Three Weeks Later
“General O’Neill we have another candidate for the Antarctica Project,” the voice over his red phone said.
“What do you mean, sir? I thought we’d tested everyone with clearance?” Jack O’Neill asked.
“We had tested everyone with official clearance, Jack, but there was a group we wanted tested who only recently agreed to it. They are very protective of their people, however, especially where the government is concerned. Most especially where the military are concerned. It took weeks of personal negotiations between myself and their head of operations before they would even consider allowing their people to be tested. As it was all the testing had to be done in Cleveland. And we had to pay to fly some of their people there to have samples taken.”
“You could have just ordered them to,” Jack pointed out. “If they’re Americans…”
“Not all of them are, though most of their senior people are,” the President explained. “You’ll understand once you’ve met them, maybe; but these aren’t people you just order around. For one I have too much respect for the work they’ve done and continue to do without reimbursement or recognition. For another, I was afraid they’d try to burn down the White House if I tried. Just on principle.”
Jack paled slightly when he realized the President was only half-joking about that last part. “And they’re coming here?” he asked.
“Actually, no… At least, not yet. I was hoping you’d agree to be my personal representative in trying to recruit this latest candidate.”
“Sir, all due respect, because I would love the chance to get away for a bit but… I have a base to run.”
“And I respect that. You’re actually my second choice of emissary. I would have sent George but he’s in Antartica and this candidate is scheduled to leave for South America by the end of the week and we don’t know where he’s going or when he’s planning to come back; if he is.”
“You don’t think it's overkill to send a general for this, sir?” Jack asked.
“I think if I sent anyone less than a general, General, they’d never make it past the front door. You have been told how crucial this gene is to the Antarctica Project?”
“Then stop arguing and go to Cleveland, General,” the President of the United States ordered.
“Yes, sir,” Jack agreed reluctantly.
“Cheer up, O’Neill; it should be interesting. From what I’ve been told you two will either love each other or hate each other, you’re that much alike. Here are the details…”
“The Sunnydale Memorial School for Gifted Girls,” Jack read as the car pulled up in front.
He checked the piece of paper in his hand. Yep, this was it. And he supposedly had an appointment arranged through the President’s personal assistant. Again Jack wondered who these people were that there were so few steps between them and the Oval Office.
School for Gifted Girls, hah! It looked more like a prison, or a fortress, from where he was sitting. There was a woman, girl really because she couldn’t have been more than 18, sitting in a little security office to one side of the gates.
The place itself was fenced off with a high stone wall that had what looked like sniper’s holes placed at regular intervals along it. The gates themselves looked like solid iron and were well seated. Eyeing the place as his driver spoke to the security person, Jack came to the conclusion that he would not have wanted to try to break into this place. Even with an army of Jaffa at his back.
Bringing his attention back to the security booth, where his driver had just handed over both their IDs, the watched as the girl tapped a few buttons on the computer console in front of her and then gestured for the back window to be opened. With a look back at Jack, the driver did as he was asked.
The girl took another look at her computer and then leaned forward to look closely at him. She seemed to be comparing him carefully to whatever was on her screen. Satisfied, she handed the IDs back to the driver and turned her attention to Jack.
“Are you armed, sir?” she asked.
“What kind of question is that?” Jack asked.
“Standard procedure, sir,” the girl explained. “There are a number of people that don’t like us and we’ve had some nasty surprises. The only reason you aren’t being searched is that you’re here from the President.”
“No, no weapons,” he said in a daze.
She raised her eyebrows at him, looking more amused than anything.
“I apologize in advance for the next few questions but I have to ask them. Do you wish to enter this home with intent to cause harm to those within?”
Jack blinked at the oddly phrased question but answered, “No.”
“Almost done,” she assured him brightly. “Are you planning to take any artefacts or objects from within this place and/or use them for the purposes of causing harm to others, bringing death, destruction, chaos and/or the end of the world?”
“No,” Jack said, even more confused than before.
“Excellent,” she said with a bright smile. She turned and asked the questions of his driver, who also seemed to answer them in a bit of a daze. When she was done, both Jack and his driver got the brightest smile yet as she remoted the Gates open.
“Then I bid you both welcome in this place,” she said and waved them through.
Well that was odd, Jack thought. For such a cheerful girl, she was certainly into the formal phrasing. Maybe it was something they taught here. He was suddenly glad he wasn’t here to meet with any of the students. If they all talked like that, he’d be sure to come out of this meeting with a headache.
The actual school building was a three story stone mansion that sprawled out with a right, a left and a central wing. They drove up a few feet up a curved driveway and the car pulled to a stop in front of a covered porch and what was obviously the front door.
“I’ll stay here with the car, sir,” the driver said. “Unless you feel you’ll need my assistance.”
“No sergeant, that’s fine,” Jack said. “See you in a few.”
Jack got out of the car, settled his uniform, took a deep breath and walked up to the front door.
The entrance hall was dominated by a staircase that branched halfway down, one side curving right, the other curving left. In the center was a polished oak desk, behind which sat a young man. Jack hoped that this kid was not the person he’d come here to see, there were too many geeks on the Antarctica project already.
“General O’Neill?” the young man asked.
“You’re here to see Xander right?”
“I have an appointment with a Mr. Harris at 10 o’clock this morning,” Jack said cautiously.
“Go up the stairs and down the central hallway.” The young man pointed to the top of the staircase. “It’ll be the third door on the right, just knock and you’ll be let in. My name’s Andrew, if you have questions or get lost, not that you should, just yell for me.”
"Right," Jack agreed. These people are weird. Xander. What the hell kind of name is that anyway?
O’Neill mentally grumbled as he climbed the stairs. When he reached the third door on the right, Jack knocked.
“Come in,” a female voice called.
Another cheerful one. Jack was beginning to wonder what they put in the water here to make everyone this happy. He opened the door and cautiously poked his head around. It looked like a public room with couches and a table. There were arched openings leading into other rooms and a willowy brunnette just standing up from one of the couches.
“I’m here to see a Mr…er, an Alexander Harris,” O’Neill said tentatively to young woman. She gestured him in.
“I’m Dawn. Xander’s little sister, sort of. He’s been, um, teaching all morning. He’s just cleaning up.”
“What’s he teach?” Jack asked.
“And carpentry and basic architecture,” a male voice said from an archway to Jack’s right.
Standing just inside the room was a young man with hair so dark it was almost black. He was wearing old jeans and a colourful Hawaiian-style shirt. His hair was still damp and he was in bare feet. He also carried himself with a self-confidence Jack didn’t usually associate with 25 year-olds. But the most surprising thing was that he wore a black eyepatch covering his left eye.
“I lay a mean drywall,” the young man continued. “Or, I used to. Still, what’s the saying: those who can’t, teach?”
“You still can,” Dawn said. “Or you could if you wanted to.”
“Only nobody’s going to hire a one-eyed carpenter,” The young man said with a slightly bitter laugh. “But Dawn’s right,” he continued before his sister could respond. “I was teaching self defense this morning. Or, as I like to call it, ‘getting my ass kicked by a bunch of girls.’ Hence the clean-up. You must be the military guy.”
“How’d you guess?” Jack asked dryly.
The young man grinned. “Well, it’s 10am and that’s when the military guy was supposed show,” he explained.
“Of course,” Jack said, grinning back. With a sense of humour like that, he couldn’t help but like the kid. “And here I thought it was the nifty uniform that gave it away. I’m Jack O’Neill.” He held out his hand.
“Xander Harris,” the young man said as he took the general’s hand. “Either of those will do. Don’t bother with the mister part, I’ll just wonder who you’re talking to.”
Harris had a strong grip and Jack felt calluses on the other man’s palm as they shook. But they were in the wrong places to be from holding carpentry tools.
Introductions over, Harris waved a hand towards the seats and both men sat down.
“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me,” Jack said. “I assume you know why I’m here?”
“Don’t assume,” the young man said easily. “I’m guessing it has something to do with the blood they took last month. Something about a DNA test.”
“And since things like DNA test results are private,” Dawn announced. “This is where I leave.”
She closed the door behind her as she left.
“No one ever told you what you were being tested for?” O’Neill asked curiously.
“Well, they told me…only, I wasn’t listening. Giles said it was important. I trust Giles. I assume since you don’t have appointments with anyone else that there was a problem with mine?”
“Not a problem, exactly,” Jack said slowly. “They were testing for something called the ATA gene. It’s a very rare gene in the human population. You have it. No one else here does.”
“What’s it do?” the young man asked, instantly suspicious. Unique was never good when the government was interested in what made you that way.
“It’s not what it does, so much as what it means. This is where the conversation gets a little hard to believe, so just bear with me…”