The Candlestick Chronicles
by CJay


Chapter One: Jack be Nimble

Agent Malcolm Barrett, NID, idly scanned the thick sheaf of reports piled on his desk. This was the price one paid to be the man in charge, tons and tons of paperwork. He'd learned recently that an acquaintance of his, Jack O'Neill, had been promoted to Brigadier General and was now in charge of Stargate Command. He didn't know the new General well, but he'd surmised from the small bits of information he did have that the man despised paperwork as much as Barrett did. Sighing, he wished O'Neill well.

Paperwork bored him; now and then however, a kernel of intrigue turned up in the most mundane of places. Today was one of those days. Sitting up straighter, in his ergonomically sound chair, Barrett read the report more carefully. Ever one to be precise, he double-checked the data, cross-referencing the information via his computer. Sure enough, it looked quite possible that another rogue faction of the NID was up to something; and as head of security, it was up to him, along with a few carefully selected men, to delve into the matter further. Protocol dictated absolute secrecy. Loyalty and honor were however, another matter. Past experiences led him to feel that, at the very least, he owed an alert, regarding any possible developing situation, to one member of the SGC, posthaste!

Leaving the confines of the NID headquarters in Washington, D.C., Barrett hastened to a nearby park. Buying a hot dog from the vendor there, he parked himself casually on a bench and covertly scanned the crowd, munching on the dog. After a few minutes, when he was quite sure he'd not been followed, he pulled out his personal and very secure cell phone. Keeping a sharp eye, he hit the speed dial.

Sam Carter thrust a free hand into her jacket pocket and pulled out her jingling cell phone, swearing under her breath. She hadn't had much free time lately, now that she was the leader of SG-1. This morning had been an exception; having completed her mission reports, she was fiddling with a device SG-12 had brought back from their latest survey of P3X-429.

Since that cliche villain Anubis had been neutralized, General O'Neill had deemed the planet safe for further exploration. Sam had theorized, based on its size and the location in which it had been found, that this unknown artifact might be some form of communication device, but as yet, she was unsure.

Annoyed by the interruption, Sam pressed the talk button on her cell phone. 'RATS! I finally get a minute and the damned phone rings!' "Carter."

Pleased he'd caught her 'on world,' Barrett spoke up, "Congratulations on the promotion, Colonel Carter."

Recognizing the friendly voice, Sam thrust the alien device aside. If Agent Malcolm Barrett NID, was phoning her in the middle of the morning something was definitely up. "Thank you. What's up, Malcolm?"

Barrett, laughing lightly, watched warily as a possible bogey moved across the park heading his way. It was imperative that he keep it cool and project only a casual interest in the fellow. "Oh, Sammy behave! I miss you too, baby; can't wait to hold you in my arms and, well... you know."

Startled at first, Sam quickly caught on. "I assume your location is not secure and something of an urgent nature has come to your attention?" Either that or Barrett's last meal had been of the liquid variety!

"You always could read me like a book babe. Are you free for breakfast in the morning?" Barrett asked, infusing his voice with innuendo. "Better yet, why don't we begin with supper tonight, say eight o'clock at that cozy place we love so well?"

'That urgent?' Sam thought. "I think that can be arranged. Where can I reach you to confirm?"

The bogey was leaning casually against a tree, a mere five feet from Malcolm's park bench, feeding the pigeons. "Wear that little black number. You know, the one that does such crazy things to me, will ya baby?"

Sporting a lecherous leer, Barrett stood up slowly and adjusted his trousers. Then, nonchalantly strolled away from the pigeon feeder. "Yes that's the one..."

Once he'd successfully put distance between himself and his apparent shadow, Barrett lowered his voice. "Just be there. And tell O'Neill it may be vital!" Ending the call, he strolled coolly back to his office.

Sam sat back contemplating the implications of Barrett's phone call and his little ploy. The restaurant location was a given. After their last adventure they'd shared a celebratory meal at Kelley's Steak House, not far from the Washington Monument.

Not too long ago, he'd help clear Colonel Jack O'Neill's name. That little exercise in smoke and mirrors had involved a rogue faction of the NID, some sleazy businessmen and Senator Kinsey. Hoping that they were not about to be treated to a repeat of that foul incident, Sam hurried off to consult with General O'Neill.

O'Neill, having personally experienced the gray and murky world of covert operations, arranged for the immediate transportation of Lt. Colonel Carter to Washington D.C., cautioning her to watch her six. Hoping to keep things quiet, he'd procured her a second seat on one of the Thunderbirds' training missions out of Nellis, near Area 51. He'd figured she might as well get in a bit of flying time while she was at it, in order to keep up her flight status. She could return the following day in the same manner and it would appear to be nothing more than another senior officer's routine logging of flight time.

He'd considered sending Teal'c along on a commercial flight as backup just in case, but after reflecting on Barrett and Carter's conversation, he decided against it. If Barrett had thought she'd need backup, he would have worked it into their brief exchange. O'Neill fervently prayed that that rat bastard Kinsey wasn't involved in whatever Barrett was so hopped up about. He'd had enough of that moronic shrub to last several lifetimes!

***

Clare Wellington sailed smoothly into the cafeteria of Colorado Springs High; as the new girl here, she had yet to meet many of the other teenagers and was feeling a bit shy. What was it about teenagers in general that spooked anyone new? Perhaps it was the fact that this hormone-riddled time in one's life made even the mildest of personalities suspicious, wary and downright cruel. She'd already been treated to a wealth of smirks and sly remarks throughout her first classes of the day. The girls had been especially snotty. Could she help it if she was a bit of a stunner?

Blonde and a bit buxom at five feet eight inches tall, she fit into every adolescent boy's fantasy. Her flawless ivory skin, full pouting lips and huge blue eyes added to her almost too perfect image - one, which many a young lad would associate with a girl more concerned with her appearance, rather than scholarship.

Jonathon O'Neill, sixteen-year-old clone and former Colonel, wasn't just any young lad. Usually, Jon kept a very low profile. However, he'd found the treatment his classmates had subjected the new girl to unacceptable. Determined to befriend the hapless creature, he made a beeline toward the corner table in the cafeteria, where she was quietly eating her lunch. Clearing his throat and hoping his voice didn't crack, he drew her attention and nodded his head to the empty seat across from her. "Excuse me, is this seat taken?"

Looking up, Clare took in the lanky stripling before her with a shy smile. He seemed friendly enough. "It's free, have a seat. I'm Clare Wellington. I'm new here."

Placing his tray carefully on the surface of the table, Jon removed his backpack and laid it at his feet. Returning her smile, he folded his half-grown form into the chair. "I'm Jon O'Neill. I was new last year. It can be a bit rough at first, but you'll get by. Don't let these yahoos get you down." Nodding his head toward the next table over, where the popular crowd generally settled for lunch, he began eating the less than delicious food on his plate.

The two ate quietly for a time, each unsure just what to say next.

'Come on O'Neill. Talk to the girl.' Although he'd adjusted to life as a juvenile, Jon still felt like a fifty-year-old man most of the time. He supposed that eventually he'd get comfortable in this new skin. However, the average teenage girl's immature chatter still made him feel ancient. "So, what subjects do you prefer?" 'Oh good one, O'Neill... weak!'

"Actually, the teachers at my last high school wanted me to graduate early." Clare told him, flushing slightly. "I tested at the college level in all my courses, but my folks were afraid I'd miss out on too much fun."

Looking into her blonde, blue eyed and appealingly flushed face, Jon had a fleeting image of Carter and the way she'd looked at their first briefing, eight long years ago. Realizing how similar she was in appearance to his former second in command, his pubescent body thrummed with primitive interest. 'Easy there O'Neill, best you remember this is a teenaged girl here, not a full-grown woman. She is not Carter.'

Preoccupied with her dessert, Clare failed to notice Jon's sudden lapse in their conversation. "The only class that has me worried is physics. I have never been very science oriented," Clare admitted.

'Okay, definitely not Carter.' Jon graced Clare with his most dazzling smile. "Then I am your man. At least when it comes to physics, just comes naturally to me." Rolling his eyes he added, "Just don't expect any help with the chemistry..." Lowering his voice conspiratorially, he continued, "last week, I almost blew up the lab!"

Perfect! They could help each other out and Clare would get to see more of this charmer. "It's a deal then! I'll help you with chemistry if you'll help me with the physics. That is, if you're not tied up. Maybe you'd like to come over to my house tomorrow and we can tutor one another?"

'Well why not? Tomorrow is Friday and you have absolutely nothing else pressing planned. Because O'Neill, you are a fifty year old geezer, that's why!' Hearing the end of the lunch period bell ringing, he came to a quick decision. "Sure, I'd like that."

"Wonderful! My Dad will pick us both up after school and you can stay to supper. My Mom is a great cook."

Rising, Clare began to gather up her backpack and empty tray. "Meet me in front of the gym after last class."

Nodding, Jon watched her sashay away, wondering if maybe his hormones had finally eroded his common sense.

***

Sam found her time in the air, above the clouds, to be an interlude of wonder and freedom. Flying in the F-16D twin cockpit jet was a thrill, especially since the pilot took the rear position in the tandem cockpit, leaving Sam in the visually stunning forward student position. Flying always got her juices flowing and she'd had to suppress a whoop of joy when the Colonel handed over the controls approximately thirty minutes into the flight.

Colonel Karl Draymak, the pilot, had turned out to be an old acquaintance from Sam's academy days. The two spent the time reminiscing and trying a few maneuvers that would have turned a less formidable woman's hair O'Neill gray.

As team leader of the Thunderbirds, stationed at Nellis Air Base, it was up to Karl to schedule all training flights and he'd been the one to take the call from General O'Neill.

To say that he'd been honored to speak with the man would be an understatement. During the recent hush-hush battle over Antarctica, Draymak and his team had done more than put in some fancy flying time. He was well aware of the General's contributions in saving the entire planet. And, anything he could do for the man, he'd do personally. The fact that said favor involved Sam Carter, was an added bonus. He'd had quite a crush on the brilliant woman during their time together at the Academy, but she hadn't seen him as anything more than a friend.

The long flight made it necessary to pull off a mid-air refueling along the way, yet they still managed to make good time. Now as the F-16 came in for a landing outside D.C., the Colonel found himself wondering if she could use a little backup. "So Sam, what say I tag along and watch your six?"

Smiling behind her oxygen mask, Sam remembered what a mother hen Karl had been in their old Academy days. "While having the leader of the Dunderheads minding my six does have its appeal, I don't think so Karl."

"That's Thunderbirds, Colonel and don't you forget it! Giant eagles and hawks of the sky... when we take flight, the earth trembles from the mighty thunder of our wings!" Karl corrected her good-naturedly, reciting the Native American's traditional definition of the rare bird. "Look, my middle name is clandestine. No one will know I'm there. And I hear they serve a mean steak at Kelley's."

"I haven't told you why I'm here Karl... how did you... ?"

Completing a perfect landing, Karl removed his mask and smirked. "The General filled me in on the details... wanted me to be aware, just in case, he said."

Sam wasn't sure if she should be annoyed, or touched, that General O'Neill was still looking out for her, even now when she was technically no longer his second in command. 'Why am I surprised? The man had earned a PHD. in Yiddish Mama over the years!' "Fine Karl, but I call the shots."

Sighing with satisfaction, Karl began his post flight checklist. 'Hot damn! O'Neill sure has her pegged.' "Agreed. Oh, and Sam, just curious, did you really pack a little black dress for this so-called date?"

***

Special Agent Malcolm Barrett had spent the afternoon delving further into the possible plot his security team had uncovered. After the previous Kinsey/O'Neill caper, he'd charged his best hacker, Ned Drew, with the task of searching out bogus sites on the Internet.

It was Ned's job to scrutinize web sites and find any hidden Easter eggs designed to camouflage information; then analyze and piece any data together in order to determine possible threats to national security, with the added codicil that he was to keep tabs on any further threats to O'Neill and the SGC. When he'd uncovered a reference to the name O'Neill, cleverly hidden within a bit of rubbish on a new and highly suspicious site, the warning bells had gone off in his ever-watchful brain and he'd fired off an immediate report to his superior.

Barrett had only one complaint; Ned had failed to call him personally. Now, normally this would have annoyed any boss, but Malcolm was confident Ned was still hacking away, adding to his findings.

Thus, as Barrett ventured into the bowels of NID headquarters seeking a personal audience with his resident computer geek, he reserved any lecturing until he had a few more facts. Entering the pristine, and obsessively organized den of his own lion of the Internet, he took in the man's busy fingers at the keyboard and pulled up a chair to wait.

Ned graced his boss with a nod and a brief glance. This was a familiar dance. Ned would finish whatever he was in the middle of and then spiel off more information than the average man could retain in rapid-fire succession. "Be with you in a nanosecond, Sir." Carefully storing the data he'd been downloading, Drew placed his computer in standby. Remaining seated in his chair on wheels, he scooted over to another laptop and turned the monitor toward Barrett. "Glad to see you, Sir. I was growing a bit concerned, it's after one and I concealed my red flag report amongst your routine morning updates around ten."

Eyeing him intently, Barrett sighed. "You love the intrigue don't you Drew. Look, hiding that information within my wonderfully banal paperwork was a good idea, but next time, could you give me the courtesy of a heads up of some kind. I didn't see it till almost 1130 hours!"

Blushing to the roots of his sandy blond hair, Ned realized he might have taken his fascination with stealth too far. "Oh, sorry, boss. I'm pretty sure we've got a mole somewhere within the NID and I... Ah... well, I thought this was the best way to inform you..."

Dismissing the excuse with a wave, Barrett got down to business. "So what else have you learned Drew? Is there a plot involving General O'Neill brewing?"

Failing to contain his excitement, Ned began his litany; and before Barrett left him, he'd praised the kid for his ingenuity and his quick thinking.

***

Scanning the crowded steakhouse for any unfriendly types, Karl Draymak sipped his beer thoughtfully. Sam sure did look hot in the black number she was wearing. The woman had always been attractive, but there was definitely something new about her. Maybe it was the added confidence she'd acquired. Then again, maybe it was her impressively cut body. The dress was short and tight, leaving very little to the imagination. Her lightly tanned shoulders and arms were exposed, due to the flimsy straps, which barely held up the skimpy top of satiny silk. She looked good enough to eat. And judging by the sexy way she'd walked as she followed the hostess to her table, she knew it. Realizing he was salivating like Pavlov's dog, Karl took another gulp of his beer and shifted his gaze once more.

There were several shady looking types scattered about the dining room, but this was Washington D.C. after all. Karl wasn't really sure just what sort of character he was looking for. The General's explanation had been a bit vague.

Well for now, he'd content himself with suspecting virtually everyone in the room, including the overly friendly hostess. The luscious redhead had come over more than a few times to inquire how he was doing. Either she was just a really nice gal, or she was on the prowl, he wasn't sure which. There was always a possibility that she was a plant spying on Sam and if so, she had made him. Turning his back to the room, he stared at his drink, doing his best imitation of a brooding alcoholic, all the while surreptitiously keeping tabs on Sam in the mirror behind the bar.

***

Sam followed the hostess to the table Barrett had reserved for them, feeling a bit uncomfortable in the mini-length tight black sheath; she'd squeezed into in order to maintain her cover. The damned thing kept riding up her thighs! She was much more at ease in her comfortable fatigues. Judging by the lecherous looks several sleazy types were giving her, Barrett had better show soon or she'd be fending off unwelcome advances.

Malcolm deliberately arrived a bit late. He'd planted a couple of his operatives around the place, hoping for a better idea of just whom they were dealing with. The perky redheaded hostess took him directly to a table in the dead center of the room, where a blonde knockout awaited him. 'Wow!'

Leaning over, he kissed Sam on the cheek, clasping her left hand in his right. His expression could only be interpreted as licentious as he eased himself into the seat next to her. Leaning over, he whispered in her ear. "You look fantastic! I won't have to pretend to be interested in you, Samantha."

Sam rested her head against Barrett's, blushing with genuine satisfaction. 'Why not enjoy the compliment?' Affecting a husky purr, she returned the whisper. "Thank you, Malcolm. What news?"

"My best hacker found a couple of vague references scattered here and there, regarding a J. O'Neill and Operation Double Helix." Raising her hand to his mouth, he sucked on her knuckles, looking her heatedly in the eye, he continued, "Turns out, the web site in question doesn't belong to any of the known NID factions. Only one name is familiar."

Sam caressed his cheek with her free hand. "Kinsey?" She hissed.

Turning his head slightly, Malcolm lightly kissed her lips. "Bingo. Several other names also registered. Ever hear of a corporation called GEOM?"

Nipping his lower lip with her teeth, Sam returned the kiss. "No. What does it stand for?"

Drawing back to gaze lustfully into her eyes, he shook his head. "I haven't got a clue. We couldn't find any information on it. Other than that it's based in Canada." Running his index finger along her jaw suggestively, he smiled lazily. "My hacker, Ned Drew, thinks it's just another reference to the double helix... DNA. And that someone is after a sampling of O'Neill's genetic material. The real question is why?"

Stunned, Sam almost forgot for a minute to return his adoring gaze. "I think I know why and if I'm right, Kinsey just crossed the line." Channeling her sudden anger into an expression of ardent desire, Sam elaborated. "I think the former Vice President has just officially become a traitor... we just have to prove it."

Malcolm gulped. For a moment, he wished this was not just an elaborate ruse and she was really coming home with him tonight. "First, we need to warn the General, and if we're lucky, catch the perps in the act."

The waiter came up just then, asking to take their order. Informing Malcolm in a husky voice that he should order for her, Sam excused herself and headed to the ladies room. Several women followed after her. Unable to make use of her cell phone, she dug in her purse for a scrap of paper and a pen. Seeking seclusion from curious eyes inside a stall, she hurriedly scribbled an encrypted message.

***

Karl had watched Sam and her lucky dinner partner's little display with amusement. Hot damn, they were good. If he didn't know better, he would have thought they were really into each other, not two undercover operatives. Sam had sure tapped into some hidden talents. As she'd left to go to the ladies room, her escort had watched her every move rapaciously. Karl suspected that unbeknownst to Sam, the dude really did have a thing for her.

Catching sight of Sam's return to the dining room out of the corner of his eye, he watched her head his way. Throwing her arms around him, she yelped. "Karl, you darling thing you, where have you been keeping yourself? It's been too long! Are you still making mad love to Andre? How's the decorating business?" Thrusting a scrap of paper into his hand, she added, "Call me, we'll do lunch."

Well, this beat them all. Not only had she effectively passed him a message. She'd pegged him for a light in the loafer's interior decorator! A bit stunned, he caught the bartender's eye. The burly fellow blew him a kiss and winked!

Tossing back the rest of his beer, Karl beat a hasty retreat.

Once outside, he headed to an isolated location and scanned the note. Flipping open his cell phone, he dialed the secure number the General had given him earlier in the day. The call was answered on the first ring and Karl made an efficient report to General Jack O'Neill.

***

Jon meandered into his first class of the morning and took his usual seat near the window. He had a habit of floating into his classes just before the bell would ring. Punctuality wasn't the issue, being forced to sit still for long periods of time however, was. Tucking his backpack under his chair, Jon flipped open his spiral notebook without looking up. Thus, he failed to notice the absence of his usual teacher, Mr. James.

The young woman standing with her back to the class, writing a theory on the board seemed familiar somehow. She was tiny, with tightly braided reddish-gold hair. Turning around she scanned the class, hesitating infinitesimally when her eyes met his. "Good morning. My name is Ms. Hailey. Mr. James was called away for an emergency, so I'll be subbing for him today."

Jon kept his gaze casual. Ms. Hailey? Make that Lieutenant Jennifer Hailey of the SGC to be exact. Stargate Commands' own four foot nine, lean - mean - fighting machine! Feigning the need to stretch, he checked the perimeter of the classroom. Nope, Hailey was alone. If the old man had sent her something was up, something big enough for her to go all cloak and dagger by assuming the role of a substitute teacher. He'd need some excuse to stay after class to speak with her. Best way to accomplish that little chore was to disrupt the class. The other students would assume that she'd held him back for a reprimand; and besides, he had a reputation of being a bit of a wiseacre. Ah, O'Neill! Some things never change!

Hailey was busy explaining the nature of optical density. She really had a knack for embracing the subject and normally, Jon would have been very receptive. However, he needed to cause a stir. Yawning dramatically, he made a 'yuck' sound and plopped his head loudly on his desktop, mumbling "Boring!"

Jennifer had to press her lips together tightly in order to suppress a guffaw, causing her expression to appear very annoyed. While the young man she had been told was the General's clone appeared sixteen going on seventeen, he had all the mannerisms and subtlety of the real O'Neill. A man she all but worshipped and found vastly amusing. Clearing her throat loudly, she stared at this heretic in the world of science, pinning him with an evil eye. "Do you have a question?"

Ignoring her, Jon sat back up and pressed both hands over his eyes.

Meanwhile, Hailey's exasperated voice demanded that someone supply his name. A laughter-filled voice from the back of the room supplied it promptly. "Jon O'Neill, ma'am."

"Mr. O'Neill, do you have something to add?" Hailey demanded.

Jon continued to ignore her.

Striding over to stand imperiously over him, Hailey repeated her query.

Rubbing his face as if to attempt to stay awake, Jon finally treated her to his unfocused gaze, "What?"

Hailey beat out an impatient staccato with her toe and folded her arms over her chest. "Suppose you grace the class with an example of optical density, Mr. O'Neill."

Jon looked over the rest of the class, fixing a dopey grin on his lips. Catching Clare's shocked gaze, he winked. "Old Bob Morse's glasses. They'd be in the optical density category."

Wrinkling her brow in consternation, Hailey guessed that the thickly bespectacled, pimple-faced fellow blushing furiously in the front row, must be the unhappy victim. "How so?"

'Sorry Bob, I'll apologize later.' Smirking, Jon shrugged. "Never have seen anything more optically dense than old Bob's specs! Especially when, he neglects to clean them and they are basically covered with greasy finger marks..."

Taking pity on the hapless Bob, Hailey silenced the laughing classroom with a loud hiss. "Enough! Mr. O'Neill, you will remain after class and we will discuss your observations at length! Sweeping the rest of the students with an angry frown, Hailey asked. "Anyone else have something less ridiculous to offer?" The room suddenly became very still. "Fine, then let's continue the lesson."

Slumping sullenly in his seat, Jon maintained a silently resentful attitude for the remainder of the class.

Once the bell rang and the other students had filed out, Hailey closed the door and walked over to her errant student. "You are definitely an O'Neill."

Jon looked her directly in the eye and unfolded his newly impressive five-foot ten-inch frame. He'd sprouted up over the past year and, since she was a great deal shorter, he towered over her. He'd been eating a lot of protein and working out diligently, packing on at least fifteen pounds of sinewy muscle. Still, he had to hand it to her; Hailey didn't flinch. "Despite appearances, Hailey, I am Jack O'Neill, or rather I used to be."

Realizing she'd inadvertently insulted him, Hailey snapped to attention. "I meant no disrespect, Sir. I..."

Sighing, Jon shrugged off her apology and relaxed his stance. "Skip it, Hailey, I'm not a Colonel any longer. What brings you to the stimulating world of juvenile academia?"

Relieved, yet still unsure just where she should begin, Hailey lowered her voice another notch. "Sir, that is Jon... may I call you Jon?" Noting his brief nod and ironic smile, she continued, "General O'Neill phoned me last night at 2200 and informed me I was to assume the role of substitute teacher. I was to alert you to a possible threat to your safety. And to arrange for your immediate removal to a more secure location until the matter is resolved."

Jon digested that kernel thoughtfully for a minute.

Understanding, that both clone and genuine article would feel awkward when it came to communication George Hammond checked in with the "younger" O'Neill from time to time, bless him. George's continued friendship and fatherly advice had been an invaluable lifeline, which had helped Jon adjust to his fate. Jon had heard about the recent civilian invasion. So, he had been aware of the changes in command at the SGC and in spite of the repercussions of Hammond's reassignment, they'd still maintained a rather tenuous link.

Strangely, he was damned proud of Jack: the man who was himself, and yet not. "If Jack sent you in undercover like this, the threat is much more than a mere possibility."

A loud knocking interrupted her reply. The grinning faces of several students could be seen through the door's small glass window.

Glancing at the wall clock, Jon realized it was time for the next class session to begin. "Look, the Principal is aware of just who you are, right? The only way we are going to be able to talk undisturbed is if you march me to his office for a dressing down."

Hailey's eyes widened. "I don't think..."

Nurturing the role of errant pupil, Jon assumed a belligerent expression. "Hailey, it's the only way."

Squaring her shoulders the diminutive woman reached up and neatly grasped his right ear. "Listen up mister, I've had quite enough of your smart mouth! Come with me." She bellowed.

Hailey might be little, but she was mighty. Allowing her to pull him along, Jon followed her, pretending reluctance. She had quite a grip on his poor earlobe. Jon yelped. "For crying out loud! Go easy on the merchandise, lady!"

The waiting students in the corridor were treated to the amusing sight of their resident lone wolf and oft times smart aleck, being dragged off to the principal by the tiny new substitute teacher.

Affecting her most intimidating scowl, Hailey stared down those who dared to snicker, effectively stifling them. Bursting into the principal's office, she let go of Jon's ear and slammed the door.

***

When his door was thrust open and the petite whirlwind sailed in with her victim in tow, Mr. Howard, principle of Colorado Springs High, was a bit taken aback.

The boy's uncle, General O'Neill, had called him late the night before, requesting a status report on his nephew, and firmly informed Howard that the government would be requiring his assistance. Allowing Miss Hailey to substitute would render said aid; she'd be taking over Mr. James's class this morning. When Howard had requested an explanation, he was briskly informed that it was a need to know matter, and he, Mr. Howard, did not need to know. He had only to cooperate. Put in his place, Howard had readily agreed.

Now, he wondered if young Jon had run afoul of his caustic uncle and he pitied the lad. He had never met this particular General. The Air Force had informed the school board when young Jon had enrolled that the lad had recently lost both of his parents, leaving him in the lose custody of several Air Force uncles. He had, however, met another of the boy's uncles, a General Hammond, who seemed a tad bit more genial than the steely O'Neill. "Miss Hailey, what in the world...?"

Miss Hailey had the grace to flush, as she apologized. "Sorry for the sudden intrusion Mr. Howard, but I was unsure where else to go. I need to have a serious discussion with young Mr. O'Neill here."

The sight of one of his favorite characters and a good student, Jon O'Neill, gingerly rubbing a reddened ear, caused the affable Howard to protest. "Miss Hailey, when General O'Neill informed me, and none too politely, that I was to allow you to keep tabs on his nephew, I was unaware that the lad would be mistreated!"

Crap! Mr. Howard, ever the champion of justice and fair treatment (a fact which had quickly endeared him to Jon O'Neill) was pulling out his soapbox! "I'm all right, Mr. Howard. Really, she didn't hurt me. I was..."

Shaking with fervor, Mr. Howard raised a silencing hand. Standing an impressive six-foot, six-inches, he moved out from behind his desk and placed a reassuring hand on Jon's shoulder. "Furthermore Miss Hailey, anything you intend to discuss with young Jon here, will be discussed with me in attendance! It is patently obvious you haven't a clue how to properly treat an adolescent!"

Lieutenant Jennifer Hailey U.S.A.F. was stunned and intimidated by the man's fervor. "Sir, I..."

Wow! He knew Howard liked kids, but Jon had never imagined the mild mannered gentleman would be such a zealot! Cool! "Ah, Mr. Howard, Sir? Hailey was following my orders."

Turning a kindly eye to the youngster, Howard took a deep calming breath. "Your orders, son?"

oops! "Err... well, my request, Sir. You see my Uncle Jack is concerned... he is privy to a great deal of delicate intelligence and evidently, something has made him concerned for my safety; so he sent the Lieutenant here to bring me to him quietly."

Incredulous, Mr. Howard gently checked Jon's ear. "I hardly think manhandling your person would qualify as concern for your safety, Jon."

Jon's smirking expression, clearly telegraphed his thoughts to the young Lieutenant. He's got you there, Hailey!

"I regret the use of gentle force, Mr. Howard. I felt it was necessary in order to promote the idea that I was angry enough to drag Jon here for a reprimand," Hailey told him shamefaced.

Noting that Jon's ear was no longer red and the young woman's tone was regretful, Mr. Howard considered that it had not been very long since Miss Hailey had herself, graduated from the confusing world of adolescence; and took pity on her. "So this was all a ruse?"

"Yes, Sir." Hailey unconsciously stood at attention. "I assure you, Sir, it is imperative I be allowed to speak with Jon O'Neill alone."

Shooting Jon a questioning look, and finding him nodding his acceptance, Mr. Howard reluctantly agreed. "Fine. I will be right outside the door if you need me, Jon."

***

Jon watched Mr. Howard leave, with open admiration. "That man missed his calling. He'd have made a damn fine Air Force officer."

Sitting exhaustedly in a nearby chair, Hailey cast Jon a wry look. "Takes one to know one. Now as I was saying, the general wants you out of here and secure, ASAP!"

"Not gonna happen. At least, not until I have a complete explanation." Jon told her stubbornly.

Eyeing her knowingly, he continued, "If you try anything, Hailey, that man out there will interfere, which will draw more attention. The General won't like that."

Resigned to the inevitable, Hailey settled in for the duration. "I guess I forgot for a minute who I was talking too. You look different, but you are the same O'Neill I learned to admire, aren't you? Someone used to fighting his own battles and winning. With respect sir, the sad truth is that you are now, for better or worse, a young and still growing man. And, despite all your knowledge and expertise, physically not yet up to the challenge."

Smiling evilly, Jon debated her. "I'm well aware of that fact, Hailey. Which, by the way, does not diminish my right to full disclosure. On the bright side, this body is a good deal more agile than my former aged one. And, despite the fa├žade General O'Neill loves to project, this mind is a clever one."

Hailey was rapidly learning to admire this younger version of her hero equally as much as the legendary original. "Agent Barrett of the NID contacted Colonel Carter yesterday regarding some intelligence his pet computer geek has uncovered. From what they've been able to piece together, there is some form of strategy being devised by as yet perpetrators unknown to obtain a sampling of O'Neill DNA."

Cunning as ever, Jon caught on rapidly, "So Jack, knowing that he is a less vulnerable target, figured they might come after me."

"Yes, and he wants you out of harm's way." Hailey told him softly. "As weird as this whole situation is, he does care about you, Jon."

It was apparent from her sympathetic tone that the young Lieutenant was well aware of the facts regarding his current circumstances. Jack had demanded the Asgard repair whatever flaw they'd programmed into Jon's cloned body, thus saving his life. He'd understood completely why Jack had kept his distance until now; he had done the same. They were basically of one and the same mind. Still, the kid meant well. "I get that, Hailey, I do. Unfortunately, we are no longer exactly the same. We've each had over a year of diverse experiences to add the spice of change to the mix."

Rubbing his hands over his face in a gesture eerily familiar to the young officer, Jon contemplated his options, coming to an abrupt decision. "As far as I'm concerned, we've only one viable solution; use me as bait."

Gulping loudly, Hailey shook her head adamantly. "No way! The General will have me court-martialed!"

Leaning over her still seated form, Jon placed both his lean hands on her shoulders, staring earnestly into her eyes. "No, he won't. I am he, that is, he is I... well, we think alike anyway. Uncle Jack will totally accept my plan. Trust me."

Pulling a small cell phone out of her jacket pocket, Hailey flipped it open. "We'll just call him and confirm..."

Jon closed his bigger hand over her small one. "Negative! Look, he expects you to substitute here at least for the day, right?"

Hailey confirmed that fact warily. "Well, yes, but I'm to report in..."

Jon rushed ahead persuasively, "So, we try it my way, at least until the end of the day... I'll be careful and stick close... check in with you after each class. If nothing out of the ordinary occurs, I'll meet up with you after the last bell. And then we go see big daddy Jack. Deal?"

Fearing she was about to blow her career, Hailey nodded reluctantly. He would have his way come hell or high water; maybe if she compromised just a tad, he'd come along quietly at the end of the day. "Fine, Sir. Do you have a cell phone?"

Rolling his eyes, Jon reached into his back pocket and pulled out the very latest in high-tech micro cell phones. "Duh!"

'Jon is definitely NOT the General!' "Good. I'll program mine with your number, while you add my number to your speed dial. If either of us sees anything suspicious, we contact one another by cell ASAP and get the hell out!" Hailey instructed, adamantly.

'You'll do, Hailey,' Jon thought. Chances were, nothing of any interest would happen; a fact which would disappoint him thoroughly. He'd been missing the action more and more lately. Now here was a chance to get in the game once more, if only for a brief interlude. "Affirmative, Lieutenant." Grinning, he snapped her a salute. "Ah, ya know, Hailey, we could just use the walkie-talkie feature." He added wryly.

'Whoa! Did I just say he wasn't the General?'


On to Chapter Two