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The past is prologue...

Earth: Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado - 1999

The seasoned and enthusiastic members of SG-1 had never been quite so happy to see General George Hammond’s frowning face. The team was quick to march down the ramp, the celebration of surviving their latest mission sneaking out in their smiles.

Well, Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson wore bright smiles. Jack O’Neill kind of squinted distrustfully around the gate room. And Teal’c was an enigma in sunglasses and an overly colorful bandanna. But Sam knew they were in the right place.

“General! We are going to have some interesting reports for you this week,” Sam told him. She somehow refrained from hugging him. “And I wanted to say, too... Thank you for the assist.”

The General’s eyebrow crawled up a little higher as the frown tugged lower. “I take it there was good news on P3W-451?”

The lightened mood from his lead team disappeared. O’Neill gave a strangled cough.

“Scuse me, sir. But... where was that?” asked Jack.

“P3W-451. Your mission? You’re back early.” The General didn’t seem keen on the sudden mutual confusion all around. It compounded with the confusion he himself felt at seeing his team in neon-accented clothes with fringe and paisley prints right out of the 1960s.

Jack O’Neill nodded his head and took a deep breath. Then he kept walking away from the gate. The Wrong Gate.

“Well, there’s that,” he said, resignation in his tone. Samantha glanced at Daniel, the two exchanging a look after the crushing blow. This wasn’t what was supposed to have happened.

“General. There’s something you need to know,” she began. The man nodded his head.

“A few things, I’m sure. For starters, what happened to your uniforms.”

“1969, uh, happened to them,” offered Daniel. He shuffled uneasily and dragged the bandanna off his head.

“When we last left this room, we were headed to a mission on P2X-555, sir,” Samantha said. “The gate... connected us to the wrong place in time.”

“P3W-451 was the mission quite a while ago, for us,” said O’Neill. He gave a slight shrug as he looked over at Daniel. “Can’t say I’m not glad I don’t have to do that one all over again, though. At least we timed that one right.”

General Hammond seemed to understand the gravity of the mistake even if he didn’t know the full story yet. He motioned toward one of the majors at the door as he took a step back from the group.

“Get yourselves to med bay. Full work ups. And I want individual reports. From everyone. Understood?” It wasn’t really a question, and it was accented by a wave to the ranking officer behind him. And just like that, each member of SG-1 picked up their own armed military escort.

“General-” Jack began, not liking the new shadow already.

“I understand the situation, Colonel, but until I’m certain I have my own people back, your access is restricted,” the General said.

“Sir, I think we are your people, but... something is definitely very wrong,” said Samantha. The General nodded his agreement.

“I have faith you’ll figure it out. And if my team shows up between now and then, we’ll have yet a few more answers,” said Hammond. “In the meantime. After you.”

The General waved toward the doors in open invitation.

“Fall in,” Jack ordered, voice quiet as he moved to keep the General happy. He wasn’t gambling on the existence of another Jack O’Neill queued up just past the gate, one who belonged there after having completed the mission to P3W-451.

“What happened?” Daniel asked, a whisper in the hallway as he walked beside Samantha.

“I - I don’t know. It was supposed to work,” said Sam.

“Alternate reality?” Daniel was thinking out loud. “Or is this another time glitch? At least we’re in the right place to get some answers this time.”

“I’ll run some tests. It just - I don’t know why it didn’t work, so I don’t know where - or when - we are,” she said. The exhaustion pulled on her shoulders and her spirit. Daniel set a hand to her arm, a simple reminder the team was still in it together.

“P3W-451,” said Jack just ahead of them. “The whole gravity-sucking time-glitching Mercury Retrograde on steroids fiasco is the when, folks.” He didn’t sound exactly happy to have gotten a few weeks added back to the lifespan. “We missed our window. That’s all.”

Sam nodded absently. “We’ll figure it out later.”

General Hammond kept them under guard when on base for a month after their arrival. They could wander between certain areas, as long as they had their appointed shadow guard with them, and Sam was allowed in the labs to continue certain time-sensitive projects, but never past the front gates. The SG1 team wasn't allowed out among the American people again for two months, even though Hammond permitted them to go on off-world missions, as tests.

It curbed their scheduled missions and set them as a back-up team until Hammond was positive they were, in fact, his team. Hammond had no recollection of events in 1969, but other pieces lined up. Other pieces, like the SG1 mission reports, were in the wrong place, or in some cases, missing entirely, even though Carter and her team still remembered writing them.

And through all of her tests and simulations and computer modules with the extra lab time, Sam Carter was certain they had ended up mostly where they wanted to be. They were in the right timeline. But despite their best efforts, something had changed before they could get back.

Somewhere on P3W-451, a butterfly had flapped its wings at a stargate and that simple draft managed to rewrite thirty years of human history back on Earth.

 

*~*~*

 

Earth: Cascade, Washington - 1999

The body lying in the fountain had to be some kind of joke. It was too public. It was too noisy. The glare off the water was too bright. It couldn’t be legit.

But no matter how much Jim Ellison tried to assure himself that his senses had found a new way to go haywire after so long, the body in the fountain was very real.

And very much Jim’s fault.

He would later remember very little about crossing the courtyard, or how exactly his friend had been pulled from the water. It would be the barely 30 year old face of his annoying best friend staring up at him, not breathing, eyes half closed, mouth half open. That would stick out in his memory forever. Blair Sandburg wasn’t supposed to bail on Jim, and instead, Jim had bailed on him. And he got the kid killed.

No amount of military training could make it past the shock Jim had felt then. He zoned on listening for a heartbeat that was so familiar, and yet it wasn’t there now even when he could see the face of the man it belonged to. Precious seconds were lost. Maybe minutes, Jim couldn’t tell and would never remember.

He made it through the zone to bright white. Flashes of blue broke through in streaks, like water blasted away by wind. The blue and white framed the watchful eyes of a familiar timber wolf as the split-second of awareness returned. Blair’s face showed up, still dead, and the wolf’s eyes blazed through him.

The roaring hiss of a panther added to the sensory overload. Jim saw the jaguar a heartbeat before it pounced. He felt it jump through him, felt it take his breath, felt it push him to turn, unsteady on his feet. Jim watched as the jaguar and the wolf collided in midair, brilliant light spilling everywhere over the dead body of Blair Sandburg.

“Ellison!”

The shout brought Jim back to life, his senses faded to something more like normal as the shock traded off for adrenaline.

“Let them work, damnit, Jim...”

The rumbling voice of his captain, Simon Banks, was close and Jim realized Simon was holding him back. Keeping him away from Blair because the EMT’s were doing their best to bring him back.

“He’s dead, Simon. I - He’s dead,” said Jim.

“Let them work,” Simon said again. It was an order through clenched teeth. The command made it through and Jim went still, waiting, watching, and listening. He eased away from Simon, holding his own again. Simon kept a firm hold on his arm, just in case.

A small sound kept him back, too. Something he wasn’t sure he had heard. With the distance, he saw it. There, between breaths from the EMT providing CPR, was the smallest natural movement.

When the EMT went to resume compressions, Jim pulled away from Simon to stop the medics. Simon scrambled to keep his hold.

“Wait! He’s breathing! Look!” Jim pointed at Blair, because that was the only useful action he could take.

He saw Blair’s chest rise and fall again as the EMTs checked again to verify their patient was breathing. It took them a moment to find the heartbeat, but Jim could already hear it.

Blair was barely there, but he was alive.

The EMTs rolled Blair to his side as the water came back up. Jim watched and listened as the heartbeat raced back to life.

Later, the estimate came in that Blair had been without oxygen for over five minutes. They didn’t have an exact time frame to work with, only the time of the calls into the 911 switchboard and the response logs from the closest ambulance station.

And Jim marveled that his friend made it through, even as he cursed the fact that Blair Sandburg used his brilliant brain to make Jim’s life hell, with all the dumb jokes and bad ideas that Blair would ramble on about, day in and day out.

And the day Blair’s Sentinel research became public, Jim saw a shade of the same lifelessness take over Sandburg again. Something bigger than either of them hit the entire Cascade Police Department as journalists from around the country called in to ask Simon Banks what kind of nutjobs he had patrolling the city. As Jim’s arrest and conviction record became more widely known, the questions changed.

What kind of threat does this sentinel genetic trait pose to everyday citizens?

And Jim watched from the sidelines as Internal Affairs spent the next two years reopening every case. He was put on desk duty just so they could always reach him. Blair’s expected semester with the police academy was dead in the water. No one wanted to work with a crazy kid pushing science fiction, and no one wanted spied on if the stuff in the thesis about Jim Ellison turned out to be true.

But when all the shouting was done, Jim’s friend, brother, and Guide was at least safe. He was alive and breathing. He could still teach. Maybe the pair of them were a little strapped for cash under the lawyers’ bills, but life went on.

1999 was one hell of a year.

 

*~*~*

 

Earth: Cascade, Washington - 2003

The new class was sharp. It was nice to have a group of people who wanted to show up to lectures again. Sure, some of the questions were dumb, but they came from kids who didn’t know any better. Some of those kids were maybe only five years younger than their instructor, but Blair Sandburg still gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Anthropology wasn’t exactly an easy subject, and Blair was teaching the beginning course load again. Most of his students now would never go out on a dig, had no interest in the real world experience of the study, but they could make the connections to the results in the process. It made lectures a lot easier, even if he ended up fielding a lot of questions about statistics.

Come to think of it, there were a lot of math majors this semester.

Blair collected the stack of term papers off the corner of the desk and made room for the batch at the back of his overburdened backpack. He followed the last student out of the hall, hitting the light switch as he passed. He walked off in the vague direction of his office, not fully paying attention as he fished in his backpack pockets for his Blackberry. Even as he did, he felt the phone start to vibrate from an incoming call, which made it much easier to find.

“Sandburg,” he said in greeting. He realized idly that he had spent too much time around his roommate.

“Yeah, I know,” came Jim’s voice over the line. He didn’t sound quite normal, but Blair couldn’t tell if the flat sarcasm was from anger or stress. Probably both. His roommate wasn’t the best at playing nice.

“Jim? What’s wrong, man?” asked Blair.

“Look, when are you home?” Jim replied. He didn’t seem interested in the answer. “Can you cut out the rest of the day?”

Blair glanced at the phone to make sure he knew the time. Just after noon on a Tuesday.

“Sure. I mean, I’ve got another class at four, but I can - What’s going on? Why?” he asked.

“Somebody just - A Colonel Glass just showed up here. I’ve been reassigned to active duty.”

Blair tripped over his feet as he walked, surprised at the news. “Reactivated? What? Jim, man, don’t take this the wrong way, but you are too old...”

“Trust me, I know, Chief. But he handed me the paperwork personally. Face to face. Glass knows how old I am,” Jim assured him.

“Well, did he say why?”

“Yeah. That’s why you need to wrap it up and get home,” said Jim. He wasn’t messing around.

“What? You were the one to get the papers. I have never and will never sign up for that shit,” Blair said.

“Sandburg. They classified your research. The Sentinel stuff. It didn’t go away like we thought it did. It just... disappeared.”

At that, Blair stopped dead in his tracks. He stared blankly at the campus bell tower, mentally stuck. “What.”

“Glass said I was on medical release after the stuff in Peru. Not discharged. Says that’s why I’ve had all the trouble with the VA the last ten years,” said Jim. The report was not a welcome one and everything about his friend’s voice told Blair it was all bullshit. A made-up paper-trail to snare Jim back into the fold.

“Okay. So... I need to call the Dean. Let him know all the stuff from my thesis is going to hit the school again,” said Blair, thinking out loud as he tried to figure out how to minimize the damage that was on the way. If they had reached out to Jim after all this time, there was something big coming.

“No,” said Jim firmly. “You need to get your ass back home so I know where you are. Until something about this makes some kind of sense, you need to keep your head down.”

Blair slowly registered the order and changed course. He turned away from the campus to head back to his car instead. “Right. I’m going to my car. I’ll... call the Dean later.”

“Good. If you’re not back here in ten, I call Simon,” said Jim.

“Should I just wait for an escort home then?” Blair was only half-joking.

“No. Take 4th and Highland, it’ll be faster. And you’ll be fine.”

Being distracted by the phone was making Blair nervous, so he promised to take the right route home and hurried to put the Blackberry back in his bag. He kept his eyes open on the walk back to his car, searched every face, even checked rooftops for watchers or snipers. Everything seemed like a normal, semi-sunny day in Cascade. Maybe Jim Ellison was just a paranoid cop. The theory didn’t make Blair feel any better.

Sandburg had his keys in hand as he approached his car. He was almost to the safe zone. As long as he ignored the number of times his car had been wired to explode. He was just three steps from home-free.

“Dr. Sandburg?” someone asked as Blair tried to open his car door. Blair looked over at the source, a younger man standing between his car and the next, blocking the aisle. Not a good sign. He also wore a uniform, with an MP badge on the arm. Definitely not a good sign.

“Yeah, that’s me,” said Blair, cautious. Like magic, three other military uniforms showed up at various places around his car as Blair looked around. “What’s up?”

“Dr. Sandburg, please leave your keys in the car door, and place your bag on the roof,” said the MP. This was definitely not anything protocol.

“Why?” asked Blair.

“We’ve been tasked to bring you to the base, Dr. For your safety and ours, do as you are asked. Everything will be returned to you later.”

The young man knew he was out of his jurisdiction and was being polite. Following orders, but still a polite, human response to the impossibility of the request. Blair could have jumped the hood of his car and made a run for the train station, and he would probably be allowed to survive calling them on their bullshit. In theory.

But he wasn’t sure what would happen if he got away, either. Blair had a life he wanted to get back to, as quickly and carefully as possible.

Instead, Sandburg held up his hands and shrugged his backpack up onto the car hood. “Am I under arrest?”

The MP nodded slightly.

“For what?” Blair pressed.

“Selling state secrets. The full charges will be handled on base, sir, but that is what I have been authorized to report,” said the young officer. He was very polite about checking Blair for weapons. The worst Blair carried on him was a Swiss Army Knife in his backpack, and Blair cautiously advised the MPs of it, just to be sure he wasn’t accused of hiding it from them later. And he didn’t want to be handcuffed on campus, so maybe they would work with him if he cooperated.

When the big, black, state-exempt SUV rolled up behind Blair’s car, he was loaded into the backseat. In handcuffs. Under the watchful eye of at least twenty current and former students. Someone from the group yelled out, “But when do we get our term papers back?”

Oh yeah. There was no way the university would ever let Blair teach again. The Sentinel problem was definitely going to leave a mark this time.