Changing of the Guard 5: Terms of Engagement
Ecolea


Author: Ecolea
Title: Changing of the Guard 5: Terms of Engagement
Email: ecolea@wt.net
Website: http://web.wt.net/~ecolea/EclecticReadingRoom/index.html
Rating: PG-13
Status: Complete
Spoilers: Nothing is sacred.
Keywords: Highlander: The Series, Stargate SG-1, Crossover, AU,
General Fiction, Action/Adventure
Characters: HL: M  SG-1: JO, DJ, SC, T, GH, Special Guest Stars,
various and sundry original characters.
Sequel: Fifth in series.
Feedback: Comments, flames, superfluous remarks and vicious character
assassination may be cheerfully sent to: ecolea@wt.net

Author's note: This is the fifth volume in an ongoing series. Each
story can stand on its own, but for those of you who'd like to read
the previous books (highly recommended), they can be found at my web
site, http://web.wt.net/~ecolea/EclecticReadingRoom/index.htm, or at
any of the archives mentioned below.

Archivists: Already sent to 7th Dimension (www.seventh-dimension.org)
and will be sent to Heliopolis (http://www.sg1-heliopolis.de/) when it
reopens for submissions at the end of June. I also post to the News
Group alt.highlander.creative, which can be accessed through Google or
your newsreader. Anyone else, please contact me for the appropriate
url to link to my site, or feel free to put it up on yours if you
like!

Disclaimer: Okay, so a few of the characters in this story actually
belong to me, but I'm still not making any money off the others. But
please, go ahead and sue me anyway. If fact, I'll make you a deal. You
help me gain fame and notoriety -- and I'll help your lawyers spend
all that retainer money!

Summary: Methos and O'Neill attend an intergalactic conference. When
trouble happens, as usual, they're in the middle of it. Is nothing
ever as it seems?

Note to canon junkies: This is a crossover and an alternative universe
tale of derring-do. It's a good bet you'll find something to get
annoyed over.

Personal note: Many thanks to Arameth for diabolical and fiendish
torment of the author, guidance and without whom none of this would be
possible. To His Gracefulness Charles, for flying to the rescue and
shattering delusions of grandeur -- in places where others fear to
tread. To Athers, First Beta of The Apocalypse, for helping make all
this possible. And last, but not least, many, many thanks to my hero,
Captain Average, for beta above and beyond the call.

In Memoriam: General George S. Patton (aka Paddywackers) Age 27,
Feline, Male, Black, sadly neutered. Rest peacefully, sweet cat. And
for Mau, sorely missed. Everyone ought to have a curmudgeon.




Prologue

Somewhere in Scotland...

The weather was cold and damp, but Jack O'Neill wasn't complaining,
not when he was sitting in an old weather-worn deck chair on the shore
of a beautiful loch with a fishing rod in his hands. Nearby, someone
quietly hummed a tune, but O'Neill didn't bother to turn his head.

Methos was good company for fishing trips, Jack decided. The Immortal
had brought along a small collection of rather eclectic music, a large
stack of books to read and an even larger journal in which to write.
And once he got involved in any of these pursuits Jack heard nary a
peep out of him. Which was a good thing, because he'd been worried.
Methos could, and would, offer up an opinion on anything and
everything.

Not that he minded -- most of the time anyway. But fishing was about
silence, pure and simple. And the opportunity not to think,
not to comment, and especially not to care about
anything -- not even the fish. Instinctively, Methos seemed to
understand this need. Right now, the ancient Immortal was sitting on a
rock ignoring the fine mist of rain as he listened to his music,
staring at the distant horizon as if his mind and memories were
reliving another time and place.

Jack felt a slight tug on the rod and lowered his eyes from the
horizon. The line bobbed, making ripples around it and he smiled with
satisfaction as he reeled it in. A short time later he added another
good-sized lake trout to the bucket near his feet. It just didn't get
any better than this.

He baited the hook again and tossed his line in, sighing as he settled
back to wait for the fish to come to him. From behind, he heard the
soft sound of Methos gently humming then suddenly felt a familiar
tingling sensation against his skin that presaged another visit to an
Asgard ship.

"Ah... Pierson?"

The world shifted suddenly beneath his feet and O'Neill fell backward,
landing with a loud, "Oomph!" as he connected with the deck. He heard
a gasp from behind and turned to see Methos wearing a panicked
expression as he leapt to his feet.

"Whoa! Relax," he told the Immortal, who was staring wildly around the
room. "There's only one guy who ever just shows up and sweeps me off
my feet." Jack turned to see the small gray alien sitting in his
command chair and smiled. "How ya doin', Thor? You here for the
fishin', good buddy?"



Chapter 1

"Greetings, O'Neill. Methos," Thor inclined his head.

The ancient Immortal raised an eyebrow as Jack got to his feet. "You
seem to be well informed," he said coolly, despite the fact that part
of him was desperately trying not to stare at the odd little alien.

"You do not remember," the Asgard supreme commander intoned. "But then
I should not be surprised. You were perhaps," he raised a hand to his
shoulder, "just so tall when you and your father visited our world."

"Just so...?" O'Neill shot Methos a glance and a wide grin. "I figure
about two or three. How 'bout you, Pierson?"

Methos narrowed his eyes, but refused to be baited. O'Neill might know
this creature, but he didn't -- no matter what claims it made. And
with his sword back at the lodge he felt distinctly uncomfortable in
these unfamiliar surroundings. He knew he shouldn’t have left it
behind, even if Jack insisted his zat gun was more than enough
protection should a stray Immortal wander by.

"Nothing jumps out. Sorry."

"So," O'Neill said, trying to lighten the mood as he approached the
Asgard commander. "This a friendly visit, or did you need to see me
about something?"

"It is both, O'Neill. For nearly fifty thousand of your years the
Asgard have served as the guardians of those worlds deemed in need of
protection in this galaxy. Since the formation of the Alliance of the
four great races. Which, as you know, are comprised of the Asgard, the
Nox, the Furlings and the Ancients, every thousand years we hold what
you would term a conference to assess the progress of these worlds. We
formally register those which must be added to the list, and discuss
which worlds may remain within or be released from protective status."

"Sounds...fascinating," O'Neill nodded politely.

"Yes. It is most fascinating," Thor agreed.

"Great! I'll just give Daniel a call. He loves this sort of thing."

"There is more, O'Neill."

"More," he sighed resignedly.

"With Inanna now dead, there is only one representative of the
Ancients currently available to attend. You--"

Methos' eyes went wide as he vigorously shook his head mouthing the
word "No!" The Asgard paused and O'Neill followed Thor's gaze,
looking behind him, but Methos had stopped the motion already.

"Congratulations, Pierson. Looks like you're gonna miss out on some
pretty good fishing."

"Actually, O'Neill," Thor explained. "We require both your presence. A
delegate from Earth as well as one from the Ancients."

Which one was which, Methos thought with an inward sigh of relief, the
alien thankfully didn't mention.

"It is believed Earth may benefit by such an exchange," Thor
continued. "The conference is also used by many attendees to form
trade alliances with other races of similar technological status."

"Great," O'Neill pasted a smile on his face. "Thanks, buddy. I can't
tell you how much I'm looking forward to this."

"You are welcome," the Asgard nodded. "You may use the console to your
left to contact your superiors and inform them of the circumstances.
In the meantime," he shifted his gaze across the room. "Methos and I
will get acquainted."

**********

"Would you care to explain your actions?" Thor quietly asked as Methos
joined him.

The Immortal frowned dangerously. "You're assuming quite a lot here.
O'Neill may know you and trust you, but I don't. You could be anyone
at all, making claims of which I have no memory and of which you have
no proof."

"You require reassurance," Thor nodded. "Will an image of yourself and
Tok'ra from our archives be suitable?"

Methos swallowed hard. What memories he had of Tok'ra were hazy. Would
he even recognize the man? "It would certainly be a start," he said
calmly.

The Asgard waved his hand in a complex series of motions over the
armrest of his chair and a small holographic image appeared. "This is
from my personal collection."

Methos stared dumbstruck at the image hanging in the air before him.
The man, Tok'ra indeed, he was sure of it, was tall and dark of hair
with kindly blue eyes that seemed to say a thousand things. Beside him
stood an Asgard, perhaps Thor himself or one of his ancestors, while a
few feet away sat a small boy, whom they were both watching. He began
to reach out a hand toward the image then lowered it self-consciously.

"I have no memory of this," he said quietly. "But it is him."

"Then you believe me."

Methos nodded shortly. "Enough to listen," he responded, dragging his
eyes away from the image which quickly faded.

"Then tell me why you have not seen fit to inform O'Neill of the
changes made to his DNA? When we scanned for him there were
alterations at the molecular level that cannot have been achieved by
this world's current technology."

"No," Methos sighed. "Tok'ra made the changes himself." If Thor had
had eyebrows or hair they would have been welded together, the
Immortal thought. "It's a long and complicated story, but it's true.
And the reason why I haven't told him is simple. He doesn't need to
know. Not yet, anyway."

The alien looked doubtful and Methos frowned. "Look, I've seen
what happens to people when their lives are suddenly disrupted by this
kind of knowledge. It's painful at best, horrific at worst. It can
take years to recover whatever emotional equilibrium they had. Jack
doesn't need that right now. His plate is full, but not overflowing.
The truth would simply make his life even more complicated."

Thor seemed to consider his words carefully. "I believe I understand,"
he finally nodded. "Then it is a wise decision, Methos."

"Not wise," he snorted. "Selfish. I like Jack just the way he is and
I'm not ready to give that up yet."

Thor cocked his head. "And if he discovers the truth on his own?
O'Neill is not a man who enjoys being surprised."

Methos gave a little shrug. "He'll either understand my choice or he
won't. In the meantime, I will do my best to see he isn't surprised.
Luckily, he is not like me, or I would have no choice."

"Ah, yes," Thor nodded. "The Game."

Methos lips thinned with a hint of anger. "What do you know about it?"
he asked with distaste. "You sit here watching. Observe and record. I
know the drill. Which reminds me," he added, "I want my sword."

"You will not require it," Thor told him calmly.

"That isn't the point," Methos responded sharply. "We both know
Ancients have bred Immortals across the galaxy since they evolved. I
will not take the chance that there are others I might run into who
are as misguided as my own brethren are on this planet. So you will
get me my sword or I will convince O'Neill that this conference is a
bad idea and you will have no representatives to show for your
trouble."

Thor seemed taken aback. "You would set your own survival above the
common needs and goals of your world?"

Methos let his eyes go cold. "I would set my survival above the needs
and goals of any world." He shook his head slowly. "Make no mistake,
Thor. I am not the sweet child whose image you may harbor. He's been
dead a very long time. Now, if you please, my sword."

The Asgard inclined his head, again making a small gesture over his
chair arm. "As you wish," he assented and the weapon appeared, stacked
with a few other things, namely extra clothes and uniforms. "And I
believe I now understand why O'Neill was chosen. His balance may be
exactly what you need."

"Perhaps," Methos replied laconically as he crossed his arms and
relaxed his stance. "Or maybe I simply ascribe to the ages old
philosophy of getting one's bluff in early. Generally saves trouble in
the long run. Wouldn't you agree?"

At that Thor smiled. "Yes," he nodded. "I too have had occasion to
apply this philosophy."

"You two kids gettin' along?" O'Neill asked as he rejoined them.

"Just chatting," Methos told him blandly.

O'Neill glanced at the pile of personal gear he'd asked for and
noticed the sword.

"Play nice, Pierson. Thor's a friend."

"Of my father," he smiled affably. "Or so I've been led to believe."

"Knew Tok'ra, did you?" O'Neill looked to Thor.

"You could say he was something of a mentor to me," the alien agreed.
"For thousands of years the Asgard have passed down their knowledge
genetically."

"Yeah, I can see him being into that whole mentor thing."

A pair of Asgard crewmen suddenly entered and O'Neill straightened.
Thor nodded to the pile and the crewmen came forward to gather up
their things while Methos hurriedly reacquired his sword.

"We shall reach Lakwasa within the hour," Thor explained. "You will no
doubt wish to change into more suitable clothes prior to our arrival.
My crew will escort you to an appropriate location. Have you any
questions?"

"What's Lakwasa?" Jack asked.

"The home world of the Lakwasians," Thor replied blandly.

"I knew that," Jack grinned. "And when we get there? What happens?"

"There will be a reception this evening followed by two days of
discussion and a final vote. In the meantime, you will have an
opportunity to study the conference materials which will be made
available to you once we arrive."

"Oh, goody," Jack muttered. "I was worried about getting bored."



Chapter 2

"This is...charming," O'Neill gazed curiously around the nearly empty
room. "And very...pink."

A tall, thin Lakwasian -- also very pink -- chattered something back
at him and O'Neill merely stared. Then the Lakwasian made a move to
touch his face and O'Neill backed away. "What the--?"

"Relax, Jack," Methos said as the door opened behind him. "He's just
trying to help."

The Immortal bowed to the Lakwasian then said something unintelligible
in the alien's own tongue. At that, the Lakwasian seemed to smile,
although with so many razor sharp teeth in its mouth the expression
was mildly disturbing. He handed something to Methos and departed,
leaving the two humans alone.

"I knew you'd have a problem," Methos sighed. "Just stand still a
minute, okay?"

O'Neill raised an eyebrow as Methos reached out a hand and touched him
gently behind the ear. He felt a tiny pinch and pulled away, rubbing
the spot and frowning.

"You wanna explain that, Pierson?"

"It's called a language enabler," the Immortal grinned. "Sort of a
biochemical universal translator chip. Incredible, huh?"

"Uh, yeah," O'Neill shrugged, rubbing the back of his ear. "How does
it work?"

"It's working now," Methos told him moving toward a control pedestal -
- the only furniture in the place. "We're having this conversation in
Chinese."

"Cool," O'Neill looked impressed. "We get to keep 'em?"

Methos gave him a slight smile. "I'll see what I can do. Amanda isn't
the only one with highly specialized fine motor skills."

"Never mind, Light Fingers Louie," Jack held up a hand. "It's probably
Asgard. We don't snitch stuff from our friends."

"Your whim is my command, Boss. Now, come here. I want to show you how
this thing works."

O'Neill stepped over to the pedestal and watched as Pierson touched a
few colored squares and furniture began appearing out of the floors
and walls.

"See here," Methos told him as the furniture started to shift around
the room. "You can even rearrange everything to your personal
preferences."

"Barbie's Dream House," O'Neill winced at the neon color scheme and
grimaced. "Sweet."

"Don't knock it, Jack. This'd make great student housing."

"Yeah, for the bubble gum set."

Methos sighed and went to find a seat. "Out with it, Jack. What's
really bothering you -- other than the decor?"

O'Neill frowned, pacing over to a window to stare out at the cityscape
below. "It's this whole Ambassador of Earth thing. I really hate this
stuff. I never know what to say."

Methos nodded gravely, giving an inward shout of joy. "Then don't be
the Ambassador from Earth," he said quite seriously.

"Tried that already. When Thor speaks everybody listens. He wants me
as Ambassador, he gets me."

"Yes, but he can't argue if I deputize you as the Ambassador of the
Ancients and vice versa. We simply switch places."

"And what good will that do?" O'Neill demanded.

"Because from what I've heard the Ambassador of the Ancients doesn't
really need to do anything. He just sits there, looking all profoundly
wise and incredibly interested while everyone else speaks. And
frankly," Methos added the cincher. "When it comes down to who gets to
have a say in the Lollipop League I'd rather you have the deciding
vote, not me."

"How's that?" Jack asked curiously.

"Look, I'm an Immortal, not an Ancient. We're related, yes, but only
because a small portion of their energy is spun off for us to be
created. I'm the next best choice, I suppose. Tok'ra's adopted heir.
And you know how I feel about all that nonsense."

He paused to see how Jack was taking it. The colonel looked
interested, but not quite sold on the idea.

"And I do understand the needs of Earth. Not as well as you, I'm sure,
but well enough to speak to her current needs if required. More
importantly, as Ambassador for the Ancients you can look at the bigger
picture and see how the Goa'uld will view any changes the Alliance
decides to make. You've been at this quite a bit longer than I have
and are certainly more qualified to make judgment calls in that
regard."

O'Neill nodded thoughtfully. "Given a choice, you're right. I'd rather
be in on the big decisions. But they'll never go for it."

Methos smiled coyly. "Trust me, Jack. They'll never even notice."

"Y' think?"

"Well, not publicly," Methos amended, throwing out his final card.
"Remember, they're old races. Bound up in tradition. It wouldn't be
polite to comment on whether either of us has the right to sit in
whichever seat we've chosen. Especially if neither of us is
complaining. Besides, they figure I'm an Ancient, so it's expected for
me to be eccentric."

"Eccentric?" O'Neill repeated, slightly confused. "Just
how eccentric?"

"Brilliant as they were," Methos explained, "wise as they were. Almost
an entire race of beings decided to shed their earthly forms and
become one with the cosmos. That's definitely a bit out there, don't
you agree?"

"Well, yeah. Maybe," O'Neill shrugged. "Definitely gives a whole new
meaning to the term group rate."

"And then there's Tok'ra. My father. Decides to throw treaties
and agreements out the window and fight a guerrilla war to save the
universe. I seriously doubt they've gotten over the shock yet. They'll
expect pretty much anything from me."

O'Neill frowned, squinting narrowly at the Immortal. "I suppose, in
some weird-ass way, that all makes sense, Pierson."

"So we switch?" he asked hopefully.

"Sure," O'Neill finally sighed. "Why not. If anybody says anything we
can always say we mixed up the sashes."

**********

Methos looked bored as O'Neill strolled around him, inspecting his
uniform to make sure everything was in place. He glanced down at
himself and sighed. He'd always thought he looked good in white, but
this was a little much. The only other color was the thin slash of
medals at his breast and the green and gold sash Jack was now
adjusting. Of course, Special Uniform Ambassadorial Whites did offer
one interesting perk. He could wear his sword openly as part of the
uniform. Which was actually rather nice if he thought about it. That
hadn't been an option in polite society for a very long time.

"Stop fidgeting," Jack muttered. "It's unbecoming."

"Sorry, Mom," Methos rolled his eyes and Jack stared him down. "Okay,
okay. I'll try not to."

"Just remember, son, you're representing your entire world and that's
a mighty tall order. The impression you give is the one they'll
associate with every citizen of Earth. So I know you'll do your best."

Methos' brows rose. "You do a very good Hammond," he nodded
appreciatively.

"He does it better," Jack responded, adjusting his own sash -- this
one in scarlet and gold. "But the sentiment still holds. And I'd hate
to disappoint him."

"I will do my best," Methos gave a little half bow.

Beside him, O'Neill took a deep breath, tightened his gloves and put
on his hat. "Okay. Let's do it."

"Relax," Methos smirked as they stepped to the door and it slid open.
"We're not going into battle. It's just a party. Linorac, our
Lakwasian liaison, told me at least one of the Alliance members hadn't
even arrived yet, and the Asgard rep never even attends. Apparently,
it's mostly for us less advanced members of the Protectorate. More of
a trade meeting at this point than anything to do with politics."

O'Neill nodded tightly and Methos gave up as they followed Linorac
down the corridor to a set of rings. They "arrived" several levels up,
and in mid air, if what they saw was to be believed. They braced to
fall despite the fact that there were quite a few people wandering
around the floating tables or sitting in seemingly airborne chairs.

"Now this is what I call an outdoor function," Methos swallowed hard,
staring down at the clouds below his feet once he could breath.

"Yeah," Jack choked, slowly inching forward. "I think we'll take a
pass on this technology."

"You'll get no argument from me."

It took more than a bit of faith and courage to leave the perceived
safety of the rings, but they managed, mostly by following in the
confident stride of their liaison. A short time later they were both
feeling a lot more comfortable, having learned to not look down, but
to focus on their immediate surroundings. It had been a shock, but
every so often the outer shell of the transparent pavilion would glow
brightly with vividly colored scenes and images. Not only to help
define the actual space, but also entertaining the delegates.

"Welcome, Ambassador O'Neill," a soft feminine voice said from behind.

The colonel turned and Methos thought he looked relieved. "Lya," he
smiled brightly, "always a pleasure to see you."

The representative of the Nox inclined her head. "And this would be
Ambassador Methos," she smiled.

"An honor," the Immortal said, bowing politely to the woman, who
reminded him of something out of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's
Dream; a veritable woodland nymph in her flowing robes and bird's nest
hairstyle.

"We had not realized that the Ancients had chosen to renew their
presence on this plain of existence," Lya began as they walked slowly
around the pavilion.

"It was Tok'ra's decision," Methos explained enigmatically as Lya
raised an eyebrow. Her statement had been directed at Jack and Methos'
response was no doubt puzzling.

"Would the representative from..." she glanced at the identifying
sigils on the sashes provided by their hosts, "...Earth care to meet a
few of the delegates currently open to trade negotiations?" she
inquired politely.

Methos looked to Jack, not quite willing to leave him alone, but
seeing no help for it if Lya was going to insist on questioning him.
The colonel gave a slight nod.

"You two kids have fun," O'Neill told them. "I'll just...mingle."

As O'Neill wandered off, Methos, not quite sure of the etiquette
involved, offered the lady his arm. She seemed surprised, but took it
nonetheless and they continued walking.

"You will forgive me," Lya began again, "if I seem perplexed by
Tok'ra's choice. I have the greatest respect for Colonel O'Neill, yet
he is young and immature. A far cry from the wisdom you yourself might
bring to our alliance."

"What an interesting statement," Methos mused as they paused to view a
passing flock of green and orange avian creatures. "You equate great
age with great wisdom. Odd, I have often found the opposite to be
true. I believe Colonel O'Neill can offer far more to this alliance of
yours than I ever could."

"You do yourself a disservice," Lya gently protested.

"Do I?" he smiled coldly. "O'Neill is far more likely to be concerned
for you and yours than I am. He would trouble over betraying you. I
would not suffer so much as a pang of conscience." He watched as her
eyes widened, satisfied with her reaction. "It is you who do O'Neill a
disservice when you assume his relative youth and inexperience are a
drawback. He has passion. I have none. He has dreams. I lost mine ages
ago. He has the urge to protect and defend the welfare of others. Mine
is to cut and run. He would give his life for yours. I'd stand back
and watch you die if it meant my survival. Believe me, Lya, you are
far better served by O'Neill's youthful idealism than by my
millennia of cynicism and self-interest."

She raised her chin in seeming defiance of his words. "You seek to
distress me. Why?"

"There is a reason Tok'ra chose O'Neill. Would it not be wiser to
think on that, putting aside your prejudices, than on what you
perceive to be the end result of his choice?"

"I shall," she agreed thoughtfully. "Now, perhaps you would care to
meet the delegation from Gallisia. I am told their world is quite
similar to your own."



Chapter 3

"Well, that was... A pointless exercise in futility," O'Neill sighed
as he stripped off his jacket a few hours later when they'd returned
to their rooms.

"Maybe not," Methos disagreed, removing his sword. "While you were
wandering about making small talk with beings of indeterminate
species, I chatted up the very human representative from Gallisia."

"Where's that?" O'Neill asked curiously.

"Somewhere at the other end of the Milky Way Galaxy, or so I gather,"
he responded sitting on the edge of a divan. "What does it matter
anyway? They've got a gate and," he added with a sly grin, "they have
faster than light space ships."

Now the colonel looked very interested. "Weapons technology?"

Methos smiled widely. "Maybe a century ahead of us, but accessible."

"Only a century?" O'Neill repeated. "And they've got warp speed? How
does that happen?"

Methos shrugged. "Apparently they had some sort of breakthrough
recently. According to Hoshmid, the Gallisian ambassador, they've had
space flight for at least two centuries. Mostly limited to their own
solar system, but they've recently developed some new technologies
through interaction with other planets."

"Sounds vaguely familiar," O'Neill commented sardonically. "Any
trouble with the Goa'uld?"

"None," Methos sighed. "Apparently, they only recently discovered
their Stargate. No one knows who actually colonized the planet, but
it's been protected ever since. Some sort of weird experiment from the
sound of things."

O'Neill looked puzzled.

"The original settlers were a mixture of different cultures, not just
one," Methos explained. "A kind of smorgasbord of humanity. Perhaps an
attempt to recreate the exact conditions on Earth," he shrugged. "As a
consequence, the Gallisians are a multicultural, multiethnic and
vaguely religious people. God is an asexual amorphous entity that
takes nothing, gives nothing and might not even exist. They're not at
war with each other, or the half dozen worlds with which they
currently have trade relations. Their government's elected, they
encourage the arts, and they have a highly advanced medical
community."

"Sounds too good to be true," O'Neill frowned.

"Or," Methos pointed out. "It could be exactly what it seems. Earth
without the antagonism created by millennia of war. I've always
wondered what would happen if you just took a group of people from
every area of the world and all walks of life then put them someplace
they'd have to work together to survive. Seems to me," he added, "if
this was an experiment, it turned out rather well."

O'Neill nodded slowly. "Maybe," he shrugged. "Anyway, it's worth
checking out. Think they might be interested in opening a dialogue?"

Methos grinned as he rose to leave. "Ambassador Hoshmid said they'd be
happy to discuss a trade relationship."

At that Jack smiled warmly. "Nice work, Pierson."

"All part of the service," Methos yawned, heading for the door.

"Get some sleep," O'Neill called after him. "We'll meet first thing
tomorrow to discuss strategy."

Methos waved his agreement and the doors slid shut behind him. O'Neill
sighed tiredly, staring balefully at the incredibly pink surroundings.

"Could be worse," he muttered, shaking his head as he went to retrieve
the volume of conference materials their hosts had provided. "You
could be sleeping in the clouds, rather than under them."

With an internal shrug he found a comfortable place in a corner chair
and started leafing through the book, absently humming the theme song
for the Barbie commercials.

**********

Thankfully, the conference center was located firmly on the ground.
Standing at the entryway, Methos and O'Neill gazed up at the ceiling
of the moderately spacious auditorium captivated by the light show
above -- an ever-changing display of the universe in all its glorious
parts. Exploding stars, far-reaching nebulae and galaxies of infinite
variety and color filled the indoor sky.

"Neat," O'Neill commented as they waited with the other delegates for
one of the Lakwasians to guide them to their seats.

"Colonel O'Neill!"

Jack turned to find another familiar face coming towards him.

"Narim," he greeted the newcomer politely. "Fancy meeting you here."

The tall, dark-haired man smiled courteously. "I am equally surprised
to see you as well. Is Major Carter with you?"

Methos raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing. He'd read about
the handful of Tolan who'd been rescued by SG-1 and subsequently aided
in rejoining their people on a New Tolana after their original home
world had been destroyed. This man had been among those listed in the
report and had, according to Daniel, struck up a friendship with
Samantha Carter. For whom he apparently had deep feelings, at least
from what Methos now observed.

"Ah...no," Jack explained. "Carter couldn't make it this time."

"I am sorry to here that," Narim looked disappointed. "Nevertheless, I
am pleased that Earth will be..." He trailed off in shock as he caught
sight of the sigil hanging from the sash across O'Neill's chest. "You
are not the representative from Earth?"

"No," Methos stepped forward. "I am."

Narim stared at them in confusion then O'Neill took pity on the other
man and introduced his companion.

"This is Captain Pierson," he said looking to Methos. "Pierson, I'd
like you to meet our good friend Narim. I'm not sure what he does when
he's at home, but I'd guess he's here as a representative of the Tolan
people."

"Observer," Narim corrected. "Tolana is an independent world, long
past any need for protectorate status. Still, our people have an
interest in such gatherings and I will be reporting back to the
Curia."

"I thought your people were isolationists," Methos commented and Narim
nodded.

"With good reason," he replied calmly. "Tolan history is not something
we have had much chance to discuss, but once, many centuries ago,
Tolana, like Earth, was a protected planet. At the last meeting of the
Alliance Council that protected status was removed along with that of
several other planets. Worlds, which had, in the intervening
centuries, obtained faster than light travel. At the time, the Tolan
people were in contact with one of those worlds -- a planet well
within the Goa'uld sphere of influence. We were of a similar nature.
Both peaceful, stable societies that shared equivalent technologies.
In time, we developed a strong friendship with their world and it was
from the Z'omar that we discovered the network of Stargates. With
their help we recovered our Stargate. Then, one day, not long after
both our worlds lost protectorate status, the Goa'uld attacked and
destroyed Z'omar."

"But why?" Methos asked.

"We do not know. It was as if one day they were there and then they
were not. The few survivors who escaped to Tolana had no explanation
for the attack. But from that single event the Tolan began to develop
the defensive strategies we have today. But tell me," he finally asked
O'Neill. "How is it that you are speaking for the Ancients? I had
always believed you were entirely human."

"Oh, Jack's still human," Methos hurriedly interjected. "He just has
the most gray hair."

O'Neill frowned. "You know, I could say rude things about guys who are
older than dirt. Some of whom have all the maturity of a preadolescent
computer nerd -- but I won't."

Narim ignored the odd comment and turned to Methos. "I am not sure I
understand."

"That's all right," the Immortal smiled amiably. "Means there's so
much more to learn."

"But..." Narim went on. "Despite the fact that Colonel O'Neill has
introduced you as Captain Pierson, are you not also Methos? The one
whom the Tok'ra praise as the hero of--"

"No!" Methos snapped angrily. "I am not the hero of
Annu'tak'ra. I was just a bloody aide still wet behind the ears! And
the Tok'ra have annoyingly big mouths."

"Forgive me," Narim responded diplomatically. "But they do speak well
of you, Methos. When the Curia was informed that a new representative
for the Ancients had been chosen, they naturally assumed it was you."

"It is him," O'Neill murmured quietly. "It's just... Pierson doesn't
like all that hullabaloo and hero worship stuff. So... I'm just
filling in."

"And this is allowed?" Narim asked, appearing somewhat shocked and
obviously uninformed as to the true identity of the Ancient actually
assigned to the Alliance Council.

O'Neill shrugged. "Well... Nobody's said anything so far."

"Forgive me, Colonel," the Tolan said stiffly. "But you are not
qualified to speak for the Ancients. You may speak to matters
regarding Earth, but you have not the wisdom to decide matters beyond
your comprehension."

The Tolan hurriedly excused himself and Jack looked worriedly to
Methos. "Sorry," he said, reaching to remove the Sigil of the
Ancients. "But I think this plan has had it. He'll run straight to
Thor, or maybe Lya. They'll have to take notice then."

"No, they won't," Methos insisted, lightly resting a hand on his arm.
"It's my choice. And I can do just as I like. If they won't let you
speak for the Ancients, I'll walk."

It was a lie coupled with an empty threat, but Methos watched the
colonel closely until the other man finally nodded.

"Okay," he said, lowering his hand and leaving the sigil in place.
"We'll let it ride and see how things go. But if they do make us
switch we are not leaving. Understood? I want at least one of
us on that council when the time comes to vote."

"Yes, sir," Methos nodded, heaving a silent sigh of relief as a
Lakwasian finally approached with an offer to lead them to their
seats.



Chapter 4

Nothing was said of course, and Methos watched Narim as he took his
place in the observers' gallery a short time later. The other man
looked faintly stunned as he stared down at O'Neill, now sitting at
the center of the council table, blithely ignorant of his new place in
the universe. Of all the great races in the Alliance the Ancients were
by far the oldest. Which in turn gave their words more weight, power
and respect among not only the other members, but also all the worlds
within their jurisdiction. For any other man -- even he, Methos
silently admitted -- such a role might be too heady. Too
overwhelmingly tempting to play god and lose sight of the Alliance's
goals. But Jack had an inner core of moral strength, which held that
responsibility, accountability and fair play were virtues that could
not, and should not be denied. In that way, he was more
Tok'ra's heir than ever Methos had been in all his long life.

And it wasn't, Methos realized, that Jack was any more or less moral
than say, MacLeod. But that O'Neill did not allow personal honor to
interfere in making the ugly and sometimes amoral choices, war often
necessitated. O'Neill somehow knew, instinctively, that one man's
morality was often the cost of the enemy's defeat. And if honor
suffered for the welfare of the greater good then so be it. This was
something Jack understood implicitly and accepted as the price being
who and what he was.

The great hall settled into silence as the last of the council members
arrived. When Thor gave the opening statement, no doubt in deference
to Jack's inexperience with such things, Methos grew thoughtful.
During the night, he had requested and received the records of the
last dozen or so council meetings. He had recently begun to wonder
just how much the rest of the Alliance had known of Inanna's treachery
in regards to Tok'ra. Enough to at least be suspicious of her, he
guessed, given that, unlike her late husband, and now Jack, Inanna had
never been accorded the center place at the table. And she had been a
desultory member at best -- neither caring much for either the
proceedings or the other Alliance representatives.

Not surprising, Methos thought, given the nature of the conference in
general. From what he could deduce it appeared to be more of an update
on the planets still under Alliance protection; recommendations
regarding those now deemed in need of such, and a rubber-stamping
process for those who'd achieved a measure of technological success to
be politely ushered on their way.

The first order of business was a review given by the Asgard of all
the worlds they had determined did not need to be reviewed. Those with
races that had, through natural disaster or for self-annihilation,
become extinct. And those which, given their social and technological
development were too primitive to be anywhere near ready for galactic
self-determination, were of little interest to the proceedings. For
long minutes the dome above whizzed with individual images of each of
these planetary systems until Methos looked away simply to keep from
getting dizzy. But this, of course, explained the functional, rather
than decorative nature of display above.

When the catalog of planets was complete and the council had voted to
accept Thor's recommendations, the council moved on to a more thorough
review of those worlds whose technological advancements made them
worthy of a more in-depth discussion.

Not surprisingly, there were quite a few. As part of the process, the
Asgard had assigned observers, whose job it was to evaluate each
planet's current status and potential growth. One by one these
assessments were given and as the morning droned on Jack looked
increasingly bored -- while Methos waited patiently, supposing Earth
fell into this particular category.

Eventually, and at long last if Jack's expression was anything to
judge by, the conference broke for what Thor described as a period of
contemplative sustenance. In other words, Methos thought
sardonically, lunch. Without waiting for O'Neill, Methos headed
out to catch Narim before the Tolan could emerge from the visitors'
gallery.

"You had a word with Thor, I take it?" Methos asked without preamble
as he confronted the man.

"With Lya," Narim admitted quietly. "She and the representative of the
Furlings were advised by Thor of your duplicity in regards to O'Neill
and the changes made to his cellular structure. My cooperation has
been requested."

Methos ignored the insult. "And will you cooperate?" he asked
silkily.

Narim nodded once. "I will. As will the Tolan Curia. But Methos," he
added as O'Neill approached. "I believe you underestimate the
colonel."

"Is it me," O'Neill asked as he joined them, "or is mindless blather a
universal concept?"

"It's you," Methos grinned. "I, for one," he lied happily, "found the
whole process utterly fascinating."

Jack grimaced, shaking his head in disgust. "So," he glanced nervously
at Narim. "You still pissed off at us?"

Narim frowned slightly. "If you mean, am I concerned with your ruse,
the answer to that would be no."

"Glad to hear it," Jack breathed, looking relieved. "It's not that
we're trying to pull a fast one here, it's just that..." he shrugged.

"I'm not qualified to vote on matters that might ultimately affect the
entire universe," Methos finished neatly as another of the ubiquitous
Lakwasians appeared to lead everyone to where the food was being
served.

"And you feel that Colonel O'Neill is?" Narim asked as they followed
with the rest of the delegates.

Methos glanced at Jack and smiled. "Exceptionally well qualified."

O'Neill remained silent as Narim stared at him thoughtfully.

"In matters requiring courage and honor," the Tolan finally spoke, "I
have no doubts. But there are other concerns being discussed among the
delegates."

"And?" O'Neill asked casually.

"They are concerned that an allegiance to Earth and the duties of the
Alliance are mutually exclusive. That a council member from so
primitive a world, and one that is still under protective status,
gives too much power to those who might seek to use the Alliance to
further their own goals."

"Typical political paranoia," Methos scoffed as they found places in
the banquet hall the Lakwasians had prepared. "Earth has no grand
designs on the universe and Jack is quite capable of voting
impartially on matters which do not concern Earth.

"Perhaps," Narim agreed. "But they are concerned that O'Neill, being
subordinate to others, will take direction from them."

O'Neill frowned. "I don't know about the Furlings, but Thor and Lya
are subordinate to their own governments."

"True," Narim agreed again as the Lakwasians began serving. "But those
governments are already powerful in their own right and their
altruistic nature known and accepted throughout the universe. And
while Earth has achieved much respect through her goodwill towards
others, it is still a concern among the less trusting delegates."

Methos shrugged. "Then they'll just have to wait and see that they're
wrong, won't they?"

The discussion turned to other matters while they ate. Mostly talk
about the history of the Alliance and its various members. Safe
subjects silently agreed upon.

"So, what do you know about the Gallisians?" O'Neill finally asked
when the meal was over and they were headed back to the conference
hall.

Narim shook his head. "Very little, Colonel O'Neill. Our ships have
had occasion to come into contact with them only recently. And while
the Gallisians have achieved some technological advancements in the
last century, the Curia has decided that they are not yet ready for
Tolan technology."

"Not even medical technology?" Methos asked bluntly. It had long been
a sore point for him when it came to discussing the Tolan with Daniel
that, although the Tolan were human, they refused to share even that
knowledge with those they deemed less advanced.

Narim looked sad for a moment. "Much as we would like to help every
world in need of medical knowledge, the truth is we fear even that
might cause untold grief and hardship. What would happen to a world if
we supplied such knowledge and they were incapable of sustaining the
millions or billions of inhabitants, which might otherwise have died?
Would we not then be responsible for seeing that they had the
wherewithal to survive? Such a circumstance would certainly
necessitate the giving of even more knowledge. And how much technology
is too much? It is a risk we cannot take."

"It seems you've got a hypothetical problem to answer every question,"
Methos commented.

"As long as they remain hypothetical," Narim responded almost tartly,
"the Tolan can live with that."

"Fair enough," Methos smiled amiably. "Far be it for me to criticize
those who would prefer to sit back and watch rather than get involved
and be forced to make those difficult moral choices."

Narim frowned at what sounded vaguely like an insult, while O'Neill
rolled his eyes.

"Ignore him," Jack told the Tolan. "Pierson has delusions of being an
amoral bastard."

"It's a hobby," Methos shrugged.

Narim's brow rose in consternation. "Then perhaps we should all be
grateful that O'Neill is the one to sit on the council."

"Exactly," Methos smiled broadly. "And you would do well to pass that
on."

**********

Several hours later, Methos left the conference hall somewhat
disturbed.

"You seem troubled," Lya asked as she and Jack finally joined the
Immortal.

"That last category," he responded. "Worlds whose technological
advancement has reached noteworthy levels. I'd assumed Earth would be
considered among them, but the discussion's been closed."

"Yes," Lya smiled. "Had Earth been a protected planet prior to this
meeting then certainly it would have been discussed with the others.
But Earth has only just received protective status. And while all
senior members of the Alliance may offer such status to worlds of
their choosing, it requires ratification by the full council to
complete the process."

"You mean we could lose it?" O'Neill looked ready to explode.

"That is highly unlikely," Lya gently pointed out. "It is merely a
formality. No world has ever been excluded from protection once a
treaty has been signed. And Earth has in no way violated the
agreement. Discussion and accreditation of newly protected worlds will
take place in the morning."

The colonel breathed deeply and nodded. "That's good to know."

They walked in silence for a time, heading back to their quarters,
until Methos finally spoke.

"I've been meaning to ask," he said to Lya. "Why wasn't Earth already
a protected planet? And why did it take a second attempted invasion by
the Goa'uld for the Asgard to make the offer?"

"Not all primitive planets are under Alliance protection," she
explained thoughtfully. "Only those which are considered in danger
from outside forces that would seek to destroy them before they have
reached maturity. When the Alliance was first formed in response to
the Goa'uld, Earth was already an occupied planet and could not be
offered protection. Tok'ra's attacks against their forces weakened Ra
and the other System Lords so that once Earth rebelled against their
rule they chose to leave rather than quell the uprising. With the
Goa'uld gone and your Stargate buried, there seemed no need for any
such protections."

"And Tok'ra wasn't around anymore to make the offer," O'Neill
surmised.

Lya inclined her head, allowing the possibility. "As to the second
question," she went on. "The Asgard delight in observing the growth of
many worlds, but they are also wise enough to know when not to
interfere. Apophis was only one System Lord with a small fleet whose
objective was to invade and enslave, not annihilate. The greater
System Lords did not participate, nor were they aware of his plans."

"So what?" Jack asked indignantly.

"It's like this," Methos interjected, trying to explain. "If the city
of Paris declared war on the entire country of Spain it would be up to
the French government to stop it. Not up to Spain to attack Paris
unless the French refused to curtail the locals. In this case, we're
Spain, a sovereign entity being threatened by a single element within
a larger nation."

"Just so," Lya agreed. "And the Asgard were unaware of the new danger
the Goa'uld represented, since at the last conference Earth was
classified with those whose status did not require discussion. Even
they cannot leave observers on every world that is of interest to
them."

"Right," O'Neill muttered, looking slightly chagrined.

But Methos had to smile. "A thousand years ago," he commented wryly,
"I'd have had to agree with that estimation -- if I'd even dreamed
that such things as space flight might one day exist."

Lya gave him a puzzled glance but continued. "It was only after the
Asgard became fully aware of your unique advancement that they took a
greater interest. And when the System Lords joined as one to destroy
Earth, the Asgard deemed it appropriate to intercede."

"A wise decision," Methos sighed as they reached Lya's quarters. "And
not just for our sake. It's never a good idea to let your enemies
learn how to form a united front. Gives them all sorts of dangerous
ideas."

"The Goa'uld are young," Lya said softly. "And will perhaps learn
better someday."

"The Goa'uld are predators," Methos corrected just as softly. "Lucky
for the universe they don't have a pack mentality. The Asgard are wise
to keep them from acquiring it."

Without responding Lya bowed politely, wishing the men a goodnight
before retiring.

"You'd think," O'Neill commented as they walked away. "With all that
advanced knowledge and wisdom that they'd get more savvy, not less."

Methos only shrugged. "The Nox would be a lot less complacent if they
were facing an enemy capable of penetrating all of their defenses."

"Agreed," Jack sighed. "So, you think we have anything to worry about
in the morning?"

Methos shook his head. "Nope. Sounds just like what she said. A
rubber-stamp with Approved engraved on it. Public discussions
are just a way of making everyone feel they've participated in the
decision making process. But I do think it presents a unique
opportunity."

"How's that?"

"As an inhabitant of Earth," Methos suggested slyly, "you can abstain
from voting."

Jack nodded slowly. "Then no one can accuse me of showing favoritism.
Good thinking, minion." He clapped Methos on the shoulder, smiling.
"Keep this up, Pierson, and I guarantee one day you will achieve the
coveted status of Assistant Arch Fiend."

"Give it to Daniel, the horns make my nose look big."



Chapter 5

The second day of the conference began with as little fanfare as the
first. The delegates had breakfast, or whatever passed for a morning
meal in their rooms then gathered in the great hall for the final day
of discussions.

Methos took his seat, nodding politely to some of the other
ambassadors, watching as Jack took his place. The colonel looked a lot
more comfortable this morning than he had the previous day and was
doubtless looking forward to getting back to their little fishing
expedition in Scotland. A short time later Lya entered, and in
deference to the fact that all of the planets involved in the
morning's debate had been brought to the table by the Asgard, took
charge of the meeting.

The first item up for discussion was a relatively simple affair of
extending protection to a group of colonists from an already protected
world in the same solar system. The inhabitants were as yet unaware of
the dangers represented by the Goa'uld. But a minor Goa'uld had made
tentative forays into the system --perhaps hoping to use the colony as
a foothold once the planet lost its protected status. To Methos, the
possibilities for coercion of the home world appeared enormous. The
council it seemed agreed, and the measure was passed without
objection.

Soon, two more worlds soon entered the register of protected planets
under the auspices of the Asgard and full ratification by the council.

"Our final topic for this morning's session is the world commonly
known by its inhabitants as Earth," Lya began. "Council Member O'Neill
has requested an opportunity to address this gathering prior to any
discussion." She nodded to Jack, who looked slightly flustered, as he
stood clearing his throat.

"It's like this," he told the assembly. "As all of you probably know,
I'm from Earth. And... Well, considering I helped broker the treaty
that made us a protected planet, I think, in all fairness, I should
keep my nose out of this. So, I'm going to abstain from voting on
whether or not Earth gets in." He looked to Lya, who was smiling. "If
that's okay with you folks?"

"An admirable decision," she acknowledged, as Jack returned to his
seat then began to characterize Earth's cultural and technological
status.

Methos frowned, surprised to hear Lya describe Earth as "young, but
fairly well advanced in the offensive technologies." He wondered if
she meant the Art of War, since the last three planets had been
depicted as "young, but peaceful." Culturally, she described Earth as
being "a mixture of primitive societies, with some slightly more
advanced than others." Not the most flattering description, Methos
admitted, but fairly accurate given the Nox point of view -- and
certainly better than 'mostly harmless'.

She bowed graciously to the other council members and took her seat.
"Are there any questions or concerns?" she asked, formally opening the
subject for discussion.

At her words the Furling representative rose. "I see no reason why
Earth requires protection," he announced, surprising Jack, who
suddenly paled with anger. "This world not only has a fully functional
stargate, which they utilize freely, but have a powerful ally in the
Tok'ra. Furthermore, Ambassador Methos is fully capable of supplying
any and all technological and scientific knowledge once available to
the Ancients."

Methos' hands tightened on the arms of his chair.

"The Furlings see no need to protect a planet which has more than once
successfully repelled Goa'uld invasions and has a member of its own
military sitting on the Alliance council. If the Asgard wish to offer
them protection that is their right, but we object to a world with so
many obvious advantages seeking to hide behind this Alliance."

There was a murmur from the audience at this unprecedented objection
as the Furling took his seat.

"We are fortunate that the ambassador from Earth is with us to address
this issue if he chooses," Lya said, seeming not the least bit
disturbed by the Furlings comments.

"He chooses!" Methos proclaimed as he got to his feet and moved down
to stand before the council dais. For the first time since he'd known
Jack, Methos deliberately dropped the mask of affable youth he'd worn
for the better part of two thousand years. Cool and seemingly
indifferent, he touched the Horseman within and called up the cold
master strategist, who achieved his aims regardless of the
consequences to those around him.

"What an interesting subject you bring to our attention, " he
began softly, dispassionately, allowing his wide-eyed gaze to fall on
the Furling ambassador. "Whatever advantages Earth may have in years
to come, the truth is she does not have them now. Such advantages
require resources unavailable to us at this time. Nor is Earth likely
to obtain them anytime soon, as the Asgard reports will attest. What
you suggest," his lips curved in a thin, malevolent smile, "is that
Earth be left to die. And with her, your competition on the
council."

Methos could sense the sudden tension in the room created by his
accusation, unfounded though it might be. Still, the less advanced
worlds, and those highly political in nature, seemed to fasten on his
words as the delegates grew still in their seats.

Lya's brow lowered in consternation. "Explain this charge,
Ambassador."

He gave her a tiny nod of acknowledgment and continued. "It requires
no great explanation, I think. Since the death of my father, Tok'ra,
the council has been... How shall I put it?" he smiled disingenuously.
"Docile?"

Methos crossed his arms, feigning thoughtfulness. "Inanna was...
Again, how shall I say this? Easily maneuvered? Excessively compliant?
Disinterested in having more power than she already owned? How
distressed you must all have been at the news of her demise."

The Council probably hadn't been the least bit upset and with good
reason, Methos knew, but the delegates were likely unaware of that
fact and the obvious discomfort of the council members made them seem
guilty to unsuspecting eyes.

"The charge," he finished softly, "is quite simple. That the Furlings,
perhaps even the Council itself, seeks to permanently remove the one,
true, legitimate heir, to Tok'ra's legacy through treachery and
obfuscation."

There was a gasp from the assemblage and both Lya and the Furling
looked shocked. Beside them, Thor and O'Neill sat calmly, almost as
though they'd anticipated the nature of Methos' indictment.

"What right have you to make such accusations?" the Furling
demanded. "You would sow dissent where there is none!"

"The same right as you have to accuse Earth of hiding her
capabilities from the all-seeing all-knowing eyes of the Asgard,"
Methos retorted. "Does it not seem fair to question the motives of a
council member who would, even indirectly, call the Asgard fools? And
if you wish Earth to be answerable to you then you must, by the same
principles, be answerable to Earth."

Lya sat back, nodding agreement. "The ambassador from Earth is
correct. Will the Furlings answer Earth's charge or withdraw their
objection?"

The Furling representative frowned. "The charge is ludicrous.
Responding to it would only serve Earth's purposes and not those of
the Alliance."

"If I might make a suggestion," Thor suddenly interjected to which Lya
gratefully nodded. "The Asgard alone cannot protect the universe,
which was the point of our alliance. I suggest that Earth remain under
protective status until such time as the planet meets the other
customary standard for independence. At that time, should the Furlings
wish to call a special meeting of the council to reexamine the issue,
the Asgard will not decline to attend."

Lya looked to the Furling, who nodded. "I withdraw my objection. But,"
he added, glaring at Methos. "We will be watching Earth --
closely."

"Ambassador?" Lya inquired gently.

Methos inclined his head. "Earth accepts the wise counsel of the
Asgard and looks forward to further open discussion of the
matter."

A unanimous vote was quickly taken on extending Earth's status and Lya
just as quickly called a recess to ease the heightened tension the
confrontation had created. Outside the conference hall Methos waited
for Jack, who appeared a short time later accompanied by Thor and Lya.

"A cake-walk, huh?" Methos heard O'Neill mutter.

"The Furlings are quite particular in their adherence to rules and
structure," Thor said quietly. "We had been concerned they would make
some objection to Earth's protected status."

"Which is why," drawled Methos knowingly, "you wanted a representative
here from Earth."

"It seemed wise," Thor agreed.

"Quite a show you put on there, Pierson," Jack smiled appreciatively.

The Immortal gave a little half bow and grinned ever so slightly. "It
seemed appropriate to turn the tables."

"It was a very dangerous turn," Lya chided. "Your charges were
misleading and disruptive."

He gave a negligent shrug. "They suited my purposes. And yours as
well, I expect. Without protection Earth would almost certainly be
attacked. And while the end of Earth might not spell the end of
Humanity -- or Immortals -- the last of the Ancients would, without
doubt, die alongside her inhabitants. That would constitute genocide,
would it not? And you, my friends, would have allowed it."

"So," Jack interrupted, breaking the sudden uncomfortable silence.
"What are the 'customary standards' for losing Alliance
protection?"

"A fully functional stargate and the ability to use it at will," Thor
explained, "along with faster than light travel."

Methos and Jack stared at one another in shock, both grasping the
enormous implications of that policy.

"Would you excuse us?" O'Neill said to the others. "Pierson and I need
to talk."

As they walked away Lya turned to Thor and sighed. "I had thought
O'Neill an odd choice to give birth to a new generation of Ancients,
but I see now that Tok'ra is far wiser than I."

"Yes," Thor nodded. "O'Neill has always impressed the Asgard. Methos,
on the other hand, I find to be a dangerous conundrum."

**********

Looking for a private place to talk, Methos and Jack suddenly came
face to face with the Gallisian ambassador.

"Gentlemen," Hoshmid greeted them warmly. "A most instructive morning,
was it not?"

"You could say that," O'Neill tentatively agreed.

Ambassador Hoshmid smiled diplomatically. "We are hosting a reception
aboard our flagship for all the delegates later tonight. In the
interest of furthering relations, it would please me if you would both
attend."

"We'd be happy to," Methos agreed before Jack could decline. "In the
interest of furthering relations."

"Excellent!" Hoshmid nodded. "And you will have a chance to see what
we on Gallisia are capable of when it comes to building star drives."

"Yeah. We'd love it," Jack said tightly. "Thanks for the invite."

The ambassador bowed graciously and rejoined his party, leaving Methos
and O'Neill to wander off. They headed outside, finding a quiet place
in one of the many ornamental gardens of which the Lakwasians seemed
to be inordinately fond.

"Did you get all that?" O'Neill asked as they found a seat beside a
rushing fountain.

Methos nodded tiredly. "We could be facing immediate expulsion if we
acquire faster than light travel from Gallisia -- and all this," he
sighed disgustedly, "will have been for nothing."



Chapter 6

The afternoon session resumed immediately after lunch. The last to
arrive were Methos and O'Neill, both appearing more gravely concerned
than they had since their arrival. They took their places as Thor once
again called the conference to order.

"The concluding session of this meeting of the Alliance Council," the
Asgard began, "will consider the various worlds which have in the past
thousand years achieved the necessary standards to be removed from
protective status."

"I object!" Jack suddenly shouted, rising to his feet. "In
fact, I object to the whole stupid idea that anyone can decide
when a planet is safe and when it's not based on an arbitrary
technological cut off point."

Surprisingly, Thor did not seem taken aback by O'Neill's outburst.
"You wish to speak on the matter prior to opening the discussion,
Council Member O'Neill?"

"Yeah, I do."

Thor graciously inclined his head and retook his seat allowing Jack to
continue.

"First, I wanna know which idiot came up with this bright idea. The
one that says being able to travel faster than the speed of light
somehow makes you able to defend against the Goa'uld."

"I believe," Thor responded. "That Council Member Inanna created the
definition based on the request of our Furling allies."

O'Neill rolled his eyes. "Figures," he muttered disgustedly.

The Furling stood, smugly attempting to explain.

"No doubt Ambassador O'Neill is unfamiliar with our history. In the
time of Tok'ra there were no such defining qualifications. Each
instance had to be separately reviewed. It took many days to
accomplish this work, with much irrelevant discussion. There were no
rules, no regulations to follow. We must have rules or there is chaos.
Later, when Tok'ra had effectively crippled the Goa'uld menace there
were many worlds no longer in need of our protection. Therefore, a
simple eligibility standard had to be developed."

"So you threw the baby out with the bath water," O'Neill said wryly.
"Well, maybe ten thousand years ago that was okay, but times have
changed, folks. Tok'ra may have put the Goa'uld down, but he didn't
take them out. And the last ten thousand years have given 'em time to
regroup and grow more powerful than ever. They're as threatening now
as they were when Tok'ra was still around."

"But the standards should still be the same," the Furling insisted.

"Why?" Jack demanded, slamming his fist on the council table.
"What the hell does a working gate and being able to move faster than
the speed of light have to do with planetary defense? And what do you
do when like Earth you've gotta move billions of people? You
think it's fair to force a civilization to make that choice? Who lives
or dies based on your arbitrary standards?"

O'Neill reached into his jacket and pulled out a piece of paper,
holding it high for all the delegates to see.

"All Inanna did was convince you guys to help her keep the competition
limited. I have a list here. In the last ten thousand years a total of
three hundred and sixty planets have been kicked off the Alliance
register. You guys wanna know how many of those worlds are still
around? One hundred and thirty-two. That's it. Less than half!
The rest were all overrun by Goa'uld."

"They achieved self-reliant status," the Furling persisted. "We cannot
always be there to make sure they use it wisely."

"They achieved nothing!" O'Neill shouted. "Except to come to
the attention of the Goa'uld and with your blessing!"

"If what you say is true then how would you suggest we resolve this
problem?" Lya asked calmly.

"Easy. We go back to the way things were when Tok'ra was alive.
Individual review and decisions made based on defensive preparedness.
There are seventeen worlds up for discussion today. Nine of them have
only achieved faster than light travel in the last hundred years. They
have some defensive capabilities, but most of 'em are incapable of
defending against a Goa'uld attack. In fact, most have never really
faced any kind of off world threat. The rest have advanced far enough
to realize it's a big bad universe out here and created defensive
systems, but only three of those have ever taken out a Goa'uld
mother ship. The standard for being an unprotected planet should be
the ability to fully defend against the Goa'uld. And not
the ability to runaway fast!"

There was a sudden burst of applause from the audience of delegates
and the Furling looked taken aback. Still, Thor actually seemed to
smile.

"A most sensible suggestion, O'Neill," the Asgard nodded deferentially
when the hall quieted. "One which Tok'ra himself might have made."

"Whatever," the colonel mumbled suddenly realizing he'd done more than
simply state his case -- he'd given an impassioned plea for the sake
of all those worlds incapable of speaking for themselves. Jack sat,
looking vaguely startled, but obviously satisfied he'd made his point.

Lya nodded thoughtfully. "It is a complex matter. And one that must be
fully considered by each member of the Alliance and voted upon before
we may continue."

Forced to agree, the Furling seemed alarmed. "I must consult our
records. See what procedures and forms Tok'ra required. We must
have some protocol in the archives. But... What shall we do
if there is none?"

"I suggest a recess," Thor interjected before the Furling could become
further agitated. "We shall consider the question of individual
planetary evaluations in the morning. Agreed?"

The vote to extend the conference by at least a day was unanimous and
Jack slumped back in his seat looking very much relieved.

"Just sit here and look profound, eh?" Jack grimaced as Methos joined
him a few minutes later when the hall had cleared.

The Immortal shrugged. "It's what Inanna did. Anyway, you made your
point -- and most eloquently, I might add."

Jack took off his cap, roughly rubbing his hair before replacing it.
"Another day, maybe two in Barbie-land. What was I thinking?"

"About the fate of Earth and every other endangered world. Like maybe
Gallisia? They have faster than light ships and an active gate. They
were sure to be kicked off the roster. What good would it do us then
to have a trade relationship? They might not even exist in few years.
Maybe only months if the Goa'uld have spies here."

O'Neill nodded slowly, sighing as he stood up and they made their way
to the exit. "What we really need to do is form an alliance of our own
with all those other semi-advanced worlds. Maybe figure a way to use
what Tok'ra left behind. At some point we gotta take the offensive or
we're gonna die."

Methos raised an eyebrow. "You think Earth is ready to take the lead
in something like that?"

"Ready or not, we need to find a way to create the same kind of
alliance Tok'ra had. Maybe use those combat gates and platforms he
left behind."

"We might even stand a chance," Methos reluctantly nodded. "But at
this rate, all the worlds likely to join such an alliance are
slowly being winnowed out."



Chapter 7

"You'd think they'd have postponed the party until after the final
vote," O'Neill quietly complained as he lightly fingered his stiffly
embroidered collar.

Methos stared admiringly at the sleek lines of the huge Gallisian
flagship docked in the bay ahead. "Why bother?" he murmured, moving
slowly up the ramp toward the main hatchway beside Jack. "The original
purpose of this little shindig wasn't to celebrate losing their
protected status, but to forge new alliances. Tonight is good for
that. Tomorrow, we might all be living in a different universe."

Jack merely grunted noncommittally which made Methos grin.

"You really do hate this meet and greet stuff, don't you?"

"Too much time in places I didn't want to be, with folks I wouldn't
allow into my home, let alone invite to dinner," O'Neill admitted.

Methos nodded, finally understanding. "Almost all my life I've had to
blend in -- be whomever I had to be in order to survive. Even now
there are times when the pretense of sociability tries my patience.
Still, the Gallisians are pretty much in the same boat we are when it
comes to fending off the Goa'uld."

"And that's supposed to make me feel better?"

"No," Methos smirked. "It's supposed to remind you that the playing
field is level."

"Not that level," O'Neill muttered as they entered the oval shaped
opening in the side of the pristine ship.

The Gallisian ambassador stood at the end of a long reception line
greeting his guests. O'Neill and Methos moved quickly past the
assemblage of high-ranking officers, ignoring the handful of
politicians who'd probably just come along for the ride.

"Greetings Most Esteemed Ambassadors," Hoshmid bowed slightly as the
pair ignored whatever protocol had been established and moved to the
head of the line.

"Greetings Ambassador Hoshmid," Methos murmured, returning the
Gallisian's half bow.

"Yeah, hi," O'Neill said casually, unable to contain his curiosity as
he looked around the well-appointed ship.

Hoshmid paled slightly as he noticed the colonel's scrutiny. "You
spoke well today at the council meeting," the ambassador said. "It
was…unexpected."

Jack frowned. "It's a raw deal, leaving worlds like ours twisting in
the wind while the Goa'uld pick us off one by one."

"Yes," Hoshmid agreed, a hint of sadness in his words. "The Goa'uld.
We have not had occasion to be troubled by them, but I fear that may
soon change."

"Perhaps," Methos interjected, "there may be other avenues our
worlds, and others like us, may one day pursue?"

However obliquely he had dangled the idea of an alliance in front of
the ambassador, it seemed to make the man even more nervous. Almost as
nervous as it made Methos to see Hoshmid's body language change so
drastically at its mere mention.

"There will be time for such discussions later, my friends," Hoshmid
said calmly, though a light sweat broke out on his brow. "For now," he
gestured toward the large reception area and its amenities, "please
feel free to enjoy yourselves."

Jack and Methos glanced at each other, picking up the quick, albeit
polite, dismissal. They nodded to Hoshmid and moved further into the
hall as the ambassador went back to greeting his other guests.

"You get that uncomfortable feeling something's not right with this
picture, Pierson?"

Methos nodded tightly. "Something's got him scared. Not us, but…"
he shook his head. "Maybe just the idea of going up against the
Goa'uld?"

"Maybe," Jack agreed. "But he did say we should feel free to enjoy
ourselves, right?"

Methos' brow creased in consternation. "What are you thinking?"

"I don't enjoy parties, but a self-guided tour of this ship might be
nice."

Methos hid a wince. "I had a feeling you might say that..."

**********

"Sweet," O'Neill gritted as they passed another group of aliens, who
bowed to the pair of them and moved on.

"Apparently, self-guided tours are all the rage," Methos quipped.

"Y' think?"

The colonel surveyed the corridor leading to the bridge and found it
empty for the first time since they'd located the emergency service
passage leading to the lower decks.

"Let's go," he ordered, moving inside and down the ladder with
alacrity. Methos followed, mildly amused at the colonel's insistence
on secrecy.

"You know," he whispered, "we probably could have taken the elevator."

"We tried that," O'Neill reminded him, "and we got a lovely tour of
the cargo bays. It's those two decks they aren't allowing
access to I want to see."

"So they're picky about anyone looking over their warp core, or
whatever propels this ship. It's probably got a patent."

"Right," O'Neill retorted cynically. "And about their combat
capabilities. That song and dance we got from their gunnery sergeant
about standard defensive systems and protective shield arrays just
doesn't jive. They know about the Goa'uld and they're on the brink of
being cut loose in a section of the galaxy practically crawling with
'em. If they haven't got high grade offensive weapons hidden somewhere
I'll eat my birds."

"Okay, so they're tightlipped about their military security," Methos
responded coolly. "So are we."

"Which is why," O'Neill smiled as they reached the first of the
secured decks, "we're going for a look-see."

"Didn't anyone ever tell you not to spy on your friends? It really is
considered bad form as an opening gambit when planning to engage in
peaceful trade negotiations."

"Only if you get caught," O'Neill murmured as he peered around the
edge of the hatchway. "Otherwise, it's fair game."

Behind his back Methos smiled. What Jack said was absolutely true. Of
course, sneaking around like this wouldn't be half as much fun if he
didn't take advantage of the opportunity to play devil's advocate.

"Then perhaps you can tell me what explanation we're going to give
Hoshmid? If we get caught, that is."

"The usual. Got lost on the way to the men's room," O'Neill explained
absently and Methos rolled his eyes. "Or, better yet. How about we
don't get caught."

"Oh, I'm all for that," Methos muttered following Jack's lead as they
headed down the empty passageway.

"Do you even know where we're going?" he finally asked a few minutes
later, after passing at least a dozen doors which might have led
anywhere.

"I'm looking for something..." Jack trailed off, suddenly backing up
against a wall as the reverberation of booted feet could be heard
coming down another corridor.

They both stiffened at the familiar vibrato of a Goa'uld voice barking
orders and hastily retreated back the way they'd come, pausing at the
first door they came to when the sound seemed to turn in their
direction.

"Uh...Pierson?" Jack asked staring at the locking panel.

"Bloody hell," Methos gritted, glancing worriedly down the hall. "You
would happen to have your zat gun?"

"No!" O'Neill hissed. "Thor said unarmed, and it's
unarmed we came. I wouldn't even try to smuggle a radioactive Twinkie
past the Asgard!"

Unarmed? His eyes agleam, Methos reached for his sword, quickly
drawing the weapon. The wickedly sharpened tip smoothly penetrated the
softer metal and plastic barrier of the locking mechanism, easily
shorting out the system. And an instant later they were prying the
doors apart. Slipping inside with just enough time to hurriedly push
the doors shut before the unknown Goa'uld and its contingent of Jaffa
passed by.

"Shit!" Methos exhaled loudly, closing his eyes as he leaned
back against the doors. "That was close."

O'Neill ignored him to get better acquainted with their surroundings.
"Well, well, well," he muttered. "And what do we have here?"

With a disgusted sigh, Methos lifted his head and glanced around the
room. "Looks like one of our old computer systems," he responded,
slightly amazed.

"Not that old," O'Neill replied. "Just a generation or two behind. You
following, Pierson?"

Methos nodded slowly. "There's a Goa'uld aboard and they've recently
had a breakthrough in their technology."

"Like hell they had a breakthrough!" Jack snarled quietly.
"They're collaborating -- and reaping the benefits of betraying their
own."

"So?" Methos responded caustically. "Do you really think
they want to? Or that they were given a choice? The Gallisians
thought they were going to be defenseless after tonight."

"That's no excuse!" O'Neill insisted. "The Goa'uld are..." he shook
his head, unable to find words to suit his ire.

"Extremely dangerous?" Methos suggested. "Highly advanced and quite
capable of destroying the Gallisian homeworld with very little
effort?" O'Neill frowned, but seemed to listen. "Look, Jack, this
isn't the first time in the history of the universe that a nation, a
country, a people -- even an entire world -- have played both sides
against the middle to survive. I've done it myself when I've had to.
But do you really think I liked being caught between a rock and
a hard place?"

"But I just gave them an option!"

"Right," Methos' voice dripped sarcasm. "But they didn't know
that. And when the vote comes in tomorrow, or the next day, what will
they do? Tell the Goa'uld to just bugger off?"

"I would."

"Well, maybe they'll do just that," Methos responded coolly. "But I
wouldn't bet on it. The Goa'uld have a way of becoming entrenched.
Protected planet or not, if the Gallisians knowingly opened the door,
I doubt the Alliance would be willing to help them."

"Thor might," O'Neill suggested.

"He might," Methos agreed. "But we'd need evidence they were coerced
into this relationship. Remember, Colonel, protected worlds are free
to choose their own paths. If we'd blown ourselves up in a nuclear war
fifty years ago we'd have been one of those planets scratched off the
register during the opening session. Our choice, even if we
chose wrongly."

O'Neill's head tilted upward, his eyes closing as he released a tired
sigh. Finally, he nodded to himself and moved toward what he guessed
was the main computer terminal. He glanced at Methos with a knowing
smile. "Think you can remember how to operate one of these things?"

Methos offered up a smug, disdainful sneer, rubbing his hands together
before cracking his knuckles. "Piece of cake," he snorted. "You know,
I still hack the Watcher database just for fun. From time to time," he
amended at Jack's frown.

"We are the military, Pierson. We do not hack.
We...investigate. Quietly. And then... We report what we've
found," he added sternly.

Methos rolled his eyes, slipping into the chair at the main terminal.
"Right. There are two Immortals currently living in Colorado Springs.
One is a psychiatric social worker in private practice, the other is
me." Methos looked over his shoulder at O'Neill. "Although,
suspiciously enough, all records of Adam Pierson, as Watcher or
Immortal, have somehow disappeared. And any attempts to recreate the
data mysteriously seem to suffer the same fate."

"We do good work, don't we?" the colonel grinned.

Methos smiled warmly. "Nice to know someone's watching out for my neck
besides me."

"Perk of the work," Jack responded. "Now get to it, Captain. That
little shindig upstairs isn't going to last all night."

"Yes, sir!" Methos nodded and flipped the switch beside the keyboard
turning the unit on.

Without warning, a series of tones filled the silent room. Not loud
alarms, but a mixture of high wave and low wave frequencies that
burned through their synapses, causing brain death almost instantly.
Unable to cry out, O'Neill fell to the floor while Methos collapsed
face first into the keyboard.

And in the same way inexplicable luck often followed children and
fools, the alarm, which should have triggered a systems wide alert,
went almost unnoticed on the bridge several decks above.

With a frown, Chief Security Officer Nordovic isolated the problem,
shut down the system and disabled the warning light on his console.
Those old units were always acting up. Sending out false alarms and
generally interfering with ship's business. He turned back to his post
and continued watching the monitor as the conference delegates were
escorted off the ship. They'd been ordered back to Gallisia
immediately. Why, he didn't know. Nor did he dare to ask. The man with
the glowing eyes and ever-present smirk was on the bridge, and he'd
rather not draw the thing's attention. He'd run the usual
diagnostic and report the incident in the morning. Maybe in a few
months time the chain of command would finally decide to rip out those
antiques, refit the area with something useful, like a recreation
room, and give the crew a rest from chasing bugs in the system.
Doubtful, but one could always hope.



Chapter 8

Methos woke with a start, his face pressed against a blood-splattered
keyboard. His head ached mercilessly and he wondered how long he'd
been dead. Not too long, he realized as he slowly sat up, cupping his
nose to keep the blood from staining his uniform, they were still in
the computer room. He found his handkerchief and hurriedly wiped his
face then knelt beside Jack to check his condition.

Still dead, Methos thought with a hint of relief. Now was
definitely not the time to reveal his duplicity to the colonel. He
wiped O'Neill's face clean then went after the few drops on the floor
beside him, taking care of the console area last before stuffing the
telltale cloth beneath the keyboard.

He returned to O'Neill, lightly slapping the colonel's face as the
man's heart suddenly started and he drew his first breath.

"Come out of it, Jack! Come on, Colonel. Wake up!"

O'Neill's eyes opened and he started up at Methos, obviously startled.
"What?"

"We must have set off an alarm. It triggered a security system.
Something knocked us out," the Immortal lied a little breathlessly as
he pulled O'Neill to his feet. "Come on, we've got to get out of here
now!"

"Right," O'Neill nodded, picking up his hat as he held his forehead.

Methos caught a glimpse of Jack's watch as he reached for the item and
frowned. We've been dead over an hour? Amazement replaced his
fear of suddenly being caught by either the Goa'uld or the Gallisians.

"Let's move," O'Neill ordered and they carefully pried apart the doors
only to find the corridor empty, all alarms silent, and no sign of an
investigation at all. "We may have only seconds before they get here,"
Jack said tightly.

Dazedly, Methos nodded in agreement and raced to the emergency shaft,
following O'Neill back up the ladder. If they simply rejoined the
party in progress and--"Wait," Jack suddenly halted just below the
crew deck. "Do you feel that?"

Methos squinted upward. "Feel what?"

O'Neill reached out a hand, pressing it against the bulwark in front
of him. "Vibration from the engines," he answered succinctly. "This
ship is moving!"

Methos touched the same wall and felt nothing, shaking his head as he
stared up at Jack. "We can't be underway. The conference hasn't
ended."

O'Neill didn't bother to look down, instead, he moved onto the
platform leading to the next level. "You think a Goa'uld is going to
let the Gallisians stick around to talk to Thor and company?"

"Probably not," Methos had to agree. "But still..."

"But nothing! We've got to find some cover. Figure out where they're
headed and, more importantly, get out of these damn monkey suits!"

This time Methos didn't argue. What O'Neill said somehow felt
right and he'd learned to trust Jack's instincts. "Fine," he said with
a hint of frustration. "But don't ask me to locate the launderette on
this tub. The Gallisians don't seem as willing to give directions as
the United Federation of Planets."

"Yeah," O'Neill agreed as Methos finally joined him on the platform.
"That would have been useful. Stupid, but useful."

The Immortal stifled a grin. "So what do we do now?"

"You mean you don't have a plan?"

Affronted, Methos glared at Jack. "I came here to be wined and dined,"
he huffed, "not to infiltrate and acquire information."

"Same difference," Jack smirked. "You just didn't plan on going any
further than the buffet table and wet bar for yours."

"No," Methos gritted, "the thought hadn't occurred to
me. But since you've seen fit to get us into this mess, I'll leave it
up to you to get us out."

"Easy enough. Crew quarters," O'Neill tilted his head in the direction
of the corridor. "The Gallisians aren't that different from us.
There's gotta be a storeroom, lockers, or some place where they store
their extra gear. They'd keep some of it in the hold, but there'd
always be stuff on hand for the crew."

"Possibly," Methos cautiously agreed. "If not, we can always raid
someone's closet."

"Now there's an idea," O'Neill grinned. "When we toured this deck, did
you notice any doors without name plates?"

"Yeah," Methos nodded, smiling back. "A few."

"Might mean they haven't got a full compliment aboard," Jack
suggested. "Be a good place to lay low until we figure out where
they're going."

"What?" Methos' eyes went wide. "I don't give a damn where
they're going! I just want to get back to where we started."

"Captain Pierson." O'Neill's expression turned sour.
"There is at least one Goa'uld aboard this ship with a contingent of
Jaffa. I want to know how the Gallisians are involved and what the
Goa'uld are planning."

"But it hasn't got anything to do with us!" O'Neill raised an eyebrow
and Methos sullenly spit out a, "Sir."

"Anything and everything the Goa'uld are plotting is our concern,
Captain --especially if we ever plan to take the offensive. Now let's
find those stores, get into whatever passes for the uniform of the
day, and find somewhere to hole up."

"Yes, sir!" Methos snarled, following his commander out into
the open corridor.

**********

"When we get back," Methos grumbled, as they stripped off their white
formal jackets. "I swear I'm going to redesign these uniforms to be
reversible."

O'Neill chuckled under his breath. "So instead of being just Special
Uniforms they'll be Extra Special Uniforms."

"Yeah," Methos grinned, getting into the spirit of the idea. "What do
you think? Desert camouflage or olive drab?"

"Neither," O'Neill retorted. "I kinda like being a deciduous forest or
pile of leaves. Besides, I'm tired of OD green."

The Immortal laughed softly. "How about we go for broke? Submit an
entirely new design. What do you think of...South American Rain
Forest--with orchids?"

The colonel winced. "Do you know how long it takes to get a new
uniform design approved, commissioned and in the field? The last one
took fifty years."

"I can wait," Methos said with aplomb as he pulled out a dull blue,
jump suit style uniform from the supply closet and held it up to see
if it would fit. At least this time they wouldn't have to masquerade
as officers. At the moment, low ranking technicians were more likely
to blend in.

A short time later they were dressed and ready to leave. "Wait,"
O'Neill ordered softly as Methos reached for the door panel. "Let's
grab a couple of these empty packs. I noticed something like our MREs
stashed in a crate back there." He pointed a thumb toward a corner of
the room and Methos nodded.

"Good thinking," he agreed. "We may be in for a long wait before we
can get to the cafeteria."

"Not going to happen," Jack told him. "And don't you even think
about trying it. We need to sit tight until we know where we're going.
I'm guessing the crew quarters will all have intercom systems. If we
do some passive listening we may just find out everything we need to
know."

The Immortal nodded. "They may even have access to the central
computer core, though I doubt we'll be able to do more than get a look
at the ship's library. Not without the proper codes."

Hopeful, but cautious, they took whatever they thought they might need
then casually made their way down the busy corridor unnoticed, ducking
into one of the small, unmarked empty cubicles that passed for
quarters aboard the Gallisian flagship.

"No wonder this one's empty," Methos frowned as he gazed around the
cramped, musty smelling room. "Six bunks in a space no bigger than my
closet? I'd mutiny!"

"Give it a rest, Pierson." O'Neill sat tiredly on the nearest berth,
hunching forward to keep from thumping his head against the bed above.

With a soft sigh Methos joined him, sitting on the opposite bunk,
their knees almost touching.

"Don't worry," he offered, trying to be consoling. "It won't be long
before we're missed. Thor's bound to come looking for us. After all,
they can't take a final vote without you."

Jack merely grunted a response, shifting until he was lying on the
bunk. To Methos' knowledgeable eyes he looked worn out. It had been a
long day and reviving from a massive brain embolism must have taken a
lot out of the colonel, young as he was, even with Tok'ra's meddling.

"Why don't you get some rest," Methos suggested quietly. "I can take
the first watch and check out whatever access we've got."

O'Neill nodded, already drifting to sleep as he mumbled, "You do that.
Wake me when you get tired."

"Will do," Methos smiled kindly. With a sigh of disgust he glanced
around the cubicle. Might just as well get started, he thought
as he noticed a dark screen and what looked to be an old access
terminal set into the far wall. If I'm lucky, I might even be able
to bring up the ship's schematics. The Gallisians might be smart
enough not to post signs in the hall, but on a new ship... It
simply wouldn't do to have your crew constantly getting lost!



Chapter 9

It took a little longer than expected for the Chief Security Officer
to run the security diagnostic. That Goa'uld thing on the
bridge made everybody nervous and Nordovic had simply forgotten. He
was just going off shift as he remembered, swearing under his breath
as he realized he could be seriously reprimanded for this. Bug in the
system or not, it was still a minor security breach.

He nervously entered his quarters and logged into the ship's systems.
He wasn't supposed to, but he could run the diagnostic from anywhere.
He set the parameters by memory and went to clean up and change
clothes. By the time he was done the readouts would be available and
with a little tweaking of the time display he could upload them back
into the system and no one, except maybe another security officer
running a full audit, would ever notice the difference.

**********

"I never thought I would say this," O'Neill groused, "but our MREs are
much, much better. What the hell is this thing anyway?" Jack
held up thin yellow strip of something that looked suspiciously like
aluminum siding.

Methos rolled his eyes. "Can't you recognize candy when you see it?"

"Candy?" Jack stared at the strip and finally shrugged, giving
it a tentative lick. He grimaced at the sour taste it left in his
mouth and tossed it back into the food pack.

Methos chuckled. "Sour, salty or sweet," he grinned. "Everybody's
tastes are different."

"You probably eat pickled hog snouts," Jack muttered.

"I have," Methos nodded. "And a great many other things you'd likely
consider inedible."

"Not inedible," Jack argued. "Just stuff I'd rather not have to
taste." Methos merely smiled and Jack went on, becoming serious again.
"So, you find out anything useful?"

Their dinner break obviously over Methos sat up on the floor and
nodded. "We're on our way to Gallisia. No explanation why."

O'Neill snorted in derision. "We know why. The Goa'uld wouldn't sit
around knowing Gallisia might become a protected planet for a lot
longer than expected. The question is, what do they plan to do when
they get there?"

"Or, more importantly," Methos suggested. "What they planned to do
when they believed Gallisia might become available as a base."

"And why Gallisia?" Jack wondered aloud. "Why not every planet on the
list?"

"Maybe the Gallisian government was the only one willing to play let's
make a deal?"

Jack shook his head. "Might as well ride the back of the tiger for all
the good it will do them."

"You know that, and I know that, but do the Gallisians? And the lure
of power, even that of being subordinate to a greater power, can often
tempt the most virtuous soul."

O'Neill sighed tiredly. "So, how long till we get there?"

"Another two days," Methos reported.

"And the search?"

"What search?"

"For us, Pierson! For us!"

"Like I said," Methos shrugged and twisted his lips in a wry
expression of incomprehension. "What search? There is no search. No
one looking for intruders, unidentified or otherwise. Nothing. Nada.
Niente--"

"Okay, okay," O'Neill held up a hand. "I get it. We're free and
clear."

"I never said that," Methos clarified quietly. "There may be no
search as yet, but that's not to say there won't be one at some point.
And there's another thing I ought to mention."

"Which is?" Jack asked suspiciously.

"Getting off this barge. I was able to pull up their version of our
regs. No one gets on or off this ship without passing through a
security checkpoint."

"We didn't go through any of that getting on," O'Neill pointed out.

"That's different. All the delegates were easily recognizable, though
I'm sure there was some sort of security about, if only at a distance.
For the rank and file, well... That's a different story."

"Always is," the colonel nodded, rubbing his hair with one hand as he
thought it over. "First things first," he finally decided. "We need to
figure out an escape route if and when a search starts. Second, we've
gotta come up with a plan to get off this ship before she docks."

"Lands," Methos corrected. "From what I gather this ship will
land on Gallisia, not park above the planet. And I haven't
heard any chatter about rings or shuttles and such. This may, in fact,
be the only warp capable ship the Gallisians actually have. And from
what I can see," he waved a hand to encompass the room, "it's
definitely a refit."

O'Neill nodded slowly. "Which makes things easier and harder all at
the same time." He paused, thinking it over. "How about we try
something different, Pierson. Forget about the new systems and focus
on what remains of the old. We only refit when we have time and
extra dough. And it's a complete overhaul -- no wasted space like
this," he gestured vaguely at the room.

"You're thinking it might have been a rush job, aren't you? Done under
the auspices of the Goa'uld," he murmured, slowly nodding. "Lot's of
shortcuts might have been taken, leaving lots of older systems
behind."

"Not to mention cosmetically bypassing or covering up useless ducts
and hatches."

"Right," Methos nodded. "I did pull up an old set of construction
designs. I'm not sure how accurate they are, but it might be a good
place to start." He began to move back toward the terminal when Jack
reached out a hand and made him stop.

"You get some rest, Pierson. I'll have a look and see what I can
find."

"Of course," Methos murmured, ducking onto his bunk to let Jack pass.
"Silly me, thinking you couldn't read a simple engineering schematic."

O'Neill grinned widely. "Works like a charm, doesn't it?"

Methos nodded. "Always let the opposition underestimate the abilities
of your forces. Alex would be proud. But," he added worriedly. "What
if we can't find an easy way off this rust bucket?"

"No problem," Jack said, moving to access the terminal. "We jump."

Methos' eyes went round with shock. Did Jack know? Was he aware of--?

"Just kidding," O'Neill laughed, seeing Methos' expression. "Of
course, if worse comes to worst we can maybe make a parachute or two
out of their supplies and leap when they reach the lower atmosphere."

"Oh, that's a brilliant plan!" Methos gave him a disgusted
glare. "How about we just cut loose and introduce our hosts to the
joys of bungee jumping?"

"Now there's an idea..."



Chapter 10

Nordovic shook his head in dismay at the readout screen then
switched the view to an interior of the old computer core. Designed
in the early days of space flight, when there'd been great fear of
saboteurs, the core, if breached, became a killing zone. Thankfully,
from what Nordovic could see, no one had been in the area when the
system went haywire, triggering the security defaults. Some of those
old areas were regular hangouts for off duty personnel. And no matter
how many warnings he issued about the danger, someone always had the
bright idea that they were somehow immune or immortal.

With a frown Nordovic went to find his old code key. The damn system
would have to be reset manually. More importantly, as Chief of
Security he could document the hazard the core represented -- even if
no one had been killed by the defense mechanism --this time. That
might count for something, though he doubted it. A couple of
dead crewmen would probably have convinced the brass. Or better
yet, he thought wishfully, those disgusting Jaffa and their
master, Sip-something, or whatever its name was.

A short time later Nordovic was standing before the door to the
computer core staring in disbelief at the code panel. Something sharp
had been inserted deep into the card slot and fried the controls from
the inside out. Still, he thought, with a rising sense of alarm that
wouldn't have triggered the intruder eradication mechanism as his
readouts confirmed was the case. That was keyed for fingerprint
identification -- and only he and a handful of others had been
designated access to this particular system.

With a hint of trepidation Nordovic pried open the doors, searching
the room for signs of a body. It couldn't just be a
coincidence, he thought, deeply confused, when the room proved to
be just as empty as his viewer had shown it to be.

The crease lines above his brows drew together in consternation as
he took a seat at the old terminal and reached to switch it on. Then
something caught his eye. Something altogether out of place. A bit of
white cloth tinged with dried blood peeked out from under the edge of
the keyboard.

Nordovic pulled it out, staring in confusion. There was nothing
alive, not even a Goa'uld, which could survive high-low killing
frequencies --at least not without some very specific protective
gear. And from the amount of blood, it looked like the system had
worked on somebody.

Faintly nervous, Nordovic switched on the system and pulled up the
security vid of the room, running it back to just moments before he'd
caught the warning signal on the bridge the night before. And there
it was, he thought with a rising sense of horror, two men in crisp
white uniforms entering the room as if...as if they were running from
something. He switched his view to the corridor monitors and nodded
silently as he recognized the Goa'uld and its Jaffa. More
importantly, he knew those uniforms and of the men who wore them --
the two ambassadors from Earth. The world the Goa'uld cursed at every
opportunity and the hatred it had shown when it saw the one called
O'Neill had been named to the Council of the Alliance.

Nordovic watched the scene unfold as Ambassador Pierson
inadvertently triggered the security system. And the system
had worked. But if that was so, where were the bodies?

He hurriedly forwarded the images, stunned as Pierson eventually
rose from the dead, quickly followed by O'Neill. How is this
possible? Nordovic wondered in amazement as he watched them
depart, seemingly no worse for wear.

Curiously, he glanced at the time indicator and his eyes widened in
shock. If this was correct, and Nordovic knew it must be, then the
ship had been underway for some time before the men arose. Which
meant...

Three moons help me! Pierson and O'Neill must still be aboard!

**********

"That look like an exit to you?"

Methos tilted his head to the side, squinting at the diagram. "It
looks like a doorway to nowhere," he finally remarked. "Except..."


"Yes?" O'Neill grinned.

"Except there's lots of unaccounted for space between it and the
bulkhead."

"Okay! Now, look here," O'Neill pulled up another schematic, "and
tell me what you think this is."

Methos let out a long breath, staring hard as he formed an image in
his mind. "It looks like the specs for some kind of escape pod."

"And its size?" O'Neill inquired smugly as Methos began to smile.

"Just about the right size to fit that empty space between the inner
wall of the ventilation system and the outer barrier bulkhead."

"My thoughts exactly," O'Neill replied.

"You're right, " Methos acknowledged with a brief nod. "We should
definitely check it out. They may have simply sealed it off in the
rush to complete that pristine outer hull."

"Possibly," the colonel agreed.

"More like probably," Methos argued. "If you are right and it
was a rush job meant to impress the other delegates."

"Think positive, Pierson," Jack slapped his shoulder. "Even if it is
sealed off, I'm sure we can figure out how to get past that little
problem."

"We?" Methos inquired archly.

"What? You never learned how to make C4 and set it for a controlled
explosion?"

"Must have missed that episode of Cooking Up Explosives with
Julia Child. But I can make a lovely batch of dynamite if
you need," he added cheerfully.

"I'll keep it in mind."



Chapter 11

Nordovic paced his quarters trying to decide what to do. This was no
longer simply a matter of tweaking the records, but a serious breach
of security. No it's not! Nordovic reminded himself sternly.
The two ambassadors hadn't seen anything classified. They'd simply
died and went to hide, probably from the Goa'uld. He certainly would
have in their position!

The thought made him smile slyly. He hated the Goa'uld, as did many
of the officers he knew. And from all accounts, O'Neill and Pierson
came from a world that had successfully fought against them. If he
reported their presence there would doubtless be a hunt for the two
hapless stowaways -- quickly followed by not two, but three
executions. And as far as Nordovic knew he wasn't likely to rise from
the dead.

The question now became should he or shouldn't he help the
ambassadors?

Nordovic went to his private terminal and ran a scan of the ship's
computer system to check for any unauthorized access. What he found
not only surprised him, but brought a smile to his face. No
unauthorized activity on any of the newer systems, but someone
had accessed an old terminal from an unused portion of the
crew deck.

"Clever," he murmured thoughtfully, as he pulled up the files they'd
chosen to peruse. These men were smart, operating under th carefully
he erased all indication of their presence from the system. Then he
tweaked the chronometer on the security video and deleted that
portion which revealed their intrusion. Later, when the third and
smallest shift took over the running of the ship, he would head down
and repair the damaged locking mechanism himself.

In another day and a half they'd be on Gallisia. There were only two
ways off this ship. The first was to brazenly attempt to get past
security. The second was a risky, chance-taking move that seemed more
in keeping with the spirit O'Neill and Pierson had shown. Risky for
him as well to try and cover it up. Still, if he played his cubes
right, they might all escape unscathed, without anyone the wiser.

Even so, it was a chance Nordovic was willing to take. He didn't
know who in the government had made this traitorous deal with the
Goa'uld, but he suspected it would ultimately spell Gallisia's doom.
And that he could not allow. Not even if it meant his life.

With a silent prayer for the two men in hiding, Nordovic turned off
his view screen. Perhaps they could help Gallisia, perhaps not. But
at the very least, he had to give them the opportunity to try.

**********

While Nordovic paced and the men in hiding plotted their escape,
across the galaxy a different sort of meeting was taking place.

"I'm not sure I heard you correctly," General Hammond said quietly
to Narim as they stood before the Cheyenne Mountain stargate. "Did
you say Colonel O'Neill and Captain Pierson were missing?"

"Forgive me, General, for not being clearer," the Tolan replied.
"When the ambassadors did not appear for an important vote the
Council meeting was postponed until they could be located. This was
two days ago. As yet, no trace of them has been found."

"So they are missing!" Daniel interjected.

"Please, Dr. Jackson," Hammond held up a hand then returned his
attention to Narim. "No trace whatsoever?" he questioned dubiously.
"Where were they last seen?"

"I believe they meant to attend a gathering hosted by the
Gallisians. One of the less primitive worlds protected by the
Alliance. Captain Pierson and O'Neill seemed interested in
negotiating a trade agreement."

"Sounds about right," Daniel said to no one in particular.

"And then?" the general asked soberly.

"The Gallisian flagship was called home, though their ambassador
remains," Narim explained. "He has stated, and I believe him, that
all his guests were safely escorted from the ship prior to departure."

"What about the Asgard?" Carter asked. "They've scanned for Colonel
O'Neill before and found him. What does Thor have to say?"

Narim gazed at her sadly. "Unfortunately, the Asgard commander has
not made himself available for questioning. Nor, I might add, has
Lya, the representative of the Nox. They are as conspicuously absent
as your colleagues."

"I see," Hammond murmured. "Then I have to assume they are aware of
the situation and are engaged in a search for our people."

Narim looked pessimistic. "I would not casually assume that is
true," he told them. "The Nox do not interfere in the affairs of
others, and the Asgard ship remains in orbit above Lakwasa."

"Then we must go to Lakwasa," Teal'c stated firmly. "Perhaps there
is a reason for the Asgard lack of interest."

Daniel and the others looked surprised. "You think Thor knows where
they are and isn't saying?" Jackson asked.

Teal'c's face remained expressionless. "I believe there may be other
avenues which can be investigated."

"Agreed," General Hammond nodded. "Narim, would you escort the rest
of SG-1 to Lakwasa and see if they can join the search team?"

"I would be happy to," Narim smiled, turning his soft gaze on
Carter. "It would be my pleasure to assist you in any way possible."



Chapter 12

"Did you save it?" O'Neill asked tersely as he again sorted through
their supplies.

Methos grimaced in disgust. "Yes, I saved it!" he spat
back. "You know, I've done a lot of really nasty things in my time,
but this has to rank somewhere near the top."

O'Neill sighed sadly. "Damn! And I so wanted it to be the
rankest."

"Not quite," Methos muttered. "Pissing into a bucket and having to
live with the stench when locked in a confined space is nothing new."

"Yeah, but did you want to save it?"

"Certainly not!" Methos slid onto his bunk, crossing his arms with
an expression of distaste. "Which is why this makes the list."

"And it'll only get worse," O'Neill warned in a voice filled with
mock foreboding. "We still have to render the stuff down and mix the
ingredients."

With a shake of his head Methos groaned softly. "I'm dreading it
already." He sat back on his elbows and glared at the colonel. "And
you say you learned how to do this where?"

O'Neill shrugged diffidently. "Same place I learned to eat bugs,
extract water from the desert air, and make a shelter out of body
parts."

"Sounds charming," Methos commented wryly as O'Neill stood
and moved towards the door, eyeing the containers they'd both begun
filling as soon as Jack had formulated their plan. "And where are you
going?"

"Back to the supply closet. We need a few more ingredients."

Methos winced visibly. "I cannot believe we're actually going
to make C4 out of toothpaste, soap and...and...pee!"

"Among other things," Jack added cheerfully. "And it's not exactly
C4 we're making this time, but it should do the trick."

"Wonderful," Methos mumbled under his breath as the door closed
silently behind O'Neill.

He stared thoughtfully at the supplies already stacked under the
bunk opposite him. In another day the ship would reach its
destination and they would have to be ready to make their move. Their
one and only foray to the old escape pod had confirmed their worst
suspicions. Rather than remove the pods with their explosive
hatchways, the Gallisians had simply sealed them behind a refurbished
air duct system and enclosed the old hull with stronger plating and
no outer opening.

The four man pods, located all over the older portions of the ship,
were still intact and functional, but access to them was difficult.
And though getting into one was not impossible, as he and O'Neill had
discovered, blasting through the naquada enhanced titanium hull would
be -- unless they created enough explosive force to do the job. That
is, enough of an outward explosion, rather than an implosion,
in combination with the explosive hatchways to blow a big enough hole
in the hull to allow the pod to drop.

And that's where this gets really ticklish, Methos inwardly
sighed. If O'Neill's calculations were off by just a fraction, the
resulting explosion could damage the pod. And since the plan
was to make their escape during the ship's entry into the
Gallisian atmosphere -- when the heat of re-entry would be searing
the well-shielded hull --therein lay the danger. Of course, that was
the exact moment when the ship's systems would also be suffering the
most strain. Which meant a minor breach of the hull in a refitted,
unused area of the ship might simply be explained away as a stress
induced blowout caused by sloppy construction or a manufacturing flaw
in the plating. At least, they hoped it would be.

Still, there would likely be an inquiry -- one that would ultimately
reveal the true nature of the hull breach. But by that time they
should be well away from the pod and on their way to...

Methos shrugged and lay back on his bunk trying to ignore the
pungent scent of au de lavatory in the cramped, poorly
ventilated room. Once they were safely on the ground what did it
matter where they were? And he wasn't too sure they were going to
survive their "escape" anyway, so why worry about it now?

With a sigh, Methos covered his face with his arm and tried to get
some sleep. The next thirty-six hours were likely to prove exhausting
and he wanted to be ready for anything.

Besides, he thought with a shudder of disgust. When they started
cooking up that foul recipe Jack had concocted, he'd probably be the
one stirring the bloody pot!



Chapter 13

With mutual sighs of relief the two men breathed deeply of the
recycled air in the corridor. After 18 hours in the hot, fetid, and
now putrid smelling confines of their makeshift bomb factory, the
stale air of the ship seemed positively wholesome.

"Ready?" O'Neill asked softly as he scanned the area.

"Ready or not, does it matter?" Methos quirked a smile in his
direction.

"No," Jack responded, leading the way to the vent that led to the
air ducts. "But... Y' know, we still have a little time to make those
'chutes. That is, if you'd really prefer to jump."

Methos snarled silently behind O'Neill's back. "What I'd
prefer is to wait until most of the crew has left the ship,
eliminate the guards and take my chances that way."

O'Neill snickered softly and Methos sighed quietly in frustration.
They'd been arguing over that plan since Methos had gotten his
first whiff of Jack's...explosives. But in the end they both
knew it was just too dangerous. If the Gallisians didn't know they
had intruders aboard now, they'd certainly know it by then. And if
escaping into unfamiliar territory wasn't difficult enough, it'd be a
hell of a lot worse doing it on a militarily secure, Goa'uld
controlled base.

Still, Methos was just disgusted enough to bait Jack. He knew it was
childish, not to mention foolish, considering he had nearly 5,000
pushups to complete. But, with no other way to express his irritation
over their dire circumstances his sharp tongue had finally won out.

O'Neill's veritable silence in response to his sniping soon became
worrisome. And as they shimmied their way through the ventilation
system Methos tried not to think about what that might mean. Besides,
there were so many things that could go wrong it didn't bear
considering.

Finally, they reached the panel that led down into the pod cradle.
This time, prying it loose was easy. And though the fit was tight,
they lowered themselves down with a few creative twists and turns.

"What's our ETA?" Jack asked quietly as he removed a series of
miniature bombs from his over-stuffed pack.

Methos checked his watch. "We should reach the outer atmosphere in
approximately six minutes."

That was cutting it close, but as he watched Jack work swiftly and
silently, Methos realized O'Neill was an expert. The thought made him
wonder about some of those black ops missions the colonel
occasionally referred to, but it wasn't something about which he'd
ever ask -- some things were better left to the imagination.

"Into the pod," Jack ordered as he finished placing the last charge
and set the timer using what was left of his watch. Methos hurriedly
climbed inside as Jack jumped in after.

Small as it was, the pod seemed to be well constructed, with a
modest control panel offering them at least rudimentary control. It
wasn't much, but it might make all the difference to their survival
if they could touch down gently rather than violently crashing. This
business of distracting O'Neill from discovering his immortality
every time he died was getting to be a real pain, Methos decided.

"Give me a count down," O'Neill ordered as they strapped themselves
in.

Methos glanced at his wrist. "Thirty seconds... Twenty... Ten, nine,
eight..."

At the count of one the timer did its job and Jack hit the explosive
release for the pod drop -- hopefully directing the power of the
bombs he'd created outward. Methos held tight to his chair as the
world around him thundered and rocked. Then suddenly, they were
falling.



Chapter 14

"This is getting us nowhere," Carter complained to her companions as
they stood outside the Lakwasian Ministry of Justice.

Narim shook his head sorrowfully. "There is no more that can be done
that is not being done, Samantha."

She gave the Tolan a tired smile. "I know, but I still think we're
being stonewalled."

Teal'c frowned even more deeply than usual. "I have seen no walls
made of stone in this place."

"She means we're being obstructed, delayed, impeded, and hampered in
our investigation," Daniel explained.

"Indeed," Teal'c nodded. "I also feel the Lakwasians are pulling
their legs."

Samantha bowed her head to hide a smile as Daniel gently corrected
the Jaffa.

"I think you mean, dragging their feet," he explained. "The other
means..." He trailed off uncomfortably as Carter's eyes went wide.
"I'll explain later," he muttered, flushing as he finally caught the
inadvertent double entendre of Teal'c's phrasing.

"I understand, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c solemnly intoned. "As I
believe Colonel O'Neill would say were he here, they are indeed
jerking us off."

"That too," Daniel choked, rubbing his eyes in desperation as
Samantha grinned and Narim looked mystified.

"Never mind," she told the Tolan. "The problem remains the same. The
Lakwasians insist they are doing everything to find Colonel O'Neill
and Captain Pierson. And maybe they are, but Thor and Lya..."

"Yes," Narim agreed. "Their responses to your questioning were
somewhat evasive."

"They know more than they're telling," Daniel frowned. "I don't
think Jack and Adam are anywhere on Lakwasa."

"That is my feeling also," Teal'c added.

"I'm beginning to think you may be right," Narim sighed. "Still, if
they are not on Lakwasa, where would they have gone?"

"Well, they wouldn't have left willingly," Daniel insisted.

"Certainly not unless the colonel felt there was some compelling
reason," Carter added.

"Only the presence of the Goa'uld could compel Colonel O'Neill to
such a degree that he would violate his orders," Teal'c pronounced
emphatically.

"That is impossible!" Narim exclaimed. "The Asgard would surely know
if a Goa'uld or Jaffa had infiltrated the conference."

Daniel cocked his head as his eyes went wide. "Maybe that's what
they're hiding..."



Chapter 15

"Nice landing," Methos complained between bouts of vomiting.

O'Neill merely shrugged. "You wanted soft, I gave you soft."

"In a bloody chemical waste pond!" Methos groaned, suddenly
bowed with pain as his stomach once again twisted into knots.

"Like I could tell that nice shimmer by moonlight was a chemical
effect! I told you to swim for it," Jack reminded him
unsympathetically. "But noooo, you had to play Immortal. You'd
rather walk a mile under water and inhale that crap than put in a
little extra effort."

"Sometimes I really hate you," Methos whispered as the pain
finally began to recede.

"Now that hurts," O'Neill responded. "Must be the chemicals
talking," he added mercilessly.

Methos said nothing, coughing up what he hoped was the last of the
toxins. He shivered as a cold night breeze suddenly touched his skin
and he began to itch -- scratching first just a little, here and
there, then uncontrollably over his entire body. He looked to Jack in
horror as the other man, though obviously less effected began doing
the same thing.

"This is an industrial park, right?" O'Neill said hurriedly,
grabbing Methos by his collar and pulling him to his feet.

"Yeah," Methos nodded anxiously, rubbing his arms in a vain effort
to quell the burning of his skin. "Looks it."

"Then they gotta have some kinda decontamination unit."

"Have to be," Methos agreed as Jack grabbed up the packs and pulled
him along.

"Then lets find it -- and quickly!"

They followed a broken concrete walk toward a cluster of darkened
buildings, passing warning signs proclaiming hazardous chemicals and
dangerous toxins along the way. Minutes later they entered what must
have once been a very pretty plaza, but the fountain was empty except
for a few inches of muddy, leaf and trash filled rain water. They
bypassed it in favor of what appeared to be an abandoned factory
building, where O'Neill suggested they might find showers. It seemed
logical to Methos so they headed inside, desperately searching for
anything resembling a bathing area.

They found it easily enough, though nothing was ever that simple.
Only one of the many showerheads was still working and the rusty
water was slow in coming.

"To hell with this," O'Neill muttered as he found a piece of rusty
piping overhead and with a hard yank at the joint, tore it away.

Water suddenly cascaded down and they gratefully stepped under the
downpour, stripping off their clothes as the itching finally began to
subside.

"Soap's in the pack," O'Neill told Methos, who nodded and went to
retrieve the bars. Of course, the chemical reaction would have
eventually worn off -- even without a thorough cleansing. But, as
Jack had taught him, there was no need for an Immortal, or for that
matter an Ancient to needlessly suffer.

They scrubbed themselves clean for nearly an hour, not caring that
the water was merely tepid, or that it might eventually flood the
place.

Finally, O'Neill wandered off, returning a short while later with a
couple of musty blankets in which to wrap up. They left the shower
room and their polluted garments behind as they searched for a good
place to hunker down for the night.

"This'll do," O'Neill said, tossing his pack down.

Methos looked around at what appeared to be a management office. The
large bay window overlooking the factory floor was filthy and
cracked, but there were three exits and the remains of some shabby
carpeting. He joined O'Neill at a narrow window on the far side of
the room overlooking the plaza.

"Looks like this whole place is dead," the colonel commented.

Methos nodded. "Worse, it smells like parts of New Jersey. Guess the
Gallisians never went through our conservation and reclamation stage.
I sincerely hope the rest of the planet isn't like this. This place
is a toxic waste nightmare!"

"Maybe they were busy," O'Neill commented blandly, "funding other
more important projects."

Methos said nothing as Jack moved away to gather up his pack and
open it. The Immortal turned with a look of surprise as the colonel
pulled out a couple of colored shirts and two pairs of nondescript
trousers.

"I swiped us some civvies from the crew quarters," O'Neill
explained. "Wasn't sure about your shoe size, so..." he tossed Methos
a pair of dark plastic boots with a soft silky lining, "I hope these
fit."

Methos caught them, a sudden smile creasing his face. "Not to
worry," he said, going to retrieve his own pack. "I slipped out
during one of your midnight forays and did the same."

Methos' choices were no less subdued than Jack's were -- though
he'd done his stealing out of the officers' quarters. Choosing
items shoved to the back of the closet, either because they were out
of fashion or unneeded. Strangely, they were of a slightly different
texture and style than those O'Neill had taken. And after they'd both
had a chance to look everything over, they mixed and matched until
each of them was reasonably comfortable and satisfied.

"Are we in or out of fashion, I wonder?" Methos asked with amusement
when they were both fully dressed.

"We'll find out," Jack shot back tiredly. "Anyway, we can always say
we're artists or something."

Methos paused, liking the idea. "Yeah, artists are always in fashion
-- even when they're out. Musicians, too. You don't sing by any
chance, do you?"

O'Neill stared at the Immortal as if he'd lost his mind. "What do
you think?"

"No, you certainly don't," Methos agreed, recalling their hideous
rendition of the Hymn to Ninkasi. Of course, he could excuse his
forgetfulness there. At the time he'd been far too drunk to care.
"Maybe you play an instrument?" he asked hopefully.

"Spoons."

"What?"

"I play the spoons," O'Neill repeated lying back against his
pack. "You know, you eat soup and cereal with 'em."

"I know what spoons are," Methos rolled his eyes. "I'm just
wondering where you might have picked up such
a...specialized... musical talent."

"Ever been on a training exercise that left you stuck in a half-
flooded fox hole for six days with two guys from Kentucky?"

"Never had the pleasure," Methos smiled painfully as he took a seat
on the floor, crossing his legs casually.

"It was that or take pot shots at the rats trapped in there with us -
- and we kinda liked the rats," O'Neill said, reminiscing. "At least
they were entertaining."

"Yeah," Methos sighed with empathy. "Rats can be a lot of fun once
you get to know them. Unless, of course, you're starving," he
amended. "Then it's best not to get too attached to your little
buddies." O'Neill merely grunted in agreement.

"So," Methos went on. "Do we have an actual plan or are we just
going to wing it?"

"A plan, a plan," Jack muttered, rubbing his forehead. "Aren't you
always the man with the plan?"

"Yup," Methos smiled wryly. "That's me. Except... Well, I just
thought I'd ask before making any decisions."

"A wise idea, my minion," O'Neill responded with mock sagacity. "It
is always best to consult one's commanding officer before beginning
the sacred task of planning."

"So, you do have a plan," Methos grinned.

O'Neill nodded briefly. "We approach this as a black ops mission."

"Which means?"

"First and last, we always blend in."



Chapter 16

"Are we blending?" Methos asked with a jaunty grin as they sauntered
down a crowed street in the early morning sunshine of the Gallisian
capital city.

"You see anyone staring?" the colonel asked mildly.

"A few. Women mostly, but that last guy we passed -- the one in the
bright green suit -- he couldn't take his eyes off you."

O'Neill gave him a sideways glare and finally sighed in frustration.
"Look, Pierson, this is how it works. We blend in completely with the
locals, or we make ourselves so noticeable that no one could possibly
think we're up to anything nefarious. Got it?"

"After five thousand years, I think so."

Jack shook his head. "This isn't just about survival, Pierson. We
need information. In order to get that we have to gain access to a
heavily fortified base."

"Or," Methos suggested, "we could find one of the more
expensive whores with a wealthy, well-connected clientele and get our
info that way."

O'Neill merely smiled. "Been there, done that. Works, too. But for
that we need money, or some way to infiltrate the inner circle
without being obvious about it."

"Or maybe being very obvious about it," Methos murmured as he paused
to watch a street magician doing tricks. The crowd applauded -- some
tossing octagonal plastic squares of many colors into a small bucket
beside the man.

O'Neill followed his gaze and nodded. "Can you juggle?" he suddenly
asked.

Methos looked askance. "No, but I can mime."

The colonel frowned. "I hate mimes."

"Of course you do," the Immortal sighed. "It's very chic these days,
but that wasn't always the case."

Jack looked down his nose at Methos. "I can tell you've never
attended eleven birthday parties in one month with the kiddy set."

Methos winced visibly. "Mimes?"

"And clowns. Sometimes both. And once or twice, a Barney," O'Neill
nodded morosely. "When it was Charlie's turn I got him jugglers and
rented a merry-go-round. I think the other parents were just as
relieved as the kids were."

Methos smiled at that. "The last time I raised a little one it was
bobbing for apples, a few games of Blind Man's Bluff and Pin-The-Tail-
On-The-Donkey, followed by the standard attack on the piņata."

"The good old days," Jack sighed.

"Yeah, pre-Nintendo," Methos commiserated. "Now the world's just one
big video game."

"Who knows," Jack shrugged, "maybe it always was and we just didn't
know it."

"Now there's a frightening thought," Methos commented. "But as for
your earlier implied suggestion. Perhaps I can mime and you can do
some juggling?"

"You haven't got the balls."

"What?" Methos asked indignantly.

"I meant," Jack rolled his eyes as he enunciated each word very
clearly. "That we have nothing with which to juggle, Captain Pierson."

"Right," Methos smirked. "In that case, how about I swallow your
sword?"

"You know, Pierson, you're a very sick man."

Methos laughed and they walked on, unobtrusively eyeing the crowd,
pausing now and again to glance longingly into shop windows. But only
the ones filled with food.

"Have you noticed something?" O'Neill finally asked.

"You mean the clothing?"

O'Neill nodded as they passed another man wearing a real cloth tunic
and boots made of highly polished leather, rather than the synthetic
weaves and plastic most of the populace wore. "Perceptive as ever,
Pierson."

"There seems to be a class system here," Methos murmured as they
passed a group of women -- some wearing cloth and leather, followed
by others, obviously servants, all wearing synthetics. "Probably
financial, maybe based on an earlier caste system."

"And what class are we dressed for, I wonder?"

"Somewhere in the middle would be my guess," Methos commented.
"Wealthy enough to afford something which looks more like natural
cloth -- the stuff I got from the officers quarters --but still
unable to afford the higher end garments."

"My thoughts exactly," O'Neill nodded. "Any suggestions?"

"We need to find a bookstore or library."

"You're pulling a Daniel on me?" the colonel asked, horrified.

"You know, Danny isn't quite the fool you may think he is," Methos
retorted. "So, unless you want to stop someone on the street and
start quizzing them on local customs, laws and fashion then we'd
better do some research -- and quickly."

"Okay. When you're right, you're right," O'Neill agreed. "You go
find the books, do the research and I'll get us some money. We should
meet back here around sunset."

"What are you planning?" Methos asked nervously.

"Never mind," the colonel told him bluntly. "I've done this kind of
thing before, remember? Never on another planet of course, which
might make it problematic. But, I'll cross that bridge when it's
burning behind me."

Methos took a deep breath and nodded. Jack was always talking about
his trust issues. Well, this was one time he had to trust that
O'Neill knew exactly what he was doing. "Okay, I'll see what I can
find out and meet you back here by sunset."

"That's the spirit," Jack grinned, clapping him on the shoulder.
"Oh, and Pierson," he called after Methos as they both started to
turn away. "Watch your head."

Methos' eyes widened as the colonel disappeared down the street.
He'd sensed no Immortal presence here. Was Jack, with his altered
molecular structure, aware of something he wasn't? Or was he simply
telling him to be cautious?

Methos swallowed his anxiety. Whatever the case, Jack was right in
telling him to be wary. If Gallisia's original population was part of
some sort of experiment, there just might be Immortals here. Who knew
how many had been swept up in Goa'uld raids on Earth, or been
accidentally bred by disembodied Ancients passing through a star
system?

And what about the Game, Methos wondered. Did other Immortals on
other worlds foolishly play it?

With a frown, Methos shrugged off the cold chill that suddenly swept
up his spine. Now was not the time to worry over endless
possibilities. He was armed and as was his practice in any new city,
he'd taken note of several temples in passing. Besides, he had a job
to do and not much time in which to accomplish it. He paused,
glancing at the crowd until he caught sight of a man passing. One who
had the doleful look of a servant about him.

"Your pardon," Methos said, suddenly blocking the man's path. "I'm
not from around here. Can you tell me where I might find a library?"



Chapter 17

Locating the less affluent areas of the city had been easier than
O'Neill expected. Like many large cities he'd seen on Earth this one
was much the same. Wealthy neighborhoods with pockets of poor areas
wedged here and there, or relegated to one or the other side of town.
And whatever this city was called, with its soaring skyscrapers and
blocks of spiffy new apartment blocks mixed in with older, more
sedate edifices, it reminded him of Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and
New York.

He found what he was searching for as he wended his way through
older, narrower streets, where trash drifted in the breeze and a few
haggard residents stared at him in dispirited silence. On one corner,
a group of young men and a couple of women stood in a cluster,
passing a container of something back and forth. The men began the
expected posturing of troublemakers as Jack approached, but one look
in his eyes and they quickly settled back into their weary stance of
hopelessness.

A few streets further on he came across the sort of shops he'd been
seeking. A clutter of cheap jewelry, musical instruments and
electronics filled the front of one window, while across the way the
same type of items were all neatly displayed under a glowing sign
heralding the customer into the finer establishment. Jack ignored the
first shop and headed for the more upscale of the two.

A soft chiming coincided with his entrance and a smoothly dressed
man of middle age stood behind a counter to greet him.

"Can I help you?" the proprietor asked.

"You might be able to," Jack said. "I'm looking to sell something."

The other man smiled with the false charm of a used car dealer who
thought he'd spotted an easy mark. "Excellent. And I'm in the
business of buying."

"Sounds like we have something in common," Jack smiled just as
falsely. "Ever seen one of these?"

Without any ado he pulled his dress sword from his pack, watching
carefully as the man's eyes went wide with avarice.

"Of course I've seen swords," the salesman scoffed as he recovered
his aplomb.

But not like this, O'Neill thought smugly.

"May I have a look?" the man asked.

Jack nodded and laid the still sheathed weapon gently on the shiny
glass counter.

A few moments later, having extracted the sword and examined it, the
man sighed. "What a shame, I thought it was the real thing. But...
It's fairly typical of these modern imitations. A good one, I'll
grant you that, but a fake all the same."

"Y' think?" Jack asked innocently.

The man shrugged blithely. "Tell you what. You seem like a nice
fellow. I'll give you sixty gels for the sword and five for the
sheath."

Whatever sixty-five gels were Jack knew it was a cheat, and he
picked up the sword, casually running a few elbow and wrist exercises
with it. "Hmm. I don't know," he shook his head, staring down the
edge of the sword. "That's real gold and inlaid ivory on the pommel
there. And the steel is of the finest quality. Not to mention the
sheath is hand-tooled leather."

The man went slightly pale as he suddenly realized that his supposed
mark might actually know the real value of his property. "True, but
the...uhm...market for such weapons is rather limited."

"Imagine that," Jack openly mocked the man. "And to think I saw one
just like it at the museum yesterday."

"You couldn't have!" the man insisted. "I've never even--"

"Seen one like it?" Jack finished with a nasty grin.

The man's face darkened with anger. "I'll give you two hundred gels
and that's my final offer."

"Two thousand and not a gel less," Jack countered.

The man looked both shocked and embarrassed. Still, he doggedly went
on. "It's not worth five hundred, much less two thousand!"

"This is a one hundred and fifty year old cavalry blade carried into
battle by my great, great grandfather and it's the only one of its
kind in existence."

The man's mouth dropped and he started to sputter something, but
Jack raised a hand to stop him. "In any case," he smirked as he
sheathed the blade and slid it back into his pack. "Thanks for the
free appraisal."

With that, he turned on his heel and walked out, crossing the street
to the rather seamy looking, dirt encrusted windows of the first pawn
shop. Twenty minutes later he walked out with the monetary equivalent
of five thousand gels in his pocket courtesy of the wizened, but
honest old man who owned it. And he didn't doubt the old man knew
just where and to whom he ought to sell a weapon that unique.

In fact, O'Neill suspected nodding politely to the crooked
businessman across the street who looked downright furious --from
what he'd seen in the window of that antiques shop he'd passed in the
center of town, the Gallisians had never made swords with an
eye toward both style and serviceability. Which meant the old
man, with his list of very private collectors, would likely get ten
times what he'd paid for it.



Chapter 18

Methos checked his watch again just as he was finishing up his
overview of Gallisian culture and customs. A fairly easy thing to do
since the Gallisians were quite proud of their history and
accomplishments -- writing voluminous essays, books and articles on
the subject. He'd also had a quick look at a few current news and
entertainment vids, which gave him most of what he needed to know
about local fashions and the political state of the planet at large.

It would do for the moment, he thought, stifling a yawn as he
reached for his pack, suddenly feeling the presence of another
Immortal.

Shit! Methos silently cursed the fates. Still, he reminded
himself, the presence of another of his kind did not necessarily mean
he would be challenged. Of course, he wasn't interested in finding
out either way, so he beat a hasty retreat from the library, slipping
out a side door. The presence followed and Methos grimaced, searching
for any sign of the Immortal. The street was crowded with office
workers on their way home, which made him feel marginally safer, but
not by much.

Then, ominously, the other Immortal was suddenly standing beside
him. No doubts now about whether or not they played the Game on
Gallisia, Methos frowned. This man wore the uniform long coat of all
Immortals and carried himself like a warrior born.

Trapped, but ever cautious, Methos waited for the other man to make
the first move. Friend or foe, he wondered briefly, then the man
offered him a small, exceedingly polite bow. Surprised, Methos nodded
politely.

"I don't know you," the Ancient Immortal stated bluntly. "And as far
as I'm concerned we have no quarrel."

"I am Daric. There is a temple not far from here. Will you join me?"

Flabbergasted, Methos brows rose in astonishment. If this man was
indeed offering friendship, he could learn a great deal about
Gallisia, and an old Immortal was surely the perfect source. He was
still wary, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. Methos
finally nodded, following from a short distance behind, which,
strangely enough, Daric didn't seem to mind.

"Might I know your name?" Daric asked as they entered the temple
proper and Methos followed him into an open courtyard.

"Adam," he said simply, watching as the other man shrugged off his
long coat and laid it carefully on a stone bench.

"You are an honorable man, Adam. Such is rare among Undying Ones.
Therefore, I will make this quick."

Methos watched in horror as Daric suddenly drew his sword from the
sheath at his back.

"Are you mad?" Methos exclaimed, backing away and hurriedly
tossing his pack aside as he unsheathed his own blade. "This is holy
ground!"

Daric gave him an odd look. "As you said, we have no quarrel, Adam.
But... You hold your weapon as one who has fought before. Surely you
know that we may only fight on holy soil."

Methos felt a sickening twist in the pit of his stomach. He'd never
known from whence or where the belief that holy ground was forbidden
to a challenge had originated, but it was a tradition honored by
all Immortals. At least on Earth. Then again, perhaps it was
merely a cultural inhibition stemming from a time when the god's
house was considered sanctuary to mortals and Immortals alike.

"Tell me," Methos said hurriedly. "Are you not afraid to offend God
by fighting in a place of worship?"

Daric laughed heartily at that. "You are joking, surely."

Methos shook his head, desperately trying to figure a way out.
Unfortunately, high stone walls enclosed the courtyard, and the only
escape route he could see was to go through Daric.

The other Immortal sighed. "I must have been mistaken. You are
young. Still, another moment or two will make no difference in the
end. You are armed and the Goddess demands we fight."

"The Goddess?" Methos asked. "Which goddess?"

Again Daric sighed. "Your mentor should have told you all of this,
child. But," he shrugged, "I would not see you come to me in
ignorance. So," Daric began, "I shall tell you the truth. We, the
Undying Ones, do not follow the god of this world, for we are not of
this world. We follow only the teachings of Esotar, Blessed Goddess
of the Ancient Ones, who teaches us--"

"Give me a break!" Methos groaned no longer bothering to
listen. Esotar...Esotar... It sounded familiar. Almost
like...Ishtar. And Ishtar was another form of a name he knew all too
well. Inanna!

That bitch! Methos cried out silently. And now he knew where
the Game had come from and why. Just as the Tok'ra had been created
to keep the Goa'uld from growing too powerful, so Inanna had created
the Game on worlds outside her direct sphere of influence. Which gave
her the power, at least in absentia, to wean out Immortals, keeping
their numbers to a minimum.

And suddenly Methos remembered. Remembered something he had not only
long forgotten, but something which came from a time he'd never
really wanted to recall.

Bound hand and foot, he'd been dragged into a dusty paddock by the
terrified mortal servants of the man who had purchased him after the
fall of Akkad. Ku'haktar. He could see him even now, standing
over him, asking if he knew anything at all of the Game.

Wisely, Methos had pretended ignorance, for he really didn't know
all that much and maybe this man could enlighten him. He vaguely
remembered listening to a rambling and barely coherent tale of some
exquisitely beautiful goddess of which Methos had never heard and to
which Ku'haktar swore he would be wed once he killed all other rivals
and achieved the status of the greatest warrior on Earth. It had
sounded like all the rest of the nonsensical fables he'd heard from
other Immortals, each of whom had their own version of how the Game
began, or worse yet, none at all.

Coming back to himself with a slight shudder, Methos evaluated
Daric. The man seemed intelligent and, in other circumstances, was
probably a good-natured, kind-hearted fellow. Yet, Methos knew the
look of zealot when he met one and he doubted he could change Daric's
mind. Still, he had to try.

"It's a lie, my friend. There is no Game. No goddess to be won."

Daric stared as though his opponent was a raving lunatic, and it was
then that Methos knew there was no hope. No way to reason with a man
whose world would be shattered by such knowledge. Still, Methos
thought, he knew how to play the Game. And if Daric was going to
insist on fighting Methos wanted not only to shake his faith, but
more importantly, his emotional balance.

"You cannot collect my power," Methos patiently went on, "like
someone siphoning a battery. We are all separate entities living on
even after our mortal bodies are shed -- to wander amongst the
cosmos, or to find a new host and begin again. And as we age,
corporeal or not, our energy grows until we are powerful enough to
evolve into a higher form of being. Esotar lied to keep Immortals
from ever joining against her. But Esotar is dead. I should know. I
killed her."

Daric's face went purple with rage. "You cannot kill a goddess!" he
shouted, stalking his opponent.

"I beg to differ," Methos shrugged. "But we can agree to disagreed
on that." And without warning, Methos lunged forward, engaging the
fight.

**********

Jack returned a little early from his self-assigned mission, hiding
a smile as he felt the weight of the laser pistol in his pocket along
with the one tucked securely into his boot. The Gallisians might not
be interested in developing bladed weaponry, but they were pretty
good at making small arms. And, given the areas he'd deliberately
surveyed, it hadn't been too difficult to locate a less than
honest weapons dealer who'd been willing to sell what O'Neill wanted
for just the right price.

Not wanting to appear to be loitering on the street he peered into
shop windows, pretending to examine the goods, all the while keeping
an eye out for Methos.

A short time later he spotted Pierson turning a corner as he
followed an unidentified, but well dressed man. A man in a long coat,
like the ones Pierson and all the other Immortals he'd met generally
wore when they were out in public. Again that sense of foreboding
filled him as it had when he'd warned Methos to watch his head. He
didn't know why he'd done that. It had simply felt...right.

He wouldn't take a challenge, Jack thought. Not here. Not
now.

O'Neill frowned. On the other hand, it was possible that Pierson had
found a source of information too good to pass up. Now that would
be more like him, Jack reasoned. And again, for some reason,
O'Neill was certain the stranger was an Immortal.

Without pause, O'Neill headed up the street, turning the same corner
and following the pair at a distance. If Pierson had found a
good informant then he certainly didn't want to scare the fellow off.
Still, his training demanded he be there as backup just in case
anything went wrong.

With an inward sigh of relief he saw them enter what looked to be a
place of worship. A friendly meeting then, Jack surmised, on neutral
ground. He moved into the shadowed entrance, avoiding the sunlit
courtyard. Trees and shrubs blocked his view and muffled much of the
sound, but he could vaguely hear them talking. The tone seemed
cordial then suddenly the other man shouted and the sound of steel on
steel resounded through the courtyard.

Jack whipped out his pistol and openly entered the area. With a look
of surprise O'Neill stared at the combatants, watching with
admiration as Methos seemed to have the upper hand in this fight. If
fact, he looked downright joyous facing an opponent worthy of his
skills. But this was holy ground! Methos would never violate...
No, wait, O'Neill thought. If the Game is false then so are
the rules.

All right, he thought soberly, not lowering his weapon.
Let's see how it goes. I can still shoot the bastard if it looks
like he's going to win. Or, he smirked. He could shoot them both
and give Pierson the dressing down of a lifetime for endangering US
government property -- namely, one Adam Pierson.

As Jack watched the look of pleasure left Methos' face and suddenly
he was no longer playing. His narrow face went expressionless and
with a low cut to the midsection and a higher one that ripped through
the other Immortal's chest, Methos had the stranger on his knees.

"We had no quarrel, Daric," Methos said coldly as he pulled his
blade from Daric's chest. "So have it your way."

As expressionless as Methos, O'Neill watched the final strike,
nodding shortly as the surviving Immortal finally took note of his
presence.

"Sorry, Jack," Methos said as the Quickening began to enfold him.
"I'd no idea we only fought in temples here."

Now that's my Methos, Jack smiled to himself, putting his
pistol away. Sensible and calculating.

The Quickening grew in strength and violence and Methos screamed,
holding out his arms as it tried to consume him. Lightening scored
the walls of the enclosure and as Jack ducked for cover the
lightening arced and struck him, knocking him to the ground.

Methos watched in horror as Jack writhed -- caught in the blast of
Quickening energies. Then, much to Methos' amazement, he felt the
Quickening violently pulled from his body only to see it enter
O'Neill as the light show ended and the courtyard once again became a
place of solitude.

Methos hurriedly wiped his sword on the dead man's shirt, snatched
up Daric's coat as spoils of war then went to Jack, kneeling beside
the unconscious man. Never in his life had he seen anything
like that before! True, he'd once shared a Quickening with
MacLeod, but never did a Quickening jump from one Immortal to the
next! Or, Methos wondered nervously, was it something more than that?
Something having to do with Jack being an Ancient.

There was no time to think about it now though, as he saw Jack start
to come around. Methos quickly sheathed his sword, helping O'Neill to
his feet.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you never to duck under a tree during a
lightening storm," Methos chided as he hefted one arm over his
shoulder.

"Wha--?" Jack muttered dazedly, trying to shrug off Methos' hold.
"Oh. Yeah. I'm fine. Just give me a couple of minutes."

"There are no minutes when you're Immortal," Methos stated bluntly.
"We have to leave. Now!"

"Right," Jack nodded. "The body."

"Smart lad," Methos muttered, pulling him into a shadowy niche as a
mortal, probably a priest of the temple, came to see what all the
commotion was about. A moment later, they slipped out the front exit
and into a side street where Jack was able to quickly recover his
strength.

"Jesus!" The colonel groaned. "I didn't think there was anything
worse than getting zatted."

"Never had the pleasure of meeting a Goa'uld pain stick, have you?"

"Yup. But that's just so much pain. It overwhelms you, but then it's
gone and all you feel is wiped. Getting zatted really stays with you.
Makes my brain itch for days."

Methos nodded thoughtfully. "You may be right. It does sort of feel
like a small Quickening. But," he added, glancing nervously around.
"Now that we've defined zatting versus Quickening, what do you say we
get the hell out of here?"

"Sounds good to me," O'Neill sighed, pushing himself away from the
wall against which he'd been resting. "I think I may have found us a
place to stay. The area's a bit dicey, if you know what I mean, but
it's cheap and I get the feeling that at night it's the place to be."

"Don't tell me," Methos rolled his eyes as they sauntered around a
corner and he followed Jack's lead. "It's sort of like an artists'
colony?"

Jack merely grinned, slapping Methos on the shoulder. "You'll see."



Chapter 19

"There they are going in," Carter pointed to her laptop screen as
the others leaned forward to watch.

With Narim's help in gaining them permission, she'd managed to
create an interface with the Lakwasian's Ministry of Justice observer
cam database. Essentially, continuous video downloads of everything
that went on outside the private homes and offices of every citizen.
And though crime was nearly non-existent on Lakwasa, the old system
was still maintained. Not merely for security reasons, but as a
moment by moment historical account of the entire planet's existence.
According to Narim, the Lakwasians now had at least a thousand years
of their public activities recorded for future generations, who would
likely do the same.

"Now, let's move forward in time," Samantha said, typing in the
codes. The scene switched to show the very first delegates leaving
the Gallisian flagship.

"It seems an orderly debarkation," Narim commented.

"Very," Samantha agreed. "But if we speed it up just a little," she
said running the scene a bit faster than it had occurred in real
time, until the last of the delegates were escorted off the ship,
followed shortly by the Gallisian ambassador and his aide. "You never
see them leave."

Narim's face showed his concern. "They were dressed rather boldly,"
the Tolan finally nodded. "It was not difficult to spot them going
in. Therefore, I cannot dispute the images. Perhaps O'Neill and
Captain Pierson were touring the ship, as is quite often the case at
such gatherings, and did not hear the request to leave. If this is
the case, then we must inform the Gallisian ambassador immediately."

"Not so fast," Daniel said worriedly. "You might be right, Narim.
Maybe they didn't hear it. But if they were okay, once they realized
the ship had left for Gallisia, wouldn't they have informed somebody
there'd been a mistake?"

"Indeed, they would have," Teal'c agreed.

"It's been four days," Daniel reminded Narim. "We can only assume
that they're being held prisoner, or there's a reason Jack decided
not to leave."

Narim looked stunned and turned to Samantha. "Do you also believe
the Gallisian ambassador is lying, or that O'Neill and Pierson... How
do you call it? Stowed away?"

Carter looked slightly embarrassed and shook her head. "I don't know
what to think," she admitted. "All I know is that the colonel and
Pierson never left that ship and we've heard nothing from, or about
them, since. That's what worries me."

"Yes," Narim finally nodded. "I too would be concerned were my
companions missing. But we must show this evidence to the
ambassador and allow him to comment on it."

"Uh..." Daniel looked to Sam worriedly.

"We could do that," she explained tentatively. "But if they are in
trouble, it might jeopardize their safety. I think," she added
gently, " I need to speak with General Hammond first. Only he can
decide on how this mission proceeds."

"I concur," Teal'c nodded, and Daniel let out a small sigh of relief.

Narim was a good man, and honest beyond doubting, but as they all
knew, he wasn't particularly street savvy. And as the remaining
members of SG-1 looked to each other, silently agreeing, they weren't
about to let anyone but General Hammond make, what could turn out to
be, a disastrous decision.

**********

Chief Security Officer Nordovic signed off on another report,
studiously ignoring the Chief Engineer and his Captain, who were
engaged in a quiet, but heated discussion.

"That's impossible!" Captain Grenkos finally exclaimed, throwing up
his hands in disgust. "Nordovic!" he called, and the officer looked
up, innocently raising a brow.

"Yes, sir?"

"Fylas here says the hull breach wasn't just a breach, but an
explosion, not an implosion, as we originally believed."

Nordovic joined the two officers, nodding soberly. "That's entirely
possible, sir, given that the engineers who did the refit never
removed the escape pods and their explosive disengagement apparatus.
And in the rush to prepare... Well, if there was even a minor flaw in
the materials used..." Nordovic feigned concern. "We might just have
been very lucky that only one pod became unstable during our re-
entry, Captain."

Fylas shook his head. "Not possible. I've checked and rechecked that
area. The hull plating was in no way flawed, and far too durable to
allow for such low-level explosives to account for a blast of that
magnitude. Besides," the Chief Engineer added worriedly, "our scans
have picked up several foreign substances adhering to what's left of
the pod bay walls. If I didn't know better I'd say someone
deliberately blew out that section of the hull."

"What?" Grenkos exclaimed.

"Captain," Nordovic interjected, adding a hint of worry to his tone.
"If what Engineer Fylas says is true we must investigate this
immediately. May I have permission to--"

Before he could even finish the captain nodded. "Get right on it,
Nordovic. Use whatever staff and resources you need."

The Chief Security Officer saluted and turned to leave.

"Oh, and Nordovic," Grenkos added softly as his security chief
looked back. "For now, let's just keep this between us, shall we?"

The three men glanced nervously at the single Jaffa left to guard
the bridge. Nordovic nodded tightly. "Yes, sir," he responded.

With a quiet sigh of relief Nordovic exited the bridge. The two
ambassadors had been extremely creative in making their escape, but
the ruse wouldn't hold up for long if the Jaffa got wind of it. And
the Captain's behavior, as well as that of the Chief Engineer, seemed
to confirm his suspicions. None of the officers aboard, and perhaps
in the entire fleet, seemed happy with this bizarre alliance to which
their government had agreed.

Leaving Nordovic to wonder, as he went to assemble his investigative
team, whether or not they might form their own alliance and rid
Gallisia of these creatures.



Chapter 20

"Nice digs," Methos affected a pained smile as he wandered through
the open area of the loft O'Neill had rented. The place was fairly
large and came furnished with a few tattered couches, a handful of
mismatched chairs, a couple of shaky tables and several old
mattresses stacked in a corner.

"It is what it is," O'Neill shrugged.

"We couldn't have stayed in a decent hotel?" Methos muttered.

"Not and have complete access to the software development company
right downstairs."

"The what?" Methos asked, startled.

"Well, not complete access," Jack amended with a sly smile.
"But access to its lines of communication." He pointed toward a wall
panel and opened it. "Apparently, the guy who runs the company
thought they'd be a bigger success than they have been. Wired the
entire building for an expansion that's never come."

"And you just happened to find this place?" Methos asked a tad
suspiciously.

O'Neill gave him a look of mild disgust. "No, I did my job. Checked
the area for empty locations that didn't shout 'hide out' and came
across this place. Specifically, the sign on the front door for the
developer downstairs and the one beside it that said, Rental Space
Available."

"So you just contacted the building owner," Methos nodded, relaxing
a little.

"That was easy," Jack snorted, easing himself down onto a dusty
couch of indeterminate color. "It's the same guy who owns the
company. Said he'd be glad to rent it to a couple of artists since
the last group he had in here was a troop of dancers who used it as a
studio and sleeping quarters -- whenever they slept that is."

Methos winced and glanced at the old wood floor. "Hard to get work
done under all that thumping."

Jack merely nodded and yawned. Methos smiled and went to drag a
couple of the least beat up mattresses into a sheltered corner.

"Oh, and before I forget," Jack muttered as he rose with a soft
groan, obviously tired from all the walking he'd done. "Keep this
with you at all times," he ordered, handing Methos the other gun.

The Immortal accepted it with a nod of appreciation. "I'm
impressed," he said with a slight bow of his head. "Busted broke this
morning and tonight not only a safe place to stay, but properly
armed. How did you do it?"

"Pawned my dress sword," O'Neill sighed as he lay down on the
mattress fully clothed.

"You're serious," Methos nearly gasped, staring at the
colonel in wonder. "But that was your great, great grandfather's
sword!"

"Like hell it was," O'Neill chuckled softly. "That's still in a safe
deposit box back home -- and I'd only wear that one to a White House
formal. But after we met up with Quinta and her horde of Immortals, I
had an exact replica made --one that would take a fine enough edge to
do whatever might need to be done."

Methos nodded thoughtfully. He'd never really examined O'Neill's
dress sword, merely accepted as a given what the man had told him of
it. "If that's the case, then it wasn't worth all that much. A few
hundred dollars maybe, at least for the craftsmanship. Not enough to--"

Jack opened one eye and glared at the Immortal. "I'm trying to get
some sleep here, Pierson. Stop being so obtuse."

With a soft bark of laughter Methos nodded. Of course O'Neill had
sold it for far more than it was worth -- at least on Earth. Here on
Gallisia it would likely be considered one of a kind.

"So how much did you get for it?" Methos asked.

"Enough to get us weapons, a safe place to work from and a little
bit more. You want receipts?"

Methos rolled his eyes. "No, I want to go recon the area for myself
and get us some food. If that's all right with you?"

O'Neill sighed and pulled a handful of blue plastic chips from his
pocket. "That's thirty gels. Don't spend it all in one place. And
Pierson," he added sarcastically as the Immortal took the money. "Do
us both a favor. Stay away from temples, shrines and cemeteries."

**********

Methos wandered the area, which turned out to be just as he'd
suspected -- a combination industrial area and artists' colony.
During the day a variety of small manufacturing businesses operated
out of the dingy, almost decrepit buildings. But at night, the real
shops opened as the artists came out to socialize. Small cafes, off-
beat galleries, hole in the wall dance clubs and avant-garde
boutiques opened their doors after dark and the neighborhood
underwent a pivotal change, going from work-a-day drab to bohemian
chic.

It seemed, Methos thought smiling to himself, that Gallisian cities
weren't as dissimilar from Earth cities as he'd believed. Here would
live the so-called social outcasts -- the artists, musicians, writers
and those who didn't quite fit in with the rest of Gallisian society.
And because neither he nor O'Neill would really fit in, Jack had
chosen the perfect camouflage for their stay. This was a place where
unusual behavior and eccentricity was not merely expected, but
cultivated and desired. More to the point, radical ideas, strange
questions and bizarre philosophical discussions would likely be
considered standard conversation. It reminded him of Athens, Paris,
Moscow, Berlin, New York and London at various times in history, when
people talked of new ideas and spoke of social changes just
beginning. Perhaps, he mused, their sojourn here might be rather more
invigorating than he'd thought.

Still, Methos did not lose sight of his mission. He found a cheap
cafe and ordered the Gallisian equivalent of a glass of wine along
with two of their late dinner specials to go. While waiting for his
order, Methos found an empty chair at a slightly rickety, but
beautifully hand-painted table, absently listening to the
conversations around him as he sipped his wine.

"...and then he had the nerve to tell me I was too thin to
model for him! He wanted a real woman with thighs, not
sticks for legs!"

"...but of course, the theory only holds if you discard the
essential idea behind it."

"...not an old fool! I tell you it's true! The government is
conspiring with aliens!"

Methos perked his ears up at that last comment, casually turning in
his seat as if to make himself more comfortable as he slyly noted the
occupants of the table next to him.

There was laughter at the man's comment. A slightly older fellow
with wild red hair shot through with silver gray.

"Don't be absurd, Nolly," one of the women in the group chided.
"We've had off world trade for more than a generation. Everyone knows
that. There's no conspiracy there."

"This is different," the man called Nolly insisted, lowering his
voice slightly. "I've heard things. People have gone missing. Lots of
people. "

"What people?" someone asked snidely. "I hear the news too, old man,
and there's been nothing about anyone disappearing."

"That's why it's a conspiracy, you dolt!" Nolly shot back. "Hundreds
are missing, yet the government says nothing. Why?"

"Maybe they're just on vacation," another member of the group drolly
interjected making everyone laugh.

Methos' finished his wine with a quick swallow, hardly surprised
when the conspiracy theorist threw up his hands in disgust and fled
the restaurant muttering to himself.

There's always one, Methos thought with amusement. Then
again...

The Immortal leaned over to the next table and spoke to the group.
They were young and fairly tipsy, which would likely make his job
much easier. "Forgive me, I couldn't help but overhear your
scintillating conversation with that rather odd little man."

A very pretty girl giggled at his description. "Nolly? Oh, he's
harmless."

"It's a real shame," a young man added sadly. "Nolly Ulkurt was one
of the greatest writers of his age -- a giant in the realm of
fantastical writing. Strange worlds, new concepts... Won all sorts of
literary awards. You must have heard of him?"

"That was Nolly Ulkurt?" Methos temporized, attempting to
feign excitement mixed with surprise. "Of course I've read his books,
but..." he shrugged innocently, "what happened to him?"

"Time," the young man sighed. "No market for his kind of writing
anymore. Now he writes about people being kidnapped by aliens and how
the government's selling us out to evil creatures from space who want
to take over the universe -- starting with our bodies."

"Sounds like a great idea for a vid series. Maybe make the
protagonist an earnest, but deeply troubled government agent,
desperately trying to gather enough proof to warn the world of this
imminent invasion. One who's also been saddled with a skeptical, yet
beautiful, female partner, who doesn't believe in aliens and,
unwittingly, has been sent by the conspirators to discredit him. They
could call it... The X-Files." Methos grinned as the group
laughed raucously. "Still," he added thoughtfully as his order
finally arrived. "I'd just love to meet him. You know, fulfill a
childhood dream? Does he, by any chance, live in the area?"

As Methos stood and collected his packages, the giggly young lady
gave him directions. "But you won't have to worry about going into
that old rat trap," she added. "Most days you can find him down in
Old Harbor Square declaiming sections of his latest work to anyone
who will listen. Last I heard, no one wants to publish his new stuff."

"Thanks," Methos nodded politely and turned to leave.

"Hey wait!" one of the men called. "You're new around here, aren't
you? So, what's your gig?"

Methos paused and cocked his head. "I'm a performance artist. Come
down to Old Harbor Square sometime and watch me work."

The others waved as Methos departed, his eyes narrowing dangerously
as he reached the street. Nolly Ulkurt might be half-mad, but what if
he wasn't? What if he'd somehow stumbled across the truth and was
desperately trying to warn his fellow Gallisians?

Of course, the idea seemed ludicrous that out of all the Gallisians
on the planet, only he and a maybe a handful of others in the
government knew of the Goa'uld. Still, he'd better tell Jack.

And even if the colonel dismissed it as coincidental, Methos did
want to meet this Nolly Ulkurt. Mad or not, a man of his stature and
background would have friends...and fans. Maybe even...people willing
to believe.



Chapter 21

General Hammond wore a somber expression as he reviewed Carter's
report. Finally, he closed the folder, nodding soberly. "The
evidence," he agreed, "is very compelling. As are your conclusions
regarding the possible whereabouts of Colonel O'Neill and Captain
Pierson. Good work, Major."

"Thank you, sir."

"Please excuse us now, Major."

Carter nodded briefly and left the general's office, glancing only
once at Major Davis, the Pentagon liaison assigned to the SGC.

"Any comments, Davis?"

"If I may speak candidly, General?" he responded.

"Certainly, Major."

"It's a touchy situation, sir. The last report we had from Colonel
O'Neill was that Gallisia could possibly become an ally. If we accuse
the Gallisians of kidnapping two of our officers we could lose any
chance of an alliance."

"My thoughts exactly, Davis." Hammond sighed deeply. "I believe the
best tact to take is the one Narim suggested. I'll request a personal
meeting with the Gallisian ambassador and present the evidence. He may
honestly be unaware of the situation and willing to help us locate our
people."

"And if he's not?" Davis asked.

Hammond shook his head. "Let's cross that bridge when we come to it,
Major. In the meantime, have our people start searching for Gallisia's
gate coordinates. If they do turn out to be hostile to our approaches,
we may need to send in a team covertly."

Davis frowned. "That may not be the best course of action, sir."

"True, but if this doesn't work, it may be the only course of action
available to us. I am not willing to lose Colonel O'Neill or
Captain Pierson."

"Yes, sir," the major responded.

At that, General Hammond dismissed him and called for his aide. This
would have to be handled delicately. Very, very delicately.

**********

Teal'c, Daniel, Carter and Narim met General Hammond and his aide
several hours later on the Lakwasian side of the gate. He greeted them
all and nodded for Carter to lead the way.

"I'd like to thank you for arranging this meeting," Hammond told
Narim.

"It is the least I could do for my friends," the Tolan explained. "And
a wise decision on your part to attend to this personally. I am told
the Gallisians consider strict adherence to protocol as a sign of
civility."

Hammond smiled politely. "Protocol is the backbone of our military."

Narim nodded, smiling. "It is one of the measures we also use to
evaluate the social advancement of any society. If your technology
were less primitive, I'm sure the Curia would be happy to consider a
trade agreement with your world."

"We prefer the term less advanced or up and coming,"
Hammond gently teased.

"My apologies," Narim responded earnestly.

General Hammond hid a smile of amusement at Narim's sincerity as they
entered a wide, pink tiled courtyard filled with giant orange abstract
statues and undulating flowers of sickly green. Suppressing a wince,
the general let out a small sigh of relief when the Gallisian
ambassador's aide finally appeared to lead them to the official
residence where they would meet.

Leaving Narim and the others behind to wait, Hammond followed -- his
aide at his heels, the man trying vainly not to stare at anything and
everything. Thankfully, the ambassador's quarters were less garish
than the courtyard, but still very pink. Apparently, pink considered a
"neutral" color by the Lakwasians.

"Gallisia welcomes you," the ambassador bowed politely. "I am
Ambassador Y'bar et Hoshmid."

"General George Hammond," he responded, equally polite then he waved
to his aide, introducing him matter-of-factly as, "Major Lukas."

At a slight gesture from Hammond, Lukas moved to take his station at
the entrance to the room, the ambassador's aide matching him step for
step.

"Please," Hoshmid said to the general, "join me for a light
refreshment."

"With pleasure," Hammond agreed, understanding they'd begun the
intricate dance of diplomacy.

There was a sweet Gallisian tea and little cakes with some kind of
citrus filling, topped with nut slivers, which reminded the general of
almonds. He smiled with pleasure, tasting each of these, and offering
his compliments to the ambassador -- even if the intensely sour
filling wasn't exactly to his taste. At last his host relaxed enough
to open the conversation.

"I was pleased when I learned you wished to meet with me, General
Hammond. It is my hope that Gallisia and Earth might one day have most
beneficial relations."

Hammond nodded. "It is our hope as well, Ambassador Hoshmid. But the
purpose of this meeting is not, I'm sorry to say, for the discussion
of trade relations. I'm here to advise you of a situation -- one of
which I believe you to be completely unaware. It concerns my missing
men, Ambassador. Colonel O'Neill and Captain Pierson."

The ambassador sat up straighter in his seat. "If you would explain,
please."

"Certainly. But before I say anything, please understand that I am
not making an accusation of wrong doing, simply requesting your
assistance in this matter."

Hoshmid nodded acceptance at his words and gestured for the general to
continue.

"We have evidence," Hammond went on, "from the Lakwasian archives,
which clearly show both my men boarding the Gallisian flagship along
with your other guests the evening they disappeared."

"They did indeed come aboard," Hoshmid agreed. "I was most pleased to
greet them."

"Be that as it may," Hammond continued, "those same archives confirm
that neither man ever left your ship before it departed."

A flash of terror crossed the Gallisian's face, so quickly that
Hammond almost wasn't sure he'd seen it, then the ambassador's mask of
professional calm fell sharply into place and Hammond was certain of
it.

"I do not know what to say," Hoshmid said quietly. "I was led to
understand that all my honored guests were escorted from our flagship.
But I do believe you, General, for you do not seem the sort of man who
would come to me without proof. If this is truly the case then I must
contact Gallisia and have the situation investigated immediately.
But..."

Hammond waited patiently for the ambassador, who seemed to grow more
agitated by the minute, to finish.

"It has been several days," Hoshmid finally said, wiping his brow of
sweat. "I cannot imagine why they would not have left the ship, nor
announced their presence to one of our officers at some point during
the journey."

"Can't you?" Hammond asked gently.

For a long moment Hoshmid's face remained calm, though his eyes
offered a hint of desperation. "Perhaps," he agreed softly. "Yet,
things are not always as they seem. We cannot always choose our fate."

Hammond nodded slowly then rose to leave. "I believe I understand,
Ambassador. And I would not want you to in anyway compromise your
position."

"It is not my position which concerns me," Hoshmid responded. "But
O'Neill... His presence on the Council... It has changed everything."

Hammond raised a brow curiously, but let the comment pass. It wouldn't
be polite to interrogate Hoshmid -- especially when Narim could
probably answer most of his questions regarding the conference. "Thank
you for your time, Ambassador. When can I expect to hear from you?"

"As soon as I have news I will contact you," came the response. Though
to Hammond it sounded as if Hoshmid had already given up hope of ever
finding O'Neill or Pierson -- alive, that is.

Hiding his concern, Hammond accepted his words at face value and
departed; ignoring Major Lukas as the aide fell into step behind him.

"General?" Daniel asked hopefully as Hammond returned to the
courtyard.

"I believe we have a serious problem, Dr. Jackson. That man is worried
--and not just about O'Neill and Pierson taking an unauthorized
excursion on his ship."



Chapter 22

Jack woke at the sound of Methos' key unlocking the door. He stretched
and checked his watch, then remembered he'd used it to make the timer
for the bombs. Have to requisition me a new one, he silently
grumbled. He recalled seeing the Gallisian equivalent of a time piece,
but none of the ones he'd looked at had any of the extra
special features covert ops could provide.

The smell of warm food wafted across the room as Methos entered.

"Certainly took you long enough," O'Neill groused, standing as the
Immortal set the food down on one of the tables and removed his coat.

"I had a look around," Methos shrugged. "You're right, this place does
come alive at night."

O'Neill frowned. "Tell me you didn't meet up with another Immortal."

"Nope," Methos grinned. "And there are no temples, cemeteries or
shrines of any sort in the immediate area. But," he added as the
colonel joined him at the table. "I did hear some interesting gossip."

"Gossip," O'Neill stated blandly as he tore open one of the plastic
food sacks. "I take it this has something to do with the Goa'uld?"

"It might." Methos shrugged, sounding uncertain. "Could also be some
has-been science fiction writer's imagination working overtime."

O'Neill listened closely as between bites of food Methos reported what
he'd overheard about Nolly Ulkurt's suspicions.

"Sounds like a wacko," Jack commented around a mouthful of what might
have been the Gallisian version of a hamburger.

"That was my first thought," Methos agreed. "But he could be on to
something. The Goa'uld not only need hosts, but Jaffa to carry their
young. If I were planning to conquer a world and I wasn't a
System Lord, but one of the lesser Goa'uld, I'd pick a place just like
Gallisia. Make a deal with someone in the government to share
technology then quietly snatch a lot of people. Just a few here and
there at first, using some sort of indoctrination technique to make
sure they stayed loyal to me. Then more as time passed and I felt
secure. I'd take the ones society isn't interested in -- like the
homeless or criminals. Use them to start building a power base.
Eventually, I might take men and women with families, or their
children as hostages. Key players, mostly. Again, just a handful at
first. By the time my unsuspecting allies figured it out, I'd have a
strong enough force with ties to this planet that my foothold would be
secure."

O'Neill nodded thoughtfully. "Only one problem with that scenario. The
average snakehead can't help playing god -- it's like an addiction to
being worshipped. The Gallisians are too sophisticated for that."

"Now they are," Methos agreed. "But what if I were to unleash a bio-
weapon? Wean down the population to manageable levels. Destroy their
government and social structure then re-educate what's left of them?"

"Or just bomb them back into the Stone Age," O'Neill nodded.

"I'd never do that, but a Goa'uld might be fool enough to make
that move. Would certainly ruin any chance of using the Gallisians'
advanced skills to build my own fleet of ships, create more Jaffa and
rise in the power structure of Goa'uld hierarchy until I was next in
line for System Lord."

"Maybe a System Lord who'd accidentally die in his
malfunctioning sarcophagus?" O'Neill raised an eyebrow. Methos
smirked without responding. "Dawson was right," Jack chuckled. "You
are one calculating son of a bitch."

Jack grinned as Methos' eyes gleamed with pleasure while fractionally
bowing his head in acknowledgment.

"Y' know, it's a good thing you're on our side. Otherwise, I'd have to
kill you."

Methos smiled widely. "Why thank you, Jack. For the first time in
centuries I feel truly complimented!"

O'Neill could only shake his head, chuckling softly. "So," he finally
said, leaning back in his seat, pushing the remains of his meal aside.
"How are you planning to make contact with SciFi Guy?"

When Methos told him O'Neill nearly fell out of his seat laughing.

"A street mime?"

"Performance artist," Methos sniffed disdainfully.

"Whatever," Jack grinned. "In the meantime, I'll be out getting us
some computer gear." He twitched his head toward the wall where the
access lines remained hidden. "If SciFi Guy does have any
useful information I want to be able to follow up on it. We need to
get cracking here, Pierson. I want to know which Goa'uld we're facing
and how to get past any security and at that gate."

Methos nodded. "That may take some doing. The Gallisian government
seems as protective of their secrets as we are. I heard talk about off
world trade, but nothing about a stargate. I get the feeling the
general populace believes they're still using ships."

"Maybe they still are," O'Neill acknowledged. "But where there's a
Goa'uld, there's a gate."

"True," Methos agreed worriedly. "But why would Hoshmid want to
discuss a trade relationship via the stargate if he's been ordered to
keep it secret?"

"Because his Goa'uld master wants it that way?"

"Perhaps," Methos nodded grimly. "The Goa'uld that manages to destroy
Earth would certainly gain the favor of the System Lords. But then,"
he asked quietly, "why was it Lya, and not Hoshmid, who suggested
our two worlds ally?"



Chapter 23

Security Officer Nordovic waited in silence as his captain reviewed
his findings.

"You found traces of DNA?" Grenkos asked, very much surprised.

"Yes, sir. We did. Human DNA."

The captain looked shocked. "Every member of this crew has been
accounted for Nordovic."

"Yes, sir. But..." Nordovic took a deep breath and went on. "The
findings don't imply that any of the crew were in the pod bay, or that
anyone was hurt in the blast, just that Human DNA was found as part of
a substance used in the making of what we believe to have been a
bomb."

"A bomb?" Grenkos asked. "How does one make a bomb using a
substance containing DNA?"

Nordovic tried not to smile as he thought of the two ambassadors
cooking up this particular brew. "Uhm, I believe the substance
utilized was urine, sir. When mixed with other equally less volatile
substances it can be used to create a form of explosive."

Grenkos looked appalled and insulted. "Are you saying a bomb made out
of piss is what blew a hole in my ship?"

Nordovic desperately tried not to laugh. "Yes, sir," he choked.
"That's exactly what I'm saying."

Grenkos frowned. "I don't find this the least bit amusing, Nordovic."

"No, sir!" he responded, quickly getting his emotions under
control.

"Good, because a security breach like that could cost us both dearly,
if you catch my drift."

Nordovic nodded, relieved as the private communicator on the captain's
console suddenly lit up and Grenkos moved to answer it.

There wasn't much of a conversation to overhear, only Grenkos'
expressions as he listened, responded in the affirmative, and finally
removed his earpiece.

"By the tits of the seven sisters!" Grenkos spat as he rose to
pace the room.

"Sir?"

"That was Sub-Minister Pashti. We had intruders aboard. I'm guessing
it was they who made that bomb in order to escape undetected,
Nordovic."

"That's not possible, Captain. Our security systems would have alerted
us."

Grenkos waved a hand in dismissal. "Our security systems would be no
match for an Ancient, Nordovic. Even that..." he seemed to stiffen at
the thought, "that...thing...would have to agree."

"An Ancient?" Nordovic feigned shock. "But why would--"

The captain glared and cut him off. "Don't be a fool, Nordovic!
Ambassador Hoshmid sent word that the Earth people have evidence their
men never left the ship. And you watched the Council proceedings, same
as I did."

Nordovic nodded. "I assumed Ambassador O'Neill's statements were the
cause of our abrupt departure, sir. And I've since heard that he and
Ambassador Pierson were missing. Of course..." he added with a hint of
nervousness, "I assumed the Goa'uld had something to do with it."

Grenkos sighed deeply. "As did we all, Nordovic. But it seems the
Earthmen must have discovered what the creature so assiduously
attempted to hide. Its very presence among us," the captain waved a
hand dramatically, "must have rung out like a bell. Who knows what
powers such a being as O'Neill may have at his disposal?"

Now that was taking the theorizing a bit too far, Nordovic
thought, considering the ambassadors had blown their way off the ship
using a urine bomb and an escape pod, despite their seemingly magical
resurrection. Still, he let it pass, hopeful this meant any further
investigation of his part in this mess might be averted during the
search process.

"I cannot answer that, Captain," Nordovic finally responded.

"You weren't meant to," Grenkos muttered distractedly as he pressed
the comm button and called for more security officers. "I'm sorry,
Nordovic," the captain said gently as the team entered, "but I have my
orders. Gentlemen, please place Chief Security Officer Nordovic under
arrest."

"On what charge?" one of the men demanded even as Nordovic desperately
shook his head trying to stop his friend.

"The charge is Treason," Grenkos answered quietly. "And may God help
us all."



Chapter 24

"It seems we have a problem, people," General Hammond addressed the
group in the conference room back at the SGC. "Despite our request for
assistance from the Gallisians, Ambassador Hoshmid sent word this
morning that no trace of Colonel O'Neill or Captain Pierson was found
aboard their flagship."

"I find that difficult to believe," Teal'c commented skeptically.

"You're not alone," Hammond agreed. "Unfortunately, we're in no
position to either confirm or contest that claim. He did add that,
nevertheless, in the interests of good interstellar relations, a
search for them would be instituted across Gallisia."

"But you don't believe him," Daniel stated.

"Son, at this point, I don't know what to believe. For all we know the
only reason they didn't get off that ship was because Thor whisked
them away for some other reason."

"I don't think so, sir," Carter interjected. "Whenever we've dealt
with the Asgard they've always been up-front about it."

Hammond nodded. "I'm inclined to agree, Major."

There was silence at the table for nearly a minute then Carter spoke
up, tentatively suggesting what they'd all been thinking. "Sir, I
think it's time we went to Gallisia."

"I concur," Teal'c stated emphatically. "I believe they are hiding
something and have perhaps taken O'Neill and Methos as their
prisoners."

"We can't know that for sure," Daniel argued.

Carter gazed at him, concern clearly showing in her eyes. "You're
right, we can't. But if I may say, sir," she added turning back to
General Hammond, "even if they aren't prisoners, Colonel O'Neill and
Captain Pierson are more than capable of going into covert mode -- and
would. Especially if they discovered something the Gallisians didn't
want known."

Again Hammond nodded. "Indeed they are, Major Carter. Which is why I
requested that the ambassador contact the Gallisian High Council and
request permission for you three to join the investigation. They've
agreed -- on one condition. That you respect their authority over the
situation and abide by all the laws of their government."

"Which means they don't want us going off on our own and snooping
around," Daniel translated.

Hammond nodded. "I don't like the sound of it either, Dr. Jackson, but
it can't be helped. On the other hand," he added disingenuously, "if
you happen to find yourselves in a position to obtain certain
information outside official channels, permission to snoop is
granted."



Chapter 25

Methos bowed to his audience, enjoying the applause and amazed at the
amount of gels they'd tossed on the little plastic mat he'd laid down.
Just his good fortune -- the Art of Mime had never been invented on
Gallisia.

"An interesting performance, friend."

The words came from behind and Methos turned to find Nolly Ulkurt
standing beside a tree, arms akimbo, smiling at him strangely. Methos
mimed his thanks and the writer grinned.

"You're definitely not one of them, but you're not from here
either, are you?"

Methos didn't have to feign shock. The question did indeed surprise
him.

"Shall we talk, you and I?"

Methos nodded once and turned back to his audience, dramatically
sweeping up his mat as he mimed his farewells, pretending to keel over
with delight as they expressed their disappointment. Still, the crowd
was orderly in their departure, and a few more gels were pressed into
his hands while others pleaded that he return to the park tomorrow. He
mimed his joy, but in no way offered any promises on that score. With
any luck, he and Jack would soon have the answers they wanted and
there would be no need for him to return.

He swiftly collected his gear, following Ulkurt to a more secluded
area of the park.

"I'm Nolly Ulkurt," the man finally introduced himself. "But you
already know who I am. And I wouldn't do that just yet, if I were
you," Nolly added as Methos pulled out a cloth to wipe the grease
paint from his face.

"And why not?" Methos asked, finally dropping his mime persona.

"You haven't seen the day's news vids, have you, Adom?"

Methos blanched under his make-up, but tried to remain calm.

"Well, you certainly have my interest, Nolly. Please, do go
on."

"You don't act like a deranged mental patient," the writer commented.

"A what?"

"I'm betting your fellow 'escapee' Josk, doesn't either."

"Is that how they're describing us?" Methos murmured, slightly amused.
"How very clever of your government. Even if we tried to tell the
truth, we wouldn't be believed. Deranged mental patients, indeed!"

"Oh, that's nothing compared to what they call me!" Ulkurt laughed. "I
was always a bit of a rabble-rouser in my youth, so of course it's
easy to say I'm suffering from paranoid delusions."

"And are you?"

"What do you think, Earth man?"

Methos' eyes went cold. "I think you seem to know quite a lot. Some of
it may even be accurate. Perhaps we should find a
more...secluded...place to talk?"

"Relax, friend," Ulkurt smiled. "I merely wanted to get your attention
-- as I believe you did mine?"

Methos twisted his lips in a wry smile. "Your young friends certainly
like to gossip. Should I be concerned?"

Nolly shrugged. "I wouldn't be. They don't have much use for the news
vids. And one government's deranged mental patient is often another
man's brilliant, but misunderstood artist."

"This is true," Methos agreed, having known quite a few artists and
musicians who could be classified as deranged by those who didn't
understand what truly drove the creative process.

"So..." Nolly smiled. "You mentioned a more private place where we
could talk?"

**********

The loft was virtually silent when Methos opened the door and stood
back to let Nolly enter. He followed, then stood stock-still, shock
clearly written across his features at what he saw. There by the
access panel was Jack, surrounded by computer monitors, hard drives,
and crisscrossing cables, along with a few items even Methos couldn't
identify. Even stranger was that he was working this jury-rigged
computer center almost as if he'd been doing it all his life.

"Uh, Jack?" Methos inquired softly.

"Who's your new friend, Pierson?" the colonel asked without glancing
up.

Methos swallowed his confusion and introduced his companion.

"Nice to meet ya," Jack waved without turning around. "There, that's
got it!"

An instant later a dozen screens lit up as Methos moved closer to see
what O'Neill had wrought.

"You've managed to tap into their satellites?" the Immortal
gaped.

Jack finally looked up, a slightly befuddled, but satisfied look on
his face. "Yeah, I guess I did." He shrugged it off with a wry smile.
"I was passing this old junk shop and something caught my eye. Gave me
an idea."

"An idea..." Methos whispered, staring in wonder as dozens of
different views flashed by displaying every nook and cranny of
Gallisia. "Obviously, it was a good one."

"I have my moments," O'Neill grinned. "So," he at last turned to
Nolly, "you're the writer with the conspiracy theory fixation."

"It's only a theory if it isn't a fact," Ulkurt corrected. "And your
very presence on this world confirms that."

"Y' think?" Jack asked innocently.

"I do indeed," Ulkurt nodded, smiling slightly. "Once, a long time
ago, I was a very famous man. I made a lot of friends and changed a
lot of minds about the possibilities and probabilities of space
exploration. Many young men and women were swayed by my words to look
to the stars. Even my nephew, Laliam, entered the space corps when we
discovered new life and off world trade became possible."

"That a fact?"

"You can deny it all you like," Nolly explained. "But I know who you
really are, and that you are both in terrible danger. My nephew serves
aboard the ship that brought you here. He, and others like him in the
military, whom I've met over the years, have confided certain fears
and doubts about our government and its dealings with a certain race
of aliens our people know nothing about. They cannot talk about it,
but they feed me bits of information which I have tried my best to
disseminate in the guise of fiction."

"Well, that'd be a big help," O'Neill scoffed. "Where I come
from we call that 'plausible deniability'. Makes it easier for the
power structure to call anyone who does blow the whistle a nut
job."

"Perhaps," Nolly agreed. "But it also sets the stage for others to
believe, if and when, the truth is exposed."

"He's got a point," Methos interjected. "The X Files certainly stirred
that kettle of fish for some of the folks back home."

"Never saw it," Jack responded. "I'm not much for the alien invasion
sort of SciFi anymore."

"That's not what I meant, Jack, and you know it."

O'Neill frowned disgustedly, but nodded. "Okay, Ulkurt, but I still
need a little more proof than just your good word. Tell me something I
know you shouldn't know."

Nolly smiled amiably. "I know you are here to help us and that you
come from a very powerful planet called Earth. More importantly, you
have come to destroy the creatures threatening our world."

"We have?" Jack asked, nonplused. But even he couldn't deny
Ulkurt knew more than he should.

"May I sit?" Nolly asked, pulling up a chair when O'Neill nodded. "You
must be here for that, or why else would you sneak aboard our
flagship?"

Methos and Jack shared a painful glance, but rather than admit the
embarrassing truth, nodded resolutely.

"Yeah, well... We kinda like to know what the enemy is planning," Jack
temporized, putting up a good front. "And you guys seemed like nice
folks, so... We did what we had to, right, Pierson?"

Methos stifled a smirk at a stern glare from Jack.

"But we could use your help," the colonel added. "There are things we
need to know before we can make our move."

"Such as?" Nolly eagerly asked.

"Oh..." Jack shrugged casually. "Just one or two items. Like... Which
Goa'uld's running the show? How many Jaffa he's got? And, uh, just
where's the stargate at?"

"The what?"



Chapter 26

A contingent of security guards led by an officious looking man met
the rest of SG-1 at the gate.

"Greetings, I am Deputy Administrator Frovar, if you will please
follow me," the man said in stilted English, abruptly turning as if it
were expected of them to follow without a word.

Daniel raised an eyebrow, glancing at Carter, who gave him a slight
shake of her head forestalling any questions. They'd been told to play
it however the Gallisians wanted, unless another opportunity presented
itself. And if it didn't, they would damn well make one.

The underground tunnel through which they were led seemed newly carved
out of the rock. The walls were smooth and perfectly bored as if a
giant laser had simply cut through the stone like it was butter.

"Nothing in the colonel's last report indicated technology as advanced
as this," Carter murmured to Daniel.

"Maybe they had a little help," he responded.

"Daniel Jackson is correct," Teal'c quietly confirmed. "I have seen
such tunnels before. On a world destroyed by Sokar, which was then
captured in battle by Apophis."

"You're saying Goa'uld technology created this place?" Daniel asked,
surprised.

"No, Daniel Jackson, only that I have seen such tunnels before."

Carter nodded and moved a little more swiftly, catching up to Frovar,
who was anxiously hurrying them along.

"Excuse me, Deputy Administrator," Samantha said as she reached his
side. "As a scientist, I couldn't help but notice the perfectly
spherical shape of these tunnels. I'm curious as to the technology
that created them."

"Your curiosity is noted, Major Carter," came the clipped response.
"But such information is classified. Now," he went on sternly. "If you
have no more questions, I shall show you to your quarters."

Samantha's brows went up, but she diplomatically ignored the rudeness
of Frovar's remarks. "Of course," she answered as they reached a
railed-in circular platform.

Frovar opened the waist high gate and ushered them in followed by two
security guards. He quickly tapped a code on a thin panel set into the
top rail and the platform rose upward through another tunnel, bringing
them to different level in the complex.

The area surrounding the lift was small, but extremely well guarded,
uncomfortably reminding Carter of the SGC. If anything went wrong,
getting out of here would not be easy. They surrendered their weapons
as requested, though not without some hesitation. Still, Carter had a
few tricks up her sleeve, courtesy of General Hammond. The diplomatic
mission of locating their lost comrades certainly had priority, but as
the general had intimated they were free to use their discretion, if
and when the opportunity arose.

Their packs were then thoroughly searched and one or two items, such
as Daniel's Swiss Army knife and Teal'c dagger, confiscated.

"What is this?" a guard demanded as he removed a small bag from
Carter's pack.

With a polite smile she showed him how to unzip it. "Just a sewing kit
and a few cosmetics," she answered sweetly. "A girl never knows when
she might need to look her best." The response garnered a tiny smile
and the guard replaced the travel pouch much to Carter's relief.

"You're weapons will be returned upon your departure," Frovar
explained as he again led the way. They passed through a heavily
reinforced door and into a well-lit antechamber where a real elevator
this time, brought them to the surface.

A few minutes later they were standing in the middle of a moonlit
garden surrounded by buildings built of typical steel and glass.
Frovar led them to the furthermost building on the left side of the
quadrangle where a guard opened the door and they went inside.

"These are the visitors quarters," the Deputy Administrator explained.
"Your liaison will be Supervisor Bolam. She will explain all the
regulations and requirements of your stay and answer any questions you
may have." The woman in question saluted her superior then nodded
politely at their visitors. "Now, I must return to my duties," Frovar
announced and abruptly left the building.

"Not much for small talk, is he?" Daniel muttered to Teal'c.
Expressionless, the Jaffa remained silent and Daniel gave him a
faltering smile. "Never mind."

Their quarters were fairly Spartan. Just a suite of three bedrooms
connected by a small living area. Certainly not what any of them would
consider VIP quarters, but the view of the city in the distance was
nice.

Supervisor Bolam spoke as bluntly as her superior, "For your own
safety we request that you do not attempt to leave this facility
unescorted. A guard will be posted outside your quarters and you may
contact me via the comm system. Food will be brought to you at regular
intervals," she stated coldly. "You may remain here until you are sent
for by the investigating officer, though I have been informed that it
will be some time before he can see you. In the interim, I have been
granted leave to arrange a tour of our capital city, if you are
interested in such things."

Bolam didn't seem particularly interested, but Daniel certainly was.
"A tour would be great."

"First thing in the morning?" Carter casually asked.

The supervisor frowned, but nodded. "I will see to it. Please enjoy
your stay."

At that, she turned and exited the room, leaving three puzzled looking
individuals staring at the door.

"So, was that the Gallisian version of hospitality or is it just me
who's worried?" Daniel asked his friends.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "It would seem, Daniel Jackson, that we are
both prisoners and guests."

"I don't think the Gallisians know what to do with us," Carter
added, pulling out a scanner to survey the room. "One good thing," she
finally told them as she put the instrument away, "this room isn't
bugged and there's no one watching us."

"I also see no sign of arthropod infestation or spectators," Teal'c
stated blandly.

Carter and Daniel shared a bewildered smile. They could never be sure
whether or not the Jaffa was joking. Still, that was half the fun of
having Teal'c around.

"Let's get some rest," Samantha finally suggested. "Tomorrow might be
a long day for us."



Chapter 27

Jack smiled amiably at their guest. "Would you excuse us a moment,
Nolly? I need to have a word with Pierson here." He grabbed Methos by
the front of his coat and pulled him across the room.

"Are you out of what's left of your mind?"  O'Neill whispered
furiously. "That-- That-- science fiction writer," he spat
distastefully, "doesn't know a damn thing! And you led him right to
us! Really smart, Pierson!"

Methos frowned angrily, shrugging free of O'Neill's grip. "It seemed
like a good idea at the time," he gritted back through tightly
clenched teeth. "And you're a fine one to talk! Hacking into their
satellite system on a whim," he sneered. "Ulkurt may not know the
exact details, but then, neither did I when your people first
recruited me. And don't forget about the entire population of Earth.
How many times have they been placed in danger because the SGC
was curious? And don't forget, it was you who brought
the Goa'uld down upon us in the first place when you challenged Ra's
authority. I would have knelt and sworn obedience. Remember, bend lest
you break, O'Neill."

Jack took a deep calming breath, nodding stoically. "Maybe you're
right, Pierson. And I've carried the guilt of that first mission with
me every single day of my life since. But that doesn't justify
bringing a stranger here."

"It does when that stranger has friends," Methos explained with a sly
smile. "Highly placed friends, who read his books as children and now
feed him bits and pieces of classified information. How else would he
know about Earth? If you'll recall, no one on this world even knows
about the Alliance, let alone that conference their ambassador
attended. They're as much in the dark as our people -- and in as great
a danger, if not more."

The colonel stared at Methos for a long time, frowning thoughtfully.
"Okay, Pierson. We'll see what Ulkurt can do for us. In the meantime,
do us both a favor, ask if the house is clean before you bring
company home."

Methos smiled, nodding agreement. "You're right, Jack. I should have.
But I didn't want to chance losing this opportunity."

"Or letting a possible security leak out of your sight?" O'Neill asked
knowingly, glancing at the side of the Immortal's coat that held his
blade.

"You know me so well," Methos grinned, delighted.

"I'd expect nothing less from my favorite minion," the colonel
chuckled. "Well, let's get to it," Jack added more seriously. "Gotta
get SciFi Guy to give up the goods. I want a personal
introduction to those 'highly placed' friends you mentioned."



Chapter 28

Supervisor Bolam was as good as her word when an hour before dawn
breakfast arrived and as the sun came up she appeared to lead their
tour. Frowning, she took in the sight of Carter's dress blues and the
men's casual, yet conservative suits.

"This will not do," Bolam shook her head. "I know your ships must be
extremely fast, but ours have not yet achieved even warp speed. While
all of Gallisia is aware that off-world trade exists, most citizens
have never seen an alien." The team members looked at each other very
much confused. "I must insist you change into Gallisian clothes."

Carter nodded. "We're always willing to be accommodating," she agreed.
"For you and your people."

"Thank you," Bolam smiled for the first time. "Wait here and I will
have proper attire sent."

Once she was gone Daniel frowned deeply. "Adam's reports on the
culture here never mentioned the fact that Gallisia's population was
in the dark about their scientific advances."

"Neither are the Tau'ri of yours, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c commented.

Carter simply shrugged. "All governments have their secrets. Guess she
just doesn't have a high enough clearance."

"And besides," Daniel added. "Dressing like the natives has certain
advantages -- especially if we need to disappear for a while."

"Yes, we shall blend well with the denizens of this world," Teal'c
smiled broadly.

"Let's just hope she remembers to bring a hat," Daniel muttered sotto
voce.

**********

"A party?!" Jack shouted, his voice reverberating through the
loft. "I hate parties!"

Nolly shrugged. "I usually never go to these things," he confided.
"Too many politicians and business tycoons all wanting to rub elbows
with the intellectual elite, or the brainless, but beautiful. Not my
thing."

"Then why now?" Methos asked, calmly ignoring O'Neill's furious
pacing.

"Because my contact in the military will be there. On duty, of course,
but off the base."

Jack rubbed his eyes tiredly, relaxing as he finally understood. He
slumped in a chair before his computer console and nodded resignedly.

"There's just one catch," Nolly added nervously.

The colonel frowned. "And that would be?"

"I'm the only one invited."

Methos rolled his eyes. "I'm not above gate-crashing, Nolly, but we
are wanted men. Our faces are known. And given your
description of the guest list, from my experience most business
tycoons and politicians do watch the news."

"We'll be recognized," Jack added wryly. "Or..." he asked
suspiciously. "Is that your real plan?"

Ulkurt looked shocked, vigorously shaking his head. "No, no! Please,
you misunderstand me, Colonel. My contact will be at the party.
Sub-Minister Pashti is scheduled to attend."

"That means...absolutely nothing to me," O'Neill responded
sarcastically.

"Pashti is the Gallisian equivalent of the Vice President," Methos
explained.

"He's your contact?" Jack asked, utterly amazed.

"Pashti?" Nolly laughed, shaking his head. "Never. He used to be Chief
Minister of the Security Directorate until Sub-Minister Dekoya died.
They say it was of natural causes, but I suspect Pashti was somehow
involved. He could never have risen to such a high position of power
otherwise. Behind his back they call him the Great Keeper of Secrets."

O'Neill and Methos shared a concerned glance.

"Then trust me," Jack said quietly. "He'll know this secret."

"True," Nolly agreed. "And he would certainly recognize you both
immediately. But I have a plan to avoid that."

"Oh, great!" O'Neill sighed in disgust. "Another man with a plan."

"Let's just hear him out," Methos interjected. "We've got nothing to
lose."

O'Neill sat back, crossing his arms. "Go on," he sighed, and nodded
for Ulkurt to proceed.



Chapter 29

The streets were as crowded as any major city, Daniel noted wryly as
they came out of the Gallisian Cultural Center where the Minister of
Culture had given them the grand tour himself. Thankfully, there had
been no questions asked about them, and only one or two about the
scanner Carter discreetly carried.

"Now we shall proceed to the Center for Artistry," Supervisor Bolam
told them.

"Actually," Carter interjected. "I'd really like to see something of
the countryside. I'm very interested in Horticulture."

Daniel hid his surprise, but nodded enthusiastically. "Me too."

"And I as well," Teal'c joined in.

The supervisor smiled, having softened up a bit during the tour. "More
taking of pictures?" Bolam asked, looking at the scanner.

Carter grinned. "My nephews back home are always eager to see the
places I've been."

"We all are," Daniel added. "It's one of the things Earth people do
when visiting new worlds. We take lots of pictures so we
can...uh...remember all the good things we've seen."

Bolam cocked her head, thinking. "I have been ordered to allow you
access to civilian areas only. And a brief tour of the outlying areas
of Galisiana certainly seems reasonable."

They returned to the vehicle they'd been assigned and as Bolam drove,
Teal'c beside her, Daniel leaned over to whisper in Carter's ear.

"You've found something?"

Carter kept her eyes on the scanner, nodding briefly. "The neutrino
levels here are unusually high. Not dangerously so, but when I point
this thing east the signal increases dramatically."

"What's that got to do with Jack and Adam?" he asked quietly.

"Maybe nothing," she explained. "But it could indicate some pretty
high level weapons manufacturing. And if this is what the colonel
found out, it might be why he and Pierson disappeared."

Daniel nodded thoughtfully. If Jack were going to follow a lead,
Gallisia's weapons capability would be it.

"So, we just drive around until what?"

"Until I can pinpoint where the signal originates," Carter answered.
"If there is another military facility just outside the city, then
we'll have to find a way into it."

"You think that's where they're being held?"

Carter gave a minute shrug. "No idea," she murmured. "But at least
it's a place to start looking."

**********

Yovan Nordovic, no longer Chief Security Officer Nordovic, paced the
cell in which he was being held. The military tribunal had been a
farce -- a Goa'uld inspired farce, if he wasn't mistaken -- and he
didn't believe he was.

They'd discovered his tampering. Easy to do when you were light years
ahead of your prey. And prey Gallisia was, of that Nordovic was
certain. Still, he wasn't at all sorry he'd helped O'Neill and
Pierson. Though, as he'd quickly discovered, he'd been sentenced to a
fate worse than death. He was not to be made into one of those hideous
Jaffa, but taken over by one of those foul symbiotes they carried as
soon as one became mature. It seemed the Goa'uld in charge needed
underlings, and his was a fine, strong body, ready to be used.

The sound of a door opening brought Nordovic to the bars of his
prison, while a single pair of booted feet striding in his direction
held his attention.

"Yovan?" a familiar voice echoed in the empty cellblock.

"Laliam?" he called softly and was relieved to see his old friend
finally appear. He took in the new uniform the other man wore and
nodded. "I see you're Chief of Security now. Congratulations."

"I don't want to be chief of anything if means sacrificing the life of
a friend," Laliam retorted angrily. "Why the hell didn't you
confide in me? I could have--"

"What?" Nordovic interrupted in a voice heavily laced with irony.
"Collaborated and found yourself in the cell across from me?"

The other man frowned deeply. "If it was meant to be..."

Nordovic shook his head. "Don't be obtuse, Lal. It was always going to
come to this, and I knew it. We all hate those things, but there's
none of us with a way to fight them! But O'Neill and Pierson..." he
sighed. "I had to give them the opportunity to do what we
couldn't."

Laliam glanced back over his shoulder to make certain they were
completely alone. "There may be a chance yet," he whispered. "My
uncle..."

Nordovic raised an eyebrow and nearly laughed. "I figured it was you
leaking information, but I couldn't prove it. Nor would I," he added,
"had it come to that."

Laliam smiled conspiratorially. "There's a party tonight. I put Uncle
on the guest list."

Nordovic shook his head. "No one will believe him, even if you gave
him a symbiote to use as evidence."

"I don't think I'll need to go that far," Lal grinned. "He's
asked me to place two extra names on the entertainers list."

"Two?"

"Two," Laliam nodded.

"Maybe there is a god," Nordovic murmured to himself as he reached
out, clasping his old friend's hand. "You think he's found them?"

"I know so. Still, two men alone and on a strange world? I don't know
how they can help us fight the Goa'uld."

"They aren't just any men," Nordovic explained seriously. "Before I
destroyed the evidence, I saw what they were capable of doing. O'Neill
and Pierson have powers unlike any we've ever seen..."



Chapter 30

"I don't understand," Jack muttered, staring at the endless displays
caught by the Gallisian satellites. "I've searched this entire planet
looking for signs of the Goa'uld, or a gate, but... There's nothing!"

Methos laid a hand on his shoulder. "They may be well camouflaged, or
perhaps you're simply looking in the wrong place."

"Maybe," O'Neill frowned. "But I've also scanned the entire solar
system and there aren't any ships either, other than those belonging
to the Gallisians."

Methos sighed. "Look, let's just go to this party and see what Nolly's
contact has to say. Maybe he can give us the clues we need."

Jack nodded resignedly, rubbing tired eyes as he turned away from the
multiple screens he'd been watching. He looked at Methos and suddenly
started laughing.

"What?" the Immortal asked, sounding deeply offended.

"Nothing," Jack grinned widely. "Just... The whole mime thing. It
really suits you, Pierson."

"Don't knock it," Methos told him smugly. "I made a lot of money
yesterday. And I'll be the star attraction at this party."

Jack nodded. "Good, because with all eyes on you, I'll be able to move
about freely."

"Not quite that freely," Methos said, holding up his kit of
grease paint. "You also have a part to play."

Jack sighed disgustedly. "Right," he grumbled, turning in his chair as
if he were facing a fate worse than death. "Lay it on me, mime-ion."

**********

The guard outside the VIP quarters stood at attention when the
visitors, dressed in civilian clothes, stepped out of their suite.

"May I help you?" he politely inquired, in heavily accented English.

Carter smiled, knowing this was merely military speak for: "Where are
you going and why?"

"Our tour of the city today was a wonderful excursion," she explained.
"We thought we'd like to experience a little of the night life.
Unless," Samantha asked innocently, "you have orders to the contrary?"

"I am ordered to guard your rooms, not your persons," the guard stated
tersely.

"Well, then. We'll see you later."

Carter nodded to the others and headed nonchalantly toward the exit.

"That went pretty well," Daniel murmured once they were out of
earshot.

Then, unnoticed as they turned down another corridor, the soldier
guarding their suite silently did his duty. He pressed a button set
into the wall behind him, signaling the watch commander that the
strangers were attempting to leave without a proper escort.

**********

"No, don't stop them," the watch commander was told. "Let them go
where they will. Just have them followed. Discreetly."

"Yes, Sub-Minister," came the automatic response. "And if they violate
a secure area?"

Pashti frowned at the communications console. "Notify me immediately
and I will take care of the matter." Before the commander could
respond he disconnected and smiled thinly at the Goa'uld. "Satisfied?"

The creature's eyes glowed as it grinned maliciously. "I believe the
Tau'ri have a saying. Something to the effect that, if one gives a man
enough rope, he will eventually hang himself."

The minister raised a thoughtful brow. "A most interesting analogy,
indeed. Now, if you will excuse me, my Lord," Pashti rose, bowing
graciously, "I have duties to which I must attend."

The Goa'uld waved a hand in dismissal, looking utterly disinterested.
Pashti hid his momentary anger at being treated as an underling. He
was old. Probably older than this Goa'uld. And yet, old enough to know
that no matter what this alien thought, he was in control of the
situation. The Goa'uld couldn't hurt him. Stupid creature didn't even
know about Immortals. Its only concern was building a base from which
to launch a campaign against its enemies. And Pashti had no doubt that
once he had blended with one of these creatures he would have all the
secrets of their technology.

More importantly, he would not only know how to destroy them, but able
to use their own weapons against them. And then, when all was said and
done, he would be the one ruling.



Chapter 31

They gave the phony names listed on the passes Nolly's contact had
provided to the guard at the gate, entering as they were told, through
the rear entrance of the great estate.

"So, when do we go on?" O'Neill asked, frowning disgustedly beneath
his cheerful mask of grease paint as they joined the rest of the
entertainers.

"There's no particular order," Methos whispered distractedly, his eyes
on a pair of well-endowed dancing girls in skimpy costumes. "Just work
the crowd."

"Work the--?"

Jack snapped his fingers in front of Methos' eyes and the Immortal
came out of his libido-induced trance.

"Pay attention, Pierson," the colonel ordered. "We don't have time for
that."

Methos nodded resignedly. "Sorry," he apologized as they followed the
rest of the performers into the hall. "Just having a little reverie of
the good old days. Did I ever tell you I once managed a school for
ballet dancers? Degas used to come by and we'd--"

"Can you really mime, Pierson?"

Methos looked offended at Jack's interruption. "Of course I can. At
one time, I was the principle ethologos at the Theater of
Dionysos in Athens. I'll have you know my morality plays were
considered amongst the wisest."

"Good. Then wise up to this. Shut up and mime, Captain. This
party's just starting."

**********

"The signal's getting stronger the closer we get to those abandoned
factory buildings."

"Uh... Sam?" Daniel queried nervously. "Would those by any chance be
Hazardous Materiel Warning signs?" He pointed to one of the big orange
placards nailed to a tree along the path they were walking.

Carter shrugged. "Could be. But the only real hazard the scanner shows
is an ever increasing level of neutrinos."

"Perhaps there is no true jeopardy," Teal'c suggested. "It would not
be inconsistent with Goa'uld strategy to create a superstition of
perilous evil surrounding a thing they wished kept hidden."

"Then what's that smell?" Daniel asked sarcastically.

Samantha wrinkled her nose. "Chemical byproducts," she responded.
"Looks like this place used to be a manufacturing center. There's
probably a toxic waste dump around here."

"Toxic?" Daniel's voice cracked.

Carter frowned distractedly as she pointed the scanner at one
particular building and re-calibrated the machine, refining her
readings. "I wouldn't build a home here, but it's safe enough -- as
long as we're not planning to set up housekeeping."

"Or go swimming," Daniel commented, shuddering slightly as they passed
a very large, eerily glowing pond. "Guess the Gallisians aren't big on
environmentalism."

"Don't worry," Carter grinned. "You can put it in your report when we
get back."

"I certainly will."

They moved silently through the woods, their dark clothing, originally
worn beneath their Gallisian fashions, helping them to remain hidden.

"That's it," Carter finally said, crouching behind an overgrowth of
weeds on the outskirts of a neglected, decaying plaza.

"What is?" Daniel asked.

"The north building, just beyond that fountain. That's where I'm
getting the strongest readings."

"Which means?"

Carter sighed. "I'd have to get closer, but I suspect the Gallisians
have been developing some pretty advanced weaponry involving
neutrinos."

"You're talking about a neutron bomb?" Daniel asked, horrified.

"With a signal this strong," Carter shrugged. "I'd say they have a
stockpile of them."

Daniel was speechless at the idea, though Teal'c's curiosity was now
piqued.

"Tell me of this weapon?" he asked as they carefully made their way
toward the building under cover of darkness.

"Well, technically," Carter explained, "the neutron bomb isn't so much
a bomb -- as in a weapon of mass destruction like a nuclear warhead.
It's a weapon of mass murder. Neutrinos are short-lived atomic
particles. When released in substantial amounts they eradicate life --
all life -- from insects to animals and people, almost
instantaneously."

"And the best part," Daniel added disgustedly. "Is that it leaves
everything else intact. No property damage. You can kill the tenants
and just move right on in."

"Such a weapon is without honor," Teal'c stated, frowning deeply. "I
see no use for it."

"Oh, there's a use all right," Daniel nodded. "Not honorable, but
expedient."

"And there's no defense against it," Carter added.

"Then perhaps the Gallisian people seek to use this weapon against the
Goa'uld," Teal'c suggested.

Carter shook her head worriedly. "I hope not. The end result could be
catastrophic, even for them. Just a shift in the wind and the target
would be whoever set it off."

They went silent as they reached the eastern edge of the building,
moving cautiously around the perimeter, seeking an entrance.

"I don't like this," Carter whispered as they found one half boarded
window. "Why no guards?"

"It's an industrial waste land," Daniel responded. "If you were
Gallisian would you come here for fun?"

"That's not the point," Carter explained. "We sometimes use the same
strategy to keep civilians out of secure areas. But there are
always guards posted somewhere."

"What if what you're reading is just an old weapons stockpile?" Daniel
asked. "Guarding something that's never going to be used might draw
attention to it."

"That's not how it works," Samantha muttered. "Old stockpiles tend to
become unstable and because of that are the most heavily monitored and
guarded. Still, we have to check it out. Teal'c?"

The Jaffa took point. Even without his staff weapon, Carter felt he
was still the most capable.

And what if they did run into trouble?

Daniel put a shaky hand on her shoulder as the moonlight disappeared
behind a few scattered clouds. "I have a bad feeling about this," he
whispered as they moved inside, surrounded by the enveloping darkness.



Chapter 32

Methos had been right. His never before seen or heard of mime routine
was the major attraction at the party, though Jack and his long
knives and flaming torches juggling act garnered its fair share of
attention. Like the rest of the performers, O'Neill wandered about the
mansion, since the partygoers felt free to wander as well. Here and
there he found pockets of people. Some preferred to chat with their
own clique, while others, tired of dancing or visiting the food
tables, made their way out to the gardens. It was there he met up with
Nolly at their pre-arranged time and destination behind a monument
sized hedge.

Jack nodded as he looked around and was pleased with the older man's
forethought. It was isolated here and the shrubbery would help to
muffle the sound of their meeting.

"So, where's this contact of yours?" O'Neill asked.

"Within the house," Ulkurt answered. "I had to wait until I spotted
him to know his location for the rest of the evening."

"Am I expected?"

"Yes," Ulkurt nodded. "His charge generally makes a brief appearance
at these functions to keep up a semblance of sociability then secludes
himself in one of the upper rooms with a few of his toadies."

"His charge?" O'Neill asked worriedly.

"Sub-Minister Pashti," Nolly explained. "But you needn't be anxious,"
he went on calmly. "I'm told that once Pashti and his chosen few
withdraw to their inner sanctum the guards remain outside. And since
my contact is in charge of Pashti's security tonight, he may leave his
post to escort you out once you accidentally wander in."

"Sweet," O'Neill nodded. "So, where's Pashti now?"

"On the third level. Take the rear stairs and make a right at the end
of the corridor. There is an antechamber leading to the grand library.
When you enter, begin your routine as if you were merely another
entertainer looking for an audience, my contact will be the one who
stops you."

"So, I can trust this guy not to give me away?"

"Of course!" Nolly responded, deeply offended. "I would trust
him with my life."

"I'm happy for you, Nolly. The question is, can I trust him with
mine?"

"And with the life of your friend," Ulkurt stated with great dignity.

O'Neill merely nodded. He was not so easily convinced. "So, does this
contact of yours have a name?"

"Certainly," Nolly smiled proudly. "He is my nephew, Laliam."

**********

Jack left Nolly in the gardens, ignoring his instructions to take the
rear stairs. Stealth was for people who were sneaking, and he was just
another entertainer wandering about the party looking for folks to
entertain.

He passed Methos on his way to the main staircase, smiling inwardly as
the large crowd around him seemed mesmerized by his antics. He nodded
once as he caught the Immortal's eye and Methos, being Methos, mimed
the hand signals for watch your ass -- passionately.

O'Neill rolled his eyes and started juggling the glowing spheres Nolly
had purchased for him as he made his way up the stairs, hopping up two
steps then jumping down one and turning to catch them. Applause
followed him all the way up to the first landing. He paused only once,
to secretly entertain a small group of youngsters, who should have
been in bed, but were watching Methos perform from behind some
draperies at the top of the grand stairs.

They grinned and giggled as he pulled gels from behind their ears,
giving them to the children then ordered them back to bed. If anything
went wrong he certainly didn't want these precocious innocents caught
in the crossfire. Happily, now that they felt they'd somehow been
included in the festivities, the children disappeared down another
corridor and O'Neill continued on his way unobstructed.

Nice, he thought as he reached the uppermost level of the
mansion. The way was clear and it seemed most of the guests preferred
the spacious lower levels to the maze-like floor plan he now
confronted. Still, his sense of direction was excellent and he moved
through the house as if he knew exactly where he was going.

As O'Neill turned the last corner, passing the entrance to the rear
stairs, he felt that certain indefinable something that often
alerted him to danger. He shook his head trying to fathom this new
sixth sense he seemed to have acquired. Not the one he'd always had --
that soldier's sense that something wasn't right that had served him
so well in covert ops -- but a new sense. One that seemed to be
associated with Immortals now that he thought about it.

He'd felt it once before, Jack suddenly recalled. When he'd warned
Methos to watch his head after they'd first arrived on Gallisia.
Gotta be spending too much time around 'em, Jack thought wryly.
Or maybe it was something Joe Dawson had once said. That some
Watchers, on first meeting an Immortal, seemed to develop the ability
to spot one, even if that Immortal was as innocuous in appearance as
say, Adam Pierson. O'Neill had jokingly referred to it as Spidey
Sense. The kind of extrasensory perception only geeks and dweebs
acquired after being bitten by the Watcher bug.

As he approached the antechamber leading to the great library, O'Neill
noticed the doors were open and he suddenly found himself putting away
the glowing balls in favor of his juggling knives. Spidey Sense or
not, Jack didn't like the feel of the place, or the...smell!

That was it, he realized with an inward shudder. No extra sense at
all, but the unkind scent of death that hung in the air. Not of old
rotting corpses, but of new death. Fresh blood, urine and feces.

He moved cautiously to the entrance, sheathing the dulled juggling
blades in favor of the highly sharpened one he'd brought along. And
then he saw them. Five bodies. Pashti's entire security force from the
look of it. Which one was the old man's nephew he couldn't guess, but
it looked to Jack like they'd never even had a chance to defend
themselves.

The sudden jolt of an energy weapon unexpectedly seared into his back
and O'Neill turned as he fell to the floor, cursing himself for a fool
-- then dying with an expletive on his lips as he recognized his
attacker.



Chapter 33

"I knew this was a bad idea," Daniel gasped as he awoke.

"It is never wise to allow oneself to be ambushed, Daniel Jackson,"
the Jaffa commented, raising an eyebrow.

Nearby, Carter moaned and Teal'c waited patiently for the two Tau'ri
to fully recover.

"That's not exactly what I meant," the archaeologist muttered as he
turned to help Carter sit up.

"Where are we?" she asked, looking around, trying to get her bearings.

"I believe we are being held in a Gallisian prison facility," Teal'c
responded. "The bars blocking our exit make this rather difficult to
dispute."

"Gallisian?" she wondered aloud. "We were hit by zat fire coming
around that last turn. I'm sure of it."

"Indeed, Major Carter," Teal'c agreed. "It must then be assumed that
the Gallisians are in fact collaborating with the Goa'uld."

"Now, wait a minute," Daniel argued. "We use zats and we're not in
league with the Goa'uld!"

"Neither am I. But some of my people must be."

The voice came from deep within the shadows of the large cell. And a
tall, fair-haired man, unshaven and wearing a rumpled Gallisian
uniform stepped out of the darkness towards them.

**********

This is gettin' old real fast, O'Neill thought as his eyes
snapped open. His back felt sore from where he'd been hit, but he was
sure he wasn't really injured. The thought made Jack uneasy and he
pushed it to the back of his mind. The clash of swords coming from
somewhere nearby finally caught his attention and he pushed himself to
his feet, catching his breath as he raced to find the location.

He found them in the library. Methos and the man who'd shot him
dueling up a storm -- quite literally, as sparks flew from their
weapons and the air around them crackled with energy. Unfortunately,
they appeared to be evenly matched, O'Neill thought worriedly. Worse,
he somehow sensed that the other Immortal was very nearly Methos'
equal in age, strength and power.

And then it came. The blow O'Neill had always dreaded. The other's
weapon plunged deeply into Methos' sternum and he dropped his sword,
falling to his knees in agony. Without hesitation the winner drew back
for the final blow, unaware, as Jack came up behind him, of the knife
in the colonel's hand that swiftly cut the other man's throat.

"Sub-Minister Pashti, I presume?" O'Neill asked dourly as the Immortal
turned to face him, clutching at his bleeding neck.

Jack smiled grimly and yanked the hand away. "Bye, bye," he said
coldly, slicing deeply at the open wound until he could see a glimmer
of light. And then again he cut, staring calmly into the horrified
eyes of the Immortal who'd nearly killed his friend.

The head tipped back, bright white light blasting upward then outward
as electricity crawled around the room seeking to ground. Both men
stared in shock as it passed over Methos and focused on Jack, who
shouted in astonishment as the Quickening suddenly engulfed him.



Chapter 34

"So they are here!" Daniel exclaimed with relief.

"Yes," Nordovic responded. "But they are in grave danger should they
be found."

"Such a predicament would not be unfamiliar," Teal'c commented, making
Samantha smile as she picked away the stitching that held the lining
of her coat.

"And the Goa'uld?" Carter asked. "Just how deeply are your
people involved?"

Nordovic shook his head. "They know nothing of these creatures, and I
know almost as little as they do. Had I not been Chief of Security
aboard the flagship which brought the Ambassadors here, I would
probably know nothing about them at all."

"They're parasites," Daniel told him. "Taking humans as hosts."

Nordovic nodded. "That I do know about them. This prison, which
was once full, now stands empty. The prisoners taken to be like that
one," he nodded at Teal'c, "Jaffa".

"Well that narrows the playing field somewhat," Daniel said
thoughtfully. "Goa'uld don't generally show up and make a
standing army."

"No, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c agreed. "They come well prepared to do
battle -- with Jaffa. Any Goa'uld needing to create such a force would
have to be completely without power, and therefore, subject to the
System Lords and their allies."

"But this one came in stealth?" Daniel asked, looking to Nordovic.

"He did," the man responded. "From what I and others have been able to
piece together, several months ago this creature came to Gallisia with
one small, but very powerful ship. And weapons unlike any we have ever
seen. A deal was forged. Under duress or not, I do not know. But he
gave us technology and from what I see here," Nordovic looked at the
empty cells surrounding them, "our leaders not only sold this Goa'uld
our bodies, but our souls as well."

"Not if we have anything to say about it," Daniel muttered. "Right,
Sam? Sam?" he repeated. "What are you doing?"

She grinned as she pulled the last thread away and slid what looked to
be a small tape measure from the coat's inner lining. "Remember that
short course on covert ops the colonel gave MacLeod and the others?"

Daniel shook his head. "Must have been before I joined you and Adam."

"Well this," she held up the tape measure, "is the latest in
plastique."

The others stared at her in disbelief.

"General Hammond got hold of a very special sewing kit for me," she
added, nimbly getting to her feet.

Carefully, Carter wound the tape around the locking mechanism then
slipped the watch off her wrist, breaking the straps away. Smiling,
she placed the watch face against the tape, it's magnetic backing
holding it in place. That done, Samantha set the timer, quickly
joining the others and moving them several feet away. A moment later
the charge went off with a quiet hiss, disintegrating the entire lock
--allowing them to make their escape.



Chapter 35

Coming back to life from a sword thrust to the heart was painful
enough. Looking into the burning, angry eyes of one Colonel Jack
O'Neill added a whole new dimension to the term excruciating.
Methos coughed up blood as O'Neill yanked him to his feet by the front
of his shirt.

"You wanna tell me why I just got electrocuted and you
didn't?" the colonel asked tightly.

"Not really," Methos croaked, wincing as O'Neill twisted the material
even tighter.

"That wasn't multiple choice, Pierson. Silence is not an
option." The Immortal swallowed hard still trying to catch his breath
as O'Neill sighed disgustedly, releasing him with a none too gentle
shove. "I'm one of you guys, right?"

"No," Methos whispered, wiping blood from his mouth. "Can you feel
me?" Jack merely stared at him in utter silence until Methos finally
smiled. "Sorry, that didn't come out right."

"You could say that," Jack agreed.

"Well, I can't feel you either," Methos explained.

"That's a comfort."

"Which means," Methos added, "you are definitely not Immortal."

"See, I knew that," O'Neill nodded. "No headaches, no buzzing, no
coming back from the dead."

Methos glanced away, wishing he could be anywhere but here, having
this particular conversation. "Two out of three isn't bad," he finally
mumbled.

"Oh, no!" O'Neill insisted. "I did not come back from the dead.
You and Cassandra..." Methos' expression gave him pause and Jack
groaned in dismay. "I knew it! I just knew it! Tok'ra, you sliming
bastard!" he shouted at the ceiling. "I knew you did something
funny!"

"Jack!" Methos hissed, trying to calm him. "It's not what you
think!"

"And what am I thinking, Pierson? That old Glow Ball screwed with my
DNA perhaps?"

"He made you an Ancient, Jack, not an Immortal. The one and
only Ancient in existence! He gave you his mantle, because he
knew I wasn't capable." O'Neill stared at Methos in astonishment. "Why
do you think no one at the conference said anything when you took his
place at the council table? Because you are Tok'ra's rightful
heir -- while I am merely the bastard offspring of some passing energy
being's random notion."

"It's the hair, right?"

"No!" Methos groaned, finally wiping the blood from his sword
and the grease paint from his face. "It's because... Well, because...
You are who you are," he blurted. "Colonel Jack O'Neill. An honest man
--forthright and true to your principles -- even if it means you have
to get your hands dirty. But above all, a warrior to the very core of
your being."

"Then why didn't he just choose MacLeod?" Jack asked, truly befuddled.
"Why screw up my life?"

"Because MacLeod doesn't carry the entire wisdom, knowledge and
technical data base of the Ancients in his fuzzy, long haired head."

"I don't--" Jack broke off suddenly, turning pale. "The Asgard took
that stuff out," he insisted.

Methos shook his head. "If you know anything about how the human brain
functions then you must know that once a thing is learned it can never
be unlearned, only access to the information blocked. The Asgard would
have had to carve out a portion of your brain in order to eliminate
the knowledge completely. You know them better than I do. Can you
imagine they would do that?"

Jack stood quietly for a long moment then finally shook his head. "No.
Besides, Doc Fraiser did a neuro work up on me as soon as I got back.
It was normal."

"I know this is difficult for you," Methos went on. "And I really
didn't want to have this conversation. At least not here, and not
now," he added at O'Neill's sour expression. "And I really hate not
being able to finish it, but I have information you need to know. Our
friend there," he glanced toward the headless corpse, "was a rather
talkative fellow."

"I'll bet he was," Jack said grimly as he turned away, heading for the
antechamber, passing the bodies of the five guards Pashti had
murdered.

Methos hurried to catch up. "He claimed they were holding Carter,
Teal'c and Danny."

"I know."

"You--? Oh, right. You got his Quickening."

"Tell me about it," Jack muttered, as they took the rear stairs down.
"Nice trick that Quickie business," he grumbled. "Info dump the size
of Nebraska while being fried in the electric chair."

"Well, not quite like the chair," Methos commented absently,
"but close."

O'Neill glanced dubiously over his shoulder as they reached the second
landing, only to see Methos smile and shrug.

"Anyway," the colonel doggedly continued. "What I mostly got was that
this guy was really, really old and--"

"Yes," Methos interrupted. "He was in the first group brought from
Earth. One of the reasons he attacked me off holy ground."
O'Neill glared back at him. "That really doesn't matter now, does it?"
Methos winced.

"Not particularly," Jack told him. "What does matter is what I picked
up at the end."

"Where Danny and the others are being held? The location of the
Stargate?" Methos asked hopefully.

"Well, yeah," Jack admitted. "But something more important than either
of those things."

"What's more important than rescuing our comrades and getting off this
rock?"

"Oh, I don't know," Jack said cheerfully as they reached the door to
the gardens. "Maybe the fact that there's a small cache of very nasty,
very powerful weapons controlled by a Goa'uld I know, who just happens
to be nearby. Both of which I feel a sudden, inexplicable urge to
destroy."

Methos stared thoughtfully after the colonel as he went through the
door. "I think I'm really going to hate him being all-powerful,
all-knowing and omniscient," he muttered to himself.

"I heard that!"



Chapter 36

"Sam, I really think we'd stand a better chance of breaking in here
again," Daniel complained to Carter, "if we went after Jack and Adam
first."

"The colonel would want us to destroy those weapons before they can be
used," Samantha responded. "He and Pierson can take care of
themselves."

"You're both right," a familiar voice said from behind a tree making
the four startled figures jump. "Hello, campers. Glad you could join
us."

"Colonel," Carter smiled as he stepped into the soft rosy light of a
new dawn. "I figured you'd try to meet up with us."

"Figured right, Major," O'Neill nodded. "And you must be?" he looked
to the Gallisian officer standing beside Teal'c.

"Former Chief of Ship's Security for the Gallisia One, Yovan Nordovic,
Ambassador."

"Former?" Methos asked, coming out of the shadows.

"He's the one who covered for you and Jack," Daniel explained. "We
found him in prison for treason."

"We had a guardian angel?" Methos raised an eyebrow at Jack, who
didn't seem impressed.

"Seeing you're here, I take it you met with Laliam?" Nordovic asked,
getting back to the business at hand.

Jack and Methos glanced briefly at each other.

"I'm sorry," O'Neill told Nordovic, keeping his expression bland.
"Sub-Minister Pashti killed his entire security force before we could
make contact." Nordovic grew pale. "Must have known there was a mole,
but not which one. But," he added, giving a gentle squeeze to the
Gallisian's shoulder. "The good news is, Pashti may have won that
battle, but he won't be joining us for the rest of the war."

Nordovic nodded stoically. "I appreciate your candor, sir. Has Lal's
uncle been informed?"

Methos cleared his throat. "We couldn't find Nolly. And I don't think
he'll need to be. By the time we left the area your security forces
were already alerted. No doubt they'll assume the guards were killed
to get at Pashti. A man of his...ambition...must have had made many
enemies over the years."

Again Nordovic nodded. "I'm sure the government will find someone to
blame."

"As long as it isn't us," Jack grimaced. "Pashti was double dealing
everyone. Including the Goa'uld."

"I suspected he had some part in this," Nordovic confirmed. "But he
was, in his own way, a loyal Gallisian. From what your comrades have
told me, the Goa'uld could have destroyed our planet had we not bowed
to their wishes."

"Possibly," Jack agreed. "But in this case, the Goa'uld in question
needed Gallisia much more than Gallisia needed to fear him."

Leaving the question on everyone's lips unanswered, Jack turned away
to survey the area, frowning in distaste at the familiar abandoned
factory complex where they'd spent their first night. "Almost like
coming home," he muttered wryly.

"Sir?" Carter queried.

"Nothing. It'll be in my report."

Methos pursed his lips in amusement. "And just how will you
describe the smell?"

"Like you said, Hoboken -- on a hot summer's night in the seventies,"
the colonel retorted. "Now, can we please get on with this mission?"

**********

Getting on with it turned out to be easier said than done. Still, well
armed --and already knowing the layout of the underground complex --
allowed the team's entry to go more smoothly than might have been
expected. Besides, the Jaffa they met were all Gallisian conscripts,
"liberated" from prisons or homeless shelters. Not men who'd spent
years in training, even with whatever mind control device had been
used to convince the men the Goa'uld were gods.

"Sir," Carter informed O'Neill as they headed down another corridor.
"Just ahead is the point where they ambushed us."

The colonel nodded tightly. "They knew you were coming, so they baked
a cake."

"And this time?" Daniel asked.

"This time it's our party. There should be a set of rings right around
the corner there."

"How do you know?"

Methos grimaced wryly. "Don't ask. You don't want to know. Trust me,
Danny." Jackson's brows lowered in consternation, but he said nothing
as Methos offered him a brief smile of gratitude.

Jack frowned at the pair, leading the way until, sure enough, they
came upon a set of transport rings.

Nearby, Teal'c activated the rings and hurried to join them.

"Going down?" O'Neill asked wryly as Sam pulled the novice Nordovic
closer to the group.

An instant later they found themselves in a cavern deep below ground,
facing a dozen Jaffa and one very angry Goa'uld.

"Nice to see ya again, Zippy," O'Neill said, throwing his
sharpest blade and easily penetrating the personal force field Lord
Zipak'na wore. It caught the Goa'uld in the shoulder and O'Neill
cursed his luck as the shooting started and Zipak'na retreated behind
his shield of Jaffa.

Long moments later the battle was done, but Lord Zipak'na had
disappeared down another tunnel where the roar of a ship's engine
firing up could be heard.

"Damn it!" Jack shouted, racing down the corridor with Teal'c
at his side. A blast from the Jaffa's staff weapon clipped the small
ship, but it wasn't enough to slow it down and a moment later Zipak'na
was zooming upward and out of a launch tunnel bored into the ground.

Teal'c remained stoic in the face of this loss. "Perhaps, O'Neill, you
must find a new nickname for Lord Zipak'na." The Jaffa raised a
thoughtful brow. "Slippy Zippy comes foremost to my mind."

"I like it," Jack nodded thoughtfully. "Slippy Zippy it is. Now let's
get back to the others. We've got a shitload of weapons to destroy."



Chapter 37

"These are definitely part of the cache our teams uncovered, sir,"
Carter concluded as she scanned the weapons.

"The ones Gina reported missing?" Methos asked.

"The energy signatures match," she nodded.

"Of course they do," O'Neill said expansively as he and Teal'c
rejoined the group. "Unfortunately, I think Slippy Zippy is a bit too
smart to put all his eggs in one basket."

Carter sighed. "You're right, sir. The manifest we originally had
still comes up short. There are at least two weapons still missing."

"Anyone care to wager they're the most dangerous of the lot?" Methos
asked rhetorically.

Only Nordovic didn't roll his eyes at the comment. Instead, he studied
the weapons, shaking his head slowly as he examined the dozen or so
alien objects. "And this is what Pashti hoped to control? These
weapons are far beyond anything our scientists could possibly
understand."

Jack merely shrugged. "Pashti thought if he became a host, he'd be
able to absorb all the Goa'uld's knowledge. Not!"

Methos frowned. "I don't think it works like that, even for us. And
besides, the technology isn't Goa'uld."

The rest of SG-1 caught the underlying meaning of the Immortal's
words, while Nordovic simply looked at the pair of them and nodded --
obviously confused, but accepting the comments at face value. "If we
destroy these weapons this creature will not return?" he asked.

"I doubt it," Daniel responded.

"And without Pashti," O'Neill added, "the highest rung on his ladder.
He's pretty much lost Gallisia as a base of operations."

"The question now is, how do we destroy the damn things without
destroying the entire planet?" Daniel frowned.

Nordovic smiled at Carter. "Have you any more of that plastique hidden
away somewhere?"

O'Neill raised an eyebrow. "Carter?"

Samantha shrugged. "Covert ops sewing kit and timer watch, sir."

The colonel grinned widely. "I am duly impressed, Major. You actually
paid attention at my seminar. Are those...?"

Carter only nodded and started to remove her earrings and matching
necklace. "Yes, sir. Not my style, but I think they'll do the trick."

"No, they're not," Jack responded. "But Colonel Steele looked
fabulous in a set just like 'em."

"Colonel Steele?" Methos asked.

"Old friend from the glory days," Jack smiled wistfully. "A beautiful,
dangerous, brilliant woman with eyes to die for. Designed the sewing
kit, too."

Carter cleared her throat. "I think we're ready, sir."

"Give 'em here, Carter."

The major handed over the jewelry and link by link O'Neill carefully
took the necklace apart placing the charges for optimum damage. The
earrings he placed in separate pockets, ordering everyone to the
surface.

Above ground he moved them all well out of range, taking out the
earrings with a lopsided grin. "Positive and negative charges," he
explained then smacked the earrings together, "transmitter's in the
clasp."

A moment later the ground beneath their feet violently rumbled and
shook. Then, one by one, the abandoned buildings began to collapse in
on themselves, until nothing but rubble remained of the site.

"I can't believe I wore something that powerful all night,"
Samantha whispered, absolutely horrified.

"You didn't," the colonel casually explained. "Stuff only works when
it's unlinked and properly set. Otherwise, it's just jewelry, Carter."

"Go, Colonel Steele!" Methos cheered quietly, staring at the carnage.
"Eyes to die for, you say?"

"With lashes so long and curling you'd swear they were fake--but
aren't."

"She sounds exquisite," Methos breathed as they moved through
the woods toward the city. "Think I could get an introduction?"

O'Neill turned and paused, slowly looking the Immortal up and down.
"Nah, you're not good enough for her, Pierson."



Chapter 37

"So the gate's in there, huh?"

"Yes, sir." Carter responded as they looked down on the base from a
wooded ridge above. "Hard to get to and heavily guarded by crack
Gallisian troops."

"We'd have to shoot our way in," Methos frowned.

"Just one of many good ways to start a war with folks we'd like to
become friends with -- now that Zipak'na's gone," Daniel commented
dryly.

"We could always turn ourselves in," Nordovic suggested. "You are both
ambassadors and your team's mission was to find you."

"Bad idea," O'Neill said. "Pashti may have had more support than you
realize. And most governments don't like to admit to a conspiracy
within the ranks. Ambassadorial status or not, we could still be
eliminated -- just to make sure no one ever found out."

"Besides," Samantha reminded Nordovic. "You're still wanted for
treason."

"Yes, I am," the Gallisian agreed. "But with the Goa'uld gone--"

"But nothing," Jack muttered scathingly. "You know too much. If
we could just get back to the SGC, we could maybe negotiate
your reinstatement, but--"

Without warning, first Carter, Teal'c, and then Daniel disappeared in
a flash of light. Then Nordovic was gone and Methos' eyes narrowed,
looking to Jack for confirmation.

"Thor!" they said in unison as the Asgard transported them aboard.

"O'Neill," the little gray alien nodded politely. "Methos."

"You set us up!" the Immortal angrily accused.

Again the Asgard nodded. "It was necessary."

"Necessary?!"

Daniel put a hand on his friend's arm. "Adam, he's right. They aren't
allowed to interfere unless the treaty's been violated."

"It was and it was not," Lya said from her place at Thor's side. "The
line was too fine even for the Asgard to cross."

"So that's why you refused to speak with General Hammond," Carter
commented.

"To lie is worse than to say nothing," Lya gently explained.

"But you knew we'd interfere," O'Neill surmised, more amused
than angered by their deception.

"It was hoped you would, yes," Thor agreed. "And so you have. Saving
Gallisia in the process, where we could not."

"Right," Methos grimaced. "Anything else we can do for you?" he asked
sarcastically. "Clean out the trash bins, polish your boots?"

"The Asgard do not wear boots," Thor blandly replied.

"But there is still the conference to attend," Lya smiled.
"Ambassador O'Neill? Are you now prepared to vote on the final issue
you yourself raised?"

Jack nodded slowly. "You bet your ass I am."



Chapter 38

Surprisingly, Thor returned everyone but Jack and Methos to the SGC
before turning his ship back to Lakwasa. Uninvited guests, he
explained, were not permitted on Lakwasa during the conference. Though
Narim, with the council's tacit approval, had violated that directive
when it appeared the ambassadors were missing.

"Wonder why," Methos murmured sardonically to Jack as they
returned to their rooms aboard the Asgard ship to once again change
into their uniforms.

"Don't you dis my friend, Pierson," O'Neill responded tartly. "Thor's
a stand up guy. He had his reasons. Good ones."

Methos' eyes widened, feigning astonishment. "I'm sorry. I thought
you'd be just a little miffed at being used to solve someone
else's problem."

"It was a lesson," Jack chided. "A first hand look at what the
Goa'uld are capable of when it comes to infiltration. And one I
needed to learn, Pierson, if I'm to stand up in front of the
council and all those delegates to make my point."

"Which is?"

"Whatever it takes, the Goa'uld have got to be stopped."

**********

"Then I gave this really great speech--"

Jack broke off as Methos smirked and General Hammond tried not to
laugh.

"Okay, this pretty good speech about how all the delegates'
home worlds coulda been just like Gallisia, and it brought the house
down."

"Well, that part's mostly true," Methos interjected. "The Furling
representative did nearly hit the ceiling when the delegates
rose up and started chanting 'No divestation without
representation!"

"Pierson primed 'em good, General," O'Neill commended the Immortal.
"Surprised the heck outta me, but it was damn good."

"So, of course the council voted to follow Colonel O'Neill's plan to
review each planet's defenses individually," Hammond surmised with a
smile.

"You betcha!" Jack grinned widely.

"Now that's what I like to hear, Colonel. Well done."

"If that's all, sir?" O'Neill suddenly asked.

General Hammond's brow rose. "Other than negotiating Mr. Nordovic's
return to Gallisia, I believe we're done here."

"Good, because I never did get to finish my vacation."

Hammond looked surprised, but nodded in agreement. "There are no
pressing assignments that specifically require SG-1's attention
at this time, Colonel. And I'd say you and Captain Pierson have more
than earned some time off. You're both free to leave, Colonel."

The two officers rose, one smiling, the other looking doubtful as he
followed his Commanding Officer from the conference room.

"We still have the place in Scotland, right?" O'Neill eagerly asked
Methos.

"I should think so," the Immortal shrugged. "Why?"

"Oh... You'll see."



Epilogue

The weather was still cold and damp, but Jack wasn't complaining. Not
when he was standing on the shore of a beautiful loch with a fishing
rod in his hands. Nearby, Methos paged through a small journal,
writing in that strange mixture of languages that confounded even
Daniel.

O'Neill didn't bother to turn his head as he spoke to the ancient
Immortal. "You never did answer my question, Pierson."

Methos looked up, slightly startled. "Which question was that?"

"Why I got blasted by the light show and you didn't."

"Oh, that," Methos nodded, sitting up as he put his notebook away. "I
suppose it has something to do with the fact that your energy
signature is now similar to that of an Immortal. After all, we are
just a sort of hybrid of the original Ancients. Pashti was obviously
very angry and lashed out at the one who killed him."

"He, uh, also did something else," Jack nervously admitted.

"What do you mean?"

"You know that Ancient wisdom stuff I thought the Asgard took
out? Well..." Jack sighed. "I think gettin' hit with that much juice
all at one time might have damaged the memory block. Now, whenever I
think about how we could take the Goa'uld down using Tok'ra's bases, I
get all these images and stats. I sorta know what they all mean,
but..." Jack could only shrug.

"I see," Methos said quietly, wondering if this was where he would
lose O'Neill to the greater power of the Ancients.

"You know what," Jack added. "I'll bet it doesn't help that our brains
absorbed those translation thingamajigs either."

"Maybe."

Methos' brows rose as Jack glanced back wearing a sly grin. "So do us
both a favor and don't tell Danny. He'd only mope about how he
didn't get a chip and we did. And you know what Daniel's like
when he feels unwanted."

Methos chuckled, his heart lifting as the man he knew and respected
dared to joke about what had been done to him. "Scouts honor," he
saluted. "Not a word of this shall pass my lips."

"Good," Jack nodded, turning back to his rod and reel. "Oh, and by the
way, there's someone here I'd like you to meet."

Methos looked around, utterly confused. They were alone, surely.

"Olly olly oxen free!" Jack suddenly called out.

Nearby a bird took flight as a bush stirred and a heavy set man,
dressed for fishing and wearing nothing more dangerous than a cheerful
grin stepped out from behind a tree.

"You sent for me, Jack?"

"Unfortunately, yes, I did," O'Neill responded.

Methos remained still as the mortal approached, unsure of the
situation. He acted like a friend, but seemed to be a foe -- how very
curious.

"And you must be Captain Pierson -- or do you prefer Methos?"

At that, Methos slowly eased his hand toward the gun in his pocket.

"Oh, relax!" the mortal waved a hand, obviously paying attention.
"I've known about you people for years. Our satellites started picking
up Quickenings way back in the fifties. Your secret's safe with me.
Besides," the man smiled widely. "I'm the one Jack here asked to keep
your Watcher records clean."

"It's a boring job," O'Neill muttered disgustedly. "But some lowlife
louse has to do it."

"Hey!" the mortal complained. "I thought we were past all that?"

"You thought wrong," Jack told him. "But I need you. More to the
point, I need your connections."

"Something big?"

"You could say that," O'Neill nodded. "And since it requires absolute
secrecy, and I don't trust you as far as I can throw you, you're going
to be working with Pierson here."

"Say what?" Methos demanded, getting to his feet.

Jack put aside his fishing rod, introducing the mortal more formally.

"Adam Pierson, Supreme Minion of Galactic Proportions, meet Harold
Maybourne. Ex-Colonel, rogue agent, escaped traitor and former member
of the NID. I'm sure you two will get along famously..."

End