Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.  — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The faint warmth of living crystal seeped through his tunic as Sabar leaned against the wall just outside the Council chamber, waiting to be called. He listened to the murmur of voices within, rising and falling as they discussed various items on the agenda.

Jolinar had already been called into the Council’s presence, ostensibly to elaborate on the intelligence she’d gathered during her latest visit to Montu’s court and her impressions thereof. Lantash was inside as well, taking his turn as a Council runner. Tok’ra who were present in the base and not members of the Council took rotations in this position, from seasoned operatives to the rank and file who filled support positions. Sabar had spent countless hours in this role himself over his lifetime prior to leaving to form the Tok’bel.

He wouldn’t mind having some of those hours back, he reflected. Among the Tok’bel, he still spent plenty of time in meetings — the splinter group he’d formed had its own hierarchy — but at least there, he led the discussion.

After a fashion, Cadogan reminded him.

{True; we’re a bit more informal and egalitarian than our brethren. I wouldn’t have it any other way.}

Of course not. Else you and the others wouldn’t have been minded to break with tradition for our sake in the first place, I’ll wager.

Their private conversation was interrupted by the sound of raised voices from inside the Council chamber. Delek’s in particular dominated.

{“Jolinar, based on what you learned while in Montu’s domain, are you or are you not of the opinion that Heru’ur is plotting to weaken Ra’s power base by attempting to wrest away several of Ra’s subject worlds completely?”}

Jolinar’s softer reply was somewhat muffled by the thick wall separating the chamber from the corridor in which Sabar waited, but her tone was noncommittal. Sabar heard Delek begin to interrupt her, only to be interrupted in turn by Odran, currently the Supreme High Councilor.

{“Delek, Jolinar is a seasoned operative and may well know the current mindset of certain Goa’uld better than either you or I.”} Odran’s firm voice carried over Delek’s and into the corridor without his ever seeming to have actually spoken above a conversational volume. It was a talent the Supreme High Councilor shared with his First Brood sibling, Selmak. {“This wouldn’t be the first time that Montu has attempted to sow worry and discord among other Goa’uld by suggesting that one has designs on the other’s power. At the same time, it also wouldn’t surprise me if Heru’ur truly did plan something along the lines of what has been intimated. If even our own operative — who at one time was Goa’uld herself, in service to a System Lord, and who was lately undercover in the very presence of Montu — cannot ascertain which is the actual case, then how do you propose to do so from your comfortable position here at Rak’lar?”}

Sabar had to give Odran a certain respect for that. The Council leader seemed well-attuned to the precarious position in which operatives worked. Not that this was any great surprise, as Odran had long been one of the Tok’ra’s best operatives himself. No, what was more surprising was how quickly those like Delek seemingly forgot what field work could be like once they were removed from it for a while. That had a tendency to change once they rotated off Council duty and back into the field, however.

There came more murmuring from the chamber in response to Odran’s words. Sabar noted the voices of Selmak and Garshaw rising slightly above the others, though even his keen ears could make out only the odd phrase here and there. Still, he strained to listen. He could sense his host doing likewise. Cadogan’s hearing had been slightly sharper than the average man’s even prior to their blending, and a symbiote improved upon his or her host’s senses for their mutual benefit. But the acoustics of the chamber and the tunnel confounded them this time.

Remir leaned against the wall on the other side of the tunnel, keeping him company while he waited. Catching Sabar’s eye, he nodded toward the rounded entrance to the short tunnel leading to the Council chamber. {“I don’t know why Delek keeps on like he does. You’d think that Jolinar hadn’t already told them everything she saw and heard, twice. And given her impressions as well.”}

Sabar shrugged. {“It’s Delek. He’s been like this forever. We’re of the same Brood, you know, and the same partition, so we’ve known each other since we were birthed. I can’t recall a time when he was anything but overbearing and pompous. Firmly committed to the cause, of course, but his attitude… well, let’s just say he sours whatever water he’s in.”}

Remir pulled a face. {“You don’t have to tell me, Sabar. At least you haven’t had to endure his company much these past hundred years or so. Selmak sent me on a mission with him that lasted several weeks, perhaps thirty years back. Made me wonder what I’d done to irritate her.”}

{“Let me guess: he spent half the time lecturing you on how to keep poor Elu in line?”} Sabar asked sympathetically. Remir nodded.

Sabar knew his friend, like himself, believed in actually consulting one’s host in matters likely to affect things like bodily integrity or survival, while Delek seemed to have little respect for humans as a whole, despite acknowledging his own need for a host. {“Sometimes I think he’s spent too long playing the part of a Goa’uld, and it’s rubbed off on him,”} he suggested.

{“I don’t doubt it,”} agreed Remir.

Allowing the conversation to lapse back into silence, they listened for several more minutes to the drone of deliberation from the chamber, catching only the occasional clear comment. Soon the echo of footsteps sounded in the entrance tunnel and Lantash appeared, beckoning to Sabar. {“It’s your turn,”} he said apologetically.

Sabar glanced at Remir with a shrug. {“Wish me luck.”}

{“You’ll be fine, Sabar. What are they going to do, banish you if you say something they don’t like?”} One ebony eyebrow arched as Remir spoke, and Sabar chuckled despite his misgivings as he turned to follow Lantash.

On entering the chamber, he surveyed the Councilors gathered around the table, noting that he recognized every face. There was Odran, as a member of the First Brood one of the eldest of the Tok’ra, his host Rugar tall and greying-blond with calm green eyes. To Odran’s right was his brood-sibling Selmak. Sabar had been struck by the deep blue eyes and thick pale hair of Saroosh, Selmak’s host, from their first meeting long ago, but friction between Saroosh and Berwyn had disrupted the cordial respect that had previously existed between himself and the elder Tok’ra operative. There was less friction between Saroosh and Cadogan, but of course by now Sabar had been absent for so long from his mainstream kin that the rift persisted, aided by the difference in their philosophy regarding direct intervention. Selmak nodded coolly, her host’s blue gaze somewhat faded by the wear of years.

Per’sus occupied the seat across from Odran, watching with an expectant expression as Sabar followed Lantash into the room. To his left Delek scowled, saying nothing, while next to him Sindel pushed jet-colored hair from her shoulder with a slim brown hand and assumed a neutral expression. Sabar recalled that her host, Kapa, hailed from the same world as Elu.

On Selmak’s right sat Geta. Sabar found in his host Tiran’s broad, lined countenance a familiar warmth. Geta was of his own Brood, and an avid player of p’ol, a three-dimensional strategy game the Tok’ra often played for amusement. He and Sabar had shared many a match in the centuries before the founding of the Tok’bel. The two still played when they could on Sabar’s rare visits to his more traditional siblings, although it had now been nearly twenty years since the last time they’d found the opportunity to do so. Cadogan and Tiran knew each other well enough from these encounters to be on friendly terms, and Sabar was gratified to see a welcoming face on the Council for both their sakes, for he knew that Geta found nothing particularly objectionable in his approach to the problem of the Goa’uld despite its being at odds with official Tok’ra methods.

An aged feminine form occupied the seat next to Geta’s. The long ivory braid over one shoulder bore a yellowish cast, mute evidence of the fact that its owner had once had fiery red hair. Sabar blinked as his mind’s eye overlaid the memory of the younger woman on the visage of the old: Lena, host to Anise since his own time with Langen, Berwyn’s predecessor. When he’d visited several years ago, he’d heard that Anise was still engaged in scientific study at a Tok’ra outpost far to spinward along the galaxy’s R’yn arm, probably related to her quest for the semi-mythical Atoniek and their lost technology which she hoped might offer some advantage against the Goa’uld. To find her not only here at Rak’lar but also filling a Council position was something of a shock. Anise had previously shown no interest in a Council seat, and Sabar wondered what — or who — had persuaded her to change her mind.

His musings on that topic were interrupted by Garshaw, who sat across from Anise. {“Sabar. So good of you to grace us with your presence.”} The words fairly dripped sarcasm.

Pushing back his annoyance, Sabar executed a slight bow in the Councilor’s direction and adopted his most diplomatic tone. {“The Council has requested my attendance and I am happy to be of whatever assistance I can, Garshaw.”}

Garshaw regarded him from beneath raised brows, but offered no further response as Sabar made his way to the end of the table and adopted the posture of patient waiting traditional for those called to speak before the Council at its pleasure. His internal mood was anything but patient, however, as apprehension warred with curiosity over precisely what it was that his siblings desired of him.

He didn’t have to wait long to find out. {“Sabar, welcome,”} intoned Odran. {“You have been called before us to offer your opinion on the feasibility of an idea raised by one of our operatives. The Council is aware that you have… specialized experience with the subject under consideration, and we would hear your evidence either for or against the probable success of what has been suggested.”}

All of which sounds to me like nothing more than a roundabout way of asking you how goes our work against Bel, Cadogan commented silently.

Sabar groaned inwardly. {Yes, and if I answer that we’re having success, I’ll be expected to explain why he still holds power over all five worlds in his domain. If I answer that it’s slow going, then I’ll be asked to justify the continuation of our efforts.}

In other words, Ithel’s dilemma, Cadogan mused, citing an old Pridanic folktale regarding a young warrior whose chieftain had once set him a series of seemingly conflicting challenges in an effort to test the young man’s ability to discern the best way of addressing multiple objectives simultaneously.

{Something like that, yes.}

Sabar met Odran’s gaze and spoke aloud. {“It is my pleasure to offer whatever insight I may have, Supreme Councilor,”} he said diplomatically. {“I am only pleased that my visit coincides with your need. What is it that you require?”}

Per’sus spoke up. {“According to certain of our field operatives”} — he glanced at Jolinar and Lantash — {“the situations on several of Ra’s worlds may be ripe for rebellion by the humans living there. It appears that there are a number of underground groups among these humans, groups who believe that their Goa’uld overlords are not in fact gods, and who have agitated — quietly, you understand — for throwing off the yoke of slavery. We have sent occasional operatives to monitor things among the human populations as well as sending agents among the Goa’uld themselves as is our more normal way, and what we have learned from these observations of the humans themselves suggests that the present unrest may one day erupt into action. Perhaps not for many years, or even decades, but it is possible at some point.”}

Sabar inclined his head. {“I find this not at all unsurprising, Councilor Per’sus, but what is it you would ask of me? I have not been involved with any of these observations, nor with any direct mission for the Tok’ra in quite some time.”}

Odran took up the thread of the conversation again. {“We are well aware of this, Sabar. Nevertheless, we are also well aware that you do have direct experience with human rebellions against the Goa’uld. Certain operatives and also certain members of this Council have put forth the idea that it might be of value to encourage these rebel elements and possibly even to aid them rather than ignoring them and concentrating solely on the Goa’uld themselves. Given that you are currently available, the suggestion was made that we might do well to consult with you regarding your experiences in aiding the rebel group with whom you and your friends have allied themselves.”}

{I wonder whose “suggestion” this was?} Sabar mused silently. He glanced up and down the table, his gaze moving from face to face. Odran’s expression was open, devoid of any apparent guile; Selmak’s reserved and impassive. Sabar read in Geta’s eyes a look of support; not unsurprising given their friendship. Anise was hard to read, but at least did not exhibit any outward displeasure with the idea that Odran had voiced. Garshaw wore the look of a predatory creature eyeing its next meal, while Delek simply frowned. Sindel’s expression was neutral, and Per’sus blinked calmly and nodded slightly as Sabar met his eyes. {Garshaw is behind this, I’ll wager. Or maybe Delek. Possibly both.}

Tread carefully, cautioned Cadogan.

Sabar drew a deep breath, marshaling his thoughts. {“By the Council’s leave,”} he began, {“I assume you are all well acquainted with my personal philosophy on this matter, and I will therefore dispense with explaining it. As to my direct experience, let me just say that humans are amazingly capable when encouraged, and will work as hard and fight as bravely as any Tok’ra has ever done when facing the Goa’uld and their Jaffa. I need not remind you that the Tau’ri themselves, ancestors to the humans on all Goa’uld worlds, succeeded in ousting Ra from their homeworld millennia ago and burying the chappa’ai that existed in the land from which he had ruled.”}

He drew breath to go on, but was interrupted by Delek. {“Yes, yes, we’re all aware of that, Sabar. But the humans currently under Goa’uld rule have had their spirits broken by thousands of years under that domination. Don’t you think that might affect things?”}

Sabar shook his head. {“Then explain to me, Councilor Delek, the existence of those other worlds whose human populations did succeed in driving the out the Goa’uld who ruled them and obtaining freedom?”}

Delek’s face twisted. {“They are few and far between, and you know that as well as I. Furthermore, most of them only remained free by burying their chappa’ai for centuries if not longer. Are you suggesting that the humans on all of Ra’s worlds would or should do likewise?”}

{“Perhaps not. In fact, it would be preferable for them to maintain the devices and utilize them to their own benefit, just as the people of Bel’s domain managed to do during the five hundred years of freedom they enjoyed during Bel’s absence.”} Sabar carefully avoided mentioning the System Lord’s return, which he had long suspected might have been due to some Tok’ra machination in another Goa’uld’s domain having repercussions that went beyond its own worlds. No need to make an already-charged situation even more volatile. {“The problem with that, of course, is that the Goa’uld would be able to use the chappa’ai as a means to repeatedly invade and attack unless defensive measures were put in place. That would be one area where the Tok’ra could be of assistance, in terms of helping to provide defensive technology and training.”}

{“At an inordinately high risk!”} Delek’s expression contorted further.

{“There is a risk inherent in everything, Delek, including the Tok’ra’s present activities,”} Sabar told him. {“In return, however, we would be able to obtain access to the resources of those worlds, resources which would be denied to the Goa’uld while benefitting both the Tok’ra and the people whose hard work produced the items. Naquadah, for one thing, and other metals, as well as foodstuffs and other items. We would also gain additional sources for willing hosts, as has been the case for my own group in Bel’s domain. Many of the Tok’bel have blended with hosts from among the peoples of Bel’s worlds. My own host Cadogan, whom you see here before you, is from Tir Awyr, one of Bel’s planets. When we finally succeed in freeing his world and her sisters, the Tok’bel — and by extension, the Tok’ra — have been promised access to the resources available there. In the meantime, of course, we do skim off what we can steal from the output of mines and fields without alerting Bel to that fact, and use it in the service of the rebellion.”}

{“So you’re saying that we should offer to aid human rebels against the Goa’uld and armies of Jaffa in exchange for the use of resources and a source of hosts if — if,  mind you — such rebellions prove successful?”} The speaker was Garshaw this time. {“Need I remind you, Sabar, that the Goa’uld also have fleets of ships, and vast numbers of ger’tak,  in addition to thousands upon thousands of Jaffa warriors and a ready supply of naquadah to power their weapons?”}

{“I am well aware of that, Councilor Garshaw,”} replied Sabar, allowing none of the irritation he felt to show in his voice. {“However, need I remind you that we — the Tok’ra as a whole, that is — are currently fighting a clandestine war of attrition in which virtually the only attrition occurring is on our own side?”} Without a queen to produce additional larvae, the Tok’ra were doomed to extinction in no more than another two millennia, and they all knew it. {“At some point, we will cease to exist, and if we have neither defeated the Goa’uld nor Turned them from their evil ways by that point, who will be left to fight them with all the understanding that we possess about them?”}

He glanced around the table again, noting the sober looks upon the faces of the assembled Councilors. The reminder of their species’ mortality was the one thing that might unite them, although there was no telling for how long. {“That is why I believe that it may well be in our best interests to take more direct action against them, or at the very least to encourage and aid those humans who are willing to do so. If the Tok’ra are to die out as a group before the Goa’uld threat has been neutralized or the tide at least turned in that direction, then does it really matter whether that happens a hundred years from now or a thousand? On the other hand, if through fighting them by more direct means we are able to defeat them sooner even at the cost of some Tok’ra lives… Well, have we not always vowed to give our lives if need be, in order to secure the Goa’uld’s defeat? In the worst case, we will at least be giving them in a worthy cause.”}

{“Perhaps you are eager to give your life, Sabar,”} Delek grumbled, {“but others of us are not so eager.”}

And is that why he has abandoned field duty to sit on the Council? There was scorn in Cadogan’s mental tone.

{Even I won’t ask that question,} returned Sabar silently.

Geta spoke up. {“Delek, I don’t believe that is what Sabar has in mind, although the logic of his thinking here is flawless. None of us is going to live forever; and without resorting to the sarcophagus — which you know as well as I won’t happen — we won’t even last as long as many of the current crop of Goa’uld. We have no queen to breed a further generation of Tok’ra, and therefore we ourselves are likely all that stands between the Goa’uld and complete domination of the galaxy. Sabar has made a crucial point, I think.”}

Across from Geta, Sindel nodded, turning to fix Delek with her dark gaze. {“Geta is right. I cannot fault Sabar’s thinking in this matter either.”}

{“Nor can I,”} agreed Per’sus. Delek glanced from one to the other of the colleagues flanking him, and his scowl deepened.

Selmak took this opportunity to comment. {“I do understand the reasoning behind it, but to risk more of the Goa’uld’s ire than we currently do by taking an active role… I can’t be certain we could justify the risk to our operatives, nor to our movement and species as a whole.”}

Anise cleared her throat. {“I don’t really see how the risk would be that much greater,”} she said. {“We already routinely send operatives deep undercover into the heart of Goa’uld society, often placing them close to the System Lords themselves. Risk is part of the equation, and it isn’t as if we haven’t lost some of our number that way. Yet often all they are really able to do is report on the deployment of resources and troops, or upon the details of this or that internecine power struggle, which we then do our best to exploit. And after doing this for two millennia, have we really accomplished so much that we can call our work a resounding success?”}

{“Anise,”} began Garshaw. {“I know that you have been out of the main thrust of our activities for several decades while you pursue your research, but even you must admit that — ”}

Anise cut her off, an act of temerity surprising in a junior Councilor. Then again, Sabar reflected, Anise was known for her boldness of character. {“Councilor Garshaw, with all due respect, I am well aware of what can happen when the Tok’ra do in fact aid humans directly, even if doing so was unplanned. You seem to have forgotten that Lena, my own host, comes from a world where the human population successfully freed itself from Goa’uld rule, with the help and advice of Tok’ra operatives.”}

{“Who were, if I recall correctly, only on that planet through bad luck,”} Garshaw rejoined. {“And even so, the only reason Lena’s people remained free was because their former overlord was too busy trying to fend off rival Goa’uld intent on assassinating him and taking over his entire territory.”}

{“If I may…”} Sabar spoke the words with only slightly more volume than he’d used previously, but all eight heads turned toward him as he continued, {“The one thing that we have proven ourselves experts at is fomenting unrest within the Goa’uld hierarchy, no? With the proper words here and there, in the proper ears and with the proper timing, we’ve managed to pit this or that underling against his overlord, or to exploit the tendencies of certain Goa’uld to engage in plotting against others. We take advantage where we find it, and we’ve created some situations ourselves. It surely seems to me that if we were to place events in motion that were timed in such a way as to distract attention and draw resources away from quelling human rebellions and direct them into pitting Goa’uld against Goa’uld at just the right time to benefit any such rebels, that might prove useful.”}

Moccas and Bel, said Cadogan.

{Exactly,} Sabar replied silently.

Both Garshaw and Delek opened their mouths to speak, only to close them again when Odran’s voice rose above the gathered assembly. {“There is merit in that thinking, Sabar, and rest assured that it will be taken into consideration. For now, however, the Council will need time to deliberate upon the subject. I’ve been told that any possible rebellion on any of the planets where such a possibility has been detected is far from imminent, and we therefore do have time to determine the proper course of action. It was suggested to me by some of those assembled here that the Council might benefit from hearing from someone with your direct experience, and once I became aware that you were visiting among us, I thought it wise to avail ourselves of the opportunity.”}

Sabar bowed slightly in the Supreme High Councilor’s direction. {“I am only too happy to offer what assistance I may.”}

Remarkable. You said that with a straight face, commented his host.

{Hush, or I won’t be able to keep it that way.}

Selmak exchanged a look with Odran, then fixed her gaze on Sabar. {“Tell me, have the Tok’bel lost any of their number in their time aiding the human rebels in Bel’s domain?”}

Sabar had been expecting the question. Selmak already knew the answer, of course, but she obviously intended the response to sway the opinions of the various Councilors present. {“We have lost three of our number, including my own mate Larenan. As you are well aware.”}

{“And do you consider their sacrifice worthy of the objective — an objective you still have not achieved after more than a century of effort?”} Selmak watched his face closely, not blinking.

A moment’s silence permitted Sabar to retain his composure. When he spoke, his voice was level and calm, although he was aware that his host must surely know what that effort cost him.

{“Councilor Selmak, many of the Tok’ra’s operations play out over many decades and occasionally even centuries. It is not so different for humans, even though their lives are short. Wheels once set in motion may well take time to turn, and even longer if great care is needed in steering their course. The rebels in Bel’s domain must work with the resources that they have, as must we who assist them. The Tok’bel have operatives in Bel’s own hierarchy, and we do little without proper intelligence. Likewise, the human rebels — the Am Rhyddid, to use their name in the language of my host’s people, among whom the movement had its beginning — do little that is of a precipitous nature. They are as aware as we that in order to do a thing right, it is sometimes necessary to do it slowly and with exceeding caution. But even slow and careful action is preferable to little or no action, and we are making progress. As to whether or not what success we have so far achieved was worth the sacrifice of my mate and our colleagues, I am not the only one to judge. I should perhaps let my host address you, as Larenan’s host at the time of her death was his own wife, Menna.”}

You want me to address the Council?

{Only if you are willing, Cadogan. But it might have a positive impact. I’m just sorry to have brought it up without asking you ahead of time.}

No, no; it’s all right.

Odran bowed his head a fraction in Sabar’s direction, a gesture Sabar understood as respect for his host. {“If your host wishes to speak, he is most welcome to do so. The decision is his, naturally.”}

I’ll speak to them.

Sabar bowed his head and closed his eyes for a second, ceding control. Cadogan lifted his head a moment later, opening his eyes and looking around at the assembled Councilors before addressing Odran directly.

“Thank you, Supreme Councilor.” He looked up and down the table again, meeting each Tok’ra’s gaze in turn. “For those of you who do not know me, I am Cadogan ap Cynan, leader of the human freedom fighters against Bel. By our tradition, I hold this rank courtesy of my status as Sabar’s host, although I spent over three decades in the service of the Am Rhyddid prior to our blending and ranked among its senior officers. Both before becoming his host and since that time, I have personally lost family members and friends to Bel’s Jaffa and on missions for the rebellion. My entire family is involved in the movement, and would be even if we had no outside assistance. However, because of the Tok’bel, we have enjoyed greater success and fewer losses than we would otherwise.”

He paused, and Sabar could sense him weighing his next words. “My own ancestors were among those who founded the Am Rhyddid, long before Sabar and the others came to aid us. Berwyn, my kinsman, was from a family who had been involved in the movement, and during his own years as a personal slave in Bel’s own court, he saw much that fired him even further with the desire to wrest his own world and her sisters from Goa’uld enslavement and control. When Sabar, on an undercover mission, encountered him and was later able to free him on another world far from home, Berwyn was grateful for the existence of the Tok’ra and for Sabar’s kindness. Yet he never forgot his homeworld and his kin, and although he offered himself as host out of sheer gratitude for his freedom and that of several of his fellows, once blended he discovered Sabar to be very much a kindred spirit.”

Cadogan paused again and cleared his throat. “Know that Sabar made his own choice to aid the Am Rhyddid directly, and to form the Tok’bel. In the same way, my wife made her own choice to blend with Larenan many decades later, after I became Sabar’s host. We all understand the risks involved, and at least for those of us who are human, we understand that full success may not come within our lifetimes. This would have been true in any case, but with the Tok’bel’s help we have that much greater a chance of success eventually. We would fight the Goa’uld regardless, and with everything that we have or are, just as we know that you Tok’ra oppose the Goa’uld with every ounce of volition you possess. And while we grieve for our dead, we grieve just as much over lost Tok’bel or Tok’ra, for we understand that the loss of even one of your number reduces your people in a way that it does not reduce ours. Yet I can say with every assurance that both Menna and Larenan took their risks willingly, and gave their lives willingly to further the cause of our own freedom and to do whatever small part they could in breaking the power of the Goa’uld. I cannot speak for any others, but I will say also for myself that I would willingly give my own life to achieve that objective as well.”

Selmak regarded him for a long moment. {“A pretty speech,”} she said at length. {“And a stirring one; make no mistake. But you at least have offspring, descendants who would be left to carry on your line in your absence.”}

Cadogan shook his head solemnly. “No, Councilor, I regret to say that I do not. Kinfolk, yes; but no progeny. At one time I had a daughter and two sons, but all three were lost to Bel and his depredations upon my people. My daughter and my eldest son were active in the Am Rhyddid, as I am, and gave their lives in the course of that service without either having yet produced children of their own. The third was taken from us in his seventeenth year, and made host to one of Bel’s rare offspring by Zara, his queen.”

Cadogan drew a deep breath, and Sabar felt his host’s throat tighten as he prepared his next words. “I was forced to kill him myself when we later found him, or rather the Goa’uld who possessed him, in charge of a Jaffa force we encountered in the course of a raid. When your own son’s hand raises a weapon against you… when his mouth speaks words threatening you with death in the name of a false god, and you must take his life for the sake of your other kin and your comrades, and then destroy even his corpse with your weapon’s third blast, lest he be revived and his torment continued… No, there is no sacrifice too great if it counters the Goa’uld and frees my people — or anyone’s people — from their control. At least not in my mind. Nor in Menna’s, who was his mother.”

Cadogan had ground out these last words as though he were chewing on gravel. The Council chamber grew silent as Sabar lent what support he could to calm his host’s racing pulse and agitated mind. {I am sorry I asked you to speak to them,} he offered silently.

Why? Because I felt that I must tell them the reason why I fight?

Sabar could feel Cadogan willing himself to calmness, and redoubled his efforts to help. {That was not easy for you, my friend,} he said as he labored to adjust his host’s brain chemistry.

No, but it was necessary. Oftentimes what is necessary is not easy, and what is not easy is nevertheless necessary. I accepted that long ago, Sabar. This is no different. And you can stop twiddling about; I’ll be all right in a moment.

Sabar detected the affection behind the thought. {If you insist.} Having done what he could, he subsided, allowing his host’s system to take over.

At the far end of the table, Odran stood and bowed his head in their direction, a rare show of respect from the Supreme High Councilor to a host for the host’s own sake. {“Cadogan ap Cynan of the Am Rhyddid, I grieve for your loss, as does Rugar, my host. And I thank you for having the courage to tell your tale. I am certain we will all bear it in mind as we consider what has been said here today, and the decisions we must make regarding our own future course of action.”} He looked around pointedly at the other Councilors. {“Regardless of the course to which those deliberations lead us, know that your words have been heard and will be valued.”}

Cadogan squared his shoulders. “Thank you, Supreme Councilor. That knowledge is appreciated.” He bowed his head, giving over control to Sabar once more.

Sabar looked up, meeting Odran’s eyes. {“I thank you as well. Cadogan does not often speak of his youngest child to anyone even among his own kin, let alone to others. You listened with respect.”}

Odran nodded. {“I can do no less, Sabar. It is easy to forget the sacrifices of those who are not our own, and humbling to be reminded of them.”} The Supreme Councilor glanced at his seven colleagues ranged about the table. Sabar knew that each was likely processing what he or she had heard, albeit probably not along uniform lines.

His own gaze went to Jolinar and Lantash, standing quietly against the wall beyond the table. Both were watching him, and he could see the concern in their expressions.

When Odran spoke again, it was once more in the firm tone of authority. {“If no one has further questions for Sabar”} — another look around the table, where no one spoke — {“then this meeting is adjourned.”} He strode toward the doorway, clasping Sabar’s shoulder briefly as he passed, and left the room.

The other Councilors rose, most of them silently, and began making their way from the chamber. Delek and Garshaw shot unfathomable looks in Sabar’s direction as they exited, but neither spoke. Anise gave him a look of sympathy that he knew was intended for Cadogan, and he nodded once in acknowledgement.

Geta came to stand beside him. {“In all these years, to have never known Cadogan’s story,”} he said quietly. {“Your host is a strong man.”}

{“That he is, my friend. How have you been? The past two times I was here, you were away on missions of your own.”}

Geta smiled. {“I’ve been well enough, though I’ve been disappointed each time I learned that I’d missed your visit. Will you be staying any longer among us, or do you need to get back quickly?”}

{“I take it you have a yearning to lose at p’ol?”} Sabar chuckled, knowing that Cadogan enjoyed the game as much as he did. A bit of diversion before they returned home might be the proper antidote to what he’d just put his host through.

{“If I recall correctly, this would be a rematch from last time. You owe me a victory.”}

{“We shall see about that,”} Sabar told him, just as Jolinar and Lantash joined them.

Martouf, apparently in control at the moment, spoke first. “I’m sorry you had to do that, Cadogan. Please accept my sympathies.”

Ducking his head, Sabar ceded control to his host for a moment. “It’s all right, Martouf. Thank you.” Cadogan quickly returned control to Sabar.

{“Do you have to leave soon, or will you be staying longer?”} asked Jolinar.

{“I have to return to Caer Ynys tomorrow, but this evening I will remain. Geta and I are going to play p’ol, but perhaps we can all have dinner first? And where has Remir gotten to? He ought to join us, and Nasara as well.”} There was no telling when he might next see his friends, and Sabar wanted to enjoy what he could of his time among them.

The little group moved toward the doorway, the Councilors having all left. {“I’ll go and find Remir and Nasara,”} said Lantash, having taken over from Martouf. {“And tomorrow when you leave, we will all walk with you to the chappa’ai. It’s a cold journey, and you needn’t make it alone.”}



Author’s Note: I’ve been contacted by several readers with questions regarding Sabar’s statement that he feels the Tok’ra will face extinction ‘soon’, and I feel that I ought perhaps to clarify some details for the curious:

Sabar’s reference to extinction wasn’t about the Tok’ra being killed off by the Goa’uld, although that type of attrition forms a part of his thinking. I realize that some fans believe that Tok’ra and Goa’uld symbiotes have natural lifespans of up to 10,000 years and that the use of a sarcophagus is only to extend the life of the host, rather than of the symbiote. I must admit that I don’t see any evidence in canon for a 10,000 year lifespan for symbiotes who don’t use sarcophagi, and I believe the sarcophagus prolongs the life of both the symbiote and the host (although eventually it reaches the point where it can’t quite do the job). After all, symbiotes can take new hosts as needed, so it seems to me that going to all the trouble of developing sarcophagus technology solely to extend the host’s lifetime would have been regarded as a waste of effort by the Goa’uld. Hence my belief that it is beneficial to both entities. That may simply be my personal view on things; I don’t know. But it’s what I’m using.

Personally, I see the sarcophagus as having been invented around 5,500 to 6,000 years ago or more, but that may just be me. Call it artistic license, if that helps. In fact, my entire take on the lifespans of Tok’ra and Goa’uld may certainly be chalked up to that if you wish. I wouldn’t be the first fanfic writer to take liberties now and again with either canon or speculative material for the sake of a good story or an important plot point! Even the show’s own writers were known to do that.

That brings us to the question of just what constitutes a symbiote’s ‘natural’ lifespan, without the aid of a sarcophagus:

To a great extent, I base my interpretation of the Tok’ra on the information in Katherine Ritter’s Lexicon at RDA dot com, while admittedly tweaking it a bit. If the Tok’ra were first spawned somewhat over 2,000 years ago, as is stated there, and we’re told that Selmak was dying (ostensibly) of old age not too many years after we first met the Tok’ra, then that speaks to a natural symbiote lifespan of far less than ten thousand years. Granted, I do pick and choose, as I put a natural symbiote lifespan at somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 years in my particular version of the Gateverse, making Sabar a ‘middle-aged’ Tok’ra at just over 2,000 years of age himself, and as a result I won’t be playing with the idea of Selmak being close to death. Canon makes her “one of the oldest” Tok’ra; therefore I make her a member of the First Brood, but in my ‘verse that means she was spawned roughly 2,600 years ago, give or take a bit. This would place her in late middle age, maybe, but far short of elderly.

According to some of my other research, there actually was a goddess named Egeria who was worshipped by the Romans, and her legend places her on Earth around 700 BC. The legend says she was wise and taught Numa Pompilius, the 2nd king of Rome, to be a wise ruler. I’m interpreting that as the Goa’uld Egeria beginning to evidence her own change in philosophy and trying to quietly help humans instead of subjugating them. So in my Gateverse, her first brood of Tok’ra were spawned sometime between 700 and 650 AD, with the last brood coming not long before her disappearance, which I’ve arbitrarily placed sometime in the first century AD… oddly enough, coinciding with Rome expanding its empire as far west as the British Isles. (I am reminded by fellow author and Tok’ra enthusiast Roeskva that Roman mythology gives Egeria’s origin as among the Camanae, water nymphs who could not leave their pond unless they took human form. Considering that the Goa’uld were initially an aquatic species and still begin their lives in that form before eventually moving to human hosts, this seems eminently fitting. Perhaps even more so given that Egeria was a queen, and therefore may well have spent even more time in her aquatic state due to the necessities of spawning her Tok’ra offspring.)

Which brings us to Sabar himself. He was probably spawned sometime around 150 BC, give or take a century. He knows the youngest of his siblings won’t last beyond another two millennia (again, give or take a century or so) and he is of course thinking in Tok’ra and Goa’uld time, meaning that this is ‘soon’. Thus he feels that time is very limited for them to defeat the Goa’uld, because it has to either happen within his own lifetime or those of his youngest siblings. He’s aware of his own mortality, as some of us tend to become when we are in middle age! Frank is like that too, and I just might be exploring that theme a bit through this story; I was 46 when I began writing it, the same age as Frank was when he fell through the Stargate. Anyway, this awareness gives Sabar a sense of urgency that is a crucial driver for his whole reasoning behind forming the Tok’bel and putting his beliefs into practice.

Be advised that to a large extent I am purposely writing this story as though it had been written prior to the airing of Season 6, with a few exceptions for concepts that were introduced later that I find useful. Just call it a quirk, some of which arises from my not really having enjoyed most of the show’s later material and not really having watched much beyond the early episodes of Season 7, or at most having only seen a single airing of the later episodes that I did watch.

One more thing: Obviously, right now the story is in a time prior to SG-1’s first contact with the Tok’ra. I am actually building a somewhat alternate universe for the By Honor Bound series in which things will happen a bit differently than they did in canon as regards the effects of a Tau’ri-Tok’ra alliance. This will be due in large part to Frank’s actions in helping the Tok’bel, which will alter certain attitudes and events slightly. I think you’ll enjoy the results.