Worlds Apart

      At first glance, they might both have been asleep, but Maybourne's biorhythms spoke otherwise. Thor passed through the force wall into the holding cell and waited. Sure enough, Maybourne's eyes promptly opened.

      "Which of you is it this time?" Maybourne asked in a low voice.

      "O'Neill always claims that he cannot tell us apart. Is it really so difficult?"

      "When I've met more of you, I'll let you know."

      Maybourne eased himself out of the bed, replacing the cover over the sleeping child. His clothes were a curious loose-fitting garment in two parts, both made of a particularly unattractive striped fabric.

      "Why," Thor asked, "do you wear different clothes for sleeping?"

      "Why don't you wear any at all?"

      "Why do you always answer a question with another one?"


      An answer of a kind, but not one that actually revealed anything. Maybourne seated himself cross-legged on the other bed, a position that left them roughly eye to eye, but forced Thor to remain standing if he wanted to continue the conversation. When it became apparent that Maybourne wasn't going to open the proceedings, Thor said: "You wished to speak to me?"

      "Ah, Thor," Maybourne said, with a hint of something unpleasant in his voice. "So nice of you to introduce yourself. Would you be so good as to tell me if I'm still going to be alive tomorrow?"

      Thor blinked. "I understood that you wished to discuss Sunlight on Water?"

      "I do. I want to know if I'm still responsible for her, how long I'm responsible for her and what happens when I'm no longer responsible for her."

      "You have already been tried and found guilty; you do not have the legal right to ask questions."

      "Then why are you here?"

      With O'Neill, it was easy to read his intent from gesture and manner. O'Neill had an innate curiosity: things existed to be explored, touched and investigated. He spoke his thoughts freely and did not attempt to conceal his meaning.

      This human was different.

      "I am here because I have obligations to the child and must determine the best way of fulfilling them." English was a poor language in some respects. It did not allow the finer shades of meaning, simply lumped them altogether under 'obligation'.

      Maybourne looked directly at him. "And you want my advice?"

      More than you know. Heimdahl and I are agreed; you may provide the clues to solve our own dilemma, but I cannot take that route, no matter how great our need, if there is any chance of harm to O'Neill's child.

      "Advice has a price," Maybourne said.

      "You are in no position to bargain." If all humans were as this one, the Goa'uld would have been welcome to destroy them.

      Maybourne spread his hands in a typically human gesture. "If I don't have information, I can't give you what you need. Will she ever be returned to her own world? If that's to be the case, then she will have very different needs than if she's to stay with the Asgard."

      Interesting. O'Neill had also referred to them by the name of their homeworld. It added additional weight to O'Neill's implication that Maybourne was from his own reality.

      "Normally, she would be returned to her own people on the death of her father."

      "But as her father is from a parallel reality, you've no way of knowing. You could assume a typical human life-span and return her when he's statistically likely to be dead."

      "The issue of parallel realities has yet to be discussed within the High Council. The war with the Replicators is of greater urgency."

      Maybourne's lip twisted. "What you're saying is that Sunlight and I are caught in a legal vacuum - I imagine it could be politically embarrassing for you to raise the issue right now." He grinned abruptly. "I wonder what their reaction would be if they discovered you'd sold them the Brooklyn Bridge? But then again, if I turn out to be a Maybourne who didn't threaten to kill Sunlight, I rather suspect the legal technicality I'm hanging on by would cease to have any validity at all." The grin quirked again. "I won't tell if you won't."

      O'Neill wished this person to live?

      Maybourne cocked an eyebrow. "The word you're looking for is 'blackmail'."

      Thor was mildly surprised that his voice didn't squeak. "You have no rights in this matter."

      "I don't know..." Maybourne rolled the words around as if testing them for flavour. "I think I have exactly what I want. You can't execute me without putting it before the Council. If that happens, I have to testify as to the contractual relationship between myself and Colonel O'Neill. If I tell the truth, you're in the soup."

      "And if I decide to tell them anyway?"

      "I'll take that chance."

      Now he could read the body language. Maybourne was relaxed: back no longer as straight, hands resting lightly on his knees, and a casual smile playing on his lips.

      "Here's what I want. First, you find a way of getting human food. I don't care if you synthesise it, steal it or persuade your worshippers on the Protected Worlds to leave it as offerings. Second: more space. On ship will do, but on a planet is better. Room enough for Sunlight to run around, throw things and maybe fix up a swing. Three: company. Other children would be best, but adults will do at a pinch. I'm not too fussed about language, we can learn that if we have to. Fourth: we stay together - I wouldn't want to lose my insurance."

      It was so easy to give in gracefully. After all, Maybourne was giving him exactly what he wanted.



      So this was what Gate travel was like: a sharp sensation of cold and nausea. Stumbling to regain his balance, Maybourne stepped out onto an alien world, holding tight onto Sunlight's hand.

      "Your dad does this for a living? I always knew the man was deranged."

      Sunlight was silent.

      Ignoring the spectacular view for an instant, he sat down on the steps leading down from the Stargate and invited her to sit down beside him.

      "Remember what I said about insults?" he asked.

      She nodded.


      "You're a ratbag?" She attempted a smile, and he clapped her on the shoulder.

      "That's better. Your dad knows I like him, but I've been insulting him for years and I'm not going to stop now. You just insult me right back again like Jack would, and we'll be fine."

      She stared out over the land before them. "Where is this?"

      "According to Heimdahl, this is Svenska." He took in the vast U-shaped profile of the valley that rose above them on either side, and the ice caps of the mountains beyond. Flowing down the centre of the valley, through fields with patchwork stone walls around them, was a river that seemed far too puny to have created a valley of such size. In the direction of the low-hanging sun, there was a town, close to which the river flowed into the sea.

      "Look." He pointed to a dirt track leading from the town into the farmlands. "There's people. I expect someone saw the Gate activation." Probably looking for free entertainment, to see if any Goa'uld have been caught by the hammer. He eyed the tall pillar with suspicion. On the top, the symbol of Thor was clearly visible. You can pass this way once, Heimdahl had said, after that, the hammer will be set to destroy you if you ever attempt to approach the Stargate.

      No access to off-world technology, never again. No access even to Earth technology; Heimdahl had taken Maybourne's wristwatch, all his books apart from the fiction, and Sunlight's plastic toys. Even Teddy Blue had had to be fought over, but at least that particular battle had been won, Heimdahl being finally convinced that the Goa'uld would not consider a cuddly toy to be a violation of the section of the treaty relating to the artificial advancement of technology on protected worlds. He still had his uniform too, complete with qualification pin and rank insignia. Presumably local metal-working techniques were at a reasonable level. Either that, or Heimdahl had concluded that the insignia provided no clues as to the techniques used to cast them. Maybourne was glad of that. No one here would recognise the uniform or understand what it meant, but it still felt good to wear it. It was a reminder of a time when he had been in control of his own life, when he'd been the one giving the orders.

      "Will they be nice to us?" Sunlight asked hesitantly.

      He nodded. "We've got money. See?" He held out some of the coins Heimdahl had given him, enough for about six months if he'd understood their value correctly. "Once we find our feet, I'll get a job of some sort and we'll be fine." He wished he was as sure of that as he sounded. What skills did he have that were relevant in a Medieval economy? I've worked in Intelligence and can hack into computer security systems; I speak fluent Russian and a smattering of a few other Slavic languages. I've followed the Stargate programme and organised research into alien technology. Where does that get me? Nowhere, unless I can organise a Stargate programme from here, and Heimdahl is bound to be watching out for that.

      Can I 'invent' stuff from memory? I'm not sure I actually know how a steam engine is constructed. Crop rotation would be a good one, but takes too many years to demonstrate that it works. If they have decent wire, I could probably make a simple electric generator with no problems, but what use is that if I can't make a light bulb or anything that needs electricity?

      Patience. You need to learn more of their culture before you can see what applies. So, for now, do what you always do: brazen it out and hope for the best.

      He straightened the lapels of his jacket with a calm hand, and waited while treacherous imagination conjured up a vision of what he'd rather be doing.

      Someday, I may learn to be a father to Sunlight, but I could never have done that for you, Cassandra, no matter how much you might have wanted it. Some things aren't compatible with being a parent and the way I feel about you is one of them.


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