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Infirmary: Cheyenne Mountain

Jack woke. A bright light shone in his eyes.

"Easy, Colonel," a familiar voice said. "Welcome back."

Jack batted the light away. Squinting, he made out Dr. Fraiser. She looked concerned, okay, she always looked concerned, especially when SG1 was involved, but this was more than her usual post-mission solicitude.

"What's going on?" he said, his voice strangely hoarse to his ears.

"Don't worry, Colonel, everyone's fine," Dr. Fraiser said.

Jack sat up slowly, fighting off a feeling of dizziness. Automatically, he checked out his surroundings; he spotted Carter lying on a gurney, a nurse checking her pulse; Teal'c was sitting on a bed, a thermometer in his mouth and a murderous look in his eye. Someone was missing. "Where's Quinn?" he asked.

"Who?"

"Jonas Quinn. You know, Quinn, the fourth member of SG1. About six feet tall, wears a black T-shirt, eats fruit, loves the Weather Channel, smiles a lot," Jack said. "Where is he?"

"What's the last thing you remember?" Dr. Fraiser said.

"We were headed through the gate on our way to PX3994," Jack said, his anxiety mounting. "What happened? How did we get back here? Where's Quinn?"

"I'll explain everything soon, Colonel. First I need to complete my exam," Dr. Fraiser said, smiling gently at Jack. "I have a pleasant surprise for you."

Briefing Room: Cheyenne Mountain

Sam, Jack and Teal'c entered the room and took seats at the conference table. Sam glanced around; something seemed different, she thought. Her companions didn't seem to notice anything wrong; Teal'c was his usual stoic self, while Colonel O'Neill fiddled with a paper clip.

Deciding to break the silence, Sam said "I wonder what she meant by a `surprise'?"

"I don't know, but it had better be good," Jack said. "I don't like guessing games."

"I concur, O'Neill," Teal'c said.

At that moment, Dr. Fraiser and General Hammond joined them. "SG1, I have someone here to see you," General Hammond said.

A man stepped hesitantly into the briefing room; at the sight of the occupants, a shy smile lit up his face.

"Daniel!" Sam screamed.

Jack jumped out of his seat. "You son of a . . .," he said, pulling Daniel into a hug.

"It is most pleasurable to see you again, DanielJackson," Teal'c said, a broad smile transforming his usual impassive features.

"You're back, you came back," Jack said, still holding Daniel.

Sam rushed over to them; grabbing Daniel away from O'Neill, she put her arms around him, kissing him several times. "Oh Daniel, I've missed you so much," she said, barely able to speak through her tears.

Not wishing to be left out, Teal'c gently disentangled Sam and drew Daniel into a bone-crushing embrace. "My friend, my Tauri brother," he said, his voice husky with emotion. "You have returned to us. O happy day."

"I can't believe it, you descended," Jack said. "How did you do it?"

"Uh, actually, Jack, I didn't do anything. Actually, I never ascended in the first place," Daniel said.

"Whadaya mean you didn't ascend. I was there, so were Teal'c and Carter, and Doc Fraiser. Half the base saw you turn into a glowy squid thing," Jack said.

"Jack, brace yourself, it's going to be a little hard for you to take this in," Daniel said.

"Take in what?" Jack said.

"I think you should sit down for this," Daniel said, fidgeting nervously.

The three sat down. "Cut to the chase, Danny," Jack said, starting to get irritated.

"Remember the Gamekeeper?" Daniel asked.

"You mean that creepy guy who trapped us in that computer game. Geez, Daniel, how could I forget," Jack said. "I thought we'd never get out of there. How many times did we try before it worked?"

"Jack, I know this is going to be hard for you to believe, but we didn't escape that last time," Daniel said.

"Whadaya mean, we didn't escape?" Jack said.

"Jack, we've been stuck in that virtual reality chamber for days," Daniel said. "Everything that's happened to us, every event of the last four years has been part of a computer game."

"'We've been trapped in a simulation?" Sam asked.

"Exactly, nothing since we `escaped' from the Gamekeeper's world has been real. I know it's a lot to take in, but everything from that point on was all part of a virtual reality scenario," Daniel said.

"I don't believe you," Jack said, shaking his head. "That just isn't possible."

"It's true, Colonel. SG1 went on that mission less than two weeks ago. When you didn't return on schedule, General Hammond sent a rescue party. They discovered you, Teal'c and Captain Carter hooked up to some type of alien machinery. They were able to free you, and brought you back to the infirmary," Dr. Fraiser said.

"You said you freed us. What about Daniel? Where was he?" Sam asked.

"Dr. Jackson somehow managed to escape the machinery on his own. He was attempting to dial home when SG5 found him," Dr. Fraiser said. "Fortunately, you don't appear to have suffered any permanent damage from the machines."

"The last five years were really only a couple of weeks?" Jack said. "That's impossible."

"I know it's a lot for you to take in. But, trust me, Dr. Fraiser is telling the truth," General Hammond said.

"I still don't believe this," Jack said. "Prove it."

"Perhaps this will help convince you, Colonel," Dr. Fraiser said, handing a small mirror to Jack.

Jack checked out his reflection. Nothing wrong there, same handsome devil as usual, he thought. "So?".

"You don't see it?" Dr. Fraiser said.

"No," Jack said. The others examined Jack closely, paying special attention to his head.

"Holy Hannah, why didn't I notice before?" Sam said.

"Notice what, Carter?" Jack said, a slight note of peevishness creeping into his voice.

"Colonel, your hair," Sam said.

"What about it? It's all still there. Isn't it?" Jack said, quickly running his hands through his hair.

"O'Neill, I believe MajorCarter is referring to the color, not the amount," Teal'c said.

"The color?" Jack said.

"It's brown again, sir, not that iron gray," Sam said.

"Brown," Jack said, grabbing the mirror for a second look. "Hey you're right. It is brown again. Sweet."

"Yes, it is once again the color of an autumn leaf, not the dull gray of an iron bar," Teal'c said.

"Ya mean silver, dontcha," Jack said, rather hurt. "It was silver, not gray. Gray is for old geezers."

"I thought it looked distinguished," Daniel said. "Although, in retrospect, it was strange, the way it went from brown to `silver' almost overnight." "Indeed, it was most abnormal, O'Neill," Teal'c said.

"Ya think?" Jack said.

"Weren't there any other signs that something wasn't right?" Janet asked. "Any unusual events or changes in behavior?"

"Colonel O'Neill kept getting progressively stupider. I should have known something was wrong when he got us taken prisoner and turned into memory wiped slaves, or when he forgot how to defuse a bomb. No one that dumb would be allowed to command an SGC team," Sam said.

"Oh really?" Jack said

"I mean, you're a highly educated man, sir, you'd have to be to have gotten where you are. I mean, you have to have a Master's to make Colonel and you'd have to speak several languages to qualify for Special Ops," Sam babbled nervously.

"Gee thanks, Carter. I'm glad to know you think so highly of me," Jack said dryly.

Daniel let out a yelp. Teal'c watched curiously as his friend leapt to his feet, appearing to be in the grip of a strong emotion.

"Teal'c, Sam, Jack, do you know what this means? Teal'c didn't kill Sha're. She's alive! She's out there somewhere! I still have a chance to save her. It's not too late," Daniel said, his voice breaking.

"Drey'ac lives as well, DanielJackson. As does Shon'ac," Teal'c said. "I am most pleased at this realization."

"Shon'ac?" General Hammond asked.

"Teal'c's old girlfriend, George. It's a long story," Jack said.

"This means Martouf is alive too," Sam said, grinning. "I didn't kill him."

"Kill who?" Janet asked. "Sam, you've never killed anyone."

"Martouf. Don't tell me you don't remember him, Janet," Sam said. "What a relief! Sometimes I thought I'd go crazy from guilt."

Gaining control of his emotions, Daniel sat down. An unwelcome thought struck him. "Sam, Martouf didn't die, he never existed," Daniel said softly. "None of them did, not Martouf, not Aldwin, Malek or Gershaw.

Sam gasped. "Never existed," she whispered.

"No, none of them were real," Daniel said, patting her shoulder.

"Look on the bright side, Carter. If Marty and Aldwin never existed, neither did Anise," Jack said, attempting to lighten the atmosphere.

"And my father? What about him? He had only days to live. Omigod, do you know what this means? There are no Tok'ra. There is no symbiote for him. He's going to die from the cancer," Sam said, wringing her hands.

"Captain Carter, calm down. I spoke to your father just three days ago. He sounded perfectly healthy to me," General Hammond said.

"You spoke to Dad?" Sam asked. "When?"

"Jacob contacted me at home to find out why he hadn't heard from you recently. Believe me, it was hard to come up with a good cover story," General Hammond said. "He told me he wanted to invite you on a trip to Alaska; he's planning to visit the site of his old command and go camping in Denali National Park. He'd hardly do that if he were terminally ill now, would he?"

"Dad doesn't have cancer?" Sam asked hopefully.

"No, Captain," General Hammond smiled. "As I said, Jacob is fine."

"General, I'm a major now . . . No, that never happened either," Sam said sadly.

General Hammond gazed at her. Smiling in sympathy, he said, "in due time, Captain, in due time. Anyway, what the sam hill is a `Tok'ra'?"

"Tok'ra, you know, the good goa'uld. Okay, I don't think they're so good, but officially, they're our allies. Come on George, don't you remember? Sam did get taken over by Jolinar, didn't she? We're not imagining THAT, are we?" Jack asked.

"Good goa'uld, Jack?" General Hammond asked. "Captain Carter was infiltrated by a goa'uld symbiote a few weeks ago, but I wouldn't call that experience `good'."

Sometime later, after Dr. Fraiser had finished her explanations and the team had begun to recover from the shock, the four remained in the Briefing Room, discussing their recent ordeal.

"I'm so angry," Sam said. "Do you realize what I've gone through? Every man I've met in the last few years has died, either at my hand, or because I failed to save him. And then, I find out it was all part of some game. I could shoot the Gamekeeper for putting me through this. All that grief, all that guilt, and it was for nothing."

"You are not the only one to have suffered, CaptainCarter," Teal'c said. "Both I and DanielJackson were forced to undergo significant emotional pain."

"Yeah, at least you weren't turned into the village idiot, Carter. I couldn't remember how to defuse a bomb? For crying out loud, that's embarrassing," Jack complained.

"Let it go, Jack, let it go," Daniel said.

"No, I turned into Sam Carter - Wonder Woman of Science," Sam said. "Didn't anyone think it was a little implausible that I turned into an expert in every known branch of science overnight? I don't mean understanding the basic principles, but having a complete knowledge of all branches of physics, engineering, weaponry, nuclear reactors, ordinance and the ability to use goa'uld technology?"

"Don't forget motorcycle repair," Jack said, yawning as he stretched his legs under the table.

"I did," said Daniel. "Uh, don't get me wrong Sam, I know you're brilliant; in your field, that is, but it did seem more than a little odd that you were suddenly able to fix alien spaceships and make superweapons from scratch in days. In fact, I think that's what got my subconscious mind going. Well, that and Jack acting like a total jerk towards me."

"Hey, I did not," Jack said.

"Yes you did," Sam and Daniel said simultaneously, while Teal'c chimed in with "your behavior towards DanielJackson was most unpleasant at times, O'Neill."

"Yeah, you're right. I did act like a jerk," Jack admitted. "Look kids, I'm sorry for all the crap I put you through. Carter, I apologize for every time I rolled my eyes when you tried to explain something; Daniel, I'm truly, truly sorry for giving you the cold shoulder." He turned to the third member of his team; "Teal'c, what can I say? The funny hats seemed like a good idea at the time."

"They were not," Teal'c said.

"Jack, there's nothing to forgive," Daniel said. "YOU didn't do those things, it was the Gamekeeper. It was all for the best anyway."

"Whadaya mean?" Jack asked.

"Dr. Fraiser believes that at some level I knew something was very wrong, and was subconsciously trying to escape," Daniel said. "That's why I was pulling away from you guys for the last couple of years. I mean, the last couple of days."

"I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that it's only been a few days, not five years," Jack said.

"I believe Dr. Fraiser explained the phenomena most adequately, O'Neill. When one dreams, one experiences many events in a matter of moments," Teal'c said.

"This means Cassie's still a little girl, not a high school student," Sam said.

"You mean she didn't turn into the `teenager from hell'?" Jack said. "Damn, what a relief."

"Jaaaccck," "Colonel," "O'Neill," his teammates said.

"Aw come on, ya gotta admit Cassie went from sweet to obnoxious pretty fast, and am I the only one who noticed that her looks changed so drastically? She turned into that kid Teal'c met when he got bitten by those big honking bugs," Jack said.

"Actually, Jack, that never happened either," Daniel said.

"Nor did Cassandra commence to mutate into a more `advanced' form of life, or General Hammond trade her life for Nirrti's freedom," Teal'c said.

"Yeah, like Hammond woulda let Nirrti go," Jack said. "THAT shoulda tipped us off that something was wrong."

"Where do we do from here?" Sam said.

"Guys, as soon as Doc clears us, let's get away from it all, go up to my cabin in Minnesota, maybe, do some fishing," Jack said, oblivious to Teal'c's dismay.

"Okay, Jack, I'm in," Daniel said happily.

"Me too, Colonel. I'd be thrilled to go fishing," Sam said.

"As am I," Teal'c said, resigning himself to the prospect of yet another visit to the `lake of no fish'.

"Aw, don't look at me like that T, it's a lot better in real life," Jack said.

"One would hope so, O'Neill," Teal'c said. "One would hope so."

"While we're there, you can fill me in on what happened after I `ascended'," Daniel said. "Tell me every detail of how my loss devastated the SGC. I'll bet you couldn't find anyone to replace me," he said, smirking.

Jack froze. This might be a little awkward, he thought. "Daniel, look, there's a coffee machine. Why don't you get yourself a cup. I think it's that specialty brand from Starbucks you love so much," Jack said, in a desperate attempt to divert his friend's attention. Luckily for O'Neill, Daniel took the bait.

After Daniel had moved out of earshot, Jack said, "Carter, Teal'c, you know how he can get, so let's keep the whole `we instantly replaced you with the guy who got you killed' thing to ourselves."

"Yessir," "That would indeed be a wise course of action," his companions agreed.

Jack glanced around the room; noting the look of concern on Hammond's face, he said, "it's okay General, you don't have to baby sit us anymore".

"All right, Colonel. I'll leave you four alone to sort things out. You can start planning your new adventures," the man watching them said, pleased that world of the SGC was rapidly getting back to business as usual. As he stepped through the exit, he took one last look at the team, taking pleasure at the sight of them once again safe and content under his care.

It had been so close. If Daniel Jackson hadn't been found in time, who knew what dire consequences might have followed. He found himself wondering why Dr. Jackson had chosen that particular day to wake up. Although, considering how bizarre the scenarios had gotten, and how wildly out of character both Carter and O'Neill had been acting, it was surprising that it had taken so long for Dr. Jackson to realize the truth. However, everything was back to normal, no harm done.

Humming softly under his breath, the Gamekeeper went outside to tend to his beautiful, peaceful garden.

The End.

 
   
 

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