The only tyrant I accept in this world is the “still small voice” within. — Mahatma Ghandi


Sabar fidgeted mentally as Cadogan handed a trio of wax diptychs to Gerlad, then checked the leather bag slung over his own shoulder to be certain the data tablet was still in it. Finding everything in order, the cadlywydd nodded. “Right, then; I’ll see you back in Llanavon the day after tomorrow.” Clasping arms with his aide, Sabar’s host stepped back and ceded control to the symbiote, as Gerlad busied himself at the ta’khet, pressing the symbols that would connect Galla’s chappa’ai to the one at Caer Ynys.

After the familiar kawoosh, the wormhole stabilized and Sabar stepped through, emerging deep underground in the crystalline tunnels. The wormhole evaporated behind him, and he looked around, blinking as his host’s eyes adjusted to the somewhat dimmer lighting of the Tok’bel base.

Sabar and his companions referred to themselves as Tok’bel, rather than simply Tok’ra, because while they — like all of Egeria’s offspring and those few Goa’uld who had abandoned their fellows and joined with her progeny over the centuries — were sworn to oppose Ra and all Goa’uld who followed Ra’s ways, Sabar and his friends had adopted as their primary focus over the past nearly century and a half the freedom of humans on Tir Awyr, Arverenem, Galla, Emhain and Bohan from their enslavement by the Goa’uld Bel. Call it a test case of whether such a direct intervention could be waged successfully, with an open alliance of Tok’ra and humans.

Or call it a debt of honor, in that Sabar had cause to suspect that part of why Bel had returned to re-conquer his domain not quite three hundred years ago after an absence of nearly five centuries was due to actions taken by other Tok’ra in their clandestine operations to keep Goa’uld fighting Goa’uld so that no single System Lord or coalition of them could gain too much power in the galaxy. As far as he was concerned, if some action by the Tok’ra had harmed a group of humans, then it was only right that Tok’ra should work to mitigate that harm. Some might view the re-enslavement of the Celtic worlds as mere collateral damage in the larger effort against the Goa’uld, but blending with first one and then a second host from among the Celts had given Sabar something of a personal stake in their struggle. Berwyn, his host prior to Cadogan, had been a native of Tir Awyr and had offered himself willingly as host many years after Sabar had chanced to meet him and arrange his personal freedom from Bel. In the course of their early years together, Berwyn had managed to convince Sabar to openly aid his people in the rebellion they had already been considering since Berwyn’s boyhood.

Not that it had been that difficult. Something of an idealist himself, Sabar had long chafed under the restrictions maintained by the Tok’ra High Council. Although he was widely regarded as a highly skilled and successful operative, he had also garnered a reputation as something of a firebrand over the past two or three hundred years — unusual, perhaps, for a Tok’ra firmly into his middle centuries, but Sabar was a being of independent mind and strong convictions, not unlike the queen Egeria herself had been. He supposed there were far worse things in life than to take after one’s mother, especially when one belonged to a species and society wherein beliefs and attitudes were conveyed as much by genetic heritage as by any condition of one’s own individual experience.

Being well aware that Egeria had been the first of her line to radically abandon the philosophy and practices of the System Lords and oppose them openly meant also acknowledging that his own Goa’uld ancestors were directly responsible for the harsh rule their kind had imposed on the galaxy, and the enslavement of humans and other beings under that rule. That made any action to alleviate this condition a debt of honor in its own right, as far as Sabar was concerned, even if it required more direct action than the Tok’ra generally engaged in. If the High Council were inclined to think otherwise, that was their problem. He and a small hand-picked group of like-minded friends had chosen to act according to the dictates of their own consciences, breaking with the Council and relocating to the fringes of Bel’s domain, where they had made contact, via Berwyn, with the small cell of rebels on Tir Awyr who were all that existed at the time of what would eventually grow to become known as Am RhyddidNar Fuasglaidh or Air Sgàth Saorsa in the various languages of the five worlds ruled by Bel.

Since that time, they had aided the rebels as much as they could, given the scant resources the Tok’bel themselves were able to access. The need to maintain the rebel movement as a covert, clandestine affair for many decades in order to escape Bel’s notice until it had grown large enough to be an effective force had required them to be very sparing with gifts of technology. Having high-tech tools and devices spring up here and there within his realm would surely have alerted Bel that something was afoot, and so while the Tok’bel had trained their human allies to use Tok’ra technology, they provided only limited quantities of items at first, collecting and stockpiling them over the years in a variety of locations for use when the movement reached critical mass. Indeed, some of the Celts already had some experience with Goa’uld tech captured or abandoned when Bel and his minions had lost control of his empire several centuries earlier, although they had no means of reproducing the devices and were therefore limited to simply using what they’d had on hand until Sabar and his companions had arrived on the scene.

Sefys, Sabar’s second-in-command among the Tok’bel, looked up from his conversation with Kaldin as the glow from the chappa’ai faded. Fully two-thirds of Sabar’s friends had changed hosts since allying with the Celts, blending with humans from among the Pridani and other Celtic peoples as their previous hosts aged and eventually died. Kaldin was one of the few still blended with the same host he’d had when he first accompanied Sabar on this endeavor. Kaldin and Joron had blended only five years before Sabar had approached him about it, and Joron had been barely into adulthood at the time of their blending. Like the earlier, non-Celtic hosts of Sabar’s other companions, Joron fully supported the Tok’bel effort to free an enslaved human group. He had been born and raised on a human-populated planet that was not currently ruled by a Goa’uld, but whose people were well aware of their existence and their cruelty.

Sefys, on the other hand, was one of the most recent among the Tok’bel to have partnered with a new host, a young Pridanic man by the name of Duthac who came from the district surrounding Dinas Coedwyg. Fascinated by the tales that Joron told from among his own people on a distant world, Duthac had become fast friends with Kaldin’s host. That Sefys and Kaldin had themselves been good friends for about six centuries didn’t hurt, and the two blended pairs often spent many of their off-hours in friendly conversation or in gaming, Duthac’s dark head bent over a game board across from Joron’s graying one.

Kaldin nodded once at Sabar and Cadogan. {“Welcome back,”} he said. {“How did your meeting with the Gallaeci go?”}

{“Well enough,”} Sabar responded, shrugging off the blue cloak he wore over his gray uniform. It might be approaching high summer in Tir Awyr’s northern hemisphere, where its chappa’ai was located, but the area surrounding Galla’s gate was mired in late winter, and melting flakes of snow still clung to the dark wool. {“The mines there are still under-producing, not unusual for winter, but Bel’s orbital shipyards have been under-capacity as a result of the lack of raw materials. They still haven’t managed to repair or replace all the vessels our operatives damaged last year.”}

Galla was one of the few worlds whose inhabitants Bel sometimes pressed into service as technical workers, albeit in limited roles. It was an unusual practice among the Goa’uld, yet Bel had engaged in it for quite some time. Galla’s naquadah mines were among the richest in Bel’s domain; not that this was saying very much, as the Five Worlds were rather poor in that metal and certain other resources compared to many other Goa’uld-dominated realms. This was part of why Bel was little more than a very minor player on the fringe of Goa’uld society. It also explained why the Tok’bel and Am Rhyddid moved so slowly against him, however, as they were likewise hampered by the dearth of mineral resources. Both sides were drawing from the same limited pool. But Bel’s decision to locate his shipyard in orbit around Galla offered the rebels the opportunity to infiltrate its staff, and they had done so, managing to sabotage elements of the Goa’uld lord’s small fleet whenever they felt they could do so undetected. One such operation had resulted in the destruction of several vessels nearly a year ago, with damage to several more. To date, only a handful had been replaced or repaired and returned to service, a fact that cheered the Tok’bel leader and his human host, if cautiously.

I’ll take summer over winter any day, put in Cadogan silently as Sabar shook melting snow from their hair. I’m glad we got off-world before it started snowing any harder.

{I won’t argue that with you,} Sabar replied, humor coloring his mental tone.

Sefys spoke up. {“We had a visitor while you were away, Sabar. Nasara brought word of unrest among the Council. I asked her to remain and speak to you herself, but she was on her way to an assignment and dared not delay.”}

Nasara was another of Sabar’s long-time friends. Fully sympathetic to the Tok’bel cause, she was nevertheless committed to the work the Council had her doing as well. Unlike Sabar, most of what she’d been sent to do over the past several centuries had borne more immediate and positive fruit, so that while she shared Sabar’s philosophy favoring more direct action on the part of the Tok’ra against the Goa’uld, she at least was in a better position to make things happen even while doing them the Council’s way than Sabar had been for quite some time prior to his break with them. She maintained that if or when that changed, she would join with the Tok’bel openly, but for the time being, she served as Sabar’s eyes and ears among the main population of Tok’ra, especially those closest to the Council itself. Sabar found it incredibly useful to have a friend in her position, and Nasara faithfully kept him and the other Tok’bel apprised of the news from among their more mainstream associates.

Although the Council highly disapproved of the Tok’bel’s actions as potentially posing a danger to the Tok’ra if it were to bring retribution from the Goa’uld, thus far they had settled for simply expressing that disapproval but otherwise taking no action beyond keeping an eye on the situation. The fact that Bel was a very minor figure in Goa’uld society and politics was one safeguard, as was the fact that rather than completely abandoning the mainstream of Tok’ra efforts, Sabar and his colleagues still did what they could to gather information on the more minor players in Goa’uld politics and funnel it to the Council for inclusion in their overall intelligence picture. Still, Sabar was grateful for having a steady source of information on happenings at the level of the Council. The potential to have early warning of events within Tok’ra politics was only slightly less valuable than having them with regard to the Goa’uld, in his estimation.

{“Unrest? What sort of unrest, exactly?”} Sabar drew up a chair, laying the cloak over its back and sitting down with his colleagues.

{“Apparently, Garshaw of Belote and Selmak were seen disagreeing in public about the role of Tok’ra operatives in action on Goa’uld-dominated worlds. Nasara recounted a discussion between Garshaw and an operative called Lantash over the issue, and Selmak took Garshaw to task over it later.”} Sefys pursed his lips. {“I know that Lantash and his host Martouf are mated with another operative by the name of Jolinar of Malkshur, and her host Rosha. Whether Jolinar and Garshaw knew each other personally before each turned from the Goa’uld and embraced Tok’ra values, I do not know, but there appears to be some variance of philosophy between them at present, as Nasara reports that when Jolinar attempted to defend Lantash to Garshaw, it required Selmak’s intervention to quell the disagreement.”}

Sabar cocked his head. {“This sounds like little more than idle gossip, Sefys.”}

{“It might, if it hadn’t occurred almost immediately after the conclusion of a Council meeting at which Lantash provided a report on efforts to curb Ra’s power in the sector where he has been attempting to expand his control.”} The speaker was Kaldin, his host’s blue eyes harboring a look that Sabar hadn’t seen in years. Kaldin, he recalled, had at one time been placed undercover by the Council at the court of Montu, one of Ra’s client lords, to gather information. {“It was Nasara’s turn as a Council runner, so she was present for most of the meeting. Lantash had just returned from Ra’s domain, and while Nasara wasn’t privy to everything he’d told the Council because she’d been sent out to retrieve something for one of the other members, she gathered that something major had occurred to shake up Ra’s power base, Unfortunately, the Council appear divided as to how they should deal with the situation. It seems that Garshaw and Selmak are on opposite sides of the question, from what Nasara could tell.”}

{“Did she think it could cause a schism in the Council?}

This time Sefys answered. {“She wasn’t sure. Everyone knows that Selmak and Garshaw don’t always see eye-to-eye, for all that they both tend to be fairly conservative about most things. It surprises me sometimes that Garshaw seems to be more so than Selmak. According to Nasara, Selmak appeared to take Lantash’s side, at least to some extent, and Lantash isn’t exactly known for his conservative tendencies when it comes to much of anything. Least of all how best to oppose the Goa’uld.”}

Sabar considered this. Selmak, for all that she was of the First Brood and one of the eldest and most respected Tok’ra still living, did have moments when she broke with the rather staid and methodical mindset embraced by the majority of her broodmates. It was really too bad she didn’t have more such moments, because then she might have seen eye-to-eye with him some fourteen decades ago and the Tok’bel might have been able to gain official support from the Council rather than having to break with them and with the main body of their peers in order to pursue the alliance with the Celtic rebels in Bel’s domain. Of course, some of the friction between himself and Selmak at the time was partly owing to that between Selmak’s host Saroosh and Berwyn, Sabar’s host in those days. There was no glaring flaw in either human’s personality, he reflected, but some people just managed to rub each other the wrong way no matter what they did, and for some reason this had been the case with Berwyn and Saroosh; enough so that it had affected interactions between their symbiotes.

Lantash, on the other hand, somehow managed to get on with both Selmak and Saroosh just fine, despite being nearly as volatile as Sabar knew himself capable of being. That this state of affairs obtained at present likely had much to do with Lantash’s being blended with the rather easygoing Martouf, but Lantash’s former host had exhibited no problems with them either. There were days when Sabar heartily wished he had been able to convince Lantash to join with the Tok’bel, for he knew that they did share at least some core elements of their philosophy and he considered him a friend. But Lantash had elected to remain in the service of the Council.

Garshaw, meanwhile, was someone that Sabar simply had never been able to completely fathom. A convert from among the ranks of Goa’uld military minds, rather than one of Egeria’s offspring, Garshaw had come over to the Tok’ra at Belote, switching allegiances rather spectacularly in the midst of a pitched battle. Eager to prove herself — or himself, considering that his host at the time had been male — as a true adherent to their cause, Garshaw had set out to “out-Tok’ra the Tok’ra” in Sabar’s opinion. It had clearly paid off, because Garshaw was now a member of the High Council.

However, while Sabar had no problem accepting the sincerity of Garshaw’s convictions, there was little in the Councilor’s philosophy or methodology to recommend itself to the Tok’bel leader. It seemed almost as if, despite abandoning the Goa’uld view that humans existed primarily to serve them and that it was the destiny of the Goa’uld to rule the galaxy, Garshaw retained a certain disdain for the abilities and intelligence of humans as a species, regarding them as generally too backward and primitive for anyone to really expect much out of them. How that view affected relations between Garshaw and his or her host at any given time was something Sabar preferred not to contemplate, although he felt a certain sympathy for any human desperate enough to blend with a being who might then regard that human as an inferior partner. He had no proof that Garshaw viewed her current host that way, but he couldn’t help his concern. Although Yasuuf certainly appeared capable of holding her own. Perhaps it simply required a certain type of person to partner with a being like Garshaw, he supposed.

To be honest, Sabar, I think it quite likely takes a certain type of person to blend with any Tok’ra, Cadogan informed him. For all that you hold some very strong opinions and aren’t afraid to take action on them, I get the impression that you may be one of the more relaxed Tok’ra in existence. Even so, if I hadn’t been accused in my youth of being a bit more strong-willed than was strictly good for me, I doubt that you and I would have as equal a partnership as we do.

Sabar chuckled inwardly. His host did have a point. Cadogan had been something of an impetuous youth, not terribly unlike his great-great-grandnephew Ris. As strong-willed and undeniably intelligent young men, needing only life experience or the guidance of a good mentor to temper them, each had been something of a trial to their families while on the cusp of adulthood. Ris was currently well in hand under Neirin’s tutelage, in much the same way that a youthful Cadogan had found in Berwyn a mentor of his own. In Cadogan’s case, that had led years later to his becoming Sabar’s and Berwyn’s aide, and eventually, Sabar’s host. {You may be right,} the symbiote agreed, allowing affection to color his tone. {The entire time you were dressing down Ris after he went after those Jaffa last year, all I could think of was a certain young man I knew a bit over a century ago who might not have hesitated to take similar action had he been in your nephew’s shoes.}

As I recall, you reminded me of that while I was in mid-lecture, too. Has anyone ever told you that your timing stinks? Cadogan’s retort was couched in affectionate tones of his own. After eighty years as a blended pair, the two of them enjoyed a relaxed relationship that involved a large measure of good-natured teasing of the sort that might be expected between any set of best friends, whether or not they inhabited a single body.

Their private, internal exchange was interrupted by Kaldin. {“Nasara said that Lantash seems to think there might be an uprising soon, on one or more of Ra’s worlds. If that happens…”}

Sabar nodded, picking up the thread of where his friend was going. {“That could destabilize his empire for a while, and keep him busy. It might even allow some of the other System Lords to take advantage of his distraction and move in on some of his territory. At the very least, it would shake up the power balance. Those are all things the Tok’ra have been working for. So what’s Garshaw’s problem?”}

{“I wish I knew.”} Sefys, this time. {“Although apparently Lantash said something about direct aid toward supporting any rebellion, and that’s where Garshaw laid down the law. Selmak, too, although in a slightly more diplomatic fashion, and afterward she did get Garshaw to back off when she was criticizing Lantash and Martouf outside of Council time.”}

{“How soon do Martouf and Lantash think any uprising might take place? Or didn’t they say?”}

Sefys shook his head slightly. {“A really rough estimate says maybe sometime in the next five years, according to what Nasara overheard. Maybe sooner.”}

{“And in the meantime, the Council will probably be watching us like a hawk, looking for a chance to point out all the reasons why directly aiding human rebels is a dangerous idea,”} mused Sabar aloud. {“No wonder Nasara felt she should warn us. Although given last year’s success in sabotaging Bel’s fleet, and the fact that there has been almost no retaliation since then either to that or to most of the other things we’ve been doing, if it’s examples of problems the Council are after, they may be hard-pressed to find them. With any luck, it will stay that way.”}

{“One hopes,”} agreed Kaldin. He watched Sabar curiously for a moment. {“I know that look, Sabar. You’re thinking it may be time to pay a visit to Rak’lar, aren’t you?”} Rak’lar was currently the home of the largest Tok’ra base, and the location where the High Council met. The base had only been there for six years, and Sabar had been there but once.

The Tok’bel leader smiled. After fourteen centuries of acquaintance, Kaldin knew him almost too well. {“It may at that, but I’ll want to wait until I’ve dealt with a few other things first, and possibly gotten the chance to talk with Nasara myself. Did she say when she might come this way again?”}

Sefys answered. {“One month from today, if all goes well on her mission.”}

{“One month, then.”} Sabar nodded. {“I’ll make certain to be here. And with any luck, we’ll soon have some positive results that neither Selmak nor Garshaw can criticize. Let the Council chew on that.”}