AN: This story's become a particular favorite of mine, and I hope it does for you, too. Be warned that while the violence in this isn't exactly graffic, the aftermath can be. Consider this a squick alert.
Doctor Maxwell MacDonald was a meek, mild-mannered man. Very intelligent, as his dual doctorates in genetic engineering and cellular biology would attest, but also quite non-confrontational. He'd been tapped for research and development by the NID soon after the debacle with the large alien bug that nearly succeeded in using the Jaffa Teal'c as a breeding ground early in the Stargate Program's history. It was decided that having a geneticist directly on staff could prove to be quite beneficial, and Max did nothing to prove that theory wrong.
When he was presented with multiple genetic samples from a number of SG team members midway through the third year of the program along with the plans for their use, he began to wonder about the morals of the people in charge of Area 51. But he accepted the quickly-offered reassurances that the highest moral standards would be observed, and went on with his work. This was, after all, the scientific chance of a lifetime, and Max was definitely a true scientist. He knew he wouldn't end up in the history books due to the classified nature of the experiments, but he was doing the kind of work that he loved. He was more than satisfied.
Max found himself more intimately involved in one of the experiments than he would have normally, due to the tricky combination of genetics and alien technology. In fact, the first several tries were dismal failures - from the higher-ups' point of view. Max learned his lessons from each trial and moved ahead, finally producing a viable result. What thrilled the reclusive scientist was that he was able to reproduce the results a number of times; the monetary bonus he received from his employers was just icing on the cake.
The geneticist's role became focused on that particular experiment when it was moved to a remote location. He was to monitor the results to watch for degradation, and use whatever results he found to prepare a second run in five years' time. He worked closely with a medical doctor in doing his job, as well as plenty of lab technicians, yet something kept him from growing close to any of them, something unknown to him that separated him into a class by himself. Max wasn't used to such a situation; he'd always at least been able to count on being casually social with his co-workers. However, he adjusted, justifying things by reminding himself that he was doing important work. He just needed to find other friends outside of work.
Something that bled over from his days in Nevada was a deep appreciation of what the SG teams, SG-1 in particular, did to keep the world safe from the numerous threats out there in the galaxy. Max looked forward to reading their mission reports - nominally to check for any technology that he could find useful in forwarding the experiment - and he knew that the other scientists as well as the test subjects did the same. SG-1 was a team of true heroes to the geneticist, willing to stand up for what they believed in no matter what, do whatever was necessary to do the right thing. He could only wish he had that kind of courage.
For a day finally came when he questioned the moral rightness of what he was involved with. Up until that day he trusted that he would never be asked by his employers to do anything that was wrong, that went against his moral ethics. But then he was told to ignore those ethics, even though to do so would cost so much. As he stared at the results of such action, tears streaming from his eyes, he knew of only one thing he could do, one person he could call. He only hoped it would be in time.
Jack O'Neill blinked groggily at his alarm clock as the ringing of his phone dragged him from the slumber he'd just managed to slip into a short time ago. His mind kept playing his last conversation with the ascended Daniel Jackson over and over again, letting him see the look of determined purpose with just a hint of reluctant resignation that his friend wore before leaving to try to take down Anubis. That was the line Jack had asked him to cross. That was the action it was quite likely had taken Daniel from them for good, either because of Anubis or Oma Desala. And now at... three forty-seven in the morning, some moron decided it was a good time for a chat.
"This had better be about a galactic-sized threat if you want to live to see tomorrow," Jack growled into the phone as he tore it from the cradle and brought it to his ear.
"Not... not exactly," a meek voice answered in a hurried whisper. "But I think you're going to want to know about this all the same. It's not right, Colonel O'Neill, and it needs to be stopped."
"Who are you and what in the hell are you talking about?"
There was the sound of a deep breath being taken before the whisper continued. "There's been an ongoing experiment that began at Area 51, but it was moved to a remote location in the Colorado Rockies six months after viable results were achieved. It's all falling apart now, and you need to get up here before we lose all the test subjects!"
Jack shook his head slightly to make sure he was hearing things correctly. "Are you telling me you want me to come up to some random location in the mountains and clean up one of the NID's messes? One I'm sure they shouldn't have been making in the first place, by the way. What makes you think I'd want anything to do with that?"
"Because they're children, Colonel. The test subjects are children. And if you don't stop the others they're all going to die!" There was a loud gasp. "I have to go, I think they're on to me. Please, come up here and save them! They don't deserve to die because I couldn't do enough to save them."
"I've emailed you a file that will tell you everything you need to know. Don't bother trying to track down the address, it's already been eliminated so it couldn't be tracked by the others here. I have to go. Please, Colonel. Do it for the children."
The line went dead.
A little over three hours later, General George Hammond, Doctor Janet Fraiser, and the four members of SG-1 were seated around the briefing room table, all of them with folders in front of them. "Janet and I have read through the information your informant, a Doctor Maxwell MacDonald, sent you, Colonel," Major Samantha Carter began once everyone was settled. "It looks like the rogue NID splinter group got a hold of a number of genetic samples from various SG team members right before you shut down their off-world activities. One of the uses for them was to run a cloning experiment, in an attempt to create a future generation of Stargate Command. There were quite a few unsuccessful attempts before they finally got a viable clone, and the results were able to be duplicated. Six months later, the entire operation was moved to a remote location in the mountains of Colorado. The last results Doctor MacDonald recorded suggests that there were the beginning signs of genetic degradation, and that he was attempting to create a serum that would halt and reverse the effects."
"Do we know if he was successful?" Hammond asked.
"I can't be sure," Janet replied, frowning. "There are a lot of variables I don't know enough about, and that I have a feeling I couldn't recreate if I did. There's mention of an alien device that allowed them to nurture the clones to maturity without any need for a human womb-like environment."
"Why would that be important?" Jack asked.
Jonas Quinn raised a hand. "I thought Doctor MacDonald said the test subjects were children."
Janet held up both her hands to get everyone's attention. "Let me give you some background information about animal cloning so you'll all understand the significance of what the rogue NID people have done. I took a closer look into the subject after I heard about the problems the Asgard were having. Our system of cloning takes the nucleus from a cell of the organism - the part that holds the DNA - to be cloned and injects it into a donor egg that's had its nucleus removed. Then, the two of them are fused using electricity and implanted into a surrogate mother's womb where it matures like any other embryo. However, this baby is a genetic clone of the DNA donor."
"But what about the egg?" Sam asked. "Surely not all the DNA stored in the mitochondria is eliminated."
"You have a point there, Sam. This method of cloning doesn't really produce a one hundred percent identical clone. But it's as close as we can get considering our current level of technology."
"You know, you two have lost me," Jack told the two women with a scowl. "I think I get how the clone is created, but what's the stuff about an identical clone? And what's the point?"
Janet sighed then gave the colonel a small smile. "An identical clone would match the original in every way. The clone created using the process I just described uses outside DNA from the donor egg to complete the process of forming all the genetic material it needs to become a complete, viable organism. There are minor DNA differences."
Jack nodded. "So they're not completely the same. Okay, got it. But that doesn't answer my second question. What's the point?"
Jonas leaned forward. "I think I know. Because the rogue group is using a different system that apparently doesn't require an outside source for nurturing the embryo to maturity, the assumption is that they probably aren't using a donor egg either. And so these clones are truly identical clones to the originals."
Sam smiled at him. "That's it."
"So these people have perfected human cloning techniques, is that what you're saying?" Hammond asked, eyes wide as he considered the implications.
"Not exactly, sir," Janet refuted. "They're close, and if this serum that Doctor MacDonald was attempting to create is successful it could lead to ironing out what bugs there are."
"The group is on a five year time table," Sam said. "They have plans to start another batch in two years' time."
Teal'c's eyebrow went up, creasing the golden tattoo in the middle of his forehead. "Does this mean that the clones the rogue NID group have already created have been in existence for three years?" the Jaffa asked.
Sam nodded. "That's exactly what I'm saying. The only positive factor I can see here is that they haven't used the nanotechnology we've encountered to accelerate the clones' growth. They might on the next batch though."
"Assuming there is a next batch," Jack said darkly. "General, permission to track down this secret lab and put it out of commission."
Hammond looked at Sam. "I take it you've discovered the location of the lab, Major?"
Sam smiled grimly. "Yes, I have. Doctor MacDonald hid it well, but I found it amongst his notes."
Jonas looked at her confused. "If he called Colonel O'Neill to tell him to come stop the lab, why would he hide the location?"
"I think he did it so no one else would know he'd given that information away if the file was discovered by someone other than me," Sam explained. "I know that sounds conceited and a little far-fetched, but the latitude and longitude coordinates were hidden amongst some complicated math equations that were included about the device used to incubate the clones. Each of the wrong sums caused by the odd data, placed side by side, makes up my birthdate. And I'm not sure anyone else would have gotten the significance, most likely writing off the equations as inaccurate and leaving it at that."
"And I suppose the false equations would lead someone in the rogue group to think he'd messed up the information he'd sent. We'd know that the experiment was going on, but would be running around in circles trying to find out where and how." Jonas nodded his understanding.
"During our attempts to answer those questions, they would be free to move the location of the experiment to a new, unknown facility, as well as take steps to insure the lack of discovery in the future," Teal'c added.
Jack released an explosive breath. "We're wasting time here, folks. There are kids' lives at stake, and we're sitting around here gabbing about things that can be discussed later if at all."
Hammond nodded. "The colonel's correct." He looked at Jack as he stood, the others at the table immediately following suit. "Take whatever teams you think you'll need and shut those people down. Be sure to take whatever files you can. The more information we have on the experiment and the rogue group the better. Dismissed." The older man walked determinedly toward his office and the red phone that would connect him to the president. The country's Commander-in-Chief needed to be informed as to what was going on.
O'Neill looked at the others. "You heard the man. Let's get moving."
"Colonel," Janet said quickly, stopping him in his tracks as the rest of SG-1 moved swiftly out of the room. "I'd like to be part of this mission. You just might need me when you find those kids."
"Weren't you listening, Doc?" he asked with a small, tight smile. "I said let's get moving. That meant you, too."
"Thank you, sir," the petite doctor said with a satisfied grin before practically running out the door. Jack was right behind her.
It took next to no time to take a helicopter to Steamboat Springs, the largest city nearest the location Sam had been given via Doctor MacDonald's notes. Upon landing, Jack sent out SG-11 to pick up the arranged ground transportation that would take them to the site. "You're one hundred percent sure about this information, Carter?" the mission commander asked his 2IC as he looked over SG teams 6, 15, and 17 as they milled about the small airfield they'd landed at, double checking gear and equipment.
"As sure as I can be, sir," Sam replied.
"Doc, your team will wait outside with SG-6 until I call for you. I want to make sure things are clear for you to reach the kids."
Janet nodded, the nurse and three medics she'd picked to accompany her standing behind her with the medical equipment they'd brought along. "Yes, Colonel."
"Colonel, do we have time for a little recon?" Sam asked speculatively.
Jack's brows furrowed. "Why do you ask?"
The blonde major turned to him, her expression thoughtful. "I was thinking we could ask around at a few of the grocery stores and gas stations, see if anyone knows about any people who have come in somewhat regularly over the last three years. We have a semi-complete list of personnel involved with the project; we might be able to track their movements, find out what kind of supplies they're stocked with."
Jack nodded. "I think we can take a little time for that. We might be able to find out if they've supplemented the arsenal the rogue group is sure to have provided."
"We do have a complete list of SGC personnel they have genetic samples from, don't we?" Jonas asked.
"Yes," Sam confirmed quietly, her gaze dropping to the ground.
The Kelownan's expression became concerned. "Sam? What is it? Are you okay?"
The physicist took a deep breath before raising her eyes. "They have samples from over thirty SG team members as well as thirteen others connected to the project, and were successful at creating clones of twenty of them."
Jack shared a look with Janet before both pairs of brown eyes narrowed. "We knew that before we came here, Carter. What did you manage to dig up since?"
"As you know, the subjects' files, as well as the personnel files, were encrypted, each individually. I was only able to break a small number of the codes before we left. But I kept working as we waited for take-off and on the flight over here, and I managed to put together the list of subjects." Sam took another deep breath. "They cloned SG-1, sir, all four of us. From the footnote on Teal'c's file, they were planning on getting a hold of a larval symbiote for him at the appropriate time."
"Crap." Jack looked over his shoulder and called over Major Thomas Kamrath, the commander of SG-15. "Major, I want you to take your team and do some asking around at the nearby grocery stores and gas stations about the scientists we're likely to run into at this lab," he ordered once the man came over. "See if any of them have been coming here for supplies and if so, what they've been stocking up on. Pay special attention to anything they might have picked up that was out of the ordinary. You've got names and pictures in the briefing materials you were provided. Be back in an hour."
"Yes, sir," Major Kamrath replied with a brief salute. Jack returned it, and SG-15 was off.
"Let me get this straight," the grey-haired man said to his second once the other team was gone. "We're probably going to be running into miniature versions of us in that facility?"
Sam nodded. "Most likely, sir. You, me, Teal'c... and Daniel."
Jack's breath caught in his throat. "Daniel? They cloned Daniel?"
"It makes sense, sir. They were looking to recreate the best and the brightest the SGC has to offer. In fact, from what I've seen, cloning SG-1 was a priority. We're one of the most successful field teams out there, and we're definitely the most unique. They were hoping to harness our abilities while training the clones to have complete loyalty to them." Sam swallowed painfully, using the facts and figures to hide the anguish she was feeling about having to face the younger version of the friend she wasn't sure was still out there. She could only hope Anubis hadn't succeeded in killing him.
"What about me?" Jonas asked. "I'm not trying to sound conceited or anything, but I am a member of SG-1."
"You were not a member at the time the clones were created," Teal'c answered before Sam could. "There has been no evidence that any more clones were created since that time. I am sure, however, that they are in possession of your genetic material and are planning on utilizing it upon the commencement of the next experiment."
Janet nodded. "I'd be willing to wager on that, especially after your little run-in with Nirrti and its presumed aftereffects. You wouldn't believe the questions I was asked after we removed that brain tumor." She raised a hand when she saw the man's eyes widen. "Don't worry. I didn't tell them anything. That's all covered by doctor/patient confidentiality. They weren't too happy about going away unsatisfied, but I really don't care."
Jack cleared his throat. "Is there anyone else we should know about?" he asked, a little nervous about the answer he'd get.
Sam sighed. "They tapped Janet, Sergeant Walter Harriman, Master Sergeant David Siler... and Cassie. Those are the most important people I can think of right off hand, sir. They didn't clone General Hammond, but I don't know why."
"They cloned Cassie?" Janet asked in a whisper, her expression stricken.
"You know why," Sam replied, tears in her eyes. Janet could only nod.
"Did they clone Nyan?" Jack asked softly, out of respect for a mother's pain. "I mean, he is the other resident alien on staff, and he's not too shabby in the brains department."
Sam shook her head, one last sniff representing her success in getting her emotions under control. "No. They started the experiment right before he came over from Bedrosia. I wouldn't be surprised if they have a sample for the next round of experiments though, like what'll probably happen with Jonas."
Jack raised his right hand, index finger extended. "If we don't stop them. And I have every intention of stopping them. Come on. Let's make sure everyone's ready for when SG-11 and SG-15 get back."
Whatever resistance the team from the SGC was expecting from the personnel at the lab facility, it wasn't what they found. They had the element of surprise working to their advantage in the beginning, but not long after they infiltrated the perimeter, the whole place became a war zone. Through sheer luck, all the SGC personnel managed to escape unscathed when the mercenaries protecting the facility fell back to the building proper. Jack left SG-11 and SG-17 to secure a tight perimeter around the blocky stone construction, SG-6 to wait with Fraiser and her team, and led SG-1 and SG-15 inside to mop things up, hopefully before anyone was completely successful in destroying the evidence of the experiment that had made everything necessary.
A cell of resistance became evident almost immediately upon the two teams' entrance, and SG-15 was dispatched to take care of it. Once SG-1 had moved further into the building, Jack split them up into two teams of two, Sam and Jonas to look for the children and the alien technology used in the cloning process, and Teal'c and himself to hunt down the scientists and administrative staff. After admonishing the younger members of his team to stay in radio contact, he led Teal'c down a long hallway that stretched off to their left.
"It is unfortunate that the scientists were unwilling to surrender," Teal'c said a while later as he and Jack entered what appeared to be the main office of the complex. "Our search for information would be much aided by their input."
"Which is why they weren't," Jack retorted. The Jaffa inclined his head in acknowledgment. "Although I have to admit, I felt a bit of satisfaction every time I pulled the trigger."
"As did I, O'Neill. These surroundings are more reminiscent of a military barracks than a place to raise children. One must wonder how the experiment was proceeding."
Jack's eyes darkened even further than they had after he'd heard about the possibility of seeing a clone of his recently absent friend. "I've been trying not to think about that. I might be tempted to waste a few clips on useless corpses." His words halted abruptly when Teal'c raised a hand in warning and tilted his head toward a slightly open door on the right hand wall. A moment later both of them could hear a weak moan.
Jack quickly stepped over to the door and opened it further. His breath caught when he saw the bleeding mass of humanity that was revealed sprawled inside the closet. "What do you think happened?" he asked softly, kneeling next to the unconscious figure and checking his pulse after turning on the light above him.
"I believe this is Doctor MacDonald," Teal'c replied, his voice as quiet as his team leader's. "The other scientists must have suspected his actions in regards to our current infiltration of the laboratory and retaliated."
"Damn," Jack swore, scowling. "I was hoping to get him out alive. He won't even make it out of the room in this condition."
"I... I knew... you'd come... Colonel," a raspy whisper said confidently from the floor of the closet. Jack and Teal'c looked down in surprise at a set of barely-focused grey-green eyes. "I... I knew I... could... count on... SG-1."
"Yeah, we're getting far too good at cleaning up NID messes," Jack said, his gentle tone belying his sarcastic words. "How long have you been here?"
Max swallowed with difficulty. "Not... long. The others... realized... what I'd done... when they... heard the reports... of you... starting your raid." He gave them a wry half-smile. "You can... see... the results."
Teal'c knelt down opposite Jack. "What of the children?"
"They should be... in their... living quarters. One level... down. All... twenty... of them."
A brief burst of static from the two team members' radios cut off Jack's next question. "Colonel, this is Carter. Jonas and I found a set of stairs heading down to a lower level and are splitting up. We've found no signs of resistance so it should be safe."
Jack lowered his head to where his radio rested in his vest. "Copy that. Who's going down?"
"That would be me, Colonel," Jonas responded. "Sam's going to check out the few rooms we're guessing are labs on this level."
"He's... right. Those are... labs," MacDonald gasped.
"We've got confirmation that the rooms are labs. Teal'c and I found Doctor MacDonald in the main office."
Max gestured and caught Jack's eye. "No one should... be there... or with the... children. They think... their destruction... protocol... was successfully... initiated... when you came."
Jack gave the dying man a small smile. "I take it you did something to prevent that?"
Max tried to return the expression, but it came out more as a painful grimace. "Rewrote program... when they kept me... from the children. Did it... before... I called."
"Good man," Jack whispered, unable to keep up the eye contact. He reached for his radio once more. "Carter, things should be clear for both of you. The other scientists tried to initiate a destruction protocol before throwing themselves at our bullets, but MacDonald took the punch out of it without them knowing. Proceed with caution."
"Understood." Sam's acknowledgment was echoed by Jonas, and the radios went silent.
Max coughed up a few splatters of blood as Jack and Teal'c considered what to ask next. "I don't think... I can... last much longer," the scientist breathed. "On shelf... to your left... is case... with... leftover samples... of my serum. Also... as many samples... as I could... get... together... before caught." He gave a tiny smile. "And my journal."
Teal'c reached in and grabbed the metal box from the top shelf on the left side of the closet. He frowned when there didn't appear to be a way to open it. "Doctor MacDonald, there does not appear to be a way to remove the contents."
"Small mark... center of top. Thumbprint. Only... SG-1."
"What do you mean, only SG-1?" Jack asked.
"Programmed scan... only five thumbprints... accepted. SG-1."
Jack shared a look with the Jaffa then looked back at Max. "Can you tell us where to find any other information? Like details of the experiment, complete personnel lists, outside contacts, anything that might connect these people to the NID proper?"
Max nodded as his eyelids fell shut. "Already done. Encrypted... hidden... files. Major Carter... can find. Brought you... here."
"You thought of everything, didn't you?" Jack asked rhetorically, shaking his head.
"Only one... who would... talk." The prone man managed to pry open his eyes. "Save... the children?"
Before Jack could answer, his radio crackled to life again. "SG-niner, this is SG-one-five-niner. Looks like the last of the hostiles are down. Should be clear for SG-6 and medical."
The colonel grabbed his radio. "Roger that. SG-6, escort Fraiser's team in then help SG-15 sweep the place. We've got three upper levels and at least one lower, and I don't want any hostiles or surprises left behind."
"Yes, sir," Major Griff, commander of SG-6, replied sharply.
"I think I've reached the living quarters, Colonel," Jonas' voice reported. "But it's awfully quiet down here."
Max smiled when he heard the announcement, his eyes fluttering shut once again. "They were... taught to be... silent... unless spoken to. But... you... found them." With that, he sighed his last breath and died.
Jack shut his eyes and shook his head. Everything Max had told him proved he had been one of the good guys, and it wasn't fair that he wasn't going to see the results of his sacrifice. "Jonas, how are the kids?" he asked quietly as he felt a sturdy hand on his shoulder. He gave his Jaffa friend a look of gratitude.
"Just a second, Colonel. I have to finish prying the door..." There was a brief moment of silence before the Kelownan's voice was heard again. "Okay, I'm in. Now..." His words were cut off sharply by a loud gasp. "Oh my god. Oh my god. This is... oh my god. It's like the scientists... the radiation..." The transmission was cut off.
"Jonas? Jonas, what the hell is going on? Jonas, come in!" Jack barked, worry washing over him like a wave.
"Jonas Quinn, please respond," Teal'c repeated tensely into his radio after another moment of silence.
"Jonas, are you okay?" Sam's voice asked, deep concern more than apparent.
Jack grit his teeth and sprang to his feet, Teal'c letting go of his shoulder and smoothly following suit immediately after. "That's it. We're coming down there," he said into the radio.
Static crackled for a moment. "No, no, you don't have to do that," Jonas said breathlessly before swallowing quite audibly. "You really don't want to see this."
Jack noted Teal'c's raised eyebrow and mentally agreed with the barely-expressed confusion. "What is it, Jonas? What did you find?"
"They're dead, Colonel. The children are dead. I think those protocols had more punch left in them than Doctor MacDonald realized. They had to have." A deep breath being taken could be heard clearly. "It's not pretty."
"Shit," Jack whispered as Sam gasped. He sighed. "Did you hear that, Doc?"
"I heard," Janet's voice replied quietly. "I'll head there first to see what I can figure out."
"Take a right at the main hallway's first intersection. Jonas, why don't you meet her at the top of the stairs? Then you can help Carter with whatever technology she's come across. You don't have to go back down."
A puff of air blowing by the microphone echoed out from the radio's speaker. "No, I'll be okay. It'll go faster if I lead Doctor Fraiser's team directly to the right room. There are more doors down here than there were upstairs on this side of the building. I just... can't go back inside that particular room."
Two sets of brown eyes met and shared an understanding of the sentiment. "You don't have to," Jack told the younger man. "Once Fraiser's down there, why don't you check out the rest of those rooms? That way you'll be close enough if the doc needs you."
"Thank you, Colonel."
"We'll finish checking out these offices then meet you down there. Or do you need some help up here, Carter?"
Sam's somewhat shaky voice responded. "I'll eventually need help cataloguing what I've found and getting it all ready for transport back to the SGC, but for now I'm just taking it all in. We may have to get a hold of our allies again, sir. I think they're still missing a few things."
Jack sighed. Would it ever stop? "I'll let Hammond know."
"Oh, thinking of that, when you speak with him, could you have him send another transport truck up here for this? Most of the devices I'm seeing are relatively small, but a large truck is still in order I think." The colonel could hear the woman hiding behind her scientific find and couldn't fault her for the effort. He was doing the same behind the structure of command.
"It's only a four and a half hour drive. It'll probably take us longer to get everything ready. Consider it done, Major."
"Thank you, sir."
Teal'c moved over to the desk on the opposite wall from the closet and picked up the telephone. "There is no dial tone, O'Neill," he announced. "I believe we will be required to use our cellular telephones."
Jack nodded. "I figured as much, although getting a clear signal in the mountains is going to be tricky. Let's finish up this search then we'll give it a try. I don't want to leave Jonas alone too long." Teal'c bowed his head slightly in agreement, and the two of them proceeded to do so.
Jonas met Janet and her team at the base of the stairs. "Hi, Janet," he greeted her with a weak smile.
She touched his arm gently. "Are you okay?"
"I will be. Let me lead you to that room. If you need anything else, I'll be checking out the other rooms and should be close enough to help."
When they got to the mostly-open door, the doctor couldn't help but notice the mess to the left in the corner at the end of the hall. With a frown she realized the state of affairs was looking more and more bleak by the second. Seeing Jonas keep his eyes resolutely away from the doorway, she decided to let him off the hook as her team geared up for a possible hazardous situation. "I think we can take it from here, Jonas. Go ahead and look around. We'll be fine." Jonas nodded and headed to the next door down on his right.
The young man's brows creased in confusion when he opened the door and stepped inside the new room. There were sliding panel doors along most of the walls to his right and left, and a mirror covered the wall directing in front of him. Just in front of that mirror were two small, lightly-cushioned chairs facing each other. Jonas wasn't sure what the purpose of the room would be, so he slid open the first door to his right to reveal nothing but a large wooden box with a round opening on the top. A glance inside the hole revealed clumps of cloth. His sudden suspicions were confirmed when he opened the next door and found a rack of green, toddler-sized BDU pants.
This was a dressing room for the children. The first closet - on both sides Jonas confirmed after a quick check - held a hamper for the tiny pajamas. Then pants, BDU button-up shirts that matched, black T-shirts, a built-in dresser with ten drawers in two columns of five that held underwear and socks, and finally a shoe rack that held numerous pairs of plain black hi-top sneakers. Apparently they wouldn't graduate to combat boots until they were a little older. The only difference between the two sides was that the BDUs were green on the right and blue on the left. The chairs must be to let the kids sit down to put on the bottom half of their daily outfits.
Finding nothing of immediate value, Jonas moved on to the last room on that side of the hall. When he stepped inside, he instantly knew the purpose of the space. He'd seen classrooms for children numerous times on Kelowna, as well as pictures in books and articles about schools on Earth. There were two large but low round tables and twenty tiny desks to the right side of the room. Full bookshelves took up the far left-hand corner, while ten computers evenly spaced on a low, sturdy shelf with the appropriate number of small chairs before them took up the near corner. What separated this room from any of the other classrooms he'd seen before was the total lack of decoration, of recognition of accomplishments, individual or otherwise. There were no banners proclaiming an upcoming holiday, no splashes of color from a childish drawing of whatever animal they were studying that week. It was cold and sterile, and what disturbed Jonas the most was that he knew this was all for a group of three-year-olds. When did they get to play and do other things three-year-olds did? When did they get to be children? He wanted to know, especially now that he knew they'd never get the chance to make up for the lack.
Tears stinging his blue-green eyes, he stumbled across the hall to the first door to the right of the stairs that led to the main floors above. This was the commissary. There were five tables that each seated four with enough space between them to allow for easy travel while carrying a tray. A serving line like the one at the SGC was against the right hand wall, a sliding panel above it that suggested the kitchen was on the other side.
A few moments later Jonas had confirmed that suggestion. It was a modern space, the latest polished-steel models of all the important appliances gleaming in the dimmed lighting that was prevalent throughout the basement level so far. Before he could move on to the next room, a splash of color caught out of the corner of his eye in the otherwise black, white, and chrome-colored room demanded that he check more closely. There, behind the rack where quite a few pots and pans were hung, lay a male body in a large puddle of rapidly darkening blood. Rigor mortis had set in, although it hadn't completely stiffened the entire body. Jonas' eyes widened dramatically, and he reached for his radio without shifting his gaze. "Colonel? I found something else."
"What is it?" Jack asked distractedly, the sound of shuffling papers clear behind him.
"I found another body."
There was silence from the colonel. "Where?" Janet's voice asked quickly.
Jonas swallowed, finally able to tear his eyes away from the gruesome spectacle as he turned his back on it. "The kitchen. Second door down from the stairway across the hall from the bunkroom. But I don't think you need to hurry. He's been dead for a while. Gunshot to the chest."
"You just don't have any luck today, do you, Jonas?" Jack asked with resignation.
"Apparently not, Colonel."
"Are you okay?" Sam asked softly.
Jonas took a deep breath and released it. "I will be once we get away from here. I'm going to check the other rooms. It'll be easier if I keep moving."
Jack sighed. "If you're sure. You don't have to, you know."
"I know, and thank you. I'm going to get going. There was nothing else in either of the other two rooms on the side of the hall opposite the stairway, by the way. Just thought I'd let you know."
"Thanks for the update. Keep us posted. O'Neill out." The radio went dead.
Jonas shook his head and left the kitchen. He found a pantry through the next door, and the lack of anything out of the ordinary helped him regain his equilibrium. The last two doors on that side of the hall were bathrooms, again empty. That left the door at the end of the hall.
The brown-haired man slowly opened the door, immediately taking note of the bright white tiles covering the floor. There was a short mini-hallway that led to another door, with a door to either side just a few feet away. A quick inspection revealed two locker rooms complete with shower facilities, empty except for twenty towels and sets of pajamas in the lockers. Jonas then went to the final door, finding the inner workings of the building behind it.
He found the circuit breakers and a back-up generator, as well as a pair of hot water heaters. There was a large furnace, and plenty of pipes running along the ceiling and walls. Lastly, he found an industrial-sized washer and dryer tucked away in a corner along with a counter with a cabinet underneath next to a deep, dual-basined sink. Opening the cabinet doors he found laundry supplies and an iron before slight movement to his left behind the two appliances made him stiffen in dread.
"Come on, Jonas," he quietly berated himself. "If it's moving it can't be dead, now can it?"
He stepped slowly and deliberately toward the space between the washer and dryer, the last place he'd caught the movement. His hand couldn't help but hover over his holstered sidearm, a small part of him eager to run into the person who could do such a horrible thing to a group of innocent children. Harsh, high-pitched breathing managed to reach his ears over the hum of the different working systems when he finally got close enough to touch the metal casing of the two machines. "Hello?" he asked hesitantly. That breathing took away from the imaginings of a vicious killer waiting to pounce. It sounded close to hyperventilating. "Who's there?"
Jonas poked his head between the appliances and peered intensely into the shadows they produced. A tiny form in a black T-shirt and green BDU pants was barely visible peeking back, large blue eyes open wide and tiny toes on one bare, exposed foot curling and uncurling in a perceptual sign of fear and taut nerves. The man's jaw dropped. It looked like one of the kids had escaped after all.
"Hi there," he said soothingly once he'd recovered from his shock and knelt down so as not to tower over the tiny form. "My name is Jonas. Why don't you come out of there? I promise not to hurt you." There was no response. "I'm sure that can't be very comfortable back there. My friends and I came here to help you. Will you let me?" Again, nothing.
"Wonderful," he whispered to himself. "My luck obviously hasn't improved." He sighed and turned about ninety degrees away from the child. He wasn't quite willing to stand and give the impression he'd given up on the boy. "Colonel?" he queried into his radio. There was a brief burst of static then nothing. "Colonel, this is Jonas." More static. He looked around at the pipes and wires that surrounded him. "Obviously I'm running into radio interference," he muttered, lifting his left hand away from his radio and up to the bridge of his nose where he squeezed tightly, closing his eyes.
Jonas didn't know how long he'd allowed himself to wallow in self-pity - it had been a long day so far, and it was only about noon - when a light touch to his shoulder drew his attention back to the present. He slowly turned his head and saw the little boy he'd been seeking next to him on his hands and knees, his right arm extended to lightly brush his fingers against the patch on the right shoulder of Jonas' uniform. The wide blue eyes were glued to it as well. "Well, hey there," Jonas said softly, not wanting to scare the child back into their previous stalemate. "You seem to like that patch. That's what my friends and I wear to tell everyone what team we're on. It's called SG-1. Pretty neat, huh?"
The boy finally looked him in the face at the sound of the team designation. He swallowed, swept his fingers across the patch one last time, and lifted his arms in a mute appeal to be held and carried. Jonas was floored by the apparently sudden turnaround, but wasn't willing to look a gift horse in the mouth. He gently took the boy into his arms and rose to his feet, a lump in his throat rising when the small head rested wearily against his shoulder. "Thank you for trusting me," Jonas whispered into the tiny ear, lightly brushing his cheek against the short blond hair. The boy merely sighed and shifted closer.
Jonas had just reentered the main hallway when his radio crackled to life. "Colonel, we're only counting nineteen bodies," Janet announced. "There's also a pair of toddler-sized socks by the bunkroom doors as well as a miniature green BDU shirt, both splattered with blood. I think the last child is wandering around out there."
"In this mess?" Jack replied incredulously.
"I haven't found anyone in the labs," Sam said.
"O'Neill and I have only discovered Doctor MacDonald in the administration offices," Teal'c added.
"There have only been adults so far amongst the soldiers that were defending this place," Major Kamrath said after a beat.
Jonas awkwardly fumbled for his radio while trying not to disturb his passenger. "I've got him," he finally managed to transmit. "He was hiding in the utility space down here."
There was a small gasp. "Is he all right?" Janet asked.
The brown-haired man leaned against the wall to the right of the bunkroom doors. "You can come check him. I'm just outside where you are."
"So that's where you ended up," Janet said a few moments later when she appeared at the bunkroom doors pulling on a fresh pair of latex gloves. "I poked my head out about five minutes ago, but I couldn't see or hear where you'd gone."
"I hope you didn't try the radio. There was nothing but interference where I was."
"No, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I didn't want to interrupt your search." The auburn-haired woman looked up at the child her friend held. "He's a beautiful child," she murmured. "Do we know his name?"
Jonas shook his head. "He hasn't said anything. I didn't even think I was going to be able to get him to come out from behind the washer and dryer where I found him. But something about my SG-1 patch fascinated him and he came out on his own." His expression became stricken. "Is he going to get sick from the radiation, too?"
Janet blinked. "Radiation? There was no radiation here. Anything strong enough to kill this many people this quickly would have registered on our equipment before we moved in, and no one's registered anything since."
"Then what... what killed them?" he whispered. He noted the lack of reaction from the child in his arms. "And what's wrong with him?"
"Shock would be my guess. From the footprints and clothing we found inside," Janet explained, gesturing toward the room she'd just come out of, "I'd say he was in the bunkroom when the others died." She reached out and brushed a gentle hand across the boy's cheek. "I think I'll save my guesses on what happened for later. For now, I'm just going to check a few things and make sure he's not injured."
The once-over, limited by the lack of participation from the patient and proper facilities, gave Janet enough confidence that the tiny blond would be fine until they got back to Cheyenne Mountain. "I'll be able to do the in-depth tests I'll need there, but for now I'd have to say there's nothing physically wrong with him. We'll be able to put a name to the face once I've done a DNA comparison." She frowned slightly. "Although I have a niggling suspicion..."
Jonas shifted the boy in his arms slightly as his brows furrowed. "Who do you think this is?" he asked.
"I can't be sure, and I really don't want to guess at this point. Take him upstairs, keep him warm, and talk to him. Make sure he stays connected to reality. He's not completely catatonic and it's best if it stays that way."
"He's not? It sure seems that way."
"He's holding you. Not very tightly, I admit, but his hand is hooked over your shoulder. That and," she paused a moment as the child shifted minutely in a delayed reaction to Jonas' motion, "he's reacting to stimuli, however sluggishly. With time, he'll come back to us."
Jonas nodded. "I see. I think I'll go grab some extra clothes from the dressing room before I take him upstairs, especially socks and a button-up shirt. Thanks, Janet."
The diminutive doctor smiled. "Any time. Now go. You'll both feel better once you do." Her expression faded to one of concern once the traumatized pair was out of sight. "At least, I hope so," she finished her thought quietly, then returned to her team in the bunkroom.