This story was originally published in May 2001 by Criterion Press.
Reap the Whirlwindby Sheila Paulson
And that was partly Tarrant's fault.
He didn't want to think about the mess they'd fallen into back on that remote world, Gauda Prime. It was a lot easier to think about the abandoned cavern with its weird circle than it was to think about the debacle they'd come through in their two-year search for the missing rebel. Of course Blake had been a conniving, manipulative bastard who had played mind-games with Tarrant in an attempt to determine whether or not he was trustworthy. That the games had done nothing but convince Tarrant that Blake wasn't proved that the man had no sense of judgment. Then, there was Avon, paranoid, psychopathic Avon, who had jumped at Tarrant's desperate attempt to break through the reluctant deification Avon had granted Blake to make him see the trap he thought they'd walked into. Tarrant should have known better, but there had been a healthy element of 'screw you' mingled with the need to shock Avon out of his reaction to the sight of Blake and warn him that they were about to be captured or blasted when he'd said, "He sold us. All of us, Avon. Even you." Blake's maladroit attempt to make peace--"I set all this up"--had failed miserably and he'd paid the price with three laser blasts to the chest and gut. He'd have died instantly if he hadn't been wearing shielding, but at such close range it had failed and the last charge had done serious damage.
If Blake's rebels hadn't broken through at the last possible second and gunned down the troopers about to zap Avon into infinity, they'd all have been dead instead of merely stunned. Vila Restal, reviving quickly once the shooting stopped, had grabbed a groggy and traumatized Avon while Dayna and Soolin had dragged Blake with them, neither woman displaying any particular tenderness for the injured man, and Tarrant had picked his way as rear guard through the rebels of the base, who were too busy fussing over their injured numbers and making sure the Federation troopers were actually dead to even notice that Avon's party had spirited Blake away from them.
Then Vila had called a warning about more Federation troops coming, and everybody had scattered.
With Scorpio gone, Tarrant had simply helped himself to one of Blake's ships and they'd made a hasty take-off and raced three Federation pursuit ships through the system. Somehow, they'd gotten away. Once clear of pursuit, Tarrant, injured from the Scorpio crash on top of the stun charge he'd taken in Blake's control room, had folded in on himself over the controls and hadn't known another thing for twenty hours, when he woke up in the medical unit with a groggy but conscious Blake lying in the next bed.
By that time, things had gone from bad to worse.
The ship was defective--and fitted with no less than three homing beacons that might or might not have been Federation. So somebody was after them, even if super-computer Orac had deactivated them. They'd made it to a system that wasn't on any of the charts and Orac, suddenly excited, claimed there was a solution below and made Tarrant land the ship right outside this cave. Sometimes Orac could get awfully bossy, but the little perspex box had been designed with a healthy dollop of self-preservation as part of its makeup.
They all came to investigate the cavern as possible shelter, even Blake, who was unsteady on his feet and leaning on Avon, whose face was unreadable. Vila, complaining as usual, carried Orac, but Tarrant had long since learned to ignore Vila's whining. The thief hadn't done badly back there on GP. He'd taken out Arlen, the undercover Federation officer, after all. Whether that made up for his sheer nuisance value, Tarrant hadn't quite decided yet.
If Orac had possessed legs, it would have danced for joy. It found the big circle a lot more interesting than any of the rest of them did. Dayna, the huntress, prowled the cave, gun in hand, while Soolin, content that her fast draw could protect her, let her hand hang near her holster while she walked back up the ramp and examined the circle at close range.
Vila set Orac beside the control panel and went over to examine a strange mirror that was mounted to one side of the circle. It was man-high, shaped vaguely like a harp, and exuded an air of such danger that Tarrant and Avon called out in perfect unison, "Don't touch it, Vila," and then broke off to stare at each other in surprise. Blake smiled faintly at their unexpected chorus but said nothing.
"There is danger," announced Orac. "Emanations from that artifact are reaching a high level."
"Define the nature of the emanations." Avon's voice was cold and wary. He wasn't carrying a gun, but then he hadn't done so since GP. On the other hand, even a weaponless Avon was dangerous--and Tarrant couldn't help wondering whether, if he practiced, he could shoot lethal stun bolts with his icy glare.
"The device Vila studies is an artifact of great power. It reacts to proximity."
"Step away from it, Vila," Dayna ordered.
"I wasn't touching it," objected the thief. Probably thought it was valuable. He had snatched something up in his hand from the cave floor, a miniature control panel, perhaps. At Orac's words, he set it aside uneasily, but Tarrant was afraid he'd inadvertently activated something. He had a very bad feeling about this place.
Orac hummed a moment, studying the devices, then it spoke again. "A ship approaches. It is a Federation pursuit ship and it has registered our presence."
"Oh, no," Vila moaned. He looked around uneasily for a hiding place and saw none. The cave had no other exit, at least not one they could easily see.
"What do we do, Avon?" Soolin asked practically. She came down the ramp to join the others in front of the control panel.
Avon opened his mouth to speak and was preempted by Orac. "All of you must touch the mirror," it instructed. "Pick me up now, and hold me as you do so."
Vila's mouth fell open. "Here now," he protested uneasily. "You just said it was dangerous."
In the second after he spoke, they heard the roar of the landing pursuit ship. Touching a mirror wouldn't make it go away. Maybe Orac was losing control, or maybe the power emanations had affected the little computer. They were trapped quite nicely inside the cavern, after all. It was an obvious cave; there was no chance the Federation troopers would overlook it, not when their ship had landed right outside.
Vila hesitated, glancing from Blake to Avon. After Blake's two-year absence, Vila had grown used to Avon being in charge.
Orac's voice rose. "Pick me up." When Tarrant shrugged and did so, Orac continued imperiously. "Touch the mirror," the computer insisted.
Blake and Avon exchanged a glance, then Blake nodded. They migrated in a body to the mirror.
"Touch it in unison," Orac instructed. "Do not dawdle. Do it now."
"Well, all right, then, but I think it's a mistake," Vila muttered and put his hand on the glass of the mirror as the others reached out to do the same.
Energy pulsed out and moved along in a wave, up their outstretched arms, through their bodies, out to travel through the rest of the cave. Tarrant jerked when it passed through him, but it caused no pain. When it was finished, the room looked no different and everyone was on his feet, including Blake. But all sounds of the pursuit ship had vanished. Tarrant cocked his head, listening. No, nothing. He saw Avon and the two women register the fact, and Avon's eyes lingered on the mirror with interest that was partly scientific and partly acquisitive. They drew back from it involuntarily.
"Now, obey me completely," Orac insisted. "Tarrant, you are closest. When I have activated the control panel, you will push the globe in the center." Tarrant deposited the computer beside the panel and waited. Orac hummed and a series of panels depressed fractionally, one by one, and the symbol on each lit from within. As that happened, the big circle came to life and the inner circle spun, and similar designs lit on it. As each one did, a chevron came down over it, perhaps locking it in place, keying in a function none of them understood.
"Step away from the ramp," Orac commanded. "Vila, you will carry me."
"Now I'm taking orders from Orac," muttered Vila unhappily, but he bent obediently to scoop up the little computer, just as it commanded Tarrant to touch the central globe.
Tarrant put his palm on it, and then jumped when, with a great whoosh, something like water shot out of the circle in a controlled burst that reached nearly to the foot of the ramp. He had an idea it was a good thing Soolin had moved when she did, because he was pretty sure it wasn't really water, not when it vibrated subliminally with barely controlled power. It might have incinerated her. Maybe it would incinerate any troopers who tried to pass through it.
A second later, the water, or whatever it was, sucked back and lay flat against the surface of the circle, rippling like water on a pond, or maybe like quicksilver. It thrummed with power.
"And just what is that?" Avon demanded suspiciously.
Orac's voice developed a suspicion of a crow. "It is a stable wormhole. It will translocate us to another world, where we will lose pursuit. The Federation troops outside will be unable to understand what happened and will not follow us."
"Are you certain, Orac?" Blake's voice was weak, but determined. Avon shot him a narrow-eyed glance but gave no hints at how he felt at the rebel leader's presence. Well, no verbal hints. He hadn't moved from Blake's side and his hand was partly outstretched to catch Blake if he should fall.
"Were I not certain, I would not say so. You have wasted far too much of my time with your petty questions. We must now walk through the Gateway."
"Through that?" Dayna echoed. "Are you sure it's safe? After all, the Federation's out there hunting for us. We'll walk right into their hands."
Orac gave a snort of exasperation.
Past the rippled surface, they could hear no trace of approaching troopers. That was strange. Had the device done the same thing on this side as that and vaporized them? Or was the problem worse than that?
"Come on then," Tarrant decided when no one else looked ready to move. Gun in hand, he strode up the ramp and touched the surface with the fingertips of his other hand. At least it didn't sizzle him where he stood. He could feel power emanating from it. A stable wormhole? If so, it was an incredible find, one guaranteed to make the discoverer rich beyond dreams of avarice. Odd that Avon didn't appear to have fully considered that. Was there another portal like this one on a matching world? Was this something like the device Bayban had hoped to discover at the City at the Edge of the World, the one that Vila had passed through safely to the planet he had named Vilaworld? He had returned intact, or at least as intact as Vila ever was. If this came from the same technology, it might be their only hope of escape.
Tarrant said, "Come on," and stepped forward--into an endless twisting tunnel of dark and light that drew them onward inexorably toward an unknown destination. Cold ate into his bones like acid. He was conscious of the others behind him, and then he was pitched out onto a ramp that looked like the same one they had just left. The cave hadn't changed at all; there were the vague carvings on the walls, there was that odd pile of rocks. There was the control device, but the mirror had vanished.
The stresses of the past few days caught up with him, and Tarrant went down hard on his stomach, shaky and dizzy and aching, shivering with the icy chill of the transition.
Vila landed right on top of him and his breath went out in a pained whoosh.
Motion nearby startled him and he scrambled free of Vila, conscious of the others sprawled or staggering nearby. When he raised his head, Tarrant saw a tall, muscular black man gazing down at them, and the tip of an unfamiliar weapon as long as a staff about ten centimeters from his face and three others behind him, two other men and a woman, all of them armed. They weren't wearing Federation uniforms, more like casual fatigues often favored by rebels, but none of them looked ready to spread a welcome mat. One man, whose greying hair showed under the edge of his hat, was clearly in command. He had that air. Tarrant recognized it from his own military experience in Space Command. The woman was as blonde as Soolin, and her unfamiliar weapon was steady in her hand. It looked like a projectile weapon. The third man was younger than the grey-haired one and actually wearing spectacles. They were exceedingly rare in the Federation, although not non-existent. He had a gun, too, but he looked intrigued at the sight of them, as if they had not been what he had expected. Four armed people greeting them was not a good thing.
They had jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
"...some evidence of a long-ago settlement," Daniel Jackson theorized. He stood looking down the hill in a slowly rotating circle, drawing in deep, fresh breaths of air. PV4-555 was a pastoral planet at first glance, and the settlement that lay at the foot of the hill looked like a deserted farm village. A couple of the older buildings were made of stone, but the ruins of what looked like sod huts and a barn or two had crumpled into vine- and weed-encrusted mounds over the years. If anyone still lived on the planet, they no longer lived in such close proximity to the Stargate.
The cave had looked promising at first. Daniel had noticed rough carvings on the walls of the gloomy room. As soon as the Gate closed behind them, light had poured into the cave through its empty circle, revealing the opening to the outside world. While Daniel would have liked to study the ancient carvings, the rest of the party had instantly migrated up the ramp to explore the outside world. Daniel trailed behind them, wondering at the placement of the Gate. Had it been his choice, he would have designed the Gate facing outward. He couldn't help wondering why whoever had set up this planet had done it this way.
SG-1 glanced around at the world they had come to. Although this planet was listed on the Abydos cartouche and therefore was known to the Goa'uld, there was no evidence the enemy race had come here recently. The Gate had pitched them out into a cavern, and the only way out of it to the hillside where they now stood was to step through the inactive Gate. They had done so uneasily to survey the world where they had just arrived. Long grasses tangled around the mouth of the cavern and a few of them had crept in over the Gate, to be severed when the wormhole activated. A few vines had even worked their way up the DHD. M.A.L.P. images had shown the dial-home device to be intact, but it looked like it was losing a battle for neatness, if nothing else. Opening the Gate would have killed the weeds that had tried to overtake it. It had been the first thing Major Samantha Carter checked when she came through the Gate. They'd known they were going to materialize inside or underground but they hadn't seen such a layout before.
"Looks like another biggie," Colonel O'Neill observed. Gun in hand, he scanned the hills with a soldier's eye, alert for trouble. Daniel might get caught up in ruins or signs of civilization but Jack was trained to expect threat and his first priority on a new world was to assess it for danger. His instincts had saved their lives on more than one occasion.
But today, it didn't look as if they were going to be jumped in the next few minutes. They could see a long way in all directions, although hills crowded fairly close to their left, and in that space, other than the ruins, there was nothing to suggest that people had ever lived here, or that anyone lived here now.
"Perhaps the settlers simply moved away from the Gate," offered Teal'c. The big Jaffa was at attention, too. He hadn't risen to the rank of First Prime of the Goa'uld Apophis without learning how to watch his back. Staff weapon at ready, he surveyed the terrain away from Jack's field of vision. They did this so instinctively that Daniel was amazed by it. He was still learning such techniques, but to Jack and Teal'c, such protective behavior was automatic.
Sam studied the terrain through binoculars. Always the scientist, she was still a competent military officer, but, like Daniel, she could be caught up in discovery. Today, she wasn't seeing much of anything to tempt her. Old ruins that didn't look Goa'uld might be interesting to an anthropologist, but not to an astrophysicist, and not really to a first-contact team, not unless there was a clue to the locals there--or a hint of information about the Goa'uld.
"I'd like to look at those stone ruins," Daniel ventured. "It's possible that whoever lived here moved away from the Gate to avoid the Goa'uld. If they did, there might be clues down there. Carvings, stone tablets, writing of some kind."
"I do not know this world," offered Teal'c. "When I served under Apophis, we went to many planets to harvest hosts, but I do not believe this was one of them." He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the brightness of the sun. Jack just put on his sunglasses.
"Could another of the System Lords have come here?" asked Daniel. "It needn't be Apophis."
"Possibly, but they would not waste their time unless they had a strategic reason to do so. Perhaps they took away the settlers long ago. Perhaps there were too few and they died out. If this were a mineral-rich world, there would be evidence of mines, but there is nothing."
"Or maybe they just don't use the Gate or like living with a doorway to the snakeheads in their back yard." Jack gestured vaguely off to the east. "After all, we had evidence of settlements over that way."
"Three days walk from here," Sam reminded him. "Unless we come through with motorized transport, we'll have to content ourselves with the U.A.V. surveys or a good long walk. Besides, they looked like pastoral settlements, farming communities." The aerial remote had sent back surveillance reports but had discovered no evidence of settlements closer than a two-day walk of the Stargate.
"Primitive," Daniel replied. "Interesting to study, but nothing to draw the Goa'uld here."
"No evidence of technology, no trace of naquada." Jack shook his head. "Not sure why we're even here, except--"
"Except that the base computer spun out the corrected address for this system and indicated it might be important," Sam reminded him. "Just because something isn't apparent in a ten-minute survey doesn't mean there's nothing to find."
"There aren't even decent ruins for Daniel to play with," Jack said. He nodded down at the abandoned settlement. "That isn't up to par with your usual run of ancient ruins and interesting artifacts."
"No, but there still might be something." Daniel took a step in that direction and halted. "Jack?" He was still not quite comfortable with O'Neill, and because of that, he wasn't pushing quite as hard as he usually would. There wasn't as much fun in making the Colonel rein him in, not when the comfortable friendship had been disrupted.
Daniel didn't want to think about that now. He wasn't even sure if he were punishing Jack by striving to be an exemplary team member or not. He wasn't sure Jack would know, either, and he didn't mind that at all. But he concealed a sigh. This was their first mission since Jack's undercover games with Maybourne's renegade N.I.D. SG team, and all of them were walking a bit on pins and needles.
O'Neill pushed his hat back on his head and rubbed his forehead. His face was tight but when he spoke, he sounded conciliatory. "Go for it. But half an hour, no more. If we don't find anything, we can--"
"O'Neill!" Teal'c called out in warning just as the Stargate started to power up.
"Company coming," Jack agreed and gestured them to retreat into shelter in the cavern again, where they concealed themselves behind some rocks. "Hurry, campers. I know we can hide better outside, but if whoever it is has shown up for a long stay, I don't want to let them have possession of the Gate. We can't allow ourselves to be cut off."
The Gate activated in a swoosh of power as they ducked out of sight and SG-1 tightened their grip on their weapons. If the computers thought this place was important, it could be anybody, including a Goa'uld system lord with a troop of Jaffa. Daniel held his breath and waited. With only the light from the wormhole to illuminate the cavern, it was dim and gloomy, and Daniel could only hope that they would be well concealed behind the irregular stack of rocks.
The party that stumbled out of the wormhole and collapsed on the ramp was almost anticlimactic. From the way most of them fell down or staggered, they were probably making their first Gate trip. Daniel shivered sympathetically at the memory of his own first trip to Abydos so long ago. One of the men went down instantly and didn't get up, a solidly built man with curly hair and a scar at the corner of one eye. Another man with dark hair and the coldest face Daniel had seen this side of a System Lord dropped to his knees beside him to help him. He had an abundance of studs on his black leather outfit. Funny to think someone with such a hollow expression could fuss so well--and so carefully impersonally. Another man, also curly haired but thinner and taller with some healing bruises on his face, went down, too, and the fourth man, shorter with thinning hair, landed on top of him, causing the first man's breath to whoosh out. The balding man had been carrying a transparent box with glowing components inside and it spurted out of his hands and landed beside him on the ramp. Daniel thought he heard it make a sputtered sound of protest. He couldn't have, could he?
Behind them came two women, a blonde and a black woman with very short hair, who staggered momentarily but didn't fall. Their eyes started to scan the cavern for danger. They had guns--all of them but the man in black had guns--but they were confused. Whoever this group was, they didn't seem to be Goa'uld. They looked like fleeing refugees to Daniel.
Teal'c and Jack took advantage of their momentary disorientation to jump out of concealment and aim weapons. Sam was right behind them, and Daniel, who was still trying mentally to place these unlikely Gate travelers in his mind, jumped up and followed.
The two women had their guns up so fast Daniel found himself thinking of Marshall Dillon about to have a gunfight on Front Street. The others went for their guns, too, all but the man in black leather and the balding one. Mexican standoff.
The guy with thinning hair eased off the younger man and assumed a very placating expression. He spread his hands to prove himself weaponless. "Hallo. You're not Federation, are you? You don't look like Federation. We're peaceful, I promise you. We're harmless."
"Yeah, you look it," drawled Jack. "A bunch of Rambos, if I ever saw them. Carter, any evidence of Goa'uld?"
Sam concentrated, using the remnants of Jolinar, the Tok'ra who had inhabited her briefly. She could sense Goa'uld that way, but it didn't come completely automatically to her. She had to work at it. "No, sir. Nothing like that at all."
"What's Goa'uld?" asked the blonde woman. Her hand on the gun was rock-steady, and her eyes measured them all levelly. She didn't look uneasy at all, just ultra competent. "We're...refugees," she added, and it was apparent that her choice of words was conscious and deliberate, selected to reveal as little information as possible.
"This is not a Federation world." The voice came from the transparent box.
"No, it looks exactly like the same cave we were just in," said the younger curly-haired man. "Except that the mirror is missing." He craned his neck in search of the missing mirror, and Daniel had a sudden premonition that things were about to get complicated. What if he meant a quantum mirror?
Jack's gun came around and aimed at the talking box. "What the heck is that?" Teal'c instantly shifted so that his staff weapon covered the refugees.
"Orac," said the man in black in tones that could not be gainsaid, "assess the situation. Where are we? What faction do these people represent?"
"Faction? I am not conversant with political factions in this reality."
"Reality?" half the people there echoed, including Jack, Sam and Daniel. The older man with curly hair didn't speak, but he let Black Leather help him to sit up. He looked like he was recovering from an illness or injury--he was too pale and none too steady and sweating a bit from the exertion of his arrival. The younger curly-haired man just looked like a refugee from a bar brawl, but he had a cocky stance that reminded Daniel of Jack when he was one-on-one with a nasty enemy--like Apophis.
"Oh, now, this is interesting," Jack muttered. "You claim you came from another reality? And what's that talking box supposed to be?" He glanced at the rest of his team and mouthed the words, "Quantum mirror?" Carter nodded to let him know she'd picked up on that, too. Teal'c inclined his head.
"I am not 'supposed to be' anything," the box huffed at him. "I am Orac, the most brilliant computer you will ever encounter. We encountered alien technology, including a mirror device that opens a pathway between parallel dimensions. Pursued by those with inimical intent, I arranged to activate the mirror as well as the circle device, and brought us here. However, we appear to have returned to our place of origin. Yet, this is not the same. It was my understanding that the circle device would translocate us to an alternate planetary destination. If you are not Federation, and it is highly unlikely that you are, then perhaps this reality does not parallel ours with accuracy. I require more information."
Daniel was fascinated. "Do you have the Goa'uld in your reality?" he asked. After all, he'd been in an alternate reality himself; actually, he'd been in two of them. These people had obviously encountered one of the quantum mirrors in their own dimension. That tall, bruised character had mentioned a mirror being missing here. But that would not explain the activation of the Stargate and their claim to have changed realities. The mirror in itself would have been sufficient for that. Daniel suddenly wondered if they even understood what the Stargate did. And what else was involved? Something else had to be. Carter must have thought so, too, because she went up to examine the Gate, and then pulled out a notebook and made some hasty jottings in it.
"Define terminology," prompted Orac huffily. "Please be precise in your questions. Our interaction will be better served if you ask specific questions."
Jack's mouth curled. Pretty clear that he didn't like Orac's tone. Daniel thought it was a little amusing, but he suspected Orac would wear on impatient people quickly. Sam, on the other hand, looked like she wanted to get down beside Orac and dig around inside. Computer technology must be vastly different in the reality these people had come from.
"What are these Goa'uld, anyway?" asked the guy with thinning hair.
At least nobody looked like they were about to start firing. A parallel reality that didn't closely mimic the present one? All the others they had encountered had been almost identical to their own, with one difference: a Goa'uld invasion of Earth. Well, a couple really. Daniel hadn't been in either of them, and Sam hadn't been in the military. But then, thought Daniel, those instances had all been viewed directly from Earth. When he'd activated the quantum mirror the first time, he had instantly Gated 'home' to an Earth not his own. Maybe in their reality, the Goa'uld had never reached this planet, or had not visited it in a long time. Evidently, wherever these people had Gated from, the Goa'uld had no sway.
But then, not all worlds with Stargates were listed on the Abydos cartouche. The Goa'uld might not know of their planet.
"Maybe we should introduce ourselves, said the younger curly-haired man. "I'm Del Tarrant. This is Dayna Mellanby." He nodded at the black woman. "Soolin." She was the blonde who held the gun as if it were an extension of her hand. "That's Vila Restal." He waved his hand at the man with thinning hair. "And these two are Avon and Blake." Avon was the one with the leather who hovered with impersonal protectiveness at Blake's side, and Blake the injured one. Tarrant continued. "Soolin's right, we're refugees. In our dimension--" and he was quick on his feet because the expressions of the entire group had gone through a range of astonished twitches when Orac, the computer, had mentioned alternate realities. "In our dimension, the ruling government, the Federation, is a totalitarian regime, and Blake was one of its leading opponents. We just came from a botched confrontation. Blake was wounded. He is recovering, but a medical or surgical unit wouldn't come amiss."
"You look like you could use one yourself," offered Daniel. "We're not from--"
"Daniel," Jack cut in warningly. "I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill. This is Doctor Daniel Jackson. Major Sam Carter, and this is Teal'c. In case you haven't seen one before, that's a staff weapon he's aiming at you. It's not something you want to mess with. It fires a directed energy blast and it's capable of piercing body armor."
"Do you understand these circle translocation devices?" asked Avon. "They shift to alternate realities? This is the same cavern--I recognize that rock formation. But the mirror we saw is gone, and you don't seem aware of Federation pursuit." He radiated hostility. Maybe he didn't like Jack's Alpha male attitude, or maybe he was just nasty. Daniel wasn't sure, but he had a feeling there was a lot of pain under the opaque protection in his eyes. Daniel had surprised a look like that in his own eyes more than once since Sha're's death. He glanced uneasily at Teal'c's staff weapon. Even Sha're had insisted Teal'c had been given no choice but to blast her, but there were times when he remembered all too vividly. Avon's cold attitude didn't irritate Daniel the way it did Jack, because he could feel the pain under the ice. Jack was a little touchier than normal, too. He'd been on the defensive with his team for the past few weeks. Daniel was starting to wish for a way to break through that and get back to normal.
"This is the first time you've used a Gate?" asked Sam.
"We never even saw one before," admitted Vila Restal. "Gave me quite a start, it did." They all sounded rather British.
Sam edged closer to Orac. "Your computer was able to interpret its function? The knowledge must exist in its programming."
"Orac thinks too highly of itself," said Tarrant. "But it can read other computers."
Jack didn't appear to like the sound of that, but Sam was intrigued. "How does it do that? Does it need a direct physical link?"
"Orac's abilities are not for discussion," said Avon coldly. "Do you have a shelter where we might take Blake?"
"I'm all right, Avon." It was the first time Blake had spoken, but his voice was firm in spite of the physical weakness that ran through it. He didn't mean his answer so much as reassurance as a statement of fact. Something wasn't well between them. The whole team was even touchier than SG-1 had been since Jack's return.
Avon snorted. "Naturally, Blake. Unlike ordinary mortals, you have no need for blood replacement or tissue regeneration. You will simply wave your hand and heal yourself." There should have been amusement in the sarcasm; at least Daniel would have been more comfortable if there had been. But there was not.
"Which wouldn't have been necessary had you taken the time to listen," snapped Blake in response.
Daniel half expected Avon to snarl at him in retribution, but Avon didn't. Instead, he lowered his eyes and said nothing at all, although his hands curled tightly into fists. Vila and Tarrant exchanged worried glances and the two women frowned. Daniel couldn't help wondering what it was about.
Sam abandoned her stalking of Orac. "Colonel, at least two of these people are wounded. If they are, indeed, refugees, maybe we should take them back to the infirmary."
"Good idea, Carter."
Daniel hadn't expected such easy acquiescence, but then he realized that both Sam and Jack were interested in Orac and its potential. If they could duplicate any of the computer's properties, it would be of tremendous benefit to Earth. Orac had evidently been able to analyze the Stargate they found and understand its function and that of the quantum mirror that must have been there, too. It evidently could activate a DHD without a direct physical link. It had gotten the humans out of a tight situation. No wonder they wanted to get Orac back to the base for analysis.
Daniel was more concerned for the people.
He'd gone through a rough time recently himself. He recognized the same symptoms in the people before him. None of them had a shred of happiness in their features. Whatever they'd been through, it had been hard on them, and Daniel felt ready sympathy for them. If the armed Marines back at the SGC couldn't protect the base from them, then there might be trouble but there were only six of them and security at the SGC was thorough. It should be safe enough.
Carter thought of something and held up an arresting hand to Jack. "Orac. You read other computers. Does that mean you could control our computers?"
"Good point." Jack looked uncomfortable talking to a clear plastic box. "What about it, Orac? How do we know it would be safe to take you home."
"Home?" That was Vila, who must be quicker on the uptake than he looked. "You're not from this world, either, are you?" He peeked out through the deactivated Gate at the ruin at the foot of the hill and then at the weapons and equipment SG-1 carried. "No, you're not from here. You're explorers or scouts or something, and you just happened to be here when we showed up. You're not running from anybody, either, even if these Goa'uld you mention don't sound exactly nice. If they're the bad guys, then you're the good guys. At least I hope you're good guys. We are, too."
"Oh, shut up, Vila," said Avon, which, surprisingly, caused the smaller man to light up in delight, only to sag again. Maybe he had recognized that Avon's words were no more than a conditioned response. Something was going on with Avon, and it wasn't a happy something. Daniel had learned enough over the past few years to know that very few things could be easily spelled out in black and white.
"Tarrial cells," offered Blake. "Orac reads Tarrial cells. If your computers have them--"
"The Gate we came through is not likely to possess Tarrial cells, Blake," Avon reminded him sharply. "Perhaps Orac has been holding out on us." Suspicion bloomed extravagantly on his face. He'd picked up on the terminology and remembered that the word 'Gate' had been mentioned. That meant he was alert and quick, and might be dangerous. He looked dangerous. But he also looked sad and weary and painfully self-contained, and while Daniel couldn't trust him at first sight, neither could he reject the man and his people out of hand.
Before Daniel could think about what danger Orac might mean to the base--a speculation that Jack was already considering to judge by his face--the matter was taken out of their hands. With a furious roar of sound, the planet's natives boiled over the crest of the nearest hill, hundreds of them, decked out in war paint and waving spears and crossbows, and they started for the cavern mouth at a dead run.
"That looks bad," Jack muttered. "Dial us home, Daniel." He whipped out his GDO so he could send the recognition signal back to the SGC as soon as the Gate opened.
Daniel was keying in the symbols for Earth before Jack finished speaking, conscious of the rest of SG-1 and the refugees from the other dimension lining up, united in purpose, to defend them from the natives' attack in case they arrived in the cavern mouth before the Gate activated. "Come on, come on," he muttered under his breath, relieved when the Gate whooshed open. They could still hear the natives yelling, getting closer by the second. Could they come through the back of an activated Gate? The subject had never come up, not that Daniel could remember. He hoped a spear through the chest wouldn't be his answer to the question.
Sam went first, so she could explain the presence of the newcomers. They could still hear the tribesmen yelling outside, but since the wormhole filled the entire mouth of the cave, they couldn't see them any longer. Maybe the natives would fear the activated Gate.
Avon steadied Blake, who did not look especially grateful but who accepted the support, and Vila gave a running, panicked commentary. "I knew I'd hate it here. This isn't a nice place. Orac, you great idiot, why couldn't you bring us somewhere safe? We shall all be killed...." But he stood his ground with his gun ready until Tarrant made a shooing gesture at him and then he raced up the ramp and plunged into the Gate.
The two women leveled their guns at the Gate as if they expected the natives to burst through. Jack yelled at them in exasperation, "Go on, through the Gate--now!" Tarrant leaped through after Vila and the women plunged in, too.
Daniel went with them, hanging back only long enough to make sure that Jack and Teal'c were right behind him.
Daniel stepped through the Gate to a face full of guns. A second later, Jack and Teal'c popped through after him. The Gate disengaged. Daniel was pretty sure the natives wouldn't know how to use it, and when it didn't instantly start to power up, Jack relaxed.
Armed Marines were ready and waiting, covering the strangers, who stood staring around the Gate room with wide-eyed interest. They weren't trying anything; they'd have been crazy to do it when they were clearly outnumbered and in a strange place, although Daniel wasn't sure if Avon would make that choice rationally. If he thought someone threatened Blake....
General Hammond, the commander of the Stargate Project, spoke to them from the control booth overhead. "Who have you brought with you, Colonel O'Neill?" he called over the P.A. system. Hammond had grown used to unique occurrences with his teams, and SG-1 had brought home strangers before, but Hammond had also learned to be wary. It was one of the things that made him a good commander.
"Refugees, sir," Jack replied.
"Armed refugees, Colonel," Hammond pointed out disapprovingly.
"We needed the backup weapons," Jack defended that fact. "The planet had unfriendly natives--a lot of them."
"General Hammond, several of these people need to go to the infirmary," Sam called, her eyes raised to the glassed-in booth overhead. "If we can start their treatment, the rest of them can explain their situation to you at the debriefing."
"Consider it done, Major. I want them disarmed while they are here, and then you can take them there. Everyone else assemble in the briefing room in fifteen minutes."
Avon hadn't wanted to leave the infirmary. He hadn't said so, but then Avon never did say such things. Tarrant had learned to read his body language, his non-expressions, the tightness of his mouth. Vila, who could read Avon better than anybody else, didn't say a word. He just planted himself warily near Avon while the woman doctor--Fraiser, had it been?--examined Blake. She seemed knowledgeable even if her equipment appeared rather primitive. Another doctor, an older man, started to check out Tarrant.
"I'm just banged up from a ship crash, with a stun blast on top of it," Tarrant replied. "Nothing serious. I don't need to be admitted."
"You'll let us be the judge of that, Captain Tarrant," Doctor Warner said to him. "We do our jobs thoroughly here."
"The docs don't like being second guessed, Captain," Colonel O'Neill said from the door. From the discussion of rank that had taken place on the way to the infirmary, Tarrant got the impression that a Colonel in the Air Force outranked a space captain, and that O'Neill was glad of it. He was in charge of the group that had been surveying the planet and evidently took his responsibilities to heart. There were several armed men in fatigues near the door, guarding them. Maybe Tarrant and his shipmates weren't prisoners, but neither had they been given the key to the city. None of them had resisted being disarmed, not even Avon, although they weren't happy with the fact. It wasn't as if they'd had a choice.
Doctor Jackson appeared thrilled with their presence on this base. Someone had said he was an anthropologist. It occurred to Tarrant that anthropologists in his own dimension--and that was still a little difficult to accept, that Orac had brought them into an alternate reality--didn't study parallel universes, but they did study cultures, and Jackson's questions had been geared to learning about the one the Scorpio crew had come from. While the attractive Doctor Fraiser checked Blake and Avon scowled, Jackson asked deft questions of Dayna and Soolin. Dayna, after one quick glance at Avon, started talking about her home planet, Sarren, where she had lived in isolation with her father, and about the primitive tribes there. Jackson was fascinated, but he wasn't stupid. After a few minutes, he tried to direct the discussion back to the rest of them.
Avon simply ignored the whole thing. He had a high-handed way of doing that, writing off what was going on around him in the grand manner if he decided it didn't involve him personally. Jackson hadn't noticed that yet, but O'Neill had. He bent his head and said something under his breath to Major Carter, who looked up at him quickly, then studied Avon. She had a very knowing face. If he had noticed it, Avon would have hated the look.
"Doesn't anybody want to examine me?" asked Vila loudly. "After all, I've been stunned and imprisoned and chased just now by hairy natives, and on top of all that I've been put into a strange reality, too. Do they have adrenaline and soma here, I wonder?"
"Oh, shut up, Vila," Tarrant said automatically, brushing at Doctor Warner's hands as he examined the pilot's bruises.
"Oh, yes, you'd like that, wouldn't you," said Vila darkly.
"What happens to us now?" asked Soolin from her position near the door. She looked unhappy to have been forced to give up her gun; all their weapons were gone unless Avon had something concealed there amid the studs and leather--though he had been the only one of them who hadn't possessed an obvious weapon. You never could tell with Avon, in spite of his newborn aversion for going armed. But they'd been passed through something like a metal detector, and anything useful taken, "...until we understand your situation," an armed man had told them. Their weapons would be labeled by name and stored in the armory for safekeeping. They were outnumbered here. The Scorpio crew had been forced to comply. Avon's face had darkened, but he had held his peace. Even if he hadn't liked carrying a gun since shooting Blake, he wouldn't enjoy the thought of is people being disarmed.
"We'll have a briefing with General Hammond," Daniel replied. "He'll be interested to hear you used a quantum mirror to come here. We'll want to learn how your dimension parallels our own, whether there was any evidence of Goa'uld involvement there. When we've encountered alternate worlds up till now, we've met with our own counterparts there. This time, we didn't."
"General Hammond will question you," O'Neill put in, more to stop Jackson's flow of words than anything. He probably thought the anthropologist was giving away too much, not that anything he said would matter. The mirror was familiar to them, but that didn't mean they had one here. They could have encountered one when traveling to another world. Evidently they didn't need ships for the process but hopped from world to world through a series of Stargates. And speaking of which....
"What planet is this?" Tarrant asked.
The locals exchanged glances. All right, so they were cautious. Even Jackson didn't answer that one.
"We'll discuss that at the briefing, too," O'Neill said. Period. Full stop. He wasn't going to give anything else away. "What world do you come from?"
Avon's head came up at that. "You assume we would offer information more readily than you offer it yourself."
"You're our guests here," O'Neill pointed out. "We brought you here for your safety. We're not the Federation you've been fighting. I think that entitles us to some answers."
They glared at each other, then Blake spoke. He hadn't said much of anything the whole time, but now he collected himself and pushed away Doctor Fraiser's hands. He looked pale and drained, on the verge of passing out but he held on with the indomitable will he'd displayed ever since they had patched him up on the stolen ship. Tarrant was still annoyed with Blake, but he couldn't help respecting him, too. "We're mostly from Earth," Blake said. "In our dimension, it was the birthplace of humanity. Unfortunately, it was also the origin of the Terran Federation. Which I have been fighting most of my adult life."
"Earth?" Daniel echoed in astonishment. "But if you have no Goa'uld involvement...."
"Perhaps we have," Blake replied.
Tarrant stared at him in astonishment. So did everyone else. "I never heard of any Goa'uld, whatever that is," Vila volunteered, and Soolin shook her head in complete denial.
"Neither did I."
Avon's eyes had landed on Blake the instant he spoke, but now he turned to them with realization in his eyes. "Ah. Yes. Perhaps. I studied history as well, Blake."
And then it came to Tarrant. His mouth fell open. "The dark eras," he said with stunned realization as the clues came together. He didn't have enough information or knowledge to add them up properly, but he had a few hints to go on. How closely would the different realities interact? What made them diverge? "The fall of the Old Calendar. Could that have been caused by the Goa'uld?"
"How long ago was that?" Major Carter asked quickly. She and her team exchanged interested glances, eyes full of speculation.
"Several hundred years," Tarrant replied. "We have some remnants of history from them, but mostly it's repressed. At the time of the fall, little information got through, but I know there haven't been Goa'uld attacks since then, at least not by any beings under that name. The Terran Federation has been death on aliens ever since it arose. When I thought about it at all, I thought it was simple chauvinism, a means of consolidating power, but it could have arisen out of the need to counter an alien threat. Servalan, who was President and Supreme Commander in our time, butchered an entire planet of aliens, the Auronar, with a genetically-engineered plague just to try to get to us." He gestured at his shipmates. "Whether the Goa'uld brought about the fall of the old Calendar, it's possible that only those in power knew about an alien threat. The Auronar were not Goa'uld. Physically they were nearly identical to humans except for a gift of telepathy. But there has been a systematic program of alien eradication ever since the Federation rose. Do you think they were trying to make certain the Goa'uld never came back?"
"But we're on Earth now," Vila put in, to the astonishment of the rest of the Scorpio crew and the displeasure of Colonel O'Neill. When everyone stared at him, he continued hastily, "I heard someone mention it. They said, 'they might be human, but they're not from here, not from Earth.'" He glanced over at Major Carter, who looked surprised and dismayed.
"I did say that, but I didn't think any of them could hear me," she told O'Neill. "Sorry, sir."
"But if they're from a parallel Earth in which the Goa'uld were defeated centuries ago...." Daniel's eyes were wide. "I wonder how they did it."
"We'll resolve that at the briefing," Jack decided. "Somebody better bring Orac. It seems to know how it got you to PV4-555. Or at least how you activated the Gate there in your own reality." His mouth twisted wryly. "I can tell this is going to be good."
Everyone but Blake went to the briefing. Doctor Fraiser wanted to do some slight reconstructive surgery that she reported would not be dangerous, and then he'd be put on an IV nutrient solution in addition to standard post-operative care, but she reported he would recover; that the damage done to him was not fatal, that he was simply weak because he had received sketchy treatment and had been given no time to recover. When she was finished with him, she said, he'd recover completely. Avon showed a tendency to hang back at the mention of surgery, but Fraiser brooked no nonsense and stood her ground. Stubbornness in a small, neat package. Daniel, often himself a patient of hers, knew better than to hang around when she had ordered them gone, and even Jack, who tended to push like mad when he was a patient, pitched in to steer their guests away to leave the doctor time to do her work.
The refugees' tattered--and in some cases blood-stained--clothes had been replaced with BDUs, and even the brooding Avon looked more ordinary when he was dressed like everyone else. He seemed indifferent to what he wore, but the fatigues were so different from the studs and leather getup that Daniel noticed the others sneaking measuring looks at him as if he had suddenly become a stranger. Daniel found the man interesting and would have liked to hear his story, but even more interesting was the fact that their reality appeared to have encountered the Goa'uld far earlier than his own had and yet, they had evidently had the science and technology to find a means to drive them off, even if the process had collapsed their Earth's government.
"Earth?" Hammond said, interested. "I wonder if there are copies of you walking around our world." He looked at Orac, as it sat in the middle of the briefing table, humming quietly to itself. Avon had taken a seat close to the computer, maybe staking a claim. "All right, people, let's get to it. You weren't fleeing the Goa'uld when your computer brought you through the Stargate to PV4-555, and you evidently don't know the symbols for the world you came from."
"The caves were identical on the world we came from and the one you call PV4-555," Tarrant said quickly. "I thought it was the same world, but the one we left to come here had no mirror, so it couldn't be the same place unless the natives removed it, and, if your team was there, it doesn't seem there would have been time. I assume the transition through the Stargate is near instantaneous?" He looked a question, but no one answered it, and he let it go.
"We don't even know the name of the planet we left," Soolin offered. When Avon's head came up and he favored her with an icy look, she met it glare for glare. "Avon, the only way we're going to get out of here is to cooperate with these people. I don't believe they're Federation. If the Federation had Stargates, Orac would know about it."
"I do know about it," Orac announced. "Such devices are generally unknown in the time and place we came from, but they had been known by a select few historically, and there are records. Information on their use is generally highly restricted, and actual use of the Stargates has not taken place for a period of at least one hundred Earth-years."
"Do you know about the Goa'uld, too, Orac?" asked Carter, leaning forward with interest.
"Of course I do. I have had access to all history known to the Federation that is available in any computer records. Knowledge of the Goa'uld is even more restricted than the knowledge of the Stargates. However, theories offered in your medical unit were absolutely correct. The regime of the Old Calendar fell at the time of incursions by the Goa'uld. In spite of that, Earth found a means of defeating them."
"What? How?" Daniel cried. If Orac had information that would help them to defeat the Goa'uld, then bringing it here might be the best thing they had ever done, and not simply for Earth.
"That information is not available."
"Oh, that's just ducky," muttered Jack. "The one thing that would help us most, and you can't produce it."
"It isn't that we don't want to," Tarrant put in. "I never heard of the Goa'uld before today, but they sound worse than the Federation. A snake taking over your brain wouldn't be my first choice."
Vila shuddered elaborately. "Nasty. Worse than hairy aliens, let me tell you."
"Let me get this clear," Hammond took back control of the meeting. "In your dimension, the Goa'uld were defeated but the process brought about a dark age or at least the fall of the then-current government?"
"And a great deal of destruction on Earth," Orac concurred. "It took a century to regain the lost ground as a result of the devastation."
"This is the first most of us have heard of this," Soolin said. "But of course the Federation was restrictive; they wouldn't want the knowledge to get out that there might be someone out there more powerful than they were."
"But it was not out there," Orac disagreed. "Records indicate that the Goa'uld threat had ceased to exist in our reality. When I accessed those records, I researched them most thoroughly."
"Orac has a really good bump of self-preservation," Vila muttered. "It wouldn't care if we were in danger, so long as it wasn't in danger itself. I still think Avon should redesign it as an empty space."
General Hammond ignored Vila's frivolity. "Orac, it is my understanding that you are more than a computer, that you are an actual artificial intelligence. Is this correct?"
"Naturally it is. Far superior to any human. I am gratified that you have the wit to appreciate me."
Avon looked as if he would like to disagree, but he didn't. He wasn't the type to volunteer any useful information at all. Daniel wondered if there was any chance that these unlikely people were actually part of a Goa'uld plot. He was sure General Hammond had considered the possibility. Jack was sure to have thought of it. But it seemed unlikely and chancy; Blake really was injured and the people's reaction when they stepped out of the Gate indicated it really was their first time through a Stargate.
Hammond frowned. "I would appreciate you more if you would try to compile a list of possible solutions the Old Calendar Earth people might have attempted against the Goa'uld in your reality. In other parallel universes, the Goa'uld destroyed Earth or came close."
"But not in this dimension?" Avon leaned forward with interest. The scientific puzzle appeared to have pulled him out of his dark mood. "Interesting. Orac, you will research this possibility?"
"Altruism, Avon?" Dayna asked.
"Self-interest. The Goa'uld threaten me."
"Oh yes," muttered Vila. "We know. And Blake."
"You're a fool," said Avon savagely.
"The issue, gentlemen," Hammond cut in quickly, "is both to attempt to learn how your reality stopped the Goa'uld and to deal with your presence in this one. We have discovered from experience that your presence here could pose problems for you if your avatars in this reality are still alive."
"Orac is able to read other computers, sir," Sam volunteered. "It understood the function of both the quantum mirror and the Gate itself and was able to activate the DHD without physical contact. It evidently reads computers which possess something called Tarrial cells. I took a quick look at Orac while we were in the infirmary and it is unlike any computer I have ever seen. I don't have a clue how it functions, not yet. It's almost a life form."
"Do you mean it could read our computers?" Hammond picked up on the threat immediately. Jack's eyes narrowed as he studied the little transparent box. Jack had never really been a high tech kind of guy. He left the science end of things to people like Sam and the base techs. Jack's own genius was in other areas, and Daniel knew he would be on alert the whole time the 'refugees' were here. He didn't appear to trust any of them, and while the arrogant Tarrant irritated him, he seemed to suspect Avon the most, perhaps because he couldn't get a handle on the man. None of them could.
Orac's voice ached with regret. "I cannot read your computers without a direct link. I can read something of the Stargate."
"You're saying the Gate possesses these Tarrial cells?" Sam asked sharply. She looked like she were itching to dig into Orac and find out what made it tick. "We've never encountered anything like that and I've studied Gate technology thoroughly."
"Assuming you would recognize and understand something you had never heard of before today," Avon pointed out. "Orac was designed by a man called Ensor. He was, perhaps, the greatest computer brain to come out of the Federation."
"And Avon says 'perhaps' because he'd rather be called that himself," Vila put in. Teasing? Daniel didn't think he'd have been comfortable teasing the dark man, but Avon merely elevated his chin a fraction and looked down his nose at Vila.
"No, I wouldn't know the terminology for Tarrial cells," Sam admitted. "That's what your dimension called it. Whether it exists here or not, under another title or in another state of development is a moot point. What is important is whether or not the Stargates and DHDs possess elements that can be accessed remotely by powerful computers or AI's. And I haven't discovered anything about either that can, at least nothing other than existing Goa'uld technology." She glanced Avon's way. "I'm not a programmer. My field is astrophysics, rather than computers, but I have to know a great deal about computers to do my work, and I'm the one who deals with the 'Gates and DHDs in the field, if any work has to be done on them. So, if that function is incorporated into them, it's nothing I can isolate based on my experience and current technology."
Avon inclined his head slightly, then he turned to the computer. "Orac, answer this. Do the Stargates and the, er, DHDs possess Tarrial cells or a analog to them?"
"They do not," Orac replied. "However, it possesses a technology that can be accessed using Tarrial cells. It is possible that my creator, Ensor, had access to Gate technology when I was designed. He designed Tarrial cells when he was only eighteen and it altered computer science completely. He worked in isolation on a remote planet, Aristo. I believe there was a Gate there, and I believe Ensor knew of it and understood its function."
Avon jumped in. "If that were the case, why not use the Gate transportation to send his son for assistance when he was dying?"
"The Gate did not function," Orac replied. "It is my contention that it would have been necessary for Ensor to make astronomical calculations to locate appropriate planets, due to galactic shift since the last time of Gate use, plus a knowledge of the symbols that would represent Earth or a planet with appropriate medical facilities, and, of course, there would need to be a working gate on the world he chose. The device you refer to as the DHD may not have existed on Aristo, and, if so, Ensor would have had to use his own computers to activate a Gate. I theorize the DHD might have the ability to deal with the galactic drift. Ensor's field was artificial intelligence, not astrophysics. I could have made such calculations in record time, but Ensor did not require it of me. He provided no information on Stargates."
"Orac's really interested in all this," Vila muttered to Tarrant. "It isn't usually so forthcoming."
"It probably doesn't like the fact that there's an important field out there that it's been unable to access thoroughly." Tarrant turned to Hammond. "We may be refugees here, but we're not without a bargaining chip. Use of Orac should more than pay our way here. And you seem familiar with traveling dimensionally. Would it be possible to return us to our own reality, if not to the planet we originally Gated from?"
At once he had the entire attention of his teammates. "Assuming we should choose to return," Avon said smoothly.
"I should point out that, unless your parallels in our world are dead or very far away, there would be problems with your continued presence in this reality," Hammond returned. "However, since your dimension evidently possessed space travel well in advance of our own, it is possible they were off-world as you were. What was the date when you came through?"
The question stopped Avon and made him tilt his head in thought. A cautious frown settled on his forehead and he studied Hammond thoughtfully. "What year is this?"
Hammond looked at the question from several directions to determine if there were hidden snags in it and finally said, "It's March, 2000."
"That's an Old Calendar date," Tarrant blurted in astonishment. "The end of the Twentieth Century."
"Old Calendar?" Avon echoed and his face developed a particularly expressionless stare. "Yes, it is."
"But what's that mean?" Vila's eyes rounded and he stared from Avon to Tarrant and back again.
"Yes, that question interests us as well, Captain Tarrant," Hammond said. Daniel exchanged a puzzled glance with Sam, and Teal'c, who hadn't found knowledge of the Earth dating system vital to his presence with the Tauri, arched an eyebrow at O'Neill. The Colonel was frowning.
"Because we're over two hundred fifty years past your date," Tarrant replied. "We might not be from your dimension, but we're evidently not from your own time, either."
Orac made a noise that sounded like 'humph'. It might almost have been embarrassment, if computers, or A.I.'s, could be embarrassed.
Avon was on him like Daniel would have been on a promising new language sample carved on an alien wall. "Explain, Orac," the dark man gritted out through clenched teeth. If Daniel had been Orac, he would have been very glad Avon didn't have a large club in his hand.
"Very well. You realize my information on Stargates is several centuries out of date. There have been no Federation studies on Stargates for well over two hundred years."
"And...." Tarrant prompted. The two women exchanged doubtful glances and Vila wrapped his arms around his chest in a parody of fear, although his eyes were considering rather than afraid. He looked like a man who had quickly learned to weigh his options.
"As I had previously stated, galactic shift would have slightly affected all Gate destinations," Orac volunteered. "However, I selected for our destination a planet very near the one we were to have left. I do not know its designation under the terminology you use but I could pinpoint its location, should such be required. Aware of the need of a working 'destination', I chose the nearest world, realizing it would likely still provide a functioning 'address'."
"Yes, that's why we made it safely to the first world we tried," Carter responded. "We are aware of these factors, Orac. What we don't understand is how you could use galactic shift to travel in time, even with the added function of a quantum mirror."
"I doubt I could explain it to someone of your limited intellect," Orac huffed.
Sam jerked her head up in disbelief. Daniel didn't remember ever seeing that particular look of affront on her face. People didn't usually insult Sam for a lack of intellect.
"Oh, now, don't worry," offered Vila. The balding man beamed engagingly at Sam. "Orac says things like that to Avon all the time, and Avon's supposed to be the second-best computer man in the inner and outer worlds."
"Second best? Ensor is dead," Avon pointed out rather smugly. Vila's face lit up and he beamed like the sun. Daniel considered that. Did Vila enjoy Avon's smugness, or was it simply that something had gotten past the man's cold armor, even if it were only ego?
"Suppose you try to explain it," Sam told Orac in a voice that held a challenge and an edge of resentment. "Let us be the judge of what we understand and do not understand."
"Very well. Tarrial cells were designed to create uniformity throughout the Federation, to make computers faster, easier to access, and to make time lags non-existent, even over vast distances."
"Networking between various planets?" Sam's eyes brightened. "Then all computers can do as you do, Orac? Access each other without a direct link?"
"Of course not," Orac huffed. "Computers are not, in general, self-aware. Programming simulates the condition--as it did in the Slave computer," Orac insisted pointedly.
"Slave was the computer on our ship," Soolin put in. "It was destroyed when the Scorpio crashed. It was annoyingly obsequious."
"Makes you wonder if Avon hadn't tampered with the programming," muttered Vila under his breath. He eyed the dark man hopefully out of the corner of his eye.
Daniel glanced sideways at Jack. The colonel hadn't offered much at the meeting, but then computers were not his area of expertise. Instead, Daniel realized, he'd been watching the refugees, assessing them, weighing them up, probably figuring out with pinpoint accuracy which of them were likely to cause the SGC the most trouble. The arch of O'Neill's eyebrow at Vila's comment indicated he was starting to get a handle on the subtext. Good. Daniel knew he could trust Jack to monitor such things. These people had been rebels against an existing and all-powerful government. That probably meant they had forgotten more things about sabotage, high explosives, and devious behavior than Daniel had ever learned. He was sympathetic to their plight, but exposure to Jack O'Neill had made him warier than he'd been in the beginning.
"Slave showed proper respect," Avon said shortly, but Daniel suspected that, under the ice, a slight warmth of amusement hovered.
Orac must have hated being removed from the center of attention. It made a sound that in a human would have been a clearing of the throat and plunged on. "Kindly pay attention. I have too much of my own research to engage upon to waste my time here. Because of Tarrial cells, links can be made through remote computers, with the assistance of coding devices such as a T-P crystal to provide security. Directed properly and with proper passwords, a skilled technician such as Kerr Avon can access many computers. I, however, can access any computer with a Tarrial cell, in spite of passwords, blocks, and distance. It is a pity your computers here are too antiquated to possess them. However, I am able to detect your Stargate and, through it, observe some of your computer functioning. With modifications, it could be easily accessible to me. Such modifications must be made immediately."
Jack made an abrupt motion of denial, and Hammond stepped in again. "That has not been determined as yet," the general said. "Orac, your information has been helpful, but not helpful enough for that. You speak of a means of defeating the Goa'uld threat in your dimension. Evidently, the cure was almost as deadly as the disease, but it might be possible to adapt it here. I don't know what your memory storage capacity is, but I suggest you delve into memories of everything you have accessed and offer us possible solutions."
Orac snorted. "Well, really. It is not my function to save this reality from a threat my own overcame centuries ago."
"No, but they've got the Stargate," Vila reminded the computer. "They could open it up on a nasty world--one all under water, or one that's on fire, and throw you through. Think about it, Orac. That'd be worse than Avon redesigning you, wouldn't it, then?"
"I'd like to go over Orac's specs." Sam turned to Avon. "You're here now and you would appear to be stranded here for the time being. If the Goa'uld menace us, they menace you as well."
"Is your civilization barbaric enough to threaten me because I am not a human?" Orac demanded haughtily.
Daniel didn't want to answer that one. Teal'c, a Jaffa, had been threatened here with such things as imprisonment and dissection simply because of his infant Goa'uld. Humans threatened each other all the time. But what Orac meant, Daniel thought, was whether Orac, as a conscious intelligence, was entitled to the same rights as a human being by law, and the answer was no. At the end of the Twentieth Century there were no known intelligences but human beings. Some wondered about the dolphins, and of course the SGC and those highly placed in the government and the military knew about other races out beyond the Stargate, but there were no laws to protect them, should they be identified. A computer intelligence that could be proven self-aware would be deemed a threat by a large percentage of the population. Jack didn't look especially happy about Orac--or any of the Scorpio crew. Sam was intrigued, but then Sam liked technology. Teal'c would want to know if Orac could help with the process of defeating the Goa'uld, to break the hold the System Lords held over his people. And Hammond would have to look at the bigger picture, to protect this base, this country, and this planet, from potential threats, of which Orac might be one, in spite of its willingness to share information. It could be sharing it very selectively, for all they knew. The people who sat around the briefing table might not be from a parallel reality at all. They might be part of a Goa'uld plot, even if none of them had ever hosted a Goa'uld.
"We have no plans to harm you," Hammond said. "We do, however, have a need to protect this facility, this planet, and this reality, and we will do so. Captain Tarrant, you offered to 'pay your way' through the use of Orac. I would like to assign Major Carter and a technology team to study it. Mister Avon, if you would assist in this area, it would be much appreciated."
Avon opened his mouth to sear the general with a savage rejection, but Vila nudged him with his elbow and Avon shut up, although the scathing glare he bestowed on Vila promised retaliation. He glanced at the doorway, in the direction of the infirmary, as if he had suddenly remembered Blake was being treated and said through clenched teeth, "I will do so."
"Excellent. We shall meet again at 0800 hours tomorrow. We'll see you are assigned quarters."
"And guards?" Dayna asked.
"And guards," Hammond replied without hesitation. "This is a top security base and you people do not have clearance. There will be areas you will not see and questions we will not answer. In our position, you would do the same. We may be able to help each other, and if possible, we shall do so. As long as you do not create a danger to this base, you will be treated well. Our goals appear to run parallel to each other, at least for the moment."
Vila studied Avon thoughtfully, then he said, "Could we see Blake first?"
Hammond considered that request for possible threats, and saw none. "Very well," he said. "SG-1 will escort you there." He rose. "Welcome to the year 2000 and to this reality, people. I hope this will prove a productive encounter." He went out.
Daniel jumped to his feet. "Come on. We'll go back with you. Doctor Fraiser's an excellent doctor. She's had to learn to deal with a lot of things no doctor on Earth ever had to face. Coping with Blake should be easy for her."
Jack picked up Orac before anyone else could do so. Avon made an abortive gesture of protest but didn't say anything, not even when O'Neill beckoned over an airman and put Orac into his hands. "Take it to the lab," he instructed. "And then, hands off until Major Carter arrives." Avon watched Orac borne away, and his eyes were cold and resentful, but he didn't complain. Vila and Tarrant studied him, then raised eyebrows at each other. The moment of comradeship appeared to surprise them both.
Two armed Marines fell in behind them as they left the briefing room, and Daniel found himself walking beside Tarrant. "How did Blake come to be injured?" he asked. He suspected part of the answer already just from watching Avon with Blake, but he wanted to see what they had to say.
The Scorpio's crew grew silent as if a switch had been flipped. Vila opened his mouth and closed it again. Avon turned into a total block of ice. Jack's muscles tended to tighten like that when something went wrong with one of his team, but Jack didn't wear that look of utter desolation in his eyes. Daniel hadn't seen that look lately, but he'd seen it when he first met Jack, and when he heard about the death of Jack's son, Charlie. Without another clue, he knew that, somehow, Avon felt responsible for what had happened to Blake. It explained a lot about the man.
Soolin spoke practically. "Ultimately it was the Federation, making people distrust allies. A Federation agent infiltrated Blake's base. Blake was suspicious and paranoid and he hadn't seen Avon for two years. They...misunderstood each other."
Tarrant's mouth twisted. "Helped along by me," he said wryly. "Everything came together so that there was no choice for Avon but to shoot Blake. In the end, that was a mistake, but none of us could have known that at the time."
Avon didn't say a word. He plodded forward with grim determination while Jack and Sam exchanged glances full of speculation and Teal'c's eyes lingered on the dark man, possibly remembering some of the distasteful things he'd been required to do as First Prime of Apophis. He might understand Avon better than Jack would.
As for Daniel, he felt a sudden sympathy for Avon, even as he realized Avon would not welcome it. He remembered that Blake had accepted Avon's unemotional solicitude, but he had not sought it out or welcomed it. That problem was not resolved, not by a long way. Daniel remembered how he'd felt after Jack had pretended to go over to Maybourne's side and had essentially rejected Daniel's offer of friendship and understanding because, as Daniel had later learned, he had feared he was under surveillance at the time. Daniel wasn't sure he was a hundred percent comfortable with Jack yet, even if he knew that the military had to play by different rules and that a lot more had been at stake than his own feelings. That had been hard on the entire team and they were still shuffling for positions now that it was resolved. Or at least partially resolved. A part of him still felt the sting of that rejection, even if it had not been real.
As if he guessed what Daniel was thinking, Jack shot him a speculative glance. There was doubt in the Colonel's eyes, but he looked away again immediately, and his eyes measured Avon.
"I see," said Sam in a voice that held no judgment.
"This is not your concern," Avon said tightly.
She looked up at him. "I know that. But the safety of this base is my concern."
"I will not harm this base if no one here harms me." Avon's voice was utterly unyielding, but the threat in it was narrowly focused, and it involved the safety of the people who had come with him, no more. He stepped out ahead of them and plunged into the infirmary. The rest of his people eyed each other and shook their heads.
"It's hard on him," Carter said.
"It was harder on Blake," Soolin said.
Vila objected. "No. Blake knows he said all the wrong things. He'd just forgotten how to cope with Avon. Takes time and effort, it does. If Blake can forgive Avon, it'll be a whole lot nicer."
"Nicer," scoffed Dayna. "If you think it's going to be nice, you're on the wrong ship--or rather, you're in the wrong place."
"We're nice," Daniel said, deliberately naive.
Jack started to scoff, caught himself, and eyed Daniel with a discerning eye. "We're really sweet people," he added, and muttered under his breath, "For crying out loud."
Vila surprised himself by chuckling. "That's good," he said as if he'd taken both comments entirely at face value, but Daniel didn't think he had.
Teal'c, with an utterly straight face, said, "We are, after all, the 'good guys'." Coming in his most stoic Jaffa tones, it caused the rest of SG-1 to burst into laughter. After a hesitant moment, Vila joined in, and even Tarrant smiled.
They found Avon talking earnestly to Doctor Fraiser, who had steered him away from Blake's bed. The rebel looked asleep, but his color was good. He had two IVs hooked up and a clean, white dressing covered his midsection. He was breathing deeply and regularly.
"He's sleeping," Janet said in an undertone. "The surgery was actually very minor and it went well. Don't rouse him if you can help it. The wound was not treated properly--oh, I'm sure you did the best you could under the circumstances and it sounds like your medical facilities are geared to allow treatment by non-medical personnel. It saved his life, of course, but now we've made sure there are no complications. Actually, I did a little cleaning up of the wound and a minor stitching, no more. We're giving him antibiotics and nutrients; I've run tests to determine what his immune system can handle. Since you're from a different reality and, evidently, a different time, there are bound to be infections you'd be susceptible to here, but we'll watch out for anything like that." She put her hand on Avon's arm, and Daniel had to hide a smile at the utterly astonished affront that came and went on the computer tech's face before he gently detached himself. "He really will be all right, Avon," she said. "He told me what happened."
There went all expression from Avon's face. He'd give Mister Spock a run for his money; in fact, he made Teal'c look absolutely volatile by comparison. Daniel had to hide a smile.
"Did he?" said Avon in the tone of voice that revealed absolutely nothing.
"Mistakes hurt everyone," Janet said rather cryptically. "I understand how hard this has been on all of you." She looked past Avon to the rest of his team. "I suggest you all get a hot meal before you begin any research to investigate your situation. I know SG-1 will take care of you."
Dismissed, Avon moved past her and stood looking down at Blake. The sleeping man didn't rouse, but everybody else in the room turned to look at Avon. Dayna produced an unexpectedly maternal smile, Tarrant looked measuring. Soolin merely watched with a knowing eye, but Vila grinned. Daniel discovered that he rather wished one of them would go over and sling an arm around Avon's shoulders, even if he didn't seem the kind of man to welcome it.
What did happen was that Jack edged over to stand beside Daniel. He was watching Avon and Blake, maybe reading parallels into what had happened between him and Daniel. He caught the archaeologist's eye, nodded in their direction, and said in an undertone, "I hope they work it out. That kind of thing's tough."
"Yes," said Daniel. "It is." Then, when Jack's face didn't ease its slightly burdened expression, he continued hastily, "I hope they do, too."
Jack's face lightened fractionally, and Daniel found himself wondering when it was he'd learned to make conversation in layers. He didn't think he'd been able to read people so deeply before Sha're.
He drew a deep, regretful breath.
Maybe Jack was good at this layer thing, too, because he reached out and let his hand rest for a second on Daniel's shoulder. They didn't say anything more or even look at each other, but they didn't need to. They both knew they had moved a step closer to resolution than they'd been before.
In the end, it was Tarrant who went over to Avon. Daniel would have expected Vila. The tall man touched Avon on the shoulder, much as Jack had just touched Daniel, and let his hand fall immediately. It was very telling that Avon didn't flinch at the touch or go for a non-existent gun. "We're going to eat now," he said.
Avon turned immediately. He had composed his features. He didn't look all ice, simply a very private man, but for an instant, regret gleamed in the brown eyes. He masked it at once, but Daniel knew he had seen it. Maybe he'd find a way to mention it to Blake later on.
"Well, come on, kiddies," Jack put in as if he knew the term would probably make most of the newcomers resentful and counted on it. "I've had a busy morning, fighting painted natives and being insulted by a computer. I want my lunch."
"Sir, there's something I want to point out to you."
O'Neill stopped as Carter caught his arm. "What is it?" He watched Daniel leading their guests to the mess. Teal'c was with them and the two armed Marines at their heels, so they should be okay.
"Did you notice that while Orac explained how it used the Stargate it carefully avoided an explanation of how it made the time shift?"
"Yeah, I did catch that," O'Neill replied. "And maybe I'm not the next Bill Gates, but I thought the sneaky little computer fudged on how it accessed the DHD, too. So, you think these guys aren't on the up and up?"
"I think they may be terrorists who can't even agree among themselves. I don't think they're Goa'uld, or even connected with the Goa'uld, though."
O'Neill nodded. "I watched them when Orac was explaining what it knew, when it shifted over to a generalized statement about those Terrier cells. The others looked shocked about being in the wrong time as well as the wrong reality, but that could have been an act. Except that I think that guy Avon is a few prongs short of a fork, and I'm not sure he could act his way out of a paper bag right now."
Carter nodded. "That was my assessment, too, sir. I can understand it. Think how you'd feel if you'd shot Daniel or Teal'c or me by mistake."
"I'd rather not," Jack replied. He didn't like feeling sympathy for Avon, but he'd felt a little in spite of himself when the guy was hovering over his sleeping friend. Jack wasn't a particularly effusive guy, but compared to Avon, he let it all hang out. After the mess where he'd had to fake out his own team, shoot down Daniel when he was trying so earnestly to understand him in case his house was bugged, he had a really good handle on betraying his friends. That his actions had been a cover, part of a larger plan to retain their galactic allies with the survival of the earth at stake would not entirely soothe poor Daniel, who'd been pouring his heart out. Jack wouldn't have been good at that at the best of times, but he still felt like a world-class heel, all the more so because he knew that, under the same circumstances, he'd have to do it all over again. Sometimes, getting close to people just hurt too much. He could understand it when Avon closed down and did that Mister Spock, no emotions routine. Only thing was, just like Jack, Avon had emotions. Too many of them, and bottled up too much.
"Ah, hell," he muttered.
Carter didn't seem to think it was an inappropriate response. "Yes, sir. I honestly believe that Orac acted independently of them. And I don't feel we can take Orac's assessment that it can't directly access our computers at face value."
Jack started moving after the others. "Wasn't gonna. I don't say those guys have it in for us; probably not. They just want to survive and get their act together. But I'd bet my next paycheck that Orac has a hidden agenda."
"I think so, too. But I also think it's big on self preservation. And I don't think it can directly influence human behavior. It might try to get into the computer system, but I think it's vulnerable to a staff weapon or even a zat. So I think we need to make it clear to Orac from the start that, valuable as it is, this base and this project is more important to us. I want to learn to adapt the Tarrial cell function if at all possible. We'll need the best computer people on the base for that."
"You think those guys at Microsoft would be any good with this?"
Carter chuckled. "It's not like Bill Gates has clearance, sir." She gestured toward the mess. "We'd better get in there. Teal'c will be wary enough, but Daniel's sympathetic to them. It's not that he'd give anything away, but he's not as wary as you are."
"I'll play watchdog," Jack agreed. "And you see if you can get a handle on these Terrier cells." He liked the mental image of a series of scrappy little computer cells barking. Yeah, he just hoped they didn't bite.
Vila Restal didn't know yet what he thought of this place and the people in it, but he did know it was military, and he couldn't help thinking of Space Command, even if the folks here seemed nicer. They didn't give the slightest indication that they knew that Blake was a rebel and wanted criminal, and they hadn't for an instant withheld medical treatment for him, for the mildly battered Tarrant, or for any of them. That pretty Doctor Fraiser had claimed they were all run-down; Vila could have told her that. She didn't have any adrenaline and soma, more's the pity, but she had given them vitamin solutions and Vila felt like it had helped. His corpuscles had perked up as a result, even if they were primitive here and used actual needles to poke right into his skin. Tarrant had been suspicious, and so had the women, but Blake had been so tired and drained that he'd just accepted treatment, and Avon simply endured, as he'd been enduring ever since he'd shot Blake and realized how badly he'd screwed up.
Poor old Avon. The sight of his desolate face had more than made up to Vila for what had almost happened on a shuttle over Malodaar, when Avon had sought him out with the intention of ejecting him into space to achieve escape velocity. A part of Vila still hurt over that; he'd always believed that if he stayed safely in Avon's shadow Avon would protect him, even if only as an adjunct of Avon himself. But Avon had nearly killed Blake. Vila realized that it wasn't that Avon had homicidal urges toward either of them. He'd just been pushed to a point where the only thing left to do was to strike out blindly in all directions, no matter who suffered. What got Vila thinking was the realization that Avon suffered more than either he or Blake had, and poor old Avon could never admit it, not without shattering completely and finally.
So Vila hovered. He threw in gentle jibes. He tried to provoke Avon into his usual byplay. Sometimes it worked for a few minutes and gave Vila hope, but usually Avon shriveled up again right afterwards. Maybe being here, safe--if this place really was safe, what with those nasty Goa'uld snake characters lurking--might help Avon. At least, for the moment, he didn't have the responsibility for their safety, and Doctor Fraiser was actively working to heal Blake. Vila planned to sneak in and lay down the law to the rebel leader first chance he got. It wouldn't help anybody if Avon finally came to pieces.
For the first time Vila could remember, he was glad of Tarrant's presence. The crisis had tested Tarrant and proven him worthy of it. He'd stepped into leadership as if he'd been born for it, and watched over all of them, even wounded. Vila wasn't a leader. He'd never been a leader and he never would be. Didn't even want to be. Soolin couldn't be bothered and Dayna was really too young and too inexperienced to do more than defend them all. So, with Avon doing a clam imitation and Vila content with popping out of the shadows every now and then, Tarrant had assumed the position of leader. Vila hoped that Avon would gradually relax, realize what Tarrant had done, and oust him, but Avon wasn't ready for that yet.
Fine. Vila would wait. Avon called him a fool, but he was Avon's fool again. Malodaar was still a bitterness between them, and probably Avon felt guilty. When he was guilty, he never admitted it. He carried it off in the grand manner and pretended it didn't hurt. People who didn't know that thought him a right bastard--and he was one. But that didn't mean he didn't care or feel regret. He'd been incredibly protective of Blake since all this happened. Not care? Poor old Avon probably cared too much. Just couldn't show it.
The food was wonderful. It was hot and plentiful, and it was real food, not synthetics. Real meat. Real vegetables. Real coffee. Vila couldn't believe it. These folks got to eat like this all the time? Unless they were producing their best to impress the Scorpio crew and usually ate processed foods or rations. And if so, they wouldn't be feeding it to the ordinary soldiers, would they?
He rolled his eyes at Tarrant. Of course Tarrant was an Alpha; he'd probably grown up eating stuff like this, the lucky bastard. Vila wondered if it would be possible to get seconds.
Okay, time to think about the people who had rescued them. SG-1 they were called. SG for Stargate, he supposed. Avon had said something and Orac's hasty, incomplete explanation had indicated that maybe these folks hadn't designed the Stargate system but had happened on it and adapted it. The general had said the project was top secret, so the general public didn't know, but that was nothing new to Vila. Didn't matter, either. These people had control of the Stargate. Was that how these Goa'uld aliens had found them? Or had they come to Earth on their own and made trouble? There had been a vid system in the room Vila had been assigned to. Later on, he meant to check it out. The airman who had shown him his quarters had said that computer access was restricted but that he could 'watch television'. He'd turned it on and shown Vila a sporting event, something called 'basketball' with a lot of very tall black men throwing or sometimes ramming a small ball through a circle not much bigger than it was. They had to jump about two meters to shove it through, too. Looked nasty and violent. Then there had been another one with a man and woman talking about having sex. The airman had flipped that off disapprovingly; said it was a 'soap opera', whatever that was. Vila knew about operas. Lots of fat men and women singing in foreign languages. But this one hadn't had any singing. He'd have to check out the 'television' later on.
For now, he watched SG-1. Colonel O'Neill was a hard man, Vila could tell. He had that look in his eyes that marked someone who'd been in combat, who'd done dark and dirty deeds for the sake of his cause or government or whoever sent him out. But he had a sense of humor, too, and Vila recognized something else about him. He was as good at camouflage as Vila was. He'd pretended vast ignorance of computers, but Vila thought he probably knew more about lots of things than he let on. You didn't get appointed to top-secret projects and promoted to being a colonel if you weren't as sharp as a tack.
Something else was going on with O'Neill, too. Vila didn't know what it was, but there was a slight edge of distance between him and the other members of his team. He didn't think it had always been there, but it was as if something had come between them. They were working past it, but sometimes they remembered and drew back a little. Reminded Vila of his reaction to Avon after Malodaar. They weren't going to tell him about it, but Vila watched, wondering if it would help him and his friends or hurt them. O'Neill himself was...well, he wasn't exactly diffident around them. Wasn't that type of man. But there was a slight hesitation. Vila meant to keep an eye on him.
Daniel was very friendly, very sympathetic. Too friendly? And wary about O'Neill, too. Under all that understanding and sympathy he'd dished out to Vila and his friends was something else, a pain that went very deep. He'd had something bad happen to him, all right. Vila knew the signs very well. Tarrant had looked like that after the death of his brother at the Teal-Vandor convention. Dayna had looked like that after her father's death. Daniel had lost someone and he was still grieving. Whatever had happened between O'Neill and the rest of them hadn't helped either. All right. Just because these people got to eat real meat and live in a cushy place with their own gorgeous doctor and zip all over the galaxy like stepping through a door didn't mean they had it easy.
Major Carter. Sam. Pity she wore trousers and he couldn't see her legs like he could Doctor Fraiser's. He'd always been a leg man. Vila had always had a thing for blondes. Sam was a very smart blonde, too. Maybe she was even as smart as Avon. Avon was very smart, but Avon knew things in the fields that interested him rather than generally across the board. Vila didn't know how much people had to specialize here, but it was Sam who was going to be working with Orac. She wouldn't do it alone. This was a military base, so she'd have specialists come in. After the Liberator and Scorpio, and being on their own for so long, Vila wasn't used to having all these people about, but he had to admit it might make it easier for them to get a handle on Orac. Assuming Orac would let them....
Teal'c. Now there was somebody Vila didn't quite get. Vila knew he had a kind of military discipline; he was tough and stoic and unflappable, but he didn't feel like the same kind of military as O'Neill. More like a warrior military. Like old whatsis, Zeeona's father, Zukan, the warlord. He could see Teal'c working for someone like that easier than he could see him working for General Hammond. Yet Teal'c's loyalty appeared complete.
So you had O'Neill, who was in charge of the unit, and definitely military, Sam, who was military in spite of being beautiful and scientific, Daniel, who didn't seem remotely military, and Teal'c, who didn't fit in the usual way. And they worked together. Vila couldn't see something like that happening at Space Command. All nice and uniform, little toy soldiers who did what they were told when they were told, no matter who died of it. He could see O'Neill doing that, but he could also see O'Neill stopping to ask questions and offer his own opinions before he broke down and did it.
No, this wasn't Vila's world. It wasn't anything like Vila's world. He hoped that was a good thing.
Avon ate mechanically, although he did pause and take a second look at his coffee cup. It was a small thing, but it gave Vila hope. Blake was being healed; these people had taken them in and were helping them. Maybe if they stayed long enough, even Avon would be healed. Vila hoped so.
"I want to know about this time travel," Daniel said. His eyes sought out Avon. "You know the most about Orac. Do you think it knows what it did with the time travel, or was it an accident?"
"Using the Stargate and the device you call the 'quantum mirror' was deliberate," Avon replied. Somehow, he didn't seem as hostile to Daniel as he was to the others. "Orac has always had its own agenda. We have to interrupt its research for our own projects." And that was as much as he was going to say. Relieved Vila's mind. He couldn't help wondering if there'd been anything like a truth serum in the vitamin solution.
"What I wonder," said Daniel in a strange voice, "was whether such a time-shift could be controlled--and used to go back into time to make changes in the past."
Suddenly all the other members of SG-1 were alert and staring at him, and Vila didn't think it was just because they, like everybody, had things in their pasts that they'd want to change.
"That would be risky," Sam ventured tentatively. Her eyes narrowed as she studied Daniel.
"Yeah, because you don't know how it would affect the present," offered O'Neill. He cocked an eyebrow at Sam, demanding information, or at least urging her to work it through.
"I thought if I went back to the time when Sha're was taken...." Daniel began. He was silent a moment.
So were the others, and, while Vila didn't know who Sha're was, or even if it was a who and not a place, it evidently meant something to the lot of them. "Daniel," said Sam gently, "I can understand why you would want to do that. But even if it were possible, even if we could trust Orac to take you back in time, there would be consequences...." She glanced at Avon and the others and picked her words carefully, probably for security purposes. "You originally joined the SGC for one reason, to find Sha're. If that had happened differently, if she hadn't...you would not have joined SG-1. And if you hadn't experienced the quantum mirror and learned what the Goa'uld had planned in that dimension, we would never have gone to Klorel's ship, and...." She let her voice trail off.
Daniel's face fell.
"We can't discuss this here," cut in O'Neill swiftly. "Carter, you investigate what Orac might be able to do. Maybe we couldn't go back that far, but...." He went tight-lipped, but his eyes lingered on Daniel, full of sympathy. Daniel didn't see it. He was tracing patterns on the table top with his fork. Misery radiated off him in waves. Whoever Sha're was, Vila would bet all the money he'd won at the Big Wheel--if it hadn't been blown up with the Liberator--that she was dead.
"Daniel, with me," Jack said and motioned him toward the door. Daniel cast an apologetic look at Vila and the others and followed him.
"Daniel Jackson is very upset," Teal'c observed unnecessarily.
Avon lifted his eyes from his plate and studied them all. "Orac has never displayed an ability to travel in time," he remarked. Tarrant looked at him in surprise because it wasn't like Avon to offer information like that. Vila sighed. Maybe they had been drugged. Or maybe Avon had simply gone down so far that he could recognize someone else who was suffering as he was.
Vila heaved a big sigh. Why was nothing ever easy?
"Okay, Daniel, I understand where you're coming from," Jack said as soon as they reached his office. He nodded Daniel toward a chair, but Daniel didn't take it. He was too keyed up to sit down. Orac had shifted these people in time. Not only had he done it, he'd shifted them to a time when they might conceivably have some impact. If they could cross-shift to their own dimension in this time, maybe they could do something about the Goa'uld incursion there. They might even be able to find out what had happened; what their world had used to defeat the Goa'uld once and for all, even if the cost had evidently been the shattering of their society. But if Orac could make a two-hundred fifty year time shift, why not one of a couple of months, back to the time when Amonet, in Sha're's body, had tried to kill Daniel, forcing Teal'c to shoot her? How hard would it be to go back and make sure Teal'c had held a zat instead of a staff weapon. Sha're would still have a Goa'uld inside her, but she would be alive, and it might be possible to free her eventually. She was beyond being freed now, but if Orac could take them back in time....
"Do you, Jack?" he snapped. "It's not your loss, so do you really care?"
"What's that supposed to mean, damn it?"
"It means you were pretty comfortable throwing my friendship back in my face a few weeks ago. Or is this some military thing? Personal motives don't matter? Would it be different if you could go back in time and make sure Charlie didn't get hold of your gun--"
Jack's face lost all color and his eyes hardened into pebbles. "Damn it, Daniel, that's going too far."
He knew it was. He knew his words had hurt Jack beyond what was acceptable between friends but he couldn't stop. That moment of shared understanding in the infirmary might as well have never happened. "Is it? How am I supposed to know what's too far any more, Jack? Once I thought I could trust you, that you'd help me when I needed it, but now I know that's not true. You proved that a few weeks ago. Maybe Orac can't go back in time and help me save Sha're, and maybe that's not going to happen, but I can't just let the possibility go without trying to find out, even if you don't give a damn."
"Okay, Daniel." Jack's face was tight, but there was pain as well as anger in it. "If you don't know how damned hard it was to throw all that back in your face when you came to my place, when you were trying to understand, then maybe you never knew me, either. I had to do that, and it hurt me as much as it hurt you, but the whole world was at stake. We can't handle the Goa'uld alone, not with just this planet. Sometimes, when you're military, you get sucked into things that make you sick to your stomach, but you don't have options. I'd rather have gone through torture than treat you and Sam and Teal'c the way I did, but I didn't have a choice. If I could do anything with time travel, I'd go back and change that, but I can't. Sometimes, we have to be bastards, but that doesn't mean we have to like it, damn it. You think Teal'c liked having to kill Sha're? We're in the middle of a war. Wars aren't nice, and they aren't noble. We have to snatch what good we can out of them, and hope that the things that matter don't get broken beyond repair in the process." His anger was gone now. All that was left in his face was a weary kind of pain that made Daniel feel both guilty and irritated.
"Okay, so I'm naive and innocent and unrealistic to think I could trust my friends. Maybe that's a lesson I'd better learn fast. I thought of leaving when Sha're died, Jack, because a part of me believed that was the only reason I'd joined the SGC. But it wasn't. This was my family, the only family I had left...."
"And I shot that down." Jack's voice was quiet. Daniel heard the pain in it. He was silent a moment, and Daniel could find nothing to say. Jack plunged on. "Dammit, Daniel, we all have things we'd want to go back and change. You were on the money. If I could go back and save Charlie, I would. I'd save Kawalsky. I'd save my marriage. You don't think Teal'c has things he'd like to fix? We all would. Damn it, if I thought I could go back and save my son's life, don't you think I'd choose to do it?"
So he could finally forgive himself? Jack had hurt Daniel badly a few weeks ago, but Daniel had trashed him equally badly just now. "I know you would," he said. "But, Jack, what if we can?"
"And what happens then? You prevent Sha're from being taken over, and you don't join the SGC. You don't see the parallel earth in the quantum mirror and we don't Gate to Klorel's ship. The Stargate is shut down and Klorel and Apophis destroy Earth. I save Charlie...." His voice caught, and he cleared his throat savagely. "And I stay in the military and don't have to be recalled for the Stargate mission because I'm assigned somewhere else. Who knows how that would have happened? Ra might have gotten through and found us. And where do we stop? What's to stop somebody like Maybourne from going back and doing a nice little line in rearranging history to suit him? We can't do it, Daniel. The risk's too great."
"I thought the consequences didn't matter, Jack. No matter who gets hurt, we do what we have to do. Isn't that what you just tried to teach me at your house?"
"Dammit! That was when I didn't have any choice. I do this time. We don't know that Orac can control time shifts. It might have been an accident. There might have been a hellacious solar flare on the planet they came from right at the moment they stepped into the Gate. Because they acted like they were on the same one, come to think of it, only without the mirror so maybe they had the same thing happen to us that happened when we got sent back to Nineteen Sixty-Nine. But mucking around with the time line isn't a good idea. We might make it worse."
"Could it be worse, Jack?"
Daniel and Jack stared at each other. "Ah, hell," Jack said. "I'd rather take an axe to Orac than risk this planet. And--things are bad enough already. This is making it worse. I wish we'd never heard of the damn computer." He was silent for a long, brooding moment. "There probably isn't anybody at this project who doesn't have something they'd like to change in their past. I do. You do. We all do. I'd give anything I could to bring Sha're back for you, Danny, but I can't, any more than I can risk going back and saving my son's life. Sometimes, we get miracles--like we did when we got back from Apophis's ship and found out you were still alive. Usually it goes the other way. I'm gonna have Carter check out the possibilities of time travel, but for all we know, the mirror they found was different than the one we had. Maybe it was responsible for the time travel thing. Maybe that planet's Gate was defective. Maybe it really was a solar flare like the one that sent us back to Nineteen Sixty-Nine. There's no reason to think Orac can set it to a specific day anyway, or that we even could change things if we could go back in time. You know what happens when the same person from two dimensions are together. Maybe the same us from two different times can't co-exist in the same place either. And maybe if we could do it, we'd have done it already and know it. Hell, I don't know. And maybe I'll grow antlers and pull Santa's sleigh next Christmas." He heaved a deep, helpless breath.
Daniel opened his mouth to speak, but Jack put up a hand. "Daniel. I am damn sorry about what I had to do to you when I was trying to infiltrate Maybourne's little cadre. I felt like shit about it and I still do. But I can't change it, and if the same thing happened, I'd have to do it again. At least you'd know it was an act if it happened again."
"Instead of being proof for Maybourne that I believed it," Daniel said in a small voice. "Maybe I just don't have the hard edge or know enough about covert ops to understand. But...I'm sorry I said that about Charlie. That wasn't fair of me."
They looked at each other doubtfully. Was the friendship intact, if a little creaky? Was there hope for it? Could they trust each other the way they once had? And did the fact that they could hurt each other so badly in a few well-chosen words mean that there was enough knowledge and understanding between them that they could pick exactly the right words? That was a backhanded optimism, but the thing was, Daniel wanted to trust Jack. He wanted Jack's friendship. And here was Jack, apologizing to him for it. Maybe there was hope. Maybe it wouldn't ever be the same as it had been, but they might be able to build something stronger out of it. Daniel hoped so.
"Yeah," said Jack uncomfortably. "Look, Daniel. Carter will check it out. If there is a way to do it...."
"No, you were right." Daniel squashed down his huge regret. The Stargate wasn't his own personal tool for repairing his life. Ah, Sha're, I'm sorry, he thought bitterly. All this angst over something that might have been impossible in the first place.... He wasn't the only one hurting. Those six people they'd brought home from PV4-555 were out of time and place. They'd evidently gone through a hell of their own. Orac belonged to them, not the SGC. "I was way out of line."
"No, just human," Jack said softly. "I wish we could do it, too." He clapped Daniel on the shoulder. "Anyway, I hope it's...okay."
"Uh, yeah." Daniel wasn't sure he was over feeling so bad about Jack, but he was closer than he had been. He did understand that some things had to override his own needs. The safety of the whole world.... But still....
He pushed that away. "You?"
They hesitated, then they ventured tentative smiles. Maybe that moment in the infirmary hadn't been impossible after all, just one more step in the road to normalcy.
If such a thing even existed.
"Come on," Jack said. "We better go and see what Carter's up to. She's probably redesigned Orac to serve as a DHD remote control switch by now."
"It'd be handy," Daniel agreed and fell into step with him as they set off for the lab.
Two steps forward, one step back, thought Jack O'Neill ruefully as he and Daniel joined the others in the lab. He couldn't help being annoyed; after all, there had been nothing else he could have done. But that didn't take into account Daniel's very nature. O'Neill still felt like a jerk, and he suspected Carter had some resentment toward him, too, even though she was thoroughly military and understood the mindset. Teal'c, who had been forced to do some damned distasteful things as the First Prime of Apophis, simply accepted and moved on. Carter, too, had accepted, but Daniel, who, in spite of nearly three years as a member of the team, was still thoroughly civilian. Jack didn't want to change that. Daniel's unique civilian perspective had saved the team on more than one occasion, and it had saved the planet when Daniel had chosen to believe utterly in the information he'd gained in the parallel reality, information no one else had been quite willing to buy into.
Jack was crummy at talking about feelings; most guys were, and even Daniel, who was probably a little better at it than he was, didn't excel. They'd cleared the air a bit just now, that was all. He hoped they could keep doing that without a lot of soul-searching. It made him as uncomfortable as hell. But Daniel's friendship meant too much to him not to want to try.
Avon and the other refugees had all come to the lab with Carter and Teal'c. Short of staying in their quarters and watching soaps and talk shows on TV, there wasn't a lot else they could do. Armed guards stood just inside the door, watching them, ready to act at the first sign of trouble. Carter and Avon sat at the table with Orac, Avon reaching into the weird little computer with a probe tool that looked like something he might have brought with him. Jack had never seen anything like it before, not that that was a certainty. Maybe it was a sonic screwdriver like Doctor Who had. He didn't know about a lot of the tools they used in the science labs, anyway. Carter had a computer hooked up to Orac. Now Jack didn't know a lot about computers, but he didn't think that was a great idea.
"Sure it won't be able to take over the base that way?" he asked as he strode up to join them. "If it can control other computers...."
Carter lifted her head and grinned briefly. "This PC isn't hooked up to the network. It's an independent computer, a brand new one. Some experiments require risky work that we don't want to contaminate the system, so there's always one or two of them that aren't networked. It's safer that way."
"I knew that," Jack muttered unconvincingly.
Carter's eyes moved from him to Daniel and back again and a flash of worry clouded her eyes.
"Orac reads Tarrial cells," Tarrant pointed out. Even in BDU's, he seemed to swagger, and he had been prowling about the lab, looking at things, although not touching any. Maybe he'd been warned not to. He had an intelligent eye, though, and O'Neill realized he was making assumptions all the way. Maybe they wouldn't be the right ones. His frame of reference was--hopefully--too different to gain enough insight to damage them, but he was a captain in their military. Jack wasn't sure how their rank translated; he was a ship captain, which should have had an admiral above him, but instead, there were space majors as the next step up. Tarrant might captain something fast and mobile; somebody had mentioned 'pursuit ships'--possibly comparable to destroyers. So maybe the rank compared to the Army, not the Navy. Hard to say. Still, Carter would have been able to do a lot of damage as a captain. He couldn't assume that Tarrant's ignorance of end-of-the-century Earth meant he wasn't dangerous.
"And we don't have Tarrial cells," Carter said. "With the direct physical link, though, Orac may be able to access information from this computer. That's why I started with a new computer. I wouldn't have put it past Orac to be able to read deleted information. So while it will gain some knowledge simply by seeing how our programs and code are written, it won't gain specific information on anything but the basics of computer functioning and incidental data it can extrapolate from the basic programs. If we are to get use from Orac, we'll need it to have some basic understanding."
"Orac's not malicious," Vila offered. "It won't actively attack you--well, so long as it isn't in its best interests. What it might do is get caught up in research and just ignore us. It does that too often."
"Which is what I'd expect from an A.I." Carter's head was bent over the computer so intently it would probably take Apophis to drag her out of it. O'Neill could hear the excitement thrumming through her voice. "Sir, it's conceptually alien to anything I've ever seen. You wouldn't believe the power that can be packed into one Tarrial cell. It makes a Pentium chip look as primitive as a piece of chalk. Still, that's not unexpected. With the massive changes that are going on in the computer industry daily, it isn't unlikely that we could have something like this in a lot less than two hundred fifty years."
Avon looked down his nose at her as if he took her words as a reproach, that he had personally failed by not having a system even more advanced. "You forget, we had a period of down-time at the end of the Old Calendar."
"Do you know what happened then?" Carter asked. "Nuclear war? Collapse of society? Overthrow of the current system?"
"Goa'uld attack?" Jack prompted.
"The Federation would like us to believe that the old system collapsed of its own corruption, thus presenting the Federation as a voice of order in a time of chaos," Tarrant said wryly. "History does not mention the Goa'uld at all, at least not history written for the masses. But it's generally known that society collapsed and the Federation arose from the ashes."
"Maybe their cold war escalated with the advance of the Goa'uld and they hadn't resolved it like we did. Maybe their Third World countries caused problems. There might even have been a nuclear war," Carter theorized. "Orac, what do you know of the period in your history that compares to the end of the Twentieth Century?"
"Very little," Orac said regretfully. "Some things were known, even by the general population, and President Sarkoff had a collection of Twentieth Century artifacts including a phonograph record player and recordings and a motorcar. Blake witnessed these artifacts and might perhaps be questioned. But the actual history--there were several World Wars in the Twentieth Century and other, smaller, wars as well."
"Can you give us a hard copy of what you know?" Carter prompted. "I can connect a printer quickly."
Even Avon, who looked to be about as suspicious as he could be, didn't object to that. Evidently he had decided that what had happened on his Earth several hundred years earlier did not compromise his own personal security. He watched through narrowed eyes as Carter disconnected a printer from another system and attached it to the PC on the table.
Dayna, who had been talking to one of the security men about his training and weapons and getting scant answers, drifted back. "My father knew a lot about Old Calendar history. I was raised on a remote planet but the computers provided information. My father was a rebel in hiding and he thought it to his advantage to know as much as possible about history. He said that if you learned from history you might not be tempted to make the same mistakes, although he also said that knowledge hadn't been that useful in preventing mistakes that he could see. I can answer some questions for you, but since none of this was directly available to the average citizen, it could be largely hearsay. My father also always said that history was always written by the winners, and was thus distorted."
"Blake thought that, too," Avon said involuntarily, then his mouth tightened and he fell silent. When everyone looked at him, he continued tightly, "And the Federation controlled information so that the rabble only knew what it had been told."
"True," agreed Vila. "I grew up in the Delta domes. They never told us anything except that the Federation was powerful and could crush us like ants. Not that I ever saw an ant, though. Roaches--we saw lots of roaches. Rats, too." He grinned brightly. "Had to sneak into Alpha libraries to learn anything at all. And even they only had Old Calendar books that they thought were safe. You didn't find Shakespeare there. Wouldn't think plays hundreds of years old would be dangerous, would you?"
Soolin and Dayna looked blank, but Avon and Tarrant stared at him. "You've read Shakespeare, Vila?" asked Tarrant, and the question was almost insulting.
"Course I have. Gotta keep one step ahead of all those Alphas," Vila stood up for himself. Anyway, everybody knows some Shakespeare. Midsummer Night's Dream. That's Shakespeare, if you will. You know that, don't you, Dayna?"
She looked surprised. "Is that Shakespeare? I've heard the name."
"The version shown as a popular viscast has been severely altered from the original," Avon remarked.
"Shakespeare's plays are a part of our dimension, too," offered Daniel. He looked like he had been drawn in, in spite of himself. O'Neill couldn't think of any reason why talking about the Bard would compromise security, so he didn't object. Daniel glanced at him sideways as if for permission, and then went on. Was he learning discretion at last? Or was he just still wary of Jack? "And A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of them. So there are definite parallels. Orac, if you could print out a list of various historical high points, we might compare them."
Orac had been too busy humming along interacting with the PC to have responded until now. "Your computers are extremely primitive," it announced smugly.
"I think he just broke Bill Gates' heart," Jack muttered, winning a chuckle from Carter and a fleeting smile from Daniel.
None of the refugees asked about Bill Gates. Instead, Vila said, "History's all very well, but it won't get us home, will it?"
Avon turned to stare at him in astonishment. "Home?"
"Well, aren't they trying to find a way to send us back?" Vila asked. "I mean, we tell them how we rid ourselves of the Goa'uld in our dimension and they send us back to our own? Tit for tat."
"You want to go back there?" Soolin asked. "For what, Vila? The idyllic life? Freedom from Federation pursuit? Vast wealth?"
"Blake might want to go back," Tarrant put in. He cast a sideways glance at Avon to see how he'd take that. Vila favored him with a reproachful look.
Avon flinched. "To free his rabble, having done such a successful job of it until now?" the tech asked tightly.
Carter concentrated on Orac to give them their moment of discussion, and O'Neill was glad of that. Sometimes people came out with things in the heat of the moment that they wouldn't have said otherwise. For all their willingness to talk about their dimension's history, they had not been particularly forthcoming about their own particular histories and the current state of politics in their reality. Okay, so they talked about the repressive Federation, but that didn't help Earth in this reality to fight the Goa'uld. It only told them that Avon's reality must have found a very costly way to do it if it had brought about the downfall of the current society. Jack didn't think General Hammond was going to sacrifice Earth's culture to defeat the Goa'uld, not that destroying Earth would stop them anyway. There had to be more to it than that. If the nuclear wars or other disruptions had made Earth no longer worth Goa'uld effort in Avon's dimension, that would not have stopped Earth ships from encountering the System Lords when they ventured out past the solar system and started to impose Federation rule on as much of the Galaxy as they could. Had the Goa'uld been out there waiting for them, they would have been crushed before they could establish themselves as a galactic power. Unless whatever they did weakened the Goa'uld too much to take them on, or unless it had weakened them enough for the Asgards to stop them. He'd have to ask Avon and the others about the Asgards, if he could do it without giving away too much of their own alliances. But maybe, once the Goa'uld were gone, the Asgards had withdrawn to their own galaxy and stayed out of this one altogether.
"Blake is committed to his cause," Tarrant reminded Avon.
"Blake should be committed," Avon snapped in return. "His ideas of security are laughable, and his tactics have won him nothing but his near death on a remote planet." His face was utterly unyielding. "To send Blake back to our time and reality would be little better than murder."
"And you should know all about that," Vila snapped.
Avon whirled on him, mouth open to lacerate Vila with savage words, but in the end he didn't speak them, after all. Instead he stood up, whirled abruptly and stalked out of the room without looking back. One of the Marines turned automatically and followed him.
"What's your next trick, Vila?" Dayna asked. "Kicking cripples? Or, what was it? Shooting blind men in the back?" Her voice was intense with significance and there was pain in her eyes.
Vila flinched and shrank down in upon himself. "Sorry." He drew a huge, shaky breath. "Sometimes I forget. For my next trick, I'll put my foot down my throat to the knee."
"Can't throw off Malodaar, Vila?" There was a determined attempt to make sense of it all in Tarrant's voice.
Vila bowed his head. "I thought I could. 's harder than I thought." He looked up at the members of SG-1. "Avon and I got stranded in a shuttle and we couldn't get escape velocity because the shuttle was suddenly too heavy. It had been rigged to crash. We were going to die, because we couldn't eject enough weight off. Finally we only needed seventy kilos and Orac, that little traitor, said I weighed seventy-three kilos. So Avon tried to find me--so he could space me." He shuddered, his eyes dark with unhappy memories. "He found something else instead at the last minute and even tried to get me to help him throw it off, but I couldn't trust him after that, could I?"
It was a desperate plea. To Jack's surprise, Daniel edged over to Vila. "I don't know Avon, Vila, but people do strange things for the sake of survival or because they have to. It doesn't mean he'd have liked it." He cast an abortive glance at Jack, and Jack heard the edge of apology in his voice and was glad of it.
"Oh yes, that would have made me feel good, right before I died, wouldn't it?" Vila looked up darkly.
Soolin spoke up coolly. "Vila, that was a stripped-down shuttle. You'd already tossed off everything remotely portable. Avon took his time finding you, didn't he?"
"Been through all that, haven't I," Vila said. "Thought I was over it when I saw how he felt about shooting Blake by mistake. But it still.... Well, I still...." His words ran down unhappily.
"Sometimes, it just takes time," Daniel persisted. "Even if you understand why something happens, you just have to live through it and hope life gets back to normal. You're strong, Vila. You're functioning, trying to help. Avon's the one who's fallen apart. But then, it's easier for you to forgive him than it is for him to forgive himself. It always is. And he's got Blake to forgive himself for, too."
Jack heard himself speaking. "And to forgive yourself, you have to get past the fact that, in the same circumstances, you might have to do the same thing all over again, no matter how damned distasteful it is." He added hastily, "I don't think Avon likes himself very much right now."
Daniel cast a startled, comprehending glance at Jack, but he said nothing. His eyes held more understanding than they had before, and that was a good thing.
"I don't think he's liked himself for a long time." Tarrant cast a speculative glance at O'Neill and then at Daniel as if he were reading all sorts of things into the hasty words. All these people were on the edge and everything was down to a fine focus. Sometimes, when it was like that, you went on by rote, and sometimes, it made your focus ultra-clear. Jack had a feeling it was the latter with these people. Everything was new and strange to them so they focused on it with a desperate intensity. It was better than focusing on their own personal tragedies and betrayals.
"Will he be all right?" Dayna asked with a comprehensive gesture that included the whole base.
"Unless he tries to get into security areas, and the Marine will warn him if he does," Carter said.
Teal'c, who had been silent through the entire discussion, said, "I will locate him." He went off, a silent, solid presence. Jack nodded. He'd rather Teal'c dealt with Avon than anybody else on the team. Even wounded to the soul like he was, Jack had a sudden feeling that Avon would eat most people alive.
Avon didn't get very far. He walked through strange corridors, conscious of his armed escort waiting to steer him away from strategic locations, and knew that it didn't matter where he went as long as it was not to the medical unit--infirmary, he corrected. He did not feel like dealing with Blake. Carter would perhaps resent his desertion, since she expected him to work with Orac. Still, Orac was interested in the problem, interested in this reality, and glad of an opportunity to display its seniority. It would probably cooperate with Carter as long as it believed its own interests matched hers.
He turned to his escort. "This base is evidently underground. Is it possible to go to the surface?"
"I don't think that would be a good idea, sir." Polite, but still a definite no.
"I don't plan to run away," Avon said pointedly. "Where would I go? This is not my reality, nor my time."
"If you want privacy, sir, perhaps the chapel...."
"A room that serves as a non-denominational church, sir."
"Ah. Religion." He frowned. He knew of it as a historical oddity, not as something that could touch upon his own life, but a private room was not to be sneered at. They would scarcely expect him to...pray, was it? "Very well, it will serve."
The chapel was not elaborate or highly decorated. It was merely a room with a several rows of chairs, a dais in front of the chairs with a lectern and a table. Avon witnessed nothing that he would assume to be a religious artifact, but then he had never encountered any before. The guard had spoken of denominations, which indicated that this room would be used by different religious sects. Maybe they shuffled in appropriate icons for the various rituals. There had been a ruined church in the Forbidden Zone, and occasionally, Avon had encountered mention of religion in the various banned books he had read, but the authors had always assumed the readers understood the concept of religion and had never explained. Uncomprehending of the mentality that would require a deity, Avon had merely skimmed such sections, mildly amused that the use of the word 'god' still appeared on occasion in stressful moments as an oath in his own time, even by people who had no concept of its original meaning.
"As there is no other way out of this room and as it offers nothing in the way of weapons, I would appreciate privacy," he said. He wanted to snarl at the man and dismiss him summarily, but it would serve no purpose to alienate the staff of this base, not when his survival depended on them. If he did not understand simple phrasing such as the word 'chapel' he would betray himself as an outsider should he escape this underground base and try to blend into the society. Besides, most people here wore the same type of garb, but they were military, and Avon didn't know if civilian clothing outside the base would be different.
The soldier nodded agreeably, but he didn't relax his attention. "Yes, sir. I'll wait outside."
Avon went into the room. He didn't sit down in one of the chairs but instead prowled restlessly up to the dais. A bound book lay on the lectern and an investigation revealed the words 'Holy Bible' on the cover. Under other circumstances Avon would have been interested; he had encountered frequent references to the Bible in his reading. At the moment, however, he could see no purpose in it, although he might be interested in taking it back with him should the people of the SGC discover a way to return him and the others to where they belonged. Banned reading material was usually more interesting than the bland, propaganda-ridden material available to Federation citizens.
Belonged? He gave a snort of disgust. Did they belong anywhere? Did he? Back in his own dimension and time, those of Blake's rabble who had survived would no doubt believe he had murdered Blake and would spread the word of his infamy. Blake, surviving, was bitter and distant and full of blame that Avon could not defend himself against. He would likely proclaim Avon anathema when they returned, which meant he should have none to side with him. Not that he had ever needed any of them, but it seemed hard to think that every man's hand should be turned against him. Even Vila....
Not that he deserved better. He had been prepared to coldly sacrifice Vila for his own survival. As he looked back, he cursed himself for a fool. Survival? For what? To nearly murder Blake? To preserve an existence that had become unbearable? He had once wanted to become so wealthy that no one could touch him, but now, even a planet of money and precious jewels would not touch the hollowness inside him. A pity the Federation troops had not finished it. He had wanted to die as he stood there over Blake's body. He had wanted an end to it. But an end had failed to come, and Blake's survival had taken over and given him a purpose. He would assure Blake's survival, not to protect his own life, which was worthless, but because he had gone too far and he knew it. Blake would live and Blake would hate him, which was as it should be. The others would despise him, too; but surely they had always done so and he expected no less. He preferred that. Life had taught him that ties only weighed him down.
If he could have killed himself in that moment, he might have done so. But he had no weapons; he had even left his tools in the laboratory with Major Carter.
But he could not kill himself, for Blake was not well and Blake was not safe. Once he had assured Blake's safety, that would be the time to finally end it. Now even Vila was against him; although Avon would despise him for the fool Avon had long named him had he not done so. Yet Vila had been curiously protective and supportive since Gauda Prime. Now, Avon realized it had been a sham. Vila was a survivor, too. Had he been saying what Avon wanted to hear, playing him along with their usual raillery until frustration and annoyance brought out the truth?
Damn him. Avon didn't know whether he damned Vila or himself. Had he allowed himself to rely on the thief's support, he who claimed to need no one? Fool. He was the fool, not Vila, for he had needed Vila, and he needed Blake. This time, Avon damned himself for being a total fool, and he slammed a fist down so hard on the lectern that the Bible slid sideways and fell to the floor as he accepted that fact. His fist stung, and he stared at it in surprise, wondering if he had broken it.
"It will not fight back," said a voice from the doorway. "But the Tauri regard that book as sacred."
Teal'c, the warrior, advanced into the room. His hands were free of weapons and his face was too impassive to read, but Avon thought he saw sympathy in the dark eyes. He looked away, unable to tolerate sympathy or its unkinder cousin, pity. Far easier to face contempt and loathing. At least he was accustomed to that.
The Jaffa bent and picked up the book. He brushed the cover with gentle hands and returned it to its place, displaying respect for a religion and culture that was not his own. "It is undamaged."
"The Tauri?" Avon asked quickly.
"The humans of Earth."
"You are not of Earth?" Avon asked, although he had already gotten that impression from everything that had passed. It did not surprise him the way it might have astonished a human of this time and reality.
"No. I ally myself with the Tauri to free my people from the Goa'uld."
"What exactly are these Goa'uld?" Avon asked. "What is the nature of their threat?" He wasn't really interested, but the words filled an inner silence.
To his astonishment, Teal'c began to unfasten his shirt. There was a black knit shirt underneath, and he pulled that up to reveal an x-marked wound or opening in his abdomen. As Avon stared in utter disbelief, an ugly, snake-like being poked its head from the 'pouch' within and looked at him. Avon couldn't help jerking back involuntarily and glancing around wildly for a weapon. An alien indeed.
The snake withdrew and Teal'c closed his shirt. "That is the larval form of the Goa'uld; it is called a prim'ta. My people, the Jaffa bear the infant Goa'uld until they are mature enough to take permanent hosts. It functions as an immune system to me and preserves and maintains my existence. When the larva matures, it is implanted into a host. At such time, it overrides the conscious control of the host and functions in a parasitic relationship, controlling the body and mind. The most powerful Goa'uld are called System Lords. They assume the role of 'gods'. Most of my people still believe that Apophis is a god. He dominated our world, and I served as his First Prime, until I saw the truth, that he was no god but merely a controlling being who used 'lower' life forms for his own needs. I encountered Colonel O'Neill and helped him and the others to escape Apophis on my homeworld of Chulak, and I became a part of SG-1. My life is dedicated to freeing my people from servitude and defeating the Goa'uld."
He tucked the undershirt into place. "Anyone may serve as host." He hesitated. "Daniel Jackson's wife was one such. It was I who gave her to Apophis to serve as a host, before I turned on him. In her Goa'uld form, she attempted to kill Daniel Jackson, and I was forced to destroy her to save his life. I destroyed her, but I first made it possible for her to be destroyed." He drew a deep, sustaining breath and the muscles in his jaw twitched. "On occasion, life offers impossible choices."
Avon digested that in silence. Was what Teal'c had done more unforgivable than what Avon had done to Blake, what he had tried to do to Vila? Were there degrees of unforgivableness? Had Daniel Jackson forgiven the Jaffa? He had not displayed revulsion or hatred toward Teal'c, but that did not mean he felt none. Avon was still shocked by the sight of the parasitic being that dwelt within Teal'c. How did the man endure it, nurturing the infant form of his enemy, unable to dispense with it without dispensing with his immune system? "And when that matures?" he asked. Easier to discuss Teal'c's biology than to dwell on guilt and responsibility. He had done what must be done. How could he apologize for something he would repeat, should the circumstances recur?
"Either it will take over my mind and body and control me, or I must replace it with a younger one before it matures. I will not allow it to take over. Should that happen, I will die." It was said so calmly and matter-of-factly that Avon could not doubt the sincerity of his words. "My honor will not permit me to serve the Goa'uld in that form."
"Your friends might have something to say about that," Avon pointed out, merely to test the waters. He was not certain what his own crewmates would do, were he in that situation. Kill him instantly, he had no doubt. It was what he would have done to them.
"They will attempt to save me, if that should occur," Teal'c replied. "I will not accept suicide except as a last resort, but I will not hesitate, should it be necessary." He was silent a moment. "The trick, as Colonel O'Neill would say, is knowing when that moment is necessary--and when it merely appears expedient."
He and Avon stared at each other for a long moment. Then Avon dropped his eyes. "I must ensure Blake's safety," he said.
"And when you have done so?" He glanced at the doorway, perhaps to ascertain that the soldier was not listening. "There is more at stake than simply Blake's survival. I, too, have been through such an experience. Daniel Jackson forgave me long ago for causing Sha're to be taken by Amonet. Even more, he forgave me for killing her, although it was not easy for him and it still is difficult for him. If I have not yet forgiven myself for not finding a solution that would have preserved them both, I know here," he pressed his hand to his chest, "that there was no time. I could only have done what I did." He looked around the room, whether to spare Avon's feelings or to conceal pain that might have shown in his own eyes Avon didn't know. "I would have given my own life to free Sha're. It was not in my power to do so. Daniel Jackson knows that. He has...suffered much, but he is strong, inside, where it matters."
"What is strength?" Avon asked involuntarily.
"It is the power to endure and to go on enduring, in the knowledge that we do not grasp the entire pattern of life and the belief that it is possible to change."
"Which is all very well, if you believe that there is a pattern," Avon returned. He hated the thread of desperation that rang in his voice despite his attempt to squelch it.
"That I do know," Teal'c replied firmly. He added, "Only death deprives us of choices, and, even then, one can make determinations and choose to react appropriately or inappropriately." He turned for the door. "That is all I have to say."
Avon stared after him in astonishment as he whirled and left the chapel without looking back. A part of him felt battered, but another part discovered a strange wistfulness. If Teal'c had achieved peace after all he had done, could there be peace for Avon as well? Until Gauda Prime, it had all appeared so much easier. Self-preservation is a powerful motivator. If the self he had striven to preserve was unworthy of preservation and if the life he strove to preserve was empty, did Teal'c's pattern offer the possibility of change?
No. Avon could not expect that. He had no right to expect absolution. What stunned him was the realization that he actually wanted it. And, if he wanted it, that meant he believed he had done wrong. Like Teal'c, he may have had poor choices. But Teal'c clearly possessed great integrity.
Avon had always prided himself on being an honorable man, on keeping his word, once given. By choosing when to give it, he maintained control.
Control? Was that worth everything he had lost?
He picked up the Bible and opened it at random. A sacred book. Did it possess answers? He read aloud. "When they sow the wind, they shall reap the whirlwind." Avon caught his breath. Ah, yes. "They have come, the days of punishment. The days of recompense."
Avon decided that the time had come to pay his debts.
It would have helped if Teal'c had told him how to start.
"A solar flare," Sam suggested. "Interacting with a Gate transfer, a powerful enough solar flare can produce a time shift."
"So when you use your Gate," Tarrant said thoughtfully, "you have to monitor the condition of your sun."
"Precisely. Which means that we would need information on the star the planet you came from orbited--in the future. Or, as it happened in our case, the same world where you found us. The sun was stable in our time, but there would be no way to measure what had occurred to it several hundred years later, at least not from a M.A.L.P. survey." There were other possibilities. "Orac, I require information." She was beginning to find the A.I. irritating. She was accustomed to computers that did what she told them to do, rather than ones that had their own agendas. Of course she'd encountered various complex computers in the course of her Gate travels, but Orac had an attitude, and it could be annoying. She was astonished that Avon had not reprogrammed it. It was a good thing the Colonel was not a computer man. He would never have the tolerance to endure Orac. He'd have zatted it out of existence long ago, if he'd had Carter's task.
"I am busy acquiring knowledge of your time and dimension," Orac snapped. "What is it now?"
"Orac," she said stubbornly, exchanging a quick smile with Daniel, who seemed to find the computer amusing, "when you activated the Stargate and quantum mirror, were there solar flares on the planet? And I want a specific answer to my next question, not an evasion. Was the planet of origin PV4-555?"
Orac pondered that, lights blinking. It was nearly impossible to believe that the little box with so few internal components could actually do everything it could. Avon wasn't here to question, not that he had been especially forthcoming before he departed. She could understand that; the man was dealing with repressed guilt and he wasn't the type to admit to guilt in the first place. He was more likely to behave as if nothing but his own survival mattered. Sam had the idea that wasn't entirely true, not if the way he fussed over Blake was any indication. But it meant he was less than helpful now. He'd probably ordinarily be naturally secretive, too.
None of the others were experts in computer technology. Tarrant knew how to use them, the way anyone would in a culture where they were pervasive; as a ship's captain, he'd know how to use the ones required for piloting. But a pilot used computers rather than understood the hardware. Vila, she had learned, was a thief. He knew computers with regard to security systems, and he was a lot quicker than he wanted people to think. Sam could understand that. It was to his advantage to be unobtrusive and underestimated. But even though he was a clever man with some knowledge of computers, Orac was beyond his skills. The two women's computer experience was limited to using them, although Dayna had explained she designed weapons and most likely used computers to produce her schematics and run her simulations. But none of them were up to analyzing Orac except Avon, and he wasn't here. When Teal'c returned, he might bring Avon with him, but Teal'c might believe the man needed privacy and solitude. He might encourage meditation, although it wasn't as if he could teach the kel'no'reem to a human, especially someone like Avon, who would probably be even more resistant to meditation than Jack O'Neill.
"Solar flares were present," Orac replied. "I have catalogued and processed that information. The planet was identical except for the time shift. The destination selected was wiped out by the solar flare and the shift was a time shift only. You are correct." It sounded so surprised as to be insulting. "The mirror altered the reality but the gate only shifted time. Two-hundred fifty-seven point one years precisely."
"Then the time travel was a fluke." Daniel's face fell. Sam suddenly realized why he and the Colonel had looked so upset when they returned from their private conversation. Daniel had hoped to use what he perceived as Orac's temporal abilities to go back in time, most likely to save Sha're. The Colonel would have known that the risks for such an attempt would be too great and would have had to shoot the idea down. They had managed decent damage control when they had been cast back to 1969, but they had not gone with the express purpose of changing something. It had been to General Hammond's advantage to keep their secret all the intervening years and if Catherine Langford's interest in the Stargate had been rekindled by their visit, that did not change anything in the long run.
"Evidently." Sam allowed Daniel a fleeting smile. She hoped he would see her sympathy in it.
Daniel turned to O'Neill. "You were right," he admitted.
"I didn't like being right," O'Neill replied and quirked a rueful eyebrow at Daniel.
Sam let out a cautious breath. That was promising. "So, what we have is an extremely unlikely combination--a Gate, a quantum mirror and a solar flare at precisely the moment the Gate opened on PV4-555 in the future. While the mirror effect could possibly be duplicated, the time element might not be, as we would have no way of determining when the next solar flare might hit the planet. Computer projections might approximate a time but hardly with the pinpoint accuracy that would be required. Predicting an upcoming flare on the planet's sun for purposes of returning to the past might prove equally difficult, even for Orac, especially with hostile natives alerted to the Gate."
"Does that mean we're stranded in this time?" Vila ventured, exchanging worried looks with Dayna and Soolin.
"When we traveled in time, we didn't go to our destination either," Daniel remembered. "We stayed here, on this world, but moved to a different time. That's happened for these people, too, isn't it, Sam?"
"Evidently, according to Orac. So as a return solution, it's very iffy." She'd have to crunch some numbers and see if she could determine possibilities. "There were no solar flares on PV4-555's sun during our presence. M.A.L.P. readings make such determinations before we actually visit a planet, now that we are aware of the danger because being stranded in a planet's past with no way of determining when the next flare might strike would most likely prove a one-way trip. Worse, it may be possible that a strong enough solar flare could make the wormhole collapse when the traveler was in transit."
Jack rolled is eyes at Daniel. "Now she tells us," he groused. Daniel grinned.
"Here now, that sounds nasty," Vila said. "Maybe we should stay right here where it's safe--and where we can get a decent cup of coffee, even if there's no adrenaline and soma."
"Do you think Blake will allow that?" Soolin asked him. She looked so calm as if none of it mattered. Sam couldn't read her face at all. Even Avon showed more emotion than she did. But then Avon was enduring a trauma above and beyond temporal dislocation.
"Blake doesn't exactly have a choice," Tarrant replied. "And it's not as if Blake's opinion is the only one that matters. He's in your infirmary now and may be there for several days. Even if he wanted to go back to our own time and dimension, it might be impossible, even with a handy, convenient solar flare and pinpoint accuracy."
"And Blake is not our leader," Dayna insisted. "Even if we have sought him, he is not part of our team, except peripherally. Vila, you worked with Blake for two years, but I don't know if you'd follow him now."
"Follow him where?" Vila said wryly. "Anyway, even if we could get back, what's to stop him denouncing us once we got there? He said he set all that up back on Gauda Prime. He may not have set up the Federation, but he did set Avon up to doubt him, and then he blamed him for it. He's letting Avon do penance, but I don't see anything nice and jolly and forgiving under it. He's rubbing Avon's nose in it. Never thought I'd be sorry for Avon, but I am. I wouldn't follow Blake now. Follow him right into a Federation prison, most likely."
"Orac, could you monitor for solar flares, pinpoint upcoming ones, and control a Gate transition to the point that it would return these people to their own time?" Sam asked.
Orac was silent briefly. "Random factors would interfere. There would be no guarantee of success. Even if I am the greatest computer that ever existed, I cannot detect upcoming solar flares on a planet that is presently in my own future. I am, however, able to make predictions."
"He did that before," Vila muttered. "He said the Liberator--that was our first ship--would be destroyed. And it was, but a lot later. Another ship just like ours was destroyed instead and that's what we thought he meant."
"I did not say the Liberator would be destroyed," Orac snapped. "I said the ship would be destroyed, and a ship was destroyed. Eventually, the Liberator was destroyed. In either event, I was correct."
"So, make a prediction now," O'Neill ventured lazily. He hadn't said much during the session, but the Colonel was far from being a computer whiz. Sam knew he was here more to watch their guests than to offer solutions. "Come on, Orac. So you make predictions. Orac's short for 'oracle,' am I right? Show us how smart you really are."
Orac gave an indescribable snort. "Such an action would serve no purpose."
O'Neill muttered, "Copout," under his breath, winning perplexed gazes from the refugees who were not up on end-of-the-century slang. He plunged on. "Okay, campers, I'm on a roll. Orac, you've got all this stuff in your memory banks or whatever you've got in there to store data. Dig down in there and figure out how your dimension stopped the Goa'uld. Help us like that, and we'll give you lots of nice data to crunch."
"That will take time," Orac responded. "I am shutting down now. Kindly do not disturb me." It fell silent but its lights continued to blink.
Vila stretched out a lazy hand and snatched the activator control away. Orac made a winding down noise and fell silent. Vila set the activator beside the computer. "Nothing and nothing," he said. "Stranded." He turned a beatific smile at Sam. "So, tell us all about your currency system."
"Never mind, Vila," Dayna interrupted. "And if you know what's good for you, don't steal anything from these people. They'll toss you in the brig if you do."
"Only if I get caught," Vila retorted. He heaved a sigh, dug into the pocket of his BDU's and held out a wristwatch to the Colonel. "Better give this back, then."
O'Neill's face was a sight worth seeing as he made a hasty grab at his wrist, only to find it bare. "When did you do that?" he demanded, snatching it back and fastening it on. His disgruntled grimace won snickers from the guards.
"I have to keep my hand in, don't I?" Vila grinned at him engagingly while Daniel fought to smother chuckles. Then the archaeologist turned thoughtful. He slid surreptitious hands into his own pockets to make sure he hadn't been a similar victim.
"Vila," Tarrant said warningly.
The thief sighed and produced a pocket calculator from his pants pocket. "Here. And that's all. Really." A moment of hesitation. Another search. Two floppy disks joined the calculator on the table. "That's really all."
"I think we should strip-search him," the Colonel said sourly.
Daniel, who didn't appear to be missing anything, only grinned.
"He really is harmless," Tarrant put in. "You just have to watch him. Vila, enough. I won't stop them if they decide to lock you up."
"You're a great bully," Vila returned. He glanced around--it was clearly a distraction. "Where do you suppose Avon is?"
"The infirmary?" Dayna ventured, then she shook her head. "No, probably not. What will Teal'c do with him?"
"He won't hurt him," Daniel said. "Teal'c is a very good listener."
"Avon," said Soolin pointedly, "is not a good talker."
"He can't get into trouble here on the base," Sam decided. "He's under guard and it's to his advantage not to alienate us. I'm going to run some computer simulations now. Colonel, if you want to give them as much of a sightseeing tour as clearance allows, this might be a good time for it."
"In other words, she'll go into science-speak and we won't understand a word she says," O'Neill said with a grin. "Come on, kiddies. Let's leave her to it."
"You might want to rest for a time after the tour," Daniel suggested to the refugees. "I'll show you to your quarters if you don't feel up for the tour yet."
Soolin nodded. "Thank you. I would like that."
"So would I," agreed Dayna. All of them looked tired, and even the hot meal hadn't perked them up very much.
Tarrant hesitated, a stubborn frown on his battered face, but he appeared even more tired than the others, and Vila gave his arm a nudge. "Come on, Tarrant. Soft beds. I'm going to sleep for a week."
"Okay, nap time," O'Neill complied and gestured them out of the room.
As they went out the door, Sam heard Vila mutter to the pilot, "Can't get into trouble here on the base? She just doesn't know Avon."
"You're Doctor...Fraiser, is that right?"
Janet Fraiser turned away from the computer screen report she'd been composing to face her patient. Blake's injuries had been serious but only life-threatening without proper treatment. He'd had some sketchy, amateur care that might have made do, although she didn't think he'd have regained full health for a considerable time without the follow-up surgery she had performed on him, even though her work had been a minor follow-up procedure rather than major surgery. From what everyone had said, he'd sustained close-range damage from an energy weapon; it would be as if Teal'c had blasted someone with the staff weapon, except perhaps more subtly. Apparently wearing protective shielding that had malfunctioned at the last moment, Blake had come away more fortunate than he deserved.
Avon had shot him, they had told her. Blake had told her that himself, but had added bitterly that it was a misunderstanding. If so, it was a misunderstanding that left him feeling bitter and unhappy about it. He wasn't the only one. She planned to tell him how Avon had stood brooding over his sleeping form, his eyes desperate for reassurance. Working at the SGC had brought her in contact with a lot of varied patients and a lot of their friends. Avon might not be able to tell Blake himself how he had worried, but Janet would find a way to make the point. It might help the patient on his road to recovery to know that Avon had cared enough to brood over him.
Now Blake was awake. She left her report and went to stand at his bedside, lifting his wrist to take his pulse. When she had finished counting, she said, "Yes, I'm Doctor Fraiser. Don't try to sit up yet. I had to do a few minor repairs on your abdomen. You were actually very fortunate. I'm told your body armor or shielding absorbed the worst of the impact. We'll see you back to health here. I'll let you up tomorrow and discharge you the day after if you continue to progress well. You've had a good, long sleep and your condition is stable."
"Where are the others?" Blake's eyes moved past her, scanning the room for evidence of his friends.
"Sleeping. We gave them a meal and they did some work with Orac. Major Carter--you met her--is working on it now to try to discover how your universe dealt with the Goa'uld threat."
Blake's eyes narrowed slightly. "And Avon?"
Teal'c came by and said he left him in the chapel."
"The chapel?" Blake's eyebrows shot up toward his hairline. "Avon is the last man I'd expect to develop an interest in religion."
"Evidently he selected it for its privacy," Fraiser reported. "Teal'c said he had a lot to come to terms with. Teal'c doesn't talk much, but usually what he has to say is worth hearing. He had a talk with Avon."
"Did he?" Blake abruptly feigned disinterest and changed the subject. "You keep talking about these Goa'uld. An alien race, I understand, with an eye for galaxy-wide domination. Much like the Federation."
"Except that your Federation doesn't take human beings involuntarily to serve as hosts. The Goa'uld are parasitic beings."
"So is the Federation," Blake insisted. "And if we're to talk of people losing their will and identity, we have mutoids, human beings modified to serve and obey, their own identities erased. We have limiter devices put into people's brains to control their natures. Maybe they can't inhabit host bodies, but the Federation I fight is oppressive, too. We may have found a way to defeat the Goa'uld in our reality's past, but what arose in its place was hardly an improvement."
"I'm told you're a revolutionary, Mister Blake."
"Just Blake. And yes, I am determined to free the masses from their enslavement. I have found it to be a thankless job, more so lately. I've found it difficult to trust anyone. As a result of that--" He touched the dressing on his stomach. "As a result of that, I partly drove Avon to shoot me. He was quick to do so, though."
"You've grown less willing to trust. Might he have not done the same?" she ventured.
Blake laughed sourly. "Yes, there is that. Avon never trusted easily in the first place. I believed he trusted me. If so, it was against his nature and protective inclinations. I was at fault, but so was he. The more I experience life, the more I am convinced that Avon's near-paranoia is a valid survival characteristic." He sighed deeply, then gave a slight wince. "I won't do that again," he said.
Janet wasn't sure if he meant trusting or breathing so deeply, so she changed the subject slightly. "Blake...."
He eyed her warily. "Yes?"
"You're a revolutionary. I'd assume that would make you a student of history. Evidently you knew what a chapel was when Avon didn't. In your studies, did you ever encounter anything about the Goa'uld?"
Blake frowned. "I never heard the term 'Goa'uld' before," he admitted. "Or if I had, it's so deeply buried in my subconscious that I can't tell if I heard it long ago or if I am merely remembering what your survey team mentioned when we met them."
"Anything that might possibly involve the Goa'uld, then, even if you don't know the name?"
Blake frowned, face scrunched up in concentration. He brought up a hand and stroked his chin. "I remember something; it's very old. Ever since I was a child, I've been interested in banned literature. I've done a lot of reading. There comes a point when history and fiction mingle and there's no telling what were tales to entertain and what was true. What I do remember indicates that there was an assault on Earth by beings who claimed to be gods. It mixes up in my mind with tales of ancient gods such as Zeus. Are you familiar with such names."
"Yes, they come from our mythology. However, in your timeline, they would have existed long before your 'Old Calendar' collapsed. We've discovered that some of the Goa'uld bear the name of the old mythological gods. They turned into legends over time."
"That makes sense. I haven't thought of the old stories in years, except on rare occasions to compare Servalan--a political and military leader of the Federation--with those who claimed to be gods. She was President and Supreme Commander of the Federation. She would have happily served as Empress or even relished the thought of deification. Except that religion was stringently outlawed in our time and parallel reality. Hmm." His eyes grew thoughtful. "That might actually tie in with the information you require. The Goa'uld--beings who claimed to be gods. Part of the revolt against them might have been an overreaction. Outlaw all gods. Forbid religion. Deny it any validity, beat the denial into the 'rabble', as Avon calls them, until beings arriving claiming to be gods would be automatically disbelieved and scorned. In the collapse of society, the reasoning would be lost but the result would linger. And, of course, it was in the Federation's interests to put no religion above itself."
"Daniel would like to discuss this with you," she said. "He's our chief anthropologist."
"He's a civilian," Blake replied. "Isn't he? Not a part of your military infrastructure?"
"Yes, he is. Most of us here are military. Air Force. I can't give you a lot of information about our set-up; you'd require a Level-One security clearance, which there's no way you'd qualify for. But you're already aware of the Stargate and it's possible that you and Orac between you have information that could save this reality."
Blake was silent a moment. "We'll help, of course," he said. "It's a part of my basic nature to fight oppression. I don't know if there's a way to return me home so I can continue doing that where I belong. If not, then the next best thing I can do is help you defeat the Goa'uld in this reality. Assuming, of course," he continued, "that you are actually what you claim to be."
"We are, but of course I'd say that anyway." She smiled. "Avon has been somewhat suspicious, but he has been helping. Evidently he was certain you would wish to return."
"He's been...standing up for you since you were unconscious and unable to stand up for yourself. It may be difficult for him to atone to you for his actions. If he can't say it, he'll do what he can."
"Whatever serves his own best interests," Blake said bitterly, then he pushed that away. He shifted painfully and winced, one hand carefully pressed over the dressing. "I wish I could remember more of what I'd read. I'd say it was probably fifteen or twenty years ago that I read it. Since then, I've been mind-wiped by the Federation and, although most of that conditioning was broken, there are still elements of my past that are vague, perhaps even things I've forgotten entirely." His face was twisted with bitterness. "Another reason why I fight, to stop a government for whom such practices have become commonplace." He made an abrupt gesture as if to push those thoughts away and continued, "I was in my late teens when I read what was purported to be a history of the fall of the Old Calendar. I am fairly certain the term Goa'uld was not used. What I do remember was something about a plague."
"A plague?" Janet hadn't expected that and she wasn't sure she liked it. "What type of plague?"
"Something that was spread throughout the invaders and eventually proved lethal to them," he remembered. "It's been so long. I know my memory is fuzzy. But I seem to recall that it backfired. It started killing humans as well. Not all humans, just a certain percentage of them; it might have been around fifteen per cent, but I could be off there. Many became ill; some recovered. Some died lingering, unpleasant deaths." He stroked his chin again, his brow furrowed. "I think that the threat was not known to all people; it was one of the classified military secrets. When it came out, other governments--Earth had more than one government in those days--" He paused to shoot a questioning look at her, but she kept her face impassive and didn't respond. Blake let it go and continued "--took the attack on the enemy as an attack on them. There were wars. Society collapsed in many parts of the world. The part that survived was restricted to secret bases and underground facilities where those who had known and could prepare recruited those best fitted to cope with life after the holocaust. Eventually, the domed cities were constructed, often on the ruins of the old cities. The dome I came from was built on the site of an ancient city called London. The ship on which I was exiled from Earth was called the London. I remember thinking it ironic at the time."
"We have a London, too." Janet frowned. It sounded like the alternate universe's solution had not been the ideal. 'The operation was a success, doctor, but the patient died.' Fraiser shook her head. If the Goa'uld dwelled in human hosts--she shuddered; she had seen Teal'c's larval Goa'uld and had even given it medical treatment--then whatever biologically engineered plague it took to kill them was bound to have some impact on the humans who carried the host. A certain percent of the population? Those of certain blood types? Various genetic conditions? It was possible that Orac, if prompted, might be able to pinpoint the weak links. Introducing a biological toxin that would eventually destroy the Goa'uld was an interesting solution, but it would be dangerous and tricky. People like Maybourne would fall upon such a solution with glee; wiping out the Goa'uld to insinuate themselves in the Goa'uld's place. Maybourne, wherever he was, no longer had access to the SGC. But Janet was cynical enough to know that there could still be people here on the base who were in deep cover and working for him. They had rooted out the major problems--and it was still a shock about Colonel Makepeace--but everybody on the base was uneasy about what had happened. It would be naive to assume that particular threat was ended and Janet knew General Hammond was probably checking personnel files for any indication of additional traitors in addition to clamping down on security.
"I'd like to get your information to General Hammond as quickly as possible," she said. "You think about it and see what else you can recall. It will be easier to find a way to return you to your own time and universe if we can deal with the Goa'uld, but I have no intention of unleashing a biological toxin on Earth." There were the Tok'ra to think about as well, and that would have to be a primary consideration. A plague designed to destroy the Goa'uld would destroy their Tok'ra allies as well. And who knew what other beings out there in the galaxy might be susceptible? Even if none of them were, they would hardly think highly of Earth if she destroyed her own allies in an attempt to defeat the Goa'uld.
She studied the indicators on Blake's read-out screen; all were within nominal parameters. He was coming along well. "There'll be a nurse standing by if you should need anything. You're entitled to a pain medication if you require it. Just tell her."
"I will. Thank you, Doctor Fraiser."
Janet went looking for General Hammond.
Jack O'Neill encountered Fraiser in the corridor and went with her to the General's office. The two men listened to her in silence while she told the story of Blake's vague memories of a genetic plague. The picture she painted, of humans dying as a result of something the alternate Stargate program had participated in, was disturbing.
When she had finished, O'Neill shook his head and came out with a major understatement. "This doesn't sound good."
"Even allowing for the fact that we don't have the right to endanger our Tok'ra allies, I have no desire to unleash a plague that will kill a certain percent of our population and set the world at war," Hammond decided. "It's possible that with this advance knowledge, we could control the outcome, but I do not know of any way to distinguish genetically between a Goa'uld and a Tok'ra since the two are part of the same species genetically."
"And I have to say I don't trust Maybourne not to have ears here," Jack agreed. "He's too sneaky to have put all his eggs in one basket. It doesn't have to be someone in a high position or even on an SG team. It could be one of the techs, somebody in the lab, somebody no one would ever suspect. I think we're going to have to restrict access to Orac, General. And to Blake. Assuming they aren't part of Maybourne's plan." He didn't think they were, but if by some remote chance, Hammond hadn't considered it, he wanted the idea on the table.
"I think you're right about a threat from the renegade SG teams, but I don't believe at this time that our guests are part of it--although I won't overlook the possibility." Hammond's face was intent with concentration as he considered the options. "I'm going to pull most of the techs off the project and let it rest with Major Carter for now. She's developing a working relationship with Orac. With this new knowledge from Blake, it's possible Orac will be more forthcoming."
"Blake's memories of what he read are sketchy," Fraiser put in. "It would be like Daniel trying to remember what he'd read years earlier about Amoroca. It took Nem's device to draw it out of Daniel's mind and that was risky; it could have killed him. We don't have Nem's equipment and I'd resist using it, even if we did. While it's possible hypnosis might assist Blake to remember, he isn't physically up to the stress yet, and from the mind manipulation his own universe undergoes, we might lose any chance of trust from him or the others if we attempted something like that. In any case, he said he was 'mind-wiped' for being a rebel, and his memory did not return in its entirety. The information most beneficial to us might be gone permanently."
"Mind-wiped?" Jack echoed. He didn't like the sound of that at all. Sounded like something the snakeheads would come up with. "Sweet."
"I'll return to the infirmary now, if I'm dismissed," Fraiser said. "But I thought you should know what Blake said, General."
"Thank you, Doctor. I appreciate it."
When she had gone, Hammond shifted thoughtfully in his chair and ran an idle hand over his bald pate. "As you just said, I've had to consider that these refugees are part of a Goa'uld plot to infiltrate the SGC, Colonel. I grow less convinced of that, but it has to be a possibility. They may be playing on our sympathies. Whether I believe them innocent or not, we have to take any information they give us with a grain of salt. Orac's vagueness and Blake's choppy memory seem just a bit too convenient. They might want us to develop a toxin. If they produce a formula, we'll have to study it with utter care, for fear it's booby-trapped to take us out rather than the Goa'uld. I'd like to believe them, and I'd like to think that we can salvage something out of the history of their defeat of the Goa'uld, if that actually happened, and adapt it, but I will not loose a biological toxin on this planet and on our allies, even if it means ensuring the safety of this planet from the Goa'uld."
O'Neill nodded. He was glad the General's mind had traveled along the same path as his. They couldn't automatically take these people on trust, and Goa'uld plots could come in any form. "Yeah, I wouldn't like that much myself. But we have to clamp down security on this before it goes any further. We'll have to tell Carter, Teal'c, and Daniel--and anyone else you designate, General. I hate to say it, but I don't think we're through with Maybourne's people here. I don't want to have gone through everything I did and treated my team the way I did to have it all fall apart now." He'd paid a high price to stop Maybourne's scheme, and he knew there might be higher demands ahead, but he didn't want this one to have gone for nothing. Security had to be maintained on the newcomers.
"I understand, Colonel. Blake and the others have no computer access; they're under constant surveillance. We may give them a slight bit of slack in the interests of gaining information; their weapons technology might be a good area to explore. If they are in advance of us, they might not learn as much from our weapons as we would learn from theirs, although it goes without saying that we wouldn't grant them access to any Goa'uld technology. They all insist that Orac cannot access our computers, but it could access a DHD. Carter has it hooked up to an independent PC?"
O'Neill nodded. "Yeah, she didn't want to let it loose in our network." He didn't trust Orac as far as he could have thrown it; okay, so he trusted it a lot less than that.
"No, but we're allowing it to learn the basics of our computer technology just through the one PC." Hammond frowned. "I don't like any of this, Colonel. I like it less as time goes on. I'm not going to stop Carter at this time because she might learn enough from Orac to benefit us and the damage with the PC is already done. But security will get tighter."
Jack didn't like any of this, either. He was inclined to be sympathetic to the rebels, although Tarrant was too cocky and Avon appeared a cold-hearted SOB. Vila had taken his watch, but he'd given it back, and if he really meant to start ripping off the base, he wouldn't have blown it with a grandstand stunt, unless it was a kind of backward psychology to convince them of his essential harmlessness. "What about our quantum mirror, sir?" he asked. "Do you think we could track down their universe through it? We could get information that way."
"I've already considered that," Hammond replied. "I've been thinking of the timing of all this. It's not that long after your undercover activities. We're involved with galactic politics and Earth-based treason. In a lot of ways, we've called the attention of powerful enemies down upon ourselves. Suddenly we've got people here tantalizing us with an alternate universe's defeat of the Goa'uld at great price. I can't trust that timing, not for a second."
O'Neill looked the general right in the eye. "Sir, I've got to know. Are there plans out there to loose a biotoxin on the Goa'uld?"
"I won't say the idea hasn't received some general consideration," Hammond replied. "All possibilities are under investigation. Such plans took a setback when we found the Tok'ra, and, to the best of my knowledge, any plans to continue with it were tabled, but I don't believe it was entirely written off. You realize that knowledge can't go beyond this room. I'm not in the loop for that research, and it's beyond my control, but unless they are total idiots, they wouldn't want to continue with a project that would wipe out our allies as well as our enemies--and automatically alienate any other allies we have out there, such as Thor."
O'Neill smiled cynically. "You think not? You aren't that naive, sir."
"No, I'm not that naive. But I am in charge of the Stargate, and I don't intend to allow any such project to take place. I've been over it with the President as well. The political disadvantages of a plan on the galaxy-wide scale would make such an effort a nightmare. We could lose the support of the Asgards or the Tollans. I know you don't think much of the Tollans, but they have assisted us as much as they can." He heaved a deep sigh. "But I'll take the rebels' story to the President. I don't imagine for a second that he would sanction a plan that would backfire and kill off a percentage of the people of Earth."
"All it takes is one lunatic with his finger on the trigger," O'Neill reminded him.
"I know that, Colonel. And one word in the wrong ear." Hammond grimaced. Maybe he was thinking about that reporter, Armin. Jack believed Hammond hadn't ordered his death, but he knew that someone had. Learning of his knowledge of the Stargate, someone had called a hit down on the man. Jack couldn't believe in that kind of coincidence. The toxin might well already exist, just waiting for the wrong person to give the okay.
"As to the mirror," Hammond said slowly, "it might be a possibility. I find myself wishing I'd had it destroyed after all, the way I'd originally planned, but I waited. That may be to our advantage now. I, for one, would like to know where the rebels' dimension went wrong. We wouldn't, of course, see the rebels' own time, but our own." His brow furrowed. "I'll take it under advisement, Colonel. In the meantime, report to Carter what Blake told Fraiser. I want her on it as soon as possible."
"I'm about ready to try Orac again," Sam said, pausing in her scrolling down a list on one of the base computers. "It must have had time to pin down some useful information from us. I just wish I think it meant to help us and not just to further its own ends."
Daniel raised his eyebrows. "Do you think this is a plot?"
"I don't know. I don't want to think those people are part of one. They're too consistent, and there are too many hard feelings among them. I'd like to think that, if it were a plot, they wouldn't come in here so fragmented and bitter. They'd be poor, pathetic rebels against a nasty government, asking our help, not people who have created a lot of their own problems."
"I believe Avon to be sincere in his distress," Teal'c ventured.
"Yes, but that doesn't mean they aren't here to do harm," Sam decided. "And even if not, they may be exactly what they say they are and cause problems anyway. They can't share any of our goals, any more than we share theirs. We'd like to see their repressive government fall, but these people sound almost like terrorists rather than 'legitimate' revolutionaries."
Daniel smiled faintly. "Sometimes that's the only way for rebels to fight," he said. "A lot of attitude about that is a value judgment provided by history from a suitable distance." He had always known that--about history. Lately, he was finding out that it was a part of real life, too. He was sure the British had considered the American rebels terrorists at first. Goa'uld supporters might have even considered SG-1 terrorists from their destruction of Apophis' and Klorel's ships over Earth. While he would have liked good and evil to be absolutes, he had come to learn that they were not, and that one man's freedom fighter was another man's terrorist.
"They are hard people who have become hard in order to survive," Teal'c put in. "I am considered a shol'va, a traitor by many of my people, yet I believe that what I do is morally and ethically right."
"Vila's a thief," Daniel said with a quick grin, remembering with delight Jack's astonishment at finding his watch missing. "I like Vila, but he doesn't seem the type to support a cause. He's a survivor, somebody who gets by and tries to stay out of trouble and keep a low profile."
"I like him, too," Sam said. "I like them all--even Avon, who would probably raise an eyebrow and say he didn't need me to like him. But we're not seeing any of them at their best. They may be part of a plot against us, but I think they're what they claim to be." She lifted her fingers from the keyboard and flexed them. "That doesn't mean they won't cause more trouble than they're worth."
"You called that one right, Carter." Jack strode into the room, his face taut with tension, and he cast a quick, telling glance around to make sure none of the rebels were here and that Orac was not activated. When he saw that only SG-1 was present, he relaxed fractionally. "We've got problems, campers. Blake told Fraiser that they defeated the Goa'uld with a biological agent that backfired and killed a lot of people here on Earth as well as wiping out the Goa'uld. Turns out their Earth fell apart with war as a result and it took them a lot of time to come back from it."
Carter muttered a profanity under her breath. "I should have thought of that. It's always been a possibility." Her eyes widened. "My father! A plague like that would kill the Tok'ra as well as the Goa'uld. It would kill our Jaffa allies. I have to say I'm really uncomfortable with that possibility even being considered here."
"Maybe their dimension never met the Tok'ra," Daniel theorized hastily. "If they didn't know the Tok'ra existed, it would be easy to plan to eliminate the Goa'uld. Maybe their Teal'c didn't come over to our side, either. He didn't in either of the other realities we encountered."
"That is possible, O'Neill," agreed the Jaffa.
"There are people here who wouldn't care about that--or about the Tok'ra," Jack said tightly. "I know."
He probably did. He knew a lot of things that would never have occurred to Daniel until recently, although he was learning very fast.
"Colonel, are you saying that there is a plan to destroy the Goa'uld with a biotoxin?" Sam worried.
"Hammond says it's on the back burner and only one of a long list of plans that are being considered, and that he would resist ever using anything like that. He doesn't like the idea any more than we do. Now I'm the first guy who'd like to wave bye-bye to the snakeheads, but I can't see how it'd help us to wipe out our allies and a lot of our own people in the process, as well as starting World War III--and killing Teal'c in the process, just to get rid of them. But we all know that there are fanatics out there in power who would think nothing of it."
"The cure would be worse than the disease," Daniel exploded. "Jack, we can't let it happen here, too. If that's really what they did in the rebel reality, we have to find out about it, to make sure we can prevent it here." As much as he hated the Goa'uld, Daniel couldn't believe that such a tactic could ever be morally right. He hoped that Jack really opposed the idea. He could see that Teal'c found it disturbing and Carter, whose father had become one of the Tok'ra, had to loathe the idea.
O'Neill's face was taut. Daniel was sure Hammond's reassurances hadn't reassured him. They didn't reassure Daniel. He trusted Hammond, who was a good man and a man with a sense of history. But Hammond, even though he was a General, was one man and did not control everything that involved the SGC. Daniel trusted Hammond to do everything he possibly could to protect the Earth, but he was learning rapidly that Hammond's best, SG-1's best, might fall short of enough. Situational ethics was popular, and he'd seen enough of it, even from people he trusted, like Jack, to have no faith at all that such a deadly scheme wouldn't happen just because of what had gone wrong in a parallel reality and because of their Tok'ra allies.
O'Neill cast him a questioning glance. Maybe he could tell something of what Daniel was thinking. "Yeah," he said and arched an eyebrow at him. Acknowledging what he'd had to do before and how little he'd liked it. Admitting the possibility of a huge disaster hanging over the entire planet? Daniel had no doubt whatsoever that Jack would do all he could to stop any attempt to loose a plague. It might not be enough.
"Colonel, we can't let something like that happen," Sam insisted. Her eyes were shadowed. "Not only would it kill the Tok'ra--and they'll withdraw any support from us if they find out it's even a possibility--but if Blake is right and it killed people here, too, it isn't a viable solution for this planet, either. It can't be a viable solution and we have to stop it." She slammed her fists down on either side of her keyboard. "What's worse, if news of this gets out, there are people who might not have thought of it before but who would jump on the bandwagon." She glanced around the lab, even though plans to keep security tight had already removed the rest of the techs from the room. Daniel was glad no one else was there. Was the room monitored?
"This can't go any further, Jack," Daniel insisted. "It just can't. We can't allow it to happen here."
"We don't know that it's even more than a wild speculation somewhere, number three-hundred eighteen on some anti-Goa'uld list buried in a basement--or in an X-File. What gets me is that if we investigate it openly we'll bring it to the minds of nasty types who might just love a plan like that."
Daniel sighed and said in unconscious mimicry of Jack, "Sweet."
For an instant, Jack's eyes warmed. "Stealing my lines, Daniel?"
Daniel smiled back. Once, it would have seemed so normal, SG-1 against another threat. But that was before Jack had been forced to throw Daniel's friendship back in his face, even if it were the last thing he'd wanted to do. The archaeologist gave a faint, inaudible sigh. He just wanted to get past that, to the point where exchanges like this one were normal and safe and right, and where he didn't have to stop and think about them every time.
"This is not a good idea, no." O'Neill's face was taut with tension, partly Daniel-induced, unfortunately, but mostly because of the unexpected danger that hung over them. "Why not get Orac to play ball? See if it can give us any information. If it's got the data in its weird innards, maybe what Blake said can help pin it down." He went over to Orac, picked up the activator key and stuck it into place. "Like this?"
"Maybe you just set it to explosive overload?" Daniel's line was an attempt at atonement.
Jack gave him a quick grin before he said, "Nah, I watched them before. Maybe I'm no computer guru, but I'm smart enough for that. Hey, Orac? You awake?"
The corners of Teal'c's mouth crimped. "Computers do not sleep, O'Neill."
Jack favored the Jaffa with an arched eyebrow. "This one might. It's an artificial intelligence, after all. Well, come on, Orac. Wake up."
"I am not sleeping," Orac huffed.
Daniel couldn't help smiling. The computer certainly had a crotchety personality. It was a wonder Avon hadn't programmed that out of it.
Carter stepped in. "Orac, we require information from you."
"I am busy conducting my own researches," the computer replied impatiently. "What is it now?"
"Orac, could you identify your alternate universe through a quantum mirror if we could locate it?"
The computer hummed to itself. "That is possible," it conceded. "Where is the quantum mirror? I do not detect one in this room."
"If we could get one, could you use it to identify your own dimension?" Jack persisted. He wasn't going to admit it yet. He couldn't take that risk without further reassurances. Daniel saw where they were going. It was a good thing Hammond had reconsidered his decision to destroy their quantum mirror after the last brush with an alternate reality, with the alternate Sam who had been married to her reality's Jack, the alternate Kawalsky still alive. Hammond didn't trust the quantum mirrors and what they did. He'd said some lines were not meant to be crossed. Daniel was uncomfortable with them himself, but if not for the quantum mirror they had encountered on P34-233, the Earth would have fallen to the Goa'uld already. So the quantum mirror still existed, extremely carefully guarded and protected, but here on the base instead of at Nellis, and the remote they had acquired from the parallel reality was locked away apart from it. They'd have to get Hammond's go-ahead to continue with the process.
Orac hummed a moment. "I could establish a certainty within a set of parameters. My researches have detected more information about the fall of the Old Calendar and the rise of the Federation. As I continue to extrapolate data, the possibility becomes far more certain. Produce the quantum mirror."
"Maybe," Jack said laconically. He squinted down at Orac.
"Orac," cut in Sam as if she sensed that Jack was not at all comfortable with Orac and might manage to provoke the computer if left to his own devices, "did your research discover any information on the possibility of biological toxins designed to eliminate the Goa'uld?"
"Think that was a smart question?" O'Neill asked her in an undertone.
"Blake knows about it; he'll tell the others unless prohibited. Tarrant seems knowledgeable about history. He even knew something of his dimension's early space program. Who knows how much Avon knows? He's not exactly forthcoming." She turned back to the computer. "Orac. The question I just asked you is a restricted question. You may not speak of it to any but those of us in this room at the present time. Confirmed?"
Orac hesitated. Daniel didn't remember anything about giving the computer orders, but after a few moments, Orac gave a snort and said, "Confirmed."
"This order may not be overruled by subsequent orders from anyone other than the members of SG-1 or General George Hammond," Sam continued. Jack favored her with a gleam of approval in his eyes. Of course they couldn't be sure that Orac would obey the command. Prior orders might leave a back door for Avon to gain the information.
"Yes, yes, I understand you," Orac snapped. "As to evidence of a biotoxic substance used against the Goa'uld, data I have accumulated appears to confirm that, although the records I accessed at the time were incomplete and partially purged."
"What I want you to do," Sam specified, "is to assess those records, to compare them with any other historical reports you've accessed and any general knowledge in your own universe. Can you predict the outcome of such an attempt and try to discover why a toxin targeted specifically at the Goa'uld would also affect humans? And, based on any conclusions you reach, can you use that information specifically to target an alternate universe that would be only marginally different from your own?"
"And what," Jack muttered under his breath, "shall I do with my other hand?"
Orac made a rude noise. "I can," it said. "Kindly do not disturb me during the process. Go and produce a quantum mirror, which I assume this base possesses, or you would not so waste my time and your own."
"He's got you there, Carter." O'Neill prowled restlessly about the room but he was grinning faintly.
"Will any of the rebels offer insight into the identification of their own universe?" ventured Teal'c. Sometimes he was so quiet that Daniel nearly forgot his presence, but he registered everything that was said. He had to know that a toxin that would eliminate the Goa'uld would also eliminate his larval Goa'uld, thus depriving him of his immune system and killing him in short order. Like Sam, he was very motivated to prevent this universe from experimenting with the same process that must have wreaked such havoc in the rebels' universe, although, knowing Teal'c, he would sacrifice himself for the greater good, if there were no other way. He continued, "Avon might be of some use in such an attempt."
"Avon might know more about computers than the others," Sam said, "but I'm not sure he's a historian, or that his knowledge extends far beyond his own field."
"He's a geek," Jack offered. "It's the charming personality. Gives 'em away every time."
Daniel flinched. He couldn't help it. He knew he'd moved beyond geekdom in Jack's eyes--most of the time, anyway. But there were times when Jack was exasperated with him or when he couldn't make his point to the Colonel, no matter how hard he tried, when he wondered if he would ever be valued as Daniel Jackson and not simply shoved into a cliched category. He knew Jack didn't do that most of the time any longer, but maybe a 'geek' couldn't help failing to understand covert ops and undercover work.
The Colonel must have sensed Daniel's reaction. Sometimes he was really good at that, and at other times he didn't have a clue. "Oh, for crying out loud," Jack exploded. "I didn't mean you. Ever hear the one about sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me?"
Daniel looked Jack right in the eye. "Yes, I've heard it and it's a total misconception. Sometimes words hurt more."
"Daniel Jackson is not a geek," Teal'c intervened as O'Neill struggled past his exasperation to find words. "He is a valued teammate."
"I know that," Jack exploded.
Carter watched them a second, then she stepped calmly in between them and held up a hand for attention. "I think preventing the possibility of a biological warfare attack against the Goa'uld is more important than this. Daniel, can't you try to put it behind you?"
Now he was in the wrong. He wrapped his arms around himself. "I know it's more important, Sam," he said. "Sometimes, it just...gets me. Sorry, Jack."
"Yeah, back at ya." Jack straightened up, but his eyes were hooded. "Guess I better go track down a quantum mirror or I'll have Orac on my case."
"Perhaps we should locate Avon," Teal'c persisted.
Jack hesitated in the doorway. "The guy is being guarded, am I right?"
"That is correct."
"Then let's get him up here. I don't know about the rest of you, but, geek or not, I'd feel better if he was where we could watch him and not out there learning more than he should and getting into trouble." He cast a long, impassive glance at Daniel and went out.
Vila had awakened after an hour or so and, while he was still tired and achy and unhappy, he did feel rested and a little more ready to face the nasty mess Orac had gotten them into in the process of saving them from Federation pursuit. That little traitor had caused more problems than it was worth, and Vila heaved a sigh and wished he'd really pushed for Avon to redesign it as a drinks dispenser. Then he'd be able to have a glass of adrenaline and soma and they wouldn't be in this mess. Trapped in the past, in an alternate dimension...I ask you.
On the other hand, it wasn't a bad dimension, at least not so far. It had these Goa'uld snake things that took over your body, but there weren't any here on the base, and maybe they'd go for Avon first because he was smart, or Tarrant because he was young and decorative. Surely they wouldn't want Vila. He shivered at the thought of one of the nasty snakes crawling around in his brain.
But lying here imagining the worst wasn't much fun, and anyway, Avon was out there somewhere, probably wrecking it for all of them. Vila sighed. He was a long way from fully accepting what had happened on the Malodaar shuttle, but he didn't actively hate Avon, not since Avon's reaction to shooting Blake on Gauda Prime, just got pissed off at him some of the time. Avon kept asking for it, too, and no one on this base had any practice at dealing with Avon at his most self-destructively obnoxious. It was a wonder Avon hadn't found himself looking down the wrong end of someone's gun before now. Maybe he was fast enough on his feet to keep him at the right end most of the time, but this wasn't even their own universe. These people weren't quite as suspicious and distrusting as the Federation, but they took a lot of precautions in the form of nasty soldiers with guns. Maybe they were projectile weapons, most of them, but projectile weapons at close range could make much bigger holes in Vila than he was prepared to like--and it would hurt, too.
And there was poor old Avon out there, probably not much caring if he got shot full of large holes. Avon wasn't good at guilt; he was usually more inclined to dismiss it in a high-handed manner, like the time he'd had to kill Doctor Plaxton to save them all, and when Dayna had flung it in his face, he'd said icily, indifferently, "Who?" Dayna was young and much too impulsive and didn't understand. But Vila did understand that it was the only way Avon could live with what he had been forced to do. That Tarrant could have done it with less remorse didn't matter, not when Tarrant would have played the game and expressed regret that it had happened or taken the trouble to explain that it was the only way to save the rest of them and that Doctor Plaxton would have died anyway, all of them along with her. Avon couldn't be ingratiating or conciliatory to save his life, and it half-killed him to admit he was wrong. It was worse when his feelings were involved, which was why the poor sod was such a mess over shooting Blake.
Blake hadn't instantly absolved him, either. He'd accepted Avon's presence and support, but he'd been distant. Avon had seemed to expect that. Probably considered it a valid survival characteristic on Blake's part. Avon always lauded them for showing signs of self-interest. Poor old Avon. Didn't have a clue how to play the game, and let it all fester inside where it didn't show. Took a clever man like Vila to see past the stone face. Took a braver man than Vila to confront him about it.
Except there was no one else to be brave about it, because no one else would get the point. Tarrant might, but Tarrant wasn't conciliatory, either, and they had never got on that well. Soolin might, but she was pragmatic, the way Avon pretended to be. She might get it but she wouldn't volunteer to help, at least Vila didn't think she would. Dayna might simply be too young to get a handle on it, and she was more a creature of impulse as well as seeing things in terms of black and white--and shooting at what she didn't like.
So that left Vila.
He got up and enjoyed the luxury of a water shower before he put on clean clothes and went out into the base again. His guard fell in with him, gun in hand, but Vila wasn't afraid of the guard. He wasn't going to do anything to provoke the man. Instead he gave the guard a friendly smile. "I want to find my crewmate, Avon. Do you know where he is?"
"I can find out. He's not in his quarters, at least not unless he went in before you got here." He went to an intercom and put through a call. Avon's guard responded and, a few minutes later, Vila stood in the doorway to a small room with a few rows of chairs. Avon sat in the front row, idly leafing through the pages of a bound book.
When Vila spoke his name, Avon gave a jump of surprise and looked up. His hand went automatically for the weapon he didn't have and he caught himself and let it fall, his face twisting. When he realized it was only Vila, he relaxed fractionally, but his face didn't ease. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "I should have thought a chapel was the last place you would come."
Vila glanced around the plain room in surprise. "Is this a chapel? I never saw one before. I thought it would be fancier."
"You know what a chapel is?" Avon's surprise would have been insulting, except that it was a genuine reaction and Vila decided he'd rather have that than go into a snit over Avon's astonishment.
"I know a lot more than you'd guess," he said meaningfully. "So why didn't you sleep? The rest of them did."
"Perhaps the rest of them are not as concerned with our survival as I am."
Vila let the 'our' pass. He didn't want to get in digs against Avon when he couldn't properly fight back. "Praying for it?" he asked lightly.
Momentary amusement flashed in Avon's eyes and then died. "Thinking, a process that continually eludes you. Reasoning out the possibilities."
"What possibilities? Can Orac get us home again? I don't think we're prisoners here."
"Aren't we?" Avon gestured at the door. "You have an escort, just as I do."
"I think that's more to protect the base, than to guard us. They said it was a high security area. They don't want us wandering about tripping over things we're not meant to see."
"Yes, Vila. The Stargate is part of a top security project. I theorize it is not widely known on this Earth, just as it would not have been widely known in our own reality. I theorize that, in the time before the fall of the Old Calendar, the Stargate was as secret in our reality as it is here, and that these Goa'uld they have mentioned had a large part in the downfall of the Old Calendar. There is evidently a system of Stargates throughout the galaxy; they have been unused for some time, and it is possible that some of them have been lost or destroyed or even buried, and that others have become non-functional. It is also possible that, if we learn the secrets of the Stargates and learn the symbols necessary to activate some of them, we can take advantage of that when we return to our own universe."
Avon had been thinking. Vila rather liked the idea of whipping about the galaxy by Stargate, although it wouldn't be as safe as the Liberator, since they wouldn't know where they were going until they got there, and they might materialize in the middle of a stone wall or find themselves surrounded by angry natives like the ones back there on P4V whatever. It meant that, if they could return where they came from and the Federation troopers weren't still hanging about ready to zap them full of holes in short order, they wouldn't need their defective ship to get away.
Vila didn't know if they could get back. He'd leave that to Avon to worry about. And then he'd worry about Avon, even if he wouldn't let Avon realize.
"So if we get back, we'll turn into Gate travelers. I like that. Avon...."
The tech set aside the book he held, and Vila craned his neck to see the title. 'Holy Bible'. Wasn't that some kind of religion book? Not exactly Avon's usual reading fare. "What is it, Vila?" he asked, and there was a repressive note in his voice that indicated he wasn't about to tolerate prying.
"Have you seen Blake?"
Avon stiffened. "Blake is sleeping, Vila. If you imagine it would serve any useful purpose to sit and watch a sleeping man, tell me so, for I am unable to conceive of one."
"Might be awake now, mightn't he? Avon, you need to talk to him."
"And say what? Chide him for saying the stupid things he said? Apologize for shooting him? Nothing can change the fact of its occurrence. I do not choose to discuss it."
"Oh yes. That's a big help, that is. Always solves everything, being high-handed and ignoring it. Makes life just wonderful. And you call me a fool."
Avon gave him a searing glare. "What would you have me do, Vila?" he asked through clenched teeth. The exaggerated patience in his voice was a pathetic cover for the fact that he honestly didn't know what he should do.
Pity Vila couldn't give him a good hug. Avon might need hugs. But Avon would never accept them. It wasn't his way. And he wasn't ready for them, anyway. Instead, the thief shrugged his shoulders. "I'm only Vila. How should I know?"
"I have a feeling that you might know more than you let on," Avon said surprisingly, then he closed away from it. "They have Orac. I intend to discover what they are doing with it. You may come or go as you choose, as your presence is immaterial."
"Immaterial, am I? Clever Vila? You wouldn't even have Orac anymore if I hadn't brought it off Liberator at Terminal. Whisked it away right from under Servalan's nose, I did."
"The last, and possibly only, useful thing you've done," Avon said, and Vila had to repress a grin because that sounded like his own Avon. Pity he got his own Avon only in flashes, then. Sometimes, he looked back on the early days on the Liberator, and he missed it so much it hurt. Was this trip into an alternate past a chance for them to put things right? If so, could he make sure Avon took it? Maybe if he recruited Tarrant.... That great lump was being much more tolerable than usual. Vila actually had hope for him.
They didn't encounter Tarrant when they left the chapel, but they did come face to face with Colonel O'Neill, who eyed them with a look of world-weary suspicion. Didn't trust them an inch, he didn't. Avon would have approved of such an attitude, but Avon didn't appear to like the Colonel.
"We're doing some research on an attempt to locate your reality," the Colonel said. "And your input might be helpful. Would you come with me?"
Avon gave a little shrug. "Why not?"
They went back to the lab and then came to an abrupt stop as they saw a couple of techs setting up another mirror just like that one back on the planet, the one that Orac had made Vila touch to transfer them to the alternate reality. He took a step backward at the sight of it. Also present were the other members of SG-1, Daniel and Teal'c, but none of Vila's shipmates were present.
"This is our quantum mirror," Sam said to Avon.
The tech eyed it sourly. "Vila only had to touch ours to shift us to a different reality. What guarantees do you have that this one is safe?"
"Because we have a remote device to control it," Sam replied. "Orac reports that Vila had touched a similar device and activated the mirror before the rest of you touched it."
Vila spread his hands and tried to look as innocent as possible. Was that what that little gadget was? He hadn't known. Now Avon would be sure to blame him for everything.
Carter didn't notice his reaction, or, if she did, she did nothing about it. Instead, she continued without pause. "We made a reality crossover ourselves several months ago. General Hammond wanted the mirror destroyed after that, but he eventually decided that there might be means to use it, as long as it could be stored safely in the meantime. It's been locked up safely under constant guard ever since."
Daniel Jackson edged over. "Since your counterparts don't exist in our time in this reality, you don't have to worry about entropic cascade failure."
Avon's brow arched. "And what, precisely, is that?"
Carter answered. "Convulsive shock caused by the increased entropy generated when the same person from two realities are in close proximity in the same reality. It usually takes about forty-eight hours to occur, but it won't occur at all if you have no doubles to interact with."
Scientific double-talk, at least that's what Vila thought, but Avon understood it. He nodded. "You are postulating use of the mirror to locate our reality in your own time. What function would that serve us? It was not, I am given to understand, the quantum mirror that shifted us temporally."
"No, but if we can locate the right reality, there might be means of exploring options," Daniel said. Vila eyed him narrowly. There was more to it than that, he was sure of it. These people had their own agenda and it involved a lot more than just trying to send the Scorpio crew home. They wouldn't explain it, though. Maybe the things they'd learned about Vila's reality had given them a reason to contact it, especially since they were used to this parallel universe thing and had hopped around to other dimensions before. Avon was probably reasoning out all sorts of wild theories now, trying to decide if this was going to be dangerous.
"Do you assume that I would recognize the correct reality?" he asked. "Or even that the quantum mirror would exist in that reality?"
"The theory is that alternate realities are all branches from points in time that one turned left instead of right, where a choice was made. Forks in the road, if you will. So there are infinite possibilities. In one universe, your Blake might not have left for two years; in another, he might have never been found. In several other changes we have encountered, Daniel was not a member of the SGC."
"And that's enough information for them, Carter." Jack O'Neill wandered over and squinted at the quantum mirror. He didn't look as if he trusted it an inch, and he was very careful not to touch it.
"I am not a historian, and I would theorize that the Stargate project in my past was as secret as it was in yours. I am not certain how I am to recognize it. I have some minor knowledge of past events, but not enough to guarantee positive recognition of my own reality in the past."
"Would any of the others have a more thorough knowledge of history?" Daniel asked practically.
Avon considered that. "Blake had a knowledge base of political history and Tarrant also has a knowledge of the past and has recognized artifacts from your time. We once encountered a man who had a collection of Twentieth-Century artifacts, but Blake and Cally were the only ones to see them. Cally is dead. It is possible that Blake learned something from President Sarkoff's collection that might assist you. I fail to see how this would assist us, however."
O'Neill grinned. "If we could find the right reality, we might find a way to send you back to it. If we can hop around from reality to reality, what's a little time travel among friends?"
Teal'c turned to Avon. "It might be possible to alter events in your past."
Avon sucked in his breath. "Ah." Then his eyes narrowed. "In other words, win Blake's revolution by making it unnecessary. In effect, we could be altering our own history to the point where we ceased to exist."
Vila shivered. He didn't like the sound of that.
"Is this one of the things like going back in time and killing your own grandfather and then you wouldn't have been born to go back to kill him?" Jack asked. "Stuff like that makes my brain hurt."
"It might save billions of lives," Daniel offered. "We can't know until we explore the possibilities. It's worth a look, anyway."
Vila knew there was more going on than they would say. He wasn't sure he wanted to know about it, either. It was sure to be a problem for them, and people would shoot at them before very long. Nothing was ever easy.
"Orac believes it can identify the appropriate reality," Sam explained. "We aren't going to send you there, not unless it appears the best option for all concerned, but we will gain information. If they have a quantum mirror...."
"If they're a close parallel to this one, would we be there, too, from another reality?" Vila asked.
Carter hadn't considered that possibility. "It could be. I think you may be a diversion from most realities. The one that sets this one apart from the others at this moment in time."
"Are we just going to go through the mirror and talk to them, if they have one?" Daniel asked.
"Going over would depend on who was present," Carter reminded him. "If any of us have parallels there, we couldn't spend much time in that reality or we'd risk entropic cascade failure. General Hammond allowed us the mirror but we can't cross through to the other reality without his permission. He will be here presently. Then he'll decide."
"Orac," Avon crossed to the computer and stood frowning down at it. "You claim to be able to identify the exact reality. If there are infinite possibilities, and since none of us have been to this time period in our own reality, what guarantee can you give that we have come to one with fractional differences from our own instead of the exact match?"
"Naturally, I can make the identification," Orac replied. "I will need time to study the dimension and would prefer to link with computers there to guarantee certainty but without that, I could make a prediction that I will come within ninety-three point seven per cent of the correct dimension simply by observation and confirm it by exchanges with personnel there."
"Those are good odds, aren't they, Avon?" Vila asked. "Don't you think they're good odds?"
"Certainly, Vila, if you wish to return to a reality about to undergo massive system collapse."
"Oh." Vila's face fell. "Maybe we shouldn't do that."
"You do not know Blake if you don't imagine he will want to know exactly why the Old Calendar fell. There will be no living with him if we ignore this."
"You don't think Blake would want to cross over and stay there and make things right?" Vila ventured.
"I do not think even Roj Blake would be capable of that. Even knowing the inevitable outcome, the Terran Federation and its oppressive government, he would lack the knowledge, the background, and the trust of current governments to take action that would lead to changes. He would be a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Most likely we should be executed--or at best arrested--as spies."
"I knew it would be bad. I don't like that," Vila said in a small voice.
"They are not doing it for us, Vila," Avon pointed out. "They have learned something, maybe from Orac, and they are afraid the same thing could happen here. That is why they are seeking our dimension. It is not out of benevolence."
"Maybe not, but it could still help us, couldn't it?"
General Hammond entered briskly, trailed by two armed soldiers. "I've given this a great deal of thought, SG-1," he said. "And I intend to be here to make the final determination as to whether or not we should cross over into the other reality." He eyed Avon and Vila with some suspicion. "You two are here on sufferance. You are not to interact in any way with anyone you see through the mirror. Is that understood?"
Vila bobbed his head in hasty agreement. You didn't argue with a general who had armed men on his side, not if you knew what was good for you. Avon's face turned cold and nasty, but he inclined his head briefly. "I shall, however, offer information if it is called for."
"That is the reason why you're here," Hammond replied. "As for the rest of your party, it would be to our advantage to have Blake here as he has expressed some knowledge of events at the time of the fall of the alternate reality's society. His memory of it is sketchy and Doctor Fraiser feels he is not well enough to endure hypnosis to try to recall it."
Avon tensed all over again. "You will not interfere with Blake's mind," he gritted out.
"They aren't intending to, Avon." That was Blake from the doorway, pushed in a wheelchair by Doctor Fraiser. He had the intravenous tube still attached to his hand, the medication suspended from a pole on the back of the chair. He looked tired and in pain, but much better than he had the last time Vila had seen him.
"Can you be certain of that, Blake?" Avon asked.
"Yes. They haven't hurt me; Doctor Fraiser has explained everything she's done, and I'm feeling much better. I told her I had been mind-wiped and she explained the hypnosis process but said I wasn't ready to undergo such a thing yet and that it would be voluntary, even when I was. I may yet take her up on it, because I know there are still things missing from my memory, and I'd like to regain them, even if they prove painful. But not yet."
"We brought Blake here in hopes that his knowledge, added to the computer Orac's abilities, can pinpoint your exact dimension," Hammond cut in. In other words, thought Vila, deal with your problems in your own time, not mine.
"If there is a way to change what happened in my dimension, I would like to find it," Blake replied.
"But we could cease to exist," wailed Vila.
"Could that happen?" Daniel asked Sam in surprise.
"I am not a temporal physicist. Their presence here could indicate that they would survive no matter what happens, but we haven't interacted with temporal realities other than the one instance. We did not cease to exist and extensive research indicates that we did not alter the timeline in any way that was apparent."
"Unless talking to Catherine eventually led to taking the Stargate out of mothballs so this project could begin," Daniel said. "But if that was the case, all we did was make possible our trip back in time. A circular cause-and-effect."
"That doesn't mean everything's going to be ducky this time around for them," Jack offered.
"Which is why no one is to step through the quantum mirror without my go-ahead," Hammond reminded them. "I mean that, SG-1." He looked pointedly at Daniel Jackson, who grinned rather sheepishly. Must be the type to leap before he looked.
"Understood," said O'Neill and positioned himself at Daniel's side so he could restrain him if necessary. He muttered in an aside to Teal'c, "I never liked this different reality thing anyway."
Sam lifted a weird-looking device that didn't, to Vila's eye, match any of the base technology. What it did look like was the thing he'd picked up back there on the planet. It was what Orac said he'd used to activate the mirror. Avon eyed it narrowly and cast an annoyed glance at Vila, who ignored it. Maybe it was a Goa'uld gadget. "This is the remote that controls the mirror," she explained for the sake of Avon, Vila, and Orac, then she nodded as she realized they already knew. "It should show us this room, which would likely be a lab in the alternate reality, if they have their mirror here. If they don't have access to a mirror or if it is in storage elsewhere, we would not be able to pass through with a guarantee of return or we would see a different location, but if their mirror is elsewhere, they could bring it here. We should be able to see the people over there without stepping through the mirror but we'd have to go through to talk to them."
"We didn't step through the mirror," Vila said.
"You touched it. That would have shifted you automatically."
"Orac made us touch it," Vila remembered. He cast a resentful glare at the little computer.
"When you did that, you actually passed instantaneously through the mirror into an alternate reality," Daniel explained. "What we hope to do is simply view an alternative selection to determine the right one, and then to gain information."
"And if we go over there, maybe it's when the Old Calendar fell and the Goa'uld are attacking and we'll all be killed," Vila moaned.
"Oh, shut up, Vila," Avon retorted.
"Easy for you to say; what have you got to lose?" All right, so it wasn't fair, but sometimes Avon simply asked for it. And a part of Vila still hoped he would provoke familiar responses.
Avon turned and stared at him, but he said nothing at all. Blake spared him one quick, telling look, before he maneuvered his chair over to talk to Orac.
Jack O'Neill was not a happy camper. He didn't like this idea much, but neither did he like the idea of the biotoxin being loosed on the galaxy. Why would they try such a stupid plan? Even if that reality didn't know about the Tok'ra and even if Teal'c had not joined them the way he hadn't in the last two realities, surely they would have realized that messing with biological warfare was something guaranteed to get out of hand. This wasn't going to be good, any way you looked at it.
Carter glanced at Hammond for permission and activated the remote. The mirror came to life, revealing almost total darkness, the only light visible in a rectangular outline pattern that suggested a doorway. Sweet. That was useful. There would be no way of telling if that was the dimension they wanted or not. With infinite possibilities and no guarantee that the world they wanted was anything remotely close to the last one the mirror had opened on, they could be doing this for the next five decades without any luck at all. How long would it take Orac to make determinations visually if it couldn't see anything more than this.
"That's not the right dimension, anyway," Carter said. "That should be near the last one we visited, and they've got so much to do to repair Goa'uld damage on their planet that the last thing they're going to want to do is contact other realities for a while. So I'll adjust and we'll see what we can see elsewhere." She made a switch on the device.
This time, the mirror was in a shadowy storage room, along with a number of other artifacts. "Probably Nellis," Jack said. "Orac, what do you think?"
"Please be more precise," the computer huffed.
Jack made a face. "Is that your reality?" he said in measured tones. Daniel hid a smile.
Orac hummed to itself, assessing the limited view. "It is impossible to determine without more data."
"Keep going, Major Carter," Hammond urged. "We'll try for an hour. If we have no luck at the end of that time, then we'll try again tomorrow."
"I agree with that, General," said Doctor Fraiser. "I'll want my patient back in bed by then, anyway."
Avon sneaked a measuring look at Blake as if he expected him to fall over in the next ten seconds. Blake contrived to look as hearty as possible, which wasn't very. Jack shook his head. Those two made him uneasy. If it weren't for the need to learn as much as they could about the biotoxin threat in order to counter it here and make sure this reality didn't screw up like that, he would have happily tossed the remote through the Gate onto the first uninhabitable world they found.
Carter played with the remote for half an hour before she found anything but storage rooms and empty labs. Once they saw an airman passing in a corridor but he was facing away from the mirror and didn't react to its activation. The corridor looked like the SGC but a logo on the wall proclaimed it the SGP instead. Stargate Project? Stargate Program? Heck, it could stand for Stargate Popsicles for all Jack knew.
He plopped himself down in a chair, put his feet on the table, and proceeded to twiddle his thumbs. Daniel glanced over to him, lifted one eyebrow, and grinned. Jack grinned back. He produced a yo-yo out of his pocket and proceeded to use it. Daniel stifled a chuckle.
"Want to give it a shot?" Jack held it out.
Daniel accepted it from him as Carter adjusted the controls for yet another reality and began to do fancy flips and twirls with it. Across the room, General Hammond rolled his eyes but he didn't reproach them. Teal'c migrated closer, evidently intrigued. Maybe he'd like one to give to his son Rya'c.
Hammond cleared his throat. "I'm glad you're so interested in the process, Colonel."
Jack grinned. "Sorry, General. The scenic tour of the base closets and Nellis storage rooms has me so breathless I needed to get away from it and unwind for a few seconds."
"I've got something," Carter said sharply, then she murmured, "No, I don't," and reached for the dial, even as a couple of Jaffa leveled staff weapons at them. Their image faded to be replaced with an empty lab.
"I hope that one wasn't the right reality." Daniel straightened up from the ducking position he'd assumed automatically.
"They had...." Vila gestured at Teal'c's forehead tattoo. "Like you." He shivered uneasily. He must be starting to realize that Teal'c really was an alien.
"Indeed." Teal'c inclined his head. "Those Jaffa were in the service of Apophis."
"It's inevitable we encounter several realities in which the Goa'uld have invaded," Carter said. "Orac, were you able to examine enough of that reality to detect whether or not it was your own?"
"It was not," Orac replied. Sometimes the computer could tell instantly; at other times, it took longer. Jack didn't like taking what the little computer said on faith. It dawned on him that there might be more than one universe playing with biotoxins, too. Whether anybody was doing that here or not, no one had ever suggested it except for Hammond's comments today, and O'Neill trusted Hammond enough to know that the General would not remind the powers that be about any testing that had already taken place, not as long as they were allied with the Tok'ra. There was Teal'c to think about, too, but the survival of one man couldn't be allowed to weigh against the fate of the entire Earth. It was just that, knowing how the biotoxin had backfired in the rebels' universe, it was basically a pretty stupid plan, and Jack didn't want any part of it, although he'd enjoy seeing the snakeheads take a fall.
So how did Orac do it, anyway? Analysis of the atmosphere? Wishful thinking? Some weird computer process that was a couple centuries ahead of their own? Dumb luck? He kinda liked the last option, or he would if the information they were seeking weren't so important.
The only advantage Jack could see was that Orac's responses to each new reality seemed to be pushing them in a certain direction. Maybe they were getting closer to the right reality. He hoped so. This was nearly as much fun as watching grass grow.
Daniel handed him back the yo-yo. "Think we'll find it?" he asked. Making conversation. Probably as bored as Jack was.
"Hope so. On the other hand, this is probably a swell way to kill an afternoon. Great day. Get attacked by tribesmen and then get bored to death." He grinned as he tucked the toy into his pocket.
Daniel's smile flashed in return. "I keep wondering about all those different realities. So far, we haven't encountered a reality where I was part of the SGC. Or one where Teal'c was. You have to wonder if that's where our reality took its sidestep."
"Have to wonder how these other ones survived without the two of you," Jack said. "When I look back and imagine how it would have turned out a lot of times if we didn't have you...."
That made Daniel's eyes warm. "It's been quite a ride, hasn't it?" he asked.
"That it has." Were they okay with each other now? Jack wasn't quite sure. He knew how much he wanted to be, but he couldn't offer Daniel the reassurance that he wouldn't be used in the future. What he could offer was that he would hate doing it. He hoped that would be enough, but not nearly as much as he hoped it never came to that again.
Daniel seemed less resistant to him than he'd been before. Maybe sharing yo-yos was some kind of anthropologist bonding ritual that Jack had never heard of before. Yo-yo therapy?
"Yes," said Orac in the background.
"You found it?" Daniel whirled around eagerly, full of that scientific curiosity that made him what he was. "Are you sure?"
Jack stared into the mirror. They were looking at a room that was identical to this one with a few different projects spread out. Orac wasn't present on the table in the other reality, and neither were Daniel or Teal'c, but Jack saw his alternate self standing talking to a Carter who was a major like his own Carter, but who had long hair knotted up on the back of her neck to get it out of the way. Okay, so maybe the fate of their own reality relied on his Carter being the only one with short hair. There was another man with them, a guy in his twenties with a shock of corn-yellow hair and a sad, barely-lived-in face. Of the alternate Daniel or Teal'c, there was no sign.
Avon and Vila stared at the mirrored duplicates, Vila's mouth hanging open in astonishment. Blake leaned forward in his wheelchair to see better. If any of them recognized the dimension, they gave no sign of it. Orac's lights blinked furiously and it put up a readout on the computer screen.
Jack's mouth hung a little open. It was weird to see his alternate standing there talking to her. In the other reality he'd experienced, his avatar had been killed by the Goa'uld, so he'd never had to see 'himself' before, not like that. There had been his robot self, but that was somehow different. This was like looking into a mirror, only not. The other O'Neill looked just like he did, right down to the amount of grey in his hair, but there was something tight and rigid in his posture that made Jack uneasy. He'd had a stance like that right after Charlie died.
He pushed that thought away abruptly. Don't think of that now.
That was when the other Carter lifted her head and saw them.
"Colonel," she said warningly although no sound came through the mirror, and put out a hand to touch his arm. He whirled before she could do so, probably picking up something in the nuance of her tone. He gazed into the mirror and saw them. His eyes registered Jack, and an eyebrow did a yo-yo dance up and down his forehead and his mouth twisted in amused recognition. God, his eyes were hollow. Jack shuddered, wondering what had happened to him in that reality to make him look like that.
Then the other Jack looked past him and saw Daniel. Every shred of color drained right out of his face as he recognized him. So this reality did have a Daniel Jackson. But what had made the other colonel look at him like that? Had his Daniel walked out after the debacle with the Maybourne conspiracy? Had he died? Had he been taken by a Goa'uld?
The man in the mirror said, "Daniel." Even though sound didn't come through the mirror, it was possible to read his lips to tell what he had said. Then, abruptly, he turned and strode out of the room without a backward look. In the shocked silence that followed, two armed Marines came up behind the other Carter and leveled their guns at the mirror and the blond guy jumped up to stand beside her in a gesture of team unity that was so apparent that Jack had a feeling this guy was part of her reality's SG-1.
She turned to the Marines and spoke at length. They didn't lower their guns, but they backed off a step, waiting. Satisfied, she turned to the blond man and reached out to touch his arm. She spoke to him and he replied, with an urgent gesture past Daniel--and why did his eyes grow so empty when he looked at Daniel?--to Teal'c. He was obviously warning her. She stared at Teal'c a long moment, registering the BDU's he wore, the absence of a Jaffa weapon, and the presence of General Hammond and this side's Marine guards. Then she said, "No, wait," to the blond guy. Jack was starting to get good at this lip-reading gig, at least for short sentences. He could even pick out the warning word, 'Jaffa', in the blond's reply as he gesticulated insistently at Teal'c.
The alternate Carter looked stubborn. He'd seen just such an expression on his own Carter's face when she was balked of some scientific research she wanted to plunge into up to her elbows. Then she raised her hands like a guarded prisoner to show she was not armed, and touched the mirror. An instant later, she stood before them, with the blond guy throwing conniption fits behind her in the mirror and yelling soundlessly over his shoulder, probably for his O'Neill to come back. The alternate guards crowded closer, but none of them followed the long-haired Carter through the mirror.
"Wait," she said. "Don't shoot. Colonel O'Neill? General Hammond? I mean you no harm. I'm unarmed. You can check." Her eyes lingered on Carter, Jack's Carter. Maybe he should call them Carter One and Carter Two to save confusion. Carter Two let her eyes linger sorrowfully on Daniel, and she said in a quiet voice, "Hello, Daniel." Then she turned to Teal'c. "You have a Jaffa here? Has your reality been taken over by the Goa'uld?"
Hammond stepped in. "Major Carter?"
"Yes, sir, Major Samantha Carter of the SCP. In need of assistance if you have any you can give us. But if you're slaves to the Goa'uld, you're worse off than we are." She eyed Teal'c narrowly, fury and suspicion in her eyes.
"This is Teal'c," Jack told her. "He came over to our side. He's not with the Goa'uld any more."
"He's first prime to Apophis in our reality," she said, her mouth curling with distaste. The utter hatred in her voice at the mention of Apophis made Jack's Carter stare at her in surprise. Carter Two waited for their reply but her eyes kept sneaking miserably back to Daniel. The Colonel could see Jackson's growing uneasiness each time she did it. He hadn't been a part of the last alternate reality, but he had evidently been a part of this one. Something had happened to him, and recently, too.
"No longer." Teal'c inclined his head at Carter Two. "I came to realize that the Goa'uld were not gods, that they had no right to use others at will, and I chose to side with O'Neill. I am a member of SG-1 here."
"You and the Colonel, the other me--" she quirked a smile at her counterpart, and Carter returned it wryly, "and Daniel," she finished in a voice pregnant with a tangle of emotions. The foremost of them was grief. Her eyes glittered brightly as she stared at Daniel.
"Hello, Major Carter," Daniel greeted her tentatively. He angled a questioning look at Jack. "Don't I exist in your universe? Aren't I a part of SG-1?"
The other Carter cleared her throat. "You were," she said and that word made her face twist. "It was your original experience with the quantum mirror that allowed us to defeat Apophis and Klorel. We wouldn't even have the Gate program without you. But...." Her voice trailed off and she paused to knuckle her eyes fiercely, then she squared her shoulders and raised a brave head. Jack suddenly got the idea she was going to confide in them. Even though they were not her people, they had to be familiar. The other Carter and Kawalsky had confided, too, but they'd been desperate. Was this Carter desperate, too? "Last week, we went on a mission to P3Q-920. Apophis was there. We had a battle with him to get back to the Gate before we could be cut off. You--our Daniel--was hit. It was a bad wound, too bad. The colonel and Amundson got you back through the Gate and we put up the iris so they couldn't follow, and you collapsed on the ramp. The Colonel went down with you and tried to stop the bleeding but we could all see that it wasn't going to do any good."
Daniel shivered. Even though it was an alternate version of himself, it must remind him too vividly of being shot on Klorel's ship, the belief that he was dying, the need to urge Jack to leave him to complete the mission, the belief that all of them would die in the process anyway. There had been a sarcophagus handy there, but even if this reality had one at the base, Daniel might not have been able to use it, not after his addiction to its effects--assuming the other Daniel had suffered through the same experience Daniel had on P3R-636. The odds were this reality didn't keep one handy, anyway.
"We had no sarcophagus," the alternate Carter continued, her voice flat, but not so flat that Jack couldn't hear the pain in it. "Even though Doctor Fraiser was waiting, she couldn't do anything except ease Daniel's pain and maybe give him a few more minutes. The Colonel held Daniel in his arms until the end, talked to him, even poured out his soul to him, and, Colonel, if you're anything like my Colonel O'Neill, you'll know how hard that was for him. He'd had to use Daniel and the rest of us badly not so very long ago, when a plot using the Antarctic Gate came to light and the Colonel went undercover and pretended to go over to the other side. Daniel had tried to understand, but he had been badly hurt; we all were. So the Colonel sat there and held him as he was dying, and apologized for it and told Daniel how much it had meant to know him, that Daniel had helped him come back to life after his son had died; how he'd understood when no one else did." Her eyes flashed a question to seek out parallels and Jack nodded to show he understood. God, he could feel his counterpart's pain as if it were his own. If he lost Daniel now.... He lifted his eyes and stared at Daniel, whose own eyes were huge with a combination of conflicting emotions. O'Neill would have been more comfortable saying something light like, "That's it, we're never going to P3Q-920," but he couldn't trivialize it. He caught and held Daniel's gaze for a long moment, and then he turned back to the alternate Carter. "Go on."
She drew a shuddering breath. Telling the story had made her relive it in her mind. "I don't know why I'm talking so much," she said wearily. Her eyes lingered on Daniel. "Maybe because you're...us, in a way. Maybe because I'll feel better if I can keep it from happening here. General Hammond would jump all over me for talking to you like this. And Jack...." That made her voice trail off and she cast a really uneasy glance at the mirror, then she squared her shoulders and plunged on. The words came hard. "You contacted us. Something's going on and I want to find out what it is. Maybe you can help us, maybe you need us to help you. I don't know. But I think we're both on the same side."
"We are," Daniel said gently. "We don't mean you any harm. We only want to help." He caught a deep breath. "Please. Go on."
She hesitated again, then she plunged into the completion of her story. "Finally, at the end, Daniel was mostly conscious for a moment," she said. Behind her in the mirror, the blond man put out a hand to her as if he'd guessed what she was saying, but he didn't step through the mirror after her. "Then Daniel looked up at the Colonel," she said painfully. "And he said, ''s okay, Jack,' so soft we couldn't have heard it if there hadn't been dead silence in the Gate room. The Colonel flinched like he'd been punched in the stomach, and he grabbed on tighter. And then...Daniel...died." One tear tracked down her cheek and she seemed completely unaware of it. "The Colonel said his name a couple of times, like he was mad at Daniel for faking him out, and then it hit him. He yelled, "No!" so loudly I'm surprised they couldn't hear him on the surface, and then he put his face down in Daniel's hair--our Daniel had a lot longer hair than you do--" she added inconsequentially. "And he cried." She still sounded half surprised about it. "I never saw the Colonel cry before. I hope I never do again." She lowered her eyes. "And then he dried his eyes and he put on that stone face, and I haven't seen it crack once, not until now when he looked through the mirror and saw your Daniel still alive. He's become utterly obsessed with stopping Apophis. General Hammond has ordered us to three weeks of downtime; he won't risk the Colonel on the other side of the Gate. He's a loose cannon, and he'd go in shooting at the first Goa'uld he saw. The Colonel won't risk me or Captain Amundson--Peter Amundson is the other member of our team." She gestured at the blond man who stood so close to the mirror that his nose must almost be touching it. "But I'm afraid that the first thing the Colonel will do when we go back out there is find a way to get himself killed." She shook her head. "No, not the first thing. The first thing would be to make sure that Amundson and I are safe. I think he'd throw away his own life to save us from a paper cut right about now."
O'Neill had stood there listening to her story, each word socking him hard in the gut. His own Daniel was alive, but for how long? Was that the turning point on this world? No, Teal'c wasn't here, either. Which meant that the SGC or whatever it was called in this reality didn't have a team member who would die if someone loosed the biotoxin through the Gate.
There was a stunned silence. Daniel looked at a loss for words and he was sneaking doubtful glances at O'Neill as if trying to equate the other man's behavior with his own Jack's behavior when he was trying to stop the renegade N.I.D. SG unit. The alternate Jack had done that, too. It might be why he'd been so quick to go to pieces. Guilt could be a nasty thing, all the more so because there'd been no option, no way to do it differently, and now, no chance of real resolution.
General Hammond stepped forward and spoke gravely. "Major Carter, I'm sorry for your loss."
Hammond didn't mention the biotoxin, but then he couldn't. If this universe were experimenting with it, it probably wouldn't be done at this level; Carter was an astrophysicist, not a chemist or a virologist or whatever they called those sweet biological warfare guys. Even if the unknown Amundson who lurked right up against the mirror or O'Neill Two, who had returned and was letting loose a string of soundless invectives at the unheeding Carter Two, knew something about it in that reality, the researching and testing wouldn't be done here. It would be completed elsewhere and it would be left for the finished product to be carried through the Gate. SG-1 might carry it offworld, if the option arose, but O'Neill Two was a loose cannon, Carter Two had said. His Hammond wouldn't give that mission to him, especially since he was grounded for the duration. Even if the toxin were ready to deploy, it wouldn't fall to SG-1 now, not unless the powers that be were prepared to wait until the unit was reinstated and the missing member replaced. Missing member? Jack didn't even want to think of needing to replace Daniel like that.
"Thank you, sir." The other Carter's eyes were busy. She'd pinpointed Blake and the others as strangers to her reality and frowned slightly at the sight of them. Unless through an utter fluke of coincidence, they would have no travelers from two-hundred fifty years in the future at their SGC--SCP. Did they have Kawalsky? It'd be tough to see him again the way it had been last time they'd messed with a quantum mirror. Not as tough as it would be for Jack if he'd been the one to lose his Daniel, but damned tough.
Carter Two's eyes lingered on Orac as it sat there spooling data onto the monitor screen. She couldn't read the screen from that angle, but she had to know that Orac was conceptually different from Earth technology and that it didn't look like any Goa'uld artifact any of them had ever seen before. She didn't ask, though. She knew they couldn't tell her.
"There're two of them," Vila muttered. "I'm seeing double."
"Too much adrenaline and soma?" Avon retorted. "Think, Vila, if that is not totally beyond you. That was the object of the exercise."
"But I thought if they were from our reality, they would sound like us," Vila explained.
"Why should they?" Avon challenged. "They aren't from what would, in our time, be Britain, as we are."
That was a mistake. O'Neill saw Hammond's face tighten as he realized they had not coached their visitors thoroughly enough.
Carter Two snapped to attention, like a gun dog that had just sniffed out a pheasant. "This time?" She turned to her counterpart. "Did your dimension travel back in time to Nineteen Sixty-Nine last year? We did."
Carter looked at Hammond, who was frowning. He must have decided that since the alternate Carter had volunteered the information first, it couldn't hurt. In essence, these people were them, with the same goals and motivations, even the same regulations. Once on the other side of the quantum mirror, nothing they could do would compromise security here unless they came through the mirror on their own afterward, and they'd have no reason to do so unless they needed help from the Goa'uld, the way the other Carter and Kawalsky had come through.
"Yes, we did, Major," Hammond replied. He volunteered nothing about the rebels, and the look he cast them forbade them to offer additional information. Avon favored Vila with a glare, but Blake looked fascinated.
"A solar flare? Your counterpart in the past aiding them, General?" she persisted. "That's the way it happened for us. Of course we didn't have a Jaffa on our team. That would have made things difficult for you in your past." She glanced back at the mirror, where O'Neill Two had returned and displaced Amundson. He looked like he would have liked nothing better than to jump through the mirror, curl his fingers around Teal'c's neck, and squeeze the life right out of him. As first prime to Apophis, Teal'c would probably have been on the spot when Apophis shot Daniel Two.
"Your reality is having trouble with Apophis, then?" Hammond asked. "He's not dead?"
"We thought he was dead for a time, but he surfaced again. No, he's not dead and he's very active. He's started an all-out plan to take over Earth; we have the iris up at least once a day while he tries to find ways to break through. It's almost as if he's found a way to track us when we activate the Gate. We've seen him recently on half a dozen planets and some of the other SG teams have reported encounters as well. Things are bad for us."
"We haven't had as many problems with him as that," Daniel said. He glanced at Hammond to make sure he wasn't speaking out of turn. "We've had our share of trouble with the Goa'uld, though."
Carter Two glanced back at her O'Neill and her face softened. Then she looked past him to Hammond Two who stood right behind him. They must have summoned him the minute this happened.
Carter One caught her attention. "It feels weird to talk to you, like it did the last time. You know you can't stay here for any length of time because of--"
"Entropic cascade failure," the other Carter finished for her. Oh, great, they were going to start finishing each other's sentences. That had been spooky last time, and it was spooky again this time. O'Neill wondered if she and her O'Neill had a thing like the pair in the other reality. She wasn't wearing a wedding ring, but maybe her military structure wouldn't allow it; if she was under his command, they couldn't have a relationship and be in compliance with military regs, but who knew what was different on that side of the mirror. Didn't matter to the current problem, anyway. He couldn't help being curious, though. All these alternate Jacks and Carters pairing up gave him a weird feeling.
"Exactly," said Carter One. "I don't think we'll need that long. As for helping you deal with the Apophis situation, do you have Tok'ra allies? What about the Asgard?"
"The Asgard we know. Who are the Tok'ra?"
"I knew they wouldn't have encountered the Tok'ra," Daniel cried. "I didn't think they could have. I was pretty sure they wouldn't have had Teal'c, either."
"Indeed, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c agreed. "Although it would have been possible for my presence to have been overlooked by the 'powers that be' in the face of a larger goal."
"Maybe, but I don't think they'd dare overlook the Tok'ra."
Carter One took over. "Let me try, General. Uh, Major. Sam."
"Samantha, always," the other replied.
"Samantha, then. Is your father alive?"
Carter Two's face darkened. "No, I lost him to cancer. Is yours?"
"Yes, through a very unusual circumstance. One other question. In your reality, were you ever possessed by Jolinar?"
The utter blankness in Carter Two's face proved that had never happened. Until then, nothing had been known of the Tok'ra, and even afterward, it had taken Jolinar's memories and Teal'c's knowledge to work out a means of seeking out the race of Goa'uld who had turned against the system lords and worked in harmony with their voluntary hosts.
"The Tok'ra were thought to be a legend in many cultures," Daniel explained. He glanced at Hammond for permission to continue, then he plunged on. "The Tok'ra are Goa'uld, but not. They are Goa'uld who have renounced the System Lords and all they stand for. They stand against Apophis and Heru-ur, and they only take willing hosts and do not control them, but share the body and consciousness. I don't know if your Daniel lost his wife to the Goa'uld." Jack could tell from the way his eyes darkened how hard it was for him to speak of Sha're.
"Yes, he did," Carter Two agreed. "And that one--" she pointed at Teal'c--"helped to take her."
Teal'c inclined his head regretfully. "That is so. I have done much in my past that causes me great shame. I fought against it for a long time before I was able to break free of Apophis. Had I not taken Sha're, another would have done so in my place. That is no justification and is not meant as such. Daniel Jackson knows that I would have died if it could have restored his wife to him."
Daniel nodded. He had come to terms with Teal'c's responsibility in Sha're's death. Did that mean he could come to terms with Jack, too?
Was Sha're dead in Carter Two's reality? Would it do Daniel any good to know that his wife lived in a reality he couldn't access, still living, still possessed by Amonet, but not his?
Carter Two's lip curled. "These Tok'ra," she said, turning away from Teal'c as quickly as she could without blatant rudeness. "Are they allies of Earth in your reality?"
Carter nodded. "They are. In our reality, Jolinar, a Tok'ra, was forced to take control of me to survive. In the end, to save my life, she died herself and freed me. I have lingering memories from the bonding."
Carter Two shuddered. "That's horrible. I can't imagine it."
"I found it...unpleasant, as well. But because of the memories left behind from the joining, I learned of the Tok'ra. I had dreams of them, and they led us to a Tok'ra base, where we formed an alliance with the Tok'ra to stop the System Lords." She hesitated. Carter Two's hatred for the Goa'uld was almost virulent, nearly as strong as the other O'Neill's. Jack's Carter paused, glanced over at Hammond, and continued. "Like your father, mine was dying of cancer. Samantha, you won't like hearing this since you have no concept of the Tok'ra, but they healed my father."
Carter Two stared at her without comprehension, then her face twisted, appalled. "You gave your father to a Goa'uld?" she blurted with savage indignation.
"Not a Goa'uld, a Tok'ra. And it was his choice as much as the Tok'ra's. Neither went into it unwillingly. Now Dad is one of them, but he has an eye on Earth and our interests at heart. He's still Dad, but he's...more."
Carter Two took an involuntary step closer to the mirror. Beyond her, in the glass, Jack could see his double insisting, "What?" in frustrated impatience even though the voice didn't carry.
Hammond stepped in hastily. "But that isn't the point we wanted to make. What we want to tell you is that there are Tok'ra out there who oppose the System Lords as fiercely as you do. Simply because you have not met them does not mean they do not exist. You can verify this with your Asgard, if you feel the need."
Carter Two paused abruptly and her face assumed a lost-in-concentration look. Jack had seen the same on Carter One's face when she had come up against a new idea or was considering a complicated puzzle. "You say that as if it were important," she spoke slowly. "As if you know more about our reality than we know about yours. How is this possible?"
"We don't know," Daniel said gently. He always seemed to hesitate a second when talking to her. Maybe it was the way she flinched in pained memory when he spoke; maybe she could see their Daniel dead in her O'Neill's arms when she looked at him. Jack could almost see that image himself and it was a nasty one. "There are so many similar realities. We can't be certain yours is the one we're seeking."
"This is the correct reality," offered Orac in a voice that couldn't be gainsaid. For a computer, it was waaay too opinionated, too certain it was always right. A little like the Tollans and half the beings out there beyond the Gate who insisted the humans were still too young.
Carter Two jumped and stared at Orac. "You were seeking out our particular reality. If you have time travelers here, from the future--could they be from this reality and not your own?" Her eyes lingered on Avon, Blake, and Vila with interest. "They know our future?"
"Not well," Blake said apologetically. "And most of that put together from old computer records and taken from old books."
"Not from an ongoing civilization that maintained its history." Carter Two was as sharp as O'Neill's own Carter. She could take the slightest of hints and assemble theories and outright guesses and create hypotheses that were, nine times out of ten, right on the money. "Our society fell, didn't it?" she glanced back at the rest of her team, her eyes speculative. "And you're here to find out how we screwed up, because these men don't know the details. You want to make sure it doesn't happen there. Just like I want to make sure we don't do it, whatever we did if it really caused our society's collapse. However, just because our society fell, it doesn't have to be anything we did. The Stargate Project, I mean. It could have been anything; something in the Middle East, nothing to do with the Goa'uld. If they only know by old records at random, how can they tell it wasn't Apophis or the System Lords that caused it or something apart from this project? And that what we're trying won't prevent a fall of our civilization?"
"I have extrapolated all existing information in my time and reality," Orac replied. "I have studied it thoroughly and combined it with information presented to me by the humans of this time and dimension. It is correct."
"Orac is the smartest computer out there," Vila chipped in brightly. "Makes even Avon look stupid, he does."
Avon glared at him.
"Orac is an artificial intelligence from the future," Hammond explained. He must have decided more information was the only way to make the point. "And the purpose of this contact is to track down what happened in your time and reality to bring about a World War III."
"But that can't happen," Carter Two insisted. "We've done nothing that would hurt Earth itself. Our plan isn't even aimed at Earth." She looked uncomfortable.
"That you know about," Carter One replied. "You do know about it. You have doubts about it being the right thing, just like I would if I were in your place. I can see it in your face. I do know how to read your face, Samantha."
The other Carter inclined her head to concede that. "Yes, but you have to remember that we've been led to believe we could reveal information before; a Goa'uld plot that made us think we were stranded in the future and that was intended to gain information from us."
"We went through that, too," Carter replied. "We're just as suspicious as you are. But this is really the Stargate project, even if we call it the Stargate Command, and not a base from the future. To prove it to you, we'll give you a tour. You remember the false base from before, if your experience paralleled our own."
"That would possibly reassure me about you, but it wouldn't necessarily reassure me about your guests from the future. Even if this Orac is an artificial intelligence that can extrapolate data simply from observation and readings of our reality through the quantum mirror, I don't see how it could possibly determine that ours was the exact reality in question."
"You don't know Orac. Neither do I, but I've been privileged to work with it. It's conceptually beyond anything we have even imagined. It can access all computers in its own time without a physical link and regardless of distance. Even in its own time, it's unique." She went off into a description of Orac's properties so complex that Jack didn't even try to follow it, but Carter Two did. She asked questions and theories and speculations flew between them, thick and fast. There they were, finishing each other's sentences again. Jack watched the two blonde heads bent over Orac, then he lifted his eyes to his opposite number in the mirror and gave a little shrug. The other O'Neill quirked an eyebrow at him. Similar reaction, but the pain in his double's eyes hadn't abated. Made Jack as uncomfortable as hell.
Hammond came up beside O'Neill. "What do you think, Colonel? That they know anything about Orac's theory and Blake's information?" Blake's head came up at the question and he stared into the mirror as if he could discern the biotoxin sitting in a test tube there. Not that Jack could see any test tubes anywhere in the lab, or anything that might be the substance in question. Probably locked safe away. That's what Jack would have wanted if they'd had anything like that here. No, he'd have wanted it destroyed at the source.
"I think they do, sir," he replied. "I could tell from the way the other Carter, uh, Samantha, reacted when she heard that the Tok'ra were our allies--and thought that they might be out there fighting the Goa'uld in her reality. I think the first thing she's gonna do when she gets back is contact her Thor and see if he can confirm they exist. Even if she hates the Goa'uld even more than I do, she won't condemn an entire race of allies."
"You can't be certain of that, Colonel. She is not our Major Carter, and her reality is not our own."
"No, but I do know that our Carter wouldn't pull anything like that, not for anything. If there are any similarities at all, I'd hope it would carry over."
"I do know that, under their circumstances, I'd be more open to means of destroying the Goa'uld, and I suspect that without their Doctor Jackson, they might not have a non-military voice of reason on their team. Not that Doctor Jackson's opinion would be enough to stop the top brass if they took it into their heads to follow this plan."
"Just from her reaction, I think this Carter will think it through," O'Neill replied. "But how does that help us to make sure it isn't going to happen here--or there?"
"Because if she really believes us and is unwilling to risk the Tok'ra, if only because it will interfere with their Earth's other allies, I hope she will tell us about the process in her universe and I can pull in my contacts and make sure that nothing like that gets going here, or if it is, that it is stopped. As long as I command the Stargate Project, nothing goes through the Gate without my okay."
"And if Maybourne was right and there are other renegade N.I.D. SG units?" the Colonel persisted. "We don't control everything that goes through the Gate."
"We now have control of the Antarctic Stargate," Hammond reminded him. "We'll make certain it is not used. I will not allow a biological hazard that can destroy our allies and rebound on Earth to pass through that Gate."
Carter Two's head came up. "You do know about it," she said. She was entirely too sharp for her own good. "You're doing the same thing here?"
Hammond exchanged a wry grimace with O'Neill. "We'll have to tell her something, Colonel. We have to find out how the project is run. I want to make sure we don't loose a plague that kills fifteen per cent of the people on Earth."
"It can't kill people on Earth," Carter Two insisted. "It was very carefully designed not to do that. Volunteers have tested it, and, believe me, there has been no effect on humans."
"Maybe not short-term effects," Carter One reminded her. "You can't tell what might happen as a result in five years or even ten."
"And you must consider the possibility that the Goa'uld will realize what is being done and counter it with an agent that will turn it lethal," Teal'c insisted. "I know you do not trust me, Major Carter, but I have thrown in my lot with the Tauri and I would not support such a risk for them."
"I do remember studying about what happened," Blake said. "Out of the ashes of your time came the Terran Federation, a fiercely human-oriented dictatorship that crushes all individuality out of people. Some are turned into mindless drones, some have memories erased, most are fed suppressant drugs to keep them docile. The freedom of religion you enjoy in your time is at an end. All religion is outlawed, philosophers have a tendency to vanish without a trace, and rebel bands are gunned down out of hand, even when they try to surrender and offer no resistance. Is that the legacy you wish to create? I can understand your desire to eradicate the Goa'uld. But if you act hastily, in anger and panic, the end result will be worse than that which you attempt to fight."
"He's right," Vila piped up unexpectedly. "We had a crew member, Cally. She was of the Auronar, a humanoid species who were telepaths. Simply to catch us because we were known to be rebels, a plague was engineered and her entire planet's population was destroyed. We saved two of them and a genetic stock, but that was all. I don't think suppressant drugs and planetary extinction would be the legacy you want to leave."
"I didn't realize you were quite such a devoted rebel, Vila," Avon said tightly but, for once, there was respect in his eyes when he looked at the thief.
Carter Two studied Vila thoughtfully, then she said, "I need to talk to General Hammond--the Hammond in my reality." She stepped backward, into the mirror, and a second later they saw her on the other side, looking back at them. As they watched, the two Marines stepped backward toward the door out of earshot, although they didn't lower their weapons, and Carter Two began to speak urgently to her Hammond, O'Neill, and the stranger, Amundson. Hammond Two's face darkened and he cast a doubtful, penetrating glance into the mirror at his other self. Hammond One bowed his head in confirmation of Carter Two's words.
Jack watched his double, and that was when he started to worry. He didn't see any concession in the face he knew so well. Worse, he could tell from the expression in O'Neill Two's eyes that he wasn't impressed either with the tale of the Tok'ra or with the possibility of a crisis in the future. Sometimes, Jack didn't let himself dwell too much on the ramifications of the things he had to do in the job; if he spent too much time on that, he'd go crazy. At times, there were just damn disgusting things he had to do and the only thing was to grit his teeth and do them and try to ignore the consequences. That didn't mean he liked it, or himself, sometimes. But what he saw in his doppelganger through the mirror was a Jack O'Neill who was dangling by a thread from the end of his rope, a man who had lost all the ground he'd regained since the death of his son, a man who was poised on the brink, the way Jack himself had been right before he'd been pulled into the Stargate project in the first place. He had a very bad feeling about this.
He glanced over at Daniel, who had been the only one of the current team to know him then, and he saw Daniel's eyes were wide with worry. They shared a concerned look and Daniel moved closer to him.
"A loose cannon," Jack said in an undertone. "You don't think...."
"I think their Carter had better watch him closely," Daniel replied. "He wants revenge. It isn't about stopping the Goa'uld for him any longer so much as it's about that."
"Yeah, that was my take on it, too. Guess that means you better stay alive, Danny."
"He isn't you, Jack. He's gone through some different experiences than you have. There are always differences in the realities. Maybe this is part of his but he's not you, even if you can understand him."
"Yeah, and maybe it half-killed him to have his Daniel die like that." He added in a mumble that wouldn't be audible to anyone in the room, "It would me."
Daniel might not have heard the exact words, but he had to know the meaning. He wasn't that much of a touchy-feely kind of guy but he put out a hand anyway and rested it on Jack's arm, and there was strength and determination in the fingers that squeezed for a second before he let go. "I've lasted this long," he said softly, "against some pretty tough situations. I'm a survivor, Jack."
"You better be." He clasped Daniel's arm in return and then let go.
But when he glanced up at the mirror, he saw the other O'Neill watching him even as he listened to Carter's urgent expostulation, and the doppelganger's eyes were wistful and brooding--and resentful. Bad. Jack knew it was bad.
"This could take some time," Fraiser interrupted. She'd kept out of the interaction until now. "We don't know if they'll share information with us. I'd like to take Blake back to bed since we've established that this is in all likelihood the right reality."
"I'm all right," Blake said quickly. "I want to see it out."
Vila opened his mouth to protest, but Avon said fiercely, "Blake, you will obey the doctor or I will personally take you back to bed and tie you into it."
Jack tore his eyes from the drama unfolding before him in the mirror and eyed the two men. Blake looked up at Avon and regarded him with the most expressionless gaze he'd yet produced. Avon stared back, grim and determined, giving the term 'stone face' a whole new level of meaning. Vila heaved an exasperated sigh. If he were a man who lived dangerously, he'd probably have kicked them in disgust.
Fraiser smiled. "I wasn't offering you the option," she said and whisked the chair away. Vila hesitated, then he reached out as if he meant to give Avon a push to follow. Avon turned a glare upon him, then he stalked out of the room. He turned in the opposite direction from the infirmary.
Vila heaved a put-upon sigh. "It's always Vila who has to save the day," he muttered. "Do this, Vila. Carry that, Vila. Talk sense to Avon, Vila. And I don't have a death-wish." He grinned at them crookedly and went out after Avon, hot in his footsteps.
"And I thought my life was complicated," Jack muttered before he turned back to the mirror.
Del Tarrant found the Stargate base fascinating; he was the only member of Scorpio's crew who had served in the military back home, so he recognized certain elements of the chain of command and the need for the security man who dogged his steps and gently steered him away from restricted areas as he prowled the base. The man would answer some of his questions, but not all of them. He was young and not that experienced but Tarrant didn't try to trick him or take advantage of him the way another officer from Space Command might have done. He hadn't learned honor and respect from his father, who was too busy tracking down rebels to bother, but he'd learned them from his older brother, Deeta. That Deeta had broken with his father and vanished to the outer worlds, where he'd later surfaced just in time to die at the Teal/Vandor convention didn't invalidate the lessons that the young Del had learned from him. Those lessons had made it impossible for him to accept an order to destroy an entire planet for the sake of a few rebels who might be part of the planet's society. Death of innocents to make a point left too ugly a taste in Tarrant's mouth for him to continue to serve in Space Command. So he had deserted and spent some time prowling around the outer worlds himself, getting involved in other people's wars, always on the side he considered morally right. He hadn't made that point to Avon when he had come upon the Liberator after the battle with the Andromedans, but part of the reason he had decided to stay on Liberator afterwards was because he could tell that the part of Avon the tech would have been happy to deny possessed some shreds of honor. The man kept his word when he gave it, and, even if he could be the most unpleasant bastard Tarrant had ever met, it was good to know that Avon wouldn't run out on him if he promised not to. Besides, in spite of the way they rubbed each other wrong at every opportunity, in a crisis they worked well together, almost instinctively. It was something he hadn't wanted to acknowledge and he was not sure Avon did acknowledge it consciously, but it was there. Avon might hold him in some contempt, but he did respect Tarrant's abilities and he did back him. Tarrant believed you should never fail a member of your crew, and he lived that belief every day. It didn't mean he wouldn't express his opinions, loudly if need be. But it meant that he could stand up to Avon when he had to.
Cally had still been a member of the crew when he'd joined it, and Cally had been something like the crew's heart, although it wasn't acknowledged. When she'd died on Terminal, everything had gotten nastier. Dorian, when he'd brought them to Xenon to use their 'gestalt' to feed the creature that sustained his life, had said they'd been through so much together that they were a part of each other. None of them had been comfortable with that fact, but neither could they deny it. Tarrant had seen that bond between the members of SG-1 as well, although they weren't as cold and distant as his own crew was. Even with the Goa'uld threat, they lived in a kinder universe, one where it was safer to take the risks of caring. Not that it was ever totally safe to do so.
Even as he let himself speculate on such things, Tarrant saw Avon stalking toward him. His face was hard and unyielding and he strode right past Tarrant without acknowledging him, other than by a flash of recognition in his eyes. Hard on his heels was Vila, grimly determined, with two Marines trailing them to guard them.
Vila saw Tarrant, paused long enough to roll his eyes and mutter, "Avon!" in terms of great disgust, and hurried on. The two Marines plowed after them, and the younger of the two rolled his eyes at Tarrant's Marine before they vanished down the corridor.
Tarrant's Marine hesitated. "Do you want to go after them?" he ventured doubtfully. Tarrant heard the hope in his voice that Tarrant would do nothing of the sort. Avon was just the type to intimidate the lower ranks.
"I wouldn't risk it," Tarrant said with a grin. "Vila doesn't often take a stand, but when he does, it could be a clash, not of the Titans, but of a Titan and a cornered rat. I'll leave it to Vila. He's the only one of us these days who can handle Avon."
"Better him than me," the man said. "Do you want to go for coffee or see if the women in your party are awake yet?"
"No, I think I'll go talk to Blake in the infirmary," Tarrant decided. Avon might have been coming from that direction, and it wouldn't do to miss out entirely on what was happening. He was sure that if anyone knew about their status here it would be Avon rather than Blake, who would be treated as a patient and kept from the chain of command, in the way of the military everywhere, until he was fit. But Tarrant had no death wish and seeing Blake might give him more information right now.
"All right. The infirmary is down this way."
Blake was in bed when Tarrant arrived. His face was thoughtful and abstracted and he scarcely noticed Doctor Fraiser as she checked his vital signs and adjusted the drip in his IV. When she saw Tarrant in the doorway, she beckoned him in. "Hello, Tarrant. Maybe you can convince Blake to sleep. He doesn't want to."
"Not with so much going on," Blake insisted. "The future of our timeline is at stake, Tarrant. I'm not sure what I can do about it, but there has to be something. I don't want to sit on the sidelines doing nothing."
Fraiser retreated into the background, but she didn't leave the room. Tarrant stretched out an arm and grabbed a chair, and dragged it over to Blake's bedside. "What do you mean, the future of our timeline, Blake?" he asked as he sat down.
"I mean that from what I've remembered and what Orac came up with, I've found out what made the Old Calendar fall, and this base in our reality seems to have had a hand in it. Not this reality, but the one we come from. The people here are researching it, not so much to stop it in ours, which really isn't their responsibility, but to make sure it doesn't happen here as well. My concern is different."
"You want to prevent the Old Calendar from falling and prevent the Federation from arising out of the ashes." Tarrant should have known. He stared at Blake in disbelief. "Even if you could access the other reality, you do realize that if you muck about in our past, you could guarantee that none of us even existed. I'm not even sure you can do such a thing. We had to come out of that mess, Blake. We wouldn't even be here to do something about it if it hadn't happened."
"I'm sure you know more about time travel than I do. It's theoretical, Tarrant. Evidently the people in this reality, SG-1, did travel back in time, but only about thirty years. They were trapped there and their one purpose was to come home safely without disrupting the timeline. They did succeed."
"That's not the same thing. We're evidently nearly two hundred sixty years in our past, in an alternate reality. Even if we could access the correct one, how could we, with our scanty knowledge and limited ability to interact with the correct people, even hope to stop what brought about the downfall of a society? It's not like we have infinite resources or even freedom of movement."
"We do know what caused it, and we have just encountered the other reality. They have a quantum mirror here, Tarrant. We just interacted with the Major Carter from our reality. I want to do something to change what happened. I might not be able to get home. I might not be able to do anything for the downtrodden in my own time. I'd grown bitter before you came to GP. I'd grown suspicious and I didn't trust anyone anymore, and look what happened. I tested you, and you believed I had turned bounty hunter and you warned Avon. And he had grown more suspicious than he was when I'd known him, and it all fell apart. Even if we could go back to our own time, I'm not sure I could do anything there."
"So, highhandedly, you want to save the 'rabble' at this end of history. I'm astounded at your effrontery. Cally told me once that you and Vila had been down on a planet with a solium radiation device." He crinkled his forehead. "They might call it a neutron bomb here. Avon was attempting to deactivate it and Vila wanted to go back to the ship, but you stayed behind with the people of Albion. A noble gesture, but you made Vila stay, too. Noble gestures are all very well, Blake, if you are the only one to pay their price. But the rest of us might have a say in the matter, too. Perhaps we don't want to be stranded in the past, or to cease to exist if you can change it in our reality."
"Billions of people died as a result of the fall of the Old Calendar, Tarrant," Blake pointed out. "If there is a chance to save them, I'll take it."
"Just as you would have killed billions to prove your point at Star One? I know what happened then. Star One handled climate control of a great many planets. You were prepared to sacrifice all those lives to prove you'd been right? I know I wasn't there when you did that, but I know what happened. Now you want to save other billions. You haven't thought it through. You don't know that changing whatever vector you've discovered will make a difference. Something else could interact with the possibilities, something you don't know, because, forgive me, Blake, you've been mind-wiped. Your memories are not a hundred per cent complete and they may not even be accurate. Orac knows what it's been able to research and extrapolate, apparently, but Orac couldn't have researched what wasn't in computer records so there is no guarantee that it is totally correct. You simply don't know enough to change our past in the hopes of freeing your rabble by making sure they never become rabble."
"I can't lie here and do nothing," Blake insisted desperately. He was too pale and he was still weak, but the fervor of devotion--or fanaticism--burned in his eyes. "Besides," he insisted, "you can't say that the people in this time don't have the right to act on their own behalf. It might be nothing to do with me. I've only exchanged half a dozen words with the alternate Major Carter. If the people of this base want to try to stop them from unleashing a planetary war on Earth, there isn't anything I can do to prevent it. You think it's about my ego, my fanaticism, and you may be right, up to a point. But how can any thinking man sit back and do nothing and say nothing in the face of an impending war that will kill billions? Detachment is all very well, up to a point, but a thinking man has to stand for something, Tarrant, or his existence will mean nothing."
Tarrant whirled on Doctor Fraiser. "Is he right about all this? Do you actually know what caused the Old Calendar to fall in my reality?"
"We don't actually know the fine points," Fraiser replied. "But they're researching it. We can't control the other reality, but we want to guarantee that what happened there doesn't happen here in our own. It's not the past for us but our own future, which we have the right to preserve. None of us wants anything like your Federation to arise out of the ashes of anything we're responsible for. We hope the alternate reality will see it as we do, but the Stargate project does not run any of the governments of Earth. The biotoxin Blake recalls may be a small part of a greater whole."
"I still think the Goa'uld had to be involved," Blake replied. "And since, if they exist in our time, they don't interact at all with the Federation and there is no record of them in the Inner and Outer Worlds, we can assume that somehow they were defeated or destroyed. That would be a good thing."
Tarrant drew a steadying breath. "Yes, Blake, I can see that defeating a race of parasitic beings that enslaves humanity would be a good thing. But evidently it already happened in our reality in our time."
"Maybe that was because we came back here. Maybe that's why we're here, Tarrant. I can't ignore that possibility."
He could see the attraction of just such an argument. For a man like Blake, the chance to save all humanity had to be the ideal goal, a prize too glittering to resist. Avon had been right that Blake was a prime manipulator, because his zeal was contagious. But Tarrant couldn't believe that they had the right to make such a drastic change in their past without more knowledge. Had Avon and Blake argued over this? Better to steer Blake away from his crusading for a time. It wasn't as if any of the Scorpio crew had any say over what would happen here, anyway. They weren't prisoners at the Stargate Command, but neither were they guests. They were an awkward inconvenience who might have offered useful information but who couldn't be allowed to interfere further in either timeline. He knew SG-1 would take them home if they could, but there were no guarantees that it was even possible. Stepping into their own reality in this time wasn't a reasonable solution, either. They wouldn't fit there any more than they did here. In either world they would be out of place, fish out of water, a potential for disaster. Until Blake was well, it wouldn't matter, but eventually something would have to be done.
"Does Avon disagree with you?" Tarrant asked instead. "I saw him storming away before I came here. Is he being difficult?"
"He's being himself. He ordered me back to bed, and then he left again."
"And you're not used to seeing Avon deal with guilt?" Tarrant asked. "I admit it's not the side of him that usually shows."
"Guilt?" Blake half sat up, then he lay back carefully, a hand pressed over his middle, and shook his head. "That's not Avon's way."
"Not even when he's actually guilty? We chased after any rumor of your presence for two years, Blake, before we found you. It took the merest hint to send Avon after you, always with reasonable excuses after the beginning when it would have been natural for him to try to retrieve you after the Andromedan war. To be told you'd set him up when he did find you wasn't the ideal way to guarantee a happy reunion." He grinned wryly. "Knowing Avon, a happy reunion probably wasn't in the cards, but it didn't have to come down to shooting." He grimaced. "I had my part in it, and I acknowledge that. But you set me up to think you'd sold us, Blake. I know why you did it, even if it was damned stupid. But with Avon it was the worst possible thing you could have done. You know what he's like. If you didn't assume he'd changed for the worse, then you're even a bigger fool than Avon thinks you are. He's trying to atone for shooting you, and he doesn't have the least notion how. So he comes across as angry and resentful--and he is angry and resentful, with good cause. But he's sorry, too, and he's hating himself because hurting you like that, almost killing you, was the last thing he ever wanted to do." When Blake opened his mouth to intervene, Tarrant said furiously, "Shut up, Blake. Let me finish. I don't always like Avon. He's an annoying, high-handed bastard who never explains and never justifies, and when he's clearly in the wrong, he simply doesn't know what to do. He never apologized to Vila for what happened on the shuttle over Malodaar. Oh--do you know about that?"
"Soolin told me," Blake agreed. "She sat down and talked to me about what you'd all gone through after I left the Liberator. True, she wasn't there for part of it, but she's heard about it, and she thought I ought to know. Soolin might not seem to be involved, but she was very determined on your behalf, on Avon's behalf, even, and I don't think she likes Avon, although she respects him. But...." His voice trailed off. "I know there's something between Avon and me that needs to be resolved. I know, none better, that he can't come in here and apologize, and that means I need to start, but it's not easy."
"Was Avon ever easy, Blake? Tell me this. Why didn't you come back?"
"After the Andromedan War?" Blake was silent a long moment as if collecting himself. "I'd promised Avon the Liberator. He'd appeared to loathe me before we went to Star One. I thought it might be better for us to be apart. He'd told me I could wallow in blood up to my armpits but he wanted it finished. You can't be much clearer than that."
"And I'm told he came down to rescue you on Star One. I'm not as close to Avon as you were, Blake. No one is. But I do know that you can't go by what he says. That's just a way of keeping anybody from getting too close. You have to go by what he does rather than what he says, and you should know that even better than I do. He might be damned unpleasant, but, until things got too bad, I always knew he would watch my back when I watched his. When the Scorpio crashed on Gauda Prime before we came to his base, when he met me again and saw that I was alive, he actually said, 'I'm glad you made it.' I don't know whether the possibility of finding you had changed him enough to admit that. But between us, we killed the instinct, Blake. Avon helped, of course. It was his gun." He grimaced. "But no one has been more protective of you since. If he seems angry, it's merely one more case of saying one thing and meaning another. You'd be dead right now if not for Avon's devoted care on the ship before we got to the Stargate."
Blake shuddered. His face was still white, but Tarrant didn't think all of that was from his weakness. "I know all that," he said. "Maybe I needed to hear it spelled out for me. Soolin tried, but maybe it just took time for it to sink in. I had to test you, Tarrant, but I wish I'd yelled after you that it was a test. I was too smug, too confident, too stupid. I told Deva that you'd join us when you knew the truth, but I didn't imagine you'd go straight to Avon and tell him what you thought I was. That was foolish and stupid of me. I'm still angry at Avon, but that doesn't mean I can't forgive him. I don't know if he can forgive me. In spite of what you say, taking care of me simply might be one more way of keeping his word."
"You don't believe that any more than I do," Tarrant replied. "I'm going to go and bring him here now. I expect you to make peace with him. Because I want him fully involved in these grandiose schemes of yours all the way. And I'm sick of ducking when I see him coming because he's likely to go off in all directions until this is finally resolved."
"You think it's going to be easy, Tarrant?" Blake asked again.
"Nothing with Avon is ever easy," Tarrant replied. "But you're the man who wants to save billions of lives. Let's start with one."
He turned and marched out of the infirmary, conscious of Doctor Fraiser giving him a surreptitious thumbs' up sign as he went.
Daniel prowled around the lab, restless and uneasy, glancing over every now and then at the other Jack, the one who stood on the other side of the mirror ranting at his General Hammond and Sam, oops, Samantha. Every now and then, Daniel would catch the other Jack staring at him with a miserable, regretful, embittered face, and it scared him. So he'd sneak glances at his own Jack, only to discover that Jack was sneaking them back. He didn't want to die like the other Daniel had. Not even losing Sha're had made him want to die, although for a time it had made living less than rewarding. But he didn't want to die with too much unresolved with Jack. He'd pretty much come to terms with what had happened when Jack had been attempting to infiltrate the renegade SG team, but he'd be lying if he'd said it hadn't changed things between them. Now, as he watched the other Jack cast those desolate glances at him, he realize the change didn't have to stay a bad change. It would simply be a sign of a growing, developing friendship. Nothing was static. He didn't like what Jack had been forced to do, and it had hurt, but he knew he was too naive and idealistic at times. The larger goal was more important than Daniel's hurt feelings, and he'd known that even then.
Jack couldn't have done anything else, not if his house was bugged. Daniel had always wondered that Maybourne had been so quick to buy Jack's so-called change of heart but maybe that particular conversation had been a major step on the road to convincing Maybourne that Jack was willing to switch sides. He knew he couldn't have played it as convincingly if he'd known the truth and was acting a part. Jack knew that, too, but Jack hadn't done it so much to use Daniel's hurt and betrayal as to avoid blowing the plan altogether.
Part of the problem, of course, was that Jack was lousy at spilling his guts. He could be as articulate as anybody when he was on one of his rants about the Goa'uld or over a call in a hockey match, and he never let anybody fail to know how he felt on any particular issue going. But let it be about his inner feelings, or any softer emotions, and Jack O'Neill was the classic clam. He mumbled and stuttered like a shy boy on a first date with a lot of 'ya knows' and muttered half sentences. Daniel wasn't a lot better than that himself. Maybe he wasn't any better. He was starting to develop a smart mouth like Jack--and who was it who had said that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery?--but words of apology didn't come easily for either of them.
Daniel could remember lying wounded, dying, on Klorel's ship while Jack ground out, "Damn it, Daniel," with the realization of the severity of Daniel's wound and that there was nothing he could do to help him. He'd reached out for a last touch before Daniel had insisted fiercely that Jack had to go, that he was going to die on the other ship, anyway. They hadn't had to speak the words of their friendship. They both knew. Just as their reunion when both of them had survived after all included only a couple of words and them from Jack. "Space monkey. Yeah." But they were enough. Of course it included a great, encompassing, welcome-back hug that had warmed Daniel all the way to the soles of his feet and that had amply made up for the lack of words. No other words had been necessary.
So, what did Daniel do now? He could hardly charge over and give Jack a hug, not when he was still coming to terms with their shifting friendship. But he knew with rock-bottom certainty that he still wanted the friendship. And he knew it more than ever when he saw his Jack responding to the alternate Jack's reaction at the sight of a living Daniel. Jack wasn't your normal guy for major empathy, but he understood what his alternate self felt, which meant it was what he'd feel himself.
Okay, even that much dwelling on feelings made Daniel uncomfortable. But he knew he'd made progress, too. Quit sulking about your hurt feelings, Daniel, he told himself. Do something about it.
So he went over to stand beside Jack, who was leaning against the lab table near Orac. The little computer was whizzing away and printing out columns of data on the screen, data that Sam was eating up like it was her new favorite food. She'd hooked up a printer to the computer and it was spitting out pages, falling behind in its race to compete with Orac.
"Do you think we can stop them?" he asked, with a gesture at the alternate SG-1 team and Hammond.
Jack glanced sideways at Daniel then looked over at the other O'Neill. "Hope so," he admitted laconically.
"Must be rough," Daniel ventured.
"Seeing myself?" Jack asked. "Weird, yeah. I haven't done that before. I know Carter was bugged last time, but this.... It's different from the way I thought it would be."
"I know. I never existed in the other two realities, at least not involved with the SGC, so I never saw myself either. I think it'd be difficult."
"Yeah." Jack brooded at the alternate. "Guy's got me worried," he admitted.
"Because he looks like he's ready to blow?" Daniel ventured.
"Can hardly blame the guy," Jack acknowledged. He glanced sideways at Sam to make sure she wasn't paying any attention. Her eyes were fixed on the rapidly scrolling text. Daniel thought she might be listening, but she didn't give any indication of it. Teal'c stood impassive. He might be listening, but Teal'c was rock-bottom safe. His presence didn't make either Jack or Daniel uncomfortable, any more than Sam's did.
"Slower, Orac," Carter instructed patiently. "You're getting ahead again."
"Your equipment is primitive," huffed the computer.
"We've already established that. No need to repeat yourself. Maintain the pace we agreed on."
Orac made a rude noise and the text slowed its crawl across the monitor screen. Carter popped out one floppy disk and stuck in a replacement.
Daniel and Jack exchanged an amused grin, then the Colonel's face sobered. "I have to say I can feel for him," he said with a wave of his hand at his opposite number. "Crummy timing, not that there'd ever be good timing, y'know?"
"It feels weird to me, too," Daniel ventured. "Hearing about how the other me died." He shivered.
"It was not you, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c reminded him without moving or turning his head to face them.
Daniel glanced up at the Jaffa, who stood opposite Orac. "I know, Teal'c. It still feels weird. He might not have experienced everything I did but he was still me, and he's still dead."
"Yeah," Jack agreed. "Thing is, you've been dead a couple of times before and it wasn't final. And we've thought you were dead a few times when you weren't. Guess a part of me expects you to be immortal or something. Counts on it, y'know?"
Daniel knew the feeling. He was one of those people who survived against the odds, even though those around him didn't, not always. Not a happy way to be. His parents. Sha're. "It's not like you haven't put us through it a few times, Jack," he pointed out, remembering the incident with the Antarctic Stargate.
"It's not an easy job we've got," Jack agreed. He cleared his throat. "Guess I just feel for him, not only because it happened but because of when it happened."
"But it sounds like the other me tried to make it right," Daniel ventured.
"Make it right?" Jack exploded. "You think there was any way to make it right?" Teal'c carefully averted his eyes and Sam found whole new realms of fascination in the text on the computer screen. Daniel was momentarily warmed by the concern he could sense in both of them, and gratified by their tact.
The other Jack crowded closer to the mirror but didn't come through. He was watching them intently as if he could read their lips, or at least understand what they were talking about. Daniel expected him to pop through the mirror, but he didn't. He just stood there waiting.
But Jack's explosive words had just made it right, at least for Daniel. He grinned abruptly and meant it. "I'm alive, Jack. It's okay."
O'Neill broke off in mid-rant and squinted at Daniel. "It's okay?" he echoed as if he hadn't heard right.
Daniel nodded. "For us, anyway."
Daniel grinned and nodded. Behind Jack, Teal'c permitted a small smile to cross his lips, and Hammond gave a sigh of relief. Sam didn't look up, but Daniel saw her shoulders lose the tension that had made them rigid. Orac just went right on spooling information. It didn't have any part in this and it didn't begin to care.
For an instant, Jack's smile blazed out, then he turned and cast a glance at his mirror self. The other O'Neill stared at him, then at Daniel. Then he turned abruptly away from the mirror and vanished out of frame. Carter Two looked after him, then she glanced toward the mirror and produced a wry smile. She took a step after him, leaving the other Hammond and the blond Amundson in sole view. Hammond Two beckoned the Marines closer again then he put out his hand and touched the mirror. A second later, the two generals stood face to face.
"I have to say this feels very peculiar," Hammond One said. "Welcome to the SGC, General."
"I never thought I'd step through the mirror," said the second Hammond. "Frankly, I don't trust it."
Hammond One nodded. "When we had the last experience with this mirror, when the Doctor Carter and Major Kawalsky came through seeking refuge with us, I wanted to have the mirror destroyed when it was over. I didn't do that. I think I'm glad I didn't now, although we have a nasty situation brewing."
"Yes, we do." Hammond Two looked around for the time travelers. "Your guests aren't here?"
"One of them was wounded before we encountered them and he's in the infirmary. The others are under guard throughout the base. This is their computer, Orac. Major Carter is attempting to gain what data from it she can. The last thing I want to do in my reality is to unleash a plague that takes the lives of people on this planet and destroys our allies. I'm told you haven't encountered the Tok'ra in your reality, but they are our allies, and I won't kill them to rid the galaxy of the Goa'uld."
"We're attempting to contact Thor and the Tollans to see if we can learn about the Tok'ra in our time," Hammond Two reported. "If we learn that they are indeed out there, then we'll definitely have to rethink the plan. The fact of your information is already making me rethink it, but of course I'm not the one in charge of the toxin project and mine won't be the final say."
"Is it being carried out at the SGC, I mean the SGP?" Hammond One asked.
"I don't think I can share that information, General. We've violated security right and left all through this contact, but there are some things I simply can't reveal."
Daniel leaned against the lab table beside Jack, comfortable and content to be there, and watched the Hammonds talk to each other. He trusted his Hammond to move heaven and earth to prevent what had happened in Blake and Avon's reality from happening here. Surely even the idiots who designed biological weapons would realize they couldn't jeopardize Earth's alliance with the Tok'ra. Should they destroy the Tok'ra, wouldn't that influence the Asgard and the Nox and the Tollans to sever ties with Earth? Wouldn't that make Earth fair game?
That didn't allow for the renegade Maybourne, though. He was still at liberty, and that meant he was still making trouble. There might still be other rogue SG teams hopping about out there on the other side of the Gate. Maybe they couldn't return to Earth through the Antarctic Gate, which was hopefully under guard by people who could be trusted, but there were other Gates and other words, and other ways for them to make trouble.
The world was in a precarious place, but that was nothing new. It had always been in a precarious place, even before Daniel had figured out how to access the Stargate in the first place. If he hadn't done that....
Jack waved a chiding finger in his face. "Ah, ah. None of that, Daniel."
He jumped. "None of what, Jack?"
"If you even try to claim that any of this is your fault because you figured out how to activate the Stargate in the first place...."
Daniel boggled at him. "What are you doing, reading my mind?"
"O'Neill cannot read minds, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c pointed out dryly.
"No, he just knows how you think," put in Sam with a grin. "Nobody wants to keep score on who did what. The important thing now is to make sure what happened there won't happen here. That's all we can do."
"Listen to Carter," O'Neill said. "After all, she's nearly as smart as God."
Carter grinned. "No, but I know the rest of you. We all do."
That was true. Daniel grimaced. He should have known all too well that Jack wasn't selling them out; he should have trusted him, realized there was more going on than appeared on the surface. Maybe he had to spend more time practicing the SG-1 brand of mind-reading, himself.
"Think they'll work it out?" Jack asked with a nod at the two General Hammonds.
"I think they must, O'Neill," Teal'c replied, and, as Jack would say, that was all she wrote.
SG-1 lined up in a row and turned to watch the generals.
Peter Amundson's family was career military all the way back to before the Civil War. The oldest son in the Amundson family always went into the military. Usually they went to West Point. Peter had gone to the Air Force Academy instead and nearly given his father and grandfather apoplexies over his 'betrayal'. But from the time he was small, Peter had intended to enter the Air Force. When the Stargate Project was picking people to staff it, they chose him and put him on the first team. He had that Gulf War experience, his first tour of duty. He'd been sent on the mission to Abydos with the Colonel, Captain Carter, and with Kawalsky and Feretti to retrieve Daniel Jackson, and had thus gotten his first look at the Goa'uld. Up until then, he'd not quite believed they were real, but he proved to have a real knack for picking up information on the aliens. Daniel might have been the cultural expert, but Peter had an innate capability for extrapolating every bit of detail on the Goa'uld that came his way and turning it into strategy. All those generations of military men behind him had to count for something.
So, in addition to his work with SG-1, information was fed to Peter whenever a team had a Goa'uld encounter. When Carter got upped to major, he became a captain, and if the General, his father, accepted that he couldn't reveal the nature of his work with the Air Force, the promotion spoke to something, and his father had stopped talking about 'the defector' and started bragging about his son and his promotion. Peter hoped that one day his father's clearance would allow him to know the truth about what his son did. Until then, it was enough that his father understood he was doing something worthy, something important, with his life.
When the quantum mirror in the lab activated, he wasn't really surprised. Daniel had been the one to convince General Hammond not to destroy the device after the other Samantha, the non-military one, and a still-surviving Kawalsky had popped through when their dimension was overrun by the Goa'uld. That had been a tricky one, but Peter, with his knowledge of the Goa'uld, had helped, and they'd hopped over there to help them out. If they hadn't been able to summon the Asgard in that reality, who knows what would have happened?
Now Samantha had claimed that there was a race of Goa'uld who were not the bad guys. The Tok'ra. Anti-Ra, Daniel would probably have translated it. Daniel....
Peter sighed. He hadn't been quite as close to Daniel as the Colonel had been, but SG-1 had always been a tight team, and it hurt like crazy to think of Daniel, dead so stupidly. Peter still accounted it his failure that he hadn't predicted the Goa'uld on that planet. It rankled, but when he'd tried to say so to the Colonel, O'Neill had whirled on him and said, "Don't be stupid. It happened. That's all. It happened," before he'd closed in on himself again. The Colonel was all torn up. He wasn't in any mood to listen to stories about good Goa'uld--or believe them, either.
The thing was, Peter did believe them. He'd never encountered a Tok'ra, at least not that he knew of, but maybe that Goa'uld on PR7-852 had been one. The guy hadn't done anything to them when he easily could. Or that weird lady Goa'uld who had looked the other way and helped them that time Hathor set them up to think they'd been cryogenically frozen. Maybe there were Tok'ra, and Peter started making up a mental list of possibilities. At least his Samantha hadn't been possessed by one.
Did that make the other Samantha's information invalid? Did it mean she was Goa'ulded out and that nothing she said could be trusted? Or did it mean there really was a cadre of innocent Goa'uld out there, fighting to take down the System Lords?
If so, did that mean the biotoxin plan would have to be scrapped? How could those microbes differentiate between good Goa'uld and bad Goa'uld? Impossible.
When he asked the Colonel, O'Neill glared at him. "I don't believe in good snakeheads, Pete. Never met one, never will."
Peter gestured at the mirror. "But if they're right...."
"Who knows what's going down in their reality? They're a lot like us but they're not us. Remember, things are always different in the other realities. I mean, I was married to Carter in that last reality, for crying out loud. Married to a scientist, for Pete's sake."
And your best friend was a scientist, Peter thought sadly. That argument didn't follow even if O'Neill and Carter continually rubbed each other the wrong way. They could work together and did, brilliantly, but their personal lives were totally different. Carter and Feretti were said to have something going. She had been as appalled as the Colonel to learn that her alter ego had married the alternate O'Neill. Of course her alter ego hadn't been military, either. That made a difference. Carter had said she couldn't imagine not being military. Peter could understand that. He couldn't, either.
But these Tok'ra.... Something had to be done. Peter was sure Hammond would want it investigated. Taking out the Goa'uld in one fell swoop was a curiously attractive idea, and he had been as gung ho as anybody else at the plan--so simple. Plant the bug on a variety of planets where the Goa'uld were known to come and then step back and let it do its work. Tested against the infant Goa'uld Daniel had brought back from a mission to Chulak, it had worked perfectly.
On the other hand, using biological weapons smacked of terrorism to Peter, and he'd always been uncomfortable with the idea. It wasn't widely known, even at the SGP, what was being planned, but he'd been roped in for his ability to pick up the slightest information on the Goa'uld and pull useful knowledge out of it. He'd done a pattern chart, listing the planets they'd visited, that all the SG teams had visited, to check out all contacts, to see if they could figure out where would be best to plant the toxin.
But they hadn't run the plan past the Asgard or the Tollans or the Nox, and that made Peter uncomfortable.
Now they were hearing about the Tok'ra. If there really were Goa'uld out there who didn't practice the usual System Lord philosophy, who might even be trying to make changes from within, could Earth, in good conscience, use the toxin? Wouldn't that make the Tauri as bad as the Goa'uld, wiping out a whole race for their own purposes. The Colonel wouldn't think so. He'd turned into a rabid Goa'uld hater since Daniel had gasped out his life on the Gate room ramp. Feretti, who had known the Colonel when he'd first gone to Abydos, shortly after his son's death, said the Colonel was acting like he did then, maybe even worse, as if everything bad that had ever happened to him had added up to a nasty whole. Once, shortly after Peter had joined the team, right before they went to Chulak to try to rescue Sha're and Skaara, Kawalsky and Peter had spent an evening talking over a few beers and Kawalsky had explained about the Colonel's son. Peter hadn't known Jack very well then, but he'd heard a few rumors. Scary rumors. The Colonel had been close to suicidal, they hinted. Nobody ever said it out in the open, but Peter's knack was extrapolating key information out of the slightest of hints, and it wasn't a hard call to make.
The Colonel might be that down again because he'd just lost his best friend, but this time, Peter was afraid he would volunteer himself to plant the toxin in such a way that he'd go down with it.
Peter was determined to prevent that. And if that meant stopping the whole program to save these unknown Tok'ra along with saving the Colonel, then that's just what he'd have to do.
But he knew it wouldn't be easy.
"It sounds crazy, but a part of me wishes we could just stay here."
Soolin stared at Vila in astonishment. They had gathered in the mess hall where they had been given the evening meal. Nobody objected to them eating whatever they wanted, as much as they wanted. Real food, not synthetics. Real coffee that made even the Liberator coffee taste like gutter leavings. If only they had an equivalent of adrenalin and soma, Vila would be in heaven.
"Stay here?" Soolin arched an eyebrow at him. "And do what, Vila? We're fish out of water. We don't know the society. We don't know the technology. We're refugees here. I don't know how it is here, but refugees don't get handed plum jobs; they're lucky to get shelter and handouts. It's one thing if we can't get home, but if we can...."
"I think Blake would want to go back," Dayna offered. "You've talked to him, Tarrant. What do you think?"
"I think the man is dangerously gung ho," Tarrant replied. He stretched out a long arm and snagged a dinner roll from Vila's plate.
"Here now," Vila objected. "You can have your own, you know. They'll give you more." But it was a token protest. He added, "Blake always was like that. Even though I knew he was trying to stop the Federation--and that was a good thing--I knew that sometimes he really was the terrorist they called us. Maybe rebels have to be terrorists, but...."
"It would be worse if we'd been terrorists against something that stood for anything good," Dayna replied thoughtfully, buttering her own roll. "When the enemy you're up against has no ethics and no scruples, it opens the field up for retaliation."
Tarrant frowned. "I see what you're saying, Dayna, but sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. You've been remarkably bloodthirsty since I've known you."
Her mouth tightened. "You mean I've wanted to kill Servalan."
"Or anything that moved," Vila interjected under his breath.
Dayna glowered at him. "None of you ever tried to stop me or thought I shouldn't," she pointed out.
"You've wanted to kill Servalan for revenge because she killed your father," Tarrant pointed out. When Dayna opened her mouth to explode at him, he held up a hand. "Servalan was largely instrumental in my own brother's death. Yes, I want to see her fall. One of the worst things about being stuck here at this end of history is the knowledge that she's still out there as Commissioner Sleer and that, without us, she has a lot freer hand. Blake wants to go back and continue the fight--or, barring that, take the fight into our own reality at this point, to stop them using the toxin."
"But could we?" Soolin asked practically. "I mean, we've told them about those Tok'ra people, after all. We've told them about how it backfires. But we're not them. We're not there. We're here. They'll have to do what they decide, no matter how gung ho Blake is."
"No matter how determined Blake is, there may be nothing he can do," Vila put in. "I know what you said about Blake, Tarrant, how he wants to save billions of lives and all that, and he was always talking about saving the rabble anyway. Well, it was Avon who called them that, not Blake, but it amounts to the same thing. I just wish we could stay here where it's safe, and nobody is shooting at us."
"Yet," said Soolin. "It's hardly like they don't have enemies. I've never known a genuinely safe place, Vila."
Vila grimaced at the thought of these Goa'uld types. He was sure he'd like them even less than he liked Servalan. At least Servalan was nasty without benefit of a snake in her brain. "But, even if we could go back, what would happen if they didn't use that biotoxin thing?" He lowered his voice before he spoke, in case there were people in the base who didn't know about it, not that anybody was close enough to overhear them, anyway. "If they don't use it, maybe the Old Calendar didn't fall. Maybe the Federation didn't come after it. And then, when we get home, we won't have one--a home, I mean. We'll be as out of place there as we are here." He thought about what he'd just said and moaned, "My brain hurts."
"Yes, there is that," Tarrant agreed. "When I was arguing with Blake over his wanting to charge in and change our history, I couldn't help thinking how much of what I was saying was because I didn't want to change things for us. Maybe we would cease to exist if it turns out differently. But then I don't know. If there's a moral choice to be made, shouldn't we have to make it without regard for personal consequences?"
"But not without regard for any serious consideration," Soolin argued. "It's all very well to want to rush in and save all those lives, but what guarantee does Blake have that not using the toxin would make the slightest difference? Maybe if they don't use it, the Goa'uld take over Earth and that's why the Old Calendar fell. We can't know."
"Then why are there no Goa'uld in our own time?" Dayna asked.
"None that we know about," Vila offered. "They could be sneaking around pretending they're just like us, and we'd never know to look at them." He glanced uneasily over his shoulder, half afraid the mess was populated by the nasty snakes. "And where's Avon, anyway? He's avoiding us."
"And has since GP," Tarrant reminded him. "I went to look for him, to make him talk to Blake, but I couldn't find him."
"Poor old Avon," Vila muttered.
"You've changed your tune," Soolin pointed out, curling her fingers around her coffee cup. "After Malodaar, you couldn't stay far enough away from Avon and now you want to go looking for him?"
"Maybe he's with Blake," Dayna offered.
But Vila shook his head. "No, he wouldn't be. He's not ready."
"Do you think he ever will be ready?" Soolin asked. "I hate to say it, but I think Avon has problems we'll never solve. And he wouldn't thank us for trying."
Vila heaved a sigh. "Never thanks us, then, does he? I'll go along and see where he is." When the other three stared at him in surprise, he gave a half-hearted shrug. "Well, none of you lot look ready to do it. If we have to go back, I'd rather go back with Avon and Blake on speaking terms. And if we have to stay...." He let that trail off. He just wanted the old Avon back. Maybe the old Avon hadn't been the best companion he could wish for, but at least when Vila stayed close to the old Avon, Avon had watched Vila's back while watching his own.
So he guzzled the last few swallows of that incredible coffee--maybe the SGC would give them a supply of it to take back to their own time, if they could even go--and then wandered off in search of Avon. he paused at the door to collect his bodyguard. He rather liked having a bodyguard--Vila the important--and the man had a gun so he could protect Vila if the Goa'uld came through the Stargate and started to invade the base. Besides, the guard liked hearing about Vila's exploits, especially since Vila had discovered the man would believe whatever he said, or at least not shoot him down for it the way his own crew would. Maybe it was time for another round of 'Vila saves the universe'.
No, he had a real job. 'Vila saves Avon' didn't have quite the same dramatic ring to it, but it would make Avon furious to know that Vila was even thinking it.
"So, where's my old buddy Avon, d'you know?" he asked the man. Levitt, that was his name. "Let's go find Avon."
They started with Avon's quarters first, but that would have been too easy. Avon wasn't there. Nothing was there, not even Avon's old clothes, but then they'd been pretty battered and nasty with Blake's blood on them, so it was probably just as well. The medical unit, no, infirmary, next. Blake was there, but he was asleep, and Doctor Fraiser wouldn't let Vila bother him.
"Avon hasn't been here," she admitted.
"Not at all?" Vila heaved a sigh.
"No. They did see each other in the lab, but you were there. I thought you were going to look for him. Then I thought Tarrant was."
"I was, but when I saw him then, he said, 'Leave me alone, Vila,' and went off, and it was more than my life was worth to follow him, not when he sounded like that. Maybe I should have gone, but I didn't. Someone has to shake sense into the man, and I don't think he'll listen to anyone else." He paused, his face thoughtful. "Tarrant couldn't find him, either." Suddenly he grinned. "But...if he thought Blake was worse, he'd come. He'd come in an instant and pretend that he'd just happened by or that he was only here because you'd summoned him. But he'd come."
Fraiser looked doubtful, but the glance she cast over her shoulder at Blake's sleeping form showed that she was concerned for her patient. Avon might not be her patient, not unless she was responsible for the mental health of all the people on the base, but Vila thought she was the type to care anyway.
"You could be right," she said, and she went over to a wall intercom. "Avon to the infirmary immediately," she said in a crisp, professional voice that managed to sound concerned in spite of it.
She turned to Vila and the pair of them exchanged a definitely conspiratorial grin. Then she guided Vila out of Blake's room and the pair of them settled down to wait.
Teal'c arrived before Avon did. His face was impassive, but then it always was. Vila wasn't at all comfortable with Teal'c, but he'd figured out that the big man with the gold tattoo was not hostile or anything, just controlled. But Vila had seen both humor and warmth in his eyes when he was interacting with his team, and the thief could read people far better than he'd ever let on to the others on the Liberator or the Scorpio. Even though Teal'c carried one of the Goa'uld larva around inside him, Vila thought he could trust the man.
"Is Blake worse?" Teal'c inquired. "O'Neill sent me to find out."
Fraiser smiled. "No. He's better, if anything. But Vila thought it might do Avon good to come here and see that for himself."
The corners of Teal'c's mouth twitched in amusement. "I see. I shall wait with you."
"Brave man," Vila muttered under his breath.
"I see nothing to fear in Avon," Teal'c replied.
"No, but you're a lot bigger than he is," Vila pointed out, winning a suppressed chuckle from Doctor Fraiser.
Teal'c arched one eyebrow and inclined his head but that only made Vila's grin widen. It was into that atmosphere that Avon burst into the infirmary at what was little better than a run, his face grim and determined. He looked achingly tired, as if he had not slept at all, and his eyes were hollow.
When he saw the expressions on Fraiser and Vila's faces, he stopped dead and made as if to whirl and walk out of the infirmary.
Deftly, Teal'c inserted himself between the doorway and Avon and turned himself into a wall in every way that counted.
The computer tech's muscles hardened. He snarled through clenched teeth, "Get out of my way."
Teal'c eyed him steadily. "I will not."
Avon measured his well-muscled bulk and folded his arms across his chest before turning to face Fraiser. He totally ignored Vila. "Well?" he prompted. Vila noticed that he hadn't asked the question until he realized he had no choice. The thief sighed faintly. He'd been right to bring Avon here, but he hadn't realized it would be as hard as this.
"It's all right, Avon," he said quickly. "Blake's getting better. Tell him, Janet."
One dark eyebrow shifted faintly at the name. Good. Vila had meant it to. This was the best time possible to keep Avon off balance.
Fraiser smiled. "His wounds are healing nicely. His strength is growing. But I have more responsibility than that of Blake's physical condition."
"Indeed." Avon put not one shred of question into the word.
"I thought I had grown accustomed to stubbornness. I have to deal with Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson on a regular basis. But the pair of you outdo them. Of all the men I have ever met, you are the best at making a bad situation worse. Most people would want to make it better."
"I owe you no explanations," snarled Avon. Vila wasn't sure if Fraiser and Teal'c would hear the desperation in Avon's voice, but he did.
"No." Fraiser stood her ground with the ease of an old pro. "But perhaps you owe them to Blake. I'm told you're a man who keeps his word."
Avon shot one fierce, questioning look at Vila, who shook his head. He hadn't told her that. He wondered who had.
"Blake told me," she replied to the look on Avon's face. "He said it with some pride, as a matter of fact. He said that you held onto that because it was something to take pride in. But he also said that you were a stubborn bastard who would rather have your fingernails pulled out than to deal with situations like this. I can see that he was right. It's a pity. Even if you went in there and the pair of you shouted at each other it would clear the air. He's not quite up to that yet, shouting, I mean. But if he waits much longer, you'll be too far past it yourself. It's true I don't understand all the ramifications of what happened to you on that planet where you shot him. I'm not from your reality or your time and I don't know any of you. But when I see Blake, I see a good man with high ideals. I also see a man who perhaps uses the ideals as a shield, the way you use your cold facade. They tell me you don't let people close to you. Do you imagine he does, either? He spoke eloquently about his cause. He believes in his cause. But it's also safe because it's far easier to get involved with--what did Vila call it?--his rabble, than to get involved with individuals."
Her words stopped Avon cold and he stared at her in open astonishment. That Blake might possibly use his cause as an unconscious defense mechanism had never occurred to him before. That Blake's belief in the cause was genuine didn't affect that possibility one bit.
"Your reality wouldn't appeal to me," Fraiser continued. "Or perhaps I mean your time. But I do know that when things go badly wrong, all we have is each other."
Avon sneered at her, but it was such an unconscious reaction--Avon's defense mechanism?--that Vila felt his smile coming back. This would be impossible if Avon didn't want to make peace with Blake, if Avon didn't feel guilty for shooting him, but Avon did. That made it hard for him, but maybe it needn't be impossible after all.
Teal'c stood rock-solid in the doorway and Vila had the idea it would take a Goa'uld to shift him, perhaps three of them. The Jaffa caught Vila's eye and they formed a pact, right then and there, to deal with Avon before things went further wrong.
"A noble idea," Avon retorted. "As long as your 'each other' don't betray you the second your back is turned."
Vila took a deep breath and quoted Cally, who had been gentle and wise, and whom he still missed with all his heart. "The man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken."
Avon sucked in his breath, and Vila could have kicked himself. What had Avon responded to that Auron maxim, that life expectancy must be very short among her people? And now Cally's people were almost all dead, and Cally was dead. Vila plunged on, horrified. "I don't care. She'd still mean it, Avon, even knowing how it all turned out. She wouldn't want you to do this. Ever since it happened, you've been taking care of Blake, but you've been doing it like penance, hoping that if you did enough of it, Blake would accept it without saying a word and things would go back to normal. Well, it doesn't work that way. Sometimes you just have to face it."
"This from the man who wouldn't face a rock," Avon growled, but Vila heard the faintest edge of yielding in his voice.
"I'm facing you, aren't I? Or are you saying that you're like a rock? I heard a song this afternoon, on their 'radio'. Called 'I am a Rock.' Thought of you, didn't I?" He plunged on. "Might've been written for you. I sat there and stared at the radio. And the last line was, 'And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.' Fine, then. Be a rock. But a rock feels no joy either. And now I've said all I'm going to say." He folded his arms across his chest in an unconscious mimicry of Avon, who simply stared at him wordlessly, not one shred of expression in his face.
Teal'c came forward, took Avon by the arm, and guided him into the room where Blake lay. Vila edged over to the door and saw that Blake was awake and that he must have been listening for all he was worth.
Come on, Blake. Do the right thing, Vila encouraged mentally. He tried to catch Blake's eye to encourage him, but the rebel was focused entirely upon Avon. He hadn't even noticed that anyone else was there.
Blake hesitated, then he smiled and put out his hand. Avon stared at it as if it were the first hand he'd ever seen. Teal'c stayed behind the tech and pushed. Literally.
"Avon." Blake's voice was firm, and this time there was none of that cold determination to make Avon pay his penance lurking around its edges. "If I apologize first, will that make it any easier?"
Avon stood there, pushing back against Teal'c, the original unmovable object. There was an old saying about being between a rock and a hard place and Avon must feel like he'd just landed there. But Vila stood in the doorway with Janet Fraiser and he didn't even have to hold his breath because Avon finally took one more step, stretched out his hand and clasped Blake's. "If I don't do this, Teal'c will likely break me into small pieces." He cleared his throat and thus, having established beyond all doubt that he had been coerced into doing it and had absolutely no choice, could finally admit what he had wanted to do in the first place.
"Blake. I'm...sorry, too."
Teal'c came out of the room, collared Vila and Doctor Fraiser on the way, and closed the door behind him. "We will leave them now," he said firmly and bore the thief away before Vila could insist on staying to eavesdrop.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Jack O'Neill said.
He and Daniel had gone for coffee. The two Hammonds were still talking, but they had retreated to the General's office to confer privately. The other Sam, Samantha, was doing something on the other side of the mirror that looked like computer research, and she had a team of scientists with her. Sam One had watched her for a few minutes, then she'd gotten permission from the General and had stepped through the mirror. The two Carters had conversed while Sam jotted notes in a small notebook. Then she'd returned, sat down at the computer here and started entering data. O'Neill was interested to see she had chosen the independent PC she'd connected to Orac rather than any of the system computers. Maybe she had a formula for the toxin and she didn't want it to go any further. Of course it would automatically go to Orac, but then, it wasn't planned that Orac would stay in this reality permanently, and even if it had to, Orac might read other computers, but other computers could not read Orac.
When Hammond paused before heading off with the other general, she'd admitted as much. "I don't want this to go into the network. I don't want it accessed, sir. If no one on this side of the mirror is seriously researching the possibility, I don't want to bring it to their attention."
"There'd be no way to adapt it so that it wouldn't affect humans?" Hammond persisted.
"There may be, with proper research. But I know of no way to enable it to distinguish between Tok'ra and Goa'uld, since they are essentially the same species."
"Nor do I want to kill the innocent hosts along with the Goa'uld if it can be prevented," Hammond agreed. "It's not as if we could be guaranteed of containment, not with Tok'ra operatives infiltrating many Goa'uld ships and strongholds and with easy access to so many worlds through the Stargate. Work on it, Major, but I want the information erased so thoroughly when you're finished that not even a determined hacker could call up the deleted files."
"Yes, sir," Carter said and bent her blonde head toward the screen.
After about half an hour of that, Jack reached the end of his tolerance. Watching Carter work on the computer wasn't even enlightening for Daniel, who had a far higher tolerance for 'science' than Jack did. The Colonel had whipped out his yo-yo again and played with it. He and Daniel had enjoyed a contest. Well, Jack had enjoyed it up until he realized he was losing hands down, and then he'd reclaimed it hastily and stowed it away. It wasn't fair that Daniel could whirl it around his head and flip it overhand and pull all sorts of fancy stunts. Every time Jack thought he'd managed a nifty trick, Daniel watched him, repressing a wicked smile, and topped it with a new, fancy spiral. Did he carry one on his digs when he was supposed to be studying rocks? Maybe he'd had a customized yo-yo in his pocket when he stayed behind on Abydos.
Daniel had caught him glancing into the quantum mirror, but his alter ego had not reappeared. Maybe that was just as well. He'd made Jack uncomfortable. When it became apparent that he wasn't going to show up in the mirror in the immediate future, Jack muttered something about coffee and nodded Daniel toward the door.
They saw Tarrant in the mess but he was talking casually to his bodyguard. Jack stopped at their table and the pilot told him that Hammond had authorized the two women to discuss weapons technology with SG personnel like he'd mentioned earlier. Probably hoped they could learn something about those clipguns; maybe they could even penetrate Goa'uld personal armor. Tarrant hadn't gone. "Dayna's a weapons tech and Soolin can handle any weapon going," he admitted. "I left them to it."
Jack got the idea he'd coached them first to see what they could learn about this reality's weapons, but Jack would have done the same thing. No one would give these people weapons, and since they were the equivalent of a strike team, they'd be very carefully guarded. Hammond would insist on that.
Invited to join them, Jack declined and steered Daniel in the other direction. When they were seated with their coffee, Jack admitted his bad feeling.
"Is this because of that other you?" Daniel asked.
"Partly. I don't like this whole quantum leap thing."
"It's not a quantum leap thing," Daniel objected. They didn't leap into anybody, after all, like that Beckett character. They just shifted time and dimension."
"Thank you, Doctor Nitpicker," Jack said with pretend irritation. Daniel flashed him a grin. Jack hadn't gotten on his case like that since the incident with the renegade SG teams, and it seemed normal.
Daniel hesitated. "I feel for him," he said. "After all, a world without Daniel Jackson in it...." He trailed off, uncertain of how Jack would react to that.
O'Neill grimaced at him and muttered, "Smartass." But there was a wealth of affection in the word that removed any possible sting from it.
Daniel grinned back, then he sobered. "It felt weird," he said. "Is this how you felt when you found out that your doppelganger died in the last alternate reality?"
"Yeah, kinda. It was just...weird, y'know." He hesitated. "You just weren't around in that other universe; they didn't know you. But this time...." He hesitated. Jack was not a man to fling his emotions about for all to see. He never had been. He was more inclined to quip or make a smart remark, leaving it to Daniel to interpret it as he would. "Maybe we're just luckier here," he added. "We get a chance to keep it from happening. We can stay away from whatever planet that was they went to where the other Daniel bought it."
"P3Q-920." He'd memorized it instantly. "It's not the place I'd want to go next, either," Daniel concurred. "But it wasn't me, Jack."
"Yeah." A wealth of satisfaction in that one word. "Look, we can put that crap behind us, can't we?" Hopefully. "My undercover stuff, I mean?"
"Already done," Daniel said quickly. Just because it had hurt at the time didn't mean he wanted to throw away all their history. If it hadn't hurt Jack to do it, it might have been different. And he'd probably hurt Jack by not trusting him. He fumbled for the right words. "I don't want to have it between us, if we have to go through...what they did."
"Yeah," said Jack again. Amazing what he could do with the small vocabulary he limited himself to in such moments. "Right back at you with that one."
They beamed at each other rather awkwardly, and then Jack burst out, "I wish I could do something for the guy, ya know. I mean, I know how he's gotta be feeling. Well, maybe I don't. I mean, he's me, but he's not me." He waggled an eyebrow at the paradox. "So maybe he's got a lot more baggage than I do. But if I'd been him, what he'd gone through there, with all the old stuff heaped on top...."
"You think he's back at the place where you were when we first went to Abydos?" Daniel asked. He ventured the question very delicately, because it was an issue they'd dealt with a long time ago and put behind them. Sam and Teal'c hadn't known Jack back then; they hadn't known how close he'd been to suicidal, how he'd taken the mission because it was essentially a suicide mission and that hadn't disturbed him. Since then, he'd learned that he had a great deal to live for, but maybe the other Jack hadn't. Or maybe he'd tied up those needs in his friendship for the alternate Daniel. It sounded like that might be the case. Daniel didn't know what Amundson was like or how he got along with Jack Two, but there was no Teal'c there, so that Jack hadn't had the utter tower of strength at his side that a Teal'c would have given him. And who was to say how the other Daniel had reacted to the undercover renegade N.I.D. thing?
Jack grimaced at the reminder. "Yeah, I think he's there. No, I think he's worse. I hope they know that over there, too. He's got a lot of reason to hate the snakeheads. I hope that whoever's behind this biotoxin thing doesn't recruit him."
"More undercover work?" Daniel asked. When Jack stared, he held up a hand. "No, I don't mean you. Come on, Jack, don't get touchy on me. I guess I just want to know--if he does get into something like that, are you gonna be okay with it?"
"Okay with killing off their Tok'ra and starting a war?" Jack blurted in disbelief.
"No, not that. Nobody could be okay with that. But with the fact that he's...sorta...you."
"And whether or not I'd have to do something like that?" Jack asked. "Bottom line, I wouldn't. It would kill Teal'c, it would kill the Tok'ra. Sam's dad. Marty. Not to mention a random sample of people here on Earth. I'd resign before I'd even consider anything like that." He grimaced. "You knew that all along, didn't you? So why'd you ask?"
Daniel hesitated. "So you'd know it, too."
"Smart, Danny." He sipped his coffee idly, a delaying tactic if there ever was one. Then he frowned. "You think we should tell the other Hammond about what my double might be thinking?"
"I don't think it would hurt, but unless he's nothing like our General Hammond, he's got to know how his Jack is feeling. Remember, their SG-1 is inactive at the moment. He's not going to go through a Gate any time soon."
Jack nodded. He sipped his coffee again. "Tastes like we've got the dregs of the pot. Remind me not to come for coffee at this time of day again." He nodded over at Tarrant. "What do you think will happen with them?"
"Whether they'd go through the mirror to the right dimension even if it was the wrong time? Would the SGP allow them to come over to stay? I don't know that it would be a good idea, even if Blake wanted to stop the toxin and save his future."
"Nothing like a complicated moral issue to make life interesting." Jack set his cup aside in disgust and stretched, his arms raised above his head, his hands clasped. "So, does this day seem a hundred years long to you?"
"More like two hundred," Daniel agreed. "What do we do now?"
"Guess we find the Hammonds. They're doing a Tweedledee and Tweedledum number somewhere on the base. We let the other one have some of my brilliant insight into the working of the dark, twisted mind of Jack O'Neill."
Daniel burst out laughing, winning a sour, sidelong look from Jack and questioning glaces from Tarrant. "What's the matter, Jackson, trying to deny my brilliance?"
"No," Daniel sputtered. "I was just picturing General Hammond--dressed like Tweedledee."
He and Jack exploded into laughter and went out of the mess hall side by side, all eyes following them.
They're gonna wimp out. They're gonna bow down to this alternate reality gig and forget about stomping out the snakeheads.
Jack O'Neill grabbed up the nearest item he could reach, the coffee cup on his desk, and he flung it hard against the opposite wall. It impacted there with a shower of splinters and knocked down the picture that had been hanging there, the one of SG-1 after one of their early missions. Daniel's hair had been really long then, back when he'd worn it pulled back in a long tail a la Duncan MacLeod on that Highlander TV show Carter liked. Peter was as stiff and formal and soldierly as ever he'd been, his hair so short he almost looked bald, his spine rigid with all those generations of military Amundsons behind him to bark orders to snap him to attention. Samantha was there with her hair loose and wavy, and she was grinning like mad. Probably at Feretti, who had been taking the picture. Even Peter looked happy then. They were happy. They were a team. Like kin.
And now they weren't. Daniel was dead. Daniel had been his brother in all but blood, right up until Jack had been recruited by the Tollans and the Asgard to infiltrate Maybourne's nasty little cadre. Jack had done it; he'd had to. Somehow the Asgards had him pegged as important in the overall galactic scheme of things, which was fine until they wanted to turn it around and use him in ways he didn't want to be used. Made him shoot Danny down like that just because his place might be bugged. After Daniel had trailed away, tail between his legs, Jack had searched the place from top to bottom and found no less than three bugs. He didn't disturb them; couldn't or it would prove he was undercover, doing his covert ops number. It hadn't helped, but he'd always meant to yank Daniel back later and show them to him, once it didn't matter any longer.
And now it really didn't matter any longer, and Jack O'Neill had just relearned the lesson he'd learned years ago when he and Sarah had heard the shot and had known, just like that, that they were going to lose Charlie. Jack should have bought it back then, on Abydos the first time around. Saved all this trouble.
Might not have saved Daniel though, when the Goa'uld in the form of that S.O.B. Apophis popped in on Abydos and took Sha're and Skaara. So Jack had stayed alive; had learned to want to be alive, and then he got Daniel back even if he'd lost Skaara--and where was he now, out there somewhere raping and pillaging as Klorel? Sweet. But Daniel had had three more years. Lived long enough for Sha're to die--and wasn't that just the perfect touch, long enough for Jack himself to have to kill her to save Daniel? Maybe that was why Daniel hadn't been quite able to forgive him over his deception, because he was still smarting over Jack killing his beloved wife.
Great. He'd killed Sha're and now Daniel was dead, too. And these alternate copies with their own Daniel still alive and healthy wanted to ride roughshod over Hammond and stop the toxin. They finally had a chance to stop the Goa'uld, stop them forever, and there wasn't a world out there who'd miss the snakeheads. And these people, with their puppets from the future, were popping in to ruin everything.
Jack didn't have anything left but revenge. He wouldn't let Daniel die in vain.
Dayna Mellanby looked at the pieces of the MP-5 spread out before her on the table and nodded at Master Sergeant Jake Kennedy, who claimed he knew more about weapons than anybody else at the SGC. Dayna suspected he was a member of the base's security section as much as anything to do with ordnance or supply or whatever he'd called himself, and he had sent away a couple of men he'd called E4's, before he showed them into a room where a few of the base's weapons were carefully laid out for them, setting the stage in advance. He'd gotten instruction--orders, maybe--from General Hammond, probably through the officer who had been meeting with them when a couple of other E4's showed Dayna and Soolin here, to compare notes with Dayna and Soolin about their weapons, and now he had a clipgun spread out in pieces in front of him, and the officer had departed in the wake of the E4's. Kennedy looked the way Major Carter did when she first beheld Orac. It was truly a case of love at first sight. Just as it appealed to Dayna to take apart the gun from this time and reality and examine its inner workings. Perhaps they were rather simple, but it was still an intriguing weapon, precisely designed to do exactly what it was supposed to do. If it were no match for the Liberator guns, at least it was a good weapon, considering the time and place.
Sergeant Kennedy's job was probably to learn every detail he could about their clipguns and pump them for information, at the same time offering as little in return as possible. Dayna had expected an officer, but maybe an officer wouldn't work with the nuts and bolts of weapon innards; maybe he'd just sign the weapons out for missions and use them.
Dayna flashed a quick grin at Soolin. Both of them suspected Avon would be furious if he knew they were sharing weapons technology with the SGC. Frankly, she didn't care. Maybe they just had these projectile weapons, but they were efficient weapons and might be adapted to something she could refine for the team when they went home--if they went home. Anything that could defend them in a crisis was worth the effort, and the Federation wasn't used to guns like these. The shock value might be considerable. She stowed away the information she'd already gathered for later refinement.
"How do you two know so much about guns?" Kennedy asked. He was probably Avon's age and had a grizzled look to him and a glint in his eyes that bespoke a lot of experience.
"I design weapons systems," Dayna explained. She wouldn't go into detail; much of what she did was beyond this man's expertise. She had come to realize that most of the technology she used would be beyond even the brightest here, but she'd also come to realize that the Stargate wasn't their own invention, either. They simply used it. Up against the Goa'uld, who had plenty of powerful weapons, they needed all the help they could get. Even if they had no idea how a clipgun worked, they might be able to grasp enough to adapt it to help them in their fight. Dayna realized that she'd want someone to help her, too, if she were in that position. Two hours with Major Kennedy wouldn't give him a complete understanding of her time's weaponry, but it might start him thinking, and she didn't think the others would object to that. Blake wouldn't, and Tarrant would expect her to learn what she could in return. Avon would advocate secrecy, as long as she acquired knowledge to assist them, but Avon always did. She exchanged a glance with Soolin, and the two of them decided to make the most of the opportunity.
So she explained a little about her father and how she'd grown up in an underground base on a primitive world, and how she eventually had developed an interest in weapons. Even though, when she went out among the Sarrens, she relished the challenge of the more primitive; the bow, the spear. The challenge of taking them on with weapons at their level had invigorated her, even when she returned and put together complex technological programs of sleek individual power or mass destruction.
"Nothing to do but design weapons," Soolin interjected. "I know about weapons because I use them." She took a clipgun and removed the clip to reassure Kennedy, then she strapped it on and whipped out the gun in a lightning draw. "I'm accurate, and I'm fast, and I hire my skills." Kennedy's eyes widened enormously and he gazed at Soolin with wary respect. Maybe he was coveting her skills for the SGC, or maybe, since he liked guns, he found a woman who used them so proficiently appealing.
"Until you threw in your lot with us," Dayna told the blonde woman.
Soolin grimaced. "I've never been one for causes," she admitted. She was like Avon in that regard. She might even be more that way than Avon, who might not espouse causes but who could carry them on in Blake's behalf, even when he denied doing it. Soolin's detachment might not be so blatant as Avon's, but Dayna suspected it was easier for the blonde to maintain it. Maybe it was harder for her to care. Not that caring was easy for any of them.
"No, but when you fight at someone's side, it changes things." Dayna had discovered that for herself since the day when she had first encountered Avon after the battle at Star One, and she'd seen vivid proof of it when she looked at SG-1. Even with the Goa'uld threat hanging over them, they had a bond she rather envied, and no one could say it was because they were similar; they were as different as her own shipmates, at least in some ways. On the Liberator, she had quickly become friends with Cally, and still privately mourned her loss. She felt close to Tarrant, relatively close to Soolin, or as close as anyone could who had been thrown against the wall of the gunfighter's pragmatism. She'd been drawn to Avon against her will and fought that down as Avon changed and grew harder, but a part of her still wished there was a way to help him. Maybe Blake could. As for Vila, he might be an annoyance, but he was their own particular annoyance, and he could rise above it in a crisis, even if he could also fall below. Finding themselves here, far from everything they knew, they had changed again, shifted, altered. Somehow, they were a team, after all, even if none of them talked about it. They might not want to kill Servalan as badly as she did, but none of them would object when she finally did it.
Assuming she ever got the chance.
Kennedy took up the clipgun when Soolin disarmed herself and lay it on the table. "So, how does this work? I mean, I've seen how it's assembled." He gestured at the one he'd taken apart. "And I see how you can alternate the clips for whatever purpose you choose. It'd be like switching from an MP-5 to a zat without having to do more than stick in a different clip. SG-3 would like them." He grimaced abruptly and some of his excitement trickled away. His mouth hardened and he gave his attention to the weapon instead of continuing what he had meant to say. Dayna wondered what had happened to SG-3. Maybe the Goa'uld had attacked them. He continued in a vague tone, "We have some strictly military teams in case we get into some tough fights on the other side of the Stargate. SG-1 is a first-contact team. We have diplomatic teams and archaeological teams and so we can meet all the different needs we face. I can't go into detail on any of that, but you'll have assumed some of that for yourself. I wish I could arm our teams with your clipguns. But all I can do is take the concept and run with it."
"You have a far better support system than we ever did," Soolin mused. "Yes, there are a lot of different rebel groups in our time, but they're fragmented and no one ever tried to coordinate them properly. Just arming them better would scarcely be enough."
"We're lucky to be part of the established government rather than fighting against it," Kennedy said. "At least here on Earth, while we have to maintain security, we can count on plenty of backup and support. We've encountered a lot of rebel groups out there. I'm not giving anything away that you wouldn't reason out, and, as I said, I can't give you details, but we try to help them when we can. I think that's why General Hammond wanted you to meet with me. We can help each other out."
And maybe he could try to keep them out of trouble. Dayna was certain that was what had caused the General to approve this exchange of information. Hammond had to know that the two women were the team's weapons experts. Occupy them with weapons, especially weapons that would be considered primitive in their own time, and they'd presumably be fascinated--and out of trouble. Dayna had hoped they'd be shown some Goa'uld devices like the staff weapon Teal'c had carried or the zat guns that had been mentioned, but Kennedy was careful not to show them anything like that. And if he knew Vila was a thief, he might not trust any of them to keep their hands off a useful gun.
"Perhaps we can," Soolin said coolly. She picked up another gun. This one had a smaller cartridge than the first one did. Testing its balance in her hand, she struck a pose.
"Just like Clint Eastwood," Kennedy said approvingly.
"You should see Avon," Dayna put in, amused. She didn't know who Clint Eastwood was. Maybe he was a member of SG-3. If he handled weapons like Soolin had just done, perhaps he'd wasted time with the excessive style and a Goa'uld had taken him down.
"Avon tends to...ham it up with weapons," Soolin said coolly, confirming Dayna's thoughts. "Showy. A waste of time and effort. Much better just to choose your target and be done with it. Do you have a target range?"
"Would you like to try this out? Do your clipguns have much of a recoil when you fire them?"
"Do these?" Dayna asked. Interesting. "That would indicate a learning period, to adjust, and practice targeting. The weapons I design are often capable of being programmed for specific targets."
Kennedy's face glowed with the same enthusiasm Vila wore at the sight of valuables to steal or a big glass of adrenaline and soma. "Any chance of some specs?" he asked hopefully.
"Let's try some target shooting first," Dayna wheedled. "We can make comparisons better after we get a feel for your guns."
"I'll clear it with General Hammond," Kennedy agreed.
As soon as he turned, the two women eyed each other speculatively. The more they could learn, the better. Whether they made it back to their own time or wound up here fighting against the Goa'uld, the better weapons they had, the easier it would be.
Not that anything was ever easy.
"I've been over it and over it," Carter said in frustration. "I can't see how it could kill humans. But I'm not a biologist, and I can't see long-term effects."
Doctor Fraiser shook her head. Summoned in by Carter to go over it with her, she'd studied the test findings, too. "Neither can I. I wish Blake could remember more about it. All we have to go on is his admittedly shaky memory."
"Maybe we should talk to him again." Carter raked her hands through her hair in frustration. "I don't know how long this takes to act. Orac confirms Blake's report." She got up and paced around the lab. Over in the mirror, a couple of armed Marines stood guard. Beyond them, she could see Samantha working on her own computers. The other Hammond had returned to his own side; her Hammond had said that he was going to talk to the President. He'd evidently decided to do so after an hour talking to Tarrant, Dayna and Soolin about life in their time. His own future. He had looked as if he'd eaten something that had disagreed with him when he'd stepped back through the mirror. He wouldn't be changing his past but his future, and Carter could understand why he'd want to do so. If someone had come back from her own future with a warning, she'd want to act upon it, too. Well, first she'd make sure it was legitimate, and then she'd act.
So, was it more ethical for Hammond Two to attempt to stop the biotoxin than it was for Blake to insist upon stopping it? Simply because of the place each stood in history? Was a right a universal right, or a wrong a temporal wrong? Jack would plunge in and stop the toxin because, as he saw it, preventing a global war and the death of an entire race of allies outweighed the other questions. He'd be right, too. But they didn't have to face that determination in their own reality. Was that a cop-out, an unwillingness to be involved? Who was the poet who had said 'I am involved in mankind'? Wasn't that an obligation for all beings? So why did Sam feel uncomfortable about this? Was it because the situation gave them an opportunity to 'play god'? She didn't know. She only knew there were certain to be no easy answers.
If only they could point to one specific thing within the biotoxin formula and say, "This will kill human beings," or "This will affect people with blue eyes--or Rh negative blood--or existing heart conditions." But she couldn't do that.
"Could it be a counter-toxin that causes the problems here?" Fraiser offered. "How long will it take for this to kill the Goa'uld? Studying the formula, I can't see how it could make them drop in their tracks. Might they have time to throw together a counter-toxin that affects humans? We can't rely entirely on Blake's memories. Orac's data is incomplete. There's enough evidence to support the global war in his records, although records could be faked."
"No, that part is definitely real," Tarrant replied from the doorway. "There are still parts of the Earth that haven't recovered from it; I've seen them. We used to study it as an evil example. Propaganda, if you will, as to why the Federation was better. It represented a voice for order, and to give Servalan the only credit possible to give her, she does believe that. Of course she also believes order is best served by riding roughshod over human rights, with herself in the top position. The history we study at the Federation Space Academy is admittedly colored in favor of the Federation."
"History is written by the winners," Carter agreed.
"Blake's determined to stop the biotoxin in our reality," Tarrant added. "He firmly believes it's the only thing to do. He won't let the fact that he could be causing all of us to cease to exist stop him. If he were well enough to be up and about, I think I would worry. Blake is an ethical man, but like everyone in our time, it's what I've heard called situational ethics. We haven't had a lot of choice in that, actually, but that doesn't make it more comfortable. I reached the point myself where I had to desert; I couldn't sanction the orders I'd been given any longer. Butchering entire planetary populations because a small segment of the population rebelled didn't sit well with me. It wasn't even in war, but in retaliation without a state of war existing." He grimaced, and Carter had a feeling that it had been far worse than Tarrant was admitting. "We didn't talk much about politics or political ethics or such things on the Liberator or the Scorpio. Maybe we were all too cynical for that. Blake may have done when he was still on Liberator. Other than the need to find Blake again, he wasn't much mentioned. Instead he was the ghost at the feast, if that phrase makes sense in your time."
Carter nodded to show that it did. "I wish we could be surer of Blake's memories," she admitted. "We wouldn't know about the toxin if not for Blake, and the fact that it does exist and that it's ready for testing now in your reality's past and our present does indicate he may have been right."
The Colonel and Daniel wandered in. "Where are the other members of your team?" O'Neill asked the pilot.
"Blake's in the infirmary, Dayna and Soolin are playing with your guns. Avon? Perhaps he's with Blake, perhaps not. He's not a sociable man, Avon." The pilot shrugged. "Vila? Maybe he's found someone to share a drink with."
O'Neill frowned about the guns but didn't push. "So, Carter, you solved it all?" he asked her.
"Not yet. But we will." She gestured at her computer screen full of complex formulae. "The problem is that the people who would know enough to figure this out are the same people who'd probably be thrilled to see it. It will kill the Goa'uld; that much we do know."
O'Neill squinted at the screen. He didn't have the background to understand a tenth of it, and he usually just let the scientific explanations wash over his head or held up a protesting hand and urged her to cut to the chase. That was fine. He had the whole missions to worry about; she had to do the science. But some science was too far outside her field. Fraiser was a superb doctor and her knowledge base had widened geometrically since Earth had encountered the Goa'uld, but even though she did a lot of research, designing toxins fell outside her main areas of expertise. She might figure it out if she had a test subject to study, but that would never happen. Carter would take this computer through the Stargate and dump it in an alien ocean before she let anyone apart from people she trusted thoroughly anywhere near it.
"Carry on," Jack said, backing away from the screen. "Any way you can tell if something like this is being researched in our reality?"
"General Hammond has put out some very careful feelers to see if it's been shifted off the back burner," Carter assured him. "We do know that the possibility has been tossed around. But whether there is actually a toxin here or simply potential formulas, we don't know yet."
"I hope the feelers don't give somebody the idea to try it here," Daniel offered. He and Jack looked comfortable with each other again and Carter was glad of that. She had been uncomfortable with the Colonel at first herself following his undercover mission, although she'd been military all her life and knew that O'Neill had been given no choice. She wished it had been set up to leave the rest of SG-1 in the know, but maybe they had to remain in ignorance to convince people at this end, since they hadn't known about Makepeace then. That still bugged Sam, too. Makepeace. How could he have worked alongside them from the beginning and then gone this way? But he had, and that was all there was to it. Daniel hadn't been indoctrinated into the command structure and it was bound to be harder for him to deal with O'Neill's actions. He wasn't the eager, naive, idealistic young man she'd first met, but he still had ideals and beliefs that took hard knocks. Watching the Colonel and Daniel, seeing that their automatic camaraderie had been restored, Carter realized that one good thing had come out of this. The other thing she meant to ensure was the guarantee that the toxin would not be used in her own reality. Surely the President and people in authority would understand that they couldn't use a biological agent that would destroy their own allies along with the Goa'uld. If they did that, they'd lose all their other major alliances, and that just couldn't be countenanced. She hoped.
"Hammond won't permit it," she ventured. "I think he's been on the hot line with the President."
"I have," admitted the General from the doorway. His eyes took in Tarrant, and he hesitated; then he must have decided that even if Tarrant were part of a Goa'uld-based plan to infiltrate the base, there was nothing he could do now. He was too closely guarded to attempt jumping into the mirror. If Orac were a device modified or adapted by the System Lords, this whole thing could be a plan, possibly to stop the toxin in their reality. That seemed too involved; surely the Goa'uld in that reality wouldn't feel the need to involve another one. Apophis hadn't seemed to consider the possibility of alternate realities, anyway, and had believed that the last reality's Colonel O'Neill had managed to come back from the dead. He'd probably decided that they had a sarcophagus even if he hadn't found it in their base. Of course the fact that the Goa'uld did not know of quantum mirrors in that reality didn't mean they didn't in the one on the other side of the mirror today.
"So what are we going to do?" O'Neill asked Hammond.
"For now, we're going to keep the quantum mirror activated. If we don't have definite answers by tomorrow, we'll have to close it and let the other reality deal with their own crisis. Any information you will have gathered by then, unless it directly relates to returning our refugees to their own time and reality or unless it will enable us to prevent a tragedy here, will be erased permanently. We do not want to start the same problem here just because we've been made aware of it elsewhere." He turned to Tarrant. "I've spoken with the other members of your party and now to you. Any information regarding where you came from is classified and I'll ask you not to speak about it to anyone but members of your own team, members of SG-1, myself or Dr. Fraiser."
"I haven't talked to anyone else at all," Tarrant confirmed. "Other than my 'escort' and mostly what we've exchanged is pleasantries, and directions, and which parts of the base I'm not allowed to visit."
"In the morning, I want to bring Blake in here," Hammond decided. "I want him to speak directly to my, er, double. It's possible that their dimension has more experience of time travel than our own."
"I don't know much about your time travel," Tarrant said, "only that Orac says that ours was caused by a solar flare. We went back in time because one happened just as we passed through the Gate. We were already in your reality, but in your reality's future. Couldn't we simply return to the planet where you encountered us and have Orac analyze upcoming solar flares and use the next one to send us back where you found us, only in our own time?"
"Well, you could," the Colonel pointed out laconically. "If you could figure out a way to keep the tribes from attacking you while you waited. And if you had a handy mirror with you so that you could switch back when you got to the future. No, the other mirror would probably still be there, wouldn't it? Only could you be sure?"
"You're just full of good news," muttered the pilot. "So we stay here and get shuffled into a refugee camp? No, we can't even do that because your Stargate project is classified, and we know too much about it. I doubt you'd recruit us to form an SG team, considering we're not from here and presumably wouldn't have the same loyalties. And we can't really go through the mirror to our own reality because we'd still be out of time."
"We certainly don't plan to dispose of you, Captain Tarrant," the General replied. "We have options other than the ones you've listed, such as resettling you on one of our ally planets. It's possible that the Tok'ra or the Nox, or even the Asgard, might have a way of returning you where you belong."
Tarrant gave a weary shrug. "And it's possible that our interference with the timeline and the information we've given the alternate SGP might well create a future in which we can't belong, either, assuming that we'd even still exist."
"It's possible that, since you are outside the timeline now, Captain, you would remain as you are, with memories of a time that had been altered." Carter gazed up at him. "Which would mean that returning you to your own time wouldn't serve any purpose either."
Daniel jumped in. "We've been in bad situations ourselves," he said hastily. "And there were times when we didn't think we'd get out of them. Like the time two Goa'uld ships were in orbit around Earth and there were just the four of us up there to try to stop them." He glanced sideways at the Colonel to make sure he wasn't speaking out of turn. O'Neill arched an eyebrow but he didn't jump in. Sam couldn't remember if that ground had been covered already or not.
"Did you stop them?" Tarrant caught himself. "You're still here, so I assume you did. That's a little more straightforward than time travel and altering timelines, isn't it? Even if you've traveled in time as you say you have, you got back safely, but then it sounds like you went back accidentally and stayed within your own reality."
"What about the theory that if you go back in time and do something, all that means is that it had already happened in your past and that the world wouldn't be the way you always knew it unless you went back?" Daniel asked.
"You mean we're in our past because we really were here already?" Tarrant grimaced. "I can imagine how Avon would take that. It's a theory, and it might be a comforting one, but I don't think it's an answer."
"Neither do I," agreed Hammond. "We have to play this out, people. I suggest you have your dinner and then if you want to work on it after that, Major, go ahead."
"I'd like Avon to help me in working with Orac," Carter decided.
"I'll go and find him for you," offered Tarrant.
"We'll come, too," agreed O'Neill, and gathered up Daniel with his eyes. They set off to look for Avon. ****
Avon sat in a chair beside Blake's bed and looked at the rebel leader surreptitiously. He and Blake had cleared the air remarkably--Avon would have to talk to Teal'c rather sternly later for daring to interfere--and it had done good. He had finally been able to tell Blake exactly what he thought of his utter stupidity in proclaiming, "I set all this up." Blake had retaliated with a complaint about Avon's too-ready trigger finger and his willingness to jump to erroneous conclusions. In the end, Blake had explained how so many things had gone wrong, how he'd lost Jenna, when she was all he had left of his Liberator days, and how he'd seen rebel groups fall, eroded away from within or betrayed, or crushed under the weight of suppressant drugs. "I forgot how to trust, Avon, but a part of me always trusted you. Perhaps I was wrong--not to trust you, but to place my entire reliance upon it. I told myself that everything would be different when you came. I was sure you would come. But it took so long, and by the time I walked into the control room and saw you, I was as much at the end of my rope as you were. I was a damned fool to test Tarrant like I did and let him get away without understanding that I'd been testing him. But you were a damned fool not to listen."
"Oh, yes, Blake. After two years without your shining presence, two years in which you didn't bother to make one single transmission to let us know if you were alive or dead, after being told flat out by Servalan that you were dead--and this was after she'd tried to manipulate me with programming that made me think I was actually speaking to you, what would you have had me do?"
"We could always throw the blame squarely where it belongs, on the Federation."
"Yes, you'd like that, wouldn't you. Every road runs directly to your bloody cause, Blake. Damn you, the Liberator would have served you far better than a worthless base on a remote planet like Gauda Prime."
"The Liberator belonged to you," Blake reminded him. "You insisted on it. Had I returned, you would have taken me to Earth, to be finally rid of me, as you claimed you wanted." He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I should have known that was only more protective noise. You'd have taken me back on Liberator as long as I didn't push you and demand declarations of you, but there were times when I wanted declarations, when I wanted to have more impact than that of nuisance value."
Avon sucked in his breath. "You were always more than that, Blake," he admitted. The man who had shot Blake could not have admitted it, but Avon had started down a different road since he had fired three times in that room. Servalan had once told him, when she'd been chained in the cellar of her Presidential palace, that it was an old wall, that it waited. Avon had found his own wall on Gauda Prime. He couldn't leave it behind him without changing, without becoming a different man, but he didn't know his lines in this new part. What he did know was that Blake's death would have been unendurable, and that he would do anything possible to prevent it. Which meant he had to break through to Blake so that the man would take no more foolish risks like he had on Gauda Prime, when he'd abruptly come up against a wall of his own. Avon was not an easy man; it had been far simpler to deny feelings, to shut away hurts and pretend he felt nothing. But it had driven him to his wall, and he couldn't go back to it. He didn't know how far he could change and still be Avon, but he knew that there had to be changes. So he avoided Blake's eyes and said in a tentative monotone, "You are more than that now."
Blake drew a sharp breath of his own. "I think I realized that. A part of me wanted to insist upon it, to prove it, by expecting you to pay and keep paying. I can't like myself for that, and I can't guarantee a part of me isn't bitter enough to keep doing it. But I want to move past it, Avon. I want us working together again. I felt alive on Liberator when we were together, when we were a team. I am alive now, and I came so close to not being that I can't go back to what I was any more than you can. I have to go on and find out what I am to be. And I want you to do the same."
"In short, you want me to commit to your cause. You've always wanted that. I don't know that I can do that, Blake. It was never the cause that drew me. Jenna wanted to dream your dreams and couldn't, but she could follow you. I didn't want to dream your dreams because I always believed them futile, but, for Jenna and me, it was never the dream that drew us. It was the dreamer."
"You don't find yourself capable of a dream, Avon?"
He got up abruptly and paced about the room, then he came back and leaned over Blake. "No," he said. "But, for the first time in many years, I find myself wishing that I could."
Blake reached up and gripped Avon by the shoulders. "That's enough to go on with, then," he said.
"And my crew?" Avon asked.
"The fact that you claim them as yours says everything, Avon. I've seen their loyalty to you. I've seen it first hand. Both Vila and Tarrant have talked to me on your behalf, and Soolin did, too, before we came here. Dayna just expects me to do the right thing. She looks at me and I can see it in her eyes. She idealized her father, and she'd do the same to me, but if I let her down, she'll back off, for your sake. You wouldn't claim to have sought their loyalty, but you've won it anyway. I won't interfere with that. But I want to be part of it. It isn't even that we might be stranded here forever or return to a world where we no longer fit, if they can make the changes in our reality. But all we have now is each other." His eyes blazed. "It isn't what Doctor Fraiser did that is bringing me back to life, Avon. It's you."
"If you're going to be annoyingly sentimental, Blake...."
"You'll do what?" countered the man in the bed.
Avon gave a snort of wry laughter. "I'll endure it--but not without frequent complaints." He straightened up away from the reassuring grip of the hands, away from the realization that he found them reassuring, although he could not deny the fact. "I find I must change, Blake, but it will not be easy. Don't expect me to do it quickly, or even to do it well."
"I expect you to be Avon," Blake replied. "Whatever Avon is to become. And even if you laugh in my face for still insisting on it, I have always trusted you, from the very beginning."
"Then you are a fool. After Gauda Prime?"
"After everything. And I'd rather be a glorious fool than a man who never took a risk."
Avon gave a snort that was halfway between a laugh and a sob. "I shall have a sign carved for your tombstone. "Here lies Roj Blake, glorious fool."
"I have no intention of dying," Blake replied, but his eyes lit up. He added, "Do you think Orac will be able to get us home?"
"Assuming our meddling hasn't erased all traces of 'home' from our own time and reality, Orac may try. I have some theories myself, and I'd like to discuss them with Major Carter."
"I wish I could guarantee that they wouldn't use the biotoxin," Blake said wistfully.
"They have the information, Blake. You can do no more." And he wished that he could believe it.
Jack O'Neill had lasted till around one a.m. when he reached terminal burn out on watching Carter and Avon play with Orac and the computer. Daniel was still there, too, tossing theories around with Tarrant, Vila, and the two women, while Teal'c watched them all without speaking much. Over in the corner, the bodyguards played poker in alert mode; ready to act if the rebels did anything, but convinced by this time that they wouldn't have to do anything. Blake was asleep, and Avon had returned to the lab after dinner, having eaten in the infirmary with the other man. O'Neill noticed that he'd looked a little less grim and intimidating when he showed up, and Vila must have thought so, too, because he took his life in his own hands and kidded him mercilessly for about an hour until Avon lost patience and told him to stop being a total idiot. You'd have thought Vila considered it a compliment because he glowed with delight. Strange folks.
"He'd be right," Soolin muttered. "For a coward, you do take your life into your own hands far too often, Vila."
Teal'c spoke up laconically. "Vila Restal is not a coward."
Vila bounced on his toes. "See. Teal'c says I'm not a coward. And I don't know about you, but I'd never dare cross Teal'c."
Avon's eyes sparkled with unexpected mirth. "Contradicting him, Vila? Listen to what you say."
Vila played back his words in his mind, and gulped. "Oh. Meant you wouldn't dare cross him, Avon."
Teal'c folded his arms across his chest and looked at Avon expectantly.
"Preferring not to be manhandled again, I must concur," Avon replied in a dead level voice. Was that a combination of amusement and resentment in his eyes? Just what had Teal'c done? Jack resolved that, when this was all over, he'd get the Jaffa off alone and question him about it.
Tarrant's eyebrows shot up into his curls and he turned to regard Teal'c with near awe. "I wish I'd seen that," he murmured to Dayna.
"So do I," she replied.
Jack agreed with that; he wished he'd seen it himself, even though he had less trouble believing it than they did.
Carter ignored the frivolity. She was as bad over Orac as Daniel was over one of his rock/artifacts. "Orac and I are working on time travel," she announced. She sounded like she wanted someone to sign her up for the next Nobel Prize.
Avon arched an eyebrow. "Avon, Orac, and I," Carter corrected as if she'd sensed his expression without raising her eyes from the computer screen. We have several problems to overcome before we can work out a means of returning them to their own time."
"Then we can go home?" Vila ventured. His face fell. "Must we? I thought it was nice here."
"We don't belong here, Vila," Avon reminded him.
"And Blake wants to go back," the thief said knowingly. "That's it, isn't it? Blake's all set to rush off and save the galaxy, in several realities and times at once."
"Blake is determined to prevent the toxin from bringing down the Old Calendar in our reality," Avon reminded him. "He wants to step through the mirror tomorrow and reason with their President." Avon himself didn't appear to like this possibility. Jack wasn't sure he liked it either. He preferred Blake and his people here, where he could watch then and at least have some control over the situation. Besides, he was positive his opposite number would resent like crazy any gung-ho idealist who insisted on doing exactly what Jack didn't want. The other Jack, anyway. O'Neill wasn't sure he'd want Blake telling him what to do, and he was relatively sane and content.
"Going through the mirror might prove the solution for you," Carter said, and Jack shook his head fractionally. She wasn't looking and didn't see it. "If we had a way of predicting sunspot activity accurately in that reality, you could time a Gate trip with the next one. But there are no guarantees. We were able to return to our own time before because we were traveling in the past, when such activities had already taken place and were officially on record and we had that information with us, although we didn't know that at first. We only had to find the Stargate and time our return to match a specific flare. But we knew the Stargate already existed in our own time. We have no guarantees the mirror reality's Gate will survive a possible world war and the collapse of society."
"So in essence, we could step into the Stargate and never come out," Tarrant put in. "I can't say I think much of that option. What about going back where we came from? That planet where you found us. If we went through the gate there at the time of a flare...."
"There is no mirror on that world," Teal'c reminded them, "at least not in our reality."
"He's right," Vila said. "But there would be if we went into the gate when there was a solar flare. We'd have shifted back to our own time, and it should be waiting--shouldn't it?" He gave Avon a nudge.
Dayna leaned forward, interested. "Orac, you can make predictions. What about going back there and then you predict the next solar flare and we use the Gate then? Even if we have to spend a few weeks in the wrong reality, the Gate looked deserted after we used the mirror. It looked abandoned."
Avon shook his head. "No, the Gate looked abandoned in our original timeline in this reality. As soon go through the mirror here and have Orac make the predictions here." He caught himself. "No, we have no guarantee the Gate exists here in the future."
"Or there in the past," Carter concurred. "Either way, you take a leap of faith. If you switch here, you have no guarantee of locating a Gate to take you off Earth. And if we return to PV4-555, we run the risk of meeting the natives again."
"And you can't guarantee there'd be a mirror control remote in the past on that world, either," Daniel observed. "Isn't there another way to time travel? Orac, you're supposed to be so brilliant. Did you ever find a means of time travel in your researches?"
Avon cast an approving glance at Daniel. "Answer the question, Orac."
"There was a Federation project to study the possibility of time travel," Orac observed. "It ran concurrently with the teleportation project and was as unsuccessful."
"The teleportation project might not have succeeded, but we had a teleport on the Liberator," Avon reminded the computer. "And we duplicated it on the Scorpio."
Carter's ears pricked up. "You have matter teleportation in the future?" she asked hopefully. Jack could see her longing for useful formulas and theories that she could adapt.
"You have a similar ability with the Stargate," Avon reminded her. O'Neill thought he abruptly looked cagy, as if he had just realized he had a useful bargaining chip. Hammond would love it if they could acquire matter teleportation technology, and so would the guys who funded the project.
"How does your teleportation work?" Carter persisted, her eyes alight.
Avon wasn't very forthcoming. "It requires an element called aquatar to make it work successfully."
Carter and Daniel exchanged speculative glances. They seemed to be thinking the same thing. Mind reading now? Carter grinned. "Aquatar? That's similar in sound to naquada," she remarked. "Orac, please print the chemical formula for aquatar on the screen."
"Oh, very well. Our purpose could best be served without continual jumping from subject to subject." Numbers appeared on the screen. Carter leaned in, fascinated.
"You see, Jack," Daniel took it upon himself to explain, "one of the things linguists learn to expect is the shift of language over time. When you compare old English, middle English and what we speak now, you see major differences. I know there's only been approximately two hundred fifty years between our time and theirs, but they had a war in the meantime. It's possible that we're dealing with naquada here, and that we might be able to adapt it for matter transmission experiments."
Carter looked at the formula and then offered up a blazing smile. "Yes, it's almost identical," she crowed. "There are only minor variations, but perhaps the aquatar they knew was an alloy incorporating naquada. Orac, let's go over the principles of matter teleportation."
"You would not understand it."
"I am an astrophysicist, and I frequently work with alien technology," she reminded the computer. "Try me."
"The purpose of this research is to return us home," Avon pointed out.
"Wrong," Jack cut in. "That's one thing we hope to achieve, but the purpose of this meeting is to exchange information and to prevent a crisis in this reality, and, hopefully in your own. Yes, we'll send you home if we can, and we're already grateful to you for warning us about the possibilities of the biotoxin. Since our realities are different, it can't hurt you to pass us a bone if you can. There's no saying we can make it work, anyway."
"He's right, Avon," Tarrant replied. "I know we've had to hold back the information in our own time and reality because we didn't want the Federation to get it. But they're not Federation. They're fighting to keep their reality from going the way of our own." He grinned. The guy had more teeth than seemed humanly possible. "I think Blake would go for it."
"Blake may consider himself our fearless leader, but he doesn't control everything."
"Methinks he doth protest too much,'" said Vila surprisingly under his breath.
Daniel's eyes lit up. "You've read Hamlet, Vila?"
Vila looked doubtful for a moment. For all Jack knew, he didn't have a clue where the phrase had come from. Jack had vaguely known it was Shakespeare, and he'd read Hamlet a long time ago when he was in college, but he had to admit, the evidence of one more similarity between realities was interesting. But Vila had known about Shakespeare earlier, hadn't he? They'd mentioned one of the plays before. He eyed Vila with an element of respect.
"Course I have," Vila said smugly, casting a delighted glance at Avon. "Doesn't everyone?"
Avon eyed him with cynical skepticism. "And the summary of the play, Vila?" he challenged. Prove it, he was saying.
Vila gulped then he said very fast, "Well, all right. There was this prince, and his uncle murdered his father and married his mum and his father's ghost walked around and gave dire warnings and Hamlet tried to trick his uncle into admitting it, and everybody got killed at the end."
"Sounds like your kind of description, Jack," Daniel teased.
"I'd do better than that," Jack insisted. "I saw the Mel Gibson movie."
Everybody ignored that. It figured. Jack considered bringing out the yo-yo again, but then he'd have to put up with Teal'c's raised eyebrows and the fact that Daniel was better at it than he was. Not fair. Sometimes it was tough being the colonel.
The talk turned really technical after that, and Jack amused himself by watching the alternate Samantha, who was doing computer research on her side of the mirror with the help of the guy who had taken Teal'c's place in their SG-1. The blond guy kept sneaking glances over at Jack, and looking past him to Daniel. Had to be tough, Jack figured. He'd gone through that once, thinking Daniel was dead; well, more than once, really; there was the time Nem had snatched him and programmed SG-1 to believe he was dead, and then there was the time they'd had to leave him on Klorel's ship. When the two ships had exploded, Jack had known that Daniel was dead, only he hadn't been. These guys didn't have any option but to believe they'd lost their Daniel permanently, not when they had his body and no sarcophagus. Jack really felt for them, especially his alternate self. He counted on Daniel being here. The other Jack must have done the same.
Eventually, the alternate Carter came over to the mirror and stepped through. At once the Marines in the corner forgot poker and came to attention, but she put up a hand to show she was harmless and unarmed. "We're still doing research," she said. "But we're about to pack it in for the night. We think it might be a good thing to leave the mirror open but guarded through the night. That way we wouldn't have to worry about finding the right reality again in the morning."
"We'll do the same," O'Neill agreed. He glanced over at his Carter. At least this alternate hadn't been married to him in her reality but it still felt really crazy.
"Have you had any luck with the toxin formula?" Carter One asked.
"So far, no. We've got people checking other possibilities. Peter's a genius when it comes to putting together seemingly unrelated facts and coming up with answers, so he's doing a political survey and running probabilities. It might not be the toxin. It could be some other factor that we haven't considered, especially since neither Orac nor Blake can give us one hundred percent guarantees. But our Dr. Fraiser is running computer simulations, too, and even though she can't prove that you're right, she's starting to feel uneasy. I think a lot of people in high places will be happy if we can't use this route to eliminate the Goa'uld threat, and if we find out the Tok'ra really exist in our reality, I don't see how we can. We have a message in to Thor--you've met the Asgard in your reality, you said?"
"Love those guys," Jack muttered under his breath.
"Yes, we have," Carter One agreed. "I know there are people in your reality who will need proof."
"And probably people who won't care," muttered Daniel. "You can't start a global war, even if you're doing it to protect Earth. It might kill more people in the long run than the Goa'uld ever will."
"I know that, and General Hammond knows that," Carter Two agreed. "We're doing all we can. Sometimes it seems like there are so few of us to take it all on."
"So what else is new?" Jack interjected.
"You do sound like my Colonel O'Neill," Carter Two said softly. "At least...at least the way he used to sound." She looked past him at Daniel. "I hope you know how lucky you are in this reality."
Jack thought of the losses they'd faced, the losses he'd faced personally; Charlie, Sarah leaving him, Kawalsky and more, but maybe he was lucky. He still had Daniel; he hadn't had to kill Sha're himself, and he had the best team known to man. He didn't know this Amundson guy, but he couldn't be better than Teal'c. And then there was Carter. But he understood what Carter Two meant, and he grinned wryly. "Yeah, guess we do."
Daniel nodded as if he understood, too. Guy had lost his career, his new life on Abydos, his wife. He'd been addicted to the sarcophagus and generally used as a galactic punching bag time out of mind, but he still agreed with her. You had to love a guy like that. Jack slung a careless arm around Daniel's shoulders. Daniel grinned and leaned against him comfortably.
Carter Two winced, and Jack shot Daniel a quick, apologetic glance and let his arm fall again. "What happened to the other me?" he asked. "We haven't seen him for awhile."
"No. He's around. But...." She looked pointedly at Daniel. "It's hard for him. He'll be here if we need him. I know that."
"Gotcha," Jack agreed. He just wished his doppelganger hadn't given him such a bad feeling. He didn't know how much of that was just the eeriness of encountering another Jack O'Neill. Carter had reacted weirdly last time to her doppelganger, but this time around, she seemed a lot more used to it. They weren't spending enough time in each other's reality for either one of them to start with that weird distorted face-flipping number, and Carter--his Carter--had said that brief visits would probably spare them that possibility as long as it didn't go on for days. Good. Last thing he wanted was to see that happening to his own face. But then, if the other O'Neill never came through the mirror, that wouldn't happen.
Carter Two prepared to depart. "We'll both guard the mirror," she said. "And if one of us makes a breakthrough, we can summon the others that way. General Hammond would still like to talk to Blake tomorrow and anyone else from his time who has some knowledge of our time period."
"Tarrant and Blake seem the best informed in that regard," Carter said. "The others know various random references, as best as we can tell, but Earth history was evidently not a popular subject."
"It wasn't," Avon agreed. "The Alphas learned a little more, but only as an evil example. I don't know how Vila encountered Shakespeare. The Deltas weren't encouraged to learn, only enough to perform the work they were assigned. The Federation would have liked us to believe that class distinctions were evidence of mental inferiority or superiority, but all they were evidence of was repression or privilege."
"Those of us who were raised as Alphas were encouraged to believe ourselves superior to the lower ranks," Tarrant put in.
"And you certainly believed it about Vila at first," Dayna reminded him.
"Vila played to it," Tarrant defended himself. "He used it to get out of difficult work."
Vila grinned brightly and spread his hands. "Shameless, that's me. After all, I'm only a Delta Grade, after all." He made himself look as bright and impressive as possible. Not very, when you thought of it, but he'd known Hamlet in defiance of his caste. Who knew what else he'd picked up. No mental inferiority there, evidently.
"I'd like to know more about the class system." Daniel's ears had pricked up at the mention of it. That'd be right up his alley.
"So would I," said Carter Two, "since it's evidently likely to become the way of our Earth in the future. I hope we can prevent that."
"I hope we can, too." Carter One passed her a computer disk. "Orac compiled this information for you and formatted it into something we could read. I hope it will help you with the formula, though we haven't gotten any further than you have yet."
Cater Two took it. "Thank you, Sam."
"You're welcome, Samantha."
Then Carter Two stepped back through the mirror and the Marines returned to their poker game.
The brainstorming was still going strong when Jack went to bed. Daniel had cornered Vila, Tarrant, and Soolin and was questioning them avidly about their culture and society. Dayna, who had evidently been raised on a primitive planet by her father, remote from anyone but the local natives, didn't have a lot to add, but she was listening. Avon and Carter were working together. Apparently she had won Avon's respect, which, Tarrant had muttered in an aside to Jack, meant a lot.
"Avon's a hard man, but he respects abilities. He calls Vila a gifted thief, and he's even been known to praise my piloting skills, even though he says a pilot can be replaced."
"He can," murmured Avon without turning from the computer screen.
"You'd be lost without me, Avon," Tarrant teased him.
Soolin lifted her head and studied Tarrant as if she believed he'd suddenly acquired a death wish, but Avon smiled secretly at the computer screen and didn't respond. Tarrant put on a smug look and didn't push it further.
Jack left them to it. He had a feeling nothing would be easier in the morning, and he was older than Daniel and Carter and less likely to come out of an all-nighter in peak functioning condition. Teal'c stayed. Junior would probably counter a lack of sleep. Jack couldn't remember Teal'c ever really looking exhausted after a late night.
It's tough being the old man, he thought wryly and went off to bed.
"We still haven't found out anything," Major Carter told Blake the next morning when all involved met for a briefing in the lab. The mirror still stood open, and the other Carter was visible in it, along with one of the inevitable guards armed with a projectile rifle. Carter One looked around the group gathered at the table, but Blake was certain she was speaking specifically to him. Avon must have thought so too, for he made a slight gesture at Orac as if to remind her that Blake's memories had been verified by the computer. He valued Avon's support, even in such a small, automatic gesture. They had come a long way since they stepped into the first Stargate.
"You think I've remembered wrong about the biotoxin?" Blake asked her.
"No, I didn't say that," she replied as she exchanged a worried look with her team. "Besides, the fact that they have such a toxin at all argues for your memory being right, up to a point."
"It's possible that they blamed it for the collapse of their society and the war; one specific thing they could point to," Daniel continued. "Political chaos might have arisen out of a series of Goa'uld attacks."
"We do not know their political system," agreed Teal'c. "Although it may be, in many ways, similar to this reality's, there could be major differences, or subtle ones."
Doctor Fraiser, also present for the briefing, nodded. "Side effects of drugs don't always show themselves immediately. That's why there are usually lengthy testing periods before new drugs are approved for the market. Even quite benevolent drugs can cause side effects if used improperly or in the wrong combinations. We can't test for that, for the way this drug would react if it were combined with something already existing in their world, or if something the Goa'uld added in retaliation made it lethal. If it were easy, if it were like the two toxins Rya'c had in his teeth that were neutral apart but lethal in combination, it would be far easier, but we only have the one formula. We simply don't have enough information to make an informed determination."
O'Neill looked sleepy. Blake wasn't sure what his main abilities were; he suspected the man was an excellent field officer, but he wasn't very good at waiting and doing nothing, any more than Blake was.
The Colonel was also suspicious. "What I say is the fact that they have the drug makes its point. I don't trust it."
"No more do I, Colonel," General Hammond agreed. "Even if we can't find something in it right now that is lethal to a portion of Earth's population, it will certainly be lethal to our Tok'ra allies. We can't risk using it, even knowing that the Goa'uld know their way to Earth and could attack us again."
Blake had a feeling that, should that happen, the powers that be might not be as reasonable as Hammond, but it was possible that, in this reality, knowledge of the toxin went no further than this room or on a list of remote possibilities somewhere in a distant lab.
"Orac," said Avon abruptly to the little computer. "What can you tell us about the toxin? I want specific information as to whether or not there is anything in its formula that would indicate it is lethal to humans."
"I have analyzed the formula and I have analyzed the humans of this world," Orac replied, causing the people from this reality to eye Orac with some trepidation. They might not realize that Orac could function as a lie detector without a direct link-up and that it was capable of assessments and assimilation of facts without links to computers. Even the link to the little computer they'd called a PC would have taught Orac a lot. "The potential for fatality is not high, no more than fifteen point three seven percent. It would attack the weak, the infirm, those with weakened immune systems, and it might attack the very young and the elderly. It would disrupt their bodily systems and cause their major organs to gradually cease functioning."
Fraiser paled. "I think Orac is right, General," she said. "I was looking for a specific target population, but I'll redirect my research. I'm not sure exactly how this toxin works, but it's possible that it simulates a disease, rather than simply attacking someone as a poison would. Orac, would that theory be accurate?"
"It would," Orac replied. "It is entirely possible to create an airborne toxin that would affect humans the way a disease might spread. Surely your time is familiar with the concept of biological warfare."
"We are aware of such things," Fraiser replied. Her mouth twisted grimly. "If this condition can backfire and affect humans as well as Goa'uld, we can't be sure what factors would need to be present in a human victim. I'd theorize it would attack the weakest first. Someone already hospitalized or under treatment for an existing condition, AIDS, for instance, or someone with cardiac problems or uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes might be at risk, as well as the frail elderly. Infants...."
"If there is even a slight chance of it working that way," Hammond said sternly, "I will never countenance the use of the toxin, even if it can be guaranteed only to specific target worlds."
"There's more," Fraiser said. "It's an airborne toxin. You remember the Sarin incident in Japan. It could work like that. If it's leaked into the atmosphere of a planet, it would linger for a period of perhaps thirty-six hours."
Hammond frowned. "Orac, can you give us further information. You are the most familiar with the process. How does the toxin spread? Are there precautions we could suggest and implement? Could we neutralize it with a counter-toxin? Or would that simply create unnecessary complications?"
Blake approved of Hammond's questions. He didn't know if he would like the answers. "Cooperate with them, Orac," he urged. Avon frowned, but Avon was given to frowning anyway. It had been too long for Blake to be able to read Avon's grimaces as well as he once had. Tarrant was frowning, too, but then Tarrant had expressed himself already.
Orac couldn't frown, of course, but there was the sound of one it its voice. "Unfortunately, my studies reveal it can also be spread through contact with someone who already suffers from exposure, long past the thirty-six hour deadline, as it can live in the body far longer than it can live in the atmosphere. Direct physical contact with someone who has it might well cause a spread of the infection, although at less than the global rate of infecting a planetary atmosphere. Someone who has it who walks into a room and breathes the same air would be putting it out in the carbon dioxide they exhale. The dose would be far weaker then and wouldn't last as long, but it could still continue the infection slowly. Eventually, it would weaken through such contact until it could no longer kill, but it would likely take several decades for that to happen."
"That makes it sound more like a disease than a toxin," Fraiser objected.
"Of course it does," Orac replied. "For so it was designed. Surely you do not doubt that such a thing is possible."
Fraiser was frowning even worse than Avon. As a doctor in a top-secret military setting, she had to know that what she had called 'designer viruses' were possible. Blake, of course, was all too familiar with such procedures. In his own time, the Pylene 50 program was sweeping through the outer worlds. Desperate times sometimes caused even good people to take unpleasant precautions, and these Goa'uld certainly created difficult times.
"Then we need to share this information with the other reality," Hammond decided. He looked grim.
"Do we have the right to interfere in their culture, sir?" O'Neill asked. "Not saying I don't think we should try to help. We helped the last reality, so why not this one? Just putting the question on the table."
Blake opened his mouth to insist that they rush this information to his own reality immediately and then closed it again. He didn't have the authority to do more than express an opinion, and Tarrant had made it clear to him that he believed it unethical for Blake to muck about in his past. Blake couldn't see that. If he could save millions of lives and prevent a global conflict that would destroy society as it was presently known, he couldn't ethically stand back. He had to do something. But he was here on sufferance, and he wasn't physically strong enough to take them on. He would save his eloquence for the alternate Hammond. Maybe he could make his point better there.
Avon eyed him in surprise. "No opinion, Blake? That is unlike you."
"I want to hear what they have to say here, Avon. They'd be facing the same choice that the people over there are facing now." He waved his hand at the mirror. "They have more reason to avoid it, since they know these Tok'ra and consider them allies. Whether it's to earth's advantage in the long run to sacrifice those allies for the sake of the long-term goal is something they have to decide for themselves, but I want them to know what could happen if they make that choice. I know what choice I'd make, and I know which one the Federation would make. And so do you, Avon."
"Servalan destroyed the Auronar with no compunction," Avon said flatly. "I would not like to think of myself in the same terms as her; however, self-protection is a powerful motivation. I think there are no easy answers here. These people want to do what is right, but they are in a fight for their survival. It sounds like the fight has intensified in our own reality. All your eloquence may not convince them."
"I think we have to try," said Daniel Jackson. "I don't have a counterpart over there now. I don't know if that means I'd have more impact if I were one of the ones to meet with them or not. But I'm willing to go with you, Blake, to talk to them."
"I'm going," O'Neill said. "Because I don't think my alter ego is going to like what we have to say, and I can read him better than anyone else. You'll need me, if for no other reason." Blake had the feeling he would have gone without that reason, so long as any of his own people were going, but his reasoning was valid.
"You don't think he'd go over my alter ego's head?" Hammond asked, then he made a wry clucking sound and shook his head. "What am I saying? You like to think you're a law unto yourself at times. I'd like to think that if I gave you a direct order, you'd obey it."
"I would, sir," O'Neill replied, but Blake wondered what he'd do, out there on the other side of the Stargate in a crisis situation. He'd be beyond the reach of orders, and situations changed. O'Neill gave Blake the idea of a man who pushed a little over the limits every single time. What might his counterpart want to do when the man had evidently gone through the loss of his closest friend to the Goa'uld?
"I'm coming, too," Carter said as if it were beyond debate.
"And I should come, as well," Fraiser insisted. "I can talk to my counterpart and explain what we know of the toxin from Orac's assistance. They have to make their own choices, sir, but I've always believed that people who have difficult choices should have as much information as possible beforehand."
"That's my view as well, Doctor," Hammond agreed. "Blake, are you well enough to go through?"
"Yes, General. I'm feeling much better today, and it shouldn't take more than a few hours, I'd think."
"If he is going, I am going," Avon said in a dead level voice that brooked no contradiction. Someone who didn't know him might not read any fondness or concern into that tone, but Blake did know Avon, and both emotions were present, enough to make Soolin arch an eyebrow in surprise and Vila to grin knowingly.
"My bodyguard, Avon?" Blake asked. He couldn't hold back the note of fondness in return that had crept into his voice, and he didn't want to. Believing himself driven to it, Avon might have tried to kill him, but Avon had turned around and would now prevent all and sundry from attempting to emulate him.
Hammond contemplated Avon for a moment in silence, then he nodded. The General was a perceptive man, and his eyes were thoughtful. "Very well. And, Tarrant, I'd like you to go as well. I'm told you have a good background in your history." Tarrant nodded in confirmation.
"I should go, too," offered Soolin. "I'm the best of the group with hand weapons."
Hammond shook his head. "Weapons aren't what's needed today, Ms Soolin. I want to keep the party as small as possible. Doctor Jackson, I believe I will send you. While it may be painful for the people over there to deal with you, I want your insights from a civilian perspective. And I want to remind them of their losses, as the toxin would only cause more of them. I'd like you to stay in the background as much as possible and observe."
Daniel nodded. He looked uncomfortable but determined, and Blake realized it might be hard for him to encounter the other O'Neill. Not as hard as it would be for the other O'Neill to encounter him, though.
Blake was just glad to be going. He didn't know if he could provide the eloquence necessary to stop the use of the toxin over there, but he did have a first-hand knowledge of the oppression that had resulted from it. He couldn't erase the memory of the toxin from their files, and destroying any they had on hand wouldn't be enough to change history, not if the formula existed elsewhere. It was their attitude he had to change, and he knew from bitter personal experience how a cause could warp people, could change valid, ethical goals into acts of sheer desperation. That was what he had to prevent.
Jack O'Neill saw his doppelganger the moment he stepped through the mirror, leading the team through for the upcoming meeting. O'Neill Two stood near the doorway to the lab, with the blond Amundson beside him, and neither of them advanced with their Hammond and Carter to greet them. Amundson started to, but then he glanced sideways at O'Neill Two, realized he hadn't moved, and planted himself determinedly at the Colonel's side. He had that in common with Teal'c, who would have done exactly the same had their situations been reversed.
The two Hammonds shook hands and Hammond One introduced Blake, Avon, and Tarrant to everyone, but Jack ignored the introductions and watched his other self--and that was just too weird. When Daniel stepped through the mirror, the poor guy turned as white as a sheet and sort of hunched in on himself, although his face hardened into a fierce expressionlessness. That was pretty crummy. He was really hurting. Jack could relate.
Daniel saw the reaction, too, and he half ducked his head as if he could make himself invisible, or at least smaller. His arms curled around his ribcage. Jack put out a hand and caught his arm to keep him from going over there and talking to the poor guy. If their situations had been reversed, the last thing he'd want would be a living, breathing Daniel making nice to him. This O'Neill would never have the moment Jack had experienced when Hammond had told SG-1 there was someone to see them, after the mission to stop the invasion by Apophis and Klorel and Daniel had pushed his way through the crowd, alive and intact, or the moment when the programming had broken down and they'd gone to rescue Daniel from Nem and he'd popped up out of the ocean. O'Neill Two's Daniel was irrevocably dead. God, Jack didn't even want to think of what it was like for his doppelganger to lose him, to imagine it for himself. He'd lost too many people already. He couldn't lose his best friend and main annoyance, too.
But the other O'Neill knew exactly how it felt. Abruptly, before the two Hammonds could even start talking, he forged his way over to Daniel and stood before him.
Daniel was at a loss for words, but he ventured cautiously, "Hello, Jack." He hesitated, probably on the brink of offering to step back through the mirror.
O'Neill Two turned to Jack. "Take care of him, Colonel," he said.
"I intend to."
Daniel had the sense to avoid saying he knew how to take care of himself. Instead he put out his hand to O'Neill Two. "I'm sorry," he said. "Would it be easier if I went back?"
"Don't know anything that would be easier," O'Neill Two admitted. Carter Two and Amundson flinched. They converged on him and stood at his back. This SG-1 had been family as well as team, too. Jack knew the signs. The man gathered himself. "I never had a chance to do this right," he said, and he stepped forward and put his arms around Daniel. For a long moment, he stood there, his head bowed against Daniel's shoulder, and Daniel exchanged a helpless, agonized look with O'Neill over his bent head. He raised an awkward hand and patted O'Neill Two on the back. Carter Two and Amundson didn't give an inch of ground. Jack hoped his own teammates wouldn't, either, if the situation were reversed.
Then O'Neill Two drew back. His eyes glistened with repressed moisture, but they were hollow with a deep and abiding hatred for the Goa'uld. Whoa, thought the Colonel. This guy's riding the edge.
Hammond Two said in a tactful voice, "Colonel, are you okay?"
O'Neill Two turned his face in the General's direction. Other than the unshed tears, there was no shred of emotion in his face. "I'm fine, sir," he said as if he were a bad actor reading lines beyond his comprehension.
Hammond Two didn't believe him, either. But he cornered Carter Two with his eyes and shot her a warning look. She nodded. "Let's get down to business," the other General said. "George, introduce me to your people." He sounded as weirded out talking to his opposite number as any of them did. Jack knew they couldn't stay here too long, at least he, Hammond and Carter couldn't, but the couple of hours that Blake felt he needed shouldn't cause that entropic cascade thingy to happen. Jack was glad of that. That had been one eerie effect and he definitely did not want to go through it.
Jack's Hammond drew Blake and the other two forward. O'Neill Two studied them as if they were the big bad wolf and he was Little Red Riding Hood. Carter Two eyed them with the look of scientific fascination Jack had come to know in his own Carter.
"Let's sit down," Hammond Two suggested, and they gathered around the lab table. The other Janet Fraiser was here, too. It was the first time Jack had seen her and he had to say that she looked exactly like his own Fraiser, much more than the alternate Carter with her long hair did. She and Fraiser One greeted each other dubiously, then Janet passed her a sheet of printed pages.
"Our analysis of the biotoxin," she said. "Orac did this research for us. It's much quicker than our computers, but then it is from the future. Its database is evidently huge. I don't even want to theorize how many gigabites."
"As you know, Blake and his party are from your future," Hammond began. "He asked to speak to you because he's one of the few people who have some knowledge of his past. Such knowledge is repressed there."
"We wanted you to have what knowledge Orac could provide you on the toxin," Blake began. He did have a compelling manner; the others gave him their full attention, all but O'Neill Two, who was still watching Daniel. Jackson was aware of his attention and uncomfortable with it but he didn't do anything about it. He took his place at the table. O'Neill Two chose to stand. He braced his shoulders against the wall near the door, his attitude blatantly resistant. Jack knew how that felt. There had been times he'd been sure he couldn't be convinced to give any leeway. Dealing with the Tok'ra had been one of those times and that had turned out. Well, it had mostly turned out. He knew the Tok'ra had their own agenda and that it ran concurrent to Earth's only some of the time. Still, they were allies and if these folks didn't know them, that didn't mean they were still out there as potential allies.
"We appreciate it," Carter Two said. "We've done extensive research, of course, and the bulk of the work was not done here but at laboratories specifically geared to work with biologicals. We know that side-effects might not be readily apparent. And we are concerned that we might be harming potential allies, but I think the threat to Earth is closer for us than it is for your reality."
"That doesn't make it right to eliminate a race of beings to make your point," Blake insisted. "In our time, Servalan, who was then the President of the Terran Federation, engineered a plague that killed the Auronar, a race of peaceful beings. She did this because Cally, one of the Auronar, was a member of the Liberator's crew, and she wanted to draw the ship there so she could destroy them. She didn't succeed in stopping Avon and the others, but she did destroy the Auronar."
"We're trying to save the Earth," O'Neill Two said in a voice full of patient reminder, as if he were talking to someone too thick to see the point.
Daniel spoke up. Maybe he thought it would be more effective if it came from him. "I would want to save the earth too...Jack. But I wouldn't want to do it if it meant killing our allies and unleashing a war here on Earth. The cure would be as bad as the disease if that happened. Why can't you see that?" He cast a look of earnest entreaty at O'Neill Two, who met the gaze for maybe two seconds before he looked away.
"We don't know that would happen here," Amundson insisted. "We have this information you've given us. Maybe the toxin can be altered to prevent the side effects that evidently killed people the first time around. We aren't loose cannons who will rush off blasting because it seems the most expedient thing to do. None of you know me, but anyone here will tell you that I've been uncomfortable with the process from the first. The Colonel might say that in war you sometimes have to do things that seem despicable for the greater good. I'm not a pacifist by any means, but I think there has to be a point where you draw the line. We can't forget the first rule of fanatics. There's a quote: 'If you become obsessed by the enemy, you become the enemy.'"
That made Avon look sharply at Blake, whose face grew thoughtful. Now what was that all about? Jack wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Amundson plunged on. "I'm a historian by avocation and my gift is extrapolating information and reasoning out how things might happen, putting together apparently unrelated facts and discovering a whole that hadn't been seen before. We don't have a Jaffa on our team." His lip curled slightly, and O'Neill Two's face hardened as he cast a resentful glance at the mirror as if to ill-wish the absent Teal'c. Jack was glad the Jaffa had not chosen to stand in view of the mirror, although he was probably close enough that he could jump through with his staff weapon or zat gun if he thought his teammates were in trouble. Only the armed Marines and the rest of Blake's party showed beyond the mirror. Just as well.
Amundson continued. "So, without a handy link to Goa'uld information, putting together everything we can dig up has been my task. I've gone over everything again. One thing that didn't occur to me was the possibility of Goa'uld who might turn against the System Lords, but last night, late, I did find some data brought back by several teams that indicate we probably have Tok'ra in this reality, too."
"They're not our allies," O'Neill Two pointed out, dead level.
"Yet," said Hammond Two. "At this point, we need every ally we can get. We have a message out to Thor and his people; we're trying to get information about them. They may choose not to reveal the Tok'ra to us, and I am not sure I want them to understand why we're asking. Some of our allies consider us too 'young' to share full knowledge with us."
"Yeah, we run into that attitude a lot, too," Jack acknowledged. "And I've gotta say, when I had the knowledge of the ancients crammed into my head, it was...a little much."
"That happened to me, too," volunteered the other O'Neill. Jack wondered if his Daniel had stood at his side through that experience, determined not to leave Jack alone through the process. Daniel had refused to leave Jack without a hope of meaningful communication, and O'Neill remembered that with an edge of humility and gratitude that Daniel had stood with him. From the expression on his doppelganger's face, he'd faced that, too, and Jack had just tossed him one more painful memory. He caught his double's eye and mouthed, "Sorry."
"The point being that, even if our Tok'ra aren't precisely our allies, they are anti-Goa'uld," Hammond Two put in. "I've relayed that information to the President. He's taking it into consideration even as we speak. What I'd like to relay to him is firsthand information of the future of our reality. Blake, you are the spokesman for your team. What can you tell us?"
"We are from approximately two hundred fifty-six or -seven years in your future," Blake plunged in. Jack could tell he was just dying to jump up on his soapbox. "After the Old Calendar fell, there was a period of chaos on Earth. I don't know what happened with the Goa'uld. I have to assume the biotoxin worked, at least well enough to keep them away from Earth. If they had the ships to come and destroy us from orbit they never did. Orac's research and what I've learned since I've come here makes me think that stopping the Goa'uld is a valid plan. Evidently they believe themselves to be gods and suppress planetary populations using this as a basis for dominance, although sometimes power considers the fact of its existence right enough." He grimaced. At his side, Avon watched him without speaking. If it were possible for a man to look cynical and approving at the same time, Avon did.
Tarrant, on the other hand, was regarding Blake with fascination. Maybe he'd never heard the guy sliding into full rant before. He didn't really know Blake, Jack remembered. He'd only met him at the time of the shooting incident, although he'd heard about Blake, and had been thrown together with him in crisis since. That shooting said a lot for his society's paranoia.
"I theorize that religion was outlawed on Earth because of the Goa'uld. Churches were destroyed. One of my crew didn't even know what a church was when we encountered a ruined one. Now it could simply be that the government that arose out of the ashes felt it could control better without religion, but I believe the fact of the Goa'ulds' claim may have had something to do with it. That doesn't matter. What does is that memories of Goa'uld oppression or incorrect knowledge, or simply a desire for power made the united Earth government that rose up out of the destruction determined to control every factor of life. Rebellion was quickly crushed. Free thinking was frowned upon. A class system developed allowing the Alphas to live a life of rank and privilege. The wealthy and powerful are rarely the ones to rebel; they have too much invested in the system. The lower orders might have wished to rebel, but they were kept under control with suppressant drugs that took away the ability to resist. A few people always failed to succumb to the drugs' control, so rebels came to be known as resistors. They quickly gained a bad reputation. When they tried to rebel against the repressive system, they were put down, usually in such a way as to make them look bad. Sometimes, even if they were meeting peacefully and attempted to surrender, they were shot out of hand. I've witnessed this myself on two separate occasions."
"I was raised an alpha," Tarrant volunteered. "My father had a high position with the state. I went into Space Command and became a space captain. I'm a fine pilot and I had connections so I was assigned my own ship quickly, part of a space flotilla. At the Academy, we're taught not to question orders; we're made to believe we are little tin gods, dispensing justice. In other words, they try very hard to teach us to avoid independent thought. They sent me on a mission to wipe out an entire planet. A small portion of its society was dissident. There was a growing rebel movement there. But the fact that it was small didn't matter. The world was chosen to serve as an example of those who tolerated rebellion. We went in to blast the planet from orbit and destroy it." His face twisted. "Until then, I thought the Federation was right to crush rebellion, but we had a viscast feed to the capital city and we were able to witness some of the destruction we were causing, until the power feeds died." He fell silent and his face twisted with bitterness. "I'm not a sentimental man," he said. "And I'm not soft. But I had a good look at the Federation that day and I couldn't believe a few people who spoke their minds could be bad enough to summon down the destruction of an entire world. How, then, were we in the ships any better than the resistors we were fighting?"
Avon had turned and was watching him with great interest. Maybe he'd never heard Tarrant turn eloquent before.
"You had two hundred fifty years to get to that point," O'Neill Two put in from his position propping up the wall. "The use of a toxin in your past alone could not have caused that."
"I know it couldn't," Tarrant replied. "But ever since I was a child, I had it drilled into me that Space Command had to dominate, had to be ready for an external threat, had to give no quarter. Whether that arose out of memory of the Goa'uld, of a long-forgotten belief that some of them had survived and that they might find their way to us again, I don't know. It's possible that, even without the toxin, your own government will change, because nothing's static. But knowing the toxin led to a global war, I'd want to rethink using it."
"Tarrant's right," Blake replied. "I've fought against the Federation my whole adult life. As a result, I've had my memory wiped and it returned only after some years of living as a Federation puppet, a warning to others not to rebel. My family were executed and I was kept docile by receiving fake viscasts from them from the outer worlds. When I did remember and wanted to rebel again, I was arrested and given a sham trial. I thought I would admit I was a resistor and make a public statement. Instead, they produced false evidence that claimed I was a child molester. They brainwashed three children to make them believe I had abused them." Horror shone on his face, and his eyes darkened with those memories. "It wasn't true."
No one in the room could doubt him. At his side, Avon reached out and put his hand on Blake's arm. The gesture must not have been common because Tarrant arched an eyebrow at the sight of it. Some of the bitterness left Blake's face at the touch. Avon drew back immediately with a kind of uncomfortable fastidiousness, but his very posture indicated his support for Blake.
"And that is why I fight," Blake said simply. "The people's lives are beyond their own control. They are not allowed to choose their destiny. Many of them are drugged into compliance. The Federation sees nothing wrong with any of this. The people are simply there to back their power."
Daniel spoke up. "In short, they have become what we are fighting against. They may not have the snakes inside them, but they are no better than the Goa'uld."
Jack Two shifted uncomfortably, his eyes never leaving Daniel. "Come on, Danny...." he began, then his voice trailed off as his memories bludgeoned him. "Even now, on Earth, there are people who are no better than the Goa'uld. We're not perfect. We're just fighting for individual freedom and for the right to live as we choose."
"And so are they," Amundson said gently. "Colonel, you know we want to stop the Goa'uld as much as you do. We want to make Earth safe. We all know how illusory that safety is, even here on our own planet, even if there were no Goa'uld. I'd rather not use tactics that Apophis would approve, or Saddam Hussein would approve. I'd rather try to make allies of these Tok'ra and go on fighting as ethically as possible."
"You're naive, Peter."
"Am I?" the younger man countered. "Well, maybe I am naive, Colonel, and maybe Daniel was naive, but turning ourselves into the Goa'uld to stop them is a Pyrrhic victory and I can't see any triumph in it. I'm not sure I could live with myself for doing it--and Daniel couldn't have, either."
"Let's just stop the Goa'uld first and then pick up the pieces," O'Neill Two insisted. His face was tight with fury and misery.
"No." That was Daniel. "You can't, Jack. I don't really know you, but I know my Jack. Yes, sometimes he has to do some things he doesn't like, to win. But I'd like to believe he has limits. I'd like to believe we all do, that we can stand back and think and reason before we make a choice that will kill allies and put an end to everything we're fighting for."
The words hit O'Neill Two like blows, and he dropped his eyes, unable to hold Daniel's earnest gaze. Remembering what he'd had to do to Daniel only a few weeks earlier had hurt Jack to the bone. That was different from this, wasn't it? When did small wrongs for the greater good stop being acceptable and start being despicable? A little deception for the greater good was quantitatively different from wiping out a race of beings for the greater good? Wasn't it? It had to be.
But Jack felt dirty.
Hammond Two called them to order. "All right, people. We're getting into ethics here, and that's good. We need to consider the ethics of what we do or don't do. I'm a realist. I've been in the Air Force too long and lived too long to have many illusions. But I believe in doing the right thing. If we don't do that, where do we draw the line between the Goa'uld and us? Blake, you've told us about our future. You've lived it, and it sounds like a future I would prefer to avoid. I don't want to be the one who pushes the button to start World War III. I'm not sure I could live with myself if I did that. But neither do I want to be the man who let the Goa'uld take over Earth. Blake, you see it in terms of black and white. I have to consider the shades of grey that creep in. I am not in charge of the entire planet. I'm in command of this base, but I have to answer to those above me."
"Only following orders," Daniel said sadly under his breath. Hammond Two stared at him and a muscle bunched in his jaw. Carter looked at him thoughtfully and Hammond One nodded as if he were glad Jackson had made that point.
"You can't support using the toxin with what we've found out, sir?" Amundson demanded. For a strategist, he was naive. But Jack didn't consider that a bad thing. He realized that just waltzing in and telling them not to use the toxin was not a quick fix and couldn't be.
"I don't want to use it, Captain. I never did," Hammond Two admitted. "That doesn't mean I will have the final decision. I'll go over their report with the doctor and Major Carter and our chemists and specialists. I'll report everything that's been said here directly to the President. If we can secure a Tok'ra alliance, that may well give us the boost we need. I want to pursue that option. With the knowledge you've given us, we can at least gain time, and we'll use that time to full advantage."
Jack could sense the strength in the alternate Hammond and knew the man was very much like his own. That would count for a lot. He'd always respected the General's ethics. Now it seemed he could respect them both.
Blake plunged in and started to go over the little he could actually remember learning about the fall of the Old Calendar. It was fragmented and vague, and Tarrant's bits only filled in a few of the holes. Avon had a comment or two, but Jack got the impression that he hadn't learned more because he had not, until now, really been interested in the subject. Working side by side with a revolutionary had not quite made him one, but it had stirred the ashes a bit. Orac had printed out a history, but the computer could only access available data. If there was no data, the computer could extrapolate--guess, maybe. It wouldn't be a hundred percent certain, but the fact that Blake had remembered the toxin and that it existed here told its own story.
Daniel suddenly nudged Jack in the side with his elbow. "He's gone," he murmured under his breath and pointed.
They turned to look for the alternate Jack. He wasn't bracing the wall any longer. Instead he'd slipped out quietly. Maybe that was for the best, O'Neill thought. The pain in his double's eyes had reproached him through the whole meeting. Daniel must have noticed his absence simply because the focus had shifted from him. The other O'Neill deserved a break. Maybe they shouldn't have brought Daniel with them after all.
The two Hammonds were talking about possible outcomes if the toxin was used, while both Carters threw in information. They were doing that bit where they finished each other's sentences again. Spooky. Carter Two had the printout from Orac spread in front of her and read out a few bits aloud, techie stuff beyond Jack's ability to understand. They seemed caught up in learning more, and that was a good thing. They weren't trigger happy. Well, most of them weren't....
Jack suddenly realized he was very uncomfortable. He poked his tongue around in his cheek, thinking. The guy was him, after all, at least in a way. Jack could put himself in the doppelganger's shoes easily--all too easily. While he had his Daniel, alive and well at his side, he knew how he'd felt on those instances when he'd believed he didn't. If it had happened now, so soon after the renegade N.I.D. SG team experience, how much harder would it have hit him? The guy had stood there and listened to Hammond Two put the biotoxin on the back burner. He hadn't guaranteed to stop it, but he was clearly leaning that way. Suddenly O'Neill had a really bad feeling.
"Uh, General," he cut into Hammond Two's words to Blake. "Do you keep any of the biotoxin here at the SGC?"
"Why do you ask--" Hammond Two's voice chopped off abruptly. For a moment, he and Jack were understanding each other perfectly. The General's eyes lingered for an instant on the empty place near the door, then he said quickly, "Major?"
Carter Two went over to a secured cabinet and punched in a key code to open it. After a few seconds, the door popped open revealing a set of shelves with various vials and jars. At the top shelf was another key code and Carter Two pushed buttons there, too. When it opened, she leaned down and peered inside. Then her whole body stiffened. She closed the door carefully and reset the lock, then closed the cabinet itself. When she turned back to face them, all color had leached from her face. "Sir," she said in a voice tight with tension. "Two of the vials are missing."
They stared at each other in shock. "He wouldn't...." she began.
Peter Amundson jumped wildly to his feet. "Permission to go after him--" The alarm cut across his words and stunned him to silence. He looked as if he would like to kick himself hard. "Damn it, he would," he said under his breath. "Oh, Jack, you idiot."
"Unauthorized Gate activation," came the voice of a tech over the P.A. system. Jack didn't recognize the voice as someone who had a counterpart back home. "General Hammond to the control room immediately."
Hammond Two turned to Jack's party. "Go back through the mirror now. We'll attempt containment here."
"You mean he's going to try to use the toxin after all?" Blake cried, horrified. "He can't." He jumped to his feet, swayed for a second as he caught his balance, and accepted Avon's hand without really noticing it. "General, let me talk to him. I've got to get through to him."
"Let me try, too, General," Daniel volunteered. "He might listen to me."
"It better be me," O'Neill said. "I know the guy better than any of you. Maybe I haven't lived everything he has, but I'm still him."
Hammond Two frowned. "All right. But I want the rest of you back through the mirror now. If anything goes wrong, if the toxin is loosed here by accident and we can't contain it, you wouldn't be able to return without risk of contamination of your reality."
Hammond One bowed his head in confirmation. "Unless containment was guaranteed, he's right, Colonel. Are you sure you want to do this?"
Jack met his gaze head on. "I have to, sir. But I think Daniel should go back."
Daniel caught his eye. "No. I can't go either. Maybe I can get through to him. After all, I know what his Daniel would think of what he wants do to."
"Go back, Avon," Blake said. "Don't risk yourself for me."
"If you are going, I am going. This is our own reality, Blake. We may not belong in this time, but we belong here. Tarrant, you return and tell the others what is happening. We might be able to stop it from this end. If not, SG-1 will help you to return to our own time."
There was no time for more. Stiff with reluctance, Tarrant allowed Hammond to usher him through the mirror where Vila fell upon him with urgent questions they couldn't hear on this side. Fraiser and Carter followed and the two Hammonds paused only long enough to shake hands before Jack's General turned to the mirror. "Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson, if you fail to come back, I shall be very upset with you," he said.
"I'll be a little upset myself," Jack said. "Go, sir. We'll do what we can."
There was no time for more. They set off in the wake of Hammond Two for the control room that looked down on the Stargate. The layout of the two realities was identical, and the scene below familiar--and deadly.
O'Neill Two stood down there. There was one armed Marine in the gate room with him and the man had his weapon aimed at O'Neill, but he looked uneasy and afraid; he must have made it through just before the doors sealed. Reports over the P.A. system reported that teams were attempting to breach the seals and get through in time to stop the Colonel. Carter Two was already at the computer, conferring urgently with the tech as her fingers flew deftly over the keys. "He's locked us out, sir," she said urgently.
"Does he have the knowledge to do that?" Hammond asked. He must have thought it a pointless question as soon as he said it for a wave of disgust ran across his face.
Carter Two frowned. "Sir, I think he does know. I think that remnant of the knowledge of the ancients that Thor's people left with him enabled him to do it. Worse, I think he did it last night after we'd encountered the other reality. I think he was afraid we would opt to stop the dispersal of the biotoxin. We didn't check the cabinet this morning. We were going to keep all our tests as simulations unless Orac's data required us to use the actual thing."
The fact that they had a healthy supply of the toxin on hand in stoppered vials indicated that they had been awfully close to dispersing it. Jack was sure he'd seen at least ten more vials in the tray. They'd been all ready to pull their little biological warfare number and probably would have done it if Blake and his people hadn't come along when they did. Not good. He caught Daniel's eye and saw the same realization on his face.
"Sir, the computer is automatically dialing the gate code," the tech volunteered. "I can't override it."
"Then shut it down," Hammond said tightly. "Shut it down right now."
"I can't, sir, it won't let me."
Carter Two continued typing in commands to the computer. She kept getting locked out of the screen. "He's right, General. It's not working. We're totally blocked."
"Put up the iris," Hammond Two ordered.
The tech's voice filled with frustration. "That isn't working either, sir. It won't engage."
Jack went to the speaker. "Jack, don't do this," he told his alter ego. "It won't help. It won't bring your Daniel back. Shut down your program. I know how you feel, and you can't tell me I don't. I've lost Daniel twice myself, and even if I got him back, I know exactly how lousy it felt, both times."
"You got him back," the other O'Neill yelled. "Stay out of this, Colonel. This isn't your reality. You don't know everything that's happened here."
"No, but I know a lot of it. Come on, Jack. I like to think we're a good man. Men. Whatever. I sure as hell don't want to think that I'm the kind of man who could start World War III because my best friend died and I felt guilty. That's a heck of a legacy to give your Daniel. I know he'd hate it for you to do this. He wouldn't want you to throw everything away. I know my Daniel sure wouldn't."
The other Jack flinched but he stood his ground at the foot of the ramp waiting for the pre-programmed dialing program to run its course and open the Gate for him.
"He's right, Jack," Daniel said softly. "I know I'm not your Daniel, not really, but I'm still Daniel. I would do everything I could to prevent my Jack from doing something like this. I don't think he would do something like this. I trust him. I'd like to think your Daniel could trust you. He wouldn't have forgiven you before he died if he couldn't."
"Damn it, Daniel," Jack Two ground out. "That's not fair."
"What happened to you wasn't fair, either, Jack, but I know what your Daniel would have wanted you to do. I know it. No one else could know it as well as I do. My Jack had to play along with Maybourne, too. I went through just what your Daniel did."
"I had to do it. I had to look at the larger picture. I had to protect the Earth. That's what I'm doing here, too. All your information is just projections and guesses. You don't know how it's going to fall out." Jack didn't think Daniel was getting through at all. He knew that stubborn cast to his double's face.
Daniel plunged on. "All I can ask is that you wait to hear from Thor before you make a decision. Please, Jack..." He cast a miserable, desperate glance at his own Jack, his face white. "Your Daniel wouldn't want to be the cause of World War III. If you do this, that's exactly what you're doing to him, putting the blame on him. I couldn't take that responsibility. Neither could he."
Good one, Danny, Jack thought. He was almost convinced that had done the trick. Almost. But he knew the other Jack, just as Daniel would have known the other Daniel, and he knew all too well the limits in his soul, the burdens that would push him beyond control. It had happened when his son had died. Daniel had helped him to climb out of that well of darkness. But there was no Daniel for this Jack to help him back to sanity. And that was the bottom line. The Jack O'Neill who stood so desperately in the control room with two vials of biotoxin in his pocket was no longer sane. And it scared the hell out of Jack, because he wanted to believe he could hold it together better than that. Of course this Jack wasn't him. His life had been different. In spite of the many similarities between these two realities, there had to be differences, too, ones he didn't even know about. But the thought that he could find himself in this man's position one day was probably the worst object lesson of his life.
"He's not you, Jack," Daniel hissed in a wary undertone, as if he understood. As if? Of course he understood. He always did. And that was what his doppelganger had lost.
"Don't do this, Colonel O'Neill," Blake called. "You might not survive what you're about to do, but I have to live with it. I'm the one who was mind-wiped, who was falsely convicted for child molestation, who saw my friends gunned down mercilessly because of a world you want to create. Don't do it. I know you are in pain and want revenge, but this isn't what your Daniel would want."
"No, it's not," Daniel called. "It would break his heart."
The Gate kawooshed open and O'Neill Two flinched back automatically, although he was beyond its line of destruction. Then he looked up at the control room, directly at Daniel. He didn't appear to see any of the rest of them. "I'm doing it for you," he said tightly. "For the other you. I have to. Don't you see that, Daniel?" It was a desperate plea for sanity in a world that had gone insane. The agony in his voice broke Jack's heart.
"If you did that, Jack, he would hate you for it," Daniel said, almost too softly to be heard. Out of O'Neill Two's line of sight he curled his fingers around Jack's wrist. I wouldn't hate you, the touch promised. I have to get through to him. Jack could read it as eloquently as if Danny-boy had spoken the words aloud.
"I have to," O'Neill Two cried out, his face twisting. "If I don't do it, I'll hate myself."
He started up the ramp.
"Damn it," Hammond muttered savagely under his breath. "Colonel O'Neill," he cried. "I can't let you do this. I have to stop you. I will not let you go through the Stargate."
O'Neill Two kept right on walking. He plunged a hand into his pocket.
"He's going for the toxin," Avon said in a voice that was utterly emotionless. He took one futile step as if to stand between Blake and the toxin, then he realized the gesture was useless. "Is that room hermetically sealed?" he asked Carter Two in a taut aside.
"Yes, but the air will bleed through eventually," she replied.
"You are a fool, Blake," Avon snarled.
"No, Avon. I'm a man who had to try."
"Go back to the mirror now," Hammond urged. "Quickly."
O'Neill Two started running. "Davis, now," Hammond yelled, and the Marine, his face agonized, raised his gun and shot O'Neill Two in the back.
Jack flinched as if the bullet had struck him. He knew they should hurry back to the mirror in case the toxin had been loosed but he couldn't make himself turn away from the horror below. Blake gave a muted cry of protest and Daniel whispered, "Oh, no."
O'Neill Two staggered twice, forced his foot forward even though it looked like a fatal wound. His hand came out of his pocket, clutching one of the toxin vials. Whether he meant to give it back or make sure he carried it through the Gate with him Jack didn't know. But O'Neill Two fumbled it and they watched it fall, as if in slow motion, to shatter against the ramp. Davis dropped his gun in horror. O'Neill had never seen a man's face go so white before.
O'Neill Two fell forward--into the Gate. He vanished without a trace and two seconds later, the wormhole closed down, leaving the circle empty and O'Neill Two gone with one vial of the toxin still in his pocket.
"Initiate sterilization procedures," Hammond said in a tight voice. He turned to Jack. "You have three minutes to get out of here and through the mirror before I have to lock down the base once and for all and initiate the self-destruct procedure."
Below them in the Gate room, Davis stared in horror at the faint stain on the ramp. Carter Two looked up. "He went back to P3Q-920, sir, the planet where Apophis shot Daniel," she said as Jack corralled his group and set out with them at a dead run back to the lab. They didn't take time for goodbyes. They couldn't.
They fell through the mirror in an untidy burst and Jack cried, "Shut it down, shut it down now," to Carter, who obeyed instantly. She must have realized that something very bad had happened, but she didn't say anything until the mirror opaqued and the SGP vanished without a trace. She made a careful adjustment on the remote and set it down on the table as if she feared it would explode.
"Colonel?" Hammond said and his voice was both alarmed and gentle.
"He went through the Gate with the toxin, sir," O'Neill said in a cold, bitter voice. "And he dropped one vial of it in the Gate room."
"You didn't carry it back with you?" Hammond had to ask.
"No, sir. The room was sealed. We had three minutes. They're going to a Wildfire code, sir. They'll try for the only containment possible."
"I failed." Blake's voice was etched in tones of misery and disgust.
"No, Blake," Hammond said with a weary, patient kindness. "You couldn't have lived their lives for them. You tried. And, believe me, this reality is very grateful to you. With the information you provided, we will be able now to make certain that what happened there will never happen here."
"And remember," Carter said in a quiet voice, "before we went, they would have had no way of knowing the consequences. It's possible that initiating Wildfire, collapsing the mountain in on itself would contain the spread on Earth. If Thor realizes what happened in their time, it's possible he will be able to stop anyone from ever leaving P3Q-920. Containment might still be possible there. We don't know yet that you have failed, or that anyone has. They've lost their Stargate program, and that is a tragedy, but it may not have gone further."
Blake didn't look hopeful, and Avon never did, but the others crowded around clamoring for more information. Jack looked at them, then at Daniel, who was watching him in alarmed concern, then he gave a wry, crooked smile and turned away. Let them talk. He had some world-class thinking to do.
Carter Two and Hammond Two gazed at each other as they watched the computer count down to the destruction that would seal the mountain and prevent the spread of the biotoxin to the rest of Earth. They had no choice but to do it; Samantha had seen enough of Orac's notes her doppelganger had given her to realize that the toxin could have an effect on humanity, and it was a risk they simply could not take. Automatically, she composed a message to send out to Thor, to inform the Asgards what had happened and wished that the Asgard transmitter had summoned Thor already, so that she could explain it to him face to face. They had meant well; they had aimed at the Goa'uld, and they had fought to defend the Earth, but this.... None of them had realized that Jack O'Neill had snapped. She had thought him depressed and bitter, but not that he had stepped over the edge. She had misjudged him badly; so had they all. Whether seeing a living Daniel in the other reality had been the last straw or whether he would have been fine if there had been no interference and the toxin was used as planned made no difference. He had done what he had done, and, if possible, there had to be containment. If Thor's people could only destroy or remove the Stargate on P3Q-920, perhaps something could be done. It wasn't that Samantha wanted to save the Goa'uld. She hated them as much as O'Neill had. Impossible to think her double had actually given her father to them.
No, to the Tok'ra. That was why Samantha had to hope her message got through. She didn't know the Tok'ra; she couldn't imagine being allies with them, but they were on the same side as she was. They fought the System Lords. Samantha might hate the Goa'uld, but she couldn't let herself become the type of person who hated an entire race simply because they were of that race. The System Lords had made choices, to enslave planetary populations, to use the innocent and helpless as hosts. The Tok'ra had made the choice not to do so. If she didn't try to stop the spread of the toxin, how did she differ from the System Lords?
There was no time to explain that to Hammond, to any of the other people in the control room who would die with her. There was only time to compose the message and hit the send button.
Then she turned to Hammond.
"It has been an honor to serve with you, sir."
His eyes warmed. "Likewise, Major. I hope that message gets through. I don't want to be a party to destroying a race of allies. I never wanted this in the first place, but...." He let his voice trail off. There was nothing else he could say. The toxin had been wished on them, and Hammond had to obey the orders from on high. He had sent his own message, she knew, while he composed hers, to the President, to the Joint Chiefs. The country might soon be in utter turmoil, and it was Hammond's responsibility to explain that before he died.
The communications tech raised his head. "The people from the alternate reality have returned to their dimension, sir," he reported. "The mirror has been closed down."
"Thank you, son." Hammond drew a deep breath and let it out in a long, shuddering sigh. "You may stand down, people, and make your peace with your God."
Samantha looked at him standing there and then she found she couldn't go on looking; his strength pulsed through her like a pain. She looked around for Peter and put out her hand to him. He clasped hers tightly in both of his own. She wished she could have seen Feretti one last time.
The clock ticked its way down toward zero. Samantha braced herself and felt Peter's fingers tighten around hers.
A second later, the two of them and General Hammond were standing on Thor's ship with the little alien staring at them with an unreadable expression in his big eyes.
"Now," said Thor, eyeing them with curious and almost-condemning eyes, "you must tell me what the Tauri have done. And then, I have something to show you." He gestured with one long, spindly hand across the room to a device with a transparent lid that none of them had ever seen before. It looked like it contained a body. Samantha sucked in her breath when she realized who it was.
"O'Neill?" Hammond exploded. "Is he dead?"
"He may die. It is too soon to tell. The stasis unit will preserve him for now. I brought him here the instant he would have passed through the Stargate. I have examined the toxin he carried. I have many questions."
"I wish we had good answers, sir," Hammond replied. "But we'll tell you all we can."
Blake shook his head and allowed the bitterness to flow through him. He had given his all in a futile attempt to save his reality, to prevent it from degenerating into chaos and then tyranny, to prevent the Terran Federation from riding roughshod over the galaxy. It had been the one thing that would have given his life purpose. His whole existence had come down to this, to a chance to finally save the 'rabble', to free them from enslavement, to prevent the deaths of millions of lives. Why else had it happened like this, traveling not only in time but across dimensions to bring him to the one point in history that had led more surely to the Federation than any other if not to give him the opportunity to save it? He had fought to save it; he had produced information from the depths of his memories, information Orac had confirmed. He had given all the information he could to the SGP, the people who had the power to change it, and it had failed.
He had failed.
Tarrant had tried to tell him he didn't have the right to try, but Tarrant had been wrong. Had he said Blake lacked the ability to try he might have been right. He would have been right. The Cause had dangled an incredible opportunity in front of him, a lure impossible to resist. He had failed, just as he had failed at Star One. He had been wrong, then, too. Wrong to think that anything he could do could save the oppressed. Wrong to think he had to try.
Wrong to survive? If Avon had killed him, he might not have precipitated the outcome, might not have triggered that poor, obsessed bastard into taking the law into his own hands. What a legacy the other O'Neill had left--but it wasn't his legacy, it was Blake's.
He pulled the blanket more tightly over him and ignored Doctor Fraiser as she moved about in the background. She was silent and subdued and had not spoken to him, other than to examine him and make sure he was all right.
Would he ever be all right again?
He didn't even notice when she left him alone in his room at the infirmary. He didn't notice the approach of footsteps.
"Ah, yes," Avon purred. "Here lies Roj Blake, the man who single-handedly destroyed a galaxy."
He didn't open his eyes. "I know I did, Avon. You needn't rub it in."
Avon muttered something under his breath that might have been a curse. "Fraiser told me you were 'depressed'. I could have corrected her but I didn't bother. You aren't depressed. You are suffering from the most monumental case of ego it has ever been my 'privilege' to witness."
The shock of that made Blake open his eyes. Avon glared at him, but it wasn't hatred that shone in his eyes. It was fury and exasperation.
"I failed, Avon. I finally had a chance to save all those lives, to turn everything around, and I couldn't do it."
"Ah." Avon regarded him in silence a moment. "Naturally you and Orac between you could predict every twist and turn in history over the past two-hundred fifty years. Naturally one event, which may yet be contained by the destruction of their base, is responsible for every possible ill of our society. And naturally, it is all your fault."
"Shut up, Blake, I am speaking to you." Avon sounded utterly savage, but the hand that came to rest on Blake's arm to keep him lying flat was gentle and reassuring. Wondering at the dichotomy, Blake could only stare at him blankly. If Avon had come to reproach him, why was there concern in his eyes? And if Avon hadn't come for that, why hadn't he?
"Orac did not have complete information and neither did you. If their self-destruct can contain the outbreak on Earth, you may well have succeeded."
"I can't count on that, and the other O'Neill made it through the Gate with another vial of the biotoxin. Even if people survived on Earth and the government didn't fall, the Tok'ra will have been destroyed and Earth will stand alone against the Goa'uld. I may at best have exchanged one cause of the collapse of society for another. And who is to say the Goa'uld wouldn't have been worse?"
"The Goa'uld may be worse," Avon countered. "We do not know. Orac does not know. While it is possible that our presence in our past triggered changes in history, it may also be possible that it was the sight of a living Doctor Jackson that drove the alternate O'Neill over the edge, and that it had nothing to do with your stirring speeches. Damn you, Blake, the universe does not revolve about you. How dare you assume that it was you and you alone who failed, who made any mistakes? Or does it make you feel good in your hidden heart to have such total power? If so, how do you justify your existence, when you are elevating yourself to a level with Servalan? You are one man, Blake, and you can do no more than your best. Continue in this vein and you will drive yourself into insanity like the other O'Neill. You tried. You did your best. Here, at this end of history, you have no way of knowing what eventually happened, whether we will return, if we can, to a better universe or a worse. All you can do is the part that fell to you. Had you not convinced the Hammond doppelganger that your information was correct, he would not have instigated the self-destruct of the base to attempt containment. You did not live everyone else's life, you did no more than you have ever done in our reality, tried to bring about a better world. If you failed, you are one man. Perhaps one man can only make small changes."
"But here I was in the right time and place, Avon. Don't you think that perhaps I was meant to come here, to change things?"
"Appointed by Fate to save the universe? As O'Neill would say, 'oh, for crying out loud'. You are not a messiah. You are one man. You tried. You may have already made changes. If you did not, then you are alive to try again. I warn you, Blake, I have scant patience with this self-indulgence." The hand on his arm had never let go. Although Avon was not a man given to physical displays of affection, his fingers tightened in a reassuring squeeze. Only Avon could manage to reassure him and lambaste him at the same moment.
"You think it's self-indulgence, when millions may have paid the price?"
"Don't you see, Blake, they had already paid it. Even before you came back in time, they had paid it. That you may not have altered that does not mean their deaths are at your hands. It may mean that it is not possible to change history, but even if they still died, it does not mean that they are on your hands. It merely means that you tried to save them. It was a good try."
"That will look well on their tombstones. I can't be comfortable with your self-interest, Avon. You didn't care what happened to them, and I do."
"Yes, I am a cold-blooded monster who would sacrifice every one of them," Avon countered. "Because I do not bleed openly for millions who had already died in our time does not mean I do not understand and regret that they could not be saved. I told Cally once that regret was part of life, but that she should make it a small part. I am telling you the same thing now. I am not prepared to endure guilt from you, Blake. You did your best. We don't know whether your best was good enough or not and we may never know. What I do know is that I would not recognize you if you chose to stop trying, and I would be...very sorry to see you diminished by something beyond your power to change. It would be like a blind man faulting himself because he was unable to see. Or like Vila faulting himself because he couldn't stop stealing."
"Avon, I...." He gazed up at Avon in astonishment.
"Listen to me, Blake, and listen well, because this is not a discussion I am comfortable with. I nearly killed you on Gauda Prime. The act may have pulled me back from turning into that other Jack O'Neill. In a sense, I have been given a second chance, and I do not intend to waste it. You...matter, Blake. I won't...lose you a second time."
Blake sucked in his breath so deeply he could feel it in his wounds, but he tried not to wince. Avon had just placed a burden upon him that gave him new responsibility. He had wanted Avon's support from the beginning. He had wanted Avon at his side. There had been times when he'd been convinced it was meant to be, and Avon had even said he'd believed their lives linked. Now he was reaffirming that link, and while it did not fill the entire void inside Blake that had gaped open when the other O'Neill dropped the vial of toxin and plunged through the Stargate, it did allow hope to start. Warmth spread through him as he gazed up at Avon, then he reached across with his other hand and covered Avon's hand with it.
"I can't help feeling the burden of failure right now, Avon," he admitted. "Perhaps you must kick me from time to time to remind me I am not a god and that I can't take on more than one man's burden. But it needn't be one man's burden, Avon, not if you are with me."
Avon's eyes confirmed that, but his mouth curled. "If you are going to drown me in maudlin sentiment, Blake, I shall go away."
"Then, perhaps I'd better stop." Blake found a smile. It was a small, tattered one, but it was genuine. Avon, that man who rarely smiled, permitted himself to offer one in return. He turned his hand under Blake's and clasped it for such a brief moment that the gesture might have almost passed unnoticed, except that Blake's entire being was focused on Avon. He would not have missed the most minute twitch of the man's muscles.
"Rest, Blake," Avon said. "Tomorrow, we shall talk about returning to where we belong."
He turned abruptly and strode toward the door.
"Thank you, my friend." Blake spoke so softly he didn't think Avon would hear it. But Avon checked minutely, then he paused and looked back levelly at Blake before he went away.
Blake closed his eyes and let himself relax into healing sleep.
"Have you seen Jack since we got back?"
At Daniel's question, Carter looked up from the computer screen. She was exploring scenarios to return Blake's people to the future. Returning them to the planet was easy. But unless they could find the mirror that had been there in the future and was not there in the present, they could not return them to the other dimension. Actually, with Hammond's permission, if he should choose to grant it, they could take their own mirror along, and the General had taken that possibility under advisement. But the mirror hadn't brought them into the past. It was the solar flare. Unless Orac could accurately predict such things, there was no reason to go to PV4-555. They might as well go from here and wind up on Earth. Unless, of course, they wound up in a ruin, buried deep underground. Materializing inside solid earth would be pointless--not to mention fatal.
Teal'c, who had been conversing with Tarrant on the nature of the Goa'uld and the Jaffa, looked up. "I believe he is in his quarters, Daniel Jackson."
"Is he all right?" Daniel was pretty sure Jack was off alone thinking dark thoughts. He'd given him privacy to do so, but he was afraid the longer it took the worse it would be.
"He cannot be happy with the actions of his doppelganger," Teal'c returned.
Vila, who had been playing idly and dextrously with O'Neill's yo-yo, edged over, still maneuvering it up and down. "He's probably feeling as bad as Blake. Avon went off to cheer him up."
Dayna stifled a chuckle and Soolin said wryly, "Avon wouldn't exactly be my first choice if I wanted cheering."
"He might be Blake's," Tarrant disagreed. "I would be the first one to say I don't understand either one of them, but the little I know of Blake suggests that he's wallowing in guilt because he didn't save the universe. He doesn't need someone to come in and offer him comfort. He needs Avon to be as astringent as possible."
They all smiled a little. Avon would have no difficulty doing that. But did Tarrant have a hidden message? Daniel caught his eye and Tarrant returned the look before he turned back to Teal'c. Would the Jaffa be a better one to pull Jack out of his potential funk? Would Carter? Not Hammond; he was Jack's commanding officer and he might handle him at times, but not this time. Daniel wasn't astringent like Avon, but perhaps he knew Jack O'Neill best.
He said, "I'll be back," and caught Carter's approving smile. Then he went off to track down the Colonel.
Jack was in his quarters, and he muttered, "Come," in neutral tones when Daniel got there. The archaeologist let himself in. Jack was sitting sideways on his bed, leaning back against the wall, one knee drawn up and his arms wrapped around it, his chin propped on his knee. He arched an eyebrow when he saw who it was, and didn't look remotely surprised. "Daniel."
"Jack." A glance around located a chair, and Daniel drew it over and sat on it backwards, folding his arms against its back and dropping his chin on them.
"Staring contest?" O'Neill ventured.
"I could go get the yo-yo back from Vila. He's better than either of us."
"We better take it away from him right away. The honor of the SGC depends on it."
They both chuckled slightly. Then Daniel grew serious. "You gonna be okay?" he ventured.
O'Neill's eyes darkened and his brows came together. "Oh, yeah, just ducky. For a guy who's capable of destroying the world."
"He wasn't you, Jack. He was one way you might have turned out, but you didn't live his life or know what all he'd been through or how it affected him. Carter says the other Samantha told her that he still had some of that knowledge of the ancients in his head; the Asgard only removed part of it. Maybe it was too much for him. We can't tell how things worked in that reality."
"Fork in the road stuff?" Jack ventured. "Yeah, I thought of that. But he was still me, a kind of me. Says I've got that same potential inside. Hell, Daniel, I was sitting here remembering the way I was when you first met me. I almost...killed myself. I was going to sacrifice myself to destroy Ra."
"I know, Jack. But you didn't. You made a choice. A conscious choice. I watched you back on Abydos on the first mission. I saw you change. You're a strong man, Jack. Things may get you down, but you find the strength inside to live with them. Nobody is ever blamed for what he might have done. If we were, none of us could live for the guilt of it."
"But I've gotta live with the knowledge that it's inside me. Like a ticking time bomb."
"It's not," Daniel insisted. He caught and held Jack's eyes. "He wasn't you. He didn't share your every experience." Daniel was silent a moment. "You hate it that he could do that. Well, we all have capacities for things we don't like. Remember when we went to Chulak to save Rya'c from Apophis, and Teal'c gave his larva to Rya'c to save his life."
"And you came along and said, 'We have one.'" Jack nodded. "Pulling rabbits out of hats, Magician Daniel."
"I destroyed all those infant Goa'uld, Jack. We were walking away, and I thought, every one of them could mature and take over someone, just as Sha're was taken, and I turned around and I blasted their tank. I killed them because of what they might become." He averted his eyes. "Jack, what I'm saying is that there are darknesses inside all of us. There is the potential in all of us to do utterly despicable things. Being human gives us choices. That man may have been an alternate Jack O'Neill, but he wasn't this one. Yes, that choice is in you, but it's in all of us. And you haven't made it. You chose not to make it on Abydos, remember?"
O'Neill eyed him thoughtfully. "Maybe I'm just luckier than he is."
Lucky. Was it a word that described any of them? Daniel didn't want to go through an inventory of the horrible experiences they'd all faced in their lives. His parents' death before his eyes, Jack's loss of Charlie, the deaths of Sha're, Kawalsky, so many more. You couldn't keep score, weighing one triumph against one loss in hopes that they would cancel each other out. You could only survive. What was that old quote: that which doesn't kill you will make you strong? Something like that. "No, it's not luck, Jack," Daniel said slowly. "But now you've seen what he did. We all have. We learn from it. We go on from here."
It wasn't a big, happy resolution because there couldn't be one, not really, not for the other O'Neill or for his reality. Jack had not only witnessed what the doppelganger had done when driven beyond the edge. He'd actually witnessed the death of his alter ego and the death of the Stargate program in that reality.
"Yeah, we go on," Jack muttered.
"And we make sure it doesn't happen here. Not what the other O'Neill did, because we know that's not going to happen here, but the rest, the toxin. We won't let that happen here. That's the best part of all of this. We know what could go wrong, so we can stop it."
"Until we get so desperate we have no choice?"
"No," Daniel persisted. "We always have choices. They may not always be good choices, but we know enough not to make that one. Come on, Jack. You're too smart to go this route. I know it was hard. I have never seen an alternate me, but I remember how Sam reacted to meeting the other Carter last time. We've got enough to handle living our own lives and taking responsibility for the things we do without taking on more than our share. He wasn't you, Jack. We won't be watching you to make sure you don't turn out like that, because I've never once in all the years I've known you got the negative feelings from you that I got from him. We know he went through a lot of the same things you did. You don't know the rest of it and you can't know."
"It's the potential that worries me," Jack said with painful honesty, and then he found a tired smile inside and put it on. "But I hear ya, Danny-boy. No easy answers, but I hear ya." He straightened out. "Thanks."
"No charge," Daniel said as lightly as possible.
Jack unwound himself from the bed and stood up and Daniel rose, too. O'Neill reached out and gripped him by the shoulders. "Least I didn't have to go through everything he did, Space Monkey." He squeezed once, rumpled Daniel's hair, and stepped back, and there was a wary peace on his face. "I've just got one more thing to say and I mean it, no matter whether the place has the best ancient ruins since the dawn of time. We are never going to P3Q-920."
Daniel relaxed. "That suits me," he concurred. "Come on. Sam's brainstorming how to return Blake and the others to their own time."
"Good. Watching Carter be smart is one of my joys in life. Besides," he added in his usual tones, "we've got to get my yo-yo away from Vila, or we'll never see it again."
General Hammond called a briefing at 0800 the next morning and SG-1 and Blake's entire party attended. Blake was wheeled there in a wheelchair, but that was a precaution on Doctor Fraiser's part and probably not really necessary. He looked far better than he had at the beginning and his strength was coming back. Avon was at his side; O'Neill was starting to think that was a given, although he didn't have a clue about the dynamics of that pair and doubted he ever would. Vila was close by, too, and Tarrant, who looked a little less cocky than he had in the beginning, came prepared to voice opinions. The two women would have their own opinions as well. Jack knew that none of their options were ideal, but Carter might yet pull a rabbit out of a hat. She'd done that more than once.
"People, I've called you all together here for two reasons," Hammond said. "The first reason is that, this morning, I had Major Carter examine the alternate reality through the mirror. It would not engage, and I assume from that, that the mirror there has been demolished in the self-destruct of the base. That does not tell us, of course, whether the toxin escaped to contaminate the Earth in that reality, but the failsafe destruct program should have sealed the lower levels of the mountain thoroughly. I'd like to think that's what happened, but I can offer you no guarantees. It is possible that even if, eventually, air gets through, enough time will have passed to contain the threat, that time will neutralize the toxin as reports indicate would happen. I wish I had more certainty for you, but I do not."
He didn't mention the other Stargate that might, in the other reality, still be secured at Nellis. There was no need for Blake's people to know, and there was no guarantee the other reality had secured that Gate. They had certainly had it, for that Jack had gone through the same thing Jack had with Maybourne's scheme.
Blake looked discouraged. "I was afraid that might have happened, General, but thank you for the information."
"You said you had two reasons for calling us together," Tarrant reminded the General. "Does that mean you have found a way for us to go home?"
"I have two options for you," Hammond replied. "Neither of them are ideal. In the future, on the planet where you transitioned into our time, you had a quantum mirror and remote. In our time the mirror did not exist there, so returning you to that world so that Orac could predict a solar flare there of appropriate magnitude to return you to your own time is not an ideal option, even if we allowed you the use of our mirror on the mission. Since that world is populated by primitive hostiles, a lengthy wait there for a solar flare is not a guarantee of safety."
"In other words, to protect us until such time as a solar flare occurred, you'd need to send through a large military body to fight off the natives," ventured Tarrant.
"Yes, and it is their world, Captain. Unless we could devise a means of avoiding conflict with the natives, I would reject that option out of hand. It seems impractical and dangerous."
"While our other option is not much better, I would theorize," Avon ventured. He looked stiff and wary, but not actively hostile.
"Major Carter has worked with Orac and it is attempting to predict the next appropriate solar flare that will occur here. As there has been some sunspot activity that we've been watching carefully with our teams' departures and arrivals, it is possible that we could experience one within a day or two, and possibly even later today."
"We would pass through the Gate here at precisely that moment?" Avon asked. "And arrive where?"
"That is the problem. The solar flare does seem to negate actual travel through the wormhole. You would step out in the future equivalent of the Gate room."
"Which has just been buried in a massive explosion," Avon reminded them all. "At least in our reality."
Vila's jaw dropped. "You want to bury us alive? That's not very friendly of you, General."
"I did not offer ideal solutions. Going into our future from here would not take you into your reality only into the future. Even if there was a gate here in our future, and even assuming they could transfer you to your reality--which we simply cannot promise you--there is no guarantee that a gate exists in your reality at that time and place. Still, that needn't be a problem. When SG-1 went back in time, the gate existed long enough to deposit them there and then vanished. The problem there would be the destruction of the base through the Wildfire solution. After a suitable period for the toxin to become inert, it would be likely that excavations would take place to retrieve it. Even if the base was not rebuilt, there should be a passage to the outside. It might be dangerous, but it need not be impossible. You might be stranded in your own time but in the wrong reality."
"Unless, of course, the Goa'uld did attack...." Daniel started and trailed off.
"We can't second guess every possibility of what might have happened, Doctor Jackson," Hammond replied. "If the military was intact and the Goa'uld did not destroy the Earth or its population, the Gate would have been retrieved. I have seen the plans for just such a scenario. What I cannot offer is knowledge of what might exist on this spot in your time. You would be stepping into a location about which you know nothing. We would, of course, return your weapons to you so that you would not be unarmed."
"What you do would send us into the future," Avon reminded him, "but not to our future. There would be no guarantee that a quantum mirror would still exist there, especially since you are unable to access it in this time."
"And you only have the one," Blake put in. "We would have to take it with us, and that would leave you with none."
Hammond took a deep breath. "After the previous contact with an alternate reality, I wanted to decommission the mirror and prevent its use again. I was overruled by those above me. I'm not comfortable with the mirror. I could opt to send it with you. I'm considering that option."
Carter opened her mouth to protest, but she must have remembered Hammond's determination to destroy the mirror after the last time. O'Neill wouldn't mind at all if Blake and his people took it away with them. He didn't want to see another of his alternate selves ever again.
Vila shifted uneasily in his chair. "So either we face all those hairy natives for who knows how long or we jump through into solid rock. I can't say I like those choices."
"There is another option," Hammond offered. "You could stay here or allow us to relocate you on one of our allied planets. It's even possible that the Tok'ra or the Asgard would know of a way to return you to your own time and reality. There are no guarantees of that, of course."
Jack had to say he couldn't quite imagine these people settling down to turn into an SG team, even assuming they could be trusted. Blake would be sure to take on the Goa'uld and try to save the universe. He was a born crusader. They might have useful skills. They were the covert ops types of their time and reality, rebels against a powerful opposition, just as the SGC stood against the Goa'uld for Earth. But they were out of place and time and Hammond and the powers that be would never choose to allow them to join the Stargate program. They were advanced; maybe the Tollans would take them.
"I want to try to go home," Blake decided. "If you are willing to lend us your mirror, we'd choose to go here, through your Stargate. If it is true that the Gate would have been retrieved or recommissioned here, it's possible we'd have access out, although Gate travel is not widely known in our time and reality. We might have to fight, but that is what we do."
"And we might simply die, suffocating in a dark cave," Soolin said sotto voce. "Maybe we should consider being relocated here."
"And do what?" Tarrant asked her. "Become a refugee? That's what some of them call us here, refugees. We don't control our own destiny if we take that option. We just allow ourselves to be shuffled around at their will, and they'll try to make places for us. I'd rather go down fighting than that."
"So would I," Blake concurred.
"Surprising," Avon muttered wryly.
"You would choose to go to an ally planet, Avon?" Blake asked him.
Avon met his gaze. "We settled that, Blake. I have agreed to follow you. Should that agreement lead me to entombment in the future ruins of Cheyenne Mountain, so be it."
Dayna and Soolin stared at him in astonishment, but Vila eyed him knowingly, and Tarrant gave a snort of resignation.
"Oh, no," groaned Vila. "Here we go again. What next? He'll be pulling rabbits out of hats, I know he will."
With a swoosh of sound, a second Samantha Carter materialized in the briefing room. She wasn't actually present; after a second, they realized that she was transparent and flickering, in fact a holographic projection. But she was definitely a Carter, and she looked like the one they'd encountered yesterday.
O'Neill jumped to his feet and stared at her in disbelief, and the original Carter gasped.
The Marines at the door aimed their guns at her, but she held up her hands as if to show that she was unarmed. Not as if they could have blasted the image of her, anyway. "This is only a projection," she reassured everyone. "I'm Samantha, the one you met from the reality in Blake's past, not yet a different Carter."
"How can you be alive?" Carter One demanded. "We checked the mirror this morning and your base must have been destroyed; the mirror no longer functioned."
"The Asgard," Carter Two replied. She looked tired and weary, and sick to the soul, but her eyes held life and determination. "Thor arrived and beamed us up at the last second, General Hammond and Peter and myself. The Asgard couldn't avert the explosion; there was no time and they couldn't allow the toxin to spread, but they needed answers, so they brought us out."
"So the toxin won't contaminate Earth?" Blake asked, his eyes blazing to life.
"No, it's been sealed away completely," she replied. "General Hammond has been in touch with the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs and even though the entire military structure is in a state of flux right now, the upper levels of NORAD are intact enough that nearly everyone above the twentieth level survived. We've been in touch with our Earth allies to let them believe we had an...accident and that it won't threaten global security. We have...another Stargate, and we're setting it up to maintain the program. Most of the SG teams were offworld, but we lost our entire base personnel and several of the teams. It will take us a while to become operational again, but we'll make it."
"How did you get here?" Daniel asked. "Does Thor have a quantum mirror? Did he transition you here?"
"Thor has a technology I have never seen before and was not allowed to see up close," she replied, her voice aching with regret. "He feels we are not yet ready to understand it. It ties in with his teleportation system, but I couldn't get any more information than that."
"Don't you get a little tired of being told how young we are, Major?" O'Neill asked her.
"We may not yet be ready to become the 'Fifth Race', Colonel," Carter Two agreed, "but that doesn't mean the Asgard won't help us from time to time."
"So, you came here to reassure us of containment on Earth?" Hammond asked her.
"In part," she said. "You did try to help us and you gave us a warning. I wish it could have helped the Colonel, but it may yet do so."
"But he's dead," Jack blurted. "I mean, he must be dead. Anyway, he'd be off on that other world, a prisoner of Apophis, if he survived."
Carter Two shook his head. "No. Thor teleported him the instant he stepped into the Gate. He's in a stasis chamber on Thor's ship, gravely wounded, but alive. The toxin was not loosed on the galaxy. Warning the Asgard was the best idea of all, because Thor arrived just in time to save our bacon. He had not planned to act after he pulled the Colonel out of there, but once the self-destruct was activated, I sent him a message explaining what had happened and why, and when he got it, he chose to act again. I wish he could have brought more of us out of there before the base exploded," she said wearily "But there wasn't time. He had only moments to save us." She drew a shaky breath and her eyes glistened too brightly with tears she refused to shed.
Daniel, at Jack's side, touched his arm briefly. "He'll have another chance," he said.
"Yeah, court martial's a fine chance," Jack replied bitterly.
"Thor may intervene. We can't know."
"That isn't really why I am here," Carter Two said. "Thor heard about Blake and the others and is very interested. He wants to talk to them. He can teleport them into our reality."
"And return us to the future?" Blake cried hopefully. "Can he do that?"
The rest of Blake's people focused on her with utter interest. They hadn't liked any of their options until now, but at least, if they went home, they'd be going to a place they knew.
Maybe. The toxin had been averted. Maybe they would return to a golden future, beyond anything they had ever dreamed of. Or maybe something else had gone wrong and they would return to find a world much as they had always known.
"He says he can," Carter Two replied. "Do you want that?"
Blake looked at all his people in turn: Tarrant, who nodded instantly; Vila, who gave a little shrug and muttered, "We wouldn't know ourselves if we weren't in trouble,"; Dayna, who cast one almost regretful glance around the briefing room before she inclined her head; Soolin, who shrugged; and finally Avon.
"Well, Avon, are you coming home?" Blake asked.
And Avon bowed his head. "Of course. Did you expect anything else, Blake?"
Thor allowed them time for goodbyes. "I wish I'd know if you ever made it," Carter said wistfully as she shook hands with Blake. "And we never will."
"I wish we'd known if they changed their own future," offered Daniel.
"We will not," Teal'c agreed, and the Jaffa looked regretful as well.
"No," Carter Two agreed. "Thor says he cannot transition the teleport again to tell you."
"Probably due to the power drain," Carter One offered and the two of them went off into a little huddle, woman and hologram, to discuss techy things. Jack didn't listen. He wasn't sure how he felt about the other O'Neill's survival because he was pretty sure the guy would feel lower than pond scum. At least he'd have two of his team to console him, if they weren't ready to space the poor sucker by now.
Blake got up and shook hands with everyone while Hammond sent one of the Marine guards to retrieve their weapons. He and another man returned quickly and they passed out the 'clipguns'. Jack would have liked to study them but somehow, in the course of the crisis, he'd never been given a chance.
"Wait a minute, what's this?" Hammond said blankly as he watched the weapons being distributed. "Anderson, are you sure this was with their weapons? I don't remember it from before?"
Jack craned his neck to see the weapon Anderson was removing from the box. "Son of a gun," he blurted. "That's a zat."
"That isn't ours," Blake disagreed. "I never saw it before."
"It was tagged, sir," Anderson replied. "It was listed as Captain Tarrant's hand weapon."
Tarrant took it and looked at it blankly, then his hand moved and he was activating it as if he'd known it all his life. His mouth fell open in disbelief. "But I never...."
They all stared, then Daniel gave a delighted cry. "Don't you see?" he blurted. "It worked. We did change your history. Somehow, we changed it. And that's the only thing that shows us how. We don't know exactly what is different out there in your future reality, Blake, but if you've got a zat, something is."
"Why would Captain Tarrant possess a zat'nik'a'tel?" Teal'c asked with interest.
"There are two possibilities," Daniel interjected. "One, the Goa'uld came and invaded their reality and a resistance is still fighting; they inherited the zats the way we did. And two, they defeated the Goa'uld but managed to absorb some of their technology. Or maybe," he added wryly, "any particular combination of the above."
"So their time would now have some knowledge of the Goa'uld," Jack ventured. "Things have changed, but there's no telling how much."
"I think I...remember a bit of it," Blake said abruptly. His body stiffened and his eyes unfocused as he tried to touch on unexpected memories. "It's not clear; I think it will get more clear. We did change some things, but not all things."
"Did the Goa'uld invade the earth?" Daniel asked, interested.
"I don't think they did," Blake said thoughtfully, his face contorted with the effort to force out the new memories. "I think there was a war, and they were defeated. But...Earth unified under one government."
"Prepared to take them on if they ever came back," Tarrant continued in the tones of one reciting a long-ago lesson. "Rigid because they had to be. Always alert for the Goa'uld to come back. Eventually, when we spread out into the galaxy and didn't find them, it seemed they were gone."
"But they did come back," Dayna burst out. "I...remember it, too, but it's as if it happened to someone else, because I remember it both ways. When I was a baby, they came back. My father fought them, but he took me away to protect me. It wasn't the Federation he was fighting. It was the Goa'uld."
"They took over some of our leaders," Vila continued. "I know they did. Servalan. She's one of them now. They went for the leaders first. But she's not Servalan now. She's...."
"Hathor," Avon said smoothly. Hatred flared in his eyes and also satisfaction as if he enjoyed that fate for the woman he had known the first time around.
"She's dead in our reality," Jack put in. He ought to know. He'd killed her himself.
"Evidently, not in our own. I...have reason to know. She tried to, er, recruit me after the Goa'uld invaded at Star One. I would be her slave, or else I was to become a host. Neither option appealed to me. Fortunately, she had been separated from her Jaffa in the battle and I was able to escape with Dayna."
"Gan was a Goa'uld," Blake said. His eyes were shadowed with remembered bitterness. "It wasn't a limiter in his brain. It was a snake. He was...undercover with us. When we went to look for Central Control, he and Hathor met and we found out. I had to kill him. If Jenna hadn't arrived in the nick of time and threatened Hathor we'd never have escaped."
"And...Anna Grant...." Vila offered the name tentatively. It meant nothing to the people at the SGC, but it evidently meant something to Avon. His face went utterly rigid. Blake edged up to him and touched his arm in a gesture of support.
"She was trying to defeat Hathor when you met her on Earth," Vila remembered, speaking very fast. "You thought she was dead, but they'd infected her rather than killed her. The Goa'uld let her talk some of the time, but it was really the snake that made her try to kill you, Avon. The real Anna, the host, still...loved you."
"Like Sha're," Daniel put in. He looked horrified as if he realized that he and Avon had shared an experience, and that Avon's might even be worse. He'd had to kill his Sha're himself. Jack was damned glad Daniel hadn't had to make that choice. She was still dead, of course, but Daniel didn't have to live with her blood on his hands. It seemed there might be a lot of excuses for Avon, in each version of history.
"Gauda Prime," Tarrant burst out. "Of course you had to test me, Blake. You had no way of knowing if I had a Goa'uld inside me. You couldn't know about any of us. You couldn't even be sure of Avon, and it seemed to us as if you were the Goa'uld. It's all so different."
"But I have both sets of memories," Blake blurted out. "They're fighting inside my brain. This is...strange."
The hologram of Carter Two turned away for a second, then she spoke again. "Thor says you will always remember both, but eventually the original set will fade into the background. You won't forget, but those memories will almost seem as if they happened to someone else. Being out of time enables you to keep them and returning to your own time won't remove them. But you will remember everything you need to know to survive when you go home."
"To fight the Goa'uld," Blake said. Avon went taut and looked at him knowingly. Maybe he recognized the siren call that Blake was hearing, or maybe he just knew Blake so well that he understood the other man's drive. But fighting the Goa'uld was a cause he could share.
"Do you have the Tok'ra as allies now?" Carter asked, interested.
They frowned. "I think so," said Tarrant. "It's coming clearer, but it isn't a hundred per cent yet. But we have to go back."
"We have to stop them," Blake insisted.
"As usual, you expect the impossible, Blake. We don't have a ship, and the Stargates haven't been used for centuries," Avon reminded him.
"No, but they exist, Avon," the rebel leader insisted. "They're out there or we wouldn't have found one. We have to assume the Goa'uld know about them and have been using them ever since they returned. We have to find them. We have to learn how to use them. It could turn the tide for us."
"So we can defend your rabble?" Avon challenged.
"Our rabble, Avon," Blake said positively. He looked supremely confident of the fact.
"If you insist." Avon's voice was wry, but the utter coldness had gone from it. He was still cynical but there was a subtle difference in him. Jack didn't know him well enough to understand it, but Blake did. He was smiling.
"Oh no," Vila groaned. "We're going to plunge into trouble again, aren't we?"
"What do you think, Vila?" Soolin asked.
Blake's eyes blazed. "I can't wait to start."
"I am certain I can wait," Avon said dryly, but there was no hostility in his voice, only the certainty that, when he returned home, life would continue to be interesting.
"We don't know the extent of the Goa'uld presence in our future," Carter Two said, "Thor insists he cannot monitor the future. Whether that's true or not, he's not talking. We'll never know." She nodded at Blake and his party. "But I think they are about to find out."
"We changed ourselves," Vila wailed. "We changed everything. Oh no. I won't know me when I get home."
"You don't know yourself now," Avon said. There was suddenly an element of teasing in his voice that hadn't been there before.
They all stared at each other. Jack couldn't tell what the difference was, but suddenly there was one. They might not figure out all the parameters of the changes that had been made or understand how time had altered their reality until they got home. They had a different threat to face when they traveled into the future, but they were used to facing threats, taking on incredible odds, just as SG-1 was. Some of what they found when they got back to the future was bound to be the same because they were the same people, with the same attitudes and values. But, in a way, they had just become more. Jack knew what an ideal team felt like because he was part of one. He didn't go around thinking about it all the time, but he knew. It was what had driven Daniel to track him down last night and talk to him, what had made Teal'c a part of their family in spite of the vast differences in their life experiences, what had taken Sam Carter from someone who had been forced to defend herself at their first meeting to someone who had become indispensable to his very well-being.
It was what had made their team into a family.
And now, for the first time, he saw that same thing in Blake's team. They might not understand it yet; they might remember too well any adversarial behavior in their previous interactions. But they were going out of here closer than when they had been when they had come in, and that would be a triumph when they understood it. Even if they had to fight the future Goa'uld when they went home, they were going home united.
In spite of the other O'Neill in stasis overhead, O'Neill suddenly felt good. Because Daniel had been right last night. They had choices, and sometimes the right ones got made in spite of all the obstacles in the way, in spite of everything that went wrong in the process. This time, they had.
Jack began to smile. He stuck out a hand to Blake. "You can trust Thor," he said. "He's the best. You're gonna be all right. You probably don't know that yet, but you already are."
"He is an irredeemable optimist," Avon murmured in Blake's ear.
"Jack is?" Daniel stared at the man then turned to stare at Jack. And suddenly, he was grinning widely. "Well, maybe he's not, but there are times when it's safe to be. Good luck, all of you."
"I wish you luck as well," Teal'c offered. He inclined his head to Avon, who nodded in return.
Vila suddenly brightened. "I think we'll make it after all," he said, and not even Avon reproached him for turning into an optimist. Tarrant clapped him on the shoulder, and the two women began to smile. As for Avon and Blake, they met each other's eyes and Jack knew that, whatever they had to face when they went back to where they belonged, they would face it united.
"There's no more time," Carter Two said and pushed a button on a device she wore around her wrist.
Her image shimmered and vanished.
Zip, zip, zip. Blake and his people disappeared, too, in a burst of white light.
There was a small silence. O'Neill looked around the briefing room at the members of SG-1 and General Hammond, and he felt everything settle into the best kind of normalcy. He was okay with Daniel again, his team was intact, they knew enough not to mess with nasty toxins, and his world was in better shape than any of the others he'd met on the other side of the mirror--or on the other side of time.
"Well," Daniel prompted in his ear. "Go on, Jack. Say something profound."
He waggled his eyebrows at Daniel. "One small step...." he began. Then he shrugged. "Well," he said in as profound a voice as he could manage. "That was interesting."
"Well said, Colonel," Hammond lauded. "SG-1, this briefing is over."
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