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 Fragile Balance of Politics

 

Chapter 2

Jack was sitting in the commissary, his spoon making designs in the bowl of oatmeal he'd ordered. Thanks to Casey, he was being allowed to carry on as if he were...well, as if he were who he was. There had been a few comments, but most of the personnel were wise enough to know that anything said now would certainly come back to bite them in the butt later, when he'd returned to 'normal'. Even Ferretti was being relatively quiet on the subject of his age and appearance. If there were betting pools going on regarding the situation, and he was certain there were, he'd probably never hear about them.

He looked up when Sam and Teal'c sat down across from him, both grinning from ear to ear. There were times when the bond between teammates could be a pain-in-the-ass. This was most definitely one of those times! "You know, I think the two of you are enjoying this just a little too much," he grumped.

Sam's grin went wider. "Well, you are kinda cute."

"That's 'Sir' to you," Jack snapped. Normally his lover maintained the 'distance' that their relationship required while working on the base. He was 'Colonel' or 'Sir'; she was 'Major' or 'Carter' whenever they were at the SGC. But today, it was as if she couldn't see past the body.

Her smile faded.

"Being inside this scrawny little body isn't my idea of 'cute', Carter," he continued. Ignored the flash of hurt that filled sapphire blue eyes. Ignored his heart as well, as it immediately berated him for sounding like a jerk.

"Does possessing a younger body not have certain advantages, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked, one eye brow cocked in curiosity.

"No. Not seein' it." He paused. "Whadda'ya mean?"

"Do you not experience increased health and vitality?"

"My vitality was just fine, thank you," Jack responded firmly. Irritably.

"I think what Teal'c is saying is valid. How many of us wouldn't trade everything for a chance to be young again? Live our lives over?" Sam asked.

He thought about his life. There were far too many things he'd endured that he had no wish to go through again. The pain involved was too deep, too excruciating to want to face again. Hell, he still wasn't over the worst of what he'd gone through! And as for having to go through high school, and college, and boot camp...through all of his training...nope. Did it once, that was enough for him! And there were things he wouldn't change, even if he could; events and situations that had helped to shape him into the man he was. No, living his life over wasn't something he wanted to do. "Yeah, well I don't plan on staying like this."

"Well, in the meantime, may I make a suggestion? Try enjoying this as much as we are," Sam grinned.

Jack glared at her. He was being an ass, he realized that. He was also fifteen damned years old. Well, that wasn't exactly true. He was a forty-nine year old man, trapped in a in the body of a fifteen year old. That was enough to make anyone pissy!

Sam's grin faltered at the look of anger on the teenager's face. "Sir," she added belatedly. Hoping that whatever had happened could be fixed soon. Because an angry Jack O'Neill wasn't easy to deal with.

 

A A A A A A

 

Janet read the request. It had only been two hours since they had been apprised of the situation, but one of the DNA experts had already begun working on the puzzle at the nearby hospital. It certainly made sense as a starting place. She picked up her phone. "General Hammond? I have a request from Doctor Sahim."

"And what is that request?" the general asked.

"She'd like to have samples of everything the colonel ate or drank last night. As well as toothpaste, soap and shampoo samples," the doctor replied.

"I see. I take it she's found something?"

"She only alluded to an 'unknown protein'. She didn't call it a marker, but the insinuation was there."

"Any suppositions on what this could mean?" General Hammond inquired.

"Not at the moment," Janet admitted. "If there are traces of that protein in the colonel's home, then we know that whatever happened to him...he was definitely targeted."

Sitting in his office, General Hammond frowned. His first thought was the NID. They had been able to steal enough technology from alien civilizations, and they had the resources and facilities to create viruses that could boggle the mind. If that's what had happened, making Jack O'Neill a target was a given. He'd been instrumental in shutting down the NID's illegal off-world activities, and in doing so, smoothing the ruffled feathers of two very powerful alien races. "I'll send SG-1 immediately."

"Thank you, general." Janet sat back in her chair. Her thoughts were mirroring her CO's. NID. It had to be. Just what the hell were those bastards up to now? She glanced up when the call for SG-1 went out over the intercom. The sooner this mystery was solved, the sooner those lousy weasels could be dealt with. She hoped that the colonel would break a bone or two...theirs, that was.

 

 

 

The members of SG-1 gathered around the general's desk. "What's up, general?" Jack asked. In spite of his...condition...he was still in command of the premier team.

"I want you to take SG-1 to your home," General Hammond replied, repeating the request that the doctor had made.

"Sir?" Sam asked, a slight frown on her face.

"Apparently one of the DNA experts found a protein in the colonel's DNA sample. From what I was told, this is an 'unknown' protein," the general explained.

"Whatever it takes to find a cure," Jack growled. "Let's go. I'll drive."

Daniel shook his head. "Don't think so. You're not old enough. I'll drive."

"We can't all fit in your Jeep," Jack protested.

"Teal'c and I will follow in my car," Sam suggested. Given the colonel's reaction to their teasing earlier, she figured a bit of space between the three of them was a good idea.

"Just get there, people, and get this done," Hammond interjected firmly. He watched the team disperse. No doubt Jack O'Neill would not be easy to live with until a solution to his 'problem' was found.

 

A A A A A A

 

Jack led the team into the house. Daniel glanced around, and grinned. The pizza boxes from the team's dinner with his grandmother and Jack's sister were still on the table. So were the beer and wine bottles. The plates had been removed, he'd bet Ferretti that they were in the dishwasher...unwashed. The coffee table was littered with Chinese take-out boxes, and three beer bottles. He and Jack had had a...discussion...about the colonel's lack of housecleaning skills when he had been a house guest, right after his return from Abydos. It had been, for some odd reason, one of the things that had endeared the military man to him. It was something that had made Jack a little less 'military perfect' and more human. "Some things never change," he chuckled.

"I wasn't exactly expecting visitors," Jack replied. His voice was strained. "Can we just get on with this?"

Sam and Casey carefully took samples from each of the cardboard boxes, and from the beer bottles. "I'll get this stuff to the lab for analysis," Sam said quietly.

"You gonna be there?" Jack asked.

She couldn't help but smile. It was the closest that Jack would come to letting her know that he wanted her to be part of the team working to find his cure. "Sure."

"Wonder what they'll find?" Casey mused, scraping a bit of dried chopsuey from one of the small containers.

"Well, if they find MSG, I'm never ordering anything from them again!" The comment was 'typical Jack'. And had the teammates grinning.

Teal'c had wandered into the kitchen, was searching through the refrigerator. He frowned slightly, pulled out two containers and studied them for a moment. One was a jar...the contents crusted near the top. The other was a disposable, clear deli bowl...whatever it had once been, it was now an interesting shade of green. "Are you conducting some sort of scientific experiment, O'Neill?"

Jack whirled around. "Hey! That salsa's still good!" He headed into the kitchen, determination in each step. Took the jar and the deli bowl from Teal'c's hands, placed them back on the glass shelf with a sharp snap. He looked around. "Come on, can we get a move on here?"

"This is the last place you remember being-" Daniel started. Glanced at Casey, then out the large patio door.

"Older?" Jack asked. He sighed heavily when his team shifted nervously around him. He reached into the refrigerator again, snagged a beer, and twisted the cap off. Frowned when Sam, who had followed him, gently took it from his fingers and put it back into the cardboard holder. The fact that the beer would quickly go flat barely registered in his mind.

"Not until you can drink legally," Sam said. "Sir."

"Sam-" Jack shook his head. Part of him...the adult part of him...understood that for the moment, his 'kids' were doing their best to accept the situation. And accepting it meant that they'd be annoyingly over-protective until he was back to normal. Another part wanted to strike out at them, to tell them to stop treating him like a damned kid. Which, his brain reminded him rather forcefully, was exactly what he was. It was the most miserable damned feeling he'd ever had to contend with.

"So...you ate, watched the hockey games, then what?" Daniel asked.

"Called Sam, then I hit the sack," was the brusque reply.

"Whatever happened to you, occurred once you were asleep." Sam mused. Jack had been himself when they had spoken...just before midnight. She led the way to the bedroom. The bed was unmade, it appeared that as soon as Jack had awakened, and realized his 'condition', he'd grabbed what clothes had been nearby, and had headed directly for the base. Which, she admitted, was not only logical, but was proper protocol.

Casey stood near the center of the room. Something felt...odd. She closed her eyes, searched carefully. There wasn't a listening device of any type. Not that she could detect. That didn't mean there hadn't been one before Jack had been taken. She moved to the window, not realizing that the path her thoughts were traveling held a clue. She stared into the backyard. What the hell had happened?

Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c were searching the room as well, looking for any hidden devices that might have been used to alert...whoever...to the fact that Jack had gone to sleep. For any sign that someone had been doing the same thing...searching for something. Hoping to find just the tiniest clue...the barest hint...about what was going on.

"Hey!" Jack stomped over to where Daniel stood, searching through the bureau. "Do you mind?"

Daniel shrugged, handed over the gray jersey boxer trunks he was holding, and held his hands up in surrender. He noticed that Casey was standing beside the window. He moved to join her, wrapping his arms around her waist.

Jack watched them for a moment - envying the two of them the ability to touch so casually; with no thought given to the simple, automatic caresses - his eyes darting to Sam before he moved to stand beside Teal'c, who was scrutinizing the bookcase. The Jaffa reached for the overhead lamp. It was a casual movement, the added illumination could possibly reveal something that might otherwise be overlooked in the shadowy corner...something disturbed, a mark that might be the telltale sign of a listening device of some sort. Jack only saw Teal'c's arm move from the corner of his eye, but when the light hit him in the face, he was suddenly barraged by images: white mist...green globes of light...an Asgard face...He swayed slightly, put a hand to his forehead. "Whoa!"

"O'Neill?" Teal'c reached out to steady the teenager.

"What's wrong?" Daniel asked at the same moment.

"Either I'm remembering a particularly bad dream, or the Asgard paid me a little visit last night." Expressions of shock flickered over each face as uneasy glances were exchanged between the teammates.

"Deceit," Casey murmured.

"Say what, Radar?" Jack asked, still a bit off-kilter as the images continued to spin in his head.

"There's deceit...around you...and in this room. It's what I felt when I first walked in," she explained softly.

"Sort of confirms my story, doesn't it?" Jack said, sighing softly.

"Can you remember any details?" Daniel asked.

Jack frowned. "There was...it was like mist. Came in through the window. White mist. It totally surrounded me. Then there were these glowing green...balls. Four green glowing balls. And then...an Asgard face leaning over me." The frown deepened. "That's it."

Daniel crossed his arms over his chest, tapping his lips with one finger. "I've read about so-called encounters. Let me do a bit of research. I have the feeling we're going to find some similarities."

"Anything to get to the bottom of this!" Jack declared.

 

A A A A A A

 

Sam had called the general as soon as the team was en route back to the base, alerting him to what they had discovered. She had assured him that the samples would be sent to the DNA expert who had requested them, although she offered the opinion that nothing unusual would be found. Considering what they had learned, there was no doubt that Jack hadn't ingested anything unusual. Hammond gave the order that the team was to report to him as soon as they were back inside the mountain.

The team consensus was they had the 'how', now they just needed the 'why', and the 'fix'. They were left to speculate on whether or not Thor was aware of what had happened. They all secretly hoped that their little Asgard friend was innocent of any collaboration in the events that had rendered Jack O'Neill a teenager.

 

 

 

The general was waiting for them in the briefing room. "Tell me what's going on."

Jack repeated the few details that he remembered. Felt more than just a little annoyed when the general studied him silently for several minutes. Frustrated, he began to tap his fingers on the table.

"Colonel, no offense, but what you're saying doesn't make any sense," the general said at last.

"Actually," Daniel offered hesitantly, aware of the tension in the room, "Jack's account sounds like the abduction files I've read. The details correlate very closely."

"This you remember? You always forget my birthday!" Jack complained.

"Lucky for you he does, huh boss?" Casey said, attempting to ease the stress she realized Jack was under.

"Lucky that he forgets my birthday?" Jack demanded.

Casey rolled her eyes, shook her head slightly.

"Looks like you'll have a lot more," Daniel retorted.

"This encounter is incongruous with all previous contact we have had with the Asgard," Teal'c said quietly. Stating out loud what each of them had been thinking.

Sam frowned slightly. "Thor has indicated that the Asgard had kept an eye on human development in the past. We know that he personally relocated at least two groups of humans, in what we assume was an attempt to protect them."

"And that was in our 'recent' past," Daniel added.

"The Asgard are forbidden from interfering with our 'natural progression'; due to our status as one of the Protected Planets," Hammond pointed out. "Besides, we're allies now. We've cooperated with them on several past missions."

"This, I would not have agreed to," Jack declared adamantly.

"What could they possibly hope to gain from secretly making you younger, against your will?" Sam muttered, more to herself than to those around her, obviously trying to discern the answer herself.

Jack contemplated the question for a moment, then shook his head. "I got nothin'."

"Deceit," Casey said softly. "Someone is lying. Not you," she said immediately, when Jack opened his mouth to protest. "Someone who's involved with all of this."

"General, I'd like to cross-reference some of those old abduction records, see if I can find any connection between them," Daniel said. "We know the Asgard have 'observed' humans in the past. Researching those records might give us a clue to whether or not the Asgard have conducted...experiments...on humans before."

It was a long shot, he knew that. Figured that the archaeologist was aware of that as well. At the moment, it was damned near all they had. Hammond nodded. "Approved, Doctor Jackson. Major, I believe you have a briefing to conduct at 1300 hours?"

"Yes, sir. I'll be there," Sam nodded.

Jack frowned again. "Wait...wait! The F-302 briefing? I thought I was running that!"

"Given your current...condition...I feel it would be best if Major Carter handled it. I'm sure you can impart any information she needs."

"But I mean, I'm the one-"

"Dismissed."

"I hate this," Jack growled.

"Hang in there, boss. We know the who. We'll figure out the how," Casey said.

Jack paused, then tossed a grateful smile at the seer. "Just what do you think poking around those old abduction cases is going to prove?" he demanded of Daniel.

"If I'm lucky, a timeline. If I'm right, whoever is doing this is operating outside of the knowledge of the Asgard High Council."

"A renegade?" Sam asked.

"Can you think of any reason for an Asgard to break the Protected Planets Treaty?" Daniel asked quietly. "Rendering Jack a teenager is certainly pushing the finer points of the treaty at best, breaking it completely at worst, if one Goa'uld would protest that the change was interfering with Jack's 'natural progression."

"But could that be claimed, given that the 'interference' is just one person?" Hammond asked, from where he stood beside the door to his office.  He'd paused to listen as SG-1 continued to discuss their current...problem.

"Right now, we have no proof that Jack is the only person affected, or that he'll be the only one subjected to...whatever was done to him," Daniel replied.

"Good point," Sam agreed.

"I want answers, Doctor. See what you can find. Major, don't forget that briefing." The general nodded at the team, then went into his office.

The team rose to their feet. "Go on. I'll catch up with you later," Jack said, when his 'kids' hesitated at the door, waiting for him to join them.

"See you for coffee later?" Casey asked.

He couldn't help but smile. "I'll be there." He waited until he heard their voices cut off by the closing of the elevator door. Then went to General Hammond's office. Tapped on the door.

"Come in." Hammond looked up from the folders on his desk. Wasn't surprised to see the teenaged version of his second-in-command standing there. Understood the reason he was stepping into the room. "Jack, try to understand. Your situation puts me in a very difficult position."

"I understand that, sir. No offense," he said, tossing the general's words back at him, "but you aren't the one who went to bed watching CNN and woke up as a part of the MTV generation."

"Which is exactly why Major Carter's going to handle that briefing."

"Sir, I know the F-302 better than anyone! I've clocked more hours on the stick than any other pilot!"

"Be that as it may, the bottom line is - a room full of seasoned pilots aren't going to respect the opinions of a boy."

"Sir, I just look like one. For the moment. But those men in that room need my expertise. And plus, ya know, if they're going to be working here, they're gonna have to start gettin' used to, ya know...unusual things happening."

Hammond shook his head resolutely. "Look, Jack, no one is disputing that you may continue to be a valuable asset to the SGC. But under the circumstances, I have to follow my instincts. I'm sorry."

Jack's shoulders slumped in defeat. He realized that the general was being realistic about the situation. That didn't mean he had to like it. "Yes, sir. I understand." He turned to leave, hesitated at the door. "Dumb idea," he muttered.

 

A A A A A A

 

Offering his assistance, which Daniel gratefully accepted, Teal'c was sitting in front of the archaeologist's computer, doing a search within the parameters that the two had agreed would bring the most relevant results.

Daniel was searching through his folders, looking for the notes he was certain he'd taken when he'd had the opportunity to examine the "Project Blue Book" reports. He glanced at the doorway. Casey had 'disappeared' again. He had no doubt that if he went to the storage room, he'd find her sitting in front of that damned mirror. Jack, he mused briefly, only thought he was frustrated with his current 'condition'. I, on the other hand, know what real frustration is! Because he was dealing with what Casey was going through, and the damned inability to help his Wife when she needed him the most. On top of having a fifteen year old commanding officer. That was frustration!

"It would appear that a great many Tau'ri have encountered beings from other worlds," Teal'c said quietly, reading through the results of his search.

"Yep. Little do they know how close they are to the truth."

"What exactly are we looking for, Daniel Jackson?"

"Well, any abduction accounts that match Jack's story, and...um...obviously anyone claiming to have physically regressed decades overnight. We just need to enter those parameters into the results that you've already found."

Teal'c nodded, then began to type. "I have done so."

Daniel crossed the room to stand behind the Jaffa. He adjusted his glasses as he looked at the computer screen. "Wow. That's a lot of people."

"Indeed."

"Okay, let's narrow the field a bit more. Type in 'white mist' and 'four green glowing balls'. Wait...make that 'four green glowing lights'."

Teal'c again typed in the information. Hit return.

Daniel nodded as he looked at the screen. "That's a little more reasonable. Of the narrowed down accounts, the most recent is from-"

"Nineteen years ago."

Which put a serious dent in his theory that a renegade Asgard was on the loose. He didn't doubt what Jack remembered. He just had no idea how...or why...any Asgard would abduct so many people over a period of twenty years, and then do nothing for nearly another twenty. Still...if this yet unnamed Asgard had suddenly 'returned', then it was something that they, as in the SGC, needed to know about. "Eight of those people are here in the States. If these addresses are still valid, we should go talk to them in person."

"What do you hope to learn?" Teal'c asked.

Daniel sat down the folder of notes. If he admitted that he was hoping for a detailed description of an Asgard...a being from a race that all basically looked the same...or better yet, a name...he was certain that Teal'c would consider him as crazy as Jack was now young. He gave a small smile. "I guess we'll know when we learn it."

Teal'c studied his friend. Daniel Jackson did not make suggestions unless he had a very good reason. The young archaeologist had rarely been mistaken in his assumptions. "Then we should begin our search as soon as possible."

He glanced at the door once again. Maybe getting Casey away from the SGC, even for a few hours, would help her. Maybe spending the night in a nice, generic hotel room somewhere would prevent that damned nightmare from haunting her. And, with luck, maybe one of the people on the list he continued to stare at would remember something, some tiny detail, that would give them a clue as to which Asgard they were dealing with. Knowledge that could help them pressure the Asgard into 'curing' Jack's problem. "Let's see how many addresses are still correct."

Five minutes later, the list had dwindled even more. He had no idea if talking to two people would make a difference. It was worth a shot. He'd do anything, risk anything...well, almost anything, he corrected himself, when Casey's face flashed in front of his eyes...to help his best friend. Jack had gone to great lengths to help him a time or two. It was time to return the favor. He patted Teal'c on the shoulder. "Want to come help me convince the general we need to do this?"

Teal'c smiled, and rose to his feet. "Indeed."

 

 

 

In the store room across the corridor from Daniel's office, Casey paced back and forth, as much as the crates of artifacts stacked around the room would allow. She was still struggling with the feelings that her nightmare had implanted in her mind. There were no images. No sounds. No smells. Just the overwhelming emotions that continued to plague her. And the annoying sense that the mirror had something to do with the entire situation.

She'd had two experiences with the mirror, so far. Neither were situations she'd care to repeat. She stopped, gave a small smile to the dark face of the mirror. Well, there was one good thing that had happened because of that damned mirror. She'd met a feisty psychic named Annika. A woman who had become her friend almost instantly. The connection they had as wives of Daniel Jackson...Daniel Jackson counterparts to be more precise...probably had a bit to do with that, she thought. Well, that and the fact that they were both seers and understood the trials and tribulations of being psychic.

Daniel was in danger. That was the only thing of which she was certain. That knowledge held her in the grip of absolute terror. She'd already tried surviving as Daniel's widow. It had been the worst hell on Earth she'd ever endured. She couldn't go through that again! Most assuredly couldn't go through it if there would be no 'miracle' return for her Husband. Especially since Jack, Sam, and Teal'c were in danger as well. It had been because of her teammates that she'd been able to function at all when Daniel had been declared dead. If they were taken from her, too..."Just lock me up and throw away the key," she murmured.

She put her hands around her head. "I can't do it!" she hissed. "I can't lose him!"

Reaching out as far as she could, she felt nothing but the familiar hum of the world...the universe...around her. She closed her eyes. Concentrated...centered herself. Slowed her breathing. Cleared her mind. Waited.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Just that horrifying sense that Daniel was in danger. And right now, she was powerless to stop whatever was about to happen from occurring. She nearly screamed her frustration. "The answers are here, somewhere," she said softly, having managed to calm herself somewhat. "I just have to find them!"

Pacing once again, Casey stared daggers at the mirror. "Give me a clue, damn it!

 

A A A A A A 

 

Daniel tapped lightly on the general's office door. "Sir?"

Hammond looked up, motioned that the archaeologist should enter. Finished signing the form he was working on. "What can I do for you, Doctor Jackson?" he asked, putting his pen down, pushing the folder aside.

The general was one of the few officers he'd ever met who actually gave the person he was talking to his full attention. Which was probably what made him so damned good at his job. As well as so respected. Daniel pushed his personal observations of the base CO aside. "Sir, Teal'c and I did that search. We were able to confirm twenty-two abduction cases...er...alleged abduction cases...that precisely match what Jack remembers. Eight of those people are still alive and here in the U.S."

"I see."

"Unfortunately, we could only confirm two addresses," Daniel continued.

"What is it that you want, Doctor?" Hammond asked gently, surmising that the request would be to bring those two people to the SGC...or at the very least, a chance to interview those two individuals.

"Sir, if we could talk to them, face to face, we might be able to pull a few details out of their stories...details that could help us discover just which Asgard is behind all of this," Daniel replied.

The general tented his fingers in front of him, his fingertips tapping against one another. "How certain are you that this could help?"

Daniel glanced at Teal'c, who merely shrugged. "Not very. But this is Jack we're talking about. Any chance is better than none at all."

"And if we do discover which Asgard is involved?"

"We talk to Thor about it," Daniel replied.

Hammond frowned. The President of the United States would be arriving at 10:30 hours the next day. To spend the day at the SGC. A slightly insubordinate adult Colonel Jack O'Neill would be preferable to a surly, frustrated fifteen-year-old Jack O'Neill.

"I thought that Teal'c and I could go. And Casey, of course."

"Of course," the general replied, a smile tugging at his lips. "Very well. Check flights from Peterson to the locations you need to visit. Wrap this up as quickly as possible. I want the three of you back here no later than noon tomorrow."

"The president's visit, yes, sir," Daniel nodded, letting the general know that in spite of the most recent calamity, he hadn't forgotten the impending 'dog-and-pony' show.

"Dismissed."

Another nod of acknowledgment, and Daniel led Teal'c to the elevator. "I'll find Casey, then we'll head home and pack for an overnight trip."

"I will determine which flights will suit our purposes."

"Sounds good. I'll see about car rentals as soon as I get back," Daniel said.

Teal'c inclined his head. "I will meet you in your office."

"We'll be there, as soon as we can," Daniel assured the Jaffa.

 

 

 

As he had suspected, she was in the storage room. He cleared his throat when he walked in, not wanting to startle her as he had earlier. He wasn't prepared when she whirled around, launched herself at him, and held him so tightly. Staggering backwards a few steps, his arms locked around her automatically. "What's wrong, Angel?"

"I can't lose you," she whispered.

He closed his eyes as he pressed his face against her hair. The same thing she'd been insisting since the nightmares had begun. "Not gonna happen, I promise."

"You can't promise that," she argued softly.

"Casey...look at me," he demanded gently. Wrapped his hands around her face when she moved away from him slightly. "Nothing is going to happen to me."

She started to shake her head.

"How about getting out of here for a few hours? Spend the night in a hotel somewhere," he said.

"We can't leave! Jack is suffering from 'mini-Jack syndrome' and the president is going to be here tomorrow demanding that we all swoon when he walks by and asking stupid questions that he'd know the answers to if he'd just read the damned mission reports and Sam needs us too because this is tearing her apart because what if Jack is really stuck this way? I mean yeah, Demi Moore is with Ashton Kutcher and she's like what, a decade older than him but Jack is only fifteen and Sam would have to wait at least five years and they've already waited so long to be together-"

He grinned, lowered his head to kiss her. It was one of two ways to stop the flow of words, and definitely the most enjoyable option. "We have to go pack," he said softly, moving his lips from hers only far enough to speak.

"Daniel!"

"There are two people we need to talk to...they went through the same thing Jack did...well, there wasn't mention of age regression, but there's the possibility that they might remember something...some detail...that could help us."

She nodded. "Oh. Okay."

"Teal'c is going with us."

"But Sam-"

"Can deal with Jack. Probably better than we can."

"I suppose."

"We'll be back before noon tomorrow. General's orders. Since we're only going to two places, both in California, we should be back earlier than that," Daniel told her.

"We should tell Sam."

"As soon as we get packed," Daniel promised.

 

A A A A A A

 

President Hayes shook his head, closed the folder that contained the latest mission report from SG-1. "Damned glad it all worked out for our team."

General Maynard smiled. "So am I."

"During our little 'off-the-record' chat, Tim Miller told me that if there was anyone I could trust, it was Casey Jackson. What do you think of that?" Hayes asked, watching Maynard carefully. He'd worked with the general long enough to know when the Army officer was being sincere, and when he was trying to dodge rendering his honest opinion.

"I think President Miller is absolutely correct," Maynard replied without a second's hesitation. "There were several times that Mrs. Jackson's...insights...allowed the former president to stop several political enemies in their tracks. He took her advice, and managed to get two committees to work together in a way that's never happened before."

"I wondered how he'd pulled that off," Hayes mused. "I want to sit down and talk with this young lady. Schedule a private meeting for her and I, will you?"

"Yes, sir."

 

A A A A A A

 

Sam walked off the elevator on level twenty-four. Three former storage rooms were now classrooms. What had been stored there would be moved to 'new' storage rooms on the upper levels, although for now all of the classrooms had boxes stacked along one wall. The general was in the process of having levels thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen permanently assigned to the SGC. Which simply meant that those who now had access to those levels would find said access revoked, if they weren't fully authorized to enter the SGC portion of the complex already.

She stopped to take a deep breath. The general was certain she could handle this briefing. She only wished she were as confident. She'd flown an F-302. But she hadn't logged as many hours as the colonel had. Nor did she have the experience he had in flying other jets. She'd flown F-18 missions for the ten months she'd been posted in Riyadh...just before her stint in DC. Which had ultimately led to her assignment to the SGC...

She shook her head, tried to corral her wandering thoughts. Stepped into the room where a dozen of the best pilots in the military sat waiting for her. Was the Daedalus going to have that many F-302's? Or, was this group made up of both pilots and their 'second-seaters', the navigators who would support the pilots in their missions? It was possible, she supposed, that several of the men would be assigned to the Prometheus.

Did it matter? Nope, she decided, it didn't. What did matter was giving these men the best information she could about the aircraft they'd be flying. She took a deep breath. Walked into the conference room with the confidence of a trained Air Force officer. A member of SG-1. "Good afternoon," she said brusquely, marching to stand behind the podium. "I'm Major Samantha Carter."

She opened the folder that waited for her, which held the notes that Jack had intended to use for this particular briefing. "As your Intel packages show, the F-302 is a space-worthy, fighter-interceptor aircraft; reverse engineered from Goa'uld technology. Your upcoming mission has been dubbed Operation Blue Phoenix. It'll be a live-fire combat simulation to give you a chance to learn about the differences between the 302 and a 'standard' jet. We would appreciate it if you don't get yourself, or one of the 302's, destroyed in this simulation." The 'live fire' order was a change to the training mission that had been instigated by what had happened with the first group. They hadn't fully realized the risks of having unarmed craft in space. An oversight that had nearly cost Jack, Daniel, and Casey their lives. She took a deep breath mentally. Offered a smile. None of the pilots watching her smiled in return. One of the pilots on the front row raised his hand. "Captain?"

"Major, according to the mission reports we were given to study, you've only piloted the F-302 twice."

"Three times," Sam corrected, "twice in actual combat. This briefing is to cover what was learned under those conditions, in order to give you as much training as possible, before you're assigned to the Daedalus."

"Wasn't Colonel O'Neill the test pilot the first 302?"

"Yes, he was."

"And hasn't he logged more hours than any other pilot?" a major sitting behind the captain asked.

"Do you have a point, Major?"

Several of the pilots exchanged glances. "With all due respect, Ma'am, wasn't Colonel O'Neill scheduled to run this briefing?" the captain asked.

"Colonel O'Neill is unavailable at the moment," Sam replied, fighting down the ire that was quickly raising its head. Would these pilots be asking these questions if she were a man? Not, she admitted silently, that they didn't have a legitimate point...she was technically less qualified than the colonel. His experiences testing the 302 as well as flying it in combat would be beneficial to this group. She could only hope that her preparations would make up for her lack of actual experience. "I've prepared several computer models which should help you understand how the 302 handles in combat situations."

In the corridor outside of the room - where a guard stood duty, preventing anyone who wasn't cleared for the briefing from wandering too near - the sound of the elevator opening echoed loudly.

"Major, no offense, but those aren't going to help me when I'm pulling 6Gs in a dogfight against an alien ship," the captain said, shaking his head slightly. The men around him nodded, and murmured quietly.

It seemed that being a member of SG-1, her abilities as a scientist, and her experience as a pilot meant nothing to this group of 'newbies'. Stay calm. Don't take it as a personal affront. Sam turned to activate the computer screen beside her. Behind her, the same image appeared on the large monitor that hung on the wall. "As you should know, Captain, the 302 has inertial dampening systems which I am more than qualified to explain in detail, so, let's just-"

The sound of arguing voices right outside of the room distracted her for a moment.

 

 

Jack stopped outside of the elevator. Crap! He'd forgotten that there would be a guard. Security and top secret clearances and all that. He shoved his hands into his pockets, and began to saunter up the hall as if he had every right to do so. Which, he groused silently, he did!

The guard had heard the rumors. Whether or not the teenager really was Colonel O'Neill, he had his orders. No one was allowed to enter the room once the briefing had started. He shifted slightly.

Okay, let's just play this cool, Jack thought as he drew closer. Moaned mentally when the guard moved to stand in the center of the narrow corridor, which would effectively prevent him from being able to enter the room. Scratching his nose, Jack nodded at the guard, and attempted to move past him.

"Sorry, kid...uh...sir," the guard said, not budging. "You can't go in there."

"Really."

"I have my orders, sir."

"I'm certain you do," Jack sighed. "Look, I'm supposed to be in there giving that briefing. Now step aside."

"No, sir."

"Sergeant, I'm giving you an order!" Jack said, once again trying to move past the guard. Who immediately grabbed him by the arm. "Look, I just dropped by to say hi, to see how Carter...Ow!"

"Sir, please don't resist," the guard said as Jack continued struggle.

 

 

Inside the briefing room, Sam was in a struggle of her own as she attempted to keep the attention of the pilots, who were already less than thrilled with her presence. "Stay focused," she ordered sharply.

The pilots continued to divide their attention between the major, and the sounds coming from the corridor.

 

 

"Just relax, sir," the guard continued, trying to ease Jack back toward the elevator.

"I'm warning you!" Jack growled, as he tried to jerk his arms free.

"Sir, please stay here." He took another step, moving away from the door, forcing the fighting teenager to retreat a step.

"Didn't I just say I'm warning you?" Furious at being treated like...well, like an interloping teenager...Jack attempted to take the guard down. A feat that should have been effortless for him. Or, mostly effortless, he grudgingly admitted. In a move that should have had the guard on the floor, he instead found himself being manhandled. "Hey! Ow!"

The sergeant held Jack firmly against the wall, arms behind his back, cheek pressed against the cold concrete.

"Alright, that's it! Now I'm mad!" Jack declared loudly.

 

 

Carter shook her head. All attention was now on the ruckus being made outside the room. Giving in to the inevitable, she walked to the door. One look at the situation had her cringing. Oh, Jack did not look happy. She understood that the guard was only doing his duty. It would be damned difficult to make Jack see that...when this was all over. "You can release him," she said, hoping that the SF wouldn't argue with her.

With a nod, the guard moved away from Jack. Who 'dusted' himself off, and adjusted his clothes. "I'll forgo the charges for assaulting a superior officer." He moved toward Sam. "Carter." As soon as he was close enough, he looked up at her. "I coulda' taken him."

It was hard to keep from rolling her eyes. No matter that he was in the body of a fifteen year old, Jack's ego was still intact. Something, she admitted, that was simply more proof that this...boy...really was Jack O'Neill. "I'm sure," she replied, unable to keep the smirk she was fighting to keep off her lips out of her voice.

Ignoring her, Jack strode into the room. "Sorry I'm late. What'd I miss?"

Sam followed him into the room. And knew that, without a doubt, she had just lost complete control of the demonstration. Once Jack was his 'old' self again, she would most definitely be having a little conversation with him about his blatant disregard for her authority, and his callous scorn for her abilities. She was as capable as he was of running this briefing. Yet he was behaving as if she'd never been in an F-302, let alone piloted one. Which she had done. In combat no less! No sense behaving like the pissed off female that she was, she thought grumpily. "We were just covering the 302's flight capabilities," she replied calmly. Coolly. She congratulated herself on the unruffled attitude she was managing to exhibit. Training, she thought idly. It was her training, allowing her to distance herself from her emotions...for the moment...and to remain in the room without screaming out loud. Besides, she couldn't leave a fifteen year old alone with this group! No matter how frustrated she was with him.

In his current state of mind, his determination to be seen as the colonel he was, Jack missed the warning signs of a woman on the edge. An oversight sure to bring him grief later. Instead, he gave a sharp nod. "Well, then I'm just in time. Here's what you need to know-"

The same captain who had questioned Sam's ability to lead the briefing looked from the teenager to the major and back again. "Major, is this a joke?"

"No," Sam replied. She supposed that this was a good lesson in 'the weird crap that happens daily in the SGC'. "This is Colonel O'Neill."

The pilots looked at one another, several of them grinning broadly.

"I'm only going to say this once, so I suggest that you listen up," Jack continued, doing his best to seem intimidating.

The captain snorted softly. "Whatever you say."

Jack bristled at the disrespect. "Hey!" He took a step closer to the captain. "I realize that I'm not in uniform. If I was, you'd see that it says 'colonel' on it."

They'd heard the rumors. Every pilot in the room looked at Sam. Who nodded her head. Several throats were cleared, and to a man the group sat taller. The captain dipped his head in acknowledgement. "Yes, sir."

Knowing that he had 'proven' himself, Jack stepped back. "Now. Velocity is key during engagement with a glider. Now, your instincts are gonna tell ya to floor it, because it's faster and more maneuverable, but you've got to stay in control." He glanced at the screen behind him. "Uh...oh, yeah, and the...uh...inertial dampeners only compensate ninety per cent when pulling negative Gs. So the real trick is knowing your enemy so you can anticipate their next moves."

Walking to the podium, Jack shuffled through the notes he'd written out...which Sam had obviously been using. He reached down, clicked the display, bringing up the next image. "Okay. Death Gliders 101."

Sam leaned against the wall, crossed her arms over her chest. Part of her was so angry with Jack O'Neill she could have shaken his fifteen year old body until his teeth rattled. The other part of her was impressed, and proud of his expertise...and his strength to rise above the situation he'd unwittingly found himself in...enabling him to perform his duties to the best of his ability. One of the reasons she always tried so hard to make him proud of her. To be worthy of his pride.


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