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Fragile Balance of Politics

 

Chapter 13

It was that SG-1 bond that had Teal'c knocking on Sam's door at nearly eleven-thirty. During the time he waited for her to respond to the ringing of the doorbell, the Jaffa fretted that perhaps the major had been able to fall asleep, and that he had just awakened her from what little rest she had been able to find. That theory was proven in error when the blonde opened the door, her eyes red and swollen from crying. Without saying a word, the large man pulled the distraught woman into his arms, held her as she cried against his shoulder.

With a hiccupped sigh, Sam pulled away. Led Teal'c into the house. "Thanks for coming," she said softly. That there hadn't been an actual call for help was beside the point. Somehow, they always knew. When one member of the team was suffering, for whatever reason, the others knew. Could feel it.

Hearts entwined.

"I was unable to sleep. I feared you would be suffering as well," the Jaffa quietly replied.

The phone rang, and the two shared a smile. Casey or Daniel. One or the other of the Jacksons was calling. Sam picked up her phone. "Hello...oh, hey, Casey."

Four blocks over, Casey was pouring another cup of coffee. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." The words were automatic. Sam closed her eyes. Admitted the truth to the one woman who would truly understand. "I think I'm falling apart."

"I'm on my way."

Before Sam could reply, the connection had been cut. "She's on her way. You know Daniel will be with her."

"Indubitably."

The thought that Jack would accuse Teal'c of 'playing' with the on-line thesaurus flittered through her mind at the Jaffa's response. Made her wince in pain. "If we can't find him...Young Jack...will Loki still return our Jack?"

"If Loki is indeed the Asgard who has taken O'Neill," Teal'c replied. "I do not believe that he is aware of his...failure. Just as the Asgard known as Loki in Annika's reality was unaware of the results of his cloning that O'Neill. I believe he will return O'Neill on schedule."

"But, if he can't locate the clone, he might not," Sam insisted.

"Then we will endeavor to locate the clone, and return him to O'Neill's domicile."

"I can't bear the thought of that poor kid out there, alone...God, what he's dealing with!" Sam said, running her hand through her hair. "I can't imagine how he must be feeling."

"I am certain he is...confused," Teal'c said.

"Confused. Angry. Frightened. We can't let him stay out there alone, we have to find him."

"I agree."

"If Loki refuses to 'repair' the-" Sam broke off. 'Repair the clone'. Sounded so scientifically cold and callous. She had spent enough time with Young Jack to know that even if he was a 'clone', he had feelings, and fears. He was every bit as...human...as the man he had been created from. "If Loki refuses to cure Young Jack, we have to find a way to keep him alive until we can figure out a way to help him. And I think I know how to do that."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow.

"The Tok'ra have the ability to put a body into cryogenic hibernation. I can contact Dad, see if they'd be willing to help us," she explained. "That could buy us enough time to either find the cure ourselves, or locate Thor, and find out if he can help."

The sound of the doorbell echoed around them, seeming louder in the dim light coming from the fixture above the island in the kitchen...the only light in the house that was on at the moment. Sam hurried to the door, not surprised to see Daniel standing behind Casey. She accepted the tight hugs from both, allowing herself a few more tears in the safety of their arms.

"We have to find him," Casey said, following her best friend into the kitchen.

"Teal'c and I were just discussing that," Sam said, repeating what she had offered to Teal'c as a plan of action.

Daniel nodded. "That's a good idea. Can you just call the SGC and have someone there send a message to your dad?"

"I would think so," Sam replied.

"Then you should do it. Then we'll all head out and look," Daniel suggested.

"We must determine where the youth would try to escape to," Teal'c said.

Casey turned to the Jaffa. "Okay, when you were his age, where would you go to hide?" She studied her large friend. "Wrong person to ask." Turned to Daniel. "So, when you were Jack's age, where would you go to hide?" She looked at her husband. "Shit. You're still the wrong person to ask. You'd have just buried yourself in books." She heaved a sigh of frustration.

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Daniel wasn't certain whether to be insulted or not.

"You do not believe that I had need to hide away when I was but a child?" Teal'c asked, somewhat affronted.

"Teal'c, I don't believe you were ever a child. I think you've always been a big Jaffa with a dour disposition," Casey retorted.

"Then my facade has worked well."

For a moment, the slender seer said nothing, her gaze locked with black eyes. She broke out into a grin that stretched ear to ear. "I'll help you keep that deep, dark secret."

Daniel chuckled, and even Sam managed a smile.

"So, where would Jack...er...Young Jack...go?" Casey asked.

"Do you think he'd try to get home...to his place?" Daniel inquired.

Sam shrugged. "It's possible. I was surprised that he didn't take his truck. I'm assuming he realized that we'd put out an APB for it, and he'd be stopped by the first cop to see him."

"I don't think he'd go to O'Malley's," Casey mused.

"He's underage," Daniel pointed out. "I don't think there's anywhere that he might go to have a drink that would let a teenager through the door."

"What about IHOP?" Casey suggested.

"It's worth a try," Sam said. "And any other all-night diners as well. It's cold outside, he's going to want to try to stay warm. That's just common sense, and it's part of his training to find and utilize any and all assets to his benefit."

Once again the team was struck by the realization that while the clone of Jack O'Neill might look fifteen, he had the memories and experiences of a man three times his age.

"I'll call and have Murphy send a message to Dad, then we'll split up and look for Young Jack," Sam said, taking charge. She was, after all, the second-in-command.

"We'll head to IHOP," Daniel said.

"I will go to his home," Teal'c nodded.

Sam grabbed her keys from the bowl on the counter. "Daniel, since you and Casey both have cell phones, we'll use the two of you as relays. I'll call Casey; Teal'c, you call Daniel. We stay in contact."

"Got it."

"Right."

"Indeed."

With purpose in their movements, and hope in their hearts, the four set out to find the missing youth. A cloned teenager who had only hours to live. And who was key in getting the real Jack O'Neill back.

 

A A A A A A

 

Young Jack had not been at the local IHOP. Nor had he been at home. Sam's excursion through Grant Park had netted nothing. Two truck stops and a Denny's, and half a dozen all-night restaurants had been dead-ends as well. No one had seen any teenagers, certainly none fitting the description of young Jack O'Neill.

Just on the outside chance that someone had found the youth, and had returned him to the SGC per the request to the local law enforcement agencies, the four met up at the base. Murphy had sent the message to Jacob Carter, but no one expected a reply for several hours at least. That alone was a separate worry...would the Tok'ra contact them, and agree to help...before it was too late?

Nor was the team surprised to find that General Hammond had never left the base, but instead was waiting for word on the missing teen. "Go home, people. Get some rest," Hammond said gently. "The police have been notified. They've been told there's a serious medical condition and that the clone-"

"Young Jack," Casey murmured, not wanting anyone to forget for even a moment that the terrified teenager they were searching for was a person in his own right.

The general gave a small smile. "You're right, Casey. Young Jack. The police have been informed that it's vital that the boy be found, due to a critical medical condition."

"So they'll be actively looking for him?" Daniel asked.

"Very much so. From what I was told, extra manpower has been called in on this one."

"Four more pairs of eyes out there can't hurt," Sam insisted. Three heads bobbed up and down in agreement with her.

Hammond sighed. There was no way that this group would remain outside of the search. The teenager might not actually be a member of their team. But he was a part of their CO...the leader of a group closer than family. Whether that relationship between SG-1 and the teenager had been unwittingly created or not, it existed. And that's all that Sam, Daniel, Casey, and Teal'c needed to know. He glanced at the clock. It was just after four a.m. "Very well. But be careful. Back here at six, no matter what. At that time you will rest, do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," Sam replied, speaking for the team.

With a nod, the general gave his permission. Not that withholding it would have made a difference. Short of arresting the four, they would be out there looking whether he wanted them to do so or not. And truth be told, he would much rather that one of them find the disgruntled youth than the local police. In his current state of mind, Young Jack would probably do something incredibly...unwise. He was, after all, exactly like Colonel Jack O'Neill.

 

A A A A A A

 

The sounds of people talking nearby brought him out of his slumber. He peeked around the boxes to see three women walking toward the time-clock. He stretched as best he could, given his cramped position. As soon as the employees left, he'd sneak out the back door. He could see that it was open just a crack, could feel the draft coming in. Lucky for him he wouldn't have to walk back through the grocery store to the front, and out the main exit. By now the cops were probably looking for him.

Young Jack waited until the swinging door that led out of the backroom and into the store itself was flapping back and forth before ducking behind another stack of boxes, making his way to the door that offered him escape.

It had been sheer luck that he'd passed the grocery store after he'd left Sam's house the night before. No one had been paying much attention, and it had been warm enough to prevent him from freezing to death in the cold of the night.

Yeah, saved myself from freezing so that I can die this afternoon of cellular degradation, he grumped silently. That thought echoed in his head for several minutes, as he scurried down the alley and away from the Piggly-Wiggly. "If I'm gonna die, I'm gonna go out doing something I want to do," he said out loud. "I'm gonna go fishing. Maybe I'll even catch something."

The decision made and a destination in mind, the teenager set out with determination. He knew a little place where he could rent a pole. He could get a small tub of bait. Find a nice spot on the river, and just sit and contemplate life. And death.

 

A A A A A A

 

The river was only a mile from the barracks of the Air Force Academy. A group of cadets on their morning run had spotted the youth. Their only motivation in reporting what they had seen was the fact that none of the group recognized the teenager, thus the consensus had been that he was trespassing on government property. If he was a cadet, as a few of the runners had suggested, the fact that he was sitting there - in civilian clothes, fishing rather than participating in the early morning training exercises - was enough to raise their ire.

Normally, the Academy MPs would have rousted the youngster. But the description had caught the attention of one of the lieutenant colonels. He was certain it couldn't be coincidence. The alert that had come through had made him certain that the young man was the same one he had encountered in front of the liquor store the night before. He was also kicking himself for not reporting the kid to the police. Had he done so, O'Neill's nephew would have been safe at home...not sitting in the cold, fishing in the river that ran near the campus.

 

A A A A A A

 

Reveille had just been called, the sound of the trumpet - a recording that blared over loudspeakers - still echoing in the early morning air. The men and women who worked in Cheyenne Mountain, military and civilian alike, were preparing to face another day.

Twenty-seven levels below ground a phone rang. The duty officer for the day answered, then pressed the button that would connect him to the general's office.

"Hammond."

"General Hammond, sir, I have a Lieutenant Colonel Beck from the 10th Air Base Wing at the Air Force Academy on the line for you. He says it has to do with Colonel O'Neill."

"Patch him through."

"Yes, sir."

Hope flaring in his chest, the general punched the button that was flashing. Ten minutes later, he was sending airmen to wake the members of SG-1, who had probably been asleep all of thirty minutes. There were times when being involved was more important than sleeping. This was certainly one of those times.

 

A A A A A A

 

Teal'c had driven, knowing that Sam was in no condition to drive. Daniel and Casey were just as tired. He had been trained to withstand such deprivations. They approached slowly, not wanting to frighten the teenager into running again.

The MPs, who had led the team to the spot where the interloper had been seen, stood just behind the four members of the team.

Young Jack was sitting on a large rock about fifteen feet from the shore. He'd climbed over the others that were strewn in the river, forming a natural path. The sound of the approaching vehicles, just noticeable above the rushing water, had him glancing over his shoulder. "Unless you brought beer, that's close enough."

Daniel shook his head. Jack O'Neill had been Special Ops. Thinking that they could sneak up on the teenager imbued with his memories had been nothing more than wishful thinking.

"Colonel-" Sam broke off, then shook her head. "We need you to come back with us."

"How'd you find me?"

"Someone named Lieutenant Colonel Beck placed you in this area," Daniel replied, raising his voice to be heard over the water that flowed over boulders in the river.

"A man from whom you recently bought bait said you and he discussed this river," Teal'c added.

Never should have stopped in there, Young Jack thought. Knew the damned place was too quiet for me to just slip in and out of!

"We have a couple of ideas," Daniel said. "Right, Sam?"

The blonde major nodded, for a moment forgetting that Young Jack couldn't see her, as he still had his back to them. They had already discussed the fact that Young Jack would probably be no more interested in being helped by the Tok'ra than their Jack would be. But this might be the only way to help the boy...and she had to make him understand that. "I contacted my dad. They have the...means...to keep you alive until we can find a cure."

"Tell Jacob thanks, but I'm not interested in being freeze dried."

"He's been thinking about this," Sam muttered.

"And came up with the same ideas we did," Casey sighed. "He plays the part of a dumb grunt pretty well, doesn't he?"

"Look, we're not here to take you to the Tok'ra. We just...we just want to take you home. There may not be much time," Daniel said.

"Never is, is there?" Young Jack asked sharply.

"You read the report from Annika's...uh...team," Sam said, casting a glance at the MP's who stood too close for uncensored comments. "You know we have a chance to catch the...uh...guy...who did this, to make it right."

Young Jack turned to face the group huddled on the bank behind him. "You only want him back."

"That's not true," Casey called. "We want to help you every bit as much as we want our Jack. You didn't ask for this. You deserve to have a life just like everyone else."

He studied the seer. She'd never been able to hide deceit, at least, not from him. Not from her teammates. They all knew her too well. Even from the distance he could see the worry in her eyes. The honest-to-god desire to help him. His gaze moved to Sam. Her expression was filled with the same concern. "What if you don't get him back?"

"We will," Sam replied confidently. "But we're not about to just leave you out here." She paused, then looked the teenager in the eye. "You're one of us."

The lump that filled his throat was the size of a baseball, he was certain of that. His team...Jack's team...wouldn't abandon him any sooner than they would abandon their CO. If they believed they could help him, then there wasn't a force on Earth that would prevent them from doing so. He reeled in the line. "Fish aren't biting anyway," he complained.

He did his best not to flinch when both Sam and Casey immediately wanted to check his temperature, their soft hands pressing against his forehead. They were beautiful women. He was fifteen years old. That was not a kind thing to do to his libido!

Nor did he say anything when Teal'c blasted the heat, and the two women - who were sitting beside him in the backseat of the Jaffa's' pickup - seemed determined to warm him with their body heat. Another of their 'mothering' moves that did little to help him maintain control of his raging hormones.

They wanted their Jack O'Neill returned to them. They needed him for that to happen. They were also convinced that they could threaten, coerce, or bully Loki into fixing him. He only wished he could be so sure.

 

A A A A A A

 

Daniel passed out copies of the notes he'd taken during his interviews with the abductees in California, as well as references to the interviews in the Project Blue Book files. "We've calculated that there are approximately three days between the abduction, and the return of the abductee. Which means that tonight, Loki should try to return Jack...our Jack," he qualified quickly, glancing at the teenager sitting beside Casey.

"This plan sucks," Young Jack grumbled. "Look, I know you don't think I am who I am, but, as far as I'm concerned, I am. Who I am."

"The switch is the only chance we have of capturing Loki, and holding him until Thor arrives," Sam said quietly.

"What about the fact that this body is dying? I mean, has anyone even thought about that for a second?" Young Jack glanced around, noted that no one wanted to look at him. "Oh, I see. You don't care as long as you get the original back!"

"We do care," Casey insisted.

"We just...we don't know what else to do for you," Sam admitted with a sigh.

Casey put her hand on the teen's arm. "You're not him," she said softly. "You're you. And you have every right to be you. But we can't do anything...Loki has to 'fix' you. We can't."

"This is the only chance to have the Asgard responsible for this to correct his mistake," Teal'c said.

"Or at least give us an idea of how to correct what's been done," Sam nodded. "We have the medical equipment from the Tollan. Janet is certain that she can use it, if she knows what she's supposed to do, how to correct the cellular structure."

"Fine. Give me a 9-mil and I'll get it outta the sucker," Young Jack growled.

"That's not the best way to approach the situation," Daniel argued.

"So you'll just use me as bait and hang me out to dry, hoping that you can catch this little gray bastard, and talk him into fixing me." The teen tossed the notes onto the table. "The only chance you have of making this work is me."

General Hammond returned the steady gaze that the boy leveled on him. There was a challenge in those angry brown eyes. A request. A plea.

"Come on," Young Jack said quietly.

"A zat gun," Hammond said firmly.

"Thank you, sir," Young Jack said, sighing mentally. At least he had a shot at living. If he was just...whisked away...chances were his screwed up body would just continue to degenerate. He was fairly certain it would painful. And, as much as he hated to admit it, he was already feeling the affects of his...problem. If this didn't work, he didn't figure he'd see the sun rise again. He really didn't want to die...regardless of how he'd come into existence. That whole survival instinct...thing. Proved he was human, right?

"See to it that Jack-" Hammond started.

"Johnny," Young Jack interjected.

"Excuse me?" The general quirked at eyebrow.

"I just...I'm not Jack. I'm fifteen. Nothing wrong with being called Johnny," the teen said gruffly.

Hammond nodded his understanding. "Major, make certain that...Johnny...understands exactly what he has to do."

"Yes, sir," Sam replied.

 

A A A A A A

 

Johnny was sprawled on Jack's bed, wearing boxers and a gray tee shirt. He was leafing through one of the colonel's magazines. He...Jack...had always liked 'Mad'. Although, Johnny thought, he preferred 'Cracked'. For one moment, the reason for his being in the colonel's house was forgotten as that thought bounced around in his head. For the first time, he was truly beginning to feel like...himself. It was a small difference. Insignificant. But it was a difference between him and the man he had been cloned from.

It was just after ten...he'd watched the late news, figured Leno would have to get by without him tonight. He'd spent the day sleeping...in the infirmary. He hadn't wanted to admit how tired he really was. Doc Fraiser hadn't been fooled for a minute. She knew. She could see it. His condition was starting to affect him. Noticeably. He was, Johnny thought briefly, running out of time. No doubt about it. If this Loki character didn't 'fix' him tonight, it was all over. He could feel it.

He shook himself mentally. Focus, Airman. He reached for the radio on the nightstand beside him. He just wanted to make certain that they hadn't noticed anything, he told himself. "Carter, still got your ears on?"

"Yes, sir." Habit, she thought, when her words echoed back at her. She couldn't help but smile. No doubt at some point in the future, Johnny...John O'Neill...would be in the military. Somewhere. Being called 'sir'...legitimately.

"Daniel? Teal'c?"

"Everything appears to be normal, O'Neill."

He rolled his eyes. "Yeah? Not to me."

Casey snickered softly from her hiding place. It had been decided that if anything should go wrong, and Johnny wasn't taken by the Asgard beam when Jack was returned, she would sedate him immediately, and the Prometheus, which was standing at the ready, would beam him aboard their ship. The Tok'ra had sent a message, agreeing to take the boy, and place him in suspended animation until a cure for his cellular degradation could be found. He had made it abundantly clear that it wasn't his first choice. She had cajoled, threatened, begged, and argued with the teen, until he had agreed that it was, literally, his only choice...should Loki fail to come through. She was waiting nervously in the adjoining bathroom.

"You wanna go over the instructions I gave you, again?" Sam asked quietly.

"Don't worry, Carter. I'm sure I'll figure it out."

A flash of light lit the room. When it faded, Jack O'Neill was curled up on his bed, sleeping soundly.

"Jack's here!" Casey reported. She glanced around. "Johnny's gone."

In just a matter of minutes Daniel, Teal'c, and Sam crowded into the bedroom beside her. Sam nearly ran to the bed. She reached out, traced a shaking finger over Jack's bearded jaw. Then gently shook his shoulder. "Jack? Jack, wake up."

Nervous glances were exchanged when there was no change in the way the sleeping man was breathing. Daniel reached down, shook Jack's shoulder a bit harder. "Jack? Jack!"

Again, there was no response.

"O'Neill!" Teal'c's voice boomed.

A snort, and then a grunt came from the bed. Jack rolled to his back, peered up at them through barely opened eyes. He looked around, noted the worried faces of his kids peering down at him. "What are you all doing in my bedroom?"

Sam had determined she wouldn't cry. She would not, however, be denied what she had needed for three days. Her arms went around his shoulders and she kissed him, too relieved to notice that he wasn't kissing her back...at first.

Jack pulled away, breathless, his eyes a bit wide. "What was that for?"

"Welcome home, Jack," Sam said softly, her eyes drinking in the features of his face.

"Huh? I was having the weirdest dream." He glanced around again. "I assume that something is going on?"

"You could say that," Daniel replied.

 

 

 

Johnny looked around. Okay, here he was. Apparently this was where he had been created. He was suspended in the air, just beneath an odd looking orange device.

Loki walked into the room. "Hello. Do not be afraid."

His fingers wrapped around the zat that he had slipped between his abdomen and the waistband of his boxers. He pulled it out and fired, watching as the Asgard crumpled to the floor. Another glance around, and he fired on the device above him. He plummeted to the floor with a resounding 'whump'. Oh, damn, that hurt! He rolled to his side, trying to catch his breath. Managed to get to his knees, then slowly to his feet. He staggered for the first few steps as he hurried toward the console on the other side of the room.

His eyes moved over it, searching for the marks that Sam had told him would indicate the correct console. "Wrong console," he muttered. He walked to the one beside it. "Okay, far right jewel thingy...up."

He looked around. Nothing had happened. Where were they? With a frown he examined the console again. Heard Sam's voice echoing in his mind. "Ah, and three o'clock." His fingers twisted the stone slightly.

In a flash of light, SG-1...all of SG-1, was standing in front of the window through which a myriad of stars could be seen. "There, you see, Carter? Told you it was no problem." It was at that moment Johnny realized that he was standing there with them. The real Jack O'Neill. And he and his 'original' were dressed identically. How freaking bizarre was that? He was so busy staring at the man that he didn't realize the man was staring at him in return.

Jack looked at the faces of his teammates, then back at the teenager who looked suspiciously familiar. "What's going on?"

Johnny noted that not one of the team were able to meet his eyes. If they were having trouble dealing with the idea of Jack being cloned, how would he deal with it? His gaze returned to Jack. "Wow. Uh...ya know, I'm...I'm really much taller than I think," he said, slightly dazed at seeing himself. No, he's him. I'm...me.

"Carter?" Jack asked, still warily watching the teenager.

Sam swallowed. Took a deep breath. "Colonel O'Neill...meet Colonel O'Neill."

Jack looked at Sam, searching her face for any clue to what was going on. Waiting for her to crack a smile over the joke. Her eyes were as serious as the expression on her face. He looked back at...Colonel O'Neill? "What's going on?"

His voice was full of irritation, his eyes betrayed his confusion. Casey was certain that Jack's eyeballs would start spinning when he finally understood what was going on. She wondered briefly if he would pass out from the shock. She sure as hell would...if she were introduced to a teenaged clone of herself!

"We're pretty sure that Ass-gard over there kidnapped you and attempted to replace you with a clone," Daniel replied, his intentional 'mispronunciation' letting all know just how he felt about the situation.

Okay, that made no sense whatsoever. It wasn't nice to screw around with the colonel's head before he was awake! "How long was I asleep?" Jack demanded.

"Three days...give or take," Sam replied.

"That's a record," Jack muttered. He turned to the teenager who stood staring at him. "So you're...me?"

"You," Johnny said simultaneously. " Yeah...uh...believe me, if you think it's weird, imagine how I feel being the copy."

Loki moaned piteously, and began to move slowly as he regained consciousness.

Teal'c frowned. "He has awakened."

Daniel and Carter stalked over to where Loki was trying to stand to his feet. Johnny watched them, a smirk on his face. His doubts about them being able to force the Asgard to help wavered slightly.

Jack watched Johnny, his brain spinning from what he'd been told. He'd accuse them of lying to him...but damned if that kid didn't look just like he had at that age! His team was obviously pissed off, because Daniel and Sam had grabbed the little gray bastard and hauled him to his feet, and they weren't being gentle about it. Funny, he'd always thought of the Asgard as being...fragile. Apparently the little buggers were stronger than they appeared. Good thing, too, given how his kids were now manhandling the alien.

"What's happening?" Loki asked.

"We were kind of hoping you could tell us," Sam replied.

"No, no, no...this is all wrong," Loki said, wringing his hands slightly.

Jack strode over to the Asgard, anger in every movement. "I'll tell you what's wrong! I just woke up, haven't had coffee...let alone a pee...in three days; and I find out you stole my ass and made a...Mini Me!"

Casey grinned, ducked her head when Johnny glanced at her, glaring slightly.

"Carter, I should be irked currently, yes?" Jack continued, staring coldly at Loki.

"Yes. I...I would be." She barely refrained from stating how 'irked' she was.

"Why don't you tell us who you are," Daniel said.

"Loki," the Asgard replied.

Glances were exchanged, heads nodded slightly. Okay, something had just been confirmed, he thought. Jack made a note to find out exactly what that was about.

"According to Norse mythology, you're the god of mischief," Daniel said. He had shoved his hands into his pockets to keep from smacking the crap out of the little gray alien.

"What did you want with Colonel O'Neill?" Sam demanded to know.

"I have nothing more to say to any of you," Loki replied defiantly.

"Hey! We saved your flat little gray asses from the Replicators. This is the thanks we get?" Jack said, his irritation apparent.

"Hey, at least you're gonna live," Johnny said bitingly.

Jack swung around to look at...mini-Jack. "What?"

"Maybe you're a little put out, but this guy didn't hit all the right buttons on the Xerox. This body is gonna fall apart if he doesn't fix me."

Loki shook his head. "I cannot. All the clones suffer the same fate."

With a heaved sigh of impatience, Jack looked at his team. "Okay, I'm going back to my original question. What's going on?"

"I am a scientist, a former geneticist with the Asgard Ruling Council," Loki said haughtily.

"Former?" Sam asked, her eyebrows going up slightly.

"I was stripped of my stature after I was caught performing unsanctioned experiments on humans."

"What?" Jack sputtered. "You've got sanctioned ones?"

"I merely had the courage to do what was necessary to advance our cloning technology," Loki sniffed indignantly.

Casey shuddered visibly at the exchange. So how many of the abductions that Daniel had learned about were among these 'sanctioned' experiments? And just what types of 'experiments' were conducted on helpless, innocent victims? Just how benevolent were the Asgard?

Daniel's thoughts were similar to those of his wife. He began to theorize that the Asgard determination to protect the Tau'ri of Earth just might be a result of those experiments. Perhaps it was a way to atone for what they had done, or allowed to be done, in the past.

"Instead of courage, some might call it a lack of morality," Sam said dryly. In the back of her mind, she noted that Loki...this Loki, was appearing every bit as arrogant and unrepentant as the Loki in Annika's universe...at least according to the mission report she had seen. Her counterpart had been quite explicit in her feelings regarding the manner in which the Asgard had conducted himself.

"Our population cannot withstand the duplication process for much longer," Loki replied.

"Well, how can experimenting on humans change that?" the blonde major asked; honestly, if somewhat begrudgingly, curious to know the answer.

"Your bodies are similar to our original form thousands of years ago. Using your physical makeup as a template, I had hoped to find a way to construct a clone that could contain our massively superior intellect. My research was unsuccessful-"

"So much for massively superior intellect," Johnny muttered.

Jack looked at him. "I was gonna say that."

"I was going to say, it was unsuccessful prior to my being caught and banished. I would have found what I needed eventually," Loki said.

"After how many people suffered?" Casey asked softly. Wished briefly that the Asgard were capable of showing emotion on their faces when Loki glanced at her. She was pretty sure he was pissed, and not one bit remorseful for the trouble he had caused.

"Why risk coming back here and breaking the law after nineteen years?" Daniel asked, as genuinely curious as Sam; he wanted to know the reason that the Asgard had taken such a risk. If anything, the answer might give them a clue as to future Asgard behavior.

"Because, I thought he was the one," Loki said simply.

"Me?"

"Me?"

The two O'Neills, the colonel and the clone, had spoken at the same time.

Loki nodded. "I believed his genetic code contained the key."

"Mine?"

"Mine?"

Again the two voices had spoken in unison. Jack looked at the teenager. "Stop it."

"He was physiologically advanced enough to carry and utilize all the data from the Ancient repository of knowledge. That would not be possible for any human one generation ago. He is a significant step forward on your evolutionary path," Loki explained.

"You just found this out recently?" Daniel asked.

"I learned about it when all the Asgard did. O'Neill is legendary," was the response.

The members of SG-1 exchanged stunned glances. Casey had always known that Jack was just as smart as Sam and Daniel. He just liked to hide that fact. If he wanted to play the dumb military grunt, she'd oblige and pretend he was, too. She rolled her eyes slightly, catching sight of the quirk at the corner of Jack's lips when he saw her not-so-subtle reaction to the comment.

"Most recently, the Asgard fleet has been distracted by the war with the Replicators and the subsequent relocation of our people," Loki continued.

"So, you took the opportunity when no one was looking to sneak back here," Jack concluded.

"I do not regret my actions. I am trying to save my people." The Asgard had lifted his head slightly, in a movement reminiscent of a human raising his chin in defiance.

Johnny shifted from one foot to the other as he listened. "Look, I know this isn't all about me, but come on! Seriously. I'm dying here."

"I cannot reverse your fate. Nor can I explain why you did not mature to the proper age as you should have," Loki said.

"Well, easy to see why they kicked you out of the science club," Johnny grumped.

"All right, I've heard enough." Jack walked to the nearest control console. "Carter-"

Sam followed him, standing near him...needing to be near him...the warmth of his body radiating against her skin.

"-can you call Thor on this thing?"

Walking to the other console, where Johnny had moved the stone to beam the team onto the ship, Sam nodded.

"Please do not," Loki said, in what could only have been a pleading tone.

"We've already tried contacting Thor several times," Sam said, moving one stone, turning another slightly. If she were remembering correctly, she should be sending a message directly to Thor's ship...She adjusted a third stone.

"You know, you'd think if Thor knew about this-" Jack started.

"Okay, pretty sure that's it," Sam said, cutting off what was sure to be a rant by her CO. She knew her lover well enough to know that Jack didn't rant often. But when he did, it wasn't pleasant.

The team looked around expectantly. Loki looked from one determined face to the other. These humans would certainly see him punished!

"All right, how long are we gonna-" Johnny started, before swaying slightly. He stumbled a half step forward, closing his eyes against the wave of vertigo that assailed him.

"You all right?" Jack asked.

"Actually...no," Johnny replied.

"Uh...what do we do if Thor doesn't show up?" Daniel asked. His question, while rhetorical in nature, was conjuring up answers that none of the team wanted to face. What if Thor really didn't show up? They had pushed the limit, he thought worriedly. Johnny probably didn't have an hour left...not as pale as he looked, and the way he continued to sway...would there be enough time to get him into stasis? Had they doomed the teenager in their determination to get Jack? He glanced at Casey. If the kid passed out and died, she'd never forgive herself for her part in this scheme, and damn it to hell, she'd been carrying enough guilt around, she didn't need more!

His voice had barely faded when a bright flash of light filled the room. Thor looked around slowly.

"Never mind," Daniel mumbled. Sent up a silent prayer of thanksgiving. From the looks on the faces of his teammates, he wasn't the only one who had been concerned.

"Well it's about time!" Jack declared. If his kids had been making calls to the Asgard for a couple of days, there should have been a response before now! At least Thor had shown up, he thought peevishly. He really wanted a cup of coffee. A shower. And now that he thought about it, he needed to pee!

"I apologize for not arriving sooner," Thor said, as he walked toward his fellow Asgard. "Loki, what have you done?"

"Yeah, it seems he's been playing Dr. Moreau behind your back," Johnny spat.

"Yes! Dr. Moreau!" Jack said.

Thor looked from Johnny to Loki. "You know why I am here. You should have known O'Neill's genetic code was safeguarded for his own protection."

"Excuse me?" Jack said, his eyes wide.

"A marker was placed in your DNA to prevent any attempts at genetic manipulation," Thor explained.

"The abnormality?" Daniel asked.

Sam nodded her agreement. "That's why the clone didn't mature."

"Yes." Thor walked to stand in front of Johnny and Jack. "Loki will be punished for his actions."

"Is it true that Colonel O'Neill is the key to solving your cloning problems?" Sam asked.

"No," Thor replied.

"But I thought I was advanced!" Jack said, clearly disappointed to learn that he wasn't 'special' after all. His teammates hid their smiles at his petulant expression.

"Indeed you are, O'Neill, but our scientists have already determined that while you are an important step forward in the evolutionary chain, the missing link we have been searching for still eludes us," Thor said, in way of explanation.

"I'm sorry," Jack said, truly disappointed that his DNA wouldn't offer the Asgard the miracle that they sorely needed. Would have been pretty cool to be the savior of a superior race.

Thor looked over his shoulder. "Again, I apologize for any inconvenience Loki may have caused."

Johnny snorted. "Yeah, that's what I'd call it."

"Unfortunately, the eventual genetic breakdown of the clone is not my doing, but rather a result of Loki's inept methods," Thor told them.

"There was no need for the clones to survive," Loki replied testily.

The look of horror on Johnny's face was mirrored by those around him. Casey took a step closer to the teen, tears standing in her green eyes. She put her arm around his shoulders, both to offer comfort, and to help support him. He was swaying precariously, and she was afraid he was about to collapse. Johnny was out of time...

Jack felt his heart going out to the kid. No one deserved to be brought into the world - no matter how that happened - just to be allowed to die because...because why? He'd served his purpose? How damned callous was that? He cleared his throat. "Look, Thor, is there anything you can do for him? The whining's starting to grate."

If the Asgard face could convey shock, Thor's would have done so. "You wish your clone to live?"

"You can't just let me die!" Johnny declared hotly. He strode to stand beside Jack. Made no attempt to elude Casey's support when she followed, returned her arm to his shoulders and allowed him to lean...heavily...on her.

"He's just a kid," Jack said.

"Are you certain O'Neill?"

Jack studied the teenager beside him. How freaky would it be, knowing that this...clone...of himself was 'out there'? Would he be expected to be father and big brother to...'himself'? If he understood this whole cloning thing, didn't that mean that this teenager had all of his memories? Everything that made him...him...this kid had too? Oy, wasn't that a hell of a thing? There were memories best left alone, and certainly were too damned dark for a kid to deal with!

Johnny waited for Jack to reply. Smacked his arm when the silence continued to stretch out.

"I'm thinking!" Jack insisted. Didn't want the kid...or his team...to think he was soft, right? Not realizing that his team already knew the truth...that Jack O'Neill had a soft-spot the size of Texas for kids, strays...and those who were victims, of whichever bully was responsible for their hardship. He nodded. "Yeah."

"Very well. I will attempt to repair his DNA. If successful, he should continue to mature at a normal human rate," Thor said.

Casey smiled, and gave Johnny a hug.

"Thanks," Jack said, watching the relief that covered the faces of his kids. It seemed that, clone or not, Mini-Me had been accepted by the team. When that happened, they were fiercely protective. He had the feeling that even if he hadn't been of a mind to keep the clone around, his kids would have insisted that Mini-Me be 'fixed'. And, no doubt they had a very interesting tale to tell him about the past three days.

"Is there anyway that Colonel O'Neill could be given the memories of the past three days?" Casey asked softly.

The eyes of her teammates and CO focused on her immediately.

What the hell had happened that had Radar asking for something like that? Jack wondered.

"I believe it can be done," Thor told her.

"Good. And thanks," the seer said, flashing a smile that charmed the Asgard completely.

"Radar?" Jack asked.

She smiled. Jack would be furious to learn he'd missed out on 'hearing' a 'tree' tear into the Ascended Committee members, Fifth Level Beings, and take on the Seventh Level Beings of their reality. "You can thank me later," she replied cryptically.

"Right."

Johnny grinned. He knew exactly what the slender blonde was up to. "Just don't forget what Oakey told you," he said.

"Never," Casey promised.

"Oakey?" Jack asked, perplexed. His frown deepened when Sam, Daniel, and Teal'c merely grinned at him.


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