Considering that Buffy was Jack's friend and a major part of her considered him another almost-father-figure, it wasn't actually that nice of her to skip, chuckling, down the corridor towards the holding cell, but she couldn't help herself. Her mom and General Hammond had put him in there after they had dragged him in and out of the med bay. She had not caught up with the action earlier because Teal'c, Daniel and Jonas had more or less occupied all Jack's time until now. She walked up to the still-present guard and looked at him. "I need to see our guest. General Hammond's orders," she explained.
"Sure, Miss Carter," the Airman said and admitted her to the room, where an approximately 15-year-old supposed Jack O'Neill was sitting and looking very pissed.
"Come to tease me at last, Summers?" Jack said in a tone that some pretender could not even have dreamed up with years of preparation. Something disturbed her as she studied him, the moment she entered the room. Buffy could wait for the lab results, she could listen to the words of all her friends and her mom swearing this was most likely Jack O'Neill. But she didn't need to. There was something she trusted more than all that, her own instincts, and they told her this wasn't her Jack, not really. It felt like Jack: close, but not entirely him. It was a different feeling than she had with Daniel when he had returned, so it wasn't about memories. It was something else. It could be his de-aging, but she was unsure. Years ago she had realized that the senses Giles had tried so long to teach her about were there for her use; they had been there all along, but she had not been sensitive to them or secure enough in herself to understand them. After they had defeated Adam, she had begun the slow process that had enabled her to use them. It had been truly slow going, though, and while she had made great strides and was now gaining control of them, she found she missed a Giles to make her understand them. In fact, sitting down to tea with Giles was something she would really have liked.
"Hi, Jack," she said and tried to veil her feeling that she was unsure if he was really Jack O'Neill. He had been studying her as she had stood there, thinking, in the doorway.
"You've come to test me too, then," Jack said, and he seemed vulnerable for a moment in a way she had never seen the adult Jack be.
"No, I already know everything," she lied and went over to lounge in a chair. "Besides, I've done my chores for the day -- you know, all that really annoying paperwork you gave me to do," Buffy said.
"All part of procedure," Jack said and smiled, "besides, if I have to do it you do too."
"That's not an argument. Teal'c doesn't have any paperwork to do, and I work for him," she countered.
"Ah, but he's a foreign representative now. We can't have dignitaries do that kind of work, so we decided to delegate it to you," Jack said, but Buffy could see he was joking, "Actually, he does after-action reports just like you. You should see the amount of paperwork your mom needs to do."
"Hello! I have lived with her for years, and except for the spoken diaries when we were on Vindgloed there hasn't been a day where I haven't seen her write something," she replied.
"So, what: you just here to chat, then?" Jack asked and ran a frustrated hand through his hair.
"I wanted to offer a sympathetic ear. I totally get how it is to feel like you're in the wrong body. I've had experiences along those lines. So, has anyone said anything about undoing this?" Buffy studied Jack again to see what he wanted from his expression as she asked.
"Dr. Frasier mumbled something about external experts, but that usually means she's got no clue. There was something about some weird anomaly. At least your mom is heading this up. Carter will do what she can to fix this problem," Jack said.
"That's just who she is. I'm a bit like that, too," she mused.
Jack looked at her for a moment, then said, "If I'm stuck like this, I'll have to give up my job, won't I?"
"Hey, you're a bit young, but look at me: I'm here, too. They might surprise you," Buffy said.
"We're not in the same situation, Buffy. All other matters aside, no one would have accepted you here unless you could do the job better than anyone else. You're physically superhuman, really smart, experienced, and well-liked to begin with. All I've got right now is the body of a kid and my memories of my training. That won't let me stay ‘General Jack O'Neill’ for more than a few minutes, if they find out this thing is permanent," Jack explained.
"Oh," Buffy said and thought it through. Her faith in the Pentagon had been severely rattled by them writing her off after Thoth grabbed her, but she could see it from their point of view. No matter her claim to the contrary, she was not ‘just a girl’. She had lived the life she had and could do things no one else could. It made sense for her to be where she was. If Jack stayed 15 years old, then it would not make sense for them to keep him on at the SGC. Experience or not, for the first several years he would not physically be ready to fill out his older self's shoes.
There was a knock on the door and her mom walked in with a frown on her face. Her mom looked surprised to find Buffy there, but greeted her with a loving smile before facing young Jack. "Dr. Fraiser's latest results confirm what she estimated when you were down there. You seem to be Jack O'Neill physically younger, but with the memories of a much older Jack. She's flying in experts to see if they can figure something out," Her mom told Jack.
"And what am I supposed to do in the meantime, Carter?" Jack asked, sounding really annoyed.
"General Hammond told me that your orders are to wait while we determine what's going on. I was getting a bit hungry, and so I thought I'd take you to the cafeteria. You too, Buffy," her mom said switching into mommy-command mode that nearly made her jump up and run for the cafeteria immediately . . . at least, until she remembered she wasn't 10 anymore.
"Sure, I could use a bite," Jack said.
"No teenage boy would turn down a meal, especially with two hot chicks along," Buffy said.
Jack glared at her for a moment, while her mom fought to not laugh out loud. Buffy continued glibly, "So, have the hormones kicked in yet? I had a friend who swore that when he was your age he got turned on even by linoleum. But then again, he was apt to date demons, so I don't know if it’s a general thing. You could enlighten me."
"Please stop talking," Jack said, sounding almost pained as his cheeks flushed, clearly against his will. "Or I'll make sure to arrange for you to be assigned to the Gamma site for a several-year-long rotation. No malls, no new shoes, and definitely nothing fashionable within several lightyears," Jack grumbled.
"Jackie-boy, excuse me for rubbing it in, but I think you couldn't command a fruit fly to change course right now," Buffy teased. She was finding it so hard to stop. Jack was presenting her with the easiest target she had been given for ages. Buffy was quite aware that when Jack was restored -- or found, whichever was the resolution -- either he or karma would punish her. But it was like a drug, she just couldn't stop.
Sam watched as Jack and Buffy seemed to be competing to be the one to eat the most. Teal'c was also there; he was studying Jack with rare, undisguised interest.
"You could enjoy this less," Jack commented between bites.
"I know, but it's just so hard," Sam blurted out before she realized what she had just said to her commanding officer. "Sir," she quickly added before the glint in Jack's eyes became a reprimand.
"Look, he's kinda cute when he’s steaming under his collar," Buffy added. Sam sighed. Buffy had been riding Jack ever since they had met today. It was very deliberate on Buffy's part and a bit meaner than she was used to coming from her daughter. It was as though Buffy was baiting Jack.
"For crying out loud, Summers! Being trapped inside this body is in no way fun. And just keep it up. As soon as I get back behind my desk -- and I will! -- I'll find the most despicable assignment I can and make Teal'c give it to you," Jack swore.
"Indeed?" Teal'c said in a tone that indicated there was not a big chance of that happening.
"Please stop," Sam found herself muttering, not really wanting Jack and Buffy at odds.
"Are you not finding the return of your youth pleasant, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked.
"No, I was never a big fan of my teenage years," Jack replied.
"Surely you are experiencing improved vitality?" Teal'c reiterated.
"My vitality was feeling just fine," Jack said, and immediately turned towards Buffy as she opened her mouth and took breath to say something. Jack nearly hissed, "If you say something now, you will regret it."
Buffy dramatically clamped her mouth shut and exhaled through her nose. After a few moments Buffy turned serious as she asked, "Jack, are you sure that something weird hasn't happened to you these last few days?"
Jack studied her daughter for a while as Buffy smiled back, trying to look innocent and sweet. "I don't remember anything out of the ordinary – well, except I had a weird conversation with a Tok'ra about SG-8's problems with the natives on that planet they had just been to. He... the snake anyway... sounded almost depressed about the whole thing. I think the Tok'ra have been feeling their mortality, now that they know for certain that Egeria is dead," Jack explained.
"Well, SG-8 got back alright, and a depressing Tok'ra conversation can't do this – rather, you’d expect it to do the opposite, according to you – so that would mean you got nothing. Huh," Buffy said, suddenly looking thoughtful.
"Well in the meantime, may I make a suggestion? Try enjoying this as much as we are,... Sir," Sam said.
"Yeah, yeah, let's all have fun," Jack said.
"Maybe we should retrace your steps," Daniel said, while walking up.
"Uh, Jack's house when he hasn't had time to clean up? This has even better fun potential than just sitting here making comments," Buffy commented.
"Please, don't let her come," Jack pleaded.
"Sorry, sir. Rank aside, you're currently not in command. General Hammond has put me in command of SG-1 and told me to investigate. And unless she has anything else on her plate Buffy is Teal'c’s to command," Sam said and got up. "Besides, Daniel had a good idea there. And we should go."
"Please join us, Buffy," Teal'c said. Jack rolled his eyes in annoyance, while Sam saw her daughter give Jack a teasing smile.
Buffy was heading to her office to get her jacket, when her mom appeared out of a corridor dressed in her civilian clothes. "Buffy, could I have a word?" her mom asked.
"What's up?" Buffy said, wondering what her mom wanted that would have her sounding so dire.
"Why are you riding Jack so hard? It's not like you," her mom asked.
"Simple: my senses. I feel like it might not be him, after all. I want to think it’s him, because I like him, but I keep feeling that something is off," Buffy admitted.
"So, you're baiting him? Trying to get him to blow up in anger so that he'd trip up and make a mistake, in case this is an act," her mom remarked.
"Basically, yeah. I think I'll stop, though. He's already blown up, and nothing happened. If he's a cheat he's better than most," she explained.
"So, you've stopped doubting him, or what?" her mom asked.
"Well I haven't stopped. I trust my senses of these things, you know that. So, I’m gonna go at it with kindness for now. He's gonna need friends, either way. This way, I get to be nice, and if something really is wrong, then I'm there to either hear something or do something," she explained.
"You keep saying you suck at undercover," her mom said.
"I do, but in this case I’m just using certain parts of my charming personality," she replied.
"You say ‘charming’; everyone else says..." her mom was stopped by a playful slap on her upper arm. Buffy quickly realized she had again used too much strength, as her mom rubbed the spot she had hit.
"Sorry," she whispered.
Her mom just waved her off and went for the elevator area. "See you topside, but don't be long," her mom said before walking down the corridor Buffy had just come from.
"Someone needs to call the CDC: I just opened in Jack's fridge," Daniel said.
Buffy watched Jack as Daniel and Teal'c went through his kitchen. Jonas had stayed at the SGC to wait for Jack's medical test results. She could feel that Jack , while slightly annoyed, was no longer that concerned or uncomfortable around them all -- not even when the pair in the kitchen dug through the disgusting things Jack kept in his fridge. She had only been over for official dinners recently, and the place was clearly the home of someone who ate out or ordered in all the time. It had been carefully cleaned the other times, that much was clear now.
Buffy watched her mom retrieve the Chinese food box out of the freezer and take a sniff before wrinkling her nose and heading over to the table with it, "We should have all this sent to the lab for testing."
"You think my food shrunk me to Summers’ size?" Jack said.
"Hey," Buffy protested.
"You never know, but honestly I'd be surprised," her mom said, smiling at Jack's jibe. Buffy felt like muttering something angrily. Sure, she was a bit taller than she used to be even in her fully grown stage in the other universe, but she was still petite, and sometimes she felt a bit like back in the old days when everyone dissed her for her size.
Daniel left his post at the fridge door and looked at Jack, who had backed away, allowing her mom and Teal'c to empty the fridge. He stood with his back towards her as she stood in the door to the kitchen. "Is this the last place you remember being, well, you?" Daniel asked.
The boy version of her friend looked around and said, "No, actually. I ate, grabbed a beer and headed for my couch."
"Are you conducting some sort of biological weapons research?" Teal'c asked while withdrawing some sort of glass container with red contents, all of which seemed to have grown a downy sort of hair.
"Hey, come on! That could still be edible, if you scrape the top parts off. It's hard to find salsa that good," Jack complained while Teal'c put the jar with the other things on the kitchen counter. Jack walked over to the fridge and grabbed a beer -- apparently the only beverage he kept around the house, aside from water and the alcohol in the liquor cabinet in the living room. Given all the cereal she had spotted earlier Buffy wondered what Jack poured on that instead of milk every morning. Jack unscrewed the cap of his beer and was about to tip one back when her mom took it from him and put it on the table, next to all the other food and icky stuff from the fridge.
"Oh, for crying out loud! It’s just a beer," Jack complained.
"You shouldn’t eat or drink anything from the house until we're sure nothing is wrong with it," her mom explained, and went on to ask: "What was the last thing you ate and drank, then?"
"Four cheese burritos I picked up on the way home, some guacamole on the side, and a beer. I watched a bit of TV, then hit the sack. And bingo, I wake up in the morning and didn't have to shave anymore," Jack said.
"So you became younger while you were asleep," her mom mused and looked around, probably wondering where Jack's bedroom was. Buffy bit her lip to keep from telling a joke about Jack, her mom and his bedroom, thinking that in the current context it might fall flat.
"On to the bedroom, then," Daniel said.
"Great," Jack groused.
"Would you stop that?" Jack said and cast a glance towards her mom as Buffy opened Jack's underwear drawer and found rows upon rows of white boxer shorts.
"White boxers? Jack, you're so military -- just like my mom, in fact. Well of course given that I'm her daughter she now owns more than just white briefs, think 'g'," Buffy teased but was interrupted.
"Buffy!" her mom said, sounding a bit shocked by her revelation. Buffy grinned. She was in a teasing mood; letting that part of herself have free run for an entire day was proving great fun.
"Sorry," she said on noticing the warning in her mom's eyes, and the grin died on her lips. Buffy noticed Jack moving away, both to avoid their conversation and to stop Teal'c who was looking through the knickknacks on a mantle.
"Teal'c," Jack said, making Teal'c turn and smack a lamp off an endtable; it gave off a bright flash of light before the bulb died.
"Whoa!" Jack said, sounding more surprised than an accident should have warranted. Some tone in his voice told her something had happened when the lamp had been smashed. She wondered if it was some sort of sentimental keepsake -- because it was too ugly to be otherwise valuable -- or if it had been something else.
"What is it?" Teal'c asked.
"When the light just now flashed, I saw a vision -- or maybe a memory. I don't know. I was somewhere where there were small green lights. And I saw an Asgard face, but not Thor or anyone else I remember. It was weird, like a flashback," Jack explained.
"Asgard?" Buffy said and looked around at the room. The Asgard easily could have moved Jack out of his room and put him back using their beaming technology, but she didn't understand what reason they could have for wanting to de-age Jack. Sure, they were capable, but they lacked the drive to do so . . . as far as she understood them, anyway.
"Either I just had a flashback to some part of our past adventures with them, or I paid them a little visit last night," Jack said.
"But they wouldn't do that. Sure, they have transported us to their location several times, but they tell us why. They don't just kidnap and change you; that's not typically Asgard," her mom argued.
"I agree with you there, Carter, but I remember what I remember. It's very fuzzy, though," Jack admitted.
"I think we should go back to the SGC," Daniel said.
"Yeah, if the Asgard did it, we won't find anything here. It would all be done in their ship, or somewhere else, anyway," Buffy said.
"Finally! Great, let's go," Jack said and tried to herd them from his bedroom immediately.
They were all sitting around the conference table. Buffy was looking thoughtful and very focused on Jack. Sam guessed her daughter, who cared deeply about Jack, was a bit more worried than her light-hearted attitude had let on. Daniel got up and paced a bit,
"Jack, when you told me about what you saw, I recalled something the Sociology department here has been thinking about for a while now. This sounds a lot like a UFO abduction. In fact, it sounds like a number of accounts I have read. We have worried several times here if it was some sort of threat, if there were aliens closer to Earth that we were overlooking. We had so far dismissed the Asgard, because their entire attitude towards other cultures is very much about keeping a careful distance, while these abductions have been anything but that -- especially given the number of them. The lights, the loss of time, it all makes sense when you factor in what we know about the Asgard technology, though."
"This you remember, but my birthday you forget?" Jack said.
"Come on, who else gets to have their sweet sixteen twice?" Buffy said.
"16 is not important, unless you're a girl," Jack said icily.
Buffy seemed to go back to watching again.
"This is not consistent with the behavior of the Asgard we have encountered or known. I came to know Thor and his assistants during our isolation on Vindgloed, and they would find kidnapping and memory manipulation abhorrent and criminal," Teal'c said.
"Thor has said they have kept a close eye on the development of Earth for a long time," Sam said, remembering the teaching library they had used to train Buffy while on Vindgloed, "to the point that they have a fairly complete collection of video and text on Earth and from our culture. It was rather current." She looked towards Buffy, who had spent the most time with that database.
"Well, if you consider late fifties current, then... yeah. Thor told me they only went and updated it occasionally, and they sure didn't show me anything that hinted at abductions or suggested any sort fixation on anal probing," Buffy commented.
Jack laughed, and Jonas, Daniel and Teal'c smirked, while Sam admonished, "Language!" -- though she couldn’t suppress a grin, for a moment.
"All jokes aside, we're allied with the Asgard. We have established strong ties with them, especially after your sojourn with them, Colonel," General Hammond said with a nod towards her. "The US cannot accept any sort of ally that would do this. We have to find out if this really involves them."
"What could they hope to gain from making O'Neill younger?" Teal'c said.
"Aside from keeping me alive and around longer, I am drawing a blank," Jack said.
"They're not egotistical: I don't think they'd do that to you, General, without asking," Jonas remarked.
"People, we are arguing in circles. We need to come up with a plan to investigate and then solve this," General Hammond said.
"I'd like to follow up on the abduction lead. See if I can find any connections. However, that might involve some investigation in the field... here on Earth," Daniel said.
"Ah, that is no longer a problem. The recent restructuring has given us the ability to make relevant field investigations on U.S. soil, as long as alien forces or possible invasion threats are involved. The thought of an alien power abducting US citizens is enough for me. There will be oversight from the NID, but only bureaucratically. However, if you need to make arrests or compel testimony, we'll go through the NID to the FBI with any evidence. Now, Colonel, don't forget you're running a seminar with Major Mitchell on the F-302 and F-305, so until that's done I am placing Doctor Jackson in command of the investigation. Jack, until you're fit for duty again, you're off the active roster. I'll take over your command until then," General Hammond ordered.
"What am I supposed to do? Sit on my hands while everyone else has to pick up the slack?" Jack complained.
"You could assist Dr. Jackson in his investigation. But Jack, I have to ask you to remain on base for now," General Hammond suggested. Jack didn't seem to like that. Sam made a mental note to ask Buffy to look out for him. Jack might still mentally be Jack, but he sure wasn't physically, and everyone knew Jack had a load of enemies in his past, who might feel obliged to attack him while he was comparatively weak.
Jack sat next to Buffy, while Teal'c, Jonas and Daniel were going through the information on alien abductions recorded by the Air Force over the years. It looked like there were a lot more nutjobs out there than he had expected. He was feeling antsy and more than a bit mistreated. He couldn't understand why everyone insisted on treating him like he was a boy again: they weren't stupid, and everyone with a half a brain should have been able to tell that he was not some snot-nosed kid. Except he looked like one, he realized, and ran a hand through his hair.
In the background he could hear Teal'c and Daniel discussing the number of incidents that supposedly matched his description of events. He wanted to say ‘So, what?’ but he didn't. His eyes had fallen on Buffy sitting with her feet propped up on a table, resting comfortably, as though she had waited for others to finish their research a hundred times before. She had closed her eyes and looked more innocent than she had done ever since returning from Vindgloed. He felt a stirring in his body and felt his face blush as he realized what his hormones were doing. Raging as they were, it seemed they had launched him into some sort of crush. It had to be a thing for him. Was it the blond hair of the Carters, or the image of the strong, independent woman so different from his ex-wife that attracted him? "Oh, for crying out loud," he whispered to himself, when he realized he was allowing himself to feel attracted to Carter's daughter. That was like being into someone you had seen grow up, someone who had treated you like almost a father, or at the very least an uncle. That thought thankfully killed any stirrings of his libido, leaving him embarrassed and grateful that Buffy hadn't noticed anything.
"We're going out," Daniel said. Jonas and Teal'c rose to follow him.
Buffy jumped up and looked immediately ready for action. Jack promised himself he'd ask one day why she was so prone to relax completely in Daniel's presence, when she was usually bouncing around the second she had nothing to do. He got up as well.
"Jack, you can't come. We're flying down to Arkansas for an interview. You're supposed to stay on base," Daniel explained.
"Damn it, Daniel," he whined.
"General's orders," Jonas replied and left as well.
"I shall protect them, O'Neill. Buffy, I leave O'Neill under your protection," Teal'c said. Jack was about to protest, but Buffy just saluted her leader and sat back down, suddenly unwilling to let him out of her sight, it seemed.
Jack was going crazy. Sam was off somewhere topside, lecturing specially selected Air Force instructors and combat pilots along with Major Mitchell on the new additions to the US Air Force arsenal. Daniel, Jonas and Teal'c were off talking to crazy people, and they had been gone for over a day. It seemed that Dr. Frasier constantly wanted to see him, and the only bright spot was that Buffy was usually around, as well. She was in fact the only one who seemed to listen to him when she was there.
Jack was also beginning to think the Airmen acting as Guards around the base had been selected for brawn and seriously not for brains, as they kept questioning who he was, asking him to identify himself over and over again, and barring him from places he had been used to visiting every day when they were still in High School. Still, it was beginning to look like he could settle into some sort of routine -- of course, it was mostly based on playing with his newly acquired gaming console and catching up on old reports.
"How are you?" Buffy asked as she entered his on-base quarters.
"Just peachy: I’m getting another zit, and there is this girl I want to ask out, but I don't think she'll go to prom with me... No, seriously, I am bored and still a kid, so I’m doing as well as I can, I guess," he said.
"Daniel and the others are all back. They're having some sort of meeting with George now," she said.
"Why weren't we invited?" he asked.
"Dunno. We could go ask," she suggested.
"Let's," he agreed, and together they headed off towards General Hammond's new offices.
They never made it to the General's offices. Carter met them halfway. "Ah, Jack, I need to speak with you," she said. It sounded urgent.
"In here," Buffy suggested, opening to door to an empty conference room. Jack decided she had to have heard no one inside. It had to be really nifty being able to do those things.
They shuffled inside. Buffy stayed at the door leaning against it.
Carter looked at him, and the pity she tried to hide in her eyes warned him that it wasn't good news they had talked about in Hammond's office. "What is it?" he asked.
"Janet just finished reading the analysis from the genetics team. Your test results show that something is happening to you on the cellular level. Basically, your genetic structure is unraveling at an increasing rate. So far, your cells have been able to replicate themselves and repair the damage, but that won't last," Carter explained, her voice carrying her fear and pity clearly now. Jack was surprised to find that Buffy wasn't hugging him or saying something.
"Just say it like it is. None of that science mumbo jumbo right now, Carter," he said.
"You're dying, and there is no cure," she replied.
"I am sorry," Carter offered, but Jack had no idea how he'd reply to that. Instead, he immediately turned and found his plan to storm out obstructed by Buffy still leaning against the door. He loved her like a daughter, yet believed he was willing to attack her just to be allowed to save face at that moment. However, a rational and more in-control part of him also reminded him that Buffy could take Teal'c in fair combat on his best day -- something Jack wasn't sure he could do. He had no choice but to stay.
"What about the Asgard?" Buffy asked, looking past him at her mother.
"Daniel thinks that there really is some sort of Asgard operation that kidnaps humans and tests them. Too many of the stories match on too many details for it not to be something like that," Carter replied as she rounded him, thankfully heading for the door.
"Jack, Janet really wants to see you in the infirmary," Carter said. Buffy moved aside and allowed both of them to leave. Jack wondered if it had been a mistake for Carter to let the girl be taught any thing. She was getting scary good with the entire tactical planning thing, and on top of that they were shipping her off to be taught by both the Tok'ra and Bra'tac as soon as he was back to normal.
Buffy was feeling a bit depressed. The news about Jack -- first from her mom and then in the infirmary -- had been all bad. Now they were in Jack's conference room. Her granddad had swung by with a Tok'ra offer to help Jack as soon as he was able, but given his history with them it looked unlikely that Jack would accept. They were offering either cryogenic freezing or a symbiote. Jack wasn't going for either, but then neither she nor her mom was surprised by that.
"Can I have five minutes in private to think about this?" Jack asked.
"You can have ten," General Hammond offered. Jack headed for his former -- you could say – office, looking really unhappy. Getting a death sentence would do that to a person, she knew that much.
Everyone got up from the table and walked around. "Hi, Granddad and Selmak," Buffy said and went over to embrace Jacob and Selmak.
"Hi, kid," there was a pause, "It is good to see you again, Buffy. I understand that you will be coming to the Beta site to partake in Tok'ra infiltration training."
"Yeah," she replied.
"You are not looking forward to it," Selmak said and looked bemused.
"Well, I don't really feel like being away from here that long. Jack said it'd be months away from here. Someone might get in trouble," she said, not wanting to admit that she really didn't feel like being away from her mom and SG-1 for that long.
"I thought it was usually you who found trouble," Jacob replied.
"Bah, a myth! Besides, look at Mom and the other guys: they're always in mortal danger," Buffy said.
"True," Jacob agreed.
"We'll go get Jack," Daniel declared, and her mom left with him.
Buffy turned towards Jacob. "So, how are things out there?" she asked.
"Not much better than the last time you asked me that. Given what Daniel has told us about Atlantis, we're looking for anything Ancient that might help. Oh, and after analyzing that data we got when you were freed we're about to send a team undercover into Anubis' main base. A place called Tartarus," Jacob explained.
"Sounds all Greek to me," Buffy said.
Jacob gave her a small grin, then proceeded, "If we can find the weak spot in Tartarus' defenses, or maybe even gain access to Anubis' projects there, we could strike a blow to his war machine he'd be able to feel." Buffy smirked at Jacob's hopeful look.
An alarm blared, and her mom's voice rang out over the speakers: "We have a security breach. Level 25, Guest quarters," she said.
"Jack," Buffy said and immediately turned. She dashed from the room, jumped tumbling and rolling as fast as she could over and around people in her way, heading for an elevator. Jack was leaving, which meant she had to get topside if she was to have any chance of tracking him.
"We lost both of them," she complained. Sam was not happy. First, Jack made a run for it, and then Buffy disappeared, having last been seen leaving the base on foot. It had been hours since that sighting, and while the security lockdown she had stupidly triggered had caused a search of the base, it had also left them all stranded, while Buffy and Jack had more or less disappeared.
"The Security department have swept the base. Aside from the video of Jack using the emergency escape path and of Buffy jumping the fence, we have no clues yet as to where they went," Jonas said.
"I have notified state and local authorities. With any luck, someone will spot them soon," General Hammond said.
"Sir, I hope you made it clear that they should not attempt to arrest them. If Jack made a run for it from here, he would do the same if the police came too close, and Buffy puts no trust in the police either. If they try anything with her, we might have some difficult questions to answer," she said.
"They have been asked to report it in, not to engage . . . but how it will go in the field I cannot predict," General Hammond said.
Sam heard a door open behind her, and Janet strode in. "There is something you all need to see," she said. Sam noticed her dad coming in after Janet.
Jack was bordering on flipping mad, but he tried to keep his mood down to seething as the liquor store owner guided him back outside. "Listen, kid, get out of here before I call the cops. It's a school night, for crying out loud," the store clerk said.
"How about a light beer, then?" he asked.
"Give me a break," the clerk said, and angrily went back inside. Jack felt like hitting something, but he didn't want to make a scene. If he knew his people and the General, then there were already people out looking for him.
A pickup drove up and a man got out. Jack immediately recognized him. He had no idea that Harlan Beck had been assigned to a posting so close to his base. If he had, they would have been out for beer several times already. Jack got an idea. "Harley?" he asked.
"Excuse me?" the guy said.
"Harlan Beck, you served in Operation Prove Force out of Incirlik, right?" Jack continued.
"Yeah, how'd you know about that, kid?" Harlan asked.
"You knew my uncle. I recognized your image from a picture of an airplane. Told a story about an AC-130 gunship that this stand-up guy flew over Baghdad," he continued.
"Then your uncle was Special Forces," Harlan said.
"Yeah, General Jack O'Neill," he said.
"General... Right, he did just make General, didn't he? So, you're Jack's nephew. I didn't know he had a sibling," Harlan mused.
"Uh, he used to, but you know, things happen. Uncle Jack has been like a father to me. You know, since my folks died," Jack said, deciding that maybe scoring a few pity points would up his chances for when he asked Harlan to buy him beer.
"Ah, so how is old Jack doing, anyway?" Harlan asked.
"He's fine, and not that old," Jack said, and added, "either way," in his thoughts.
"Well, tell him that Harley says to watch his six when you see him," Harlan said and headed for the liquor store.
"About that, would you mind maybe helping a guy out? Just a six-pack, maybe," Jack said and offered Harlan the money he had planned to buy his own beer with earlier.
But Harlan was still a morally upstanding guy, so -- to Jack's dismay -- he just shook his head and kept on walking.
"He shoots, and he misses. More beer, Jack? Do you have some sort of craving, or something?" Buffy said while sauntering up to him, looking like she had just come out of the nearby forest. Jack didn't want to know how she had tracked him, but given her powers and their purpose, it made sense that she'd know how to follow her prey.
"Summers, listen to me. I have just been read my death sentence. I don't want to spend my final days as a Popsicle, and I will be dead before I let them put another snake in my head. I just want to have a couple of beers and sit somewhere near water and enjoy them in peace, while maybe waiting for some fish to bite," he said.
Buffy studied him for a while, then said, "Fair enough." She took the ten-dollar bill he still had in his hand. A car drove up, and a young Airman stepped out of it, probably on his way home from the Mountain. Thankfully, it didn't look like he recognized either of them. Buffy did something to her blouse, then walked up next to the man before he made it to the store.
"Excuse me," she said, and her voice was heavier with her Californian accent than he had heard in years.
The Airman turned and his eyes raked over Buffy's body, before he said with a smile. "What can I help you with?"
"I wondered if you could help me. My friends and I were up here for, like, our vacation, but my creepy boyfriend got all annoyed because I flirted with someone and totally dumped me here in the middle of nowhere. I need a ride into the city and, I don't know, maybe if you could get some beer for the ride? I'd pay for the beer, and you'd be my hero," she said and gave the soldier a coy smile.
The Airman gulped and nodded, before heading inside.
"You have no shame," Jack said.
"Actually, I have lots, but you wanted beer. I believe in giving dying people what they want," Buffy said.
"You'll totally break his heart," Jack commented.
"I’m not even eighteen! That guy is a complete perv, and he's getting what's coming to him," Buffy said.
The soldier reemerged, carrying two sixpacks of beer. "Hey, thanks," Buffy said and offered to carry one. He handed it to her. As he headed to his car Buffy veered off and headed around the side of the building where Jack had stayed for the entire debacle.
"Hey, what about your ride?" The Airman called out behind them.
"Hey, what about finding a girlfriend your own age? Perv!" Buffy replied.
"Bitch," the soldier yelled.
Buffy gave the Airman the finger, and together they went towards Jack’s next objective.
"Selmak had a chance to go over the DNA test results, and he discovered something. It seems that General O'Neill's condition is not what we thought it was," Janet explained.
"He isn't dying?" Sam said, hoping the best for her friend and commanding officer.
"He is dying. However, if you remember, we saw a slight mismatch between General O'Neill's DNA on file and the one from the sample. We thought it was just an error in measurement. Selmak believes it is something else," Janet explained.
Selmak said, using his distorted version of her father's voice, "The child we have had as a guest these last days is not General O'Neill. He's a clone."
Jack and Buffy sat by a small river. Jack was fishing and drinking beer. Buffy was just watching the water and Jack. "You know, that Airman will think you and I were more than just friends," Jack said.
Buffy winced. She could imagine that the Airman thought that, but the thought of being with Jack, kissing him and moving on from there, wasn't really something she could think about without feeling really really weird about it all.
Jack was looking at her. He laughed. "Yeah, I was like that the first time I thought about it too," he said.
"Don't even think about that. Man, how weird would that be? I would be sucking face with a guy whom my mom has the hots for, and who has been a kind of substitute dad for me when there was no one else," she admitted.
"Really, substitute dad?" Jack turned back to look out over the river. "Thanks... I never knew, but that's kind of touching," he said.
"Don't be like that. You're acting like you’ve given up. That's not like you," she replied.
"I know. I haven't given up, but I don't have any enemy to fight right now. There is nothing I can do but wait. I hate waiting," Jack explained.
"Oh, I know. I know you, remember?" She said, then paused. She could hear footsteps coming up the path. At least two people in military boots were coming towards them. It took her a few moments to recognize the walks of Teal'c, Sam, Daniel and Jonas.
"We have company coming. The guys are here," she said.
"Okay," Jack said and adjusted his tackle as if he didn't care.
Buffy turned her head and watched the group approach. Her mom looked relieved to see her. Teal'c nodded towards her, and she nodded back.
"Unless you're here to fish, Carter, I don't want to know why you're here!" Jack said, his inflections full of defiance, but his voice was that of a teenager and that ruined the effect -- at least, Buffy thought so.
"Jack, we've discovered something, and . . . well, there is no easy way to tell you this. So Sam is gonna tell you," Daniel said.
Buffy smirked for a moment, while her mom gave Daniel an annoyed look. "Sir, as you know, the Asgard depend on cloning technology to survive," her mom said, but Buffy could hear that what she had to say was not something her mom liked to explain. She was beating around the bush.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Jack said, and got up to face her mom. Buffy slowly copied his move, but stayed back, leaning against a tree. She had just realized something. What her mom's opening statement and what she felt around Jack from time to time all meant. She killed the gasp on her lips before it escaped.
"You have been cloned, O'Neill. Or rather, you are the clone," Teal'c said bluntly.
"What? That's not possible. I'm me, I remember everything about me," Jack protested.
"We think that the Asgard took the real you and made a copy, General. An unstable one, at that," Jonas said.
"The real me?" Jack asked. Buffy could hear in Jack's voice that while his head disbelieved what they were saying his heart was telling him it was true, and that was probably upsetting him the most. She wondered if Jack would try to run. That might be the moment when she had to move in and restrain him. She had no idea if they needed the clone to get the other Jack back. Afterwards, there would be a whole other mess to deal with, though. A mess that included what they could do for the clone as it died.
"Uh, the original, rather. That's not to say you're not real. You are," Daniel quickly said, as young Jack took a step towards Jonas.
"Where is the original?" Jack finally asked. Buffy noticed his shoulders relaxing slightly, indicating his acceptance of defeat. He'd return voluntarily, now. She took a few steps forward and brushed off the back of her outfit. They'd be leaving soon.
"We have an idea how to find out, but we need your help to do that," her mom said.
"Lead on then, Carter," Jack said.
"Sure," Sam said, and together they all headed away from the creek.
"Jonas and I have calculated an approximate gap of seven days between abductions that match yours. Which puts the next turn-around tonight," Daniel said.
"This plan sucks. Look, I know you don't think I am who I am, but as far as I am concerned I am who I am, and I don't like this," Jack explained.
Buffy leaned in and whispered into Jack's ear. "I knew you weren't physically you from the first minute I met you. I appreciate any person for who they are, not what they are, and the others aren't much different, Jack. This isn't only about recovering the other you, but about getting hold of the one who did this to you," she said and leaned back to find everyone at the conference table looking at them.
"The switch is our only chance of preventing something like this happening again to someone else and capturing the guilty party," her mom said.
"What about the fact that I am dying? I mean, has anyone even thought about that for a second?" Jack paused.
"Of course, doofus," Buffy said and slapped Jack across his arm.
"Oh, okay," Jack said, a bit mollified.
"Besides, the Asgard are over-the-top smart, so if anyone can fix you, why not the one responsible?" Buffy said. All around the table heads were nodding eagerly.
"Fine, get me the Asgard, a knife, and a 9 mil in a room, and I will get it out of the sucker," Jack said. Buffy nodded in agreement, although she'd like to be the helper. While she had tortured vampires before, she would have serious qualms about doing it to anything with a soul.
"We don't know what we might be facing here," Daniel cautioned.
"Yet you want to use me as bait. You're never gonna be able to intercept or stop an Asgard beam. At least, unless a whole lot has happened in R&D that I haven't been told about this week. Listen, I might be the best chance we have of capturing this guy... Alright, I guess I can do with being bait, but I want to be carrying a gun," Jack suggested.
Everyone looked around the table. "A Zat. Nothing more," General Hammond finally said.
"Thank you, sir," Jack said.
Buffy leaned in and said, "I seem to recall you getting tics and hives just at the thought of little fifteen-year-old Buffy with a gun. You just lost every Buffy-and-gun related whining right."
"Yeah, but you were an invalid with amnesia at the time, kiddo. It was quite valid not to trust you with a gun. In fact, I still barely trust you with more than kitchen utensils," Jack replied and grinned. Buffy mirrored his grin and sat back again as her mom started laying out the plan.
They were waiting outside, while Jack the clone was inside on his bed pretending – badly – to be sleeping. There was a radio nearby, so they could hear him, and her mom had a mike that allowed her to speak to him. They were having a conversation, when Buffy saw the white glow from Jack's bedroom window. "It's time, let's get going," Buffy said.
They rushed inside and quickly headed for the bedroom. Jack -- old Jack -- was sleeping like nothing had happened in his bed.
"General, sir, are you alright?" her mom said as she rushed over and shook Jack's shoulder. Buffy could see he was sleeping, but apparently her mom was a bit more worried than she was.
"O'Neill," Teal'c called out, seemingly unaffected by the entire event.
"W-What?" Jack stammered out, then jerked awake and away from her mom. She wondered if he was surprised to see her and everyone else in his bedroom, or if he had trouble figuring out if he was having a certain kind of dream with her mom as a guest star.
"Carter... Everyone. Why are you all in my bedroom?" Jack asked.
"Admiring your choice in wallpaper," Buffy suggested.
Buffy waited while her mom tried to quickly fill the rather surprised General in on what was going on. She had just gotten to the part about Asgard and clones, when they were enveloped in an Asgard beam. Jack the younger was as effective as his counterpart.
"Took you long enough," Buffy groused with a smile.
"Sorry, I had to put the landlord to sleep and remember all your mom's complicated instructions before I could get you here," Clone Jack replied.
"What's going on?" Jack the older asked and studied the Clone. Buffy grinned: except for the age and the zat in younger Jack's hands there was no difference in poise, dress or manner between the two Jacks. It was downright eerie.
"That would be your clone," Carter said, finishing her sentence from earlier.
"I really am a lot taller than I think," young Jack told her.
"Yeah, I was always glad I am an excellent high jumper," Buffy replied.
"Summers, you need to be a high jumper to get over a midget," old Jack said. "Carter, more of the explanation, please."
"General O'Neill, meet General O'Neill," her mom said.
"Okay, I’m confused," old Jack said.
"Listen, old guy, I am you -- just younger and apparently a bit smarter. Would you listen to what your second in command is saying?" young Jack suggested.
"Hey!" old Jack protested.
"Sir, an Asgard... The one over there, actually. It kidnapped you and replaced you with a clone. However, the clone was not correctly made and came back younger than it was supposed to. Now the clone is dying, and, well, we had to recover you and stop the abductions as well, so we came after it," her mom explained.
"How long was I asleep?" old Jack asked.
"Seven days," her mom replied.
"Nice. Has to be some sort of record. So you're me?" old Jack asked, addressing his clone.
"Yeah. Believe me, if you think it’s weird, think how I’m feeling. I was so sure I wasn't a copy," young Jack replied. Buffy could sense his sadness and the buried fear. He was afraid they'd just let him die without trying. She gave him an impromptu hug.
"He is awakening," Teal'c said and stepped up next to the Asgard who had caused all the trouble.
"What's happening?" the Asgard asked, looking confused. Buffy stepped forward.
"You have been kidnapping humans from Earth against their will. Explain yourself," she commanded in Asgard.
"No, no, no, this is all wrong," the Asgard tried to move away, heading for a console.
"Computer, engage defense diagnostics, scan for replicator infection, perform engine diagnostic," Buffy called out in Asgard as it tried to back away. She hoped that by busying the computer on the Asgard ship -- which looked old and small by Thor's standards -- this Asgard wouldn't be able to beam them out on voice command.
Teal'c stepped in front of the Asgard, blocking his path to the nearest console.
"Hey, you!" old Jack advanced on the Asgard. "I'll tell you what’s wrong. I just woke up. I haven't had my morning coffee yet, let alone a pee in seven days, and I find out you've been doing experiments on me with your amateur science set while a mini-me was running around in my shoes. I am irked," Jack said and turned towards her mom.
"I should be irked, right?" old Jack asked.
"I would be," her mom agreed.
"Why don't you tell us who you are? And don't try to spout off something unintelligible in Asgard: my girls are fluent in Asgard," old Jack said.
"I am Loki," the Asgard admitted.
Daniel whistled, seemingly impressed. "Loki, the Norse god of mischief, magic and a whole lot of other things. If there was trouble in their mythology, the Norse usually could find Loki or his Giant counterpart at the center of it," Daniel explained.
"What did you want with General O'Neill?" Jonas asked.
"I have nothing more to say to any of you," Loki replied and glowered at Buffy. She smiled back. She guessed that the little man was upset with her little trick, although she also knew that ruse would only last a short while longer.
"We save your flat white asses from the Replicators yet again, and this is the thanks we get! Seriously, some of my people have lost years of their lives to helping you, and yet you come here to kidnap people?" old Jack protested.
"Hey, what about me? That guy brought me into being, but he gave me a week to live. Apparently, his skills at the Xerox aren’t quite up to par. You have to fix me," young Jack demanded of Loki.
"I cannot. All clones suffer the same fate," Loki replied. Buffy wasn't sure the Asgard had told the truth. Her instincts told her it hadn't, but then those instincts were meant for human society, mostly.
"What is going on? Why have you done this?" old Jack demanded.
"I am a scientist. A former geneticist with the Asgard Ruling Council," Loki said, as if that explained it all.
"Former?" her mom asked.
"I was stripped of my position after I was caught performing unsanctioned experiments on humans," Loki admitted.
"There are sanctioned ones? I don't recall anything about that in the news," old Jack said.
"I merely had the courage to do what was needed to advance our cloning technology," Loki said, not sounding the least bit sorry.
"That isn't courage, that is a lack of compassion for fellow sentient beings. A lack of morality. People's lives were toyed with. And the clones clearly are living beings, too. With all those experiments down the years, how many of them have you made and discarded?" her mom accused.
"I did this for my race. We cannot withstand the errors inherent in our unnatural duplication process much longer," Loki said.
"How is this gonna change that? We're humans, not Asgard. Experiments on us can't be directly transferable to you," Daniel said.
"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 far," Loki said.
"So much for ‘massively superior,’" young Jack said.
"It was unsuccessful so far. I would have found what I needed eventually, but I am sure your primitive minds are already contemplating violence against me as retribution for what is really an imagined slight. No permanent harm has come to any human being," Loki said.
"Why now, after so long? According to the records we have, your type of abductions stopped for nineteen years," Daniel asked.
"I believed he was the one. Or maybe, her," Loki said and indicated first Jack, then her. Buffy gulped. She didn't want a clone of her running around.
"You can stop thinking that right now, mister, or I will demonstrate primitive human behavior and splat your skinny gray ass against the nearest hullplate," she threatened.
"You wanted my genetic code... Why?" young Jack asked.
"He was physiologically advanced enough to carry and utilize all the data from the Ancients’ Repository of Knowledge. And that one, according to the records I have procured, has more Ancient DNA than any other being I have detected so far. Both represent the potential for significant steps forward on the human evolutionary path," Loki explained.
"You just found out about this?" Daniel asked.
"I learned about it when all other Asgard did. O'Neill is legendary amongst the Asgard. And Thor has sung the praises of Buffy since his return from Vindgloed. When the Asgard Fleet was distracted, I took the chance and came here to continue my experiments. I do not regret my actions. I am trying to save my people from extinction," Loki admitted.
"Look, this isn't about me. But seriously, I am dying here. Literally," young Jack said.
"I cannot reverse your fate. Nor can I explain why you did not mature to the proper age as you should have," Loki said, looking confused at the clone of Jack for a few moments.
"Well, I can see another reason for why they kicked you out of the Asgard Science Club," young Jack said.
"I have heard enough. Carter or Buffy, can either of you call Thor on this thing?" Jack asked, indicating the console nearby.
"We could, but the computer will be a little busy for a bit longer. Most Asgard ships have verbal controls, and I told it earlier to do some things. Most Asgard ships this size don't have security protocols when not on combat alert," Buffy explained.
"Clever," her mom said, but still went for the console. "This is a science vessel though, Honey, and it has an upgraded computer, so it's already done with those things."
"Please do not call Thor," Loki asked.
"We've already tried to call him through subspace from the SGC, though," her mom said as she adjusted the settings on the Asgard console.
"You'd think Thor’d know that we wouldn't call him needlessly," Jack said.
"All right, how long are we going to..." young Jack said and stumbled slightly.
"Are you alright?" Jack asked.
"Actually no," young Jack replied.
"What are we going to do if Thor doesn't..." Daniel was saying when Thor arrived in a shower of light.
"Hi, Thor," Buffy said.
"Buddy, it's about time," Jack replied.
"I must apologize for not coming sooner. What have you done this time Loki?" Thor asked in a familiar tone, as if he knew and was used to Loki and his antics.
"He has been playing mad scientist on me," Jack said.
Thor turned towards Loki. "You should have known that we have safeguarded O'Neill's genetic code for his own protection. Honestly, Loki, your insistence on working on your own has -- as so often before -- become your downfall yet again," Thor said.
"Excuse me, ‘protection’?" Jack asked.
"A marker was placed in your DNA to prevent any attempts at genetic manipulation and cloning," Thor said.
"The abnormality," Daniel said.
"That's why the clone didn't mature," her mom added.
Buffy felt she had to ask: "Was I protected as well?"
"Yes, of course. Much like O'Neill, your DNA is very valuable to your race, and thus I arranged for its protection," Thor explained.
Buffy wasn't sure how she felt about that, but she chose not to complain at that moment.
"So, is the General or my daughter the key to solving your cloning problems?" her mom asked.
"Alas, no," Thor admitted.
"I thought I was very advanced?" Jack said.
"Indeed you are, O'Neill. However our scientists have already determined that while you are an important step forward in the human evolutionary chain, the missing link we have been searching for still eludes us," Thor explained.
"I'm sorry," Buffy, Jack, and young Jack said at the same time. Buffy grinned for a moment.
"And I apologize for any inconvenience Loki may have caused," Thor replied.
"What about him?" her mom asked, indicating Jack's clone. Buffy noticed he was getting more pale.
"Unfortunately, the genetic breakdown of the clone is not my doing, but rather the result of Loki's inept methods," Thor said.
"I protest. There was never any need for the clones to survive," Loki complained.
"Look, Thor, is there anything you can do for him?" Jack asked.
"Do you want him to survive, O'Neill?" Thor asked.
Jack seemed to take his time thinking about it, so Buffy slapped him and heard that the other Jack had done the same. "You can't just let me die," young Jack said.
"Of course not, yeah, I want him to survive," Jack said.
"Very well, I will attempt a repair on his DNA. If successful, he should continue to mature at the normal human rate," Thor said.
"Thanks," both Jacks said. Thor bowed in reply, then both he and Jack's clone disappeared.
Buffy stood next to Jack's car. "So, I am not calling you ‘Jack’ anymore; that's confusing. You gotta pick a name," she said.
"I already have, Buffy. You can call me Jonathan," Jonathan replied.
"Cool, and you'll do what you promised?" she said.
"Of course," Jonathan said. Buffy noticed Jack giving them a weird look from the driver's seat.
"We gotta get going," Jack said.
"Goodbye then," Buffy said.
"Bye," Johnathan replied, and the truck drove off.
"What was that about?" her mom asked.
"Nothing," Buffy replied and smiled.
"Then get going, we have some sort of urgent meeting at ten. Granddad has some sort of important news about Tartarus," her mom said.
Buffy looked down the road after the truck, then went towards her mom's car. "Can I drive?" she asked.
"No," her mom's reply was instant.