Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. — Ralph Waldo Emerson


A bitter wind whipped across Rak’lar’s frozen landscape, skimming snow pellets from the tops of shallow drifts and carrying them aloft. Sabar blinked, wincing as the tiny crystals stung his — and Cadogan’s — face.

Drawing a fold of woolen cloak up to shield them from the icy spray, he apologized silently to his host. {I understand why my brethren choose inhospitable, uninhabited worlds on which to construct their bases,} he said. {Obviously, we do the same. But at least I had the good sense to put our chappa’ai inside the tunnels when we moved it. Sorry about the nasty hike.}

Cadogan’s response was accompanied by a mental chuckle. At Caer Ynys, our tunnels are within the crust of a nearly airless moon. There wasn’t much other choice but to place the chappa’ai inside.

{True,} Sabar acknowledged. {But even if there had been, I think I still would’ve opted to have it within the base rather than an hour’s hike away, especially in a climate like this one.}

Maybe this is what we get for having managed to miss winter on Emhain, Cadogan teased.

{Don’t say that. Winter there is just beginning, and we’ve no guarantee we won’t have to visit again before it ends,} Sabar reminded him darkly. The symbiote harbored no more love for snowy weather than did his host.

Good point.

Sabar had been planning to visit Rak’lar, current site of the mainline Tok’ra’s primary base, ever since his conversation with Nasara some six months previously. Now had seemed like the perfect opportunity, as the past several weeks had brought a lull in the activities of the Am Rhyddid and its constituent movements on the Five Worlds. Plans still moved forward to steal Bel’s ha’tak upon its completion, but beyond maintaining a schedule of drills and field exercises designed to keep their rebel units sharp and ready, little else could be done at the moment in the way of preparation for that endeavor. Not for their ground forces, anyway, most of whom might well see their first spaceborne action — albeit within the pressurized, gravitized confines of an orbital drydock facility and the ha’tak itself — on that mission if all went according to plan.

The rebellion’s nascent pilot corps was another matter. Since introducing Neirin to the flight controls of both tel’tak and ger’tak, Sabar and Cadogan had continued to accompany him to Caer Ynys every couple of days to practice with the ger’tak in the debris field surrounding the nameless gas giant. They also practiced maneuvers within the atmosphere of another of the giant planet’s many moons. Gravitationally similar to the planets upon which Bel had settled his slaves, it was a world devoid of any known life, but whose gaseous robe closely mimicked those of the Five Worlds in terms of both density and transparence. The filwriad now handled the fighter with a practiced ease, his skills the equal of any Jaffa’s whether in open space or in atmosphere. Soon he would be ready to take on the task of training other pilots, whose number would — Sabar and Cadogan both hoped — include some of Neirin’s fellow senior officers. Whether Neirin’s example encouraged or shamed them into participating was almost immaterial at this point, the pair reflected; what was important was that they step up, and bring other volunteers forward with them.

In contemplative moments, Sabar still found himself curious as to precisely where Neirin had made his first acquaintance with flying craft. Unless he was a far better actor than Sabar was willing to credit, his nephew by marriage seemed wholly unfamiliar with any of the planets or peoples the Tok’bel leader had mentioned to him. Not that he’d harbored any real suspicion that Neirin came from among the Aschen, nor the Tollan either. He had none of the supercilious manner so common to the Aschen, nor the studied aloofness displayed by the few Tollan with whom Sabar had made any acquaintance.

For a moment he wondered idly whether the Tollan had made any headway on their search for a viable world to which they might evacuate the remainder of their people before their destabilized planet became completely uninhabitable. He supposed that Neirin’s reserved secrecy could be a cover for his being a Tollan operative involved in that search, but… Sabar dismissed the thought a moment later. Far from being disturbed by the fact that the Tok’bel had given advanced weaponry to the Pridani and other rebels of Bel’s domain, Neirin seemed to approve wholeheartedly, an attitude unlikely to be found in a Tollan.

That left the Volians, and perhaps a handful of other worlds known or suspected to have a technological level consistent with flight capability. The primary language on Volia was related to most of those spoken on the Five Worlds and he knew that Neirin had arrived on Tir Awyr speaking a tongue similar to Pridanic, but some instinct told Sabar this guess was equally wrong. Harappa was out as well, for the simple reason that Neirin bore no resemblance to the swarthy inhabitants of Nirrti’s troublesome former possession, rumored as recently as two centuries ago to have unsealed its gate upon attaining a level of technological advancement they felt might allow them to protect themselves against the Goa’uld. He knew of Harappa only through whispered tales that had run rampant through Vayu’s court during his time there, deep undercover as a spy for the Tok’ra High Council, when his host was a man named Langen. As far as he was aware, no Harappans had actually been encountered elsewhere among the worlds connected by the network of portals currently or formerly under Goa’uld control.

No, Neirin must hail from somewhere else. Sabar wished mightily that he could figure out where, but he had promised to respect the man’s desire to keep that knowledge to himself and would refrain from questioning him further. That didn’t mean he couldn’t speculate, of course…

His attention was brought back to his current surroundings by a shout from ahead, carried on the icy wind. A half-dozen black silhouettes appeared, moving toward him over the frozen landscape. Closing in, the leader shouted again, challenging him. He recognized the voice of Lantash, in the particular modulation colored by his host Martouf. A symbiote’s voice altered according to the structure of the host’s larynx, meaning that each fresh blending endowed the symbiote with a new voice as well as a different outward appearance. Fortunately, Sabar had encountered Lantash — and Martouf, for that matter — more than once since blending with Cadogan.

He pushed back the hood of his cloak, wincing as he let the woolen fabric fall away from his face, leaving it once again bare to the frigid spray of windborne ice crystals. “Lantash, is this any way to welcome an old friend?”

Lantash threw back his own hood as Sabar closed the distance between them, a smile lighting Martouf’s narrow features. “Sabar, it’s good to see you.”

Beside them, a shorter figure snorted beneath the hood that shadowed his ruddy countenance. “I’m guessing you aren’t here because you’ve realized the error of your ways and come to atone to the Council?” The other four Tok’ra exchanged glances but said nothing.

{As if that’s likely to ever happen,} Sabar commented silently to Cadogan. {My ways are hardly the problem.}

You know that and I know that, but we both know there are those on your Council who frown on them all the same. Do you expect you’ll be called to account for your actions while we’re here?

{Probably not directly. I never have been. Taken aside quietly and given a dressing-down? Wouldn’t be the first time, not even in your own memory. But a full disciplinary session? I’d be very surprised at something like that. We have an understanding, the Council and I. Well, most of the Council and I,} he amended. {As long as we’re still feeding them useful intelligence when we have some, and don’t draw attention to their operations, they essentially ignore me, and the rest of the Tok’bel.}

While Sabar and his host were in conversation, Lantash rounded on the Tok’ra who had spoken.

“Pargan, there’s no need to be rude,” he said, his tone one of admonition. Pargan was a close friend of Delek, and shared Delek’s disapproval of Tok’ra who allowed their hosts to have too much influence over them. It was no secret that he took a dim view of Sabar, who had broken with the ranks of mainstream Tok’ra out of a desire to directly aid Berwyn’s people not long after blending with the Pridanic man.

“You’re a fine one to talk,” Pargan retorted. “You’re nearly as bad, letting Martouf tell you what to think half the time.”

Lantash appeared to be on the verge of spitting back a heated comment of his own, but then his eyes took on the preoccupied expression that Sabar knew meant he was listening to his host. It was common knowledge that of the pair, Martouf was the calmer and more level-headed partner, and tended to keep Lantash on an even keel more often than not. In a way, this made Pargan’s jibe somewhat true, although certainly not appropriate, Sabar reflected. After all, since a host willingly let you inhabit and utilize his or her body, it was only right to treat that host as an equal partner in the relationship. He wondered whether Pargan’s host ever regretted having agreed to their blending.

With an elaborate shrug, Lantash turned away from Pargan, addressing Sabar again as they began the trek that would lead them to the entrance to the tunnels. Pargan and the others followed a few paces behind. “My apologies, Sabar,” said Lantash. “I bid you welcome. What brings you to visit us, after so long away?”




General Hammond tapped his pen on the desk blotter before him. Thoughts chased each other through his brain as he reflected on the stalled search for the missing colonel.

He’d seen the haunted look in O’Neill’s eyes grow stronger with each fresh query of the MALP left to monitor the situation on P2A-870. Not only had the rains on the alien world failed to let up; if anything, the storm had intensified, eventually bringing high winds and hail. There was no way he was sending a team into that if he could help it. At the same time, O’Neill’s bleak expression tugged at his conscience and his memories. He’d seen the same look in Cromwell’s eyes over dinner at O’Hare, when the colonel told the story of what had happened in Iraq, and how he’d been prevented from attempting to rescue his best friend. Seen it in his own face as well for long months after one of his own closest friends was shot down over Vietnam.

Feretti had worn it too, he recalled, or something at least similar. The major’s personal concern over a fellow officer with whom he’d been out of touch for nearly a decade had been readily apparent in the Control Room. Clearly, SG-1 would have no shortage of willing assistance in the search for Cromwell once the weather cleared on P2A-870.

If it would just hurry up and do that.

By now, even Hammond was becoming irritated with the delay. Losing two weeks to gravity-induced time dilation had thrown a monkeywrench into the SGC’s timetable as it was. Ever since Captain Carter had programmed the information from the Abydos cartouche into the facility’s dialing computer, they’d been sending out teams on a steady schedule of exploratory missions to whatever viable addresses came up. The additional addresses provided by Colonel O’Neill during his recent encounter with an ancient database that downloaded itself into his brain had expanded that program further, to the point where the general had begun to contemplate adding some new teams to the project’s roster, just before losing SG-10 to the black hole lurking in the system that contained P3W-451. Now they were one team short and sixteen days behind schedule, taking into account the time necessary for the installation of the new, trinium-enhanced iris over the Stargate’s central aperture.

While the Joint Chiefs and the President understood the reasons why the SGC was now forced to play catch-up, there was nevertheless a sense of urgency to the program, an urgency that had persisted since the narrowly-thwarted Goa’uld invasion of Earth last Christmas. Hammond and his personnel were racing the clock to find allies, resources, weapons — anything that might help Earth defend itself against future attacks. That need for defense was what had led to Cromwell’s having any involvement with the SGC at all.

Realizing his thoughts had begun to go in circles, the general shook his head. The bottom line, he reminded himself as he opened his desk drawer and placed the pen inside, was that he couldn’t afford to keep his flagship team on downtime indefinitely. Hammond knew he was assuredly no expert on climatology, planetology or whatever other fields of scientific study might explain the conditions found on a given world accessible through the Stargate. But that didn’t mean he was wholly ignorant of the basics, either. For a planet to reasonably and comfortably support human life, as P2A-870 obviously did, its dominant weather patterns had to fall somewhere in a range not too far from conditions on Earth, didn’t they? That meant the storms currently happening around P2A-870’s Stargate couldn’t last much longer… could they? Surely within a day or so, SG-1 — along with possibly SG-2 and SG-5 — would be able to return and continue searching for the missing colonel. He’d give them a few days to search. Cromwell couldn’t have traveled very far from the Stargate in such awful weather, so finding him shouldn’t take long. They could offer the local population some assistance with recovering from the storms as well, hopefully cementing a beneficial relationship with Earth should the planet prove to have useful resources. Such a two-pronged approach should go a long way in offsetting the initial delay caused by the weather itself.

However, if more than another day or so passed without any let-up in the weather that would permit sending teams to P2A-870, Hammond knew he was going to have to send SG-2 and SG-5 on other scheduled missions just to keep from falling any further behind. Ever since Senator Kinsey’s shenanigans late last year threatened to mothball the entire program, the general was only too aware of the need to meet certain expectations. Never mind that our people successfully repelled an attack force and prevented Earth from invasion by hostile aliens; we still have to deliver the goods while walking a very fine line. He shook his head again at the sometimes nauseating requirements of bureaucracy, especially one replete with such small minds as the senator’s.

As for SG-1, Hammond suspected he might have to send them off on another mission as well, as much for the sake of distraction as for any need to adhere to a timetable. Already, O’Neill was walking a fine line of his own, and the rest of his team was feeling the effects…




{“So the consensus is that if any of Ra’s worlds do experience an uprising, we’re to just stand by and watch?”} Sabar leaned back against the cushions of the settle in the living quarters shared by Lantash and Jolinar, propping his feet on a hassock. Like himself, the Tok’ra couple tended to furnish their surroundings in such a way as to maximize the comfort of their hosts.

Jolinar answered him from her seat on the edge of the bed. {“So says the Council. There isn’t a high probability of an uprising on Tamilat, but Lantash says that Fayoum seems ripe for one.”} She brushed a lock of Rosha’s fair hair away from her face and tucked it behind one ear. {“There may be unrest brewing on more than one of Ra’s worlds, for that matter. It seems the harder one clamps down on humans, the greater the chances that eventually the pressure will cause them to rebel.”}

{“I hadn’t noticed,”} Sabar commented drily. He quirked a half-smile at Cadogan’s wry, if silent, chuckle.

Martouf, occupying a chair beside the bed, colored a bit. Sabar could tell when Lantash’s host was in control of the body they shared, because the unconscious reflexes common to humans were far more in evidence then. “Of course, Sabar,” Martouf acknowledged. “If anyone knows that, you certainly would.” He took Jolinar’s hand in his own.

Sabar waved a hand at them. {“Never mind that; I knew what Jolinar meant. In any case, you’d think Ra would know it too, given what happened to him when the Tau’ri threw him off their world.”}

Martouf closed his eyes and bowed his head. A moment later, it was clear that Lantash had assumed control. {“I just find it frustrating to think of standing aside and doing nothing when we could be helping.”}

{“I find it equally frustrating,”} Sabar said, frowning. {“To enable Ra’s slaves to wrest control away from him and deny him the fruits of their labors and the resources of their world — any of their worlds — would be quite a blow against his power and his pride. Isn’t that what Egeria had always hoped for?”}

{“So Lantash has said,”} agreed Jolinar, still holding her mate’s hand.

Unlike Lantash and himself, Sabar recalled, Jolinar was not one of Egeria’s offspring. She’d begun life as a Goa’uld, serving a succession of minor System Lords as one managed to defeat another and swallow the domain of the vanquished. In the process, Jolinar had risen through the ranks of Goa’uld military commanders. She’d also gotten a first-hand look at the often ruthless methods the various System Lords used to conquer each other and the way they treated their subordinates, not to mention their callous disregard for the humans who inhabited the planets they controlled. Jolinar had once told him of the exceedingly bitter taste this had begun to leave in her mouth even when she was still a loyal military leader in their employ. Eventually realizing that she had little patience left for life as the often underrespected lackey of one or another tyrant, she’d set out to stage her own coup against the System Lord she served at the time, only to be forced to flee when both Ra and Apophis joined the battle and her own subordinates threatened to betray her.

Disgusted and disillusioned, Jolinar had renounced her Goa’uld heritage and made her way to the Tok’ra using intelligence she’d originally been set to gather for the System Lord she’d tried to overthrow. She had learned the location of a minor Tok’ra base but had not yet shared this information with anyone else. Arriving unannounced, she promptly offered herself up to the custody of the base commander, eventually managing to convince the Tok’ra of the sincerity of her defection. Since that time, many centuries ago, she’d become one of the most steadfast and daring of Tok’ra operatives. Her reputation among the Goa’uld, of course, was decidedly negative. Rumor had it that she was more completely hated by the Goa’uld than any other individual among the small cadre of defectors who’d joined the ranks of Tok’ra over the past two millennia.

Jolinar herself cared little for what her former masters thought. Her commitment to the Tok’ra cause was complete, and Sabar recalled her swearing publicly her willingness to sacrifice her own being if necessary to bring about the defeat of the Goa’uld. Her relationship with Lantash was of relatively recent vintage in Tok’ra terms, but Sabar knew that the fiery Lantash had found in her a kindred spirit of nearly equal intensity, if somewhat more controlled in the expression of her temperament.

{“So what would you suggest, Sabar?”} asked Lantash. {“The Council will never allow us outright involvement with any uprising on Fayoum, or anywhere else. Garshaw has made that clear, and while Selmak put it somewhat more diplomatically, it’s fairly obvious that she agrees with Garshaw. If you ask me, I think they’re both still smarting over your departure. Not to mention the fact that when you went, you took several successful operatives along with you.”}

Sabar raised an eyebrow. {“Perhaps they — and the rest of the Council — ought to realize that more than a few of their operatives feel it’s time we did more than nudge the pieces about the board. We skulk about causing bits of trouble here and there, working from the top down — but what if the way to really disrupt the Goa’uld power structure is to work from the bottom up as well? Humans revolted on the Tau’ri world once, and succeeded in ejecting Ra. I’m not suggesting that the people on all Goa’uld-controlled worlds are going to rebel, but if enough of them did so that it disrupted the flow of raw materials and undermined the System Lords’ power, their position might be weakened considerably.”}

Jolinar snorted. {“In principle I don’t disagree with you, Sabar, but Ra and his vassals have thousands of worlds in their thrall. If even two out of ten staged an open revolt, more than likely he and the others would simply exterminate the humans on those worlds and either concentrate on the ones they had left, or perhaps re-settle a newer, more loyal group there to work the mines and provide slaves and hosts.”}

{“Who says they all have to be open revolts? At least at the beginning, anyway.”} Sabar drummed restless fingers on the arm of the couch he occupied. {“An awful lot can be accomplished with simple work slowdowns.”}

{“Things like that have been known to get entire colonies of humans eradicated and replaced, you know,”} she reminded him. {“It isn’t as if all Goa’uld are as ineffective as Bel at meting out discipline.”}

Sabar thought of Dwynwen and Teilo, kin to his host and parents to Idris and Tesni. In a moment of ire, Bel had ordered their deaths at the hands of his Jaffa over some minor gaffe he’d regarded as insolence. Perhaps Bel wasn’t given to inflicting punishment on a massive scale, but on those occasions when he did hand it down, it was swift and decisive… and often completely unpredictable. The Celtic rebels knew this, and were undeterred by it, something he suspected the System Lord would never understand. {“Bel does his share, Jolinar. Then again, if humans are simply encouraged to just keep quiet and go along to placate the Goa’uld, how does that help the cause of their freedom?”}

{“Who said this was about human freedom?”}

Sabar stared at her. {“Well then, what is it about? Tell me that, Jolinar.”}

{“Now, my love,”} began Lantash, squeezing his mate’s hand.

Jolinar turned to him. {“Oh, I don’t mean it that way, and you know it.”} A nod at Sabar. {“And so do you, or at least you should if you think you know me at all. Goa’uld I may have been at one time, but I’ve no more desire to see our hosts’ kindred ground beneath Goa’uld heels than you have. Either of you.”}

She sighed, a frustrated sound. {“But the simple fact is that there’s more at stake here. When it wasn’t humans who were being exploited, it was Unas. Who’s to say what species might be next? The Furlings? Someone else? This is a vast galaxy, and there are likely to be more races than we’ve even met. Unas and humans can be deadly enough on their own; when taken as hosts their cunning has only augmented what was present in our own species — yes, ours,”} she reiterated sharply, when both Sabar and Lantash would have spoken in protest. {“Remember well your own mother’s beginnings. It’s philosophy that separates us from the Goa’uld, not any genetic difference beyond the memories and inclinations that Egeria bred into you and your siblings.”}

{“So what are you saying, exactly?”} Sabar couldn’t quite keep the note of challenge out of his voice.

{“What I’m saying is that since the Goa’uld deliberately draw on the genetic makeup of host species to enhance the odds of a successful match between symbiote and host, I would be worried if they were influenced to abandon humans only to move on to exploit an even more dangerous species. There are factors present in human mental architecture that mitigate the species’ danger to some degree. But imagine for a moment what a generation of Goa’uld symbiotes would be like if they were enhanced with genes drawn from a fully predatory species, perhaps one that lacked those mitigating elements. If the Goa’uld are ruthless now, what do you think they’d be like then?”}

Lantash pursed his lips. {“So you’re saying that at least humans are a known quantity, as are the Goa’uld they host.”}

Jolinar nodded. {“I want the Goa’uld to cease enslaving anyone. Blending with a willing host is one thing, and naturally there will be some genetic exchange involved between symbiote and host species. But it occurs to me that humans who are given a free and fair choice are often enough willing to blend with Tok’ra, knowing they won’t be giving up all autonomy and that there are indeed benefits. So there’s no need for coercion. I can’t imagine a truly committed predatory species being willing to blend, however, which means that while the Goa’uld might well take them by force, the Tok’ra would likely never have members of such a species as hosts. Therefore it is in our best interests to keep the Goa’uld using human hosts until we can find a way to either turn them all, or somehow destroy them all. What we cannot do is chance their partnering with some new species who would give them strength or skills that we do not possess.”}

Sabar turned the thought over in his mind, and found it sobering. On the one hand, Jolinar did have a point, though he found certain elements of it repugnant. Nonetheless, her logic was sound… at least as far as it went. {“I doubt the Furlings are really a consideration here,”} he said. {“Do we know of any other potential host species to which the Goa’uld might be tempted to turn, should humans begin to make themselves too difficult for continued use? I know I certainly haven’t heard of any, although spending my time in the backwaters as I do, it isn’t as if I get all the latest news.”}

Lantash shook his head. {“If there were news like that, Sabar, I hope you realize that someone would have made it a priority to bring it to you. No, fortunately what my esteemed mate is discussing is pure hypothesis, at least for the moment.”}

Jolinar cast him a look but declined to comment. Lantash continued, {“Nevertheless, she does bring up a valid argument. Any direct move against the Goa’uld must be carried out with the endgame in mind. And that endgame must revolve around the Goa’uld ceasing to take any unwilling hosts or to seek power over other races.”}

Sabar shook his head. {“I understand, Lantash. I even agree. But mai’tac, I don’t like the idea of missing an opportunity. Maybe it’s because I’ve been working directly with human rebels for so long that I’m beginning to think like them.”}

Perhaps Selmak does have a point in what I know she’s told you, and Berwyn and I have both had a stronger effect on you than you’ve been prepared to admit, Cadogan suggested. His mental tone carried a note of concern.

{You’re the last person who should be backing up Selmak on that,} Sabar told him silently. {If not for Berwyn’s influence, the Am Rhyddid would not have Tok’bel allies, and you and I would never have met.}

True, and I’m well aware of it. But placing you so completely at odds with your own kind —

{ — is by my own free choice, Cadogan,} he reminded his host. {I knew what I was doing when I started down this path, and I know what I’m doing now. Our alliance is not the problem here. While it’s probably true that I do think more like one of you than like most Tok’ra, I don’t see it as a drawback. The Goa’uld don’t really innovate, so perhaps if the Tok’ra were to adopt the practice, it might be precisely the tool we need to defeat them. And knowing how and when to utilize a new mode of thought is an innovation, is it not?}

You have a point, Cadogan conceded. It just pains me to see you so frustrated.

{I’ve been through far worse, my friend,} Sabar reassured him. {Don’t trouble yourself over it.}

Both Lantash and Jolinar waited politely for them to finish this internal exchange. {“My apologies,”} Sabar said aloud. {“Cadogan occasionally concerns himself with the thought that perhaps his people have demanded too much of me, and I must remind him that they have not.”}

Lantash gave him a knowing look. {“That sounds similar to Martouf when he’s been taken to task too often by Pargan or Delek for ‘overstepping the bounds of what constitutes proper behavior for a host’.”} He managed to deliver the phrase in such a nearly-perfect imitation of Pargan’s supercilious tone that Sabar suppressed a chuckle.

{“On such occasions,”} Lantash went on, {“I find myself reminding Martouf again that he and I have what appears to be a far healthier and happier bond than do Pargan and Sotrel.”}

{“Is that the name of Pargan’s host?”} Sabar was surprised to realize that he’d never truly known, despite the fact that the Tok’ra in question had been with the same host for at least forty years now. {“Poor man; I’ve almost never heard him utter a word in his own right.”}

{“There is more of Goa’uld in Pargan and some of the others than they might be comfortable admitting,”} Jolinar observed pointedly. {“Egeria’s memories and the imperative she bred into her offspring are strong; of that I have no doubt. But some, it seems, still cling to an older notion of expediency even as they embrace her goals. You may think what you like of me, Sabar, but even you must admit that I have never once marginalized any host I’ve had since my Turning.”}

Sabar found himself taken aback by her words. {“My dear Jolinar, I have never once entertained the thought that you might. I’ve spoken with Rosha at length, you’ll recall, and with her predecessors. Not one was unhappy in being your host, and well do I know it.”}

“Both of you, enough. Please.” Martouf rose from his seat in the chair and began to pace the small chamber.

Sabar blinked. So intent had he been on his exchange with Jolinar that he hadn’t even noticed as Lantash ceded control to his host.

From the look on her face, neither had Jolinar. {“Martouf,”} she began.

He quieted her with a wave. “Never mind. I know you don’t mean to sound accusatory, but when has Sabar ever suggested what you’re alluding to?”

Sabar found his voice. {“Martouf, for what it’s worth, I didn’t take it that way.”}

Martouf arched an eyebrow. “Then I commend you for your patience.”

Sabar sighed inwardly. Martouf was more perceptive than that, of course. {“All right, perhaps I did. We’re obviously all a bit on edge, though, and I’m willing to believe it wasn’t actually meant the way it sounded.”}

Jolinar unfolded her graceful frame from the bed and crossed the narrow space separating it from the settle. Taking a seat on the cushions next to him, she said, {“My apologies, Sabar. You’re right; we are all on edge, but that’s no excuse to go making trouble that isn’t otherwise there. I didn’t mean to be defensive; I know you understand that I’m every bit as respectful toward my hosts as you are of your own.”}

She grimaced, giving a minute shake of her head. {“Your visit simply happens to coincide with the Council’s convening to discuss contingency plans should Montu’s rumor regarding Heru’ur’s designs against his father turn out to be true. Since it was I who brought them that bit of knowledge, I will also be the one put on the spot to report every smallest detail of what I know, and if anything should go awry with our planning, it will be on my head.”}

No pressure there, hey? observed Cadogan wryly. I can’t blame her for being testy, given the circumstances. Your Council are formidable enough when one isn’t the subject of their scrutiny.

{True enough.} Aloud, Sabar said to his friends, {“I understand. Can I help in any way?”}

A look of relief crossed the pale features as Jolinar once again tucked her hair behind her ears. {“Thank you, but I think things are as well in hand as they’re going to be. I just can’t work out whether Montu’s accusation is genuine, or something he’s manufactured to advance some other purpose entirely of his own. That’s what frustrates me, and not just because I know the Council are going to ask and it is an important distinction.”}

Martouf crossed the room and joined them on the settle, taking a seat on the other side of Jolinar and stroking her hair with one hand. “I’m sorry as well, my love. You’re under stress, and I shouldn’t add to that. As Lantash has reminded me.”

Sabar regarded his friends affectionately, aware now of the cause of the tension he’d noticed almost since his arrival and wishing to do what he could to help alleviate it. {“It seems to me that whether Montu’s claim is genuine or not, it’s best to proceed as though either Heru’ur or Montu could be the primary threat to Ra’s stability. That is, as far as anyone really can be considered a threat to him at the moment. In what way would the two scenarios differ?”}

They discussed the various details for a while, Jolinar relating not only what she’d heard directly in Montu’s own words, but the gist of the rumors and intrigue that apparently passed for a normal atmosphere these days in his palace. Sabar was reminded of his time undercover at the court of Vayu, some thirty years or more before blending with Berwyn had propelled him into work of a different sort in the same overall effort against the Goa’uld. Speculation and suspicion had run rampant among some of Vayu’s sycophants, although the inner circle had been stable and largely harmonious — no mean feat among Goa’uld society.

A tap at the entry to the chamber interrupted their conversation. Looking up, Sabar saw Nasara and Remir in the doorway.

{“Is this a bad time?”} asked Remir.

{“No,”} replied Lantash, once more in control of the body he shared with Martouf. {“Please, come in.”}

The new arrivals joined them, and Jolinar bustled to place cushions on the chamber’s floor, there being nowhere else to sit at the moment. Remir folded his host’s long legs beneath him as he settled onto a cushion. Elu was tall, with the olive skin and dark hair common among those born on Candrajala, one of Vayu’s worlds.

{“On our way here, Nasara and I were stopped by Garshaw and asked to inform you that the Council requests your presence this evening,”} said Remir, fixing Sabar with a sympathetic gaze.

{“Wonderful,”} groaned Sabar. He had hoped to either avoid Garshaw and most of the other High Councilors altogether, or at the very least, have only private interactions with those he could not avoid entirely. Garshaw obviously had other plans.

{“At least I won’t be having all the fun,”} quipped Jolinar.

{“Really, don’t let me deprive you,”} Sabar shot back, though not without some humor. {“Then again, I suppose that if the Council wish to harass — er, consult with me while I’m here, at least I’ll be in good company.”}

Jolinar smiled her gratitude. Sabar was well aware that while Lantash’s mate had no problem with carrying out the Council’s wishes and orders, she, like himself, found certain of its members a bit abrasive. Garshaw was high on both their lists for that particular designation, he knew.

No, he definitely wasn’t looking forward to a meeting with the Council…