lizardbeth (lizardbeth_j) wrote,

The Road to Tartarus - Chapter Eight

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Chapter Eight

Sam sat beside her father, with O'Neill and Bra'tac and Teal'c behind them. They were all watching the monitors showing the results of the transmitters the Tok'ra had once planted on Goa'uld ships. It was horrible, she thought, watching those little dots and realize there were living beings -- mostly Jaffa, but also Goa'uld and humans -- on those ships being eliminated. She wasn't sure she liked knowing, not really, not with the knowledge that they wouldn't be in this position if she hadn't given the Replicators their only weapon. Trying to remember O'Neill's attempt to make her feel better helped some, until another ha'tak bit the dust and the Replicators continued spreading like wild fire.

"There," Jacob pointed to a narrow line of demarcation and six dots waiting just past it. "Typical Goa'uld strategic error -- the instinct to protect territory is very strong. Especially Baal, I think. So he's sending his fleet in against the Replicators, even when it's going to be absolutely futile."

She frowned as the six ships moved and separated, four of them heading off another way and two returning the way they'd come Over her shoulder O'Neill drawled, "That must be Tok'ra insight, because that's not what I'm seeing, Jacob. They're not intercepting."

"No...they're not." Jacob agreed after a moment. It was obvious that the six ships were not going to engage, even as the Replicator ship crossed the boundary. "Interesting. If it weren't in front of my eyes, Selmak and I wouldn't believe it." He shook his head in wonder. "Baal is letting an enemy enter his territory unchallenged."

She knew who was influencing this radical departure from the norm, and murmured, "Asheron."

He nodded slowly, not taking his eyes off the screen. "No doubt. I'd bet that was quite an argument. They should've sold tickets."

"Great," O'Neill muttered. "So he persuaded Baal to not throw his forces away. And is leaving us the Replicators to deal with. I’m not seeing the good there, people."

Jacob lifted his head and looked at O'Neill. "Jack, you realize that Asheron and Malek know these beacons are on Baal's ships, right? We're able to track the fleet at all because he hasn't told Baal about them."

O'Neill waved a hand in quasi-apology, but any words he might have spoken were cut off by the incoming wormhole klaxon.

They hurried downstairs to the control room, and Davis reported to O'Neill, "Sir, no IDC."

"Then we wait," O'Neill ordered. They all gathered as the wormhole stayed open, glowing behind the iris. Sam didn't hear anything hit the iris, but the wormhole didn't close, so there had to be something coming through. She was just about to slide into the other seat to check, when a strange light effect flickered at the end of the ramp.

Down below the guards stiffened, moved back, and snapped up their weapons, though she doubted bullets would be able to hit anything capable of walking through the iris.

"Well, speak of the devil," O'Neill muttered as the shape solidified into a person.

She stared. It was Asheron, or at least a hologram of him, since the image flickered on the edges. He looked well, wearing a long, collared shirt in dark blue velvet over pants and knee boots. He was frowning and blinking, looking around as if he was having trouble seeing, until his gaze found the control room and settled on her. His pleased smile was surprising, but warming, and she smiled back, lifting a hand to wave at him before she turned to head down to the gate room. O'Neill and the others followed.

"Sam, it's good to see you again," he greeted her as soon as she was standing in front of him.

"You, too. Where are you?" she asked.

"Saphon," he answered. "I have news you need to hear right away." He looked from her to O'Neill and Jacob, nodding at them in greeting, and shifting to Teal'c and Bra'tac. "The Replicators are back in our galaxy."

"We know," she answered. "We ran into them earlier. Daniel was taken, Asheron. We think my doppelganger wants to probe his mind about something he learned while Ascended."

He frowned. "Maybe all they have left to fear are the Ancients. They certainly don't fear us -- we attempted to use the disruptor against them and it failed."

She nodded, feeling guilty, and said, "Yeah, they adapted."

O'Neill stepped forward, "Wait a second. "We"? So you gave Baal the anti-Replicator disruptor technology?"

Asheron returned the look steadily, without apology. "Yes, I wanted to get the Replicators before they spread too far. It didn't work. Worse, Morrigan and Yu were supposed to be in a meeting with Oya, one of Baal's underlings, to persuade them to surrender. They're all dead. So I guess the good news for you, is that Baal and Anubis are the last of the system lords. The bad news is that the Replicators are spreading rapidly in those territories." He glanced to the side, distracted by something on Saphon only he could hear. "Anubis wants Baal to gather the entire fleet and send them at the Replicators, even though we're both pretty sure that's going to fail. So, if you have a new weapon against them, I'd like to propose that you share it with us."

"I'm sorry, for a minute there, I thought you were suggesting we help save Baal's ass," O'Neill asked sarcastically. "Why the hell would we want to do that?"

"Well, for one thing, Earth is a lot closer to the Replicators' current heading than Saphon," Asheron answered with a touch of dry irony that made Sam smile. His gaze shifted to Bra'tac and Teal'c and he added, almost apologetically, "So far a thousand Jaffa have pledged to Baal, as word spreads of the Replicator attack. I expect more. And Anubis is going to let every single one of them die in useless battle, unless there's some way to stop the Replicators."

"We don't have one," Sam spoke up. "We contacted Thor, but we haven't heard anything yet."

Asheron nodded and pressed his lips together in disappointment. "That's... unfortunate."

O'Neill snorted. "Y'think?"

In the small silence that followed, Jacob stepped forward one pace, urgently, "How is Malek?"

Asheron seemed startled by the question, but with scarcely a blink to mark the transition, Malek's voice emerged, "I am well, Selmak."

Sam was surprised that they hadn't done the usual Tok'ra nodding of the head, but that line of thought didn't get very far before O'Neill asked, "So, when you gonna kill that slimy son of a bitch?" He mimed a knife at his own throat with a slashing motion, looking hopeful.

Malek's lips turned upward in faint amusement. "Not today, O'Neill. The current situation makes that... difficult."

Sam thought O'Neill looked pouty, but he nodded his acceptance.

But Teal'c spoke up, asking, "And when he is dead, will you also relinquish your command of his empire?"

Malek withdrew, and Asheron lifted his face to look back at Teal'c steadily, "I will. But such a hypothetical presumes I outlive him, which looks ever more doubtful as enemies close in on all fronts." He glanced aside again. "I must go. If you discover a weapon and you decide to share it, contact me here. Good luck."

His gaze held hers for a moment, as if he wanted to say more and regretted not finding the words, and then he was gone. A few seconds later the wormhole shut.

Bra'tac spoke for the first time, staring at the closed iris, "Years of effort, undone in days."

Teal'c's hand closed on his shoulder. "All is not yet lost, Master Bra'tac. We must act, to win the hearts of our brothers. We can use this news to strike at the Goa'uld's hold on us."

"And do what, Teal'c?" Bra'tac asked. Everyone listened, equally puzzled.

"If Baal must send his fleet after the Replicators, that will leave Dakara lightly guarded. We have an opportunity to attack the idea that the Goa'uld are gods directly, if Free Jaffa can once again walk in the place where it is said Anubis made us."

Sam was about to ask what Dakara was and what he meant by that, but between one breath and the next, she found herself somewhere else.

Thor had come.

* * *

Asheron stood on the balcony, watching the colors change in the clouds on the peaks as the sun set. The vast bulk of Baal's fleet was off fighting the Replicators to placate Anubis and slow their advance slightly to give the Asgard or Anubis enough time to do something.

*The Asgard have had little success against the Replicators themselves,* Malek reminded him. *And I doubt Anubis intends anything except destruction. The lives of those beneath him - and everyone and everything is beneath him - mean nothing. That is why he was exiled originally. The other Goa'uld understood that to give him his way meant there would be no one to worship them.*

*If only we could throw them against each other somehow,* Asheron sighed, and took a sip of the tea from the cup he had balanced on the wall. *Without the rest of us between.*

The sound of boots coming through the door behind him made him turn. "My lord, I have news."

He found Tel'nor approaching, and the Jaffa added, "We just received word - Dakara has fallen."

Tel'nor's expression seemed more shocked and troubled than Asheron had yet seen it, and he figured he knew why. "Already? They're already in the central region? Gods, that means they're not four days from here."

Then Tel'nor corrected hastily, "No, no, not the Replicators. The Jaffa rebels now occupy Dakara."

Asheron stared at him in blank incomprehension for a moment and eventually managed to ask, "Why? The Replicators are two weeks from taking over the entire galaxy and they decide it's a good time to go occupy a ruined temple?"

Now Tel'nor seemed uncomfortable, not quite meeting his eyes, and shifted his weight to his back foot as if he wanted out of there. "It is... a symbol," he explained, slowly. "To the Jaffa. The place where we were made... by Anubis. For it to fall, means the gods are not omnipotent."

Asheron could read the new doubts in Tel'nor like words on a page, and for a moment, he had a choice: he could find a way to reaffirm the Goa'uld as gods, or he could tell the truth. Keeping Tel'nor's faith intact would be easier and more practical, but as he hesitated, he recalled Sam asking him what compromises he was making in the name of expediency. Then he felt a deep curdling shame in his gut that he'd even considered it, and that made it no choice at all.

Malek realized what he was about to say, and cautioned, *Be careful. Honesty can be dangerous.*

He drew in a deep breath. "Tel'nor, you know Anubis isn't a god. Neither is Baal. You know that," Asheron answered patiently. "But they're both very, very old and they know many things, which you and I don't. And unfortunately, Anubis is very, very hard -- maybe impossible -- to kill or destroy. So they're not gods, but they're not exactly like us, either."

"Us? You put yourself with me?" Tel'nor asked, sounding curious and honored, yet also scandalized.

Asheron laughed ruefully. "Oh, I'm mortal, my friend. And I'm many things, but omniscient isn't one of them. Which is why I need to do things like ask you to make sure Baal knows about Dakara and he can -- " In mid-gesture, his sleeve caught the teacup and swept it to the floor, where it shattered on the paving stones. "I’m also not omnipotent," Asheron observed dryly, making Tel'nor very nearly crack a smile. He waved his fingers to the lotar at the end of the balcony to sweep it up and went back inside, with Tel'nor at his heels.

He went to the work room, sure that Baal was going to contact him with instructions on what to do about Dakara.

It took awhile, and Asheron had long since finished dinner and started to work rather desultorily on accounts, when he heard the chime of an incoming transmission. It was a heavily encrypted signal from his ha'tak and Asheron entered the code to decrypt it, wondering who or what Baal was hiding the contents from. When the image formed, Baal took a deep breath when he saw Asheron there and relaxed, as if he'd been unsure who was going to answer.

"We must be very careful, zhir'an," he greeted. "But I have no choice, I think."

Asheron frowned. "Is this about Dakara?"

Baal grimaced. "Anubis wants me to gather our fleet and go crush the rebel Jaffa there."

"That will keep the fleet away from the Replicators, which is what we want, isn't it?" He didn't expect battling the rebel Jaffa would disturb Baal so obviously. It bothered him, and he wished Baal hadn't told him, but there seemed to be something else.

Baal shook his head and waved a hand to dismiss its importance. "Yes. Anubis told me that this has been his plan all along - to gather the rebels in a place to be crushed. I fear that's only a small part of his ultimate plan. When he was gone, I learned that Dakara is much more than a temple. Hidden somewhere within it, there is a device of the Ancients. It is a weapon capable of propagating through the Stargate and destroying all life that it touches. I believe he will use it against all who offer him resistance, including me and you. And Saphon and Earth. Possibly everyone."

In his mind, Malek was cold and silent with horror, while Asheron stammered out, "But the Replicators..."

Baal snarled, "He has knowledge of the Ancients. He can likely defeat them any time he chooses, but he waits for the Replicators to weaken his enemies first."

"Okay, so what should I do?" he asked.

"He has ordered you to go take command of a small portion of the fleet against the Replicators," he answered. "I think he has learned about Malek, and this is his way of attempting to kill you both. So you will do so, but you will attempt to draw the Replicators toward Tartarus. We will force him to fight them."

Asheron nodded. It sounded absurdly dangerous, but at least it was a plan he could fully support. "And you?"

"I will bring ships against Dakara as ordered. But first, you must warn the Tau'ri to destroy the weapon before I get there."

"You can't play both sides forever," Asheron warned.

Baal smiled back at him, bright but hard with the irony, and retorted, "Neither can you." The smile faded for a disgruntled curl of his lips. "I have no choice. I have no means to kill the Kull warriors Anubis has put as my shadow."

Asheron thought of the anti-supersoldier gun which the Tau'ri and Tok'ra had jointly made, but Malek answered, *I did not work on it, and I do not know more than the basics of how to create one. But Samantha and Jacob do.*

*It probably doesn't matter. Even without the warriors there, Baal would have to be careful rejecting Anubis' command, with Anubis' Jaffa around.* Asheron answered aloud, "All right. I'll leave immediately, and bring Tel'nor with me."

Baal nodded, and for a moment, seemed reluctant to close the communication, looking at Asheron. Then he chuckled, amused, and explained off Asheron's raised eyebrows, "Strange, that of all people I should trust and depend on a Tok'ra the most."

Asheron smiled back. "Which isn't half as bizarre as allying myself with a Goa'uld, you know. The Tau'ri have a saying: 'politics makes strange bedfellows.'"

Baal's gaze took on a distinct gleam. "I think that phrase should be: 'bedfellows make for strange politics'... I hope that all of this passes soon, and you can rejoin me at my side, where you belong."

"You miss me?" Asheron teased, amused by the hint of vulnerability.

"I do," Baal admitted to Asheron's surprise, then he straightened and ordered, as if the weakness had to be papered over immediately, "Mind your safety, and do not let the Replicators board your ship."

The communication ended and Asheron rubbed a hand over his face, feeling suddenly unsure and burdened. Draw the Replicators to Tartarus without getting killed... it sounded like a useful strategy in principle, but he had not the least idea how to do it, not when ship after ship had been taken over by them, and there was no effective weapon against them.

Malek soothed him. *First contact the Tau'ri and warn them of Anubis' plan. Then we will have to leave to join the fleet. Tel'nor will help with the strategy.*

Asheron took strength from the reminder and went to start the preparations for leaving as soon as possible.

* * *

Standing inside the holographic display generator, an image of the SGC formed in front of him, formed by the light reflections phasing and passing back through the wormhole, reprojected in front of him. Because of the Tau'ri iris, the image was transparent and faint, but it was detailed enough he could identify O'Neill before him. He seemed to be alone.

"Let me guess," O'Neill's voice came through strongly, "You've got more good news for us."

Asheron laid it out as much to the point as he could. They didn't have time for sarcasm right now. "A large portion of Baal's fleet is headed to Dakara. If he gets there and retakes it, Anubis is going to take possession of some kind of weapon left there by the Ancients. You need to destroy it before Baal gets there and the Kull take it over."

"Damn Ancients, yet more crap left around for us to deal with," O'Neill muttered. "What kind of weapon?"

Asheron shrugged. "I don't know. Baal said it was capable of destroying all life it touches, and it's easily capable of going through the wormhole and destroying Earth or Saphon, despite our shields."

"That would be bad," O'Neill agreed, then he frowned at Asheron. "You have to know this place is some kind of holy shrine to the Jaffa, and they're not going to want to blow it up."

Asheron shook his head urgently. "You need to explain it to them. Anubis wants to remake the galaxy in his own image, and that's going to require getting rid of things like rebellious Goa'uld underlings, Free Jaffa, and pesty humans first."

"And Tok'ra, too?" O'Neill asked, his gaze suddenly sharp on Asheron.

"Yes, us, too," Asheron confirmed. "He's ordered me to take command of the fleet against the Replicators. We're going to try to lure them to Tartarus so Anubis has no choice but oppose them. The odds of it working are not good," he admitted, more softly.

In that moment, as they looked at each other, for the first time, Asheron could find no hint of the usual mutual hostility. In fact, O'Neill's dark eyes seemed understanding and he nodded. "Good luck."

"You, too. Tell Sam ...," he hesitated, and then didn't want to say what he really wanted to tell her, adding, "... and Jacob I'm sorry I missed them." He gestured to the Jaffa at the projector to turn it off and stepped clear.

Putting aside thoughts of Earth and Dakara and Sam, he gathered Tel'nor in and they went to the transport rings to head up to the ha'tak and begin their last ditch defense against the Replicators.

* * *

Inside the hidden chamber on Dakara, Sam knew what she was going to have to do just as soon as her father suggested changing the modulations of the output to match the Replicator disruptor. Because if they did that, they would also have to strike all the Replicators, everywhere, and the only way to do that was to dial all the gates at once. Only one person - one Goa'uld - knew how to do that. And he was also the only one who had studied Anubis' technology in any detail and might know a quicker way than trial and error to make the modifications.

But it wasn't until Baal was standing before her that she realized how much she wanted to hit him. Her hands curled into fists, and she glared at him, hating that he was there, hating that she had to ask for his help, and most of all hating that he seemed so smug about everything.

Jacob took point on the conversation, explaining what needed to be done and answering Baal's questions.

Finally her temper snapped, "Can you do it or not?"

He smirked. "Of course."

He certainly didn't lack for confidence, she observed sourly, as he moved forward to examine the panels. He glanced up at Sam and Jacob, and smiled again in clear amusement at their expense. "What?" she demanded.

"I cannot even believe I'm considering cooperating with two more Tok'ra." Then he paused and added smoothly, setting the hook and then twisting it, "Though I guess I should be used to it, after having one in my bed."

She felt the sting. "Shut up."

His smile widened, pleased at provoking her, and he said with so much dripping condescension she wanted to shoot him, "I imagine it must be difficult, knowing he chose me instead of you."

She whirled to face him, hands on her hips so she wouldn't slug a hologram, and retorted, "I imagine it must be difficult for you, knowing he stays only because you trapped him there, not because he wants to."

He shrugged it off, with a faint smile. "If it makes you feel better to think so..."

"You're just jealous," she realized, and laughed at him. "It eats at you that he stayed because of me, doesn't it?"

His eyes narrowed in anger, but before he could respond, Jacob intervened with the tone he'd used to stop her and Mark's frequent spats. "Stop. We don't have time for this. We need to get this fixed to kill Replicators, or we're all dead, and people on the front lines are going to be first."

She folded her arms and glared at Baal, while Jacob said to him, "Are you going to be helpful? Because provoking the two people who are going to save your ass isn't very clever."

For an instant the anger stayed, like a spark just behind his dark eyes, but then the amiable mask returned. "I'm waiting on you, Tok'ra."

They worked together after that, exchanging information and trying to figure out the puzzle of how to change the output. Baal could read the panels, but it was still like programming a computer being able to read only the keyboard, so his guesses were only a little more educated than hers or Jacob's. He was also distracted by things happening on his ship, likely reports of the battle. The Jaffa had given him a truce and the two sides had withdrawn a little ways, but the Replicators were still out there, in ever growing numbers.

She focused on the work, trying to get the two waves to match and refusing to ask how Asheron's plan of drawing the Replicators to Tartarus was working.

While he was pointing to suggest another panel to try, abruptly he straightened and looked aside at nothing. He waved a hand and ordered, "Send it on this channel as well."

And then she heard Asheron's voice, "The Replicators abruptly changed their heading. They are not heading toward Tartarus anymore; they stopped pursuing us and turned toward you. They're heading straight for Dakara."

Sam's stomach dropped at the news. The Replicators were coming. She shared a glance of shared worry with Jacob, and they took a step toward each other.

Baal asked, "How long until they reach here?"

"Two hours. Maybe. I have only three ships remaining. I'm pursuing, but I've used up all the tricks we can think of. They don't see us as any kind of threat anymore. I can't turn them aside."

"Let them go," Baal ordered. "There is nothing more you can do, and we may need the ships later. Follow behind - this will all be over, over one way or another, when they come."

There was a brief hesitation and Asheron acknowledged simply, "Understood. Asheron out."

Baal turned to them and saw them standing there. "I suggest you continue before we are overrun. I will return when I have the finished chappa'ai protocol." His image disappeared, and Sam took a deep breath of the cool, dry air, glad he was gone.

"Now we can work," Jacob muttered and shook his head at their latest attempt. 28 percent. Not nearly close enough. "I don't know if we're going to get this in time, Sam."

"We have to," she said. She pulled in another deep breath and started pushing panels down again.

* * *

An hour passed, and Sam started to feel the time tick past in her bones. They'd gotten the variance down to eight percent, but were stuck there. No adjustment they tried brought it down more than that. And eight percent wasn't close enough.

"Damn it," she swore wearily and took a drink from her canteen, staring balefully at the panels. "You'd think the Ascendants would be interested in helping us not all get destroyed, either by taking out Anubis or fixing this."

Jacob snorted. "They're not a very helpful bunch."

"Whereas I am very helpful," a smug voice sounded behind them, and Sam turned to see Baal back again. "The chappa'ai is prepared to dial all functioning gates in our galaxy. It will force an override to any established wormhole as well, to ensure the signal is transferred as widely as possible."

Sam tried not to show she was impressed and a little envious that he'd managed something she'd thought was impossible, and taunted, "So, what, you want a cookie?"

He folded his arms. "I had hoped you would be prepared with something to transmit, but I see you are not. You obviously need my help, Tok'ra."

"No, we don't," she snapped. "Go away."

"Sam," Jacob sighed. "We can't disdain his expertise, just because we hate his guts. So, go on, help." He waved a hand across the control panels.

Baal examined what they'd done, casting his gaze across the panels and the computer, and the attitude seemed to drop away as he thought about it. Then, with surprising decisiveness, he pointed to one of the panels. "That one."

"How can you be so sure?" Sam challenged.

He smirked at her. "I'm a god. Gods are all-knowing."

She rolled her eyes, realizing she'd fed him the line, but she pressed the panel to activate the symbol. As they waited for the result, Jacob said, "Oh, please, I have yet to read any decree of yours in the last four months that even mentions the false god propaganda. It's all 'emperor' and 'Supreme System Lord' titles."

Baal didn't even object to it being called propaganda. He shrugged, unbothered. "It was an experiment. The Jaffa rebels' main argument is about how the Goa'uld are not 'true gods' -- as if they have any idea what a true god would be -- " he rolled his own eyes in disdain, "so I thought to take that argument from them." Then he smiled, pleased. "Look. Six percent."

His gaze flickered to the side distracted by a new report, and his smile fell away. "The Replicators have appeared on the long-range sensors. There is little time. That one."

When he wasn't trying to be an ass, settling into business, he was far more tolerable, and she could finally sort of start to understand Asheron's attraction. He seemed to have figured out how the interface worked, because he led them swiftly down to one-point-eight percent with only one backtrack, when his image flickered.

"They are in system," he explained. "They are broadcasting an attempt to jam communications signals and possibly hack our computer systems. I may lose the transmission."

"Understood," she said, and pressed the panel he indicated. "One point six two. We're getting there. Just a little more."

He looked over the panels, frowning, fingers twitching with impatience. "The jisil symbol. Where is it?" Then his image flickered again, and his attention was grabbed by a Jaffa whose arm strayed into the pickup range of the hologram giving the rather unnerving view of a detached arm and hand floating in the air. "They've begun their attack. The Jaffa Rebels have joined us, at least for the moment, and Asheron's ships are nearly here," he told her and Jacob.

"Jisil," Jacob said, looking, "that's this one." He pushed it and a few interminable seconds later, the result showed up on the computer. "One-three-two."

"Yes! Almost there," Sam said.

Baal's image jerked as if he'd been rocked violently and the hologram fuzzed at the edges. "Our shield strength is weakening."

"We've got it, we're close enough," she told him. "Go. Fight them, give us as much time as you can."

He opened his mouth to say something, but the image vanished.

"Keep working," Sam said, hoping they'd have enough time.

* * *

Asheron sat in the throne of the pel'tak, Tel'nor at the main control station before him, as they came out of hyperspace into the Dakara system.

He'd never seen so many ha'taks in one place before -- they all seemed to be fighting each other, though it was easy enough to pick out the Replicator-infested ships. Baal's ships and the Jaffa rebels were firing on them and attempting to evade them, neither with much success. "All ships, target the ship attacking Baal's command ship."

They did no damage to it, but they did give Baal's ship a chance to get out from under it. Then they fell under attack themselves, and unlike before, they couldn't evade. It was terribly frustrating to be unable to touch them significantly - even the one where he'd sent a nuke on board by crashing an al'kesh into it, was still in operation after the explosion had tore off half the upper pyramid.

The ship rocked violently as the Replicators fired. "Shields are weakening, engines are off-line," Tel'nor reported. "And one Replicator vessel is landing near the temple."

He spared a thought for Sam and Jacob inside the temple, but there was nothing he could do to help them, as the ship rocked under another barrage and he could smell smoke coming through the vents.

"Life-support is out," Tel'nor confirmed. "Significant damage to the lower decks."

His hands tightened on the arms of the chair, and he wasn't surprised at all when the next report was that replicators were on board. He toggled the switch to all hands. "We've been boarded. Use whatever projectile weapons you have to hand. Zat'nik'tel and staff weapons are not effective."

Then he released the switch and looked Tel'nor, with a faint dark amusement. "Do we have any projectile weapons in here? Tau'ri guns, or the like?"

"No, my lord."

Asheron pulled the knife out of his sleeve. "I've got this. I don't think it's going to help much. That means we've got only one weapon left. The ship. And we can only use it before they grab control."

Tel'nor understood his intent right away and nodded soberly. "Yes, my lord."

Malek understood, too, and he agreed by sending his love, not arguing or objecting. *I am here. We will give Sam and Jacob time.*

*I'm sorry I've been such a terrible, selfish host to you," Asheron said to him, regret in these final minutes thickening his blood and making it hard to breathe.

*Never, beloved. It has been my honor and my joy.*

It gave him strength to stand up and give the order. "Set self-destruct and heading into the largest Replicator ship. Best speed with the thrusters you can manage."

* * *

Sam first felt the ground shake and then gunfire not long after to know they were rapidly running out of time. She picked up her P90 and moved toward the entrance, peering out. But she heard them first between the weapons fire -- the strange metallic chittering of the Replicators.

She shouted over her shoulder at her father. "They're here. Keep working."

He nodded, distracted. "So close. We just need a little more time. Point eight."

The Jaffa from outside rushed inside the Temple, unable to hold it anymore, and she joined them at the doorway, weapon ready.

Replicators moved into sight and Sam fired. Then there were more. And more. She fired until her clip was empty and then again.

Until they froze. They utterly stopped, and she stared at them in confusion. "They stopped!"

"Not anything I did!" Jacob shouted back.

Teal'c's voice came over her radio, "Colonel Carter, did you activate the weapon?"

She responded, "Negative, Teal'c. They froze down here, too."

The spell or programming hiccup ended, just as strangely and abruptly as it had come, and the Replicators surged forward again. Sam and the Jaffa beat them back, but only temporarily. They were skittering up above her, and she fired, making them drop down, but there were so many.

"Point seven-six, Sam!" her dad shouted.

"Do it!"

She didn't even have time to pray for it to be enough, as she fired frantically on a wave of bugs, retreating all the while, trying to keep them out of the inner room.

The only warning was a shrill tone, and then a massive blinding light washed across her vision and a strange tingle went through her body.

Blinking furiously, to try to clear her eyes, she looked down in stunned amazement at the pile of Replicator blocks at her feet. A lethal foe had just been transformed into inert blocks. The main room's floor was awash with them, inches deep.

She turned to face Jacob, grinning. "You did it!" Then her grin faltered, seeing him leaning against the console as if it was the only thing holding him up. "Dad?"

"I'm fine," he waved off her concern and straightened with effort. "Just tired. Did it work?"

She clicked her radio to find out. "Carter to Teal'c. What's your situation?"

"Replicators have disintegrated," Teal'c reported, sounding pleased. "Congratulations. Now we will turn to forcing Baal's surrender, while he is weakened."

She lowered her P90, now sure it was over, and exchanged a glance with Jacob. "Good luck with that, Teal'c. Carter out."

* * *

Asheron saw the wave come off the planet, and then it was on them, through them, and the one Replicator that had come onto the pel'tak fell apart.

"Abort self-destruct," he ordered urgently.

Tel'nor reported, with a breath of relief, "Done, my lord. None of the infected ships are moving. I detect no Replicator signals, but there is activity from the Rebel Jaffa."

Asheron shut his eyes for a moment, wearily. "They don't really want to battle right here, right now, do they? Can't we just enjoy our shared victory for two minutes and fight later?"

Tel'nor ignored the sour humor and frowned, "I am not receiving any transmissions from the flagship. I believe the rebels may be jamming us."

Asheron resumed his seat. "Status?"

"Our shields are down. Engines are still off-line, repairs expected soon. Weapons are still functional."

He didn't want to fight them, but he couldn't go anywhere. "Status of Baal's ship?"

"Likewise weakened, but intact," Tel'nor answered promptly. "The ship is not moving. Teal'c is hailing him."

"Demanding surrender, no doubt," Asheron said. The rebel Jaffa ships were in better condition, with shields and weapons. He knew Baal's plan of last resort - his ha'tak had a cloaked al'kesh shadowing it somewhere nearby, and Baal could use his Asgard-designed transporter to flee to it.

He fingered the silver bracelet around one wrist. All it would take was to push the activator, and he could leave the ship to join Baal.

Part of him wanted to go. He ached with the desire to go after him, to join him, to celebrate their victory over the Replicators and the sheer lust of being alive.

His fingers hovered over the bracelet, but in the end, he dropped his hand back down to the arms of the chair. If he didn't leave now, he never would. Sam, Jacob, and the other Tau'ri were close by. There was no better chance.

*I want to go home,* Malek murmured.

*Earth isn't our home.* He didn't verbalize, but was sure Malek could feel his certainty that Jacob and Sam would never accept him, after what he'd done, and who he'd been with.

But nevertheless he remained still as the Jaffa poured into the room. Tel'nor and the four other Jaffa of the pel'tak tensed to try to defend him, but he said loudly, "No. We will not fight. The battle is lost."

The rebels held their weapons on him, silently. He frowned a little, wondering what was going on. The rebel Jaffa seemed to be waiting for something.

The door opened and a Jaffa master entered. He was tall and graying, wearing a priest's robe instead of warrior garb, but marked as the First Prime of Montu. Montu had mostly been a servant of Ra, and he wasn't anyone familiar.

*Malek, do you know him?*

*His name is Gerak, I believe. I know only that he was a capable warrior, follower of the old ways, and very fervent in his beliefs of Montu and Ra's supremacy. I am surprised he would be one of the Jaffa rebels, though perhaps Ra's defeat and death cast a deep disillusionment over him.*

But there was no time for more, as Gerak looked at Asheron, who was standing before the throne. "Where did Baal go?" he demanded abruptly.

"He's on the other ship," Asheron answered, and started down the steps. He froze as the rebel Jaffa lifted their staff weapons in definite threat.

"There is no need for this," Asheron said, trying a smile. "We're on the same side. My name is -- "

Gerak cut him off, "Your name means nothing to me, Goa'uld. All I care about is where your master is. He will face our vengeance, and I will destroy him. If you get between me and my revenge, I will destroy you, too."

"I'm not a Goa'uld," Asheron protested.

"You are his mate, yes?" the Jaffa demanded, and grimaced in disgust. "You know where he has gone, and you will tell me."

Asheron felt very cold suddenly, and he knew he had made a terrible mistake staying behind.

"I'm a Tok'ra," he exclaimed desperately.

The Jaffa snorted once, not believing him. "Tok'ra. There are no Tok'ra left. And if there were, they certainly wouldn't be bedding Baal." He raised his hand. "Jaffa, take him. Don't kill him. I need him to answer questions."

"No," Asheron said, stepping backward as the Jaffa began to gather around him. "You don't understand -- "

The first Jaffa tried to stab his staff weapon forward into Asheron's gut and Asheron couldn't help but raise a hand to knock it aside.

"My lord!" Tel'nor exclaimed and even though he was unarmed, threw himself at the rebels. The others followed him. And the rebels turned against them all in a fury. He heard a staff weapon fire, and Tel'nor fell, his eyes wide and agonized.

"Tel'nor!" Asheron hit the nearest rebel across the face and released his knife, furious that they'd just hurt his friend.

Then something hit him across the back, and he stumbled, falling to his knees, choking on the pain. His knife flew from his fingers and skittered across the deck.

Malek took over, blocking the pain and getting them back to their feet. He threw one good punch, grabbing for a staff weapon, but there were too many Jaffa. They grabbed him and hit him, until he couldn't breathe.

Pain swelled through him, too strong for Malek to stop. Finally, someone zatted him.

His last thought was of Baal and the soft touch of his hands, until the darkness pulled the memory away and shredded it into nothingness.

* * *

Sam stirred around her mashed potatoes. Across the table, Jacob did the same and then put down his fork. "Any news?" he asked, though he must have known she'd have told him if there was.

She shook her head. "No." No news of Daniel. No news of Asheron. At least she could hope that Asheron and Malek had escaped with Baal, but Daniel... Sighing, she put down her fork, too. "You're not hungry either?" she asked him, frowning a bit in concern. He hadn't been eating much lately, rather like he'd done when he was sick, and the reminders were making her nervous.

"I'm fine," he replied.

"And Selmak?" she asked, pushing her dinner away to grab the Jell-o cup. "He's been very quiet lately." Actually, she realized with a sudden chill down her spine, Selmak hadn't spoken at all since Dakara, two weeks ago. "Dad? What's going on?"

"Nothing, kiddo. Everything's fine." But she knew that face - she remembered it from D.C. before he'd decided to tell her he had cancer.

"Bullshit, " she said succinctly. "Something's going on. C'mon, Dad, you're worrying me. Daniel's missing..."

"That's why I didn't want to worry you anymore," Jacob said, confirming her bad feeling that something was wrong. "With Daniel presumed dead, and Malek missing, I didn't want to add to what you're already carrying."

Fear became a sudden cold stone in her stomach and she stared at him. "Dad?" she asked in a small voice, staring at him. "Is there something wrong with you? Something Selmak can't fix after all?"

He shook his head, and for an instant she was relieved, and then he said, "it's Selmak. He's dying, Sam."

"What?" She shook her head in denial and clutched the stem of the Jell-o cup. Within, even Turan sensed her mood, growing nervous.

"We're not sure why," he said, "though we think it has something to do with Netu. But he's lived a full life, Sam, and his only regret is being unable to stay for you and teach young Turan. You'll have to be her teacher."

"But -- you--"

He shook his head once, sadly. "I begged him to stay, Sam," he admitted in a murmur. "He would've died weeks ago, and let me go on, but I thought we needed him. Two weeks ago, he slipped into a coma. He doesn't have the strength to spare me, and I don't want to be spared anyway."

"I can heal you," she offered. "I have Turan, I can use the healing device..." But he was already shaking his head.

"Selmak said it wouldn't work. And it's far too late now."

"But you can't be saying ..." she stammered.

"When Selmak goes, so will I," he answered softly. "I'm sorry, kiddo. I didn't want it to happen this way."

She stared blankly at the red gelatin in the glass, trying to understand. Selmak was dying, and her father was dying.

Jacob came out of his chair, and rounded the table to lean down and wrap an arm around her shoulders. "Hey, everything's going to be okay, Sam. I wouldn't trade these past years with Selmak and with you, seeing all the wonderful things I've seen for anything."

She put her head on his shoulder, wrapped both hands around his nearest arm, and let him hold her.

Two days later, Selmak died, and Jacob followed soon after, lying on a bed in the infirmary. Sam was at his side and held his hand as he slipped away. Not even the news that Daniel was back and Anubis was defeated was enough to pierce the veil of numbness. In her head, Turan keened, feeling her grief and echoing back to her - ordinarily, Sam would've tried to soothe her, but for now, she wrapped herself in their joint sorrow and didn't want to let it go.

She stared at the Stargate, angry at it for giving her father back to her and then snatching him away again.

But the Stargate wasn't finished taking things away.

* * *

Another week crept by. She worked because she had nothing better to do, and it was better than staring at the walls. An unscheduled activation turned out to be a communication, for her. Sam watched it on the screen in the briefing room, with Daniel at her side.

It was Baal, and Sam watched it in growing dismay.

The Goa'uld's expression seemed very tight, and his eyes were dark and angry. "I give Asheron to your keeping, Samantha Carter. For now. He is safer with you than with me. But when this current… " his lips twisted and he spat, "obstacle has passed, I will take him back. Asheron belongs with me. Try not to neglect him so thoroughly this time," he warned, and the image blinked off.

She stared at where it had been. She felt like some precious vase she'd thought hidden on a high shelf out of her reach had just fallen and shattered at her feet.

"Sam?" Daniel asked, sounding puzzled by her reaction. "Are you okay?"

She could only shake her head, clutching the table. Too much. This was too much. Not him, too.

"But I thought -- " Daniel started and his tongue got tangled on his confusion. "You should be pleased. He's not with Baal anymore."

She opened her mouth and forced the words out, "But I don't have him. The Jaffa didn't find him on the ships. Baal doesn't have him. So where is he, Daniel?"

"Maybe he ran away from all of us," Daniel suggested. "He took a tel'tak and left."

She wanted to believe it. But she didn't. The Free Jaffa had swarmed the command ha'taks and shot down anything in space around Dakara. Baal had escaped only because he'd been beamed away onto a special cloaked ship. Her hope had been that Asheron had transported to that al'kesh, too, when he hadn't shown up as a prisoner of the Jaffa. But now she was positive he wasn't with Baal after all.

And that left only one option.

"He's dead," she murmured and stood up. "He and Malek are dead, too. Turan and I are the last of the Tok'ra." Numb fingers reached up to her shoulder and ripped off the SG-1 patch, laying it down on the conference table.

"I'm done," she said, to no one in particular. Maybe to their ghosts, if they were around.

The Stargate had taken everything from her. There was nothing left.


Tags: asheron
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