Not very long ago, in a galaxy surprisingly nearby—the Milky Way, actually—there was a planet called Turo, which was the seat of the United Galactic Federation. The name of the governing body was something of a misnomer, as it was constantly battling inner turmoil, nowhere near big enough to encompass the entire galaxy in which it was based, and just barely democratic... but no one could say they didn't have high aspirations. Still, chaos was usually made into order by the rulers of the alliance, and the wisest and most powerful of these was the Grand Councilwoman.
The Grand Councilwoman wasn't often called upon to directly judge the crimes of individual citizens of the Galactic Federation, but when it came to Doctor Jumba Jookiba, she could hardly stand by idly. Genetic experimentation had been forbidden by the Federation for twenty-five years and seventy-one days, but the graduate of Pak'tilaq'dazhtaki—also known as the Evil Genius University—had been defying this law for the last twenty-five years and sixty-four days. He claimed that the diminutive Doctor Jacques von Hämsterwiel had been his partner-in-crime and financier, and that the lout had seen fit to "cheat Jumba, steal from Jumba, embarrass Jumba, and finally, fink on Jumba to Galactic Federation."
Whatever. Even if Hämsterwiel had done all those things, the true matter at stake was that Doctor Jumba had knowingly violated law when he created not one, not two, but six hundred and twenty-six abominations! Fortunately for the safety of all living beings and an infinite number of inanimate objects, the final specimen had been detained along with Jumba.
"Read the charges," the Grand Councilwoman ordered.
The physically-imposing Captain Gantu did the honors. "Doctor Jumba Jookiba, lead scientist of Galaxy Defense Industries, you stand before this council accused of illegal genetic experimentation!"
There was a collective gasp teleprompted from the assembly of diplomats, legislators, and reporters, as well as representatives from the Beings Against the Defamation of Evil Geniuses and Gifted Scientists. Unlike the rest of the crowd, the B.A.D.E.G.G.S. probably were reacting only to the reminder that genetic experimentation was illegal.
"How do you plead?" the Grand Councilwoman questioned.
Doctor Jumba's arms crossed in indignation. "Not guilty! My experiments are only theoretical... completely within legal boundaries!"
"We believe you actually created something," she reminded him as the detainment transport entered the chambers, bearing the presently-concealed evidence the council had against the scientist.
"'Created something'?" Jumba repeated. "Ha! But that would be irresponsible and unethical. I would never, ever—" The transport's mechanisms were released, revealing the creature within the cage to the this-time-unprompted gasps of the audience "—make more than one," he admitted.
Although currently confined to the inside of its temporary prisoner transport pod, the genetically-engineered creation was clearly designed for speed and destructive capability. Looking past the fluffy blue fur, the creature had four arms with strength far greater than their size would imply. Ignoring the shiny nose and cutely-waving antennae revealed razor-sharp teeth and intelligently-gleaming eyes.
Gantu spoke for pretty much everyone when he asked, "What is that monstrosity?"
The scientist gaped. "Monstrosity? What you see before you is the first of a new species." He turned to the strange being and smiled as it crawled around the inside of its enclosure. "I call it Experiment Six-Two-Six. He is bulletproof, fireproof, and can think faster than supercomputer! He can see in the dark and move objects 3,000 times his size! His only instinct: to destroy everything he touches!" Waving his arms about for emphasis, the doctor lost his balance and fell back onto his own platform, cackling.
Classic example of Advanced Maniacal Laughter instruction from the Evil Genius University.
"So it is a monster," the Grand Councilwoman concluded.
"Hey, just a little one!" Jumba protested.
Gantu, whose people had been one of the most vocally obnoxious about banning genetic experimentation, got decidedly hot-headed, pounding the table for emphasis. "It is an affront to nature; it must be destroyed!"
"Calm yourself, Captain Gantu. Perhaps it can be reasoned with." The Grand Councilwoman steepled her fingertips. "Experiment Six-Two-Six... give us some sign you understand any of this. Show us that there is something inside you that is good."
Inside his enclosure, the diminutive creature made a noise as though clearing its throat. As it straightened, the audience leaned forward in their seats—a decidedly dangerous thing to do, considering how far it was to the council chamber's floor. Then the being pressed its nose against the glass and declared, "Meega... nala kweesta!"
The less delicately-stomached among them pitched their cookies—or as was the case of the councilor from 00110110, their nuts and bolts. "So naughty!" the Grand Councilwoman exclaimed in shock, as the creature cackled.
"I didn't teach it that!" Jumba protested.
"Place that Idiot Scientist under arrest!" boomed Gantu.
"I prefer to be called 'Evil Genius!'" the Idiot Scientist protested as his platform was whisked away from the council chambers. And it was no wonder he wasn't enamored of the insult. The term "Idiot Scientist" was reserved for the most stupendously brilliant of all citizens of the Galactic Federation, with the most recent recipient having been a hundred years ago: the astrocartographer who had so poorly divided the galaxy into "quadrants" that fifteen additional quadrants had to be named to account for the parts of space he missed. Whoever heard of anything having nineteen quadrants?
The Grand Councilwoman sighed. "And as for that abomination... it is the flawed product of a deranged mind. It has no place among us. Captain Gantu, take him away."
"With pleasure," the behemoth replied.
Less than an hour later, Six-Two-Six escaped.
* * *
Jack sighed. "Daniel, I brought you to the cabin to fish and relax, not get worked up over some translation."
"I'm not getting worked up," the archaeologist replied petulantly.
"Oh, yes you are. That pen came within three inches of hitting me."
"No, I'm impressed. Your aim's improving." Jack couldn't stop the inevitable quirk of his lips and—unsurprisingly—the little boy sitting at the small dining table couldn't help but return the expression.
"Okay, fine," Daniel answered. "I am getting worked up about this translation because I had to sneak it into my luggage, and therefore wasn't able to bring all the references I needed to finish it."
"Ah! And who's bright idea was it to sneak a translation project in his luggage in the first place?"
"I didn't want to be bored."
"Fishing isn't boring."
"It is to me." He was quite skilled at petulance, actually.
"Well, I think looking at rocks and squiggles all day is boring," Jack replied, then cringed at the deadly glare levelled his direction.
Daniel Jackson at any size had never had any difficulty conveying a thousand words with a single look, and this one could have been Tolstoy's War and Peace, cover to cover. Especially the "war" part. This look said, "My patience is nearly at an end. Don't push it or face my pint-sized but nevertheless deadly wrath." There was also the possibility that Daniel would sic Teal'c on him when they got back to the Mountain. Either way, things weren't looking well for Jack's continued health and well-being should he persist with this particular conversational thread.
"Fine, fine," Jack relented, holding up his hands in surrender. "I'm going to go outside and fish. When you finally get bored trying to translate those squiggles, I'll have a spare rod and reel waiting for you."
"Okay. Can you get me my pen before you go?"
"Nope. You can practice some of that ol' hand-eye-coordination stuff the Doc wants you to work on by getting it yourself."
Heaving an exaggerated sigh and rolling his eyes, the down-sized archaeologist climbed off of the booster seat and dropped to the floor with a loud thump. Only a week after a freak accident off-world turned him into a pint-sized squirt, Jack was nowhere near adjusted to the much-smaller size of his friend. Said friend was probably even less accustomed to his new form, which might partly account for his bouts of sullen silence between flashes of snarkiness.
Of course, the colonel was more than perfectly aware that it could have been far, far worse. The experiment the Kelownan people had been working on had involved massive amounts of nuclear energy, which—according to Carter—meant that when the core "went off", it should have filled the lab with deadly radiation. Jack was still pissed at Daniel for breaking through the glass observation window to disarm it, knowing that it would probably be his final act before joining the heavenly choirs. Or not, given Daniel's ability to dodge death. He was quite skilled at that, too.
Then again, if he hadn't done what he did and the thing had exploded, they might have all been standing in line at the Pearly Gates. Well, at least Jack hoped that's what was in store for him, but given his not-so-cheery past...
Within twenty-four hours, all the Kelownan scientists in the room had been reduced to diaper-sportin' size. Daniel, although initially several years younger than most of the victims, had had a much shorter exposure than the rest. According to Doctor Fraiser, he was reduced to approximately four years old. Another of the aliens, an "ethics" geek named Jonas Quinn, might have had a year or two knocked off, but who could tell with an alien?
The crux of it all, though, was when the Kelownan government tried to get them to turn Daniel over to face sabotage charges. Jack hadn't exactly said "over my dead body", but the feeling had certainly been implied when he suggested General Hammond block the planet's address out of the dialing computer. Actually, he'd first suggested they set off the time-stealing-bomb on the Kelownan government, but the general had agreed to the less-extreme measure. Jack then went to give his now-much-younger teammate a stern lecture about how much of a pain in the neck his martyr-complex had become.
The forty-two-inch-tall, thirty-five year-old xenoarchaeologist looked suitably chastized and apologetic for scaring the bejeezus out of Jack again, and that alone was enough to make him wonder what was going on inside that blond-headed little noggin of his. The next day, though, he tried to talk his way into going on an offworld expedition with SG-17. The colonel had put his foot firmly down on that idea, suggesting a field trip to Minnesota instead. Daniel protested, but General Hammond overruled, thinking it was a fine idea.
So here they were, miles from nowhere in the middle of the Minnesota back-country. Jack's pond still had no fish, but as he'd once tried to explain to Teal'c, the fish themselves were hardly the point of the exercise anyway. Actually, he was looking forward to having a similar conversation with Daniel, though he was certain the younger man—well, boy—would probably bore him to death with a lecture on the various fishing practices of civilizations of antiquity.
"Jack, stop staring at me," Daniel griped, squirming around in his booster seat and looking very annoyed. If it was a scary look on a thirty-five year-old, than it was postively knee-weakening on a four year-old. "I'm fine."
"Aren't you always?" Jack replied before he could stop himself.
Daniel's eyes narrowed, and without glasses to shield his glare, the colonel took the full brunt of it. Jack expected some sort of diatribe about the unfairness of Daniel suddenly being nearly half the height he used to be, having to use a great big fat pen because his little fingers wouldn't grasp a regular one, not being allowed to drink coffee, having to take naps twice a day, or any of the other injustices of suddenly being down-sized, but the shrimp was doing a remarkable impression of a clam.
"Yeah, uh..." Jack began, disconcerted. "I'll go outside and... um... fish."
* * *
"Where is he?!" the Grand Councilwoman roared, storming into the command center of the Galactic Federation fleet.
A fearful-looking technician swiveled around in his chair. "He's still in hyperspace."
"Where will he exit?"
"Calculating now," began an even-more tiny creature, furiously working the buttons on her console. "Quadrant seventeen... section zero-zero-five... area fifty-one. A planet called... Ee-arth."
It sounded familiar enough, but the Grand Councilwoman couldn't be certain. "I want an expert on this planet in here now!" She pointed to a large swath of blue covering most of the planet. "What is that?"
"Water," replied a third technician. "Most of the planet is covered in it."
"He won't survive in water. His molecular density is too great," she smirked. But of course the little icon representing the stolen red police cruiser—why did it have to be the red one?—wasn't heading for the water, it was aimed right for the central part of one of the northern continents. "No..."
Sure enough, the little blip stopped, beeping softly atop the brilliant green that represented that planet's doomed landmass. "Of course. How much time do we have?"
"We have projected his landing at three hours, forty-two minutes," replied the tiny pink tech.
That, thankfully, was more than enough time to get a proper facial, which would do wonders to improve her mood. "Oh, we have to gas the planet," the Grand Councilwoman sighed.
A high-pitched, scratchy voice that reminded her of her elderly great-aunt called out, "Hold it! Hold everything!"
Annoyed, the Grand Councilwoman turned around to confront a one-eyed representative of the Diplomacy, Understanding, and Mediation Bureau. The D.U.M.B. agent was carrying a brightly-colored object and several parchment scrolls.
"Earth is a protected wildlife preserve," he declared smugly. "Yeah. We've been using it to rebuild the mosquito population which, need I remind you, is an endangered species!"
Well, now the Grand Councilwoman remembered that planet. "Am I to assume you are the expert?"
"Oh, I don't know about 'expert'..." he chuckled, earning himself a "get on with it" glare from the UGF's leader. "Agent Pleakley at your service."
"Can we not simply destroy the surrounding area?" she suggested. Explosions were a great stress-reliever, and she had plenty of stress to relieve.
"No! Crazyhead? The mosquito's food of choice—primitive humanoid life forms—have colonies all over that planet."
"Are they intelligent?"
"No, but they're very delicate. In fact, every time an asteroid strikes their planet, they have to begin life all over." The brightly-colored object he carried was then raised to his eye, and he began excitedly clicking the button on the top, yammering about the device's purpose.
The Grand Councilwoman sighed. She meant the mosquito population, not the primitive humanoids. "What if our military forces just landed there?"
"Well, that'd be a bad idea!" he protested. "These are extremely simple creatures, Miss. Landing there would create mass mayhem and planet-wide panic!"
Resisting the urge to grind her teeth, she snapped back, "A quiet capture would require an understanding of Six-Two-Six that we do not possess! Who, then, Mr. Pleakley, would you send for his extraction?"
"Does he have a brother?" Pleakley hedged nervously.
* * *
"I've got an idea."
Daniel groaned and dropped his pen, burying his face in his hands. It was the only alternative to slamming his head against the top of the table. "If it involves ten-pound line and a hook, I'm not interested."
"Ha! No. I have a buddy over in St. Paul who scored some extra tickets to A Prairie Home Companion tonight. Whaddya say?"
"Wow, gee... an entire evening of the blues and gospel music... let me think..."
Jack shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Don't forget the News from Lake Wobegon."
Running away was looking terribly tempting. "Have we ever checked to see if Minnesotans were originally from Earth?"
The colonel rolled his eyes. "Why, 'cause Minnesota Nice just seems too foreign to ya? Well, that's too bad, kiddo, 'cause we can trace our roots back to Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Heck, that's probably why the Asgard like me so well."
"I thought 'O'Neill' was Irish."
"So I had Irish grandparents, so what?"
He sighed. "You've been planning this, haven't you? You didn't just 'happen' to be offered extra tickets, it was part of your reason for dragging me up here, wasn't it?"
"Hey, you study other cultures all the time, Danny, 'bout time you learned more about mine."
"If you can call it 'culture'."
"You have no call to get snippy with me... I'm just tryin-a do my job here."
This time, Daniel really did thump his forehead against the tabletop. "If you quote any more lines from Fargo, I will shove you in a wood chipper myself. And didn't you tell Teal'c you hated that movie?"
Jack shrugged, unperturbed by the threat and deliberately ignoring the question. "Lutheran hospitality. Long goodbyes. Duck-duck-gray-duck. Ice-fishing—though we can't do that this time of year. Honeycrisps, hotdish, lutefisk, pickled salmon, Pronto Pups, cheese curds—"
He moaned. "Okay, okay, it's a culture. An incredibly weird and backward one, but a culture. Happy?"
"Ecstatic." He made a noise of exasperation. "Aw, c'mon Daniel, it'll be fun! I'll admit that I made a few... arrangements after your 'little' accident—"
Daniel glared. "Jack..."
"—But I have been trying to get you to come fishing with me for years now."
"Really? 'Cause the one and only time you asked me to come, I'd just had my appendix taken out," he sniped.
"Well, as stubborn as you are, I figured I had to try to get ya to agree to come up here when you were doped up on medication and couldn't fight back... kinda how I went over your head to get Hammond to order you along this time." Jack grinned. "Not like it's much of a reach to go over your head now, of course."
The glower promising impending doom that he'd perfected on five years' worth of arrogant snakeheads had apparently decreased in effectiveness at the same time the rest of him had been down-sized. "Just because I'm small now, it doesn't mean I can't put up a fight."
"Oh, I don't doubt that at all, Danny," the colonel replied cheerfully.
"Stop calling me that. Just because I look like a four year-old, doesn't mean I want to be treated like a four year-old."
"Sorry. But I wasn't kidding about the buddy in St. Paul. Since we'll be going with him and his wife and their whole clan of screaming brats, you're going to have to remember—"
Daniel sighed. "That I'm the precocious four year-old son of one of your teammates who went missing-in-action last week. The teammate, that is, not the son... although said precocious four year-old would very much like to go into hiding for a while."
"Funny. 'Fraid you're stuck with me, though... and if you behave, we might stop by a Dunn Brothers." When Daniel's brow crinkled in confusion, he added, "That's Minnesota's answer to Starbucks, by the way."
"You're going to let me have coffee?"
"Well, I don't think Doc would kill either one of us if it was something blended like one of those frappy things."
"Frappé," Daniel corrected automatically. He wasn't about to point out that most frappé-style beverages served commercially in the U.S. were not made with instant coffee but espresso, and therefore had more than twice the caffeine a simple cup of his preferred Arabica would have had.
Once plenty of chocolate was added to the mix...
"Okay, fine," he agreed, "but try not to treat me like a kid, okay?"
"Sure thing, Danny! Er, I mean 'Daniel'."
* * *
Pleakley had never been in prison, ever. In fact, it wasn't a vacation spot that was high on his must-see list of galactic hot-spots. Moreover, he rated it somewhere between the frozen wastelands of Maytag IV and the super-hot atmosphere of Weber Prime, and only marginally higher than the black hole in the Dyson system.
For such a remarkably pristine-looking facility, the Galactic Federation Penitentiary was full of strange smells and even stranger noises. He tried not to look too closely at the facility's residents, as some of the convicts could quite literally kill with just a look. Pleakley was hardly about to tempt fate.
Up, up, up they went, the Grand Councilwoman seeming to know exactly where it was they were going without needing to stop and ask for directions. It was more than just a little disturbing that a woman of her position was so familiar with a maximum-security prison, but who was he to question?
They finally stopped in front of a cell containing a rather skinny Kweltekwan, who was entertaining himself by reading the Fleemzoro Weekly Gazette. Something in the newspaper must have upset him greatly—or looked really, really tasty—as he suddenly tore up the publication and began stuffing the pieces into his mouth before realizing he had an audience.
Chuckling, the prisoner turned around, and Pleakley recognized him as the Idiot Scientist who had been the talk of the evening tabloid programs. "He got away?" he asked, flicking away a stray piece of newsprint.
"I'm sure this comes as no surprise to you," the Grand Councilwoman replied flatly.
"I designed this creature for to be unstoppable," replied Jumba Jookiba, the creator of the renegade experiment.
"Which is precisely why you must now bring him back."
Jumba blinked. "What, me?"
"And to reward you," she continued, "we are willing to trade your freedom for his capture."
The scientist seemed to consider this only briefly, which was far longer than Pleakley thought was necessary to decide such a thing. "Six-Two-Six will not come easily... maybe a direct hit from plasma cannon might stun him long enough to—"
Plasma cannon? Stun? What kind of creature was this thing which was so obviously on its way to ravage a defenseless wildlife preserve?
"Plasma cannon granted. Do we have a bargain, Doctor Jumba?"
Pleakley finally got his mouth in gear. "B-b-but it's a delicate planet!" He lowered his voice. "Who's going to control him?" Plasma cannon indeed!
Oh, well that was a relief. "Very good, Your Highness, I..." Wait, he would? "I... didn't quite. Uh, you're not joking!"
The Grand Councilwoman was gone, though, leaving the agent alone with the convicted mad scientist. "So, tell me, my little one-eyed one," Jumba began, leaning toward Pleakley rather uncomfortably close, "On what poor, pitiful, defenseless planet has my abomination been unleashed?"
"Uh... it's, uh... it's uh..."
Jumba slapped him across the back. "I have never heard of Uh'itsa'itsa, but I am hoping for to not destroy more than half of it!"
It was then that Pleakley realized his career was finished.
* * *
For a man who had supposedly spent the majority of his school-age years a citizen of Chicago, Illinois, Jack O'Neill reverted back to his Minnesota roots with frightening speed and skill. His vocabulary changed to include words which might have once been of Scandinavian origin, but had since been thoroughly mangled by the local accent. The accent, like some type of creeping aural fungus, had taken over his voice, too, giving his vowels different sounds entirely.
And if he heard one more 'yep' or 'yeah sure', Daniel was going to go crazy and take the whole dang Twin Cities with him! Oh, wait, too late... they'd all already lost their minds anyhow. How else had they all ended up in Minne-frickin'-sota?
The radio show, though he swore he'd never admit it aloud, had been pretty entertaining, occasionally even funny. The blues and gospel he'd feared had been interspersed with polka—though that was often cringe-worthy to even the most culturally-tolerant anthropologist—Irish folk songs, New Orleans jazz, and few good piano rags.
He wouldn't get started on the skits, since he'd disgraced himself several times by accidentally laughing out loud. Jack had caught him at it, too, and would probably never let him forget.
Now it was time for a late-night meal, and to Daniel's chagrin, they would be joining Jack's buddy Dave Jorgensson and his family of five. The kids had been angels all throughout the performance, but turned into the screaming brats Jack had warned about as soon as they reached the cars. Well, Jack's rented Grand Cherokee, rather, and the Jorgensson's shudder-worthy minivan.
"So, where ya kids wanna go?" asked Mrs. Jorgensson.
Daniel had been eyeing a Thai restaurant on their way in to the Fitzgerald Theatre, and had just opened his mouth to say so when the hellions suddenly began clamoring for Carbone's. Not knowing what a "Carbone's" was and being intensely terrified at the thought of a restaurant that could inspire so much zealous glee in the three-to-ten crowd—he turned pleading eyes on Jack.
Jack, unfortunately, wasn't even looking his way. "I dunno, there, Dave. You forget I used'ta live in Chicago. Daniel did too fer a while."
"Aw, heck, Jack, the kiddos'll have a blast. You and Danny are welcome to come with, ya know. He's a quiet little feller, ya?"
The "quiet little feller" had a number of things he wanted to say about being included as one of the "kiddos", let alone being called Danny by a man who might as well be a complete stranger. Unfortunately, since he was supposed to be a four year-old, he had to bite his tongue. Heathens though they were, the Jorgensson kids shouldn't be exposed to such language at their ages.
The restaurant, it turned out, wasn't more than half a dozen blocks away, leaving Daniel to wonder why in the world they'd driven instead of walking. Then he took a look at the place and wanted to run. On the way to the theatre, he and Jack had passed a Greek place, two steakhouses, and a Kurdish restaurant, and he even remembered reading something about a local street that was supposedly one of the best ethnic food dining districts in the United States. Why, then, where they pulling up to a pizza parlor?
"What, Danny... I mean, Daniel?"
"The travel brochure I read in the airport said something about seventeen blocks of ethnic foods..."
"Oh, yeah, Eat Street. That's over in Minneapolis, though. This is St. Paul."
"Minneapolis is right over there!" he argued, pointing in what he hoped was a westerly direction.
"By the time we get over there, though, most of those places' kitchens will have closed. We'll try some of those another time, okay?"
Daniel crossed his arms. "And I bet the good coffee shops have, too."
"Crap," Jack muttered. "Jeez, I'm sorry, I didn't think about that. It's a bit late to be having caffeine now anyway, and—"
"Well, I guess I know where we're going for breakfast," he sighed, trying not to look too disappointed.
"Cross my heart," the colonel promised.
Maybe he hadn't lost his touch after all. But then again, why was he struggling to unbuckle the accursed booster seat if he didn't want to go into the pizza parlor? Why wasn't he trying to convince Jack to make his apologies to his friend and head for a real restaurant? Oh, that's right... he was supposed to be acting like a four year-old, and four year-olds were supposed to do what the grown-ups wanted them to do.
A quick glance at the Jorgenssons gave him pause. Then again, it had been more than thirty years since he was last a four year-old, and from the way the twins were behaving, a lot had changed. Heck, even their three year-old sister seemed to have a considerable amount of authority over their parents. Daniel couldn't imagine having ever behaved like that to his own mother and father, as Mel Jackson most certainly would have paddled his backside.
This being a kid thing sucked.
* * *
The creature currently called Experiment Six-Two-Six emerged from hyperspace at speeds only a red police cruiser could manage, hurtling past planets and moons and asteroids on a direct course for the only inhabited planet in the system. Navigational computers were fantastic at plotting courses great distances across a galaxy, but not so hot for landing fast-moving spacecraft with any precision. The stolen cruiser began to make a very uncontrolled descent, which only delighted Six-Two-Six.
Or Bob, or Fred, or whatever name he decided to choose for himself. Names weren't really important, though, when one's highest aspirations included the destruction of, well, pretty much everything. Hearing a name wasn't nearly as conducive to job satisfaction as screams of terror.
Down, down, down the little red spaceship went, shrieking alarms accompanied by the gleeful cackling of the creature seated in the cockpit. He managed to crash-land on a piece of Minnesota that was actually dry land, though there were a few ponds nearby and trees, trees, and more trees. Unfortunately for his destructive instincts, the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis were eighty miles to the southeast, and the nearest town was St. Anthony, population ninety-two.
With a brilliant flash of green light and a tremendous crunch of trees, soil, and crumpled cruiser fender, Experiment Six-Two-Six made his arrival on the hapless Planet Earth. Shoving his way free of the wreckage, the maniacally laughing being leaped onto the edge of the smoking crater and looked around eagerly. As it was getting on to the wee morning hours, he didn't realize that the faint glow to the east was not just the rising sun, but also the night lights of the nearest city.
That, of course, was a very lucky thing for St. Cloud.
With no indicators as to where he should go, Six-Two-Six simply bounded off in the direction in which he was initially facing, crashing through the undergrowth until he emerged onto his first sign of civilization: a paved road. Not sure which way to go toward the nearest target—er, town, he took hesitant steps down the highway in first one direction, then the other. Decision-making was not his strong suit, but reaction was. In fact, no sooner was there a soft plop behind him than he had whipped a tiny plasma blaster out of his prison jumpsuit and fired at the source.
Nothing but pock-marked pavement remained of whatever it was. Suddenly, something wet—of all horrible things—landed on his head. He instantly drew yet another blaster from seemingly nowhere at all and squeezed a shot into the air. The sky then unleashed a retaliatory strike in the form of a deluge of cold rain. Six-Two-Six's shoulders slumped in defeat. He hated water, yet this planet was already determined to soak him in it.
It was also determined to assail him with strange noises. Whirling around, he prestidigitated a third blaster into existence, but held his fire this time. A green quadruped stared impassively at him, its throat expanding like a balloon as it breathed. Six-Two-Six had no idea what "reet-eet!" meant, but the much smaller creature would be wise to take him to its leaders, and quickly!
The native had nerves of steel, though, and seemed to be completely unmoved by the trio of deadly weapons aimed its direction, even when Six-Two-Six prodded him with the barrel of one. The four-armed fluffy blue monster didn't know whether to be impressed by this being's courage or astounded at its stupidity. Unfortunately, before he could make up his mind which, he was interrupted by yet another peculiar sound.
What was it with this planet?
The frog was the only witness to the events which transpired next. Just as the space invader drew his fourth and final blaster to confront the new threat, the first of three dump trucks ran over him, flattening the hardy little creature to the pavement, kicking him up in the air, and squishing him beneath the next set of tires. To add insult to injury, the mud flaps on the back of the vehicle slapped him as they went by, and then the cycle repeated again with the next truck.
On the third truck, he went up in the air, but didn't come back down, wedged as he was between the tire and the fender when the driver screeched to a halt to avoid hitting the two suddenly stopped trucks in front of him. They were all curious to see what kind of boulder they must have hit to so thoroughly jostle them, climbing out of their cabs to take a look. Being employees of the state highway department, each hoped it wouldn't be something that would require their services to repair.
Driver Three shone a flashlight around the road before determining that the obstacle was not behind his truck. Driver Two wanted to know why Driver One hadn't seen the whatever-it-was while Driver One protested that he thought he'd seen a small dog, maybe, but surely no animal could have given all three trucks such a bump!
"Et's unner da fender, dere," Driver Three remarked, drawing the other men's attention to the rear tires of the third truck.
"Uff da!" exclaimed Driver Two as a furry paw fell free to dangle beneath the presumed roadkill. "Dat's ugly."
"Yeah," agreed Driver One, whose speech identified him as more Midwestern than Minnesotan. "Shouldn't we take him to the animal hospital or something?"
The highway workers grabbed a stick and scraped the limp creature into what Drivers Two and Three called a "baygh", but Driver One called a "sack". Driver One, having had the misfortune of running over the alien first, got the dubious honor of transporting it on the floorboard of his cab to the tiny animal shelter outside of St. Anthony.
Half an hour after it started, the gentle spring shower stopped and the air filled with nocturnal insects, most of them humming blood-suckers. The imperturbable frog feasted and forgot about the recent excitement.
* * *
Morning came far too early, but years of hopping out of bed at oh-dark-thirty could not be denied for the sake of sleeping in, even on vacation. Groaning and scrubbing the palms of his hands over his face, he wondered what in the world had persuaded him to stop by a gas station on the way back to the cabin and get a small cup of coffee for his silently sulking companion. Daniel had made faces at the poor quality of the brew, but gulped it down so quickly Jack wondered if he'd inhaled it.
One of these years, he'd learn that Janet Fraiser was always right. One should not give caffeinated beverages to a four year-old, especially not at twenty-three hundred. Although he'd been inwardly perturbed at the unusual amount of passive-aggressive behavior exhibited by the shrimp ever since his shrinking, the sudden java-induced high was such a flash of freakish verbosity that he was bemoaning the loss of the kid's normal sullen snarkiness. It was even enough to tempt him to remove every trace of the sacred bean from the cabin, his house back in Colorado, and the entire SGC... at least until Daniel was eighteen. Again.
Sometime after one a.m., Daniel had managed to get out of his room and into Jack's, rattling on ninety miles-a-minute about flashing green lights, explosions, and alien invasions.
"Daniel," he began, slowly, deliberately, and rising from his bed to drag the hyperactive squirt back to his own room. He might even shove a chair under the doorknob so the rubber ball couldn't bounce back out again. "They're called the northern lights and if you really, really want to know what they are, you can call Sam tomorrow and let her aurora bore-you-to-death with the details."
"I think you can say goodbye to having coffee again for about twenty years," he interrupted. "As for the loud 'bang', it was probably a hunter. There's lots of game in these woods."
"No 'buts' Daniel. We'll talk in the morning. Bed. Now!"
"Okay," the pint-sized pipsqueak grumbled, sliding beneath the sheets. Clichéd though it might have been, he was asleep the instant his head hit the pillow. Jack was left standing in the darkness, staring at the softly snoring child in complete bewilderment. Whatever artificial energy had been given to him by the bitter black drink had suddenly and completely evaporated.
The early morning light revealed a few vital flaws in his arguments of the previous night. One, the aurora borealis were only just barely visible in the northern sky, and Daniel's bedroom window faced south. Two, the light show was usually over by March, so the last week in April was a bit late. Three, since it was late April, no wild game was in season. Of course, that could mean that Jack simply had a neighbor who was a poacher and/or used heavier ammunition than was necessary to shoot varmints.
He wasn't about to accept alien invaders as a possible explanation for whatever Daniel's caffeine-induced hallucinations had conjured. They were in Minnesota, for cryin' out loud, and unless the Goa'uld wanted to steal the world's largest ball of twine, there wasn't much to mess with out here. Frankly, he thought the down-sized archaeologist just wanted an excuse to go back to Colorado, bury himself under a mountain of translations, sneak a few cups of coffee when he thought no one was looking, and try to weasel his way onto an offworld expedition. He didn't know—and Jack wasn't about to tell him—that part of the reason for their impromptu vacation had been to protect the miniaturized linguist from the clutches of slimy Colonel Simmons and the nefarious NID.
Just as Jack was trying to decide whether to bury his head under the pillow and pretend to sleep or get up for the day, his cell phone began to ring. Cursing, he leapt to his feet, tripped over the woven rug beside the bed, and banged his shin on the cedar chest. Somehow, amidst all the hopping and swearing, he managed to toss aside his discarded button-up shirt and dig into the pocket of his pants, emerging triumphantly with the persistently-ringing device.
"O'Neill!" he practically shouted into the receiver.
"Good morning, Colonel," came the voice of General Hammond.
"Oh, crap. Er, I mean, good morning, sir. What time is it there? I mean, what's up, sir?"
"How are you and Doctor Jackson settling in, Jack?"
"We're managing... barely. Rather than complaining, Daniel's doing the whole passive-aggressive thing. We're so far off on the wrong foot, it might as well be the wrong mile. I took him to a radio show last night, which he liked, but then my buddy's kids picked a pizza parlor for a late-night supper."
"Oh yeah. Carbone's pizza is a comfort food, sir. Thin, crispy crust and dripping with grease. Danny and I both spent too many years in Chicago to like anything but soft crust or deep dish." He sighed. "He didn't complain at all, sir. Just sat there and stared at his plate until we got some more breadsticks. Dave's kids made so much noise all by themselves that I almost didn't notice."
"I don't have to tell you that Doctor Fraiser is deeply concerned," Hammond reminded him. "Before the accident—"
"Yeah, I know," Jack interrupted, rubbing at his left eye with his knuckle. "She was threatening to ground him a little over a week ago. I had to swear I'd keep both eyes on him so she'd keep him on active duty. Look where that got us." He made a noise of exasperation. "I'm sorry; I'm doing the best I can, but it's difficult to do anything right for him when he won't talk to me. I mean, he's doing the normal sarcastic self-defense thing I accidentally taught him, but that's it. I know he doesn't like Minnesota, but he's just going to have to tough it out for a while. I won't take him back to Colorado until—"
"That's actually why I called, son. Simmons and his lackeys are still making a lot of noise, but some of the usual suspects have gotten awfully quiet. Now it could be that they've backed off to pursue the possibility of gaining custody of Jonas Quinn—"
"I was getting to that, Colonel. Jonas Quinn defected to Earth yesterday evening, bringing as much of the mineral with him as he could. Major Carter has her team working on the samples and Doctor Fraiser is running every possible test she can think of to determine if Mister Quinn had any exposure to the same effects as Doctor Jackson."
"Probably not," Jack guessed.
"It doesn't seem likely, no. Still, Mister Quinn has asked to be able to help Major Carter with her tests, and I'm inclined to let him."
"I don't trust him, sir."
"Like it or not, Jack, he's the only chance we have of finding out what went wrong in that lab, and possibly of reversing what's happened to Doctor Jackson."
He rolled his eyes. "Well, I guess we can put up with him for a little while... at least until we don't need him anymore or can foist him off on somebody else."
"He's a political refugee, Jack. He's requested amnesty and we've granted it. It's up to him whether he makes an effort to fit in on Earth or with one of our offworld allies."
"I'd prefer the latter." He frowned, glancing toward the bedroom door. Had he heard something in the hall? "But it's your call, sir." Cautiously peering into the empty living room, he shrugged to himself. Maybe his problem, unlike Daniel's, was lack of caffeine.
* * *
Daniel huddled beneath the covers, sheet pulled over his head. What was that quaint expression of which Foster Mother Number Five had been so fond? Ah, yes: "little pitchers have big ears." Of course, she was generally referring to Foster Father Number Five's tendency to swear like a sailor, but it was an apt metaphor. He hadn't meant to overhear Jack talking to General Hammond, though, but listen he had and it wasn't pretty.
"I know he doesn't like Minnesota, but he's just going to have to tough it out for a while," Jack had said, which wasn't terribly surprising since they were now on only day three of their two-week vacation. The next things Jack had said, though, really hurt: "I don't trust him, sir" and "I guess we can put up with him for a little while."
Most chilling of all, though, were the words which had made Daniel flee back to his room. "At least until we don't need him anymore or can foist him off on somebody else... I'd prefer the latter."
He wrapped thin arms around himself, hugging tightly. Things between himself and Jack had gotten worse and worse over the years since Sha're died, but he'd never realized how badly until the incident with Reece. Daniel had wanted to believe in the young robot, having been not-so-very dissimilar from her as a child—the first time. Well, not the whole creating machines of mass destruction thing, but the too smart for his age, emotionally insecure, and woefully misunderstood parts, definitely.
The squeaky floorboard just outside his bedroom protested, and Daniel quickly shut his eyes and stilled, hoping Jack would think he was fast asleep. He wasn't quite up to facing what he now realized was a façade of tolerance the older man wore toward him. It had been one thing when he was big and could carry a gun and fight, but a single freak accident had turned him into a burden too small to take care of himself. Now, Jack couldn't wait to "foist him off" on somebody else.
Maybe that's why they'd come to Minnesota. Jack was slowly introducing him to the Jorgenssons so that when their two weeks' leave was up, he'd go back to Colorado and Daniel would be left behind, just a "quiet little feller" in a crowd of noisy, rambunctious kids. It would be like foster care all over again, and he didn't have the possibility of getting himself declared an emancipated minor for at least another ten to twelve years, which meant...
There was another creak of the floorboard, then the soft swish and click of the door being pulled shut. Daniel let out a shaky breath and uncurled enough to grab his pillow and hug it to his chest. The worst part was, he didn't know what Jack wanted him to do. He could still translate things, so it wasn't as though he was completely useless in this smaller form.
Foster Mother Number Five had another favorite saying—"a stitch in time saves nine"—but he didn't know if any attempted repairs he might make now would be enough to keep him from being given over to the Jorgenssons. He'd already proven how badly he could screw things up at this size with his ill-fated adventure with caffeine last night. Alien invasions and explosions?
He wanted to rail and scream and fight against his forced removal from the SGC, but it seemed pretty pointless now. If everyone had known what was going on except him, then that explained why Sam and Teal'c had seemed a little more "touchy-feely" than normal when telling him goodbye. He had initially dismissed it as their being confused about how to deal with his younger self, but now he knew differently. With even General Hammond against his continued presence at the SGC, what hope did he have of being allowed to stay?
Burying his face in the pillow, he let out a tired sigh. Within minutes, he was asleep again.
* * *
Jack pulled the bedroom door shut then rested his forehead against the doorframe. He wasn't at all surprised that Daniel was still asleep, especially given his rather spectacular crash from his caffeinated high in the wee hours of the morning. Still, it kind of put a damper on his plans to take them into St. Anthony for breakfast. The town itself consisted of little more than a gas station-slash-convenience store and a diner. Mable made the best flapjacks in the Midwest, so he hoped a pile of the sweet, fluffy cakes would help to get his friend out of the funk in which he was currently existing.
He decided to give the tuckered-out kid a few more hours' rest while he puttered around the cabin, doing minor chores. There had been some debris in the yard yesterday which was probably leftover from early spring storms, a few loose nails on the dock that needed to be hammered back in, and his old rowboat to haul out of the shed and inspect for leaks. If Daniel still wasn't awake by nine, he'd wake him up so they could go to town.
As soon as he stepped outside he realized it had rained the night before, which put the final nail on the coffin of Daniel's alien invasion theory. The flash had been lightning and the loud bang thunder, of course. It was curious that the storm hadn't awakened Jack, but then again he had been tired, or maybe all the excess caffeine had heightened the kid's senses like the guy in that buddy-cop show Daniel and Carter liked so well... "Centennial" or whatever the name was.
After the boat successfully held a stack of bricks plus his own weight without taking on any water, Jack glanced at his watch and was surprised to see it was already a quarter after nine. Climbing onto the dock and tying the boat off, he crept inside the cabin and quietly opened Daniel's bedroom door.
The still-sleeping waif had kicked off his covers at some point but had his whole body curled around one of the pillows as though hanging onto it for dear life. One hand was tucked up under his chin and with all the little frown lines that children his physical age weren't supposed to have smoothed out by slumber, he looked positively angelic. Jack was momentarily taken aback, as he'd spent the last few days trying his utmost to see his grown friend and not a child. Fast asleep and surrounded by a few of Charlie's old belongings Jack had never managed to get rid of, he was forced to view Daniel in a completely different light.
What if he'd been going about it all wrong? He'd been trying to treat Daniel almost exactly as he'd treated the grown version, but what if that wasn't what he needed? Maybe this young new body had young new emotions and the same craving for hugs and positive reinforcement that he'd sorely needed when they first met, before their relationship dissolved. If Jack was honest with himself, part of what had gone wrong with their friendship had been Daniel's sudden declaration of personal independence and subsequent deliberate withdrawal from Jack's paternal instincts. Jack hadn't helped matters any by pulling away himself.
There was really only one way to prove his theory, and he didn't need to know any of Carter's sworn-by scientific method to test this particular hypothesis. In fact, he'd much rather give it the patented Daniel Jackson approach: feet first, full speed ahead, and never look before you leap.
Settling carefully down on the edge of the bed, Jack carded his fingers through the soft blond hair that would eventually darken to brown, smiling to himself as he allowed himself to actually touch Daniel for what felt like the first time in years. The boy stirred under his touch, but didn't awaken. For step two, Jack cupped the back of the small head and leaned in, gently calling his name.
Startled blue eyes flew open, darting around in panic before settling on Jack. His fingers curled into fists on the pillow, clutching the fabric tightly as his gaze slid to one side, staring past the colonel's shoulder. "Hi, Jack."
"Hijack what?" he joked, unable to help himself. "A car? A train? A boat?"
A peculiar thing happened then: Daniel actually giggled. As soon as the noise escaped him, though, his face took on a brief expression of mortification before slipping into what Jack now realized was a careful mask that just screamed the dreaded "fine".
He cleared his throat. "Anywho... want to go get breakfast?"
Daniel picked at the pillowcase. "Um, I think we should've listened to Janet. No more coffee for me for a while."
"Now that I'll agree to, but it doesn't mean we can't still have pancakes. The diner in St. Anthony makes the best you'll find in the state. Mable even ships in syrup from Vermont every spring. Whaddya say?"
"Attaboy," Jack grinned, ruffling Daniel's hair affectionately. Maybe the two of them could find the right balance after all.
* * *
Daniel was confused. Jack had turned tactile overnight.
He'd been awakened with a hand curled at the nape of his neck, had his hair ruffled playfully, and not had to climb up into the booster seat in the back of the Jeep on his own, but was lifted there before he could protest. All by Jack. The same Jack who had only this morning told General Hammond that he couldn't wait to foist Daniel off on someone else.
Or had he? Maybe that had been another delusion conjured up by his over-active imagination. But no, he'd definitely been awake then because he'd snagged one of his socks on the wooden floor during his mad dash through the living room away from Jack's door. He'd seen the snag when he picked the discarded socks off the floor while getting dressed.
Apparently, he was once again dealing with Black Jack, the veteran of Special Forces. The man who could drink beer and smile to your face while stabbing you through the heart. The man who was seemingly on assignment to introduce Daniel to a new "foster family" before abandoning him in Minnesota while he returned to Colorado and the SGC.
Of course, that didn't make as much sense in the light of day as it had seemed to earlier this morning. Why would he be left with a family that had absolutely no connection to the SGC? It had been proven, despite his smaller stature, that all his memories and skills were intact, so why not keep him on at the Mountain? General Bauer would finally get his wish, as Daniel would have no choice but to—as Jack would say—fly a desk.
The "foist him off on someone else" part was still worrisome, as was the part about Jack not trusting him. It was a foregone conclusion that Daniel would no longer be able to live by himself as long as he was this short, and at first he'd thought Jack would let him live with him as he had when he first came back from Abydos. But if Jack couldn't wait to "foist him off", then—
"Wow, that's some heavy thinkin'. Don't you know all that frowning'll give you wrinkles?"
Daniel blinked and looked up to see Jack eyeing him in the rear-view mirror. "What?"
"You were thinking too hard," Jack replied. "I was worried you were going to short-circuit a few brain cells. What was that all about, anyway?"
The archaeologist wasn't so sure he hadn't already fried some helpless neurons. "Nothing," he answered too quickly, then decided to change the subject. "I thought you said St. Anthony had fewer than a hundred people."
"It does, but one of the residents just happens to own and cook for a great diner, and her daughters wait the tables. There's even a gas station convenience store that employs five more of the residents. Pretty much everyone else works in or near St. Cloud." He paused. "That can't have been what all that heavy-duty concentrating was about, though."
Daniel sighed. "It's nothing, Jack."
"When you say 'nothing', you mean 'something'. What's eatin' ya? You can tell me, Danny, I'm your friend."
"You are?" he blurted before he could stop himself, slapping his hands over his mouth in horror.
Jack's eyes widened. Seconds later, they were pulled off into the strip of gravel that was the diner's parking lot. Jack shut off the engine, then turned around in his seat. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Daniel denied, lowering his hands to his lap and finding the hem of his polo shirt suddenly very fascinating. "I didn't mean to say that." The sewing machine was a marvelous invention, wasn't it?
"Say what you mean and mean what you say," Jack replied. "In this case, I'd say you did both. Look at me, Danny."
He couldn't do that. If he looked at Jack, Daniel would probably cry and make a tee-total fool of himself. This little body did stuff like that, he knew, having inadvertently given into a few tears after he'd woken up small in the infirmary. It was no wonder the colonel said he couldn't trust him, because he couldn't even count on himself to not do something as completely stupid as starting to sob like the baby he now looked like.
Jack unbuckled his seatbelt, opened the car door, then was suddenly leaning through the back door toward him. "Look, kiddo—Daniel—I know I haven't been the best friend to you for the last several months, but everything's going to be different now. That's a promise, buddy. Everything will be different from now on, okay?"
It wasn't okay. Everything was going to be so much different because Jack was going to be leaving him here with the Jorgenssons or otherwise "foisting him off" and nothing would ever be the same again! Even this stupid little boy body he'd been stuck with wouldn't be the same ever again—well maybe in twenty or thirty years it would be—but right now, it didn't work right. In fact, it was letting the traitorous moisture he told not to fall seep out of his eyes anyway.
To his complete surprise, Jack slid into the back seat and wrapped his arms around Daniel's shoulders. Nearly thirty years with minimal physical affection meant that being enfolded in a hug now was too much for him to bear. Being hugged by the one man whose approval and friendship he craved like a drowning person needed air was more than he could handle, especially when said man had already expressed his desire to be rid of him as quickly as possible.
Burying his face in the shirt in front of him, Daniel felt his shoulders shake as he gave in to his confusion and fear. Why was Jack being so nice to him?