1. There But for the Grace of God
Korra stuck his head through the doorway. "Hello. May I join you?"
"Certainly," Martouf said. "Please, come and sit down."
"You're always welcome, Korra. You know that." Jolinar smiled at him.
"Hi, Korra," Aldwin said, smiling. He moved the stool he was sitting on so there would be space for Korra by the table.
Korra grabbed a pouffe that was standing beside the sofa and moved it to the table and sat down. "You are playing Pachisi! Can I join you?"
"Sure, this round is almost finished, we'll start a new very soon," Martouf told him. "Do you want tea or mead?"
"Mead," Korra said. "I will get a glass." He rose before Martouf could get up from where he was sitting with Jolinar's legs in his lap.
It was Aldwin's turn, and he threw the six cowrie shells.
"Four!" Jolinar called out.
Aldwin moved his piece forward four steps, and landed on a square that already held another piece, of a different colour. Aldwin grinned and pushed that piece off the board.
"Hey! That was my piece!" Martouf complained. "That is the third time you have done that! Why is it always my pieces you attack?"
"The world is unfair, beloved." Jolinar grinned and leaned in to place a kiss on Martouf's cheek.
Korra smiled at them and sat down with his glass, and poured mead into it from the bottle standing on the ground. He sighed, and the smile disappeared again. He took a long drink.
"What is wrong, Korra?" Martouf asked.
"You know we have been getting reports that the people of the Tau'ri have begun to send teams out through their chaapa'ai, and that they have encountered and engaged the Goa'uld, mainly Apophis?"
"Yes, that is old news. I have followed the news of them since they succeeded in killing Ra," Jolinar said.
Martouf nodded. "A truly impressive feat."
"It was, as well as bold - and possibly stupid," Aldwin said. "Very dangerous at any rate. And now they are causing trouble for Apophis."
"Yes." Korra sighed again and drained the rest of the mead from his glass. "They were. They are no longer doing so."
"What happened?" Jolinar asked, clearly worried. "I know that Apophis was gathering forces for something. Has he attacked the world of the Tau'ri?"
Korra nodded. "He has. We have just received information that his ships attacked the Tau'ri. They fought back, and succeeded in sending a bomb of some sort to Chulak, which destroyed everything near the chaapa'ai, killing humans and Jaffa alike, and rendered the area radioactive. The Tau'ri chaapa'ai was apparently located underground, and they blew up that facility during Apophis's attack, killing many of his Jaffa, including his First Prime. Apophis himself escaped, though."
"It saddens me to hear this. I had high hopes for the Tau'ri," Jolinar said.
"Well, at least it sounds as if Apophis would have been set back quite a lot. That is a good thing. He is getting too strong," Aldwin observed.
"Not for long, I am afraid. Slaves are currently digging the chaapa'ai free," Korra said. He picked up the bottle of mead. "May I take a little more?"
"Take all you want. We have another bottle. In fact, I think we should all get something to drink," Martouf suggested. "Let me up, beloved?" He gave her legs, still lying across his lap, a fond squeeze.
"Of course." Jolinar smiled at him from where she was curled up in the corner of the sofa, and moved her legs aside so he could get up.
"The attack on Chulak must have been a great setback for Apophis, though," Martouf said, while rummaging around in a cupboard for another bottle. "To say nothing of all the unfortunate Jaffa and humans that were killed."
"True, it must be. Apophis will need to chose another world for his main Jaffa camps. Of course, most of his warriors were offworld with him or Klorel, who is in charge of an attack on one of Bastet's worlds. Still, it will take time to rebuild his Jaffa ranks, especially since he has few female Jaffa left, and few surviving Jaffa children. Human slaves are fairly easy to come by, of course." Korra sighed, looking unhappy with it all. "Since he has a queen, replacing the symbiotes for his Jaffa will be easy."
Martouf placed the new bottle on the table together with glasses for everyone who did not currently have one, and sat down, then dipped his head and gave Lantash control.
"Perhaps we should take the opportunity and remove Apophis?" Lantash suggested.
"Remove Apophis? Just like that?" Aldwin exclaimed, disbelief in his voice.
"Yes, he is weak now. There is not likely to be a better opportunity soon." Lantash poured mead for them all.
Korra took his glass and emptied it. "They had pictures from the devastation on Chulak. At the Council meeting, I mean," he said, almost as if in apology.
Jolinar shook her head sadly. "Give him some more mead, Lantash dear."
"Thanks," Korra said, when Lantash had poured the drink. "The Council actually did consider killing Apophis - and Klorel and Amaunet. However, doing so would only strengthen Heru'ur, and he is already too strong after taking over much of Ra's domain."
"Perhaps we should drink in honour of the dead on the Tau'ri and on Chulak - and in mourning of the lost opportunity for the Tau'ri," Jolinar suggested.
Lantash nodded. "It is always sad when a more advanced world which has been free of the Goa'uld for a long time gets re-subjugated." He raised his glass. "To the Tau'ri - may they rise again."
They all drank.
"To the memory of the dead on Chulak," Korra said.
The others nodded, and drank again.
The mood was somewhat subdued after that, but at Korra's request, they started a new game of Pachisi. They all needed the distraction.
Life would go on, even if the Galaxy always felt a little poorer for the loss of a formerly free world.
2. Point of View
"You look... thoughtful," Aldwin observed. "Has something troublesome happened?"
"The Council has received a report from Jolinar. I have not read it, of course, but there was a brief personal message for me," Martouf said.
"Is there a problem?"
Martouf shook his head. "No, she tells me all is well, and that she and Rosha love me."
"That is good." Aldwin smiled. "What, then, are you pondering?"
He smiled, a little embarrassed. "Every time I re-read it I imagine there is something ominous about to happen. That their reason for taking the risk of sending a personal message with something so... trivial, is that she fears they have been compromised. That we will not see each other again."
"Martouf! Stop imagining such things at once! Have not Lantash told you they merely wanted to tell you they still love you, because they miss you? They have been gone for a long time."
He nodded. "That is so, and I am a fool." He smiled. "Jolinar always take dangerous missions, and she always returns."
"Exactly. Now come - Malek is visiting the base, and Korra has arranged a small party."
"Malek? It has been a long time since we saw him."
"It has. WIll you join us?"
"Yes. Yes, I believe I will." Martouf pushed his dark thoughts aside, much to Lantash's relief. He had almost begun to believe Martouf was right.
Some time with their friends would do them good.
3. Moebius I & II (the timeline where Ra took the chaapa'ai with him)
A man wearing an elaborately decorated shirt and a loincloth entered, and spoke in flanged tones, "I have important matters to discuss with your master. Leave, slave!"
"Yes, Lord Nehi, immediately!" The servant tried to bow and flee at the same time, and scurried out the door, clearly afraid of the angry god.
'Lord Nehi' looked briefly after the fleeing slave, then shut the door and locked it.
"What is it, Khui?" a woman dressed in gold-embroidered robes asked, getting up from the chair she had been sitting in.
"I apologize for disturbing you, Sitre. However, I just learned that the Jaffa have captured some humans wearing uniforms, humans behaving unusually fearless - and claiming to be of the Tau'ri. We should learn as much as we can about them."
"Agreed, we should. You wish me to handle the matter?"
"Yes, Apophis has ordered me to Terfut, to meet with Klorel. I have to leave immediately." He hesitated. "Apophis has ordered one of the humans brought to his throneroom in order to interrogate him."
"I will go there immediately," she said. "Safe travels to you both."
"Thank you." He left.
Sitre hurried to Apophis's throneroom as soon as she had made sure her attire was perfect. She had quickly changed her dress to something even more revealing, hoping it would distract Apophis from asking too many questions into why she wanted to be present for the interrogation.
When she entered the throneroom, Apophis's First Prime Teal'c had just brought the prisoner before his Lord, and forced him to kneel at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the platform whereupon Apophis's throne stood.
She bowed deeply to Apophis, making sure he got a good view of her cleavage. He smiled widely, and ogled her openly, then waved her closer.
She gave him a seductive smile, at the same time reassuring her host that it was unlikely Apophis would take them to his bed, no matter how attracted he was to her. His queen Amaunet would never permit it, and he seemed to genuinely love her.
Sitre walked over and stood by a pillar, off to the side, not far from the stairs and the prisoner. In her position, it would have been a grave transgression to ascend the stairs to the platform and stand beside Apophis without explicit permission. Besides, standing where she was would be far more inconspicuous and she could also study the alleged Tau'ri better.
"Who are you?" Apophis asked of the kneeling man.
"Name's Daniel Jackson. Uh, if you give me back my eyeglasses, I could actually see you."
"He claims he is of the Tau'ri," Teal'c informed them.
"You weren't supposed to tell him that," the man named Daniel Jackson said in a low voice.
"The Tau'ri have no chappa'ai," Apophis said.
"Oh! Sorry, guess I was wrong. I'm sure your information is correct and ... In fact, I'm usually quite wrong, quite unreliable actually. To be honest with you, I'm insane."
The prisoner grinned at Apophis after saying this. Sitre winced internally, fearing for the man's life.
"Speak!" Apophis demanded, to no avail. "Bring him," he ordered Teal'c.
Teal'c hauled Daniel to his feet and marched him up the steps, pushing him to his knees again in front of the throne. Apophis stood and took a few steps forward.
Sitre's host suggested that maybe the man truly was not right in his mind, since he defied Apophis like this. Doing so would only bring him pain and death - anyone ought to know that.
Sitre herself had no encouraging words for her host, fearing the same as she.
"I think there is much you can tell me," Apophis said to the Tau'ri prisoner.
"Well, if you wanna know about the early settlements of Mesopotamia, I am somewhat of an expert ..."
With this further insult, Apophis raised his hand and activated his kara'kesh. Daniel Jackson grunted out in pain.
Sitre put on an arrogant, cruel smile, and winked at Apophis. As much as she hated having to watch this, it was necessary if she wanted to learn what happened to the man.
Next day, Khui returned from meeting with Klorel, and went to talk to Sitre as soon as he had reported to Apophis.
"Did you learn anything important?" Khui asked.
Sitre gave him an unhappy look. "Some. He is indeed of the Tau'ri, as are the people who arrived with him. It would seem that world has evolved a great deal since last we had an operative there, and they are now a level 5 or 6 civilization."
Khui nodded. "Good, though still not someone we can hope to gain much from meeting. Regardless, I am pleased to hear they are developing. In maybe another century, they will be at the same level as the Tollan, perhaps. We should consider sending an operative there to keep them under observation - particularly if they venture out into the Galaxy."
"Agreed. They may inadvertently interfere in matters that could make our work harder - or easier, I suppose."
"In any case, that is not for us to decide. We will include the information with the next dispatch. Korra should arrive in seven days."
"Yes..." Sitre sighed.
"What is it?"
"Apophis tortured the man - Daniel Jackson is his name. Tortured him badly - and then he made him a host! Khui! He intends to infiltrate the Tau'ri! If successful, they may never get a chance to develop anywhere!"
"I see." He was silent for a while. "That is most unfortunate. Still, there is nothing we can do."
"I know. That does not make it any easier."
4. The Road Not Taken
"Unfortunately, it looks like this world has fallen to the Ori as well," Jalen said bitterly.
"I am no longer surprised." Jalrow sighed. "Only sad. We should leave before the Prior returns."
They had arrived on the planet earlier that day, and had talked to a few of the locals. Apparently the population had been given an ultimatum by a Prior, and they had decided to embrace Origin in order to be allowed to live.
It was not as if the Tok'ra could blame them. The locals had no choice.
Jalen dialled the address of one of their stop-over worlds and they went through as soon as the wormhole had formed. After that they went to another stop-over world, before going to the world their Tok'ra base was on. After all, past gate address could be recovered, and the Ori were known to take the trouble and do so if the reward was great enough.
The Tok'ra were effectively the only resistance that remained against the Ori, after Earth had isolated itself and most of the Jaffa had fallen or converted to Origin. That meant the Ori hunted the Tok'ra whenever and wherever they could.
"Report," Per'sus said.
Jalen sighed and looked around at the assembled Council members. "We visited ten of the planets on our list that were previously free of the Ori. Only one remains free now, the others have all succumbed."
"They have all been killed?" Malek asked, disbelief in his voice.
"Some of them have. Two worlds resisted and everyone there was killed, though most of the worlds have chosen to accept Origin."
"Just like the Jaffa!" Delek scoffed. "Soon we are the only ones still fighting."
"We are the only ones still fighting," Malek reminded him.
"Fighting and dying. For what? Cowards, all of them!" Thoran said, bitterly.
"Particularly our former 'allies', the Tau'ri. How could they just abandon us like that?" Delek exclaimed. "We should stop. Hide until the Ori finishes turning the Galaxy to their side."
"Give up?" Jalen asked, appalled.
"You cannot truly mean that, Delek." Malek frowned. "Nor can we blame the humans on most of those worlds. They were subjugated by the Goa'uld until very recently, and have nothing to fight with."
"Right now they are just surrendering!" Delek exclaimed.
"What would you have them do against the Ori?" Sina asked, speaking up. "We do not even have weapons that will stand against this enemy!"
"The Ori keeps getting more people on their side, how can we fight that if no one stands up to join us?" Thoran said, frustrated.
"I understand your frustration, but blaming former slaves is pointless and unfair," Per'sus said. He sighed. "Nevertheless, I agree that this cannot continue. If our numbers continue to fall at the current rate, we will be extinct in less than two years. From now on there will be no more confrontations with the Ori, unless it cannot be avoided. We do what we have done before. Hide."
"Hide? What will that solve?" Malek asked.
"It is not a permanent solution, no, but until we find something with which to fight this enemy then that is what we have to do. The order is to stay away from the Ori and their soldiers, and focus on research. There must be a way to kill them, to get past their energy shields."
"We have tried, but they seem impenetrable," Malek admitted.
"Try harder. Anise and Tallok is assigned to your research team from now on, Malek. Any resources or people you need, you will get. Find a weapon that works."
"Yes, Per'sus. I know Anise has found some information about a possible Ancient weapon. We will research that further. I promise you, we will do our best."
"I know you will. We all will. It is our only hope."
"It has been several months since Ba'al attacked any of our bases. Do you think he has finally given up - or that we have found the security leak?" Martouf wondered.
"I do not know," Malek said. "I cannot imagine him ever giving up, so perhaps we have finally been successful."
"I do not believe there ever was a security leak," Jolinar said, entering the quarters she shared with Martouf/Lantash. "As for Ba'al, he is occupied with an attack on the world of the Tau'ri. We just received word from our operatives."
"The world of the Tau'ri?" Martouf put an arm around Jolinar and gave her a kiss.
"Yes. His fleet is on the way there, together with all his most powerful allies. Or formerly powerful, I suppose. Everyone knows they are System Lords in name only - Ba'al holds all the power," Jolinar said.
"Yes, and it is a situation we cannot allow to continue. All our attempts to make the other Goa'uld join together against him have failed. It is as if he knows what everyone is going to do before they do it." Malek looked unhappily at them.
"He must have spies everywhere, and yet almost none have been found, despite all the operatives we have placed." Jolinar sighed. "It is unfathomable."
Her head dipped, and Rosha came fore. "Perhaps it is time to consider simply assassinating Ba'al. Our numbers grow few."
"We should have done so years ago. Now Qetesh would just take over, and she would be a much worse master than Ba'al," Martouf said. "Her penchant for torture and certain... excesses far exceeds those of Ba'al." He bowed his head, and Lantash took control.
"Anise has a theory. It is far-fetched, but may explain how he can know things seemingly before they have happened," Lantash said.
Rosha rolled her eyes. "Anise always has a theory."
"I know you do not like her, and it is true she can be somewhat... abrasive. She is intelligent, though, as is Freya, and I believe her theory may have merit."
"Is this about Ba'al's secret project on Praxyon? An operative was sent there, and he concluded it was a solar observation outpost," Malek said. "Not exactly something of great importance for us now!"
Lantash hesitated, "Anise thinks it's a time machine."
"Of course she does. Are you aware how insane that sounds?" Malek asked.
"It would explain how Ba'al got the information, and besides, what would he want with a solar observatory? Ba'al is not known for his interest in science, unless it helps him gain power," Lantash said.
Rosha nodded slowly. "That is a valid point."
"Anise should focus on the much more important project of changing one of our numbers into a queen. We are so few that we cannot continue for long, and we could use her skills in our research group." Malek sighed. "I should get going. There will probably be called a Council meeting with the new information about Ba'al's attack on the Tau'ri. Lantash, you will join us in the laboratory again tomorrow?"
"I will," Lantash said.
Malek left, and Lantash embraced Rosha closely and gave her a kiss.
"You are working as a scientist again?" she asked.
"Yes, it's not like there is much need of diplomats right now," Lantash observed drily. He kissed her again. "Come, sit with me. All these problems will still be there tomorrow."
"Reporting as requested," Anise said, an unhappy look on her face.
"Anise and Freya." Malek nodded. "Good."
"I do not understand why you insist on me joining you here. My research is important," she said.
"Not as important as saving the Tok'ra from extinction, surely? WIth Ba'al continuing to grow stronger and the Asgard gone - and no one but us left to fight - we need more people," Malek said. "Do you deny this?"
"Of course not, but my research can give the same result, and faster. If you will just let me continue."
"Are you referring to your study of archaeological sites or is it perhaps Ba'al solar observatory you believe will save us?" Ren'al asked, sarcastically, walking over and joining the conversation.
Anise gave her a cold look. "It is a time machine, which I could prove if you would just allow me to send another operative."
Ren'al shook her head. "Such insanity. The last operative only just made it out, and the consensus was that the machine has no importance. It is certainly not a time machine."
"It is not so heavily guarded that we could not hold it, for a time. Someone could be sent back in time and save Egeria. Would that not solve our problem?" Anise challenged.
"From what little experience we have had with time travel it is blatantly obvious that tampering with the timeline is incredibly dangerous," Malek said, hoping to end the discussing with that.
"I have done enough historical research to be able to make safe decisions," Anise insisted. "I believe it is an acceptable risk."
"Have we suddenly decided the observatory is a time machine?" Ren'al asked, sarcastically. "Anise, please stop this foolishness and assist Lantash with the tissue analysis."
Anise grumbled and rolled her eyes, but allowed Freya to take control. Her host went to help Martouf/Lantash.
That did not mean she would give up on her plan, only that it would be postponed a little. Sooner or later the others would listen. At least she hoped so. It was the only solution she could see succeed soon enough to save them.