SPOILER: The story takes place in the middle of the fourth season, but there are no major spoilers.
Many thanks to my beta Maryann! All remaining errors are mine.
What you see in the mirror
Returning to Atlantis through the Stargate, McKay was shocked to see Dr Weir. Dr Elizabeth Weir, who he had assumed was dead. But that wasn't the only thing wrong. Not just that she looked dissatisfied; in addition she held a cane in her hand. "You are more than four hours overdue!"
Now he noticed how Sheppard stepped back so that he stood behind McKay. As a result Weir directly asked him. "So, McKay, why this delay?"
"Honestly, there are things I want to ask myself." The Canadian didn't go on, because he got a blow in his face. With a cane. Done by Dr Weir.
His thoughts jumped between different possibilities. He was able to rule out a nightmare promptly. The hellish pain in the face was very real. Replicators? Unlikely. A parallel universe? Was it possible to get to an alternative world through the wormhole? Yes, it was possible. His thoughts were cut off by a second blow. "Damnit, McKay, are you drunk again? Or are you able to explain what held you up this long?"
Okay, this woman standing in front of him obviously was very angry. He shouldn't make any mistakes now. "No, no, no, I'm sober, completely sober. The mission didn't take a normal course, that's all. There were, uh, delays. Sheppard can give you further details." At these words Sheppard glared at him.
"Well, Sheppard, follow me to my office. Ronon, Teyla, McKay, you may go."
After Weir and Sheppard departed, Ronon hit his shoulder in a friendly way. "Delays? Good joke!" He left the gate room laughing. Teyla pulled the still irritated McKay out of the gate room.
When they were alone in the hallway, she asked him. "What's going on here?"
"I don't know. Are you you?"
"I think that it is strange and odd here. And I expected Colonel Carter and not Dr Weir for our welcome. Something is wrong."
"Yeah, I'm thinking the same. I believe we are in a parallel universe. Maybe our doubles landed in our Atlantis. I don't know. Best thing would be to analyse the data referring to the Stargate. But first I'll go to the infirmary. My jaw is possibly broken." He rubbed his burning cheek.
"I doubt that. If it were broken, you wouldn't be able to talk. But nevertheless we can go there."
At the infirmary Carson Beckett approached them. "Oh, Rodney, not again!" Then he hesitated. "Teyla? May I do something for you?"
"No. I'm only accompanying McKay."
"By whose orders?"
Teyla looked a little bit helplessly at McKay, who answered. "She comes with me voluntarily."
"After everything that happened on M6V-32E?"
Both nodded, but Beckett wasn't really convinced. He wrapped a cooling compress in a sheet and gave it to McKay, who immediately pressed it against his cheek. Then he took a bottle of Scotch and poured two glasses. "You too, Teyla?"
She shook her head. He gave one of the glasses to McKay, but he refused. "What's wrong with you? No whiskey against the pain?"
"I'd prefer a painkiller. Can you give me one?"
Beckett put down the glasses and thought about something. Then he turned back to McKay and said, "Please, take off your shirt. I'd like to see the wounds on your back once more."
The scientist flinched, but Teyla stepped in. "We need to go to the debriefing."
"You can go. Rodney will stay. Doctor's orders." Teyla was tensed up and not willing to leave the infirmary. McKay watched Beckett emptying his glass of Scotch. Then Beckett laughed. "You don't belong here, do you? I bet you don't have any wounds on your back. And you don't know anything about M6V-32E? Am I right?" Neither McKay nor Teyla replied. "I won't reveal your secret. I have no reason to do that. But I'd like to have my Rodney back. Where is he?"
"We don't know. We really don't know how we landed here. What gave us away?" McKay had come to the conclusion that silence wasn't going to be of any use.
"In the end it was your request for a painkiller. You aren't allowed to get one after a punishment. That you both together arrived here was also a clue that there's something fishy going on. And I've never known you to refuse a Scotch."
Beckett emptied the second glass, too. "Hmm, this whole thing is about a parallel universe, right?"
"I assume so. We are not sure yet."
"Well, tell me about your universe, then I'll tell you about the differences."
McKay and Teyla looked at each other and finally McKay started to report. When Beckett found out that he was dead in the other world, he poured himself another glass of Scotch. And he laughed when he heard that Sam Carter had command of Atlantis. He'd never heard anything about Replicators.
Now and then Teyla added something to McKay's report. Both had a feeling that they could trust Beckett. It hadn't anything to do with facts; it was a combination of knowledge of human nature and intuition.
After they finished explaining, Beckett spoke directly to McKay. "Well, Rodney isn't head of science any more. There was an incident in which he destroyed nearly an entire solar system. Since then Zelenka has been head of science. You already met Dr Weir. She leads Atlantis with a heavy hand, but it is due to her that the loss of human life is kept within limits. Nearly everyone admires her for that."
"With a heavy hand? You mean that literally, don't you?" McKay edgily pointed to his cheek.
"Do I take it that corporal punishment is something unusual in your world?"
"Corporal punishment is not allowed in our world," Teyla said.
"Really? And you don't have problems with discipline?" Beckett was amazed. "Well, what can one say, then you should better know it's entirely up to the superiors if and how somebody must be punished. Of course, Dr Weir has the final say. Especially you, Rodney, should take some care of yourself. Back to the staff. Sheppard, the same as in your world, is our military leader and your team leader. You can't yet call it friendship between Sheppard and Rodney, but Sheppard is very patient with your alter ego. He was also one of the few people who spoke up for incorporating Teyla as a member of the Atlantis expedition. Ronon and Sheppard are friends. And who wouldn't like Ronon? A really funny guy, despite his long and lonely flight from the Wraith. Ronon gets on fine with nearly everyone here. Teyla, your alter ego is tolerated because she arranges a lot of contacts to other nations in this galaxy. But there are more than a few people in Atlantis who don't trust her and avoid her. I think it has something to do with her Wraith DNA. But she copes with her team quite well, at least with Ronon and Sheppard. Now I come to your alter ego." He pointed at McKay. "One of Rodney's problems is his brilliance. He is the best scientist here, he knows it and he continually let the others feel it. That's why most people here think he is an arrogant arse-hole. And some people believe that he is responsible for the death of quite a few people, because he is careless again and again, allegedly. Since he isn't head of science any more, there are constant brushes with Dr Weir and especially with Dr Zelenka. He always has to have his way. To do the things which are right in his opinion. And naturally Zelenka has to prove that he is the boss."
Beckett sat down and pointed at the Scotch. "You really don't want to drink some?"
"What's the matter with you? Why are you helping us?"
"Well, your alter ego is my only friend here."
"Why?" Teyla asked, "Beckett was quite popular with us."
"Not here. Has something to do with my past. Rodney is the only person who can turn a blind eye to it. And I am one of the very few people who puts up with Rodney. Seriously, I want him to come back, and the others won't help you. After an incident several years ago there is a strict order not to experiment with parallel universes. And in case of another intersection with a parallel world we are to maintain the status quo, even if it means that our people have to stay in the other world or vice versa. Trust me when I say, I'm the only one with a real interest in helping you."
Zelenka called over the radio. "McKay, where the hell are you? You still have to recalibrate the settings on the heating system."
Beckett answered for McKay. "He's in the infirmary at the moment. I'll release him straightaway." And to Teyla and McKay: "It would be better if you don't hang around together too much. Some people could become suspicious. I wish you luck and if you need further information, ask me."
McKay went to the exit and then turned to Beckett. "Thank you, Carson."
"I'm doing this for me, Rodney."
Teyla promised to look around in Atlantis, and they went their different ways. In a way he was curious to see this other Zelenka, but above all he needed the gate protocols.
"So you are finally here, McKay! I already told you this morning that the heating system isn't working properly. That this is the first thing you have to do when you are back from your mission!"
"If it is so important, why didn't you take care of it yourself?"
"Don't start getting cheeky!" Zelenka yelled at McKay. Quickly he took a pc tablet and began to check the heating system.
The recalibration was done within a few minutes. "So, what caused the error?" Zelenka asked.
"Apparently there are people who don't know the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit. You ordered the temperature be set to 22° Celsius, quite pleasant. But if you set the temperature to 22° Fahrenheit, the heating system won't work." One of the scientists in the room went deathly pale.
McKay tried not to look at the man, but Zelenka noticed him, too. "Did you bungle this?"
"I… I was inattentive. It wasn't that bad, was it?"
The scientist slowly stepped back from Zelenka, who came up to him in a menacing way. As they arrived at the entrance to a smaller lab, Zelenka pushed him into the room and locked the door. Then he turned to another scientist. "Raise the temperature in this room to 50°C, then after half an hour lower the temperature to 50°F. Let him out after another half an hour. By then he should know the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit."
McKay stared at Zelenka, who stared back. "Don't you have something to do?"
He avoided Zelenka's look. "I noticed something when the wormhole established. I'd like to check the gate protocols."
"So you have a will of your own today?"
McKay wasn't sure how to react to this question. He decided to ignore it. "There was some sort of a fluctuation…"
Zelenka seemed to wrestle with himself, but finally he agreed.
In the control room he downloaded all relevant data to his own computer to examine them in his quarters very calmly. He didn't dare to search for leads in the control room. That maybe would have been suspicious. Any way, he thought that the whole situation was more than creepy.
He trusted Beckett, but nevertheless he checked his information about the theme "parallel worlds". He found out that Beckett was right. No one would help them.
Now he looked at the people surrounding him, then took a closer look at the control room. At the same time it was familiar and strange.
While looking over the gate room he noticed a pole with some chains attached to the top of it. He shivered while thinking about the purpose of this pole. He asked himself, how it could be that a world, which was so far developed, which had reached such a great progress of civilization, still stuck to such a primitive thing as corporal punishment. Then he thought about the drastic punishments of the Christian seafaring nations, which lasted until the late 19th century. He thought about the death penalty, still in use in some countries. He thought about the corporal punishments which were an integral part of the judicial systems in some Asian and Arabic countries. He finally concluded that corporal punishment of inferiors wasn't that strange. Cruel, unnecessary, but not strange.
As he finished the download of the protocols, he felt hungry and decided to go to the mess hall. On his way there he met Sheppard who grabbed him angrily by his upper arms and pressed him against a wall. "You damned idiot! If you weren't by far the best scientist here, I would throw you into the ocean! First it's your fault we're coming back late from this planet and then you've the cheek to tell Dr Weir I could explain our delay. What were you thinking?"
The grip on his upper arms was firm and painful. It was obvious that Sheppard expected an answer. "I… I wasn't thinking at all."
"Yeah, I can believe that. You're lucky I came up with a good excuse. Unfortunately I can hardly do this job without you." With these words Sheppard pushed the scientist to the floor, kicked him once and left him.
McKay felt hurt. It wasn't the kick itself, which was barely painful and more meant as a disapproving gesture; it was the fact that Sheppard kicked him at all. Then he shook his head, reminding himself that this was not his Sheppard.
He stood up, dusted off his clothes and continued on his way. He was still hungry. The people in the mess hall ignored him and left him alone, which suited him. He was amazed how great the food was, though. It was a lot better quality than he was used to. He smiled. At least one thing was good here.
This satisfaction left him when he entered his quarters. Used and unused clothes laid spread out over the whole room, in addition to single papers, remains of food, partly rotten, some remnants of vomit and several empty and some full bottles of booze. The sight of this room sent a pang through him. He realized that this was a parallel world, but nevertheless.
He sat on the bed, because it was the only free space. He started to look through the data he had downloaded to his computer. Then he remembered, with a little panic, that he had better make a report to Dr Zelenka. He laid down the computer and went back to the laboratories.
Later, a scientist came to McKay, surprising him in the workroom. "Zelenka wants to see you in his office."
Office? He didn't know of any office. So he had to radio Beckett for directions. He hoped that nobody noticed it.
When he finally found the office, he knocked at the door and was asked to come in. The office was scantily furnished. He spotted two things immediately: there were no chairs for visitors and on the desk was a cane. He hoped he wouldn't give Zelenka cause for using it.
"Where have you been so long?" Zelenka's tone was tired, not angry. McKay hoped that that was a good sign.
"I looked over the gate protocols. After that I had lunch."
"Have you found anything?"
"No. There was nothing conspicuous. I was wrong."
Zelenka stood up from his desk and walked to the window. "But you thought you noticed a fluctuation?"
"As I said, I was wrong."
"Why hadn't you given the all clear?" Zelenka still stared at the ocean.
"I didn't think of it. Everything was okay, there was no cause for concern." He couldn't think of a better answer.
"Do you realize how much of the security of Atlantis depends on our work?" It drove him nearly mad that Zelenka wouldn't look at him. He wasn't able to gauge his mood, how he was reacting to his answers.
"I've been in your position. I know the burden it can be."
"You made quite a mess of it, when you were in my position, McKay. Are you hinting that I'm not doing a good job?"
"No, of course not. I just want to say… want to say…" If only he would turn around!
"Yes? What do you want to say?"
"Times are tough. That's all I wanted to say."
Zelenka didn't say anything, staring out at the ocean in silence for several minutes. After some time McKay decided to leave the room, but when he opened the door, Zelenka called after him. "Did I give you permission to go?" McKay turned back to Zelenka who now stood at his desk looking at the Canadian. He closed the door and stood, sensing the tension in the office. "So? I asked you something!"
"No, you didn't give me permission to go."
"Then, why did you want to go?" McKay asked himself what this was all about. Did Zelenka want to provoke him? And if so, why?
"I thought you didn't want to talk to me anymore."
"It is my decision when you are leaving, have you got that straight?"
Zelenka sat down at his desk and began to work at his computer. He looked up once more at McKay. "You can go."
He wrote a final report about the supposed fluctuation at the Stargate, and then went to his quarters. The smell was nasty, nastier than the first time he was in his quarters, so he opened a window and decided to get rid of the rest of the food.
While he was doing that, Teyla came in. She turned her nose up when she saw the condition of his quarters. "It seems that your alter ego doesn't think much of tidying up."
"At least you don't have to sleep here."
"Have you found out anything?"
"No. I wasn't able to finish with the protocols, but I'll work on it tonight. How about you?"
"It's true, what Beckett said. The people here are avoiding me. I know that Sheppard and Ronon were sparring. I met Ronon on his way to it. I should tell you that the next briefing will be held at seven tomorrow morning. Apart from that it was difficult for me to get any information. At least I know that my people are fine, still living on the mainland. And how was your day?"
McKay talked about his experiences, especially the strange meeting with Zelenka, and Teyla knitted her brow. "I think you acted too passively. Beckett said your alter ego has some problems with Zelenka's authority."
"That may be. But I have a problem with being beaten, so if it is possible I try to avoid it."
"Just be more like yourself," Teyla smiled now.
"I am myself," McKay sighed.
McKay worked nearly the whole night at the protocols. By three a.m. he realized that he urgently needed sleep. The next morning he arrived bleary-eyed and just in time to the briefing. Ronon grinned at him. "Hangover?"
In addition to Ronon, Dr Weir, Zelenka, Beckett, Sheppard and Teyla were present. He sat down without a word and Beckett started to talk. "Your mission today is to search for a plant. The description and a drawing are lying in front of you. It seems that this plant contains a special agent which is helpful against some diseases of the Pegasus galaxy."
"But," now Dr Weir spoke, "there is a Wraith outpost on this planet. As far as we know it's only a small one, but it means you must proceed with extreme caution."
Then they discussed the data from the MALP and the tactical procedures. McKay didn't like the idea of being on a planet. The evaluation of the protocols was taking a longer time than he thought it would, and he'd hoped he could spend more time on it today.
Once on the planet they came to a river with thick vegetation along both banks. When they reached a ford, Sheppard said to Ronon and Teyla. "You two cross the river and search the left bank. McKay and I will stay on the right side."
Silently they walked a while along the bank, until Sheppard broke the silence. "What's wrong with you? You still didn't get on my nerves today."
"Nothing's wrong. I'm focused on finding the plant."
"Are you mad at me because of yesterday? I can assure you that you deserved more than just a kick! Damnit, do you think your life would be easier with Colonel Sumner? I'm quite an affable superior, am I not?"
"I'm not mad at you, really."
Sheppard shrugged and they went on silently. Occasionally they heard laughter from the other side of the river. "They seem to be entertaining themselves," Sheppard grumbled.
"You could've walked with Ronon or Teyla instead of being bored with me."
"Who said I'm bored? Really, it's quite relaxing not to hear your constant moaning."
While going their way McKay unwrapped a power bar.
"What's all this about?"
"I didn't have breakfast this morning."
Sheppard shook his head. "Why didn't you grab something before we went through the Stargate? We could have left Atlantis a bit later."
"I thought you wouldn't like it."
"And since when exactly are you interested in what I like?" Sheppard suddenly stopped.
McKay was afraid that the Colonel was becoming suspicious. "Uh, I don't know. I just wanted to be left alone today."
"Something's wrong with you. You are far too quiet. And not at all aggressive. The last time you were this way you were coming down with an Athosian cold. When we get back to Atlantis, I want Beckett to check you over."
"All right." McKay was fine with that. Maybe he could look over the protocols in the infirmary.
After a while they found a plant which fitted the description they'd been given. They informed Teyla and Ronon and went back. Suddenly they heard shots on the other bank. A Wraith attacked Ronon and Teyla, but they were able to kill him. When they met at the ford McKay saw with some horror that Ronon carried the cut off head of the Wraith. Sheppard grinned. "Nice little souvenir?"
"Exactly, John. I'll preserve it afterwards. The mission was worth it. – Hey, McKay, what's wrong? You're looking so pale."
Now Sheppard, too, looked at McKay. "I knew you've been too silent today. You're really ill."
McKay was glad that they didn't think he was pale because of the skull. Actually he was just able to suppress the reflex to retch. On the other hand Sheppard wasn't suspicious any more. On the way to the Stargate he asked Teyla to bring his computer to the infirmary. He hoped to stay there for the rest of the day.
Like the previous day Dr Weir welcomed them back. But today she was far more relaxed. Sheppard showed her the plant and Ronon proudly showed the head. "Good job! Take the plant directly to Beckett."
"McKay can do it," Sheppard said, "He's ill anyway. Needs an examination." He gave him the plant and McKay went to the infirmary.
"You should ask Ronon about his skull collection. It's pretty impressive." McKay had arrived at the infirmary and had told Beckett everything. "As for you… I think you can stay for a day here. I will say that your wounds are inflamed. That sometimes happens. Then you will be able to check your data undisturbed."
"Thanks, Carson. But, come to that, what caused these wounds?"
"It's his stubbornness. He urgently wanted to start an experiment. Zelenka prohibited it. Too dangerous, he said. But Rodney worked on it secretly. One day a circuit was overloaded and the discharge set fire to a lab."
"That's how he got wounded?"
Beckett laughed. "That's how he got caught. He got wounded by the 20 lashes of the whip he received for it."
"And you know the best thing? While lying in the infirmary, curing his injuries, he worked again on the same task. I don't know if that was brave or stupid."
"What was it he was working on?"
"Something about a new energy source. He said something about a phase displacement, I didn't really understand it and he didn't want to go into the details. He said he didn't want to pull me into it."
"This could be it! That could be the reason why we are here! Do you know where he has his notes?"
"I think so," Beckett looked worried. "If this is his fault… that will be tough for him. – I better search for the notes. What matters most is that everybody get back where they belong. And you will make it!" When Beckett left the infirmary, McKay smiled. The man was so optimistic that McKay would manage it. That gave him confidence.
Teyla came and brought his computer. He told her what Beckett had told him. She looked relieved. "Beckett is right. If somebody can manage to bring us home, it is you."
She informed him that she had to train soldiers how to fight with sticks today. Then she left again.
After some time Beckett came back with several papers. "Here. This is all I found. I hope you know what to do with it."
While looking through the notes McKay realized that his alter ego had tried to draw off energy from a parallel universe. He had secretly linked up a generator to the Stargate. Each time he went through the Stargate he'd activated the generator for a short time with a small transmitter. And the last time he did it something had gone wrong. It was up to McKay to find out what it was.
That evening Beckett came to him. "My shift is over. I'd like to walk along with you to your quarters. I've already released you from the infirmary officially."
On the way to his quarters McKay told Beckett what he'd discovered. When they arrived Beckett said, "You cleaned up a little bit?"
He nodded and offered Beckett a seat. The physician took a bottle from the floor and searched in a cupboard for glasses, which he put on the table. "So? How are things? Have you already found a solution?"
"I need time. And information from one of the labs. No, thanks, not for me." This last remark was due to the fact that Beckett was about to pour the booze into a second glass. Beckett shrugged and closed the bottle.
"Rodney, I watched you the whole day in the infirmary. I… I think it's fascinating, how shall I say… you and your alter ego really are very, very similar. Exactly the same working method, the same gestures. The same concentrated look." He closed his eyes and took a sip from his glass. "Say, you and me, I mean my alter ego, were we also friends, when he was alive?"
McKay had a lump in his throat and needed a moment before he could answer. "Yes. Yes, we were friends."
For a while they sat together silently, then Beckett finished his glass and said goodbye.
McKay lay on his bed, but he couldn't sleep immediately. His thoughts circled around himself and his alter ego. He had to remind himself again and again that this was a parallel world and that they weren't the same people. But on the other hand Beckett said they were so similar. What had happened to make his alter ego the way he was?
He wondered if Teyla had similar thoughts about her alter ego. After some time of tossing and turning in bed he finally felt asleep.
The next morning he walked directly to Teyla's quarters. She let him in and offered him tea, which he gratefully accepted. "What can I do for you, Rodney?"
"Have you found out anything about your alter ego?"
"Not much. She seems to be quite withdrawn. She doesn't have much contact with the people here, except for the fight training. Yesterday's training was fine, by the way. So, what did you find out?"
McKay told her what information he had gained. Then he wanted to go, but Teyla held him back. "There is something else, isn't there?"
He hesitated. "No, not at the moment, only not being late to work." He forced himself to smile and left the room.
In the lab he had the task of examining an Ancient object. Because he dealt with it alone he had the opportunity to collect further information about the phase displacement. What he saw filled him rapidly with enthusiasm.
He thought he had found a possible way to bring himself, Teyla and their doppelgangers back to the right worlds. He had to reproduce the accident exactly. To do that it was absolutely essential that their alter egos enter the Stargate at the same time. The same time meant a frame of about two minutes. To manage that was possible. He just needed to contact his Atlantis, to carry out the timing. To do that he could use the generator his alter ego had built. He had to change some circuits, so the generator would transmit automatically the message to the parallel universe the next time the Stargate was activated. A condensed text based message shouldn't require much time. He just had to take care to deliver all the necessary information.
He had put together the message when Zelenka entered the lab. "So, have you found out anything about this object?"
McKay was nervous, because Zelenka pointed at the ancient object with his cane. "I haven't made any progress. It could be all sorts of things."
"You've been working the whole day on it. Normally you have results faster."
"I don't have any clues. It takes time." He saw the sceptical look on Zelenka's face. He cursed silently for being such a bad liar.
Zelenka laid his cane on McKay's right shoulder. "What are you hiding from me?"
"Nothing." This one word came out so hoarse and unsure that McKay didn't expect that Zelenka would buy it.
"I don't believe you. But I give you the chance to tell me now, what you are concealing."
"Really, it's nothing."
Zelenka's face turned to stone and he lowered the cane. "All right. But I promise you, if I find out that you worked on something different, you will feel the consequences distinctly." After that Zelenka left the lab. McKay took a deep breath. This man frightened him. He wondered how his alter ego coped with the pressure.
After he got a grip on himself again, he finished the message. Now he needed to work on the generator. But he wouldn't do that until his shift ended. Preferable with Teyla keeping a lookout. Until then he worked on the artifact, but with little success, though he did have some theories.
The generator was several levels below the gate room. Teyla watched the surrounding hallways, while McKay concentrated on the generator. Smiling, Teyla spoke to him. "Your alter ego was quite clever, too, if he was able to build this all by himself and keep it completely hidden."
McKay was screwing on a cover, but now he paused. "Do you know what Beckett said? He said that I and my alter ego are quite similar."
"Hmm. Maybe he's right in a way."
"I don't know. I think my alter ego is about to ruin his life."
"And that concerns you. But it's a parallel universe. Things may go a different way. Perhaps he is similar to you, but you are not the same person."
"That's what I've been telling myself, but I'm worried about it." He didn't open himself up very often to other people, but at the moment he needed to talk to Teyla about his worries. It was the whole situation, his permanent unease, his fear overwhelming him.
"Teyla? I asked myself… you were in my – or rather his – quarters. He neglected himself. And he has a massive problem with alcohol. Now I'm asking, in what way am I different? How near am I to ending the same way?"
Teyla saw the desperation in McKay's face and was concerned. "You are different. You are not neglecting yourself. You are not an alcoholic. You are accepted in our universe, more than he is here."
He tightened the last screws. "That's right, but I need to know why he is what he is."
"You should talk to Beckett about it." McKay shook his head, but Teyla continued. "Do it, as long as you have the opportunity to do it. It could happen that we get back and you never stop tormenting yourself with this question."
"You're probably right. I'll think about it." McKay stood up and took his tools.
"The next time the Stargate is activated, the message will be transmitted automatically. And then we'll wait for an answer. If they signal that they are ready at any time, I'm going to change some circuits at the generator. The next time we go through the Stargate, I'll transmit another message, so they are also able to send our doppelgangers through the Stargate. We just have to make sure to go through the event horizon before all the other people. And if everything goes okay, we will be back home."
"And if not?"
"The worst case would be that our universes would destroy each other." Because of Teyla's horrified look McKay quickly added, "But that didn't happen the first time, so the probability is under 0.00001 that it will happen now."
The first thing he did the next morning was to check if the Stargate had been activated during the night. It happened. Now the waiting began. He didn't know how long it would take to build a similar generator. Maybe his alter ego had already started to build one. He ordered them to transmit a signal into the subroutines of the maintenance system. He wouldn't have any problems with checking it regularly during his normal work.
In the meantime he kept himself busy with the Ancient object, until he was called via radio into Zelenka's office.
Zelenka didn't say a word, just turned his screen to McKay. He could see a blurred picture of a surveillance camera, showing McKay in the lab holding a computer. Though the picture was not clear, he was able to recognize the schematic of a phase displacement on the computer McKay held.
"It took me some effort to find this." Zelenka didn't smile and didn't yell. He was calm, objective, and very determined. "Do you still claim that you worked the whole day on the Ancient artifact?"
McKay shook his head.
"So you lied to me yesterday?"
He didn't answer and didn't dare to look at Zelenka's face.
"Why did you work again on the phase displacement though it was strictly forbidden to you?"
"I had an idea. I just wanted to check something out."
"Have you prepared another experiment?"
"No." This was said firmly.
Zelenka seemed to believe it, because he nodded a little. "So you just wanted to check something? How long did it take?"
He wasn't sure if he should tell the truth, but he was afraid that Zelenka already had an idea. "Quite a long time. Nearly the whole day."
"Good for you telling me the truth right now. Otherwise I would have let you get whipped in the gate room. I'm sure Dr Weir would have permitted it. But I'll finish it myself." Zelenka stood up and took the cane in his hand.
"Wait a moment. Is this really necessary? I just wanted to check something. I think some scientific freedom should be permitted. Am I wrong?"
"You violated your scope long ago and you know it!"
"I won't do it again, all right? There is really no reason to beat me."
"I'm sick and tired of these discussions with you. Endure it and the next time you want to act on your own authority, think about the consequences."
That was… silly. But McKay didn't want to discuss it any more. He was afraid that Zelenka would change his mind about the whipping and he definitively didn't want to risk that.
Without resistance he allowed the Czech to push him against the desk. He put McKay into a position where he could easily hit his back.
The blows were executed firmly and strongly. He suppressed the impulse to scream, but he wasn't sure why.
After some time that felt like an eternity the intensity of the blows weakened. Zelenka put the cane on the desk and shook his wrist. Then he sat down at the desk. "You know, McKay, I'm not doing this for my entertainment. But you are breaking the rules again and again. Why? With your mind you could have become one of the most respected scientists, really. Instead your personal file fills up on and on." He pointed at a form he had just completed. "I really hope that you will learn it sometime. That someday it won't be necessary to beat you to obedience. I hope that for the sake of both of us. – Here, you know it only too well, please sign." With those words he handed over the form to McKay. It was titled "Official Offences" and contained a detailed description stating that he had worked at the phase displacement contrary to orders, and because of that he couldn't finish his assigned work and that he had lied to a superior. The last sentence was: "Adequate disciplinary measures were carried out." Next to it was a box ticked off: "The presence of a physician during the measure was not required." He signed it, hardly believing that there were prefabricated forms for such occasions.
"You can go. Take two hours off until you come back for service."
His back hurt and he could hardly move, so he practically crawled to his quarters. There he lay some time on his bed. Slowly he relaxed and the pain eased to a bearable degree. Because he had more than an hour left before he had to go back to work, he decided to take Teyla's advice and ask Beckett about his alter ego.
When he entered the infirmary his walk was upright but Beckett's trained eye immediately detected that McKay was in pain. He asked him to lie down.
While Beckett examined his back McKay told him about what had been happening. Beckett smiled. "That is good news. When do you expect an answer?"
"If everything goes well, today."
Beckett finished the examination. "You really enraged Zelenka. You shouldn't have argued with him, he doesn't like it. But it'll be all right." The physician took off his rubber gloves and threw them into a bin.
McKay looked at him. "Can you spare some time?"
"Yes, nothing doing around here. What can I do for you?"
The Canadian sat upright and put on his shirt. Then he kneaded his hands, undecided how to say what he wanted to say. "I noticed, how shall I put this, there was a lot of booze in my quarters."
Beckett nodded. "You're asking if your alter ego is an alcoholic?"
McKay shook his head. "Not if he is one, but why."
"Hmm. Such questions are always tough to answer. He didn't drink any alcohol when we met the first time in Antarctica. I knew from his files that he had been through a withdrawal. He once told me that he felt very lonely in Russia and he had begun to fight this loneliness with alcohol. Here in Atlantis I was impressed how good he coped with all the stress. He grew with the tasks, you might say. Of course at that time I never offered him any alcohol. Believe me, I know how tough it is for a recovered alcoholic to withstand temptation. I think it started with this mission. One of his scientists was attacked by a Wraith and nearly killed. This man shot himself in front of Rodney. He was completely shattered, because unlike what many people say about him, he cares about the people here, he isn't emotionally cold. When I met him the next morning, I was sure that he had been drinking, but he denied it. I implored him to keep his hands off the alcohol, but, as I told you, he denied that he had drunk anything in the first place. The next weeks and months I might have been the only one who noticed that he was under the influence of alcohol. He was pretty skilful at hiding it. His work never suffered. When he lost his position as head of science, I was afraid that he would go downhill. And that is what happened. Several weeks later he came completely drunk to a meeting. If he weren't such a valuable member of the expedition, they would have sent him back to Earth right away. But everyone accepted the new situation. You accept, what you can't change."
Beckett looked at McKay, who seemed to be quite uncertain after this story. "It's not your life. And as far as he's concerned I think he's still a good person, a good friend."
Back in the lab he worked on the artifact and checked now and then the subroutines of the maintenance system. He thought about his time in Russia. Thought about how he had one day emptied half a bottle of vodka just because he was bored. Thought about the headache and the nausea. He asked himself, what if he wouldn't have felt so bad after the vodka? At that time he had sworn not to touch vodka any more. And then this thing with Gaul, which was still following him into his dreams. When it happened he didn't try to drown the memory with alcohol. But that was because he had no alcohol available and he didn't know where to get any. This damned tight edge…
After several hours he discovered a message from Atlantis, his Atlantis. They were ready, just waiting for his signal. He immediately went to Teyla and told her the news. Just as before he transmitted another message to his home, which said that for the next day a mission was planned and he, shortly before Teyla and he would enter the event horizon, would send a signal to Atlantis, so they would be able to send their doppelgangers within two minutes through the gate.
That evening they visited Beckett in his quarters to say goodbye. "I like you two. But even so I'll be glad when our Rodney's back again." Beckett sighed. "As soon as they are back it will not be possible to hide what has happened. Teyla definitely will report. Sooner or later they would've found the generator anyway. Theoretically I can already reserve a bed in the infirmary for Rodney."
McKay was depressed. "What's with you, Carson? You helped us, will that cause trouble for you?"
"I'll surrender voluntarily, before they find out my participation in this thing by themselves. I'll explain my motives to Dr Weir and hope for leniency. They won't fire me, and everything else I can bear." Beckett shook Teyla's hand, and then he hugged McKay. "Good luck to both of you!"
The Canadian smiled at Beckett once again. "Give my alter ego my regards. And tell him to keep an eye on himself."
The next day when Teyla and McKay stood in front of the Stargate they were both very tense. Now they would see if McKay was right with his calculations and his connections at the generator.
It was a great relief when Samantha Carter welcomed them home.