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A Storm of Shadows
The following day dawned dreary and rainy. Cam had gotten up early to catch his flight to Washington, taking Spencer with him. Pisano wanted nothing to do with the bureaucrats on Capitol Hill, so he stayed behind. With both Daniel and Casey being offworld, documentation duties fell to Jessie, and she was halfway through the third crate at work, sorting through item tags and mission notes.
Jessie looked up to find General Hammond standing in the doorway. Setting aside her notebook and pen she said, "Yes, Sir?"
"I’m meeting with a Tok’ra representative in a few minutes, and I’d like you to sit in on it." With the young woman’s puzzled look, he smiled. "Normally SG-1 would sit in, but they’re unavailable. One of the Tok’ra undercover spies disappeared, and I need you to observe…take some notes." General Hammond had found it very useful over the years to have an extra set of eyes and ears when it came to meetings like this. Subtle cues were at times much more important than what was actually being said.
A short time later, Jessie found herself seated in the briefing room, listening to the exchange between General Hammond and Delek, a member of the Tok’ra high council.
"The information Chatka had provided was vital in preventing mass casualties. His last communiqué indicated he had stumbled across something of significant importance, and was in the process of gathering data when we lost contact with him."
"Do you have any idea of what might have happened?" General Hammond asked.
Delek shook his head. "Ba’al has been actively using Neowe as a base, coming and going over the last several months. He returned the day Chatka disappeared." Delek pulled a small device from his pocket and activated it. "This is the last audio transmission we have." In hushed tones Chatka relayed his latest findings, speaking about something of great significance before being interrupted. He then conversed with someone in another language for about a minute before the transmission terminated. The language was what caught Jessie’s attention, and she began studying the layout of the stronghold Delek had loaded into the computer.
Hammond looked closely at the Tok’ra. "And you have no one else on the inside?"
"No. It took Chatka a long time to infiltrate to the level he had. With this unfortunate event, we’ve lost our eyes and ears on Neowe. The challenge now is to try and recover the new information he had. He would have encoded the intel on a data crystal and hidden it within his quarters."
General Hammond looked at the screen showing the layout of the stronghold. "How long will it take to work someone else in?"
"It could take months. Chatka was quite knowledgeable of the customs and the peculiar dialect of the region. Another infiltration is going to take some time. Until then, we won’t have any further data for you. Attempting to retrieve the data crystal will be difficult as Chatka was housed in a private sector of the stronghold. It is heavily guarded."
"I can do it."
The two men turned and looked at Jessie, who was intently scanning the screen of the laptop in front of her.
Delek cleared his throat. "Excuse me?"
Jessie looked over at the Tok’ra operative. "I can get in."
He shook his head dismissively. "If Ba’al sees you, he would recognize you."
"I’ve never met Ba’al before, so he wouldn’t know about my connection to the SGC."
Delek considered that for a moment. "True, but how to get you in?"
"I could pose as a servant." A silence ensued as they turned over the idea. Jessie took the laptop and moved next to Delek, with Hammond coming to stand beside her. "You said Chatka was housed here?" she asked, indicating the portion Delek had marked earlier.
Jessie clicked the pointer on the screen. "If I translated this correctly, this states the servants quarters are here. That’s not too far away. Surely no one would pay any attention to a servant in an area where they’re housed to begin with. I could slip in, get the crystal and get out."
Delek stared at the screen. "Even if we could get you inside, you don’t know the native language. All the slaves traded there speak…"
"…this language?" Jessie replied in the native tongue. "It is a form of Polabian, one of the Lechitic languages. It became extinct on Earth in the 18th century, but is similar to Lusatian."
"Can you speak Goa’uld also?"
Switching to Goa’uld, she said, "Almost as easily as I speak English."
The operative was clearly surprised, but quickly regained his neutral expression. "This would not be without risk."
"Is there any mission that is?"
"Wait just a minute." General Hammond stared hard at Delek. "You said ‘slaves traded there’. They’re selling slaves?"
The operative looked slightly surprised. "At the trading outpost, of course. Slaves, weapons, equipment are all…"
"I don’t care how important this lost information is to you, I’m not going to risk one of my people being sold as a slave."
Delek looked up at the older man. "There would be no chance of that. In order to access the area where Chatka was at, Dr. Watson would have to pose as a gedikli. That area is separate from the general slave population. Gediklis are very valuable, hence, each have their own personal guard. She would be able to bring someone with her to act in that capacity."
"You can assure us there is absolutely no possibility of her being purchased?"
Delek shook his head. "Gediklis are not sold at general auction. They are specially trained servants and command a much higher price than a slave. As such, private auctions take place a half dozen times a year. One was just held, so there will be at least eight more weeks before another happens. She would be in and out long before then."
"Where is the Goa’uld base located on Neowe?"
"Within the stronghold, though most of the time only a handful of Goa’uld are present. Only when Ba’al is in residence is there a full contingent of warriors."
Hammond took his seat and Jessie did the same. The older man sat silently for a moment, then said, "How would you get her and her guard in?"
"We would arrange for our contact to meet us. Dr. Watson would be provided with the appropriate garments and markings beforehand, and our contact would gain them passage into the stronghold."
Jessie frowned. "Markings?"
"The gediklis carry marks on their forehead similar to the Jaffa."
"That wouldn’t be permanent, would it?" she asked nervously.
Delek smiled. "No. It is removable. It just signifies your status."
"You said you don’t have anyone else on the inside, yet you have a contact to help you get Dr. Watson in?" General Hammond was suspicious. He didn’t completely trust the Tok’ra, allies or not.
Delek shook his head. "We don’t have anyone inside the stronghold. Outside, however, is a different matter."
Hammond was mentally going through the variables. "What about her guard?"
"It would have to be a strong male, and it could be anyone of her choosing."
"Dr. Watson, if I authorize this, do you have a preference who would go with you?"
Jessie tugged at her lip nervously. "Well, Sir, since Teal’c is away with SG-1 and Colonel Mitchell won’t be getting back in until late tomorrow, I’d have to say Lt. Pisano."
General Hammond nodded. "I want a detailed plan in place before you set foot through the ‘gate." Looking at Delek, he said, "I will not take unnecessary risks with my people, regardless of how important this information is."
"Understood, General Hammond. And we very much appreciate your assistance in this matter."
It hadn’t taken very long for a rudimentary plan to be laid out by Delek. Pisano had been called in and briefed, and within two hours they were ready to depart. Jessie had considered sending Cam a message, but decided against it. She knew he was going to be in meetings all day long, and also knew he probably wasn’t going to be very happy with this little adventure she was about to embark upon. Besides, Delek wanted to leave as soon as possible. Just before departure Jessie stopped by General Hammond’s office; a light knock alerted him to her presence.
"Dr. Watson, come in. Have you gotten everything you need for the mission?"
She nodded. "Yes, Sir. Delek said there would be a place to store our gear until we return. I’m hoping we’ll be able to get in and out tonight, though we might be delayed until tomorrow if I have difficulty locating the crystal."
Hammond arose from his chair and came to stand next to the young woman. "Dr. Watson, I know this mission sounds pretty simple and straightforward, but there’s always the possibility of something going wrong. I don’t care how much Delek says they need this information; if at any time you’re in danger, your safety is paramount. You get out of there, you hear?"
"Yes, Sir. And, if I may ask a favor of you?"
Looking down at her left hand, Jessie reluctantly slid the antique engagement ring from her finger. "Will you keep this safe until I get back? I don’t think a servant would be wearing a ring like that, and since Cam’s not here to hang on to it for me…" Her voice trailed off.
General Hammond cleared his throat. "If Colonel Mitchell were here, I have serious doubts you’d be going on this mission to begin with, at least not without him," he said with a smile. "I’ll keep this safe, and hopefully you’ll get back before he does tomorrow evening."
"Thank you, Sir." Jessie stopped at the door, feeling a chill raise goosebumps on her arms. "Sir?"
She hesitated for a moment before saying, "Tell Cam I love him."
Before General Hammond could reply, she walked away. Hammond stared at the empty doorway, hoping they weren’t making a mistake. Frowned when he saw what appeared to be a shadow pass along the wall in the hallway.
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