Dr Carter's Lab
NID Off-world Base
Milky Way Galaxy

It had been four days since Sam had come to in the strange laboratory belonging to her counterpart and she wasn't much the wiser. Something she had deduced was that her alternate wasn't only working for Maybourne but that this base was most likely a rogue NID operation! In a way it was comforting to know at least Maybourne hadn't changed in this reality, even if the other her didn't seem to have any ethics and morals, or objections to working for the NID.

Thanks to the CCTV footage her counterpart's laptop could access she had been able to figure out what 'her' normal working hours were supposed to be, so Sam had started the same routine the next day and she hadn't heard of any complains or inquiries into why she had left her lab earlier that first day. Fortunately for her Doctor Carter appeared to be almost anal-retentive when it came to her research notes, meaning there was plenty of information on her past, current and future projects for Sam to pick up where she'd left off. Her double seemed to be even more methodical than she herself was and the thought of her teammates' reactions upon learning this elicited a chuckle from her as they, specifically the Colonel and even Daniel, often thought she was too precise and would tease her about it when they saw her reports.

That thought quickly sobered her and her chuckle died off, leaving only the humming sound of computer equipment in the lab – her teammates, the guys, her friends… God, she missed them! It had only been a few days now but she had grown so used to seeing them every day and spending hours in their company, especially on off-world missions. If someone would have told her they – an alien, a discredited archeologist and a grumpy colonel – would become her best friends a couple of years ago Sam would have laughed in their faces. But now things were different and the work they did had created an unbreakable bond between them. In fact, they were the only people close to her with the exception of Janet Fraiser and her adopted alien daughter Cassandra. Well, there was her Dad and her brother Mark and the three of them had finally talked and made up a couple of weeks ago, but they weren't nearly as close as her team.

If anything, Daniel was closer to her than her own blood-related brother. Teal'c too, although he was more of an older brother perhaps. More distant and formal as well, but not any less caring. Now, Colonel O'Neill was a whole different story altogether, Sam thought to herself. She wasn't sure what he was to her, other than her commanding officer. There was a friendship between them, sure, albeit tempered by their working relationship and military ranks. But there was also the occasional banter with a flirty undertone, something she never really did with either Daniel or Teal'c – or had done with any other CO in the past!

She certainly didn't think of him as a brother and definitely not as a father figure! He was too young for that and didn't really act paternal either, sometimes quite the opposite actually and he would turn into a mischievous little boy in the body of forty-something old man! What it came down to was that Sam had no idea what to think of the Colonel; all she knew was that he was somewhat enigmatic, had a dark side and certainly a lot of baggage from his personal life as well as his past in black ops. He also preferred to play dumb but she found it quite easy to look through his act.

When she had first gotten the assignment to Cheyenne Mountain and learned she was going to be working with the Colonel Jack O'Neill, she had been psyched and a bit nervous because she knew his reputation and quite a bit about his background; his record was far from exemplary with the occasional black mark and irreverence towards his superiors, but his accomplishments were impressive nonetheless. Sam had known she could learn a lot from him, especially once she had been assigned as his 2IC.

Now, three years later she still wasn't any closer to figuring him out. He liked to pretend he wasn't very complex but she had already learned there were different layers to him. She had to admit he intrigued her – and that he was easy on the eyes, very attractive as a matter of fact. Then again, she'd always had a thing for the lunatic fringe and a need to fix things and people… Sam remembered a conversation she'd had with Daniel in the beginning of the Program when her former fiancé, Jonas Hanson, had gone crazy off-world and SG-1 had been sent after him and his team; at the time she – and Daniel too – had seen a lot of similarities between Jonas and Colonel O'Neill, based on their military backgrounds and also their personalities. That's why she hadn't really been surprised to realize she found the Colonel attractive too, as he was also dark, driven, ruggedly handsome, and charismatic when he wanted to… and wounded.

Sam knew better now and while there were still some similarities between the two of them, she could say for certain that Colonel O'Neill was nothing like Jonas Hanson. The Colonel was a much better man and officer, who genuinely cared for those under his command and while sarcastic, he had a much better sense of humor and a softer side too, as evidenced by the risks he'd taken just a few days ago when Merrin had visited the SGC in their reality.

Sighing, she wished he was here; with his past in black ops he would surely know what to do until she could find a way back and he always knew when and how to lift her spirits or elicit a smile, often by making a sarcastic joke or fiddle with something in her lab to get her to take a break for a bit – or even make a seemingly uneducated remark that turned out to give her the inspiration she needed to find the answer. So far Sam hadn't seen anyone familiar around here, with the exception of Maybourne's name and it was upsetting to be all alone in such a strange and possibly dangerous environment after having come to rely on her team to have her back. Up until now she hadn't run into Maybourne in person yet and had no idea whether he was on the base as well, but considering her double's reports were sent to him he was probably around here somewhere, or would be soon. Logically she knew there was no way he would be able to tell she wasn't from this reality and was, in fact, an imposter but she still worried about it. How did her doppelganger interact with him?

She had no idea.

Then again, no one else had seemed suspicious of her behavior these past few days. Granted, Sam was trying to keep her interaction with others to a minimum but from the hours of CCTV footage she'd watched of her counterpart it seemed that was the norm, too as the woman didn't appear to have any friends around here. To her surprise it hadn't taken that much adjustment to pretend to be her alternate, although the clothes seemed a bit loose on her frame and her feet were killing her at the end of a long day – she wasn't used to walking around in heels all day, no matter how low they were. One lab assistant had murmured something about her changed hairstyle though, so Sam had quickly blurted out that some of her hair had been damaged in the explosion and therefore she'd cut it off. That had appeared to satisfy the other woman, or maybe she'd been too startled by an actual response as it seemed Doctor Carter wasn't very social or one for small talk.

That also meant Sam had to try to tone it down before someone would really get suspicious as one doesn't normally become very talkative overnight.

Another thing she had slowly become to realize was that no one except the occasional lab assistant seemed to notice her. There were no waves, smiles or even small nods of acknowledgment when she passed others in the corridors or joined them in the elevator. Of course, considering her situation that was a good thing but it was so strange because of her experience at the SGC and even back at the Pentagon people would greet her. Here it was as if no one knew her or cared.

It was a bit jarring, she realized.

For as long as she could remember she had been trying to prove herself, even more so when she had entered the Air Force Academy and she usually ended up with people at least respecting her or her achievements, especially now that she was at the SGC and the 2IC of the flagship team that went off to explore alien worlds!

It bothered her that after working so hard to get her colleagues – military and scientists – to see her as an equal in spite of her gender or academic achievements and respect her abilities there was nothing to show for in this reality. Sam wasn't sure if it was because of the environment or her alternate's own doing, but if she were honest to herself it was a bit upsetting to say the least. To even be approached by the NID she would have to have been considered talented and skillful, let alone actually getting a job as one of their scientists on a classified off-world base with more than a dozen current projects.

Sam had also come across her counterpart's resume on her laptop and it confirmed their educations weren't all that different; Doctor Carter had two PhDs, one in astrophysics like herself and another in engineering, but she also had a master's degree in biochemistry. That was an area Sam herself had studied in as well but she had never obtained a postgraduate's degree in it, although she had done a stint in genetics at the Pentagon as well as an undergraduate course in psychology. If she had never joined the military Sam could easily imagine her life and career having taken a similar route; joining the Air Force provided her with a challenge, both mentally and physically but if she had never enrolled into the Academy then she would have needed to find a challenge elsewhere, most likely an academic one in the form of more degrees to keep her busy.

The only thing that did make her curious was what the so-called fork in the road had been; the point at which she decided to join the military, while Doctor Carter chose a different direction. Going to space via NASA had always been her dream as a kid but after the Challenger disaster the Shuttle Program had been suspended and that had resulted in her redirecting her energies and setting her sights on the military, like her dad. In the case of the Shuttle Program reopening in the future she could apply as an Air Force nominee, or so she had imagined.

Now, she couldn't help but wonder if that was where her and her alternate's paths had split, or if it had a different reason entirely. Perhaps something to do with her upbringing or her parents… but for the life of her Sam couldn't come up with a reason for her to betray her country or her planet and its allies by allying herself with the NID and the likes of Harry Maybourne! Then again, she mused, there hadn't been any personal affects or pictures in the good Doctor's quarters either and nothing about her dad or Mark and his family on the laptop. Perhaps she had been the one to turn against Dad and Mark? Who knows, in this reality her brother could actually be the one who'd joined the Air Force while Samantha was the one who hated the military and by extension her father and brother. Either way, this reality's Samantha Carter didn't appear to be close to her relatives or anyone really.

That could very well be her reason to join the NID, unless she was just a misguided soul who, like Maybourne, thought that stealing technology from others – including Earth's allies – was all right as long as it benefited Earth and gave them the means to protect the planet against an attack by the Goa'uld. Not that such a mandate meant only defensive weaponry was taken, as certain alien items in this very lab had no defensive or offensive purposes at all. It didn't look like the NID actually only went for technology to defend themselves with and Sam doubted they would kindly return stolen artifacts that had proven useless for their fight against the Goa'uld to their rightful owners.

They were simply greedy. How could they not see that allies like the Nox, Tollans, Orbanians, Asgard and even the Tok'ra were more important than advanced technology? Sure, some of the technology could eventually be reverse-engineered and perhaps in time even mass produced but friendship and exchange of information, culture and knowledge were far more important to explore the galaxy and keep Earth and its inhabitants safe. One day there could be an attack on Earth against which even the NID couldn't defend but some of their allies could quite possibly help, if not against the attack then relocation or rebuilding.

Groaning, Sam tried to suppress those thoughts. It was of no use and would only upset her and aggravate her already existing headache, which was most likely the result of the explosion that brought her here. She had visited what was this base's equivalent of an infirmary a few days ago but the medical personnel had been curt and almost uncaring, only barely refraining from telling her she was wasting their precious time. Obviously the wellbeing of personnel wasn't as important here as she was used to from the SGC. Janet would have insisted on several tests and perhaps even an MRI or CT scan, just to make sure there wasn't any lasting damage but this doctor had more or less told her that the headache was obviously the result of the explosion because she had bumped her head and lost consciousness and that it would go away on its own, like the ringing in her ears.

The ringing had stopped but the headache was still present, and she had to admit that her restless nights and lack of sleep probably wasn't contributing to a healthy recovery. Ah well, it would be a good excuse to leave at a semi-decent hour today, she thought to herself. It was already later than she had expected and Sam hoped there would still be enough food left in the commissary, as she had learned there were only so many meals available and otherwise she would have to resort to stale sandwiches and some snacks if she was lucky.

She saved her work on the laptop – not that she had made much progress today – and shrugged off 'her' lab coat and took the laptop in her arms. On her way to her quarters she would pick up something to eat in the commissary if there was anything left and eat it in the privacy of 'her' living area. There were also some painkillers there, she knew. Hopefully one or two of those would help against her headache and then after dinner she could maybe take a quick shower and crawl into bed. Perhaps she could finally sleep through the night then.

Within minutes she had locked up her lab and made her way to her base quarters. A quick detour to the commissary had provided her with a tray containing a somewhat appetizing looking meal and something to drink but more importantly Sam had caught sight of Lieutenant Colonel Samuels and Colonel Maybourne – deep in conversation – exiting the elevator! The discovery of the two of them being in cahoots and actually being present on the base had been enough to make her feel queasy, so she had quickly bypassed them while looking at the ground and had been tempted to run the last few meters to her quarters. Of course, she had only quickened her pace, although her hand had been shaking somewhat when she swiped her security pass to unlock the door.

Now she was seated at the small table in her living area and pushed the food around on her plate, appetite gone. Once more Sam found herself wishing her team was here to help and support her, or even just Colonel O'Neill to guide her. He would know how to handle this, she thought. Not that she was incapable of handling it herself but she'd only taken command of a mission once when the Colonel had been shot by an arrow and now suddenly here she was; stranded in an alternate reality on an off-world NID base with no one she knew or could trust. It was like being thrown in the deep-end and as if the concept of her very first and very unexpected solo mission wasn't bad enough it was also a sort of undercover mission! She had to take over the life of her alternate while simultaneously finding a way home, all without anyone finding out who she really was and how she had gotten here!

Sighing, Sam gave up on her food and pushed the tray away. She pulled the curtain aside to enter her bedroom and get some clothes and a towel ready for her shower. Fortunately, she had found a black button-up shirt with long sleeves in one of the drawers of her dresser and in lieu of actual pajamas had used it and a pair of panties to sleep in. Her own clothes – the BDUs she had arrived in – boots and dog tags had been hidden away under the bed and even though she didn't really think someone would search her room or anything, she was trying to be as careful as possible by hiding all the clues to her true identity and therefore she didn't want to risk sleeping in her own shirt. The black shirt she'd found was actually quite similar and probably a standard issued shirt her counterpart had snatched from somewhere for some reason, it just had buttons and was a size or two too large but it was still comfortable – and definitely preferable over sleeping naked in such strange and possibly hostile surroundings!

With a yawn she went back into the living area to get the painkillers and then she walked back to the bathroom and started undressing after turning on the shower.

It had been a couple of hours since she had gone to bed when Sam thought she heard something… A noise, in her quarters. She cracked her eyes open, blinking rapidly in the darkened room where the only source of light came from the bathroom, whose door was cracked open slightly. Not that she was afraid of the dark but these surroundings were still unfamiliar to her and with the sleeping area being so cramped she preferred to have a bit of light to guide her when she had to get up, as there were no windows in her quarters.

There it was again! Her heart was racing as she pricked up her ears, trying to discern what kind of sounds she was hearing. It was coming from the living area, she realized. Sam was silently berating herself for lying facing the wall rather than the other way around or, even better, on the other side of the bed so she could slip out more easily. A weapon would have been nice too…

She gasped when the swishing sound came closer and she recognized the rustling of clothes. Now she was certain there was someone in her room and her mind was going light-years a minute trying to imagine who it could possibly be; had she somehow screwed up and they had realized she wasn't this reality's Samantha Carter? What would the NID – Maybourne – do with her?

As the person came closer they halted and after a second she realized they were standing near the curtain separating the living area from the bedroom. Sam had to force herself to keep her breathing even in spite of her racing heart and as she lay there in the dark, as still as possible, she could hear some more rustling. Focusing on the sounds she closed her eyes and picked up on their soft breathing. Her eyes snapped open when she came to the conclusion there was only one intruder. If Maybourne or Samuels knew she was an imposter they certainly would have had backup, right?

Sam's heart started hammering in her chest when her mind conjured up other reasons why someone would be sneaking into her quarters late at night and she swallowed hard. Her hands clenched into fists and she reminded herself that even though she was in a strange alternate reality she was still herself! She was trained in hand-to-hand combat – level three advanced! – and she didn't need her team to defend herself against one intruder!

Feeling a bit more confident she cautiously shifted into a better position to catch her assailant unawares and held her breath for a moment, hoping they hadn't heard anything. There was a soft thud followed by a short and almost inaudible huff, and then a few seconds later she heard a light footfall moving to the other side of the room. Just as Sam was debating whether to roll over or keep up the pretense of being asleep the footfall stopped abruptly. She pictured her quarter's layout in her mind and figured the intruder was standing in front of the door connecting the living area with the bathroom, probably noticing the bathroom light was on…

Suddenly all kinds of thoughts were going through her head but the one that stood out was whether or not she had made a mistake by keeping the light on at night. Her counterpart probably slept in total darkness as she was used to the room's interior – perhaps even responsible for it – and what if this intruder was aware of that fact? Was that why Doctor Carter seemed to keep to herself and worked such long hours? Was someone abusing the shy and probably timid doctor? The thought alone made Sam feel sick and a flare of anger made her clench her fists further, causing her nails to press into her palms.

She may not have been feeling too friendly towards her doppelganger but if the intruder had been the reason she'd fled through the mirror Sam could understand her behavior, to a degree. She heard a soft sigh and imagined the man shifting on his feet, most likely debating how to sneak into her bedroom; going via the bathroom would cause him to block the light and possibly alert her to his presence – not to mention the creaking sound of the doors – but shoving the curtain aside wasn't going to be soundless either.

The sound of fabric being grabbed sounded almost ominously in the otherwise silent room and Sam worried for a moment that the intruder might hear her heavy breathing or her racing heart, before she silently chastised herself for her silly thoughts. She was a field officer and had been trained by one of the best black ops officers for the past three years and therefore knew how not to give away her position and play dead, with her body almost going on auto pilot – how often had she been lying low to hide from passing Jaffa? – even if her breathing and the rush of blood sounded loud in her head.

The man pushed the curtain aside, almost gently, and stepped inside her sleeping area, the brushing of his body against the fabric and his bare foot landing on the linoleum giving away his movement. Sam fought the instinctive tensing of her body as she heard his soft breathing coming closer and fleetingly realized the earlier thud had been his shoes – or boots – being put away. When the intruder stopped in front of the bed she almost drew blood from her palms, waiting for the right moment to roll over and take him by surprise; he wouldn't know what hit him, expecting the docile Doctor instead of her alternate, who happened to be a recently promoted Air Force major!

She felt his presence – not in a tingly naquadah way – as he leaned closer, probably trying to grasp the comforter in which she'd partially rolled up as she'd been dozing. The mattress dipped under his weight and a rush of cool air hit Sam's legs when he tugged on the comforter and pulled his end up and away from her to slide underneath it. He exhaled louder this time as if he was smiling and she had to clench her jaw at the thought. Just a little longer, she told herself; if she acted too fast he might not be close enough and he'd get the upper hand instead, so she started to count down in her head as she felt him – the heat of his body – inch closer…