**** Summary: Hmmm, Jack clone and Jarod clone, and in the same school no less. Colorado may never recover. ****
**** Spoilers: Fragile Balance (SG1) and the Gemini Story-line (Pretender). I despise how two excellent characters were basically ignored. ****
**** Distribution: CrossGate, Wormhole Crossing****
**** Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, universes or the computer I'm writing this on. No copyright infringement intended. ****
**** Warnings: PG-15 Language just to be safe and some mention of adult situations. Just because the body got younger does not mean that Jack's language got more innocent. And has anyone listened to high-schoolers recently? Read the chapter titles, my humor leaked through. ****
****Hi, my name is not Jack O'Neill. ****
Jack looked around the high school with a fair amount of superiority and dread. He knew what he did wrong the first time around and he planned on correcting those mistakes. But still . . . the older Jack was right when he said that they never really got high school. Jack was also here for the fun and a chance for an extended vacation from the Air Force. He had insinuated to the other Jack that he was here for the booty, but after feeling like a dirty old man among the girls in his class, he had hit on the guidance councilor. She was a really hot blond. The problem was she hadn't even acknowledged Jack's flirtation, seeing as he was a lowly sophomore.
Oh, that's right. Jack was fifteen again. At the moment, Jack was deliberately suppressing the whole 'clone bit,' but it kept popping up in his head.
Jack turned the corner and walked into his first class-health. Jack was planning on sleeping through it the second time around. Even if it had not technically been this body or consciousness in the previous tenth grade health class; the important part was that Jack remembered it. Jack also remembered hating it.
He found a desk near the back next to a dark haired boy just as the bell rang. The boy offered a shy smile and Jack nodded back. It could have been Jack's imagination but he seemed even younger than the rest of the kiddies. The teacher entered the classroom and started a classroom discussion of respecting others. Jack snorted quietly. Health was supposed to be about how the human body worked not some psycho-crap nonsense on how to treat people. Respect was something you earned, or something you demanded from others. Respect was something learned from a child's parents, before a person hit puberty. Talking about it to a class of teenagers was pointless. Trying to involve a group of teenagers in a discussion about respect is asking for trouble.
The case in point would be the shy boy who was suddenly very outspoken. He was arguing with the teacher about . . . whoa . . the boy rather skillfully back the teacher into a corner about the one subject Jack was trying to forget.
"Yes Jarod, I suppose clones should be treated with the same respect as one treats all other people."
"But if I were to prove that I was a clone, you have already said that you would treat me different."
"Jarod, such a hypothetical situation is so far in the future . . . "
Jarod interrupted the teacher, every word ringing with a passion of knowing the truth. "It will happen in the next decade. People need to start changing attitudes now."
Jack grinned as he watched the teacher stutter. Jarod caught his eye and Jack offered a nod of support. Jack just found his new best friend, as cliché as that might sound. This kid would be loyal and smart and would probably not freak if he ever found out about this Jack's beginnings on an Asgard battleship. Maybe the key to good friends is picking people that will accept you as you are.
The bell rang, indicating the end of the class period. For once it was the teacher not a student that was saved by the bell.
Jack collected his books and wandered over to the boy's desk. He was still collecting all his papers. This kid was at least better organized than Daniel. Jack offered his hand. "Hi, I'm Jack O'Malley," a slight pause for humor, "with two 'l's."
The kid looked surprised and shyly shook his hand. "I am called Jarod, or J.J."
Jack noticed the odd introduction but chose to ignore it. The two teenage boys exited the classroom and started walking through the crowded hallways, dodging the many bodies. "Hey, you were great in there. Are you on the debate team or something?"
J.J. shook his head. "No. I am too young for the debate team."
J.J.'s language was stilted, Teal'c-like. "Too young?" Jack questioned.
Any further conversation was halted when a blond female suddenly threw herself into Jack's arms. "Jack! Did you miss me?"
Jack tried to gracefully disentangle himself. He looked to J.J. for assistance, but the younger boy had stepped back, wide-eyed. Jack was not about to gain any help from that quarter.
"Miss, I'm sorry, but I think you have the wrong . . ."
The girl looked up, smirking. "Little Jack, did you miss me?"
"Cassie?!?" Jack hollered. He gave her a tight squeeze; then he let up. "Wait a minute, Little Jack?"
Cassandra Fraiser giggled, and extracted herself from the hug. "Mom told me what happened and that the Air Force placed you in this school. And I think 'Little Jack' is perfect. Much better than what Sam was calling you."
Jack winced. 'Duplicate O'Neill' was his least favorite memory of The Incident. He knew, not necessarily accepted, that he was not the original, but really, why did Carter have to rub it in? Carter, of all people, for cryin' out loud, should have realized that the Jacks shared all the same memories. "Right. But don't expect me to answer to 'Little Jack. '"
Jack turned back to J.J., who was watching hesitantly. "J.J., I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine, Cassandra Fraiser. Cassie, this is J.J. . . . you never did give me your last name."
"Parker." J.J. reached out to shake Cassie's hand.
"You're the kid that skipped two grades and is still taking college courses on the side." Cassie blurted out.
J.J. blushed and scuffed his toe.
Well, that explained the 'too young' comment. Jack felt pity for the kid. "Sweet. We better get going if we're not going to be late for our next class."
J.J. nodded and skittered away. Cassie, on the other hand, grabbed his arm and hauled him into an empty classroom.
"For cryin' out loud, Cassie, What?
Cassie whirled around and started poking Jack in the chest. "Now, you and I have to get one thing very clear." For some reason, Cassie greatly resembled her adoptive mother at that moment.
Jack looked from the finger in his chest to Cassie's face and asked, "What?"
"You are for no reason whatsoever to interfere, intimidate or otherwise do anything to my boyfriend or any guy that might hit on me or flirt with me or anything! I know you think like Old Jack," Jack got a perverse amount of pleasure over hearing Cassie refer to the other as Old, "but you are to stay out of my love life."
Jack grinned. Cassie was much too young to be dating at all, let alone seriously. "Love life?" Jack might have to apply a little pressure on her current boyfriend. Just to make sure that he was treating Cassie right, you know.
Cassie set her jaw and poked him in the chest again. "Yes, love life. If I need help I'll ask for it, but you are to stay very far away from my boyfriend. Sam taught me a few tricks. No guy is going take advantage of me. Do you understand?"
Jack's grin widened. "Sure Cassie, what ever you say."
Cassie threw her hands in the air. "You're going to be impossible, aren't you? You're going to pick on my poor boyfriend no matter what I say?"
"Yep," said Jack. "But you've gotta admit it's going to be fun."
Cassie finally let a smile slip by her reserve. "You're right, it is going to be fun."
****And for homework, write an essay. In 500 words, plan an act of revenge. ****
Jack set his lunch tray down across from J.J. There wasn't another kid within twenty feet of the loner. One might think that being ostracized could be contagious. "J.J., does any one ever talk to you?" J.J. looked so lost, tearing his peanut butter and jelly sandwich into little neat squares.
J.J. offered a weak smile. "Only when they require homework answers."
Jack winced, "What about the other geeks?"
"I am too intelligent for them. They cannot keep up in an intelligent conversation." J.J. was now arranging the squares into a concise checkered pattern.
The poor kid. Jack wondered if Daniel or Carter had such problems in high school. He didn't think so. Daniel was willing to talk to anyone who would listen and many people who wouldn't. Carter was always popular with the females on base and was pretty enough that the guys did not care how smart she was. Then there were people like McKay, who lusted after her brains first and her body second.
"Why are you talking to me?" J.J. asked the straightforward question.
"I like the way you cornered the teach." Jack said.
"And?" J.J. asked.
Jack smirked. This kid definitely was suspicious of everyone. So Jack told the truth, or the unclassified part of it. "You remind me of my friends from my old place."
J.J. tilted his head. "Okay."
For someone with such a high level of distrust, he sure accepted Jack's reasoning quick enough. Jack decided to ask some Daniel questions. "Why are you wasting your time in High School? I mean, not that I'm trying to get rid of you, you're the most interesting person here, but you would have more in common with people in college."
J.J. smiled, an honest little boy smile, a Charlie smile. "Thank you, but all the psychologists agree that I need to improve my social skills."
Jack snorted. "What a load of bull. They're just jealous that you're smarter than they'll ever be."
J.J. just smiled. "Do you need assistance on your homework?"
Jack was shocked and it showed on his face. "Hell, no. I haven't hit anything I don't know yet." J.J. was smirking quietly and Jack realized that he had been set up. "You were teasing me!" Jack accused.
J.J.'s smile was shy, but he just shrugged.
"I guess I was laying on a little thick, huh?" Jack mused.
J.J. looked confused and Jack was about to explain when Cassie slammed her lunch tray next to Jack's.
"I can't believe Jenny did it!" Cassie plopped herself in a chair, her expression alternating between anger and depression.
"Hi, Cassie," Jack's tone was droll. "How are you today? Why yes, J.J. and I would love for you to join us for lunch. Please, pull up a chair."
"Cute, Jack." Cassie didn't even look up from the unidentifiable main dish she was playing with.
Jack rolled his eyes to J.J., who was watching the interaction with avid fascination. "So Cassie, are you going to tell us what's wrong or are we going to have to guess?"
Cassie was silent. So Jack addressed J.J., "What college classes are you taking this semester?"
J.J. looked so confused, but before he could answer, Cassie finally decided what she was going to say. "Jenny McCaroll erased my name on my history report and replaced it with her own. I didn't find out about it until Mr. Crabshaw asked me why I skipped the quarterly report! I was so stunned that I couldn't say a thing and then Jenny waltzes up beside me, and sweet as you please, tells Mr. Crabshaw that I had forgotten to turn it in! He looked so disappointed and while I was still sputtering he walked away. Then Jenny turns to me and tells me what really happened and said that since I 'was always offering to help people with their homework, she knew that I wouldn't mind if she used my paper since she got stuck while working on hers,' while I know perfectly well that she was out on a date with Chris Mitchell every night this past week and . . ."
"Cassie, breathe." Jack interrupted.
"How could she do this to me? She's the most popular girl in eleventh grade. I'm doomed!" Cassie wailed.
J.J. left his lunch and bookbag where it was and came over to Cassie's side of the table. "Come." He pulled on her arm. "This is easy to correct."
Jack left his food at the table and pulled on her other arm. "I agree, we can fix this now."
Cassie looked from one boy to the other in surprise. "It's too late."
J.J. shook his head. "It is never too late."
Cassie reluctantly stood and put her bookbag on her back. She allowed herself to be pulled from the lunch table and up the stairs. When J.J. led the trio to the left, Cassie jerked her arm away. "Mr. Crabshaw's room is that way." She gestured to the right.
J.J. shrugged. "This is his lunch period. He prefers to eat with the other teachers in the lounge."
"How do you know that?" asked Jack.
J.J. trained his eyes on the floor. "I pay attention. I remember the little details."
"That's cool," encouraged Jack. "That's what keeps you one step ahead of everyone else."
J.J. was obviously surprised that anyone thought well of his little habits that loneliness had probably developed. The three students stopped in front of the teacher's lounge and Jack knocked on the door.
Cassie got cold feet. "This is a bad idea." She tried to flee but both boys stood in her path.
Jack put a hand on each of her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake. "It'll be okay, Cassie. He'll believe us." At least, Jack hoped so. He had not been in the school long enough to get a grasp on the different personalities that taught.
A female teacher that Jack did not know answered the door. J.J. spoke up for the group. "Excuse us, Mrs. Janes, but we need to talk to Mr. Crabshaw. Please tell him we are waiting?"
The white-haired teacher eyed the three students and silently disappeared into the teacher's lounge. The portly Mr. Crabshaw came to the door a few moments later.
"Yes?" he asked. "Miss Fraiser, Mr. Parker, what can I do for you and your friend?"
"I'm Jack O'Malley, sir." Jack introduced himself and shook the man's hand. "We have a problem. Actually it's more Cassie's problem but we're here for moral support."
Mr. Crabshaw looked to Cassie. Cassie blushed and looked down. Jack nudged her forward.
Finally Jack rolled his eyes. "Well, tell him."
Cassie glanced up at her teacher and then trained her eyes on the floor. "Mr. Crabshaw, I wrote the paper on Israel's history not Jenny. She replaced my name with her own and than lied about it."
Mr. Crabshaw watched Cassie soberly. "This is a very serious allegation, Cassie. Do you have any proof?"
"Ask her a question about the paper." J.J. piped up. "I am sure she can answer any question."
Cassie stared at the young boy, surprised at the utter confidence in her. She focused on the present though. "Mr. Crabshaw, you can ask or you can have my disk. It's all on there, the final copy that I thought I handed in to you yesterday."
Mr. Crabshaw nodded. "I'll have to see this disk."
Cassie nodded vigorously, dropped her backpack on the ground and started digging through it. Soon she had the computer disk in hand. "Uhm, can I have it back before I leave for the day, 'cause I have two other papers on that disk too."
Mr. Crabshaw smiled warmly. "If you follow me to my room, I'm sure we can get this cleared up before lunch is up and you can take your disk with you. Next time Miss Fraiser, please type your name on the cover page and not write it on with erasable ink."
Cassie smiled back, suddenly relieved. "Thank-you, Mr. Crabshaw. I will, I promise."
Jack kicked his locker. The stupid thing wouldn't open. It was a bad beginning to what he knew was going to be a bad day. Why had he thought that being a teen in a high school again would be fun? School sucked. He was being bored out of his mind.
"What did you do?!" A girl yelled in anger. Jack's head jerked up. It was hard not to miss the accusation even in the loud hallway. This could be interesting. Jack was heading in that direction anyway so he turned and followed the commotion. Cassie's locker was down that way and they shared their first period class together.
Then Jack heard Cassie scream, it was a scream of pain. Jack dropped his bookbag and ran to assist. A girl was yanking on Cassie's hair. Jack hurried to intervene. He grabbed the girl's hands and held them still as Cassie disentangled herself. The girl struggled and lashed out with her foot. Jack barely winced when she connected with his shin.
"What is going on here?"
Jack released the girl and stepped between her and Cassie. He ended up face to face with Mrs. Janes. He offered her a confused smile. "Going on, ma'am? Why nothing."
The strange girl burst into tears. "He hit me," she wailed. "Cassie started it and then he came along and hit me!"
Jack rolled his eyes. "One, I don't hit girls and two, if I had hit you, you'd be on your ass right now."
Mrs. Janes sniffed. "Language, young man. You two miscreants report to the principle's office immediately. Jenny, come with me dear, I'll walk you to the nurse's office." The two disappear among the crowd. Jenny Dear looked more smug than devastated or hurt.
Jack whirled on Cassie. "What the hell is going on? And did that really happen?"
Cassie looked ready to burst into tears herself. "We better get to Mr. Palek's office before Mrs. Janes gets there. They really try to discourage fighting at school."
Jack threw up his hands. "But what happened?"
Cassie picked up Jack's book bag and shoved it at him. "That was Jenny McCaroll. She was upset about something."
Jack perked up. "You think Mr. Crabshaw called her on the carpet for her cheating?" He followed Cassie down the hall and then down the stairs to the main office. He hoped that SG1 would never hear of this, second week of school and already in the principal's office.
Cassie shook her head. "He did that last week, I think. No, she was screaming about all her grades changing. Report cards went home yesterday."
Jack opened the door for Cassie and followed her into the office. "Maybe the other teachers checked to see if she cheated in those classes?"
Cassie shook her head. "They would have talked to Jenny first about that. She's Mr. McCaroll's daughter, the teachers wouldn't do anything without going by the book."
The pair stopped at Mr. Palek's door. Mrs. Janes was already there telling Jenny's side of the story. Jack snorted when Mrs. Janes reiterated the accusation that Jack hit Jenny. Both adults turned their way.
Mr. Palek was frowning. "Jonathan O'Malley, this is rather early to be getting into this kind of trouble."
"I never hit the girl, sir." Jack defended himself. "I just held her hands so that Cassie could get free, that's all. She doesn't even have a bruise. Ask anyone who was around. I never swung at her. She has a mean kick though."
Mrs. Janes sniffed. Jack was really beginning to hate the woman. "That's not what she says."
Jack rolled his eyes. "And you're going to believe the word of a girl who has been caught cheating and lying at least once in the last two weeks?"
Mrs. Janes straightened. "I'm sure she'll be cleared of those charges."
"For cryin' out loud, she stole Cassie's paper and turned it in as hers. Ask Mr. Crabshaw, we proved it to him ages ago. I'm sure that it's not the first time she pulled a stunt like this." Jack was frustrated. As an adult, he would have been heard. As a teen, every word was met with suspicion.
Mr. Palek shook his head. "None the less, fighting is against the rules. All three of your will be serving detention for two weeks."
"What?!" Jack so did not need this. The colonel in him realized that it was a rather fair punishment, but not.
Cassie finally spoke up. "Mr. Palek, before Jenny started pulling my hair, she started off really nice and flattering, asking how I changed her grades. Did someone actually change her grades?"
Mr. Palek looked thoughtful.
"See," Mrs. Janes crowed. "Jenny was provoked."
Mr. Palek hushed the woman with just one glance. "I don't know, Cassandra, but I will look into this matter. You're both dismissed."
The two were mere steps outside the main office when J.J. pounced. "You two okay? I heard you were sent to the principal's office for fighting."
Cassie jumped and Jack glared. "Boy, news gets around fast."
J.J. shrugged. "Small school, gossip is free and travels faster than the wind."
"Yes, we're okay." Jack stalled J.J.'s concerned glances. "Jenny was trying to hurt Cassie and I stepped in."
Cassie eyed J.J. with suspicion. "J.J., did you change Jenny's grades?"
J.J. looked remarkably innocent but Jack had the feeling that Cassie had caught the culprit the first time out. "Is that what the fight was about?" J.J. asked. "Someone had changed her grades?"
Cassie nodded. She looked weary to Jack. He wondered how long Jenny had been taking advantage of Cassie.
The bell rang. "Second period already?" Jack muttered. The three friends hurried to their separate classes. They would regroup at lunch.
"Cassie, are you okay?" J.J. asked for the third time.
Cassie stopped fussing with her hair and picked up her sandwich. "I'm fine J.J., honest." At J.J.'s disbelieving stare she continued. "I just have a little bit of a headache." She offered Jack her sandwich. "You want this? I was supposed to get some homework done during first period study hall. I'll slip in there now and finish . . . stuff."
Cassie dropped the food in Jack's hand and skittered away. Both boys followed with their eyes.
"She will improve, right?" Jack turned at the concern in J.J.'s voice.
"Sure she will." Jack said. "Cassie's a survivor. And we're here to watch her six."
J.J. looked confused. "Excuse me?"
Jack chuckled, he really needed to get the military speak out of his vocabulary. It was very noticeable in a high school setting. "We'll be watching her back and make sure no one can hurt her."
J.J. nodded slowly. "Then why say 'six'?"
Jack pointed to his watch, a gift from the other Jack, since the Air Force would replace it. Jack appreciated the small gesture. He knew what a pain it was to break in a new watch. "Six is the bottom of the clock and when you're giving directions, twelve is in front and six is at your back."
J.J. nodded again. "Six. Understood. So Mrs. Janes is at your four."
Jack automatically looked and there the teacher was, glaring at Jack. Jack turned back to J.J.. "You're good." The boy had comprehended the concept, translated it and kept his numbers straight as he gave the information from Jack's perspective.
"So," J.J. played with his food for a moment. "Would getting revenge be considered watching Cassie's six?"
Jack narrowed his eyes. "So you did change McCaroll's grades."
J.J. ducked his head. "It was just a little change. What her grades would look like if she only handed in her own work."
"How would you know what that would be?" Jack asked.
J.J. shrugged. "I listen. People talk and Sara Hunter knows all the gossip about everybody. I am tutoring her so she passes math."
Jack shook his head. This boy needed something to keep him busy, but then, so did Jack. "So what do you have in mind for McCaroll? And how can I help?"
J.J. grinned wide. Suddenly looking like a child about to steal a cookie from the cookie jar. "All I need is a lookout."
J.J. smiled. "I will be ready tomorrow. Could you locate all the security cameras in the building by then?"
Jack nodded. "No sweat."
"How the hell did you get McCaroll's locker combination?" Jack whispered in amazement. They had a three-minute window before their respective teachers would wonder about them taking a bathroom break.
"Fred Katila works in the office and peeked in the files for me." J.J. opened the locker with very little trouble. The door was covered with pictures and the top part of the locker held make-up and other vanity items. J.J. went straight for the hairspray.
"Ah, J.J. It's not a good thing to have too many people involved. They can all point fingers at you."
J.J. was not worried. He uncapped the bottle and removed the nozzle. "Jenny McCaroll took one of his papers last year and her boyfriend Chris has been harassing Fred's little sister all month. Odds are better that you would tattle on me than Fred."
Jack shook his head. He had not realized that High School was so cutthroat. "You're goin' to have to get me hooked into the grapevine. What are we doing to McCaroll anyway?"
J.J. emptied a syringe into the tip of the hairspray and then shook the bottle. He grinned at Jack. "We are dying her hair puke green. The great thing about hair dye is that it does not change the follicle color immediately. It takes at least twenty minutes. So it won't happen while she's looking in the mirror, but in the middle of class."
That kind of thing got a girl really angry. "Is there any way for her to pin it on us?"
J.J. shook his head. "No eye-witnesses and if you took the route we planned, the security cameras showed you going into the bathroom like you were supposed to. And," J.J. waved his glove-covered hand, "I am not leaving any fingerprints. I used a hair dye that can be bought at the corner drug store."
"But you didn't buy it there, right?"
"Right. All done." J.J. shut the locker quietly.
"See you after school?"
J.J. smiled. "Sure, Jack. Whatever you say."
Cassie sat in Mr. Crabshaw's history class and studiously took notes. Thankfully, Mr. Crabshaw had suggested that Cassie change seats so that she was no longer in Jenny's path. Thus she had a front row view of the Jenny's dye job.
It was the giggles that first alerted Cassie to the problem. A quick glance around the room revealed no clues on why. Cassie returned her attention to her notebook when Diane, seated in the desk behind her, kicked her foot. Diane kicked her foot two more times before Cassie turned around to glare at the acquaintance/friend.
Diane merely grinned back and nodded her head Jenny's way.
Cassie couldn't stop the gasp of surprise. Jenny's ponytail had turned a horrible shade of green. And the color was lopsided, mostly on the right side of her hair. With most of the class, Jenny turned her head to see who made the noise. Cassie tore her gaze away so she wouldn't meet her eyes and in doing so she saw Mr. Crabshaw's reaction when he saw the dye job.
First he looked surprised. Then amused and then he tried to school his face into a solemn façade. Cassie was pleased with the twinkling eyes he sent her way. Cassie knew that Mr. Crabshaw knew that Cassie had not been involved in the prank. Cassie wondered who finally reacted to Jenny's shenanigans. Dyed hair wasn't Jack's style, though Cassie would be very surprised if Jack hadn't known the prank was going down. Her 'uncle' Jack always seemed to know everything. Cassie suspected that Jack O'Malley was the same in that regard.
"Yes," Jenny answered cautiously.
The classroom erupted into giggles. Mr. Crabshaw glared and the class quieted. "Miss McCaroll, I wasn't aware that you had dyed your hair."
Jenny went bug-eyed. "What?!?" She reached back to touch her hair only to be met with a slippery substance. When she looked at her hand, she screeched. She tried to shake off the green goo to no success. The entire classroom roared with laughter.
"Miss McCarroll. You are excused to rinse out your hair. Perhaps that will help matters."
Jenny shot out of the room. Mr. Crabshaw allowed the students to energetically guess the perpetrators for a few moments before saying, "Now we are still learning about the Middle East . . ."
With a slight groan but almost immediate silence, the students showed their respect for their favorite teacher.
Jack dropped his books at Cassie's side with a cheerful thump. "Cassie, me-darlin', how're you doing?"
Having been taught by the experts, ie her mother, Sam and Daniel, how to deal with a Jack, Cassie calmly finished her math problem. Jack was still grinning at her when she finally met his eyes. "Jack."
"Cassie. I heard you had an interesting history class yesterday."
Cassie nodded. "We learned about the historical significance of the Muslim and Jewish conflict and how it was exasperated by the English and the French when they arbitrarily decided to draw up boundaries in the Middle East. Did you know that originally the Palestinians were supposed to have their own state after the Second World War?"
"Cassie!" Jack moaned. "That's not what I was talking about and you know it."
"Come on. Throw me a bone. What did McCaroll's face look like when she realized that her hair was dyed?" Jack beseeched.
"But originally Jerusalem was supposed to be a shared city."
"Cassie. Save that for your Uncle Daniel. He cares. Tell me about McCaroll, please?"
Cassie stared at Jack. "Is this a personal interest, Jack? A debriefing of a mission successfully completed? Would you like me to write a report in triplicate?"
Jack threw up his hands. "Until yesterday, I didn't even know that hair dye came in ugly green colors, let alone a spray-able form. How could this be my mission?"
Cassie finally put down her pencil and closed her book. "Hair dye is not spray-able, Jack. That means someone with a little extra intelligence had to put it into an aerosol form. You don't use your brain as much as you could because you collect geniuses around you like Daniel collects rocks."
"Artifacts," Jack absently corrected.
Cassie finally smirked. "I'll have to tell Daniel that you corrected me."
Jack weighed the consequences. "Do it. I don't have to be dragged to every pile of rocks anymore."
"Instead you run errands for J.J.?" Cassie fished.
Jack shook his head. "Nah. I didn't do anything extra-ordinary for J.J."
Cassie had been around Jack since her world had been decimated. She knew how he played with the truth. "So what ordinary thing did you do for J.J.? Go to the store, buy some dye?"
Jack shook his head. "Nope. I explained the mysteries of Babe Ruth to him."
Cassie blinked and mentally reviewed Earth culture. "Babe Ruth? Isn't that a baseball player?"
"Yep. J.J. had never heard about him before and then I had to explain how that related to the candy bar he was eating."
Cassie groaned. Jack was not going to tell her how he was involved.
"So? McCaroll?" Jack prompted.
Cassie offered a mystified smile. "I've never seen the girl look so surprised, maybe even terrified, and of course, furious. I heard that she had an appointment with a hairdresser before the class period was over. They let her go home because of the emotional repercussions."
Jack snorted. "What a crock."
"I know." Cassie laughed. "Once you see the big picture and realize how big the universe is, you laugh at all these little things that the councilors go ga-ga over."
Jack did laugh. "So, what now?"
J.J. slid into the seat beside Cassie. "The principal is investigating. Mr. McCaroll called in his friend from the police department and they're looking into the matter. Most of the cops can't keep a straight face over their new 'case'."
Jack grinned. "I bet."
Cassie tried to interrogate the younger boy. "What have they found?"
J.J. put his wireless laptop on the study hall table and quickly looked around. "Give me fifteen minutes of hacking and I can get you their reports."
Cassie went white as a sheet. "J.J. you can't get caught in the police database!"
J.J. smirked. "You're right, I can't. Not by anyone in the local department, anyway." He leaned back on the two legs of the chair, imitating Jack. "Do you want to see?"
Jack laughed. "Hell, yes."
J.J. booted up his laptop and grinned at Jack. "Time me."
Thirteen minutes and twelve seconds later . . .
"Damn, you're good."
J.J. seemed to swell at the compliment. Then he turned into that bashful little boy. "Thank you, Jack."
Cassie skimmed through the report, her lips moving silently. There was nothing there to implicate either Jack or J.J.. It had been a normal dye, one that had been stolen from the corner store several times last month, that had been injected into the hair spray. No extraneous fingerprints were found and a lot of people had access to Jenny's locker combination. J.J. had never met Jenny. He wasn't even on the list of people that Jenny had accused. Jack was, as was Cassie and dozens of other students. Several teachers were listed as well. Cassie snorted at the idea that the portly and kind Mr. Crabshaw sneaking around to prank Jenny's hairspray. What really surprised Cassie was that Jenny had a previous record – for shoplifting. She had been caught stealing jewelry and purple hair dye. The detective assigned to the case had hypothesized that Jenny had pranked herself in an effort to get attention and to get others into trouble. Cassie disagreed. Jenny was too vain to destroy her own hair with green dye. Either way, the case was delegated as low priority.
"Are you done?" J.J. asked.
With a few swift keystrokes, J.J. was out of the police database. "So what's next on the agenda?"
Cassie's blood froze but Jack just laughed. "I was thinking that we finish our homework."
Cassie relaxed enough to smile. "Jack, are you advocating getting our paperwork done on time?"
Jack laughed. "Don't tell Hammond."
J.J. looked confused but laughed with his friends.
****Good evening, did I interrupt your dinner? I want to sell you something you don't want ****
The phone rang. J.J. leaned forward and grinned at Jack, who grinned back. The phone rang again. J.J. browsed through the list in front of him and picked a greeting. He hit the speakerphone button and said, "Centre Mortuary, You stab them, we slab them."
There was a pause. J.J. was barely holding his laughter until he recognized the voice. "What?"
Instantly sobered; the young pretender hurried to pick up the phone. "Jarod," he said breathlessly, "I am so sorry."
Jack rolled his eyes at the apology, but wondered at the frantic reaction of his classmate.
"Jarod," the elder said, "what are you doing?"
"We are making prank calls." J.J. replied meekly.
There was a puzzled pause. "As I understood it, prank calls involve you calling random numbers, not responding to those calling you."
"Normally they do, but I made a computer program that hacked into the tele-marketers' computers and make them call us. Then we respond like you heard."
"Yes. Jack and I made up a list of things to say."
"Carter's Kennel, we're all dogs here. Carbon Copies Labs. You dice them, we splice them. Something's Rising Bakery: You'll Love Our Buns. Elevator Repairmen: Short Drop, Sudden Stop. Urban Fools Observatory - The Truth is Right Here. Bookworm Fitness Center - One Member Nationwide."
The mischief-maker heard a chuckle. "That sounds like fun. I'm glad you've finally made a friend."
J.J. hurried to talk himself out of trouble. "It is fun and no one gets hurt, and sometimes we make them laugh really hard. You should try it some time."
"I might just do that," said Jarod.
"I'll talk to you later, then?" The experienced Pretender understood that J.J. had a visitor.
"I'll call back soon." Jarod promised.
"Thank you, Jarod."
The Jarod clone hung up the phone and looked over at his friend Jack. "I wasn't expecting that."
Jack shrugged. "It happens. I can't believe you told him to try it himself. He'll never do that. He's an adult."
J.J. leaned back in the chair and put his hands behind his head in an obvious mimic of a Jack gesture. "Jarod might. He's cool like that."
Jack's eyes narrowed. "But will he make the tele-marketers' hacking program like you?"
J.J. grinned. "Of course, but then again he might just make something better."
Jack grunted and waited for the next phone call. Jarod, either Jarod, was really a big egghead. It reminded him of Carter or Daniel. How did he end up with friends like that, and in high school?
"Where have you been?" Miss Parker barked.
Broots skittered to his desk. "Sorry, I got called to help clear up a problem with the switchboard operators and their computers."
Miss Parker fished for a cigarette. "What could possibly be more important than following leads of Jarod?" she asked.
"Actually," Broots typed a few words into his computer. "The problem was caused by Jarod, I think."
Miss Parker leaned over his desk. "You think?"
Broots dropped his eyes. "I was about to run a voice comparison, but it sure sounds like Jarod."
Sydney spoke up. "Broots, what was the problem?"
The computer geek snickered. "Someone, Jarod presumably, reprogrammed the Centre's answering service."
"To . . . say . . . what?" Miss Parker prompted with a growled.
"Well, listen," and he hit the enter key.
Jarod's cheerful voice floated through the air. "Thank you for calling Hell, where fire and brimstone offer escape from the chains. If you know the extension of the demon you wish to contact, enter the number now. If you wish to talk to our lawyers, press one. If you wish to talk to accounting, press two. If someone from accounting is already after you, I suggest you hang up and jump off a bridge. If you need a sweeper team to clean up your mess, press three. If you wish to have someone tortured, press four. If you are interested in joining our rich and backbiting team and are willing to sell you soul, the Human Resource Department can be contacted by pressing five. If you wish to speak to Lucifer himself, please dial extension 359. Thank you and have a good day. Remember, money can always soothe the itch of guilt."
Sidney dropped his eyes and smiled at the floor.
Miss Parker did not know how to respond.
Broots all out grinned. "Isn't Mr. Raines extension 359?"
****All part of this balanced, sugary, breakfast ****
"Jack, where's your ice cream?"
Jack turned his head toward the alarm clock. It took a minute for the blurry numbers to come into focus. "J.J., it's 0600hrs on a Saturday morning." If J.J. was going to make a habit of this, Jack was never going to invite the kid to crash at his place again. Except that he knew that he would the next time the snow was falling too hard.
J.J. shifted and Jack felt guilty. The boy's self-esteem could shatter with the slightest provocation at times. "I'm hungry," J.J. whispered.
Jack rolled over to stare at the boy in his doorway. "Ice cream?"
J.J. brightened. "It's the first food Jarod fed me when he . . . got me."
Suddenly all of Jack's instincts went into high alert. "Got you?"
J.J. shifted again. "Some people were taking advantage of my . . ."
"Egg-head status?" Jack guessed.
J.J. nodded. "Jarod understood and cared and got me out of the situation."
Jack threw the covers back and stretched. "You are not eating ice cream for breakfast in my house. I'll cook. Do you want pancakes, waffles or french toast?"
J.J. looked confused. "I have never eaten any of them."
Jack fell out of bed. "Never?" he gasped from his place on the floor.
J.J. blushed. "The people . . . taking advantage of me fed me wheatgerm and tomato paste." Jack shuddered at the thought. J.J. continued talking, "Jarod grew up on the same stuff and so he fed me a wide variety of foods, mostly sweet. He makes a really good chili with SPAM. Jarod wanted to me to experience everything. Major Charles is not often around and so I am left to my own devices."
Jarod vaguely noticed that J.J.'s speech patterns turned more formal as he became more uncomfortable. "But pancakes? Waffles? French toast?" Where HAD J.J. grown up? A hippie camp? Another planet?
"I'd love to try your cooking." J.J. offered hesitantly.
Jack nodded decisively. "Than waffles it is."
J.J. looked hopeful. "But will you cook the others for me at a later date?"
"We'll see how it goes." Jack led the way to the kitchen determined to teach J.J. how to cook good foods, or more traditional foods. He had one last thought. "Wheatgerm?"
J.J. smiled. "I do know how to cook that."
Jack was horrified. "Wheatgerm? I forbid you from poisoning my pots and pans with the shit."
**** It's all fun and games until someone turns orange ****
Cassie glanced up when she felt a presence beside her at the locker. And then she did a double take. "John! What on Earth happened to you?"
The football player grimaced. His hair, face and hands were dyed orange. Against his natural tan, the color made him look sickly. "Someone put orange Kool-Aid in the shower heads of the boys' locker room between the time football practice began and when it ended."
Cassie looked down the hall to where she knew the other first-string football players hung out. Three were noticeably absent. Two others looked like John. She couldn't help the snicker that escaped her mouth.
John just shook his head. "Go ahead, laugh. Coach just about fell off his chair laughing at us. Apparently it's an old fraternity prank. It brought back fond memories for him. He said that if we took enough showers it would just wear off."
Cassie did laugh. "You haven't taken enough showers."
"Ran outta hot water."
Cassie suddenly got suspicious. "You guys haven't been picking on J.J. again, have you?"
John shook his head vehemently. "Hell, no. After your friend O'Malley beat the shit out of Kevin after the football game last Friday, no one's said boo to the boy." Cassie narrowed her gaze. John threw up his hands. "I swear. No more throwing the nerd into dumpsters. 'Sides the nerd never told anyone. O'Malley caught them in the act."
Cassie smirked. "Both Jack and J.J. have this thing where you can do anything you want to them but don't mess with their friends."
"Yeah, noticed that."
"So who did you piss off?" Cassie asked.
John shrugged. "Not sure. Though after that prank on Jenny McCaroll the geeks are starting to rule this school."
Cassie's smile was cheeky. "As we should."
John leaned against his locker. "You gonna tell me how they did it?"
"They still haven't confessed to the crime," admitted Cassie.
John looked disappointed. "Damn. I wanted to do it to my sister. Even bought the fire engine red hair dye."
Cassie laughed. "Sorry, can't help you there."
"Think O'Malley would tell me?" John asked.
"I don't think Jack masterminded the plan. Not that I don't think he wasn't an active participant," said Cassie.
John deflated a little. "So ask the nerd."
Cassie bristled. "Be nice to J.J.. He's fragile and he's smarter than anyone else in this school. And he cares for other people and . . ."
John put up his hands. "Whoa tiger. Calm down. Just saying that he isn't the easiest person to talk to. Jack's different. A lot of the guys respect how he handled himself in the fight. They're trying to get him to join the team."
Cassie rolled her eyes. "What is it about guys becoming best friends after they've exchanged blows?"
J.J. popped up behind her. "It's a psycho-semantic remnant of . . ." J.J.'s voice trailed off when he saw who she was talking to. "Oh. Cassie, I apologize. I did not intend to interrupt."
John shot Cassie a look that said, 'see what I mean,' but he still offered his hand to J.J.. Startled, the younger boy stumbled back. Even the football player could recognize a defense mechanism when he saw it. He smiled grimly. "J.J., I've heard about you. I'm John French."
J.J. looked to Cassie for assurance before shaking the larger teen's hand. "A pleasure to meet you." He blinked at John. "You're orange."
"No shit, Sherlock." John retorted.
J.J. visibly wilted. "Sorry, I . . ."
"Didn't do it." John finished his sentence. The teen offered a sort-of apology "That's all I care about."
J.J. tilted his head. "How did you turn orange?"
"Some genius put orange Kool-Aid in the locker room shower heads."
Once J.J. realized that he was not the 'genius' being blamed, he offered a theory. "That would work, I suppose. The tiles in the locker room are orange so you might not see the water as an odd color and the hot water would activate the dye and increase the potency. And those showers are always so hot."
John's jaw dropped. "So taking hot showers would not get rid of it?"
J.J. shrugged. "It would in the sense that you are removing a layer of skin as you wash but no. The hot water might even leach the dye into previously unaffected cells. A hot shower would not be as effective as having a hard workout, sweating for an extended period of time and then taking a cold shower. That would utilize the normal sloughing-off process. One, of course, would have to hydrate so as to increase the liquid available to the sweat glands."
"Of course," the football player mumbled. He glared at Cassie who was giggling her head off.
J.J. looked from John to Cassie and back again. "Uhm. It's lunchtime. Cassie, are you coming or are you eating elsewhere?"
Cassie smiled at the boy. "I'll be right there, J.J.. Save me a seat."
J.J. scampered off. John and Cassie watched him go. One with irritated admiration and the other with fondness.
"See," said Cassie. "It helps having a genius around."
John shook his head. "I'll keep that in mind." He turned back to the pretty blond. "So if you were laying odds on who did it . . ."
Cassie slammed her locker shut. "If I were laying odds, I'd have to say that Jack was giving his answer to joining the football team. Sorry, John," she patted his arm with faux sympathy, "Jack is just more of a hockey guy."
**** I once caught a human this big ****
J.J. met up with Cassie and Jack in the student parking lot Friday afternoon. Jack was always willing to drive the two home, even if Cassie lived across town from Jack and J.J.. Jack started the truck's engine and they were off. The three friends chatted about other students, the week and school in general. J.J. thought it was an interesting case study of the psyche of the teenage mind. Both Jack and Cassie shook their heads at J.J.'s too-smart commentary.
"J.J., you need to shut off your brain," Jack complained.
"And do what? Meditate? I tried that once. It was interesting and I figured out how base-eight math really works. Did you know that . . ."
"Argh! J.J.! No technobabble. That's an order. School's out." Jack glared at Cassie in the front seat of his truck. "And no giggling. That's an order too."
Cassie outright laughed in Jack's face. "You can't order me around, Jack. Not until we go to the Air Force Academy."
J.J. nudged Cassie's shoulder. "I still think you should come to college with me."
Jack checked oncoming traffic before continuing through the blinking red light. "And we think you should come with us to the Academy. It's not too late to sign up for early admissions."
J.J. shook his head. "I can't. I need something that challenges me."
Jack could hardly argue. "Shutting off your brain seems like a challenge. Why don't you come fishing with me this weekend and learn how it's done?"
J.J. perked up at the invitation. "But that's your time," he said wistfully.
Cassie snorted. "Be warned, J.J.. Jack doesn't let anyone talk on a fishing trip. You just sit on the dock, or if you're lucky, in a boat and cast the fishing line into the water. Very little talking and definitely no cell phones. Jack once threw a cell phone into the lake because someone brought it with them."
"Oh. Then why invite someone? Unless it's about the presence of that person, companionship, a weighing of the silences." J.J. examined Jack's face for clues.
"J.J.! Quit analyzing my fishing trips! They are trips, that you fish! No more!" Jack glowered for a moment. "Do you want to come, or not?"
"I'll come." He paused. "You won't throw my textbooks into the lake if I bring them, will you?"
Jack sighed. "Not this time." Jack pulled into J.J.'s driveway. "Pack clothes for a couple days and a pair of swimming trunks. I'll take care of the rest. I'll pick you up in a couple hours."
J.J. climbed out of the truck. "Sure thing, Jack!"
Jack and Cassie watched the excited boy race into his house. Memories flooded the truck.
Cassie finally spoke. "Jack?"
"It'll be okay."
Jack smiled at the young woman he thought of as his daughter, or at least a favorite niece who happened to be the same age as this body he was in. "Ya, sure, you betcha."
J.J. was waiting on the front step when Jack returned. Jack could tell by the odd bulges in the duffel bag that he had not packed very well. J.J. had his backpack at his feet and a college textbook in his lap. The bookbag, Jack was sure, was filled with every conceivable book that J.J. could carry.
J.J. was practically bouncing with excitement. "I've never gone fishing before. I looked it up on the Internet. There's a lot of conflicting views on how to catch a fish and . . ."
"J.J., stop." Jack ordered. "I'll teach you how to fish. And the point is not to catch fish."
"It's not?" J.J. looked so confused.
"It's not." Jack threw J.J.'s bags in the bed of his truck. "Jump in and I'll tell you about a very important part of fishing."
"Telling fish stories."
Jack smiled softly as he picked up J.J.'s plate. He picked up the boy's cup and utensils as quietly as possible. J.J. was sound asleep after tramping through the woods near the cabin. He wanted to know what everything was called and what was its part in the ecosystem. J.J. had exhausted Jack's knowledge of the local flora and fauna. Thankfully the bookshelves contained enough to answer all of J.J.'s questions. The books were scattered around the floor, open to the pages that J.J. last referenced.
Jack washed the dishes as quietly as possible. Let the boy sleep. It was easier to deal with the memories of this place in the silence. The cabin seemed so much brighter with the laughter of a child and J.J. was a child in so many ways. J.J. was a willing student of survival techniques and tracking wildlife. Jack was so often startled with the speed J.J. could learn. He quite literally absorbed information like a sponge.
What was he doing in high school?
Jack shook his head. Silently he thanked the other Jack for letting him borrow this place. He put all the dishes away and went to bed. He had to keep up with J.J. tomorrow as well. At least this younger body made it possible.
Jack was dropping J.J. off Sunday night when he noticed a light on in J.J.'s house. J.J. saw a tall, male form through the window.
"Jarod!" he cried. J.J. scrambled out the door with barely a 'thank-you' and a 'good-bye.' Jack was not miffed. J.J. had thanked him almost constantly during the trip. With a soft smile, Jack watched as J.J. and his friend embraced in the doorway of J.J.'s house. He put the truck into drive and turned out of the driveway.
In the back of his suspicious mind, he wondered what 'Jarod' looked like and if the blinding light behind the man had been intentional. At this point, Jack would not be able to recognize 'Jarod' if he bumped into him on the street.
What kind of person left a sweet kid like J.J. home alone for weeks at a time?
**** Now you have a new chore: taking out the garbage for other people ****
The two boys turned around to see who was calling their names. The hallway was mostly empty as everyone hurried home for the beginning of a long weekend. Jack bristled protectively when J.J. hid behind him once the younger boy recognized the football player hurrying down the hall.
"John," Jack said evenly. "Is there a problem?"
John French shook his head. "Nah. Hi J.J.. I need help and I thought that you two might be willing."
"It depends," replied Jack.
"You remember Kevin?" asked the jock.
Jack smirked. "Is that the one that broke his nose or broke his arm?"
"Yeah." Both boys grinned.
John took a step back. "Kevin's been an ass while he's healing up. He set up one of our best players, made it look like he had an anger management problem, now Coach has Micky on probation. Then he keyed another player's car. We want revenge and if the Coach catches wind that we've been fighting, we're all off the team. I was wondering if you could help us with something a little more creative."
J.J. finally spoke up. "Who's us?"
John shrugged. "Most of the guys on the football team."
"How many," asked the genius.
Jack shot his friend a piercing glance. "You don't have an idea already?"
J.J. scuffed his shoe against the tile floor. "I've been watching him. He drives a 2004 FORD Sport Utility Vehicle."
Jack rolled his eyes. "J.J., the rest of us mortals call it a SUV."
John looked from Jack to J.J. and back again. "Kevin and his girlfriend are going to do it in the principal's office tonight. Kevin stole some keys. Can you come up with a plan by then?"
"Do it?" J.J. looked confused. "Do what?"
John floundered for a moment. "You know, do it . . . getting lucky . . . making out?" J.J. still was clueless. John finally stopped using the euphemisms. "Having sex?"
"Oh." J.J.'s expression cleared. "Then why did you not say 'engaged in sexual intercourse'?"
John blushed slightly and Jack laughed. "J.J., stop teasing John. He's not used to your sense of humor."
John's eyes widened. "That was a joke?" He gave J.J. a shove. "You're good."
J.J. hid further behind Jack.
"So," John prompted, "will you help us?"
"How many football players will be involved?" J.J. asked again.
"As many as you need," John reassured.
Jack was surprised. "You're planning a big operation?"
J.J. shrugged. "Just need the man power. Part of the plan comes from one of your stories."
John looked from one teen to the other. "Just tell us when and where and what to bring."
"Tonight, meet at the base of the north lights of the football field, wear black and bring some heavy duty gloves." J.J. ordered.
John nodded. "We'll be there. Kevin is planning his little tryst for one in the morning."
Jack grinned as he steered J.J. away. "See ya then." As soon as they were around the corner, Jack hissed at his friend. "What are we doing?"
J.J. smiled his little boy smile. "We're putting Kevin between a rock and a hard place."
Jack met the football team at the appointed place and time. He and J.J. had already snuck around the school and rewired the security cameras. He counted heads, "Seventeen?"
John shrugged apologetically. "No one wanted to be left behind. Kevin's made some enemies."
Jack waved his hand. "Let's move out, campers."
The group found J.J. situated cross-legged in front of Kevin's new SUV. He was typing industrially on his laptop.
"In yet?" Jack asked.
J.J. looked up and eyed the group. "That's not fourteen."
"Everyone wanted to play," Jack explained.
J.J. looked back at his computer screen. "Kevin and Macy are almost to Mr. Palek's office and I am . . ." the SUV made a kur-chunk noise, "in."
Jack opened the now un-locked driver side door. "Do you want me to hot-wire?"
J.J. picked up his computer and stood. "Nah, with the extra man-power we should just put it into neutral and push it. Sides, with this model the headlights come on automatically. They would be an early warning to any cop driving by."
Jack jerked his head, "then get your ass in the driver's seat, brainiac."
J.J. climbed into the driver's seat. Jack turned to the crowd of bruisers. "Come on, guys. This is the easy part: Push."
A few minutes later, Jack put his hand in the air to signify 'stop.' Somehow he was not surprised to see that J.J. had steered the car to exactly the right spot for part two. J.J. put on the parking break and climbed out of the SUV with his laptop.
J.J. stood next to Jack and ignored all the wide smiles on the guys' faces. "Now everyone get into position and lift on Jack's mark. If you get tired, call out. We've got enough people to rotate. And if the SUV slides, it could kill one of you."
Jack stood at parade rest. "All right, kids. In position? Mark."
"Kevin! No, No, stop. Kevin! We're being watched."
He groaned and rolled his eyes. "Don't be stupid, Macy. Who would be watching us now?"
She pushed him off her and pointed to Mr. Palek's computer screen. "Someone's recording us!" Sure enough, every movement was mirrored on the monitor.
Macy slapped him hard. She looked around for the camera. She identified the corner that the picture originated from but realized that the camera must be within the wall. She tapped the computer keyboard and nothing happened. Even the sure-fire three finger salute (Ctrl-Alt-Delete) did not work.
"Damn." She tried the power button but even that did not work.
Kevin rolled his eyes again and pulled the plug on the whole she-bang. "Now can we get back to it."
Macy grabbed her silk shirt, slid it over her shoulders and stalked out of the office. "Hell, no. Someone might have a back up."
Kevin chased her down the hall. "Macy, Macy, stop. Palek's just paranoid."
"And there's a copy of us goin' at it somewhere out there."
Macy whirled on him. "You told someone, didn't you?"
Kevin grinned. "You think that I'm not going to brag about scorin' in Palek's office?"
Macy headed straight for the exit. "Yeah, well, you're not goin' to score anywhere tonight."
Kevin was right on her heels and when she stop dead in her tracks, he ran right over her.
Kevin looked in the same direction as Macy. "Damn." He examined the situation. "Damnit!!"
There, immediately outside the only exit that was not chained and padlocked from the inside, was his brand new SUV. Some one had moved it from the dark corner he had parked it to around the building, down some stairs (that had a railing in the middle) to the atrium of the teacher's entrance. The SUV now blocked the exit. The SUV only had a foot clearance on three sides of it and the side that was open was on the passenger's side of the vehicle. There was no way that he would be able to drive out of this mess that someone had – very literally - carried his SUV into.
Macy hit him again. "Damnit. You had to brag. How the hell are we going to get out of here?"
Kevin threw up his hands. "I'm sure that one of the keys I copied will open another door."
"And then what, ass? We walk home? That's close to twenty miles and it's winter. We can't call because I'm supposed to be grounded and your father is on the police department. Your car right there is a dead give-away even if the recording of us in Palek's office is lost."
Kevin glared. "Shut up, Macy. I've got to think up a way to get us out of this."
Jack stood next to John. They were watching Macy and Kevin fight, yet again. "So how did he get out?" Jack asked.
John grinned. "He called us up on Dan's cell phone. He begged and pleaded and offered us fifty dollars each. We sat in the parking lot and made him sweat it out for two hours. We played cards in the cars. Best poker tournament we ever had. We made Kevin confessed to doing all the things that he did. Promised not to do it again and we lifted the SUV out of the trap that we put it in. Macy broke up with him, but they're both on edge, constantly fighting."
John was suddenly suspicious. "Did you guys do more than just mastermind the parking spot?"
Jack grinned, "Let's just say that the security system suffered a bit of a malfunction Friday night. If he's an ass again, come see us."
**** Drugs don't hurt anyone but the dealers ****
"Whacha doin'?" Jack walked up to where J.J. was standing. The boy had been coming to this hallway at this time for three days in a row. J.J. had a tendency to create habits. Normally, right before he was about to start some mind-blowing fix-it job.
J.J. offered Jack a weak smile and gestured toward a tight group of kids. "I'm watching kids destroy their future."
Jack narrowed his eyes and observed. "They're doin' drugs?"
J.J. nodded and his shoulders drooped in frustration.
Jack sighed, clasped a hand on J.J.'s shoulder and forcefully steered his friend toward their next class. "You can't save everybody, J.J." His new friend certainly had a Daniel complex.
"I know, I wasn't planning on it." The tone of J.J.'s voice set off warning bells in Jack's head. The last time Jack had heard that tone, he had been roped into making some bully, who had been rather systematically date-raping the female nerds, think that he had been raped. Jack still shivered at J.J.'s cold-blooded follow-though of his plan. Yet, the plan had been a success. The bully was now locked away in juvenile detention; he had confessed to crimes that had not been reported.
"Then what, tip off the principal?" Jack asked warily.
"Nah," J.J. glanced back at the drug deal on last time. "I'm about to start a turf war between the two largest drug suppliers to the state."
Jack could not help but smile. This plan was right up Jack's alley. It wasn't something he hadn't done before. "Now, that sounds interesting. Could you use some help?"
J.J. grinned, "Ya, sure, you betcha."
"You sure you want to come along on this?" Jack dabbed a bit of black paint on J.J.'s face.
Jack jerked his hands away from J.J.'s face. "Hey, quit that." He warned. "I need to get the skin around your eyes." J.J. stilled. So Jack continued talking. "If you give me a list of things to look for, I will. I'm good at this kind of stuff, J.J."
J.J. waited until Jack's hands were away from his face. "I know you are, Jack. If I could think of a way to scientifically make it work, I'd believe that you're a career soldier in a teen-ager's body."
Jack dodged actually looking in his friend's eyes. It was quite a talent when one considered where he was working. This boy really was way too smart for his own good, and for Jack's cover. "Yeah, well, I wouldn't be just any soldier, I'd be top-of-the-line black ops."
"Yeah, you would." J.J. paused and then words spilled out of his mouth. "Jack, in all your training, did you meet a Mr. Raines, or a Mr. Lyle or a Mr. Cox?"
Jack took a step back, playing dumb. "Who said anything about training?"
J.J. rolled his eyes. "I've watched you, Jack. You've had years and years of training. But I can't find any mention of a United States child soldier program anywhere and I've been looking."
Jack felt a spurt of fear rush through his veins. "J.J., you have to stop hacking. I want your word of honor that you'll not try to find my history. You'll get us both killed, or worse."
"Jack." J.J. started very slowly. "I've already been in the 'worse' situation."
"No, you haven't."
"Yes, I have."
The two friends stared each other down for a minute. J.J. looked away first. "Fine, I'll stop." He pouted for a moment. "But you wouldn't believe how easy it was to hack into the government's classified files."
Jack stilled. He might be exiled from the SGC but that didn't mean that he stopped caring about base security. Jack weighed the pros and cons of having J.J. upgrade the SGC computer system. There was no way, once Jack pointed out its existence, that J.J. would be able to leave it alone. J.J. was just too curious; he'd want to know everything. He was like Daniel or Carter that way. He'd make a great 2IC for a SGC off-world team someday. Hmmm, SG1; the next generation, with himself in charge of course. On the plus side, J.J. certainly knew how and when to keep a secret. He would also be skilled enough to make it NID-proof.
But that was a thought for another day. Today, Jack and J.J. were going to cut the supply of drugs to Colorado.
Jack led the way into the warehouse. The place was deserted. The perimeter guards were sloppy and easy to avoid. J.J. had bypassed the computer security system with a few quick strokes on his laptop. Now the two boys viewed the disturbing wholesale staging of the poison. Large and small, packages of the white dust littered the area. J.J. stopped at odd intervals to pick up or view incriminating evidence. Thankfully he quickly finished his sightseeing and motioned to Jack that it was time to leave.
Outside the ramshackle building Jack asked. "Aren't we going to blow it up?"
J.J. grinned. "Not yet. First we go to their competitors and blow up their main staging area while implicating this group. Then we'll wait a couple days and do this one. Make it look like revenge."
Jack shook his head but turned to leave. "Still think we should blow it up now." Those drugs affected so many more than the people at the school.
"Quit pouting," J.J. teased. "I'll let you play with the explosives at the next site."
Jack glared. "I don't pout. I'm a . . ." At J.J.'s too interested look, Jack stopped talking. He had almost said that he was a colonel in the Air Force and that Air Force officers don't pout . . . much.
Jack watched the building explode with fair amounts of glee. J.J. had insisted that the explosion make a point. The fireball a couple hundred feet into the sky certainly made a point. The pair had deliberately made a poor-quality bomb using materials from the first warehouse. If the cops did not make the connection, the first warehouse exploding would connect the dots for them.
Jack never thought he would be fighting the drug war on his home turf and doing it as a vigilante, but hey, it kept a guy sharp and in shape. After all the mind games J.J. put Jack through, the Air Force Academy would be no sweat.
"Jack," J.J. called. Jack turned away from the fire with a sigh. "Jack, quit gloating. I hear the fire engines coming. We have to prepare for phase three."
Jack bounded over to his friend. "The other building?" he asked hopefully.
"Nah, that's already done. You can help me place the bombs tomorrow night." J.J. waved to the drugs and the explosives he had lifted from the now-fiery furnace. "I'm talking about the dealer at the high school."
Jack grinned. "Tell me more, tell me more."
Some kids thought that it was the most boring and useless subject on the planet. Jack did not. He watched as J.J. 'calculated' the answer the homework problem they were working on, not necessarily the assigned homework problem either.
J.J. grinned Jack's way and pushed the equals button.
The fireball blinded anyone who had been staring out the window and the sound of the explosion made everyone in the room jump and quite a few girls shriek. Even knowing that it would happen, Jack ducked out of his seat and yanked J.J. on to the floor. If anyone ended up being suspicious of Jack and J.J., Jack planned on putting on a good show for the security cameras.
After a few moments and no further explosions, Jack and J.J. joined the crowd of students lining up by the windows to see what had happened.
Jack gloated when he saw the drug dealer's car a fiery ruin, with white dust showering the surrounding cars and the parking lot. The bomb he and J.J. had made had been perfect with its payload and Jack had planted it in exactly the right place.
Jack wanted to see if anyone would try and pin this destruction of property on J.J. and him.
**** Friends with keys to your home are the most annoying ****
Jack's door was unlocked when he got home to his apartment. After a quick look around, Jack recognized Daniel's car parked across the street. He groaned to himself but opened the door and let himself in.
"You had better have brought beer," he said by way of a greeting.
"Hi to you too, Jack." Daniel appeared from way of the kitchen. "I've been doing fine and yourself?"
Jack snorted. "Been busy. You know, kid stuff." He made a beeline for the fridge and sighed in ecstasy when he saw four bottles of his favorite brew. "Yes!"
"I don't like corrupting minors, Jack."
"Very funny," the clone of a colonel muttered. "I was corrupting minors before you were born."
Daniel made himself comfortable on Jack's couch. "I bet. Any good stories?"
Jack thought about it. "Other than how I corrupted you? You have to bring me more beer before I'll tell you any blackmail material."
Daniel raised an eyebrow. Everyone had learned from Teal'c how expressive an eyebrow could be. "I'll consider it."
Jack plopped himself in his easy chair. "So what brings you out?"
Daniel held up that day's newspaper. "It looks like your extracurricular activities made the front page."
Jack glanced at the periodical. "I don't see my picture anywhere."
"Blowing up a car in the middle of the high school parking lot? Don't you think that's a little extreme?" asked Daniel.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Daniel! Seriously, do you see me being restrained enough to only damage the car I'm exploding?"
Daniel thought about it and his eyes narrowed. "That's a good point, a really good point. That takes experience. The explosion barely blackened the school bricks and pealed the paint off of only two cars. The explosives have been traced to the two drug buildings that when up in flames earlier this week."
Jack glared. Only his youth kept the expression from becoming intimidating. "See? 'Sides, I was in class."
Daniel snorted. "Sam explained to me the Air Force demolitions training, delayed explosions included, but she didn't have the clearance for your records. When I asked, Jack O'Neill just smirked and refused to discuss it. Sam thought that the buildings were done professionally despite the materials used."
"Imagine that," muttered Jack.
"You are supposed to keep your head down and not attract any attention."
Agitated, Jack waved his arms. "You think I blew up the car? It was a crime . . . to the car. A vintage Mustang convertible? It's a crime to destroy a work of such beauty."
"I notice that you have no sympathy for the owner," Daniel said dryly.
"He bought the work of beauty with drug money. Blood money."
The light went on in Daniel's brain. "The police found marijuana in the remnants of the Mustang's trunk."
"Yes genius, and all over the pavement. They arrested him." Jack took another sip of his beer. He savored the taste. "One less leech in the school."
Daniel unfolded the newspaper. "According to this, the school administration did a drug search immediately after and busted over forty other students."
"Smoking their future away," was Jack's only comment.
"All forty-three are now in rehab. Admittedly, it has a little more finesse than your normal plans, but it makes one wonder."
"Thanks," Jack grumbled, "I think."
Daniel reached behind him and pulled out several issues of the school newspaper. "Wonder enough to do a little digging. You've been busy in the four months you've been in high school."
"Oh? Did Cassie tattle on me? How was I supposed to know that her boyfriend would shriek like girl when he saw the spider?" Jack did not wince but he wanted too. School gossip could certainly work for and against you. This was Daniel, King of Research.
Daniel was not sidetracked. "A girl's grades are changed and then her hair turns green?" Daniel prompted.
Jack leaned back in his chair. "McCaroll cheated Cassie out of her grade and then attacked her and, in case you forgot, I got a detention for fighting with that . . . female."
Daniel wagged his eyebrows. "Sam hacked into the school's computer. You went on record as saying that you never swung at her."
Daniel raised a hand. "I believe you, Jack. She didn't have a bruise or any broken bones."
"Nice self-restraint, by the way."
"A teacher showed up before she got too insulting to Cassie. 'Side's she wasn't about to try anything with me there."
"And then there's the rape of the rapist." Daniel was watching Jack's reaction closely on this one.
He shivered. "Don't look at me for that one. I am so not into the guy-on-guy action."
Daniel chuckled. "Yes, I know. But I'm seeing a trend here. Cheated a cheater out of her grades, raped a rapist, and smoked a car that belonged to a guy that was smoking other kids' futures. Do to others, criminals, the crimes they did to their victims."
Jack took another sip of beer. "Don't look at me. That's not my motto."
Colonel Jack O'Neill, the original, looked into his fridge and blinked. That's not right. Where was his beer? He moved around some containers and the carton of spoiled milk. Where was his beer? He hadn't drunk all of it, had he?
Jack thought back. No, he had only consumed two bottles. Daniel had been over and declined a drink. The archaeologist had been obsessing about something that had been happening at the high school. Cassie's high school, the clone's high school.
Jack suddenly groaned. Daniel wanted information about the high school and had been in his house. He had seen himself out and obviously helped himself to the rest of Jack's beer. Jack could guess who had it now. Jack knew himself well enough to know that he was not going to get it back.
"For cryin' out loud!"
**** The female is the most dangerous of the species, but her family's killers ****
"What do we have?" Miss Parker's voice snapped through the mostly-empty room. The black spiked heels clicked with every authoritative step.
Sydney and Broots turned their attention from the corner. Parker looked into the shadows and saw Angelo crouched down.
"Well, what did Angelo find this time?"
Broots held up the remnants of his daily newspaper. "Angelo stole the National News section and ran to the corner. Sydney was trying to talk some sense out of him."
Miss Parker stood along side the two men. "What is he saying?"
Sydney answered. "Just 'Jarod'. Over and over, he keeps repeating Jarod's name. Whispering it."
"He found a clue?" The woman moved like a panther on the hunt.
Sydney shook his head slightly. "This is not normal behavior when Angelo is empathing Jarod."
"But," Broots looked excited. "We found out that this room can create an echo if you stand in just the right spot."
Sydney looked straight at Miss Parker. "An echo of Jarod."
An echo, a reflection, a clone of Jarod. It only took a moment for Miss Parker to connect the dots. Her breath suddenly became jagged. She didn't dare say her realization out loud. "We leave now." She vividly remembered the tears in the young boy's eyes. She had not been as effective as her mother had been at rescuing the children.
Sydney nodded. "The plane is waiting on the tarmac."
Miss Parker softened slightly as she approached the crazy man. "Now to know our destination." She crouched down. "Angelo? Angelo?"
The man's eyes slid past her twice before focusing on her face.
"Angelo? Where is he?" Miss Parker touched Angelo's arm to create an anchor. "Where is the boy?"
Angelo slowly uncrumpled the stolen newspaper page and pointed. Miss Parker read the tiny blurb. 'Series of Explosions Rock Town and Unveil Drug Trade.'
"Well, Miss Parker?" asked Sydney.
"Broots, get your computer. We're going to Colorado."
Broots looked confused. "But Sydney said that this wasn't Jarod?"
Later, alone in an empty Centre office, Angelo scanned in the article and sent it to a familiar e-mail address.
In another office, the e-mail was copied and sent to yet another e-mail account within the building.
"Woo-wee! Would you get a load of those legs?"
J.J. shook his head and finished putting Cassie's books back in her locker. The three friends had each other's locker combinations and would share textbooks for their classes. It saved time and trips through the crowded hallways. When he finally looked up, J.J. skimmed over all the students in the hall, concentrating on the adults. Jack had an unhealthy attraction for women ten or more years older than himself. J.J. quickly spied the woman in question and immediately wished he hadn't.
"Damn." J.J. tried to hide behind Jack's lanky form. "Damn!"
Jack looked surprised. First with the uncharacteristic swearing and then the hiding. "J.J.?"
"They found me! Damn! I have to get out of here. I have to run!" J.J. was shaking like a leaf. His memories were drowning him. He was immobilized.
Jack grabbed J.J.'s arms and tried to hide his face from others. He gave his best friend a gentle shake. "You have to calm down and think. This is no time to panic." Jack had never seen J.J. so honestly scared. Jack's instincts took over and he went into colonel-mode.
J.J. nodded and breathed deep. "Look around, please? See if you can see anyone you don't know in a suit. Suits are very bad."
Jack did so but did not keep his mouth shut. "How would you know, you've never worn a suit?"
"Well?" J.J. was in no mood for Jack's sense of humor.
"Legs has two guys and two suits with her at one o'clock. Three more suits are at six."
J.J. risked a glance at 'six o'clock'. "Damnit! It's Mr. Lyle. Let's cut through the gym."
The path would take them closer to Legs and her posse who were closing in on Cassie's locker. "Three are better odds than five." But even Jack couldn't take out three- Jack checked the bulges- armed men in the middle of a crowded hallway. If only they would pass by without seeing J.J. How did they get passed the metal detectors with guns?
"Not in this case. Miss Parker sees me as a boy, Mr. Lyle as a possession."
Jack shoved J.J. face-first into Cassie's locker. The boy stumbled and grabbed Cassie's winter coat as he fell. "Legs's a relative?" Jack asked.
"Twin to Mr. Lyle," was the muffled reply.
Legs and Mr. Lyle met in the middle of the hallway and then started hurrying toward the other way. Jack breathed a sigh of relief. Then the older man in Legs' posse met Jack's eyes and then jerked them toward the exit. Jack got the hint. He didn't know why the man was helping but he wasn't going to turn it down. Jack grabbed Cassie's winter coat, which thankfully was a non-gender black one, and threw it onto J.J.'s shoulders. "Let's get the hell out of Dodge."
Jack led them down the hall. J.J. followed so closely that Jack could feel the boy's breath on his neck. Cassie spied them as they weaved though the hall but the seriousness in Jack's eyes and the absolute fear on J.J.'s face forestalled her normal cheerful chatter.
"Hide J.J.," the former colonel ordered.
Cassie readjusted her backpack and then threw an arm around J.J.'s trembling shoulders. J.J. curled into her embrace. "NID?"
Jack nodded curtly. "Think so. Suits are bad."
Cassie eyes started scanning the halls. "Worse than Dress Blues?"
J.J. spoke up. "Three o'clock."
Sure enough two suits stood on either side of the entrance to the student parking. Jack saw two more suits outside the doors watching the student traffic to and from the cars. Damn. The three of them would not be able to sneak by. Jack couldn't get to his truck to drive them away from the school and danger.
"The woods," said J.J.
Being stuck on foot was not a highly rated second choice but it was the best option. Jack nodded and steered the trio in that direction. They exited the school through one of the rarely used side doors and sprinted for the woods on the other side of the football field. Jack was eternally grateful that this was a community walking trail and that the snow had already melted for the day. At least that would make tracking them a little harder. It was a bit chilly, but thankfully Cassie was ignoring the effects of the cold. Still Jack had to get the two kids to safety before they got sick. And he needed to question J.J. about who and what they were up against.
A quick glance behind did not spy any tails but Jack kept running as if he saw someone. Then J.J. stumbled and fell. Jack and Cassie skidded to a stop and went back to help the boy to his feet. J.J. stood and then limped.
Jack cursed. "I want Teal'c." The man's strength and ability to carry people in an emergency was sorely missed. Jack's teenage form did not have the upper body strength to carry J.J. on the uneven ground.
"Quit griping, Jack." Cassie ordered him and put J.J.'s arm over her shoulder. Jack followed suit a moment later. The group traveled as fast as they could through the forest, panting heavily. When they came to a two-lane road, Jack scouted ahead to make sure no one was around.
A speeding dark-colored van passed by and then screeched to a stop.
Jack turned to friends. "Run!" he screamed. Jack paused a minute to see J.J. and Cassie following his order to the best of their ability, then turned back to the van. He angled himself on an intercept course ready to slow down the suits.
The dark haired man driving the van was not wearing a suit, rather a black leather jacket. The man's form and stature seemed familiar. That was Jack's first clue that this lone man might be a friend. The man's eyes slid over Jack, taking in every detail of his appearance, before concentrating on the two figures behind Jack.
"Jarod!" The man yelled.
J.J. stopped in his tracks and turned around sporting the first smile Jack had seen on his face since Legs showed up in the school. "Jarod!" J.J. yelled back.
The elder Jarod slid down the steep embankment on his butt, with no concern for the mud caking to his clothes. He ran to J.J. and scooped him up in his arms and turned back to the van. Cassie looked questioningly at Jack. He shrugged but followed the adult. Jack and Cassie helped Jarod haul J.J. up the ditch and to the road.
J.J. had been placed in the van when Jack heard the click. He stilled and looked at Jarod. The pure despair on Jarod's face forewarned Jack of the situation. He slowly turned in concert with Jarod to see Legs.
She was still wearing those impossibly high-heeled boots and the mini skirt with the expensive blazer, but it was the 9mm in her expert hands that truly had Jack's attention.
"Give the boy the keys, Jarod. You're staying with me."
Jarod put up his hands. "He needs medical attention, Miss Parker. You can't let Raines or Lyle have him."
Legs was concentrating on Big Jarod so Jack started to slide to the woman's blind spot. "His friends are resourceful, Jarod. They'll help him."
"Gee thanks." Jack muttered.
"But the sweepers . . ." Jarod started.
Legs cut him off. "Are all combing the school. I noticed Sydney was being really helpful in getting information from the secretary."
Both adults were ignoring Jack. Ah, the curse of being in a teenager's body. J.J. whimpered in the background and Jack lost what little patience he had.
"But you forgot something, Legs." Jack warned.
The dangerous woman did not take her eyes off of Big Jarod. "What, boy?"
Jack jumped her. Her head crashed against the van and Jarod disarmed her as she was losing consciousness. "We don't leave anyone behind."
Jack coldly watched the woman's body fall to the ground. He picked up Legs' gun, wiped off the mud and efficiently checked it and the magazine. He nodded approvingly. "Let's move out," Jack said.
Jarod knelt to check Legs's pulse. The man relaxed and, to Jack's surprise, picked up the woman and put her on the van's floor next to J.J. "Handcuffs are in the box beside you, Jarod." The adult informed Jack's friend.
Jarod pushed Jack into the van and slammed the door shut behind him. He climbed up into the driver's seat and started the engine. As he pulled onto the road, Jarod looked into the rear-view mirror. "Jarod, you were right. There is an experienced special-ops soldier in Jack." Jack, who had Legs's gun covering the woman, could hardly protest.
J.J. clicked the handcuffs securely around Legs's wrists and grinned back. "Told you so."
A heavy silence fell over the occupants of the van. Cassie and Jack were trying to communicate silently but J.J. was just smirking at them. He was definitely more comfortable with the bizarre situation now.
Then Jarod spoke up from the driver's seat. "Jarod . . ."
J.J. rolled his eyes. "My name is J.J. Your name is Jarod."
Jarod grinned his easy smile. "Sounds good to me. What escape plan do you have set up?"
J.J. winced at Cassie's handling of his injury. She had found Jarod's medical kit and was wrapping his ankle. "My DSA's are in the ceiling of the men's bathroom in the gas station up ahead. Major Charles left a car parked in the camp parking of the National Park. We can switch there and leave Miss Parker in this van. You can send somebody for her later."
Jarod nodded. "Agreed." He turned his attention to Jack and Cassie. "I can't thank you enough for all your help. You don't have the faintest idea what you saved J.J. from. Where can I drop you off where you'll get in the least trouble?"
Jack looked at Cassie. "Your call, Cass."
Cassie dropped her eyes. "Jack, somebody has been following me."
Both Jack and J.J. were surprised. "What!?!"
"What about you, Jack?" asked J.J.
Jack shrugged. "I always have someone following me. I lose them everyday, but until I get a new apartment, they have someplace where they can catch up with me. But if they've been following us, this is really going to get their attention and their curiosity. We don't need their attention."
Cassie looked confused. "If the NID has been following me and you, why did they suddenly attempt a grab during school for J.J.?"
J.J. looked uncomfortable. Jarod offered an encouraging smile but remain quiet. It was the clone's decision. "They weren't NID. They're from a place called the Centre. Home of hundreds of human guinea pigs. All sorts of experiments, some for the good of mankind and others . . ."
Jack remembered an earlier conversation and looked horrified at the implications. "Wheatgerm?" The Centre sounded a whole lot more disturbing than a hippie commune.
"Wheatgerm." Jack shook his head. "That's so not for the good of mankind."
Jarod smiled at the playful interaction. He saw a gas station up ahead. "This one, J.J.?" he asked.
"Yes," said J.J.
Jarod pulled into a parking spot and walked in empty handed. He returned shortly with a silver briefcase and a little box. He set the box next to his chair and passed the briefcase back. J.J. accepted it and lined it up with its twin on the side of the van.
Jarod pulled back onto the road, keeping an eye out for sweepers. "J.J. and I can't take you on the run with us. You have families. We can help find someplace to hide. It'll take some planning and some money I'll have to lift from somewhere but we can do it so you're safe."
"Jack's an emancipated minor," J.J. cheerfully announced.
"And I'm not thinking about running," Jack added.
"Oh?" Jarod queried.
Jack stared at Cassie. "I was thinking about the Alpha site. It would take a whole lot more work for the NID to get their hands on us there."
Cassie was thoughtful. "And mom could come."
J.J. looked thoroughly dejected. He recognized Jack's tone of voice. The one that indicated that he had made a decision and would follow through. "So do you want dropped off at Doctor Fraiser's house?"
Jack shook his head. "No. The NID will look there. How about Jack's house?"
"Mom's at work," Cassie filled in.
Jarod offered J.J. a sympathetic smile. "Wait until we change cars. Then you can give me directions from the park."
**** Be original: Have a clone. ****
Jarod admired the clean-cut suburban home. This would have been a nice place to grow up. Obviously both Jack and Cassie felt safe here. The pretender pulled out his lock-picking tools and handed them to his very quiet clone. "Would you like to try?"
Cassie rolled her eyes. "Men! I have a spare key."
J.J. grinned, shaken from his stupor. "It just bites you that Jarod offered me the chance to pick the lock."
"Ah, no. Sam's already taught me how," Cassie bragged.
Jack laughed. "Not surprised but use the key. Old Jack has a very nasty surprise wired to the door handle to prevent unwanted intruders."
Jarod stepped off the sidewalk to let the young girl pass by. He was both pleased and saddened to see the interaction between J.J. and his friends. Jarod was sad to know that it would all end, very soon. The clone was finally acting like a young boy. Jarod was sorely distressed by how Major Charles had neglected the boy, focusing on his-their- missing family.
Jack followed Cassie into the house and just looked around with a small nostalgic smile. Both Jarod and J.J. watched him curiously. Jack's actions did not compute to the two geniuses. Jack practically bounced into the kitchen and opened the fridge door. He pulled out a beer with a sigh of relief. He twisted off the cap and Jarod picked the bottle right out of his hands.
"Hey!" Jack complained. "If you wanted a beer, you could have asked. Jack's got enough to go around."
Jarod set the beer out of Jack's reach. "You're too young to drink."
Jack opened his mouth to argue but Jarod cut him off. "You have a phone call to make."
Jack pointed to the phone. "Cass has to make the call. If I do, it'll send up some red flags."
Jarod lifted his laptop, drawing attention to the state of the art technology. "Is there anywhere I can set up? I want to check the security of this Alpha Site. I don't want you and Cassie to be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire."
Jack was suddenly nervous. "That's a bad idea. You won't be able to find any reference of it. It's top secret. It's safe, trust me."
J.J. placed his own computer on the table beside Jarod's. "Jarod and I can find anything. And we know to start with the Air Force and Colorado. That's already narrows . . ." J.J.'s voice trailed off as he heard a cell phone ring with the Simpson's theme music. It was not Jarod's style, so . . . "Jack?"
Jack was white as a sheet. "Did anyone check to see if the truck was in the garage?"
Cassie looked up the stairs. "That sounded like Uncle Jack's cell."
Jack pushed Cassie toward the hallway. "Go check and see if he's here."
Cassie smirked. "What's the matter Jack? Don't want to face your . . ."
"Cassie!" Her name was heard in stereo. Everyone turned to see a grey-haired man with a bandage around his head walking down the stairs.
Jack, the teen, and Jack, the elder, caught sight of each other. "Shit," they said.
Jarod stood from his place at the table. "I'm sorry, sir, for busting in like this, but it really is an emergency. We'll be out of your hair in no time, Colonel O'Neill."
The colonel looked over the menagerie in his house and finally turned to young Jack. "What the hell is going on?"
Jack blinked. "You sound like Hammond."
J.J.'s best friend shook his head. "Hammond would have said 'colonel.' Uhm. The NID has been following Cassie and me, watching. Some suits tried to kidnap J.J. right out of school, so we ran. This will be the last straw before the NID gets a little too curious. I think we should be sent to the Alpha Site."
Jack O'Neill shot a glance at Cassie who nodded in agreement. "Okay." Jack walked to his fridge and pulled out a beer. He twisted off the cap the same way as O'Malley had. "Okay. You can stay until I get things settled. But no longer." He pointed a finger at his younger self. "Keep your head down. That means no exploding buildings, especially not this house."
Jarod stared at them. "Why is Jack O'Malley an emancipated minor if he has an obvious relative in Colonel Jack O'Neill? Aren't you his father?"
"No!" both Jacks shouted.
J.J. looked absolutely shocked. "The Airforce has a cloning program?" he asked.
Jarod shook his head at his clone. "No, J.J. I've checked. The Centre is the only facility with the ability to clone humans successfully and they've kept their experiments to Donaterase."
J.J. bounced in his seat. "Maybe. But that doesn't change the fact that Jack is the colonel's clone. That is so cool!"
"No!" the Jack's chorused again.
J.J. looked at the older Jack. "Are you attracted to older women, too?"
Jack O'Neill turned to Jack O'Malley. "Older?"
O'Malley winced. "You try making-out with a fifteen year old and see what you're thinking," he muttered.
J.J. turned to Jarod. "It makes perfect sense. They are not father and son, but they walk the same and talk the same and they even drink beer the same. They think the same. We could do a DNA test to check but they are the same person." J.J. gave Jack O'Malley a blinding smile. "Jack's a clone that grew up in a similar environment as the original."
O'Malley started backing away. "I am not your newest science experiment, J.J."
J.J. snorted. "If I wanted to experiment on a clone, I could have conducted experiments on myself."
The SGC clone blinked. "Don't be ridiculous, J.J. You are not a clone. Humans can't clone with any reliability."
J.J. smirked at his friend. "They can when they have a Pretender to guide the way."
The colonel set down his beer. "Would someone explain what the hell is going on?"
J.J. walked to the door and picked up the twin silver cases. He walked back to the kitchen table and held one out to Jarod. They exchanged a silent communication then smiled softly. With the same economical movements they set up the equipment, side by side. Soon two DSA's were playing identical sims. The same boy sat in a clear ball suspended from the ceiling as he tried to figure out a problem NASA had with a spaceship. The date for each was different as was the age of the man walking around the ball, urging the boy to a solution. In each case the boy asked the same questions and came up with the same answer.
J.J. smirked up at Jarod. "I was faster than you. Jarod Mack II, here I am. New and improved."
Jarod laughed and ruffled J.J.'s hair.
Jack blinked at the obvious display of affection. He had never contemplated any sort of relationship with his clone. It was just too weird. They had all the same memories. He glanced at Jack 'O'Malley' and saw the same shock registered in his eyes.
Cassie recovered first from the surprise revelation. "What is a Pretender?"
Both Jarod and J.J. looked embarrassed.
The Jacks were impatient. "Well?"
Jarod smiled at J.J. and lifted his hands. "They're your friends."
J.J. stared at the floor and scuffed his toe.
Little Jack picked up a beer cap and threw it at J.J.'s head. "Well?"
"We're geniuses," J.J. blurted out.
"We guessed, J.J.. You are in the middle of your Masters in Human Biochemistry." Jack O'Malley's tone was dry. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out that you are a genius."
"We're geniuses who can become anyone and do anything," Jarod explained.
J.J. hurried for the door. "Wait a sec. It'll be easier just to show you." He was soon back. In his hands he held a small brown box which he dumped on the kitchen table. Jarod smirked at the pile of ID's. Jack, Jack and Cassie gathered around reading the professions.
Little Jack's eyes widen. "Would ya look at the alphabet soup? MD, PhD, CIA, ATF, INS, Navel Intelligence, NSA, SWAT, SEAL instructor, NYPD, NASA." He shook his head in disbelief. "Cable guy? Roach Exterminator?"
"I've got FBI, prison guard, EMT, CSI, LAFD," Cassie added.
Colonel Jack stared in disbelief. "I can beat you all. This is a Secret Service ID for the White House."
J.J. looked admiringly at Jarod. "That must have taken some work."
Jarod grinned back. "Days making up a background, tapping into e-mails and bugging phone calls, several people on vacation and a little luck."
Colonel O'Neill just shook his head. "What on earth were you doing in the White House?"
Jarod took back the ID badge. "Vice President Kinsey has some strong ties to the Centre, and I think it goes further than the surface. He's met with Mr. Lyle and had canceled his visit to the Peace Conference the Centre was going to blow up."
J.J. nodded. "7677."
The colonel stepped back. "You mean you have the Secret Service on your tail, too?"
Jarod shook his head no. "It was handled in-house, very quietly. Like I said, he has ties to the Centre. Lyle told the Vice President that they would handle it and the Vice President backed off. He took the Secret Service with him."
"What about the NID?"
Jarod shrugged. "They owe the Centre some favors. They won't step on any toes."
J.J. sat at his computer. "What did you find out?"
Jarod grinned. "Kinsey has been stiffin' the Centre, or tried to. He has some high very tech items that he is not sharing. He was in a hurry to get rid of Lyle because he didn't want the Centre to find what ever it is he's hiding. Lyle has some very good blackmail on the Vice President."
J.J. frowned. "They knew anyway. I worked on some of the items, didn't I?"
"Yes," Jarod agreed. "A group called the Trust is closely tied to the Tower and the Triumvirate. But now the Centre does not have a Pretender, they're losing control of the Trust. The Centre is still one of the main research facilities working on the Trust's equipment but without the power to influence the Trust they way they prefer. "
Colonel Jack blinked in shock. "You play with the Trust?"
Jarod shook his head. "I'm trying to shut them down. I was close but I dropped everything when Angelo sent me that e-mail."
J.J. smiled. "Thanks, by the way."
Little Jack clapped his hands. "I'm betting that it was the Trust and not the NID that was following Cassie and me."
Colonel Jack was startled. "Oh, hell. If that's the case, we need to get you to the Alpha site immediately."
J.J. was typing into his computer. "I'm not letting my friends go anywhere until I know it's safe."
Both Jack's let their displeasure be known, very loudly. "No!"
Little Jack saw his friend's stubborn face and tried to reason with the boy. "J.J., if you really want to help, then help Jarod bring the Trust down. Stay out of the Airforce's computers, please."
J.J. looked absolutely pathetic. "But I don't want you to go somewhere top secret where I can't find you. I want to be able to call you up and do something."
"Like blow up a building?" the colonel's tone was dry.
J.J. shrugged. "If it was necessary."
Old Jack threw up his hands. "When is it necessary to blow up a building?"
"You're familiar with the term, 'War on Drugs', right Jack?" Little Jack taunted.
"In high school?"
"That's the true battleground."
Jarod watched the two Jacks get nose to nose and observed the similarities. "You are correct, J.J.. One is most definitely a clone of the other. It does explain how Jack is such a good soldier."
'Little' Jack slouched into a chair. "Is there any way I can talk you out of your silly hypothesis?"
"Nope," J.J. grinned. "But I am very interested in how you came to be. Especially since you made mention that humans cannot clone. So who did clone you?"
"I am not a clone."
Jarod closed his DSA case with a click. "We could always do a DNA comparison for verify."
Jack, the elder, snorted. "Maybe later. First we need to get the kids to safety."
Then the young Jack dropped the bomb. "Hey Jack, can we bring J.J. with us?"
All three kids perked up at the thought.
"No. No. No. No. It's a classified project. You know better than to ask."
Young Jack shrugged. "You don't know Jarod and J.J. like I do. They won't stop looking and they're smart enough to find their answers. Think geniuses at least on the level with Carter and Danny, but probably higher."
Colonel O'Neill was clearly skeptical. "You're not exaggerating?"
"No, sir." Even Cassie shook her head in agreement.
Young Jack kept on talking. "I think that we-you-should recruit some new civilian scientists. I'm sure Jarod and J.J. can create some sort of identity that will go through the process."
Jarod shrugged. "I've never tried to an create identity for myself for the long-term but I'm sure I could do it."
"What about the Trust?" asked Cassie.
Jarod smiled sadly at his clone. "I should stay behind and expose them, especially if they are that deeply involved with the Centre. Not to mention, I have to hunt down Major Charles and talk with him."
"Have you found your mother yet? And how's Emily and Ethan?" asked J.J..
"They're good, together, and looking for Mother. Emily's been helping Ethan recover. We call each other often. They want to meet you."
J.J. smiled what Jack referred to as his Charlie smile. "Wow."
Colonel Jack, Clone Jack and Jarod exchanged glances.
"Now we have to plan," said Jarod.
**** General Hammond, I'd like to hire a non-alien, underage human who does not technically exist. ****
Jarod winced. "I don't think that's a good idea."
'Old Jack' rolled his eyes. 'Young Jack' said, "Trust us. We have to tell Hammond. He'll have to tell the President."
Jarod still looked unconvinced. J.J. pleaded to his friend. "Jarod, please? I trust Jack. They wouldn't let anything happen to me."
Jarod shook his head. "That's still a few too many people. Just one person would have to let your whereabouts slip and then you'd be in great danger far from anywhere that I could help. We know that the Vice President has ties to the Centre. I don't think they can protect you."
Cassie spoke up. "I'm an alien."
J.J. looked interested but Jack and O'Malley looked horrified.
J.J. smiled. "That's nice, Cassie. We know that you're from Canada."
"Actually, I'm from another planet."
Neither of the O'Neills spoke, for fear of protesting too much. But it was a ridiculous claim. Surely one of the Jarods would refute it.
Except that they didn't. They were thinking and staring at Cassie as if her face would confirm or deny her claim. Finally the older Pretender looked at the younger. "She's telling the truth, isn't she?"
"Yep," said J.J.. He turned to 'Little Jack.' "I can't believe you never told me!"
Teen Jack glared at Cassie. "It's called 'classified.'"
"So an alien did clone you," J.J. remarked, as if it was not an outrageous assumption.
Cassie waved her hands. "I told you for a reason. Jack and SG1 protected me and they protected Little Jack and there're other aliens that you'll meet at the SGC. The point is that they can and will protect J.J. if he comes with us to the Alpha site."
J.J.'s eyes sparkled. "Is the Alpha Site on another planet?"
Neither one of the Jack's answered so Cassie did, "Yes."
J.J. looked up at Jarod, "You sure you don't want to come?"
Jarod ruffled J.J.'s hair affectionately. "I have things to finish here and I still need to find my mother, but I hope to join you someday." Jarod looked to Colonel Jack hopefully.
Jack did not promise anything. "We'll see. But for now, we should get you all to the SGC."
"Agreed," said Teen Jack. "Jarod can drive his van while you call ahead and make the necessary arrangements."
Colonel Jack stared down at his clone, his face a mixture of irritation and bemusement. "So be it. Load it up, campers. We're moving out."
For the most part, the drive to the SGC was quiet. Colonel O'Neill was unwilling to discuss anymore information until they had signed the non-disclosure forms. Cassie was wondering how she was going to explain to her mother what had happened. Jack O'Malley's gut was twisted up. He was finally going back to the SGC and to see all those people that he hadn't seen. But now, he was transferring to the Alpha Site. He would have a mission. He would be more than some high school-er stuck in a crowd of teen faces, more than a meaningless existence. He could make himself useful there, especially with J.J. and Cassie at his side. The hard part would be seeing the members of SG1 as they stopped by. That would be very hard indeed.
At sub-level 11, the group spilt up. Cassie ran to tell her mother what had occurred, Jack went to inform General Hammond of recent developments and Little Jack took the Pretenders on the grand tour.
Colonel O'Neill looked up when the door to his office opened. His eyes widened in surprise. "Carter? What are you doing here? I'd've thought that you'd been bouncing ideas with J.J. and Jarod. They were talking physics and other egg-head subjects a mile a minute when I left. It was either leave or let my brain explode with all the words that made no sense."
Sam Carter shook her head in bewilderment. "They've surpassed me, sir. I have the voice recorder on and it'll take me weeks to prove all the theories, mathematical equations and applications that they've been throwing out."
Jack grinned. "Carter, are you saying that they make you feel dumb?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes. Frankly, I was lost, sir. But I'm pretty sure they've completed two of the projects that I've been working on."
Jack made as if to stand. "Well, we can't have that. I'll have to go have a chat with those boys and tell them to explain everything."
Carter blushed at the teasing. "It's not that bad, sir. It's just a little disconcerting to watch two people who I just taught the basics of 'Gate technology to be able to extrapolate so . . . much. The leaps and jumps in their logic are astounding. And the way that they work off each other. It's phenomenal."
"You sure?" asked Jack. "I can get them to tone it down. I'm sure they can teach you everything. Or to take a break."
Sam smiled. "No need, sir. I'll figure it all out when they leave. I don't want to interrupt their thought process now. I'm pretty sure they've gotten to the point where they can backwards engineer a zat. Duplic-I mean- O'Malley was walking their way with a tray of food. He said that J.J. forgets to eat when he's learning something difficult. And that he expected Jarod to be the same way."
Jack frowned. "Sweet. Just like you and Daniel, just what we need. Well, O'Malley can take care of them."
"Yes, sir." Sam paused and her eyes twinkled. "It seems like the O'Neill Mother Hen gene bred true."
"Mother Hen?" Jack repeated. "I do not mother hen."
"Of course not, sir. You just nag about our eating habits, our sleeping habits, our working habits . . ."
"Did you have a reason for seeking me out, Carter?"
Sam instantly sobered. "Janet says that she and Cassie are done packing and the CMO replacement has be briefed on his duties. Her transfer papers just came through. Hammond and the President worked out something so that Cassie, O'Malley and J.J. can live at the Alpha Site."
"So it's time," Jack said soberly.
Jack, the elder, and Jarod, the elder, watched. The wormhole activated. The group picked up their bags. They all turned around to wave good-bye. Janet, then Cassie, than J.J. and then finally Young Jack walked through the wormhole to the Alpha Site. The 'Gate disconnected and they were gone.
"I love it when a plan comes together," said Jack.
Jarod nodded. "I suppose that that would be a good thing."
Colonel O'Neill stared at Jarod. "You've never seen the 'A-Team,' have you?"
"No. The A-Team? How does that apply to this?" Confused, Jarod waved his hand at the now-motionless Stargate.
Jack clapped a hand to Jarod's shoulder. "I think we can find some A-Team recordings somewhere and then I can introduce you to the wonders of Face, B.A. and the Colonel."
"Really?" Jarod was interested. "And then I'll see why your quote means something."
"Yep. Best of all," Jack steered the Pretender down the stairs and through the hall. "Their plan always comes together with explosions and car lift-offs."
Jarod grinned. "That should be fun. I wonder how it related to real life." He grinned at Jack. "I was once an arms dealer . . . and a TV stunt man."
Jack paused at the admission. Then he remembered to whom he was talking. "Really? You'll have to tell me about it."
**** The new face of Smoky the Bear ****
Miss Parker struggled against her restraints. She could not get her hands out of the handcuffs. She damned Jarod to the lowest hell possible. She knew that he would never let her die of thirst, starvation, or hypothermia but she had been in this van for twenty-four hours with no relief in sight.
"Damn it, Sydney. When are you going to fix your lab rat's prank?"
She cursed the ceiling. She promised to nail Jarod's hide to her office in the Centre. It would happen some day. The man was driving her nuts. Her emotions were tying her in knots. In the same breath that she cursed Jarod, she prayed for the clone's safety.
Though it looked like the clone could handle himself. After all, he had escaped from the high school building that was completely surrounded by sweepers. Given Sydney's actions, Miss Parker had passed by the boy herself. She could guess when that happened. She could still feel her fear and anger when she saw Mr. Lyle and realized that he was there to pick up the clone himself. A person had to completely focus on Mr. Lyle, or end up dead.
The clone had also gained some interesting friends. Daddy was not going to be pleased that some hyped-up hormonal boy had gotten the jump on his little girl. Miss Parker was not pleased and if she ever got her hands on the twerp, she would make him pay. She grew up in the Centre. She was sure she could come up with some painful revenge. Just had to find his soft spot first.
The girl and the clone were obviously soft spots but Miss Parker refused to involve them. That would make her into her brother. Miss Parker refused to let the Centre push her that far. Her mother would have been horrified at the thought. Thomas would have been shamed. She would honor her loved ones memory.
Miss Parker contemplated the Centre's response to her report. She would have to be sure to carefully word her description of the boy. The last thing she needed was to be protecting two teens from the clutches of Mr. Lyle.
A pounding on the back door of the van made Miss Parker jump.
"Hey, Legs! You in there?"
The moniker jarred Miss Parker. But rescue always took precedence over pride. "I'm in here! Let me out!" If the teen was going to release her, she might have to forgive him. Or at least not break his arm. Or maybe just break his arm.
The shadow outside the van tried all the doors, unfortunately Jarod had locked them, 'for her safety.' The shadow disappeared.
"Hey!" Miss Parker yelled. "Don't leave me! Get me the hell out of here!"
"Don't leave me!" She shook her bonds. Damn Jarod!
Suddenly there was an explosion of glass. Miss Parker ducked her head. Then she heard someone rattling the doorknob. In no time, a man gingerly climbed over the driver's seat. He was tall with graying hair and a bandage on his forehead. Even wounded and crouched to accommodate the van's low ceiling, he had a commanding presence. She knew about such things, after all she shamelessly cultivated her own presence.
It was the twinkling eyes and the non-smile that caught her attention. The man gave her a lingering once-over. "Legs, indeed."
Miss Parker gave her bonds a yank. "Get me out of here," she ordered.
The man rocked back on his heels. "Dangerous," he smirked at her outfit. The blanket Jarod had left over her had long since been kicked off. Her mini skirt was short but fury had warmed her. "Dangerous in more ways than one," the stranger murmured.
Miss Parker stiffened but was willing to change tactics if it got her uncuffed. She smiled slowly. "Why don't you release me and see how dangerous I can be?"
He blinked. Blinked again, murmured something about 'Freye' and 'snakes in heat.' Miss Parker glowered.
"Are you going to let me out?"
He leaned over and dangled the key by her hands. She thrust her hands out but he shook his head. "Nope, I have a feeling that I don't want to be in the same county when you get loose."
Miss Parker snatched the keys. "Chicken."
The dark-eyed man chuckled. "No ma'am, I know the battles I can't win." He climbed over the seat and was gone.
Moments later, Miss Parker dropped the handcuffs and scrambled to the front seat. She stared at her cell phone and gun in the front seat. Guess Jarod did not want to find a new number for her. The bullets and the magazine were in two separate piles. She wondered why until she heard an engine rev and saw a silver truck spitting gravel.
She shook her head. Of course Jarod would have sent someone to make sure she was free before leaving her in the middle of nowhere. She checked her phone. Full battery. She started dialing a familiar number.
"Don't you just think of everything, Jarod?"
**** Let mother dearest kiss it all better. ****
Miss Parker massaged her wrists. She hated handcuffs. Though Jarod regularly humiliated her, this last trip had been an all time low. Between the boy that had gotten a jump on her to the grey-haired no-name man that had released her from the van, Miss Parker's ego had taken a beating. As a result, Broots disappeared every time she walked into a room. Other members of the support staff had given her a wide berth. She had no one to focus her anger on. Even Mr. Lyle had been mysteriously absent. He had been called to the Tower to explain how he had lost the clone yet again.
The psychologist smiled grimly as Miss Parker stalked into his office. "Yes, Miss Parker?"
"Tell me you have something, anything on Jarod."
"I'm afraid I can't."
"And the boy?"
"He has disappeared. His two friends that you identified have been reported missing. The school worries that they ran away together."
"Oh, joy. The three caballeros run amuck. The Centre will be following the chain of explosions for those three."
Sydney gave no hint of his thoughts. "Perhaps."
"Spill it." Miss Parker suddenly ordered.
"You've got this look. You know something. You're proud of what your lab rat did this time." She leaned forward. "So spill it."
Sydney shrugged. "I found this very interesting." He handed over a folder.
Miss Parker snatched it out of his hands. "I'm looking at a high school transcript. Straight A's. So what?"
"Read the name."
Jarod Parker. Her head shot up. "Don't you dare assign some sort of nonsense to his name."
"Jarod always has a logic to his surnames. It appears that the boy does as well. Since your father never connected with the boy emotionally . . ."
Miss Parker threw the folder back on Sydney's desk and stalked out of the office. Oddly enough, Sydney noticed that her strides were not as forceful as before.