The sounds of battle filled the corridors of the Great Machine, echoing through the wells of circuitry so that it was impossible to tell where exactly the fighting was. Sam followed Zathras into a small room that served as access to several different systems. It had taken awhile, but Sam was finally starting to wrap her head around the idea of a planet-wide machine. These access hubs were like power stations, providing maintenance to a certain section of the machine. Zathras turned to make sure she was listening and pointed to the machine. "Zathras keep power to Stargate, get you home. Zathras cut power. No one follow."
Sam examined the dials. She knew that if she had a little time she would be able to figure out a fix that didn't require his sacrifice, but time was a commodity they didn't have in excess. "Zathras, are you positive this is what you want to do?"
"You help. Protect Machine. Zathras in your debt."
"But it's your life!"
Zathras sighed heavily and shrugged. Sam furrowed her brow and looked at the controls again. Colonel Mitchell called over the radio. "Sam, we're ready to dial whenever you are."
Sam couldn't see any other option. She hit her radio. "Zathras and I are in the process of providing power to that section. Stand by." She nodded to Zathras. "Show me what to do."
They worked together, transferring power from a nearby section to the Stargate. Sam found a corridor that allowed them to leave an enemy faction stranded and she used it, sealing them in a room without an exit. Zathras saw what she had done and laughed. "Serves them right! Want to use Machine as weapon, weapon kills them, too!"
Sam hoped not. She wiped the sweat from her brow with the sleeve of her jacket and tugged down the zipper. It was sweltering in the maintenance room. She turned to drape her jacket over a smooth hump of metal. She had time to hear Zathras shout in warning before the energy from the node traveled up her arm and she was
unharmed. She carefully released her jacket and lifted her hands. The palms were undamaged, and other than the hairs sticking up on her forearms, she was fine. She exhaled and shook her head at her own stupidity. She should have known better than to touch something in such a delicate room. She turned and saw that Zathras had vanished. In addition, the sounds of battle were silenced. The entire Machine seemed abandoned.
"Hello?" She raised her radio to her lips. "Cam? Daniel? Vala?" No response. She walked toward the door of the access room and felt a static shock wash over her entire body. She flinched and found herself standing by the node again. She frowned at it, at her jacket draped over the bizarre object, and looked over her shoulder at the exit. She walked toward it again and...
Her hair stood up, her eyes closed involuntarily, and she was back where she started.
Ivanova rolled her eyes and muttered, "Yes, I stumbled over the secrets of the universe and forgot to radio it in." She thumbed her radio. "Still nothing. And I still say you hallucinated the whole thing."
Garibaldi replied, "I know what I heard. S-O-S, in old Earth Morse code. A pattern like that, repeated that often, does not just happen naturally. And it was definitely coming from down here."
Ivanova sighed and turned down another hall. She ran her light over a dusty pedestal and blew away the dust to reveal odd symbols surrounding a central red dome. She pressed three of the buttons but nothing happened. She leaned on the dome, but the pedestal was either broken or just for decoration. The light of her torch swung across the far wall and she went back when she saw a flash of design. "Whoa... mama. Garibaldi. I've got some kind of... weird..." She hemmed and hawed until she finally said, "Some kind of big stone ring."
"That's weird. No identifiers?"
She moved closer and ran her fingers over the carvings. She recognized a few from the pedestal and figured they were a matching set. "Nothing I can make any sense of. It's probably just one more thing about this place we'll never fully understand. Whatever it is, it's been immobile for a while. The message didn't come from it. I'll keep looking. What have you found?"
"You know that thing we saw right after we landed? Kind of a big yellow-and-red slab of plastic with lights? I found something that looks exactly like that. And then another one. I'm currently up to ninety-six."
Ivanova couldn't hold back a laugh. "You're the one who wanted to come down here."
"And you're the one who gets to find all the cool toys. Typical."
"I--" She frowned and turned to look down a darkened corridor she had almost overlooked. "Stand-by." She listened to the silence until the sound repeated.
"Garibaldi, I think I have signs of life. I'm going to go check it out." She secured her radio and exchanged it for her weapon. She used her light to illuminate the corridor ahead and raised her voice. "Identify yourself."
"My name is Colonel Samantha Carter. I'm a member of SG-1, the team that came through the Stargate from Earth." A pause. "Not that that probably means anything to you. I get the feeling it's been a while since we came through."
Earth. That would explain the SOS beacon. "I'm Commander Susan Ivanova, from the station Babylon 5."
"Babylon? Daniel would be thrilled."
The echo was gone from the voice, but there was still a peculiar tinny quality to it. Ivanova stepped into a doorway and saw the woman standing before her. Even without the torch, the woman seemed to be lit up, as if she was separate from the room around her. She was average height, with blonde hair standing up in spikes from repeatedly raking through it with her fingers. She wore a tight black T-shirt and green camouflage fatigue pants. The uniform was authentic, at least. She had seen holovids of military outfits from Earth's past.
"Who is Daniel?"
"An archaeologist. That's not important. I assume you're here because you got my message...?"
"Yeah. SOS coming from an alien planet. It's not that common."
Sam smiled. "I'm just lucky there was someone near by who understood what it meant. I could really use a hand."
Ivanova stepped closer. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm a member of a team called SG-1. We Gated to the planet and discovered they were in the middle of a civil war. One faction wanted to protect this machine--"
"And the other wanted to use it as a weapon. The violent ones were exiled."
Sam's eyebrows rose. "They were. Great. That's great. Zathras and I were trying to use this control panel to siphon power from unnecessary systems to dial the Stargate so we could get home. I touched something I shouldn't have, and the next thing I know I'm stuck here. I can't leave this room, and I can barely work these controls. The SOS was the extent of what I was able to send out. I managed to put it on a loop and then I just had to sit tight and hope for the best."
Ivanova couldn't resist a smile at that. "Well, here she is. Is there--" She waved her hand in front of the doorway and didn't feel a barrier. She stepped into the room and carefully examined the walls. "What did you touch that caused the..."
Sam pointed. "I draped my jacket over that."
"So don't touch that."
"I wouldn't, if I were you."
Ivanova nodded and crouched next to the device. "Well, I could contact Draal. He's the caretaker, and he said he was busy elsewhere. But if someone's life is at stake..."
Sam crouched next to Ivanova and looked into the guts of the machine with her. "I still can't figure out how it did this. How far did it send me? I'm assuming I'm in the future."
Ivanova looked at Sam's uniform. "Judging by your clothes, I would say around two hundred years. Give or take. It's 2261."
"Wow. I'm from 2008."
"Quite a while," they said simultaneously. Ivanova twisted her neck and squinted at the shapes and devices inside the machine. "I can't make heads or tails of this thing."
Sam sighed in frustration and reached out. She held her hand about a centimeter away from the device's surface. "It's like trying to push together matching heads of a magnet. No matter how hard I push, I just can't make contact. And I know that if I could get a look inside this thing, I could figure it out."
"You're that confident in your abilities?"
Sam shrugged. "I've done it before. I'm not saying I could build one in my garage after a quick peek, but I could at least figure out what it does and how to make it... undo what it's doing."
"Well, right now I'd say you'd be better served by a science team. I can contact Babylon 5 and have them send someone down as soon as--
"--possible." Ivanova blinked and looked at her hand, flat against the side of the device. She hadn't even thought about it, idly resting her palm against the metal barrier to push herself up. But what had it done? God, had she been sent into the future like Carter? Zathras was standing beside her, eyes wide with fright, and he was looking her over.
"'Possible'? Possible what, what's possible? Zathras not understanding. Hurt, Carter?"
Ivanova frowned at him, then looked down at herself. She was wearing the same thing Colonel Carter had been... Ivanova closed her eyes and cursed.
Sam dropped to the floor, dizzier than she'd ever been for a moment before she realized she was making contact with the floor without the strange magnetic repulsion. She was also wearing Ivanova's uniform. Her heart sped up, and she realized that Ivanova had inadvertently touched the machine. Wherever she had gone, Sam had an opportunity to save them both now. She rolled onto her knees and approached the device, careful not to touch the sides again.
Sam bumped her head - or rather, Ivanova's head - on the inside of the machine and grappled with her radio. She had no idea who the voice belonged to, but he sounded concerned. She tried to think if Ivanova had mentioned any members of her team as she fumbled with the radio. "Uh... uh, fine. Draal?"
"Draal? What about him?"
Damn it. She looked at the innards of the device. "Nothing. Never mind. Stand-by." She turned off the radio and plucked a few of the wires. She worried her bottom lip and pushed her borrowed body deeper into the device. There were words written on the inside in an alien language - either instructions or warnings, useless to her either way - and she ignored them to focus on the most important looking elements and considered the machine's purpose.
The builders of this facility wouldn't have just thrown in a random booby trap to toss people incorporeally into the future. The device had to serve some sort of purpose. Judging from what Zathras and Varn had told them, they were long-lived enough that skipping forward or back three hundred years wouldn't be a tremendous revelation. But for someone that long-lived, going back three hundred years could refresh their memory about something.
Sam pushed herself out from under the device and looked at the side of the machine. "Okay. If I'm wrong, I'll just get transported three hundred more years into the future. Maybe Susan will be there to kick my ass for stranding us both." Of course, in that case, at least she would have someone to talk to. She held her breath and rested her palm on the smooth surface of the device.
"Where are we?"
"Aren't you supposed to be the genius?"
"Don't you have three hundred extra years of human exploration to draw from?"
"Are you saying I'm smarter than you?"
"In some aspects, you're probably light-years ahead of me. In others..."
Ivanova and Carter weren't in the same space. Sam wasn't sure if she was seeing Ivanova, or if her mind had manufactured the image of what she thought Ivanova should look like. They were both nude, which Sam couldn't remember picturing, but she wasn't disappointed with the result. They weren't floating or adrift, or standing on anything solid that she could see. They were immersed in something that held them steady but allowed them movement.
"This is... amazing. I can't even begin to understand what this is, or how it's being done." She held out her hand, and Ivanova did the same. Sam's fingers brushed her palm. "So apparently we're physically here."
"Or," Ivanova said, "we felt the touch because we expected to feel it."
Sam sighed. "True. There's no way to be certain. And I should probably get back to assisting the evacuation. My team has been holding the Gate long enough."
"Yeah. Garibaldi is probably worried about me. Unless you spoke to him while you were... borrowing me."
Sam winced. "Yeah, we spoke. But I probably didn't put his mind at ease."
"Then the sooner I get back, the better." Their bodies drifted closer together. "I'm glad I got the chance to meet you, Colonel Samantha Carter. I've always enjoyed reading about your era. It was a fascinating time for Earth."
"Yeah. I wish I had some more time to explore your era, but that--"
"--probably wouldn't be wise," they said together, and they both smiled.
"Yeah," Sam said. "But I think I got a sense for who you are when I was... wearing you. If half of what I sensed was true, I'm leaving the future in very good hands."
Ivanova smiled. "I hope we get a chance to meet one day, Colonel Carter. Stranger things have happened." She gestured at the non-space around them. "Case in point."
"Exactly. Next time I'm in 2261, I'll look you up. Commander Susan Ivanova, Babylon 5."
"Colonel Samantha Carter, SG-1." They were still moving closer together, their bodies actually in contact now. "What... uh, exactly..."
"Well, I think since I'm in your body and you're in mine, we might have to..."
Sam tilted her head to the side as Ivanova's lips met hers. Their tongues touched and Ivanova's body crushed against Sam's. Sam put her arms around Ivanova's waist and drew her close as the kiss deepened, and--
Sam's eyes snapped open. The weapon fire was echoing off the walls of the chamber now, and she could see the flashes of energy beams. She grabbed her jacket, careful not to brush the Nostalgia Device as she'd come to call it, and joined Zathras at the console. To her surprise, all the power had been diverted.
"Other You helped Zathras," he explained.
Sam smiled. "Thanks, Susan. Ah..."
"Go! Zathras will manage. Somehow, Zathras always does."
Sam nodded and left the control room. By the time she made it back to the Gate room, Teal'c and Daniel were already through the Stargate. Mitchell was holding off the last remaining members of the enemy faction. Sam added her fire to his, and he turned to nod a greeting at her. "Thanks for the power boost."
"Least I could do. Go!" Cam waited until she was in position to stop firing, turn and run. Sam covered his retreat, running backward until she felt the cold embrace of the event horizon pulling her in.
"Just a signal on repeater, huh?" Garibaldi actually looked disappointed. "I guess they can't all be centuries-old mysteries."
Ivanova patted him on the arm and led him out of the control room. "Be glad of the boring ones, for the terrifying ones are always too ready to take over."
"I guess. Now that you shut it off, I suppose we can head back." He led Ivanova out of the control room and back through the room with the large stone ring. Garibaldi shined his flashlight on it as he passed. "Kind of a shame. Nice to have an excuse to wander around this old place. Gotta wonder how many strange and weird things are just waiting for the wrong button to get pushed and activate it."
Ivanova slowed and let Garibaldi get ahead of her. She stared up at the ring and thought of the long-ago battle that had been fought here. She knew the violent faction of the machine's creators had been expelled, but what had happened to Sam Carter and her team? Had they survived? Or did they fall protecting the machine from getting into the wrong hands.
"You gotta wonder," she whispered, echoing Garibaldi's statement.
"Susan? You coming?"
"Yeah. Right behind you."
She lowered her torch and let the Stargate fall into shadows as she followed him back to the shuttle.