* AUTHOR: Redbyrd
* EMAIL: redbyrd (at) mindspring (dot) com
* RATING: PG
* CATEGORY: drama, action
* SUMMARY: Teal'c was a practical man, and had thought his old master was as well. Kheb showed him a spiritual side of Bra'tac he hadn't expected.
* SPOILERS: Anything through S3 Maternal Instinct
* AUTHOR'S NOTE: Continuing in my trend of trying to look at episodes from alternative points of view. It struck me that Maternal Instinct could well have been a deeply meaningful episode for Teal'c. *Finally* completed and posted in honor of Gen Fic Day, and Teal'c Alphabet Soup And *huge* thanks to my extremely patient betas aelfgyfu_mead and aurora_novarum, who read multiple drafts and or on really short notice, and patiently pointed out not-Teal'c-like bits over and over until I (hopefully!) got it right.
The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.
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Teal'c ran down the corridor, deliberately letting his feet pound the floor hard enough to let people know someone was in a hurry. Airmen glanced at him and hurriedly removed themselves from his path. He'd been in a state of light kel'no-reem when the alarms went off, but he'd guessed it was only SG-2 coming back early. They'd reported yesterday that it was raining heavily, and they were not able to observe much except wet foliage. The page calling him to the infirmary was an unwelcome shock. Not SG-1, just Teal'c. He refused to admit the thought to his consciousness, but it prodded the back of his mind with parental paranoia. Not Ry'ac.
Entering the medical area, he caught a glimpse of a younger man on the gurney, lighter skinned than his son. He turned to his old teacher with guilty relief and some concern. Bra'tac looked gray with weariness, and his armor was alarmingly patched with bright red splotches overlaying the rusty brown of drying blood. Teal'c seized his arm. "Tek ma te, Bra'tac. Are you in need of medical assistance?"
The older man shook his head. "The blood is not mine."
"What has transpired?" Teal'c asked. He couldn't recall ever having seen Bra'tac quite this disheveled before.
"Chulak was attacked," Bra'tac told him. "By Apophis."
"By Apophis," Teal'c said blankly. It had been nearly half a Tauri season since they had encountered the Goa'uld in the sulfurous depths of Netu. Apophis had transported to Sokar's ship and it had exploded when the steaming dank world was torn apart by the Tok'ra bomb. "We believed him dead. He was aboard Sokar's vessel when it was destroyed."
"Apparently not," Bra'tac said. "He came with twenty ha'taks, and transported his troops down in force."
"They attacked on the ground?" Teal'c said in surprise. "That makes no sense. Why would he attack Chulak? And if he did, why would he not bombard them from above?" Apophis was an orthodox strategist. He would usually subdue a target from orbit before sending in ground troops.
Bra'tac shook his head. "I do not know, Teal'c. You are correct, his actions are puzzling. Perhaps his time with Sokar has sent him mad."
"Hey," O'Neill came up behind Teal'c. As the older Jaffa turned toward him, he whistled in dismay. "Bra'tac, are you all right?"
"I am uninjured, O'Neill," Bra'tac told him. "The blood is that of my apprentice, Moac."
"Maybe you'd like to get cleaned up?" O'Neill suggested. "General Hammond has asked that we join him upstairs."
Bra'tac looked off in the direction the doctors had wheeled his young apprentice.
Teal'c realized he was reluctant to leave the infirmary.
"He is in good hands, Master Bra'tac," Teal'c assured him.
"Yeah, they'll call us immediately if anything changes," O'Neill told him.
Bra'tac nodded, his exhaustion plainly visible. "We will confer with Hammond of Texas then." Teal'c was doubly shocked. That Bra'tac would allow Teal'c to see it was one thing. That he would not present a face of strength to the Tau'ri-- well, perhaps it was a measure of Bra'tac's growing trust in his friends.
They went to the locker room so Bra'tac could clean himself. Teal'c had to remind Bra'tac of the operation of the controls, though he was certain that Bra'tac had used these facilities on prior visits.
While his old teacher slowly cleaned himself and his armor, Teal'c turned over the events at Netu in his mind. Apophis beaming to Sokar's ship. Aldwin launching the weapon at Netu. Planet, ship, moon. Rings, he realized. Somehow Apophis must have used the rings to escape. A slow simmer of anger rose. The false god had once again evaded his deserved death.
He led the way up to the briefing room and Hammond's office, to find his teammates and the general waiting for him.
Bra'tac bowed to Hammond with the respect of an acknowledged peer. "I thank you for your assistance."
"We're happy to help, Master Bra'tac," Hammond told him sincerely. "Please have a seat."
"I will stand," Bra'tac said. He told them baldly, without preamble, of the attack on Chulak.
"Apophis!" O'Neill's voice crackled with aggravation. "Damnit, we thought we got him on Netu! Son of a bitch!"
Teal'c evenly repeated his earlier conclusion, "Apophis must have transported off of Sokar's ship before it exploded."
O'Neill's eyes narrowed with familiar determination. "Somebody's got to teach that guy how to die."
Teal'c looked approvingly at his team leader. O'Neill understood how to deal with Goa'uld.
Bratac said, "He controls the army of Sokar, a most powerful force."
"I will return with you at once," Teal'c said instantly.
Bra'tac shook his head. "The fight is over, Teal'c. The attack was swift. There was nothing left to do but try to save the life of young Moac, my newest apprentice."
"But attacking Chulak doesn't make sense. I mean, not all the Jaffa were willing to oppose the Goa'uld, were they?" asked Major Carter.
Bra'tac shook his head, "No."
Daniel Jackson spoke for the first time, with that edge of sarcasm he seemed to have picked up from O'Neill. " 'Course, it's quicker and easier to wipe them all out rather than try to weed out the traitors."
That would not be a usual method for Goa'uld to deal with Jaffa, but Teal'c realized that if Apophis now controlled the armies of Sokar, he might well not bother to try and separate the loyal from the rebellious of his former followers. Still, why would he not have attacked from orbit, particularly if he made no effort to identify the rebellious?
The phone rang, and Hammond turned to answer it. "Hammond." He listened for a moment, then said, "I understand," and turned to Bra'tac. "Bra'tac, you'd better get down to the OR right away."
SG-1 accompanied Bra'tac back the infirmary. Bill Warner was stripping off bloodied gloves as they came in. Teal'c looked a question at him, and Warner gave him back a minute shake of the head.
Teal'c inclined his head, remembering his first meeting with the surgeon. Newly come to Earth, he had volunteered to let them test anesthetics on his larval Goa'uld, in preparation for the doomed attempt to save Major Kawalsky. Warner's courtesy then had made an indelible impression on the Jaffa. Not even the initial suspicion of some of the military personnel or the treachery of Maybourne of the NID had given him cause to reverse the impression formed by his interaction with his team and with the SGC medical staff.
A nurse waved them into the operating room, but only Teal'c went in with him to see Moac. Dr. Fraiser was detaching the heart monitors from Moac's chest. That more than anything else told Teal'c how bad the younger warrior's condition must be. The woman who had spent three weeks dragging Teal'c from the brink of the abyss after Hathor's ambush would never give up before the last chance was exhausted.
"We've done everything we can," Janet Fraiser said to Bra'tac.
The sorrow with a hint of fire behind it reminded Teal'c of his own hatred for the Goa'uld. Janet Fraiser fought a far stronger enemy. Pain and death were her sworn foes, and she battled no less stubbornly for the knowledge that she was frequently outmatched.
Teal'c turned his attention to Bra'tac and his apprentice. Bra'tac still did not entirely understand what he saw in these Tau'ri. And yet Teal'c had found himself humbled more than once by their tenacity in the face of impossible odds.
Bra'tac touched Moac gently.
The younger man looked up at him, pain written across his face. "I have failed you," he confessed painfully to his teacher.
Bra'tac denied it. "No. It is I who have failed you. You are the bravest Jaffa I have ever trained."
Teal'c wondered where he had recruited Moac. Moac was so heartbreakingly young, probably less than two decades older than Ry'ac. He felt a pang of guilt at the relief that Ry'ac was still too young for battle, still safe with his mother in the Land of Light.
The boy was stuttering as the final darkness closed in on him. "I'm scared," he said.
"Kra'mel'kara," Bra'tac whispered harshly. You die with honor.
The young Jaffa's eyes slid closed and his face went slack. Teal'c looked at the heart monitor, saw the stutter as it began to fail. Teal'c watched the sorrow overlain by acceptance in his old master's face.
Bra'tac turned toward him. "His body is to be burned," he said.
Teal'c nodded. "I will see to it personally," he promised.
The deepening weariness in Bra'tac's face was as alarming as his next words. "I am an old man, Teal'c. One day I wish to spread Moac's ashes on the grave of Apophis. But I do not know if I have the strength to fight anymore."
Teal'c had the unsettling feeling of ground moving beneath his feet. Bra'tac was immutable. That it would fall to him to encourage Bra'tac was simply wrong. He groped for the words. "Many have died, old friend. But their deaths must not go in vain. Word of this must spread to all Jaffa."
The old Jaffa's head bowed. "Yes. But maybe it is for someone younger and stronger than I to spread that word."
Teal'c wished then that O'Neill or Daniel Jackson were there. Someone more skilled than he in the use of words. "You are the strongest Jaffa I have ever known," he said. It felt completely inadequate.
"In my one hundred thirty-five years I have never seen a Goa'uld turn on those that carry its kind this way," Bra'tac said. "He massacred so many that have worshiped him for so long." There was a kind of mind-blasted shock in his tone. Despite the excesses of the Goa'uld, Bra'tac had not expected this.
With a trace of wonder, it occurred to Teal'c that O'Neill would not be surprised at anything the Goa'uld did. He and many of the Tau'ri saw the Goa'uld as racially psychotic, incapable of the emotions of humans and Jaffa. Bra'tac...despite knowing they were not gods, despite the years he had hated his slavery to them...even Bra'tac could still be affected by the years he had spent in their service.
Teal'c said, "Perhaps he has done this to show the System Lords how truly powerful he has become."
Bra'tac shook his head. "You know well Apophis has weapons that could have been used from space. There had to be some other purpose. His army swept through Chulak as if...." He groped for the words to describe this unprecedented change in tactics.
In a moment of blinding insight, Teal'c remembered Daniel Jackson telling him that Apophis had tried to get information from him about the Harsesis on Netu. "They were searching for something," he suggested.
"Perhaps," Bra'tac admitted. "But searching for what? What could he so greatly desire?"
"Perhaps his child," Teal'c said.
"Klorel?" Bra'tac frowned. "I have heard that Klorel is dead."
"Not unless Zipacna killed him," Teal'c told him. "He was extracted from his host by the Tollan, and sent back to the System Lords in a container." He smiled. "Perhaps they left him there. But I was not speaking of Klorel."
"I had not heard this," Bra'tac admitted. "But if not Klorel--"
"Let us speak with Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said. "He can explain this better than I." Teal'c turned to the door. "Come with me." He swiftly led Bra'tac to the elevator and swiped his card.
Bra'tac watched him manipulate the alien device. "The Tau'ri have given you their trust."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow, "Some do, but not all. I do not travel outside this base without escort. Though that is as much concern for keeping the secret of this facility as anything."
"The secret of this facility?" Bra'tac asked. The elevator stopped at the office level and Bra'tac followed him out. There were more scientists at this level. Bra'tac's armor drew a few second glances but no comments.
Teal'c turned right and they walked down the corridor. "The chappa'ai is not known to the majority of Earth's people. It is a closely held military secret. Most of the inhabitants do not even know the Goa'uld exist or that humans live on other worlds."
"Even after Apophis came here with ha'taks?" Bra'tac asked incredulously.
It was unlikely that Bra'tac had forgotten their journey down from orbit in the Space Shuttle, and their subsequent transportation by land and air to the SGC. At the time, Bra'tac had been equally astonished by the primitive level of the technology and its ubiquity. What Teal'c had subsequently realized is that they had seen only the fringes of a couple of Earth's small cities on that trip. Even Denver was far vaster than anything Bra'tac had seen here. Teal'c hoped to someday visit some of the great metropolises. The images he had seen of places like New York City implied an impossibly vast scale. "The level of technology here is not as high as that of the Goa'uld," Teal'c reminded him. "Though they make excellent use of what they have. There is a great fear that revealing the presence of the Goa'uld to the entire population would cause panic and rioting. Earth has a very large population compared to most planets." Teal'c remembered his own astonishment at learning the size of Earth's population. The Goa'uld purposely restricted the spread of technology, and discouraged humans from settling far from the Stargates on the worlds they controlled, keeping populations low. The survival rate of even Jaffa children was low compared to that in the more technologically advanced cultures of Earth.
"I see," Bra'tac said.
Teal'c realized with some surprise that Bra'tac did not truly understand. He could not, without the kind of experiences he, Teal'c, had had on Earth. Another tiny frisson of shock ran through him. For so many years, he had regarded Bra'tac as older and wiser. Even after Bra'tac had given up leading the armies of Apophis to train younger warriors, Teal'c had sought his advice and counsel. Now he understood things that Bra'tac did not. It was unsettling.
Characteristically, Daniel Jackson's office door was open, the glow of the softer lights he favored warming the cold brilliance of the corridor.
His friend was typing, the soft clicking of the keys audible to Teal'c's sharp ears even before he reached the doorway and saw Daniel Jackson hunched over the keyboard, hands moving with a speed Teal'c expected never to achieve.
Teal'c paused and knocked on the door frame.
Daniel Jackson looked up, his hands still clicking as he finished his thought even as he greeted his friend. "Teal'c. Come in." He didn't smile, but the hint of welcome in his voice told Teal'c he didn't mind being interrupted.
"Daniel Jackson," he said formally. "Bra'tac has been telling me of the attack on Chulak, and we have a hypothesis."
Bra'tac was looking curiously around the cluttered room. His eye fell on an open book, pages covered with printing in some unfamiliar language, and then went back to the shelves that lined the room, looking startled.
It was quite likely, Teal'c thought, that Bra'tac had never seen so much writing in one place in his long life. Certain Teal'c had not, before he came to Earth.
u8232 "A hypothesis?" Daniel Jackson asked curiously.
Bra'tac turned to him. "Yes, it seemed that Apophis was looking for something."
"The Harsesis," Daniel Jackson said. He didn't look particularly surprised and Teal'c wondered if he had already thought of this.
Teal'c told Bra'tac, "Apophis fathered a child with Sha're, the host of his mate, Ammonet. He hoped to create a new host for himself."
Bra'tac said, "It is forbidden."
Daniel Jackson nodded matter-of-factly. "Yes. Because the child would contain all the knowledge of the Goa'uld. Ammonet hid the boy to keep him safe."
Bra'tac absorbed that bit of knowledge with only a slight widening of the eyes. "Of course. The boy would be hunted. He could be the undoing of all the Goa'uld."
Daniel Jackson said with a trace of satisfaction, "But Apophis also doesn't know where Ammonet hid him."
"Which is why they were searching Chulak," Teal'c explained.
Bra'tac was looking closely at Daniel Jackson, "Do you know where this child is?"
Daniel Jackson hesitated, then shrugged. "All I know is that it's a place called Kheb."
Bra'tac glanced sharply at Teal'c, recognition in his eyes,
Teal'c said, "You have heard of such a place."
Bra'tac said, "It is an ancient legend. I did not believe it really existed."
Daniel Jackson went still, his interest caught. "It has to."
Bra'tac said, "The Goa'uld fear and despise Kheb. They forbade anyone from speaking of it long ago." Bra'tac turned and paced across the room. "It is something my father once spoke of to me. An old tale about a place discovered long ago by a few Jaffa and kept secret from the Goa'uld."
Teal'c looked at Bra'tac in surprise. This was a story he had never heard. If it came to that, he could not recall Bra'tac ever mentioning his father. Fear and despise? If the Goa'uld feared it, perhaps there was some advantage to be gained there.
Bra'tac continued, "When they could no longer carry a primta, they would make their journey to Kheb. There their calak would learn the path through the darkness into the next life."
"Calak," Daniel Jackson repeated thoughtfully. He glanced at Teal'c. "That means soul, right?"
Teal'c thought a moment. Soul? It was the essence of the person. Soul was perhaps close enough in Tau'ri terms. "Yes," he said.
Bra'tac continued. "When some of the Goa'uld finally found out about Kheb, they made their way there. They did not return. It was forbidden to speak of ever again. My father enjoyed telling me this story. 'If the Goa'uld truly are all-powerful gods', he would say, 'how is it that they fear anything?' "
Clearly Bra'tac enjoyed telling the story as well. Teal'c wondered why Bra'tac had never told it to him.
"Well, sounds like the perfect place to hide someone you don't want the Goa'uld to find," Daniel Jackson said. His tone was casual but with a hint of his true urgency behind it. "I don't suppose you happen to know the Stargate address?"
Daniel Jackson appeared calm, but Teal'c could see he was holding his breath.
"No," Bra'tac said.
Daniel Jackson breathed again and slumped a little in his chair. "Well all I have is some obscure Earth mythology that indicates Osiris once hid there from Seth."
Bra'tac nodded, "That story is told among Jaffa, that Osiris hid on one of the planets of the Lok'na core."
"What's that?" Daniel Jackson asked, with a casualness that belied the keen interest in his eyes.
Teal'c explained. "A group of planets whose resources have been depleted by mining."
Daniel Jackson's gaze flickered between him and Bra'tac. "I don't suppose you happen to know the addresses of any of those planets?"
"Certainly," Bra'tac said. "But none of them is Kheb. I have visited several and have known Jaffa who have been to the others."
Daniel Jackson was already half out of his chair when Teal'c realized what that meant. "But if Kheb is one of the planets in the same area--"
"--then we might be able to narrow it down to a few possibilities," Daniel Jackson finished his sentence. "We need Sam."
He was three strides ahead of them all the way to Samantha Carter's lab, and started talking even before he cleared the door. "Sam, we've got a lead-"
Major Carter was bent over a piece of equipment Teal'c did not recognize, along with Lt. Simmonds and Major Howard. Howard was saying, "--don't understand is the high-frequency spike we're seeing-"
"Oh, sorry--" Daniel Jackson started to say as the three of them looked up. "Sorry to interrupt, but Sam, we think we have a lead on Kheb, and we need your help."
"You do?" Sam straightened up and looked interested. "Give me a minute." She turned back to Howard and Simmonds. Daniel Jackson took a step back and fidgeted.
Bra'tac glanced around the room curiously. "What work is done here?"
"It is a laboratory," Teal'c replied. "Part of Major Carter's duties are to study the technology of the Goa'uld and other alien races we encounter, and adapt it for use in battle."
The older Jaffa appeared rather taken aback. "She is both an...an artificer and a warrior then."
"Indeed she is," Teal'c said. "These Tau'ri do not restrict knowledge as the Goa'uld do. A son of a warrior might become a merchant, the daughter of a servant can become a general."
"Sons do not follow their father's professions at all, then?" Bra'tac asked.
Daniel Jackson had turned to listen to them talk and replied, "Some do- Sam's father was a general, after all. And both of my parents were scholars. But we could have chosen whatever paths suited our abilities and desires. Our political leader, the President, is the son of a farmer."
It was just as well that Major Carter finished issuing instructions to the two other officers then, Teal'c reflected, since it could be quite difficult to stop Daniel Jackson once he fell into what O'Neill called 'lecture mode'. And Bra'tac, while bemused at the strange customs of the Tau'ri, did not seem more than politely interested.
"So try that, guys, and I'll catch up with you later," Major Carter instructed.
The other two men politely excused themselves as Major Carter turned to her teammates and Bra'tac.
Daniel Jackson quickly explained what they were looking for. "So we need to look at planets in the vicinity of the Lok'na core."
Sam Carter nodded. "The control room computers would be best for this."
"Computers?" Bra'tac said to Teal'c quietly, not understanding the Tau'ri word.
"The Tau'ri use a device of their own design to control the chappa'ai," Teal'c reminded him. "As well as store other types of information."
"All sorts of information, really," Major Carter said cheerfully. "But we need to go to the control room because we've restricted access to the dialing database as a security measure. I could access it from here normally, but-" she glanced toward her desk.
Teal'c saw that the casing on her computer was open. The inside was filled with what looked like green plastic cards, not unlike those he'd seen inside other Tau'ri equipment. "It is damaged?" he asked.
Sam looked surprised, "Oh, no, nothing like that. I'm just installing a new motherboard with a faster chip and some extra memory."
Teal'c understood she was making improvements to the machine, but from long experience he knew any more questions would elict a technical explanation, which would be confusing, and considerably longer. Indeed, both she and Daniel Jackson could be quite similar in that regard.
Bra'tac was less well-acquainted with her. "Motherboard?" he asked skeptically.
Before Teal'c could frame a warning in terms that would not offend Major Carter, Daniel Jackson jumped in with the fluency of long practice. "She's upgrading- improving- the machine, Bra'tac. Motherboard is just a name for a part of the machine."
"Ah," Bra'tac intercepted Teal'c's subtle but urgent warning glance and abandoned the subject.
As Daniel Jackson led the way back to the control room, Bra'tac returned to the subject of Kheb. "I do not see how you expect to find Kheb, if we do not have the symbols."
Samantha Carter looked back over her shoulder at them, falling further behind Daniel Jackson. "We have some addresses which you probably do not," she explained. "If you can give us the addresses of other planets in the area, we can check for planets you haven't heard of."
Teal'c nodded. "Perhaps in this way, we can narrow the search to but a handful of worlds."
"It may not be that easy, Teal'c," Major Carter warned. "It will depend on how many worlds are close to the worlds Bra'tac gives us. And we may not have the address of Kheb in the dialing computer at all." Her glance flickered forward to Daniel Jackson's back.
Teal'c realized she was trying to warn their teammate against hoping for too much. "We shall see," he offered.
If Daniel Jackson heard, he didn't acknowledge it. He took the stairs to the control room two at a time and waited a bit impatiently for them at the top.
Sam went straight to the spare terminal in the gate room and signed in. "Okay, Bra'tac," she said. "What are the coordinates of the worlds you know?"
Bra'tac moved closer to look over her shoulder, looking closely at the glowing screen. They still looked exotic to Teal'c's eyes, even though he knew they were a more primitive technology than that used in Goa'uld viewscreens. If Bra'tac was impressed at the number of gate addresses the Tau'ri knew, he didn't show it. But then, Teal'c thought, he would also not have heard Major Carter's explanation of how many different combinations were possible, and therefore just how improbable it was to find a new address by accident. His teammates' inexhaustible thirst for knowledge was admirable, but sometimes quite tiring.
"There," Bra'tac said, pointing. "Those are the planets of the Lok'na core."
Daniel Jackson leaned in to study the screen, and Teal'c realized he was committing the addresses to memory, a habit of his that had often proved useful in the past.
"What's the red one?" Daniel Jackson asked. One of the cluster of gate addresses stood out from the others.
Major Carter answered him, "We basically have two reference maps for Stargate addresses. Yellow represents the cartouche that the Goa'uld left on Abydos, and the addresses from the Ancients' original map of the Stargate is in red." She turned to Bra'tac. "You don't recognize this address here?"
"No," Bra'tac answered. There was a flicker of curiosity in his expression, and Teal'c tried to remember if he'd ever told Bra'tac of their discovery of the Ancient device that nearly killed O'Neill. Perhaps not, it was rare that he saw Bra'tac when they had leisure for conversation.
Daniel Jackson looked at the screen intently. "If the legend is true, the Goa'uld never would have included Kheb on their cartouche."
Excitement crackled through the room as they all realized what that could mean. Major Carter said, "Well this address is the only planet in the system that the Goa'uld didn't include on their map."
Daniel Jackson sounded bemused and almost sleepy. "We found it."
Teal'c looked at his friend's profile and wasn't fooled. He recognized the signs of Daniel Jackson thinking furiously. He glanced at Bra'tac, whose gaze was still fixed on the dialing computer. Teal'c didn't know what to make of his expression--weariness, yes, perhaps respect for the clever Tau'ri? It almost appeared to contain a touch of awe, but Teal'c dismissed the idea as an obvious exaggeration.
"Found what?" O'Neill asked from the doorway.
Teal'c wasn't startled- he'd seen a hint of motion out of the corner of his eye- but Major Carter started slightly. Granted, she had her back to the door, but even Teal'c hadn't heard O'Neill move. He walked astonishingly lightly for a human. He was certain that Daniel Jackson had not seen or heard O'Neill before he spoke, but Daniel Jackson simply turned and said, "Jack, we may have found Kheb."
Major Carter said warningly, "We don't know that, Daniel-"
"I know, Sam," Daniel Jackson told her, his voice calmer than Teal'c had expected. "We don't know for sure that Kheb even has a Stargate. But it's a possibility we have to check out."
"I'll order a UAV survey," O'Neill said. O'Neill accepted the phone that Walter was handing him without surprise. "Lieutenant Curtis? We have another planet for for your list," he waited. "No, not Tuesday. Now would be best, but you can have ten minutes."
"Jack, uh--" Daniel Jackson said.
Teal'c wondered if Daniel Jackson had expected to have to argue to get a mission scheduled expeditiously. He should not have--after Apophis tortured Daniel Jackson on Netu for information about the boy, O'Neill had said that anything a Goa'uld wanted that badly was something they should prevent him from getting.
"Daniel," O'Neill replied. "If this is Kheb, and the kid is there, we want to be sure we beat Apophis to him, right?"
Daniel Jackson nodded, and gave a quick jerk of his head toward the door. "I'll go pack--just in case."
O'Neill exchanged an amused glance with Teal'c and then he and Major Carter followed Daniel Jackson.
Curtis was wheeling in the launcher even as Daniel Jackson left the control room. Teal'c turned to the door, but Bra'tac was watching it curiously. "What is it?"
"It is an unmanned drone," Teal'c told him. "It records visual images of the terrain beyond the gate, and takes readings of the temperature and atmospheric conditions. The Tau'ri use them in mission planning. It ensures they will not enter a gate if conditions will prevent their return."
"Ingenious," Bra'tac said. "But what if the device is lost?"
"A reasonable effort is made to retrieve it," Teal'c said. He remembered several long hikes to retrieve UAVs crashed at long distances from the gate--the planet with the singing plants, for one exceedingly memorable example. "But if a device is lost, the Tau'ri count it better than losing a warrior. The device is easily enough replaced."
Bra'tac shook his head. "A curious notion. A warrior who lost an udajeet would not soon be trusted with another."
Teal'c repeated what Ferretti had once told him when he has asked the same question. "A warrior represents years of training. The technology can be built in a short time. The warrior is the more valuable, and the more valued." A shadow passed over Bra'tac's face, and Teal'c knew he was remembering his apprentice. "I see." After a moment, he said. "It is a very different attitude."
To that held by their former masters, he meant. Teal'c let his voice gentle as he said, "And is that not why we fight them?"
Beside them, Sergeant Harriman said, "Telemetry is green, UAV systems are green. Launch status clear. Standing by to initiate dialing sequence."
Below them, Curtis and three technicians finished fussing around the UAV. Curtis double-checked that the wheels on the rolling platform were locked before they stood back. He looked up at the control room and gestured thumbs up, then turned toward the door.
Harriman touched the button that turned on the loudspeakers in the gate room, and Bra'tac twitched at the sudden noise. "UAV ready to launch, launch minus ten plus dialing sequence. Dialing now." The last couple of technicians exited the gate room, closing the blast doors behind them.
Curtis came into the control room at a brisk pace that suggested he'd run up the stairs. He barely spared a curious glance for Teal'c and Bra'tac as he and another technician took their places at the controls beside Harriman as the gate started to turn.
Teal'c told Bra'tac, "They will monitor the readings from the UAV. All it senses will be recorded."
Harriman was calling off the chevrons as the gate turned while beside him, Curtis and the other technician ran down the UAV checklist.
The two Jaffa watched as the device flamed and rushed through the chappa'ai.
As the images began to arrive, Teal'c moved to watch over Curtis' shoulder. The images coming out of the gate showed a pleasant world, green and mountainous. It reminded Teal'c a bit of Chulak, though it appeared warmer. He turned to Bra'tac, and was surprised to find a shimmer of moisture in the older warrior's eye.
"Kheb," he murmured, with a tone that was nearly reverence. "Can it really be?"
"We will find out," Teal'c said with certainty. "It is the Tau'ri way to seek out secrets and make them known." He glanced back at the screens. "It will take a little time for the information to be analyzed, then there will be a meeting before we depart. When you arrived, I was engaged in kel'no'reem. Would you care to join me?"
Bra'tac gave him a quick glance that suggested his oblique recommendation to rest had not gone unnoticed, but accepted immediately.
At the appointed hour, Teal'c and Bra'tac headed upstairs. Bra'tac had seemed more his old self after kel'no'reem, though still rather quieter than was his wont. They arrived at the briefing room at the same time as Hammond and the others.
"Colonel?" Hammond wasted no time in opening the meeting.
O'Neill glanced at Teal'c.
Teal'c spoke unhurriedly. "General Hammond. Master Bra'tac and Daniel Jackson have combined their knowledge and come up with a good candidate for the location of Kheb." He briefly explained the sequence of events, and they viewed the UAV footage.
"We should send through a MALP right before we go," O'Neill said. "We don't want it sitting there for hours if there's any chance Apophis' Jaffa could find it and lay an ambush. If it's all clear, we can go right through."
"How do we know for sure that this is Kheb?" Hammond asked skeptically.
Bra'tac answered, "The story I have heard says Kheb is an untouched wilderness with great mountains and a single temple in a valley distant from the Stargate."
The UAV had only barely caught a glimpse of structure that could be the temple, and it was quite close to the gate in planetary terms, though it would certainly be several hours walk.
Daniel Jackson said, "If the Goa'uld are scared of Kheb, that would explain why they never mined this planet."
Teal'c said, "If Ammonet thought to hide the Harsesis on Kheb, then Apophis will presume so."
"Well, scary stories or not, Apophis is just nuts enough to go," O'Neill said, turning to Hammond. "I'd like some back-up on this one, sir."
The general nodded, "SG-2 will accompany you."
"As will I," Bra'tac said firmly.
Teal'c looked at him in mild surprise. He hadn't expected Bra'tac to take such an interest in Sha're's child. But of course the child was Harsesis and the cause of Moac's death- the older Jaffa would not want to be left out. Or perhaps there was another reason? He remembered the reverent tone with which Bra'tac had referred to the planet. Teal'c was accustomed to incomplete understanding of his Tau'ri friends, but it was unsettling to find himself puzzled by his old teacher.
Daniel Jackson said somberly, "Let's just hope we're first."
They stepped out of the gate into a tree-fringed clearing that could have been on any number of worlds. Teal'c glanced around warily, holding his staff weapon at the ready. The gate was always a prime location for an ambush. Teal'c had set many attacks of his own to kill an arriving enemy; he always felt an extra edge of alertness when stepping through, no matter what the machines said awaited them.
He was pleased to see Bra'tac looking less tired since he had rested. The other Jaffa too watched the treeline, as did O'Neill and Major Carter. Daniel Jackson was also looking around, but Teal'c knew he searched for signs of habitation or civilization, not enemies.
The ground was too hard here to easily hold prints, though there was an opening in the trees that might have been an ancient trail leading off in the general direction of the temple. Faint scuff marks in the gravel suggested the possibility of recent activity. They left Major Coburn and SG-2 to hold the gate, and the two Jaffa took point, studying the ground carefully. As the ground became softer, the traces became more distinct.
"They make no attempt to conceal themselves," Teal'c said disapprovingly.
"They do not suspect they are being followed," Bra'tac said. "It makes them careless." He smiled ironically at Teal'c.
Teal'c remembered his own lessons in tracking and concealment. "It is the follower you do not see that poses the most danger."
They stopped by an especially clear set of footprints.
O'Neill joined them, "Whatcha got?"
Teal'c studied the traces, conscious of Bra'tac's gaze on him, counting distinct footmarks. "A group of Jaffa passed through here recently. Six."
"Eight," Bra'tac corrected.
"So…not the first," O'Neill observed.
Teal'c did not bother to acknowledge him- he had long since ceased to comment on rhetorical questions. He studied the prints again, trying to distinguish the features that Bra'tac had used to count their enemies. There- the pattern of wear on the sole of that one's boot was different from the similarly sized one. The eight pair were indistinguishable except in the pattern of movement- one set of prints overlaying another, and perhaps a slight difference in depth were the only indications that they belonged to different warriors. He rose from his crouch, and the party continued.
Teal'c and Bra'tac led the way downriver, following the faint trail overlain with the traces of the Jaffa party. The shadows cast by the trees concealed them--and perhaps something else. There was nothing Teal'c could identify, but he still felt faintly uneasy. He glanced at Bra'tac.
The terrain did not seem to require the close scrutiny that Bra'tac was giving it. "You have been unusually silent, Master Bra'tac," Teal'c asked obliquely.
Bra'tac's tone was uncharacteristically sober. "There is not much time left before I can no longer carry a primta."
Teal'c felt that chilling frisson of time sliding around him. He realized he had half-raised his staff, as if to counter a threat, and let it fall loosely back down. Surely- but Bra'tac was not young, and it was known that warriors could lose the ability to carry a primta well before those who led less stressful lives. He bowed his head. "When that time comes, I will have to decide what to do."
"If this truly is Kheb, that time may be upon us both," Bra'tac said.
Teal'c frowned as Bra'tac knelt to examine the ground. What did Kheb have to do with Bra'tac dying?
O'Neill joined them and asked, "What is it?"
Teal'c read the markings and answered, "Six of the Jaffa stopped here."
Bra'tac added, "Two went on ahead. They returned with another…a woman."
"How do you know that?" O'Neill asked, not skeptically, but more as if he wanted to understand their reasoning.
Teal'c pointed, "Here. The third of the prints are small and light, the shoe an open-toed sandal worn by Jaffa women." The prints were quite distinctive, and very different from the booted warriors.
Bra'tac had widened the area of his inspection. "When they all met up again, there was a struggle and they headed into the forest. Each print is spread wide. They were running."
O'Neill shook his head in admiration, "He's good."
Teal'c nodded, "Extremely." For the first time it occurred to him to wonder who had taught Bra'tac to track. It was not a skill ordinarily taught to Jaffa.
Bra'tac added, "The woman may be the priestess entrusted with the child." He stood and gestured toward the forest, away from the river. "They went this way."
They spread out as they walked through the trees. Once Bra'tac and Teal'c had pulled slightly ahead of the others, Teal'c asked, "Was it your father who taught you to track, Master?"
"My father hunted as a boy," Bra'tac said. "He learned to track animals, and found the skills even more useful when hunting more dangerous prey."
"He was a warrior, was he not?" Teal'c said.
"He died in battle when I was still young," Bra'tac said. "He gained a great victory over Heru-ur. Apophis took me into his service in his place, as a reward for my father's service." He smiled humorlessly. "He did not know how little love my father bore him. His lack of insight told me that all my father had taught me of the Goa'uld was truth."
"And he told you of Kheb?"
"He told me that a Jaffa's body might belong to the Goa'uld, but his calak was his own," Bra'tac said softly. "I think he would have sought Kheb himself, had he lived."
Teal'c hesitated a moment, then asked the question he had been working toward. "What did you mean, that if this is Kheb, the time of your ending may be at hand?"
Bra'tac paused to scan the ground ahead, then moved forward. "You have always been a practical man, Teal'c. You have never had much regard for religion."
Teal'c frowned. "It was you who taught me the folly of worshiping false gods."
The older Jaffa slowed and gave him a reproving look. "You allied with Apophis to seek revenge on Chronus. I did not need to teach you to rebel, Teal'c, you already believed you had the right to rebuke a god."
The thought was a new one and Teal'c considered it gravely. "It had not occurred to me in that light," he confessed. "But it is true I expected more from gods than the Goa'uld could provide."
"Yet even though the Goa'uld are not gods, yet we still have our calaks, do we not?" Bra'tac gave him a strangely penetrating look. "Or do you not believe in the calak, Teal'c?"
Teal'c hesitated, "I do not know, Master." Teal'c had been raised to believe in the godhood of the Goa'uld, and then rejected those beliefs. He had never wasted much consideration on Jaffa legend.
"You know that there are ancient Jaffa beliefs, that go back even before the Goa'uld, do you not?" Bra'tac probed.
"I have heard such," Teal'c shrugged. "I always dismissed them as blasphemies invented by children." In fact, he remembered with some shame having scolded Ry'ac for repeating such tales, heard from the other children. Drey'auc had argued that he was too harsh, but Teal'c, conscious of his own lack of faith, had not wished Ry'ac to draw attention to himself.
"They are not," Bra'tac said firmly. "There were few who dared whisper the old tales when I was young and fewer still to pass them on in each generation. But we remember. For the Jaffa who seeks it, there can be enlightenment." He looked ahead and studied the trail more intently, stopping to examine the ground.
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