The rocky planet slowly orbited its small orange sun. From space it had a slight red-brown colour, with occasional patches of blue and green. Shallow seas and oases with hardy, but verdant vegetation. The planets thick atmosphere shimmered with a slight tale tint, and here and there a small group of clouds drifted through it. Carriers of rain, rare and valuable event in such an arid planet. Yet despite it relatively harsh nature, the surface was bustling with life. The areas around the seas and lakes, lit up with millions of lights visible even from space, when they crossed the day-night barrier as the globe slowly rotated around its axis.
In orbit, a small armada of ships stood in guard around a space station. Most of them belonged to the now venerable Ha'tak class, all-purpose warships of the once mighty Goa'uld empire. As the might of its creators crumbled, the Ha'tak’s fearsome reputation also faded. Nowadays the original Ha'tak design was considered to be woefully out of date. Just like most of the Goa'uld created technology, they were meant to be weapons of terror primarily, and being an actual combat capable warship was their secondary function. Still, with major refits and upgrades, it remained mainstay in the fleets of ne less than three power in the galaxy. Two of them resorted their use because they didn’t have the necessary capabilities or technology to create new ones, and one of them, the Free Jaffa nation, because they were in the long process of slowly phasing them out, and designing a new class of ships to take their place. Standing guard closer to the planet, two distinctly different vessels guarded the space around it. They were bigger and, almost twice the size of an average Ha'tak and their exterior was noticeably more modern, and freshly constructed. The Bra'tac class battleships, named after the famous war hero, was designed by Jaffa engineers to be far superior to its predecessor. It had a less pronounced pyramid in the middle, with blunt edges instead of pointed ones. Its outer superstructure was entirely redesigned. It now had a ring shaped outer hull, with three sections fusing into the sides of the tetrahedron inner structure, covering them almost perfectly. The ring housed the upgraded staff cannons, providing the point defence and small-scale ship to ship combat functions, while pyramid section acted as the main deck. In the blunt tip of the hull, laid the ship most powerful weapon. The “Giant Bugzapper”, as lieutenant general O’Neill put it on the celebration held by the Jaffa High Council, was designed after the superweapon of the long dead Anubis. It had the capability of completely overwhelm the shield and destroy an original Goa'uld designed Ha’Tak, and severely deplete the shields of a number of other ones, If they are close enough to the first target. This weapon could only be fired in 15 minute intervals, but combining it with the upgraded staff weapons, led to the Lucian Allience losing most of their fleet, and fracturing into warring factions ruling over their personal thiefdoms. Currently the Free Jaffa nation had 5 Bra'tac class ships, with another three being under construction with the dismantling of old Ha’Taks providing important resources to the shipyards. Some Ha’Taks of course would still be in use, refurbished and upgraded as an escort vessel to its larger predecessor.
All in all, the fleet around the planet was formidable, even compared to the ones assembled by the mightiest System Lords in the peak of their glory. Of course, it was inevitable. The planet was called Kel'mah, the new capital of the Free Jaffa nation, and main industrial central of their empire. The system had significant naquadah deposits the Goa'uld was unable to properly exploit, and since most of these deposits laid in the desolate rocky areas of the planet, and in the outer Oort cloud, the mining operations hardly affected the biosphere. In fact this and its position was the two factors why it remained largely underutilised by the Goa'uld during their reign. The false gods relied on slave labour, something which is largely inefficient in a sun scorched desert, since even the hardiest Jaffa needs water and food to work, and the cheaper human slaves died faster and produced less. In the end, the endeavour would have costed more to the Goa'uld than the value of the mined ore. The planets position was also a factor, it laid relatively close to the border of two minor Goa'uld, infamous for their rivalry. If one of them tried to conduct some kind of major mining operation on the planet, the other would surely struck at it, seeing the chance to spite its nemesis. But the times have changed, what was once unattainable to the Goa'uld and its slaves, was proved to be a great source of wealth and power to the Free Jaffa nation after their fall. The Jaffa had allies, one of them is the Tau'ri who had much more experience with mining in dangerous environments, and machines designed to be up to the task. Of course, they wouldn’t give it for free, the deal was, that for a percentage of the mined ore, the Tau'ri would provide the machines, and train the operators. The mines provided the much-needed raw material to the foundries shipyards, and factories on the planet, while the green fertile lands around the seas and oases grew the food for the populace. It was the shining gem of the Free Jaffa nation. In its orbit, almost hidden inside the patrolling fleet, a space station blinked slowly.
Around it slowly orbited three vessels, with vastly different dessignes then those of the Jaffa home defense fleet. Two of them were smaller, dwarfed by even the Ha’Taks, but the third one was almost the same size as the Bra'tac class battleships. It had a weird shape vaguely similar to an oversized tuning fork. Its edges were more angular, and blocky, compared to the Jaffa vessels. The ships engines were situated on the singular end, slowly lighting up as the huge vessel started to gain speed, forking end pointing away from the planet into the darkness of space. Beside it, the two escorts moved into formation. Their shape was a much more common sight for the people of the Free Jaffa Nation. Tau'ri vessels, not to dissimilar from the Daedalus, once the most formidable vessel in their fleet. These ships do have had a couple of differences however, they were slightly larger, their hangar bay slightly longer and with a more pronounced superstructure at the end of the vessel. The bigger ship, moving sufficiently away from the Jaffa home defence fleet, opened a hyperspace window. As the three ships diapered inside the shimmering hole in reality, blue light enveloped them, illuminating the huge letters painted on the side of the biggest ship: “BRC-301 Hephaistos”
Teal'c stepped closer to the window, watching the swirling blue of the hyperspace. He was the only one now in this mess hall, everybody else doing their duty on the ship. The vessel was only a couple of weeks old, the second one of its class, and this was her maiden voyage. With its older sister, the “BRC-301 Vulcanos” was designed to provide support functions to the steadily growing Tau'ri space fleet. They were designed to be able to solve most problems a ship in deep space can encounter. A new ship for a new era. And Teal'c felt himself very old.
It was years ago when Master Bra'tac decided to leave the Jaffa High Council and seclude himself amongst the mountains of Kheb. After the defeat of the false gods, the Jaffa came to revere the place, as a holy place, where the spirits of the ancestral and present-day Jaffa goes, to try to ascend to a higher place. A few of the former warriors, especially the old ones, tired after a life of suffering and war under the gods who they now knew, were nothing but false idols, established a small colony there. They discarded every technology, especially the ones designed by the Goa'uld, and dedicated their life to meditation and physical work. Outsiders and pilgrims were treated with respect, but were discouraged about staying for too long. The place was holy after all, and to live there required a serious commitment. Teal'c only just started to understand the decision his old master made. He lived his whole lengthy life under the yoke of the Goa'uld, and then fought and bled just as much as his apprentice to achieve freedom, while being much older than him. He lost most of his old friends, countless loved ones, and received only scars and pain in the bones for it. His master kept his youthful vigour with sheer bloody-minded stubbornness, he needed it to use as a weapon against the false gods. And now, that the Jaffa was free, and moreover formed a stable empire, the old man let the time he denied for so long, to claim what was rightfully its own. Teal'c didn’t object, if somebody then his master earned his peace. And he got it, if his visits to the old man’s house in Kheb was any indication. Bra'tac was much calmer, and much peaceful nowadays, although Teal'c still decided not to tell him that the High Council voted to name the new battleship class after him, and especially not that he agreed with the choice. Teal’c didn’t survived his false god Apophis, countless battles against bloodthirsty foes in land air and space, just to get himself killed by his old master.
It was a couple of years after his retirement that the old Stargate Command was disbanded and a new, international team took their place. The second iteration of the organization came as the start of a slow process to reveal the Stargate Program to the general public. The existing SG teams were offered the opportunity to join the new organization but SG-1 respectfully declined and thus were disbanded. Although the members went on their different lives, they met at least twice a year to remember and talk about their current life. They were still friends, still comrades, even after all that time. And it was a long, long time. Teal'c rubbed the old faded golden symbol on his forehead. He always agreed with Bra’tacs decisions, but right here, right now, as a relic of an old era on a new ship, was the first time he truly understood it. His contemplations were interrupted by a small cough.
- Tek'ma'te Master Teal'c. -Said a young voice behind him. The old Jaffa stepped away from the window and turned around. Behind him, wearing a thick brown robe, stood Do’rac. The young Jaffa was almost a head smaller than Teal'c, and although he was quite muscular, he moved in a measured sort of way that tended to make people forget about them. He had a light brown skin complexion, indicating that his ancestors were most likely somewhere from the former Persian empire. Do’rac wore his hair in a short buzzcut, the short hair being originally dictated for the warriors of the Goa'uld empire, it became traditional for the Jaffa. The young man in contrast with Teal'c haven’t wielded a ceremonial staff weapon, and only had a Zat'nik'tel stuffed into his belt. All in all, he didn’t look like much of a warrior. And that was the point, he wasn’t one. He was one of the first in a caste which couldn’t have existed before: a Jaffa scientist. Teal'c, couldn’t help but smile a little, something which obviously made the young man uncomfortable. -M…master have I disturbed you?
-No you are not young one. -Said Teal'c in a level voice. – I was just enjoying the view. Do you wish to discuss something with me?
-I just came to tell you that according to captain Markov we will have soon reach the “Mirror installation”. He also said there is someone on the ship you might want to meet while you still have the chance. - Teal'c raised one of his eyebrows. First the smile, and now the eyebrows, he is putting his facial muscles trough quite a work through today.-He thought.
-And who is that? – Do’rac shuffled his feet nervously.
-Colonel O'Neill, Master. - Teal'c would have raised both of his eyebrows now, but instead just stepped closer.
-Did he said that? Most confusing. O’Neills rank is lieutenant general, and he is currently on the Tau’ri home world. - Do’rac nodded a little.
-That’s what I said to him master, but he insisted that I should still tell you exactly that. Oh, and that he is currently in the β training room if you wish to talk to him . - Teal'c considered this and finally gave Do’rac an approving nod.
-Then I will do so. Thank you apprentice Do’rac. -The young Jaffa tried to remain impassive, but couldn’t help it, his eyes gleamed with pride. Teal'c gave him a small bow, and the started walking towards the training room β.
Fortunately it was relatively close to this mess hall, since the Hephaistos was quite a big ship compared to any of the BC series, and with him not knowing the layout of this new class, he might have missed this “Colonel O'Neill” if It was anywhere else. As it is, he arrived just in time to the gym to see a man putting down an Intar in the shape of a P90. The man wore a light blue uniform, with clearly visible hardpoints on it. On his shoulder there was embroidered the sentence “Hephaistos Marine Corps, under it a symbol depicting a flaming hammer crossed with a sword. Still lower the name “Jonathan O’Neill”. Besides the one representing the ship he also had another insignia denoting his rank as a colonel. The man rubbed his face, and noticed the newcomer. A familiar mischievous smile spread through his face.
- Teal'c, old friend, how is it going? – Greeted him the man, and stepping closer he extended his hand. He indeed looked like O’Neill. Not the old one on Earth, aged by the constant struggles against the endless problems of the new Stargate Program and the relentless assaults of time, but a young one, straight from Teal'cs first memories of him. No, even slightly younger than that.
-Who are you? – Asked the Jaffa with obvious mistrust in his voice. He hasn’t moved to accept the gesture. The man looked at him for a couple of seconds, and then lowered his hands.
-You know it is kind of customary to accept handshakes. And Jonathan O’Neill. Or if it is easier, the cheap asgard made knock off of the legendary Jack O’Neill. -His voice was jovial, but his eyes become somewhat colder for a fraction of a second.
-Indeed, now I remember, you are the clone. – Nodded the Jaffa slowly, and inspected the man again. – You became a soldier. I got the impression from O’Neill that you are wish to remain a…how did he put it. - He recalled the exact words after a second of contemplation.- “Normal, without the constant looney bin we have the pleasure to experience.” – O’Neill shrugged a little bit uncomfortably.
-Yeah, well turns out having the memories, and on top of that, the nightmares and knowledge of a veteran SG1 personnel in the body of a teenager isn’t the best combination. -He let out a small sigh. - I kept remembering dead friends I never had, battles I never fought, and a little ki...I mean, all that, and combined it with the knowledge of what’s out there. I just couldn’t do it. Living a quiet life while in any moment an unknown alien menace can come and Independence Day of our asses, and I would be unable to prevent it… So I joined the military again. Slightly differently this time. -O’Neill pointed to the symbol on his shoulder. – First unit specifically trained in boarding actions and fights in zero gravity environment. Heck, I even know how to read Goa’uld. Or at the very least what symbols mean “Armory” and “Reactor room”.- Teal'c nodded a little. This O’Neill wasn’t the old O’Neill. But if the incomprehensible part about Independence Day, (Which was most likely one of O’Neill signature pop culture references the Jaffa learned to filter out.) was any indication, he was still very much like him.
-I understands. You are a warrior like the original O’Neill. You just couldn’t defy your nature. – Jonathan tilted his head a little bit thinking.
-There is something about that too. But, I at least finished college before joining up. I have a degree in Astronomy. It gave me plus credits for the special training. – Said Jonathan with a wide smile on his face. Teal’c was assaulted by a sudden wave of nostalgic feeling. When was the last time he seen O’Neill smiling like that? Years, maybe more. Nobody would accuse him as a sentimental, but with old age comes change in everything. There was a moment of awkward silence. In his earlier years Teal’c would have just let it linger around. Right now, he decided to apply the esotheric technique Daniel Jackson tried to teach him after he descended. It was called: Small talk.
-Interesting suit. – Chose a new topic of conversation. First step of the process completed. -Thought Teal’c. O’Neill looked down theatrically.
-Oh this old thing? EX0-02B. You know although most of our technology is reverse engineered from other technologies, and adapted or upgraded to work for us, this one is original. 100% Tau’ri you could say. If I recall correctly it is two layers of Kevlar with Trinium-Naquadaq chainmail between them, and laminated with the same material the Krull warriors had on them.
-So not 100% Tau’ri. – Concluded Teal’c inspecting the clothing again.
It looked much less cumbersome than the EXO-01 he was familiar with. Most races in the galaxy lacked any meaningful personel protection when it came to field combat. Sure, Jaffa had their armour, but it was mainly used against primitives, so while it was excellent against bows and javelins, it lacked the ability to stop even a 9 mm bullet. Some of the Goa’Uld carried personal shields, but they couldn’t manufacture them. The few destroyed devices the SG teams were able to aquire showed certain similarities with the technology of the ancients. Daniel Jackson theorised that somewhere during their early days of their history they managed to secure a small cache of Ancient technology from sometimes before the powerful ancestors of humanity truly became a dominant race of the galaxy. The artefacts were then later used as bargaining chips, and only the most powerful system lords ever had more than a couple in his or her possession. The Krull armour was also quite effective, but were only given to the warriors from which its name came from, and never became widespread. The EXO-01 was the first attempt from the part of Tau’ri to remedy this problem. It was bulky because of the layers upon layers of Kevlar and only had a couple of thin layers of refined Naquadaq. It was able to provide protection against conventional small arms and rifles, while also being able to spread the energy of a staff weapon, converting a hit which would normally burned a hole into the soldier chest, into a series of blisters and mild burns along the parts covered by the armour. The price was, that it was only good against one direct, or a couple of glancing shots. Anything more and the SG personnel would cook inside his or her own armour. Teal’c presumed this new variant was capable of resisting a little bit more punishment.
-Well, not exactly.Maybe 80. But the Idea itself is 100% from the Earth. – Said finally O’Neill. And then came the awkward silence again. Second step,- Thought Teal’c.-Change topic if one is already dried up.
-How came this is the first vessel with dedicated Marine corps? - O’Neill blinked a couple of times, watching the Jaffa with a little bit more intrest than before.
-You are awfully talkative compared of how I remember you. And it is because this is more of a priority target for boarders. After all this ship was designed to be able to – O’Neill started to count on his fingers. -Transport large amount of materials. Be able to mine small asteroids. Manufacture spare parts, and repair ships on the fly. Heck I believe it can even build new vessels if absolutely necessary. Although we never tested it. So, it’s the ultimate support vessel. And not only that, but it’s also full with experimental technologies. We have the ZPG generator, these new EXO suits, the recalibrated mining transporters, and a couple of others. If somebody manages to capture it, we are in deep shit. That’s why we have the two BC-305 as our own personal escorts, and that’s why my marine corps is here. On that topic, if we are talking about why we are here. What about you? I thought this is going to be a simple test run of Hephaistos hauling capabilities. We get our share of mined metals from Kel'mah and after that, we are going home in short order. -Talkative? Is he?It must came with the age.The Jaffa considered how to say it with as few words as possible.
-I am accompanying apprentice Do’rac and his science team. I represent the Free Jaffa nation joining in the research of the “Mirror” installation. Captain Markov offered to give us a ride. He mentioned it in the celebration on Kel'mah. You weren’t there?
-I umm…had some other pressing matters to attend to. – Said O’Neill while looking absolutely honest. So, it was obvious he was lying. Teal’c looked at him impassively and remained silent. O’Neill squirmed a little and shuffled his feet. The Jaffa just held his gaze. -Oh, all right. I got one of my captains to replace me. I hate wearing the parade uniform. It gets me itchy. - Teal’c nodded a little. The gaze always worked on humans. He just needed to look at them with a stern expression and they would tell him anything he wanted to hear. Sometimes it even worked with Jaffa.
-Indeed. -He nodded lastly. And then came the silence the third time. The problem was that Daniel Jackson wasn’t really able to teach him the subsequent steps of “Small Talk” on the account that he was also terrible at it. Fortunately for Teal’c, it was Jonathan turn to speak up.
-Tell you what. I invite you for a jello in the dining hall. I know I am not exactly the original O’Neill but we could still be friends. You tell me what happened with you, and I tell you about myself. Just try to let me speak too, since you are so chatty today.
-My friends are those who fought by my side against my enemies.- Teal’c stopped a little and considered the idea. It was a long time ago anyone spoken to him like that. Nowadays he was an elder Jaffa Master and most Jaffa acted accordingly towards him. As in cordially, but with certain distance. Nobody would tell him that he is “chatty”. He certainly felt like he missed his SG1 days. And a little bit of nostalgia couldn’t hurt.-But, I accept your invitation.
The solar system was relatively desolate. Around a small red star orbited one lonely rocky planet and a belt of asteroids. The planet in on itself was nothing more than an airless rock, its only distinguishing feature a huge impact scar bigger than an Earth continent. There was no significant mineral wealth to mine, not even a stargate in the system. What was there, was a gigantic space structure orbiting between the asteroid belt and the planet.
It was about twice the size of an Ori supergate and was also made out of individual fragments. Six main part together formed the primary structure, and each of them had an outward spine, vaguely similar shape to a thin leaf. It was ancient, both in the sense that its constructors were the race who was once the member of the four great races, and in a sense that it was constructed eons ago. Inside the ring, the space shimmered and shoved the distorted mirror image of its home system. Looking through it the lifeless world was covered in lakes and green plains. The belt of asteroids was replaced by a moderately sized red planet, like Mars and around it an alien structure orbited, glowing with strange blue light. It was like a gateway to another world. A closed gateway to be precise.
The ships and probes that tried to enter simply flew right through the ring without even so much of disturbing the shimmering image. There was no way to activate it either. It bore no entrance to its inside, not responded to any outward stimuli. Despite all that, it was still powered, and awake. If any observer tried to cut into its surface to gain access to its internal structure, it responded by raising powerful shields, capable of shrugging of any weaponry thrown at them. The “Mirror Installation” as it came to be called by the Tau’Ri and its allies, remained a mystery. It was obviously made by the Ancients, it design was unmistakable, but the outer spines were constructed from different materials and bore alien markings, their number too few to decipher their meaning. A small orbital research station was constructed around the impact scarred world a couple of years ago when the newly rebuilt Korolev arrived into the system by chance, pursing a fleeing Lucian raiding force. Since then, despite the best efforts of the research team, and even such brilliant minds as Samantha Carter or Rodney McCay, who were requested to study the gathered data in their free time, the ancient machine inside the Mirror Installation remained unresponsive. At least until the Hephaistos entered the system.