On P3X-221, not much had happened for the past few thousand years. It was a barren rock, lashed by wind, scoured by carbonic acid rain, the sky dark but for the sickly, wan light of it's little red star. Under normal circumstances, the Quarian exploratory team would have passed it up as too much trouble to mine, even by the always-hungry Migrant Fleet. However, despite it's unfortunate location and weather, science team had insisted on performing at least perfunctory scans. You never passed up data, no matter how obscure it might seem, and on this occasion, they appeared to have struck gold. The "Facility" was little more than a thirty meter cube, half buried in the acidic soil. It was old, that much was sure, and the materials that comprised it were rare and exotic, almost impermeable to orbital scans, and the decision had been made to send a team down to take a firsthand look at it. If it turned out to be a Prothean cache or archive, the fleet could pay for this exploratory mission a dozen times over from selling the location alone. It was not, as it turned out, a Prothean ruin. It was far stranger than that. The outer structure seemed to be little more than a box, the strange material of the walls built thick and rigidly reinforced; whoever made this place built things to last, that was for certain. There were several scattered artefacts that neither the team's scientist nor it's archeologist could identify, none as attention-grabbing as the massive ring set upon a pedestal, toward the rear of the structure, rows of symbols corresponding roughly to ones on a nearby altar or plinth, capped by a huge red sphere. The Archeologist, Gil Zvara vas Kalar, circled around the massive ring for the third time as the team scientist, who's name he could never remember, took yet more Omni-tool readings. They met in front of it, right before the set of stone steps leading up to the short platform in front of it. "So." the scientist said gruffly. "What do you think it was for?" Gil considered the ring for a moment more. "I have no idea. What's it made of?" "I have no idea." The scientist answered helpfully. "Whatever it is, it's incredibly dense. Per unit of volume, it'd be at least twice as heavy as iridium, and it resists scanning like nothing I've ever seen before. It seems to correspond exactly to it's ambient temperature, so it's probably a superconductor, and if it's stood here all this time without any sign of erosion, it's probably extremely tough." he paused, taking a look at the glowing hologram surrounding his arm. "The altar like device positioned in front of the object appears to be maintaining a controlled fusion reaction... at room temperature. And it's releasing a constant low-intensity signal, characteristic of a wireless data connection. The symbols here, that match the ones on the ring, lead me to believe it's a control device of some kind, but at the moment I can only speculate." he summarized. Gil walked to the altar itself, looking it over once again, before absent-mindedly brushing away a bit of dust from one symbol, and jerking his hand away as the sound of clanking and a dim, bluish light began to emanate from the ring, the outer structure rotating, laying the outer chevrons over various symbols. The scientist shot him a glare, and Gil raised his hands sheepishly. "I swear I didn't do any-" The scientist dove backward as a great wave of rippling... something erupted from the ring, sloshing back to within it's borders, forming a smooth membrane as Gil watched in awe. There was a moment of silence, punctuated only by the shouts of the guards taking up positions around it, military instinct kicking in in response to the unfamiliar stimulus... Then, a squat little robot on treads of all things rolled through the glowing membrane, turning what had to be a primitive camera this way and that. Gil slowly walked toward it, ignoring the warnings from the guards, and knelt before it, peering curiously into it's eyepiece, which whirred to focus on him. Cautiously, he waved one three-fingered hand. -------------------- Back on Earth, deep under a certain mountain, Colonel Jack O'Neill peered at a computer screen at the image of an alien in an environment suit waving back at him. "Huh... well there's something you don't see everyday." he said flatly. -------------------- Dar Vannik vas Zaro was an impatient man, perhaps abrasive at times, but he liked to think that his enthusiasm for his job was infectious. Even the laid back ruin-botherer they'd sent along with him was pacing the room, talking excitedly as the translation programs carried in their omni-tools got to work decoding the stream of radio messages that had been flowing through the ring almost since it had opened. But then, who wasn't excited by a First Contact? Finally, after 38 minutes of broadcasting, the ring went silent, and then the field collapsed. Gil made a noise of distress, his shoulders slumping. At first, the archeologist had wanted to walk through the ring himself, although he'd at least been smart enough to see common sense when Dar pointed out that whoever was on the other end had sent a robot probe, and quite a durable, unsophisticated one at that. Gil walked back to the scientist's side, giving a deep sigh into his mask. "Well, it was exciting while it lasted. And at least we got some interesting data, right?" "Hrm." Dar grunted. "They are coming back, I think." He said flatly. Behind his translucent mask, Gil blinked. "Wait, coming back? What do you mean, opening the portal again?" "Hrm. And stepping through, I think." He said, making a few more adjustments to his omni-tool. "But you said that was dangerous!" Gil protested. "It IS dangerous. From what I can tell, several of the repeated messages were stern warnings NOT to attempt to travel through the gate. I can't quite translate what they say would happen to you, but I gather it would be most unpleasant. Clearly however, they either know a way to do it unharmed, or are willing to brave the risk." Gil crossed his arms. He'd been willing to take the risk. No use crying over it though. It was a tense wait for the ring to "Open" again, and everyone jumped when the distinctive "KAWOOSH!" blew out from it's surface once more. Dar noted with surprise the bulk and heft of the suits that emerged from the surface, then heard Gil's groan of consternation when the marines instantly aimed guns in their direction, which the newcomers swiftly reciprocated. ------------------ "So, what exactly are we looking at here?" General Hammond asked, motioning rhetorically toward the screen taken up by the image of the waving alien figure. "Well... we thought that it might be another advanced human culture, like we've seen on other worlds." Carter explained. "But the fact that it has three fingers per hand seemed to put that to rest. Likewise, the proportions are just subtly wrong, shoulders too broad for the width of the chest, slope of the neck in that position, that sort of thing." "So, aliens." O'Neill said patiently, nodding at his team member. "Yes sir... Aliens." She responded. "A species the Goa'Uld have never encountered, to my knowledge." Teal'c stated." "What can we infer about them?" Hammond inquired further. "Well, we know that either they're much hardier than we are, or their technology is a bit more advanced. If we go to P3X-221, we're bringing full Level A hazmat suits, unless we're ok with breathing our own blood." Carter said "Are they likely to be hostile?" the general asked. O'Neill shrugged, indicating the screen. "He seems friendly enough." "I don't think we'll know one way or the other until we've met them sir." Daniel said tentatively. "Hmm. Well, I suppose we'll have to take the plunge. It's a little different when you actually know you're going to be meeting aliens beforehand, don't you think?" He said brightly. SG-1 grinned. Well, mostly. Teal'c nodded at least. "Suit up then SG-1, and do earth proud." Hammond ordered, standing up. "Every day sir." O'Neill answered. A short time later, O'Neill had, yet again, the all too tired sight of a bunch of guns aimed at his face. These ones even looked mostly like guns too, a bit more threatening than a Staff Weapon to anyone who'd seen one in action. "Daniel..." he said, leaning slightly toward the archeologist in the silvery suit beside him. "What do I say?" "I have... no idea." Daniel admitted. "Maybe you should do the Vulkan hand-thing?" The Colonel shrugged. "We come in Peace?" he tried, though he knew it probably didn't sound convincing coming from the other side of a P-90. Thankfully, one of the aliens chose that moment to march toward SG-1, shoving a marine's weapon aside and berating him softly before striding up the stone steps, his hands held up to show they were empty. O'Neill lowered his gun, the rest of SG-1 following suit, as well as the aliens. The first one, who'd walked up the steps toward them, let out an audible sigh, the mouthpiece of the oddly opaque visor he wore lighting up for a moment before he spoke, tentatively. "We... too?" he tried. "Well, that's good to hear. Colonel Jack O'Neill, United States Air Force, SGC... Earth." He introduced himself, holding out a hand in greeting, which the alien took midway up his forearm... close enough, he decided. "Gil Zvara vas Kalar." The alien answered. "We Quarians, we come in peace?" he said, slightly haltingly. "Yes, we got that." O'Neill reassured him, patting him on one shoulder as his arm was released. The alien-quarian?- turning to give an awkward wave to the rest of his party, many of whom shouted back in somewhat broken english. "If you don't mind my asking... Gil? How did you learn to speak English?" Daniel asked. "English is speak, yes? We use... thinker? Mather?" he said, searching through the limited vocabulary he had for the right word. "Computer?" Sam offered. "Yes! Use computer, computer learn speak english. Use words more, like "Computer", to learn faster." he said excitedly, gesticulating slightly. Sam blinked behind the hazmat's visor. "Wow... that's some translation program. Their computing technology must be amazing, to say nothing of their ability to put the data to use so quickly." "From what I gather, the Quarians will learn to speak English more quickly if we engage them in conversation. Perhaps we should introduce ourselves." Teal'c suggested. "Sounds good to me. Alright folks... mingle." O'Neill said, walking past the increasingly excited Gil to find someone he could discuss the Simpsons with in peace... the other party couldn't understand his enthusiasm for it of course, but that was true for a lot of humans, so he couldn't hold it against them. ---------------- Gil took a deep breath of recycled air. Despite his initial excitement, the idea was slightly less exciting now that he was standing at the parapet, the shimmering Event Horizon rippling before him. He couldn't even imagine how frightening it was for the science officer, who probably actually understood what words like "Demolecularized" meant. "Oh well. No time like the present..." he said to himself, closing his eyes and taking a short hop- Motion! COLD! SCREAMING. -and emerging onto another world. He blinked, sunlight filtering into his helmet. He saw trees in the distance, felt the crunch of grass beneath his feet. Around him, Marines and engineers began to arrive, similarly shell-shocked at the discontinuity, and he stumbled away to give them room, brushing the ice that had formed on his suit away. He was sure some of it had gotten inside it, and he didn't want to think about how. A short distance away, Dar waved, and Gil made his way over, gait a bit more steady. "Well, that was..." "Yes." The scientist said, making notes on his Omni-tool. "So, when will they be arriving?" "Shortly." he replied shortly. "Interesting location they picked out. Think it matches their homeworld?" Gil asked conversationally. "It's possible. Seems to be a fairly standard Garden World. Lots of trees, slightly more humid than Rannoch-temperate. Our grandparents could have lived here, maybe even our parents." Dar said, slightly wistfully. Gil moved as if to place a hand on his fellow's shoulder, but stopped, deciding it probably wouldn't be appropriate. A few minutes later the "Stargate" sprang open again, a moment passing before four figures strode through. Gil blinked at the sight, unfamiliar alien shapes decked out in strange looking combat gear, matching the surrounding environment color for color. One looked a lot like an Asari, except in pale beige rather than blue or purple; the female, Sam Carter? The others were harder to place, somewhat Batarian in shape, but two eyes instead of four, and save for the darker colored one with the odd gold mark, crested with tufts of fur of all things. He waved, calling out. "Colonel Jack O'Neill?" he asked the nearest alien, who smiled. "Nope. Daniel Jackson here. I suppose some new introductions are in order, since you're seeing us out of the suits for the first time..." He said, tactfully leaving the fact that the Quarians still had theirs on out. New introductions were indeed exchanged, and before the gate closed, several tables and chairs were brought through by some more humans, who excused themselves to reinforce the perimeter made by the Quarian marines. "So." O'Neill, the grey-crested (Older?) male said, seating himself at one table along with his party, Gil, Dar, and the young diplomat the ship had sent down, Zera-something-or-other. "Carter tells me she found some interesting information in that data packet thing." Dar nodded. "I hope it was sufficient to at least get us started." "We're still combing through it to be honest. Don't get me wrong, the plaintext notes you included were a great help, but I can't help but get the impression that your computers are way ahead of ours." "Which segues us neatly into our first topic." O'Neill said. "Now, we may have mentioned it before, but just to clear, we're with the Stargate program. Our standing orders are to acquire technology to aid in the defense of Earth. That's our home planet by the way." "It was made mention of, yes." The young diplomat said, nodding her head. "We've been in contact with our leaders, and they are amiable to certain exchanges. Knowledge of the stargate system alone would be extremely lucrative for us..." "But?" O'Neill said, inclining his head. "We will need further information on your situation before we can agree to anything... for example, you claim that you require technology to defend your planet. From whom would you be defending it?" "A race known as the Goa'Uld." Teal'c answered. "I am unfamiliar with any species by that name." Dar replied. "Sapient cranial parasites. They insert themselves into your body through the back of your neck, extrude filaments into your brain, and control you like a puppet." Sam explained academically. There was a pall over the table for a moment, before Dar cleared his throat. "Ahem... That is, rather unfortunate. And you are in open war with these... Goa'Uld?" "I'm sure it seems more like a border skirmish for them. For the most part, we only control a single planet, and the Goa'Uld have thousands. That, and their technology is far in advance of ours." Daniel explained. "How have you managed to stay alive?" Gil asked, amazed. "Well, to be frank, the Goa'Uld sort of stink at war." O'neill remarked. "With even rough technological parity, we'd win against them every time. Problem is, we don't have anything like technological parity. Hence, our mandate." "I will... relay that information to our superiors. Also, any information you may have on the Goa'Uld would be very helpful to us..." Zera said, the implication that it would make them more amiable to technological exchange left unsaid. "In the meantime, I'd like to turn the discussion toward other matters. Our leaders have authorized me to say that so long as you agree to wear environment suits, they would gladly receive you aboard one of our flagships." "I think we can probably arrange a trip to Earth as well, so long as you don't mind Stargate travel." O'Neill said, smiling. ------------ "And they're willing to give us all this just in exchange for what we know about the stargate?" Hammond said, plainly surprised. "Yes sir. The technical specs in exchange for a reliable source of fusion power, a hundred gate addresses for a good sized crate of their personal mass-accelerator weapons, and five of what they call "GARDIAN" laser weapons for any known source of Naquadah." Carter explained, reading from a legal pad she had taken notes on. "Hmm. That last one may be difficult. Did you say fusion power, as in, like an H-bomb?" Hammond asked, arching one eyebrow. "Yes sir. If you don't mind me saying sir, we're practically ripping them off with that one. Fusion power would totally revolutionize our infrastructure, and we could almost release it right away. Their more advanced systems use some element we've never heard of to aid in containment, but the design they're offering is an older system that doesn't use it. Plus, we could easily incorporate trinium and naquadah to downsize it to near portable size. It'd help stretch our naquadah supplies at least." Carter answered. "What about the personal weapons, you called them "Mass Accelerators"?" "Yes sir. Projectile weapons, like ordinary guns, except they use electromagnetic force, coupled with whatever that element zero is, to launch tiny fragments of metal at hypersonic speeds." "I tried one out, and they work pretty good." O'Neill said, perking up out of a science-induced stupor. "Accurate, lightweight, and the Quarians say they'll fire five thousand rounds to a magazine, so long as you let it cool off between bursts. Bit of a kick though." "Are they worth a hundred gate addresses?" "Don't see why not. Not like we're using them for anything. And they didn't say anything about not letting us use addresses we'd already gone through." Hammond nodded. "Good then. SG-1, this just might be the best find we've ever made with the gate. That makes me nervous, because every time this has happened before, something bad has happened that prevented us from capitalizing on it." "Well with all due respect sir, the Quarians actually seem like decent people. Considering their situation, it's amazing that they're still as nice as they are." "You said they all lived in spaceships?" "That's what they say sir. It's why they have to wear those suits everywhere. The ships are all sterile, so they never develop a working immune system." "Surely they evolved on a planet though. What happened to drive them off?" Hammond asked curiously. "On that subject, they were curiously reticent to explain. However, it does tie in to my assessment on this "Citadel Government" they told us about." Carter said. "It's a coalition of species who all happened upon caches of data and technology left behind by some ancient species they call the "Protheans." It's where they get all their Element-zero based technology, and access to the Mass Relays." "Relays?" "They seem to be stargate-analogues, but for ships rather than individuals. They create a tunnel where mass is reduced enormously, allowing ships to accelerate massively faster than light." There was a pause. Sam cleared her throat and continued. "You see, their ships seem to have FTL drives about on par with the old Goa'Uld drives Teal'c was familiar with. Only ten or fifteen light years per day. Much faster than anything we can do, but inadequate if you want to move somewhere fast. So, they use a network of these relays, left behind by the Protheans, to connect their territory." "So I'm guessing they won't be rushing to Earth's rescue if we find ourselves invaded." Hammond said in disappointment. "No sir, it would take too long to get here. Furthermore, I have a suspicion that they wouldn't be much help. What little I know about their ships suggest that they're massively inferior to those of the Goa'Uld." "Still, they could be of some help. Do you think we should try and align ourselves to this Citadel?" "In my opinion... no sir. The Quarians themselves aren't well represented in the citadel government. When they lost their planet, the council apparently wasn't of much help. And some of these species, particularly the Turians and Batarians, strike me as... objectionable." Daniel said. "In what way?" "Well sir, the Batarians seem to still endorse slavery as a social institution, and the Turians have been known to take "Client races" that can't defend themselves militarily. Not to mention they took a bioweapon that was supposed to be used only as a deterrent and sterilized an entire species with it. Exposing ourselves to them now would leave us in a very vulnerable position." He expanded. "For the moment, trade with the Quarians seems to be our most profitable venture, so we'll focus on that area at the moment. Just to warn you, this may be a game changer, so be prepared for some changes in the near future. SG-1, dismissed." ------------- The usual guards around the Stargate had been replaced, for this day at least, with an honor guard of dress-uniformed Airmen holding white painted M-14's. That these were functional and loaded was a fact that hopefully would go unnoticed by their guests; you couldn't be too careful after all. O'Neill checked his watch for the fifth time in ten minutes and sighed. Hammond shot him a glance and he stopped fidgeting, at least for a moment. At times the general speculated his Colonel had ADD, and standing around waiting for a cadre of alien diplomats to show up was just the sort of thing that set him off. The Quarians as it turned out were precisely on time, and the gate began to spin into operation precisely on schedule. "We're receiving a signal. It's the Quarian's ID code sir." one of the officers in the control room noted. "Open the Iris." Hammond ordered, the heavy metal shell sliding smoothly out of the way. Thirty seconds later, the Quarians began to arrive in twos and threes, shaking frost from their curiously personalized suits. Hammond had wondered how he'd tell them apart, but in person it was easy to distinguish one from another simply from the suit adornments. The first through, a female wearing suit wrappings in yellow and blue, strode forward and offered Hammond a hand. Remembering Daniel's advice he took hers by the wrist and shook. Not exactly the same, but as greetings went, he approved. "I am Zera Vuil vas Deno, here representing the Migrant Fleet and the Quarian people. Am I correct in assuming you are an Admiral of the United States?" She asked, and Hammond recognized the voice of a diplomat. "Ah, not exactly-" he began to say, before Daniel leaned in and whispered. "It's a Quarian thing I think. They live on their Navy, so high-ranking military officer equals Admiral... I think." Hammond nodded. "Yes, I could be considered that." He conceded. "Allow me to personally welcome you to Earth and to the SGC, Miss Deno." She giggled softly as they moved away from the platform, allowing the passage of more than a dozen more Quarians, some carrying crates, others looking around the gate room and having whispered conversations. "Just Zera please, Admiral. The Deno is the ship I serve on, Vuil is my family name. But I've never been one for formality." "As you say Ma'am. I must say, we greatly appreciate your people's generous offer of trade. I'm only disappointed that we can't offer you the Naquadah source you asked for." She waved a hand. "Think nothing of it. All Diplomacy is compromise after all, and we were very happy to receive the knowledge of the stargate system. We've brought you some samples of the Mass Accelerators you requested, as well as designs for the Fusion generator and a few engineers to aid you in implementing them." "Most appreciated Miss Zera. But for the moment, let's set aside the negotiations. You know SG-1," He said, indicating the team that had followed them out of the Gate Room. "I'm sure that they'll be glad to give you the full tour." "That would be excellent, thank you Admiral." She said, smiling behind her faceplate. -------------- Hours later, O'Neill had managed to drag himself away to the armory, where several Quarians had begun unpacking the Mass Accelerator samples and showing how they operated. He hefted one of the larger weapons, apparently an assault rifle, but with all the weight of an empty P-90, and most of that in the magazine. He sighted downrange, looking through what seemed like a good quality, but fairly normal reflex sight, stroking his index finger over the dimple that comprised the safety release, (That'd take getting used to) and squeezing the trigger, feeling the lightweight rifle jerk under the force of a three round burst, holing his target and making a mess out of the back wall. He winced slightly, hoping they wouldn't take the cost of redoing the range for Quarian guns out of his paycheck. He went ahead and fired a few more times, noting the rising bar that appeared on the sight that went down between bursts. Probably not a good idea to let it max out. He fingered the safety back on and examined the gun. The ergonomics were a little off, probably designed for Quarian hands he figured, and the recoil was sharper and shorter than he was used to, more of a bone-rattling vibration than a kick, but it was manageable at least. "What do you think?" An accented voice asked, and he turned to one of the burly Quarians who'd brought the guns in. "Not bad. A few cosmetic alterations and I'd be fine with taking it out at least. How reliable are they?" "The Z-24's? Not bad. Probably better than those old chemical slug throwers you're using. Fewer moving parts, barrel doesn't foul as easily." the Quarian said, only slightly smugly. "Maybe so. I'm not sure about the rounds themselves though. Generally with high velocity and low mass you're looking at less tissue damage." O'Neill speculated. "Indeed. If I remember right we had some problems with that when the technology was first implemented, centuries back. Now we design the rounds to fragment on impact so more energy is applied." O'Neill arched an eyebrow. He wasn't sure where that fit in with the Hague convention, but it wasn't going to be him that pointed it out. "How's it deal with armor?" "Pretty well. The fragments are still hypersonic after all, they'll keep going a good ways, so there should be no problem, unless they're wearing a couple of widely spaced layers, and if they're strong enough to haul that around, you've got bigger problems." The Quarian noted. Jack shrugged. Not like Jaffa had shown any tendency to up-armor, even after SG-1 started using AP rounds to defeat heavies like the Serpent Guard. The human colonel and the Quarian marine began a spirited discussion of ballistics as around the base, echoes of that same social instinct kicked in. ------------- Carter, in the labs, was as happy as a clam to have not only a portable Quarian computer carrying the schematics for a working fusion generator, but a small team of skilled engineers to help her get one working. She was still poring over the design with one sitting beside her to point out anything she missed or didn't quite understand, when she noticed another, a female, intently examining one of the Zat guns she'd neglected to put away. "Careful with that. It's kind of dangerous." She warned. "Sorry, I just couldn't help but notice, this doesn't look much like your people's technology..." She noted, clearly fascinated. Carter looked longingly at the holographic schematic, but stood up anyway, excusing herself. She could probably use a bit of a break anyway. "That's because it's Goa'Uld. They call them Zat'Nik'Tel's. We usually just call them Zat guns." Carter explained, making sure it was pointed toward an empty corner of the room and thumbing the switch that made the gun unfold. "Unusual design... can't be very easy to aim with." The young engineer noted, looking over the snakelike weapon. "It isn't, believe me, but these things are amazingly useful otherwise. Some kind of targeted electrical discharge weapon. One shot stuns a human sized target for a good space of time, two shots is fatal." "Hmm... Perhaps an ion-channel electrolaser?" the Quarian speculated, gingerly taking the weapon back and setting it on the table before her. "That was one hypothesis I had, but it's difficult to make concrete observations without the ability to-hey!" Carter said, stopping short when she saw the Quarian wave an orange-wreathed hand over the Zat, causing it to immediately fall apart. "What?" She asked innocently, spreading the parts out and examining them. Carter gaped for a moment. "We've never been able to open one up without breaking everything inside." The Quarian nodded distractedly. "Probably not. They're held together with some pretty standard molecular seals and... yes, this part here would sabotage the internals if the seal is forced open. Like copyright protection, though I can't see the point. Any species with molecular scale engineering should be able to open it, and every Omni Tool I know of comes with a seal opener and closer... this design is interesting. We've experimented a few times with electrolasers, but we could never get the power output we needed... what is this?" She asked, lifting what looked like a small egg timer filled with green, glowing fluid. "Liquid naquadah power cell." Carter said with similar distraction, poring over the Zat's components right alongside what had turned from one to several Quarians, each eager to see how the clever little device worked. "Carter... if we could have a few of these for study, and perhaps a supply of those power cells..." The female engineer asked. Carter smiled broadly. "What's your name?" "Tael Zorah nar Enoc." She introduced herself, shaking Carter's arm. "Tael, I think we have a lot of work to do." ------------ Gil was brushing dust from his suit for the fifth time when Dar nudged him with one elbow, politely reminding him of the time. The archaeologist was nervous and agitated by the prospect of the meeting; he couldn't fool himself into thinking he wouldn't be called upon to give some kind of commentary somewhere, and he'd always nursed a secret terror of public speaking. Finally, he managed to steel himself, and, with a reassuring nod from Zera, stepped into the next room beside Dar and the diplomat. The chamber was surprisingly small for the occasion; of course the entire Conclave wouldn't fit inside any one room in the flotilla. At least, not one who's use could be spared. As it was, the five Admirals had gathered inside the central chamber to one of the Liveships while a series of monitors had been set up around them to show feeds of the various conclave members as they spoke. There had been a faint susurrus between them, which quieted as the three members of the flotilla who were coming to be known as "Human Experts" filed in. The presiding admiral, an aging warhorse named Quil, picked up a small stone and knocked it, rather redundantly, on the podium. "This meeting shall come to order." he wheezed slightly through his suit's microphone. "Zera Vuil vas Deno, Dar Vannik vas Daro, and Gil Zvara vas Kalar, we call you here before this Admiralty and Conclave to render your expert opinion on the species known as Humanity." He said with overt formality of a kind that was slowly disappearing on the Flotilla. "While initial relations have proven peaceful and mutually beneficial, we must take into account certain facts. Humans, while not exactly a "Primitive" species, are far below the threshold of ability to enter into interstellar relations. In citadel space, even the simple exchanges we have offered them are crimes." the Admiralty's lone female representative stated. A middle aged woman clad in muted greys and blues, she'd often been the voice of measured reason on the Admiralty board. "There are also considerations for our long-term prospects. The Earthers are engaged in a war with a species with whom we have no quarrel and whom possess technology far in advance even of our own. Is it really in the fleet's best interest to make ourselves targets by supporting these people?" A voice tinged with a note of haughtiness asked from the ranks of the conclave. After a few faint exchanges between several conclave members, Zera cleared her throat and stepped forward. "Order." Quil said quietly, rapping at the console. "Zera Vuil, you have the floor." he said. "Thank you Admiral. I want it known that I appreciate the concerns expressed by the esteemed Admiral and Conclave, however, I must disagree. Despite their somewhat primitive technology, they have gained access to and control of a mechanism which allows faster than light travel; no different than our discovery of our system's mass relay. They are an interstellar species, with or without our aid. As for the Council, with all due respect... we are not in Citadel space. Nor is Earth, or any of the worlds that humanity lives on. Normally I would advise against antagonizing the Citadel in this manner, but... well, let us say what they do not know cannot anger them. Our growing relationship with Earth is worth too much to abandon simply to please a government which has no love for us in the first place." She argued. "Well said." Another of the Admirals, a young upstart in green stated with a firm nod. "However, the matter of the Goa'Uld?" This time it was Dar who stepped forward. "Admirals, Conclave, if I may?" he asked, the Admirals nodding. The scientist lifted his omnitool and touched a few haptic keys, sending a hologram out to the assembled admirals and conclave members. "This is a diagram of a captured Goa'Uld weapon called a "Zat'Nik'Tel". It uses a series of measured laser pulses to create a channel of highly conductive ions between a target, and a series of electrical capacitors, delivering a debilitating, lethal, or extreme shock. Used on a biological target, it makes an excellent less-lethal weapon... on electronics, even a single shot is devastating for even hardened targets." A pause rung through the room after that. "The downside of this is the power requirements; a single shot uses as much power as firing half an ammunition block from a mass accelerator. This is why our own research into such projects has stalled. But a Zat'Nik'Tel is not good for only two shots. Each can fire more than a thousand times before the cell must be replaced." He explained. "How is this possible?" a conclave member asked via one of the monitors. Dar reached into a pocket and withdrew a small, glowing hourglass full of green fluid. "Because this is the power source. Three grams of what the earthers call "Liquid Naquahdah." Actually solid Naquadah dissolved in a complex solution of solvents. It produces energy with greater efficiency than anything other than antimatter, and the reaction can be tightly controlled to produce only the precise amount of power you need. It could revolutionize our entire technological base almost to the degree which Element Zero has. If we could get it." "If?" Another conclave member asked. "Unfortunately, the Goa'Uld control nearly the entire supply, and jealously guard it. They are intimately tied to the substance; it literally forms a component of their own biology, it's in their blood, and they can control their own technology simply by thought. To acquire enough would require we either take it from them, which would be difficult, or we convince them to give us some, which would be impossible." "On what basis do you make this assessment?" The haughty admiral asked. "Truth be told, it is mostly upon the Humans description of their habits... however, the evidence does bear this out. Notice the Zat's design for instance. Aside from the emitter array itself, the electronics are almost childishly simple. Quarian children build more complex devices in primary school. It is designed with cheapness and ease of manufacture in mind to a frankly excessive degree; this looks like the kind of device you'd design when you want an untrained slave to put it together for you." "So it's like cheap Batarian crap." Someone pointed out. There were rather more chuckles than there probably should have been; Quarians had a long running distaste for the four-eyed slavers for their insistence on a wasteful, pointlessly oppressive society and for having the gall to then sell the flotilla their poorly made merchandise at inflated prices. "In some ways, it's worse." Dar said more seriously. "The Batarians at least train their slaves in their own jobs. The Goa'Uld seem to prefer to keep theirs completely ignorant as to how technology works. The person who built this was probably following a rote set of instructions more like a ritual than a job." "Erm... I can also confirm from having examined many Goa'uld artifacts that they're almost definitely a theocracy. They don't even seem to have the humility to pretend to be messengers of gods; They present themselves as actual, real gods to their people. I can't imagine engaging in equal dialogue with these people." "That still leaves the question of why we should risk their ire." The admiral pointed out. "...Well frankly sir, because they're, well... Evil." Gil said. Zera cleared her throat. "While I might not have used that word... they are clearly expansionistic and belligerent. It's pure luck that they haven't stumbled upon the relay network. If they did, they would likely conquer all of citadel space long before we could mount an effective resistance... with the stargates and the help of humanity, we can attempt to defuse their threat before it comes crashing through our doors." "I'm surprised to hear such militaristic thinking from a diplomat." Quil noted. "War is but the extension of Diplomacy, as we say in the diplomatic corps." Zera replied evenly. The old admiral chuckled. "The saying goes slightly differently in the military dear. But full scale war seems... inadvisable. The conclave shall deliberate on the long term issue of the Goa'uld some other time. For now, I believe we'd like to know your opinions on the humans." Zera spoke again. "They have so far been quite forthright in their dealings with us, and I believe they can be trusted with regards to trade agreements and treaties... But while I would not call them belligerent per say, I also would not call them "Peaceful." Their world is still subdivided into many nations, both small and large, who go to war with one another with some frequency. Probably part of the reason why they've been so effective in combating the technologically superior Goa'uld is that they're so well experienced with assymetrical warfare, although the nation in question is usually on the other side of things... I believe Gil can offer more insight into their culture and habits?" She said, indicating the mostly silent archeologist, who coughed nervously before speaking. "Yes... ah... Technologically speaking they're entering the late pre-Mass Effect stages of their society, probably a few decades away from interplanetary travel. However, that means something slightly different for them than us. For whatever reason, earth's technological advancement has accelerated wildly in the last century; and before you ask, no, most of this rapid development occurred long before they had examples of Goa'Uld tech to examine. They've got the usual tool-user traits of inquisitiveness and strong abstract thinking, with a lot of emphasis on spatial reasoning I find. Their natural social unit seems to be small tribes of several extended family groups, and they're... well, I guess "Handsy" is the word. Standard greeting seems to be to join hands in arms, a physical connection establishing a social one." he paused, taking a long breath. "And they're... likeable I suppose. Pleasant personalities." He summarized, trying to keep the anxiety at bay. "Which is a good thing." Dar cut in. "Because without the Krogan to make them look weak by comparison, they're frankly pretty intimidating. Not much bigger than a Quarian, but bulkier, and a lot of the data I'm getting on their anatomy is impressive. I'm sure a biologist could tell you more, but I don't need one to tell me that them being 30% stronger than we are per unit of weight is impressive. Even without any natural weapons or gene therapy I'd put them at even odds against a Turian, and that's not even getting into their insane endurance. And it seems these "Jaffa" are even more impressive. Having a symbiote take care of your body chemistry helps." "Don't let that frighten you." Gil advised. "These people, they're not Krogan. They can keep their head about them. And they seem to genuinely like us. Which is nice, for a change." He said, a faint expression of agreement going around the room. "In any case, do you have any suggestions as to how we should go about dealing with them?" Quil asked. "I believe we should simply let things develop naturally... they have accepted your offer of coming onto the fleet, and only ask for serviceable environment suits, since their own have limited air supplies." Zera stated. "As well, young Tael Zora has asked for permission to spend her pilgrimage on earth studying Goa'Uld and human technology." Dar added. "If her Captain consents I see no issue with this." Quil said, sweeping away the logs of the meeting and bringing up a new document. "Now, for the next matter, how goes the scouting of the worlds the humans have given us addresses to?" ---------- Not for the first time in his life, Ket'svaro vas Enzo wondered if becoming a Marine had been the best career decision he could have made. Oh, normally it was just fine. Good physical exercise, no complicated mental gymnastics, no confrontation with the grim prospects of the fleet in the long term; but then there were days like this. He sighed, tugging a terrified surveyor a little lower behind the convenient boulder as an orange bolt of plasma sailed overhead to briefly ignite a spray of wet leaves in the forest beyond. Just on principle he darted up to send a spray of metal fragments downrange, pleasantly surprised to see a spray of red blow up from another charging warrior in archaic metal armor, one more for the pile gradually forming as they dutifully sprinted into oncoming fire. Despite the disparity in casualties, it wasn't looking good. There were far too many hissing jets of plasma and too few streams of accelerated metal answering in kind. "So!" he shouted over the din of the battlefield to the shaking civilian curled up next to him. "You made peace with your ancestors?" "N-No!" he answered, half panicking. "Yeah, me neither. Where the hell are the damn 'Torries!?" He demanded to no one listening, only to hear what his own voice had drowned out moments before; the throaty hum of an internal combustion engine. ------------- O'Neill held on for dear life as the customized IFV accelerated straight into the treeline, tossing it's passengers back and forth as it crashed through, flattening a few juvenile pines and knocking several Jaffa ass over tea kettle as it burst into their lines, opening up with it's main gun to send fat 25mm grenades ripping into the horde, thinning it down nicely as the rear hatch swung down, disgorging SG3 and 1 onto the battlefield, armored marines taking cover behind the LAV's armored hull as they mopped up survivors, the final Jaffa falling to an underbarrel mounted Zat-tube rather than the spray of metal shards from the imported Quarian guns. O'neill flipped the visor on his helmet up as the dust cleared, casting about for any hiding in the trees, before turning back to the huddled Quarian survivors, one of whom jogged over, panting through his suits filters. "Took you long enough." he forced out. "Yeah, well, we had to stop on the way for gas." O'neill replied, frowning. "You lose people?" "...A few. Some injured, but stable. Colonel, what the hell are the Goa'uld doing here? You told us this planet was uninhabited." "That's what we thought, but it's hard to tell sometimes. Snakeheads must have had a distant outpost away from the stargate, or maybe just happened to scout this place out and find you. You ready to go?" "Would that I could... We'd appreciate the lift for our injured, but we can't go. Some of the ones in back ran when they saw us, probably on the way to tell their bosses, and we have to st-" he replied, before stopping and looking up toward the source of a sonic boom overhead as a Tel'Tak pealed away up toward orbit. "Shit." Quarian and human said in unison. ------------ Hammond drew his hands over his smooth forehead and inhaled deeply through his nose, letting it out through his mouth. "...That bad?" O'neill ventured. "It damn sure isn't good Colonel." The general replied. "The Quarians sent along their marine sergeant's report and I've been going over it. It could have been worse; the Goa'Uld have no real way of knowing who the Quarians are, but they know another species is out there, and that's enough to get some in the Conclave running scared." O'Neill winced. He didn't show it often, but he had enough political acumen to know that when politicians got scared, they often started throwing blame around, and the Flotilla wasn't an ally earth; and more importantly the SGC, could afford to lose. "So... could have been worse?" "Sadly it IS worse." he said, standing up and moving around his desk. "The Jaffa on P2C-442 found the Quarian expedition team AFTER they ran across their camp... the camp stocked with supplies we gave them." O'Neill's eyebrows rose. "...In big crates with "US Air Force" stamped on the side." "Shit." O'Neill swore. "Bit of an understatement colonel, because there's a good shot we're about to be knee-deep in it. The Goa'uld know there's another advanced species out there and they know we're involved. They aren't going to be happy about this, and unlike the Quarians, we're a big, stationary target." ----------- Tael'Zorah sat, as usual, across from Sam Carter, the mess hall buzzing animately about them. She liked it here; reminded her of meals on the flotilla, even if the vegetable puree she was sucking through a straw with a rubber seal on the end was prepackaged instead of fresh. "So how did the mission go? I've heard some unpleasant things..." She ventured. Carter smiled, which she often did when she was uncomfortable. Human facial expressions could be weird. "We're still not too sure. We're still interrogating that Jaffa we took prisoner, but they can be tough nuts to crack. So far all we've gotten is that whatever minor goa'uld "Melchior" is is going to be very angry with us and surely smite us when he gets around to it." She said, taking another bite. "Well, at least I get to feel like I contributed. Those Zat-tubes are becoming pretty popular; I heard even the Migrant fleet is adopting the pistols for the fleet security teams. No chance of hull breach." She preened. That little discovery was easily good enough to count as a pilgrimage gift, which she'd have given if she didn't enjoy her work at the SGC so much. "Good for you." Carter said with a more genuine smile. "Now, if only you could get similar results off the staff weapons and cannons." "Hey," The quarian said defensively. "Not my fault the Goa'uld designed the things completely ass-backwards." Carter chuckled. She teased Tael, but she had a lot of respect for her abilities as an engineer. Area 51 had been scratching their heads over staff weapons since they'd first gotten them, and she was halfway to building one that could actually hit something. "Well, I'm sure you're doing your best. I'm going to Harlan's World after lunch, you up for a trip offworld?" She asked. "To crazy Robot-doubleworld? What do I look like, a Vorcha? Of course I'm up for it!" --------------- Thread 3 is go. I added one or two things hear or there that I thought of after rereading the last thread in preparation for the latest chapter. I hope the block of text isn't too huge to swallow for any new readers.