Season: season 4
Series: Stargate SG-1
"That flaming ball of hydrogen is nothing but trouble." --Jack
Sunspots are causing stargate problems, so Sam writes a handy Guide and Jack follows it to the letter.
No dough, no foul.
The conference table stretched on and on and on, its red and black stripes seeming to fade into infinity - or, possibly, infinite boredom. The faces of SG-1, SG-8, and SG-13 were alert and concerned, but Jack was not in the mood for today's technobabble. So far all he'd gotten from the meeting was sunspots bad, along with the forbidden pleasure of watching - but not listening to - Carter as she gushed about her latest stargate theory.
Daniel cruelly interrupted. "Ok, so maybe sunspots can, theoretically, affect a wormhole at the quantum level and push the traveller into an adjacent timestream. But why didn't the Ancients create a failsafe against that?"
"I'm sure they did," Sam replied. "I think that if we had a DHD on our end, it would compensate for any local sunspot activity."
"That flaming ball of hydrogen is nothing but trouble," Jack said. "I say we blow it up."
There was a snicker from further down the infinite table, and Carter smiled. Mission accomplished, Jack thought. General Hammond glared at him, but such were the risks of boring meetings.
"I don't think blowing up our own sun is an option here, Jack." Even Daniel couldn't suppress a slight grin. "Anyway, this is all theory. None of us have ever experienced this kind of timeline shift."
"What about the Flower Power incident?" Jack asked, referring to SG-1's sun-crossed trip to 1969.
"Those were solar flares," Sam explained, "and they didn't actually send us to another timeline - they just displaced us along our own timeline. But the principle is similar.
"In fact, for all we know, we could be shifting universes every time we return through the Stargate. Most of the time, though, the differences would be too small to notice."
"So then what's the big deal?" Jack asked.
"This time, someone noticed." Hammond looked down the table. "Sgt. East, why don't you tell us what happened?"
Somewhere way down the other end of the table, a woman with short, curly hair cleared her throat and leaned forward. "Yes, sir," she said. "When I returned with SG-13 from P3H-517 two weeks ago, everything looked normal enough. But when I went to debrief Major Carter about some alien tech that we'd seen there, she laughed at me for calling her 'Major.' She said it had taken her a while to get used to being Colonel Carter, too."
"Congratulations on the promotion," Jack whispered to Carter, earning himself another glare from the General.
Sgt. East was still speaking. "I guess I was just staring at her, because then she said, 'You really thought I was still a major, didn't you?' I nodded. 'How long have you been with the SGC, Sergeant?' she asked, and I told her one year. She said she'd been promoted two years before, but she had a theory about what had happened to me. She took me to see General Hammond.
"Apparently they were prepared for whatever had happened. He ordered me to go about my duties and not mention it to anyone else, so I kept to myself. There were a few people wandering around the SGC that I didn't recognize, but nothing as obvious as Colonel Carter herself.
"Five days later, SG-13 and SG-8 were sent to PJ3-198 to provide medical aid to the native population after an earthquake. Before we left, Colonel Carter told me to check back with her about her rank after the mission." Sgt. East folded her hands together on the table.
"So she did," Carter said. "As far as I can tell, Sgt. East is now back in her proper timeline. And here we are."
"Sorry about the demotion, Carter," Jack whispered.
General Hammond didn't bother to glare this time; he just sighed. "The other three members of SG-13 cannot confirm Sgt. East's story," Hammond said. "Colonel Fernades is certain that he spoke to Major Carter between the two missions."
"Yes, sir," Fernades said, "but my teammates don't recall it coming up either way."
"Calm down, Colonel," Hammond said. "I don't doubt any of you. SG-13 is understandably reluctant to go back through the Stargate without knowing what version of Earth they'll come home to. Major Carter is working on the problem now. Until she comes up with some reassurances, Stargate travel will be suspended except in cases of extreme emergency.
"This is your solution?" Jack slapped a small pamphlet down on Carter's lab bench.
Carter let it lie there. "Do you have a better idea?"
"I'm not the idea man, though there may be a sudden opening once Hammond sees this." Jack began pacing around the room.
"It is admirable in its simplicity, O'Neill," Teal'c said, "and the title is catching."
Jack was not reassured. "Catchy, Teal'c, catchy."
"I suggested it," Daniel said, picking up the abandoned booklet and showing it around. "The Alternate Universe Survival Guide," he read aloud, not omitting the fine print: "Technical Report #SGC-5293, Cheyenne Mountain, November 2000."
Jack sat down on a stool. "It's crazy."
"It worked for Sgt. East," Carter said.
Daniel opened the pamphlet and began to read: "Upon finding themselves in a possible alternate Earth timeline, SGC personnel are not, under any circumstances, to disturb the timeline by revealing their suspicions, not even to fellow team members who passed through the Stargate at the same time. Stranded airmen - or civilian consultants," Daniel added by way of correction, "are to impersonate their alternate selves to the best of their abilities.
"The purpose of this impersonation is twofold. Firstly, any disturbance in the timeline may cause the quantum state to diverge irreconcilably from the airman's - or civilian consultant's - own timeline, preventing the airman's - or civilian consultant's - eventual return via the mechanism of quantum rapprochement."
Jack recognized the term from the infinite meeting of the previous week. Quantum rap, as he thought of it, was the mystical musical force that had pulled Sgt. East back into her home universe the next time she'd taken an earthbound wormhole. Carter now believed that quantum rapping would automatically fix the time travel problem - all you had to do to get home was to take another round trip through the stargate, like East had.
"Secondly, claims of time travel may arouse suspicion in the alternate SGC command structure, resulting in suspension from duty and preventing the airman's - or civilian consultant's--"
"We get the point, Daniel," Jack interrupted.
"Right. I'll just skip ahead then." Daniel leafed through the booklet, looking for the good bits. "Here we go: In view of the theory that when SGC personnel are stranded in alternate timelines, their counterparts are stranded here, all active SG team members will henceforth keep up-to-date guides to their rank, position, residence and other social arrangements in an easily-accessible format to aid their counterparts and thus themselves---"
"So," Jack said, interrupting, "not only are we planning to go around impersonating strangers, but we're also going to leave cheat-sheets hanging around for anybody who wants to pretend to be one of us."
"Exactly!" Daniel said.
Jack shook his head. "What if they're the bad guys? Imagine what they could do for the Goa'uld cause in our universe with the help of those guides."
Carter put down the instrument she'd been fiddling with. "It's only temporary, until I can find a way to compensate for sunspots on our end, the way the receiving DHD's do when we're travelling outbound. That should only take a month or two."
"We're talking about ourselves, here," Daniel said, crossing his hands over his chest to emphasize the point. "The people who will be imitating us are so nearly us already that they can jump timestreams accidentally into ours. They'll be enemies of the Goa'uld, just like us, and friends of the Tok'ra--"
"Speak for yourself," Jack said.
Daniel ignored the interruption. "--just like us. They'd be us except for minor historical differences. Anyway, General Hammond is behind Sam's theory 100%."
Jack felt surrounded. "Teal'c?"
"The concept is disturbing, O'Neill, but it seems we have little alternative if we wish to return home to supplant our own impostors."
SG-1 was ordered to produce their cheat-sheets in time for their next mission. Jack found Carter still typing away on her laptop in the mess a few hours before their scheduled emarkation time.
"I didn't know your life was so exciting," he said.
She smiled up at him as he set his tray down on what little space was left beside the laptop. "It's not," she said, "but I'm trying to document all my ongoing research. I figure the least my doppelganger can do for me is produce some results."
"Ah," he said, picking at his food. "I didn't have much to tell my dopplewhatzit. Your name is Jack O'Neill. You're a Colonel. You like to fish. You find the Tollans and the Tok'ra really annoying."
Carter smiled. "In fact," Jack added, "if you get a more useful version of me, maybe you should fix the Stargate and keep him."
"It wouldn't be the same."
"Maybe he'd be better, stronger, faster..."
She laughed. Mission accomplished, he thought. "We tried that already," she said, and her smile disappeared.
Maybe he shouldn't have brought it up. "Honestly, do you think you could tell the difference between the real me and a fake?"
Her eyes said yes but her voice said, "No. It's probably happened several times already and we never noticed a thing. Our other selves would be nearly identical."
"But not quite," he said.
"No, not quite."
He ate the rest of his meal in silence, listening to the sound of her typing.
SG-1 went on two missions the following week without incident. After each one Carter and Daniel would rush off to their laptops and make sure they were themselves. Jack had tape-recorded his Alternate O'Neill Survival Guide, but he soon tired of listening to his own voice. Teal'c's secrets, whatever they were, were written in alien characters in a large, gilded sketchbook. Jack had to admit, the Jaffa had style.
He didn't quite see the point to rushing off to consult their Guides, anyway. If one of them came through a dopplewhatzit - Carter didn't think sunspots could get a whole team at once - their Guide would just tell them to pretend they were the real McCoy.
So after their third mission - a little milk-run the Tok'ra had insisted was urgent, though Jack didn't agree - the others consulted their Guides but he consulted the showers. He figured it couldn't hurt to put off listening to his tape for an hour or two - it would add a little suspense to the whole Alternate Universe thing now that Carter had admitted that timeline jumping might not be as common as she'd first thought.
The hot water was warmer than usual, but the extra heat drove away the excess stress of dealing with the Tok'ra. He was already towelling himself off when Carter showed up.
"Hey!" Jack said. "Men's locker room. You ladies have your own now."
She advanced, ignoring his protests. "Don't worry. Siler told me you were the only one in here."
He worried. "So what's the emergency?" he asked, while tightening the all-too-small towel around his waist.
Instead of answering, she kept going right into his personal space and kissed him. Her eyes were closed; his were wide open with shock. Beyond the curve of her hair he saw the locker-room door opening again.
"Daniel!" he said, breaking away from the amorous major.
"Get a room, you two," he replied. He began to strip off his black t-shirt.
Carter gave Jack a swift peck on the cheek and said, "Meet me in the mess for dinner." She had darted out the door before he could summon up an answer.
Daniel had sat down to unlace his combat boots. "Sorry to break up that lovely moment," Daniel said, "but I have to get cleaned up for the new Marine training seminar. SG-3 and 5 are already setting up the conference room."
"And you're going because...?"
"Because I'm a Marine?" Daniel answered hesitantly.
"Right." Jack was surprised to see that Daniel was already down to a bare towel - it was the quickest he'd ever seen Daniel move, never mind change clothes.
"Say, O'Neill," Daniel added - Jack twitched slightly at the use of his last name - "you're not stranded in the wrong timeline, are you? Because if you are, you should take a look at your Guide. I think you left it in Sam's lab."
Jack forced a smile. "Don't worry, I'm the real me. I just steamed my brain a little too long."
"Right," Daniel said, but he got into the shower without asking any more questions.
Carter's lab held one grave danger - Carter. She was the only one there but her hands were full of computer bits and alien tech, so Jack risked giving her a peck on the cheek. In response he got a smile rather than a full frontal assault.
"Bored, Jack?" she asked. "You can solder these two pieces together for me if you'd like."
No, he wouldn't like. "Actually, I'm looking for my Guide. I figured--"
She cut off his excuse. "Right! You need to update it before the wedding. It's right over there on the table. Don't let me forget to do mine, too."
He picked a hand-held digital audio recorder up off the table. If the kissy Carter, marine Daniel, and scary wedding reference hadn't convinced him that he was in the wrong universe, this little high-tech device would have done the job nicely. Back home he'd used a tape recorder - with real tapes.
"Well, I don't want to disturb you," he said, heading for the door.
"No, stay," Carter replied. "I need to get to the debriefing for SG-11. The place is all yours." She set her handful carefully down on the table, then, in a sneak attack, kissed him thoroughly. He found it surprisingly easy to feign an appropriate response.
"I'll see you at dinner," she said, and she was gone again.
Once he'd recovered his breath - acting was hard work - he turned his attention to the recorder. He was afraid to touch any of the buttons. If he erased the Guide accidentally, he'd have no clue how to impersonate himself. Well, except for the kissing part - he figured he had that down already.
Fortunately, the sticker he'd at first taken for the brand name of the recorder was in fact a label in his own handwriting. It said play, with a huge arrow pointing to the appropriate button.
"Here goes nothing," Jack muttered, and pressed it.
You bastard! The angry voice was his, but in the background he heard a woman - Carter - saying, Don't swear at yourself, Jack. Both voices faded, but he could still hear them.
Don't you have a bridal shower to go to?
Promise me you'll be nice to yourself.
I always am. The slam of a door followed, and the voice returned to full volume. You bloody bastard! How dare you show up now?
There was a tiny click - maybe a pause - and the voice was calmer afterwards. Sorry about this annoying recorder. Sam gave it to me, so I have to use it. You know how it is. Jack didn't, but he could guess.
Anyway, I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill of the SGC, in command of SG-1. My teammates are Lieutenant Daniel Jackson, Dr. Samantha Carter - our token civilian - and Teal'c, the Jaffa. The CO here is General George Hammond, a bald man from Texas. The only other need-to-know person is Dr. Janet Fraiser. Everyone else is just cannon-fodder - just nod and smile if you don't recognize them. Sam has mission reports and a staff list if you really need them.
You and Sam are going to a UBP - that's an Uninhabited Beach Planet - tomorrow for your wedding, you fiancee-stealing bastard. You'll be staying there for a week for my honeymoon. Sam says it's physically impossible for us ever to meet, so I can't strangle you with my bare hands, but I still want to.
She also says the only way I'll ever get home is if you, bastard that you are, impersonate me perfectly. So you're going to go to my wedding and marry my fiancee, and you're not going to breathe a word of your true bastardliness to anyone, understand? Otherwise I will break all the laws of space, time, and quantum rapping to strangle you anyway.
She says you're just like me, but I figure you're some loser with no girlfriend at all, so I'll tell you all about our romance and my proposal and all that - just in case she asks you any tough questions. So listen up...
The voice went on like that for a long time, and it was a familiar story. He knew from non-sunspot incidents that in universes where Carter was a civilian, they were fated to be together. He listened to the story a couple of times, in fact, until dinnertime approached and he had to turn the machine off.
He had expected a quiet dinner for two, but he found Daniel and Teal'c seated at the table with Carter.
"Hey, Jackson," he said, having picked that much up from his Guide, "how was the seminar?"
"You know how it is with grunts," Daniel replied. "You try to beat the significance of military archaeology into their heads, but they never really believe it until they're facing longbows and trebuchets."
"Aha." Jack turned to Teal'c. "And how was your afternoon?"
"I have sent a message to the Land of Light instructing Rya'c to attend your nuptuals tomorrow."
"That's sweet, Teal'c," Carter said.
"But unnecessary," Jack added.
"On the contrary, O'Neill, clan alliances of this sort are extremely important to the Jaffa."
Jack wondered what clans were supposed to be involved, but didn't dare ask.
"High Councillor Tuplo and his family are also planning to be there," Carter added. "They have the address, and I'm sure it will be no trouble for them to bring Rya'c along."
"And I arranged for SG-3 and 5 to serve as an honor guard," Daniel said. "Major Warren, Lt. Morrison, Lt. Barber--"
"I get it, Jackson," Jack replied with a glare. Apparently he had not yet allayed the Marine's suspicions. "We'll be honored."
"Well, then, I'll leave you two lovebirds to your planning." Daniel took his empty tray and left.
Teal'c remained until he had finished his tofu, then took his leave. "I will see you tomorrow."
"See ya, Teal'c," Jack replied. Brazenness was the best policy, he decided. "So it's just you and me, kid. How about some exciting planning?"
Carter looked at him askance. "It's all pretty much arranged. Rya'c was the last name on my guest list. Tuplo has agreed to officiate."
"Does that count?" Jack wondered aloud.
"I think it's covered by some treaty or other."
"Well, it's just a piece of paper," Jack said. "All that matters is that we love each other." Corny, yet true.
"Actually, it's a hunk of marble with our names carved into it in an ancient script."
"That sounds...legally binding."
"It's not too late to back out," she said, picking up her tray.
"Hey, where are you going?"
"It's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding." She gave him a chaste peck on the cheek and got away.
"Damn," Jack muttered. He felt that he needed more kissing practice to pull this off.
Sam had arranged for them to spend their honeymoon monitoring the stability of certain large naqahdah deposits on the UBP, preliminary to a full-scale mining operation. The quonset hut was ready and waiting for them. Jack didn't understand why they couldn't just send a MALP, but he was impressed that she'd pulled that one over on General Hammond.
The wedding on the beach, according to the Angry O'Neill Survival Guide, had been his dopplewhatzit's idea. He was ashamed of his own hopeless romanticism.
Teal'c met him in the locker room, dressed in something black and white and otherwise almost entirely unlike a tux. Jack wasn't so lucky; his dress uniform was hanging on a hook by the door.
"Are you feeling cold feet?" Teal'c asked. "As your chaapa'ac, it is my duty to bolster your confidence at this time."
Jack guessed that was Goa'uld for best man. "I'm fine, thanks," he replied. He would be more nervous if this were his own wedding. "Just give me a hand with these cuff links."
Teal'c was quick with all the accoutrements - Jack supposed he shouldn't be surprised at that in a man who wore kohl. "I can also provide marital advice," he said.
Jack didn't think either one of them was qualified to advise the other in that department. "Do you have the rings?"
"Yes." Teal'c adjusted Jack's collar one last time. "You are ready," he said, slapping him firmly on the back. "Ral-tora kree - good luck."
"Kree," Jack replied.
There was no sign of Carter as Jack and Teal'c went through the Stargate. The guests were all assembled on the other side. Daniel looked shockingly spiffy in his dress whites, standing alongside two rows of equally natty marines. Jack took up his position before Tuplo, with Teal'c beside him.
The tideless ocean lapped precisely at Tuplo's sandaled feet. Jack turned around to face the still-open stargate. The appropriate music was coming from somewhere; by some trick of the mind, he had expected his own Major Carter to come through in her dress uniform. Instead he got Sam in a stunning white dress.
General Carter walked his daughter down the aisle of sand between the gate and the sea. Jack could see the guests talking to one another, and he assumed the music was still playing but he could no longer hear a sound. Like a character out of a silent movie, she advanced. Jacob handed her off to him, and still the beach was absolutely silent around Jack.
Yet he answered to the appropriate parts of the service, and whatever unheard words he was saying seemed to satisfy Tuplo and Teal'c. For his own part, he never took his eyes off of Carter until the moment came for him to display his single acting talent.
He kissed the bride thoroughly, a performance that went on for quite some time. Teal'c hemmed, and Jack heard Tuplo saying, "You will have the rest of your lives together. Perhaps you could greet your guests..."
The spell was broken, but the party on the beach was long, loud, and wild. Daniel seemed to be pursuing one of the female techs, and Jack thought General Hammond and Janet were dancing rather close together.
When the sun set over the ocean, the guests began to dial for their various homes. Daniel produced an appropriately-decorated jeep from behind a sand dune. Jack handed Carter - he still thought of her as Carter - up into the passenger seat. Then, waving to his departing guests, he drove off into the sunset.
On the morning of the final day of their honeymoon, Sam and Jack left the quonset hut early for a walk on the beach. The sunrise over the sand dunes was a lovely thing; Jack wished he didn't have to go home - or rather, that the quantum rap wasn't coming to get him the minute he stepped through the Stargate.
"Jack," Sam said suddenly, "let's stay here."
He stopped short, sending up a little puff of white sand. "What?"
"Let's bury the Stargate and stay here. You can catch fish, I can start a little garden. We don't have to go back. Hammond can always replace us with new cannon fodder."
They walked on in silence for some time. They were the longest minutes of Jack's life. He knew he was a bastard for even considering her offer. Eventually, he gathered the strength to say what needed to be said. "I won't say it isn't tempting, but..."
"Any time we go back to Earth, there's the chance that we'll get switched out of the timeline," Sam said.
"We'll be fine," he lied. "Don't worry about it. You'll fix the dialer. We'll be together forever, just like Tuplo said." He said it with a straight face, perhaps because he couldn't meet her eye. "Anyway, you'd be bored here."
"I could set up the mining equipment." The despair in her voice did not match her words. "I've been meaning to work on new methods of refining naqahdah."
He turned to look at her. "You can stay, if you're worried. You're a civilian, after all. I have to go back, if only to resign. I owe the SGC that much."
His words seemed to strike her oddly, and she shook her head. "You're right. I don't know what I was thinking. We'll go back."
"It's a nice UBP," he said. "Maybe we should retire here someday."
They headed back to the hut to pack their things.
For some reason Carter had left her laptop in the gateroom this time. When they came back through, she rushed over to check her Guide.
Jack strolled down the ramp more slowly. At its base, Daniel and Teal'c waited for them. Daniel was in civvies. He had the feeling he was home; it was not a glad feeling. The wormhole disappeared behind him with an anti-swooshing sound.
Suddenly Carter gave a whoop. "I'm back!" she shouted.
"Were you gone, Major Carter?" Teal'c asked, at the same moment Jack froze on the ramp.
"I was in an alternate timeline," she said. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you about it."
"Tell us," Daniel said.
She hesitated, then said, "You were a marine, Daniel."
"I think you got sunstroke on that beach planet," he replied. "I hope you brought back the naqahdah samples."
Sam dropped a shoulder bag at his feet. "I was a civilian," she said, "and Teal'c was...well, Teal'c was Teal'c."
Jack started moving again. "And who was I, Carter?"
She turned and looked up the ramp at him; he thought he detected a blush, but it faded before he could be sure. "You were also yourself, sir."
"That's a shame," he said. "I was hoping for something a little more exciting."
He spotted his tape recorder on the table beside Sam's laptop. He turned the volume down and put it close to his ear to listen. His whole Alternate O'Neill Survival Guide had been erased and replaced with just one word: Bastard!
He chuckled and stopped the tape. Carter looked at him curiously when he put the recorder back down so soon.
"I'm still the same old me," he told her with simple honesty. He had played his role, but he knew he was a washed-up B-movie actor compared to her.
"I need to fix this sunspot problem," she said, playing the same old Carter once again.
"It's no rush," he replied as he headed for the men's locker room.