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Yucatan Job - Interlude - A Journalist Abroad

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"You wanted to see me?" Andy asked, stepping into Brittany’s office. It was rare that one of the Council asked to see her in person. In her mad dash across the planet to preserve as much fragile cultural history as possible, they would normally contact her over the Clan comm.

"Yes," Brittany said, waving her towards a chair in front of her work table. "I have an important question for you."

"Okay…," Andy said, wondering what was so important that it couldn’t be asked over the comm.

"If you could go back in time and rescue your Miranda, would you?" Brittany said giving her an intent look.

"Of course," Andy said, her heart beating heavily. "But it isn’t possible. The Clan doesn’t have time travel tech."

"Strictly speaking, there is time travel tech," Brittany said, "but we don’t have access to it. It was deemed a threat to reality."

"Then why are you asking me that?" Andy asked. "If I could get her back I would, but I can’t."

"I’ve read your book," Brittany said. "I don’t think I would have taken it so well if I’d lost Santana in the same way. Just gone. No evidence to find. Disappeared into thin air."

"Taking it well?" Andy said, gazing down at her hands. "I didn’t. And never will. Every morning I wake up and reach for her and she’s not there. And I can’t breath. But I have to get up and go on."

"You hide it very well," Brittany said, leaning forward.

"Why are we talking about this?" Andy asked again. "Why now?"

"When we first considered you for your project, we discussed what would motivate you to work with us. What could we bribe you with," Brittany said. "A prime candidate was finding out what happened to Miranda Priestly."

"She’s dead," Andy said. "If she could have come back she would have. It wouldn’t have been much of a bribe."

Shaking her head, Brittany pushed a tablet across her table. She gestured for Andy to pick it up. "This is Council intel only. You cannot discuss it with anyone else."

"What is it?" Andy said, picking it up and swiping it awake. "Project Prada?"

"When we dug into old Clan records, from the cruiser we recovered in Cancun, we found some interesting information about a portal. Later, when we investigated the disappearance of the vehicle containing your Miranda, we found this."

"I don’t understand," Andy said, glancing down at the tablet.

"We believe we’ve found out where she disappeared to," Brittany said. "Without getting into the science, there appears to be a point along the path her plane took that leads to another place. We’re fairly confident that it went to this other place."

"Another place?" Andy said. "Another planet? You were asking about time travel… another time?"

"The current theory is that it leads to either another dimension, in the comic book - science fiction sense of similar worlds with differences," Brittany said, "or a different time slice."

"Time slice?" Andy asked.

"The theory is that time in our reality is many layered. Every time you make a decision, another slice of time is created. That’s actually the least popular theory. A multi-dimension reality seems more likely. With a portal between here and there."

"And you think Miranda is in one of these other dimensions?" Andy asked.

"Yes," Brittany said. "We don’t know if she’s alive or not but we believe there’s conclusive proof that the plane went through this dimensional hole."

"What kind of proof," Andy asked. "Did you find her plane?"

"One of our probes detected an emergency beacon near a plane wreck," Brittany said.

"Wouldn’t the battery have died years ago?" Andy asked.

"Go read the project report," Brittany said. "And then we’ll talk again."

Knowing a dismissal when she heard it, Andy nodded and removed herself from Brittany’s office.

Finding a quiet corner in the base cafeteria, Andy began to read the report. It was several dozen documents going back to when she’d originally encountered the Council and Clan. Brittany hadn’t lied. They really had considered using this to tie her to them. She’d been so desperate that first year that she might have done anything to get Miranda back in her life. She still would but she’d come to accept that Miranda was lost to her forever, even if the pain didn’t seem like it would ever stop.

The science in the reports didn’t really make much sense to her. She could understand the basics but then it jumped to things that were alien, no pun intended. But she kept reading, looking for that one thing that would say this was real, that they’d found Miranda.

The Clan emergency beacon made the least sense. How had it gotten into Miranda’s bags. This had happened long before the Clan had made its first appearance.

"So, she told you," a cheerful voice said.

Looking up, Andy saw Rachel standing there, holding a tray.

"Mind if I join you?" Rachel asked.

"Sure," Andy said. "Did you know about all this?" she asked, holding up the tablet.

"You’ll have to be more specific," Rachel said, humming as she sipped from a large steaming mug. "Know that Brittany has had some of her wonder kids looking for your Miranda? Or something else."

"Project Prada?" Andy said.

"The name was Brittany’s idea," Rachel said. "She considers you one of us."

"I’m not really," Andy said, blushing.

"You’re related to Coach, and the twins are from her old Clan," Rachel said. "So, that makes you family. Even if Coach won’t tell us why you seem so clan-like genetically when she is an ordinary human, genetically speaking."

"I can’t answer that," Andy said, shrugging. "She’s Aunt Sue, and has always been."

"No worries," Rachel said. "We’ll figure it out some day. Did she ever meet your Miranda?"

"Once," Andy said. "Before our wedding. They talked for several hours."

"I’m assuming she approved," Rachel said.

"Yes, though Miranda wouldn’t tell me what they discussed," Andy said.

"Another secretive person," Rachel said. "We seem to be surrounded by them."

"Can you answer questions about this?" Andy asked, waving the tablet.

"Just in general," Rachel said. "Yes, we very, very, briefly thought of using the promise of finding your wife to get you to work for us but as sneaky and manipulative as Brittany can be she didn’t think it was acceptable. We aren’t those kind of people. Free will works so much better."

"The proof doesn’t make much sense," Andy said. "Where would Miranda have gotten a Clan emergency beacon? Why would it have been on her plane."

"Don’t know. Can’t answer," Rachel said. "Sorry." She spend several minutes silently eating. "Did you want to get something to eat?"

"No, I’m on Moscow time right now," Andy said. "I ate several hours ago."

"Ah, Moscow. I’d really like to see the Bolshoi live, but Quinn thinks it’s too dangerous for me to go," Rachel said, pouting.

"It’s an interesting country," Andy said, "but she’s probably right. You’re very high profile."

"Some day," Rachel said. "Some day I’ll convince her."

Andy nodded, though she didn’t agree. Quinn was very protective of Rachel. The only way she’d let Rachel go to Moscow was with a battalion of her most experienced troopers as protection. "How are things going with you and Quinn?" she asked. Gossip about the personal lives of the Clan Council members was always a hot topic.

Smiling widely, Rachel held up her hair to reveal her right ear and a small gem. "She gave this to me on my last birthday."

"What does it signify?" Andy asked.

"It’s similar to your culture’s engagement ring," Rachel said. "Though not really. More of an indication of interest than a commitment. Very old school Clan."

"So no marriage any time soon," Andy said.

"I’ll take what I can get," Rachel said. "It’s taken years to get her to this point. To admit she has feelings of more than friendship. And that it isn’t a weakness."

"So, not quite congratulations?" Andy said.

"Not yet," Rachel said. "I think I’ll join you and Brittany."

"I’m not quite sure it’s anything you’d be interested in," Andy said. "We’re just going to discuss the project."

"I’m good at moral support," Rachel said.

Rachel waved, winking at Brittany as she slipped into Brittany’s office behind Andy, taking a seat to her right.

"So, are you in?" Brittany asked. "And no comments from the peanut gallery."

"I’m not sure what you’re asking me," Andy said. "In what?"

"Phooey," Brittany said, shaking her head. "Do you want to go looking for Miranda?"

"Of course I do, but what about my current project?" Andy asked. "What happens while I’m gone? And what about the girls?"

"You shouldn’t be gone long enough for it to matter," Brittany said. "At least not from here."

"What do you mean?"

"Time flows differently there than it does here, as far as we can tell," Brittany said. "If we time it right it’ll only be a month or two here. Might be a bit different there. The portal seems to fluctuate time wise. Sometimes time there moves faster, sometimes slower."

"So, even if I find her, she could be dead? It’s been years here so decades might have passed there?" Andy asked.

"Well, that's where time travel comes in," Brittany said, smirking.

"You said you can’t use time travel," Andy said.

"Not in our dimension we can’t,’ Brittany said. "But for this we insert you into that dimension so that you arrive around the same time as Miranda’s plane."

"Oh…" Rachel said. "And you send an emergency beacon with her so we can find her now?"

"Exactly," Brittany said. "We send you through, you find Miranda, set off the beacon and we come get you."

"That seems confusing," Andy said.

"Well, if you treat time as linear, things like this aren’t possible," Brittany said. "But we’re cheating."

"Brittany is really good at cheating," Rachel said. "It’s one of her talents. Just don’t play poker with her."

"It’s all about probabilities," Brittany said, glaring at Rachel’s interruption. "We’ve found a way to manipulate time in the portal. So we send you and a small team there and bring you back along with Miranda."

"What about other survivors from the plane?" Rachel asked, interrupting again. "Are you just going to leave them there?"

"Of course not," Brittany said. "It was a private plane with, what, ten people on board?"

"Miranda, her first assistant, and several members of her staff, and the crew," Andy said. "Eight."

"So, go back to Moscow and finish that up. How long do you need?" Brittany asked.

"Several weeks," Andy said.

"Finish that up, and we’ll start working on getting things ready while you do that," Brittany said. "And when you get back we’ll make sure you’re ready and send you off."

"What do I tell the girls?"

"Nothing until you’re all back here. They can’t go," Brittany said. "It’s too dangerous."

"They won’t like that," Andy said.

"We’ll find something to keep them occupied," Brittany said. "Don’t worry about it."

"So, she convinced her to do it?" Quinn asked Rachel, watching her dance around her moonlit studio.

"It didn’t take much," Rachel said. "Of course, Brit left out a few details."

"Like what?" Quinn asked.

"She’s not going to send Andy into the unknown unprepared," Rachel said, stopping in front of her. "She’s already sent one of her Ops teams ahead to scout it out. And she’ll have to go through a refresher of your trooper training in the pods."

"Brit asked for two of my troopers to go with her," Quinn said. "It might be a one way trip."

"Did you agree?" Rachel asked.

"Can you say no to Brit when she has a brilliant idea?" Quinn asked.

"Never," Rachel said, smiling and nodding in agreement. "So who?"

"No one you’d know," Quinn said. "The Potter twins."

"Potter twins? I didn’t know we had any more twins in the Clan, just Pip and Squeak on Gold Team. How long have they been out of the pods?" Rachel asked, frowning.

"Each generation has a set of twins," Quinn said. "They’ve got Brit’s sneakiness but wanted to be troopers."

"I’d like to meet them before they go," Rachel said, nodding to herself.

"I’m sure that can be arranged," Quinn told her. "It’ll be several months."

"Great," Rachel said, returning to dancing around her studio to a tune only she could hear.

"What do you mean we’re taking a break?" Cass said, watching Andy packing up their temporary office. "We’ve barely made a dent in Russia." Caroline waved her hands in agreement.

"Something’s come up," Andy said. "Something I need to do."

"So, can we take over?" Caroline asked hopefully. "We’ll do it exactly the way you’ve been doing it."

"No," Andy said. "You’re both still interns. I’m sure you’d do a decent job but you aren’t quite ready. Maybe in a year."

"So, in a year you’ll convince the Council that we can work on our own?" Cassidy said.

"On our own, with our own crews," Caroline added when Andy frowned.

"We’ll see what happens," Andy said, pausing in her packing.

"Yes!" Caroline shouted, dragging her sister to her feet and hugging her.

"Chill!" Cassidy said, prying herself loose from her sister. "So, what’s so important?" she asked Andy.

"Promise you won’t tell anyone?" Andy said. "No one!"

"Cross our hearts," Cassidy said. "Spill!"

"Lady Shadow thinks she’s found out what happened to your mother," Andy said. "She might be alive."

"We’re going with you when you go after her," Caroline said. "You can’t fool me, I know you’re going to go after her."

"You can’t," Andy said. "It’s too dangerous."

"She’s our Mom," Caroline said. "We’re going."

"No, you’re not," Andy said. "She would never forgive me if something happened to you."

"We’re still going," Cassidy said.

"Lady Shadow has already said no," Andy said, "and she isn’t going to change her mind."

"No one can resist the pout," Cassidy said, giving a demonstration.

"You learned that from her. She’s immune," Caroline said. "It doesn’t even work on Aunt Sue."

"Are you at least taking Aunt Sue?" Caroline said. "We want both of you back."

"I don’t know," Andy admitted. "I haven’t seen Lady Shadow’s plan for the expedition."

"She better send someone good with you," Cassidy said, crossing her arms in a familiar stance that made Andy’s heart ache at the rush of memories of Miranda standing the same way.

"No," Brittany said, unfazed by two identical high powered pouts. "You aren’t going. She’ll be perfectly safe. Two of Lady Q’s troopers will be going with her and I have a team already on the ground there gathering intel so they won’t go in blind."

"Have you found her already?" Andy asked eagerly.

"No," Brittany said. "They’ve been there for only a week. The portal apparently shifts around on the other side. It’s a big planet, she could be anywhere."

"What can you tell us about the 'other side'?" Andy asked, shushing the twins before they could say anything.

"It’s really close to our reality," Brittany said. "No signs of Clan or the Confederation so far, but a lot of space based comm traffic."

"So they have space ships?" Cassidy said. "Are they as cool as ours?"

"If they have any it’s a big secret," Brittany said. "What they’re hearing is satellite traffic. We’ll be able to really analyze it when my team returns, before Andy goes through."

"Ladies," Sue said, appearing in the door to Brittany’s office. "I believe you’ll be joining me for the afternoon."

"We wanna stay and listen to the planning," Caroline said.

"Yeah!" said Cassidy.

"If you aren’t going you don’t need to know the details," Sue said.

Rachel peaked around her and grinning, said "Don’t worry, you won’t miss anything. It’ll all go into the Clan Records. Our first Rescue Mission!"

Sue frowned down at the shorter woman. "Yes, apparently this will become a spectacle for the masses."

"Only the best spectacle for the Clan records," Rachel said, apparently not hearing the derision in Sue’s voice. Cassidy and Caroline giggled.

Sighing, Caroline stood up and grabbed her sister’s hand, pulling her to her feet. "After you, Aunt Sue," she said, waving at the door. With a barely audible 'harumph', Sue turned around and stalked out, the twins at her heels. With a wave, Rachel followed them.

"How dangerous is it, really?" Andy asked, once it was just her and Brittany in the room, with Lady Air and Lady Hands on comm.

"No more dangerous than any other op in possibly hostile territory," Brittany said. "There don’t seem to be any major wars or zombie infestations. No alien invasions. Standard Earth setup. We’ll know more in a couple days. Places to stay away from, all that."

"What about equipment?" Andy asked. "What can I take with me?"

"Only the best," Brittany said. "All new hard suits, designed for max stealth. With a few special features."

"Like what?" Andy asked.

"You’ll love them," Brittany said. "But first, we’ve lined up some extra training for you, along with your bodyguards. Then we can discuss equipment."

"I don’t need bodyguards," Andy protested. "I can do this on my own."

"Not a chance," Brittany said. "I’d rather send the girls with you than send you alone, and we know that isn’t going to happen."

"Okay…" Andy said reluctantly, standing up. "Training. When and where?"

"You’ve used the pods before," Brittany said. "Artie has one saved just for you."

"Gee, thanks Artie," Andy said, grimacing.

"It is my pleasure," Artie said.

Sighing, Andy turned and left Brittany’s office.

"When do my squads get some of this new suit tech?" Quinn said over the Council comm.

"How long until our Foe shows up?" Brittany asked.

"Still no sign of them," Santana said, grumbling. "Going to be very embarrassing if they never show up."

"You can always go conquer some planetary civilization," Brittany said. "Become pirates?"

"Pirates could be fun," Santana said. "But I don’t think the Confederation Poo-Bahs would be too impressed."

"We’re supposed to be the police, not run from the police," Quinn said. "So, we’ll get fancy new suits in enough time to learn how to use them before we need to fight?"

"Oh, definitely," Brittany said. "But it’s really new tech, even compared to your current hard suits and it’ll take time to get them in full production. We’ve got just enough material for a squad right now."

"Specs at least?" Quinn asked. "Our suit techs need to come up to speed on them."

"The specs are still being updated," Brittany said. "I’ve sent you the current draft."

"You’re sending Andy and two of my troopers out in experimental hard suits?" Quinn asked, several minutes later.

"Possibly," Brittany said, wincing at Quinn’s tone. "Think of it as a field test."

"That could get them killed. Some of this tech is so new it’s still shrink wrapped. I’m assuming some of this pod training includes suit training with the new tech," Quinn said. "Arrange for me to try them out ASAP."

"Of course," Brittany said. "They’re already prepping a suit for you now. It also requires nanite upgrades."

"What page is that on?" Quinn asked. "I missed that in my read thru."

"It’s not documented yet," Brittany said. "That’s part of what makes it so flexible and suitable for stealth missions. The nanites give you almost as much processing power as an AI."

"Is it permanent?" Quinn asked. "Artie? You approved this?"

"The nanite usage is within acceptable parameters," Artie said.

"Other than the usual nanite benefits, which you already have, they are inactive unless you are wearing one of our hard suits," Brittany said.

"Even the current ones?" Quinn asked.

"The programming isn’t complete yet, but eventually," Brittany said. "The nanites will be able to interface with the suit AI."

"Okay, I definitely want to check this out. Before Andy and the Potter twins get them," Quinn said firmly.

"It’s perfectly safe. They’ll be training with them in the pods," Brittany said. "But you know how that works."

"Yes," Quinn said, frowning. "I’ll be on Flag tomorrow to check out the suits."

"Good," Brittany said. "I’ll see you then."

"You’re pushing her buttons, babe," Santana said, once Quinn had disconnected. "Mama Bear doesn’t like her troopers taking risks."

"She takes risks all of the time with them," Brittany said.

"Risks that she has taken first," Santana said.

"It won’t be a problem, San," Brittany said. "Dinner?"


"Meet me at the embassy in Tokyo? Sophia’s there for the month, lecturing."

"Business dinner?" Santana asked. "She’s had comms for a while now."

"Partly business," Brittany said. "There are several local resources she’d like us to meet. Also, she’s found a restaurant she wants us to try. And you know she prefers face to face meetings."

"Stubborn," Santana said, grumbling.

"It’s a family trait," Brittany said. "I find it cute."

"I’m never cute," Santana said. "See you in Tokyo, Brit."

"So adorable," Brittany said softly, once Santana had dropped off the comm.

Andy slumped into the training chair in her virtual training room. In the past, when she’d used the pods it had been for basic trooper training and hadn’t been remotely as intense, spread over several weeks of daily sessions. But for this training, as she prepped to find Miranda, she’d been set up with long term residency. She wasn’t sure how long it’d been in real time but in her head it had been at least two months.

And it was exhausting. She hadn’t been worked this hard ever. Mornings spent relearning how to defend herself. Both alone and with the Potter twins. With and without the new hard suits. The twins had said she was doing extremely well, in what was essentially a compressed trooper officer training series with a few extra Shadow techniques thrown in.

But that didn’t mean she wasn’t tired. Afternoons were spent learning everything she could possibly need to know about the scary tech she and the twins would be taking with them. Some of it was beyond anything she’d ever heard about. New microscopic nano comm units that wouldn’t show up on an x-ray. Weapons that didn’t look like anything until they were assembled on command.

The suits looked like something out of a comic book, making the current trooper hard suits look awkward. Something that Captain Marvel would wear. They could theoretically withstand the force of a nuclear blast, though it wasn’t recommended to be too close to one. But they weren’t bulky. If you didn’t know it was a hard suit, you would just think it was some kind of ship suit. Much of their power came from the colonies of nano-bots she now had running through her circulatory system. It was as if the suit’s AI and related electronics were embedded in her. She wasn’t wearing the suit, she was the suit.

She just hoped all of this time and effort was worth it and they found Miranda.

"She comes out of the pods today?" Rachel asked. 'The girls have been getting anxious."

"Today, yes," Brittny said. "She was yummy before. All that training is going to max out the yumminess. I can’t wait to see her."

"I thought she was getting extended trooper training in the pods?" Rachel said. "She’s done some of it before."

"Yup," Brittany said, its an extra pop. "You do remember what that kind of training did to Q, right? Yummy with a side of yowser."

"Quinn still looks like she did after those years in the pods," Rachel said, nodding. "Double yum."

"You need to be in really good shape to live in a hard suit like Q and her troopers do," Brittany said. "Santana stays in shape, but she’s not even close to Q-shape."

"Hey!" Santana said. "I’m still the hottest thing on this planet."

"If you don’t snoop on comms you won’t hear things you don’t need to know," Brittany said with a giggle. "But I still love you," she added. "And you don’t need to be like Q to be sexy."

"I train," Santana said, the pout heard loud and clear by the others.

"It’s not your job to be in fighting trim for Q’s troopers," Brittany said. "If we weren’t sending Andy on this rescue she wouldn’t be getting it either. Only the Q-troops need that. Not even my baby Shadows train like that. But we don’t know what they’ll run into."

"I know, I know," Santana said. "So, how did she do?"

"Andy was her usual excellent self," Brittany said.

"And you still don’t know where her abilities came from. Hasn’t Coach told you yet," Rachel asked.

"She told me some things but it didn’t really make sense. It was like something out of a comic book hero origin story. Or the Bible. And Andy was too young to remember herself," Brittany said.

"Well, she looks good enough in that cat suit to be a superhero," Rachel said. "Can she fly?"

"The suit does give her a few extras," Brittany said. "Including flying short distances. But it’s really meant for emergencies, like falling out of a plane."

"We’ll need to think up an awesome superhero name for her," Rachel said, nodding to herself.

"She’s Andy, not a comic book hero," Brittany said. "She doesn’t need a superhero name."

"We’ll ask her what she wants to call herself," Rachel said, ignoring Brittany. "And I’ll need to write her a theme song."

"She can’t use it," Brittany said in protest.

"Why not?" Rachel asked.

"This is supposed to be a stealth operation," Brittany said. "Go in, find Miranda, come home. No time for side trips."

"I’ve got just the melody for her," Rachel said. "Martial but not, with a dash of mystery."

Shaking her head, Brittany leaned back and listened to Rachel’s ramblings. Sometimes you just had to let her go.

"Lady Priestly is on her way," Artie announced.

"When did she get 'Lady’d'," Santana asked, surprised.

"It’s honorary," Brittany said. "She’ll be our representative in this alternate universe. Our ambassador, if necessary."

"Why don’t we just send Lady Black with her?" Quinn asked. "She’s good at dealing with people."

"She’s busy," Brittany said. "She’s working on getting you that base you wanted in Mongolia."

"Damn straight," Santana said. "That’s the last keystone in the planetary defenses. What’d it cost us?"

"Nothing yet," Brittany said. "But at least a low level scan of the entire area. They want to know where any historical artifacts or metals are buried."

"Does Andy know that she got dosed by nanites while she was in the pod?" Rachel said.

"It’s all part of the training," Brittany said. "All three of them did."

"So, they’re okay?" Rachel said. "No bad reactions?"

"Nope. We’ve worked all of the kinks out of the process. Just ask Quinn, she did it first."

"Quinn? You let them experiment on you?" Rachel asked, switching her comm to Quinn’s private channel.

"What?" Quinn said, sounding very distracted. "Experiment? What do you mean?"

"The nanites used with the new hard suit designs," Brittany said. "I was telling Rachel that you helped test them before we set Andy and the Potters up with them."

"Of course," Quinn said. "I’m not letting my troopers do anything I haven’t tested first."

"Why didn’t you say anything?" Rachel asked, sounding hurt. "It could’ve hurt you. Badly."

"It was perfectly safe, Rache," Quinn said. "And it only matters when you’re wearing the new suits. Otherwise it’s just a more enhanced comm unit. Nothing’s visible."

"We’ll talk later," Rachel said. "When you aren’t busy."

"Yes, ma’am," Quinn said, to giggles by Brittany. "Later ladies."

"Later Q," Brittany said, before turning back to Rachel "See? Safe as houses."

"What does that mean," Rachel grumbled. "More people get hurt at home than at a riot."

"Can I come in?" Andy said, standing in the door to Brittany’s office, her presence stopping Rachel in mid pre-rant.

"Yes! Yes! Please," Brittany said quickly. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I’ve had too much coffee," Andy said, sitting down next to Rachel. "The suit tech said it’ll wear off eventually. Did the girls behave while I was gone?"

"Perfect angels," Rachel said. Brittany grimaced and shook her head.

"Angels with horns and tails," Brittany said. "They were all over the place. Coach kept an eye on them but she can only do so much."

"There were no riots," Rachel said. "No time in the clink. Nothing too outlandish. They behaved more or less."

"I’ll talk with them," Andy said. "They can’t run wild while I’m gone."

"They weren’t any worse than Quinn’s troopers after a month on Pluto watch," Brittany said, "but they could have been better behaved."

"So, when can we leave?" Andy asked.

"We’re still analyzing what we’ve gotten from there," Brittany said. "No surprises yet, though there seems to be a bit of heavily encrypted traffic that doesn’t match anything we’ve seen before."

"So we’ll be extra careful," Andy said. "What’s next?"

"Go spend some time with your family," Brittany said. "We’ll meet in the lower conference room tomorrow to review the plans and makes sure everything is ready. We’ll decide on the Go date then."

"Okay," Andy said, getting back up. "Where are the girls right now?"

"They are with Lady Sophia and her companion at her private beach," Artie said. "Shall I inform them that you will be joining them?"

"No, I’d like to surprise them," Andy said. "I’ll take the next shuttle down."

"As you wish," Artie said.

They waited for her to get out of earshot, before talking.

"What do we do with her after she gets back?" Rachel asked. "There’s no way this won’t change her."

"She’s already started to change," Brittany said. "Hopefully her Miranda still recognizes her after all our tinkering."

"She’s still Andy," Rachel said. "Just with a few extras."

"Dinner?" Rachel asked, standing. "I need to get back to my office but I’d like to spend some time with everyone tonight."

"Okay," Brittany said. "Here on Flag or in the enclave?"

"Here’s fine," Rachel said. "Just the four of us tonight."

"Okay," Brittany said.

"You’re up to something," Santana said quietly after Rachel was gone. "You didn’t answer her question about Andy."

"Nothing more than normal," Brittany said. "Just juggling a few heavy balls. And planning for Andy when she’s done with the museum job. She’s not going back to being a journalist if I can keep her busy."

"We don’t really have a place for someone like her," Santana said. "She’s already a combo of you and Q, but without the heavy training. Very good tactician. But she’s never going to be a soldier. She doesn’t have that vibe."

"Nope. Not a soldier. Or a spy. But I think we’ll keep her, and not just because we haven’t figured out what is going on with those twins of hers."

"Well, I’ve got a horde of engineers breathing down my neck," Santana said. "If they get bored they get dangerous. And then strange things start to happen. If I’m not careful they’ll completely rebuild the FTL engines to make better coffee and who knows what else."

"Okay, don’t forget - dinner with Rachel and Q in your dining room tonight," Brittany said.

"Would I?"

"If it was just me? No," Brittany said.

"Of course," Santana said. "I have my priorities straight."

Chapter Text

Brittany stood in front of the room, waiting for the noise to die down. Including the Council, there were almost two dozen people in the room. Support people, her exploration team, Andy, her girls, Sue and a few others.

"Ready?" she asked after everyone quieted. There was a lot of nodding and quiet yes’s. "Okay, we’re all here to review the plan for rescuing Miranda Priestly from an alternate universe. Let’s start with the basic facts." Brittany stepped to the side to reveal the large screen.

"Seven years ago, on the way home from a trip to Tokyo, the small private plane carrying Miranda Priestly and her editorial staff disappeared between Tokyo and Hawaii," she said. "Nothing was found of the plane or its occupants. It disappeared from radar in mid air."

Brittany looked around the room. "So, we’re all clear on this?" Heads nodded. "Less than five years ago, while investigating the Dragon Clan cruiser we found hidden just off the coast of Cancun, we found evidence of experiments conducted with a natural portal along the flight path taken by the Priestly aircraft. The two events were not connected until recently when one of our probes reported receiving a Clan emergency beacon when traveling into the portal."

"Were you able to determine where the beacon came from?" one of the engineers tapped to be support asked. "They all have a unique signature."

Reaching into the podium, Brittany pulled out a small object the fit snuggly into her palm. "This is it," she said. "It has been coded for this mission and will be placed in the plane just before it leaves Tokyo."

"I thought we were going to take it with us?" Andy asked.

"I changed my mind," Brittany said. "We’ll be using one of the probes outfitted for time travel to get it there. It’s a lot less risky. We send the probe back, it rendezvous with the plane and inserts the beacon into the plane’s cargo hold. The probe will then keep in contact with the beacon the entire flight. This way we’ll know exactly when and where the plane disappears."

"And then you send us through the portal to get her back," Andy said.

"Correct," Brittany said, returning the beacon to the podium.

"What did your infiltration team discover when they went through the portal," Quinn asked.

"The political and government structures of the alternate Tera seems very close to ours. There are a few cities with different names, and cities and towns that don't exist at all, but otherwise, a resident of this planet would feel at home there."

"Aliens? Like us?" Rachel asked.

"Aliens? Yes, though only several governments seem to know about them," Brittany said, nodding. "We haven’t found many details yet. There’s one species that look like the fabled Roswell greys, and another that is some kind of parasitic creature that takes over its host and likes to pretend to be ancient Egyptian gods. They apparently travel in pyramid shaped craft or through some kind of large portal. That’s all we have so far. The Shadow infiltration team is still working to tap into the computers with detailed data."

"So we need quarantine procedures to deal with these parasites?" Santana said. "Or will our standard procedures work?"

"Standard procedures will work," Brittany said. "They’ll show up as two beings in one body, with two different brain wave patterns."

"So, different than someone who’s possessed?" Rachel asked.

"Yes," Brittany said. "Their eyes glow and they claim to be gods."

"When have the Clans run into possessed people?" Quinn asked.

"Not here," Rachel said. "If you really want to know when and how it was handled I can tell you later."

"Sorry," Quinn said to Brittany.

"Not a prob," Brittany said. "If any of these aliens are on that Earth they keep a very low profile. The black ops group, they call themselves the NID, that we got this from have a shoot first policy for them. Though based on other things we found in this group’s files they deserve a shoot first policy also. They like to dissect unsuspecting aliens."

"So, don’t run into aliens with glowing eyes, and don’t run into these black ops people, these NID," Andy said. "Sounds very X-Files-ish Men in Black. What else do we need to know?"

"Tech-wise, as far as we can determine, we’re several millennia ahead of them, aliens and Terran, so all of your equipment is designed to self destruct if someone unauthorized tries to take it apart," Brittany said. "Though not explosively."

"Good," Andy said. "Don’t really want my stuff to accidentally explode."

"Most of the really high-tech stuff is inside you," Brittany said. "And that won’t show up on any scanners other than ours."

"Okay," Andy said. "Do we have a meeting point with your team?"

"They’re moving around, so at this point, no," Brittany said. "They’ll contact you as soon as you go over."

"So, we’re assuming no one can intercept our comms?" Quinn asked.

"Our comms use a form of encryption they don’t seem to be aware of," Brittany said, "so even if they could detect our transmissions, they wouldn’t be able to decode it."

"Good," Quinn said, nodding. "The plan seems very basic. Go through the portal, track down the beacon, find the missing plane and passengers, and come back."

"We aren’t planning another invasion," Brittany said. "It really is that simple."

"Backup plans?" Andy asked.

"Only for things we can control or account for," Brittany said.


"If one of you gets captured, we’ll send in a team to get you," Brittany said. "Several of Quinn’s squads are in training now for such an occurrence. If you need assistance bringing Miranda back, they’ll be available for that also."

"What if the portal closes?" Caroline asked. "How are we going to get Andy and Mom back then?"

"Good question," Brittany said. "Although the portal appears to be natural, and has been in that location for several thousand years, we do have plans if it disappears suddenly. Our Fleet scientists are working with Confederation scientists on a way to travel between this universe and that one. The physics appear to be fairly close. It’s almost like time travel, but not exactly."

"We have time travel?" Cassidy asked excitedly, "so we could go get Mom before they go into the portal?"

"The Confederation doesn’t allow time travel," Brittany said. "Not for any reason."

"Then how are you going to use it to put that beacon in Mom’s luggage?" Caroline asked.

"The portal allows us to 'cheat'," Brittany said, "in a way. When a probe goes into it, it can come out at a different time. Sort of like skipping a stone across water. We use the portal to skip across time."

"What about those rules about time travel?" Andy asked.

"There are no rules about using a natural phenomena to travel in time. As long as you don’t change anything. Which we aren’t doing," Brittany said. "And the time travel isn’t happening in our universe. So… loophole."

"Correct," Artie said. "Though after this rescue is over, it is very likely the loophole will be closed. The Confederation Council is not in agreement on allowing this but the discussions about it will take a number of galactic years."

"By which time we’ll have rescued your mother," Brittany said, grinning.

"Tricky," Andy said. "So, did the original Clan discoverers know that you could use the portal for 'time travel'?"

"Well, they never reported it to the Confederation," Brittany said. "And there wasn’t a whole lot of trust between the Clans and the Confederation at that time."

"Lucky us," Santana said, smirking.

"Yes," Brittany said, agreeing. "Lucky us."

"What else do we need to know that we haven’t discussed?" Andy asked, joining Brittany at the front as the room broke down into smaller groups to discuss specific parts of the plan. "I’ve gone over everything you’ve given me about the other universe. I could repeat the whole plan, not just your overview, in my sleep."

"And she has," Cassidy said, giggling, as she and Caroline joined them.

"Tomorrow you’ll go," Brittany said. "All of your equipment has been double checked. We’re just waiting for the weather around the portal to clear up."

"Great!" Andy said. "I’m ready to get her back. It’ been too long."

"And we want you back here with her," Caroline said.

"Yeah," Cassidy agreed. "We love you both and want you both back with us."

"I hope she isn’t too upset at what we’ve been doing while she was gone," Andy said, rubbing her eyes.

"She loves us, loves you," Cassidy said, hugging her. "All she’s going to care about is seeing us happy."

"I still want to go," Caroline said. "I can be stealthy."

"That wasn’t the reason," Andy said, reminding her.

"I know but still…" Caroline said, pouting.

"We can have a big party when they get back," Cassidy told her sister. "Though not a surprise, you know how Mom hates surprise parties."

"The beacon has been inserted in the plane, Lady Shadow," her ops officer said. "All sensors are functioning properly."

"The telemetry from the probe can reach across time?" Quinn asked, looking at Brittany in surprise.

"Not completely," Brittany said. "We’re using the portal to relay it. Unfortunately, the power required to do that through the portal’s interference burns out even our most powerful probes in less than half a day."

"How much of this is science and how much is 'making it up as we go'?" Quinn asked.

"A lot of lucky guess work," Brittany said, grimacing. "And improvising."

"I’d feel a lot better about this if they were in a vehicle of some sort," Quinn said. "Just dumping them into a space anomaly and hoping for the best does not make me happy."

"I’m not happy about that either," Brittany said. "But the portal scrambles most electronics that aren’t heavily shielded. And you saw that beacon. Ninety nine percent of that model is shielding. We’ve got beacons the size of the head of a pin that can broadcast across the Solar system. But to survive the trip through the portal it needed to be wrapped in a large amount of physical shielding. Our regular shields, if we could shrink them that small, wouldn’t have worked."

"And sending Andy and the Potter twins in, wearing just those fancy new hard suits does?" Quinn asked, surprised.

"Yes," Brittany said. "The new hard suit was designed for this kind of mission, where too much tech can’t go. For reasons we can’t determine yet, the nanites we use aren’t affected by the forces in the portal. As long as they are in their most basic form."

"My suit tech did mention that there was a much larger nanite percentage in these new suits than previous versions. She was impressed. How’d you get the Confederation to sign off on that anyway?" Quinn asked. "They were really against even giving us nanite tech a few years ago."

"I’m just clever that way," Brittany said. "I might have shared a few things with them. You wouldn’t want me to give away all of my secrets would you?"

"No, I guess not," Quinn said. "As long as you didn’t tell them all your secrets that went into the suits."

"And give up an advantage? No way!" Brittany said.

The turbulence was rough as they clung to the disc containing all of their equipment. Even wearing the supposedly impervious hard suit, Andy could feel the force of the wind as it swirled around them. Even the suits couldn’t completely keep out the sound. It was too loud to talk to each other or to their control.

They’d jumped from a few hundred feet above the portal. High enough to protect the craft. But not so high they couldn’t reach the portal. Andy had gone on a number of high jumps in the suit while training but this was different. This was real.

They could tell when they’d passed through the portal and were in the middle, the eye of the forces that powered the portal.

A sudden flash distracted her and she was suddenly flying across a large room, colliding with a wall before she could react. There was a flash of intense pain and everything went dark.

There was a large flash as they broached the other side of the portal, and it was silent again. The equipment disc suddenly tilted unevenly as if free of weight on one side.

Harry hung on tight and visually checked for her companions, her sister and Lady Andrea. Her sister was off to her left. Lady Andrea was not in her place to her right.

"Ginny!" Harry called desperately. "Where’d Lady A go?"

"She disappeared just as we passed through the portal horizon," Ginny said. "There was nothing. She just vanished."

"Nothing?" Harry said, slowly moving along the edge of the disc to even out its descent. "Are you picking up her beacon? Anything?"

"No, just the Shadow’s," Ginny said glumly. "They’re a thousand clicks to our east. Still out of vocal data range with the uplink."

"Okay, let’s start drifting in that direction," Harry said. "As soon as they’re close enough to contact we’ll let them know what happened. Let’s hope they can find her."

"Okay," Ginny said.

High up in the mountains along the west coast of this world’s America, Joy and Janice had been collecting data about the planet they were on for several weeks. At the end of the day they would send an info burst back to base, bouncing it off a satellite to a probe that would briefly appear and relay it back. It wasn’t the most exciting job but they’d trained for this kind of thing for years and this was the first time they’d been able to use their training.

While their snooper equipment gathered any information it could from any government traffic it detected, looking for signs of their target, they dug through and into any hardened sites their tools detected. They weren’t as good as Lady Shadow at this, nobody was, but they were extremely good. There wasn’t a computer system they couldn’t eventually hack into. Lady Shadow wanted any information about aliens they could find and they were tracking down the clues they’d found so far while keeping an eye out for the team that would be coming to retrieve the Priestly contingent.

The plan had originally been to find Miranda Priestly, get her and head back, but finding out there were aliens in this universe had changed the plans slightly. The Clan wasn’t going to be opening any trading posts any time soon but Lady Shadow wanted to be prepared if these aliens or this planet ever discovered the portal. They were just glad someone else had the task of searching for more portals.

"Joy, the probe said they’ll be coming through any time now," Janice said. "Those cute Potter twins and Lady Andrea and their equipment."

"Cute?" Joy said. "That Harriet Potter owes me a drink."

"You should know better than to play games with them," Janice said. "They’ve got that whole psychic twin communication thing going on."

"That’s cheating," Joy said. "Even if they claim the rules allow it."

"They’re troopers," Janice said. "'Winning, with honor’ is how they do things."

"Not sure I agree with their ideas about honor," Joy said. "How soon should we detect their beacons."

"Any time now," Janice said. "They’ve got those new ones and those new suits the Boss said we’re all going to get."

"The ones that let us fly?"

"Yes," Janice said. "And the special camouflage."

"The Boss isn’t going to like this," Joy said.

"Isn’t going to like what?" Janice said.

"I’m only getting 2 suit beacons, and an equipment beacon. Somebody must not have made it through the portal," Joy said.

"That’s not good," Janice said with wry understatement. "We still have that probe east of us, right?"

"It’s doing a sweep over the New Mexico and Texas deserts right now," Joy said.

"Good," Janice said. "I’m going to use it to boost my scanner range. That portal doesn’t like to stay in one place here, maybe it dumped the missing suit out somewhere else. Can you pick up who is missing yet?"

"Lady Andrea," Joy said, groaning. "The Boss really likes her."

"So, now we have another person to find. No problem. At least we know how to find her since she’s wearing a suit." Janice hummed to herself for a few minutes. "Ah, faint signal to our east, though I’m not getting much of an exact direction. Somewhere in Colorado. Why does that sound familiar?"

"One of our target sites is there," Joy said. "The one where it looks like they’ve air-gapped it and have non-local encryption."

"Good, so we were going there anyway," Janice said, nodding to herself.

"This is Project Team P," a voice blared over their comm. "Come in Team A."

"Team A," Janice said. "Status?"

"We lost Lady A going through the portal," the Team P voice said. "Request immediate assistance in locating her."

"Optimists, aren’t they," Joy said, smirking.

"On it," Janice said. "We noticed you seemed to be missing a team member. We are receiving a suit beacon to the east of us. As soon as you reach our camp we can send out a search party."

"Why can’t you do that now?" the Team P voice asked, sounding anxious.

"We don’t have enough resources, as you well know," Janice told them. "We’re very bare bones on this Op."

"Agreed," the Team P voice said. "Homing in on your location. Out."

"Bare bones is one way to put it," Joy said, shaking her head. "Not even the budget for a top-of-the-line lair."

"We’re the good guys," Janice said. "We don’t have a lair."

"We could easily make one," Joy said. "I’ve got lots of plans. Bond villain lairs, or Kim Possible lairs. Or all sorts of others."

"You’ve been thinking about this too much," Janice said, shaking her head. "We don’t need a lair."

"But just think how useful one would be. Instead of digging out an underground cave like we have now, we could have traps and things," Joy said.

"Traps for who?" Janice asked.

"Well, if those snake parasite aliens ever find us or the NID discovers us sneaking around," Joy said, "We’ll need them then."

"They aren’t going to know we’re here," Janice said. "And we aren’t going to tell them, right?"

"Right," Joy said, pouting. "But it would make for excellent training."

"No," Janice said. "No extra training. Where did you even get this idea from?"

"Contingency plan Double A," Joy said.

"Well, forget about it," Janice said. "We aren’t going to run into them so we won’t need a lair of any sort." She glanced over at Joy. "And no amount of pouting is going to work."

"But you still love me?" Joy said.

"You are occasionally cute," Janice said.

"And lovable," Joy said.

"And lovable," Janice said, agreeing.

"Not where I’d expect to find that pair of Shadows," Ginny said, as they trudged through the snow covered forest. "No place to party within miles."

"That’s when they aren’t working," Harry said. "They take their job very seriously, and Lady Shadow wouldn’t have sent them on this mission if they weren’t serious."

"Not sure I agree about that," Ginny said. "Lady Shadow has a wicked sense of humour."

"But all of the Council take their jobs seriously. We need to find Lady A as soon as possible. Before we find the Priestly plane."

"Shouldn’t be too hard," Ginny said. "Just need to find her suit beacon."

"And what if she ended up in a different time? We used the portal to go back in time to here," Harry said. "She could have come out anywhen."

"Then we find when and go and get her," Ginny said. "It’s time travel. That gives us plenty of time to work things out."

"And there they are," Harry said, her suit sensors lighting up. "It looks like they’ve been here a lot longer than I thought they would be," she said. "Looks like a nice cozy setup."

"They are Shadows," Ginny said. "They like their comfort."

"Hello!" Harry said over their local Clan comm channel. "Anybody home?"

"Of course we’re home, where would we go?" Came back the reply. "Get in here before you let all of the warm air out." A door slid open.

"What about our equipment," Ginny asked, not entering.

"Plenty of room," Joy said. "We’ve got everything ready."

"Yeah, get in here," Janice said. "Just wipe off the snow first."

Sighing, Ginny and Harry entered the small camp. The Shadows might think it was large but it was a lot smaller than they were used to for a field camp.

Popping their helmets they looked around.

"Cozy," Harry said. "Where can we put our equipment. It’s still outside."

"We have an equipment shed," Joy said. "Through that door."

"Outside access?" Harry asked.

"Of course," Joy said. Grabbing her coat, she pulled it on. "Let’s get your things inside."

"When can we go after Lady A?" Ginny asked, after they’d gone outside to deal with the equipment.

"We need to find her first," Janice said. "Her suit beacon is very faint. We aren’t getting any telemetry from it. Just a vague sense of direction from our sensors."

"But she’s still alive?" Ginny asked.

"Yes, definitely," Janice said. "Still alive. Not sure of her condition otherwise."

"Okay. Any success finding the plane?" Harry asked.

"The beacon seems to have been removed from the plane," Janice said. "We were able to locate it but there was no plane wreckage near it."

"How is that possible?" Ginny asked. "The probe said there was wreckage before. That’s why we came here."

"No idea," Janice said. "Something changed. The plane wasn’t where the probe said it would be. The wreckage is completely gone."

"Are we in the wrong time?" Ginny asked. "Before the plane crashed?"

"No, it’s the right time," Joy said. "We have located the original beacon."

"We can worry about the plane once we get Lady Andrea back," Harry said. "Find her."

"On it," Janice said, turning towards her sensor bank.

"No indication of what is causing this?" General Hammond asked. "Natural phenomena or unwanted visitors?"

"Unknown at this point, sir," Major Carter said. "It sets off our sensors and disappears. And reappears at irregular intervals."

"But it’s been very frequent the last few months?" the General asked.

"Yes, sir," Carter said.

"Let me know if you find anything concrete," he said. "The Pentagon is getting anxious."

Before he could dismiss her, the sound of alarms could be heard over the base intercom. "Intruder in the Gate Room" blared out, twice. Before he could get out from behind his desk, the sounds stopped.

"What in the blasted," he grumbled, reaching for the Gate Room duty phone. "Lieutenant! What in tarnation is going on down there," the General shouted.

"An unknown person appeared in the Gate room," the Duty officer said. "They appear to be unconscious."

"Did they come through the Gate," Hammond asked, "Lieutenant?"

"Only physically, sir."

"Is there any other way?" the General asked, waving an anxious Major Carter out of his office, knowing her first stop would be the Gate Room.

"Sir, the Gate was not running when this person came through," the Lieutenant said. "They flew through the gate as if thrown at a high speed."

"Where are they now?" General Hammond asked.

"Doctor Fraiser is taking them to the infirmary," he said. "They were unable to remove the suit. Or helmet. She believes she’ll have better luck there. Colonel O’Neill and SG-2 are providing security."


"They’re wearing something out of a Japanese cartoon, sir," the Lieutenant said. "Some kind of high tech armor."

"I understand," the General said. "Is Major Carter there yet?"

"She’s headed towards the infirmary," the Lieutenant said.

"Call me if anything else happens," the General said.

"Yes, sir!"

The General hung up the phone. He was tempted to head to the infirmary himself but suspected the presence of SG-1, and SG-2, was enough chaos for Major Fraiser to handle while dealing with their unexpected visitor.

Chapter Text

Andy could feel herself being moved, information being relayed to her by her nanites. She wasn’t sure why they weren’t allowing her access to her eyes or control of other parts of her body. She’d tried to ask them but all she got back over the nanite interface was a feeling of caution and warning. The nanites wanted her to play possum, though that wasn’t how they expressed it. They had her body behaving as if she were unconscious. And wouldn’t even connect her to her suit’s comm unit, claiming the pseudo-AI that controlled her suit hadn’t rebooted.

When she got back to the Clan she was going to have a serious talk with Brittany about this. If she got back. Having a healthy survival instinct was one thing. Deciding she needed to appear unconscious was another. Even as a group they weren’t highly intelligent, as far as she knew. They were just carrying out their programming, to protect her in an emergency.

The nanites kept her updated on her position, letting her know when they went up elevators. And where they were. She wasn’t sure she believed them that she was several thousand feet underground. They claimed to have triggered her Clan beacon but were unable to detect her team.

From the smells hitting her nose through the suit’s olfactory system, she suspected she was in a hospital of some sort, though what they were going to do with her in her hard suit was a mystery. There were only three ways to get it off if they wanted to check her out. A Fleet Medic could pop her suit in an emergency. Her nanites could do the same if they decided her life depended on getting her out of it, and she could pop the suit herself. Which she had no plans to do.

The nanites continued to feed her information. While she was being transported to this hospital, they’d started rummaging around in every electronic device they could interface with. They only had a limited ability to analyze what they found with her suit’s pseudo-AI still out of action. Something their programming wouldn’t let them fix. And she couldn’t reboot it herself without access to her comm unit.

It was very frustrating. No control. Most of her senses shut down and her nervous system blocked. She suspected the nanites were also manipulating her hormones to keep her calm until she could be rescued.

Suddenly, sound started to reach her ears. The nanites had decided to turn on her external mic. And hearing. Just in time, apparently. Now if they would give her back control over her eyes so she could see things.

"What’ve you got, Doc?" a brusk male voice asked.

"At this point, Colonel, I have no idea," a female voice said. "None of my equipment can see through that material. It looks like a flight suit of some sort but I have no idea what could be inside it."

"Not even the Asgard doohickeys?" he asked.

"Not even the doohickeys," she said. Andy wished she could see this doctor’s face. Miranda could send minions running for the hills when using the same tone.

"Carter said she might have something to get her out of it," he said.


"Her," the Colonel said. "If they’re human, that’s obviously a woman."

"You noticed," the doctor said.

"I don’t think our guest is going to like us putting holes in that," another male voice said. "Looks expensive."

"If they die because something happened to them and I couldn’t fix it because I couldn’t get to it, it won’t really matter," the doctor said. "But, as you can see, we can’t even cut it off." There was an odd clattering sound.

"Huh," the Colonel said. "Wonder if it’s bulletproof. Or staff proof."

"You aren’t going to potentially injure my patient trying," the doctor said.

"Hey, Janet," a new, female, voice said, sounding like she’d been running.

"Sam. What’s that?" Janet asked.

"High energy beam knife," she said. "It’ll cut through almost anything."

"Without cutting my patient?" Janet asked.

"She didn’t like my idea," the Colonel said.

"Of course not, sir," Sam said dryly.

"It was just a suggestion, Carter," he said. Andy wondered what he looked like. She could almost hear a pout.

"It’s adjustable. We set it to a very shallow depth to test it to see if it’ll cut this material. If it does we can remove the suit in pieces. It looks like it’s designed to come apart in these spots," she said. "Probably has an emergency removal system if the wearer is injured."

"Do you think there’s a way to get them out of it without cutting it to pieces?" the second male voice asked. "Could you hack into it?"

"It’s an electromagnetic dead zone," Carter said. "It’s not broadcasting anything detectable, and seems to be absorbing anything we point at it. That’s why none of Janet’s diagnostic tools work. Without something to latch onto, there’s nothing to hack."

"Go ahead," Janet said.

"You’ll all need to step back," Carter said, "behind the blast shield."

Blast shield? Andy thought. What kind of hospital had a blast shield? An internal alarm briefly went off in her suit, indicating some kind of energy was being applied to a spot on one of her arms.

"Stop!" the second male shouted.

"Danny," the Colonel said. "She wasn’t doing anything."

"No, sir," Carter said. "It wasn’t cutting. Not even a burn mark. Or any kind of mark."

"So, no cutting the suit off?" Janet said.

"Not with this," Carter said. "Daniel, what were you shouting about?"

"While you were using the knife, it looked like writing appeared," he said.

"Where?" Carter asked.

"Right there," he said. Her suit registered a light pressure above her left breast.

"Watch your hands," Carter said.

"Sorry," Daniel said, sounding embarrassed.

"I’m sure she didn’t notice you groping her," Janet said dryly.

"I wasn’t groping," Daniel said, defensively. "Use the knife again, at its lowest setting," he said. "Janet, could I have that camera?"

Her suit once more registered an energy source.

"Got it," Danny said. There was a brief pause. "Looks vaguely Mayan, though I don’t recognize the dialect."

"The Mayan’s had space suits?" the Colonel asked.

"Not like this they didn’t," Danny said. "At least one of the Mayan gods was a Goa’uld but they didn’t look anything like this. This is closer to one of those cartoons Cassy likes to watch."

"It probably says 'stop poking me'," the Colonel said.

There was a slight hissing sound and Andy felt her helmet unsealing and retracting. The nanites still weren’t letting her open her eyes or move, but she could feel air on her face for the first time in hours.

"See," the Colonel said, after a minute of silence, "a woman in a space suit."

"She doesn’t look Mayan," Daniel said, sounding puzzled. Andy could feel someone breathing on her, their breath smelling like coffee.

"And she’s still unconscious," Janet said.

"Looks like you’ve got a Sleeping Beauty problem, Doc," the Colonel said. "Danny, why don’t you go translate that while the Doc does her thing."

"I don’t think you’re going to be able to remove the suit even like this," Carter said. "There don’t seem to be any gaps in it."

"No, but at least I can run a few tests, and hopefully find out what’s wrong with her," Janet said.

"We’ll leave you to it," the Colonel said. "Shout if you need us."

"Of course, Colonel," Janet said. Her suit picked up the sounds of fading footsteps as they moved away.

Miranda floated invisibly next to the bed. She couldn't say how she did it, she just was. Time didn't have any real meaning when you were ascended, she'd discovered ages ago. But if she wanted to, she could know exactly how long it had been since she'd last seen her Andrea.

Being ascended wasn't like having godlike powers. It was just another state of being, with some unexpected abilities. So Andrea's appearance here had come as a complete surprise.

She’d taken an interest in these rather intense people and their large metallic ring in a fit of pique. Ascending wasn’t something she’d asked for, and certainly wasn’t ready for.

She’d been on her way home from a rather unsatisfying trip to Tokyo. Runway Tokyo had been a small, unassuming, and experimental branch off her beloved Runway but the Board of Directors of Elias-Clark had insisted that she take it under her wing and make it do more than break even. She’d known before even going there that it was an impossible task. Fashion in Tokyo was different. Fashion in Japan was different. They gave the appearance of following western fashions but they were different enough that what worked for Runway would be a disaster for them.

She’d known this. She’d explained it to the Board. A traditional Runway approach would not work. Sure, there was some cross pollination. She would occasionally cherry pick articles they ran, and they would run Runway articles that fit their audience. But it was rare. It couldn’t be forced.

But she’d had no choice. The Board had given her an ultimatum. Bring them into the fold or else. She’d explained the problem to the editorial board in Tokyo. But they’d been unable to come to a satisfactory agreement while she was there.

And then something had happened to the plane. Afterward, all she could remember was terror and screaming. And praying that she would survive to get home to her daughters and Andrea.

When it was all over, she was alone, on a sandy beach. But she wasn’t herself anymore. She was this other thing, an Ascended being. The other Ascended she’d met, so far, were not very communicative. They couldn’t tell her how to get home or what had happened to the plane or her people on it other than they hadn’t ascended with her. They didn’t seem to care about anything except their hobbies of watching the unascended.

She wasn’t one of their Ascended, and after a brief flurry of interest they tended to leave her alone, after warning her to not interfere with the unascended in this universe. She wasn’t a fan of voyeurs but there wasn’t much to do in this place with its differences from home. She wasn’t a historian and fashion lost its allure when she couldn’t influence it. Sure, she could now wear whatever she wanted with just a thought. But no one who mattered would see it.

She wasn’t sure how the large ring came to her attention. It just did. And she started watching them, the soldiers that used it, traveling to far flung places. It was a while before she made her presence known. And she noticed how it seemed to gather the attention of other Ascended, though none she was familiar with.

She found their doctor interesting, for a multitude of reasons. Here was a powerful woman, who was respected by the others around her. She ruled her department with an iron fist but cared about her people. Someone not to trifle with.

At some point she’d introduced herself to the doctor. And occasionally talked with her, finding her a much better conversationalist than any of the ascended beings she had occasional contact with in her wanderings. They left her alone, mostly. Although they had those noninterference rules, they didn’t try to stop her from forming a friendship, of sorts, with the doctor.

Silently appearing, Miranda became solid. There was a brief silence in the room as she appeared and then everyone went back to what they were doing. She didn’t appear often but they weren’t afraid of her.

Nodding to the Doctor, she sat down in the chair next to Andrea’s bed. Taking her hand, she concentrated on making a mental link. There was something odd about her presence. She wasn’t actually unconscious.

"She’s not in a coma," Janet said, joining her. "And she’s not asleep. At least not exactly."

Miranda nodded, but kept her eyes on her wife.

"Do you know who she is?" Janet asked. "She appeared in the Gate Room, but not through the gate."

"Possibly," Miranda said, frowning. There seemed to be something blocking her attempts to contact Andrea through her mind. "This thing she is wearing is not something I am familiar with."

"It doesn’t want to come off," Janet said, glancing sideways at Miranda. "Nothing we have will cut through it. What should we call her?"

"Andrea, she is Andrea Sachs-Priestly," Miranda said. "She does not belong here." She ran her fingers through Andrea’s hair. "How did you get here, my Andrea," Miranda said softly.

"I’ll leave you two alone," Janet said softly. "If you need anything let the duty nurse know."

"Anything to report, Major?" General Hammond asked, looking at Janet across the conference room table.

"We know our mystery guest’s name," Janet said. "Andrea Sachs-Priestly," she said.

"How’d you find that out?" Carter asked. "Daniel hasn’t been able to translate that inscription yet. Is she conscious?"

"No, still playing sleeping beauty," Janet said. "We have another guest visiting today and she told me."

"Another guest? Lady P?" Sam said. "What brought her here?"

"Why does she ever show up?" O’Neill asked grumpily. "She’s bored."

"At least she doesn’t cause problems like most of our Ascended visitors do," Janet said defensively.

"Yeah, she’s just a barrel full of monkeys," O’Neill said, snarkily.

"She isn’t an Ancient, Jack," Sam said. "She isn’t going to act like them."

"Do we know what she is?" General Hammond asked. "She’s here often enough to tell us her name. What else do we know about her?"

"I suspect she’s from another universe," Janet said. "One where the Ascended don’t exist. All we really know is that she was an important person wherever she is from."

"The 'Lady' thing is a dead giveaway," Jack said. "She has that stiff upper lip thing going on."

"It isn’t a quantum mirror situation," Sam said. "I’ve been unable to find anyone with that name. And we don’t know if that would affect an Ascended being anyway."

"What’s her connection to our newest guest," General Hammond asked, making a note on his pad.

"She appears to know her in some way," Janet said.

"From the same universe?" Sam said. "Or just a coincidence."

"She said she didn’t belong here," Janet said. "Her appearance here appears to be a surprise."

"Search party?" Jack said, appearing suddenly interested. "A search party of one isn’t very big. So, we should expect additional visitors of unknown capabilities."

"I agree," General Hammond said. "We need to know what their capabilities are."

Miranda played with Andrea’s hair while she tried to find some way through the dense fog surrounding her mind. But she really wasn’t sure what she was doing. Some things, like the ability to take physical form, came naturally. Others, like communicating mentally, didn’t.

There was a sudden gasp, and she found herself standing on a sandy plain, some kind of dreamscape she suspected.


Turning, she found herself looking at the one person, other than her daughters, who could make her smile and her heart hurt at the same time.

"Andrea. My Andrea," she whispered, throwing dignity to the wind and rushing forward to hug her.

"What are you doing in my dream? Are you really here?" Andrea said, her voice cracking. She wrapped her arms around Miranda’s waist in a tight hug.

"Are you really dreaming?" Miranda asked. "You’re just laying there, not moving. I was worried."

"Do you know where I am?" Andrea asked. "Damn nanites won’t let me move. They think they’re protecting me from something."

"Nanites?" Miranda asked.

"Experimental," Andrea said. "Part of the hard suit I’m wearing. Too experimental, I think. When, if, I ever get back I’m going to have a long talk with the designer."

"Nanites?" Miranda repeated. "What are they and why won’t they let you move?"

"Little tiny nanoscopic things, like little robots. Sort of like antibodies. Except they work with my suit, provide it with extras. Protect me from things."

"What kinds of things?" Miranda asked, reluctantly releasing her.

"All sorts of things," Andrea said. "Something triggered them when I got here, wherever here is, and decided I needed to play possum until my team finds me. So they shut me down."

"Your team?" Miranda said. "You’re here, like this, until they show up? Who are they? You’re really my Andrea? Where did this suit come from?"

"We’ve come to take you home," Andrea said. "Found a portal to this place and came after you."

"We didn’t have this kind of technology when I was there," Miranda said. "Are you sure you’re MY Andrea?"

"I hope so," Andrea said. "The girls are going to be disappointed if you aren’t. And the tech is no big deal. Got it from some friendly aliens."

"Aliens?" Miranda asked.

"I hear there are aliens here also," Andrea said. "Not the same kind but still aliens. Ours, the ones we’ve met, look like humans."

"There are a number of different non-human aliens in this universe," Miranda said, dismissively. "Explain. And where are the girls?"

"Remember that Mayan apocalypse I was always joking about? How we would all take that week off and go to Cancun and I’d do a story about it?" Andrea said.

"Yes…" Miranda said.

"Surprise!" Andrea said. "There wasn’t an apocalypse but we did get some alien visitors. The Mayans are their descendants. I agreed to do a job for them and they discovered what happened to your plane. Thy let me come after you and here I am. Wherever here is." She frowned, kicking at the sandy ground.

"And the twins?" Miranda asked, frowning.

"They didn’t come on the rescue," Andy said. "They’re doing an internship, and while I’m gone my Aunt Sue is watching out for them."

"So, aliens who are Mayans," Miranda said. Her great grandmother had been a Mayan priestess but Andrea didn’t need to know that. "The girl’s father claimed to have distant cousins from there who were Mayan." And he’d claimed to be alien himself, but explaining that could wait.

"Yeah, the aliens kind of wondered about that," Andy said. "They were looking for family and the girls showed up on their radar, actually some high tech DNA scanner. More alien than most."

"It appears the world has changed drastically since I left," Miranda said.

"That’s an understatement," Andrea said. "But I think you’ll like it."

"I do not know if I can go home with you," Miranda said. "I’ve changed, physically, and may not be able to leave this place. But I will find your teammates to get you out of here."

"I’m not going home without you," Andrea said, firmly grabbing her hand.

"We will deal with this situation first," Miranda said. "I’m assuming they have suits similar to yours."

"Yes," Andrea said. "They should be able to unlock the nanites. Or convince them to let me out of here when I wake up. A bit boring being able to listen but not move or say or see anything."

"Do they have names?"

"Harry and Ginny Potter," Andrea said.

"Harry Potter?" Miranda said, raising an eyebrow.

"Not the fictional one," Andrea said, laughing. "It’s really Harriet. They have this thing where they can pick their own names when they grow up. The Potter twins are really big fans of those books. But they don’t look anything like them. They’re five ten and look like escapees from some Swedish fashion show."

"And what exactly do they do?" Miranda asked frostily. "Why are they 'teammates'?"

"Did I mention that all of the Mayan aliens are female?" Andy said. "They’re troopers in their version of the Marines. And kind of my bodyguards."

"Bodyguards?" Miranda asked.

"I don’t really need them," Andrea said, trying to reassure her. "Lady Shadow wouldn't let me go on this mission untrained. I can take care of myself. But Aunt Sue insisted that I not go alone."

"Lady Shadow?"

"I think you’ll like her," Andy said. "But can we discuss the aliens, our aliens, when we get home?"

"As you wish," Miranda said, nodding. "But I expect a full explanation."

"Of course," Andrea said. "How are you going to find them?"

"I have my ways," Miranda said. "I have not been idle here."

"Okay," Andrea said. "Do I get a kiss before you go?" She smiled hopefully.

Nodding, Miranda stepped close, and gently kissed her wife. Without another word, she pulled back from the dreamscape.

Opening her eyes, she found herself being watched by a larger than normal audience, including the base commander.


"Can you tell us anything else?" Janet said. "I’m assuming you were attempting to communicate with her?"

"Yes," Miranda said. She had no plans to tell them everything, just enough to satisfy their curiosity. "She is who I thought. Her suit appears to believe her to be in some danger and has put her in something similar to stasis, but she is aware of her surroundings. She believes it is in error but cannot fix it herself."

"So, she can hear us?" Janet asked.

"Yes," Miranda said, standing. "Though right now she appears to be sleeping."

"How do we get her out of her suit so we can make sure she’s okay?" Janet asked.

"I will have to retrieve her compatriots," Miranda said. "They should be able to unlock her suit."

"If you know where they are we can send someone after them," General Hammond said.

"It would be better if I retrieved them, General," Miranda said. "They may show up here looking for her eventually, but it would be safer if I approached them first."

"I would prefer that you not bring them down here first, Lady P," the General said. Miranda nodded in agreement. He was a reasonable person who made few demands when she visited.

"I shall return shortly," she said. Becoming immaterial, she stepped out of the mountain base. It wasn’t teleporting, exactly. But it allowed her to travel quickly.

"So, there are more of them out there," the General said, having returned to his conference room with Colonel O’Neill, Major Carter, and Major Fraiser. "Do we have any way to track them before they arrive?"

"No," Carter said. "Still no luck finding something that will detect that type of armor. I’ve discussed it with Thor and the Asgard have nothing that can penetrate that material or track it. It appears to be more advanced than anything they’ve encountered."

"Ancient technology?" O’Neill asked. "Or something else?"

"Something else," Carter said. "Lady P seemed puzzled by it, though she appears to know our guest."

Janet snorted.

"What?" Carter asked, turning to the doctor.

"Sam, where were you when the illustrious Lady P first appeared in my infirmary?" Janet asked.

"I don’t remember," Carter said, "Why?"

"We were on a strategic mission for the Tok’ra," the Colonel said. "A hairy goose chase thanks to Anise. When we got back, Janet introduced us to her pet Ancient."

"She’s not an Ancient, Colonel," Janet said. "Which you’d know if you read my reports."

"Isn’t there some doctor patient privacy?"

"She’s not a patient," Janet said. "And she is well aware of what I report about her to the General. It’s a bit difficult to hide such things from an Ascended being."

"Okay, what’d I miss?" Carter asked, puzzled.

"Her name," Janet said. "Cassy’s the one who started calling her 'Lady P’ and it stuck. Her full name is Lady Miranda Priestly. And our new guest’s name is…?"

"Andrea Sachs-Priestly…" Carter said. "So, they’re related?" she asked excitedly. "They don’t look like sisters."

"Lady P can be quite chatty for someone who’s ascended," Janet said. "She drops in on us because she thinks the Gate will send her home if she uses it the right way. Though she’s not really a scientist so she isn’t sure what that way is. Just some strange feeling it gives her."

"So we’re just going to let some non-Ancient Ascended person use our Gate?" O’Neill said.

"We can’t exactly stop her," Janet said. "Once she figures it out she’ll use it. Though I suspect this is going to complicate things."

"So, what do you know, Janet," Carter said. "Must be some steamy gossip or something."

"Not exactly gossip," Janet said. "It’s right there in my reports. Right, General?"

"Yes, that is interesting," General Hammond said. "So, wherever our Lady P is originally from, her wife has managed to find her. Possibly through some use of time travel."

"Wife?" O’Neill sputtered.

"Time travel?" Carter added. "The few times we’ve encountered that it hasn’t gone well, sir," she said.

"Well, find out how they did it," the General said, standing, "and if there is anything we need to know."

"Yes, sir," Carter said, slumping back in her seat, watching him leave. "Just great," she said, muttering to herself. "Time travel."

"What’s wrong with time travel?" Janet asked.

"Flying monkeys," O’Neill said. "Huge piles of flying monkeys."

"It isn't that bad," Carter said, straightening up again.

"Just wait until the NID hears about this," O’Neill said.

"No plans to tell them," Carter said.

"You aren't ruining their reunion," Janet said firmly.

"The NID always finds out," O’Neill said. "There must be a mole."

"Shouldn’t you be looking for the mole then?" Janet asked him. Nodding to herself, she picked up her things, got up, and left the conference room.

"So, what else did you find out?" Carter asked, rushing out behind her. "Anything that might be useful?" she added, her voice echoing down the hall.

"Geesh," O’Neill said to himself, looking around the now empty conference room, "Aliens who’ve ascended, possibly from an alternate universe, and now their families are dropping by for a visit. Teal'c better get back from his off world vacation soon, before everything goes to hell."

Miranda snorted in semi-amusement, as the small invisible spy devices she’d placed in the General’s conference room told her what they were doing while she was gone. Thinking nostalgically, she wondered if she’d had them back at Runway if she’d have been half as amused at the results.

She didn’t do anything unintentionally. What she’d revealed to Janet and the others she’d befriended at the hidden mountain base had been intentional, just in case, revelations. And now they should provide some protection for Andrea while she was gone. No matter how nosey and annoying the NID could be, no matter how often they interfered with the mission of Stargate Command, they wouldn’t dare touch Andrea or her things. Not after the last time she stopped one of their frankly dumb plans. She had power, she was going to use it. Something the other Ascended had learned quickly. Her power, her energy core was just different enough that the had no hold over her, unlike other recent Ascended she’d watched them put in their place, all protests of peaceful co-existence to the contrary.

And now, as she stood, figuratively speaking, above the mountains, she searched for signs of Andrea’s compatriots. She wouldn’t call them bodyguards, even if that was how Andrea thought of them. She was very curious to meet this Lady Shadow who had managed to wrangle a very stubborn Andrea into doing her bidding. That was assuming she could go home in her current state. She suspected she would just have to risk it. She didn’t trust any of these Ancient Ascended meddlers she’d met as far as she could throw them.

There’s been a distinctive mental 'flavor' to Andrea’s suit of armor. Sort of like ozone that indicated that it didn’t really belong here. She just had to stretch her senses and find something like it.

And there it was, four separate living beings giving off the same mental odor. Four, not the two she was expecting. Centering herself, she let the mental feeling pull her towards them. No need to rush.

Chapter Text

Miranda wasn’t an expert with such things, but the hiding place Andrea’s people had made was almost undetectable unless you noticed its wrongness. She was surprised it wasn’t surrounded by the usual meddling Ascended, either the real Ancients or more recent ones she’d been warned about. The Asgard, if they bothered, could also probably find it if they knew what not to look for.

Stepping through the walls of their encampment required noticeable, though not too difficult, effort. And, it unexpectedly set off a loud alarm. Looking around the small space, it didn’t look like anything special. Just living quarters. She’d apparently come in the back instead of the main entrance.

"Who are you!" a voice asked, one of the being she’d detected earlier now entering the room, followed by three others. From the multiple energy types she sensed coming from their uniforms, she suspected they were armed, though not with anything she was familiar with. The SGC mainly used traditional US military weapons with a different energy signature, though she wasn’t an expert on their usage. And they could detect her presence in her current state, which was more than anyone else unascended in this place seemed able to do.

"Good evening, Ladies," she said, materializing in front of them. "I hope I am not interrupting anything." She nodded at the twins, Andrea’s supposed bodyguards, and the two others, short brunettes.

"No, Lady Miranda," one of the short brunettes said, recognizing her. "We were just discussing our plans for rescuing Lady Andrea. She seems to have had an accident during her arrival here through the portal."

Miranda ignored the whispers by the others who weren’t as sure of her identity given her sudden appearance.

"Andrea mentioned a Harriet and Ginny," she said, "but said nothing of you two."

"Harry, ma’am," one of the blonde twins said, correcting her.

"Harriet," Miranda said.

"Yes, ma’am," Harriet said, pouting, to laughter from the others.

"I’m Joy, and that’s Janice," the first brunette to speak said. "You’ve found Lady Andrea? Is she okay? Lady Shadow isn’t going to be too happy that we’ve lost her."

"She appeared suddenly in a facility I’ve been observing," Miranda said. "Her 'hard suit'? She claimed it was experimental."

"Yes, ma’am," Harriet said. "We’ve been testing them. They’re meant for stealth combat operations mostly. Based on ones like the Shadows wear."

"A little too experimental, I suspect," Miranda said. "She’s locked into a form of stasis and is unable to communicate outside of her dreams."

"You’re a dream traveler, ma’am?" Janice asked. "The suits should prevent any mental contact."

"Apparently so," Miranda said. "I was unable to contact her until she fell asleep. She said her 'nanites' have her immobilized."

"They must have detected some kind of danger they weren’t prepared for," Harry said. "There wouldn’t happen to be any Roswell Greys or those Goa'uld things running around where she is?"

"Not currently," Miranda said. "But they have had contact with them and there may be traces."

"Okay, we can fix that, if you can get us in to see her," Ginny said, speaking for the first time. "Her suit just needs a slight recalibration."

"Will not your suits have the same problem, if they are the same?" Miranda asked.

"We’ll fix them before we go," Harriet said. "Joy and Janice will stay here just in case there are other issues."

"Harry!" Janice said, pouting, "We need to go with you. How can we accurately asses the threat to our reality if we can’t examine their portal device?"

"Andrea did not explain the portal that you came through in any detail," Miranda said. "Is it a danger to our world?" Sometimes, Miranda went with her gut feelings and this was a huge flashing one.

"Only if one of those Goa'uld parasite things or other aliens come through," Janice said. "We have enough alien issues of our own without adding new ones. The Clan has been preparing for war for a long time."

"Hush!" Joy said. "No need to complicate things. We have Lady Miranda, we just need to get the other passengers, and Lady Andrea and we can go home. If Lady Shadow decides it’s too dangerous to leave the portal open she’ll find a way to close it."

"I have been unable to find any other survivors from my journey here," Miranda said, grimacing. They’d been employees and a friend, but loyal ones. She would rather not leave them behind if they still lived, but in the years she’d been here she’d found no traces of them.

"Oh..." said Joy, frowning. "We’ll keep looking as long as we can."

"Who is this Lady Shadow?" Miranda asked, nodding in thanks.

"Their boss," Harriet said, pointing at the brunettes. "And part of the Clan’s ruling Council of Nine. We work for Lady Q," she added, waving at her sister. "We go in from the front and smack down our enemies, they sneak around behind them and pick their pockets."

"Who does my Andrea work for?" Miranda asked, watching them prepare themselves.

"She works for the Council," Joy said. "Doing some kind of cultural preservation thing. Rescuing you is a special project."

"She used to be a journalist," Miranda said, frowning.

"The Boss might have bought her newspaper," Janice said. "At least that’s the rumor. She got some kind of award for the book she wrote after you disappeared."

"Something called a Pulitzer," Harriet said. "Lady Q had us read it before the mission. Very sad."

"Lady Q’s a big softy," Ginny said. "Unless you insult the Memory, or meet in battle."

"Yeah, nobody insults the Memory and gets away with it. Lady Air, Lady Shadow, and Lady Q are very protective of her," Joy said. "Ready to go? We’ll have everything packed up when you get back. Lady Shadow doesn’t want us leaving anything behind."

"You should probably use the door this time, Lady Miranda," Ginny said in a whisper. "The Shadows get a bit testy if you set off their alarms accidentally."

"Or even not accidentally," Harriet said in another whisper, giggling. "I think they sleep with their spy toys."

"Of course," Miranda said, keeping her amusement to herself. "Lead the way."

"It will be faster for me to take both of you," Miranda said. "Andrea is inside of a hidden base, deep underground."

"Which our sensors, at the least the ones the Shadows brought, can’t really penetrate," Harriet said. "They’ll be glad to know it isn’t their equipment."

"Well, not just their equipment," Ginny said. "Our sensors need upgrading too."

"Lady Miranda, can you use one of our comm units?" Harriet asked. "It’s not one of the internal models like we have but it’ll let you communicate with us and Lady Andrea without having to do all that mind stuff. The nanites freak out if they detect anything like that." She held out a small device that looked like it would fit in one ear.

"We shall see," Miranda said, taking it from her. She examined it closely before nodding and adding its functionality to her energy matrix. "You should be able to hear me now," she said over it.

"Yes!" Harriet said excitedly, answering over the same channel. "That’s our common channel. We also have other channels for other purposes in the more complex models. Team channels and private channels. And data channels if you’re wearing one of our suits."

"Shall we?" Miranda said. Reaching out, physically, and mentally, she took hold of the two women and flashed across the miles. She stopped briefly outside the gate to the mountain. "This is the main entrance," she told them, maintaining her energy state. "We shall skip their welcoming committee and go directly to Andrea. Please do not attack anyone, they tend to be excitable."

"The Shadows have a lock on us now," Ginny said. "If we need a rescue they know where we are."

"We’re very diplomatic, Lady Miranda," Harriet said. "We’ve had special training. The Shadows think we stomp into things like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a B movie, but we can be polite."

"We’ve been going through officer training," Ginny said. "When we get back, Lady Q has two new cohorts waiting for us, all trained in first contact procedures."

"You have a broad pop culture knowledge," Miranda said, looking at them in surprise. "How did you come by that?"

"You mean, why do to alien Mayan chicks know anything about Earth pop culture?" Ginny said, giggling. "It’s a long story. The Memory will be glad to tell you."

"You won’t be able to stop her," Harry said. "You’re related to Lady Andrea, and Lady Sue knows you. I bet they ask you to join the Council when we get back."

"I wouldn't take that bet," Ginny said. "I can detect Lady Andrea from here but her suit is definitely blocking all comm traffic. We’ll have to patch it there. And in its current state it won’t let you move it using your energy matrix."

"No?" Miranda said.

"No. We had to adjust our suits to go with you. We don’t have that kind of capability but our suits can block energy based forms from interfering with us," Harriet said. "Once we fix her suit she can allow you to do that."

"We should get moving," Ginny said. "The natives are getting restless. They can’t hurt us with those high energy guns but it’ll still scratch the paint, and I don’t want to explain to the Chief that we were careless with her new suits."

"Nope, definitely don’t want the Chief mad at us," Harriet said.

Miranda reached for them once more and transported them down into the lower levels of the mountain, reintegrating into solid matter just outside the small infirmary room they’d placed Andrea in.

"I’ll stay out here," Harriet said, "and make nice with the people in uniforms. You go fix Lady Andrea’s suit. Lady Miranda, you should probably go with her so they don’t start shooting."

Miranda sighed, but nodded. Andrea’s bodyguards were certainly well trained and efficient.

"You can’t go in there," a nurse protested, standing in front of Ginny, even as Miranda slipped by.

"Lady P! You’re back. Already," Janet said. "And who’s this?" she asked as Ginny gently moved the nurse over to the side so she could pass. Reaching Andy’s bed, she popped open her helmet and spoke to Janet.

"Hello, I’m Ginny Potter, of the Dragon Clan of the Pan-Galactic Confederation," Ginny said, talking quickly. "Though, you probably don’t have a Galactic Confederation here do you. But anyway, I’m here to fix Lady Andrea’s hard suit. And then we can get out of your hair."

"Lady P?" Janet said, staring wide eyed at the armored woman in front of her.

"Andrea’s suit appears to have malfunctioned when she arrived in your gate room. Ginny will fix the problem," Miranda said.

"Malfunction?" Carter asked, slipping into the room. "What kind of malfunction?"

"I won’t know until I can look at it," Ginny said. "But it appears to be locked in stasis. Which can be a huge annoying crap fest. Had it happen to me once jumping on Pluto. Took Harry days to find me. It’s really cold on Pluto."

"Jumping on Pluto?" Carter asked, wide eyed.

"Oh yeah," Ginny said. "It’s awesome. Take a scooter up to the gravity limit and jump. The Boss gets grumpy if she can’t do it at least once a week if we aren’t on patrol."

"The Boss?" Carter asked.

"You’re babbling," Harry said over their private channel. "Fix up Lady Andrea so we can get going. Someone’s noticed we’re here. The Shadows say there’s lots of incoming traffic. And not the friendly kind."

"Lady Q," Ginny said. "And I need to take care of Lady Andrea. It takes a few minutes for a suit like that to reboot when it’s being worn and we’ve got incoming traffic about an hour out. Don’t really want to be here when they arrive."

"Traffic?" Carter asked.

Ginny shrugged. "That’s what I was told. I’m assuming it’s someone or something that wouldn’t appreciate our presence. Or would appreciate it a little too much. They weren’t clear."

"As soon as you do your reset, we’ll look into it," Carter said. "I’m sure Major Frasier won’t want her patient moved unless absolutely necessary."

"Carter! Tell your buddies to speed it up!" O’Neill yelled from outside the room. "Some of Kinsey’s goons just knocked on our front door."

Ignoring the sudden tension in the room, Ginny leaned over and touched two panels on Andy's hard suit. There was a low hum and the suit started glowing with a faint green light. Removing her hands, she stepped back. "Okay, Lady P, her suit should be fully functioning when that green glow goes away."

"How long," Carter asked. "Your incoming just passed the first gate. You can’t be here when they get down here."

"So, you don’t want any unpleasantness?" Ginny said. "We can disappear. But if they start shooting and ordering us around, we’ll be ignoring them."

"Not going to shoot first?" a fuzzy voice said.

"Andy! You’re awake," Ginny said.

"Stupid nanites," Andy said. "Can talk. Still can’t move. Hey Miranda."

"Andrea," Miranda said. "We are close to overstaying our welcome."

"Just got an info dump," Andy said, grimacing. "Some politician with an over developed sense of the gimmes?"

"Former chairman of our funding committee," Carter said. "Won’t take no for an answer."

"We’re so out of here," Andy said. "As soon as my suit finishes."

"The nice doctor wants to make sure you’re okay before we drag you away," Ginny said.

"I’m fine," Andy said, waving at the person Ginny indicated. "Not even a sore muscle anywhere. Just that slightly fuzzy feeling I get from the pods."

"Pods?" Janet said. "Not a large person sized thing that looks like an Egyptian sarcophagus?"

"No," Ginny said. "Learning pods. Immersive virtual reality. If you have that movie, The Matrix, it’s sort of like that. Speeds up learning."

"Fascinating," Carter said.

"Fascinating can wait," Janet said, noticing a certain familiar gleam in Carter’s eyes. "If they ever come back you can grill them about it."

"Sorry," Ginny said. "Only a user, not a tech. Rebooting suits is the most I can do. Unless you need things blown up."

"No, we have plenty of people who can blow things up," Janet said. "Isn’t that right Colonel."

Before he could respond, there was a humming noise that quickly got louder, and the three hard suited women, Carter, and O’Neill disappeared in a flash of light.

"Someone must have been taunting Murphy," Janet said with a groan. Stepping over to the nearest phone she called General Hammond. "General, we have a small, non-Kinsey related problem. Someone appears to have removed several people from my infirmary without asking." Hanging up, she stomped back over to where Miranda was still standing. "You should go before Kinsey’s Goon Squad gets here."

"Where is Andrea," Miranda asked. "Not even five words and someone has taken her away again."

"That was an Asgard transport beam. I don’t know how fast you can go but hopefully you can catch them," Janet said. "I’ll let the General know you are gone."

Miranda nodded. "I may not return," she said.

"Understood," Janet said, "Now go get your wife."

A minute after she disappeared, there was a commotion in the hall as Kinsey’s men ran into SG-2, who had been guarding the infirmary. "Someone needs to do something about that man," Janet grumbled to herself, before going out into the hall.

Miranda stepped from the mountain into the Shadow hideout. "We have run into a slight issue." she told the surprised women. "The Asgard have borrowed my Andrea and several others. We shall return here once I retrieve them."

"Asgard? Roswell greys?" Joy said. "Can we come this time?" She said this to empty air, Miranda disappearing before she could finish her request.

"I guess not," Joy said, pouting. "Let’s send another message back to Lady Shadow, telling her we’ll be here a little longer."

"We might get some company," Janice said. "Lady Q doesn’t like her troopers being kidnapped."

"They weren’t kidnapped," Joy said. "They were borrowed."

"Semantics," Janice said. "What’s for dinner?" she asked, leaning over Joy’s shoulder.

Miranda paused at the edge of the atmosphere. She’d rarely left the planet since ascending, only doing so just to see if she could. But now she had a reason. Someone had stolen her Andrea and she wanted her back. So she reached deep within herself and found the connection to Andrea that she’d made while walking in her dreams. There you are, she thought and pulled herself to it.

Living in a universe with those busybody Ancient Ascended, she wasn’t surprised that the Asgard were able to detect her presence even if she were invisible, alarms going off as she emerged in a large room occupied by the missing people, and an alien. She’d never seen one of the Asgard up close before and she wasn’t impressed. They were a living cliche and she didn’t do cliches.

Miranda floated over to Andrea, who was being supported by her bodyguards, and made her presence known, interrupting the pointless discussion between the SGC people and the alien.

"Andrea, Ladies, Colonel O’Neill," she said, causing them to jump in surprise. "What is the meaning of this interference," she asked the alien.

The alien blinked at her, radiating surprise.

"Our old pal Loki here, needs a little help," O’Neill said sarcastically. "He expects us to pull his skinny butt out of trouble."

"You shall return Major Carter and Colonel O’Neill, and we shall be leaving," she said.

"It isn’t that simple," Carter said. "Besides, we’re already too far from Earth."

"I’m sure Loki," she raised an eyebrow at saying the creature’s name, "can turn this contraption around."

"We need to help him, Miranda," Andy said.

"Why?" Miranda asked, with all the disdain she could put into a single word, as she stared at the silent Asgardian.

"One of his experiments has gotten out of control, and he needs us to stop it," Andy said.

"Why is this our problem?" Miranda said. "The Asgard don’t need us to clean up their messes."

"It’s inside a temporal anomaly," Carter said. "Apparently, we’re the only ones who can enter it."

"Our hard suits are not quite in phase with this universe," Harry said, "So we can slip into the anomaly, fix the problem, and leave."

"I see five people and only three of these hard suits," Miranda said.

"Blah, blah, previous exposure to time loops, blah," O’Neill said. "End of the multiverse if we don’t fix it, yada, yada. Typical day at the office." He winked at Ginny who was giggling.

Shaking her head, Miranda focused on Andrea. "Andrea?"

"Be kind of hard to go home if we let the universe get destroyed," Andy said. "But I think we’re going to need some help."

"Got a platoon in your back pocket?" O’Neill said.

"No, but we have a couple intel specialists available," she said. "Almost as good."

"No, please?" Ginny said. "We don’t need them."

"Yeah, they’re annoying," Harry added.

"Lady Shadow wouldn’t have sent them if they weren’t good," Andy said. "So we’ll need to go back to Earth for a pickup," she told Loki. "Unless you can get them?" she asked Miranda.

"Not over this kind of distance," Miranda said. "I’m not a taxi."

"Co-ordinates of these others?" Loki said.

"We don’t use the same measuring system," Harry said reluctantly. "Got a map?" A large globe of the Earth appeared in the room. "They’re right around here," she said, pointing at a spot on the globe.

"You should send one of us down to explain things," Ginny said. "They’ll probably want to bring some of their toys with them."

"Toys?" Carter said, excitedly. "Tech toys?"

"Yes," Harry said. "They’ve got some really fancy things."

"Wow," Joy said, looking around. "Not what I expected for an alien space ship. Kind of plain."

"Boring," Janice added. "If our ships were like this we’d be having riots."

"Small riots," Joy said, seeing the alarmed look on Carter’s face. "Or maybe lots of parties."

"They’re kidding," Ginny said. "We’re more about the orgies than riots."

"And video games," Janice said. "But enough about us, what exactly do we need to do?"

"We need to sneak into a time anomaly, on a heavily guarded planet, and turn it off," Andy said. "There might be aliens."

"Goa'uld? Or something else?" Janice asked.

"Loki, why did you build this lab right in the middle of a Goa'uld System Lord’s planet?" O’Neill said. "You couldn’t find some nice empty moon somewhere?"

"The planet was empty," Loki said in his monotone voice. "There was no reason for it to be otherwise."

"Ah," O’Neill said. "And you couldn’t move your experiment when they showed up? They aren’t the best of neighbors. Property values tend to go down when they show up."

"Why is immaterial," Miranda said. "More information is needed."

"Good thing you have us," Joy said. "More information is our specialty."

"A squad of Lady Q’s finest would also be nice," Harry said. "And some planning. Lady Miranda, I would suggest that the guy with the grey hair be in charge of the planning. According to what the Shadows could dig up, his file is so blacked out they ran out of ink."

"We need deep intel before we can plan anything," O’Neill said. "There aren’t enough of us to afford any John Wayne maneuvers."

"Who?" Janice said. "Or what’s a John Wayne?"

"Kids," O’Neill grumbled under his breath. "It doesn’t matter. It’s just an expression."

"Yes, do as he says, not as he does," Carter said, smirking.

"What’s the exact goal?" O’Neill said, looking at Loki. "Go in, and destroy your lab? And turn off some doohickey before it explodes? Anything you want us to bring back? A cup of soup, some crystals?"

"You do not need to bring anything back, O’Neill," Loki said. "After you enable the lab’s self destruction apparatus, the shields will go down for several of your seconds just before the destruction and I will retrieve all desirable data at that moment."

"And you will retrieve us at the same time, I’m assuming," O’Neill said. "I have no fondness for a suicide mission."

"Yes," Loki said.

"I shall ensure that he does," Miranda said firmly.

"Good, good," O’Neill said. "So we have our exit taken care of, though we’ll need to work out the timing. What’s our deadline?"

"Deadline?" Loki gave him a faintly puzzled look.

"How much time do we have to get ready for this? When will it be too late," O’Neill said.

"Forty-eight of your hours," Loki said.

"Okay gang, that’s not a lot of time to get ready," O’Neill said. "What do we have for equipment and what do we need ol’ Loki here to get for us."

"And not a lot of time to get intel," Joy said. "How soon do we get there and how fast can you insert us into the chaos."

"We shall arrive within transport distance of the lab in twenty hours.," Loki said.

"Cutting it a bit close," Andy said.

"Plenty of time," O’Neill said, "Right Carter?"

"Yes, sir," Carter said, shaking her head. "What kind of weapons do you have in those suits?" she asked.

"Depends on the suit," Harry said. "We’ve got pulse cannons and miniature rockets. And a few other close quarter weapons. And we’re very mobile. The Shadows have mostly stealth based weapons."

"Monofilament whips, knives, and energy weapons," Janice said. "Mainly defensive."

"We don’t have anything, thanks Loki," O’Neill said. There was a flash of light and a pile of weapons appeared in the center of the room. "I take it back. Some nice P90’s, a few knives, and some C4. Just what the doctor ordered."

"Miranda, do you plan to come with us?" Andy said, looking at her wife.

"Not visibly," she said. She didn’t plan to fight but she certainly wasn’t letting Andrea go without her. And in an emergency she could pull her out.

"So, we’re armed, we’re dangerous, now we just need a plan to tie it all up in a little bow," O’Neill said.

"What’s the plan?" Andy asked.

"Simple plans are the best," Carter said. "Joy and Janice go in and gather intel first. Then we go in and enable the self destruct and get out of there."

"Do we all have experience in this kind of situation?" Andy said. "Because I’ve only done sims with the suit I’m wearing now."

"What exactly is your job?" O’Neill asked, frowning.

"I used to be a journalist," Andy said. "Did you ever see that movie 'Monument Men'?"

"World War II and a team of Army soldiers run around Europe grabbing as much looted Nazi art as they can find before it disappears?" Carter said.

"More or less," Andy said. "That’s what I’ve been doing. But we just record everything. Requires stealth."

"She’s the 'Art Shadow'," Joy said, giggling.

"She’s qualified in all aspects of hard suit combat," Ginny said. "Just needs a little experience and Lady Q’ll snap her right up. She’s got excellent suit reflexes."

"When we get out of here I’d like to try one of these suits," O’Neill said.

"Even if we had spare suits with us, we don’t have fittings for the testosterone impaired," Harry said. "Carter might be able to wear one, if she fits the DNA profile."

"DNA profile?" Carter said, curious.

"You need Clan DNA for the suits to work at their full potential," Harry said.

"Or at all," Ginny added.

"Like needing Ancient DNA to operate their equipment or naquadah in your blood to operate most Goa'uld tech," Carter said.

"Oh, is that what that meant," Joy muttered to herself. "Yes," she said loudly. "And the new hard suits like the ones Lady Andrea, Harriet, and Ginny are wearing also require nanites that only work with Clan DNA."

"Looks like you’re out of luck then Carter," O’Neill said. "No new toys for you."

Carter looked up from where she was sorting through the equipment Loki had dumped in a pile. "The NID would probably confiscate it," she said.

"They do have sticky fingers," he said, agreeing with her. "Hey Loki, got a place we can test these? Firing range? Large empty hold?"

"Yes, O’Neill," Loki said.

"Okay, that is impressive," O’Neill said, after the five hard suit wearing women had displayed what their suits were capable of doing. "How much of that can be used if it isn’t attached to your suit?"

"Nothing," Ginny said. "It’s all powered by the suit."

"Which, as we mentioned earlier, only works for select members of our studio audience," Harry said, while over the comm Miranda could hear a rapid discussion between Andrea and the Shadow troopers about the things they weren’t telling the two Air Force officers.

"I don’t think they need to know about the suit self-destruct," Andy said.

"But they blow up with a huge bang," Joy said. "We might need that."

"You wouldn’t have to be the one to tell Lady Q’s Armorer that you destroyed a prototype hard suit," Andy said quietly.

"They can just make more," Joy said. "It’s ninety percent nanite anyway. Those things are indestructible. That’s what makes them near quantum explosion proof."

"Quantum explosion proof?" Miranda said, interrupting them. "Our Earth has moved beyond nuclear weapons?"

"Well, the Clan has some interesting devices," Andy said. "But they haven’t given any weapons tech to our world governments. And Lady Shadow probably won’t allow that."

"Ladies, something you want to share with the rest of the class," O’Neill asked.

"No," Andy said.

"Nope," Joy and Janice echoed. "Nothing to share."

"Okay..." O’Neill said. Carter shook her head.

"O’Neill, we are approaching the planet," Loki’s voice said, echoing in the large space.

"Time to get ready, kids," O’Neill said. "Let’s not leave anyone or anything behind."

"What’s the verdict," Andy asked Joy and Janice once they’d been retrieved from the planet.

"Crowded," Joy said. "The lab is right in the middle of a huge pyramid palace thing. We’re going to need a big distraction."

"The biggest," Janice added.

"We’ve got plenty of distraction," O’Neill said, holding up a block of C4. "You’ve got the speed to place this in a few strategic places without being seen, and then we blow it up."

"Our suits should be impervious to any small scale explosions," Harry said. "But I’d rather not have them blow up while we’re holding them."

"Of course not," O’Neill said. "Carter has just the thing for that."

"Do we have any spare external comm units?" Andy asked. "Having us all on the same channel would be a good idea. Preferably the encrypted ones."

"We have a couple for the non-suits," Joy said. "We didn’t know who we’d find. Lady Miranda has hers, as you might have noticed."

"And who told her about the private channels," Andy asked, winking at Miranda.

"You married a genius," Harry said. "She figured it all out herself."

"There are a number of benefits to ascending," Miranda said. "Especially if you aren’t from this universe."

"Like what?" Carter said.

"I’m sure you can discuss that all later," O’Neill said. "Comm units?"

"Right," Joy said, handing an earpiece and small patch to Carter and O’Neil. "The patch is the control unit. Stick it somewhere on your skin - it won’t fall off unless you remove it. The earpiece also is self sticking. Three channels. The common channel for everyone. We’ll all hear anything you say on it. A channel for private conversations. And a team channel. In your case that would be the two of you."

"So, no one can eavesdrop on us?" Carter said.

"Only one person can access all live channels," Janice said. "Lady Shadow, but she’s not here and the range for these is only a couple clicks without our sat boosters. And it doesn’t work through that portal."

"Our Clan historian, Lady Memory, also has access to all recorded comm channel traffic for historical purposes," Joy said. "But the external comms don’t have much capacity."

"Okay," O’Neill said. "So we don’t discuss anything sensitive. And how do we use them?"

"It’s all in your head," Andy said.

"She’s not kidding," Ginny said. "You control it with your mind. No lip movement required."

"I heard that," Carter said excitedly. "So the comm unit translates your thoughts into words and transmits them on the designated channel?"

"None of you have earpieces," Jack said.

"We have implants," Joy said. "It gets us more than the audio you get but they only work if you’re Clan. And they’re designed to work with our suits and other equipment."

"I think I’ll skip that version then," Jack said.

"So your comms aren’t just audio," Carter said. "What don’t you have?"

"No live video," Harry said. "Our suits have video that the implants can control but not for communicating. That takes too much power, more than we can squeeze into the implants."

"And why earpieces if they read our thoughts?" Carter asked.

"Tradition?" Janice said. "They’ve always looked like that."

"It’s the nano tech," Joy said. "Only Clan can use it, so those are the non-nanotech versions of our comms. Still miniaturized, but still needs space. And where else would you put it?"

"Ready?" O’Neill asked, putting the earpiece in. After receiving confirmation from the others he waved at Loki.

Chapter Text

"You think they knew we were coming?" O’Neill asked, ducking behind a short wall to avoid a burst of staff fire. "Loki must not be as good at hiding things as he thinks."

"Fortunately, you brought us along," Harry said, as she and Ginny leapt out into the hallway and started firing at the large number of Jaffa blocking the entrance.

"Why’d we even come along," O’Neill said, watching the Jaffa warriors dropping like flies under the onslaught of weapons fire from the two women.

"Because you don’t trust Loki," Carter said, leaning around the wall to send a burst of bullet fire at several Jaffa trying to sneak closer. "And you wanted to see them in action."

"They are extremely efficient," he said. "And staff blasts are just bouncing off their armor. We really need the recipe for that material."

"I’m sure we can negotiate some mutually beneficial arrangement," Janice said. "We’re some of the best traders in our galaxy."

"Not if you give away all of our secrets," Joy said, grumbling.

"Ladies, we need to know where Loki’s lab is," Andy said over their comm. "Save the comedy routine for some other time."

"But we’re just getting to our best material," Joy said.

"Save it for later," Andy repeated.

"Yes, ma’am," Joy said. "We have to go through that room."

"The throne room?" Carter asked.

"Yes," Janice said. "The entrance to the lab is in a storage room on the other side."

"So, it must have been obvious when the Goa’uld came here if they have a door into it," Carter said.

"A not so hidden secret lab," O’Neill said.

"I get the impression that Loki has no idea," Andy said.

"You’d be correct," Carter said. "He tends to ignore anything not directly affecting his experiments."

"Do we have an alternate extraction plan?" Andy asked. "Miranda isn’t going to be able to get us all out of here if things blow up in our faces. Just grabbing Jan and Joy wiped her out."

"Stargate," Carter said. "As long as there’s a Stargate, and there should be if there’s a Goa’uld presence, we have a way out."

"Good," Andy said. She triggered her comm. "Joy, Janice, we need to find the nearest Stargate to us."

"That big metallic ring thing?" Joy asked.

"Affirmative," Carter said. "It’s our backup way out."

"Okay. There's one showing up on our scans several of your kilometers east of us," Janice said.

"Can you work out several paths to it from the lab?" Carter said.

'Working on it," Joy said.

"That was fast," Carter said to Andy, over the private channel.

"They’re experts at gathering intel," Andy said. "The Clan isn’t that big so they need to know what is going on around them."

"You don’t consider yourself part of this clan?" Carter asked.

"Technically, I’m not," Andy said. "Wrong DNA. But my family is considered honorary Clan. Our daughters are Clan, from Lady Shadow’s original Clan, though Miranda hasn’t explained how that is possible yet. My Aunt Sue runs the Clan peacekeepers, though she has no Clan blood."

"Sound very soap-ish," Carter said.

"That’s one way to look at it," Andy said, agreeing. "Clan family relationships can be complex. But it works."

"Four different routes to the Stargate," Joy said. "Uploading them to all hard suits and Major Carter’s data pad."

"When we get out of here, you need to show me how you did that," Carter said. "I designed the security on that myself. You shouldn’t be able to access it."

"Sure thing, Major," Janice said. "Lady Shadow has written some tools that can break into almost anything."

"I’m almost afraid to ask what the 'almost' means," Carter said, grimacing.

"I try not to think too hard about what they are capable of," Andy said in a low voice. "My tech culture was almost on a par with yours until recently. A lot of it seems like magic to me, and not in a Clarke’s Law kind of way."

"The Ancients are that way," Carter said.

"If you ladies are done chatting," O’Neill said, interrupting them, "we now have a straight path to the throne room." He waved at the suddenly quiet hallway.

"They’re efficient," Sam said.

"Scary efficient," Andy said. "But they are some of the best troopers we have. And we’re going to need them."

"A lot of fighting in your universe?" Sam asked.

Andy shrugged. "We’re getting ready for a war."

"Bugs, Mr. Rico. Zillions of em!" Joy said, in a deep voice.

"Bugs?" Carter said. "That’s what you’re fighting?"

"No, that’s just a line from an old novel about soldiers who wore armour similar to old style Clan hard suits," Andy said. "Very popular with some troopers."

"Our suits are prettier," Ginny said over the comm. "And a lot tougher. You could bounce a quantum nuke off one of ours and barely scratch the paint."

"Really?" Carter asked, as they cautiously came out in to the Hall.

"No," Janice said. "She’s exaggerating. The Q troops do that. Nothing survives ground zero. But most radiation bounces off. And anything outside half a kilometer is survivable."

"And the bounce is awesome," Harry said. "Since the radiation can't go through a hard suit, it’s like getting a big push in the opposite direction."

"Is it occupied?" O’Neill asked, standing off to one side as Harry and Ginny prepared to enter the throne room.

"A couple energy grenades and not anymore," Harry said. "Except that thing in the middle behind that energy shield."

"Too bad," O’Neill said. "I was hoping your energy weapons would take care of that."

"It’s all about the angles," Harry said, stepping into the throne room. "And the power ratings."

"You can either have suits with long lasting power sources, or suits with high powered weapons," Ginny said. "It’s a trade-off. For heavy action we have other suit designs and load-outs."

Entering the throne room, they stopped in front of a glittering shield. A female figure could be seen through the haze. Pieces of armor and Jaffa were scattered around the room in bloody clumps.

"It does seem to be in shock at the moment," Ginny said.

"Not very much with the self preservation," Harry said. "Somebody fighting outside my throne room and blowing up my minions, and I’d be running away."

"You’re not Goa’uld," O’Neill said. "Though this one seems a bit on the quiet side."

"Looks like the grenades shocked it through the shield," Andy said. "Should we question it or get what we came for?"

"Lab first, then ask questions," Carter said. "Daniel will want to know who they are."

The Goa’uld seemed to shake itself off. "You! Bow down before your Goddess!" it said, its voice echoing in the room.

"Not my Goddess," Harry said, snickering. "And I think her equipment is defective."

"Ginny, keep it company while we do what we came for," Andy told her. "Don’t let any reinforcements into the room."

"Got it," Ginny said.

"Joy, where’s the door to the lab?" Carter asked.

"Here," Joy said, stepping around the shielded Goa’uld and behind the throne. She pressed a hand against a small engraved figure on the wall and there was a loud rumbling. A large portion of the wall slid up into the ceiling.

"What are you doing!" the Goa’uld demanded, as they slipped by it to the lab door.

"Got a name?" Ginny asked, trying to distract it.

"I am Ixchel," the creature said.

"No," Ginny said, shaking her head. "Ixchel was lost during the Passage of the Nine to the underworld."

"I am Ixchel," the creature insisted. "And what do you know of the lost Nine, the heart of the Dragon Clan."

"You are a Goa’uld parasite," Ginny said. "You cannot be our Ixchel."

"Who are you," Ixchel asked. "What do you know of the Nine?"

"My Nine are not yours," Ginny said, pompously. "The Nine are the ruling Council of the Clan of the Serpent of the Traveling Clans of the Way."

"My Nine have been gone for a long time, since Ra chased us from the lands of the west," Ixchel said.

"You know the true history of the Clans?" Ginny asked. "You know that you are not a goddess of the clans? It’s all just Clan myth?"

"How do you know such secrets," Ixchel asked.

"I am one of the Lady of the Hands most trusted," Ginny said.

Miranda, unable to enter the lab in her energy form without turning on alarms, decided to join the conversation, materializing next to the suited Ginny.

"Ixchel, is that your name or the name of your host?"

"What’s going on out there?" Andy asked, hearing the conversation between Ginny and Ixchel as they cautiously traveled down the long descending passage to Loki’s lost lab.

"Ginny’s been studying the ancient Clan histories, in her spare time," Harry said. "The Goa'uld thinks it’s one of our Clan goddesses."

"Is that possible?" Andy said.

"Alternate universe," Joy said. "The Clan doesn’t actually exist here. Now anyway."

"All Goa'uld system lords claim to be Earth gods or goddesses," Carter said. "This is the first one we’ve run into who claimed to be from Central America."

"What do we do with it?" Andy asked.

"Kill it?" O’Neill said. "You really don’t want one of them running around your place if you can help it. Very unsanitary."

"From the little I’ve been able to dig up on the Goa'uld, I suspect Clan DNA would be fatal to them, to say nothing of what the nanites would do if one tried to grab one of us," Janice said.

"If only," Sam said. "I’ve had that experience and would rather not repeat it."

"The NID data I scanned has a lot of info on your decent to the To’kra side," Janice told her.

"There shouldn’t be any NID data on that," Carter said. "You’ll have to show me where you found it."

"You lot are very chatty," O’Neill said, as they reached the end of the passage.

"It’s all comm traffic. Heavily encrypted, and no one can hear us," Harry said.

"That was a yes," Andy said.

"You should hear Lady Q in full battle mode," Ginny said. "She’s awesome!"

"She’s also the most talented battle leader the Clan has had in one hundred generations," Joy said. "At least that’s what Lady Shadow claims."

"Are all of your leaders women?" Carter asked as she examined the grey door at the end of the passage. "This is not typical Goa'uld or Asgard construction."

"There are no men in our Clan," Janice said. "Just a bunch of femmes."

"Speak for yourself," Harriet said, with a smirk. "Some of those Fleet engineers can be awful butch when they want to."

"This looks like a really old Clan design," Joy said, interrupting them. "Maybe that Goa’uld is Clan, somehow. At least this universe’s version."

"What’s that mean?" Carter asked.

"Can’t kill her," Joy said. "Extremely bad karma to kill Clan, even if they are possessed by evil parasites. Only the Council of Nine can pass judgement."

"None of that matters if we can’t get this open," O’Neill said.

Janice examined the door, moving her hand scanner along the edges. "Looks like Serpent Clan tech installed by an incompetent Red Pirate tech. Piece of cake." Placing her scanner next to the door jamb, she pushed a couple buttons.

A low humming filled the end of the passage. Carter sniffed at the sudden smell of heavy ozone. There was a loud click and the the door slowly slide into the wall.

"Not quite C4 excitement," O’Neill said, "but open is open."

"If you wanted explosions you should have asked Ginny to open it," Joy said. "She excels at the flashy stuff. In the Shadows we’re all about the stealth."

Shaking her head, Carter cautiously entered the lab.

"This is what an Asgard lab looks like?" Andy said. "From the way Loki’s ship looks like this isn’t what I expected."

"It’s not," Carter said. "It’s not a lab. It’s an Ancient cryogenic facility." She walked over to the far wall and started examining the console built into it.

"But there’s the big red destruct button," Jack said. "So, why does Loki want us to blow up whatever’s in here?"

"After he grabs whatever is in the data storage," Andy said. "Is it actually malfunctioning like he claimed?"

"Our sensors are detecting serious chromo fluctuations," Joy said. "Reality is getting a bit thin in here."

"So, it’s doing what?" Andy asked, sharing a puzzled look with O’Neill. "For the non-tech science people in the room."

"Loki was correct about this needing to shut down," Carter said. "If it escalates it’ll become a spatial anomaly that’ll swallow up this entire solar system, if I’m reading it correctly."

"It’s worse than that," Janice said. "The energy in this area is showing signs of a destabilized portal like the one we came through. If it’s triggered, this whole system is going to become a portal leading somewhere."

"And that would be bad?" O’Neill asked.

"Buffy Glory apocalypse bad," Joy said.

"Did you understand that Carter?" O’Neill said.

"TV pop culture reference, sir," Sam said. "Villain of the week opens a portal between universes and everything starts to merge before the hero stops it. As good a description as any."

"So, something we want to avoid," O’Neill said.

"Yes sir," Carter said. "To be avoided."

"I think we should keep her," Joy said. "She gets my references."

"I’m sure the Colonel prefers to keep her," Andy said.

"You betcha," O’Neill said. "So, what’s the plan? Do we still want to press the big red button?"

"If it’s the only way to stop it," Carter said.

"And Loki?"

"He wants something here," Sam said. "If we can keep it from him it would be good."

"Well, get to finding the hidden treasure," O’Neill said. "We’ve got two hours before Loki comes looking for us, unless he has us bugged?"

"We’re blocking any listening devices," Janice said. "Standard OP."

"Eggcellent," O’Neill said, rubbing his hands together. "Maybe we should consider a recruitment speech?"

"You can’t afford them," Andy said.

"I’m sure we can work out an arrangement," Jack said.

"Boss, we’ve got company coming," Harry said from her position near the door. "Ginny’s bringing the faux goddess down here."

"You dare bring one of them into my presence?" Ixchel said, nervously stepping away from Miranda.

"Had encounters with them before?" Ginny asked.

"You do not appear to be a typical Goa'uld," Miranda said, circling Ixchel. "I had not heard it was possible to blend in such a fashion."

"I am your goddess," Ixchel said, "You will do as I command."

"I think not," Miranda said. "I have no need for petty squabbles. You will explain yourself."

"We’re running out of time," Ginny said.

"Time for what," Ixchel said. "Where did the others go? The Tau’ri soldiers and the guards of my people."

"Do you know what is below this room?" Miranda asked.

"It is my sleeping chamber," Ixchel said.

"When did you last sleep in it?" Miranda asked.

"I do not recall," Ixchel said. "Ra mustn’t know of it. His Jaffa do not belong near it. They disturbed my rest, for which I destroyed them."

"What do you think she is," Ginny asked over the comm channel.

"A mystery," Miranda said. "We cannot leave her here."

"We can’t leave this open," Ginny said. "It’s our only way out."

"You’ve killed all of the Jaffa in the temple," Miranda said. "We will take her down to her chamber."

"Yes, ma’am," Ginny said reluctantly. "Ixchel, your presence is requested below. We have questions concerning your chamber."

Ixchel nodded reluctantly, before turning and leading the way down the passage.

"What do you expect to happen?" Ginny asked Miranda over the comm.

"She is Goa'uld, but not exactly," Miranda said.

"What is she then?" Ginny asked.

"The answer is below in that chamber. She is hiding something," Miranda said. "She is much older than she looks, and much older than even a Goa'uld should be."

"I’d forgotten how cryptic you old farts can be," Ginny said. "I bet you would get along with Lady Q’s crazy grandmother. She’s a Hungarian princess."

"Your Lady Q is not full blooded Clan?" Miranda asked.

"She is now, it’s a whole Clan genetics thing," Ginny said, as they slowly headed after the reluctant Ixchel. "I’m sure the Council can explain everything. Though your daughters are full clan but you aren’t. Explain that one."

"The Clan of the Serpent is not the only of the Clans to travel to a small out of the way planet," Miranda said. "They may have prior claim but it’s easy to hide if you need to avoid galactic entanglements. The girl’s father was one such."

"Ha! I knew it," Ginny said. "It doesn’t explain Lady Andy’s affinity with Clan tech."

"I was not aware of that until recently," Miranda said. "And the girl’s father did not explain about the workings of the Confederation. Once we return, I expect to learn more."

"I’m sure Lady Shadow can figure it out eventually, but we’ve been really busy."

"Preparing for war, yes, I’ve heard that," Miranda said.

"What are you doing in my sleeping chamber!" Ixchel said, stepping into the large chamber, followed by Ginny and Miranda.

"Sleeping chamber?" Carter said. "Can you show us what you mean?"

"It is my sleeping chamber," Ixchel repeated. She walked over to a section of wall covered with Mayan looking petroglyphs. Placing her hands on hand shaped spaces a shoulder’s width apart, she leaned forward. The wall in front of her turned transparent and opened. "My chamber," Ixchel said. "Where I rest."

"Ah," Carter said. "A stasis chamber of some sort?"

"It’s the center of the energy disturbance," Joy said. "I suspect it’s broken."

"And causing the energy fluctuations you are seeing?" Carter asked.

"Yes," Joy said.

"That can’t be healthy, even for a Goa'uld," Carter said.

"It explains so much," Miranda said. "How long have you been using this chamber?"

"I do not recall," Ixchel said. "We came here after Ra was chased from the Tau’ri home world and built our temple above it."

"So, for a very long time," Jack said. "What does it do?"

"It is faulty," Miranda said. "It was an Ancient memory storage and collection facility. Over time it appears to have blended the Goa'uld with her host. They are now one and the same."

"Well, that’s certainly unexpected," O’Neill said. "I don’t think we want Loki and his experiments near her. Who knows what ideas it would give him."

"Can you tell how much is Ixchel and how much is her original host?" Carter asked.

"It really has no meaning at this point," Miranda said. "I do not have the knowledge of Ancient technology to split them or to even know if it is possible to do so."

"And the Ascended Ancients?"

"Would they help her?" Miranda asked. "If she has been this way for so long, I suspect they would not."

"So she comes with us," Andy said. "She doesn’t belong here any more than we do."

"You will take me back to my people?" Ixchel asked, a hopeful note in her voice.

"We cannot," Andy said. "Too much time has passed. But our Council may be willing to give you asylum among our Clan."

"Sure you want to do that?" O’Neill asked. "Snakes, blended or not, are not trustworthy."

"Do not all people deserve a chance?" Miranda asked. "Your friend Teal’c is an example of someone you gave a chance to."

"She’s Clan, in a way," Harry said. "We’ll take responsibility for her. Our Ixchel was a healer and fierce warrior."

"Your funeral if she bites back," O’Neill said. "So, we know what’s causing this. Some wacky Ancient doohickey is having a meltdown. And Loki wants it. I say we don’t let him have it. How do we stop that from happening?"

"Loki wants the contents of the memory banks," Carter said. "Do we have any way of taking it first?"

"Depends on the storage capacity needed," Joy said. "We can handle a couple petabytes directly."

"It is Ancient," Carter said. "There will be backup crystal storage available."

"Crystal storage? Like that?" Janice pointed at a meter high cabinet with faintly glowing crystals inside."

"Exactly," Carter said, quickly going over to it. "Carrying it might be an issue. We’d have to leave behind some of our equipment."

"I will carry it," Miranda said. "But I will be unable to carry anything else. The crystal resonates with my energy form in an unusual way."

"We’ve still got an hour until Loki wants us back," O’Neill said. "Can you move everything you want to keep from Loki to there and pack it up for her?"

"It’ll be close," Carter said, "but between the four of us it should be possible. Just keep any stray Jaffa out of here."

"There’s no other entrance?" O’Neill asked.

"None," Joy said.

"We’ll set up in the throne room. More room to maneuver," he said. "Ginny, if you could keep an eye on our snake so she doesn’t interfere?"

"Will do," Ginny said.

O’Neill nodded, leading Andy and Harry back up to the throne room. Grabbing a device from the floor, he said "A little clean up would be good. This is a zat. Not sure if you can handle them with your suited hands. One shot knocks you out, two kills, and three does this." He demonstrated on a dead Jaffa guard.

Andy shook her hand and it transformed into a glove, replacing the armor it had been covered with. "Of course," she said. Picking up another zat she began the task of cleaning up the death Jaffa, grimacing as she did.

"Ugh!" Harry said, also grabbing a zat. "Reminds me of that time we cleaned up after wiping out that drug lord and minions."

"So you don’t just fight bugs?" O’Neill said, after they’d finished removing any traces of Ixchel’s Jaffa guards.

"We have our own enclave in the Yucatan," Harry said. "We have a strict no addictive hard drugs policy and the local drug lords didn’t take us seriously. They learned the hard way."

"It was before my time," Andy said, "but Lady Q’s troops have a well deserved reputation for hitting hard and fast."

"No beer?" O’Neill asked, looking horrified.

"Yes, we have beer," Harry said. "And other types of alcohol."

"Had me worried for a moment," he said. "How’d you end up on your Earth? You don’t sound like real aliens."

"It’s a long story involving the Mayan apocalypse, and a missing Clan, and Bugs," Harry said.

"They’re basically the local space cops," Andy said. "They picked our Earth for their base a few thousand years ago to use while policing that part of the galaxy. Something happened, and the base disappeared, and the Mayans living on the Yucatan are their descendants. A thousand years later the Galactic Confederation noticed and sent members of the same clan to investigate."

"And to get things ready for a war," Harry said. "They gave us a decade."

"The Bugs," O’Neill said. "If you have this huge galactic government why aren’t they helping?"

"Which aren’t really bugs but that’s a different matter. The Clan is the help," Andy said. "The Bugs are attacking other sectors and other Clans are fighting them there. But the galaxy is huge and they won’t reach us for a few more years, even at the speeds they are traveling."

"And while that is happening, why are you here in this universe?" O’Neill asked, as they kept watch.

"Lady Shadow discovered that Miranda was possibly here, and I wanted her back," Andy said. "Would you have left your wife lost in another universe if you could go after her?"

"Of course not," O’Neill said. "But she’s ascended so there’s no rush, right?"

"We didn’t know that," Andy said. "And the portal is unstable. There’s no guarantee it will be open still. A stray Bug might go through it or they might do something to destabilize it even more."

"A Bug might go through it," O’Neill said. "Any plans to tell us?"

"If it happened we would have come after it," Andy said. "But the plan was to figure out a way to close the portal before that could happen."

"Good," O’Neill said. "You’ll want your experts to talk with Sam. She’s our portal expert."

"We’ve noticed," Andy said. "But first we need to deal with Loki."

"If we can get to the local Stargate we don’t need him," O’Neill said. "And we should probably warn the other Asgard that their little mad scientist needs a spanking again."

"So he’s done things like this before?" Andy asked.

"Yup," O’Neill said. "He likes to clone people and see what happens."

"We have a 'no clone' policy in our universe," Harry said. She paused, and said "Looks like we have company headed this way." She closed up her suit, the suit helmet covering her face. Andy quickly followed suit.

"And they’re just outside the room," Harry said. "They can’t seem to decide to come in."

"Jaffa live longer if they show a healthy respect for their bosses," O’Neill said. "Goa'uld tend to torture first, ask questions later."

"We have no idea how many are on this planet, do we," Andy said.

"Or how many have come thru the gate since we got here," O’Neill said.

"Hey Janice," Andy said. "Did you place any monitors near the portal?"

"Of course," she replied over the comm. "It hasn’t been active since."

"So any of these Jaffa we run into are already here?" Andy asked. "Thanks."

"So, you have company?" Janice said. "We need another twenty and then we can join you."

"Twenty, copy," O’Neill said. "We can hold out that long."

"Phew," Andy said, after the last Jaffa charge. "They don’t stop, do they."

"They prefer hand-to-hand," O’Neill said. "And getting hit by a staff blast can be a real day ender. Though it looks like it hasn’t done much to either of you."

"The suit has great energy dissipation," Harry said. "But too many hits and eventually it’ll damage like anything else. Those staff are just too low power to do that."

"And the Chief takes any damage to her suits seriously so avoiding that is a good thing," she added.

"Her suits?" O’Neill said.

"You know techs," Harry said, laughing. "The equipment belongs to them and we’re just borrowing it. There was this one time where a drug lord minion scratched the paint on Lady Q’s command suit and the Chief chewed her out for an hour about trying to stop rockets by standing in front of them. She wasn’t happy."

"I think that was the last of them, for now," O’Neill said.

"Did you leave any for us?" Ginny asked, coming out of the tunnel.

"There’ll be plenty near the gate," he said.

"Did you set the self destruct?" Andy asked, as the last of them exited the tunnel.

"All set," Carter said. "Thirty second delay, remote trigger. And they won’t know it’s there until it’s too late." She slapped the wall next to the door, causing it to slide back into place, appearing once more like the rest of the wall.

"And nothing for Loki?" Jack asked.

"Nope," Janice said. "Lady Miranda has it, though she can’t be in her solid form while carrying it all."

"No," Miranda said over the comm. "Only while in this form."

"We’ll do something about that as soon as we can, babe," Andy said. "Is Ixchel still going back with us?" she asked, giving the Goa'uld a quick glance.

"That whole merger thing messed her up," Ginny said. "They were keeping her prisoner more or less, waiting for their Lord to come for her."

"She’s not Goa'uld anymore, or at least doesn’t think like one," Miranda said.

"Ready to blow this popsicle stand?" O’Neill asked. "Suits at the front and back, everyone else in the middle?"

"I’ll scout ahead," Harry said.

"Okay," O’Neill said. "Let’s go."

Harry jumped out into the hallway to draw any fire, but it was eerily quiet. "Nobody here except the dead," she reported back. "Moving forward."

Except for a few Jaffa taking potshots from a distance, and learning to their detriment how accurate Ginny and Harry were, they traveled the five clicks to the Stargate with no trouble.

"Ready to destroy the 'lab'?" O’Neill asked, as they rearranged themselves just out of sight of the gate..

"Yes," Carter said. Joy handed her a small device with several buttons on it.

"No big red button?" O’Neill asked.

"They were all out," Joy said.

Carter pushed the button. For thirty seconds there was absolute silence and then a low rumble for several seconds before silence again.

"All monitors report destruction of the temple," Janice said. "It’s just a big hole."

"And a surprise for Loki," Carter said. "And we should get going before he notices."

"Usual destination?" O’Neill said, getting up and standing over the DHD.

"The other one this time, sir," Carter said. "We stick out a little too much this way."

"Okay," O’Neill said. "Beaches and sand it is." He carefully entered their destination address. "Everyone stand back," he said, before pushing the last button. There was a subvocal hum and a sudden whooshing sound. A silvery substance appeared inside the ring.

"Carter first," O’Neill said. "Then one at a time."

Nodding, Carter lifted her knapsack over her shoulder, held her P90 at the ready, and stepped into the gate.

"Nothing to it," O’Neill said. "Next."

After the last of the women had gone through, O’Neill quickly followed, giving a last glance behind as he did so. With a large hum, the gate closed down and there was silence.

Chapter Text

Jack came through the Gate to find the others standing on the edge of the platform, gazing across a snow covered plain. High, snow covered peaks could be seen off in the distance.

"This isn’t the beach," Harry said over the comm. "It’s nothing like a beach at all," she said.

"We wouldn’t want to lead them right to our favorite spot, would we?" he said. "The beach is a couple gates up the line."

"You’re the experts," Ginny said, drowning out Harry’s grumbling. "So, where to next?"

"There’s an Ancient outpost here," Miranda said. "The crystals can feel it."

"They’re alive?" Sam said, excitedly. "We’ve never been able to determine what makes them so special."

"A very low level life form," Miranda said. "Not being an Ancient, I can’t tell you how or why, just that I can feel them living. Very slowly."

"Right. Sorry," Sam said. "There’s another Gate at the outpost, high in those mountains. But it’s too risky with this weather."

"We can handle it," Joy said. "Our hard suits are all weather capable."

"No time," Andy said. "But I bet there’s some awesome skying up there."

"We’ll just have to find this world in our universe and go there," Ginny said, nodding.

"It’s a tourist trap," Janice said.

"How do you know?" Ginny asked.

"They’re the Ice Mountains of Trall," Janice said. "I recognized them from some travel show. One of the most popular travel destination in the Crystal Clan’s territory. The waiting list for accommodations is measured in years."

"Skip," Harry said. "We’ve got our own mountains to ski in."

"Think the next one will be something we’ll recognize?" Ginny asked. "Or was this just a coincidence?"

"Coincidence," Joy said.

"You say that now," Ginny said. "Wanna place your bets?"

"No," Joy said. "You have that trooper luck. The next one is probably going to be some famous city in Tiger Clan territory."

"So, next?" Jack said, clearly amused by easily how the others were taking to Gate travel. They all lined up and Sam entered the address. They quickly filed through, trying to guess what it would look like.

Jack stepped through to a similar scene of the others standing around. "Trees and rocks," he said. "But there’s a pond a mile to the west if we had time for fishing."

"This could be almost any world," Ginny said. "Is there any civilization?"

"Towns and cities? Not that we’ve ever found," Jack said. "Some small fishing villages."

"Nope," Harry said. "What’s the next one?"

"I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised," Jack said.

"We weren’t," Sam said, shaking her head. "At least there wasn’t a dragon."

"Sam, you’ll spoil the surprise," Jack said, dialing another address.

They came out of the Gate looking across a mist enshrouded valley, dominated by a large stone castle on the far side.

"A castle? How far away is it?" Joy asked. "Why isn’t it near the Gate?"

"The local warlord built it," Jack said. "He liked kidnapping travelers and holding them for ransom."

"Or worse," Sam said. "He had an agreement with the local System Lord to provide candidates."

"Candidates?" Ginny asked.

"To become hosts for Goa'uld," Sam said. "The peasants revolted and killed him and the System Lord, and then they were massacred by the next System Lord. Goa'uld may fight each other but they don’t like it when their slaves kill them."

"Typical," Janice said. "If you aren’t part of the boys club you can’t play the game."

"Ignore her," Joy said.

"Bad experience?" Sam asked.

"We don’t talk about it," Janice said, grimacing. "But they regretted not taking her seriously."

"Next?" Andy said. "Are we beach bound yet?"

"Almost," Sam said. "You’re getting the grand tour. Jack likes to show off."

"I’m not showing off," he said. "We don’t want anyone following us."

They jumped through four more gates in the next hour, only stopping long enough for Jack to point out some interesting piece of scenery. The last one was more trees. And a pond next to the gate.

"I liked that ship graveyard planet," Harry said. "I bet we could build our own hot ship from the pieces."

"We aren’t that desperate," Andy said. "But I’m sure with all of our brain power we could also."

"We did," Sam said. "It barely flew but it got us to another Gate several planets over."

"Someone needs to interview you," Joy said. "I bet you have all these cool stories that you could turn into a book or video."

"Too much of it’s classified," Sam said.

"No one needs to know it’s real," Janice said. "Lady S bought a video company. They had a show about aliens walking the earth."

"So she bought it to shut it down?" Sam asked.

"No, they do PR for us," Janice said. "People actually believe their fake stories so every so often Lady S slips in some real facts to see what people think."

"That seems a bit underhanded," Sam said.

"It’s intel," Joy said. "And PR. And all sorts of good things."

"Does your Earth know there’s going to be a war?" Jack asked.

"Not yet," Andy said. "They’re slowly being brought up to speed, both technology wise and information wise. When the Bugs show up, they should be ready."

"So, gradual disclosure?" Sam said.

"Yes," Andy said. "There’s no rule about any of this. We could tell them all in one day. But the Council doesn’t want to deal with the riots that are predicted."

"There were riots, small ones, when the Council announced that anyone with Mayan descendants could petition to join the Clan," Joy said.

"Anyone could join?" Sam asked.

"Anyone with a certain percentage of Clan DNA," Joy said. "They had to come to one of our embassies, and prove their ancestors were part of the Mayan diaspora."

"I was doing a story on it," Andy said. "And got sucked into being part of the cover-up."

"After Lady Shadow bought your newspaper," Ginny said, giggling. "I remember when Lady Q interviewed you. You looked so angry."

"Cover-up? Won’t people be angry when they find out you’ve been lying to them?" Jack said.

"It’s not actually lying," Andy said. "I’m sure Joy and Janice have a better idea how this whole thing works, I know they’ve been involved in studies on how to tell."

"It’s too complex to discuss now," Joy said. "Maybe when we get to the beach?"

"Next stop," Jack said. "Sun, sand, and cool drinks."

"A beach with a bar? We spend our shore leave in Cancun," Ginny said. "Better be some awesome cool drinks."

"Not a bar," Jack said. "But definitely cold drinks."

They lined up again, and Jack entered the coordinates of their next destination. By this point they’d settled into a well rehearsed routine. Harry first, followed by Joy and Janice, then Sam, Ginny, then Ixchel and Miranda. Lastly, Jack brought up the rear.

There was an odd twisting feeling as he stepped through the gate. It was not a normal feeling. He’d been going through Stargates for years and it hadn’t felt like this before.

"This doesn’t look like a beach," Ginny said, as soon as he appeared.

The three troopers were in protective positions around the others, yes, troopers, because although she claimed to be a journalist, Jack couldn’t see Andy as anything else, especially not after seeing her fighting the Jaffa on Ixchel’s planet. No journalist he’d ever met was as deadly in combat. Joy and Janice were closer in, doing something with their scanning toys. Sam was off to the side, like the soldier she was, providing additional cover. Ixchel was huddled next to Miranda.

"What’s wrong," Jack asked, slowly turning in a circle. The Gate on this side was not a familiar design. Instead of looking like an ancient stone ring, it was crystal of some sort, glowing in the bright red overhead sun. "Where are we?"

"Somewhere else," Sam said. "None of the known Stargates in our galaxy are this design."

"Okay..." Jack said, looking around. "Any idea what happened?"

"It was possible we were given a push," Miranda said. "When we stepped through the Ring there was a slight change in the way the Ring felt."

"So, somebody decided to get rid of us?" Jack said.

"The Ascended have been uncomfortable with my presence in their matrix," Miranda said. "Enough of them might have been able to do something."

"You still have the storage crystals?" Sam asked.

"Yes, they have not gone anywhere," Miranda said.

"And what’s with the strange Gate?" Jack asked.

"We were wondering if our universe had any Stargates," Joy said. "Looks like we have an answer. Somehow we slipped into our universe when we went through the Gate this last time."

"They aren’t active," Janice said. "According to its console it hasn’t been activated in several million years."

"Looks in pretty good shape for something that old," Jack said, stepping closer to the ring. "A buff and a polish and it’d be as good as new." He cautiously ran his hand along the crystal-like material. Appearances were deceiving. It wasn’t as smooth as it appeared. By feel he could detect a greater age than his eyes.

"They must predate the Pan-Galactic Confederation," Joy said. "We don’t have any records of them. And this must be an out of the way corner of the galaxy," she added. "We aren’t picking up any comm signals."

"Your comms can detect things at such extreme ranges?" Sam asked.

"Not our ordinary comms," Janice said. "But our scanners should be able to hook into the sub-space frequencies used by long distance comm traffic."

"How do you know where we are then," Jack asked. "This could just be a case of mistaken identity."

"A couple things," Joy said. "No comm traffic on the sub-space bands, but we’re picking up distant Confederation hyper-v navigation buoys."

"Okay, do we know where we are? Where are we?" Jack asked.

"On the good side, we’re still in the Milky Way, in what, in theory, is ancestral Serpent Clan territory." Joy said. "But we’re a long way from Earth."

"So, road trip?" Jack said. "How long will it take us to get home?"

"We don’t know what the closest Ring is to Earth," Andy said. "Or even when we are."

"When?" Jack said. "Time travel?"

"Maybe," Joy said. "Those Confederation buoys are several systems away. Our scanners are just barely able to detect them. We weren’t expecting to find them. And they haven’t been updated in a long, long time. Either we’ve gone into the past or this is an abandoned area."

"Okay. So, we’re on your home turf." jack said. "There’s a Stargate but we don’t know if there are more. And Earth is out there somewhere but we have no idea where."

"We do know where Earth is," Andy said. "Joy has it pinpointed. But we don’t know if there are any Rings near it. So actually getting to it might be a problem."

"We need to tap into the galactic comm channels," Janice said.

"Stick out a thumb and hitch a ride?" Sam said. "You wouldn’t happen to have one of those electronic thumbs from the Hitchhikers Guide?"

"No, that’s fictional," Joy said. "But if we can jack into the sub-space comms we might be able to request a pickup."

"Not to be a skeptic, but trust issues here," Jack said. "Do you trust a random pickup out in the middle of Milky Way nowhere?"

"Nope," Harry said, her attention not wavering from her watch. "Trust Clan only, verify all others."

"Our Clan only, unless we have a contract," Ginny said. "Random Clan won’t sell us to slavers, but they won’t help, beyond traditional support for lost members unless there’s something in it for them."

"Traditional?" Sam asked.

"Food and a place to stay for the night," Andy said. "Clan don’t let Clan starve."

"Good to know. But what about Sam, myself, and ol’ Ixchel?" he asked.

"We need to do something about that before we move from here," Joy said. "You’re unprotected. But there’s no precedent for adding random strangers to the Clan. You’d have to be adopted."

"Got it!" Janice said. "The Ring can be used as an amplifier of sorts. I’m picking up a signal from one of Fleet’s long range probes. They’re out mapping the edges of our precinct."

"Can they come and get us?" Ginny asked.

"Too far away," Joy said "but hopefully they’ll pass a message for us to the Council."

"Okay, let’s put together a message," Andy said. "Did you want us to pass anything to your people?" she asked Jack. "Not sure how long it’ll take to get to them."

"Yes," Jack said, grimly. "Need to warn the General about Loki."


"What’s wrong?" Rachel asked, joining the other Council members in an emergency meeting on their private Council Comm channel.

"We’ve heard from Andy," Brittany said. "You all need to hear and see her message."

"I’ve had a squad ready since your Shadows reported that that Loki character had kidnapped them," Quinn said. "Do we have a location?"

"Hold your jets, Q-ball," Santana said. "Wait until you hear this one. One of my long range patrols picked up a faint signal out on the edge, coming from a system near the Clan ancestral system."

"We’ve verified the source," Brittany said. "It’s from the JJ’s."

"How did they get out there?" Rachel asked.

"Artie? Play the message," Santana said. "The video’s a bit choppy, they had to compress the shit out of it."

A black video window appeared with a time stamp.

"This is Andy Sachs-Priestly, Agent at Large for the Serpent Clan of the Pan Galactic Confederation. This message is for Clan Council eyes and ears only. And a short message for other parties follows."

"After meeting Miranda at Stargate Command, we were kidnapped by Loki of the Asgard. He 'requested' our assistance in shutting down a lab in Goa'uld territory that was endangering the multi-verse. After discussing it, we retrieved additional members of our team and proceeded to provide assistance."

"The team consisted of myself, Miranda Priestly, Harriet and Ginny Potter, Joy and Janice from the Shadow support team, Colonel Jack O’Neill and Major Samantha Carter of SG-1." A quick video showing all of the people mentioned flashed by.

"Why did she bring along her wife, the person they are supposed to be rescuing, on a side mission?" Quinn asked, causing Artie to pause the report. "This SG-1 I’m assuming has training, and all of our people know what they are doing, but Miranda Priestly is a magazine editor."

"It’ll make sense in a minute," Brittany said. "Artie, continue."

"After traveling to the planet this so-called secret lab was located on, we proceed to investigate. Based on intel gathered by Joy and Janice we traveled down to the planet and infiltrated the local Goa'uld ruler’s palace. At which point, after engaging with the Jaffa troops, the plan had to be revised. We encountered a Goa'uld-human blend called Ixchel, who is currently asking for asylum with our Clan." Her picture appeared in the video.

"Ixchel was one of the Clan goddesses long before the Clan first came to this planet," Sophia said. "She disappeared under unknown circumstances. What is the meaning of this blending? She does not look happy."

"The Goa'uld are apparently parasites," Brittany said. "We only have the briefest data on this."

"Asking for asylum requires a meeting with the Council. We’ll have to give her one," Rachel said. "Artie, continue please."

"Entering the lab," video of a large room appeared while Andy talked, "it was clear that the Asgard had not been fully truthful with us. This was not a lab but an Ancient facility for storing memories. Ixchel has been using it as her sleeping chamber for a thousand years, with unexpected results. We determined that the contents of this facility should not be turned over to Loki. The Colonel trusts some Asgard, who have provided assistance in the past, but this Loki is not one of them. Loki appears to be one of the sources of this universe’s tales of Roswell Greys experimenting on humans."

"Although Loki’s motives are suspect and he is untrustworthy, we were able to determine that in this case he was reasonably accurate. This facility was unstable and was causing temporal and dimensional anomalies that if not stopped would likely destroy the system it was in and possibly cause damage to the multi-verse. We decided to go through with destroying the facility. And use the local Ring to leave."

"Miranda, due to a unique experience in this universe, is now one of the Ascended. She was able to carry the Ancient storage technology, a form of crystal, with her."

"We escaped, literally fighting our way through legions of Jaffa warriors, and destroyed the facility once we reached the Ring. We traveled through a dozen Rings to obscure our path from both the local Goa'uld system Lord that had in-prisoned Ixchel and Loki. For reasons we cannot discern the final Ring deposited us here." A panoramic shot of the area was displayed, showing the entire team and ending with the large crystalline ring. "Miranda believes the Ascended Ancients in that universe used this as an opportunity to remove us from their universe, though we have no real proof."

"We appear to be on an unknown planet in our home universe, somewhere in ancient Clan territory. We were able to contact one of Lady Air’s long range probes and request they forward this message. As far as we can tell, we are a long, long way from home. Too far for the probe to reach us any time this decade. Major Carter, Joy, and Janice are attempting to generate a map of the Rings and find us a way home that is shorter.

"We have several requests," Andy said. "Please, find the nearest Ring to home, have the probe forward its address to us, and leave transport there for us. And someone tell Caroline and Cassidy that their mothers are heading home as fast as possible. And forward the attached message from the Colonel and Major to their commanding officer. Lastly, for reasons that should be obvious, we have adopted the Colonel, Major, and Ixchel into our Clan group, and request Council approval."

"Of course we’ll approve," Rachel said. "They are stronger as a clan unit."

"So, these Rings can be used to travel to other universes," Santana said. "Do we know anything about them? Or how to find them?"

"There are really old legends of a people who built portals to travel among the stars," Rachel said. "There’s been no physical proof that I know of."

"Once we find a Ring to get them from, I’ll provide a troop to fetch them," Quinn said.

"This puts them right in the path of our ancient enemy," Santana said. "We need to get to them as soon as possible."

"Artie, do we know what planet they are on?" Brittany asked.

"The portal ring resembles one of several known to the Confederation," Artie said.

"Why don’t we have any records of it?" Brittany asked.

"They are non-functional," Artie said. "They have been studied numerous times and the conclusion is that they are a technology that we cannot duplicate or understand yet. The coordinate system used does not resemble anything from this universe."

"If this is from that other universe that might explain why," Rachel said. "They probably don’t think anything like we do."

"Great," Santana said. "We’ve got a lost team out there and no way to help. It’s like an episode of Star Trek. A bad episode."

"But we can find these Rings, correct? Even if the Rings don’t work?" Brittany asked. "We just need to find the closest one and hope we get there first."

"We can try," Quinn said. "I don’t know about anyone else but I want my people back. And if I see any of these Roswell Greys, I won’t pull any punches."

"Who’s going to deliver the message to the Colonel’s CO?" Rachel asked.

"I’ll do it," Brittany said.

"Not on your own, you don’t," Santana said.

"I’m the only one who can get in and out safely," Brittany said. "It’ll just take a couple hours."

"I’ll go with her, and we’ll take Gold Squad," Quinn said firmly.

"We can’t afford to lose either of you," Santana said.

"We’ll be fine," Quinn said. "You just find one of those Rings closest to this system, and figure out how to get it working so we can get our people home. And how to stop the Enemy from using it themselves."

"Of course," Santana said. "But if you don’t bring Brit back, there’s no where you can hide!"

"Understood," Quinn said, ignoring Rachel rolling her eyes at their antics.

"I can take care of myself," Brittany said, again. "I don’t need an escort."

"Not your call," Santana said. "Just deliver the message and come straight back. And no sightseeing."

"You think they’ll let us in to look at their own Ring?" Brittany said. "For comparison purposes."

"No, and no!" Santana said. "No side trips. I don’t need to tell you this."

"But you’re so cute when you’re like this," Brittany said, grinning.

"General, there’s a party at the main gate asking for you," his aide said, interrupting his meeting with Daniel Jackson.

"Did they say who they are?" General Hammond asked, puzzled.

"A Lady Shadow and Lady Hands, of the Pan Galactic Confederation, sir. They say they have a message for you from Colonel O’Neill."

"Is this some kind of joke?" He asked, looking at his aide.

"No sir," she said. "That’s who they claimed to be."

"Isn’t that who our last guests claimed to work for?" Jackson said.

"Yes," Hammond said. "Well, let’s see what they want," he said. "Come along, Jackson."

"We should have brought Rachel," Quinn said, scanning the mountain facility in front of them. "She’s good at meetings like this."

"Would you have let her come with us?" Brittany said.

"Not a chance," Quinn said. "We’d have to bring an army."

"We did," Brittany said, referring to their small shuttle hidden further down the mountain, containing half of Gold Team.

"They won’t think so," Quinn said. "They probably think everything they have pointed at us is a good defense."

"Well, that small nuke aimed at us might be an issue," Brittany said. "I can move out of the way fast enough. Can you and your team?"

"They’d never use it," Quinn said. "They’d have to close those doors and that would take five minutes. But my team could be out of range as soon as they fired it at us."

"We can’t talk to them with our helmets up," Brittany reminded her.

"It’s a calculated risk," Quinn said. "They can’t talk with us if they kill us. And at the very least they’ll want to talk. Find out what happened to their Colonel and Major."

"She’s probably the smartest person they have," Brittany said. "They’ll want her back."

"And here they come," Quinn said. "That is their CO, General Hammond. Do we know who the other guy is? He’s not military."

"It’s possible he’s the person who discovered their Egyptian gods were those Goa'uld," Brittany said. "He lives in the area. Looks like him."

General Hammond pause a moment to take stock of their guests, and also to prepare himself. It might look like an empty road and field in front of the main entrance to the mountain, both NORAD and his command, but there were more weapons pointed at this space than an armored battalion carried into battle during the Second World War. If they were actually aliens, they weren’t getting into the facility.

"You said you had a message for me from one of my officers?" he said, looking at the small group of armored figures, vaguely reminiscent of characters from some of the Japanese cartoons his granddaughters liked to watch. The two at the front were obviously important, six others standing like guards around them. They were all the same height.

They were not wearing the same armor as the woman who’d appeared in the SGC several days earlier but it looked similar, with similar feminine designs. He wondered if all of these people were female. There were rumours of female only societies among the Goa'uld captives but none of his teams had encountered them yet.

The helmets of the two in front retracted, revealing two blonde haired women, both striking in different ways. One a classic beauty.

"General Hammond, we’ve been asked to forward a message to you from Colonel O’Neill and Major Carter," the shorter of the two said, in a faint, foreign accent.

"And you are?" Hammond asked.

"Lady Shadow, Spymaster of the Council of Nine of the Serpent Clan of the Pan Galactic Confederation," she said. "Which is quite the mouthful, I know. This is the Lady of the Hands, our battle leader, also a member of our Council of Nine."

"You don’t look Mayan," the other man said.

"Should we?" Lady Q asked. "Your Mayan peoples are not ours, as far as we can tell."

"Your Lady Sachs-Priestly has Mayan petroglyphs on her armor," he said, clearly curious.

"Our people and the Mayan of the Yucatan have intermingled," Lady Shadow said. "We have a common language, but not much else at this point."

"Jackson, I’m sure you can discuss this later," Hammond said. "Once we’ve determined what happened to O’Neill and Carter."

"This is their account of what happened," Lady Shadow said, handing a small object to the General.

"Why are they not here to report themselves?" he asked.

"There appears to have been an accident," Lady Shadow said. "While escaping from the Asgard and Goa'uld, through your portal Rings, they were thrown into another universe, ours."

"I’m assuming there’s more to it than that," Hammond said. "If you can travel here, they should also be able to return."

"Our communication with them was unexpected and unlooked for," Lady Shadow said. "They appear to have landed on a planet far beyond our location. They made contact with one of our long distance probes and sent the message we’ve given you."

"If we could retrieve them and return them directly we would have, General," the Lady Hands said, speaking for the first time. "But they are too far away. It would take us a decade to reach them at the fastest our ships can travel. Fortunately, they discovered a local Ring system, which we were unaware of until now, so we hope they will be able to make their way to our base much sooner than that."

"You have your own Stargate network?" Jackson asked.

"It is unmapped and virtually unknown," Lady Shadow said. "But the team they are with is talented. If anyone can find a way home from there, they can."

"We appreciate you bringing this message," Hammond said formally.

"As soon as we can bring them home we will," Lady Shadow said.

"And we are making your people extremely nervous," Lady Q said. "We should go."

"Yes," Lady Shadow said. "Someone has alerted your NID to our presence. It would be a good thing if we left before they tell us otherwise."

"Agreed," Hammond said, grimacing at the thought of another visit by the NID. They were still finding surveillance devices from their previous visit. "How will we contact you in the future to get updates on our people?"

"Don’t lose that," Lady Shadow said, pointing at the small device she’d given him. Flipping up her helmet, followed closely by the Lady Hands, the two armored figures turned and were out of sight in seconds, their retinue quickly following.

"That was very uninformative," Hammond said, turning to Jackson. "Let’s take this back to my office."

"Of course, General," Jackson said. "I can’t place their accent, other than it is not local to this planet."

"It appears that we have a Loki problem again," Hammond said, after they’d watched O’Neill’s message using the small holographic device. "See what you can make of the claims of that Goa'uld they encountered, that they are Mayan. I can see why these Clan aliens are interested in her if they are truly related to the Mayans of the Yucatan area."

"The writing on that Stargate looks familiar," Jackson said. "I’ve seen that style somewhere before. I’ll need to research it."

"Good," Hammond said. He’d have to find a way to indicate Carter and O’Neill were on an extended, very long term, mission. The Pentagon wasn’t going to be happy about it but until otherwise ordered, he was not going to do anything. They were still his people, even if they were working with aliens of an unknown civilization. Now he needed to contact Thor.

"Could you tell Teal’c that I wish to see him?" Hammond asked Jackson before he could leave his office.

"Yes, General," Jackson said.

"What do you think?" Quinn asked Brittany as they raced off, back to their shuttle.

"He’s a good man, for a general," she said. "All of his reports to his superiors bears that out. He’s not going to abandon the Colonel and Major."

"Which means we can’t keep them," Quinn said. "They have very useful talents. And not just Carter’s big brain. Andy was really impressed by her."

"And so were the JJ’s," Brittany said. "And they’re hard to impress."

"So, we definitely want them all back," Quinn said.

"There wasn’t any doubt, was there?" Brittany said. "I’m not sure what we’re going to do with an Ascended magazine editor, and a former Goa'uld Clan goddess, but I’ll think of something."

"I suspect Miranda Priestly will have something to say about her future, and about Andy," Quinn said.

"Definitely," Brittany said. "This ascension concept is really going to throw a cat among the pigeons."

"What role would she have on the Council?" Quinn said.

"Why would you assume that?" Brittany said, as they reached the shuttle.

"Because I know you?" Quinn said. "And how did you manage to find a way to stuff a full shuttle through that portal? We wouldn’t have this problem if Andy had been able to take a shuttle instead of the drop method they used."

"It wasn’t ready," Brittany said. "The data gathered after she disappeared provided important information that makes this work now."

"So, no more blindly jumping into portals wearing just a hard suit?" Quinn asked.

"Nope," Brittany said. "It also will let us close the portal. The right application of energy and it’ll snap back into place."

"As long as we do it before anyone else falls through it, in either direction," Quinn said.

"I’ve got that covered," Brittany said, slipping into her seat and signaling for their pilot to leave. "We’re blocking it in both directions until we can close it. If you don’t have the right equipment you aren’t going through."

"Good." Quinn said, popping open her helmet. She nodded at her team. "Let’s not leave any loose ends."

"All loose ends ready to be tied," Brittany said, opening her own.

Chapter Text

"How long do we need to stay here," Jack asked Joy, after she'd sent the messages to the probe.

"A week?" Joy said. "Or until we get a response back."

"So we need a camp," Jack said. "Does anyone have any experience camping out?"

"We've all had survival training," Andy said. "Both the Shadows and Troopers take a month long course. So, all of us." She gestured at the others in their hard suits.

"Good," Jack said. "We should set up our camp over that ridge, away from the Gate."

"You think someone will come through it?" Andy asked.

"I don't think we can risk it," Jack said. "Fortunately, it's summer here, so we don't need to worry about the cold. But we should find some source of food, so we don't eat our supplies unless we absolutely have to."

"The suits can provide energy for six months of nutrition," Andy said. "They'll turn anything organic into edible pellets."

"Yum. Pellets for breakfast. Pellets for lunch, and pellets for dinner," Harry said, grimacing. "You can have my share."

"Let's save that as a last resort," Jack said. "That makes MREs sound appetizing."

"We've only got a week's worth of MRE's," Sam said. "We weren't expecting to be out in the field for more than a couple days."

"We also need water," Janice said. "This looks very Earth like. Maybe there's fish?"

"I knew you planned this," Sam said to Jack. "A fishing vacation."

"While Joy is waiting to get those smoke signals," Jack said, ignoring her, "can we use some of those other toys to explore this area?"

"Of course," Janice said. "Already doing that." She pulled out a small flat device and placed it on the ground. She tapped it and a large half sphere appeared floating in the air above it.

"Sir," Carter said.

"Don't say it," Jack said. "I'm sure the nice Shadow will share if you ask nicely."

"She doesn't have to ask," Joy said. "Once you both get adopted into the Clan, Lady Shadow will give her access to all sorts of tech."

"As long as your General doesn't think we're bribing you to stay with us," Andy said. "That might be an issue."

"Bring back new tech that we can use? That's better than our tech?" Jack said. "He won't have a problem with that."

"We might not want to tell the General about being adopted into the Clan," Sam said. "That might be considered a conflict of interest in some quarters."

"Right," Jack said. "Don't want them to think we've gone native."

"Well, unless you have Clan ancestors, which is very unlikely, going 'full Clan' is difficult," Andy said. "The DNA therapy only works in special cases. And even then it's done only under certain conditions."

"I'd rather not have my DNA modified," Carter said. "I have enough problems with the NID as it is."

"Is that because of the naquadah traces in your blood?" Janice asked. "The current nanite design we use seems to react badly to that. In a white blood cell kind of way."

"That's not what happened to me, is it?" Andy asked.

"Sort of," Joy said. "They were too sensitive to it. So when you popped out of the portal near their Ring, your nanites may have overreacted. But that shouldn't happen again."

"So, you're immune to being snaked?" Jack asked. "No offense to the formerly snaked among us."

"None taken, sir," Sam said, grimacing.

"In theory," Janice said, "but I'd rather not experiment."

"And you won't," Andy said firmly.

"So, what can you show us?" Jack asked, returning to the glowing hologram.

"The lifeforms here are nine tenths Terran compatible," Janice said, "so if you find any fish they won't poison you, hopefully."

"Hopefully?" Jack said.

"We can test them so it won't be a problem," Joy said, giggling.

"There's a large lake to our north, which is in that direction," Janice said, pointing through the Ring. "There's an old road, though it's buried, that heads south of here towards some ruins."

"Ruins or a lake," Jack says, miming tossing a coin. "First the lake, then the ruins if we're still here tomorrow?"

"Sounds good to me," Andy said. "How old are the ruins?"

"Same age as the Ring, give or take a millennium," Janice said. "So there probably isn't much there. All my scanner is picking up are the outlines of foundations for several large buildings. It doesn't show up on the display at the moment."

"The lake and camp first," Jack said. "Who wants to go fishing?"

"What exactly is a Clan adoption?" Sam asked, as they sat around the fire, eating the fish Jack and Harry had caught that afternoon. They weren't feeling any need to rush to the next gate so they were resting before the next day's trip to the ruins.

"We don't have a ceremony of any sort, though some other Clans do. For us it's more about intent and paperwork," Ginny said.

"And we've already announced the intent to the Council. As soon as we get back we fill out tons of paperwork but as of now, both of you are Clan," Joy said

"We need to remember this spot," Jack said, leaning back. "Good fishing, no neighbors."

"No modern facilities," Harry said. "Not that some people seem to care." She waved at Andy and Miranda, cuddling on the other side of the fire.

"I think they deserve some private time," Ginny whispered. "They've been apart for years. Andy thought she was dead."

"Making up for lost time," Joy said. "When we get back they're going to be really busy."

"I bet the Boss has jobs already lined up," Janice said. "She won't let an opportunity like this go by. A bonded pair like that can go places."

"What about Ixchel?" Sam asked, glancing at the woman sitting by herself and staring up at the stars.

"No idea. It really depends on the entire Council," Joy said. "I'm sure they can find a use for her."

"They tend to give the benefit of the doubt," Andy said, speaking up. "Except for certain things."

"Certain things?" Sam asked.

"Drug dealers, and terrorists," Ginny said. "We don't like them."

"Ruins?" Harry asked the next morning. "Shouldn't there be something here?" She waved at the large empty clearing.

"A million years of dirt," Janice said. "It's under here." She stomped on the ground.

"And we're here why?" Ginny asked, retracting her helmet.

"Looking for any clues on the Ring," Janice said. "We know how to activate it, we know there are more, but we have no idea where they go. Any civilization that can build a Ring that lasts a million years should have left other things behind."

"And who gets to dig this up?" Harry asked. Jack pretended to not hear her.

Janice pulled out her sensor pack and looked at it. "We have a couple cavities to investigate. One over there down twenty meters, and one near that tree. Probably an old tower."

Miranda, who'd been quietly discussing something personal with Andy, snorted. "Shall we see what's there?" she asked. Turning into her energy form she floated over to the tree and disappeared. "It's definitely an old tower," she said over the comm. "You'll need a flashlight," she added, reappearing in the clearing.

"You couldn't tell us what's down there?" Harry said.

"And ruin the adventure?" Miranda said, raising an eyebrow.

"Miranda!" Andy said.

"It's an old empty tower," Miranda said, sighing theatrically. "Door at the bottom blocked by stones. If we were going to stay here I would recommend opening it up. It'd be dryer than our camp."

"And the other cavity?" Andy said. "Not that I want to spoil your fun..."

"If I must," Miranda said. She disappeared again. "Large hall," she said. "Looks like it was occupied when it was buried, and some of the residents are still here."

"Still there?" Andy said. "Wouldn't they have turned to dust after so long?"

"Yes," Miranda said, reappearing in the clearing. "Piles of very uncommunicative dust. But they did leave these behind." She held out a handful of small crystals.

"A reader would be helpful," Janice said, grumbling as she took the crystals.

Miranda handed her a small tablet like device. "I suggest you try this."

"I could hug you!" Janice said. "But I won't," she added after receiving a glare from Andy. "It's not a language our translator recognizes," she said several minutes later. Andy leaned over her shoulder.

"Looks a little like Latin. Anyone know it?" she asked.

"Must I do everything myself," Miranda said, taking back the tablet device. "It's not Latin. It doesn't make sense."

"Don't the Ascended know everything?" Jack said, smirking.

"Your Ascended may be arrogant enough to claim that but I've found them to be shockingly parochial when it comes to certain things," Miranda said.

"Which means," Jack said.

"They're boring," Miranda said. "And don't like new things."

"So, no fashion tips or advice from them?" Andy said, grinning. "And they don't care about clothes."

Miranda quickly flashed through her forms.

"Right, different priorities," Andy said. "So, we have some storage devices, probably from the people who built that Ring, but no idea what they say. Now what?"

"We don't tell Jackson," Jack said. "Can't keep him away from the stuff."

"Anything from the probe yet?" Andy asked Joy once they returned from their exploration of the buried ruins. "Anything on the Rings?"

"Artie said the Confederation knows about them but have never gotten them to work. There are at least a dozen in Clan territory in out of the way places," Joy said. "If we can get one to take us closer to the Sol system we can get a pick-up from Fleet."

"Any theories?" Andy asked.

"Not a complete DHD, so it probably only goes to a specific Gate," Sam said. "They were setting up for exploration. No idea what we'll find on the other side."

"Sounds like another day on the job," Jack said. "Jump through a Gate, hope the other side isn't under water. And you can't turn around until everyone is on the other side."

"Or in the middle of a cannibal village," Sam said. "Those aren't good."

"Underwater might be an issue for some of us," Harry said. "Or some airless moon."

"Now you've jinxed us," Jack said, shaking his head. "Murphy must love you."

"Murphy?" Ginny asked.

"Not important," Andy said. "Save it for later."

"So, ready to go?" Jack said, as they gathered near the Gate. "The exploration team, that would be Joy and Ginny this time, goes through the Gate, checks things out and comes back here. If they give it the all-clear we can all go through."

"We don't know the address of this Gate," Sam said, "but we're assuming the next Gate will send you back here. We've determined that this button," she pointed at a button on the DHD with an odd symbol, "is the reverse journey button. If pressing it doesn't work, if we don't see you in an hour we're coming through anyway."

"So, the goal is to not get separated," Jack said. "If you attempt to come back here and end up elsewhere, don't go anywhere. just wait for us to come for you."

"We can defend ourselves, right?" Ginny said. "If someone attacks us going through the Ring we can retaliate?"

"Yes," Jack said, checking things off with his fingers. "Protect yourselves. Safety first. Self preservation is important."

"Yes, Colonel, we get it," Ginny said. "No heroes today."

"And don't forget it," he said, activating the Gate.

Closing their helmets, Ginny and Joy stepped through the event horizon. Time seemed to slow and then rapidly speed up as they exited on the other side, the Ring standing in a foot of water.

"A bit soggy," Joy said, as they emerged into a small amphitheater set into a low hill. "Could do with a little drainage."

"Stone? Or something else?" Ginny asked, flipping through her suit sensors as they moved out of the water. "Seems fairly solid for something as old as it should be."

"Some kind of composite material," Joy said. "More of that crystal the Rings are made from, mixed with something else. So it could be that old. Let's see what's on the other side."

They jumped to the top of the stands in one quick leap. A huge plain was laid out in all directions as far as the eye could see. The suit aided eye could see even further, towards what looked like water glinting in the sun on all sides.

"So, huge flat island, with just this thing in the middle. Someone needs to talk with their tourism board," Joy said. "No points of interest to attract tourists."

"The beach could be nice," Ginny said. "Want to check it out? Plenty of time."

"I've always wanted to walk on an alien beach," Joy said. Jumping off the wall, she raced toward the edge of the island, Ginny keeping pace. As they neared the water, they started to see low walls and other signs of civilization.

"Looks like something came along and sanded down the shore," Joy said when they reached the water. "Guess they don't build them like they used to."

"Or they were built by someone else," Ginny said. "Are you getting this?"

"Of course," Joy said. "Always recording."

"Always?" Ginny said, sounding surprised.

"Always," Joy said. "Though I do require NDAs for certain activities to be removed."

"I don't want to know," Ginny said, her amusement clear.

"Someday," Joy said, smirking. "You never know."

"No," Ginny said. "Do we have enough?"

"Yes, back to the Ring," Joy said. "Nothing to see here."

The trip back took a lot less time, as they cranked their speed up to its max now that they knew they wouldn't be running in to anything or anyone.

"So, do we think it'll take us back to the others or somewhere else?" Ginny said.

"Back to the others," Joy said. "The DHD here is very simple. There's probably a different kind of control somewhere that lets you go to other destinations. We just need to find one."

"Ready?" Ginny said, watching Joy set up a bit of tech.

"Ready," Joy said. As soon as the event horizon settled down, they jump through the Ring.

"Looks like we made it back," Ginny said, in response to the sudden burst of comm traffic as they exited the Ring.

"Easy," Joy said. "Chill folks, we're here."

"What's it like?" Janice asked.

"So, the Ring worked as expected," Sam said.

"No fuss, no muss," Joy said.

"What's on the other side?" Andy asked.

"The Ring is on this huge island," Joy said.

"A huge, flat, empty island," Ginny said, sending video to the other suits. "With beaches and ruins."

"Anything useful?" Jack said.

"Only for a Memory," Ginny said. "Outlines of foundations. And the Ring is inside this huge amphitheater."

"So, just something to protect the Ring and the rest is empty? Any comm traffic?" Andy asked.

"A scanner is gathering data," Joy said. "But there didn't appear to be any sign of people. A very empty planet."

"Janice, please send one last message to the probe explaining what we are doing," Andy said. "Include the coordinates of our destination."

"Pack your things, kids, we're going on a road trip," Jack said, rubbing his hands together.

"Same order as before?" Andy asked, as soon as Janice signaled she was done.

"Works so far," Jack said.

"Watch you feet," Ginny said, before leading the way. "The other side is covered in water."

One by one they stepped through the Ring.

"At least it isn't under water," Jack said, grimacing as water covered his feet. "Do we want to stick around?"

"Joy, get your equipment packed up. Harry and Janice can go next," Andy said. The trooper and Shadow nodded.

"Not bad leading," Miranda whispered in her private comm. "And cooperation."

"Just following a certain person's example," Andy said.

"I wasn't much for sharing," Miranda said, "so I know you aren't using me as an example."

"If the lovebirds could pay attention?" Joy said, laughing. "You missed Jack's speech about the wonders of exploring new planets and ancient civilizations."

"If only Jackson could hear you now," Sam said. "He wouldn't believe it."

"I can be sensitive and excited about exploring new worlds," Jack said. "I'm very historian like."

"I didn't say that," Sam said. "But obviously this trip is agreeing with you."

"I'm sure he'll have opportunities for being crabby," Andy said. "And being skeptical."

"The snark hasn't gone away, so we know this is still Jack," Miranda said.

"I've never been snarky with you, M," Jack said. "I'm an officer and a gentleman."

"And occasionally even you believe that," Miranda said.

"Let's get this show back on the road," Jack said, frowning at her. "Maybe we'll find a map on the other side." He quickly activated the Gate.

"We're going," Janice and Harry said, jumping through the event horizon.

"They're adapting well," Sam said. "It's like a big game for them."

"We grew up in the Matrix," Ginny said. "Reality has a whole different meaning after that."

"The Matrix?" Sam asked.

"It wasn't the Matrix," Joy said. "It was a virtual world environment, similar in design. But a lot safer."

"Why?" Sam asked, looking at Andy as the most senior of them.

"Not my story to tell," Andy said, "but all learning involving physical activity is done in the learning pods, a sort of Matrix-like virtual reality environment. If you're true clan all motor memory and physical changes that occur in the pods affect your physical body and mind."

"So, learn a martial art in these pods and you really learn it?" Sam asked.

"Yes." Andy said. "There's also a time dilation effect. Spend a month in a learning pod and less than a week might pass in the real world. In some ways it's a good thing."

"I liked it," Joy said. "As long as you don't think too hard about what is happening in the physical world."

"I would like to see this," Sam said excitedly.

"That can be arranged when we get back," Andy said. "It's certainly an interesting experience."

"I've had a whole Ancient library downloaded into my head," Jack said. "I think I prefer learning the regular way."

"Your head doesn't look big enough to stick a library in it," Ginny said. "Did it hurt?

"It was kind of scary for the rest of us," Sam said. "By the end, before it was removed, he was talking in Ancient and no one could understand him."

"Not the most exciting experience from my end, Carter," Jack said. "And I didn't know you cared."

"You're my CO and friend," Sam said, glaring at him, "Of course I care."

"A small case of UST?" Joy said to the others privately. "We should hook them up."

"There are rules about that in their military," Andy said. "They could get in trouble."

"They're adopted into our Clan. I think it's our rules that matter here," Ginny said. "Besides, it could be years before we get home." She switched to the common channel. "This is like some overly long and boring episode of Voyager, except on foot."

"Without the crazy encounters with hostile aliens," Joy said. "And the Marquis conflicting personalities."

"We don't seem to have the crabby Klingon engineer," Ginny said. "Though some of the Fleet engineers can get crabby if you scratch their toys."

"Speaking from personal experience?" Jack said.

"Got a little too close to a large mine in the middle of clearing out a lair," Ginny said. "The techs had to cut my suit off. Chief wouldn't let me on active duty for a month after."

"That might have been because you looked like one big bruise," Joy said. "Lady Q wasn't happy."

"Lady Q can be downright suicidal in battle," Ginny said. "We're just following her example."

"Can't wait to meet her," Jack said.

"She's not what you'd expect," Andy said. "Her grandmother is a Hungarian princess."

"And she's an alien? How did that happen?" Sam asked.

"Long story that I can't tell you right now," Andy said.

"She claims to have been one of those mean cheerleader types from the horror movies," Ginny said. "But no one believes her."

"Sam was a geek in high school," Jack said, "and look at her now."

"I saw her service record," Joy said. "The parts not blacked out. If we ever make it back I'm starting a fan club."

Jack nodded, pretending to not see Sam blushing. "You can open a chapter in this dimension. The Asgard named a ship after her."

"They named a ship after you also, sir," Sam said.

"A big honking ship," Jack said. "And Kinsey can't touch it."

"We don't name our ships after living people," Ginny said. "I'm not sure who they are named after actually."

"Lady Air decides," Joy said. "She says they're her ships so she gets to name them."

Before they could continue discussing names of ships, the Ring turned on and Janice and Harry came back through.

"That was quick," Joy said.

"Big cavern inside of a mountain," Janice said. "Not much to see."

"It's winter there but the cavern is warm, so there must be a source of heat," Harry added.

"So, off we go?" Andy said. Jack nodded. They lined up again and once more slipped through the Ring.

"Homey," Jack said. "Add a bonfire and it'd be just like camping in a cave."

"There are some buildings along the far wall," Harry said. "Thought we'd save exploring that for later. There's an exit over there," she added, waving towards another wall with a large black opening in it. "We can get you your wood for the campfire through there."

"Do we need to block it off?" Andy asked.

"Might make it warmer in here," Jack said.

"It's an interesting space," Miranda said. "There must be a reason why this Ring is in this cavern."

"Weather," Sam suggested. "Or protection from something."

"This one doesn't match the few we have records of," Janice said. 'But neither did the other two."

Joy came back from the exit, after placing monitors and sending off several of her miniature probes. "We probably don't want to spend any time outside," she said. "Although it isn't deadly, there's enough background radiation to make things uncomfortable long term without the suits."

"So a quick exploration and then move on?" Jack suggested.

"I'd like to take a closer look," Joy said. "Some of the readings are similar to the results of a war using fissionable materials. We don't get much opportunity to see that years afterward."

Andy frowned, not sure how to answer. She looked at Sam and Jack for their reaction to the request.

"How much of a rush are we in?" Sam asked. "Do we have time for exploration?"

"Not my decision," Jack said. "I think we should get home as soon as possible."

"We've informed assorted authority figures that we're headed home but we weren't able to give them a good idea of how long. So far we've just been moving forward without much time for serious planning. I think we should take into account the specialties and expertise of our team," Andy said.

"So, plan for a couple days, a week, near each Gate?" Jack said. "Do we have the supplies to handle that?"

"We can modify one of the suit provision generators," Janice said. "Sort of."

"Explain 'sort of'," Jack said.

"We have some spare parts and nanite build tools. We can use them to duplicate any suit parts," Janice said. "So, we can make something like a food replicator."

"Can you do that with anything else?" Jack asked.

"Yes," Janice said. "Given the right base materials, we can create almost anything."

"Hard suits for the three of us?" Jack asked.

"That would be more than we can do," Joy said. "We couldn't build a complete hard suit, even the nanites we have with us can't do that. But we could design armor that would be more protective than what you are wearing now."

"Okay," Jack said. "If we can make this comfortable, how long would you need?" He waved at the cavern.

"Two weeks?" Janice said.

"If we can make this space livable for two weeks, you can work with Carter to provide some kind of wearable armor for the rest of us? Myself, Sam, Ixchel? And Miranda?"

"I do not need anything," Miranda said.

"So, let's check this out to see if we can use it," Jack said. "An hour? Two?"

"Thanks, Jack," Joy said.

"Hey gang, buddy system again. Explore in pairs," Jack said. Janice and Harry headed off in one direction, towards the dark structures, while Joy and Ginny headed off in the other.

"You know I would have agreed to your plan, whatever it is," Jack said to Andy in a low voice. "You're their boss."

"I'm the person they are protecting," Andy said. "If they thought I was doing something wrong they would stop me. The JJ's are trained to operate in hostile territory and can take care of themselves. Harry and Ginny are part of Lady Q's command cohort. They look young but they are highly trained and some of the best we have. I'm just a journalist who lost her wife and was given the opportunity to get her back. Yes, I did go through trooper training before they would agree to me going on this, but, I'm just me."

"You're doing an excellent job," Sam said. "All the training in the world won't help if you don't have the ability to lead."

"Well, I feel like an amateur next to you two, and them," Andy said. "And, though they don't consider Miranda part of the command structure on this team, she also has a lot of experience leading."

"Running a magazine and guiding a 'lifeboat' team such as this are very different," Miranda said. "And you are leading. Even when you defer to Jack, it's clear you are in charge."

"Yes," Jack said. "I'll give advice, and direction for small things, and Sam will also, but we're junior on this expedition. You don't need us second guessing your actions."

"Gee, way to add to the pressure," Andy said.

"Welcome to leadership," Jack said. "Sometimes things work exactly as planned and sometimes you get flying monkeys."

"Okay, Mr. Solid Blacked Out Service Record, what do we do about Ixchel?" Andy said. "How do we get her to pull her weight? She's not being obstructive but she's not helping."

"Find her a task?" Jack said. "Some job that is useful but not critical?"

"You cannot humiliate her," Miranda said. "She came with us because we kidnapped her. We didn't give her any choice. And now she thinks she's being taken back to be judged by your Clan Council. You need her to cooperate and not act out."

"Always the difficult tasks you give me, Priestly," Andy said, winking at her wife.

"Okay," Andy said, as they all gathered in front of the Ring, "what did you find?"

"We need at least a week to study this planet," Joy said. "We can cover a lot of territory with my nanite probes.

"We figured out the door," Ginny said. "It looks like it was left open so there's grass growing in it, but a little digging should free it. There's also some kind of guardhouse next to it that we can use."

"Those structures along the west wall are living quarters," Janice said. "With ancient doors. Not sure if they'll close. But we can clean them out easily. Plenty of room for us all."

"There's also a larger communal area," Harry said. "And something that might have been a kitchen at some point though it's hard to tell with something that old."

"So, we can make use of it?" Andy asked. "We can stay here for several weeks while we prepare for the long term? Additional uniforms and clothes for everyone. Better armor for Jack, Sam, and Ixchel?"

"Let's call it a month," Jack said. "A couple days to make this habitable, and then Sam and Janice can start working on the protective gear. And Joy tries to figure out what happened outside?"

"Sounds good," Andy said, nodding.

"And the rest of us?" he asked.

"Jack, we really need to work out a better plan than 'seat of our pants' to get us home," Andy said. "I'd like your help with that and if Miranda can work with Ixchel?"

"Did we miss anyone?"

"Harry and Ginny," Joy said, smirking. "They'll get very bored standing around in their cute armor."

"Eventually, we'll need to draw on their expertise, and yours and Janice's, when we work out our plan." Andy told her. "For now, they can work with you two."

"They didn't leave much behind," Ginny said, helping Joy clean out one of the small rooms.

"A couple hundred thousand years," Joy said reminding her. "Anything organic is long gone now."

"What about this?" Ginny asked, holding up some crystals.

"We'll have to try them later in that comm pad. Let's finish up so we can do something else," Joy said.

They moved into the larger room. It was circular and had benches built into the walls.

"We can have game night," Ginny said, looking around.

"Not a chance," Joy said. "You cheat."

"But, pictionary!" Ginny said.

"Not a chance," Joy said. "I remember what happened last time."

"It was an accident," Ginny said, pouting.

"Still no," Joy said.

"What do you think of this place," Harry asked Janice, as they worked to get the main door closed. "It's like they built a hidden Ring station."

"No signs of intelligent life yet," Janice said. "My probes aren't seeing anything. Just lots of stunted trees and ice fields."

"So, do we think the Ring builders came here after that or were part of it?" Harry asked.

"There's no radiation in the complex, that I've detected so far. It's possible they came here afterward for some reason. Or there was another Ring they couldn't use so they built this one."

"No real answers then," Harry said.

"And not likely to be, unless there's something on those crystals you found," Janice said. "Even with our fabulous Shadow tech, some designed by me, a million years is too long to decipher things from dust."

"Maybe we'll find a secret chamber or something," Harry said. "Places like this are full of secret chambers in the movies."

"All the buildings are made out of something my scanners can't penetrate," Janice said. "We'd have to get past that first."

"You and Joy are geniuses at that kind of thing," Harry said. "I'm sure you'll figure it out."

"Flattering, but I don't think we'll have enough time. Andy isn't giving us a lot of free time," Janice said. "And we do have to find a way home. Do you want to miss out when the Bugs show up?"

"I've seen their projected path," Harry said. "If we'd stayed at that first Ring we would have been right in their path, if they remain as predictable as they have been."

"We would have been massacred," Janice said. "Just three combat ready troopers, if you count Andy. Two intel specialists, two civilians and two soldiers from another world. And no backup. Do you know what happened the last time we fought them?"

"That was what drove us away from our homelands," Harry said. "We survived by running away."

"This was probably one of our ancestral lands," Janice said. "Though the time and coordinates don't seem to match. The last Bug war was a hundred thousand years ago, not a million."

"You think? Maybe an earlier incursion," Harry said. "How far back does Clan history really go?"

"You took the same courses I did," Janice said. "The Clans escaped the last Bug infestation when the Bugs destroyed their home planets. That was what made us what we are. Before that we were dirt-siders."

"Well, this is your opportunity to explore a planet that has suffered that kind of destruction."

"Miranda, are you glad that I came after you?" Andy asked. "You're ascended now, doesn't that mean you have moved beyond a material life?"

"The Ascended Ancients in Samantha and Jack's home universe seemed to think so," Miranda said. "A self involved group of boring voyeurs. They are willing to watch the Goa'uld and other conquering races prevent other intelligent life from reaching its potential. Just for their own entertainment. And heaven forbid that anyone get any ideas about helping."

"That seems a little selfish," Andy said. "If you have power you should help others."

"They come from a different culture," Miranda said. "They don't have your Midwest sense of responsibility."

"What are we going to do about the Major and the Colonel?" Andy asked.

"Do? There is nothing to do," Miranda said. "Even though you've made them Clan they still have their own rules about such things. If they believe they can get home they aren't going to want to break them."

"It's kind of painful watching them dance around each other," Andy said.

"They'll get over it," Miranda said, "or they'll do something about it. They're smart and don't need our interference."

"What's it like being ascended?" Andy asked. Miranda wrapped her arms around her wife.

"There is no way to describe it," Miranda said. "It's like being all feeling and being everywhere at once. And feeling powerful at the same time. But also being separate from the material world."

"That doesn't..." Andy sighed. "I just can't visualize it. You've taken me places in your energy form but it didn't feel any different."

"That wouldn't," Miranda said. "Let me show you."

"Okay?" Andy murmured, looking around to see if anyone was watching them. She braced herself.

"This will not hurt," Miranda said. "It might be better if you relaxed."

Nodding, Andy took several deep breaths, closed her eyes, and tried to loosen her muscles. There was a deep golden glow outside her eyelids, and she could feel a slight tingling that spread over her entire body.

"Open your eyes," Miranda said softly.

Opening her eyes, Andy looked at Miranda, and through her. "This is amazing," she said. "I look like you, except a lighter color. Everything is warm. And I can feel everyone else. It's like being around bright lights."

"If you search out one of them specifically, feel what happens," Miranda said.

Andy concentrated on Ixchel. Suddenly she was feeling whatever Ixchel was feeling. She couldn't hear her thoughts but there was a deep core of sadness. And there seemed to be two distinct layers to her feelings below that. A feeling of being lost and angry in a complex matrix of other feelings, some that seemed very foreign.

Pulling back, she searched for the energy that was Harry.

Harry was very simple. The feelings Andy got from her were of duty, and honor, and love. Though the target of that feeling seemed surprising. Janice was right there so she explored her feelings but couldn't find anything distinct.

"Why can I see Harry's feelings but not Janice?" Andy said. "And Ixchel really needs help. She's very confused."

"I suspect that the so called Shadows have been trained to shield themselves from outsiders," Miranda said. "If I push really hard I can read them but they notice. With the others it's all on the surface waiting to be picked up."

"So you can't read minds?" Andy said. "I thought you could."

"If given permission, I can," Miranda said. "But it is not really worth the issues it causes. So I don't."

"What about Ixchel?" Andy asked. "She's worse off than I thought."

"We've all paired off for emotional support, either before or now," Miranda said. "We have each other, Samantha has Jack, Joy and Ginny are on the verge of a relationship, and Harry and Janice are becoming close friends. But she's alone. There's no one to pair her with and no one she fits with."

"But we have to do something," Andy said. "And is this what love feels like for you?"

"Non-physically, yes," Miranda said. "A deep warmth in my heart."

"And just for the girls and me," Andy said, feeling like she was dreaming. "Though not exactly the same."

"Love has many facets, as we've discussed before," Miranda said. "I love you no less than the girls but there is a difference."

"Let's get physical," Andy said, giggling, "and we can explore this facet of love."

"Later, when we can be private. The rooms are soundproof, according to Joy," Miranda said, returning them to their physical forms.

"It's a date," Andy said, kissing her cheek.

Chapter Text

"Do you think you can design suits for us, or at least something a lot more protective than basic armor," Jack asked, idly watching Sam reading something on the comm tablet Janice had given her.

Sam looked up at him. "They have a number of different types of hard suits," she said. "The true combat hard suits require equipment we don't have. They have to be calibrated in a specific way that only one of the Clan armorers can do with a Fleet tech shop. And you have to have Clan DNA for them to work."

"Which we don't and can't have," Jack said. "And probably don't want."

"Nope," Sam said. "In my case, even if we had the equipment, the naquada in my blood would probably react badly with the genetic treatment. It might work for you but I suspect you wouldn't need it."

"Why not?" Jack asked.

"Remember when you had an entire Ancient library downloaded into your mind?" Sam asked.

"How could I ever forget?" Jack said, grimacing. "What does it have to do with this?"

"Joy has a genetic profile of all of us," Sam said. "She has the equipment for that, she just can't use it for anything really. But there's something special about Andy's profile. She's not actually Clan like the others, but Clan tech such as the type in her suit works for her. Your DNA profile shows some of the same markers."

"So, I'm not Clan but I might be able to use Clan suit tech?" Jack said. "Interesting. Does Joy know what makes Andy so special."

"She said it was a Clan Council secret that she doesn't have access to," Sam said.

"Something our little Clan hacker can't get into? She was even able to get into your computers in the SGC network. Which you said was impossible," Jack said.

"Well, she has some amazing tech," Sam said. "Hopefully I'll learn enough to be able to keep someone like her out in the future. But according to her, nothing can keep Lady Shadow out. If she wants to get into something there's nothing that can stop her."

"So Junior Shadows are skilled but they aren't the best there is," Jack said. "And we asked the Council to send that message for us."

Sam grimaced. "Yes, we asked someone we have no way of keeping out to send a message for us."

"Do we trust them?" Jack said. "I trust this team, though Ixchel might be an issue. But the Clan is truly alien, even if they look like us. Do we trust their motives?"

"You know what their Pan Galactic Confederation uses the Clans for, not just this one?" Sam asked.

"You've been studying them," Jack said. "You tell me."

"They're the local law enforcement. They're setting up a base on their Earth to police their quadrant. Earth is off in a distant corner of their Confederation," Sam said, "but it's apparently the perfect spot for a centralized peace keeping force for that area."

"So, we're working with the local cops," Jack said. "We need to keep our noses clean."

"Which means no indiscriminate blowing things up to solve problems," Sam said. "They are all unbelievably young to have been given this task, but someone in this universe trusts them to get the job done."

Jack nodded. "And there's that Bug war they are getting ready for. Doesn't look like this Confederation has a lot of assets to handle such things."

"No," Sam said. "The Serpent Clan started setting up their base thousands of years ago but something destroyed it and the survivors went native. It took the Confederation centuries to notice and a lot longer to decide what to do. If these Bugs weren't causing problems they might have taken even longer. The original Serpent Clan disappeared and the Confederation rebuilt them enough to kick start things but haven't given them a lot of support."

"So, this Confederation doesn't really care about policing efforts, just Bug fighting. Geese," Jack said. "That's cold."

"The Clan is just glad to exist," Sam said. "If they have to fight these Bugs and protect their Earth in order to rebuild their Clan they'll do it."

"If this is their typical age, they are still too young to be thrown into this mess," Jack said. "We help them and then someone needs to have a discussion with this Confederation about what they're doing."

"They had no choice," Ginny said, appearing suddenly next to them. "The Confederation isn't a government as you might think of it. It's really just a bunch of AI's coordinating relationships between different civilizations. All of the other Clans are already engaged with the Bugs in some way in their own quadrants. They're the only defense some of those really old civilizations in the galactic core have."

"You heard all of that?" Jack said.

"Yup," Ginny said. "We're well aware of the difficulty of the task ahead of us. And we don't want to miss it, it was what we were born to do. So we really do want to get home before the fighting happens. We won't live forever like our Council will so we need to hurry."

"Your Council will live forever?" Sam asked.

"Exaggeration," Joy said, appearing next to Ginny. "Full Clan have much longer potential lifespans than Earth natives. But there are gene therapies that can triple the natural lifespans of the Council of Nine. But that isn't forever. Just a long time."

"Okay," Jack said. "So they'll outlive us all."

"Some of them," Joy said. "But the Lady Air and Lady Q lead from the front so there's that."

"Lady Shadow and Lady Air are soul mates," Joy said. "So there's that also. They'll die together, if the myths are true."

"And Lady Q and the Memory," Ginny said. "Though the UST is killing us!"

"If you stopped betting on when they'll get together," Joy said, poking Ginny on the shoulder. "Then maybe something would happen."

"I've got insider info," Ginny claimed, sitting down next to Sam.

"Insider delusions," Joy retorted, joining her. "According to Lady Shadow, nothing is going to happen between those two until we defeat the Bugs."

"Maybe you can answer a question," Sam said. "I've wondered why there are no men in your Clan leadership. I've heard the names Lady Shadow, Lady Air, Lady of the Hands, and Lady Q. Is it Lady Memory or Lord Memory?"

"Lady Memory," Joy said. "Yes, the entire Council of Nine are women. Though we don't actually have nine of them at the moment."

"No?" Jack asked. "Why call it the Council of Nine if there aren't nine of them?"

"It's all part of our Clan history," Ginny said. "I'm not sure how much you know?"

"Not the whole story," Sam said.

"Janice is a history fan and likes to share," Joy said. "Let's do this together. Hey guys," she said over the public channel, "How about dinner and story time?"

"Getting a bit hungry," Harry said. "I can go for it if I'm not the storyteller."

"I'm in," Janice said.

"And we're in," Andy said.

They gathered around the small fire pit in the community room.

"Some of you may know this story told several different ways," Joy said, "this is how I learned it, as told by Lady Shadow." She paused to take a large sip from her flask.

"The early history of the Clan of the Serpent on the planet we call Earth is shrouded in mystery. Some time around two thousand years ago, the Pan Galactic Confederation directed the Clan to set up a protectorate, sort of the equivalent of a precinct, that covered this sector. In your terms they were the local peacekeepers."

"Did anyone on this planet have spaceflight at that time?" Sam asked.

"No," Joy said. "None of the civilizations in this area had spaceflight. The Confederation was concerned that they were vulnerable to pirates and other illegal elements. The plan was to police this area. So the Clan was sent. There were early reports that things were proceeding as expected and the Clan was building a presence in this area."

"No one was checking on them?" Jack asked.

"The Confederation has always been more of an advisory committee than a political entity. They don't really have their own military or law enforcement. The Clans and several other groups provide that function for the Confederation."

"How many Clans are there?" Jack asked.

"Thirteen," Joy said. "They used to be pirates and marauders in the very distant past, but at some point the Confederation convinced them that it would be better to work with them. The Clan that came to Earth was one of the smaller ones. It disappeared several hundred years after they set up their base, but communication between the Clans and Confederation was so infrequent across interstellar distances that the Confederation didn't hear about this until approximately five hundred years ago."

"So, the law enforcement for an area measured in astronomical distances disappears and they don't notice?" Sam said.

"That's what we were told," Joy said. "Lady Shadow suspects Clan politics were involved but hasn't found any proof. That they were given this corner of this galaxy to police, when there were no spacefaring nations, seemed like an attempt to get them out of the way."

"There still aren't any spacefaring nations in this part of the galaxy, except Earth," Harry said.

"Have you contacted any of the others?" Jack asked. "The non-spacefaring ones?"

"Several of them were wiped out by pirates," Ginny said. "The remaining ones are just barely out of the trees, as the saying goes. We don't have any records of contact with them."

"The Clan carries a heavy burden for that failure," Joy said. "But first we need to be at full strength again before we can do anything."

"You were going to explain why you only have women leaders," Sam said. "Although I find it refreshing."

"So, back to our tale then," Joy said, nodding. "When the Confederation noticed that the Clan was missing, though the other Clans had been complaining about it for a while by that time, long enough for the Serpent Clan to become the 'Lost Clan', they agreed to do something. Of course, there was the added incentive of Bug attacks all across the Confederation. Fortunately they had a little time to work things out."

"So what happened? You said the Clan disappeared but here you are," Jack said.

"Well, the Confederation sent one of their AI's with enough tech and supplies to reboot the Clan, if they could find some descendants or actual Clan members in the area. And they did."

"The Clan had built its base on the Yucatan peninsula," Joy said. "After it failed, for unknown reasons, the Clan intermarried with the local population. You would know of them as the Mayans. Some of their earlier cities in that area are actually based on Clan designs."

"You're probably aware of what happened to the native peoples of the Americas, like the Incas, Aztecs, and Mayans. The Spanish and Portuguese adventurers conquered them, the Aztecs and Incas, or sold many of their people into slavery, like the Mayans."

"Lady Sophia, the Weaver, is directly descended from Clan nobles. She was also the last Head Priestess of the Serpent Cult before the Clan returned. She calls it the Mayan Diaspora. There are a lot of people spread all over the world with Mayan and Clan ancestors. But we're getting ahead of ourselves," Joy said.

"When the Confederation came to reestablish our Clan, they scanned the planet for descendants of the Clan. And found there were hundreds of thousands of them."

"So, no problem, pick some of them and put them in charge," Jack said. "Though I'm not sure that's how I would do it."

"Close," Joy said. "They noticed an anomaly in the data. There was a person who was pure Clan, but not Serpent Clan. So they investigated. And this person was often in the company of others who were Serpent Clan descendants, with a really high percentage of Clan genetics. So, they kidnapped them to study."

"Not sure I like that idea," Jack said. "That's something Loki likes doing."

"Well, after some serious discussion, they decided to take these four young women, and offer them the job of rebuilding the Serpent Clan. It wasn't a perfect plan but they could see no alternatives. They took each of these women, who were in prime physical shape, and evaluated them for one of the roles they'd determined was needed to rebuild the Clan."

"So, kidnap them and offer them a job? Did they have any training?" Sam asked.

"Three of them were cheerleaders," Joy said. "But not just any cheerleader. And not the kind who sing and dance. These were some of the best athletic cheerleaders in the country. Their coach was one of the few women to ever complete Seal training, and was a former member of one of your Spy organizations. So they were tough. And scary."

"And beautiful," Janice said, sighing. "Words do not exist to describe them."

"She's exaggerating," Harry said.

"No I'm not. Right Andy?" Janice said. "You've spent time with all of them."

"No opinion," Andy said, to general laughter.

"Anyway, they started training them, in the training pods at first. They were from Ohio, in the Americas. They had no idea about Mayan or Clan culture or language."

"Not true!" Janice said. "Lady Air's family was Mayan, though everyone thought she was just Latina. Every summer she'd spend time with her mother and Mayan relatives. One of whom is Lady Sophia."

"Okay, Lady Air grew up steeped in Mayan culture, but that isn't the same thing as Clan, not really. We use the same language, have some of the same goddesses but we're different." She paused to take a drink. "So, where was I? Oh yeah training. They trained Lady Air to be a spacer. She learned everything a spacer needs to know about flying ships, preparing ships, building ships, and eventually everything she needed to know to run the Fleet, which didn't actually exist until she built it."

"And then there was the Lady of the Hands, also known as Lady Q. She'd already been a leader. She'd been captain of their cheerleading squad. She could get things done with just a look. So they trained her to lead an army."

"Us!" Ginny and Harry shouted.

"Yes, them, though most of her troopers are better behaved. They took a cheerleader and trained her to be a deadly instrument of the Clan. We haven't had any full scale wars yet but they say she's already the best Serpent Clan War Leader in several millennium. You really don't want to face her in battle if you can possibly avoid it."

"Lady Shadow was the 'ringer' in the pack," Joy said. "Clan, but not Serpent Clan. Her family had crash landed on Earth when she was very young. She was raised by her family's AI's. Before she was twelve she knew 5 different forms of Clan martial arts. And she was taught the Clan way. She went to human school to be with her friends. Lady Air calls her a scary super-ninja. You can't hide anything from her."

"The final member of the four is the Memory. She wasn't a cheerleader and at the time of their kidnapping wasn't really friends with any of the others. But she was the captain of their Glee club. She has an amazing ability to learn about cultures and she's the Clan historian. She claims to be the Clan's first bard. She's also our ambassador."

"One of the things, that I believe I mentioned, is that this clan learning happens in learning pods that exist in a separate time stream, in a manner of speaking. Between the time the four were kidnapped, and offered the job of rebuilding the Serpent Clan, was five years. They were missing for five years! But in the pods it was a lot longer time. Lady Shadow needed the least amount of time to become ready. She was already Clan trained. She knew the basics. Lady Q was in there the longest. Lady Shadow says Lady Q was a pacifist, no matter what people thought of her as head cheerleader, and it took them a long time to turn her into the warrior she is now. Lady Air and the Memory were in there approximately the same time."

"And they were offered leadership of the Clan, understanding that they would have to do a lot of the work themselves in the beginning. And they said yes."

"Okay, so those four make up the original Council of Nine, and you've mentioned a 'Lady Sophia', who if I understand correctly is actually Lady Air's cousin. So that's five. What of the other four?

"Mother was crazy," Ixchel whispered loudly. "We always kept a close eye on Mother."

"Yes," Joy said. "The Council Mother was always crazy. We don't know why, she just was. There is some speculation that the psychic powers that a Mother had drove her slightly off balance. We sort of have a Mother but not completely."

"We found an old Clan ship, and she was in it in stasis," Ginny said. "I was on that mission."

"Rumour has it that the Council has her stashed away somewhere until she can recover from her craziness. She wasn't the Mother of the original Serpent Clan when it came to Earth. Her mother was, and there was some sort of fight between that Mother and the rest of the Clan Council. It didn't go well for any of them. And it drove her really mad with grief."

"So, six then, what about the other three?" Jack asked.

"We have people fulfilling the roles of the other three but none of them are qualified to join the Council as a full member, for complicated reasons," Janice said. "

"Okay, that explains the Council. How did you go from four recruits to a full Clan?" Sam asked.

"We don't actually have a full Clan," Joy said. "We're almost at quarter strength now but we can't grow any faster given our resources."

"So are all of you descended from the Lost Clan Mayans? You don't really look like it, no offense," Jack said.

"No, the four of us are full blooded Clan," Janice said. "Just as the Council of Nine are full clan, though they had a little help initially to get there."

"It's the answer to why we have no men in the Clan, except for those who are descended from the Mayans. We said we don't believe in clones," Janice said, "But not because we hate the technology or can't get it to work. It's a philosophical issue. But we will use cloning tech if necessary. And rebuilding the clan? It was."

"But you're not clones," Sam said, clearly puzzled.

"Not a bit, but we were 'grown' in test tubes, using genetic material from the four original Council of Nine."

"I think we came out okay," Ginny said. "In theory it was all random. But some of our people share really distinctive traits with the Council, even though the technique used simulates a five generation separation between them and us."

"So, they're your great-great-great grandmothers?"

"That's one way to look at it, but we don't. We grew up in the learning pods and had ordinary Clan childhoods, even if they happened faster than someone who didn't grow up that way.

"So, you are all test tube babies," Sam said.

"Not me, or Miranda, and certainly not Ixchel," Andy said. "And it wasn't something the AI's in charge of this revival project took lightly. Thousands of new Clan members, all women, and all actual Clan members."

"The cloning technique they used has several drawbacks," Joy said. "The only genetic material that seems to survive the entire process is Clan female. We have no men because the situation required a technique that male genes could not survive."

"Huh," said Sam. "That's unexpected."

"It makes some things more difficult," Joy said. "We have no men, though they would't be in leadership roles anyway, but we're building our base on a planet dominated by men. Some of them don't take us seriously."

"I can see that happening," Sam said, grimacing. "So, you're rebuilding your population of Clan using virtual reality. How long will that continue?"

"Only the Council really knows," Joy said. "We'll keep growing until we are at least full sized. But even with the time dilation techniques we're using, it does take time for each generation to go through the process. When the Bugs show up we should be almost at full battle strength."

"So, we know about the Council, we know how your population has grown from nothing to quarter of a Clan in strength. But how did the whole arriving on Earth happen? Did you just show up one day and say 'We'd like our land back and by the way we're the new cop on the beat'?"

"It was a little more clever than that," Andy said, after the others stopped giggling. "Does your world have legends about a Mayan apocalypse? Some sort of world ending event?"

"Yes, we do actually, though that seems to be mostly due to a mistranslation of some ancient Mayan carvings," Sam said.

"Well, we had the same thing, and the Council of Nine decided to use it to their advantage. They planned everything to happen the night of the supposed apocalypse. They set up a force field around the entire peninsula and reclaimed it for their use. Everyone outside freaked out. Suddenly there was this huge, kilometers high silver bubble where one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Americas used to be."

"We were too young to participate," Joy said, "but watching it was very entertaining. Nobody inside or out knew what was happening. And the Council said all communication with the outside had to be in Classical Mayan. The expert in that Mayan dialect thought everyone was crazy and didn't quite believe them. And there were spies running around trying to sneak in, or out if they were already there."

"They started clearing out all of the drug dealers, and Lady Shadow started buying out all of the hotels and casinos owned by non-local companies. She likes buying property," Janice said.

"She could have just taken it," Jack said. "Why pay for it?"

"Good public relations," Janice said. "If they'd just taken everything we wouldn't have found it easy to get allies."

"A little bribery helped," Joy said. "Some of our tech was shared with companies in several countries. Not a lot of it but enough to advance scientific research substantially, and to jump start some of the tech we'll need before the Bugs come."

"So, use existing planetary resources to fight the Bugs?"

"That's one way of putting it. We do have nanite based facilities out in the asteroid belt and a few other places for manufacturing thing this Earth can't produce yet. But local tech helps the economy."

"So, that's an interesting story," Jack said. "Anything else we need to know?"

"That pretty much covers it," Joy said. "In broad outline. I'm sure there were a lot of details that I missed or that were kept a secret by the Council."

"Like Lady Sylvester," Harry said. "I worked with her for several months. A very scary woman, even though she's non-Clan."

"Who's Lady Sylvester," Sam asked.

"She was their cheerleading coach," Harry said.

"The Seal?" Jack asked. "I've heard of several women surviving Seal training, but they were transferred to one of the alphabet soup agencies before we could recruit them to the SGC."

"She runs our internal police force," Harry said. "Very tough, very no-nonsense. Rumour has it they want to elevate her to the Council but the AI's won't allow it. She has no Clan blood so some things wouldn't work for her. But she's awesome. "

"Sounds like there's some friction between your Clan and these AI's," Jack said.

"Because we aren't at full strength, there are some rules we have to follow that a fully functioning Clan wouldn't be subjected to. But there are work arounds," Joy said. "Lady Shadow is really good at that."

"Time to call it a night," Jack said, yawning. "These old bones need some sleep."

"You're not old, sir," Sam said, helping him to his feet. "Just well preserved."

"Gee, thanks Carter, you know how to make a guy feel better," Jack said. "Just dig a hole and roll me into it."

"We still like you Colonel," Harry said. "You don't get a blacked out service record because someone spilled a bottle of ink. You have to be pretty hardcore for that to happen."

"It's all fake, kid," Jack said. "They use it to scare the recruits."

"Don't believe him," Sam said. "I've seen the un-blacked out version."

"That was in a time that didn't exist," Jack said. "Time travel can play tricks on reality and memory."

"You've got experience with time travel?" Joy said. "Did you try to kill Hitler?"

"No," Jack said. "We tried to avoid paradoxes like that. No matter how horrible things under a tyrant might be, we don't have the right to change the past."

"You could make things worse," Sam said. "Too much of time and history is interrelated. Small changes may have very negative effects."

"Like that story were someone killed a butterfly millions of years ago and when they got back to their time everything was different," Andy said. "The Confederation bans time travel for a reason. Though Lady Shadow found a loophole when we came to rescue Miranda."

"Really?" Sam said. "A loophole in your Confederation's time travel rules or a loophole in time travel."

"The portal connecting our worlds had temporal effects. Sort of like Loki's lab problem, but on a smaller scale. We had to modify our tech to travel through the portal and not be affected by any temporal energy and to insert us into the correct time," Andy said. "And no, I can't say more about it than that, the science was way beyond me."

"How do you know there were temporal issues?" Sam asked.

"What year was it when Loki kidnapped us?" Joy asked.

"Two thousand ten," Sam said.

"In our universe, Lady Miranda's plane disappeared in two thousand nine. The Mayan apocalypse, the one the Clan used to repatriate the Yucatan, occurred in two thousand twelve. When we went to rescue Miranda, it was two thousand seventeen, five years after we arrived. And only five more until the predicted appearance of the Bugs," Joy said. "The timelines don't quite match."

"Do you have an explanation?" Sam asked, resisting Jack's attempt to get her to go with him. "Stop it," she said, swatting him.

"It's late, talk about all this timey-whimey stuff tomorrow," Jack said.

"Ha! I knew you watched something other than the Simpsons," Sam said.

"The Simpsons are cool," Jack said. "Though I don't agree that bow ties are cool."

"Jack!" Sam said, "stop it!"

"He's funny," Janice whispered loudly to Harry.

"What was the loophole," Sam asked, trying to steer the conversation back.

"The portal is a naturally occurring phenomena," Andy said. "The Confederation time manipulation edicts didn't cover that because they'd never seen it happen naturally."

"Bet they will now," Joy said, grumbling.

"How does this affect how we got here through the Gate?" Sam asked. "How did the Ascended, that we believe sent us here, know to watch out for the time difference?"

"Can't answer that," Joy said. "I can theorize but you aren't going to like it."

"How so," Sam said.

"They must have used our time signatures to direct the Ring to a specific time," Joy said. "To send us to the right time."

"Time signature?" Sam said.

"Oh yeah," Joy said. "That's something the Confederation did share with us. It's possible to pinpoint the time origin of a time traveller. The energy of a specific time permeates your energy core. Sort of like rings on a tree. But you can also use it to detect the places in time someone has been. Comes in handy. Or not in this case."

"So, if you changed time…" Sam said.

"You'd get lost because the time signature wouldn't be valid," Joy said.

"So, no messing with time, kids," Jack said. "We want to get back to the right place."

"Definitely," Andy said. "But we can adjust for the time difference. Lady Shadow's techs have it all figured out."

"So, no worries," Joy said. "Really."

Chapter Text

"Are you having fun yet," Joy asked Janice, as they lay there in their room. "This is your Grande Adventure, that you’ve always wanted."

"It’s just the beginning," Janice said. "It’s been interesting and our team is not what I would have asked for but is so much better."

"How so?"

"Andy, for one," Janice said. "Not only is she a babe, well preserved for her age, but she has a mind that can think circles around anyone here. She doesn’t act like it all the time but there’s a huge brain there. I bet she could out think any of the Council if given the same training."

"She’ll get it," Joy said. "The Council is smart. They won’t let any good resource go to waste. And they actually care about all of us, unlike the AIs running the Confederation. We’re not just tools."

"What about the others?" Joy asked, several minutes later.

"Sam is another smart one," Janice said. "Too bad we have to send her home once we get back to home. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with over the next few years. And you know she’d share it with us. Not possessive at all. She’ll soak up the knowledge like a sponge and make things better."

"Definitely," Joy said. "I know we don’t have the right equipment to build standard Clan Hard suits for her, Jack, and Ixchel, but I bet she creates something amazing. Something she can take with her. Something that makes all of our suits better. What do you think of Miranda?"

"Not sure what to think," Janice said. "She’s an interesting person but inscrutable. But her abilities are awesome. Becoming energy? Invisibility? And I suspect she’s invulnerable. To say nothing of her dedication to Andy. She’s Andy’s number one fan and cheerleader. I bet they’re soulmates."

Joy nodded. "That’ll have to wait until Lady Shadow takes a look at them. She’s the only Clan member who can detect things like that."

"Yes," Janice said, "but I’d bet on it."

"What about Jack?" Joy said, "How do you see him on your team roster."

"Very valuable," Janice said. "He’s old, and male, but he’s got all the right stuff when it comes to leading a team on an impossible journey like this. And he doesn’t need to be in charge. Very much a team player. And he keeps Sam grounded."

"And the Wonder Twins?"

"Who else would you want to be stranded on a deserted island with, about to be attacked by pirates? Not only are they talented fighters but they have the Lady Q seal of approval," Janice said. "If we have to have troopers, why not the best?"

"And they’re very delectable," Joy said, humming. "In and out of their suits."

"Of course," Janice said. "You have noticed that compared to non-Clan human women we all are hot stuff, right?"

"The Memory is always grumbling about that," Joy said. "She says it’s hard for human women to relate to us because of that, and the men can’t think around us."

"If you’ve got it, use it," Janice said, smirking. "That’s what I heard Lady Air said to her about that. We can’t help it that our genetic tree includes some outstanding women."

"What about Ixchel?" Joy asked. "How does she fit?"

"She doesn’t, not really," Janice said, frowning. "She’s a time bomb waiting to go off. Andy thinks we can fix her enough that she’ll survive the trip and then she can get help from one of our shrinks. I’m not sure it’s possible to fix her. She has old Serpent Clan thinking mixed up with that Goa'uld superiority nonsense. And she doesn’t know whether she’s coming or going."

"I think she just needs some loving," Joy said.

"Ewww! How’s that going to happen, and won’t it make things worse? Who’d want her?" Janice said.

"Not that kind of 'loving'," Joy said, poking her. "Hugs and conversation and just being around normal people doing normal things."

"Normal? Then she’s doomed," Janice said, laughing. "None of us are normal."

"It’s good that you recognize that," a firm voice said, causing them to jump out of bed in surprise, to find a glowing energy being sharing their room.

"Lady Miranda, we didn’t know you were there," Joy said, shakily placing her hand on her chest.

"Which is something you need to work on. While Joy is working with Samantha on their protective armour, you should be working on a way to detect non-corporeal life forms such as myself. We don’t need any spies listening in on our plans."

"I though you were the only Ascended being here," Janice said.

"There are other beings out there, who may not have our best interests at heart," Miranda said. "We need to know when they are there."

"Yes, ma’am," Janice said. "I’ll start working on that tomorrow."

"And Janice, I cannot tell you if you are correct about the concept of soulmates. Some cultures believe in them and some do not. I, for one, can sense a connection between Andrea and myself at a metaphysical level that I was unaware of before Ascending. Is that what a soulmate is? I don't know but I look forward to discussing this with your Lady Shadow. But please refrain from any further discussion of this issue at this time."

"Yes, ma’am," Janice said.

"Wow!" Joy said, once Miranda had disappeared. "I’m glad she’s on Andy’s side."

"Not ours?" Janice asked.

"If Andy’s side is ours then yes she is," Joy said. "But I certainly wouldn’t want her as an enemy."

"How’d your day go?" Ginny asked Harry as they lay wrapped around each other and caught each other up, a habit the sisters had continued from an early age.

"Janice has an odd sense of humor," Harry said. "But I like working with her."

"Joy has her own quirks," Ginny said. "But her thinking face is hot!"

"Does she know you have non work related plans for her?" Harry said, giggling.

"Not yet," Ginny said, "but she’s smart. She’ll figure it out eventually. Does Janice know she’s falling into your web?"

"Sometimes she seems to but then she acts completely clueless" Harry grumbled. "For Clan who are supposed to observe everything, they sure can miss the important personal stuff."

"They’re just too busy," Ginny said. "If you want any real action with her, you’re going to have to drop anvils on her head or wait until we get home and get Lady Shadow to do something."

"That would be embarrassing," Harry said. "It’d be like asking someone’s mother if it was okay to go out on a date."

"Ick," Ginny said, scrunching her nose. "I’d rather make a mess of it myself."

Harry nodded vigorously in agreement.

Lying quietly in her bed, Ixchel listened to all of the conversations going on around her that were not taking place over the comm units the little spies had given them. She really wasn’t sure what was going on. Too many changes were happening too fast.

Five days before, she was a prisoner, an honored one but still a prisoner. Her entire life had been spent in that horrible throne room forced to pronounce judgement on her people for petty crimes for the amusement of Xicotel, the local system lord. He delighted in making her the hated goddess who made them suffer.

Four days before, her Clan had rescued her and destroyed Xicotel. Her people were now free from her bondage. But she didn’t understand why they’d done so. They were the fabled warriors of the Lady of the Hands, while she was a lowly priestess. A priestess who still heard voices and dreamed of the Goa'uld who’d conquered her people. She’d thrown herself on their mercy, asking for judgement by the Nine Lords of the underworld. And they’d agreed.

"Oh, Mother, that you could see into my heart and bring me release from this pain," she whispered. "And may the Weaver clothe me in the presence of our Memory, that I might share all that has happened to me."

"You know we did not take you with us as a punishment, little priestess," the glowing figure suddenly appearing in front of her said. "Your Clan has determined that you are still one of them and need their help. You did not fail, you were given an impossible task."

"I betrayed my people to the Goa'uld," Ixchel said. "The Goa'uld used me to lead them far from home, to my great shame. They were more powerful gods than our own."

"The Goa'uld are not gods," Miranda said. "Their power came from things. Things that any creature could use."

"The Goa'uld spoke in my head for a long time," Ixchel said. "I still hear it in my dreams. I still see the things it did in my name, in my dreams. I do not wish to dream of these horrors any longer."

"Little priestess, we shall help you," Miranda said. "Sleep."

Ixchel fell into a dreamless sleep.

"So, you’ve been poking around," Andy said to Miranda, when she joined her in their bed. "What did you find?"

"Your troopers and the little Shadows are big fans of yours," Miranda said. "Don’t be surprised if they start a church in your name."

"No," Andy said, wincing. "Please tell me you’re joking, some of the Council have that problem. Some of their people believe they are true goddesses and pray to them. It’s really embarrassing for them."

"No, I am not serious," Miranda said. "But they do think very highly of you. I have always believed in you and now I see others feeling the same. It is amusing in a way."

"Okay," Andy said, breathing a big sigh of relief. "So, you went around and listened to gossip?"

"Possibly," Miranda said. "Ixchel, the little priestess, really needs help that I don’t believe any of us can give her. She remembers being Goa'uld, and all the things the Goa'uld forced her to do to her people in her name. She would rather be punished than made whole again."

"There are shrinks of sorts in the Clan," Andy said. "Mostly AI’s who are not fully aware. But they do good work. We just need to get her to one."

"I’ve put her to sleep, blocking off the Goa'uld memories," Miranda said. "But that will only work while she’s sleeping, not when she’s wide awake."

"What else did you learn about our team?" Andy asked.

"The little Shadows are gossips," Miranda said. "Everything they see goes into their story. But the conclusions they come to are amusing."

"And the twins? What do you think of them?"

"They are twins," Miranda said. "Troopers, certainly. From what I’ve seen so far, they are exceedingly well grounded but still twins. Their closest connection will always be with each other."

"Twins are very rare in the rebuilt Clan," Andy said. "Lady Shadow won’t explain how they happened with the whole test-tube baby thing. But all ten sets of twins are training to be leaders in their areas. Some in actual leadership roles like Ginny and Harry, and others as the top of their fields. There is a set of twins who have taken Clan ship design to a whole new level. They can look at a design and immediately begin improving it. It’s like having two Major Carters running around."

"Is it intentional?" Miranda asked, running her fingers through Andy’s short hair, causing her to moan.

"Is what intentional?" Andy asked.


"Lady Shadow believes that Artie, the AI who is their Confederation Council contact, is manipulating things to achieve the best outcome, even though the other AI’s would not approve."

"So this Artie is on the side of the Serpent Clan?" Miranda said. "Interesting."

"The Confederation provided 'seed money' so to speak," Andy said, rolling over to face Miranda. "But they are limited in what they can do. They can’t make any real decisions when it comes to the Clans except in rare cases. Unfortunately the Serpent Clan is one of those cases at the moment so there’s a lot of interfering."

"You have a lot of emotion invested in this," Miranda said.

"Yes," Andy mumbled. "I believe the Clan itself, over time, will be good for Earth and its civilization. The Clan is pushing us towards becoming a member of the Confederation, and not just an outpost. It’ll take centuries to get there, and it’ll be a uniquely human civilization when it does, if the Council of Nine achieves their aims. They may be full clan now but Earth is still their home and they are loyal to it, in their own fashion."

"Good," said Miranda, "We shall support their efforts. All of us."

"About that," Andy said, "care to explain how Caroline and Cassidy are full Clan? Why do they register as Clan? And not just any Clan but the Lady Shadow’s original clan?"

"Would a simple 'I can’t explain it' suffice?" Miranda said.

"No," Andy said. "I would like to think I know you well enough to know that this isn’t a co-incidence."

"No, it isn’t," Miranda said, wrapping her arms around Andy. "Your Lady Shadow is likely not the first member of her clan to visit this area."

"The girls father?" Andy said.

"I believe so, based on what I’ve learned since. He never claimed to be an alien. But he did insist that I eat certain 'traditional' foods of his family while I was pregnant," Miranda said.

"What happened to him?" Andy asked. "I don’t recall ever meeting him."

"He died in an accident before the girls were born," Miranda said. "I do not know how my diet affected the girls but I am not surprised."

"What do you think?" Joy said, watching Sam walk around in their first suit prototype. Her movements were slightly jerky.

"Needs to be calibrated," Sam said. "It doesn’t move quite in sync with my movement. How was your hard suit the first time you wore it," she asked Ginny.

"Not like that," Ginny said. "But keep in mind we learned to wear them in the pods, so when we had really hard suits we were already able to control them. And our suits are controlled by a combination of muscle memory and thought. Something we can’t do for you because the nanite constructors we have are not that sophisticated."

"But this is our first prototype," Joy reminded them. "It needs work. Right now it’s just basic level armor."

"So, let’s get it beyond basic," Sam said. "What’s the next step?"

"We need a better interface between you and the suit," Joy said. "An under suit of sorts. We have several examples we can try out. One is the inner layer for a space jockey's flight suit. The other is one of the original Clan designs for a hard suit."

"Why didn’t we start with that one?" Sam asked.

"Because it’s for a more primitive hard suit," Joy said. She pulled up a diagram on her tablet. "This is what it looks like," she said. "Our suit designers have refined the design, by a lot. This was a brute force approach. Lady Q had them throw it out. It’s not very mobile."

"We fought similar suits during the Back Hat wars," Ginny said. "They didn’t stand a chance."

"But the tech in the control suit might be useful," Joy said. "Build one with our more modern tech and it might get the job done."

"Okay," Sam said, carefully removing the pieces of the suit with Ginny’s help. "This is better than nothing but it’s exhausting to wear. We need something lighter. Do we have other materials we can use? A poly carbonate instead of these thin layers of metal?"

"The metal provides a large part of the protection," Joy said. "Once it’s tuned it should be easier to move around in."

"Let’s try a different material," Ginny said, looking at her own tablet. "We can use a composite metal and carbon fiber. The nanites can easily build that from material here in the cavern.

"Why are we still doing this?" Jack asked, looking very uncomfortable in the prototype armor. They’d been running him through a number of different exercises for the last few days.

"Because you need to get used to it, and we need to make sure it fits correctly," Joy said.

"And you look cute in it, for an old guy," Ginny said, giggling. "Right Sam?"

"Those aren’t quite the words I would use," Sam said, smirking. "But we can go with that."

"Good call, Carter," Jack said. "So when do we get the fancy weapons?" He waved his hands in the air.

"You don’t," Sam said. "Only a Clan armorer can add armaments to a suit."

"It’s a prototype," Jack said. "Can’t you break the rules for this one?"

"It’s not just a rule, Jack," Joy said. "The nanites we have with us don’t have the programming to add weapons to anything. They can repair existing weapons if they are attached to a suit but they can’t copy them. And we can’t modify their programming."

"It’s a safety feature," Ginny said. "Lady Q insisted on it. She didn’t want any aliens, like the Goa'uld or NID getting their hands on our weapons tech. So, no weapons capable nanites."

"Okay, I see the point," Jack said. "I wouldn’t want the NID getting their grubby hands on any of your space guns either. But would the Goa'uld even be able to use them? You said Clan can’t be snaked, though that doesn’t seem to include Ixchel."

"Ixchel didn’t have any nanites," Joy reminded him. "They’re new. That’s what kills the Goa'uld symbiote. Not even our original Clan had them, they’re a recent invention. We aren’t even allowed to use them dirtside, the AI’s are so paranoid about the tech getting loose."

"And they take Clan DNA to work at all," Ginny said. "With one exception."

"Well, dang-nabit," Jack said. "So, when will these be ready? Not sure it does anything for my figure." He posed, standing in a heroic pose. "Does it make me look fat?"

"No," Ginny said. "But you can’t compare that suit to any of the others. They’re intentionally feminine looking. Lady Q decided she wanted our foes to know they’re getting stomped into the ground by a bunch of girls."

"She must have been something else when she was a cheerleader," Jack said. "She should have gone to the Air Force Academy. We could use more tough, quick thinkers like her."

"She was a pacifist," Andy said, sitting down next to Sam. "Hard to believe, but that’s what her sister claims. Lady Air is still angry about what the AIs did to her 'Q' to make her into the leader she is now."

"So, the Clans aren’t fans of the AIs," Sam said. "Or is it just your clan."

"Your clan also," Andy reminded her. "We don’t know what the other Clans think about all this. We haven’t had any contact with them. But the next Clan Council of Clans meeting is still decades away so who knows what will happen."

"The skutt has it that the AIs are hoping we’ll defeat the Bugs and go out in a blaze of glory so they don’t have to answer to the Clans for how they are using us,” Joy said.

"Which is just a rumor," Andy said. "And very unlikely. The AI’s have strict ethics they adhere to. Sacrificing an entire Clan wouldn’t be allowed."

"And the road to hell is paved with good intentions," Jack said. "They may have the best of intentions but the results are not always as intended."

"How are the suits turning out?" Andy asked. "I see you’ve got Jack prancing around in his. What about Sam?"

"Hers is all done," Joy said. "That was easy, once we worked out some issues with the control interface. We already had several designs that just needed tweaking. Jack’s has been more difficult because we’ve never done male armor and the only examples we could find in the data kit was from over a thousand years ago, when they were used primarily for heavy combat. But Jack needs the flexibility of our current armor even though he’s old."

"I’m not old," Jack protested, "you’re just too young to appreciate my manly aura."

Ginny started laughing, and couldn’t stop.

"Jack, with the exceptions of Ixchel, whom I’m not sure of, and Sam, we’re all lesbians. We’d rather appreciate other non-manly things," Andy said.

"We have no problem appreciating guy cuteness," Joy said. "Like puppies."

"As long as they don’t piss on the carpet," Ginny said, winking at him. "Someone else can clean up that mess."

"What’s the purpose of sparing?" Jack asked later. "You could get hurt if we go all out."

"We’re not the ones who would get hurt, Jack," Ginny said. "You need to learn how to adapt your regular fighting styles to suit styles. Unfortunately, we don’t have practice suits or time to make them, and we don’t have any learning pods available."

"Yeah," Harry said. "We have thousands of hours in multiple types of suits, and have fought multiple types of real foes in them. You have minutes. And need more before we leave here."

"We’ll start with basic forms," Ginny said. "And then mix those with your unsuited forms. And then work on more advanced forms."

Jack slumped on his bed. It had been an exhausting afternoon in the hard suit. And it wasn’t even a full combat suit, but more of an environmental suit that he could fight in.

"This is where I admit I’m too old for these kinds of games," Jack said, waving at Sam who seemed to be just as fresh as when they started. "You seem to be enjoying this."

"The suits really are designed to enhance female abilities," Sam said. "Now that it’s properly fitted, it doesn’t feel like armor to me, but almost like a second skin."

"So, it’s just me?" Jack said, groaning.

"Your suit needs additional modifications," Sam said. "It should be ready tomorrow."

"Why waste the time?" Jack said. "I just need something that is bulletproof. I don’t need a full suit like yours."

"This is valuable research for all of us," Sam said. "The Clan will eventually include men, and they will need protective suits."

"Include men? What am I? Chopped liver?" Jack asked, sounding offended.

"You know what I mean," Sam said. "You might not have noticed but these young clanswomen have had almost no exposure to friendly men. How you treat them, and work with them, will be very important."

"Not to disparage my gender," Jack said, "but do you think it’s a good thing to expose them to men in all our antagonistic, selfish, testosterone fueled glory?"

"They can handle men," Sam said. "They just need to know that there are some worth knowing."

"I’m worth knowing?" Jack said. "Glad to know that. I’ll have to think of a suitable reward." Slowly getting up, he tottered over to her bed and looked down at her. "No, tickling is too good for you. And I’m too tired." He tottered back to his side of the room and collapsed on the bed again.

"Keep in mind that they’ve been wearing their suits for years," Sam said. "They aren’t just playing dress-up. They’re professionals, don’t underestimate them."

"I don’t," Jack said. "Do you think you’ll be able to get some of the extras working, other than the weapons?"

"Extras?" Sam gave him a puzzled look.

"That high jump, fast moving thing they can do," Jack said. "They’ve got the whole enhancement package."

"Not if we want to leave here any time soon," Sam said. "Being able to move like that actually takes a lot of training. We’ve built the suits for the three of us with that capability but it’s really turned down until we can find the time to learn how to use it."

"How is Ixchel dealing with her suit?" Jack asked. "It’s not something she has any experience with either."

"She hasn’t said anything," Sam said. "That memory merger has really screwed up her head. Sometimes she’s very aware of things, and at others she’s almost catatonic. She hasn’t actually tried her suit yet since it was fitted."

"Have you talked with her?" Jack asked. "You know what it’s like to have a snake in your head, making you do things."

"A little," Sam said, "but her experience was very different. Watching the Goa'uld as it tortured and killed her people must have been very traumatic. And then Xicotel, once he realized what the Memory chamber had done, forced her to continue to do that, keeping her a prisoner."

"Did we kill the snake?" Jack asked.

"Ixchel claims he is dead but there’s no proof," Sam said. "If he did survive, when we blew up the lab it should have taken out the entire temple complex. When we get home we’ll have to look into it."

"Danny will love that," Jack said "A new Goa'uld to investigate. And a different language to learn."

"You look good in that hard suit," Ginny told Ixchel. "You wear it like you have worn something like it before."

"The Goa'uld have experience controlling their hosts," Ixchel said. "This is similar but not as complex."

"Ick," Ginny said. "Not sure I needed to know that."

"I cannot forget," Ixchel said. "There are too many other memories in my head, memories of my hands doing things I regret."

"You’re not that person anymore," Ginny said. "Having another being’s memories in you head does not make you them."

"Lady Miranda has given me the ability to hide the Goa'uld memories while I sleep," Ixchel said, "but they cannot be hidden while I am awake. She said that too much of my true self is mixed with them for it to work while I am awake."

"That doesn’t sound good," Ginny said. "Did Lady M say she could completely separate the different memories for you?"

"No," Ixchel said. "She said she does not wish to interfere too strongly with my thoughts."

"Yeah, the mind is delicate but strong at the same time," Ginny said. "Let’s familiarize yourself with your suit. You may not fight but you need to be able to defend yourself and to be aware of all of its capabilities."

"But it is not a full, what do you call it, combat suit," Ixchel said. "How can I defend myself while wearing it?"

"It’s not a full combat suit, no, but you don’t need one. You need to be able to defend yourself against attackers, and otherwise get away when you need to. So we’ve focused more on speed and survivability that attacking."

"The Samantha has a suit for combat," Ixchel said. "I’ve seen her wearing it."

"Sam is a soldier," Ginny said. "Although she is not trained to be a Clan trooper, she has fought in wars for her people, and is a member of her people’s military."

"Ah," Ixchel said. "I was not aware of that. She wielded a weapon while in my temple but she did other things."

"She’s very talented," Ginny said. "She has also experienced having a Goa'uld in her head, though that one died saving her."

"Some Goa'uld treated us as pets," Ixchel said. "Others treated us as tools to expand their empires."

"You are free of them," Ginny said. "There are no Goa'uld in our lands."

"That does not comfort me," Ixchel said. "They could be in hiding."

"You know we are in a different universe than the one you are from, correct?" Ginny asked.

"Yes," Ixchel said. "But how do you know for sure they don't exist here."

"The universe is huge," Ginny said. "It may be possible that they do exist, but there have been no reports of their existence. Do you need help getting your armor on?"

"I can put it on," Ixchel said. "I am not a child! But I do need help adjusting it."

"Okay, we can do that," Ginny said. "It’s really simple, since we didn’t have to invent a new controller for yours. You just put it on." Ginny started handing Ixchel pieces of her new armor. "Each major piece is already molded to your body. We did that during your first fitting."

"It feels odd here," Ixchel said, rubbing the part of the armor that covered her chest.

"Yeah, we all have issues there," Ginny said, grimacing. "The material for the front piece needs to be very firm but custom fitted. It can take several tries to get it right."

"I would rather not be covered there," Ixchel said.

"This is not optional," Ginny said.

"Not optional, what does that mean," Ixchel asked, giving Ginny a puzzled look,

"Optional means you don’t have to do something, it’s up to you. Not optional is the opposite. If something is non-optional it means you will do it even if you don’t like it. We all wear full armor when on duty or during combat," Ginny said. "So, while traveling you will wear your armor."

"You are very intense," Ixchel said. "My sister in arms, Pele, was much like you before the Goa'uld killed her."

"I am sorry," Ginny said.

"She has gone ahead," Ixchel said, her eyes glazing over. "She was one of the lucky."

Recognizing Ixchel getting lost in a painful memory, Ginny simply nodded and continued working on adjusting her suit. They learned over the past few weeks that it was better to let her come out of that on her own.

Chapter Text

"So, what have you learned?" Andy asked Joy as they all gathered for a final planning session before resuming their journey home.

"It’s a dead planet," Joy said. "There’s nothing that I can find to indicate how it happened. Everything has been dead for so long that my instruments can’t make any sense of it. This facility," she waved at the cavern, "appears to have been built later. Much later."

"So, someone or something came along, destroyed the planet, and left no signs? And then our friendly Gate builders came along and set up this Gate and used it for a while and then they disappeared also?" Jack asked.

"That’s basically it," Joy said. "There are foundations of buildings and faint outlines of roads and other things but it’s like someone traced them in the sparkly radioactive dirt with a finger."

"So, we know not to wander around outside if we ever come back," Andy said. "What else did you find?"

"Those crystals Janice found? It’s someone’s diary. I think," Joy said. "But, it seems to document travel through their Rings. If we can look closer at it, I’m sure it could be used to create a map."

"Oh, now that is helpful," Jack said. "How much have you figured out so far?"

"Well, I know the names of their Rings," Joy said. "They don’t translate into any Earth languages. There are thirteen of them."

"That seems odd," Sam said. "Is thirteen a special number in this universe? You have thirteen Clans, and thirteen gates?"

"Nine is our special number," Janice said, shaking her head. "The Nine Goddesses of the Underworld, which our Council of Nine is based on. And there were nine original Clans if we go back far enough, four of which became big enough that they split creating the thirteen."

"Is your clan one of the original Nine?" Sam asked.

"Of course," Ginny said.

"We believe so," Janice said, correcting her, "but every Clan claims that."

"Before we get side tracked into a history lesson," Jack said, "what did you learn from the diary?"

"It’s possible to travel from the first one to the last, without knowing the address of each Ring," Joy said. "It’s a form of exploration pattern. Similar to how we started. Build a Ring, go to another planetary system, build another. Each ring can go back to a specific Ring or back to the original in an emergency."

"So, we’ve gone through three of the Gates but can skip back to the first one that dropped us here?" Sam said. "Can you go back to one in the middle?"

"If the entire network was completed, and they installed multi-destination DHD’s, yes we could," Joy said, "but as far as I can tell, they built the thirteen Rings but never completed the installation. The diary just says there was a problem with activating them. Only members of their exploration team could use the Rings and they couldn’t figure out why."

"Did they know they were in a different universe? That their initial Ring was in a place where the science stuff works slightly different?" Jack asked.

"Science stuff?" Sam stared at him in disbelief. "Science stuff?"

"You know, physics," Jack said. "I did notice that things are different here."

"Like what?" Harry asked.

"Your hard suits for one thing," Jack said. "Sure, they work in our universe but I’ve heard you arguing with each other about some of these things. There’s no way they could have been invented in our universe, the ideas behind them are too different. And not just those nanites you like using as an excuse for everything."

"What kinds of ideas?" Andy said. "I must have missed those arguments."

"The material you use for your hard suits, for one thing. It’s impossibly strong for how light it is," Jack said. "And I can’t believe I’m the one saying this."

"It’s just a composite material, Jack," Sam said. "We have those also."

"Ah, but these are built by those damn nanites, which we don’t have. We’d never think of creating things like that material using microscopic builders."

"Okay, I get it," Harry said. "We get the benefit of our nanotech to build things in different ways but how does that make the science different?"

"Have you noticed how strong your hard suits are? It’s like something out of a comic book," Jack said. "Sam, don’t tell me you didn’t notice? It’s not so much superior technology as it is 'magical'. They get months on a charge and can wear them for weeks. If I wore the same clothes for a month I’d be very uncomfortable. And actually, I have. We’ve been in the field for months at a time."

"And we had to throw them out afterward," Sam said. "The materials we use are designed for that kind of treatment."

"Well, legend has it that a certain someone did design our combat suits based on their favorite anime," Ginny said. "They didn’t like the original Clan designs and convinced the AIs to design them differently."

"So, different science," Jack said. "Doing impossible things. It’s a good thing the hard suits you and Sam designed are simpler," he said. "Who knows how they’ll work when we get home. I’d really like that flash jumping thing but I wouldn’t want it to fail in the middle of a jump because Science suddenly noticed we were doing something impossible and turned it off."

"That won’t happen," Sam said. "The science behind it is sound, even if it comes from a direction we weren’t aware of. It won’t break in the middle of using it."

"All I’m saying is 'Splat!'," Jack said. "I’d rather not go splat."

"We don’t want you to go splat either, Jack," Ginny said. "You’ll just need to trust the suit designers, Sam and Joy, and that they did a good job on them."

"Can we get back to the map?" Sam asked. "So, right now it looks like we have to go through the gates in order? Is there any indication from the diary where each Gate is?"

"They predate the Confederation," Joy said. "And the stars have moved since then. When we get back to Earth, we might have the computing power we need to figure out where each Gate is physically based on the information in the diary. But right now? It doesn’t make any sense. If we compared it to existing star charts, the very last Ring looks like it’s somewhere in Earth’s planetary system. But we should have detected it by now."

"Any other clues?" Andy asked. "We know where the first Ring is because there was a navigation buoy that your sensors picked up. Did either of the other Rings we’ve been through have anything like that?"

"There’s another nav buoy that I’ve detected but it seems to be damaged. I know it’s there but couldn’t get any valid readings from it," Joy said. "And that should be impossible from what I know of them. It’s like I’m seeing only a shadow of one and not the real thing."

"How about those Rings that the AI’s gave us coordinates for?" Andy asked. "Do they match any of the ones in the diary."

"Not enough detail," Joy said. "They didn’t use the same coordinate system as we do. Given enough time and compute power we might get lucky."

"So, just a simple plan?" Jack said. "Just like before. Send Harry and Janice through the gate, they take a look around and come back. If it’s safe we all go through."

"What do we do if we can’t go through?" Ginny asked. "If the Rings are all linked together, if one is blocked we’re stuck."

"Hopefully, if that happens we’ll be able to contact the Fleet," Andy said. "And get a pickup."

{Ring 6}

"Nice," Harry said. "Another beach. Maybe we can spend a couple days here."

"Not if the old guy has his way," Janice said. "He really wants to get home. Before that UST takes over and he and Sam do something about it."

"Well, I think we need a break," Harry said. "We’re half way through the Ring system and it’s been a bit bland so far. Trees and deserts. And another dead planet. Nothing exciting, except for those pirates we hid from."

"We want to get home in one piece," Janice said. "We’re still on a rescue, not a road trip."

"A long rescue mission," Harry said. "It’s been over a month already. I wonder if Lady Q and the Memory have done anything yet."

"You aren’t going to win the pot," Janice said. "Only Lady Shadow knows when it’ll happen."

"So, what’d you find?" Ginny said, after they came back through the Ring. "More desert? Or trees?"

"An actual beach," Harry said. "Lots of sparkly sand and warm air."

"The scanners are running but I don’t think we’ll find anything," Janice said. "Just a place to take a break."

"We took a break at the last Gate," Jack said.

"Because we needed it," Sam reminded him. "We spent a week hiding from those pirates when we went through that Gate after the cave."

"We should have stolen their ship," Harry said. "We could have beaten them."

"We weren’t prepared for pirates," Jack said. "And how were you going to take it with us through the Gate?"

"Still should have done it," Harry said, pouting.

"Okay kids, let’s hit the road," Jack said, shaking his head.

"I could do with a swim," Andy said, speaking in Miranda’s private channel, as they lined up again in front of the Ring.

"I’m sure we can prevail on Jack," Miranda said. "We don’t need to rush through every Gate."

{Ring 10}

"Open the Gate," Jack shouted, running up the hill. Shouting could be heard in the distance.

"Not without Miranda," Andy said.

A glowing white light appeared next to her. "No need to wait," Miranda said, solidifying.

"Cutting it close," Andy said, quickly hugging her.

"The natives wouldn’t take no for an answer," Miranda said.

"How’d you get away?" Andy asked. Miranda raised an eyebrow.

"Right, sorry," Andy said.

"I told them I needed to speak with my fellow goddesses," Miranda said.

"So, you lied to them?" Andy said. She turned to the others, just as Jack reached them. "We’ll all go together. No time for our regular plan."

{Ring 12}

"One last Gate," Jack said, looking at the others. "Do we know where it goes?"

"That last Ring was under water," Andy said. "Let’s hope it doesn’t happen with this one."

"I’ll never get the mud out of my suit," Harry said, grumbling. "Going to need a complete refit once we get home."

"I think we’ll all need a complete refit, kid," Jack said. "And some brain bleach for some of us."

"Hey! You should have knocked," Ginny said. "We don't walk in on you and Sam when you’re doing 'things'. Once was enough."

"I did," Jack said. "And Sam and I don’t do 'things' like that. I don’t think either of us has quite the flexibility."

"Jack!" Sam said, blushing.

"It’s not the flexibility," Ginny said, her disgust clearly audible on the com. "It’s the old people thing."

"We all get old, eventually," Jack said. "Don’t know it until you get there."

"Are we done?" Andy said, quickly jumping in.

"Yes," Joy said, dragging Ginny into position.

"Ready?" Jack said, after a long pause, hand poised over the button. "This is the one we want so close to our solar system that we get a pickup in hours, not years."

"We’ve all got our fingers crossed," Andy said, nodding. Jack dramatically pressed the button, and waved Harry and Janice through the Gate.

"What was Harry humming?" Sam asked, frowning.

"The theme to Lost in Space," Ginny said. "She thinks it’s good luck to taunt Murphy."

"Murphy? Just by existing we taunt that rat," Jack said. "Only Murphy would have screwed up that jump that took us to that Amazon planet."

"They weren’t real amazons," Sam said. "Just a matriarchy."

"Well, they looked like weight lifters and they were ready to worship Miranda. So, that makes them Amazons. And they didn’t have any men."

"That’s because they figured out how to have children without them," Joy said.

"Millions of people already worship Miranda, not just me and the girls," Andy said, kissing her wife on the cheek. "There was a whole magazine devoted to her wishes."

"I can’t wait to meet your girls," Sam said. "They must be amazing with you two as parents."

"It’s all Miranda," Andy said. "I just stare in amazement at the wonderfulness that they are."

"You deserve a lot of the credit," Miranda said, shaking her head. "Especially for the last few years."

"What do we think they’ll find?" Joy said. "This is the last Ring. We’ve been to all of them."

"We’ve had a beach, plenty of forests, a cave, Amazons, those fury creatures that looked like muppets, and pirates. There isn’t much left," Jack said.

"A castle?" Ginny said. "I bet it opens up into a dungeon."

{Ring 13}

"Whoa! Watch that first step!" Harry said, stopping abruptly several feet from the Ring. "It’s a long way down!"

"That’s an amazing view," Janice said. "Where do you think we are? Asteroid belt? Exploded planet?"

"I’m getting comm chatter," Harry said, "though it’s not any I recognize."

"Pirates!" Janice said. "Really old pirates. That’s a very insecure code level. We hacked that in training."

"Set up the scanner and get some intel?" Harry said. "We hid from those other pirates."

"I’m also getting some old Clan comm traffic. They’re using the same codes as the original Serpent clan used when they set up on Earth," Janice said.

"So, time travel?" Harry said. "I bet that star is ours."

"Looks like it," Janice said. "Fortunately, our data profile is way below what either of them can detect."

"We can’t interfere," Harry said. "But maybe we can go pirate hunting?"

"That’d be interfering," Janice said. "Unless we’re here after the Clan was captured by the pirates."

"No, I think we’re here at the wrong time. But why don’t you set up a probe to record everything it can and hide it. When we come back here at the right time we’ll have all sorts of interesting info to look at."

"Of course," Janice said excitedly. "If we can find where the pirates stashed everything they stole from us, we’ll stop the Black Hats in their tracks."

"And maybe, maybe, we’ll find more Clan in stasis," Harry said.

"Hopefully not," Janice said. "They’d probably want to take over because they’re older."

"Well, the entire Council of Nine from back then/now was killed so they can’t."

"Give me a minute to set things up, and then we can go back, and get Sam and Joy to figure out how to get us to the correct time."

{Ring 12}

"So, what’d you find this time," Jack asked. "A castle?"

"Outer space," Harry said. "It opens up to vacuum in an asteroid belt somewhere in the Sol system."

"So we just need to set off a rescue beacon," Andy said. "And then we can get Sam and Jack home."

"Not so fast," Janice said. "It appears to also go back in time, at least a thousand years."

"A thousand years?" Sam said. "That means…"

"It means we could go rescue the Clan from the Red Pirates," Joy said.

"And wipe out our own history," Janice said. "We can’t do that. Tinkering with time can be tricky."

"No, we can’t," Andy said. "Too many things would be changed or cease to exist. And we’d be stranded in this time."

"So, no pirate hunting?" Harry asked, clearly disappointed.

"Not this time," Andy said.

"How about we hunt for pirate treasure instead?" Harry asked. "Janice is recording all comm traffic from both sides. Once we figure out how to get back to the right time we can use it to find where they hid things."

"Okay," Andy said. "I don’t see why that can’t be done, but we’ll need to run it by the Council before you start digging things up. Assuming you can find it."

"Great!" Janice said. "We can leave the scanner probe where it is and pick it up later. And I’ll set up a beacon to activate at the right time for when we want a pickup."

"So, we have plenty of time to figure out how to recalibrate the Ring to go to the present and not the past." Sam said. "There was a section of that diary that discussed using the Rings to travel through time. We just need to figure out how to do the calibration."

"While you do that, we’ll set up camp. Come on kids," Jack said. "And maybe we can do some fishing off the beach."

"Shark fishing?" Harry asked excitedly as she, Ginny, and Janice followed him. "And clams? We can have a seafood barbecue."

"Haven’t done that in months," Ginny said. "Once we get the camp ready we can do a barbecue, right Jack?"

"Definitely," Jack said. "Have you figured out how to use the suit protein packs to create beer yet?"

"We had that figured out ages ago," Ginny said. "It just takes some special programming, that the armorers don’t approve of."

"Well, I approve, and we’re celebrating finding Earth," he said, "so while Harry and I fish, can you and Janice work that out?"

"On it," Janice said, grabbing her hand.

"So, how long do you think it’ll take to recalibrate the Gate," Jack asked. "The troops are going to get antsy if we don’t do something soon."

"We have it mostly figured out now," Sam said. "But we need several crystals of a type we don’t have to trigger it."

"So, no go?" Jack said. "Does that mean we need to leave a message in a bottle and hope the other side doesn’t have the same time problem?"

"Well, Janice and Harry came back through so the calibration seems to be in both directions. So, no." Sam rubbed her temple. "Miranda believes she can make the right crystals by forcing them to change composition but she’s never done anything like that before. So that might take a while."

"Okay," Jack said. "You keep working on that and I’ll find something to keep them busy."

"Don’t get caught," Sam said.

"Get caught? Doing what?"

"I didn’t see it, and I don’t know," Sam said, waving him off.

"What is he going to do?" Andy asked, concerned.

"Field exercises," Sam said. "He’s going to take Harry, Ginny, and Janice out into the last Gate and explore. Nothing like experience to hone the senses, as he likes to say."

"As long as they don’t get caught," Andy said, nodding. "Documenting the Clan’s missing history will make them extremely popular with the Council."

"How is Miranda coming with those crystals?" Sam asked.

"She almost has it," Andy said. "Apparently, manipulating crystal structures is a natural ability for her in that form."

"I wondered why the Ancients used crystal in everything. I suspect that they had Ascended helping them and they didn’t all ascend until they had no choice." Sam sighed. "As soon as Miranda figures it out, we should be able to realign that ring to go to the right time."

"How are you planning to do it? Align it to our time now or closer to when we left?" Andy asked.

"We’ve only been gone three months," Sam said. "Does it matter?"

"Not really," Andy said. "We’ve already agreed to send you home to an earlier time, only a couple weeks."

"That’s different, though," Sam said. "No one will notice. But we look older than when we left. Your equipment looks well worn. I’m sure your armorers would like to examine it to see how well it is wearing."

"Oh, we wouldn’t want to keep it a secret," Joy said. "Time shifting is fairly common due to the learning pods used by the Clan. No one is really the age they look. The AI actually keeps track of real and relative ages of everyone but no one really cares."

"Hadn’t thought of it that way," Sam said. "Let’s just use the current time. That should be simpler."

"I’ll go check on Ixchel," Joy said, pointing towards the shore

"So, how are you and Jack handling the closeness," Andy asked, after checking for eavesdroppers. "Has anything happened yet?"

"No, he’s been the perfect gentleman," Sam said, sounding frustrated. "But I’m not going to force the issue, that would make things worse. We’re just going to have to wait it out. They won’t let him retire, he’s too valuable to the program, but it’s getting to the point where he won’t be able to go out into the field like he does now. So when he retires from field ops and we are no longer in each other’s chain of command, we’ll deal with it then."

"That’s too bad," Andy said. "The Clan doesn’t have issues with such things. Relationships across departments and commands are common. Of course, that’s partly because they don’t have any hangups about that because of the examples set by the Council. And it’s a completely different culture."

"We can’t stay," Sam said. "Our lives are back there."

"You’d be very welcome here," Andy said, nodding, "but we understand. You have your own world to save."

"You’ll have to keep us updated," Sam said. "If we can provide help of any sort..."

"I’m sure any help would be appreciated," Andy said. "Though we’ve already borrowed you and Jack for longer than your General would probably like."

Chapter Text

"What's that?" Santana asked, leaning forward to look at the small pitted and dented object on Brittany's desk.

"It's a relay beacon," Brittany said. "It appears to be one of the newer models we sent with Andy's Shadows. But we only had half a dozen of those and they took all of them."

"Where'd you find it?" Santana asked, frowning.

"In that section of Mars we use for advanced Shadow training. It suddenly started broadcasting," Brittany said.

"So, why haven't you opened it yet?" Santana asked her.

"It's time locked. Open it too soon and it'll wipe itself," Brittany said. "It should unlock and open by itself in a few minutes."

"So, do you want to get the others down here for this?" Santana asked her.

"I've already sent for them," Brittany said, leaning back in her chair.

"You didn't send for me!" Santana said, pouting. "Why not?"

"Because I knew you would be here already, silly," Brittany said, smiling at her. "It's almost lunch time."

"Oh, right," Santana said.

"So, what do we have," Quinn asked, entering Brittany's office, followed by Rachel.

Santana held up the small object for them to see.

"Is that a memory beacon?" Rachel said, after staring at it for a minute.

"Close, Rach," Brittany said. "It's one of the relay beacons we gave to Joy and Janice for Andy's op to rescue Miranda. One of my training squads found it on Mars."

"Does that mean there's one of those Rings on Mars?" Rachel asked.

"Not likely," Quinn said. "We would have found it by now. We have Mars fairly well mapped out. They aren't exactly inconspicuous."

"It means that they were somehow able to place it there," Brittany said. "Which is very unlikely."

"It's beeping!" Rachel said, stepping back when it emitted a series of beeps.

"They do that, Shorty," Santana said, quickly putting it back down on Brittany's desk.

A small hologram of Janice appeared above the beacon and started talking. "Hey guys! Guess what! The last Ring in the Ring system is actually in the Sol system. We found a diary from one of the techs who installed the Rings and we've worked our way to the last one. You'd never guess where it is! It's out in the asteroid belt between Earth and Mars. But there's one small problem."

"Of course there is," Santana grumbled. "Just for once I'd like something to be simple."

"The Ring we're at connects to the last Ring in the past. Not too far back but far enough back that we can't really go there. But you'll see that when you look at the data we've stuffed into the beacon.

So, we need you to find the Ring. But don't expect us to show up until at least ninety days after we last communicated with you. We've actually been traveling through the Rings, and seeing some amazing things, for a year at this point. But we're not sure how accurate we'll be when we recalibrate the Ring here to the correct time. See you then!"

With a flicker, the hologram disappeared.

"That's certainly different," Rachel said. "So, they're stuck in the past until they can figure out how to fix the last Ring?"

"It's not actually the last ring they need to fix but the one that connects to it," Brittany said. "Did you hear that Artie?" she asked. "How long will it take to search for that Ring?"

"They didn't include any co-ordinates?" Santana asked.

"Things move," Brittany said.

"The asteroid belt is fifty percent mapped now, and we have not detected any object resembling a portal Ring," Artie said. "If we devote additional resources to it, we can map the remaining belt in a month."

"That should work out," Quinn said. "They've only been gone from here for two months. If we take a month to find that Ring we should be able to do it before they come back."

"What data did they include on the beacon?" Rachel said. "Anything I'd be interested in?"

"I am decoding it now," Artie said. "You will all be very interested in the contents."

"Put it up on the screen," Brittany said. An overhead view of the Yucatan appeared. As they watched, it focused on a specific area, gradually narrowing down to a familiar looking city full of bustling figures.

"They didn't," Rachel said, gasping. "They did! They somehow managed to video the original Clan compound. How did they manage that?"

"That answers when they ended up," Brittany said. "Though I'm not sure how they were able to do this, Janice's scanners don't have that ability."

"What else did they get?" Quinn asked.

"They recorded comm traffic," Brittany said, going through the data Artie was dumping to her comm systems. "Both Clan and some others."

"Tell me they grabbed Red Pirate comm traffic," Santana said. "If we can figure out how they operate and where they built their local bases we can get rid of the Black Hats completely."

"They did," Brittany said. "Someone will have to dig deeper into it and analyze it," she added. "There is some other data that we might find interesting but it is mostly recorded comm traffic over a hundred year period."

"Still useful," Rachel said. "Until now we had no information from the Clan's time here other than what we found on that cruiser with Mother. This is important historical information."

"And militarily important," Quinn said. "Does it say how this beacon ended up on Mars? They didn't have any atmospheric craft, just their hard suits. Unless Miranda was able to put it there, we don't know a lot about how her energy form works."

"No dissecting Mirandas," Rachel said firmly. "She's a family member. A powerful one in fact."

"No plans to do that," Brittany said. "We are hoping for a little research time with her so we at least know her capabilities better."

"That's different," Rachel said, nodding.

"Here we go," Santana said, looking up from her tablet, doing her own digging. "A mission report on capturing a pirate vessel."

"Wouldn't that affect the timeline?" Rachel asked. "How'd they get away with it?"

"Looks like they found one that was abandoned after a couple pirates got into a fight and sprayed some kind of gas all over it, making it uninhabitable." Santana said.

"So, how'd they fix that?" Rachel asked.

"Doesn't say, other than Miranda provided an antidote that neutralized the gas." Santana sighed. "I'm sure there was cleverness involved, since this is Ginny and Harry we're talking about and that Colonel O'Neill, who seems to be a bad influence. He called it a training exercise."

"Does it say what they did with the pirate ship?" Quinn asked. "We don't have any intact examples."

"It's probably a crumpled wreck on some asteroid," Santana said. "I'm surprised they didn't get killed. Those things are death traps. If they weren't used by pirates, they would be banned."

"They must have been space worthy at some point," Quinn said. "Unless they stole working ships and modified them.

"I bet someone somewhere is hoping the pirates get themselves killed with their own ships," Santana said. "That's what I'd do."

"You're a very civic minded person, San," Brittany said. "I'll set my best team to analyze the comm traffic in this beacon. And we need to find that Ring as soon as possible."

"Well, if they're stuck in a temporal anomaly," Quinn said, "is there any real rush? They aren't going to get any older than they already are."

"We have no way to communicate with them," Brittany said. "This is all one way." She waved at the beacon.

"Once the Ring gets recalibrated, we can use the Ring system ourselves," Santana said. "There must be some useful places it goes to."

"Look at report Alpha-Zed Three," Brittany said. "It's a short summary of everything they found traveling the Rings. I don't think they'll be useful at the moment. We can send out deeper exploration teams in the future but I think this would just be a distraction."

"What about the Bugs?" Santana said. "We don't want them finding the Rings and using them."

"No one has been able to figure out how to use the Rings until now," Brittany said. "The chances of the Bugs figuring it out are very slim. You need some of that metal the Goa'uld use and that doesn't seem to exist in this universe except for what came with Sam and Ixchel."

"Bugs?" Rachel asked.

"It's what the JJ's started calling the Enemy. I know they aren't really bugs but I think calling the 'Enemy' bugs makes them easier to grasp. Enemy is too generic. And 'Bugs' means we'll be more cautious."

"Bugs it is," Quinn said. "I recognized the reference."

"Seems appropriate," Santana said. "Your troopers are our equivalent of the Mobile Infantry even if they never had women in their ranks. And your hard suits are a lot more girly."

"Of course they are," Quinn said, smirking. "We're girls so our hard suits should reflect that."

"I find it interesting that they spent time creating hard suit-like armor for the three others. Samantha Carter was able to understand our tech in days where we still have Earthers who can't quite grasp the concept after months of exposure. And she improved on the idea in several places," Brittany said. "We now have a basic design for a male hard suit. Sure, it could be improved using our nanite tech but they had very limited amounts of that available."

"Cross pollination of ideas is a winner," Rachel said. "We need more of it, right?"

"We really can't keep her," Quinn reminded Brittany. "We promised her CO that we'd send her and O'Neill home when they got back from this galactic road trip."

"I want to go on a Galactic Road Trip," Rachel said, pouting. "There's so much to see out there. And we're missing it."

"Once we take care of…" Quinn started saying.

"…the Bugs… I know, I know. No adventures until we deal with the Bugs. All of our efforts need to go towards that. But we've been working on this for what feels like decades and it'll be a few more years before they show up, if they show up," Rachel said. "I need some action."

"I don't want to hear about that," Santana said, covering her ears. "That's personal and should be kept in the bedroom. Why aren't you keeping your woman happy in the bedroom" she said poking Quinn.

"She's not my woman," Quinn said, poking her back. "Stop calling her that."

"She would be if you got your act together," Santana said.

"Children," Brittany grumbled. "Everybody out!" she shouted. "Take your UST somewhere else!"

"Me too?" Rachel said, watching a squabbling Santana and Quinn leave Brittany's office.

"No, you can stay," Brittany said. "They just need to grow up. If anyone saw them they wouldn't believe those two women command others in battle and win."

"Maybe it's time for some reverse psychology," Rachel said. "I can write an epic having them do things they know they shouldn't and losing. I'm sure there's a name for such a thing."

"Don't waste your time on fixing them," Brittany said. "They'll figure out their issues eventually."

"Well, it's taking them too long," Rachel said. "How can I get Quinn to focus on me if she's constantly arguing with Santana."

"I won't tell you what works for me and Santana," Brittany said. "Quinn needs a different incentive. Maybe, once we're done with our Bug hunt, the two of you can do a Ring tour."

"I'm not sure I want to have Quinn going near these Amazons," Rachel said. "They'd probably make her queen and she'd be stuck. She's too honor bound to run away from a responsibility like that."

"So, don't go there, or sneak through in the middle of the night. It appears that the Ring goes both ways so you never have to travel away from it if you don't need to. I think San and I will do it also," Brittany said. "It'll be fun."

"Once the Bugs are gone," Rachel said.

"Goes without saying," Brittany said.

"So, after the pick-up, are we having a party to celebrate?" Rachel asked.

"A 'Welcome back from your adventures among the Ring Dwellers' party?" Brittany asked. "We can, and must do that! Artie, remind me later please."

"Of course, Lady Shadow."

"Any response yet?" Sam asked. "We've fixed the time issue when the Gates connect."

"Nothing," Joy said. "It's possible they haven't found the Ring yet."

"Or they're waiting for the right time and we're early," Andy said.

"Or you did something to the timeline when you stole that pirate ship," Sam said. "We really didn't need it. It was a wreck."

"Which we fixed," Jack said.

"With help from Miranda, otherwise it'd still be a wreck. Next time get something smaller, like some pirate weapons. I'm sure those would be interesting," Sam said. "And you could even take them with you when we go home. All that pirate ship is good for is junk. Junk that we had to destroy. It was a death trap."

"We might not have actually destroyed it," Jack said. "It seemed like such a waste so we put it someplace safe."

"Jack! You're just as bad as they are. At least they had an excuse, you leading them into trouble."

"I'm self trouble-actualized," Jack said, smirking. "I don't need anyone to lead me there, I can find it on my own."

"Obviously," Sam said. "But you need to be more careful. Lady Quinn isn't going to be happy with us if we ruin two of her best troopers."

"I bet Lady Shadow will probably find the whole thing amusing," Andy said. "She expects her people to be creative problem solvers and creators."

"Well, they're certainly being that," Sam said. "At least they haven't infected Ixchel with their sense of humor."

"She does have a sense of humor," Miranda said, appearing next to Andy, dressed in what Sam assumed would be all the rage in Paris, some day. "But it's a little dry. The Goa'uld have no sense of humor according to her, and Jack."

"The Tok'ra have a sense of humor, so the Goa'uld must," Sam said. "But it's a bit on the dry and slow side according to my father."

"At least they have some. From my experience with the Ascended Ancients, humor was very lacking in their lives," Miranda said. "That diary certainly showed no feeling or warmth."

"I can't image living without laughter," Andy said. "And it sounds like we have a bite," she added as a bell tolled on their public comm channel.

"I'd really like to know how she managed that," Sam said. "There should be no communication between the Gates in this ring system unless they are connected."

"She offered to show you how she did it," Andy said.

"It won't work with the Gates in our system," Sam said. "It's dependent upon a feature specific to the crystal design of these Gates, not the naquada ones in our system."

"Is everyone suited up?" Jack said. "Let's go meet the new neighbors. Without anyone dying."

"And off they marched, to do battle with what they knew not," Harry whispered loudly.

"When do you find time to read all of the things you read?" Jack asked her. "You can't possibly have free time if you expect to stay in top form."

"Plenty of time for recreational reading, Jack," Harry said. "You just need to know when to squeeze it into your schedule. I bet you find plenty of time for watching hockey and the Simpsons."

"Of course," Jack said. "But I'm old and well seasoned. You have that hard suit and you can't tell me that you have to almost live in it to stay proficient in its use."

"She does live in it," Joy said. "It's a bit disturbing."

"All troopers have an intimate relationship with their hard sit," Janice said. "They go through intense psych evals to make sure they won't go crazy if they have to spend days like that."

"What about the Shadows?" Sam asked. "Don't they spend as much time in their hard suits?"

"Only in the field," Janice said. "We don't have to hop into our suits at a moment's notice. And ours are more comfortable anyway."

"Speak for yourself," Harry said. "I find my suit very comfortable."

"So, where are they?" Quinn asked. "We followed directions, and sent a message through the Ring."

"Give them a few minutes," Brittany said. "We don't know how much temporal distortion is still happening here. Our temporal sensors are still on the fritz from whatever they did to calibrate that Ring."

"Should we leave it here?" Santana asked. "Or put it somewhere safe."

"We need to ask Sam and Joy," Brittany said. "They're the Ring experts."

"If we don't we'll have to set up guards or build around it. Which we should have done anyway. Even though they all have EV suits of some sort, dealing with vacuum like this can be dangerous," Quinn said.

"I'd prefer it be put in safe storage until we can examine it," Santana said. "My chief tech is drooling at the thought of having a working Ring system to test."

"It's nearly indestructible," Brittany said. "We wouldn't want to drop it in the sun but nothing short of a nuclear blast will move it."

"And there they are," Rachel said. "Very scruffy explorer like in appearance. We are recording this right?"

"You have to ask?" Brittany said. "From several different angles."

"The Chief is going to have a conniption," Quinn said. "They look like they were in a running battle with a couple buzz saws."

"They've been wearing those suits for a year," Brittany said. "They can be worn that long without being refurbished, this being the proof, but they won't look new at that point. The Chief should be happy to see just how durable her new hard suit design is."

"And the new male hard suit design," Santana said. "I can see a lot of uses for those, especially with all of the men we inherited with NASA. I'd bet anything that this design is better than anything NASA could come up with."

"Welcome home," Brittany said, stepping forward. "As soon as the docs check you all out we have some important business to attend to."

"What kind of business," Andy asked, looking around at the gathered suits.

"They'll be at the welcome home party," Rachel told her, understanding what she was looking for.

"The business of the formal adoption proceedings for our new Clan members," Brittany said. "We haven't adopted anybody since, well, me, and this is an important milestone for our Clan."

"I told you we'd get a party!" Harry said, over their team comm channel. "I wonder if we'll get medals or a reward."

"A reward for accidentally ending up far from home?" Janice said. "I doubt it. We'll be lucky if we don't get docked pay to have our suits refurbished."

"Don't worry, guys," Brittany said, interrupting them. "This is just the beginning."

"But first into the shuttle," Santana said. "Medical is waiting."

"How are they?" Rachel asked, impatiently waiting in the aft reception room of Fleet's flagship for the wanderers to finish evaluation.

"They all passed," Brittany said. "Medical was surprised."

"Andy took good care of them," Quinn said. "O'Neill said she showed excellent leadership skills."

"Surprised he didn't try to take over, as the only testosterone junky," Santana said.

"If you looked at his records," Brittany said, "you'd see he isn't like that."

"So, he set a good example," Santana said. "How many like that are we going to find on our side of the dimension?"

"There are sure to be some," Brittany said. "Not that we need any right now, but we know what to look for."

The sound of running feet interrupted anything else she could say.

"Where are they?" Cassidy and Caroline said, rushing up to them.

"They'll be here as soon as medical finishes with them," Rachel said.

"They've been gone a year, their time," Quinn reminded them. "The docs aren't going to rush things. They'll be here in a couple minutes."

"Caroline? Cassidy?" a quiet voice said. Turning, Caroline and Cassidy paused a moment before darting to the back of the room where Miranda and Andy had appeared. They both grabbed Miranda, and held her tight, as if planning to never let her go.

"Girls?" Andy said, gently moving them away from the door.

"Andy!" Caroline said, turning to her. "You brought her back!"

"Yes," Andy said, wrapping her arms around them with a huge sigh. "We're home."