"A techno-mage?" said Sinclair, incredulously.
Ivanova had returned to Sinclair's office. She felt it best to deliver this particular piece of bad news in person.
"Not a real one," replied Ivanova. "Just some kid who bought himself the robes and the books and a whole lot of bad luck."
Sinclair relaxed a little. "How long is the clear-up going to take?" he asked.
Ivanova shifted uneasily. "That's what I came to tell you. There's very little real damage to the room itself – that's easily fixed."
"But…" prompted Sinclair.
"But," said Ivanova, "he left us a little present. I've left the people from SG-1 taking a look at it. Do you know, that guy Daniel even suggested that this might be the reason they're here? Isn't that nuts?"
Sinclair leaned back in his chair, thoughtfully. "Well," he said, "they did walk through the Jumpgate from an alternate Earth, years in the past, on a mission they received from Ambassador Kosh in a dream…"
"Point taken," replied Ivanova.
"So what's this problem SG-1 is looking into for us?" asked Sinclair.
"I'm not sure," said Ivanova. "But it looks bad. Near as we could tell from looking at the kid's notes, it's some kind of portal or rift in space – and it's getting bigger."
"Bigger?" said Sinclair. "What sort of time-scale are we talking here?"
Ivanova paused. "I hate to give you 'I don't knows' for something as big as this…"
"But you don't know."
"No, sir," replied Ivanova. "From the rate of expansion, it'll fill the room it's in in about forty-five hours."
"Have we got any of our own people on it?"
"To be honest," said Ivanova, "I didn't see the point. Colonel Carter is an astrophysicist and Daniel Jackson is an expert on deciphering ancient languages like the one in our wannabe techno-mage's books. We don't have anyone better on the station."
Sinclair stood up. "So you think SG-1 is confident that they can handle this?"
"They'd better be," said Ivanova. "They only have a little under forty-five hours themselves until they're unable to return home."
"Then let's see what they can do."
o o o
"There's nothing we can do," said Jack.
Daniel looked up from the weighty tome he was reading and scowled. "Jack," he said, "this is why we're here. We have to be able to do something."
"Daniel's right," said Sam. "It can't be just coincidence that we show up when this happens, with the skills required to fix it – Daniel can translate the texts, then I can work out the –"
"Space stuff," interrupted Jack, "yeah, I know. But come on, we've only got forty-five hours to get back."
"Which is almost how long it'll take for that thing to go critical," said Sam, patiently. "It can't be coincidence, sir," she said again.
"It's all coincidence!" cried Jack. "Okay, okay – you and Daniel have got the skills, there's no doubt about that, but then explain this: what are Teal'c and I here for?"
"Perhaps there's a magic word that needs to be said in a really sarcastic tone of voice?" muttered Daniel, into his book.
Jack waved a finger at Daniel, momentarily lost for words. "That's…" he started. "That's no way to talk about Teal'c."
"Perhaps," said Teal'c, feeling himself being dragged into the argument and looking for a quick escape, "we are here for a different reason, O'Neill; one that may be found elsewhere on this station."
"Good idea, T," replied Jack, straightening up. "Let's leave these two with their ancient tomes of power, huh?"
They made to leave but were stopped at the door by two men in security uniforms.
"What's going on?" asked Jack.
"It's okay," called Garibaldi, strolling up the corridor. The guards stepped back.
"Sorry about that; standard security protocol," explained Garibaldi. "I'm sure you wouldn't allow visitors to walk around your Stargate Command unescorted."
"No," agreed Jack, "and yet it happens so very often."
Garibaldi chuckled. "Yep," he said, "that's the trouble with a security net: a net is only a loose collection of holes."
"Very… philosophical," said Jack.
"Sorry, it's the long hours," replied Garibaldi. "You wouldn't believe the rubbish that runs through your head on the night shift."
Jack shook his head. "Garibaldi, I think that talking to you is one of the few things that's happened to me today to make any sense at all."
"I've just got off duty," said Garibaldi. "What say I buy you guys a drink?"
Jack turned to Teal'c with a smile. "Maybe Daniel was right – there is a reason for us to be here." To Garibaldi, he said, "lead on!"
o o o
It didn't take long to reach one of Babylon 5's drinking establishments, and by the time they did, Garibaldi and O'Neill were chatting away like old friends. Teal'c, meanwhile, walked along silently beside them, taking in the sights and sounds of the station.
"An O'Neil class station?" O'Neill was saying. "You don't say. One L or two?"
"Just the one," replied Garibaldi.
"Ah, well, doesn't count," said O'Neill. "It's the deuce or it's nada, I'm afraid."
No sooner had they arrived and ordered drinks – O'Neill was delighted to find they still served beer in this version of the future, while Teal'c was served a glass of an unnamed but delicious fruit juice – than Garibaldi's wrist communicator beeped.
He sighed. "Garibaldi."
"Chief, we've got a situation down in Green-2. The Gaim ambassador's been murdered."
Garibaldi put his glass of fruit juice on the bar and stood to leave. As he reached to switch off his communicator the voice on the other end spoke again.
"Uh… Chief? Is Colonel O'Neill with you? I'd bring him along if I were you."
O'Neill raised his eyebrows in surprise and Garibaldi returned his look with a shrug. "On my way," he said and switched off his communicator.
"Well, let's go check this out," said Garibaldi. His manner seemed different somehow, more guarded, as if waiting to see what lay at the crime scene before deciding if he had been right to trust O'Neill. O'Neill, seeing this, found himself wanting to protest his innocence, but knew that such protestations might only imply guilt. Instead, he nodded and put his beer on the bar.
"May I remain here?" asked Teal'c.
Garibaldi looked uncertain, wrestling with conflicting feelings of companionship and suspicion.
"Teal'c will be no trouble," O'Neill assured him. "I promise you that. He's the most honourable man I know."
Garibaldi nodded. "Okay, Jack. Let's go."
Teal'c turned back to the bar as the others left. He knew that his friend was innocent and would have nothing to worry about whatever was discovered at the crime scene. With the faintest flicker of a smile, he picked up Garibaldi's untouched glass of fruit juice and sat it next to his own. Jack's beer he pushed to the far side of the bar.
Perhaps Jack is right, he thought, and there really is no preordained reason for us to be here. Nevertheless, it was a unique experience, visiting this grand space station with its exotic aliens. And in the meantime, he had two drinks in front of him. Or maybe Daniel is right, he went on, and we each have a purpose here. He felt sure that whatever it was would find him when it had to. And in the meantime, he had two drinks in front of him.
Someone took the seat to Teal'c's left. A sideways glance revealed a man with reptilian skin, dressed in what appeared to be studded leather armour. The man gestured to the bartender for a drink as another figure seated himself to the right of Teal'c. This man looked like a normal, slightly portly, middle-aged human, but was dressed in an extravagant frock coat, his hair standing straight up in a tall comb from ear to ear above a high, bare forehead. He too ordered a drink.
As one, they turned in towards Teal'c. "I couldn't help noticing," they both said at once.
The lizard-skinned man frowned. "Do you mind, Mollari?" he said, heavy venom dripping from his tone. "This is a private conversation."
Mollari's reply was a cold as the other's was spiteful. "This is a public bar, G'Kar. I do not believe you can dictate the flow of conversation."
G'Kar gave a short, humourless laugh. "That's rich: a Centauri calls me a dictator."
"You see what I have to put up with?" Mollari said to Teal'c. "I do apologise, the Narn are like children, you see. They have no idea how to behave in civilised society. They lack the manners of the Centauri."
"'Centauri manners' is a contradiction in terms," replied G'Kar.
The two fell in to a sullen, resentful silence. Between them, Teal'c made a few quick assessments as he sipped his drink. The two obviously knew each other, but were clearly members of two opposing, rival races. There was a palpable air of stalled violence between them, as if each would like nothing better than to tear the other limb from limb, but was forced to resist the temptation. Something stopped them.
"You are ambassadors," Teal'c guessed.
"For my sins," agreed Mollari, staring down into his drink. "Yes."
"As am I," said G'Kar, taking a sip from his glass. "For his sins."
This jibe looked set to start them sniping at one another again, so Teal'c raised a hand for silence. "I am the sole representative of my people, the Jaffa, here in this universe. That makes me an ambassador of sorts. Perhaps we should talk."
"Yes," said Mollari, eagerly, "yes, but not here." He shot a look over at G'Kar. "There may be unsavoury elements listening."
"Here," said Teal'c, firmly. "All three of us."
Perhaps, he thought, I am here to mediate a peace between these two races. This would be a great, near impossible task. But in the meantime, he still had most of two drinks in front of him.
o o o
Elsewhere in the station, Garibaldi and O'Neill approached the crime scene. A man and a woman in security uniforms stood guard at the end of the corridor, but they moved aside to allow the two through.
Crumpled on the floor was a vaguely humanoid body, its torso torn open. It wore an insect-like helmet with round, dark eyes and a long snout. A wide pool of blood spread out from the corpse.
"Good god," said Garibaldi. "What a mess."
"I think it's obvious why I was to see this," said O'Neill, pointing to the wall.
Daubed on the wall, written in the ambassador's blood, were many words. They looked to have been written in a frenzy and the dark, dripping fluid had splashed and run over most of the wall, but a few words were still legible.
O'Neill. SG-1. Death.