Jack strolled tiredly through the door of Café Diem after a long day of navigating the treacherous waters of Eureka's new timestream, breathing out a sigh of relief at having made it one more day without inadvertently tipping someone off about his little detour to 1947. The trip hadn't created that many changes in the town of Eureka and its chief employer, Global Dynamics; but the differences that did exist were doozies, and all the file-checking in the world couldn't tell him when he was about to trip over another one without warning.
"Hey, Jack!" an unfamiliar voice called from a four-person booth over by the windows.
...Like that one. Jack frowned over at the lone man seated there, trying to place his identity. The guy had short dark hair, a serious kind of face, and an Air Force uniform with the rank insignia of a lieutenant colonel; Jack didn't recognize him, but he was plainly comfortable in the café, and no one was giving him strange looks. He belonged there, in that timeline, obviously; it was Jack that didn't.
He swallowed. "Hey!" he called back, waving vaguely in the guy's direction, hoping to avoid further conversation. Or, failing that-- that the guy would throw him a clue.
The officer made a beckoning motion, a rueful smile giving some life to his expression. "I was beginning to think you and Lupo were avoiding me," the guy said, as Jack hesitantly directed his steps toward the table. "I thought we'd arranged to meet half an hour ago." Three bottles of Jack's favorite local microbrew stood in the center of the rectangular surface, two still sealed and the one nearest the officer open. He shoved one of the unopened ones toward the seat across from him as Jack approached.
"Oh, you know how it goes around here," Jack said, returning the smile with a vague shrug.
The lieutenant colonel-- Davis, according to his nametag, though who knew what his first name was-- replied to that with a huffed laugh. "You can say that again," he said. "C'mon, sit down and tell me what fresh disaster will make it into the DOD's reports today."
DOD? Jack's breath froze in his lungs as that filtered through his thoughts: this guy had to be a Department of Defense liaison. Well, of course; Dr. Allison Blake had held that role in the previous timeline, at least when Jack had first stepped foot in Eureka as a US Marshal, and throughout his time as Sheriff of the tiny thinktank of a town he'd never heard of anyone else acquiring that title. No matter how many other duties Allison acquired. They'd already noticed that her career path had been very different in the new timeline, though; and if she had never been the DOD liaison, then obviously someone else-- or a succession of someones-- would have had to fill that position.
He cleared his throat, settling gingerly into the chair Davis had indicated. Closer up, the guy looked maybe half a decade Jack's elder, but still close enough in age and government background that he and his timeline's original Jack had probably been friends. Talk about a conversational minefield. What would that other Jack have said?
When in doubt, stick to the truth and keep it simple, he decided. "Oh, just a minor malfunction in the non-lethal weapons lab," he said wryly, as he opened the proffered bottle of beer. "Which just so happened to make everyone in the building when it was activated go insane with rage."
Davis' eyes widened and he gave a low whistle. "Literal mad scientists, huh? That's a new one on me."
Jack chuckled. "Yeah, me too. You'd think after four years in this place I wouldn't be so surprised when these things happen, but...."
Davis cast his eyes upward and shook his head. "It was the same way at my previous posting. I might have mentioned it before? They used to call me 'Major Disaster Davis' for a reason. Every time I visited the project I liaised for in person, some fresh hell was breaking loose somewhere, and most of it was just as scientifically crazy as anything I've encountered here. I miss the people sometimes, but not the high blood pressure. I was kind of hoping to become 'Lieutenant Colonel Pleasant News Davis' when they handed me the transfer along with my promotion, but no luck so far."
"Well, it just doesn't roll as trippingly off the tongue," Jack mock-sympathized, "so maybe Eureka's actually doing you a favor on that score."
Davis snorted. "I don't know. I suppose I'd just as soon stick with Paul," he said. "I assume I'll get the full details on this rage thing from Lupo later, then?"
"Sure, yeah," Jack nodded, making two mental notes: first, 'Davis comma Paul'; and second, to warn Jo to check her counterpart's files and see what kind of detail she normally sent the guy, hasta pronto.
"Good," Davis said, then leaned forward across the table on crossed arms, eyes gleaming a little. "So that's business out of the way. Now fill me in on the stuff that won't go into the reports."
"The-- stuff?" Jack faltered, suddenly at a loss. What, had the other Jack been a secret snitch for the DOD in his spare time? He boggled at the thought.
"Aw, c'mon," Davis gestured impatiently. "It's been a couple weeks-- and a new, prominent employee-- since I left town. Fill me in on the gossip I've missed. What's the story with this guy, Grant?"
Gossip! Well, on the one hand, that was a relief; but on the other, not so much. Henry's warnings about revealing the alterations in the timeline flashed through Jack's thoughts. All six time travelers were at risk for 'sanctioning' if the truth were exposed, but as the only one of them actually from 1947, Dr. Trevor Grant-- who'd even kept his last name when they gave him a new ID-- was arguably the weakest link. How much could Jack safely share?
Keep it simple, stupid, he reminded himself. He rolled his eyes, then casually took a sip of his beer as he got his thoughts in order. "He's a historian, or so he says," Jack commented, dryly. "Don't see why Fargo suddenly wants one now when GD. hasn't had one before, but maybe the sixtieth Founders' Day celebration got him thinking. The guy's all right, I guess; but he doesn't like me much, and the feeling's mutual."
Davis raised his eyebrows inquisitively, and Jack allowed an embarrassed shrug. "So maybe I'm not the best person to ask," he elaborated. "But really, if he'd just stop trying out all his quaint historical come-ons on Allison...." He trailed off, letting the Air Force officer fill in the blanks on his own.
"Ah," Davis said, sitting back with an enlightened nod. "So it's like that, huh? Well, that explains it."
He didn't expand on what Jack had just explained; and Jack, relieved, didn't press. "So, uh, how about you, Paul?" he asked, steering the conversation toward a new-- and hopefully safe-- topic. "How was the trip?"
Davis grimaced, attention successfully diverted. "It was DC. What can I say?" he replied. "Top secret meetings, to-ing and fro-ing on behalf of General Mansfield, too much coffee and not enough sleep. I did find time for a lunch with some old friends from the last project I worked on, but otherwise, it was the same old Pentagon. The flight back was the most exciting part; I started processing the paperwork for the General's visit to next week's rocket derby."
"Right," Jack nodded, and took another sip of his beer. "Kevin's got an entry this year."
"Him and half the town, it seems like," Davis sighed. "There's always a security concern at this type of event, and the outcome will have an impact on-- well, more than just Eureka's space tech program. A lot of pressure for the kids, and the General, too. I hear you're giving it a miss?"
"Going to see Zoe," Jack told him. He'd been on tenterhooks ever since he'd seen the changes the new timeline had wrought in Kevin, wondering if he'd even recognize his daughter when he met her again. Signs so far pointed to the same old Zoe, but he wouldn't be worthy to call himself her father if he wasn't still concerned. She took too much after him-- had, at least-- for him to just assume the best.
"Good luck," Davis chuckled. "You can tell her I said 'hello', and that I've forgiven her for the Orange Incident-- on a probationary basis."
Really, really didn't want to press, Jack chided himself, and nodded. "Got it," he said, then got up from the table, gesturing with his mostly-empty beer. "Hey, thanks for the brew, but I've still got some paperwork of my own to complete, and I'm pretty sure Jo is still snowed under. She was one of the rage-ees today."
Davis wrinkled his nose. "Ouch," he said. "Fine, fine, go be Sheriff; I'll see you in a week or so. Then it'll be my turn to catch you up on what you missed."
"Looking forward to it already," Jack chuckled. He wasn't even really lying; the guy was actually a decent conversational partner. Still, he'd better be careful; it would be too easy to let something slip if he relaxed and started thinking of him as a friend.
He gave the Lt. Colonel a friendly wave, then headed out of the café, wondering what SARAH might have in the fridge for a low-effort dinner.