[A/N Thank you again for the reviews; I'm glad Jack's little turnaround seemed believable and amusing :)]


Chapter 28

Strange, how things could change so fast. A few months ago, everything had been so dark; Anubis was about to destroy all life in the galaxy, the Tok'ra were heading towards extinction even without his help, and now…now the System Lords were at last vanquished, and the Tok'ra had only the future to look forward to. After the fall of Rokarrin, most of the Tok'ra had dispersed to new, smaller bases; some had remained at the alpha site, and some at the SGC, to safeguard their new queen. It had been agreed, with surprisingly little rancour on the part of the High Council, that Eleanor/Delek should still remain at the SGC whilst things had been hotting up with Anubis and Baal. This had given them time to fully recuperate, and there had been time too, to repair relations with the Tau'ri and the Free Jaffa.

And now…everything had changed. The lines of the Tok'ra/Tau'ri and Jaffa alliance, the details of their relationship with each other, would change again, and hopefully only for the good. The scattered Tok'ra agents were at last all coming home permanently – and realising that they needed somewhere to actually call 'home'. So it was that the Tok'ra were now about to embark on a momentous occasion: settling their first permanent homeworld since their very inception. It was a surprisingly radical and swift step forward for the secretive, traditional Tok'ra, but lately everyone had been filled with a spirit of hope and enthusiasm, and it had spurred some bold and creative gestures from them. Delek knew, of course, that there would be a wake-up from this honeymoon period; Selmak knew it too, and those two in particular had had earnest discussion about a number of serious matters lately.

Delek and Selmak's antagonism had been something present from Delek's original election to the High Council. She had risen rapidly through the Tok'ra ranks; a talented strategist who, after being a very successful base commander, became the youngest ever symbiote to be elected to the High Council. But the burden of command there, and the nature of the long-term strategy required, was very different. They had elected Delek because they had hoped for someone bold and fresh, and initially, this is what they got. But when the successes came always with casualties, and when the alliance with the Tau'ri, which had seemed so innovative and full of promise, brought them so much grief and so much dangerous destabilisation of the balance of power, Delek, feeling the burden of her position keenly, had become ever more cautious and withdrawn. Selmak, by contrast, reinvigorated by Jacob, had become the bold one with the radical ideas and was, of course, the one who most heartily supported the alliance. Inevitably, they had clashed. Now, ironically, they both shared a common bond, a common perspective gained through their both having Tau'ri hosts. And they were both wise enough to know of the challenges that lay ahead for the Tok'ra.

So it was that an historic meeting laid the foundations for the future: the Tau'ri, the Tok'ra and the Free Jaffa met together at the SGC again, this time to reforge an alliance, not to break one. Bra'tac and Arzec were present representing the Free Jaffa; a sensible pair of heads, which was a relief. For the Tok'ra, Selmak, Delek, Per'sus and Garshaw all attended, representing most of the High Council, and Malek and Anise were also there. They had offers to put on the table that perhaps were not so widely known about.

"Firstly," began Bra'tac, once the formal introductions were over, "We wish to offer congratulations to the Tok'ra on the successful recovery of their new queen and her host. These are indeed glad tidings."

"The Tok'ra thank you," Per'sus replied, formally.

"And we will not forget that this success is owed in part to the Jaffa, including yourselves, who aided in our rescue," Delek added, graciously, with only a little prodding from Eleanor. Bra'tac and Arzec both inclined their heads, then glanced at each other.

"There is some talk amongst the Jaffa about whether you wish the Jaffa to carry your young," said Arzec, frankly. The Tok'ra exchanged glances.

"We would not expect any Jaffa to carry a larval Tok'ra," Garshaw answered, "We realise that after centuries of goa'uld oppression, the idea may be anathema to you."

"There are some who are considering it," said Arzec, relaxing slightly. "Whilst it is true that we wish for no reminder of our former dependence on the Goa'uld, now that we have the tretonin, it would be a free choice, and that is different."

"A perspective the Tok'ra are keenly appreciative of," said Selmak, with a wry smile.

"Moreover," continued Arzec, "We know that we have the Tok'ra to thank for the existence of tretonin in the first place, and that this was bought through the sacrifice of Egeria. It seems fitting that we…offer something back."

"It is a most generous offer," said Selmak, "And, for now, we would certainly be inclined to accept it, because it is true that it is difficult for a mature symbiote to take a human host if it has not spent at least some of its larval life within a Jaffa."

"This is, however, something we would look to change," said Freya, earnestly. "The Goa'uld engineered the Jaffa artificially to support this system, and were themselves altered both intentionally and not so intentionally when it developed. We believe that it would be possible to develop a non-host-based incubation system for the larvae that would assist with their adult implantation, using a technological approach, and even perhaps deliberately genetically engineering ourselves. However, this is as yet somewhat speculative." She glanced at Malek.

"There is further news in that regard," he said, taking his cue, and leaning forward on the table, fingers steepled, "You are aware that I have been working on an improved version of the tretonin formula. I can now report that preliminary results are most promising: it should give a performance almost equal to that of a larval symbiote, whereas before, as you know, it was not a complete substitute."

"This is good news," Bra'tac said, warmly, "And my people will be very glad to hear it."

"In the future, we hope also to make it possible for the Jaffa to be dependent on neither tretonin nor larval symbiotes," Malek added, "Although again, this is purely speculative, Eleanor and I intend to work upon the problem."

"You would remove our need for you altogether?" Arzec asked, surprised.

"Say rather, we would restore your full freedom of choice," said Selmak, "We have fought the Goa'uld, and, whilst it is not our personal responsibility to undo all their evil, even if we could, we would restore whatever can be restored, which includes your full independence, as surely as human independence from the Goa'uld." Bra'tac bowed his head respectfully.

"Then I believe you will truly fulfill Egeria's legacy," he said, solemnly.

"And your allies will not forget the good works you have done," added Arzec. "I believe that, whilst you need them, you will get more volunteers for larval hosts when we have no need of either them or the tretonin, than when we needed either."

"You will, in fact, have gained friends," said Teal'c, smiling.

"Speaking of gaining friends, George," said Jacob, "We'd like to request some help from the SGC on that front."

"Regarding hosts?" asked Jack, although not with the barbed tone he had formerly used whenever discussing that matter with the Tok'ra.

"Ultimately, later, that will be an issue," Jacob agreed, "But for now what we really need is for you to essentially do a little PR for us. And some clean-up."

"Come again?" asked Hammond.

"There are literally thousands of worlds out there – human worlds – that have known nothing but Goa'uld domination since their very beginning," said Selmak, "Now, for the first time, they find themselves free, and with no idea what to do with that freedom. We are facing a galactic scale societal collapse and it is urgent that we mitigate as much of the damage as possible."

"How bad are we talking here?" asked Hammond, concerned. Delek's patience with the usual lack of Tau'ri long-term planning frayed slightly at that.

"Did it not occur to you that if the System Lords essentially were vanquished in a matter of scant years, that their human slaves would fall with them? The goa'uld created a rigidly hierarchical society that held in place for millennia. There are hundreds of millions on worlds that are falling into civil disorder, and millions in immediate danger of starvation and disease. This has been true, to a lesser extent, every time the Tau'ri have killed a System Lord or altered the balance of power with no thought for the people at the bottom of the pile. You have not seen the human cost of your actions, but we have. Had the overthrow of the Goa'uld been slower and less violent, the situation would not be nearly so bad."

"Now hang on a minute, don't you go putting that on us!" protested Jack, back on defensive mode, "If those people are in trouble, it's nobody's fault but the Goa'uld, who, may I remind you, were the ones who ground them down in the first place!"

"Nobody's trying to point fingers and accuse, Jack," said Jacob, holding up his hands placatingly, "At the end of the day, we couldn't predict how things would turn out and we absolutely had to take the chance to bring them down when we could. But the fact remains that there are a lot of people in trouble out there right now, and I think you'll agree that we have to do what we can to help them. It's not our mess – not directly, anyway – but if we are to build this nice galactic society we're all sitting round this table talking about, I think a pretty damn good place to start is with a little charity to our neighbours, don't you agree?"

"But what we can do?" asked General Hammond, "Our resources are limited."

"As are all of ours, but with a little cooperation, we can go a long way," said Per'sus. "There are some obvious things that can make an immediate difference. For example, human slaves on mining planets that are not conducive to agriculture are usually dependent on food imports from other planets, most of which are now no longer happening. We would suggest organising full-scale evacuations and resettlement of these human populations before they all starve, for a beginning. Now that the Tau'ri and the Jaffa have their own ships, this would also be of great assistance."

"In addition," added Garshaw, "We can think about setting up supply networks through the stargate system so people can trade for themselves."

"A lot of these people will rediscover their own ways of making society work," said Selmak, "But in many cases a little help and advice would not go amiss. The Tok'ra are by no means going to go around telling them what to do, but we can supply advisors and teachers in all areas from law to medicine, from trade to agriculture, and I'm sure the SGC can do something similar."

"But you can't just turn up offering free help because they're all gonna think you're goa'uld," said Jack, shrewdly.

"Exactly," agreed Jacob, "Which is where the PR comes in. The Tok'ra have operated in secrecy for centuries. In the few cases where people have even heard of us, we're just a legend. We need you to go ahead of us and tell people who we are, what we stand for, and what we've done to help them already."

"And when you help them some more, they'll be far more willing to help you back. Say, when you need hosts in the future," said Jack.

"Like I said Jack," said Jacob, with a grin, "Making friends."

"Or, in fact," observed Daniel, "Like symbiosis on a large-scale. Both partners benefit." Jacob nodded his head in agreement.

"The Tok'ra have no intention of spawning themselves out of hosts," Delek added, looking faintly appalled at the idea, "I for one have other things to do with my time, after all." That won a low murmur of laughter, "But there is no denying that we would wish to expand our numbers, at least back to what they originally were, and we will, as you say, need to make friends to do that."

"Well I say it's a good idea and everybody stands to benefit," Hammond decided.

"As do we," agreed Bra'tac.

"We should see about trying to get some help from some of the other races too," offered Daniel, "Even those who wouldn't usually get involved, like the Nox, could probably persuaded to lend some sort of humanitarian assistance."

"It's worth a try," said Hammond, "We can work out the details later. Is there any other business?"

"As you know, the Tok'ra will be leaving for our new homeworld in a few days," said Per'sus, "We will supply you all with the address, of course. We are grateful to the Tau'ri for providing a home for us when we had none."

"Need a hand moving?" asked Jack. Per'sus smiled.

"I think we have it all well in hand. Once the tunnels are established, we will of course welcome visitors."

"Just a thought," said Sam, "But do you really need tunnels anymore?" The Tok'ra looked surprised, clearly glancing at each other.

"Indeed," said Teal'c, "There is surely no need to remain living underground now that there is no longer a requirement for secrecy." The Tok'ra still looked like they were trying to get their heads round the concept.

"Of course, if you really love tunnels," said Jack, "Then don't let us stop you."

"I have to say," pondered Selmak, "That after two thousand years of living in tunnels, they are…wearing a little thin."

"Yeh, how about, I don't know, a nice retirement condo or something?" suggested Jack, earning himself a look from both Selmak and Sam.

"I was thinking more on the lines of a fairytale castle," quipped Selmak.

"With a swimming pool," added Garshaw.

"And a decent library," Per'sus said, wistfully.

"And a cinema," said Delek.

"Well, how about we let you surprise us when we come to visit?" suggested Hammond, gently trying to steer the topic back on course, though not without a quickly suppressed smile of his own. "Meanwhile, folks, we have a fresh new Treaty to sign."

"And don't make me write it out again this time," warned Daniel, as he handed round the proofs.

/

The Treaty was signed, their belongings were packed, their farewells made, and in what felt like no time at all, Eleanor was stood in the gateroom waiting to depart for their new home, feeling both hopeful and nervous. It seemed as though half the SGC was there to bid her goodbye and good luck, and she had an honour guard of centurions, which she found hideously embarrassing, but Delek was enjoying the attention, so she didn't protest too much.

Malek/Darin hurried in just as the wormhole swooshed open, a little late.

"Where did you get to?" Eleanor asked, curious.

"Colonel O'Neill saw fit to dispense some paternal advice," Malek said, a very puzzled expression on his face, "Something about making sure to treat you like a princess now you were a queen." Eleanor burst out laughing.

"Come on," she said, taking his hand, "Let's go to our new home."