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Title: Tok'ra Allegiance
Author: Lizardbeth Johnson <lizardbeths_tale_at_yahoo_dot_com>
Summary: In the wake of the destruction of the Tok'ra base, Malek and his host deal with old memories and new threats.
Category: Missing scene (sort of), action-adventure
Spoilers: Allegiance
Archive: Sure, just let me know where.
Rating: PG-13 (utterly Gen; violence identical to the show)
Web Site: http://www.geocities.com/lizardbeths_tale/Allegiance.htm


The ceiling groaned under the pressure, fragments falling. Crystals shattered on the floor. Cursed Goa'uld.

I ran into the chappa'ai chamber. Selmak was at the khatiun, but whatever he was doing wasn't working. It wouldn't engage.

"Selmak! Dial us out!" I shouted.

He didn't even bother to glance at me in irritation -- he was trying to do that already, of course.

"Earth's not answering!" Jacob yelled back. He started to dial again.

"Then anywhere! Just open the mik'tarik gate!" Malek didn't approve of me swearing at Selmak, but I was beyond caring. We had to get out of the tunnels, and the chappa'ai was our only hope. But as long as Jacob was there, I could be more useful elsewhere. I raced down the eastern access tunnels, encountering more of my people.

"Hurry! To the chappa'ai!" I yelled, trying to blink away the dust as another strafing loosened some of the roof. Several Tau'ri rounded the corner, the leader Pierce with his weapon ready, and the other two supporting one of my people.

"Where are the rest?" I asked Pierce, who stopped next to me.

He shook his head, grim. "The tunnel completely collapsed on them."

I swore. If the southern tunnels were gone, that meant many Tok'ra deaths as well. Within, Malek's wave of sorrow rocked us both. I tried to focus again. "Jacob Carter waits at the Gate. Go." I waved with my zat'nik'tel, showing them the route to safety as I stood in the cross corridor. I prayed that Jacob had opened the gate, or we were all doomed. Only two pieces of luck had spared us so far -- the Goa'uld had not established an incoming wormhole, and the chappa'ai was beneath the surface, so we didn't have to go above to escape.

A chunk of the wall splintered free, narrowly missing us as it crashed to the floor. Three more Tok'ra, one limp and carried, rushed past, hazy in the floating dust.

*Not again,* Malek whispered, sharing my eyes and gazing on the devastation.

I shared his thought, but with memories of my own. Another bombardment, another rain of debris, another death... My hand trembled on my zat'nik'tel. No. Not now. But it was hard to push the memory away, when Malek was echoing it. His memories held years of evacuations, mine held only one. But it was not one Malek had seen which he was thinking about. We had not been at Revanna. Malek did not want the same thing to happen to us as had happened to our base there. So many Tok'ra dead...

I determined to save as many as I could. My grip firmed on my weapon. The voice of my military academy instructor echoed in my memory, If you cannot save everyone, save all you can.

Ocker and Billin came down the corridor, awkwardly carrying the za'tarc detector box between them. "Go!" I waved them on toward the gate chamber, and followed, watching behind.

Then Valera staggered into view, limping from a bad wound in her leg. I rushed to support her, as the tunnel gave way behind us.

The force of the collapse threw us forward, and I covered my head as debris rained down, expecting the roof to fall on me. When nothing more fell, I glanced back -- no one would be reaching the chappa'ai through that tunnel any more.

Partil arrived and helped Valera. My legs trembled for a moment when I forced myself back to my feet, but Malek steadied us and we ran to the chappa'ai chamber. I glanced to see that Tok'ra were going through the open wormhole. Never have I been so glad to see that shimmering event horizon. Selmak had got it open. But where was he?

But before I could look, the chamber shook violently as the Goa'uld hit us again. I glanced up at the ceiling. The crystals trembled but held. If the roof collapsed, we would all die. Cursed Goa'uld -- they would not win again.

"Partil," I called. "Do you have crystals?" My idea was really no solution at all, but better to fight than surrender if the chappa'ai were buried. She patted her pouch. Good, at least someone still had tunnel crystals.

*Where is Selmak? We need him with the Tau'ri,* I wondered at Malek, who wanted to know the same thing. Then I saw Jacob, kneeling before the khatiun, doing something to its inner mechanism.

*Feedback energy charge,* Malek supplied helpfully. *It will destroy the khatiun.*

It would in fact destroy the khatiun and everything else within five kilometers. It hadn't always been Tok'ra procedure to destroy the chappa'ai behind us. Some Tok'ra planets, even after discovery, had been re-used hundreds of years later. But it was our new policy to make Anubis' pay as much as possible for his conquests, even if it meant killing some of our own. Better to die free than in the hands of that Goa'uld.

The chamber rocked again, throwing me from my feet. Several rocks broke off from the ceiling, shattering on the floor. I didn't wait to see if this would be the last or if the chamber would collapse, and pulled myself upright. The gate was still open. Several Tok'ra were stirring, warily. "Go!" I yelled at them, to get them going. They went. Ocker and Billin were there still, and I gestured furiously for them to go. The Tau'ri were next, after Pierce had words with Jacob.

I got to my feet and looked to find any last stragglers. Jacob was still at the khatiun. Partil was down by the wall, unmoving. No, not another one. Please, let her just be hurt.

I sank down at her side, where she was crumpled as she had fallen. I knew at once that the host was dead. Desperately hoping, I tapped the back of her neck in a signal for Partil to emerge, but there was no movement.

I gently turned her onto her back to get the tunnel crystals. Partil's long blonde hair had come loose from its usual immaculate knot and streamed about her head. It was matted with blood on one side. My heart seized and I couldn't breathe.

Her hair was almost exactly the same color. The same length. Her eyes, empty and staring, were hazel, just like ...

*Do not do this,* Malek advised, gently. *Listen to me, my friend. This is not the time.*

But his voice seemed terribly far away. I reached for her hair to run a lock of it through my fingers. It was soft. Why had I never seen it before? Partil's host could be my Jisa, grown to womanhood.

Jisa.

The ceiling had collapsed then too. I remembered running through the great hall where the crystal chandelier had shattered, scattering tiny shards and glittering beads like snow across the wooden floor -- just one of many beautiful things collected in a hundred years of freedom that had been destroyed in the attack. But none of it had mattered after I had seen Jisa on the floor.

It was so clear in my mind -- as though the years between, my blending with Malek, had all been just a dream. All this was only a moment in which I sought some place far away from where I still knelt beside my beautiful golden-haired daughter who had barely had a chance to live.

*We must go,* Malek tried again, more insistently.

And I heard Jacob shout in concern. "Malek, are you all right? Hurry."

Then I heard Jaffa boots. They were coming.

None of it meant anything.

A hand fell on my shoulder. Jacob spoke, "Malek, you have to take control. I set the charge. We have to go now."

*I am sorry.* Very gently, Malek pushed me aside, took the pouch of crystals, and stood up.

*No!* I protested as Malek carried us away from her. *We can't leave her!* I knew even at that moment that it was irrational. But I felt like I had abandoned and failed Jisa all over again.

*Hush, beloved,* Malek murmured. His presence surrounded me, soothing. *Partil is beyond any aid we can give. You mourn one long gone.*

Jacob and I climbed the steps to the event horizon and turned. We were the last alive in the chamber, I saw when Malek turned to look.

The Jaffa were growing closer, coming down the eastern tunnel. Fury filled me suddenly, from some deep dark place that not even Malek could touch. *Give me control.* Malek was so surprised by the demand that he allowed it without knowing what I intended. I activated my zat'nik'tel and pointed it at the tunnel entrance from the top of the platform.

The instant the first Jaffa staff weapon appeared, I fired. Blue lighting shot out, again and again. Jaffa fell. But it wasn't enough. Nothing would ever be enough.

"Malek!" Jacob sounded dismayed.

Malek shoved me out of control and ran after Jacob through the wormhole. The transition was wrenching. Wherever we ended up, we would need all our wits around us, and I had none to give. Grief and fury raged in me, erupting from beneath the peace I had found in these last years.

We emerged into bright sunlight and immediately a staff weapon blast followed us, striking Jacob. "Jacob!" Malek grabbed him as he stumbled, but fortunately that was the last of the enemy fire as the wormhole closed behind us.

Where were we? I had never seen this place before. Nor had Malek, which was strange since he should have seen all the Tok'ra bases, outposts, and allied worlds.

Where had Jacob Carter taken us?

There was a broad flat space before the gate, with semi-permanent structures on the perimeter and two large weapons emplacements. There were several people gathered there, helping the injured, and I recognized the uniform markings of the Tau'ri. Ah, so this must be a Tau'ri secondary base.

But interspersed with the larger metal bunkers were smaller tents, and interspersed with the Tau'ri were Jaffa. A great many Jaffa.

*The Tau'ri have betrayed us!* I realized in that moment, with a sickening jolt of fear. If the Tau'ri had turned against us, then truly we were lost.

Though he was uneasy, Malek was not as certain as I was. He is of course older and wiser than I, but more importantly, he is a scientist and rarely jumps to conclusions without evidence. I, on the other hand, have always been far more intuitive about things. It generally makes us a good team, though it can be occasionally frustrating.

He replied, *I scarcely believe the Tau'ri would send so many of their own to be killed on Raisa, if that were true. No, this has another explanation. See, there is Teal'c. And the elder there, that must be Bra'tac.*

I calmed, as I realized he was right. Teal'c and Bra'tac would not be able to serve the Goa'uld, even if they wanted to, for no Goa'uld would let them live. A Shol'va to one system lord might - might - be able to serve another. But a Shol'va to the Goa'uld - never. *Rebel Jaffa?* I wondered.

*There are few,* Malek looked around the compound counting those Jaffa he saw.

Few? Compared with the ranks of all the Jaffa, perhaps. But there were still plenty of them.

A fair-haired Tau'ri came and helped Jacob. Because of Teal'c's presence I knew she had to be Major Samantha Carter, briefly host to Jolinar and daughter of Jacob. So that made the tall greying soldier Colonel O'Neill. Although I knew of him, we had not met before. He was the one who had the failed blending with Kanan. Neither Malek nor I could understand how such a thing had happened. Though we were a rare Tok'ra pair in which the host had usual control, mostly because of personality -- I dislike taking second place, while Malek cares little -- never had we heard of a blending so one-sided that the host had been suppressed utterly. It was against all that we believe. Kanan had somehow gone mad, was all we could reason. Jacob had told us of it, so we would understand some of O'Neill's distaste for Tok'ra, if we ever met.

So now we were meeting at last, and indeed, he radiated dislike as he looked at us. We did not take it personally, knowing the source. He came forward to talk to Jacob. Malek and I joined them.

*Do you wish to speak?* Malek asked, his tone gentle. I usually had control, especially in these sorts of situations. Malek can be somewhat ... abrupt. I was trained to lead and be diplomatic.

But not right now. I didn't trust myself to remain calm if I had to deal with Jaffa, with the memory of my daughter's eyes so fresh in my mind. I knew it was unjust -- these were likely rebels, much as Tok'ra were rebel Goa'uld -- but emotions are not rational. Malek was managing the physical expressions of my feelings, but the feelings remained, like a great wind that threatened to topple me into a yawning abyss.

Sometimes being blended was a great relief. The weight was not mine to bear alone and when I was weary and sick at heart, Malek was always there.

*No. You go ahead. Be polite.*

I felt his rueful amusement. *Yes, o wise one.* His mind touched mine with deep affection. *Rest, beloved. We are safe now.*

O'Neill asked what happened.

Malek answered, "Anubis' forces have overrun our position in the Raisa system."

Ocker came to take up his position to our right. After prodding on my part, Malek asked formally, "To whom do I owe thanks for this refuge?"

Then finally Jacob introduced us -- he has been a bad influence on Selmak, I think. Or perhaps it had been Saroosh with the exquisite manners, not Selmak. "Colonel Jack O'Neill, this is Malek, commander of the Tok'ra base we just evacuated, and Ocker, chief of security."

It was the Tok'ra way to introduce only the symbiote among those used to dealing with our kind. But in my case, it mattered little. Jacob could not have introduced me if he had wanted to, since he didn't know my name. I had left my name behind, along with all that it meant, the day that Malek and I saved each other.

Malek said to O'Neill, "Your people were most brave in aiding us."

"How many made it?" O'Neill asked.

Ocker glanced to me, expecting me to answer, but even Malek could not manage to speak of our losses. So Ocker answered, "Less than a quarter of our number."

O'Neill offered, without much sympathy, "I'm sorry."

Malek asked the question burning in both of our minds, and no doubt every single Tok'ra there, "This is a base of the Tau'ri. Why are there Jaffa?"

"Rebel warriors," Samantha Carter answered.

So, we were right. Malek nodded thoughtfully, and we looked out over their ranks again. "Jaffa who have turned against the Goa'uld. I did not realize their ranks had grown to such a number."

With rather appealing enthusiasm, Samantha added, "Hundreds more are operating as a fifth column among the Goa'uld."

Hundreds more? I'm not sure if the thought was mine or Malek's, so perfectly were we aligned at the moment. There were so many?

So many Jaffa, and so few Tok'ra?

O'Neill's eyes narrowed, observing us closely. He added deliberately, "Just -- like you."

*No, not like us,* Malek thought bitterly. *Where were they a thousand years ago? Twenty years ago?*

Major Carter explained, "Many of these Jaffa had to evacuate their rebel base several months ago."

*They are not so unlike us, Malek,* I told him, though the words came hard. He reluctantly agreed.

"I see," Ocker said, so flatly he must have felt as Malek did. His gaze met ours. If we felt this way -- two of the more responsible, calm Tok'ra -- how would the rest feel?

O'Neill noted the look. His gaze was dark and sharp. "Is that going to be a problem?"

We looked to the Jaffa again. *We must control our own,* Malek observed, concern underlining his words. *None of us are prepared for this.*

*You assume the Jaffa are prepared for us.* Not a good assumption to make. I could sense the hostility from here.

*True.* Aloud, Malek answered O'Neill, "Not for us." We both hoped it was true.

O'Neill didn't believe us. "Good."

We moved off, Ocker and Major Carter assisting her father. I needed to check on the survivors. See who had survived, and who had not. It would be a very difficult report to make to Persus -- assuming the Council's base had not also been discovered and destroyed. But we had learned a painful lesson this past year. Of those at Raisa, only Selmak, Ocker, and I knew where the Council was hiding.

Cursed Goa'uld. On the eve of our victory, they snatched it from us and gave us back defeat.

*~*~*~*~*


I hated funerals. I hated funerals for Tok'ra whose lives were snipped short, but I especially hated them because each Tok'ra funeral stole away another member of my second family.

Funerals reminded me of all that I lost before Malek. My father's had been the last funeral I attended on my world, and he died two years before the Goa'uld returned. It had been a long ceremony, full of appropriate grand mourning. I remembered feeling very young and unprepared, standing before my people and trying not to give in to tears. If not for Arvalle, at my side, and little Jisa holding my hand, I wouldn't have made it through.

Two years later Jisa was dead. Not long after, Arvalle was gone too -- butchered by Ishtar as an object lesson to me. Neither had a funeral.

Malek intruded, *These dark thoughts serve only to weigh your spirit. Your wife and child died more than twenty years ago, beloved. It does no good to dwell on it. Remember, Ishtar is dead.*

That was only a little consolation. *The Goa'uld still exist.*

But then it was time. Ocker stood beside the khatiun, ready to dial. Our three dead -- the three who had not survived the crossing, despite a healing device and the efforts of Doctor Frasier -- lay on the bier.

The words meant more to us now than they had once in the past. Malek spoke first. "A reikh tri'ac te khekh." We will not surrender, even in death.

Nor would we. I would see Anubis destroyed. I had sworn the same when I saw Ishtar's knife take Arvalle from me. I had carried out that promise.

Beside me, Selmak spoke the second half. "Takhmal a reik tia'c."

No, they would not be forgotten, not these three nor all those who fell without a funeral. Renn'al, Aldwin, Lantash ... who perished on Revanna. Partil, Novorm, Zelvin ... who perished on Raisa. Arvalle, Jisa ... who perished with Naritania. So many were dead at the hands of the Goa'uld. But not forgotten. Never forgotten.

Selmak and I moved back, and Malek nodded to Ocker who brought the chappa'ai to life. In a second, the mortal remains of three more Tok'ra were consigned to oblivion.

The silence was soon broken by the Tau'ri and Jaffa, who started to move away, believing we were finished. But we remained to remember in silence.

Malek began the list, murmuring only to me, *We remember Egeria, founder of all Tok'ra. And we remember her children who have fallen: Storval. Kriss...." It was a litany of remembrance, given by every symbiote to host there, in silence.

There was a stir and shouting, and then we saw Ocker strike the Jaffa who stood near him, knocking him to the ground. Ocker's angry shout rang out over the assembly. "Jaffa! Nemeth kree!"

Both Malek and I shared the same weary apprehension of what the Jaffa had done. We started over -- but O'Neill was closer.

"Hey, what the hell is going on here? This is a funeral for cryin' out loud!"

The Jaffa got to his feet, glaring at Ocker. "I asked a question of this Tok'ra."

"No one may speak during the ritual," Ocker snarled at him.

O'Neill's voice was incredulous, "For this you guys are fighting?"

I tended to agree. Couldn't Ocker have simply ignored him? Clearly we were all more on edge than I had thought. It could be difficult when the symbiote, who was supposed to be the calm one, was upset.

"I'm sure he's sorry," O'Neill went on, trying to smooth it over. It would have ended there, except the Jaffa did not let it go.

"I am not."

"On the inside," O'Neill added, a little more desperately.

Ocker glowered but did the wise thing. "It does not matter."

"Look, it does not matter," O'Neill urged the Jaffa in what was likely a futile gesture, then looked back and forth between them. "Come on, a lot of people lost their lives. Try to show a little respect,"

Ocker turned away, prepared to leave it there.

"They are no different from the Goa'uld," the Jaffa declared, and though Teal'c then tried to intervene, it was too late.

Every single Tok'ra stiffened at the insult. We were still in mourning for dozens of our own killed by the Goa'uld and this Jaffa had the nerve to say we were the same as the evil ones?

And if my reaction was offended, Malek's was incensed. But as O'Neill dispersed the crowd, we tried to let it go. The Jaffa had long been slaves of the Goa'uld. Few of them had ever met a Tok'ra. They could not be expected to understand.

Then O'Neill turned toward us, and opened his mouth as if to speak. Malek approached and spoke first, "There is no need for you to apologize on their behalf, O'Neill."

He meant the offer as a way to keep the peace, and to encourage the other Tok'ra people not to see the Tau'ri in the same way as the Jaffa. But that was not how O'Neill saw it, obviously, when he repeated, "Apologize?"

"We understand the Jaffa," Malek said, and I inwardly winced.

*This is not a good thing to say with Teal'c and Bra'tac standing right there, my friend.* But he did not heed.

"Actually I was gonna remind you that without Bra'tac and Teal'c and other Jaffa, all your little Tok'ra folks would be pushing up daisies right now," O'Neill said.

I wanted to leave it, however wrong he was, but Malek bridled at this. There is nothing that my dearest friend does so well as an impression of my father at his most arrogantly imperious. "And I need not remind you that the rebel Jaffa and the Tau'ri are equally indebted to us."

Teal'c, of all people, actually asked, "How so?"

Admittedly, that made me angry, but Malek's voice was cool. "We have been fighting the Goa'uld for millennia."

O'Neill answered, with a cold sneer in his voice, "Yeah... just when should we expect some progress on that?"

Both Malek and I froze, pierced to the soul by his comment. He would throw our losses in our face, when we had just said farewell to three more of our own? On the same day another hundred of us had died?

O'Neill clearly regretted his words after they left his mouth, but he did not apologize. He made his feelings perfectly clear, not just with the words he said, but how he said them. The willingness to strike just where we were most vulnerable. Neither Malek nor I could find any polite words to say to him, so we walked away.

And he was supposed to be our ally?

*He despises us because of what Kanan did and what Ba'al did to him afterward,* Malek reminded me.

*Not entirely. Remember what Garshaw told us. O'Neill has never liked the Tok'ra.*

*True. But we need the Tau'ri now,* he said, weary and sorrowed, just as I was. *Unfriendly or not, our survival may depend on them.*

Malek found a crate out of the way, but with a view of the square in case something else happened. We should have gone to see to our people but at the moment, it was too much of an effort.

I heard the limping tread and, had I been in control, would have smiled a little. Selmak was coming to see to us. Malek scooted over to allow the first generation Tok'ra a place to sit.

Jacob was the one who spoke after a few moments of peaceful silence. "Jack didn't mean to hurt you."

"I rather think he did, Jacob," Malek retorted.

"He doesn't understand," Jacob sighed. "None of them do, not really. Not the Tau'ri, especially not the Jaffa."

"They judge us, call us Goa'uld. Do they not see that we are all of us worn to a hair with desperation and grief? I attempted the ritual as we are supposed to -- but I could not remember all of the names," he admitted more softly.

Jacob grasped my arm. "Nor could Selmak. There are too many."

"Easier to list those who live."

"You must not give into despair, Malek. The others look to you."

Malek shook his head, but not to disagree, and our shared anger dwindled back down to its embers of sorrow. Because Jacob was right. I had never been one to duck my responsibilities, even when I wished very much that I could.

After a moment, Jacob added, more lightly, "Selmak wants to know what you've done with your host. He's rarely so quiet."

*Do you --?* Malek started to ask.

*No,* I answered. I didn't either. For now I was content to be merely a passenger. It kept some of the horror at bay. Even now I could see Partil lying on the floor of the tunnel, and sometimes the image became Jisa.

"He is troubled by recollections of the Goa'uld attack on his homeworld before we met. There was a similar disaster and the death of his family," Malek explained. He knew I disliked talking of my past, so he kept it vague.

"I see. I'm sorry. But we need you both. We're all going to need cool heads while we're here."

"Cool heads seem in short supply, my friend," Malek answered, with a touch of rueful amusement. "But we will try."

We left Jacob there on the crate and went to find Ocker and the others.

The evening passed without incident. Malek spoke to our people, Selmak at our side, urging restraint and wisdom. Nonetheless we did not tempt tempers to flare again, and I suggested we eat apart from the Tau'ri and the Jaffa. Malek and I visited Kelmaa and Somara in the infirmary tent and were somewhat heartened to see that they were both conscious.

That night I was exhausted enough to fall asleep nearly the moment I laid on the cot in the tent I shared with Jacob, Ocker, and two others.

But I dreamed. Dreams I hadn't had in a very long time....



{"Ada! Look!" Jisa twirls in her new dress and it sparkles in the sunlight streaming in through the windows. "Isn't it pretty?"

Actually I think it is terribly gaudy, with all those sequins on it, but I scoop her up into my arms. "You look just like a princess, little one."

She laughs and twines her arms around my neck. "But I am a princess, Ada!"

"Really? I could have sworn you were a brat, not a princess," I tease her and exchange a glance with Arvalle. She just shrugs, grinning helplessly. Her opinion of the dress is clearly the same as mine, but I'd sooner cut my own throat than make our joyful daughter unhappy.

I'm still holding Jisa, when Elnor enters. He bows briefly. "My lord, the astronomers have an urgent report for you."

"The astronomers?" I repeat blankly. I can't imagine -- then -- what the astronomers can possibly report that is so urgent. But Elnor wouldn't disturb the family for something trivial. "I'll be right back, sunshine," I promise Jisa and kiss her forehead, before I set her down. "Let's see what this is about, shall we?"

I find out. A space ship is up there in the sky. Aliens. We have always known of the Goa'uld, since a mere century before, they ruled us from space. I doubt any of us thinks for a single instant that the ship belongs to anyone else. I certainly don't.

We aren't ready. Naritania has been furiously developing its technology, along with the other kingdoms and states on our world, to reach parity with our enemies before their return. Yet my people have barely learned how to fly planes and use electricity on a widespread basis. We have exactly two rockets.

The Goa'uld destroy my entire air force with contemptuous ease. I don't think they lose a single glider in the conquest. We are no match for them.

It is so fast. One of those gliders comes out of the sky and turns its guns on the palace. The guards are with me, trying to hustle me out as the building shakes, but I won't go until I know Arvalle and Jisa are safe too.

But Jisa is already dead. It happens in my dream slowly, that I turn the corner and see her and her sparkly dress amid the rubble of what had been the music room. I run to her, but my legs don't seem to move at all, and it takes an eternity to reach her. And I know I am screaming her name, but I don't hear it at all.

I take her into my arms and hold her tight against me, as if trying to pour my own life-force into her. And I beg any true gods who can hear me to spare her, but they don't hear me.

The guards do their best to defend me, but the Jaffa cut them down. They take Jisa from me, dump her body on the ground like so much trash, and beat me unconscious when I rush them in futile rage...}


I awoke, nearly strangling on my anguish. Malek stirred, and then came more alert when he sensed my turmoil. *I am sorry, beloved. I didn't realize you were having a nightmare.*

*Just bad memories,* I answered, trying to get control over myself. I left the cot and silently padded barefoot outside the tent. It was quiet out there. Peaceful. I saw one of the Tau'ri soldiers on guard, and farther down, one of the Jaffa also watching. I had set no watch. If we were not safe here, we were not safe anywhere. All the Tok'ra were emotionally drained and needed rest, not to be standing useless guard.

*As do you,* Malek said.

I wasn't interested in listening to him. *It happened exactly like that. The next time I woke Ishtar was there.* Cold hatred filled me at the memory, and I wished Ishtar was still alive so I could kill her again.

*You must stop this,* Malek was more concerned now. *It was long ago. These are shadows of what was -- they are not real.*

*I know. Dearest, I know.* I sat on a barrel and ran my fingers through my hair, weary in a way that Malek could do nothing about. *But I remember it so clearly tonight. Becoming Tok'ra, blending with you -- it was a new life. I thought all that went before was behind me. But it's not, is it?*

*Perhaps I did you an injustice,* Malek said after a long moment in which his thoughts were closed to me. *After we blended, we left through the chappa'ai so quickly, perhaps in your heart, you believe there was something else we should have done.*

*I know there was nothing to do,* I tried to reassure him. We both remembered the devastation Ishtar had left in her wake. My beautiful home reduced to splinters. My city on fire. My blue skies grey with smoke and cinders. My people reduced to ghosts and desperate refugees. Malek and I had left behind only ashes of civilization.

*But do you believe it?* Malek persisted gently.

Malek had offered vengeance, a chance to destroy the Goa'uld for what they had done to my people. I had seized the chance eagerly. But, now that he asked, I realized the truth. *I suppose a part of me still feels I abandoned them. That I failed,* I admitted. It was almost twenty-five years later and that guilt lingered. *My duty was to protect my people.*

*You did,* Malek told me, with such sincerity I knew he wasn't saying it only to try to make me feel better. He truly believed. *You ended the threat of Ishtar to your world. Your people are still there. And they are free.*

My eyes burned and tears ran silently down my cheeks, even as I buried my face in my hands. Malek was all around me, a comforting presence, reminding me that I was not alone.

It was late when we returned to the tent to sleep. Only much later did I realize how close to death I came that night, sitting alone under the stars.

An ashrak was not more than twenty meters away, watching me the whole time from behind its invisibility screen.

*~*~*~*~*~*


Just after dawn the next morning, Selmak, Ocker and I sat in our tent, planning.

"One of us must take word to the council," Selmak said.

"And we must go to a new base," Ocker added. "This place cannot be our permanent home. It endangers us, and the Tau'ri."

Malek and I had already thought about the problem of a new base, going over the possibilities. "What about Sisan?" Malek suggested.

Ocker frowned. "Where's that?"

While Malek told him, I noticed the chappa'ai activate and wondered what was going on out there. But since I doubted it was any business of the Tok'ra, I turned my focus back to Sisan. Ra had wiped out the planet nearly three hundred years ago. Malek and I had gone there about twelve years ago, to find a deserted wasteland around the chappa'ai. But the gate worked and the air was breathable. No system lord gave a damn about the planet, since nothing would grow for fifty miles around the chappa'ai, so there was no use in transplanting more slaves. It was nominally within Yu's territory, which offered some protection as well, since a system lord fighting a defensive war had little spare time to run around checking on empty planets.

I could see that Selmak was taken with the idea. "Good idea. Ocker, you'll need to scout it first."

Ocker nodded.

"And I will report to the council," Malek volunteered. "It was my command." *Our command,* I reminded him sharply.

But before Selmak could comment, we heard strange activity outside around the chappa'ai.

I ducked out first to look, and Selmak and Ocker followed. The Tau'ri had gathered in a defensive formation around the chappa'ai and khatiun. Malek asked a few Tok'ra standing nearby what was going on, but they didn't know.

I saw O'Neill, Major Carter, and Teal'c there, as Pierce left them to go to his men at the gate, and so Malek went to find out -- with a handful of Tok'ra at our heels, also curious.

Malek asked, "What is happening?"

O'Neill looked already tense and irritable this morning. "Yeah, it looks like we're gonna be stuck here for a while."

That had not been an answer to the question. I knew an evasion when I heard one. Malek pushed again. "It is imperative that we be allowed to seek another location for our base."

O'Neill looked at us, almost with suspicion as though we had done something. "Yeah, you might want to put that on hold. We have a situation."

Why would he not simply speak of the problem? Unless -- Malek thought of it first -- was he trying to force us to betray something? But we had nothing to betray.

Teal'c broke the silence. "There is a saboteur among us."

*Oh, now there is a surprise,* Malek thought with more sarcasm than usual. *Two hundred Jaffa -- one will still serve his master.*

*Malek...*

Samantha explained, "Our naquadah reactor almost went critical this morning. I discovered it just in time."

That did not sound promising. Malek's sour humor faded. "And if you hadn't?"

O'Neill's smile was grim. "We wouldn't be having this ... chat."

"I see." But we didn't, not really. It hadn't really sunk in yet. Someone had tried to kill us all -- Tau'ri, Jaffa, and Tok'ra.

Samantha continued her explanation, "See, this planet was chosen as our Alpha site because its address is unknown to the Goa'uld."

"And it is imperative that this base remain secret. We will be questioning everybody -- " O'Neill continued.

We understood that well enough. "Of course."

"Starting with the Tok'ra," O'Neill finished.

He thought one of us did this. Malek was even angrier. *It was not enough that we should suffer and die --*

I stopped him from going any further. *Perhaps they have some evidence. After what happened to Lantash, can we be completely sure we do not harbor a traitor, even an unwilling one?*

Sullenly, he agreed that I had a point. His anger subsided slightly, but his voice was still very level. "For what reason?"

O'Neill's words were challenging, "Everything was fine until you showed up."

Malek still reined in his temper, though his hand was very tight on our zat'nik'tel. "If what you say is true, we would have perished with you."

"It'd only take one," O'Neill pointed out and we all had to admit that was true.

Malek glanced at Selmak again. "Selmak?"

Selmak answered. "We have no choice. The za'tarc detector will reveal any lie or deception."

"Yeah, but a spy, within either the Jaffa or Tok'ra ranks wouldn't necessarily have to be a za'tarc to attempt something like this," Major Carter objected.

*Or within the Tau'ri ranks, young Samantha,* Malek thought, but did not say.

Selmak answered, "Any deception will be detected, whether we are dealing with a za'tarc or not."

The Tau'ri agreed that we could use the detector and we set up in one of their temporary buildings. Selmak went first, while Ocker operated it to demonstrate it, both for the truth and a lie. Then Ocker and the rest of the Tok'ra followed, one by one. None of them were lying. They were resentful of being doubted, but we all either remembered the za'tarcs or the simple betrayal of Cordesh, and they did not complain aloud. But I knew we had to leave this place, as soon as we could. Baseless suspicion was wearing to even the strongest spirit.

Malek and I went last when it was midday. We knew we were innocent and indeed, we were proven so. O'Neill was clearly displeased by this turn of events. I handed the memory device to Selmak and looked at O'Neill.

*Oh yes, Colonel,* I thought, rather spitefully, *The traitor is probably one of your precious Jaffa, brought out by our sudden appearance.*

*Let's get out of here,* Malek suggested to me. *Let Selmak handle the Tau'ri.* I fervently agreed. Malek's voice shaded a bit to the sarcastic as we left, telling O'Neill, "Thank you."

Grant him wits, O'Neill retorted, even more sarcastically, "No, thank you."

Malek took my zat'nik'tel from Billin outside, and saw Artok and Ocker glaring at each other again. We sighed, starting over there, joining Teal'c who was urging his young companion to be calm.

"Ocker," Malek said, disapproval heavy, as he drew our friend away from the Jaffa.

"I know, Malek, I know," he said with a last glower at the Jaffa. "But he provokes me at every turn."

"Just stay away from him," Malek advised. "Take a walk, calm down."

We watched as Ocker strode away, and then turned to go to the infirmary hut and check on Kelmaa and Somara.

It was such a small sound, nearly lost in the various noises of camp. The sound of something heavy and soft falling to the ground somewhere behind us.

*What was that?* I asked as Malek turned to look, frowning.

*I do not know.* There was nothing obvious that could have made that sound tipping over: metal barrels, crates, and wood. *Odd...*

He gave a mental shrug of resignation and was about to turn when I realized there was something else odd. *Malek, where did Ocker go? He can't have gotten very far.*

*Perhaps that is what we heard fall.* With that chilling idea in mind, he hurried to follow after.

At first we could not find him. And then Malek nearly literally stumbled across him, sprawled on his back among the metal barrels.

*No, no,* Malek muttered, kneeling to find a pulse. But there was none. Both host and symbiote were dead. There was only a little blood on his neck. He had not even cried out

How could this be? We had spent all morning under suspicion that we were a saboteur, when a killer walked through camp with impunity.

Malek yelled, "Colonel O'Neill!" He stood, so they could more easily locate us, and with commendable swiftness, O'Neill, Selmak, Bra'tac, and Major Carter emerged.

Their shock when they saw the body made just a tiny glow of satisfaction within us. Now none could say the Tok'ra were to blame for this.

*We know who is.* Malek was angry. Ocker had been his friend for far longer than any of these people, including the venerable Bra'tac, had been alive. "We demand to question the Jaffa Artok." He put it to O'Neill, who nodded. Even Bra'tac, looking mournful, could not disagree. Malek looked to Billin, who nodded and left to fetch the Jaffa.

Frasier came running across the square then, and she and Samantha bent down to examine the body.

There was taut silence for a moment, broken only by the two women murmuring to each other.

Artok did not want to come, but Billin and Vegta suggested, very politely -- likely with a hand on their zat'nik'tels -- that he not make any more trouble. But it occurred to me that if he really knew what he was accused of, he would have made trouble. Unless he were so unrepentant he did not care to be found out.

When he was before us, Malek wasted no time accusing him, "You killed Ocker."

The Jaffa's head lifted proudly. "I would have if he had challenged me again."

It was not exactly a denial. "Are you not responsible for this?" Malek demanded.

Artok glared back. "I only wish I was."

Malek's hand seized his zat'nik'tel. *No,* I said urgently, stopping him. *We need to know the truth.*

"Answer him directly," Bra'tac advised.

"I will not explain myself to him."

"Then explain it to me," O'Neill ordered. He looked about as out of patience with the Jaffa's evasions as we all were. "Please."

"I was across the compound," Artok was sullen. And again, not exactly a denial.

Malek left no room for debate. "I insist that he be screened immediately."

Yet still the Tau'ri did not agree immediately. Were they that infatuated with their rebels that they could not see what stood before them?

Artok resisted going, but eventually went once Bra'tac persuaded him. Bra'tac's eyes met mine, and for an instant I could have sworn that elder Jaffa could see me, tucked in safely behind Malek He was trying to do the right thing, I realized. Maybe some of that honor that the Jaffa were always talking about did exist, though I had seen precious little evidence of it.

Malek was not interested in the Jaffa master, and followed Artok.

I was starting to think I should take control back. I had rarely felt his anger as strongly as I did then. But he didn't offer and I didn't want to make an issue of it right now. At least not while he still had a rein on his temper.

*I will not kill him,* Malek promised me as we watched Jacob begin to question Artok. *I know we need to question him and discover if he is part of a larger plot.*

*If he is guilty,* I reminded him. Malek's mental sigh was inaudible to anyone else, but nearly deafening to the one whose brain he shared.

*_If_ he is guilty. Very well. You were the one trained in judgment, not I,* Malek acknowledged more fairly. The detector remained stubbornly blue.

But Jacob had not asked the right question yet. Then finally he asked the most direct one, "Did you kill him?"

"No, I did not kill him."

The detector shifted to red. Malek's flare of satisfaction burned like the summer sun, but I was not as relieved. Why had the detector stayed blue when Artok had claimed not to know who killed Ocker, if he had done it himself? That took some linguistic feat of justification of which I didn't think Artok was capable.

Besides, I had a cold suspicion that it wasn't over yet, even as they sent Artok off to holding.

Malek ignored me and my intuition, declaring to the others. "Deception. He is guilty."

O'Neill let out a frustrated sigh. "All we know is that he's lying about something."

Malek remained calm, but let slip a little more of his irritation. "What more proof do you need?"

He resolutely paid no attention to me when I told him, *I think a witness or at least a weapon would help. You know I don't trust these things, Malek, no matter that Anise swears it works perfectly.*

"The device is not infallible," Major Carter rather eerily echoed my thoughts. "It can give false positives. We've seen it before." She glanced at O'Neill when she spoke.

Malek nearly laughed but only let it out to me. *Anise told us about their so-called 'false positive', remember? It was not the device that failed -- it was their ability to recognize the truth.*

I had forgotten about that. But still, even Anise realized that the deception might not involve the exact question being asked.

Now thoroughly irritated with me and even more angry with them for resisting what he saw as obvious, Malek accused, "Just a short while ago, you were all willing to stake the security of the base on it."

He had a point, which the rest of them swallowed with various expressions of reluctance. Samantha remained patient. "Artok's obvious hostility toward the Tok'ra could be throwing off the readings."

"His _hostility_ is the reason Ocker is dead," Malek snapped back at her.

O'Neill suggested, "What if we verify his alibi?"

Carter jumped on it instantly. "The colonel's right. Maybe someone saw him where he said he was..."

Teal'c shook his head. "Both Tok'ra and Jaffa deliberately ate apart from each other."

Something I had suggested. Damn. That meant that only Jaffa could verify Artok's story, if true.

Malek answered me aloud, displaying his strain. "I will not accept the word of a Jaffa in his defense."

O'Neill rolled his eyes. "Of course you won't. So why don't we see what the autopsy says?"

"Why?" Malek challenged.

"Because we don't convict people just because some damn light turns red!" O'Neill exclaimed, all out of patience with us.

Jacob was looking at us, concerned. He was going to intervene in a moment and suggest I take over while Malek was so unreasonable. That would embarrass us, and make Malek even more upset. I said with as much warmth and love as I could muster, *Malek, dearest, you must be calm. We will get to the truth, I promise. But alienating the Tau'ri and Jaffa will not help us find Ocker's killer.*

*I know, I know. Their intransigence frustrates me so.* He calmed down and asked in a far more patient tone, "How long will the autopsy take?"

"It's hard to say," Samantha hedged.

To head off another burst of temper, Jacob said, "The report may offer tangible evidence proving or disproving his guilt."

Meaning that even the most stubborn of Tok'ra should wait. Malek didn't want to hear it, but surrounded by people, including me, urging him to be patient, he really had no choice.

O'Neill recognized that this was hard for him and extended a tiny branch of understanding. "Look, he's not going anywhere. You've got my word."

"And mine as well," Bra'tac declared.

*Be gracious,* I urged my companion. *They're trying to help us.*

He sighed audibly and pulled himself together. "Many Tok'ra have died in recent days. To lose another of our number in a place that we had thought was refuge... it is difficult."

That was about as close as anyone was ever going to get for an apology for his attitude.

But O'Neill took it in the spirit in which it was offered. More or less. "I'm sure it is."

*~*~*~*~*~*


As expected, Jacob wandered over to us as we were waiting for Doctor Frasier to finish the autopsy.

"Are you all right?" he asked softly.

Malek shook his head without turning his gaze from the small structure that contained Artok's cell. "Not really. Between us, we are not having a good day."

"I heard you leave the tent last night."

"Nightmare," Malek explained shortly. "And I think we are still sleeping, because none of this can be happening. Ocker isn't dead. Raisa isn't destroyed. The Goa'uld are not killing us with impunity. We fell asleep while listening to Renn'al explain the poison, and everything after has been a terrible dream."

Selmak murmured, "Sadly, that is not true, old friend."

"I know. But where did we go wrong, Selmak? Were we too aggressive, or not aggressive enough, as the Tau'ri believe? We certainly should have assassinated Anubis after the system lords exiled him. What other mistakes have we made along the path that brought us here?"

Selmak shook his head once. "As old as we are, none of us can know the future. We did what we could. We did the best we could. We carried the fight for nearly three thousand years. Perhaps it is simply someone else's turn now."

That was the sort of fatalism I despised. My head snapped up as I pushed Malek aside for the moment. "I do not believe that, Selmak. We are dying because we have been complacent and foolish, and Anubis has exploited our stupidity."

Selmak smiled slightly. "Ah, there you are. I wondered where you were hiding."

"I'm not hiding," I muttered, looking away, back toward the hut holding Artok. "I just don't want to deal with the Tau'ri or the Jaffa."

*And you want to be miserable,* Malek added, rather more cheerfully than I thought was nice.

Selmak didn't believe me either. He patted my shoulder, and for a moment, I remembered when Selmak's host had been kindly, elderly Saroosh. "Just remember, for both symbiotes and hosts, the past is gone and we cannot linger there. No matter how much it may hurt to leave it behind."

"I thought I had."

To my relief, I saw Major Carter emerge from the infirmary and look toward us, waving us to come.

"Dad! Malek!" she called.

I stood up and 'stepped' aside for Malek to retake control. *Are you certain?* he asked. *You seem improved.*

*It's not over yet,* I told him. Of course, it turned out I was right, though I had no idea how bad it would become.

*~*~*~*~*~*


In the infirmary we had our first inkling of the truth, when Doctor Frasier explained what she had discovered about the method of Ocker's death.

"The trauma to the back of the neck was done with a bladed weapon of fairly exotic design. The blade was used to sever the spinal column of the host ..."

I never heard the rest. I knew that blade. I remembered it.


{The knife glinted in the light of the Goa'uld craft. Those evil eyes flashed as she leaned down to where I was bound on the floor, kneeling before her. That terrible voice whispering in my ear: "Hear me well, little king. Serve me, and you live. Resist, and you and all your people, will die."

Jaffa brought in Arvalle. I knew what the Goa'uld was going to do, and I begged her not to do it. She did it anyway.

And I remembered the smile on her lips as Ishtar slipped the knife between my wife's ribs...}

*No!* Malek yanked me from the remembrance with a nearly physical jolt. *You must listen. Ocker's killer is still here,* he reminded me sharply. *Ocker must be avenged.*

*I'm sorry. You're right."

Teal'c caught our attention back. "Jaffa do not kill in this fashion."

Malek and I were incredulous. We'd seen Jaffa use knives to kill. Malek asked, "Are you suggesting a Jaffa could not be trained to do this?"

Bra'tac met our gaze. "I am telling you that a Jaffa would not. Vengeance is exacted face to face, not from behind."

Maybe Bra'tac would not -- but I didn't really think Bra'tac was all that common an example of Jaffa.

Malek was even more dismissive. "Face to face, a Jaffa might not survive."

Neither Teal'c nor Bra'tac cared for that statement very much, but they couldn't well dispute it either. Though Jaffa were stronger than unblended humans, a Tok'ra or Goa'uld was stronger still. And some were very experienced fighters.

Teal'c lifted his chin proudly. "It is most likely a Tok'ra or Goa'uld who has committed this act."

Malek retorted, "I disagree."

I wasn't sure I agreed with him, but alarms went off before I could figure out why. There was a flurry of excitement, as O'Neill found out what was happening. The guards at Artok's holding cell reported the Jaffa was on the floor and he looked dead.

We all rushed over there and found that, indeed, the Jaffa was dead. That put a whole new light on the situation.

As Major Carter and Doctor Frasier examined Artok, I was feeling very uneasy. *I'm beginning to think Teal'c may be right. This whole situation reeks of Goa'uld, Malek. The use of the knife. The double attack. I don't know who the host is, but there's a Goa'uld, I feel it.*

*At least we know it is not one of us.*

*Do we? Do we know that the za'tarc detector would catch a Goa'uld's deception? They control the host's body completely.*

*They cannot avoid detection any more than I can.* Malek was confident and I had to accept that. He was the symbiote, so he knew the limits of what a symbiote could and could not do to avoid the detector. He also understood the technology of the detector far better than I did.

*I still think there's a Goa'uld involved.*

*On that we agree.*

The Tau'ri were still thinking aloud about the scene. Teal'c said, "A Jaffa would never expose himself to such a vulnerable position."

The Jaffa really were a bunch of wishful thinkers. Malek pointed out the obvious, "Unless he knew his killer and did not fear him."

Or in other words, a Goa'uld.

Later, I realized that Malek's phrase could have been taken as accusing another Jaffa. That was not what he meant.

Outside, the situation had deteriorated. Both Tok'ra and Jaffa had gathered in the plaza, drawn by the removal of Artok's body from the holding cell.

Rak'nor, the young lieutenant of the Jaffa and apparently friend to Artok, confronted us.

"Artok is dead! Only yesterday, he helped to carry your wounded and then you killed him!"

Malek didn't take the accusation personally. We were too busy wondering who the Goa'uld was. But several of our people heard and drew closer, ready to defend us if the Jaffa tried anything.

"Now is not the time, brother," Teal'c tried to get Rak'nor to calm down and move away.

"You know the truth, Teal'c," Rak'nor's eyes pleaded with Teal'c to go along with his anger, but Teal'c was not swayed.

"I do not."

Malek interjected, "A Tok'ra did not kill him. Of this I am certain." Then I noticed something and drew Malek's attention to it. "You carry a blade on your belt."

Rak'nor glared at us. "To defend myself... for when the Tok'ra come for me."

That was so blatantly absurd my suspicion faded. No Goa'uld would say such a thing. The child was just lashing out in anger, seeking a target. Malek tried to leave him. What happened next was not our fault.

Rak'nor grabbed Malek's arm. "He was defenseless!"

Malek hit him to get him off. The Tok'ra all thought he was attacking us and drew their zat'nik'tels. Teal'c grabbed his zat'nik'tel, pointed it at us, as Rak'nor drew the knife. Malek activated our zat'nik'tel and pointed at them.

And in no time at all, Tok'ra and Jaffa were facing each other, prepared to kill.

No wonder the Goa'uld managed to conquer the galaxy, when it was so easy for their enemies to distrust one another.

"Malek!" Jacob, standing to my left, was the only person who did not have a weapon in hand. But what he thought we could do, I couldn't say. Malek certainly was not going to lower his weapon while Teal'c and Rak'nor were threatening us. Rak'nor was the one who was upset and liable to do something foolish.

Then, thank all the stars, Bra'tac discovered the footprints, and something that might have been quite tragic and stupid was averted. He was also honest enough to say that he did not know who had made them. It was decided to count everyone and see who was missing.

Jacob and I made a count of the Tok'ra and found we were all present. There were few of us there, and it was done quickly.

Then, while we were waiting for the others, Jacob hissed, "What the hell were you thinking?"

"I struck him to get loose. Then he drew a weapon," Malek explained defensively. "What was I supposed to do?"

Jacob rolled his eyes. "Great. So we do the Goa'uld's work for them."

Malek snorted. "I have already been told."

"Then listen, damn it," Jacob ordered in weary frustration. "Two minds are supposed to be wiser than one."

*I don't know -- I always found committees took twice as long to decide anything than I did alone,* I teased.

He shot back, *But did you decide wisely?*

We shared an inner laugh and felt better afterward. Sometimes I suspect the Tau'ri and others don't understand us because we show so little on the outside. Tok'ra rarely laugh out loud -- but if Malek and I are good examples, that's because they're too busy laughing with their symbiotes where no one else can hear.

Samantha and O'Neill came to us. She reported to her father, "We're all accounted for."

*A Jaffa,* Malek said, with some satisfaction. Fortunately he didn't speak aloud.


But he was surely not the only one thinking it. We all turned to watch Teal'c, Bra'tac, and Rak'nor look over the assembled Jaffa on the far end of the square, near the infirmary. There was some discussion among the Jaffa leaders we couldn't hear, and another Jaffa interjected something and pointed to one of the tents. Bra'tac strode over and jerked open the flap, just as a Jaffa female emerged with a young boy at her side. She bowed, startled, and he reassured her, before starting over to us. Teal'c followed.

*It's not a Jaffa either,* I realized. *There's something else going on.*

Malek was puzzled. *Maybe this has nothing to do with the Goa'uld, after all.*

Bra'tac reported, as expected, that all the Jaffa were present.

O'Neill and Teal'c exchanged a glance, and Teal'c nodded.

"Well, crap," O'Neill muttered then looked at Jacob and me. "It's somebody else. Jacob, are you absolutely sure you counted everyone who came through with you?"

Jacob simply nodded. "Yes."

"Then the assassin was here all along," Teal'c said.

"And stirred to action by the Tok'ra arrival," Samantha speculated. "To turn us against each other."

O'Neill lifted his hand to stop her. "The agenda's obvious. But we gotta find whoever it is."

"It may be some form of changeling," Jacob suggested.

"I really didn't need to hear that, Jake. All right, say we go look for him," O'Neill emphasized, "How are we going to keep this situation from going to hell?"

"Send one of each," Bra'tac suggested. "One Jaffa, one Tau'ri, and one Tok'ra."

That way the Tau'ri could keep the Jaffa and Tok'ra from killing each other. It was a good plan, soon adopted. We went off in the forest.

O'Neill put Bra'tac and myself with him -- perhaps because of our positions as leaders, but Malek thought it was because O'Neill still did not trust us.

*Trust _you_, not us,* I was only half-teasing. *He wants Bra'tac to help watch you.*

*Oh yes, I am so dangerous,* Malek retorted sarcastically. *Widely known as the scourge of Jaffa throughout the galaxy. You're the one who killed a system lord, not me.*

True. I had killed Ishtar, avenging Jisa, Arvalle, and my people two years to the day after the conquest. It had felt good at the time, but faded into a feeling that justice had been served. She would never, ever do to anyone else what she did to my people and me. But it didn't bring the dead back nor the grief vanish.

We had been searching the forest for about an hour, when O'Neill's radio crackled and Teal'c reported finding one of the other teams dead.

That news went through Malek and me, like fire. *Another of us? Another Tok'ra dead.*

But a movement in the bushes ahead of us jolted us out of our shock. O'Neill and Bra'tac saw it too. O'Neill got off the radio with his Tau'ri teammates and made strange gestures at us.

*How does he expect us to know his hand signals?* I asked Malek, somewhat bemused.

*I believe we are to go with Bra'tac and attempt to circle around whatever is over there.* Malek suited action to words and moved with Bra'tac, creeping ever closer to the place there had been movement.

Sneaking around after a murderer was not easing my nerves. My anxiety and Malek's uneasiness were reflecting each other, feeding on each other, until I realized ruefully how long it had been since we had been on an mission. We were out of practice. The level of anxiety in us both dropped, like a popped balloon, as Malek was reminded of centuries of dangerous operations, and even I recalled those two years of clandestine rebellion when the smallest mistake would have meant my instant death at Ishtar's hands. This wasn't so bad, comparatively.

Malek added, *We would go on more missions if you didn't want to be a leader.*

*Someone has to do it,* I objected.

We were not exactly distracted by our inner conversation. The advantage of being Tok'ra is that there are two minds looking and listening, and thus even if we're sharing our thoughts, it is hard to sneak up on a Tok'ra. But still, only one can act at any time. Since Malek was in control of our body, he wasn't paying attention to his own symbiote senses until it was too late.

Bra'tac shoved us down.

*Why did he --?* I started.

*There's something here.*

Malek was right. Bra'tac was fighting -- something. But there was nothing there. Invisible, it struck the Jaffa master.

*Personal cloaking shield,* Malek realized with horror. Suddenly it all became perfectly nightmarishly clear to us both what was happening. *An ashrak.*

*Shoot them both, Malek!*

*And if I miss the Goa'uld but strike Bra'tac? The Jaffa will be helpless.*

*We have to do something!* But no solution magically presented itself to us, and we could only watch as Bra'tac fought something he couldn't see.

Though all his blasts missed, Bra'tac amazingly seemed to hit it with the blunt end of his staff weapon at least once in the fight. But just when Malek thought he had a clear shot at the invisible killer, Bra'tac was struck from some other angle. It was too fast, too hidden.

When Bra'tac lost his staff weapon, he pulled his knife, but it was plucked from his hand and vanished. When he was flipped to the ground, for a moment I feared the worst. But he stirred, sitting up, and his gaze met ours across the clearing. For one moment, it seemed the fight was over.

Where had the Goa'uld gone? Was he even now creeping up on me?

But it was not so.

Bra'tac was suddenly seized by the shoulders and dragged backward into the bushes.

Malek tensed, intending to follow.

*No,* I advised sharply. *We must go back.*

*But Bra'tac will die. We cannot let the Goa'uld kill him.*

I felt sorrow and regret for Bra'tac, but I knew what we had to do. *He is already dead. But if we die too, the others won't know there's a cloaked ashrak here until many more die. We have to warn them and get everyone out of this forest. It offers our enemy too much cover.*

Reluctantly he agreed with me and we started running to find the others. Where was O'Neill? He should have been close by.

A hand yanked us behind a tree and we nearly killed the owner, until we realized it was O'Neill. He gestured for silence and whispered, "What happened?"

Malek answered, "I could not defend against it. I had no choice."

"Where's Bra'tac?"

Malek did not hesitate. We had not seen the body, but what likelihood was there that he survived? Few survived a Goa'uld assassin, and against one not even visible there was no possibility at all. "He is dead."

The blunt words grieved O'Neill, and I realized, too late, that Bra'tac was his friend. But we had no time for mourning.

"O'Neill, we must not linger here," Malek whispered urgently. "Our people are too exposed. The assassin will pick us off one by one."

After a moment's thought, O'Neill nodded and used his radio to call everyone to regroup at our position. As we waited, every time a branch rattled, we tensed. We very nearly shot Teal'c as he came into sight.

*The ashrak came with us,* Malek realized, in a sudden burst of fury. *It was in our base!*

That explained something else I had wondered about. *That was why Anubis didn't establish an incoming wormhole to block our chappa'ai. He wanted some of us to escape so the ashrak would come with us.*

*Did any of us ever speak aloud of the location of the Council's base?* Malek suddenly worried and cast back over the last few days. It was only a small relief to know that none of us had. Small because we were still in quite a lot of danger ourselves.

We did not, however, believe that the danger would come from one of our supposed allies.

Jacob, his daughter, Teal'c, and Rak'nor arrived, with Pierce and Billin and some others guarding the perimeter.

Teal'c saw O'Neill and I standing alone. His eyes narrowed. "Where is Master Bra'tac?"

Malek answered, trying to sound sympathetic, "I am sorry, Teal'c. He is dead."

"You lie!" Rak'nor started forward in fury, but Teal'c held out an arm to keep him back.

"I saw it," Malek confirmed. "The killer pulled him deep into the forest. There was ... nothing I could do."

Teal'c was still and silent, everyone else tense and waiting for his reaction. He seemed to accept the words.

Malek turned to meet Jacob's gaze. That was a mistake -- one should never take one's eyes off an angry thi'sa. Malek started to tell everyone, but particularly Jacob. "I know what -- "

Teal'c exploded, rushing and knocking Malek down. Before we could do anything, Teal'c knelt on his chest and had his hands around our throat.

"Tell me why I should not kill you here right here, Tok'ra."

Malek struggled, but it was difficult to gain leverage with the Jaffa's weight on our chest and threatening to crush my throat. Our zat'nik'tel was unreachable, beneath Teal'c. I carried a slim bladed knife in my right sleeve -- I have not been without a hidden weapon since I turned twelve years old -- but I didn't want to take it out. Teal'c was in a grief-stricken rage, and I certainly understood that.

Malek agreed that we just had to give Teal'c time to come to his senses. He struggled to explain. "He was swept away. There was nothing I could have done."

Teal'c hands tightened and Malek had to tighten control to keep our body from choking. "You could have pursued him. Master Bra'tac could have been saved."

We pulled at his hands enough to loosen their grip slightly. "I believed it more important to report what I saw," Malek gasped. And did not have the breath to add aloud, *And if you kill us, you will never know what that was.*

I heard Rak'nor's voice as if from far away. "How can we ever trust the Tok'ra if they would abandon a Jaffa in the midst of a battle?"

"If I had not, I would be dead." Malek could not get Teal'c off us and was going to release the knife. *No,* I ordered him. *I will not do the Goa'uld's work for them anymore.*

*Nor will I let this Jaffa kill us,* Malek promised darkly.

*Selmak will not let us die,* I reminded him and he subsided.

In fact, at that moment, I heard Jacob say, "Jack ... a little help?"

It was growing dark suddenly, with tiny popping stars in my vision. I could no longer see Teal'c.

I heard O'Neill speak, but did not understand his words, he was so far away. Whatever he said was not enough to get Teal'c off. Jacob was nearer.

"Teal'c... don't do this. Bra'tac would want us to stick together."

But Jacob's plea was not enough. *Malek...* I couldn't finish the thought as it got lost somewhere in the darkness.

I felt his presence strongly then, a fragile bubble of light surrounding me, trying to keep me from the cold stars. *We are here,* he whispered. *We are together, beloved. Not alone.*

*I hope... Jisa's there...*

*Where else would she be?*

In that instant, when I was certain that death was inevitable, suddenly there was light and air again. Teal'c released us.

I still had no wits, confused by the sudden reprieve. But Malek managed to sit up and tell the others what they had to know. "Bra'tac pushed me out of the way just before the attack. Somehow he knew. Whoever it was had a personal cloaking device. He was invisible."

I stirred, feeling oddly lethargic and slow. Malek must really be blocking pain receptors. *You must tell them it's an ashrak.*

*I will not use that word when Samantha Carter stands before us, having felt Jolinar tortured to death by an ashrak,* Malek said sharply, then added, *Besides, we cannot be certain. It is enough to know the assassin has a personal cloaking device. It will not escape us.*

Jacob gave Malek a hand to help him up. Still rubbing our throat, he stood, glancing uneasily at Teal'c's back.

In the conversation that followed I thought it interesting that the Tau'ri thought of Nurrti as the most likely assassin. They must have had a recent encounter with her. But Jacob did not agree. His gaze met mine and I knew he and Selmak thought as we did. An ashrak was the most likely possibility.

Samantha said, "Well, whoever it is, we're dealing with an enemy we can't see. Without tears to counter that technology, we're helpless."

Though briefly confused by what tears had to do with anything ('TER's' we heard later -- Tau'ri have a gift for shortening any words to the smallest possible combination of initial letters), Malek straightened. Actually, we were not helpless. For one hundred eighty years, since the Goa'uld had first found or developed cloaking technology, he had been working on ways to either improve or defeat it.

I just figuratively sat back and let him at it. Science and engineering are not my skills. I had some primitive schooling in it when I was younger, and I had learned a great deal in the past two decades as Malek's host, but he worked better without my interference.

He was wrapped up in his plans with Samantha to create the EM field out of the naquadah reactor so he didn't notice. But I felt Teal'c dark eyes boring a hole right through me, and I knew his anger was only in temporary abeyance. It would come back at us.


*~*~*~*~*~*


The party returned to camp and O'Neill announced the facts about the new threat. Teal'c put in a plea for everyone to work together, in Bra'tac's name. He seemed to be sincere, but he still glared at us. Malek started to work with Major Carter.

The ashrak revealed its presence before we were ready. It struck Pierce, but did not kill the Tau'ri. In the confusion, I saw Vegta hit by a Jaffa staff weapon blast. But the ashrak did nothing else and faded back into nothingness.

It was taunting us. Making us aware of how little we could do against it.

Then it occurred to me that we were being stupid. What if the ashrak were not simply taunting us, but it was delaying us from acting? If he had a long-range communications device, he could have already called in our coordinates to Anubis.

Malek immediately stood up and started for O'Neill. *Have I ever told you what a frightening mind you have?* he said it lightly, but felt the same cold horror I did. The Goa'uld could even now be moving into this position.

Malek waited until O'Neill finished speaking with Pierce and dismissed him back to the chappa'ai. Better to remove the control crystal to make the khatiun inoperative, in my opinion, but it wasn't my decision. "We should leave before he attempts another attack."

O'Neill shook his head. "It took a GDO. Nobody's going anywhere."

So that was the concern. The ashrak had taken the device to send the codes to open their gate on Earth. Jacob had shown me the one he carried. But without the proper code, the GDO was worthless. Certainly compared to the danger we all faced. Malek tried again. "Colonel, you saw what he was capable of --"

He glared, impatient with our concerns. "Yes, I did! And that's why I want all available personnel guarding that gate! That includes Tok'ra and Jaffa."

Malek was going to mention the possibility of a communications device. "Colonel --"

But O'Neill cut him off. "Go help Carter!"

Malek hesitated, angry at the dismissal of legitimate concerns. *Let it go,* I advised. *Even if we fled, we couldn't be certain we weren't taking it with us.*

He stomped back to the naquadah reactor in foul temper. *If the ashrak has called in our position, we're all dead anyway.*

Trying to lighten his mood, I said, *Between the ashrak, Teal'c and Anubis, we certainly don't suffer from a lack of people who want us dead.*

He was startled into a small smile and knelt beside Jacob, who saw the smile and lifted his brows curiously. "I could use a laugh."

"My host reminds me that we have no shortage of enemies."

Jacob rolled his eyes. "You do seem to have an amazing ability to make them, my friend. Come on, we need to finish this."

As the device was nearing completion a sense of inevitability came over us all. We knew the ashrak was going to have to act soon. If he did not, his advantage would be stripped away.

O'Neill brought out a large weapon and came to stand near us -- Teal'c and Rak'nor were both standing guard over us as well. The rest were near the chappa'ai.

"Malek, how close are we?" Jacob asked.

Malek read the display of the sensor. "200 nanometers." That was not enough. The device was not channeling enough power.

"That's still ultraviolet," Jacob was disappointed.

Samantha added, presumably for the benefit of the Jaffa and O'Neill, "We need to reach at least 400 to be in visual range."

We were going to have to take a serious risk to make the field stronger and we had to depend on the Jaffa and O'Neill to protect us while we did. Malek glanced at the Jaffa and said quietly. "If we all perish, there will be no one to carry on the fight."

That wasn't entirely factual, as there were other Tok'ra , other rebel Jaffa, and certainly a whole planetful of other Tau'ri -- but it was true nonetheless. If the ashrak killed us all, the heart of all three of our peoples would be torn out.

Rak'nor lifted his chin proudly. "The Jaffa will fight side-by-side with the Tok'ra and if need be, die side-by-side."

Malek nodded to him, in respect. *Maybe the young one has learned something from his master Bra'tac, after all,* Malek said to me.

Sam called, after making some adjustments, "Malek, what's that read?"

Recalled to our duty, he glanced down. "420 nanometers." Now to power the field. Samantha started it at half-power. Even ensconced in the back of my own brain, I felt the field pass through us. It was an odd tingly feeling.

Malek warned, "The power setting may be insufficient to counteract the cloaking device, but increasing it will substantially reduce our ability to sustain the field."

O'Neill didn't have to consider very long. "Crank it up."

"Yes, sir," Carter said. "Powering up one hundred percent."

The tingling feeling increased, and Malek looked around for the ashrak. It would not be far away. But when we saw it -- the cloaking field bluish and flickering but visible -- it was much closer than we had thought, standing less than five paces away from us and Major Carter. It knocked her down, and when Malek tried to fight it, the ashrak slammed us into the stack of boxes holding the device.

It took Malek enough by surprise that he didn't immediately block the pain from reaching me. The shock of the impact was all along my back and I also felt the bruising of my throat where Teal'c had tried to strangle me.

Then the pain was gone. *Forgive me,* Malek sent love through our bond in apology.

*Of course. Where did it go?*

*It's gone. I do not think the field is still functional.* He stirred and sat up to look for the device. It was mostly on the ground, where our impromptu flying lesson had thrown it.

Jacob and Samantha came near. "Are you all right?" she asked, concern in her blue eyes.

Malek nodded. "Yes. You?"

"Fine." She took the reactor from his hands and set it on another crate, with a nervous look over her shoulder.

"Carter," O'Neill snapped. "Are we still in business?"

"Yes, sir. I just need to bring it on-line again."

As she worked, Malek reattached the leads to the other small box, which channeled the energy in the particular frequency. Jacob stayed nearby, hand on his zat'nik'tel.

I briefly admired her concentration. She showed nothing of the fear that must have been there, knowing there was an ashrak very close. I expected Malek to be focused -- if buried in a project, he could ignore a ha'tak landing on his head -- but that was in part because he trusted me to keep a watch on our surroundings. Samantha had no such help.

I listened intently for a sneaking footstep, but heard nothing. The ashrak was too skilled to be revealed so easily.

The tension snapped when Teal'c called in alarm, "Rak'nor!"

The ashrak attacked the young Jaffa and then Teal'c. O'Neill fired at it, and we three by the reactor ducked as the projectiles came our direction.

"Everybody down!" O'Neill shouted and picked up the other weapon he had left at the MALP.

In disbelief, Malek watched him. *He isn't really going to -- *

*Get down!*

It was oddly impressive, watching O'Neill lay down covering fire all around him until the clip on his weapon was empty. Impressive, but useless, as any Tok'ra could have told him. A personal cloaking device incorporated a shield that was all but impervious to weapons with high kinetic energy.

In the sudden stillness after he had finished, Samantha reached up and activated the reactor again.

The ashrak shimmered into view behind O'Neill. In arrogant disregard for the weapons suddenly pointed at it, the ashrak started for him.

*My knife, Malek. That should penetrate the shield.*

*This little thing will never manage to kill it.* But Malek was already on his feet, hand curled around the hilt of my knife, rushing to back up O'Neill.


O'Neill dropped his empty weapon and took out his own knife to face the ashrak's attack. But he would have no chance against the ashrak. In perfect agreement with me, Malek moved forward to block the ashrak's path to O'Neill. We were likely going to die, but better to fight than stand there and let it slaughter us.

Suddenly, a staff weapon fired from nowhere. Three times all together, striking the ashrak each time. Its invisibility screen sparked and died. The Goa'uld collapsed, dead.

It was Bra'tac.

He looked terrible -- exhausted, injured, but distinctly alive. We stared at him, amazed. Teal'c and Rak'nor ran to help him.

For just a moment, we watched the Jaffa and Tau'ri surround the Jaffa master and the ashrak.

When Bra'tac explained how he had survived, we stood next to Jacob and listened. "This ashrak left me for dead. I was unable to move and do not know how long I was unconscious. My symbiote sustained me and I returned as soon as I could."

O'Neill smiled at him, pleased by his sudden reappearance. "Not bad."

Bra'tac nodded.

Then without my prodding, Malek stepped forward. "I owe you my life twice over. I only hope that one day I am given the chance to repay that debt."

*Offer your hand, Malek,* I instructed.

*He will not take it.*

*He may. We must at least make the attempt to gain his forgiveness and heal this chasm between Jaffa and Tok'ra.*

"Forgive me." Malek held out a hand toward the Jaffa master.

For a moment I thought Malek would be right. Bra'tac hesitated, but then he looked into our eyes and again I had that unsettling feeling that he could see me.

His hand clasped Malek's arm tightly. His grip was strong and without reluctance.

When he let go it was to pick up the ashrak's blade and hold it up for all to see. Satisfied that he had done his part, Malek moved back to stand by Jacob who gave him an approving nod.

Bra'tac began to speak, addressing everyone there. "This single blade did what we could not. It has brought us together. This blade has spilled the blood of Jaffa... of the Tok'ra... and of the Tau'ri. By the hand of our common enemy," he walked past the slain ashrak and into the center of the loose circle that had formed around him, "it has made us brothers. Together we have ensured it will never spill our blood again."

He threw the blade into the dirt and it stuck there, hilt glinting.

*Nice touch,* I said to Malek, impressed in spite of myself.

*You're jealous,* Malek teased. *Do you want to give a speech of your own?*

*No. I know when I've met my match.*

He laughed in my mind, and the warm sound washed through me. For the first time since I set foot on this planet, it seemed the darkness lifted away and I could feel the sun again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Bra'tac found me in the infirmary tent, after Malek took his turn with the healing device on the staff weapon burn in Vegta's abdomen. Vegta was still unconscious, but he would recover.

Malek nodded his head politely. "Master Bra'tac, what can I do for you?"

"I have a question to ask of you." He drew Malek outside where we could not be overheard. "I mean no offense."

"I will not be offended."

"We are told that Tok'ra hosts are equal to their symbiotes. Yet, except for Jacob Carter, none of the hosts speak. Why is this?"

Was that true, I wondered. Had none of the other hosts spoken where they could be overheard? It probably was true, given the difficult past two days. *Give over.* I requested and Malek lowered his eyes. I slid back into control.

"Master Bra'tac." The Jaffa leaned on his staff weapon and raised a brow at the human voice now emerging. I tried to explain so he would understand that we were nothing like the Goa'uld. "I am Malek's host. We choose not to speak aloud. As a rule, unblended people find two personalities in one body confusing. So we select one to be the dominant voice when we are among them. In times of battle or other great stress, the symbiotes generally have control, because they are calmer. But I assure you, it is an equal partnership of great love between us. Regardless of who dominates, the other is still there, seeing and hearing all that goes on."

*And usually commenting on it as well,* Malek added cheerfully. I told him to be quiet.

Bra'tac's dark eyes met mine and he nodded slowly. "I have never met Tok'ra, except for Jacob Carter. I did not understand this before. I will explain to the others."

I took a deep breath and said, "You should know something. When we left you in the forest, Malek wanted to go after you. I was the one who told him not to go. I'm sorry -- we should've tried."

Bra'tac shook his head. "No, I think not. Your death would have served no purpose. Once you knew there was an ashrak, it was wiser to inform the others and seek a method to counter its advantages. I do not fault your decision."

"Thank you." I bowed my head to him, intending to leave.

But his hand came down gently on my arm and held me. "You suffered greatly at the hands of Jaffa and Goa'uld."

Surprised, I made no answer at first, could only look into his kindly face. Then I nodded once.

There was sympathy in his dark eyes. "None of that Goa'uld's Jaffa are here, I hope?" he asked softly.

I had to clear my throat to find my voice. "No, Master Bra'tac. They are all dead. They all suicided when I killed their mistress."

His eyes widened and he released my sleeve, stepping back a pace. "Lady Ishtar," he whispered in realization. "That was you?"

And I could see in his gaze that he knew it all -- he knew of Ishtar and her fate, he knew of my world, and he knew of me. I had heard the story, told by other Tok'ra and on various worlds touched by the Goa'uld, while never giving away that it was about me. I would never have said so much if I had thought that the Jaffa had heard the story as well.

I held his gaze. "My life began anew the day Malek and I joined, Master Bra'tac. The past is dead."

I waited until he nodded, then I turned and walked away.

*~*~*~*~*~*


I hoped that would be the end of it.

That evening, the Tau'ri built a large fire in the middle of the square and we celebrated the defeat of the ashrak and our own survival. I ate Tau'ri food. They called it by another abbreviation, MRE. It supposedly had chicken in it, which Malek could not find, but with the addition of the spicy red sauce in the tiny bottle, the meal was not bad.

After dinner, Bra'tac stood and addressed the gathering. A respectful silence fell. "We have gathered together -- Tok'ra, Jaffa, and Tau'ri -- to seek an end to the Goa'uld."

Cheering interrupted him, until Bra'tac held up his hand for silence again. "All of us have, in our way, contributed to that goal. Yet we are not the only ones. Years before the slaves of Abydos overthrew Ra with the help of the Tau'ri," he nodded to O'Neill, "there was another who fanned the spark of rebellion against the Goa'uld." He looked straight at me.

*No. He's not going to do this with me sitting here, is he?* I demanded of Malek in sudden horrible realization.

*I believe he is. It is a good tale. One which, I think, the Tau'ri should hear. Sit quietly and remember, beloved, you are never alone.*

Bra'tac shifted, leaning against his staff weapon. The firelight gleamed from his armor, and his voice held the audience spellbound.

"The events occurred not long ago, but it is already legend. There lies a distant world, which for millennia was subject to the Goa'uld Ishtar. She had been away for a century, and in her absence the world prospered and developed rapidly. The realm in which the chappa'ai lay, was ruled by a king just come to manhood He was not Jaffa, not Tok'ra, possessed of no special abilities, but it is said that he ruled his people wisely. He had a wife and a young daughter."

*Arvalle. Jisa.*

Bra'tac continued. "Ishtar returned. In the blaze of the re-conquest, the king's young daughter was slain and he and his beloved queen were taken prisoner. It is told that Ishtar slew the queen before him and promised to do the same to his people, should he resist. He promised to serve her. But in his heart rebellion burned."

Bra'tac paused to look at the rapt audience. He did not look at me again. I hid myself deep in Malek's comfort, wanting to leave but not daring to draw attention to us.

"For two years, the king was Ishtar's slave. She delighted in his humiliation and believed him utterly broken to her will. But in secret, he plotted to win his people's freedom. Every note, every whispered conversation, risked betrayal and death. And in the end, the king _was_ betrayed. One he trusted revealed the plot to Ishtar, for he feared the Goa'uld more than he hoped for freedom."

*Elnor.* The remembered sting of betrayal was like a knife in my heart. Seeing him stand at Ishtar's side, when the Jaffa forced me to kneel at her feet, I had known that the rebellion was dead.

"Ishtar punished the world, reducing much of it to ashes," Bra'tac continued softly. I remembered standing in her chamber on the ha'tak, watching the cities on fire. All that I wanted in that moment, with all my heart, was her death. I would have been content to die, as long as I took her down with me.

"And the young king suffered for his attempted rebellion. But despite the horror she inflicted on him, his heart endured. He waited, as a hunter waits in concealment for his prey. The Goa'uld Ishtar did not know that her defeat was at hand, but at last opportunity came. No tale tells of how he obtained a knife, but he did."

*I gave it to you, remember?* Malek asked and his hand covered the hidden knife in his sleeve. It was the same knife. Oh yes, I remembered. I had believed him one of Ishtar's minor Goa'uld servants and feared his handing me a weapon was a trap. But I had decided to take the chance.

"He concealed it within Ishtar's bedchamber, so that when she brought him there to serve her, instead he took the knife and killed her so swiftly, so finally, that no sarcophagus could save her. He called upon the servants to rise up, and a handful followed him. They fought the Jaffa and barricaded themselves in the command center. There they forced the ha'tak to crash into the surface, welcoming death. But fortune smiled upon them, for the ship was only badly damaged, not destroyed. Several of those former servants survived to tell the tale.

"The Jaffa of Ishtar committed suicide to the last once they discovered their goddess was dead. The world was free, though at a terrible cost. The story began to be whispered through the ranks of Jaffa and among worlds held by the Goa'uld, for within it were seeds of hope that the Goa'uld could be defeated."

He bowed his head and seemed finished, until Samantha Carter asked, "And what happened to the king?"

I remembered the crash, the pain of my injuries. I lay there in the rubble of the command deck and I knew I was dying. But I was content, for Ishtar was dead by my hand and my people were free. But then a man, the Goa'uld who had given me the knife, crawled toward me. He was injured as well. That was Malek and he explained to me about the Tok'ra, and how if we joined we might both live to fight more Goa'uld elsewhere.

*So you accepted me, and you found that all I told you was true.*

*Yes. I regret nothing, dearest. And I never will.*

Bra'tac did not look my way, but I felt his regard. "Some say that the king died, Major Carter. Others say he left and to this day continues to battle other Goa'uld to avenge his fallen world. All that is known is that he did not return home."

*That isn't true,* I told Malek. I glanced up to the night sky. The system of my homeworld was up there somewhere, but I felt no pull to return. All that I had known was gone. People still lived there, but they were no longer the ones I thought of as mine.

I looked upon the faces near me: Jacob Carter, Billin, Kelmaa, and I thought of the other Tok'ra who were my friends. I even looked to the Jaffa and Tau'ri and felt kinship with them. Within, I felt the constant presence of Malek.

With a faded sense of loss, I closed the door again on the memories of those days of tormented grief and rage. My life had changed, and I had found a new family to protect and cherish for as long as I could. They needed me now.

*I am home.*


fin


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(c) 2003 by M. Uli Kusterer and the respective authors, all rights reserved.