Chapter 1: Hello, My Name Is
The latest interviewee scuttled out of the office even before Rodney had finished belittling his intelligence, and the physicist rubbed at his temples with a sigh. In the future, he doubted he'd ever have to do this part again-- someone on Earth, probably Dr. Lee or Colonel Carter, would probably vet the candidates for him and send a list of recommendations to Atlantis for him to choose from-- but he was here now, and had no way of getting out of this torture. He was seldom impressed with other people's work at the best of times, and today's roster of prospective additions to the science team seemed to have been specially chosen to send his blood pressure through the roof.
Whose brilliant idea had it been to make the senior staff do this in person, anyway?
"So," an amused feminine voice commented from the direction of the doorway. "How are things going?"
Oh, right. Rodney rolled his eyes in Elizabeth's direction and sat up straighter in his chair. "There are maybe three or four so far it wouldn't be a punishment for me to work with, but the rest of them aren't fit to lick Zelenka's boots. Or even Carson's. Remind me why we couldn't get our hands on Colson, again?"
She smiled at him, arms crossed in front of her as she leaned against the doorjamb. "Because Stargate Command sent him to an off-world lab months ago and refused to recall him for you?" she suggested dryly. "The general did ask that we leave a few of the world's best and brightest here for the SGC to work with."
"They're just being greedy," Rodney sniffed. Honestly, he'd thought it was a reasonable request; they'd already finished off the Goa'uld and the replicators, after all, and even Colonel Carter was leaving the program. What else could the SGC possibly need engineers of Colson's caliber for?
"Be that as it may," Elizabeth said, "you do still have a lot of open positions to staff on the science team, and we're scheduled to leave on the Daedalus in less than a week. Would you prefer I make the rest of the decisions from the shortlist you assembled?"
"No, no," Rodney waved her off. "I'm not going to take anyone that at least one informed scientist hasn't grilled face to face, and Zelenka isn't here to do it for me. Besides, I have some small hope that at least a few of the ones left on the list aren't complete idiots. Three of them used to work for Colson Industries, in fact; they've successfully dealt with alien technology before, even if they didn't know what it was at the time."
"All right," Elizabeth said, nodding. "I'll hold you to that. Just make sure to take a break around noon, okay? General O'Neill is throwing a going-away party for Dr. Jackson, and I'm reliably informed that there will be chocolate cake."
"Mmm," Rodney said, glancing up at the clock above the door. "Tempting. I have a couple of interviews scheduled before then, but I should be done by that time. The next one's supposed to be here already, actually-- Oz something? Austin? Oswald?" He glanced down at his borrowed desk, flipping open the next applicant's folder. "Osbourne," he concluded with a nod.
"Actually, Oz works just fine," a lazy male voice intruded on the conversation.
Rodney's first impression, when he looked back up to verbally flail the supposed computer genius for such a casual greeting, was: dear God, I've met someone with higher-maintenance hair than Sheppard! The spiky mass on the young man's head was an eye-catching shade of cobalt blue, perfectly matched to the band T-shirt the guy was wearing beneath a casual flannel shirt. Rodney's second impression, following close on the heels of the first, slipped from his mouth before he could censor it: "You're shorter than I expected."
"I get that a lot," Oz said, nodding calmly. Then he glanced up at Elizabeth, with whom he was still sharing doorway space, and smiled at her. "Hi."
"Hello," Elizabeth replied, smiling back. "I'm Dr. Weir."
"Daniel Osbourne. But you can call me Oz." He stuck out a hand for her to shake.
Elizabeth took it briefly, then raised her eyebrows in Rodney's direction. "Well, I'll just leave you to it, then!" She faded back out of sight without another word, leaving Rodney alone with the obviously misplaced young man.
"You're the computer expert who worked with Colson on the multi-engine control systems for the F-302's?" he asked, skeptically. "Please tell me you're at least old enough to drink."
The young man smirked, then walked calmly into the office uninvited and sat down in the chair opposite Rodney. "I'm twenty-five," he replied, staring steadily at Rodney as though he had nothing to be nervous about.
Rodney paused a moment as he waited for Oz to elaborate, then scowled a little as he realized nothing more would be forthcoming. Apparently, the rest of the interview was going to be even more like pulling teeth than usual. Joy. He glanced back down at the file, paying more attention this time as he flipped through it, and raised his eyebrows at some of the young man's less recent accomplishments-- or rather, lack thereof.
"Well, then. Let's take a look at your qualifications, shall we? According to your file, despite achieving impressive scores on several different standardized tests and being head-hunted by more than one high-priced computer programming firm, you failed your senior year of high school, repeated it the next year with only marginally improved grades, and dropped out during the first year of your bachelor's degree program at the local University of California. Following that stellar achievement, you spent several months collecting passport stamps across Europe and Asia, then came back to complete a mere associate's degree in computer networking." He looked back up at his guest at that point, brow furrowed as he tried to work out the puzzle of the young man's credentials. "In spite of these shortcomings, you somehow managed to sign on with Colson Industries, and inside of three years worked your way up to a senior position in their main Seattle offices."
Oz frowned thoughtfully throughout Rodney's summation, then gave a little nod of acknowledgement at the conclusion. "They liked me."
Rodney blinked, then narrowed his eyes. "Care to elaborate on that?"
Oz cocked his head a little to one side, and shrugged as though he had no idea what Rodney was looking for. "They were interested in what I had to offer," he suggested.
"Wow, nine words in one sentence," Rodney replied, scathingly. "That brings you up to a grand total of thirty-two since this interview started! Look, I'm trying to give you an opportunity to impress me, here. So let's just cut to the chase. You wouldn't be here if you hadn't signed the blind one-year commitment and all the standard non-disclosure forms. What do you think that means? What exactly do you think we brought you in for?"
"To a bunker under NORAD?" Oz asked, smirking again. "Probably something to do with those images I pried out of Colson's satellite buffers a year ago."
He didn't say it, but they both knew what he was referring to: proof of alien existence. Colson Industries' satellite network had gone temporarily offline during Anubis' failed invasion, but the cameras about them had not stopped recording; they had picked up several clear and highly detailed images, especially of the aerial battle over Antarctica between US military aircraft and their Goa'uld opponents. The glowing, squid-shaped weapons that had flowed up from beneath the ice to end the conflict featured in many of the photos.
"You were involved with that?" Rodney asked, surprised. "I thought the US government had slapped non-disclosure agreements on any of Colson's employees who'd been involved with his more-- controversial-- discoveries. I know I didn't see your name on any of those lists."
"Wouldn't have," Oz shrugged. "Wasn't my job to start with. Only, see, I was kind of the IT guy?"
Right. Like Rodney was 'kind of the IT guy' for basically the whole of Atlantis at the moment. He nodded, folding his arms on the desk over Oz's open folder and sighed. "Right, right. So what else do you already know?"
"Saw the little gray guy once," Oz offered, referring to the Asgard body Colson's biotech firm had cloned out of a DNA sample the Department of Defense had kept on file. The clone had grown quickly, but it had been a struggle for the scientists to teach it even to eat and walk; it had never developed any kind of independent consciousness.
Of course, that was how it was meant to be; the Asgard had designed the genetic structure of their current racial form specifically to create empty vessels to download their minds into when their bodies became injured or frail. It would have made them a race of murderers, had they allowed the vessels the capability of developing unique minds of their own. Colson's scientists hadn't known that, however-- luckily for the SGC's cleanup crews.
"Seemed kind of like an animatronic puppet to me," Oz added, summing up his 'close encounter' with a shrug. "Found a few references to strange technology recovered from Antarctica. That's about it. It didn't seem like any of my business, so I kept my nose out of it."
"That's very... uncurious of you," Rodney said, skeptically. One of the things they were actively looking for in potential additions to the Atlantis expedition was a sense of scientific curiosity, of the need to push boundaries and make discoveries and increase the body of knowledge. They would need that just as much in the computer systems department as any other, since the interface between the Tau'ri network and Atlantis' own systems was continually in need of adjustment to take into account new discoveries about the way the city worked. It wasn't a make-or-break issue, but given the sketchiness of the kid's educational record, he thought the subject might deserve a little more probing.
Oz stared at him for a moment, but the calm assurance that he'd been projecting earlier had faded a little. Finally, he nodded and spoke. "I doubt it's in my file," he said, "but I ran across another classified government project once, and let's just say I didn't enjoy the experience. I didn't know if any of the same people might be involved in the alien thing, and I wasn't all that enthused about the possibility of attracting their attention again."
Rodney frowned at that, then picked up a pencil and scribbled a note on the inside over of Oz's file; he'd have to ask someone about that later. His security clearance should be high enough to get him access to that information, if necessary. If Oz was telling the truth, it did explain his caution-- but it also raised another important question. "So why come here? Aren't you running the same risk?"
"Um." Oz shifted a little in his seat. "I sort of have friends who know people. When I got the offer, I asked them, and they said your project had a much better reputation."
Rodney tapped the pencil on the desk thoughtfully. "Okay," he said, tabling that subject for later as well. He was running out of time, and they still had to get to the actual list of standard interview questions. "So. Tell me a little bit about yourself."
Oz opened his mouth, and Rodney rethought the instruction.
"In sentences of more than three words, if you can," he added, with a smirk.
Oz scowled a little in response, in that puppy-dog kind of way that meant 'Aw, you just spoiled my fun' when Sheppard did it, and suddenly Rodney's perspective shifted.
Nevermind the answers; he couldn't wait to introduce the kid to Sheppard. And Zelenka. And if Kavanaugh thought Rodney was difficult to work with...
This was going to be a lot of fun.
Chapter 2: A Hire Well Made
Despite the rocky start to the interview, and the strange reluctance of the N.I.D. to provide any information regarding the project they'd helped sponsor in Sunnydale other than the fact that it had existed, Rodney had a hard time finding any reason not to hire Daniel 'Oz' Osbourne other than his young age and lack of impressive qualifications. Elizabeth heard him out on the subject, then agreed, and when the Daedalus left Earth the kid was aboard it.
He'd dyed his hair green since Rodney had last seen him, a shade amazingly close to the ubiquitous military olive, and carried his official personal item in a case bigger than the duffel bag all of his other possessions fit into: apparently, he was something of a musician. He brought the guitar out several times during the weeks-long journey from Earth to the Ancient city, much to the delight of the bored scientists and soldiers also making the trip. Most of them had no official duties to keep them busy yet, and the only other entertainment items anyone had thought to bring (that were suitable for public consumption, anyway) were a few decks of cards and portable game consoles.
Sheppard had taken well to him; that went without saying. Literally. The first time Rodney introduced Oz to the commander of Atlantis' military forces, the short, quiet computer technician and the tall, wiry Colonel stared at each other for several tense seconds without saying a word. The hair stood up on the back of Rodney's neck as he watched them tilt their heads in near-symmetry and silently assess each other, and he would have sworn he saw something alien flash in Oz's eyes. A second later, however, they were nodding cordially to each other and trading sarcastic quips as if nothing had ever happened.
It was possible nothing had, of course. Rodney had never claimed to be the best judge of people. Still, he had a feeling something had been a little off about their reaction to each other.
The other members of Atlantis' leadership team had also struck up friendly acquaintances with Oz, despite his relative youth and lack of qualifications. After dealing with all of the other unique and often forceful personalities that made up the Atlantis Expedition, something about the unnaturally even-tempered young man whose wardrobe and hair often spoke louder than he did seemed to catch their attention, much as it had Rodney's in their interview. Elizabeth was amused by his taciturn, dry wit, and found him an interesting conversational partner regarding the many foreign countries they'd both visited; Teyla seemed fascinated by his colorful off-duty wear and his musical hobby; and Zelenka had pronounced him less of an idiot than most of the other "experts" on the expedition's computer team.
The only one Oz didn't seem to get along with was Carson, probably because of the classified lock on Oz's medical records. Given how often the expedition members were in danger of their lives, Carson took a dim view of anything that might prevent him from effectively treating any patient, but Oz refused to open his mouth on the subject. He wouldn't even let Carson take a blood sample from him, not even to run a test for the recessive Ancient gene that would qualify him for the ATA gene therapy, and had the legal language in his personnel file to back him up. Whoever the ISWC were-- other than the employer for several of Oz's personal references-- they had enough clout with the member nations participating in the IOA that not even Carson's diatribe about the potential for carrying unknown diseases into a closed environment earned him any leeway on the subject.
Rodney had to admit that Carson had a point there. Who knew what horrific pathogens Oz might have picked up in the bars he used to play guitar at or in his overseas travels that might escape into the pressure cooker of Atlantis and sneak under the city's quarantine sensors to infect Rodney unaware? The events that transpired near the end of their return flight to Atlantis, however, wiped any thought of potential Oz-borne biological contaminants out of his mind. They had quite enough to deal with foiling the artificial virus sown in their ship's computer systems by the Wraith, and if it hadn't been for Oz's expertise things might have gone a lot worse. Rodney himself hadn't been able to stop the virus from overtaking the Daedalus' systems, nor had their resident Asgard, Hermiod; until Oz had managed to gain access to the virus' code and shut it down, they had been in very real danger of cooking alive in the coronasphere of a star-- or being forced to take potentially drastic measures.
Some welcome to the program. Even Kavanaugh had stopped insulting the kid about his lack of doctorates after that incident.
The thing that later stuck out the most in Rodney's mind about Oz's introduction to Atlantis, however, wasn't his appearance, or any of those early meetings, or his unassuming heroics. It was the look on his face in that first moment after they set foot in the city itself; the sudden quiet joy tugging at the corners of Oz's mouth and lighting up his eyes. Whatever it was that made Atlantis truly home to some people and not just another foreign posting, Oz felt it.
Rodney patted himself on the back for a hire well made. At least he could be sure one of the new wave wasn't worthless; he looked forward to seeing what else the computer genius would contribute in the future.
Now, if only he could wring that level of usefulness out of certain other wastes of food and oxygen continually dragging him away from his own projects to demonstrate just how wrong they were…
Rodney shook his head at the error-filled mess of equations sprawled all over the nearest white board and picked up a marker. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.