Second To None – Sixth WOT
Sequel Information: 1. To Sleep, Perchance To Dream, 2. Ay, There's The Rub, 3. For In This Sleep Of Death, 4. What Dreams May Come, 5. Second To None – Zero Week, 6. Second To None – First WOT, 7. Second To None – Second WOT, 8. Second To None – Third WOT (companion piece Indian Boy and Coyote), 9. Second To None – Fourth WOT, 10. Second To None – Fifth WOT
Series Information: Jon's Series (To Sleep Perchance to Dream)
Categories: Humor, POV, Action Adventure
Content Level: PG-13
Content Warning: Language
Summary: Jon-Jack's Clone-tries to stay busy during Basic Training – Sixth and Final WOT – Graduation
Archive Permissions: Any who want it are welcome. Just give me credit.
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, Gekko Productions; not me. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement intended. The story is the property of the author and may not be posted without the author's consent.
Author's Notes: Here is part 11 in this series. Yes, the often called for 'mini-me in basic' story, part seven. This is the final chapter in this story.
Special Thanks: To Skypig for the suggestion that will trump Jon's pranks. Extra special thanks to Jillian for helping me get past the plot problems. And a special thanks to all the wonderful readers who have commented on my story. You have kept me going and helped me to correct my mistakes. Thanks for helping me to perfect this story. As a special thank you, I have updated all the older chapters with fixes in grammar, spelling, and some new story content. Mostly stuff to support and further the existing plot lines. Don't worry. I didn't mess up the time line.
"A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do, nothing else." Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Sixth WOT Agenda: Airman's Coin Ceremony, Tech School Briefing, Haircuts, Airman's Run, Retreat, Honor Graduate Ceremony, Open House, Parade/Graduation, Town Pass
When Jon got up Sunday morning, it was with some regret. This was the start of his last Week of Training, Sixth WOT. After graduation, Jon would be back at the SGC fighting to protect Earth. Back to risking life, limb, and sanity for people who might never know that a battle was taking place.
The rest of his Flight didn't feel regret. They felt elation. This was the first day that they were allowed to wear their blue Class B uniform, an outward symbol to all the other trainees that they were in their final week. A symbol that, in spite of all its challenges, more trainees completed BMT than failed it. But for Jon, it was more a symbol of the end of this phase of his new life.
Yes, Jon felt regret that his peaceful days were almost at an end. But he was also excited to return to what he considered to be his reality. He felt that he was ready. He was Jon O'Neill, Jack's clone with all his memories, skills, and abilities, but way better knees. And it was time to get back to work.
But the Class B uniform provided Jon with his first challenge of the week; where to conceal his pistol? Unlike BDU's, the Class B uniform didn't have any good places to hide a pistol. Jon spent several minutes in the latrine trying different configurations before deciding on the ankle holster. Not the most secure or comfortable location, but at least it didn't look like he was trying to hide anything, let alone a loaded pistol. One that he shouldn't have.
Before long breakfast was over, the dorm was clean, and the Flight was once again gathered in the dayroom as TSgt Vega outlined their week.
"Good morning. I see that you all figured out what the uniform of the day is. This week is a bit more stressful than the last few weeks. Not because of the content but because it is graduation week. You also have the added stress of performing for the President. I'm not trying to make matters worse, but this is a REALLY big deal. You will all be watched closely for anything and everything. Be on your absolute best behavior.
"Now, that said, we don't really have much to do this week until the graduation events, except practice, practice, practice. We will be doing PC and drill practice whenever we can.
"Monday you will all receive a job classification briefing. This briefing will walk you through the Air Force Specialty Code that has been selected for you, based on your test scores and physical limitations.
"This briefing will be followed up by a Technical School briefing. The Tech School briefing will tell you what is expected of you upon reaching your technical school, how you will travel there, as well as the consequences of failing to adhere to any and all standards taught here at Lackland.
"Tuesday is your second chance to conquer the confidence course. This time, you know what to expect and don't have the added pressure of Warrior Week." TSgt Vega gave them a grim smile, "As such, I expect you all to complete the course in record time with no errors.
"Now, Wednesday is your last chance to clean up and get a proper haircut before the graduation events start. Everyone will be required to get a haircut, no exceptions. We will also have a dress rehearsal for the Coin Ceremony. This is more to ensure that you know where to stand than anything else. We will go over the ceremony in detail at that time.
"Security will also get tighter on Wednesday. Sometime that evening, President Hayes will land. Do not violate any of the security protocols. The Secret Service has absolutely no sense of humor when it comes to the President's safety. Expect to be restricted to the dorm that evening at the very least.
"On Thursday, providing you haven't screwed up and been recycled, we start the graduation events. First of all, if you have family coming, make sure they attend the Family Orientation briefing. It is required. There will be two briefings, one at 0730 and another at 1100. They will sign-in at that time, and receive their visitor's pass. Anyone not cleared by the Secret Service will be turned away.
"The Airman's Run starts at 0900. It is a 2.5 mile formation run and President Hayes has decided to run with us. 'Us' meaning all the trainees, not just our Flight in particular. I don't know how that will affect the run. Be prepared for any last minute changes.
"After the run, we will have some time to shower, change, and eat before we are expected to be in place for the Coin Ceremony at 1330. The Coin Ceremony will be followed by a special presentation to our Honor Graduates and the Thunderbolt and Warhawk fitness award recipients, ending in a formal Retreat Ceremony.
"Afterwards, you will all be released to your families for base liberty. You will however, be back in the dorm for roll-call by 2000. Failure to do so will result in immediate recycling to an earlier WOT.
"This is likely the first time you will get to see your family members. Keep it professional. Remember the rules about public displays of affection. Hand shakes and quick hugs are okay, but try to avoid anything else. This is another ceremony the President plans to attend. For this reason, we will wait until the official party departs before releasing you.
"Friday is as busy as Thursday. The Graduation Parade is at 0900. Again, President Hayes plans to attend and is one of our honored guest speakers. Normally, the parade and speeches last approximately 30 minutes. But it could go longer.
"After the parade, you are released to your family and a town-pass. You should feel free to invite your family to the Squadron Open House from 1000 to 1100. Expect security to be all over the place. President Hayes will be touring the squadron during this time. Your family is welcome to tour the squadron as well, just make them aware that extra security precautions will be in place. Advise them to not do anything stupid. Remember, no sense of humor. Again, be back in the dorm for roll-call by 2000.
"Saturday you will be released for town pass, with or without your family, at 0900. Sunday you will be released for base liberty with curfew bumped up to 1600, except for honor graduates and fitness award winners who will receive another town-pass. Sunday night will be spent packing your bags for your travel. You will all ship out on Monday morning. So, do you have any questions?" TSgt Vega scanned the room and was pleased to see his trainees shaking their heads. "No? Alright, you know the drill. I want this dorm inspection ready before the first group departs for the chapel. Dorm Chief, I need a minute."
"Yes, Sir," Jon replied. Jon quickly directed the Element Leaders to double check the areas before dismissing the Flight, and followed TSgt Vega to his office.
Jon entered the office just as TSgt Vega sat down in his chair. He gestured to Jon to do the same, and added, "Close the door."
Jon quietly shut the door and took a seat in the empty chair. He could tell that TSgt Vega was thinking hard, so he waited until the TI was ready to speak. This was the first time that TSgt Vega had talked to him outside of the official business of the Flight. And while it seemed that the TI had gotten past his anger, they still hadn't cleared the air.
"I wanted to talk to you about a few items," the TI started then paused. "First, I want to apologize for my behavior the last few days. I was angry about a lot of things, but I took it out on you. For that I am sorry.
"I still don't understand what exactly is going on, but I let my anger override my reason. I won't let it happen again." He paused, collecting his thoughts, "I spent much of last night thinking about what I have seen of you over the last few weeks… Reviewing it with new eyes, as the case may be. I know that I don't have all the information. But I need to know if this… this life you are living is your choice. I feel like we have betrayed your trust… and I don't know why." He gave a frustrated sigh, "I know you can't tell me everything, but I need to know this. Can you at least answer that question?"
Jon watched TSgt Vega carefully and lowered his shielding. He needed to know what was driving the question. Why did the TI need to know about Jon's choices so badly? As his shields dropped, he felt the TI's concern hammer at him. Images and emotions assaulted him from the TI.
Long gone was the gang scenario and in its place was something much worse. TSgt Vega honestly thought that Jon had been conditioned to kill from a young age. Was disgusted by the fact. Worse, he felt betrayed by his country that they could condone it. But his overriding concern was that Jon was still just a kid. He deserved to live life first. He wanted Jon to be free to make his own choices. Not something that had been programmed in for a dubious purpose.
Jon gave a tired chuckle and pulled his shielding back into place. He gave TSgt Vega a sad smile, "I don't know how to answer. A lot of my choices were taken from me, but not in a bad way. At least, I don't think so any more…I was pulled quite forcefully from a life of combat and death. A life that I loved and lived to its fullest… In that moment, I lost the only family I thought I had.
"I was wrong. I … I was given a second chance. An opportunity to start over. This life may not have started out as my choice, but I've learned to cherish it as much as I did the old one. Now, years later, I have found that I didn't lose anything. I still have my family, albeit in a different form. And I know my duty now more clearly than before and not because someone else told me what it was.
"No, I specifically chose to come here, to Basic Training and to the Air Force, to see if I still had what it takes to shield my people from harm, to make the hard choices. I wasn't sure for a while there. I thought I had lost my edge. But, you and the rest of the Flight have helped me rediscover my purpose.
"I could have chosen to go to college or the Academy or pump gas for a living. I wasn't forced into this. And, in many ways, for many different reasons, I am more suited to this life than any other.
"If you are afraid that I am being used, don't be. I'm not. If anything, I have used you and this training to my own ends. I am… but one… chess piece on the board… and while my moves… are dictated by the movement of others… on the board… my direction is still… my own," Jon finished, watching the tension slowly ease from the TI.
TSgt Vega finally shook his head, "Not brainwashed, then?" He gave tired sigh at Jon's negative reply, "I don't know why I feel better. You are still just a kid with a full life ahead of you. But, oddly enough, I do. And I get the feeling that you've made an informed choice at that." TSgt Vega gave Jon a small smile, "I think I can live with that. Now, on to other matters. I've been told that you are to attend a special function on Friday at the Officer's Club."
Jon nodded, "Yes, Sir. My 'family' is planning reunion of sorts. Not my idea, but I wasn't really given a choice. I'd blame Daniel, but apparently Walter is the one who blew the whole thing out of proportion. My uncle just can't seem to tell the Chief 'no' when he goes into full administrative mode and… Sorry. You were saying," Jon finished, as he realized he was rambling.
"Yes, well, the function just got kicked up a notch. President Hayes plans on attending with the First Lady. Which means, every bit of brass on base and in the surrounding area will be clamoring to attend. Invited or not."
"See, I knew the party was a bad idea," Jon moaned into his hands. He finally looked up with a gleam of humor, "Hey, I have to be back by 2000 hours, right?" At TSgt Vega's nod, he continued, "Excellent! I told the Chief that I wouldn't be able to start sooner than 1800… soo… that means I only have to do the political dance for an hour or so… back to BMT reception by 1930… with extra walking time… that would mean… I could leave well before the real back-stabbing starts… Sweet!"
TSgt Vega smiled at Jon's antics. Definitely not the actions of a brainwashed killer. Juvenile, yes, but not brainwashed. He continued, "Anyway, I wanted to let you know before hand. Finally, I was told that you would be out-processing early. That you were scheduled to depart Saturday rather than Monday. But, I haven't received a new location for your Tech School…"
"Ah…" Jon stopped TSgt Vega with a raised hand. "I have new orders on that subject." TSgt Vega continued to stare at him, expectantly. "Right, I'll just pull them out then." He sighed in resignation as he pulled out his wallet and slowly unfolded the orders. "I just want you to know, before you read this, that this doesn't change anything for me. At least, until this Saturday. After that, of course, everything changes…" He handed over the orders, watching TSgt Vega as he read them.
The TI scanned the document several times before looking up at Jon in confusion. "What…?" he asked.
Jon frowned, and tried to help the TI clarify his question, "What does it mean? Well, I have a rather unique skill-set. 'They' didn't think I would be needed for several years. Hell, 'I' hoped I wouldn't be needed for several years. But, due to certain situations beyond our control… 'they' need me sooner rather than later... So…" Jon gestured lamely at the orders still clutched in the TI's hands.
"Like the reason you need to carry a gun?"
"Yeah, like that… I wish I could tell you more... You deserve to know more, but I can't." Jon gave TSgt Vega a sad look.
"I understand. You've actually told me more than you are probably supposed to anyway… Colonel," TSgt Vega crack a huge smile.
Jon returned the smile, "Thanks, Sergeant."
"Well, I assume this is the point where you tell me not to let on about your rank, follow on, etc…" TSgt Vega continued.
Jon shook his head, "Yes, preferably, it's just easier that way. Col Harding has already confirmed those orders. But, to keep things as normal as possible, he has told MSgt McCaffey and Chief Gunderson that my follow-on orders are to Colorado Springs. They have taken that to mean that I will be attending the Academy. Neither Col Harding nor I has corrected their assumptions.
"Likewise, I'm not expected to use my rank until I report to General Landry on Saturday. So for all practical purposes, I am still Airman Basic O'Neill until then. If someone asks, you don't have to lie. I would never put you in that kind of position. And I certainly don't want to disrupt the training program. I'm banking on no one asking the right questions, more than anything else," Jon finished.
"The right questions?"
Jon smirked, "You know…'What is Colonel O'Neill doing in BMT?'… Those sort of questions."
"Ah… and who would ask a silly question like that? It would make no sense," TSgt Vega concluded, nodding in agreement.
Jon smiled, "The only people who would ask, should already know the answer."
TSgt Vega nodded in agreement, "Yeah. You know, I almost feel sorry for your new commander, General Landry, is it? Does he have any idea what he is in for?"
Laughing, Jon replied, "Oh, yeah. His boss is my uncle. You might say I'm a carbon copy of him."
"Well, then, I guess he ought to have some idea. Now, get out of here, I'm sure you have work to do."
"Yes, Sir." Jon stood and left TSgt Vega to his paperwork, content that they had finally cleared the air and restored peace.
President Hayes was working on a Sunday. That in itself was not unusual. The unusual part came from the random bouts of giggles, chuckles, chortles, and out right laughter, accompanied by his exclamations of disbelief. His wife was all set to call him on it when he came out of the study for lunch.
"I have to tell you Maggie, I thought I had heard everything. But this takes the cake," Henry started to explain, a huge grin on his face.
"What's that, dear," she replied.
"Oh, the boys are busy clearing the way for our visit to Lackland later this week, you remember? Well, one of the trainees has been playing practical jokes on his whole unit… this has been going on for weeks, Maggie… and some of the stunts that boy has pulled," Henry continued, his grin growing wider.
"Did they finally catch him?" she asked.
"That's just it… they didn't. He 'fessed up to the Secret Service. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been caught at all… I tell you, some of it is pure genius. The kid even wrote a mission report, if you can believe that… Then the rascal has the audacity to ask the Secret Service Agent to keep it under wraps so the squadron doesn't find out… The whole thing has me in stitches." He stopped for a minute considering, "You know, the rat even got me in that last prank of his." He turned back to his wife with a feral grin.
Maggie turned a cautious eye towards her husband. She knew that he could go overboard all too easily when practical jokes were involved. "And how did he do that, Dear? You weren't anywhere near Texas these last few weeks."
"No, but I did call the squadron. And damn it if I wasn't accused of being the joker himself… The good Colonel even accused me of not sounding like myself… You know, I ought to fight fire with fire…" he looked thoughtful.
Maggie began to worry. She knew that her husband took practical jokes far too seriously. And he hated to admit that someone had gotten anything over on him. It made him a good politician. But his weakness for practical jokes was one of his flaws. An endearing one, but still a flaw. He took practical joke wars to new and elevated heights. "Now, Dear, I'm sure this boy didn't mean anything by it."
"I know, I know. I was just thinking that one little prank, conducted by proxy wouldn't be too much. I promise, Honey, nothing like the last time. I really will let someone else do the dirty work… In this case, it is imperative. The Secret Service Agents are the most persistent nurse maids you could have found for me." Henry sent a silent plea to his wife for permission.
Maggie narrowed her eyes as she evaluated her husband, "No."
"Please, Maggie. Only one and I won't be the one to pull it."
"Heavens, no. You made me a promise… Now, don't you give me that face, Henry. After the last time, can you really blame me?"
Henry sighed in defeat, "Not really, no. But I doubt you'll have a problem with the man I have in mind. You remember General O'Neill from that last banquet a few weeks ago?"
Maggie smiled at the memory. The poor General looked so miserable at the banquet. She felt like she was saving a lost puppy when she had rescued him from a group of Senators that had obviously cornered him to talk shop. He had been so thankful and so charming the rest of the evening. "Yes, Dear," she replied.
"Well, since it IS his nephew causing all the trouble, I figured I'd send in the old war dog. I figure, if anyone could top the young pup, it would be the old dog."
"Oh, my. His own nephew?" Maggie suppressed her own grin. She didn't need to encourage her husband. "He would be a suitable choice, if only to collar the young man… But the answer is still 'no,' Henry. I'll not allow you to go and disrupt this young man's life. You understand me?"
"Yes, Ma'am," he replied, dejectedly.
"Alright then. You just have to accept defeat on this one. Let the poor boy be. I'm sure he'll get an earful from his Uncle and they don't need you to go and interfere. Now, finish your lunch, Dear."
Late that night, one tired, jet-lagged Jack O'Neill stepped off a plane and into the San Antonio Terminal. He wasn't greeted and didn't expect to be. Officially, he was arriving 3 days later on Air Force One. If anyone asked his secretary, he was in a meeting or had just left for the day. He had let her believe that he was in space, with Thor, and not to be disturbed.
Somehow, he just didn't feel right telling her the truth. That President Hayes had sent him on a secret mission. A mission so secret that no one besides Hayes and himself was to even know about it, most especially the First Lady. Though Jack wasn't sure why that last condition had been put I place.
Ultimately, he was to 'get even' with Jon for a practical joke. Other than the First Lady condition, Hayes had said that it would have to be public and Hayes wanted to see it.
Jack had been on a lot of covert missions during his time in the Air Force. But this one definitely stood out. He wasn't sure that it was the proper use of government resources to sic a General on an Airman Basic for retribution. Talk about an abuse of power.
Then again, it was on Jon. He doubted that anyone else would be able to complete the mission outside of himself. Besides, Jack really liked the challenge of pulling one over on Jon. I mean, how often do you get the better of yourself?
Monday dawned to the normal routine. PC was followed by breakfast, which was followed by drill practice. Although, the Flight was taking drill much more seriously now that they were so close to graduation. TSgt Vega didn't do more than give the commands and watch for any discrepancies to make slight improvements. The Flight was sharp and their movements were precise. He honestly felt that they were ready. They would make good additions to his beloved Air Force.
However, it was after watching a particularly well executed turn that TSgt Vega felt the hair rise on the back of his neck. He was instantly alert for any sign of something out of place. The Flight was sharing the parade grounds with one of the younger Flights but they were practicing on the far side. He scanned the edge of the grounds to look for anything else. Anything to account for the hair-raising feeling.
Finally, he spotted something at the edge of the parade ground. Resting in the shade of the bleachers was a man, sitting quietly in the dark, watching his Flight. Whoever he was, he was wearing civilian clothes. Anyone assigned to Lackland would know better than to be caught anywhere near the training squadrons. And with the recent increase in security and a known threat to one of his trainees, TSgt Vega wasn't about to let an unauthorized person anywhere near his Flight.
"FLIGHT, HALT!" he called. "Dorm Chief, take over for a minute."
"Yes, Sir," he watched as the Dorm Chief changed positions. "FLIGHT, FOR-WARD, HARCH!"
TSgt Vega turned back and briskly marched over to the bleachers. The man rose to greet him casually. TSgt Vega quickly scanned the area and the man, looking for suspicious bulges or packages.
"Excuse me. But no one is authorized in this area. I need to see some ID," TSgt Vega demanded still scanning. Finally, he looked up and froze. Holy Shit!
"No problem, Sergeant. I just dropped by to do a little recon for later this week," the man replied smoothly and handed over his ID.
TSgt Vega didn't really need to see it to confirm the man's identity. He saw that face everyday, albeit a significantly younger version. Carbon copy, my ass. They even had the same voice. He tore his gaze away from the face and glanced at the ID. Yup, no doubt now. One Major General Jonathan J. O'Neill stood before him.
TSgt Vega looked back up at the General, "Sir, family members are not authorized to be in the squadron area until the end of the week. No exceptions are made, Sir. I'll have to ask you to leave and not return until Thursday."
"Alright, alright. I can tell when I'm not wanted. I'd just promised the President that I'd have a look see."
TSgt Vega instantly fumed at the name dropping. Just who the hell did he think he was, coming in here and disrupting my training. "Sir, I'm sure the BMT Reception Center would be more than willing to brief you on ALL the rules and guidelines regarding visiting your recruit during Basic Training. Please make sure you adhere to these rules to ensure you don't disrupt my training again. Are we clear… Sir?"
"Is that a threat, Sergeant?" the General took on a decidedly dark look.
But TSgt Vega wasn't intimidated. He was far too angry for that. Just not angry enough to lose control, yet… "No, Sir. Just some friendly advice. I don't want to have to explain to MY trainees why a Major GENERAL in the Air Force doesn't have to obey the same security RULES and they do. It's just bad for morale…Sir."
"Oh, fer crying out loud… take a chill pill, Sergeant. I'll get out of your hair." The General quickly gathered a few items and with a grin and a jaunty salute to the TI, he turned and left whistling.
What the hell just happened? TSgt Vega was sure the General was about to jump down his throat when… poof, personality change. Shaking his head, TSgt Vega returned to his Flight to continue drill practice.
Jack was grinning as he walked away from the parade grounds. It was rejuvenating to be back here at Lackland. He didn't think that the TI would have spotted him. He should have known better. Next time he wouldn't hide in plain sight. But then, he was trying to be seen, at least by Jon, anyway.
Of course, then the TI had given him a royal lecture. Not that he didn't deserve it. But still, it was the principle that mattered.
Anyway, objective one was now complete. Now for a nice nap by the pool. It was gonna be a long night.
Later that afternoon, the Flight was in the classroom yet again, receiving information on just what jobs they had been assigned in the Air Force. As Jon sat through the entirely unnecessary Job Classification briefing, he ran scenarios in his head. He had seen someone's eyes flash from across the parade ground in the trees when TSgt Vega was confronting someone else under the bleachers. He couldn't get a clear look at the guy in the trees, but the guy under the bleachers wasn't Ba'al. The height and hair color were wrong.
Someone was doing recon. They had at least a two man team. But why the parade ground next to the BMT dorms. The President would be at the main parade ground, not the practice grounds. Unless they weren't targeting Hayes.
The only likely scenario he could come up with was that Ba'al or the Trust had found out about him. But Jon needed more information. He needed to know a name. TSgt Vega had gotten a good look at one of them. Jon planned on cornering TSgt Vega after class to see if he remembered the name on the ID he had checked. Then, he would call General Landry and let him know about the infiltration on Lackland. There was no way he was going to let the President land when a Gou'uld was on the loose nearby.
Finally, the class broke up into smaller groups so the instructors could go into more details about the specific AFSC's. This was his chance. Jon quickly made his way over to TSgt Vega.
"TSgt Vega, do you have a moment?" Jon asked quietly, trying to pull the TI further from a nearby group.
"Yes, Dorm Chief."
Jon noted the wary look in the TI's eyes. That's odd. "Sir, do you remember the name of the man you confronted under the bleachers? It's important, Sir, a matter of National Security."
The TI's response was only a tired sigh, "I doubt that, Dorm Chief. Unless your uncle is suddenly a threat to National Security."
Jon was stunned, "Come again." Jack?
This time TSgt Vega grinned, "That was your uncle lurking beneath the bleachers. Said he was doing recon for later." The TI shook his head tiredly, "I tell you, it happens every time I have a trainee with a relation as an active member. You'd think they'd know better, and stay away until they are authorized, but just because they can get on base, they try to sneak an early peek at the recruits." TSgt Vega looked him in the eye, "Do me a favor and tell your uncle to follow the rules. Not even the President is allowed into the Squadron before the appointed time."
"Sure... Should I go call him now?" Jon asked, suddenly concerned. Jack was here? No way. Generals didn't just show up unannounced. But that was just soo like Jack. So, it was possible, even plausible. But the eyes in the trees? If Jack were compromised… or the Gou'uld could have been following him… Just what in the hell is going on?
"Go ahead. After this is the Tech School briefing anyway. Head back to the dorm after you're done. We'll catch up to you there." TSgt Vega turned away and went back to observing the Flight in their discussions.
Jon quickly turned and headed directly to the patio where the pay phones were located. He glanced around and was glad to see the area was deserted. He quickly punched in the number to Jack's cell phone.
"O'Neill," came the quick reply.
"Jon," was the only answer he got.
Jon sighed, "What ya doing here, old man?"
"Enjoying the pool. This is nice. We should have one of these in Colorado. Hey, in winter it would be our own private ice rink…"
"Jack!" Jon interrupted.
"What? You got something against pools?"
"No, just against being watched by glowy-eyed shadows." Jon sighed and sent out a thought to Jack. Jack's gentle return of humor re-assured Jon that it was indeed his older self. "Well, you sound entirely too much like yourself to be a snake. So, who's the guy in the trees?"
"That guy that was watching the same time as you? I didn't get a good look at him. But I would swear that his eyes flashed. He was over behind the bleachers in the trees," Jon was getting more worried, but now it was for Jack.
"Can't say as I saw anyone else."
"Old man, does anyone else know you are here?" Jon asked.
"Yeah, the important people know how to reach me. But technically, I'm not here. I'm just a figment of your imagination."
"A nosey figment. Why are you here anyway? Let alone watching my Flight drill…"
"That? Pish-shaw. That was nothing. Just wanted to get a look at ya. I did say that you never write and you never call. You didn't have to send over the little tyrant. He looked like he was ready to deck me… and that was AFTER he found out who I was. Jeesh, some people have no respect for rank anymore."
Jon smiled. Based on his conversation with TSgt Vega yesterday, he was sure that some of the TI's anger had been directed at Jack for what he perceived as a conspiracy to corrupt Jon. Jon would let Jack navigate that mess on his own. Served him right for showing up unannounced.
"I haven't been dressed down that bad since Doc found me sneaking in non-alcoholic beer to Ferretti. It said 'non-alcoholic,' for crying out loud."
"Sorry to burst your bubble, old man, but I clearly remember that the beer was alcoholic. Only you tried to cover up that fact by placing a fake label on the bottle that said non-alcoholic," Jon interjected.
"Well, yeah… but she wouldn't take my word for it either… See, no respect," Jack concluded.
"Oh yes, such a long suffering soul… So, are you going to answer my question or what? Why are you here? Early, I might add." Jon asked again.
"I already told ya, taking in the sun by the pool. Ya know, while you were enjoying the nice weather last week, I was stuck in a dank bunker. Boss felt sorry for me and let me take a few 'personal' days," Jack answered.
"Right," Jon replied suspiciously. "And you decided to take them in Texas… by the pool."
"Hey, I was coming here anyway. This saves me the extra plane ride. See, I'm being fiscally responsible, not to mention environmentally conscious."
"Okay, fine, I give up. You're here on vacation... I. Believe. You."
"Just do me a favor and stop pissing off my TI, okay? I just barely got him speaking to me again after last week's mess. Don't pour salt on the wound."
"I mean it, Jack. Don't make me take out the big guns."
"Oh, like what?" Jack asked, not phased one bit.
"Like that embarrassing incident in 3rd Grade. I'm sure Carter would love to know how her beloved leader was beat up by a girl so early in life."
"Hey! It's your life too, ya know."
"Nope! I'm just your nephew, old man."
"But Carter would know!" Jack countered.
Jon grinned evilly, "Yep, Carter would know that I'm willing to share your dirty little secrets. And that I know all the best ones."
"Crap! She would see it that way."
"Soo? You promise?"
"Alright! I promise not to piss off your TI until the others arrive. After that, all bets are off."
"I think I can live with that…" Jon turned serious, "Watch your back, old man. If the snake wasn't watching me, he was watching you… Well, I guess, I'll talk to you later, old man."
"No problem, kid. Oh, and watch out for those mind control lasers."
Jon heard the phone click before he could process that bit of information. Oh Crap! Jack knew about the practical jokes. Jack hated to be left out of a good practical joke. Oh man! He had to be planning something. But what?
Jack had taken TSgt Vega's advice and visited the BMT Reception Center. The nice lady at the reception desk provided him with a complete list of the rules governing family visiting recruits in training. And nestled in among the other do's and don'ts was the rule that stated a family member could visit at any time if they had received permission from the squadron commander.
As it happened, President Hayes had wanted Jack to meet with Col Harding. Sort of, feel him out on a private meeting on Wednesday night. But TSgt Vega didn't need to know that, and since his primary mission was to get Jon all riled up. Well, two birds and one stone, ya know.
So that evening, around dinner time, Jack boldly strolled over to the 322nd Training Squadron in Blues. He pointedly walked long and slow past the dining facility and the training Flights awaiting entry, to the Administrative Offices where he politely requested a meeting with Col Harding.
And the whole way, people were only seeing his stars. He was carefully able to suppress his smirk at the awed expressions most of the young trainees wore. And this was just his Class B's with no ribbons. But truly the icing on the cake was hearing Jon's quietly muttered, "Vacation, my ass" as he passed the only Flight dressed in Blues. He didn't see Jon, but then he wasn't really looking.
Jack looked up into the cautious eyes of Col Harding and smiled, "Colonel. I know that I've arrived unannounced, but if you could spare a moment of your time…"
"Of course, General. This way please." The Colonel led him into a quiet office. Jack immediately sat down in one of the large comfortable chairs.
"Thank you, Colonel. Please, have a seat." Jack waited until Col Harding was seated behind his desk before continuing. "Colonel, I first want to apologize to you personally for this whole presidential fiasco. I asked President Hayes to attend fully expecting him to decline. I would never have asked if I had known he would want to FULLY participate."
Col Harding's expression softened, "Thank you, General. But you're not fully to blame. When the President called me initially, it was to decline the invitation. But then I said some things that, I'm afraid, changed his mind. I made some assumptions that have in the end, bit me in the ass, if you'll excuse the expression."
Jack laughed, "I use the term 'assets' myself."
Col Harding smiled in return, "But regardless, this is going to happen, so we better suck it up and press forward."
"I fully agree. So, on to business. The President asked me to come here and find out if you will be willing to attend a private meeting when he arrives. I'm not sure exactly why, but he was most insistent that I ask. He was also very clear that it is not required."
Col Harding winced, "Oh, I have a pretty good idea why. I'm just glad he decided to make it a 'private' meeting. Please tell the President that I'm available whenever he needs me."
"Excellent. I'll let him know. Well, I've taken up enough of your time. Thanks for seeing me on such short notice," Jack said, rising from the chair.
"Anytime, General. Let me walk you to your car," Col Harding replied, rising with him.
"Ack! No car. I walked. They got me billeted on base. Don't worry, I can see myself out." The two men shook hands at Col Harding's office door before parting ways. Jack retraced his steps once again strolling past several Flights waiting to enter the dining facility.
Over the next two days, the only time Jon didn't see Jack was on the confidence course. He was jogging along the runner's path when Jon's Flight was doing PC and drill practice. He was getting a haircut at the BX when Jon's Flight was scheduled for their trim. Each time Jon spotted him, Jack was already leaving. Once, Jon could have sworn he had seen Jack walking a dog along a distant tree line.
Jack didn't even own a dog.
And while this was reassuring, in the sense that Jon knew his older self was fine, it was also maddening because he never caught sight of the other observer. No more glowing eyes in shadow. Jon was beginning to doubt that he had seen anyone at all, let alone a Gou'uld.
He was so wired and tense that his Flight-mates were picking up on his tension. And that was when Jon started to question his sanity. He's just messing with me. Why am I getting so worked up about this? It's just a prank. It couldn't be that bad. It was Jack for crying out loud. Jack wouldn't hurt me… much. Embarrass, yes. Had already done so on many occasions. So just suck it up and take it like a man. It's just a prank. No big deal. Yup! No. Big. Deal.
Man, I hate this.
"Attention in the Squadron! All trainees are to report to their dorm for roll-call. Repeat, all trainees are to report to their dorm for roll-call. CQ out."
"And so it begins," Jon whispered quietly to himself. Air Force One was landing and the squadron was going into lockdown for security reasons. He turned back to the patio and called to his Flight-mates, "Alright, you heard the man, back to the dorms. We don't want to keep the TI's waiting. They soo don't like that." Jon ushered the trainees on the patio back towards the stairwell.
Just as he was about to enter the door, he spotted a laser dot on the wall opposite the door frame inside the dorm stairwell. His followed his first instinct to duck and cover. Jon ducked behind the solid cement walls of the dormitory and ducked low. He waited but the dot held steady on the wall, then it started to dance. Finally, it spelled out 'gotcha'.
"Damn," he whispered. Nice, old man, kick the kid while he's down.
Frowning, Jon quickly scanned the area and once he was sure it was clear, then he flipped the bird at the darkness across from the doorway.
Satisfied, Jon climbed the steps to the dorm and the impending lock-down.
Jack chuckled as he put the little laser pointer away. Jon was on edge and his reactions had confirmed it. The fact that Jon felt obligated to retaliate by flipping the bird was more than enough satisfaction for Jack, for now anyway.
Jack strolled back to the CQ office he had visited just a few days earlier. He was supposed to pick up Col Harding and escort him to see President Hayes when his plane landed. He didn't need to, since the good Colonel was on the appointment list, but Jack knew that things would go smoother through security if the man had a recognized escort.
The CQ spotted him down the hall and called out, "ROOM, A-TEN-CHEN."
Jack immediately waved him back down, "As you were, At Ease." Some parts of being a General were more of a nuisance than an honor. That was probably one reason that he wore civvies into work and changed in his office. He didn't quite feel that he had earned the right to have everyone jump to Attention just because he entered a room.
He gave the CQ Sergeant a reassuring smile, "Is Col Harding ready, yet?"
"Yes, Sir. He was just waiting for your arrival," the Sergeant replied.
No sooner had the Sergeant relayed the message than the aforementioned Colonel appeared in the doorway to his office. He tugged at the sleeves of his Service Dress Coat, obviously nervous.
"Good evening, General," Col. Harding greeted him.
"Is it? I didn't notice," Jack replied, grinning as he watching the nervous man. The Colonel looked startled before he noticed Jack's grin and relaxed. "Shall we?" Jack asked and gestured towards the door way.
Col Harding visibly steeled himself before nodding. He followed Jack out to the Staff car that the Lackland motorpool had supplied Jack for his visit.
They settled into the car and Jack immediately loosened his tie. "God, I hate this get-up," he exclaimed to no one in particular. Jack started the car and slowly picked his way out of the parking lot. Once he was on the road, he turned his attention back to Col Harding. "Ya know, it can't possibly be as bad as you think," he started as the car made its way slowly towards the VIP quarters assigned to the President. "He's not really mad at you."
"Somehow, I doubt that, General," was the Colonel's distant reply.
"Hey, I'm just saying, as a guy that has pissed this particular President off a few times, I can tell when he's mad. And he's not... Not really, anyway… At least, not at you… Trust me, on this," Jack dissembled before his words stumbled to a halt. Man, I am really not good at this… talking thing.
The Colonel didn't reply and before Jack could try again, they had pulled up to the first checkpoint. Jack quickly rolled down his window.
"Good evening, General, Colonel. May I please see your ID's," the Security Forces guard asked efficiently.
"Sure," Jack replied as he handed over the two ID cards.
The Sergeant compared the faces to the occupants of the car and then compared the names to his list, as a Canine unit did a quick sweep of the vehicle. After finding a match on his list and receiving an 'all-clear' from the canine, he politely returned the ID's, "Thank you, Sir."
"No problem, Sergeant, have a nice evening," Jack replied, as he tucked the card back into his wallet.
"Thank you, Sir, I will."
Jack pulled through the checkpoint and continued on to the VIP quarters in silence.
Once in the parking lot, the two men climbed out of the car and took a moment to straighten out their uniforms and hats. Col Harding watched the General slide on his Service Dress Jacket with practiced ease and then reluctantly re-tightened his tie. After picking a few invisible hairs off the jacket, he nodded at Col Harding and they headed over to the residence that would serve as the President's quarters while he was visiting Lackland.
The VIP house usually served as guest quarters for visiting dignitaries and generals. It was large enough to host parties and entertain guests without feeling cramped. Luckily it was large enough and comfortable enough to house the President and his aides.
After passing through two more check points, the two men were ushered into a small study within the VIP quarters. Within moments an aide advised them that the President would be with them as soon as he arrived from Air Force One.
As both men waited, they fidgeted. The General ended up playing with a pen, endlessly twirling in across his knuckles, while Col Harding continued to straighten his uniform and pick off imaginary lint.
Eventually, Col Harding started to take in his surroundings, after all there is only so much imaginary lint one can pick at. He felt a bit overwhelmed. He was about to meet the President of the United States. Not many people have that honor. Especially for a private visit. Even if it was to get his ass chewed. Heck, how many people get their ass chewed by the freaking President of the United States.
Seeking anything that would distract him from his impending meeting with President Hayes, Col Harding caught sight of something in the corner of his eye.
Col Harding had been too distracted before to notice the General's ribbon rack, but the brightly colored cloth caught his eye now. Row upon row of ribbons were stacked neatly on his chest reaching a good distance up towards his shoulder. The whole rack was topped by, not one, but two function badges. The pilot's wings were expected, but the Special Operations badge was not.
As Col Harding tried to read the rack, his eyes were drawn, not to a spot of color, but to a spot of black near the center. It took him a minute to remember which ribbons had black on them. One was the Kuwait Liberation Medal, which he identified as the last ribbon on the rack. But the one near the center could only be the Prisoner of War Medal. That realization made him read the rack closer.
He immediately identified the Bronze Star with an oak leaf cluster, but not the other awards above it. He recognized the Purple Heart buried under several oak leaf clusters. That was followed by the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Commendation Medals, both Joint Service and Air Force, and the Air Force Achievement Medal. Each with several awards and the V device for an award in a hostile location.
He was pretty sure the next two were the Presidential Unit Citation and the Joint Meritorious Unit Awards, but he couldn't be sure. He recognized more of the awards as he reached the lower rows; The National Defense Service Medal with a second award, Antarctica Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, Air Force Overseas Ribbon, both Short and Long tours, Air Force Longevity, Small Arms Expert Marksman Ribbon with a second award, United Nations Medal, NATO Medal, and finally, the Kuwait Liberation Medal.
Col Harding was disappointed in himself for not being able to immediately identify the top three awards. He commanded a BMT Training Squadron. He expected his Instructors to know. And he was disappointed in himself for not knowing.
"Which ones?" the General's voice interrupted his thoughts. The General didn't even look up from his fiddling.
"Which ones don't you recognize?" he clarified.
"Oh. I'm sorry, Sir… I didn't …" He had been caught staring.
"Don't worry about it. I get it all the time. Heck, it is but one of the reason that I hate wearing this monkey suit," the General replied. "Though the tie is the main reason. So which ones?" he asked again.
"The… ah… top three…" Col Harding replied, embarrassed.
"Ah… those. The Air Force Cross, the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, and the Silver Star." The General's eyes never left the pen and its repeating trip around his knuckles. "Not the black one? That's the one I usually get questions about."
"Uh… no, Sir."
"Stop harassing the good man, Jack, before I decide to add to your list of medals," a new voice interrupted. Col Harding turned to see President Hayes walk into the room. He immediately snapped to attention.
"At ease. Please take a seat, gentlemen." The President took a seat in one of the easy chairs. "Now, Col Harding, I didn't call you here to chew you out. I consider us both the victims of a well executed practical joke."
Col Harding was stunned. How did the President know about the practical jokes the unit had been experiencing? He had done his best to keep them a secret from the rest of the base.
"Don't look so surprised, Colonel. The instigator of the jokes confessed to my Secret Service Agent to prevent security complications. Jack, give him a copy of the report," the President ordered.
Col Harding turned to the General in time to see him pull a set of folded pages from his service jacket. He made a short attempt to straighten them out before handing them to Col Harding. The Colonel accepted them with some reservation.
"I don't understand, Sir."
"Oh, you will. Under normal circumstances the joker would be punished, probably an Article 15, loss of pay, etc. But these are far from normal circumstances. First of all, I'm not inclined to punish a relatively harmless practical joke. Second, the individual is needed elsewhere immediately. Third, it is so much more fun to get even," at this last statement, the President leaned forward with a grim smile. "How would you like to get a bit of revenge?"
"I… uh… I think I'd like that," he replied carefully.
"Good, good. I've been sworn to keep my hands out of it. So, I've appointed General O'Neill as my proxy. He has all the details. He knows the target and the best way to get even. I'll let you two work out the details, while I sit back and enjoy the show." The President stood and Col Harding stood with him. "I also wanted to give you my thanks. You have a hard job to do and I really do appreciate all your efforts."
Col Harding took the President's hand and returned the handshake, "Thank you, Sir."
The President turned to the General with a grin on his face, "Jack, stay out of trouble. I mean it."
"You wound me, Sir. I haven't been nearly killed in at least two months," the General replied.
"Yes… I recall the incident with crystal clarity. Try not to do it again, alright?"
"I'll try, Sir."
Col Harding just shook his head at the odd exchange. The President finally said his goodbyes and the General escorted him back through security and back to the squadron. And on the way back, the General carefully outlined the plan to get the joker. By the end trip, Col Harding was in full accord. Now, he just had a few calls to make and a speech to write. Payback would be sweet.
"Well that was a waste of time," Daniel sighed as the group exited the Reception Center. They had just completed the Family Orientation Briefing. The briefing outlined the dos and don'ts for the new Airmen and their family members. This briefing was more to prepare the family members for the changes in behavior that they would observe in their Airman, than anything else.
"Chill out, Uncle Daniel," Cassandra added. "Some of us happen to have needed the briefing."
"Yeah, well, I felt like I was receiving instructions on my new puppy." Daniel's voice dropped into an imitation of the man who gave the briefing, "YOUR RECRUIT is not housebroken, only paper trained. If YOUR RECRUIT fails to adhere to training protocol, use a rolled up newspaper and soundly whack YOUR RECRUIT on the nose while firmly saying, 'no.'"
Both Sam and Cassie started giggling at Daniel's imitation.
"Well, Daniel, I'm glad you think so highly of the Air Force's training," a new voice said behind Daniel.
Cassie squealed as she caught sight of Jack and ran to give him a big hug. "Oh, my God! I haven't seen you in forever and Sam won't tell me anything. Like that's different, and now you are so far away, and you don't call nearly enough. I mean, hello, what does it take to call me, it's not like I'm in outer space or something…" Cassie rattled off as quickly as she could talk.
"Breathe, Cassie, breathe," Jack interrupted. "Okay, now, in my defense, I called just last week. And as I recall, your roommate said that you had gone to some," he used air quotes, "'big keg party,' and not to expect you back before dawn." Jack gave her a considering look, "Dawn?"
Cassie blushed, "Oh, that… yeah… well…" She cleared her throat before turning to Teal'c, "So, Uncle Teal'c, what's the next stop on this grand tour?"
Teal'c had been contently observing his friends renew their bonds with a small smile. Cassandra Frasier had grown into a fine strong woman. He had no fear that she could hold her own against his teammates. In fact, he was proud to see her adopting many of their mannerisms. Like now, when she was obviously trying to divert attention from herself and this 'keg party' that O'Neill had referred to, by ignoring it.
He gently bowed his head and answered, "We are to proceed to the street where we will observe the trainees' physical prowess as they run some distance in formation. I have been informed that President Hayes himself will lead the run."
"Really? That is so cool. Come on guys. We have to get a good seat," Cassie cried as she led the group towards the grassy area next to the road. The area was clearly marked for the families of trainees.
"I'm surprised you're not wearing your uniform, Uncle Jack," Cassie added, noting Jack's casual attire. "I'm sure we could get special treatment if you threw your rank around."
"Why Cassandra Frasier, I am shocked and appalled that you would think I could abuse my rank in such a manner…" Jack started.
Daniel slyly interrupted, "Says the man who declared that every Wednesday should now be Double Fudge Brownie Wednesday…"
Sam couldn't help adding, "The same man who told the Security Forces that anyone caught parking in his spot was… and I quote… to be shot on sight and THEN brought in for questioning…"
Teal'c quietly added, "Who is indeed the same man who ordered cable television for the gym so that he might watch his hockey games while using the treadmill."
Jack stared at all three for a minute before declaring, "Et tu, Teal'c?"
"Indeed," was Teal'c's only reply.
The group made themselves comfortable on the grass and waited for the Flights of trainees to run by. They chatted about anything and everything, keeping in mind the other families nearby. Finally, the first of the training Flights was spotted at the end of the road.
"Okay, which one is he in again?" Cassie asked, not wanting to miss seeing Jon.
"322nd Training Squadron, Flight 1342," was Sam's automatic reply.
"Don't worry, Cassie. He will be the last trainee closest to us on this side. You can't miss him," Jack reassured her.
Through the air, the group could hear the different Flight's singing their Cadence to keep in time. Each trying to sing or shout louder than the others. At the head of the group, they could see President Hayes jogging as he was surrounded by Secret Service agents.
Then Jack heard a very familiar cadence. One that he hadn't heard in a long, long time. It wasn't the usual Jody that trainees learned.
"Pebbles and Bam-Bam on a Friday night," one voice rang out. "Trying to get to heaven on a paper kite… Lightning struck…"
"BOOM," the group responded.
"And down they fell," the voice continued.
"Instead of getting to heaven, they went straight to hell... Dino the dog," Jack recognized the voice. It was Jon.
"Was on the bone," he continued.
"While Fred and Barney rocked the microphone... There was nothing that Fred or Barney could do… 'cept sing,"
"Yabba daba daba daba daba daaaaaba do!" the group finished, just as they were passing their position on the side of the road.
"Oh, my God! There he is. I see him. I see him," Cassie squealed in glee.
The others simply smiled and watched as Jon started up the next Jody as they ran past. Only Jack caught the slight smirk as he passed their position on the side of the road.
"Global Vigilance, Reach and Power…Every second, every minute, and hour…" he started out.
"Air Force… Air Force…" the group responded.
"Defend the U.S. from high in the air…With supersonic fighters everywhere…
"Air Force… Air Force…"
"Precision aircraft tried and true… Just wait until you see the F-22…"
"Air Force… Air Force…"
"The Global Hawk, the C-17…The B-2 Bomber makes the enemy scream…"
"Air Force… Air Force…"
"Don't you forget about Air Force One… Never stopping till the job is done…"
"Air Force… Air Force…"
"That's what we use to help keep the peace… Transporting out the Commander in Chief…"
"Air Force… Air Force…"
"I really think you ought to join the team… So you can better understand what I mean…"
"Air Force… Air Force…"
Jack stopped trying to distinguish Jon's Flight from the chaos of voices only to hear Cassie complain.
"That's it? That's all we get? That is SO lame." Cassie was looking around at the others in her group, "Well, it is. We only got to see him for like… 30 seconds. L. A. M. E. Lame."
Jack checked his watch, it was just past 0930. They had several hours until the Retreat at 1330. Jack turned to Cassie, "How about we go shopping? You know, Lackland sports one of the largest BX's in the Air Force. I'm sure Daniel could explain the deep and complex history of the BX and its important function in today's military."
"I could?" Daniel replied, surprised.
"Of course," Jack continued, taking Cassie by the arm. He pretended to brighten at a thought, "And then we could do lunch." He turned back as he noticed the other three falling behind, "Come on Campers, lunch waits for no man." He eyeballed Sam, "or woman." Then he led them back to the parking lot where their rental cars waited.
Jon watched as the other trainees were literally bouncing with excitement. Even after a 2-mile run, they still had way too much energy to burn. The Flight had showered and changed into their Class B uniform for the Airman's Coin Ceremony. Most had been almost too excited to eat lunch.
Now, they were waiting for TSgt Vega to call them together and assemble to march to the far side of the dormitory where the ceremony would take place. This was a private ceremony. Only the squadron and the Training Instructor's would be present. But to the Trainee's it was the most important ceremony.
At the Airman's Coin Ceremony, the TI would acknowledge the trainees as Airmen for the first time. It was a key milestone for the young recruits. One that they had worked hard and long for.
"Did you see your family?" Skoke asked, excited. He had spent the last 10 minutes talking about having seen his own family on the run this morning. The big guy didn't usually spin up this easily and his happiness at seeing his family was infectious.
"Yup. It was kind of hard to miss them. I was sure Cassie was going to run out and give me a hug." Jon smiled at the memory. He had seen Teal'c first, then the rest of the group. Cassie had been clearly bouncing with joy at having spotted him. Daniel and Sam had smiled and waved, trying not to catch his attention but clearly wanting acknowledgement. And Jack had stood back and smirked at the whole scene. At least he wouldn't try anything with the others around. Daniel and Sam in particular had been the butt of too many of his jokes to allow him to get away with anything for the next few days.
"Cassie? Is she like your girlfriend?" Ruso asked, trying to insinuate more.
"Ew. No way. More like a sister… Ew," Jon replied. Then turned an evil look at Ruso, "And don't even think about it. She's like a baby sister and I feel obligate to kick the ass of anyone who doesn't treat her with respect… And I'm not the first in line to have the honor of defending her. So you better watch yourself."
"Easy, man. I get it. I can do respect." Ruso seemed to consider his options, "On second thought, how about I just stay the hell away from her."
"Wise choice," Jon replied, his smile returning.
"Don't look at me. My sister is 7 years old," Skoke replied when Ruso turned a hopeful look in his direction.
TSgt Vega marched into the dorm. "Alright, people, gather in the dayroom." He waited until all the trainees had settled into the dayroom before beginning, "The time has nearly come for you all to graduate. But you can still screw up until you get on the bus out of here, so keep that in mind as you act these next few days. This evening you will have base liberty with your family. Remind them of the rules. Training Instructors will be everywhere watching you. If you break the rules, you will be recycled. Don't let the upcoming ceremonies fool you. Your bald head is mine until you ship out. Understood?"
TSgt Vega gave the whole room a glare before changing it to a smile. "Alright, then lets get this show on the road. First, we will all gather for the Airman's Coin Ceremony. Once this is complete we will march to the Retreat Ceremony. After the Retreat, you will all be dismissed for Base Liberty with your families. I want you back by 1800 in the dorm. I will conduct roll-call. So be here or else."
TSgt Vega smirked, "Now for most of you, you will be free to roam the base after Retreat, but the following trainees need to report to the BMT Reception Center at 1500: Jones, O'Neill, Peyton, Ruso, Skoke, Soto, Thomas. I've been told that today's Warhawk and Honor Graduate ceremony will be memorable, all trainees and Instructors are encouraged to attend with their families. If you don't have anything else… LINE UP!"
All the trainees were grinning as the quickly lined up and filed out of the dorm to form up on the patio. The group marched to the far side where all the available Training Instructors, including all the blue ropes, and Col. Harding were waiting.
The trainees were marched to the center and remained at attention. Col Harding smiled at them, "Stand at ease." He grinned as the smartly snapped from Attention to a relaxed form of Parade Rest. "Trainees, today is the day you have been working so hard for. Today you become Airmen. While you continue to learn and advance in the Air Force, remember the lessons you have learned here at BMT. Remember the Core Values of the Air Force; Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.
"You have already demonstrated how you value Service before Self by enlisting in the Air Force. And as a Flight you have exemplified Excellence, earning the distinction of Honor Flight. So it is my proud honor to now name you Airmen of the United States Air Force." Col Harding strode over to the first trainee, the guidon bearer, closely followed by all the blue rope TI's and TSgt Vega.
He smiled as the trainee snapped to attention and received his Airman's Coin, then gave a sharp salute before shaking the Colonel's hand. As the Colonel moved to the next trainee, the first blue rope took his place and congratulated the new Airman and so on. The Colonel repeated the process with each trainee, giving them a heartfelt 'Congratulations, Airman,' to each one.
Finally, he reached Jon. Jon repeated the take, salute, shake formula. But he felt uneasy with Col Harding's wary glance. Like something was off. He couldn't tell what it would be. Heck, even TSgt Vega was back to his old self after last week's fiasco. Jon just shook it off. It wouldn't matter in few days anyway.
Jon accepted the congratulations and quiet handshakes from the rest of the Training Instructors. When the last one had finally passed by, he breathed a sigh of relief. The Flight was called to attention and then marched to the Retreat Ceremony. One down, two more to go, then one political party, then… Okay, let's just take one day at a time. Next up, Retreat. Easy as eating cake.
Thanks to Jack's early lunch, the SGC group, now including General Hammond, were able to stake out a spot on the bleachers front and center. Cassie seemed to amplify the excitement of the surrounding family members by asking a thousand questions. The group in turn felt obligated to answer each question in turn, even if it was bound to generate 10 more.
Finally, the Master of Ceremonies announced that the Flights were arriving and the whole crowd fell into a hush. As each Flight marched onto the field, the Master of Ceremonies would announce the squadron and Flight number and any Flight awards the group had earned. Jack had to remind Cassie to breathe again as she waited.
"Flight 1342 from the 322nd Training Squadron, Honor Flight and Warrior Week's Outstanding Performer," the MC announced.
Cassie squealed in delight and immediately slapped her hand on her mouth. She mouthed a quiet "Sorry," to the group before bouncing in her seat as she watched the Flight march to their designated spot around the flag pole.
The MC started the ceremony, "Please rise for the President of the United States…"
The speakers began to play the Presidential March. The whole crowd rose as the President and his party walked from the side to the reserved seating just in front of the flag pole. The President waved to the crowd before taking his seat.
Once the official party was seated, the MC relayed, "Please take your seats I would first like to welcome President Hayes, the First Lady, Mrs. Margaret Hayes, Lt General Harrison, commander of the 37th Training Wing, Major General Thompson, commander of the 433rd Airlift Wing, and Brigadier General Randolph, commander of the 59th Medical Wing. Colonel James Mosby, Commander of the 737th Training Group, will be leading our formation tonight. Thank you for attending our ceremony today."
The MC began his short explanation of the ceremony, "Since this country first declared freedom from Britain's rule, those men and women who have served under the flag that represented this nation have paid tribute to it through this simple ceremony. First, the Airmen will pay tribute to those who have served before them by singing the Air Force song…"
Just as the MC's voice faded, the first chords of the Air Force Song could be heard. Soon, the music was joined by the several hundred young men and women surrounding the flag pole; the new Airmen.
"Off we go, into the wild blue yonder,
"Climbing high, into the sun,
"Here they come, zooming to meet our thunder;
"At 'em boys, give 'er the gun!
"Down we dive, spouting our flame from under,
"Off with one, Hell-of-a roar!
"We live in fame or go down in flame,
"Hey! Nothing will stop the U.S. Air Force!
"Minds of men, fashioned a crate of thunder,
"Sent it high into the blue;
"Hands of men, blasted the world asunder,
"How they lived, God only knew!
"Souls of men, dreaming of skies to conquer,
"Gave us wing, ever to soar.
"With scouts before, and bombers galore,
"Hey! Nothing can stop the US Air Force!
"Here's a toast, to the host, of those who,
"Love the vastness, of the sky,
"To a friend, we send this message,
"Of his brother, men who fly.
"We drink to those, who gave their all of old,
"Then down we roar to score the rainbow's gold.
"A toast, to the host, of men, we boast,
"Hey! To The US Air Force!
"Off we go, into the wild sky yonder,
"Keep the wing, level and true,
"If you'd live, to be a gray haired wonder,
"Keep the nose, out of the blue,
"Flying men, guarding our nation's borders
"We'll be there, followed by more,
"In echelon, we carry on,
"Hey! Nothing can stop the US Air Force!
Into the quiet, the MC continued, "All rise for the retirement of the colors. It is traditional for military members, both active and retired to salute the flag in Retreat. Members of the civilian community are encouraged to honor the flag by placing their hand over their heart…"
Colonel Mosby standing in the most forward position completed an About-Face and addressed the assembled Flights, "GROUP!"
"SQUADRON!" the cry was echoed by the various squadron commanders as they in-turn, relayed the order to their squadron over their shoulder.
"FLIGHT!" the Training Instructors relayed over their shoulders.
"PRESENT," the Colonel continued, then did an About-Face so he was once again facing the flag pole.
"PRESENT," echoed the squadron commanders.
"PRESENT," echoed the TI's.
"ARMS!" Colonel Mosby ordered. All the Flights presented a salute at exactly the same time; presenting a picture perfect image. Jack heard Cassie's sharp intake of breath. He had to admit, it was an impressive sight.
Jack snapped a salute just as the first notes of Taps sounded. From his vantage point he could see all the members of his small group; his family. The military members of his party were at Attention with salutes, while Daniel and Cassie had their hands firmly over their hearts. Teal'c had opted for a Jaffa salute with his fist clenched over his heart and his head bowed. Jack beamed with pride at the motley group; his motley group.
In front, the color guard had ceremonially lowered the flag and using precise practiced movements folded the flag into a neat bundle. They had timed the process and their exit to coincide with the end of the last round of Taps.
Once the Color Guard and disappeared from sight, Colonel Mosby slowly lowered his salute and executed an About-Face, "GROUP!"
"SQUADRON!" the cry was echoed by the various squadron commanders as they relayed the order to their squadron over their shoulder, salutes still firmly in place.
"FLIGHT!" the Training Instructors relayed.
"ORDER," the Colonel continued.
"ORDER," echoed the squadron commanders.
"ORDER," echoed the TI's.
"ARMS!" Colonel Mosby ordered. Once again with perfect timing, all the Airmen dropped their salutes.
The voice of the MC once again sounded across the crowd, "This concludes our ceremony tonight. Thank you for joining us. Please remain standing and in place for the departure of the Presidential party…"
Once again, the speakers played the Presidential March as the President and the accompanying Generals rose and filed out of the area.
Colonel Mosby waited until the last notes of the March faded before bellowing, "GROUP!"
With a grin Colonel Mosby gave the final order for the evening, "DISMISSED!" All the Airmen executed an About-Face at the same time. Then turned back to the crowd of family members and began their search for their loved ones. The result was chaos as the crowd of trainees crashed into the crowd of family.
Jack just shook his head and prodded Teal'c in the ribs. "Teal'c."
"Yes, O'Neill," was the quiet reply.
"Get up on the seat."
"What purpose would this serve?" Teal'c asked, not quite sure if he was the butt of one of his friend's many jokes.
"So, Jon can find us. He'll see you long before he notices the rest of us in this crowd," Jack explained.
Teal'c scanned the crowd and then looked to Sam for confirmation before answering, "Indeed." But he did climb onto the bleachers. The result was the he now loomed over the crowd, an island of calm in a sea of chaos.
Before long, Jon appeared next to Jack. "Miss me?" he queried as the group finally noticed him.
Once again, Cassie squealed with glee and grabbed Jon giving him a sound kiss on the cheek, then she blushed pink before letting him go and backing away.
"I'll take that as a 'yes,'" Jon grinned in her direction. Then he spotted General Hammond, "Sir, good to see you. Enjoying retirement?"
General Hammond stepped forward and took his hand, "More like enjoying the peace and quiet. I don't envy Landry trying to deal with two of you at the same time."
Jon and Jack shared an evil grin.
"Nope, definitely glad I retired when I did," Hammond said shaking his head.
"So, what now, Jon?" Sam asked, smiling.
"Ah…" Jon checked his watch. "I have to be at the BMT Reception Center at 1500, then… we can do whatever. I have base liberty till 1930."
"Scratch that," Jack interrupted, "We have to get ready for Walter's party… 15… carry the 2…" He grinned. "What? I didn't tell you?" He gave a long suffering sigh, "We had to change the party to tonight to avoid all the party crashers. Walter set it up for a Lu'au format. No Hawaiian shirt, no entry. Except for Jon, because of all the 'rules' he has to follow."
Jon gave him a quiet glare, "Oh joy. A lu'au… Well, I think we have enough time to mosey over to the Reception Center… slowly before they need me to take my place."
Daniel and Sam eyed him with curiosity, "I thought the briefing said you were released after the Retreat," Daniel stated and Sam nodded her agreement.
Jon grinned at them, "Unless you are the uber-fit trainee who earned the Warhawk award for Fitness Excellence," he replied casually, then did a little bicep flex.
"Really?" Daniel asked.
Jon narrowed his eyes at Daniel, "Is it that hard to believe, Daniel?"
"Well… no… not really… I guess…" Daniel sputtered.
"Good for you, Jon. Congratulations," Sam replied.
The group made its way slowly back to the reception center as the crowd thinned. Once inside they were asked to sign-in and then they were directed into the auditorium. Jon was asked to wait with the other trainees.
Jack scanned the area and noted with pleasure the reserved seating. He noted that the PJ's had sent a Chief to represent them. Something about the guy was familiar, but he couldn't place it from his angle. Oh, well, something to worry about later.
Before long the auditorium was full and the Master of Ceremonies took to the microphone. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Please rise for the President of the United States…" Once again, the Presidential March was played as the President and First Lady walked in to take their seats.
The MC addressed the group again, "Please take your seats. I would like to take this time to acknowledge our special guests; President Henry Hayes and his wife, Margaret Hayes, Lt General Harrison, commander of the 37th Training Wing, Lt General George Hammond, retired, Major General Jack O'Neill, visiting from the Pentagon, Colonel Nick Westrup, commander of the 366th Fighter Squadron, Colonel Thomas Harding, commander of the 322nd Training Squadron, Chief Master Sergeant Anthony Gunderson, and Chief Master Sergeant Harold Nelson…"
The crowd gave a round of applause. The MC continued, "We are here this afternoon to pay special tribute to those Airmen who have gone through the training here at Lackland AFB and excelled. Each of the Airmen presented here today has distinguished his or herself from their peers by demonstrating superior performance; first in fitness and second in the academic and military bearing arenas.
"First, I will call forward all the trainees who have not only met the rigorous fitness requirements required by BMT, but exceeded them. These trainees have been awarded the Warhawk Award for Fitness Excellence."
The training instructors each took the stage, "From the 320th Training Squadron; Airman Brill, Airman Koch, Airman Morrison, and Airman Nicks." The first TI stepped forward as his trainees walked to the stage as the audience clapped for their particular Airman. They were each greeted with a plaque and a handshake from their TI, and then directed to file back into the wings of the stage.
"From the 321st Training Squadron: Airman Breuer, Airman First Class De Valle, and Airman Hurn." A second TI repeated the process.
"From the 322nd Training Squadron: Airman Jones, Airman O'Neill, Airman First Class Peyton, Airman Ruso, Airman Skoke, Airman First Class Soto, and Airman Thomas." TSgt Vega stepped forward and presented the awards to the Airmen.
"From the 323rd Training Squadron: Airman Chapa and Airman Swartz." The next TI stepped forward to present the awards and so on until the last squadron had presented its awards.
The MC allowed the last of the trainees to disappear behind the curtain. "Now, we will honor those trainees that have demonstrated excellence in all areas. In order to be considered for the title of Honor Graduate a trainee must first excel in fitness. They must pass all academic tests with a 90 or better grade. They must pass each inspection with high marks. And they must exemplify these high standards to the other members in their Flights. No more than 10 of any Flight can receive this award. Now, to award the member of the 320th Training Squadron, TSgt Milclay…"
The first TI to hand out the Warhawk Awards took the podium, "It is my distinct honor announce that Airman Brill and Airman Nicks are selected as Honor Graduates for Flight 1340. Both Airmen distinguished themselves by not only excelling in the military standards but tutoring their peers throughout BMT." Both Airmen reappeared from behind the wings of the stage and stood at attention as the TI came forward and presented them with their Honor Graduate Ribbon. Their families cheered in the background as the rest of the audience applauded.
The MC re-took the microphone only long enough to announce the next TI, "For the 321st Training Squadron, TSgt Green…"
The next TI took the stand, "It is my distinct honor announce that Airman First Class De Valle is selected as the Honor Graduate for Flight 1341. She distinguished herself by demonstrating superior academic performance and pushing her peers to achieve even greater physical fitness levels." The Airman reappeared and stood at attention as the TI came forward and presented her with her Honor Graduate Ribbon.
"For the 322nd Training Squadron, Col Harding…"
Col Harding nodded to the audience as he took his place behind the podium, "I have the distinct honor of announcing four honor graduates this time around. If they would please come forward; Airman Jones, Airman O'Neill, Airman Skoke, and Airman First Class Soto." The four Airmen filed onto stage and stood at attention.
"I have commanded this Training Squadron for two years now and I can honestly say that I have never seen a Flight of Trainees come together like this Flight did. These four here have exemplified not only the high military standards expected of them, but have proven that teamwork is vital.
"Airman First Class Soto is honored not only because of his academic achievement and his perfect Red Line Inspection marks, he is honored because he spent extra time teaching his Flight-mates what he knew about squaring away his locker and bunk. Congratulations Airman." TSgt Vega walked up to the Airman and presented his ribbon. Airman Soto accepted the award and quickly moved off stage into the shadows of the wings, obviously glad to be out of the spot light.
Col Harding continued, "In large part, the success of this Flight was due to its superior trainee leadership. Airman Jones and Airman Skoke, both element leaders, with less time to accomplish their own tasks, were successfully able to inspire excellence in both fitness and academics in their respective elements. Neither of their Elements lost a fellow trainee to recycle for either fitness or academic failure. I have personally flagged their records for consideration in the Boot-Strap program, if they wish to continue in demonstrating their superior leadership skills." TSgt Vega, now sporting a huge grin, walked up and awarded each of the trainees. The trainees were stunned by the news and had to be directed off the stage, the families of the two trainees going wild in the background.
Col Harding gave the President a nod and waited until the audience was quiet once more before continuing, "Finally, last, but certainly not least is Flight 1342's Dorm Chief. Airman O'Neill has distinguished himself from his first days in BMT by demonstrating picture perfect knowledge of the required academic material. He achieved 100 on both academic tests. He showed exceptional leadership skills by assisting all the members in his Flight to excel past the minimum required standards. His leadership skills were so exceptional that he was identified by two separate Senior NCO's as an outstanding Airman and recommended for immediate appointment to the US Air Force Academy.
"However, Airman O'Neill didn't stop with the standard training material. He continued to challenge himself and others in the Squadron by creating a Squadron-wide morale program designed to ensure that all trainees were versed in military trivia and kept current on the latest updates. He practiced and honed the squadron's warrior skills by testing the observational skills and agility of all the squadron members. He upgraded the squadron's public address system to allow for a remote dial with standardized input. In fact, this system was so successful that it was tested on all the squadron's telephone lines.
"Finally, Airman O'Neill challenged his Flight to excel during Warrior Week by not only successfully repelling all the enemy aggressor's attacks, but to take the fight to the enemy. He led a small infiltration team that effectively disabled the aggressors' camp for several hours on the last day of the 3-day exercise, sending the enemy into confusion.
"It is my great honor to present the Honor Graduate Award to Airman O'Neill." Col Harding couldn't wipe the evil grin off of his face as he took the award from a stunned TSgt Vega and presented it to Jon.
Jon was almost stock-still at attention. He took the award automatically. But all he could see was the confused face of Chief Gunderson as he realized what Col Harding was saying. Almost in a panic, Jon looked over to where the President was sitting to see that he was also grinning evilly, and not too far beyond him, Jack.
Oh crap! It was a conspiracy.
Once he had received his award, he quickly exited the stage and tried unsuccessfully to escape. But the back stage area had no exit. The only way out was through the crowd. Double crap!
Skoke watched him while he contemplated escape. Finally, he came over, "I guess they're not going to recycle you."
"No, more like draw and quarter me at dawn," he replied trying to stay his panic.
"What do you mean? Col Harding still awarded you Honor Graduate, even though he knew you pulled all those pranks," Skoke replied, confused.
Jon calmed down enough to start thinking, "That just means that they won't do anything officially. But they still have my ass in a sling until I depart Saturday. And the good Colonel just informed the PJ's who swiped their flag and pulled all those pranks."
"Oh… I don't get it. What can they do if they don't recycle you?" Skoke asked.
"I really don't want to know," Jon stated.
"Well, at least you'll be clear until 1800 tonight. It's not like your family is going to dig you for it."
Jon laughed, "Yeah, right. I have to attend a party 'in my honor' that will include everyone who wants to schmooze the President, who, if I'm not mistaken, is in on the whole thing."
"The 'lets make Jon miserable' thing… ya know?"
Skoke looked confused, "Uh… no. I don't."
Jon sighed, "Don't worry about it. At least Col Harding didn't reveal who else was on that infiltration party."
At that thought, Skoke paled, "Yeah, that would have been bad."
"For you, yeah… Okay, help me think here, what is the best exit strategy?" Jon peeked out of the curtain hiding the Airmen from the audience. The auditorium was setup like most movie theaters with two aisles. He noticed that Chief Gunderson was seated on the far side. If he could hide behind, say a really tall trainee, and then he might just escape down the near aisle. Of course, that meant he had to abandon Cassie, Jack, and the gang to run for his life.
The strategy had promise, but Cassie would be disappointed. Damn! That means that I have to take my medicine like a man. Oh well, 'que sera, sera.' He gave a resigned sigh as the last squadron presented its Honor Graduates. He would face it like a man.
"So, what's the plan?" Skoke asked.
"Oh… I just suck it up and press on," Jon replied.
They both heard the MC bring the ceremony to a close and listened as the audience waited for the President to leave.
"Alright, see you tonight at the dorm," Skoke said as he quickly made his way out to his family.
Jon waited a few more moments as Col Harding steered TSgt Vega down one aisle talking quickly. TSgt Vega didn't appear happy and that didn't bode well for Jon in the near future. Finally, Jon emerged from the shadows in time to see his friend sweep up his little sister in a big hug. Smiling, he made his way down to his own 'family.'
All of them seemed to be amused and had a smile on their faces. Okay, temporary reprieve from the practical joke backlash. Sam was the first to comment, "Remote dialing program, now where have I heard that one before," she teased.
"What can I say, I was inspired…" Jon joked, still scanning the auditorium for lurkers with jump boots and PJ wings.
Daniel interjected, "Now, what has me curious is the 'picture perfect knowledge' and '100 on his academic tests.'" He turned a glare at Jon and then turned it on Jack.
"What?" the replied in unison.
General Hammond chuckled, "I don't even want to know what you did to earn the 'squadron-wide morale program' comment, though I already have a pretty good idea. Congratulations, son."
"Thank you, Sir." Jon looked up and could see that almost everyone had left the auditorium. But Chief Gunderson was still patiently waiting his turn to dig into Jon.
Okay, think offense, not defense. "Chief Gunderson, I'm glad you could make it. You remember my uncle, General Jack O'Neill." Think happy thoughts, Jon. The nice Chief doesn't want to eat you for breakfast.
The Chief was so intent on his target that he was startled by the introduction. So, was Jack. Both men turned to appraise the other carefully before they broke out into huge grins that ended in a big bear hug.
"Meatball, it really is you," Jack stated, pulling back.
"Yes, Sir, in the flesh," the Chief replied.
"Meatball?" Daniel asked Sam quietly. She only replied with a shrug.
"Sweet," Jack turned back to the rest of the group. "Kids, this here is the reason you've had me on your sixes for the last… how many years is it now, Sir?"
"I believe I retired after eight, Jack," General Hammond replied.
"Eight years… who'd a thunk?" Jack continued. "Any whoo, this is the guy who saved my sorry ass… ss-soul… back in 1991. So, if you're looking for someone to blame… Daniel… this is the man. Kids, Meatball… Meatball, the kids… and, um, General Hammond."
"Thanks, Jack… I think…" Daniel stepped forward. "I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson. This is General Hammond, Teal'c, Lt Col Samantha Carter, and Cassie Frasier. You already know Jon and Jack."
The Chief gave them each a handshake and a polite nod, "Nice to meet you."
Jack turned back to the Chief, "Chief, huh. Belated felicitations all around!"
"Yeah, thank you, Sir. I have to say Major General is pretty impressive. Especially after that stunt you pulled on Colonel Chase…"
Jack shushed him quickly, "Hey, no giving the kids ideas…"
Chief Gunderson looked him over critically, and nodded to himself before saying, "Seriously, Sir, you look good. The desk job must agree with you," he stated as sadness seeped into his eyes.
Jack just shook his head, "Not really. I think it's making me fat." He patted is non-existent stomach affectionately.
Daniel snorted, "Right, Jack. It has nothing to do with the two pieces of pie you had at lunch."
Jack turned an appraising eye on Daniel, "Are you saying I'm fat, Daniel?"
Daniel, after years of working with Jack, could sense the verbal trap, "Um… no." Cassie giggled at their antics and Sam looked like she was only controlling her laughter through sheer will.
"Good." Jack turned back to Chief Gunderson, "Chief, Meatball, it really is good to see you again. I'll give you a call sometime. I'd like to catch up. See what the old crew has been up to… ya know?"
"I'd like that, Sir." The Chief turned back to the others, "Again, nice meeting you." He gave Jon an appraising look through narrowed eyes, "I'll talk to you later, Airman." Then he turned and gave the group a small wave before he left the auditorium.
Sam turned a questioning look to Jon.
"Think infiltration… The aggressors were the new pipeline PJ indoctrinees. Chief was sort of in-charge of 'em," Jon replied casually.
General Hammond's laugh caught him by surprise, "You just got to keep tweaking the nose of the bull, don't you, son?"
"Yeah… well… it's what I do," Jon answered.
Jack checked his watch, "Alright, kids… and Sir, we got just enough time to change and make it to the party." Jack gave Jon an excited grin, "You up for a lu'au?"
"Of course," Jon replied, "As long as there's cake. It's just not a party without cake."
Jon finally returned to the dorm with just two minutes to spare. It had taken all of his special ops skills to successfully navigate from the BMT reception center where he had to sign-in to the Squadron and up to his dorm without being seen. Not that he was sure the PJ's were looking for him, but you could never be too careful. Special Ops guys could be sneaky, especially when pissed.
Jon was no sooner in the dorm then he was surrounded by his Flight-mates. Apparently, Ruso had taken it upon himself to inform the whole Flight of what Col Harding had said during the Honor Graduate and Warhawk awards ceremony. He tried to deflect the accolades and attention of his Flight-mates, but they persisted until TSgt Vega called the whole dorm to Attention.
"Stand by your bunks for roll-call. MOVE!" TSgt Vega's voice carried through the dorm and the Flight scrambled in response. "Dorm Guard, secure the dorm until roll-call is complete.
"YES, SIR!" the trainee standing guard answered. He was from Fifth WOT and filling in while Jon's Flight had base liberty.
TSgt Vega casually strolled down each bay checking to ensure that every occupied bunk had a body next to it. Once he was certain that his trainees were all in place, he called them all to the day room. The Flight scrambled to the dayroom.
TSgt Vega stood at the front of the Flight grinning. His smile was slowly returned by each of the new Airmen. "Well, you did it. You made it through the first day of the graduation ceremonies. One more day to go. And tomorrow is a doozie. Graduation Parade complete with Presidential speech and Open House. Followed by your first taste of freedom. But let's not let that go to your heads.
"By now you have all heard that the Dorm Chief is our practical joker. Yes, Colonel Harding and I both know this and have taken steps accordingly. DO NOT think for one minute that he is getting away with it. We just chose not to disrupt the President's visit. Instead, Airman O'Neill is departing our Flight one day early, while the rest of you are on Town Liberty. I'll leave his punishment to your imaginations. In the mean time, you are free to discuss the issue here in the dorm. Outside of these walls, the information is classified. Understood?"
"Good. Now, this dorm still needs cleaned before lights out. Get to work!" The Flight scattered to their assigned tasks.
Jack and the rest of the SGC group met over breakfast to plan their day. The Graduation Parade was a given, and Cassie was dead set on seeing the Dormitory, but after than, none of the group could agree on a single destination.
The military members had already seen all the sights in the San Antonio area over their years of service. Daniel had no interest in the recent history of the city. Cassie just wanted to spend time with everyone. Only Teal'c had offered a destination. He wanted to see the zoo. The group finally agreed to let Jon decide and if he deferred, they would go to the zoo by default.
They arrived at the BMT Reception Center with plenty of time to spare and took the early bus to the Graduation Parade Grounds. They found a seat near the edge of the bleachers, hoping to make a quick exit. Once again Cassie was bouncing with excitement and asking a thousand questions about the ceremony and the significance of various aspects. And once again, the group tried to answer her questions as quickly as she could ask them, only to be saved at last, by the Master of Ceremonies announcing the arrival of the BMT Flights.
As Jon's Flight was announced, Cassie jumped up and tried to spot Jon among all the young men in the Flight. "Do you see him? I don't see him. Where is he?"
Jack gave a long suffering sigh, "At the back on the other side, Cass. Same place as yesterday."
"Well no wonder I can't see him. Why is he back there?"
"I would think that the reason was obvious," Jack stated sagely.
"Really, why then?" Cassie said, not sensing the trap.
"Well, to keep you from seeing him, of course." Jack stated with a smirk.
Cassie punched his arm.
"Ouch! Hey, no beating up an old man. What kinds of things are they teaching you at that school?" Jack made a big show of rubbing his arm, trying and failing to get any sympathy from the rest of the group. Luckily, he was saved by the sound of the band. "Finally. I thought it would never start."
The group watched as a group of senior officers came to attention and marched forward to stop in a perfect line. Next the officers in front of each Flight came to Attention and executed an about face so they were looking at their formation.
"What are they doing, Uncle Jack?" Cassie asked.
"They're getting ready to march onto the parade ground. The bugle call you heard is called the Adjutant's Call. It lets the Group Commanders, that first bunch, know to start the ceremony. See, now the Squadron Commanders are marching the squadrons onto the Review Line," Jack explained as they watched the Squadron commanders. "Now, they are putting them in Close Interval for the march."
"Who's that?" Cassie asked as a group of several officers walked to the center of the reviewing stand before halting.
Jack eyed the group, "The Troop Commander and his staff, I think."
One of the officers moved from behind the leader and took position several paces before halting, "GUIDES… POST." His command was clearly heard over the huge parade ground.
The Flight guides moved into position from the rear so they were now standing in front of the first element of each Flight.
"Who is he?" Cassie asked again, this time referring to the officer giving orders.
Jack had no clue and while he was trying to form a smart-ass reply General Hammond answered for him, "That's the Wing Adjutant. He acts as a Second in Command to the Commander of Troops.
"GIVE YOUR GROUPS PARADE REST," the Wing Adjutant ordered, after the guides had stopped in their new positions.
The Group Commanders gave the order, "GROUP."
"SQUADRON," echoed the Squadron Commanders as they relayed the order.
"REST." The trainees complied with the order all at the same time, snapping into position in a stunning display of precision.
"Wow!" was Daniel's quiet reply.
The Wing Adjutant, still at attention, commanded, "IN PLACE, SOUND OFF." The band promptly began to play.
Cassie looked confused, "How come they are saying 'Group' and 'Squadron' today when yesterday they said 'Squadron' and 'Flight'?"
"I don't know," Hammond replied.
Sam smiled, "Yesterday, the Commander of the 737th Training Group was the Commander of Troops. Today, according to the agenda, the Commander of the 37th Training Wing, Lt General Harrison is in command."
"GIVE YOUR GROUPS ATTENTION," the Wing Adjutant commanded.
"Oh, okay," Cassie replied, sounding just as bewildered as before.
"A bigger commander needs bigger groups of people to command," Jack interpreted, unhelpfully. But he was rewarded with a giggle from Cassie and a resigned sigh from Sam.
"GROUP," came the command.
"SQUADRON," was the echoing command.
"ATTENTION." The trainees all snapped to attention.
"Please rise for the President of the United States…" the Master of Ceremonies' voice stated over the PA system followed by the Presidential March from the band.
The whole crowd rose as President Hayes and his party walked from the side to the reviewing stand at the center of the bleachers. The President waved to the crowd and seated his wife before taking his place at the front of the reviewing stand. A young Airman bearing the Presidential flag stepped into position behind him, mirroring the guidon bearers on the parade ground.
Once the reviewing party was in place, the MC relayed, "Please take your seats I would first like to welcome President Hayes and the First Lady, Mrs. Margaret Hayes. Our Commander of Troops for this parade is Lt General Harrison, commander of the 37th Training Wing. His Wing Adjutant is Major General Thompson, commander of the 433rd Airlift Wing. Thank you for attending our ceremony today."
"GIVE YOUR GROUPS PRESENT ARMS," ordered the Wing Adjutant.
"ARMS." The trainees snapped a salute and held it in place.
Upon completion of the command, the Wing Adjutant executed an about face and saluted Lt General Harrison. "Sir, the parade is formed," he reported.
General Harrison returned the salute, "Take your post."
The Wing Adjutant dropped his salute and moved briskly to his position behind the General.
"GIVE YOUR GROUPS ORDER ARMS," General Harrison ordered.
"ARMS." The trainees dropped their salutes in unison.
The voice of the MC quietly continued his narrative of the ceremony, "The ceremonial parade has been used for centuries by military units all over the world. It provides an occasion for military members to express their pride in their performance, in their service, and in their chosen profession of Arms. It displays, in its most visual form, the battle discipline of the troops in review.
"The United States Air Force uses the ceremonial parade to demonstrate the proficiency and training state of the Airmen under review, to honor distinguished persons, or to celebrate and recognize special events. Today's Graduation Parade is to commemorate all three."
"RECEIVE THE REPORT," ordered General Harrison.
The Wing Adjutant immediately moved from his position behind the General to his original position several paces before the General. "REPORT."
The commander of the first squadron saluted and held it in place as he gave his report, "320th Training Squadron, all present or accounted for, Sir."
The Wing Adjutant returned the commander's salute and minutely turned to face the next commander.
"321st Training Squadron, all present or accounted for, Sir."
Once again, the Wing Adjutant returned the salute. He continued to receive the report from all the training squadrons. After the last squadron gave its report, the Wing Adjutant executed an about face and saluted General Harrison, "Sir, all present and accounted for."
General Harrison returned his salute.
The MC continued his narrative, "The Airmen standing before you are the newest members of the United States Air Force. Today's ceremony is to celebrate their successful completion of Basic Military Training and to welcome them into the United States Air Force."
"PUBLISH THE ORDERS," General Harrison ordered.
At the General's command, the Wing Adjutant executed an about face to read the orders to the formation. "ATTENTION TO ORDERS. Members assigned to Flights 1340, 1341, 1342, 1343, 1344, and 1345 in the 737th Training Group, 37th Training Wing, have successfully completed all the requirements of Basic Military Training for the United States Air Force on this day, the 5th of August, in the year 2005, by order of Colonel James H. Mosby, commander of the 737th Training Group, Lackland Air Force Base."
The crowd of family members gave a hearty cheer as the Wing Adjutant finished. He waited until the crowd was quiet once more before continuing, "OFFICERS."
At his command, all the officers and their guidon bearers in all the squadrons took several measured steps forward and stopped.
"CENTER, MARCH," the Wing Adjutant continued.
The officers and guidon bearers all turned towards center and marched in step. Once assembled in the center, they marched in step to a position just before the Wing Adjutant. Then with perfect timing, they all saluted General Harrison. As the commanders, moved off to the center, the Blue Rope TI's moved from their positions at the back of the Flight to the commander's former position.
General Harrison returned the salute, "ORDER, ARMS. OFFICERS, POST, MARCH."
With the General's command, the officers, guidon bearers and the Blue Rope TI's all returned to their original positions in the formation.
Once they reached their positions, the Wing Adjutant executed an about face, "Sir, I present the command."
Jack was smiling like a proud papa. Next to him, General Hammond was also smiling proudly. The sight of the Airmen in formation was impressive. Both men knew that it took a significant amount of time to instill that kind of timing and discipline in raw recruits. But they weren't the only ones who could appreciate the skill it took to put this formation on display.
Teal'c was also quietly nodding and displaying a small smile, "It is indeed a most impressive sight," remarked Teal'c quietly, so as not to interrupt the ceremony.
"GIVE YOUR GROUPS PRESENT ARMS," General Harrison ordered.
"ARMS." The trainees snapped a salute and held it in place.
General Harrison next addressed his own staff and flag bearer, "STAFF, CHANGE POST, MARCH."
The General, his aide, the Wing Adjutant, and flag bearer all executed an about face and saluted President Hayes in perfect sync. "Sir, I present the command."
President Hayes seemed slightly in awe of the sight before him. But he remembered his queue and returned the General's salute with a crisp salute of his own.
"STAFF, ORDER, ARMS. GIVE YOUR GROUPS ORDER ARMS," General Harrison ordered. His staff dropped their salutes again with perfect timing.
"ARMS." The trainees dropped their salutes in unison.
President Hayes was quickly becoming overwhelmed by his own emotions. He didn't remember military ceremonies being this powerful before. However, this time he was in awe of the group before him. He nearly missed his next line, but his own aide reminded him with a subtle clearing of his throat. "PRESENT THE COMMAND," he ordered in his best parade voice.
General Harrison executed an about face, ""GIVE YOUR GROUPS PRESENT ARMS."
"ARMS." The trainees snapped a salute and held it in place.
The MC's voice once more rolled through the air, "Please rise for the playing of the National Anthem and the presentation of the Colors. It is traditional for military members, both active and retired to stand at attention and salute the flag. Members of the civilian community are encouraged to honor the flag by standing and placing their hand over their heart…"
"STAFF, PRESENT, ARMS," General Harrison ordered. As his group executed their salutes, the band began to play the National Anthem and the Color Guard made the slow measured march through the center of the parade grounds, coming to a halt directly across from the President in the reviewing stand.
Tears were streaming from the President's eyes as he lowered his own salute to the flag after the last notes of the song faded from the parade ground. He was gratified by the quiet sniffles he could hear behind him. At least, he wasn't the only one so deeply affected by this ceremony.
"STAFF, ORDER, ARMS. GIVE YOUR GROUPS ORDER ARMS," General Harrison ordered.
"ARMS." The trainees dropped their salutes in unison.
"GIVE YOUR GROUPS PARADE REST."
"REST." The trainees snapped into the new position of parade rest.
"STAFF, PARADE, REST," the General ordered. His own staff mimicked the trainees by snapping into position.
President Hayes eyed the trainees arrayed before him. He glanced down at his prepared speech and smiled and addressed the trainees, "Airmen, I stand before you to share your excitement and joy as we celebrate this important first milestone in your new career. This is hopefully the first of many such milestones in a long career.
"Your families, your friends, your peers, and myself are standing here to honor your commitment to this country. You have sworn to protect this country. It is an easy thing to say, in the abstract. But the reality is that YOU have sworn to protect your family, your friends, and your peers. You have sworn to protect me, as a citizen of this country.
"And for that we all honor and thank you, the newest of the Air Force. And we thank all those men and women who have dedicated themselves to the same cause. I thank you, both as a President and as a citizen.
"As a former Airman, I also welcome you. You have demonstrated all the qualities listed in our core values; integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. If you didn't, then you would not be standing before us now. Congratulations! This is a job well done." As President Hayes finished his short speech, he gave General Harrison a nod.
"STAFF, ATTENTION," the General ordered. His staff snapped to attention with him. "GIVE YOUR GROUPS ATTENTION."
"ATTENTION," the trainees snapped to attention, once again displaying the precision that they earned in their hours of drill practice.
General Harrison did an about face and saluted President Hayes.
Not missing a beat, President Hayes returned the salute and ordered, "MARCH THE COMMAND IN REVIEW."
Once again, General Harrison did an about face. "STAFF, CHANGE POST, MARCH." His staff re-arraigned themselves behind him. "PASS IN REVIEW," he commanded.
The order started a chain reaction in the waiting formation. The group commanders ordered a column of squadrons and the squadrons began to parade along the outside of the parade ground in single file. Meanwhile, the band began to play as they changed positions, removing themselves from the parade route in front of the reviewing stand.
The crowd of family members began cheering as they located their particular Airman as he or she marched past. When the first squadron finally reached the review stand, the squadron commander called 'eyes, right' and the heads of the Airmen snapped to a 45 degree angle as they passed the reviewing stand. The first row of Airmen continued to keep eyes to the front, ensuring the Flight stayed on course.
"I see him," Cassie cried, excitedly. "There at the front." The rest of the SGC group turned and finally found Jon in the guide position for his Flight. All around them, family members were also crying, clapping, and shouting as they celebrated the achievement of the new Airmen. There wasn't a sad or dry-eyed face in the crowd.
Finally, the last squadron finished the circuit of the parade ground and resumed its original position. The squadron commanders called their squadrons to a halt and waited for the next order.
The voice of the MC one last time, "This concludes our ceremony today. Thank you for joining us. Please remain standing and in place for the departure of the Presidential party…" The band played the Presidential March as the President and his wife rose and their party filed out of the area, smiling and waving.
The crowd waited anxiously as the Flights continued to stand at rigid attention. "STAFF, CHANGE POST, MARCH," General Harrison commanded. The crowd grew quiet as the final orders were given.
Then General Harrison finally gave the command everyone had been waiting for, "DISMISS THE COMMAND." General Harrison and his staff waited at attention.
"DISMISSED." The entire formation of trainees executed an about face at the same time, displaying their last uniform movement. The crowd of family went wild and surged forward toward the trainees.
Jon and the rest of his Flight were finally dismissed. They stood milling about glowing in the success of the Graduation parade. Jon shook his head as Skoke, grinning like a fool, danced a little jig.
"Come on, Skoke. Let's blow this popsicle stand," Jon was getting antsy. The sooner he got over to stands, the sooner he could vacate the base and more easily avoid Chief Gunderson. Jon had noticed the Chief at the parade as they were marching and wanted to avoid that awkward conversation for as long as possible.
"Yeah, yeah. Let's go. I can't wait for you to meet my family." Skoke started to push through the crowd of family members. He had pre-arranged to have his family meet him near the center of the bleachers.
Jon wasn't exactly sure where Jack and the gang were, but he was in no particular hurry to find them. It would be impossible to find them quickly in this mess anyway. He was far more concerned that Chief Gunderson would show up first.
They made their way past small family groups and were skirting the outside of the parade grounds when Jon saw him. He had been scanning the area trying to locate the Chief and avoid detection, when he first saw him.
'Ba'al," he gasped.
"What?" Skoke asked. His friend turned and noticed the look on his face. "Dorm Chief? What's wrong?"
Jon went into combat mode like a switch had been flipped. He grabbed his friend by the arms and proceeded to give him rapid fire instructions, "Find the Secret Service. Tell them to get a message to Agent Richards. Tell them we have a Foothold situation. Do you understand?"
"Yes, but…?" Skoke replied then stopped. He gave a firm nod and sprinted off in the direction the Presidential party had left.
- Jack! – Jon gave a mental shout. –Ba'al is on the west side of the parade grounds. Get your ass over here!-
-What the hell!?- was Jack's only reply. –Teal'c, Carter, Daniel, and I are on the way.-
Jon watched as Ba'al slowly made his way from the crowd and into the surrounding trees. Jon slid into the tree line behind him and drew his pistol from the ankle holster. He was only in the trees a few feet when he heard a sound behind him. He spun around, weapon ready, prepared to find an angry Goa'uld. What he found instead was a very frightened and confused TI.
Jon saw TSgt Vega draw breath to speak, and Jon instantly stopped him with a hand gesture. Then he motioned the TI to stay behind him as he continued to stalk his prey through the thin trees. They rounded a small hill to find Ba'al waiting for him.
"I'm disappointed," Ba'al stated, as he leaned casually on a tree across the small clearing. "Here I paraded around hoping to catch a great Tau'ri warrior. Instead, I am stalked by a chal'tii."
Jon stayed to the edge of the clearing. He motioned TSgt Vega to stay back, since he was unarmed. "Aray kree, ha'taaka!"
"Such language, child. Don't you know who I am?" Ba'al stood up and sauntered into the center of the clearing. "I am your god," Ba'al said, his voice resonating.
Jon laughed out loud, startling both Ba'al and Vega. –Jack! What's taking so long?- Jon knew that Ba'al was taunting him. Ba'al didn't know about Jon. Or at least that Jon carried Jack's memories. "You are no god. You are a snake. Or, more likely, a cheap copy of snake. I doubt that you rate the whole godhood gig."
"You dare mock me, calmah?" Ba'al actually started to look angry, but was trying to remain casual.
Jon skirted around the trees a bit more, hoping to find better cover. He gave Ba'al one of his patented O'Neill grins, "Ba'al, come on. Of course I dare mock you."
Ba'al froze in place. His eyes narrowed as he examined Jon closely. "An O'Neill," he spat. "I should have known."
"Yeah, ya always were a bit on the slow side, Bocce." Ba'al cocked his head to one side. In the distance, they could hear shouts.
-Hurry up!- Jon screamed mentally at Jack.
Ba'al's next words brought his full attention back to the snake, "I had hoped for the older O'Neill, but his offspring will do as well." Ba'al made a move with his hand, exposing his hand device. He aimed and fired a pulse at Jon.
Jon ducked and rolled out of the way as the tree next to him splintered from the impact of the blast. "Sorry to disappoint you, Bouncy Ball, but I'm not his son." Jon aimed and squeezed off a round. The bullet bounced off Ba'al's personal shield.
"Why can't it ever be easy?" Jon swore to himself. He dove and rolled again as Ba'al fired another pulse in his direction. "Ah hell, who wants to live forever?" he sighed and then he ran straight at Ba'al.
Just as Ba'al raised the hand device to fire again, Jon tucked into a forward roll. Ba'al's shot passed over him harmlessly. He launched from his roll into a leap that caught Ba'al dead center. The two rolled and Jon was able to successfully pull the hand device off, before Ba'al gained the upper hand and pinned him face down on the ground. He wasn't sure exactly when he lost his gun. But he was sure that he could have used it at this point.
"You cannot defeat a god, child," Ba'al's smooth voice crooned, in his ear.
Jon started to laugh. He laughed loud and long, covering the noise of Jack and the team approaching quickly through the scrub. He just had to hold out a few more seconds.
"Wanna bet?" TSgt Vega answered from less than a foot away. Jon felt Ba'al tense as TSgt Vega pressed the muzzle of Jon's pistol into the back of his head. "Now, get up slowly. If you try anything, I won't hesitate to pull the trigger."
"And if he does hesitate, I'll pull mine," Jack's voice floated across the clearing.
"Ah, O'Neill," Ba'al replied coolly, without so much as twitching a muscle. "Your skills as a marksman are well known among my Jaffa. But can you kill me before I kill this boy?... I think not." Jon winced as Ba'al twisted his arm further up his back.
-Damn it! Do something!- Jon struggled in Ba'al's grasp, "Er täuscht, alter Mann. Eintragfaden hoch," he shouted. "Jetzt!"
Four pistols fired simultaneously. Ba'al dropped slowly on top of Jon, dead.
Teal'c was the only one with his weapon un-fired. "I am afraid I do not speak that language, O'Neill."
"It's German, Teal'c," Jon said as he pushed the limp body away. "And I was counting on Ba'al not knowing it."
"A wise selection, indeed," Teal'c replied bowing his head, respectfully.
Jon stood up and stretched his muscles, feeling out the damage that Ba'al had inflicted on him. Finding only soreness and minor pain in his muscles, he gave the group a grin. "What took you guys so long?"
Jack ignored him. Sam smirked. And Daniel stood mouth agape. "You're welcome, Jon," Daniel huffed.
"Well, at least we know he's alright," Sam soothed her team-mate.
"Oh?" Daniel queried.
"Yeah, he's complaining. It's when he stops complaining you got to watch out," Sam replied.
"Hey," Jack complained, "I resemble that remark." He gave Sam and Daniel a dark look and then gave up as the two fell into a fit of giggles.
"See, what I have to put up with? Absolutely no respect." Jack said to TSgt Vega as he holstered his pistol and went over to inspect the body.
Jon felt the adrenaline start to fade from his system. He knew that the shakes would be next. But right now, he felt sticky. Ew! He was covered in Ba'al bits. He was about to demand a shower, when the Secret Service finally arrived in force.
"EVERYBODY, FREEZE. THROW YOUR WEAPONS DOWN AND PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR," the first agent shouted at the group.
The group complied and let the Secret Service take their weapons. Finally, Special Agent Richards arrived breathing heavily. "I'm on scene now, Sir," he said into his radio.
Special Agent Richards took in the people in the clearing, both the standing and the fallen. He went over to the body, and peered into the back of the skull. Taking note of the tell-tale blue stain of symbiote blood, he finally nodded. "Let'em go. They're clean." He turned to Jack, "General, the President would like a full report immediately. The Airman said that we had a Foothold. What is our status?"
Jack's demeanor immediately changed from relaxed to commanding. "Only one double sighted. He was immediately followed and engaged Col. O'Neill before he could be contained. You saw what was left of him. Unless there are more doubles in the area, we should be clear."
"Understood. I'll radio ahead. Special Agent Nelson will escort you to the President." Richards turned and relayed the order to clear the area of other doubles before the all clear could be given.
"If you'll follow me, Sir," Special Agent Nelson escorted Jack out of the ring of Agents and was given a pistol to replace the one that was currently being bagged as evidence. Before he was out of sight, he gave Sam and Daniel piercing looks. They both glanced at Jon before nodding.
Jon wasn't watching the group, he was back to feeling sticky. By chance, he noticed TSgt Vega standing off to one side, staring at the body. Jon recognized the look in his eyes. He was certain it was the same look that he still got on occasion. The sergeant didn't even feel the gore that covered him from firing at point blank range.
"What just happened here?" TSgt Vega asked Jon quietly when Jon stepped up beside him.
Jon considered the question carefully. "You saved my life," he finally stated.
TSgt Vega chuckled, "Yeah, I guess I did."
"Thanks, by the way," Jon added casually.
TSgt Vega turned towards him and really looked at him. Jon could still see the ghost haunting the man. TSgt Vega was the kind of man who would regret killing Ba'al. But he would willingly live with the regret if he found it was worth the price. Jon understood that kind of regret. It mirrored his own.
But whatever, TSgt Vega saw in Jon, reassured him. He smiled as he finally replied, "You're welcome." Then he frowned in thought, "How did you know I spoke German?" he asked Jon.
Jon broke out in a broad grin, "I didn't. But I did know that both Daniel and Jack would understand it. I wasn't so sure about Carter, but I guess that doesn't matter now."
TSgt Vega chuckled, "Then how did you know that guy was bluffing?"
Jon's smile faded a bit, "He wasn't."
TSgt Vega's eyes widened in surprise and then slowly nodded in acceptance. His eyes wandered back to the body. "Who was he?"
"Someone who will NEVER torture anyone to death again," Jon stated firmly.
"O'Neill, we are being asked to leave so that the agents may secure the scene," Teal'c's deep voice interrupted.
Jon took a deep breath and took one last look at the body. He finally straightened and turned, "Carter, stay with the body. Teal'c and Daniel, you're on me. TSgt Vega, we need to get cleaned up without making a scene. I would recommend the TI shower room. We can send an Airman for a spare uniform. I'm sure the Secret Service will want us both to be available for questioning later."
Jon started to make his way back to the parade ground. He was only a few feet from clearing the trees when he remembered that he was covered in blood and gore. He stopped and turned to one of the Special Agents in their escort, "We can't be seen by the families like this. Have someone send a car to us here."
"Yes, Sir," the agent replied and immediately got on the radio to relay the request.
The group arrived at the squadron just in advance of the hordes of family members that were being escorted on foot by the trainees for Open House. Jon and TSgt Vega marched quickly past the CQ and into the TI locker room trying to avoid the shocked looks of the few TI's that were present and waiting the visiting family members.
The poor TI on CQ duty tried to follow them into the locker room, only to be stopped by Teal'c blocking the doorway. The only time the door opened was when Daniel relayed Jon's request to have Airman Skoke fetch him a new uniform, when he arrived at the squadron.
Once they were both showered and dressed in a clean uniform, the Secret Service agents allowed them to return to the dorm with the promise that they would stay inside until the all clear had been received. Jon was willing as long as Daniel and Teal'c could stay as well, at least until the All Clear was given. TSgt Vega agreed to stay only because he had already planned on catching up on paperwork in his office.
TSgt Vega finished the Open House in a numb daze. He felt like the whole scene before him was unreal. He was able to greet the family members without too much difficulty, even the quick visit with President Hayes just felt like an extension of the surrealism surrounding the day.
At odd quiet moments, he would flash back to that clearing. He could feel the gun in his hand and feel the kick of the recoil as he fired. He would again hear the kid's quiet words of reassurance, as if he had been there before and understood. And it helped.
Perhaps, the kid had been in his place before. At least it seemed to TSgt Vega that the kid was also haunted by ghosts. In fact, from the way the other two hovered over the kid, it was like they expected him to break at any moment. Not that the kid let on that anything was wrong, but he had the quiet look. That same one he had at the Code of Conduct briefing, distant and pained.
Not that the knowledge helped TSgt Vega feel any better about himself. All his years in Security Forces had exposed him to the possibility of drawing his weapon when an Airman resisted arrest. He had even seen men dead before, as he helped to secure the scene of a homicide or vehicle accident. But he had never seen a man dead by his own hand before. He had never been the cause of another man's death before.
'You saved my life.' The kid's words came back to him, giving his self-hatred pause. 'Thanks.'
TSgt Vega may be a TI now, but he had spent a little over 10 years in Security Forces. 10 years of throwing himself between the threat and the asset. 10 years of breaking up fights, guarding the airplanes, and defending the base from incursions. And in 10 years, the kid was the first one to say 'thanks.'
It gave TSgt Vega a whole new perspective on the whole scene in the clearing. He wouldn't have changed anything, but he still had doubts. Could he have done anything else? Was killing the only option?
"TSgt Vega?" the dorm guard interrupted his thoughts.
TSgt Vega turned to the trainee, "Yes?"
"Sir, a Chief Gunderson is at the door seeking entry. He's not on the list, Sir."
"Thank you, Trainee. I'll take it from here." TSgt Vega got up from behind his desk and went to the door. He stepped outside to meet with Chief Gunderson followed by the Secret Service agent guarding the dorm.
"Chief, can I help you?" he started.
"TSgt Vega, I want to talk to Airman O'Neill. The CQ said he was still here," the Chief stated. He didn't seem too upset anymore, but he was definitely insistent. "Look, I didn't tell anyone else about the little speech at the Honor Graduate ceremony. I just…. I guess, I just need to talk to him."
TSgt Vega thought about what the kid had just gone through this morning. And on top of that, the Chief wanted to chew him out. His eyes narrowed and focused on the Chief, "No."
The Chief blinked, his mouth wide open. "But…"
"No." He turned back to the dorm door and knocked.
The dorm guard opened the door and his Dorm Chief stepped out. "O'Neill?" he asked. The Secret Service agent immediately moved to intercept the kid. But the kid just waved him back.
"It's alright, TSgt Vega. He earned the right to an explanation a long time ago. Mind if we use your office?" The kid was different. In total control. O'Neill escorted the Chief into his office and firmly shut the door behind him, even blocking out his two shadows.
A few minutes later, they both exited the office with satisfied grins.
"Thanks, Chief. I'll be sure to pass that on to my uncle," Jon said as he escorted the Chief to the door.
Once the door closed, TSgt Vega wanted to ask him if everything was alright. But he found that the question was unnecessary. The kid was fine. In fact, he was back to teasing the man that had been introduced as Dr. Daniel Jackson. It was a familiar ribbing, with plenty of inside jokes. So, TSgt Vega left them to it.
Before long, the day had turned to evening and the rest of the trainees began to filter back into the dorm. The Secret Service had declared the 'All Clear' and left the dorm to prepare for the departure of Air Force One. Dr. Jackson and Teal'c left with them, leaving the Flight one last night together.
Saturday morning found Jon hauling his bags down the dorm steps closely followed by his Flight-mates.
Air Force One had flown out the night before with Jack safely on board. The Secret Service had announced to the news media that they had foiled an assassination plot against President Hayes. Lackland Security Forces were applauded for their rapid response to the scene. No mention was made of Ba'al, Jon, Vega, Jack, or the rest of SG-1 and their involvement in the whole incident.
With the Ba'al incident closed and the area clear of other Ba'al clones, Jon was allowed to spend his last night with his Flight, albeit with an extra Secret Service guard at the entrance, replacing their normal trainee dorm guard. They had spent much of the evening passing around stories about family and friends and their hopes for the future. Jon spent the time absorbing the whole normalcy of the scene, etching it into his memory.
"This blows, man. Couldn't they send you to the Academy on Sunday? You shouldn't have to give up your town pass," Ruso stated for the group.
Jon chuckled, "It's alright, Ruso. The way I see it, I get to leave basic a whole two days early. Two for one."
"True. But it still sucks."
"Yeah, for you," Jon snarked. "Besides, the flight is scheduled to leave today. Not tomorrow."
The whole Flight had gathered around the taxi that was waiting to take Jon to the airport. Jon tossed his bags in the back and closed the trunk. Finally, turning to face his Flight-mates for the last time, he was surprised to see everyone gathered around, even TSgt Vega was standing in the group.
Skoke stepped forward with a box, "Well, we couldn't think of anything appropriate to say, so, we got you this." He handed the box to Jon with a flourish.
Jon was stunned and honored. He gingerly took the box from his bunk-mate and smiled. "You shouldn't have." Then he opened it. The box exploded in a shower of blue and silver glitter, covering Jon and the taxi behind him.
"Yeah, we probably shouldn't have, but we couldn't help it," Skoke replied with a huge grin.
Jon started laughing with the rest of his Flight-mates, as he started to brush the glitter off of his uniform. "I'll miss you guys, too." The goodbyes were short but everyone go to say their piece before Jon finally climbed into the taxi and headed for the airport. To TSgt Vega, he just gave a small, mischievous smile, and said "See you later."
TSgt Vega finally strolled into the 322nd Training Squadron after three weeks off. He had taken the time after his last Flight graduated to cash in on some much deserved leave. He found that being responsible for whipping his yard into shape was much more relaxing than pushing a Flight through BMT.
More relaxing, but not more rewarding.
"Good Morning, TSgt Vega," the CQ greeted him.
"Good Morning, what's on the schedule?" TSgt Vega asked with a smile.
"Not much. Col Harding wants to see you when you get settled," the CQ reported.
TSgt Vega sighed. He dropped his things in his locker and absently pulled off a letter taped to the door. He closed his locker and sat down as he opened the letter and read the contents.
He rushed out of the locker room to Col Harding's office, barely checking himself before he rushed in.
"TSgt Vega, good to see you back. How was your leave?" Col Harding asked casually.
"Sir, what is this?" he asked, tossing the orders to the Colonel.
Col Harding barely glanced at the orders before handing them back. "Orders, Sergeant."
"But nothing, TSgt Vega. You know how this works. You impressed some important people. They want you somewhere else. Didn't you notice the promotion?" Col Harding chided with a soft smile.
TSgt Vega frowned and glanced back down at the orders. They did indeed come with a promotion. "I guess not, Sir."
"Well, what are you waiting for? You have approximately 2 weeks to out-process and report to your new duty station at Cheyenne Mountain."
TSgt Vega gave a shy smile and then saluted, "Yes, Sir."
END SIXTH WOT
Retreat and Parade: commands and movements come directly from the regulation… or in this case AFMAN 36-2203, Drill and Ceremonies. I have been in the Air Force for… well, a long time… and I had a hard time making sense of the reg. And I actually have been in most of these ceremonies. My memory is the only thing that saved my sanity. So please, don't read the reg. Just enjoy it. If you like living on the edge, you try and read it and let me know where I got it wrong. I dare you.
Jack's Ribbon Rack: I constructed this ribbon rack based on information found on the Stargate SG-1 Solutions website ( in the Wiki) and my own personal knowledge of the Air Force. If you want to see the ribbon rack, you can go to one of MANY Ribbon Checker websites. My favorite is the Military Wives Website. His ribbons as described in my story are:
Air Force Cross
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Bronze Star – one bronze oak leaf cluster
Purple Heart – several oak leaf clusters (at least on silver)
Meritorious Service Medal – one bronze OLC
Air Medal – V device
Joint Service Commendation Medal – one bronze OLC – V device
Air Force Commendation Medal – one bronze OLC
Air Force Achievement Medal – V device
Presidential Unit Citation
Joint Meritorious Unit Award – 2 bronze OLC
Prisoner of War Medal
Combat Readiness Medal
Air Force Good Conduct Medal – one silver OLC, one bronze OLC
National Defense Service Medal – one bronze star
Antarctica Service Medal
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Southwest Asia Service medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Armed Forces Service Medal
Air Force Overseas Ribbon – Short Tour – two bronze OLC
Air Force Overseas Ribbon – Long Tour
Air Force Longevity Service – one silver OLC, two bronze OLC
Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon – one bronze star
United Nations Medal
Kuwait Liberation medal (Gov't of Kuwait)
Oak Leaf Cluster – denotes an additional award. Bronze 1, Silver 4 bronze.
Bronze Star – denotes an additional award for National Defense and Small Arms Marksmanship
V device – denotes that the award was for a combat mission
AFB – Air Force Base
AFSC – Air Force Specialty Code – job code for a specific AF job
Aray kree – Goa'uld – Stay where you are!
BDU – Battle Dress Uniform
Blue Rope – This is a TI with a light blue rope around their smoky the bear hat. It denotes that they supervise the TI's and are therefore 10 times meaner than any single TI. There are usually 4 assigned to a training squadron and they are always Senior NCO's.
BMT – Basic Military Training
Boot-Strap Program – A program designed to take Enlisted personnel and train them to become Officers. From the phrase, 'pulled up by his boot straps.'
BX – Base Exchange – the base equivalent to Wal-Mart. Run by AAFES.
Calmah – Goa'uld – child
Chal'tii – Goa'uld – untrained warrior
CQ – Charge of Quarters – this is the central command center for the dormitories.
Eintragfaden hoch. – German – Shoot high.
Er täuscht, alter Mann – German – He's bluffing, old Man.
Et tu – Latin – And you
Ha'taaka – Goa'uld – Vile One.
ID – Identification
Jetzt – German – Now.
Lu'au – a Hawaiian BBQ
MC – Master of Ceremonies. This is the guy who directs official traffic during the course of a ceremony.
NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NCO – Non-Commissioned Officer – I.e. the backbone of the service. These are the supervisors and section chiefs in the enlisted force.
PA – Public Address – usually an overhead announcement system. Specific systems target a single building or the entire installation.
PC – Physical Conditioning
PJ – Para Jumper – slang for Para-Rescue Troops – Air Force Special Operations Command.
POV – Point of View
Recycling – When trainees mess up big time or fail their qualifications, the TI's have two choices: Recycle or Wash Out. Recycle, as the name implies, means that the TI thinks the trainee is USAF material, just unable to pass at this time. The trainee is sent to a different flight in the early weeks of training to repeat those weeks. This allows the trainee time to pass their tests or qualify. It is also used as a punishment for minor offenses. Wash Out means the trainee is processed out of the military. In this case, the TI has decided that the trainee is not USAF material or will never be able to pass the qualification standards.
SGC – Stargate Command
TI – Training Instructor
US – United States (usually)
USAF – United States Air Force
VIP – Very Important Person – usually used for visiting dignitaries.
WOT – Week of Training
AB – Airman Basic
Amn – Airman
A1C – Airman First Class
SrA – Senior Airman
SSgt – Staff Sergeant
TSgt – Technical Sergeant
MSgt – Master Sergeant
SMSgt – Senior Master Sergeant
CMSgt – Chief Master Sergeant
CCMS – Command Chief Master Sergeant – technically the same as a CMSgt but don't think they aren't a lot more powerful than a regular Chief.
CMAF – Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
2Lt – Second Lieutenant – butter bar
1Lt – First Lieutenant
Capt – Captain
Maj – Major
LtCol – Lieutenant Colonel
Col – Colonel – also known as a mess officer, full bird, and full bull.
BG – Brigadier General
MG – Major General
LG – Lieutenant General
GEN - General