Sam stretched and gazed idly at the people standing nearby. Daniel, Teal'c, Cam... she turned around... Vala, and O'Neill. They looked bored, especially O'Neill. She could not really blame them. They had been standing here for quite some time.
She wondered when the Tok'ra elder - no that was not the right term, the symbiote was probably quite young, for a symbiote, as all the Tok'ra really were... master of ceremonies was perhaps a better term - would finish his chant of Ba'al's sins and crimes.
The former System Lord really had done a lot of bad things. Sam tried to catch a few words here and there. She remembered some Goa'uld from Jolinar, and had picked up a little more over time, but she was not exactly fluent. It sounded as if they were getting close to the present time in their listing of crimes, so maybe this would soon be over.
She looked over at O'Neill again, just as he yawned mightily.
"Never in the history of boredom has anyone been more bored than I am right now," he complained.
"Come on, sir, it's only been…" She looked at her watch. "Whoa."
"It's almost over," Daniel noted. "The crimes they're listing are starting to sound familiar"
"Crimes? That's what they've been crooning about for the last three hours?" O'Neill wondered.
"Quite the ditty, ain't it," Mitchell said.
"It's not at all fair to the host, anyway," Vala commented.
"Vala, you don't really think there's any hope for the… I mean, you were host to Qetesh for a relatively short period of time. Ba'al's been inhabiting this guy for over two thousand years!" Daniel shook his head, disbelieving.
Just then the chanting stopped and the Tok'ra master of ceremonies stepped forward, towards Ba'al.
"Revive the prisoner."
The stasis field around Ba'al faded away, and he woke up. Taking a deep breath he looked around the room.
Vala leaned towards Daniel and whispered, "Watch him try and make a run for it."
He looked around at all the guards. "Well, with all this security, I really don't think he's going to get very far."
He looked back at her, then blinked with a confused look. "Vala?"
Daniel shook his head. "Sorry, for a moment you were not... never mind. I think I'm just tired."
Vala smiled. "Don't worry. Looks like this will soon be over." She pointed to one of the Tok'ra who was approaching Ba'al, carrying the new symbiote extraction device the Tok'ra had devised, using some of the Asgard technology the Tau'ri had finally agreed to share.
Sam had been following their discussion with only faint interest. She looked back to the Tok'ra and Ba'al, just as there was some sort of flickering. Then, in front of her eyes it was as if everything shifted, and she blinked one more time.
They were gone! Ba'al and the Tok'ra... Disbelieving, she looked around for her friends... Teal'c, O'Neill, Daniel, Vala... all were present, though they were looking a bit confused. Now, where was Mitchell? Ah, there! He looked... bewildered, or unfocused Sam noted, just as he suddenly passed out and fell to the ground.
"Cam!" She ran to him.
The others shook themselves out of the almost-trance they had been in, and looked around as well. Sam heard their shocked gasps as they noticed the changes.
"What the Hell!?" O'Neill stared with disbelief at the spot where Ba'al had been a moment ago. "Didn't they just... Mitchell!" He realised the man had just collapsed, and hurried to him, as did the others.
"He's alive - but unresponsive," Sam said, having examined him briefly. "I can't see anything physically wrong, but I'm not a doctor. Anyway, I think it's a fair guess that it has something to do with everyone else being gone - and that strange flickering a moment ago."
Daniel was gaping at it all. "You saw that as well? I thought I was seeing things! For a moment it was as if... as if Vala disappeared before my eyes - and then she came back!"
"I've been here the whole time," Vala said, a bit contrite.
O'Neill sighed deeply. This was just typical - and here he had hoped for a peaceful trip. He should just have said he would not go, when the Tok'ra invited him, but in the end he could not say no to the chance of seeing the last Ba'al die.
"Everyone else OK?"
"I am fine," Teal'c said.
"Yes, I think so - it's just Cam here that've fainted." Vala sat down beside him and gave him a gentle push. "Still unconscious."
"But where's everyone else? The Tok'ra... Ba'al..." Daniel wondered.
"Not to mention the buildings!" Sam said.
The others looked around, suddenly realising the extent of the changes.
"It's just ruins! Everywhere!" Vala sounded shocked. "Could we have travelled in time? I mean, is this the far far future and everyone else is long dead?"
"No, if anything, it's more like the not-so-distant past," Sam said, slowly.
"Or maybe it's another planet? Perhaps we've been beamed away?" Daniel suggested.
"Aaw... for crying out loud! Not time travel! Carter? What do you mean... the not-so-distant past?" O'Neill demanded.
"Actually I don't think we've time-travelled, sir. The stars look exactly the same. See?" Sam pointed at a strange looking constellation made up of 8 clear stars. "It looks a bit like a fox's head - at least I think so. I noticed it when we arrived. I also know a couple of the stars in that constellation are actually far apart. If we were in a very different time it would not look the same. Also, if it was only a short trip to the past or future the constellation would probably not sit in the same place in the sky - unless we happened to end up at the exact same time of the year, of course. So I think we can rule out time-travel."
"OK, swell. What's the explanation then? Because I seem to remember a lot of those crystal-buildings. The only thing that's still here is a pyramid - and some ruins," O'Neill said.
"Yes, and that pyramid - and the stars - are why we must still be on the same planet," Sam insisted.
"You're right." Daniel nodded to himself. "I remember seeing that pyramid in the images the Tok'ra made of this place before they started building. The pyramid was here before, as were those ruins. They looked exactly like this."
"Great - so no time travel." O'Neill looked a little happier, but then gave the archaeologist a closer look. "Daniel - you didn't touch anything, did you? Like a strange artifact sitting in a corner somewhere, perhaps?"
"No! Of course not!" Daniel sounded indignant.
"If we're indeed in the same time and space - and everything indicates we are - then this could be very bad," Sam said, a worried look on her face.
"Don't make me wait! What do you think happened?" O'Neill demanded.
"I can't be certain, but... it's obvious something has changed... history has changed. I am guessing the timeline could have been altered..."
"What! How? Who? Not Ba'al?" O'Neill asked, an unhappy look on her face. "You think it was Ba'al?"
"I've got no way of knowing that, sir. However..."
They were interrupted when Mitchell moved and a low moan escaped from him.
"Cam?" Sam asked, immediately crouching down beside him.
Mitchell slowly sat up and opened his eyes. For a moment he stared into nothingness, then he closed his eyes again and shook his head. When he opened his eyes this time he seemed to have just returned from very far away. "Yes..."
"Are you OK?" Vala asked.
"Yeah... yeah I think so." He looked disbelieving at the others and at the planet. "This is strange..."
"Oh, yeah! Strange would be one way of putting it," O'Neill said.
"Weren't you wearing a uniform as well?" Vala asked, looking closely at O'Neill. "For that matter, we were all wearing desert camos, weren't we? We're wearing green BDUs now."
They all looked at their clothing.
"Oh..." O'Neill stared in disbelief at his clothes.
"She's right. Odd... well maybe Sam's correct, and the timeline has changed. You could be a civilian here for all we know," Daniel said.
"Then why am I here - on an alien planet - with the rest of you?" O'Neill asked, clearly not accepting Daniel's suggestion.
"Good point," Daniel admitted.
"Listen..." Mitchell interrupted them. "I think that thing about the time line having changed might be correct. Because I seem to remember not only one, but two different versions. At least for some part of my life..." He shook his head. "I'm not making much sense, am I?"
"No, you're not. But none of this is, so if you think you've got an explanation then I'm willing to listen," O'Neill said.
"Well, it's not so much an explanation as it is maybe a validation of the altered time line theory - or maybe proof I've gone insane." Mitchell had by now recovered completely and got up.
O'Neill grinned wryly. "Try us!"
"Okay, see if you can follow this. We were all standing there, listening to the Tok'ra yammering away about the multitude of sins Ba'al have committed. Then, when they'd finished, and had taken Ba'al out of stasis, everything sort-of... well, I don't know... winked out?"
The others nodded.
"That's as good a description as any," Sam said, shrugging.
Mitchell continued, "Then, I was on a ship and after what I think was a very long time I was again on the same ship. I mean a real ship, not a spaceship. Anyway, everything's a bit foggy, but I think I lived for many years... in the past. I have some really funny memories about killing Ba'al as well. Then, all of a sudden, I find myself back here, but things doesn't look right. At all. I mean, you guys are here, but no one or nothing else is..."
"Sure you weren't just dreaming that part while you were unconscious? I mean, I'd like to kill Ba'al too, and we were going to watch his execution... extraction. Whatever." O'Neill took another look at his own clothes, studying his sleeves with an offended expression, as if it was his civilian clothing that had caused all this.
"I'm pretty sure it actually happened just as I remember it. Ba'al had changed the timeline, and we had to fix it," Mitchell said.
"It's not that I don't believe you, but... why don't any of the rest of us remember it?" Daniel wondered.
Mitchell shrugged. "That I don't know..."
Sam looked thoughtful. "What if there was another change in the timeline while he - and probably us as well - had only partly returned to our own timeline. What if there was a slight delay between Cam's return and ours? It might... somehow have protected your memories of both the universes from being eradicated - and replaced with whatever has happened in this timeline, Cam. After all, all of us seem to remember a different version than the one we're currently in, so that indicates this could be what happened."
Mitchell nodded. "That makes some kind of weird sense, because I don't remember any of you being there when I killed Ba'al. In fact, I seem to remember some sort of attack near a big device - and witnessing some of you dying there."
"OK, I'm glad you think it makes sense, because I don't! However, let's just assume, for argument's sake, that you haven't gone completely mad and this is actually what happened. How does this help us?" O'Neill said, exasperated.
"Actually... we could all have gone crazy and none of this is real..."
"Daniel...!" O'Neill warned.
"I think we can discount that theory." Sam smiled at Daniel. "Cam, what else do you remember?"
Mitchell briefly gave them an account of what else he could think of, about Ba'al and the shifted timelines.