“Jack, most of the video file has nothing on it.”
Jack looked up from the paper file on his desk. Daniel stood in the doorway to his home office. “I kept it on the whole time,” he said. The video and audio recorders had been built into the ribbons for the dress blues he’d worn to Meropis, the anniversary of the official opening of the university there. Or something. Two years or so by Earth standards, and who knew what Pegasus was measuring as important times. “Audio?”
“Got that. Still wish you’d let me come with you. Sending only one representative may have been seen as insulting.”
“They didn’t seem to mind. Lots of other folks from other planets. Couldn’t risk you not coming back.”
“They wouldn’t have kidnapped me.” Daniel ran his hand through his hair in a familiar gesture, one left over from when it had fallen floppy on his forehead. Daniel looked back up at Jack, eyebrows up in a slight question, waiting for him to argue or agree.
“It wasn’t them I was worried about,” Jack said tilting his head slightly toward Daniel, not dropping the eye contact. Jack felt his lips twitch toward a smile. Floppy-haired Daniel would have embedded himself in Meropis in a heartbeat and called it an ethnographic study. Not that Jack would ever let Daniel know he knew what an ethnographic study actually was.
“Jack, it’s the foundations of a new culture. We’ll see how they blend Ancient and Tau’ri and all the planets across Pegasus.”
“Not all of them,” Jack said, glancing back down at the paper file. “The Genii and the rest of those suicidal virus Huffmans--‘
“Hoffans,” Daniel corrected, as Jack had expected him to.
“Well they’re not invited.”
“Right. Specifically because the Meropans don’t want those cultural elements included in the mix. No militarism. No fanaticism.” Daniel nodded, then seemed to come to some decision. “Jack, it’s the chance of a lifetime.”
“Corrigan is sending you reports, isn’t he?”
“Not so much lately. And I have nothing visual but his sketches. Digital video doesn’t work. I’ve never seen this Machina. Any of Meropis. The people and the uniforms and the writing they’re developing.”
“Looks like Atlantis with more wall hangings.”
“Which I want to see. Can I go, Jack?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be following Machina’s lead and getting that weapon for our next invasion.” He raised his eyebrows. "The mythical Ori to be defeated by a weapon from Merlin?"
Daniel finally stepped into the office and sat down in Jack’s reading chair, ignoring the teasing and sinking into the winged sides, only his nose and a glint of light from his glasses visible from Jack’s desk. “They don’t need me for that. From what you learned on Meropis, any archeology and Ancient interpretation you might need from me won’t be necessary. Apparently the other me had quite the scavenger hunt to find Merlin’s weapon.” Jack heard a deep sigh emerge from the chair. “We have plenty of people capable of following the maps you brought back.”
Jack leaned back. “Danny, are you trying to tell me you’re bored?”
“Well,” Daniel started, then trailed off. Jack head him snort. “Don’t want to invite trouble.”
Jack let himself grimace slightly. “Don’t worry. Trouble is inviting you.”
Daniel leaned forward suddenly, out of his chair and walking toward Jack’s desk with his hand out. They’d worked together too long for Daniel not to know that whatever was in that folder must be the trouble.
“Yeah,” Jack said, handing it up. “I didn’t invite you out to DC just to report to the Pentagon.” He watched Daniel flip open the folder, his eyes back and forth across the pages. “Something’s weird in Atlantis.”
“Weird,” Daniel said flatly, not looking up. “What am I looking for?”
“Nothing.” Jack snorted and sat back in his chair, picking up the stress ball on his desk and tossing it hand to hand, the long-practiced affect of casualness. Daniel wouldn’t be fooled. He’d read the fidgeting for what it really was when he looked up from paging carefully through the file.
“They’re hiding something.” Daniel squinted at the file, twisting his lips. “Everything seems utterly normal.”
“Like that ever happens,” Jack said, watching the squeeze toy arc overheard. “No weird artifacts, no Wraith ambushes. Suddenly they have a charmed life.”
“No new personnel requests.”
“And no one requesting a transfer home.“
“That’s not normal,” Daniel said, dropping the file back on Jack’s desk. “You sending me in?”
Jack caught the toy and set it on the desk. “What if you turn into one of the pod people?”
Daniel considered the file, tapping his fingers on the manilla folder. “Sheppard?”
“Is still in Meropis, far as we know. Been two years now. Lorne rotated out after a year, his request you recall. He was replaced by a guy named Stillwater.”
“When did Altantis go Stepford?”
“Gradually after Stillwater came in. When people are rotated off, they come back to the Mountain as ordered, but sometimes they request to stay, and no one asks for transfer out any more.”
Daniel furrowed his brow. “If it weren’t the wrong galaxy, I’d worry about nishta.”
“Didn’t they have their own version of that a while back? Someone with a roofie love me drug?”
“His name was Lucius,” Daniel said, glancing up briefly, the lamp from Jack’s desk reflecting on the glasses and obscuring his eye. “Also by inhalation, that one. Sheppard having a cold was enough to protect him.”
Daniel’s memory for disjointed facts was what Jack was relying on here. He put patterns together like no one Jack had ever known before, and years of exposure to it hadn’t dulled Jack’s appreciation.
“It says here that Sam didn’t notice anything on her last visit.”
“Yeah, I sent her in supposedly to confer with Zelenka and McKay, but mostly I just wanted her bead on the place. She didn’t see anything wrong.”
“Sam’s not exactly a people person,” Daniel said, looking apologetically at Jack. “She’s just not as observant there as elsewhere.”
“She’s good enough to be a good commander,” Jack defended, but he knew what Daniel meant. Sam had military structures to rely on, valued intellect over emotion. “But you’re right. She could see that the personnel patterns are weird, but not why.”
“What do we know about Stillwater?” Daniel asked. “I’m not familiar with him other than as a name. Ah,” he interrupted himself, clearly having landed on the summary of Stillwater’s service jacket, and muttering, “Helped set up what became Bondsteel in Kosovo. Iraq after that. Spent longer than normal as a Major. Black mark for an incident in Basra.” He looked up. “Usually something that delayed promotion like that would disqualify someone from commanding a base.”
Jack shrugged. “Not my call, and he’s tight with Landry. Also, the incident was technically disobedience, but I think someone threw him under the bus.”
“So you think he’s okay?”
Jack shrugged. “One way to find out.”
“So you’re sending me in?” Daniel looked hopeful, but he kept his eyes on the file he was paging through. “But you want me on Atlantis, right?”
“You get your wish, Danny. You’re going to Meropis,” Jack said, leaning back and watching Daniel, who snapped the file closed.
“Why not Atlantis?”
“Don’t want to risk you. But you’ll be checking in every day. Relay through the Atlantis gate.”
Daniel stared at him for a few seconds. “You’re going to use the daily check-ins to spy on Atlantis’s systems somehow.”
Jack gave himself a wolf smile. “Sam’s got something cooked up. And they’ve got plenty of ZPMs for phoning home.”
“And I get to do what I want on Meropis?”
“That, and,” Jack said.
“Well, spy, of course. Report back to us what you learn about what’s going on with Atlantis. Make friends with Sheppard and Mitchell. That Emmagen woman, too.”
“What if whatever is going on is in Meropis, too? What if I get compromised?”
“Danny, have you met John Sheppard?”
Daniel considered for a minute and came to the same conclusion as Jack. “Right.”
“So we’re going to set up our own reporting codes and you get to study the emergence of a new culture,” Jack said, dragging out the last two words, teasing Daniel a bit. Then he leaned forward, reached into another drawer on his desk, and said, “Let’s review comms and options, target information and sideways interrogation.”
“Spy stuff. Right,” Daniel said, taking the chair across the desk from Jack.
Jack breathed in, pulled up his Black Ops self, and nodded.