Stargate Quantum Mirror

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Rating: PG

Content suitable for all audiences.

Big thanks to Channach for plot-editing this chapter and to Raven Clark for style-editing this chapter with me line by line.

A/N: This was one of the hardest chapters to write so far. You’ll see why and I hope it doesn’t turn out too confusing.

“Damn it!” Sam slammed the screwdriver down and glared at the side of the Ancient chair. Hours. Countless hours during the past five days, and nothing. She’d gone through every book she knew. Read all of McKay’s findings about Ancient technology. Why couldn’t she get this damn thing to work?

No, she wasn’t even that ambitious. If she succeeded in establishing an active interface between the Ancient chair and her laptop, she’d call it a day.

Suppressing a yawn, she got up from the stony ground. Why wasn’t the data transmission going through? This didn’t make any sense.

It should be easy. After all, McKay had interfaced with the puddle jumper. The access ports were easy to configure and adapted to their more primitive laptops and computer systems. But this chair…

It had to be merely the control panel for a much larger database. If they’d manage to tap into the database, all the questions they’d ever had about the Ancients might be answered.

She glared at the chair. She’d be damned if she let a piece of technology gain the upper hand. If this damn chair wanted a war, then that was exactly what it’d get. She scowled at the wall panels. Maybe she’d overlooked some burned out circuit somewhere.

She ripped one panel off the wall and threw the cover to the ground.

“Angry?”

Heart pounding, she spun. Jack strolled into the room, his eyebrows climbing as he looked around. Leaning against the wall, he folded his arms.

“Wow. What the hell happened here?”

She glanced around the room, then flinched. Cables, tools, measuring devices, books, papers, and all kinds of reports littered the ground.

“Sorry, sir. I’m just getting frustrated with this technology. Once I figure it out, I’ll clean the place up.”

“Ah. Looks like this might take a while.” He held up a package as he made his way along a narrow path to the chair in the middle. “I saved you a turkey sandwich.”

“Thanks, but I’m not hungry yet.”

“That’s odd.” He dropped down in the chair and looked around. “You haven’t eaten anything for—” He checked his watch. “—fourteen hours.”

Fourteen hours? No, it couldn’t have been that long. She turned with a frown. “Really? What time is it?”

“It’s ten-thirty. The sun set two hours ago.”

Had she really lost track of time? Another day was almost over, and she she’d gotten nowhere with this chair. Maybe this was all a waste of her time.

She faltered. The sun had already set. It was ten-thirty. Damn. Blood drained from her face. “Oh God, we had a dinner date two hours ago.”

He lifted his head and held her gaze.

Swallowing hard, she shook her head. “I’m so sorry.”

“Ah, don’t sweat it.” Jack waved it off. “I got to listen to Daniel explaining his newest theories about the Ancients. Very lengthy…”

Sam winced and bit her lower lip. How could she forget their dinner date not even a little over a week after they’d agreed on it? “I lost track of time. I promise, I’ll make it up to you.”

“Carter, it’s fine. Let’s just not make a habit of it. McKay told me you were taking this whole thing apart, so I figured you’d gotten lost in your doohickeys.” He indicated the mess around them with a smirk.

Carter… He’d called her Carter. Not Sam… Her stomach tightened. “You’re angry.”

“I…what?” He stared at her.

“You called me Carter.”

“What are you talking about?”

This content is property of http://www.kimberley-jackson.com.

“Just now. You didn’t call me Sam, you called me—”

“Oh fer cryin’ out loud. Sam.” He emphasized her name. “Stop overthinking. I’m not mad. I brought you food.” He held the wrapped sandwich out to her. Sighing, Sam put her screwdriver down.

Upon reaching the chair, she stumbled over one of her measuring devices and nearly fell across Jack. Grinning, he steadied her, then pulled her into his lap.

“You know, you can just tell me if you wanna hump me that badly.” His deep rasp washed warm down her neck.

Chuckling, she claimed his lips in a lingering kiss, turned and leaned back against him. As her gaze wandered around the room, she took the sandwich from him. “This place’s a mess.” Sighing, she unpacked the sandwich.

“No argument from me.” His hands curved around her waist to hold her in place. “I expect you to restore order in here once you’re done.”

“Yes, sir.”

The smell of turkey and bread filled her nostrils. Her stomach growled. No wonder if her last meal had been fourteen hours ago. She took a bite, savoring the meat and salad. “Oh, this is good.”

“Made it myself.”

Brows raised, she turned her head to him.

He cleared his throat. “Well… I supervised its making. Walter made it. I advised. So…”

How could he be so cute when he got awkward? Warmth flooded her and she leaned in for a kiss, then laughed when bent his head down and stole a bite from her sandwich. “For a moment I actually thought you’d taken over kitchen duties.”

“You kidding me? I worked years to become camp commander so I could get out of that.” He placed his arms on the armrests of the chair. “This thing’s pretty comfortable. If you can’t figure out how it works, I’ll have it put in my command tent.”

She shrugged. “You might get lucky eventually, but I’m not willing to give up yet.”

“What’s the problem?”

Really? She frowned at the question, her legs lying across his. Was that honest interest she saw on his face?

“Well, that’s what I can’t figure out. I’ve gone over these systems countless times. I even created schematics.” She waved her hand at the papers lying everywhere. “The computer interface should work, but it doesn’t establish a connection to our system.”

“Incompatible?”

“I don’t think so, sir. McKay interfaced the jumper with our laptops. There has to be a computer core here somewhere. Interfacing directly with that would probably be a lot easier. Daniel and Rodney have no idea where it is, though, so…” Sighing, she dropped her arms, while she eyed the circuits with disdain. “I don’t understand how to access the mainframe.”

“I’m sure you’re doing your best.”

She released another sigh. His encouragement didn’t help much, but she appreciated the effort.

”Hey, maybe the battery’s empty or something?” Jack played around at the sides of the chair again. She cocked her head. He shrugged. “What? I mean, if it’s been down here for millennia…”

“These things usually don’t run on—” batteries. Or did they? She straightened. When Sheppard had possessed the Ancient’s knowledge, he had taken one of the crystal objects out of a little compartment next to the chair. That crystal had provided the Stargate with enough power to dial another galaxy.

Oh God, she was so stupid. Why hadn’t she thought of that? “That’s it.”

“It is?” He straightened and raised his brows. Sam jumped down from the chair and kneeled at the side of the platform to examine the ground. She traced her fingers along the platform. Somewhere here…

A small corner gave, and she applied pressure. A compartment slid up. Empty.

She dropped to the ground with a groan. “We took out its battery.”

“You took it out?”

“Well, Sheppard did. The original crystal he hooked up to the dialing device came from here. We’ll have to insert one of the working ones he brought back. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. You’re a genius.”

“Well, I…try.” He grimaced, and Sam chuckled.

“Okay, I gotta reconnect the circuits. Then I need one of the crystals, and I need Sheppard.”

“Sheppard?” Jack gave her an almost insulted frown.

“Well, Colonel Sheppard has a more intuitive knowledge about the technology than you do. Sir. With all due respect.” She flinched.

He nodded with a sigh, apparently conceding. He had to know she was right. It’d taken him a while to figure out how to steer the puddle jumper, but Sheppard had sat down and immediately grasped it on a subconscious level.

“We don’t know what this is. I’d rather have somebody controlling it who has control over the technology. So far only you and Colonel Sheppard seem to be able to activate it.”

Jack nodded. “Yeah, about that. The doc wanted to talk to you. She thinks it has something to do with a gene only Sheppard and I have. Something about genetically activated…something.” He gave a shrug. “Ask her about the technobabble.”

“That’d make sense.” She straightened. “Do you realize what that means?” When he gave her a clueless stare, Sam swallowed. “Sir, that might prove Daniel’s theory’s right.”

“What theory?”

“Well, sir, Daniel believes that millennia ago, maybe even tens of thousands of years ago, the Ancients settled on Earth. The presence of the underground structure and a second Stargate are strong evidence for the validity of his theory. He thinks, the aliens—who we call Ancients now—mingled with the normal human population and started the first—”

“Carter. I just spent two hours tuning Daniel out.” He placed his fingers at his temples.

“The point is, sir, you and Colonel Sheppard might be descendants of these Ancients.”

“Really?” Jack’s brows rose. “But what about the mingling? I mean, with the Aschen breeding system, shouldn’t almost everyone have that gene by now?”

“Not necessarily.” She shook her head. “Some genes are recessive, and only persist under certain circumstances. You once told me your parents belonged to a group that boycotted the Aschen breeding system. So for centuries, nobody in your bloodline received the Aschen vaccine, or was paired up. Maybe that gene was a characteristic of the group your parents belonged to. Or maybe it’s just a fluke you still have an active gene.”

“Yeah, well.” He released a sigh. “Why don’t we call it a night before I get a headache? In the morning you can discuss the details with Janet.” He got up from the chair.

“But sir…”

“Carter.” He stalked towards her, his eyes sparkling. “You can start fresh in the morning.” When he reached her, he dropped a searing kiss on her exposed neck. Her eyes fell closed and her body quivered at his touch. “If you’re so bent on interfacing, we could do some very interesting ‘interfacing’ in my tent instead.”

She stifled a giggle. “Oh, God. That analogy is wrong on so many different levels.”

“You can explain it…during.” He placed another kiss under her ear, even more searing than the first.

“Sir.”

“New perspectives help in solving problems. And I know just the right thing to turn your world upside down. How’s that for analogy?”

“Jack.” She laughed and turned in his arms when he nuzzled the sensitive spot under her ear, sending pleasant shivers down her spine.

He put his best command face in place. “Don’t make me order you around.”

Oh boy. Heat surged through her. “As interesting as that sounds, I have to—”

“Oh, fer cryin’ out loud.” He groaned, when she wriggled out of his grip and took a few tools from the ground.

“I promised Daniel to take a look at the artifact from P3R-233 he can’t figure out.”

Hands buried in his pockets, Jack followed her as she walked into the next room. She looked around the smaller room they’d converted into a storage facility for all—mostly Ancient—artifacts brought back from missions, then walked up to a large device standing near the wall.

“How long’s this gonna take?”

She turned and picked up the file lying on a small table. Jack took one of the little devices lying there.

“Not long. I promised Daniel I’d do it yesterday, but I didn’t get around to it. I don’t want to disappoint him again.” She walked back to the device and touched the outer edges. Cold. Definitely metal. Most likely naquada. This was interesting. Usually naquada was used in devices generating huge energy outputs—such as the Stargate.

She narrowed her eyes and touched the shiny surface in the middle. At first glance she’d almost assumed it was a mirror, except that she couldn’t see a reflection. “According to the writings on its back, Daniel thinks this device might have been built by the Ancients.”

“Ah.” Jack played with a small artifact from the table. “What’s this for?”

Sam looked at the device in his hand and shrugged. “We don’t know. It doesn’t seem to do anything. McKay thinks the energy source might be depleted.”

“Empty battery?” He raised his eyebrows.

She smiled. “Yes, sir. You should have the report somewhere. I think it’s called ‘Unnamed Artifact Number 153’.”

“Yeah, about that.” He cleared his throat. “We really gotta talk about who’s responsible for naming things around here. I mean, Unnamed Artifact Number 153? Who the hell’s supposed to remember that?”

Sam trailed her fingers along the cold, smooth surface in front of her and chuckled. “Agreed, sir.”

Next to her, she heard Jack press some of the buttons with obvious impatience. Then he turned around and strolled back to the table, undoubtedly to pick up another artifact.

She was about to search the sides of the device for an access panel, when the black surface flickered. It lit up, then showed a reflection of the cave they stood in. A mirror. Except…

“Wow.”

“Wow what?” Jack’s voice drifted from behind her.

“Look at this. The screen isn’t black anymore.”

“What did you do?” He stepped up next to her, brows scrunched.

“Actually, I haven’t even touched it yet. That’s weird.” She leaned in closer. The reflection looked somewhat unreal. Tiny ripples distorted the image, as though it was reflected in a black see of oil.

Next to her, Jack shifted. “So what is it? Something like a magic mirror?”

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think so, sir.” Now that she concentrated, there were differences in the reflection. The white walls weren’t white stone. They were ice. The ground was covered in ice. The table behind her stood empty. What on Earth would create such an effect? Was the surface still solid? She reached out, wanting to trail her fingers across the smooth black material.

“Whoa, wait a minute. You sure you wanna touch…” Jack’s hand closed around her wrist the second the pads of her fingers brushed the black surface. A noticeable jolt went through her. “…things before we know what…” Next to her, Jack trailed off.

The room around them changed rapidly. Snow covered the walls, the ground, the ceiling. The temperature plummeted, making her feel as though she’d just jumped into a pool of ice water. She shivered.

“What in the world…” Jack spun, his eyes wide.

Okay, good, so he saw it too. That meant she wasn’t going crazy.

“Carter?”

“Um.” Swallowing, she rubbed her arms as she looked around. “I’m not sure what happened.”

He frowned at her. “You know, this kinda thing’s exactly why I keep telling you scientists not to try everything out. That includes touching things.”

She flinched. “Sorry, sir.”

“Any chance this thing did something to the Aschen weather control system?”

“No, sir, I don’t think we’re dealing with a weather change here. I’m not sure what happened. I’m not even sure what activated the device.”

“Yeah, well, you better figure it out, because I’m not in the mood to freeze to death in a God forsaken ice—”

“Hands up!”

Heart pounding, Sam spun around. Two men in uniforms pointed P-90s at them. She raised her hands and glanced at Jack, then at the men. Where had they come from? They weren’t resistance. And what was with the heavy weaponry and the uniforms?

One of the soldiers faltered and his eyes grew wide. He leaned in to his colleague and whispered something, then the two men lowered their weapons.

“General O’Neill. Colonel Carter. I’m sorry, sir. We weren’t notified you’d be visiting. How did you… When did you… What are you doing here?”

Sam stared. “Colonel?”

“General?” Jack asked at the same time.

She glanced at Jack, and as he lowered his hands she did the same. “What’s going on?”

“You’re asking me?” He gave her a wry look.

The younger soldier reached for the radio in his vest pocket. “Dr. Weir, your assistance is required near the chair room.”

“Can it wait a few moments? I’m busy going through a few—”

“Unfortunately not.” The soldier eyed Jack, then Sam. “General O’Neill is here to see you, ma’am.”

“Hey. Easy there.” Jack grabbed the soldier’s arm when Carter flinched in his grip. “We won’t resist…”

“Sorry, sir, but these are my orders.” The soldier cuffed Carter’s hands behind her back.

“We won’t talk, no matter where you take us. Not unless you answer some of our questions first.” The sharp plastic bands the solider had bound his hands with cut into his flesh. Jack gritted his teeth. “You haven’t even charged us with a crime.”

“Impersonating two of the leading figures of the Stargate program is a serious offense. You’re lucky we’re not detaining you two as terrorists under the patriot act.” The soldier pushed Jack towards the door of the vehicle they’d spent the past couple of hours in.

“We’re not impersonating anybody.” Sam stepped towards the door, undoubtedly to avoid being pushed again.

“Really? So you’re telling me you are Colonel Samantha Carter?”

“Yes, I am. Well, I’m not a colonel, but I am Samantha Carter.”

“Carter.” Jack shook his head. “Don’t. He’s obviously just taking orders.”

She sighed. “Yes, sir.”

The back door of the vehicle opened and they were pushed outside. Jack blinked against the daylight. Odd vehicles, a large spiky fence. More of those grumpy looking soldiers in uniform. Where the hell were they?

When the soldier pushed him towards a heavy metal door, he decided it’d be better not to put up further resistance. For once, it’d be futile. Besides, he didn’t wanna endanger Carter—who looked about ready to jump down some throats. If he set the wrong example, she might just do that, and these soldiers didn’t look like they’d hesitate for long before using their weapons.

The soldier nodded at a security guard next to the door, then led them into the facility. They followed along a dimly lit corridor, and stepped into an elevator at the end.

Going down, judging by the pull of the centrifugal forces. Going very far down. He frowned. Where were these guys taking them? Deep underground in order to interrogate them before they got rid of them?

When the elevator finally dinged, he’d given up counting. It was useless anyway, since he didn’t know the speed they were going.

He stepped out. Another gray corridor. No windows, just like the last one. One look at Carter told him her initial anger had turned into concern.

He cleared his throat. “Listen. Let me talk to your superior. I’m sure this is all just a big misunderstanding.”

The soldier didn’t even acknowledge him. He pushed them both along the corridor until they reached another one of those heavy doors. Two soldiers were busy talking in front of it.

Jack narrowed his eyes at their interactions. All wore the same uniform. Definitely an army, but none like he’d ever seen. Earth didn’t have an army. And the Aschen’s uniform looked different. Had they maybe teleported to another planet? One that had the same Ancient underground facility?

This whole thing was giving him a headache. None of it made sense. Unless he’d had a stroke and this was all a bizarre dream.

He muttered a curse when one soldier pushed him into the room. Carter stumbled against him. The soldier removed the plastic band that held his hands behind his back, then did the same for Carter.

Without another word, the soldier left the room and slammed the door shut. Jack spun, scanning the room. No window, just a tiny ventilation shaft. A table and one narrow bed. Not exactly ideal.

“Any idea what’s going on here?” He turned to Sam.

She looked up at him, concern shadowed in her blue eyes. “Sorry, sir. None of this makes any sense.”

“Where the hell are we?”

“Well, sir, I’d say an underground facility judging from the long elevator—“

“No, Carter, not here in this room. I mean this planet. This world. What is this? This isn’t Earth. Is it?”

“These people speak our language, sir.” Sighing, she sat down on the chair at the table.

He growled and joined her at the table. “Yeah, well, so does half the galaxy. For reasons I still don’t understand.”

“Sir, back when the Goa’uld—“

“Carter. Daniel tried to explain it to me dozens of times. Now’s not the time.”

“Yes, sir.” She released a sigh, fidgeting. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry, sir. I know you’re angry with me. We wouldn’t be in this situation if I hadn’t played around with technology I don’t understand.”

“I’m not angry.” He gentled his voice. “We’re stuck in some kind of underground facility, probably awaiting interrogation. Placing blame isn’t at the top of my priority list right now. Let’s just find a way outta here.”

She gave him a weak smile. He brushed his hand over hers and raised his eyebrows. “Did you see their weird vehicles?”

“Yes, they produce some sort of fuel powered exhaust. Our scientists experimented with fuel-powered engines. The Aschen outlawed them because of the devastating effects on the environment.”

“Ah.” He nodded.

“Actually, I was more impressed by the size of the city we drove through. And the number of vehicles they had. This world seems to be heavily populated.” She scratched her head. “But how did we end up here? If this were another world, why did we start out in the Ancient underground facility?” She straightened. “Maybe these are Ancients?”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “I’m no expert, but none of what we’ve seen so far resembles the Ancient technology we’ve retrieved on missions.”

Carter slumped back in her chair. “You’re right. This technology looks almost primitive compared to the Aschen’s.”

The heavy metal door squeaked open. Jack looked up as a man entered. Next to him, Carter inhaled sharply.

It was like looking into a mirror. An oddly distorted mirror. The man who’d entered looked exactly like himself, just older. Stroke. He had to have had a stroke. It was the only reasonable explanation.

The man at the door released a groan. “Well, that’s…oddly familiar.”

Behind him, a woman entered. A second Carter. Also older. Both of them wore the same strange uniforms as the rest of the soldiers.

“Carter? What’s going on?” Jack asked at the same time as his older self. He raised his eyebrows. His counterpart did the same.

“Um.” Next to him, Sam shifted. “I have no idea, sir.”

The older Carter cleared her throat and turned to the older O’Neill. “Sir, these two were found last night at the Antarctica research station near McMurdo. Dr. Weir thought we’re dealing with impostors or clones created by the NID to infiltrate the SG-C. But I just received an image of the artifact discovered along with them at Antarctica.” She held a piece of paper out to the older man.

“Oh, fer cryin’ out loud. I thought Hammond ordered that damn thing destroyed years ago.”

“Sir, after we reviewed Daniel’s report of the original mission to P3R-355, we did theorize that the destruction might not have any effect. According to Doctor Carter and Catherine Langford in the alternate universe Daniel visited by accident, the other SG-1 had been on P3R-355 prior to Daniel’s arrival. They didn’t find a quantum mirror. Which means the instant Daniel stepped into that universe, the mirror recreated itself. Dr. Felger thinks it’s a failsafe built in by the Ancients. In case they visited a universe where the quantum mirror didn’t exist.”

The older O’Neill cleared his throat and gave her a frown.

Carter straightened. “It’s just a theory, sir, but it makes sense if you take into account the vast number of universes. The chances of stepping into one where a quantum mirror has been invented are miniscule. The Ancients who first built it would have risked creating a one-way traveling device that trapped its users in another universe with no way of getting back. We think the effect is triggered by the remote that—”

The older Jack rubbed his temples. “Carter! Bottom line this for me, will ya? They’re not impostors?”

“No, sir.” Older Carter dropped her arms.

“Excuse me.” Jack narrowed his eyes. “Could anybody explain to me what’s going on here? Carter?” He turned to look at his Sam.

“Um…to be honest, sir. I’m not sure I understand it myself.”

Older Carter smiled at her. “You stepped through a device which we call a Quantum Mirror. You switched from your universe over to ours.”

Sam stared at her. “So the device is like the Stargate.”

Older Carter flinched. “Not quite. See, according to multiverse theory, a highly evolved theory of quantum physics in our universe, there’s an infinite number of universes that exist parallel to our own, one for every possible outcome. It’s based on the theory that everything that exists and can exist, actually does exist in some alternate form of our universe. We’ve come in contact with the effects by use of the Quantum Mirror a few times in the past.”

“Oh, I think I read about that.” Sam turned and beamed at him. “Sir, there’s a thesis by an Aschen scientist regarding the subject. He called it the “Theory of the Meta-Universe”.”

And she was telling him that…why? “Okay, so how does this help us?”

She swallowed. “It confirms one of the most debated theories among the Aschen science community, sir. We’ve just found proof that parallel universes exist next to our own. More than that, apparently the Ancients created a device allowing them to access those universes.”

“Okay.” Jack nodded, and held her gaze, a blank expression on his face. “So how does this help us?”

“Um… I guess it doesn’t. Not really.”

“Excuse me.” Older Carter took a step towards Sam. “The Aschen science community?”

Sam nodded. “Yes. The Aschen made most of our scientific discoveries since they arrived. Most humans are forbidden to study the sciences. I’m surprised they allow you to work in science.”

Older Carter shook her head. “We don’t even have anything to do with the Aschen. We ran into them about three years ago, but we made sure not to let them get a foothold on Earth. They’re not very nice people in our universe.”

“Well, there’s something we got in common.” Jack growled. “Smart move. You know, not dealing with them and all.”

Older Jack shrugged with a blank expression. “Yeah, well, we have our moments.” He scratched his head, and turned to Older Carter. “Shouldn’t we send them back before that time-cascade stuff starts, and things turn ugly?”

“Sir.” Older Carter stared at him. “Don’t you want to know the reason for why they’re here? Up to now, there was always some profound impact on our reality whenever somebody visited. We gained valuable knowledge. It can’t be a coincidence they showed up here.”

“Actually.” Jack cleared his throat. Both their older versions turned to look at him. “It kinda was. Carter started touching things, and, well, here we are.”

“Now that…” Older Jack pointed a finger at the younger version of himself. “Sounds eerily familiar.”

Jack smirked when both Carters rolled their eyes. Just that the older one had the decency to amend her slip-up with a muttered “sorry, sir”.

Older Jack looked at his watch and sighed. “Listen. Why don’t we all go to the mess hall, have some cake, and you Carters can update each other on the techno-stuff. Since they’re obviously no impostors, there’s no need for heavy security.” He waved the guards in front of the door away.

“Um, Jack?” A familiar voice drifted from behind Older Jack.

Oh, you gotta be kidding me. Jack raised his eyebrows when Daniel—well, a somewhat older version of Daniel with shorter hair—entered the room. “Daniel.”

The archeologist folded his arms and looked at the older man. “Jack? What’s going on?”

“Um, Daniel, meet Carter and myself from another universe.” Older Jack looked around. “This just never gets old.”

“I guess the fact that they recognize me at least means I’m not dead where they come from.” Daniel pushed his glasses up on his nose, studying them.

Sam shook her head. “No, you’re not dead. Why would you think that?”

“Oh, I seem to have a tendency to, um, die in alternate universes.” Daniel smiled.

Older Jack gave him a wry look. “In alternate universes?”

Daniel rolled his eyes at him.

Apparently very interesting things were going on in this universe. Maybe Carter—the other Carter—was right and this was worth a closer look.

Older Jack turned to Daniel. “We were about to go the commissary and have some cake. Why don’t you join us?”

“Yeah, um, sure.” Grinning, the archeologist turned around. “Too bad Teal’c’s off-world at the moment. He would’ve enjoyed this.”

Blue and transparent. Really? Who in their right mind would ever eat this kind of stuff? Sam winced as the wobbly mass dropped from her spoon back down into the glass. She lifted her gaze. Her older counterpart swallowed some of it.

“You should try it, it’s delicious.”

“And you’re sure this stuff’s edible?”

“Yeah. I eat it all the time.”

Okay. Well, in that case. Hesitantly, she moved the spoon into her mouth. Odd consistency. Sweet taste, but not too sweet. Delicious. “Oh, this is really good.”

“The blue one’s the best.”

They grinned at each other. Then Sam realized the three men sitting at the same table gave them wide-eyed stares. Brows raised, she turned her head and looked from Older Jack to Daniel, to her Jack.

“What?” She and her counterpart asked in unison.

Older Jack shook his head. “Okay, that’s just plain eerie.”

“No kidding.” Jack took another piece of cake.

Sam chuckled. As if watching him and his counterpart both eat cake and wriggle their fork around with that same blank expression on their faces was any less odd.

Older Carter smiled at her. “So, I think we’ve established the determining factors for the differences in our realities. In our universe, the Aschen didn’t have their own dialing device. They could never venture out into the galaxy because they didn’t have many gate addresses, and relied on outside sources for obtaining coordinates. They only dialed a few planets in their immediate proximity.”

Sam took another spoonful of blue. “In our universe, the Aschen devised a program to control the dialing device with their own computers.”

“Wow. That means they must have been to many planets.” Older Carter played with her spoon.

“Yes, they have a huge confederation of planets. But what about your universe? If the Aschen never gained that kind of power, does that mean…?”

Older Carter nodded. “Earth is free. But in our galaxy, the Goa’uld are the ruling power. We’re working with the Tok’ra and some rebel Jaffa to overthrow them, and so far we’ve taken quite a few down. One of the rebel Jaffa is part of SG-1 actually. Teal’c.”

“We didn’t know there were rebel Jaffa.” Jack played with a piece of cake on his fork.

“Well.” Daniel leaned back in his chair. “In your reality they might not exist if the Goa’uld are only a minor force.”

“What about the Tok’ra?” Older Sam looked up.

Sam scrunched her brows. “Who are they?”

“They’re the Goa’uld’s version of resistance against the system lords. They’ve existed for millennia. If the differences in our universes only date back a few hundred years, they might exist in yours.”

“Wow. A Goa’uld resistance? We didn’t even consider the possibility there might be such a thing.”

“Well, what about the Asgard?” Older Jack eyed a piece of cake he balanced on a fork in front of him. “They made this whole protected planets treaty a coupla millennia ago. Shouldn’t they do something about the Aschen?”

Sam fought a smile. Those two men were so eerily similar in their behavior, their gestures, and their looks. She cleared her throat. “Asgard?”

“They’re a very advanced race from another galaxy, who, at least in our universe, made a treaty with the Goa’uld to protect life on certain planets.” Daniel looked at Older Jack. “Jack, I don’t think the protective planet’s treaty would include the Aschen. In our universe, that’s an agreement between the Asgard and the Goa’uld. You’ve seen how the Asgard react when protected worlds are threatened by other races or even natural catastrophes.”

Older Jack rolled his eyes. “After all the times we’ve saved their grey little asses you’d think they’d be more grateful.”

Older Sam stifled a giggle.

Daniel cleared his throat. “Besides, the Asgard might have never even set foot into our galaxy in their reality.”

“Too bad.” Jack straightened. “Sounds like they’re powerful enough of be of real help.”

“Yeah.” Older Jack grimaced. “I wouldn’t count on it.”

“Okay, now I have a question.” Jack turned to Sam and her older counterpart. “You say we’ve switched universes. But what’s with this time travel thing?”

“Sir?” Sam raised her eyebrows.

“Well, look at them. They’re older than we are, aren’t they? As far as I’ve understood—and correct me if I am wrong—the mirror lets us travel to another universe. To the same point in time. Shouldn’t we be, you know, the same age and all?”

She smiled at him. He had actually listened to their conversation. Her heart warmed. “Technically, you’re absolutely right.”

“I am?” He looked at almost startled as though he were surprised, then a proud smile played around his lips. Damn, he was cute. “But why does it look as though we were transported into the future?”

“I think the effect we’re seeing is the result of the differences in our universes. It might also result from the Aschen vaccines that double our lifespan.” Sam turned to her older counterpart. “What year is it for you?”

“2004.”

She turned back to Jack. “I think that’s the same year. Daniel—our Daniel—once told me that, before the Aschen arrived, we used a religious measurement of counting years. The last year we counted that way was 1204. That’s the year the Aschen arrived on Earth. This year we marks the eight-hundredth anniversary of the Aschen arrival, so if you add up those two, you get 2004.”

Older Carter pushed her empty bowl to the middle of the table. “That, and with all the differences in our realities, it’s not unreasonable to assume you might have been born a few years later than we were. Theoretically, it’s possible.”

Older Jack stared at her. “But with all the differences, the decline in their population… How likely is it that all of us—you, me, Daniel, Janet—would still be born?” He poked the last piece of cake on his plate.

“Well…”

“Actually…”

Sam shifted her gaze to her counterpart. Older Carter looked as clueless as she felt, before she shrugged. “It is possible, sir. If all of our ancestors were born and met. It’s also possible to have variations that still lead to the same result. I’ll admit, the chances for it happening are remote, but not impossible. There are probably quite a few universes out there where something similar happened. There must also be a lot of universes where we don’t even exist.”

“You know, I’ll never get this whole alternate universe stuff.” Older Jack rubbed his temples.

Next to Sam, Jack shifted. “Yeah. Which universe is actually real?”

“I asked that question.” Older Jack straightened and looked at older Carter. “Didn’t I ask that question?”

Older Carter smiled. “Well, sirs, there’s an infinite number of universes, all of which are equally real.”

Older Jack groaned. “This is giving me a headache.”

“Sorry, sir.”

Smirking, Jack nudged Sam. “He’s right, some things are the same here.”

She giggled and trailed her fingers across his arm under the table. “What I’d like to know is, how do we get back? You said the mirror transported us here, so can we return to our own universe using it?”

“Yes.” Older Sam nodded. “I already sent out the order for the device to be shipped here. It’s on its way as we speak. And since you had the remote on you, returning should be simple. According to Dr. Weir, the mirror wasn’t shut off.”

“Wait, what? What remote?” Sam stared at her.

Older Sam pulled a device out of her pocket and placed it on the table. Unnamed Artifact Number 153. Sam groaned and turned her head to Jack, who looked equally dumbfounded.

“Oh my God. Sir. This is why the mirror suddenly started working. I was wondering how that happened, because I’d barely touched anything. You activated it with the remote.”

Jack swallowed visibly, then shifted. “You told me this thing didn’t do anything.”

“That’s what we thought.” She picked up the remote and studied it. “There was no measurable current. We never even considered the possibility it might be tied to another artifact.”

“Yeah, well.” Jack cleared his throat. “Let’s not dwell, but focus on getting back, shall we?” He looked at Older Jack. “You will let us return, right?”

“Of course. Besides, even if we wanted to keep you here, we couldn’t because of that cascading… Carter?” He looked at Older Sam.

She nodded. “If you don’t return to your own universe soon, you’ll both experience entropic cascade failure. Two versions of the same person cannot exist in the same universe without creating a severe disruption.”

Sam raised her brows and caught Jack’s gaze as she turned. “Carter?”

“Dr. Kearen theorized in his paper about the Aschen Metaverse Theory, that it’s physically impossible for two identical particles from different universes to remain in the same universe for long. If I understand it correctly, their universe will practically start pushing us out by force.”

“Ouch. That sounds painful.”

“Yeah.” Older Jack grimaced. “Not a pretty sight either.”

“It’ll ultimately result in your death, but the effect only shows after about forty-eight hours. Counting your short detainment in Antarctica and your transport here, you’ve been here for about sixteen hours, so you should be fine.” Older Sam leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. “I ordered the mirror to be transported here as soon as Dr. Weir emailed a picture of it.”

“So, now what?” Jack looked from Sam to her older counterpart. “We just sit back and wait?”

Older Jack cleared his throat. “Carter, why don’t you take, um, yourself to your lab and see that you compile files of all the information useful to these two. Daniel, you do the same. Find them some information on stuff we encountered. Like the location of Tok’ra bases in our universe, info about the Goa’uld and their technology. Our files on the Aschen. The Ancients. Ancient Egypt. You get the idea.”

“Sir, you do realize, it’s unlikely the Tok’ra will have their bases on the same planets in their universe?”

Older Jack shrugged. “Copy the material anyway. And I want that mirror destroyed as soon as they’re back in their own reality, universe, whatever.”

“That might not have any effect at all.”

“I don’t care, Carter. I don’t want this damn thing standing around.”

“Yes, sir.”

“So, no politics, eh?”

Jack smirked. “Nope.”

He and his counterpart strolled through the cement-gray corridors of the underground base. During the past few hours, Jack had learned to ignore the half-confused, half-fascinated glances, soldiers and scientists who passed by threw at them. To be honest, he’d probably have that same look on his face if he weren’t affected.

“Damn, I wish I didn’t have to deal with those Washington goons.” Older Jack released a long sigh.

Yeah, Jack didn’t envy the man. From what he’d heard, the government seemed very counterproductive to getting anything done. How little the resistance would’ve accomplished had he been forced to clear every single one of his steps with some bureaucrat who had no practical idea of what was going on.

And here he’d always thought filing everything that happened into a report for the archives was a nuisance. This universe was ridiculous in comparison.

“You know, your universe sounds like a pretty comfortable place. Aschen aside.”

“Yeah, I noticed you got a few problems here. According to Carter, those engines in your vehicles were outlawed by the Aschen because of their devastating effects on the environment. I’m sure she could provide you with Aschen technologies to replace them.”

“The problem isn’t lack of technology. We have powerful lobbies who have monetary interests in the way things are here.”

“Ah.” Jack flinched. “Politics again?”

“Yeah. Always comes down to those bureaucrats in Washington. And whomever they received their campaign funding from.”

“Their what?” Jack stared at him.

Older Jack waved it off. “Not important. Finer details of our government.”

Again, Jack nodded.

They grew silent as they approached Carter’s laboratory. The other Carter’s laboratory. Damn, this was confusing. Hopefully they could return to their own universe soon. With only one Carter. His.

The women’s voices drifted out into the hallway. Apparently, they were still immersed in their technobabble. Carter—his—wouldn’t’ be thrilled if he told her the mirror had arrived. They could return home. And with that cascading failure thing threatening to hit, he didn’t wanna take any chances.

Neither of the women noticed them entering the room. Daniel had joined them. Two large boxes, apparently filled with files, rested on the desk.

Daniel grinned at them. “Jacks.” Oh, he was enjoying this, wasn’t he? Funny, the Daniel in his universe would’ve too.

“Jack.” Sam beamed at him. His heart jumped. As much as her technobabble annoyed him sometimes, her sweet enthusiasm made up for it. “You won’t believe all the information that—”

“Carter.” He smirked. Just in time. He’d felt a scientific lecture coming that would have left him dizzy. “You and Daniel—our Daniel—will have all the time in the world to read through the materials and brief me in detail. Once we’re back in our universe. To be honest, that cascading thing worries me.”

“Oh, you should still be safe.” Older Carter gave him that same beaming smile.

Damn. Jack swallowed. Two of them wooing him with that smile was even worse. On the other hand… Interesting possibilities opened up. Bad train of thought. Very bad.

“Carter.” Older Jack stepped towards the desk and raised his brows as he looked over the chaos of files and books. “I’d still prefer they left as soon as possible. Having that damn mirror standing around in my office makes me a little queasy. Besides, in exactly two hours my daily report to the president is due. I don’t wanna give those NID guys a chance to come up with a reason for holding them here.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sam sighed and closed the book. “Too bad. I would have loved to learn more about your quantum physics theories. You guys are so much more advanced than we are. The Aschen don’t give us access to their scientific research.”

Older Sam smiled at her. “Take the book.” She handed it to Sam.

“Oh, no, I can’t accept this.”

“I’ll just buy new ones on amazon.” Older Carter grinned, then she scrunched her brows. “Actually, why don’t you…” She went to one of the shelves in the corner, and started pulling out books here and there.

Older Jack frowned. “Um, Carter?”

“I know, sir, they’re Air Force property. If you insist I’ll replace them all myself.” She pulled three thick volumes from the shelf.

“There’s that.” Older Jack’s brows climbed as the pile of books grew larger. “But I was more thinking along the lines of, how are they supposed to carry all this?”

Good question. Jack folded his arms.

“Oh.” Older Sam looked around, then leaned up to pull one of the boxes down from the shelf. After a critical look inside, she emptied the contents onto a chair and placed the books in the box. When she was done, she beamed at them. “Here.” She placed the box on the table. “These are all the recent publications on quantum mechanics, wormhole physics, and some basic introductory volumes used at universities.”

“Thank you.” Sam ran her fingers over the cover of the book lying on top as though it was the most precious treasure anybody had ever given her. God, he loved that woman. “You have no idea how invaluable all of this is.”

Jack leaned against the wall behind him. How ironic, that even in this universe their counterparts knew each other. Were friends. Maybe even more? He’d never believed in the romantic notion of fate, but what were the odds? With all the differences, they had still met.

Daniel approached him. “Hey, can I ask you something?” He threw an odd sidelong glance at Older Jack.

“Sure.” Jack nodded.

“We’ve met a couple of alternate universe ‘yous’ in the past. And all of them were…” He cleared his throat. “Well, all of you were together.” He nodded towards Sam. “Are you two…?”

“Yeah.” Jack nodded. He looked at his older version, who’d grown conspicuously quiet. “You and her aren’t…?”

The older man cleared his throat. “Not really, no. It’s against regulations. I’m her commanding officer.”

Another one of those finer political details that made him glad all he had to deal with was reports. And the Aschen. “That the only reason?”

Daniel readjusted his glasses with visible interest.

Older Jack coughed.

Damn, maybe it wasn’t wise to meddle in the relationship between the two. “I mean, I’m her superior, but so far it’s working great.”

“It’s not just that. She’s kinda with somebody else.”

“Pete.” Daniel folded his arms.

“Pete?” Jack stared at him. One thing was for sure. If he ever came across a guy named Pete in his universe, he’d be very careful around him.

“Yeah. Apparently he’s a cop or something.” Again, Older Jack cleared his throat and shrugged as though he didn’t care. His facial expression told an entirely different story.

Both Sams had gone quiet, undoubtedly overhearing their conversation. Older Sam lowered her eyes without looking at her superior officer.

Jack caught Sam’s gaze and gave her a subtle nod. Apparently they’d stepped into a bee’s nest with that conversation. Excellent time to leave. Sam picked up the box with her books, and Jack walked to the desk to take the ones with the files.

“So you two met in the resistance?” Older Sam eyed him, curiosity mixing with something else on her face. Regret?

Jack studied her. The way she looked at him and his older counterpart. Her awkwardness. Her dilating pupils. Definitely attraction. Probably more, judging from her facial expression. Well, it wasn’t his business.

“Kinda.” Jack nodded. “Her father set us up, so we were already married when we met. I didn’t know who she was, though. And she didn’t know I was the guy her father’d chosen.”

“Dad?” Older Sam’s eyes widened.

Sam gave a quick summary of how her father’d informed her of her marriage, and how she’d run away.

Older Jack stared at her. “Jacob? Your dad set you two up?”

“Yeah.”

Older Jack’s eyes gleamed. “Gotta love dad.” He grinned at older Carter, who attempted a nonchalant smile and failed. Clearing his throat, he became serious again. “You were opposed to the arrangement, then met by chance and fell in love unaware of your identities?”

“Pretty much.” Jack nodded and picked up the boxes.

“I’m sorry, but am I the only one who thinks this sounds like one of those cliché romance novels?”

Now that he mentioned it… “Actually, it does a little bit.” Jack turned around.

Both Sams stared at Older Jack, who cleared his throat once more. “Well, I’m just saying. Somebody should write the author a letter. Or something.”

Older Sam failed to cover up a chuckle. Apparently a desired effect. A smirk played around Older Jack’s mouth. “Alright kids, shall we?”

Through the reflective surface of the quantum mirror in front of them, the underground cave of Antarctica shimmered like a distant dream. Swallowing hard, Sam turned.

Older Sam, Older Jack, Daniel… They all smiled. They’d never see each other again. “Thank you for everything. You have no idea how much this information will help us.”

She pulled her counterpart into a close hug, then squeezed her hands.

Older Sam smiled. “Kick the Aschen’s butt.”

“Will do.” Sam turned to Daniel and took the box of books he held. “Thank you, Daniel.”

“I left a note in there for the Daniel in your universe.” The archeologist waved at a note on top of the books. “A lot of my notes point to material in other files. There’s a reference sheet on top of the first file. And—”

“Daniel.” Older Jack placed a hand on his arm. “He’s smart. I’m sure he’ll figure it out.”

Sam looked at him. The future version of her Jack. Gray hair. The fine lines around his eyes, but deeper, more distinguished. That same warm sparkle in his eyes, that same smirk. Handsome. Her stomach fluttered. Age really suited him. “Sir.” If only her voice didn’t tremble so much. “Thank you.”

“Always.” He touched her arm. His warmth burned through her shirt. Same face, different man. And yet… Always. That same promise her Jack had once given her. Her heart swelled as she turned to step back towards the quantum mirror.

“Jack.” Jack cleared his throat. “Thanks.”

“Pshaw. Here, I had Carter make you this.” Older Jack handed him a crystal.

Jack stared at it, obviously clueless as to what to do with it.

“It’s a Goa’uld storage crystal. I had one of our scientists put some episodes of the Simpsons on there. I’m sure your Carter will figure out how to access it.”

Sam glanced at the crystal. “Shouldn’t be a problem, sir. What are ‘Simpsons’?”

“Ah, that’s just, you know, a tv show. Every universe should have a Homer.”

Older Sam lowered her head to hide a chuckle.

“Thank you. I guess.” Jack turned to Older Carter. “Um, Carter.”

“Sir.”

He turned to Sam. “Ready?”

“Ready, sir.” She looked at her box of books. Jack turned to the table and picked up the two boxes of files.

“Oh, wait.” Older Sam pulled the remote—Unnamed Artifact Number 153—out of her back pocket, and placed it on top of the files. “You might still need that.”

Jack winced. “I think we’re gonna follow your example and destroy this mirror as soon as we’re back.”

Sam stared at him. “But sir. Think of all the—”

“Carter.”

She flinched. He was right, of course. From what her other self had told her, this quantum mirror usually caused more problems than it was worth. “Yes, sir.”

Jack nudged her. She gave him a smile.

“So.” He scrunched his brows. “How do we do this? Just touch it?”

“Yes, sir.” Sam reached out her hand.

Jack hooked the two boxes under his arm, then followed her example.

A jolt shot through Sam, then her surroundings changed in a dizzying flash. Office walls and bookshelves morphed into smooth gray walls. The temperature plummeted a few degrees. The scent of pines and earth filled her nostrils.

Next to her, Jack withdrew his hand from the device. “Wow.”

Sam smiled at the surface of the mirror. Their older reflections stared back at them, like the distant memory of a strange dream. Older Sam lifted her hand and waved.

Then the surface turned black and the books she carried were the only reminder of their glimpse into that bizarre other universe.

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