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rocketfic | as one hand

Title: As One Hand by Rocketchick
Rating: 15+ Pairing: Sam/Janet
Notes: Part 3 of 9 of the Ancient Air Series. Sequel to Darkly Within.


Seemed sort of adolescent.


Nah, sounded like they ran a law firm.


Hmm. Potential there.

Best friend with heretofore hidden talents that could make a grown woman weep?

Getting warmer... Oh yeah. Definitely warmer. Sam fanned herself a bit as she felt a sudden flush bloom from under her collar.

She'd been sporting an indelible grin for the past two weeks, and even Colonel O'Neill had grown tired of teasing her about it. Now out on SG-1's latest jump, they were exploring a thoroughly uninteresting planet with thoroughly uninteresting people who had thoroughly uninteresting technology, but she could barely stop herself from bouncing around like a kid on Christmas.

They spent one last evening with the natives so they could be adopted into the local tribe, assured by Daniel's translations that participating in the requisite ceremony would foster valuable brotherhood and trust. It was an odd ritual that involved a lot of body paint and strong incense, and by the end of it the team was more than ready to jump home.

Sam hummed under her breath in barely controlled impatience as Daniel dialed the sequence to get them back to Earth. O'Neill watched her in bemusement for a bit before needling at her one last time. "So, any big plans for the weekend, Carter?"

"Road trip, sir. Doctor Fraiser and I are taking Cassie for a little sight-seeing," she answered. Just thinking about Janet brought back the perma-grin in full force.

"Sounds... fun?" O'Neill said, his tone implying it actually sounded anything but.

She shrugged at him as the gate flared open, and her eyes were sparkling with some vibrant emotion he'd never seen before. "I'm really looking forward to it," she said simply, then turned and bounded through the gate.

O'Neill stared after her in puzzlement, trying to remember if he'd ever seen his 2IC so damn chipper.

He was, in fact, so wrapped up in speculating about Sam's behavior that he didn't notice his post-jump physical was the quickest and least painful he'd ever gotten from Doctor Fraiser. It was almost like she wanted to hurry him out of there...

"Hey, Doc," Sam growled as Janet pressed a stethoscope to her chest, grateful that the rest of the team had been cleared and sent on their way.

Janet's eyes flicked up at Sam's, the gaze burning with intensity. "Major," she purred in response.

Sam tried desperately to think of something seductive to say, some witty double entendre, some clever come on, but found she couldn't. Instead her face split into the helpless grin she'd been unable to contain during her time offworld and her brain practically misfired with the sheer happiness of being around Janet once more.

The doctor's poker face was a bit more resilient than Sam's. "Did you miss me?"

The blonde nodded a few times in response, thoroughly unable to stop smiling.

Janet tossed her stethoscope over her shoulder. "I missed you too." She and Sam spent a few long moments lost in each other's eyes, and she noticed that the blonde's idiotic grinning was contagious. She quickly finished the check and shooed the major out of the infirmary before being tempted to do something that would get them both in a lot of trouble, and secured Sam's promise that they would go home together as soon as SG-1's debriefing had been completed.

It was their third such reunion since they'd become lovers. Janet found that it was suddenly sheer torture watching Sam gate out, but of course it made her return that much sweeter.

The doctor had had no idea an intimate relationship could be like this. Their friendship seemed only to grow alongside their mutual sexual discovery, and often after making love they spent hours awake in each other's arms, talking and laughing, or just quietly absorbing the tender companionship.

That night was to be a short one, however. Sam slipped away soon after Cassie had gone to bed, but only after receiving a very thorough welcome-home-kiss from Janet. She reluctantly extracted herself, needing to go back to her own apartment to pack for their trip. On parting she'd assured Janet that she'd be by to pick them up early the next morning, having arranged "special transportation" for their outing.

"What should I pack?" Cassie yelled from her room just after dawn.

"A little bit of everything," Janet called back as she folded a flannel shirt into her suitcase.

Her daughter thumped into the master bedroom. "That's not nearly enough information."

"It's just a few days, Cass. Grab a couple shirts, some underwear, you're set."

Cassie folded her arms over her chest. "She didn't tell you where we're going either, did she?"

"No, she said it was a surprise."

The teenager stared at her mother in consternation for a few seconds, then shrugged and returned to her own room.

A car horn sounded from outside, and Janet found herself bounding down the stairs in anticipation of seeing Sam again. She pulled the front door open, and let out a surprised laugh at the sight in her driveway. Sam was at the wheel of an enormous cherry red convertible, some 60s-era Cadillac, wearing sunglasses and a wicked, wicked grin.

"Oh. My. God," came the low voice at Janet's shoulder as her daughter peered out past her.

Sam hopped out of the car, and strolled up the front path backwards, as if she couldn't tear her eyes away from the vehicle. Janet and Cassie met her halfway.

"Where on earth did you get that thing?" the doctor asked as she twined an arm around Sam's waist.

"Lieutenant Mitchell restores old cars in his spare time. He owed me a favor," Sam answered breathily. "A very big favor." She glanced down at Janet, and spread her hands to indicate the breadth of the well-kept automobile. "Isn't it amazing?"

"Totally amazing," the brunette answered, looking back at her with such adoration that it was clear she wasn't just talking about the car. Sam looked down at her from over her sunglasses with a bashful smile.

"You know, I just got my driver's permit..." Cassie volunteered as she eyed the car hopefully.

"Don't even think about it," Sam and Janet managed to say at the same time.

The surprise destination turned out to be a quiet spot in southwestern Colorado, and an exploration of the Native American Anasazi ruins left in the canyons there. "Because the Anasazi were really important on the X-Files," Sam explained seriously.

The car drove like a dream, and the wind whipped their hair around wildly in gorgeous spring sunshine. After a couple hours on the road Cassie even managed to forget she was a teenager who couldn't possibly enjoy spending time with parental-type adults, and the time passed quickly as they sped through the mountains.

They spent most of the day driving, and arrived in the little town of Dolores just after sundown. The next morning they ventured out to the park site.

"This little dancing guy would make such a cool tattoo," Cassie said as she toyed with a colorful Kokopeli necklace.

"Not a chance in hell," Janet replied automatically, steering her daughter out of the gift shop.

Sam was waiting in the parking lot, leaning against the borrowed red convertible and staring off at the pueblos. The dry wind ruffled through her short hair and caught the hem of her denim jacket with dramatic flair. Janet watched her for a long moment and shook her head fondly, knowing the blonde had no idea that she looked like she'd just stepped out of a Gap commercial.

"So why did we drive nine hours out to the middle of nowhere?" the girl whined, kicking dust into the air with a scuffed tennis shoe.

"Because it's educational," Janet said in a patient mom-voice that belied her relatively short tenure as a parent. "And because it's fairly close to the base if we get recalled." Sam saw them approach, and pushed herself off the car to meet them. "And because Sam thinks this stuff is cool."

"It is cool," the blonde insisted with a sunny grin as she drew up in front of them. Janet mirrored the smile and they mutually turned to look at Cassie, who only snorted in disbelief.

"C'mon, the tour starts in a few minutes," Janet announced, and they moved to join the group of people gathering at the entrance. Cassandra strode purposefully ahead, keeping a respectable teenaged distance from her mother and feigning utter disinterest in their surroundings. Janet and Sam shared a smile, then set off after her.

"Have you thought at all about what we're going to tell her about us?" Sam murmured.

"Ten bucks says she's figured it out already," the brunette answered dryly.

The blonde skidded to a halt and looked down at her in alarm. "You think so?"

"Well, maybe not the explicit details, but I think she's got an inkling..." Janet watched as Sam looked like she was about to panic. "Sam, we're not being terribly discrete here. We've been spending practically all our time off together, and practically all of that time flirting with each other."

Flirting? At that, Sam looked between them and noticed for the first time the subtle but definite sharing of personal space, and the casual yet intimate gesture as Janet tugged on the sleeve of her denim jacket. Oh. She cast a look over at Cassie, who was trying very hard to maintain her I'm-entirely-too-cool-for-this facade and not paying the slightest attention to her designated parents.

Sam sighed. Once again, this was more complicated than it should have been. They were out of uniform, but they still had to be careful. And they still had to have a talk with Cassie, who might or might not be totally okay with this evolution in their relationship, and might or might not accidentally mention it to someone who just didn't need to know.

Another look at Janet told her that the doctor was thinking along the exact same lines, but as their eyes met and held, Sam realized that the inherent risks were absolutely, utterly worth it. She smiled down at the smaller woman with sudden confidence. "Okay. So we'll chat on the way back home."

Janet smiled in relief and hooked her arm through Sam's as they drew even closer to the tour group.

"Ladies and gentlemen," called a cheerful voice from somewhere in the front of the group. "Welcome to the Anasazi Historical Center. My name is Bob, I'll be your guide today..."

Sam tuned out most of the tour guide's rote prattle, looking out instead at the gauzy clouds brushed across the sky. It was such an unexpected joy, doing something so very ordinary with the people she considered her family, and just for a moment forgetting about the SGC and all its attendant responsibilities.

At the guide's cue, the group started to converge and file past him down a narrow path he helpfully pointed out. Sam and Janet lagged near the rear of the group, and the smaller woman ducked behind Sam as the space constricted.

As they neared the head of the path, Sam caught her first good look at the tour guide and stopped dead in her tracks, then felt Janet collide with her back. "Hey!" the smaller woman yelped in alarm as she scooted around to Sam's side. She froze when she saw who the blonde was looking at, gaping in sheer disbelief for a moment before looking up and sharing a dumbfounded look with Sam.

The tour guide was the spitting image of a man they'd never seen in this reality, only a representation caught within a wormhole -- Valosh Med, the Seer of the Eloyim, a man Sam thought she'd inadvertently killed.

Only now he was standing before them in a khaki tour guide uniform, complete with hiking boots and a sweat-stained ballcap.

He smiled kindly at them as they stared. "You ladies all right? You look like you've seen a ghost."

They stared at the tour guide for a long moment, then looked back at each other.

"I'm sorry, is there a problem?" he asked, sounding more concerned.

"N-no. No problem," Janet stammered finally. "You just remind us of a friend of ours."

He nodded dubiously. "Oookay then... you'll excuse me..." He hurried away to catch up to the group and begin the tour.

"This is too weird," Sam muttered. She looked down at Janet. "What the hell is going on here?"

"I don't know," the doctor answered with a shake of her head. "But I think we need to follow him." She looked back up at Sam, seeing her incredulous expression. "Trust me on this one, Sam." She wrapped her hand around Sam's and tugged her along.

"You're standing in a 'kiva,'" Bob the tour guide announced as he hopped up on a small stone step to look out over the entire group. "This was a major center of religious symbolism for the people who dwelled in the pueblos." His voice droned on as he described rituals of fire and cornmeal.

At Janet's insistence, they had continued with the tour, not without a few sidelong looks from the other visitors as Sam muttered to herself, trying to reason out an explanation for this new odd turn of events. Cassie followed the tour dutifully, but threw the occasional concerned look their way.

"So did Valosh Med coincidentally look like a tour guide, or does the tour guide coincidentally look like an ancient alien prophet?" Sam asked, not entirely to Janet.

The doctor was splitting her attention between the tour guide's lecture and the thinking aloud going on behind her. "Sam, wait a second," she whispered with a little impatient gesture, hoping to get Sam to hush for a moment while she listened to the guide describe the Anasazi conception of human soul creation. Something about this place was important. She didn't know what it was, and she didn't even know how she knew that.

Sam quieted, and Janet turned her full concentration to the guide's lecture. She had just opened her mouth to ask him a question when she heard Sam slump to the ground behind her.

Sam had been walking under a ladder in the rear of the small building, staring up it and out to the sky above, when her vision suddenly tunneled and she staggered. She could hear Janet calling to her, but could not answer. It almost felt as if her perception had detached from her body, climbed the ladder, and soared out into the open sky.

It didn't stop there. In her mind's eye she was accelerating out of the atmosphere, into orbit, then cast as if by slingshot out into a vast area of open space. There it was dark, and untold energies swirled about her in a violent maelstrom.

Twin bolts of energy shot out from the space in front of her, slicing outward into the cosmos in eerie silence, then the darkness overtook her.

"I'm a doctor, would you please stand back," Janet ordered in her most professional voice, even as her insides jittered in near panic. Sam had collapsed into the ladder and slid bonelessly to the floor of the kiva, and now was unconscious and unresponsive.

Janet probed for injuries, checking Sam's exposed skin for animal bites or rashes, but other than her pallor and a slightly elevated heart rate, she appeared to be uninjured.

"Mom?" Cassie whispered worriedly at her shoulder.

"I don't know, Cass," she answered.

Bob kneeled across from Janet. "I've radioed the office, they're sending down our medics." He looked down at Sam's slack form, and for a second Janet swore she saw a very familiar soul looking out from his eyes. "I hope she's all right." He reached out and ran a comforting hand down the blonde's arm.

At his touch Sam jerked awake. "Arrafel!" she cried as she sat up in alarm, the foreign word nearly tearing itself out of her mouth. She looked around, disoriented. "Janet?"

"I'm here, Sam, take it easy," Janet responded as she wrapped a steadying arm around Sam's shoulders.

"Well, hey there, Sam. Glad to see you're back," the tour guide offered with a smile. Sam stared at him in confusion. He patted her leg a bit before standing up and addressing the other members of the group to calm them down and move them out of the small building.

"Sam, do you know what happened?" Janet asked as she checked the blonde's vitals once more.

"I was looking at the ladder," she replied, pointing feebly at the square of light visible in the ceiling.

"What does 'arrafel' mean?"

Sam thought about that, then shook her head. "I don't know." She gazed at Janet with wide eyes. "God, Janet, it was so dark..."

"Sam?" Cassie asked, her voice strained. She'd been hovering behind her mother, trying to stay out of the way and not bother anyone with the fact that she was scared out of her skin.

The blue eyes instantly regained their alert focus. "Cass, c'mere." She reached out to the girl, who practically dove at her for a hug. "I'm okay, sweetheart. Sorry for scaring you."

At that point two EMTs with first aid gear trooped into the building. Janet identified herself as a doctor, and relieved them of some equipment to continue checking Sam over.

After a few minutes of cold stethoscopes and blood pressure rings, Sam's cell phone rang. She dug it out of her pocket and flipped it open.

"Major Carter?"

"Yes sir," Sam responded, recognizing the voice of General Hammond on the other end.

"I'm sorry to bother you while you're on leave, but your father has just dropped in for an unexpected visit," he stated placidly, knowing she would understand the subtext of the message even over an unsecured transmission. "He was hoping to talk to you."

"Well, we were just heading back, sir," Sam announced, eyeing Janet, who nodded.

"Glad to hear it, Major. I'll tell him to expect you."

Sam flipped the phone shut after the general disconnected. "My father's shown up on base," she said by way of explanation.

Janet helped pack away the borrowed emergency gear. "Well, I think you're okay, but I'd feel better if we got you back to base anyway. Let's go home."

The EMTs helped pull Sam upright, and she walked slowly under her own power out of the kiva and back up the canyon path, trailed by a vigilant Janet and Cassie.

None of them saw Bob the tour guide watching them with a smile as they left.

Sam sat in the passenger seat of the convertible, staring past the side mirror at the landscape as it blurred by. Janet was driving them home, deliberately ignoring the speed limit as she concentrated on the curves in the road. Cassandra sat in the back seat, also apparently quite pensive.

It was just after sundown, and Janet estimated they had another two hours to go before getting back home, then undoubtedly whatever news Jacob Carter brought back would keep Sam up the rest of the night. She felt her jaw clench with tense worry, having the distinct uneasy feeling that the senior Carter's unannounced visit and Sam's experience at the ruins were somehow related.

What neither of them admitted but both of them knew was that whatever Sam had seen, and whatever coincidence of genetics that had made Bob the tour guide into a dead ringer for a dead prophet from another planet could only mean one thing. The Unrest the Seer from Eloy had predicted was drawing nearer.

"Hey Mom?" came a quiet voice in the back seat.

"Yes?" Janet answered.

"What does 'don't ask, don't tell' mean?"

The doctor nearly swerved the car off the road as she swung her head around to look at her daughter. Peripherally she noticed Sam had jerked to attention as well, her own ponderous thoughts very effectively halted for the moment.

"I mean, I know what it means," the teenager clarified. "I just don't get why it matters."

"Ah, well..." Janet stammered, as she looked to Sam for some help. The blonde just looked back with a mildly terrified expression that told Janet she'd be next to useless for this conversation. "Well," she began again. "Some people have a problem with gay people serving in the military, but there's no real way for them to stop it from happening, so they came up with this policy as sort of a compromise."

"Oh. Seems kinda stupid," Cassie mused aloud. Janet couldn't argue with that. She looked again to Sam, and in an entirely silent exchange they recalled their earlier resolution to have a talk with the teenager on their way home. Finally the doctor shrugged, tacitly volunteering to take the plunge.

"Cassie, there's something really important that we need to tell you," Janet said. "See... Sam and I... we're... well, we've become involved."

In the rearview mirror, the doctor watched teen eyebrows furrow a bit. "Involved... like dating?"

"Something like that," Janet answered.

"More serious than that, actually," Sam clarified, speaking up for the first time. She looked timidly at Janet. "Right?"

"Right," the brunette affirmed with a tender smile.

The girl looked between the two women for a moment. "Okay."

"Okay?" Janet repeated, incredulous at the brevity of her response.

Cassie shrugged. "Well, I kinda figured. My friend Natalie at school has two moms. It's no big deal. They're cool."

Janet sighed a bit in relief. At least the notion wasn't totally foreign to begin with.

"But you guys can't tell anyone about it, right?"

"Right, and Cass... I'm sorry, but neither can you," Janet replied with genuine regret.

The teenager's lips pursed as she considered that. "Okay," she said again, this time with a satisfied nod.

They were silent for a few minutes after that, and Janet realized she was holding her breath until her daughter piped up again.

"Hey Sam?"

"Yeah, Cass," Sam answered, in a slightly strangled voice. God only knew what incredibly difficult question the girl was likely to ask next.

"What was all that stuff about, on the tour?"

"Oh... the fate of the universe, probably," the blonde answered in an unexpected burst of honesty.

Cassie studied her for a moment, weighing the comment's veracity. "But the really important thing you guys needed to tell me is that you're gay?" She shook her head in disbelief. "Hello? Priorities?" She folded her arms and sat back in the large back seat, watching the scenery go by.

Sam exhaled a small laugh and looked over to Janet, who shook her head a little.

That was one hurdle crossed.

"Hey, Dad," Sam said as she greeted her father in the SGC briefing room with a hug.

"Sam," he responded warmly, returning the embrace. "How are you?"

"I'm good."

"How's that doctor friend of yours? And that kiddo you two are looking after?"

"Janet and Cassandra are fine."

"Good, good," he answered absently. They sat at the briefing table, and he looked her over a few times, clearly distracted.

"Dad? What's going on?" Sam asked, her voice tight with sudden anxiety. "Are you sick? Is there something wrong with Selmak?"

Her father smiled a bit. "We're both perfectly okay, Sammie. Listen, I have something of a farfetched story to tell you... Actually, I don't know that it's worth telling you at all, but Selmak has been quite insistent." He watched in fond amusement as her eyebrows drew together in illustration of almost painful curiosity, remembering that very same expression on a the face of the little girl he'd raised. "A few weeks ago I was traveling on a Tok'ra scoutship when our engine malfunctioned and started venting coolant. We had to set down on a nearby planet to repair it, and we ended up befriending some of the local natives. Turns out they'd been expecting my arrival, some prophecy they have about strangers from afar showing up when a comet appears in a western constellation..."

Realization hit her with a jolt. "The Eloyim," she murmured.

His eyes flashed suddenly as his symbiote gained control. "So you are familiar with these people," Selmak noted in that oddly echoing voice.

"In a manner of speaking. We found their original homeworld, which they fled when they were attacked by the Goa'uld. I met the one man who remained behind."

"Ah yes. The Seer."

"The Seer," Sam breathed in agreement. "But... they were expecting you?"

Her father came to the forefront once more. "They were expecting the father of someone they referred to as 'khug-shakan.' There were five of us on the scoutship, but I'm the only one with any children. Selmak figured it was important enough to get back here and tell you about it." He dug into a pocket and pulled out a piece of scratch paper, pushing it across the table to her. "Their Stargate coordinates, in case you feel a burning need to go there. They've got some scrolls and stuff they think will help you out with... something. They weren't terribly clear on that."

Sam accepted the note with a tense smile. "I think we'll be making the trip. Thanks, Dad."

"I'm guessing there's a heck of a story behind all this, huh?"

"Yeah. Yeah, there sure is." She sighed. "When I know how it ends, I'll tell you all about it."

He smiled back at her. "Well, there's something else I need to talk to you about."

She retrained her full attention on him, yanking her brain away from the tantalizing puzzle of the new home of the Eloyim. "What is it, Dad?"

"Have you ever wondered what the ninth chevron on that Stargate of yours does?"

Her brain did an abrupt left turn to keep up with him. "Uh, yeah, sure."

"So have the Goa'uld. They've spent generations studying it, trying different combinations... And we think they've figured it out, at least part of it."

"Really?" She leaned forward, leaning her elbows on the table. "So what does it do?"

"The short answer? It blows up a lot of stuff."

It was late by the time her father said goodbye and disappeared back through the Stargate to points unknown. It was even later by the time she'd rousted O'Neill, Teal'c, and Daniel to join her in the SGC briefing room. General Hammond even looked a bit tired by the time he gave Sam the go-ahead to start explaining the information her father had given her.

"The Tok'ra believe the Goa'uld have found a potential use for the ninth chevron on the Stargate," she said without preamble.

"Wait, the ninth chevron? We haven't even managed to make the eighth work again since that time Jack got reprogrammed by the library of the Ancients," Daniel pointed out.

O'Neill gave him a sour look. "Don't remember a thing," he muttered.

"Didn't you theorize that the eighth chevron was like dialing an area code? To add a distance variable to the sequence?" General Hammond asked Sam.

"That's correct, sir."

"So what does the ninth one do?"

"Well, sir, its original purpose still remains a mystery. But the Goa'uld have apparently figured out a way to use it as a potential weapon." Sam moved over to the dry erase board and picked up a marker, using it to make notations as she explained. "If the eighth variable is a matter of adding distance, on the scale of say thousands of light years, then the ninth could be a factor of time, or even of dimension."

"At one time Apophis dedicated large numbers of scientists to study the application of the ninth chevron, before abandoning such endeavors in pursuit of more immediate goals," Teal'c offered solemnly.

"Real instant gratification kinda guy," Jack interjected.

"Right," Sam confirmed. "The Goa'uld have been studying this on and off for hundreds of years. They've tried permutation after permutation, but have been completely unsuccessful until a couple of weeks ago." She moved now to the computer monitor. "Tok'ra operatives were keeping tabs on a Goa'uld fleet buildup in two neighboring star systems." She clicked through a couple stills of ships hovering menacingly over an unsuspecting planet. "After occupation, the Goa'uld set up shop next to each system's Stargate, building massive reactors to augment their power source." A few more images showing the construction efforts. Sam took a deep breath. "These pictures were the last transmission the Tok'ra received from their operatives. Both taken a few seconds apart, one from each of the systems the Goa'uld were occupying."

The images were of two different Stargates. Closer inspection revealed that all nine chevrons were indeed encoded, and that the wormhole had established. But instead of the placid bluish energy they normally associated with the gate's activation, stormy red waves seemed to cascade outward. In one of the pictures, serpent guards were visible as they ran from the gate in fear.

Daniel pushed himself away from the table to move closer to the monitor. "Except for the point of origin, the dialed locations are identical," he observed, as he squinted at the low resolution images.

"How is that possible?" Hammond demanded.

"I don't know yet, sir," Sam replied ruefully. "But however they did it, they also managed to make the two stars in these systems, as well as the star in the target system, all go nova within a matter of minutes of gate activation."

After a moment of stunned silence, O'Neill leaned forward. "They blew up three stars? Just... poof?" He snapped his fingers for emphasis.

"It sure looks that way, sir."

The teammates paused to give that information its due.

"Is Earth in any danger from these stars?" Hammond finally asked.

"Well, in about three hundred years we're in for one hell of a light show... But no, we're not in any immediate danger," Sam answered.

"Unless the Goa'uld figure out how to aim this at us," Daniel interjected.

Another grim moment of silence.

"Here's where you tell us the good news, Carter," O'Neill said dryly.

"Well, remember how much extra power you needed when you activated the eighth chevron to dial the Asgard?" Sam responded.

Colonel O'Neill's face twisted in a grimace. "Not really, no."

"It took ten times the amount of juice the gate needs normally," Hammond offered.

"Right. By my calculations, activating the ninth chevron would require a whole lot more than that. Roughly the maximum energy output of a Goa'uld mothership."

"So it'll take them no small effort to duplicate this effect," the general said.

Sam nodded, but a twist of her lips indicated it wasn't quite that simple. "When the stars went nova, several hundred Goa'uld ships were destroyed. The Tok'ra think several system lords have formed an alliance around this project. While most of their resources were wiped out, undoubtedly others could pick up where they left off, maybe forming an even larger alliance."

"I take it the Tok'ra are keeping a close eye on this situation, then?"

"Yes, sir. They've been studying this since it happened, and my father says he'll get us more information as soon as they have it."

"All right, we'll keep our ears open. Anything else, Major?"

Sam hesitated. "We're going to want to keep an eye on that area of space, maybe set up an observatory on a closer system. Preliminary indications are that whatever the Goa'uld did, they managed to warp space-time pretty significantly. If they do anything like this again, there's no telling what might happen."

"Maybe the Asgard could tell us more about the ninth chevron," Daniel said suddenly.

"We should get a hold of Thor and ask," O'Neill responded.

General Hammond was nodding. "Colonel, you figure out how to do just that. Major Carter, see what else you can find out about whatever the Goa'uld did." He looked around the table, waiting for more input. When none was forthcoming, he dismissed the team.

"Hey Daniel?" Sam asked, as the rest of the team filed out of the briefing room.

He stopped and turned back toward her. "Yeah?"

"Do you know what the words 'arrafel' or 'khug-shakan' mean?"

He cocked his head, his eyes shuttling back and forth as if performing an internal scan of his memory. "Well, they both sound Hebraic... 'arrafel' would be darkness. But thick or heavy, like smoke."

Sam inhaled sharply. The translation perfectly described what she witnessed in the kiva on the Anasazi grounds. But that still didn't explain why she said the word when she had snapped out of the vision.

"'Khug-shakan...'" Daniel murmured, still thinking. "I don't know about that one. Let me look some stuff up?"

"Sure," she answered with a nod. Thus tasked with a new linguistic puzzle to solve, he eagerly left the briefing room. Sam hardly noticed his disappearance, preoccupied instead with the growing mystery of the Eloyim, and the new growing threat from the Goa'uld.

Janet was sitting on her living room couch curled under a soft blanket while putting the finishing touches on a stack of paperwork she'd been ignoring for weeks. She heard the front door open, and moments later heard Sam pad quietly down the hall. "Hey," she greeted with a reflexive smile, as the blonde head poked around the corner.

"You're not waiting up for me, are you?" Sam asked guiltily.

"Nope. I just got so wrapped up in the joys of Air Force supply requisitions that time just slipped away from me," the brunette replied with a tiny smirk. She watched Sam force a smile in response, then pointed at the empty space on the couch next to her. "Siddown. Spill."

"It's after 2am," Sam protested, even as she sat where Janet had indicated. A gracefully arched eyebrow was Janet's only response. The blonde sighed and started from the beginning, telling Janet about her father, the new Goa'uld threat, the new homeworld of the Eloyim, and Daniel's translation.

While she talked Janet subtly encouraged her to scoot closer on the couch, until eventually she had her legs draped casually over Sam's lap, sharing the warmth of the blanket and the occasional comforting rub on her arm.

"So when are you going to the new Eloy?" Janet asked when Sam was done relaying the latest developments.

"I'll talk to General Hammond about it tomorrow, see if he'll let us drop by."

They sat together for a bit, and Janet heard the occasional creaking sound as the house settled in the chill night air. Sam's head was tilted up toward the ceiling and her eyes were closed, but Janet could tell by the rigid set of her shoulders that she wasn't yet asleep.

"What was it you saw today, on the tour?" Janet asked quietly.

Sam released an explosive sigh, and wrenched her eyes open. "The more I think about it, the more I think maybe what I saw was those stars dying," she admitted. "Arrafel. Impenetrable darkness..." She turned her head to regard Janet. "It was terrifying."

Janet watched her in silence for a long moment before speaking again. "It's started, hasn't it?"

It was asked tentatively, but they both knew what Janet was referring to. Unrest. Such a generic term, so vague.

So profoundly unnerving.

"Yeah, I think so," Sam answered softly. "I was hoping he was wrong, or that we'd have more time..."

Janet captured one of Sam's hands, and lifted it gently to her lips to plant a delicate kiss on her knuckles. "We're going to figure it out," she vowed. "We'll manage."

It was a damn hard load to carry, Sam reflected. She was one of two people on the planet fully aware of a brewing mythical cataclysm that only she could somehow avert. But how much worse would it have been had Janet not been right there with her? She turned her hand in Janet's grasp, gently bending it around her cheek. "God, I love you," she blurted, overcome with the sudden intensity of the emotion.

Janet's brown eyes welled as she reflected the sentiment right back. "I love you too," she replied, though the words were redundant given the vibrant adoration in her gaze. Janet shifted just a bit closer, sighing in contentment as Sam's long arms closed around her in a sorely needed hug. She buried her face in the crook of Sam's shoulder.

"Any more bombshells from Cass?" Sam asked.

The brunette exhaled a small laugh that caught against Sam's collar and made it flutter. "No, thank God. She did say something about needing to go to an Indigo Girls concert for research purposes, but I was working very hard to tune her out at that point."

"Ah, selective Mom-hearing," Sam said with a nod of agreement. "Probably the best idea." She yawned, and felt Janet do the same. "We should get upstairs to bed," she observed, completely unwilling to move as a wave of pleasant lethargy swept over them both.

"Yup," Janet agreed sleepily, feeling her eyes drift shut.

Sam listened as Janet's breath evened and deepened, and forced herself to stay awake just for a few moments longer to savor the warmth of the smaller woman curled around her. It was the safest place in the world to be, and as she rested her head against Janet's soft auburn hair, she decided that nothing the galaxy could throw at them stood a chance.

Sam got to base early the next day, and confirmed her initial suspicion that the coordinates her father had given her were not yet in the base computer. General Hammond approved a MALP to take a look around, and once he was satisfied the immediate vicinity around the gate looked mostly harmless, he approved SG-1 to follow.

"But stay out of any temples these folks have, Major," the general warned her at their pre-mission briefing.

Half an hour later SG-1 was prepped and ready to go, waiting in the gate room for the final coordinates to be dialed.

"Oh, Sam," Daniel said suddenly. "I did a bit of digging on that word you mentioned yesterday. 'Khug-shakan?' I think it means roughly 'the one who dwells in the vault of the heavens,' but if that's the case it's actually a compound word that in itself doesn't exist in what we know of Hebrew. Did you have a specific reason you were asking about it? Because I'd love to have a bit more context..."

The gate finished dialing, and the wormhole flared open. Sam nodded to the aperture. "You're about to get it, Daniel. Keep your ears open, okay?" She took a deep breath, then followed him up the ramp and into the gate.

They had hardly cleared the Stargate when a dozen or so natives popped out from behind the surrounding rocks and brush to greet them. Colonel O'Neill ordered caution, but it was quite obvious that the people meant them no harm. They spoke in a rapid fluidic language that Daniel had to struggle to follow. The other three members of SG-1 divided their attention between his efforts and the people crowding around them, alert to any threats.

"This is amazing," Daniel explained between bursts of stilted communication. "I've been reading their scrolls since we visited the old Eloy, but it sounds a lot different than modern Hebrew on Earth."

A few of the natives were gathering around Sam, chattering curiously. She thought she heard the word "khug-shakan" among the phrases that flew around her, but she couldn't be sure. She looked over at O'Neill, who could only shrug, then at Teal'c, who had collected a few curious spectators as well.

A sudden hush fell over the Eloyim, and they backed away from the SG-1 team as a young woman approached, walking directly to Sam. "Welcome, Khug-Shakan. I am Noemi." She dipped her head in greeting. "We have been waiting for you for some time."

Sam blinked in surprise. "I'm Samantha Carter, this is Colonel O'Neill, Doctor Jackson, and Teal'c," she responded politely, indicating her teammates. "You speak our language?"

Noemi smiled. "I have learned," she answered cryptically. She peered around at the other members of SG-1. "Your companion has not traveled here with you?"

"My companion?" Sam's eyebrows shot up.

"Your companion... your khavairat," the woman clarified in her own language, stymied by the confusion. Behind her, Daniel Jackson coughed a bit, and he ducked around the woman to move to Sam's side.

"I think she means Doctor Fraiser," he explained quietly.

"Oh. Uh, no," Sam stammered. "She doesn't normally travel with us."

"Ah," the woman nodded in understanding. "Well, please join us, we have much to discuss." She turned and strolled back down the path that apparently led to their village, and her fellow townsfolk dutifully followed.

Sam looked curiously at Daniel. "Khavairat?"

Daniel grimaced, suddenly looking like he'd rather be anywhere else. "Ye-ah. Well. It... it does mean 'companion.' It also means 'consort.'" He winced.

"Oh," she uttered briefly, a world of comprehension contained in the single syllable.

"Hey Carter," O'Neill called, standing with Teal'c several meters away and oblivious to the entire exchange. "What was it she called you?" Koog something?"

Sam shook off her discomfiture to explain Daniel's translation of the term, and the probable information they could hope to gain from visiting the Eloyim. O'Neill nodded amiably, then started down the path to the village as Teal'c trailed behind.

Daniel grabbed Sam's arm as she moved to follow. "Sam, look - no one will hear anything from me," he assured her.

She gave him a tense smile. "Yeah, thanks." Then she clapped her hand on his shoulder and directed him toward the village. "Do I want to know how you figured it out?"

A dozen memories flew through his mind, all little things that had hinted toward something brewing between Sam and the diminutive doctor, concluding with the tearful embrace he'd seen on P72-776 that had finally made the nature of their relationship perfectly clear. "Nope," he replied, shaking his head emphatically. He was certain Sam didn't want to know that particular moment of her own vulnerability had been witnessed by anyone other than Janet.

"You were once held in service to the false gods," Noemi said, looking steadily at Teal'c.

"Once," he agreed mildly. "No longer."

They were seated around a low table in a well appointed hut near the center of the village. Torches lit the room in a warm, fitful glow.

"How did you know that?" O'Neill asked.

She pursed her lips, considering how best to answer. "I often find myself in possession of knowledge which is hidden."

"You're a Seer," Sam realized suddenly.

Noemi smiled graciously. "Those of my line are sometimes gifted with Sight," she confirmed. "And you, Khug-Shakan, have met my ancestor."

"And why are you calling her that?" O'Neill interrupted again, growing impatient with the vagaries of occasionally psychic aliens.

The young woman regarded him placidly. "In fairness, all of you would be called the same," she acknowledged. "However, our writings only speak of the one who brings old to new."

It was just obscure enough to be infuriating, and the colonel opened his mouth to unfurl an appropriately sarcastic comment.

"Your writings?" Daniel interjected, neatly cutting off O'Neill's impending retort. "May I study them?"

"Of course. Our library is at your disposal." She turned again to Teal'c. "My people too were once held in servitude."

"I am aware of your people's escape from the Goa'uld," the large Jaffa answered.

"We are also a tribe of storytellers," Noemi continued. "Would you honor us by sharing your story at our fire tonight?"

At that, Teal'c blinked in surprise, suddenly thrown as off-balance as anyone else on SG-1 could remember ever having seen him. "You are the only one among your people who would understand," he pointed out.

"I can translate," Daniel volunteered quickly. "It won't be perfect, but I can manage." He looked over at Teal'c. "Cultures like this one thrive on the tradition of spoken history," he explained. "It's an incredible opportunity to be allowed to participate."

"For you and for us," Noemi added. "Your story will help us better understand our own."

Teal'c hesitated for only a moment. "Then I will gladly tell it," he pronounced, bowing his head with respect.

Noemi smiled delightedly and excused herself to begin making the necessary preparations.

As it turned out, Teal'c was an excellent storyteller. His sonorous voice held the Eloyim rapt as the village gathered around their communal fire at dusk, and even through Daniel's translation, the Jaffa's anguish at his people's continuing enslavement was deeply moving.

He and Daniel stood together on a small platform, overlooking the seated crowd. A pair of scribes sat before them, diligently copying Daniel's translations to add to their library.

Sam stood at the fringe of the group, watching Colonel O'Neill mill about. From out of the darkness, Noemi approached Sam and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. She turned to face the young Seer.

"There are things you would know," Noemi said quietly, then turned and began to walk away. Sam could only follow her curiously.

Noemi led Sam out of the village, into the outlying hills to the north. They'd been walking for several minutes before the young Seer picked a rock outcropping seemingly at random and sat down, indicating for Sam to do the same.

"I imagine you must feel that the Universe has rendered you without choice," Noemi said quietly. "That events unfold around you and appear to direct you without your will."

Sam exhaled. "It has started to feel that way lately," she agreed.

"It is often such for those who possess Sight," the younger woman said sadly. "But I fear your burden is to grow even heavier." She paused, unsure if she should continue.

"Please tell me," Sam pleaded after a moment.

"Events are not simply leading you," Noemi said. "They are molding you, preparing you. You cannot face that which waits until you are ready. Those you meet along the way hold the pieces to a larger puzzle that only you can solve."

They were quiet for a while after that, and Sam followed the Seer's gaze up toward the brilliant stars overhead.

"Do the stars form pictures on your world?" Noemi asked in a bare murmur.

"Yes, they do," Sam answered.

"Ah," the Seer said, obviously pleased they had this tradition in common. "The stories in our night sky changed when our people came to this place. Here, as the stars move through the sky, they tell the stories of the past, and leave room for those yet untold." She pointed upward and traced a pattern with her finger. "That is Valosh Med, my ancestor, who led us from our old world."

Sam followed her gesture and smiled at her friend rendered immortal in the sky.

"In his hand he holds the Light of Heaven, which guides us for all time." She pointed to a solitary star shining brightly above the rest of the constellation. "The star is immobile, and even in darkness it allows us to find our way home."

The Eloyan equivalent to the North Star, Sam realized. She decided the ancient Seer would have been proud to be still guiding his people after all the time that had passed.

The younger woman stared hard at her, as if willing her to understand. "I will never visit the places beyond this world as you do. It is not given to us to do so."

Sam could only shake her head, knowing there was more to her words, but not knowing exactly what.

At that, the young Seer stood, brushed off her clothing, and led Sam back toward the village. They entered the ring of firelight just as Teal'c was concluding his story, telling of his meeting SG-1 and befriending the Taur'i. As he finished, and the last syllables of Daniel's translation faded away, the Eloyim repaid with them a staggering round of applause.

Noemi watched as many of her people approached Teal'c, pressing their hands to his in gratitude, expressing sympathy for the burden of those still enslaved. "Your friend is a man of great faith," she told Sam. "Not many would have the courage to trust strangers so blindly."

"No, not many would," Sam agreed. "He just had to listen to his instincts to know what was the right thing to do."

The young Seer turned to look at her speculatively. "Indeed." She quirked an eyebrow as if at an unheard joke, then rejoined her people.

The next morning, the Eloyim gathered at the Stargate to send the team off. Daniel carried a dozen scrolls given to him by the librarian in exchange for those scrolls he'd found on their old homeworld, and he could hardly wait to get back to his lab to start studying them.

Sam trailed her teammates, lingering a bit in the young Seer's presence in the hope that she might provide just a bit more information. To her disappointment, Noemi strode silently toward the gate, offering nothing.

Ahead of them, Daniel successfully dialed Earth and established the wormhole that would send them home. "Carter, let's go," O'Neill called.

"May you walk in the Light forever, Samantha," Noemi said in parting, offering her hand.

Sam looked around for a moment and realized she felt a vague sense of completion, as if she had fulfilled her purpose in this place. She took Noemi's hand and expressed her thanks, then followed her team home.

Janet was sitting in her office, reading a copy of the report Sam had thrown together to compile the information the Tok'ra had shared. Mostly it was the collection of the operatives' surveillance photos, the brief description of the Goa'uld fleet buildup, a few hastily constructed theories about what exactly the dual wormholes had done.

Wormhole physics were definitely not Janet's strong point, but she had a handle on the basic principles. And it was impossible to spend any time around Sam without picking up a bit of her enthusiasm for the subject.

Which was why she was as equally intrigued by the mystery of the ninth chevron as Sam had been.

But there was more here than mere scientific curiosity. There was something larger, more nebulous, that seemed to drift just outside her ability to fully perceive it. It was the same feeling she'd gotten on the Anasazi grounds, that something really important was looking her right in the face and she just couldn't identify what it was.

She had the two stills of the different Stargates spewing violent red energy placed side by side on the desk in front of her, and spent long minutes staring at them, willing them to give up the information she was sure they contained.

Sam stood in the doorway of the CMO's office, leaning against the frame with her arms folded as she watched Janet think. Her teammates liked to rib her for being so incredibly and unapologetically smart, but she knew full well she wasn't the only brilliant scientist skulking about the SGC. Besides being an excellent doctor, Janet had a keen and flexible mind that could often find solutions to problems in unlikely places. It was easily the first trait that Sam had been drawn to, long before they'd become friends or lovers. Sam raised a hand to rap a knuckle on the open door, though she was loathe to interrupt the doctor's consuming thoughts.

Janet's head jerked up at the sound. "Sam," she said in surprise. "I didn't even hear the alert that you were back."

"You were busy," Sam said easily, fully understanding just how easy it was to get lost in an intellectual puzzle. She dropped into the chair across from Janet and favored her with a smile. "Figure it out yet?" she asked, jerking her chin to indicate the photos on Janet's desk.

"No, of course not," the doctor said with a little laugh, then she flipped the report closed.

"You will," Sam responded. She heard her own words and tilted her head curiously. In fact, she had utter confidence that Janet would indeed decipher the mystery, but did not know how she knew that. Weird.

"So what did you find on Eloy?" Janet asked.

"Daniel's still sorting it all out, but they did give us a starchart," the blonde answered, unfolding a copy of it and smoothing it out on Janet's desk. "That's Valosh Med," she said, tracing the lines of the constellation. She looked up at Janet and they shared a smile. "It gets better. Daniel translated a few other terms on here..." She pointed out the binary star cluster above the image of the ancient Seer. "This is the Khug-Shakan, and her Khavairat." She grinned at the brunette. "That's you and me."


"Figures that's what you'd pick out of the whole story."


"I'm sure it's meant with the utmost respect..."

Janet buried her face in her hands and let out a low groan.

They had left the base and headed back to Janet's house, spending the evening with Cassie before retiring to Janet's bedroom. There Sam spent a long time relating the events on the new Eloy as they snuggled together on the bed, enjoying the almost normal family-ness of it all. That is, until Janet wrenched herself free of her embrace and started pacing the room, apparently upset about the label the alien race had pinned on her.

Sam regarded her as she stalked about the room. "I dunno, I kinda like it. I mean, I was trying to figure out how we should refer to each other... 'Consort' works as well as anything, right?"

Janet glared at her.

"It could be worse," the blonde continued hastily. "Like what Colonel O'Neill calls you."

"Which is what, exactly?" the brunette pronounced with icy clarity.

Sam bit her tongue, realizing suddenly that she'd just made a grave tactical error.

"Saaaaam," Janet growled.

"Uhh... well, he says.... that you're 'like a real doctor, only smaller.'"

Janet stared at her for a very long moment. "You're kidding."


"I am going to make up some new inoculation and find the biggest needle to stick in that man's ass..." Janet huffed.

The blonde snorted a bit.

"For Chrissake. What is it with men and size anyway?"

At that, Sam laughed outright, delighted by her lover's wicked sarcasm. Janet favored her with a smirk, then moved back to the edge of the bed, sitting down with a sigh.

"I'm worried, Sam. Some days I think we're just two steps away from court martial."

That drew the blonde up short. "No, we're not."

"What happens if we get caught? Would they even let me keep Cassie?" Janet heaved a another sigh. "I don't want to lose her." She turned a fathomless look on Sam. "I don't want to lose you," she said in a ragged whisper.

"You won't," Sam insisted. "You never will." She reached out to capture one of Janet's hands.

"But if Daniel figured it out..."

"Daniel's smarter than the average bear," Sam pointed out. "And he's not telling anyone." She studied Janet's dejected profile. "Please don't worry about this."

Janet hung her head and scrubbed a frustrated hand through her hair. Sam shifted on the bed to sit near but not quite touching her, trying to figure out how to soothe this small attack of insecurity. She had herself been somewhat unsettled by Daniel's admission but had pushed it aside, focusing instead on the untold looming dangers they faced that went far beyond the reach of the Air Force or the SGC. How like Janet to bring her back to more immediate reality. The thought made her smile.

"Listen," Sam began again. "We've been friends for years, and we've got Cassie to look after. Of course we spend time together." She shrugged. "And if anyone wonders why suddenly we're spending so much time together, then we can just tell them I've had a shift in priorities." She leaned and rested her head against Janet's to whisper in her ear. "Which, by the way, is absolutely true." Hopeful dark eyes turned to regard her. "The two of you are my family," Sam added in a rough voice.

It was apparently the right thing to say, as she saw Janet's face break into a shaky smile.

"It's gonna be okay," Sam promised.

After a long moment the brunette head bobbed in a nod. "Okay," Janet agreed. She realized her confidence wasn't nearly as flawless as Sam's was, but she was willing to give it a shot. She peered at Sam speculatively. "You were thinking about what to call us?"

"Oh. Well, yeah," Sam answered with a faint blush. "How do you feel about 'sweet baboo?'"

Janet laughed a bit. "I don't know. I think 'consort' is growing on me. There's just one problem."

"What's that?"

Janet's voice dropped to a low purr. "What good is being a consort if you're not... consorting?"

Sam felt her mouth suddenly go dry as she saw the feral look on her lover's face. "Um..."

Out of nowhere Janet had tackled her backward onto the bed and pinned her arms down. "Wrong answer."

It was the last coherent thing either of them said for a long time.

Later, Janet found herself still awake and studying the faint freckles on Sam's back, tracing idle patterns as the blonde snored lightly.

She had three, right at the small of her back, that formed an almost perfect isosceles triangle. Janet found the pad of her thumb resting there, drawing the three sides with absent movements.

There was that feeling again, the peripheral Something that she couldn't yet see. This time it was closer than ever, almost pressing down against her.

Janet closed her eyes, mentally replaying any dozen conversations she'd had with Sam about how the Stargate worked.

Ultimately, of course, it was still a mystery, how charging this ring of alien metal with neutrinos and dialing a particular combination of cryptic symbols could open an instantaneous doorway to another world through light years of empty space. Neutrinos, Sam had told her, were bouncing all over the place, uncharged particles spewing from supernovas, possibly making up the balance of the mass of the universe in Dark Matter.

Dark Matter. Hm.

Stargate travel could bounce teams between different iterations of the universe and even back and forth through time if conditions permitted it. Solar flares, quantum mirrors -- it was almost mundane by now.

Sam liked to describe the process like a phone call, and once compared the Abydos cartouche to the Yellow Pages. Was there something out there serving as a cosmic telephone exchange?

Normally they made local calls. Six symbols to specify vectored points in space, the point of origin, and there they were. Throw in the eighth symbol and you added long distance to the equation, with potential access to galaxies far, far away.

So what if the ninth chevron was like making an international call, maybe to an alternate dimension?

And what if two gates dialing simultaneously to the same location resulted in a busy signal? The Stargate system didn't appear to have an equivalent to call waiting, so what were the Goa'uld trying to accomplish? It was entirely too deliberate to be an accident -- they had fully intended to open dual wormholes that would collide in open space.

Janet opened her eyes, and they were immediately drawn to the three freckles her thumb was still chasing across the soft skin on Sam's back.

Or maybe they hadn't intended for the wormholes to meet in open space, but rather within the target system's star.

All of a sudden, instead of feeling like something was drifting outside her field of vision, it came swinging dizzily into view, and there was too much to focus on at once.

"Sam, get up."

"Mmmph," Sam mumbled into her pillow. "Don' wanna."

"Dammit, Sam, c'mon." Janet ripped away the sheets covering Sam's naked body, and the blonde instantly recoiled in the absence of the warm covers.

"Hey!" Sam cried indignantly as she sat up, her further response muffled by the shirt that was thrown at her face.

"Get dressed," Janet hissed. "We need to go back to base."

Forty minutes later Sam flopped down into a chair in her lab with a heartfelt yawn. "What are we doing here, again?"

Janet was flipping through the pages of Daniel's preliminary report on the scrolls from Eloy. "Tell me about Dark Matter."

The blonde rubbed her eyes, rallying to wake herself up. "Well, if we total up all the mass of all the matter in the universe that we can see, there's not enough... we know the universe is expanding, but that's not possible unless there's a lot of stuff with mass out there that we can't see."


"That's one theory. But we still don't quite know if they even have mass." She shrugged. "There's a lot of 'em out there, though."

"So what happens if a bunch of extra matter suddenly gets dumped into the universe?"

Blonde eyebrows shot up. "Nothing good... the universe is at a delicate equilibrium... too much matter and it'll contract back upon itself -- the Big Crunch." She sat back in her chair, rocked by sudden realization. "You think that's what the Goa'uld did? That they somehow dumped a bunch of extra Dark Matter into our universe?" She stared off into nowhere for a moment, silently adding up the facts. "So... they rip a hole in our reality, and suck in a substantial chunk of matter from another reality, rendering both dangerously unstable. Why would they do that?"

"I don't think they meant to," Janet answered. "Do you remember what that other Sam said, when she came through the dimensional mirror? That this was one of the few versions of reality she'd seen where the Goa'uld hadn't overrun the galaxy?"

"The Goa'uld here wanted reinforcements from another dimensional reality," Sam breathed, her brain finally catching on to Janet's line of thinking. "They thought they could use the dual wormholes to punch a hole in the fabric of space and just let a few fleets fly right in."

Janet nodded. "But they missed." She held out a pencil. "Can you prove it?"

Sam plucked the pencil out of her hand. "I'll need my computer... but then, that's why were here, isn't it?" She grinned at Janet and got to work.

Long minutes ticked by as Sam shifted her attention between the equations she jotted down and her computer screen. Janet finished reading Daniel's report and found herself flagging badly from exhaustion, now that the initial rush of discovery had passed.

"Oh, hey Sam, Janet," greeted Daniel as he wandered into the lab. "Thought I was the only one around this late." He yawned. "What's up?"

"Janet's making me do math," Sam answered plaintively, as she punched some numbers into her calculator.

He looked at them both in turn, then shrugged. "Okay."

"Been working on the scrolls?" Janet asked him, struggling for normalcy. She was still a bit disconcerted that he knew about her and Sam, even though it appeared to be a complete non-issue from his standpoint.

She realized she was also fully prepared to hit him if he made any kind of joke about mathematical challenges being some sort of geek foreplay. With that thought she rubbed her eyes, silently acknowledging that she was over-tired and a bit strung out from thinking too hard about wormholes and alternate realities.

Daniel pulled up a seat next to her. "I've been sorting through this whole list of prophecies... check this out." He flipped to a page in his notes and began to recite. "'In the time of Urdus' - from what I can tell, that's approximately now - 'Kali and Olokun will ravage the sky, and darkness' - arrafel - 'will fall upon the world.'"

"Kali and Olokun?" Janet asked.

"Kali was the wife of Shiva. The goddess of darkness," Daniel explained. "She's also one of the most powerful Goa'uld system lords we know about. We don't know a lot about Olokun, but it's entirely possible they've teamed up." He pushed his glasses up on his nose. "According to this, it's a good bet they're behind those stars going nova."

At that, Sam set down her pencil. "And they're not kidding about 'arrafel.'" She pushed the paper she'd been working on across the table. "If they'd hit that star, we'd probably be neck-deep in alternate reality Goa'ulds right now... Instead, they've just accelerated the eventual collapse of the universe by about a million times, starting with our galaxy."

"Those three stars the Goa'uld destroyed are only the beginning," Sam explained as she stood at the whiteboard in the briefing room the next morning. "The imbalance of mass localized in that one particular area is going to radically accelerate the natural decay of stars all throughout this region of the galaxy."

"Timeframe, Major," General Hammond requested succinctly.

Sam shrugged a bit. "Hard to say, sir. Maybe a couple of years before anybody else on Earth starts to notice, but by then it'll be too late."

"Which assumes the Goa'uld aren't going to try this little stunt again," Colonel O'Neill interjected.

"So how do we fix it?" Hammond asked.

Sam took a deep breath. This was the sort of thing she alternately loved and hated about her job. She loved the challenge of making things happen that no human had ever done before. She hated the feeling that she and her team were so often the only thin barrier between oblivion and the rest of humanity.

"Well sir, we'll need to essentially duplicate what the Goa'uld did, then hope for osmosis," she began. "If we can open the doorway, matter should move from the area of higher density to lower density, re-establishing equilibrium between the two quantum realities."

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Colonel O'Neill rubbing his temples in the way that indicated he was only understanding one word in ten that she said.

"Major Carter, didn't your calculations indicate that it would take the power of a Goa'uld mothership to allow the Stargate to use the ninth chevron?" Teal'c asked.

Sam dipped her head in a nod. "Yes, which is a bit of a stumbling block, but not the biggest one. The Goa'uld miscalculated, which is what caused this problem in the first place." On the whiteboard she drew three stars in a triangle, with squiggly lines indicating the dual wormholes flaring out to intersect in the target system. "Now, all things being equal, the simultaneously-dialed wormholes should have collided within the target system's star, triggering a massive reaction and effectively creating a fissure between quantum realities, allowing matter to move back and forth freely."

"But all things weren't equal?" O'Neill ventured.

"No, sir. They forgot, or simply did not know how to allow for the fact that gravity behaves differently on a quantum level." She drew two more squiggly wormholes which bent and intersected well before the target. "The wormholes fell short of their destination in normal space before colliding. Within the star there would be enough matter present for the reaction to be relatively stable, but out in empty space, it used whatever matter it could find. In this case, huge amounts of matter from the other quantum reality."

Sam capped the marker she'd been using and sat down. "The trick to successfully doing this is finding three systems that have Stargates, that also have stars of correct mass that are the right distance apart after correcting for quantum gravity." She shook her head grimly. "Without a starting point, that's basically impossible to find in the timeframe we're talking about."

"Not to mention that whole 'needing a couple Goa'uld motherships for power' thing," O'Neill pointed out dryly.

An air of dejection settled around the table, and the team seemed to visibly deflate in the face of truly astronomical odds.

A starting point. The words seemed to echo in Janet's ears, as she sat at the end of the table absorbing Sam's explanation attentively. Despite the blonde's dire predictions, Janet felt somehow sure that the answer was right in front of them, as if they were being delicately led through the increasingly complex puzzle to discover the right solution.

"What about the starchart the Eloyim gave us?" she asked suddenly. General Hammond and the four members of SG-1 turned to her with varying looks of surprise. "Well, it's their mythology that's driving every new piece of information we learn," she pointed out with a shrug. "Seems like it might be a place to start."

A few hours later Janet was sitting in her office, putting the finishing touches on some reports. Her patient load was light, just a marine from SG-4 with a dislocated kneecap and an airman who had managed to catch a scorching case of poison ivy while on a hike with his family over the previous weekend. She looked up as Sam's shadow crossed her doorway.

"So I was thinking," Sam announced as she strolled in and sat in the chair in front of Janet's desk. "About something Valosh Med said." The brunette merely watched her expectantly. "He said the entire universe was a question of balance. And he was right -- if there was too much matter present at the Big Bang, it never would have escaped its own gravity. Too little, and bits of matter would be flying in every direction, never coalescing into stars or planets or people."

"Sounds right," Janet agreed.

"The Eloyim don't even have telescopes, Janet. How do they know this stuff?" Sam said in exasperation.

The doctor smiled. "I don't know if we'll ever know the answer to that."

Sam sighed, and flipped a folded piece of paper onto her desk. "Then at least tell me how you knew to look at their starchart."

Janet unfolded the paper and read it. "PR8-332?"

"It's a star system that the Eloyim refer to as the Light of Heaven. It's one of three stars on that starchart that correspond to systems in our dialing computer. We're prepping MALPs to go to each of them right now."


"I don't think there is such a thing as 'coincidence' anymore," the blonde responded. She paused, leaning closer to the desk and planting her elbows on her knees. She searched Janet's face for a long moment. "He was right about you, too."

"About both of us," Janet corrected softly.

At that Sam flashed her a bashful smile, then ducked back out of her office to oversee the MALP preparation.

The members of SG-1 waited in the control room as the first MALP climbed the ramp up to the Stargate en route to PR8-332. It cleared the aperture, the airman tracked its transit, and then it was there.

Except the cameras showed nothing but darkness.

Sam ordered the external lights powered to full, but their illumination just seemed to die a couple meters away from their source.

They studied the other data the MALP was dutifully sending back; atmospheric content and pressure were within human tolerances, gravity was comparable to Earth's. Nothing else unusual except the complete lack of anything to look at.

"Thought this system was called the 'Light of Heaven,'" O'Neill joked as he squinted at the bland visual data being sent back by the probe.

"Sure makes it hard to get a look at the star," Sam responded with some disappointment. She shrugged and ordered the airman to switch the MALP to passive-scan mode for the time being. SG-1 would be able to go through and take a closer look if the other two systems from the Eloyan starchart proved more illuminating.

The wormhole flickered shut, and MALP number two lumbered up the ramp as the computer encoded the second destination, PY9-5572.

This time the MALP arrived on a sunny plain that was bustling with activity. The camera panned around for a few seconds before a surprised looking Jaffa leaned into view, scowled at it, then backed away a few steps and charged his staff weapon. He fired, and the MALP data feed dissolved into static. The wormhole in the gateroom once again blinked out.

"Recognize that one, Teal'c?" O'Neill asked, turning to the large man at his side.

"I believe it is the symbol of Kali," Teal'c answered.

Daniel was nodding, already replaying the MALP feed frame by frame on another monitor to see what other information it could yield. "Now we're getting somewhere," he murmured, muted excitement leaking through every syllable.

"Do we send number three, sir?" Sam asked the colonel.

"Hell yes," O'Neill answered. "This is just starting to get interesting."

The last MALP was headed to PY9-2346. It arrived without incident, and began a slow pan of the surrounding area. It looked a great deal like PY9-5572, where they'd sent a probe mere minutes before. The Stargate stood on a similar grassy plain, though this time it was surrounded by chunks of charred and smoking debris, and the occasional body of a dead Jaffa. All four team members crowded around the monitor in the control room, silent as they studied the carnage.

"Wait," Daniel said suddenly, pointing to the side of the screen. "There was movement... pan right."

The camera swung around to where he'd indicated, and indeed, there was movement. From behind a large pile of debris, a very human figure straightened and approached the MALP, adjusting an MP5 slung across one shoulder.

"Uh, Carter?" O'Neill murmured.

She couldn't answer, instead transfixed by the battered figure approaching the MALP. Even under layers of grime and a few sluggishly bleeding wounds, an SG-1 badge stood out clearly, and bright blue eyes peered into the MALP's camera.

Sam was watching another version of herself.

"Hello?" the other Samantha Carter called to the mic on the MALP. "SGC? You guys there?"

Sam was well versed in quantum theory... Hell, she'd even rewritten a good portion of it, hypothesizing that every choice a person makes has the potential to affect every other choice available to them in the future. Because of differences in matter at a quantum level, there existed the infinite possibility of whole quantum universes splitting off into an entirely different iteration of reality with each and every choice.

The theory was sound, but seeing it in action still weirded her out in a profound way. For whatever reason, Samantha Carter in any given reality seemed less bound to stay put in her native universe than most humans.

They'd chatted with her alternate self on PY9-2346 via the MALP's radio, and determined that this other Sam had purposely transported herself from her own reality using the ninth chevron the Goa'uld had researched. She had arrived minutes before the MALP, and had no idea what had caused the destruction around the gate.

The members of SG-1 were suited up and waiting in the gateroom to visit PY9-2346 and poke around, and hopefully figure out how to send the other Sam back where she belonged before she succumbed to the devastating effects of entropic cascade. Janet was standing by with two other teams, ready to go in to treat the injured alternate Major Carter and secure the area once SG-1 had scouted ahead.

Sam bounced anxiously on the balls of her feet as the final chevrons were encoded, realizing with some amusement that she was eager to compare notes with herself, hoping her counterpart had some information they didn't yet. The wormhole activated, and she flashed a brief smile at Janet as SG-1 trooped up the ramp and through the event horizon.

The first thing she noticed on PY9-2346 was the smell. The acrid scents of scorched metal and flesh mingled in a deeply unpleasant way. She found herself fighting her gag reflex for a few long seconds until Colonel O'Neill issued an abrupt order for the team to drop to a crouch around the MALP, realizing that Sam's alternate was nowhere to be seen.

It didn't take long for a grimy blonde head to poke up from behind a pile of smoking debris. The other Sam approached them a bit warily, pointing out that she couldn't be too careful about gate arrivals, as she had no desire to get in the way if whatever had destroyed the Goa'uld encampment around the gate decided to come back.

O'Neill and Teal'c went on recon, and the colonel ordered Daniel to start looking around to figure out what had happened. Sam drew the task of assessing her alternate's injuries. The two Carters shared a wry look, then the alternate sat heavily on a low boulder, stripping off bits of gear and her flak jacket.

"Looks like you were in a firefight," Sam noted, seeing the telltale scorch marks that indicated a few close calls with Goa'uld staff weapons.

"Yeah, got stuck in a tight spot," her alternate acknowledged.

Daniel's voice chirped over the radio. "Sam, I think I've found what looks like a reactor here."

The alternate Sam nodded. "I saw that too. It looks like it would be sufficient to power the ninth chevron for a return trip, but it'll take some repairs."

"These Jaffa were in the service of the system lord Olokun," Teal'c added gravely over the comm. "They appear to have been killed by staff weapons."

"I'm giving the all-clear," O'Neill announced, having made a circuit of the Stargate and being satisfied that there were no living Goa'uld lingering nearby to pose an immediate threat. "Let's get some backup out here."

While waiting for the other teams to arrive, Sam cast about in her head, trying to find a comfortable topic to discuss with herself. It was harder than it sounded. She settled on satisfying a small bit of personal curiosity instead. "So, you... don't have a thing for Colonel O'Neill in your universe, do you?"

The other Sam snorted and rolled her eyes expressively. "No. And what is it with our alternate selves, anyway? I think it has something to do with the goofy hair." She winced as her counterpart tugged at a bit of her uniform that had clotted to a gash on her shoulder.

"Sorry," Sam murmured, reconcentrating on the task at hand.

The Stargate flared to life again, and two more SG teams appeared, flanking the SGC's diminutive CMO. Janet immediately caught sight of the two Sams and jogged over.

Sam felt the change in her alternate's bearing immediately. The other woman drew in a sharp breath and then stilled, watching Janet's approach with almost painful anticipation. Sam couldn't quite decipher the reaction, so she straightened away from her and welcomed Janet with a smile.

"Major Carter," Janet said by way of greeting, then turned to the alternate Sam. "Major Carter," she said again, with a wry twist of her lips. "So what do we have here?" she directed to "her" Sam.

"Mostly scrapes and bruises, but there are a couple cuts back here that look like they could use stitches," the blonde reported. She looked back and forth between her alternate and the doctor, sensing some sort of odd underlying tension radiating from the other version of herself. "I'll... just go see what Teal'c thinks about that reactor," she murmured, giving Janet a parting nod and leaving her to treat her patient.

Janet set to work where Sam had left off, gingerly cleaning the alternate's wounds and applying careful field dressings. She peeled back a torn section of t-shirt, noticing a faint scattering of scars that looked very familiar. "No matter what quantum reality you see, Samantha Carter sure does get hurt a lot," she mused quietly. The blonde woman didn't respond, but the tension rippling up her back seemed to escalate a notch. Janet leaned to the side, watching the woman's profile in concern. "About how long have you been here?"

"Couple hours," Sam answered, her voice unnaturally tight.

"Well, hopefully we can get the Stargate powered and send you back before..."

"Entropic cascade," the blonde interrupted gruffly. "The breakdown of matter on a quantum level caused by two versions of myself coexisting in one reality. Yeah, I know."

"Mmm," Janet hummed, refusing to be stung by her curt tone. "Well, let me know if you start feeling any effects." She finished securing a dressing and readjusted the tattered remains of her shirt to cover most of the damage, then stepped around in front of the seated woman. "That should take care of you until you get back home," she said warmly.

Haunted blue eyes looked up at her with aching intensity. Janet had to shake herself to remember this Sam was not the same woman she called friend and lover, had to stop herself from reaching out to comfort her obvious pain.

"Home," the alternate Sam murmured in response. "Right."

Colonel O'Neill and Daniel wandered over. "Carter... er... well, that Carter," O'Neill clarified, hooking a thumb over his shoulder at the version of Sam working on the Goa'uld reactor, "thinks it's salvageable. We should be able to get you back."

The blonde woman pushed herself upright with some effort, jerking a bit when Janet grabbed her elbow to help steady her. "Thank you, sir. She could probably use some help," she said.

"Actually, we were hoping to compare notes with you," Daniel countered. "Find out what's different out there." He waved a hand in the general direction of the Stargate. "Find out why you came here. That sort of thing."

Sam scowled faintly, looking at Daniel, O'Neill, and finally Janet. "All right," she sighed, easing herself back down onto the rock. "Would you believe I came here following the trail of an ancient prophet who got himself stuck in a wormhole?"

Janet, Daniel, and O'Neill shared a look. "Yes," they answered in unison.

She peered up at them. "So you know about the Eloyim?"

"We've met them," Daniel confirmed.

"They're still around in this reality?" the alternate Sam asked, her eyebrows hiking up in curiosity. "All we had were ruins." She considered that for a moment, then took a deep breath and launched into her story, stuttering just a bit whenever she looked up and saw Janet standing in front of her. After a couple minutes Teal'c and Sam arrived to listen in as well.

The beginning sounded a lot like what they already knew; SG-1 was on a standard mission on PNX-0624, when suddenly Sam disappeared, sucked into what looked like a naturally occurring periodic wormhole. There she met a rather eccentric prophet who had some vague things to say about the end of the universe and the Light of Heaven, then eventually she was pulled back out by her teammates.

Suddenly the story took a very different turn. Instead of calculating the next intersection of the wormhole's event horizon with normal space as the Sam in this reality had done, she worked backwards to find out where the Eloyim had ultimately gone, then traveled there with SG-1. Soon after they arrived, huge Goa'uld ships landed, disgorging scores of Jaffa bent on searching through the deserted Eloyan ruins.

She got separated from SG-1 in a firefight, and ended up stranded on the alien world without a GDO to allow her to signal the SGC and make sure they opened the iris upon activating the wormhole.

At this, O'Neill bristled furiously. "They just left you behind?" He sounded perfectly ready to find his alternate self and pound him into a bloody pulp.

"Well, I figured they'd eventually come back, or at least send a MALP to see what the situation was, but they never did." The alternate Sam shrugged. "Eventually the Goa'uld left too. I guess they didn't find what they were looking for. As soon as I was able, I got to the Stargate and tried to dial Earth, figuring I could rig some means of signaling that it was me..." She focused on a point off in the distance. "It just wouldn't dial."

"The matter imbalance must have destabilized the Stargate system," the Sam of this reality said suddenly.

Her counterpart scowled up at her. "What matter imbalance?"

Sam quickly explained what they'd discovered about the Goa'uld's attempts to open a stable quantum portal, and the ensuing dangerous matter imbalance they had inadvertently caused.

The alternate Sam spat out a brief curse. "Makes sense," she said bitterly.

"So we'll probably be seeing similar problems with the Stargates here," Janet murmured.

O'Neill shifted uncomfortably, casting a look back at the gate. "In that case, we'd better get a move on."

The alternate Sam took that as her cue to continue with her story, quickly explaining that she'd dug through the Eloyan ruins and found some things the Goa'uld had apparently missed, including a starchart with a few symbols she was able to translate into Stargate coordinates. While she wasn't able to dial Earth, she found she could dial other locations closer by. She started exploring the locations on the starchart, and ended up at what she assumed the Seer had referred to as the Light of Heaven, where she'd learned of the capabilities of the ninth chevron on the Stargate.

"Apparently that Stargate's power source had been augmented. I dialed the first set of nine symbols I could find, and I ended up here," she concluded.

"Wait, there are writings there?" Daniel asked.

"Volumes," she responded. "In Goa'uld, Asgard, Latin, Eloyim, and probably a dozen other languages I've never seen before. All over the place." She cocked her head. "You guys have been there, too?"

"We sent a MALP, but there was nothing there to see," Daniel answered.

The alternate Sam fell silent at that, and after a moment shook her head. "Bizarre," she breathed.

"Jack," Daniel was saying excitedly. "This could be another sort of library of the Ancients. We need to go there and take a look around -- if they've documented the use of the ninth chevron, they might have..."

"Waitaminute. Don't we all exist in that reality?" O'Neill asked. "'Cause I'm not risking prolonged exposure to..."

"Doctor Fraiser could go," the alternate Sam said briskly. She dropped her gaze and studied her boots. "Her... counterpart... was killed a few weeks ago."

Not one of them, especially not Janet, had any idea how to react to that, but suddenly the other Sam's attitude and reactions made a whole lot more sense. This version of Sam who was not quite the Sam she knew was clearly mourning the version of herself that was not quite herself.

"She and Cass..." the other Sam continued in a lurching voice, finally losing the battle with her tightly bottled emotions. "Drunk driver."

"Oh God," the Sam from this reality breathed, her hand landing on and involuntarily clenching Janet's shoulder. Daniel and O'Neill winced in tandem. Behind them, Teal'c inclined his head in a formal display of mourning.

"Damn, I'm sorry, Carter," O'Neill offered his alternate 2IC sincerely, then went silent to allow her to compose herself.

After a long minute she took a shuddering breath and set her jaw, then stood up slowly, careful not to put any undue stress on the bandages Janet had applied. "We should get that reactor working," she announced, giving her other self a pointed look, then she turned and started back toward the wreckage.

O'Neill stepped in front of a determined looking Doctor Fraiser. "Major," he addressed her, gaining her full attention. "I won't order you to go through that thing. We can just send her back and ask her to throw a couple books our way."

Janet shook her head. "I'm willing to go, sir. We'll have a better shot of finding what we need if we work together."

He studied her for a moment, then nodded. "All right. Be careful, Doc." Then he detached his GDO from his uniform sleeve and handed it over. "Give her this so she can get back home sometime."

Sam watched the rest of her team file off after her other self, but hung back, hovering at Janet's shoulder. The smaller woman sensed her there and turned around. The blonde quirked a half smile at her and reached out with a shaky hand to adjust a buckle at the shoulder of Janet's flak jacket, needing some bit of physical contact.

Janet reached up to rest her hand atop Sam's, returning her fathomless look. "I know," she murmured, before they turned together to work on the reactor.

With two different Sams at work and Teal'c providing valuable assistance, repairing the reactor took only a few hours. Daniel dialed the nine symbols that would return Sam to her reality, and the reactor whined to life as the Stargate drew the extra power it needed to form the dimension-jumping wormhole. A strong wind kicked up on the plain, tossing sand and bits of debris around them. With little fanfare, the alternate Sam looked them over, then stepped into the event horizon, headed back to her own quantum reality. Janet followed her hesitantly, stopping on the stone step in front of the gate to look back at the team.

"Hurry back, Doc," O'Neill ordered. She nodded and stepped after the alternate Sam.

Janet wasn't terribly accustomed to gate travel, and this particular jump seemed both longer and more turbulent than any of her previous ones. The Stargate finally disgorged her in another reality, and she stumbled a couple steps away. The alternate Sam helped her up with a tight smile. "Careful, that first step sucks," she muttered.

This place looked a whole lot different than the PR8-332 they'd seen in her own reality. Instead of nondescript darkness, the Stargate here was in a huge room glowing with amber light fed from an unseen source. Janet looked around in amazement. "Wow," she mouthed.

"The books are this way," Sam said tersely, brushing past her and making her way across the room.

Janet watched her walk away in mute sadness. This Sam was so hurt, so angry. She'd probably just dialed the nine Stargate symbols on a whim, not even caring where she would land or even if she'd survive the trip.

She was probably annoyed that she hadn't found oblivion after all.

The doctor moved carefully after her, splitting her attention between the amazing architecture of the structure and the complex maps and symbols that littered its floor. She had an amusing mental image of Daniel Jackson bouncing around this place like an excited kid, not knowing which incredibly interesting thing to study first.

The "other" Sam, as Janet had mentally named her, had stopped suddenly in the middle of the room, and her shoulders sagged. "I'm sorry I'm being an asshole, Janet," she said quietly. "You don't deserve that."

"Neither do you," Janet responded easily, stepping closer. "I know this is difficult."

Pained blue eyes searched her face. "I wish you didn't sound quite so much like her."

Janet pursed her lips. "Would you tell me what happened?" she asked gently.

Sam shrugged. "Cassie called from school, said she wasn't feeling well, so Janet went to pick her up early," she said as she started walking again, edging around a large table. "The drunk driver ran through the red light going about seventy." Her chest heaved as she gulped down a pained breath. "The paramedics said they never had a chance."

Janet had to swallow hard, fighting the lump in her throat that formed in sympathy with this Sam's radiating agony. "I'm sorry," she murmured, though the sentiment seemed horribly inadequate.

Sam stopped and looked back at her. "Cass didn't get sick there?" She saw Janet shake her head. "I didn't even know you... she... whatever... had left the base until I stopped by her office to see if she wanted to go for a hike."

At that, Janet stopped and closed her eyes, remembering all too clearly what had happened that day in her reality. Sam convinced her to leave work early, they rode into the mountains, then hiked for a couple hours to watch the sun set over Pike's Peak. They'd kissed for the first time, admitted they loved each other...

"She never knew," the alternate Sam was saying as she swiped at a tear that defiantly escaped her brimming eyes.

"She did," Janet insisted. There was little solace she could offer this woman, but she could give her the truth. "She knew how you felt." She stepped a bit closer, peering up at the blonde's downcast face, finding herself completely unable to disregard the pain of this Sam, of any Sam. "She loved you," Janet whispered.

At that Sam's strict emotional control finally dissolved, and she crumpled. The smaller woman was ready for it, wrapping her arms around heaving shoulders as she drew Sam close.

In a more familiar reality, a more familiar Sam was starting to twitch.

Janet had been gone for about twenty minutes when the blonde's patience snapped completely and she began pacing around the encampment. The other two SG teams were cleaning up some of the mess under Teal'c's direction, and Daniel and Jack sat placidly with their backs propped against a rock, waiting for the Stargate to reopen.

"Carter, you know any version of you isn't gonna let anything bad happen to the Doc," Jack said as he dug a pebble out of the dirt next to him. "That's the only reason I let her go." He flicked the pebble away, then resumed digging for another one. "Well, that and you two sure have more of a handle on whatever's going on here than I do." He shrugged.

The colonel's assurances didn't have their intended affect. Sam's pacing redoubled, and Daniel decided a distraction was in order. "Hey Jack, while we're out here, why don't we check out our own version of the Light of Heaven?" he asked.

O'Neill squinted at him. "I thought there wasn't anything to check out."

Daniel shrugged. "Maybe the MALP's cameras were malfunctioning. It's still worth a look."

The colonel exhaled loudly through his nose. "All right. Fire up the Stargate, talk to the SGC, have them check the MALP again, see if anything bad's suddenly happened out there. If it's still clear, you and Carter can go. Make it quick. If you don't find anything, go ahead and signal the SGC to retrieve the MALP and get your butts back here."

Fifteen minutes later Sam and Daniel were on PR8-332, staring into profound darkness, which they reasoned could only be the interior of some sort of structure built to house the Stargate. They decided to split up and walk opposite directions from the MALP to map out the room.

"So Sam," Daniel began in that voice that indicated he was curious about something. "Where exactly are all these other dimensions, universes, whatever?"

"Good question," she answered, peering off after her flashlight beam as it tried vainly to cut through the darkness. "Some people have theorized that other dimensions exist at right angles to our own, so something like a dodecahedron would be a three dimensional shadow of a four dimensional object."

He pursed his lips as he stepped cautiously forward. "So we're limited by the dimensions we can perceive?"

"Well, yeah... imagine intersecting the plane of existence of a purely two dimensional creature. It could only perceive that finite portion of us that existed in that very specific plane at any given time." Sam stopped suddenly, realizing she'd nearly collided face-first with a wall. It was made out of some light-absorbing material, barely distinguishable from the empty space around it. She put her hand to the wall, finding it curiously smooth and warm to the touch, and began to follow it along its perimeter.

"What about different quantum realities?" Daniel asked. Having discovered the outer wall on his own, he started walking the perimeter in a similar manner.

"Well, quantum physics screws everything up," she answered wryly. "Now instead of other dimensions being at right angles to our own, different quantum matter is probably just a waveform vibrating slightly out of sync with ours... unperceivable, even if you're standing in the exact same place." She paused, looking around as the hair on the back of her neck prickled at some unseen presence.

"This was where I found the nine Stargate symbols," the alternate Sam was explaining, flipping through a massive tome to find the right page. After completely falling apart on Janet's shoulder for several long minutes, she'd managed to pull herself together again, reminded that there was a reason they were here.

Janet looked around curiously. "I thought the Ancients were a lot more advanced than this. I mean, actual books? Seems so antiquated."

"Yeah, what's weirder is that as old as this place has to be, there's not a speck of dust to be found." She lifted a page and rubbed it between her fingertips. "Whatever this material is, it's not deteriorating at all."

Janet had stopped paying attention, suddenly feeling an odd warmth tingling its way through her. It was... familiar.

"So different kinds of matter can occupy the same physical space? How does that work?" Daniel asked. When she didn't answer right away, he turned and trained his flashlight on her. "Sam?"

Her head was tilted off to one side, as if studying something he couldn't see, with an odd smile bending her lips. There was someone there, yet not there... God, for a moment, she swore she caught the scent of Janet's hair...

"Sam!" Daniel called worriedly, having abandoned his perimeter search to move right in front of her.

She blinked lazily at him, then shook her head as if to clear it. "Sorry." she sifted through her memory to recall whatever it was he had just asked her. "What we think of as matter is mostly empty space. With the right frequency shift we'd pass right through different quantum matter occupying the same space and not even notice it."

He watched her carefully for a moment. "There's nothing here. We should get back to PY9-2346."

"Yeah, okay." She followed him back to the Stargate, but not without one last lingering look at that spot near the wall.

Janet shook herself as the tingling receded. Sam was watching her expectantly, and the doctor realized she'd been asked a question. "I'm sorry, what?"

"I said, this is what you came for, right?"

She regarded the book, flipping through a few massive pages. "I guess so..." She recognized bits of Goa'uld, a few words of Latin, and something written in Hebrew. Another page flipped, and the Eloyim star chart lay in front of her, this one far more detailed than the version they'd seen previously. "This looks familiar."

Sam nodded, her eyes downcast. "Well, you'd better get back then." She folded the book shut, and hauled it back across the enormous room to the gate. "Tell Daniel to make it quick with this thing, there's no way of knowing if entropic cascade affects inanimate matter as well." She handed the book off to Janet, and paused in front of the DHD.

"Sam?" Janet asked, after a long moment of watching the blonde stare at the floor.

"You didn't have to come here," Sam murmured finally. "Thank you."

Janet's eyes shone bright with poignant understanding. "Actually, I did have to come," she corrected mildly. She set down the book briefly to unhook Colonel O'Neill's GDO, and handed it over.

The alternate Sam nodded, then dialed the nine symbols with slow, deliberate motions, and looked up at Janet as she hugged the large tome to her chest and approached the active gate. The smaller woman turned and looked at her one last time. "Goodbye, Sam," she said quietly. Then she stepped through and disappeared.

"Goodbye," came the barest whispered response.

Sam and Daniel had returned to PY9-2346, and both instinctively ducked as they met the wind swirling violently on the plain. A loud whining filled the air, and they looked up to see a large ship descending upon them. They ducked behind a pile of wreckage where Teal'c and O'Neill were waiting.

"What is that thing?" Carter called over the noise of the wind.

"It is of Goa'uld design, but nothing I have seen before," Teal'c responded.

Colonel O'Neill poked his head over the wreckage to get a better look at the ship as it lumbered gracelessly out of the sky. "Probably back to finish what they started. We need to get out of here," he growled. "I've already sent the other two teams back."

"What about Doctor Fraiser?" Daniel asked.

Sam didn't even think twice. "I'll wait for her. You go ahead."

The colonel shook his head. "Forget it, Major. We'll stay here as long as we can."

Teal'c was staring intently at the sky. "O'Neill," he said, pointing off into the distance. Two more ships were clearly visible as they descended through the atmosphere.

"Oh, swell," O'Neill muttered. "Daniel, Teal'c, get closer to the DHD," the colonel ordered. "Dial us home as soon as she's back." He turned to watch the Stargate anxiously. "Hurry up, Doc..."

A couple tense minutes dragged by as the ungainly ships slowed in the air, poised for landing. Sam checked the ammo in her MP5 for the sixth time, then stared hard at the Stargate, willing Janet to return.

Suddenly the chevrons activated and the Stargate flared to life. Sam dropped her MP5 and pushed herself into a crouch, then was up and running before Janet had taken two steps on her return. Sam tackled her, then tucked them both into a roll that put them well behind a pile of debris on the other side of the gate.

When the world stopped spinning around her, Janet blinked owlishly at the blonde from within her protective embrace. "Nice to see you too."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Sam answered with a faint smile.

The doctor looked up at the large ships as the first one touched down about a hundred meters away. "Daniel, now!" she heard O'Neill order. Daniel scrambled for the DHD, while Teal'c carefully followed to provide cover.

Daniel dialed and waited for the telltale whooshing of the Stargate, but nothing happened. He dialed again, then again, punching each symbol carefully. Still no wormhole. "Jack! It won't dial!" He realized it had taken a bit longer in comparison to the other reality, but their Stargate system was finally starting to show the stress of the vast matter imbalance.

O'Neill swore loudly, eyeing a ramp that was lowering from the belly of the Goa'uld ship. "Pick someplace! Anywhere but here!" He picked Sam's MP5 off the ground next to him and tossed it gingerly to her across the clearing in front of the gate. She cocked it and handed Janet a spare sidearm.

Janet was peering over a bit of rubble, watching the ship curiously. There were no legions of Jaffa pouring out ready to annihilate them. In fact, it looked like there was just one person coming down the ramp, and at a rather leisurely pace. She tugged on Sam's sleeve. "Sam, is that who I think it is?"

Daniel had finally dialed a successful location, and he, Teal'c and Jack were scuffling over to the gate. "Carter, let's go!" O'Neill yelled.

Sam briefly ignored him, instead squinting at the lone figure approaching from the ship. She dug out her binoculars to get a better look, then tossed them over to the colonel.

O'Neill plucked the binoculars out of the air and looked for himself. He relaxed suddenly, and cocked his head in curiosity. "Huh," he grunted.

Jacob Carter approached them as the other two large ships touched down, and they were surrounded by the dull roar of the enormous engines. He jogged up to the team with a bemused smile, ducking the occasional exhaust plume from the landing vessels.

He gave Sam a hug in greeting. "And what the hell are you doing out here?" he asked dryly.

"One of our operatives was a top advisor to the system lord Kali," Jacob Carter explained as Janet and the four members of SG-1 gathered around a conference table on one of the Tok'ra ships.

O'Neill's eyebrows shot up curiously at the past tense. "Was?"

The senior Carter dipped his head. "We lost contact with him three days ago. We're fairly certain he's been killed, along with Kali herself and most of her highest ranked assistants."

"Dad, we saw some of Kali's Jaffa on PY9-5572 about twelve hours ago," Sam said.

"Probably easily fooled by the impostor they now call goddess," came the sarcastic response of a male Tok'ra who stood in the corner.

"I don't think you've met Ruslan," Jacob said by way of introduction. "And his host, Kirill. Ruslan was once an attendant to Kali."

"You said she's dead?" O'Neill asked. "Your work?"

"No," Jacob's symbiote Selmak answered tersely. "Her death will cause a dangerous imbalance of power among the system lords. We would not have chosen such a rash course of action."

"Well, if we didn't kill her and you didn't kill her, who did? And who's this impostor you mentioned?" O'Neill's face barely disguised his native distaste for talking with anyone Goa'uld-like, the Tok'ra included.

"Most likely, she was assassinated by her counterpart from a different quantum reality," Ruslan volunteered. "Our operative sent us a cryptic transmission indicating Kali had been contacted by another version of herself. They arranged to meet, then vowed to work together to rid each others' reality of the scourge of the Taur'i, and eliminate all competing system lords."

"So this other Kali somehow figured out how to make the ninth chevron work in her own reality," Sam murmured.

Daniel jumped in. "Which means she found the Light of Heaven."

Janet was shaking her head. "The Goa'uld hadn't been there. I doubt they would have left the place intact."

"Okay, so she found another reference," Daniel responded quickly. "And there might be a corresponding source in our own reality."

Jacob Carter's gaze was bouncing between them, following the conversation with some frustration. "You have discovered the purpose behind their use of the ninth chevron?" his symbiote interrupted sharply.

Sam quickly outlined what they'd deduced of the Goa'uld's plans to open a quantum portal, concluding with their discovery of the three systems on the Eloyim star chart, and ending up here. The Tok'ra conferred for a moment, then Ruslan addressed them again.

"You have provided the key information we lacked," he pronounced gravely. "We could not determine the purpose of the sudden alliance between Kali and Olokun, as they have been tense foes for generations." He nodded a bit. "Now it is more clear."

"Kali most likely seduced Olokun with a promise of power, then used his resources to test this quantum portal," Jacob elaborated. "When it didn't work, she had merely eliminated a rival and gained the data she needed for a more successful attempt."

"So the alternate kills her counterpart here, and now has two fleets for her own bidding in two different realities," Daniel concluded.

Ruslan nodded agreement. "Before we lost contact with our operative he made reference to the Stargate system failing," he added. "Most likely the alternate Kali blamed her counterpart, suspecting an elaborate act of treachery."

"The Goa'uld don't play well with others," O'Neill muttered.

"No, they don't," Jacob confirmed wryly. He sat forward, folding his hands on the table. "But for whatever reason, this other Kali has been on the move ever since taking over her alternate's fleet. She abandoned her encampment on a nearby world, then stopped here and eliminated the rest of Olokun's forces, probably just out of spite. We were following her, and stopped to see if there were any survivors." He smiled a bit. "Instead we found you, and discover that the universe is coming to an accelerated end."

Ruslan stepped forward. "What can we do to stop it?"

Daniel eagerly got to work with the Tok'ra scientists translating the book Janet had brought back with her. They quickly discovered that it contained identical information in multiple languages, which O'Neill laughingly compared to the incomprehensible manual he got with his new DVD player.

Oddly enough, the comparison was remarkably accurate. The book did seem to be an instruction set of sorts, giving explicit if obscure directions for adapting a Stargate to quantum travel, as well as pointing out key locations of Ancient geography.

The world they were on turned out to be an important landmark, referred to as a "source" in several key passages. Sam decided that that information combined with the knowledge that Kali and Olokun had selected both this system and PY9-5572 for their entrenchments made them the likely starting points for creation of the dual wormholes needed to spawn a quantum portal.

Which only left determining the target system.

Two days had passed while the scientists worked at feverish pace, and though they periodically tried to dial Earth, the gate remained steadfastly unresponsive.

At night while Sam worked ceaselessly, Janet found herself staring up at the stars from under the bow of one of the Tok'ra ships, wondering which flickering pinpoint of light was the one she called home.

Cassie was probably convinced they were dead. They'd been stranded out here with no way to even contact Earth and pass along a message, mere minutes after the other two SG teams had fled back to Earth in the shadow of unidentified Goa'uld ships. The SGC most likely interpreted that to mean that the gate on this end had been destroyed, that the entire team had been lost.

She sighed, and sent aloft a prayer of comfort to her adopted daughter.

Hopefully all this would be over soon.

It took another day, and ultimately Sam and Daniel came up with the identical answer in entirely different ways.

Sam had been doing rough calculations based on what they knew of wormhole physics, compensating for quantum gravity, and vectors in subspace. The Tok'ra computers were a bit too foreign to be of use, so she was stuck doing the tedious and complex computations by hand. Finally she had a radius of intersection, and put the Tok'ra guidance computer to work determining which known systems lay within a margin of error of that radius.

Daniel had immersed himself fully in the Ancients' manuscript, easily forgoing less consequential matters of personal health and hygiene in pursuit of the tome's secrets. Once he'd gotten a feel for the cadence of its instructions, he'd made huge amounts of progress, especially once he learned he could jump to the same information in a different language if he ever got stuck on particular vocabulary.

He was deep into a passage that he suspected described the very quantum portal they were trying to create when Sam burst into the room, a triumphant grin on her face. "I've figured it out," she declared.

Daniel grinned back up at her. "The Light of Heaven?"

She deflated a bit. "How'd you know?"

"'And the door between two... states, or places, or phases... will open when the Light of Heaven is set aflame,'" he quoted from the page in front of him. He slapped the book shut with finality.

The Tok'ra spent several hours verifying Sam and Daniel's discovery, and grudgingly admitted to some respect for the unanticipated brilliance in their work. After a bit of bickering, they eventually offered to make the three day trip to PY9-5572 to help activate the other half of the required pair of wormholes.

The next morning several Tok'ra were busy unloading crates of supplies from their ship for the SG-1 team to survive on while waiting for the designated gate activation.

"Can you guys take care of the rest of Kali's forces?" O'Neill asked.

"It should not be difficult," Ruslan answered. "We will give them proof their false god has fled, and offer them the chance to help us. I imagine most will come willingly." He pulled out a box and opened it, revealing two small crystals. "This will synchronize our attempts to open the Stargates." He tapped a facet on each, and both gems glowed a bright amber. "They are set for a seventy-five hour countdown. When the crystals turn red, we will simultaneously activate the wormholes."

Sam took one of the crystals, then turned to her father. "Good luck, Dad."

He hugged her, realizing with some self-reproach that he'd hugged her more since blending with Selmak than ever before in her adult life. His symbiote chuckled at him. "Sam, if this doesn't work..." He sighed. "We can pack you onto one of these ships and get you a safe distance away."

She shook her head, a shaky smile touching her lips. "I have to see this through. Besides, I know it's gonna work."

Her father patted her cheek and gave her a proud smile. "That's my girl." He turned to follow the rest of the Tok'ra up the ramp into the ship, but paused and turned back to face Janet. "Doctor, I understand you have a daughter."

She blinked in surprise. "Yes, that's right."

"I would very much like to meet her someday."

Janet barely had time to nod in response before he turned again and boarded the ship. She followed after SG-1 as they sought cover for the ships' takeoff, then watched as the vessels disappeared into the sky.

"How about 'small for a doctor, but big for a backpack?'" O'Neill asked.

Janet fixed him with a glare that would probably have made a lesser man shrivel into a fetal ball.

"C'mon, Doc, this is my best stuff," he whined.

She rolled her eyes and pushed herself upright, then walked away and left the relative comfort of the campfire Teal'c and Daniel had built.

They were just into Day Three, waiting with varying levels of patience for the allotted time to elapse before trying the choreographed wormhole activation. The team was getting a little punchy, effectively stranded on an alien world and awaiting either triumphant success or a quick trip to oblivion if they failed.

Sam hid a quick smile as the doctor wandered off into the surrounding brush, leaving a sputtering Jack O'Neill behind, then excused herself to follow.

"Among the Jaffa," Teal'c offered seriously, "warriors of small stature are among the most feared. Strength may follow size, but smaller opponents are quicker and therefore more dangerous."

"They make short Jaffa?" O'Neill fired back, smirking when he got the expected arched eyebrow in response.

Sam followed the diminutive figure of the doctor out into the darkness, watching her as she sat and tipped her head to regard the heavens. The blonde approached and sat carefully behind her, bending her long legs on either side of the smaller woman and wrapping her arms around Janet's middle.

"Still looking for home?" Sam asked quietly.

"Mmm," Janet hummed agreement. She raised a graceful hand and pointed at a faint yellowish star just over the horizon. "It's that one."

The taller woman regarded the indicated star. "How do you know?"

"I don't. I just decided."

Sam grinned. "Good enough for me."

They were quiet for a long while after that, and Sam found her thoughts turning to deeper things. Like the other Sam who had lost her family, like how lucky she was to have found this relationship with Janet at all, like how nice it was to have her father back in her life again. In a very uncharacteristic moment of unscientific irrationality, she decided that the only explanation for the turn of her life's events was that Something had to be looking out for her.

Which, of course, was exactly what a certain Seer had been trying to tell her all along.

"You know, this could be our last night alive," Sam pointed out, pitching her voice low to burr intimately in Janet's nearby ear.

The brunette squirmed a bit in her arms to turn and look at her, one eyebrow raised in question. "Right. Because the three guys fifty yards away would never notice if we were writhing around naked out here."

"Well now it sounds like a challenge," Sam said with a grin.

Janet laughed and settled back into that taller woman's arms, tilting her head to rest on a convenient shoulder.

They sat together through the night, awaiting the fate of the universe.

By Sam's watch, it had been seventy four hours and fifty six minutes. She'd done a final check to make sure the reactor was functional, and now all of SG-1 was gathered around the DHD, anxiously watching the crystal in her hand as she hovered over the ninth and final symbol to encode, the point of origin.

Four long minutes later, the crystal faded into a dull red, and Sam's hand descended, activating the wormhole.

Once again the battered Goa'uld reactor whined to life, stirring the winds on the plain. The wormhole flared open and focused untold energies on its ultimate destination. The team waited, and suddenly the placid wave forms of the event horizon darkened, deepening to a dull black and finally to a torrid red. The winds howled around them, almost as if trying to pull them into the energy vortex the gate was trying to form.

Sam tucked herself protectively around Janet as the team dropped to the ground, taking cover from the bits of debris swirling around. The noise became deafening, and for a moment Janet lost all sense of contact with reality, save only for Sam's warmth pressed against her back.

This was Hell, Janet decided. This was what it sounded like in the mouth of Hell. All the voices of the damned raised in cacophonous agony...

... then suddenly it was silent.

The winds dwindled, and the members of SG-1 slowly picked themselves off the ground. O'Neill had his fingers in his ears, wiggling them around as if to ease the ringing left over from that horrendous noise. Daniel stayed seated for a bit, looking dazedly up into the sky. Sam did a cursory check to make sure Janet was in one piece, then stood and looked at the Stargate, which appeared none the worse for wear. Behind it the Goa'uld reactor smoked and sparked as it powered down.

"So Carter," O'Neill said, his voice unnecessarily loud because of his shocked hearing. "When are we gonna know if this thing worked?"

Sam shrugged, and looked up at the bright sun traversing overhead. "I don't really know, sir."

Then she disappeared.

On the bridge of her newly acquired mothership, Kali the Destroyer watched with grim fascination as the nearby star ignited with primal fury. Her Jaffa had been searching the planet below, finding only a dark room containing nothing at all save a primitive Taur'i probe. She decided that she had been betrayed by her counterpart one final time, that the information she'd obtained about the library of the Ancients that survived on this world had only been manufactured to deceive her.

At least the astronomical cataclysm was a death befitting a goddess.

Her last thought before her ship was decimated by shockwaves of raging quantum energies was that the 'Light of Heaven' had been aptly named after all.

Sam swayed dizzily as her equilibrium adjusted to her new surroundings. She was aboard an Asgard ship, she realized blearily. A small gray alien was seated placidly before her, with huge black eyes that blinked in apparent curiosity.

"We were not aware that humans had deciphered the usage of the ninth chevron on the Stargate," the alien said somewhat disdainfully.

"Well, we didn't exactly mean to," she answered, feeling oddly like a misbehaving high schooler called into the principal's office. "We were just trying to repair the damage the Goa'uld did."

The Asgard inclined its massive head. "And a very ingenious solution, at that. We are... impressed."

That was more than she'd expected. Her eyebrows hiked up her forehead in surprise. "So we hit the star?"

"Indeed. It is reacting rapidly, and the quantum portal has been established. Matter is already following the osmotic pathway back toward equilibrium."

Sam blinked, not quite believing it was that easy. "It's over, then?"

"I am not certain to what you are referring. The matter imbalance is correcting itself, and we have contacted our counterparts in the other quantum reality to arrange to monitor the portal until the star's matter has been exhausted. At that time it will likely collapse into a black hole, which will pose no further threat to either reality."

She nodded at that, glad to hear the far more advanced Asgard were finally taking some interest in looking after the universe.

"We would have arrived sooner," the alien said as if reading her thoughts, his tone almost apologetic. "The matter imbalance disrupted our navigational systems, rendering them most unusable. Fortunately in the meantime your improvisation proved successful."

If the odd little alien mouths were capable of it, she was fairly certain he'd be smiling at her right now. "My team on the planet..."

"We can expedite your trip back to your homeworld, if you'd like," he said, anticipating the request.

Sam's shoulders slumped and she realized she was completely, absolutely exhausted. "Yeah, that'd be nice. Thanks."

Doctor Fraiser and the four members of SG-1 materialized out of nowhere on the ramp in the SGC gate room, triggering blaring alarms and sending four different squads of SFs to high threat alert status. Colonel O'Neill winced at the uproar and raised a hand to the control room window, waving to General Hammond. "It's just us," he yelled. "Can you kill that godawful noise, please?" Hammond disappeared from the window, headed to the steps at the rear of the control room, then reappeared at the blast door in the gate room, ordering the SFs to stand down.

"SG-1, you've been missing in action for almost a week. What the hell happened to you out there?" the general demanded. "And how did you return without using the Stargate?"

"Well, we saved the known universe," O'Neill said blandly, "and the Asgard figured they owed us a favor. So they sent us home." He yawned and rubbed his face wearily. "And not a moment too soon. Teal'c snores."

Hammond looked them over. "Do any of you need medical assistance?"

Janet shook her head. "I think we could just use some rest, sir."

"Very well." The general smiled. "We'll debrief tomorrow, 0900. Welcome home."

Saving the universe had a way of putting things in perspective.

Until a few years earlier Janet had never really even imagined herself as a mom. But when Cassie had flown out of the house to greet her with a tearful hug earlier that evening, she'd realized that being a parent was the most important thing there was about her life, period.

In both Janet and Sam's absence, Cassie had been placed in the temporary care of a young lieutenant in the SGC until more formal arrangements could be made. The very idea of her adopted daughter left at the mercy of a militarized version of the foster care system set Janet's teeth on edge, and she swore to herself that she'd figure out a better option in the future.

That night she sat on the edge of Cassandra's bed, petting the girl's hair with gentle motions until she'd finally fallen asleep. She'd been gone for a while, and Sam finally poked her head into the bedroom to check on them.

"Everything okay?" she whispered, her blonde hair glowing in the hall light as she stood in the doorway.

Janet just looked back at her, her dark eyes shining. Sam took the cue perfectly and slid into the bedroom and to sit beside her, enveloping her in a warm hug.

"Things are gonna have to change, aren't they?" Sam murmured after a while.

"Yeah," Janet whispered bleakly.

"Okay." The blonde planted a kiss on the top of Janet's head, a tacit promise that they would work through it together.

A couple days later Sam wandered into Daniel's office, curious to see if he'd made any further progress with the manuscript from the Light of Heaven. When she arrived she saw him seated at his desk, his glasses dangling from one hand as he squinted off into space.


He looked distractedly over at her. "Oh, hey Sam."

"Something wrong?"

"I don't know, actually." He put his glasses back on as she stepped over to his desk, leaning lightly against the edge. "I had recommended that the archeological unit attached to SG-7 visit the new Eloy and take a look around, read some of the scrolls they have in their library, take some pictures..."

Sam nodded. "Okay."

"I also told them to look for Noemi, figuring she could be a sort of liaison," he continued. "Help them with the language, that sort of thing."

"Right, makes sense."

He frowned. "They just came back about an hour ago. They couldn't find anyone there named Noemi, anyone who spoke English, or anyone who even remembered an SG team visiting there a couple weeks back."

The blonde folded her arms. "Now that's weird."

"But SG-7 did get the chance to poke around in the Eloyim library. They found a scroll there that made reference to a great warrior who traveled the stars to save his people from enslavement from the false gods."

"The story Teal'c told them."

"Right," he agreed. "But none of the Eloyim remembered where they had heard the story, or even when it had become part of their library. It's almost like we weren't actually there at all, except for this one fingerprint we left behind."

That night Sam and Janet made love slowly, deliberately, straining against each other for what seemed like hours before finally finding release. Afterward they lay tangled together, staring into each others' eyes, speaking volumes with silent caresses. Neither was certain when they actually fell asleep.

In the dream it was a place that was familiar, though it had existed only in someone else's imagination: A starlit meadow, with tall grasses blowing gently in the night breeze.

They were holding hands, walking together toward a robed figure who had his head tipped back to watch the sky.

"Would you be terribly shocked to learn that there wasn't really a 'Bob the tour guide?'" he asked. He rolled his head to the side to regard them with a smile.

"Somehow that doesn't surprise me," Sam answered.

The Seer laughed. "Ah, Samantha, ever in doubt." He turned to Janet. "How do you put up with her?"

"It's a challenge," the doctor answered dryly.

He grinned outright, then pinned a serious look on Sam. "I know you have questions. And you know that I can't really answer them. I can, however, tell you this." He held up one finger, pointed toward the sky, as he adopted his familiar teaching pose. "You insist on thinking in terms of entropy," he observed. "Your science tells you that the universe naturally tends toward a greater and greater degree of chaos. In fact, the universe is quite orderly. It even likes to clean up after itself."

"The Eloyim don't remember us," Sam said.

"No, nor will they. However, they will retain your friend's story to tell as their own, for it will give them insight. Tomorrow the book you recovered from the Light of Heaven will destroy itself in the phenomenon you refer to as entropic cascade. All the bits and pieces that had to be shuffled around to help you will return to how they once were, except you both will remain forever changed."

"Why?" Sam breathed.

"Do you remember what Noemi said? About events molding you, shaping you for what is to come?"

The blonde nodded.

"She lied," he said succinctly. "Events aren't molding you, Samantha, they are molding your dear companion here." He inclined his head respectfully to Janet, then took a few steps backward, smiling kindly at them both. "The universe isn't done with the two of you. Just wait till you see what's next."

With a gentle laugh, he was gone.

In another version of reality, Major Samantha Carter stood before the DHD of a Stargate on an utterly nondescript world. She was internally debating whether to bother trying to dial anywhere at all, or maybe just sitting down and never getting up again. Since returning to her reality she'd wandered from planet to planet, trying to find a way back to Earth that wouldn't fail due to the growing instability of her universe. Hell, maybe that other Carter and Janet managed to figure it all out by now, and she could finally go home.

The thought of her friend and her daughter lanced through her, leaving her breathless. And the idea that that other Carter had what she was missing so badly... it was so profoundly unfair, she couldn't stand to think about it.

Sam took a steadying gulp of air, leaning heavily against the DHD, then for sheer novelty's sake tried dialing Earth first. The chevrons encoded and the wormhole opened flawlessly for the first time she'd seen in weeks. She stared at the shimmering blue aperture blankly for a moment before realizing everything was apparently fixed, and she really could go back.

But go back to what? She'd failed here, had to be bailed out by an alternate reality. Her family was gone, her lifelong dreams rendered painfully meaningless. After a few moments of internal debate, she decided that she'd go back, deliver her resignation, then hop on her motorcycle and drive off into the wilderness and see what happened next.

With that resolution, she activated her borrowed GDO and stepped through the Stargate.

Almost as an afterthought, the universe made one final correction.

Sam arrived in the gate room on Cheyenne Mountain, surprised to be greeted by rousing cheers from several gathered SG teams, including Colonel O'Neill, Teal'c, and Daniel. General Hammond stepped up the ramp to shake her hand.

"Glad you've made it back, Major," he said jovially. "Good job out there."

She stared at him blankly, nearly stumbling on the ramp. "Sir, I didn't do anything..."

"The Asgard beg to differ," O'Neill interrupted. "They stopped by here to make sure we knew that you saved the known universe."

"But I didn't..." she murmured, nearly overcome with confusion.

"Well, okay, you just traveled to an alternate reality to make sure they could save the known universe. Same difference," O'Neill clarified with a grin, as he clapped a congratulatory hand on her shoulder.

"Excuse me, but Major Carter clearly needs medical attention," came a stern voice from somewhere below the shoulders of everyone around her. Janet Fraiser pushed forward through the crowd to take the visibly wavering Sam by the elbow, prepared to guide her out of the gate room and on to the infirmary.

"Of course, Doctor," Hammond agreed, stepping aside to let them pass. "Welcome home, Major."

Sam was still blinking at Janet by the time they got into the elevator. "You're here?" she murmured, confused.

"Of course I'm here," Janet replied evenly. "I've been worried sick about you."

"Oh." The blonde closed her eyes, scanning her admittedly exhausted brain for the reason why that didn't seem quite right, but coming up empty. "How's Cassie?" she asked hesitantly.

"She's fine," the doctor answered. She looked up at Sam in concern. "Are you all right?"

"Just tired," Sam answered with a smile, leaning a bit more against the brunette in a gesture that was part hug, part exhausted slump. "God, Janet, I missed you."

Continue to the next chapter, Catch Me in a Dream.
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