Part I: Twilight
It felt strange to be in another host; to be without Martouf. The human boy he occupied – and he was a boy to Lantash despite the fact that he fought for the Tau'ri, was failing. Lantash could feel his host's fear of death, the panic and terror edging into his thoughts as the Jaffa carried the make-shift stretcher closer to the base camp.
Be calm, Lantash comforted him. You die well.
I would rather not die at all, Elliot thought back.
Lantash laughed. He believed he could have liked this host. He felt another wave of grief for Martouf.
You miss him, Elliot noted wearily.
Yes. How could he not miss him? Martouf was a part of him; the other half of his self.
Elliot's internal emotion was shaded with shame. I never thought of it like that.
It is difficult for those who don't know our ways, Lantash replied diplomatically. He had felt the full force of Elliot's distaste for being occupied by a symbiote the moment he had taken possession. He felt a wash of guilt; he had not thought, he had simply acted instinctively and taken the young boy. In the end was he any better than Jolinar, he wondered. Yet Elliot's distaste had lessened and with every hour they spent bonded, Lantash could feel it giving way to gratitude and, since they had both come to the realisation that they would not physically survive, disappointment. Lantash was disappointed too; he felt a raw edge of independence in Elliot that he had never experienced before.
Images of a carefree childhood; of running across an open field for the sheer fun of it with childhood friends, of laughter at a birthday party with loving parents encouraging him to blow out small burning sticks on a dessert, of watching his sister marry, of his pride in achieving a place in the SGC…Lantash wished he had more time to share them with Elliot; understand each memory and what it meant to the young man.
Elliot knew what it was to live without the shadow of the Goa'uld; to know freedom. It made Lantash heady; giddy. It was no wonder Selmak so enjoyed her union with Jacob, he mused.
The thought of Jacob inevitably brought with it the thought of Samantha Carter. He guarded the thoughts feeling Elliot's discomfort. Samantha was a senior officer to Elliot; someone he admired but who he had never dared to consider beyond that despite a surface acknowledgement that she was an attractive woman.
Lantash loved her. He feared he had fallen in love with her long before Martouf had been able to see Samantha as more than the former host of their deceased mate, Jolinar. Perhaps he considered, it had happened that first day when Martouf had been too upset to continue talking with Samantha and had left Lantash to explain about their bond with Jolinar. He had always made the distinction between Samantha and the symbiote who she had unwillingly hosted. After their mission to Netu, he and Martouf had spent time reconciling their feelings for both Jolinar and Samantha; they had grieved for one love and realised another. Just as Martouf had first loved Jolinar and Lantash had followed, Lantash had first loved Samantha and Martouf had followed. They had never had the opportunity to tell her – not truly – not before they had been forced to ask her to kill them…to save them.
She knows how you feel, Elliot said softly.
Lantash pulled himself out of his morose thoughts and accepted the comfort. Yes. And I thank you that I had the chance to tell her.
Elliot shrugged inwardly. I've never loved anyone the way you love her. You're sacrificing your life to save hers.
As are you. Lantash pointed out.
I'm doing this so my death means something. There was a tinge of anger, of bitterness to the words. Lantash remembered his conversation with Samantha in the collapsed tunnel; of dying on his first mission. He soothed Elliot mentally. It will mean that they all will survive. They can warn Earth and the Tok'ra of what happened here. Our death will have meaning.
That's all I want, Elliot said bleakly. A flood of sadness pulled at Lantash; images of his host's parents; his sister with a rounded belly – a child Elliot would not live to see. Elliot was sad because they would grieve and he would miss them.
I'm so tired, Elliot's thought was nothing more than a whisper and Lantash knew his host was weakening, the injuries were too great.
Stay with me, Lantash instructed gently; stay with me just a while longer. He took control and opened Elliot's eyes. The tents of the base camp were around them and his body began to tingle as they approached the Stargate; the recognition of naquadah. They could soon deploy the symbiote poison that Daniel Jackson had given them, complete their mission and save the others.
Lantash accepted his fate. We are almost there.
We are almost there.
The thought echoed in Elliot's mind. Soon; soon it would be over. He was scared. Deep down scared in a way that made his stomach quiver and his knees weak. He was trying to hide it from Lantash even though a part of him knew it was hopeless to do so; the symbiote felt everything he did, heard his thoughts plainly.
He didn't want to die. He didn't want to die so far from home, from Earth. He found himself wishing helplessly for his parents; for the comforting arms of his mother and the strength of his father's belief in him. He wanted them so badly he craved them. A tear leaked from his eye and he felt Lantash close them rather than reveal his weakness to the Jaffa. At least he had the comfort that the Colonel would deliver his last message to them. The SG1 team leader had agreed to send Major Carter on ahead when Elliot had given her Lantash's instructions on how to change the Tok'ra warning signal. Elliot had stopped the Colonel after they had been marching a while…
'Colonel.' Elliot croaked the word.
The stretcher was immediately placed on the ground and the Colonel kneeled beside him.
'You OK, Elliot?' O'Neill looked at him warily and Elliot knew it was because of Lantash.
'I need,' Elliot wet his lips and began again, 'I need to give you a message for my parents, sir.'
'Elliot.' O'Neill looked away briefly before looking back at Elliot, his brown eyes blazing with fierce intensity. 'You're going to make it…'
'No, sir.' Elliot interrupted. 'I'm not.'
'I'm not having this conversation with you, Lieutenant.' O'Neill said forcefully. 'Just…' he waved at him, 'focus on living. We'll get you out of this.'
'Sir, please.' Elliot didn't know how else to argue with his CO.
O'Neill sighed and Elliot took that as permission.
'Tell my parents…tell them I loved them very much, sir. That I hope I made them proud. And tell my sister that I hope she doesn't name the baby after me.' Elliot coughed. 'That's it.'
The blunt edge of a water bottle was placed against his lips and he drank greedily. O'Neill removed it when Elliot was done.
'Promise me, you'll…'
'I promise, Lieutenant.' O'Neill placed his hand on Elliot's shoulder. 'But I'm going to be severely pissed if you die, you got that?'
Elliot gave a half-hearted laugh. 'I don't think you can order me to live, sir.'
O'Neill's grave features twisted in denial. He gestured. 'How's the whole snake in your head thing going?'
'Weird, sir.' Elliot admitted. 'But it's not so bad.'
The Colonel looked at him in disbelief but he got to his feet. 'We have to move out.'
He was worried about the Major, Elliot surmised. The Colonel had been unhappy at breaking the team up even if he had agreed with her position that she could find the transmitter quicker on her own. He figured the Colonel wanted to stay close enough behind her so he and Teal'c could provide her with back-up if she needed it.
'Yes, sir.' Elliot agreed. He was done. The Colonel would keep his promise…
The jolt of the stretcher being placed on the ground brought Elliot jarringly back to the present. He felt Lantash open his eyes again; saw the Stargate in front of them. It was a beautiful sight.
He had conceded control to the symbiote a while back. He couldn't feel his body any longer; his legs were numb, he feared there had been some kind of spinal injury when the lab had been hit. He barely felt the poison vial secreted in his hand. But he knew Lantash could make his body work where he could not so he had let the symbiote have control.
He liked Lantash. He reminded him of his grandfather; wise, steady and reassuring. There had been a few hours of hope when he had been initially injured just after joining and Elliot could remember thinking that maybe he didn't mind the joining after all; maybe he wouldn't mind it continuing beyond the healing. It was weird – there was no getting around how weird it was suddenly having the knowledge of so many other lifetimes crammed into his head. So many memories; of Martouf, of Jolinar – of the life they had shared as mates.
He blushed anew and was just furiously pleased that nothing of that nature had happened with Major Carter. It was strange feeling such an overwhelming sense of love for her; love that Lantash had for her. He knew it comforted Lantash to know he saved her with their final act. Images poured through him; Elliot could remember holding hands with her…staring into her eyes with a staff weapon pointed at his head…of begging her to kill him…but it wasn't him; it had been Martouf and Lantash.
And there, again, was Lantash's grief at the loss of his previous host. Maybe it wouldn't have been bad assuming a life as a Tok'ra host. But it wasn't to be. Elliot knew he was too badly damaged and Lantash too weak. They had needed hours of careful rest and attention to heal properly as Selmak and Jacob had required; being carried through Tok'ra tunnels and trekked across miles of forest was not ideal.
Resentment surged through him again. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that he was going to die. It was his first mission; his first time through the Stargate. He still wanted to live, to protect Earth, to join SG1 one day. And more, vague hopes of finding a love like Lantash had for Major Carter, of a family of his own. But all of that wasn't to be either; all of his hopes and dreams were gone like morning mist dissipating in the harsh glare of the sun. All he had left was this last stand; this final act so SG1 would make it home and there would be some warning.
His gaze rested on the Stargate. The grey ring of naquadah filled his vision; the blue sky beyond shimmered as though it was a wormhole beckoning to him. His fingers tightened on the vial, and as he pressed down and the chemicals began their mix, Elliot felt his vision blur and fade.
Rest, now, James Thomas Elliot, Lantash said solemnly; our mission is complete.
A sense of peace enfolded Elliot and washed away the fear. It was done. And so was he.
Part II: Fade into Night
Jack lowered the monocular. He had kept pace with the Jaffa when they had picked up Elliot. Someone had needed to ensure Elliot went through with the plan or to be a back up if something went wrong. Not only that, but the timing was going to be a nightmare. Once the poison hit and dissipated, the others would need to haul ass to the gate to leave and that meant having someone on point to tell them when. Jack had simply told the others it was going to be him. Jacob and Teal'c had been out given their symbiotes anyway; Daniel was far too conspicuous in the strange get-up he'd been dressed in and Carter…
She had protested and when he'd held firm, she had requested permission to accompany him. He had denied it. She was pissed but he couldn't do anything about that. He didn't doubt that she wouldn't allow her emotional connection to the symbiote that occupied Elliot to endanger the mission knowingly but she had been a mess when she had originally believed she had killed Martouf during the whole za'tarc thing and he preferred not to risk her Jolinar remnants making an appearance. Luckily, Jacob had been unable to confirm whether the poison would affect Carter given the protein marker and naquadah in her blood. She'd subsided after that. Jack hadn't wasted any more time debating it.
He had hidden and waited until the Jaffa had found Elliot; followed the Jaffa back to the base camp. Teal'c had been right; getting in undetected was almost impossible despite his years of covert surveillance. He had found a vantage point overlooking the camp. It had some cover, and he had scrambled into it, hiding himself with dirt, branches and leaves.
Jack raised the monocular again. He could see them lowering the stretcher in front of the Stargate. It wasn't right. The young Lieutenant had deserved better than for his first mission to go totally FUBAR. Bad enough that the Goa'uld had attacked; bad enough that Elliot had lost his team; bad enough that he'd gotten snaked even if it was a Tok'ra…Jack winced. Bad enough that Elliot was going to die to give them a chance to live.
He hated losing people. Hated it. It was the worst part of the job. Commanding meant sending people into battle; into war. Sometimes they came home; a lot of the time they didn't. Jack knew that was the way it was. His jaw tensed. It didn't mean that he had to like it though and he hated it most when they lost someone like Elliot; young and full of promise. The Lieutenant had the makings of a fine officer; he needed seasoning, toughening up, experience to guard against the over-thinking. Elliot wouldn't ever achieve that though; wouldn't ever grow into the man and soldier he could become.
Such a waste, Jack thought sadly. Yet he was proud of Elliot. The Lieutenant had coped admirably with the mission all things considered. He had kept his head up during the initial bombardments; helped Mansfield. He'd stayed conscious and ensured he'd relayed the information from Lantash that they needed to escape the tunnels and change the transmitter message. And Elliot's last act was one of heroism; it took courage and bravery to face death.
Jack pulled a face. He had agreed to deliver Elliot's last message for his family and it was a promise he would keep. He dreaded it. He knew only too well what it felt like to lose a child; to see the promise of that child gone forever. A parent never recovered no matter what the circumstance. Life would go on but with a part of it constantly missing; constantly aching.
Moreover, his heart had sank when Elliot had made the request because Jack knew it was fine line between accepting the reality that death was inevitable and giving up. But as much as Jack had wanted to deny it he'd known if Elliot was going to survive the symbiote would have already healed him. His lips twisted. Carter had been vague about how Lantash had got into Elliot and he rather suspected he didn't want to know the detail. Maybe the symbiote had been trying to do the right thing; maybe. Jack knew Selmak had saved Jacob, and Jack had liked Marty enough to give Lantash the benefit of the doubt but his mind kept creeping back to Carter's experience with Jolinar. He shook himself slightly. There was a part of Jack that couldn't lose the suspicion that when it came right down to it the Tok'ra were still snakes.
A sudden cry from the camp grabbed Jack's attention and he hastily yanked his attention back to the mission. The sight through the monocular was grotesque; the Jaffa were falling, clutching their bellies where the Goa'uld pouch resided. Jack checked on Elliot. The Lieutenant was perfectly still. He'd gone. Jack didn't know how he knew, he just did. Elliot was dead and he was taking the Jaffa army with him.
Jack lowered the monocular and huddled into the ground. Two gliders appeared early on; descending out of the sky like metal eagles. They buzzed the camp and left. The Goa'uld checking on what had happened on the ground probably when he lost contact, Jack surmised. He hoped the evidence that the poison had been used would force him to leave. The Goa'uld couldn't be certain how long the poison would last after all. Jack didn't know how many more hours passed. He listened as the moans and cries grew as the poison spread; as the Jaffas' lives seeped away with the loss of their symbiotes. It seemed like forever until the camp was silent.
He raised the monocular. The bodies of the Jaffa littered the camp. There was an eerie silence and a shiver ran through him. He hated biological warfare. There was something insidious about killing people so easily.
Jack reached for his radio. 'Carter; this is O'Neill. Come in.'
'Area looks clear. What does Jacob say about the life span of this thing?' Jack said briskly.
There was a brief pause – she was probably conferring with her father, Jack mused.
'Sir, Selmak is certain we should be OK to proceed to the gate.' Carter radioed back.
'Roger that. I'll clear the way.' Jack signed off and made his way cautiously into the camp. Dead bodies were everywhere. It was a massacre. It was just one more nightmare to add to the others. He kept his gun poised and kept alert just in case. But nothing moved; nothing stirred.
Jack felt his skin crawling; a primal urgency shooting through him to leave. He pushed it down and focused on the job. It didn't take him long to get to the Stargate. He knelt beside Elliot.
There was a grey cast to Eliot's cold skin; his eyes were lifeless. Jack reached out and gently closed them. He snagged Elliot's dog tags and took them. As much as he wanted to take Elliot home, they couldn't risk it between the presence of the symbiote and the poison. Jack sighed. Elliot had deserved better. Elliot's parents deserved better than to bury an empty box. He got to his feet and headed for the DHD to wait for the others.
Teal'c was exactly where Daniel had suspected he would be; on the top of the mountain watching the sunset. The Jaffa sat away from the door, crossed legged on the grass. His back was straight; his face turned away to the sun. There was a solemnity about Teal'c; a reverence in the way that he watched the colours bleed across the sky. He seemed undisturbed by the cold chill that had traced goose-bumps across the dark skin of his naked forearms; the way the moisture from the grass seeped into his heavy BDU pants.
Daniel didn't speak. He dropped to sit beside his team mate without a word. He focused on the sunset. On the orange ball falling into the horizon leaving behind streaks of pink and red as the sky shifted from blue to violet.
For the first time since they had arrived back through the wormhole, worn and heart-sore, with not only the failure of the mission to report but the destruction of Revanna, the loss of a SG team, and the rise of a new Goa'uld, Daniel felt his body relax. The tension drained out of him.
He had failed.
He accepted that inescapable fact. He had failed. Twice over. The mission had always been outside of his comfort zone. He had killed Goa'uld before. He had sent a bomb to Ra; had shot up an entire tank of them in anger. But it wasn't his usual path, Daniel mused. He had questioned whether he could live with effectively being an assassin. He hadn't been certain that he could do it; hadn't been certain even with the vial in his hand and the time of reckoning upon him. He had used Sarah's arrival to delay.
Could he have killed her? Daniel still wasn't sure. He had wanted another way – had been desperate for something to save her. He needed to save her where he had failed to save Sha're. Maybe some of it was guilt that Sarah had been caught up in his world. Intellectually, he knew it wasn't his fault but on some level, he blamed himself for not telling Sarah of the danger. Maybe it also had something to do with the leftover regret from his relationship with Sarah. He hadn't loved Sarah enough; he hadn't loved her as much as he had loved Sha're. In the end, he wasn't sure what drove him to save her – to make up for what he had failed to do with Sha're or to make up for the failed boyfriend he had once been to Sarah.
When she had spoken about Anubis he had felt so much relief flood through his body that it had been a wonder that he could stand. He'd had a valid reason not to kill her. But he had still failed to save her and that smarted more than the failure of his mission to eliminate the System Lords.
In truth he was pleased it had failed. The Tok'ra's plan seemed too entirely genocidal to Daniel; too blasé about the collateral damage they would create in the wake of using the symbiote poison. Which brought him neatly to the reason why he had sought out Teal'c.
Their use of the symbiote poison on Revanna had been a necessity but the devastation it had caused had been unspeakable. The camp had been a field of corpses. So many Jaffa had lain dead. Teal'c had taken one step and stopped. His gaze had travelled over each warrior and Daniel had seen sorrow swim in his dark eyes. It had been a moment of complete clarity for Daniel that the Tok'ra had been wrong to consider using the poison without considering the impact on the Jaffa.
The sun disappeared and left behind the soft purple of early evening. Daniel breathed in the air; the crisp freshness rushing through his lungs.
'I'm sorry, Teal'c.' Daniel said softly. 'For the loss of your people.'
Teal'c didn't move. 'The symbiote poison is most effective.'
'I don't think we should use it.' Daniel said clearly. 'Not until we have a firm plan for helping the Jaffa be free of the symbiotes.'
'Bra'tac has spoken to me of a new Jaffa rebel leader.' Teal'c commented. 'One who is gaining some success in attracting more Jaffa to our cause; to fight for freedom. Yet I fear we will not be truly free until our bodies can be sustained without them.' He inclined his head. 'I had not considered the Tok'ra's plan beyond the elimination of the System Lords.'
'I don't think the Tok'ra had really considered their plan beyond the elimination of the System Lords.' Daniel commented wryly. He pulled at the laces on his boots.
'You were wise to refrain from killing them given the return of Anubis.' Teal'c said.
Daniel shrugged. 'In all honesty, Teal'c, I just wanted to save Sarah.'
'An understandable ambition.' Teal'c commented.
'One that I failed to accomplish.' Daniel sighed heavily. 'I never seem to make a difference.'
Teal'c finally turned to look at him. 'I do not believe that to be the case, Daniel Jackson.'
'You know why I decided to take the mission, Teal'c?' Daniel blurted out. 'I took the mission because I thought; this is it. This is my chance to really make a difference. Wipe out the System Lords; break the Goa'uld hold over the galaxy.' He sighed. 'But when it came down to it, I couldn't do it. I'm not sure I could have done it even if Sarah hadn't turned up; and if I had…I'm not sure I could have lived with myself.'
'It was a most difficult mission.' Teal'c murmured.
Daniel pulled a face and glanced at his team mate. 'You knew I would hate it.'
'I knew you would prefer another way.' Teal'c countered. 'That is not a bad thing, Daniel Jackson.'
'I think about Elliot and I wonder if I could do what he did.' Daniel murmured. 'Whether I could face death the way he did to save others but knowing that I would kill so many in dying.'
'I am certain you are capable of facing death to save others, Daniel Jackson.' Teal'c said firmly. 'You have already done so on many occasions.'
'But taking out so many with me?' Daniel shook his head. 'I don't know.'
'He performed with honour.' Teal'c said.
Daniel didn't say anything more. He hoped whichever God Elliot believed in would weigh his soul and judge him the same way. He had been so young.
They sat for a while in the night air; the company and the silence both appreciated.
'Has Colonel O'Neill departed?' Teal'c asked eventually.
'Yeah.' Daniel winced. He didn't envy Jack his responsibility for informing Elliot's family; for tap-dancing around the truth of what had happened to give them the core essence of it; that their son had saved their lives with his death. 'I offered to go with him but…I think he needed to do it alone.'
'He holds himself responsible for the death of Elliot and the rest of SG17.' Teal'c noted. 'Yet he could not know of Anubis's plan to attack the Tok'ra base.'
'You know Jack.' Daniel commented. The military man was incredibly protective of those under his command and Daniel knew he felt each loss. Elliot was a difficult one to come to terms with; the circumstances, their involvement in his training, the sacrifice the young officer had made.
'Major Carter must have also volunteered to accompany O'Neill.' Teal'c surmised out loud.
'She did.' Daniel grimaced. 'She was denied permission by Hammond. I think everyone's worried she's going to turn all Jolinar on us again like she did after she thought she had killed Martouf.'
'It is good Jacob Carter chose to remain on Earth.' Teal'c commented.
'I don't there's any place for him to go back to.' Daniel said sadly. 'He contacted the Tok'ra; they're evacuating all their bases. They figure if Anubis knew the location of Revanna…' he shrugged and looked over at Teal'c. 'What do you know about Anubis?'
'Only that he was exiled long ago for crimes against the System Lords.' Teal'c answered promptly. 'Until now he was believed dead.'
'That's what Selmak said.' Daniel said.
Teal'c nodded sagely. 'For many years, he has been a monster to frighten young Jaffa into good behaviour. Anubis was among the most feared of the original Goa'uld.'
'You think he was the Goa'uld Tanith wouldn't name back on Tollana?' Daniel wondered out loud.
'It is possible.' Teal'c said. 'Tanith was weak; he would need to ally with a stronger Goa'uld.'
A breeze brushed over them, disturbing Daniel's hair. He patted it back into place and got to his feet. 'I'm, ah, going to head in. Get some sleep.' He murmured.
Teal'c inclined his head but made no move to follow.
Daniel nodded understandingly and headed for the door. He wasn't sure he would be able to sleep between Anubis, Sarah and the failed mission but his body ached with tiredness. He took one final look at the sky. He had failed his mission but he somehow felt that maybe, just maybe, he had saved his soul.
Selmak stared out at the night sky through the den window. Jacob had acquiesced to her need to stay awake; to wander silently through his daughter's house. He had ended up making a drink of hot chocolate and sitting in a large comfy chair by the window.
They had managed to contact Garshaw to raise the alarm. If Anubis had somehow found out the location of Revanna then it was clear their other bases were equally at risk. The Tok'ra were evacuating not even to secondary locations but planets they had not even previously considered. Selmak had convinced Jacob they should spend a few days on Earth. There was no point rejoining only to simply spend the next few days running especially given their injuries in the crash. It would be good to stay and finish their healing. It was getting harder for Selmak to heal her host; a sign of her age. She was getting old.
She heard the names of the constellations drift through their shared thoughts as Jacob recognised one star formation after another. A memory floated into being: Jacob sat with his wife and two children outside in the cold night air; a simple house behind them. He and Kathy were teaching Mark and Sam the names of the stars; childish fingers pointed upwards, their eyes bright with wonder. It was a treasured memory and Selmak treasured it too; holding it close like a warm blanket to soothe her.
Let yourself grieve, Selmak, Jacob chided her gently.
If I start I'm not sure I'll stop, Selmak responded sadly. They had lost so many at Revanna. It wasn't the first such loss that she had endured in her life and she doubted with the news of Anubis's return that it would be the last. She had long since stopped being attached to places. The life of a Tok'ra was a life on the run. She envied Jacob his sense of home when they returned to Earth, welcomed his admonishment that it was her home too since they were joined. Revanna though had signified a new hope with the loss of Apophis and their move from Vorash.
It's not the place you grieve for, Jacob said quietly.
No; not the place. Selmak acknowledged the truth. She grieved for the loss of her kin. So many deaths. Ren-al, Aldwin, Andor, Viro, Lantash…the list was endless. Three of the Council had perished along with the rest. Hiku, one of her oldest and dearest friends…it had been Hiku who had taught Jacob the customs of Yu's court. Her host, Pila had been a concubine there. Hiku's former host, Leon, had been Saroosh's lover and the two symbiotes had remained close ever since. Sorrow surged through Selmak and Jacob did his best to comfort her silently.
His grief was muted; couched in less familiarity with those who had died. There was regret for Aldwin who had been a good friend to them and for Ren-al and Hiku who they had worked with so closely on the plan. There was more regret for Lantash; Jacob had been truly fond of him.
I am sorry they all died, Selmak, Jacob said, sensing her thoughts. Your grief is mine.
I know, Selmak assured him. And so it was; just as his was hers. All tangled together with the fragile intricacy of a spider's web. She sighed inwardly. She had known some better than others though; some had remained distant and mere acquaintances. She had known them all though; the curse and gift of being the oldest among them.
Selmak figured she was probably the only one who remembered Anubis from before his exile. She remembered him as cold and arrogant. He'd favoured men as hosts; strong, virile usually but not especially handsome. The cruelty of Anubis had turned any superficial beauty to ugliness regardless.
You fear him, Jacob realised following the meandering path of her thoughts.
Yes. Selmak couldn't deny it. When Daniel had communicated with them and told them of how Osiris was representing Anubis…a chill had run through her.
Who is this guy, Jacob questioned.
All of our worst nightmares, Selmak replied. Anubis is Death. He slaughters all without mercy; humans, Jaffa, Tok'ra…Goa'uld. He rules not for power or glory but because he believes he truly is a God with the power of life or death in his hands. And he is clever, more so than any other Goa'uld. He is manipulative and vile in his strategies seeking not only to win but to cause as much pain as possible to all in the winning.
Hy'lok Mor. Jacob picked the name out of her head. What is that?
The final atrocity; the one that forced Ra and the other System Lords at the time to ally to exile him, Selmak said. Hy'lok Mor was a planet on the outer edges of his domain; on the outer edges of this galaxy. Rumour that Anubis was creating a new weapon there surrounded it and eventually Ra took an army and conquered it. She stared out at the stars. It wasn't a weapon.
Then what? Jacob asked curious.
The Tok'ra never knew for certain, Selmak admitted. The exact details remained a secret between Ra and the other System Lords, and they burned the planet. However, rumours spoke of a queen being found there; of vast vats of symbiotes.
He was attempting to recreate the Goa'uld race in his own image, suggested Jacob.
Perhaps. Selmak shrugged. There were stories that these symbiotes were malformed somehow; abominations. Some of the Tok'ra Council at the time thought Anubis was attempting to play God with the Goa'uld themselves.
I can see how that could have gotten him exiled, Jacob mused.
He was exiled into a feeble human boy and left on the remains of Hy'lok Mor; the Stargate was removed, Selmak said. The Tok'ra heard of his death from a minor Goa'uld in Ra's court. Ra was rumoured to have eaten the body of the child.
God, that's sick, Jacob shuddered.
But it seems he survived somehow, Selmak said in wonderment.
Perhaps his death was more spoken about than real, Jacob mused.
Selmak nodded. Perhaps. If Ra had discovered that Anubis had somehow managed to escape he would not have wanted it known.
And as long as Anubis kept hidden, nobody was any the wiser. Jacob frowned and adjusted his robe. Where's he been all this time? Or maybe, I guess the better question is why is he back?
To kill us all, Selmak answered dryly. I think that much is clear; Tau'ri and Tok'ra alike. It is going to be a difficult time ahead, Jacob.
We'll face it together, Jacob assured her.
Selmak let herself sink into his confidence. The Tau'ri had defeated the Goa'uld before; powerful Goa'ulds that the Tok'ra would never have risked taking on. It was perhaps the example of the Tau'ri that had spurred the Council into its most ambitious plan to strike at all of the System Lords during the Summit.
Thank God Daniel Jackson wavered over killing Osiris, Selmak mused. As frustrating as it was for the plan to have failed, if they had followed through, they would have handed Anubis the galaxy. She felt Jacob's continued frustration at Daniel's actions. You cannot blame him for wishing to save his friend, she admonished. Daniel had failed to save his wife and she guessed that played a part in wanting to save Sarah Gardner.
I forget sometimes that he isn't a soldier, Jacob replied.
He prefers other options to killing, Selmak agreed; that isn't a bad trait, Jacob. Certainly his doubt over using the symbiote poison given its effects on the Jaffa had validity. The sight of so many fallen warriors on Revanna had given Selmak considerable pause. Teal'c had been ashen by the time they had reached the gate. Maybe the Tok'ra were as guilty as the Goa'uld of treating the Jaffa as no more than collateral; their lives to be saved or spent at their whim. Maybe instead of the poison their efforts should be focused on freeing the Jaffa.
A sound broke the silence; a door opening. Sam appeared in the doorway. She stopped as soon as she caught sight of them.
'I'm sorry, Dad, I didn't know you were up.' Sam pointed at the kitchen beyond the breakfast bar. 'I just want a glass of water.'
'It's OK.' Jacob said, rising. 'Selmak and I couldn't sleep.' He looked at her worriedly. 'You?'
Sam's eyes darted to his sharply. 'I haven't turned into Jolinar if that's what you mean.'
Selmak nudged for control and Jacob conceded with an inward huff. 'Jacob is simply worried for you, Samantha.' She could see Sam blush in the dim light. 'Especially with all you have been through recently.'
'Sorry.' Sam raised her glass. 'It's just…'
She had been denied permission to accompany her CO to inform Elliot's parents; denied permission to accompany him to watch over the last moment of the young man's life – of Lantash's life. Selmak figured Sam was grating against what she perceived was everyone being over-protective.
'You don't remember how it was when the memory of Jolinar took over you after Martouf's perceived death.' Selmak remonstrated gently. Sam had been unaware of how her mental barriers had collapsed; of how the memory of Jolinar had risen to the surface and taken over Sam. It had taken an ancient technique with the hand device to reinstate the mental blocks; to push Jolinar back into her rightful place in Sam's mind. 'Perhaps that is why it is difficult for you to understand our concerns.'
Sam nodded. 'I guess that's true.' She gestured. 'How are you? I know you and Lantash were close.'
'We miss him.' Selmak acknowledged gruffly. 'We miss all of them.'
'Of course.' Sam reached over the breakfast bar and patted her father's arm. 'I'm sorry; what happened at Revanna…' her voice trailed away uncertainly.
'It is a major blow for the Tok'ra.' Selmak admitted. She glanced at Sam; at the paleness of her skin, the scratches and bruises from her ordeal evident. She felt Jacob's worry surge up and let him take over again.
'How are doing, kiddo?' Jacob asked.
'I'm fine.' Sam's fingers tightened on the glass; her knuckles turning white.
Jacob simply stared at her in that paternal way that communicated he was her father; that she couldn't lie to him; that he knew better.
They could see how Sam hesitated but she suddenly deflated, gazing intently into her glass as though she would find answers there. 'Lantash gave his life to save me.' Sam said. 'I've had…others do that recently,' Jacob wondered who she meant, 'and,' she bit her lip and shrugged. 'I'm not worth that.'
Jacob walked around the breakfast bar. He wrapped her in a hug. There had been a moment when they had heard the Tok'ra warning that Jacob had feared the worse; the loss of his child. Selmak could feel his gratitude for Lantash's sacrifice. 'You are definitely worth saving, kiddo; don't you ever think otherwise.'
Sam returned her father's hug before she eased back and swiped at her face. 'Everybody just seems so keen to die to save me, I just…just once, I kind of wish someone would want to live for me, you know.'
Jacob brushed a tear from her cheek. 'I know you really cared for Martouf and Lantash.'
Sam turned away, hiding her face. 'Dad.'
'Hey, I'm not exactly comfortable about talking about this kind of stuff with you either.' Jacob pointed out. A memory shot through Selmak; of Jacob stumbling through a discussion on safe sex with his teenage daughter. 'Maybe because of losing Lantash again it seems right now like you won't find happiness but believe me it'll happen for you one day.'
Sam didn't turn back to face them and Selmak knew the moment of exchanging confidences between father and daughter had passed. Sam picked up her glass again. 'I should get some sleep.' She leaned in and kissed her father on the cheek. ''Night.'
Jacob sighed and she felt his paternal desire to sweep away all of his daughter's hurts; to make them better; to take away the pain of the traumas she had endured; to take away the pain of those she had lost. He so wanted her to be happy; to find the love that he had once shared with Sam's mother. Selmak suspected Sam had already found that love even if Jacob didn't want to admit it given that it was against the rules of the military Sam adhered to keep and so could never be fulfilled unless something changed. But Jacob didn't need to hear the truth of it.
You were right, Jacob, Selmak soothed instead. She will find happiness one day.
She felt his tiredness and acquiesced to his wish to retire. It was time to sleep. The new day would bring with it new challenges.
Part III: A New Dawn
All Jennifer Hailey could focus on was the pounding of her footsteps against the pavement. She let it fill her ears and her head. She ignored the drizzle of rain that had already soaked through her grey sweat shorts and the deep blue Air Force t-shirt. She kept running. Her thighs were beginning to feel the burn; her calve muscles in danger of cramping. Her breath was coming in sharp pants, bordering on sobs. Her heartbeat was racing along with her body. She ignored everything but the footsteps.
The early morning light seeped through the rain clouds and turned the asphalt to silver. Puddles glistened in the road like polished mirrors. Hailey wasn't aware of anything but her footsteps.
She didn't want to think; didn't want to feel; didn't want to remember the way General Hammond had pulled her, Satterfield and Grogan into his office the afternoon before…
It was unusual for the base CO to request the presence of junior officers in his office. Hailey felt her belly stir with anxiety as they got into the elevator. She was certain that she hadn't done anything wrong. SG5 had just back from a diplomatic mission and she had just finished putting the final touches on her report when she had got the summons.
'What do you think this is about?' Tamsin Satterfield looked as nervous as Hailey felt.
'I don't know.' Hailey responded.
Matt Grogan fidgeted beside her. 'Maybe they're going to tell us that they got it wrong and we're out.'
Hailey shook her head. 'I don't think so.'
'Maybe we should just wait and see.' Hailey said firmly. She crossed her arms over her t-shirt and refused to look at the others. The elevator deposited them on the right level and they made their way to the office.
Hammond waved them inside. 'At ease.' He kept standing; his round face incredibly solemn. 'I won't drag this out. As you may know Lieutenant Elliot was deployed with SG17 on a Tok'ra orientation.' He paused. 'I'm afraid the Tok'ra base was attacked by the Goa'uld and all members of SG17 have been lost. Lieutenant Elliot gave his life to ensure the safe return of SG1 and General Carter.'
Hailey blinked at Hammond. Elliot was dead? But he couldn't be. She'd talked to him just before his mission; they'd arranged to meet up for a drink and trade stories when they both got back…he couldn't be dead.
'I realise you all trained together very recently and wanted to inform you before you heard it from someone else.' Hammond said kindly.
'Thank you, sir.' Hailey managed to get the words out. Satterfield and Grogan stood shell-shocked beside her.
Hammond nodded. 'You're relieved of duty for the rest of the day and if any of you need to talk, your COs have been apprised or you can always speak confidentially with Doctor Fraiser.' He looked at them gravely. 'That's all.'
Hailey believed it was only their ingrained training that brought them out of their stupor and enabled them to leave the office. By mutual agreement, the three of them had all left the base and headed for the bar, where only a couple of weeks before they had sat celebrating the successful completion of the training simulation. They had spent the night getting drunk.
She slowed as she rounded the corner to her apartment building. She staggered to a stop in front of the door and forced herself into a series of stretches before she headed inside. She got into the elevator and slumped against the back wall.
His first mission.
She crossed her arms tightly over her chest. Elliot had been so excited. An earlier mission had been cancelled because of Teal'c being stuck in the memory buffers. They had bumped into each other in the commissary when she and SG5 had got back from Russia having had to gate there for the same reason. They'd had a snack and arranged to meet for drinks.
It wasn't a romance; it hadn't been a romance, Hailey corrected, blinking back tears. Not that Elliot wasn't cute – he was, it was just that neither of them wanted to derail their careers with anything like that. It had just been the start of what she had thought could have been a really great friendship. They were very similar; ambitious, driven, and passionate about the Stargate programme.
He hadn't deserved to die. But then neither had his CO Major Mansfield or any of the rest of SG17. From what Hailey could make out from the rumour mill before they'd left the base even SG1 had barely made it back.
The elevator doors opened.
She limped along the corridor to her apartment and let herself in. Grogan and Satterfield had crashed at her place and she could see the discarded blankets piled on the small two-seater sofa.
'Hey.' Satterfield called out to her from across the room. She held up a bright orange mug. 'Coffee?'
Hailey shook her head. 'Just water.' She headed for her refrigerator. 'Where's Matt?'
'He got called into the SGC.' Satterfield took a sip of her coffee. 'He just got assigned to SG9.'
'Wow.' Hailey shook her head. 'I didn't realise…he didn't say anything last night.'
'He felt bad.' Satterfield explained. 'I mean, he gets an assignment and…'
'Elliot's dead.' Hailey took a gulp of water. She could understand why Grogan had kept quiet. She glanced at the clock. 'I have to get a move on.'
'Jenn.' Satterfield placed her mug down and hooked her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. 'I'm putting in for a transfer.'
Hailey looked at her surprised. 'Tam…'
'I can't do this.' Satterfield blurted out. 'I can't.'
Hailey nodded. Satterfield had been assigned to the base archaeology department while she waited for a place on a SG team. 'You've got to do what's right for you.' She said mildly. She jerked her thumb toward the bathroom. 'I have to go shower.'
'I, uh, I'm going to leave.' Satterfield said. 'I was just waiting until you got back.'
'I'll see you at the base.' Hailey said. She walked away into the bathroom. She heard the front door opening and closing as she stripped. She stepped under the spray of hot water.
She wondered if Satterfield would really request the transfer. It was probably just the shock. It was the first time any of them had lost someone they knew so closely. It was the reality of fighting a war, Hailey told herself as she showered. They would lose people; they would lose team-mates and colleagues. The Goa'uld didn't care who they killed.
It was sobering and Hailey couldn't blame Satterfield for wanting out. The question was did she want out too? She remembered her mother cautioning her on joining the Air Force. The military meant learning to kill and how to survive; it meant that one day that training would matter in a real situation.
Elliot had been there and he hadn't survived.
The question nagged at her as she got dressed and drove into the base. She entered the female locker room and redressed in the SGC BDUs. She avoided the mess; she didn't want to bump into anyone else. She headed for the small lab space she had been assigned and buried herself in work.
A loud rap on the door made her jump. She looked up in annoyance which quickly dissipated at the sight of her CO, Major Tennyson.
'Sir.' Crap. Her eyes flew to the clock. She'd had a meeting with him and she'd totally forgotten.
The stocky leader of SG5 entered and closed the door. 'Usually when a CO requests a meeting with his junior officer, they report to him not the other way around, Lieutenant.'
'Yes, sir.' Hailey said quickly. 'I'm sorry, sir; it won't happen again.'
Tennyson's keen blue eyes settled on her with more understanding than she had anticipated. 'First time you've lost someone you've known?'
Hailey nodded. 'I'm fine, sir.'
Tennyson waved her onto her stool and sat down opposite. He clasped his hands on top of the workbench and looked at her directly, sadness filling his craggy face. 'Henry Mansfield and I went to the Academy together. We served in the Gulf together. We played golf every time we got downtime together. Our wives are friends. Kelly's over with Lauren right now. I'm going to miss him.'
'I'm sorry, sir.' Hailey said, flushing. She sighed. 'I didn't even know Elliot that well.'
'No,' Tennyson agreed, 'but you trained together and were becoming friends, right?'
She nodded again. She took a breath. 'How do you do it, sir? How do you…'
'Keep serving, keep forming bonds, knowing there's a possibility that the people around you may die?' Tennyson completed the sentence.
'I'm not going to lie to you, Jenn.' Tennyson said gruffly. 'It's hard. But it's what we signed up for. We risk our lives to protect Earth and sometimes that exacts a price.' He sighed. 'You know those training simulations we all do test how far we'd all go in the performance of our duty. Elliot proved that he would be willing to sacrifice his own life. So did you. What they don't teach you is that the hardest thing is not sacrificing your own life to save others – that's actually the easy part.'
He looked over at her. 'The hard part is seeing others sacrifice their lives for you, or others. And they don't teach you how to deal with that.'
'How do you deal with it?' Hailey asked solemnly.
'We honour the dead by remembering them.' Tennyson responded promptly. 'You look after those they left behind and you do the best damn job you can so their sacrifice is worth something.'
'Yes, sir.' Hailey took a deep breath.
Tennyson nodded. 'And on the subject of doing our jobs, you want to take me through your report?'
Hailey acknowledged the switch in subject gratefully. She reached for her prepared document. 'Yes, sir.' Life went on and she would do her job to the best of her ability and more, she would always remember Elliot and the sacrifice he'd made. He would never be forgotten.