Red Shift

"Would I do it all again?" echoed Jack, trying to formulate an answer to Teal'c's question. He wondered what was making his taciturn friend so outgoing and talkative. "What kind of a dumb question is that? I mean, when have we ever been in control of what's happened? Yeah, I know we've time looped and jumped solar flares to different years and all that... But how the heck do you expect a straight answer?"

He looked across at the former Jaffa slumped comfortably in the armchair on the opposite side of the log fire in the living room. 'He's aged a lot since he lost his symbiote.' thought Jack. 'Still gonna knock the shit out of anyone that crosses him or threatens his friends, but definitely mellowing.'

Teal'c eyed the glass of home-made beer that Sam had given him earlier. The potent ale was called 'Astrophysicist's Nightmare' by the O'Neill's, and it was the running family joke that if you couldn't ask for it by name, then you'd had enough for the day. He recognised that maybe the drink was nudging his conversation in this direction, but underneath that, he also had a strange feeling that the subject had to be discussed.

"O'Neill, do you not believe that opportunities have existed to correct the worst mistakes we made, or to prevent the greatest injustices that we saw? That if we used the Stargates to travel back in time again, we might make amendments to improve matters for the future?" said Teal'c.

Sam entered the room with three more bottles, and after handing two of them out, went to sit beside her husband. Jack automatically raised his arm across the sofa back without looking round, so that she could lean against him and have him idly massage her opposite shoulder and upper arm. Only Teal'c saw the depth of familiarity that could lead to such gestures, as neither Sam nor Jack even consciously realised that they did little things like this after twenty years of married life.

"You mean, armed with twenty-twenty hindsight, we set off righting wrongs and then come back to a shiny new world? I don't think so." replied Jack. "When you remember what we actually got involved in, each new corrective mission would just come down to assassinating or neutralising a list of names. Maybe helping a few others, I don't know. But when - if - we made it back to the present, what guarantee is there that it would be *better*? How would we know?"

"You would generate a different time-line after every trip." said Sam. "An alternate version of events. I suspect that our trip back to 1969 actually gave rise to the Alternate Universes we encountered via the Quantum Mirror, and look how they turned out. Nothing more wonderful in their worlds than in ours. But what about you, Teal'c? Would you change anything in your life?"

"I most certainly would!" replied Teal'c, sitting up. "As First Prime, I slaughtered thousands and brought misery to untold numbers of others. Everything I have done since meeting you two is a pitiful attempt to make amends for that time. How could I not take the chance to save those people?"

"But that's the whole point!" shouted Jack, disengaging his arm from around Sam and waving it in the air. "Look at where we are now! The Goa'uld are defeated, for crying out loud! We got there, Teal'c, thanks to you joining the SGC and leading the Free Jaffa in the war. You more than made amends. Don't blame yourself for what happened along the way."

"Pots and kettles, Jack." Sam realised that she perhaps shouldn't be bringing up subjects like this on a personal level, but the drink was fuelling the conversational fire this evening, and Teal'c was their closest friend. "You're the biggest reservoir of unjustified guilt I've ever come across. Your first words to everyone are 'it's not your fault', but you don't extend them to yourself."

"Yes, O'Neill. The personal pain that you suffered in your life would have destroyed many men." Teal'c said hurriedly. "You of all people would take the chance to..." He stopped speaking as he became aware of the startled looks on their faces. Realising what he had just said, he started, "I am sorry, my friend, I did not mean to..."

"No, Teal'c, it's OK." sighed Jack after a moment. "And you're not quite right either, Sam. It must be your influence and maybe just the wisdom of old age, but I do see now that I had a kind of *insular* viewpoint in the past. I do sometimes see things from a new perspective, you know. But you also know that Charlie's death was something that I *really* was responsible for, at least in part. I'll never walk away from that."

Sam looked down and felt her face reddening. Jack placed his arm back around her shoulders and squeezed her lightly, causing her to glance back up at him and smile. His next words brought a lump to her throat.

"I wouldn't change anything, anything at all. Not now. Because whatever else my life may have done, it's given me twenty years of happiness with you, and three kids we're proud of. And to have your support and true friendship, Teal'c. Kinda selfish, I suppose, but that's how it is."

Teal'c smiled and raised his glass in salute. As the tension of the moment subsided, Sam playfully dipped her finger in Jack's beer and brushed it across his lips. They laughed together, knowing that tonight would probably turn out later to be one of their very special memories.

Trust Jack O'Neill, however, to add a new dimension to the conversation.

"But there is one thing that perhaps ought to be changed, if not in the past, then certainly now." he said.

"What's that?" asked Sam. "Hockey league tables back on Earth? Fish stocks in Minnesota lakes?" Teal'c smiled at that.

"No." said Jack. "Maybe the whole Stargate network ought to be closed down until someone or something finds out how to stop the Universe from falling apart."

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"Have you been reading my Astrophysics Journals again, Jack?" asked Sam. "The non-mathematical bits, anyway."

"Well, yeah, but I also used the Asgard computer to see if they had any data on what I thought I saw." agreed Jack.

"Which was?"

"Well, I read that back in 1998, Earth astronomers started turning up evidence that the speed at which the Universe is expanding has increased since the time of the Big Bang, when creation began."

"That's right." said Sam, at first surprised that Jack was aware of such an obscure theory, but then realising that his lifelong interest in astronomy kept him involved. "Ever since it was accepted that the universe had a measurable origin in time and has been expanding from the first explosion, people have been arguing whether it will continue to expand forever, or slow down and then collapse again in the Big Crunch. Sooner or later someone would find further data that would prove one theory or the other. It was just a bit of a surprise to find that distant clusters of galaxies are actually accelerating away from each other."

"Why would they do that?" asked Jack. Seeing Sam take a deep breath before speaking, he held up his hand. "Ah! In words that I can follow, Brains. This is me and Teal'c you're talking to, remember."

"Well, put like that, we don't really know." admitted Sam sheepishly. "But what's this got to do with shutting down Stargates?" Teal'c nodded in the background.

"Two Stargates create a wormhole, right?" said Jack. "And clever software and hardware converts matter to energy at one end and back again at the other." The others nodded again.

"How much energy does it take to form a wormhole?" Jack continued. "Don't answer that, Sam, I already know that it's a very, very big number. Because the only places that wormholes form naturally in space are inside Black Holes. And even a small Black Hole can squash ten times the Sun's mass into a ball the size of New York City, right? So where does the energy come from to form the wormholes between Stargates?"

"Well, the Gates draw the energy from subspace." said Sam. "They're giant superconductors made from Naquadah metal, which has the unique property of being a superconductor for electricity in our three-dimensional space-time but emitting high radiation into subspace."

"And subspace is what we can't see, but we assume is kind of the fourth and fifth dimensions attached to our 3D space-time?" asked Jack.

"Yes, that's right!" said Sam, the depth of Jack's understanding surprising her even after their years together. "The wormholes exist in subspace, connecting together distant points in our space by a kind of extra- dimensional short-cut.

"But what if subspace energy is the 'glue' that holds our 3D space together?" Jack continued. "Suppose it regulates the force of gravity that controls the expansion rate of 3D space. If we're draining it off by repeated massive use of a large number of Stargates, then sooner or later you'd see changes. Like maybe a speeding up of the expansion rate, for instance?"

Sam was stunned into silence. Jack knew just from looking at her face that her mind was now fully engaged in compartmentalising the ideas they'd been discussing, and she would soon disappear to get her notebook. She'd long ago grown out of working all night on complex problems - age does that to you - but she would be up at dawn, just itching to get a chance to start manipulating the data. He also knew that, when she'd finished making notes and was ready to retire tonight, she'd be as excited as hell. Grateful to him for giving her new food for thought. And as playful as anything... It wasn't really why he had started the conversation. No, really it wasn't.

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Jack had never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, though, especially when Sam got into bed with that gleam in her eye. After all these years, he knew all the spots and actions that made her passionate, or ecstatic, or just plain happy. And tonight he had explored nearly all of them, being rewarded with her prolonged sighs and groans and squeals of contentment. Those sounds still turned him on more than anything. But tonight, she was driven by something else, an excitement, an almost feverish desire to throw herself into any and every position that felt good.

As he lay on his back in the final moments of restraint, matching her movements as she squirmed about above him, Sam started to shake all over and called, "Jack! Oh Jack, oh..ah!", sending him over the edge with a fury he hadn't felt for a while.

The earth moved for them. Literally.

"Jack!" screamed Sam. "Jack, what the hell...?!" They were bathed in a familiar white light, which soon faded to reveal that they were still in the same position, but now lying naked, red-faced and breathing heavily, on the floor of an Asgard battle cruiser.

"Oh crap." sighed Jack, his head thudding back onto the floor. "Thor! For crying out loud!"

"Good evening, O'Neill's." said Thor in his deadpan voice. "A matter of some urgency has arisen that requires your attention."

Sam and Jack stayed motionless, staring at each other. Finally, Jack exhaled and whispered to her, "You gotta love those guys." A nervous smile briefly crossed her face.

"Thor, ol' buddy," called Jack, turning to face his alien friend, "no *urgent matter* in this life is more important than getting us back home right now, this instant!" His voiced was getting louder with each word. "Because if we have to start walking around your ship in our birthday suits, you're gonna need a whole string of cloned bodies ready if you wanna be eating breakfast tomorrow morning!"

"My apologies." replied Thor. "I will return you to your house, but will call again in twenty minutes." Another flash of white light saw Sam and Jack back on their bed, still in the same intimate position. Sam collapsed onto Jack's chest, and as he ran his hands lazily up and down her back, she could feel him laughing.

"What?" she asked.

"I think we just joined the Mile High club." whispered Jack. "D'ya think we'll need all the twenty minutes to dressed and ready?"

"Don't even think about it. You're at the chivalrous age now." she giggled, rolling off him and disappearing towards the bathroom. "Once a king, always a king.."

"But once a knight is enough." he finished for her.

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Teal'c had readily agreed to stay at their house to watch over the kids when they told him about the Asgard's request for their presence. Moments later they were back on Thor's ship.

"I regret the inconvenience of this meeting." said Thor. "But I must say that I do not understand why you were engaged in the human procreational act when it is the case that you cannot produce further offspring."

"Just think of it as cloning for the fun of it." said Jack. "You know, fun? Something you folks get up to on a Saturday night?"

Thor just stared at him, the limpid pools of his eyes conveying the expression of strained tolerance that a person of lofty ideals shows to someone who can never be serious.

"What can we do for you, Thor?" asked Sam. "Why the urgency?"

Thor shifted in his floating chair. "O'Neill, you recently used our computer terminal to gather data on gravitational forces in the Universe." Jack nodded in response. "You have alerted us to a possibility that the Asgard has not given any thought to for many tens of thousands of your years. Namely, that extensive use of the Stargates is drawing on subspace energy to the point where the Universe itself is being affected."

"Er, yeah, I guess. But is this *urgent*?" said Jack. "It was only a crazy idea. I'm not a scientist, just someone fascinated by the stars. Sam's the one who can tell us whether I've got it all wrong. Why do you need me here anyway?" Jack was reminded of the Emperor Napoleon's reaction to being given the request to plant poplar trees along the roads of France to shade marching armies. ('How long will it take to become effective?' '20 years.' 'Well, there's no time to lose, then! We must start immediately.')

"Because it is predestined that you, and only you, will make the decision regarding our next actions. This much has been future-determined in our own simulations of time-lines and outcomes." replied Thor.

"Let me get this straight." interrupted Sam. "We can all model present/future scenarios. But how can you know that Jack is your decision maker? Why haven't you decided what to do for yourselves?"

"O'Neill possesses a very rare ability, although he does not know it, Samantha." continued Thor. "As you yourself are aware, he is capable of seeing beyond the immediate consequences of a set of observable facts, unencumbered by a detailed understanding of the circumstances. His decisions for the most part turn out to be the most expedient."

"Hello?" said Jack. "You mean, I'm thick enough to be lucky? Suppose I just tossed a coin and made a decision on that call?"

"If you decided that it was a means to resolve our choices, then we would accept that, too." replied Thor. "Do not doubt me on this, O'Neill. All our analyses of the probabilities of past, present and future events show increases in entropy when your personality is factored into the field equations. You may not believe in such 'destiny', but in this case, backed by all our research, we do."

Jack stood in silence, aware of Sam and Thor staring at him, but he could not come to terms with what he had just been told. Looking up, he asked, "Just what do you want me to decide for you?"

"We have the means to close down the entire Stargate network." replied Thor. "The question is whether we should do that."

"How is that possible?" said Sam, unable to resist the question.

"You will have seen that most Stargates have seven chevrons." Thor replied. "One in every thousand gates has nine: the Earth was fortunate in possessing two such. Otherwise they are distributed relatively evenly around the known universe. You already know that the Asgard can only be contacted via the eighth chevron. We can utilise the ninth chevron to dial all seven-chevron gates in their localities and render them inoperative. The nine-chevron gates would only be reactivated when it has been agreed that such an event is safe and desirable."

"What about spaceships travelling through wormholes?" asked Sam. "Wouldn't that keep using up subspace energy?"

"Without access to plentiful supplies of high-energy metals like Naquadria, planet-bound races would be unable to build them in any numbers." Thor said. "And the Asgard would not act in an irresponsible way. We would place our fleets in storage."

"So what difference will it make if the Stargates are switched off or not?" asked Jack.

Thor floated to a control panel and moved some shell-like objects around. The room lights dimmed, the walls becoming invisible, and a vast three- dimensional model of the Universe filled the room and beyond. Jack was struck immediately by how beautiful it looked.

"Here is the Universe in its current state, 13 billion years from the Big Bang, as you call it." explained Thor. "It is expanding faster and faster, so that distant galaxies will become invisible within a measurable time limit. If we project backwards in time," he said, manipulating the controls so that the image shrunk inwards to a smaller radius, "we can see that at this point, the Ancients completed their Stargate network. Now let us project forward again, but assuming that the Gates were not in use." The image expanded again, but this time to a smaller size than originally. "The Universe is not so large, and is expanding much more slowly. It would in fact have taken around 1 billion more years to reach the stage that it actually is now. Furthermore, the projected life of the visible Universe in this state is many times longer than is the case now."

"But if the damage is done, what difference will switching off the Gates now make?" said Sam.

Thor ran the simulation again, showing the effects of doing just that. "The Universe continues to expand, but has a lifetime of some 2 billion years longer than if we continue to use the Gates."

XXXXXXXXXXXX

Jack could still not believe that the decision lay with him, or understand why he had been placed in this position. After twelve hours of argument, questions and discussions on the Asgard ship, Thor returned them to their house, with the request that he contact them with a decision within two weeks.

During the following days, Jack spent many hours alone, sitting in his favourite spot on the hill overlooking the village, or going through the motions of working in his pottery. Then after a week, he turned up at the village school at noon, and got Sam to leave for the rest of the day. He took her up to 'his' hillside and they sat for a while in silence. She could see the strain on his face and in his heart, and so said nothing until he was ready.

"It comes down to this." sighed Jack, taking her hand in his. "Either we let our children and everyone continue to live their lives, for untold generations to come, with the freedom to travel wherever they can, and with all the benefits that they can experience."

Sam nodded and waited some more.

"Or we give future generations - future, as in so far ahead that we can't visualise it - a lifeline, but in the process throw our entire civilisation into a new Dark Age. Some choice!"

"Why don't you just tell the Asgard that you can't make a decision?" asked Sam. "It's hardly fair, what they're asking you to do."

"I thought about that, too." said Jack. "But they believe in me, don't you see, so I can't duck out of this one. If they say I make a difference, then who am I to argue?" He turned to her and caressed her cheek with his free hand. "Sam, there's one thing I must know. I need *you* to believe in me, whatever the decision. I shouldn't be asking this for myself, seeing as how the subject is so much bigger than any of us. But I couldn't stand living the rest of my life knowing that you would be upset with me over this. I'm not asking you to decide for me. I'm asking for more loyalty than it's right to ask anyone for."

Sam smiled and placed her arm round his neck. Tears sprang to her eyes and she whispered, "Jack, I know you'd give your life for me and the kids. You'll never have to worry that I wouldn't do the same for you. Whatever you decide, I'm with you. I love you so much."

They clung to each other for a long time. When they stood up, Jack felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. They walked arm in arm, his answer to the Asgard now as obvious as all hell.

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