"Do you know where I could locate this boy?"
Jack froze at the mention of his name. The conversation was coming from just inside the principal's office, but the bustle of students walking down the corridor drowned out the rest of the exchange. Carefully, he tiptoed toward the door, pressing himself close to the lockers so that he could hear what they were saying and maybe sneak a peek inside.
A tall, thin man, dressed in black, stood before the principal. A small photo remained in his hand as he extended it to Principal Patterson. Her gaze lingered on the picture before she shifted her gaze upward to meet the looming giant.
"If you're not a legal guardian, then I will not have this conversation with you."
The man in black was unperturbed. "This is a matter of national security."
Jack fought the urge to laugh at the man. National security his ass. Tall, mysterious looking men that could have walked straight out of one of those MIB movies Teal'c was so sweet on were not a good sign. If there were matters of national security, they wouldn't bother with him. And they wouldn't send Secret Service rejects.
No, Jack felt this did not bode well for him.
"National security?" Patterson asked. "You must be joking."
"No, ma'am." He slid the picture into his jacket pocket. "I'll be honest with you. Earlier this morning, we received an anonymous tip that this student, Jonathan O'Neill, has not only been plotting an act of terror on your school, but also has been working with a group of known terror suspects on the FBI watch list. We need to find him and bring him in for questioning before he can carry out anything that can endanger lives."
Jack blinked. There was no way he had heard that right. There was no way any of this was happening.
"Oh my God," he heard Patterson say. "I-I can't believe that. You must have the wrong information. He's such a good student."
"I'm afraid not, ma'am. We need to bring him in."
Jack turned and walked away from the office, easily forgetting the batch of paperwork he was supposed to give Principal Patterson. Suddenly, a bunch of test papers weren't all that important. Jack flung his backpack over his shoulder and started to head towards the exit.
As he made his way through the halls, he kept looking over his shoulder, glancing from side to side, just to make sure. Quietly, he withdrew his cell phone and started to dial the first number that came to mind.
No one there.
He dialed another and another.
No one there.
Of course not.
Jack cursed under his breath and put the cell phone away. The exit to the school was just ahead of him, so if he could just get past the stairs he could...
He slowed when he saw another black suited man standing in front of the doorway. Damn.
Bowing his head, Jack turned to his left and set his pace to a brisk walk. He allowed himself to blend in with the other students, all the while remaining alert for any suspicious activity. Luckily, the stiff stopped by just as school was letting out.
Jack slipped in between two geeky freshmen and darted into the bathroom. He knew that he could have headed for the gym instead, but these guys didn't look like fools. He wasn't going to chance any kind of confrontation, especially in a situation where he was at a complete disadvantage. No, he needed to get out of here and then think of a plan.
Jack eyed the bathroom carefully. No one was at the urinals, but he had to check the stalls just in case. One by one he examined them, finally feeling secure in the fact he was alone. When he was sure no one had followed him, his gaze jumped between the sink and the window.
He could make it.
First, Jack tossed his bag upward so that it fell onto the windowsill. Next, he climbed onto the sink and started to stand, praying that the weight of his body wouldn't snap the fixture right out of the wall.
Luckily, it didn't.
After taking a deep breath, Jack jumped off the sink and grabbed hold of the ledge, trying to get a foothold onto the wall as he pulled his body upward. He cringed at the sound of his sneakers scraping against the drywall, but he didn't have time to dwell on it. With a final heave, he lifted himself halfway onto the ledge and poked his head out the window.
Being on the first floor was perfect.
Jack tossed his bag onto the lawn and then shoved his arms through and over the window, grabbing onto the outside of the panel for support. He squeezed through the narrow opening and stood on the outside ledge. He was up a good way, but it wasn't anything he couldn't handle. With one last grunt, Jack jumped out of the window and landed on the grass with a thud.
He wasted no time. Grabbing his bag, Jack sprinted across the lawn of the school and made a break for his car. He didn't even stop to see if anyone was behind him or if his fellow students were giving him odd looks. He was getting out of here.
Jack spotted his beat up sedan - it wasn't anything like his truck but he wasn't going to dwell on that now - when he noticed there was one of those men standing beside it.
Crap, he thought, stopping in the middle of the lawn. Whoever these guys were, they were everywhere.
Jack turned to his right and started walking casually, hoping not to bring any attention to himself. There had to be another alternative. There had to be some way he could buy himself some time.
And then, as if the Asgard had heard his pleas, Jack spotted a city bus. He wasn't going to take his chances on the school bus. Besides, he didn't want to put all those kids at risk. But he could jump on the city bus and then book it out of there. One stop, maybe two, and he could find a nice public place where he could blend into the crowd.
Jack went for the bus.
He jogged up the steps, gave the driver his money and settled into a seat. A quick check of the bus didn't reveal anyone that might pose a problem for him, but then again, who knew if these people had agents undercover.
What the hell? He was getting paranoid now?
Why shouldn't he, he tried to tell himself. There were people out there that we accusing him of terrorism and all those years in the military had honed his senses enough that he could smell a stinky plot a mile away.
Jack took another survey of the bus before he glanced out the window. He stiffened.
The guy by his car was gone.
Go, he silently told the bus driver. Go now, you damn slowpoke.
Jack watched as the doors to the bus closed, and the driver started to pull the bus from the curb. Jack sighed with relief, sinking into his seat, not even realizing he was clutching his backpack.
He'd gotten his wish. A short reprieve so he could consider how to proceed.
He jumped as he heard a knocking at the side of his window.
Jack looked on with amazement as the agent ran after the bus, hammering on the side while he shouted angrily at Jack. He was making frantic waves at the driver, urging him to slow or stop. For whatever reason, Jack was lucky in that the driver didn't notice or was deaf and continued to speed up as they drove away from the bus stop. The man began to vanish from view.
But that did nothing to ease Jack's sense of dread. When he glanced back to the rear window of the bus, he could distinctly see the shape of a sleek sedan behind them.
He knew enough to realize he was being followed. And he knew enough that to go to his apartment or any of his regular hangouts would be a bad idea.
Whoever these men were, they meant business. They were out for him and they weren't going to stop until they found him. It was only a matter of time now.
Jack snatched the cell phone from his bag before he slipped it over his shoulder. He flipped it open and started to dial and prepared himself to run like he'd never run before as he readied himself for the next stop.
"So, are the people of PJ7-261 willing to negotiate?"
Daniel nodded at General Landry's question and tapped his pen on his briefing report. "The Zhiang are more than willing to allow us access to some of their naquadah mines as long as we can provide some kind of assistance in the event their world falls into disarray." He took a deep breath. "They were visited by a Prior last week."
Landry looked irate. "So, they've managed to get into some of Yu's old territories, too."
"Seems like any place that the other Goa'uld haven't snatched up is fair game," Mitchell said.
"The people of PJ7-261 are highly intelligent people, sir. They may have been under the dominion of Yu, but the Goa'uld did allow them some limited development in the arts and education," Sam said. "While they didn't mind serving Yu, they aren't willing to allow another being or group of people to interfere with their lifestyle. They are prepared to do what it takes to defend themselves."
"Which could be either advantageous or to our disadvantage," Landry reminded them.
"Indeed. However, many within the Zhiang have strong ties with the Jaffa," Teal'c told him. "I do believe that we can convince them that allying with both the Tau'ri and the Jaffa will be to their advantage."
Landry nodded. "Good, let's-"
The five of them paused as a soft knocking interrupted the briefing. Daniel leaned back to see a nervous and slightly befuddled Walter Harriman hesitating at the door.
He was staring straight at him.
"What is it, Walter?" General Landry asked.
"Um, sorry for interrupting, sir, but I-" He cleared his throat and continued to stare at Daniel. "Doctor Jackson, I have your son on the line for you."
Daniel blinked, suddenly feeling like a kid who got his hand caught in the cookie jar. When he turned with surprise to the rest of his team, he could see that Sam was staring at him in complete shock, Teal'c looked amused, surprised, or satisfied - the last of which made him nervous - while Mitchell looked downright awestruck.
Landry wasn't amused at all. "Doctor Jackson?" he asked, his voice low.
Daniel never felt so small in all his life. This felt worse than those times he'd been at lectures or consortiums and had been booed and jeered off the stage. Descending or materializing into Jack's office in his birthday suit had been more comfortable than this.
He refused to look any of them in the eye. Slowly, he shifted in his seat, feeling both hot and cold, and kept his gaze centered on Walter.
"There must be a mistake," he told Walter.
"That's what I said. But he's insistent."
Daniel sat there, mouth open. He had no idea what to say. But apparently, Colonel Mitchell did.
"Dang," he said, his voice sounding like it would break. "You get around."
Daniel did not hold back on the glare he sent to the new leader of SG-1. Naturally, there was a reasonable explanation of all of this. "Okay, I-uh. I better go get that." He jumped to his feet and rushed out the door before he could feel any more embarrassed than he already was.
Walter showed Daniel to the line that his so-called son had called him on and picked up the receiver. "Hello?" he asked.
"Two words: Cell phone."
Daniel frowned. "Excuse me?"
"You're a hard man to reach, you know that?"
By now, Daniel was running out of patience. He adjusted his glasses and scowled at the phone, even though he knew the boy on the line couldn't see it. Maybe it was for the benefit of the audience he'd seemed to have attracted. "Who is this?" he asked in his most irritated tone.
"Oh, for cryin' out loud...It's me, Daniel."
Daniel almost choked on the air. "Jack?"
"Yeah, look. Let's skip the pleasantries. I know we're not really supposed to cross paths and all, but I need your help."
There was fear and anger in Jack's voice. Jack didn't get spooked very easily and when he did, he got testy. "Jack, what's going on?"
When Daniel realized that everyone was staring at him, he mouthed "clone" which seemed to ease Sam and Teal'c right away. Mitchell still looked awestruck.
"I was at school and these guys dressed in suits came in demanding to take me in for questioning. They made up some bogus story that I was in league with terrorists and I was going to blow the school." Static interrupted the line before Jack's voice broke through again. "I'm still under the military watchdog from the Air Force. Even if I wanted to get into trouble, I can't. Daniel, I'm no damn terrorist."
Daniel couldn't even begin to believe what he was hearing. Jack was right, of course. The Air Force kept close watch on everything he did. He might be Jack but he wasn't really Jack - in most people's eyes. And terrorism? That was the most ridiculous thing Daniel had ever heard.
"Where are you?" he asked, signaling to Sam that this was important. She understood right away and started to whisper something to Landry.
"I just got off a city bus and I'm at The Citadel Mall. Daniel, they followed me here. I'm going to hang around some of the larger department stores and see if I can keep a low profile, but all they have to do is put out an alert..."
Daniel understood. "We're on our way. Meet us on the east side, over on Academy Boulevard. Try to stay out of sight."
"Roger that." He hung up the phone.
Daniel handed the receiver back to Walter and turned to SG-1 and General Landry. "Someone is after Jack's clone. It sounds serious." He focused solely on Landry. "Permission to-"
"Go," Landry said. "I want you to split up and monitor both sides of the complex." He started to move towards his office. "I don't take anything to do with the SGC lightly. Check back in as soon as you find something. I'm going to get on the phone with the Pentagon."
Daniel nodded, grateful for Landry's approval. He jogged to catch up with Sam, Teal'c, and Mitchell, hoping that Jack could hold off his pursuers until they arrived.
Jack threw the oversized sweatshirt onto the counter along with a decent baseball cap he'd found. As the cashier started to ring him out, he dug into his pockets and withdrew his wallet.
He knew that his "disguise" was nothing more than a quick way to hide himself. If these guys were rogue NID agents or whatever they were calling themselves these days, then his stay at The Citadel wouldn't last very long. Still, any time he could buy for himself until Daniel showed up worked for him.
Jack flashed the young cashier his best smile, grabbed his bag, and made his way to the exit. Once he was out of the store, he grabbed the sweatshirt out of the bag and quickly allowed it to envelop him before slapping the cap on his head. Now all he had to do was blend into the crowd and work his way over to the east entrance and wait.
He kept his head down, but remained alert regarding his surroundings. The mall was fairly busy for a Thursday afternoon, but that didn't give him the excuse to slack. For all he knew, some of these guys could be in street clothes.
He couldn't help but wonder: what the heck did they want from him? The Air Force kept him on a tight leash - all his experience and the classified information he held had to be kept under surveillance somehow. But in the end, aside from living a life he didn't want, he was just a clone. The other him had better intel to give, why not go after him?
Because he had all the flash and importance of working in the Air Force, Jack thought bitterly.
So, was Jack just an easy hit? Info up for grabs in a pint-sized package? If so, why hadn't they tried this before now?
Jack shook off the questions and decided to leave them for Daniel and Carter. They loved the detective bit.
Jack walked down the aisle and turned, catching the exit in sight. He wasn't surprised at all to see two men in black suits pacing near the entrance/exit while another one was casually standing around the telephones. He didn't think this would be easy, but this didn't bode well for him either.
That's when he saw her. What a sight for sore eyes. Carter had entered the building, pausing just past the doors as she searched the mall. He could tell she'd left the SGC in a hurry; her BDU's poked out from under a long black trench coat. And while Jack thought Carter had a tendency to stick out in a crowd on a good day, he was positive she was certainly going to draw more than enough attention today.
There was no way he and Carter were just going to be able to waltz out the front door. He'd have to try something else. Jack grabbed his phone and started ramming his fingers onto the pad.
Daniel released his vice grip on the steering wheel and snatched his phone. "They know," read the text message.
That didn't make Daniel feel any better. Why on Earth someone wanted to monitor Jack's calls was beyond him. What anyone thought they could accomplish by stalking Jack was way beyond him, too. Then again, Thor always-
Daniel jerked when he heard his phone ring. Sam. He pressed it to his ear. "Hello?"
"Are you sure he said it was the east entrance? I don't see any sign of him."
"Yeah...um. Change of plans," Daniel said as he watched the entrance carefully. "He's going to the west entrance."
"West entrance?" she asked. "Really? Are you sure?"
"Yeah, Mitchell and Teal'c are going to head him off over there. We're going to join them in a few minutes." He said the last few words slower and more deliberately, hoping Sam would pick up on his meaning. They'd known each other long enough that she should be able to pick up on his blatant lie and stall tactic. Daniel didn't have a clue if they were monitoring their conversation, but he wasn't going to take the chance. Besides, he figured speaking in Goa'uld would have been too obvious.
"All right. I'll start heading over to the west entrance. Carter out."
Daniel hoped she was kidding.
When he was certain there was no additional activity going on by the entrance, Daniel started to dial Mitchell. They needed to be on the same page for this to work.
"This is Mitchell."
"Hey, it's Daniel." He bent low and peeked out the window to get a better view of the mall. People came and went like any normal day. "Where are you?"
"Teal'c and I are circling one of the parking lots. This place is jammin' today. I wonder what's going on?"
Daniel shook his head. "Just see if you can get over to the west entrance."
"West entrance? I thought he was coming out down your way?" Mitchell asked.
"Yeah...I thought so, too," Daniel said slowly. "Look, I'm not actually sure that we aren't being monitored here, so-"
"Yeah, so just-" Daniel paused, watching as a shadow cast over himself and the driver's seat of his truck. He started to move when he heard a low voice tell him to stop.
"Terminate the call and put your hands where I can see them. No tricks, Doctor Jackson."
Daniel pursed his lips, trying to keep his anger in check. He nodded once to let the man know he'd heard him before he returned his attention to Mitchell.
"Look, uh, I'm going to have to call you back." He shut the phone and placed it on the seat. "Okay, now what?"
"Step out of the car and face the door."
Daniel sighed and raised his arms a little higher. From the corner of his eye, he caught the silhouette of an average sized man with an average build standing outside his truck with what he just knew was a gun. The man opened the door and Daniel climbed out. Immediately, he was pushed onto the side of the cab.
"You sure you really want to do this?" Daniel asked his assailant. "I mean, you are committing quite a few crimes in a very public space."
"I can easily put you back in your truck and shoot you," the man told him. "You shouldn't get involved in other people's business."
"And what business would that be, exactly?" Daniel asked with a smile.
He felt the tip of the silencer jab him in the small of his back. "Nothing that you're going to be around to remember."
"So, what? You're going to kill me?"
"You're much too valuable for me to shoot, I'm afraid." Daniel heard a shuffling and when he tilted his head he caught an...uh-oh. Needles. "But the less you know, the better for me."
Crap. Where was help when he needed it?
Sam pocketed her phone and started walking away from the east entrance. The mall was packed today; she'd learned that the Air Force Academy was holding some kind of exhibit that was drawing a rather large turnout. She noticed that the crowds were mainly tour groups or after school clubs from the various high schools in Colorado Springs. She wasn't going to blend in well at all.
But neither were O'Neill's trackers.
She caught one on her six and she knew that two more had been watching her by the entrance. There could be more scouting the area in street clothes. Whatever trouble O'Neill's clone had gotten into, it seemed to be serious.
Sam stopped and bent over to tie one of her boots while she kept alert of any suspicious activity. She noticed that two of the men that had been guarding the entrance had left and passed her, possibly moving to the west entrance. There was one other that she could see - the one that was keeping tabs on her.
O'Neill's clone would not make an appearance if he thought he was being monitored. Any cell phone activity would be in question and could be used to pinpoint him. She figured he must have moved from store to store to try to keep them off his back.
But he wouldn't stray too far if he truly had no intention of making a break for the west entrance.
Sam hovered by a boutique for a little longer, pretending to tie the other boot. When she saw a crowd of tourists, she decided to take her chance. She casually walked over to meet them and slipped between members of the crowd, knowing that her pursuer would be keeping tabs on all her actions. After a few seconds of zigzagging and annoying the tourists, she looped around, slipping into one of the stores before darting out again, and walked towards the east entrance.
When she glanced back, she didn't catch any sign that he was right behind her. What she did see was a teenager in a hooded sweatshirt hanging at the rear of a group of teenage kids. He was watching her every move.
Sam picked up her pace as she moved toward the exit and motioned with her hand at the kid. The teen picked up on the hand gesture immediately and started to head in her direction.
"Jack O'Neill?" she asked, trying to sneak a peek under the baseball cap he was wearing.
"The not so one and only," he muttered in return.
She forced a smile. Yup, definitely the right kid.
Sam snagged his arm and drew him closer, making sure he remained right by her side as they braced themselves for the main exit on the east side. So far, she didn't catch any of the suits waiting for them by the doors, but that didn't mean anything. There could be several of them waiting outside or waiting here in the mall undetected.
"What did you do that would cause all of this?" she asked him. It seemed incredible that O'Neill's clone could be this much of a problem.
She glared at him.
O'Neill's clone sighed. "Believe me, Carter, I would love to know myself. But I'm guessing the simple act of breathing might be enough of an offense for these guys."
She hated to think that he was probably right. "Daniel has his truck parked right out front. As soon as we're close enough, make a break for it and get inside."
"Where are we going? The SGC?" His voice sounded a little too hopeful.
Sam paused, looked to her right and left before she nudged him forward through the doors. "Yes," she answered simply. They picked up the pace as they left the mall and headed toward some of the cars parked in front. She felt a shiver up her spine as the familiar feeling of being followed crept over her.
"They're on our six," O'Neill's clone muttered, stealing a quick glance over his shoulder.
"I know. We're almost there." She could see Daniel's truck from here.
She frowned, noting that there seemed to be a few people standing outside the truck, one of which looked liked Daniel. She couldn't make out the rest from where they were.
Oh boy, she thought. This wasn't good.
She knew the clone beside her was thinking the same thing. They broke into a run toward the truck.
"I'm sorry, Doctor Jackson. But you really shouldn't have gotten involved."
Daniel felt the pressure of the gun start to dissipate, but that allowed for the man to grab his wrists and bring them behind his back. Daniel stalled by struggling and fidgeting, but his strength had never been in hand-to-hand combat. With a twist here and there, Daniel's hands were bound. He sighed. Why always him?
He considered ramming his shoulder back into the man, but he wasn't sure how far that would take him. As it was, Daniel could only see vague glimpses of what the man was doing over there. Daniel wasn't keen on ramming into the gun or a needle.
"Just stay calm and you won't get hurt."
"Stay calm?" Daniel managed to tilt his head a little more. "You're threatening to jab me with needles."
"It'll put you out of commission for a while, but it's nothing serious."
Somehow, Daniel didn't really believe him.
"You know how to handle that, right?" Daniel asked. "Because if I am as valuable as you say, then you wouldn't want to screw up. Your boss - what the Trust? Business conglomerates?
"Nice try, Doctor Jackson. Now, just hold still."
"No, wait! Let's-let's talk about this. Maybe we can -"
Daniel winced, feeling a sudden sharp jab to his back before he heard a soft thud behind him. After pausing for a beat, Daniel turned his head, surprised to find his assailant out cold on the pavement.
Daniel shot his head up to the man standing beside him.
"It appears you are in need of my assistance," Teal'c said with a smile.
"Teal'c." Daniel couldn't even voice his relief. "You have great timing." Or, at least Daniel hoped so. He squirmed, dangling his fingers to try to reach where he'd felt the pain. "Teal'c, do you see -?"
Teal'c ripped through the plastic cuffs. "You appear to be fine."
Daniel nodded, rubbing his wrists as he gazed down at the man. He didn't look so ominous lying there unconscious on the ground. But there was no mistaking the fact he had a weapon concealed somewhere under his jacket and no one could miss the kit full of vials and needles that had fallen beside him.
That had been too close for Daniel's liking. He frowned as he rubbed his back thoughtfully.
Daniel turned to see Sam and some kid running towards them. Sam quickly opened one of the doors to the truck and shoved the teenager - presumably Jack - inside. She then darted around the truck and came to meet them.
One glance at the man and his paraphernalia on the ground told Sam enough.
"Are you all right?" she asked him.
She immediately tore Daniel's hands away from his back and lifted his shirt and jacket to check him. He stiffened as he felt the cold tips of her fingers touch his skin.
"Sam, I'm all right. I think his elbow hit my back right before Teal'c took him out."
"I don't see any puncture or breakage," she said with a nod. She motioned with the nudge of her chin to the man on the ground. "I want to bring him in for questioning and get those vials sent to a lab for analysis."
"I will keep him under guard," Teal'c said.
Sam nodded. "Good. You and Mitchell head back to the SGC and secure him. We'll be right behind you."
Jack's head poked out of the window. "What happened?"
"Looks like we got ourselves a prisoner," Daniel said.
"Nice." He looked down at the man before he gazed over at Teal'c. "Good job."
Teal'c dipped his head. "Thank you, O'Neill."
"We'd better get moving," Sam said. "There are more of them inside the mall and I would guess scouting this entire area."
"Won't argue with that." Daniel rubbed his back again as he glared at his attacker. "How did you know?" he asked Teal'c.
"Colonel Mitchell became quite concerned when you refused to speak with him. We then proceeded to your position to see if you were in any danger."
Daniel nodded, still relieved that Teal'c had intervened in time, though he wasn't sure whether to take Mitchell's statement as a compliment or an insult. Daniel didn't talk that much, did he?
"Who's Mitchell?" Jack asked.
No one bothered to answer him. Daniel slipped back into the driver's seat while Sam swung around to the passenger side. Teal'c quickly bound the unconscious man and started to drag him away from Daniel's truck. Jack hovered between Sam and Daniel.
"Hey, I asked you a question."
"Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell," Sam answered, locking the door and peering outside past the mall.
There was a honking and Daniel poked his head outside the window. Mitchell waved to him.
Daniel sighed. "Does he know the meaning of the word 'covert?'"
Sam chuckled and glanced over to Jack. "He's a member of SG-1. In fact, he's one of the pilots you helped train to fly the F-302's." She smiled at him. "He's nice."
"He's a bit excitable," Daniel added. "But his heart's in the right place."
"Ah," Jack said, leaning back. Daniel didn't think he was all too impressed. Not because Jack had a dislike for Mitchell, but just because this was Jack. Daniel knew exactly where this conversation was heading. "You should have recruited me," he told them. "I've got all the skills, great new body...and I'm the sharpest I've ever been."
"And you're oh...what?" Daniel asked. "Seventeen?"
"Hey, I might look seventeen, but I've got the mind of a seasoned general." Both Sam and Daniel turned to stare at him. "What?" he asked. "I called me to tell me."
"As much as I would love to hear you try to bargain with your skills, I think we should get moving," Sam said. "Daniel?"
He had already started up the truck and had been waiting for Mitchell to pull out from behind him. When he saw that he was clear, Daniel pulled away and started for the street. Luckily, the SGC was not all that far from The Citadell Mall. He figured they should be able to make it back without further incident.
But when Daniel glanced in his rear view mirror, he knew that getting out of here scott free was more of a dream than a reality. "Sam?" he asked.
"I see them." She kept checking her side mirror. "See if you can lose them."
"They're insane if they think they can follow us all the way to the SGC," Jack said. He paused. "Wait, lose them?"
Daniel hit the gas and gunned it away from the mall, taking a sharp left onto the next street. Though he was careful for any pedestrians or animals in the area, he wasn't afraid to weave in and out of stopped traffic and hit the curb if needed.
"Whoa!" Jack yelled, grabbing onto the seat. "Let me drive! I had a truck just like this once. I can handle...wait, this is my truck."
Sam was unperturbed by the whole thing. Maybe even a little amused. "Daniel bought it off General O'Neill when he moved to Washington D.C."
Daniel maneuvered again, nearly nicking a mailbox in the process. "I got a good deal on it."
Daniel saw Jack wince at the near miss and clutch the seat harder. "The bastard couldn't have even given it to me?" Jack cursed something unintelligible under his breath. "Have you even seen the piece of junk I've been driving?"
"Always one to screw yourself, huh, Jack?"
"Ha. That's funny. You're a regular comedian, Daniel."
Daniel had to smile despite himself. Though, after spending so much time with Jack O'Neill, what did Jack expect?
Daniel took a sharp left and then swerved to the right, decided to go down a side street than to stay on the main roads. Here, he found he could pick up a little speed. Daniel pressed his foot on the gas and barreled down the street, keeping his eyes on the road while Sam kept checking their rear.
"They're still with us," she said.
Daniel took another sharp left, the tires squealing in the process. He licked his lips as he focused before wiping his brow with the back of his hand. They passed by some homes, a few small businesses, and a fairly nice neighborhood. He made sure to slow when he saw some kids playing by the side of the street. Once he passed them, he hit the gas and took a right and then a left.
"Daniel, I swear if you get one scratch on my truck..."
Daniel was back on one of the main roads, preparing to head for the SGC. He heard Sam's cell phone and he figured it had to be Landry checking on them. He wasn't entirely sure they should be talking to anyone until they were back at the SGC but based on Sam's expression, it seemed pretty important. She plugged her ear with her finger and turned away - essentially blocking out both he and Jack - so that she could hear the conversation.
Daniel just tuned it all out and kept driving. He inhaled sharply as he sped up and went through a red light. He knew he'd hear about it. Jack was the worst backseat driver imaginable, when he wanted to be.
Daniel just ignored him.
By now, it didn't matter if they were being followed or not. They were close enough to the SGC that soon the sedan would have no choice but to stop or be taken by the military. Daniel wasn't really sure why they bothered at this point.
"Cassie, wait. Slow down. I didn't hear you."
Daniel stiffened over the mention of Cassie and wondered what the problem could be. Cassie rarely called them now that she was at college. Though, he thought he remembered Sam telling them something about Cassie coming home for spring break.
"Something wrong?" Daniel asked.
Sam held up a finger and pressed the phone closer to her ear. Daniel took the opportunity to take a right, a left, and a right before he finally realized no one was following them anymore. He breathed a sigh of relief.
"Are you sure?" Sam said into the phone. "Cassie, don't move. Stay there and stay with people. Don't put yourself in any kind of situation where you're alone."
Daniel shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He didn't like the way this conversation was heading, and though the Jack with them hadn't seen Cassandra in two years, he still had the memories of her and their time together. This was hurting Jack as much as it was hurting him.
"Problem?" Jack asked.
"Two men are following Cassandra downtown at the local bookstore and café. They match the same type of description as the men we encountered today." Sam looked absolutely devastated. "She was going to shop downtown until I got out of work today."
"How far?" Daniel asked. He knew it didn't matter anyway.
"She's not far from the center of town. A few streets back from where we came."
Daniel nodded and started to turn the truck around. "Here we go again."
Daniel brought the truck to a screeching halt. It wasn't exactly the slow approach Sam had in mind, but right now her thoughts were focused on other things.
Sam leaned over the seat, far enough so that Daniel had to push back to give her room. While part of her wanted to run in and grab Cassie so they could leave as quickly as possible, another part of her was concerned for Daniel and Jack O'Neill's clone. She didn't want a repeat of what happened at the mall.
"Go, Carter," O'Neill's clone said. He squeezed between her and Daniel before he fumbled below the seat. "We'll hold the fort."
"There's no gun there," Daniel warned him. "Jack removed his hidden weapons cache from the truck before he sold it to me."
"Go." Daniel urged her with the wave of his hand. "We'll be fine. Just make sure Cassie's okay."
Sam nodded, giving the both of them one last anxious look before she jumped out of the Ford truck and walked into the bookstore.
It was a slow day from what Sam could see. The café at the front of the store had some patrons buying coffee, but the actual bookstore itself looked empty. Nonetheless, appearances could be deceiving. For whatever reason, these agents were taking a more subtle approach with Cassie instead of the more aggressive one with O'Neill. Sam figured the aisles themselves were crawling with agents, just waiting for Cassie to leave.
Sam started down one of the aisles in the bookstore, checking the shelves one by one, trying to discern if she were being watched or if anyone was hiding around the corner. She caught a few of bookish-looking college students, a couple of parents with their small children, and some bored looking teenagers.
Sam repeated the movements with every aisle she searched, making sure to keep alert and watchful for anything that seemed suspicious. What made matters worse was that she knew the store owners were watching her - a trench coat and BDU's didn't make for the most endearing fashion statement.
Sam went down another aisle. Another. And another.
Still no Cassie.
Sam started to feel uneasy, concerned not only for Cassie's welfare, but also over the silent promise she made to herself and to her friend. She'd promised in Janet's memory that she would take care of Cassie at all costs. She couldn't fail Cassie and Janet now. Not ever.
Frustrated, Sam started to retrace her steps. She was certain that the man two aisles from her was one of them; not only had he kept lowering his book to spy on her, but he kept looking over his shoulder as if he were expecting someone to challenge him from behind. And if he was here, then more of them had to be hanging around, too.
Sam started down the last aisle again when she thought she saw something. Stopping, Sam stared back into the café, watching as a nervous young woman bought a large cappuccino. Cassie oscillated shifting her weight from one leg to the next as she kept stealing anxious glances over her shoulder.
Sam marched straight to the café counter.
"Cassie," she said, allowing the relief to fill her voice. She hugged her and kept her close.
"Oh, Sam, you came." Cassie hugged her quickly but her anxious twitches didn't stop. "They're right behind you," she whispered. "At the far table."
Sam didn't look back. "Daniel is waiting just outside. We're going to walk out of here, go straight to the truck, and go the SGC."
Cassie nodded as she clutched her cup. "Cool."
Sam rubbed her back and guided her away from the counter as she offered the cashier the best smile she could afford. The two of them quickly but carefully walked to the exit, feeling more than one pair of eyes on them as they left. As soon as they were outside, they rushed to the truck.
Cassie climbed in first slipping into the back to sit beside O'Neill. Sam hurried into the passenger's seat before nodding for Daniel to go. Daniel shifted the truck into drive and they sped away from the bookstore. Sam noticed that he checked the rearview mirror a couple of times before he slowed his erratic driving.
She didn't see anyone following them this time.
"Are you okay?" Daniel finally asked.
"Yeah." Cassie looked over to O'Neill's clone. "Who are you?"
Sam caught him roll his eyes which naturally elicited a shocked response from Cassie.
"Oh my God! You're Jack's clone!"
"That would be me," he said bitterly.
"I don't see anyone trailing us anymore," Daniel mentioned, interrupting the exchange. "You think they'd just give up like that?"
"We don't even know what they wanted in the first place." Sam considered calling Landry to tell him they were on their way, but she thought better of it. "What I don't understand is why someone would be after Cassie or -"
"The clone," O'Neill's younger double muttered.
Sam forced a smile but nodded. "What kind of information or leverage could they possibly get from either of you?"
"High school. College. It's a conspiracy I tell you."
Sam ignored the clone's remarks and tried to map out some kind of connection. O'Neill's clone and Janet's alien daughter. Did it have something to do with alien technology? Was it something deeper or something more obvious?
She shook her head and gazed out the window, watching the city streak by in a blur of color. Sam sighed. She just wasn't seeing it.
"Well, it has to be more than just a coincidence that both Jack and Cassie were followed by people today," Daniel said. He took another turn and they broke onto the main road that headed toward Cheyenne Mountain. "The question is why."
Sam nodded and for a moment felt like she was channeling the Jack O'Neill of old. "That really is the million dollar question, isn't it?"