Chapter 13

Jack's brows rose. “Ba'al?”

“Ba'al?” Carter echoed.

“Ball?” Pete asked as his astonishment gave way to the distraction of what was going on around him. Yet, even though he was paying strict attention to everyone in the room, he clearly did not understand the significance of Thor's announcement.

“Yes,” the Asgard reported. “It is believed that, along with your claim that he injured Colonel Carter, he has also broken the Protected Planets Treaty, though we cannot prove this assumption. He is currently administering a facility on Cimmeria.”

“Cimmeria!” Jack exclaimed. “I thought the Asgard dealt with any Goa'uld threats on Cimmeria.”

Thor's head gave a pensive tilt. “You speak of the way we helped you to vanquish Heru'ur when he had previously captured that planet as well as SG-1. Though Thor's Hammer is no longer able to protect Cimmeria, none of the System Lords have chosen to bother that planet after our encounter with Heru'ur.”

“Scared them off, did ya?” Jack's expression showed his satisfaction at Thor's announcement.

“Indeed,” Thor responded just prior to giving a look of chagrin that was most human. “But Ba'al slipped past our notice while we were battling the replicators.”

Jack's forehead wrinkled in solicitation. “How's that war goin' for ya?”

“Not well,” Thor stoically replied. “But that is not why I am here.”

When Thor did not continue, Jack inquired, “What's old Balsy-boy done this time? You said something about clones? We know all about what he did to Carter, but...”

“We have reason to believe that Ba'al is operating a fully functional cloning facility on Cimmeria.”

True to form, Jack's brows rose in disbelief at how Sam and Thor shared similar fears. “You don't say?” He should have known to give Carter more than the normal amount of credit for guessing the right answer this time as well as most every other time in the past.

Sam herself remained silent, though she was more familiar with Ba'al and his clones than she wanted to be. Still, Jack could feel the waves of 'I told you so' practically rolling off her.

Thor was quick to go on, “He has somehow obtained the ability to make clones, and the Asgard Council believes that he has current plans to use them to overtake several planets, yours among them.”

Sam couldn't keep quiet after this second announcement, sounding tired instead of surprised. “Told you.”

Pete gaped, amazed. He at least understood the alien's reference to his own planet. Didn't they? “Do you mean that clones will eventually take over Earth?!” he unceremoniously blurted, voicing the concerns that he thought they should all be having right now.

Thor nodded, and gave a languid blink, belying the seriousness of this topic. “Yes, we believe that is his plan.”

“That's bad, isn't it?” Pete asked, narrowing the problem down to its most basic level.

“Yes,” Thor repeated in his maddeningly emotionless way. “While an exact external copy of the subject, a clone's memories and allegiance can be altered. Though this was not chosen as an alternative during your earlier encounter with clones, O'Neill, Ba'al is undoubtedly altering his clones as much as possible in order to gain his objective.”

Jack's face fell. “Which is... to take over Earth,” he repeated. That's all the SGC needed right now: a System Lord with more than the normal delusions of grandeur.

Thor's blink was reluctant - or was that Jack's imagination? “Yes, as well as several other planets - or so The Council believes.”

Jack's brows rose higher yet. “Take over with clones... how, specifically?”

Thor informed, “By using clones who are loyal to him, the Council fears that Ba'al will first overtake the SGC, and from there, plans to infiltrate and destroy Earth's government from the inside. After such a success, we suspect he will then do the same on other worlds throughout the galaxy.”

Sam finished for Thor, “And as long as he doesn't alter the natural advancements on any planet he interferes with, there's nothing the Asgard can do without breaking the Protected Planets Treaty themselves.”

Thor's reluctance was definite now. “Yes.”

A wry snort exploded out of Sam. “So in effect, you're trapped by your own rules.”

The reluctance skyrocketed. “You are correct once again, Colonel Carter.”

Sam further guessed, “You can't help Earth, or Cimmeria, or anyone, without inviting retribution from the Goa'uld. You therefor want us to help instead, since there's nothing in The Protected Planets Treaty that says that any protected planet under Goa'uld attack can't help itself.”

“Yes.”

Jack was about to butt in with a bit more of an emotional response when Thor simply regarded him without batting an eye. “Officially, the Asgard know nothing about what is currently happening on Cimmeria, or to its inhabitants, or to Earth and its inhabitants.

“Wait,” Jack flatly instructed and leaned back against the medical pod, letting it support his weight as he thought furiously. “You said that the Asgard Council doesn't officially know anything about what's going on - right?”

Thor nodded.

Now looking like he was grasping for something that he was reluctant to grasp, Jack continued, “So... officially... how do the Asgard even suspect this Ba'al plan to begin with?”

“Loki informed us.”

“Loki!” Jack's sickened yell gave full vent to his feelings, though he chose not to explore them. He didn't have to, anyway, as both Thor and Carter knew exactly how he felt concerning Loki. Pete, who had no idea what was going on, didn't count.

Thor was as imperturbable as ever. “I am afraid that I must report that Loki has escaped his Asgard incarceration and was conducting experiments on the Cimmerian people when he discovered that though they appear as normal Humans, they are not.”

Jack's instant wince turned into a groan. “Of course he escaped! Why should we ever expect allies of the SGC to share this knowledge?” His glare intensified. “I'm beginning to have shades of the Tok'ra here!”

Thor ignored this second outburst, as he didn't know what it meant. “While watching the odd behavior of the Cimmerians, Loki then observed Tau'ri coming from what is believed to be Ba'al's cloning facility and going through the Stargate to a planet with an address coinciding with Earth's. The Cimmerians oddly did nothing to stop them.” Thor momentarily appeared as puzzled as Loki must have been. “Though Loki has been more than a bother to Earth in the past, he did not wish the planet or its occupants to come to harm, and informed the Council of what he witnessed.”

Jack sarcastically questioned, “He was classified as a bother?

Thor gave Jack a look that Carter swore was exasperated. “Loki could have easily chosen to keep this information to himself. The Asgard Council had no knowledge of where he was, nor did they suspect the situation on Cimmeria. Loki went to much personal danger to inform the Asgard Council that there was a connection between what Ba'al was doing on Cimmeria and Earth. In spite of his past interference with your planet and you personally, O'Neill, it would have made much more sense for Loki to remain silent than to report the danger.”

Jack's brows rose a third time, a trick considering he was also so annoyed. “And like you said before... this means us.”

Grasping the crux of the situation with unusual speed for him, Pete broke in to note, “And Sam and the General are considered by the... whatever race you are... to be the right 'us'... uh, Earthlings for the job?”

Thor blinked. “Yes.”

Pete frowned. “But how does this Loki fella know that the clones are.... uh... clones? Don't they look just like us? Sam sure did.”

Sam barely acknowledged that at least Pete was now willing to admit that she had once been cloned, too, before Thor's response sounded. “Loki's ship did a routine scan of these individuals, revealing the natural degeneration that all clones suffer. Clearly Ba'al has been as unsuccessful as the Asgard in solving this particular cloning defect. Which is why we need you, O'Neill.”

Before Jack could respond, Pete's brow had wrinkled with his growing confusion. “What?”

Sam piped up, “They want Jack to deal with Ba'al and his clones because any clone of Jack will always look way too young to be mistaken for him, not to mention have weird brain waves.” Her second order of 'keep up' was only imaginary, but it rang in the room nonetheless.

“Yes,” Thor continued. “And it is assumed that the clones Ba'al sent to Earth will cause massive social chaos due to interference by this Goa'uld. As you know, we can do nothing for Earth when threatened with a catastrophe such as this.” His voice grew sad.

Jack's forehead wrinkled in tandem with Sam's and Pete's. “You said that the Asgard 'assume' this clone/Earth takeover. Can you be sure?”

Thor gave another casual blink, again belying the serious topic under discussion. “Ba'al's specific plans are unknown, O'Neill, except that he is delivering clones to Earth. But I point out that in the past, Ba'al has been known to wreak havoc in whatever he chooses to do. We feel that it is safe to assume that his intentions are less than pure this time as well. It is our guess that he wishes to conquer both Cimmeria and Earth. The Asgard Council most definitely does not wish this to occur.”

Pete gaped as Thor's voice faded. “But you just said that you're going to watch while Earth is... what? Can he destroy the planet? Blow it up?”

Carter responded in a dry fashion, “Most likely he'll destroy any resistance he finds, then make hosts or slaves of the rest of the population.”

Jack ignored Pete's soundless gape to comment, “But no matter what he does, you can be sure that it's 'lights out' for Earth.” He ran a shaky hand through his hair - he wasn't thrilled at the fact that the Asgard were so highly counting on him. Though he had wanted more than anything to return to the excitement of the field, he already knew that visiting a facility suspected of belonging to Ba'al was too much excitement even for him. Then Jack's gaze wandered over to Carter. “What about Carter - why is she here?”

Thor admitted, “I have scanned for Colonel Carter's signature in the SGC several times over the course of many months - since I had not found it, I assumed that she was either off world or had for some reason left the SGC.” He sounded positively forlorn at this idea, but then his tone lightened. “I was delighted to find your signatures together when I transported you moments ago, O'Neill.”

Jack gaped, zeroing in on a tidbit that Thor had unwittingly included in his explanation. “You've been scanning us - for months?”

Thor blinked, unaware of the social faux pas he had committed. (Or else fully aware or it, but choosing to ignore it.) “Loki's original report came to us half an Earth year ago.”

Which would have been right about the time of Carter's discharge from the Air Force. Jack couldn't help but wince when he recalled what had happened to Carter next.

But something else was niggling at the back of his mind. “You said the Asgard can't get involved... officially... but that you want me to have a go at it - and Carter, now that you found her.” His eyes scrunched up at his next words. “Since you brought us here, I assume that you have some kind of a plan in mind.”

Thor blandly stated, “We had planned to ask SG-1 to help us. However, we cannot link to any biosigns for Doctor Jackson or Teal'c.”

Carter numbly protested, “No, you won't find them - SG-1 no longer exists.” Seconds later, she mumbled, “Though there was no way for you to know that.”

“No, we did not previously know this.” Thor looked as if this new information aggrieved him - though he didn't let it do so for long. “Yet even half of SG-1 is still the best hope for Earth.”

“Earth's best hope,” Jack repeated in disbelief. “You want us to stop Ba'al anyway?” Jack gestured between him and Sam. “Just me and Carter? Once again saving your ass...”

“Sir!”

Noting the intelligence of Carter's warning, Jack modulated his words to something more benign. “To save your little gray hides, and giving you what you want?”

Thor was at his blandest best when he said, “You will be saving Earth as well as our 'little gray hides,' O'Neill.”

Jack gave an uncomfortable start. “True.” But that seemed secondary when considering the thought of facing Ba'al's insurmountable forces once again.

To cover the tumultuous emotions that assaulted him every time he even thought about Ba'al, Jack quickly went on to ask, “Just how is it that you propose that we do this Ba'al breaking?”

Thor was quick to fill them in. “We propose that you infiltrate Ba'al's base on Cimmeria and destroy his cloning facility, then clear Earth of all its clones.”

It was a typical Asgard plan - vague to the point of being virtually useless. Jack explosively snorted, “Oh, easy.” The high amount of scathing is his voice was an unusual thing to hear while addressing the alien. “And specifically, how are we supposed to do this infiltrating, might I ask?”

The alien in question chose to ignore Jack's caustic tone. “That is up to you, O'Neill. As you human's tend to say, 'the less we know, the better.'”

Jack grimaced. No help. Which was a familiar state of affairs for any member of SG-1, past or present.

Sam did a little hop next to the medical pod as she thought through everything Thor had said so far, drawing everyone's

attention to her. “But what you're asking is pretty dangerous for the General. Going in without backup is never a good idea, but especially not in a situation this tenuous.”

Thor gave her a bulbous blink. “I was unaware of your injury, Colonel Carter. I had no intention of asking O'Neill to 'go this alone.'”

“He won't be alone,” Pete suddenly piped up. “I'll be his backup.” He turned to regard Jack. “Just tell me what to shoot at and... That is, assuming that these guys have guns that we can borrow?” He gestured towards Thor.

“It will be unnecessary to use our weapons,” Thor conversationally broke in. “I have transported aboard your projectile weaponry from the SGC.”

Oyyyyy! Jack grunted once again in guilty frustration, his hand in his hair. “Carter and I... we're not part of the SGC any longer. We're retired.”

“Well, I am,” Sam corrected. “I don't know for sure about Jack being retired yet.”

“Trust me,” Jack then exhorted. “I asked for it myself. Hammond signed the paperwork right in front of me. I'm good and retired.”

Thor broke in, “I was also not aware of your retired status.” He sounded worried now. “This situation was unforeseen by the Asgard Council.”

But Thor didn't go on to say that the Asgard Council no longer wanted him for this job since he was now retired. Jack sighed, once more irritated with the Asgard Council, yet fully understanding where they were coming from. “At least you can be sure that I'm not a clone - since you made sure I can't be cloned - and Carter's retirement pretty much assures that she's not some clone.”

“I'm not a clone, either,” Pete interjected.

Thor blinked once again. “Initial ship's scans confirm this information.”

Pete nodded, as if a ship scanning him was a common occurrence - or else because he didn't want to think about that too closely. “So - it's all set then - me and the General...”

This time, Jack skewered him with a look. “Will you stop doing that?” he demanded.

Pete shrugged. “Doing what?”

Jack was only too willing to fill him in. “Acting like you're gonna be some hero to the Asgard by going along on this mission, 'cause you're not invited!”

Pete immediately snorted. “Of course I'm invited - admit it, you need me!”

Jack sent him his fake look of puzzlement, as if he truly cared about Pete's mission status, which he didn't. “Want to explain the needing part?”

Pete gave another snort. “How the hell do you expect to get into that cloning place all by yourself? By yelling a lot and hoping that they think you're bigger and stronger than you are?”

Jack rolled his eyes, as if he knew something that Pete didn't. “Our numbers may be small, but we have Carter.”

Pete sarcastically reminded, “Who can't even walk by herself. What are you planning to do - wheel her chair in and hope for the best?”

“He's right,” Sam softly noted, as if she'd never thought of this before, though knowing her, she had already thought of it several minutes ago and had been waiting for the others to catch up to her line of thinking ever since. “I'll be a liability if you take me along. With my leg gone...”

“I can fix that,” Thor interrupted.

“Huh?” said Sam as she turned to the alien in surprise.

Thor's blink was sincere. “It is a simple procedure.”

Jack choked when Thor said the word 'simple.' “Of course it is.”

But Sam was staring at Thor as if he was her last hope. “Are you serious? You can give me back my leg?” She blinked as well, a numb movement over numb eyeballs, and mundanely pointed out, “But you don't have my leg.”

“It is not necessary to have the original when we have the template,” Thor assured.

The template? Why did Jack not like the sound of that? “Oh, here we go.”

“The template?” Sam questioned, ignoring Jack's muttering.

“Certainly,” said Thor. “It will be a simple matter of cloning your body, then moving your consciousness to the clone. It is nothing that every Asgard has not done many times.”

But Sam was already shaking her head. “No offense, Thor, but look at what a mess cloning yourselves got you into - I don't want to become a degrading copy of myself. Thanks, but no thanks.”

“But Sam!” Pete quickly argued. “This is your chance not to be crippled anymore!”

Sam whipped her head around to glare at him. “I'd rather be crippled than a copy! I'm not into the cloning thing, so no!”

Thor again looked aggrieved. “That is unfortunate.” Then his eyes lit up as only an Asgard's could. “Perhaps Frazer will know how to help you.”

Jack's brows rose. “Frazer? Haven't met that Asgard.”

“She is one of our new healers.”

“Healers?” Sam tentatively inquired. “Um, again, no offense, Thor, but since when do the Asgard have healers?”

Thor actually sighed. “It is admittedly an experimental approach. Frazer has obtained the knowledge held in what you call 'a medical degree.' She is as proficient as your doctors, yet has retained all Asgard medical knowledge as well. She went so far as to change her name from Eir to Frazer based on your own medical professional.”

Jack's features were as scrunched as they could get. “She changed her name to..?”

At the same time, Sam blurted, “Frazer's based on..?”

“Your SGC doctor,” Thor assured them.

Jack and Sam gaped as Thor continued, “She will surely be able to help you where I cannot.”

Sam gaped even more - she simply couldn't help herself. She was having trouble grasping the idea that someone could help her, and apparently so easily, too, to say nothing of the name thing. “She can... make me a new leg?”

Thor merely looked at them all like what he was suggesting was simple. “She will attach it to your person as well as make one for you. But perhaps she can better explain the process.” As an afterthought, Thor added the reminder, “The sooner you become mended, Colonel Carter, the sooner we can proceed to Cimmeria.”

Jack's head spun. This was all going a bit too fast for him. “Whoa! Let us catch our breath first!”

Thor blinked again. “As you wish, O'Neill, but do not catch too much of a breath. Again I remind you that it is your planet that is currently being overrun by clones. We cannot be too rushed.”

So Jack was only able to breathe heavily a time or two, staring out into the room as he did so, a lost look on his face. It appeared that he was completely bamboozled by Thor's announcements, but Sam knew that he was simply taking a moment to process the news that Thor had so precipitately dumped on them, his strategic mind already planning how best to handle this newest crisis.

Pete, of course, didn't know what he was thinking, and reacted only to what he saw. “I thought this is just the kind of thing you guys deal with all the time. So what are we waiting for - let's go save the world!”

But Jack's finger instantly shot into the air, arresting the detective's movements. “Wait! I'm thinking.”

Pete grimaced at the delay. “What's to think about? The little guy... Thor... said it all - Earth needs us! Come on!”

Carter shot a dark look in his direction before Jack even had the chance to say something. “And rush right in so Ba'al can capture us in ten seconds or less? That wouldn't be too smart, would it?” She growled, but visibly reigned in her growing temper. “Look, Pete, you don't know anything about Ba'al, and...”

“Oh, and you do, huh?” scoffed Pete from across the room.

Carter sent him another scathing look. “As a matter of fact, I do. The General knows more about him than he wants to. We want to do this job for Thor, yeah, but we also want to come out of it alive so we can enjoy the fact that we did it. So just... shut up!”

Jack was a bit surprised at the abruptness that Sam continually used in her dealings with Pete, but then remembered that she'd had many months of unpleasant altercations with the man to back it. Distracted from his thoughts about how best to handle the Ba'al/clone situation, he focused instead on the immediate problem.

“Ok. First things first. Let's get Carter squared away - this thing is a bust if the Asgard can't do their miracle thing to Carter's leg.” His voice was the clipped tone of the military commander that he was. However, the gentleness of his motions when he scooped Carter into his arms belied the blunt tone. “So Thor, point us in the right direction to this Frazer person, and we'll let her do her thing.”

Thor blinked again, his reaction to almost every new occurrence. “I am able to procure what you call 'crutches' for the Colonel, O'Neill. There is no need to carry her.” He quickly moved his control rock across the board in front of him, concentrating.

Jack was quick to insist, “Thanks buddy, but Carter and I have a fight to finish - remember? If I carry her, I'm forced to deal with her, and we can fight all we want. Just point me in the right direction, and we'll be on our way.” His gaze turned to take in Carter firmly encased in his arms. “That is, if that's alright with you?”

Carter dryly stated, “I know what a concession it is for you to even ask. Just don't drop me when you get mad at what I might say.”

“I won't,” Jack promised. “But this way, I can't run away again without either taking you with me, or propping you up on the nearest wall first. I figure that'll give you enough time to punch my lights out.”

Thor held out one of the Asgard stones to Jack. “I will feel better if you accept one of our communication stones. With it, you will never be more than a call away.”

Jostling Carter, Jack took the stone in one hand. All the time, he tried hard to exude confidence when he had none. “Gee, thanks Thor. You don't know how this reassures me.”

Unaware of his sarcasm, Thor just added, “The Infirmary is up one level and five corridors over. Enjoy the rest of your fight.”

“Thanks, Thor. I... er... owe you one.” Jack hefted Sam higher into his arms, then calmly walked toward the door.

“I'll go with you,” Pete announced, his furtive glance at Thor saying without the need for words that he didn't want to be left alone with an alien.

“You weren't invited,” Jack rudely told him. “Get more intel from Thor on those clones. We need to know all we can about them and Ba'al's assumed plans if we're gonna do this.” With that, he walked straight through the door, leaving a gaping Pete behind him.


Chapter 14

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