Even though Tarrant had said he was sorry, Vila couldn't help thinking that it was probably very true that he was useless and no one would object if Tarrant threw him off the ship. He really was a spare part these days: not on weapons anymore, and no locks to open since the Andromedan invasion but that extremely satisfying really-a-transporter vault. So perhaps it was time to jump before he was pushed.
He'd been right not to go to Homeworld with Kerril. He wasn't the pioneer shootin' huntin' farmin' type and she'd have gone right off him in no time flat, so it made sense to come back. A lot more options on--or more likely off--the old Lib. But where would he go? They never seemed to visit any nice safe planets these days.
Perhaps the question was more when should he go?
Vila grabbed Orac and headed to the hold where he and Avon had stored that Stargate they'd found. And just as well too since that bloke Rodney would have ended up in vacuum if they hadn't. He wasn't a bad chap either, Rodney.
"Can you send me to where Rodney is?"
"I have no knowledge of his movements."
"Well, where you sent him back to, then?"
"That was in another galaxy, and the conditions would be very difficult to reproduce."
And besides, wasn't he being shot at by wraiths or something? "What about Earth, then? Or," said Vila casually, "is that also too hard?"
"Certainly not." Orac sounded smug. "I took the opportunity of decoding the gate addresses at the time."
"All right, do it." No harm in having a look around, was there?
Vila stood well back, remembering how the vertical swimming pool had splashed at him last time, then leapt into the wild (and rippling) blue yonder with Orac clutched in his arms. It wasn't like the Keezarni transporter thing at all. That had felt like falling through the night, but this was like one of those long, twisty slides at the water fun park on Del 10. Via opened his mouth to yell in panic, but before he could get his breath, he was through.
As Mitchell and Daniel pounded past, Vala shrugged and trotted after them. It had been a slow day, and this might be diverting.
In the gate room, a mild-looking man stood at the top of the ramp, his hands in the air and a blinking cube of plastic at his feet as soldiers in two curved rows, one standing and one kneeling, trained their guns on him. "Oh now, look," he said. "No call for all that. I mean, it's only me."
The guns didn't waver, though a few of soldiers glanced at each other.
The guy swallowed, "Um, Rodney about by any chance? You know, Rodney, good looking chap, very sensible attitude to danger?"
From behind Mitchell (just in case things went a bit banana-shaped) Vala sniggered. He shared a few features with Rodney but at least he had a sense of humour to make up for it.
"Yeah, we do. And who would you be?" Mitchell asked.
"Vila, harmless, unarmed, and look, I wouldn't want to outstay my welcome. Such as it is. It's just that Rodney came through the Stargate on our ship, and me and Avon and Orac worked out how to send him back," the guy said quickly, almost falling over his words, "and I thought, why not look him up?"
Daniel put his hand up. "Hey, I remember that report! McKay ended up about a thousand years in the future, and a seriously annoying AI got him back."
"That's right." Harmless Guy picked up the blinking box. "And here he is," he said, holding him out like proof. "Mind you, it depends on whether A's for 'artificial' or 'Avonic'," he added obscurely.
Up in the control room. Landry leaned forward. "Meeting room. Now."
Vala headed there with the rest of the team. Meetings might be a bit tedious at times, but you had to know what was going on. And this might be fun.
Vila sat at the end of a table with Orac in front of him, facing General Landry and the SG-1 team. The only one not in uniform, whose name Vila hadn't quite caught--Valmalodour or something--was perched on a filing cabinet, swinging her legs so that her heels drummed softly against the metal.
"Before we start, son, I'd like to make it clear that the less we know about the future, the better," Landry said. "We don't want to know any details that might change ours."
"And make me never have existed? I'm with you there, and I don't think you have to worry about that. Those ghouls and wraiths and ghosts and bogeymen you've been talking about are just stories to frighten kids where I come from. You know, the ghouls will take your body, the wraiths'll suck out your soul, and the awry will burn you in hell. And I don't really know anything about how you got from here to there. Will get."
"That doesn't make sense," said Daniel. "It's only been a thousand years. How could that much knowledge have been lost?"
Vila shrugged. "There was some sort of disaster back before they built the domes. Um. Forward before they will have?"
"You raise an interesting point! Time travellers would need a whole new set of tenses!" Daniel's eyes lit up and he started scribbling on a sheet of paper.
The big man called Tea-something with the gold symbol on his forehead raised an eyebrow. "Or those in power choose to suppress knowledge." Vila shot him a sidelong look, and he inclined his head with a slight ironic smile.
"I don't think I'm supposed to say," Vila said cautiously.
"Domed cities?" Mitchell said eagerly. "With weather control and stuff?"
"Planet-wide on most Federation worlds. Um." Vila clapped his hand over his mouth, but he was still there.
"And you have a Federation? Man!" Mitchell slapped the table in delight. "Flying cars and jet-packs too?"
Vila blinked. "Not me personally."
"And we'll keep the questions personal," Landry said sternly. "Won't we."
"OK, so tell us about you. What're you doing here, future boy?" asked Mitchell
"Well, you know that old expression, the past is another planet? Just thought I'd have a look to see if it's any better here than when I am. Was. Will be."
Mitchell stared. "You're a time tourist?"
"No harm in looking, is there?"
The dark-haired woman on the filing cabinet took out a red apple, looked at it consideringly, and took a bite. Everyone jumped at the crunch and turned to look at her. "What?" she said around her mouthful. "You want one?"
Landry sighed and turned his attention back to Vila. "And what do you do, son? What are you back home?"
"Um, professional--" better keep his skills to himself, "--electronics expert, ex-weapons officer, and--" rebels weren't that popular either, "--galactic explorer," Vila finished airily. The woman with the apple winked at him.
"What sorta weapons?" asked Mitchell.
Vila tore his curious eyes away from Val-whatever. Odd-looking but attractive mixture with her strong, intelligent face and her little-girl hairstyle in bunches over her ears, "Neutron blasters."
"That is so cool! What about phasers? C'mon, the Federation must have phasers!"
Landry frowned warningly. "Mitchell!"
"No, plasma bolts."
"Well, how cool is that?"
Sam smiled at Vila. "I'd love to take a good look at your computer and find out how it works"
She wasn't just changing the subject either. She looked like Avon when he saw new technology. Or ice cream. Vila grabbed Orac and held him tight. He wouldn't normally object to anyone poking around in Orac's insides, but the rat was his only way back. "And dissect me too, while you're at it? He's a person, you know!"
"I'm sorry," Sam said contritely. "You're quite right."
Landry stood up. "OK, we have other matters to deal with. I need someone to look after our visitor though." He looked over at the woman who had eaten the apple. "You're not doing much."
"Oh yes," she said bitterly, sliding off the cabinet. "Palm him off on Vala. What am I, low dog on the barge pole?"
"You're a female Vila!" said Vila with delighted recognition.
She glared. "Isn't it obvious I am? And it's Vala."
"Vala. With an A."
Mitchell rolled his eyes. "Vala, Vila. Vila, Vala." Sam bit her lip and looked away.
"That's me," said Vila. "A laughing stock in two millennia."
Out in the corridor, Vala gave him an amused look. "So. You're a thief."
"How'd you guess that?"
"Because there was this little pause. And I know all the ways of describing my profession. Supply specialist."
"Spreading the wealth."
Vala grinned at him, and Vila grinned back. "How about a drink and something to eat?"
"Don't mind if I do. Time travel makes me a bit peckish."
"Right, the mess it is!"
"Looks tidy enough to me," said Vila, looking around.
"Coffee?" Vala pressed the buttons for double-strength with milk on the espresso machine.
"Fluffy on top with sugar," said Vila, half expecting Avon to appear and leap on that. "Anything to eat?"
Vala nodded at the bowl of apples.
"Had those before. I want something new. Ah, here we go." Vila advanced on the snack dispenser.
"You need to punch in a code for that," said Vala.
"Not me." Vila extracted a tool from a pocket and opened a panel. Vala folded her arms and watched with interest. "Ta-da!" He stood back as the entire front rank toppled forward and fell to the bottom.
"I'm impressed. Whose department did you rack that up against?"
"No one's. I just told the machine it had a valid response." Vila piled everything into his arms and dumped it on a table.
Vala brought the mugs over, sat down, and ripped open a bag of chips. "Veggies before dessert." She crunched into a chip. "So. Can you teach me how to do that?"
"Probably not," Vila said, grabbing a handful. "I've tried now and then, but it's a knack. You have to see what's inside the lock or the security system. And know just when to intercept a signal."
Vala raised her eyebrows. "Some sort of psi ability?"
"Me? Shouldn't think so." Vila paused, then decided not to think about it on general Heisenberg uncertainty principles. "I don't much care as long as it works. Anyway, you should be able to handle an easy system like that one."
"I was always more in the con artist line."
"Ah, now that I could never do. I'm hopeless at lies."
"An honest criminal?" Vala put her chin in her hand. "So, why did a clever thief like you leave? Too hot for you?"
"No." Vila tried a red M&M. "Not bad," he decided, pouring several into his hand. "Opposite, really. Thing is," he said, slightly muffled, "I'm not really needed in the crew any more. I used to be on the neutron blasters, but Avon put Dayna on those. I've only had to open one vault this year, and frankly I'm feeling a bit, I dunno."
"Supernumerary? I know the feeling."
"Nervous. It's only a matter of time till they dump me. What about you?"
"They wouldn't do anything like that. It's just that... they just don't take me seriously."
"We've got a lot in common," Vila said. He prodded a Baby Ruth. "Hasn't got real ones in it, I assume?"
"Nope. It's quite ruthless too, I imagine." Vala gave a sudden and startlingly predatory grin, and bit off half, offering him the rest.
"And very nice too!"
"Right." Vala finished her coffee, and pocketed several bars. "You think you can get into any room here?"
Vila licked his chocolatey fingers. "Thousand-year-old technology? A doddle."
"So whose room is this?" he asked.
"Daniel Jackson's." Vala trailed her hand along one of the bookcases.
"What d'you want from in here?"
"Nothing really. I just wanted to look around." Vala sat down and bounced on the bed.
"You know, I used to break into Avon's room and do things to it."
"He's not so much fun any more. Tell you what, we could put all his books out of order."
Vala looked horrified. "Not his books! That's going too far."
Vila watched as Vala lifted a pillow and sniffed it. "Ah. Doesn't notice you, eh? I know that feeling too." There was something to be said for being ignored when the alternative was exasperating everyone on the ship just by existing.
"Not that way," said Vala, dropping the pillow and standing up.
"Don't suppose you'd consider an affectionate and house-trained thief, would you?"
Vala laughed and patted him on the head. "You're cute."
Kiss of death, that was, the old pat on the head. Vila sighed. "Got any bolts or really strong glue?"
"I can't help but notice," said Vila some time later, "that there aren't any windows. If that bloke Mitchell hadn't gone on about domed cities being so cold--"
"--I'd say we were in one."
"Nope." Vala peeled a Milky Way and took a bite. "Just a mountain."
"Eh?" Vila winced. "All that weight on top of us!"
Vala shrugged. "It's been all right so far."
"Why, though? I mean why a whole mountain? What's up there that's so bad?"
"Nothing. The rest of the planet." Vala licked the wrapper, screwed it up, and tossed it towards a trash can. "They built this in case another country bombed them, but they're not likely to now and it's a whole other set of countries that want to."
Vila looked alarmed.
"But basically we're here because the Stargate project is secret."
"Oh. Can we get out?"
"Not easily. Not without permission. It's a secure military facility."
"I've got into plenty of those, and out of them for that matter. And Central Control, and they said that was the hardest."
"Really?" Vala looked at him with interest. "Think you can break us out?"
Vila rubbed his hands. It would be a challenge. "It'll be a doddle," he said.
"Nice place," said Vila, looking around at the sunny street, the trees, the shops, the people strolling about without any seeming trace of worry about flash food riots, sudden attacks by troopers, or being shopped by so-called friends for an unguarded opinion. "I could live here."
"They wouldn't let you. You're too dangerous, knowing about the future. They're still working out what to do with you."
"Eh?" Vila stopped and stared at her. "Like what?"
"Lock you up so you can't get out. And frankly, a big bolt on the outside would do it. Or make you join the team. Ooh, hot dogs!" Vala headed towards a vendor's cart. "Want one?"
"They don't have dogs in them, do they?"
Vala considered this, her head on one side. "Probably. There are plenty of them about to harvest."
"No thanks. I make a point of not eating anything I could be friends with."
"That's very reassuring," Vala said. "How about pancakes, then? You can all kinds of toppings."
"Now that sounds good! And very exotic."
"So, tell me about what it's like to be on the team," said Vila, tucking into a cheesecake, banana, and caramel pancake. "Because it has to be better than life in the Federation."
"What's so bad about that?"
"Apart from the brainwashing, selling people's families into slavery, and the mass murder? Quite a lot, really."
Stung into defending the honour of the 21st century, Vala raised a contemptuous eyebrow. "That's nothing compared to having your body taken over by slugs and having to stand by and watch what they do with it, being tortured, burned alive, resurrected, and impregnated with the seed of evil."
"Ah. That sort of thing happen a lot?"
"More than I'd like. And of course the Ori are killing off whole planets with plague." Vala nonchalantly added more pepper to her strawberry and cream pancake.
"I've been exiled to a planet of no return, almost been blown up several times, caught in a massive space web, hunted by the Supreme Commander and her insane pet attack dog, captured by pirates, irradiated, forced to work in a mine, almost got plague meself, fried while playing chess, forced to play the fool--more than usual, anyway--beaten off an intergalactic invasion force, and now they want to throw me off the ship."
Vala snorted. "That's nothing."
Vila almost went off the whole idea of eating his pancake as he listened to her, but it would have been a criminal waste when you couldn't get anything like that back in the future.
And really, it was looking as if he was going back. The SG-1 team went on dangerous missions all the time, not just every few weeks or so, and frankly, there was whatever happened (or would happen) to make people build the domes. Bombs, plague, fire, or something else altogether, and for all he knew it could be soon.
Besides, since Blake had left, they did just seem to be wandering about exploring and not actually looking for trouble. Maybe it was a case of the devil he knew and all that.
"Sorry you're going," said Mitchell mendaciously, with the team and Landry standing behind him looking very relieved.
"I am." Vala grinned at Vila. "It's been fun!"
"Perhaps for some people," said Daniel. "What I want to know is, who put all my bedroom furniture on the ceiling?"
"Don't look at me," said Vila, which, being a request rather than a denial, was hardly a lie. Daniel narrowed his eyes at Vila and Vala, and Vala stepped away. "Nothing between us but a vowel," Vila said hastily.
"Great practical joke!" Mitchell said admiringly "Just like the old days. At flight school, we once sealed up a guy's room and put a hose in through a hole just below the ceiling and filled it with water."
Sam stared at him in horror. "Have you any idea how much pressure that volume of water would exert?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact. Blew the guy's windows right out."
Teal'c beckoned Vila over and leaned forward confidentially. "Do you possess any more ideas like that?"
"Well, you know all those newspapers you lot get every day? Scrunch 'em up loosely, one page at a time, and you could fill a room easily."
"Indeed." Teal'c inclined his head.
Vila grinned and stepped onto the ramp. Best not to overstay his welcome. Here at least.
"Where the hell have you been?" demanded Avon. "I've been wo-- wondering where you were." He cleared his throat and looked expressionless.
Vila glared down at Orac, "I said to bring me back just after I left."
"That sort of accuracy is impossible, and I wished to avoid the possibility of there being two Vilas in existence at one time."
"A commendable precaution," said Avon. "Where did you go, Vila, and why? You and Orac were not on the ship, and you left the door to the main cargo bay open, so the logical assumption was that you used the Stargate."
"Just had a short look around in the past."
Avon raised his eyebrows. "And why did you come back?"
"Seemed slightly safer here."
"Considering the present-altering possibilities of you being loose back there, I would have to agree."
"So," said Vila slyly, "that would imply that you'd rather I was here than there."
"For the reason stated, yes." Avon turned his back. "And besides, you can play chess."
"I'll set up the board," said Vila.
Of course, by the time things got so bad that Vila would have risked another trip back, or at least to somewhere else, the Liberator with the Stargate inside it had been gone for months.
Two years later, however, it occurred to Vila that a Stargate that had lasted many thousands of years might in fact be explosion-proof and indigestible to space enzymes. So he and Avon (for Orac came bundled with Avon) hired a ship with a large cargo bay and headed off to where they had last seen Terminal. After all, there was no such thing as too many boltholes.