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A Star to Steer By

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“Easy, easy,” Anakin called to the troopers maneuvering the antigrav platform. "Okay, that’s good, we’ve got it from here.”

“We do?” Ahsoka muttered skeptically to him.

“Sure. We're not even falling down a mountain. Piece of cake.”

Ahsoka rolled her eyes, but she was grinning as she walked over to the other side of the Twilight’s open cargo-bay door.

They reached out with the Force, tugging gently and lifting the starfighter off its pallet. Getting the wings into the Twilight’s cargo-hold was the main challenge – there were only centimeters to spare either side, and that wasn’t contending with the crates of first-contact trade-goods that had been quickly tossed together.

It would be worth it, though. They’d already lost 17; Anakin wasn’t about to lose anyone else, not when they’d already karking won.

The clone pilot in the starfighter's cockpit sat still as the Jedi floated him and his fighter into the cramped hold, trusting them not to ding his ride.

“Okay, I think that does it,” Ahsoka said, her infectious grin spreading easily to Anakin.

“Yep. That's all of it. C'mon, let's go save Obi-Wan. Again.”

“I'm going to tell him you said that,” Ahsoka laughed.

“Why do you think I told you?”

The hyper-jump from one location in the star-system, past the star and over to the other side, barely even qualified as a hyper-jump. #More like a micro-jump,# Anakin said to Fives, who agreed with him. The stars didn’t even streak, just brightened a bit for a second, and then they were there.

“Open the cargo hold,” Anakin instructed.

“Yes, sir,” Echo said, fingers nimble on the control panel. “Red Two deployed,” he confirmed after a moment.

Odd Ball nudged his starfighter abreast of the Twilight, tossing off a salute to Anakin before falling back to cover their six.

“Cargo-bay door closed,” Echo reported.

“Right. Let’s go meet the locals,” Anakin said, and nudged the Twilight’s engine’s to greater speed.

It was weird, standing out in a small landing field, here on Earth, waiting for aliens. It made Jack twitchy, and the fact that they were allowed small firearms wasn’t helping, counterintuitive as that sounded. Given the fuss Cronus, Yu, and Nirrti had kicked up about everything from weapons to surveillance during the Protected Planet Treaty negotiations, Obi-Wan’s calm acceptance of firearms meant that either Obi-Wan thought that the incoming Jedi were just that good, or that the incoming Jedi actually were just that good.

It really didn’t help that a good portion of the brass was present, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The only reason the entire ridiculous collection of hardware wasn’t in on the meeting was because National Security Advisor Hayes was paranoid and had insisted that the majority stay in the mountain, watching via video feed.

It still took Admiral McGregor pulling rank to keep the crowd to a small mob. Jack couldn’t tell if he really, really liked the guy or wanted him and his understated power-plays very, very far away from SG-1 and SGC.

So it was SG-1 minus Teal’c, Hammond, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, several other bureaucrats and brass, Kenobi and Rex, and a handful of Stargate field personnel as sentries in case of wandering tourists. It was just past ten in the morning, so they had decent light for whatever happened. Jack trusted Obi-Wan, but this was still Jack’s home town, and trouble had come knocking too often for Jack to be all fine and dandy with visitors packing unknown tech in unknown ships.

The communications officer perked up first, then did the little doubletake to the side which had to mean he was getting some weird intel. Then his head snapped up. “Sir, two bogeys coming in from the south-east, too large to be missiles but too fast to be anything terrestrial.”

Hammond shot Kenobi a look, arch and kinda serious. “Two?”

Kenobi took it in stride. “A protective escort. Can you determine if they’re both roughly the same size?”

Jack was pretty sure Kenobi was guessing, which was weird since he couldn’t peg any particular behavior as suspicious. This had to be what came from sharing a body with the guy, and there was the weird again. Oh, he was not getting over this any time soon.

Jack dragged his brain back to the present. Sam leaned over and commented to Daniel, “Anything terrestrial would be coming in from the west.”

Jack stifled a grin. Sam geeking out over tech was always fun. Jack had some idea of what the Republic folks could put out for armor and guns. He might not know what kind of ships they had, but he did know Sam would be having a field day.

Kenobi was smooth. By the time Jack looked back at him, he had the hologram walkie talkie up. =Anakin, the locals want to know why there are two ships inbound, and I must admit I’m rather curious myself.=

No hologram this time, but it was the same deep voice that had been yelling at Kenobi before. =What? It's a good precaution.= There was a hint of laughter hiding underneath the objection. =Be happy – you finally beat security measures through my thick skull.=

Kenobi did a really good job conveying an eye-roll without breaking diplomatically polite. Jack was impressed. =This is a peaceful meeting.=

Between the gentle sarcasm and the dubious snort across the radio, the locals were relaxing a little. =Yeah. Because those never go horribly wrong.=

Jack had to nod at that. He was way too familiar with that little problem.

Kenobi’s sigh was long-suffering, but there was a hint of a smile. =I’d rather be optimistic for once. Please tell me it’s just a starfighter.=

Skywalker’s tone went pure teasing. =Red Two, anything you’d like to add?=

A clone’s voice came from the walkie talkie, with slightly scratchier acoustics. =Got your six, General. Good to hear your voice again.=

Kenobi’s face softened into a smile. =You too, Odd Ball.= He swapped back to professional fast enough. =See you lot soon, don’t blow anything up. Kenobi out.= He turned to an increasingly impatient Hammond. “A security measure, General Hammond. It’s a single fighter as escort; apparently Anakin is feeling cautious.”

Jack tuned out the rest of the diplomatic smoothing-over, more interested in the blot of darkness that was moving really damn fast, and according to the communications grunt, that was their bogeys. It swept in, resolving into two shapes as they approached. Both were going way faster than any plane Jack would want to be near when it was coming in for a landing.

The larger one bled off speed at an insane rate as it approached. They had to have the same or similar gravity fiddling technology as the System Lords did, or the G’s produced by a stop like that would splat anyone inside against the windshield like bugs. The smaller, more plane-shaped vessel slipped ahead of the larger one. Its flight curved around the field at a large enough radius that the Welcome Wagon group didn’t do more than shuffle nervously. Security escort, yup, and looking for any nasty surprises so that they happened to it before anyone else. The larger vessel wasn’t an especially sleek-looking ship, giving the vague impression of a box with two wings – one to the side, one on the bottom, unless it was flying upside down. Jack got to watch Carter do the little confused head-tilt-and-squint thing.

He had no idea how the thing landed either, but it was always fun to watch and heckle other confused people. Or just watch. He’d get the answers one way or another.

Daniel was a little too quiet off to the other side of Sam, withdrawn and uneasy and still giving Jack the cold shoulder. Jack didn’t like it, really hated the whole...distance and confusion thing, but they’d all needed the catnap during the wait more than ironing out issues.


The ships angled in toward the center of the airfield and a reasonable distance from the welcome party. There was an absolutely uncanny lack of backwash, a rich hum of engines doing some work without the blast of air that a landing vehicle should have.

The lower wing of the boxy ship silently swung up, so that it was parallel to the long one on the side. That left the four feet which may or may not have been retracted earlier clear for a landing, and the whole shebang settled down with a tiny whumph.

It was even turned so the three suspiciously gun-like things – one topside, the other two at the ends of the wings – weren’t facing the meet-and-greet. As one of those Walmart greeters, Jack appreciated that, but he sent Kenobi a look anyways. He hadn’t said the thing was armed!

The security escort landed lightly next to the first ship – also with weapons facing away.

The two arrivals might not be a pyramid ship, but it was at least a little impressive.

“How does that hinge withstand the stresses of leaving atmosphere?” Sam hissed in that antsy little whisper that meant she wanted to get her hands all over the tech, now. Jack had to hide a grin, because he was willing to bet that was just the start.

The front bit of the large ship, which at least had a bit of a familiar plane-shaped-nose, yawed open with a pneumatic hiss. It lowered into a ramp, and a man stepped down it.

It was the clone from earlier, in a weird getup that definitely wasn’t armor. It was all dark, black and maroon in weird love child of Ren Faire tunics and the top of a Japanese kimono. The knee-high boots were all Ren Faire, and the utility belt and long gloves were wildcards tossed in to make things confusing. The gloves didn’t match, either, what with the right one having three metal wrap-around snaps to keep it closed, and the left one plainer except for a communicator near the wrist. The belt had several nifty pouches, a lightsaber, and a blaster with the top of the holster snapped closed.

The tattoo on the guy’s forehead and the goatee were the only way Jack recognized the guy as the clone from the hologram, if he was being honest.

The hatch on the fighter plane popped open – thank goodness, that seemed to work like normal – and a clone in full armour clambered down from the cockpit and hopped down off a wing. He strolled over to stand by the lowered ramp, removing his helmet in that same smooth motion that had freaked Jack out so much at 17’s burial. The two clones exchanged a nod, and the one in armour went to parade rest, waiting at the bottom of the ramp.

The rest of the Walmart greeters were having an even harder time of things, if Jack was hearing the mutters right. They might have been stuck on how much the new guys looked like Rex – the only clone they’d seen – or it might have been Fives’ getup. Hard to tell.

Kenobi and Rex stepped forward, meeting Fives and Skywalker halfway, and an evaluating look passed between them. Then Skywalker – blue eyes, Jack noted – grinned, a lopsided quirk of an expression, just a bit sad.

=That’s a different look. Glad you two are all right.=

Kenobi didn’t say anything; instead he stepped forward and pulled Skywalker into a hug. It went on a little weirdly long, but given the kind of day Kenobi seemed to have been having – hell, the kind of month, really, and Jack had had a front row seat for way too much of it – it made sense. Jack took the opportunity to scope out everyone else. Sam had half an eye on Kenobi and his friend, but most of her attention was on the ship and how she must’ve thought it went together. Daniel was watching the reunion and quiet muttering that no one could overhear with that not-quite-sullen, suspicious expression that meant he didn’t like things, but he’d be polite and keep his mouth shut.

This was gonna be such a great get together. Like a family reunion, but only attended by the not-fun obscure aunts and uncles.

Yup, he and Daniel had to have another talk soon.

When the two Jedi – or was it four? He’d have to ask sometime – pulled apart, they moved with a military step over to George, who was standing at the polite parade rest of a General waiting – only a little impatient – to review the troops. Kenobi nodded to him. “General Hammond, my fellow Jedi and former student, Anakin Aianste, hosted in Commander Rayshe'ase.” He turned to said former student. =The local leader who could do with our support, General George Hammond.=

Skywalker bowed, and Jack had to bite back a snicker when a bunch of the locals twitched at the non-standard greeting. When Skywalker stood, his eyes swapped from dark blue to brown, and Commander Fives gave a brusque but polite nod. “Visk,” he declared, and Jack had to wonder what the brass thought of a simple “sir” for a greeting.

Kenobi nodded over to the clone still standing by the ship, getting a polite, curt nod back. “And that is Davijaan.”

Jack did not for a moment trust the sly look that Skywalker – Aianste – got as Davijaan gave everyone a shallower, polite nod. It was funny; it was impossible to tell if Rex or this Fives was younger, but the way the two Jedi were standing and interacting with each other, their body language showed a real clear difference.

“Now,” Kenobi said, but Skywalker interrupted him.

=Aren’t you going to introduce the others?=

Oh boy. Jack eyed the ship. You could get a decent amount of ‘others’ on there, but he didn’t think they’d invite down a whole strike team.

From the stinkeye Kenobi was giving his student, he didn’t like the smell of things either. Not like it was going to explode, but more like there was going to be a surprise party after weeks of people pretending they had never even heard of birthdays. =Don't tell me Yularen came down.=

Skywalker gave him a look right back. =Nope. He’s safely on the Resolute’s bridge.=

=….Anakin, what did you do?=

Damn, Skywalker had a better innocent look than Jack did, and he’d practiced. =Translate for me?=

Jack really had to wonder how Kenobi kept from facepalming, or even eye-rolling a bit. Jedi had a hell of a sabbac face as he politely turned back to a patiently waiting Hammond and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, it seems there are a few more introductions to make, and Anakin would like to say something.”

Skywalker dipped down into another bow when Kenobi paused to give him a look. =It’s an honor to meet you, General Hammond. I understand you gave my teacher aid and refuge, as well as our soldiers. On behalf of the Republic, and the Jedi Order, you have our thanks.=

Daniel snorted, very faintly. “Last time I saw you struggling that hard not to make faces, you sprained something.”

“Did not. That was all from the punch and it is not my fault the chieftain didn’t like me.”

“I told you not to annoy her,” Sam muttered. “Now how about letting those of us who can’t understand Ancient hear the translation?”

George nodded back, managing polite and gracious. “We’re happy to assist.”

Fuck. No way Skywalker missed the faint stirring among the ranks at that. Still. Weirdly good sabacc face on him, too.

=I was not, however, able to locate my Master alone.= Nice, Kenobi was smart enough to swap “master” for “mentor,” though Daniel gave Jack just as much an evil eye as Kenobi was starting to give Skywalker. =So I would like to present my fellow Jedi.=

Oh. Shit. Jedi Jedi, or normal Jedi? Could he even say human Jedi, or was ‘not-brain-snaked Jedi’ the phrase?

George was all smiles and polite diplomatting. “Of course! We have a few extra faces here, so our introductions can wait till later?”

=Of course.= Skywalker did another polite nod-that-wasn’t-quite-a-bow, then turned. Two figures were already coming down the ramp, and it was hard not to notice how Davijaan had gone on high alert.

Guy on the left didn’t surprise Jack at all. Standard clone, bright Jedi green eyes, bounce in his step. His hair was neater but a bit longer than Fives’, and he had similar tunic-y things on except in dark red, and a fancy sash to go along with the utility belt.

The fella on the right Jack couldn’t quite get his head around. He was pretty sure the guy was a clone – old, though, and looked like he’d been working a few decades to be poster boy for the dictionary definition of ‘wizened.’ There was more going on than just wrinkles though; half of the face looked almost melted, sagging and drooping more than the other side. Had it been some kind of injury? Or was this what happened when cloning didn’t go quite right? The guy had a bit of a hunchback, which, again, could have been age or some kind of injury or defect, but he had a cane and moved with the smooth grace Kenobi had. The wrinkled face was serene, almost cheerful, and Jack got the feeling those bright green eyes saw a hell of a lot as they scanned the crowd.

Jack looked over at Daniel and Sam, who were already looking at him. They might as well have had ‘wait, is this a host?’ scrawled above their heads.

Hosts...weren’t like this. The goa’uld went for the shiniest, prettiest choices they could find. They got the hosts that might as well be pretty little sports cars that were rolling ads for how rich and supposedly awesome the driver was. Sports cars, race cars, the speediest and shiniest options with the pimped out chrome rims and that was real disturbing when the metaphor came in for a landing and it was about people again.

Now that Jack was thinking about it, it was obvious that the Jedi didn’t prioritize their hosts that way. Rex had some nasty scarring, though not much where it showed. The fella with the sash had hints of old burn marks along the neck. So if the goa’uld went for the high market, high status cars, then the Jedi went for the sturdy jeeps – almost all standardized jeeps, what with the clones – that you could go cross country with. Hell, Kenobi had even offered a basic tune up for Jack when he’d hosted.

The notion of that friendly neighborhood brain-snake as some kind of greasemonkey mechanic that spent time tinkering around under Jack’s hood broke his brain a little.

Ok, more than a little.

Either way. That would make the old guy toddling down the ramp the junkyard clunker someone had spent months and years on, souping things up. While the result might not be the prettiest, for an old wizened dude he moved with reasonable speed, and like it wasn’t the slightest bit of strain on him.

Kenobi lost his diplomatic cool enough that Jack could see he looked smack dab between wanting to spit nails and just giving both the newcomers huge hugs. By the time the two came to a halt beside him, Kenobi had his composure back.

Everyone tried to be polite and ignore Davijaan playing rearguard, as Skywalker gestured to the younger new clone. =My student, Ahsoka Tano, hosted in Echo.=

“Reproduce?” Daniel muttered. “He’s called Reproduce?

“Echo,” Jack hissed back, hoping that Daniel caught up with the Basic-Ancient shit soon because being better at language – any language – than Daniel was even more wrong than friendly neighborhood goa’uld.

Kenobi’s face had a strange expression as Skywalker turned to the old clone. The live translation was smooth, but Jack could hear something a bit strained in Kenobi’s words. “And this is Master Yoda, a fellow Council member, hosted in Shek’eta-She’cu.”

Sam saw the way Jack was trying to hide a look, and gave him a small ‘tell me!’ glare along with a nudge. Jack leaned in a little. “Today’s lesson in Ancient and I don’t know what has been brought to you by the words Echo, Sabacc, and the number 99.”


“Space poker.” Jack didn’t quite know what to think of the fact that Daniel just nodded and went back to paying attention.

Yoda also didn’t have any problem giving Hammond a bow, which George returned without looking too awkward. =Grateful we are, for the assistance you have provided.=

Daniel blinked. A lot. Jack wiggled a finger in his ear. “Did that sound wrong to you?” Daniel’s nod was reassuring, especially since Kenobi translated it in normal English.

“We’re pleased to offer aid to those who mean us no harm, and it’s an honor to meet allies in our fight.” George didn’t show a hint of uncertainty in that little declaration, and the Jedi gave him their little nod-bows. “Perhaps we should head inside where it’s a little more comfortable.”

Obi-Wan looked less than pleased through the more formal introductions, and when he ‘let slip’ that these were dignitaries for just the one part of one planet, Anakin’s bad feeling only grew. There seemed to be at least one group of hostile individuals, though they felt pretty cowed and they kept quiet for the most part.

He could only guess what the unknown group of dignitaries that Obi-Wan did not want them talking to were like. ‘Tok’ra.’ Funny name. He had to wonder if there was some kind of meaning behind it.

Anakin and Fives breathed a sigh of relief when Obi-Wan shut down the ‘formal introductions trying to turn into negotiations’ with a firm but polite request for some privacy to brief the Jedi contingent about what was going on. At least, Anakin had to take Obi-Wan’s word for it, but his Master didn’t tend to play too fast and loose with translations.

Speaking of translations, the protocol droid they’d unloaded from the Twilight had been standing quietly in the corner, absorbing language and mutters and Obi-Wan’s translations the entire time – B-2PO had to have a good start on understanding at least common words.

#Maybe now we'll finally get some real answers about this situation,# Fives grumbled.

#You sense it too, huh?# Anakin asked. There was an undercurrent here that prickled against their skin like static – not Dark, but agitated, and Anakin could read Obi-Wan well enough to see his Master was just as impatient to get away from the political niceties as Anakin. He just hid it better.

#Yes. Karking political fluff and nonsense.#

#Now, now. Placating the natives and saying please and thank you are very important diplomatic aspects of first contact situations.#

#Pick that up from Obi-Wan, did you?#


#Fine,# Fives said with long-suffering humour. #It’d be nice if we could get a move-on though. By now we ALL know how to introduce ourselves, how to address people by common titles, and that they have no idea what to do with droids.#

Anakin bit back a snicker at Fives’ mock complaints. As if his host wasn’t genuinely better at picking up languages than Anakin was. Frustrating, given that Ani liked learning languages more.

There was a bit of social fuss over the locals wanting some representatives in on the Jedi debrief, which was rude but typical. The interesting part was that Obi-Wan didn’t object to getting a minder – he in fact insisted on a second. The man he’d insisted on looked baffled, but Colonel O’Neill – their minder – approved.

Anakin homed in on O’Neill the moment the group was out the door, while the others kept following Daniel Jackson and the guards to a private meeting room. “Colonel O’Neill,” he called, and the man stopped, gave him a polite look.

“Jack, please.”

Far be it for Ani to complain if the man wanted to be informal. “I was wondering if there was someplace for B-2PO to wait for us – someplace they’d be out of the way, but able to absorb more of your language.”

The look Jack sent B-2PO was odd – not quite suspicious, but wary. “Spoken or written?” he finally asked.

Anakin blinked. #Oh I like him,# Fives snickered. #Smart question!#

“Spoken. I don’t think there’s enough context for B-2PO to be grasping your writing system yet.”

“Uh huh.” Jack turned, searching the mix of uniforms leaving the dignitaries alone in the meeting room. =Sam!= A blonde woman with a fierce expression turned and raised a brow at them. Jack drawled a few wry sentences, and the woman’s eyes lit up. The two exchanged more words, then the woman motioned to B-2PO. “Hi ho Silver, away,” Jack commanded with a wry grin. “Sam here will take care of you.”

“Thank you, Colonel O’Neill,” B-2PO said, walking over to Jack’s second-in-command, if Anakin had the local terms translated right. =A pleasure, Major Carter.=

Jack blinked. “That’s freakin’ uncanny.”

Since apparently the locals thought that Jack was escort enough for Anakin, the rest of the group had gone ahead. Anakin took advantage of the opportunity to ask a question that had really begun to nag at him. “You sound like you’re unfamiliar with droids.”

In Ani’s defense, he wasn’t trying to be subtle. From the sideways look he got, that was good, because he wasn’t even in the right system for it. “Yeah, I think your buddy there is the first in the neighborhood that’s not – you know what, never mind. Yeah, your buddy there is the first.” He hesitated, then squinted at Anakin. “Is it – he? – really, y’know, an artificial intelligence?”

They are, yes.”

“’They?’ You’re hiding another one of those somewhere?”

“Uh, no?” Anakin frowned. “We just brought– oh! Singular ‘they.’”

“Singular what now?” O’Neill asked with a frown.

“‘They,’ singular and used when gender is either unknown, not applicable, or of no consequence,” Fives repeated. “Why did that throw you?”

“Weeelll.” Jack shrugged, and held up two hands. “He,” he declared, hefting one hand, then raising the other. “She. There’s not...” He dropped his hand before waving the first in the general vicinity between where he’d hefted the words. “There’s not in-between stuff. Or words.”

While Anakin and Fives were trying to grasp that, Jack was looking back and forth between his hands. Then he made a face. “Shit. That’s gonna bite us on the ass, isn’t it? Alien races and– aw, hell, I don’t even wanna know. Them. Got it.”

Anakin was relieved they’d reached their destination, because the notion of just two genders was...odd.

Anakin, Fives, and Jack settled themselves at a long table with the others. Obi-Wan had that look, the ‘whatever took you so long, I hope it was worth it’ expression. As soon as it was clear they had the room, Obi-Wan turned to 99, who was looking around with polite fascination. “Master Yoda, I am delighted to see you, but what the hells are you doing here?”

99’s eyes went green as Yoda gave Obi-Wan that droll look which meant he was in a mood, Force help them all. It at least wasn’t cranky, but Yoda in the mood to poke beings wasn’t the most comfortable Jedi to be around. “Looking for you, we were.”

Obi-Wan spared a moment for a ‘Force help me please’ look, which was...odd, with Rex’s face. “I appreciate that, but – ”

“I needed help,” Anakin said, butting in because he knew damn well how useful it was to just be open with his master. “I could feel you, somewhere, but very distant, and after the first...thing that– ” He had to stop to compose himself. “It felt like you died.” Obi-Wan winced at the blunt declaration, but gods. It’d been that damn bad for Anakin, too. “I didn’t know what had happened, Ahsoka and I weren’t enough to track you down, and all I could tell was that you weren’t dead for long, or something, and I wasn’t about to wait around until you sauntered back.”

Obi-Wan’s expression softened. “I don’t think ‘saunter’ is quite the word I’d use.”

99 shook his head. “Regardless, I think we’d all like to know what happened to you, Master Kenobi.”

If Anakin hadn’t been able to feel Obi-Wan’s sincerity – and exhaustion – he wouldn’t have believed the explanation. Stable wormholes. A whole network of stable wormholes, watched over by an entire collective of Sith, that no-one in the Republic had had a single clue about.

It made Fives’ fingers twitch for their lightsaber, just for the feel of it in their hand. They’d thought – hoped – Sidious would be the last. After everything that monster had done, now they had a whole new problem.

The bright sides seemed to be allies (kind of), new Jedi (only...not, and Obi-Wan’s avoidance of that topic was not reassuring), and the Sith’s apparent complete and utter lack of knowledge about the Republic. From the sound of it, it was also possible that the Republic had the most reliable method of transport, but Anakin couldn’t swear he was accurately reading between the lines there.

Yoda was the one to break the silence they’d needed just to digest Obi-Wan’s news. “Happy with us, the Senate shall not be.”

99 rolled his eyes. “Happy with us, the Senate rarely is,” he huffed back, crossing his arms and giving the table a bit of a look. “This is part of our job, not just safeguarding them from active threats.”

“Pardon?” Daniel Jackson asked, leaning forward. The man had been quiet for the most part, squinting occasionally as if he wasn’t following the conversation cleanly. Ani knew that look pretty well. “Your speaking order is strange. Is that because I only understand some?”

99 laughed, in that way he had, which somehow invited one in on the joke rather than ever making it seem like he was laughing at someone. When he’d been younger, Anakin had thought it was use of the Force, but he’d come to agree with Fives: it was all 99. “No, you seem to have a good grasp of things. Yoda’s first host had an unusual grasp of Basic, and he’s been using that as an excuse ever since.”

“Excuse I never need,” Yoda corrected primly. “But entertain myself somehow I must.”

Ahsoka broke in once the snickers died down. “Not to disparage our new allies, but someone has to ask. Are we certain that we’re dealing with Sith? Slavery is horrible, but every species in recorded history has gone through a period of attempted conquest.”

Obi-Wan sobered way too quickly. Anakin braced himself. #Here it is. Now we find out how this is worse than we thought.# Fives sent agreement back, then they both went still at Obi-Wan’s mental touch.

#Anakin, this will be difficult. Please trust me, and react as little as possible.#

Anakin nodded faintly, as Fives went on alert. #Such a bad feeling about this,# Fives muttered.

Yoda folded his hands together on top of his cane as Obi-Wan turned to face Ahsoka. “First and most easily proven: they take and keep unwilling hosts.” Echo pulled back in astonishment, while Yoda closed his eyes, head bowing in grief.

#Damn, if he’s opening with that– # Fives sent a mental hug to Anakin, who stayed blank-faced.

Daniel Jackson cleared his throat. “My wife is unwilling.”

Fives turned sharply to stare. “Is?” he asked, and Anakin wasn’t sure what to make of how Jack put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Jack said. He looked astoundingly uncomfortable. “We killed Ra, Apophis decided he was in charge, and his queen, Amaunet, took over Sha’re.” Discomfort turned to grief. “Freeing Sha’re has been a goal from early in the program.”

Anakin could feel helpless, long-standing rage burning through Jackson, and while he couldn’t fault the man... #That’s going to be trouble,# Fives growled. At least the anger was a clean burn, especially in light of that kind of despair.

“Secondly,” Obi-Wan said, “is how they enforce their slavery.” He had the kind of calm he presented as General Kenobi, icy and precise and ready to make the hard decisions that needed to be made to win a fucking awful war. “They alter the humans they control, so they can easily insert and remove an alternative to the natural immune system. Each- each iteration if this method lasts maybe eight years before it needs to be replaced.” Neither Anakin nor Fives liked how Obi-Wan’s voice was a hair strained, and from the way Yoda was sitting, neither did he. “So even should a slave escape, they will not live more than eight years.”

Ahsoka and Echo looked disturbed, but Yoda leaned back in his chair. “This method. What is it, Obi-Wan?”

There was something horrible in Obi-Wan’s expression as he looked at the old Jedi. “Younglings. Countless Sith younglings, given no memories or care. They know nothing, and are destroyed when they have outlived their usefulness as a leash upon other sentients.”

Ahsoka was blank for a moment, and from the way Echo sat at attention he must have done the math. Anakin could feel the blood drain from his face, and he couldn’t tell if it was him or Fives who had their hands on their weapons.

Yoda’s cane hit the floor with a clatter, and 99 stared at Obi-Wan. The old clone was shaking his head, radiating equal parts disbelief and horror. “You believe this,” 99 murmured, “you are certain.”


“How many are here?” Fives demanded, voice harsh even as his mind was clamoring about the twins. “You wouldn’t buy that if you hadn’t actually– how many?”

“Fives– ”

“NO!” Fives was on his feet, slamming his hands on the table. “Obi-Wan, you know as well as I do– what sort of things would happen if– ”

“Yes I damn well do!” Obi-Wan snapped back, remaining seated but glaring back. “I wouldn’t condemn any being to that kind of– ”

Slaves! Love of the Force they’ve got to be surrounded by Darkness– ”

“And throwing a fit isn’t going to help– ”

“I need to see this with my own two fucking eyes– ”

Obi-Wan’s posture swapped to something more rigid as Rex stood. “ENOUGH. Stand the fuck down, Fives!”

#Please,# Anakin whispered, endlessly grateful he couldn’t vomit except through his host.

#Ani!# Fives’ mind was a roil of images and emotions, featuring Luke and Leia in all sorts of horrible circumstances against a backdrop of Fives’ furious concern.

#I KNOW.# Gods, it was hard, trying to release his emotions into the Force. #Obi-Wan has to have a plan, if he warned us in advance!#

“Fives.” Obi-Wan’s voice was gentler, cutting through the increasing fog of worry Fives had. He looked up, and Obi-Wan’s expression was sympathetic. “I know. Believe me, I know. The best thing we can do is destroy this down at the corrupt root.”

The stare-off between them was broken by Jackson. “Why so shock?”

Fives and Obi-Wan glanced over at him. The local was sitting with just a bit of hunch to his shoulders, and his expression was...judgmental. Jack cleared his throat. “Shocked?” he muttered, sounding as if he wasn’t sure that’s what his friend was going for. That earned him a muted glare from said friend.

Fives looked at the local, half-suspicious and half-angry. He couldn’t have understood the man’s intent correctly, surely. “What?”

Sullen resentment flared to life inside Daniel. He’d been trying to go along with the idea of ‘good-guy goa’uld,’ as Jack would put it. He wanted to believe, he did, but the overwhelming evidence suggested that this was just another lie. The outpouring of grief and anger from these brain-snakes had hit him exactly the wrong way. It had to be faked, it had to be a trap. If something was too good to be true that usually meant it was too good to be true and waiting to bite them in the ass somehow.

=You act so shock. Shocked,= he corrected himself, =but we never see that from goa’uld. Any goa’uld. You ask us to think you are so different?=

If Daniel’d been hoping for a clear indication that he was right, he didn’t get it. Kenobi didn’t react except to sigh. Aianste had gone thin-lipped and rigid, but didn’t attack or shout.

Daniel couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on with the oldest host. Then the elder goa’uld leaned forward with a soft hum. =Hurt you are. Easy to see, that is. Yet care about others, you still do.= Dear gods, the syntax was all over the place, and from the way Jack was slightly crosseyed it wasn’t just Daniel.

=Is there supposed to be some kind of a point there?=

It was hard, looking at the old, green-eyed man, and to remember that it was a snake attached to his brain that was addressing Daniel, not some tribal elder. =Children? Have them, do you?=

He could see Jack’s expression close up the way it always did. =That’s not the problem here. We know goa’uld queens make many children, fast. By your own words, you and goa’uld are the same species. But you ask us to think you are different. Why?=

The goa’uld kept looking at him, then his eyes went brown. =Doesn’t matter if they’re your kids, or your partner’s, or your friend’s. They’re still kids.=

All Daniel could really see was that memory of aquariums, of writhing goa’uld larva, and the way an adult snake had looked burrowing into his wife. The way she’d looked at him with glowing golden eyes, and there had been no recognition. No humanity.

Of course he’d fucking destroyed that tank. Those weren’t...they weren’t kids.

The old host’s eyes went from brown back to sorrowful, ancient green. =Hmm. Share with you, something I might?= He said something more, but Daniel wasn’t sure what the last bit was. He looked at Jack, who shrugged.

“Something about a vision?” Jack whispered to him. “I mean, photos and Republic’s Funniest Home Videos were never really a topic that came up. Not sure what he means.”

Daniel clenched his jaw. “He wants to give me a ‘vision.’” He said flatly.

“I’ll let him know it’s a no-go,” Jack said.

“Ask them how invasive it is.” That got Daniel a raised eyebrow from Jack.

“Danny– ”

“Just ask.”

Jack rattled off something vaguely sarcastic – kind of a given, with Jack – and the old goa’uld looked back at Daniel with a headshake. =Harm you, it will not. A sharing, only.=

Jack asked something else of Kenobi, rapid-fire and sounding concerned. Something about Daniel’s mind. Kenobi looked offended, and informed Jack that Yoda knew what he was doing.

Great. Daniel weighed telling them all to go to hell against potential benefits; getting it done and over with versus them lurking in wait to spring alien wallet photos at him.

There were times Daniel knew he’d spent a bit too much time around Jack. =Fine. Let’s just do this.=

Jack was looking at him funny as the old man held his hand out parallel to the floor. Daniel had to bite back a squawk as the cane rose up like a very good special effect, settling into Yoda’s hand so the man could push himself to his feet.

Really playing up the innocent old geezer thing way too hard, Daniel thought, trying not to wrinkle his nose at the cheap ploy. Even as he was giving the man a skeptical look, Yoda grinned up at him with a twinkle in eyes that went brown. =When you’re approaching five hundred years old, then I dare you to be even this agile.= Shek’eta-She’cu smiled at him, then his eyes went back to green as the goa’uld came to a halt in front of him. A wrinkled, scarred old hand rose up into the universal request for a polite touch.

Daniel fought back revulsion and reached out and place his hand atop the host’s palm. In the end, some of the incentive was just spite. Give these new goa’uld just enough rope to hang themselves.

Not like it was the first time he’d thrown himself on his sword for the team.

=Worry not. Harm you we will not.=

Daniel kept his face blank.

There was a tingle at Daniel’s palm, not quite static electricity but nothing like holding on to a wandering insect. It made his shoulders warm, relaxing the muscles there as he could catch the scent of something almost like bay leaves and a hint of citrus.

That smell...reminded him. It reminded Daniel of sitting down next to a large ornamental, indoor pool. He’d been assisted by a large burly man, only the man had had lavender hair, blue skin and vibrant gold eyes, tattoos of stripes in bright colors. As the man had left, Daniel had turned and looked down into the water.

The memory deepened into something more like a vivid dream. Daniel already had his pant legs rolled up to his knees, so he rotated on his cushion to dip his legs into the warm water. It was reasonably clear, with the little bubble-blower things aerating the whole pond along the edges and in a few other places. There were lots of plants, and someone’s idea of a fish landscape that included the weirdest looking attempt at a playground in miniature and a really silly looking set of spaceship toys.

There were no fish, though.

Just goa’uld. Dozens of them, white with beady eyes and short fangs, so many of them swimming through the water right to his legs. Since it was a dream (gods, a vision, the old goa’uld was giving him a vision, going by the way his hands and legs looked so old and wrinkled, and the way Daniel sat with a natural hunch this had to be straight from the goa’uld’s own experiences), he didn’t pull away. Instead he dipped his hand into the water too.

He had countless pale brain-snakes twining around his legs and fingers as he grinned, and he could feel an impossible sensation of welcome, affection and love and respect. Somehow both giving and receiving, which didn’t even make sense.

Daniel looked up, across a wide room with other little pools, and little canals connecting them. All sorts of– of people, men and women and other things with fur and tentacles and who knew what – they were moving around. Talking to the demonspawn. Playing with them. Fetch and flying UFOs underwater, tickle games and tug of war–

Weirdest part, though, was the emotions.

It felt like family.

He knew that out of the dream/vision/memory, he was crying, but it had been a long time since he’d felt that content. It was like being with Sha’re, it was like hanging out with the team at Jack’s place, having another marathon of some random T.V. show and claiming it was about expanding Teal’c’s understanding of Earth.

Only this was more. More minds, more contentment, all these children of his.

When he came back to himself, it was like shaking away an old memory, not resurfacing from a harsh experience. Jack was next to him, arm around his shoulders, and it sounded like he’d just started to demand if Daniel was ok.

Daniel slumped back into his chair, still crying and not able to stop. Not really caring, which was even weirder. Yoda was staring at him, looking concerned and a touch cautious.

Daniel tried to speak, making a few attempts until he could croak out, “Someone lock up the Tok’ra. Don’t let them know he’s a queen.”

“Does that thing give you the creeps or is it just me?”

Sam tried not to roll her eyes at her father, because if nothing else Selmak was being incredibly helpful in translating the schematics for the newcomers’ ship. Even if he was going to be rude about the nice robot, she wasn’t about to insult it to its face, regardless of whether or not it understood her. “Dad, be nice.” She pointed to the hologram, biting back something that was absolutely not a squeal of glee as the transparent model zoomed in on that part. “This bit here – is that some kind of power converter, or capacitor, or what?”

Selmak had a grin that was a bit more wry than Jacob. Sam liked that she was starting to really pick up on those nuances, even without a distorted voice or glowing eyes to clue her in. She liked being able to see the difference between her Dad and Selmak. She still was’t sure about these new goa’uld, but if exposure to them was making it easier to differentiate host from symbiote, she’d take it.

They also had fascinating machines.

Exhibit A was talking back to Selmak, voice level but remarkably human. It only had a faint hum of synthesizer to it, just enough so that Sam could tell immediately that it wasn’t organic.

Whoever had designed it had incredible taste, precision, and skills. She didn’t know if she wanted to meet them, or abduct them.

Turned out the part she was studying wasn’t either of her initial guesses, and the droid was speaking somewhat broken English as it asked a polite question about the microwave.

It wanted to know about the damnedest things, but Sam had to admit, a lab was a place to find the obscure and the basic necessities. You’d want the latter when poking the former.

Selmak finally wandered off with the robot to consult with Teal’c about languages, and probably also to let the robot record details about the treatment of Kenobi’s men. Sam was busy trying to make head or tails of the thing Selmak had called a ‘repulsor’ which was doing ridiculous things to the laws of gravity.

She stared, nonplussed, as Jack half staggered into her lab. He leaned up against the wall, crossing his arms and looking at her. “So, how’s it going?” she finally asked, when Jack just did the owlish blinking at her that meant he’d gotten one too many surprises lately to even joke about things.

“Oh, you know.” His shrug meant something had gone pear shaped. “Goes. Hey, you know where the Tok’ra are?”

Oh that boded well. She was stretching out that...sensation, the weird almost-a-stretch-that-wasn’t which would ping in her mind with copper sharpness that meant ‘goa’uld.’ It was an extremely short-range sense, but nobody was listening on the other side of any of the walls. “Why?”

Shit. He was giving her the look, rolling his hand for her to report on the Tok’ra first.

“Selmak’s down in the gym area, I think the rest are still consulting in their meeting room, and I still can’t find any of your new friends. Colonel, what’s going on?”

He stepped into her lab, shutting the door behind him before scrubbing his face. “So, funny thing about these new guys. They don’t...gender like we do.”

Sam blinked. “‘Gend–’ What happened?” She couldn’t imagine what that meant, but it wasn’t a very Jack-like question or topic.

“Well, I need some advice.” So help her if it was a question about how women anything she was going to remind him about stereotypes and generalizations, the hard way. “The Tok’ra. What would they do to get their grubby mitts a queen? I mean, they’d avoid diplomatic incidents, right?”

Sam didn’t answer right away, because they both knew the Tok’ra probably wouldn’t care. The implications of Jack’s statement, though–

Oh. Oh, God. “The one who didn’t talk, that Kenobi kept shushing– Tano? That’s– she’s a queen?”

It made her skin crawl, somehow, the notion of goa’uld spawning little brain snakes. The pleasant looking man – clone – who’d watched everything attentively, might have a mother of snakes in his head.

Jack huffed something not quite a laugh. “Funny thing. Tano’s a her all right, but no. Yoda’s the queen. And boy that sounds just as weird out loud as it does in my head.”

Sam’s brain stalled. She knew, on several levels, that the age and appearance of the host had little to do with the identity of the goa’uld. Somehow, though, the notion of that nice old man spawning bitty little goa’uld–

“Carter, don’t blue screen on me, it’s possibly worse.”

“If they’re all queens, I’m retiring to Florida.”

Jack’s grin was the one that didn’t have too much humor in it. “No, I think just Aianste. Nothing to prove it, though. Just a gut feeling, and him and his host flipping their lids over the prim’ta even more than Kenobi did.”

Sam scrubbed her face. That...would explain Jack’s expression. “And you know that Yoda is?”

She did not like the look Jack got, the shifty ‘yeaaah, about that’ expression. “He and Daniel did a Vulcan mind-meld thing, and Daniel’s certain of it.” Jack’s expression sobered. “Danny’s probably okay, but it hit him pretty hard, I think.”

That also did not bode well. All right. Sam leaned back against the table, crossing her arms. “There’s no way to tell a queen from an ordinary goa’uld unless they’re visibly pregnant, and I don’t think anyone’s going to be unhosted around here. So, the Tok’ra are going to insist on meeting them, and there’s no avoiding that barring a planetary invasion from Apophis or friends. Kenobi already knows the score on the Tok’ra front. Maybourne’s been suspiciously quiet, but General Hammond seems to think things are stable. The high-ups are looking for angles, but the Jedi are going to play nice so long as we do.”

Jack nodded. “And we’re left juggling way more political balls than normal, and this time, if the political shit hits the fan we can’t really gate out away from it.”

They looked at each other for a long moment. Sam couldn’t tell if she wanted to sigh, or give him a weak grin. “Sir, is it too late to request a do-over on my week?”