SITUATION NORMAL DISCLAIMER: I don’t own W.I.T.C.H. or Stargate: SG1. This is just for fun. AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the sequel so many people asked for to ‘So Far, So Good’. Thanks to Storyseeker for proofreading it. Any comments or questions, don’t be shy
, Read & Review.
Cornelia Hale’s day started out well enough. Lillian had actually been civil to her, Napoleon had dozed a good part of the morning, which kept the snarky comments to a minimum, and she had gotten some good news. Her favorite uncle was coming to visit.
Uncle Jake was in the Air Force, and they rarely got to see him, as his assignments took him all over the world. He was stationed in Colorado Springs, the last she had heard, and it had been three years since his last visit, as he’d been overseas during the holidays those years. They had gotten post cards and letters from Okinawa Japan, London England, some place in the Middle East she couldn’t pronounce, and several other places. He couldn’t say much about his work, but he always had good stories. It wasn’t the same as having him with them, though.
Elizabeth Hale was especially looking forward to the visit. She had always been close to her little brother and hated just communicating by mail and the occasional phone call. He happened to be in town, acting as an aide of some general. He hadn’t been able to give them many details, and Cornelia, truthfully, wasn’t all that interested. All that mattered was that he had been able to swing a couple of days leave, and he wanted to spend it with them. She had wondered why her mother had been smiling so much lately.
The knock on the Hale’s door had come around 11:00. Cornelia had checked the peephole before opening it. Their apartment had had one or two unwanted visitors over the past year thanks to her involvement with W.I.T.C.H., and she had learned to be cautious. Nerissa, of course, hadn’t bothered to knock, but checking still seemed a good idea.
Recognizing her uncle instantly, she threw open the door. “Uncle Jake!” Cornelia gave him a hug and pulled him inside. Lillian tackled him and gave him a happy hug of her own. Their mother followed suit. Harold Hale settled for shaking hands, which suited the younger man just fine.
“Still drowning in estrogen, I see,” he smirked, and his sister gave him a light punch.
“Still haven’t learned to edit your words, I see,” she responded. It was an old argument and one neither took seriously. Jacob would usually fire the opening shot, and Elizabeth would respond. They could get very personal if it went on too long, but they tended to censor their ‘debates’ in front of the kids, something his brother-in-law was grateful for.
“You keep telling me I was born without that part of my brain, Lizzy,” her brother grinned. “So how is it my fault?”
Harold smiled at the banter between the two and decided to get everyone moving before the two could get a proper start on their game. “We have reservations at a good Chinese restaurant. I thought we could catch up over lunch.”
Jacob looked up toward his brother-in-law, being several inches shorter than him. “Sounds good to me. I haven’t had any decent Chinese food in quite a while.” His stomach rumbled at the thought. There weren’t many Chinese places in Colorado Springs, and he had most of his meals in the base commissary when he wasn’t off world on a mission. He couldn’t very well share that with his sister and her family, though.
He loved working at the SGC, boldly going where no one had gone before and all that, but it didn’t mean that he missed simple pleasures like a good sweet and sour pork meal any less. Going so long without seeing his sister and nieces also grated. That was why he really owed Major Standish, the current leader of SG6, for the chance to visit them. General O’Neil didn’t really need an aide. He had people buzzing around him as it was and needed Jacob’s help like he needed an extra finger. He had been happy to shoo the sergeant out the door with a two day pass.
His oldest niece brought him back to the present. “You’ll love the Silver Dragon, Uncle Jake,” Cornelia assured him. “Mrs. Lin is a great chef.”
He smiled down at the two girls and nodded, absently noting how much they’d grown. “Okay. Let me drop my bag in the spare room, and we’ll be on our way.”
Hay Lin greeted the Hales at the door and showed them to a table, taking note of the stocky, solidly built man with them. His build was very different, but he had Elizabeth Hale’s hair and eye color. Cornelia introduced her uncle to the small Asian girl who smiled politely, but looked him over carefully. She felt certain she had seen Jacob Walters somewhere before but couldn’t place him. She felt uneasy in his presence, and couldn’t figure out why, but she felt sure that, wherever she remembered the man from, she hadn’t been having a good time.
Hay Lin made a point of seating them so she could serve the family herself. The meal went well. They all traded stories and laughed over many of them. Jacob got a good reaction to his imitation of a coworker in Colorado Springs named Murray. Apparently, Murray was the ultimate stoic, always serious, and rarely, if ever, laughing.
When the meal was done, over an hour later, they split up. Harold Hale had an important business meeting to attend and just enough time to take Elizabeth and Lillian home. Cornelia had made plans, she said, to meet with two friends to go over a school project, and Jacob, who had driven his rental, offered to drop her off at Will’s apartment building.
The real reason for the meeting was a W.I.T.C.H. practice session, but Uncle Jake didn’t need to know that, and the girls could always sneak off after he left. Hay Lin had agreed to meet them at the river after her shift, while Taranee and Irma each had the day pretty much free. Cornelia had been thinking about something new she wanted to try with Irma’s assistance, but wondered if they wouldn’t have to go to Meridian to practice it. Could get messy if we get it wrong, and a new move never goes right the first time.
The drive from the Silver Dragon to Will’s apartment building normally took about ten minutes with regular Saturday traffic. However, neither expected the white Chevrolet that had seemed in such a hurry to pass them, to pull in front of Jacob’s rental car and abruptly slow down as it passed a certain alley. Jacob tried to go around it, only to find a blue sedan matching his position exactly. A glance at the rearview mirror showed another car riding his bumper. It left them only one way to go, and that, Jacob realized, was the point.
“What’s going on?” Cornelia asked, noticing her uncle’s worried look and how close the three cars were. She wondered if this could have something to do with Phobos, as she knew the man was on Earth, but she didn’t really think it was his style. The Oracle was aware of the situation, but all he had been able to tell them was that Phobos had other concerns at the moment. That hadn’t been terribly reassuring, though, and the Oracle had promised to try to learn more. That had been two weeks ago with no news. It occurred to her that his new buddies in the military might be acting on information he gave them, and she began to really worry.
“Not sure,” Jacob answered. He suspected, though, and Cornelia’s presence in the car limited his options. He considered honking and attracting the attention of other people on the street, but a glance at the blue sedan convinced him not to. The man in the passenger’s seat held up a gun with a silencer and then quickly lowered it. He gestured for Jacob to turn into the alley.
Jacob did so, not knowing where the alley would lead, but hoping there was a way out, even if he had to shove aside another car. He turned down the alley and gunned the engine when the saw light at the end of the alley, only to slam on the breaks when a large van turned in to the alley ahead of them.
A few seconds later there were men on either side of the car brandishing guns. Jacob Walters and Cornelia Hale were hustled out of the car and into the van, which left the scene at an unhurried pace so as not to draw attention.
Cornelia glared daggers at the man covering her with the gun, undisturbed by the weapon. She knew she could take it away from him whenever she wanted but couldn’t use her powers with so many witnesses, even if one of them wasn’t her uncle. The van they had been forced into had no windows, so she couldn’t tell where they were going, only that they had been traveling for almost an hour.
She wasn’t terribly disturbed at the moment, not as she had been when they were first snatched. That was mostly because she’d been in contact with Taranee and the others for the last 10 minutes. It had taken time to get her attention. Taranee, not she, was the telepath after all and took great pains not to intrude on the others’ private thoughts. Normally, Cornelia appreciated the consideration, but this was not a normal situation. It wasn’t until the other girls had wondered why she was late for their practice session and contacted her that they found out what had happened. Don’t panic, Cornelia
, Will sent over the link. We’ll find you. Can you tell us anything about where you are or who is holding you? I don’t know where I am or where we’re going
, Cornelia answered, no windows, but there are three guys with guns on us and the driver in the van. They’re just dressed regular, like office workers. No uniforms or suits like you’d see on TV. Can you track me with the Heart?
There was a moment of silence as Will considered the question. Yeah. Yeah, that should work. I should be able to,
Will answered. Hang on. We’ll be there soon
. She kept in contact off and on, letting Cornelia know of the progress the other Guardians were making. It helped keep her from getting too nervous. She’d seen too much of what guns could to a body on Meridian a couple of weeks before.
While she waited, she speculated with the others about Phobos’ involvement. Had he told them about the Guardians? It was the only thing that made sense at the moment. Uncle Jake’s presence complicated things. He had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, which made Cornelia fume. What if he wasn’t?
Taranee asked, suddenly sounding excited. What?
The others asked, confused by the non sequitur. What if he wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time? What if he’s a hostage to ensure you don’t do anything?
Taranee clarified. The notion sent a chill down Cornelia’s spine. Phobos never sank that low,
Irma pointed out. He may not be calling the shots
, Taranee pointed out. If his new ‘friends’ in the military, or some shadowy government agency..
. There was a collective groan at this, and the eye roll could almost be felt. Don’t make fun. Who do you think snatched Phobos in the first place, and why?
No one had a better answer. Okay, we get it
, Will sighed. How do we fix this without blowing our secret, assuming Phobos hasn’t already done that?
No one had a good answer, and the debate continued until they reached their destination.
Sergeant Jacob Walters, USAF, assigned to the top secret Stargate program, was worried. The men holding them might as well have been wearing uniforms identifying them as Trust operatives. He wasn’t sure what they wanted with him. His clearance was fairly low level, but that hardly mattered under the circumstances. He glanced at his niece and worried more. Getting himself out of this mess would be hard enough, but rescuing Cornelia without any backup would be next to impossible. His phone had a GPS tracker in it, which was probably why they had taken it away and ditched it in the alley. He was due to check in that evening at 5:00, but that was still four hours away.
He glanced at Cornelia. She was glaring at their captors with the haughty, superior look that she had no doubt learned from her mother. Lizzy had learned it from their mother who could make anyone feel like an insect under a glass if she so desired. It was one of the reasons he had joined the military right out of high school. Jacob had left their distant father and domineering mother behind when he turned 18, and most days, he didn’t regret the decision, but this was one of the rare occasions when he did. Once again, he carefully surveyed his surroundings and the men holding them captive for any chance to escape safely. How am I going to get Cornelia and myself out of here?
The van eventually slowed and turned onto what felt like a gravel lane. After a moment, that gave way to a smoother surface, and the van came to a halt. There was a muted sound as the engine was turned off, and both Cornelia and Jacob recognized it as the sound of a roll-up door coming down. Another moment passed before the door of the van was pulled open, and they were ushered out.
It was a warehouse, mostly empty, with a table holding several computers and other pieces of equipment. There were several chairs as well, and Cornelia and Jacob were ushered to two of them and forced to sit side by side. A short man in a dark suit approached them. His brown hair was cut short, nearly to a crew cut, and he wore thick glasses. Studying the two carefully for a moment before he spoke, he gestured for one of his men to stand behind them. “I’ll make this simple, Sergeant Walters. We want General O’Neil’s itinerary for his trip to D.C., and your password for Stargate Command’s secure server.”
“What makes you think I’ll give you that?” Jacob asked. The sound of a gun being cocked behind Cornelia answered him. “Don’t!” Jacob shouted franticly.
“Feeling more cooperative?” their captor asked. Jacob ground his teeth together in frustration. He’d tell them anything they wanted to know to save Cornelia, but he wasn’t sure that it would. If their captors decided to kill them once they had what they wanted, it wouldn’t make a difference what he said or didn’t say. If there was a chance, however, of at least his eldest niece walking away, he had to take it.
“Don’t hurt her,” he pleaded, his decision on the matter made. “Let her go, and I’ll give you the code and the schedule.”
“You’ll tell us what we want to know or we will kill her,” the man countered. “Eventually.”
Cornelia turned to stare at her uncle, a wild mix of emotions on her face. “Don’t worry, Cornelia. I’ll get you out of this,” he tried to comfort her, but it didn’t seem to be working, and he wondered what must be going through her head. Are you sure? That can’t be right!
Cornelia practically shouted over the telepathic link. I knew I’d seen him somewhere,
Hay Lin insisted, and how many Stargate Commands do you suppose there are? He was on Meridian;
Cornelia drew a deep breath, looking down at the ground. He was there, killing Elyon’s people along with the rest. He was doing his job
, Will supplied. We know that most of the soldiers involved didn’t want a fight. I bet it was just some small secret group that wanted that fight so they could sneak Phobos out. Maybe the CIA or something started the fight, and the rest didn’t know about it. You watch too many movies,
Cornelia snapped. We can’t know that for sure
. You want to think the worst of your uncle, instead?
Irma asked. Let’s just get both of you out of there for now and figure it out later. Irma is right,
Will spoke up. One problem at a time. We’re getting close, approaching under a glamour. I think we’ll be in position in a couple of minutes.
She tuned back into the conversation in time to hear her uncle rattle off a string of numbers. Realizing that he had just given them what they wanted, she stared at him incredulously, even as she felt the man standing behind her move away.
“We need to be sure,” one of the men working the computers spoke up. “We only get one shot at this. That is why we brought him.”
“True enough,” the man with the glasses nodded. “I’ll get the truth in more direct fashion.” He turned away. “Bring him in.”
“Uncle Jake!” Cornelia hissed.
“It’ll be okay, honey,” her uncle assured her, placing his hand over hers. “I won’t let them hurt you.”
“You gave them what they wanted!”
He looked at her in surprise, not expecting her to be angry over his decision. “Of course. You’re a lot more important than that code. Just sit tight-”
“You didn’t need to do that. There’s other ways.” The anger in her voice was drawing the attention of some of their captors.
“Not right now there aren’t,” he shook his head and tried to calm her. “Besides, that code won’t be much use to them. Trust me, it’ll all work out. This is just a SNAFU.”
“Military jargon,” he smiled. “Means, Situation Normal All Fouled Up.” He tried to sound confident for his niece’s sake. There’s MY word for the day
, Irma commented over the link. Cornelia just huffed in irritation, something else she had picked up from her mother.
“If this situation is normal, remind me not to join the army.”
Some of her captors chuckled, but the man in charge gave the pair an irritated look and told them to shut up.
“Situation’s a long way from FUBAR,” he assured her more quietly. Cornelia shot him a suspicious look.
“Now you’re just making up words,” she groused.
“Fouled Up Beyond All Repair,” he translated. “We’ll be fine.”
Across the warehouse an office door opened, and two men came out, positioned to guard a third that Cornelia recognized instantly. “Okay,” she hissed to herself and her eavesdropping teammates. “Now things are FUBAR.” Cornelia
, Will called, sounding worried, what’s wrong? Phobos is here. Looks like this isn’t just about Uncle Jake after all.
They had actually been relieved when it started to look as if Cornelia had been the one in the wrong place at the wrong time. Phobos’ presence, however, sent that hope out the window.
The former prince of Meridian approached the pair at an unhurried pace. He paused briefly when he got a good look at the prisoners, but otherwise showed no surprise. “You brought me all the way here for this?” he asked in a bored tone, paying no attention to the prisoners after the initial glance.
“We need the information Sergeant Walters has. The presence of his niece makes him more cooperative, but we must be sure the information is accurate before we act on it. Just get what we need, and your part in this will be done.”
Phobos scowled at the man’s tone but moved toward the prisoners. He stopped a few feet in front of them and examined them quietly for a moment.
Jacob watched the man warily. He was dressed in ordinary street clothes, but he carried himself with an arrogance that some planetary leaders he had met couldn’t match. The man looked at him for a long moment, but did nothing, then he turned his attention to Cornelia, who for a reason Jacob didn’t understand, was staring at the newcomer with an expression of utter loathing. The look on her face would have done her grandmother proud, but the man answered that look with a superior smirk, and Jacob realized that, somehow, the two knew each other. Hello, Cornelia. It’s been a while. Not long enough!
Cornelia shot back silently. Who are your new friends, Phobos? When you’re done playing lie detector, are you going to fetch their tea?
The man’s expression flickered for a moment, and Jacob saw a hatred there that nearly matched Cornelia’s. Then it was gone, and the superior smirk was back. None of their captors were in a position to see his face, however. They did note that he was paying more attention to his niece than to him.
“The girl is unimportant,” the group’s leader spoke sternly. “Sergeant Walters is our priority. If you get us the information we want, maybe we can arrange some time alone with her for you.” His tone indicated his disgust with the idea, but he evidently thought the offer would move Phobos to cooperation.
Phobos’ eyes widened in shock and anger at the idea, and he barely kept his reaction in check. What do these fools think I am?
He sent over the link, almost unintentionally.
We know what you are
, Will replied. Do they? Obviously not
, Phobos answered, turning toward Jacob but continuing the conversation with W.I.T.C.H. My freedom from my cell back home has come at too high a price. These people have plans that rival those I once had, and I have been unable to extricate myself from this mess
. How’s that?
Irma asked. Your magic seems to be working
. Before we even left the military base, they put a device on my wrist that inhibits my magic except when they want me to use it
, the former prince replied, the frustration flowing freely across the mental link. If I act against them, it will be switched on. If I try to remove it, it will explode. I…need your assistance
. You want us to help you?
Irma asked incredulously. Did they do something to your brain?
The others voiced similar sentiments. Phobos weathered their scorn silently. Right now
, Phobos reminded them, I am little more than a weapon for creatures that do not have your world’s best interests in mind. If you do not care for my welfare or that of your world in general, consider what they would do to you and your families if I were to tell them about the Guardians.
“What is taking so long?” The man with the glasses had grown impatient, despite the fact that Phobos’ conversation with the Guardians had taken less than a minute.
The former prince cast the man a disdainful look. “Your charming offer has increased his resistance to my probe. Getting through and finding the verification you seek may take a little time. It will take longer if you continue to interrupt me.” He turned back to the subject of his interrogation and retrieved the information with a thought before returning his attention to the Guardians. What creatures?
Will demanded. What are you talking about? This group calls itself the Trust. They were initially established to take advantage of the Stargate and the alien technology and resources that it can bring to your world. They established an impressive intelligence network for that purpose, but they also acted against the Goa’uld, an alien race of parasites that-. We were told about the Goa’uld
, Will interrupted. What do they have to do with this? They have infiltrated the Trust and now control it. Most of the members do not know this, and they would not take my word for it if I told them
. What do you expect from us?
Will asked. Free me. Blair, the short man with the glasses, has a remote control in the inside pocket of his jacket. The release code for the manacle on my wrist is 437. Three wrong entries will detonate the bomb
. We can take these guys down without your help
, Taranee snorted. Better to leave it on, and make it easier to toss you back in your cell on Meridian
Phobos almost growled aloud at this. And if I give away your plan before hand? Then you go on fetching their tea
, Cornelia had to remind herself not to smirk. Look, Phobos
, Will said tiredly, deciding to break it down as they were just going to go in circles, we don’t really need your help, but it would make this a lot easier. Obviously we don’t trust you, and you know we’re right not to. You’ve proven your word isn’t worth anything. Consider this. If you tell us everything you know about their anti-magic machine and help create a distraction, we can take it out and all get out of this in one piece
. Won’t wrecking that thing free him?
Taranee wanted to know. Hopefully it won’t come to that
, Will answered. We need to get it away from Blair before he can turn it on, K.O.ing his powers and ours. Destroying it might set off the bomb
. I’d like to avoid that
, Phobos offered dryly. You can help them and stay their prisoner, and maybe someday soon wind up with a snake wrapped around your brain, or you can help us and go home. Elyon will take your assistance and a willing return into account. What do you say?
Will asked. I seem to have little choice
, Phobos admitted grudgingly.
They cobbled together a rough plan that Cornelia decided not to object to. If she got her uncle out of their current mess alive, she’d deal with the consequences of him learning her secret.
Phobos set it in motion. He turned away, looking fatigued. “I have it,” he told Blair, “but there’s something you should know.” He put his hand on the man’s right shoulder as if to steady himself. Blair glanced down in distaste at the hand and almost missed what happened next.<br> <br>
Jacob Walters was confused, but had no intention of showing it. If the man they had brought in was actually doing anything, he couldn’t tell. The way he looked at Cornelia, however, made him nervous. There was something going on there that he didn’t understand. The way they glared at each other was far too intense. Cornelia knew him somehow. That was clear, but how they had met and why they seemed to despise each other was a mystery to him.
When the strange man turned away, he focused on the man in charge, as the two began to speak quietly. He noted the distaste on the boss’s face when a hand was placed on his shoulder, and knew there was something there that might benefit him. The two clearly didn’t like each other. Exploiting that became the last thing on his mind, though, when the boss gave a startled cry, as something moved under his jacket and shot into the air. Jacob’s eyes widened, as the object hung in the air between them, jingling softly.
“You idiot!” Cornelia shouted, drawing everyone’s attention. “Those are his car keys!” Then things really got strange. The boss jumped away from the other man and reached for something in his hip pocket, only to come up empty. The other man was holding a small remote and entering a code on it.
“Shoot him!” the boss called franticly. There were pained cries from several of the men, as they drew their weapons and instantly dropped them, finding them too hot to hold. A strong wind blew one man, who had begun to type furiously on his laptop, away from the machine. A line of fire burst through one of the doors quickly branched out, surrounding each of the men, containing him in a personal ring of fire. Their weapons, cell phones, and anything else that might prove useful were plucked away from them. Each item came to rest, along with the car keys, at Cornelia’s feet.
He stared at his niece in confusion, not having seen anything like this since Meridian. There had been tales of humans with extraordinary abilities, but all of them had involved alien tampering of some sort.
Several windows high on the wall shattered, and four figures he had hoped never to see again flew in. The dark-skinned one with the glasses gestured, and the imprisoning rings of fire grew instantly higher and hotter, discouraging those who might have been thinking of making a break for it and obscuring their view of the attackers before anyone could get a look at them. Several pipes burst, and water began to spill across the floor, courtesy of the brown haired girl with the mischievous grin on her face. It spread across the floor, somehow not interfering with the fire or coming close to him and Cornelia.
It tried to approach his would be interrogator, but the man gestured negligently, and the water was repelled forcefully. “We had a deal,” he told them acidly.
There seemed to be a few seconds of silent communication between the two, and the strange man was let alone. The redhead pointed at the water-covered floor and released a bolt of lightning. The water acted as a conductor, as she had intended, and soon all of the Trust operatives were sprawled unconscious on the floor.
The fires went out, and the water flowed away, allowing the four to land in position around the last enemy standing. He glanced at Cornelia in confusion. She gave him an apologetic look. “I promise, I’ll explain all of this later.” She stood with the others, despite his attempt to protest. That protest died on his lips when he remembered the battle at the gate, and the blonde member of the group who had seemed so familiar. Cornelia glanced at the leader, and there was more silent communication. The redheaded girl spoke softly, and Cornelia began to glow.
The transformation was incredible to watch. Cornelia grew from a barely pubescent girl to an amazingly beautiful woman before his eyes. Her outfit seemed to shift around in interesting ways, actually vanishing at one point, and he had to look away, blushing furiously as he remembered that she was his niece, and he was a dirty old man.
When the light show was over, he turned back to see the strange man smirking at him knowingly and the blonde earth-shaker he remembered so well glaring at their enemy with an all too familiar expression.
“How are we going to play this, Phobos?” The redheaded leader asked.
“Ah, my dear WITCH, do you really have to ask?”
“How many times we gotta dance this dance?” the brown-haired water manipulator complained. “We beat you every time.”
“Not true,” Phobos corrected.
“Are you talking about the time you had two Hearts, and we were holding back to make you overconfident and attack Kandrakar?” the redhead asked with a smile.
Phobos looked at her in shock for a moment, and then actually growled. “The oath. You wanted me to attack the fortress so my power would be forfeit!” He calmed himself with an effort. “Well played, ladies. Admittedly, well played.”
Cornelia shrugged. “Almost worked, too. Who knew your chief flunky would turn on you? Seriously, you promised him a ‘fraction’ of your power and never thought he’d take advantage? Even Irma knows that four fourths is a fraction, and she’s flunking math!”
“Hey!” Irma protested.
Phobos was becoming annoyed with the banter and decided to try to end the fight quickly. He lashed out with a spell that should have sent everyone in the room flying. Instead, the amulet around the redhead’s neck glowed and seemed to absorb the energy. Phobos stared at her in shock.
“I’ve learned a few new tricks,” she said modestly, before all five hit him full force with their powers. Stone hands grasped his legs before he could take to the air, and a rush of water struck him with the force of a river before enveloping him and becoming very hot, courtesy of Taranee’s flames.
Once again, water followed its nature, conducting the electricity Will generated to her intended target. Phobos collapsed to the floor, unconscious. “Come on ladies. That won’t work twice. Let’s get him back in his cell before he wakes up.”
“What is going on here?” Jacob finally found his voice. The amazing display had left him gaping. He had never seen any technology which would allow such fine control of matter and energy. It seemed more refined than the occasional demonstrations of psionic abilities he had witnessed could explain.
“Just solving a problem the U.S. military caused,” Cornelia answered. She turned to regard him frostily. “Someone
killed two prison guards and broke this waste of oxygen out, and started that fight at the gate to cover up sneaking him off world.”
“Let’s get moving,” Will interrupted. “I think we’ll have to take them with us. We don’t want them telling anyone we were here, and I suspect Elyon will want to have words with them.” She turned to look at Jacob. “I don’t know what to do with you, but for now, you’re coming with us.”
Will raised the strange amulet Jacob had noticed earlier, and a rift in space opened before her. “Cornelia? Would you collect our prisoners?”
Cornelia nodded, and all of the limp bodies in the room rose into the air and moved through the rift before she turned to him, still angry, but looking apologetic as well. “Sorry, Uncle Jake, but you’ll have to come with us.” He could only stare at her, feeling betrayed in a way he never believed he could.
“How can you do this?” he demanded. “You fought against your own people? Why?! You’re human, from Earth. Why would you fight…kill your own people?”
“We did everything we could to keep the body count low,” Will shot back angrily. “We need to discuss it later, though. Phobos won’t stay out for long. Now go.” She gestured at the rift. “Through the fold. Now.”
Seeing little alternative, Cornelia looked unhappy but solidly with her friends on this, he walked into the rift and out into the open field in front the Meridian royal palace. Guards were already rushing to meet them.
Taranee looked to Will. “We should get their equipment, too. Leave no trace that anything happened there.” Will nodded and held the rift while she and Cornelia went back through. There were already guards rushing toward them.
With a thought, Cornelia closed up the laptops, yanked the plugs, and even gathered the items she had taken from them earlier. Taranee examined the room for traces of their presence before remembering the van and getting Cornelia to shove that through.
They returned to find Elyon staring in some confusion at the odd collection of junk on what she thought of as her front lawn. Guards were already taking the Trust operatives away, and there was no sign of Phobos. Taranee glanced at Will.
“He’s already back in his cell,” Will assured them. “Now we have to decide what to do with the rest.”
“The men you’ve brought here were working with those who freed Phobos and murdered my guards,” Elyon answered coldly. “They can answer for those crimes.”
Jacob stiffened at her words. He had known the situation on Meridian was badly handled, but he hadn’t heard much about the full details that had the brass in such an uproar. Given the way they had left Meridian, he doubted that Generals Landry and O’Neil even knew about Phobos’ presence on Earth. It was starting to look like he wouldn’t get the chance to tell them. The queen turned to look at him.
“So you’re Cornelia’s uncle? What are the odds you’d wind up with a unit sent here? Don’t talk,” she cut him off, even as he opened his mouth. “I lost a lot of good people because of what your leaders did. I saw how things were getting out of control and tried to calm things down, protecting everyone involved by limiting your numbers. You respond by bringing in more troops and digging in?”
“Those troops came to meet your deadline by assisting in the evacuation. Once we were surrounded, withdrawing wasn’t safe. We got the scientists out and were prepared to pull out ourselves, until you were attacked.” He raised a hand to forestall objection. “For the record, I have no idea what was behind that. I heard talk on the base of miscommunications, frightened officers acting on their own initiative. I’m not privy to what the general knows or thinks, but I get the impression he has no idea what caused this.” He glanced toward the men the guards were taking into custody. “I suspect they do, though.”
“Blair, the one with the glasses, is in charge,” Cornelia offered. “He had this machine strapped to Phobos’ wrist that kept him from using his magic. Probably the same thing they used during the battle.”
“That makes sense,” Jacob nodded. “How else would they control someone with abilities like yours?” Elyon glared at him, and he wisely shut up.
“Phobos told us they’d put that machine on him before they even got out of the base. Apparently the stories they’d heard here had some affect. They knew not to trust him farther than they could throw the Stargate.” She looked to her best friend. “You need to know that it wasn’t the U.S. government that arranged that. There’s this secret group that calls itself the Trust. They have spies in the SGC. They wanted magic, and freeing Phobos seemed the best way to get it. I’m just glad they had enough sense not to let him run loose.”
“Earth has enough problems,” Elyon agreed. She glanced at Jacob and sighed. “Okay. I’ll accept that we were all tricked. That doesn’t change my decision to keep the gate buried, and you can’t stay here long.” She glanced at the Earth Guardian, “sorry, Cornelia.”
“I understand,” Cornelia assured her with a glance at her uncle. “I’m not terribly happy with him myself.”
“I was doing my job, doing what I had to, under terrible circumstances. I-”
“We understand,” Elyon assured him, really not wanting to hear him try to justify shooting her people, “but it doesn’t change things.” The edge to her voice made it clear she was never going to be at peace with that. Elyon’s decision had more to do with her friendship with Cornelia than any willingness to forgive what had happened.
Jacob, through his long experience in military service, knew when to sit down and shut up. He decided this would be a good time. He still needed to have a long talk with Cornelia about the choices she had made, but that could wait.
He watched as the Trust operatives and the equipment from the warehouse were carted away. No one was quite sure what to do with the van, though. Will offered to take it back to Earth and dump it somewhere far from Heatherfield.
That’ll work,” Elyon agreed, dismissing the matter. “Come on inside. Tell me everything that happened.”
Almost an hour later, Elyon sat back in her chair and sighed. “What a mess.” The others nodded. She glanced at sergeant Walters. “Do you know anything else about this Trust?”
“Nothing I can say. What they,” he nodded at the girls, “have already told you is above top secret.”
“U.S. secrets are the least of my concern, but fine. I won’t ask you to break your word.” She looked back at the others. “What do you think this Trust will do when they find out their agents are missing?”
Will shrugged. “No idea, and it worries me. What if they know to come looking for Cornelia?”
“That Blair guy made this sound kind of time sensitive. He asked about some general’s schedule?” She glanced at her uncle who nodded.
“They didn’t communicate with anyone after they captured us, not that I saw, anyway. That may mean that the people Blair takes orders from don’t know we were caught yet. They may still be waiting. Blair himself can confirm that.”
“I’ll have him and the others questioned separately,” Elyon assured them. She looked at Jacob. “I’m sure you have questions of your own for them, but that isn’t my concern. You have family matters to deal with. That should be what’s worrying you now.” She glanced at Cornelia. “I’ll be keeping those men here. Maybe you and your uncle should talk.” She rose to her feet, and nodded to the others before leaving the room. The Guardians, with the exception of Cornelia, did the same.
Uncle and niece stared at each other for a time without speaking. Both were angry for several reasons and fearful of saying something they’d regret. Finally, Jacob sighed and simply asked. “Why?”
“Why what?” Cornelia asked. “Why did I do everything I could to prevent that fight? And when that failed, why did I try to end it quickly? Why did I just disarm and tie up the soldiers instead of killing them?”
“Why did you side against your own people?”
“How many people do you think would have died if I hadn’t? The goal was to prevent a fight by showing up in force. No one expected you to have traitors in your group that wanted
Jacob opened his mouth to respond but sighed instead. After a moment’s thought, he managed a calm answer. “I can see your point of view, but all my training says you should be using your talents for us.”
“’Us’ being the government? The people who caused so much trouble on Meridian, and who knows how many other planets?”
“That’s not exactly fair, Cornelia.” His niece only glared at him. “It was badly handled, yes. The general was furious over what happened, and he doesn’t even know about that Phobos guy.”
“Elyon thought the U.S. government was behind Phobos’ escape at first, and we didn’t want to believe it but didn’t see another explanation till now.”
Both fell silent for a moment. Finally, Jacob shook his head. “What are we going to do, Cornelia? I can’t sit on this. My superiors need to know.”
“Know what?” she returned. “That there was a threat to Earth, on Earth, for a little while, but it’s gone now? Along with four Trust agents and a bunch of their equipment?” She spread her hands. “Why bother? The Guardians are no threat to the U.S. We actually stopped Phobos from invading Earth.” She raised a hand to stop Jacob when she saw his expression. “Don’t dwell. He’s locked up again and he doesn’t have the means to get to Earth any more, even if he weren’t. He and what few followers he has left are trapped on Meridian.”
“How do you-?”
“The Heart of Kandrakar allows Will to open folds in space. But things like that don’t exactly grow on trees.” She sat back and looked tired. “If you want to know what Kandrakar is and how we got these powers… Well that’s a looong story.”
“I seem to have the time.”
Cornelia shook her head. “Nutshell version? Kandrakar is… ever read comic books? Green Lantern?”
“Yes,” he nodded, not sure he liked where this was going.
“Kandrakar is sort of like Oa. The Council there watches for threats to multiple worlds.”
“They don’t concern themselves with threats like the Goa’uld? Those creatures have threatened countless worlds!”
“Cornelia shrugged. “I’d never heard of the Goa’uld before this, so I don’t know. Maybe they don’t even know about the Stargates.” She made a mental note to ask about that later. The Oracle had been ‘troubled’ by their news, but had no real answers for them. “Maybe because the gates are machines rather than magical? I don’t know.”
“Cornelia,” Jacob started delicately, wondering how to explain that to her without giving away more secrets, “magic is-”
“No. We are not having that talk,” Cornelia cut him off. “Call it whatever you want. What matters is that Kandrakar has its own…jurisdiction, I guess. Kind of like the DEA doesn’t do terrorist attacks and stuff.”
“All right,” Jacob nodded. That made more sense to him, and was likely closer to the truth than anything his young niece could grasp. “So they worry about a specific type of travel and a specific type of threat?”
Cornelia shrugged. “I think so. Getting info out of the Oracle isn’t always easy, and he’s still pondering over what we told him about that mess you guys made on Meridian. Don’t start,” she cut him off again when he started to protest her word choice. “I know it was the Trust, but the Trust is your problem. If they learn about magic and start jumping between worlds, then they’ll be our problem.”
“I don’t like you being involved in this. National security aside, you’re 14 years old! I shouldn’t have to worry about my niece dodging bullets!” Without realizing it, his voice had risen to a shout.
“Well, don’t shoot at me and you won’t have to!” Cornelia matched him decibel for decibel. Both stopped and glared at each other for a moment. Finally, Cornelia sighed. “Sorry. I don’t like this any more than you do. You think we should be working for the government? No way. Even if we wanted to, Kandrakar wouldn’t allow it. They worry about threats to multiple worlds. Getting involved in the politics of one planet isn’t going to happen.”
“Didn’t you help overthrow a dictator here on Meridian? Isn’t that the definition of getting involved in one world’s politics?”
“No. Since Phobos was a threat to every world. He had to be stopped here before he made other worlds suffer. Prove to me that the- the Taliban is a threat to the universe and we’ll be there.”
“And the Goa’uld?”
“The Oracle is…still meditating on that. We told him everything we knew, but it’s up to him if we get involved.”
“Perhaps he would see a delegation from Earth, hear what we have to say.”
“Maybe, but I doubt it.” At the look on her uncle’s face, she knew she had to give him something. “I can talk to the Oracle, see if he’d be willing to listen, but after what happened on Meridian, don’t get your hopes up.”
“Would this Oracle of yours agree to see one person?” he asked, wondering what had prompted that question. He had no authority to speak for Earth. Cornelia, judging by the way she was looking at him, realized this too. “Maybe I can convince him to contact Earth himself. Open talks.”
“Maybe,” she allowed. “It couldn’t hurt to ask if he’d see you.” She thought about that for a bit, but realized there were other outstanding issues. “What are you going to tell your bosses?”
“My superiors think that what happened on Meridian was a series of stupid mistakes made worse by a lack of communication and understanding. As far as I know, they aren’t even aware the Trust was involved.” He shrugged, “but of course, I’m just a sergeant. I don’t know what the general knows or when he knew it.” He looked down at the tabletop, and thought hard for a time, eventually coming to the only decision he could live with. “I can’t tell them, not without exposing you. Even if I think it would be best, for you and Earth, I won’t tell them. Your mother and I, though, are going to have a long talk when we get back.”
Cornelia paled slightly and thought hard for a moment. “What can you tell her without breaking national security or whatever?”
“It’ll have to be edited,” he admitted. “Care to help? You’ve got to be pretty good at telling convincing lies by this point.” The instant the words had left his mouth, he regretted them. Cornelia had placed him in a difficult position, but he couldn’t entirely blame her. She was caught up in something far bigger than she understood. Not wanting to argue with her, he hastily apologized, for letting his temper get out of hand.
“Telling mom won’t make things better,” she argued. “It won’t keep me safe, because I can’t quit the Guardians even if I want to. Why don’t you leave the military? Get some safer job?”
“The situation is entirely different. I’m an adult.” He should have known that argument was doomed before he made it. He could do nothing but listen to the list of the Guardians’ accomplishments. They had fought for their lives, made decisions no one should have to make, and liberated an entire planet from a tyrant. How many ‘adults’, she wanted to know, could say the same.
“I know ten,” he answered calmly. “All military, and all actually trained for this type of work, something you aren’t.” He watched her sputter for a moment before continuing. “And I would suggest holding back some of those stories when you talk to your mom. She’s going to have a nervous breakdown as it is.”
“Then why worry her?”
“Don’t even start,” he said sternly. “You know why I have to tell her.”
She pouted about that, but evidently couldn’t think of an argument to change his mind at the moment. “I’ll arrange for you to meet the Oracle and the Council first,” she told him, obviously trying to buy time.
Getting the Oracle to agree to meet Jacob Walters was surprisingly easy. Getting him to agree to consider Jacob’s proposal was another matter entirely. The bald man in the strange robes frowned slightly.
“The news you bring of a rogue faction within your government is troubling. Events on Meridian indicate that they have infiltrated your military at the highest levels, and have been very effective in carrying out their agenda to steal the secrets and resources of other worlds for their own profit.”
“We’ve been working hard to root them out, sir.”
“Unsuccessfully, it would seem. Yet, you would have me open Kandrakar’s doors to them? Our edict is to maintain balance and harmony across the known worlds. The ‘Stargates’ as you call them, have indeed been used for evil, but they are also a vital resource on many, otherwise isolated, worlds. The Council is reluctant to act rashly in this matter, despite the havoc the Goa’uld cause.”
“You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Jacob nodded. “I realize the difficulty, but there are a handful of people I know that can be trusted implicitly.”
“Do they speak for your world as a whole?” Jacob didn’t answer. “I am sorry, Jacob Walters, but Earth is not ready. Even the small part of your population that knows of other worlds and other sentient species are not ready to understand Kandrakar and its purpose. There is more at stake than the worlds you know.”
“How many of the worlds I don’t know are threatened by the Goa’uld or the Ori?”
“You raise a valid point,” the Oracle admitted, “but Kandrakar’s power is not of a sort that can aid you in your wars. We protect the worlds under our care from the threats you speak of by other means.”
“Secrecy?” Jacob asked, a bit more harshly than intended. “You successfully hide worlds from outside aggressors? Fine for them, but what about the rest of the galaxy?”
“We do what we can,” the Oracle replied, declining to answer Jacob’s speculation, “just as you do. Our resources are, in some ways, more limited than your own.” His gaze moved from Jacob to the Guardians. “I see, however, that there is a more personal stake in this that troubles you.”
“My niece and her friends. Why do you recruit children to fight your battles?”
“My visions guide me to those best suited to become Guardians,” the Oracle corrected. “The reasons are only revealed, sometimes even to me, in the fullness of time. It has been my experience, though, that the young are more adaptable and ready to embrace new ideas.”
“Such as whatever notions of right and wrong you choose to teach them?” The Oracle wasn’t going to help anyway, Jacob reasoned. Why hold back? “The young are also very impressionable and less likely to wonder why you give them certain orders. Doesn’t it trouble you at all to send children into situations best left to trained soldiers?”
“Trained soldiers lack the nimbleness of mind, and often the clearness of vision that the young possess. There are some tasks the Guardians are called to perform that are simply not suited to warriors. You are not expected to understand the Council’s reasons.”
“I don’t. All I see is five girls whose biggest worries should be acne and homework fighting your wars for you.”
“That’s not fair, Uncle Jake,” Cornelia butted in. “We aren’t forced into anything. We helped on Meridian because Elyon is our friend. Besides, how do you think the police or the army would have reacted if we’d gone to them with stories of monsters and other worlds?”
“That isn’t really relevant, Cornelia. Wanting to help your friend is all well and good, but you should have still sought help. You rushed into the situation without thinking it through. You could have been killed any number of times.”
“And yet, we’re here,” Will Vandom pointed out. “We’ve done alright for ourselves and helped a lot of people along the way.”
“Proving that it’s better to be lucky than good? Good intentions don’t trump proper training or the maturity to make proper decisions.”
“You still think getting involved in that battle on Meridian was a bad decision?” Cornelia demanded. “How many lives do you think we saved fighting the way we did?”
“The initial plan to get you to leave without a fight would have worked if you hadn’t had those traitors with you helping Phobos escape,” Will pointed out. “It was a solid plan, approved of and admired by several trained soldiers
“Even Raythor thought it was a good idea,” Irma put in, “even if he didn’t like having to organize the mob or farmers you guys inspired to march on the gate.”
“This argument is getting us nowhere,” the Oracle intervened. “I understand your concerns, Jacob Walters, and while you make fair points, the situation remains unchanged. The girls were chosen for reasons that are beyond even my sight. I honor the choice, and the Guardians have earned my respect through their actions.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that they’re children. They shouldn’t have been put in this position to begin with.”
“Your disapproval cannot change what has happened. They have succeeded brilliantly in their endeavors. As long as they have the ability and desire to continue their duties as Guardians, their service to the known worlds will be welcome.”
“I doubt their parents will allow it,” Jacob told him.
“What a hypocrite!” Irma snapped. Jacob turned to look at her. “You told Corny you think we should be working for the government. We make it clear that’s not gonna happen, so now you say we’re too young and dumb to be using our powers at all?”
He turned to face her. Had he said that? Was that what he had meant? He shoved those questions away, unable to accept the possibility that he had meant it that way. “I never said you should be working for the government,” he insisted, “only that you shouldn’t be using them on behalf of alien regimes, against your own people. I lost friends in that battle,” he finished.
“So did we,” Will told him, hotly. “We fought alongside Elyon’s troops against Phobos and Nerissa. They were good people, and a lot more would have died if we hadn’t been there to try to keep the casualties down.”
“I don’t want to lose anyone else, especially not Cornelia and the people closest to her.”
“Perhaps, then,” the Oracle started slowly, “you would consider a proposal?” The easiest way to deal with the situation, would be to alter the man’s memories, but he already knew that the Guardians, Cornelia especially, would not like that option.
“What do you mean?” Jacob looked at the man warily.
“You wish to protect your niece and her friends, serve the best interests of your world, and protect other worlds from the depredations of the Goa’uld. I think there may be a way for you to do all three.”
“How?” Jacob’s question was echoed by the Guardians, and even the members of the Council looked puzzled.
“By working with us.” He raised a hand as Jacob started to object. “Hear me out. I do not ask you to betray your world or its secrets. I ask you to use your experience to advise the Council and the Guardians in drawing correct conclusions regarding the Goa’uld and the Ori. Conflict with the latter is all but inevitable.”
“That could only happen if a formal alliance was made with Earth.” Jacob shook his head. “We both want to protect the girls; we just disagree as to how. You want to keep their secret. I want to keep them alive and safe. The only way both can be achieved is if they give up being Guardians.”
“Not gonna happen,” Cornelia said. “This is what we chose to do. We could have walked away after Phobos or Nerissa, but we didn’t. And it isn’t cause we think it’s some kind of game and we don’t know the consequences. We do.”
“We’re going in circles,” Will complained. She looked to the Oracle and then to Jacob. “Neither one of you is going to convince the other.” She looked to Jacob again. “You want us to give up because we’re dumb kids who don’t know any better. What if we could show you the consequences of us ditching our responsibilities?”
“How would you do that?” Jacob asked.
Will thought that was a good question. She wasn’t sure herself, but then an idea struck her. “What about the meditation chamber?”
“I believe I see what you intend,” the Oracle nodded. “The same can be achieved here in my own meditation chamber with the proper spell.” He turned to Jacob. “What Will is suggesting is that you view their memories of their time as Guardians, to gain a better understanding of their duties and the decisions that led them to success time and again.”
Despite himself, Jacob was intrigued. He wasn’t sure he wanted a front row seat for Cornelia throwing herself into danger over and over again, but it still sounded interesting, not unlike some of the memory retrieval tech that SG1 brought back from one of their missions. “Okay. I’d be interested to see this.”
It was quickly enough arranged. The Oracle led the way to his meditation chamber and made the necessary preparations for the spell. Sharing memories could be a tricky business, especially when there were more than two people involved.
Cornelia had offered to show her uncle her perspective on the Guardians’ lives, but the Oracle had told them that the Heart of Kandrakar was required for the spell, so Will, as keeper of the Heart, stepped in, after assuring Cornelia that certain things would be left out. No mention of Lillian or the Regents would be made. No mention of the Hearts would be made at all. Most of Blunk’s exploits were left out or edited. It was decided that the Air Force sergeant didn’t need to know about the Tonga tooth amulet in the Passling’s possession. Finally, they were ready.
The chamber itself was a simple room. The circular space held no furniture or ornaments of any sort. There was, however, a crystal floating at the center of the chamber, inside a glowing circle that took up roughly half the floor space. Will and Jacob took positions on opposite sides of the crystal as the Oracle cast his spell.
Jacob found himself in a misty void. The lack of solid ground didn’t seem to disturb him or Will, the only other person present. “This is weird,” he commented, looking around.
“For me, too,” Will nodded, “but I don’t find it disturbing for some reason.” She frowned and thought about it for a moment. Shaking her head and dismissing it, she decided they should get started. “Let’s start at the beginning.” She concentrated, just as the Oracle had instructed, and found the void filling with images. “I guess I should start with a bit of background.” Five images formed in front of them. “These are the previous Guardians,” she began.
Over the next two hours, Will took him on a guided tour of some of her memories. Images formed, vanished and reformed around them, and each one had an effect on Jacob. He saw the first encounter with Cedric and the rigorous training they put themselves through from that point on. A feeling of pride swept over him as he watched them dedicate themselves to being prepared for such encounters in the future. The training paid off. They threw themselves into one dangerous situation after another, but never without good cause, and it quickly became obvious that they did not consider it a game or an adventure.
Will provided a narrative for each incident; the rescue of Caleb, the various battles with Cedric and the guards, the encounter with the mogrifs and the mudslugs. He shuddered at the last one, not sure what kind of conventional ordinance it would take to kill such a beast. With each scene, he felt his pride in his niece grow and his convictions waver. He had to admit their strategies for rescuing Elyon’s parents and the rebels were very well thought out. Their sneak attack on the castle was nothing short of inspired. With each scene, his determination waned, and he briefly wondered at that. It was still hard watching the children in danger, but there was a growing feeling that he wasn’t looking at children, but at warriors who had earned their place in the fight.
It was a gradual process, but by the time Nerissa was defeated, he had reached a decision that ran directly counter to his convictions only two hours before. It wasn’t really clear to him why he had arrived at the decision he had, but a quiet voice in his mind assured him that the girls had earned the right to make their own decisions. They weren’t kids anymore, not in that respect. The decision not to interfere ate at him, but the memory of their victories and the maturity they’d demonstrated came to mind, and he felt reassured.
Neither one of them noticed the Oracle had joined them at some point. Each time Jacob had an emotional response to what he was seeing, the Oracle’s brow would crease in concentration, and a favorable response was forthcoming. Whenever Jacob questioned his change of heart, the Oracle would whisper softly, and the doubts would vanish.
“I’m never going to stop worrying about you,” he told Cornelia, “but I think you’ve earned the right to make a few decisions on your own.” The girls stared at him, barely believing what they were hearing. “I know,” he nodded. “It surprises me, too. I’ll keep your secret…for now, but I expect to be kept up to date. If something happens that directly threatens Earth again, like that Cedric thing, I expect you to call for help.” They hesitated over this. “If this all comes out, I’ll do what I can to help, but it won’t matter if you get yourselves killed fighting some giant monster or an army of monsters.” The girls nodded their agreement, and the Oracle agreed to his terms as well.
“I think it’s time we get back,” he said after securing their promises. “Your mom will be wondering where we got to,” he glanced at Cornelia. The girls nodded and said their farewells to the Council. Will opened a fold back to Heatherfield and led them through it.
Luba approached the Oracle after the fold had closed. “The Guardians will not be happy if they learn that Jacob Walters’ decisions were not wholly his own.”
“I am aware,” the Oracle nodded. “This needed to be done, though.” At his old friend’s questioning look, he explained. “There are difficult times ahead, Luba. I have foreseen the approach of a darkness, unlike any we have faced before. The trials the Guardians will endure will push them to their limits, and to survive, let alone succeed, they must be…unencumbered.”
“I understand,” Luba nodded, knowing from long experience that the Oracle knew best and would only reveal more as he saw fit. “What can we do to prepare for this darkness?”
“Be vigilant, as always. The Guardians will need our support more than ever.”