Jack J.’s adjusted his grip on the pin and as the Goa'uld turned back to his vials, he lunged forward. Baal did not see the attack coming. Youth and intense military training gave Jack J. a velocity of which his duplicate would have been envious. He seized the System Lord mid-torso and swiftly drove the pin into the back of his neck.
The Goa'uld gasped. Jack J. drew the pin out then pushed it back in. Adrenalin was coursing through his veins and he was not entirely sure what he was stabbing at. He met some resistance and doubled his efforts. He could feel the System Lord weakening from the attack but Baal was still struggling and Jack J. had to tighten his grip on the Goa'uld. Finally, his movements became more uncoordinated and slow. Jack J. started letting go but in a sudden desperate attempt, Baal managed to hit an alarm button. Jack J. let him fall to the ground, turned on his heels and ran for the door.
Upon reaching it, it slid open to reveal two men. The element of surprise was for Jack J. and he had no trouble pushing past them. The guards rushed into the room and curiosity caused Jack J. to turn briefly in order to see what they were going to do.
Both guards knelt next to a gurgling Baal, then gently started dragging him to the back of the room and pulled a curtain. Jack J. resumed running,
He had mapped out the area he had been kept in and knew it was a dead end. So he took the opposite direction, hoping he would be able to find the exit. He thought he heard some explosions and wondered idly what it was before swiftly concealing himself behind a pillar as a troop of armed men passed him.
He resumed his course. His feet were starting to hurt as they pounded the rough ground. He rounded a corner and suddenly came face to face with an SGC uniform.
“Jack!” he heard a very recognizable feminine voice exclaim.
“Sam?” he asked, bewildered and surprised to find General Jack O'Neill and Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter surrounded by a whole squadron of Tok’ra in the corridor.
“We’ve come to rescue you! How did you escape?” General O'Neill asked.
“I disabled Baal, he’s in a chamber back there”, Jack J. gestured with his thumb, his wrists still bound by the manacles.
Jack turned toward Kael. “Okay, you take care of the base, Carter and I will take Jack J. back to the SGC. You want some re-enforcement?”
“I do not think Baal’s disorganized forces will be too much of a problem, as evidenced by the guards next to the entry way but help is always appreciated,” Kael nodded.
“I’ll ask Reynolds and another team to rendezvous with Malek outside and take his orders from him,” Jack said.
The Tok’ra nodded. Turning towards Jack J., he asked: “Where is Baal?”
“I’m not sure, I ran as fast as I could and I turned several times. Behind me, I suppose, next to the cells area, there’s a chamber at a crossroads.”
“You’re sure he’s still there?” Sam asked.
“Well considering I stabbed him in the neck with a pin…” Jack J. snickered.
Jack looked at him in surprise.
Jack J. shrugged. “I used whatever means I had. His guards are not Jaffa, they’re far less cautious…”
“There probably was a sarcophagus,” Kael stated.
Jack J. shook his head, “I can’t tell… He had a ribbon device, and a lot of other Goa'uld paraphernalia. He probably had a sarcophagus, too. I saw his guards drag him to the back of the room where there was a curtained area. I think I stabbed him where it hurt the most.” He added with a proud smile. “Now somebody please, untie my hands and since you suggested this yourself, let’s move the Hell outta here. I’m freezing my butt and socks are not the ideal footwear to run on this type of ground!”
“Right,” Jack mumbled. He turned to Kael, “Keep us posted on your progress.”
Kael and his team left them behind. Explosions could still be heard throughout the facility as Sam and Jack took Jack J. back in the direction they had come from.
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The wormhole closed behind them and they stepped down the ramp, handing their weapons to the SFs in charge. Since neither Jack nor Sam had been carrying any regulation exploratory pack to the planet, they had no spare items and Jack J. was still in his socks which were starting to show patches of blood from the abrasions of walking on the uneven ground.
“Dr. Lam to the Gate room!” Landry ordered in the microphone.
Jack motioned for Hank to get down to the Gate room as orderlies came to take care of Jack J.
“General, I’d be happier if you’d send Reynolds and a couple of other teams out there to help the Tok’ra. Not that I don’t trust them…” he winced as Sam threw him a dark look. “Okay, I don’t trust them… It should be easy though, and I don’t want the slimy bastard to escape again.”
Landry nodded and turned to look up to Walter in the control room, “Call Reynolds and SG Units 7 and 5, I want them down and geared up for action in two!”
“Yes Sir! SG-16, SG-5 and SG-7 in the Gate room immediately!”
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A couple of days resting and debriefing reminded Jack J. of old patterns that he cherished. He had recounted his ordeal and given information on how the Asgard research had leaked. Afterwards, Thor had granted him a little reprieve in order to have time to secure their networks before taking him for experimentation on Orilla.
He was in the commissary eating breakfast when the klaxons blared, announcing SG-1’s return. He quickly finished the remainder of his coffee and proceeded to the briefing room even if he knew it would be a while before SG1 made it there. As he exited the elevator, the klaxons blared again. He ran to the control room as the gate dialed. Both generals and Sam arrived at the same time and waited for the wormhole to form itself.
“It’s Colonel Reynolds, Sir, radio transmission.” Walter supplied.
“General Landry?” the disembodied voice came.
“Yes, Son, sit. rep?”
“The situation is under control, Sir. We had to run a complete check of the base and neutralize a few resistance areas but Baal’s forces have been overcome. Malek and his lieutenants are currently down there deciding the fate of the Goa'uld.”
Jack turned to General Landry.“All right, once SG1 has been debriefed, why don’t Jack J. and I go there and see for ourselves before the Tok’ra do whatever they want with him?” he suggested quietly. “As I said before, Malek seems to know how to hold a grudge.”
Landry nodded. “Could also be interesting to finally get a grip on Baal…” he replied in the same tone.
“Okay, Reynolds, this is General O'Neill. Jack J. and I are coming through, expect us in two hours at most. Tell Malek we want to see Baal before he does anything with him.”
“Yes, Sir. He’s been with Baal, who is in the sarcophagus, every since you returned, Sir.”
“Don’t tell me he wants to revive him?” Jack exclaimed.
“I don’t know, Sir but apparently, Baal is not well…”
“Okay, we’ll try and come as soon as possible, just tell Malek we’re on our way…”
“Yes, Sir. Reynolds out.”
Jack looked at Landry frowning. “It’s a good thing we sent those SG teams in.”
Landry nodded approvingly. A commotion behind them told them SG1 had finished their medical examination.
“I take it your mission has been successful?” Landry asked his flag team upon entering the briefing room.
“As a matter of fact it has,” Daniel started out excitedly as he hooked his laptop to the video system. “We got the location of the last planet King Arthur set off to in their quest for the Sangraal. We had already two, Castiana and Sahal, our operation on P2X-511 provided us with a third: Vagonbrei. We visited them all and found nothing of interest, except some empty ruins. Then I put all the coordinates into my laptop and noticed something really intriguing…” he trailed off and grabbed the remote control for the large screen in order to better explain their discoveries.
A chart of the galaxy appeared.
“The bright points you see are the three planets. Now if one measures the distance between them all…” lines appeared between the points, drawing a triangle. “They are perfectly equidistant.”
“All right, and that will help us, how?” Jack asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Oh wait, General, there’s more ….” Cameron said.
“The resistance agents on the planet that was most recently conquered by the Ori, reported that Adria kept mentioning an elusive fourth planet…” Teal'c started.
“… And I had an idea!” Vala cut him off excitedly, causing Jack to frown.
“Yes,” Daniel resumed. “If you put Camelot’s coordinates into the previous scheme you have…” he motioned to the screen once more, “a perfect tetrahedron.” he paused. “We have the location of the fourth planet and it is Camelot. Adria still misses one of the four, although I’m not sure which.”
Silence descended upon the room until Landry broke it. “This is very interesting, Dr. Jackson, but…”
“That’s where we’re stuck, General,” Cameron replied. “Jackson thinks this is no coincidence, and I’m inclined to think it’s not, but we don’t know what it means…”
Jack sighed audibly “Carter, maybe you can help them figure this out.” he suggested.
Sam nodded. “Yes, Sir.”
“All right, Jack J. and I are going back to Baal’s base. General, you’ll tell us when you got any news from Thor?” Jack asked Landry as he prepared to leave the control room.
Landry nodded “Of course, Jack. So far the attempts at reaching him have been met with nothing. He must still be trying to secure their networks before pursuing the experimentations with your clone…”
“Hey!” Jack J. exclaimed.
“With all due respect, General, I may not be the original, I’m flesh and blood like you, and I do have a name, even if it sounds ridiculous!” Jack J. corrected. “I’m not a lab rat!”
“Enough!” Jack interrupted. “Jack J., go get geared up, we’re leaving in ten!”
“Yes, Sir,” Jack J. rolled his eyes.
“Smartass!” Jack murmured.
Sam chuckled softly, shaking her head and earning a dark look from both Jack and Landry. She quickly schooled her features, coughing discreetly.
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Jack and Jack J. stepped onto Baal’s planet and walked from the gate to where they had entered the facility the last time. Several Tok’ra were ushering handcuffed mercenaries to a cargo ship. Kael was among them.
Jack motioned for Jack J. to follow him and stepped toward Kael.
“General O'Neill,” the man nodded.
“Reynolds told me you had managed to take control of the base?” Jack raised his eyebrows.
“Yes, Colonel Reynolds is in the base with his teams guarding the last prisoners in the cells before we take them to another location,” Kael replied.
“I’m afraid this needs to remain secret, General, no harm will be done to them if that’s what you fear,” Kael smiled condescendingly.
Jack narrowed his eyes a minute, then, “I’ll go see Reynolds. Where’s Malek?”
“Down with Baal.”
“You don’t see any inconvenience if we interrogate him a little,” Jack’s smile did not reach his eyes.
“You’ll have to discuss this with Malek. Apparently the other O'Neill managed to hurt him pretty badly…” Kael eyed Jack J.
“Yeah well, he was going to torture me; I wasn’t going to be nice,” Jack J. deadpanned.
“We’ll go and try to find out, thanks.” Jack said to Kael, grabbing Jack J.’s elbow and directing him to the ring platform inside the abandoned house.
In an instant they were inside the base. A couple of Tok’ra guards were monitoring the ring platform, but other than that, the base seemed deserted. They started walking in silence down the corridors toward where Jack J. thought the cells area were. Same height, same walking patterns, same men save a few genes for one and gray hair for the other.
Jack J. observed his duplicate more closely; there was something about him, that he had not seen the last time they had met two years ago. He stored the information and promised himself to ask about it later. For now, they had reached a crossroads and Jack had stopped.
“Where to?” he asked.
Jack J. smiled. “The cells? That way,” he crooked his thumb to the right. “Baal’s chamber, this way,” he pointed in the other direction.
Jack smiled knowingly. “Great minds think alike…” he muttered before taking the left corridor.
Jack J. rolled his eyes and followed his counterpart.
They arrived in front of the entrance of the chamber where Jack J. had been brought to face his captor. A couple of Tok’ra were barring the way, but after a few words from both men, they let them in with obvious reluctance.
Baal was alive but barely, lying by his sarcophagus on a makeshift bed. Malek, and a few other Tok’ra who were looking puzzled and talking among themselves, were standing by his side. Malek reacted to their entrance by turning and stepping towards them.
“How is he?” Jack asked.
“He’s dying,” Malek said simply. “The injury you inflicted upon the symbiote was lethal, and the sarcophagus barely kept him from dying right there and then. We kept him there in stasis until recently,” he added, looking at Jack J. “You knew there was a sarcophagus, didn’t you?”
“Negative. I just saw the guards taking him behind the curtain. I suspected there was something of importance there, but I wasn’t particularly keen on going to ask. I was trying to save my butt then…”
“In any case, I’m not gonna cry now that I’ve seen him…” Jack said changing the subject as the tension rose.
The disfigured man turned to him sharply. “I understand your point of view, O'Neill but Baal had some valuable information that could have helped us in many different fields.”
“So, what now?” Jack J. asked.
“We can save the host and try and gain some of Baal’s knowledge through him,” Malek said.
“So basically you save the host and keep him as a living library of information?” Jack asked. “I hated the guy’s guts but not to this point!”
“No!” Malek replied. “We will offer the host the possibility of taking in a Tok’ra symbiote. The Goa'uld was in too long for the procedure we have developed for removing symbiotes to work without risking the life of the host now that he’s wounded. If a Tok’ra symbiote takes this host after we remove the Goa'uld, then he will be able to save him and gain knowledge of what Baal knew for the most part. Including the various horrors he has committed in his life…” he concluded in a rush.
“So the Tok’ra has to be strong, huh?” Jack said more as a statement than a question.
“He has to, indeed.” Malek acknowledged.
Jack sighed, taking his cap off to rub his forehead before putting it back on. “So? Who’s the lucky one?” he asked.
“I am,” Malek replied solemnly.
“Excuse me?” Jack J. frowned.
“My host is dying. Baal injected me with a poison that slowly eats at my host’s flesh. The mask that you see on my face is not to hide burns, it is to hide the wound that is growing a bit more each day, as do the ones I have all over my body,” Malek explained. “My symbiote cannot suppress the pain and heal the body at the same time.”
“How ironic,” Jack murmured.
“When you came in, we were just talking to him about this possibility. The Goa'uld is too weak to take control, but it is not dead yet and we have only a little time before it releases the toxins inside his host’s body. We must hurry,” Malek said.
“All right, go, do whatever you have to do, we’ll see what Reynolds has to say about the prisoners but the deal is that you tell us anything that could be important to us, too,” Jack said, not convinced by his own words.
“I promise you that if it is of some importance for the Tau’ri, then I will gladly share the information with you,” Malek said with honesty, surprising them. He looked at Jack J. then, “You provided me with a new body and killed the one who did that to me, this is the least I can do,” the Tok’ra concluded, slightly bowing his head.
“Right…. We’ll be expecting you at the SGC when you’re done,” Jack frowned.
“I will come,” Malek said, retracing his steps toward the fallen system lord.
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Cameron entered Daniel’s lab. The latter was reading Ancient books, a notepad by his side, while Vala was absently toying with a pen.
“Hey guys!” Mitchell said with a small wave of his hand. “What’re you doing?”
“Well our resident archaeologist here thinks he has a lead…” Vala started, only to be interrupted by Daniel who closed his book noisily in a cloud of ancient dust.
“Morgan was trying to tell us something, but I can’t seem to figure out what!” Daniel exclaimed, his hands flying up in frustration.
“Well, she gave us the name of two planets and a riddle… Three into one, three into one, said we had two, we needed to find the third and the fourth would appear…” Mitchell shrugged.
“Wait!!!” Vala said with an excited look on her face.
Both men turned towards her, frowning.
“What did you say?” Vala asked, her face alight.
“What? That the fourth would appear?” Cameron asked, “We already know the four…”
“No… before that!” Vala demanded.
“Three into one,” Daniel supplied patiently.
“Yes! That’s it! Don’t you see?” Vala exclaimed, hitting the inside of her left hand with her right fist. Facing the puzzled looks of both men, she shook her head and left Daniel’s lab to go to Sam’s. “Follow me!”
Both men looked at each other, shrugged and followed their team mate to the neighboring lab.
Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter was obliviously hunched over her laptop running calculations when the buzzing alien woman entered her sanctuary.
“Colonel Carter!” she called. “Can you show us the three dimensional map with the tetrahedron?”
Sam looked at her a bit annoyed, then saw both Cameron and Daniel enter her lab and frowned. “Errr…. Okay…” she replied, reducing her current window and launching the mapping program.
On the screen the four dots representing the planets appeared. Vala moved to stand behind Sam and jumped in excitement. “We know the location of the Sangraal!”
“What?” Mitchell asked, intrigued.
Vala rolled her eyes. “The pyramid is a visual display of ‘three into one’. Three addresses into one. That's what Morgan was telling us!”
“Oh my God!” Sam breathed as she was still staring at the screen.
Daniel looked at her, understanding slowly dawning as Vala continued. “The Sangraal’s planet address is made up of symbols from each of the other three worlds!”
“Of course! You’re right!” Sam exclaimed, starting to type furiously on her laptop. “It’s so obvious! Why didn’t I see it!” she muttered more to herself than for the benefit of her friends.
“But the number of combinations must be enormous!” Daniel pointed out.
“Well, we just need to cross reference the addresses from our databases with those of the three planets, and keep known planet addresses…”
“Huh?” Cameron asked, frowning.
Sam shook her head and set to work. “This program should help us, but I’m afraid given the number of symbols and the amount of addresses in the database, we could be looking at dozens, maybe hundreds of permutations, it could take some time…”
Mitchell looked down grimacing, while Vala let her head fall on her open hands, and Daniel rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses.
“… Or maybe just one…” Sam stated, her eyes widening as she saw the result of the computer search on her screen.
Vala stood up and took a peek behind Sam’s shoulder, a huge smile spreading on her face. “Yes!!!”
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The briefing room was *crowded*.
All the seats were taken and Jack and Jack J. were not even seated. Thor was taking a large part of the room –for a creature the size of an Asgard- with his chair; Landry was seated next to him and to Woolsey on the other side. Both Reynolds and Dixon were there with their teams, too. In a middle of the table a conference phone was buzzing with the chatter of a few men. SG-1 were all seated but Sam, who was standing next to Jack and fidgeting with a remote control.
“Calm down, Carter,” Jack murmured, leaning toward her. “The joints chiefs can’t see you’re not wearing your dress blues!”
She shot him an aggravated look but had no time to reply since Landry called the meeting to order.
“Sirs,” he said in a loud voice so the people on the other end of the conference phone could hear “Mr. Woolsey, General O'Neill and myself have called this meeting to decide, in a manner of speaking, the fate of the galaxy, Colonel Carter has made an interesting discovery with the help of Vala MalDoran. As for Thor, he also has some important things to ask from us and most of all,” he looked pointedly at Jack J., “from Cadet Jack J. O'Neill, who’s recently been rescued from Baal.” He paused. “General O'Neill, you have anything to add?”
Jack cleared his throat and addressed his remarks to the speaker phone. “Yes Sirs. The Tok’ra Malek should join us as soon as his state allows it.”
“Good,” Landry resumed. “Now Colonel Carter, can you explain to us what you have discovered?”
“Yes, sir,” Sam nodded, switching the large screen on, which was connected to a similar screen in the conference room of the Joint Chiefs, and beginning her presentation about the Sangraal’s probable location. As she was reaching the end of her speech, the klaxons sounded. A short while after they had subsided, Malek, Kael and another aide entered the briefing room to join the meeting, earning surprised looks from Woolsey as they made their way over to stand next to Jack. Despite being aware of the transformation, both Jack and Jack J. couldn’t suppress a frown at the sight of Malek’s new host.
Carter resumed. “So what’s been decided is to send SG-1 to the designated coordinates so they can try and find the Sangraal.”
“SG1, minus Lieutenant Colonel Carter.” Jack chimed in “Sorry, Carter, you’re with me, and we’re going to Orilla,” he added upon seeing the surprised look on her face.
“I believe now is the time I should speak,” Thor said in his usual calm voice as he stepped down from his Asgard chair to join both O'Neills at one end of the room. “The presence of Colonel Carter is highly wished to help us complete our research. Our computer models show that the weapon we have designed should work. However, we need the O'Neills and their genetic material for the next phase of the experiments. Colonel Carter is also needed to tune the weapon at best with her knowledge of human physiology, and especially O'Neill’s.”
If Sam could have turned a darker shade of crimson, she probably would have.
All previously ignorant eyes in the room looked alternatively from Sam to Jack as Daniel, Teal'c and Landry smiled smugly. Jack J., frowned, understanding slowly dawning.
Jack winced and stepped ahead. “Yes, well… Ahem… Not to say that our private life is boring, but we need to focus on the main tasks here…”
“I agree,” Woolsey unexpectedly jumped to his rescue. “And for one, what is Baal doing here, unguarded?”
The fearsome image of the system Lord stepped ahead, smiling, and inclined his head toward the IOA representative. “Baal is no more,” he spoke in the host’s voice “I am Malek of the Tok’ra.”
“That’s what I was getting at,” Jack mumbled.
Malek turned slightly to face him. “If you would allow me, O'Neill,”
Jack pinched his lips and waved his hand dismissively. “Sure, go ahead…”
Malek then proceeded to explain what happened after Baal’s capture, specifically talking to Woolsey. He paused, letting the information sink in.
“So you’re here to demonstrate that the procedure worked?” Woolsey enquired.
Malek smiled. “Not really. By mutual agreement with O'Neill, it was decided that I would share any relevant information with you and that is the reason for my presence. I know several things that you do not about the quest for the Sangraal, among them the name of the protector that will be important in the final trials. The only condition is that I come with you,” Malek concluded with a slight bow toward Mitchell.
“It’s not up to me…” Mitchell shook his head.
“Consider yourself a part of the expedition,” Landry interrupted, speaking to the Tok’ra.
“So I take it we now have all the actors of this final plan of yours, General O’Neill?” One of the joint chiefs spoke.
Jack cleared his throat. “Sirs, I am fully aware that it may seem like we’re breaking up our resources by having these two irons in the fire, figuratively speaking. But it is our best shot at striking a decisive blow to the Ori. Adria won’t know what’s coming,”
Woolsey interjected. “You are also aware that I will have to express these precise concerns to the IOA, General?”
“Do what you have to do, Woolsey, I don’t need your approval to launch this mission but your presence at this meeting was requested by the president,” Jack deadpanned.
The IOA representative frowned “Like you said, General, we are breaking up crucial resources, the risks may not be worth it…”
“Mr. Woolsey,” one of the joint chiefs interrupted, “if Jack O'Neill hadn’t taken measured risks several times in the past, we probably wouldn’t be having this meeting right now. Your concerns are noted and the president will read your report as thoroughly as he has in the past, but we need to make a decision. General O'Neill’s plan has been deemed reasonable by this assembly.”
“Very well,” Woolsey sighed. “Note that I am not opposed to the plan, I’m simply worried.”
“Your job is to be worried, Woolsey, ours is to take action,” Jack affirmed. “Now Sirs, I suggest all the participants to the plan get geared up and ready to depart.”
SG1 stood up, signaling the end of the meeting, while Landry went into his office with Woolsey in tow.
Thor looked at both O'Neills “We will return to our ship. We will take your advice this time, O'Neill, and I am informing you that all three of you will be transported to the deck in 20 of your minutes. Please be ready by then.” The small alien nodded then disappeared in a flash of light.
Jack turned to Sam. “Well there’s some improvement…” he shrugged.
“I hate him so much right now!” she murmured.
Jack chuckled putting his arms around her waist as the briefing room was now deserted. “I’m sorry… I guess we’re going to need to invite the joint chiefs to the wedding too…” he said, kissing the top of her head.
“The wedding?” she asked in a small voice.
Jack looked at her raising his eyebrows in an unsure manner “I thought after two years we could… It’s not as if we need to, it’s just… If you don’t want to we’ll just…”
“No, it has nothing to do with that… Jack…” she cut him looking straight in the eyes. “I love you…” she smiled. “We’ll talk more about this later, okay?”
She gave him a quick peck on the lips then stepped back a little, beaming. “How much time did Thor say we had?”
“Then maybe we should get moving?” she winked before turning and heading to the corridor.
Jack smiled to himself and looked at Landry’s office where he seemed to be in deep conversation with Woolsey. He sighed. He supposed he should say ‘goodbye’ before heading out to Orilla… Suddenly a thought occurred to him: where was Jack J.?...
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Sam peeked into the locker room after knocking and figured she was safe since no one responded. She went to her locker and started unbuttoning the jacket of her blue BDU when she heard fabric rustling in the second half of the room on the other side of the lockers.
She frowned. “Hello?”
“Yeah,” she heard in an unmistakable voice.
“Jack?” she asked, surprised as she rounded the lockers to check who was on the other side of the room. “Oh!” She said, quickly pinching her open blouse shut.
Jack J. turned his head toward her, an obvious smirk on his face. Irritation overwhelmed her. She was about to say something nasty when the sad look in his eyes stopped her. She sat on the bench opposite him. He was already fully dressed and she had an uneasy feeling upon seeing Jack O'Neill so young, only it was not exactly Jack O'Neill.
“What is it?” she asked in a gentle voice.
Jack J. smiled sadly and shook his head “Nothing…”
“Jack?” she persisted.
Jack J. sighed and looked her in the eyes. “I guess I hadn’t realized that your relationship with him could have finally gotten beyond professional once the job didn’t get in the way.” He replied.
“Look it’s not….”
“No, you’ve got nothing to explain, Sam… I can call you ‘Sam’?” he asked.
She smiled and nodded.
“I know the feeling, remember? It’s just so difficult sometimes to be the copy, you know?” he said, defeated.
“Jack, you’re not a copy… You might have been the second Loki created you, yes, but from then on, you started on your individual path. You’re Jack J. O'Neill, Air force cadet and you have another chance at a lot of things. I know for a fact that Jack would have wanted that chance….”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Sam.” He interrupted in a soft voice. “I was the same Jack O'Neill, once, remember?”
There was an awkward silence. “Okay, so let’s say that your life sucks…” Sam started.
“No! That’s not what I meant!… I…. Sam…. I may have had…” he hesitated then crooked both fingers from both hands into quotation marks. “‘girlfriends’ since the first day Jack dropped me at the high school, they cannot replace you, and never will. Sara, I could stop thinking of her day and night at some point and I really loved her, we had a great marriage until…. Well…” he paused briefly then resumed “… But you I can’t. It’s been four years, Sam, and it’s like it was only a day. I don’t know if the hormones are helping making me feel that way but I can’t help it. I wish you and Jack all that you deserve…” he snorted. “I just… Don’t take this the wrong way, Sam, but I’ll always… feel… something I shouldn’t for you…” he said finally, once again looking straight into her eyes.
Sam smiled sadly and opened her arms, the fact that her jacket was unbuttoned forgotten. Jack J. hugged her fiercely for a moment, and laid a chaste kiss on her cheek. Then he pulled back a little, his trademark cocky smile back in full force.
“I’d never had pegged you for a flasher, Colonel Carter!” he winked as Sam rolled her eyes and stood up to go back to her locker.
“That wouldn’t have happened if you’d answered my knock, cadet!” she called from the other side of the room. “Besides, I’m wearing the standard issued Air Force bra… Nothing flashy there!”
Jack J. chuckled and exited the locker room.
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Jack J. had to admit he really liked the peaceful atmosphere on Orilla. But after 8 days stuck in a lab with Asgards taking both his and Jack’s blood, putting them both into various machines, and running simulations with an oblivious Sam, he was going nuts.
Today, Thor had finally allowed him to rest a little and he had chosen to go hiking. He had slipped into his BDU and military boots with indescribable pleasure and gone outside the city into the forest. He had found a nice spot overlooking the Asgard city complex and had stopped to enjoy the scenery for a while.
Humans should really take Asgard advice when it came to preserving the environment, he mused. They were probably the most technologically advanced race in the entire galaxy and yet, no pollution could be detected around the city. Vegetation was luxuriant and judging by the many sounds he could hear in the forest, animal life was abundant too. He could live here… Except that there was no lake or trace of running water. The latter brought a frown to his lips.
“Water runs deep underground,” Jack interrupted his thoughts before sitting next to him on the ground, matching his cross legged pose. “Ouch!” he grumbled, quickly extending his legs. “Guess you must appreciate not feeling that pain, huh?” he mumbled, smiling briefly.
“Yeah well… There’s that…” Jack J. retorted while continuing his quiet observation of the Asgard world. “You say there’s water underground?” he asked after a moment.
“Yeah, they have no rivers nor lakes or oceans here… Water is underground. They have vast amounts of fresh water in huge caves resulting from ancient subterranean glaciers. That’s why the vegetation is so important.”
“And how do the animals drink?” Jack J. asked, watching the other man with curiosity.
“Ah that I don’t know… I only know about the water because I once asked Thor about fishing…” Jack smiled.
“And here I thought this was Paradise!” Jack J. snorted.
“Look I…” Jack started.
“It’s okay, Jack, you don’t need to explain.”
“I wasn’t gonna…” Jack dismissed. “I just…” he sighed. “Don’t be a stranger, okay?”
“It’s not easy, Jack…” Jack J. replied, playing with small rocks between his feet. “You of all people should know that. And now that I know about you and Sam…”
“We’re getting married, and I’d like you to attend,” Jack blurted out clumsily.
Jack J. looked at him in surprise. “Talk about twisting the knife in the open wound!”
“I know Sam would want you there,” Jack said softly, looking at the scenery before him.
“I don’t know…” Jack J. said after a moment. “It would be too painful…”
Jack rose on his feet. “Well, promise you’ll think about it, okay?”
“Why did you allow me to live?” Jack J. asked softly.
Jack sighed. “If I remember correctly, you were far from opposed to the idea…”
“That’s because I hadn’t foreseen all the consequences…”
“So you want to bite the bullet because Sam and I are together?” Jack said irritated.
“I’m not suicidal, Jack! I just want to know the reason you asked Thor to modify my DNA so I could live… I’m not so sure I’d have and I was you… Or you were me… Well… you get what I mean…”
Jack sat back down and looked ahead of him. “Do you think it’s easy for me?” he asked softly. “Sometimes I’m feeling horribly guilty for putting you through that bullshit but I’ve done despicable things in my life and for once I wanted to do something good, except it seems to be biting me in the ass every time I get the reports on how you’re doing.”
Jack looked at the younger man. “I’m proud of you, Jack. I’m proud that you’ve chosen to go through the academy again, I’m thrilled at the prospect of your career path, you’ll make full bird at 30, maybe even sooner, and you’ll have years ahead of you for field action with a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge… That’s what I miss the most, action. My knees are shot, I’m an old warhorse, but I knew field operations were done for me when I accepted my first star. Once again I did it for the greater good, because I couldn’t stand the thought of not being there for them…. For her… Even if she was engaged to that cop…”
“Pete?” Jack J. asked.
“Yeah… I loved her enough to let her go, but it hurt like Hell. So I know the feeling.” he added in a softer voice, his look becoming distant. “I still asked because somehow this time, she’s not with a stranger…”
Jack J. snorted. “No, she’s not… But it hurts like Hell…” He threw a stone ahead of him. “I’ll be there,” he finally said, looking at Jack.
“Thanks…” the other man said, starting down the path he had come up. After a few steps, he stopped and turned back to the still immobile young man. “By the way, Sam’s in the lab until late tonight, she had something important to ask Thor. The weapon is ready and currently being adapted to ships. If you wanna know, it’ll spread a cloud of retrovirus which will attack the cells of the people un-harmfully and deliver the correct genetic sequence. They’ll pray but the battery will be depleted… The Ori are in for a severe power complex.”
“Okay…” Jack J. nodded looking at him before turning back to his observation of the lush forest in the valley.
Jack stared at him a moment, a soft knowing smile briefly softening his features, then went down the trail.
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The three stepped down the ramp at the SGC to meet a forlorn Hank Landry. Jack looked at him inquiringly and the other man shook his head with a worried look.
“Carolyn wants you to be checked out before debriefing, suffice to say you won’t be happy, Jack…” Landry said quietly.
Jack frowned. “Well you tell that CMO of yours that after an extended stay at an Asgard facility, we’re perfectly well, even better than when we left here, we don’t need medical check-up.”
“General?” Hank raised an eyebrow warningly.
Hank sighed and motioned for them to go to the briefing room as they gave whatever equipment they carried to the SFs. “I’ll tell Carolyn you’ll go to the Infirmary after the debriefing…”
They joined SG-1 minus Daniel and plus Malek around the table. Cameron looked at Jack worriedly.
“What’s going on?” Jack asked.
“Jackson has been taken by Adria…” he started “but the worst is: he has Merlin’s unfinished weapon with him…”
Jack sat down heavily “Crap!”
Jack J. and Sam exchanged worried looks and a heavy silence fell upon the room.
After a while, Sam cleared her throat. “At least we have the Asgard weapon available…” she said. “Cameron,” she asked her teammate, “Was he injured?”
“No, just very weak after protecting us. We met Merlin but I guess an indefinite time in a stasis pod doesn’t leave you unscathed. He sensed he was not strong enough to finish building his weapon, so he transferred his powers to Jackson and died in the process. After that, Jackson started working on building the weapon, but Adria caught up with us…”
“She was on the planet where we discovered the Sangraal,” Malek supplied. “She tricked us into leading her to the cave where we had several trials to accomplish, the last one being confronting a real dragon.”
Both Jack’s and Jack J.’s eyebrows shot up.
“The protector…” Malek supplied.
“Ah…” Jack made a face halfway between a wince and a smile. “And?”
“I knew the name of its creator… Morgan La fey, according to Baal’s knowledge… Except it was not really the name. Daniel Jackson called it in Ancient and the dragon disappeared. Then we went back to the first cave and were transported to another room where we found Merlin in a stasis pod, as Colonel Mitchell stated. Adria was left in the cave, but it did not prevent her from trying to find us, so every time she was on the verge of finding us, Merlin would transport us to another location. Only the last time she succeeded before we had time to lose her, and Daniel Jackson was caught.”
Once again silence descended upon the room. Jack J. broke it.
“I don’t know much about this Ori business since I was kept outta the loop for a long time… But I think we should try and use Thor’s weapon while searching for Daniel. This will give us some insight about the efficiency of the weapon …”
Landry approved silently and looked at the men and women seated around the table suggestively.
“I think it’s the least we can do while waiting, Sirs,” Cameron finally admitted.
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Jack J. was getting dressed in the VIP quarters he had been given indefinitely. He was stuck on base with nothing to do but go to the recreation room several levels up and play flipper or rip off the unknowing guys who engaged him in a game of poker. In short, he was bored to death. He smoothed the jacket of his BDU on his sides and checked his image on the mirror. It still felt good to see himself dressed in BDUs again. He heard a soft knock and turned to see Jack enter the room.
“Hey!” the General said softly.
“Hey,” Jack J. answered with a smile.
“I came to give you the all clear…”
“Oh?” Jack J. frowned.
Jack winced, knowing full well what the other’s reaction would be at his next words. “Look… for your own security it’s been decided that you resume your vacation at the cabin.”
“What?! So they can use me, mess with my DNA, create a super weapon, and then dispose of me like trash?!”
“What?! You’re gonna give me a lecture?!” Jack J. snarled, his anger rising more by the minute.
Jack sighed wearily. “No… If you must know, I was against that decision. The joint chiefs and the President think it’s best this way.”
Jack J. slumped on the bed behind him. “I’m back to same old, same old, then…” he muttered.
Jack laid a hand on his shoulder. “Look… it’s only two years…”
“Easy for you to say!”
Jack resumed in a firmer tone, “The Cabin is yours for the time being. An extended leave has been arranged with the academy. If I have to make it an order, I will.”
There was a short silence then Jack J. looked at his counterpart frowning, his anger slowly dissipating. “What’s the catch?”
“You need rest, there’s no catch…. And I promise I’ll keep you up to date with what I can in the foreseeable future, until you get assigned to the SGC. You’re not the only one waiting for that, you know?”
“I’ll finally be able to retire,” Jack raised his eyebrows suggestively.
“So that’s the real reason you kept me around, right?” Jack J. quipped.
“Boy, what a smartass you are!”
Jack chuckled. “In the meantime, I have work to do…” he started toward the door. “Oh, Sam will see you shortly.”
“Any news on Daniel?”
Jack’s face darkened and his brow creased with worry. “Not yet, we’re still looking. The novelty is we’ve received strange reports of a Prior of a new kind and SG1’s leaving soon for the designated planet but Sam wants to say goodbye first. I’ll stay here at least until I get reports about this new Prior. It’s good to be here and not in charge,” He winked and pushed the door handle to open it, then snapped his fingers and faced the young man again. “I almost forgot! You’ll be happy to know that on the first planet where the Asgard tested the weapon, the results are very encouraging. They’ve already started spreading the virus on other worlds and it seems to be producing the desired effect.”
“Great… So we saved the world another time? It’s beginning to get boring…”
“That’s the first time YOU save the world… I’m too old for that crap now,” Jack smiled.
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Jack J. parked his truck alongside the shed. He had insisted on driving, claiming that he needed the long hours in a changing landscape to feel really on vacation. He stretched his legs and took a deep breath, smiling as the cool air rushed into his lungs, invigorating him. A hawk chirped in the sky. His trained eyes quickly spotted it and he followed its elegant effortless flight patterns until the bird disappeared from sight.
He grabbed his bag from the back seat and went to pick the keys from underneath the wooden bench next to the entrance.
The smell of the wooden house assaulted his nostrils and, just as the fresh air had minutes before, gave him the sense of peace he craved. Jack had been right, he needed the respite. With the assurance that SGC matters would not be as closed to him as they had been in the past, Jack J. felt better. He closed the door and opened the blinds in the small living room before heading to the bedroom where he stopped in his tracks.
Someone was sleeping in the bed. The person moved slightly, revealing a wisp of blonde hair and his heart beat faster.
He swallowed and stepped forward cautiously. ‘No this was impossible’, he reasoned to himself. As he was nearing the bed, two slender arms came out from underneath the quilt and revealed a very young Sam Carter. Not that he thought that the Sam Carter he knew was old, but the woman before him was younger… Much younger.
“You’re gonna keep your mouth open all day?” she asked, stretching and revealing more of her *really* bare shoulders.
Jack J. gulped. “What are you doing here?”
Sam rolled her eyes. “See, when I woke up, I told her you’d never figure this out…”
“… From the Asgard stasis pod. I asked Thor, well…. The other me asked Thor if we could repeat Loki’s interrupted cloning, so here I am,” she said, unfolding part or the covers in an inviting gesture and Jack had a tantalizing glimpse of what she wore underneath, which was nothing.
“But… why?” he stammered.
“Oh, I don’t know… Because I wanted to revisit what a thrill youth and the academy had been, because I wanted to know if you were as much of a pain in the neck as your old self is….”
“Hey!” He interrupted. “I’m not ‘old’! *He*’s not old… Argh!” He sat on the edge of the bed, his back to her. “You’re crazy, you know that?”
“I must be…” she crept forward and encircled his waist from behind. “I did this because I love you…” she said softly.
“You’re my reward?” he said a bit sarcastically.
“Reward for what?” she asked, kneeling behind him.
“For my sacrifice…”
She slapped his shoulder.
“Hey!” he protested massaging the spot.
“Has the cloning process rendered you stupid?”
He turned with a cocky smile. “I was stupid before, remember….” Then he realized he was facing a very naked Sam Carter and his eyes grew wide.
She smiled suggestively. “You really want to pursue this conversation?”
Jack J. opened and closed his mouth several times until she decided to take things into her own hands. She leaned forward and kissed him.
Something switched in his mind and he held her when she tried to retreat from his embrace. The kiss escalated into something much more passionate which only the need to calm down a little before going further interrupted.
Jack J. was panting, his lips slightly apart. “Wow!”
She smiled sexily. “I’ll second that…”
“You’re not going to compare me with him, right?” he asked, suddenly worried.
She smiled languorously, her eyes shining with mischief. “Your evaluation has been done and validated, Cadet O'Neill.” She raised her eyebrows suggestively and reached for his neck once more.
He stopped her. “So? Better?”
She rolled her eyes. “If you really want to know, it’s the same, now I’m getting cold here, maybe I should get dressed…”
“No!” he said hastily, standing up and fumbling frantically with his clothes. “Same is good…” he said slipping inside the sheets and into her welcoming embrace.
Sometime later they were enjoying some relaxing time, quietly talking and taking pleasure in each other’s company.
“You know, on your part this might seem entirely natural but on my side it’s gonna take a while… I mean… You’ve been with him for what? Two years? It was my first time… With you, I mean…”
“I know,” she said quietly, tracing patterns on his chest.
“Then we’ve got the academy to think of, but I have that covered… I think…” he said smugly.
She rose on her elbow frowning. “What is that?”
“Well we could nail two birds with the same stone…”
“Jack?” she warned.
He grinned widely and pulled at her shoulders so she came to rest on his chest, her eyes level to his. “I’m invited to Jack and Sam’s wedding in a couple of months… Wanna get hitched?”