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A Star to Steer By

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A low hubbub filled the room as all the ‘gate teams chatted quietly. There was an air of anticipation in the room, making people a bit more restless than at yesterday’s gathering. Daniel wanted to know everything Jack could tell him about their new visitors, and Sam broke in every now and again to speculate about the technology. Teal’c loomed behind them, quiet and stoic.

Hammond bustled in, only a little late, setting down his mug with an exhausted sigh. “Good news, everyone. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the National Security Advisor are pleased with us, and we have their official blessing to go forward with contacting the Galactic Republic. The word is that either the President or the Vice President will be calling later to go through some polite formalities with the Republic contingent.”

That got a nice round of applause, with only a bit of token sulking from the usual suspects. Made sense; approval from upstairs meant that the NID was back in the doghouse and out of the driver’s seat.

“So that means we need to look at the next phase of this little shindig. SG-1 will be traveling with Kenobi and his soldiers to the Republic to make an official statement about our situation with the System Lords. Kenobi and Yoda have promised us assistance, and to bring formal word to their local senate. Meanwhile, Padawan Tano will be staying here as part of a cultural exchange with the Tok’ra, and to learn about SGC.”

Ferretti nodded. “Me and my team already made friends last night. We’re willing to take her under our wing, if that helps.”

Jack wasn’t the only one twitching at ‘her,’ but Louis was looking around the room with an expression that was half bland, half ‘I fucking dare you.’ Ok. ‘Her’ it was. Still not as brain-breaking as the situation with Yoda, which Jack was Not Thinking About, thankyouverymuch.

Hammond nodded at Feretti. “Which leaves the very important question: do we send anyone else with SG-1, and if so, who?”

“I’m going.” Everyone swiveled to look at Doc Fraiser, who leaned back in her chair like a queen. “If anything happens to them while they’re that far away, an Earth expert will be invaluable – particularly given Dr. Jackson’s history of allergies. I want to get cultural exchange with their medical staff going as soon as possible, and traveling with them is the best way to do that.”

Maybourne scoffed from where he was wedged in between SG-17 and SG-18 at the back of the room. “They arrived with a couple of corpses. If they can’t keep their own people alive, is it really that important to try to expedite it?”

Fraiser got that steely look that should’ve made him bleed. “Their ‘bacta’ promotes incredibly rapid cell regeneration – not just general body tissue, but skin, muscles, nerves. We are decades away from anything like that, if not centuries, and this is stuff your average ground pounder carries around in his basic kit. Now imagine, if you can, what larger facilities would have that isn’t portable. Yes, we need to expedite it. I’m the most experienced with alien tech when it comes to keeping everyone alive and not reacting poorly to whatever you’ve decided to poke in the field today.”

About half of the away team members flinched, the other half tried real hard to look innocent. Janet ignored it all. “Dr. Brightman is more than capable of running things while I’m not here.” The women exchanged a look and a nod that did not bode well for anyone else stupid enough to get injured in that time.

George glanced over at Jack. “Colonel, given your team’s ability to find trouble even when you’re not looking, what odds do you put that this will be a peaceful trip?”

“Aw come on, we’re not that bad.” Man, everyone who wasn’t giving him the stink eye was avoiding all eye contact. Fine. Jack shifted and tried to look miffed. “Pretty good. We’re going to their home turf, which they’ve held during an eight year war and apparently thousands of years before that. Even if trouble finds us, we have allies on our side, and they seem to know one end of a gun from the other.”

Hammond just looked at him for a long moment, then nodded. “Approved, Doctor.”

Janet nodded at him. Makepeace, seated just past Daniel and Feretti, sat up, chair squeaking as he did so. “SG-1 should take some backup.”

“This is a diplomatic mission, not a military mission, as I understand it.” Kovaceck, the current head of SG-9, gave Jack a nonchalant look, blatantly ignoring Makepeace. “My team talked it over and we’re good to go.”

Jack bit back a groan as Makepeace bristled at having his thunder stolen. Internal politics, yaaay. Not.

“SG-3 might be more useful, actually,” Makepeace sniped.

Kovaceck got a look in his eyes and then started throwing down with Makepeace. The heads of SG-3 and SG-9 went to town, doing some posturing that was just barely polite, while Hammond tried to reign in the dick waving. Jack bowed his head forward, resting it against his mug. He snuck an exasperated look to his left, only to meet Daniel’s gaze as he did the same. They had a moment, sharing the wish for either an emergency to get them the hell out of this or the sweet release of death.

Well. Metaphorical, at least. Jack tried not to cough too loudly as he sat back up. Morbid thoughts aside, it was nice to be back to something like normal with his team.

Jack sat on the instinct to kvetch. SG-9 had an actual point: they were the team designated for diplomatic malarky. Except for that one time most of them had gotten killed, they’d done pretty good when they’d been called to the plate to make nice with belligerent idiots. Even if Kovaceck was an actual lawyer, like the saying went: at least he was their bottom-feeding shark.

SG-3 had a point too: they were Marines, and the usual backup for SG-1. If things went pear-shaped then you couldn’t get more reliable firepower than them. Hell, their sub-speciality was search and rescue, and that was useful. In theory. If things went badly, which they shouldn’t.

Jack hated internal politics, especially when everyone had a legitimate point.

“Okay, kids?” Jack held up his hands, glad that it actually worked to silence everyone. “We need to get clearance from the Jedi as to how big a group is too big, but everybody here has a good point. This is a slightly extended mission, while I hate pulling our only diplomatic team from the field they’re the likely ones to go make nice with the Republic once we get back, and getting started sooner is better. And I like having firepower to back us up, so I’m thinking SG-1, SG-3, and SG-9 should all head out to the party. General?”

Hammond chewed on it for a tense moment, then glanced over at Kovaceck. “Is there anything on your plate that can’t be handled by SG-18 and 20?”

To his credit, Kovaceck took the time to think it over. “No sir. We can get them up to speed pretty quick, I think.”

Hammond nodded. “Kim and Rodriguez, are your teams up to switching full time to a diplomatic speciality?”

Kim had a shit-eating ‘finally!’ grin along with a nod, while Rodriguez had a slightly squeaky “Yes, sir!”

“All right. O’Neill, check with the Jedi and make sure we’ve got clearance. SG-9, clear out your dockets, SG-3, don’t pack too much hardware: these are allies we’re working with. In fact, this is a reminder for all three teams – pack only what you need, but pack everything you need; you’ll be gone for weeks, possibly months, and you’ll be very far from the nearest stargate.” He looked around, then gave a nod. “Let’s get everything ready to leave this afternoon, people.”

Jack tried not to bounce to his feet, nudging Daniel as he passed him and SG-1 fell into a neat little cluster. “Wow. A real honest to goodness diplomatic mission. Hey, does this mean I get to park my spaceship wherever I want without getting ticketed?”

Carter did that thing were she was totally not smiling except she was. “Sir, I don’t think diplomatic immunity is universal.”

“And even if it is,” Daniel joined in the gentle ribbing, “you’re still running the risk of getting shot by Danny Glover.”

“It is indeed the kind of declaration that must be tested,” Teal’c declared, and Jack let himself grin. Things were finally starting to feel like normal again.

Nervous excitement warred with grief, and Ahsoka schooled her face into neutral lines, letting the emotions wash through her, then flow into the Force. Her assignment here might well count as one of her Trials, which was exciting, but also daunting. The cost of the events leading up to it, though….

Ahsoka watched Kix and Waxer escort two long, black bags of local plas across the open field onto the Twilight. They were careful and respectful as they guided Brakes’ and Longshot’s bodies, which she appreciated. She wouldn’t expect anything else, but Brakes had been a friend. During her first weeks with the 501st, he’d taken the time to get to know her, and introduce her to firsthand experiences she only had memories of. When she’d asked him about it, he’d gotten a sheepish look. Padawans are fun, he’d said. Their faces, the first time they eat or drink something you know they remember having before, but it’s their actual first time? It’s great. The differences between the memory’s host and theirs, their own preferences – you would not believe some of the expressions. I did my acclimation stint pre-freeze at a training facility. Signed up to work there post-freeze, too, but– He’d shrugged. War should be won first.

Nope, no good. She had to sneakily wipe away some tears that she hoped the locals didn’t see. Echo sent a hug sensation to her, though she could feel his own grief. Longshot had been with the 212th. They hadn’t known him well, but he’d been one of the unofficial bookies for the wagers and betting pools that inevitably happened around the army. Echo had enjoyed bantering with him on several occasions, trying to wheedle their way into bets on their own behavior.

She was composed by the time Skyguy stepped up to her. It was disconcerting to not have Rex at his shoulder, but instead lingering back with Master Yoda, hands clasped behind his back as Master Kenobi was wont to do. That was going to take some getting used to.

Anakin smiled at her, and it only looked a tiny bit strained. “All set, Snips?” he asked, and she could feel the tension underneath the casual words. Outwardly, it was a simple enough question: had she unloaded and stowed her gear? Had she settled the two patchwork squads remaining with her in her head? Did she have plans made to bolt if things went very badly?

Underneath that were more difficult questions. Was she ready to be the only Jedi on an entire planet of potential hostiles, was she ready to have only eight men at her back if the Tok’ra turned out to be more Sith than they thought, was she ready to be the major representative for the entire Jedi Order and the Republic to people who hadn’t even known those existed last week?

She nodded firmly in the way Echo was so very good at. “Absolutely, Master.” Echo shared a wave of approval with her.

She got such a proud expression from her teacher for it, too. He looked up and over her shoulder at where the eight volunteers to remain were standing in neat ranks. “How about you, Sergeant-Major?”

Barrel saluted, his typical good-humor invisible underneath a gravitas and fierceness that explained why he’d once considered going ARC. “Yes, sir. We’ve got the Commander’s back.”

Anakin’s smile was fierce and approving, then he swapped attention back to her. “The Keelkana will be remaining in system, so if you need anything, they’re in range.”

She rolled her eyes a little. “We’ll be fine. You’re the one charging into politics: you be careful!”

That surprised a laugh out of him, and it sounded real. Some – not much, but some – of the tension bled out from his shoulders. His body language changed a little to Fives’ and he gave her a wink. “Will do, Commander. Luck to you all.”

Ahsoka bowed to them, and when she straightened Anakin hugged her. “May the Force be with you, Padawan.”

There was no doubt whatsoever in his voice or Force signature, and that left her genuinely beaming.

Echo nudged forward to take control, while Anakin’s eyes went brown.

“You lot gonna be all right?” Fives asked, tilting his head towards the two squads standing at ease among the Earthers.

“We survived Seps and Sith,” Echo grinned. “I think we can handle one planet.”

“Don’t blow up too many things.”

“Do I look like Turmond?” Echo asked, putting one hand to his chest in mock affront.

“I’m serious – I want this mountain still standing when we get back,” Fives said with a stern look.

Echo gave his best deadpan and salute. "Sir, yes sir." Fives rolled his eyes, then stepped forward to give him a hug. Echo waited until his brother was pulling away before adding, “Besides, I don’t get caught.”

He got a mock glare for it, but given the actual, real laugh it came with? Ahsoka agreed it was more than worth it.

Selmak watched the Jedi take their leave of each other as she and Lantash took care of their own last minute details.

“Are you quite certain this is what you wish to do?” Lantash said quietly, smiling as if he’d made some joke. His eyes never stopped checking the area, taking in details of everyone and everything at the landing zone.

Selmak considered the caution Lantash was displaying, and felt a pang of remorse for how centuries of this guerrilla war had molded her people. Always watchful, always ready for betrayal, always ready to run.

With that staring her in the face, how could she be anything but certain?

“I am. Don’t worry about me, just work on making allies with Tano.”

Lantash had a particular cocky little grin when he was certain of himself. “Of course. And you’re sure we shouldn’t send backup with you?”

It wasn’t a serious question, but she could sense that it make Jacob want to smack the man upside the head, nonetheless. Garshaw had raised the idea of backup earlier, but Selmak and Jacob had pointed out the multitude of flaws in it; having one of them take a clone or an SG-team member as a host – without permission! – so that she could have backup if she needed it, was a horrible idea from all angles. Sam and Teal’c would be able to sense the stowaway, first and foremost. Also, given the Jedi’s reaction to her and the others, she suspected every last one of them would be ready to start a fight with the entire Tok’ra Resistance if that came to light. “Yes,” she said with finality.

He gave her a respectful little nod, then turned to oh-so-casually stroll over to where several Stargate soldiers were converging on Tano.

#Think they’ll actually make friends?#

#With Tano, that team that looks prepared to claim her already, or random others?#

Jacob snorted. #Any of the above.#

Selmak fought down a smile. #We can only hope. It would be good for him.# She walked over to where O’Neill and the Stargate teams that were traveling to the Republic had gathered.

The ship reminded her of a Goa’uld tel’tak, in function if not in form – a small transport, meant for carrying goods and soldiers, but lacking the offensive capabilities of a death glider or al’kesh. More technologically advanced than anything the Tau’ri could put into play, though, and only the tip of the iceberg of what the Republic could offer SGC. “Ready to step into an even bigger universe?”

Jack squinted at Selmak then shoved his sunglasses on. It felt weird doing this in a brightly lit field instead of the artificial glow of the open Stargate. “I’m always ready for a field trip.”

Kenobi’s timing was either scary on point, or he was listening in. He strolled over, that casual little grin on his face. “If you’re ready to board?”

Jack tried to be casual as he grinned back, hoisting his pack a little higher onto his shoulders. “Let’s get this party started.”

He had butterflies in his stomach as he boarded the unfamiliar ramp onto an actual allied spaceship. Those hadn’t happened since SG-1 started doing missions. He’d’ve thought diving through an event horizon and flinging himself across the vastness of space would lead to butterfly immunity – the ‘gates had certainly impressed Kenobi, even if they half-killed him every time he used one. But nope. Butterflies. Maybe because this was a longer-term mission than he usually did, these days. Weeks to months, Hammond had said, and he’d been right. They’d be going a lot further from home than they’d ever been, even with stargates. And this time? Holy hell, they might actually get some help against the System Lords. Halle-fuckin’-luja. It was about time things broke their way.

Yoda and the clones escorted SG-3 and SG-9 to the cargo hold, because first class was limited, by which he meant ‘had seats for Kenobi and Aianste but there was room for SG-1 and Selmak to crowd in behind.’

Prep for takeoff was fascinating, because it looked like some approaches were fairly universal – their checklists were a lot shorter, though. Carter was craning around like she was planning on memorizing every last switch thrown and button pushed, while Daniel was taking in every last label and tag that none of them could read.

Davijaan took off in his little fighter plane, which was still stupidly impressive, then the quiet thrum that had kicked up like an AC unit or something revved a little. There was no reassuring sensation of movement as the view out the window started to change, SGC personnel and Tano’s crew watching. Some waved, a bunch saluted, then the view curved skywards and they smoothly hurtled up.

Sam was muttering under her breath as they broke through the clouds, going at speeds that should have had them pressed against the back wall and blacking out in a few painful heartbeats. Jack couldn’t stop himself from taking a small step forward as he could make out the curve of atmosphere. He was watching what looked like a stupidly designed fighter jet hurtle away from the planet at an impossible pace, leading the way on their eleven o’clock towards space.

Sure, Jack and SG-1 had been on a few ha’taks, but without the threat of capture or extremely painful torture and death hanging over him, he was able to really appreciate the sheer speed and smooth motion of it – y’know, the little things. Part of him felt that this should be old hat – they’d been in space, fought in space, almost died in space, for crying out loud.

The fucking moon arced into their viewport, and they looked like they were going to blow past it like a cheap tourist trap. Carter let out a sound that wasn’t quite a giggle, and he dared to look away from the view to check on her. She was grinning at Selmak, something bright and righteous in her eyes. “And you wondered why I turned down NASA, Dad.”

Selmak’s head dipped down, then Jacob put a hand on Carter’s shoulder, smiling at her in a way that meant Jack had to turn away to give them some privacy.

Aianste started doing some things, toggling more switches and punching things into what looked like a computer. “We could take the scenic route, but we’ve got people who are understandably concerned, so we’re going to take a quick jump into hyper.”

“Hyper...what?” Daniel asked.

“Hyperspace,” Kenobi answered after a quick pause. “A way to travel faster than light.” He must’ve seen Carter revving up for questions because he held up a hand. “I’ll be happy to sit you down with several of our navigational technicians, who are far better versed in the details than I am.”

Aianste slowly moved some large switches down, immediately popping them back up. Jack wasn’t watching that too closely, because out the viewport things blurred, some stars stretching into white beams, a bit like going through the stargate, then the view resolved into a planet, huge and with a bunch of in the distance –

“Saturn?” Daniel whispered. “That’s Saturn?”

“Sixth large planet out from the sun?” Aianste asked.

“Saturn,” Carter somehow managed to confirm.

The ship curved further around the planet, and something in Jack’s stomach went thunk.

It was impossible to judge size (against fuckin’ Saturn!), but there were four large ships floating casually near each other. They were vaguely dagger shaped, blunt tipped white with a red stripe down the middle towards a raised tower structure, kinda like someone had squished a sub into harder lines. The outstretched wings each had an eyespot, a yellow circle surrounded by red lines that didn’t quite make up a complete circle.

It wasn’t until they got closer that Jack could make out flickers of movement that resolved into V formations of more fighter planes, and suddenly his brain could compare those to Davijaan’s, and to the actual ships.

His eyes went huge. “Jesus,” he whispered, because those big fuckers had to be several aircraft carriers long. Any one of them probably topped a ha’tak, no problem.

“Those things aren’t – they’re not rated for atmosphere, are they?” Carter asked, her voice sounding a little strained.

“Of course they are.” Kenobi, bless the bastard, didn’t sound mocking, just matter of fact. “They might take awhile to load, but if we had to wait for smaller craft to ferry everything in, we’d never get anything done, and Traffic Control would never speak to us again.”

Aianste was ignoring them all, tapping something that set up a little blue hologram of a clone in a snazzy uniform complete with stupid little hat. =Skywalker to the Resolute. We’re coming in, and we have company.=

=Roger that, General,= the now familiar voice of a clone responded. =Commander Cody has the welcome party set up already.=

=This is a friendly set of guests,= Kenobi added, voice droll and expression wry.

The clone on the other end of the horn laughed, looking surprised. =Of course sir! Pick any flight path you’d like, the Twilight and Red 2 have priority.=

Ahead of them, Davijaan’s fighter waggled its wings, then zoomed in towards the second ship to the right.

Jack cleared his throat. “Well kids, looks like it’s time to kiss Kansas goodbye.”