I have to try.
He's dead. You can't do anything more for him. Sunlight needs us.
Jack's hurt was a raw wound, compounded of anger and grief. As he stopped his resuscitation attempts on Maybourne and rested his hands on Sunlight instead, she curled into a tight ball, shutting out everything around her.
She had been so pleased to see them...
Emotions were bouncing between himself and Jack, anger fuelling anger, pain fuelling pain, and love sharpening it all to a razor's edge. They were close to spiralling out of control and Kantele didn't care.
"You did this!" he shouted at the uncaring grey faces above them. "You promised you would care for her. You hurt her.
"Sure, Maybourne was a bastard. He was an egotistical, selfish liar who could justify almost anything to himself. But even he knew that you don't mess around with the love of a child."
"He was not a blood relation," Odnir said. "There could be no true bond between them. She merely mourns the loss of one who gave her food."
They had no understanding. They didn't even have the beginnings of understanding. "He was willing to die in order for her to be with her father."
"Naturally. That was his contractual obligation."
Jack gave him a nudge and took over. Keeping one hand resting on Sunlight's shoulder, he stretched the other out in exasperation. "We're talking Harry Maybourne here. He broke the damn treaty in the first place. Do you think he gave a damn about contractual obligations?"
Acting as one, they picked up the tight-curled child and held her close, gently taking her away from the body that she frantically tried to cling to.
"She's seen too much death," Kantele said. "She may never be able to forget. She was my host for a short while, and I know - her greatest fear is that she will lose everyone she loves."
"Maybourne knew that," Jack added. "He asked me to fake letters written from him for her so that she would think he was still alive. If you had waited just five minutes, she might never have known."
Thor rose gracefully to his feet and came down from the bench to stand before them. Kantele felt the complexity of Jack's feelings towards the diminutive alien. New-found hatred ripped through the core of affection and friendship that had existed between them, and a sense of betrayal mingled with helplessness as Jack tried to remind himself that punching Thor on the nose would achieve nothing.
Thor's thin-boned hand reached out to almost touch Sunlight.
"Will she speak to me?" Thor inquired.
"You just killed someone she loved. What do you think?"
Sunlight's head turned just far enough to address Thor. "I hate you."
In a fluid motion, Thor took a half-step back. "She used to like me."
Thor gazed at them with a slow, sad blink of his liquid eyes, before turning to face the remaining judges on the bench. With one hand, he gestured to Maybourne's body which vanished away in a transporter-beam effect that could have come straight out of Star Trek.
"I have committed a crime," Thor said. "I have committed a breach of contract. At the time Maybourne died, the child of Colonel O'Neill was still in our custody. She suffered harm as a direct result of my action."
"She had been released," Odnir said.
Freyr was quick to object. "She had not reached her father. Until she was fully restored to him, she was our responsibility."
"But justice must be carried out for all to see."
Thor tilted his head slowly from side to side. "Sunlight on Water is not of legal age in her culture. It was only necessary for O'Neill to act as witness to punishment. I acted in error."
The faintest rustle of sound came from all around, leaves rustling in an Autumn breeze. Kantele remembered it from long long ago: the quiet murmur of thousands of Aesir voices as they questioned something new. Once, they had struggled to understand the concept of a symbiote living in harmony with its host; now, a race without children had to try and understand the love that could grow between an adult and a foster-child.
"What evidence do we have as to the degree of harm?" asked Odnir.
"We have seen it with our own eyes," countered Thor. "We have heard the evidence of Colonel O'Neill and Kantele."
Freyr stared down from the bench. "Is it common for such bonds to form in your species? Will any of your adults rear any of your young?"
"Look," Jack said, dialling the sarcasm to full, "I'm sure all this is fascinating, but Sunlight's had enough for one day. She needs to go home."
"O'Neill," Thor said softly, "you must help us. It is important."
Kantele stamped a mental foot on Jack's toe, before he had a chance to say 'Give me one good reason.'
They did save Earth for us...
Jack sighed. "Some adults hate kids, some love them. Some love only their own kids, some will go out of their way to help the sick and the homeless and devote their entire lives to them. I'm surprised Maybourne went as far as he did, but then he had no kids of his own to go back to. Or maybe he was just a better man than I gave him credit for."
"He attempted to teach her," Thor said. "He would not let us give her language; he said that she should learn it for herself. Is this what you would have wished?"
Jack fidgeted, wanting as much as Kantele to get away from this place, to get Sunlight back where she needed to be.
"I guess so," he said. "Be nice to know it all, but you get whatever mistakes are in the original. Carter keeps telling me that old scientists never discover anything original, because they can't abandon stuff they learnt when they were younger."
"She is correct, O'Neill. Our science advances slowly now; our military tactics are unoriginal, and we have lost the art of easy innovation. We have no young, and now we must decide. Do we go down our present sterile path forever, or do we take a risk? We have found one of our ancestors in stasis from thirty thousand years ago. We cannot revive him, but there are enough viable cells to be able to clone him. If we let the clone grow naturally to maturity then it will learn as one of your young would - slowly and inefficiently. We considered this and rejected this as we did not believe the young clone would be able to bond with any of our adults. None of us have any practical knowledge of how to rear young."
Realisation struck them both simultaneously, but Jack got to the vocal chords first.
"Guinea pigs! You damn well used my daughter as a guinea pig."
"It was at your request. There is a word in your language, 'serendipity'."
"Harry's dead because of your serendipity and as for Sunlight..."
There was something about that blink...
Wait a minute.
There's something we're missing.
Sunlight's fingers clutched at his shirt. "I want Harry."
"Would you please repeat that for the court?" Thor asked.
"I want Harry!"
Thor turned and inclined his head to the bench. "I believe the victim of the crime has just made a plea for restitution. There is only one possible response under the law."
Carter had a bad attack of the fidgets. Every time she tried to concentrate on something else, her mind hopped back to Jack and Kantele. Try as she might to read a book, she had to keep going over the same page again and again.
Her family were out there and she didn't know when they'd be back. It wasn't just Jack and Kantele: it was Sunlight too. Like it or not, Sunlight was going to need two parents after what she'd likely been through with either the Asgard or Maybourne. There was no possibility of stepping back now, no being an auntie who came round to play occasionally. This was the full blown motherhood thing. How she and Jack would sort it all out, she didn't yet know, but they'd have to figure out some kind of pattern on their working hours. Using day-care would surely be out of the question until the little girl had some stability and confidence in her life. Maybe Dad would help. Sunlight seemed to like her Grandpa.
Being a mother felt alien, strange. She'd always expected to have children some day, but she'd also expected to start at the beginning, not to give birth to a four-year old. It was still hard to grasp the idea that Sunlight was, genetically, her child. She needed to talk about it, to try and understand her own feelings, and only one person came to mind. Taking out her cellphone, she dialled.
"Sam, I'm just in the middle of lunch."
"Nice to hear you too, Dad. Can I come round? I need to talk to you - about Mom."
Daniel checked his cellphone again, but he hadn't missed any calls and the battery wasn't flat. Wishful thinking in any case: he checked the charge every morning - Jack's language had been quite creative the one time he'd let it go flat and he'd been needed.
"Watching will not make it ring," Teal'c said.
"I know, I just can't stop wishing there was some news."
"Would you prefer to hold this discussion on another occasion?" Malik asked.
"I apologise for my manners," Daniel said hastily. Hammond had asked him to do this and he had to try and stop worrying about Jack for a little while at least. He took a deep breath of the pine-scented air and used it to focus himself. Malik had asked to come up to the surface to see something of the world that his mother, Egeria, had known. They were high enough on the mountain to lose all noise from the world below and the song of the unseen birds in the trees was a pleasant contrast to the background machine sounds of the SGC.
"The Tok'ra are our allies and we want to help you in any way possible."
Direct to the point, Malik asked, "Will General Hammond help us establish another Tok'ra base?"
"He asked me to discuss that with you. We have a base on a world that isn't known to the Goa'uld. We evacuated the rebel Jaffa there when their base was destroyed by Lord Yu and it seemed logical-"
"We will not live with the Jaffa."
"What?" He knew he was looking stupid even as he said it. Teal'c, with far greater reserves of calm, said nothing with an impassivity that hinted little as to his inner thoughts.
Malik sat down on a boulder and scooped up a handful of dry pine needles. "We have every respect for those like Teal'c who have been able to take up the fight against the Goa'uld, but the loyalties of most Jaffa are suspect. Their dependence on symbiotes makes them too vulnerable to be reliable." He tossed the pine needles into the air and the breeze carried them away. "They blow as the wind blows."
Teal'c stood straight, his hand gripping a young tree as though it were the haft of his staff weapon.
"You insult Rak'nor. He accepted death when his symbiote matured. He lives now only though the aid of Doctor Fraiser."
Malik dusted his hands together. "And can you guarantee that every Jaffa will be as brave? The Jaffa of a defeated System Lord go on to serve his conqueror. Dead gods, no matter how venerated, cannot provide symbiotes."
"We can only die once." He took a deliberate step towards Malik. "As can you."
Malik came rapidly to his feet and stood firmly to face Teal'c. "Is this Jaffa loyalty?"
"Teal'c!" Daniel hastened to interpose himself, but Teal'c waved him aside.
"The Tok'ra claim to be willing to die to defeat the Goa'uld," Teal'c said. "Do you believe you are the only ones capable of this? Or are you simply Goa'uld, unable to see Jaffa as more than expendable slaves?"
"We are not Goa'uld!"
"Then let us speak to your host," Daniel said. "I'd like to hear his opinion."
Malik relaxed his combative stance slightly and dipped his head. The side of his mouth twitched uncontrollably as he spoke. "H- How can you doubt Malik? He s-saved me from your kind."
Daniel gestured at Teal'c to take a step back, but 'Malik' showed no visible reduction in stress.
"My father and mother, my sisters, all killed by Jaffa. I wish all of you were dead!" His hands began to shake. Daniel reached out a hand to comfort him, but he flinched away, dipping his head to signify a return to the symbiote.
"You must understand, " Malik said, " that Theodore's experience is not untypical of Tok'ra hosts. We find willing hosts where the Goa'uld have committed unspeakable atrocities. Not only that. Whenever a Tok'ra has died in the last two thousand years, it has usually been at the hands of a Jaffa.
"Intellectually, we accept that some Jaffa are different. Emotionally, for both symbiote and host, it may prove impossible."
"Colonel," Hammond said brusquely, "why did you bring this man here?"
Maybourne's hackles rose at the question. He was tired, his head hurt and his mind was still having difficulty accepting the fact that he'd been dead. Only, the bruises on his chest, where Jack had tried to restart his heart, hurt enough to convince him; that, and Sunlight holding onto his hand with enough grip to half-crush his fingers. With her other hand, she clung to Jack as he answered Hammond's question.
"We had no choice, Sir. The Asgard released Maybourne and Sunlight on a legal technicality, but took it for granted that we wished to be returned to where they believed we came from. They sent us here. If you can send us to P3W-924 then we'll use Ma'chello's portal to get back home. We can't afford to hang around. Thor said he'd close the portal in a day or so."
Hammond's eyes raked over Maybourne, taking in every crease in his uniform, the month-long beard, and the parlous state of his shoes. He did his best to show no reaction. What had seemed clean on Svenska now looked scruffy, and he was particularly conscious of the beard being non-regulation. He was also acutely conscious of the need to get away from here. Hammond might have ordered the base personnel to forget they ever saw him, but the way they'd looked at him strongly suggested that several were tempted to shoot first and forget afterwards. That hurt - for a short time at least, this had been his base and they had been part of his team.
"General," Hammond said, addressing him for the first time, "in spite of my personal opinions regarding your past actions, your lack of honesty, and your morality, I will give you safe passage off this base in recognition of the assistance you have given us. Just don't expect anything more."
What the heck was that about? He exchanged a quick glance with Jack, but received no enlightenment there. Oh well, you didn't expect gratitude in this game. There was just one thing, though:
"General, I'd like to ask one favour."
Hammond's glare pierced right through him. "Didn't you hear what I just said?"
There were times when you had nothing to lose.
"I'd like to speak to Cassandra."
"You would, would you?" The Texan drawl was slow and deliberate.
"Apparently I'm not the only one with a hearing problem." He'd had it up to here with being shoved around, and he could glare every bit as well as General Hammond. He leant forward over the polished wooden desk. "You owe me."
"I hope you meet up with Cassandra, General. I hope you meet up with her real soon." Hammond reached into his desk drawer and pulled out an exercise book. "Jack, take your daughter someplace else for a few minutes. General Maybourne and I have things to discuss."
"Is she..." Jack stopped.
Hammond looked down at Sunlight. "Cassandra's fine, son. Now take your daughter, and if you'll take my advice, keep her as far away from this man as possible."
Maybourne shifted into Svenska. There was a fair chance that Kantele would know it or something similar and he was damned if he was going to let Hammond listen in on anything personal.
"Jack, take her home. The longer she stays here, the more distressed she'll get. Every time someone points a gun at me, it scares her."
"What will you do?"
"If I go back with you, Hammond will have no option but to arrest me as soon as I step through the Gate: I'm still an escaped prisoner. I'll cross back into our reality via Ma'challo's portal and then Gate to Svenska. I know I can survive there. Bring Sunlight to visit me whenever you can." He was looking into the future and didn't much care for what he saw. "It's going to be very lonely without her."
"We'll bring her in a couple of days." Jack rested a hand on his shoulder. "She's going to miss you. Have you got anything she can keep with her to reassure her that you aren't going away for ever?"
Maybourne knelt down and unfastened the intelligence pin from his uniform jacket. "Sunlight. Your dad's going to take you home. I'll follow on later. Can you look after this for me until I see you again?"
Sunlight nodded and clutched it tight in her hand. She'd said very little since his resurrection and he knew the signs and worried for her. She touched the epaulette on his shoulder with a questioning finger.
"You want that too?" He unpinned the general's star and fastened it onto the pocket of her dress. He could sense Hammond's disapproval of his cavalier attitude to the uniform and was quietly amused by it. It wasn't his uniform in any case: it belonged to a dead man. He unfastened the star on the other side and pinned that on her too. It really was quite entertaining to work out the number of regulations he was breaking.
Abruptly, Sunlight grabbed Teddy Blue from where he stuck his head out of a pocket in Jack's BDUs and thrust the toy into Maybourne's hand. Knowing what was expected of him, he gave the creature a cuddle; the soft feel of its fur was oddly reassuring.
It was ridiculous. The thing was just a stuffed toy. Just the thing she loved best in the world... Nothing to get worked up about. Nothing at all.
Stuff Hammond - he wrapped his arms around Sunlight for a farewell hug and did his damn best to express everything that he felt for her.
Maybourne fought the urge to look behind him; he knew Sunlight wasn't there. Checking on her location had become so automatic that it required conscious effort not to do it. He focused instead on the exercise book that lay in front of him on Hammond's desk. Pale blue, slightly battered around the edges, it looked like the kind of thing that schools got through in truckloads. All that was written on the front was the word 'Private' in black ball-point with a few doodles of leaves and flowers underneath it.
Hammond nodded towards the book. "Read it. If you have the guts."
So he picked it up with a steady hand and read the first page.
The sense of her was so strong that for a moment he even thought he could smell the shampoo that Cassandra used on her hair. She'd remembered him - he smiled inwardly, but let nothing show. The book was a trap, Hammond had made that clear. He finished the page and turned over, noting the way that Cassandra wrote her letters, the distinctive loops and the high dots.
She'd covered for him with Hammond? He's subconsciously expected her to do that, but was still gratified by it. But how had Hammond got hold of the diary?
An awkward sense of premonition was creeping up his spine, his own fear growing to match the fear in Cassandra's diary. Was she still alive? Why else had Hammond got Sunlight out of the way? Why else was he looking at Maybourne with that unflinching quiet disdain?
Another page. Chris? Who the hell was Chris? He acknowledged the irrationality of jealousy and moved on.
She'd needed him. Him, not some upstart youngster, and he hadn't been there. She'd never been far from his thoughts, but thoughts weren't enough. Thoughts couldn't reach out and put an arm around someone.
Sense at least to know her own mind and stick to her guns. Do you realise that's one of the things I like most about you? You've got the strength to say what you think. You don't hide behind layers. You're willing to look beyond the cliché and grapple with reality.
The diary was a window into her mind, a gift that he'd never expected to have. Each page showed him another aspect of her, of the cultural mix that had made her what she was, and the courage that had enabled her to struggle on while having to hide who and what she was from everyone around her. He was still trying to recall how she had felt in his arms when the next entry hit him.
Shit! I didn't, did I? Well, not exactly. Heck, I can't even remember what I did say. How the hell should I know what the age of consent is in Colorado? Frankly, at that particular moment, I didn't care.
Hammond's read this? No wonder he's giving me such a dirty look.
Very carefully, looking as though he were reading nothing more important that an inter-office memo on paperclip consumption, he turned another page.
Myra had to be the most rational feminist he'd ever encountered. If you really want to know, I grew up in Iowa. It's legal at fourteen there. You can get married at twelve, though I doubt it happens very often. One of those wonderful legal twists where it's apparently fine to have sex if you've signed on the dotted line, but seriously damaging to your health if you're single. Is there an age gap rule in Iowa? Might be. I don't know for sure. The last time I tried seducing teenage girls was when I was a teenage boy. And that was one hell of a long time ago.
Let's be honest here, Myra; you're probably being too nice. Bottom line? I didn't care. I thought she'd betrayed me and all I wanted to do was to get into her pants by way of revenge.
Don't I get any Brownie Points for kicking her out of the room?
Keep reading. It can't get any worse.
Ah, I guess it depends on what you mean by 'worse'. Cassie, it's bad when you're tearing me to pieces, but I'm not sure I can cope any better when you're being nice.
Why aren't you here? I need to talk to you in person. Look, we can skip the sex part. I just want to be with you for a while, to be sure you're okay. Did Jack remember to give you the money? I forgot to ask him. I need to know you're all right.
Yes you do. More than any of us. You did your job with the added handicap of youth and insufficient training. I suppose I have to give Kinsey credit for recognising it - with his prejudice against aliens it would have been easy to overlook you.
Took Davis long enough to get around to it. He should have been into Kinsey's computer weeks ago. Probably still hoping against hope that the President is wearing a white hat. So, what did he get? Maybe I'll have a peek before I go. Might be interesting, always assuming that Hammond will let me within a mile of any SGC computer system.
Last page coming up...
Hammond waited silently for Maybourne's reaction. He knew how he'd felt after reading the diary: angry beyond belief at the way Maybourne had tricked his way into Cassandra's affections, lied to her, abused her trust and finally left her with nothing. He'd remembered the twelve-year old girl who had come to them, clinging so desperately to Colonel O'Neill in the aftermath of her world's destruction, and of the bond that had developed between her and Dr Fraiser. All gone. All wasted.
The diary was all that was left of that little girl and it was too dangerous to share with anyone else. The whole parallel reality situation was a loaded gun. Let that knowledge get to the wrong people and the consequences could be disastrous. Maybourne's presence here and now was a massive security risk. Hammond had sealed off the bottom two levels of the base to minimise the chances of contact, but at least fifteen people knew of the man's arrival.
He'd stayed awake last night wondering who else had read that diary before it had been sent to him with the rest of Cassandra's effects. Had they realised the significance? Miraculously, there had been nothing in the news and the coroner's report had been terse to say the least. Death, even by suicide, was so familiar that it no longer had the power to stir anyone into major enquiries, even if there had been the manpower to spare.
Oh, Hammond knew exactly how he felt. Angry, helpless, and unable to do anything for Cassandra apart from hoping that Maybourne had humanity enough to be able to hurt.
The fingers of Maybourne's left hand curled themselves into a tight ball, nails digging into the palm; his right seemed unable to loose its grip upon the fragile exercise book. His eyes stared blankly at the paper, but whether in guilt, remorse or denial, Hammond was unable to judge.
"The driver said she ran right in front of him," he said coldly. "She was dead before she reached the hospital."
The exercise book crumpled under Maybourne's hand, crushed, as his fist clenched in a sudden spasm. "I need..." His voice caught awkwardly; he clenched his jaw and tried again. "Could you-" He broke abruptly and buried his head in his hands, fingers clawing at his forehead. "Please - put some flowers on her grave for me."
Now, he had the reaction he'd wanted, but there was no pleasure in it. All he could find was resentment, as if Maybourne's distress at Cassandra's death retrospectively entitled him to some share in her life.
He buried all trace of pity. Maybourne deserved everything he got. "You mean," he said deliberately, "the grave that she shares with five thousand other people? The graves that people are still being buried in because it's too soon after the plague for the emergency legislation to have been repealed? The graves that you condemned them to, because you thought it was smart to steal from the only people who could protect us against the Goa'uld.
"And don't give me any crap about how things were different in your reality. Cassandra knew. Why she lied for you, I'll never know, but even she finally saw you for what you were."
Maybourne's face rose to glare at him, anger evident in the tight-drawn skin across the forehead, in the downward turn of his lips and jut of his chin. "Don't judge me."
A knock on the door behind Maybourne snapped Hammond's attention away briefly from his unwelcome guest.
Major Davis stepped in, crisp and smart in strong contrast to Maybourne. "Sir, I-" He caught sight of Maybourne and his face broke into a smile. "General, it's good to see you again. How did-"
"General Maybourne is just about to leave."
"But I need..." Belatedly, Davis reacted to the tone of command in Hammond's voice and trailed off.
"Kinsey's files?" Maybourne asked.
It grated beyond belief to have one of his people treat this man with respect, regardless of his rank.
Maybourne's expression morphed into a smile, the kind that tigers reserved for their victims. "I still have a margin of at least twenty-four hours before the Asgard close the portal. I'd be delighted to assist Major Davis in his quest for information." A sneer, directed at him where Davis wouldn't see it. "I'm sure you'll agree that I'm uniquely qualified to know what he's looking for."
Hammond reminded himself that Jack O'Neill had been able to work with this man. Jack had taken it for granted that he would see that Maybourne got home again - alive. He was also expected to stop the news of Maybourne's presence getting out, while still giving the President enough information to enable him to handle the situation correctly if the Aesir had future dealings with Earth. The same President who might or might not have been involved in Maybourne's conspiracy in the first place...
Like it or not, he had to know.