~Feudal Lies~

 

XunMei stood before the elaborately decorated door and brushed away the creases in her serving robes.  Satisfied her appearance would not offend her master’s guests, she knocked softly on the door and called, “Lao xiansheng, dui bu qui,” and placing a delicate ear to the door, she listened patiently.

“Xiaojie, qing lai.” With the muffled voice from beyond the closed door giving her permission to enter, XunMei pushed the food cart with one hand, as she carefully opened the door with the other.   Acutely aware of the eyes that followed her every move, she kept her head down as she made her way into the room. “Ni yao zhongfan ma?” she enquired, gesturing towards the heavily laden platter that awaited inspection.

“Lunch?” replied the visitor in his native tongue, “Wo yao, xiexie nin,” he added, switching smoothly back into her more familiar Mandarin, as he moved forward to lift a platter of delicacies from the trolley. Bowing deeply, XunMei retrieved her cart and backed her way out of the room, breathing a deep sigh of relief as the door closed firmly behind her.

~o0o~

A look of dismay etched on her face, Colonel Samantha Carter shook her head as she crossed the room towards the food-laden table.  “I don’t get it, Daniel,” she muttered, plucking a bowl from the archaeologist’s hand.

“What’s that?”

“We’ve been here for three days now and I still don’t understand why the servants all speak Chinese, yet everyone on the negotiating team speaks near perfect English.”

Returning to his spot on his bed, Daniel shrugged and picked over the contents of his bowl.  “I know in our own past there were cultures that allowed only the upper echelon of their society to speak English, or other languages, whilst the rest of the population was only permitted to speak their native tongue.”  Inspecting a lychee closely, he muttered, “Perhaps the same rules apply here.”

“I do not agree, Daniel Jackson.”  Teal’c muttered, frowning as he looked over the offering and walking back towards the door.  “Did you not think it unusual the servants knew to speak to you in their own language without knowing you could understand them?” 

With a startled expression, Daniel’s eyebrow twitched as he looked at Teal’c.  Carefully chewing his lip, he placed the fruit down and looking at it said, “You know, Teal’c, I never gave it any consideration.  Master Tang knew I was a linguist before we started negotiations, perhaps he shared that with his staff.”

A frown marring her features, Sam shook her head and returned to her place at a small bamboo desk. “I don’t think so, Daniel.  He spoke to you in English from the start, and I never once heard you speak Chinese to anyone until the first servant approached you, and she spoke before you did.”

“Lucky guess?” he offered.

“It is also true that no one from the negotiation team or any of the servants have approached either Colonel Carter or myself, Daniel Jackson.”

Longing for a few more hours sleep, Daniel set his meal aside and stretched out on the bed. “I don’t know, Teal’c, I guess I just wasn’t paying attention.” Stifling a yawn, he added, “Some cultures only communicate with the leader or designated representative. Anyway,” knuckling his eyes and with a final yawn, he grinned sheepishly at Teal’c’s raised eyebrow, “sorry!  Once the treaty has been formalized, I’ll be glad to get home and to my own bed!”

“I’ll just be glad to get back into some comfortable clothes.  Have you seen what they’ve got us wearing for tonight’s banquet?”  Sam nodded towards the bed where Daniel’s garment for the evening was spread out.

“Oh yes, that’s going to be fun,” Daniel muttered sarcastically with a roll of his eyes. “This is called a xuanduan, and it’s worn for ceremonial purposes.  You hold the long wooden tablet when you’re being presented to royalty.” Rolling over onto his stomach he picked the tablet up and peered at it closely. “Actually, I’m a bit curious as to why they’re going to this much effort for a simple negotiation.  The whole time we were hashing out the finer points of the treaty the only people we saw was their negotiation team and a few servants. No high-ranking officials, and no members of the ruling family, so why go to all the trouble to hold such a formal banquet at the end?”

“Maybe they just like throwing a party.” Sam stood, shrugging on her own robes.  “Anyway, doesn’t matter, just so long as we don’t miss tonight’s scheduled check in.  I’m still not thrilled about not being allowed to keep our equipment and radios with us. I can understand the weapons, but there was nothing in our packs that could have passed as dangerous. Heck, even the C4 sat this mission out.”

“They don’t allow any technology or weaponry inside the palace with the exception of the Emperor’s personal guards,” Daniel reasoned, easing up off the bed, “we were lucky they conceded and let us bring our weapons through the gate at all.”

“Still,” Sam commented, making her way to a large window at the end of the room.  Pulling the heavy drapes back, she looked down at the bustling courtyard below.  A mix of palace personnel and local vendors, the square resembled a vibrant bustling market place.  Turning around, back to the window, Sam pressed against the frame and ran a hand through her short hair. “I’ll feel a lot better when we get our gear back and get home.  Something about all these rules is making me edgy.”

A soft knock drew everyone’s attention to the large wooden door at the other end of the room. “Qing Jin.” Daniel called out as he moved to let their visitor in.

Tired-sounding hinges groaned under the weight of the massive door, and swinging free, revealed a small elderly Asian man.  Bowing slightly at the waist, his black robe barely registered a sound. “Doctor Jackson,” he said in near perfect English.  “Please forgive my interruption.  Your presence, and that of your guests, is required in the meeting hall for the formal inductions preceding tonight’s banquet.”

Returning the gesture, Daniel bowed keeping his eyes downcast. “Thank you Master Tang, we’d be honored if you would escort us.”

~o0o~

 

Daniel gazed down the palace’s hallway, amazed by the intricate carvings and artwork.  A series of magnificent halls and family chambers, it reminded him of the Forbidden City in Beijing with its lattice-worked corridors and decorative pathways.  Most of the buildings formed separate complexes, each with its own carefully tended gardens, and Daniel was in awe of its beauty.  

Winding their way through the palace, SG-1 found themselves back at the hall they’d used for the negotiations.  Stylishly redecorated, long bolts of red silk billowed from the high ceilings, and yet more of the brightly colored fabric cascaded to the floor. Chairs and large cushions lay scattered everywhere, giving the room an Arabian feel while still maintaining its eastern heritage. 

Daniel looked across at Sam and smiled.  His teammate’s earlier misgivings about the mission appeared forgotten as she looked wide-eyed at the sight.

“This is amazing,” she whispered, “You wouldn’t know it was the same room.”

“Our servants have spent many hours transforming this room for your pleasure, Doctor Jackson.  We trust that you are satisfied.”

Satisfied? Daniel was blown away. The splendor of the room was far beyond what he’d imagined.  “This is… wow!” Catching a slight frown cross Tang’s face, he pulled his enthusiasm back a notch.  “Please thank your staff for me, Master Tang.  I am honored by the attention you have afforded me during my stay.”

“The honor is ours, Doctor Jackson.  Now, if you and your guests could please make yourself comfortable anywhere you wish,” he offered, gesturing towards the many seats in the room, “Master Gao will be here shortly to read the Historical Lineage of our Dynasty, and to recite our Emperor’s many achievements during his long reign.  This tradition has been handed down through the generations and is held to show the importance that our people place on our Emperor. We do this to signify the successful conclusion of all our treaties.”

Leaving SG1 to get comfortable, Master Tang nodded and left the room, his silk robe rustling discreetly.  Everything about the man was discreet, even his careful explanations.

Making himself comfortable on one of the low stools, Daniel scanned the room, and leaning in close to Sam, whispered, “This is unusual.”

“Something wrong?”

Daniel closed his eyes, a finger tapping against his pursed lips. “The Lineage and Historical Achievements of a ruler are usually part of the meet and greet at the start of opening a dialog.  We’ve seen such a tradition in many cultures, not only on Earth, but on quite a lot of the planets we’ve gated to.  I did note its absence when we first sat down for talks but didn’t think it was important enough to mention.”  He paused, and with his brow furrowed in thought, added, “It seems odd to leave such a ceremony until the end.”

“Daniel,” Sam whispered, her breath ghosting into Daniel’s ear, “we all know that visual similarities don’t equate to cultural ones.  It seems reasonable there would be some differences.”

“Yeah, I understand that and I’ve noted quite a few already.” Daniel fidgeted nervously, the stool suddenly feeling uncomfortable.  “Asian cultures are steeped in tradition and a lot of their ceremonies have survived the test of time.  If these people really are the descendants of slaves taken from Earth, then it seems to me the protocols that govern those same ceremonies would have gone with them.”

“I don’t know, Daniel. We’ve seen a lot of cultural deviations on planets we’ve visited.  This could be just another example of what happens when you transplant a population,” Sam offered.

Choosing to stand, Teal’c leaned slightly over the heads of his team-mates, hands clasped behind his back. “Indeed, Daniel Jackson,” he muttered, attention focused on the only entrance to the room.  “The Goa’uld are not above manipulating the belief systems of their slaves to suit their own purposes.”

Daniel looked around the room, his eyes searching for a hint.  Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t pinpoint what.  Scrubbing a hand across his chin, he shrugged at Teal’c, frustration making the action seem jerky.  “Yeah, I guess so, but something isn’t right here, Teal’c.”  Sighing, he muttered, “Channelling Jack.”

With a snort, Sam looked at Daniel and, smiling, reached out to pat his shoulder.  “Oh, Daniel.  God forbid!  Let’s just say you’re tired, okay?”  A grin lighting her face, Sam shook her head once more.

~o0o~

 

“Excuse me, Doctor Jackson.” 

Master Gao found the people of the Tau’ri fascinating.  They were noisy, talked too much, and were far too inquisitive.  Lowering his eyes, he struggled not to smile as Doctor Jackson’s stool skittered across the room.

“Master Gao?”

Bowing slightly, his eyes never once leaving his guest, Gao moved forward and gestured towards the discarded stool, “Please. You may remain seated.”

Watching the Tau’ri man retrieve his seat, Gao sighed and wondered what exactly it was about this particular man that had Master Tang so anxious.  The Master had made Gao’s duties clear.  Doctor Jackson was to be treated with the highest regard, a thought that did not sit well with Gao at all.  These were not the first offworlders to visit; in fact trade was quite common with other planets.  What made this one Tau’ri more important than the rest?  Shrugging off the thought, Gao cleared his throat, and jutting out his chin, let his gaze slide between the three visitors before speaking.   “I am the keeper of the Imperial records and custodian of His Lordship’s Historical Lineage.  It has been so for all of our recorded history, at the conclusion of such treaties or other such pledges, the party involved are read the Historical Lineage of our Emperor, and a chronicle of his achievements.  On completion all agreements are considered binding, and are regarded as having been forged in good faith.  I shall commence with our Emperor’s Historical Lineage.”

Withdrawing a scroll from the folds of his robe, Master Gao carefully unfurled it and held it high in front of his face.  Glancing once more at the visitors to be sure he had their attention, he commenced his recital. “On the day that was the first day of the mighty Xia Dynasty, all were ruled justly and in return bestowed great honor to our first Emperor, the Mighty XiaYu.  A ruler whose deeds shall be forever remembered in the hearts and stories of his lineage, for he was first and affectionately called Lord DaYu.”

~o0o~

Daniel paled and tried to ignore the bead of sweat sliding down the back of his neck. Rubbing his sweaty palms on the fabric of his robes, he tried to keep his attention on Gao, thankful the young man was so engrossed in his task he hadn’t noticed his discomfort. Trying his best to hide a frown, Daniel wondered if he’d heard the Master correctly, and could do nothing to stop the rest of the speech sliding by, his attention focused firmly elsewhere.  This can’t be right, he thought, mentally shaking his head,   Lord DaYu! There was no way, with all the long protracted meeting leading up to the negotiations; they could have missed such a simple detail. No, Daniel decided, there was never any need to know the whole lengthy drawn out history of a people whose civilization had been flourishing for thousands of years.  Yes, they had been visited by a Goa’uld in the past, and Master Tang had freely answered all Daniel’s questions in that regard, but there was never any reason to track this planet’s ruler all the way back to his ancestral past. 

Chancing a quick look at Sam, Daniel instantly knew she hadn’t picked up the reference, and turning to Teal’c was out of the question.  The action would surely draw attention to his rapidly growing concern.  No, he’d just have to see the whole ceremony through and try to work it out later back in his room.

Rolling his shoulders, Daniel pushed his chaotic thoughts aside and forced himself to tune back into Master Gao’s words, knowing full well their meaning was already lost.

~o0o~

Ushering Teal’c and Sam back into his room, Daniel closed the door and listened as their escort’s footfalls faded.  Sagging back against the door, he closed his eyes and whispered, “We’re in trouble.”

Teal’c snapped his head up, eyes flashing.  With a guarded look, he demanded coldly, “Trouble, Daniel Jackson?”

Eyes wide, and body tense, Sam looked around the room and moving closer to Daniel she whispered, “I don’t understand, what’s the problem?”

Pushing off the door, Daniel started to pace, running his fingers through his hair in frustration. “Obviously something neither of you picked up on.”  Lost in his train of thought, Daniel brought his hand down and tapped on his lip, all the while muttering. “Maybe it’s just a coincidence but I don’t think so.  Oh, this could be bad.”

“Daniel! Enough!”  Sam grabbed Daniel’s shoulders. “Stop pacing!  You’re making me nervous!”

Frustration and impatience made Daniel’s mouth tight.  With a grunt, he grabbed a chair and threw himself into it. “Okay, listen up. I may ask questions!”  Throwing a hand in the air, he morphed into lecture mode.  “When Master Gao started his Lineage speech, he spoke of the first Emperor of the Dynasty as XiaYu.  Now, at first I thought I’d misheard, but as he went on I realized I hadn’t.  XiaYu is also the name of the First Emperor of the Xia Dynasty on Earth.  The Emperor was commonly called DaYu.” He looked up expectantly at Sam and Teal’c, and frowning at their blank expressions, added in a hushed voice, “Lord Yu.” 

With realization obviously hitting like a slap in the face, Sam let out a very O’Neill-like, “Hell, no!” 

“How could we miss this?”

“I don’t know, Teal’c.” Shaking his head slowly, Daniel closed his eyes and tried to slow his racing thoughts. “I was going over it in my mind during the ceremony, and there was simply no need, never has been a need,” he emphasized, “to delve into the ancient history of people who have been this established for so long.  If we went back to the start with every ally we’ve ever made, we probably wouldn’t have made any.  There’s no reason to check back that far. The brief history we were given on initial contact gave us no information on the rulers of the current dynasty beyond the last thousand years.”

“Is it possible this could be a mere coincidence, Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c asked hopefully.

“No, Teal’c.”  Daniel was back on his feet and pacing again.  “I considered it, but it mirrors the Xia Dynasty on Earth too much to be a coincidence.”

“So, Daniel, do you have any ideas on what’s happened here?”

“I think the Goa’uld that transplanted the original population took on the persona of Lord Yu, probably to keep them under control.  That has to be it, Sam!”  Fatigue and worry wearing down his energy levels, Daniel winced at the headache screaming out for his attention.  “According to ancient Chinese history from Earth, Xia Yu, otherwise known as Lord Yu, was the first Emperor of the Xia dynasty which-,” 

“Daniel!” Sam waved a hand in front of his face, attempting to force Daniel’s musings back on track.

“Oh yeah, right.  So um… on Earth, Yu the Great preferred the abdication system of rule and thus after about 45-50 years as Emperor abdicated in favor of his son Qi.  Qi set about changing this to a hereditary system and the rest of the dynasty was ruled pretty much by direct descent.  It ended some 15 or 16 emperors later when the last emperor of the dynasty, Jie, squandered away his rule by living a decadent life and ruling with a tyrannical hand.  He was overthrown by his subjects thus ending the Xia Dynasty and starting the Shang Dynasty.”

Daniel was in lecture mode now, words coming faster and faster as information, long ago learned, suddenly forced its way to the front of his mind.  “Now, from what I understood at the ceremony, when the family tree was read out, Lord Yu was at the top, thus heading the dynasty. Makes sense! The names of the emperors that followed do not match the ruling list for the Xia dynasty we had on Earth, which of course also makes sense, as the difference stopped when the original slaves were taken from Earth.  This whole time we’ve been given the name of the ruling emperor here but never heard nor seen any hereditary list.”

“Nor have we seen the ruling Emperor,” Teal’c muttered, a deep scowl appearing on his normally stoic face.

“My god,” Daniel exclaimed, a finger tapping at his throbbing temple, “we’re just about to go to dinner with a direct descendant of Lord Yu.”

“How can that be, Daniel?” Sam reasoned. “I thought the Goa’uld didn’t reproduce in the normal fashion.”

“They don’t!  All Goa’uld are spawned from a queen but they can produce offspring once in a human host.  Something we’ve already seen.” Daniel cringed, trying not to let his memories of Sha’re rise to the surface. “Once the child is developed enough they could be taken as a host, thus having both a biological and Goa’uld lineage.  We saw the same thing happen with Apophis and Klorel, except in that case Skaara was not the offspring of Apophis, so without a biological link; Klorel was probably only a son in name. 

“Emperors throughout Chinese history have taken wives and concubines to safeguard their bloodlines and I don’t think it’s any different here.  The names might not be the same, and the time in rule would be vastly different given the long life of a hosted human, but each Emperor that has ruled here had to have been a Goa’uld and every one of them, I’m pretty sure, has been a direct descendant from the original ruler. Well, at least the host has been.”

“Lord Yu,” Teal’c uttered, his words ringing with disgust.

“Exactly!”

“But Yu is still alive, so wouldn’t it be fair to say every one of his descendants that ruled would also still be alive?” Sam queried, seeming as though she was still struggling trying to make sense of the situation.

“They probably are and that’s the scary part.” Drumming his fingers, Daniel furrowed his brow, thinking out loud. “Yu’s domain is vast. We know it’s made up of many planets and probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions of slaves and servants. We also know from experience, that amongst the Goa’uld, a pharaoh’s rule is more often threatened by a son than an enemy, at least that’s what Bra’tac led us to believe. That doesn’t mean it happens everywhere.  Yu, despite the fact that he’s the oldest and one of the most powerful of the Goa’uld System Lords, has always been one of the easier ones to get along with.”  He paused to give Sam and Teal’c a wry, lopsided grin then added, “Well, most of the time.  It may be that his sending his descendants to rule over a planet in his domain is one way of giving them enough power to satisfy them, but hopefully not so much he can’t control them.  Bit of a wild leap?”

“Makes more sense than anything I can think of,” Sam admitted flatly.

“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed.

~o0o~

 

Unauthorized Off World Activation! Repeat, Unauthorized Off World Activation!

“Oy.” Jack O’Neill sighed and, rising from his chair, stared dejectedly at the mounting pile of paper work creeping its way across his desk.  Passing through the briefing room, he took a moment to look down from the massive glass windows at the SFs below as they took up a defensive position around the Stargate. 

“Walter!” Jack bellowed, making his way down the winding staircase to the Gate control room. “Anything?”

“Nothing yet, sir.  No, wait.  Confirming Tok’ra IDC.”  The sergeant squinted at his screen and, with a sly glance at the general, added, “Open the iris, sir?”

Tilting his head to the side, and with a wry smile on his face, Jack muttered, “Music to my ears.”  Blowing the air between his teeth in a whistling sound, he sighed. “Okay, let’ em in, Walter, let’s see what our good friends want.”

The large titanium iris slowly spun itself open revealing the shimmering event horizon, bathing the gateroom in an eerie blue light. Rocking back on his heels, a look of awe on his face, Jack murmured, “Man that just never gets old.”

Scant moments later, the horizon rippled, and the usually calm Jacob Carter strode purposefully down the ramp, acknowledging the SFs, whose weapons were tracking him as he moved, with a curt nod of the head.

Making his way down the control room stairs two at a time, Jack offered a jovial, “Jacob,” as he exited the blast doors, arms open in greeting.

“Jack, we have a problem.”

Jack’s gazed wavered between Jacob and the still active gate, as if waiting for someone else to come through.  “Well, hello to you too.  It’s always a ‘problem’ with the Tok’ra,” he intoned, two fingers on each had held in the air as if emphasizing the word.  “Don’t you ever just come for a visit?”

“Not this time.  I suggest we retreat to the briefing room.”  Brushing past Jack’s shoulder, Jacob strode away from the SFs and out into the corridor.

“Okay, then, don’t mind me.” Waving his hand in the air, Jack casually dismissed the SFs and trailed after his old friend. “I’ll just wait for my orders then.”

~o0o~

Jacob Carter was a man on a mission, and if there was one thing that Jack had learned from years of experience with the Tok’ra operative, it was that if Jacob was on a mission then Jack should be worried.  Jack was worried.

“Okay, Jacob, spill it,” Jack ordered, taking his seat at the head of the table. “That wasn’t your normal graceful entrance so I’m guessing there’s something up in Tok’raville.”

“Where is SG-1, Jack?” Jacob asked, sliding into the nearest chair and choosing to ignore Jack’s witty remark.

“They’re um… off world at the moment.” Jack paused.  What was the damn gate designation? “PT9…187.  I think. Daniel is working out a treaty with the local Warlord there over mining rights.  Why, what’s up?”

“When are you expecting them back?”

“We allowed three days for the treaty negotiations and one day for some ritual celebration they requested the team attend.  They left about three days ago so...” he glanced up at the clock on the wall, “they should be back tomorrow around midmorning, give or take.”

“And you’ve had no communication from them at all?”

“They’ve kept to their regular check in times.”  Leaning forward in his chair, Jack raised an eyebrow at Jacob and afforded him a small smile. “We can dance around this all day, Jacob, why don’t you just get to the point here?” 

Jacob pushed himself back from the table and turned to stand in front of the window overlooking the gateroom. Jack watched the man as his head lowered signaling he was handing control of his body over to his symbiote, Selmak.  

“Several hours ago we came into possession of some information regarding Lord Yu.” He turned to face O’Neill, the deep, distorted vocal tones of the symbiote reverberating through the briefing room. “As you may be aware, Lord Yu is suffering from a degenerative disorder common among both Goa’uld and Tok’ra symbiotes when they reach old age.”

Dredging up old mission reports was not Jack’s forte, but he seemed to remember Daniel mentioning this problem recently.  “Something about the sarcophagus not being effective anymore and not being able to take a new host?” 

“That is correct.   Other symptoms may include lapses in memory and judgment, as well as emotional outbursts and, in some cases, violent or erratic behavior.  I believe you would call it senility. As the Tok’ra do not use sarcophagus technology we do not experience this type of behavior, but simply grow weaker until our eventual death.”

Okay, that makes sense, Jack thought. “So what happens to the host?”

Jack looked across at the Tok’ra operative.  Arms folded across his chest and eyes downcast, Jack couldn’t tell whether the man was worried or carrying on some internal conversation with his host.  When Selmak’s brows knitted and a frown marred his face, he knew something was wrong.

“Selmak?”

“I am sorry, General O’Neill, Jacob was very insistent in his desire for me to tell you all I can about this process.  It is not something we would generally discuss with a non-blended human, but as it relates to SG-1 I will continue.

As you are well aware, General, the Tok’ra share a truly symbiotic relationship with our hosts, so when the onset of the disorder is first noticed the host is offered a choice - to remain with the symbiote so that both will die together, or to be separated from the symbiote and go on to perhaps host another.  As has happened so often in our past, the host has chosen to remain blended and die with its symbiote.”

“What!” O’Neill exclaimed, his eyebrows shooting up in disbelief, “Even when there was a choice?”

“Yes.   As I stated previously, we have a truly symbiotic relationship.  Call it a marriage, if you will.  Sometimes in this situation one can simply not live without the other.”

Jack stood up from the table, and crossing the room, took up a pitcher from a nearby table and poured himself a glass of water. “Okay, this is all very interesting but how does it tie in with Yu?” he asked, returning to his seat.

“We have long believed Lord Yu no longer possesses the ability to change hosts, but a scientist we have working in his inner circle has informed us this is not the case. While it is true Lord Yu has reached his twilight years,” O’Neill smiled at the comment, “a word that Jacob prefers, I assure you,” Selmak countered, “it now appears that while he is weak, he still has the ability to take on another host, but not for much longer.  Our operative, Mirel, informed us of a drug that has come into Yu’s possession which will not only allow him to take a new host, but prolong his life long enough… to procure the information he so desperately desires.”

“Oh, here it comes.” Jack sighed and rolling his eyes skyward he muttered, “I just know I’m not going to like this.”

“Indeed you are not, General.” Selmak shook his head slowly. “Lord Yu seeks information on how to reach ascension.  To this end he has placed a bounty for the capture of Doctor Jackson. The bounty is a hundred-fold of that which the system lords previously offered.  We believe he intends to take Doctor Jackson as a host in an attempt to gain this knowledge.  Mirel has calculated the drug he is currently using has a limited effective timeframe that is quickly running out.”

“Holy crap!” Getting out of his chair faster than his knees could protest, Jack sprinted towards the stairwell and took the steps two at a time down towards the control room. “Walter!”  He bellowed, “Dial up PT9-187 now!”

“Dialing PT9-187.”

Jack stood hunched over the dialing computer mentally willing the thing to go faster.  “You couldn’t have gotten straight to the point, Selmak?” he demanded as the Tok’ra exited the stairs.

“Sorry, Jack.”  Jacob took a reflexive step backward as O’Neill whipped his head around to stare at him. “Selmak figured you’d rather talk to me now.”

“Yeah, well, I’d rather not be having this conversation at all.”  Eyes reflecting the anger seething through his body, lips thinned, Jack grunted rudely, “Why is it every time you turn up at our doorstep it’s always gloom and doom?  This has gone way, way past getting old, Jacob.  How much more haven’t you told us?”  Jack turned his attention back to the Gate. “Oh, come on, hurry and connect!”

Moments later, last chevron locking and the control room window reflecting the hue of an open wormhole, Sergeant Harriman announced, “Wormhole established, sir, you can try and make contact now.”

“At last,” Jack muttered.  “SG-1 niner, this is the SGC, do you copy?” Pause. Wait. Listen. “SG-1 niner, this is General O’Neill, do you copy? Over.”

 Nothing. 

“Damn it! Walter, keep trying.” Jack shot an angry look over his shoulder at Jacob. “I sure as hell hope you’re wrong about this.” Turning back towards the observation window, he grabbed the microphone and flicked it on.

“SG-2 and 3 to the briefing room immediately!”

 

~o0o~

 

Master Tang couldn’t be happier. The plan, his own excellent creation, was playing out perfectly and would reach its not so dramatic end at tonight’s banquet when his true master, Lord Yu, would arrive to collect his prize.  For his own part, Tang would receive the ultimate reward, this city, his own to rule and subjugate.  Yes, Master Tang was a happy man.

“Master! Master!” Quiet in his approach, Kang held his hands tightly to his chest.

Tang sighed, annoyed at the disturbance, “What is it, Kang?”

“Master, you asked me to watch over the devices the off-worlders brought with them.”  Kang stepped forward and thrust one of SG-1’s radios into the Master’s hands.  “This one started talking.” 

Taking the device in his hand, Tang turned it over. “Do you recall what the voice said?”

“Not everything, Master, it was all very quick.  The voice did identify itself as O’Neill, a very strange name.”

Eyes flashing with anger, Tang admonished Kang for not paying greater attention. “Leave the device with me and return to your duties.” Placing the radio in the fold of his robe, he dismissed the man with a wave of his hand. “Speak of this to no-one.”

With a deep bow and a muffled, “Yes, Master,” Kang swiftly left the room.

Tang cursed his bad luck. This was not supposed to happen.  The off-worlders had been permitted to check in once a day during the negotiations to appease their world’s leaders.  There would be no further need for contact after tonight’s banquet. Doctor Jackson would be in the service of Lord Yu, and the female and shol’va would be sent back through the gate to deliver news of their companion’s demise. 

With the threat of the off-worlders returning through the TianShenMen to retrieve their people, Tang had to act quickly. Palace guards placed at the portal might deter them for a short time, but it wouldn’t be enough.  With Lord Yu’s forces not arriving for several more hours, Tang needed to take action now. 

A smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, Tang praised his own cunning.  A plan, so childishly simple in its execution, could give him back the advantage he thought he’d lost.

~o0o~

 

Reality of the situation becoming clearer, Sam had to quell her own growing fear and focus on Daniel.  Her teammate was becoming increasingly agitated, pacing the room in ever-quickening circles. 

“Daniel, is it possible that this could simply be an off-shoot from that initial civilization, and we’ve just happened to stumble across it?”

Halting mid-stride, Daniel slid his fingers under his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know, Sam. It’s possible.  There was nothing about the negotiations that led me to believe there was a problem.” Shaking his head, Daniel’s face creased into a frown.  Frustrated, he scrubbed a hand through his hair. “We disagreed over some of the wording and finer contractual points but that’s to be expected.  The negotiation team has been courteous towards us-,”

“Towards you, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said reasonably.

“All right,” Daniel huffed, throwing his hands in the air, “Towards me, but I thought we discussed that.”

“For now we play along as though nothing is wrong.”  Resting a hand on Daniel’s arm, Sam attempted to placate him. “This planet is so far from Yu’s domain it must be just a coincidence.  I suggest we attend the banquet tonight, check in with the General after, and check out of here in the morning.”

Nodding, Daniel sighed heavily and sank down on the bed.  Positive he was in need of rest, Sam was about to suggest he get some sleep when a soft knock at the door drew her attention away.

With a small measure of confidence returning to his voice, Daniel responded to the knock. “Qing Jin.”

Door opening, the young serving girl entered bearing a tray heaped with steaming tea and pastries.  Her nervousness was evident by her wavering hands as she placed the tray on the table.  “Lao Xiansheng.  Nide Chadian.” Cup in hand, she shuffled to Daniel and handed him the aromatic brew.

Sam looked over the contents of the tray and smiled. “At least they’re feeding us well,” she beamed cheerfully.  Picking up the two remaining cups she handed one to Teal’c and took a long drink of the herb infused drink.

A darkening scowl on his face, Teal’c drained his tea in one mouthful, and with a grimace, looked down at the empty cup. “I do not like this beverage.” 

“Yeah,” Sam slurred, her vision distorting as she looked across at Daniel, the cup in his hand crashing to the floor as he slumped back onto the bed.  “Daniel?”  Frowning at the sound of her voice, Sam stumbled forward, the floor rising to meet her as her mind closed down and all conscious thought fled.

 

~o0o~

 

“Aagh.” Oh yes, that sounded intelligent.  Sam groaned loudly, cursing the train that had broadsided her recently.

“Lie still, Colonel Carter, the drug is still in your system.”

Drug! What?

Running her tongue over her lips, Sam struggled to focus on Teal’c’s face.  “Drugged?  I was drugged?”

“Yes, Colonel Carter, I believe the tea we ingested was laced with a sleeping drug.”

“Oh,” she mumbled, “could have sworn it was a train.”

“Is it not normally a truck?”

“No, Teal’c, this time it was definitely a train.” Rolling over, Sam tried to force her tired, gritty eyes open. “Where are we?”

“We are back at the Gate,” Teal’c muttered, “but Daniel Jackson is not with us.”

“What!” she cried, bolting upright. “Ow!”

“I did suggest it would be wise for you to remain lying down,” he cautioned.

Gingerly reaching out to squeeze Teal’c’s shoulder, Sam turned to their immediate problem.  All of their packs were lying off to one side along with their radios.  Stumbling to the nearest pack and opening it up, Sam sighed with relief when the sleek form of the GDO peeked out at her. “Well, at least we can get out of here.”  Looking towards the gate she took a deep breath and willed her stomach to obey, and rising up on unsteady legs she made her way to the DHD.  “We need to get back and put together an S&R team to retrieve Daniel.” 

“I am not so sure, Colonel Carter.”  Teal’c was on his feet now, staring at the nearby treeline. “I believe we are being watched from several directions.”

“Well, we didn’t walk here by ourselves, Teal’c, so whoever is out there wants to make sure we leave.  Right now we’re not in a position to do anything else.”  Reaching down, Sam snagged one of the packs and hefted it onto her shoulder. “Grab the other two, I’ll dial the gate.”

 

~o0o~

 

With a measured look, Jack studied the crowded briefing room table.  Feretti and Reynolds were engrossed in their pre-mission folders, their faces a study in concentration.  Tapping his pen on the table, the general struggled to remember the last time he’d endured a briefing of this size.

Dimming the lights, he brought up the rear wall display and rapped a knuckle against the monitor, and with a quick look at Daniel’s pre-mission notes, he began the briefing.  “MALP telemetry taken prior to SG-1 stepping out onto PT9-187 showed no detectable defences in the immediate vicinity of the Gate, and initial contact with the inhabitants set their level of technology as being similar to that of Earth in the late sixteenth century.”  Clicking through a series of photographs, he stopped at a picture of a young Asian man, and zoomed in on the image.  “SG-6 reported the inhabitants of the planet closely resembled those of China, leaving us to wonder if there was any connection to Lord Yu.”

“Threat assessment, sir?”

Jack looked at the raised hand towards the back of the room. “Negligible, Feretti, the planet was deemed too far outside the boundary of Yu’s territory to pose any problem.”

“Goa’uld activity?”

“Don’t get ahead of me.”  Turning back to the screen, Jack brought up an image of an elderly Chinese man, his grey hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, his long black robes giving him an almost regal look.  “Contact between SG-6 and a representative of the ruling Emperor, a Master Tang, led cultural expert, Doctor Sarah Dale, to the conclusion there had been no recent Goa’uld activity, although apparently this Master Tang confided that one had visited the planet several centuries earlier.”

Whirling around, upending a folder, Jack grabbed a sheet of paper.  “Listen up; this is what Daniel had to say.  ‘Mineral scans detected sizable quantities of Naquadah and Trinium some distance from the gate, as well as several other minerals high on the SGC wish list.  With an invitation from the Emperor to commence negotiations, it was recommended that we send our chief negotiator.’ That, gentlemen, is where we are at.”  Jack tapped at the screen as he turned it off and stared into space for a brief moment.  His mind racing, he added slowly, “Okay, so we need to send another MALP back to the planet.”

Colonel Reynolds glanced up, his eyes narrowed. “Sir, the first MALP?” 

“Your guess is as good as mine.  Carter has followed protocol and checked in.”  Walking back to his seat and sliding into his chair, Jack shrugged with irritation. “Damned if I know what’s going on, their next check in is at 2300hours.  With what the Tok’ra told us we tried to make contact but got nothing.  So either the MALP has malfunctioned or they’re being stopped from responding to our hails.” With a pointed look at Jacob, Jack said flatly, “If you have anything for me, now is the time to jump in.”

Feretti drummed a pencil on the table as he tried to articulate his thoughts.  “Does the Tok’ra know why Lord Yu is even considering ascension?”

Risking a small smile, Jack arched his eyebrow. “Does it matter, Lou?”

“I think I can answer that,” Jacob interrupted, “our source has informed us that Lord Yu is concerned the balance of power amongst the System Lords will be tipped even further in favor of Anubis should he succumb to the effects of the degenerative disorder.  The—”

“What?” Jack exclaimed incredulously, “I thought we took care of Anubis when we left him freezing his snaky ass on some ice-locked planet.” Color tinging his cheeks, he growled, “Tell me we froze his snaky ass?”

“I don’t think so, Jack.” Jacob returned Jack’s cool stare.  Folding his hands neatly, he focused on the rest of the assembled men.  “We’ve received word from several operatives in the services of the more influential System Lords, that Jaffa loyal to both Anubis and Ba’al have been massing on planets within Anubis’s former territory.  Operatives for both Bastet and Kali the Destroyer, as well as several lesser System Lords, have reported the losses of Ha’taks and troops-,”

“And you were going to tell us when?”  His face hardened, and he stretched across the briefing table, stabbing a finger in Jacob’s direction. “Now see this! This is what I mean! It’s the same ol’ same ol’ with the Tok’ra.  Never the full story, no, just enough to keep us happy.  Christ, Jacob, have you forgotten this is your home planet as well?  What part of loyalty don’t you get?”

Biting down his frustration, Jack levelled a glare at Jacob.  “Okay, Jacob, let’s hear the rest of it then.”

Lowering his head, Jacob allowed Selmac to take over the conversation.

“As Jacob informed you, the Tok’ra have noticed a build up of troops in territory previously occupied by Anubis.  What we did not know until recently, was these troops also included Kull warriors.  It was thought with Anubis’ demise, and the considerable damage done to the breeding and training complex at Tarteris, the Kull warriors would simply die off.  Information gathered on Earth via the autopsy conducted by myself and Major Carter, concluded they had an exceptionally short life span, thus supporting our assumption.  It is now evident another queen was located and the breeding program has been re-initialized.”

Head in hand, Jack closed his eyes and muttered, “You know this how?”

“We don’t, but we are as sure as we can be.  When Doctor Jackson went undercover for the Tok’ra at the meeting of the System Lords several years ago, it was apparent Ba’al’s loyalties were overwhelmingly in favor of Anubis.  He was influential in obtaining the majority vote needed from the other Goa’uld in attendance to have Anubis reinstated to the ranks of the System Lords.”

Jack lifted his chin slightly, and with a quizzical look on his face, asked, “I thought Daniel said Osiris was responsible for bringing the other Goa’ulds around to Anubis’ side?”

Selmac nodded, and continued his careful explanation, ensuring he kept the general’s concentration.  “It’s true Osiris did attempt to lure Lord Yu into accepting Anubis’ petition, but it was Ba’al who successfully obtained the majority vote from the remaining System Lords.  It has only been since we placed operatives among the more powerful of the System Lords, that we have obtained information on the troop build-up and the growing numbers of Kull warriors.  The fact these warriors are being outwardly led by Ba’al has led us to believe Anubis is still alive.”

Jack looked sceptical.  “And again, I say, you know this how?”

Selmac picked at the folder.  Looking up and holding the general’s gaze, he replied carefully. “Make no mistake, General O’Neill, the Kull warriors have been genetically bred to serve none but Anubis.”

“Okay.” Running his hands down his face, lips pursed, Jack raised a finger in the air, “this is all good, but how does it tie up with Yu wanting to ascend?”

“Mirel, the scientist in Lord Yu’s inner circle, has informed us that Lord Yu no longer holds the coalition of the System Lords in any regard.”

With his arms folded across his chest, Feretti rocked back in his chair. “He doesn’t trust them any longer?”

“He does not.”

“Never trust a snake, especially not one of your own, huh?” Jack replied smugly.

“Most observant, general,” Selmak agreed. “Lord Yu is worried once he is no longer in control the System Lords, the galaxy will be at the mercy of Anubis and Ba’al.  Considering the size of the territory he commands, this is of great concern.  He fears there is no one in his domain capable of carrying on his legacy, or powerful enough to stand up to the combined forces commanded by Anubis and Ba’al.”

Jack snorted, rolling his eyes in disbelief. “Unbelievable!  So… what?  He thinks by ascending, he’ll be able to use his newfound powers on Anubis and keep hold of his own territories?”

“Correct.”  Selmak added matter-of-factly. “Although, and Mirel is in agreement, we are not sure if he is aware of Anubis’ physical disposition or of his inability to use the knowledge and power he gained as one of the ascended,”

“So Yu wants to forcibly take Daniel as a host, suck his mind dry for everything he knows on ascension, and then find out when it’s waaaay too late, for Daniel, that is, that he can’t use anything he’s learned?”

“Yes, general, that is correct.”

Jack wondered how much paperwork it would take to demote himself, but figured it’d probably be worth the effort.  Shaking his head, he muttered, “Oy vey!”

Unauthorized Off World Activation! Repeat, Unauthorized Off World Activation!

“Oh yes, and here we go again.” Sliding out of his chair, Jack made his way to the control room at full sprint. “Tell me we have an IDC coming through, Walter!” he yelled from part way down the stairwell.

“Coming through now, sir,” Walter replied, attention focused on the control room monitors. “It’s SG-1! Travelers en route”

With a hissed, “Sweet!” Jack bypassed the control room and headed straight down to the gate room.  Jacob close on his heels, both men squeezed through the double blast doors as Sam and Teal’c stumbled through the event horizon.

Eyes darting back and forth, Jack saw the one thing he didn’t want to.  Daniel wasn’t with them, which likely meant Lord Yu had him.  “Daniel?”

Eyes dark and brooding, Sam took a deep breath.  Looking the general in the eyes, she shook her head slowly.  “Sorry, sir, they took him.”

Shrugging off the two packs he was carrying, Teal’c let them fall haphazardly onto the ramp and grumbled, “I believe Lord Yu is involved in some capacity.”

“Hey, kiddo,” Jacob knelt down in front of his daughter, “you don’t look so hot.”  He reached out and drew her into a warm embrace.

“They drugged us.  Left us back at the gate with our equipment.”  Sam looked up at Jack, exhaustion dulling her normally shining eyes. “I’m sorry, sir, we have no idea what they’ve done with Daniel.” 

Moving to stand in front of Teal’c, Jack rested a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Can you two make it to the infirmary or do you need a medical team?”

“I can walk, O’Neill.”

“I’ll be okay, sir,” Sam replied, leaning into Jacob as he helped her up.

“Never doubted it, Colonel.  We’ll debrief as soon as Doc’s checked you over.”

~o0o~   

Daniel’s rise to consciousness was a slow and painful one.  Naturally, he thought, swallowing deeply to hold back the bile rising in his throat.  Either the tea packed a powerful punch, or they’d been drugged.  The crowd cheering loudly in his head was all in favor of the drugs. 

Unable to bite back a groan, Daniel rolled carefully onto his side in an attempt to sit up.  “S’m, Te’c?” Oh god, lick your lips and try again, Jackson.  Coughing as gently as possible, Daniel felt his body bounce slightly, a sure sign he was still in his palace room.

“Sam? Teal’c.” Yes, way better.

“Your friends are no longer here, Doctor Jackson.”

Running a shaky hand across his mouth and licking his parched lips, Daniel turned his head towards the voice. “Master Tang?” Struggling to get his eyes to cooperate, the view in front of him was distorted and moving in ways his muddled brain couldn’t comprehend.  “What happened?” 

“Your friends have returned through the TianShenMen.”

Tian? What?

“The tea you drank contained a powerful sleeping agent, enough to render you unconscious and give us time to return your companions to the portal.  Unfortunately you required a larger dose to ensure you remained unconscious during the process.  It will take your body some time to recover; I suggest you spend it resting.”

With the effort of focusing his eyes ramping up his nausea, Daniel tried to relax, pushing his body back further into the pillows.  Arms crossed over his tensing stomach, he whispered weakly, “Why?”

Muffled footsteps on the hard floor told Daniel that Tang was moving closer towards the bed.

“Why? You are to be honored, Doctor Jackson. You have been chosen to become Lord Yu’s next host.”

Oh God, No!  The nausea that had been a constant companion from the moment he woke, took hold now, and Daniel was helpless to stop it.  Muscles cramping and throat retching, Daniel threw himself towards the edge of the bed and did the only favor he could to his ailing body. He let go, vomiting all over the floor.

Shuddering, Daniel heard Tang curse and stagger away from the bed.  Head reeling and gut not quite finished expelling its contents, he groaned as the drug lingering in his system drew him back into oblivion.

 

~o0o~

 

Leaning on the door jamb leading into the infirmary, Jack took a moment to look across at the remainder of SG-1.  Faces still pale and sporting matching IV’s, his team looked the worse for wear. 

“General.”

How did she do that?  Jack jumped as Doctor Brightman slid past him into the room, her arms weighed down with folders. Taking his cue, and following at a respectable distance, he stopped by the end of Sam’s bed as the doctor started her rounds.  

“How are they doing, Doc?”

Not once looking up at Jack, Brightman adjusted Sam’s IV and scribbled notes on her chart, face schooled as she completed her task. “We found traces of an unknown compound in their system, which appears to be dissipating with the introduction of extra fluids.”  Her glaze flicking between Teal’c and Sam, before settling on Jack, she smiled. “I’m hopeful with some rest they will fully recover.”

“Great! When can I debrief them?”

Brightman shook her head and frowned. “I’d like to get another liter of fluid into them first, but considering time is critical, I’ll allow you to conduct your debriefing here. Quietly.”

Jack nodded, watching as Brightman gathered up her charts, and with a final cursory glance at Sam and Teal’c, headed back towards her office.  Sliding into one of the hard infirmary chairs, Jack took a moment to acknowledge Jacob.  The older man was sitting on the far side of Sam’s bed, her hand firmly in his grasp.

With a soft smile, and eyebrows raised, he looked at Sam.  “Hey, how you doing?”

Sam eased her way upright, propping a pillow behind her back as she went.  “Good, sir.”

Recognizing the after-effects of being drugged, Jack scrutinized his 2IC’s face, noting the dark smudges under her eyes, and pale skin.  “You want to tell me what happened out there?”

Brow furrowed, Sam nodded, clasped her hands on her lap, and took in a deep breath. “The negotiations went relatively smoothly, sir, a few minor points of miscommunication and contractual differences, but all in all one of the better treaties we’ve settled.” Pausing, she shook her head and laughed lightly. “I suppose in hindsight that should have rung some warning bells, but honestly, we didn’t suspect a thing. Well… not at first. The whole situation was very controlled, and all conversation was directed at Daniel.  Teal’c was the first to notice the servants all spoke to Daniel in their native tongue without even knowing that he could respond. Which of course, he could.”  Eyelids at half-mast, Sam looked across at Teal’c, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “The sleeping arrangements were… interesting.  We had a suite of sorts which amounted to a large over-decorated room for Daniel, and connecting servant-like quarters for Teal’c and myself.” Laughing softly, she reached out to pick at a thread on her blanket. “Daniel wanted me to take his bed, but when the servants found out they got most annoyed and we had to swap back to save embarrassment.”

“It was as if Colonel Carter and I did not exist.” Teal’c threw back the blanket and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, careful to avoid dislodging the IV in his left arm.

“So,” Jack cocked his head to the side and pursed his lips.  “There must have been some hint of trouble.”

Brushing away the thread she’d been playing with, Sam nodded.  “It wasn’t until today Daniel realized we had a problem.  There was this ceremony where we were read the Hereditary List of all the Emperors that had ruled throughout their history.  Daniel sensed something was wrong before the Master even started reading.  He thought the ceremony was out of order and we talked about cultural differences until the speaker arrived to start the ceremony, but I could tell Daniel was still worried.”

“In what way?”

Hands pressed firmly into the mattress by his side, Teal’c let out a deep grumble. “When we returned from the ceremony, Daniel Jackson was agitated and told us of his concerns regarding the Hereditary List and its connection to Lord Yu.”

Jack sat back in his chair listening as Sam and Teal’c gave their account of the failed mission.  Thoughts turning to Daniel, he worried they were already too late.  His face unreadable, the burden of leadership weighed him down.  Daniel was missing, and no one got left behind on Jack O’Neill’s watch.  With a sigh so soft his team almost missed it, he wondered if the price might be too high, if sometimes he couldn’t control everything.  Rescuing Daniel would be a challenge, and he knew it.

“Okay,” Jack thumped the legs of his chair back on the ground, and leaning forward he looked up at his team.  “Did you, at any time, see this Emperor or any members of his so-called royal family?” 

With a shake of their heads, Jack had his answer.  Not sure where he was heading next, he ceded the line of conversation to Jacob as the Tok’ra operative shifted in his chair and cleared his throat.

“What about guards?”

“We saw only palace guards.”  Slipping back to lie on his bed, Teal’c settled on his pillow and stared up at the ceiling.  “Those outside the compound carried primitive weapons.  The only weapons permitted inside the palace were those carried by the Emperor’s personal guards, of which we saw none.”

“Which would make sense if you didn’t see the Emperor,” Jack theorized. “Okay, so no other weapons?” 

“Nothing, O’Neill, but I cannot believe a complex of that size, housing a family of such high regard, would not have some sort of armament.”

Jack agreed.  “And if Daniel’s right about them being Goa’uld then I’m willing to bet there’s weaponry in there somewhere.”

“Indeed,” Teal’c commented, “it does seem most likely.”

Sharp heels echoed on the hard infirmary floor as Doctor Brightman returned to check on her patients.  Checking IV bags and scribbling notes in their charts, she nodded at Sam and Teal’c. “I’ll have a nurse come by in a few minutes and remove your cannulas, and you’ll be free to get dressed.” 

“Fit for duty, Doc?”

After a casual glance in the general’s direction, Brightman finished her notations, hefting both files into her arms.  “I see no reason why not, General, their blood work looks fine. I’d like to see them both get some rest for a few more hours, but there’s no reason they can’t return to full duty.”   

 

~o0o~

 

Rubbing a hand over his abused stomach, Daniel groaned and rolled onto his back, thankful the nausea had abated somewhat.  Vision greying around the edges, he tried to sit up.  Quickly falling back, his body too weak to support its weight, he squinted up at the tapestry hanging from the railing above the bed.

The room was dimly lit, a soft glow from the quickening sunset filtered through the heavy curtains.  Thoughts in turmoil and stomach still clenching, Daniel rolled back onto his side catching sight of a cup on the nearby nightstand.  Thirst begging to be quenched, he tucked his hands under his armpits; the effects of his last drink still coursing through his body.

“It is safe.”

“What?”  Daniel shuddered.  Train of thought interrupted, he tried to search out the source of the voice.  Legs kicking out, and grabbing a fistful of the coverlet, he edged towards the end of the bed.

“It is safe.  Please drink.”

Turning back towards the nightstand, Daniel struggled to bring the cup into focus. “I don’t think so,” he said glumly.

“This one is just water. You may drink.”

Pulling himself forward, Daniel sat up clumsily, slumping to one side but thrusting out an arm to catch himself. Grunting with effort, arms straining, he eased himself back towards the head of the bed.  “No,” he murmured, shaking his head as the first twinge of a headache stirred at the back of his mind.

“You need to drink.”

The voice was a little louder now, and sliding his gaze across the length of the room, Daniel finally found the source.  Kneeling kowtow by the door, head not quite touching the ground, was one of the palace serving girls.   

“Does Master Tang know you’re here?”

Eyes darting around the room, she stammered nervously, “He does not, but you must drink.”

“Not yet.” Pinching the bridge of his nose, Daniel looked puzzled. “Why are you speaking to me?”

Suddenly looking uncomfortable, the serving girl cowered and scuttled closer to the door. Noticing her discomfort, Daniel waved a hand, and added hastily, “No, no, I’m sorry. Please!” he implored, “I meant why are you speaking English?”

“Ying glish?”

He smiled at her confusion. “Close… English, ah, in my words?”

“Please forgive.” Head cocked towards the door, she rubbed her hands nervously on her thighs. “My master does not know I speak the words of the gods.  It is forbidden, except to those whom the Master favors.”

“Ah.” Daniel licked his lips, the headache blossoming behind his eyes a sure sign of dehydration.

“Please you must drink.  Just water. It is safe.”

Brow furrowed, Daniel held the girl’s stare for a moment then reached over and snagged the cup from the stand.  Draining it in one mouthful, he tossed the cup on the bed and waited, fully expecting to be flat on his back in the next breath.  Okay, he thought, so it really was only water.

Throwing caution to the wind, Daniel wriggled off the side of the bed, feet resting on the cold floor.  “Do you know what Tang has planned for me?” he asked, running a hand tiredly across his face.

Shaking her head, she refused to meet his eyes. 

Daniel was fairly certain his memories of Master Tang’s words weren’t far off the mark.  “You don’t know?”

“I cannot say.”

Shrugging off the comment, Daniel knew he needed information and fast.  Deciding on a change of tactic, he figured winning the girl’s trust was a good place to start. “What is your name?”

“Liu XunMei”

Daniel rubbed his fingers across his forehead, willing his headache to pass.  XunMei, XunMei. He ran the words over and over in his mind wondering if his Mandarin was really up to the task.

“Fragrant and beautiful?”  He suggested, and the soft smile he got in return spoke volumes.  “I’m right?” Eyebrows raised in surprise, Daniel smiled back at the girl. “First decent thing I’ve gotten right all day,” he mused, letting his mind wander back to his plight.

“So, XunMei,” conjuring up the brightest smile he could manage, he asked hopefully, “any idea how I can get out of here?”

“You cannot,” came her hushed reply.

“Yeah, I thought so.”

~o0o~

Biting back his nervousness, Master Tang took a long look around the TianTangYuan room.  Lacklustre compared to the rest of the palace, Tang frowned at the dull grey walls and faded red skirting, wondering idly when it had been used last.  Long neglected, the room had been sealed and forgotten about as time marched on and the city succumbed to a more traditional way of life.  Not today though.

Master Tang was nervous.  With the TianShenMen silent, he was reasonably confident the guards positioned at the portal could repel the off-worlders for a short time if they chose to attack.  Everything was in readiness, he only had to wait for the TianTangYuan to activate announcing the arrival of Lord Yu.   Pleasantries tended to, goods exchanged, this city would soon be his to rule completely and unchallenged, and it had all been so easy.

Tang’s luck had turned the day the off-worlders had arrived.  With its Emperor slaughtered in battle centuries earlier, the economy had declined, and a once proud people became humbled.   Most powerful amongst the Feudal Warlords, Tang’s ancestors ruled the city in name only, waiting for the day when their true leader would return.  Centuries crawled past and many of his forefathers had despaired whether Lord Yu would ever return, believing instead their planet had been forgotten.

Squaring his shoulders, Tang smiled, praising himself silently for his own cunning.  Needing ore to build ships, the offworlders had been simple to manipulate.  Tempted by scans of the mountains ringing the city, they eagerly pressed for mining rights in exchange for supplies his people so desperately needed.  Though the city was poor, population outweighing retail production, many traders visited his world, most often through the TianShenMen.  With the sale of precious gems providing enough food to feed his people, Tang became more interested in the information his buyers could provide him with.  A recent trader shared knowledge of a bounty posted by Lord Yu for the capture of a particular Tau’ri.  The man was highly prized by his true master, and the reward Yu offered was more than Tang could imagine.   Fortune had finally favored him the day the off-words stepped through the TianShenMen.   

With manipulation as his dirty weapon, Tang suggested they send their best negotiator while he quietly put his plan into motion.  The hardest part had been contacting Lord Yu.  A long forgotten world, light years from his domain, would need to hold serious interest to lure him here.  Fortunately for Tang, his contacts held true to their words, and the bait was bigger than the reward. 

Tang’s moment of self-congratulation was broken abruptly when the roof lit up.  Scuttling to the far side of the chamber, he looked on in awe as five perfect rings cascaded from the ceiling, bathing the room in brilliant light.   No sooner touching the ground, the rings ascended back into the ceiling, a small entourage left standing in their wake.  Eyes wide in surprise, the bright glow of the TianTangYuan leaving a shadow on his retinas, Tang quickly gathered his thoughts, turning his attention to the visitors.

Though he had only old, faded images to compare with, it took Tang but a moment to recognize the person of Lord Yu.  Standing at the center of the group, his regal composure alone left all in his presence with no doubt as to his identity. Dressed in an Imperial Mianfu of striking reds and greens, Lord Yu struck an impressive figure. His own xuanduan robe suddenly seeming like a poorly made rag, Tang hustled forward offering a deep kowtow.

“My Lord, your humble servant, Tang, greets you with reverence.”

“Arise, Tang, and greet your Emperor.”

Straightening himself up, Tang spread his arms wide. “Your people have awaited your arrival for many centuries, my Lord, and are eager to greet you.”

Hands laced behind his back, Lord Yu stepped from the circle, his guards standing aside to flank him.  “I look forward to the opportunity to reacquaint myself with your city, but first, what of Daniel Jackson?”

“He is safe, my Lord,” Tang stammered, “We administered a sleeping potion to subdue and separate him from his companions.”

Body stiffening and eyes flashing, Lord Yu’s suddenly looked enraged.  Tang was caught off-guard by the reaction and hastily added, “My servant assures me the drug has almost worn off, and he is awake.”

Not missing the slight sneer on his Master’s lips, Tang clenched his sweaty hands and fought to maintain his weakening composure as Yu silently observed him. 

Head cocking over to one side, eyes hard and cold, Yu muttered, “Take me to him,”

 

~o0o~

 

Checking the pockets of his vest, and adjusting the leg strap on his Beretta, Jack stole a glance around the packed Gate Room.  SG teams 1, 2, and 3 were gathered at the base of the ramp, while a MALP stood stationary just outside the range of the wormhole’s explosive blast zone, waiting to be sent through.  Armory staff buzzed around a FRED, checking and stowing equipment, and yet more men stood nearby holding P-90s for the waiting teams. 

Pack secure, Jack looked across at Sam and Jacob, acknowledging them with a tight smile. “Can’t get you to change your mind, Jacob?” he asked, eyebrows raised in question as the older man helped Sam shoulder her pack.

“Sorry, Jack, you know I can’t.”  Shaking his head, Jacob grunted as he tightened the last strap. “We’ve had no word from Mirel since she passed on the information.  The Tok’ra High Council is taking no chances she might be compromised so they’ve decided to move our home base.  With so many of our operatives on missions at the moment it’s all hands on deck to get it done quickly.”  Patting the back of Sam’s pack to signal he was finished, Jacob gave Jack a wry smile. “I know you’ll get him back for all of us, Jack.”

Or die trying, Jack thought, silently hoping Jacob was right. 

Confident his own gear was secure; Jack took his P90 from the armory staff and lined up next to Sam and Teal’c.  “You two sure you’re up for this?” he murmured, assessing his teammates.

“Wouldn’t miss it, sir.”

“Nor would I, O’Neill.  I believe we have incomplete work awaiting us.”

Furrowing his brows in puzzlement, Jack followed it up with a grin. “Unfinished business, Teal’c, its called having unfinished business.”

“Is that not what I said, O’Neill?”

“Uh yeah, I guess,” Jack stammered, and clearing his throat loudly he stood up on the end of the ramp. “Okay, listen up, everyone!  This is search and rescue and you’ve all had your briefing.” A quick nod towards the control room and Jack heard the Gate start its slow dial up sequence.  “Once the MALP confirms conditions on the other side, we’ll hit the ground running.   SG-2, you’ll take the lead, fan out and check the perimeter. SG-3 will be right behind to secure the gate and provide back up.  SG-1, as you’re a man down, you’ll be with me. We’ll head through last, once the area is secure, Carter and Teal’c will lead us to the city.  This is a hostile situation and we’re going in with weapons hot.  Any questions?” 

Silence.

“Good.”

Steam hissed from the giant super-conductors clamped on the side of the Gate as the inner track spun into place locking the final chevron.  With an almighty roar the rush from the event horizon distorted outwards along the length of the ramp before settling into the confines of the Stargate.  Rocking back on his heels, Jack could feel his body vibrating with nervous energy as the slow-moving MALP made its way up the ramp and through the wormhole to PT9-187. 

Scant moments later, Walter Harriman’s voice boomed through the gateroom speakers giving the teams an ‘all clear’ to depart.

 

~o0o~

 

The area around the planet-side Gate was clear of activity as first SG-2, and then 3 exited.  With SG-1 following close behind, it only took moments for the air to be filled with the high-pitched thrum of arrows as the teams were assaulted from above.

“Everybody down!” Lou Feretti yelled, dropping to his knees. “Expose packs only. Return fire when you have a clear target!”  Spreading out quickly, the teams dropped on his command, exposing their packs as shields, but leaving enough room to use their weapons.  Movement from the tree line to the left was greeted with a staccato blast from the SG-3 marines as Sam’s zat got a workout, firing indiscriminately into the dense woods to the right of the gate.  Laying down suppression fire, the teams slowly but efficiently worked their way towards the treeline, encountering minimal resistance as the attacking forces were either overwhelmed or retreated further into the forest.

O’Neill rose from his place at the base of the DHD and surveyed the scene before him.  ‘No Goa’uld weaponry’ he mused. Well, better broken rations than broken bodies he thought, standing over Major Carrolan from SG-3 and yanking an arrow shaft from the side of the man’s pack. 

Quickly assessing the area, and watching as Reynolds and Feretti deployed their teams, Jack pointed to two of the marines. “Harper and Escobar, check the DHD and the MALP, then you’re on gate duty.  Move the FRED out of sight and keep yourselves hidden in the treeline. No radio unless it’s absolutely essential.”  Jack flipped the cover off his watch and silently ticked off the hours, tapping the face out of habit, he looked up at the men. “And if we’re not back within six hours, or you don’t hear from us by that time, consider the mission a bust and head back to Earth. Clear?”

Answering, “Yes, sir!” in unison, the marines moved off.

“The rest of us move out.  Standard recon, Teal’c, you’ve got point.”

“Sir,” Sam looked up from her diagnostic tool and pointed off into the distance as she picked up an easy pace at the center of the formation. “The city is four miles due east of the gate. This path will lead us straight there, but our biggest problem will be access.  Both the palace and main city complex are surrounded by high, heavily fortified walls, and we only saw one point of entry for either.”

“Doesn’t mean there isn’t another way in, Carter.”

“No, sir,” she conceded, “but the size of the outer city perimeter means we’ll lose valuable time scouting for another way in.”

Jack looked across as his 2IC, almost positive he could see the cogs turning over in her mind.  “You have an idea, don’t you, Carter?”

“Yes, sir,” Sam nodded, packing the tool away in her vest. “Should be fun.”

“I like fun, Carter.”

~o0o~

 

Part 2

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