A/N: A lot of thanks to my beta everg8er23! All remaining mistakes are mine!
Important to know: The story takes place at the begin of th fourth season and is a rewrite of my own story "What you see in the mirror".
Your first step onto the floor of Atlantis after travelling light years through the Pegasus galaxy gives you safety and the feeling of being back home. At least normally.
Dr Rodney McKay didn't have this feeling. Elizabeth Weir was standing in front of him, and that was wrong, totally wrong. She was missing, probably dead. Instead… instead there she was, standing in a black uniform, wearing leather boots and leather gloves, which the otherwise dainty woman somehow made menacing. Disconcertingly she also held a cane tucked under her left arm. Everything felt wrong.
"You are four hours overdue!" Her voice trembled with anger.
Colonel Sheppard lowered his gaze to the floor and stepped back. He seemed to be frightened, but not surprised.
Slowly, Dr Weir came closer and passed the stick ostentatiously from hand to hand. She stopped in front of McKay, "McKay, why the delay?"
"I… I don't know, what's going on here?" The words barely out of his mouth, Dr Weir hit McKay in the face with the cane.
The burning pain convinced McKay that this situation wasn't a nightmare. But what else could it be? Replicators? No, that didn't make sense. A parallel universe? The gate technology was so complex, it was really possible that he had landed in another dimension.
A second blow, even more violent, interrupted his thoughts, "Dammit, McKay, are you drunk again? Or are you able to explain what held you up so long?"
He looked around and noticed that his fellow team members showed hardly any emotion. At that moment he felt all alone. "I… There is a misunderstanding, that…"
Dr Weir raised her hand again and McKay brought up his arms in defence.
"It's not his fault that we're late." These words came from Colonel Sheppard who approached Dr Weir and interrupted her. "The village elders, uh, wanted to show us something, a, uh, a…" Sheppard looked helplessly in Teyla's direction.
"A relict," Teyla said, "a holy relict."
"Yes, exactly, and they didn't tell us, uh, that it would take such a long time to get there, or else we would've told you."
Doubtingly, Dr Weir looked at Sheppard, "I see. Then please come to my office and give me a provisional oral report. Ronon, Teyla, McKay, you are dismissed." She went to her office and Sheppard followed her, but not without turning to McKay and glaring at him.
Teyla looked at the scientist for a short moment and shook her head. Then she left as well.
"What was that?" Ronon laid his huge hand on McKay's shoulder.
"I… don't know." He really had no idea.
"We had an agreement." Ronon's tone was a mixture between worry and anger.
Maybe now would've been the right time to tell them something had gone wrong. That he didn't belong here. On the other hand… How could he know how these people would react? Would they help him to find a way back? Or would they see him as a potential danger and lock him up for evermore? Until he knew that he would play his cards close to the chest.
Ronon still stood in front of him and seemed to be waiting for any kind of reaction. McKay tried to find a suitable answer and while doing so he touched his sore cheek. The warrior pressed down McKay's arm and grabbed his chin with a softness you wouldn't expect from the giant and looked at McKay's face. "She didn't hold back. Looks bad. Beckett should take a look at that."
Beckett. So he also was still alive in this dimension. Considering McKay's luck he probably was a sadist who tortured his patients. Nevertheless Ronon was right. Somebody should look at the hurting cheek.
"Yes. You're right. I better go to the infirmary."
McKay left the gate room and walked through the hallways to the infirmary. It was almost surreal how similar everything was to the Atlantis he knew. It's true, here and there were faces he didn't recognize, but if he was honest – it was the same in his Atlantis. He reached the hallway to the infirmary and stopped. He thought about the fatal day which cost his friend his life. He still hadn't gotten over it and the thought of seeing an exact image of Beckett was – to put it mildly – strange. He pulled himself together and entered the infirmary.
"Oh, Rodney, not again!" Beckett noticed McKay immediately and approached him with fast steps. He looked older than the Beckett he knew but apart from that this Beckett resembled his late double exactly. Above all the friendly expression on his face was the same, a fact that calmed McKay a bit.
"Sit down, right here, in the light, so I can examine you easier." The doctor pointed at a bed, then he grabbed at McKay's face. "Okay, that looks quite good." He left the room for a moment and came back with a cooling compress in a sheet, which he gave McKay. He immediately pressed it against his cheek bringing relief. Beckett disappeared again – this time to his office – and came back with two glasses and a bottle of whiskey. He poured a glass and when he was about to pour the second, McKay shook his head, "Not for me, thanks."
Taken aback, Beckett stared at McKay, "What? No whiskey against the pain?"
"I think a pain killer would be better, wouldn't it?" McKay forced himself to smile.
"A pain killer, hmm?" The doctor took a sip from his glass. "Why not good, old Scotch?"
Obviously, there were other differences to the Beckett he knew. Because he preferred to not attract attention, he said, "All right, maybe a small sip."
"Just a small sip, really?" Beckett sounded sceptical and filled half of the glass with whiskey. McKay took it and drank a bit, which caused him to cough terribly. He never drank much alcohol, and when he did, not the hard stuff. Beckett put down his own glass and thought about something for a moment. Then he smiled at McKay, "You know, it's good you're here. I'd like to see the wounds on your back once more."
McKay flinched, "I have… I don't have time, I need to go to the debriefing."
He was about to stand up, but Beckett held him back, "Tell me one reason why I shouldn't call security."
"You are not Rodney McKay. So?" Beckett caught him. Something gave him away. McKay decided to reveal the truth.
"Okay, I know that sounds a bit strange and I swear I don't have a real explanation for it. I'm really Rodney McKay, I just belong to another dimension."
The doctor stayed silent for a moment. His expression varied between disbelief and astonishment. "I need to check it. Do you agree to a DNA comparison?"
Beckett took a cotton bud, then he paused, "What about Rodney? Um, I'm talking about the Rodney who belongs here?"
"I don't know. Maybe he landed in my dimension. That's quite possible, if you take the flux rate of the dimension shift into consideration."
Beckett took a DNA sample and brought it to the analysis station. The medical department was supplied with the most modern devices someone could imagine, so that the analysing didn't last long.
"Carson? Are you calling security?"
"No. Not if you're the one you're pretending to be." The doctor stared at the screen, waiting for the results.
"Are you going to inform Dr Weir?" McKay expected Beckett to behave differently after he found out that McKay wasn't the one he should be.
"No." At once Beckett looked up and into the infirmary. "Melissa?" Then he called louder, "Melissa?" When he got no answer he breathed deeply, "Thank god, no one here."
"What's going on?" McKay became worried.
A soft noise out of the computer hinted that the work was finished. Beckett whispered hardly audible, "Really, the DNA is identical." Instantaneously he erased the data and came back to McKay who was still sitting on the bed. "Please don't tell anybody that you're from a parallel universe."
"There are regulations, since an incident…" Beckett sighed and took his glass of whiskey which he emptied in one go. "There was this incident on Earth with an SG team. General Carter – of course back then she wasn't a general – experimented on parallel worlds and opened a door to another world, through which doubles of high-ranking officers came. At the beginning everyone was enthusiastic, but then the doubles tried to eliminate their doppelgangers and sought world domination. At the attempt to close the dimension door the universe almost collapsed. We were almost destroyed, since then other dimensions are completely taboo. If people from other dimensions turn up they are to be arrested immediately. And this is taken very seriously. I once met a Jack O'Neill from another dimension. He was locked up in a tiny cell deep in Colorado mountain. He described it as luck when now and then a guard smuggled in a book or a newspaper. Poor devil." Beckett shook his head in sympathy. Then he continued. "And if our people are landing by mistake in another dimension, it's not allowed to try to get them back."
McKay breathed deeply in and out, "Okay, I see. How… how at all did I give myself away?"
"You asked for a painkiller, but you aren't allowed to get one after a punishment. And when you had problems with the whiskey, I knew that you couldn't be my Rodney."
"If there are those regulations, why are you violating them?"
Beckett turned the empty glass in his hands, "It's about Rodney. I'm not sure that he would be able to come back here on his own. I don't want to lose him. He's the only friend I have."
"The only friend? Carson was always very popular among us."
"Was? What happened?"
McKay swallowed, "He died. An explosion. It was… bad." The last words were indistinctly, Beckett understood them, but only just.
Shocked, the doctor took McKay's glass and emptied it. Then he breathed deeply, "I'm going to help you as soon as possible to get back to your dimension, all right?"
"Yes, I think, without help, I wouldn't be able to make it."
"Maybe we should talk about the differences between our worlds, so that there won't be misunderstandings."
McKay agreed and told about the Atlantis he knew. He explained that Samantha Carter was leading Atlantis, which was amusing to Beckett. He told about the Replicators and Beckett told him that they defeated them, but it was a close call. McKay told about the people he had to deal with in Atlantis and Beckett listened carefully. After McKay finished his report, Beckett looked astonished, "So many similarities, this is absolutely fantastic. But now, I guess, it's my turn. The most important difference – except that our Dr Weir is still alive – is, that Rodney isn't head of science anymore. 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?" Beckett seemed to be surprised, something McKay noticed horrified.
"Please tell me that this was an extraordinary exception. We don't beat our people."
"No corporal punishment? The place were you come from must be really anarchistic! How could orderly teamwork be possible, without the opportunity of a decent disciplining?" Beckett was beside him, hardly believing what he had heard.
"There are no anarchistic tendencies." McKay shook his head in surprise. "Why do you think there would be anarchistic tendencies without corporal punishment?"
"If no one has to fear punishments, everyone will do, what he or she wants."
"Are you really believing this? I…"
"Maybe we should have this debate – if we have to have this debate – at a later time," Beckett interrupted him. "But I strongly advise you not to talk in public about this theme, and not to talk about it with anyone other than me. Or else you would give the impression that you sympathize with the hippies and Rodney was in enough trouble because of Jeannie."
"What hippies?" From minute to minute McKay felt less and less comfortable. "What's going on with democracy?"
Outraged Beckett answered, "The most governments of the expedition members are elected democratically." Then the doctor calmed down and shrugged. "You can't know it, but our hippies criticize things like restrictions of freedom of rights, the electoral laws, the lack of access to information, the corporal punishment, and so on. Sometimes," he lowered his voice, "I understand them."
"She joined them. She now lives with her husband and her child in a hippie colony near Ontario, to live a life according to her ideas."
"Okay. Tell me about Sheppard."
"So, Sheppard. The same as in your world, he's our military leader. He's not as strict as Weir, but a damn good man although he became the military leader out of plight. He likes Rodney and casually spends some time with him. I don't know if you can really call it friendship. Unfortunately he hates my guts so Rodney is sometimes in an awkward position. But Sheppard was one of the very few who wanted to incorporate Teyla as a member of the expedition. A lot of people felt creepy about the thing with her Wraith DNA. At the moment the relations between Rodney and Teyla are tense." The thought of it made Beckett grin. "He pretty much stepped out of line on a planet that was friendly with the Athosians. But I think she won't be too resentful. Sooner or later it will sort itself out. Now I come to Ronon. A really funny guy, despite his long and lonely flight from the Wraith. Ronon gets on fine with nearly everyone here. On Atlantis, Sheppard is his best buddy and he gets along with Rodney as well. Rodney…" Beckett paused for a short moment and McKay had the feeling that the doctor had difficult things to tell about his friend. Then the Scot continued, "Rodney is brilliant. 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. But what's worse is that some people believe that he is responsible for the death of quite a few people, because – allegedly – he's risking too much and pays no heed to his fellow human beings. But…" The doctor paused again. "He shows consideration for them. He cares about his people." Beckett swallowed, for some reason this topic takes it out of him. "Be that as it may, since he isn't head of science any more, there are constant brushes with Dr Weir and especially with Dr Zelenka. Rodney 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."
"And what about you? Why is Rodney your only friend? Why does Sheppard hate you?"
Ashamed, Beckett looked to the side, "I'm not proud about my past. Rodney is one of the very few who can turn a blind eye to what I've done. I don't want to talk about it."
At that moment a nurse entered the room, "Dr Beckett, I got the urine samples from M7H-947."
"Thanks, Melissa, I'm finished here anyway. Rodney, have a rest, I'm sure you had an exhausting day. And if something's wrong, you know, where you can find me."
Actually, McKay still had several questions. About the people, about the events, about his alter ego. But what Beckett told him, had to be enough for the time being. He was itching to download the gate protocols and to evaluate them, to find out why he ended up here. But he had already been through a 14 hour shift, including eight hard hours on a planet, he was hungry and tired and in addition he was stressed because of the unusual situation. That's why he decided to call on first the canteen, after that his quarters.
On his way there he met Sheppard who grabbed him angrily by his upper arms and pressed him against a wall, "What was that earlier?"
The grip was firm and painful. "I don't know…"
"You don't know?" Sheppard was almost yelling. "Didn't we agree that whoever botched it up will have to take the rap for it? Didn't we agree that there will be no more fishy excuses? Didn't we agree to that?"
"Uh, well, I think so."
"You think? You think? And why did I have to come up with a great story to explain our delay? Weir nearly didn't buy my story!"
"Why did you have to come up with something?"
Sheppard increased the pressure on the upper arms, "Maybe because Weir would have beaten you more severely if you'd continued stuttering? Maybe because I didn't want to watch how you headed straight for disaster? My goodness, the way you behaved, she wouldn't have bought the truth any more. Why on hell didn't you just admit that you – again – chased a small energy signature? You just would've been given a massive bollocking, not much more."
"Um, thanks for your help." McKay wasn't sure how to react.
Sheppard snorted and pushed McKay to the floor. "The next time I won't lie for you." Then he kicked McKay once and left him. The kick wasn't painful, more likely meant as a disapproving gesture. Not painful, but hurting. Not even in his nightmares could he imagine that his Sheppard would treat him this way.
Dr Kusanagi passed by and McKay felt a bit ashamed because he was still lying on the floor. But the Japanese scientist didn't say a word, just extended a hand to help him up.
"Thanks. I slipped."
"Of course." Obviously, she didn't believe him. "Zelenka is really mad at you. It would be best if you're in the lab on time tomorrow."
"Why is he mad?"
Kusanagi looked at him with regret, "Because of the heating systems. You promised to take care of them before your mission today. You must have forgotten to do so."
"Okay. And when I'm supposed to be in the lab tomorrow?"
"At eight, like everyday," she answered slightly confused.
"Yes, of course. Um, thanks again." He dusted off his clothes and looked at the Japanese who continued on her way. He was afraid that it would be more difficult than expected to pretend he was from this dimension. And the fact that his alter ego had gotten himself into trouble, wasn't helpful either.
In the canteen he quickly grabbed some things which looked promising and sat down at a free table. He wanted to avoid unnecessary meetings. While he hungrily stuffed himself with the soup he watched the people who were in the canteen. At first everything seemed to be normal, but something was disturbing him, something was different. Yes, there was laughter, jokes and discussions, but something was really different. Then he noticed it. There was a certain aggressiveness inside everything. The conversational tone was much rougher – rougher even than from the Marines in his reality. The arguing was more hot-tempered and he had the impression that two tables away it almost came to a brawl. Probably – so he said to himself – this aggression had to do with the corporal punishment. Violence causes violence.
He didn't feel well among all these people. Because of that he finished his soup, packed up the remaining food and took it into his quarters.
Hoping to see something familiar he opened the door to his quarters – or, to be precisely, his alter ego's quarters – and was shocked. It wasn't just untidy, it was dirty. Booze bottles, several full, more empty, were everywhere. Next to the bed he saw dried vomit. The remains of partly rotten food laid everywhere, it smelled miserable. Used and unused clothes – among them a blood and mud splattered uniform – laid spread out over the whole room. The bed was covered with scientific books and papers, a laptop lay there as well. He hoped urgently he got the wrong room, but the diplomas on the walls and a picture of Jeannie left no doubt that he got the right quarters. The sight of this room sent a pang through him and he wished that Beckett would've given him an advance warning.
First he opened a window to let in some fresh air. The smell spoilt his appetite and he put the food temporarily on a table. He decided that he didn't want to sleep in such a dirty room and even if they weren't his quarters he began collecting the food remains and throwing them away, wiping up the vomit and piling up the things that were spread through the whole room. In the end he cleared the bed and was more or less satisfied with his work. And when he found a factory-packed tooth brush in the bath room he even felt a little bit better.
He sat on the bed and unpacked the canteen food. While he slowly ate it, his eyes fell again on Jeannie's picture and he took it into his hand to have a better look at it. In his own quarters he had no family pictures, he wasn't the type to have such things. He smiled to himself when he saw the picture. It showed Jeannie with a very serious face, the right hand clenched to a fist and stretched to the sky. Very black power.
After he set his alarm clock he went to sleep. When he woke up the next morning the previous day seemed to be a very strange dream. But then he looked into Jeannie's grim face. Sighing, he went to the bath room and watched himself in the mirror. Since yesterday his cheek had changed into a blue colour.
Because he had leftovers from the previous day he didn't go to the canteen. As far as possible he tried to avoid meeting other people. But it was inevitable to go to the lab and face Zelenka.
The head scientist's welcome wasn't exactly warm, "Where the hell were you yesterday? I told you to check the heating systems in sector FG 4 before you went on your mission. The heating system stopped working and it's damned important that it works."
"If it is so important, why didn't you take care of it yourself?" McKay regretted his statement almost in the moment he said it. But sometimes he forgot the principle "first think, then talk".
"Don't start getting cheeky!" Zelenka yelled at McKay so loud, that the whole lab staff looked up.
Quickly McKay took a pc tablet and called up the data for sector FG 4. He found the error within a few minutes. "I'm finished here. May I…"
"You're finished? What caused the error?" Zelenka was pretty much amazed.
"Well, it was just a small mistake. Someone mixed Fahrenheit and Celsius. And at 22 degrees Fahrenheit no heating system will work."
One of the scientists in the lab flinched visibly, which was noticed by Zelenka immediately, "Campbell, was it you? 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 was horrified by what had happened but he really didn't dare say something. Then he noticed how Kavanagh cleared his throat. Zelenka turned to him, "What?"
Kavanagh was slightly trembling. Before he said a thing he cleared his throat once again, "This… this is against the rules. This isn't an acceptable punishment under the regulations of the IOA."
"You're a damned stickler for the rules! If Campbell wants to complain, fine, then he shall do so. That's none of your business."
"The rules are protecting the health and…"
"One more word and I'll let you de-ice the heating systems in sector FG 4!"
Kavanagh dropped his gaze and turned back to his work.
The Czech sat down, raised his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. McKay wasn't sure if he should ask him now, but then approached him, "May I perhaps check the gate protocols?"
"I think I noticed something yesterday. Something… a fluctuation, or something."
"A fluctuation? Why didn't you let us know immediately?"
"I was, uh, I was…"
"You were drunk?"
"Uh, no, I…"
"Check the protocols. Stop the gate activities until you're finished. And the next time I expect you to report something like that immediately."
McKay went to the gate room. He just connected his laptop to the gate computer, when Dr Weir waved him over and ordered him to follow her to her office. He noticed how everything inside him got cramped, but he pulled himself together. Dr Weir's office was almost identical to the office of his Dr Weir, which surprised him a lot. The only difference he made out was the cane which hung on a string from the wall and he knew that it definitely was more than just a wall decoration.
"Dr McKay." The tone was very sharp, then she breathed out shortly and continued in a softer tone. "Rodney, you can't go on like this. Yesterday evening you seemed to be bewildered."
"I was just exhausted."
"Just exhausted?" Dr Weir didn't sound convinced. "You are a really good scientist. But that can change if you keep on neglecting yourself. And then you wouldn't be of any use to the expedition any longer." She sighed deeply. "I know that you don't want to hear it, but if you need therapy, or at least a holiday, we could talk about it. I would make it possible even at short notice."
"Hmm, thanks. Can I go back to my work?"
"Of course. Don't forget the meeting tomorrow morning at half past seven. It's about tomorrow's mission."
"I'll be there."
In the meantime the gate protocols were downloaded completely on his laptop. He didn't dare check the protocols directly in the gate room, because he was afraid that someone could notice that he was searching for dimension shifts. He just got something out of the canteen and then went to his quarters, where he searched the protocols. After almost two hours of this monotonous work he remembered that he really had to report to Zelenka, and also to call off the warning about the alleged gate fluctuation.
He entered the main lab and let his gaze wander. Zelenka wasn't here, but Dr Kusanagi approached McKay with a cup of coffee, "Here, Dr McKay, freshly brewed."
He took the cup, "Thanks. Can you tell me where Zelenka is?"
"He's in his office." That was bad. McKay didn't know where the office could be and he hardly could ask for directions. That would've been far too conspicuous.
At first he took a sip of coffee, which was very good. Then he noticed that Kusanagi gave him a smile. "Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing, just… You look good today. I mean, better than usual." She turned away and back to her work, but McKay noticed that she blushed. He finished the coffee and went to the infirmary.
Beckett seemed to be busy, when McKay entered, but he still stood up immediately to welcome him, "Hello, already settled in well? Unfortunately I don't have much time, do you need something important?"
"I'm looking for Zelenka's office."
The doctor described the way. "Is there something else?"
"I need to talk to you about your Rodney. Now's not good for me either, but how about this evening?"
"Just come to my quarters, there we can talk without being disturbed."
When McKay reached Zelenka's office he knocked at the door and was asked to come in. The room was spartan, with only filing cabinets, two shelves, a desk and one chair on which Zelenka was sitting. The only decoration was a calendar with carrier pigeons. McKay approached and noticed a cane here as well, this time leaning against a filing cabinet.
"Oh, what a coincidence. I talked to Chuck about half an hour ago." Zelenka sounded very tired and McKay hoped it was a good sign, or at least better than if he'd been angry. "He told me that you finished your work more than two hours ago."
"Yes, that's right. Then I ate something and met Carson."
"Have you found anything about the fluctuation?"
"No. There was nothing conspicuous. I was probably wrong."
Zelenka stood up from his desk and walked to the window. "But you thought you noticed a fluctuation?"
"As I said, I was probably wrong."
"Why hadn't you given the all clear?" Zelenka was still staring 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, "I thought you didn't want to talk to me anymore."
"I decide when you leave, have you got that straight?"
Now the Canadian understood. It was a power play. He decided not to act against it, "Completely."
Zelenka sat down at his desk and began to work at his computer. After several minutes, in which McKay kneaded his hands nervously, Zelenka – looking satisfied – looked up to him, "You can go."
McKay went back to the lab to write a conclusion about the non-existent fluctuations, before he called on his quarters again. He hoped nobody would disturb him on his search for the origin of the dimension leap. When he needed a break at evening, he reminded himself to question Beckett about the other Rodney. Just some minutes later he knocked at the doctor's door, who let him in and offered him a seat.
"How's it going? Did you already find out why you're here?" The Scot was really excited, so McKay was almost sorry because he hadn't had any news.
"No. These gate protocols are incredibly extensive and I'm searching for a probably only a tiny divergence. Worst case scenario I'll be occupied with this work for days."
"But there's something else which occupies you, I see it. You've got exactly the same look as my Rodney when something's worrying him."
"You could have given me an advance warning. Entering his quarters yesterday has given me an extremely unpleasant surprise." McKay tried not to sound too reproachful.
Beckett nodded in agreement, "I'm sorry, I really should have done so. I just find it hard… I simply couldn't say it at that moment." Then he looked up. "He's a good person, you have to believe me."
McKay sighed, "I need to know something. There are a lot of booze bottles."
"You want to know if he's an alcoholic?"
The Canadian shook his head, "Not if he is one, but why."
Beckett leant back and looked intensively at his glass of water. "That's difficult to answer. There probably won't be the one reason. 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. We spent more and more time together and started talking about very private things so I asked him one day about it. He told me that he felt very lonely in Russia and he had begun to fight this loneliness with alcohol. I don't know if it was the whole truth but he never told me anything else about it. Here in Atlantis I was impressed by how well he coped with all the stress. Despite all the permanent adversities and threats he was able to do without alcohol, for a while at least." Beckett put his glass on the table and was lost in thought. "One mission in the first year took a particularly bad course. One of his scientists was attacked by a Wraith and nearly killed. Rodney gave this man his support, tried to encourage him, tried everything to not let him down. And then this man shot himself in front of Rodney. Many people here say Rodney is emotionally cold, but that isn't true. He was completely shattered and didn't want to see anyone that day. 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 he just said again and again that he hadn't been drinking. 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. He was constantly sucking peppermint drops and used a strong after shave to blanket the smell of alcohol. His work never suffered. Then he lost his position as head of science and I was afraid that he would go downhill. And that is what happened. Several weeks later he arrived 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 they had to deal with the new situation. You accept what you can't change."
Beckett looked at the scientist who listened silently to the story. McKay's face reflected more than clearly that he was thinking about his alter ego with some unease. With a forced smile the doctor tried to cheer up McKay, "It seems as if you have your life under better control, so don't worry."
Then McKay looked at Beckett's face which as little as his own face concealed the emotions. "You worry about him a lot, don't you?"
Beckett shrugged embarrassed, "He will make it, some day."
"And how about your story?"
"Another time. I'm tired and you should get some sleep as well." The Scot stood up and more or less pushed McKay out of his quarters.
McKay was surprised by this "rejection". The past seemed to be a sore point for Beckett. For sure it would be an easy thing to find out about it. But on the one hand he would prefer to hear it from Beckett himself. And on the other hand he was afraid he wouldn't like to hear what it was. He pushed these thoughts far away and started checking the gate protocols again. Line by line he searched for a divergence or some salience. When at three o'clock in the night he still hadn't found anything, he went to sleep.
Despite his tiredness he wasn't able to sleep. He thought about his double from this dimension. He didn't know him in person, just the things Beckett told him and the things he saw here. Nevertheless he wondered about it. Was it the circumstances of this dimension that made his alter ego into what he was now? Or was he endangered as well? His own life hadn't proceeded perfectly for quite a time, and as far as the time in Russia is concerned… Beckett said the problems with alcohol started there. If that's true, what protected him from the comedown? He remembered an evening in his Russian apartment, an evening full of boredom and loneliness that started with half a bottle of vodka and ended with headache and nausea. That was the warning shot he needed. He was too reasonable to ruin his life this way. And his alter ego?
He turned to the other side and tried to push away the thoughts about Russia. Instead new pictures suggested themselves. Beckett mentioned Gaul. Gaul…
With these images in his mind's eyes he was overcome by sleep and naturally he was dreaming badly and vividly.
When the next morning the alarm clock rang he felt everything else but not well rested. Nevertheless he shouldn't sleep any longer. He definitely couldn't take the liberty of being late for the mission's briefing. In a great hurry he got himself ready and almost ran to the conference room. He arrived bleary-eyed and just in time for the briefing.
Ronon grinned at him from the other side of the table, "Hangover?"
McKay looked at the group, besides Ronon, it consisted of Dr Weir, Dr Beckett, Colonel Sheppard and Teyla. He sat down quietly on the free chair next to Sheppard who gave a critical look at McKay, but didn't say a word.
Beckett began to give a short lecture. The mission's target was to find a certain plant which was said to contain a special agent against several diseases of the Pegasus galaxy. He distributed some handouts with the picture of the plant before Weir began to speak. "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.
"This is a task for any team you like. Why do we have to do it?" McKay objected. He didn't like the idea of possibly wasting a whole day searching for a plant when he could be going through the gate protocols.
"A calmer task will do you good." McKay couldn't tell if Weir was serious or sarcastic.
He knew that resistance was futile and a short time later he was together with the doubles of his team members on a planet with thick vegetation. After he had a look at the luxuriant green he wondered how big their chance was of finding the plant they were looking for.
A river broke up the landscape and for some time the team – their concentrated looks fixed to the ground – walked along its bank. When they reached a ford Sheppard decided that it would be best to split up. He sent Ronon and Teyla over to the other side and stayed with McKay on this side.
Silently they searched awhile along the bank, until Sheppard broke the silence, "What's wrong with you? You haven't moaned yet, neither have you complained about these nasty insects nor the muggy weather."
"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! Dammit, do you think your life would be easier with Colonel Sumner? I'm quite a pleasant superior, am I not?"
"I'm not mad at you, really."
Sheppard didn't seemed to be satisfied with this answer, but left it at that. 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."
They walked for a while, but then McKay stopped and rummaged in his jacket pockets.
"What are you doing?" Sheppard asked.
"I'm searching for a power bar. I didn't have breakfast this morning."
Sheppard shook his head and gave him one of his own, "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.
The last thing McKay wanted was a suspicious Sheppard. "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. In the infirmary he could check over the protocols without being disturbed by Zelenka or someone else.
More than two hours later they found several plants which fitted the description they'd been given. They packed them safely, informed Teyla and Ronon via radio and went back, as silent as before. Now and then Sheppard hummed a melody or skipped a stone over the water. Sometimes he started to say something, but then he looked at McKay and let it be. The scientist was glad not to be forced into a conversation. With each word he said he was afraid to give himself away.
Suddenly they heard shots and shouts on the other bank. The river wasn't passable there, so they were forced to run to the ford. But before they reached, Teyla gave the all clear via radio. They met a Wraith, but were able to kill him before he could alarm the Wraith base.
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." The colonel grabbed McKay at his upper arm, because he was swaying a bit. Even if it was a Wraith, McKay thought it was barbaric cutting off the skull to keep it as a souvenir. The sight of the head with its empty dead eyes made him turn pale and he was just able to suppress the reflex to retch. The only good thing about it was that Sheppard now really was convinced that McKay was ill.
Back in Atlantis McKay went straight to the infirmary. In the meantime he got a grip on himself again and told Beckett what happened.
"You should ask Ronon about his skull collection. It's pretty impressive." Beckett grinned when McKay pulled a face. "Do you want something against the nausea? Apart from that you're fine, I can release you from the infirmary straightaway."
"Would it be okay if I could stay here for the day? Could you come up with something? I'm not making much progress with the evaluation and if I now have to work in the lab…"
Beckett smiled at him in a friendly manner. "Yes, one day, that's possible. I will say that your wounds are inflamed and that you need to rest for one day."
"Thanks, Carson. And what's that with the wounds? You mentioned wounds when we met for the first time."
"The wounds, oh yes, I will give you a short version of the story. Rodney 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."
"He got," McKay had to swallow, "whip lashes for a forbidden experiment?"
"Well, Zelenka said, it would've been a really dangerous experiment." Beckett shrugged, sighed and continued more cheerfully, "But you know the best thing? While lying in the infirmary, healing from 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."
"Are you sure he said 'phase displacement'?" McKay asked.
"Yes, I'm sure, phase displacement. Why… no, please, don't tell me it's his fault that you're here." Right now Beckett looked very worried.
"I'm not completely sure, but it sounds as if he has something to do with this. Maybe you can bring me his personal laptop? I might find some clues there."
The doctor brought McKay the laptop. McKay went over all sorts of files and during the day it crystallized that his alter ego had tried to draw energy from a parallel universe. He had secretly linked the stargate with a generator. Every time he went through the stargate he activated the generator for a short time with a small transmitter. And the last time he did it something had gone wrong. It was now McKay's task to find out what it was.
Apart from his work on the phase displacement he noticed something during the day in the infirmary. Although Beckett was as friendly to the patients and nurses as his own Beckett had been, no one returned this friendliness. Certainly nobody was openly hostile, but he could see a cold reserve towards the Scot. McKay felt pity for him and wondered if this treatment was justified to some degree.
Bit by bit it became quieter in the infirmary and at the evening Beckett approached McKay, "My shift is over. I'd like to walk along with you to your quarters. I've already released you from the infirmary officially."
They were silent on their way to his quarters. It wasn't because of the lack of topics of conversation, but everything they could talk about wasn't meant for public consumption.
McKay opened the door, Beckett entered hesitatingly and looked around, "You cleaned up?"
"You knew how bad it was in here?"
Beckett looked embarrassedly to the side and nodded.
"Why… He's your friend, why haven't you tried to influence him?"
"I tried, more than once, and as long as he's sober he's reasonable and makes an effort but that doesn't last long, and then…" The doctor let his shoulders sink in disappointment. For a short moment there was an awkward silence, then both men took a seat and McKay told what he found out that day. Affected – no, it was more concerned – Beckett listened, "So it was really his fault." He sighed deeply, before he continued, "Do you think there's a possibility to get back? For you? For him?"
"I hope so. But I still don't have enough information. I have to do some calculations and simulations that I can only do in a lab."
"But there's a reason for hope?" The doctor almost seemed to be more desperate than McKay felt.
"Yes." Instinctively McKay looked at Jeannie's portrait. "The experiences from the past just show that as a rule such incidents aren't one-way streets."
Somehow brighter Beckett stood up, took a booze bottle and searched for two glasses, which he put on the table.
"No, thanks, not for me," McKay said when the doctor was about to pour the second glass.
"Force of habit," Beckett answered apologetically. He shut the bottle, but before he took his glass, he looked directly into McKay's face. Shy, the doctor sat down again, "Rodney, today I watched you the whole day in the infirmary. I… I think it's fascinating, how shall I say… you and your alter ego, you're basically 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. "Tell me, you and I, I mean my alter ego, were you friends when he was still alive?"
McKay had a lump in his throat and therefore need a moment before he could answer, "Yes. Yes, we were friends."
Beckett was ready to take another sip when McKay used the opportunity to ask the question which haunted his mind the whole time, "What's your story?"
Beckett put his glass down and looked to the door, "I…"
"I don't want to hear any excuses. I know that you can spare some time."
At that moment the head of the medical department looked less like THE great authority on gene technology and more like a beaten dog. He emptied his glass and poured some more, before he insecurely started his narration, "I was in my office in Glasgow and had filed away the last test results. A ticket for the match of the Glasgow Rangers was in my jacket, a match I had been looking forward to for days and I was ready to leave, when my superior came. He told me that the hospital had gotten an offer from the US Army. They wanted to lend me out, or however they called it, for six months, for a specific project in the area of gene technology, for a generous payment for me as well as for the institute. I didn't want to work for the military, but my boss persuaded me, because the hospital suffered chronically from the lack of money. 'Just six months,' he said. So I was persuaded and then hurried to the stadium to see the kick-off. I didn't catch much of the match because I was wondering the whole time if I'd made a huge blunder and if I should call and say that I changed my mind. Finally I reported for my work on the project 'Achilles'. They already did a lot of research, when I came to them, but the breakthrough just didn't come. It was about the genetic manipulation of soldiers to make them resistant against poison gas. I worked almost day and night and finally reached a point where a field test was necessary. I stared at my numbers and knew – I knew it, Rodney – that at least one third of the test persons would die. I presented the numbers to the commission and gave the advice to bury the project 'Achilles'. The commission said that 30 percent would be a justifiable loss rate. On my objections they said, 'Think about how many lives you'll save.' Or, 'It's not a big difference if a soldier dies at the front or in the lab. He expects to die for his comrades.' Again I was persuaded against my opinion. We had 54 test persons and told them we would test a new vaccination serum. 54 carefully chosen test persons, without family, without an intact social milieu. Project 'Achilles' ended in a disaster. 49 dead soldiers, and those who survived were internally called 'zombies'. The commission started the cover-up, but the comrades of the dead people asked about their whereabouts, unrest arose and the press got wind of it. One night military police officers stormed my apartment and arrested me. I was in a cell for two weeks, without contact to a lawyer, my mother or anyone else, when they dragged me to an interrogation room. A military state attorney was there and he didn't let me get a word in edgeways, 'You've got the choice between charged with murder or charged with involuntary manslaughter, the choice between lethal injection and ten years in prison.' The deal was that I would take all the responsibility and exonerate the involved high-rank officers. I agreed and the military trial, which happened in camera, ended with the predicted ten years. They made me the only scapegoat for the public." Beckett looked at McKay. "That shouldn't excuse my actions. Rodney, I know that I'm responsible for this unspeakable experiment, but I regret deeply what I've done, you really have to believe me."
Speechless with dismay, McKay stared at the doctor. He couldn't imagine that his Beckett would've carried out such an experiment. Never!
But what, if he would have? If it was just a lucky coincidence that it hadn't happened? He swallowed and forced a smile, "But you didn't serve the whole sentence, did you?"
Beckett shook his head, "I came to a military prison, there I even was allowed to work as a doctor. And all patients distrusted me. The guards beat me often, usually without a reason. After about one and a half years a certain Dr Weir visited me. She offered me an early release if I would join the project 'Atlantis' as a countermove. After all I still was one of the leading medics in the field of gene technology."
"You agreed immediately."
"No, I asked for time to think it over."
On the disbelieving expression of McKay Beckett continued, "I somehow felt like I deserved this imprisonment, with all its drawbacks. I didn't even know what this Atlantis project was about, but then I thought it would be an opportunity to compensate for what I'd done. That's the reason I agreed."
McKay looked thoroughly at Beckett. Now he noticed why he looked older than his Beckett. It was the face, which was furrowed by grief and remorse, and the bowed posture he must have gotten used to as a reaction to the rough treatment in prison.
Because McKay showed no reaction, Beckett whispered, "You hate me, don't you?"
"No." Actually he felt some pity. "I think everybody deserves a second chance."
Not in the least he expected that tears would swell up into Beckett's eyes, but this was what happened.
"Carson? Is everything okay with you?"
"Yes, don't worry. It's… it's just, Rodney had said exactly the same thing back then when we first met." He sniffed once again and then stood up. "It's time to go to sleep. And, Rodney? I'm sure you'll find a solution."
McKay went to bed, again bothered by lots of thoughts. And first he thought about Beckett and his horrific crime, then his thoughts came back to his alter ego and himself. Finally he fell asleep.
The next morning he was raring to go. He knew what had lead him here, and that was a good start.
Fortune smiled upon him. Zelenka was in a longer meeting with Dr Weir and was not able to give McKay a task. So he could set off and search for the generator. Unfortunately, the documents didn't say exactly where it was. McKay was able to narrow down the area where his alter ego could have hidden it, but he still had to walk for a quite a while to find it.
He started to search a hallway directly under the gate room. Over a door someone had written with a black edging and in slapdash scribbled letters, "Gate to hell." He approached curiously. He knew that there must be a hall behind this door, although it was unused in his Atlantis. He heard voices behind the door and stepped back. Under no circumstances he wanted to attract attention by bursting into the room and asking, "What's going on here?"
And that wasn't necessary at all. The door opened and two Marines lugged a dummy out of the hall. Further Marines, male as well as female ones, followed and some were carrying boxes. Lorne saw McKay and waved him over, "Hey, Doc, the training's just complete."
McKay entered the hall and noticed immediately an about head-high, Y-shaped rack with padding and loops at the endings. This and the whip Lorne held in his hand allowed just one conclusion: this was the punishment room, or whatever they called it.
"Heard that your wounds got inflamed." Lorne looked at McKay with a sincere regret.
"Yes." McKay hardly listened to the major, because he was still staring at the rack.
"You don't like to be here, do you? These guys," he pointed at the last Marines who just left the hall, "don't like it either."
"What have you done in here?" The question slipped out before he could think.
Luckily, Lorne didn't find anything suspicious about the question, rather the opposite, he was really glad that someone showed interest for what he was doing, "The rules say that you have to train the whipping once a week. Believe me, it's not as easy as it looks." Lorne told with a clarity McKay found disconcerting considering the topic. "It's pretty difficult just to hit the back with the whip, and certainly you can imagine what kind of damage could be caused if the whip wraps around the belly." Anxiously, McKay nodded. He didn't want to imagine that. He just wanted to get out, but Lorne continued, "That won't happen to my people, because I train them properly. Then the whip care. It has to be disinfected, before and afterwards. And well, of course the whole procedure has to be practised. Everything goes according to the rules among us."
"Are all of them volunteers?" McKay counted about ten Marines, and that would've been pretty much volunteers for such a… job.
"No, definitely not! We never take volunteers, in that case almost only perverts would sign in. They are chosen by lots, and if someone intentionally acts clumsily during the exercises, well, I would tell that person that he or she can replace the dummy if he or she keeps on delivering bad results. Mostly, that works."
Lorne carefully folded up his whip and put it in a bag, "By the way, what did you want here?"
"Oh, I heard voices and wanted to have a look."
"To have a look which poor devil's turn it was today, huh? I understand." The major went straightaway to the door while McKay saw some red spots on the floor. He swallowed, but then he found out that they were just some coloured marks.
Lorne left the hall and called McKay, who still stood rooted to the spot, "Come, I have to lock the hall, or they would fool around too much in here."
McKay came to the hallway. With mixed feelings he looked after Lorne who left the hallway with his bag and its fateful contents.
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 in the Christian seafaring, which lasted until the 19th century. He thought about the death penalty, still in use in some countries. He thought about the corporal punishments which are an integral part of the judicial systems in some Asian and Arabic countries. And not at least he thought that in many countries children still got beaten completely legally for "educational reasons" by their parents and teachers. He finally concluded that corporal punishment of inferiors wasn't that strange. Cruel, unnecessary, but not strange.
McKay walked along the hallway to a small, unused room. If he had to hide a generator, he would do it there. His alter ego must have had the same thought. At first sight there were just some folded boxes but he just had to push them a bit to the side and the sight to the generator was cleared. The generator fitted exactly what he had expected. The notes of the other McKay were accurate and consistent down to the last detail. He was just about to have a closer look at the generator when Zelenka called him via radio, "McKay, if you aren't in laboratory 14c in five minutes, you will get more trouble than you really want."
He quickly covered the generator and went to the next transporter. Laboratory 14c, that was a small lab near the northern pier. If he was lucky he could stay there undisturbed for the whole day.
When he arrived it wasn't Zelenka who was waiting for him, but two Marines who had heaved a tall, dark, almost cube-shaped object onto a table.
"Zelenka says, you should have a look at this thing and find out, what it is."
"Where did you get it from?"
The other Marine pointed with his thumb to the north, "Fished it out of the water. Right around the corner."
The Marines left McKay, who had a short, interested look at this monster, but then used the opportunity to use this lab for his own purposes. He compared his notes about the phase displacement with Ancient notes and the information from the stargate programme.
After three hours he actually had a solution. The dimension leap had happened because he and his alter ego had stepped almost simultaneously through the stargate. He found out that he entered the gate about two minutes after his alter ego. The deciding factor was that both stargates were open. This was good news, because now McKay was able to reproduce the accident. He just had to have to activate the generator, go through the gate and the other McKay had to go through the gate a short time after him.
But the catch was that he had to transmit a message to his dimension. Then he had the idea to modify the generator slightly. It could send permanently a small, condensed text message, whenever the stargate would be opened. This way sooner or later a message would reach his dimension.
He was thinking about the content of this 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 time 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. The man really frightened him. He wondered how his alter ego coped with the pressure. Or rather if he coped with it.
After he got a grip on himself again, he continued to arrange the message. When he had completed it he was tempted to go straightaway to the generator and send the message. But he didn't dare do so. His shift wasn't finished yet and in addition it would be safer if someone – Beckett – could keep a lookout while he was manipulating the generator. So he worked on the Ancient object and soon he did have some theories. An old buoy was the most plausible, but also most disappointing explanation. But at this time he wasn't interested in it any longer.
A fast snack in the canteen, then he went to the infirmary and asked Beckett if he could accompany him to the generator. After the doctor promised to do so McKay went to his quarters and searched for tools because he did not necessarily want to go to the storage rooms. He found in a drawer what he was looking for, hidden under socks and underwear. He grinned. As a youth he once hid a pack of cigarettes under his underwear. And what happened? When his mother put away his clean underwear she found the pack. Then he stopped grinning. This was damned serious. Zelenka had threatened him with a cane, and definitely not just for fun. He noticed how his hands were trembling. Somehow he had to calm down. He cast a glance at one booze bottle. No, he wouldn't drink anything of it. Not here, where he had in mind what it could cause. What it could cause to him. Instead he sat down and breathed deeply. The trembling disappeared.
McKay met Beckett in front of the generator room where the doctor was already waiting for him. "Is everything all right with you?" Beckett asked.
"Yes, it's just… this dimension. I want to go home, that's all."
McKay explained his plan to Beckett in great detail. The doctor smiled optimistically and manned his post at the entrance to the room.
Beckett watched the surrounding hallways while McKay was focused on the generator. He unscrewed a cover when something just occurred to him, "What if he doesn't want to come back?"
"Pardon?" Beckett turned to him for a short moment.
"Maybe he doesn't want to come back. I mean, what's expecting him, when he comes back? Cane strokes? Whip lashes?"
"More likely the latter," Beckett murmured. Then he said decisively, "But he definitely will want to come back. This is his home. Your dimension will be for him as strange as this dimension is for you. Here he has friends and most important he has Jeannie who he would never let down."
McKay thought about the picture of Jeannie, "Is their relationship so close?"
"Oh yes, pretty close. So close that he hesitated to take part of the Atlantis expedition because he didn't want to leave her. But she encouraged him not to miss the opportunity of his life and promised to take good care of his cat. And all of that even though she didn't know what it was about."
"And he wasn't disappointed that she didn't seek a scientific career?"
"Well, a bit. But since the army time was like purest hell for him, he understood that there was no way she would want to go through that. She on the other hand didn't understand how he could later work for the military voluntarily. But they overlook each other's mistakes." Beckett shrugged his shoulders.
"Rodney's parents hadn't had enough money to send their children to the university. Rodney and Jeannie were both intelligent enough for a scholarship, but that didn't happen. Rodney inadvertently insulted someone from the scholarship allocation committee and Jeannie didn't get one because she had already joined the protest movement. So there was only the army left as a scholarship granter." Beckett now made a pistol gesture, obviously to cheer up McKay. "At least he can handle guns better than most of the scientists of the Atlantis expedition."
McKay took a circuit out of the generator and changed a contact. He took another circuit and repeated the procedure. "Zelenka threatened me with a cane."
"Yes, that can happen," Beckett said so casually as if it wouldn't be something unusual.
"Dr Weir's cane hangs in her office." Somehow McKay couldn't leave this topic alone.
"I've got one in my office, too, what are you going to say?"
"You've got one, too?"
"Everyone in a leading position has one. You as Zelenka's representative have one as well. Standard type, the light variant, not the heavy one they sometimes use in prisons."
"And… and do you use it?" McKay tried to put the circuit back but his hand trembled again.
"Everyone uses his cane. Some more often, other less often." Now Beckett wasn't watching the hallways anymore but McKay. "If this topic takes so much out of you, then we shouldn't talk about it."
The scientist sighed deeply, "I don't know, it's just…" He was searching for words.
Beckett stepped in, "Creepy? Another dimension, with different rules which frighten you? I would be scared pretty much anyway."
McKay focused again and was actually able to assemble the generator.
"How will you know when the message reaches your Atlantis?"
"I told them to send a message to the subroutines of the maintenance cycle. There it wouldn't be conspicuous and I could look for it again and again without causing attention."
"Won't they need a generator of their own for that?"
"Yes, but if I know me, my alter ego will have already started to build one and he has a complete team to his disposal. Maybe they already finished building a generator."
"Then we'll wait. As soon as they signal that they are ready, I'll wait for the next gate travel. I tell them when it will be. Then I activate the generator before stepping through the gate, they send my doppelganger through the gate and we switch our places again."
"Are there any dangers?"
"There is the insignificant danger that our universes would destroy each other."
Because of Beckett'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."
Beckett nodded, "But you will let me know before you go, won't you?"
This was the first night in this universe he fell into sleep without trouble. He knew for sure that he would not have to stay much longer in this dimension.
The next morning right after breakfast he reentered lab 14c. Now the long phase of waiting began. When would his Atlantis get his message? When would they be able to answer? He was occupied with the Ancient object – definitely a buoy – and checked every fifteen minutes the subroutines although his sense told him they couldn't be so fast.
A short time after lunch Zelenka called McKay to his office. McKay assumed that he should report about the Ancient object. He grinned at the thought to tell the Czech that they had found an old buoy. When he entered the office he didn't feel like grinning anymore. Zelenka sat at his table formally and seriously.
"You wanted to see me?" McKay said in his most conciliatory voice.
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 artefact?"
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… I had an idea. I just wanted to check something out."
"Have you prepared another experiment?"
"No." He said it so firmly and determinedly that McKay was proud of himself.
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. 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." McKay had trouble hiding the panic in his voice.
"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.
Then it occurred to him that he had no idea what a punishment would look like or how he had to behave. Why had he never asked Beckett about it? Probably because he never expected to get into such a situation. He urgently hoped not to give himself away now.
"What? Are you waiting for an extra invitation?" Zelenka was pretty annoyed and motioned slightly with the cane at the table.
The table, that was a clue. McKay bent forward and supported himself with his hands at the edge of the table. The Czech changed McKay's position just slightly, so he could more easily hit his back and shoulders. McKay let this happen without resistance. Zelenka stepped diagonally behind McKay, who stared unwavering at the tabletop. He was scared, but he pulled himself together.
He heard how the cane whistled through the air and tensed up. Then the cane hit his back and a sharp, burning pain ran through him.
The further blows were also executed firmly and strongly. One blow after the other hit his back with impact. With full force he suppressed the impulse to scream because he assumed that somebody who was used to such a treatment wouldn't scream anymore.
After what 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 keep 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, hardly daring to move further. Slowly he relaxed and the pain eased to a bearable degree.
He had the need to talk to someone, so he went to the infirmary. 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 and strip to the waist for an examination. Then Beckett palpated carefully the back which caused McKay to flinch repeatedly.
"Zelenka gave you a sound thrashing. Have you enraged him somehow? Did you argue with him about the punishment? That's something he really doesn't like."
"I just asked him if it's really necessary to hit me."
"That was a mistake. As long as it is not totally unjustified you should've accepted your punishment."
The doctor took off his rubber gloves and threw them into a bin. "That looks worse than it is. I couldn't make out serious injuries. You'll soon be fine again."
McKay sat upright and put on his shirt. Then he said what was worrying him, "It seems to me as if I could do or say each moment something, and then… then I'll give myself away. When Zelenka was about to hit me I didn't know what he was expecting from me. I already steer clear of all people, but with each minute I'm here…"
"You're doing well, Rodney. Up to now you're putting up a good show. I'm convinced you'll manage it in the future as well."
"Maybe you're right, Carson." McKay looked on his watch. "Hmm, I have to go back to the lab, examining the buoy."
In pain McKay took the buoy apart. Actually the work was done, but this out-of-the-way lab was just what he wanted. Here nobody would disturb him or force him into a conversation.
In the evening he checked the subroutines one last time before he left the lab. And really! He found the message he was looking for. "We're ready," it read.
Relieved, he went to Beckett's quarters to deliver the news.
"That is great news, Rodney. So, what happens now?" The doctor was visibly glad.
"I'm waiting for another mission. I explained you already the rest."
Beckett nodded, "What, if your Atlantis doesn't receive your message? Or if they miss the right moment?"
"Then I have to try it again during the subsequent mission. Sometime it will work for sure."
"Hmm, I could ask Dr Weir to send you again to the planet, the planet with the medicinal plant, to take a water sample out of the river. I think she would send you first thing in the morning."
"So you want to get rid of me as soon as possible, don't you?" McKay said laughingly.
"No, that's not true. You're all right, but…"
"You miss him, I understand that. And honestly: I want to go back home again."
After Beckett asked Dr Weir for the water sample, she called together the team around Sheppard. They agreed to set off the next day at 9 a.m. McKay was hardly able to hide his tension. Directly after the meeting he went to hallway where the generator was to send a message to his Atlantis.
It was late and he didn't expect to meet anyone there. So he was even more startled when he noticed steps right behind him.
"A little evening walk?" Kavanagh asked snappily.
McKay turned around and folded his arms, "I don't think that's any of your business."
"I just wanted a conversation." Almost casually Kavanagh operated a small measuring instrument.
"And what are you doing here?" McKay tried to make out what kind of measuring instrument it was, but he failed.
"Well, Zelenka made me check the energy feed to the stargate. There were some strange voltage peaks, caused by something which is on this level. Do you have an idea what it could be?"
"How should I know that?"
"Yeah, you know, I thought it would have something to do with generator I just found. You know, the one you built."
"I? What… what gives you that idea?"
"Although you are always treating me as if it's true, I'm not an idiot!" Kavanagh yelled at McKay. "This generator is obviously connected with the phase displacement. Who except you would build such a device?"
Everything tensed inside McKay. He propped up against a wall with his hand, he felt miserable. He was so close to getting back to his dimension, and now this!
"You should…" Kavanagh hesitated, before he continued with a firm voice. "Go to Zelenka. Confess everything, and hope for leniency."
Some hope grew again in the Canadian, "You won't report me?"
"I won't cover you, McKay, if that's what you mean. I'm not going to let you make me your accomplice, under no circumstances. But I still owe you something. If you give yourself up to Zelenka tomorrow morning, I won't report you."
"There's… uh, there's a mission tomorrow morning. Can it wait until after the mission?"
Kavanagh nodded, "I don't mind," then he left the hallway headed in the direction of the transporter. Hardly audible he called, "Good night, McKay."
McKay made sure that Kavanagh was really gone before he went to the generator. He knew that he had just one try. He was hoping that he would've had more than one but at the moment he just had to be glad that he had this one chance. What could have Kavanagh have meant when he said he owed him something? He had almost asked him but he had controlled himself. He would speak to Beckett about it tonight.
He didn't feel happy to rely on Kavanagh's goodwill. Nervously he sent his message to his Atlantis, hoping it would arrive.
In the meantime it was past midnight, but he still knocked at Beckett's door. The doctor hadn't slept yet, on his laptop was the still frame of a DVD. "Am I disturbing you?" McKay said with a look at the laptop.
"No, absolutely not." Beckett turned the laptop off. "Just another boring sequel. Avatar, part five. Hollywood can't think of anything new."
McKay told him what had happened and that tomorrow was his chance to come home.
"It'll work out all right!" Beckett accompanied these words with a friendly, encouraging clap on the shoulder. But his face spoke volumes. Describing it as worried would be an understatement. Then he jumped up and took a pack of Walkers Shortbread – with ginger, as he emphasized – out of the cupboard. He opened the pack and laid it on the table. "To mark the occasion."
McKay took a cookie, "Thanks, Carson." He turned the cookie in his hands and before he bit in it he asked, "Kavanagh said he owes me something. Do you know what he was talking about?"
"Yes. There was this story with a Go'auld." Beckett was about to elaborate on, but saw that McKay nodded in knowledge. "Uh, so that happened in your Atlantis as well. Was it Caldwell? – Yes, it was him in our universe, too. But they suspected Kavanagh. They… they discussed torturing him to get information. Rodney prevented that, he was dead set against it. Kavanagh was very grateful and although the relationship between him and McKay never was very good, Kavanagh still asked to be transferred to Atlantis again. Rodney once said if he would've known that he wouldn't have spoken for him. But he didn't mean that seriously."
Silently, McKay took another cookie. His alter ego showed more guts in this affair than he had which was riling him. He ate another cookie. No, he wasn't jealous of this other Rodney, on the contrary, he was pitying him. That's why he spoke the following thought out loudly, "He has to get away from the alcohol."
"That's easier said than done. But I will pass it on from you to him, when he's back here. Maybe it's more likely that he will listen to it if it comes from his doppelganger."
"You're still optimistic that my plan will work."
"Definitely!" Beckett smiled, but McKay saw the concern in his face.
"What happens to you when they find out that you helped me?"
"I'll surrender voluntarily, before they find out my participation in this thing by themselves. I'll explain my motives to Dr Weir, with a bit of luck that would make her lenient. She won't fire me, and everything else I can bear."
Both men chatted a bit until it was time for McKay to go up to his quarters. Tomorrow's day was incredibly important, under no circumstances could he allowed to oversleep. They embraced each other heartedly and Beckett wished McKay good luck. McKay asked the doctor to give his alter ego his regards. One last embrace, and McKay left the doctor to head for his quarters.
The next morning he stood fully clothed in front of the opened stargate. He turned once again to the stairs where Beckett stood, waving to him. He waved back, something Sheppard noticed confused.
The water-like looking event horizon seemed to be creepier than before. He wondered if his next step not just would take him to another planet, but actually back to his dimension.
Then he saw Samantha Carter's friendly face, who welcomed him, and all doubts were gone.