Chapter 16 summary: Jolinar has a surprise visit late at night.
[ Chapter 1: Goodbyes | Chapter 2: An Audience | Chapter 3: A Conspiracy | Chapter 4: Promotion | Chapter 5: Minor System Lord | Chapter 6: An Old Acquaintance | Chapter 7: Diversions | Chapter 8: Plans | Chapter 9: Happy Moments | Chapter 10: Culmination | Chapter 11: Complications | Chapter 12: Daily Life | Chapter 13: Exposed | Chapter 14: A New Host - and a New Master | Chapter 15: New Challenges | Chapter 16: A Necessary Sacrifice | Chapter 17: Information Gathering | Chapter 18: A Surprise Visit | Chapter 19: Bad News | Chapter 20: War and Power | Chapter 21: Emergencies | Chapter 22: Found Out | Chapter 23: In the Tunnels | Chapter 24: Undercover at Bastet's Court | Chapter 25: Discovered! | Chapter 26: Rosha | Chapter 27: Host | Chapter 28: Getting Along | Chapter 29: Safe | Chapter 30: Lantash | Chapter 31: Shared Missions | Chapter 32: Taking A Chance | Chapter 33: Danger and Betrayal | Chapter 34: Some Realizations | Chapter 35: Hiding | Chapter 36: Time for the Truth | Chapter 37: Home | Chapter 38: Together | Chapter 39: Martouf ]
Over the next many years, the Tok'ra placed several agents in Apophis's and Zipacna's domains, just as they had in Cronus's. Her current second in command was Ren'al, a member of the Tok'ra Council, and someone whom Jolinar did not get along well with.
She found her too willing to accept almost anything, as long as the goal was achieved. The Council had wanted to have one of their members stationed with Jolinar, because of the importance of the position, and the need to sometime make quick decisions about what to let Apophis and Zipacna knew, and what not.
Jolinar could easily see why it might be a good idea to have a Council member near her, but it did not mean she had to like it. However, Jolinar did enjoy the fact she could order Ren'al around - at least when others were looking.
One day, Jolinar got a message from Malek, who was still undercover as Oceanus.
*Cronus and Sokar are negotiating again - and this time they are likely to ally!* Jolinar looked in shock at the message.
The two Goa'uld had showed an interest in allying a few years earlier, but their mutual distrust had kept them apart. Now, it seemed, they had gotten over their differences. To the Tok'ra plan for the Galaxy, this was very bad news indeed.
*They would become incredibly powerful! The Tok'ra cannot allow that to happen!* Lisha remarked.
*I agree. Their meeting is in one month, so we will have to act quickly - whatever we are going to do. This is too important for me, or even Ren'al to decide on - representative of the Council or not. I will send...well, Ren'al, I guess to the Tok'ra Council under the cover of...oh, what do I know...having to check on suspicious activity among the peasants on Kiwh. Then we will just have to wait and see what they decide on. Unfortunately, the only idea I have, would be to let Apophis and Zipacna know. They might decide to intervene, leading to an outright war.*
*Of course, that would also likely solidify Cronus's and Sokar's alliance if they win - which is likely.*
*Very true. Cronus and/or Sokar must be convinced the other has betrayed him.*
Almost a month went by without Jolinar receiving anything from the Tok'ra Council, besides an acknowledgment they would 'look into it' - and the information Ren'al would be re-entering the Council and also resuming her scientific duties. She would not be coming back to the position at Jolinar's court.
*Are they insane? Will they do nothing?* Lisha sounded frustrated.
*They probably have some plan, but do not feel I need to know about it - perhaps they even fear I will disagree with it. Ren'al looked very smug when she left. I think she may have suggested something to them. Something I would not like.*
*Possibly. In any case, I shall not be sad Ren'al is staying in the tunnels. I do not like her. She is too...efficient. As you said once, she seems to believe almost any means are permissible, if she thinks the goal is important.*
*She may be less...compassionate, than most of the Tok'ra.* Jolinar agreed. *She is however efficient, and people such as her is necessary in certain situations. However, I shall not miss her, either. I must also admit, that I dearly hope I - or a loved one - shall never end up in a situation where she is the one to weigh my life or theirs against some result or knowledge she desires.*
*I feel the same. Jolinar...speaking of fear...what do you make of those rumours? About Oceanus?*
*That he has been exposed as a traitor?* Jolinar was quiet for a moment. *I pray it is not the case. I cannot understand how Malek could have made an error that made them discover his true identity. He should be safe from all suspicion by now, and none of the other operatives currently in Cronus or his allies domain can be linked to Malek, so...I hope it is a rumour and nothing more.* Jolinar yawned and crawled under the blankets, then touched the light-out switch. *It is late. Sleep well, Lisha.*
They had not slept for long when they awoke to a sound, as if someone rapped on the door to the balcony. Jolinar listened for a moment, then silently got out of bed. She grabbed a gown and put it on, before taking her hand device and slipping that on too.
The sound was heard from the door again, no louder than before. Fully awake, she now noticed there was an energy signature, as if from a symbiote. It became stronger as she approached the door.
The door to the balcony was made of a special type of trinnium enhanced glass, making it safe, while still being transparent. Through it, Jolinar saw a young woman, whom she did not recognize. It was dark and raining outside, and the woman looked rather miserable. She did not seem to carry any weapons, and since her thin clothing were plastered to her body, she could hardly hide any.
After a moments hesitation, Jolinar opened the door, letting the woman in.
"Who are you?" Jolinar demanded, holding her hand device at the ready.
"Malek?"" Jolinar looked with disbelief and shock at the person in front of her. "You will have to prove that!"
"You are Jolinar of Malkshur, and a Tok'ra. You are undercover as Siwa - formerly pretending to be an under-lord of Cronus's. As Oceanus, I helped you escape from your holding cell, by making a diversion, more specifically, I set a fire. You had earlier helped me take over Oceanus's identity."
"Very true, all of it, and hard information to find, surely, but sadly, it is perhaps not impossible, especially if Malek was indeed compromised. You will have to do better than that!"
"Very well, Jolinar. Personal information, then, which no one but the Tok'ra would know - or even care to ask for during interrogations."
"That would be good." Jolinar agreed.
"I like to keep desert mice as pets. Delek and Selmak do not care for them, and consider them vermin."
Jolinar nodded. "Selmak even went as far as putting up traps."
"No, it was Delek who set up the traps. Selmak wanted to buy a cat." Malek smiled wryly at Jolinar's attempt to entrap him. "I found out and they both apologized."
Jolinar smiled. "You are indeed Malek. You are most welcome." She got a somber expression. "Mih'ak is dead, I presume?"
"Yes." Malek closed his eyes, pained at the death of his host.
"I mourn with you. He was a good man. Come, take a warm bath and change to dry clothing, then you can tell me what has happened. Are you hungry?"
"Very. It has been a long time since we ate."
Jolinar showed Malek the bathroom and found some clean, dry clothing, before calling for her servants to bring food and drink.
They might wonder why she wanted it in the middle of the night, but they would never dare to ask or comment. There were some advantages to being a System Lord, even a minor one.
Malek came out of the bathroom, wearing the dry clothing and looking much better.
Jolinar studied his new host for a few moments. She really was beautiful, with long, shining, black hair and almost black eyes. She was quite tall - taller than Lisha, actually, but just as slender. Jolinar and Lisha's clothing fit well despite this, since the dress they had chosen for Malek and his host was actually a bit too long for Lisha. It strained a tiny bit over her breasts, perhaps, since they were bigger than Lisha's, but not enough that anyone would notice immediately. Jolinar decided she could be passed off as a new underling that had just arrived. She would get Malek some new clothing tomorrow.
She pointed at the table, now covered with plates and bowls full with food, and jugs of various drinks. "Sit down."
Malek ate in silence for a while, before he was ready to talk. He looked up at Jolinar, a weak smile on his face.
"Just under a month ago, I got a message from the Council. They had a plan to stop the allegiance between Sokar and Cronus." Malek took a long drink from his glass. "They had decided the best way to achieve this goal, was to make Cronus think Oceanus had been conspiring with Sokar to take his place."
"That was a very dangerous plan!" Jolinar looked shocked the Council would have risked this - though she realised even the value of having someone close to Cronus was of less importance than stopping this alliance.
"Dangerous - but effective. I made some entries in the logs of the outbound communications from my palace, and also placed some incriminating files on my computer. When I next visited Cronus, I made sure to - clumsily - allow one of his trusty underlings to overhear part of a communication I held over long range communicator. Of course, I held it with a Tok'ra dressed up to look at least superficially like Sokar. Then it all happened very fast after that."
Jolinar shook her head. "It was a very, very dangerous way of doing things. Why did you not make sure you would be safely away when your 'treason' was discovered?"
"Normally I would have, believe me! However, there was very little time. A careful way of doing things would have required many months, and by then Sokar and Cronus would have been allied, and Cronus would perhaps be less inclined to think Oceanus was committing treason with Sokar. No, it had to be done quickly, while Cronus was still highly suspicious of Sokar."
"Oceanus and Cronus have been allies for millennia. He must have become angry at this revelation."
"Angry? He was furious! It was only because he wanted to handle my punishment in privacy, that I managed to get away, heavily wounded. I killed Cronus, but he was revived, of course."
"But that was a month ago, almost! What happened to Mih'ak? Where did you go?"
"Mih'ak was too badly wounded for me to heal. I dragged myself to the slave-quarters, to hide. There I met a slave girl who has been spying for us. I told her I am Tok'ra, and she believed me. She immediately volunteered as my host, and we fled the palace that night, intending to go to the Tok'ra tunnels."
"Why did you not?"
"The chaapa'ai was guarded and we ended up having to sneak aboard a ship going to Heru'ur with goods and slaves for trading. We hid among the slaves, of course. The only Goa'uld that was aboard thankfully left us alone, and Tho-ann...that is my host...was in control the whole time, so no one suspected anything. Eventually, we arrived, and all the slaves were taken to Heru'ur's court."
"Oh, no. Did he discover you?"
"No, he was away on some campaign or other. All females were taken to Heru'ur's harem. There we were trained in...belly-dancing and various...other things...titillating arts..." Malek grimaced.
Jolinar smirked. "Sorry to hear that..."
Malek looked annoyed. "Eventually, a few days ago, we managed to flee and hide aboard a trader's ship, who arrived here earlier today. We have waited outside the whole day, until it became dark. Then we snuck in and rapped on your door, after a difficult climb. The rest you know."
"I am glad you made it here safely, both of you." Jolinar smiled. "Tho-ann...I thank you for saving the life of Malek. He is a good friend of mine, and a good Tok'ra."
Malek nodded. "I hope we will soon find time and place for Tho-ann to meet you and Lisha. I, too, have not had the opportunity to meet your host, Jolinar. We must find time for this." He sighed. "For now, we need to find a place where I can hide."
"Yes...how many know this host? Will Cronus or any of his minions likely recognize her?"
"No, despite her beauty, she was a kitchen slave, and none of the Goa'uld would have paid any notice to her - indeed, she rarely left the kitchen area."
"Good. Will she agree to stay your host?"
"Yes, Tho-ann has agreed to that, something which I am very grateful to her for."
"Excellent. Then I have a suggestion. With Ren'al back in the tunnels, I am short one vassal for the planet Kiwh. I realise it is a small, provincial position after Cronus's court, but..."
"I think I would like that. Less intrigue."
Jolinar nodded. "It would probably also be good for you to stay away from the tunnels for a longer period after what happened. Garshaw - at the very least - is still angry, and she does blame you. Partially, at least."
"What?! What has happened?" Malek shuffled up the last of the food from his plate with the spoon, looking with surprise at Jolinar.
"You have not heard anything from the tunnels, except your orders, I take it?"
"No, I have not. Not for the last couple years, actually. I have been very busy. Though I did notice the wording was short and sometimes almost unfriendly. I had wondered at that."
"Well, you know...your desert mice..."
"What about them? I hope they - or their descendants at any rate - are well. I asked Anise to look after them."
"Yes, and you know how she is. All went well for many years, but then she got distracted by something just after feeding the desert mice, and forgot to lock one of the cages. Several mice got out."
"I can see how that would give some difficulties, but I only had six mice, and if only one cage got opened, at most a few would have gotten loose. They should have been relatively easy to catch - unless they were no longer tame, I guess."
"Oh, I actually think they are tamer, but it was not just a few. You see, Anise used them for an experiment in behavioural science, and I think she bred them for tameness - and intelligence. They were very hard to catch - and there were actually 20 mice in that one cage. Anise did try to catch them, by putting out traps with food in, but they were smart enough that they snatched the food without being caught. Anise tried to hide her error, and by the time she admitted some mice had gotten out, there were many of them - and they got into everything. They ate a hole in Garshaw's favourite dress, among other things. She wanted to gas the tunnels!"
"She did not, I hope!" Malek looked horrified.
"No, the end of it was that Delek was tasked with purchasing and taking care of three cats, which eventually handled the infestation. Apparently the rodents were not quite smart enough to evade a predator eminently suited for the task of capturing just such prey."
"My poor little desert mice...and poor cats, I guess. Delek does not like any animals - and few people!"
Jolinar nodded, and pressed on, enjoying his look a little bit. This was one of the few entertaining stories she had heard recently.
"One of the cats insisted on sleeping on Garshaw's pillow. She found cat hairs. Another one of them would not leave her bed. I do not know why they took a liking to her, as she does not like them. In any case, I think she does blame you for much of this."
"I do not believe that is fair!" Malek sighed. "Be that as it may. I think a few years as your vassal might be an excellent idea."
"Then I will have some suitable clothing brought and we will have the commendation ceremony tomorrow. What name do you wish to use?"
"My new host and I have agreed on Pheta. She was her first lover, and will always be fondly remembered. The Goa'uld killed her, and we would like to honour her memory like this."
"A good choice."
Chapter 17: Information Gathering