Season: season 7
Series: Stargate SG-1
Another sequel to "A White Dove," in which Jack and the team in his head adjust to the strangest AU of all.
No dough, no foul. Lyrics to "Like a Rolling Stone" are by Bob Dylan, copyright 1965, 1993 Special Rider Music.
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.
How does it feel?
Though Jack had passed through the quantum mirror more times than he could count, today he felt the shock of transfer just like his first trip. The world reversed itself around him as the mirror flashed white. It faded to the black of Sam-in-the-mountain's darkroom on the other side.
He turned around slowly, taking in the benches, racks, smells, and doohickies of another Sam's lab. The Sam here sat hunched over her laptop, typing furiously. Jack observed the curve of her cheek, her short hair, the angle of her cap over her freshly-starched fatigues. He pulled down on his own wrinkled shirt.
She's military, Sam-in-the-mountain had said, before he stepped through the mirror. The Sam in Jack's head said, She looks like me.
She looks like home, the Daniel in his head added. Teal'c prodded him, Talk to Major Carter.
Jack cleared his throat.
"I'll be right with you," the new Sam said, not looking up from the laptop. Her fingers never stopped tapping.
"It's no rush," Jack replied.
Sam froze, and over the curve of her cheek her eyes closed.
"You're not hearing voices," Jack told her.
Most people don't need that kind of reassurance, Daniel reminded him.
Sam's hand gripped the edge of her desk. Her knuckles turned white, but her eyes were still hidden. "The Tok'ra said you died. They couldn't save you."
"I die a lot."
At that she faced him, tears in her eyes.
You're always crying in these alternate realities, he told the Sam in his head. A quantum effect, she replied, sounding teary herself.
Sam glanced from his face to the mirror behind him, and back again. "You're some other Jack," she said. There was no fooling Sam. Any Sam.
"Close enough for government work, I hope." Sam-in-the-mountain had told Jack what to say, and since she was probably still watching he dredged it up and said it. "I would like to formally petition your quantum reality for asylum from the Goa'uld."
Sam nodded; doubtless she had met refugees before, probably herself and Kawalski or Ferretti or whoever it was. In our reality it was Ferretti, Daniel reminded him.
"And if you have an opening for a slightly-used colonel with extensive stargate experience, I'm currently unemployed." Not to mention unemployable...
Jack shushed the Daniel in his head.
"I don't think General Hammond has reported your death to Kinsey yet," the real Sam said. "It could work." She sounded so like Sam-in-the-mountain working out some technical problem, but tears still ran down her cheeks and her eyes shone with them. Perhaps there was something between her and her Jack.
Say goodbye, Colonel, the Sam in his head reminded him.
So he turned to face the quantum mirror, and saluted the Sam in the mountain. In the same smooth motion, he gripped the side of the rock and pulled the mirror around towards the wall.
"You shouldn't leave this thing unguarded," Jack told his new Sam. "Anyone could walk through."
She came forward and put a hand on his arm. "Be careful; that's heavy."
His muscles knotted under her hand. "This is nothing. You should have seen all the sand I found it under."
Technically, I found it, Daniel said.
But I figured out what it was, Sam argued.
The Teal'c in Jack's head shushed them both. The mirror moved slowly but easily on its dolly until it faced the wall. Sam's hand still rested on Jack's arm. She smelled of soap and salt tears.
She's military, Sam in his head reminded him. We didn't come here to get busted for fraternization.
"So how did I die?" Jack asked. Death, the ultimate mood-killer, he told his inner team.
She dropped her hand. "When Anubis destroyed Abydos, you were the last one through the gate."
"Ouch," he said, for Abydos.
"Oma ascended everyone, so it wasn't so bad, but there was a blast of radiation from Anubis' weapon--"
"So I was glowing in a not-ascending way?"
"We hoped the Tok'ra could treat you. They had you stabilized all summer, but then--" Another tear slid down her cheek. He reached up to wipe it away, but the Sam in his head said No!
"Well, I'm not radioactive," Jack said, dropping his hand. "Let's go see if the general is hiring, shall we?"
So Sam, Jack, and the voices in Jack's head stepped out into the bustling halls of an SGC that was quite evidently still in business.
You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him do you want to make a deal?
How does it feel?
Sam poked her head into the general's office first. "Sir?"
He didn't look up from the folder he had open on his desk. "Come in, Major."
"Sir," she said again.
"I'm just putting through the paperwork now, Major. You should be in charge of SG-1 by the end of the week."
"Easy come, easy go," Jack said. Daniel wanted to debate his meaning, but none of the other voices in Jack's head were listening.
General Hammond looked up. "Jack. The Tok'ra said you were--"
"--quite, quite dead." Jack removed his cap out of respect for his glow-in-the-dark corpse. "I'm just a replacement provided by your friendly neighborhood quantum mirror."
Hammond turned to Sam. "Didn't I order that thing destroyed?"
"I tried, sir," she replied, "but I couldn't even scratch the surface, never mind destroy it. I don't think it even exists in our reality; it's some sort of trans-dimensional object that--"
"We get the point, Carter."
They both turned to stare at Jack.
Hammond shook his head. "I have your death certificate right here, Colonel." He pushed the folder forward.
Jack picked up the sheet of paper and tore it in half. "Do I look dead to you?"
Hammond leaned back in his red leather general's chair. "To be honest, son, you look a little shell-shocked."
Do they still call it that here? Daniel wondered.
"I'm not sure you're competent to lead SG-1." Hammond looked too deep into the windows to Jack's plural soul. Help me here, people, he begged his virtual team.
Tell them what you have experienced, O'Neill, Teal'c suggested.
Ah, the sympathy vote, Jack thought. He put down the pieces of his death certificate. "There was this incident in my universe," he said slowly. "Anubis wiped out the Midwest, including the SGC. I was with Thor at the time negotiating Earth's surrender.
"Afterward I hitchhiked to Oklahoma, then walked 700 miles across the deadlands to Cheyenne Mountain, where Thor had buried the stargate and all our alien tech under tons of sand. Sam told me to--"
Ixnay on the oicesvay, Daniel whispered.
"Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself," Jack said. "I was digging out the stargate when I found the quantum mirror. A Sam came through the mirror with a controller she'd found for it and told me to set up a darkroom so she could--"
"Are you saying this person came through the mirror from some random universe and you started taking orders from her?" the general asked.
"She was a Sam," Jack said simply. He paused, but got no more arguments. "So we set up a darkroom to look for alternate realities where humanity was still fighting the Goa'uld, but one of us was dead, to avoid that whole ectopic thing."
"Entropic cascade failure," Sam said.
"Right. So we found two realities, and here I am."
"Where is she?" Sam asked.
Jack looked down at the worn carpet. "She's explaining to the General O'Neill that I zatted yesterday about how Anubis destroyed twenty cities on her Earth and she set up shop with the quantum mirror and a darkroom in an abandoned SGC looking for a better reality.
"The truth is, I don't think his was a very promising reality, but that Sam had a thing for hard cases."
Ixnay on the uthtray, Daniel said. Now tell them what's in it for them.
Jack leaned forward. "You don't want to be the only universe without an O'Neill," he said. "What if you need to download some more Ancient knowledge, or Thor needs highly evolved human genes for some clone or other?
"I'm not claiming to be the sanest O'Neill in the multiverse, but I can play the part. How about it?"
Hammond tapped his pen on the desk. Sam looked away, seeming to concentrate on the tactical board on the side wall of the office. You could cut the silence with a knife.
Do not draw your combat knife, O'Neill, Teal'c advised.
It's just a figure of speech, T.
Hammond picked up the torn death certificate and wadded it into a ball. "I'll take you on light duty," he said. "Major Carter will do the heavy lifting until I have a clean bill of health for you from Dr. Fraiser. Is that understood?"
He does not expect such a report any time soon, O'Neill.
Thanks for the heads-up there, T.
Neither do I, O'Neill.
Jack gave up and let the voices have the last word. "Understood, sir."
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.
How does it feel?
Sam brought Jack to the infirmary. Unlike the abandoned one in his last reality, this one bustled with activity and smelled of fresh antiseptic. Everyone stared, as usual, so Sam pulled a privacy curtain closed around him.
"Put on the johnny while I get Dr. Fraiser."
He tugged at his shirt obediently. "Yes, ma'am."
Sam rolled her eyes on the way out.
I think I'm starting to fit in, Jack told the voices in his head. He pulled off his wrinkled BDUs. And I bet their antipsychotic drugs haven't all expired.
Ixnay on the azycray, Sam said.
Daniel had other things on Jack's mind. Ask them where I am.
Which part of ixnay didn't you understand? Jack tried to tie the johnny behind his back, but only managed to give his burly bicep a big cramp.
Look, you're radioactive waste in this reality, Daniel said. We've seen Sam and Hammond, and Sam-in-the-mountain said she saw Teal'c. So where am I?
Ixnay, Daniel. Jack lay back and enjoyed the smell of antiseptic.
Dr. Janet Fraiser pulled the curtain open.
"What's up, Doc?"
"Sometimes I think this job is too weird." She turned to someone outside the curtain. "Thanks, Sam."
"Call me when you're done," the new Sam said.
Dr. Fraiser approached, alive and armed, pulling the curtain shut behind her. She shone that pesky penlight in Jack's eyes. "Can you tell me your name?"
"Colonel Jack O'Neill of the Great Dust Bowl." He blinked rapidly when the light finally went away.
"Sam mentioned you walked across Colorado." She tied a rubber tube around his arm and he squeezed reflexively.
"And Oklahoma. Ouch."
She drew a vial of blood. "And how do you feel about that?"
Jack patted his left leg. "My knee never really got over it."
She stepped back. "You'll have to do better than that if you expect to be cleared for duty. Most sane people don't walk halfway across the West on foot."
Honesty may be in order, Teal'c suggested, and Jack went with it. "How would you feel after seeing tens of millions of people killed in the blink of an eye, and you couldn't do anything to save them?"
Janet frowned, and handed the blood sample to an orderly outside the curtain. "Stat," she told him.
Can we stop talking about you already and get back to me? Daniel whined.
Jack sighed. "Daniel wants to know--"
"Do you also see Dr. Jackson?" Janet eyed him suspiciously.
"Excuse me?" Must backpedal somehow.
"The other Jack saw the ascended Daniel before he went to Abydos. He told SG-1 to look for the eye of Ra."
Ixnay already, Daniel.
"I should call in Dr. McKenzie. I'm not really qualified--"
"Nothing personal, Doc, but none of you are qualified. Sit down in front of the quantum mirror and watch thousands of Goa'uld-infested Earths go by, and then come back and talk to me about my sanity." Jack pulled off the johnny. "Can I have some fresh BDUs?"
Dr. Fraiser pushed him back down onto the gurney. "Not so fast, Colonel. What were you saying about seeing Dr. Jackson?"
The curtains swished open again and Sam reappeared. "Sorry, Janet, but I'm going to need the colonel for an off-world mission." She dropped a fresh set of BDUs on the gurney.
"I don't think he's fit for duty," Janet said.
Sam looked at his sandbag-muscles. "He looks fit to me."
"Don't worry; he knows he's a figurehead."
"I'm just the understudy, ma'am," Jack said.
Ixnay, Jack, Daniel said.
"So what's the rush?" Janet asked Sam.
"Jonas thinks he has gate coordinates for the Lost City. Apparently it's not the Lost City, but the Last City."
"Jonas?" Jack asked, pulling up his pants. Starchy! he told the voices.
"He's really not our Jack, is he?" Janet asked.
I thought we covered that already.
It was a rhetorical question, Jack, Daniel said.
"He's close enough for government work," Sam said, and dragged him out of the infirmary, lecturing him about Jonas the whole way.
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.
How does it feel?
Sam led Jack straight to the lower level. Airmen still stared as they passed by. Sam ignored them; Jack waved. A well-build fellow with puppy-dog eagerness in his eyes waited in the gateroom--Jonas, Jack presumed.
"So the Tok'ra fixed you up after all," Jonas said. "We were starting to lose hope."
"Something like that," Jack replied. He could see already why the local Jack had found Jonas annoying: he was way too perky.
"Jonas has been holed up in his office with the Ancient tablet from Abydos for the past week or so," Sam explained.
Teal'c was the last to join them. "O'Neill, you are alive." He looked into Jack's eyes, and saw whatever Hammond had seen there. "But you are not yourself."
"This is as good as it gets, T," Jack said.
My, you're an understanding fellow, Jack told his inner Teal'c.
Ours is the only reality of consequence, he replied.
"So where's the hazmat stuff?" Jack asked Sam.
"None for this mission, sir. The Ancients died a long time ago."
He knew that much. Jack opened his mouth to protest, but Sgt. Davis announced that chevron seven was locked. The gate flushed, and Jonas ran ahead of them up the ramp.
It had been a long, long time since Jack had passed through a stargate. The cold bit into his bones, but as quickly as it came it was gone again. He continued the argument on the other side.
"We're not talking about a common cold here, Carter. It was the plague."
"Sir, we don't wear hazmat every time we step through the gate. There's always a chance we could be exposing ourselves to something dangerous."
They'd been much more careful about such things at his SGC. "Well, the place is called the City of the Dead," Jack said.
Jonas interrupted. "The City of the Lost, actually, sir."
"Not for lack of a sense of direction," Jack shot back. Who is this guy again? he asked his old team.
Apparently he's my replacement, Daniel said bitterly. He translated the Ancient tablet from Abydos. I'm betting he got it wrong and you find nothing--
You're ascended here. Shouldn't you be more zen?
Stuff it up your--
Hey, look--people! They looked like extras out of Lawrence of Arabia.
Jonas got into a pointless discussion with the people, convincing even Jack that he was the Daniel replacement.
One of the locals pegged Teal'c. "He is Jaffa."
"No, but he plays one on TV," Jack said, amusing both the real and imaginary Carters to no end.
They wandered around the village a bit more, just to make sure they picked up any Ancient germs that might still be hanging around. Jack got embroiled in a war of cliches with another local, but it was broken up by the sudden appearance of--
"Daniel?" Jack said.
Daniel--or Arrom, the Naked Guy We Found In The Forest, as the locals called him--wasn't feeling sociable. It took some time to coax him out of his descended shell, but Jack was determined to bring him home to Earth.
When they stepped through the gate, Daniel looked around as if he'd just stepped through to the moon.
Hammond asked him, "You have no memory of who I am?"
"None whatsoever," Daniel replied.
"Neither do I, sir," Jack said. Hammond glared at him.
Stop mocking me, Jack, Daniel said.
He's mocking all of us, Daniel, Sam replied.
Cheer up, folks, Jack told his inner team. We're not the newest crazy back-from-the-dead kid on the block anymore.
How does it feel?
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?
The new kid came around eventually, and like all Daniels everywhere, he wanted to talk.
"Not in the hallway," Daniel said.
Jack followed him back to his lab and toyed with the artifacts.
Please put that down, the Daniel in his head said.
"Please put that down," the real one echoed.
"You don't have to tell me twice."
"I didn't." Daniel waited until Jack put the whatzit back on its shelf. "They tell me you're not the real Jack."
Jack pinched himself. "I feel real."
"Not our Jack," Daniel said. "Not on the full duty roster. Not really in charge anymore. Non compos mentis."
What does that mean? Jack asked his own Daniel.
It means you talk to dead people in your head.
The real Daniel wasn't done with his laundry list. "Not Sam's Jack."
"Did they have a thing going?"
Daniel shrugged. "Not anymore."
Just like home, Jack thought. "If that's all--" He hadn't quite finished comparing The Simpsons of this universe to the series he remembered from his own.
"How does it feel?" Daniel asked.
"Just like home," Jack said, "before Anubis killed you all. Except, of course, it's not. I can never go home again, and even if I did, how would I know? There are a lot of dust bowls out there." Infinitely many, Sam added.
"There's a cheerful thought." Daniel turned away.
It's not easy being the fifth race, the Sam in Jack's head said.