If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going. — Harriet Tubman


Tesni straightened from the sorting table and stretched her back while dusting her work gloves one against the other. Sorting the chunks of naquadah-bearing rock from the odds and ends of inert material that tended to get mixed in with it was a tiring affair that led to stiff muscles and numb feet.

She glanced up and down the table at her co-workers. Sorcha stood across from her, head down as she focused on her work. Enfys was near the end of the table, her husband Cornan beside her. She could just see the back of Aeddon ab Amig’s curly head among the workers surrounding the next table over, with two more of the Llanavoni contingent beside him. The sorting-house was crowded and a bit overwarm with the press of so many bodies, though the warmth was welcome given the wintry chill outside.

There was a hubbub near the door, and several workers moved to peer out, then quickly backed up as Eiluned entered. “All right, all of you outside! We have visitors and everyone is to assemble in the courtyard.”

Tesni shuffled outside with the rest of the workers, blinking as her eyes adjusted to brightness. At one end of the facility’s central yard stood a raised dais often used by the mine captain or Jaffa guards to address the assembled laborers. A line of Jaffa occupied the platform now, sunlight reflecting dully off the stylized ram’s-horns of their helmets. The light illuminated even more thoroughly a trio of unhelmeted figures who stood just in front of them. The central one wore a gold-washed breastplate while his two companions wore its counterparts in a copper hue. These must be ‘General Kasol’ and his lieutenants.

More laborers began to pour into the yard from the mine entrance and the barracks as every work detail assembled to attend the visitors. The air was filled with the muted buzz of conversation as speculation mounted over the purpose of this visit. Several minutes passed and speculation grew ever wilder until the head of the mine’s Jaffa guard barked, “Kree!” and a hush fell over the crowd. Everyone recognized that command, even if it was the only word of Goa’uld they knew.

The general stepped forward. From her vantage point close to the front of the throng, Tesni could see the expression on his face — a mixture of haughtiness and severity, like some terrible judge set to condemn them. Then again, she knew from talking with Ceinwen that Sholan was playing exactly such a role. When he began to speak a moment later, it was clear he was delivering the same chastisement he’d given in Llanavon’s square the day before. Listening with half her attention, she devoted the other half to watching the mine staff react to his words. Eiluned’s face remained unsurprisingly impassive while that of Gethen, the swarthy mine captain whose mother was from Clan Talorc, bore a grimace that boded a none-too-comfortable future for those currently on work rotation.

The general’s words rang out over the assembled laborers, his harmonic-laced voice echoing unpleasantly from the stone surfaces of barracks and cliff-face. There was something about the tone of voice used by the Goa’uld, or by a Tok’ra operative masquerading as one, that made Tesni’s ears itch in a way Sabar’s voice did not.

Beside her, Sorcha twitched and whispered, “I think I’d rather be hacking at ore with a dull pick than listen to him. What in thunder brought this visit on?”

Tesni could only shake her head. She knew the answer to that question, of course, but couldn’t share it. She gave Sorcha an elaborate shrug by way of response and focused on the general’s address, searching his words for any possibility of hidden content beyond their surface meaning.



“Get up.”

Coll jerked awake at the Jaffa’s words. He’d been half-dozing in his cell, having lost all track of time down here in the constant, candle-lit dimness. Looking up, he saw the same Jaffa guard with mismatched eyes who’d brought most of his meals over however long he’d been in here — was it three days? Four? More than that?

“Get up,” the Jaffa commanded him again, unlocking the door to his cell. “You have been summoned.”

That sounded ominous. “Summoned by whom?” Coll asked, his voice creaking from disuse.

The Jaffa raised one eyebrow slightly at the question. “By the emissary of our Lord Bel. He has ordered us to present you to him. You will come with me now.”

Coll’s heart began to pound as he sat up on the narrow bunk, swinging his legs over the side. A Goa’uld emissary here, in the mining camp? Or do they mean to take me off-world?

The guard had opened his cell door while speaking, and closed it behind himself before advancing with a set of manacles connected by a short, stout chain. “Your hands.”

Visions of being questioned, even tortured, flooded through Coll’s mind. He pushed them away, only to be struck by another thought: Being taken as a host. No! He would find a way to prevent that, whatever the cost.

The Jaffa gestured with the chain. “Your hands,” he repeated.

Coll looked around wildly, but there was only one way out of the cell, of course — and the Jaffa was blocking the door. The guard reached out and grabbed his wrists, shackling them together with deft movements. He tugged, testing the bonds, then nodded to himself. “Come.”

Coll only stared at him.

“Now.” The guard pulled him upright, using the chain between his wrists. “The general is waiting.”




Ceinwen shifted position, careful to avoid making a sound. Her feet were going numb with cold, though at least her hands were warm. She’d quietly activated the net’ik, the Tok’bel warming device, hugging it close against her body and resting her hands against its surface. She longed to contact Cadogan, who by now must surely fear the worst, but dared not. She’d heard the pair of hunters settle in only a few yards behind her position some time ago to wait for game. The last thing she needed was for them to detect her presence, let alone discover her in possession of technology supposedly available only to their alien overlords. I wish they’d hurry up and go. They can’t be any more comfortable than I am, sitting still back there in the woods without even a heat source.

At least she still had a clear view of events in the camp below through a gap in the screen of fir branches. She’d watched with interest as a group of figures appeared around the bend in the road leading to the camp’s main gate, resolving themselves into several Jaffa in dull iron-colored armor and three Goa’uld clad in brighter copper and gold. The flurry of activity their arrival touched off in the camp itself reminded her of the time she’d deliberately kicked an ant heap as a nine-year-old child.

Now she watched intently as the camp’s laborers assembled before the dais where their visitors stood. The courtyard was nearly filled, although a few stragglers still made their way from the direction of the lift entrance. They were likely the last crews to be brought topside, and found their places as the gold-clad Goa’uld in the center of the visiting formation stepped forward and began to speak. Ceinwen couldn’t make out his words at this distance, though she strained to hear.

The sound of a twig snapping made her start. Footfalls approached from behind, and the voice of one of the hunters reached her ears. “Eh, we’ve been waiting long enough. There’s nothing going ta come along this trail.” The speaker was Young Hunter, from the sound of him.

“Ye may be right, a’ that,” replied his companion. “We’ll make for the road an’ circle back to the marsh. Might be some early geese, this close ta spring.”

The footfalls grew closer, rustling in the brush. Heart pounding, Ceinwen deactivated the net’ik and stuffed it into the small leather satchel that hung on its strap over one shoulder and across her chest. She rose to a crouch, gauging her best avenue of escape. The trails behind her in the forest were inaccessible, given that was the direction from which the two hunters were closing in. Moving forward downslope might be the best course, if only because all attention in the mining camp was likely to be riveted on the general and his party. A small gully ran along one side of the compound, where fir and holly screened the course of a small stream. She’d briefly considered it as a hiding place when planning her portion of this mission, but it received little sunlight and in winter weather was apt to be even chillier than the wooded hilltop. Helpful though it might be, the net’ik was no substitute for a campfire. The gully might serve her now, however, if she could make it there before the hunters broke from the trees, and without being noticed by anyone in the camp itself.

She timed her escape with the crackle of the pair’s approach, hoping it would cover the sound of her own movements. Breaking from the shelter of the fir trees she scuttled, crablike, downslope. Perhaps sixty yards separated her from the gully’s embankment. Some of that distance was brush-covered, while other portions were wide open and white with snow she dared not cross lest her tracks give her away.

Her breath ragged and pulse pounding in her own ears, she moved onward, zigzagging from spot to spot through tufts of tall grass that broke the surface of the snow. They might obscure her passage, even though they prolonged her journey toward safety.

A cry from upslope alerted her to the fact that she’d been spotted. “Hey-o! Wait up!”

Did they mistake her for another member of what might be a scattered party? Not that it helped much, as a closer look would reveal her to be no one they knew, and if she spoke her accent would give her away as belonging to one of the ‘Unbeliever’ clans. At the same time, now that she’d been spotted, continuing toward the gully would surely mark her as a fugitive of some sort, which was even worse. She had no choice but to brazen it out and attempt to pass for a random lone hunter desperate enough to trespass up against the mining compound.

She poked at the ground, pretending to search for signs of recent passage by prey, then straightened as the pair approached. Younger Hunter looked at her and blinked. His elder companion peered at her through narrowed eyes, though he gave a curt nod before turning his attention downslope toward the mine.

Younger Hunter spoke first. “Good day.”

Ceinwen carefully kept her expression neutral. “Good day.”

Before either of them could speak again, Elder Hunter seized his companion by the shoulder. “Iolo, look. An emissary of Lord Bel, in the courtyard!”

Iolo’s eyes widened as he followed his elder’s gaze. “A holy messenger,” he breathed, bowing his head and tugging at his forelock in a gesture of obeisance.

The other man echoed the gesture, then looked pointedly at Ceinwen. “Anghrediniwr,” he spat.

Unbeliever. Infidel. Of course, that was what Clan Talorc called their less-than-devout neighbors. Ceinwen had little contact with the Talorcii, and preferred it that way.

“What are ye doing here?” asked Elder Hunter.

“Hunting, the same as you.” She gestured toward the short-bow and quiver slung on her back.

“Your kind don’t hunt this land.” There was suspicion in his eyes. “Why are ye here?”

She drew herself up, lifting her chin. “This winter has been lean for all of us, and this is no more Talorc’s land than anyone’s.”

Iolo nudged his friend. “We should take her to pay her respects, eh?” he suggested with an unpleasant chuckle.

Elder Hunter grinned, exposing yellowed teeth. “Indeed we should.” He made as if to grasp her arm.

Ceinwen backed away, just out of reach. “Leave me alone. I am a daughter of Clan Branoc, and by the treaty between our clans, you have no right to touch me.”

The man’s eyes glittered dangerously. “I am a dedicant of Our Lord Bel, and have served him as a priest.” He pushed back his hood, revealing grey-shot hair and a blue spiral tattoo that wound its way from his jawline to pass behind one ear and re-emerge at his temple, where it was crossed with the red knot that marked those who had completed a seven-year span of their lives as a priest of the Deceiver. “His authority supersedes all else.”

“I said don’t touch me.” Her hand went to her belt, and the dagger she carried. Steel hissed softly as she drew the blade.

Elder Hunter laughed, an evil sound. “Ye want to play at knives, do ye?” In one swift motion he produced a dagger of his own, in his left hand. He and Ceinwen circled each other for a moment, feinting and jabbing, until the older man lunged forward. At the same time, Iolo slipped unexpectedly to her left, his hands outstretched to grasp at her. Ceinwen aimed a kick in his direction, hoping to trip him, but her foot tangled in the tall, brittle grass. A split-second later, her dagger was on the ground and the two men had her pinned between them. “Now ye’ll come and pay proper respect to the gods.”

“Let me go!” Ceinwen squirmed in their grip but they clamped down harder on her arms, threatening the circulation, and began marching her toward the compound.



Cromwell cursed under his breath as his heel skidded on the rime of ice that coated the flat rocks of the embankment. He grabbed a low-hanging branch and regained his balance, then turned to look back at the men still making their way single-file along the fallen log that crossed the narrow stream behind him. “Watch your footing,” he warned, pitching his voice just loudly enough to reach them but low enough to go no farther.

He’d briefed his team before leading them out of the cavern where they’d holed up, imparting the bare minimum of information necessary to their understanding of the mission. He’d included the fact that ‘General Kasol’ was really a Tok’bel operative, whereupon his men had immediately begun to speculate on the identity of the second Jaffa team Cadogan had warned them about. He’d quashed that at the first mention. “We honestly don’t know who they belong to,” he’d reminded his men, “and a wrong guess could be deadly. We’ll have to observe them in order to know for sure.” He wasn’t quite certain why Brioc’s approving nod at the statement — caught from the corner of his eye — should warm his spirit, but it had.

Upon leaving the cavern they’d avoided the road, making instead for the backcountry trail that Ceinwen had used to carry messages. Now less than a quarter-mile from the mining camp’s perimeter, they followed the path along the floor of a narrow gully that skirted the compound.

Cromwell stepped up onto a large root of the tree whose branch he’d grabbed, and waited for his men to reach the flattened bank just below it. The little stream chuckled beneath its layer of ice, filling the gully with its quiet echo. When the Wolves had gathered in a semicircle, he cleared his throat, then spoke quietly. “I want two volunteers to scout ahead.”

Brioc raised his hand before the colonel even finished speaking. Pyr’s went up a fraction of a second later. Cromwell nodded. “All right. Both of you make your way up to the perimeter and see what’s happening. I want to know how many Goa’uld are present, and how many Jaffa. If that second group has arrived yet, I want to know about that too. One of you will report back here, while the other remains on watch. Be careful they don’t spot you, but get as much information as you can.”

The two men nodded and moved off up the trail. Cromwell watched their retreating backs for a moment, then turned to the rest of his team. “We’ll wait here until we have their report. Make yourselves comfortable, but stay alert.”

Taking his own advice, he settled himself at the base of the tree where the protruding root he’d stood on while speaking formed a sort of seat. It was by no means warm, but at least it wasn’t as cold as the snowy ground or the water-worn rocks that littered the gully’s floor. He estimated the temperature to be somewhere in the upper twenties Fahrenheit — just below freezing, but not dangerously cold as long as one was warmly dressed or kept moving.



Coll stumbled into the courtyard, sandwiched between the Jaffa guard with mismatched eyes and another with nut-brown skin and dark hair the texture of wool. Sunlight hurt his eyes after so long in the dim confines of his cell, and he felt them begin to water. Squinting against the glare, he peered about, noting the throng of workers assembled in the morning chill.

A Goa’uld voice was speaking in harmonic-laced tones. {“— henceforth to increase your output and this world’s yield. Lord Bel is a just god, gracious to those who labor on his behalf and who keep his commandments… ”}

Coll resisted the urge to spit. Bel, the gracious and just? What a crock.

His captors tugged him in the direction of the small dais that occupied one end of the courtyard. He could see more Jaffa lined up on it, behind a figure in copper and gold — the Goa’uld addressing the crowd. Two more Goa’uld flanked the speaker. Fear clenched his gut, and he slowed. The guards yanked him roughly forward, marching him to the base of the stone steps.

The Goa’uld turned glowing eyes in his direction. {“Bring him,”} the harmonic voice intoned.

Hands shoved him onto the first step. Was he to be executed in full view of his fellows at the capricious whim of one of the Deceiver’s minions? He’d have preferred to die fighting for his people’s freedom… or, truth be told, in bed years hence as a grizzled veteran. No matter, he told himself, pushing fear to a far corner of his mind and straightening to ascend the steps and meet his fate with as much dignity as he could muster.

Another Jaffa grabbed him at the top of the steps and steered him toward the Goa’uld who was speaking. Guided to a stop mere feet from the speaker, Coll found his eyes drawn to the crowd. As he searched for familiar faces, he noticed a flicker of movement near the edge of the courtyard. Two figures appeared to be force-marching a third between them toward the assembly. The third figure was slighter than the others and struggled against their grip. All three were human, and the one held captive appeared to be… female?

The trio skirted the assembled crowd and approached the dais while two Jaffa from the mine’s own contingent moved to intercept them. The Goa’uld who’d been delivering his speech fell silent as they met at one corner of the raised platform, but Coll couldn’t make out the rapid conversation between the newcomers and the guards. The Jaffa behind him gripped his shoulders tightly in a gesture clearly meant to signal that he should remain still. Coll simply stared at the other captive. It was Ceinwen verch Dilys. What was she doing here?



Sholan scowled at the trio whose approach had interrupted his address. He’d ordered the prisoner’s shackles removed and had been about to announce the man’s pardon, but now he’d have to deal with whatever problem these men and their captive represented. From their appearance, none of the three belonged to the mining camp’s workforce.

One of the Jaffa who’d intercepted the trio spoke. “How dare you approach the Emissary of Bel uninvited?”

“We come to pay our respects,” said the elder of the two men. “I am a priest of Bel, and offer here a sacrifice.” He shoved the young woman forward.

Wonderful, Brice said silently. As if we needed one of those.

{Indeed,} agreed Sholan.

{“Jaffa, kree! Hara’e!”} ordered Tulka’an, the Goa’uld deputy commander whom he’d chosen to accompany him and oversee the Jaffa squad along with K’amot, a young Goa’uld officer not many years past implantation in his host. Both officers had worked with ‘General Kasol’ before. K’amot’s relative youth and malleability made him easy to keep in check, while Tulka’an’s apparently innate sense of discipline and order made him the perfect lackey for someone with a strong need to have his own orders and motives remain unquestioned.

The Jaffa at ground-level seized the woman, propelling her forward to stand directly before him. One shoved her roughly and she fell to her knees, though Sholan noted she did not bow her head. Instead, she darted a glance toward his left — at the other prisoner who still stood there, ignored in the face of this disruption — and then back to meet his own eyes briefly before she finally dropped her gaze.

“You have my kinsman, Lord General,” she murmured, just loud enough for his hearing. “Pray do with me as you will with him, and quickly.”

I think we have our answer as to whether Cadogan has operatives in the area. Brice’s mental tone was grim. The question is, how many?

{Possibly just this one, although I doubt it,} Sholan replied. {In any case, it seems she knows our identity and our mission.}

He had no idea what to do with her, under the circumstances. This visit had not been intended for the collection of palace slaves or prospective hosts — not, of course, that he’d want to take someone for that purpose anyway. Especially not a rebel operative.

Still, the role he played demanded he do just that, or at least give a show of doing so. This wasn’t the first time he’d been placed in the horrific position of determining the fate of Bel’s subjects. Whenever he could he’d managed to divert those he’d been forced to take, smuggling them quietly back to their families or when that wasn’t possible, to another of the Five Worlds or even to the Tok’bel stronghold at Caer Ynys as potential candidates for voluntary blending with Tok’bel symbiotes whose hosts were nearing the end of their days. Two that he knew of had gladly accepted such blendings.

And then there’ve been the times when we’ve had no way to get them safely free. The sorrow coloring Brice’s thought was no greater than Sholan’s own. However, even a swift death is preferable to being taken as host by a Goa’uld.

{This one will meet a better fate if I have any way to arrange it.} Waters-of-birth, she’d looked him straight in the eye and asked for the same fate as the male prisoner! Release him, release her… somehow, she must know.



From his vantage point among the evergreens crowding the slope that rose behind the administration block of the mining complex, Brioc watched events unfold in the courtyard below. He and Pyr had counted twenty-three Jaffa in the compound. Five shared the stage with the general and his subordinates, wearing full naquadah-alloy armor and rams-head helmets. Sixteen — two less than the mine’s normal complement — were stationed throughout the grounds, keeping watch over the laborers. These were clad in the boiled-leather armor commonly used for resident duty on most of the Five Worlds; naquadah was scarce enough in Bel’s domain that his Jaffa mostly wore it on his throneworld of Bohan or on missions originating from that world. They’d also counted seventy-eight laborers assembled in the chilly air, along with what appeared to be half a dozen human overseers. There was no sign yet of any additional Jaffa.

After sending Pyr back to report to Neirin, Brioc had focused his attention on the dais. He was too far away to make out the general’s words, but could follow his body language and tone. Just a few moments into the general’s speech, he saw Coll brought forward by two Jaffa. Brioc absently registered that this accounted in full for the mine’s Jaffa staff, though his attention was focused on his best friend. Coll appeared unkempt but unharmed. Despite the winter chill, he wore neither coat nor cloak, only the rough woolen tunic and trews that comprised standard working attire for crews underground.

Movement to one side caught his eye as three figures hove into view. Two men clutched a woman, struggling, between them. As they hauled her in front of the general, Brioc got a glimpse of her face, albeit in profile, and the blonde braid that lay over one shoulder.

It was Ceinwen, he realized with a jolt. Sholan might yet be able to arrange Coll’s release, but what in the name of thunder was he going to do with a second captive?

The branches behind him rustled and he turned to check the trail, nodding a salute as Neirin appeared with Pyr close behind. The other Wolves materialized silently from the trees as Neirin nodded in the direction of the compound. “So twenty-three Jaffa, six overseers, and Sholan’s two Goa’uld; all of them armed. I know at least two of those overseers are our own people, and probably thirty or so of the labor force are either our folks or sympathizers. I’ve had odds I’ve liked better, but — ”

Brioc interrupted him, gesturing toward the dais. “We have another problem, though. Take a closer look.”

Neirin peered through the screen of firs, shifting snow-dusted branches slightly for a better view. He tensed, uttering a word Brioc had never heard before. Given the filwriad’s tone, it sounded like a particularly vehement oath. Turning back, he slammed a leather-gloved fist into the opposite palm. “How..?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, sir. The bigger question is what do we do about it?”

“Excuse me?” Pyr glanced from Brioc to Neirin. “What’s the new problem?”

Brioc knew this new development would be even harder for Pyr to deal with than for the others. He gently laid a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Your sister’s been captured.”



Tesni fought back a wave of apprehension as she watched the Jaffa push the blonde figure in the mottled hunting cloak to her knees in front of the dais. She’d bit her tongue to keep from gasping when she first saw Ceinwen and her captors. No matter how she looked at it, this put the mission in jeopardy. Sholan would be expected to do something with Ceinwen, even as he’d promised Cadogan he’d pardon Coll if he could. There was little chance he could simply free her without arousing suspicion.

Surely Neirin and his Wolves were nearby and watching by now? As unobtrusively as possible, she scanned the compound’s perimeter, taking mental note of the most likely places for her husband and his men to have hidden themselves. The mining camp occupied a miniature valley bounded on three sides by rocky hills. Its most prominent feature was a steep, nearly vertical rock face rising some sixty feet into the air at its highest point and running approximately three hundred feet from southwest to northeast, with the entrance to the mine itself situated near the center of its base. The ridge ended in a jagged outcropping at its southwestern extreme, where the main road passed beneath its shadow, and tailed downward slightly to merge with somewhat gentler terrain to the north. The workers’ dormitory was set against this far end of the compound, with scrub grass and trees covering the slope behind. The ground rose more steeply in a low ridge curving around toward the east and then south before angling slightly westward, its culmination another high point near the road — although not nearly as high as the face opposite and taking the form of a gentler slope clad in grass and fir trees with a blanket of winter snow. The facility’s administration building, including quarters for its resident Jaffa, stood at the foot of this slope directly across from the dais currently occupied by Sholan and his party, and the low, thatch-roofed sorting house.

From her position near the front of the crowd of laborers, she had a largely-unimpeded view of the compound’s forecourt, framed by the gap between the two arms of the ridge structure in whose grasp the camp nestled. The gap itself was roughly the width of Llanavon’s central square, perhaps a hundred feet or so, and served as the main entrance and egress for the complex. If Neirin and his Wolves had approached by way of the main road, they would likely have left it a short distance before reaching the gap and taken instead to the surrounding hills, trusting to the cover of the trees.

She detected motion near the place where the road passed the gap, sprouting a fork that entered the camp itself. For a moment she wondered whether Neirin’s team had opted to enter camp openly, then realized the figures appearing around the curve of the road were too large and oddly-shaped to be Am Rhyddid. As she watched, eight Jaffa clad in the familiar ram’s-headed armor of Bel’s troops entered the camp. They approached the dais from behind, where Sholan’s party stood with their backs to the newcomers, their attention focused instead upon Ceinwen and the general. Two of the camp’s complement of Jaffa intercepted them halfway, and the leader of the eight retracted his helmet panels to reveal his bare head. They conferred for a moment before one of the Jaffa who’d gone to meet them turned and made his way toward the dais.


Sholan gazed down at the female captive who knelt on the ground before the dais.

{“Ha’nok chel!”} he ordered aloud. “Bring her.” The two Jaffa flanking the woman grasped her arms, hauling her upright. He gestured, and they began to lead her toward the steps.

Saldah, the Jaffa captain in charge of mining operations, materialized at his elbow and bowed. “My lord, your other servants have arrived to carry away the ore shipment. I’ve had a pair of carts made ready. Shall I order them loaded now?”

‘Other’ servants? Confusion colored Brice’s mental tone.

{I have no idea,} Sholan responded. Aloud, he said, {“Bring their leader to me first.”}

Saldah bowed again. “Yes, my lord.” He turned away, leaving Sholan to wonder what was going on.

The female prisoner now stood beside her male counterpart, watching him. Although both he and Saldah had spoken in Go’auld, Sholan had the impression she’d understood the exchange. He glanced at the male captive and thought he saw understanding in his eyes as well. If both of them spoke or at least understood more than a few rudimentary words of the language, that most likely meant they were in fact operatives in Cadogan’s local band of rebels.

Saldah returned with another Jaffa in tow. The newcomer’s helmet panels were retracted, revealing sharp features and close-cropped blond hair. Sholan didn’t recognize him, not that he necessarily had expected to. However, he was unsure as to why a second party would’ve been dispatched to collect naquadah tribute when his group had already been sent to speak to the locals and could easily have carried out both tasks.

{“Who are you?”} he demanded.

The Jaffa bowed his head, then straightened. “My lord, I am Manac of the Wide Plain,” he said, naming as his origin a mixed farming and industrial area just outside Arandesed, Bel’s capital. “I and my squad are to carry a shipment of naquadah ore to the refining facilities there.”

{“By whose command were you sent here?”}

The Jaffa captain hesitated a fraction of a second before answering. “By Kindrah Lan’ac, my lord, acting on on the order of Lord Metan.”

That made even less sense. Unless Metan had made additional arrangements with Bel in their absence, there was no reason another team should’ve been dispatched to obtain naquadah. Could Metan be attempting to double-cross him somehow, to discredit him in Bel’s favor? An uneasy thought, that, although certainly not out-of-character for an ambitious Goa’uld… but Metan was minister of natural resources, and already outranked Kasol in terms of Goa’uld hierarchies.

He fixed the Jaffa with a haughty stare, only half-confident of its appearance. {“And what, exactly, were your instructions? How much ore are you to receive?”}

The Jaffa blinked. “Two carts of mid-grade ore, my lord, or if that amount is not available, as much and as close to that quality as you have in inventory.”

As you have in inventory? echoed Brice in mindspeech.

Suddenly the pieces fell into place. The Jaffa captain seemed to think he — Kasol — was in charge of the mining operation! Many years ago Bel had indeed put Goa’uld in charge of most of the larger mines in his realm, but that practice had fallen by the wayside in the past two centuries. Clearly this Jaffa was working with seriously outdated information, which could only mean he and his comrades were agents of Moccas. Their presence on this world, witnessed by himself and his party, would lend credence to the cover story that Moccas was responsible for all the missing naquadah as well as other assorted mischief. Of course, Sholan couldn’t allow any of them to be taken alive so they could be returned to Bohan and questioned, but their deaths would have to appear to be the result of a failed attempt at capture.

Sholan shouted, {“Seize him!”} He raised the personal shield of his kara’kesh even as he drew the zat’nik’tel from his belt, always preferring the clean and more dignified death of the zat over the ribbon device’s torturous beam.

The fair-haired Jaffa dodged, twisting away as two of his counterparts in Sholan’s own party attempted to grab him. Bringing his staff to bear, he opened fire.