Jack organized the kids. They had cleared enough land for now. Hopefully Buffy would return any minute with the needed sap so that Jack and the older kids could start feeding the babies. The little ones were starting to whimper in hunger. This planet was much too dangerous to do it out in the open. Buffy had mentioned saber-tooth tigers and Jack had seen the snakes. What other predators lurked in the shadows?
The severity of the situation was starting to sink in.
The permanence of the situation had yet to compute.
The immediacy of the situation was all too apparent.
So Jack and his helpers returned the babies to their bins and dragged them into the crashed spaceship. That ship was going nowhere in a hurry. Jack doubted it would ever fly again without a total overhaul.
Jack tried to analyze the problem empirically. He tried to disengage from the anger that bubbled up at the idea that someone would purposefully and knowledgeably do this to a bunch of kids. Jack and Buffy were abandoned on a dangerous planet with twenty-five little kids who had the serious outlook of war veterans. Even the babies were sober-minded, observing creatures. They didn’t know how to have fun, real fun. In contrast, Buffy with her obvious experience and abilities knew how to tease and laugh. She knew how to lighten the situation with a quip and she was good at it.
Jack returned to the clearing to carry Vayla inside the ship. He wasn’t sure if the girl would have rather crawled than to suffer the indignity of being carried.
“We’re going to have to figure out some sort of wheelchair or braces and crutches,” Jack muttered more to himself than to the child in his arms.
Vayla turned her too serious eyes on him. “Did the man-Whistler- speak the truth, Colonel Jack? Are we stuck here until someone else kills the Traitor?”
It killed Jack to answer and he unknowingly answered as a Jedi Master would. “Vayla, would Buffy react so strongly to a lie?”
Vayla tried to hide her tears. She knew the truth. No, Master Buffy would not. “But what about the Masters that were not in the Temple? Many Masters were on missions. Could we not find them?”
Jack shook his head. “Vayla, look at the ship,” he ordered. “I barely knew how to fly it, same with Ro’hane. Look at the damage it sustained. How can we fix it with no maintenance shop in sight? And we didn’t have communications before our spectacular dive-bomb into the dirt.”
Vayla examined the nursery ship carefully. It was severely damaged. It would not fly and they could not call for assistance. She knew that Yavin 4 was uninhabited by any sentient creatures, it housed no towns. They were stranded here in the company of two non-Jedi Masters and Vayla could not walk, let alone fight. She, a padawan, was as helpless as the younglings.
Frustration burned in her bones.
Perhaps Colonel Jack knew what she did not say. He gave her a baby and said that it was looking a little peaked. Was it going to die?
The tone, the body language, the wording, it seemed like a challenge to Vayla. Was she smart enough to keep this baby alive? At the same time, Colonel Jack was acknowledging that he didn’t have the faintest idea on how to do the job. He was making her feel important without spouting off empty words. She was needed in her paralyzed state.
Vayla took up the challenge. None of the younglings in her care were going to die on Yavin 4.
Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter stood next to the open window of General O’Neill’s truck. Jack was parked in the shadows across the street from all the flashing police lights. The high school had called the cops when the clone had skipped two days of classes without calling in. The two days before that was the weekend and no one had set eyes on the teen during that time. So a maximum of four days had passed. The trail was ice cold before anyone knew there was a problem and contacted the Air Force.
Carter shook her head. “Nothing, sir. It’s so clean that the crime scene techs can’t find a trace of Duplicate O’Neill.”
“Call him ‘John,’” the general ordered.
“Yes, sir, John. It’s as if he stepped out for a minute and vanished. The computer’s still on and connected to the Internet. All his stuff is there. Driver’s license, money, etceteras, even the apple he peeled for a snack. They’re going to run an experiment to estimate the time he peeled the apple, try to give us a timeline. But his fingerprints are nowhere in the apartment, neither are anyone elses’. The complete lack of evidence screams ‘Foul Play.’”
Carter handed O’Neill the short stack of photographs protected in a Ziplock® bag. “I found them under a drawer by his bed, like you said I would. I was careful removing them from the premises. I don’t think any of the un-briefed specialists saw me do it. I tried not to leave prints in case we need to hand them over sometime soon.”
Jack slid the photos out of the bag and onto his lap. He flipped through, careful not to leave any of his own prints. He stopped at the last picture. “That little sh . . .” He held up a picture of SG1 to Carter. “He stole this when I wasn’t looking.”
Carter smirked. Neither one of them were really surprised. It was exactly the thing that Jack would do in the same situation, even though matters of national security forbid it.
Jack slid the pictures back into the Ziplock® bag. “Definitely foul play. He didn’t strike out on his own.”
“You thought that he might, sir? And that he could cover his tracks this well?”
Jack just gave her a look.
Carter accepted the silent –thought provoking- chide and kept talking. “I called my contact at the NID. He said that he’d see if the Trust has been operating in the area, but sir, he didn’t even know that Dupli-John existed. He’s supposed to be briefed on everything.”
“Didn’t you hear, Carter?” Jack teased. “Loki somehow reduced my age and Thor put me back and wouldn’t take off ten years like I asked.”
Carter blinked. “Of course I heard that, sir. But surely . . .” Than she thought about it. “Oh. Only a very few knew the whole truth. You were protecting your clone.”
“You didn’t correct the carefully crafted rumor, did you, Carter?” asked Jack.
“No, sir. I didn’t.”
“Good.” He turned the key in the ignition and started up the truck. “I’m going back to the base to make sure no one else spilled the beans. Have the Doc troll the specialists she brought in to look at . . . the kid. Then I’m going to contact Thor and make sure there are no authorized or unauthorized experiments going on. You stay and make sure those techs don’t find anything they shouldn’t.”
Jack put the truck into drive, but Carter’s hand on his steering wheel made him pause.
“Sir, we won’t leave him behind either.”
“Carter, I’m afraid that in this case, we won’t have a choice. I just have this feeling . . .”