By Jemima Pereira (
© February 2004
Pairings: Sam/Jack
Rating: PG
Season: season 7
Series: Stargate SG-1

A season 7 AU about closing the SGC.

No dough, no foul. Lyrics to "Blowin' in the Wind" are by Bob Dylan.

Title and quotes shamelessly lifted from "Blowin' in the Wind." Implied character death. Minor spoilers through mid-season 7. Thanks to Jerie and Jade for the beta.

How many times must the cannon balls fly before they're forever banned?

"I could find the answer, sir, if I just had a little more time." Sam's hair had gone limp, and dark circles expanded under her eyes. She hadn't slept since the day Anubis's fleet had shown up in the stratosphere.

"Major..." General Hammond reached out to her, but midway through the gesture he gave up, dropping his hand to his desk. "There's no way out this time."

"The Asgard--" She waved her arm in the general direction of the Asgard mothership - east towards Washington, and up.

"The Asgard are willing to enforce the Protected Planets Treaty." He pushed a folder across his desk at her. "That's what your report said."

"Both sides of the treaty, sir," she reminded him. Sam had that shaky feeling that came from too much adrenaline, too long, but she knew she had to concentrate if she was going to fix this. "That means no more off-world technology, no more stargate travel, no starships, no naqahdah." She pushed the folder back at him. "You read my report. Everything we've achieved here--"

"The President has agreed to abide by the Protected Planets Treaty."

"We can't, sir. We can't turn our backs on science, on the entire galaxy. Our allies..." Her voice trailed off.

"Which allies would those be, Major?" Hammond asked. His frown told his opinion of fair-weather friends.

She closed her eyes for a moment. He was right - where were the Tok'ra and Jaffa now? Tollan technology hadn't saved the Tollans. When she opened them again, she asked, "Don't you see what it will do to us, to be trapped on one planet, at our current level of technology?"

Hammond sighed silently. "The way I see it, we're back to square one. It'll be as if we'd never deciphered the stargate."

She shook her head. "No. We know what's out there now."

"We know what's out there can kill hundreds of millions of people with the wave of a hand." A list of cities destroyed around the world sat on his desk; Hammond looked away. "This matter is not up for debate, Major."

Sam stood up. "Jack wouldn't have let this happen." He would have talked to the Asgard, convinced Thor, found an answer.

"Jack isn't here." Hammond stood as well and put a hand on her shoulder. "Off the record, Major, Dr. Jackson has decided to leave with the last outgoing wormhole. If you want to go with him..."

Sam shook her head, closing her eyes before tears could come. She couldn't explain - she didn't want to stay on a subjugated Earth, but neither did she want to be a refugee fighting an endless, hopeless war.

"We were supposed to be the fifth race," she said. A surge of anger held back her tears.

He squeezed her shoulder. "I know."

How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?

He came from the southeast, because the Goa'uld had killed everyone to the north. Anubis had come to this world in the winter; by spring there were no farmers to plant new crops in a circle of land a thousand miles wide where the Goa'uld had killed everyone. Come summer the fields were barren and unwatered; the locals were already calling it a great dust bowl.

What transport remained brought Jack O'Neill to a place called Waurika at the southern edge of the desolation. No one would take him farther for love or money - if he'd had either to offer - but they invited him to stay. They had a lake with shores of red dirt; they claimed there were fish in it.

Jack thought about it. If there'd been more fishing involved and less field labor he might have stayed, but summer was getting on and he needed to reach the stargate. There was always the chance that the rest of his team had gotten out safely. It meant nothing that they hadn't come back for him; maybe they'd thought he was dead.

He imagined Carter walking through the abandoned stargate and seeing...nothing, not even bodies. No songbirds nor honeybees, not even a worm for farther than a UAV could fly. Just the damn trees. He didn't blame her for leaving him behind - he hoped to God she had, because the alternative was that she'd died like everyone else.

He begged some smoked fish from his hosts and set off down a gully beside an impassable road, leading into the hazy north. Children clung to him that hot morning, begging him not to go into the dust bowl. The locals feared a lingering danger of plague or radioactivity. They might even be right, but to Jack it looked like Anubis had fired a giant zat at the world - three times.

He passed empty houses, abandoned farms, silent cities; like the plant life, the buildings had survived as eerie monuments to Anubis's new weapon. The mountains rose before him as he walked, but the terrain remained flat for hundreds of miles. He lingered at every beautiful spot, though the land was a vast graveyard. Despite the absence of game, Jack had packed light - every larder here was stocked for winter. But he avoided the cities.

As the mountains grew, he delayed even more, camping in vast meadows of orange, yellow, and lavender, fishing in lakes where he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, there were no fish. Someday the locals would return here, but for now he had a great swath of the world to himself.

After the first month, Jack began to talk to himself. He wasn't crazy, no, far from it, but the silence spooked him. And he wasn't talking to himself, exactly - he populated the emptiness with Carter, Daniel, and Teal'c, dead citizens of a dead green land. He held up his end of long arguments in which they tried to convince him to come with them through the stargate to fight Anubis.

He told them he wanted to retire and fish in a lake with no fish. He wasn't sure he was willing to give that up for the sake of returning to the endless, hopeless war with the Goa'uld.

How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?

Hammond found her in her lab, a few odd bits of alien technology scattered around her. One large object had been covered with a sheet and pushed into a corner. He flipped a small, gold device over - it looked Goa'uld. "All off-world technology was scheduled to be destroyed two weeks ago, Major."

"Sir!" Sam jumped; she hadn't heard him come in. She straightened her uniform, realizing too late that she hadn't changed in the last twenty-four hours. Discipline at the SGC wasn't what it used to be.

But Sam smiled, because she wanted something and she had to look like she didn't. To distract him from her lab table, she uncovered the secret in the corner. "In fact, sir, this particular object was scheduled to be destroyed four years ago." A six-foot chunk of rock stood with one flat surface pressed against the wall.

It took him a few moments to recognize it. "The quantum mirror."

"I've determined its composition: a mixture of naqahdria and quark matter. Considering that it shouldn't even exist, it's almost impossible to destroy." She smiled again, this time genuinely enjoying her last chance to do alien science.

"All remaining naqahdah and naqahdria was to be shipped off-planet in the last outgoing wormhole," the General reminded her.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said, doing her best to look penitent, though she suspected she wasn't succeeding. "My preliminary conclusion when we failed to destroy the mirror four years ago was that it was made of quark matter combined with unknown heavy elements. I didn't know anything about naqahdria at the time. It's only now since the stargate was buried that I've had time to examine it again."

Hammond shook his head. "The treaty aside, it's dangerous, Major."

"No one has come through the mirror since we secured it against a wall. I believe obstructing the mirror has the same effect an iris would."

"Maybe no one out there is desperate enough to walk into a solid wall," Hammond suggested.

Someone in here might be, Sam thought, struggling to keep up her smile. "I'm glad you stopped by, General - there's something I've been meaning to ask you."

He cocked his head. "Yes, Major?" he said in his indulgent grandfather tone.

"Once the gate levels are sealed off, we won't need a general here to monitor the security cameras."

He frowned slightly. "Where are you going with this?"

"I'd like to take over operations, sir."

He glanced at her rock, and the lab table half-covered with the discarded sheet. Alien tech peeked out from underneath it. "I can see that, Major, but I hoped you'd accept that teaching post at the Academy, or a position at NASA."

Sam lost her smile. "And do some real deep space radar telemetry, sir? There's no place for me in the Air Force any longer - this was my post and I'd like to stand by it. It's the least I can do to honor the dead." It sounded silly, like something Jack would have done - moping around in an empty mountain.

Hammond shook his head again. "I should have joined the Navy," he said. "The good thing about going down with a sinking ship is that the ship actually sinks."

"How many tons of ballast did we pour over the stargate, sir?" If she closed her eyes, she could see it streaming into the gateroom - tempered glass beads like so many clear marbles, meant for insulating radioactive waste, rolling through the emergency shaft and pinging against the window of the control booth until the blast door had been sealed. You could still see the sea of glass from the briefing room.

"All right," he said. "I'll put in the request for a temporary reassignment. I'll make sure it goes through."

She looked up; she'd almost forgotten he was there. "Thank you, sir."

"Good luck, Major." Hammond gave her a sharp salute, which she returned automatically.

"Sir, I'm not--"

"Of course you aren't."

How many years can a mountain exist before it's washed to the sea?

Seven hundred miles later, Jack reached his destination. Summer had turned to fall, but the evergreens told no tales. Teal'c insisted on caution, and though he wasn't really there Jack took the Jaffa's advice. Years of needles crunched beneath his feet as he crept among the trees. Jack's passing was the only sound these mountains had heard since the killing spring.

He'd broken his rule and stopped in the last city for a few necessary items - not food; there was plenty of that where he was going. His imaginary Sam had plans for reaching the stargate, plans that required doohickeys and doodads. Like a gentleman, he shouldered her heavy pack himself, leaving most of his own supplies behind in the city. There'd be plenty where he was going, if he made it.

He'd had trouble convincing his imaginary friends of the power of Anubis's new weapon. Daniel wanted to see the empty houses for himself, with their last decaying meals, the occasional faucet left on and overflowing. Daniel talked about Pompeii and Jack blew his top. Their one-sided argument had disturbed the silence; Jack felt like a lunatic shouting in a graveyard. What was worse, he was.

He could have come up the road - the roads were clearer here - but Sam had sensed that someone or something was waiting for him at the stargate. The undergrowth was thicker than when last they'd been here; it gave the mountain an unkempt look. He came down the last ridge on the right side of the entrance, parallel to the road.

The words weren't lit any longer, but the lettering glittered in the autumn sunlight: Cheyenne Mountain Complex. Any fantasies he'd entertained that the SGC staff were still holed up in the mountain was dispelled by those dead glass words, but he moved carefully nonetheless. Daniel wanted to communicate, of course, so Jack waved at a blind security camera. No SF's rushed out to greet him, nor, on the bright side, no Jaffa to zat him. He told Daniel, "I told you so."

Jack and his imaginary team had had weeks to think about how to get back into the mountain. Had it been staffed he wouldn't have had a chance, but an unguarded base was as defenseless as a corpse. Unwrapping a few essentials from the hardware store in Colorado Springs, he began the long task of breaking into the mountain with wirecutters and blowtorch. His teammates were, of course, no help.

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind - the answer is blowin' in the wind.

Siler and Davis had also stayed on with the nominal security detail. They had family in Colorado Springs, or so they said. In their eyes Sam saw the truth: like her, they were unwilling to go down again from this mountain on which they'd all touched the stars.

The commissary was replaced with vending machines which produced bad coffee and stale candy bars. At least Cheyenne Mountain boasted a lifetime supply of MRE's and a reservoir of half a million gallons of drinking water. Sam ate on-base and slept in temporary quarters most nights.

All day, every day, she worked on the quantum mirror. What kind of signal did the missing controller send? Could she reproduce it? What mechanism received the signal and interpreted it?

She shot every electromagnetic wave imaginable at the mirror - every amplitude, every wavelength - until one day she hit it just the right way. The mirror flickered on, revealing the laser lights of its previous storage location at Area 51.

Sam was torn. Anything could come through the mirror while it was on - and anything usually meant Jaffa - but this was the most progress she'd made in weeks. She pushed the mirror back against the wall and consulted her instruments.

There she was disappointed - the readings of the active mirror were in every respect the same as when it was off. There was only one course of action left to her; before proceeding, she radioed Siler.

Then she taped up the window of her lab and covered all the emergency lights in the room. She even stuck a piece of duct tape over the little red light on the security camera. The doors were well sealed, so when she turned out the overhead lights, the room was pitch black. She couldn't see her hand in front of her face.

She turned the mirror back around. Area 51 looked the same. Sam picked up a flashlight, touched the mirror, felt the shock, and she was there - her first time in an alternate reality. From this side, the mirror looked perfectly black.

She turned the flashlight on the flat black surface, but her lab beyond was not illuminated. Satisfied, she reached out to the mirror again - no, not satisfied. She shone her flashlight around the shelves nearby, looking for the controller, but found no sign of it. While she was considering going up and down the aisles, she heard a soft sound, like a door sliding open slowly. Not waiting to see whether she'd get SF's or Horus guards, she touched the mirror again.

Nor was she so confident of the darkness on her end; she sent the same frequency of energy at the mirror as before, hoping to change universes the way the controller could. Instead, the image of Area 51 flickered out. Sam touched the dark mirror; nothing happened. Off again.

She gave the SF's (or Horus guards) a few hours to search Area 51 and leave before she tried her new approach again. This time a hallway in the SGC appeared - empty, but brightly lit unlike the dim corridors of her own facility. She sat and watched, amazed, as airmen walked the halls. But she turned her head away when a troop of Jaffa marched down a cross-corridor unremarked. Another lost world.

At least Sam had learned something: the frequency she'd discovered functioned as an on-off switch. Each time she turned it on, the mirror would reset itself to a new reality, just as the controller had done. As Dr. Carter had mentioned, the Goa'uld ruled in most realities. Without a controller, Sam doubted she could fine-tune her search to find a free Earth.

That, she finally admitted to herself, was what she'd been looking for.

How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?

Jack's flashlight shone on the door to level fourteen. No Egyptian had a better tomb, Daniel joked. His imaginary friends were taking their evident demise in good spirits - except for Sam. She had hoped the two thousand feet of granite had shielded the SGC from the big zat in the sky.

Maybe they got out through the stargate, she said.

"They had no warning," he told her, not for the first time, "and no opportunity."

We'll see, Sam said. He didn't bother to argue with himself; he just got out the blowtorch. Once backup power was restored he'd have a hope of opening the doors, but for now brute force was the only viable approach.

Sam talked him through firing up one of the redundant backup generators. By Jack's estimate, the fuel would last him a couple of years if he kept the heavy equipment off - for example, the stargate. Sam's only concern was how many times he could dial out on the power reserves he had.

Of course she wanted to see the stargate. Jack descended another fourteen levels, but the jammed door to the gateroom stopped him cold. Sam suggested the control room; the blast door was closed there, too, and would not open. Jack climbed the stairs to the briefing room, not sure he wanted to see whatever lay beyond the glass.

The lights were dim on backup power; from the briefing room they softly illuminated an expanse of black sand that buried the stargate completely and slanted down in dark waves to the middle of the window overlooking the gateroom.

"Thor said something about taking care of the stargate and naqahdah," Jack said aloud. "I guess this is what he meant."

Daniel muttered something Jack didn't catch. It was foolish of the Tauri to agree to this treaty, Teal'c said. When Anubis sees his chance, he will violate it.

"That's what I told the little gray man. Nobody listened to me."

I would have listened, had I survived.

"Thanks, T. That means a lot." Jack's thoughts turned to MRE's and temporary quarters, but Sam had other ideas.

Dig it out.

"Sam? Do you have any idea how many tons of sand are in there?"

The density of sand is between 50 and 100 pounds per cubic foot. It looks like course sand, so it's probably closer to 100. The dimensions of the gateroom--

"I'll take that as a yes." If he'd thought talking to dead people would keep him sane, Jack decided, he'd been mistaken. "Do you know how long it would take me to dig out the gate?"

Did you have other plans?

"Dinner," he said, and went in search of an MRE. But she pestered him in the commissary. Cut a little hole in the bulkhead and the sand will flow right out. All you have to do is hold the sandbags. She would know where the base's supply of sandbags were.

"What happens," he asked her, "when the sand goes down below my hole?"

The angle of repose of sand is 33 degrees, she said, so most of the gate and the side wall will still be covered.

"In English, please."

You'll have to go in and dig.

"Lovely." He'd lost his appetite somewhere in the middle of this conversation. "You know I'd do anything for you, Carter, if you were real."

Sir, you need to do this.

"I really have gone crazy."

How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?

Siler asked no questions when Sam had him move the quantum mirror into an isolation room off a vacant section of the infirmary. He helped her disable the emergency lights in both rooms, tape the windows, and cover the small red light of the inner chamber's security camera. They pointed the camera at the mirror.

This arrangement made a satisfactory darkroom and foyer. She pointed her on-off switch at the mirror and wired it so she could control it remotely, either from the monitoring station on level sixteen or from her lab.

It was pure blind luck that had given her an on-off switch; whatever subtler signal the real controller generated continued to elude her. So Sam sat for hours on end, turning the mirror on and off, on and off, and watching the result over the security camera, always looking for the one particular universe that would satisfy her requirements.

Every thirtieth time or so, she saw the world she was looking for - P3R-233. The lab where they'd found the mirror was always dimly lit, and the pile of vaguely South American-looking artifacts always blocked her view of the rest of the lab bench on which Daniel had found the controller in their own reality.

She lost track of the number of times she had seen the lab, left the mirror on, grabbed a P-90 and gone through to the other side. She never found what she was looking for. Invariably the mask and the clay cone were also gone - a sure sign that some Daniel had been here and taken the artifacts along with the controller. But he always left that scary gnome thing lying on its elbows and knees, staring up at her. One time she'd flung it against a wall.

Then she'd slunk back to her own lab in frustration and tried again to make her own controller, which only frustrated her more. She wanted to take a few years off on one of the beach planets she'd seen in the mirror - probably all the same beach planet, possibly the place the mirror had been before the aliens brought it back to P3R-233. But there was no way to send a MALP through the mirror. Inanimate objects would not pass through on their own, and when she left a radio on the other side, no broadcast came back. She hadn't expected one, when even the light of her flashlight couldn't penetrate the mirror.

So a vacation on the possibly poisonous beach planet was out of the question. When she got tired of looking at it, she downloaded some image recognition software from a MALP and programmed her primitive switch to look for P3R-233 by itself. Still, whenever it stopped on a 233 universe she had to go through and check for the elusive controller.

She started leaving little red flags on the 233's she'd visited. They wouldn't tell her whether the mirror was showing reruns - she was probably competing against countless other Sams on the same quest - but they would tell her whether a lab had already been checked. She programmed the switch to skip universes marked with red flags.

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind - the answer is blowin' in the wind.

The corridors were lined with sandbags. The storage rooms were full of them. The sand got everywhere, making everything gritty and turning the military grey greyer. When Jack ate his MRE's he tasted sand. When he took a shower the sand never quite all washed away.

On the bright side, between walking 700 miles across Oklahoma and Colorado and hefting countless hundred-pound sandbags, Jack was looking very, very fit. Even Teal'c commented about his new muscles - and if you couldn't trust your imaginary friends, who could you trust?

At first he'd checked his progress from the briefing room window, but the sand hardly seemed to move. He locked the door and didn't go back until one day when sand stopped flowing out of the hole in the door. Sam thought it was safe to open it, so he fried the lock and rolled the bulkhead back manually. "Take a look at those biceps," he said between huffs.

You might want to shave every now and then, Sam replied.

Sand spilled out into the hallway. Jack was sure it was already making its way into his boots. Inside the door the sand rose to his knees, and he stood in what looked like the drain of a big black sink.

It is the drain, Sam said, reading his mind. As long as she was in there, why not?

The sand rose at that steady 33 degree angle she'd promised, reaching almost to the level of the conference room window straight across from him. Jack turned to face the stargate.

"Shit, Carter! It's still buried." Only the upper rim of the gate peeked out from the mountain of sand. He guessed the remaining sand was just as much as he'd hauled away already, and now he didn't have a handy spout to fill his sandbags from. "I'm not shoveling all that."

Did you have other plans? Sam asked.

Jack pulled one leg out of the shifting sand, trying to twist around and leave, but Daniel spotted something. There's stuff here, he said. Sure enough, a couple of suspicious lumps protruded from the smooth surface of the dune. Jack pulled at one. It turned out to be the business end of a staff weapon. Out of reach he spotted something black and rough, buried in at least six feet of sand.

Dig that out, Sam ordered him.

"In case you've forgotten, I outrank you, Major." Especially now that she was dead. "Who left this stuff here?"

Did you not say that Thor had buried the stargate? Teal'c replied. Perhaps he moved the alien technology here as well.

"Right - that treaty thing." The tech didn't interest Jack; he glanced again at the mountain of sand covering the stargate.

Dig out the rock, Colonel, Sam insisted.

"Why?" But being a figment of his imagination, she didn't know the answers to questions that puzzled him. All she said was, Now.

So he fetched a shovel and began digging, flinging black sand out into the corridor until it reached its angle of repose and flowed both ways down the hall, between banks of old sandbags.

Half an hour later Daniel said, I recognize this thing.

Jack had uncovered about a foot of the object, revealing a triangular slice of its reflective surface. "It's the mirror you touched on..."

Daniel filled in the planet: P3R-233.

"Yeah, that thing that was no good without the controller."

Keep digging, Sam said. You need to clear the entire surface of the mirror.

Jack tossed his shovel down on the sand. "Later, Carter. I'm thinking dinner."

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?

The door opened on a dark room. "Colonel?" The only answer was a groan from the general direction of the bed.

"Colonel, is that you?"

"Nobody here but us chickens," a familiar voice replied. "I said I'd move the mirror tomorrow - why are you bugging me?"

"Damn," Sam said under her breath.

The sheets rustled as Jack sat up. "What's wrong?"

"I thought you were alone here." She'd had the camera trained on this reality for days now, and she'd seen only him.

"That's the understatement of the year, Carter," he said. "I'm the only living thing in the state of Colorado, if you don't count my socks."

Sam slipped into the room quietly. "Then who are you talking to, sir?"

"The little voices in my head." His voice was heavy with bitterness. "I wouldn't want to go crazy, now would I?"

She moved to the side, flicked on the light. He stared at her, blinking, for long seconds.

"Shit!" he said, falling back down on the bed. "Visual hallucinations. Daniel warned me about this, but the antipsychotics in the infirmary were all expired." He pulled the pillow over his eyes.

"I'm real, sir."

"You're dead, Carter, just like everyone else who was on base the day Thor beamed me up. Negotiate with the Goa'uld, my a--"

"I'm real, sir," she said again.

"Right, you came through the stargate. The buried stargate. Tell me another one, Carter." He felt her touch him gently on the arm and he dropped the pillow in surprise. "Tactile hallucinations - now that has potential." Insanity might be fun after all.

"I came through the quantum mirror." Sam showed him the controller.

"So that's why you were so set on my digging up the mirror." She gave him a puzzled look, and he decided he may as well play along - it would cut down on the arguments. "So what brings you to the Great Dust Bowl universe?"

Sam sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. "The Protected Planets Treaty. We were forced to bury our stargate and destroy all our off-world technology." Jack eyed the controller in her hand, glowing faintly in the darkness, but didn't interrupt. "The whole SGC is shut down except for a few of us guarding the remains. I've been using the quantum mirror to look for a universe where humanity is still fighting the Goa'uld."

He gave her a sad smile. "I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place. In case you didn't notice, the stargate is buried under a a hundred tons of sand. We're protected, all right, for what it's worth."

"I saw the sand," she admitted.

"So you knew this wasn't what you were looking for. Why'd you come?"

She stared down the controller, careful not to press its buttons. Since it worked by some sort of quantum entanglement, its range was practially infinite. "I saw the sand."

"Yes, you did mention that."

Sam looked up. "I saw you. You seemed to be alone, so I guessed that I was dead in this universe."

"You and the entire population of the Midwest." He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, so he was sitting beside her. "So you're not going to go ectopic on me."

"It's called entropic cascade failure."

"Whatever." He pinched her, just out of curiosity.

Sam winced. "I told you, I'm real."

"So why'd you come?"

"My time was up," she said, toying with the controller again. "My transfer papers came through. Siler offered to misplace them, but that would only have postponed the inevitable."

Jack laughed aloud. "You're AWOL." She didn't laugh. "Don't worry about it, Carter - I'm AWOL, too. When Anubis told us about his little demonstration that had wiped out fifteen states and three Canadian provinces"--Carter had the decency to gasp--"I tried to strangle him. Thor decided I wasn't as vital to negotiations as he'd thought and beamed me down to Washington.

"I can't blame the UN for signing onto the revised treaty - what else could they do? None of them wanted to end up like the dust bowl. I helped out in the initial panic, but I've been AWOL since things settled down back East." He glanced at her. "I suppose I could have resigned, but it seemed like a redundant gesture at the time.

"I keep hoping I'll wake up and this will all be a bad dream."

Sam set the controller down on the nightstand. "That sounds a lot like what happened to us, except that Anubis targeted twenty cities around the world."

"Did I try to strangle him?"

She shook her head. "You and Teal'c were lost on a mission to one of his worlds, about a month before the fleet showed up. Daniel and I were lucky to get out - or so we thought at the time. Afterwards, I thought maybe you were the lucky ones."

"You were definitely the lucky ones here."

How many years can some people exist before they're allowed to be free?

Jack chalked the previous evening up to indigestion from a bad MRE. This wasn't the first time he had dreamt of going to sleep in Carter's arms - though usually she was naked at the time - and woken up in an empty bed.

He spent an hour or two reading one of Janet's psych books that he kept by the bed, then downed an MRE in the commissary. Rather than spend another day down in the old sandpit, he went to the infirmary to look up more information about haptic hallucinations.

When you live in a sealed, deserted, underground base long enough, you can tell when things have been disturbed. All Jack's senses were suddenly on alert. He would have called out for Carter, but that would be crazy. Carter was dead.

Carter was dead, but he found her in an isolation room, setting up a parabolic mike. There was duct tape over the window in the door. "What are you doing?" he asked.

She jumped. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Jack had long since stopped keeping track of day and night. Morning was when he woke up, and he figured right now was his personal noontime. "No," he admitted readily, "nor do I know what you're doing."

"I'm making a darkroom."

"That's so much clearer."

"For the quantum mirror," she said, annoyed. "We don't want anyone coming through."

"Sure we do," he replied. "If we get a Daniel and a Teal'c, we can start going on missions again. Then all we'd need would be General Hammond and Dr. Fraiser--"

"Most of the people on the other side of the mirror are Jaffa."

Whatever. "Let me guess - you want me to drag the six-foot hunk of rock up here."

"It's made of naqahdria and quark matter, but yes, that's the general idea."

"Want any sandbags with that?" he asked.

Carter didn't answer, so he went down to the gateroom. He'd done whatever she said when she was just a figment of his imagination; he saw no reason to stop now that she might be real.

With a forklift, one of the motorized carts, several hours, and a whole lot of elbow grease, he mananged to get the mirror up seven levels to Carter's new darkroom. Carter herself was gone; eventually he found her on level sixteen, rewiring the security system to pipe images from the darkroom into her lab.

He joined her in the wiring closet. "Remind me again what we're doing."

She had a foot of wire clenched in her teeth. He grabbed one end, and she said, "We're making a darkroom so people on the other side won't notice when we turn the mirror on."

"And why are we turning the mirror on if there are Jaffa out there?"

She took the wire back and spliced it into another line. "It's simple, really - we find worlds where we're still fighting the Goa'uld."

"What about the ectopic thing?"

"We can't be there personally, but we want an SGC that's still in business."

"One where we personally are dead and missed and needed?"

"Exactly," she said, surprised that he'd put it all together.

"Can I be a general?"

"I doubt it, sir. The Joint Chiefs might object to your resurrection."

"They're such wet blankets," he said. "As I recall, we didn't exactly give you - the other you - a warm welcome when you showed up with Ferretti."

She dropped her wires. "In my universe, I - the other me - came over with Kawalski."

"You say potayto, I say potatto." Speaking of which... "How about dinner? I make a mean MRE."

Sam smiled.

How many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn't see?

"Yes, I'm impressed that you figured out how to bookmark universes, Carter - but I don't get the point." Jack was in his BDU's, ready to case any universe that looked promising. He had a zat and he'd already used it - the last time on an alternate version of himself.

Sam sat on stool beside her lab bench, taking notes on her laptop. "Before you zatted General O'Neill, he admitted to you I was dead."

"Yes, and I - the widower me - was quite broken up about it. But still alive, nonetheless." He dropped the zat on the table. "So that universe is a no-go for us."


"Call me Jack. We're both AWOL."

"I don't want to develop any bad habits, sir," she said, not meeting his eye. "The odds of our finding a universe where we're both dead but the SGC is still around are astronomically worse than our chance of finding two universes - one that needs a me and one that needs a you."

"So we look harder." He leaned against the bench, so close that their arms were almost touching. "It's not like I had plans."

"There are other considerations," she said. "Time is passing in all these universes. Anubis is taking over more Earths. Other versions of us are searching through their own quantum mirrors for the same things we're looking for."

Jack had a counter-argument. "Other versions of me are refusing to split up other versions of our team."

Sam shook her head. "If we want to be accepted by a new SGC, our chances are much better alone."

"Do you mean that they'll suspect us of fraternization?" Jack could only dream. For the past three weeks this Major Carter, like his own late teammate, had been all business. She'd found her own quarters and holed up in her lab - just like the real Carter.

"No, I mean, look how we treated the other me and Kawals--and Ferretti." She gave him a meaningful look the meaning of which was beyond him, so she explained, "One person is a refugee. Two are a conspiracy."

He had to admit, she was probably right. "So you set up shop with the widower General--"

"I'd rather be military and on SG-1," she said, "but he's predisposed to accept me. We're running out of time."

"--and I get to stay a Colonel." He shrugged - it wasn't what he'd wanted, but it was better than the dust bowl. To Jack, this Sam had always been 90% hallucination. "What's our next universe?"

Sam brought up the security camera on her monitor. The mirror showed her lab, with a Carter in it, indifferent to the dark stone object in the corner. "She's military, and I spotted Teal'c. There's been no sign of you, though."

"You must know more than that." His eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't have told me about the splitting up thing if you weren't sure this was the one. When exactly did you figure out the bookmarks?"

Sam ignored the question. "Pop through and see how she reacts. Don't zat her - just stay near the mirror and come back if it looks like you're alive."

"I know the drill," he said. He picked up the zat. Before he left, he kissed her on the cheek. "In case I don't come back," he said, "thank you for not leaving me behind."

Sam watched the whole thing over the security camera - the flash as he passed through the mirror, the look of shock on a face that both was and was not her own, tears. The mike picked up every word of their conversation; after a few minutes, she turned the volume off.

The last thing she saw was Colonel O'Neill, saluting the dark face of the mirror. She returned the salute unseen, then switched the mirror back to her other bookmarked universe.

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind - the answer is blowin' in the wind.

She could have searched a little longer, but now that she was alone Sam found the dust-bowl universe depressing. When she stepped through, she brought the controller with her. If anything went wrong, she still had that bookmark.

SF's were waiting for her on the other side, doubtless a security precaution brought about by Jack's zatting himself. Sam raised her hands. Most of them looked shocked to see her; one crossed himself before patting her down for weapons. She hadn't seen them sound an alarm, but Colonel Hammond appeared a few moments later. Like the others, he seemed dismayed, but not surprised. He took her pack and led her out the door with three SF's for backup.

Though she was a prisoner being marched down the corridors at gunpoint, Sam smiled at every airman she passed. It was good to see light and life in the SGC again after so long. Hammond brought her through the briefing room, from which she caught a glimpse of the stargate, unburied. He knocked on the door to the General's office.

At the familiar "Come," he went in alone. The interview dragged out for long minutes; Sam wasn't the only one nervously awaiting the Colonel's return.

When he reemerged, Hammond ordered two of the four SF's to remain and guard the door. "The General will see you now," he said, and closed the door behind her.

They were alone. "General O'Neill," she said, and saluted.

He stared at her. "At ease," he said, long moments later. "Sit down."

She sat, saying nothing.

"What is it you want?" he asked. "Coordinates to some Goa'uld world? Technology?"

"No, sir."

Still his eyes were drinking her in. He knew she was no illusion. "What are you doing here?"

"I've been looking for a world that's still fighting the Goa'uld."

"The other one said that, too, right before he zatted me." The contents of Sam's pack were spilled across his desk; O'Neill held up the controller. "But he didn't have one of these. He said everyone at his SGC was dead. What's wrong with your world?"

"We gave up fighting the Goa'uld," she replied. "I still want to defend Earth."

"I gave up fighting the Goa'uld?"

"You were killed by Anubis, sir."

"Are you looking for somewhere to die"--he glanced at her uniform--"Major?"

She shook her head. "I just want to do my job, sir."

"What if we don't live up to your expectations, Major?" he asked. "Will you disappear through that mirror again? I hear the grass is always greener in the next universe."

That sounded like Jack, but which one she couldn't tell. Sam picked the controller out of the pile on his desk. "Take this and hide it if you're worried about my loyalty, sir."

He hefted the grey and blue device in his hand. Then he handed it back to her. "That doesn't answer my question, Dr. Carter. I won't order you around, and I certainly won't hold the keys to your cage."

General O'Neill waited for a reply in vain. "I'm not sure you understand what your situation is here," he told Sam. "You're not military. We were married, before you were lost with an experimental spaceship. You don't have a home or savings of your own. You can live here on the base--"

He stopped short in the middle of the sentence. "You knew all that," he said, "and you came anyway. That other me told you." Sam nodded.

"Where is he now?"

"In a new universe that had a place for him."

O'Neill handed the controller back to Sam. "Can this get you back there - where he is?"

She called up her bookmarks - one for here, one for there, none for her two empty mountains. Her finger hovered over the button. The world from which she'd gone AWOL was already lost in the infinite sea of universes. Jack from the dust bowl had been sweet, slow on the uptake, and off his rocker; one touch of her finger would set both of them adrift forever on the quantum foam.

Sam erased the bookmarks. "No, sir," she said, setting the controller down on his desk.

"Then you can stay." The General was by no means as slow as his counterpart. He knew what he'd asked, and understood her answer. "I'll show you around the place," he said as he stood up.

She followed him out. For a refuge in a hostile multiverse, it looked a lot like home.