as we agree to mass social reforms. Don’t like it? Guess where your oldest and wisest is going to be defecting to.” What do you think, will the Council buy it?#
#Hell of a stick,# Jacob sent with pride and affection, politely leaving out the ‘if they would be willing to let a queen defect.’
It was a slightly longer pause than she liked, but not enough for Kenobi to press yet again.
“We have none.”
Oh, the stares hurt. The tau’ri went from tense and waiting to see how she would react to shock, disbelief, and on Sam’s part, astonished injury. She seemed to think that Jolinar’s passing had granted her so much insight to the Tok’ra, but the memories from a passing symbiote were scattered, incomplete things that were more emotionally charged recollections than any logical collection of remembered events.
Also, Jolinar had not known either. The Tok’ra did not air their woes easily.
“We no longer have a queen. Our ranks now expand only with defectors, which, as you may guess, happens all the time.” The sarcasm bit through the room. “We fight a guerrilla war. We have few safe bolt holes, no reliable supply of hosts, and no future other than what we can carve out on our own. Prim’ta are mad. Upon reaching maturity, even with time and effort and care, every last one was still feral.”
Kenobi gave her a narrow-eyed look, but more intense than accusing. “Do you think there could be success in better circumstances?”
Selmak kept her expression professionally blank. “I’ve no idea. Perhaps with a billion well-trained fish my host could walk across the sea. In the meantime, I have already gone far beyond any reasonable limits on what information I should be sharing. We are not a group that can afford to show any weakness.” She dared a quick glance over at Sam, struggling to convey the apology to Jacob’s daughter. “Not even to our allies.”
“And you never even thought of asking us for help?” Sam demanded. “Why?”
At times like this, she just felt old. “We can’t afford to show any weakness,” Selmak repeated. “We have lost allies to the System Lords before. Any information we share could end up in the hands of our enemies. Also, the tau’ri have plenty of problems. Strong allies, you can accept. More victims of the system lords who need help? You really think the States, let alone any other country that stumbles over the Stargate program, would be willing to provide a refuge and medical center for young, feral goa’uld? I don’t know about you, but I think a clean death would be preferable to handing a prim’ta over to the NID.”
Ferretti was the one to break the silence. “That sounds like a good discussion to have, but not today’s agenda.”
Kenobi sighed and ran his hands over his face. “Agreed,” he said, reluctant and quiet, but Sam was relieved to see he was willing to move off the prim’ta problem. Admittedly, she wasn’t sure what she thought of it, but that was true of a lot of things at the moment. Like the secrets her father had been keeping from her. Sam understood Selmak’s reasoning, but it stung, to be left at the diplomatic equivalent of the kid’s table.
“So Jack informed me about the terms you Jedi are interested in, training and cooperative support, a staging area – but to be blunt? What have you guys got that the big wigs might want?”
Sam cleared her throat. “Janet made it clear to me we should be interested in bacta.” ‘Interested.’ Sam had overheard her friend quizzing Kenobi about the stuff with a zeal not often seen outside of religious circles, and if Janet were an iota less professional, she’d probably have tried to strike up a trade deal already.
Jack drew himself up, struggling to shake off the unpleasant revelations and only managing an approximation of normal. “Undersuits,” he declared firmly. “The footie PJs are best thing I’ve run into since duct tape.” He gave Sam such a look. “I know it’s gotta be in your lab right now and I want it back in at least mostly one piece.”
There were times when the man just baffled her. “The undersuit, but not the armor?”
The mild amusement on Kenobi’s face couldn’t overcome the distress still in his eyes, but at least it existed. “The polymers involved are very effective against the blaster bolts our own weapons use, but I think it would be of only middling efficiency against your guns.”
“What kind of performance do they have?”
Jack leaned back in his chair at Ferretti’s question, then nodded. “Energy guns, produce something similar to staff blasts but Sam’s gonna need to assess that. Small caliber pistols have a nice rate of fire, maybe half the burn and a lot less of the surface area. Rifles are still a bit underpowered compared to a staff, but everything has a much nicer rate of fire. I heard some guys talking about higher-powered rifles, but I’m guessing they’re slower to fire too.” Then he grinned, and it was almost at his normal wicked expression. “And then there’s the sword.”
She blinked. Sam knew better than to think that the Colonel would be pulling her leg, but – “I was looking over the weaponry, and there wasn’t anything like a sword in there.”
“There’s only the one,” Kenobi admitted. “It’s a weapon best left to Force users, though that’s not required.”
“Tube,” Jack filled in, holding up his hands. “This long, buttons on it. A laser sword.”
“How does that even work?” If he was putting her on, she was going to find something very unkind to do to him.
Kenobi bobbled a hand back and forth. “Less laser, more...plasma, I think?”
Her jaw dropped. “Pla–! That’s not possible!”
He raised a brow and gave her a dry look. “A month ago, I would have said the same about a stable wormhole that can be safely traversed.”
Daniel stepped in before she could get diverted onto that topic. “And this is a practical weapon? I assumed from the name it was more for ceremonial purposes.”
Jack’s face verged on someone having some kind of religious experience – or memory. “Didn’t see something it couldn’t cut through”
Kenobi ignored him, which meant he’d possibly had exposure to Jack getting fascinated by something shiny. “It has some ceremonial purposes, but for Jedi at least, yes, it is very practical weapon.” He paused, then gave Sam a slightly apologetic look. “There are certain materials that are resistant to it, or short out the blade. Without proper preparation, most don’t work under water.”
Colonel O’Neill tilted his chair as far as it would go, grinning like an idiot. “Reflects staff and zat blasts, too.”
If that was true, she could see why he would want one. Hell, she wanted one. She couldn’t decide if going to go over the table and throttle Jack for messing with her was a good idea, or grabbing Kenobi and demanding schematics would be smarter. “It reflects energy blasts.”
The Jedi must’ve seen her expression, from the tiny not-quite-a-smirk that still didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s a skill that takes practice to learn, as well as a high Force-sensitivity.”
Ferretti scrubbed a hand over his face. “Please tell me there’s a safety on that thing, because I don’t want anyone in this mountain waving around plasma swords without certification.”
Kenobi’s eyes went brown, and his host sat a little straighter, a tiny, wry smirk crossing his face. “All weapons were safed, power sources removed where feasible. When we’ve got an agreement on working together hammered out, and translators, my men will be eager to share toys.”
“If they get to play with the local firearms in return, right?” Jack grinned.
Daniel had that jut to his jaw as he stared down into his coffee mug, swirling it moodily. “Local-local, or do other countries get a chance to play, too?” he asked sharply.
It took a lot of work for Sam to not facepalm. Ferretti just sighed and gave him a stern glare. “Doctor Jackson, much as I’d love to give everyone an equal opportunity to militia up against the goa’uld, I think right now the Stargate program –”
“The United States,” Daniel corrected him.
Ferretti rolled his eyes. “As located in the–”
“Excuse me?” Everyone swiveled to look at Kenobi, who looked like he’d just bitten into a lemon. “I didn’t think to ask, though I suppose that was my error. Am I understanding correctly that there’s not worldwide co-operation on your planet?”
Ferretti facepalmed, Jacob maybe a beat behind him. Daniel ignored them, shrugging a little. “Well, there’s the United Nations, but they’re not all that effective, and the States have started at least one war in defiance of the UN.”
Jack glared at Daniel, only cutting it out when Kenobi gave him a pointed look. “What?” Jack demanded. “If we go down this rat hole, we’re dragging global politics into this. If there’s a faster way to shut down any progress at all, I don’t know about it. Letting the whole world stick their fingers into this situation just means things will be in committee until the damn goa’uld are landing on the White House lawn.”
“Oh, Force.” Kenobi ran a hand over his hair. “It’s been centuries since – How many governmental bodies are there?”
“Dozens,” Jack groused, crossing his arms and looking away, missing one hell of a gape.
“Around two hundred,” Daniel added more helpfully.
“...kriffing hells,” Kenobi said faintly. He looked at Daniel. “Gods, it must be like getting the Senate to agree what they’re having for lunch.”
To his credit, Daniel nodded. “Unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean the US should have the exclusive rights to the greatest advance in weaponry that Earth has seen since the atomic bomb.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Hey, we were the ones who were attacked, in World War II.”
“Yeah, and we ended it by dropping two atomic bombs on civilian targets.”
Sam leaned back, not sure if this was one of the times this argument was going to end before it began or if the current tensions would drag it out – especially in front of their guest. Since Kenobi had his head in his hands, and was tracking the back and forth with an expression of mild mortification, she supposed it was probably moot.
“To end the war!” Jack half-yelled, leaning forward to glare at Daniel – who glared right back.
“It was a terror tactic!”
“You weren’t complaining when we blew Ra out of orbit.”
Daniel went a little white – it was a pretty low blow. “There were innocent people on that–”
“Enough!” Colonel Ferretti snapped. The silence was brittle, with Jacob sitting silent, arms crossed as he studied the wood grain of the table too closely. Sam and Teal’c tried to be invisible while Jack and Daniel glared away at hapless office furniture. “You two wanna duke out ethics some other time and place, go for it, but not here and not now! If it’s not negotiating how to get our collective asses out of the fire, save it!” He took a deep breath, then looked back at Kenobi. “So. We’re obviously not getting our hands on any battle cruisers, but what’s spaceflight look like on a smaller scale?”
Sam had to admit that when Jack was right, he knocked it out of the park. It was pretty clear that Kenobi wasn’t giving away the store, but he was more open than most of their allies – the Tok’ra and Asgardians solidly included. He seemed a lot less interested in potential technology exchange, concentrating mostly on raw materials and basic supplies like food and water. It seemed that the maxim about an army marching on its stomach held true, even for Kenobi’s people, and local supplies would mean one less thing to transport.
Then she realized that Kenobi wasn’t bothering with Earth technology because he didn’t think there’d be any useful tech, and he was looking at Earth the way SGC looked at the less technologically advanced cultures they encountered through the stargate – good people and good allies, but not places that would produce useful weapons. It did far more to discomfort her than the Asgardian disdain or the Tok’ra hauteur had ever done.
Everyone wound down after a few hours, past the point of punch drunk and in desperate need of more rest. Sam honestly thought they were done, but Kenobi turned to Ferretti. “For the official discussions I would like my armor returned to me.”
Sam winced, even as Colonel Ferretti shook his head. “We can’t do that, sorry. We still don’t know the capabilities–”
She cleared her throat. “Unless there’s some kind of force-field generator, it’s looking to be only a bit above par with kevlar.”
That earned her a look. “-and it contains a communications device,” Ferretti finished.
Kenobi didn’t look as stubborn as he had while discussing the prim’ta, but neither was he willing to drop the issue just yet. “My com unit only extends to my men, at the moment. Were any Republic forces in range, it would be moot.”
Ferretti had the look of a man who knew he had to ask, and he knew that the answer was going to bite him. “Moot?”
The Jedi’s look was thoughtful. “If you don’t mind, Colonel, I would like to do something rather rude.”
Ferretti seemed curious in spite of himself. “Oh, please do.”
#Not having a com would not limit me.# Sam jumped as Kenobi’s voice echoed in her head, right between the ears. It made the hairs on her neck stand up, since it was both like, and totally unlike Jolinar speaking to her. Jack hunched a little, while Daniel leapt out of his seat, wide-eyed. Teal’c and Selmak had matching confused looks – subdued, all things considered – while Ferretti cursed, soft and vehement.
Ferretti unclenched white-knuckled hands from the table’s edge. “Well,” he said, voice higher than usual. “Looks like you get the armor back.”
In the confusion of several airmen escorting Kenobi’s armor to him, Colonel O’Neill and Major Carter accosting Tok’ra Selmak, and Colonel Ferretti confronting Daniel Jackson, it was easy for Teal’c to slip away. He hurried into central security’s watch room, nodding politely to the various people on guard. He had taken great care to cultivate the friendship of the tau’ri within this room, for they were the watchmen who were liable to first detect invasion by the false gods.
He had long ago learned how vital that was. They did not question as he took one of the few spare seats, though he could feel their gazes resting upon his shoulders; for even here, even for one as proven true as he was, they would not let down their guard entirely.
Teal’c, former First Prime of Aphophis, approved of such vigilance.
He queued up a series of cameras, plotting the route that the security guards were liable to take from the conference room to the containment cell. By the time Kenobi was escorted out, Teal’c could sit back and switch between cameras.
The Jedi was well behaved, though by the sag of their shoulders, they were as exhausted as any of the tau’ri. Were they not goa’uld, they would most likely have been stumbling with it. Teal’c spared a moment for grief at how Colonel O’Neill had taken what was obvious intelligence to any Jaffa. The man was his brother by combat, kin without blood, and Teal’c did not like that he had brought that man any pain. He was a father himself, and he well understood the grief that Jack felt about children of all stripes.
Jack did not, thank all true gods and demons, know the endless pain of regularly ordering the death of children, just like his own save for a different brand upon their forehead.
The First Prime of Apophis served his god, and those that served other gods were never innocent, never to be spared. Taken, perhaps. Converted, sometimes –
Yet Apophis had always been shortsighted and thought that children were a nuisance of hungry mouths without the muscle to fight, or the intelligence to serve. Worse, they required prim’ta, and why share those with any who had served the enemy?
Teal’c understood Kenobi’s rage, at children pointlessly abused, then slaughtered.
That did not mean he would take the prim’ta’s side against the Jaffa’s.
Jack...was unlikely to see that. The very fact that the tau’ri had not seen or understood, that the only ones in the room that known the full horror of the situation were himself and Selmak boded ill for the Jaffa, should these Jedi favor the mad, feral children that their foes spawned over the slaves that the false gods kept.
Much of the time, Teal’c appreciated the boundless optimism the tau’ri had.
At times like this, he despaired of how blind it kept them.
Teal’c resettled his shoulders, a small movement covered by lifting his head to study the Jedi entering his cell. He had to remain calm. He had made his choice, abandoned his allegiance to Apophis to fight for his people instead. The tau’ri were friends as well as allies, and Colonel O’Neill was one of the canniest, boldest tau’ri that Teal’c had met. If he trusted this Jedi, then Teal’c would follow his lead.
Not blindly, as a tau’ri would, but cautiously, as a freed slave did.
Kenobi nodded and exchanged polite words with his guards, who left him to sit down upon the bunk. Teal’c wore the attached headphones to listen in by the time the doors closed, though Kenobi remained silent as he slumped down, somewhat-straight posture collapsing into a huddle. Captain Rex – the man sat back and Teal’c could see brown eyes – stared off in the distance, pale and shaking his head faintly. It was a look of pain, but there was no way to determine the root cause at the moment.
The man grunted a little, sound of faint acknowledgement. He murmured something, almost too faint for the microphones to pick up, and in Ancient, which rendered it useless to Teal’c. Rex’s arms wrapped around his stomach, his eyes haunted. Teal’c moved closer, watching the man’s eyes flicker about a little, as one listening to a conversation. More Ancient, but neither argumentative nor pleading.
Captain Rex’s eyes closed for a moment, and Teal’c could see the man whisper, likely some kind of plea too soft to be heard. His face was not fraught with emotion, as if from one who was begging for something. Nothing so far was conclusive as to the relationship between Kenobi and Rex – whether Kenobi had spoken truly, or whether the talk of cooperation was merely another goa’uld ploy.
The host’s free hand came up, and Teal’c was shocked into stillness to see the goa’uld come forth. He braced himself, waiting to see what evil it would craft, but when Captain Rex lowered his hand, the goa’uld remained wrapped around his forearm. He cradled it next to his other arm.
Protective. Sheltering. Teal’c could recall times when his Ry’ac was young, very young, and he had been fortunate enough to hold his son thus.
He has no idea what to think of a host showing such concern for a false god, so he remained still, quietly watching.
After a while, Captain Rex’s free hand lifted up, and he began stroking light fingers along the top of the goa’uld’s spine. It leaned into the touch, head tilting a little, and Teal’c could see its eyes dim a bit. They remained there, the man petting the – the Jedi, until Teal’c finally turned away. His certainty on how the universe worked was shaken, as it has not been since he realized that the madmen he was fighting alongside were the fabled tau’ri. He walked with steady strides to his rooms, needing kel’no’reem. God-slayers almost paled in comparison, in light of these impossible partners.