"Oh for cryin' out loud, Jacob, you told a teenager?!" Dumbfounded, Jack O'Neill gaped at the Tok'ra standing in the briefing room. "A teenager. There is a teenager running around Kansas with full knowledge of the Gate and the Tok'ra?!"
"Don't forget Selmak." Jacob Carter responded with a grin, entirely unruffled by the other man's reaction. "Relax, Jack. Chloe's not just any teenager. Trust me, she can handle this. She figured a good chunk of it out on her own anyway and then kept after me until we told her. Selmak and I agreed on it, Jack. She can handle the knowledge. Knows better than to tell anybody."
From her position at her father's side, Sam nodded. "Dad's right, Colonel. Chloe would never go or say anything that would endanger Dad."
"Not a chance. Kid's too smart for that. She's my baby sister's kid, Jack...she's trustworthy. Hell," Jacob grinned, "Selmak's trying to convince me to let him recruit Chloe. We turn her loose on the Goa'uld, they'll be begging for mercy inside of ten minutes."
His reaction settling, Jack grimaced, still quite unhappy with the idea. "You should've warned us first, Jacob. Given us time to figure something out. Hammond's gonna have kittens over this."
"Nah, I'll handle George." The former General reassured. "He's met Chloe a few times, knows the type of kid she is. Relax, Jack, I've got it covered."
Jack gave him a look. "Oh yeah, reassured now after hearing that which is known as the universal telltale precursor to huge disasters. Just remember, when the world's ending, I warned you it was a bad idea."
"So, did your friend completely lose it when you told him?" Opening her laptop, Chloe sat down on her cousin's couch and put her feet up on the coffee table.
"A little." Jacob grinned, sitting down in one of the arm chairs. "He settled down pretty quick though and when George backed me up, he was fine. Well...still a little grouchy about it. Jack hates surprises."
"But I can cancel the witness relocation right?" His niece joked, opening a file on her computer.
"Yeah, sure. Save it for when you decide to take on some dirty politician."
"Got any in mind?" She asked, looking over with a grin.
"No, `fraid not. Well...Not any you'd find on earth anyway. Ask Sam when she gets back from the Mountain. I'd say she's got a list a mile long." Getting up, Jacob moved to the couch, leaning over to see the computer screen. "Whatcha workin' on? New story for the paper?"
"Not exactly." She hedged, apprehensive. "Actually, Uncle Jacob, I brought something and I was hoping Selmak take a look at it for me."
"Oh yeah?" Surprised, he looked closer. "What've you got?"
Sucking in a quick breath, Chloe pulled up the picture she'd taken of the strange symbol which had appeared on the Kents' barn. "This. Does this look familiar?"
Beside her, Jacob's head dipped as he seceded control of his body to his symbiote. Selmak took a moment to examine the photograph before nodding. "It does. It is Kryptonian." The Tok'ra sounded surprised, taking the laptop from the young woman and surveying the picture. "How did this symbol come to your attention?"
"The owners of the barn said there was some kind of fire and when they put it out, that's the shape the burn pattern formed. They didn't know much more than that. They never saw how the fire started apparently....Selmak, what's Kryptonian?" Chloe watched as the Tok'ra in her uncle's body began to use the computer, clicking through the rest of the images in the file.
"They were a very advanced race...their planet was destroyed several decades ago, we had thought them all lost. However, the appearance of this symbol would seem to dispute that belief." Jacob emerged, turning his head to regard his niece with some suspicion. "There's more to this, isn't there Chloe? What aren't you telling us?"
She hesitated, pulling back a little. "There's nothing else, Uncle Jacob, I promise...."
He frowned. "You're holding something back, Chlo'... I can tell. Care to share what it is?"
Chloe looked torn, she clearly wanted to tell him but she reluctantly shook her head "I'm sorry, Uncle Jacob, I can't do that." She shrugged a little. "I want to, believe me, I do...but...I only have suspicions and half-formed theories. I can't betray a confidence based on that." With a wry smile, she couldn't resist adding, "Even if it's a confidence I haven't officially been let in on yet."
"Chloe, if you're protecting someone, you have to understand. If they're Kryptonian, then they may very well be the last survivor of their race...the only one who can possibly tell us what happened...The Kryptonians were strong allies of the Tok'ra. It was a great loss to us when the planet was destroyed." He leaned forward, meeting her apprehensive gaze. "Chloe, if there is a Kryptonian on this planet, he or she is unprotected. No one knows for sure what happened to Krypton but we do know it must have happened very quickly if they didn't have time to respond. They didn't even try to use the Stargate to escape. There's always a chance that whatever happened was not natural. The System Lords were pretty mad that the Kryptonians were helping us, sometimes even sheltering us. If they were behind the destruction of the planet and they find out there's a survivor...your friend could be in danger. Even here."
Chloe dropped her gaze, shaking her head again. "I'm sorry...I can't." She pulled her legs up, hugging her knees to her chest, resting her chin on one. "Uncle Jacob...do you think Sam and your friends in Cheyenne Mountain can get us access to a historical site in Smallville? There are some caves...It's tribal land and it's currently under the supervision of LuthorCorp. But there are symbols in that cave that look like the one that appeared on the Kents' barn. If we could get in there and you could take a look at them..."
Nodding, Jacob looked back to the computer. "I think we could definitely swing that. Shouldn't be that hard."
His niece frowned a little. "It might not be as easy as you think, Uncle Jacob...Lionel Luthor's a very dangerous man and seriously lacking in a conscience. If he doesn't want to give up those caves...he's not going to without a very messy fight."
"Oh, don't you worry about that, I've handled worse." Jacob frowned, watching Chloe carefully. "Is he who you're protecting our apparent Kryptonian refugee from?" The guilty expression on her face answered that question with crystal clarity. "I see."
"All I'm saying is...be careful." She insisted, avoiding the issue. "I like Selmak...the idea of him ending up his next lab experiment makes me sick." She hugged her knees tighter, smiling faintly. "If your friend could do something about him too....that'd be great."
Jacob leaned over, pulling his niece into a hug. "Don't you worry about him, Pumpkin....I'll see to it Mr. Luthor's taken care of. I'll see to it everything is."
With her head resting against her uncle's shoulder, Chloe didn't see the telltale movement that signaled Selmak's emergence but she wasn't surprised by the Tok'ra's voice as he agreed, "Have no fear, Chloe. I can assure you that Lionel Luthor has never before dealt with anything like us."
The teenager couldn't help the wicked little grin on her face as she nodded. "Now that I believe."
"You ready for this?" Sam looked down at her cousin as they emerged from the elevator onto Level 28.
"In theory...No." Chloe responded with a shaky smile. "But, it's not what you think. I mean, the whole Stargate thing? Hello, Sam, remind me to show you the Wall of Weird sometime. It's just..." She looked around. "This is...Does George...I mean, General Hammond, really have a direct line to the President?"
"Bah, the General's not so bad when you get to know him."
The two blondes turned to find Jack O'Neill walking down the corridor toward them.
"Sir." Sam greeted with a nod, not missing Chloe's nervous look.
"Carter." The Colonel inclined his head in the apprehensive teenager's direction. "This the cause for all the fuss?"
"So I hear." Chloe forced herself to say brightly, holding out a hand. "Chloe Sullivan, Instigator Extraordinaire."
"Jack O'Neill." He responded, shaking the offered hand firmly. "Instigator huh?"
"Oh yeah," Sam nodded. "Chloe's caused more than a few fusses in her day. Frankly, Sir, I'm not sure it's a good idea to let you two come within a hundred miles of each other. Who knows what might happen."
"Nothing good I'm sure." Daniel Jackson observed, emerging from a room behind them. "Jack causes enough trouble on his own."
"Chloe, this is Daniel and that's Teal'c. Guys, this is my cousin, Chloe Sullivan."
Both men smiled, at least that's what Chloe thought the big guy was trying to do, as Sam said their names. Daniel, who was as cute as Sam had told her, reached out to shake her hand while Teal'c inclined his head in greeting.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, ChloeSullivan." Teal'c spoke, his deep voice surprisingly welcoming.
"Oh yeah, definitely." Daniel agreed, holding up the glossy photographs he held in his hand. "I've been looking at the pictures the team sent back from that cave you told us about. It's incredible...you were really inside?"
"Uh huh." Chloe blushed a little. "Long enough to pick up...well," She looked over at Sam. "Did Uncle Jacob tell you about that?"
"The whole parasite thing?" The elder woman nodded. "Yeah...Our CMO had a fit about that. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Janet wants to take a look at you."
"You were possessed by a being such as the Goa'uld?" Teal'c interjected, a frown on his face.
"Well, I don't think it was sentient or anything." The teenager responded, looking nervous again. "But yeah...A friend...he helped get me to a doctor."
"The same friend whose barn the Kryptonian writing showed up on, if I remember what you were telling me correctly." Sam didn't miss the flash of fear in her cousin's eyes and made a note of it while deciding to back off the subject. "Come on, the briefing room's in here and I think Daniel's itching to hear what else you can tell him about the cave."
"Well, I wasn't going to pry..." The archaeologist said as demurely as possible. "But...I did have a few questions..."
"By a few," Jack interjected with a grin, "he means a lot. Prepared for an interrogation that'd put the Spanish Inquisition to shame?"
"Not really, no." Chloe responded with a nervous laugh.
"Jack..." Daniel rolled his eyes at his friend. "I am not going to grill her."
"Much." The Colonel finished for him with an amused glint in his eye.
In an aside to Sam, Chloe couldn't resist asking, "Are they always like this?"
It was with a massive grin that the taller woman nodded and said, "Oh yeah...usually? Worse. This is them on their best behavior."
The teenager looked up at her cousin and blinked. "And I thought Pete and Clark were bad..."
"Hey, Chlo', how's Colorado?"
Adjusting the phone against her ear, Chloe opened the tab on her coffee and blew on the hot liquid. "It's great. I'm having a blast. How's things back on the homestead?"
"You're not going to believe this one. Lex's father is having a huge fit." Her friend confided with more than a little glee.
"Dare I ask why?" She queried, trying to keep her tone as neutral as possible. Didn't want Clark catching on that she already knew the answer to the question.
"The caves. He lost the contract. Something to do with accounting irregularities. He's furious. You should see him. Speaking of...any idea when you're coming back?"
"Umm...I'm not sure. Uncle Jacob's going to be in town for a little while longer so he, Sam and I might take a trip for a few days. Have one last blast before he leaves, y'know? It's been too long since I got to hang out with them and I don't know when we'll get to do it again." Chloe took a careful sip of her coffee before adding. "I'll probably be back next week but...it could be a couple of weeks. Depends on how things go."
"So, when do you leave for that trip?"
"In a few minutes, actually, I'm waiting them to say it's time to go. Thought I'd call and see how things were back home before I left." She smiled, hearing the sound of a fridge door opening and bottles rattling as Clark searched for something to drink. "I miss you guys."
"We miss you too." Clark responded belatedly, his voice strangely hesitant.
The sound of Sam's voice drew the teen away from her conversation and she turned to look. "Yeah?"
"Be right there!" Turning back, Chloe brought the phone to hear ear again. "Did you..."
"You've got to go?"
"Yeah..." She fell silent for a long moment. Long enough for Clark to wonder.
"Chloe? You okay?"
"Yeah...yeah, I'm fine. I..." She laughed a little. "Like I said... I miss you guys...and home."
"You almost sound like you're never going to come back." Clark noted with a laugh of his own. "You're in Colorado, Chlo', you're not on another planet."
"It sort of feels like it." Chloe said softly, grabbing her bag. "Like it's going to be a lifetime before I see home again."
"You're homesick." He observed unnecessarily.
"Just a little." She admitted. "Listen...Clark, I really have to go but..." She smiled. "I'll see you later. When I get home. We can go by the caves, see who's set up shop there this week."
"Sounds like a plan to me." He agreed. "Bye, Chloe..."
"Bye, Clark." Chloe murmured quietly, hanging up the phone. She stared at it for a moment, at the picture of herself, Pete and Clark that decorated one of her folders.
She turned to find Sam standing in the doorway, securing her radio in her uniform. "Are you ready?"
"No." The teen replied honestly, putting the folder in her bag. "But...no turning back now, right?" She hesitated, her thoughts on the friend she'd been speaking to. About everything she owed him and everything he deserved. He hadn't told her but, she was a part of it, she was responsible for much of the interest Lionel had in him. "This is the right choice, Sam." Squaring her shoulders, she started out the door. "Let's go."
There was admiration in her gaze as Sam fell into step behind her cousin. "Okay...if you're sure..."
"I'm sure." She answered without turning. "Believe me, Sam...I'm sure."
Sometime later, lying on the crystal slab, looking into the eyes of the dying woman before her, Chloe softly murmured the fateful words again, "I'm sure..."
And her choice was made.
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