* * * * *
"I, Teal'c, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."
* * * * *
|| Teal'c ||
Observing the Senate chamber, a strange feeling swelled in my chest. I recognized it, not as an indicator of one emotion, but of many. I ached to be a part of this, to be a part of it now, to make a difference, to exercise my power, to prove to my critics that I did indeed have the best interests of these people at heart, to restore a sense of greatness to this office.
There were many things I wished to do.
Christopher Strickland, my assistant, stood beside me, taking in everything I did. "Pretty cool, isn't it?"
"Very." Strickland should have been the one to succeed Senator Robert Kinsey, should have been in my position, and only through questionable manners had I 'prevailed'. Strangely, the young, sandy-haired man held no contempt for me, saying often that "Washington does whatever it wants. Right now it wants you." Something within me rankled whenever he spoke these words, as they passed through his lips with false cheer.
That was wrong. It was one of the things I endeavored to change.
Strickland clasped his hands behind his back, shoulders thin but squared beneath his crisp suit. "I just want to say again, Senator, how pleased I am that you wanted me to... to advise you. I mean... I said some kind of nasty things during the campaign, nothing I really believed, just anything I thought would help me win..."
As the young man rambled, I let my gaze span the chamber again, making eye contact with a few of the men and women who stood by the seats or in the aisle, talking, watching me. Not a day passed when I did not feel some guilt, about how this position was rightfully Strickland's, about how the shadowy figures I would make it my mission to eradicate were the same ones who had handed me this office. Not an hour went by when I did not worry about my future, about WHY I was here, what my purpose was. Did some organization believe that they could use me as a figurehead, a puppet? Would I be respected, or ignored, a token legislator here only to impress the media-driven masses? Would these people, many of who avoided my eyes, give me a chance?
A trilling sound disturbed me, and I looked down at Strickland to see him answering his phone, an impossibly thin strip of alloy and plastic small enough to fit in his pocket and be nearly invisible. Smiling briefly at me, obviously realizing that I hadn't been listening to him, he unfolded the phone and held it to his ear. "Yeah, Strickland," he identified himself.
A crease appeared between his gray eyes. He frowned. "What?"
A pause. Voices echoed in the chamber, and I could not make out the words on the other end.
"Okay," said Strickland slowly, and he pulled the phone away from his face, pressing the receiver against his jacket to muffle our conversation. "Sir, I have a call... the speaker won't identify himself, but he says he urgently needs to speak to you and... and 'Junior'."
I could not repress a smile, and the expression seemed to startle the younger man. My infant Gou'ald - my second since joining the people of the Tau'ri - was of course public knowledge, and a point of interest and controversy, something of a novelty for people who appeared to not understand the relationship at all. But there was a select group of people who knew the small joke of 'Junior', and the most likely to request to speak to 'him' was none other than General O'Neill.
* * * * *
|| Jack O'Neill ||
"Tony, it's good to see you."
And I wasn't totally bullshitting; it WAS actually pretty great to see the kid, red hair gleaming in the ambient hallway light, dressed in a green tee-shirt and black chinos that retained a military air through color alone. But my politeness was also borne out of extreme nervousness. Tony Warren was conspicuously alone.
"I'm really sorry, Jack."
Damn him, I thought halfheartedly, ushering him inside and closing the door. Didn't he know he was supposed to save the bad news until we were both sitting? Nothing was more uncomfortable than having to play host - pun not intended - to a guest while trying to assimilate - another unintended double entendre - some awful revelation. But even as Tony let me push him towards the couch, he spoke, tone low, words heavy, eyes on the carpet; apparently, he had to get this off his chest.
"There ARE Tok'ra on P2C-260," he began, choosing his words carefully. "I mean... that's what we're guessing, from their clothing. I didn't SEE Martouf or Jadae, but we didn't exactly sit down and have tea with them, either."
We sat, side by side, on the sofa, facing the cold hearth.
"The three of us followed yours and Sam's original course, up that groove in the rock. We hadn't made it even halfway when we started taking Zat fire. Two hostiles, maybe three. We couldn't get a clear view, not with all that rock and ivy. Figured if there were Tok'ra that had been living there for months, they'd know the lay of the land pretty well."
"You had to turn back," I foresaw, trying to keep the sharp edge of accusation out of my voice.
"There were a couple of guys in good positions; we didn't have much of a choice. Parker and Lugo and I started back down, fully intending to come back with a couple others, now that we knew what we were up against."
* * * * *
Years ago I'd been able to read every emotion that flittered across Anthony Warren's face, as though he were a book, as though every feeling was neatly captioned and categorized. But he had changed as well; he'd either learned to shield his thoughts and reactions from everybody... or he'd learned how to shield them from me. His features were a mask, frightening in their blankness. "Jack, I'm just going to tell you what we saw, and let you decide what it means," he told me quite reasonably, and paused. "We were being chased back to the Stargate, and at one point, Lugo saw something. A body. Looked like it had fallen from one of the precipices, not very high, but Jack, she landed on her head..."
His voice was mechanical, stilted, a recording. "We couldn't make a positive ID, but from where we stood, it looked... like Sam. Same hair, same build; Tok'ra clothes, but that's what she would have been wearing anyway."
"It must have been like your refugee friends said; they tried to get her to help, she said no, and they killed her. Maybe she ran and--"
"Damn it, Tony--"
"Jack!" Warren's voice was sharp; I actually jumped, and tried to mask the involuntary movement with other angry motions. "You think that was easy for me to see? She must have been out there for two, three days... it made me sick, okay? And it killed me to leave her there." His eyes were x-rays, laser beams, holding me fast. "But we didn't. Have. A choice..."
Tony trailed off, the lines of his face expressing both anger and grief, two of the most impotent emotions ever realized. He leaned forward, not looking at me, resting his elbows on his knees. Underneath the shirt, his muscles were tense, coiled; I envied him his restraint. How well had I known this man? I wondered suddenly. I'd befriended him, 'rubbed off' on him, but had I ever taken that extra time to create something more, as I had with Daniel and Teal'c and Sam? The answer was no; somewhere along the line, the importance of the bond had been lost on me, on all of us.
"Teal'c went to a lot of trouble to get authorization for this one last trip," Tony began again, softly, almost sullenly. "And when it makes the news people are going to be... well, annoyed to say the least. Especially when it comes out that the Tok'ra are responsible."
"They won't care," I spat, still not allowing the news to sink in, still not permitting the image - Sam's broken body, her soft blonde hair turned brittle and rusty with dried gore, skull crushed, features flat and bloodstained, Lord. And three days, three days in the fierce sun and acid rain... "They've always hated her. They'll say she deserved to die."
"Maybe," said Tony in much too casual a tone for my tastes. "At the very least they'll be pissed off at the refugees. I don't know; maybe they'll have reason to be. They could have set us up, Jack. Set YOU up. Come to you with this story about Sam being held prisoner on this planet, enough of an incentive to get us out there looking for her, conceivably planning on getting our GDO code or something. Maybe Sam found out about this, maybe she escaped, or tried to, and they killed her. I mean, why stop there? Maybe Catrine and Bray and Linas are Gou'ald, and the people on Su'lin'ie were Gou'ald, and Sam never even had a chance."
I shook my head; maybe, maybe, maybe. That way lay madness. "You didn't see their faces when they were telling me about this lab. They were disgusted. They were afraid. Afraid of being followed and punished for deserting, and afraid of..."
Tony ran a hand over his mouth. "You heard about your house?"
I looked sideways at him. "Ka-boom," I commented dryly.
The other man acknowledged the wry humor silently. "The local police are claiming it was Canadians, but then again, that's the standard excuse these days. Probably just some wacko who agreed with you, that you don't deserve the publicity, and decided to make himself feel like a man by setting a couple acres on fire. You get the insurance forms yet?"
I nodded glumly. More paperwork... and why? Seemed I was pretty well taken care of, up here in my fairy princess tower, and there'd been nothing much inside the house that had been of any value... non-sentimental value, that was. I'd left a lot of 'personal effects' at the house in Colorado: the Nintendo that Sam and I had played that Christmas Eve when Daniel and Teal'c had been waylaid by a flat tire. The magazine containing the article she'd written in '01 -- dry scientific stuff I couldn't understand a word of, and published under a different name, but still HERS. A dozen little momentos from over the years: a keychain, a picture frame, a magnet, a CD. The one album I'd kept with pictures of her and the others. I'd known it wouldn't be safe there, but I'd also been incapable of bringing it with me to Denver. Now I had to live with the consequences.
At least I could LIVE with them.
* * * * *
|| Samantha Carter ||
"Samantha, what you ask is... difficult."
I swiped angrily at a lock of hair that'd had the audacity to fall in front of my eyes, and as a result almost lost my balance. My entire body throbbed with pain, every joint and tendon, not to mention the side I'd fallen on when I'd pitched over the side of the precipice, future home of a multitude of lovely bruises. Then there was the fact that I was starving, parched, and so exhausted that I was two minutes away from curling up on the ground for a nap. But I wouldn't, couldn't, refused to even clean a streak of blood off my face until I convinced Narim to listen to me.
"What do you mean, 'difficult'? Listen, when we decided to be active allies, we WERE active about it. The Tok'ra gave us Jadae, you gave them the weapon disarmament technology, you gave us that satellite, we... well, we pointed both of you in the direction of some raw materials... and the Tok'ra gave YOU the technology to safely remove a symbiote from the host!" The volume of my voice had gone up with each word, and now, realizing that, I tried to temper my tone. "You CAN do it."
Narim's expression was implacable. "Yes. We procured that technology from our allies. Jadae is one of those allies."
"You're missing the point," I said tersely, wondering how much Narim believed, and how much his reply was influenced by his feelings for me. We'd started out close, yes. We'd always been civil, yes. But in the past few years, in the past few visits to his world, I'd had to reject his advances more times than I cared to count. It hadn't exactly been because of Martouf, and it surely hadn't been about Jack -- no matter what the Tollan had insinuated. It was because a relationship with Narim seemed, frankly, silly and pointless. There had been some initial attraction, this was true, but at the heart of the matter he was attracted to my looks and I was enamored by his technology. That wasn't a friendship and it wasn't the base of anything that could be more. He didn't seem to understand this, and seemed more and more put out every time I turned him away. "She's not your ally. Well... okay, maybe technically she is, but Maretne has been holding Jadae captive... like a Gou'ald. I think that should supercede your relations with the Tok'ra."
Behind me, the small, Nox-constructed Stargate stood, silently presiding over the debate. Maretne still lay unconscious where she'd flown from the event horizon. Narim and a others, summoned to this place as soon as the Gate had activated, faced us, a panel of stone-faced judges deciding our fate. And all around, Tollan citizens watched, frozen in place, not speaking, simply stepping back and observing with some interest the confrontation that had enlivened an otherwise predictable day. I must have appeared half-mad: battered, haggard, raving, aiming a Zat gun with a hand that shook at a serene, unarmed, unconscious woman.
"Please," I begged, feeling the last of my strength going out of me. "Don't make me regret coming here."
* * * * *
|| Daniel Jackson ||
When I ran into Lindsey Moore in the copy room, I hardly recognized her. Hair pushed hastily away from her face by cheap plastic barrettes, clothes rumpled, I wondered if she could find any middle ground between snob and slob; that get-up was hardly befitting a college department head. "Hi," I said, just to be polite, entering my code into the copy machine.
She raised an eyebrow at me in response, turning to one of the other machines, speaking to me only once her back was turned. "I saw you on Newsline last night."
Her tone was casual, noncommittal. I mimicked it. "Really? What did you think?"
She snorted. "You were much too defensive, for one. You were practically asking the guy to jump all over you about Sam Carter."
My shoulders tensed at the first sibilant of Sam's name; it was instinctual. "Listen, I really don't want to get into this with you, Ms. Moore. Innocent until proven guilty, let's just leave it at that."
Her tone was petulant. "I didn't say I BELIEVED the idiot. I just said that you were obvious about wanting to protect Carter, or, if she is dead, her image. I can understand that. I can appreciate that."
By the time her words registered with me, by the time I hastily gathered up my photocopies and turned around, she was gone.
* * * * *
|| Janet Frasier ||
"I saw Doctor Jackson on Newsline last night."
I pretended not to hear. Jeff Bayly was a great doctor... he was just a massive gossip. And this was the era when being the doctor of the sister of the boyfriend of the hairdresser of a former SGC member meant you were part of the inner circle. Not a day went by that I wasn't approached by Bayly or one of the others with some stupid line meant to extract a juicy tidbit from me... anything to keep the rumor mill going.
Truth be told, I was less a part of the inner circle than they were. I got an email from Tony every now and then, this was true, but for the most part Warren had sidestepped popularity. I hadn't spoken to Jack or Daniel in months. My last conversation with Teal'c had been a brief congratulatory call about his appointment. I could only guess where Hammond had ended up. And the others: Siler, Simmons, Dowson, Parker, Mya, Harriman... they'd all done as I had: found new lives.
I wondered if it was any easier for them.
Oh, God, Daniel...
* * * * *
|| Samantha Carter ||
They didn't have Maretne restrained. She was neither bonded or cuffed; she simply sat there on the single bench of her holding cell, staring at me acrimoniously across the room. I was somewhat nervous about that, but I was even more nervous about the barely-contained mirth mixed in with the animosity in her expression. That simple nuance alone literally sent a shiver down my spine; it wasn't a cliché after all.
"Why the memories, the false memories?" I wanted to know.
Maretne shifted on her bench, remaining silent for several seconds. I cursed myself for imagining that this was be a simple question-and-answer session; what did she have to gain by telling me what I wanted to know?
"Why the false memories?" I repeated.
Not for the first time, the woman seemed eerily capable of reading my thoughts. "Will I change your opinion of me by complying?" she asked saccharinely.
"Not a chance in hell," I replied flatly. "But your fate isn't up to me anymore. It's up to the Tollan, and I don't think it would take much to impress them at this point. See, unlike me, they don't know what you are, what you've become. They haven't been betrayed."
Maretne rolled her eyes in a disgustingly human fashion. I'd wondered if she'd picked up the gesture from me. "'Become'," she echoed nastily.
"Just answer the damn question."
She didn't appear at all flustered by my words; she didn't seem like she'd be flustered by much of anything. Nonchalantly, she brushed her hair off her neck. "It was Martouf's idea," she said snidely, and I got the distinct impression that just about anything that had gone wrong in their little subterfuge would turn out to be 'Martouf's idea'. "He was afraid you'd remember O'Neill being there, and that if you did, you'd be a lot less willing to accept our story. That you'd be angry at us for lying. That you'd want to go home."
My pulse quickened as hope flared, and I quickly stomped it back down. No use in setting myself up for a fall. "Then Ja... O'Neill wasn't killed by Jaffa. He's alive."
Maretne scoffed at me. "Oh, he's dead. When you were hit on Deault's world, he went after you." She shook her head with a wry semblance of sadness. "Shot right in the head. Very messy. You should be grateful we didn't let you remember it."
"I shouldn't believe anything you say," I said in a half-whisper, as though reminding myself that this woman was a proven liar, even as my stomach churned and roiled.
She answered in a whisper of her own, grinning maniacally. "Then why are you bothering asking me anything?"
I swallowed hard against a knot of bile. God, that expression. I'd seen it on the proud face of Apophis, the exquisite visage of Hathor... but I'd never imagined I'd see it from someone I had once considered a friend and ally. "If that's true, why give me the images of him dying in the Gateroom? Why change what happened on Deault's planet so drastically?"
Another careless sweep of hair, but this time, her gaze was more pointed. "Martouf DID love you, you know. He did what he did FOR you. He wanted to be your... what's the term? Knight in armor, shining armor."
"So... what? He was screwing with my mind anyway, so he might as well make himself look good while he's in there?"
Maretne cocked her head at me in a childish fashion. "I thought it was a rather foolish plan," she admitted. "But oh, there was something wonderful about seeing you on your knees before us, before him." Her eyes, glittering with dark delight, drifted, unfocused, enraptured. "A mighty Tau'ri, in such a position of supplication and subservience, so frail. A person from the 'holy' First World, vulnerable, a thought away from death." She snapped her fingers, as though to demonstrate how quickly that death could have come.
I shivered despite myself.
Maretne chuckled. "You were barely conscious when we took you out of the sarcophagus. You're lucky that Martouf is such an honorable man."
"He could have easily had you then, and you would have barely been able to realize it," she finished gleefully.
This time, the shiver swiftly evolved into a shudder.
She drew her knees up to her chest and rested her chin there, another act that would have been childishly endearing if not for the malicious smile. "It doesn't matter what you do to me, not really. Not every Tok'ra feels as we do, but make no mistake, there ARE others out there, more of us who are willing to do whatever it takes to overthrow the Gou'ald."
"Willing to loose your compunctions?" I countered, knowing it was hopeless, but still needing to TRY and make her understand. "Your morals, your honesty?"
"Morals? 'Nasty things, make you late for dinner'." She raised an eyebrow, as though daring me to do... something. "They're overrated and overvalued by your people. Humans!" She exclaimed. "You think because you've united with us, because you've been responsible for a few paltry victories, everything you say is right and true! Compunctions have only served in stalling our cause. And honesty? I'm COMPLETELY truthful, Samantha."
"You're a liar," I insisted. "You lied about what happened on Deault's planet and what happened afterward, all in the name of science and... and conquest, of eventually coercing me into fixing your little project for you. AND you've been lying about what happened to Jack, for no other reason than to HURT me."
Maretne dropped one leg and allowed it to dangle. Even the slightest move she made seemed glaring to me; I couldn't forget that Jadae was utterly powerless to control even those most inconspicuous motions. "Maybe I am," she agreed with far too much cheer. "I mean, the memory of Jack's death on Earth, I gave that to you... it's obviously fake, right? Couldn't possibly be yours because you were never there. It was nothing fancy, just a little something else to give you that extra sense of hopelessness." Her tone was eerily conversational, but her lips were curled in an elated snarl. "So maybe I'm lying about everything else."
Weight shifted forward; brown eyes pierced me.
"But what if I'm NOT?"
I had to look away, but I could still hear the rancorous pleasure and self-satisfaction, thick and rich, in her voice.
"You'll never be one-hundred percent sure. There'll always be that tiny inkling of doubt and guilt. And even if I am lying to you straight-faced, why, you've been away from home for some time, Samantha dear. And this IS war, declared or not. A million things could have happened that I wouldn't even know about. Will YOU ever really be sure? Will you ever feel sufficiently certain that you'll be able to return to your little Earth, and face what's waiting there?" She paused, and when she spoke again I jumped, for now she had finally abandoned any front of humanity. Her eyes flared menacingly; her voice was impossibly deep and warped. "That is my legacy to you, Samantha. That is my gift."
I turned away wordlessly and pounded one fist against the door. Maretne snickered, as though deciding she had won this round, whatever her fate would be. The lock was disengaged on the other side, and I took an extra second to whirl back on her.
"Just... tell me something," I pleaded. "Tell me there was no native population on Su'lin'ie when you ruined it."
She clasped her hands together over her hoisted knee. Her taunting words were splinters of ice driving into my heart.
"Where in the world do you think we acquired this host body, my DEAR Jolinar?"
* * * * *
Coming soon... The Angel...
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