Title: The other side
Category: AU, War
Spoiler: no obvious ones
Rating: PG 13
Summary: There are two sides to every war - and two opinions.
Content warnings: This is a quite bitter story, because it‘s inspired by reality.
Authors notes: Thanks to Angel for beta reading!
Home: Stargate Atlantis Pandora
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author.
The other side
What happens when a human dies? Does his body fall to the ground to wither away, while his soul enters the afterlife? Or does he completely disappear into mindless oblivion, only followed by his words, deeds and actions, however impressive they might have been in their time? Or does something completely different happen? Something so unimaginable, that it goes way beyond the boundaries of human understanding? That‘s a mystery that can only be explored one way - and the price for it is death.
Captain James Milestone would take this last path, whether he wanted to or not. No one had asked him if he was ready for it. No one had listened to his opinions about entering the annals as the one US pilot who got shot down in the 1-Day-War over Iraqi air space. Nobody had asked him if it was okay for him that these three 7,62 millimetre full metal jacket bullets penetrated his torso at vulnerable locations, condemning him to a slow death.
Lieutenant Kahil Khesam too would enter the path to the last mystery. Two bullets from the pistol of the American pilot - whom he had tracked down to this old ruin - hit him in the ankle and the neck, and covered in blood he fell onto his enemy. Eye to eye they lay there and died.
There was nothing heroic about it. The smell of rot lured the carrion-eaters, and while the rats feasted on the juicy surface, the insects dug themselves deeply into the dead bodies to embed their larvae into the soft and nutritious flesh. This way life had gained from death for millions of years, and this way it would still triumph over transience in the most distant future.
One year later all is left is dust-covered bones. Life has found more lucrative grounds.
Ten years later the bones have also crumbled to dust.
One hundred years later the ruin, where the bodies lay, is also gone.
One thousand years later the nations who fought here are nothing but a mere memory.
Ten thousand years later humanity has forgotten the reason for fighting a war like this.
One hundred thousand years later the heirs of humanity have shaped the place into paradise.
One million years later the heirs of humanity have left this place heading for new horizons.
Ten million years later three successive generations of intelligent life forms have inhabited this planet and left it the same way humanity did.
One hundred million years later no one remembers the founding race that first lived on this planet.
One billion years later earth falls into oblivion.
Ten billion years later the sun falls into oblivion.
One hundred billion years later the Golden Age of the Universe begins.
Space and time end their expansion and fall back into the present with a bang.
„What‘s going on, Lieutenant?“
„I don‘t know. Maybe that mean soufflé upset my stomach.“
„Maybe. You know the feeling of knowing everything … absolutely everything … and then you wake up?“
„Yeah, I think I know what you mean. It‘s like the lighting.“
„The lighting? What‘s that?“
„It‘s not easy to describe. You lie in a slumber, at the very threshold of sleep, and then - whoosh - there‘s this sudden flash behind the eyelids, as if somebody had just turned the lights in the room on and off. You open your eyes, but there‘s nothing to see and no one there. It‘s eerie.“
„You‘re crazy, Captain.“
„So? You are too, aren‘t you?“
„Am I? You wanna know what I dreamt of? Shoting you!“
„Hmm, maybe that‘s a hidden desire of yours?“
„Could very well be. But in the dream you shot me also.“
„What? At the same time?“
„Yeah. Spooky, isn‘t it? „
„I just hope you don‘t sleep with a pistol under your pillow. That‘ll lead to bad karma, ya know? It could also happen that you‘d start sleepwalking and accidentally shoot me. I wouldn‘t like that very much.“
„Oh, you don‘t have to worry about that. I don‘t like weapons much. And I like them even less under my pillow.“
„What? You, being one of the best sharp shooters in this command, do not like weapons much? You must be kidding.“
„No kidding, Captain. As you may know, my religion permits the possession of weapons …“
„Last time I checked the Koran, I didn‘t read anything about weapon restrictions.“
„You‘ve done your homework, haven‘t you Captain? Yes, you‘re right, there‘s no prohibition of weapons in it. But the pacifistic faith that my family follows, declares weapons as impure. And so …“
„But you‘re in the military, Khesam! Why, of all things, did you choose a military career?“
„Because I love my country even more than my family and I want to do everything I can to protect it from its enemies. And this doesn‘t just mean intruders from space, but earth based enemies too, like your radical Christians, for example.“
„I‘m no Christian.“
„I know. But a lot of Christians live in your country. And hearing the words some of your religious leaders put in their mouths, I‘m afraid for the worst.“
„As I said, I‘m no Christian. But I know a lot of Christians, and most of them are honest, decent people, who just lead ordinary lives and have nothing to do with radical thinking.“
„Of course. But you have to admit that the Christian beliefs contain a lot of aggressive potential. All these bloody rituals…“
„You know my opinion, Lieutenant, it doesn‘t matter which religion one follows - radical behaviour is mainly a result of poverty. If the people in North America were as wealthy as the people here in the Arabian League, the number of radical Christians would be much lower.“
„I doubt that.“
„I know. But to prove our point we are here.“
„But you just said you‘re no Christian, Captain!“
„So what? If I have to, I‘ll convert to Christianity just to prove to you that all Christians don‘t bite. And now you should try to get some sleep, so you‘ll be rested for the mission tomorrow.“
Personal diary, Captain Milestone, SG-12
Had a strange encounter with Lieutenant Khesam tonight. He told me of a dream in which we shoot each other. Similarities in my own dreams are frightening, but I didn‘t tell him about it. Even after two months here at the Stargate Centre An Najaf everything feels strange and uncomfortable. Kowalski and Carter seem to have the same problems. For everyone else we are just the ‚North Americans‘ and it‘s not easy to make new friends. Even Khesam was quite reserved at first, but since then he has gained some trust in us. He‘s very open minded about other cultures and I can see why the Arabians have added him to our team as ‚advisor‘.
Sometimes I‘m scared of all the wealth that surrounds me and that the Arabs seem to see it as the most natural thing in the world. Also, I can‘t help feeling a bit envious about how blessed this country is. Not only is it a centre of science and art (although I‘m not completely convinced by the expensive Kuwait film productions - there‘s more to a good movie than costly special effects), they also hold over fifty percent of the worlds raw material resources - including the valuable Naquadah - and last but not least they are the ones who dug out the Gate and founded the Stargate Project. And with its huge costs - each activation costs 100.000 dinars! - they are the only ones capable of financing it over a continuous period of time.
But I have no reasons to complain, because at least they allow a Confederated team to take part in their exploration of the Stargate network, and that‘s more than they allow the Europeans.
Today we receive a great honour. We are to accompany SG-1 to the planet PY3411 to find and capture the renegade Goa‘uld system lord Nurrti. This mission is not without danger, but we are ready to do our best to achieve our goal.
PY3411 - In the future
The bright blue event horizon of the wormhole closes behind them with a hiss, and the resolute forty-year-old woman with the military insignia of a Colonel of the Arabian Army turns to Milestone: „You and your team stay here to guard the Gate, while we try to drive the snake out of her nest. Remain in constant radio contact. Set your Zats to stun, we want to catch Nurrti alive.“
Milestone frowns for a second, then salutes her: „Yes, Colonel!“
If Colonel Rhana Hussein notices his hesitation, she doesn‘t show it. Together with Teal‘c, Dr. Sventlana Markov and Jonas Quinn she leaves the clearing in the direction of Nurrtis fortress, while SG-12 stays behind.
„That‘s not exactly what I expected from this mission.“ Lieutenant Kowalski complains. Milestone darts him a look and nods grimly. „You heard the Colonel. Take positions and don‘t hesitate to report anything unusual.“
The Captain watches his team spreading over the surrounding area, as he sits down at the foot of the steps to the Stargate. He watches Lieutenant Carter in particular, with a lot of concern. The usually very lively woman is pale and taciturn. She still seems to suffer from the loss of her husband, who was killed during an attack of Christian fanatics on the Arabian embassy in Richmond - the second stroke of fate within a short period of time after her fathers death from cancer. Milestone has already asked her if she wants to take some leave for a few months to get over it all, but she disagreed. She is a strong woman, highly intelligent and brave at the same time, which has allowed her to obtain the rank of an officer, even in the anti-women atmosphere of the Confederated military. Had she served with the Arabian military, she would hold the rank of Colonel, at least Major, by now. But instead she lost the two men who meant most to her.
„Captain.“ Khesams voice breaks right into the Captains thoughtful mood.
The only answer Milestone gets is silence, interrupted by the occasional static hiss.
„Lieutenant Khesam? Report!“
No answer. Milestone grabs his Zat. „Kowalski. Carter. Stay on high alert!“
„Captain!“ He hears Kowalski. „There‘s something here…“ The sentence is cut off by a horrible scream of pain, coming not only from the radio, but echoing over the whole area.
Carter comes running into the clearing.
„Dammit, Carter! Take cover!“ Milestone shouts at her, but she continues moving. She is about to say something, when an invisible shadow jumps her. Suddenly, there is blood pouring out of a gaping wound in her throat. Time slows down, then comes to a halt. Carter‘s face, pale with terror, seems to fade with that of Lieutenant Khesam, coming right at him, until it fills his full field of vision. A shiver runs down his spine and touches his heart with an icy grip.
Then the moment is gone. Carter collapses in front of his eyes, and his military training leaves no trace of a doubt that she is dead. The same is to be expected for Khesam and Kowalski. Without wasting any more emotion to mourn, Milestone fires a couple of shots into the vicinity of Carter, but scores no hit. His enemy seems not only to be invisible but also very agile.
Sharpening his senses to breaking point, he steps into the clearing, keeping a close eye on the soft leaves upon the ground; apart from this there is only his hearing and his sense for sudden air movements - and of course his instincts - to discover his enemy. He doesn‘t dare use his radio to alarm the Colonel, for this short moment of carelessness would spell certain doom for him.
His radio gives a hiss and he hears Colonel Hussein‘s voice: „Captain, how are things?“
He‘s going to attack now! Milestone throws himself to the ground and only a faint whisper above him shows him that the attacker barely missed him. He fires his Zat roughly in the direction of his enemy while shouting „Ambush!“ into his radio. It is probably his last word. Again time slows down, while the blade - made visible by his seemingly successful Zat shot - inexorably approaches his face, slower and slower, coming to a halt a mere inch from his eyes.
How much time passes, he cannot tell. Time is a subjective concept, based only on the experience of change, but nothing changes. Absolutely nothing. He feels no sound, no movement, not even a heartbeat, and even his thoughts marking time, circling around only one question: Is this the mindlessness of death, trapped in the last moment of his life?
„A very interesting question.“ a voice says. It belongs to a young man with mid-length brown hair and glasses, who now steps into his field of view. Apart from a pair of unbelievable eyes he looks completely normal. Milestone has never seen him before.
„You‘re probably asking yourself who I am. You may call me Dr. Jackson, a nice anagram, considering what is to follow.“
„I understand you are in an awkward situation. Would it make you feel any better to hear that all of this is just part of a Kuwaiti TV production?“
„Right, you‘re just a supporting actor in a TV series. A TV series in which the American team, should it take part in a mission, is always wiped out to the last man, while Colonel Hussein and SG-1 always get away barely touched. Quite unfair, don‘t you think?“
„I can help you. Turning the wheel of time into the other direction. Rewriting the screenplay. Altering reality. Call it as you want. It will give you the chance to be the hero of the day for once and - most importantly - stay alive.“
„Your team will also survive, if you take this option. Now, isn‘t that magnificent?“
„Just what I thought. All right, brace yourself!“
Again space and time end their expansion and fall back into the present with a bang.
Is this the true reality?
A long time ago in a universe far away
Rhana and Teal‘c looked at each other through the dividing force wall. It was a horrible feeling, being separated by something invisible, just as if the barrier wouldn‘t be there at all and the separation would only take place in their heads.
„There‘s no way through it, Teal‘c.“ she said with an unusually timid voice. „It‘s best for you to search for a means of shutting down the force wall on your side, while we do the same on our side.“
Teal‘c nodded slowly and turned away. Markov, Quinn and Kowalski followed him.
„Well, SG-12.“ Rhana turned around to her new crew, her voice strong again. „Looks as if we have to come to terms with each other on this side.“
„Are you sure that we can‘t shut down the force wall right here?“ Carter asked.
„Quite sure.“ The Colonels expression seemed to be directed to another space and time. „We had some encounters with theses walls.“
„Has there been a memo about this?“ Milestone wanted to know.
„No. Follow me, this way.“
Colonel Hussein led them through the corridors of Nurrtis underground fortress. After the elimination of the invisible assassin they hadn‘t meet any resistance.
„Which brings up the question how long it will stay like this.“ Khesam muttered.
„I just wonder where Nurrtis forces will lay in wait for us. The invisible one can‘t have been the only defence.“
A knock on the wall beside them interrupted him. Swiftly Hussein made some signs with her hand. Khesam secured the corridor in one direction, while Carter kept watch over the other side and the Colonel examined the wall. All of a sudden it glided sideways and a bright light shone from a secret chamber behind it. The light waved around the silhouette of a man holding his weapon in aiming position.
„Who the hell are you?“ Colonel Jack O‘Neill asked.
After the initial shock had subsided, Colonel Hussein had a lot of questions to ask: „First off: what language is this?“
„That‘s English - a language quite common in North America.“ Khesam answered. „Let Milestone talk to him. He‘ll be able to tell us straight away what‘s going on here.“
„Oh, I can work that out myself.“ Rhana said grimly pointing at the mirror. „That‘s a quantum mirror over there - and he stepped through it to get into our universe. And that means nothing but trouble!“ Again her look seemed to point to some distant space and time.
„Yes, Ma‘am.“ Khesam had no clue what she was talking about, but she didn‘t seem to plan on introducing him to it. Instead she kept asking.
„Everyone but me seems to know this man. What do you know about him?“
„Well, I only met him once. His name is Jack O‘Neill. He was married to Lieutenant Carter and worked in our embassy in Richmond.“
„He didn‘t take on her last name?“
„Uh, no, that‘s not common in the Confederated States. But the eerie part of it is still to come: He died last month in a bomb attack!“
„I can calm your nerves regarding that. The man over there is not the O‘Neill you know. He‘s from another universe. God knows what fate he experienced over there, but usually it takes quite a lot to force someone through that mirror. Have you seen a control device lying around here somewhere? It‘s about as big as a closed fist. I don‘t like this mirror to stay activated the whole time.“
„Looks like a common mirror to me.“
„Does it? Well, then you have a look into it and try to find your mirror image. But don‘t touch the thing!“
Khesam stepped closer to the mirror. It showed an exact mirror image of the room he was standing it, but not a single person was visible, not even himself standing right in front of it. This was indeed no ordinary mirror!
But was this the real reality? That question was bugging Khesam all the time since he‘d had that dream. When had that been? Yesterday? The day before yesterday? He didn‘t know. Something was completely wrong here! And through some uncanny means it had something to do with Captain Milestone.
Milestone was in an uncomfortable situation. On one hand he had orders to get all the information they needed from O‘Neill as fast as possible, on the other hand he had the utmost understanding for Lieutenant Carter, who had clung to her husband she had believed dead. O‘Neill seemed to handle the situation with more composure, but Milestone could see the turmoil beneath the surface.
„Okay,“ Milestone tried again, „you claim to be Colonel Jack O‘Neill, a member of the Air Force and Stargate Command?“
O‘Neill nodded. „I was the commanding officer of SG-1.“ His voice trembled. „I came through that mirror over there and I‘m really from another reality.“
„How can that be?“
„You‘re asking the wrong guy! Fact is that when you touch that mirror you end up travelling to another universe. That‘s all I know.“
„Are we under an imminent treat from Nurrti?“
„You? I don‘t think so. She is much to occupied with making the life miserable of my people on the other side.“
Milestone had a sudden feeling of floating a few inches above his body looking at the scene from a different angle. All of this felt wrong, like an illusion. Or a nightmare. But he didn‘t mention it.
„You say you *have* been the commanding officer of SG-1. What does that mean?“
„They‘re all dead.“
„Your team has been killed?“
„No, everyone was killed. Absolutely everyone. We are the only survivors.“
„The only survivors? Of what?“
„Earth is history. The Goa‘uld - they managed to claim victory at last. I … I‘m one of the survivors who managed to get to the alpha site.“
„And from there you‘re coming?“
„Yes. Through the mirror. On the other side is our alpha site. We are just a handful of people. And unfortunately we had to find out that our site is situated just above a secret fortress of Nurrti. A Nurrti we thought dead.“
„What happened to earth?“
„The Goa‘uld conquered it.“
„The Goa‘uld? Just like that?“
„No, not just like that. We paved their way.“
„Paved their way? What are you talking about, Jack?“
O‘Neill looked down to Carter who was still clinging to him without saying a word. „That‘s a long story, Captain.“
„Then give me the short version!“
„Well, all right. I guess you‘ll have to prevent the same from happening in your reality. Most of it‘s only second hand knowledge anyway ...
... it all began with our march into Iraq. Stargate Command hadn‘t had anything to do with it, being fully occupied with defending earth from the Goa‘uld. Anyway, the whole world protested against our attack, while our government argued that Iraq made use of the weapons of mass destruction in his arsenals to support terrorist activity. Well, that‘s what the news told us anyway. Knowing that our government had some close relationships with Senator Kinsey and thus to the NID, I didn‘t give much credit to these claims, plus, we had too much to do protecting earth to care much about these goings on. Had I known what was about to happen, I might have tried to do something about it, but what can a single person achieve under those circumstances?
As I said, the whole world protested against our actions, and even in our own country the opposition began to grow. The air grew thin for our politicians. And then it all came thick and fast.
In Berlin, the capital of anti-war protests, a terrible incident happened, killing thousands. The news spoke about a terror attack with anthrax at first, but soon afterwards it became clear that it was a different agent of biological warfare and all hints pointed towards the US. Suddenly the NID was pushed into the centre of public interest. New reports came to light, from secret plans for total global domination up to the claim that the NID had not only had knowledge of the 11th September attacks, but had also actively supported them. What was true and what wasn‘t, I never found out.
Now events really speeded up. In one moment new revelations were announced, in the next moment there were reports of serious disturbances in Washington. The government came crushing down like a house of cards, but the people in the background didn‘t seemed willing to give up so fast. Or maybe an NID commander lost his nerve.
Whatever the reason, a new agent was released, this time directly in Washington. I cannot remember the official name, but the press called it ‚Captain Chaos‘. The name was program. It was unstoppable. Thousands died, then millions. The rest was blown away in the resulting turmoil. The Asgard turn their backs to us, and I cannot blame them. Shortly afterwards the Goa‘uld invaded and took what was left standing.
We only managed to get a couple of thousand people offworld to the alpha site, before the agent successfully infiltrated the Stargate Centre. It took Fraiser, Teal‘c, Jonas … and finally Carter. They died so fast that I couldn‘t even say goodbye to them. My only option was to die there with them or to help the survivors building a new civilisation. My life as I knew it was over anyway.
I fooled myself all these years. Defending earth through a Stargate is like holding a narrow mountain pass - a single man can stop a whole army. But protecting the world from itself has gone way over my powers. I failed and lost everything that ever meant anything to me ...
... but now it feels as if God has given me a second chance.“ Gratefully Jack embraced ‚his‘ Samantha and Captain Milestone recognized that even though their realities showed many differences there were still some universal common features.
But was this real? The question was like a virus that had infected Milestone‘s thoughts and kept reappearing from time to time, regardless of the great effort of his mental immunity system to drive it off. And somehow this riddle was connected with Lieutenant Khesam.
„I have the utmost respect for your request, Captain“, Colonel Hussein said after Milestone had made his report. „These people are your friends, and it‘s only natural that you want to help them. But messing around with this parallel universe thing is much too dangerous. That‘s why we destroyed the mirror we found a couple of years ago. But that‘s not the point I‘m talking about.“
„Then what is your point?“
„I don‘t know yet. But I guess I will come to it after a while.“
Milestone nodded, slightly confused: „Okay...“
„Well,“ Rhana continued, „this other universe reminds me of all the other universes we had contact with in the past. All these universes had one important thing in common: they all failed in one way or another in defeating the Goa‘uld.“
„Well,“ Milestone replied slowly. He had a feeling of what the Colonel was getting at, and he didn‘t like the thought. „The universe Colonel O‘Neill is coming from did not fail in fighting the Goa‘uld. Instead it suffered from a horrible catastrophe.“
„A catastrophe they have to blame on themselves!“
„And that means …“
„It means that we live in a functioning reality, while the other clearly seems to have failed. Ours is the most important reality, the one we have to protect at all costs. We can‘t do anything for the other universes anymore.“
„I have to disagree on that. Uh … speaking with all due respect, Ma‘am.“
„Really? Because in that other universe your own people control the Stargate? That‘s an interesting prospect for you, isn‘t it? All this imposing our will on you must go on your nerves quite heavily, right?“
„That‘s not true, Colonel! Well … okay, you‘re right, it‘s really a bit like that.“
„But as I see it, ‚your‘ people in ‚your‘ reality haven‘t been capable of handling the power the Stargate gave them with responsibility.“
Milestone felt a sudden pain in his stomach when he heard that. Colonel Hussein was absolutely right with her claim. The American Stargate Project had failed. It failed because of its own government. Milestone felt horrible.
Rhana Hussein patted his shoulder comforting. „Don‘t feel bad, Captain. It‘s not your fault. And it isn‘t Colonel O‘Neill‘s fault either. The best thing for us to do is to destroy the mirror and try to get out of this fortress in one piece.“
„I advise against it, Ma‘am.“ Khesam stepped up.
„Ma‘am, we have orders to eliminate Nurrti! And Nurrti is on the other side of that mirror.“
„Right. And in destroying the mirror, we ban her from this universe forever.“
„But we cannot assure that she won‘t return one day. Also we put a young and defenceless civilisation at her mercy!“
„Didn‘t you listen to what I just said, Khesam? Our reality is the only reality of consequence.“
„I don‘t object against that.“
„What else there is to object against?“
„This is an unusual situation forcing us to make some unusual decisions. Is destroying the mirror the right thing to get rid of the problem? Yes. But is it the right thing to *do*?“
„That‘s a very good question.“ a voice behind them said.
With readied weapons they spun around.
„Who are you? And where do you come from?“ Rhana Hussein asked.
„I‘m Daniel Jackson. I‘ve been here the whole time. You are the ones coming to me.“
Mid-length brown hair and glasses. And this eyes …
„I know you.“ Milestone said.
„Oh, I doubt it.“ Jackson answered.
„I met you … a while ago.“
Jackson threw him an amused look: „This person you met … had his skin a bluish gleam?“
„No … yes! I remember! I just didn‘t notice back then.“
„This person was not me. He has similar abilities and motivations, but he believes that the most important thing in life is love.“
„Isn‘t it?“ Khesam asked. He noticed that he and Captain Milestone where the only ones left facing Daniel Jackson.
„No, the most important thing is peace.“
„I don‘t feel so good.“ Milestone said. Khesam wasn‘t feeling any better. This feeling of being trapped in a nightmare was upon him once more.
„It will soon be over.“ Jackson assured them. „You just have to hang in there a little while longer.“
„Which reality is the right one?“
„An interesting question, isn‘t it? Which reality is the right one … well, if you face two realities that both feel true, maybe none of them is real? Or maybe… they are all real. But even then there is still one reality more important than all the others. One in which the right decisions have to be made. All other realities are just possibilities held in store for us, should we deviate from the one important one.“
„I would like to return to that important reality as soon as possible.“ Khesam said.
„Yes, I completely agree with that.“ Milestone added.
„This evening president Milestone of the United States of America and president Khesam from the Arabian League signed a treaty for an enduring peace between the two nations, including the settlement of the dispute over the use of the Stargate. After a consensus seemed an increasingly remote possibility in the last few days, now both presidents made an about-turn, which came as a complete surprise for everyone involved, and signed the treaty within a few hours. Part of the treaty is the mutual use of the Stargate to ensure an enduring protection of earth against all alien aggressors. The far-reaching consequences of this decision cannot yet been foreseen, but with regard to the delighted response of the Asgard ambassador it becomes clear that today we took the first step into the right direction.
This was a short report from Jonas Quinn for CNN News. I now hand you back to your regularly scheduled programming.“