After an insanely fast session thanks my muse which let to me writing this in two sittings with over 6000 words in one go. And with thanks to all who reviewed (and those who recommend me) I present the next chapter. I hope you like it. Feel free to tell me what you think of this. Special thanks goes out to RevDorothyL who beta'd this in under 12 hours after getting the first draft.
Sam turned, along with Teal'c and Jonas, as the gate seemed to flicker for a moment. She realized that they could have another of those stuck-in-the-gate-buffers situations and took a few steps up the ramp. Suddenly Jack walked through while some smart person --probably Walter -- closed the iris.
"What happened?" Jonas asked.
"Abydos got hit," Jack explained as he descended the ramp towards her.
"Did you see it?" she asked.
Jack shook his head, "No, I felt it, just before I came through."
She turned and walked quickly toward the control room. Halfway down the corridor leading there Sam started running not stopping until she was next to Walter, "Sergeant, call up a full gate diagnostic. What've you got?" She slid into the empty chair next to him.
"I'm working on it now. A large burst of energy was transmitted through the wormhole just after Colonel O'Neill came through," Walter explained.
Jack walked up to stand behind her. "Carter?" He asked.
"We were lucky, sir. They closed the iris before any of the energy could enter our event horizon. It absorbed the blast. But it was a massive energy wave travelling through the wormhole -- as big as we've ever measured, except for the nuke incident a few years ago," Sam explained.
"Redial," Jack said while someone came down the stairs to join them. Her guess from the walk and haste was that the General was coming down. She wondered for a moment why he had even been on the base at this late hour.
"Yes, sir," Walter said and started the dialling sequence.
"Welcome back, SG-1. What’s happened?" General Hammond asked and looked around.
"It looks like there was a massive explosion on Abydos just after we left, sir," she explained.
"Is that possible?" General Hammond asked, and she could see from Jack's wince that they both had the same fear: that Anubis' weapon had been completed, and he had immediately betrayed his deal with Daniel by firing it at Abydos. She also noticed that the General seemed distracted by something.
"Unfortunately, sir, now it is," Jack said.
"Chevron 7 will not lock," Walter called out, bringing her focus back to the gate, which seemed unwilling to open. Teal'c and Jonas joined them.
"Briefing room, now," General Hammond ordered, probably sensing that they had big and bad news.
"Yes, sir," she and Jack intoned at the same time and got up. Sam hadn't seen as much actual combat on this mission, and so felt reasonably rested, but Jack looked a bit worn -- probably from having seen Skaara and his old friends from Abydos die. Even if Skaara had ascended, he had lost a lot of friends back there.
"The only thing we can assume is that Anubis didn't keep his deal with Daniel," Sam explained and waited for the snarky comment she just knew Jack would put forward.
"Who would have guessed? Oh, yeah, that's right: me," Jack said, frustration and anger clear in his voice.
"And that Daniel was unable to prevent Anubis from destroying Abydos," Teal'c added.
Sam wondered how the Jaffa felt about the loss of so many humans, when a lot of archaeological evidence had hinted at Abydos being one of the first places where the Jaffa had settled and served as guards of the human slaves brought there by Ra.
"Which leaves Anubis in possession of a powerful weapon that has given him clear superiority over the System Lords. I think both the Rebel Jaffa and the Tok'ra should be warned as soon as possible," General Hammond said.
"We don't know any of this for sure. We left before the end; there might still be survivors in the camps. The gate could just be buried," Jack suggested, a flicker of hope in his voice.
"What we do know is that we apparently have to find the city that’s described on that tablet," Jonas said and looked towards the broken stone tablet on the table in front of General Hammond.
"Can you translate it?" General Hammond asked.
"Oh, yeah. I believe it will take a lot of time, but Doctor Jackson did promise us his assistance," Jonas said.
Sam knew the truth, though -- as did Jack and Teal'c, from the looks in their eyes. "I’m not sure we can count on Daniel for anything, anymore. We might never see him again," she said.
"Why not?" General Hammond asked.
"Well, sir, he would have done literally anything in his power to protect the people of Abydos. If he wasn't able to do that, someone more powerful than him stopped him, and that may have been for good," she said.
"We should start redialing Abydos regularly, to see if they dig the gate back up," Jack said.
"I can handle that," she offered.
"No, I will have SG-3 deal with trying to get back in contact with Abydos. While you were away something else came up. I apologize for not telling you immediately, but the matter with Anubis took temporary precedence. Please stay seated," General Hammond said.
"General?" Jack asked.
"As far as security can determine, as of 20:25 Local Time, your daughter was kidnapped by a Goa'uld and taken away from Earth in a cloaked transport ship. Due to a small mix-up with phone numbers and a junior officers at the switchboard, the SGC did not know about the incident until ten minutes after, at which point any chance of our sensors detecting the cloaked ship was long gone -- and so, we expect, was the culprit and his victim. Major, I apologize: the security people had believed that keeping your daughter under signal surveillance was enough for now," General Hammond explained.
Sam felt like she could barely breathe. Part of her wanted to lash out, cry and show how hurt she was to everyone in the room, but her ever-rational mind forced her to understand that if she broke down, she might not recover in time to deal with the immediate problems, like recovering Buffy. Still, she seethed with an anger that would only be soothed when the Goa'uld who had taken away her child was ashes and Buffy safe in her arms. She forced down a breath. "What is being done?" she managed to ask.
"Currently, security and NID are on the scene, working together to prevent any sort of leak. There is also a transport that should arrive any moment. It is bringing the Jaffa that Buffy stunned before she was taken. Cassandra saw the entire thing, and Dr. Frasier is getting the details from her now. Colonel, I want you and Teal'c to handle the interrogation of the prisoners. I want to know who took her and where he was going," General Hammond said.
"What about me?" Jonas asked.
"I am sorry, Mr. Quinn, but I have to ask you to focus on the tablet for now. Even if the Goa'uld have kidnapped one of our own, we cannot ignore the threat posed by Anubis, either," General Hammond said, and at that moment Sam felt a fierce joy. Buffy was exactly that: one of the SGC's own people. Buffy belonged with them, and as she could see on the faces of everyone around her, they would fight to get her back.
"Am I to stand down, sir?" she asked, knowing that regulations would consider her too close to the situation to be objective.
"No, Major, I want you to brief the Tok'ra on both these situations... Oh, and Major, make sure your father hears about this. Jacob would want to know about this immediately. Teal'c can fill in the Free Jaffa after he is done with the prisoners," General Hammond said and got up.
The Tau'ri had imprisoned him after bandaging his broken ribs and disarming him. C'Tha was alone in a dark cell with only the stone walls as companions. A series of lights crossed the metal bars that separated the room in two, with the primitive mechanical door on the side he couldn't reach. C'tha could, however, hear the guards moving and a loud buzzing beep from the door.
The Shol'va entered the room. For years now they had all been told of the Shol'va, who had betrayed his god. Darker, heretical rumors said that this apostate had even found some demonic power to that he had used kill the gods with the help of the Tau'ri called SG-1. The black, towering Jaffa walked up to stand in front of his half of the room. "Whom do you serve?" Teal'c asked.
"I serve Anubis, and I will never betray him. He is a god. You can do what you like to me, but I will enter the afterlife with honor and go to my proper place," he said.
"An answer as if the priests had spoken through you. What makes you believe what they say when I myself have killed Goa'uld, your false gods, with my own fists? I am no god, and neither is Anubis," Teal'c said, speaking blasphemy. But C’Tha knew it could only be untrue. Nothing he believed could be wrong. For a moment he pitied the poor misguided man in front of him, but the look in the huge man's eyes prevented him from actually laughing.
"I see it in your eyes, in your manner. You believe fully. Nothing I say will convince you otherwise right now. In time, over months and years I might be able to wean you from your belief in false gods with reason and logic. I do not have that time," the Shol'va turned and left the room again without speaking another word.
"Why did you stop again?" O'Neill asked him as he stepped outside the cell.
"He is another believer. It would take too much work to convince him. They were chosen for this mission. There is no hope of convincing one of them of the worthiness of our cause by just talking, given the time Buffy has," Teal'c explained.
"You say that, but how can you be sure? You were just in there for half a minute, for crying out loud," O'Neill replied.
"I know, however. I am certain. Questioning these Jaffa would be a serious waste of my time. Someone who shares my blood has been taken from her family. I cannot tolerate any waste of time. I have alerted Bra'tac. He is bringing us what we need to get the information," Teal'c said.
O'Neill studied him for a moment. "Now, you're gonna stay clear-headed about this, right? I'm as angry as you or Sam, but we need that information, and the General would never allow you to torture them," O'Neill said, reminding him of the obvious.
"Of course not, and I do not intend to. I will simply ask them," he said, and smiled as the voice of Sergeant Harriman came over the PA announcing an incoming wormhole.
"Shall we go greet Master Bra'tac?" he suggested.
"Nish'ta! You want to give them Nish'ta?" Jack nearly yelled. It was the first time in a while she had seen him raise his voice to Teal'c, and certainly the first time in years she had seen anyone raise their voice to the Jaffa, but was just because of their long exile. Sam did kind of approve Teal'c's idea. She knew it was reprehensible to use mind-altering drugs to get information. It was practically torture, but she had decided to not mind this time. Sam realized she was being a little bit of a hypocrite, but she didn't care. This was about her daughter.
"We will free them of the effects afterwards, right?" Sam said.
"Of course," Teal'c intoned.
Jack looked from Teal'c to her, then back to Teal'c, then sighed, "It might get things done."
"General?" Sam looked towards General Hammond, who had remained silent for the entire session, just like Bra'tac who sat silently watching her. Jack fell silent and looked towards the General as well.
"Do it. Report to me later," Hammond said and got up. She saw from his grimace that he liked the idea of mind control less than they did, but accepted the need.
They watched as the nish'ta spread throughout the room through the tiny glass window leading into the cell. "Am I the only one who feels kinda like a bad guy for doing this?" Jack asked.
Jonas raised his hand in the background. Sam knew they all had to feel a little guilty for doing such a low thing, but she was convinced that it was the best option.
"Anubis' Jaffa has collapsed. The Nish'ta will work when he wakes up. He will obey the commands of Teal'c when he goes in. The air in there should be clean within ten minutes or so," Bra'tac explained and moved away from the window.
Teal'c calmly entered the room and looked at the gaping, almost overwhelmed-looking Jaffa. "Jaffa, whom do you serve?" he asked.
"Anubis," the young man said, but sounded unconvinced.
"Wrong!" Teal'c yelled and ran up to grab him. "You serve me!" he yelled.
The Jaffa screamed and said with his voice full of remorse, "My Lord, I am sorry! I was wrong. I am so sorry. Please, I will do anything you ask."
"Good," Teal'c said and dropped the Nish'ta-infected Jaffa to the floor.
"Now, the Goa'uld you escorted here: what is his name?" Teal'c asked, keeping his voice firm and commanding with ease.
"Thoth, he is a servant of Anubis," the Jaffa explained.
"You might escape my anger yet. What did he want here?" Teal'c asked.
"He wanted vengeance for the loss of his best students -- the Brotherhood of Thoth -- and to retrieve a young Tau'ri that he believes holds the key to some of his research into making better hosts for the gods," the Jaffa said.
"Where was he planning to take her?" Teal'c asked.
"He did not tell us, my Lord, but we came from a place called Tartarus," the Jaffa admitted.
"What do you know about this world called Tartarus?"
"Not much. It is a place very important to Lord Anubis. He makes things there. Lord Thoth is often brought there to work. Jaffa are not allowed beyond the landing bays, and even the Chappa'ai is protected by many defenses that will only admit those loyal to him," the Jaffa explained.
"Would Thoth take his prisoner there?" Teal'c demanded.
"I do not know, my lord, but I believe it possible. Four times I have been his bodyguard, and each time we were told to bring him to or from Tartarus," the young man explained.
"Bring him from where?" Teal'c asked. The Jaffa seemed to struggle for a moment -- trying to resist the nish'ta, maybe. He prepared to lurch forward and grab the young warrior again.
"We brought him from a planet ruled over by Osiris in Anubis' name. A place we call A'tan," the Jaffa admitted.
"I will consider your explanation. But know that you have forestalled my wrath. Rest here for now," Teal'c said and left.
"Anubis has a secret base, it appears. We need to find a way inside," Jack said after he had patiently listened to Teal'c explaining what he had learned from their Jaffa prisoner.
"I am not sure that is the correct path to take, O'Neill," Teal'c disagreed.
"Why not?" Jack asked, a bit taken back.
"I believe that this Goa'uld has his own base on the planet A'tan, as the Jaffa also mentioned. It would be more likely that he would bring Buffy there, if she is his project. If her capture had been ordered by Anubis, then maybe we should seek her on Tartarus. Even then, I believe we should not seek out that place first. If Anubis is using it to build weapons, it will be very well protected," Teal'c explained.
"Agreed," General Hammond commented, when suddenly the alarms blared and the PA announced the arrival of Tok'ra representatives.
Jack got up and walked downstairs along with the rest. Carter's face lit up at the sight of her father stepping through the Stargate, and she ran to meet him. Jack hoped she'd let out some of the pain and anger he was sure she had stored up inside. Carter had been totally silent and focused since hearing about Buffy's kidnapping. He knew she was just bottling it all up, trying to keep herself together until Buffy's fate was known.
Thoth studied his subject intently. Her strength and tenacity in battle had nearly cost him his victory already. He decided to make sure the female Tau'ri from that other reality that had so fascinated his master when they had learned of it from his students could not escape. She had been fitted with devices of his making, including a collar which blocked off the commands her mind could send to her body, leaving the girl numb and unconscious. Now with the Kull research nearly complete and his master's research into the advancement of the Tau'ri lifecode, he had been given a free hand to discover the source of the girl's strength, which seemed to defy both his and his master's understanding of the laws underlying their reality.
"My Lord, we're arriving at your fortress," his pilot – and the last of the Jaffa his master had lent him -- said.
"Call my slaves and command them to have my surgery prepared. I want to examine my subject directly," he said, and wished he could have allowed the child the experience of the pain he was about to cause her.
Buffy looked up the dune that nestled between two rocks which stood like twin pillars in front of a vast desert expanse. The distant music she remembered from her last visit to this place was missing, but a subconscious attraction made her climb the packed sand dune and find its occupant still there. It was her older self. It had been years since she had been able to visualize herself as this girl clearly. Yet now she could see her again. The differences between them were minimal, but visible. Her hair was naturally blonde, and she was a bit taller, but not much. The older girl was thinner, but carried herself with an experience and seeming majesty that she seemed to have lost.
"You gonna stand there staring, or take a seat?" her older self asked with a thick Californian accent. She had never been able to shake that one herself. It was a bit weird to hear someone else speak with the voice she heard in her own thoughts.
"What's going on?" she asked, not quite remembering what had happened before she had found herself at the bottom of the dune.
"You got caught by the guy responsible for me being stuck here, as well as a whole lot of other stuff. But I’m not blaming ya. She says you needed to be caught," her older self said and pointed towards the top of one of the cliffs, where the image of a long-dead friend called Tara stood looking out over the desert. Something -- maybe just a feeling -- told her that it wasn't the time yet to talk to her.
"I'm sorry?" Buffy ventured.
"Don't be. Listen, we've never had time to really talk, and I have been assured we won't be able to after you leave here for good," her older self said.
"What did you want to say?" she asked, feeling a bit like she was about to be judged for living a life her older self might not approve of.
Her older self stared at her for a while, then said, "You know I’m you, right? I am not your enemy, and you might not remember me, but I have seen your life as you've lived it. You've done good."
Buffy felt a bit foolish and sat down next to her. "I think I could have done better. There were times . . . . I killed the host of that Goa'uld that took the Prometheus. I'm not sorry about the parasite, but the guy . . . . I think I've never really forgiven myself, and there is other stuff, too," she explained.
"I know. I would beat myself up over it too. But I was always very proud -- maybe even arrogant -- about not killing people. And the truth is, I have killed or caused the death of people before. Not just humans, but other things, demons as well. Not all of them deserved it. At times there were people and demons that I thought I should have used any means to stop, somehow, but for every time I thought that, I later found that both mercy and mercilessness were equal assets. And you just have to accept that your actions are your responsibility, and everyone else's are theirs. Everyone has regrets and mistakes on their account. But you shouldn’t get too high and mighty about this. You and I have regrets and have made as many mistakes as the next person," her older self explained.
"But from what I was told, everyone looked up to you," she said.
"Yeah, and everyone who looked up to me and made me carry that heavy load of responsibility, there was someone else who thought I was arrogant, stupid, or just their tool. My life has been just that: a life, not some path of glory that you should aspire to. I have issues. I love wrongly. I let people who should treat me with the same respect I give them walk all over me, and at times I have done the same to them," her older self explained.
"Are you sure it's that bad?" Buffy asked.
"That’s what my memory tells me. That's what I wanted to say to you. When this is over, don't become me. Don't isolate yourself. Don't repeat my mistakes. Believe in yourself, but try to stay humble and listen to people without letting them use you. Basically remember me but don't become me," her older self explained.
They sat in silence after that. She tried to digest what was going on. She also noted she was neither hot nor cold and the time of day seemed to be frozen at just after dawn. She looked up at the woman on the cliff, who was still standing there with her skirt flapping in the gentle, warm breeze.
"What about her?" she asked her older self.
"I don't know. When I got kidnapped from my reality and my memories were about to be erased by the Goa'uld's machines, she brought me here to preserve them. I think she is this universe's version of the Powers That Be, or something. She is all with the prophecies and stuff, but given the amount of cryptic she spouts I haven't been talking to her much," her older self explained, then looked out over the desert and continued, "Besides, it’s her you really should have asked about."
Buffy looked in the same direction and saw a black woman painted with white markings, the sense of great anger and power emanating from her even this far away. The being was approaching. "Who is she?" she asked.
"The other side of both you and me. She is the only thing I have never really been able to accept about myself. She is both the power of the Slayer and the part of our soul it lives in. A part of me which accepts it. Or so Miss Cryptic over there said," her older self concluded.
"Jack, we should try Teal'c’s plan first," Jacob said, coming into the briefing room. The Tok'ra had gone off to scout out Tartarus, and Jacob had just come back through the gate, bringing intel.
"What's the news, dad?" Carter asked. Buffy had been gone for nearly five days now, and they had done little more than wait around. Teal'c had left Earth with Bra'tac, apparently to go gather some help.
"Tartarus is a fortress. Six upgraded Ha'tak in orbit, heavy fighter patrols, and the Stargate is covered by some sort of force field. Our scouts only got away because they jumped in from hyperspace at the edge of the system and scanned it using their long range sensors," Selmak reported.
"Convey our thanks to them and the Tok'ra Council, Selmak," General Hammond said as he entered the room. The general had a look on his face like he had just sucked on a lemon.
"What is it, sir?" Jack asked.
"I have just gotten new orders from the Pentagon. We have been ordered to cease using SGC resources in the search for Major Carter's daughter. I protested vehemently, but even the President agrees. Special as your daughter is, Major, the Pentagon feels that your time is better spent finding the weapons cache promised by the tablet Mr. Quinn is currently translating, and you're ordered to focus your attentions there. The retrieval of your daughter is considered a waste of resources and until we have concrete evidence of her position and a safe plan to get her we won't get the go-ahead. I asked them to allow you at least one attempt at getting Buffy back, because of all the classified information she was privy to, but apparently it was still considered a waste," the General explained.
"What the hell are they thinking? The kid is depending on our help. We can't just abandon her. This stinks of retribution. Are we sure the NID or their backers aren't involved?" Jack asked, trying his best to keep from yelling at a man who had no guilt in this matter.
General Hammond looked deflated for a while, then said, "I believe you're right, son. In fact, from what I hear, many of the reports that have influenced these decisions come from the NID and certain political backers of theirs have been lobbying against her."
"Why?" Carter asked. He could see the pain in her eyes.
"Revenge, most likely. It is considered a fact now that all of the rogue NID's backers were not caught earlier this year, and the remainder are showing us as indirectly as they can that they can still hurt us. I will continue to work on it, but frankly I can't do much more than order you to stop looking for your child using SGC resources, Major," the General said.
Jack watched Carter's dad move up next to her and whisper a few sentences in her ear. "Sir, I'd like to ask for my vacation time now. I am unfit for duty as it is, and I have been promised that leave for a long time now," Carter demanded.
The general stared at Carter and said, "Major, you know I cannot allow you to take your leave off-world. The gate is not to be used for this."
"I understand, sir. Still, I think I have to insist," Carter said.
"I will gladly grant it, Major, but are you sure?" General Hammond asked.
"Very much, sir, I will just finish a few things and set everything up, then I will start my requested two weeks vacation," Carter said.
"Feel free," the General said and looked from Carter to Jacob. Jack did the same and realized that Carter was still going off-world, just not through the gate, and Hammond knew it.
"Sir, permission to go on vacation as well, sir. SG-1 is not functional right now, anyway, with Carter gone, and well . . . honestly, I need the leave so I can avoid travelling to Washington and going postal on certain shady characters," he said.
"Will you be going to the same vacation spot as Major Carter, Colonel?" the General asked.
"Yes, sir," he replied.
"Granted. Dismissed, people," the General said and got up.
Jack walked over to Jacob and asked, "So, how are you two planning to get off-world, and how did you plan to get in contact with Teal'c?"
"Long ago -- for me, that is -- my dad gave Buffy a second birthday gift, a secret one. That gift was a cloaked Tel'tak and a remote control for it, in case we had trouble here on Earth and needed a fast way off-world," Carter explained, "As for Teal'c, he is the one thing I had to do something about before I leave on vacation. He has one of the new subspace receivers with him, so I was thinking of using that to tell him that we should meet up and go get Buffy back."
They were headed down the stairs, when he realized they would be missing one important ingredient for their plan: equipment. "Just a moment," he said and ran back up, headed for Hammond's office.
Jack knocked politely and waited to be called in. Hammond was writing their vacation slips as he came in. "Sir, would it be alright if I put off checking in some equipment we had checked out for an exercise until I get back? It's just a few rifles, BDUs, and some other standard SG equipment -- nothing fancy that would be missed," he suggested.
General Hammond looked at him and said, "Well, if you don't have time to keep up with your paper work, we might have to look into setting aside a bit more of your time for it when you get back, Colonel. Now have a nice time... And Jack, Godspeed. To all of you. Bring her back safely, please."
"Will do, sir," Jack said and closed the office door again.
Jack stopped his car where Jacob told him to and looked around. They were in the middle of the woods, down a gravel path in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. There was a small clearing meant for hikers, but it looked empty. "So, when is our ride here?" he commented.
"It will be down momentarily," Selmak replied while manipulating a small metallic device Carter had brought from her house. Jack thought it had been a really good idea to have an emergency transport hanging around and reminded himself to suggest to Carter that they would forget about the little detail that it hadn't just been lent to them by the Tok'ra, should they ever have to report on what had happened.
Carter left the car and went around to open the back where their gear lay. "Sir, we should start getting this stuff ready," she said.
"Carter, we're not on duty. In fact we're about to leave Earth without direct orders, which is basically against SGC regulations. I think we can waive the need for military protocol, for now," Jack suggested.
"No, sir, not even for a moment," Carter said and looked him straight in the eye. Jack mulled it over and figured it was some sort of thing for Carter. Maybe she felt some things would progress too far if they got too personal, or maybe that was what he thought. Still, he went with her earlier suggestion and helped unpacking, while the cracking of branches and the settling of a patch of grass told him that their transport had arrived.
"It's here," Jacob reported as the transport uncloaked. They started loading the ship.
Buffy had no idea if time passed, and if it did, how much had passed. In the end, only the fact that the landscape suddenly blurred and changed made her realize that time had indeed passed. "What's happening?" she asked.
Her older self looked up, "You're up. Your enemies are coming. Now do me, her, us all proud," her older self explained and waved towards a single figure, a woman looking exactly like her, except for the intensely arrogant smirk and the glowing eyes. She was charging towards them.
Buffy got up and waited. A familiarity arose in her mind and she remembered facing a being like this before in this place. She had been sick and weak, but the girl who had come for her had still been no match for her. She had killed her in her mind and her enemy in the real world along with her. She couldn't stop grinning with unconcealed glee.
"I am your god. You're the slave. You'll serve," the woman stated and drew herself up majestically.
"You're a parasitic slug wrapped around my spine. You know what? I don't even want to waste time talking to you," Buffy said and hammered her foot forward, using all that strength so rarely fully unleashed. The massive kick ended with her heel smashing into the Goa'uld's mental representation.
Its head blew apart like it had been smashed by a huge hammer.
"Good work," her older self said, giving her an approving look, "I've always had issues with evil ho's using my face."
"There's a story there," Buffy remarked.
"For later... Much later," her older self promised.
"Sir, I've gotten through to Teal'c. He is waiting for us in high orbit over Chu'lak," Carter explained. Jack put down the 9 mil clip he had been filling and got up. He walked into the cockpit, where Jacob was resting in the co-pilot chair with Carter retaking the pilot seat. Outside the window the stars were visible as they approached Chu'lak. Teal'c’s face was visible on the viewscreen.
"O'Neill, good to see you. We were getting anxious for you to catch up," Teal'c said and smiled in that way Jack knew he only did when the Jaffa had good news about upcoming combat.
"Do you want to join us over here, or do you and Bra'tac have your own transport ship?" Jack asked.
"We do indeed have our own method of transport," Teal'c said and smiled. "Thanks to our fruitful alliance with the Tok'ra and the Tau'ri, the Free Jaffa were given access to several Al'kesh and transports. The Free Jaffa have pledged two of each of these and many warriors to our cause," Teal'c said.
"Huh!" he said, surprised. Carter seemed just as surprised as he was.
"All for Buffy?" Carter asked.
"Yes, Major Carter, but not just because of your child and her blood tie to Teal'c," Bra'tac said, appearing next to Teal'c, "Thoth is a false god, and this is our chance to strike a blow against Anubis by robbing him of a clever servant. It will also give the Free Jaffa a chance to test ourselves in battle. We have yet to do that as a group. This seemed as worthy a cause as any to use as an opportunity."
He looked at Jacob, who had just woken up from his nap to join the conversation. The former general was smiling, a bit like a cat that had just caught its lunch. Jack made a note to ask him why later.
"Well, you won't be alone. SG-1 and the Tok'ra would like to help you," Jacob said. Jack got a feeling he was about to learn why Jacob had smiled before.
"The Tok'ra?" Bra'tac asked, clearly somewhat surprised.
Jacob lowered his face for a moment to show that his symbiont was taking over. "We are not warriors as you are -- we know it, as do you. However, before we left Earth I sent a message to a few of our people, and while we could not get to Tartarus, I am sure they will be able to find a way for us to get safely on the ground on A'tan," Selmak said.
"That would be most welcome, Selmak," Teal'c said.
"Good, let's set our course for our next destination: deep space outside the A'tan star system," Carter said, and Bra'tac nodded on the viewscreen. The transmission cut off, and soon after they re-entered hyperspace.
Buffy sighed and walked back from the fourth Goa'uld she had been forced to kill now. She feared what her captor was doing to her body. She had been extremely ill the last time there had been a single parasite in her. Now, she had been forced to deal with four in short order. Of course, it might not be in short order. Time was definitely weird in this landscape of the mind.
She sat down next to her bored-looking older self. Buffy looked out over the landscape: her slayer self had disappeared. "Where did she go?" she asked her older self.
"Up there. I think she is looking for a way out – which, by the way, would be a bad thing," her older self explained.
"Why? If she finds the way out for me... I mean us. Or...?" Buffy said wondering not for the first time what her older self wanted and why it was personified in this way to her.
"If she gets out alone, you're gonna wake up in a bloody mess. That would be literally. She's all killer. No mercy, no happy thoughts, just CKD," her older self replied.
"CKD?" Buffy asked, not understanding.
"Crush, Kill, Destroy. She is not big with the human thinking or mercy for that matter," her older self explained moving like she was a stiff armed robot.
"What is she? Where does my -- I mean, our -- strength come from?" Buffy asked, having always been curious.
"Exactly? I really don't know. I was shown some men who took the deep dark essence of some sort of dark power and forced it into a girl, hoping she'd be strong enough not to become a demon from it herself. It was a close call," her older self said.
"But you're not sure?" Buffy asked.
"I believe the demon bit, but I was never sure that it was all there was to it. Besides if they took the Slayer power from a demon, which one? How is a girl fit to be a Slayer chosen? You see there are many questions there," her older self replied, and went back to looking out over the desert.
Their fleet of five ships -- two Al'kesh and three Tel'taks -- arrived in the darkness of space outside the furthest orbit of the A'tan system's planets. Teal'c walked over and took the place of the Jaffa who had piloted their ship for the last ten hours. He waited for the lead ship with his Tau'ri friends inside to call him when they had a plan. Teal'c didn't have to wait long, as Jacob Carter's face appeared on screen and the Tok'ra Selmak addressed him.
"Greetings, Teal'c, I have gotten word from our agents. We have been unable to safely use the Stargate on A'tan. However, one of our people has gotten a detailed plan of Thoth's base on the planet and its defenses."
"How is it guarded?" Teal'c asked.
"There is a Ha'tak in orbit, and the base itself is covered by a heavy force field. We could attack the mothership; however, I have proposed a more daring plan. Our agent is still in place aboard the Ha'tak for another day, and he will be able to switch off its shields for a short period of time without getting noticed. SG-1 and I will then embark the mothership undercover of a special isotope that will hide our presence from the ship's sensors. Once aboard, we will take control of the bridge and vent the atmosphere of the rest of the ship into space, leaving us in command of the ship. That leaves only the shield, and there we must ask you for a volunteer. Some of your Jaffa must take their transport ship to the nearest unguarded system with a gate immediately. That would be Irgilak, as far as we know. There, a Tok'ra agent will be waiting with a disguise. The current plan is to insert that Jaffa into the regular rotation of guards shipped to and from the base on A'tan. Once inside, this Jaffa must go to either the shield controls or the power generator and disable them. Then you can land your troops, while we use the Ha'tak to prevent any escape. Our first priority should be Buffy and the gate -- in that order, approximately," Selmak explained.
"That is a bold plan," Teal'c said, raking his mind to determine who amongst his warriors he would trust with such a mission. He could not go himself. His face was too well-known.
"We're glad you like it," Jack commented as he walked into view from the background, "We spent the entire trip here talking ourselves into it, after Selmak got us the plans of that place and proposed this."
‘Rya'c,’ Teal'c thought. His son was piloting one of the Tel'taks in the fleet, and his son would be motivated by their oaths and blood-bond with Buffy, as well as his need to prove himself a strong warrior. "I will send my Jaffa out immediately," he said and shut off the connection to the Tau'ri's ship.
A few moments later his son's face appeared on the viewscreen, "You called for me, father?" Rya'c asked.
"My son, I have a difficult and dangerous task for you, but you're the first I thought I could trust with it," he said, and proceeded explaining Rya'c's part of plan to him. Soon after, the single transport ship with his son aboard flew off into hyperspace. Now things were in motion, but all Teal'c could do was wait.
Buffy was suddenly torn from her contemplations in the eternal dawn of the mindscape. She was lying naked and cold on a slab of metal under bright lights. A Goa'uld walked into view, leaning in over her. Buffy immediately tried to grab his throat but nothing below her neck would move. "What have you done!" she yelled.
"Be quiet. I have suppressed your central nervous system below the neck, so that you and I could talk safely. Now, child, what is your name?", it asked.
"Tell me yours, and I’ll tell you mine," she said, trying to remove any of the fear she felt from her voice.
"Thoth," the Goa'uld replied.
"Sorry, that just sounded like a cough," she said, enjoying the wild abandon that filled her mind with jibes ready to be used to tease this pompous, black-clad bastard.
"Insolent worm, what is your name?" Thoth yelled and slapped her across the face.
"Typical shriveled-dick male: doesn't get what he wants and immediately tries to compensate with violence," she said, hoping to provoke the Goa'uld to damage whatever was holding her captive. She saw that no manacles or anything like that was holding her. She also saw a long thin scar across her abdomen.
"What did you do?" she yelled and stared at the scar.
The Goa'uld leaned back and chuckled darkly from the shadows, "I took a few samples, the usual: blood, tissues. Oh, and one of your ovaries."
"Bastard!" she screamed.
There was a massive and excruciatingly painful jolt all throughout her body. For a moment nothing existed for Buffy except pain. It continued -- not in waves, but like a permanent, constant pain. She felt like her skin was on fire and all her bones were breaking, all at the same time. The pain stopped, but she screamed for a while after. Somewhere in her mind a dam burst and memories hidden away. And her old soul merged with her new mind.
"What's your name?" the Goa'uld asked again.
Buffy felt some of her strength return regardless of her body's state. "I am Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I will kill you slowly, worm," she hissed through her bloodied lips. She had bit her lip.
The pain returned. After a while, she regained consciousness.
"What is the source of your power?" the Goa'uld yelled at her.
"I am going to kill your entire race," Buffy swore, even if she was only whispering. The words came from the deep dark inside of her. A darkness that seemed to grow with every moment of pain. Images of the violent death she wished on her tormentor seemed to soothe her aches for a few moments. She almost dared to welcome the darkness.
"You'll suffer until I get what I want. Your childish fantasies do not interest me," Thoth replied.
The white-hot pain returned and continued until she passed out. This time she didn't wake up again.
"Ready?" Jacob asked.
Sam nodded, trying not to rub her arm, where her dad had injected her with some new Tok'ra drug that hid your life signs from the sensors on Anubis' ships. She hoped they'd be able to talk the Tok'ra into sharing that technology, once she got permission to share the idea their own R&D folks had come up with for the subspace communications technology. It seemed the encryption techniques used by the Tok'ra, while more advanced than most System Lords, had not developed in an environment like the Cold War on Earth. They were going to start using their most advanced encryption and decryption computers with the Tok'ra devices, and it looked like it would be an easy fit. She was sure they'd be able to trade that with the Tok'ra for something.
"Yeah," Jack said.
Sam decided not to say anything. Instead, she put on her ballistic glasses and hefted her rifle. She was heavily armed and she knew they might have to use it.
"The shield is down," her dad said and flew them inside, where they'd ring aboard and meet the agent.
Rya'c was sure that if he hadn't been following Master Bra'tac's teachings and calmed himself and his breathing he would have suffocated in his own sweat inside the helmet he was wearing. The Hawk helmet of Heru'ur was pretty, but not really all that comfortable. Trying to look as natural as possible he marched with the other Jaffa next to him into the Chappa'ai.
Rya'c looked around after their passage, which had left them on a platform inside the force field but outside the base. He could see three manned blaster platforms guarding against unwanted guests. The Tok'ra had been right yet again. At first, he had been as doubtful as the rest of the Free Jaffa about any sort of alliance with the Tok'ra, but the better side of the Goa'uld race were proving themselves to be honorable and knowledgeable allies, and with their and the Tau'ri's aid they had stopped losing as many battles as before. It was only a matter of time before entire fleets of motherships would defect to their side.
‘Focus,’ he reminded himself, and made sure to march with the others into the base past the Jaffa commander. The commander was the first Jaffa he had seen with the mark of Anubis on his forehead: the rest were drafted from the armies of dead gods, just as he was pretending to be,
He hoped he'd soon be able to move away from the rest and find his way to the power core or some sort of junction box.
The thumps of staff blasts were unmistakable. "I think we need to hurry, Jacob," Jack said.
"Do you wanna do this?" Jacob growled, while Carter nervously swept her P-90 from door to door. They had made it almost to the bridge before being seen, but a random patrol had spotted them. Now, while they had control of the bridge, their enemies were just outside the door, trying to drill their way in, and if those doors failed they couldn't very well evacuate all the air from the ship. They'd choke too.
There was a strange hiss from one of the doors. The sounds of staff blasts diminished, then stopped. "We're losing air, Dad," Carter said. Jack agreed: he was feeling a bit lightheaded, however that could just be his blood pressure. The room was definitely getting colder.
"I know. I have to lower the blast doors to the corridor outside. You two have to go out there and stun any of the Jaffa still in the area," Jacob said. The hissing stopped and the air temperature became stable again.
"Let's go," Jack said and motioned for Carter to follow him. He noticed they were both grimacing a bit. That made him proud. Even though they had been enemies, Jack thought it was a good thing that the both of them felt bad about asphyxiating so many Jaffa.
Rya'c saw his chance. He was walking last in line through a maze of corridors. He had passed a sign that indicated that an engineering area was close by, just a few hundred feet back, and as everyone had started splitting off for their tasks, he pretended to do the same.
He walked a loop, following the corridors around until he arrived back at the sign, and walked down that way -- still pretending to know exactly where he was going and what he was doing.
Rya'c entered a room where several human slaves were repairing some part of the power relays going all throughout the base. There were three of them, no guards, and both doors in and out were heavy blast doors that would take at least half an hour to burn open, unless they used explosives. He stopped and without warning shot one of the slaves with his staff, spun it around hammered the butt into the guts of another surprised slave, and then as the slave buckled, Rya'c smashed it into his neck.
"Stand absolutely still," he commanded, pointing his staff weapon at the last slave while edging over to the door he had entered through.
"Please don't shoot me," the slave begged, looking almost ready to drop to his knees and plead for his life, while Rya'c closed and locked the first of the two heavy doors.
"That is to be determined," Rya'c said, trying his best to imitate the cold tones of his father when he was angry. "Your life depends on this. Make that power relay disrupt the entire grid on this base, or die where you stand," he said, not really intending to do much more than shoot the man with his Zat'ni'katel.
The man seemed to wrestle with his fate, then turned and took out a crystal and shoved it into a different position, before pointing at the main crystalline structure in the relay. "Shoot that with your Zat'ni'katel. Then it will work," the slave said. Rya'c studied the man's eyes for deceit, but saw only abject fear of him.
He pulled out his Zat'ni'katel and shot the crystal. There was a slowly building hum and even the slave looked surprised, then realized something. "There is too much power in it -- it will explode," the slave yelled and ran for the open door. Rya'c followed his example.
The explosion threw him to the floor, but he managed to hold on to his Zat, and so when he looked up and saw the slave fleeing, he could lift it and fire before the corridor lights went out completely. The slave tumbled and fell to the floor, stunned.
"The shields are down," Jacob said and started the next step in their plan. The powerful weapons of the mothership started aiming for the Stargate. They didn't need it intact.
"Can you hear me, Teal'c?" Carter asked next to him as she activated one of the Tok'ra communications devices. "The path is clear. You can attack now," she said.
"Thank you. We are jumping now," Teal'c replied. A few moments later the heavy Al'kesh and the single transport ship arrived next to them and sped past, heading towards the base below at a breakneck speed.
Carter looked a bit conflicted as the ships descended. "You want to be down there, don't you, Carter?" Jack asked. He really wanted to be down there. He hadn't acknowledged it until now, but there was actually a chance Buffy wasn't down there.
"Yes, sir," Carter whispered.
"Go. I can handle keeping this hunk of junk parked until you get back. Just take the transport," Jacob said.
Carter looked at Jack, awaiting his command even at that moment. He wondered why she insisted on it, but he just said, "Let's go."
Buffy had woken from her pain, finding herself back in the desert. She walked back up the dune. She felt tired or maybe just older.
Things were different, however. "What's going on?" she asked. Her older self was gone. The image of her friend Tara stood there, between her and the savage Slayer.
"It's time that we talked," the woman said.
"Alright, who are you? The Powers That Be? One of the Ascended?" Buffy asked impatiently.
"Neither, I am more than that," Tara replied.
"Who, then? God? Goddess?" Buffy asked.
"If there is a higher being, he, she, or it is beyond me, which makes sense. No, Buffy, I am the mother of all," the woman explained, which Buffy decided was no explanation at all.
"Listen, I just got tortured and probably had amateur surgery done on me by some crazy, parasite-infested Egyptian-god-wannabe. Now, talk sense," Buffy insisted.
The woman laughed, "Finally! I was getting worried that your attitude wasn't in there. Buffy, think for a moment. I am the mother of all. Not god. More than the Ascended. I encompass everything you have experienced in this dimension."
Buffy blinked and an awed expression spread over her face, "You're the Universe."
The woman tapped her nose and nodded. "I am the will, the intent, the very emotional core of what you call the universe. I am its personification. And I have chosen this form, because it is a person you consider motherly that I could use without inflicting the pain of having to see your long departed mother again.”
"What do you want with me?" Buffy asked, a bit impressed. It was different having a brain all full of science now. The universe was so vast it was mind-boggling. She couldn't quite figure out what it wanted with her.
"First of all, let me apologize. I started the series of events that led to your coming here intentionally. Me. No-one else. So all the blame is mine, as well. But your future in your old universe was bleak and short-term, while I need a hero: You," the being with Tara's face explained.
"Why me?... No, wait, I don't want to know," Buffy said.
"Not to worry: it’s too soon to tell, anyway. We won't meet here again," Tara said.
The Slayer behind the woman seemed to look around and sniff the air, then ran off down the dune. Buffy looked after her, then back up at the woman.
"You shouldn’t let her get away," the woman suggested. Buffy looked around and considered going after the Slayer, but decided there was one other more pressing question.
"Where's my older self?" she asked.
"Back where I took her from. Yes, in the end, it was I who took her and hid her here in safety. But now she is back... with you. Can't you feel her returning inside of you? Now, remember what she told you and stay strong... Remember that I love you, my Champion," the woman said, and seemed to speak with the voice of every one of her friends and family, past and present.
"Now, go! You have lingered too long," the woman said, suddenly looking upset about something.
Buffy sensed a strange exhilaration within her. She ran down the dune in the direction the Slayer had gone. She took a step off the dune and was suddenly wrapped in darkness. There was a flash of rapid fire images
Buffy saw her body rise from the slab where the Goa'uld had kept her. But it was her in control. Someone else was in control. She saw herself sniff the air and then look towards the door where a Jaffa had just entered. A feeling of pleasure surged through her body as she launched herself forward. It was readily apparent to her how this Jaffa would fight. She could see it. She had fought the best they had and now the rest held few surprises for her.
"It's the Slayer," she said, realizing that she understood and remembered the feeling and darkness that was all around her. The feelings that had come with the rush of images had been disturbing.
"What's happening?" she wondered. Her memories told her of the time when the Shadow Men had tried to make her like the First Slayer -- a barely human weapon for their use. The feeling then was the same as now. She was inundated within the Slayer. It was in control of her body.
The Slayer charged down the corridor. Blasts of orange and blue surging in the air and splashing harmlessly across walls as they missed. The Slayer grabbed an enemy in the lead and used him as a shield then as his comrades killed him as a limb flesh club. The Jaffa had no chance of stopping her.
There was a surge of pain as some blue fire danced across her form. She turned and hammered her hand through her enemy's armour and ribs.
"She's only a part of me. I control it," she decided, and remembered how she had instinctively known to control the Slayer within her almost from the beginning. Her control had grown until the end, with every day a silent, unspoken struggle that only the other Slayers had understood. But this time she failed.
"Why won't it work?" Buffy thought. She had controlled it in the past. Had it gotten stronger? Not really – well, maybe a little. It didn't feel much stronger. She realized something from a conversation with Faith that bubbled up in her memories. It had been after Sunnydale, during one of Faith's visits to Scotland. Faith had told her again that the Slayer wasn't an “it”: it was her, a part of her.
Buffy wasn't one to throw around words like ‘epiphany’ often -- mostly because it was a pretentious word, but also because she rarely experienced anything like that. She had one then, though; she was sure of that. She had often claimed to have accepted her position of being a Slayer. Many had called her a hero, but she hadn't always been one. She had railed against being one, she had tried to shirk her duties, run away from them, . . . even, in a way, sacrificed her life to end her life as the Slayer. That had been her one secret weakness. Even with all her claims of acceptance. In her soul, she had never been able to accept the darkness as a part of her.
The new parts of her mind -- her personality and all the love and support she had gotten in the past and which she knew she'd get in the future -- allowed her to finally see this. She looked deep into the darkness, but didn't try to force it back into a box, fight with it, or even hold it back. She embraced it, not as evil, but as a part of herself as essential as the rest.
Buffy blinked and found that she stood in an opulent room. A Jaffa guard was impaled on a protrusion at the other end of the room, while a bleeding and babbling Thoth was on the floor in front of her. She knew she could show him mercy and take him prisoner. But she was all alone in a Goa'uld base. The chances of her getting out with a prisoner were slim to none. Carefully, she walked over to the snivelling parasite-infested man and picked him up. Apparently the Slayer had ripped his hand device off and thrown it somewhere, because his left hand was bleeding.
"You stopped," Thoth said, and a mad hope appeared in his eyes.
"Not really, I just remembered that I am a person not a killer. That was just the intermission, however," she said.
"I could be a valuable prisoner," Thoth suggested. Buffy heard shooting, and an explosion rocked the building.
"I don't want any prisoners," she said and knew what she really wanted to do. There were other options, but she had made a promise, and really it was an act of mercy for the host, at least, according to what Teal'c had taught her. She decided to show a bit of mercy. Buffy reached up with one hand grasping the back of Thoth's neck. He started to struggle.
"You in there, I am sorry, but I promise you'll be going to a better place," she said, hoping the host heard her, then closed her hand with all her might around the man's spine and the Goa'uld entwined with it. There was a series of ghastly cracks. Thoth stopped breathing and fell to the floor immediately. She whispered a goodbye for the host and wished his soul a good passage into heaven.
She looked around and saw a window. Buffy walked up and looked out. The base was a thing of beauty as its brass metallic surface was lighted by the reddish gold sunshine of dusk. And the orange blasts of an Al'kesh's weapons as it started its attack run.
Buffy gasped, then shook her head. "Perfect timing," she said, and looked around for some sort of clothing and maybe a shower to wash off the blood of the Slayer's victims. Buffy tried not to dwell on the thoughts of the horrid things she had done, while under the temporary control of her vengeful dark side. It wouldn't happen again.
After nearly ten minutes of looking, Buffy found some clothes that were made for a woman, mostly white and gold. They were pretty, in that over-the-top, Goa'uld way. Still, she put them on after washing in the small water basin she had also found. Buffy realized she was feeling very serene and unconcerned, given that she was in the middle of an enemy camp during a battle.
She shook her head, "Get it together, Buffy," she reminded herself and looked around for a weapon. A staff was available but bent neatly at ninety degrees. The other option was the hand device. Buffy bent down and picked it up. She went over and washed it, as well, before putting it on.
Her mom had told her how to use Goa'uld devices while on Vindgloed, but they’d had none available to train with. She hoped she could improvise. She focused on the device and tried projecting her anger into it. A weak but definitely present wave of force nearly lifted her as it hit the floor.
There was a heavy knock on the door. Buffy back-flipped, dropped and rolled underneath Thoth's bed.
Teal'c and another Jaffa pried the door open. She and Jack had found Teal'c in a courtyard earlier as he was directing his troops, and they had gone through the building, systematically working their way through the enemy Jaffa. The chaos of the power outage, the attacks from the Ha'tak, and now Teal'c's attack had clearly given them the advantage of surprise to go along with the advantage in numbers Teal'c had brought with him.
They had more or less gone directly for Thoth's residence, especially after learning from a prisoner that he was home. However, it looked like Teal'c’s troops might have gotten there ahead of them. There had been several dead Jaffa in the corridors leading up to the sleeping chambers of the Goa'uld, and the door looked like it had taken a beating at some point earlier. The door finally opened, and they advanced into the room.
"It would seem that we will not be able to question Thoth," Teal'c observed.
"Why?" Jack asked.
"That is his corpse on the floor," Teal'c explained.
"Teal'c! Jack!" Buffy's voice yelled. Sam felt a shiver of joy run down her back. Buffy leapt from her hiding place under the bed and ran halfway towards them, before seeing her. Before she could do or say anything Sam found herself wrapped in a warm and welcome hug from her daughter.
"Mom. I've missed you so much," Buffy said and rushed over to grab her in a hug. All those emotions she had been suppressing flooded back to her and she cried as she held her daughter against her and breathed in her scent, while her daughter did the same. She realized something though as she held Buffy. Something was off, a little different. She leaned back and held Buffy out to look at her fearing that a Goa'uld was nesting in her.
"Are you alright?" Sam asked her daughter.
Buffy looked at her with teary eyes and said, "I'm not sure. But Mom, I remember now. I remember everything. Oh, Goddess." Buffy suddenly broke down crying and all she could do was hold her, while Jack and even Teal'c wore expressions betraying their feelings of worry and confusion.