"Lead on, MacDuff." Maybourne gestured his counterpart into the office that memory insisted was Hammond's.
It looked good. Actually, it looked very good. The deep rich red of the desk, the flags leaning against the wall behind, the rows of books on their shelves. He had a terrible urge to go and read the titles; you could learn so much about a man from his choice of reading material. Just how much did the two of them have in common? He would have enjoyed it here in the thick of things, being a part of the SGC instead of watching forever from the sidelines. This was where it all happened; the front line of the fight against the goa'uld was here.
Keeping a careful eye on Carter, he dropped the knife and kicked it into the far corner of the office. He couldn't afford to have both hands occupied and he couldn't very well stick the knife into his waistband, it was too damn sharp. The zat was more useful, he'd need it soon enough.
'Maybourne' sat down before his computer and looked at him pointedly until he took the hint and looked away while the password was being input.
Did 'Maybourne' use his late grandmother's phone number as a password? He was tempted to ask, but then he'd have to change his own password. Numbers were so much harder for people to guess.
"Okay, this is Ma'chello's data. We got a pretty full translation - you'll find some useful stuff there."
"Stick it on a floppy."
Movement caught his eye through the glass. Jack, making a two fingered gesture at him. Well, let's see, it could either be the British equivalent of 'fuck off', except that Jack had never struck him as one to use an obscure insult when an obvious one would do, or else it was a request for an extra copy of the disc.
Oh ye of little faith. Did you really think I'd hang onto the master copy? Dead right.
"Better do another one as a back up, just in case the disc is corrupt."
That better? One for you and one for me, and will you kindly keep quiet about having a copy until I've tried to do a deal with mine.
'Maybourne' dragged the icon over and copied another disc, then made a come-closer gesture with his head. "I've got another set of files you might like. I'll put the directory on a separate disc. I know you won't have these ones."
He called up a couple of files at random: statistical data, pictures.
The pictures shouldn't have come as a shock. After all, he'd tried to do virtually the same thing himself. But the detail, the cold clinical barbarity of the destruction of a human being... Some things went beyond research into sadism. He had a nasty feeling that someone had enjoyed this, and that someone just might have been himself. Did human dignity mean anything? He'd always had doubts about that. If it did mean anything, then these pictures showed it being systematically destroyed in a man who posessed more dignity than anyone else he knew.
He didn't believe in God, but thanked him anyway that Carter was still being a good little hostage and looking in the opposite direction.
Jack was bobbing up and down again. He took the disc, dropped it in his pocket and shook his head. No way are you getting a copy of this one, pal.
Next step. Martelli still had a gun on Jack. 'Maybourne' was almost certainly packing in a shoulder-holster under that jacket. Okay, one each.
"General, she's all yours. I'm sure she won't give you any major problems."
Without bothering to look behind him, he stepped out of the office.
He tossed the first disc in the air and as Martelli's eyes moved to follow it, he brought him down with the zat.
O'Neill would take care of Martelli, tie him up or whatever. He had unfinished business.
Carter was standing, 'Maybourne' was on the floor and Carter seemed to have acquired a gun from somewhere. He felt an almost paternal satisfaction from that. It was good to have people you could rely on. He looked down at his double, read the blank incomprehension in his face.
"It makes life marginally less boring."
He aimed the zat carefully and fired deliberately. Twice.
There was something rather disconcerting about watching yourself die. It wasn't so much that he felt involved, as that he didn't. He had a detached sense of unreality, as though nothing had really happened. There was a body on the floor, but it was nothing to do with him.
Carter's voice pulled him out of his fugue - a corner of his mind noted with detached amusement that she didn't sound at all happy. Ah well, that was the end of a beautiful working relationship.
"What the hell was that for?" Jack sounded furious.
"I didn't like the colour of his shirt." Don't let them get to you. Keep your cool. Keep it smooth. The name's Bond, James Bond.
"You killed an unarmed prisoner. I don't care how you used to do things in the NID, you're under my command now."
"You tried to kill him yourself less than ten minutes ago. I just saved you from getting your hands dirty. That's your weakness, Jack. You can't sacrifice an individual for the greater good."
The word hung heavy in the air between them. Sometimes, it was easy to be lulled by the banter and to forget how dangerous a man O'Neill was.
O'Neill smiled, but the smile didn't reach his eyes.
"Been there. Done that. Nicked the t-shirt."
Harry, you're an idiot. You've read the files. He's sent Teal'c to certain death, given the order that would kill Daniel, and shot Carter. He'll do the same to you if he ever feels he has no other option. But then again, he'll only do it if completely backed into a corner. His biggest mistake in both universes was in letting Nirrti go in order to save Cassandra. That's his Achilles heel. He can't sacrifice the life of a child.
"So what now?" he asked.
"I don't know. If you were really one of my team, you'd be facing a court martial."
Ouch. That hurt. Probably because it was true.
"I saved your life ten minutes ago. Doesn't that count for anything?"
"No. You signed on as one of the team. We don't keep score. I thought you could work with SG-1. I was wrong."
"And it doesn't mean anything to you that he would happily have killed both you and Major Carter, if it would keep the Asgard from ever finding out his involvement in stealing from them?"
"You're missing the point, Maybourne. You've been a civilian too long. It doesn't matter whether you're right or wrong. It doesn't matter two shakes of a duck's ass if I'm right or wrong. What matters is whether you follow my orders.
"Now either do what you agreed to do, or else get out of here and never come back."
I'm the same rank as you, you bastard. Was the same rank. Why the hell do I hang around you anyway? I pull your friends out of the fire, and what do I ever get for it except the dubious pleasure of risking my neck?
You know why you do it, Harry. You do it for kicks. It's a game: a bigger challenge than dangerous sports, more purpose than gambling, and a higher thrill than drugs. You do it to put one in the eye of your bastard friends at the NID who fawned on you when you were on top of things, and couldn't disassociate themselves fast enough when you got caught.
"Entropic cascade failure," Carter said suddenly.
Ah, she'd seen that possibility. He'd been rather afraid she would. And it was such a nice desk too.
"Carter?" O'Neill sounded slightly exasperated.
"You can't have two Maybournes in one reality. Not for more than a day or so. Otherwise you start getting entropic failure on the person who doesn't belong in the reality. He was planning on staying here."
"Jack!" Daniel virtually bounced into the room. "I've got it. We need to talk to Ke'ra."
Ke'ra? Ah yes, Linea, 'destroyer of worlds'. Amazing how total loss of memory could cause the emergence of a completely new character. He could think of several people he'd like to try that on.
Carter's attention shifted to the more immediate topic. "It could work. She's a brilliant biochemist, and with Linea's latent knowledge of biological warfare... If she came up with a cure, the only problem would be distribution. The Asgard are the only people who could cover the entire planet in the time necessary. If we tried to do it by conventional means, millions more would die before treatment could reach them."
"What about Nirrti?" O'Neill asked. "Has she done anything useful?"
"She worked her way round half the infirmary," Daniel replied, "using that goa'uld healing device. I don't know if she's anything that would work on a larger scale. She may be gambling that curing world leaders will be enough to get them to pledge allegiance to her. She's refusing to treat anyone else until negotiations start.
"She's freaking people out as well. A goa'uld with a Jaffa guard is rather un-nerving in the SGC. If Cassie hadn't vouched for Teal'c, I think someone would have taken a pot shot at him. He's a stranger to most people here. There's lots of faces I don't know. Everyone recognises me, but I don't know them."
"Okay." O'Neill checked off points on his fingers. "Carter, I want you to rig up a generator to supply enough extra power to boost the gate as far as the Asgard homeworld. Daniel, get those blood samples back to Jacob, then you're going to Vyus to contact Ke'ra. Teal'c and I are going to have a serious word with Nirrti."
"Won't work, Jack." It was a relief to be in control of the situation again. "You can't give orders here. If you want to use the gate, you need me.
"Now, maybe I'm after a desk job at the SGC, or maybe I'm here to help you. The question is: do you trust me?" Always fun to put Jack on the spot. Fun, but risky.
"Get his uniform. Zat the body."
"Yes, Sir." He threw a mock salute, because he knew it would annoy, and went off to explore the joys of a general's uniform.
Base morale was in the pits. Hell, everything was in the pits and he'd barely got to second base. Martelli had been bullied, bribed and blackmailed (in no particular order) into acting as his aide to keep him to speed on recent events, and also to keep his mouth shut. There was an awful lot of information to catch up on, so much that needed doing and so few people to do it with.
Three teams were trapped off-world, because of the risk of infection. He'd transferred SG-2 to Vyus to provide temporary support for Doctor Jackson. SG-12 and SG-6 were now on Hanka, checking out Nirrti's old laboratory to see if that could provide any clues. All three teams had supplies and a list of safe worlds to settle on if return to Earth turned out to be impossible.
He'd argued with Jack over getting additional supplies of whatever Fraiser had used to vaccinate them with, but Jack had been adamant. Whatever had been used was in extremely short supply and only very small quantities were capable of being produced. He could get enough to protect themselves and Ke'ra, but that was all. It simply wasn't possible to protect the rest of his people.
Hell, only half a day on the job, and he already thought of them as his people. They were his people, and they were dying.
He was tired, tired to the bone. Martelli had turned in two hours ago, but there were still too many files to go through, too many things that he needed to know. He'd abandoned his office, people needed to feel he was with them. The control room was manned by only a handful of staff at this hour and he could read Ma'chello's files as well here as anywhere else.
Jack had gone home a few hours ago, saying that he had to stay with Sunlight overnight. Something about her having nightmares - hardly surprising coming from this place.
Daniel was keeping Ke'ra company in the medical lab. She'd come really come through for them, dropped everything to help, and was working late into the night running tests and doing biopsies. It was a good thing at least some of Earth's allies were reliable.
Carter was running protocol tests on the gate, said she needed to be sure that her counterpart had programmed it the same way. She looked tired too, but at least she wasn't giving him funny looks any more. They'd all done that at first, even Jack. It wasn't just the loss of the beard, it was the uniform. The moment he'd put it on, he'd sensed a change in their attitude. Colonel Maybourne: NID, the enemy. A bit like the way Ronan, and the other people who'd moved with General Maybourne from the NID, looked at Teal'c. Jaffa: potential traitor, not one of us.
"Major Carter, do you desire coffee?"
You didn't even have to recognise the voice to know it was Teal'c. No one else was that precise in their use of language.
"Thanks, Teal'c. General?"
"Yes thanks." Actually, this might be a chance to get Teal'c on his own. "I need a leg stretch, I'll come with you. Anyone else want a cup?"
"Er, yes. Thank you, Sir." Sergeant Harriman fumbled the clipboard he was jotting notes on, almost dropped it. He was one of the people Nirrti had treated, but the vision of General Maybourne doing the coffee run with a Jaffa was obviously too much for his recovering constitution.
"I do not require your assistance," Teal'c said.
"I could use some sandwiches," Carter said to no one in particular.
"In that case," Teal'c addressed an empty space about a foot behind Maybourne's head, "you may accompany me."
And just who was supposed to be giving the orders around here? It was hard enough passing as General Maybourne, without Teal'c pasting his non-compliance in letters a mile high.
The commissary was empty, even the lights were switched off, apart from the light next to the coffee machine. The effect was to make the whole room look larger, with a suggestion of ghosts lurking in dark corners. It made sense to switch the lights off. It wasn't so much a case of saving power, as of reducing heat. Heat was their enemy, here, deep underground. Every use of power generated heat and getting rid of it was an endless problem. The gate was worst of all, in spite of the chilling effect it had on travellers passing through it, it required enormous amounts of energy to power it up.
A refrigerated vending machine next to the coffee machine held a limited selection of sandwiches and snacks. They were lucky to have anything. Supply chains across the country were breaking down as workers fell ill and died.
Motes of dust swirled in the light, spirits of the unquiet dead. He couldn't lay any of them to rest, except perhaps one.
He reached into his pocket and drew out the floppy disc that had been burning a hole in it for most of the day. This was not going to be easy.
"Teal'c." The first word he'd spoken to him since leaving the control room.
The Jaffa - Teal'c - turned to look at him, one eyebrow raised in the merest fraction of a question.
"This is yours. Or rather, his." He held out the disc. "Do with it what you will. Destroy it if you prefer, or give it to Dr Fraiser if you think the knowledge is worth the price paid for it."
"What is on it?"
He drew a deep breath to calm himself. "The title of the main paper is 'An investigation into the symbiotic relationship between goa'uld and Jaffa with particular reference to the impact on the immune system.' There is also a discussion of the internal organs of Jaffa, complete with photographs of the dissection."
Teal'c face was unreadable. He made no movement to accept the disc.
"That's the only copy. He - the other Maybourne - he thought I'd want it. I've only seen the parts he showed me." Take it for God's sake, take it. It's got blood on it.
He'd really hoped Teal'c wouldn't ask that. There was only one coin that Teal'c valued, and that was integrity. Lacking it himself, it had taken him a very long time to recognise it in another.
He tried to summon up a laugh to hide behind, but one refused to come. The truth then, take it or leave it. With luck, Teal'c wouldn't believe him anyway.
"Because it took me nearly five years to realise you were a human being. Because-" he swallowed awkwardly "-because I tried to do what he succeeded in doing."
"I believe you."
Teal'c inclined his head slighly, took the disc and dropped it into his breast pocket.
In stilted silence, they collected coffee and sandwiches and carried them back to the control room.
Maybourne's eyelids felt like sandpaper. Blinking didn't help much. Everyone round the table looked in pretty much the same condition apart from Teal'c who seemed exactly the same as normal. Maybe that Jaffa meditation had something in its favour; either that, or else Teal'c had actually managed to get some sleep when not guarding Nirrti.
CNN was playing on the monitor, but with the sound turned off. They'd all heard it before, but the pictures still carried their own power. Hospitals crowded with people lying on the floor; pyres of bodies burning in a field somewhere in Europe; children in Brazil - wide-eyed and helpless; an old man with brown wrinkled skin, his face a picture of misery and bewilderment as he bore the body of his wife to the Ganges.
Dignity be hanged. He poured a spot of water from his glass onto his hands and rubbed it over his eyes. It helped a little.
Major Carter looked at him in surprise, then did the same. She'd been up all night, but she'd got her generator working and linked into the Stargate. Jack had left for the Asgard homeworld half an hour ago and they needed to cover as many other options as possible in the interim, in case the Asgard didn't pan out.
So, for the time being, his team. It was a good feeling.
Major Carter, Doctor Jackson, Teal'c, Cassandra, Ke'ra and Major Davis.
Davis looked terrible; he'd travelled down from Washington overnight and was obviously in the early stages of the infection. Heaven only knew what conditions in the Pentagon were like; the news reports claimed that the President was indisposed, but was confidently expected to make a full recovery. If you believed that, then the Asgard were fluffy pink bunnies and vampires lived in Sunnydale.
Davis winced and rubbed a hand across his forehead.
"Drink as much water as you can," Cassandra said. "You'll lose a lot of fluid through sweating. I can give you some aspirin, they'll help a little."
"Are you qualified?" Davis asked?
"No," Maybourne replied. "But most of our medical staff are dead. Cassandra has security clearance; she's doing the best she can and, right now, having basic nursing care means the difference between life and death for some of our people. The reason she's at this meeting is because she has some experience of Nirrti and because it's the only way I can get her to sit down and rest for an hour.
Carter rested a hand on Cassandra's shoulder. "I'll come and lend you a hand if I'm able."
Cassandra flinched awkwardly. "Thanks."
He called them to order with a glance around the table.
"Ke'ra, we greatly appreciate your willingness to help us in this emergency. What progress have you been able to make?"
She ran a hand through her hair, brushing her fringe back from her face. "There's no doubt at all that the virus was genetically engineered. I'm working on a counter-agent, but I can't guarantee success. Daniel-" she smiled at the linguist sitting beside her "-is working though the data sent back by SG-12. I'm hoping there may be something useful in that, if he can translate it all."
"The problem," Jackson said quickly, "is that it's all technical stuff. I don't know anything about retroviruses or genetic engineering. The terms are just as meaningless to me in English as they are in goa'uld. I'm making a bit of progress, but I'm wasting time translating bits that turn out to be of no use. What we need is co-operation from Nirrti."
Carter started speaking, only to be interrupted by Davis.
He silenced them both with a chop of his hand.
"Major Davis, I explained this when you arrived, but you weren't looking too well so I'll go over it again. Major Carter is here from a parallel reality with SG-1. I appreciate the confusion when you're used to her counterpart in this reality, but Doctor Carter is dead. The same applies to Colonel O'Neill, Doctor Jackson and Teal'c."
Davis muttered something under his breath.
"What was that?"
"Given your opinion of their originals, I'm surprised you're willing to be in the same room, let alone trust them."
He grinned, couldn't help it. Shame Jack hadn't been here to be insulted by that one.
"They have been fighting the goa'uld longer than anyone else. I have become convinced that they have a valuable contribution to make to our efforts. This is a time when personal predjudices must be put to one side." There, that should sound sufficiently pompous. Davis was a pompous ass at the best of times, might as well hit him back in the same vein.
He turned back to Carter. "Major?"
Was she hiding a grin?
"Nothing much to report, Sir. I managed to connect the Stargate to the Asgard homeworld. Until Colonel O'Neill returns, we won't know if we can get any help there."
Cassandra rubbed her eyes, screwed them up and rubbed them again. "We're still losing people. Feretti died last night. I can't..." Her face crumpled and she buried it in her hands.
"Major Carter-" he nodded at Cassandra "-as soon as this meeting is over, take her and force her to get some rest. Tie her to the bed if necessary."
His head hurt. He rubbed at his temples, forcing himself to concentrate.
"I've spoken to Nirrti at length. In essence, she demands a summit with the principal world leaders. She states that she will heal anyone attending the summit. Her claim is that she can produce a counter-agent to the virus which will neutralise the infection. If her demands, which essentially boil down to having executive power over those same world leaders are met, then she will mass-produce the agent. She isn't really aware of the complexity of our political structures, but she's thought of a lot of ways of enforcing a world government and guarding her back against assassination once she has control."
"And why should we negotiate with a terrorist?" Davis demanded.
"Because she has us over a barrel? It's not my decision to make. I'm giving you the facts as I have them and you get the thankless task of advising the President what to do.
"Essentially, you have two options. You can negotiate with Nirrti, or you can tell her to stuff it and hope Ke'ra finds a cure. The time factor is critical in both cases, and so is the issue of mass production and distribution. Nirrti is currently unaware of Ke'ra's researches, I thought you might want to save that information for later negotiations. Whether or not Ke'ra succeeds, the knowledge that someone else might be able to provide a solution may a useful bargaining tool. There's also-"
With any luck, that would be-
"It's Colonel O'Neill."
O'Neill shook himself to chase off the cold of the wormhole. He barely noticed it these days as a rule, but the long trip from the Asgard world was enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.
"Colonel O'Neill, please report to the briefing room."
They really ought to revise procedures for incoming travellers, especially ones who were royally pissed-off. How about starting with a nice hot cup of coffee and ending up with a massage performed by half-naked houris? Well, it was a thought. He sprinted up the stairs, because he had to take his frustration out on something and the metal treads made a satisfactorily loud clang when you landed hard on them.
Everyone looked up as he entered.
"Ah," said Daniel.
"You were not successful?" said Teal'c.
Carter gave a half-shake of her head.
Davis said, "What?" which was mildly reassuring. At least someone in the room couldn't read him like an open book.
"Guess what, boys and girls? We save their little grey butts, and what do we get? Squat. They're all as bad as Freyr. Planet's full of damned lawyers."
"What about Thor?" asked Daniel.
"Oh, Thor felt he owed us a favour - gave me a communicator and this." He tossed a small blue device onto the table, where it skidded along and came to rest in front of Daniel.
"Uh, what is it?"
"Oh, you're going to love this. It's a codex: the entire Asgard legal system. Or so Thor tells me. He seemed to think we might find something useful in it."
"Didn't you ask what?"
"Yes, and about three seconds of his explanation was enough to assure me that I didn't understand a word of it."
Carter spoke up for the first time. "Sir, if we saved their world in this reality as well, why won't they help?"
"According to Thor, friendships and treaties are entirely separate issues. He wished to prevent the replicators reaching Earth, because he liked me and still had some affection for Earth in spite of the broken treaty. He says he'd lost contact with the Asgard government when his ship was taken over and was thus unable to receive any orders telling him to abandon ship and allow the replicators to move onto Earth. As he had no orders, he chose to come and try to assist us. Now, if it had been me, that communications system would have been bust accidentally on purpose-" he shrugged cheerfully at Davis's look of outrage "-but in Thor's case, I think he really meant it."
"They're an ancient culture," Daniel put in. "From what we know of them, they're very set in their ways and not terribly imaginative."
"That fits my experience," Carter added. "They're highly intelligent, but they have different thought patterns to us - the concept of gambling the sacrifice of something valuable, like their new ship, against a victory that is not guaranteed, is alien to them. They're highly advanced, but also very rigid."
"So, will they help us or not?" Davis demanded.
"In a nutshell - no. I therefore, am going home. We've got what we came here for; we've done as much as we can. There's no point in hanging around. Come on, everyone."
"Doctor Jackson." Maybourne's voice cut across him. "Can you read Asgard?"
"Yes, but I'm not fluent."
"If Teal'c worked on the goa'uld translation, would you be willing to tackle the Asgard codex?"
"Hey!" O'Neill burst in. "What part of 'going home' didn't you understand?"
Daniel tapped his left ear. "I'm sorry, Jack. I seem to have this hearing problem. I can't make out a word you're saying."
At least she had the grace to look apologetic. "I did promise Cassandra that I'd try and help her."
She'd come if he made it a direct order, but did he want to force any of them that far?
Teal'c had that carefully schooled blank look on his face: the one that said... Damn it, what did it say?
"Maybourne," O'Neill said dangerously, "we had a deal."
"And you believed me?"
A choking sound diverted his attention. Cassie had her head burried in her hands and her shoulders were quivering. He came round to rest a hand on her shoulders.
"Cassie, it's okay."
"It's all my fault." The words were barely distinguishable.
"No it isn't."
She turned round suddenly and shouted at him. "None of this would have happened if it wasn't for me. Can't you see that?" Her eyes were black pits of exhaustion, her face white and strained. "You let Nirrti go in exchange for my life. Now everyone's dying because of me."
She was only sixteen.
He bent down and embraced her in a bear-hug. "If it's anyone's fault," he said gently, "it's mine."
"Damn right," said Harry.
"Will someone please explain to me what's going on," demanded Davis.
"Colonel O'Neill has decided to stay and help us after all," Maybourne said.
"Like hell I have."
"Jack, you already know you're going to, and I haven't got time to waste going through the motions."
Okay, so he wasn't going to abandon Cassie and the others, but did Harry have to be quite so blunt about it?
"How come you're the one occupying the moral high ground here?"
Harry spread his hands in a 'who, me?' gesture. "It provides entertainment."
"Who the hell are you?" Davis asked suddenly.
Harry's face underwent a subtle metamorphosis. The affable face was replaced by a different affable face. There was a guarded look around the eyes and a cynical curve to the lips.
"He's with me," O'Neill said. "He's a member of SG-1."
Davis's jaw hit the floor. Something flicked across Harry's face. Surprise? Gratitude? Hard to say.
"Has to be," he continued with exaggerated weariness. "He's disobeying exactly the same orders as the rest of them."