Part XXV

Note: Some dialog in this chapter is taken from the Stargate SG-1 episode "Möbius".

Cassie enjoyed her Christmas vacation in Colorado. She enjoyed seeing her friends from school who hadn't left town or who had come home themselves for the holidays. She pretended to be completely innocent when Daniel started translating the book that she'd gotten a copy of from the Council library — written in Egyptian hieroglyphics — when he discovered was really ancient Egyptian erotic poetry. She did tell him that it had been Dawn that recommended it to her. She did tell General Jack that she'd gotten Jack's advice for what to get him for Christmas. The funniest thing about it was that when she'd emailed General Jack a month ago for advice on what to get Jack, he'd said exactly the same thing. As always the trickiest present had been the one for Sam. She had finally settled on a first edition copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Once the Christmas vacation was done, she had to take a commercial flight back to England, but she did manage to upgrade to business class, since she hadn't had to spend any money on her flight back to the States. It still wasn't as nice as her Air Force flight home had been.

She brought back presents for Jack — who had spent Christmas with Dawn at Giles' place in Westbury — from most of the members of SG-1. The only one who hadn't given her something to take to him was General Jack. He said that he was sending Jack his present through Air Force channels, since it was something that Cassie wouldn't be able to carry on a commercial flight. That got Cassie really curious about what it could be. She made Jack promise to call her when it was delivered, so she could be there when he opened whatever it was.

Jack took delivery of a heavy package from an Air Force courier a couple of days later. He called Cassie and Dawn so that they could join him and Andrew in their set before he opened it. Inside the plain brown cardboard box was something heavy, wrapped in brightly coloured Simpsons Christmas wrapping paper; and a card in an envelope. The card had a picture of Homer in a Santa suit, and the message written inside just said that Jack should be able to figure out the combination.

Jack ripped the paper away from his present, and found it was covering a metal box, about one foot on a side, and six inches deep, with a combination lock on it.

He tried out various combinations that he figured Jack might have picked for him, ranging from his old military service number from the days before the Air Force had switched over to using social security numbers, to the PIN for Jack's ATM card. He hit on the right one when he tried the combination from his old SGC locker.

He opened the lid of the box, and was shocked by what was packed, tightly nestled in dense foam, inside it.

"Is that—?" asked Cassie.

"Yes it is," said Jack.

"What is it?" asked Dawn.

"It's a zat," said Jack.

"What's a zat?" asked Andrew.

Jack pulled the goa'uld weapon from the box, and pressed the stud to activate it. It sprang open in his hand. "It's short for 'zat'nik'tel'."

"And that is helpful in a way that's not," said Dawn.

"It's an alien weapon, kinda like a phaser," said Cassie.

"For real?" asked Andrew. "That is so cool!"

"Getting shot once with one is kinda like being hit by a taser," said Jack. "Getting shot a second time, right after that, will kill most people."

"I wonder what it will do to a vamp, or some other demon," said Dawn.

"I've been wondering that, ever since I found out that such things existed," said Jack. "Maybe now, I'll get a chance to find out."

"Don't forget to take a stake along too, just in case it doesn't work."

Classes for the Lent Term at Cambridge got underway the next week. Cassie wondered a bit about the strange English term names. Why couldn't they just call it the Winter Term?

While classes went along pretty much as expected, there was a bit of an annoying change in her living arrangements. Jack was spending a lot of nights in Dawn's room … and she was spending a lot of nights in his. Cassie much preferred the nights that Dawn spent with Jack, since she didn't have to overhear what they were doing together on those nights. Enhanced hearing could be a bitch sometimes, and there was only so much that her environmental recordings could cover up. She was just about ready to give up, and suggest that she and Jack should just switch rooms, so she could share a set with Andrew, and Jack could move in with Dawn.

Dawn rolled over in her bed as she awoke, reaching for Jack. Her arm only met with empty space. She lay in her bed for a moment, wondering where he had gotten to. He hadn't mentioned anything last night about having to get up early this morning. She opened her eyes.

Dawn blinked. This wasn't her room … but it was. It was like waking from one of those really realistic dreams, where it took you a little while to figure out what was real, and what was the dream. She heard pounding on her door, and realized that it was what had waked her.

"Dawn! Get up! You're going to be late for class!"

Dawn knew that voice. It was a voice she hadn't heard for years. It was a voice that couldn't be real, but one that she also remembered belonged to her roommate. She sat up in her bed. "I'm awake!" she said.

The door of her room opened, and Amanda looked in at her. "You better get moving," she said. "You've got class in twenty minutes."

Dawn blinked. Amanda was her roommate here at Oxford. They had been friends since before the destruction of Sunnydale. She remembered Amanda on the bus out of Sunnydale, and she remembered her grief from hearing what had happened to her friend … She remembered Amanda living … and she remembered Amanda dying. She remembered being a student at Cambridge University with her roommate Cassie, and her new boyfriend Jack … and she remembered attending Oxford with her friend Amanda, and currently not having a boyfriend.

"I'm not going to class today," she said.

Dawn got out of bed, and went to the laptop computer on her desk. She logged into the Council's web site. It took a couple of attempts to remember the right password. The first one she tried was the one that worked when she was in Cambridge. She went to the database of Slayers and typed "Cassandra Fraiser" into the search form, and clicked on the "Search" button. She got zero hits. She tried both "Fraiser" and "Cassandra" with the same result. She tried searching for Slayers from Colorado, and got one she recognized from Denver, but she wasn't Cassie. She tried a few other names that she remembered, and got the expected results for nearly all of them. She was saddened to learn that some of the Slayers that she remembered from the world with Cassie and Jack had been killed by the Bringers, while they were still Potentials. Finding living Slayers in this world who had died as Potentials in the other world didn't really balance the scales in her mind. Sometimes two negatives didn't make a positive. Sometimes they made things even more negative.

Dawn looked around at the faces on the screens in the conference room of the Oxford chapter of the Anacreontic Society. Xander and Anya were sitting together on one of the screens, and she felt a tightness in her chest. She could remember Anya's death … she could remember Xander's grief. This was going to be harder than she thought. She also couldn't help noticing that Faith was missing.

"You called this meeting, Dawn" said Giles, "What's going on?"

"I wish I knew," said Dawn. "I just know it's something weird. I've suddenly got two sets of memories for the last couple of years."

"What do you mean?" asked Buffy.

"I mean that I have two different sets of memories for how the last couple of years have gone," said Dawn. "Ever since the destruction of Sunnydale … I remember things going differently."

"How differently?" asked Anya.

Dawn closed her eyes. She really didn't want to go into that right now … especially with Anya. "Let's just say that the Slayer Memorial monument has got some different names on it … there's the same number of names, they're just different."

"What different names?" asked Anya.

"I'd really rather not say," said Dawn, "but in my other memories, Amanda isn't my roommate. Giles, did you get anywhere tracking down those names I gave you?"

"I have found no record of anyone named 'Cassandra Fraiser,' or a 'Jonathan O'Neill' under twenty years old. There is a retired Air Force Colonel with that name, but he is over fifty."

Dawn nodded. "That makes sense. What about the other names I gave you?"

"Doctor Janet Fraiser is the chief of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, in Baltimore," said Giles. "She has never been in the Air Force. Neither has Samantha Carter; she's working with NASA's Department of Aerospace Research. Daniel Jackson is teaching English as a Second Language classes in Chicago. He'd had a promising career as a researcher in archaeology — we even considered trying to recruit him — but some of his theories were too outlandish."

"Theories about aliens visiting Earth in the past?" asked Dawn.

"Yes," said Giles. "How did you know?"

"In my other set of memories, I've met an alien," said Dawn. "And Daniel Jackson, and those other people were instrumental in our making first contact with them."

Vi sat on a boat in the slip next to the one belonging to a retired Air Force colonel, pretending to be doing nothing but sun-bathing. Jack O'Neill had been the only one of the three names that Dawn had identified as being from some sort of elite alien fighting team in some other reality that they had been able to locate. Dr. Daniel Jackson had left his small apartment in Chicago the day before the Council team had turned up to look for him there, and Dr. Samantha Carter wasn't home either.

At first it had seemed that O'Neill had vanished too, but it had turned out that he'd just been out on his boat. Vi didn't really know what to make of this situation. Dawn suddenly claiming to have two sets of memories of the last few years wasn't the weirdest thing that had ever happened to many of them. Her knowledge of Drs. Jackson and Carter, even if it didn't match these people exactly, was close enough to warrant further investigation. Them both vanishing from their known day jobs at the same time made it even more likely that something was going on, so they had inserted a Slayer team into the marina where O'Neill kept his boat, to keep an eye on him.

They had done so by the simple expedient of borrowing the boat that Kennedy's family kept in Fort Lauderdale, and parking it next to O'Neill's boat with Vi and a couple of other Slayers aboard pretending to be a bunch of college students taking a bit of a vacation. The fact that they all were college students, and were just as likely to be seen reading textbooks as the current best-seller while sunning on the boat's deck didn't hurt in establishing their covers. Another boat, this one rented from a local charter agency, with their Watcher and Witch support aboard, was parked a couple of docks over. With the two element team they didn't have to be completely obvious that they were watching O'Neill's boat. The Slayers could sail out of the marina on days when O'Neill was staying at the dock, or they could stay at the dock on the days when O'Neill had a charter, while the other boat took up the following duties. It would take a particularly paranoid person to pick up that wherever he went, there was always at least one of a pair of boats that had him in sight. (Though Dawn had warned them that the other Jack O'Neill, from her other set of memories, was the sort of man who would pick up on that sort of thing.)

Jack (as he'd told them to call him) was a pleasant enough guy, though he seemed to be a bit bitter. The Council's research into his background had shown that he'd gotten divorced and left the Air Force shortly after the death of his son, and it seemed that he had never really recovered from it.

So far this assignment had been pretty boring, with the biggest development being in Vi's tan. She spent a lot of time sitting out on the front deck of their boat, reading books, or pretending to nap in the sun, with her eyes covered by a big set of sunglasses that let her keep them open, and watching. Jack kept to himself most of the time when he didn't have a charter. At the moment he was doing some work on his engine, which seemed to involve a lot of swearing. Vi was considering ending her pretend nap, and offering to help. She didn't know anything about boat motors, but she could pass him tools, and provide an extra pair of hands to hold things steady.

That plan was nixed when she spotted Drs. Jackson and Carter making their way down the dock, looking at slip-numbers. They went past her, and stopped at O'Neill's boat, just in time for him to bark his knuckles when his wrench slipped.

"Ow! Damn!" he swore, and shook his hand. He looked up and noticed his visitors. "You folks lookin' for a little tour?" he asked.

"Jack O'Neill?" asked Dr. Jackson.

Jack eyed them suspiciously. "Yeah."

"Uh, I'm Daniel Jackson; this is Samantha Carter."

"You two a couple?" asked Jack.

"No, no, no, we just, we just met," said Jackson.

"What do you want?" asked Jack.

"Well uh, we were recently approached by the military about a matter of, um, national security," said Dr. Carter.

Jack went back to work on his engine. "Don't care."

"This is really important," said Dr. Jackson. "All we're asking is a little bit of your time."

"A hundred and fifty bucks an hour to rent the boat," said Jack.

"We don't wanna go anywhere," said Dr. Jackson.

"It's your money," said Jack.

Carter and Jackson exchanged a look, and he reached for his back pocket. "I think I've got fifty bucks."

"Me too," said Dr. Carter. "So, can we have forty minutes of your time?" She looked around, and saw Vi, but she was far enough away that she wouldn't expect that Vi would be able to overhear their conversation, and she was doing a very good impression of a sleeping girl, anyway. She treated it as a meditation exercise.

Vi had a hard time keeping up that impression as she listened in on Jackson and Carter's rather one sided conversation, starting right from the beginning, when she kept her face completely blank when O'Neill told them that they had to put on life jackets … even though the boat wasn't leaving the dock, and he wasn't wearing one himself. Vi knew that he did it just to annoy them, and maybe make them go away.

She listened as Drs. Jackson and Carter told O'Neill about the discovery of a five thousand year old video camera in a tomb in Egypt, and described what was recorded on the tape it contained. Their story confirmed some of the details of what Dawn had told them about the other timeline, but she had a hard time imagining that this pair of dorky scientists could be part of some elite military team.

Jack didn't really say much, just giving occasional grunts, or making some sarcastic comments to show that he wasn't completely ignoring them while he puttered about on his boat.

Jackson finished describing what was on the tape. "So ultimately what we have to do is this: we have to find the Stargate and then get hold of this time travel device."

"Locate this alien named Teal'c," added Carter. Vi remembered that Dawn had mentioned him, as one of the Colorado Springs Slayer's friends.

"Right," said Jackson. "Get Teal'c first, then go back in time to change the past, fix the future."

Jack didn't seem to be paying any attention to him, choosing to work on one of his fishing poles, instead. "Are you listening?" asked Jackson.

"I was trying not to," said Jack.

"Yeah, I suppose it does sound a little crazy," said Jackson.

"Really? Which part?" asked Jack. "I'd have to say: the moment I let you on board."

Vi hoped that no one noticed her lips twitch.

"You don't have to believe us," said Carter. "All we ask is that you watch the tape and decide for yourself."

"You know, I have decided." Jack looked at his watch. "And hey look, your time's up!"

"Aren't you in the least bit intrigued that there might be something else out there, somewhere?" asked Jackson. "Something more than this!"

Jack stared at them for a few seconds. "No."

"We're supposed to be a team," said Jackson. "We saved the world."

"Several times," said Carter.

Jack put on an accent that sounded like it came straight out of Fargo. "Yeah. Okay. Sure. I'll buy that. Uh huh. The three of us. The world, we save it, right? Okay."

"I can't believe I wasted my frequent flyer miles on this," Carter told Jackson.

"Sorry to bother you," said Jackson to Jack.

"Not a problem," said Jack.

Carter and Jackson stood up, and started to remove their life jackets, but Jack wouldn't let them take them off until they were back on the dock. They threw the jackets back down into Jack's boat, and stalked angrily away.

"No worries, eh?" Jack called after them, but his face went thoughtful as soon as they were out of sight. He also gave Vi a good look, as if he suspected that she wasn't really sleeping, but she stayed lying still in the sun, breathing evenly, and not seeming to take any notice of anything going on around her, even after he went below deck on his boat. She waited nearly half a hour, thinking over everything she had learned before she pretended to wake up, stretched, and went back into the cabin of their boat to call Dawn.

"According to Carter and Jackson, a video tape from the lot of them was found in that tomb that was just unearthed in Egypt," said Vi. "The other thems went back in time, and their interference made this new world. Our Jackson and Carter were trying to enlist O'Neill's help to try to restore the original time line."

"But what's to say which time line is the 'right' one?" asked Giles. "Dawn, you have memories of both."

"Yeah," said Dawn. "And for Carter, Jackson, and O'Neill, I can see the attraction of the other timeline. In it, they are all highly respected in their fields. From the hints I've heard, the other Samantha Carter is in the running for at least three Nobel Prizes, once her work is declassified. If she wants to talk with him, Stephen Hawking clears time in his schedule to make room for her. Rumour has it that General O'Neill's name is the only one on the short list to take over the department that deals with aliens, and also with our kind of weirdness."

"Not sure how I feel about that," said Buffy. "Ever since Kinsey got elected President—"

"Best thing about the other universe," said Dawn. "No President Kinsey! First time I met Jack and Cassie, they were laughing about how Vice President Kinsey had gotten his comeuppance, and been forced to resign. In the other universe we have a much better relationship with the American government. President Hayes isn't the sort of fellow who would want to burn Willow at the stake."

"President Hayes?" asked Giles.

"Yeah, he's the Interior Secretary now, but in my other memories, he's President, and seems to be a decent guy."

"Still, if we, or the Air Force, do manage to 'fix' whatever they think went wrong, what happens to us?" asked Willow. "Even if there are versions of us in the other world, they aren't us. Should we be doing anything to help them, or stop them, or what?"

"I don't know," said Dawn. "I don't even have any ideas about what we can do."