Author's Apology: I suppose everything in Deep Space Nine is out-of-whack from here on out.

Also I took a long break from this story due to a serious blow to my writing ego, which I hope I'm over now. Just another writer I respect telling me that (though I've been writing seriously for close to ten years) I'm a beginner. I guess that's always true. Anyway, so that explains the break.

It does not explain that when I returned to this story, the ending I wrote over two years ago seemed impassably awful. So I'm currently on the lookout for a new ending and as soon as I will find one, I will rejoin our intrepid pals and bring them to their conclusion. I am really sorry about all this.

Lordheaven; haha, interesting idea. I would definitely hate to see a Goa'uld get ahold of a Q. But I have the feeling that unless the Q were compromised in some way, it couldn't really happen… What' the point of phenomenal cosmic power if you can't outrun a little snake? Not to mention that I'm not sure if the Q's "prime form," if you will, is even humanoid. What do they actually look like? I've always wondered. What if they're just a rainbow (re: TNG's Dauphin)? Or a blob of undulating crystalline brass (re: the Sheliak in The Ensigns of Command?)

Chapter 22: Gods

"This is exciting," Jack said.

Sometimes his own sarcasm annoyed him, but where there was cause to be sarcastic, there was usually ample cause for annoyance. Sam had tracked the runabout wake to this little planet here, out of the way and not orbiting a star, so that was weird, but not so super far away. It was also in a nebula, so the sky was pretty-looking, at least. But it didn't look too much like a place that a Goa'uld would want to call home for the foreseeable future.

"Jack," Daniel asked, an ominous tone that usually meant motherships approaching, or something along those lines. However, when Jack looked at Daniel and then around, there was no apparent danger. "How much do you think the Goa'uld know about the weapons they use?"

"You are referring to the Goa'uld hand devices," Teal'c said with a curious knit in his brow.

"That's a good question, Daniel." Now Sam looked concerned, leading Jack to only wonder what they meant by it. Sam finally noticed his confusion and put the pieces together for him, though he wanted to snap he was getting to it. "If the Goa'uld possessing Julian right now knows enough about how, say, a kara kesh works, he would also have access to the knowledge of how to replicate it."

Jack glared at Sam. "And we didn't replicate Teal'c's staff weapon—why?" he wondered now.

"I asked them a million times, but they didn't want to risk having to share the technology with their allies. Particularly the Klingons, since Goa'uld weapons make it easy to simply destroy a planet from space." Sam suddenly frowned as though she thought of something she hadn't previously. "I'm sure there's some secret branch of Starfleet that has the staff weapon designs all locked away for a future ace up their sleeve, though," she muttered. "I wouldn't worry about that."

"Oh, great," Jack said. He sighed and looked around them at the forest of the planet, appreciating the alien feel and just how dangerous it could be. It'd been a long time since he was actually in danger. "Fan out," he ordered. "But not too far."

"You don't have to worry about that, Jack," Daniel called a moment later. "Come here."

Jack was at his side in a moment, running through the umbrella-shaped trees and past some purple flowers before coming to a stop at the edge of an ocean. A weird, gooey, orange ocean that didn't have any waves in it.

"Well, what's this?" Jack knelt down, but didn't touch it. He knew better than that.

"I have absolutely no idea," Daniel answered and all of a sudden, the ocean moved.

"Snap!" Jack jumped back and pointed his weapon at the ocean as it congealed and took form. "Guys!" he shouted while he watched. Daniel, true to form all the way back when, put his hand on Jack's weapon and pointed it down at the ground.

Probably a good idea… Jack thought. If they were back in the Alpha Quadrant where life was a bed of roses.

"Need I remind you there's a Goa'uld around here?"

"More solids." The only thing Jack and Daniel could seem to do was stand there blinking at the human-like form that had just stepped out of the water, looking them up and down. "You aren't like the other one."

"No, I'm not," Jack said, not sure exactly what he meant. At least, it looked like a he. Jack looked at Daniel and decided they were nothing alike, so he finished, "No, I'm pretty sure we're all different."

The congealed-ocean-being, that looked suspiciously exactly like a human, looked from Jack to Daniel in what might have been confusion—but, Jack reminded himself, he was talking about an alien here—just as Teal'c and Sam were running up. The alien took its turn looking at Sam and Teal'c and Daniel decided just then would be an awesome time for introductions.

"My name is Daniel," he offered, catching the alien's attention. He introduced the rest of them while the alien looked up and down them slowly. Daniel looked at Jack, suppressing a half-laugh. "Do you have a name?"

The alien looked at Daniel. "We are the Founders."

Jack was about to swear, compare them to the Borg, but Daniel spoke before Jack could. Probably for the best. "You mean you don't have a personal name?" he asked.

"Not that I would share with a solid," the Founder answered. "Your kind calls us Changelings. For our ability to change shape, as you just witnessed."

The Founder looked like he might have gone on, but Jack interrupted. "Oh, Changelings," Jack said. "Like Odo." The Founder raised his non-existent eyebrows at him, but Jack was already back to business. "Look, we're looking for another person, looks like us, except with glowing eyes and a bad attitude. We followed him here."

"The one that is not like you." The Founder nodded knowingly. "He was here."

"He was?" Sam asked. "How did he leave? I would have seen it."

"Why are you hunting this creature down? Is it because he is different from you?" the Founder asked.

"No," Daniel practically shouted. "No, that's not at all why."

"But you are hunting him," the Founder finished.

"Well, if you spent a little more time with him, you might see why he's not exactly friendly company…" Jack said.

"See—you said he was 'different'? You're absolutely right. The… 'solid' you met isn't like us. Another lifeform, one called a Goa'uld, took the Human's body without permission," Daniel explained. "We're trying to find them to get them home."

"Of course, the fact that the Goa'uld wants to enslave the universe and set himself up as a god doesn't help, either," Jack muttered.

The Founder looked at all of them in turn, and then turned back to look at the gelling ocean. Five more Changelings rose out of the ocean, but they just stood there. They all looked about the same, except more androgynous in presentation, whereas this Founder they'd been speaking to was doubtless supposed to be a man.

"Is that so?" the first Founder asked.

The beings exchanged a glance that seemed to communicate more than just a look. After a moment of silent deliberation, the first one looked at them. "We had some reservations about this being. It is arrogant at best. At worst, a threat. We were going to solve the problem ourselves, but if you volunteer…"

"We'll do it."

Daniel looked at Jack as he spoke. Jack didn't know exactly why he'd volunteered not only once, but twice for this crappy job, but here he was. He couldn't be sure, but it seemed like these Founders weren't the nicest aliens in the Gamma quadrant. They might kill anything for being a threat. Maybe for just being arrogant.

"Just tell us where he went."

"A small star system, not too far away from here. It lies outside of our control and so as long as the being minded his own business, we were content to let him go about his way. You'll find him there unless he's moved on quickly."

"Is it populated?" Sam asked.

"Yes, by a superstitious, technologically-inferior species."

Daniel cursed under his breath. "Just what he wants."

"Be careful," the Founder said. "When he visited us, he had in his possession a weapon unlike any we've ever seen. It fit over his hand and had a power source with which we are unfamiliar."

"Great. Thanks for your help."

"Our pleasure," the Founder answered. "You came from a pathway through the galaxy, did you not?"

"Yes," Jack answered before thinking too much about it. They would have found out anyway, if they didn't already know from their friend the snake. "What about it?"

"We will meet again."

With that, the humanoids slipped back into the ocean.

Jack shivered. "Creepy."

"That's going to come back to bite us, isn't it?" Daniel asked with a sigh.

Jack looked Daniel and shrugged. Why was the answer to that question almost always "yes"?