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Fragile Balance of Politics

 

Chapter 12 

If they hadn't been reeling from what they had learned, SG-1 would have been more abashed regarding their previous 'absence'. Not only had they ignored the 'summons' to meet with the President of the United States, Teal'c had simply called the briefing room, spoken to General Hammond, and explained that at the moment, SG-1 was unable to leave the storage room, as Daniel and Casey had stepped through the Quantum Mirror and into Annika's reality. No doubt that message hadn't been met with pleasure. There was no frown on General Hammond's face when they trooped into the room, though; that was always a good sign. Not one of them even glanced in the president's direction.

At that moment, Daniel and Casey were trying to deal with what they had just seen, and heard, and experienced. Sam and Teal'c were attempting to process what they knew of that event, and all of them were trying to deal with the fact that Jack...Young Jack...was a clone.

Young Jack was doing his best to remain on his feet. He'd spent three hours worried out of his head about his 'kids', using the time he'd been waiting for news about their activities to plan their punishment. Latrine duty for the next year had been high on the list. Spit-polishing every boot in the SGC had been right up there as well. Then, he'd had a little chat with himself...or at least a version of himself...as privately as had been possible, given that his counterpart had been in one reality, with Daniel and Casey hovering nearby, and Sam and Teal'c had been on the other side of the room...all four trying to give the two Jack's as much space as possible for the tête-à-tête. He wished to God he'd just turned around and walked away from that damned mirror when the man he had been...should be...had walked into the room. No, that wasn't true, was it? Clone. The word seemed to tear through his head. Clone. He wasn't even himself...wasn't Colonel Jack O'Neill. He was a fucking clone!

"SG-1, I hope you have a good excuse for your behavior this afternoon," General Hammond said sternly. He watched as the team settled into their chairs. Experience warned him that something significant had happened...all five team members were acting as if they were in a state of shock.

"It's my fault, sir," Casey said softly. She cast a glance at the man sitting at the far end of the table, flanked by his Secret Service guards, then turned her attention fully to her CO. "I...I kept having a nightmare. I couldn't remember the details when I was awake, only the emotions. Such heartbreaking emotions. And the sense that Daniel was in danger. Well, Sam and Jack and Teal'c were being threatened as well."

"I see," the general said. Doctor Jackson had mentioned the nightmare. That alone, given the man's propensity for jealously guarding the privacy of his and his wife's life, had been telling of the severity of the situation.

"I...well...I kept feeling this...pull...towards the mirror," Casey continued. "Now I know it was because of the link between Mibi and myself. I mean, I had no clue it was even there, but apparently when he tried to 'take over' Annika, and she fought him, the...well...the emotions were so strong that they 'leaked' through to this reality...mostly because this is the reality where he belongs...belonged. Apparently when he'd knocked me out...when we were on the astral plane to battle him...he had put a hook in my mind. Too small for me to even notice."

"Is this 'hook' still in place?" Hammond asked immediately. Didn't want to learn that his most trusted 'advisor' had been compromised.

She shook her head. "No, sir. And, Mibi isn't a threat any longer. Oakey destroyed him."

"Oakey?"

"Yes, sir," Daniel replied. "It seems that in Annika's reality, there's an entire forest of Protectors. They do the job there that I was given to do here."

Young Jack couldn't help but weakly grin at the memory of what Oakey had had to say about that. "Yeah, she was fairly upset at the higher level beings around here. She shook them up, pulled all of the guilt that Daniel and Radar have been lugging around about the daemons, and what happened to Annika and that Daniel, and dumped it on them." From what he'd 'heard', that had been no small amount of guilt, he thought, glancing at the couple sitting across from him.

"This...being...'dumped' your guilt on higher level beings in this reality?"

"Well, three of them," Daniel clarified. "From what I could gather, the beings from the Fifth Level are...were...being held accountable for not making certain that the Ascended Committee dealt with Mibi and his renegades. Four...I think it was four...beings from the Seventh Level showed up. I think the lower level beings believed that they...the Seventh Level beings...would protect them."

"Did these Beings do so?"

"No, sir," Casey said. "They pretty much admitted that they had screwed up by not making the Fifth Level beings take full responsibility for their screw up." A satisfied smile crept across her face. "And Oakey told me that anytime we need help with that group, she's more than willing to kick their butts again!"

Quiet chuckles filled the air as the team replayed the 'conversation' that had echoed in their heads.

President Hayes was certain that the group was speaking in some sort of code. He was about to remind them that he had the highest clearance available when Daniel took a deep breath, ready to speak again.

"Mibi...influenced...Annika enough to make her run away. With the sole purpose of breaking...destroying...that Daniel. In retaliation for the fact that I had defeated him here. Sir, I had to help them. It was my fault that bastard was alive to cause all of the trouble."

If there was one thing that he knew about Daniel Jackson, it was the fact that he took any mistake he made to heart. And would never repeat that mistake. "I understand, son," Hammond said quietly.

"The whole thing started when Oakey realized what had happened, and she sort of threw a temper tantrum, which knocked out all of the Nox-" Casey started.

"The Nox?" Hammond asked.

"Yes, sir. It seems that the Nox are direct descendants of these Protectors," Daniel explained.

"Wait a minute," Hayes said, a frown on his face. "You call her 'Oakey', and you said that there's a 'forest' of Protectors...are you trying to say this person is a...a tree?"

Casey flashed a smile. "She's a Being from the Seventh Level. And yes, She's a tree. That's the form She and the others chose to take in order to...interact...with the mortal plane."

"You're joking," Hayes accused her automatically.

"Do we look like we're joking?" Young Jack asked sharply. He caught the warning glance from Sam. Took a deep breath. "I'm certain that the mission reports you've read are proof enough that weird crap like this happens all the time around here."

Hayes gave a slight nod, too surprised at what he was hearing to even note the insubordinate attitude.

"Go on," Hammond said, hoping that the president wouldn't say any more...he had no doubt the team would get up and walk out if he did. Something had happened, more than just meeting up with a guardian tree and helping out an alternate SG-1; and they were in no mood to deal with politicians. Not even the President of the United States.

"Well, Oakey was upset, and she knocked out the Nox, whom Annika is related to as well," Casey explained. "I'm not sure about the link, only that it goes back so far into antiquity that it would be impossible for us...er...them...to actually trace. But the Nox know about the link. Anyway, that SG-1 has been - well, they're not exactly immortal, but their life spans have been...lengthened...because Oakey gave them some of her 'sap'. Power," she explained, tossing a look at the president.

"Because of that 'link'," Daniel said, "that SG-1 was knocked out as well. Casey was talking to that Daniel when he passed out."

"He went down hard, sir," Casey said softly. "He was twisted...I couldn't just let him lay there, and there was no one else around..."

"So you went through the mirror to help him," the general said. For Casey to have done anything else would have been uncharacteristic of her. He relaxed minutely, knowing that his assumptions had been correct.

"Yes, sir."

"When I realized what had happened, I was just going to go get her," Daniel said. "But then we found out what was going on, and I went with that SG-1 to go bring Annika home."

"You went on a mission with that reality's SG-1?"

"Yes, sir."

"I see." Hammond pushed down the momentary fear that thought dredged up. Missions were risky at best. A mission in an alternate reality was twice as dangerous, due to the time limits imposed on a 'visitor' by entropic cascade failure.

"Then, knowing about Mibi, we couldn't leave until we knew that bastard had been dealt with," Casey said softly. "We had to be sure he couldn't do this to another Annika...or a Casey...or anyone else for that matter...in an attempt to destroy yet another Daniel."

It was difficult to comprehend. Yet, at the same time, Hammond did understand that the problem being faced by that SG-1 had originated in this reality. It was nothing less than their duty to rectify any such situation. "I take it that all is well?"

"For them, yes, sir," Daniel said, glancing at Young Jack.

The teenager took a deep breath. "Seems they had a run-in with a renegade Asgard as well. By the name of Loki."

"Who was known in Norse mythology as the 'Trickster'," Daniel interjected.

"Certainly fits," Hammond said.

"Yes, sir," Young Jack nodded. "The kick in the pants is, he didn't just abduct me and send me back as a fifteen year old. He cloned me. Er...him."

Hammond frowned. "I'm not following."

"Sir," Sam said, her voice full of barely repressed emotion, "Jack isn't Colonel O'Neill. He's a clone of Colonel O'Neill."

"And evidently I'm not supposed to be this way," Young Jack spat bitterly.

"According to their mission report," Sam said, "the alternate SG-1 learned that Loki was conducting illicit experiments in the cloning process. He was convinced that human DNA held the secret to the cloning problems the Asgard face. When he cloned an abductee, he returned an exact replica of that person for three to five days. Studied the human, took more DNA samples, and then returned the person, whose memories of those 'missing days' were downloaded before the 'reverse switch' was made. The abductees have no clue that they weren't actually on Earth for those days. The memories of every moment are there."

Daniel frowned slightly. Professor Wu had said something about believing himself asleep the entire three days...had something happened that had prevented Loki from 'downloading' the memories of those 'missing' days? Had the clone died before that...process, whatever it entailed...had been completed, or even started? There was also the 'tag'...

The general looked at Young Jack and frowned.

"Yeah, we figure that this Loki doesn't have any more of a clue that his - experiment - went wrong than their Loki did," Young Jack groused.

"So we simply wait the few days for this Asgard to return Colonel O'Neill?" Hammond asked.

"No, sir. Loki 'tracked' his clones through their DNA coding," Sam started. She took a shaky breath. "Colonel..." She shook her head. "The clone has to be alive. Jack doesn't have that long. According to the alternate Carter's notes, I suspect he has less than thirty hours."

The implications set him back in his chair. "Loki knows where the colonel lives," the general argued.

"Yes, sir...well, in a way. You see, he focused in on the colonel. He was looking for the specific marker that the colonel has in his DNA."

"The ancient gene?"

"Yes, sir," Sam nodded. "We'd-" her voice caught, and she ducked her head.

"What we want to do sir, is what the alternate SG-1 was able to do," Daniel said quietly. "We want to make certain that this never happens to anyone else."

"We wish to apprehend the Asgard responsible," Teal'c said bluntly.

Hammond studied the faces that watched him, noted the emotions that could not be held in check. Shock. Anger. Frustration. Determination. He looked at Young Jack. The teenager was staring at his hands...which were shaking visibly. How in God's name was he going to help this boy? "What is it that you want to do?"

A collective sigh of relief went up from the four teammates who had waited impatiently for the general's decision. "We know Loki is up there somewhere," Sam said. "If the Prometheus could start running scans for any unusual energy readings, look for any anomalies, they might be able to find the ship before Thor gets here."

"We'd also like to send another message to the Asgard Council. With the details of what's going on. This is a breach of the Protected Planets Treaty, and as such, it could bring the entire thing down," Daniel pointed out. "That should get someone here in a hurry."

"Very well. Send the message. Mr. President, is there anything you'd like to add, or ask?"

Hayes looked at the faces of SG-1. Not one of them were in any condition to be interviewed just to satisfy his curiosity. "Not a thing."

"SG-1, you're dismissed." Before Sam was all the way out the door, Hammond called her back. "Major, see to it that our - guest - is comfortable. And under guard."

"Yes, sir," Sam nodded. It had been a hell of an afternoon. She hoped the day would end soon; that this entire ordeal would be over...soon! Hopefully that SG-1 good luck would kick in, and they'd be able to pull off another 'miracle'...get their Colonel Jack O'Neill back, and save the life of an innocent teenage boy...who had every right to a life of his own.

 

A A A A A A

 

Casey and Daniel were writing up the full report of their little...visit...to an alternate reality. Young Jack knew the general was far from pleased about the situation. He also knew, as did the general, that given who they were and the circumstances of their actions, nothing less could have been expected of the Jacksons. The president, it seemed, was still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that two people from the SGC hadn't just been ducking him - they'd been in a different reality, helping the SG-1 there with a problem that had started here. And that was so much more than he wanted to try to think about right now.

Sam had said something about checking on one of Doctor Lee's experiments. Teal'c...he wasn't sure where Teal'c had disappeared to...probably doing that kel'no'reem-ing thing he did whenever things had gone to hell for the team, and they managed to get home in one piece. There were times he envied the Jaffa his ability to simply meditate his problems away.

He paced the room, walked in circles, then from the bed to the door and back again. His thoughts were racing as he tried to come to terms with what he'd learned. No matter how hard he tried to push it away, his mind kept returning to the quiet conversation he'd had with his counterpart. Well, the counterpart of who he was supposed to be. Apparently 'that' SG-1 had experienced the same...event...as Daniel had called it. At least their theory that a renegade Asgard was behind the whole mess had been spot on. Little bastard's name was Loki. Daniel had said something about that particular little gray alien being known as 'The Trickster'. Yeah, pretty fucking tricky to make a clone out of someone. And a defective one at that!

Clone.

Did that mean he wasn't himself...that all of his memories, his emotions, everything that was...him...was a lie? Wasn't real? What the fuck did it mean to be a clone?

What it means, Airman, is that you're living with memories and experiences that don't belong to you.

For a moment, he thought he was going to be sick. He wrapped his arms around his waist, determined that he would not give in to the tears that were so damned close to falling. Dropped onto the bed, sat on the edge, staring at the floor.

Clone.

He wasn't even 'real', for crying out loud! Just a copy. A fake. A mistake. A flawed experiment.

It felt as if the walls were about to close in on him...the room seemed to shrink to the size of a postage stamp, and he couldn't breathe. He had to get out of here...had to get away. He needed fresh air. Needed to see the blue sky. Needed to smell the scent of the pine forest that surrounded Cheyenne mountain. Needed a drink. Needed to hold the woman he loved. Needed to be...him.

Young Jack stood to his feet, noticed that his entire body was shaking like a leaf. "I just need to get away."

The words echoed in the room, seemed to grow louder in his head. He was well aware of the fact that there was a guard in the hallway. There to make certain he didn't do what he was about to do. Escape. If he could just get out of the room, he could make it to the ventilation shaft that was less than ten feet from the door. He could move up a level, then sneak into the access tunnel. There were a dozen air vents that he could climb into, three would lead him directly topside. One of the vents opened about forty feet from the restricted parking lot. Where his truck was parked. He patted his pocket. No one had asked about his keys, and he sure as hell hadn't offered them. He had a way off base. The guards at the gates had seen him with Sam the night before, and then again when they came back to the base. There wouldn't be any questions asked...not this time. Now, getting out of the room...

Since the SF had at least a hundred pounds on him, and a foot or so in height, he was going to have to be smarter. He looked around the room, searching for something that he could use as a weapon. The lamp on the reading table caught his eye. Before he stood to his feet, he glanced at the camera. No telltale red light. Fortunately for him, his CO and teammates didn't feel the need to spy on his every movement. The cameras in the VIP rooms were seldom on, anyway. No need to monitor empty quarters, right?

Confident that he wasn't being watched, Young Jack studied the lamp. When the VIP rooms had been decorated, the interior decorating firm that had won the contract had been small, and more than willing to work on the premise that they were decorating rooms they'd never see. The two women had drawn up their suggestions, worked on Hammond's approval, and had sent down detailed instructions regarding everything from how the paint was to be applied to the walls to the placement of the furniture, even how the bedding should be put onto the new beds. He had to admit, the new guest quarters were actually pretty nice. Except for the lack of windows, you could believe yourself in a classy hotel.

He remembered arguing that the price of the lamps seemed a bit excessive, after all they were just lamps. Three-hundred and fifty dollars for a single lamp? He ran his fingers over the square-shaped base of the lamp. Thirty-one inches in height, the base was four inches wide, per side. Each side covered with fine ropes, coiled into squares, then attached to the stainless steel base. There were six squares of rope per side. Hand rubbed with brown stain, the coils created an interesting enough design. No doubt it would leave interesting marks on anyone clobbered with it.

He picked the lamp up, surprised at the weight of the thing. He glanced at the doorway. He only wanted to knock the guy unconscious, not bash his brains in. He turned and walked to the side of the bed, turned on the smaller version of the lamp. It offered little more than ambient light, just enough to get undressed and into the bed. But not enough to do much of anything else, other than possibly read by...if your eyesight was good.

Pulling his sleeve over his hand as he walked back to the larger lamp, Young Jack unscrewed the finial, and carefully lifted the square bell lampshade from the base. Unscrewing the lightbulb required that he move quickly, even with the protection of his shirt sleeve, the bulb was hot against his fingertips.

Yanking the plug from the wall outlet, he moved to the side of the door that would put him behind it when it was opened. Took a deep breath. He was, for all intents and purposes, attacking someone he worked with.

No, that he works with. You don't work with anybody. Because you're just a fucking clone!

He swayed slightly as the thought danced through his mind. He wasn't even real, was he? Just a replica of someone else. A flawed copy. And he so needed to get the hell out of here! "Hey! The lightbulb burned out! How am I supposed to see to do anything?" he called loudly. Wrapped his hands around lamp base just a bit tighter. Raised it above his head.

The door opened, and the guard stepped inside glanced around. Noticed the lamp shade sitting on the table...without the lamp. "What the hell?"

Before the guard could react, Young Jack shoved the door aside, and brought the lamp down on the back of the SF's skull. The man staggered slightly, dropped to his knees. Still not wanting to do more than render him unconscious, but definitely needing the man to be out cold, for awhile at least, Young Jack hit him again.

With a groan, the guard dropped onto his chest, his eyes fluttering closed.

"Sorry," Young Jack whispered, dropping the lamp as he moved toward the open door. He glanced into the corridor, then slipped out of the room, pulling the door firmly closed behind him. Assured himself that the guard would have a hell of a headache when he woke up, maybe a bit of a concussion, but would otherwise be all right. And when he did come around, he had the passkey to get out of the room.

Keeping his back against the wall, the man in the teenager's body slipped into the ventilation shaft. It was a hell of a lot easier than he remembered from the 'training exercises' that had been unofficially held just a few weeks ago. Had to stop for a moment as the realization that he was in a smaller body moved across his mind. His body was much- He cut the thought off.

Sorry, O'Neill, this body...this scrawny, dying body...is all yours.

He put his forehead on his arm. He'd never felt so alone in his life. Not comfortable with doing emotions, especially those of the negative type, Young Jack was momentarily overwhelmed. Anger, fear, despair...yeah, he had them all.

 

A A A A A A

 

No one was allowed to leave the facility until the president had left. Which meant that those personnel 'lucky' enough to be inside the SGC during his visit would be having their dinner at the commissary. Four members of SG-1 were on the elevator, heading for the third level. That they were together was a quirk of fate...and the unwavering bond that connected them.

"I'll stop and get Jack," Sam said quietly.

"I'll go with you," Daniel offered. "Case?"

"You two go on. Teal'c and I will make certain we get a table."

Daniel bit back his grin. As far as he knew, Casey had been sans coffee since she'd disappeared into Annika's reality. He would bet that at the moment what she wanted was a hot cup of anything that even resembled coffee. "Grab a mug for me?"

She raised an eyebrow. Chose to ignore the fact that he knew exactly why she wasn't choosing to accompany Sam as well. "You're willing to drink 'base sludge'?"

"At the moment, I need caffeine. How I get it doesn't seem important," he replied.

"Okay, I'll get a mug of coffee for you," she replied with a smile, nodding her understanding.

"Thanks." The elevator stopped on level twenty five. "See you in a few minutes." He dropped a kiss on her forehead, then followed Sam into the corridor. The elevator doors whooshed closed behind them.

Sam frowned. "That's odd. There's supposed to be a guard there," she said quietly.

"Maybe Jack talked him into a playing a video game," Daniel said, rather hopefully. Pushing aside the knot of fear that had suddenly returned to his belly.

"Maybe." When she tried the handle, the door was locked. Grabbing her ID card from where it hung around her neck, Sam yanked it through the electronic lock.

Daniel turned the handle, shoved the door open. Even in the dim light the sprawled body of the guard was impossible to miss. The table lamp was on the floor beside him.

"Oh, no!" Sam raced for the phone. Did her best to keep her voice calm. To not scream into the receiver that...Young...Jack had disappeared, and if they weren't fast enough, didn't find him soon enough, he could die alone. That his death could result in her Jack not being returned barely had time to flutter at the edges of her mind. Her main concern was the safety of that teenager - the boy who had been created from the man she loved. "We have a security breach. Level twenty-five. Guest quarters. We need a med team."

Daniel had turned around and was racing out the door; he slid into the hallway and headed off in a dead run. If the kid made it topside before they stopped him, they wouldn't be able to find him! Taking the freight elevator was his best bet at the moment...less chance of running into the president, or any one else for that matter.

 

 

 

Casey tilted her head sideways. "Oh, Jack," she whispered. She reached around Teal'c, hit the emergency override button, and slapped her fist against the button for level eleven.

"Casey Jackson, what is wrong?"

"I think Jack is planning to run away. I've had more than enough of dealing with runaways today," she grumbled. Not, she thought, that Annika had actually run away on her own accord. At least that problem had come to a satisfying conclusion. "He's so...confused."

"O'Neill?"

She nodded. "I suppose, given the circumstances, we should let him decide just exactly what he wants to be called."

The Jaffa nodded slowly. "While this...clone...is not O'Neill, he possesses all of O'Neill's memories and experiences."

"And emotions that are all his own," Casey added. "Jack doesn't do emotions well."

"Indeed."

The elevator doors opened, the garish red of the emergency strobes decorating the walls with their dull color; the klaxons screaming overhead. The thought that the president had probably pissed his pants when it had all come on was a thought that brought a hint of a smile to her lips, even as she raced toward the security station.

"Has Jack O'Neill...er...Young Jack O'Neill...has he been through here?" she asked breathlessly.

"No, ma'am," the guard replied.

"Well, hell! Watch the ventilation shafts and the access tunnel...he's trying to escape!" Casey slapped her hand down on the monitor, barely waited until the bars were out of the way to run for the elevator. Teal'c was directly behind her.

 

 

 

Daniel exited the freight elevator on level twelve, sprinted for the main elevator. He had to make it topside before that damned, annoying kid escaped! The thought bounced around in his head before he recognized it for what it was...the acceptance that 'Young Jack' was not their Jack O'Neill. He was a teenager. A teenager who was dying. Jesus H. Christ! No wonder the kid had bolted!

A group of Marine security guards were heading for the elevator as well. Daniel barely made it on before the doors closed. He turned to the Marine beside him. "Can I use your radio for a minute?"

"Sure," the man said amiably, handing the device to the archaeologist.

"Sam? Sam are you on this frequency?"

"I'm here, Daniel."

She sounded as if she were talking through gritted teeth, he thought. She probably was. "Any luck?" 

"Not yet. We just got word from the security post on level eleven that Casey and Teal'c just went through...in a hurry."

"Casey must have 'picked up' what's going on," Daniel replied. He assumed that the missing guilt that she had carried was the reason she seemed to be 'tuned in' once again. "Have the security team topside hold them there, I'm on my way."

"Will do."

"Jackson out." He handed the radio back to its owner. "Thanks."

"Any idea what's going on?" one of the Marines asked.

"Unfortunately. We have to find the young Jack O'Neill. Before he does something stupid," Daniel sighed.

 

A A A A A A

 

The sound of the klaxons echoed in the metal shafts. Wasn't exactly pleasant, he thought, scooting along carefully. Although the noise would certainly cover any rattling his movements might cause. He hadn't expected them to notice his absence so soon. If he were really unlucky, they'd be watching the escape tunnel, and block him off.

If he could get past level eleven, he could take the elevator to level two. Crawl through a shaft there to the outside. Young Jack peered through the grate beside him, trying to see the level number...which was always painted on the walls. There...level twelve. Okay, going up.

He was passing a carefully marked bundle of wires when it occurred to him that he could make his escape a bit easier. He'd have to follow the right one...in order to take out the entire system...

 

A A A A A A

 

President Hayes studied the people in the monitoring room. There was grim determination written on each face. He was still trying to wrap his mind around the events of the past hour.

When he had insisted on meeting with SG-1, the premier team had failed to respond to the summons to report to the briefing room. Instead, Teal'c had called Hammond, and had reported that the Jacksons had gone through the Quantum Mirror, and were, at that moment, still working with the SG-1 of 'Annika's' reality...whatever reality that was. That report had resulted in his being given the full run down on the 'intel exchange' that had occurred between the two realities, on the day that Daniel Jackson's late wife, and former brother- and father-in-laws had walked through from yet another reality. Those three, who were the counterparts to this reality's Sha're, Skaara and Kasuf, the general had explained, had been taken in by 'Annika's' reality. Annika, it seemed, was the psychic wife of that Daniel Jackson.

As if all that weren't confusing enough, General Hammond had sighed, and had told him that Colonel O'Neill wasn't exactly 'himself'. That he'd been abducted, by whom they were assuming was a renegade Asgard, and had been regressed to a fifteen year old. Hayes had wanted to call the man a damned liar, until two hours and forty-five minutes later SG-1 had entered the briefing room, with a teenager in tow, and no Jack O'Neill in sight.

Thinking about that briefing made his head spin. He ran a hand over his face wearily. Daemons from another level of existence run amok. The psychic wives of two different Daniel Jacksons in two separate universes affected. The worst part, the consensus had been, was learning that Jack O'Neill hadn't been 'regressed'. He had been cloned, and that the clone was dying. Hells bells! What a thing for a fifteen year old kid to be told. Hey, Junior, you're a clone, how about that? And that fifteen year old kid had all of Jack O'Neill's memories. Colonel Jack O'Neill had been Special Ops. Every damned thing the colonel had lived through, had endured...survived...that kid remembered.

Hayes glanced at Hammond. Wondered how he could look so calm. As if this sort of thing happened every day. The president barely made it to a chair before his knees gave out when he realized that this sort of thing did happen damned near every day for this group of people. Holy shit! How do they keep from going stark raving mad?

"Mr. President, we need to leave now, if you're going to make that speech at Peterson," General Maynard said quietly.

"Now?"

"Yes, sir."

He looked around again. There wasn't a damned thing he could do. If anything, his presence was more of a hindrance than a help. He sighed. "Right." Approaching Hammond, he waved the man back into his seat when the general would have risen. "George, I have to leave now, or so Frances tells me."

"I understand, sir," Hammond replied.

He had to know for sure; certainly all of...this...had to be unusual even for the SGC. "So, does this sort of thing happen often?"

"Which part...having a member of the SGC cloned into a teenager, or cooperation with an alternate universe?"

"Uh huh. So, does it? Happen often?"

"Define often, Mr. President."

"George, you'll get all the funding you need. And anything else that might be useful. A full staff of on-duty psychiatrists comes to mind."

Hammond's cheek twitched. The president had been nearly bug-eyed for over three hours now. "For them, or you, sir?"

"Me. Most assuredly, me."

General Hammond shook his head. "Usually we only have to face one disaster at a time. Today is...today is one of our more unusual days."

"No doubt. I understand why Tim Miller put so much faith in you, and in the people of this facility. You have mine as well," Hayes said, patting Hammond's shoulder. "Now, we're going to get out of your way. I want an update every hour."

"Yes, sir."

"Do what you can for the boy, George. And find O'Neill."

Hammond smiled. "Yes, sir."

The president looked around the room one last time. "Frances, take me where I'm supposed to be."

"Yes, sir," General Maynard said, opening the door of the monitoring room. The departure was enough to distract attention from the monitors just long enough to miss seeing a young face...before all of the screens went to black.

 

A A A A A A

 

"Security teams have swept the base three times in the past four hours, inside and out. They found nothing. I think it's safe to assume he's no longer here," General Hammond sighed. He dropped down into the chair at the head of the conference table. It had taken forty minutes to find the cut wires, and another thirty to have them repaired. A total of seventy minutes that the monitoring system on levels eleven to twenty, which included over half of the ventilation shaft cameras, had been offline. And had allowed one Jack O'Neill...or rather, the clone of Jack O'Neill...to make good his escape.

"Well, Colonel O'Neill knows the SGC as well as anyone. If he wanted a way out, I'm sure he'd find one," Sam pointed out. She had moved past her shock. Had worked through her anger at Young Jack. Could even say she understood why he had run. Couldn't begin to understand how frightened the teenager must be. With what had been learned regarding the situation, she found herself dealing with mixed emotions...hope and fear. She clung to the hope, battled the fear. It was all she could do for the moment.

Daniel and Casey were standing beside the table, arms around one another, both of them still trying to process all that they had experienced over the course of the day. "Poor Jack," Casey whispered.

Janet rushed into the room. "Sir, there's something you should see..." Her voice trailed off when her eyes met Sam's.

Sam knew exactly what Janet had discovered. Had intended to talk to the CMO as soon as Daniel and Casey had returned, and were safe and sound in their own reality. "He's a clone," she said flatly.

Janet jerked slightly. "Well...yes. But how-"

"I'm sorry," Sam said, shaking her head wearily. "I was going to tell you...the other SG-1...from Annika's reality. They told us. Apparently Loki is responsible."

"We sent another message to Thor," Daniel added. "It was a bit more...forceful...than the first two, so hopefully someone from the Asgard High Council will respond soon."

"Clone or not, he's still just a boy, and that boy is dying. The deterioration seems to be speeding up," Janet said.

General Hammond turned to Casey. "Can you sense anything?"

She shook her head. "I'm sorry, sir. I can feel his emotions...they're all over the place. But I can't tell you where he is, I can't seem to 'focus' on him."

"Well, I've notified state and local authorities. With any luck, they'll find him soon. For now, all we can do is wait," he replied. "I suggest that you all go home. Try to get a bit of rest. There's always the chance that he'll show up at one house or the other."

With somber nods, the team...minus their leader...walked slowly toward the elevator. Janet walked with them, standing close to Teal'c as they paused in front of the heavy elevator doors.

"How much time does he have?" Daniel asked quietly.

"Not more than twenty-four hours," Janet replied.

"Poor kid," Casey said softly. She was too concerned about the teenaged version of Jack O'Neill to even notice the soft glow of white that enveloped Janet and Teal'c.

"Do we have any idea where Loki might be?" Teal'c asked, sliding his ID badge through the reader.

Sam frowned. "I would think he'd be nearby. He hadn't gone anywhere when he kidnapped the Jack O'Neill of the other SG-1. Evidently he wasn't aware of the problem until Thor told him about it...when they confronted Loki."

"Let's hope it plays out here the way it did there," Daniel said quietly.

"Amen to that," Casey replied.

 

A A A A A A

 

Daniel drove slowly through the streets of Silver Springs, taking a detour through Grant Park. It was a long shot, but maybe they'd spot the teenager...the dying clone of Jack O'Neill. It was more than he could wrap his mind around. Considering that the clone was just a kid...with the raging hormones of a teenager, which undoubtedly would lead to the confusing emotions. Toss in all of the memories of Special Ops Agent Jack O'Neill...god, the kid had to be completely overwhelmed. Jack didn't do emotions, not well, so it was safe to say his clone wasn't any more comfortable with them, and he was being inundated with every emotion known to man...and probably a few extra just to make the trip even more gut-wrenching. His fingers closed around Casey's absently when she slipped her hand into his.

"We'll find him," she said softly.

He glanced at her. "Any clues?"

She shook her head. "None. I...I don't know Jack well enough-" She broke off. "That's not exactly right...I know Jack. What I don't know is how he'd react in a situation like this. Hell, I don't think it's possible to know how anyone would react to something like this!"

He was too weary to do more that note the feeling of jealousy that raised its head at her comment...feelings that had plagued him since his return from the dead, to learn that his best friend had been the one to protect Casey. He pulled her love tighter around his heart. "In spite of this little...adventure, how are you feeling?"

Casey smiled. "Rather...free, actually. I didn't realize that the guilt I felt over my failures was just making the problem worse."

"Angel, you have never failed SG-1, nor the SGC," Daniel said quietly. He had tried to explain that many times over the past few weeks...to no avail. He'd had no understanding of how deep her guilt went...nor how much it was affecting her on every level. Perhaps, he thought, he'd been too busy grappling with his own guilt...all which was blessedly missing now.

"My head and my heart disagree," she replied.

"But-"

"What you consider a failure and what I consider one of my failures isn't always the same. I realize there are times when there's nothing I can do, nothing I can say, nothing that I can...see...that will change a situation. That doesn't mean I can easily accept that, or that I don't often feel as if I'm failing by not being able to find that rabbit."

"You see what you see, Casey."

"That's very true. Hopefully it will be more, and a bit...clearer...now. Maybe I'll be able to sense more now that I'm not being partially blocked by Mibi, and blinding myself with my own doubts."

The...debate...was far from over. He doubted that it ever would be. Casey's stubbornness guaranteed that. He'd do his best to help her to see the incredible woman she was...the amazing woman that he loved with all his heart. "Let's grab something to eat," he suggested, turning onto Baker Street.

"There are casseroles in the freezer."

"I know that. I also know that I'm physically and mentally exhausted. You are too, Case, I can see it in your eyes," Daniel said, looking over at her long enough to verify his suspicions.

"It has been a hell of a day."

"And it started early...six o' clock in the morning was a hell of a long time ago."

"Well, technically, it was seven here," she pointed out. "About thirty minutes later than we normally get up."

"Casey, it's been a long damned day," he sighed.

"Yes, Daniel, it has," she grinned. "Sonic?"

"Works for me."

 

A A A A A A

 

It was almost ten p.m. The store would be closing soon. He took a deep breath. Walked through the door, listened to the tinkling of the bells that notified the owner that a customer had arrived. "Evenin'," he said amiably.

The man behind the counter eyed the teenager closely. He was acting nervous, but hell, they all did when they came in here, hoping to use a fake ID to buy beer. He'd seen it so many times that he could usually tell just which approach the kid would take. This one would wander the aisles for a minute, as if trying to make up his mind what he wanted. Then he'd head back for the cooler, grab a six pack, and then swagger to the counter and toss a twenty out, as if he bought beer every night of the week.

The teenager moved between the shelves. Eyed the bottles of Jack Daniel's. If he wasn't certain that they were watching his...watching O'Neill's place, he corrected himself...he'd go there and grab the bottle Ferretti had given him. Given O'Neill. Not him. Because he was just a goddamned copy. A freak.

He caught his reflection in the mirror in the corner. He looked like any other teenager. A little pale, but that was just because he'd gone through hell so far today. He really needed a drink!

A glance out of the corner of his eye. Yep, the old man was watching him like a hawk. Shit. I shoulda come in when someone else was in here. He could have grabbed a couple of bottles, stuffed them under his shirt, bought a pack of gum and a soda, and left.

He opened the door of the cooler. Frowned at how heavy it seemed to be. Adamantly refused to think about the fact that it was probably a symptom. He was dying, but he didn't need to be reminded of it with every damned breath!

Grabbing a six-pack of Heineken, Young Jack made his way back up to the counter. Tossed a ten dollar bill at the man behind it, intending to just keep right on walking. He'd done that a time or two before...there had never been a problem. "Thanks. Catch ya later."

Just before he reached the door a hand closed around the back of his neck. "I don't think so, kid," the man growled, pulling the six pack from his fingers. Stuffed the ten dollars into the kid's jacket pocket. He escorted the teen outside. "Go on home, kid, before I call the cops. It's a school night, for cryin' out loud."

"How about lite beer?" Young Jack asked.

"Give me a break," the man muttered. He went back into the store, turned to glare at the teen one last time before disappearing behind the counter once again.

Young Jack dropped despondently onto one of the parking posts. Seemed that tonight was going to be every bit as bad as the day had been. He didn't want to think. He wanted to drink a few beers, go to sleep and wake up as himself again.

You already are 'yourself'.

A shudder moved over him. He wanted to shout, scream, cry...declare to the world, to the universe, that he was Colonel Jonathan Jebediah O'Neill! He opened his mouth. Closed it again. No matter how much he wanted to be 'Jack O'Neill', he wasn't. Never would be. "I'm me," he muttered. Just a clone.

When a man wearing an Air Force jacket walked past him, he glanced up. Hey! Wasn't that..."Harley?"

The man turned, glanced around him, expecting to see a face he recognized. Frowned when the only person nearby was a teenager he didn't know. "Excuse me?"

"Yeah, Harlan Beck. You served in Operation Proven Force out of Incirlik, right?" Young Jack said, the memories of that operation dancing in his mind. He pushed them aside. He didn't have the energy to deal with them at the moment.

Beck gave a slight smile. "Yeah, during the Gulf. How'd you know that, kid?"

Young Jack almost laughed out loud! Was Harley joking? "What? Are you kidding? I ran-" He stopped himself, realizing that Colonel Jack O'Neill had run the operation. Not the kid that Harley was staring at now. He scratched his cheek. Okay, how did Radar put that? Oh, yeah. Story time. "I mean, uh, my uncle knew a Lieutenant Beck from the war. Yeah, said he was a stand up guy. Flew an AC-130 gunship over Baghdad."

"Well, then, your uncle had to be in the Special Ops," Beck replied.

"Yeah, he was. Colonel Jack O'Neill?" Young Jack said, hoping that Beck wouldn't remember the fifty bucks he owed him...that Colonel O'Neill owed him.

"You're Jack O'Neill's nephew? I didn't know he had a sibling," Beck said, shaking his head.

He'd always been closed-mouthed about his family. He talked about Charlie and Sara...with his closest buddies...but not about any of his extended relations. By that time, his folks were gone, and Rachel had made it perfectly clear that he wasn't welcome at 'home' any longer. That he could consider himself without a family. So...he had. He took a deep breath. "Well, used to. Uh, yeah, Uncle Jack's been like a father to me. You know, since my folks died."

"Ah. So, how's old Jack doin' anyway?"

"Uh, he's fine, and he's not that old, either," Young Jack replied indignantly. Old, my ass! Once again the reality of the situation impacted on him. God, he needed a drink!

"Well, tell him...tell him Harley said to watch his six."

Watch your six, O'Neill.

The memory raced forward. The team jumping out of the plane, landing near what had once been a royal palace; racing in to rescue two of the political prisoners who were being held in the compound. Two men who could do a hell of a lot of damage to the intel community if they were forced to talk. Their captors were experts at making people talk. Young Jack shook his head mentally. Those are his memories, not mine. And I really need a beer! "Hey, yeah, uh, speaking of six? Look, uh, seeing as how you know my uncle and all, you think you could do me a little favor?"

Beck gave a knowing smile, shook his head, and opened the door of the liquor store.

"That went well," Young Jack grumped. When the man behind the counter looked out at him...again, he decided he'd probably better leave before the old bastard did call the cops.

 

 

 

He walked the streets, trying not to notice the chill in the air. He tugged his jacket tighter around his shivering frame. Looked up when the street he was trudging down seemed familiar. Stopped in front of her house. He had no idea what time it was...but her car was parked in its usual spot in front. There were no lights on, but that didn't necessarily mean she was asleep. She liked to watch movies with the lights out.

Before he knew what he was doing, he had crossed the street, and was walking up the front walk. Before he got to the porch he noticed the light in the basement window. He glanced around to make certain no one would see him, then ducked behind the bush that was just beside the low window. He crouched down, peeked inside.

She was sitting there, staring at something on her work bench. Didn't seem to be working though. When she folded her arms on the cluttered top, buried her face in the crook of her elbow, her shoulders shaking slightly, he felt a lump come to his throat.

She's crying for him, not you.

Quietly, so that she wouldn't hear him, he retraced his steps. Ran until he felt as if his lungs were going to burst. Fought his own tears as he walked along the highway, wondering just what in the hell he was going to do.


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