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28 July 2009 @ 06:06 pm
The Road to Tartarus - Chapter Eleven  
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Chapter Eleven


Sam went into the infirmary in the morning, ready to bring cheerful greetings to Asheron, and found him asleep. Doctor Lam gave her the discouraging report that he'd flipped out on seeing Teal'c and she'd had to sedate him.

When he woke up, he seemed subdued and tired. "It was Teal'c, wasn't it?" he asked her as soon as he recognized her.

"Yes. He thought you were sleeping, or he wouldn't have tried to sneak in. He just wanted to see you."

"Oh gods," he breathed and shut his eyes, letting out a breath. "I even knew it was him, and I still couldn't stop it. Tell him I'm sorry."

She took his right hand in hers. "There's nothing to be sorry about. He understands, Asheron. He's been there."

"Damn it, I hate this," he spat out in weary disgust with himself, words he probably wouldn't say if he weren't still drugged. "Being so weak and useless."

"Hush," she murmured. "You're not. You lived through something so horrific I can't even imagine, and you did it twice. And I know it must hurt even worse that Malek's not with you right now, but he will be. In the meantime, I'm here, your other friends are here, and we're here to help you, whatever you need."

He didn't say anything for a long time, just breathing with his eyes closed, but she could feel the grip he had on her fingers and knew he wasn't sleeping. Then his eyes opened and looked at her. "You're more than I deserve, Sam."

She shook her head, and put a finger across his lips. "No. You deserve only good things, and I won't hear anything else."

He looked reluctant but eventually nodded a bit, and she took her hand away. "Would you read more of the book? Not Origin, I don't think anybody can take that right now; the novel. It reminds me of when I was young," he said, with a wistful look that she couldn't resist.

"I hope your mother wasn't Mrs Bennet," she teased and was pleased when he smiled a bit and shook his head. She opened Pride and Prejudice but read only two pages before a commotion at the entrance made her look up.

General Landry entered and she started up from her chair, waved back down. "Sir. Asheron, this is General Landry."

"General," Asheron greeted him. "Thank you for letting me stay here."

Landry seemed surprised by Asheron's politeness. "You're welcome. Least I could do. I came to see how you were doing?"

Asheron hesitated, deciding what to say before settling on, "Better, thank you."

"Good, glad to hear it," he answered, and then got to the real reason he'd come. "As our resident expert, I thought I'd bring you this," Landry waved a piece of paper in their direction. Sam reached out and took it. There wasn't much on the sheet - just the printed text of a message in Goa'uld.

"The Goa'uld Nerus sent this to us," Landry explained and asked Asheron, "What do you know about him?"

Asheron's eyes flicked up to Landry at the name. "He was one of Baal's servants for centuries," he answered. "Technologically proficient and smarter than he seems, but also … vile." His face tightened in disgust, lips pressed together, but the biggest clue to Sam was the word itself. It sounded like he'd had personal dealings with him.

"'Vile'?" Sam repeated curiously. "You don't like him. You met?" she asked, hoping she wasn't going to prompt any bad memories.

But to her relief, Asheron didn't seem disturbed by the question and nodded calmly. "He was at court on Saphon, when I was there. Nerus indulges in a way most Goa'uld don't care to --- eating, drinking, narcotics, whatever he wants. He's also very oily and scheming, and you can't trust him as far as you can throw him. Which," his lips twisted in a wry half-smile, "isn't very far. But his fleshy desires got in the way of his ambition, so he was willing to serve as long as he could indulge. What does he want?"

Landry looked pointedly at the paper in her hand. "I was hoping you could tell me that."

She could spend a few minutes painstakingly sounding out the characters or give it to Asheron to read, so she handed it to him.

He read it and frowned deeply. "He's offering to come here to help against the Ori. He has news about them he wants to share. And he writes this: 'I would consider it a great honor to meet the heroes of the Tau'ri who brought the Goa'uld to their knees…'"

"But he's a Goa'uld himself," Sam objected.

"Exactly." Asheron turned his head to share a glance with her, equally disbelieving. "But … he's a minor one, and this uses the same fawning language he used at court," he said. "Perhaps he sees his chance to throw in with a winner now that the old order is overthrown. He does like to follow strength."

The heavy disdain in his voice made her want to smile. Nerus was a coward and a toady, no wonder Asheron despised him.

"He has technical skills?" Landry asked.

Asheron nodded and answered grudgingly, "Yes. That's why Baal kept him around."

"Did Baal send him?" Landry asked.

Asheron shrugged a bit and shook his head. "I don't know, but I don't think so. He's an asset Baal wouldn't want in your hands. This," he held up the note, "reads to me like it's something Nerus is doing on his own. I think you should find out what he wants. But don't," he advised Landry, "underestimate him."

Landry nodded, looking thoughtful and took the paper back from him. He thanked Asheron, nodded at Sam and left.

"There, see?" Sam said to Asheron. "And you were complaining you weren't doing anything useful."

He ignored that. "Don't let anyone tell him I'm here."

"Why not?" she asked curiously. "You don't want to see him?"

"I want to watch him, before he knows. I know him well enough to spot deceit, I hope."

She nodded, pleased that he was taking such an interest. "I'll set up a feed from the interrogation room to here so you can watch." He didn't argue about going closer, even though he was strong enough to walk there now. He was in the infirmary for observation and so the doctor could monitor what he was eating, more than any physical weakness.

A nurse brought in dinner, and Sam dismissed her with a smile, to push the tray in front of him. "I'll keep you company while you eat."

He looked at the chicken and peas, the dessert of Jell-O and cup of orange juice with such obvious disgust she had to chuckle. "Come on," she coaxed, "at least eat the Jell-O. It's strawberry, that's one of the good flavors."

"They all taste the same," he muttered, but he started to pick at it anyway.


* * *

Asheron watched Nerus' "briefing" on the small television on the cart brought near his bed in the infirmary. Nerus was still vile, starting into the food with relish and being flattering and fawning, praising the Tau'ri for defeating the Goa'uld and the Replicators.

But when Nerus dropped the use of the Goa'uld voice and treated it like an optional affectation, a chill skittered down his back in warning. It seemed very unlike the Nerus Asheron knew, to dismiss the 'god voice' so lightly.

But the news he brought was horrifying, and Asheron knew Nerus was clever enough in his self-interest to seek out allies. When the Tau'ri left the room, Nerus continued eating, surely aware that he was under surveillance.

It took almost an hour before Sam and Vala and Daniel made their way to the infirmary. He was for a moment surprised that Teal'c hadn't come, but then realized after his own craziness Teal'c had taken the wiser course and stayed away.

"Tell them Nerus is a liar," Vala said as her greeting, climbing up on his bed and wriggling familiarly against his feet to make room for her to sit. "He cannot be trusted."

"He's a liar and he cannot be trusted," Asheron repeated obediently, winning a smile from Sam.

Vala smirked at Daniel. "There, see?"

"But," Asheron continued, lifting a hand, "you have to stop the Ori from finishing whatever it is they're doing. It doesn't benefit anyone in this galaxy, Nerus included, to let them build an impregnable fortress."

Vala folded her arms and pouted.

"We're getting a very large naquadriah-enhanced warhead delivered from Area 51," Sam told him. "We'll meet Prometheus and go in that way. If the Prior refuses to stop, which I'm sure he will, we'll blow the nuke and destroy the Gate. Hopefully that'll be enough." In her eyes he read her doubt - and he nodded, understanding.

Daniel sighed. "Even if we stop them here, there's nothing to stop them from doing the same thing on another planet."

"I find it hard to believe this expenditure of energy is that easy for them," Asheron said. "It might at least give us some time."

Vala shook her head. "You know listening to that disgusting excuse for a Goa'uld is a mistake," she persisted. "He's got some scheme."

"I'm sure he does," Asheron agreed. "But he's also a cockroach, and there aren't any more powerful Goa'uld left to hide behind, are there? So he scurried here, seeking the protection of his next higher patron. That's the kind of creature he is."

"Right," Daniel agreed, directing his words to a resistant Vala. "He's got to stop the Ori, too."

"You'll see," Vala warned.

Daniel groaned. "Come on, let's go get ready. Asheron, take care, and we'll see you when we're back."

"Good luck," he wished them, and Daniel and Vala left the infirmary, with Vala turning once at the door to glare at him before flouncing out.

Sam watched, bemused, then the smile dropped away as she sat beside him, her leg touching his and tucking her fingers around his hand. "I don't want to go," she murmured.

He turned his hand over to clasp hers. "You have to go. I know that. Trust me, I understand duty."

"But -- " She bit her lip, worry in her eyes. "But I should be with you. I don't want to leave you alone again. Not when you've started to remember."

"Sam. They need you more than I do," he said. "You have to stop the Ori. If you stayed behind, for me, and the galaxy fell to the Ori..." his voice trailed off, and he shivered. "We'd both always wonder if you could've helped."

She looked reluctant but nodded. "You could come with me," she suggested hopefully. "Stay on Prometheus."

He was briefly tempted, but he knew it was impossible. He was better, but he could admit, if only to himself, that he wasn't well. Certainly not well enough to go on a ship in the middle of a battle, when he couldn't even be sure he'd stay in his right mind if the memories all came crashing back on him again. But she didn't need to know all that. He shook his head once. "As much as I want to, I'm not ready. I would just distract you." He forced a smile. "Besides, Doctor Lam hasn't even let me go to my own quarters yet, I don't think she'd let me leave the planet."

"Probably not." Sam's thumb stroked the back of his hand, and for a moment, he watched it, wondering how she could even bring herself to touch him. "I know you're right. But ... I can't escape this feeling that if I leave... something will happen, and I might not see you again," she confessed, softly, looking down. Malek's name hung unspoken but heavy over them.

"I..." he started to promise he wouldn't follow Malek, but he knew he couldn't promise that. Malek seemed stable in his coma, but that also meant there was no improvement, and Asheron had no idea how long a symbiote might last in this state. He had the feeling it wouldn't be forever, though. When Malek died, the symbiote toxin would flood his body and he would die, too. That much was a certainty. "I'll hang on as long as Malek does."

"You better," she warned him, eyes bright. "We didn't go through all this to lose you both, now."

He nodded. She bent down to kiss him goodbye, and he watched her go, lifting a hand in farewell when she turned at the doorway.

When she was gone, it was as if a weight came off his chest and he let out a sigh, closing his eyes. She tried so hard, and the worst part was that he believed she meant it; it wasn't just misplaced loyalty or duty driving her to care. But it felt wrong to let her, after everything.

It was better for everyone if she was away saving the galaxy from the Ori, doing what she did best and not wasting her time here.

He fell into a fitful doze full of Priors intoning from the book of Origin. Just when he could feel the dream start to twist, and Jaffa were going to come into it, he heard a familiar voice behind him advise, "You should listen to the one who was Qetesh."

He opened his eyes and turned over in the bed, staring at Baal, who was lying there, with his head propped up on one hand and looking back at him with a faint smile. Asheron blinked, trying to chase him away. Baal remained, as solid as the infirmary wall behind him, or so it seemed. "You're not here. I'm dreaming this."

Baal's finger brushed down his nose to his lips, caressing his lower lip. "Does it feel like you're dreaming?" he countered, dropping the finger down Asheron's chin and throat and all the way down the middle of his chest. He moved closer then, and Asheron could feel his body heat and then a leg around his, and a foot sliding along his calf.

"You can't be here," Asheron protested, but leaned forward anyway, mouths joining in a needy, heated kiss.

"Mm, it has been too long," Baal murmured, as his hand made lazy circles on Asheron's stomach, dipping ever lower until Asheron had to part his legs to let Baal between.

"Yes," he agreed, breathlessly, letting Baal touch him however he wanted.

"You know Nerus is a liar," Baal said in a conversational tone all at odds with the intimacy of his hand, "and a coward."

Asheron pressed into the touch. "Please, don't talk about him right now..."

His tongue traced the outer edge of Asheron's ear, and a shiver passed through him. "Nerus follows strength," Baal continued. "Do you really believe he would come bow and scrape to the Tau'ri when there is a power far stronger?"

That hand caressing him made it so hard to think - arousal was pounding through him already, warm pressure building inside. "Are you -- are you saying he's working for the Ori? Surely not even Nerus is that much of a despicable toad?"

Baal laughed once, the deep echoes thrumming in Asheron's blood. "Zhir'an, of course he is. You know Vala is right. What does Nerus gain if he prostrates himself to the Ori?"

"Survival," Asheron answered, biting his lip on the moan welling from deep in his chest.

"Exactly. You must be his god again and force him into revealing the truth," Baal whispered into his ear while his hand caressed him past want and into pure need, as the pressure folded on itself into fire. "Do whatever it takes. Do what these Tau'ri will not."

He came with a jolt of pleasure like lightning up his spine and through his body, and for just one moment, bliss chased away pain and fear. Then his eyes opened.

The dim infirmary surrounded him and Baal was nowhere to be seen of course, but his heart was racing and his loose hospital pants were wet with the proof that the dream had been at least that real.

Licking his dry lips, he thought about the rest. If Nerus was in league with the Ori - or even their unwitting pawn - he was endangering Sam and Turan.

Do whatever it takes, the words echoed in his mind. And he would.


* * *

In the morning, Asheron made his way to see Landry, having charmed clothes out of Lieutenant Evans and a pass from the infirmary out of Lam.

Landry was in the briefing room, having seen off another team, when Asheron found him. "General Landry, good morning. I need to question Nerus," he said. "I think Vala's right and he's playing us."

Landry looked curious but not very surprised by the abrupt request, and tapped his folders together against the table. "What are you going to do?"

Asheron answered, in a level voice, "I am going to intimidate him."

"You? Intimidate?" Landry's brows lifted, and his gaze drifted down to Asheron's bad hand. Asheron tucked it in his pants pocket. "Really."

The doubt stabbed him, confirmation that he still looked weak. But appearances weren't all that was important here. "I was, briefly, his ruler," Asheron reminded him. "He obeyed me as Baal's second in command. He didn't like it, but he did it, and he'll still remember that. If he doesn't, I know... some tricks," he said, looking away, but Landry knew enough of his past to understand that Asheron had some expertise in interrogation, though usually from the other side. "I can get to the truth quickly. We may not have much time."

Landry hesitated and then nodded. "All right. I was having my own doubts, especially since he's done absolutely nothing helpful since he arrived. I'll follow you and watch."

"If you wish."

Outside the suite where Nerus was being held, Asheron paused at one of the guards. "I need to borrow your gun."

"You want a sidearm?" Landry asked with surprise and a little suspicion.

"I need a weapon of some kind. I am not as strong as he is," Asheron admitted bluntly, "and I won't use the ribbon device." He was relieved when Landry approved the transfer. Tucking the gun in the back of his pants where it wouldn't be seen right away, he had the guards open the door and he walked in. The door closed behind him, but he knew he remained under surveillance - though that wasn't going to matter soon.

Nerus looked up from his food and it was highly satisfying to see the cheerful grin die away as he realized who was there.

"Well, this is interesting," he murmured, using the Goa'uld voice. "You're alive." He very slowly and wiped his hands on the napkin, giving Asheron a glance head to toe. "You look underfed, would you care to join me?" he invited with a broad gesture.

"Tell me about this Ori device," Asheron demanded.

"I told it all to General -- "

Asheron repeated, coldly, "Tell me about the Ori device."

Nerus stopped and his slow smile was an oily thing full of evil secrets, and in that moment, Asheron knew he was right about Nerus selling them out. "In this place you are less than Baal's whore," he taunted. "I don't have to tell you anything."

"I hadn't thought about that, but you're right," Asheron said, mildly. "I don't have to worry about how Baal will react when I kill his fat lap dog anymore." He reached behind his belt and drew out the gun. He pointed it at Nerus, using his bad hand to steady it, and pulled the trigger. Twice.

The bullets hit his chest. Nerus slammed backward in his chair, overturning it, his eyes wide with surprise as he fell.

Asheron heard the commotion outside the door, but he ignored it. He walked around to the other side of the table and knelt by the Goa'uld's head. "I know you lied to them. What is the Ori device going to do?"

Nerus gasped, holding his chest with both hands in a vain effort to stop the bleeding. "I cannot believe you -- "

"Speak, Nerus, or you die, right here," Asheron promised. He heard the outer door open and the sound of booted feet running in but focused his attention on Nerus.

"The device draws... " Nerus said, with difficulty, "energy from any source. The more they hit it with, the stronger..."

Asheron jabbed the gun into Nerus throat, cutting him off, understanding the ploy. He shouted, "General, tell Sam to stop! Tell the Prometheus they must not fire the weapon! We're feeding it energy, making it stronger -- that naquadriah will make it unstoppable!"

Under the cover of the sounds outside of the general giving orders, Asheron leaned close to Nerus and asked softly, "Do you know where Baal is?"

Nerus could only gasp, "Yes." In his expression was the hope and fear that Asheron would save him.

Asheron was briefly tempted to ask where, but he knew what he had to do. Nerus was weak. Nerus was a traitor. But he didn't feel hate for the Goa'uld, to his own surprise. He didn't feel much at all.

Without another word, only a twitch of his fingers, he pulled the trigger once again. The bullet went through Nerus' neck at the base of his chin. There was very little blood.

Asheron put the gun down and stood up. The SFs had their weapons pointed at him, and Landry was watching him warily, half behind the door.

One of the guards came near and knelt by the body, "He's dead, sir."

Asheron went around the table, darkly amused at the way the SFs parted for him.

"Why?" Landry demanded. "Why did you kill him?"

Asheron thought about what to answer. Because he deserved it. Because you couldn't trust him to tell the truth. Because I couldn't trust him not to talk. Because he put Sam in danger. Because I wanted to. Those were all reasons, but he said instead, "Because he betrayed us all to the Ori. And because none of you would do it."

"He could've been a valuable source of intelli--" Landry objected.

"You could never trust anything he said to be true," Asheron cut him off. "The important thing is we know that the Ori want us to fire the weapon. Every time they fire any weapon at it, the field strengthens. That naquadriah bomb may give it enough energy to cover the whole planet, and for all I know, rip a permanent hole in space-time."

Landry fell silent and nodded.

Asheron's left hand was throbbing and he rubbed it, wondering if he'd strained the weakened hand trying to hold the gun. But other than that, he searched for feeling anything. He should be remorseful or shocked or even pleased, murdering Nerus like that. He wanted to be glad that he helped Sam.

But there was nothing. It seemed that the more he tried to find something, the less there was, until it was all hollow inside, as though his body was a thin shell around nothingness. In some distant part of him he knew he should fight against it and not be so disconnected, but it was easier to sink into the numbness and not think. Not remember. Not feel.

"I'm going back to the infirmary," he declared abruptly. "I'm tired. If you want to put guards, do what you want, General. I don't care."

He turned at the next intersection and Landry let him walk away, dispatching two of the SF's to follow him at a discreet distance that he heard anyway.

Back in his corner of the infirmary, he put on the television. He flipped through the few channels three times, before stopping at the business channel again when a car advertisement showed him a place that reminded him sharply of the palace gardens on Saphon.

Shutting his eyes and calling himself a fool, he left the television on as low background noise and tried to sleep.

Sleep was elusive, his mind wakeful and busy, even when his body was aching for rest. He turned restlessly on the bed. Imagining Sam's blue eyes and her beautiful smile was painful, and he pushed the thought of her away. After all he'd done, all he deserved was her pity. Or, maybe, since he'd just cold bloodedly murdered someone, maybe he only deserved her disgust.

Insidiously, brown eyes replaced blue and that voice that could make him shiver chided him that he was being ridiculous. Nerus had betrayed them all to the Ori and he deserved to die, so there was no reason to be disturbed.

He heard vaguely, as if at a distance, "... The acquisition of Hammel Industries will strengthen our position in manufacturing and tech sectors."

Asheron's eyes popped open.

It was Baal's voice again, but this time, coming from the television. But that was plainly impossible. Baal would never be on Earth, would never own a company or be on television. He'd fallen asleep and he was dreaming this very surreal dream of Baal giving a press conference on the business channel. Or maybe it was someone who sounded similar.

Baal said more. "... I have plans for my company's expansion beyond this, as well...."

It sounded so much like him. Only Baal could say that he had plans and make it sound quite that ominous. But it couldn't be. He was hallucinating again. Wanting something so much he was imagining it. He lifted himself up on his elbows to look, but that didn't help, since the television program had moved on to the next segment and whoever it had been was gone.

He flopped back on the bed, disgusted with himself and his cracking mind that was now hearing things that didn't even exist. But after more restless tossing, he got up and went to the computer to prove to himself whether he was actually crazy or not.


* * *

The discovery that he was not, in fact, completely insane, that Baal really was on Earth, sent him out into the corridors. He needed advice and he needed someone who knew at least some of the truth, but most of all he wanted to talk to Selmak.

He encountered Colonel Pierce in the waiting area of the infirmary and asked him if he knew Jacob Carter's current whereabouts.

"General Carter?" Pierce repeated in some confusion, and then he frowned and shifted awkwardly. "Oh. You mean you don't know?"

"Know what?" Asheron asked, suddenly wary, and a cold dread settled under his ribs.

"He ... died," Pierce answered. "A few months ago. I'm sorry."

A great hollow feeling opened up in his chest, and he could barely push the words out, shaking his head in horrified denial. "But ... but Sam told me he was in Washington, helping O'Neill."

Pierce bit his lip and looked regretful, as he shook his head. "No. He's not. God, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have told you..."

Asheron pulled in a breath through lungs that felt like claws around his heart. "And Selmak?"

Pierce shook his head sadly. "Selmak was the one who was ill. From what I heard, Selmak was comatose for a few weeks and Jacob refused to let Selmak leave him. And then... that was it. Carter -- Sam -- went to Area 51 after."

Sam had lied to him... Everyone had lied to him that Jacob and Selmak were still alive. They were both dead.

He made himself thank Pierce before he walked away

In the infirmary, he stretched out on the bed fully clothed and looked up at the ceiling, toward the pipes and conduits, but not seeing them. Inside he called for Malek, trying to get him to rouse.

*Don't leave me alone, you can't leave me alone.*

There was no warm presence in his mind, only the cold between the stars. Malek was gone.

Asheron knew what he had to do, and once the decision was made, the darkness seemed to lift away. He felt free.

* * *


Curious, Landry watched the Tok'ra enter his office and shut the door. Dressed in a black t-shirt and green BDU slacks, Asheron could've been any other soldier under his command. But it had only been a few hours since Asheron had coldly shot Nerus to death, proving he was not a soldier and he was definitely not under Landry's command. He was an alien, and an alien who'd gone through something horrific and might not be entirely sane, besides.

But Landry didn't think he was in any danger. "Please, have a seat," he pointed to the chair opposite his own. "What can I do for you?"

Asheron seemed reluctant to meet his eyes, fixing his gaze on Landry's nameplate after he'd sat down. "We weren't acquainted before, and that gives me an odd feeling that I can be honest with you, General Landry. I hope that's true."

Landry frowned in confusion. "Of course. But I don't understand -- "

"I can't tell Sam. She's trying so hard, and I don't want to hurt her… She's already hurt so much for me…"

Landry began to have a sense of dread about what this was about. It was practically confirmed when Asheron looked up to finally meet his eyes, and Landry saw what he expected to see: the desperation of a man holding onto himself by ragged fingernails.

Asheron nodded slightly. "Yes," he confirmed Landry's realization. "I -- I can pretend for her. And I do. For everyone. But something's … wrong in me. Something's broken."

"Son," Landry started, summoning all the gentleness he could, "you were a captive and tortured for three months. You can't expect to be all better in just a few weeks. It takes time."

But Asheron was shaking his head from the first words. "No, you don't understand." He grasped the fabric of his pants and twisted it absently. "It's different this time."

Landry hesitated, trying to think. This problem was a little out of his league. If one of his men had a psychological problem he'd refer him to a doctor, not generally deal with it himself. Yet Asheron had come to him, not to Carolyn to ask for help. Which meant he probably had something in mind. "What can I do for you?" he asked, into the silence. "Do you want to go through the gate?"

"No," he shook his head and then lifted it again. "I know where Baal is, General."

Landry sat back in his chair, shocked. "You knew all along?" he asked, impressed and just a little afraid that Asheron had kept the secret, even under brutal torture.

"No." Asheron's gaze slipped toward the wall, as a ghostly smile played on his lips. "I heard his voice. I thought I was hearing things at first, imagining something so hard that I thought it was real. It was a short clip of him speaking."

Landry couldn't help staring in disbelief, struggling to grasp what he was being told. "You're saying -- Baal's here? On Earth?"

Asheron nodded. "He is. I'm the only person on this planet who would recognize him using his human tone, but it's him. He's here." After a moment, he added more softly, "He's going to find out that I'm here and what happened. And when he does, he's going to be very angry. I'd rather that not happen. Plus he's no doubt got some scheme going here that's very dangerous to the people of Earth. What I want is a dose of the symbiote poison to bring to him."

Landry frowned. "You'd kill him? I'm sorry, but -- my understanding was -- that you two -- "

"You misunderstand, General." He rose and moved to the wall, facing away from Landry. "Our era is over. The Goa'uld and the Tok'ra are finished. I want it over. I don't want to remember what I remember, I don't want to be pulled between two people who love me but are enemies. I don't want to constantly fight to keep all the pieces together anymore. The best I can do now is take him with me, so he won't continue to put Earth in danger."

Landry abruptly understood exactly what Asheron really wanted. "That isn't the answer -- " Landry started, appalled.

"There is no other!" Asheron whipped around again, anguished eyes meeting his. "Do you know what I did? Do you know what the Jaffa did to punish me for it? I cannot live with all of it!" He put his hands to his bowed head, as though trying to squeeze the memories out of his brain, then he lifted his head to say in a calmer, but more intense voice:

"Thirty years ago, I killed a System Lord. I cut her throat to avenge myself and my people, and I forced her ha'tak to crash into the fields of Hollardan, east of the capital. I embraced the death I believed would follow, knowing that I had done what I could to free my people. I was content that I had done the right thing. And thirty years later, I let myself be seduced into corruption. I knew from the beginning that Baal wanted me to rule beside him, he told me so. But I foolishly thought I could change him, when instead he changed me."

For a moment Landry couldn't speak. "Asheron -- "

"Please," he whispered in a hollow, helpless voice. "Malek's dying. I'll die when he does; I don't think anything can stop that now. Just give me the poison, General Landry, let me do this my way."

Landry hesitated, but then finally, he nodded a reluctant acceptance. "All right. If that's what you want."

Dark eyes lifted to meet his, the expression calm and resolute. His tone held not a whisper of doubt. "It is."





On to CHAPTER TWELVE
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