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A Star to Steer By

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It wasn’t the first time Jack had been kidnapped, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. He’d seen snake helmets before a lucky zat blast had gotten him,so he figured it might be Apophis. Then again, he’d been left to come to all on his own instead of being strung up by his toes, so who knew, maybe it was some other snake-guy.

Jack put a hand to his pounding head and struggled upright, trying to figure out where he was. Supporting hands helped him sit up, which was nice. Wasn’t nearly often enough that he got a helpful cellmate. Wasn’t one of his team, either. When he was finally vertical enough and his eyes would focus, that was pretty obvious. His new roomie was some darker-skinned guy with a blond buzzcut.  The guy wore white and blue armor that looked military instead of the fancy snazzy metallic crap way too many idiots preferred. It was more like SWAT or TAC team gear on steroids than anything else.

They figured out in short order that they didn’t have a language in common, though Blondie’s language sounded sorta familiar. Hell if Jack could place it in the middle of a post KO headache, though.

Rex – if the usual Tarzan and Jane method of introduction remained reliable – was just as disgruntled as Jack was, if slightly less beat up. Since there wasn’t anything to do until Sam and the rest came to bust him out, or the local goa’uld got torture-happy, Jack kept up a sporadic stream of idle commentary as they checked over their cell for any weaknesses.

Nothing useful came of it, though Rex seemed to have more patience for idle chatter than the typical Jaffa would, so that was a good sign he might actually be human. He’d even respond occasionally, in a tone that didn’t sound like “shut up before I find a way to shoot you,” which Jack also took as a positive.

The language itched at the back of his brain, like it almost made sense but not quite. Mostly he was too busy nursing his zat hangover to worry about it too much.

No escape routes were obvious, but that wasn’t a huge surprise, since they seemed to be in the standard cell of a ha’tak. It was anyone’s guess if it was grounded, in space, or somewhere in Oz.  Jack spent awhile trying to trade words with his cellmate, who seemed to tolerate it well enough.

A set of nearby explosions had them both on their feet and ready to party when the rescue arrived. For a change, it wasn’t SG-1, or anyone else Jack recognized. A few folks in more white and blue armor, outnumbered by folks in white and yellow armor, came around the corner, guns blasting. They moved together as a military unit, smooth and professional. Between that and the explosives, this was the kind of rescue Jack could get behind. They busted the cell open with a professional glee that he highly approved of, and didn’t seem to mind him following along in their wake. Certainly they didn’t seem to mind once they swept past some fallen Jaffa and Jack got to claim his very own zat. One of the guys near him even gave an approving nod at some of Jack’s cover fire.

The new guys all had full helmets, somewhere between pulpy sci-fi and knight in shiny armor style. Those meant their voices were all slightly distorted to sound the same, and the more he heard – especially in the context of what had to be “over there,” “duck,” and other usual mid-firefight profanities, the more he could swear he knew this language.

Several of the fellas had wrist walkie-talkies, and there was a sudden rise in chatter from those. Jack could feel the emotional pressure in the room ratchet up a few notches before his new buddies hustled up. They were moving with serious purpose now. Several corridors later, there was a burst of weapon-fire which died down quick enough. Another guy in white and yellow popped around the corner and did an actual double take at them.

It was easy enough to tell something had gone pear shaped, the way the guy hauled ass over to them. He was absolutely babbling, charging over to Jack’s former cellmate and grabbing him by the arm to haul him back where the new guy came from.

Something about the new input kicked the back of Jack’s brain into gear, and it was like someone had flicked a switch on the world’s soundtrack. These guys didn’t stop sounding like they were talking the way Danny did when he’d stubbed his toe, but now it was intelligible.

Well, he understood the words, though the sentences still seemed to be a mishmash of who knew what. There was a confusing babble of voices, all asking if a General was all right, and what had happened to seventeen. Seventeen what was a very good question, but no one else seemed to be in the dark about it. Seventeen soldiers, maybe?

Jack’s buddies pelted into a small cul-de-sac, where a handful of white-and-yellow armoured soldiers were crouched around a fallen figure. Jack was swept along with them into a pained, hushed circle.

Aw, hell. Jack tried not to wince when he saw what the white-armored figures were huddled around. One of them had taken a direct staff-blast. How the poor bastard was still breathing with more hole than abdomen, he had no idea, but it was clear the man didn’t have much time.

Neither did they, until more Jaffa showed up, but it was clear why Jack’s cellmate had been pulled aside. The fallen soldier could have been his twin, once you got past the gore and the dark hair instead of blond. Jack swallowed and looked away, trying to keep a low profile as the other soldiers pressed close, their body language showing just as much concern and grief as Rex’s. It was – it was good, that the poor bastard had family, but god, that was hard. People shouldn’t have to see their family die.

“General.” Rex’s voice was quiet as he knelt down, tone sorrowful but determined. “Sir, can you hear me?”

The dying man shook his head ever so slightly, his lips skinning back from bloodied teeth. ”Can – can heal…”

The man – the General? – coughed, swallowed blood. He tried to speak, needing to swallow again first. Then he managed more, voice suddenly thick with the same accent Rex had. “W’all due r’spect sir, shut th’fuck up ‘n get mov’n. ‘M dead.”

Jack blinked. What.

Rex put a hand on the dying man’s shoulder. “General Kenobi. I am ready and willing to do my duty.”

A moment for a labored, bloody breath, then the General’s face twisted up in a mix of sorrow and acceptance. He gave a small, jerky nod and opened his mouth.

Jack’s breath quietly whooshed out of him like he’d gotten punched in the gut. A goa’uld slithered out of the dying man - world’s ugliest un-butterfly leaving its cocoon. The damn thing was large, obviously mature, and so streaked with blood it was going to create all sorts of new nightmares. It slithered onto the dying man’s chest, silent instead of making the usual nails-on-chalkboard hiss.

The now ex-host blinked, brows smoothing. “Huh. s’no pain,” he slurred as his eyes drift shut. “th’nks genrl…”

Jack felt too hot and too cold. His face was blank, frozen, which was probably for the best, given he liked the whole breathing, not being tortured thing. Was this some new System Lord? Had he stumbled over some kind of goa’uld infighting? The goa’uld didn’t usually go in for military ranks, and more active, warlike goa’uld were such a fun idea. He considered taking off, just getting the hell out of Dodge, but so far they hadn’t recognized him as Tau’ri, so he’d possibly be better off trying to play it like he was just another hapless victim.

The damn goa’uld reared up, snake-like. Instead of striking at something, it gently put the exposed fangs at the front of its snout against the dead man’s chin and began to emit a low keen.

The hairs on the back of Jack’s neck stood straight up at the sound, all the creepier for the fact the snake hadn’t made any noise so far. What the everlovin’ hell is going on? The soldiers crowded around remained silent, but their posture wasn’t the usual stoic servitude of Jaffa. These men stood subdued, grieving even as the – hell, it was insane. Even as the snake did.

None of this made sense. Not even Tok’ra would act like this, show emotions like this.

"General," Rex said. It was a tone of voice Jack recognized. Sympathetic, but knowing that they couldn’t afford to stop right now. How many times had he heard it, used it himself? Yet here it was, being used on a goa’uld, of all the damn things.

Madness, all of it.

"Sir, you can’t be outside like this," Rex tried again.  The snake fell silent, and Rex placed his hand down next to it, palm up. "Please, General Kenobi."

Jack tried to hide his wince at the soft tone. Just how brainwashed were these poor idiots?

He couldn’t quite stop a shudder and way too many flashbacks of the Hathor incident as the snake curled up onto Rex’s hand. It twined around his wrist, smearing bright red blood across the battle-scarred white and blue. The soldier didn’t even pause, bringing the brain-snake up to his mouth and letting ‘the General’ slide in. Rex blinked and shook his head a bit, all without the signature Tok’ra head bow of adjustment. Jack braced himself for the glowing eyes, the distorted voice, the sneer of superiority.

"You were all en-route to an extraction point, Trooper…?" Rex asked, and there was no sign of the snake, from the eyes, to the voice, to the knowledge that should have been present.

"Boil, Sir,” the man he’d addressed answered. “There’s heavy resistance in the direction we came in through, so we were trying to find a different way out."

"Captain Rex," another soldier said, holding out a metal cylinder to the goa’uld. "Kenobi’s lightsaber."

Rex nodded and took the cylinder – some kind of goa’uld device? Like the men’s armor, it looked utilitarian instead of flashy. ”Okay, then let’s move. See how far we can get while the General’s getting himself situated.”

"Sir!" came a chorus of voices, eerily similar underneath the distortion of the helmets.

All of this was getting seriously weird. Jack was having a strong debate with himself about trying to slip away, and he wasn’t sure which side was winning.

"Who’s the tag-along?" someone asked as they started down the corridor.

Rex glanced back at Jack. “I don’t know, but he can point and shoot. For now he’s with us.”

Well, for now, maybe he was.